“Quel temps fait-il?”
“Weather, not time. Pay attention.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. Il fait chaud.”
“A little more effort, please.”
“Il fait une…er, une grande chaleur. Beaucoup de chaleur. Vachement de chaleur. Et il faut que je vais—I mean, que je sors. Dehors. Out. It’s stifling in here.”
Angelus raised an eyebrow.
“’Il faut que j’aille,’” he corrected. “’Il faut que je sorte.’ We’ve discussed the subjunctive, I believe.”
Will rolled his eyes and rapped his pencil against the table. “Subjunctive, right,” he repeated with as much impatience as he thought prudent. “There’s too many bloody tenses to keep track of. Perhaps if there were a subjunctive in English, I’d get it.”
Angelus propped his head up and gave Will a look that was half frustration, half amusement.
“What?” Will asked, then grinned and beat the pencil in a rapid tattoo on the table edge. “It’s dark now, we’ve been at it for hours. Let’s get out.”
“Stop fidgeting. And we’ll go when I say so, no sooner. Introduce yourself.” Angelus let his head fall back on the pillow and closed his eyes. He’d taken off his waistcoat as a concession to the heat, and lay with his arms outflung as if awaiting crucifixion. Will sighed.
“Je m’appelle William.” He left off with a grin, then hurried on when he saw Angelus’s brow begin to crease. “Oh, all right—Me permettez-vous de me presenter, sir or madam as the case may be, je m’appelle William, je suis ravi de faire votre connaissance, can’t contain my delight, inexpressible transports of rapture, enchanté, et cetera. Fair enough?”
Angelus was staring at the ceiling with a sour expression. Will tapped the pencil a few more times, then caught himself and held it against his knee.
“It’s like an oven in here,” he said after a minute, plucking at his collar. “What’s the French for that?”
Angelus muttered something, but his tone suggested that it wasn’t the phrase Will had asked for. Then he sighed and sat up.
“All right,” he said. “We’ll go out—”
Will grinned and gave the pencil a celebratory crack, breaking it in two.
“—but you aren’t to wander off again.”
Will was already on his feet, brushing India-rubber crumbs off his trousers. “Right, no wandering.”
“I mean it, boy. If you stray off where I can’t see you, or call you, I’ll track you down and wear you out.”
Will gave his shirt a final shake and rolled his neck to lose some of the stiffness of a three-hour sit. He could feel an increase in the air temperature, just from standing up.
“Yes sir,” he said automatically. “May I go and fetch Drusilla?”
Angelus lay looking at him in silence. Will shook out his writing hand and took his own waistcoat off the back of his chair. He shrugged it on and buttoned it, and Angelus still hadn't said anything. Will glanced at him.
“I won’t stray off,” he said. “I didn’t even mean to, the last time. It was just there was a girl Dru fancied—”
Angelus waved a hand in dismissal and closed his eyes again. Will hesitated.
“May I go then?”
Will paused, not sure whether he could safely interpret that to his advantage. The women were moving about in the other room, dressing, and he could hear Dru’s voice coming muffled through the wall. The sound acted like an invisible line tugging him toward the door, but he resisted.
“I’m all right, you know,” he said, fiddling with his shirt cuffs. “I’m right here.”
Angelus opened his eyes and gave Will a cool look, then crooked a finger. Will went over and stood by the bed. It was an extravagant pile of mattresses, so tall that the hotel provided a small stool to help guests to climb in. Angelus had folded the feather bed down, and lay on top of the sheets, at about the level of Will’s waist. He reached out and hooked his fingers into the band of Will’s trousers.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’d become senile for a moment, and needed your reminder.” His tone was indolent rather than threatening, and Will shrugged.
“I’m only saying it wasn’t dangerous—it was just a girl, and as it turned out I didn’t even have the chance to—”
Angelus yanked Will’s waistband, pulling him up against the side of the bed.
“That’s not the point,” he said. “The point is, I told you to stay close.”
“Yes sir,” Will said, slightly chastened. “I know.”
“Then do so.”
“Yes sir.” In the other room, Dru was saying something about a toad queen. Will glanced at the door and tried to pull away, but Angelus held him. “I will, sir. Honestly. May I go and fetch Dru now, please?”
Angelus sighed, then released his hold. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up, running his fingers under his collar with a look of discomfort.
“What is she talking about?” he asked, glancing at the wall.
“Fairy tales, I think. Darla bought her a book at one of the stalls, and she’s been reading it like mad.”
“Fairy tales,” Angelus repeated, with a skeptical look. “It can’t be good for her.”
“She likes them, though. May I go now?”
“Hm.” Angelus was staring at the wall with a thoughtful expression, and Will had to exert a supreme effort of will to hide his impatience.
“What? Oh—well, where’s your necktie?”
Will fished in his pocket and produced a rumpled silk strip. “I’ll have the maid iron it,” he said, and put it away again in a hurry.
Angelus turned his head away for a minute; when he looked back, his face was stern.
“See that you do,” he said. “I won’t have you looking like a—” He paused and thought.
“Ruffian?” Will suggested.
“Bank clerk,” Angelus finished, reprovingly. Will scowled.
“May I go?” he asked again, already starting to turn.
“Just a minute.” Angelus caught Will’s shoulder and pulled him back around. Will let himself be turned without resistance and stepped forward willingly, already tilting his head with a slight smile. Angelus held Will’s shoulder and kissed him gently. His mouth was pleasantly cool.
“All right,” he said at last, pushing Will back a step. “Off you go, find that girl.”
“Right,” Will said. He put his hand in his pocket and rubbed the soft silk of the necktie. “What are we doing tonight?”
Angelus shrugged. “Darla’s choice, I expect. And get Dru to stop spouting that nonsense. It’s tiresome.”
Will sketched an ironic little bow and went out. As he was closing the door behind him, he distinctly heard Angelus say to himself, in an amused and exasperated tone: “Ruffian.”
They had been in Brighton more than a week, less than a fortnight; Will couldn’t say exactly how long. He’d stopped keeping close track after the first few days. It was June, and unseasonably hot. The Italian sherbet vendors did a brisk business on the front, even after nightfall, and the water carts were kept busy laying the dust on the roads. The whole town smelled of salt and sweated woolens and a kind of dazed and febrile self-neglect. When the breeze came the wrong way past the fish markets, it was enough to make your eyes water.
Their hotel rooms sweltered behind closed curtains. They were confined inside throughout the long days, of course, which was frustrating but inevitable, and they passed most of the time in thick slumber, or in play. The heat was obscene. Daytime, it lay over the town like a pelt. Nights thinned it only slightly. There was a warm fetid breeze off the ocean, so thick that Will at times imagined he should be able to seize it in his hands and crush actual water from it.
They were all uncomfortable, and fascinated by it. They complained endlessly to each other of the heat, the smells, the stuffy dank air of the hotel rooms, but none of them suggested leaving. It was too thrilling to feel such discomfort—to be hot. It was a novelty, especially for Will, who hadn't felt anything like it since his turning—or even before, as far as he could remember. It was almost like being human. Will could only imagine what it was like for the actual humans, who were warm-blooded to begin with.
He had taken to stripping completely and sleeping on top of the covers, in defiance of Angelus and Darla’s disapproval. Drusilla sometimes panted; she said it made her cooler. All of them were a little slow, a little sleepy. Angelus in particular seemed affected, though fortunately for Will and Dru he’d turned tolerant and easily amused, rather than vicious. On a few occasions he’d actually laughed at some of Will’s clowning. Encouraged, Will had begun to pay closer attention to exactly what made Angelus laugh, and to bend his antics that way. He had the energy for it; after all, he was only four and half years old, and on holiday in Brighton.
It was one of the best times Will could remember, now that the shadow of Purwall was fading. In the weeks directly following their departure, Darla had been moody and caustic. She had spent a great deal of time sitting alone, turning the Slayer’s jaw in her fingers with a bitter frown, or absently touching her own chin, where the mark of the Slayer’s bite had long since healed. She wasn’t to be disturbed in these reveries, Will discovered, after she slashed him across the face with her keys for asking a trivial question. They all left her alone after that.
Then, on an otherwise unremarkable evening in mid-February, in a respectable Shrewsbury inn, she called Angelus to her room and closed the door firmly behind him. He came out several hours later with a slight limp and a trailing attar of blood and come, and disappeared on his own for the rest of the night. When Darla emerged a while later, she was quite herself again.
Since then, it had been a golden time. They’d criss-crossed the country freely, working their way east and west according to whim and the railway tables, heading always generally south. The only place they avoided was London itself, on principle. Angelus admitted that it was probably safe enough, especially as the months passed and there was no sign of pursuit or retaliation. Still, the Watchers knew their last house, and probably some of their haunts. It was better to be safe than sorry, and London would still be there when it came time to return. Besides, touring was a good education for the fledges. Will was content with that reasoning, partly because he knew it was sound and partly because he enjoyed the travel.
He was seeing new things every night—a bare-knuckle match behind a grubby public house one night, box seats for Iolanthe the next—and the variety alone delighted him. When he thought now of his four years in London, he felt something approaching dismay at the sameness and regularity of it. He could never disavow London, but he did wonder occasionally how he’d stood the routine. Getting up early every evening and collecting the boots, filling the coal scuttles, waiting to hear Angelus’s shout. It gave him a chill to think of it.
But things had changed since Purwall. Angelus had turned fiercely possessive of both his childer, and of Will especially. Even now he kept Will always within reach, and touched him constantly. He insisted on having Will next to him when they slept, to Darla’s annoyance. He fussed with Will’s clothes, straightened his hair, rested a hand on Will’s shoulder or tapped Will’s knee while he thought of other things. He gave him brief rough kisses on the forehead, jaw, and lips. He fucked him urgently and violently and with a certain measure of desperation—until Darla began pointedly taking a separate room for herself and Dru.
To his own surprise, Will enjoyed the attention. He knew what lay behind it, of course. They all did. He’d had the Slayer’s stake at his heart, and Angelus had almost lost a childe. When Will woke up in the evening and found Angelus’s hand still curled loosely about his arm, in the same spot it had occupied the morning before, he knew exactly why it was there. And instead of feeling disdain or anger, he found himself rolling over and driving his head against Angelus’s chest, waiting to feel the hand on the back of his neck. It was a comfort. Particularly if he’d dreamed badly, which was often the case.
But the shift in himself was unsettling. A few months before, if he’d contemplated having Angelus always hanging over his shoulder, he would have been furious. Even now he harboured a slight unease about whether he ought really to like it. It was weak, probably, and a stronger childe might have put a stop to it by this point. From time to time he withdrew these reservations from the corner of his mind into which he’d tossed them, looked them over carefully, resolved to set matters right in the near future, and then forgot it all again. There were, after all, new things to see every night.
And to be perfectly honest, he wasn’t precisely sure exactly how a stronger childe might put a stop to anything that Angelus wanted.
One other persuasive point was that Angelus was treating Will better than ever before. He hadn't gone soft—he’d delivered condign thumps on more than a few occasions—but he didn’t go out of his way to punish. When he did give Will a crack, as often as not he came back a moment later and helped him up, examined the wound, and clucked over it sympathetically. He only used his fists; never the strap. And he didn’t get that cold flat look in his eyes, the one that made Will’s shoulders come up to his ears in miserable anticipation.
He was sure that Darla must think he was being spoiled, but for some reason she kept her views to herself.
It was a happy time. After several months of hunting on the railways and roads, they had money and proper clothes, and they were all well fed. Will even had books to help him learn French, which Angelus was determined he should do. French first, then Italian and Spanish. As a further astonishment, he was proceeding well, and even enjoying it. This too caused him some unease, because he knew it wasn’t just due to the absence of the strap or the cold look in Angelus’s eye. It was more the fact that he honestly wanted to please his Sire, and admitting that to himself was an experience so novel it felt oddly like betrayal.
As usual, the evening started with a stroll on the King’s Road, which was a seething mass of prostitutes and their clientele. The ice cream sellers had long since packed up, and the day trippers were gone. Instead of families with luncheon baskets and sand pails, the promenade was crowded with drunken men in small groups, and women alone and in pairs. There was a general odour of gin, sweat, and bile.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt heat like this,” Darla mused, as they walked. She and Angelus were in front, strolling slowly without seeming to notice the scene around them. Not for the first time, Will noticed with some bemusement how the humans receded naturally before them, and closed in again after they’d passed, like sheep eddying away from wolves. He wondered whether the humans were even aware of it. He tried to remember whether he’d noticed anything strange, the night he’d blundered into the three of them by the mouth of the alley. He couldn’t.
“It’s delicious,” Drusilla said, leaning her head on Will’s shoulder. “It makes me want to drink something cold. Blueing, perhaps.” She gave a happy shiver at the thought.
“Don’t do that, love,” Will said, squeezing her waist. “It wouldn’t have the desired effect.”
“The last thing we need is for Drusilla to turn herself blue,” Darla commented over her shoulder. “I think that would be noticed.”
“Blue Dru,” Dru said softly, and giggled.
“My goodness, it’s hot,” Darla said, and then she was back on that again, and Will stopped listening.
They passed a couple rutting in a darkened doorway, and though he didn’t turn his head to look, Will shifted his hand and rubbed Dru’s breast. She smiled and purred, but he could hardly feel her through her dress and corset. There were distinct disadvantages to being fashionable, he reflected, as he dropped his hand to her bottom and felt only the unfriendly cage of her bustle under her skirt. He made a resolution to pull her aside as soon as he reasonably could, and find an empty doorway.
They’d come a fair way along the shore, and he wasn’t surprised when Darla and Angelus paused and stood looking out to sea, preparatory to turning back. Low white waves broke on the distant pebbles, like lines of pale stitching. Angelus turned his gaze up, and Will knew immediately what was coming.
“Will—” Angelus said, without looking around at him.
“Midnight,” Will said, not waiting for the question. He didn’t have to look up; he knew what time they’d left the hotel, and was getting better at keeping track, because Angelus asked him often enough. But he was also getting better at telling the time by the stars. Angelus had explained again, and this time Will had paid some attention, and it had to do with the North Star, and Cassiopeia, and the time of year. It was like French; easier to learn without a strap curled waiting at your elbow.
“It was much prettier here, before the railway,” Darla said, without commenting on their exchange. “But not so well supplied with tourist fare.”
“It is something of a buffet,” Angelus agreed, as they turned to walk back. “What do you fancy tonight, love?”
“There was a delightful young man in knee breeches—” she said.
Will tried to turn with Drusilla, but she stood still and kept staring out to sea.
“What is it?” he asked, trying to see what she was looking at. He could only see darkness.
“It’s the toad queen,” she said, patting him excitedly on the hand. “Here she comes!”
He looked quickly back out to sea, half-expecting to see a grotesque fairytale creature come skipping in over the tide. There was nothing but the waves grating on the stones.
“There’s nothing there, love,” he said, tugging gently at her arm. “Come on, we’re behind.”
She came, but kept looking out to sea with an expression of anticipation.
“It’s from that book, isn’t it?” he said. “Angelus says not to keep on about it. He thinks it’s bad for you, reading that stuff.”
“Does he?” she asked absently. “He needn’t worry—I’m mad already.”
Will gripped her hand. “Don’t say that. Come on, stop staring.”
She turned and gave him a smile, and he thought he could see some sadness in it. “Pretty Will. You don’t mind me being mad, do you?”
“I said, don’t talk nonsense. Here, look, I’ve got some money again tonight. Shall we go into Mutton’s and have a glass of gin?”
“We’re not allowed,” she said at once, watching him turn the coins in his fingers. “Too many mirrors, Daddy says. They’ll see we’re not in them.”
“We’ll sit in the back then. This entire town is drunk anyway, they wouldn’t notice if we showed up as beefeaters.”
She made a noncommittal sound, then turned her gaze away and looked back out to sea as they walked.
“Is it France you mean?” he asked, putting the money away and pulling her closer. “Is that what you’re thinking of?” She said nothing, and he stared at her in frustration. “Because they haven’t got a queen, you know. Just committees.”
“Yes,” she agreed vaguely, and that was all he could get out of her. They’d fallen behind Angelus and Darla by a fair way, and he hurried Dru to catch up. At New Road they turned up toward the theatre lanes, which were a reliable hunting ground.
“Wait here, you two,” Darla said, turning back. “There’s no sense all of us going at once.”
“Yes madam,” Will said immediately. Angelus looked back with an expression of slight suspicion.
“No wandering,” he said.
Drusilla was watching a man stagger sweating along the opposite side of the street, his arms outstretched and clasping at walls for balance.
“He walks like a tree,” she said.
“He’s paralyzed,” Will said, glancing over without interest. “Like everyone in this neighbourhood.” It was true; there was hardly a sober soul in the street, except perhaps for the pickpockets and some of the whores. The smell of cheap, adulterated gin was thick in the air. A few feet away, a pair of boys had begun to fight, and others were gathering round with interest.
Will pulled Dru away from the scuffle and watched until Darla and Angelus disappeared into the lanes. Then he wheeled and walked quickly back to a dark alley between two buildings, pulling Dru with him. He yanked her in and kissed her, already pulling up the front of her skirt.
She laughed and threw her arms around his neck, and he shoved her up against the wall and fumbled at her petticoats, cursing.
“Bloody hell—why do you wear so many—”
“Kiss me,” she sang, turning her mouth up, and he obliged. Her mouth was cool and tasted of perfume. He clutched the back of her neck and felt her arch, while the petticoats finally gave way and his fingers sank into wetness.
“Christ,” he gasped. “Here, give me—” He took her hand and placed it on his fly, over his cock. She had him open in a moment, and purred while she rubbed him.
“Lovely Will,” she said, and the sound of his name in her mouth sent a deep chill of pleasure through him. He went still, his eyes closed and his forehead pressed to hers, a blissful smile on his lips. The alley didn’t matter. His fingers were buried in her, and he could feel her slight contractions, almost like a pulse.
“Again,” he whispered.
“Lovely, lovely Will,” she said, and kissed his neck. “My chevalier. My dark knight.”
“Yes,” he said.
Then she pulled the hair at the back of his neck, and when he lifted his head he saw she was in demon face. He shifted too, with a grin, and thrust into her, hard enough to knock her back against the brick. They fell to it, sharp and violent, Will bracing himself with one hand against the wall above her head. She gasped and laughed and struck him painlessly across the face. She couldn’t have hurt him if she’d torn his throat out; he was inside her, fucking her, and a man who was in heaven couldn’t feel pain.
He felt it when she came, though, and the thought of her pleasure brought him off too, in a quick wet rush that he hardly registered.
“Dru—” he breathed, resting his head in her neck. She traced the ridges of his demon face with her fingers. They stood there a moment or two, entwined.
Then there was a raucous shout from the street, and someone pitched a bottle into the mouth of the alley, where it shattered. Will glared round with annoyance.
“And a salamander in attendance,” Dru said, shivering slightly and losing demon face. Will kissed her gently and gave her his handkerchief to clean up.
“A salamander,” he repeated, buttoning himself and straightening his coat. His tie had come untucked, and he’d dropped his hat on a pile of rubbish. He considered leaving it there—he hated wearing a hat—but knew better than to do that. Angelus would not take kindly to the loss of a hat he’d paid half a guinea for only a few days prior. Will stooped and rubbed it on his sleeve, but didn’t put it on.
“What ever happened to the cuckoo, Will?” Drusilla asked in a matter-of-fact tone, tossing the soiled handkerchief away. Will paused, taken by surprise.
“She’s dead,” he said. “You remember—we left her behind, after she was staked.”
“Outside of the enclosure,” Dru said doubtfully, straightening her skirts.
“That’s right. I expect she was dust when the sun came up that day.”
“Oh.” She turned away, her curiosity apparently satisfied, and he took her arm.
“What made you think of her?” he asked, as they walked back toward the street. “Was it something from your book of tales?”
“What book?” she asked absently, stepping over the broken glass.
“The book that Darla—” he started, but just then Darla herself appeared at the mouth of the alley. Angelus was right behind her, a dark look on his face. Will clapped his hat onto his head.
“Strange,” Darla said, peering in at them and sniffing slightly. “I could have sworn we left the pair of you in the street.”
“There was a row,” Will said immediately. “I didn’t think you’d want us getting involved, so we just ducked out of sight for a moment—”
Darla gave him a cynical glance and strolled off. Angelus lingered a moment longer, running his eyes over both of them. He smelled very slightly of fresh blood.
“It wasn’t wandering,” Will said in a low voice, as they drew level. “We were just here, and it’s safer out of the street in any case—”
Angelus leaned over him, huge and black. He put his face near Will’s neck and sniffed pointedly. Will fell silent and waited, while Dru sketched circles on his palm with her fingernail.
“You never said we couldn’t do that,” Will said after a moment’s impatience.
Angelus raised an eyebrow, then lifted his hands and adjusted Will’s tie. His fingers were cool and incidental against Will’s neck.
“Later,” he said simply, his gaze including both of them. Then he turned and walked off after Darla.
Will looked at Dru, and she looked back at him.
“What do you think he means by that?” Will asked with a slight feeling of disquiet. Dru shook her head, wide-eyed, and he pulled his tie loose again with a frown. “Well, let’s at least see if we’re still going to get supper.”