Copyright: I, of course, do not own Dark Shadows. I was not not even alive during the time of its original airing.
Author's Note: So, this is it - my first Dark Shadows fic. I realize this is a little short on storyline, but it's 90 about characterization anyway. Basically this is just a little project I worked on for a total of about 4 hours, so don't expect miracles. Hopefully, it's a precursor to something bigger. I find I really adore writing DS fanfiction. Review if you see fit - I need all the help I can get.
A Few Degrees Colder
By Catherine A. Graham
Willie opened one of the many cupboards housed in the Old House kitchen – the only one he had need to use. The others remained empty and unfinished, and rightly so. The few foods he kept could easily be stored in one cupboard, on one shelf, in one room of an old house in which he owned nothing. Everything, everything, in this house was owned by Him, was owned by the Creature now sleeping only one floor beneath where Willie now worked. And He would never complain about the lack of food, so Willie knew better than to complain as well. Better this way anyway, Willie felt, better that what little he owned could be hidden away on one shelf where Barnabas would never think to look. Better because maybe Barnabas could not completely ruin what little was his if it was so small and so insignificant and so tucked away that he would never trouble himself to search for it. Even if that little bit had come from the ever-generous hand of the vampire himself, who always made it that his slave would not die of hunger. Too easy, Willie thought. And, he knew it was always better not to think of that.
The cupboard creaked with disuse – Willie found himself less and less inclined to hunger these days – and Willie jumped, sending some tin of canned food clattering to the floor. Nervous, always so nervous. Geez, Loomis, get a grip. It's only six - yeah, six. Got an hour still till he gets up. Won't get up now no matter what you do. He's sleepin'. No, not sleepin' - dead. Get on with it and make your dinner, or you won't be eatin' tonight.
With characteristically shaking hands, he picked the tin up and read the label: Campbell's Tomato Soup. His stomach lurched, and he hastily pushed the tin back onto the counter, turning the picture of the red semi-liquid to face the wall. He wondered momentarily what had possessed him to buy the stuff when it so much resembled… Willie stopped the thought there and knew instantly that he would not be eating tonight. Yeah, well, maybe you don't need to eat tonight, but she does, and ya know it. She'll die if ya don't feed her. His eyes were drawn again to the picture on the tin. Be better that way. No, it would definitely not do to think that way.
For three days now Willie had prepared dinner for two. The dinner party was always lonely, and its attendants lonelier. Willie in the Old House kitchen, Maggie in the cell a floor beneath him, not so far from the Creature that slept there too…
Maggie would not have thought to have Willie for dinner when she was a waitress and he just a wayfarer at Collinwood, and now… now that he was her captor, she would be more likely to curse him than to give him a seat on the cot and offer to enjoy their meal together. Willie couldn't blame her. At least she would eat, and that was what mattered.
For three days Willie had brought the girl in the basement cell the best he could offer – a half-tin of whatever it was he felt compelled to pull from the cupboard that night. If things went as Willie hoped they would, he would do the same for many, many nights to come. If things went wrong… Willie shuddered. He couldn't think about that… To truly eat alone again.
Pushing the thought from his mind, Willie emptied the entire tin of tomato soup into one bowl and prepared to bring it to Maggie. The minutes ticked by, and the hour was precious; a hundred things still waited to be done before dusk, and a hundred more held the promise of going wrong once the vampire awoke. He'd do this first though, this one thing.
The kitchen was cold. Chalk it up to the Maine autumns, Willie figured, and the soft shower of cold rain, which was just beginning to pound the Old House windows. He hoped the cursory weather-proofing job he had done would hold. Willie shrugged on his worn tan jacket. He doubted a fire would help tonight, and it was always a few degrees colder downstairs.
Willie struggled with the heavy door to the basement cell, soup balanced as carefully as possible on a tray in his left hand, while his right attempted to wedge the door far enough open for him to squeeze his body through. Maggie did not help. She huddled in her corner of the cot and watched him, her eyes not betraying the anger she felt for him. Anger, Willie reminded himself, anger, never hatred. She could never hate him, Willie knew, because he loved her, and because no matter what he did, he could never hide the fact that he loved her. There were times he would swear she hated him, times like now, when he knew that he had hurt her and betrayed her in ways…
He'd never wanted to hurt her. Not that he'd ever known exactly how to love her, but he'd never wanted this. Could never want it for someone like her. And, all he would bring her was soup and conversation. And, that, if Willie had known the correct word for it, he would have called hypocrisy.
"I… uh, brought you some…" Willie looked down at the red soup, which had managed to slop itself over the edges of the bowl when he was struggling with the door. He swallowed and looked away. "Soup," he finished lamely.
"I'm not hungry, Willie," Maggie did not look away, and Willie felt sure she had seen the momentary grimace cross his face. Under her gaze, he suddenly felt embarrassed at his weakness and guilty at the state she was in. He finally diverted his eyes to the wall behind her, and focused them there, where he wouldn't have to see her thin frame, shivering as it was, or her big dark eyes, squinting as they did at the candlelight he brought with him through the open door. Oh God, but she was beautiful.
"H-how are you, Maggie?" he almost whispered, immediately cursing himself for asking. He knew how she was, down here in the dark with centuries of dust and grime covering her, with bruises from hands that were too rough, with her hair mussed and ratted from being tied back too long. Down here… not only in the dark, but with the dark.
"How am I, Willie?" he could tell she would have been shouting had her voice possessed the strength, even though the sound that came out was little more than his own whisper. "Why don't you tell me how I am?" The acid there got to him more than he expected, and he took a step back, letting out a little hurt sound he didn't know he had let escape. Maggie almost smiled at this, and Willie hated how malicious she looked, how beautiful.
"I'm frightened, Willie, so frightened, is that what you wanted to hear?" Maggie's voice dropped, all the malice in it gone, and suddenly, she wasn't looking at him anymore. "I am so frightened, and so disappointed…" Disappointed in me, Willie thought, but she didn't voice it, and he was thankful. "I am lonely, and I feel dirty, and I don't know whether that's from this room leaving its dust all over me, or from not washing, or from this thing I am a part of."
"I'm hungry, Willie, but I can't eat, because I think of what lies ten feet from me and I feel sick. And, then I think, maybe if I don't eat, I won't…" she let the thought dangle unspoken. I know what ya mean, Willie answered silently, thinking of the entire can of soup warmed in a single bowl. "And, finally, I'm cold," Maggie finished, "doesn't this damn house have any heat?" Willie knew she knew that it didn't.
Maggie shivered a little and drew her knees up to her chest, and, for the first time, Willie noticed how little she was wearing. A part of him, what was left of the man who had first entered the secret room, wanted to let his eyes linger along the slender curves of her body, wanted to give pause to the way the dirty gown clung to her hips and set just right along her neckline, showing the slight indentation of her collar bone. But, that part of him was small and insignificant, and Maggie's body shivered constantly, and Willie found that he was only sickened by the sight of the woman who had once excited one thousand emotions in him.
There was nothing he could do to ease her fear; he had found he had no ability to ease even his own. And, when he looked to her face, Willie knew there was nothing he could do to erase the disappointment etched there. The constant feeling of being covered in something unspeakably dirty, the gnawing hunger that she had no desire to cure, he knew there was nothing he could do to ease these ailments any more than he could cure them for himself. And, her loneliness, he of all people had no right to try to take that from her. But, the cold…
He touched the warm fabric of his jacket, the one thing he had left from his time before all this. He didn't remember where he had gotten it exactly, but he thought Jason had found it for him somewhere. Maybe he had bartered for it; maybe he had stolen it. Willie had never cared that he didn't remember exactly where it had come from. The fact that it appeared somewhat used had never bothered him. He had just known that there weren't many people who had thought enough of him to give him something, and whether the gift was illegally begotten, whether it had been stolen off someone's back or bought for ten cents at Goodwill, meant little to him.
A girl like Maggie don't deserve something like this, not something all used and torn. It was true. If Willie could have, he would have bought her the most beautiful jacket he could, not something like the jacket he was now considering removing, but still…
He put the tray down and shrugged the jacket off. Held it out to Maggie. "Maggie, p-please, just… now, I know it's all ripped and stuff," Willie's eyes caught on the sleeve, ripped open all those weeks ago when Barnabas had claimed him as his own, "an', an' it's all stained with b-b-blood here," Willie stumbled over the word, as his eyes ran over the specks of his own blood that refused to come out, despite repeated rinsings with cold water. "B-but Jason gave it to me, and he only gave me things that were real nice. An', an' I want you to have it."
"You want me have it," Maggie bit back incredulously. "It's an odd time for chivalry, isn't it, Willie? I'd have to say the time for chivalry is long past. That time was last week, when Pop and Joe were downstairs. You held me there though, didn't you, Willie? In Josette's room, with your hand over my mouth, so I couldn't even yell to them. A prisoner there in my room." She laughed bitterly. "There were a thousand moments that you could have let me run down those stairs, and you know what? I don't even think you thought twice."
"And, now, I tell you that I'm scared and lonely, and all you can hear is that I'm cold. And, all you have to offer me is this. Like it's some treasure or something because Jason gave it to you." She spat the name. "Like having your jacket stained with your blood could take away the dark and the cold and the knowledge of exactly what is going on here. Well, here's a news flash, Willie – it can't. And, I'll tell you something else, I don't give one iota about this jacket." She smacked his hand away, and the jacket fell to the floor between the two. "Or about whatever it is you're trying to do here."
Willie could feel the tightness in the back of his throat that always came before the tears did, and he pressed the heel of his hand over his eyes because he could feel them growing blurry. Because Maggie was right. To offer her that of all things… to think that she would care that Jason had given it to him, to think that he had any right after everything he had done… after everything he hadn't.
He turned to go, knowing he couldn't take the humiliation of crying in front of her, when she sat in the dark day after day and didn't shed a tear. He pulled the key from his pocket, a slight tremor racing through his hand as he did so.
"Willie, wait…" Maggie whispered, quiet enough that he could only hear it because there were no other sounds in the room, save for his own ragged breathing, which threatened to turn to a sob at any moment. "Please, don't go," he could hear the shiver in her voice. Willie turned back, running his hand through his hair, knowing that without his hand as a shield, she would easily see the wetness in his blue-gray eyes.
Maggie moved from the cot and bent down to the floor, picking up the jacket carefully, as if it were a treasure and the last place it should be was on the filth-covered floor of this cell. She looked at it for a moment, as if contemplating it, and then she placed the worn fabric of the jacket around her shoulders. Looking up to Willie, she smiled. "It is warm," she admitted, "I can tell you've been wearing it."
"Yeah, well, I… uh, wear it a lot," Willie replied, knowing how silly it sounded, but wanting her to know how much it meant to him that she would wear something he had once worn.
As he said this, the jacket slipped a little off one shoulder, and Willie found his eyes glued to the spot where her shoulder was left uncovered. "Maggie, I… uh." He paused. "Here." He reached quickly around her shoulders and pulled the jacket back up, then moved away as quickly as he had reached for her. Willie feared for a moment that she would smack him or at least draw away.
But, instead, Maggie just continued to smile that slight smile. "Thank you, Willie," she said graciously, and he knew she meant it. Perhaps she could never forgive him for all the things he had done to her, for all the countless things he sure was sure he just hadn't done yet.. Perhaps the gift of a somewhat tattered jacket could not repair all the damage that had been done. But Maggie, being Maggie, could acknowledge this one thing. And, maybe for one moment, she would know how much he loved her.
Willie imagined this was how all the jocks at his old high school felt when they had given their letterman's jackets to their girls. Outwardly, Willie had shunned them the way they had shunned him, but secretly he had envied every one of them for the parents they had, and the chances they were given… and especially for the way the girls looked at them when they placed that jacket around their shoulders.
Of course, Willie knew this situation was nothing like that. But, when he looked at Maggie, smiling at him, wearing his jacket, he could almost imagine that it was. Oh God, but she looked gorgeous in it, never mind how dirty and pale she was.
In another time, in another life, Willie would have kissed her right then and there. He would have picked her up and carried her to the top of the stairs, and shown her as a prize to all the town of Collinsport, and their judgments up at the estate be damned. Because more than gorgeous, she looked right in his jacket, like it had always been meant to wear around her shoulders, a testament to someone who would love her more than anything else…
Except his own life.
His own life, this life. The life in which he turned and grasped the bars of the door, wanting to crush them with the aching of wanting something he could never, ever have.
He heard his name spoken softly from her lips again, and she came forward, laying a gentle hand on his arm. A hand that was so cold, despite the warmth a dirty, ragged, bloodstained jacket had to offer. He could do nothing for her, nothing that meant anything, anyway.
Ripping the key from his pocket, the tremor worse than ever now, Willie plunged the key into the lock and tore himself from the room before she could ask him to stay, or tell him to get the hell out… or worse yet, tell him she forgave him. Before she could do anything that would make him love her all the more.
Willie sat outside the door to the cell for a long while after that.
When Barnabas awoke that night, Willie was still there, sitting on the floor in the basement where it was always a few degrees colder. A hundred things clamored for Willie's attention, but none so important as to keep him from sitting there shivering. Barnabas could say what he wanted about the chores that remained undone. It was better to stay here, and feel the cold that Maggie felt, knowing she was just through that door, breathing… and wearing his jacket. For all the good it did.
"Why do you loiter about down here, Willie?" The voice caused him to tense despite himself.
And, suddenly Barnabas was just there, the way he always was, with no footfalls or sounds to warn one that he was coming. His eyes caught Willie's for a moment and held them there, just the look on this face saying that Willie had better have one heck of an excuse for idly sitting in the basement when there was a multitude of work waiting to be done upstairs. There was the painting in the front room, and the sanding on the kitchen table, and the window that had bulged out from humidity on the third floor…
Dammit, Loomis, answer him. "I-I-uh… I mean, I…" Willie stammered the sentence he meant to speak into nothingness. But what in the hell do I say? Willie knew he could hardly say he had come here to bring Maggie, their prisoner, His betrayer, something warmer to wear (his own jacket no less). God, he might as well have confessed his love to her.
"If you were going to tell the truth, Willie, you needn't take so long to come up with it," Barnabas' eyes flashed a warning, and Willie knew that whatever he said, if it wasn't the truth, Barnabas would know. And, then he would be punished. But, Willie though, it remained that the chances were in favor of his being punished either way tonight – whether he chose to rely on the truth or a lie. There were times Willie swore Barnabas just itched to hit him, to have that power he exerted when Willie was at his feet begging for him stop because he was sure he wouldn't live through another blow.
Alright, not the whole truth then. Just a part of it… "B-bringing Maggie her supper, B-Barnabas." Willie hoped he didn't look like he was lying, because it was the truth… at least it had been his intention when he first went down the steps.
Barnabas eyed him suspiciously, and Willie felt his hands clench and unclench of their own accord. He found the urge to place them protectively over his head just in case had become almost unbearably strong, and it took what was left of his will to fight it. "When was this?"
Willie couldn't meet his eyes. "F-five, Barnabas."
Barnabas cocked his head to one side, and a look of quiet confusion crossed his face. Willie didn't mistake it for what it was: a precursor to unspeakable anger. "It is now well past sunset, Willie, meaning it is also well past six o'clock. Why is it that you remain here when you brought her the meal over an hour ago now?"
Willie did not have an answer. He said nothing and remained where he was, his shivering becoming more pronounced, as it was no longer only from the cold.
Barnabas missed nothing. "You are cold," he observed plaintively, the lack of compassion obvious in the chill of his voice.
Willie nodded, thankful for the momentary change of subject and respite from questioning.
"Don your jacket then, and return to me," Barnabas ordered, his tone suggesting that Willie's creating an argument over the ordeal was a very dangerous idea indeed. "You understand little enough of what I tell you. With your constant shivering, I doubt you have comprehended even one word I have spoken."
Again Willie had no answer. He turned his head to one side and rubbed his right hand compulsively along the back of his neck. "I c-can't, Barnabas."
"You cannot?" Barnabas' eyebrows shot up in disbelief. "What on earth could be stopping you?"
Willie's hand ceased rubbing the back of his neck, and he froze there, wishing that he could disappear into the wall he was pressed against. He told ya, Willie. You knew she was being punished. But, you just had to do it, didn't you? Couldn't just listen and stay out of it. Now what, huh? Whatcha gonna say? Nothing that won't earn ya good beating before this night is out, that's for sure. "I-I-I-I," he stuttered, trying to buy time and managing to sound more like he was choking than trying to get an intelligible word out.
"You will answer me, Willie," Barnabas' patience was dangling perilously by a thread. Grabbing Willie's shirtfront, Barnabas hauled him upright, and suddenly, Willie was inches from the vampire, his feet barely touching the floor. He said nothing, knowing that such an act was incredibly dangerous, but having nothing to say that wouldn't make the already bad situation worse. Even a thoroughly bad lie escaped him. Shudder after shudder raced through him until he was sure that had Barnabas not been holding him up, his knees would have given out.
The thread of Barnabas' patience snapped. He clocked his hand back, and before Willie could blink, backhanded him across the face. Hard. Hard enough that Willie could immediately feel the trickle of blood where the onyx ring had caught him across the lip. Through the short spell of disorientation that followed, he could feel Barnabas' appraising eyes on him. Willie ran his tongue along the split surface of his lip. "Why is it, Willie, that you find an order as simple as answering a question so impossibly hard to obey?" Barnabas paused for a moment, letting the weight of the rhetorical question hang in the air. "You had best answer me, Willie. The next time I am forced to strike you, you will not remain standing."
Willie's breath came in hard gasps, and still, he could not manage to draw in enough air from the room to dispel the light-headedness that had suddenly set in. "I-I can't get my j-jacket because," Willie turned his head to the side, away from the vampire's face. He breathed as deeply as he his current hyperventilating would allow. "B-because I gave it to M-Maggie." This said, he looked right at Barnabas, trying to read the reaction in his dark eyes.
Barnabas' expression did not change, but he slowly released Willie and let him fall back against the wall, wiping at the blood running from his lip. "When you say Maggie, I assume you are speaking of the young woman currently residing in our cell."
He nodded silently.
"Whyever would you do such a thing?" Barnabas asked, and Willie wondered if the calm curiosity in his voice was as harmless as it sounded.
"She was c-cold, Barnabas."
"Ahhh…" Barnabas nodded his head in mock agreement. "And now you are cold. That seems to have solved little." He studied Willie's reaction to his statement of the obvious. "I wonder, is this the way you would have it, Willie?"
"I-I-I," Willie stopped and took another deep breath, hoping to God that Barnabas would choose this instance to respect the truth. "Yeah, Barnabas. I mean, she's down here, an', well, it's colder down here, and, s-so, I just figured…"
"Enough, Willie." When Barnabas said it was enough, it always was. "That's the way of it, then." Barnabas nodded seemingly to himself. "Now that we speak of it, I find that I am a little cold as well."
Willie narrowed his eyes in response, wondering what exactly what the vampire was getting at.
"I think now, Willie, would be a good time for a fire. I trust you have a good store prepared in the woodshed for just such an occasion." Barnabas smiled a smile that wasn't a real smile at all, and suddenly Willie knew exactly what the man was getting it. This early in autumn, Willie hadn't seen any need for firewood. It was common knowledge between he and Barnabas that he had not cut any yet.
Even here, in the basement of the Old House, surrounded by rock and dirt, Willie could hear the sound of the cold rain bouncing off the windows with a metallic ping. Willie would have bet his right ear that it was cold enough for some of the pings to be coming from sleet, not rain.
Biting back the angry retort he knew waited to leap from the tip of his tongue at the most inopportune moment possible, Willie just glared up at Barnabas from his spot against the wall. He knew that his sandy brown hair was covering most of one eye, but he didn't brush it away. He was almost glad for it; maybe Barnabas would not be able to see the angry look he could not bring himself to hide. Willie shook his that no, he did not.
"Well, then, Willie," Barnabas sighed, the smile deepening at the knowledge that he had won a game of mental chess that Willie didn't know he had been playing until a few moments ago. "I suppose now would be a good time for you to go outside and chop us some firewood to take the chill from this house." Willie didn't move. "Now, Willie, before the wood is so wet that it will not light."
Willie didn't dare disobey such a direct order. Not unless he wanted to be bleeding, not just wet and cold, when he came in from this inane task. No, not task – punishment. Because Willie knew that although Barnabas could call it what he wished, that was what was. He was familiar with the reasons for his punishment. He was being punished for being stupid enough to give something to His prisoner, to their prisoner. He was being punished for interfering in her punishment when he had no place. He was not the Master of the house, Barnabas would say. And, mostly, he was being punished for loving her, because Barnabas knew everything in Willie's soul, and this was no exception. And, in his eyes, it was punishable.
As he thought all of these things, it slowly dawned on Willie that it didn't matter. It just didn't matter whether he was wet or cold, whether he had a jacket or not. It didn't matter if Barnabas forced him to chop wood all night. None of it mattered. The only thing that really mattered, the only thing he could really change, was here, in this basement. The only thing real was her. And, the only thing he valued more… was his life.
Willie nodded, and headed up the stairs, to the outside. He had a job to do, a punishment to take, and he deserved every minute of it.
It was well past eleven when Barnabas deemed that enough firewood had been chopped for the night. By that time Willie trembled with exhaustion, the effect of a day of exertion coupled with a needlessly strenuous task. On a different night, he might have struggled to make it up the stairs without leaning against the railing like a crippled person, would have denied Barnabas the triumph in it. But, tonight, it was all he could do to drag himself to his room and throw his body on the bed. Barnabas could go fuck himself for all Willie cared. Let him laugh himself sick at the sight of his servant crawling to his room. Willie hoped he would enjoy it.
What had earlier in the night been shivers had now turned into constant tremors that made it nearly impossible for him to lie still. As they raced through his body, Willie clutched his pillow to his chest in order to absorb their shock. Shoulda build a fire, Willie thought, got enough goddamn firewood, that's for sure. But, he wasn't sure his body would cooperate with his wish to stand.
And, beyond his primitive desire for warmth, his mind would not quiet. Maggie. I bet this is how ya feel, isn't it. Cold, so cold. Except you're down there in the dark. At least I have a candle here… and a blanket. You don't even have that.
I brought you soup, Maggie, and I brought you my jacket. It's a nice jacket, Maggie, real nice. Real warm. Maybe it'll even take the chill from the basement. I brought you everything I could, Maggie, ya gotta believe me, ya just gotta. I brought you everything… except your freedom. I woulda brought that, too, if I could. You know that. I woulda brought you the world someday, maybe. If this hadn't happened…
Ya know I love you, Maggie. Always knew it. It's all right though; you don't have to love me back. Just wear the jacket. That's enough.
Willie pulled the wool blanket up to his chin, and could immediately feel his clothing soaking the bedding. It would be cold too, if he didn't do something about it. Better take your shirt off at least, Loomis. Get sick if ya don't. What good are you going to do for Maggie if you can't even get out of bed.
About as much damn good as he was doing now.
Willie was dimly aware of the sharp contrast of hot tear tracks cutting through the icy rivers of rain water and melting sleet that were dripping down off his hair.
Barnabas had punished Willie a dozen or more times in the weeks he had been here, and would a thousand times more before this all ended, one way or another. But, for every punishment Barnabas delivered, Willie had devised and delivered a countless number of his own. Tonight was no exception.
Willie slipped his sodden shirt over his head and used it to wipe the worst of the water from his hair, hoping it would help to still the tremors in his body.
He doubted a fire would help tonight, and it was always a few degrees colder in his room.