|Disclaimer: "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" is a trademark of Twentieth Television © 1997-2001.
Author's note: Thanks to the most faboo betas ever (you know who you are). Special thanks to Hannalee for helping me nuke the Americanisms and her fantastic grasp of Victorian London social graces, Maddog for spotting typos no one else had, and Yahtzee for all the late nights, Miss Edith ad infinitum and T.S. Eliot.
"It's my mom," she had finally said, when the silence had stretched between them so long that breaking it was even more awkward than allowing it to continue.
He had nodded, despite the fact that he figured any mother stupid enough to invite a bloodsucking creature of the night into her kitchen for biscuits and drinking chocolate deserved to have her throat ripped out.
Still, it had been awfully nice, having a sympathetic listener as he'd spun out the entire tale over Swiss Miss with mini-marshmallows in her kitchen. Of course, he'd left out several important details such as the fact that Drusilla had left him because she'd claimed he'd been obsessed with the Slayer.
Which, of course, he was.
Her tears had dried. He had withdrawn his hand from her shoulder, and just waited. For what, he wasn't certain. She remained silent, staring up at the moon and stars. If he had expected the floodgates to open, and her to fall weeping into his manly arms, well... He was a fool for love, but not that big a fool. He wasn't at all surprised when she had stood up and gone back inside without another word. He'd sat on the faded wooden stairs of the deck, the shotgun resting against his thigh, until all the lights in the house had gone out.
Then he'd gone home.
Sleep, however, had eluded him. As the sky in the east began to lighten, and the birds in the trees chattered and sang, he'd finally given up.
Blanket over his head, he'd lurked in the bushes until morning and the Slayer had taken her sister to the hospital. He'd known it was a long shot—but when the door gave and he was able to step inside, he couldn't help but grin. So the Slayer had never taken him off the guest list. A tiny thrill of hope woke in his breast, quickly suppressed as his inner voice of reason reminded him that probably meant she either didn't consider him a danger, or he was so completely beneath her notice that she'd forgotten.
He'd told his inner voice to sod off and had started going from room to room. He peered at the framed photos on the walls and poked around in drawers, satisfying his curiosity piecemeal. Finally, he'd given in to his baser instincts and climbed the stairs to the bedrooms above.
He'd sat on her bed for close to ten minutes, picturing her sleeping. Imagining her features slack, peaceful, perhaps even a smile curving her lips in repose, hair tousled, chest rising and falling evenly as she slept. Before, he had never been able to even imagine her without the hatred shining in her eyes, fierce determination in the set of her jaw. But when she had raised her tearstained face to his, completely unguarded and so totally alone... That had been it. Exactly how he had wanted her.
Exactly how he wanted her.
"Don't you ever get tired of fights you know you're going to win?" he'd asked Angelus, all those many years ago and that was the truth of it. No matter what he felt or didn't feel, at his core, he hungered for an equal. Someone who could match him blow for blow, kiss for kiss, kill for kill. The idea of ending it was unconscionable. The truth of it was, the reason he'd never killed her was because if he had, who would he have fought? Who would be left that was worth fighting?
When he had gotten back to the crypt and dropped the smoking blanket onto the damp floor, he'd taken his first good look at his prize. Pink cotton panties fresh from the laundry, still smelling slightly of soap and dryer sheets. He'd stuffed them back into the pocket of his duster and fished pen and paper out of his jumble of stolen belongings.
Harmony had been crossing her fingers, although she figured she would have heard by now if the Slayer had gotten him. News travelled fast among the undead. Almost as fast as it had back in high school. The gossip hadn't changed much either—who was dating whom, who was wearing last year's what. Only now, it also included who had killed whom.
When she came back to the crypt and saw him there, hunched over a notebook, the abandoned shotgun sitting atop the trunk, she felt something in her cold dead heart sing. She crept up behind him and her eyes widened as she saw what he was writing. There were words crossed out here and there and from the crumpled balls of paper that littered the floor of the crypt, she could only guess how long he'd been at it.
"Oh Spikey! That's so sweet!" she exclaimed and he almost jumped a foot in the air.
"Jesus, Harm! Give a body a bit of warning, will you?"
"Nobody's ever written me a poem before." She reached over his shoulder and plucked the notebook from his fingers. "I mean, I don't know what this word means... Okay, or this one... but it's, like, pretty, right?"
"Yeah, right, baby," he shrugged and stuck a cigarette in the corner of his mouth.
"I didn't know you wrote poetry."
"I haven't in a long time," he said as he struck a match on his boot heel and brought the flame up to the fragile paper cylinder of tobacco. "A very long time."
He woke in a strange bed, shadows long on the wall. His head spun and he sat up tentatively.
They were sitting at the table, as if having tea. Father's neck was broken and rigor had pulled his black lips back in a mocking grin. But the little girls looked as if they were only sleeping, their dolls clutched in their small white hands. He stumbled forward, feet catching on the worn Persian rug. There were no roses in their cheeks and the lace at their necks was stiff with gore.
He patted the pockets of his coat for his spectacles and then realised with a start that he didn't need them. He could make out every leaf of the roses on the damask wallpaper, despite the gloom. The fire in the grate had gone out, the ashes and coals silent and cold. The only light was cold blue gaslight that came from the windows that faced the street. He peered through the thick green glass and recognised the stables across the street as his last refuge. How long ago it seemed, that he had stumbled inside, blinded by tears at this latest and greatest humiliation. How far away it all felt, as if it were some one else's life he had witnessed ending and not his own. He wondered how long it had been since...
"Their mummy should have told them," came a woman's childlike whisper and he turned to see her sitting on the floor, surrounded by the children's toys, as if holding court, "never to invite strangers into their houses. Their Mummy was such a bad Mummy. So bad I had to punish her."
Her brocade dress was spread around her in a bright puddle of silk and there was a smear of red across her chin. "I saw a little girl. She was laughing. One blue eye, one green... she was bright as a new penny. Was she laughing at me?"
"I'm... hungry..." he said and his voice sounded strange to his ears. He realised it was more than hunger. It was a fierce burning need—a mixture of hunger and thirst unlike any craving he had ever known that would eat him alive if he did not slake it.
"I saved you some supper," the woman said, rising like smoke from a candle flame and she reached out to caress his cheek. Her fingers were cool, but not cold. With a smile like the sun breaking through the clouds, she took him by the hand and led him to the back room where a woman was bound with silk hair ribbons. Her wrists bled where she had struggled against the bindings, but the blood had only soaked the knots, tightening them. The smell of the fresh blood sharpened his hunger to a cutting edge.
She had the same dark eyes as the children in the parlour, but hers were red-rimmed and pleading as his world narrowed to the pulse beating in the hollow of her throat.
She screamed against her gag as his face changed. The screams stopped as he sank his fangs into her throat and the first gush of hot blood flowed down his throat.
Stolen warmth flooded through him and he dropped the corpse, swaying slightly. It was like having too much champagne. He was giddy with the new strength and life that coursed through him. He touched his forehead, feeling the unfamiliar ridge. He looked about and caught sight of a dressing table in the corner. Snatching up the looking glass, he was startled to see only the family of corpses reflected in the silver.
"Vampires," he said—awe-struck—and touched the glass, fascinated by his lack of a reflection. "That's what we are, isn't it? That's what you've made me?"
"Baby needs to crawl before he can walk," the woman crooned as she brushed his light brown hair back from his forehead with one gloved hand.
"Baby's never going to crawl again," William said softly, remembering Geoffrey Harrington's smug laughter as he had ripped the still-wet verses from his fingers.
"It was so dreadful!" Edith Hargrave fanned herself aggressively, ringlets framing her face as she leaned forward toward Cecily Addams, her whisper conspiratorial. "Poor Geoffrey."
"They found him in the garden," Charles revealed as he poured himself a brandy. "The police said it must have been a robbery. His valet had his throat cut and all of his things were strewn about. No doubt the ruffians availed themselves of his suits and personal belongings."
"Oh, but the worst of it..." Edith shuddered. "Charles, you've not told her the worst of it!"
"Delicate ladies need not fret themselves with such gruesome—"
"He had an iron spike driven into his eye and straight through to his brain," Edith snapped the fan shut and leaned forward, her cheeks flushed. "What manner of monsters could do such a thing!"
"Monsters indeed," came a voice from the doorway and they turned as one to see who had come calling at such a late hour. "I really must thank your man Winters for being so kind as to invite me in."
Cecily flushed when she saw him, looking down at the hands clasped in her lap. Something about him was different—not just that his mop of light brown hair was brushed back from his face and his spectacles were nowhere to be seen. He was still William—dreadful little William—but something had changed. She could not fathom exactly what it was as he walked into the room, a new kind of purpose in his step. A strange dark-haired woman was at his side, cooing in his ear like a mother with a new-born babe.
"Good heavens, William!" Charles said as he set down his brandy. "We had thought you had succumbed to the beasts that have been plaguing London!"
"Your mother was frantic with worry," Edith said, a slightly mocking smile on her lips.
"Poor Mummy," the woman said, swaying slightly as if to music only she could hear. "Lost her little lamb. Lost him she has. Gone forever. All mine now, to bathe and clothe and love. My very own baby, he is. My very own lambkin." She began to giggle in a way that sent a small frisson of dread through Cecily, though she knew not why.
"I see you've been to a new tailor." Edith gestured to his surcoat. "Finer by far than what we've come to expect from you. Have you come into some money, then?"
"Sparkles for my baby," the woman cooed, nuzzling his ear. "Bright sparkles."
"As a matter of fact, my situation has improved considerably since we last met."
"And who is your... charming friend?" Charles asked the woman as colour flooded Edith's cheeks.
"I don't know her name," William said, his voice tinged with wonder. "Isn't that extraordinary?"
"I haven't been to a party in ages," the woman said, drawing Charles closer to her. "Are you going to give me presents?"
"Would it have been so terrible?" William asked Cecily, looming over her.
"What?" Cecily asked, startled.
"To be loved by a man as no woman has ever been so worshipped—loved by a man who puts you at the very centre of his universe and adores you so completely? Would that have been truly so terrible that you cannot bear it even for a moment?"
"William—" Cecily's smile faltered. "Isn't that... isn't that Geoffrey's—" Cecily's eyes went wide as she recognised the gold and garnet pin that held his tie just as the woman took Charles' face in her hands and snapped his neck.
Edith screamed and fainted.
Cecily, however, could not move. She was incapable of it, riveted to her chair like a butterfly on a pin by William's gaze.
"I am not without means—I have some lands, albeit perhaps fewer tenants than Geoffrey had. Perhaps my blood was not quite so blue—well, his blood was red actually. Crimson as... as... well, I'm sure the right image will come to me eventually.
"Perhaps it is that I am not the Adonis of your sweet imaginings, but I have four limbs unmarked by any deformity. Perhaps not so pleasant a countenance as Charles here—" she flinched as he gestured to Charles, whose unseeing stare was fixed on the strange woman still, "—but certainly I cannot be so horrible to look upon that you could not bear to? I have been told I am fine featured—though now I admit I shall have to take it upon the word of others."
Her breath caught in her chest as she realised that she could not see him reflected in the polished silver mirror that hung above the mantelpiece—neither him, nor his companion.
"What—what are—" she stammered and then squeaked like a mouse as he pulled her up out of the chair and into his embrace. With eyes filled with wonder, he stroked her cheek, brushing one dark ringlet behind her ear.
"I loved you, Cecily," he said and his voice was so soft, filled with such tenderness, for one fleeting moment she began to feel her resolve waver. He kissed her then, softly and she closed her eyes, trembling with terror as his lips brushed hers. When she opened them again, her scream was cut short as, with a growl like a caged beast, he tore out her throat.
Letting Cecily's pale and lifeless body drop to the floor, William wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"But not, apparently, any more," he said and realised even as he said it that it was true. Two days ago he would have slain dragons for the promise of a kind word from her lips, now there was nothing—except the intoxicating taste of her fear. It pulsed through him, made him hum, like a clockwork man whose spring had been wound too tight. Cecily Addams' blood sang in his ears like choirs of angels.
"Pigeons," his sire sang as she spun in a circle, hands out-flung like a giddy child, "pigeons, pigeons, penny a head, hapenny a foot." He marvelled as he watched her—the purity of her madness like a Maenad. In his mind's eye, he could see her rending and tearing Orpheus' still-singing head from his shattered body.
She landed in a tangle of damask and petticoats in the centre of the floor. She laughed as she crawled on all fours over to Edith, who had not yet awakened from her swoon, and her eyes were round as saucers.
"Who are you?" William asked her and she looked up at him, pale and inscrutable as the moon.
"Papa calls me Drusilla," she said and picked up Edith and propped her up against the couch. "What's her name?"
"Edith. Edith Hargrave. Her father made his fortune in tobacco. I went to school with her brothers."
"Miss Edith was naughty."
"Yes. Yes, she was." William's smile was feral.
"She's so pretty—just like a doll."
"Do you like dolls?"
"Grandmother says I'm not to have any toys, because I've broken all their lovely faces," she reached out and stroked Edith's cheek and blood welled to slid down the girl's chin like a tear, following the path of Dru's razor sharp fingernail. "Am I as pretty as she is?"
"You are perfection," he said, his voice full of wonder as she licked the blood from Edith's cheek like a kitten.
William was having an epiphany. In fact, he had been from the first moment Dru had looked up from what had remained of Miss Edith and asked him to hurt her.
He'd never... hurt... anyone before.
He discovered he had a taste for it. Quite the taste.
Now as they lay, sated and still, before the dying embers of the fire, William realised that he was no longer the man he had been. From the first moment he had awakened, surrounded by death, he had been sleep-walking. Killing by instinct, satisfying simple urges—hunger, rage, lust.
But now he was awake.
Cecily's death had given him a sharp focus that he had been lacking—her fear had given him eyes with which to see this glistening new world he inhabited. A world unbounded by the petty human trappings of the strict caste society he had been born into. A world of limitless possibilities—pains and pleasures laid out before him like a banquet and he realised he was starving and parched. It was as if he had never tasted food or drink before this night—it filled his senses, overwhelmed him with its glory.
"Oh, I've broken Miss Edith." Dru began to whimper. "She doesn't sing to me any more."
He reached out to wipe away her tears. "That's all right, sweet. I'll get you another."
"Really? Really truly?"
"Whatever you desire." He cupped her cheek with his hand and she nuzzled him. She smiled and bit into the heel of his hand, drawing blood.
"I can hear them," she whispered.
"Hear who, sweet?"
"The wolves." She sat up and began rocking back and forth. "I want to go home."
The hansom cab pulled up to a lavish townhouse. The first floor windows were all dark, but lamps blazed from the upper level. Dru led him by the hand across the moonlit garden which smelled strongly of roses and death. William thought he spied, beneath one of the bushes heavily laden with blooms the size of teacups, a finger poking through the black earth. It could have been a root, or even some leaves. It could have been almost anything, but it was, he was certain, a woman's finger.
They climbed the stairs, stopping every few to kiss, or giggle. When they reached the top, Drusilla opened the heavy mahogany doors to a sitting room and light spilled into the darkened hallway, casting dancing shadows on the walls.
A dark-haired man, broad shouldered and clothed in the finest linens and wools, smiled warmly as Drusilla came flouncing in with her new doll in her arms. William entered on her heels, eyes wide as he struggled to take everything in. A woman in yellow silk, jewels sparkling at her ears and throat, stood by the fire, radiant and cold as a December night. She looked William over and he got the distinct impression that she found him lacking.
"Papa!" Drusilla cried and curtsied deeply before him, eyes shining. "Papa, I've been such a naughty girl."
"That's my little magpie," the man said with a broad smile and a hint of an Irish brogue. "Never could pass by something with a sparkle without wanting it for her very own. And who's this you've brought us?"
"My name's William," he said, standing up just a bit straighter.
"Well, fancy that," he smiled, but no trace of mirth was apparent in his dark eyes. "The irony."
"I made him," Dru said, puffing up proudly.
"We can see that, dear," the blonde woman—American, judging by her accent—said, rolling her eyes.
"Won't you smile, Grandmother? Just a little smile? Just for me?"
"Don't call me—"
"Darla, mind your manners," the man said amiably. "Welcome to our little family, William. I'm Drusilla's father, Angelus."
"Her... father?" William was confused. The man—no, vampire he reminded himself—before him looked scarcely older than he was.
"Just what are your intentions toward my daughter, sirrah?" He leaned in closer, inhaling deeply. "I can smell her on you."
"He gave me presents." Dru spun around.
"Did he now, precious?"
"Beautiful presents. He gave me Miss Edith. But I broke her, so he gave me a new one. She always smiles, even when I hurt her."
"Has my Drusilla been a proper mother to you, then? Has she told you what you are?"
"A vampire," William said, eyes darting over Angelus' shoulder to Drusilla who was dancing with her doll.
"And your first kill?" Angelus asked conversationally, still uncomfortably close.
"It was a woman...." he murmured.
"A mother? A sister? A lover, perhaps?" Angelus whispered, his mouth almost brushing William's ear. He tried to take an involuntary step back and found his back was against the wall.
"Just a woman. I didn't even know her name."
"She was a very bad mummy," Dru crooned. "Very bad."
"Hmmm." Angelus shrugged, walking back over the wing chair before the fire. "Well, I suppose it's not important."
"But I... I did kill the woman I.... That is to say, there was a woman—"
"Ah yes. Cecily Addams."
"'How your eyes, like starlings in the morning, quickened my heart in my breast with every glance that flew my way', " Angelus quoted and if he had been human, William would have flushed as he recognised his own words. "That's what the Scotland Yard found on the verses pinned to her dress. Or would have..." Angelus pulled a crumpled sheaf of papers from his pocket. William reached for them, but the other vampire held them out of his reach, a slow smile curling his lips,"...if I hadn't been in the mood to clean up your mess."
"Yours? Well, then you shouldn't have left them where just anyone could find them, now should you have?"
"A poet?" Darla's laughter was like the sound of breaking glass. "Our little girl brought home a poet?"
Angelus scanned the pages. "Not a very good one, I'm afraid."
"Pity," Darla added.
William could feel the anger welling up from the depths of his newly immortal soul as Angelus sank into the richly appointed chair before the hearth. The vampire leaned forward, mocking laughter shining in the depths of his dark eyes.
"Wanted people to know you'd been there, William?" Angelus purred as he dropped the verses, page by page, into the fire burning merrily in the grate.
William flinched as the vellum burned, leaving behind nothing but smoke and ash. "I—yes. Yes, I did! I wanted—"
"Vengeance? Vengeance on those pitiful creatures who made your mortal existence a torture to be endured?"
"Because they didn't understand you? Because they didn't see who you really were?"
"And what are you, William?"
"I'm—I was a gentleman—"
"What you are is a fool," the man growled, leaping up from the chair and pinning William to the wall before he even had time to blink. "Seven dead in less than two days, and with a railroad spike of all things?"
"Spike," Dru crooned, giggling, giving the word more syllables than it necessarily should have. "Spike..."
"You are to learn discretion. Quickly. I let her make you as a plaything, but always remember, she is mine. Anything she makes is mine to dispose of as I please, should the occasion arise."
Angelus sent him sprawling.
"You've picked the runt of the litter, my dear," Darla's eyes were cruel as she stroked Drusilla's shining curls. "You should have thrown him back."
William could feel his face change as he scrambled to his feet, fangs pressing against his lips as he tasted his own blood from his split lip. "Now hold on just a minute—"
William was immediately thrown back up against the wall, a hand locked around his throat. "Did I give you leave to speak, boy?"
William remained sullen, but silent.
"As the newest member of our happy little family, it behooves you to learn your place. I'm called Angelus—I'm the patriarch. This is Darla, my sire. Penn will be joining us shortly—I believe he's enjoying Paris in the spring. Or is that Parisians in the Spring?" Angelus seemed to consider it for a moment, before waving it away. "No matter. From now on, you are forbidden from feeding off your former social circle until you have learnt responsibility."
Big Jack Tanner couldn't believe his luck.
He'd barely left the Ringer's, having emptied his pocket of the last coin and emptied his bladder of the last of the gin he'd been swilling since Bow Bells had rung ten, when he spied a swirl of velvet and the dim glow of lace in the gloom of an East End alley that ran behind the doss houses. Too fine for the common whores that usually circled the churches and flitted from public house to public house like moths from gaslight to gaslight in summer. Much too fine...Slipping one meaty fist into the pocket of his oilskin, his fingers closed around his garrotte and he almost whistled as he strolled into the mouth of the alley.
Two of them, and toffs at that—a man and a girl barely out of her teens. They were strolling arm in arm, nice as you please as if they were in Covent Gardens and not the Wicked Quarter Mile.
"Sing a sing of sixpence," the girl sang as she wobbled back and forth drunkenly, "pocket full of rye. Four and twe'y blackbirds baked in a pie..."
She stumbled, giggling, and as the man bent to lift her to her feet Jack closed the distance between them in two strides and yanked the twisted bit of wire taut against the slim young man's throat and lifted.
Jack expected the toff to spasm and jerk, his feet inches off the ground as his windpipe was crushed. He expected the girl to start screaming as soon as what was happening penetrated her alcoholic haze. He expected that by the time she did, he'd have her slight frame pinned up against the wall and her skirts hiked up over her hips. He expected them both to smell of the spirits they had consumed that made them such easy prey, and not the sickly sweet smell of a charnel house.
But as a life in Whitechapel had taught him cruelly before he was even of age to scrape his beard from his chin with a dull razor, one's hopes and expectations are as like to die in an East End alley as he was.
Before he could blink, Jack found himself flung headlong into the crumbling brick wall of the nearest building. He landed hard, blood streaming from his nose and filling his mouth as he spat out broken teeth. His vision was blurry, and he could barely make out the two shadows that approached him. A growl like an animal's—low and guttural and completely wild—filled his ears, and strong hands lifted him from where he had crumpled like a bag of dirty linen, only to fling him against an iron lamppost which actually creaked with the impact, the gaslight flickering.
But Jack Tanner wasn't beaten. He was a man known to go seven rounds with the toughest bare-knuckled fighter the London Docks had to offer. A man who could drink all day and half the night and still emerge from a tavern brawl with eyes, limbs, and reputation intact. Blinded by pain and blood, he lashed out, and felt one meaty fist connect solidly with something—-or someone.
But there was no accompanying cry of pain, or satisfying crunch of bone. Instead, it was as if he had hit a marble statue—cold, hard, and unyielding. The skin over his knuckles split, but it was a tiny pain compared to the throbbing of his head and back from where they had impacted with his surroundings. Bellowing like a wounded animal, Jack shook his head, trying to focus, and rushed the nearest silhouette, intending only to kill or be killed.
One hand gripped him by the throat, and lifted him clean off the ground. Jack looked down to see the toff, his face hideously deformed and blood on his lips which were pushed into a strange shape by sharp canines like a creature from a menagerie and not London's elite. And the man was smiling as the girl clapped her hands like a child behind him, her dark eyes bright.
"But when the pie was opened, the birds began to sing," the girl sang softly, swaying hypnotically back and forth, "Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before a king?"
Jack's vision began to dim then, the world narrowing to shapes and sound and colour. He barely felt the ground beneath his feet as the toff lowered him back to the ground. He couldn't even scream as the fangs sank into his throat, and his blood sprayed in an arc, splattering the girl's cheek. She wiped at the red stain and then licked her fingers as if it were grenadine and not his life's blood.
And then he saw nothing at all.
"Mother's ruin." William made a face as he dropped the corpse to the cobbles. "What I would not give for a meal soaked in sherry, or even port, and not three ha'pence of gin."
"Drunk for a penny, dead for a pound," Drusilla giggled, eyes bright.
"Still, it's a wonder to find one who actually fights back. Good heavens, I feel quite extraordinary, after flinging that man about as I did. Really quite extraordinary. I do believe I enjoyed it."
Since Angelus had banned them from feeding from the gentry, he and Drusilla had nightly wandered the doss houses and back alleys of the worst parts of London, feeding from the masses of Irish immigrants, Jews, prostitutes, pimps, and wretched poor who eked out their living in the slums and along the docks.
For weeks, he'd had no sport at all.
While the hunt had at first exhilarated him, humans were all alike—they screamed, soiled themselves, and then died all too easily, their fragile bones snapping like flowerstalks at the slightest pressure. The screams that had seemed so intoxicating at first were now beginning to bore him, and he ached for something new—something to make him want to live forever.
"Sing a song of sixpence..." Drusilla began her song again, a beatific smile lighting her fine features from within as she swayed to music only she could hear. "A pocket full of rye..."
William reached down and began to tug the dead man's jacket off, a slow smile spreading across his face.
The brief moment of exhilaration when his prey had actually struck him had been nothing short of an epiphany. The thrill of violence was a siren call, and he wondered how best to appease this new appetite.
He would drown it in blood and gore, to learn its limits. Then he would dance on that knife's edge. He would dance for eternity.
The sky had turned black hours before the sun had even set, the rains swelling the gutters as if God's attempt to wash the filth from the narrow cobbled streets. If so, God was failing miserably as Londoners thronged to the public houses, in search of warm fire, good company, and even a hot meal if they had the coin, or gulls to pinch the coppers from if they didn't.
The Britannia was full to bursting, men and women crowded into the smallest corners, trying to dry themselves by the wood fire. The smell of wet wool coupled with unwashed bodies was enough to turn stomachs, but that didn't stop the food and ale from flowing. Spirits were high, despite the recent tragedies that had struck the rows of narrow houses on the streets on either side of the public house.
"I say it's the Devil's work," Molly Welch said from the furthermost corner, her dark hair steaming as she sipped her pint of ale. "I heard the Minister say 'twas a railroad spike, of all things. D'you know they found her with her two boys? Those sweet lads, and Tom simple as he was. God rest 'em."
"But that's not the worst of it," the old gossip across from her said in a stage whisper, careful to make sure everyone within half a league could hear."How many bodies in nigh on the last two months? Oh, they say it's plague. Plague my arse! And the only mark on their bodies the bite of an animal at their throat? Shameful. Shameful, it is!"
Molly frowned, disapproving almost audibly. "Families slaughtered like sheep in the market, and who's to blame? I'll tell you—I'll tell you who's to blame. Do you think if Jenny and her brood had had a penny to their names, this would 'ave 'appened? If they'd been quality, Scotland Yard would be down on that filthy murderer's head, you mark my words. But no, Jenny Markham cries out for vengeance on a night like this."
As if on cue, a crack of thunder shook the building. Molly almost spilt her pint, and clutched her shawl closer around her bony shoulders.
"Probably some bloody bogtrotter," muttered a slight young man over the lip of his clay mug as he slouched at the bar. His shirt was torn and stained, and the hands that clutched his pint were filthy, heavens only knew what crusted beneath his nails and he seemed not to notice the four large men further down the bar who had gone silent and very, very still. "No room for a good Englishman to piss in this town any longer, without hitting some rotting bogtrotter."
"Here, now, I never said—" Molly began, her colour high, but he only laughed and threw back more of his ale.
"Oh, come on! Don't tell me you 'aven't seen it! Come swarming over the docks like rats, they did. Rats from a sinking ship and wouldn't surprise me—no, wouldn't surprise me if it turns out it's some Mick what done it. Nothing more 'an animals, you ask me—"
"And nobody's asked you, now have they?" said the smallest of the men, betraying the lilting tones of his country of origin with each softly rounded vowel. He set his glass down on the bar, and turned slowly. "If I was you, friend—"
"I ain't your bloody friend, you sodding bogtrotter—"
The other three stepped away from the bar, cracking their knuckles and looming. They were the sort of men who had seen two generations of their countrymen starve to death as their crops were shipped across the sea to their absentee landlords. They were hard men, not unused to scrapping in alleys, coming home to their wives, daughters, and mothers battered and bleeding, stiff-backed with pride. Moll had seen them and their like before—and she sunk back into the shadows, waiting for what she was sure would come.
"Here now, I'll have none of that in my house!" Matilda Ringer snapped from behind her husband's bar. She was a big woman, with red raw hands that could do as much damage as a man's when she put her mind to it.
"Didn't mean no harm, Tilly," one of the men mumbled, stepped down. But the young fool only giggled drunkenly into his drink.
"Don't have the stomach for a fair fight, eh?"
Molly cringed at the first crack of flesh on flesh, and the five struggling men crashed through the doors out into the downpour while Tilly Ringer shouted curses after them, waving a thick clay mug over her head until one of the boys got up and pulled the door shut again against the rain and chill.
The thing of it was, she never saw the Hard Men in Ringer's again after that night.
It began with whispers.
The streetwalkers who walked the beat around Commercial Street gossiped under the Church eaves that he hadn't been human. Maggie Boggs swore up and down that she'd seen him first at the Prince Albert in Brushfield Street, where he'd started a brawl that had left four men wounded, one like to die before morning, and then not three hours later thrown bodily out into the gutter of Crispin Street by six bricklayers, including Katie's man Brian who disappeared that night never to be seen again. Then before dawn, just as Maggie had been making her last round, she'd seen him again on Dorest hard by where they found Old Ron the next day, his watery blue eyes clouded over and his throat torn away.
Sure, he'd looked like any man to be found, Maggie insisted. Nothing remarkable about him, except that he seemed to be spoiling for a fight anywhere he went, and too many half-pissed idiots ready to take him up on it, never to be seen again in the light of day. But there were men and women aplenty who had their life's blood drained away by such a man, you mark her words. It never made the papers, those killings. Not a one of them. But she knew. She'd seen it in her own village, and you'd never find her out when the moon was full without cloves of garlic and some seeds tucked away in her skirt pockets, and the tiny wooden cross her Nan had given her to hang on the wall over her bed.
It wasn't until they found Maggie, naked as the day she was born and her head sagging like a child's rag doll left out in the rain above her ruined throat that the whispers became cries for vengeance and shouts for torches.
Drusilla stretched like a cat, the firelight casting a golden sheen on her pale white limbs. He traced the curve of her belly lazily with one fingertip, thinking of how the dying rays of the sun had gilded a marble statue of Artemis in a temple in Nimes the last time he had been to the Continent. As a human, anyway. He remembered wanting to capture the image perfectly in words forever.
He'd failed, of course, as he so often had when he'd been a pathetic, wretched mortal. But words—even poetry—seemed superfluous now, as he slid his hand over one perfect breast and then back across her neck as she stretched beneath his caress. He had no need to capture the moment, for she was perfect and would remain perfect for all of eternity. His sire. His lover. His goddess.
Sunrise was less than an hour away, and his eyes grew heavy with the promise of another day's slumber tucked in her arms. They had dragged the silk bedcovers from the child's four poster bed that Drusilla insisted upon, to curl up in each other's arms in front of the dying fire.
"...Spike," she moaned, and he sighed.
"Yes, poppet?" he asked, propping himself up on one elbow to see her face. Her eyes were wide with fear.
"They're coming," she whispered.
The window exploded inward, shards of glass and bits of wooden frame skittering across the floor. He rose with a snarl—his face changing and revealing his true nature—just as Darla burst through the double doors and slammed him up against the brocaded wall with one pale hand locked around his throat, lifting him inches off the floor.
"What the bloody hell-" he began, having never quite seen this side of his great grandmother before. He rather liked it. Her upper lip curled in disgust as she glanced down at the evidence of his appraisal, and then back up to his smirk.
"Villagers," Darla snarled. "With torches."
He shrugged casually, despite the sounds of struggle, and breaking glass and splintering of wood coming up from the ground floor. The screams and growls told him that Angelus was holding his own—for the moment. "I thought they only did that in stories. Varney, and all that."
"I liked the view here," Darla snarled, and threw him across the room just as the second window shattered and Drusilla began to scream—high keening wails as a whiskey bottle with a flaming rag inside sailed inside and the room became an inferno as the curtains caught like tinder. Darla glared daggers at him, and then fled. He snatched up his clothes, and tugged Drusilla to her feet.
"C'mon, sweeting. It's time to go."
"What about Miss Edith?" Dru cried as he swept her into his arms and carried her down the hallway in Darla's wake.
"I'll get you a hundred new playthings, Precious," he cooed as a burly man with a pitchfork lunged toward them, and William reached out and snapped his neck with one hand, grabbing up the pitchfork and swinging it experimentally. "But we've got to get out of here before the sodding roof falls in!"
"And whose fault is that?" Angelus roared as he swept into the narrow hallway which was already filling with thick black smoke, his face smeared with soot and ash as well as human blood. As his sire had before him, he slammed him into the wall, an elbow against his throat. Drusilla whimpered, but made no move to stop him.
"Angelus, we haven't time!" Darla snapped, eyes flicking to the orange glow at the other end of the hall as the flames licked the ceiling.
The young vampire only laughed. "Please. You call this a mob? As if pickpockets and whores are any match for us?"
Angelus pressed his forearm tighter against his throat, growling. "The sun is coming up! The neighbours have no doubt already sent a runner for the police and fire brigade and we are trapped here."
"Boys!" Darla shouted as the bells of the fire brigade could be heard in the distance.
For a moment, he wondered if Angelus was going to kill him. End his brief existence as a vampire, and let his ashes mix with the ruins of the townhouse. Drusilla began to whimper again, as the smoke grew thicker and there was the distant creak and groan of beams to underscore the roar of the flames.
It would be worth it, he decided, just as the pressure on his throat was lifted and his bare feet met the runner once again. An entire life of humiliation, anger, and bitter failure was made worth it by a few glorious weeks of living as a vampire.
"This isn't finished, William," Angelus warned him.
"Don't call me William," he said impulsively as he massaged his bruised throat and they ran into the maid's quarters at the back of the house, overlooking the river. The sky was pearly grey, the first warm russet shades of red streaking the low-hanging clouds near the horizon, signalling the dawn that would be their doom.
"And what am I supposed to call you, then?" Angelus asked as he shattered the small window with his elbow, and offered Darla a hand so she could climb out onto the ledge.
He was startled out of his trip down memory lane as Harmony waved her hand in front of his face.
"Hello? Anybody home?" Her long blond hair fell over his shoulder, and he resisted the urge to grab a handful and drag her out into the day. He wasn't sure why: the momentary satisfaction of seeing her go up in a puff of smoke and flame might just be worth having to find some other bimbo to fence the stuff he stole, and fetch him blood from the hospital.
"What?" he barked, flicking the long ash of his cigarette to the crypt floor .
"It's really pretty. The poem, I mean."
"But it doesn't rhyme."
"Only fake wanna-be poets don't rhyme. Like, like —"
"T.S. Eliot?" he supplied, taking another long drag off his cigarette.
"Was that his name? He was this total black-turtleneck-wearing dorko in third period —"
"Not all poetry rhymes, Harm." He stubbed out his cigarette butt on the arm of his chair, grimacing as the ancient upholstery began to char a bit, and then dug through the packet to get out another.
"But I like it when it rhymes," she whined.
"Right then—Roses are red, violets are blue, get the fuck out before I kill you," he growled as he snatched the notebook from her hands. She scowled at him, but then flounced off towards the tunnel, blond hair swinging behind her as she went. He waited until he couldn't hear her any longer, and the silence of his tomb began to press down on him like a lead weight.
He stared down at the lines scrawled on the page, brows drawn together in a slight frown as he scratched out one line, moving it to the top, searching for the perfect word. The word that would capture it. Capture her. Put it all down on paper for him to worship and hate and remember. The words were slow in coming, but they had come—like a whipped dog back to his master.
Death is her art, my gilded Kore
He scanned the lines one last time, and then tore the page out of the notebook and carefully folded it once, and then twice. Walking over to the trunk, he opened the lid and rummaged beneath the box of shotgun shells, moth-eaten blankets, and other detritus of his time in Sunnydale to the shoebox at the bottom. With reverence, he tucked the folded paper between the folds of soft cotton, safe and hidden away.
Then he lit up another cigarette, and started over again.