James A. F. Christie
"Great earthmover … , kill this mad
and bouncing goat."
For Juliet Landau, with loveChapter One
Her heart could not beat, but it could break; and her soul screamed in pain as she saw her family scatter like windblown seeds. Journeying to Cleveland, Rome and London. Leaving their home on Candlewood Drive once again a house, shuttered and empty, the garden neglected and the roses no longer in bloom.
She had tried so hard to cope, too! Drusilla fumed to herself as she scrubbed the kitchen island. After Xander had brought her back from that dank old church, newly ensouled and suicidal, she had clung to him for almost a day as the raw and terrible emotions coursed through her. Guilt, horror, self-loathing, fear and (admit it, Dru, the sweet contralto of the novice nun reminded her) complete confusion.
She simply had no idea how to deal with the full onslaught of human emotions after one hundred and forty three years of self-absorption and slaughter without conscience. No names for the violent passions which had seized her, and no idea she had nearly broken both his arms with the force of her grip.
Funnily enough, she thought, laughing to herself with a shadow of her old insane giggle, she had been much more in control of herself as a deranged, soulless lunatic. Much better at gauging her strength, expert at applying just the right amount of force to snap a neck cleanly…
Xander had understood, though. God, she didn't deserve him! He was her white knight in spades even if she didn't feel she could call herself his princess yet…
What would she do without him?
But, oh no, he was mortal. Mortal! How would she manage when he was gone?
She knew her hands were flapping again. Knew she was swaying and looking up to try and see the stars. Knew everyone could hear that "poor old Dru was having one of her turns," as Mr Giles once said, but she couldn't stop herself.
She spun around the kitchen. Crazy vampire on the road to hell at two in the morning! All shook up and nowhere to go. Bouncing across the room like a billiard ball without a pocket in sight.
Crazy, silly vampire…
"Hey, golden eyes!"
She spun to a stop. There he was, with his broad shoulders, tousled hair and lopsided grin, unable to sleep again and looking for love (and possibly a side order of coffee and muffins) from his dear old Dru.
"Kitten!" she purred, loving the fire in her belly and the weakness that came over her knees whenever she saw Xander.
"Hey, bootylicious! Want to shoot the breeze awhile?"
"Ooooh yes, love" she said as she shot to his side with girlish excitement and vampiric speed. "Sorry, Drusie's in a spin again and not set fair for the Great
Xander looked at her in loving incomprehension, so she tried to translate for him.
"Just sad everyone's going away. That they're all set for departure, so to speak."
"So am I, Dru," he said thoughtfully. "So am I."
Buffy came in sometime later, fresh from a kill and cheerfully twirling the Scythe. She found Dru and Xander dozing at the kitchen island like an old married couple, heads touching as they sat together, his cup of coffee right by her mug of blood.Chapter Two
The winds of war, though, cared not for the loves of men and demons. There had been little in the way of peace on Earth since the last pure demon had fed upon the first man, and much in the way of war since the first slayer battled the early vampires on sun-seared plains of brown parchment east of the Great Rift Valley.
Since then, the engines by which men waged war had become ever greater and more destructive. Twice planes hit towers in Manhattan, piercing blue-white mountains of glass and steel like silver needles. Later, light armoured columns invaded the biblical land of Eden, conquering the ancient city on the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Slayers fought demons in deserts, jungles and alleys but steeped their conflicts in secrecy, while men battled their brothers in public and broadcast their wars daily on the news.
Some of their wars, anyway.
West of the Great Rift Valley, millions died as "Africa's world war" raged silently in the Eastern Congo. Children took up arms or became victims in the mad scramble for resources, but the media looked away.
The media was also unaware that now, instead of just one slayer chosen to fight the forces of darkness, there were many, all activated by Willow's spell just before the Fall of Sunnydale.
Every war, every death and every spell created ripples of consequence. The ripples from the conflict in the Congo and the consequences of Willow's spell would weave together the fates of demonic forces and human lives from as far apart as the Rift Valley, London, and a small house in San Fernando where a carpenter stood with a seemingly-young woman as she cried for her garden and the loss of family.
Rather like noble knights, Drusilla and the Scoobies assembled in Candlewood Drive's threadbare living room on the last day. Without any fanfare, they found themselves standing in a circle, realising this was the time of parting and wondering when they would meet again.
Willow was heading for Cleveland to be with Kennedy; Buffy and Dawn were movng to Rome to contact all the slayers who had been called in continental Europe; and Giles was going to London to rebuild the Watchers' Council.
That left Dru and Xander, neither inside the circle nor out. Drusilla felt her old dread of isolation rising up and, to stop her hands shaking, she hid them in the folds of the smart scarlet cloak (or pelisse as she called it) Xander had bought her.
At least, with a new grey skirt, long black boots and matching shoulder bag to complete her outfit, she looked presentable. But in a way that made it all worse.
She might appear to be a young lady ready to travel with her beau, but she wasn't. She was a vampire cursed with a soul, neither of one world nor the other. She had willingly forsaken the dark but she could not step fully into the light, which left her stuck in limbo and terribly dependent on the goodwill of her fellow travellers.
What if her new family abandoned her? What if Xander left her alone?
Rationally, she knew he wouldn't, but rationality wasn't something she was well acquainted with yet, and it wasn't much of a buffer against her primal fears of dying alone in the dark, or her memories of blindly smothering in a thick red haze.
But there was that little spark of warmth in her chest which reminded her that Xander wouldn't leave her. She had realised that being needy and clingy would merely push him away, so she'd tried to be quiet and supportive. Not easy when she was still going through hells of guilt and tidal waves of emotion, but she had tried.
And it was fun being with him. Despite her fears, she couldn't help smiling as she remembered their exchange when she picked out her new pelisse at the mall.
"It's a little… conservative, Dru," Xander had said.
"I'm a hundred and sixty three years old, Xander! You wouldn't expect your
great-grandmummy to wear hotpants."
"Okay, Grandma," he had teased her, grinning lopsidedly, "but you don't look a day over a hundred and forty."
She had pouted, but then she chose a skirt with a high hemline and flashed her ankles at him as she tried it on.
It was a lovely little memory, and she held on to it as Xander stood beside her and Giles turned towards them, her fate in his hands.
"Drusilla," the watcher said gently, "do you want to go home?"Chapter Three
The vampire from another age did not understand at first. Her mouth dropped open and everyone watched kindly, but with some amusement, as Drusilla, once again, struggled to comprehend something.
Home, she thought. Where is home?
Although the images were in much better focus now, her mind remained jumbled and the sweet voice of the novice nun acted as her guide; but the torrents of emotion born of her restored soul were still running wild, and it was so hard to concentrate.
The factory or the mansion? No, both were destroyed either with or before the Fall of Sunnydale. Houses and villas in England, Spain and Bohemia? Just lodgings William and I took from their owners.
No, those places were not my home. They were just the nests of the feral vampire
I once was.
A vision came to her aid, or so she thought at first. She saw the blackened bell-tower of a great church rising above the fog and soot, and an even greater palace of crystal and spun glass, perched atop a darkened metropolitan plum like Jack Frost's idea of
a glacé cherry.
No, that's not a vision. That's a memory come to the surface from the deeps of my mind. A memory of Crystal Palace and the great bell of… now, what was its name again?
"I do not know," she said slowly, "says the great bell of Bow."
Giles broke into a smile despite himself while everyone else looked perplexed.
"Yes," he said. "Bow bells, Big Ben and the British Museum. London, where you were born. I'll have to return there to supervise the Council's reconstruction soon. So many dead. So much to do…"
Dru and Xander looked at each other, sharing one of those moments of understanding they had quite often now, and he took her hand.
"I'll need someone I know well to help with the work, Xander," Giles continued.
"So if you and Drusilla would like to come to London, the Council owns flats on Great Russell Street and we can put you up there."
Reminding himself firmly never ever again to consider Giles a pompous Englishman, Xander shook the watcher's hand in acceptance while everyone else dropped the idea of a group hug. Since regaining her soul Drusilla had started displaying Victorian mannerisms again, and although they all knew Giles was the kindest of men, he retained the clipped speech and reserved manner drilled into the British upper classes by their boarding schools since Drusilla's day.
I think I rather appreciate that reserve, too, thought Buffy. We're all getting past the days of doing backflips and saying 'cool' all the time, getting more able to savour the moment's bittersweet tang. 'Cause whether we like it or not, we're all growing up and away from each other now, and leaving a lot of hard memories and dead
Then Drusilla stepped forward and very carefully kissed Giles' cheek, utterly grateful to him for delivering her from hell.
Everyone broke into smiles at that, and they could hardly have been faulted for thinking they knew what was to come and there was the chance of a happy ending. But life loves to punish hope, and the true shape of their future was being decided not in Candlewood Drive, but in a small mission station in the Eastern Congo's Ituri province, where the last remaining sister was being forced to take in more and more Mbuti children, fleeing in terror from ghosts in the forest who, they said, were trying to kill them in their dreams.
With them had come a young girl begging for sanctuary, and she was pursued by a storm of wind and wrath.
"The Council can arrange passports, of course," Giles said to Drusilla later that evening as she munched on a piece of pie. Much coffee and cake had been consumed, and Giles had even produced a bottle of port which he'd passed round the table. Drusilla, never much of a drinker either as human or vampire, was now tipsy and happy, but she kept her attention firmly focused on the watcher and tried not to think about doing naughty things with Xander, or give in to her mild desire to dance on the roof of the house.
Only Giles, Dru and Xander were still awake. Buffy and Dawn were flying to Rome and Willow was teleporting to Cleveland early the next morning, leaving only Giles and his charges to lock up the house on Candlewood Drive.
Giles wasn't looking forward to the emotional farewells still to come, so he and Xander sat down on easy chairs in the living room and discussed the logistics of transporting a vampire to London while the vampire in question stretched out on the sofa, humming to herself and looking dreamily into the distance.
"What the Council can't do so easily – not in its present condition anyway – is whistle up a private jet," said Giles, "so we'll have to plan our stopovers carefully to avoid dawn's early light."
"New York, New York, perhaps?" said Xander. "Sinatra said it's a wonderful town, and I've never been to the Big Apple."
They went on mulling over options, assuming Drusilla wasn't paying any attention,
so when she suddenly sat up and said, "How can I call Angel?" they were stuck for
"I've got the number of his private line at Wolfram & Hart," said Giles after a pause. Xander watched and waited. He could see a light – albeit a slightly unfocused one – in Dru's eyes with which he was rapidly becoming familiar. She wasn't a great brain, and she was off in her own world a lot of the time, but when her eyes gleamed like that she was usually right on track to a solution, leaping past an adult's mental convolutions with a child's grace and hitting right upon the answer.
Giles told her the number, and after examining the phone for a while and hiccupping once or twice, Drusilla made the call. Xander realised that, amazingly, she had hardly ever used a phone before. Vampires did not usually move legally into homes and sign contracts with Pacific Bell, after all. Theirs was a world lived in the moment. Hunt. Kill. Feast. Repeat as necessary.
Drusilla had wandered through that world for over a century, guided by Spike and seeing the future, but also forgetting what day it was or even which country she was in a lot of the time. Now she was painstakingly hooking herself up to the linear march of days, and it made him love her all the more.
Xander heard the ringtone, heard the click of connection to the lair of Wolf, Ram and Hart. Then came Angel's voice, low and wary.
He sounds as happy as a termite frying in a pan, Xander thought. I don't think that place is doing old dropped-dead handsome any good at all.
Drusilla spoke one word and Xander saw her face harden.
"Not your Dru. Dru ensouled. Human Dru."
He did not need to question her further. A childe and her sire had a bond no human could truly understand. Xander knew this and still felt sick with jealousy.
"Drusilla. Why are you calling me?"
Drusilla paused for a long time before she next spoke, and when she did her voice resembled the low guttural growl of a wolf ready to spring. Her sire had been her father, lover, corrupter and torturer; but he had also been her idol. She had been enthralled by one of the most Machiavellian artists of evil in the demonic world and sick, soulless and insane as she had been, she had exulted in the degradations her family's murderer had put her through, bathing willingly in the filth of his sins.
So now, sane and self-aware, she hated him, and hated herself for once loving the monster who had killed her human family.
"To tell you that…" she began.
Xander heard the handset begin to creak under the pressure of her fingers.
"That I would gladly kill you, but I've only had my soul two weeks and it's been hell, my Angel. You've had yours for a century. There's no vengeance I could take on you that could equal such torment."
In reply, she heard only silence.
"So it seems," she went on, "that after all is said and done, I'm going home.
Maybe the bells of St Clement's still say oranges and lemons. Maybe not."
"Do you know what's to come, Dru?" Angel said suddenly.
"No, my Angel. I don't. I'm neither the rosebud nor the honeybee any more.
All I am is my knight's lady, for so long as he'll have me."
There is a dignity to her words now, Giles thought, a maturity she is beginning
"If you ever need anything, Dru…," her sire said lamely.
"I need to fly," his childe replied succinctly. "Far from you with my family,
to find what peace and make what penance I can."
She put the phone down a little later. The handset was a little squashed,
and her face a little weary.
"I've perchance made a deal with the devil," she said soberly, "but there's a private jet waiting for us at LAX."
Dru and Xander looked on as Giles let the Scoobies go.
Willow said goodbye first as she stood at the door of Candlewood Drive, remembering the way he had helped her break her addiction to magic.
"It's been a long road, Rupert," she said. "I'm glad you walked it with us."
She looked back at Xander, her first love, then at Drusilla. Xander saw the faintest flash of fire in her eyes.
"Take care, Xander. And take care of him, Drusilla."
Then she walked away down the drive, fading into magical mist as she went, leaving only the memories of the girl they had known who, scared and shy, had changed
Next came Dawn.
"Rome's really near London," she said with false cheer. "We'll be together
"Of course," said the watcher. "Look out for your sister."
Dawn lugged her suitcases down to the road, looking back all the time. The taxi would be there soon and she was only yards away, but she felt the gulf widening all the time.
Then came Buffy, with a clatter down the stairs and a quick look at Dawn, trying to find words worthy of the moment.
"It's not far, Giles."
"I know, Buffy. I'll always be there when you need me."
She took his hands suddenly, and clasped them in her own. In seven years as watcher and slayer she had rarely touched him, nor he her. She had wept for him when he lost Jenny Calendar, he had not slept for worry when she had disappeared after killing Angel, but for all the highs and lows they had been through, they had always acted like teacher and student.
But now she took his hands and did not want to let them go. She had cried a lot of tears over the last few weeks for Spike and for the fallen. Only now did she let herself think how much she loved Giles, the man who had been father and friend to her from her days as a sixteen-year-old rookie to seasoned commander of a small army of slayers.
Her control was going.
"I know, Buffy," he said. Then more quietly, "You are as a daughter to me."
She kissed him on the cheek and reluctantly released his hands. Then she turned to Dru and Xander.
"I'll say it quickly, Xander, or I'll probably start blubbing. You were the best of us all. The most loyal and the bravest. The glue that bound us together. My good and faithful warrior."
"You're making me blush, Buff."
"Shut up and let yourself be praised, Xander."
She hugged him, then clapped her hands on his shoulders.
"Don't try so hard. Don't do anything brave or courageous or foolhardy.
Don't be a hero."
He nodded and hugged her strongly.
The slayer stepped back, looking at the two of them: Dru and Xander, the odd couple.
"I never thought I'd say this, but you two look like you were born to be together. Don't lose each other. There's little enough love in this world and time's always
Lastly, she turned to Drusilla.
"I guess we all grew up a bit these last few weeks, Dru. You know, if things had
been different in Sunnydale, you'd have been a good ally. Those were hard years. Fighting the Master, Adam, Glory, The First. Loving Angel, Riley and Spike.
Losing Mom. I had to be a big sister too much of the time. I could have done
with a big sister of my own."
"Time was never on our side, slayer," said Drusilla sadly. "I waited too long to
"I think our day will come," said Buffy. "We'll share the dream and slay the dragon."
The two women shook hands, strangely formal, and Giles wondered if they'd also shared a dream about the Shanshu prophecies. They had been in each other's heads before, years ago in Sunnydale. They'd loved the same men and they'd both
But now the past was slipping away and separate futures were claiming them.
Slowly, reluctantly, they unclasped their hands, neither one wishing to be the first to walk away into memory.
Buffy's taxi drew up and the moment passed. Then the greatest slayer in history became just another young blonde off to see the world and, with a last wave to her comrades, she collected her sister and went on her way.
Giles watched them go, standing in the doorway as the taxi departed, seeing it grow smaller and smaller before it turned a corner and disappeared from sight.
There was a moment of quiet in respect of the end of an era. Giles stood at the door, suddenly feeling quite terribly lonely, and was surprised to feel a hand on his shoulder. A cool hand, smoking in the sunlight.
He quickly walked inside, forcing aside his thoughts for Buffy as he saw Dru's blackened hand.
She let herself be burned, he thought, in order to comfort me.
He looked at the young couple in the hallway. The sweet and soulful lady favouring her damaged hand, tended by the young man with the piratical eye patch and lopsided grin. Seven years since Buffy walked into the library, he thought. Now the wheel has turned full circle and left me with two new charges.
He felt rather happy about that.
Drusilla's big blue eyes met his.
"Time we all found our way home, Mr Giles," she said.
To the east of one continent, children in the jungle fled a ghostly creature of shadow and fog in search of dubious asylum in an old mission station.
On the west coast of another continent, a taxi-driver taking three people to the airport at the unholy hour of two o'clock in the morning heard the young lady choke back a gulping sob as the taxi came to the end of Candlewood Drive and turned right, leaving the house he had collected them from shuttered, empty and unloved.
He listened to the young lady's boyfriend try to console her.
"It's okay, Dru. You'll like the new apartment."
"They call them flats in England, Xander," said the older man mildly. An uncle perhaps, obviously English, quite streetwise under the surface and very protective
of the youngsters.
Funny thing, though, he could see the uncle and the guy with the eye patch quite clearly, but he couldn't see the young woman in the mirror at all. Must be too dark, he thought, not wanting to consider those possibilities which lay beneath the surface of normality.
The taxi skirted Central Los Angeles and headed down Sepulveda Boulevard to LAX. Angel had told Giles to go to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, and when they got there a man from Wolfram & Hart was waiting for them at the taxi stance.
He wore an expensively-tailored suit and had the face of a young Harrison Ford,
but they all knew a demon when they saw one (Xander noticed Dru's nostrils flare when she smelled him), and although travellers swirled around him, no one ever strayed too close, all of them subconsciously aware that he bore the Mark of Cain.
But the monster was on his best behaviour, well aware he would be exiled to the ninth circle of hell if he angered his master and CEO, so he stood there holding a placard marked AURELIUS and broke into a wide West Coast smile when he saw the watcher, the Scooby and the vampire step from the taxi onto the curb.
"Greetings, lady and gentlemen. My master asked that I escort you to your plane. Please follow me."
He whisked them onto a people carrier which resembled a golf cart and drove them through the Great Hall to the last gate. Xander felt Drusilla shiver with excitement in his arms. Despite her best efforts to grow up, there was always something of the little girl about her, and the play of light and sound all around them brought a child's innocent look of wonder to her face, lifting her out of that murky pit of self-loathing which claimed her so much of the time.
She smiled, and his own world lit up.
"Ooh," she said, "it's like a palace. All full of pixies and goblins!"
Even the man from Wolfram & Hart smiled at that as he helped them waft through customs like royalty and into the embrace of the glossy black executive jet parked on a runway usually reserved for commercially important people.
As they started up the steps, Xander felt Drusilla drag him to a halt.
"What's wrong, love?"
"Xander, I… Well…"
"Just ask, Dru."
"Can't we take the train instead? All safe on the iron rails?"
He couldn't quite suppress a grin.
"You haven't flown before, have you, Dru?"
"In my mind, yes. With the lark and the raven. Following the sou' westerlies with the migrating birds."
"Otherwise, no," she said, pouting in shame as she looked from the flying saucer shape of the airport's Theme Building to the shores of the Pacific, "I fancied I was liberal like Gladstone, but I could be as conservative as Disraeli."
"Follow me, then," said Xander, wondering who the hell Gladstone and Disraeli were but finding poetic deeps he didn't know he had, "and you'll see the stars again."
He felt the pressure on his elbow ease as Drusilla immediately relaxed, straightened her cloak and followed him up the steps. She looked, Giles thought, like a typical Victorian lady out of her element – stiff-upper-lipped and deferential, trusting in
How strangely well they are suited, he mused. She does not cling like Anya did,
but she is lost and vulnerable. That brings out the best in him, his empathy. And she has a mother's kindness, which will help heal the scars his own parents made.
His reverie was interrupted by Xander's voice from the cabin.
"Hey, Rupes. This ain't Casablanca, so unless you want to start a beautiful friendship with Wolf's man here, all aboard for Merrie England!"
But, Giles added, he can still be a bit of a wanker.
The watcher took one last look at the foreign land he'd lived in for seven years, prayed briefly for Buffy, and got aboard.
The man from Wolfram & Hart watched as the plane taxied onto the runway,
landing lights blinking as the engines built up power before breaking those surly bonds which tied it to the earth and lifting off into the night.
He raised a hand in salute. The company seers knew the daughter of Aurelius would depart, but they also knew she was doomed to return at the time of the Apocalypse.
The ravens would call Drusilla home. She could not fly from her destiny.
No one yet knew the full picture of what was to come. Not the ravens, not the seers, and not the authors of the Shanshu prophecies. But come it would, and shatter many fragile lives in its wake.
That thought put a real spring in his step as he headed back to the terminal.
With its white leather sofa and easy chairs grouped around a coffee table of black marble, the passenger cabin exuded the minimalist chic redolent of old and discreet wealth. A small fridge offered Laphroaig, AB negative and sandwiches. A Gaggia coffee maker perfumed the cabin with the faintest scent of coffee on the brew,
and all the while the numbers on the altimeter flickered ever higher as the
aircraft climbed away from the city of angels.
Giles contemplated the fittings, Xander enjoyed the feeling of his first flight and Drusilla wished there was a bed she could hide under, but she grimly held on to her knight's hand and tried to stop her stomach doing flip-flops. Once the aircraft levelled out, Xander found a dropdown bunk for Dru at the rear of the cabin and gently helped the thoroughly frightened vampire to bed.
He came back presently, poured himself a cup of coffee, and sat down opposite Giles.
"She wears out just like that," he said, by way of explanation. "All that guilt and all those feelings going through her catch up with her all of a sudden and pop! she's out like a light."
"We're all guilty of something, Xander," Giles said reflectively, "and none of us can bury our past in the rubble of Sunnydale, either. The consequences of our actions always come back to haunt us."
He poured himself some whisky and looked into its smoky brown depths.
"When I was your age," he went on, "I was an Oxford dropout, playing guitar with backstreet bands in Soho and raising demons by night for the rush. I never thought anything really bad could happen to me. I was wrong. You'll do better than
Xander grinned nervously.
"I don't know if I'm good enough," he said suddenly. "A lot of times, my father told me I wasn't."
Giles looked at the young man, seeing the desperate insecurity beneath
He's too hard on himself by far, he thought.
Aloud, he said, "You were good enough for me, good enough for Buffy and good enough for Drusilla. She sees everything, just like you, and she believes in you."
"They've got a lot in common," said Xander slowly. "Buffy and Dru. I never noticed it before."
"Neither did I," said Giles. "If Drusilla had been ensouled earlier, things could have been quite different. They might have worked very well together. On the other hand, they might have had a screaming catfight over Spike. It's all moot now, though.
The life and times of Sunnydale are past, so it's goodbye to all that and welcome to
a future we cannot know."
Xander shivered, remembering the time the spirit of the first slayer had tried to kill the Scoobies in their dreams. In his own dream, he'd kidded himself he was Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now, going into the jungle to find Colonel Kurtz. Instead of being the hero, he'd learnt he was the whipping boy, ready to be set upon the sacrificial stone.
So what's new for this pussycat? he asked himself. Forward to a future which may whip and stone me, or back to the past and my parents' basement, getting up close and personal with the cockroaches?
No. Not the basement. I'd rather be whipped than watch Dru eat cockroaches.
He raised his coffee cup and clinked it against Giles' glass.
"Au revoir to the past and welcome to the new then, Rupert. Glad I've got Dru with me, though," he added, almost to himself, "I don't know what I'd do without her …"
Giles nodded, remembering the way he'd felt about Jenny Calendar, and diverted the conversation into a discussion about renovating the Council HQ. After a while
Xander walked back to Drusilla's bunk, hoping to watch her sleep, but she came awake like a cat as soon as he approached. One eye was still closed and asleep,
but the other wide open and aware.
"Kitten," she mumbled happily. "My Galahad, taking me to Avalon, healing
"I don't know about Avalon, Dru," he said, taking her hand, "but we're well on the way to London."
"London…" She pursed her lips. "Not my London. St Martin's owes me no more, the Old Bailey won't pay, Shoreditch asks when I'll be rich and Bow does not know."
"Church bells, you mean?"
"Yes, I saw the spires built high above the gloom while my Mummy held my hand, but now it's different. Black taxis, red pillar-boxes, steel towers and electric trains. Very noisy but not so smelly."
"Whatever, we'll make it a London of our own."
Her eyes clouded and he felt her mood darken.
"Even with me? Even with the fallen nun still drowning in the dark?"
"Only with you, Dru."
Her eyes were still uncertain but he looked steadily into them.
"But I worry, love," she said. "I'm not human. I can never be human, and you might find someone else one day. Someone who can give you children and walk with you in the light."
He knew the tears would be coming soon, but he could feel her hand warming in
his as that lovely calm connection built up between them. He didn't want to be
He folded down the bunk opposite and lay on it so they could see each other.
"Never," he said firmly. "Never."
"Will we meet in Avalon, love?"
There were jets, and then there were Wolfram & Hart jets. With a few magical upgrades, the latter could fly faster, higher and further than any other commercial aircraft. This was of priceless importance to a firm whose clients did not often welcome the attention of sunlight, for they could leap nimbly from continent to continent and escape the lethal embrace of dawn.
So the jet shot up through the stratosphere to the edge of space like a glossy black teardrop, and there it dawdled. The creatures who inhabited the flight deck throttled back the craft's extraordinary engines to ensure that, having left just before sunrise in Los Angeles, they would arrive just after sunset in London.
For now, though, they really were dancing with the stars. The blue-white earth lay far below while the heavens stood revealed in all their splendour.
Thankful for necro-tempered glass, Xander led Dru to a porthole from which she could see the stars. She sat in his lap, clasping his hand nervously. She had never before seen the night sky so clearly and the endless deeps made her shiver. She had told Xander why utter darkness scared her so, but she did feel a little closer to clearing the red haze from her memory now that her need to look upon the stars was no longer so much in vain.
Perhaps, too, she thought, God's gaze can better reach me now, shining down as it does through the chinks in infinity's curtain. I am not worthy of His blessing, but Alexander believes I am good.
Tears welled in her eyes as she felt a moment's joy, swiftly followed by relief that she had not lost her soul.
All too soon, though, the starlight had to fade. The aircraft dipped and turned, crossing over Newfoundland and the North Atlantic, answering London's call and obeying the instructions from Heathrow's air traffic control. Giles fiddled with the onboard television and found the BBC 24 hour news channel. The foreign secretary was insisting the CIA believed British intelligence reports that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Africa.
"It's entirely possible," Giles said to an inattentive Xander. "Africa has everything the world desires. Oil, diamonds, gold. You name it. So everyone fights everyone else for its riches."
Xander noticed Giles and Drusilla visibly relax as they listened to the old voices of home. The BBC presenters talked of troop deployments to Iraq, of Spurs and of Everton; and Xander blearily realised he was now the one out of place as the dark jet touched down in a green and pleasant land he knew not at all.
By the time the fellow travellers trooped into Terminal 4, night had thankfully fallen but the effects of port, whisky, jet lag and a couple of sleepless nights had caught up with Giles and Xander. Drusilla supported her haggard comrades as they cleared customs and came out onto a concourse stuffed with retail units but inhabited mainly by West Indian cleaners polishing the tiled floors.
Giles' eyes were pouchy and unfocused while Xander was cross-eyed with culture shock, which left Drusilla to cope on her own.
Men! She thought crossly. Human or demon, give them something to do and they always get it wrong!
Well, that was a little unfair. They didn't have her strength and stamina, and it looked like vampires were immune to jet lag.
She sniffed, vaguely remembering Heathrow Airport when it was called Heath Row Aerodrome and consisted of a village of tents on the Bath road. In those days, passengers walked across the runway to board piston-engined DC-3s and the pilots were usually ex-RAF fliers who had taken part in the Berlin airlift. Some still even sported handlebar moustaches…
The images of times long past were surprisingly strong and clear, and she found herself feeling terribly nostalgic. But of course, she was a Londoner by birth and this was the first time she had set foot in her own country in many years. The first time she had returned as herself, in fact, and not as an insane vampire.
All my family are buried here, she suddenly thought. All the Keebles. My mummy, my daddy, my uncles and my sisters. Out Bromley and Chislehurst way. By the mine
and the Kentish borders…
She would have to find their graves, but later, not now. As Drusilla was asking herself what to do next – perhaps a taxi? – she sensed a woman striding towards them. The new arrival was a brunette with the unmistakable gait of a watcher, and wore a conservative tweed jacket, unfashionable turtleneck sweater, and glasses. Her hair was tied severely back into a bun, but Drusilla noticed she had added highlights and suspected that, like Mr Giles, this watcher had a good heart and a mind of her own.
All the same, I hope she doesn't want to kill me, thought Drusilla.
The watcher stopped in front of them and hesitated, no doubt wondering whether, despite being loaded down with two half-asleep men and looking decidedly harassed, Drusilla might try to kill her.
Time for me to try to walk in the world of men, thought Dru.
Taking Xander's full weight on her right arm, she stuck out her gloved hand, extending the first two fingers to welcome a new friend or acquaintance as
Victorian etiquette demanded.
"Drusilla, of the Order of Aurelius," she said, then corrected herself, resurrecting her half-forgotten human surname. "I mean Drusilla Keeble. And you are..?"
The other woman hesitated a moment more, then shook her hand.
"Lydia Chalmers, Watchers' Council," she replied with classic cut-glass diction. "Welcome to Britain."
What next? Drusilla thought. Oh yes, small talk.
"I hope the repairs are coming along well," she said falteringly, and then a little rhyme occurred to her.
"All the king's horses, and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty together again,
but I'm ever so sure, that in no time at all, the Council will have a new den!"
Lydia came extremely close to smiling. She had studied Spike for her thesis and heard about the mad poems of deranged Drusilla, but the newly sane vampire's unexpected sense of humour was rather appealing.
Still, it wouldn't do to get too chummy too soon. The creature standing before her had laughed as she tortured children.
"We survived the Blitz, Miss Keeble," she said briskly, trying not to think how lucky she'd been to escape the explosion, and what it had been like seeing the remains of those who hadn't. "We'll survive this. Please follow me. I have a car waiting."
The car was a silver Mercedes and, as Lydia nervously realised how strong vampires really were, Drusilla effortlessly deposited the two men in the rear seats and arranged them as if they were large dolls. Then she stood back, clapped her hands in satisfaction, and said to Lydia, " There they are, my lovely boys."
Giles snored softly and farted while Xander's head slumped onto the older man's shoulder and drool fell from his lips.
"Truly a beautiful sight," replied Lydia, meeting Drusilla's eyes and realising they were actually bonding. Lydia had received a call from Giles several days earlier and they had discussed Drusilla's case in detail, but it was one thing to read century-old journal entries and look at yellowed photographs, quite another to meet a master vampire in the flesh at Heathrow one midsummer evening. It was fascinating but unsettling to look at the subject of the old black and white photographs standing before her in living colour and see only a vulnerable-looking woman with her hair
out of place.
She is the third vampire in history to regain her soul, and I do believe I see humanity in her eyes, Lydia thought. Perhaps I should think of her as a human being locked inside a vampire's body, uniquely able to understand the view from opposite sides of the coin. The Council certainly hadn't considered anyone else's opinion for far too long. It really was the last bastion of male chauvinism. I'll never forget the time that little snot Percy stuck his hand up my skirt and I was told any complaint would be useless. It's time for a new beginning and perhaps, as Mr Giles suggested, Drusilla can bridge the gap between the human and demon worlds.
Good intentions could lead good people down the wrong road and into hell, though. Despite the promising start, Drusilla's unwitting display of tremendous strength was quite intimidating, and Lydia was glad she still wore her crucifix. Conversation was muted as they sped down the rain-soaked motorway into London, and it was with trepidation that she left Drusilla alone with Xander in the top floor flat which had been prepared for them in Great Russell Street.
The walls were magnolia, the carpet light beige, the furnishings a mix of oak and beech, and the curtains deliberately heavy. As it stood, the flat was neutral and efficient, but the housekeeper had left three roses in a jug of Waterford crystal by
the window, a flash of colour which let the new occupants know it wanted to
How its new tenants would adjust both to it and to each other, though, Lydia could not say. The Council scarcely knew anything about human/demon relationships. But she wasn't as worried as she had expected to be. There was no mistaking the loving care with which the vampire put the sleeping man to bed, or the very human way the lost little creature then sat down by the window, looking out upon a London very different from the 19th century city into which she had been born.
It wasn't her London, Drusilla knew that. But some sights and sounds had a faint and shadowy familiarity.
She had been in and out of London with William a number of times over the last hundred and twenty years, sometimes psychotic and babbling, at other times
half-lucid and aware. She had seen the city change from a soot-blackened slum of sweating brickwork on the shores of the Thames, wreathed in murky fog which tore at the throats of those who needed to breathe; to a bright metropolis with Parliament buildings the colour of shortbread complemented by the wheeling London Eye,
that strange new tower nicknamed the Gherkin, and Canary Wharf in the East End, near to where she'd been born.
But there are no canaries on the wharf, she found herself thinking. Did the ravens scare them away? She tsked at herself for being a silly girl. It was just a name.
She had to learn to be an adult now, even if it meant losing her lovely sense
And she would have to deal with the guilt. She and William had gloried in the hunt, soaring over the muddy streets of the city as the fog rolled in from the Isle of Dogs, making ghosts of the great ships moored in the Port of London, covering Wapping, Shoreditch and Westminster, wafting outwards as far as the Kentish heights.
They had feasted on toddlers in alleys and on gin-soaked bawds staggering out of public houses, and when they had drunk their fill she usually gaily hypnotised a hansom-cab driver to take them back to whichever nest they had made for themselves in Kensington or Chelsea.
She had lain in her William's lap, replete and happy, with not a thought for the lives they had ended or the relatives they'd made bereft.
But now the thoughts were with her all the time, and she was drowning in them.
She slowly realised she had been sitting there all night, lost in red-tinged memories of her long-ago days as a murderess. Now dawn was beginning to break, and to force her away from the windows of memory.
For a moment, instead of red buses and black taxis, she thought she saw herself, riding along Great Russell Street with her William in a horse-drawn carriage a hundred years before, laughing without conscience.
She looked down into that other Drusilla's eyes, saw the black pitiless pupils and malicious smile, and she shuddered. She could not even kid herself that she did not know that other woman.
It must have been very strange for Lydia, she realised. Reading about that other Drusilla and then meeting me. My other self had no conscience but I do, do I not? And trying to deal with it like an adult may well kill me.
She heard Xander stir and summoned herself back to the present. He'll be hungry, she thought, and if I kill myself I won't be able to break his fast. So I won't kill myself today. By such steps, though I don't deserve to, I will move away from the abyss.
So by such small steps she allowed herself to live. Backing inch by inch away from recrimination so deep it threatened to freeze her solid like a statue on a street corner, sidling past fears which translated into shaking of the hands and a terrible need sometimes to curl into a ball and cry.
Giles called them to a Council meeting that evening. She made sure she was on her best behaviour, insisted Xander wore a tie and knotted it carefully for him, but took his arm and walked across the road with all the enthusiasm of a convicted murderess going to the gallows at Tyburn. The slayers had been their blunt, obedient instruments (until Buffy came along, anyway) but the Council itself was the
colossal machine dedicated to demonic genocide, and her fear of it could
not be washed away overnight.
The Council's headquarters, just next to the British Museum, had been severely damaged by the First's emissaries. The roof was back on but three main floors had collapsed in the blast, over half the staff had been killed and many irreplaceable demonic texts lost forever.
Dru and Xander were taken to a conference room at the back of the building by a bearded gatekeeper uniformed in blue. He was obviously disgusted by the sight
of a vampire on Council property, and Drusilla sighed with relief when she saw
Giles and Lydia standing to greet her as they were ushered into the long,
Giles saw the look on Drusilla's face, realised she still feared retribution for her sins, and tried to reassure her.
"Welcome to the Council, Drusilla, and welcome to Britain, Xander"
Lydia smiled, Drusilla felt Xander's hand firm in hers, and her tummy started to unknot itself a little.
Family, she thought. I'm still among family.
"It's all right, love," Xander said to her sotto voce. "He's already being nicer to you than he used to be to me."
They sat down. Tea, biscuits and blood were passed round, and Xander noticed Giles steeple his fingers thoughtfully. He knew a lecture was always on its way whenever the watcher did that.
"I'm not Quentin Travers," Giles said simply. "And the Council is going to change. As acting chairman, I wanted to explain to you two that while we are certainly going to go on battling demons, we are also going to regain our own humanity.
"Any creature which genuinely chooses to renounce evil will get our help, and the pompous chauvinism I've seen here stops now. I saw the way Travers and his ilk treated Buffy. The Cruciamentum. The review. And I won't stand for it. Anyone persisting in such behaviour will be fired, and I'll let a rumour circulate that I'm more Ripper than Rupert. The real troublemakers will think they may end up locked in a cage with a half-starved vampire."
"Rupert," said Xander, "you're a man after my own heart."
"Blame seven years of Scoobies and Sunnydale, Xander. You corrupted
Drusilla was still a seer, although the visions came less often and less painfully as her mind continued to heal, but now she felt and saw a warmth begin to fill the room.
It looked like a field of red poppies. A chance for happiness and another hand
helping her walk away from Hades.
She began to smile. Perhaps, one day, the bells of hell would not go ting-a-ling for her any longer…
"We wish to offer jobs to both of you," Giles went on. "The Council will create
a modern identity as a British citizen for you, Drusilla - possibly as your own
great-great grand-daughter. Xander, your job is exactly as promised. Supervision
of reconstruction leading to a permanent post in repair and maintenance unless
you want to return to fieldwork…"
Xander felt the familiar pain of bones grating together as Drusilla's hand tightened reflexively on his. She swivelled one blue eye unblinkingly towards him.
"Stay in maintenance, love," she said firmly. "There's too many nasty beasties out on the rooftops."
Xander nodded and squeezed her arm.
Spike told me about Drusilla's marvellous intuition once, Giles thought, and there it is. Saying the right thing at the right time in the right way to stop Xander getting himself killed trying to help people. That's his problem, and it's a noble one, but he's only human and no one can dodge the odds forever. Every operative who goes on too long gets killed, and very few know when to stop.
"Drusilla," he said aloud, "I don't know what's to come, but I do know how you've tried to change. For now, we can employ you as a library assistant – evening shift, naturally - transcribing demonic manuscripts. In the future, you may be able to act as an intermediary between humans and demons and, if you agree, Miss Chalmers would like to supervise and study you."
"Study me?" She wasn't too sure about the sound of that. Vampires sometimes studied humans, a process which usually consisted of carrying out a slow and prolonged autopsy while the subject was still alive, trying out some new torture techniques, and concluding with a bloodbath.
Lydia saw her look of alarm and explained.
"You're one of the last remaining members of the Order of Aurelius, Miss Keeble…,"
"Please, call me Dru."
"Er, yes. Dru," said Lydia uncertainly. "You're also one of only two surviving vampires with a soul. You're living history!" she finished enthusiastically.
"She's not a museum piece, Miss Chalmers," said Xander irritably, but he saw that flash of comprehension leap like lightning into Dru's eyes again.
"Stories!" she said brightly, sounding like an eight-year-old. "Would you like me to tell you my stories?"
A weight began to lift, just a little, from her unbeating heart.
"I've stories," she said, but then she looked away, "so many stories, and I must tell them, or I'll go mad."
The pleasant atmosphere at the table sobered abruptly, but Lydia nodded in understanding and Giles quickly wrapped the meeting up, concluding with the comment that the canteen staff had been asked to include a selection of blood on the menu. Either type O or AB positive and negative.
The warm poppies were still there, though, and Drusilla found herself smiling as she made Xander's dinner, but something was worrying her. Words Mr Giles had used. An echo from the past but relating to no future she could see.
I don't know what's to come, he had said.
What's to come…
Her daddy had said that. Now Mr Giles. But she didn't know what the warning meant. Perhaps she needed to be mad to make sense of her own premonitions.
Well, if so, she would rather not know.
She poured some blood into a mug and snuggled down beside her Xander on the sofa, but the worry would not be on its way. It nagged at her, not leaving her mind even when they made love later that night.
Raven tapping on glass, Drusilla thought. Raven at the window.
A memory. Tapping at the windows of her mind. She had seen the ravens before
she fled to the convent. Knew they were harbingers of her doom. 1860. 2003. Wherever. Whenever. It made no difference. The ravens were flying again.
She gathered the bedclothes about herself and glanced at the window again, but the bird had already gone. So had Xander and it was late afternoon, a few days after their arrival in London. Not sure of the day, but late afternoon.
She pressed her fingers to her forehead, trying to let her fragile mind settle on a course of action.
Flat. Keys. Blood. Council. Giles. Lydia. Tell Lydia. There!
And? There was something else she had to do…
Oh yes! Clothes! She had gone walking naked round Montmartre once, tipsy on Cointreau and blood fresh from some foppish young dilettant, quite unaware of, well, anything. William had had to chase after her like the wind, and a crowd of artists had cheered as she danced and swayed in front of them…
I'd better not do that in the Council's lobby. Xander would be so embarrassed…
Sun low but there. Blanket! Hurry!
Drusilla trotted across the street, braving the ordeal of the sun's rays more readily than she endured the gatekeeper's burning gaze of hatred. She didn't have to read his mind to know that, given half a chance, he would have cheerfully stripped her of the blanket, kicked her into the street and smiled as she fell flaming beneath the wheels of a number 7 bus.
Once inside, she quickly found Lydia and simply said:
"I'm a seer, Miss Chalmers, and I'm seeing…"
"No. Well yes, I suppose. I see the ravens flying again. Something's afoot.
Please take me to Mr Giles."
Lydia couldn't help wondering if Drusilla had slipped a mental cog, for the woman standing before her both was and was not the Drusilla of the watchers' journals. Although agitated, she was trying not to sway, and although some of her speech was singsong verse, a tenuous thread of rationality was woven into her words.
She could also feel uncertainty coming off the vampire in waves. This monster, this killer, was so shy and uncertain around humans she needed a friend to back her up!
Like Giles before her, Lydia realised there were situations for which her training could not prepare her, but at least she knew this was one of them. Best to take Drusilla to someone with more experience of handling a vampire who was away
with the fairies half the time.
Are there fairies in hell? she found herself wondering, and suppressed a smile.
Hang around Drusilla too long, she thought, and I'll start wanting to dance on
They walked up to Giles' office together. It was a temporary affair in one of the building's undamaged wings, composed of plywood walls of battleship grey, a desk of dark oak topped with faded green leather, and a 1970s vintage black executive chair in which a harassed-looking Giles was sitting.
Unexpectedly, Xander was there too, still in his work boots and overalls. Both men were deep in conversation as they pored over a map, and neither looked up as Lydia knocked and entered.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir…" Lydia began as Dru forgot about anything else, shot over to Xander and jumped into his arms, happy again.
"I don't mind, Miss Chalmers," said Giles. "I'd forgotten how tiresome British bureaucracy is – I'd quite happily set a Fyarl demon on the plumbers - but a situation has come up and I would have asked Drusilla to attend anyway."
"Rupert…" Xander said slowly as Drusilla's arms tightened round his ribs. He could tell another realisation was coming to her, not via a vision but rather by plain old woman's intuition.
Something was going to happen to her Xander, and she wasn't happy about it.
Lydia cocked an eyebrow and waited for Giles to explain as Dru and Xander's eyes locked. She could feel the emotional tension in the room rising like mercury on a hot day. Drusilla looked close to tears and at that moment, Lydia's last lingering doubts that the vampire possessed a soul disappeared.
"It seems a very powerful slayer has been activated in the Eastern Congo," Giles said carefully. "Activations sometimes go wrong. The slayer is overwhelmed by memories of past lives and visions of the future, and without the proper support she falls into a coma and goes mad. Based on the reports we've received, there's no doubt this new slayer will lose her sanity very soon. Xander has volunteered to go in and help her."
Drusilla felt a piercing pain in her chest as she absorbed the information, and her hands fell away from Xander. He tried to take her in his arms but she pushed him away (thankfully not hard enough to throw him across the room), hugged herself instead and began to shake in misery.
"You volunteered!" she sputtered, suddenly furious with him. "Without even
"I've hardly even told Giles yet, Dru, and this girl really needs help," Xander tried
to say as his lady retreated into a corner, cupping a hand over her eyes. "She's in
a coma, drowning in nightmare visions, and the Council has hardly got any
operatives left alive."
"Go then!" said Drusilla hoarsely. "Leave! Get away from me!"
As Giles and Lydia looked on, Xander gently gathered Drusilla into his arms and just about managed to hold on to her.
"Dru, love. It's a simple job and the Council does have a man in the area.
Fly in, fly out. Back in a day or two for coffee and doughnuts."
She looked away, refusing to meet his gaze.
"Why can't your man in the Congo do it then?" she snapped.
"Mr Matheson has no experience of slayers," said Giles, "and he's an alcoholic.
He was dead drunk under a bed in a Ugandan whorehouse when the Bringers attacked. It's the only reason he survived. All the fine young men who stood up
and fought bravely died horribly."
"Dru. If I don't help this slayer, she'll go crazy," added Xander. "You know what that's like. You wouldn't wish it on anyone else, would you?"
She glanced up at him, pouting but beginning to listen.
"Only if I was a soulless monster," she admitted sulkily, hating the logic of it.
Lydia spoke up.
"Dru, call me Dru," the vampire said vaguely.
"Dru. Right. Does your vision concern this slayer in the Congo? Do you see
Drusilla dragged her eyes away from Xander and tried to concentrate.
"No," she said eventually, "I don't know who'll kill Cock Robin. I only know the ravens are flying."
"That could refer to any dark power rising in any part of the world," Giles said thoughtfully. "No other seer has reported any particular disturbance, but I spoke of humanity the other day so I'll remember my humility now.
"Xander, you have, as we Brits would say, done your bit. You have a safe job and
a life here with Drusilla. There is no need for you to go."
Xander looked at Dru for a little while. He saw her pride in him, her white knight,
so he bravely made the wrong decision.
"Scoobies and safety don't go together, G-man," he said soberly. "I wouldn't be worthy of Dru if I stayed home safe all the time. I'll know when it's time to stop. 'Sides, I still owe her a cup of coffee at Starbucks. We'll do that when I get back."
He left early the next morning, taking a taxi to the airport. Drusilla neither whined nor moaned nor whimpered, and she held him with a special tenderness before he went. But when the black cab had gone, and she watched and listened for a long time after it vanished into London's river of traffic, she walked slowly up the steps to the flat, fell onto their bed, and sobbed until she thought her heart would break.
Gossip flows around any office like water flows around the Thames, and Council HQ was no exception. First, staff had learnt that a master vampire was coming to work there under a flag of truce. Then it transpired that the vampire had a soul and a human boyfriend, and the boyfriend was one of the Scooby gang, no less!
Every eyebrow in the building was raised and rumour had been rife. The vampire was insane, the boyfriend was a necrophiliac, the vampire had known Queen Victoria personally…
When the murderous master vampire with cloven hooves and foot-long fangs turned out to resemble a sweet young lady with perfect manners and an appealing air of confused amiability, their opinions (with a little help from Giles's subtle threats) began to change, and when they saw how broken-hearted she was about that Yank boyfriend of hers going off to the Congo before she had even unpacked, they slowly began to accept her.
Drusilla even seemed to epitomise the England of another day, of better times before all the clean-limbed young men had been lost on Flanders fields; for although everyone could clearly see she was worrying herself sick in private, in public she displayed the classic British stiff upper lip.
She concentrated on cataloguing books in the library under Lydia's supervision, read the London Evening Standard avidly in the canteen, cleaned the flat too many times and gazed at her new passport for hours, examining her own photograph with fascination. She had not often seen her face since she had been turned.
At 8.00 p.m. every evening, Xander emailed an encrypted message from his mobile to the Council operations room, housed in the HQ's bombproof basement and undamaged by the First's attack. Although the Council did not defend British national security like MI6, its activities were just as secret. Both the organisation and its enemies had long ago found that they could operate far more effectively if they avoided publicity and accountability.
On the first evening, Giles went up to the flat personally to reassure Drusilla that Xander had checked in and all was well. He found her sitting cross-legged on the sofa, wearing one of Xander's favourite T-shirts and staring glumly at a champagne glass half-full of blood.
He apologised for not bringing a calling card, she served him coffee and cake, and they ended up talking late into the night. Like jasmine, she seemed to bloom at night, and as the sky darkened her speech became less muddled and more poetic.
He noticed, though, that she kept her eyes down more than usual, almost refusing to look at him, and finally he asked why.
"Because I deserve to worry myself to death over him," she said, almost crying, and then in a blurting, clumsy, stumbling stream of words, her stiff upper lip shattered and out came the guilt.
"I'm a bad girl, and it's right that I should suffer like this. I made everyone else suffer, didn't I? Put everyone else through hell. It's only right I go the same way."
"No, it's not right," said Giles after a moment. "I've seen how you've tried to change, how you've tried to help us all…"
"I didn't help you, though. I reminded you of Jenny that time, and I hurt you, and I never even said sorry!"
Giles paused. Even after all this time, the memory of Drusilla impersonating Jenny Calendar and reaching into his mind for the key to Acathla's revival was still raw. Drusilla's subterfuge, which allowed blind hope briefly to flower before being crushed, had made him feel like he'd lost her all over again. His face hardened.
He knew that the Drusilla sitting before him now and the one who had tortured him
in the past were not the same, but still he felt the anger and the grief.
Dealing with Jenny's death once had been bad enough. To have to do so twice had been grotesque.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…" she said, shaking her head and crying. He could almost see her delicate sanity melting like ice in hot water, and he realised that, right now, he had the power to tip her over the edge, to take revenge.
"Drusilla," he said firmly.
She went on shaking her head, but he knew she could hear him.
"I forgive you."
The words came quite easily, he thought later. After a moment, Drusilla looked at him. Her mouth had dropped open and she didn't even realise a little line of spittle was falling from her lip.
"How can you say that?"
"Three simple words, Drusilla," he replied. "Not used often enough. We all do terrible things to one another. Forgiveness is the only way out."
She found she was smiling, and feeling so terribly grateful to him.
They talked on for a little time, and before he left, she quietly said, "I'm sorry you never met my father, Mr Giles. He would have liked you."
Giles nodded, realising more clearly that he was beginning to treat Drusilla a bit like Buffy. On the surface it seemed a strange parallel to make. One was a tall, dark demon from London's East End desperate to be a good girl, the other a short blonde embodying the quintessence of crisp Californian cheeriness, but veering a little too close to darkness.
But beneath the surface swam strange similarities. Both were tormented by demons, both vulnerable underneath their respective carapaces of vague poetry and sharp wisecracks, and both were prone to solving problems by leaps of intuition. They were opposites, but if viewed through a mirror of smoked glass, sisters.
He shook his head wearily. The older he got, the more he realised the world was an infinitely puzzling magic box with convoluted connections not even a shaman
On the second evening, Xander again emailed on time. He mentioned that, after flying into Entebbe, he had caught a beat-up old DC-3 to the town of Bunia in the Eastern Congo. He had made contact with Matheson, the Council's man in the Congo, and they would be travelling up towards a plateau in the Ituri province.
The slayer was supposedly in a small mission station somewhere out there,
asleep and screaming as she dreamed.
"Don't tell Dru about the shooting in the streets," he added by voicemail. "Do tell her I love her and, man, it's hot!"
Lydia warily took the long walk up to Drusilla's flat to tell her the news, found her standing all at sixes and sevens in the hallway like a waif in an etching by Hogarth, and ended up inviting her out for a drink.
"Not Cointreau, though," said Drusilla mildly. "It tends to make me throw my clothes off and seek the company of artists."
Thinking it best in that case to avoid the wine bars of Bloomsbury, Lydia notified the Council of their movements and took Drusilla to a pub just off Leicester Square.
Lydia bought them both gin and tonics, and asked the vampire to tell her tales of Dickensian London and Hemingway's Paris.
Drusilla tried to oblige, and she was staggering through a story about the "lost" generation rambling drunk around the alleyways of Montmartre in 1923 while she
tip-toed along behind, singing "Eeny meenie miny mo, which one will I eat before
I go," when her face twisted up and she began to cry.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm such a fool, but I miss him."
"We've all been there," said Lydia, thinking of all the men and boys who'd torn her heart out and left her weeping.
Drusilla wiped her eyes clean and nodded shakily, half-sensing her thoughts.
"Even vampires love," she said wistfully. "Not so well nor so often without our souls, but I did love my Angel and my William, and I lost them. William always said I used to act like an eight-year-old. I was eight for a hundred years, but now this soul of mine is making me grow up, and running me right round the maypole on the way."
Drusilla patted her chest tenderly and looked into the distance.
"I feel all of fourteen now, rushing around and about. Happy one moment and in tears the next, acting all silly about a boy. I'm so angry with him for going off like that. Then I'm so ashamed for being angry, because he's just being a Scooby. Then…"
She trailed off.
"Not making much sense, am I?" she said, with a chuckle.
"Even less than usual," replied Lydia, deadpan.
Drusilla giggled, shook her head, and drained her gin and tonic in one go.
She glanced around the bar as the alcohol hit her system, blurring the time frame so that she looked at the patrons as they were now, but saw them as they had been long ago: weary office workers, young girls on the pull, old men in the corner reminiscing about the war. All the same now as they had been a century ago when she moved amongst them without pity or emotion, regarding them only as her prey.
She might even have been in this very same pub one hundred and thirty or forty years ago. She couldn't be sure.
"You see," she said, and hiccuped, knowing the alcohol was loosening her tongue and not caring. "I've never been in a human relationship before. When I was a girl I was sweet and shy – and a bit wet, too, I suppose. I became a vampire before I could meet a nice boy, and all I did then was order my minions around like the Queen of the May and lunch on little boys. Vampires and humans did not consort, oh, no! So now I don't know what to do, and I'm sure I'm getting everything wrong, and I'm sure Xander will get tired of me…"
"And I worry about him all the time. Am I taking proper care of him? Will he be all right out there? I should have gone with him. I warned him about the beasties,
"Drusilla, you're saying the same things every woman has said since the dawn of time. This is what life's like with a soul. It's bloody awful and bloody wonderful at the same time. You'll be okay."
"But I don't know how to behave! I don't know my etiquette. First I was a Victorian, then I was a vampire. Now I'm neither the one nor the other, and I'm all out of date."
"It'll be a long hard road for you," said Lydia seriously, "learning to live your own life. You are still a Victorian in many ways, but this is the 21st century, men aren't our masters any more, and we've got the vote. Right now, though," she went on, smiling, "I think the best answer to your worries about life, the universe and everything is another gin and tonic, and then another."
Walking back across the square to Great Russell Street later that night, Lydia actually found herself feeling protected by Drusilla's presence. The vampire might be tired, tipsy and stretched tight on the rack with worry, but the night was still Dru's domain.
Her eyes saw everything, and most of the humans spilling out of the pubs at closing time knew well to give her a wide berth.
One idiot, however, brushed against the vampire, cheerily said, "Sorry, love," and gave her a lusty look. A football fan, Arsenal or West Ham supporter, Lydia thought, ruddy-cheeked, pretty pissed, fresh from a long evening watching sport in another pub, thick in mind and body but still hoping to score. Not a thug, to be fair,
but too cocky by half and ready to be taken down a peg or two.
But Dru can kill him in a second. And she might. Taking her out tonight was a risk. Can I trust her?
Lydia made a lightning decision and stepped back, biting her lip as she waited to see what the slightly sozzled vampire would do.
Drusilla did not disappoint. Twirling gracefully to her left, she looked the human straight in the eye. Her expression was not kind.
"Don't call me love and I won't call you dearie," she said, an edge of steel in her voice. "Now be on your way like a good little boy," she went on with a dangerous smile, "or I'll make you drop your pants."
"If that is your command, then…"
Her eyes widened and she expertly put him in her thrall, then watched innocently as he slowly took his trousers down. A few passers-by laughed and a tourist took a picture while Dru and Lydia faded into the night, laughing as he grabbed for his pants.
They couldn't stop giggling as they walked back, but the vampire imperceptibly took the lead, leaving Lydia feeling a little irked at being outclassed so thoroughly on her own patch. However, she forgot her bruised pride when they parted, for Drusilla suddenly clasped her hand, grateful beyond words for Lydia's company.
And on the third evening, Xander did not check in.
In the Operations Room, Xander's contact checked her earpiece and keyed in the number for his mobile.
"Dog Easy Fox," she said crisply. "We are not receiving you. I say again, we are not receiving you. Please respond."
"Dog Easy Fox. Please respond."
Her voice echoed in the empty air, and answer came there none.
Giles would never forget the walk over to the flat that evening, or the guilt he felt when he told Dru that Xander was gone and saw her crumble.
"How many miles to Babylon?" said Drusilla tonelessly to herself the next morning. "Four score and ten. Can I get there by candlelight? Aye, and back again."
"Babylon?" said Giles, absently cleaning his spectacles as he stood in the darkened living room. He could see Drusilla's back as she sat on the sofa, wearing a pink towelling dressing gown two sizes too big for her, rocking slightly and turning the Sky remote control over and over in her thin hands.
"No," she said. "Africa. I must fly to Africa."
She had been sitting there all night, he realised. Her hair was lank, her eyes empty.
She seemed to have collapsed in on herself, looking every one of her 163 years.
He himself had actually stayed the night in the spare bedroom, not at all liking the idea of nine pints of his blood being well within sniffing distance of a heartbroken, surely irrational vampire; but also knowing that now of all times, Drusilla could not be left alone.
Now she was talking of Africa. An African could turn his head to the wall and decide to die. Giles had no doubt Drusilla could do the same. So he had stayed, the sound of his breathing perhaps the only thing that kept her precariously this side of the mortal coil. Now he shuffled his feet uncomfortably, feeling grimy and unshaven in yesterday's clothes.
"A vision?" he asked aloud.
"A truth," she replied absently. "I got me to a nunnery once. I must get me there again. To the savannah 'neath the silvery moon."
Giles sat down next to her and patted her shoulder.
"We've still got contacts over there," he began to say. "We can-."
He heard the faintest whisper of a snarl, a deeply drawn breath of ragged emotion.
"Are they faster than cheetahs, strong as gorillas?"
Giles did not answer.
She stretched out her fingers, looking reluctantly at the nails whose vicious edges had killed a slayer.
"Are they killers?" she said very quietly.
Giles shook his head.
She smiled very sadly and took his hand.
"I should never have asked him to go," he said bitterly. "He's too good a man
to say no."
"It is the way he must be," she replied," and it is your terrible fate. You have
The roses still stood in their jug by the window. Drusilla glided over and picked one up, caressing its petals.
"I must crush the roses," she said. "I must be a monster again."
A couple of days later, a coffin with diplomatic seals exempting it from
Customs examinations was unloaded from a British Airways 747 at Uganda's Entebbe/Kampala International Airport. It was transferred to a battered old Douglas DC-3 which lumbered into the sky at dawn, crossing Lake Albert and the border with Africa's dark heart, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Its twin Pratt & Whitney engines droning dully, the old plane flew out of a sunrise which turned the African sky from jet black through earthy ochre to magenta, mixing the blue and violet palette of God's brush with the furnace yellow rays of the equatorial sun to make the light of day.
The corpse in the coffin couldn't help squirming a bit as the sun's rays suffused the tight little cabin. The Council had made a couple of imperious phone calls to HM Customs & Excise to ensure no one would get curious and open the coffin. The Ugandan and Congolese authorities had simply been bribed, and a particularly obstructive official at the Congolese Embassy in London had been taken down a back alley by a rather cultured thug who amputated his little finger. Lydia always suspected Giles had done it himself, but he wasn't telling and she wasn't asking.
So after the DC-3 landed in Bunia, the town from which Xander had sent his last message, the coffin was moved to an outlying warehouse by smiling porters and left strictly alone, supposedly for collection.
In the streets that day there was sporadic gunfire. Posters of Congo's new president, Joseph Kabila, were everywhere. Ugandan soldiers had withdrawn and blue-helmeted United Nations troops from France patrolled the streets in white half-track vehicles, hunched sweating behind 50 mm machine-guns as they vainly tried to keep the peace between the Hema and Lendu tribes fighting for control of Bunia and the Ituri province in the wake of the Rwandan invasion. The half-tracks threw up red dust which obscured the outlines of the old colonial storefronts lining the streets as pedestrians ambled past unconcernedly. They had seen soldiers many times before, and none had ever brought peace.
Other civilians squatted in shacks of concrete block and corrugated iron, patient African women in long, brightly-coloured kaftans walked home from the markets carrying goods on their turbaned heads, and young children with wide eyes and grins danced in the dust.
Children not much older already had AK-47s in their hands, and their bodies littered the dirt tracks and the forests. Their eyes, open and staring even as their bodies corrupted into the earth, testified in silence to the crimes of a race which, despite the blessing of souls, still delighted in the deepest of cruelties.
Night came on, the gunfire died away and the hum of insects filled the thick, wet air.
All the Congo's tribes, the Hema, Lendu, Mbuti and Bira, still had their superstitions and in villages scattered throughout the rainforest mothers told children tales of ghosts and demons, spirits of the night composed of mist and fog who drained and smothered the life from their victims.
If a child had wandered past the white clapboard buildings of Bunia's dilapidated airport and been fool enough to walk up to the coffin lying alone on the cracked concrete floor of the warehouse, he or she would surely have died of terror when the coffin lid cracked open and the tall, raven-haired demon (as the child would perceive it to be) floated clear of the casket and came gently to earth on African ground, one hand stirring the dirt sensuously as she crouched like a cat.
Drusilla sniffed the air, shook the kinks out of her neck and savoured the scents. There were fear and violence in abundance, the sweet decay of corruption, the bitter tang of innocence despoiled, and to the north…
Blank. Neither sight nor sound nor scent. The vital clue everyone had missed.
Sometimes, she said to herself, it's not what you see, it's what you don't see.
Just after Xander and Matheson had got there, something had cloaked the old mission station north of Bunia in a radiant shield of magic, as thin as gossamer silk but impenetrable from the outside. Neither she nor any other seer could make out what now lay beneath the shield, but its strength was also its weakness. Once recognised, the shield would act like a beacon, guiding a rescuer towards the ghastly blank.
Drusilla almost grinned as she remembered Giles clapping a hand to his forehead when he realised this. The Council's preparations to send Drusilla into the field a couple of days earlier had been frantically quick, ironically aided by the fact that Drusilla admitted she had no idea about technology.
"Fee fi fo fum. Fists, fingernails and fangs!" she had said brightly to Giles and Lydia. "They'll find for me my Xander's fate, and I can follow his scent four score miles
She, Giles and Lydia were in the Council's ready room, a wartime bomb shelter deep beneath the streets of London where operatives received their final instructions and equipment before going into action. It was a long, rectangular chamber with a curved ceiling, whitewashed and starkly lit, and the coffin waiting for her in the corner gave it the funereal atmosphere of a morgue.
Drusilla had to admit to herself she rather liked it.
Racks of gunmetal-grey weapons adorned the walls and a clock ticked above the door, counting down to zero hour when the coffin and its lonely occupant would be rushed through London's streets in an unmarked van, bound for the belly of the beast, the plane which would fly her to Africa.
Drusilla's bright smile had faded as she very reluctantly swapped her beloved skirts for the trim and lethal lines of a black jumpsuit, slid her feet into slim hiking boots, caressed the two gutting knives she would carry, and examined the heavy-duty nylon poncho which would shield her from the sun by day.
Last of all, Giles fastened a small, golden box round her neck.
"Buffy wore a cross, of course," he said to her as he secured the clasp, "but this
is a transponder. It transmits and receives radio signals, or so the boffins tell me.
The operations room can track your movements with it. Click this button on top
to send the signal for extraction once you find Xander, and we'll bring you home."
As she shed more and more accoutrements of civilisation with every tick of the clock, Drusilla's mood darkened. Like a boxer communing with herself before an oncoming fight, she sat brooding on a rubbing table in the centre of the room, her eyes dark sockets of shadow, seemingly unaware of Giles and Lydia flanking her like familiars. Her face set like stone as Giles told her of "Africa's world war" in the Eastern Congo.
Of the Rwandan invasions in 1996 and 1998 which deposed Congo's president, Mobuto Sese Seko. Of the involvement of Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe and Burundi.
Of the four million dead. Of the plunder of gold, diamonds and coltan by all sides. Of the gang rapes and tribal genocide as Rwandan Hutu and Rwandan Tutsi fought each other in Africa's rotting heart.
Giles knew that by talking of the horror, he was stoking the fires of violence which dwelt within the vampire, but even he was unprepared for the power which filled the room and crackled in the air. Lydia's forehead shone with a faint sheen of sweat. Sweet Drusilla the novice nun was vanishing, the soul was being silenced and the demon was holding sway.
It was bloody terrifying.
Then the demon spoke.
"Why did he leave me?" asked Drusilla, raising her eyes from the shadows,
pushing out every word with the effort of a long, painful contraction in the late
stages of labour.
Giles didn't know what to say. The tableau was broken, the monstrous vampire
a heartbroken girl once more, hurt and tearful.
Lydia spoke up suddenly.
"He's a good man, Dru, but he's just a man. They're all a bit like this. They don't realise what they've got 'til they're gone or you're gone. Or until they stand you up ten times in a row and you finally dump them after they leave you freezing at
a bus stop at two o'clock in the morning," she finished venomously.
"So it's not all my fault?" said Drusilla in a very small voice.
"No. Absolutely not."
"Oooooh!" Drusilla shot to her feet, balling her fists and seething with fury.
There was a moment of calm before the storm, then came the detonation.
"I've loved him, I've cared for him," she exploded, "I've worried myself to death over him, and he hasn't… realised?"
Lydia nodded, looking none too pleased with the male race herself. Drusilla looked ready and able to levitate with sheer anger. Giles wondered if he could make it to the exit before they both turned on him.
"I'll find him, I'll save him," Drusilla swore, "then I'll bloody kill him!"
She deflated quickly after that, and slouched miserably back onto the rubbing table. Quite without thinking, Lydia hugged her as she sniffled.
"He's a bigger bastard than Angelus! At least daddy knew he was being a bastard!"
She shook her head ruefully, blew her nose with a loud honk and looked at Giles.
"I'm having one of my turns again, aren't I?"
"Not at all," said Giles. "You're just being human."
She stared at him, shocked.
"If this is what you do to each other," she said, "you're more cruel than we are."
There wasn't much to add after that, so Giles and Lydia sealed her up in the coffin and sent her on her way. Just before they closed the lid, Drusilla grasped Giles's hand. The look of fear on her face shook him to the core, but then he saw her fight down that fear and let herself drown in the dark.
The grasp of her hand became a reassuring squeeze and she even managed to give him a little smile before the coffin lid closed on her. He wasn't exactly her watcher, but the responsibility felt identical. He went out that night and got a little drunk, convinced he had sent her to her death.
Yet now here she was in Africa, she thought, bringing herself back to the present, and she had never felt more alive. There was no denying part of her loved the smell of fear and the prospect of the hunt. The terrible burden of guilt even lifted a bit when she reminded herself that she was here to save, not to slaughter.
To save Xander, in point of fact. Now she had to run and catch his scent. Or rather his spoor, as it was called in Africa.
She padded through the wide streets of Bunia, fast enough that she looked like a wraith, slow enough to scent her route to the north and Xander.
Lord, she missed him. How strange that she had fallen so quickly for a human before she even had a soul, but he had seemed so familiar. Just like her William…
Preoccupied, she almost stumbled over a body in the street. She skidded to a halt and her hand went to her mouth in horror.
A child. Barely eight years old. Half her chest torn out by a high velocity bullet. Drusilla whirled, shaking, thinking of all her own victims, all the children she had killed. This was the first time she had seen a dead body since she regained her soul.
And the smell. Sweet Jesus, the smell.
She vomited blood, sinking to her knees, and another high velocity round shot past her head, so close to her skull it mussed her hair.
No wonder there are no people about, she thought, I'm in sniper alley. And the sniper doesn't know what a big mistake he has just made. I can hear his heartbeat, and he
She looked into the child's staring eyes, around which metallic blue-green blowflies were already feasting, and felt the hard ridges of her demonic face appear.
"Go with God," said the vampire to the child, and jumped two stories straight up to the lair of the sniper.
He had been squatting in an abandoned flat, high on cans of cheap beer and the occasional spliff, intending to make for the Ugandan border in the morning, taking pot shots with his AKM in the meantime.
Life was cheap, and it was such fun.
The sniper had a soul, but he was no longer human.
He caressed the stock of his rifle, feeling his penis stiffen, then nearly wet his pants when an ice-cold hand came down on his shoulder.
He saw his gun fly from his grasp in the red-gold half-light. Heard it bend, shatter and crash into the street, but he did not turn his head, so fearful was he of what he might see.
Ghost. Demon. Vampire.
Now he heard footsteps. The creature was walking in front of him. The cold hand caressed his chin like a lover, making him look up.
He saw a young white woman looking down at him, her expression petulant.
"Children are not dollies," she said. "They are not to be hurt. Not by you and not
"Je ne comprends pas," he began to say, but then he saw her face change.
The dark eyes flared into gold, and the fangs…
Sacre merde, the fangs.
When she hissed, and saliva dripped from those fangs, he did wet himself.
It did not save him.
She lifted him with one hand and saw the evil she had done mirrored in his eyes.
The faces of the children they had both tortured and killed, the pleasure they had
felt as little voices begged for mercy.
He pulled and tore at the hand which held him as firmly as a vulture's talon.
He might as well have tried to move Mount Kilimanjaro. Drusilla's anger and
self-loathing grew and grew until, with an explosive snarl, she threw him at the nearest wall. The impact broke his back, burst his pancreas and perforated his lungs, but he was still alive and able to watch as the demon came for him, stepping slowly across the floor, drawing out the torment.
"Do you know what happens when the bough breaks?" she asked softly.
He coughed up blood and felt his broken bones grate, but did not answer.
"The cradle will fall," she said, smiling sweetly.
The sniper's body flew from the second floor window and fell to the street with
a sodden thud. A United Nations press officer found it the next morning. Six months before he had been fresh off the plane from France and idealistic to the core. Now his step was weary, his face sour and his faith in human nature thoroughly desecrated. He didn't think anything else could surprise him, but he was wrong. Every bone
in the body was broken and the corpse was drained of blood. Not too strange.
The man's face was frozen in a rictus of absolute horror. Again, nothing new
about that. But there was a plywood board nailed to his chest and on it,
written in English, was a message:
Kill Children No More
The baking heat of day was already stifling, and the press officer had to be at the MONUC compound soon to read out the latest tallies of the dead and disappeared,
but nevertheless he shivered.
Perhaps the tales witch doctors - or fetisheurs as they called them in this benighted place - had told him about ghosts and vampires in the Congo were true, but if so, why would an African spirit write a message in English in a place where the language was a mix of French and Swahili? It didn't make any sense.
C'est fou, he thought. L'Afrique, c'est fou.
He shook his head, faced with yet another reminder that he sure wasn't in Paris any more and went on his way, leaving the body in the street.
Ten miles north and already deep in the rainforest, Drusilla the vampire curled herself into a ball deep within the hollow bole of a rotting hardwood tree. She covered herself closely with the nylon poncho, thankful for the high canopy of shrubs and branches which stopped much of the sunlight from reaching the forest floor.
She picked some of the sniper out of her teeth, wondering what her Xander would think of his demure Victorian girlfriend now, hibernating like a vampire bat in the steaming jungle, replete with a black murderer's blood.
He probably didn't know how adventurous some Victorians had been. Many missionaries had ventured into the interior and writers like H. Rider Haggard had enthralled generations of schoolchildren with tales of the dark continent like Allan Quartermain and King Solomon's Mines.
She might even have met Haggard on a steamship of the Peninsular and Orient line once, but as she had just fed on an alcoholic English earl at the time and was feeling
a bit tiddly as a result, she couldn't be sure.
So much she could not share with Xander, her love, but she ached for him nonetheless. With no need to breathe or sweat, she drifted off to sleep quite comfortably, but she dreamt of ravens, dragons and Avalon, and did not know why.
She woke hungry at sundown and slipped out from the shade of the hardwood tree.
A hyena had been sniffing about in her vicinity late in the day, slavering over the smell of undead meat. It backed up when she moved, slinking fluidly away to
a safe distance.
Or so it thought.
The spoor it was following suddenly vanished and the hyena's head whipped round in confusion. It had no name for itself, but knew it was an eater of carrion, surely the dirtiest predator of them all.
A split-second before cool white hands snapped the hyena's neck from behind,
it thought it glimpsed a reflection of its own face, golden eyes and fangs of palest ivory, and realised it wasn't.
Drusilla drained the hyena dry, revelling in the taste of the warm, steaming blood which told her tales of Africa's soul. On her face was the smile of the predator, and she could smell Xander's scent in the air.
The smile on the blood red lips widened. He was fifteen miles north by the light of the moon. Explosive power detonated in the long, deep muscles of her legs and
the vampire ran into the night, demonic body and human soul working together
in perfect harmony.
Fifteen miles away, Xander looked up. It was going to be another long night and the witch doctor or – what was his name in French? Oh, yes, fetisheur - was already exhausted. He had led the Mbuti children to the mission in search of refuge, but his magical abilities had been quickly pressed into service when they found they were trapped and under siege. Every night the gaunt old man sat up through the small hours chanting, trying to alleviate the worst of the horrors, but he grew weaker every day and at every dusk the horror grew worse.
The Mbuti children themselves were sleeping by the fire under their blankets of animal skins which, he had learnt, were called karosses. They were so very small, and their hair was bronzed and frizzy. Xander had thought it was cute until he found out it was a sign of malnutrition. One child was called Samuel. He kept his left arm hidden, and he often stared up at the big, strange American with the large, solemn eyes of a little wise man.
Xander could have done with talking to a real wise man, or at least to that drunk Matheson, but that would be difficult as he'd buried him the day after they'd arrived. Xander had woken to find the Council's man in the Congo scalped, mouth sagging open to display a fine selection of rotten teeth, bloodshot eyes rolled back in
But there were no footprints leading either up to or away from the body.
As if he had died in his dreams.
That sounded familiar. Like the time the spirit of the first slayer had tried to kill the Scoobies in their sleep because the source of the slayers' power had been affronted by the spell they had all participated in to defeat Adam.
Come to think of it, Willow's activation of all the potential slayers in one go must have been a further, massive affront to the source, and the source – the well of the slayers' power - was located right here. Somewhere in Africa.
He had seen the new slayer, who was still in a coma. Slim and beautiful with skin
of burnished ebony, yes, but the exquisite body a prison for a mind trapped in a nightmare landscape of visions and horrors where she relived the lives, battles and deaths of all her predecessors over and over again. Feeling every blow, every hurt and every loss until the nerves, scraped raw, screamed for surcease.
Of which there was none.
Using techniques Giles had carefully taught him, Xander had tried to raise the slayer from the pit in which she was imprisoned, but he'd quickly found out that whatever force had entrapped them was not going to suffer the presence of a sane and wakeful slayer. His final attempt to revive her had ended with a thunderclap of magical light throwing him against the door of the outbuilding in which she lay.
Awake, she would have been a powerful ally, he reflected ruefully once his head stopped throbbing, but our phantom menace wants her asleep and insane, and it looks like it's going to get what it wants. Bloody vindictive bastard, whatever it is.
Thank God Dru isn't here, though. She'd be able to hear the non-stop screaming,
and it would drive her mad.
The girl lay on a cot in one of the mission station's rectangular outbuildings.
The mission itself was an untidy jumble of huts in a low-walled compound at the jungle's edge, looking onto a wide plateau of sharp savannah grass. To the north lay fresh green mountains, half-obscured by storm clouds pregnant with rain and thunder.
All the mission's buildings and walls were painted a dazzling white. Some were roofed with red terracotta tiles, others thatched with dry yellow grass. There was a large central clearing, a borehole, a vegetable garden cultivated by the cook - a large, cheerful lady called Hepzibah - and an enclosure with some ageing livestock tended by an ageing gardener called Joseph. The church stood at the centre of it all, sheltering its people beneath an old cross of blackened wood, dried and twisted
by the sun.
A naïve observer might have considered this a peaceful place, but he or she would have had to fail to notice the lengthening line of freshly dug graves outside the walls.
And I am the naïve observer, thought Xander bitterly. Thinking I could hop in and out in a couple of days, then be back for coffee and muffins with Dru before she even knew I was gone. He almost groaned aloud. No sooner had the taxi pulled away from the flat in Great Russell Street than he'd found himself missing her. The legendary pout. That shake in her hands which always appeared when she was worried sick about something. Usually about him. That soulful look in her eyes when she was unhappy. Then there was that growing bond between them which seemed to make the sun shine when they were out together at night.
He felt like he had gone and torn that precious bond out by the roots, leaving a churning, miserable void in his chest which nothing, just nothing, could fill.
This must be how a soulless vampire feels, he thought. He almost pitied them, and he was beginning to pity himself. The night the first slayer's spirit had tried to kill them all, he'd watched Apocalypse Now and dreamt of Kurtz and the jungle. He'd thought about that dream on the way to London and wondered how he would have measured up in a situation like that. Then he'd been given the chance to find out for real and he hadn't been able to turn it down, but like Willard, he'd found he was fit only to be set upon the stone, whipped and sacrificed.
And he'd never see Dru again.
The pain was like a physical thing.
He looked away from the children and the fire so they wouldn't see the expression on his face, filtered out the droning mumbles of the fetisheur and went back to the outbuilding to take over the watch from the nun sitting with the slayer.
The old lady was dozing by candlelight when he pushed open the rough wooden door, but she started awake immediately and greeted him with a gruff "Alors, mon fils.
"Ça va bien, merci," he replied. He liked her. She was barely five feet tall with skin dry and cracked as brittle paper after a lifetime in the tropics, but her blue eyes were strikingly clear and kindness still lingered at the edges of her smile. She was a member of the Catholic order of Les Soeurs Cannossiennes and the last remaining sister at the mission. Her fellow sisters had fled after being gang raped by
She had reassured him that they considered themselves lucky. It could have been worse. The Lendu sometimes practised cannibalism.
She had taught him much in only a few days. When he and Matheson first came to the mission, he had seen her standing in the clearing before the church in her white habit, a close-fitting coif capping her snow-white hair. She looked small and serene, but also sharp and straightforward.
"American?" she had said, looking at his conspicuously well-fed frame and brash smile. "It is no surprise. First the Portuguese. Then British, Dutch and French slavers. King Leopold of Belgium. Now you. It is no surprise." She shook
"Hey, we're not into colonialism," he said indignantly. "I'm just here to help."
"Here to help, eh?" she replied tartly. "Ronald Reagan called those the most terrifying words in the English language. He knew where good intentions led.
So do we."
She had shown him the slayer, explaining how the girl had stumbled out of the forest a couple of months earlier, begging for help.
A storm of wind and wrath had followed, shaking the trees to their roots and making the bonobo chimpanzees scream, but it had not been able to pass beyond the walls of the mission.
The girl had lapsed into a coma, although not before throwing Joseph the gardener halfway across the clearing. Her body had been cut, slashed and bitten, but all her wounds had healed within a day. She mumbled ceaselessly in tongues, but with no knowledge of Sanskrit or Aramaic, neither Xander nor the sister could know she spoke of a white knight and a fallen nun, seen in silhouette through a red haze.
Before the Lendu came, the sisters had nursed her, but when they tried to move her to Bunia, the winds rose to gale force and the rain lashed down like bullets, forcing the slayer to remain a refugee at the mission. Word had reached Matheson of the strange girl with supernatural strength, and in a fleeting moment of sobriety the Council's man in the Congo had contacted Great Russell Street. He had omitted to mention, though, that the girl was trapped at the mission, leaving Giles and Xander with the impression that retrieving her would be a simple job.
Just after Xander and Matheson had arrived, a storm had broken over the mission and that maddening gossamer shield of magic had slammed down on them, cutting them off from the outside world.
The sister had been right, Xander had realised. Buffy's well-intentioned ideas for defeating Adam and the First had led to consequences they could never have anticipated. He had seen those consequences in the shape of a young girl screaming in endless insanity, and he'd carelessly involved himself with a culture whose conflicts and traditions he did not fully understand.
But he was learning about them now, slowly and painfully. He could see the magic shield sometimes at dusk, a faint shimmer blurring the stars like a dragonfly's wings covering its prey.
There was no avoiding the fact it had only appeared after he and Matheson had turned up. If the source of the slayers' power had been affronted again, perhaps his own presence had indeed increased the insult. He had been one of the people who first displeased it. He had also been in the area when Willow activated all the slayers and perhaps, like the elephant, the source had a long memory. When it felt an annoying wound turn into a festering sore right on its doorstep, it must have slapped a healing patch on the source of the infection and was now preparing to lance the boil.
Great. He had come to help and been about as successful as US foreign policy in Vietnam. Way to go, Xander.
So now the horns of the bull encircled them, but the beast had no body so it tortured them in their dreams. Every day they all looked more haggard but the stand-off persisted. The food supplies were running low, but neither Xander nor the sister would countenance sacrificing the slayer to the demonic power waiting in the forest, and he himself wasn't too keen on suicide, so the siege went on.
It was a bit like Zulu in a supernatural sort of way. At least he hadn't started singing Men of Harlech yet.
But every night the dreams became uglier and the fetisheur's magic became less effective.
If this was the power which had created the slayer, it was dark indeed.
Xander's dreams were as bad as everyone else's, but he also dreamed of Dru. Even at her worst, she had never seemed so evil. He thought of her at prayer, in the dusky glow of twilight.
He never should have left her. He should have stayed in maintenance. Why hadn't he listened to Giles instead of setting himself up to be the whipping boy? He had done his bit, their flat wasn't in the basement and Dru wasn't dining on cockroaches…
Then it seemed he saw her running, and he knew it was not a dream.
Drusilla shot through the rainforest like a rocket. Vampires didn't often use their full speed for fear they might burn up like a high performance engine which, if fed too rich a mix of fuel and then revved too hard for too long, could seize or explode.
The demonic power contained within the reanimated body of its host could reduce that body to a pile of ash if used unwisely, but opening the throttles all the way was
as pleasurable and addictive for a vampire as drinking the purest human blood, and Drusilla could not help but exult in her strength as she leapt between lianas and creepers, catapulted over tangled tree roots and watched the slow beat of a
blue-headed bird's wings as she ducked under it with all the time in the world.
She was getting closer and closer to her Xander, though. She could smell him now, almost hear his heartbeat, and the passions that aroused were all that stopped her sliding into a crimson sea of bloodlust.
Her attention was drifting, as it so often did, and she didn't notice the storm brewing behind her.
She was soaring uphill now, and the forest was thinning out. She burst out onto the plateau and skidded to a stop, half-blinded by the sight of a shining silver moon hanging low over faraway hills. Tall savannah grass stretched out before her like a sea of green and, to her left, she could see the old mission station on the fringes of the forest, shimmering beneath its silken shield.
The mission, the mountains and the long grass. All bathed in the moon's delicate light. Drusilla had often gibbered poetry in her madness, but now only words of clear prose came to her lips.
"I am come to this other Eden," she said to herself, "a dark heaven for the damned."
For a moment, she truly felt she was once again the novice nun, gazing up at a stained glass window in her convent, straining, wide-eyed, for a glimpse of God's kingdom.
She also remembered a tale she had heard of the origins of vampires. Cain, once he slew Abel, had been cast out by the Lord. He dwelt in a land to the east of Eden. There he met Lilith, a witch who came out of a great abyss and showed him the power of blood, and by her he sired a new race of hybrid demons, the first vampires.
Lilith could have been an Old One, she supposed. She wasn't sure. The tales were fragmented and contradictory. They had been passed down orally by the oldest vampires, all of whom were now dust.
I, too, bear the Mark of Cain, she thought soberly, so must I dwell in this other Eden?
She stood stock-still as she wondered at her words, and so the storm came upon her, tossing her venomously towards the mission, aiming to smear her against the gossamer cloak like a bug splattering on a windscreen.
Her first instinct was to curl into a ball, and once she would have done so in childish panic, but now she could think well enough to know that way would lead only to dusty death. She stretched her superb body into a running dive, flying with the wind towards the mission and muttering words of magic as she went.
The tiniest of weaknesses appeared in that field of force as blue flame crackled from Drusilla's fingertips. She dived for that one-in-a-million gap, not even realising she was praying as she fell.
Breaching the barrier made her feel like a piece of basted meat being roasted in flame, but then she was through it and tumbling to the ground in an untidy roll which left her wobbling on her feet, gasping for unnecessary breath.
And there he was. Her Xander.
She forgot everything else, ran to him and hugged him in her arms, burying her face in his chest and weeping salty tears of joy. She even hooked a leg around his bottom
and stayed that way a while, knowing full well that nothing could break her grip on him, and not wanting to ever let him go.
After a time, she looked up at him with her best and most wicked smile, but her blood froze solid in her veins when she saw only misery on his face in reply.
"Oh, love," he said brokenly, "you shouldn't have come. No one gets out of
Shouldn't have come? she thought in disbelief. Doesn't he… doesn't he want me?
Love and relief were instantly replaced with hurt and anger. She lifted him off his feet and for a fleeting moment he wondered if she was actually going to manage to break his arms this time. Then the pressure on his bones eased and he fell to earth again as all Dru's strength seemed to go out of her and she flopped down at his feet.
She sat there, sunk in woe and looking at the ground. He got on his knees and sat down beside her. He touched her shoulder and she slapped him away.
She sniffled, and he knew she was going to start crying. It was all happening too fast. Two minutes ago, he had been brooding to Angel-standard because he thought he would never see her again. Now, somehow, she was here, and the first thing he'd done when she arrived was to hurt her worse than that vampire "daddy" of hers
His face flushed red with shame.
He settled himself a little more comfortably and moved closer to his lady.
"I am glad you're here, Dru," he said slowly. "Feels like the sun shines whenever you're around, and I wouldn't know what to do if you weren't around. But the last thing I want is to see you hurt. There's a lot of hurt coming to this place, and I don't want that for you."
She looked at her hands, but that lovely dark hair of hers obscured her face and he couldn't see her eyes.
"I've missed you," he went on. "More than I can say. Feel like I'm empty when you're not with me. Like I've got no soul. But at least I knew you were safe.
Now I know you're in danger, and I'm not happy about that."
She looked up at him, eyes deep with wisdom, and patted his hand.
"Nowhere's safe, love," she said simply, remembering his words from the church in Los Angeles. "I guess we're both caught in the blackberry patch, but I chose to come and I'll take the consequences."
She clapped her hands on her knees and got tiredly to her feet. This time he hugged her, and nothing more needed to be said.
They found the sister at the altar, contemplating the cross. The children had woken and now they clustered at the church door, sensing an intruder in their midst and trying to get a glimpse of her. They could not track a scent on the wind like a vampire, but they could catch a trace of Drusilla's spoor in the eddies of the air as she passed, a strange whiff of age and youth combined, a hint of peppermint, both fresh and stale, or the perfume of a rose preserved between the pages of a book a hundred years before, its colour undimmed but the petals cracked.
It wasn't scary, but it was strange, so they hung around, wide-eyed and nervous, pleased to be spared the hells of sleep for a time.
Drusilla slipped her hand into the crook of Xander's elbow as she dragged her feet through the door of the church. She clenched her teeth as her demon screamed in horror and tried not to think about what had happened to her another time she'd been in a house of God.
Tried not to think about the way Angelus had killed her.
How it had felt.
Xander could feel her shuddering, but her step never slowed.
"Are you all right, love?"
She managed to smile at him, willing her game face to remain hidden.
"Bid me go into a new-made grave, my dear, and I'll do it without fear or doubt.
Bid me go into a church, though, and I may scream and shout."
They came to a stop before the sister, like a young couple engaged in some odd perversion of the wedding ceremony. The sister raised an eyebrow, her expression not altogether kind, but then a long-ago reflex took hold of Drusilla, and she genuflected gracefully to the altar.
"Ma Mère," she said, feeling the voice of the novice nun sweet and strong within her, "may I say my culpas?"
The sister stood before her, serene but detached. Behind her a single candle, lit for the Office of night prayer or Compline, burned at the altar.
"You are Drusilla the vampire," she said without inflection.
Drusilla bowed her head.
"I was once a novice nun, and I have a human soul."
"Xander never stops talking about you," the sister said. Drusilla beamed like a bashful girl when she heard that. The sister had seen much death and it had left her with little faith. She rarely felt at peace, and then only during the darkest hours of the night. But for the briefest of moments she thought she sensed the lost innocent behind the devil's mask, and she made a decision.
"You are welcome in this house," she said. "Sit with me and pass the hours of
Those few words brought long years of exile to an end, and the Church took its lost child back into the fold.
Xander left them like that. At the door, he looked back to see the sister and the novice contemplating the light at the altar.
Drusilla had woken screaming in the night sometimes, clutching desperately for Xander and shaking as he'd held her. Finally, she had explained why. Angelus had sired her at the convent, but as her heartbeat slowed, he and Darla had drowned her in a bath of virgin blood drained from the nuns.
It was an inspired perversion of purity, the blood helping the demon take firm possession of her before she rose; but her last human memory was of blindly smothering in a thick red haze as merciless hands held her under.
The Scoobies had been more than a little surprised to learn that a vampire could be scared of the dark. There had even been a few sniggers, quickly muted, but they wouldn't have laughed if they had known why, nor would they have wondered why Drusilla stared up at the stars so often, looking for the light.
Now it seemed she was rising again from the dark, but not as a demon. This time she sat with the sister, bathed in the light of grace, and on her face was a look of peace.
That lump she so often brought to his throat was back, and he welcomed it like an old friend.
He shooed the children away and went outside to wait for his lady.
She came to him in the wee small hours before sunrise and lay in his arms, contented as a cat. An underlying tension had left her body, he could tell, and Drusilla cuddled happily against him like a predator protecting its cub. But as night traded its dark mantle for the vivid colours of dawn, he felt her stiffen.
Outside, a few yards from their hut, the fetisheur had gently keeled over. As he died, Drusilla's eyes opened wide and she saw...
She shot to her feet with the speed of a bird in flight.
"Honey, it's four o'clock in the morning…"
He rolled over and looked at her as she fluttered around the room, hands flapping in the old familiar way and hair askew.
"The doctor has died," she keened. "The slayer must wake! If she doesn't open her eyes, our bones the devil will bake!"
She ran out of the doorway and across the clearing to the slayer's hut without further ado, almost colliding with some sleepy children on their way to make their toilet.
Xander wearily pulled his pants on and followed her. Life with Dru was never boring, he reflected, and when she got an idea in her head it was like trying to control a runaway cannonball.
He trudged into the slayer's monastic cell to see a scene straight out of an old etching of colonial life. The vampire sat in the pose of The Thinker, staring at the sleeping girl as the earliest hints of golden light mixed with brown blankets and white walls to evoke a study in washed-out sepia.
But the tableau was not a peaceful one. Again and again, the slayer's hand clutched at the blanket covering her body. Drusilla knew madness like a lover, and she could feel the slayer was poised to fall into the pit of insanity.
After a long pause, for time does not move fast in Africa, she turned to Xander. No impish twinkle of hope or laughter sparkled in her eyes, and he knew what that meant.
"I can't wake her, my love, and the doctor is gone. I don't have his grasp of magic.
I am not powerful enough to stop it. Tonight the demon will claim us."
He stood at her side, feeling oddly calm as she took his hand. He'd tried to find himself in the African jungle, but all he was going to come face to face with was his death. He was an American. Despite everything he'd seen behind the semi-detached suburban façade of Sunnydale, despite most of the good ol' USA seeming to be on antidepressant meds, he was virtually programmed to be optimistic, to believe there was always a solution, always some tidy answer to the problems of the world the way a TV show's conflicts were always wrapped up cleanly at the end of an episode.
He'd sometimes been irritated by British negativity, but now he realised a lot of it
was just realism. Sunnydale might have looked a lot more like Peyton Place than
the Congo did, but both localities were part of the real world, red in tooth and claw, and there were no easy answers to the questions they posed.
"Then this is the end," he said, "and if it really is the end, I'll face it with you,
my only friend."
"Aren't those Jim Morrison's lyrics?" she asked curiously.
"Yeah. I think he played Woodstock."
"No. Spike and I were there. He cancelled at the last minute. Pity." She giggled suddenly and licked her lips. "I really wanted to eat him."
Xander couldn't help snickering. Here they were, facing certain death, and now all he could think about was Dru doing it with Jim Morrison.
They both laughed and he hugged her. Then they started looking for a way to cheat their fates, but the horns of the bull were encircling them ever tighter and they could see no avenue of escape.
Rain burst from the clouds like grapeshot later that morning, and Xander hustled a blanket-covered Drusilla across to the church to take morning tea with the sister.
The old lady watched the falling water hitting the steaming ground as the three odd companions carried out the ritual of milk, sugar and biscuits. Then she looked directly at Drusilla.
"I am tired of living a life of unquestioning faith," she said. "If it really is all coming to an end, I would like to know how it all began."
Drusilla put her hands to her temples and managed to sway while sitting down.
"Those who told the tales are long lost and far away, ma Mère. They left no writings, but every vampire knows their words. Must I tell you? They are true, but they tear the Bible's pages."
"Truth is truth, my child. I do not want to meet my maker without it."
Drusilla sat up straight with the good posture of the well-bred Victorian girl, clasped her hands demurely and began to recite.
"First there were the Old Ones, demons of power and thunder who made this earth a hell of fire and sulphur for aeons without end. Then they faded away from this transitory plane like mist on a February morn, and out of Africa came mortal Man."
"Which part of Africa?" asked Xander suspiciously.
Drusilla cocked her head towards the ceiling, as if listening to the stars.
"From the abyss. The rift. The great valley of the ancients, so Solomon says."
"The Great Rift Valley, you mean?" said the sister, fascinated.
"Where's that?" asked Xander, wishing he'd paid more attention in history class.
"About six hundred miles east of here," the sister replied.
"Before he ascended," Dru intoned, "the last pure demon fed upon a woman called Lilith who dwelt in the Rift Valley. He possessed her, infecting her human body with the essence of a demon."
"So this Lilith became the first vampire?" said Xander.
Drusilla smiled brightly. "Yes, dear. You might say I am a daughter of Lilith."
"There is mention of a Lilith in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud," the sister mused, "and the Kabbalah says Lilith's soul was lodged in the depths of a great abyss. The abyss could have been the Great Rift Valley. It's also said that Lilith was created to be Adam's first wife, but she ran away. After he slew Abel, Adam's son Cain found her and lived with her in a land to the east of Eden"
"Lilith dwelt with Cain in the Rift Valley, east of this Eden," Dru said in agreement. "Together they sired a race of vampires. Half-breed demons. Pariahs. Welcome in neither the house of the human nor the demon," she finished glumly.
Xander's head was spinning. Adam's first wife had been turned, set up home with his son in Africa and created a vampire race who wandered about like a bunch of stateless refugees?
He kept his mouth tightly shut, but felt a certain blasphemous relief that at least he and Dru weren't the first human and vampire to try living together. In fact, Cain and Lilith set a pretty big precedent.
Drusilla's eyes swivelled towards his and he realised she'd read his mind. She gave him a quick, private smile and went on.
"Pockets of the Old Ones' demonic power still lingered in and around the Rift Valley. So sorcerors called Shadowmen chained a girl up in a cave near the Rift, infused her with the Old Ones' power in order to fight the vampires, and created the first slayer."
"I get it," said Xander. "And this particular pocket – the well of the slayers' power - isn't just in Africa. It's right next door to us in Africa."
"Yes," said Drusilla, sanely and soberly. "And it's very easily affronted. First, it was angered by the spell the Scoobies cast to defeat Adam. Then it was infuriated by the activation of all the potential slayers. Now, the presence of this slayer and of one of the Scoobies who originally angered it has roused it to white-hot fury. It won't show any mercy. Not to the slayer. Not to the children. And not to us."
"You have come right back to your beginnings," the sister said quietly to Drusilla. "To your garden of Eden. And this is where it ends."
"What do we do now?" said Drusilla, quite bereft of ideas.
Xander took her hand.
"Fight," he said.
"How?" asked the sister.
He tried to think of something, then he slowly realised he had no tidy answer,
no solution. No choice but to accept their fate with dignity.
"I don't know," he said aloud. "I don't know."
He smiled crookedly at his Dru and knew she understood. That made it all worthwhile. He'd only had a short life, but he'd loved a good woman and
she'd made of him a man. He was grateful she would be with him at the end.
He tried to imagine going on without her, and couldn't do it. To live on without seeing Dru's gentle smile in the mornings, that would be worse than death.
So they sat round the table in silence, waiting for the terrible hours of the night.
The sister, somehow still serene, sipped her tea. An old clock, secure in its dark wood casement, ticked quietly in the corner, counting down towards zero like the clock in the council's ready room had, only a few short days before.
Xander and the sister were at ease, but Drusilla found her eyes drawn to the clockwork machine. She could hear every movement of the machinery and every tick seemed louder. She was the negative Briton who should accept it was really the end, but it was she who was feeling a sense of rebellion welling up inside while he, the brash American, seemed to have become the passive philosopher.
Drusilla, scared of the dark…
Drusilla, petrified of flying…
Drusilla, clueless about machines…
Drusilla, terrified of losing Xander…
Tick. Tick. Tick…
She shot to her feet, boiling with power and rage, and stamped out onto the porch, inches from the edge of shadow and able to see the sky, the children and the shield.
She felt her skin prickling in the heat, the rage from within equalling the burning pain from without. She knew whispers of smoke were beginning to rise from her body, and she did not care.
She heard Xander walk up behind her and try to draw her back a little into the dark, and she fought him, thrashing like a squalling infant who just wasn't gonna do what Daddy said!
She saw Samuel, the little boy, detach himself from the crowd of children and walk towards her with the sombre face of a prophet or a seer. She met his eyes, and started in surprise when she saw they were older and wiser than hers.
He came up onto the porch and held his arms out to her. Or rather, he held out two arms and one hand. His left arm ended in a stump halfway up the forearm. She had never noticed now carefully he concealed it. Never realised quite how much pain there was in this place.
"A bunch of guerilla fighters passed through his village a couple of years ago," said Xander. "No one even knows which side they were on. Neither did they, probably. They gang raped his mother and his twelve-year-old sister. When he raised a hand to stop them, they cut it off."
She took his remaining hand in hers, then found herself hugging Samuel with a strength even she did not know she possessed. She turned to Xander and looked at
his single eye. Her lower lip was quivering and she was near to tears, but she held
"Lilith was a killer of children and so was I. I won't let any more children be hurt.
I just won't. It has to stop sometime. I don't know how I'll do it and I don't care,
but he's my child. They're all my children, and I'll not let them die."
She saw the pride in her kitten's one remaining eye.
"So, what'cha wanna do, Dru?" he said, almost nonchalantly.
"Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition," she spat. "It's time I speared the devil in the face!"
The sun passed its zenith and the shadows lengthened as Drusilla sat cross-legged in their hut, practising magic and limbering up with terrible deliberation, not looking up even once.
The sister prayed in church, Xander buried the fetisheur and the children played in the clearing. All the while the shadows pooled, creeping closer, while the ugly whispers from the forest grew louder and louder inside their heads.
Late in the afternoon, Xander marched into their hut to find a perspiring Drusilla finishing her five thousandth press-up.
"You're not facing that… that… whatever-it-is alone," he said bluntly. "It has no body. How can you even fight it?"
She faced him, glowing with exertion, lean muscles bunching beneath the porcelain skin like leashed springs, and he almost forgot what he was arguing about.
She cocked her head at him challengingly. He looked coolly at her in defiance.
"I can make it real," she said. "Clothe the etheric creature in flesh and bone."
She smiled suddenly. "Then I can hit it."
"Oh, that's great! Don't you realise how strong that thing will be? It'll be like some sort of superslayer!"
"I'm not Humpty Dumpty. I won't break!"
"You're just a vampire, not Supergirl! I'm not letting you face that thing on your own!"
"Just a vampire! I'm just a vampire, am I! You're just a human! That didn't stop you trying to kill us six nights a week in Sunnydale!"
They were having their first fight, they both realised, but they were too angry with each other to care.
"That was different!" Xander stormed, then he stopped. "Okay, it wasn't different. I'm still not letting you do this alone!"
Her eyes snapped past him. He knew she could smell the oncoming dusk. Then they snapped back.
"We really are an odd couple, aren't we?" she said with a small smile.
"Yep, that's us. Oscar and Felix."
"Be thou my battle shield then, my sword for the fight."
"Okay then, pilgrim," Xander said in his best John Wayne drawl.
He relaxed, relieved he would be able to stand by her, and walked past her to look for a wooden staff he kept handy.
He never knew what hit him.
She had regained her ability to gauge her tremendous strength precisely, but she did not break his neck. Instead, she applied just the right amount of pressure to certain nerve clusters between the deltoids and the scapula to ensure he would be paralysed and unconscious for the next twelve hours.
Did you really think I'd let you die, she thought, when I could stand upon the sacrificial stone in your place?
She gently placed him on the bed and caressed his cheek in farewell, not even realising the tears were flowing down her cheeks. She took the transponder from around her neck and placed it by his side. Then she went to church to talk to the sister for the final time.
The demon within her was silent. The sister fingered her rosary. Drusilla looked at the cross.
"I need to confess," she finally said.
Once again, the sister prepared to make a decision about the vampire. The rules of the Church forbade her to take confession or give absolution, but she had seen the light of civilisation fade so quickly in the Congo that she had little belief left in diktats written by men in Rome. She had always tried to please God, but never known what He really wished her to do. She had subsumed herself to the Holy Rule, struggling to achieve the humility she needed to be worthy to protect souls placed in her care.
Or so she had thought. But no rule of Church or God could have prepared her for the Congo. Over the years she had seen children disembowelled, pregnant women gang raped, human heads used as footballs.
She had a fighter's soul, and amidst all the horror she had tried to remember that Christ tested such souls more severely than those who just drifted along with the tide.
But bit by bit, her faith had worn away as the tests dragged on and on yet no divine wish presented itself.
Until now. A lost soul standing before her, presenting her with a stark choice between blindly obeying Church dogma or following the dictates of her own conscience.
How could she stand before God in good conscience if she spurned Drusilla's only chance of redemption?
No choice at all, really.
I believe in God, she thought, so I will defy the Church.
The sister guided the unclean creature to a pew. The demon sighed, seemed to look far and many years away, then she bowed her head and began.
Sometimes the sister's face blanched or her hand shook as Drusilla recited her litany of death. From London to the convent and her demise. Her rebirth in blood as a vampire. Of William and Darla, of the dark presence of Angelus and their wanderings through the courts and streets and alleyways of Europe.
She told of the torture, the blood-red rivers of decadence and the lust for the kill;
but woven through it she spoke of seeing the sick horror of what she had become reflected in Miss Edith's eyes, and remembering at odd moments her lost sweetness and purity. No longer the good girl. A loss and emptiness no amount of blood
Then she talked of her torture in Prague, the flight to Sunnydale and the strange tales of their battles with children who fought them nobly and whom they could not seem to kill.
"And I began to question," she finished in perplexity. "And to feel! Even without
a soul, I came to love and I came back to myself. I loved William, and I love Alexander. They are my dark and golden knights; but I cannot love myself
and I cannot ask forgiveness."
"Do you repent?"
The raw and terrible emotions had swirled within her like whirlpools and riptides since she regained her soul, but as she confessed the chaos in her mind began to calm. She felt drained, like a sewer once clogged with filth now cleansed and cleared.
She found she could not speak.
"Do you repent?"
The question came again and she raised her eyes.
"I repent, ma Mère."
"I absolve you, mon enfant."
There was a silence and a peace worthy of Compline, until Drusilla shattered it.
"Please tell him I loved him," she blurted out. "I didn't know how to.
I wasn't worthy of him, I didn't deserve him, but I loved him."
The sister inclined her head slightly and then, before Drusilla could stop her,
placed her hand in the font and touched the vampire's forehead with a finger dipped in holy water.
Drusilla expected to scream and burn, but the ululation stopped dead in her throat when, instead of feeling the sizzle of skin frying like bacon, she perceived a pleasant cool wetness.
"God still has mercy, even here."
"I had forgotten. I forget so much."
"I will tell your young man, when your penance is done."
They both knew why Drusilla had spoken of him in the past tense, but they did not talk of it. As the sun set, the fallen nun walked out into the clearing. The tall, lean woman, clad in black and attended by the sister, went to the centre of the muddy stretch of ground.
She had seen the bare patch of earth on which she now stood many times in her dreams, had always known she would find her way to this place. That was why she had repeated the rhyme so often, for she was the lamb, and now she was caught in the blackberry patch.
Her senses swept the compound, she saw the children clustering on the porch at the entrance of the church, felt Samuel's single hand squeeze hers as he walked up to her side, and listened to the welling of ugly sound from the forest which promised, that night, to strip the flesh from their living carcasses and make them watch as it did so.
Drusilla had seen this happen before. She would not let it happen again.
The sister took her other hand as the last tinges of daylight slipped away behind the treeline, and as the murmuring from the forest increased, the vampire found the words of power which would clothe the demon in the mantle of flesh and blood.
The old Latin words drifted across the clearing, and at first it seemed as if liquid smoke was coalescing beneath the rising moon. Little by little, the murmuring died away and a figure began to emerge. A fairly squat but sinewy corpus with curves of dark, sculpted muscle became sharp and clear to the vampire's eyes. Matted dark hair flowed over bulky shoulders of massive strength. Chalky white body paint decorated the breasts and arms, and a muslin sheath twined around runners' legs.
Then there were the eyes, jet black, set in a face carved like a death mask.
Even Drusilla shivered when she looked into those eyes. She had faced slayers before, but this, she realised with the sure instinct of a wild animal facing its own predator, was the most dangerous hunter who had ever lived.
The first slayer incarnate. The silent killer who gained satisfaction only from the sound of death, and sought that moment of congress with the sibilant grace of a deadly dancer.
She felt Samuel and the sister's hands slip away from hers, knew she was facing her final battle, and was surprised to realise she had no more fear.
Once a novice nun, now the unlikely saviour of a forgotten convent, she stood before and apart from her Church, awaiting the attentions of the beast. She looked like
a fragile penitent fit only for sacrifice but she gloried in her strength, and the
razor-sharpness of her fangs.
Africa was around her and beneath her, spawning ground of demons and first home of the slayers. Lost cities like Great Zimbabwe, rich veins of gold in the highveld and jungle teeming with lion and elephant, Africa was home to all of these, but above them all towered the spectre of Man. The dictator, the torturer, the megalomaniac.
They, too, were sons of Africa and the demons cowered before them, fled from them, knowing they could not match Mankind's cruelty.
Millions of gallons of innocents' blood had soaked into the rich, dark soil, courtesy
of that cruelty, and now Drusilla heard that blood cry out to her from the earth.
The ancient, awful power flooded through her body and she knew she, the vampire, was ready to fight that monstrous creature, the slayer, in defence of another slayer
and of her children.
She summoned her game face, feeling her whole skeleton strengthen, relieved the heavy ridges of bone on her forehead and the reinforced jaw supporting the fangs would give her some protection from the punishment soon to come, pushing away the memory of Xander caressing those same ridges with kindest love, concentrating on protecting the innocents in her care.
Her charges, rail-thin, clustered round the sister as she stood on the porch, and despite the hunger and the fear they found the strength to smile in support of their protector. Mother Drusilla, watching over her cubs.
Drusilla could not spare a thought for the irony of it all as she went out to meet the monster. Her eyes became as dark as the slayer's and (the sister later said to Xander) as they slowly began to circle each other, their every move and gesture became identical.
Their hands were the same: razor-sharp claws slicing the air. The fighting skills were the same, so evenly matched neither could find an opening to hit the other, and so they continued their dance of death.
This was the answer to the question Giles had not wanted to ask:
Just how much demon had gone into the creation of the first slayer, thousands of years ago in Africa? Just how alike were vampires and slayers?
The truth was laid bare before the sister while the air above the wooden cross crackled as it conducted the sparks of violence brewing between Drusilla and the slayer.
Those early sorcerers, the Shadowmen, had looked upon Lilith's children as they swarmed out of the Rift Valley. They had seen the soulless creatures with golden eyes feeding upon the native tribesmen, observed their strength and speed, and used them as a template to create the slayer. The last pure demon had fed upon Lilith quickly and carelessly, creating a hybrid pariah with a demonic face, a dependence
on blood and a vulnerability to sunlight. The first vampire.
The Shadowmen, however, had experimented slowly, carefully and cruelly on their subjects, infusing humans with demonic power from the well, imprinting the central nervous system with extraordinary fighting ability and programming the mind with a desire to hunt and kill demons. The first slayer, when she walked out into the world over the bones of the failed prototypes, could stand in sunlight, possessed a soul and was able to move amidst men.
The vampire, then, was the prototype of the slayer. Both hosted demons but the vampire was the earlier sketch on the Darwinian notepad, the flawed design made obsolete by evolution.
If Drusilla was a daughter of Lilith, the slayer was her granddaughter, and superior to her sire.
But, the sister thought suddenly, they both have free will and the choice to rule over their sins, which makes both vampires and slayers races of Man. Or so I think.
The theologians will argue about it for centuries. The battle, though, will be
settled tonight, but there is no way my child, lost Drusilla, can win.
She clutched her rosary tightly, meditating on the bloody unfairness of it all, feeling the bitterness rise like bile in her stomach.
There is nothing I can do, she thought, except stay with her as she fights and suffer with her as I must, so I can tell her young man how bravely she died.
So, squatting on the porch with the children gathered round her, she began to pray, sitting and sounding rather like the fetisheur as she mumbled the holy words and asked for the impossible.
It seemed the mumbles penetrated some tiny crack in the carapace of the slayer's concentration. Once, thirty years before, human gladiators had fought for the title of the world in the heart of the Congo. Champions who moved in fields of concentration so sharp and sensitive they could throw twelve punches in an eye blink through the slightest gap in their opponent's defence, and they were only human.
The slayer blinked, Drusilla sent the first volley of punches into her face like an expert fencer, and the war to end all wars began.
Vampire and slayer, ever-circling round the muddy ring, seemed to blend into each other as slashing punches and kicks shot between them at impossible speed. They moved with the grace of dancers yet battered each other like drunken longshoremen with knuckle-dusters in their hands. A mist seemed to gather around them, and that mist turned red as small veins spurted open with the impacts of hand and foot. Flesh squelched and tore as it absorbed impacts of thousands of pounds of force per square inch of skin, both demons howling in glee as the violence ramped up to levels where pain became pleasure.
Their different fighting styles became more apparent as Drusilla and the slayer settled into explosive, cataclysmic rhythms of combat, the advantage eddying back and forth as they contested the small circle of earth on which they stood. The slayer came forward like a compact little bull, clubbing at the dancing vampire like a predator trying to lay open the exposed flanks of a gazelle, but this gazelle would not be caught, and her golden eyes flashed contemptuously at her sluggish opponent as she danced between the slashing arcs of those deadly fists like a butterfly with bricks in its hands.
Those hands whipped through the gaps in the slayer's guard like sharpshooters' bullets, the vampire hammering at the fireplug standing before her with a rhythm like the samba, feeling flesh split and bones chip beneath her fingers, seeing the spatter of the slayer's blood and sweat land on her own skin.
Drusilla would anchor her feet for a nanosecond at a time to do so, and be on the move before the slayer's ripostes could catch her. But she knew, deep down in her gut, that every time she threw a combination of punches, she would slow down just
a little and, sooner or later, the slayer would catch the mad and bouncing goat
She could not win, and the fires of desperation burned deep within her, but she could not afford to lose. There had to be a way, and as she fought for her children's lives, she felt a kinship with that other champion, finding a way to win when there was no way, making the impossible choice.
She had thought for too many fractions of a second. A hand like stone crashed into the side of her head and her blood sprayed across the earth. She swayed, feeling herself beginning to stagger.
What had Xander called her kind once? Oh, yes! Weebles. Weebles wobble but they don't fall down.
So wobble like a Weeble, Miss Keeble, but don't you go down! Stay on your feet.
No coffee or muffins for you unless you do!
She rolled with the force of the punches raining on her, turning a complete somersault and coming to her feet again to catch the slayer in the face with rights and lefts, complemented by a twist of the wrist which let those vicious fingernails of hers lay open the other woman's cheek to the bone.
It would be a long time 'til dawn, and she felt her old bones bending and bowing as the slayer's sledgehammer blows landed on her, but she had her balance now and could stand up against the monster beating on her, though her head was pounding and disconnected images shot through her mind like shredded celluloid.
A fist crashed into her jaw again. Her fangs rattled loose in their gums and her skull shook. Still she fought back, retreating half-a-step before smashing her hands into the slayer's ribs, deflating the bellows of her lungs, listening for any weakness.
As the night wore on, the fight slowed. The barrages of punches became single heavy impacts as aching muscles and tendons found it ever harder to follow the commands fired off by desperate nerve impulses. The hands pushed through heavy air with ever more effort, sweat and blood streaming from flesh dead and alive as they shredded each other's clothes until, bloodied and muddied, they looked like Sarmatian warrior women of Amazonian legend. A rainstorm suddenly burst over them, drenching them as each one staggered around the other, drunk with punching, heads ringing with impacts which would have killed a normal human a hundred times over.
Drusilla didn't know what was keeping her on her feet. She wanted redemption. Maybe this was her pathway towards it, a road of thorns, each one dipped in holy water, torturing her as she walked along it. A hard route to walk, but no harder than the filthy lanes of London's East End down which little children had run so long ago, fleeing in terror from the golden-eyed monster with the soft voice and pretty dress who exulted in their fear. Realising they were going to die in a fetid alleyway while she laughed, their small hands scraping vainly at sopping wet brick walls as they scrabbled to live.
She still saw their faces, but somehow it was better now. She could never atone,
but she could try by laying down her life for children who might live no more than a year or two longer anyway, taking the punishment willingly if only, oh God, the innocents could know a few more days of blessed peace…
Another punch sent her staggering sideways. And another. Her retaliation separated the slayer from some of her teeth, and still they fought on.
She remembered her Xander's lopsided grin. Buffy's smile. Dawn and Willow laughing. Her roses in the garden amid the morning mist. Sitting with her love at the kitchen island, dozing in each other's arms…
Moments lost in time. Feelings she would never know again.
Her arms were coming down. The muscles torn and ripped, the wells of power within her body exhausted and her strength failing, and still the slayer rained blows upon her. Drusilla's knees buckled and she sank into the dirt, glimpsing the sister and the children cowering on the porch, blearily watching the slayer's feet begin to move towards them, as if in slow motion.
Her hand snaked out and brought the slayer down, but the creature still strove to reach its prey, and so they started their crawl of death towards the cross.
Drusilla scratched and tore at the slayer's back, despite everything slavering at the intoxicating scent of her blood.
Bucking like a lioness, the slayer threw her off and they began to circle each other again, snarling like wounded jackals.
They were both nearly spent, and dawn was getting near. Drusilla could hear her own demon begging her to stop, felt arteries deep inside her chest tearing open as energies normally contained poured out uncontrollably. She had fought too hard and too
fast for too long. She was burning out and she didn't care. Her demon was still screaming, and she knew every punch she threw was taking her closer to her
grave, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered any more.
I'm not going to make it, she thought, but it's all right. It's really all right. I wasn't meant to stay with you, my Alexander. I wasn't worthy to be your princess,
but I loved you with all my soul…
They slashed at each other, both well beyond their physical limits, and Drusilla could see the children only dimly now, through a red haze of blood.
Time's always too short, my love, she thought, somehow sure he could hear her,
as if he was walking with her on a summer's day, somewhere nice and sunny near
the seaside. Couldn't have been an old married couple though, could we?
You and your dear old Dru…
She wasn't feeling any pain any more, which was very strange, and it seemed to be getting light, although that wasn't the sun.
She slugged the slayer again, vaguely aware the creature was just standing there, taking the blows. It wasn't making for the church any more. They were just standing there, trying to send each other to hell.
Send her there first, then. To tell the devil I am coming.
Drusilla's hand ripped the slayer's throat open as the slayer's hand tore into her chest, going for the heart. Blood, mud and tissue mixed as they collapsed against each other and fell to the ground, locked together like lovers.
The two bodies lay absolutely still. The slayer was now just a broken shell, but Drusilla lay across her, as if she sought to comfort her foe, and it seemed she still looked towards the church and her children. Only slowly did the sister realise that her eyes, although open, could no longer see.
As the sun began to come up, one of the children started to cry.
Time's always too short, my love…
That sounded like Dru's voice echoing in his mind, but where was he? Where was she, for that matter?
Xander Harris groggily blinked and shook his head. He was on the cot in their room, his collarbone hurt like hell and he didn't know what time it was. He wasn't even sure who he was.
Okay, Xan-man, take it easy. You were going to help Dru fight that superslayer thing. You went to pick up your staff…
He sat bolt upright, his mind suddenly very clear. The pit of his stomach suddenly sick with dread.
She must have stopped me. Knocked me out. Gone off and faced that thing herself…
Now, for the first time in his life, he knew what cold fear felt like.
She's all right. She must be all right. Vamps are very tough. Even Buffy
But he couldn't hear her voice in his mind any more, and when he reached the door
of their room he found the sister waiting to greet him. She was clicking the rosary between her fingers and the look on her face gave him the answer to the question
he could not ask.
He went outside and looked at the clearing. Noticed the shield's faint shimmer was gone. Saw the solemn little group of children clustering around an indistinct mass on the ground. Stared as the little heads turned towards him and the cluster thinned out.
It seemed like several minutes before he could move again, although the sister later told him it was only a few seconds. Time has no meaning when the structure of
a man's life shatters and falls away like shards of broken glass, leaving nothing.
He walked over to the bodies, numbly taking in the red badges of courage which covered them both, the flies beginning to gather. He settled himself down by his beloved Dru, not able to believe she was no longer with him and not able to leave her. Only some vague sense that the sun was coming up stirred him to action, and he lifted her in his arms.
Her body was light as thistledown, and he cradled her head on his shoulder as he carried her from the field of battle. He'd held her like that once before, when he'd taken her to her room at the house on Candlewood Drive, but he'd known then that she would come back to him, and he'd been happy.
He looked at the sister, who was walking beside him. She met his eyes, mutely asking if he needed help. He shook his head.
"She isn't heavy," he said. "She…"
His lower jaw began to tremble uncontrollably, and he knew he was going to lose it, but he got her back to their hut and laid her down on their bed before the tears
Hepzibah brought a bowl of blood drawn from one of the animals and they poured it down her throat, hoping against hope. How could a dead body die, after all? And the body was not dust, so there was still a chance, wasn't there?
But even the fresh blood brought no response, and they slowly realised that there was, indeed, no hope.
So then Xander watched as the sister arranged the body, straightening the battered limbs, cleansing the bruised, lacerated face, salving and anointing the terrible wounds with care and tenderness. Finally, she drew a fresh linen shroud up to the face, which left Drusilla looking surprisingly peaceful, as if she was sleeping.
He wept softly, trying not to sully the ritual, but when the sister calmly defied
the Church once again and began to give the novice the last rites, he broke
He had not cried for Anya or Cordelia, but this was his dear old Dru. He buried his face in his hands and sobbed.
She had believed in him and he'd failed her. She had proved she was his princess but it was he who was not worthy to be her knight. She had fought like a Spartan warrior to save him – to save all of them – but she'd gone down to an ugly death in a forgotten part of Africa because he'd tried too hard to be a hero.
Beloved enemy, why did you fall for this wretched fool? You were by far the better part of me. Even without a soul, kinder than I could ever be…
He crawled over to the bed, taking her cold and broken hand in his, cursing himself and calling hopelessly for her.
Xander Harris, vampire-hater extraordinaire, look at yourself now. Weeping over one of them. Ampata, Anya and Dru. I used to stake your kind without a second thought, but it was you who taught me how to love.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, which was some mercy at least.
"She told me she loved you, mon fils," said the sister. "She confessed and showed contrition, received absolution and made penance. She is at peace."
Xander managed to turn his head to look at the sister. It was the greatest effort he had ever made, for the grief weighed him down like the devil on his back.
"It shouldn't have been her," he said hoarsely, his voice cracking and quavering like an old man's. "It should have been me."
"Do not throw away the gift she gave you, mon fils."
"Life. Life was her gift."
Xander nodded slowly. Buffy and Drusilla, he thought dully. Sisters under the skin. So alike. Both giving life to others, purchasing the gift with their own deaths.
"Come pray for her with me at Matins. She would like that."
His eyes are so empty, the sister thought to herself. I defied my Church and put my faith in God alone, but what kind of God would let two people who loved each other so much be torn apart like this?
"I'll be along soon, sister, "he said tonelessly. "I'll just wait with her a while first. She doesn't like being alone, you see. She gets scared if she's alone."
The sister nodded and left the two dead people together; for although one still breathed, he was empty of soul without the other.
He waited with her all that day. The flies were eager to feed and he knew he would have to bury her soon, but he kept putting off that final piece of self-inflicted torture, savouring every second he could kid himself she was still with him.
It was almost like she was still there, in some strange way, as if he could smell a fleeting trace of her scent, see the barest outline of her smile. He hung on to that, knowing it must fade, begging it to stay.
At sundown, he slowly began to accept it was over, but as he stood up and looked at his love, sure it would be for the last time, a strange thought came to mind.
I'd sell my soul to see her again. You hear me? Sell my soul.
He didn't know who might hear that thought or what would happen, but he meant it. So he sat down again and waited.
It was strange. Her eyes were closed but she could still see the light. She thought about opening them but felt too tired and weak to bother. Best just enjoy the light
and warmth for the moment.
Sunshine must have felt like this.
She almost wriggled, nearly smiled, but every bone felt as if it had been smashed by
a blacksmith's hammer and every muscle worked far beyond endurance.
If she'd been alive, she'd have been dead. But being undead, she was still alive,
so to speak.
I'll have to tell Xander that. He'd like that. But where is he? Where am I,
for that matter?
Slayer! I killed the slayer. Saved the slayer – the other slayer, that is.
Saved the sister. Protected the children. Fought for Xander.
I knew I wouldn't survive the fight. Knew the first slayer was too strong for me,
but I willingly stepped into the breach…
Am I dead? Is this death?
Wait. I know death. The kiss of Angelus at the convent. The unholy red haze of extinction in a bath of blood before rebirth as a vampire.
This felt different. For one thing, she was a lot happier this time. Maybe having her soul back helped.
But she wanted to see Xander again. So she would have to open her eyes.
See Xander. Open eyes. See Xander. Open eyes.
She repeated the mantra to herself over and over again, slowly gathering the last ergs of energy from her devastated frame. She didn't know how long it took as she hung suspended like a sunbeam floating in warm milk, but after an aeon or so, her right eyelid cracked open.
Darkness. Pain. Not focusing well. Chest ripped open. Slashed to pieces.
Xander. He'll be so worried if he sees me like this.
There. By my bed. Always there when I wake. He looks so unhappy. Must think
Silly boy. Floppy hair. Eyepatch. Don't know what I'd do without him.
She tried to call to him, could only manage the merest croak. Tried to take his hand, but her own hand would only jerk and flop.
She saw him come to life, though, and felt him move to her side, felt him take her battered hand. Delicious! She managed the merest twitch of her fingers, but she already knew that against all the odds, everything was going to be all right.
It was a week before she could walk. Joseph showed Xander how to bleed the livestock. Drusilla gulped down the steaming offerings with guilty pleasure, and it sometimes seemed to him that he could actually see her poor, battered bones strengthening and the livid scars on her smooth alabaster skin fading away.
He didn't want to think about the way he and Hepzibah had sewn up the great gaping wounds in her chest on the first day as she lay there, eviscerated but alive; or how he had had to straighten the fractured bones of her arms and legs so they would heal cleanly. She had bitten down on a piece of wood while he did so, but her fangs had erupted and completely pulped it.
She'd spat out the splinters along with an epithet and Xander found himself grinning.
"Don't think I ever heard you swear before, Dru."
"My mummy made me eat a lemon raw if I did, love. Cured me good."
"Is the pain any better yet?"
She reached out and stroked his hair.
"Pain is Parsifal to my Grail," she said slowly, every word an effort. "I liked a little torture in my salad days, when I was green in judgement. A whipping from Angelus was like being stroked by sunshine."
Xander grinned again. As usual he couldn't understand her, so all was right with
"There's just no one like you, Dru," he said, feeling sweet relief overwhelming him. He dropped his eyes and stood up to go. He'd probably end up crying outside the hut again all too soon, which wouldn't do his street cred much good.
She looked up at him, and drew him back to her side with her wide blue eyes.
"Stay with me a little longer, love. The tines of my torments turn to rows of red roses when you're here, and I see Red Admirals in the sky."
He sat contentedly by her side, her hand always in his. No more words passed between them, and none were needed.
The first slayer's body did not fade away or turn to magical mist. The flies feasted on her until Xander buried her, and while he filled the grave the sister gave a simple eulogy. Xander noticed she spoke more strongly, as if a light had been rekindled within her. The corpse's eyes would not close, though, and sometimes late at night
he dreamed the slayer was still staring up at him from the pit.
The children played in the clearing where Drusilla had fought the slayer. She smiled when she heard them. Sometimes Samuel brought them to her room. They stood silently by her bed, and the smallest girl would often cradle Drusilla's hand in her own, handling the sore and swollen fingers like the most delicate of flowers.
The other slayer woke on the third day and, using the sister as an interpreter, Xander explained to her who she was.
"Jeupe mpigani," she said when she looked at him him, her eyes focusing clearly and sanity flooding back as the red haze faded away and she saw the face of the white knight who had haunted her dreams in silhouette.
He decided to leave her in the sister's care at the mission until the Council could send out a permanent watcher for her, and when he put her through her paces he was relieved to see she was a natural, a superbly co-ordinated fighter with the speed
of a cheetah.
They worked together for a day, his relief increasing as it became clear there was no trace of lingering psychosis in her mind nor any sign of sadism in her fighting style. She would be well able to defend their little oasis of peace from the madness all around, and he began to think it quite possible the sister herself could become the girl's watcher.
Last of all, he asked her name in halting Swahili. She stared at him curiously, dark eyes clear above broad ebony cheeks. Then she laughed, deep and long.
"Ayira," she said.
Even the sister chuckled.
"What does that mean?" Xander asked her irritably.
"The chosen one."
"That figures," he said, smiling.
On the seventh day Drusilla was strong enough to leave her bed, looking more like an English rose wakening from deep slumber than a demon resurrected from near-death.
Xander had removed her stitches, relieved to see her silken skin had knitted virtually without a blemish. He supported her lovingly as she put her full weight on her feet and gingerly found her balance, wailing in fear for a moment and grabbing for his arms as she teetered unsteadily.
The sister had found an old red and white frock in a forgotten chest of drawers, Hepzibah had washed it, and now Xander slipped it carefully over Drusilla's head and shoulders. The hemline of the old, long-sleeved dress reached right down near to her ankles and the cotton calico seemed to caress her curves like a second skin.
Xander reverently combed the ebony hair which once again flowed glossily over Drusilla's shoulders, ran the black belt from her shredded jumpsuit through the loops above her waist, and secured the transponder on its golden chain round her neck.
Then he stepped back, holding her elbow in case her balance failed.
She looked at him uncertainly. He knew that look. Wise old vampire, merciless killer and courageous saviour she might be; but at heart she was all woman and she needed to know that, even in a fifty-year-old dress, she looked good.
"Well, Dru," he said. "You can kill with a smile. And you hide like a child.
But, as Billy Joel would say, you're always a woman to me."
She absolutely bloomed when she heard that, but that look of uncertainty still lingered. Xander found himself frowning.
"How do you feel, Dru?"
"Like I'm lost and found again, love."
Now she was frowning, and Xander began to get that familiar sliding feeling in his guts which usually warned him that something was very wrong.
His hand tightened on her elbow.
"I feel different."
She curled and uncurled her hands carefully, felt the inside of her mouth.
"My contralto is clear," she said finally, "and I hear the song of the sacraments again, but my strength doesn't feel like the strength of ten any more."
"You were in a pretty big fight, Dru…"
She pouted. "I know, kitten. I remember. I don't feel different from the fight.
I feel different different."
For the umpteenth time, Xander didn't know what she was talking about, and from the look on her face, neither did she. They would have worked it out sooner or later, though, if the sister had not walked through the door at that very moment.
With her she brought the sun, and Drusilla was caught right in its rays.
The sister frantically swung the door shut as Dru and Xander simultaneously yelled at her. Drusilla fell back on the bed, expecting to feel the scorching pain of sunburn.
Then she looked at the exposed skin of her arms, felt her face.
"Didn't you realise…" Xander was starting to say to the sister. Drusilla could feel
his fury, but it was cancelled out by her own awe as she realised that her skin had
"Xander," she said slowly. "It's all right."
"It's not all right! You might have been ended up as a Doublemeat Medley with
The sister bowed her head, stricken, as Xander rushed over to Dru, taking her in his arms as she sat on the edge of the bed, looking perplexed.
She stared at her hands, then she stared at him.
"Alexander…" she said quietly, but with an edge to her voice.
He gulped. She only ever called him Alexander when she was very serious about something or when she really needed a cuddle.
"What is it, love?"
"I'm not all right because I escaped the fire," she said simply. "I'm all right because
I did not burn."
"But you're a vampire," he said stupidly.
"Yes, Alexander. I am."
Xander suddenly felt dizzy. He had seen it happen with his own eyes, but what Drusilla was saying simply could not be true.
He and the sister stood uncertainly before Drusilla, like nervous disciples tending to the needs of a creature unknown.
He realised he was holding his breath.
Impelled by her own curiosity, Drusilla shuffled painfully to the door and put her hand into the light.
Xander saw the pale skin whiten even more under the sun, but it neither blackened nor burst into flame.
He took her hand and let her lean on him.
"But you really didn't burn, which I guess is an upside."
"But it doesn't make any sense," she said, flapping her hands in frustration.
"Even to me."
The sister crossed herself, and Xander looked pensively at Drusilla.
Maybe it's not just white knights who can stand in light of palest gold, he thought. Maybe princesses can, too.
"I think," he said aloud, "we've spent so long fighting demons, researching demons, doing the whole demon thing, that we all kind of forgot about the other fella."
"Who's that, Alexander?" said Dru, mildly peeved because now he was the one confusing her.
"God, you dope."
He saw the pout coming, and he welcomed it like an old friend. It was a truly enormous pout, probably a contender for one of her Top Ten Pouts of All Time,
but she ruined it by dissolving into giggles.
Neither of them noticed the look of quiet joy which crossed the sister's face as she realised the tests had been of worth and she had carried out His wishes. It was left to her to make meaning of the impossible.
"You made your penance and were willing to lay down your life. There is no greater love. I think your Father has given you the place in his house you were once denied."
Dru and Xander sat on the porch and watched the sun go down. Not so strange a thing for a young couple to do, but then again most young couples didn't have to worry about being incinerated by it.
Xander had checked the Land Rover which he and the late Matheson had driven up in from Bunia a century or two ago, it seemed. It was still driveable, so he would use it to take Dru back into town tomorrow. Funny that, casually thinking about doing something with Dru which, only a day or so before, would have meant waiting for darkness and timing their route, or hiding her under that poncho of hers and praying she didn't get sunburnt.
Now the impossible had happened, and he wouldn't have to worry so much about her any more. Right now, all she really needed was a pair of sunglasses. It would be a while before vampire eyes designed to see clearly in darkness adjusted to daylight.
In a perverse way it was almost a pity. He liked worrying about her.
He stretched out on the long bench, sore in every muscle and drained to the depths of his soul but happy, for there was Dru nuzzling against him in that sweet childish way of hers. No doubt just as sore as he was, but miraculously alive.
He felt both born again and humbled. He had seen many magical and terrible things in Sunnydale, but to look upon Drusilla walking in the light was to bear witness to
They had both been on a switchback ride to the brink of hell's gates on a big dipper designed by Lucifer. The memory of sitting by her body as the time ticked slowly by in the heat of that long day, of looking at the eyes and hands and mouth which he thought would never move again. Of being slowly forced to accept he'd lost her.
That was a horror nearly as bad as the battle his princess had put herself through.
Despite the heat, he shivered. Somehow, she had been restored to him. But what if she got hurt again? What if he lost her again, and the next time there was no road home from hell's mouth?
Thank you, God, he thought, for letting me live to say that once again.
"Do you think I'll freckle?"
"No, love. You're a brunette, not a redhead."
She processed the thought in her slow and careful way, and nodded to herself.
"So I am. I forget sometimes."
"I think I'll stay in maintenance. I've buried enough bodies to last a lifetime.
I don't want one of them to be you."
She looked at him dreamily for a while, and he had the pleasant sensation that she was taking a little stroll through his mind.
"No," she said simply.
"What do you mean, no? No to maintenance or no to burying bodies?"
The faintest trace of a pout appeared on her lips.
"You're a Scooby, love. Your fate finds you, not you your fate. If you started fixing windows like Friday's child and stopped saving lives in all your finery, you wouldn't be my Xander any more."
"I just feel like the US Army, Dru," he said, perplexed and a little angry. "Doing harm with good intentions and liberating people to starve in freedom."
Her face was serene as she gazed at him unblinkingly, the river of thought in her eyes smooth as the flow of a mill stream in a picture by Constable.
"The only thing worse than doing something is doing nothing, love. This is our life, for better or worse."
"I thought you wanted me to stay in maintenance!"
"I may not always be right, Alexander, but I'm never wrong."
She never really is, he thought later while she slept in his arms. She's trusting as a newborn child, strong as a silverback gorilla and wise as the old fetisheur I buried.
Add to that the soul of a saint, a mind more at peace, an emerging maturity complete with a wry sense of humour, and what do I have?
The most precious creature in all the world, safe in my arms.
Time I grew up a bit and took better care of her then.
The morning mist blurred the outlines of the far hills and a light wind stirred the savannah grass on the plateau as the small group made their way to the graves.
Gentle words were spoken by the sister, sending the source of the slayers' power back to its long sleep and giving three souls rest.
After the words were said, some of the children began to walk towards the forest.
A lone Mbuti woman appeared at the edge of the tree line and they gathered around her, then they looked back and sang.
Xander felt her shake as he held on to her. Poor old girl, even the walk to the plateau had hurt her, but she'd insisted on coming. He knew she was crying, but it was with happiness.
The words came again, the children clapping their hands and singing in unison, saluting their mother, who had delivered them from evil. Then they all stamped their feet in her honour, just once, before disappearing into the forest.
Xander felt Drusilla collapsing against him, and he held her while the firestorm of emotion passed through her. The child killer had been forgiven by the children,
and though the soul still burned strong beneath her breast, there was no more pain. He was glad she had lived to see this day, and been bequeathed so beautiful
Samuel and a few orphans with no other home followed them back to the mission. There the knight and his princess said their goodbyes, leaving the little prophet standing with the sister and the slayer beneath the old wooden cross, knowing without words that some faith had been restored.
The Land Rover rolled into Bunia later that day. The urgency was gone, so Dru and Xander just drove out to the airport and waited on cracked seats of faded pink plastic in the deserted departure hall for the next flight out. Dru played with his hair while he unhooked the golden transponder from her neck and sent the signal to the Council.
In London, the signal was received in the Council's operations room, and Lydia ran through the new halls of steel and glass to find Giles. It had been less than a week since he'd sent Drusilla out on the night flight, but he seemed to have aged visibly in that time.
Lydia rapped on the door of his ramshackle office, entered to see him staring vacantly into space. He looked hopelessly at her.
"Mr Giles," she said, struggling to control herself. "Dog Easy Fox has responded and they are inbound."
For a second, Giles didn't move, then the slightest of smiles crossed his face.
She saw the strain leave him.
"The transponder has a fix on them in Bunia, and operations think it most likely they will be crossing back into Uganda shortly."
Giles nodded and took a deep breath.
"Contact the British High Commission in Kampala," he told her decisively. "Advise them to meet every plane coming in from the Congo until they make contact with our people, and to give them any help they need."
She felt like kissing him, but restrained herself.
Dru and Xander watched the same beat-up old DC-3 which had brought them both there in the first place land and roll tiredly to a stop. Without any fanfare, they strolled across the runway, and Xander watched admiringly as Drusilla put the pilot
in her thrall and politely asked him to fly them out.
They sat under the wing while the pilot sweated through the refuelling. Xander gave Dru a bottle of blood everyone at the mission had helped to fill that morning, and held her head while she supped.
The sun was setting, his lady was in his arms, and he never wanted the moment to end; but there was a strange, quizzical expression on her face, and he just had to know what was up.
"What's the story, morning glory?"
"I'm scared of you," she said simply.
Curiosity gave way to disbelief.
"Scared of me? Dru, what've I done? What could I have done?"
She patted his hand.
"Not you, silly. I love you. I'm scared of all of you. I'm scared of humans."
She gestured vaguely at the town and the jungle.
"You, all of you, have souls. But you do this. All the dead, all the children, they cry out to me, and I don't understand why. What is the worth of a soul if those who have it do such things, and why does no one care?"
I have no answer for her, he thought. Dear God, there is no answer.
"You see the beauty which we cannot, yet you do this. We're not the monsters."
She looked at him blankly. It was a look he never forgot.
"I said so, didn't I? That night at the church."
"You were right."
They sat together quietly for a moment, her hands clasped in his. She thought
of the dead child she'd seen in the street, half her chest shot away and the
"I'm still a monster," she said. "But what I did, it's just a drop in the ocean.
An ocean of blood."
He couldn't see the jungle as well as she could. The sun had just about set. But he could imagine them out there. The sister, the slayer and Samuel, contemplating the light of a candle at Compline.
The dark was like an ocean, and it could swallow the best of men. But there were always outposts of light, never quite extinguished.
"Dru," he said thoughtfully. "Did I ever tell you you're my princess?"
She shook her head mutely, and he watched her eyes grow wider and wider as she waited for his next words. Just as she had that night in the alley in San Fernando, when he decided whether she lived or died.
"You are my princess, always and forever. I'm the fool, and I just don't know what I'd do without you."
He saw the last of the pain leave her, felt her relax finally and completely. Then he took her in his arms and carried her to the waiting plane.
Why are they coming in during the day? Giles asked himself again and again as he stood fretting in the arrivals section of Heathrow's Terminal 4. Has Xander lost his mind as well as Dru?
No, that was unfair. Xander wouldn't endanger Dru as long as he had a single strand of sanity in his head, and humour was a sign of sanity. The boy – no, the young man – had never lacked a sense of humour. Drusilla wasn't mad, either. That was even more unfair. Traumatised, fragile and away with the fairies half the time she might be, but not mad. Not anymore.
She could tie his stomach in knots with worry just as effectively as Buffy had, though. Perhaps Buffy had given her some secret formula with which to wind up the poor
If so, it was working very well.
But it just didn't make sense. Dru was a vampire, and yet Xander had cheerfully told the British consular official they had met in Kampala that arriving in London at
half-past-six in the morning was "no problem, man."
Stranger still, the sweating official had insisted, during a heated conversation with the watcher after the flight to Heathrow had left, that the quiet young lady hadn't batted an eyelid at the prospect of turning up in London just in time to say good morning,
not to the starshine, but to the sunshine.
It didn't add up. So there he was, one very worried watcher waiting in the arrivals hall of Terminal 4, expecting to see Drusilla clear customs and promptly explode.
Great, just great…
Some bloody pop song was playing in the background, too, while he ground his teeth. It wasn't bad, actually. A maudlin melody, quietly sung . Something or other about a mad world.
That summed it all up perfectly. A watcher worried out of his mind about a vampire's welfare, waiting for her to show up in broad daylight. Mad.
Then he saw them. Xander was walking firmly away from customs with Dru on his arm, supporting her as she leaned heavily on him. She was wearing a vintage red and white frock from the fifties. He thought it was called a shirtwaister, but the pleasing period look was shattered by the incongruous pair of wraparound sunglasses covering her eyes. She seemed both old and young, like a well-preserved widow hanging on gamely to her bronzed young toy boy in his ripped jeans and black T-shirt.
The odd couple. Standing out from the crowd like sore thumbs and walking straight up to him. Right into the morning sun.
He saw the light wash over Drusilla and waited, frozen, for her to combust.
But nothing happened.
He blinked, half-aware his jaw had literally dropped while his brain tried to comprehend the impossible. Drusilla the vampire. Standing in sunlight as calm
as she pleased.
He really had seen it all now.
She squinted at him, and an amused smile played on her lips.
"Hey, Rupert," said Xander with careful nonchalance. "I think you ought to know some really interesting stuff has happened."
"I see that, Xander. I don't think saying 'good lord' really covers it. Would you care to elaborate?"
"I say we all need a sit-down and a strong pot of tea to truly tell our tale," Drusilla said quietly.
"AB negative for you first, though, love," said Xander. "You were looking a bit too longingly at that stewardesses' neck on the plane."
"They're supposed to provide for all the passengers' needs," she pouted. "One little nip wouldn't have done any harm…"
"Perhaps if we go to the car before you two start another war?" said the watcher.
They stopped smiling when he mentioned the word war, and an awkward silence fell. Then Xander forced himself to grin.
"We've seen enough fighting for a lifetime, Rupert. Let's go home."
None of them looked at the papers that morning, or they would have read about the U.S. president discussing Iraq and declaring "we will do whatever is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror" while a journalist from the Los Angeles Times asked why George W. Bush (just back from his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa) had not included the Congo on his itinerary, commenting that "a president who was willing to send 200,000 U.S. troops to Iraq because of Hussein's mass graves might want to check out firsthand the 20 mass graves recently unearthed in Congo, freshly filled with close to 1,000 victims of genocidal massacres."
Giles sat with the couple as the driver took them back to Great Russell Street. He saw Dru carefully remove her sunglasses and snuggle wearily into a pensive Xander's arms. Whatever ordeal they had been through, it had left both of them with a strange serenity, like an old married couple who'd been through both world wars and the Blitz. Dru was quieter and less nervous, Xander visibly more mature, but their eyes were much older. Like the eyes of young soldiers just after their first action, fresh from seeing their mates die on the wire.
He noticed Xander's right hand shook every now and then. He pondered the horror of it all, and pitied all the young boys still to be sent into battle. Dru started to hum softly as she lay in her knight's embrace. It was the same maudlin melody he'd heard at the airport, and it summed everything up perfectly. A mad world, and the madness never stopped.
Giles handed Xander the keys to their flat when they got back to Great Russell Street, and before he turned to help Dru up the stairs, they shared a look.
"Good to see you back, Alexander."
"Good to be back, Rupert."
Then he helped Dru to their door. Burnished black, it was a solid old Victorian portal with an oval of stained glass which seemed to welcome the return of its Victorian tenant. She rested her cheek against it for a moment, no breath misting the glass.
"I'm really home again, aren't I, Xander?"
"Home from the hill, my love."
He carried her to their bed, brought her some blood and stayed with her while she slept. He dozed himself from time to time, but nothing could move him from her side. She was his old lady, but also his little girl.
There was still a niggling doubt about her in the back of his mind, though. She did seem different. It wasn't just the sudden, incredible immunity to the sun's rays. Every vampire, no matter how old and ratty, had a presence. A sense of sheer physical power allied to a deadly grace. She's a bit like a tigress in heat when she fights, he mused. Deeply dangerous but beautiful as a ballerina.
But Dru's presence was no longer so noticeable. If anything, she seemed more and more human. Almost ordinary. Was she even the same girl he'd fallen in love with?
Drusilla's head began to toss and turn on the pillow, and he heard a whine begin to build up in the back of her throat as she dreamed. He took her hand, bracing himself for the familiar pain when her fingers clamped down on his bones, and was more than surprised to feel no more than passing discomfort.
There wasn't the same strength in the fingers. She was different. Different different, like she had said.
Now I'm worried about you all over again, love, he thought, and I don't like it
Her eyes opened and she stared at him, scared but curious. Then she carefully placed her left forearm against his like a trainee arm wrestler.
"I don't like it either," she said. "Me but not me. Push against me."
He took her hand, slowly bringing the full power of his arm to bear. He had worked in construction for a couple of years and knew he was pretty strong.
But Dru really did have the strength of ten, and his male ego had had to accept that in a straight fight with his sweet, gentle girlfriend, he stood about as much chance as Mother Theresa against Mike Tyson.
But this time, although it took a mighty effort, he was able to shift her arm. He saw her frown as she realised that for the first time in her life a mere human had the upper hand. She wasn't pleased, but she was also frightened.
"Xander, what's wrong?"
"I don't know, Dru. You're still strong. Very strong. Just not as strong."
"I'm scared, Xander."
"It's okay, love. I'll call Giles. He knows a specialist."
But the look on his face belied his comforting words, and as she heard him talking on the phone all the old fears came back. Her strength had been a shield. Despite the fact it was a manifestation of the evil within her, she'd always rather liked her power.
It was a form of protection, and now it was being stripped away from her.
She sat up in bed and looked at her hand, the weapon which no longer functioned. Now she really knew what it felt like to be human, unable to protect herself from vampires, and she wasn't scared. No, not at all. She was terrified.
The waiting room was painted Georgian green, the high-backed chairs were a dark mahogany, a dirty skylight reluctantly let a trickle of pale yellow sun inside, and the receptionist looked like Mary Poppins thirty hard years down the road – all hard edges with disappointment etched into every line on her face.
Xander and Dru sat there alone. The depressing room was in Harley Street, and the doctor they were about to see was kept on retainer by the Council. He possessed some knowledge of demonic physiology, but Giles had had to admit there was nobody who was expert on the subject.
So if Dru were fading away, Xander would probably have to sit powerlessly by and watch her die. The prospect of losing her again was slow torture to contemplate, so the room's awful décor matched his mood perfectly. Dru felt no better. She knew she wasn't really alive, but undeath was better than death, and she didn't want to say goodbye so quickly to a world she'd only just rejoined, so she hugged her pelisse tightly and sat hunched over like a sad, crumpled flower.
The deadly tableau was suddenly shattered when the doctor poked his head out of the office. A crown of flaming red hair sat atop eyes of ice blue and a broad-shouldered body built to toss cabers. Dru had a sudden vision of the doctor doing just that while wearing a kilt and little else, and found herself smiling.
"Mr Harris! Miss Keeble! I'm Dr Duthie! Please come in!"
"You're a breath of fresh air," said Xander as they seated themselves in front of
"Yes," he said. "I'm a contrast to Miss Martin out there. She tends to suck the oxygen out of a room and the marrow from people's bones. I keep her on because she scares away all the time-wasters."
"I could do that," said Dru brightly, still thinking about cabers. "Or at least I could once, but now I'm all broken."
"Well, let's see about that," said the doctor, gesturing her to lie down on his examination couch, " and I must say I'm very grateful to have the chance to examine a real vampire."
"You've never dealt with one before?"
"Not a co-operative one, no… The last time I had to look at a vampire, he was locked in a cage and pacified with a cattle prod."
Wicked thoughts about the doctor pacifying her with his caber danced at the edges of her mind, but Dru saw Xander's face darkening and had enough presence of mind to suggest he wait outside.
The examination took a long time, with stress tests, treadmills and a few painfully pleasant encounters with needles; and when he was done Dr Duthie asked them to come back for the results in a week. The doctor kept his voice carefully neutral, but she could tell he wasn't concealing bad news and felt her worries fade just a little.
They found Giles waiting back at the flat, and Xander was about to joke that he was wearing a hole in the carpet with his pacing when he felt Dru grab his arm as her balance went.
"Long day," she said. "Too long a day for the lady in lavender."
She did seem even whiter than usual, and both men helped her to the sofa.
She smiled sweetly at them from her seat.
"My lovely boys," she said. "I did miss you so."
Giles shook his head.
"I should never have sent you out," he said. "Either of you."
"We chose to go, Rupert," said Xander simply. "That's us. The few, the proud,
"Followers of Buffy's tradition, for sure…"
Drusilla could see the two males preparing to butt heads, so she intervened.
"Time for that strong pot of tea, gentlemen, so our tale can truly be told."
It took a while. Dru and Xander talked of the story of Cain and Abel and Lilith.
Of the Great Rift Valley, the Old Ones and the first vampires. Of Samuel, the sister and the mission station; and of the lost soul who fought to the death and beyond death, to save the children and the man she loved.
By the end, Giles looked humbled and Xander felt haggard. Going over the details of Drusilla's miraculous recovery after the fight was rubbing at emotions still painfully raw, but it had to be done.
Giles ran a hand through his hair as he tried to come to terms with the tale he'd heard.
"Who would have thought it," he said after a while. "A journey right back to the dawn of Man and the age of Lilith in the heart of Africa. Confession, contrition, absolution and penance. Your willingness, Drusilla, to lay down your life to defend Xander, the sister and the children at the mission. Greater love hath no man,
as Samuel says in the Bible. The most terrible battle of your life, ironically against
a reincarnation of the first slayer. Virtual death and resurrection. I'm not a particularly religious man, but it's as if you were put in the perfect place to achieve redemption, so long as your soul was pure."
Xander raised his hand.
"We cursed Dru with a soul, though. What if, after all this, she loses it the next time
I give her a…"
"Xander!" Dru spluttered, too weak to get up and swat him, but almost managing
Giles leaned back on the sofa, suddenly feeling tremendously relaxed.
"I may be wrong, Xander, but we sometimes tend to think that magic is all verse and rhyme. Drusilla, you fought for your life and put yourself through the most terrible trial to protect all that you held dear, including your soul. Just like Spike also did in Africa. I doubt any force would dare take it from you now."
"Are we talking happy endings, Rupert?"
The watcher cleaned his glasses reflectively and allowed himself the solace of hope for a moment, but then he looked at Drusilla, still pale and weak.
"I hope so," he said, "but I don't know so."
A week later, Mr Harris and Miss Keeble once again sat before a cheerful Dr Duthie. Drusilla felt quite hopeful. Her strength was no greater, but her step was firmer and her stamina improving.
All may be well, she thought, unless I am the light bulb shining bright before it
The doctor opened his report, and Drusilla felt her heart flip over in her chest. For a moment, she wondered if it was going to start again, but no, it was only fear.
"In essence," he began, "and if we look upon vampirism as a form of disease,
it appears, Miss Keeble, that you have reduced your disease significantly and
limited its symptoms dramatically.
"Your extraordinary strength, senses and reflexes – all of which derive from vampirism – are approximately half what they were. Your allergy to sunlight has been massively reduced, from immediate danger of incineration to mild discomfort under European levels of ultraviolet radiation, rising to significant pain if you went walkabout in the African sun at noon. However, it is unlikely the sun can now kill you, although I'd recommend common sense precautions on sunny days, like suntan lotion with a high UVA/UVB rating, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Not that
we have many of them in Britain."
"You're telling me," said Xander, and Dru swatted him playfully.
"However," Dr Duthie continued, "you are still solely dependent on blood for nutrition, still host to a demon whose visage and fangs you can summon at will,
still able to recover from injuries that would kill a mortal, and still able to hunt
and feed from humans."
"I'll do that no more," Drusilla said in horror, thinking of Bunia.
"A vampire is a hybrid of human and demon, but it appears your ordeal in the Congo has permanently altered the balance of power between demon and human in your body. Where once the demon was dominant, it now seems that, partly as a result
of your newly reacquired soul and partly because of your battle with the slayer,
your human side is now dominant. This new demon/human composition looks
to be stable and permanent; and I think you'll be pleased to hear, your bloodlust
is now much weaker and more easily controlled."
Thank God for that, thought Xander. No more nibbling in bed.
"So now I'm sugar and spice and all things nice," said Drusilla thoughtfully,
"but how did my terrible trial make me a good girl again?"
Dr Duthie pursed his lips as he tried to make sense of metaphysical values which just weren't to be found in any medical textbook.
"In my opinion, fighting at your top speed and pushing yourself up to and beyond your physical limits over an extended period, a period of several hours…"
Drusilla thought again of the blood-red nightmare of punching and pain, and shook.
"Pushing yourself like this," the doctor continued, "effectively exorcised much of the demon from you. As you have explained, vampires seldom maintain their top speed for long as they would burn themselves out."
"There's no road back from burnout, though," said Drusilla in wonder.
"You should have died?" said Xander.
"Thanks, Xander," she glared.
"I didn't mean…"
"What are you going to ask him next? What I got wrong?"
"Please, Mr and Mrs Harris…" said the doctor, flustered.
What? Dru and Xander thought simultaneously. They looked at each other nervously as Dr Duthie went on.
"You're both right. There is no recovery. You should have died. Based on the various studies of vampire physiology I consulted, there was no way, as Mr Harris put it, that you could have got out of there alive."
"Please forgive my husband," Dru said wickedly, "he's only human."
Not sure what to make of a vampire and a human having a domestic tiff, the doctor sat back and folded his arms.
"Since I got involved with the Council, though, and particularly since the day I had to autopsy an eight-foot-tall Yach demon, I have truly learnt that there are more things in heaven, hell and on earth than those of which we know.
"I believe Mr Giles was right, Mrs Harris…"
"It's Miss Keeble, actually."
"Sorry. Miss Keeble. As I was saying, Mr Giles was right. You also have a lot to thank that sister for. She broke Church law by helping you, but it surely seems she upheld God's law. You made a complete confession to her, showed heartfelt contrition, received absolution which took away sin, and raised up, you went out on the field against that creature in an act of penance, knowing full well it would cost you your life."
The doctor paused briefly.
"I've seen a lot in my time, Miss Keeble," he said, "but that's the bravest bloody thing I've ever heard of in my life. You expiated every sin you could, and I think someone was listening."
There was nothing more to be said, so the doctor shook their hands and saw them out.
They walked down the street, Dru wincing in the late afternoon sunlight. Xander noticed she seemed even more distracted than usual. She was swaying, head down, one hand plucking at her skirt.
She looked like a child's toy, he thought, a spinning top winding down with nowhere to go.
He loved her, and he just didn't know what to do.
Then he saw the coffee shop on the corner.
She swayed and spun. People eddied past her, hurrying and disapproving, reminding her she was from London, but not part of it.
"Dru, I said I'd stand you a cup of coffee when it was all over."
She came to a stop, looking as vulnerable as he'd ever seen her. He took her by the arm and led her into the shop. It wasn't a Starbucks, but it would do. Pine chairs and tables filled the floorspace, framed posters from old Humphrey Bogart films adorned cream-coloured walls, a squashy sofa sat beneath an overhead fan which clicked gently as it revolved, and a curly haired Greek proprietor sat dozing behind the polished plastic counter.
The door shut behind them with a satisfying click, and they found a couple of tall seats by the window, well placed to watch the tides of people walking by.
Dru sat downcast. He bought them both mugs of coffee, and she silently warmed her hands on hers as she had done in Los Angeles.
Xander waited for her to say something. It had been a kaleidoscopic few months, from the Fall of Sunnydale to the house on Candlewood Drive, Dru's own arrival in the San Fernando Valley, the way they'd fallen in love, then the parting of the ways
to London, Cleveland and Rome. Great Russell Street, the Council and the Congo…
It sure had been a hectic time, but in all the frenzy of adventure and change there was one thing they'd forgotten.
"We've graduated," he said, meeting Dru's eyes. "We were kids. All parts of a tale in a small California town we'll never see again, but now we've scattered across the earth like swallows and the big bad world, well, it's tougher than any Hellmouth could ever be."
Dru nodded, looking about ten years old.
"You're right to be scared of humans," he said to her. "After what we saw in the Congo, I'm as scared as you are, but you're also the bravest…"
"Oh, stop it!" she said suddenly. "I'm not brave! Dr Duthie telling me how heroic
I was just reminded me how afraid I am. I didn't used to be. I didn't know what day or year it was, and I didn't care. I was away in my own little world talking to my dollies. I was a silly child for a hundred years and now, now…"
He saw her hands beginning to flap and knew she was going to reach her climax and come out with it at any second.
"Now I've got to be a bloody grown-up, just like you!" she exploded.
He looked at her calmly as she wound down, and took a long sip of coffee.
"We're all a bunch of scared children, Dru. It just takes a lot of maturity to admit it, so I guess you really have grown up. And, silly child or not, all I want to do is stay with you."
"I don't deserve you…" she started to say, flapping.
"Shut up, Dru," he said, gently and kindly. "Yes, you do."
Her face broke into the widest smile he'd ever seen and she buried her head in his chest. Her hand found his and they sat there together all that evening, not really noticing the overhead fan clicking and not really seeing the endless flocks of strangers passing them by, away in their own little world and worrying no more about what was to come.
It seemed that the storm had passed and the calm would endure. Demons did still plot in hell dimensions, men still fought in the Congo and Iraq, and slayers still steeped their conflicts in secrecy. But another storm was gathering, and Great Russell Street lay unknowingly in its eye.
A high-tech metal and glass interior rose up within the Georgian shell of the Council's headquarters. Dru saw it evolve day by day when she brought Xander his lunch at work. They sat beneath the open sky while she told him all her tales. He remembered those times, years later, as the happiest of his life.
Drusilla herself had been firmly accepted by the Council staff. Still weak from her ordeal, she had stumbled and fallen on the way into work one morning and the gatekeeper had helped her to her feet. She had thanked him, and he had inclined
his head respectfully, a small gesture which said much.
Like the house on Candlewood Drive, her flat became a home, alive with the smell
of baking and the sounds of laughter, linked to her adopted family in Cleveland and Rome by email, and letting her find her roots in a London which felt more familiar every day.
Giles stepped into his new role as leader of a more enlightened Council as easily as he slipped into his old tweed jackets, while Dru told Lydia her stories in the library, sometimes talking for hours over cups of tea, biscuits and blood.
Drusilla's mind continued to clear. Visions no longer came to her so often, which was why she did not see one large raven separate itself from its brothers clustering on the battlements of the Tower of London and take wing over the city, gaining altitude until it found the ferocious wind currents high in the sky and floating west across the Atlantic upon them.
At much the same time, as seers the world over began to sense the long-awaited Apocalypse was at hand, the outriders of the storm reached the black door of the flat on Great Russell Street.
She had just got a pot of coffee and muffins ready for Xander, who was coming out of the shower, and she had found a nice Victorian drama on one of those Sky channels when the entry buzzer went off. It jarred her mood more than she expected, and she felt a twinge of unease.
Moments later, Giles was in the flat, looking flustered. Dru and Xander waited as the watcher straightened his jacket and composed himself.
They both cocked their eyebrows at him simultaneously.
"Spike's alive," he said without preamble.
This time, Dru and Xander's jaws both dropped in sync.
Much later, after Giles had related the story of Spike's return and Xander now lay asleep beside her in bed, Drusilla remained awake. She could sense the fragile walls of her peaceful life tumbling around her, she realised Spike's return was a prelude to the Apocalypse, and she knew something of the Shanshu prophecies.
What she did not understand was why she had not foreseen any of it.
Perhaps, she thought, perhaps I am no longer part of it. Perhaps I am redeemed. The half-vampire free to walk in the light. Neither a threat nor of any use. A pawn fit only to be removed from the board.
But in her heart of hearts, she knew that was not true, and as she listened to the comforting whisper of Xander's breath, she knew she would soon be parted
1st August 2009-17th February 2010
With acknowledgement to the works of Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Kathryn Hulme, Norman Mailer, Wilbur Smith, and excerpts from the Los Angeles Times.