Breakfast was a full-grown man and woman, their three children, and an old bedridden man who was some kind of indirect relation and smelled of rot. Not much to go around, especially considering that none of them had fed during the night, and that Will had been starved the night before as well. It had been part of his latest punishment—-something to do with knocking a chunk out of the newel post on the landing.
"We ought not to have wasted the angry man," Drusilla said sadly, letting her allotted child fall limply to the floor. "This one's all done, and I'm still hungry."
"There wasn't time," Angelus said. He'd had the woman--the man, the biggest one, was Darla's by unspoken law. Will had been given the choice of the old man or a boy hardly bigger than the goat outside. He chose the boy, who hardly took the edge off the gnawing in Will’s belly.
"It does make you grateful for large families," Darla said from her seat by the fire. "Three children--it's hardly worth the trouble."
"There's one left," Drusilla pointed out, bending down to peer under the table at the little girl who remained. "And the old man too. You can have him, Will."
"No thanks," he said. The man was lying in his corner pallet, gawping at them. He hadn't said anything at all, and Will suspected he was touched, or had had some kind of fit. Either way, he smelled of sickness, and it turned Will's stomach to think of feeding
They all felt the same way, and it ended with Angelus snapping the man's neck and chucking him out back. It improved the atmosphere substantially--now the only stink was coming off the burnt girl, whom Will had dumped on the parents' bed.
"I want to play with the little one," Drusilla said when Angelus returned. "I'm still hungry, Daddy."
"Get away from her," he said. "Go and sit by the fire."
Drusilla pouted, but did as she was told. Angelus went and knelt where she had been crouching.
"It's all right, little sister," he said, putting his hand under the table. "You can come out now."
The child didn't move, and Will leaned against the doorframe and smirked. Angelus shifted--he was too big to fit under the table--and tried again.
"Come on, my peach. Out you come, now."
There was a small sound, and the child crawled out. Her face was dirty with tears and her eyes looked dazed. It was hard to say exactly, but she might have been four or five years old.
"That's a good girl," Darla said, smiling at her. "Now go and say hullo to the gentleman."
The child blinked, then walked over to Angelus. He patted her head gently and stood up. She looked about the size of a terrier beside him.
"You're a fine little lady," he said. "Do you think you'll go to court someday, and meet the Queen?"
She peered up at him and nodded.
"Well, come and practice your curtsey," he said, and put out his hand. She took it and he led her over to her parents' bed, where the burnt girl lay.
"Angelus," Darla said, "you're a true devil." Her voice was full, and she was smiling proudly. Will looked away and rolled his eyes.
"Not to the cuckoo-" Drusilla whispered, and Darla did something that made her squeak and fall silent.
"Say how-d'you-do to our lady," Angelus said, and the little girl started to cry. Will looked over with interest.
Angelus had crouched down and was holding the girl so she couldn't back away from the bed. "Don't be afraid-she's just ill, like your granda was. Come up and say how-d'you-do, now." He picked the girl up and put her on the bed.
"How-dee-do," the girl whispered, sniffing.
A burnt hand came up out of the sheets and took hold of the girl's arm. For a moment nobody moved; then the girl was pulled down. She made a tiny sharp cry and no struggle to speak of. Her blood smelled like clean air.
Angelus watched until the girl stopped trembling, then got up and walked back to the fire.
"Why did the cuckoo get her?" Drusilla asked petulantly. "She's been asleep all night, not doing any of the work."
"The cuckoo got her because she needs to heal," Angelus said. He looked at Darla, not Drusilla, as he spoke. "If she's worth anything she'll be able to ride by night."
Darla tilted her head and smiled into the fire. "All this trouble," she said. "Our house--the Slayer will know it now. We can't go back again." Oddly, her tone was pleased.
Drusilla whimpered, and Angelus went and stroked her hair automatically. She turned her face into his side and clung to him.
Will looked down at his thumbnail.
"We could put her out in the sun," Darla said, her voice dreamy.
"Oh yes, let's--" Drusilla said eagerly. Angelus covered her mouth with his hand and she moaned.
"It would make everything much easier," Darla went on. "Even if she heals enough to ride, she'll be slow. It would be safer if we got rid of her altogether."
Angelus said nothing, but watched her from under his brows. One of his fingers, Will noticed, was in Drusilla's mouth.
"Will--" Darla turned to him suddenly, and he straightened up and tried to wipe the anger off his face. "You brought this creature into our lives-what do you think we should do?"
"I don't know, Madam," he said immediately. It wasn't the best answer, but when Darla asked him questions like this, it was always a trick.
"You must have an opinion," she said. "Here we are, trapped in a sty in the countryside. We've lost our house, our belongings--we have only what we can carry on our backs. Surely you have some thoughts on the matter."
"I'm sorry for it, Madam," he said.
"I have no doubt you are, Will. You enjoy comfort very much. So you must think it would be best for us to put her out, seeing that she stands between you and a more comfortable existence."
He had no idea what she was on about, but Angelus had let go of Drusilla's face and was looking at him with a hard gaze. That meant he had to come up with something fast, and I don't know wasn't going to be good enough.
"I'm sorry we've come here, Madam. But--" He paused, trying to think of something
quickly. They were waiting, and Angelus hadn't crossed the room to belt him yet. "But I wouldn't put her out just yet, I don't think."
"Why not?" Darla prompted, when he didn't go on.
"Because--because we don't know where she's come from yet, or who. Dru said there were others, and everyone was burnt but her. And she said the Slayer was coming, so I'd keep her long enough to find out what that's all about." He only thought of it as
he said it, but it was true. If they'd lost the London house, he wanted to know what it was for. He'd wager that Darla and Angelus felt the same way.
Angelus turned to Darla, and she gave him a you see? look that Will didn't understand at all.
"All right, Will," she said. "We'll keep her a little longer, shall we?"
"Just until we find out where she came from," he said, feeling a little more confident.
Darla laughed. "Oh, we know where she came from," she said. "Do you think we'd come all this way if we didn't?"
Will held himself still and tried not to notice how Angelus was looking at him.
"You were downstairs," Darla said, "smoking that cigarette. Her Sire was Rebecca, and she came to us from Lille."
Angelus shifted and kept that cold gaze on him, and Will tried to look anywhere else. "Oh," he said.
"Should we put her out, then?" Darla asked, still smiling. "We know where she came from, after all."
"I don't--" he said, and saw Angelus move. He hurried to change his answer. "Er, no, we shouldn't put her out yet."
"Why not, Will? I thought you only wanted to know where she'd come from. She came from France."
"Well…" He glanced over at the crumpled body on the bed. "Well, do we know why she came?"
Darla smiled and sat back in her chair. She crossed her hands in her lap. "No, Will, we don't know that."
Angelus's eyes narrowed and he gave a slight nod, and Will practically slumped with relief. That was it, then--the reason they were keeping her around. Curiosity.
He wondered how close he'd come to having his head staved in.
Drusilla looked at all three of them with an unhappy face. "I know why she's come," she said softly. “She’s come to take our places.”
"Oh bloody hell, Dru," Will said, turning away.
"Enough," Angelus said. "It's late. Will, you stand first watch."
"No," Darla said. "I'll do it."
Angelus paused in taking off his coat. "You want to stay up?"
"I'm not sleepy, darling." With the firelight playing on the side of her face, she looked beautiful and serene.
"As you like," he said, and bent down briefly so she could kiss him. Then he walked toward the bed where the burnt girl lay.
"I won't sleep with the cuckoo," Drusilla said, backing away. Angelus sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at her without sympathy.
"Take one of the children's beds then," he said. "Or the old man's."
"Smells like cattle," Dru said, wrinkling her nose.
"Take the floor then," Angelus said, pushing the burnt girl to the far side of the bed and kicking off his boots. He lay back, then made an uncomfortable face and reached beneath him to pluck the child's body out of the bed. It dropped with a thud in the shadows.
Drusilla wavered for a moment, then went and curled up in one of the tiny nests the children had left behind.
Darla looked at Will, who was still standing by the door. She raised her eyebrows and he hesitated a second, then walked toward Angelus's bed. He didn't like the idea of sleeping by the burnt girl any better than Dru did, but he wasn't going to cram himself into a toddler's cot.
Angelus was already lying down with his eyes closed, so Will had to climb in on the burnt girl's side, being careful not to touch her as he did so. He couldn't tell whether she was asleep or awake. Her eyes were closed and she didn't move. She didn't smell as strongly now, and the clean scent of the child's blood still hung in the air.
He shimmied in between the two of them, crowding over as close to Angelus as he could and trying not to touch the girl at all. Angelus smelled as he always did--blood, leather, metal, Sire. Good smells, comfort smells. Will put his face close to Angelus's chest and breathed in quietly. Suddenly he was exhausted.
Angelus's hand came around and took him by the back of the neck, a firm and reassuring pressure. He closed his eyes and thought briefly--I wonder if they know her name already--and then he was asleep.
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