The figure left in the early afternoon, ambling at first and then picking up to a gallop when it had got a fair distance from the village. Will stayed and watched it while Caitlin went down to find Angelus. She reappeared only a minute or two after she’d left, alone.
“Where’s Angelus?” Will asked, frowning at her.
By her silence she indicated that she was not.
“Well, did you tell him?”
Will forced himself to keep a calm face. “What did he say?”
“He said, ‘all right.’”
He stared at her until she shrugged. “That’s all,” she said, then added as an afterthought: “Well, he told me to get out.”
“This is ridiculous,” he said, turning back to watch the figure dwindle to a point. “We’re going to be massacred.”
“I’m sure Angelus knows what he’s doing,” she said, though her tone wasn’t sure at all. “And Darla—she’s very old. They must have laid a plan of some kind.”
“Why—well, they’ve had warning. It’s not the same as for Rebecca. It isn’t a surprise. There’s been time to devise a strategy.”
“I think,” he said, turning to give her a sour smile, “that this pile we’re standing on is the extent of the strategy.”
“But there must be—well, there must be a reason we’re here.”
“You’re very trusting,” he said. “That’s a delightful quality in a young woman.”
She scowled and stepped out to peer after the disappearing figure. As they watched, it crested a rise and vanished down the far slope. Once it was gone, the countryside was still as a painting again.
He closed his eyes and pretended just for a moment that he was back in London, that the empty hills weren’t there at all, and that when he opened his eyes he’d see Seven Dials crowded with drunkards. It occurred to him that it had grown colder in the last hour. Something touched his face and he started; it was a snowflake. He peered up into the heavy white sky and cursed.
“If there’s a storm now they’ll never get here.” Caitlin turned and looked at him incredulously.
“You speak as if you’re looking forward to it.”
“Fighting trumps waiting,” he said. “And there is the matter of our slow starvation.”
She blinked, and he could see her conceding the point. More flakes had begun to spiral down around them.
“Of course, you could just keep tucking into villagers without asking leave,” he said. “And I could pass the time draining it out of you.”
This time the mention didn’t faze her; she merely looked at him and shook her head.
“How did you get hold of him, anyway?” he asked. “He’s hardly the adventuring sort.”
She turned her face up to watch the snow descend. The gesture might have been one of simple impatience, but he was paying close attention, and something about her manner struck him as odd.
“I suppose he’s not what you thought him,” she said.
“Perhaps. Funny, though, to think of him privateering around on his own. Venturing down dark hallways and into unlit rooms.”
“Humans are forever doing stupid things,” she said. “Bless them.”
“Yes,” he said. He let a moment pass, then asked quietly, “Why were you so bothered, when Darla asked about my coming down the hall?”
She put her tongue out and caught a flake on it. Her face was still enough to tell him that she was stalling.
“Did I seem bothered?” she asked carelessly after a moment. “I expect I was anticipating being thrashed.” She paused. “I’m not used to it, you see.”
He eyed her a moment longer, then settled back into his coat. There was something there—he knew it. But he couldn’t think how to get at it, because he didn’t know what it was.
“I’ll find out,” he said, catching her eye to emphasize that he was speaking not just of the boy now. “Or Angelus will. And I should tell you that he dislikes liars extremely.”
Her face remained smooth; her eyes betrayed nothing.
“Do you think there are any weapons in this tower?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Haven’t the faintest.” But he was instantly annoyed with himself for having failed to consider the question.
“It might be useful to arm ourselves.”
He went to demon face and bared his teeth at her in a grin. “Beyond these, you mean?”
“You’ll want more than those if they have crossbows, yes.”
“Did they have crossbows when you saw them?”
“Safe to assume they won’t have lost them since,” he said, watching a white scrim begin to descend between the tower and the village. “But I’ve been through this whole bloody place and all I’ve seen is tables and chairs.”
“Then we’re to be unarmed.” There was some tension in her voice now.
“I suppose so.”
“We are going to be massacred,” she said, and walked out of the alcove. She went to the wall, rested her forearms on it, and stared over. Snowflakes settled on her shoulders and hair.
Will watched her a moment; it was unsettling to see her stand unprotected like that, though he knew the sky was cloudy. That was one lesson he’d learned quickly; never to trust his life to the prevailing winds.
“Cheer up,” he called. “You’ve been lucky so far; you may well escape again. And what’s more, you’ll have the opportunity to see Angelus tear the Slayer’s throat out.”
He smiled as he said the words, but they sounded false and thin in the frigid air. Caitlin remained where she was, and didn’t look up.
The temperature dropped and dropped again, and the snow became a sharp driven sting, like a series of childish slaps. Caitlin withdrew back to the alcove, and the two of them stood huddled in silence, their hands plunged deep in their pockets, staring out into the storm. Will’s eyes watered and his lashes froze. He wiped them and cursed methodically. The village was a small dark blot behind a dancing curtain of white. The road was lost completely, and their own tracks were long gone.
The sky had turned low and leaden; it was almost like night inside the alcove. Hours passed without any change except an increase in the wind and the gradual continuous darkening of late afternoon. They’d been on the roof all day, Will reflected, as the cold began to eat into his bones. It was just possible that Angelus had forgotten they were there.
Caitlin was standing to his left, shivering violently, her chin buried in the collar of her coat. He dropped his head to wipe his eyes for the hundredth time, and without any warning she fell into him, boneless and heavy.
He cursed and grabbed her, and she gave a spastic start and tried to find her feet. Her heels skated on the icy stone and he, clumsy with cold, was half-pulled down with her. He locked his knees, grabbed the back of her coat, and yanked her upright.
“Get off,” he snapped, but he held her up while she looked dizzily round and reached for the wall.
“Go inside if you’re going to do that.”
She straightened her coat slowly and stamped with obvious effort.
“Go on,” he said. “Go curl up by the fire like a good little housecat. See if Angelus will pour you a saucer of milk.”
She slapped her own cheeks a few times.
“I’m all right,” she said. It came out slightly slurred.
“You’re frozen,” he said. “And totally useless. I’m not taking care of you. Go inside.”
“I’m all right,” she said again, stubbornly.
He turned and shoved her back toward the door, and she staggered, caught hold of the wall, and clung to it. “I can’t,” she said quietly. “Angelus told me to watch. If he finds me inside—“
“Tell him I sent you. Tell him I said you were a liability. He’ll still thump you, but at least you’ll be less stupid when the Slayer arrives.”
She wavered a moment longer, then nodded. She stumbled over the sill and disappeared down the stairs. He went back to the mouth of the alcove and set his face against the wind. In a moment his eyes were streaming and he began to curse again, bitterly and without satisfaction.
He watched another hour perhaps—he didn’t know how long exactly. The sky was almost full dark and the cold was so deep in him that minutes felt stretched into days. He stamped to keep his feet from going numb, and noticed with some part of his mind that his left leg ached again. The rest of his mind was occupied with thoughts of Dru, past and present—asleep downstairs in a mass of dusty linens; curled before the fire in the London house, tearing pages from a book; kissing him with a smile, and blood on her teeth. He remembered the policeman he’d promised her, and made a mental note to track one down as soon as they returned to civilization. He’d thought of giving her the Slayer’s heart as a gift. That was still a lovely thought.
He drifted into daydreams about killing the Slayer. He knew they were silly and self-indulgent, but he permitted himself to have them as a kind of bulwark against the secret despair he was beginning to feel. In one scenario he punched the Slayer bloody and tossed her off the roof, to make a pretty red angel in the snow below. Dru would like that one, he felt sure. In another, he half-gutted the girl and hung her from the chandelier in the main hall. He wasn’t sure where he would find rope to accomplish this, and an irritatingly literal part of his mind was worrying away at this question when he thought he saw movement in the storm.
His eyes teared again and he had to wipe them, cursing automatically. By the time he could see once more, the curtain of white had fallen back across the village. He waited tensely for it to lift, while the seconds passed like ages. Then it was gone, and he saw horses coming over the hills, moving quickly over the vanished road. He counted ten, fifteen—and then the curtain dropped again and he swore with real rage and spun on his heel.
His numbed feet betrayed him, and he almost fell head-first down the spiral staircase, catching himself up against the wall at the last moment. After that he was more careful, and kept a hand on the stone to brace himself as he descended. He burst through the door at the bottom and ran directly into someone standing in the hall.
He knew even without looking that it wasn’t family, and for an instant he was afraid there was somehow, impossibly, a Watcher inside the tower—but then a wan familiar scent hit him. He reached out and grabbed a thin shoulder, and Henry squeaked.
“Get out of the way,” Will barked, and thrust the boy aside. He had a brief glimpse of Henry’s pale, frightened face, and of the white stripe of bandage at his neck. He took the hallway at a run and flung himself into the main bedchamber.
“They’re here,” he gasped. Angelus was lying in the bed with Darla on one side and Drusilla on the other. He sat up.
“How many?” he asked. His tone conveyed neutral interest.
“Fifteen at least,” Will said. “Likely more. On horseback, coming quickly. It’s blowing a gale, I couldn’t see to count them.”
Angelus frowned. “Are they headed to the village, or directly here?” he asked.
Darla had been watching in silence; she stretched and smiled up at Angelus. “Wake up,” she said to Drusilla. “Time to get dressed.”
Drusilla lifted her head and looked around uncertainly. “Where’s the boy?” she asked.
“Dripping at the foot of the bed,” Darla said. Drusilla looked at Will and smiled.
“Hullo Will,” she said. “Did you bring my music box?”
“Not now, love,” he said, and turned to Angelus. “Are there weapons here? They’re going to have crossbows—“
“Oooh,” Drusilla said. Angelus threw the covers back and climbed naked out of the bed.
“No,” he said, pulling on his trousers. “And I don’t recall asking you to strategize.”
“My God,” Will said, “I’ve been standing up there all bloody day—“
“Drusilla, fetch my corset,” Darla said. Will looked from Angelus to her, and back again.
“Look,” he said. “There are a great lot of them. They’re coming very quickly, and I don’t think they’re here to play whist. I’m very glad you’re all so well-rested, but if we don’t do something quickly we’re going to be—“
“Stockings,” Darla said, holding out her hand.
“Christ!” Will said.
“You wouldn’t have me face the Slayer without my stockings, would you Will?” Darla asked. He stared at her and she laughed.
Angelus had his shirt and waistcoat on now, and he pulled his coat off the back of a chair. “We’ll go up,” he said. “I’d like to get a proper count, at least.” He went out with a nod at Will, who stood stricken for a moment and then followed.
Henry was still standing in the hallway, a dozy half-awake look on his face. Angelus gave him a glance as they passed, and the boy woke up enough to shrink back against the wall.
“Solid Purwall stock,” Angelus commented as they reached the stair. “Up and walking already.”
Will glanced back—Henry was a mere dark outline in the hall, his bandage a floating luminous strip. It was one strange moment in what was beginning to seem a surreal dream, and Will merely turned his back on it and followed Angelus up the stair.
On the roof, Angelus stood in the full blast of the wind and stared down indifferently. The view was lost in white; then it cleared, and Will saw a long file of horses making for the village. More than he had initially seen, but again the storm cut off his view before he could count.
“Twenty-one,” Angelus said, turning away. “A sizeable party. Very likely she has French and English Watchers both at this point; they’ll have joined up in London.”
“Delightful,” Will said. “What are we going to do about it?”
Angelus considered him, squinting slightly in the sideways cut of the wind. “You should come in and get warm,” he said. “Where’s that idiot girl?”
“She fainted. I sent her in.”
Angelus snorted. “I meant her to spell you. Come in; we’ll send her up to keep an eye on things.”
Will shook his head and clenched his fists. “Keep an eye on what, exactly? They’re right there—you just saw them. They’ll be here in a few minutes.”
Angelus smiled and knuckled Will’s head roughly. “Come inside,” he said, and pushed past Will to disappear back down the stairs. Will stared after him for a moment, as if an explanation might materialize in the empty doorway, and then he followed.
Things had begun to happen in a very strange manner; both very quickly and with agonizing slowness, and in entirely the wrong order. The women were still dressing when Angelus kicked open the door to the small bedchamber and startled Caitlin up from the hearthstone. She’d built the fire up and fallen asleep in front of it.
“Get up there and watch,” Angelus said, hauling her up and tossing her toward the door. “When they start for the tower, come and tell us.”
She scrambled out with a quick Yes sir and Will was still looking after her when Angelus pulled him over to the fireplace. He stripped Will’s coat off and dropped it over a chair.
“Dry off and get warm. We still have a little time.”
“A little time for what?” Will asked. “I can’t see how it matters whether I’m dry—“
Angelus tossed a pillowslip in his face. Will hesitated, then rubbed it over his head.
“Appearances matter, boy. How’s your leg?”
He was wiping his face, not paying attention—something hooked his left ankle and he stumbled, overbalanced, then caught himself. He looked up and saw Angelus smiling at him.
“Not too bad.”
Will glared and took a step away.
“They’re going to be here any minute,” he said, “and you’re bullying me. Darla’s fussing with her corset—has everyone gone mad?”
Angelus gave him a mock lunatic grin and said nothing.
“This is completely insane,” Will said, more loudly. “We need weapons. It’s five against twenty, there’s a Slayer, we’re trapped—“
Angelus picked up another slip and reached out to towel Will’s hair.
“Stop that,” Will said, twisting away. “Are you mad? Do you understand me at all?”
Angelus paused, a sudden look of attention on his face. Will fell silent too, listening as hard as he could. He heard the women’s movements across the hall, the slight wandering sound of Henry’s slow heart, the fires, the wind outside. He watched Angelus’s face intently and waited to hear hooves and French voices, and the clang of metal on the great front door.
After a moment Angelus shook his head and smiled.
“Strange,” he said. “I thought you said they’d be arriving momentarily. And yet—“ He cocked his head and held still. “I don’t hear anyone.”
Will squinted with the effort of listening. “I don’t know,” he said irrelevantly. Then a thought occurred to him: “They might be holding off. Regrouping.”
Angelus nodded solemnly—a little too solemnly to be serious. “They might,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll send that boy down to make a fire in the main hall. It’s cold.”
Will stared. He knew he was being made fun of—and the little curl of fear he’d kept damped down for so long was turning to a helpless, frustrated rage. “Listen to me,” he said. “There’s no time for these antics. We're all in danger, and you're behaving like an imbecile—“
“The greatest danger you are in at the moment,” Angelus said evenly, “is of finishing that sentence.” His manner had cooled in an instant, and his eyes were hard.
“I’m not letting you get us all killed,” Will said. “You’re playing some kind of game, you think it’s amusing, but Dru’s in there and I’m not going to—“
Angelus plucked the wet slip from his hand and slapped his face with it.
“Do as you’re told,” he said.
“Fuck you,” Will said.
For a second he stood there, amazed at himself—then he turned and started walking quickly for the door. Behind him, Angelus sighed.
“I’m getting Drusilla,” Will said. “And I’m going to find some weapons—“
He heard a quick step behind him but there wasn’t time to turn. Something came around his throat and yanked tight, pulling him back on his heels. He grabbed at it instinctively, forgetting to kick back as he should have done, and Angelus knocked his feet out. Will dropped to his knees and the noose round his throat jerked tighter.
He drove an elbow back, but Angelus ignored that. Will’s fingers plucked at the noose, and some part of his mind informed him that it was the same pillowslip Angelus had just taken from him, twisted into a rope. It was wet and cold. It hurt like fire where it cut into his neck.
He was making a slight gasping sound, he realized, and forced himself to stop. There was at least some dignity in silence.
“When I said we’d save the thrashing for another day,” Angelus said, “I didn’t mean today. Really, Will—this is inconvenient.”
Will dropped one hand and tried to grab Angelus’s ankle to upset him. Angelus merely lifted his foot out of the way.
There was a knock at the door, and they both looked up.
“Come in,” Angelus said, without releasing his hold at all.
Caitlin opened the door and stood staring at them with a look of complete incomprehension.
“What—they’re coming already?” Angelus asked. Her gaze was on Will, and it took her a moment to tear it away and register the question.
“N-no, sir. No, I—that’s why I... They went into the village and then…they haven’t come out.”
Angelus gave the slip an irritable yank, and Will was lifted half off the floor. He reached back desperately to catch hold of Angelus’s hands, and Angelus put a warning knee in the small of his back.
“I told you to fetch me when they were coming,” he said. “Not when they weren’t. Was I unclear?”
Caitlin was staring at Will again; she’d taken a step forward, as though she were considering coming to his aid.
“I’m sorry,” Angelus said. “It must have been my fault. I’ll come up and clarify shortly. In the meantime, would you be kind enough to return to your post?”
Caitlin gave him a blank, frightened look, then dropped her eyes to Will. He looked away, furious and humiliated.
“Yes sir,” she said softly, and went out.
“Where were we?” Angelus asked. “Oh, yes.” He cinched the slip tighter and Will ground his teeth and forced his hands to his sides. He went limp and let Angelus throttle him. He knew it lasted only a few seconds after he’d stopped fighting, but it felt like an hour.
At last Angelus loosed the tension, though he didn’t take the slip away. Will knelt silently, staring at the floor.
“You may not speak to me like that,” Angelus said, toying with the slip so that it brushed against Will’s neck. “Not even if you think you have just cause. Do you understand?”
Will nodded. “Yes sir,” he said. His voice cracked, and speaking hurt.
“Good.” The slip was gone. “Get up.”
Will stood and felt his throat. It felt no different on the outside, of course.
“You heard what she said?”
Will nodded. “Yes sir. They haven’t come out of the village.”
“Correct. Do you still feel the need to barricade Drusilla?”
“No sir.” He did, but there was no point saying so.
“Good.” A pause. “Turn around, look at me.”
Will turned. Angelus was holding the twisted slip in one hand, tapping it lightly against his other palm. It was an oddly familiar gesture; it took Will a moment to realize that it was how he often held the strap.
“Do you really think I don’t care for your safety?” Angelus asked. Will hesitated.
“No sir,” he admitted.
“I’m amazed at you, Will,” Angelus said. “Why do you think we’re here in the first place?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Will said, and either the genuine confusion or the rasp in his voice spared him Angelus’s usual contempt for that answer. Instead of a sneer, Angelus gave him a look of mild surprise.
“You are a bit stupid after all,” he said, but his tone was indulgent. He shook his head slightly and looked down at the twisted slip as if surprised to find it in his hands. “This—I’ll remember this for another day. And other circumstances.” He looked up with a grin, and Will touched his throat nervously without meaning to. Angelus’s grin widened.
“Get warm,” he said, tossing the slip aside and walking past Will to the door. “Our guests will be delayed a little longer, I expect.”
“I don’t understand—“ Will started to say, and Angelus laughed.
“Of course you don’t,” he said. “But you will shortly—and I think you’ll begin to enjoy yourself.”
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