It helped marginally to lock his left hand around his right wrist, so he sat like that for a while, trying not to look at the odd angles. They were clean breaks, of course. Angelus hadn't meant to maim him—just to punish, or teach, or some such thing. It was a lesson, Will supposed. Like the subjunctive, only more memorable.
“Il faut que je rip your bloody throat out, you bastard,“ he whispered, and wiped his face against his shoulder. He wasn’t crying; not really. It was just his body.
He sat cursing and shaking and wiping his face from time to time, until the pain ebbed slightly and he began to feel the weak underlying itch that signalled healing. Then he looked at his hand again. The fingers were all wrenched and wrong, still caked in the horse’s blood. The whole thing looked like it had been caught in a carriage wheel, but he knew it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Cold comfort, when he considered what had to come next.
He took a deep breath—it helped, he didn’t know why—and gingerly gripped his right thumb in his left hand. Do the worst one first, get it over with. He made himself study the angle for a moment, ignoring the fact that the touch alone lit his whole hand. If he pulled it just like that, it would be close. Not perfect, there was no way to make it perfect, but he knew from past experience that as long as it was close, his body would take care of the minor details. It was one of the little mysteries.
He was still holding his thumb, willing himself to tug and not quite doing it. It hurt so bloody much—he’d forgotten, since the last time, how much it hurt. If he hadn't already vomited up everything in his belly, he might have been ill all over Angelus’s shoes. So really, it was fortunate how it had worked out.
The longer he postponed, the more he would heal like this, and the harder it would be to put it right. And if Angelus came back and found that Will hadn't done it—
He closed his eyes and tugged, and there was a slight cracking sound, and through the pain a sickening sensation of grind, and for a moment he thought he was going to find something else to vomit. He clutched his wrist and thrust his head back against the mattresses, and waited till the stars stopped revolving behind his eyelids. When they finally did, he opened his eyes and stared blearily at the ceiling.
One down. Four to go.
He found his watch, still running, in the pocket of his ruined waistcoat. Eleven o’clock. The edges of the curtains were a blinding midday white, and the room was a kiln.
He went to the pitcher and washed himself in the warm water, which turned to claret as he used it. It was hard to wash properly without hurting his hand, but he was careful not to drip water on the carpet, to avoid giving Angelus any further excuse. He wondered bleakly whether the fingers counted against the beating he’d been promised for tonight. It seemed unlikely.
Through the wall from Darla’s room there was a faint rise and fall of conversation, and he paused a moment to try to make out words. It was no surprise that he couldn’t. They knew he was in here; they knew precisely how quietly to speak.
When he was as clean as he could make himself, he dropped the stained cloth into the pitcher and went to the wardrobe to find some clothes. The travelling cases still stood dumbly by the bed where Angelus had left them. Were they still going to leave Brighton? Angelus had said they were going to change hotels, so perhaps not. Perhaps that meant they intended to receive this French master—what was her name? Strangely, something Italian.
His hand ached, and he gripped his wrist again absently, still staring at the cases. His head felt muzzy and thick. It was bizarre that a French master should want to visit them here, or anywhere for that matter—he’d never heard of such a thing before. Admittedly, he’d never heard much about other families at all, except for the snatches he’d gleaned from Caitlin before she died. For all he knew, masters visited one another all the time.
But Angelus and Darla hadn't behaved as though it were a usual occurrence. They’d been surprised and wary; he remembered how they’d examined the envelope, as though it might contain a trap. And it was unsettling, to say the least, to think that another master knew exactly where they were, and could have a letter delivered without their notice.
That brought him back to the consideration of his own faults, and he hastily abandoned the train of thought.
He opened the wardrobe and stared at the few dark coats hanging inside, the ones that Angelus hadn't bothered to pack. They were all Will’s, and in the last few months he’d got used to seeing them hang alongside Angelus’s larger ones, so that now they looked oddly small and alone. He felt a little pang, looking at them. Stupid. They were all fine coats, better than anything he’d had when he was alive. He touched the sleeve of one, fingering the good heavy weave. They’d been made for him in tailors’ shops in various cities, usually with Angelus sprawled in a chair with a cigar, watching closely, pointing out minor deficiencies in the cut. If the tailor was particularly nervous or obtuse, Angelus would get up and push him out of the way, take the material in his own fingers and pull it snug, smooth it against Will’s waist or shoulder, and tell the man Look, it lies like that. He’s not a bloody mastiff, or Nip it in here—I want a clean line.
All of Will’s clothes fit extremely well.
He let the coat fall and turned away, still thinking of the feel of Angelus’s hands on him, rough and intimate and entirely careless of what the watching tradesmen might think. If they dared to think at all. My boy needs a proper morning coat—are you capable of making such a thing? And a waistcoat, in a suitable colour. Your least atrocious pattern. Bullying and gentling with the same words, and for all that span of months, Will didn’t once mind being called Angelus’s boy.
His hand throbbed, and he imagined trying to force it through a sleeve. Angelus had told him to get dressed, but if he was to be alone all day, what was the point? It was suffocating hot anyway. He closed the wardrobe door and turned to face the bed.
He was exhausted, and the pillows and feather bed looked like heaven—but they smelled like Dru and Angelus. It was infantile, but he couldn’t make himself get in. He was too tired even to think straight now, and so for a few minutes he just stood where he was, holding his hand carefully out from his body, staring at the bed and treading a small hopeless mental circle.
Finally he rootled in the bedclothes until he found the sheet that Angelus had laid over the carpet. It smelled only of horse blood and liquor, and he carried it over to the far corner of the room, spread it out carefully, and curled up on top with his face to the wall. In the next room, familiar voices rose and fell. His hand ached. The floor tipped and slid him gently off.
He woke up with a hand on his shoulder.
“You’re not dressed,” Angelus said. “I told you to get dressed.”
Will rolled onto his back and looked up—Angelus was crouched beside him, gazing at him somberly in the darkness. Will smiled.
“No,” he said. “I was dreaming—”
Of an afternoon in early spring, Angelus’s palms on either side of Will’s head and his lips on Will’s brow. I won’t have you losing your nerve over this.
A dull ache asserted itself in Will’s forgotten right hand, and he frowned.
“What—?” He lifted it and stared at the black bruises. Angelus let go of his shoulder.
“I told you to dress,” he said again, standing up. Will squinted up at him.
“Right,” he said after a moment, when he found voice again. He couldn’t think properly; he shook his head. “Sorry. I was hot.”
There was a brief pause, and then Angelus crouched down again suddenly, startling Will back against the wall. He reached out and took hold of Will’s right wrist, turning it back and forth while he examined the fingers.
“What do I have to do?” he asked quietly. “Why do you never listen?”
Will blinked. “I do listen.” Angelus gave him a level stare, and Will wetted his lips. “Sir. I listen, sir. I’m sorry I didn’t dress. I was hot, and—” And his hand had hurt too much, but that would be complaining. “I’ll do it now, sir.”
Angelus gazed at him a moment longer, then let go of his wrist, sat down on the carpet, and leaned against the wall beside him. Will stared. He’d never seen Angelus sit on the floor before.
“What were you dreaming?” Angelus asked, staring at the far side of the room.
“Oh, ah—” The tenor of it had faded, and he felt it would seem conniving to bring it up. “It doesn’t matter, sir.”
Angelus was silent for a while, and Will sat up cautiously. His hand ached and itched, and he performed a few covert tests—open, close, finger to thumb. He could still make all manner of lewd gestures, which was gratifying.
“Knitting all right?”
Will looked up guiltily, then tried to smile. “Never learned to knit. Sir.”
Angelus rubbed his face, then put his hand out, palm up, without turning his head. Will sat for a long moment without moving. It struck him oddly that Angelus’s hands were so much larger than his own. He’d known that forever, but it had never seemed important until now.
Finally he set his jaw and put his left hand gingerly in Angelus’s palm.
Angelus closed his fingers, and Will flinched. But there was no pain. Angelus merely held his hand a moment, then began to stroke his wrist lightly. Will watched in a kind of trance.
“It’s hot,” Angelus said after a while, and that too was startling, because Angelus did not make small talk. He turned Will’s palm up and ran his fingers over it. “That boy was right; the heat makes us do strange things.”
“Yes,” Will said, without any idea what he was agreeing to.
“You made a mistake,” Angelus said. “And you’ve been getting above yourself. But still—” He lifted Will’s palm to his mouth and lightly bit the heel. He was still staring pensively across the room. Will watched his profile.
“We can all make mistakes,” Angelus said.
Will sat still, not sure what any of this meant. Angelus pressed Will’s palm across his mouth and breathed in, and Will hesitated a moment longer, then squirmed closer. He blamed the dream; he couldn’t remember its details but he was still soaked in it, a sort of lostness and openness he couldn’t name. He wanted to be touched—not hit or fucked but only touched, and reassured without words, and returned to his place in the world. It was low and despicable to want such a thing, but he wanted it all the same. If he’d had the nerve, he would have asked for it.
He didn’t have the nerve, and he didn’t even have the nerve to put his head against Angelus’s shoulder, so he simply sat there waiting, until Angelus put an arm around his neck and pulled him in.
After that he could give way. He buried his head under Angelus’s arm and felt Angelus’s hands in his hair and on the bare skin of his back, and smelled smoke and blood and the strap. He felt Angelus drop a kiss on the nape of his neck. When he knocked his head against Angelus’s ribs in a silent demand for more, he heard Angelus chuckle.
“Christ—you’re like a bloody calf.” He pulled Will up and kissed him, then pushed him away. “Enough. You’re still on warning.”
But he let Will come back for another kiss, and then another, and when Will let his hand fall onto Angelus’s thigh, he smiled.
“Enough,” he said again, but he didn’t move away. Will pressed his palm against Angelus’s leg, feeling the firm muscle under the cloth. It was a good familiar feeling. He closed his eyes and lifted his mouth and Angelus kissed him gently, running his tongue over Will’s lips.
Will pushed himself against Angelus’s shoulder and opened his mouth further, tipping his head back to bare his throat. The dream was in him, the sweet need to lose himself. My boy. Angelus’s tongue came into his mouth, and he sighed.
Angelus put his arm around Will’s waist and pulled him into his lap, and for a moment they regarded each other. Will’s right hand was curled against his chest, and he dropped it self-consciously behind his back. It wasn’t anything he wanted to see or think about just now. Angelus watched him do it and said nothing.
Will sat still a moment, his legs bent up on either side of Angelus’s, waiting. When nothing happened he began to feel self-conscious. He could feel the dream bleeding away, and a dull quotidian ache starting up in its place. He leaned forward and opened his mouth against Angelus’s lips in slightly desperate invitation.
For an instant he was afraid he was going to be refused, and then Angelus’s hand settled on his neck, thumb and finger firm in the hollows of his skull, and Angelus’s tongue drove into his mouth. It was a harder kiss than the others, and Will made a soft sound of abandonment. Angelus bit his lip, caught Will’s left hand, and put it over his fly.
It wasn’t what Will wanted—he wasn’t asking for sex. He didn’t know what he was asking for, exactly—some faint fading tissue of home, comfort, lost things. But there was no way to say that, and it wasn’t the sort of thing he could ask for anyway. It wasn’t the sort of thing on offer.
The buttons were a trial. He fumbled with them blindly, and Angelus kissed him harder, then abruptly shoved Will's chin up and closed his teeth on either side of Will’s windpipe. Will held still. It wasn’t a bite—only a flat firm pressure, like a warning. Will waited. After a moment Angelus made a low rough sound and jerked his head. Will hesitated, then began carefully to work at the buttons again. He got one open, then another, and Angelus licked his neck.
Finally he opened enough to take Angelus’s cock out, and at the smooth cool weight in his hand he couldn’t help but smile. Angelus had a hand on his throat and another in his hair, and was kissing him deeply—long slow fierce kisses that turned sharper when Will began to rub him. The head of Angelus's cock was wet, and Will’s fingers were slippery in a moment. He paused and ran his thumb and forefinger together, fascinated by the feel.
Angelus stopped kissing him long enough to glance down and see what he was doing; when he looked back up, his eyes were lit.
“Cub,” he said, and pushed Will’s head down.
He had to scuffle to arrange himself, and then Angelus raised his hips too soon and hurt both of them. Will pulled off and looked up with a slight scowl, and found Angelus frowning down at him. It wasn’t much like the dream, Will reflected, as Angelus’s hand settled on the back of his head and pushed.
But it wasn’t bad, really—Angelus wasn’t trying to hurt him, and if his right hand was crushed into the floor at moments, it wasn’t anything to cry about. It was even nice, in a way. For a spell he lost himself in it, the sharp taste and the movement that Angelus didn’t let him control. He had a moment’s uncertainty over whether he was a sodomite, and how that ranked relative to being a demon—but he always had that. It was only habit by now. He closed his eyes and pressed his cock into the carpet and felt a growing desire to fuck something.
Angelus was silent, but his thrusts got faster and stronger, and then broke down into sharp juddering. His hand caught Will’s hair and held him still. Will waited till he was finished, withdrew enough to swallow, then came back to lick Angelus clean. That too was habit.
After a minute or two Angelus pushed him away and buttoned himself. He was smiling slightly, heavy-lidded.
“Better?” he asked, brushing Will’s hair from his forehead. Will shrugged. Steps went quickly down the hall and he looked at the door.
“Don’t worry,” Angelus said. “Darla’s got them packing her cases. Speaking of which…” He turned his gaze to the wardrobe, where Will’s clothes still hung.
“Haven’t done them yet,” Will said grimly. “Sir.”
“Well do them now. You’re healing quickly, you’re capable.”
Angelus paused, scrutinizing him, then got to his feet. “I am going back to Darla’s room, to supervise the packing and be scolded for visiting you, no doubt. This is your room for the rest of the day; you may do what you like, so long as you’re packed and ready to go by nightfall.”
“Yes sir.” Angelus kept looking at him, so he added, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Angelus turned and started for the door. “You’re lucky, you know. If I were really angry I’d set you to pack Darla’s cases. She’s in quite a temper.”
Will half-smiled. “You’re most kind.”
“I am, at that.”
Angelus paused with his hand on the knob, and turned back. Will hesitated—he had been going to say What did you mean—we all make mistakes? What mistake did you make? But that was a question to ask when he was in Angelus’s lap, not now. He’d missed his chance.
Angelus was waiting, his eyebrows raised. Will opened his mouth and asked the first thing that occurred to him.
“Are you letting her visit? The French master?”
Angelus pursed his lips. “Her name is Venétiane. And as you pointed out earlier, we are visitors here ourselves. I think we might find it difficult to prevent her coming, even if we wished to.”
“Then why did she ask for an invitation?”
“Because she is well-mannered, unlike a certain fledgling who has already forgotten how to address his Sire. And because she doesn’t want a fight.”
Will thought about that for a second, and Angelus turned to go.
“Would you stop her visiting if you could, sir? If we were at home, I mean—would you let her visit us there?”
Angelus gave him a sharp look over his shoulder. “We are not at home, Will. Pack your cases.”
He slipped out and closed the door softly behind him, and Will was left alone in the darkness.
Angelus had said he might do whatever he chose, as long as he was ready to leave by nightfall, so Will spent quickly and passionlessly in a corner of the sheet, then went back to sleep. Sleep when you can, Angelus had told him. You won’t heal if you don’t sleep. It wasn’t hard advice to follow, with the heat slumped over him like a drugged whore, and with the tail end of the dream teasing at his mind.
He must have lost the route back, though, because when he woke again shortly before nightfall he was trembling. He felt sick and frightened, and half-remembered a gross jar-mouthed woman, leering at him with wide yellow eyes.
Toad queen, something whispered.
He wiped his face on the sheet and looked around. The room was dark and hot and empty. It was the first time in months that he’d woken from a nightmare and found himself alone.
Stupid, to let Dru’s mad fancy flood his own dreams. It was the heat, no doubt. He was beginning to despise being hot. He sat up and took a few steps around the room to clear his head.
Despite his troubled rest, his hand had gone on knitting, and he found he could move it without too much pain. The thumb was the worst; he held it up next to its pair and squinted at them critically. Maybe a little shorter, but not much, and he’d be damned if he was going to fix it now.
He wanted another wash, but the water in the pitcher was warm and pink, so he just ran a few drops of oil over his hair and left it at that. He gathered up the abused sheet and his bloodied clothes, and packed them in the bottom of one of the cases. He didn’t know what to do with the basin he’d vomited into, so he toed it a little further under the chest of drawers and forgot about it.
Then he dressed and packed his books and clothes, and sat waiting on the edge of the bed, examining his thumbs from different angles and telling himself they looked all right. The light took forever to fade.
Finally, he felt the soft lifting sensation—a moment later, the door to Darla’s room opened, and steps came down the hall. The door to his own room opened, and Angelus looked in.
“We’re leaving.” He disappeared without anything further, and Will hopped down and followed. As he went out, the boy who’d delivered the letter stepped aside to let him pass. Will saw him touch his forehead; he also saw the quick sideways look the boy gave him before he went in to collect their cases.
Angelus had already paid their bill; there was a cab waiting at the curb, and Will was the last one in. Darla and Dru were side by side, which landed him next to Angelus. He noticed Darla looking at his right hand, and immediately put it out of sight.
“Hello Will,” Dru said sweetly, and he tried to smile. She was in grey, with a little hat that would have looked ridiculous on any other woman. It felt like forever since he’d seen her.
“Hello love,” he said, and felt, rather than saw, Angelus’s frown. He looked away out the window, and the cases thumped onto the roof, and with a little swearing from the driver they were off.
The next hotel turned out to be more or less exactly like the last one. The Waterloo, clean and smart and comfortable, was already filled with respectable families who cared more for the ocean air than for the season. Will had had a brief hope that since they were to be entertaining they might take a room at The Grand, which boasted an interesting novelty called an ‘ascending omnibus,’ but it seemed Angelus was keeping to policy. Maintain a low profile, don’t stand out. Only idiots frighten the herd.
Standing by the desk while Angelus clarified terms and agreed, as usual, to pay the attendance they wouldn’t need, Will wondered what one did with a dead horse in such hot weather.
Angelus explained about Darla’s neurasthenic photosensitivity, which required drawn curtains and privacy, and the clerk nodded cautiously and snuck a sideways look at Will’s bruises. Will drifted away against the wall, his face turned down.
Then they were shown up, and there was the usual bustle over cases, and his heart dropped through the floor when he saw he was being put with Darla, while Dru and Angelus disappeared into the next room. Darla didn’t look pleased at the arrangement either, but he hardly cared about that.
“Make yourself useful,” she said curtly, waving at the pile of cases the boy had left, and seating herself by the window.
He heaved the cases up onto the bed and began hauling out dresses, hoping against hope that this was the only reason he was here—that Angelus had grown tired of dealing with Darla’s effects, and set Will the task instead. Perhaps if he did a decent job he’d be allowed to shift. Angelus couldn’t have been serious about keeping him away from Dru.
“You might hang those,” Darla said, “instead of simply dropping them on the floor.”
He looked down; a few items had slid off the bed and transferred themselves to the carpet.
“Sorry,” he muttered, and bent down to snatch them up.
“Oh, leave them,” she said. “Come here.”
He stood up at once and eyed her warily.
“I won’t repeat myself.”
He paused a moment longer, glancing at the door as if there were a real possibility of using it. Then he dumped her clothes on the bed and stalked over.
“Sit down.” She indicated the armchair opposite her own, and he studied it a moment, then sat down carefully. Darla templed her fingers beneath her chin and regarded him.
“Let me see,” she said after a moment, nodding at his hand. He brought it out reluctantly, and she took it in her cool grasp, and turned it as Angelus had done. When she let go he hid it at his side again at once.
“It will be good as new in a few days,” she said in a neutral tone, and he shrugged. “Did the experience teach you anything?”
He shrugged again, staring at the carpet. She smoothed her skirts.
“I thought not.”
They sat in silence for a minute or two, until Will shifted restlessly and looked up.
“Is there something—” he began.
“Have you seen this?” she asked, and reached into her reticule. Her hand, when she withdrew it, held a small dark smile. The Slayer’s jaw.
He stared. “Yes,” he said. “You’ve had it for months, of course I’ve seen it.”
“Of course. Here, take it.” She tossed it to him, and he was so surprised he almost fumbled the catch. It was light and hard, the bone sepia, the teeth still white. He resisted the urge to bring it to his nose.
“Not many fledges see such a thing,” she said softly, and he looked up. She was watching him with a sharp careful expression, and he straightened in his chair.
She looked away, out the window where the evening sky was blue as indigo. “Tell me, Will; what do you remember about that girl of Rebecca’s?”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I say. What do you remember?”
He kept silent a moment, trying to determine what she really meant. “She was a pain,” he said finally. “And she’s dead.”
Something about her tone made him uneasy. “She was staked,” he said. “We left her in the middle of bloody nowhere, at sunrise.”
Darla smiled slightly, her gaze still on the window. “Of course,” she said again.
There was another small pause, and he turned the jaw over in his fingers. The teeth were cool and ridged, hardly worn at all.
“What about Henry?” Darla asked, and he looked up in irritation.
“What’s this about? What are you trying to get me to say?”
Darla turned her head and gave him a look of mild surprise. “Nothing, Will. But tell me—when you found the girl feeding off him, what exactly did you do?”
He stared at her, his lips pressed together, turning the jaw rapidly in his fingers. He’d done something wrong months ago, and she wouldn’t let it go. She had to rub his face in it even now.
“I pulled her off,” he said coldly, and she cocked her head.
“Did you? Ah yes, of course. And Angelus came down and sorted matters out. But didn’t you do something else first?”
“I’m mistaken, then. I thought you came down the hall.”
“Oh. Yeh. Well, I did. I told you, I was coming to fetch you and tell you—”
“But you passed the door. You went all the way to the head of the stairs, Will. Why did you do that?”
He sat spinning the jaw in his fingers, staring at her with his jaw set. A small part of his mind took up the question—why had he done that?—but the rest of him was occupied in hating her. She gazed back at him with a calm unreadable face.
“Dunno,” he said finally. “I’m stupid, I suppose.”
She held his gaze a moment longer, then sighed and leaned back in her chair.
“You’re not the only one,” she said quietly, and held her hand out for the jaw. He gave it to her, and she examined it, then tucked it away again. “Go and hang those things up,” she said, turning her gaze back to the window. “And if you snore today, may the good Lord help you.”