Mere Human Ruffians

1884 Docklands of London

Angelus peered through the gaslit gloom of the narrow street, smiling at the vista of human misery and waste presented to him. Doxies, beggars, laborers, seamen, peddlers of all sorts of vice and commodities. He waved off a wizened crone who was offering him her 12-year-old virgin grand-daughter for a mere 10 bob. He was after tastier meat than a scrawny, starving, workhouse candidate.

The crone was persistent. "I've a grandson, milord, just turned ten, smooth as a girl. If that's your fancy, milord."

He hesitated, then shook his head. "Little boys break, granny. I've a better to home." He tossed the old woman a shilling to encourage her in her businesslike ways, but he was careful to stay out of reach of the fleas infesting her rags as he moved on.

He walked down the street towards the river, wondering absently if the night might be better spent at home teaching William new tricks, then he shrugged the notion off. Between the pouts of one woman and the mad screechings of the other, with the glowers of William for counterpoint, Angelus was ready for the uncomplicated companionship of taverns and drunkards. A bit of roistering, a bit of feeding,
then roll home with the dawn and a good day's rest. Even if he had to break bones to get it.

The Copper Crown was as dirty and unappealing a tavern as the Thamesbank could offer. Angelus knew his gentleman's clothes and general appearance of cleanliness marked him as an intruder, a toff on a lark, but that was part of the point. He wanted to attract all the wrong kinds of attention. He smiled broadly as he strode up to the bar, gold-headed walking stick swinging. No mirror on the back wall,
which was just as well. If he wanted to inspire the fear of the unclean darkness, he'd show them some fang.

"Evenin', m'good man," he said to the barkeep, playing up his brogue in this stronghold of Londoners.

The barkeep appraised the new arrival's clothes and jewelry and managed not to glower too obviously. "Evenin', sir. What's yer pleasure?"

"Whiskey, yer best Irish." And he slapped a gold sovereign onto the counter top. The distinctive chime and golden gleam bought a circle of silence around him. "And another for y'self." The barkeep nodded and pulled a bottle off the back shelf.

Angelus looked around the bar room, smiling jovially. "Lovely place y've got here. Quaint, even." He tossed back his drink and held out his empty glass. "'Nother, if y'please." The barkeep filled the glass. "To the Queen," he said, saluting the portrait on the wall. Muttered responses and raised glasses from various points of the room. He drained the glass and didn't see the barkeep glance at a figure in the corner and receive a nod. Another filled glass awaited him as he put the empty glass down. Angelus picked up the glass, sipping at this one and smiling to those around him.

A man came up to him from the corner of the room, a man better dressed than the workmen drinking. "You seem a bit off the beaten path, young sir."

"Ah, just out for a wee bit of an evenin's adventure, is all. Leave the kiddies and womenfolk to home,
get a breath of fresh air."

"You come to the docks for fresh air? Things must be grim at home."

"Well, if it's not Drusilla cryin' after her dolls or young Will poutin' cause he didn't get the treat he was beggin' for, tis my lovely Darla complainin' that I don't pay her enough attention." He drained his whiskey and signaled the barkeep.

The man glanced at the empty glass, then nodded at the barkeep, who handed over another. Angelus tossed back half of it. The man put a careful hand on his arm and guided him further along the bar from the door. "Aye, sometimes it's best to put the trouble and strife behind ye for a bit."

"Aye, indeed." Angelus finished the drink and blinked. Cheap whiskey, or had it been that long since he'd drunk so much so fast? The walls actually wobbled a little. Just about time for the rest of the fun to begin, then. "So, which of the lasses about here have the most bounce in their bottoms? I think it's time for a bit o' warmth 'round my cock."

"Well, have another drink first."

Another glass was pressed into his hand, Angelus' vision blurred for just a second, and the floor dropped from beneath his feet. "Bug--"

A rush of darkness, a drop of a dozen feet, landing on something relatively soft. He found himself sitting on a battered mattress on the floor of a tunnel. Above his head, a trapdoor swung closed.

Just to one side, a man sitting in a chair folded the newspaper he was reading and picked up a club. "Aye, yer a big 'un," he observed as he approached. "Get a good price fer ye, we will."

Angelus blinked, saw the club rise above his head, and was just that too slow to block the blow that drove his consciousness away.

In a fashionable side street in Mayfair, the vampiress Darla took her hands from the keyboard of the small organ she was teaching herself to play to cover her ears. "Oh, that girl," she sighed as another shriek came from Drusilla's room. "Even if we tore out her tongue, she'd still scream. William! Come here, William."

A sullen William the Bloody entered the parlour. "Yes ... ma'am?"

Darla glared at him. "Do something about her."

He sneered at her. "And what would Madam suggest I do with Angelus' favorite plaything to keep her quiet that won't get me staked or beaten so bloody I can't walk for three days?"

"I don't care! Knock her out, fuck her unconscious, anything to stop that caterwauling!"

As either of those options came with the staked or beaten consequence, William only shrugged and headed out of the room.

"And don't think I'll forget your insolence, William!"

"Bitch," he muttered, heading up the staircase. "Whore." The glower disappeared as he approached Drusilla's room. She'd been crying in apparent agony for hours now. He tapped quietly on her door before entering. "Princess? Are you all right?"

The room was dark, the candles and oil lamps removed by the minions at the first sign of the latest fit. Vampiric eyesight and the light from the streetlights outside showed the mayhem. Dolls lay broken on the floor and a delicate French armchair had been flung into the wall. The feather mattress on the bed had long since exploded, and feathers lay everywhere.

"Kitten? Where are you, princess?" A whimper from the closet led him to her hiding place. "Now, kitten, you shouldn't hide like this, you'll worry your sweet William, you will." He opened the door carefully, ready in case she attacked.

Drusilla had pulled all her clothes on top of herself. "Too bright, sweet, too bright," came her muffled whimper.

William crouched down beside her and began to slowly pull away her coverings. "What's too bright, my lovely? You're all in the dark here. What's too bright?"

"The sun, the sun, it burns!" He freed her face, but she clutched a cloak to herself, hiding.

"Silly love, the sun won't be up for hours, and you'll have your curtains closed and the shutters by then."

"Burns! My beautiful Angelus, 'twill burn him!"

Vicious joy followed immediately by guilt and dread. "Angelus? Angelus will burn? What do you see, Dru? What about Angelus?" He stroked her hair, trying to help her focus.

"He's in the dark, he's in chains, but they're going to take him, take him to the light! They don't know, and he'll burn!"

"Where, Dru? Where is he?"

But she was off again, shaking her head and crying about the dark and the light.

William ran from the room and down the staircase. "Darla!"

At the organ, Darla froze, then turned on the stool. "William, are you aware that Angelus only had a natural aptitude for torture when I found him? Who do you think helped him hone his skills?"

He ignored her threats. "Sire's in trouble. Dru's seen it."

Darla took a breath to dismiss her grand-childe's visions, then hesitated. Mad Drusilla may be, but her visions were real. "Where is he?"

"She's not sure. All she sees is that he's in the dark, in chains, and someone who doesn't know what he is is going to take him into the sun."

She glanced at the parlour windows. "Four hours to dawn. Come with me."

A quick check of the minions gleaned the information that Angelus had left in search of manly entertainments early in the evening, though with no definite destination. "Whores and liquor and brawls," Darla said with a knowing curl of the lip. "A human dive. He has such common tastes when left to his own devices."

"The river," William said, knowing his city. "And he'll not go far, not if he wants to get a full night's carousal in and still get home."

"Indeed. Robert! Bring the carriage!"

"A hansom would be less conspicuous," William countered.

"I know, but we might be in a hurry when we find him, we'll not want to waste time finding a cab down there."

"Oh. Good idea."

Darla smirked at him. "I occasionally have them."

Fifteen minutes later found the pair of them in the carriage, careening off at speed towards the Thames.

Bunco Wheldon and his partner, Parker, two of the best shanghaiers of strong bodies for the ocean-going ships, compared notes in an underground chamber. "I put it as a good dozen bodies tonight," Bunco said, looking at penciled notes scrawled on scraps of paper.

"Well, a dozen bodies," Parker said, "but I don't know how many good. A couple of Chinks, at least one with the pleurisy and another coughing his lungs out."

"They can still shift cargo. The Chinks know their work, and the rest are good merchandise. Did you see that big Mick I got from the Copper Crown?"

"Aye, saw 'im and helped put more chains on 'im. Somethin' wrong about that 'un. Twere dark, but there was somethin' wrong with his face. And he tried to bite me."

"He looked fine when I bought him his drinks in the pub. Just means he's strong. Captains will pay more for that, and the whip'll teach him 'is manners. We can shift them all down to the dock in a few hours, find some buyers."

"Cap'n Morris'll take 'em all. He's headed off for Mombasa with the tide, then points east."

"Right, then. Go tell the Cap'n how many we got and tell him it's the usual price, 30 pound a head. Tell him the big Mick makes up for the sick 'uns."


Parker headed out one tunnel while Wheldon went to check on the merchandise. Most of the captured men were still drugged, and the sick ones were too miserable too move. In the end cell, the strongest one with bars on the doors, lay the big man from the Copper Crown, bound with anchor chain and manacles. Wheldon had a candle lantern with him, but the dark-haired captive didn't seem to care if he had light or not as he lay on the dirt floor

"If you value your life at all, you'll undo these chains." The jovial brogue was still present, but there was an overlay of menace and delight in other people's pain. "If I have to free myself, you'll be years in the dyin'." The man strained against the chains, which screeched against themselves.

Wheldon blamed the drafts and the flickering candle flame for the distortion of his prisoner's face and the yellow eyes. The man seemed to have more teeth, sharper teeth. Too little sleep, too much cheap gin. "You'll be free enough soon enough, me lad. All the freedom you could wish out on the open ocean."

"The what?"

"The open ocean," Wheldon said expansively. "A life of adventure waits for you, m'lad, off to the Far East, the mysteries of the Orient, the land of the heathen Hindoo! And just think, you'll not be crossin' the open Pacific, so odds are there'll be enough provisions for everyone, so you won't end up on the menu as long pork when supplies run low. Why, you should be payin' me for the privilege, gettin' you away from the wife and kiddies you were complaining about before."

Angelus strained against the chains again, feeling for weakness. "And what if I don't want to take a sea cruise?"

"Ah, you'll thank me soon enough. And if you don't, well, tis no concern o' mine. You'll be off to your new master in just a few hours, and you can take your complains to him."

"A few hours." Angelus went still, trying to remember how long he'd been unconscious. "What time is it?"

"Oh, sorry, did your fancy pocket watch go missing? Pity, that. A couple hours till dawn, is what it is. Not to worry, you'll be out of this miserable dark place soon enough, out to the open air. Tah till then." Wheldon wandered off, taking his lantern with him. Angelus redoubled his efforts, muttering in all the languages he knew about uses for dismembered human body parts.

"Darla, for the last time, you have to leave this to me!" William glared at his grand-Sire--Heaven help him if he ever let the word great-grand-Sire slip pass his lips again--in what he hoped was a persuasive manner. "You can't go down there to the pubs."

He and Darla stood next to the carriage just outside a narrow alley that led towards the river and the sailors' taverns. It was the closest such quarter to the Mayfair house and the best first place to look for Angelus.

Darla glared at him. "I have been taking care of Angelus since before the House of Hanover thought of ruling England. I've outrun vampire hunters and mobs with torches, I can deal with drunken sailors."

"If you go down there, Darla, the only useful information you'll get is the current asking price for whores--" He fought a cringe at the full demon-faced snarl she gave him.

"How dare you, you jumped-up little--"

"It's no place for a lady, Darla! They'd never speak one useful word to you, and we don't have time to just bash our way in if we don't know he's there!"

The vampire-face disappeared into a genuine, if surprised, smile. "You consider me a lady, then,

He blinked at her in confusion. "Of course. Why wouldn't I? Do we really have time for this?"

"Oh, no, you're right, we don't." She patted him on the arm. "I'll wait here with Robert, then, keep the ruffians off the carriage." She glanced up at the sky, a frown ghosting her forehead. "Hurry."

William headed down the alley, sidestepping rotting garbage and averting his eyes from the tired whores looking for one more bit of business before dawn. His small number of years as a vampire did not quite over-ride his automatic dismay at the sight of the squalor and corruption. Mr. Dickens' novels barely told the half of it. He turned firmly away from the offer of a young boy or girl for his lordship's bed for only a few bob.

Then he smelled Angelus.

The old woman flinched back from his sudden attention, then sidled closer. "My grand-son, untouched, just ten, ripe for it, milord."

William twitched with the effort of holding his claws back from her throat. "There was a man here earlier, a big man, well-dressed, dark, Irish. Did you see him?"

"Oh, no, milord, I haven't seen anyone, I haven't been here, I wouldn't be here at all if the rest of my family weren't so hungry--"

He grabbed a handful of rags and yanked her close. "Don't lie to me, hag, did you see him? Did you try to pander some child to him? Did he buy one of those pathetic creatures?"

Cunning and fear replaced the careful veneer of desperation. "I offered, he turned me down. Said he had better to home than my boy or girl."

William snarled at that. "Where did he go?"

"Why should I tell you?"

"Why should I let you live?" He let his fangs show just a little.

The old woman shivered. "Down--down the lane. Towards the Copper Crown. Haven't seen him since."

William dropped her into the mud and stepped away before he could be distracted by the urge for blood. He fought back his demon's visage to present a guileless, handsome face to the mob in the tavern. The scent of Angelus continued down the alley to the door of the pub and lingered on inside,
despite the smell of booze, sweat, and piss that filled the room.

The crowd in the barroom glanced up at him, then turned back to their drinks. He was not dressed quite as fashionably as Angelus would have liked, but his clothes were new, which was enough of an anachronism in this place to attract attention.

The barkeep raised an eyebrow at the young man in his doorway. Another toff looking for adventure, this one looked like a university student gone slumming. Something in the eyes, though, said he might have more on his mind than slightly naughty amusement. The young man paused just inside, taking deep breaths of the air, then he stepped up to the bar.

"Gimme a pint of bitters, mate." He tossed a few shillings on the counter.

The barkeep drew a pint and took the money. William scanned the room as he drank, tracing out the impressions of Angelus. The older vampire had spent several minutes in the room, but where had he gone from here? If he asked, what kind of answer would he get? He studied the barkeep surreptitiously, then saw something chilling on the back shelf. A gold-headed walking stick, which he would have bet real money had the design of a griffon engraved on the head. Angelus' stick, which he would never have abandoned, unless it had been left stabbed into the eye socket of a foe.

Why would Angelus have been taken captive in a place like this, by people who didn't know he was a vampire? A robbery? No, robbers would have killed him outright, they wouldn't leave him in the chains Dru had seen. Chains implied he was being kept for another purpose. But why would people in a riverfront bar be capturing men--

He'd dismissed the tales as mere adventure yarns and cautionary fables, those stories of men taken from the streets and shanghaied into slavery on board ships. But press gangs had worked the ports of the world for ages, grabbing men and forcing them to sea. A man like Angelus, obviously strong and healthy and an outsider, would be a prime target.

How had they done it, how had they overcome an old, canny vampire like the Scourge of Europe? Arrogance on Angelus' part and cunning on the humans' part, no doubt. He tried to remember the stories he'd read about shanghaiers. Press gangs on the streets and hidden passages in taverns. Trapdoors to drop the unwitting through--

He glanced at his feet suspiciously. No tell-tale lines in the floor where he stood, but a dozen feet away, visible through the saw dust, was the square outline of an opening in the floor. He grinned. This would serve as mocking material for years, the great Angelus being ambushed by a group of mortals. But first he had some rescuing to do.

He strolled casually down the bar, sidestepping the trap door, till he reached the end of the counter. He studied the sketches of pugilists and sailing ships on the wall for a moment, then turned to look behind the counter. Just next to the trapdoor was a lever on the floor. Seemed simple enough. He took a deep breath then grinned in the happy anticipation of violence.

The barkeep looked up as William strolled behind the counter. "You're not allowed back here, mate."

"Oh, I'm not staying. Just came to get something that doesn't belong to you."

William snatched up the walking stick. The barkeep rushed him, and he kicked the human in the balls. Grabbing the lever, he yanked it open. The trapdoor opened with a thump. William vaulted to the top of the bar, glanced at the hole in the floor, shrugged, then jumped down.

The man sitting on the chair below gaped at the new arrival. "Wha-- didn't hear the signal …" He snatched up his club and moved in.

William stayed in his crouch, grinning. "'Allo, mate. I'm feeling sporting, so you can run, if you like."

The man sneered and pulled the club back to swing. William grasped the top of Angelus' walking stick, twisted, and yanked the hidden blade free. He ducked the club and slammed the blade in under the human's ribcage and up, grinning in demon-face into the shocked eyes of his victim.

He debated grabbing something to eat, but time was a-wasting. He let the body fall off the end of the blade as he sniffed the air. Angelus had been here, but an Angelus not at the top of his form. Drugged, then. More to mock his omnipotent Sire with. William wiped the blade on the corpse's coat and ran down the tunnel, following his Sire's scent.

Wheldon and his crew began collecting the night's haul of impressees at the far end of the row from Angelus. Those men who had recovered enough to be feisty received carefully gauged thumps to the head, then they were bundled up in tarps and ropes to be hauled down the tunnels.

Angelus fought himself to his feet, braced against the weight of the chains with his back to the wall. Another hour or so would give him time to pop the chains, but he didn't have another hour. The sun was nearly up, he could see faint washes of yellow light at the far end of the tunnel from whatever opening the shanghaiers were transporting their captives through. He didn't want to discover how close he had to be to full daylight to feel the flames on his flesh. He'd make his stand here in his cell.

Parker paused at the cell's doorway. "Bunco, this 'un's awake and feeling frolicsome. Bring the lads."

Wheldon sighed as he came up. "Now, me lad, didn't we have this talk earlier? A healthful sea voyage, chance to see a brave new world, freedom from the wife and kiddies. Don't know why you have to put up such a fuss."

Angelus let his demon show. "Free me now and you'll live to see teatime. Give me a fight, and I'll eat your brain." His grin was full of fangs.

The humans hesitated at the sight. Parker poked the nearest thug in the ribs. "Go on, so he's deformed. He's still chained. Go in and knock him down, then we can get rid of him."

The thugs shoved at each other to build their courage, then started into the cell.

"You do realize that you'll only be able to come in one at a time, don't you?" Angelus said helpfully. He pulled against the chains and brought one big hand to the front. "And I have very strong hands."

"Come on, ladies," Parker sneered. "One big Mick in chains versus a bunch of free English toughs? You're embarrassing me. Just make sure he's alive and able to work."

The thugs grinned at each other and headed in. Angelus settled his footing and braced to meet the charge. Then he straightened with a laugh. "Stupid humans. Oh, well, you had your chance. Left it a bit late, didn't you?" he called.

A voice came from the darkness. "I'd leave you here to burn, except Dru's crying and destroying her room and Darla thinks having you about is a good thing."

"Ah, I knew you were a good sort, William."

Parker turned to find a slender blond man standing behind him, a blade in one hand and another face full of teeth. The shanghaier drew himself up. "A volunteer for a sea cruise, eh? Always room for one more."

"Did we want to keep this one alive, Angelus?" William called into the cell.

"No reason, boy-o. The one in the ugly waistcoat's mine, though."

William grinned at Parker and Wheldon behind him. "Right then."

Parker stepped up to meet him, knocking the blade to one side. William grabbed his hand and twisted, still grinning. Parker gasped and fell to his knees as his wrist shattered.

"We've no time for playin', boy!" Angelus yelled. "Finish it!"

"You're just no fun anymore, Sire!"

"When I get out of here I'll show you fun!"

The thugs inside the cell froze and couldn't help turning at the sound of Parker's neck snapping like rotten wood. Angelus stepped forward and grabbed the nearest man by the arm, clawed fingers digging in through the human's skin to the bone. The man screamed as blood poured down.
Wheldon stepped back as Parker's body hit the floor. The new arrival leered at him from a face as distorted as the Irish prisoner's. Something strange was afoot, the hairs on his neck told him that these were matters normal men shouldn't deal with. The new man turned to grab the nearest thug that was trying to get into the Irishman's cell, snapping that neck as easily as he'd done Parker's. The Mick himself dropped the man whose arm he'd savaged, ground a foot into the poor bastard's groin, and stepped forward into the fray.

Angelus sneered at Wheldon through the bars. "Ye're not thinking of leaving our little soiree, are ya, lad? I've still t'thank ye for the hospitality ye showed."

William laughed. "I thought you were in a hurry, Angelus." He stabbed another man through the eye, the sturdy blade crunching neatly through the skull into the brain beyond. "Two to go, are you leaving them for me?"

"Just one of them, boy, I'll take the other."

The two remaining thugs were trapped inside the cell between a chained and allegedly helpless captive and a blood streaked man with a broad, evil grin. They looked at each other, then both charged William. The younger vampire hit the far wall of the tunnel, then grabbed one of the men. The other took advantage of the opportunity and ran like hell.

Wheldon took the better part of valour and turned to run himself.

William dropped the latest corpse, leaped over the bodies on the floor and grabbed the escaping man. "Don't go yet, guv'nor, me Sire wants to chat with you a bit. Where you want him, Angelus?" He yanked Wheldon's arm up behind his back, making the human yell.

"Bring him in here, then get these chains off me." Angelus struggled against the chains, feeling something begin to give.

William dragged Wheldon into the cell after him and threw him into a far corner. "What, the great Scourge of Europe foiled by mere mortal bonds?"

"I can still rip your throat out, boy. Get these off." William found the lock and tore it apart. Angelus began wriggling free. "So Dru saw what was going on?"

"She started having fits about her beautiful Angelus being dragged into the light to burn. I had nothing better to do." He helped pull the chains off his Sire.

"Came runnin' to my rescue, I'm touched, lad."

"No running, Darla and Robert have the carriage. If you're going to play with your new toy, best make it quick. Or bring him with."

The last chains fell free, and Angelus grabbed William for a quick kiss. "I'll not beat you quite so bloody for yer backtalk, my sweet. Is that my sword cane you've been making so free with?"

William flourished the bloody steel. "Nice piece of work, this."

"Clean it off and put it away, we'll be going soon. Oh, have dinner if you want." He nudged the still whimpering man on the floor with the ripped up arm.

"Ta very much, Sire."

Wheldon stared in horror as the man settled his torn coat about his shoulders and turned to face his erstwhile captor. "What--what are you?"

Bright yellow eyes smiled at him from a gnarled face. "Why, I'm a vampire, me lad, didn't you guess?"

"No, can't be, not real."

"Now, you're babblin', lad, don't fall apart on me now. What happened to your brave tales of life on the open sea?"

The other man--other vampire--crouched over Morris on the floor, pulled the head back and sank his fangs into the man's throat. Morris flailed weakly, then went still. Wheldon fought nausea at the slurping sounds.

Angelus watched with approval, then turned back to Wheldon. "M'boy's quite right, though, don't have time to do a proper job, and dragging you off is more trouble than it's worth." He strode over quickly and settled his hand around Wheldon's throat, ignoring the hands batting at him. "Oh, but if I had the time, boy-o," he crooned, smiling into the terrified eyes, "I'd make you scream. Still, you'll do for dinner."

He tilted Wheldon's head easily and bent down slowly, holding the human's eyes as long as he could before biting into the jugular. A strong man's fear, always a lovely spice to a meal.

William finished quickly and got to his feet, checking his shirtfront for blood spatters. Darla was a terror when it came to sloppy eating. He sighed when he saw Angelus. "Sire, we don't have time for you to drag it out. Finish him and let's be out of here before the sun catches us."

"Aye, you're right, Will, for once in your unlife." Angelus dropped the mostly drained corpse on the floor. "Where's the carriage?"

"At the mouth of the lane. We don't have much time."

They went out into the tunnel and looked both ways. Dangerous brightness grew at one end. "Quickest way would be the way we came," Angelus said.

"Trapdoor's this way."

William ripped apart the mechanism of the trapdoor, and the hatch fell open. He gave Angelus a knee up to the opening. The dark vampire levered himself up and into the barroom above. "Hello again, barkeep," he called to the staring man behind the bar. "Love to stay and chat with you about the quality of your whiskey, but my boy and I must be going." He reached down through the hatch to take William's hand and pull him up.

"Will you stop chatting with everyone you see?" William said anxiously as he made his way to the door.

"Now, Will, social skills are very important--"

"We're in a hurry, you great damned poof!"

Angelus resisted the urge to wave to the staring humans all around. Will was still very young, and the sun would ignite a fledgling's skin before it would touch a vampire the age of Angelus. He put a hand on his boy's shoulder. "I know, Will, I know. Let's run."

It was bright outside, brighter than Angelus had let himself see in a long time. Beside him, William whimpered in dread. Angelus grabbed his wrist and led the way up the alley.

Up ahead, a familiar closed carriage waited on the main road. Robert the coachman wore an enveloping hooded cloak and held the reins to the nervous horses. The door of the carriage was slightly open, and Darla peered out anxiously. Angelus straight-armed people out of his way.

"Darla!" he yelled.

She saw the pair running up the alley and kicked the carriage door open as she drew back into the shadows of the interior. "Robert, be ready!"

"Yes, mistress!"

William stumbled and gasped as a brighter gleam of sunlight cleared the houses and fell on his head. Angelus yanked him closer to shield him. "You catch fire and die on me, boy, and I'll scatter your ashes on the altar at St. Paul's. Keep moving!"

They reached the carriage, and Angelus threw William at the door. Darla reached out to yank the childe in as Angelus dove in behind. "Go, Robert!" he yelled.

Robert cracked the whip over the horses' heads and drove away at speed.

Angelus yanked the door closed and fell back against the velvet-covered seat, getting his wits about him. On the other seat, Darla held William on her lap, crooning over the burns on his face. "Will he be all right?"

"Yes, he should be fine, brave little boy."

"Careful, my heart, he may start thinking you have something approaching affection for him."

"No fear of that, I'm only grateful that he helped rescue you." She held out a hand to Angelus.

He took it and kissed the fingers, holding on for a few extra moments before letting it go. "I'd have saved m'self eventually, you know. Twere only a bunch of human ruffians."

"Of course, my love, I had no doubts at all. But William would insist on showing how brave he is."

"Of course."

William stirred painfully. "Sire . . ."

Angelus reached over to stroke William's hair. "I'm here, lad, we both made it, we're safe."

The young vampire relaxed. "Stupid poof," he muttered, "showing off to the groundlings when he should have run." He winced when Darla smacked the top of his head, though more gently than she might have.

"Now we have an injured boy to tend," she complained, pouting with voice only. "Though I see he managed to save your toy." She nudged Angelus' sword cane with her foot, where William had dropped it to the carriage floor.

"He's a good lad, when he tries. Drusilla will be happy to take care of him."

Angelus leaned back against the seat, unwilling to talk more until he had those tremors out of his hands and legs. A near thing, a foolishly near thing. Though he'd have fought free of the mess by himself, he was sure. Still, without William's help . . . .

He saw William watching him from pain-filled eyes. "Go to sleep, Will, you're hurt."

"You're all right?" came the soft words.

"I'm fine, lad. I'm fine."

William nodded and finally drifted off to sleep. Angelus smiled at him a moment, then looked back to Darla. Her eyes were less pleased now, and she glanced down at the childe in her lap as if she wanted to shove him off. Angelus held his hand out to her, and she finally smiled and gave him hers. He kissed her fingers slowly and deliberately, but part of his mind wished William were resting in his lap and those dark blond waves were under his hand, not hers.