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Just William

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May, 1881

‘William!’

Bother. Will dropped the fire-tongs and the polishing rag and grabbed for a clean cloth to wipe at least the worst of the grime from his fingers, looking around frantically for his jacket. He absolutely must make a good impression this evening.

‘William!’

Give him a minute, damn it! What was Angelus even doing up so early? He threw the cloth back in his cleaning-box and scrambled to his feet. Where was his sodding jacket? He always kept it by him for just this reason but there was no sign of it.

‘Boy!’

He ran for the door, reaching the hall just as Angelus’s foot landed on the bottom step of the staircase. Now concentrate, he told himself. For Dru’s sake you’ve got to get this right. Will thrust his hands behind his back to hide them and tried to look attentively polite and not fidget as Angelus ran a sneering eye over him.

‘Good afternoon, sir.’

Angelus snapped his glance up from a disgusted contemplation of Will’s boots. ‘What have you done?’

‘Me sir? Nothing, sir.’

Angelus glared at him suspiciously. ‘What does that mean? That you have neglected all your duties?’

‘No sir! I’ve done everything. That is I haven’t quite finished yet because…’ How could things be going so badly already? ‘You’re up early, sir, that’s all.’

‘Ah, so I’ve surprised you lounging around thinking you could shirk for another hour at least?’

No, sir! I only meant I haven’t had time to finish yet, sir. But I am going to get it all finished. Um, that is…’

Angelus shook his head slowly, as if deciding that Will generally was a very nasty little mistake. ‘Do I need to thrash you now to remind you of your manners?’

‘Er, no sir.’

‘Then see that you do mind them.’

‘Yes sir.’ Oh Will minded them, it was everybody else who didn’t seem to take any notice. He’d been good as gold for four days now and Angelus just seemed to be getting crosser. ‘Shall I get you a cup of coffee, sir?’

‘No you will not. Stop trying to get away.’

‘I—’ Will took in Angelus’s look and swallowed down his protests. He tried to look as like a meek and obedient fledgling as he could imagine.

‘Whatever you are playing at, you will stop it this instant. I do not want anything interfering with tonight. Is that clear?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Have you grasped what is required of you?’

‘Y…Yes sir.’ Did he mean something special was happening tonight?

‘What do you do when asked to find a cab?’

‘Er…’ Will frantically cast his mind back over the last few nights. There had been nothing special about any of the hunting meetings. Just plans for the usual dreary routine of scouring the slums and backstreets. ‘I fetch one, sir?’

‘A growler, boy. You fetch a growler. Not a hansom.’

‘A growler, sir. Yes sir.’

‘Do you have the exact time?’

‘Um… I don’t have a watch, sir,’ he muttered. He hadn’t had one for months, not since Angelus had confiscated his old one for the crime of checking it when bored out of his mind one freezing cold night. And Angelus was perfectly aware of the fact.

Angelus gave him a long slow blink. ‘And what were you planning to do, count?’ And then he reached into his inside pocket and produced a slim silver watch on a plain chain.

Will stared at it in utter astonishment, holding his hand out slowly, almost expecting Angelus to snatch the watch away from him at the last moment. It settled in his palm, a cool, solid weight, the chain slithering down between his fingers as Angelus released it.

‘Thank you, sir.’

Perhaps Angelus had noticed? Perhaps Will’s efforts to be good really were paying off at last. He took a deep breath. ‘Sir, may I ask you something?’

‘I thought you were clear about tonight?’

‘Oh, I am, it was about… about Dru, sir.’

‘Are you or are you not clear about tonight?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘What do you do if you are uncertain?’

‘Catch your eye, sir, or Darla’s eye if you aren’t there.’ That had been drummed into him quite thoroughly a few weeks ago and he wasn’t going to forget it in a hurry.

‘Good. And if you get separated?’

‘Come straight home, sir.’ And nor was he going to forget the consequences of breaking that rule any time soon.

Something flickered behind Angelus’s eyes. ‘Good. Dress-suit – go and change.’

‘But, about Dru, sir—’

‘I assume she isn’t having a screaming fit.’

‘No sir.’

‘Is she about to faint with a prophecy that we must abandon everything to follow?’

‘No sir.’

‘Has she brought home fifteen aldermen and the Archbishop of Canterbury without permission?’

‘No sir, but—’

‘Then whatever it is can wait.’ Angelus growled. ‘Dress suit – now.’

‘Yes sir.’ So much for being good.

Will slipped past Angelus quickly before any fists came too close, and headed up the stairs and out of range.

Why his dress-suit? Where were they going that needed swallow-tails? Angelus himself was immaculate in his best dress-suit and silver patterned waistcoat, but then that was nothing remarkable. Angelus would look smart after a week of sleeping in a haystack. Whereas Will, apparently, couldn’t look smart if he had the best clothes and the best valet in England.

He loped along the corridor, casting a longing look at Dru’s bedroom door, which was firmly shut.

There was hardly any water left in his room but he managed to get his hands a pale greyish colour that would pass for clean if he kept them behind his back. He shrugged on his suit carefully, trying not to crease it, frowning with concentration as he tweaked the cuffs so just the right amount was showing below his sleeves. He wondered where they were going and if Dru was coming too. And Darla. He didn’t want Her Majesty there but if she came then Angelus would escort her and he would get to escort Dru, and that would be the makings of a fine evening. Far better than being left at home to polish the fire-irons.

There was a little sound from the door, something between a sigh and a giggle, and he looked up and felt the almost physical thump inside his chest that dead or not must surely be his heart.

‘Dru.’

She was still in her night-gown. Soft white cotton that made her look square and shapeless as a child, except that he could see the dark crease of her legs where she rubbed her white hand down.

‘Have you done it, Will? Have you asked him?’ her eyes sparkled with eagerness.

He dropped his eyes, concentrating on his cuff links. ‘Not yet, love. Not just yet.’ There was silence and he risked a glance. ‘Oh sweetheart, I’m sorry. Don’t pout, please don’t pout!’

‘You said you would ask him today.’

‘And I will! Only I’ve got to pick my moment, see. Get him just when the time is right.’

‘Will,’ she whined, and he knew she was manipulating him but it just made the tug at his heart all the stronger that she had such faith that he could do it if he tried. ‘It’s for my birthday…’

He took her hand quickly. ‘I know, love. I know how important it is. That’s why I’m going to be sure to get it right. And look, it’s working already – I’ve been good for days now, preparing the ground, and he has noticed – see.’ And he held the watch up for her to see.

She frowned. ‘That’s just a pocket-watch. Not even as nice as Daddy’s. That is not you having permission for my party, it is just a nasty, cheap, glittery geegaw.’

‘Yes, but it’s a sign isn’t it – shows he’s pleased with me. He wouldn’t give me a watch again, else, would he?’

She gave an exasperated sigh and knocked his hand holding the watch down and away from her. ‘William, that is just so you can tell the time.’

‘No it’s not, it’s…’ A nagging doubt stood up and demanded his full attention. ‘Dru, there’s nothing special about tonight, is there? He didn’t say anything particular about the hunting or anything, did he? Something about the time or something?’

She rolled her eyes and turned away from him, flopping down on the bed on her tummy, bare feet kicking in the air. ‘You are supposed to pay attention at hunting meetings, boy,’ she growled in the low voice she used when she was pretending to be Angelus.

‘I was paying attention. You were there – you know I was. I’m being good, remember. I only got distracted a little bit when you did that thing with your neck.’

She giggled and tilted her head coquettishly.

‘Stop it. And that can’t have been more than a minute or two and he was only droning on about the fishmonger in Princes Street then, I know he was.’

‘Boy!’ The bellow from downstairs did not sound content.

‘Bother. Do I look all right?’

She smiled and nodded, shaping the air with her fingers. ‘You’re all glowing, my Will.’

‘Glowing with bloody hard work, most likely. Aren’t you going to get dressed? He’ll be yelling at you when he’s done with me if you aren’t quick.’ He hesitated. ‘You are coming tonight, aren’t you?’

Dru patted her night-gown contentedly. ‘I am dressed.’

‘Er, not sure he’ll pass your choice of costume, love.’

‘Boy!’

‘Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll stall him downstairs so you’ve got time to change. But hurry! It’s no good if I get permission and then you get yourself in so much trouble that you’re the one being kept in.’

‘I, William, am never in trouble,’ she said serenely.

And wasn’t that the bloody truth. He fixed his watch chain as he yanked the door open and ran back for the stairs, jerking to a halt as he nearly bumped into Darla on the landing. She was in a pale grey evening gown, her hair done up into elaborate curls, her maid hurrying behind her carrying a cloak. Since Angelus was presumably close and might be watching, he stepped politely out of her way.

Darla stopped and ran a disapproving eye over him. ‘Angelus!’

Angelus appeared in the hall, frowning up at them.

‘Sort him out, Angelus, but be quick, we don’t have much time.’

Silly cow.

Angelus gave a grim nod and crooked a finger at Will.

Here it came – the usual bloody humiliation. Darla was letting her maid arrange the folds of cloak so Will slunk down the stairs ahead of her, bracing himself.

Angelus began by clipping his ear, a sharp sting that sent a ringing right through his head.

‘What was that for?’ Will reached up to rub but his wrist was seized and wrenched out of the way, and then Angelus took a firm grip on his ear and using it as a handle to twist Will’s head to the side he began to scrape a comb through his hair. Will tried to stand still.

‘I suppose it was too much to expect you put on a clean collar but did it not even occur to you to wash?’

‘I did wash, sir.’

Angelus growled and tugged sharply at a knot. ‘Stand still.’

‘Something a little less like a street urchin, please, Angelus,’ Darla called.

Angelus raked four savage sweeps through Will’s hair then put the comb away. ‘Show me your hands.’

Will brought them out slowly.

Angelus took one look, and Will’s scruff was seized and he found himself being bent over the hall table. The wood slamming against his chest as he was forced down. His coat tails slapping against his back as they were flipped up out of the way. Angelus was reaching for the pocket where he kept the strap. Will squeezed his eyes shut.

‘I didn’t have time, sir! You said I had to hurry, you said—’

‘Don’t beat him, Angelus.’

Will twisted slightly to stare at her in astonishment.

Darla descended the stairs as if the eyes of all society were on her. ‘We will be late. Leave it until we get back.’

Angelus sighed but yanked Will back upright and Will’s stomach quieted. There was a good chance Angelus would have forgotten by the end of the night.

‘Where are the tickets?’ Darla asked.

‘On the table.’

Tickets – so that explained the fuss. They weren’t hunting, they were accompanying Darla somewhere. And God help anyone who showed Darla up in public. While Angelus fussed over Will’s coat, smoothing the cloth across his shoulders and playing around with his tie, Will craned to see the tickets. Covent Garden. Oh bloody hell, it was the ballet.

He must have made a face or moved too much because Angelus growled again. ‘Look at me. Now you are to behave.’ One hand landed flat across his backside in a stinging smack that made him hop up on his toes. ‘Behave. Do exactly as you’re told, remember you have humans all around you who will notice if you act out of place, don’t speak unless you are spoken to, and don’t dare even think of clowning around. Otherwise when you get home I will give you such a tanning that you won’t sit comfortably for a fortnight. Clear?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Good. Will he do, Darla?’

‘He will have to do.’

Will looked up the stairs. There was no sign of Dru and a horrible certainty was growing on him that she wasn’t coming at all.

‘Go and fetch a cab, boy,’ Darla said.

‘Yes. Madam.’ He cast one last look at the stairs.

‘A hansom,’ Angelus said casually, and then snorted when Will frowned. ‘Well go and find one.’ He thrust Will’s top hat at him.

‘A hansom, sir? Just the one? But you said…’

‘Yes, boy, a hansom, one hansom – two wheels, one horse, one driver. Move, Darla hasn’t got all night.’

‘Yes sir.’

The evening was chilly, with the damp coldness of early summer, enough light still that it felt like day but a pretty miserable one. The sky was a uniform grey that could turn to a mizzle or might clear up later, there was no means of telling. Will firmly stopped himself from thinking about when he had last felt the sun. A dull evening meant they could go out so a dull evening was a good thing.

A very dull evening if he was going to the ballet. He wondered again if Dru was coming. Why on earth had Angelus made all that fuss about his fetching a growler when asked if he now wanted a hansom. It made no sense at all because even if Dru was being left behind the three of them couldn’t fit into a hansom.

Oh God, no, please let it not be that he had to escort Darla by himself. He groaned and kicked angrily at a lamp post as he passed it.

A man leading a horse glanced at Will as he walked by but otherwise there was nobody much about. Several cabs at the rank round the corner though, and Will dithered, completely undecided as to if he should take a hansom or one of the bigger four wheeled growlers.

But Angelus had specifically said a growler at first and he must have had some reason.

Finally he beckoned out the smartest looking growler and perched awkwardly on the musty cushions as they drove at a smart clip and then slowed to pass through the narrow entrance to the road. Cabs for Darla had to be taken right to the door, but this one would be facing the wrong way now. He’d better get the man to find somewhere to turn, then go and tell Angelus and Darla it was waiting.

The cab drew up and Will hopped out and instructed the driver about where he could turn round, then climbed the five steps to the door and rang the bell since he didn’t have a latch-key. They left him waiting and he could hear the cab rumbling on the cobbles as it awkwardly manoeuvred round, further up the narrow street. The door was opened at last and he had a sight of Angelus’s back, walking away.

‘Do you have the correct time?’ Angelus said as he passed Darla. He was frowning over his watch, checking it against the hall clock.

‘Yes.’ Darla was fussing over her gloves.

Will quickly got his watch out. ‘It’s ten past, sir.’

Angelus’s eyes flicked at him, then away. And Will scowled, feeling stupid but he wasn’t sure what he’d just done wrong.

Darla fastened the last button on her glove with a sneer. ‘When are you leaving?’ she said to Angelus.

‘When I’m ready.’

So that was it – he wasn’t coming with them and Will was going to be stuck at the ballet with Darla by himself.

Darla was making a small huffing noise, and finally snapped her fingers at Will. ‘Well, boy?’

‘The cab’s here. Madam. Um, I couldn’t find a hansom, I had to bring a growler.’ He peered anxiously after Angelus, watching for his reaction.

Darla merely made a sighing sound and pushed past Will. Will stared at Angelus’s back, wondering where he was going, and if he was taking Dru. Angelus bent over a vase of flowers on a stand.

‘Good night, sir.’

Angelus grunted, snapping the best flower off. Will skipped back in and took the flower from his hand, Angelus yielding it with a slight tilt of his head and a passive gaze. Will reached up to thread the buttonhole through the little silver holder clipped to Angelus’s lapel. A tightly furled white rosebud, a shimmer of water on one petal sparkling as it caught the light.

‘Have a good evening, sir.’

Angelus met his eye for a second, and abruptly kissed his forehead. ‘And you make sure Darla has a good one too.’

‘Yes sir.’

‘And, little one…’

‘Sir?’

‘William!’ Darla snapped from the door, and he ran down the steps to hand her up into the cab. When he looked back, the front door had closed.


Will squashed himself into the corner of the cab, giving Darla as much room as possible. He felt tense and tried to force himself to relax. He’d been sent to escort Darla half a dozen times now, and it wasn’t as if she made the evenings unpleasant. Yes, he nearly always got walloped afterwards, for some fault or other, but a walloping was hardly anything unusual. He could earn a hiding simply by sneezing at the wrong moment if Angelus was in a bad mood. Best to just enjoy the evening for itself and leave worrying about the aftermath until afterwards.

The cab turned up a side-street, swaying so he jostled Darla’s elbow slightly as she rummaged through her reticule. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered as she exclaimed in annoyance. She didn’t seem to hear, pushing through the things in her bag, her lips pursed. Then with a tut she thrust the reticule from her.

‘Stop the cab.’ She reached up and banged on the roof. ‘Stop, driver!’

Oh don’t say she’d forgotten the tickets after all. She was always doing that.

‘I don’t have my scent-bottle,’ she said, glancing about her.

‘Oh.’

‘You will have to run back and fetch it, boy. It will take too long to turn the cab around twice, you can be there and back in the time. Had you fetched a hansom as asked this would not have been an issue, of course.’

Will turned so she couldn’t see him rolling his eyes, and started to get out. ‘Where is it?’

‘I’m not sure. On my dressing-table. Amelia will know – the blue one with the silver chasing.’

He nodded, he’d seen her use it before. ‘What if Amelia’s gone out?’ An absolute certainty – Amelia had only been with them a month but Will knew her habits well enough to be sure she would have scarpered out of the back door the second Darla had left the house by the front.

‘Then you will have to find it yourself.’

‘I don’t have a key.’

Darla tutted again and fished in her bag, finally handing him the latch-key. ‘Now run. We don’t have all night.’

It was good to run. He’d left his hat in the cab so he could go unhampered, feeling the cobbles pound by under his sturdy boots, the wind rush at his face. He felt fast and strong, as a vampire should.

The house was dark already, so he bounded up the steps and let himself in.

‘Halloo? Sir?’ No answer. ‘Dru?’ Silence. Everyone gone out then. He took the stairs three at a time and banged back the master-bedroom door with a satisfying crash of the sort he wasn’t normally allowed to make.

Scent-bottle? He ran his eye over the clutter of brushes, pots of creams and pins on her dressing-table. The little scent-bottle wasn’t there. He pulled open the top drawer. A tangle of gloves and scarves poked out. He stirred them about. There was a rustle of paper and he caught sight of the corner of a letter. He hesitated, then reminded himself he was an evil, soulless creature without a conscious and picked it up carefully.

‘Oh my beloved Darla, greetings…’

Will’s eyes widened – who was addressing Darla as ‘beloved’? It certainly wasn’t Angelus’s hand, which he knew quite well. The letters were spiky, hard to read, not at all like any handwriting he’d seen before.

‘If you care to come to my summer c…’ Cottage? Court. ‘I shaff…’ Shall?

He put it down in frustration, then peered at the signature which was in bigger, firmer lettering. ‘Your Master and his.’

That was just bizarre. Did it mean Angelus’s master – Angelus didn’t have a master. Angelus was the master. A master vampire. Just as Will was going to be one day.

He rubbed absent-mindedly at his ear where Angelus was always cuffing him, and stuffed the letter back in the drawer. He still hadn’t found the scent-bottle and he wondered what to do. Maybe he should just go – it wasn’t as if Darla really needed her scent to enjoy the ballet. He gave a last cursory glance over the table, pushed things back roughly as he had found them and shut the door behind him carefully.

‘Dru?’ He pushed her door open. ‘Love? You still here?’ Her room was peaceful and empty, a decapitated doll tucked under the covers of the bed. He went over and felt under the pillow, pulling out her nightgown. He held it to his nose and breathed in deeply, closing his eyes to the warm, rich scent of her. Then he spread it out across the bed and spoke to it solemnly.

‘I’m going to do it tonight. I’m going to make sure Darla has a splendid evening and then when he comes home and he’s well fed and pleased I shall ask him if we can have a party for your birthday.’ He squared his shoulders. ‘And he’s going to say yes.’

He fingered the satisfying weight of the watch against his ribs. Angelus was going to say yes.

He drifted over to her dressing-table, much neater than Darla’s, the combs and pins laid out in exact straight lines, a dead spider carefully positioned in the middle. He studied the pattern, pretending he was looking for the scent-bottle, which Dru might have taken and hidden.

Then on an impulse he pulled open the dressing-table drawer and took out the sheaf of papers he had secreted there. He sorted through them until he found the one he wanted, and grinned.

The sketch wasn’t very good, his drawings always seemed rather simple compared to Angelus’s, the lines too black however lightly he pressed the pencil, and the faces not clearly enough shown, but he reckoned this was one of his best. Dru, sitting beside the fire one evening, combing her long hair, and Angelus leaning forward a little in his chair to watch her. In the corner he’d just shown the tip of Darla’s shoe, to show that she was deliberately excluded from the scene. He took out a pencil and with great care wrote underneath: My mistress, and his. He set the paper carefully underneath the spider where she would find it as soon as she came in.

He’d better go. He sighed and headed down the stairs, letting himself out and running again, going as fast as he could to make up for the lost time. He skidded round the corner, slipping slightly and banging his shoulder against the wall. He swore under his breath and slowed, rubbing his shoulder. There was a sooty streak on the cloth now, shiny grey against the black, and Angelus would not be pleased about that. He was going to have to get it sponged off before Angelus saw, and since he could never do things like that by himself without making a worse mess, it would mean asking one of the minions for help. He huffed with annoyance at himself. He hated having to ask the minions for things – he never knew how to get on with them. Harold, the new head minion, had only been with them a few weeks but already he seemed to consider Will some sort of idiot, only to be spoken to in firm, clear tones and given the simplest most menial tasks. While Amelia always made out everything Will said or asked was a huge imposition. And Lucius… he wasn’t going to ask Lucius for anything.

Will stopped in confusion. Shouldn’t he have reached the cab by now? With a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach he looked up the street – there was no cab. He looked behind him, although he couldn’t possibly have passed it without seeing.

Bloody hell.

Bloody, buggering hell.

He must have been so slow she’d gone on without him. Angelus was going to skin him alive for this.

He flapped for a moment, turning back the way he had come and then quickly turning again. He ran on, looking down the side-turnings in case she had asked the cab to pull in and wait for him, then he ran on to the junction with the main road and looked both ways. It was useless, there was no sign.

He pushed his hair out of his eyes and realised he didn’t even have his hat, which was going to attract attention in a second. One of the many things he was never supposed to do. Bloody hell with knobs on and three doses of ginger.

He was not allowed out on his own without specific permission. That was Angelus’s firmest rule. And after several thrashings, and two full floggings, and a lot of tears and yelling, and an hour of patient explanations culminating in a caning that he could still feel the edge of when he sat on a hard surface, Will accepted that there was some sense to it. He was after all only just over a year old, and London was full of things that would kill a fledgling in a few seconds of blood and dust, or worse. Angelus knew about those things and could decide what was, and was not, safe. Which was why Will was never to leave the house without permission and if he found himself separated whilst hunting he was to use the half-crown he was supposed to keep with him at all times and take the first cab straight home. That was the rule.

He felt carefully in his waistcoat pocket and was relieved to discover he actually did have the half-crown. Not that he needed a cab to get home, it was only a couple of streets and almost quicker to get to the house than the nearest cab rank.

God, he was going to be in so much trouble for leaving Darla to go on alone.

He thought of Dru’s face when she had asked him if he could arrange a birthday party for her, and he fidgeted, looking up the street. He had his half-crown, and he knew where she was going, and surely it was just as safe to take a cab to Covent Garden and find Darla as to go home and wait? Safer, maybe, since he would be with her rather than home alone. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have permission to be out, he’d been specifically sent out in fact. And it really wasn’t proper for a lady to be at the ballet unescorted. Besides, she’d probably leave his hat in the cab and Angelus would kill him if he lost another hat so soon.

He walked briskly in the direction of Covent Garden, trying to look as normal as possible, and hailed the first hansom that came past.

‘Where to, sir?’

‘The opera house, and quickly please.’

‘Very good, sir.’

It was good to be called ‘sir’ and feel responsible and an adult. He grinned and settled back as the horse trotted off smartly, kicking up its heels as the driver flicked his whip.


The crowd was packed around the steps of the opera house, surging and jostling to get inside. He craned every way, and even stood up on the base of a pillar to get a bit of height, getting more hopeful as the crowd began to thin, people streaming towards their seats, but he couldn’t catch sight of Darla. This was going to be harder than he’d thought – he had no idea what tickets she had. He thought for a moment. The last time they’d all gone to the ballet they’d been in a box on the grand circle, so maybe those were the tickets Angelus always obtained. It was a starting point at least so he made his way up the stairs and attached himself to a large party, slipping past the attendant on the far side of the door and keeping his head down until he was in the inner corridor. He went first to the box they’d had before, but a lady and gentlemen were just going in, she smiling as she raised her skirts slightly to reveal a flash of ankle, he scowling and looking the other way. They were clearly going to have a cordial evening.

‘May I help you, sir?’ It was an attendant, standing with her head politely tilted with the thin, hungry air of a women who survived on tips.

‘Er, yes, stupid thing – I’ve forgotten which box my friend is in.’

‘Of course, sir, it can happen. What name, please?’

‘Er, Aurelius. Or – maybe Smith. Er, that is, I’m not sure who booked the tickets, um…’

The attendant looked at him assessingly, and a note of firmness slipped into her voice. ‘I see, sir. And how many in the party?’

‘Just the one. And me. Two of us. But she’s alone right now so I need to find her quickly, see.’

‘I see, sir. And the name could be “Aurelius” or “Smith”?’

All along the corridor, as the audience settled for the performance, the doors of boxes were being closed with little thumps.

‘Yes,’ Will said, and his voice didn’t sound nearly as firm as it should have done.

‘“Mrs Aurelius” or “Miss Smith”?’

‘Er, “Mrs”.’ Probably, but you could never tell with Darla.

‘I see. If you will just wait here, sir.’ The attendant walked up to another, older woman and they put their heads together, whispering. The older woman shot a sharp glance at Will. Will stood up a little straighter and tried to look entirely bona-fide. Which he was, come to think of it – they had perfectly good tickets, he just had to find Darla to prove it.

The older woman came over. ‘I’m afraid there are no unaccompanied ladies in the boxes on this level, sir.’ She seemed to be looking at the mark on his coat sleeve, and at his hands. Will looked at the grime still engrained in black rings around his fingernails and wished he’d remembered a pair of gloves.

‘Are you sure you’re in the right… theatre?’ the woman said. Her tone was brusque, dismissive, and as she spoke she raised a finger to a man in braided uniform who started to come over.

‘Yes I’m sure,’ Will said angrily. ‘I saw the tickets earlier this evening. She has to be here.’

‘A grand circle box at the Theatre Royal, you are quite certain, are you? For this evening?’

Yes!’

‘I’m afraid there are no unaccompanied ladies in the boxes tonight, so you must be mistaken. Henry, if you would show this man to the street door.’

‘No, wait! Are there any empty boxes? Maybe she hasn’t arrived yet?’

‘I’m afraid not. Henry?’

Henry laid a heavy hand on Will’s sleeve. ‘This way, my lad. Don’t make a fuss, now.’

I could rip your throat out, Will thought. I’ve been taught how to spike your eyes on skewers and tug them out whilst you are still conscious enough to scream.

But he’d also been taught not to attract attention in public so he shrugged Henry off angrily and stalked to the door. Behind him he could hear the muffled squeaks of the orchestra starting up.

Bloody buggering hell. Why could nothing be simple?

Henry hovered until Will was out on the street and then lost interest, turning to chat to the doorman. Will slouched away for ten yards or so and secreted himself round the corner.

If she wasn’t in a grand circle box then she must be in the stalls, and he was going to have no luck at all asking for someone in the stalls by an uncertain name. He needed to see – somewhere quiet with a good sight-line of the audience so he could scan them properly and find Darla. It would be slow but not impossible, and with luck he’d only have missed the first act or so which might still be considered forgivable.

Right then. He headed off round the outside of the opera house, looking at doors and considering the possibilities of the roof. It was rather a steep climb though and after a while he concentrated on ground level. He hung around the stage door for a bit, but he was dressed too smartly to slip inside by pretending to be a workman, and he didn’t have the money for a bribe, and before long the doorman began to give him funny looks. Finally he found what he needed around a quite corner – a small window, left propped open by a stick, about ten yards up the wall where everyone must think it was safe. A well flung stone at the nearest street lamp produced a satisfying crash of glass and the light snuffed out, giving him the privacy he needed. He carefully took off his jacket, folded it as neatly as possible and tucked it out of sight in the corner, then spat on his hands and wedged himself in the corner and began to climb.

It was slow. As he inched up cautiously, muscles braced to hold himself without slipping, carefully working his hands up behind him and then his feet, he pondered that when he was a master vampire like Angelus he would be able to jump for a window like this in one bound. Mind you, when he was a master vampire like Angelus he wouldn’t be prating around going to the ballet on a fine night when the pubs were still open. He would— He slipped down six inches, skinning his palm painfully until he jammed a boot against half an inch of lintel and clung on for dear life.

Ow.

He got moving again and at last made a grab for the window frame and hung for a second before squirming up and over. He was looking at some sort of store-room, thankfully empty, and it was the work of a moment to wriggle over the sill and drop to the floor. So, he wasn’t doing too badly. He crept to the door and listened carefully, then snuck out into the corridor beyond.

He was somewhere back-stage, in a dusty world of ropes and rough deal wood, where people hurried past looking businesslike and the scraping of the orchestra seemed a distant whine. Now where could he get a good view of the audience? A flock of dancers scurried past, flicking glances at him like taunting mayflies. One of them leant over and whispered something in her companion’s ear and then they both laughed, a raucous, high pitched sound, twirling away from him like coquettes. Will abandoned any notion of trying to hover in the wings pretending to be a legitimate member of the opera house staff.

He needed height. Angelus always insisted on height for observing prey. Weren’t there… things… in the roofs of theatres? Places where ropes and maybe lights hung from? His notions were hazy, based on memories of the cardboard theatre he had played with as a lad, but surely there must be some means of hanging the curtains? A pole that an agile young vampire could work his way out along and get a glimpse of the audience?

It sounded possible so he headed down the corridor to explore.

The place was a warren. Corridors, odd shaped rooms with no apparent purpose, sudden gusts of light and sound and the stench of sweat and greasepaint and far too many people crammed into a small space that made him back away quickly. But after what felt like hours he at last he found a place with ladders and coiled cables, and working his way up and through a small trap-door he found himself looking down at the stage.

It was better than he had hoped for – a wide gantry, high up, with a man further along, half hanging over the edge and too busy doing something with what looked like a giant star on a chain to glance back at Will. Will slipped along and crouched down, looking out. Below a low swag of blue curtain and above the glaring white bursts of the lime-lights, he could see a thin strip of the audience. Maybe five rows of men in tight dress-suits, and ladies waving their fans, all looking glaze-eyed as they stared at a pink clad swirl of muslin that spun and wafted on the stage.

Well, it wasn’t much of a view but it was better than nothing. Will began to work systematically over the people he could see, checking for Darla. He had a moment of excitement when he spotted a woman in grey, but then she moved her fan to reveal a much thinner, patrician face. She bowed her head to the side, leaning up against the gentleman accompanying her. The man nodded and glanced up, seeming to stare straight at the gantry. Will froze.

It was Angelus.

For ten horrifying bars of music, Angelus seemed to stare right at him, and then the stage-hand dangling the star drew it up and Angelus’s eyes fell back to the stage. Will very slowly released his hand where he had been gripping the wood of the gantry. A shuffling step came towards him and he stood up stiffly, meeting the puzzled eye of the stage-hand. Will didn’t stay to be accosted, turning and running. If anyone down below heard the sound he didn’t care. He got down the ladders, along a couple of corridors and into the store room, slamming the door shut and leaning against it, his breath coming in huge, unstoppable gasps, surging up as if he was drowning, and then he doubled over and threw up, a bitter, sticky dark pool.

He stayed bent over for a while, then straightened slowly and spat to clear his mouth.

He hadn’t been seen. He was in deep, dire trouble, but so far he hadn’t been seen. And he needed to get home very, very quickly.

God, how could he have been such a fool – the tickets had never been for Darla. There must have been another pair for wherever he and Darla were supposed to be going. Some other theatre or ball or event that could be anywhere in the whole of London. Of course it was Angelus who was going to the ballet – he would never pass up the chance. The ballet bored Darla rigid but Angelus had a passion for dancers that he never bothered to hide. He’d made Dru dance for him enough times, and Darla had spoken darkly once of Angelus’s ‘little Degas obsession’ which apparently was something to do with a prima-ballerina.

And Will was going to be skinned alive if he didn’t get home before anyone found out he was missing.

He propped a chair against the wall and got back up to the window, pushing through, feeling the grind of the stone sill against his sore hand. It was awkward to wriggle out and at one point there was an ominous tearing sound from under his arm. He gritted his teeth and tried not to think about it. It would be all right – nothing that a quick stitch wouldn’t put right. He could hide the shirt until Dru came home and she could be persuaded to do it for him.

He dropped to the ground, jarring every bone in his body as he landed. He stood up slowly, shaking himself to cast off the ache.

Everything was going to be all right.

There was a filthy wet stain on one corner of his jacket, where something had dribbled onto it. He looked dully up and saw a pipe sticking out from the building a few yards up that he hadn’t noticed before. Well wasn’t that just bloody typical. He kicked angrily at the wall as he shrugged the jacket back on. Then he stopped himself, standing with head hanging, breathing hard.

You are not going to be scared, he told himself. You can sort this out – nothing has happened that can’t be explained with a little quick thinking and… He swallowed down on another rush of bile and miserably started back along the street.

He needed a cab. But he’d spent almost all his half-crown on the first one. So first he needed some money and then he needed a cab. Where on earth was he going to get money from without attracting attention?

He took a deep breath and wracked his brains. He was in Covent Garden, there were plenty of people about who would be carrying enough money to pay for his cab fare and ten new dress-suits as well. Actually that wasn’t a bad idea – being able to hand over the money to pay for a replacement would take most of the wind from Angelus’s sails if he couldn’t get it cleaned up and mended properly. He grinned. Everything really would be all right.

On the other hand, he had a grubby, creased jacket, rather less than perfect cuffs and collar, and no hat. So… everyone would think he had been on a spree. That was perfectly possible at this time of night and nobody would think it remarkable. He looked about carefully and then tried staggering a bit. He weaved slightly from side to side, and hiccupped, rolling his head. Too Champagne Charlie. He tried weaving deliberately less, frowning with concentration, blinking as if the world were a little fuzzy, as if he’d been at Angelus’s brandy and needed to hide the fact he was feeling tipsy. He wished he could check his performance in a mirror but somehow it felt right. He smirked to himself and looked about him, then headed for the largest public bar he knew, steeled himself and pushed open the door.


A wave of noise and heat and light hit him. People jostled past, the air was thick with beer and wines and the stench of crowded, happy, slightly drunk humanity. He pushed his way in, scanning the crowd for a likely mark. Everyone seemed to be in large groups or at least with a couple of friends. Will slipped over to a quiet corner and waited. A vampire, hunting a crowded room for his prey.

It took a long, long while, during which he rejected several likely seeming men, each of them seeming a little too sober, or a little too sensible, or a little too poor. But then he spotted him. A horse-faced young man, well dressed but dishevelled, leaning up against the bar and staring into space with bleary, unfocused eyes. Will scanned him from the diamond pin in his tie to the tips of his perfectly polished boots. He seemed content to smile into space, sometimes blinking sleepily, and everyone around him was taking not the slightest bit of notice.

Will threaded his way over and put his elbows unsteadily on the bar, next to the man. He banged the surface with a slap of his hand. ‘Brandy!’

The barman flicked a glance at him and pointedly turned his back.

Will burped with indignation. ‘Hoi! You there? Brandy.’ He turned confidentially to the man beside him. ‘Can’t get any service. Place has gone to the dogs.’

The man looked startled at being addressed; he smiled uncertainly then let his gaze wander away.

Will ran his eye over the man, looking for a bulging pocket that might show where he kept his cash. ‘What you drinking?’ he asked at last.

More puzzlement and the man’s lips moved some time ahead of the actual word. ‘Cham-pin.’ He closed his eyes, nodding slightly.

‘Champagne?’

The man’s head slumped forward.

‘Hoi, barman, champagne for my friend!’

The barman gave him an evil look and slapped a very small glass of brandy on the counter. ‘Ninepence’

‘And a bottle of champagne. Your best.’

‘That’s ninepence for the brandy.’

Will quickly grabbed the glass and downed the drink in one. A rush of fire in his throat, he coughed and doubled over, spluttering. Bloody hell. When he blinked the tears clear from his eyes the barman was sneering at him, and the drunk beside him was staring with open mouth.

‘Ninepence,’ the barman said, holding out his hand. ‘And I want it up front next time. I don’t need your sort in here.’

What sort? Will was a perfectly respectable gentleman of the drunken sort the bar was filled with. ‘A bottle of champagne,’ he said doggedly. ‘You want some more, don’t you?’ he asked the man beside him. The man nodded wordlessly, jaw still gaping. ‘So another bottle, my man, and none of your high handed ways. My friend and I intend to get drunk – drunker – and we …’

The barman’s eyes were narrowing and Will hastily fumbled for his waistcoat pocket, swaying slightly as if having trouble keeping upright. ‘Er…’ he checked his other pocket. ‘Er…’ He looked at the man beside him, beaming. ‘I say, old chap, that’s awfully decent of you, I’ll do the same another time of course!’

The man blinked.

‘My friend will pay,’ Will said breezily.

There was a pause whilst matters stood on a knife-edge, and then with infinite slowness the drunk reached up to his inside pocket and withdrew a pocket book, attached to the lining of his coat by a fine chain. He peered at it worriedly, and finally produced a sovereign. ‘Is that… is that enough?’ He seemed very troubled.

Will watched in fury as the idiot held the coin out to the barman.

‘Er, no,’ Will said quickly, ‘you need to…’

It was too late, the barman had snapped the coin up with a mutter and had turned to a drawer at the back of the bar where he was counting out change.

Will sighed. Still, everything was still to play for. He told himself to buck up and slapped the drunk on the back. ‘Perfect, old man. Now, barman, where’s that champagne?’

The barman returned with a bottle and thruppence, which he set on the bar. Will quickly pocketed it whilst the barman dealt with the cork. The barman stiffened and gave Will another very close look. Will grinned and hiccupped gently. ‘Marvellous!’ He took the bottle and glasses, then put his arm round the drunk. ‘Shall we find a table, old man? Have a bit of a sit-down, eh?’

‘Do I… do I know you?’ the drunk asked.

‘What a question – we met at Bertie Smallbridge’s wedding just last week! Don’t you recall?’

‘Smallbridge?’

‘That’s right, I knew you would remember. Come and sit down and tell me all about that Cocker Spaniel of yours.’ The barman wandered away, seemingly satisfied, and Will gently prodded his new friend towards the door.

‘I don’t think I have a Cocker Spaniel.’

‘Died, eh? That’s a shame. What was it, distemper?’ He set the glasses on a table in passing and used his free hand to push the man through the street door.

‘Mitzi was a poodle,’ the man said sadly.

‘Never liked poodles,’ Will told him. ‘Best have a drink to get over it.’ He grabbed the man’s arm as a policeman walked slowly past, turning to regard them both. ‘Evening, constable!’ Will called cheerfully in his plumiest accent. The drunk obligingly waved.

The policeman quickly looked away, the cheerful eccentricities of the upper classes not being any of his proper concern.

Will pulled the drunk in the other direction. ‘Come along, let’s go down here, mustn’t make a public nuisance of ourselves.’

The man took a lot of prodding but at last Will manoeuvred him into a quiet side street and propped him against the wall. He set the bottle down to free his hands and quickly pressed a hand to the man’s chest when he threatened to tip over, turning his face away from the gust of drunken breath.

‘I don’t think I do know you,’ the man said. And suddenly the idiot struggled to stand upright, eyes widening. ‘Get off! What are you doing?’

Damn him, Will quickly looked about. There were a couple of people at the far end of the street, walking arm in arm, and the policeman must still be in earshot.

‘Hush, you do know me. You’ve known me for years.’

‘Get off! Help! Help!’

Will punched him, driving his fist into the man’s belly so the man doubled over instantly, flopping like a broken puppet. Will quickly looked along the street, the couple were looking at him.

‘I say, old man,’ he pitched his voice to carry, but full of concern, ‘are you quite all right? Not feeling a bit quezzy, are you?’

The drunk’s whole body heaved and a spew of vomit rushed out, yellow with something dark in it. Will jumped back to avoid the splash, swearing, and when he looked over his shoulder again the couple had gone. The drunk groaned and tipped sideways, slumping against the wall. Will raised his boot tips and wiped the vomit off them against the man’s trouser leg. ‘Filthy bugger.’

He had been thinking of biting the man – he wasn’t going to risk killing without Angelus’s say so, but there might have been no harm in stealing a quick nip – but nothing on earth would have persuaded him now. He leant over and reached inside the man’s coat, plucking out the pocket book with a tug to snap the chain. Inside was a five pound note, a considerable triumph, and, almost more important, two shilling for the cab fare home. Will closed his eyes in gratitude for a moment.

He took the tie-pin for good measure and stepped back, letting the man tumble fully to the floor. There was a clink and the champagne bottle rolled out from under him, frothy liquid bubbling from the neck as it revolved sadly into the gutter. Will sighed at the waste and turned to leave.

At the end of the street the couple were standing again, looking at him. Will quickly turned the other way, hunching his shoulders. They were perhaps fifty yards off, the lighting was poor, they had probably seen very little.

After ten yards he broke into a run.

‘Oy! Stop! Police! I think there’s been a robbery! Stop him!’

Bugger.

He made it to the end of the road and round the corner. This sort of thing really did not count as avoiding attention. Why couldn’t the fates just leave him alone and let him get home?

He was back outside the opera house and as he ran up the doors opened and people began to spill out, laughing and chattering. Men were looking about, hailing cabs, ladies were fussing with their fans and gloves. Will slowed down quickly, trying to look perfectly innocent, and wishing like anything he had a hat. A few people on the edge of the crowd cast curious glances at him and he quickly dropped his eyes. And then three foot in front of him he saw Angelus.

He must have stopped dead because someone behind bumped into him and brushed off with a quick apology. Will stood stock still, staring at Angelus’s broad, black back.

‘So, my dear, did you have a pleasant evening?’

The lady in grey smiled and nodded gracefully, touching one hand to a soft curl of blond hair that seemed to hold all of Angelus’s attention.

Will took one step back.

‘So you’re not regretting the evening, then?’

‘Oh no, Mr Smith, quite the opposite I do assure you.’ She dipped her head and played with her fan.

If Will turned around and just walked away very quietly, he could keep himself directly behind Angelus’s back, and really there was no need for Angelus to turn round. There really wasn’t.

‘Ah, I’m very glad, my dear. And will you care for a little light supper now?’

‘Oh, well…’ She hesitated most prettily.

Angelus tilted his head. ‘I’ve booked a table at Moncreif’s,’ he said enticingly.

‘Oh, Moncreif’s! Oh I have never been to Moncreif’s.’

‘Well then, don’t you think it’s high time you went?’

All Will had to do was walk away. But his feet seemed frozen to the spot. He rather thought he might be sick again. He could feel cold prickles running across his shoulders and something bitter and icy sloshed over inside his belly.

Angelus patted her hand and looked around. ‘I must find my—’ Angelus turned slightly, and his eyes dropped like lead upon Will.

‘Ah, William, there you are.’ He said it quite calmly, and then he just looked at Will, his face a blank mask, impossible to read.

Will cleared his throat. ‘Um…’

Angelus turned back slightly to his companion. ‘Miss Crompton, may I introduce my good friend Mr Brown.’

Miss Crompton smiled and extended an elegant hand, and Will quickly shook it, his lips forming around the words ‘How do you do?’ although he wasn’t certain any sound came out.

‘Are you alone William?’ Angelus said, setting a hand on Will’s shoulder.

‘Er…’ Angelus was staring down at him as if pinning him to the spot with his eyes, and Will dropped his gaze. He knew he had to look natural, had to take his leads from Angelus and try to rescue some dignity from this mess. He was in for it when Angelus got home – he’d be lucky if he could move for a month – but let him at least keep his pride here on the street. ‘Actually I was just going home,’ he said at last. ‘Straight home.’

Angelus frowned and Will felt the pressure of the hand on his shoulder increase.

Will coughed down something acid in his throat. ‘But, er…’

‘A cab,’ Angelus hissed.

‘A cab… I should find a cab?

‘Splendid. How very kind of you.’ Angelus extended his arm to Miss Crompton, beaming, and then raised an eyebrow at Will.

A cab. Right. He could find a cab. He was used to finding cabs.

He looked about. The crowd was starting to thin and every cab in sight was being taken as soon as it drew up. He quickly drew a hand across his face, then squared his shoulders and nipped across the road, walking a short way to get ahead of the others. He concentrated on staring at each carriage as it approached, watching them emerge from the darkness into the lights and gaiety around the opera house.

A hansom came up and he moved to raise his hand before anyone else nabbed it, then he hesitated. Perhaps he should get a growler? Angelus had specifically said that when asked to fetch cabs he should bring growlers. He dropped his arm down quickly.

A growler meant Angelus would be able to take Will with them.

At last a big, four wheeled growler emerged and he stuck a hand out. It stopped, he got the door open and Angelus appeared at his side, handing Miss Crompton up. Will took a step back, keeping his eyes down.

Angelus turned slightly. ‘Just do what is asked of you,’ he hissed in a low tone. ‘Stop trying to embellish everything, I don’t want to be impressed, I want you to obey orders.’

‘I…’

Angelus shook his head in exasperation. ‘And where’s your hat?’

‘D-Darla’s got it, sir.’

‘Well for God’s sake get it back off her, you look ridiculous.’

‘Yes sir.’

Angelus swung his attention back to Miss Crompton, stepping up into the cab, saying something complimentary about her gown that made her laugh.

‘A remarkable coincidence, my dear – Mr Brown and his friend have also decided to sup at Moncreif’s. Since there is room in the cab I’m sure you won’t mind if they share. I’m sure you will like Darla – a charming acquaintance.’ He peered about as if expecting Darla to appear at any moment.

Will looked back at the opera house, almost hoping that Darla would emerge, carrying his hat, with nothing worse than a slightly cross expression on her face to show for the evening.

He thought about what the rest of the evening would be like, squashed into some corner where Angelus could keep an eye on him until Angelus had finished whatever he was planning with Miss Crompton, not allowed to speak or have a drink, just sitting contemplating his fate until he could be escorted home in utter disgrace. And then…

He leaned up into the cab. ‘Changed my mind,’ he said brightly. ‘I think I’ll go straight home after all. Don’t worry about me – I’ll just take a cab straight there.’ He nodded at Angelus, ignoring the smouldering look. Miss Crompton smiled at him sweetly and didn’t seem at all disappointed. ‘Right, so I’ll—’ He shut the door quickly and darted away, round the back of the cab, expecting to hear the cab door open again, hear Angelus bellow for him. He broke into a run.

He was in water so hot he was already scalded, he might as well run.

People and buildings and carriages went past in a blur. He could feel his breath rising in sobs, pounding in his chest, until at last everything overwhelmed him from inside and he folded over against a wall and threw up again. Foul water, followed by dry heaves that slowly subsided and he was left leaning against the gritty stone, head hanging, waiting for Angelus to come up behind him.

After the last flogging, Angelus had said that if it happened again he would get three hundred strokes. Angelus didn’t flog for much. Oh he cuffed, caned, strapped and spanked on an almost daily basis, but an actual flogging he reserved for only the very worst situations. And as far as Angelus was concerned the worst situation imaginable was for Will to be out of the house on his own without permission.

Two hundred had been agony. Pain building on pain until there was nothing but the white sheet of flame through flesh and muscle and bone and still the dreadful rhythm of unstoppable torture continued, until he had sobbed and screamed and begged for release. And he had promised himself he would never, ever put himself in a situation where he had to face that again.

There were footsteps behind him, steadily pounding up towards him. He groped in his pocket and found a handkerchief, wiped his mouth clean, standing up shakily although he still kept against the wall for support. The footsteps came up level with him. Went past, without pause. He saw the back of a stranger walking on up the street.

For a moment he stared stupidly, unsure what to do, and then he remembered. He had to find a cab – if he got separated when out hunting then he had to find a cab and go straight home. That was the rule. He located a street name high up above him, fumbled in his mind until he worked out what it must mean, where the nearest cab stand was, and started to walk in that direction.

Find a cab. Get home. Wait.

The whole night seemed to have revolved around cabs.

He put his hand in his pocket, feeling the reassuring click of the two shillings rubbing together between his fingers, promising to get him home safely.

A single growler was waiting at the stand, the cabby pulling disconsolately at the end of his whip, chewing at the side of his mouth. He nodded disinterestedly when Will gave the address. The moth-eaten grey between the shafts flicked its ears but didn’t raise its head.

Will pulled himself inside and shut the door, dropping his head back and closing his eyes. The cab lurched slightly and moved out very slowly, swinging round, the wheels trundling over the cobbles in a ponderous grind.

He swiped angrily at the stupid tear that was trickling down his chin.

It was so unfair. He hadn’t done anything wrong, he really hadn’t. It was Darla who had forgotten her scent-bottle, Darla who had gone on without him, he’d just been trying to do as he was told and ensure she had a good evening. And if Angelus hadn’t been so selfish as to want to go to the ballet he could have escorted her himself, and Will would have been safely at home all night, or out with Dru, or even with the minions. Anything else would have been better. He was only a year old, he shouldn’t be forced to have to make these decisions for himself, and really he’d done very well considering. He’d found his way in and out of the opera house without attracting attention, and he’d found himself a man to rob, who he could have killed but he hadn’t, and now he was getting himself safely home. He ought to be praised for all that, not punished.

He rolled his head back against the greasy velvet cushions and thought about tomorrow. He’d probably be stuck in bed all night, probably not really be able to move for two or three days, but at least that was a holiday of sorts. He would be let off his work and Dru might come and talk to him, maybe bring some of her dolls to entertain him with. And Angelus could sometimes be quite kind, bringing up a mug of blood and letting him have a book to read or something. And at least he wouldn’t have to see Darla.

Except Dru would hate him now. And Angelus was going to be so cross he probably wouldn’t consider even a flogging would actually wipe the slate clean.

He wondered how long he would have to wait before Angelus came home.

The cab shuddered to a stop and he sat up quickly, and got out, trying to look brusque and composed. The man accepted his money without comment and clicked to his horse to walk on. Will let it leave, then stuck his hands in his pockets and trudged the last hundred yards or so up the street and climbed the five steps to their front door.

He stared for a moment at the big brass door-knob. He was supposed to have polished it that afternoon but he’d never found the time. Someone else would have to do it now. He dug in his pockets for the key.

It wasn’t there.

No, it had to be there. Darla had given him her key. He had used it to let himself in before. He had got a key.

He searched every pocket three times, and then he leant forward and rested his forehead against the shiny wood of the door.

After a bit he straightened up. The key could have fallen out anywhere – most likely when he was climbing into the opera house but it could have been any one of a hundred other places just as well. So it was gone. Nothing he could do about it. And really what was a lost key compared to anything else? What was Angelus going to do – add another dozen lashes? He snorted, bitterly and stepped back, considering the house.

A week or so before, Lucius had shown him how to open a sash window from the outside, but it required a knife and he didn’t have a knife. He could just kick the door down, of course, but that sort of damage was not forgivable and there was a difference between being hung for a sheep as much as a lamb and being hung twice for two different sheep.

The problem was the new head minion was a stickler for security, so there was no chance of a window having been carelessly left open. He looked anyway, scanning each one carefully and even madly considering the chimney for a moment – it would at least be a good story for Dru, claiming he’d come down the chimney like Father Christmas. Then he pulled cautiously at the iron grills that covered the openings that let light into the basement, only to find they too were all firmly bolted in place. But, stepping back, his heel banged with a hollow sound against something, and he looked down and hope surged. The metal cover to the coal cellar chute was beneath his foot.

Breaking a door or window would be unforgivable, but who would think to even check the cover of the coal cellar? It was held inside by a simple bolt, easy enough to break, and with luck he could get it replaced before anyone else even noticed it was broken.

He checked up and down the road to ensure he was alone, worked his fingers under the edge of the metal cover, and heaved. It took five hearty tugs, muscles straining, until at last something gave with a little thunk like a sigh and the cover lifted clear. He looked down. It was narrower than he’d remembered, but it would have to do. He carefully removed his jacket and tossed it down first, then stepped in, just managing to hold himself long enough to close the cover behind him before he slid through to land in a gritty cloud of dust, lumps of coal sliding away from underneath him in a rumbling avalanche of black. He sneezed and stood up.

The inner door was held by a simple catch and gave to a good bang with the heel of his hand. He was home.

He sank down on a wooden kitchen chair and waited until he’d stopped shaking, then he tried to clear his mind enough to concentrate on what he should do next. His suit was filthy – he was filthy, but he could be washed, and he wasn’t sure the suit could be. He felt around and brought out the five pound note. That should at least cover the suit. He smoothed it out carefully on the table, smearing it a little black at the edges. He set the diamond tie-pin on top of it to weight it down.

He got up and went over to the kitchen range, where a dull glow still lingered, banked in. He wasn’t sure how long he would have, but he had best spend that time getting himself as presentable as possible. It wouldn’t help but it might avoid further harm. He drove the poker into the coals and stirred up some heat, adding fresh coal, then checked that the boiler was full of water before going through into the scullery. He took down the tin bath, and dragged it through, setting it up beside the stove. Then he located soap and a clean towel and began to strip slowly whilst the water heated.

His tie seemed to have survived the night. His waistcoat might be salvageable. His shirt was ruined, torn under one arm and across the back and so streaked with grime that it would probably never be clean again. He stared at it for a moment and then abruptly shoved it through the fire grate, poking it past the bars with the poker until it vanished into the red heat, the wing of the collar disappearing last as a little flame ran up it and dissolved it to soot.

He set a jug under the boiler tap and tested the water – not hot, but pleasantly warm, and he ran the first lot off, splashing it into the bath, watching it spill and swirl.

He felt very tired.

He pulled himself together and added the rest of the hot water, and enough cold to make up the difference, remembering to refill the boiler afterwards for when the others came home. Then he folded the towel into a comfortable cushion at one end for his head and sank into the water. He closed his eyes, letting the warmth sink into his tired muscles.


Something was tickling his nose.

He wrinkled it, but it didn’t stop. He imagined brushing it off, but the tickling still continued. Why couldn’t he brush it off? How hard was it to reach his nose, for heaven’s sake?

He jerked his head and snapped his eyes open, the realisation that he was now sitting in a few inches of cold water hitting him at the same time as he took in a long feather waving and dancing just in front of his face, the soft down rippling in some draft. It was pale blue, the sort of thing a lady might wear in her hair. He turned his head.

‘Dru?’

‘Hello, Will.’

He sat up, sloshing water, trying to sound brisk and normal. ‘Er, hello, love. When did you get back?’

She was in a pale blue gown, very tight about the waist, and she smiled at him, and ran the feather under her own nose, teasingly.

He rubbed his hand across his eyes. ‘What time is it?’

‘Past three o’clock, and all’s well.’

He fished on the floor for his watch and peered at it. Half past twelve. Not so bad – he’d probably got a while. Then he just stared at the watch. Would Angelus take it back now?

‘It is only for telling the time, Will.’

‘Dru, there’s something I have to tell you.’

She didn’t seem to have heard him. ‘Really, you are a naughty boy, William. You’re all streaky.’ She set her feather down and abruptly began to strip off her long kid gloves, peeling them back to reveal arms even whiter, pale as the stalks of a dandelion. ‘Sit up properly.’ He sat and she grabbed the soap and what looked alarmingly like the bristle brush used for scrubbing the kitchen floor, and began working up a lather.

‘Er, Dru, I’m not sure that brush is—’

‘Keep still.’ She grabbed his arm and ran the brush down it.

‘Ow!’

‘Don’t make such a fuss.’ She moved the brush in small circles and in all honesty it wasn’t unpleasant. A tingling that seemed to make his blood stir and move, and he avoided her eyes and shifted forward to let her come at his back.

Just a few minutes more before he told her.

‘What did you do to get so grubby?’ she said in stern tones. ‘You bad, bad boy.’ And as always when she described him as bad she didn’t sound even slightly disapproving of the fact.

‘That’s right, love, I’m bad. A big, bad vampire.’

She circled the brush on his thigh, her eyes sparkling.

‘Oh, you’d never believe where I’ve been tonight, Dru.’

She paused and he tipped his head back and winked at her. ‘Been hunting by myself.’

‘You’re lying,’ she said firmly. And she abruptly tipped the jug of water over his head. He gasped and shrieked as the cold hit him and when he’d cleaned the streaming from his eyes she’d flounced away and was selecting a knife from the kitchen drawer.

‘’s true,’ he said stoutly. ‘I’ve been all over London. Broken into places and got out without anyone knowing. Been drinking. And been hunting. Found a man, cut him out, took him in a back street.’

‘No you haven’t.’ She began to shave little curls from the soap, letting them pile into a small bowl like flaking, drifting snow. ‘You’re not allowed.’

‘Who cares about allowed.’ He found a washcloth and concentrated on getting the rest of himself clean. ‘I’m William the Bloody, I go where I want and do what I please. Is there any more hot water?’

She snatched the jug up and refilled it from the boiler, plonking it down beside him with a marked bang. ‘You are very, very naughty,’ she pronounced.

‘That’s right, love.’ He smirked at her. ‘Naughty little demon, me.’

She frowned and pushed his head down, then slowly poured the water over. He held still, keeping his eyes tightly closed, and felt her start to rub the soap flakes into his hair. A gentle, teasing of her strong, agile fingers as she worked it well in.

‘Did you want your hair to be dark?’ she asked. ‘Like his?’

‘No!’

‘Then why?’

He kept silent for a moment, letting her rub and push, and then in a rush he said ‘I was hunting. I wanted to steal some money, so I went to a pub and played a man until I could lure him away. And I did it too.’

Her fingers in his hair stilled for a moment. ‘You hunted?’

‘Yes,’ he said defiantly.

She started up again, fingernails scratching over his head, curling and twisting. ‘You are very bold, Master William.’

‘I am that.’

She paused and he felt the trickle of water again from the jug, running over his head, sending warm slithers down his neck and back. And he wanted to ask if she was proud of him, but he didn’t dare.

‘You should have put an apron on, love. You’ll get your pretty dress wet.’

‘I don’t mind.’

‘Angelus might.’

‘I’m Drusilla,’ she said. ‘I do what I want and I go where I please.’

He snorted. ‘Where have you been?’ he asked at last.

‘Up and down the city road.’

‘In and out the Eagle.’

‘That’s the way the money goes.’

Pop!’ He opened his eyes and grabbed her for a soapy kiss, driving his tongue straight in between her teeth, moving his hand round behind her neck to brush softly at the fine little hairs of her nape. Against his own, her lips softened and seemed to smile.

She pulled back, eyes sparkling. ‘Where is the weasel?’ she said wickedly, and her hand dove beneath the water and grabbed for his dick. She tugged and he flopped back, sliding until his knees were in the air, his head sank under the water and his whole concentration was on the delicious tugging and teasing at his groin.

God, was there ever anyone so marvellous as his Dru?

He felt himself tighten inside, tense under her wet, slippery, soapy hand, gliding and sleek, and with a gasp he half sat up as he spent, water sloshing back all around him, the blood seeming to rush from his heart in pulsing thrubs.

He blinked and shook his head.

‘Why are there dirty footprints all over the floor?’ Dru asked.

‘Er…’ He looked. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps it was Father Christmas?’

She nodded thoughtfully, sucking at her fingers, and stood up, wandering away. ‘I think perhaps you’d better get dressed. They’ll stop arguing soon and then Daddy will want to speak to you.’

‘Daddy?’ He sat up fully. ‘What do you mean “Daddy”? Is he back?’ And he shot out of the bath as she nodded dreamily, grabbing for the towel. ‘Christ, Dru, why didn’t you tell me! When did he get back? What about Darla? Is he furious?’

‘Why would he be furious?’

Oh God.

‘Dru, you know I went out with Darla?’

She nodded, eyes narrowing.

‘Well I sort of… lost her.’

‘William!’

‘No, it isn’t as bad as all that! I’m sure it isn’t. I might be in a bit of trouble, but I’m sure…’

Her lip was quivering. ‘But m-my birthday party…’

‘No! I’ll sort it out Dru. I promise, princess. I will sort something out. You are going to have your birthday party.’

‘You promise?’

‘I promise.’ And he solemnly licked his finger, sketched a cross across his heart and held the finger up.

She smiled. ‘You’d better go and speak to Daddy, then.’

‘Yes.’ He’d better go and speak to Daddy.

He pulled on his drawers and ran for the back stairs, rubbing at his hair with the towel as he went. He paused and listened, and with a feeling of misery he heard the voices from the hall, too indistinct to catch the words but unmistakable – Darla and Angelus, shouting.

He slipped up the back stairs, the uncarpeted boards rough but silent under his bare feet, and he poked a cautious head out onto the landing.

‘Oh it’s my fault now, is it?’

The voice sounded frighteningly close.

‘Well it certainly isn’t mine, Angelus!’

They were downstairs, probably in the middle of the hall, just out of sight from where he was. He edged out and slunk along, close to the wall.

‘I gave you instructions for him, Darla – perfectly clear, perfectly simple instructions. A four year old could have followed them.’

‘Yes, well when he is four, maybe—’

‘Maybe you will shut up for half a minute and let me finish!’

‘And maybe you will learn some damn manners, boy!’

Will got the door of his room open and was through. He was shaking. He’d never heard Angelus sound so cross. Nor Darla. And certainly not with one another. He knew that they argued sometimes, but not like that.

And it was all his fault.

He pushed the towel over his hair one last time then threw it in a corner. He yanked open a drawer and pulled out a clean shirt, stockings, a good but old collar. No point putting his best clothes on, he wouldn’t be wearing them long. He found his trousers and the blue jacket that Angelus liked best and Will hated because it was too short and made him feel like a small boy. His light indoor shoes, giving the toecaps a quick buff with his sleeve. He knotted his tie very carefully, and ran a comb through his damp hair.

Then he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and opened the door.

‘If you had been where you were supposed to be, when you were supposed to be there—’

‘And how, exactly, Angelus? What was I supposed to do? Turn up on my own and pretend my escort was just around the corner all the time? Leave him to do God knows what so I can participate in your fanciful games?’

‘No, you should have actually kept him with you, you stupid woman!’

Will took a grip on the banister and began to descend.

He ran off, Angelus. If your fledgling is so ill trained that he vanishes every opportunity he can get, do not blame me if your over-elaborate hunting plans fall apart.’

‘They are not over elaborate, they—’

‘I should never have agreed. I shouldn’t even be here. I could have gone to court, you know.’

‘Then why are you here? Spending my money, living off my work—’

‘Oh of course everything comes back to money, for you!’

They were in the middle of the hall, both still in their outdoor clothes. Angelus had removed his hat and gloves but that was all. He was towering over Darla, fists clenched, as she railed up at him like an outraged bird clucking at a snorting, angry stallion.

‘Yes, money. Money that I provide – not him. And if you weren’t so obsessed with your hair, or your gloves, or whatever else it was that you—’

‘Her scent-bottle,’ Will said quietly.

They both turned and looked at him.

He stood still, three steps up, staring back with set face whilst Angelus’s eye ran over him from head to foot.

‘Are you injured?’ Angelus said at last.

‘No sir. She sent me back to fetch her scent-bottle.’

Angelus covered the distance between them in two paces, grabbing Will’s wrist and turning it over, examining the palm where Will had scraped it against the wall.

‘Sir, why did you give me the watch?’ Will said abruptly.

He felt Angelus stiffen and then slowly he looked up at Will. He dropped Will’s hand. ‘So you could tell the time and be outside the opera house at the correct moment. What did you think it was for?’

Will dropped his eyes.

Angelus was breathing deeply, presumably scenting the air, discovering everything about where Will had been.

‘And?’ Darla demanded.

‘He isn’t injured.’ Angelus gave him a little shove, propelling him forward and down the steps, a hand on his collar.

‘Then make him injured,’ Darla said coldly, and she turned and stalked towards her sitting room.

‘You don’t want to find out what happened?’ Angelus called.

‘I have no interest in what happened,’ Darla said. ‘The only thing I care to hear is that you have flogged him.’

Will drove his nails into his palms, forcing himself to keep still.

‘And, Angelus,’ she called over shoulder, ‘keep him out of my sight for at least a month. Otherwise you will find yourself owning a small pile of dust.’ And she vanished into her sitting room, closing the door with a pointed bang.

Will slowly lifted his head and looked at Angelus.

‘Well?’ Angelus folded his arms. ‘You’ve been out on the town, by yourself, you’ve been in a public house, you’ve been drinking enough to make yourself sick, and you’re stupid enough to think you can wash the scent off with a bath when you get home.’

Will shrugged and looked away.

‘Do you have any idea how cross I am?’

Will stared at the far corner, where there was a little crack in the skirting board, where it didn’t quite meet the floor. Just wide enough for a beetle to slip through and hide in the dark.

The first blow landed on his cheek, snapping his head to the side, a ringing slap that jolted through his whole body.

‘You promised me, boy. You promised on your blood that you would never run off without permission ever again.’

Will shook his head, trying to clear the ringing.

‘Dining room,’ Angelus said with a dismissive sneer. ‘And strip.’ He turned his back on Will and walked away.

Will slowly unclenched his fists and raised his head. From across the hall, Dru was looking at him, her head tilted to one side, as if slightly puzzled. ‘Bad boy?’ she said, but she sounded unsure.

‘Oh I’m bad, Dru. An outlaw. Rotten, evil, a deadly demon through and through.’ And he walked over to the dining room and slammed the door behind himself.

He had things to do. Things to concentrate on. Un-knotting his tie and shoe laces. Undoing buttons one by one. Folding his clothes carefully in a pile. Moving the furniture aside and taking the pictures down off the end wall.

When he was ready, he stood and faced the wall, because he didn’t want to face the door.

He stiffened when he heard the door open, lifting his head up, hands down by his sides. Listening to the sounds of footsteps behind him, the little rustles and shifts, the sense of air moving.

‘Hands on the wall.’

He put them up, carefully spaced, fingers splayed to brace himself.

‘How many did I say you would get if it happened again?’

‘Can’t remember. Don’t really care anyway.’ He didn’t care. He didn’t care. He didn’t care.

Angelus didn’t answer, didn’t even bother to respond to the taunt. There was the first whistling crack and Will squeezed his eyes shut.

He tried to leave. He tried to send his mind to a quiet place. A place of sunshine, and warmth, and laughter that was never mocking. The place he should have gone if he’d been killed in any other way. Why did this happen to me? he wondered. Was I so very bad that I deserved to be damned?

He didn’t care.

He didn’t care.

He didn’t care.

By the end he had sunk to his knees, forehead resting against the wall, streaked with sweat and blood and the tears streaming down his face, lips still stubbornly clamped shut.

He heard Angelus drop the scourge back on the table and then come over, setting a hand under his arm, hauling him up smoothly. He kept his eyes shut as he was settled against Angelus’s shoulder. If he opened his eyes he would scream.

‘Can you walk?’

He didn’t want to walk, didn’t want to think. There was nothing but the pain beating through every inch of his back.

He was being hoisted up, head rolling as he flopped over Angelus’s shoulder, and then the pain moved in waves as he was carried, one juddering step at a time, an eternity until at last he was laid out on his own bed. Cool sheets against his chest, a soft pillow under his cheek. And still the pain, shrieking and throbbing and burning and overwhelming everything.


Later, much later, he heard the door open again. He heard the familiar steps crossing the room and found to his surprise that he could open his eyes, could shift his head a little to look. Angelus picked up a chair and brought it over to beside the bed, sitting down and looking at him with a quiet, assessing gaze.

‘Tell me what happened.’

Will ran his tongue over his lips, thinking about water. He didn’t think he’d ever felt so thirsty.

Angelus leaned forward a little. ‘Tell me.’

‘You won’t believe me.’

Angelus nodded slightly, as if acknowledging the fairness of that. ‘Tell me anyway.’

‘Please may I have a drink, sir?’

Angelus frowned but reached over to the chest of drawers where there was a carafe. He splashed a little into the glass and held it out.

An inch at a time, Will lifted his head and pushed himself up on his elbows. Angelus tutted and tilted the glass, holding it until the water slopped at the rim and Will sipped it, lapping it up with his tongue, letting it trickle down his sore, dry throat.

Angelus took the glass away and Will stayed as he was, head hanging, staring down at a loose tuft of thread on the rucked sheet in front of him.

‘She sent me back to get her scent-bottle, sir.’

‘And?’

‘And when I came back she’d gone. She left me, sir. I didn’t run away.’ He looked at Angelus because that was very, very important. ‘I promise I didn’t run away, sir. I wouldn’t do that.’

Angelus looked sad. ‘She says she waited half an hour and you never came. And when she went back to the house to look there was no sign of you, only your latch key left in the lock.’

Oh, that explained where the key had gone. Will turned his face away. ‘I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.’

‘Tell me exactly what happened.’

Will told it slowly, with lots of pauses for questions from Angelus. Sometimes Angelus would stop for five minutes at a time, staring into space as if trying to calculate something behind Will’s words. Will closed his eyes then, letting his head sink down into the pillow, snatching the respite, until Angelus softly asked him another question and they would begin again. And Will told the truth. Sometimes it sounded better than he had intended, sometimes worse, but it was always meant to be the truth.

‘I see,’ Angelus said at last.

Will waited, feeling the thrub of pain in his welts from his back down to his thighs. See, you bastard, he thought – and I hope you feel sodding guilty now. You and that bitch.

‘Tell me, Will, have you ever actually done anything wrong in your life?’

What? ‘But I didn’t do anything wrong! She left me, sir. And I found the man and got the money, and I didn’t kill or attract attention or…’ Angelus looked at him, and Will felt something hard drop inside his belly.

‘What should you have done?’ Angelus said.

Will stared at the little tufted thread, a small irregularity in the smooth white cotton. ‘I should have gone straight back home, sir,’ he said at last.

‘You should have gone straight back home. You didn’t and that is what I’ve just flogged you for.’

Will poked at the thread, feeling the nub of it under the pad of his finger.

‘You don’t have a conscience, Will. I understand, and I allow for that. You will never be able to feel what is and is not the correct thing, you will always be tempted to do whatever your inclination dictates, that is what being a vampire means. So I have to give you something else – rules, simple, easy to follow rules, and when you break them you need to know that you will get a tanning that you won’t forget, so that next time maybe you won’t forget and you will just go straight home.’ He was speaking quite kindly, quite reasonably really, as if he hadn’t had to explain it all a dozen times before. ‘Do you understand, Will?’

‘Yes! I understand. I already understood. I…’

‘Didn’t go straight home.’ And Angelus actually smiled and bent over and kissed his temple. ‘What were you trying to prove, Will? That you could manage on your own? That you’re perfectly grown-up and capable?’

‘No. Yes! I wasn’t trying to prove anything, I was just trying to sort out Darla’s mess – but I did prove myself. I did manage on my own, I hunted and I didn’t kill, and I got home safely and that proves I’m not as bloody hopeless as you all think.’

Angelus smiled. ‘And if you did that in ten, twenty or a hundred years time then I would be very proud of you because it would indeed show how accomplished you were. But tonight the only thing it means is that you were lucky. The only thing you have to prove to me right now, little one – the only thing you are capable of proving – is that you can obey my rules. And you should have just gone straight home, shouldn’t you.’

Will chewed at the side of his mouth, still poking at the little thread.

‘Shouldn’t you?’

‘Yes sir.’

Angelus grinned and kissed him again. ‘Well done, little one.’ He stood up, setting his chair back towards the wall. ‘Tell me, which street was Darla’s cab waiting in?’

‘Her cab? In Hubert Lane. I… Oh God.’ He groaned and dropped his head against his forearm. ‘She was never there, was she? It was the next sodding street along! I was looking in the wrong bloody street!’

‘I imagine so.’ Angelus said mildly.

Will whimpered and ground his eyes against his arm, hoping for some sympathy. That bitch, that absolute bitch – she had just been round the corner all the time. Sitting like the bloody queen and sending him on pointless errands. ‘What did she even want her stupid scent-bottle for!’ he burst out at last. ‘She could have managed the evening without it.’

‘Ah, yes, the scent-bottle.’ Angelus sounded faintly embarrassed and Will looked at him suspiciously. ‘Did Darla not explain? The idea was for you both to meet me and Miss Crompton after the ballet. You posing as my particular friend and Darla as your companion. We were to have a pleasant evening together during which Miss Crompton would think she had found a new friend and fellow courtesan. Then Darla was going to slip the scent-bottle into Miss Crompton’s reticule and when Miss Crompton found it the next day it would provide an excuse for her to contact Darla to have it returned. An invitation would follow, further meetings – and we would have some fun.’

‘I was supposed to be your close friend?’

‘Yes. I think you might have rather enjoyed that.’

Will glowered. ‘But she forgot her scent-bottle.’

Angelus glanced away, as if considering something, then he dropped his hand to his pocket and brought something out which he set on the dressing table with a little click. Blue glass with silver stars chasing a whirling pattern around its base. ‘I picked it up earlier,’ he said stiffly. ‘I thought she might forget it so I wanted to be sure we had it.’

‘But…!’

‘But you should have gone straight home. Everything else would have been sorted out by Darla and myself.’

‘But if she’d just come looking for me!’

‘She did, Will. She spent half the night looking for you. What did you think she was doing all evening? Why do you think she’s so cross? She came back to the house, expecting to find you and when you weren’t there – what do you think she thought, Will?’ He was speaking so gently. Kind and tolerant and full of understanding. ‘She was imagining you seized, or staked or worse, little one.’ Angelus’s hand stroked across the back of his neck, just above the highest lash mark, and Will felt a quiver run through his skin, shaking him. ‘She wasn’t to know you’d gone on by yourself, because I had assured her that you knew what you were supposed to do if you found yourself alone. You do know, don’t you, Will?’

Will nodded quickly.

‘Good boy. Say it.’

‘Go straight home, sir.’

‘You should have gone straight home.’ The stroking was light and soft and infinitely kind. ‘If you do it again, William, I will give you four hundred strokes. Is that clear?’

Will forced his throat until it produced the words ‘Yes sir.’

Angelus nodded. ‘Good boy. Don’t look so worried, little one, it’s not the end of the world. I’m quite sure we’ll break you of this, it’s just taking a little longer than I expected.’ He tapped Will’s nose in a friendly fashion, and walked away. Will stared after him and Angelus paused in the doorway, one big hand resting lightly on the frame. He glanced back at Will.

‘By the way, what did you want to ask me about Dru?’

Will felt something hot and prickly flush across his skin and he ducked his head. ‘Nothing, sir. It doesn’t matter.’

‘Tell me. You’ve been working yourself up to ask something for days, you might as well tell me.’

Will glared at the floor between Angelus’s perfectly polished boots. ‘It’s her birthday coming up. We wanted your permission to have a party, sir.’

‘A birthday party for Drusilla?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘And this is why you’ve been trying to impress me for the past few days? Being attentive at your lessons, the cups of coffee, my slippers laid out when I come home and all the rest of it?’

‘Yes sir. I was trying to get in your good books.’

Angelus made an odd sort of snorting sound and Will looked up. Angelus looked back at him and snorted again, his face breaking into a grin, and then Will couldn’t help himself, the sheer bloody hopeless absurdity of it struck him and he snorted with laughter back, and he dropped his head on his forehead, sniggering like a schoolboy.

‘What on earth are you laughing about, Angelus?’ Darla’s voice from somewhere on the landing sounded sharply shocked. ‘This is no laughing matter.’

‘Nothing, darling, don’t worry yourself.’

‘I do hope you have impressed upon him the seriousness of what he did.’

‘Don’t worry, he understands.’

‘Then what is the joke?’

Angelus looked back at Will, and he was still smiling. ‘There’s no joke. It’s just William being… William.’ And he gave Will a broad wink.

There was a huffing sound from Darla, and a mutter that Will couldn’t hear.

‘Oh quite, darling,’ Angelus said cheerfully. ‘That’s why we love him. Why don’t you go through to bed? I’ll be along in a minute.’

Angelus looked out of the door whilst the sound of Darla’s footsteps retreated, his mouth quirked at the corners.

‘And by the way Will, you probably ought to know that Dru’s birthday is in August,’ he remarked as he turned away, his shoulders still heaving slightly. ‘So would you mind not being good for the rest of the summer – it might save trouble all round.’ And with a final smile, he left.