They hadn't touched the slums in a while, and Will had a sinking feeling that they were for them tonight. He was correct. They took a long circuitous route round, but in the end Angelus and Darla led them back to the stinking midden of Edwards Street. It was close to two by the time they arrived, and Will’s stomach was churning petulantly. He’d got used to full and regular meals in the last few months.
Despite the lateness of the hour, there were still a few heat-dazed souls staggering through the dark. Will noticed with interest that there were also an unusual number of bodies curled on the steps and paths. Some lay on filthy pallets; others simply sprawled on the stones. The guts of the tenement buildings must be hellish, to drive the humans out to sleep in the air.
Angelus and Darla paused on a corner, and Will and Dru caught them up.
“They’re dreaming us,” Dru said, glancing at the silent forms huddled around them. “We’re in all their dreams.”
“I wonder,” Darla said, following Dru’s look. It wasn’t an impossible notion, Will reflected, remembering how the crowd had parted for them on the front. As stupid as humans were, they did seem to sense these things.
“This is going to be ridiculously easy,” he said, cutting short the metaphysical foray as his stomach gave another twinge. “What do you fancy, love—girl or boy?”
“Be quiet, Will,” Angelus said. “Come over here and stand by me.”
Will gave him a quizzical look, but got only a level glance in return. Reluctantly, and with a growing suspicion that he wasn’t going to have supper after all, he disengaged from Dru and went over to stand by Angelus.
“It wasn’t wandering,“ he said in a low voice. “It was just—”
“Be quiet,” Angelus said again. “Drusilla, see if you can wake one of them up.”
Drusilla smiled and turned to the building behind them; there were three small bodies laid out in front of it. She took a step, but Darla reached out and stopped her.
“From here, please,” Angelus said in an imperturbable tone.
“Without noise,” Darla added quickly.
For a moment Dru looked back and forth between them in confusion; then understanding broke over her face and she smiled. “Oh!” she said. “You want me to have a natter with one of them.”
“Exactly,” Angelus said. “And you may keep what you catch. Or share with Will, if you care to.”
Dru gave Will a passing smile, then returned her gaze to Angelus. “Or with you?” she asked.
“As you like.”
Will stared hard at the pavement.
Dru turned back to face the sleeping bodies, the smile still lingering on her lips. The tenement forecourts—gardens, they were probably supposed to be—were only a few feet deep, and the humans were close enough that Will could have reached them in a single running leap. Whether or not they were dreaming of wolves, the humans were all heat-soused and sleeping hard. Two young boys and a girl, a little older. They smelled sweet and dirty.
“Eeeny meeny moaney mite,” Drusilla whispered, and Darla frowned.
“No noise,” she said, and Dru fell silent with a guilty look at Angelus.
Darla stepped back into the street, and Angelus put a hand on Will’s shoulder and drew him away too, so that Dru was left standing alone on the pavement. They were a little to one side of her, and Will could see the look of dreamy concentration on her face. She was gazing at the humans, her eyes shining as if with tears while her lips moved silently. Her hands hung at her sides, twitching sporadically.
Darla shifted and Will turned to see her giving Angelus a meaning look. Angelus pushed Will’s head back around.
Will sighed and watched Dru make beckoning gestures with her hands at her sides. She was smiling more broadly now, her lips apart. She was unbearably beautiful. He thought of how she’d said his name in the alley, and then, before he could stop himself, of how she’d looked past him at Angelus just now. There was a familiar crushing sensation in his chest.
Angelus’s hand settled on the back of Will’s neck, and his thumb stroked gently behind Will’s ear.
If I had even an ounce of stuff to me, I’d shake him off, Will thought. He didn’t move.
Dru pushed up on her toes and leaned forward, her slender white neck extended like a swan’s, her lips still moving. She came to such an angle that it seemed she must fall over, but she didn’t fall. She stood smiling, her whole body humming with silent tension.
“Perhaps she can’t—” Darla murmured.
Will felt a flash of irritation. “Give her a chance,” he muttered, and Angelus’s fingers paused, then pinched his ear. “Ow—madam.”
Darla sighed and stepped away, peering up the street as if hoping for better prospects. Will hardly noticed. His attention was fixed on Dru: on the pure pale lines of her throat, on her giddy transfixed smile, on the movement of her lips. There was something about her stance that both fascinated and tore at him.
Angelus’s other hand came round Will’s waist, and beat a gentle rhythm against his belly.
Dru tipped her head back in a soundless laugh, and it struck Will suddenly that she’d never looked at him like this. She was staring at the sleeping humans in an attitude of thrilled self-abandonment, like a woman watching her lover approach from a distance. But Will was her lover—or he loved her, anyway—and she’d never shown him anything like that eagerness. Only one man brought that look to her face, and it wasn’t Will.
Will felt a rush of desperate bitterness, and twisted free of Angelus’s hands. He took a step away and stood with his hands balled into fists in his pockets. He felt Angelus give him an interrogatory look.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” Will kept his eyes on Dru, whose eyelids had dropped as if she were half-asleep.
“Come back here.” Angelus’s tone was peremptory. Will ignored him. A moment later, when Will hadn't moved, Angelus reached out and hauled him back.
“What’s the matter with you?”
Will didn’t answer, and Angelus’s hand gripped the back of his neck. Will tensed, but just at that moment, one of the sleepers stood up.
It was the girl. She was perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, wearing a dirty yellow dress too small for her bony frame. Her eyes were open and glazed, and her expression was serene. She stepped carefully over her brothers and walked silently down to stand in front of Dru.
“Darla—” Angelus said quietly, over his shoulder. She’d already turned to look, and the three of them watched together as Dru eased back onto her heels and smiled at the girl.
“There now,” she said. “Isn’t that better?” She held out her hand and the girl took it timidly, and together they turned and walked back to Angelus and Will.
“I’ve woken her up, Daddy,” Dru said unnecessarily. She offered him the girl’s hand with a smile that made Will’s chest ache. He did nothing, partly because Angelus was still holding onto the back of his neck.
“Very good, Princess,” Angelus said. “That’s very clever of you.”
“How long will she stay like this?” Darla asked. She’d come back over, and she put out one white finger and touched the girl’s arm. They all watched carefully, but the girl gave no sign of having noticed.
“She’ll be good as long as we want,” Dru said sweetly, stroking the girl’s hair. “Or at least until she stops.”
“Most helpful,” Darla muttered.
“Well, see if you can keep her like that until we get out of the street at least,” Angelus said. “We’ll take her down to the front, and you can have supper there.”
“A picnic!” Dru cried, clapping. Then she looked thoughtful. “But can Will join in, with his hand like that?”
“Like what?” Will asked, looking down at his hands despite himself. They looked entirely normal to him.
“That’s enough,” Angelus said. “Come along, Drusilla—bring your little miss.” He turned around, hauling Will with him.
For an awful moment Will thought he was going to be frog-marched all the way to the shore, but Angelus only gave him a shake and dropped his arm over Will’s shoulders. Will tried at once to pull away, and Angelus tightened his hold with a frown.
“What is the matter with you?” he asked again. “You seem to positively want a thrashing.”
“No sir,” Will said sullenly.
“Then stand up straight, and stop wriggling.”
Will straightened up, and let himself be led to the front.
It was late enough now that the crowd had cleared somewhat, and the stragglers were all occupied with their own misdeeds. Will paid no attention to the various obscenities being performed in the shadows. He hardly felt hungry anymore; what he really wanted was to be allowed off on his own for a while, but he knew that wouldn’t happen. Barring that paradise, he wanted to get back to the hotel and go to sleep. It wasn’t often he wanted privacy, but he wanted it now.
Angelus dropped his arm from Will’s shoulder to his waist and pulled him close, forcing Will to match his own longer strides.
“Fancy a second round?” Angelus asked with a grin, nodding at a pair of girls lingering meaningfully by the seawall. “Brighton’s whores have earned a reputation.”
Will shook his head and peered back over his shoulder to hide his annoyance. Dru and Darla were following with the girl walking between, still entranced. Her filthy, tattered appearance hardly matched with Darla and Dru’s finery, but no one seemed to notice or care.
“I haven’t missed this attitude in you,” Angelus said reflectively. “It’s been so long since you last sulked, Will—what’s the occasion?”
Will turned back around with a fleeting sensation of guilt. “Nothing,” he said. “I’m not sulking. Christ—I’m not a child.”
“No,” Angelus said. “You’re not that portable.”
Will shot him a scathing glance, quickly enough that it might not count.
“But you can still be whipped,” Angelus said. “I’m happy to demonstrate.”
They walked a moment in silence, Angelus sheepdogging Will down to the sand. The women followed behind, Darla making a faint sound of displeasure over her skirts.
“Well?” Angelus asked. “If you’re not a child, then surely you don’t pull faces at your elders.”
“Sorry,” Will said automatically, without a trace of sincerity. “Didn’t mean to, sir.”
Angelus turned his head and, before Will could pull away, bit neatly through Will’s earlobe. He was back in human face, serenely watching the tide, before the blood began to run.
“I’ve been lax,” he said. “Apparently it’s caused you some confusion, and I apologize for that. In future I’ll keep matters simpler.”
Will pinched his ear to stop the bleeding. “Ow.”
“Are you leading us to Hove?” Darla called irritably, and Angelus turned with a smile.
”No, darling. Only a little out of the common way.”
“Extremely common,” Darla sniffed. “We haven’t passed a sober soul yet, Angelus. Let them take the girl, before my skirts are completely ruined.”
Angelus laughed. “Of course,” he said. “How thoughtless of me. We’ll just get in under the pier, shall we?”
The shore below the chain pier was a dank black jungle of rotting posts and barnacles. They passed a couple furtively engaged, and continued along to an isolated spot where the pilings hid them from any view. Angelus glanced around, then released Will and turned back to the women.
“How charming a location,” Darla said sourly, pulling up her skirts to step over some small human mess in the sand. “I can’t think why we haven’t hunted here before.”
“It’s safe enough,” Angelus said. “Well now, Princess. Is your prize still behaving herself?”
“Oh yes,” Drusilla said, laying a hand on the girl’s arm. “She’s ever so good.”
“I’m pleased to hear it. I wonder if we might ask a few things of her, before you have your picnic.”
Drusilla cocked her head and waited. Angelus looked at Darla, as if soliciting suggestions. Will stood looking between them, trying not to fidget despite the ache in his belly. His ear felt hot where Angelus had bitten it.
“Have her sing something,” Darla said.
“What shall she sing?”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t suppose she knows many madrigal parts.”
Dru smiled and whispered in the girl’s ear, and after a moment the girl opened her mouth and began to sing a soft high-pitched lullaby. Her eyes remained unfocused, fixed on the ground a few feet before her.
Angelus gave Darla a slightly self-satisfied smile.
Darla frowned. “That’s enough,” she said.
Dru covered the girl’s mouth with her hand, and the girl fell silent.
“What about without speaking?” Darla asked, directing her question to Angelus. He raised an eyebrow and turned back to Dru.
“Have her turn a circle, Princess. But don’t tell her out loud.”
Dru gave Angelus an uncomfortable smile. “That’s hard, Daddy.”
“Why? You woke her up without speaking.”
“Because she was already dreaming me, so it wasn’t so hard. We had our natter. But now she’s up, and so I have to tell her things mostly.”
“All right, but try.”
Drusilla sighed, then turned her gaze back to the girl. Again, Dru’s eyes went wide and bright, and she tensed and rose up on her toes. The girl stared dumbly at the sand without moving, and Dru’s fingers fluttered against her skirt.
Will looked away, studying the black fretwork pattern of the pilings as if it were of immense interest. He had no idea why they were going through this rigmarole, but it had nothing to do with him, and he didn’t think he could stand to watch it much longer.
A slight movement caught his eye, and he turned back despite himself. The girl had swivelled a few degrees to the right, then stopped.
Dru was blinking with disappointment. “I can’t, Daddy,” she said miserably. “She doesn’t listen at all well. She’s stupid.” This last was petulant, and accompanied by a stealthy poke at the girl’s waist.
“It’s all right,” Angelus said. “I think we’ve done enough for one night. Don’t you, darling?”
Darla nodded, her expression thoughtful.
“You may take her now, if you like,” Angelus said. “And remember what I said about sharing.”
“I do,” Dru chirped, her unhappiness dispelled. “I may share with whomever I like.”
Dru gave a little crow of happiness, then turned back to the girl and surveyed her with a haughty air. “Turn a circle,” she ordered, and the girl obediently rotated. Dru grinned and clapped and looked to Angelus, who smiled. “See?” Dru asked. “She’s ever so good when I tell her things out loud.” Then, without missing a beat, she went to demon face and yanked the girl into her arms.
They watched while she fed, and as always, Will found himself admiring her despite the clutching in his chest. She was like a cat, he told himself, and then angrily discarded the cliché. She was like… He studied her white hands on the girl’s arms, her dark hair pulled up and slightly trailing, her slender waist and the beautiful blue bell of her skirt. Before he could think what she was like, she had lifted her head and was smiling with golden eyes and a red mouth at Angelus. Will’s heart sank.
“Come and share with me, Daddy,” she said.
Will turned on his heel and walked off to the nearest piling. It was spongy and pungent with salt and creosote. He picked a splinter from it and tested it against his finger, while behind him Angelus thanked Drusilla and tasted the girl.
Will stared along the shore and wondered in a useless fashion how long it would be, before he could hunt on his own.
He paused, then turned because there was no choice. Angelus was holding the girl, looking at him, and Dru was giving him a lazy tolerant smile.
“Come and take some, Will,” Angelus said.
“No thank you,” Will said stiffly. “I’m not hungry.”
Angelus gazed at him a moment, then glanced at Darla. She was examining her fingernails.
“Don’t be tedious,” Angelus said. “Dru—ask him nicely.”
“Come and take some, Will-iam,” Dru said at once, rolling his name on her tongue as if it were a joke. Will felt a wrench of humiliation, and turned his head away to glare at the tide.
“I’m all right,” he said. “I don’t want any.”
There was a moment of silence, and he waited it out without turning around. It seemed both unutterably strange and wretchedly familiar that the night had turned like this—that he’d gone from hearing her say his name with something he could tell himself was love, to standing by with a burning heart while she doted on Angelus. It wasn’t a new progression, but he never seemed to learn the moral. All she had to do was smile at him, lift her arms up and speak to him, and he believed in her anew. Until Angelus came back into the room.
Will heard Angelus sigh and pass the girl back to Dru, who finished her off. She mewled softly as she fed: tender sounds that made his skin prickle.
“How long till dawn, Will?” Angelus asked, and Will didn’t bother to step out and look at the sky, or to hide the fact that he merely glanced at his watch.
“An hour and a half,” he said, rounding down because he wanted this night to be over.
“Enough time for you to cache her,” Angelus said.
Will turned to protest, and Angelus tossed the girl into his arms. A little blood flew up and sprinkled Will’s chin.
“Wipe that off,” Angelus said, giving his arm to Darla. “And your neck. You don’t want to be seen lurking the shores like a ghoul.”
“You can have her, Will,” Dru said. “She’s very sweet, but mind the little bones.”
He wiped his chin with his sleeve, and his neck where the blood had run down from his ear. Angelus and Darla had already started to wend their way out through the pilings. Angelus looked back over his shoulder and crooked a finger at Drusilla.
“Take her back to the slums,” Angelus said casually to Will, as Dru came skipping behind. “Along the sand as far as you can, and then around—”
“I know the way,” Will snapped, folding the girl’s limp body over his arm like a towel.
Angelus frowned and paused, but Darla pulled his arm. “Come along, Angelus,” she said. “I’m quite ready to quit this fen.”
Angelus hesitated a moment longer, his frown turning to a peculiar half-smile. “Don’t dawdle,” he said. The three of them threaded their way through the pilings and out onto the sand.
Will stood watching them go, the girl’s cool corpse forgotten in his arms. He was miserably angry; he wanted to fight, but there was no one to fight with. And at the same time he felt a sickly twinge, watching the three of them disappear. He’d wanted to be left alone, but as he watched them go he almost wanted them back. It wasn’t often, these days, that Angelus let him out of sight.
After a moment he realized the girl was dripping blood into the sand, and hastily scuffed it out with his toe. He was hungry. For a moment he stared grimly at the wounds in her neck—Angelus had bitten separately from Drusilla—and told himself that it would be cheap to take in private what he’d refused in front of the others. But he was hungry. He sighed, then heaved the girl up and began to siphon the last tepid dregs from her neck.
He cached her in a rubbish heap not far from the tenement where they’d taken her. With the heat as it was, she’d be found in a day or two, but he’d made sure to erase the signs of their feeding. He cleaned his pocketknife on a corner of her dress.
Dawn was still more than an hour away—he checked his watch first and then, after a few moments’ internal battle, grudgingly tested himself on the sky. He was getting better, he realized, as he stood squinting upward in the shadow of a tenement. The Plough had swung round to there, and when he lined up Cassiopeia through the North Pole—
Something flickered in the corner of his eye and he looked sharply after it. The street was dark and silent; the rooftops were empty. He had a strange feeling in the back of his neck.
The air stank only of overheated humans, salt, and rot—all of it familiar. He tried to think what he might have seen: a cat, a bird. Birds didn’t fly at night. A cat, then, leaping from roof to roof. Or a rat. Rats were legion in the slums.
The feeling in his neck subsided, until he could hardly remember what it had been like.
He sank further back into the shadows and waited in silence. The street was unforthcoming, until he began to feel that it too was simply waiting—for him to lower his guard and go away. It seemed too quiet, as if some unseen mover had fallen still and was pausing with held breath and folded hands. Watching him.
He was on edge; he was being ridiculous. It was only a street, with a few sleeping humans still scattered here and there on doorsteps and paths; as he stood there, a woman in ragged dress came out of one of the doors, closed it carefully, and started off in the other direction. Not a housemaid—her clothes weren’t fine enough—but on her way to some kind of work. If Angelus were there, he’d know at a glance what sort of job she did.
Will ran his gaze one more time along the rooftops, then checked his watch again. An hour till dawn, now. He could wander for a while, but Angelus had told him not to dawdle, and for some reason he didn’t feel inclined to disobedience. Not long before, he’d been planning exactly that—a blessed hour to himself, and perhaps he could climb to the top of the Pavilion and cut a filthy sentiment into one of the onions—but the prospect no longer appealed. He rubbed the back of his neck and took a final look around, then stepped out of the shadows and started down the street.
Exposed, he half-expected to be leapt upon by some unknown assailant, and he walked tensely with his gaze flicking everywhere at once. But nothing happened. There was no movement except for the slight stirrings of a man beginning to wake. Will quickened his pace and slipped back into the shadows; he didn’t want to be noticed in the neighbourhood where the body would be found.
His unease lessened but didn’t fade completely, and he took a circuitous path back to the hotel. He moved quickly through the lanes and alleys, doubled back more than once, and mounted to the roofs to watch his own route. He wasn’t followed. By the time he reached the hotel he was convinced he’d imagined the experience.
He slipped up the stairs without waking the clerk, and went silently down the hall to the room he shared with Angelus. Even if it amounted to nothing, it couldn’t hurt to mention it. Angelus would divine very quickly if there were something truly afoot.
As he padded down the narrow hall, some part of Will’s mind noticed that he didn’t feel so desperately wretched as he had earlier. It came from having a little time to himself, and from the routine occupation of caching the body. Strange, that such little remedies could make a difference. And strange that Angelus always seemed to find an errand of that kind for Will to do, precisely at the moment when he needed to do it most.
He reached the door and opened it silently, remembering now the kiss Angelus had given him earlier in the evening. He was already pulling his tie loose, and thinking of climbing up into the cool swan’s-breast softness of the bed. He was hot and tired, and it had been a long and mostly unpleasant night, and he wanted to forget that much of it had happened at all.
“It’s probably nothing—” he said, and stopped.
Angelus was in the bed, and Dru on top of him. Her back was white as marble, her thighs just as white against his hips. Her hair hung in a black tumble down her spine. She rocked and arched and gave a low moan as he tilted up into her. The air in the room was still and heavy and smelled of musk.
Angelus raised his head and smiled at Will—a fond friendly smile, with a glaze of lust. He took his hand from Dru’s hip and held it out to Will in invitation.
Will stood in the doorway, his mouth still open, his hand still raised to his tie.
“Come here, Will,” Angelus said hoarsely. Dru tipped her head back and Will saw she was in demon face, ecstatic. She didn’t seem aware that Will was even in the room.
He’d taken one unthinking step forward already; it was pure habit, the result of months of compliance. Angelus grinned. Will’s stomach gave a quick flip and he shut his mouth with a snap. Then he spun on his heel and went out. He closed the door quietly behind him, to save Dru’s modesty from the servants.
He left the hotel silently and stood trembling in a side street. He’d taken his tie off entirely and stood clutching it and staring at it as if he’d never seen such a thing before. It was hot; too hot to wear such a ridiculous thing as a tie. Finally he thrust it in his pocket and ran out into the main way. He wanted to be drunk—irremediably, irretrievably, insensibly drunk—and he only had a little time in which to accomplish it.
The pubs and gin palaces were long closed, but he was determined. He took a bottle from a man collapsed on the sand, and when that wasn’t enough he slipped a lock and let himself into an establishment where there was enough. He poured gin and brandy and whiskey down his throat, threw half of it up in a bloody mess, and kept on with grim purpose.
He left by the front door, like a proper paying customer, and stood swaying on the pavement with a contingency bottle under his coat. A hansom cab was standing abandoned across the street; the driver must have gone into the alley for a piss before starting his day. The horse gave Will a superior look.
The pub was a garish tourist atrocity, with a wooden sign proclaiming it The Yeoman’s Well, and a rustic pump deposited on the pavement outside as an advertisement. Will sucked his teeth and regarded the horse thoughtfully.
It was a solid old pump, but the bolts were rusty and the handle came off for him on the second yank. He gave it an experimental swing, and smiled bitterly at the weight. Then he dosed himself again from the bottle, raised the handle to his shoulder, and started across the street at a brisk, businesslike pace.