She places the hank of blonde hair on a chipped plate, covering the painted red strawberries. Once this was someone's best china; Drusilla rescued it from a dusty corner, cleaned it as best she could, and saved it. Now she slides the plate and the hair out into the stripe of sunlight that crosses the grubby floor. The painted berries glow brilliant red, brighter than blood. A fearful color. And then a flash of flame spontaneously erupts from the hair, an even brighter red.
As the hair burns, she closes her eyes and breaths in the smoke. Soon she begins to hear voices, not the comforting voices of familiar darkness, but harsh crow caws, the uninhibited sounds of sunlight.
...yes, you can...leave it alone...you just might...a century...honey, that's...a grandma and a grandpa...sent down...well played, sir, well played!...invite Janet...in the ear...I should...pure silk...
Voices, chattering and clattering like women at a garden party, men at a racetrack, people in the street as the sunlight pours down. Endless voices, but the ones she's listening for are silent.
The night they arrived in London, while Darla was eating the carter and Spike was carting in the baggage - he'd lost to Darla at cards again - Drusilla crept away when no one was looking, down the creaking stairs to the cellar. Darkness pounced, engulfing her in its comforting purity. She heard the rats squeaking and hissing, their dry claws clicking on dry stone.
She lay down flat on her back, her arms and legs spread in invitation, her smile sweeter than the gentle cold that rose from the floor. Darkness seeped in through her wide open eyes, through the pores of her skin, curling like smoke, drifting like raindrops.
"I brought you something," she whispered. "I need your help."
The Beast with Teeth growled, somewhere neither near nor far away. A rat ran across her bare arm, claws like crooked pins prickling her skin. Quick as thought, she snatched it up. She could feel its fluttering heartbeat against the sensitive pads of her fingers. She squeezed.
Blood splattered on her dress, over her stomach.
"For you," she whispered, setting the dead rat atop the blood. Her voice was as flimsy as tissue paper.
The Beast growled again, closer.
She draped a single blonde hair across the rat's neck. "Eat," she said.
The Beast with Teeth appeared in front of her, teeth gleaming and snapping. Drusilla sighed in satisfaction. "Eat her dreams. Don't let her-"
The door above opened; gaslight spilled across the stairs, effortlessly piercing dark's soft velvet curtain. Dru whimpered curled around the Beast, hiding it from the light. Sharp teeth dug into her belly.
"Thought you might be down there. Come upstairs, pet, Darla's brought dinner."
The Beast with Teeth was inside her now.
"Don't know what's bothering you, but you need to eat."
"Eat her dreams," Drusilla said.
"That's right, pet."
"I need you," she says. Her voice is rough; the smoke is still thick in her lungs. "I know you're there. You can't hide from me, I'm the one who saved you and kept you and held you tight."
...the '92...thinks he can grow...moved to...scarlet...
She reaches into the sunlight. Pain will draw them. They know pain.
...getting married...pretty...badger...the depths of your...we want...give us...more...sunlight...scintillating...not enough...more...we want...you want...we won't let you...you're so selfish, Dru
She screams; the voices shatter like glass.
He comes running like he always does. "Shh, there's nothing there, pet. Shh."
The little girl had a big yellow bow in her hair, a tremble on the tip of lips, and Darla's smooth white hand gripping her shoulder, keeping her from running. When Drusilla appeared, dainty and delicate and covered in blood, she squeaked like a mouse in a trap.
Darla's lips curved into a mocking smile. "Rat? I hope you haven't been drinking that."
Drusilla swayed gently, her hand cradling her belly. "I have something inside of me, but it's not blood."
Darla let that one go. "It will be. Now that we're all here, the party can begin." She turned her smile on the little girl, kneeling down in front of her. The girl shrank back against the faded Victorian wallpaper. Darla said something else, but Drusilla was listening to the sound of a tinkling piano in the next flat over.
"Kiss her," the Beast with Teeth said, in a sibilant voice that only she could hear.
Darla pinched the girl's cheeks cruelly to make the blood rise. "There, that's better, isn't it?" She rose, graceful as a swan, and patted Spike on the arm. "It's my party, and-"
Drusilla drifted forward and the air parted in front of her like lace curtains. One chord from the distant piano reverberated, the same chord drawn out like time itself was drawn out as she placed her lips over Darla's. The Beast with Teeth bit down, and Drusilla tasted blood.
Darla slapped Drusilla so hard she slammed into the massive dining room table and moved it a foot. The yellow-ribboned girl followed, a rag doll in the air, her breath coming in shocked gulps and gasps as she fetched up against Drusilla's bloodstained skirt.
"And this has been a long time coming," Darla said grimly, twisting a curl back into place and crossing to the china closet, flinging the door open to reveal a man and a woman squished in together like bread dough being kneaded.
The little girl's breath was so fast and shallow she was going to faint. That was no fun. Drusilla forced the little girl to look at her, forced her breathe.
"So let's celebrate!" Darla smiled boldly. "You've got yours, Dru, a wide-eyed innocent-"
"She has no dreams," the Beast with Teeth whispered. "I cannot eat what doesn't exist. You must find someone else to help you."
"-he's a real fighter snatched off his soapbox in Speaker's Corner. Make sure you ask him to recite before you eat him, he's quite good. And for me-"
"Let me guess. Tall, dumb, and dapper," Spike said, eying the hulk of a man. "Just like you like them."
"Poor grandmother," Drusilla said. "Why are you leaving if you have no dreams?"
He holds her, soothes her, tells her lies.
"Just voices, love. They can't hurt you."
...scintillating...we want...never too late...vibrant air...close and safe and we want...safe...hold tightly...not enough...never let go...
She can feel the dessicated air on her skin. She can hear the drone of the bees and the birds singing in the garden.
"They can hurt me, but I won't let them. I'll never let them."
"That's right, pet. You'll show them."
"I give them everything they could want. Friends and enemies, men and women and children to play with in the garden. I give them flowers and streets and rivers and they're never satisfied. They always want more."
"No, they're not, not at all. They're upset with me for keeping them inside. Spike, look inside me...can you see them? They're brighter than the sun. I'm irradiated with them."
"No love, all I see is darkness. You've got enough shadows to drown in."
"You always spoil my little surprises," Darla said, seriously displeased.
"Leaving? We just bloody got here," Spike grumbled, pulling his lanky, disoriented dinner out of the cupboard.
Darla raised both eyebrows high, flags signaling that disappointment and disapproval were in residence. "Just got here and already I'm-"
"Mmm. Just look at her. Delectable." The Beast with Teeth shook its head and spittle flew. Snapping and snorting, it bit free of Drusilla and burrowed into her little girl instead. "This one has dreams," it growled. "Big dreams that will never ever come true. She reminds me of-"
The little girl whimpered.
"No, no, no! She's mine!" Drusilla shouted, pulling the little girl to her breast. She growled and gnashed her pointy teeth until the Beast slunk away. "Mine," Drusilla repeated.
Darla and Spike were looking at her. "Poor dear Drusilla," Darla said. "I give you half a year at most-"
"Don't worry about Dru, she's got me," Spike said belligerently.
"Sorry, grandmother," Drusilla said. She watched Darla like Darla was one of the stars in the sky, eternal, unchanging and worthy. Finally Darla sighed and started talking again.
Drusilla leaned forward until her lips touched the little girl's ear and whispered softly, "You're mine." She dug her fingernails into the girls arm until the girl whimpered again. "Mine. All your dreams and all your memories..."
"-which is why I'm leaving, and you're not," Darla concluded. "It's a wonder I stayed with the pair of you as long as I did," she added. She sank her teeth into her meal.
"I'll drink to that," Spike said, his face shifting. "We don't need you." His own meal didn't even struggle.
The iron tang of blood filled the air, but Drusilla needed more. Capturing the little girl's eyes, she stole what she needed. Memories of daylight, dreams of a future. She stole thoughts and hopes and fears and greedy passions, tucking them away. Gifts. For them.
When there was nothing left, when the deepest darkness inside of Drusilla uncurled and swallowed all the daylight memories, when even the starlight failed and the fragrant roses smelled like blood and pulsing volcanic heat filled her with desire, she knew that she was a beast too. She hid her darkness behind a smile, and her smile behind a mask of blood.
She stares into the dwindling fire, the thread of smoke on a plate of charred strawberries. Her voice is thread of sound, descending into the depths. "O my very dearest ones, my most beloved ones, I will always love you. Why don't you love me as I love you? Why don't you understand?"
The air vibrates against her skin. It's almost an answer.
"Shh," Drusilla says, putting a finger to his lips. "Don't leave me. Don't leave me, Spike, I'm going to ask her for a favor."
"The Girl Who Dwells in Sunlight. And her sister, the Girl Who Laughs."
Drusilla set aside her yellow-ribboned meal and sidled up to Spike. She licked a drop of blood off the corner of his lips, distracting him. "Make her stay, Spike," she breathed in his ear. "Make her stay. Don't let her leave us. We're a family, and family never leaves."
Spike pushed away his meal and pulled her into an embrace. "Is that the way you want it, love? Shall we keep her as a pet?"
"Yes, Spike, yes."
"If you want it, it's sodding done, princess."
United, they turned toward Darla, yellow-eyed and snarling. She's ready for them in an instant, smooth and elegant and poised even with a beast looking out of her eyes.
"Don't go, grandmother."
"Don't go, great-grandmother," Spike said, mocking and menacing.
Darla threw back her head and laughed. "You think you can take me? Children, you've got a lot to learn."
They took a step forward in tandem, but on the next step Spike stumbled, and the next he fell.
"Spike!" Drusilla said, tugging him up. The next step, she fell on top of him.
"Two can play this game of anticipation," Darla said complacently. "I drugged your meals. And just for fun, the police will be coming in a couple of hours, in search of a missing little girl. But I'm sure you'll be able to deal with that, won't you?"
She drained her dapper meal while Spike and Drusilla struggled. Drusilla could hear, she could feel, she could taste anger on her tongue, but her movements were jerky and unbalanced. Beneath her, Spike lay completely unmoving, just a dead body.
After Darla had carted all her baggage back out to the cart, she tripped daintily back into the dining room and knelt down beside them, a half smile on her face.
"If you're smart, you can survive. If you're not, you don't deserve to."
Drusilla jerked into motion, her arm swinging up to hit Darla on the side of her head. She closed her hand into a fist, and when Darla's punch sent her spinning back, she pulled out a chunk of Darla's hair. Darla didn't notice.
"It's my little challenge for you. Call it a going away present," she said. "A little something to remember me by."
She left without looking back.
The Girl Who Dwells in Sunlight has neat blonde curls and a steady gaze that sees everything. She keeps a sketchbook with her at all times. Anyone would swear that the people she draws are alive, and might leap off the page at any second. The Girl Who Dwells in Sunlight knows more secrets than Drusilla knows, and she never tells Drusilla any of them. Her dress is red; the blood dripping from her throat barely shows against it.
The Girl Who Laughs wears a dress the color of the sky; it shows the blood stains clearly, and also the grass stains from enthusiastic picnicking, and the wine stains from drinking too deep. The Girl Who Laughs has merry blue eyes and smooth brown hair. Her cheeks are red like roses. Long ago, she was in love with a brown-eyed boy, or so she said, but it might have been a green-eyed boy or a blue-eyed boy. She flirted with them all. Drusilla thinks she was in love with love. When she wrinkles her nose and giggles like the world is ending, Drusilla thinks she still is.
Drusilla takes good care of them both. She feeds them memories of days and skies and boys and gardens, innocent memories from innocents she's killed. She sings them songs and holds their hands and keeps them safe and innocent. Forever.
They're very ungrateful. They never say thank you.
They fell down the stairs and into the welcoming darkness of the cellar.
"We'll be safe here," Drusilla said. The darkness whispered promises.
"No, we won't," Spike grumbled. While Drusilla let the darkness caress all her aches, Spike scrabbled in the dirt until his fingers bled, laboriously digging a hole big enough for two dead bodies. He slipped and scrambled and bellowed his frustration with his unresponsive body, but he never gave up. When the hole was deep enough, he covered Dru with a thin layer of dirt, and then lay down beside her and covered himself.
The chill froze her in place. She knew the peace of the dead, lying in the darkness, her stillness as graceful as a dancer's. But fever took Spike, and he lay in savage seething silence while the police clomped all over the house. When they finally left, he sprung from the grave and stumbled and fell and leapt up again. He pulled her up too.
"They'll be back," Spike said. "We've got to go."
"She's gone, Dru."
"No, she's not."
"I won't let her go," Drusilla says. She's left the grubby room behind. Now she's in a garden, sitting in the shade of a tall leafy tree, breathing smoky air. The Girl Who Dwells in Sunlight sits beside her, listening with a solemn face. The Girl Who Laughs sits on her other side, bouncing impatiently.
"No one ever leaves me. I'm the earth and you're the air, you can't get away. I've got a hold on you. And I love you and hold you and keep you safe forever."
"You're so selfish, Dru. You only think about yourself. What about what we want?"
"What do you want?" Her voice cracks with impatience. In all the world, only they can make Drusilla so frustrated.
"We want..." The Girl Who Dwells in Sunlight hesitates, contemplating a vast sea of desires.
"We want more," The Girl Who Laughs bursts out. "Dru, dear, you know what we want."
"I've given you everything. Can't you help me?"
"We want the sun." The two girls speak with one voice. "Only the sun can keep us safe and make us happy."
Drusilla hesitates, then lifts up her hands in surrender. "I'll give you the sun, harsh and ugly and bright." She pauses, regains her serenity. "Because I love you."
He dragged her from one dusty room to another, each abandoned house an empty desolation. Only a colorful button or a chipped plate in a corner said that these places had once been inhabited by people who lived and laughed in the sunlight. Sometimes there were ghosts, lingering with their heads in their hands, but they were gray ghosts with no bright memories she could steal.
"They've got our trail, but we're gonna have the last laugh," Spike said. They ate policemen every meal, and still more policemen came.
Then one night they escaped, down the river and across the channel in a little fishing boat. As the sky brightened from black to silvery gray, they rushed across a rocky beach to an abandoned hut. They'd sheltered here before. It was full of cracks and crevices, full of light and full of shadows, but it was safe enough.
As sunlight crept in through the cracks in the walls, Spike pulled a blanket over him and fell asleep.
Drusilla had two things in her pockets. She had a coil of blonde hair, pulled from Darla's head in that last unfair fight, and a small plate with red strawberries painted on it, scavenged from one of the many abandoned houses. The strawberries gleamed like cherished memories.
She placed the hank of blonde hair on the chipped plate, covering the painted red strawberries, and slid the plate and the hair out into the stripe of sunlight that crossed the grubby floor.
Sunlight. Intense, coruscating, desiccating, deadly. An acrimonious neighbor, arid and keen-edged. Drusilla remembers day in all its horrific glory; the painstakingly collected memories scorch her. Darkness withers. Drusilla wilts. She squints and shivers and hides her face.
The Girl Who Dwells in Sunlight and The Girl Who Laughs hug her. "The light keeps us safe," they tell her. "We love you," they tell her. "Don't worry, we'll take care of you."
Then they walk into the blinding sunlight and disappear. There's so much light Drusilla can see red through her eyelids. She waits patiently, watching the red dazzles dance in her eyelids.
She trusts them to return. They promised, and after all, they are her sisters. Sisters might squabble, but in the end, they always take care of each other.
Suddenly, without warning, they grab her hands, one on either side, and pull her to her feet. When she opens her eyes, the sun has set. Gentle twilight gray illuminates Darla standing in front of her. The smell of smoke has vanished.
"I don't understand. Where am I?" Darla says.
"You're here with me, grandmother," Drusilla says. "Just where you ought to be. You're safe."
"What nonsense, Dru, I've never been safe," Darla says. "Who wants safety when they can have-"
"I don't care what you want," Drusilla interrupts, ever so gently. "I'm a princess. I'm a princess and I always get what I want."
"No one can stop me and no one ever leaves me, not for good. I've got you now, and someday... but it doesn't matter so long as I've got you. Forever. You're mine. You're all mine." She squeezes her sisters' hands. Lucretia and Paulina...and Mother and Uncle Titus. Angelus, who thought he could take her family. Angelus who thought he could leave her. And finally Darla. All her family, all safe. Nothing can hurt them. Nothing can pull them from her and leave her alone and afraid.
She opens her eyes wider, until she can see Spike too. "I'm never afraid," she tells him. "No one ever leaves me for good."