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Felix Culpa

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I’m kind of a dog person

Angel: Hellbound

The problem arose because Dru’s love of small furry animals was incompatible with Angelus’s inclination for felicide.

The problem arose because Darla never could bear to be contradicted.

The problem arose because…

‘Bloody hell!’

Will picked himself up and was about to vent his feelings on the sodden mass he’d tripped over when he saw a flicker of movement in the crevice between the wall and an old barrel. Cautiously he crept forward, and then stopped in surprise when out of the dark there sounded an insistent, pleading miaow.

He smuggled the little scrap in under his coat while Angelus and Darla were safely out at the opera. Some swift work with a towel and he was able to present it to Dru in the secrecy of her own room, at the same time as binding her by the most dreadful oaths he could dream up on the spur of the moment, never, ever to let Angelus find out.

Dru stared wide eyed at the kitten for a full minute, making no move to take it from him, whilst it waved wide-splayed paws, clawing at the air as if it wanted to climb some invisible ladder.

‘How do you touch it, Will?’

His heart sank. ‘Don’t you want it, love?’

The kitten mewed.

She reached out tentatively and patted at it, looking as if she expected her hand to go clean through. The kitten dabbed back. Will eased it down into her hands. Her eyes widened and then, gradually, softened, and he hunkered down and watched as she pressed it to her breast, held it up for another examination, and then began to whisper secrets in its ear. Within a few minutes she had it scampering about after a length of string, and she was trying out every name imaginable.

Will settled himself on the bed with the satisfaction of a job well done. She would lose interest within a couple of days, whereupon he could smuggle it back out again and none the wiser, but for now the kitten was happy which was making her happy, and if she was happy then he was happy.

Not long afterwards Angelus and Darla came home, and Will had to leave Dru to go and light the fire and be shouted at for not having done it already. Apparently just leaving a fire laid and expecting a master vampire to infringe his dignity by actually stooping down and using a match showed an unwarrantable lack of respect for his betters. Even if the match had been left ready on the hearth. And no he wasn’t to vanish upstairs for the rest of the night, he could damn well sit in the drawing-room like a civilised being for once, and maybe even try to repair some of the lamentable deficiencies in his knowledge of proper vampire behaviour.

Will was in no very good mood by the time he was sat at the small table with a book propped up in front of him to make a show of being an obedient and dutiful fledgling. If he listened very carefully he could hear the pattering of small feet charging about upstairs, and the occasional giggle. Angelus was over by the fireplace, warming his backside and passing grunting remarks when Darla read out snippets from the paper. Will put his hands over his ears and tried to concentrate on the extremely boring and stupidly complex ancient vampire ritual he was expected to learn by heart.

The thing was blatantly impossible – absolutely and irrevocably impossible – because there was no question but the door was shut, yet one minute he was staring at the page and the next at a very small tabby kitten that was charging across the table to pounce on his pencil. He sat bolt upright and then in a flash grabbed the little beast and stuffed it out of sight on his lap. He sat rigid, waiting for some comment from Angelus or Darla. Nothing happened. Very cautiously, Will peeped round. With pursed lips and a sour expression, Darla was still engrossed in her paper. Angelus seemed lost in thought, staring at nothing very much.

‘Yes Will?’

‘Um… Nothing. How was the opera?’

Angelus frowned and Will quickly turned back, pretending to be gripped by the joys of twelfth century Latin. When he thought it was probably safe he had a look at what was sitting on his lap.

The kitten was nestled happily, half on its back, one leg hoisted in the air, giving itself a very thorough wash. It smelt of milk and soft new young fur, and it was starting to purr. Will watched it for a bit, trying to come up with a plan. After a while it turned three circles on his lap, curled into a ball and went to sleep.

‘That’s enough, Will, bring it here.’

‘Eh?’ He looked round aghast.

Angelus clicked his fingers and pointed at the floor in front of him. ‘You’ve had quite long enough to learn it.’

‘Oh.’ Will looked down at his book. ‘I don’t think…’ The kitten’s tail was twitching in its sleep. ‘Can I have just a bit longer?’

Angelus clicked his fingers again, rather louder.

With great care, Will pushed his chair back. Darla couldn’t see anything past her paper and Angelus was directly behind him, which meant the kitten was still safely hidden. Just. It was also fast asleep. He picked up the book and drew it towards himself, ostensibly trying to catch a last few second’s glance, then in one movement he transferred the book to one hand, scooped the kitten up with the other and stood up. He dropped the kitten into his coat pocket and coughed to cover the outraged squeak.

Angelus was looking at him with narrowed eyes. Will gave him his most innocent look.

‘What are you up to?’

‘Nothing. Sir.’

‘Then wipe that halo-polishing expression off your face and take your hand out of your pocket when you speak to me.’

Will snatched his hand out, mainly because a needle-sharp something had just plunged into his finger.

‘What was that?’

‘What was what?’

‘You just hissed.’

Will dropped the book for a distraction.

‘Pick that up. Stop playing the tom-fool and get over here.’

‘I’m coming.’ Will managed to kick the book under an armchair and whilst he was supposedly reaching for it peered into his pocket. Two evil little yellow eyes glared back at him.

‘I have never known such a clumsy vampire,’ Darla remarked conversationally.

‘Boy…’

Will hurriedly dropped the flap of his pocket back down and grabbed the book. He went and stood in front of Angelus, proffering the book, an image of perfect respect. He hoped.

‘What is that?’

Will followed Angelus’s accusatory finger and hurriedly turned the book the other way up.

‘And that’s what you’ve been wasting your time on allegedly studying, is it?’

‘You told me to read it!’

Angelus gave him a weighted look and plucked the book from his grasp. ‘“The Guinea Pigs toddled about the gardens, and ate lettuces and Cheshire cheese. The Cats sate still in the sunshine, and fed upon sponge biscuits. The—”’

‘What! No, I…’ Will looked around. ‘I must have picked up the wrong one when—’

Angelus grabbed his ear and twisted. ‘Did you think for one minute you would get away with it?’

‘I haven’t been— Ow!’ A furious assault on his side through the cloth of his coat made him gasp. ‘I wasn’t reading that one. Ouch! I swear I wasn’t.’

‘Angelus, one of these days you’re going to rip his ear right off.’

‘Yes, darling, I just might.’ Angelus pulled for a second longer, forcing Will to rear up onto his toes. The kitten had got its teeth embedded in his side and was worrying him as if he were a particularly tasty mouse. Will’s eyes started to water. Then at least Angelus let him go, although it turned out only to be so he could clip the back of his head. Will took the opportunity to double over and swear. The kitten had started to rabbit-punch. He clapped a hand under his coat, only to receive a wickedly hooked claw in his knuckle.

‘Sweet bloody God!’ Will tore his hand free, straightened up and became aware that the others were looking at him oddly. He made a show of rubbing the back of his head. The kitten had at last let up.

‘Angelus, have you ever wondered if it is altogether good for him to be so frequently hitting his head?’

Hear, hear, Will thought, and rubbed his ear for good measure.

‘After all there has to be some explanation for why he’s so stupid,’ Darla trilled.

Will stopped rubbing.

‘Having his brains knocked out is the least of his worries,’ Angelus said, hurling the offending copy of Lear across the room. It slammed against the far wall with a boom. There was a shocked stillness from Will’s pocket.

‘Angelus! That nearly hit the porcelain snuff boxes.’

‘I don’t miss.’

‘That is not the point.’

‘All that happened…’ Will said with careful emphasis.

‘It’s the whole point.’

‘…was I picked up the wrong book.’ He dodged round Angelus and dived behind the chair.

‘And how about setting a proper example for the boy?’

Will hauled a furious ball of claws out of his pocket and shoved it under the skirts of the chair cover.

‘He wouldn’t know a proper example if it was written on a blackboard.’

Will grabbed the correct book and stood up, waving it. ‘See.’

Angelus wasn’t looking pleased.

‘I didn’t do it on purpose.’

Angelus pointed wordlessly at the spot on the carpet just in front of him. Will trooped over.

Angelus snatched the book and flipped through, turning each page with venom. ‘Begin,’ he said without looking up.

‘Er…’

Angelus paused, looking at him. Darla had put down her paper and was looking too. From under the heavily brocaded skirt of the chair a small striped face appeared and glared at him.

‘Begin – yes – right.’ Will screwed his face up, trying to think of either the first line or a method of preventing a small tabby kitten from charging out into the room. ‘So…’ He stomped his foot and the kitten fled back into its refuge.

‘Stop fidgeting. You don’t know it at all, do you?’

‘I did ask for a bit longer.’

Angelus growled.

‘Well I did.’

Angelus folded his arms. ‘William, if you had bothered to learn the verses instead of fidgeting, turning round like a weathercock every few seconds, playing with your pencil,—’

‘Oh my God!’

‘What did you say?’

‘Nothing!’ Will clamped his mouth shut, eyes nailed to the floor, very firmly not looking at the kitten that was balancing along the mantelpiece, apparently stalking the carriage clock.

‘I just realised how… how inattentive I’ve been. And… that really isn’t a good thing, is it, sir.’

There was a stunned silence.

‘I told you, you shouldn’t hit his head, Angelus.’

Angelus shifted slightly. ‘Will, are you…’ He cleared his throat. ‘Are you up to something, boy?’ he snapped.

‘Me sir? No sir.’ He looked innocently into Angelus’s glower. Beyond Angelus’s shoulder the kitten was leaning over the edge of the mantel, batting the ball fringe on the valance with outstretched claws. ‘What would I be up to, sir?’

Angelus was shifting, his muscles stiffening as if readying a punch.

‘It would really be most tiresome to have two lunatic fledges,’ Darla remarked.

‘Darla!’ Angelus swung round and Will took the opportunity to skip back a step. ‘Will you stop—’

Overbalancing, the kitten tumbled off the mantel in a blur of falling stripes. Angelus cut his words off with a snap, punctuated by a soft thump as the kitten landed.

‘Yes darling? Did you have something to say to me?’ Darla’s voice dripped acid honey.

The kitten was looking embarrassed, furiously washing its flank.

Angelus clenched and unclenched his fist a couple of times, still looking at Darla, then abruptly turned back to Will. ‘Have you or have you not learnt this incantation?’

Will reluctantly took his eyes off the kitten and met Angelus’s glare. ‘The thing is—’ He stopped and frowned. ‘You see—’ the kitten was trotting across the carpet, its stumpy tail straight up into the air, heading directly for Angelus.

‘Fire!’ Will yelled, pointing the other way.

‘Where?’ Angelus revolved, Will leapt for the kitten, scooping it up in something between a football-catch and a tackle that incidentally bowled him into Angelus’s legs. Angelus crashed down around him, Will was yelling blue murder, and the kitten had just bitten his thumb.

‘What the devil—’ Angelus clouted him across the shoulders, ‘—are you playing at, boy?’

They were too entangled for Will to get away so he curled over to avoid the blows and give himself a second to unfasten the kitten from his thumb.

‘A coal spat out of the grate,’ he protested. ‘It was going to burn the rug.’

Angelus stopped belabouring him to turn and look disbelievingly at the quietly smouldering fire.

Will popped the kitten back in his pocket.

‘William,’ Darla said, ‘where is it now?’

‘Hmmm? Madam?’

Darla gave him a pointed look and then swept her hand to indicate the extent of the very un-burnt rug.

‘Well—’ Will crawled across the rug, pretending to examine it and incidentally putting a little distance between himself and Angelus. ‘Very flammable, vampires, had to do something quickly. Couldn’t stop and dawdle.’

‘Right.’ Angelus grabbed Will’s collar decisively, getting to his feet and hauling Will up after him. ‘I have had enough of this. I don’t know what you’re playing at, but it stops now.’ He pointed at the fire. ‘That is one of the most miserable, non-spitting fires I have ever seen. This however,’ he reached for the pocket where he kept the strap, ‘is something that—’ He stopped, a horrified look coming over his features and then slowly looked down at his hand.

Will suddenly realised his own coat felt lighter than it should.

With a thoroughly unmanly shriek, Angelus jumped about three foot in the air as the kitten erupted from his pocket, shimming up his arm as it were a tree trunk and making a joyful dive into the swinging locks of Angelus’s hair.

‘Get it off me! Get it off me!’

Will collapsed in hysterics. Darla moved as fast as only a three hundred year old vampire could and calmly yanked the kitten free, tossing it to the floor. It vanished under the chaise-longue.

‘A rat!’ Angelus bellowed, one hand clapped to his abused scalp. ‘How the devil did a rat get in my pocket! William?’

‘Hey!’ Will put a chair between himself and Angelus. ‘Why assume it had anything to do with—’ He fled for the door as Angelus charged, sending an occasional-table crashing over.

‘Angelus! That wasn’t a rat.’ Darla caught his arm and Angelus paused, but didn’t take his eyes off Will.

Will hesitated. He could possibly make it to the door but the timing would be critical, and if Angelus decided not to worry about overriding the knick-knack laden whatnot, he could cut Will off at the credenza.

‘That vase is Dresden,’ Will pointed out.

‘What? What are you talking about?’

‘Staffordshire actually. Now Angelus, will you kindly calm down.’

‘No. What in God’s name is going on? What was that thing?’ Angelus turned on her furiously. ‘And where’s it gone? It must still be in here!’

‘It went under the chaise-longue. And it was a—’

‘Brownie,’ Will said. Two pairs of eyes dropped onto him. ‘Little furry buggers. About so high. Evil things. Very nasty. Get into all the nooks and corners and… steal stuff. And… stuff. We’ll have to move.’

‘Move?’ Darla said sarcastically.

Angelus began to advance and Will dodged behind the piano. ‘Yes madam. Now – very quickly, in fact.’

Darla gave him a look, filled with the weight of centuries. ‘Oh well in that case I’ll just go and pack.’

Angelus feinted to the left. Will made it three steps towards the door, realised his mistake and beat a hasty retreat.

‘After all, Angelus, brownies – we ought to be cautious.’

‘Hmm.’ Angelus was poised, watching Will with an assessing air.

‘And they might invite leprechauns round to stay. Try going right.’

‘Leprechauns don’t exist,’ Will said automatically.

‘Oh bravo, Will. You see, Angelus, you have managed to teach him something.’

Angelus flashed her an evil look.

Will made a start for the clear ground near the Japanese screen but Angelus spotted it and moved to intercept him, sending the Staffordshire vase crashing to the floor.

‘Angelus! It may not have been Dresden but I was very fond of that. Now are you actually going to catch him, or just dance back and forth all night?’

Will retreated to the relative safety behind the piano once more. ‘It’s really not my fault,’ he stressed.

‘Angelus, you should—’

Stop telling me what to do, woman!’

In the awful silence, Angelus hesitated. ‘Please, darling, I will deal with this. If you would just bear with me a moment.’

Her look could have frozen the Sahara.

‘I’ll, er… I’ll… William, get that rat. Now.’

‘I’m not going near it – it bites.’ Will held up his savaged thumb for proof.

Angelus looked flummoxed. ‘When did that happen?’

‘Very well, boy,’ Darla snapped. ‘Since you are so capably dealing with this you don’t need me.’

‘Me?’ Will said in surprise, and then he saw Angelus’s face and realised who she had been talking to. ‘Oh.’

‘Darling…’

Darla stalked back to her place on the chaise-longue.

‘It’s still under there, you know,’ Angelus pointed out.

‘Is it.’ Darla opened her newspaper with a snap. ‘I’m sure I’ll survive. I happen to know brownies only bother men.’

‘Darla…’ Angelus stopped. He wheeled back to face Will, jabbing a warning finger. ‘You, stay exactly where you are.’ He marched over to the fireplace, grabbed the poker with a clatter that sent the other irons flying, and advanced on the chaise-longue.

‘Of course, if you kept your hair shorter,’ Darla said, apparently to no one.

‘I’m not cutting it. And we will have this conversation later.’

‘Whatever you say, boy. Do hurry up and deal with that brownie.’

Angelus took a firmer grip on the poker. Then he toed up the chintz flounces that curtained the chaise-longue’s base. ‘Doesn’t smell like a rat,’ he said speculatively. He paused, possibly trying to come up with a method of peering into the dark space underneath that involved neither a loss of his master-vampirely dignity nor having a furious something charge into his face.

‘Darla, if you could just—’

Darla gave a very loud sniff and raised the barricade of her paper.

‘Very well, Will, if you— Drusilla, shut that door!’

Dru froze in the doorway. ‘Mayn’t I come in, Daddy?’ she squeaked.

‘Yes of course you may, dear,’ Darla said.

‘Yes very well. Quickly. But shut the door.’

‘Yes do. There’s a terrible draught.’

Dru was staring at the poker. ‘Are you going to torture someone?’

‘Well I think someone’s going to be a little uncomfortable later,’ Darla mused.

‘It’s not my fault.’

‘Drusilla, will you shut that door! Now go and stand by Will.’

‘I want to watch,’ Dru said firmly, threading her way through the furniture to Will. ‘And if there’s going to be blood I want to fetch Mr Turbot so he can watch too.’

‘Mr Turbot?’ Will said incredulously.

‘Yes, because—’

‘Children, be quiet.’ Angelus advanced towards the chaise-longue once more.

Will pulled Dru into a hug. ‘Mr Turbot?’ he whispered.

‘Yes, because of her whiskers.’

‘Whiskers?’ Angelus rounded on Dru. ‘Does this Mr Turbot also have a long tail and black eyes?’ Angelus pointed the poker at Will. ‘If you’ve been bringing her rats again, boy.’

‘I haven’t been bringing her rats. I wouldn’t do that.’

‘Will wouldn’t bring me rats, Daddy.’

‘It wasn’t a rat, Angelus.’

‘I keep telling you, it’s not my fault.’

Angelus gave Will a heavily disbelieving look. ‘Now Darla, if you would please just stand up so I can lift the chaise-longue.’

‘No.’

‘Darla!’

She turned another page.

Angelus opened his mouth and then shut it again, the poker in his hand gradually drooping down towards the floor. ‘Right,’ he said.

Dru tilted her head onto Will’s shoulder. She was purring.

‘What you need is something longer,’ Will said.

Angelus glowered.

‘To reach right under the chaise-longue without having to get too close. A broom-pole or something.’

‘Don’t even think it, boy. I’m not letting you out of this room.’

Will gave him an innocent look.

‘I will fetch the broom-pole. You will stay exactly where you are. Both of you.’ Angelus strode towards the door, spinning round at the last moment. ‘Exactly where you are.’

As soon as the door had closed behind him, Darla put her paper down.

‘Have you been gambling?’

‘No!’

‘Then where did a kitten come from?’

‘Er…’

‘Well? You have probably half a minute before Angelus comes back.’

Will made a rapid decision and shot over to the chaise-longue.

‘Where did it come from, boy?’

He already had his arm half under the chaise-longue. ‘Alley, back of the fishmongers. Come on, you little bugger, where are you?’

‘Will, what are you doing? Daddy said we weren’t to move.’

‘He was talking hypothetically, princess.’

‘You are a fool, William. You know what Angelus always does to cats.’

‘Daddy was talking English, Will.’

‘It’s only tiny. What harm can it do? Here kitty, kitty.’

‘Well I think we’ve had that question more than fully answered.’

‘What harm can what do?’

‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t call Angelus back in here.’

Will sat back on his heels and gave Darla a pleading look. Darla stared down at him grimly.

Dru was looking between them in total confusion. ‘Is Will in trouble? Oh what fun, I shall tell Mr Turbot all about it when we have tea.’

‘For Dru’s sake?’

Darla said nothing.

‘Is Daddy going to hurt s…something?’ Dru said, and there was a catch in her voice.

Will stuck his head right under the chaise-longue. There was nothing but dust and a stray spectacle-case. ‘Bloody hell.’

‘Will!’

Will shot out, grabbed Dru’s arm and they were innocently back in place as the door opened.

‘Boy, kindly moderate your language in front of me,’ Darla said coldly. And then she raised her paper as if nothing had happened.

Angelus entered, carrying a broom, a lidded tin slop-bucket, the long fire-tongs from the kitchen and a thick pair of leather gauntlets.

‘What are you all looking for?’ Dru said loudly.

‘A very good question.’ Angelus dropped the lot, reached for his pocket, hesitated, patted his coat, and then brought the strap out. ‘Come here.’

Will waited hopefully, but nobody else seemed willing to accept the summons for themselves. He sidled over. Angelus clipped his ear for him.

‘Now, before we go any further you will tell me exactly what that thing is and what you know about it.’

‘Oh.’ Will put his hands behind his back.

He’d once seen Angelus squeeze a man’s hand until blood squirted out of the fingertips. And some of the small bones had come popping out afterwards. They had lain on the ground like a set of shiny pink buttons.

The kitten was about that size.

Will considered the carpet. ‘Hubertus’s Bestiary.’

‘Hmm.’

‘I’m supposed to be able to identify all the indigenous species.’

Angelus began idly to slap the strap against the side of his leg.

‘So, I keep my eyes open for anything unusual in that line – so’s I can learn about it. And I’ve read about some things that I’ve never actually come across yet, and I always keep a special eye out for them.’

‘Hmm.’

Will crossed his fingers behind his back. ‘Well I was going up the alley past Peterson’s Fishmongers. Just behind that old warehouse. You know the one. Alongside the canal. About three quarters of the way to the lock—’

‘You can drop the geography lesson, William.’

‘Oh, right. So – the alley. And all of a sudden I hear this tiny little noise. Sort of almost a sneeze, only not quite. Maybe more like a squeak.’

Angelus gave an equally small but very distinct growl.

‘Well I thought to myself, now that’s odd, because you don’t often hear a sneeze in a back alley. Not on a Tuesday. So I crept along quiet like, and you know that old barrel? The one someone’s turned up for a water butt? Well someone had left a sack beside it. Very thoughtless thing to do really, because somebody could easily have tripped over it.’

Angelus shifted slightly, as if contemplating another fall.

‘And I was just stepping round it, when all of a sudden—’

There was a loud rap at the door.

‘Oh for heaven’s sake. What do you want?’

Walter stuck his head round the door. ‘You rang, master. Did you want a different broom?’

‘No I did not. Don’t. I don’t want another broom and I didn’t ring. Go away.’

‘But somebody rang,’ Walter said stolidly. ‘Been ringing these last few minutes, non-stop.’

‘Which raises the question of why you’ve only just answered,’ Darla said.

Walter turned to stare at her. ‘Mistress?’

Darla sighed. ‘Oh do go away. Nobody rang.’

‘Yes mistress.’

The door shut.

There was another rap.

‘Now what!’

‘You rang.’

‘No we did not!’

‘Yes you did,’ Walter said crossly, and he held the door open wider. ‘What’s that then if it’s not you ringing the bell?’

Will cocked his head and could indeed hear the distant tingle of the bell.

Angelus headed for Walter. ‘Do we look as if we’re ringing? Is anybody standing anywhere near the bell-pull?’

Will’s eyes flew to the bell-pull and he saw the kitten, claws and teeth sunk into the silken tassel, swinging back and forth like a frenzied furry pendulum bob.

There was a wail of pain from Walter and then Angelus slammed the door.

‘There’s marmalade on the walls.’

‘Yes Drusilla. Now, where were we?’ Angelus paused. He’d seen the kitten.

There was a lengthy silence.

‘Ah. I see. No—’

Will found his collar grabbed and he was hauled back.

‘You’re not going anywhere, my lad. So that was what you found in the alley, was it?’

Will squirmed.

‘What’s that, Daddy?’ Dru burbled with her brightest innocent expression.

‘That, Drusilla, is a stain on the wall,’ Angelus said calmly, reaching across Will to pick up the copy of Stotford’s Vampire Etiquette.

‘Angelus, I do not want the wallpaper marked.’

‘The wallpaper will be cleaned.’ Angelus took aim.

‘No!’ Will yelled.

And Angelus threw the book.

The thud wasn’t loud, and the book as much slid down the wall as dropped. Will stared blankly at the forlornly swinging bell-pull.

Angelus patted his shoulder. ‘Go and clean it up, Will. Here’s the broom and pail.’

Will stumbled forward a step. He didn’t dare look at Dru. She hadn’t made a sound. He collected the pail and went over to the wall, looking down at the book – a red leather-backed shroud tenting over the little scrap.

‘I was going to hide it in the box-room,’ he said miserably. ‘You needn’t have been bothered by it – wouldn’t have known it was here.’ He knelt. ‘It’s not as if it was doing any harm.’

‘I don’t know why you ever thought you’d get away with it,’ Darla said.

‘Because it would’ve made Dru happy,’ Will said furiously. He lifted the book.

There was nothing there.

He put the book aside and looked behind the coal scuttle. Then under the chiffonier.

‘Er, did anyone see where it went?’

‘What?’ Angelus was beside him in a second. ‘I hit it. I couldn’t miss at that distance. Get out of the way.’

Will picked himself up from where he landed amidst the inadequate cushioning of a display of peacock feathers and pampas grass. Angelus was also looking beneath the book, behind the scuttle and under the chiffonier. Except he kicked the scuttle over for good measure.

‘Angelus! Do you always have to be so melodramatic?’

‘What have you done with it, boy?’

‘How could I have done anything?’

Dru giggled. ‘There’s marmalade on the walls.’ And she pointed at the top of the bookcase.

‘How on earth?’ Angelus fumbled for the book.

‘Oh no you don’t.’ Darla snatched the book from him. ‘Now that is quite enough. I’m not having this room wrecked any further. Will, go and fetch that cat down. Carefully.’

The kitten trotted happily along the top of the bookcase, stirring up a fog of dust. It stopped and sneezed.

Dru laughed and clapped her hands. ‘Jolly little ghost cat.’

Will took a deep breath. ‘No, I’m not going to.’

‘Will, you were just given an order.’

‘No madam. Sorry, but no.’ He ignored Angelus striding towards him and looked up at the kitten. ‘It’s not… there. Where’s it gone now?’

Dru pirouetted and pointed to the far side of the room, where the kitten was now pouncing on a piece of embroidery yarn it had tugged out of the work-basket. After a second it winked out of sight and re-materialised three yards away, batting at the aspidistra.

There was another lengthy silence.

‘Drusilla, when you said “ghost cat” just now, what did you mean?’

‘Oh!’ Dru clapped her hand across her mouth. She looked guiltily at Will.

Will sighed. ‘Dru, love, I think you can forget about the secret.’

Darla gave a loud snort.

Angelus only growled, ‘Drusilla, answer Darla.’ At the same time he dropped a heavy hand on the scruff of Will’s neck, which struck Will as most unfair.

Dru pouted, and then she began to look thoughtful. ‘Timble, tumble fishing cat, swimming in the sea, I can see you, but you can’t touch me.’

‘Not very informative. Is that all we’re going to get?’

Will shrugged.

‘It’s only a very little ghost,’ Dru said plaintively.

‘Dead or alive, I want that animal gone.’

‘Yes but Daddy—’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’ Will said. ‘Ouch!’

‘Quiet, brat. This is my household and I don’t allow pets.’

‘You may allow anything you like, Angelus. When it comes to allowing ghosts they tend to allow themselves – that, even in your household, is the whole point.’

‘Is it, darling.’

‘It is, darling.’

Angelus and Darla’s gazes locked, their jaws set, eyes steeled in a frozen battle of wills.

The kitten reared up its back legs, mewing and looking up at them all trustingly.

Angelus snapped. ‘Yes, well I’m not being haunted by a kitten. Will, get rid of it.’

‘Me?’

Angelus clouted him, propelling him in the direction of the kitten. ‘You brought it home, you deal with it.’

Dru laughed. ‘There, there, Mr Turbot. You shall have some milk soon.’

‘How?’ Will demanded.

‘You just put some in a saucer, Will.’

‘Be quiet, Drusilla. Darla, how do we get rid of the ghost of a kitten?’

‘Oh you want my advice now, do you?’

Angelus gritted his teeth. ‘If you wouldn’t very much mind.’

‘Yes, well remarkable as it may seem, boy, in over three hundred years the problem has never arisen before. Of course if you didn’t encourage your fledglings to bring home everything and anyone they find in an alley.’

‘Hey!’ Will said.

Angelus clouted him.

‘Now, I would suggest a standard cleansing spell—’

‘No,’ Will said.

Angelus clouted him.

‘You need a soul to do a cleansing spell,’ Will said crossly.

‘However, as I was about to say, only someone with a soul can perform one.’

‘So couldn’t we just keep the kitten?’

Angelus clouted him.

‘Of course, you could catch a priest, Angelus, and force him to perform the cleansing.’

‘On a Tuesday?’

Angelus clouted him twice.

‘But given the Christian insistence that cats have no souls themselves, the results would be unpredictable to say the least.’

‘It’s not as if it’ll eat much,’ Will said, and ducked before Angelus could swing.

‘Even a priest can’t safely cleanse a soul if there is no soul to cleanse. We don’t want a demon materialising in the fireplace or gardenias sprouting from the footstools.’

‘Please can we keep it?’

‘It might be the simplest course, Angelus.’

‘Please.’

Dru suddenly gasped, and her eyes narrowed. ‘Can’t touch me!’ she cried, and turned to look at Angelus. ‘Can’t hurt a dead kitten, Angelus. Not this time.’

An expression lingered at the corner of Darla’s mouth that could almost be described as a smile.

‘We absolutely are not keeping it,’ Angelus bellowed.

‘So how are you going to get rid of it?’

There was a lengthy silence. Punctuated by a very small purr.