'Go to your room.’ Angelus thrust him through the front door so his boots skittered on the over-polished floor and he ended up crashing into the table. ‘Now!’
Will cast a quick look back and had got up from the table and made it to the bottom of the staircase before Angelus was properly inside.
‘It wasn’t my fault!’ He retreated a few more steps at a scramble. Angelus was ignoring him, tugging his gloves off with a snap. Will hesitated, then Angelus turned slowly and gave him a look, and he was up the rest of the stairs and round the corner before he saw Angelus start to move. He slammed the door and threw himself onto his bed.
He shut his eyes and instantly there was a flash of silver, the rush of movement across his memory, he opened them hurriedly.
There was a noise, the mutter of voices from the room beneath. He sat up, then slipped off the bed and pressed his ear to the floor.
‘…well then do something about it.’
‘I intend to.’ That was Angelus, still cross but moderating it for Darla’s benefit.
‘If you had done something sooner then it would never have happened.’
‘I just said I intended to do something!’
‘Do not use that tone with me. I told you—’
‘I know what you told me. What do you expect me to do? Not let the brat out without testing him every night? I thought I could trust him now.’
Will pulled away and sat back on his haunches. The brat. That was all Angelus thought of him. The untrustworthy brat. He stared down at his hands, ignoring the bellowing from below. They didn’t even bother to remember his room was directly overhead.
A quick brush of his cheek as he turned and he was smiling for her by the time she could see his face. ‘Hello love.’
‘Why is Angelus cross?’
He dropped his gaze. But she’d notice if he said nothing. He shrugged. ‘He’s always cross.’
‘The moon is scared.’ She sounded suspicious. ‘Were you naughty again?’
‘Then why haven’t you come to see me? Wounded rabbit, skulking in your nasty little burrow.’
‘I’m… Just taking my coat off.’ He quickly tugged it off, dropped it on the floor. He tried to look directly at her as he smiled. She had pursed her lips. ‘See. Coming along to see you now.’ If Angelus saw the overcoat on the floor he’d be furious. ‘Did you enjoy your evening, love?’
‘No.’ She put her hands on her hips. ‘My Spike has been naughty. I know.’
He picked the coat back up as casually as he could, brushed it down and took the opportunity to turn his back on her afforded by hanging it in the cupboard. ‘No I haven’t.’
He shrugged his jacket off and hung it beside the coat, began to unbutton his waistcoat.’
‘There’s blood on your shirt.’
He started, then jumped again when she plucked at his sleeve because he hadn’t seen her come up behind him.
‘Don’t do that!’ His yell was far too loud.
‘Blood on your sleeve, rabbit.’
‘It isn’t mine!’ He avoided her gaze, but all he could see anyway was the flash of silver. ‘Wasn’t my fault,’ he muttered again.
And then she reached out and brushed his cheek with such tenderness he felt the tears well up anew. ‘Poor little Will,’ she whispered.
‘Don’t Dru.’ He shrugged her off, tried to ignore her, concentrating on the buttons of his waistcoat. She pulled it off for him, then straightened out his braces, smoothed down his shirt.
‘My smart little boy. You can tell your princess.’
He had got to pull himself together – too much emotion, that was the whole bloody problem. Never could sodding control himself. He looked at the beads of blood on his cuff. He could feel himself starting to snarl. Wanted to punch something until it was a quivering mess of bloody jelly. Punch and yell and make the world suffer.
‘You always tell your princess.’ Her words were honeycomb and a warm place by the fire. Things of family and safety, and not having to be responsible.
‘Dru—’ He glanced up and froze. Something behind her – something he had to warn her about. He felt a rush of nausea.
‘Get out, girl.’
Dru whirled round with a squeak.
Angelus was holding a cane. Dru stared at it, and took a quivering pace forward, watching the cane as if mesmerised. ‘But Daddy, he’s still only little!’
Angelus gave an exasperated grunt and grabbed her, swinging her round past him and through the door.
‘Hey!’ Will found he could react at last, darting forward and straight into a fist slamming against his solar plexus, sending him flying back. The world turned dark and red. He could hear Dru speaking – pleading – and a growl from Angelus. Then the crack of a slap. He pushed himself up.
‘Leave her alone.’
‘Playing champion again?’
He felt as if he’d been punched a second time. He caught a second’s brief glimpse of Dru’s white face – on the landing, stiff and terrified – then Angelus slammed the door shut.
‘Come here.’ Angelus pointed to the floor just in front of him. There was a scratch on his neck, a fine red ridge.
Will ducked his head, put his hands behind his back and went. He tensed himself for the next blow.
Angelus tapped the cane against his leg. ‘You have some grasp, I trust, of how cross I am with you.’
‘So is Drusilla correct, are you too young still?’
He could feel his lip starting to quiver, shaking as if there was nothing he could do to stop it. Stupid, futile – another wretched emotion he was helpless to control.
‘Speak up,’ Angelus rapped.
‘Should have known better, sir. And I’m sorry.’
‘I am pleased to hear it.’ The cane was flashing back and forth at the edge of his vision, making little whit-whit noises. It suddenly stilled. ‘Hold out your hand.’
Will tried not to hesitate. He met Angelus’s eye with what he hoped was a steady and contrite expression and lifted his hand, palm upwards.
‘What is that?’ Angelus pointed to his marked cuff.
‘Blood. It’s from…’ He trailed off.
Angelus’s expression darkened and his nostrils flared. ‘I know what it is from. The question is, William, do you?’
A flash of silver from a knife being drawn, and the rush of wind as a body moved almost too fast to see. A stench like sewer tunnels. And the eyes – red coals of hatred burning in furrowed leathery skin.
‘A demon, sir.’
‘Oh congratulations, William.’ Angelus pushed Will’s hand up slightly.
Will braced himself.
‘There are over seven hundred species of demon that have been recorded in the British Isles. Would you care to be more specific?’
Then the cane arced round with a hiss and a line of searing acid erupted across Will’s palm. He gritted his teeth, willing his muscles not to move, not to draw his shrieking, wounded hand away.
White-hot pain dancing and throbbing through his skin. It felt as if it had been slammed in a door.
‘I don’t know, sir.’
He felt the rush of wind as much as saw the thing move. Only in the jumble of hurt in his mind he could also see snarling teeth and thick horns. And the pain doubled, exploding and jolting up the nerves of his arm.
‘You don’t know.’ Angelus ignored his hand, reaching past it to grab Will’s chin and tilt his head up, looking hard into his eyes. ‘The question is, boy, why don’t you know?’
‘I didn’t recognise it.’
‘That, I have gathered.’ Angelus let him go with a jerk, taking a pace back into position. ‘Higher.’
Will raised his hand slightly, trying to keep it steady.
‘It was a Groxlar Beast.’ The cane flashed round and down. A fang biting into his flesh. ‘The demon that almost killed your sire tonight was a Groxlar Beast. Don’t you dare flinch, you little brat.’
Will felt as if his whole frame was shaking, juddering with the tension beating up and down his arm that could not find release. The Groxlar’s footfalls had thudded as it charged towards Angelus’s unprotected back.
‘What was it?’
‘Groxlar Beast, sir.’
His hand was forced down by the weight of the blow, his skin felt as if it must be split open like a bruised plum. He bit his lip through.
‘Not a word, boy. You don’t say a word other than its name. You don’t flinch, you don’t start, you don’t even blink.’
Will swallowed a mouthful of blood and tried to turn himself into stone, rigid, unfeeling.
‘All you may say is its name.’
‘Hold still! Now, we will try again. You may say its name.’
Pain like a lightning strike and Will curled over his hand with a gasp, trying to shield it, to press the agony away or at least somehow to contain the hurt.
‘No.’ His collar was being gripped; he was being hauled upright. ‘That wasn’t it.’
‘Groxlar,’ Will spat. ‘A bloody Groxlar Beast.’
Angelus shook his head. ‘What did I just tell you about flinching? Hold your hand out.’
Will shut his eyes, pressing his hand to his side.
‘It might have killed me, William. It came from directly behind me. I had perhaps a second to react in and all you did was gasp and point and give me no clue as to why – now hold your hand out.’
It’s only a little stick, Will thought. He calmly turned and killed a huge demon with his bare hands tonight, so don’t you dare be frightened of a little stick.
When Will’s hand was back in place, Angelus calmly readied the cane for another stroke. ‘What would you have done if it had killed me, Will?’ he asked conversationally.
Will concentrated on his hand. It looked very small, stuck out stiffly, the palm white and tense – with a purple black welt stamped across just beneath the fingers. Angelus never missed his target.
‘I’d have been killed too, sir.’
‘Yes, I think you probably would. A little higher. And why would we both have been killed, William?’
‘Because I— B-because I didn’t give you the proper warning.’
‘Because despite everything you have been told, despite all our practice, you didn’t give me the proper warning. You just reacted.’
‘No I didn’t!’
Angelus lowered the cane. ‘What was that?’
‘I didn’t react – I never moved for that one. I didn’t!’
‘Be quiet. I am talking about when the Groxlar attacked.’
‘When you panicked.’
The beast’s knife had been about three foot long, glinting in the moonlight as it swept round in an arc that must only end in Angelus’s neck. As he saw it again in his mind’s eye he wanted to yell just as he had done before, and rush forward to attack the beast that was attacking his sire. The cane whipped round onto his hand and he put everything he had into showing no reaction.
‘What have you been trained to do when you see a threat behind your hunting partner?’
‘Say what it is and let you know which direction, sir.’
‘Exactly. You calmly and quickly give the name of the species and indicate the direction by a quick flick of your eyes. We have practiced this. We have practiced until you should do it without thinking. You tell me what it is – and where. You don’t point – or yell – or charge headlong – at the thing – and then – I have a chance – to protect you.’
Angelus let the cane fall to his side, but Will stood there still, his hand held immobile, his face schooled to show nothing.
‘You have got to learn this! Damn it, Will, you could have been killed.’ And with a sound that couldn’t possibly be a sob, however much it sounded like one, Angelus folded him into a hug.