Once upon a time on the western coast of the Emerald Isle, on a fair day in early spring when all the wholesome and hardworking folk of the city were going about their normal business, other folk were going about their business, too. This one to see about fixing his violin, that one to buy a roast, and her to find a decent pair of dancing shoes.
The shopkeeper who minded the shoes and the sales thereof was an honest woman of moderate means and a spirit of gold and fire. She enjoyed matching her customers with their perfectly-fitting pairs of shoes in both size and style, and was never hesitant to tell a customer when a pair was simply wrong or ill-looking.
One fine day a fair maiden of the Gentlefolk in search of dancing shoes entered this shop and the shopkeeper proclaimed the pair of dancing shoes that the fair young woman tried on perfect in fit, but merely “near perfect” in style because the red of the shoe clashed with the red of the woman’s hair, and mightn’t the black be better? Enraged, the fair young woman left the store, flicking her long, slender fingers in fury as she did.
And so, once upon a time, there was shop called Enchanted Evenings which was cursed and all of those who found a perfect fit were cursed as well, and there was great bloodshed and tears among the good people of the town.
In all honesty, Angel thought that the process of learning to drive a modern car and getting a modern driver’s license was a complete joke; an utter waste of time for both teacher and student, and worse: a total lack of respect for the art and skill of handling fast-moving vehicles.
He hadn’t been meaning to mention this to the student driver next to him, but then the car suddenly braked for a stop sign that William had missed while looking for crossing pedestrians, it just came out.
“I mean, it does everything for you! Why don’t they just let 4-year-olds drive themselves to preschool?”
“Thanks, Angel,” William grumbled as he started through the intersection.
They were driving through one of the outer Galway neighborhoods north of the city in one of the driving school’s rented student cars because there was no way in hell Angel would let William use his far-too-expensive French luxury car he’d named A Mhuirnín . In Irish the name meant “My Dear,” and he’d chosen it ostensibly because it fit and was beautifully simple. Secretly, it was because it reminded him of Darla.
William had finished all his prerequisites for taking the driving test except for the number of supervised nighttime hours he needed to log. It was formality, mostly. The law required licensed drivers to be able to drive a “manual” (that is, not self-driving) car, since most cars had the option to switch between manual and automatic. Still, manual settings came with standard safety programs for emergencies like teenagers forgetting to stop at an empty intersection.
Angel had (illegally) gotten his bribable mechanic to turn those safety features off in his car.
So William needed nighttime driving hours and he had asked Angel to supervise, tired of his mother’s minutely detailed corrections and the driving instructor’s bored and surly, “That’s fine. Turn left. Forgot the blinker” lessons.
And Angel had agreed for the change from regular lessons. “Regular,” being, of course, relative. In their case, demon-fighting, swordsmanship, and Latin were as regular as they got.
Angel gave William an apologetic sideways glance. “That’s not what I - I’m just saying I don’t get why you need all these hours of practice when the car will fix all your mistakes for you.”
“Computers are smart,” William agreed, “but not smart enough to counter the stupidity of every human error.”
Angel chuckled. “Did you come up with that?”
“No, my driving teacher,” William admitted. “But it’s still true. Accidents still happen. Oh! That’s our friend Sanja’s house.” He pointed to a large brick house to their left, out Angel’s passenger window, that was fenced in with ivy-covered brick walls. Through the wrought iron gate, they could see a fountain in the courtyard as they passed it. “Her dad’s an international businessman or something, right Cal?”
Calder glanced up from his Palm in the back seat. He had elected not to learn to drive, not really seeing the point in adding another course when public transit was both easy and efficient. William had said it would be good to learn ‘just in case’ and Calder had replied “just in case what? It’s not like I’m moving to the country.” Calder was tagging along now because they’d picked him up at home for a very roundabout ride to a classmate’s party.
“I don’t know,” Calder replied about Sanja’s father. “Something that makes him rich.”
Angel hmm -ed in acknowledgement, turning back to the front after they passed the large house. He had thought about moving to a bigger place again, missing the vast inside space of the Hyperion, and even the Wolfram & Hart office in L.A. But he’d already invested a lot into making his small flat home (financially - wood was not cheap), and now after buying A Mhuirnín and with the expense of keeping Connor at St. Anthony’s Retirement Home, he could hardly afford car insurance payments, let alone a bigger place. Besides, it would mean moving further away from Connor.
Now that he was thinking about it… “Want to take me to St. Anthony’s on the way there?” Angel asked. It was early spring and the sun still set early, so nighttime wasn’t prohibitively late from visiting a 230-year-old and hoping to catch him awake.
“Sure,” William agreed. “But that’s not at all on the way there.”
“Wait, how long are you going to be?” Calder asked from the back. “We’re already late and Talia Malan’s supposed to be there.”
“Not long,” Angel replied. “I just want to see him before he goes to bed. Not that I don’t understand that getting you a date is way more important than my son...”
Calder whacked Angel’s upper arm with the back of his hand a notch beyond playfully hard. “It’s no fair using your kid as a guilt trip, Angel. I’m pretty sure that counts as ‘bad parenting’.”
“I have extenuating circumstances,” Angel told him. “Plus like eight years to catch up on when I couldn’t use him as a guilt trip at all.”
“That’s your own fault for not telling us about him,” Calder replied. “No sympathy.”
“He’s right, Angel,” William agreed. “No sympathy.”
Angel crossed his arms over his chest and instinctively braced himself as another stop sign approached, but William saw it this time. “Fine,” he grumbled. “Take us to your damn party, then. Make the 462-year-old walk to the retirement home.”
“No sympathy,” the boys chorused.
The party was in full swing by the time they got there, thumping music audible from outside where they bid farewell to Angel. They left the car down the street, out of the way until its curfew kicked in and it would drive itself back to the school’s lot. Calder asked William to check his hair in the back to make sure it still looked okay, and they went into the small townhouse, dark and packed almost to bursting with teenagers and the smell of alcohol.
It was Jodie Dempsey’s house party - her mother had gone out of town and her father had passed a few months before, and as she said in the mass text that went out to their whole class, she deserved to let loose a bit.
“Let loose” was a bit of an understatement. She was already hammered when William and Calder closed the door behind them, looking up at the shouts of delight from the friends that noticed them, and stumbled over, cup of beer in hand, laughing and kissing their cheeks.
“In there!” she shouted over the music, gesturing back toward the kitchen so emphatically that her long dirty blonde ponytail whipped in her face. “Keg stand contest later, okay? Thanks for coming!” And then she danced off to join another group of people in the living room, her artfully-cut t-shirt slipping off one shoulder.
Calder turned to grin at William, who grinned back, and they started making their way toward the kitchen, getting stopped now and then by friends, and were told by each of them they needed to go get drinks.
“Sanja brought vodka ,” Jamina Porter told them with a wickedly delighted gleam in her eye. “You have to kiss her if you want a shot.”
“Have to?” William said, raising his eyebrows.
“I know!” Jamina agreed. “Only thing is, she has to like it.”
“Hey, Jamina,” Calder said, glancing around, “is Talia Malan here tonight?”
“Yeah, I think she’s by the speakers…”
Calder thanked her and asked William to get him a beer, peeling off to go find Talia and screwing up his courage. They had made out once already in a deserted school hallway last week, and though they had barely spoken since then, Calder had felt something stirring in the pit of his stomach that was more than just the excitement of the moment. He had felt it every time they caught eyes in the halls or passed by each other, too busy on their way to the next activity to talk. And if the spark in her eye was any indication, she felt it too.
Talia was on the debate team, which just made finding the right words to convince her to go out with him that much more intimidating. Calder found sudden, overcome kissing much easier to handle than words, but really, he reasoned, the words were a formality. Something to make it official. He could think of no reason why she’d say no to a holo next week (and maybe making out again after), but his palms still sweated as he scanned the people closest to the booming speakers through the darkness and flashing lights.
His eyes skirted past the couple snogging in the corner because it didn’t occur to him that could be Talia. It was on his second pass that he noticed the glint of rings running through hair, and he remembered liking the way Talia’s rings had rubbed against his scalp. The couple’s heads turned and Calder’s stomach dropped.
Talia Malan was snogging Pete Dyer.
Pete Dyer , who was very publicly on record as stating that debating was nothing more than mental masturbation, which made the debate team mental strippers.
Calder’s hands curled into fists. The kiss broke for a second and Calder could see Talia’s tongue slip back into her own mouth.
Calder’s first instinct was to deck Pete Dyer right there. Calder fought vampires : he was afraid of no one at school, and everyone knew it. Many people were afraid of him because of it. Calder was not a bully, but everyone knew he could take the bullies, if they dared to try something.
But when Angel had agreed to train Calder how to fight, he made him swear not to abuse that power, tempting as it would sometimes be.
With great power comes great responsibility. I think. Or something. Isn’t that how it goes? Anyway, if you’re going to be powerful, Calder, you have to also be honorable.
And Calder had listened, partly because Angel drilled it into him (more than he drilled it into William, Calder noticed), and partly because Calder respected Angel.
So Calder chose his second impulse.
Fists unclenching, he wheeled around and pushed his way into the crowded kitchen. It was brighter in there, so it was easy to find Sanja Renato perched on the kitchen table, surrounded by a group of people - including William - and laughing in delight at the attention around her. Sanja had gotten her handsome Spanish looks from her father, but her love of attention from her mother. Calder didn’t know of anyone from school who had been to the Renato’s house and not been flirted with by Mrs. Renato.
Calder shouldered his way up to her and her laughter trailed off as she looked at him, her lips forming a coy smile and dark eyes tracking Calder slowly down and back up again. “Looking for a shot?” she asked. “It’ll cost you, and I’m not giving it to just anyone.”
Calder straightened his shoulders. “How much do I get if I make out with you?”
The entire group oooooooo ’d in unison and someone whistled while someone else shouted that Joey Jones had tried asking that already.
Sanja’s eyebrows went up and she laughed. “That depends on how good you are.”
Calder shrugged. “I guess if I’m really bad everyone’ll know, won’t they?”
Sanja appraised him. Then she turned and handed the bottle of half-drunk vodka to Emma McCurdy for safekeeping, spread her knees apart, and tapped the edge of the table where her skirt barely draped and said, “Come on, then,” among more whistles and cheers.
Taking a deep breath, Calder stepped up between her legs, put his hands on her hips, and kissed her.
Calder had also learned from Angel that when it came to women, the key was to go slow. That if he wanted to get anywhere, he had to wait for signals. Calder’s anger and hormones urged him (very very strongly) to take over the moment and his brain reminded him of that lesson when, instead of teaching them Latin, Calder had gotten Angel to teach them about girls.
Don’t be desperate. Don’t be pushy. And for god’s sake, don’t start with tongue. Save something for later.
Calder pushed harder and deepened the kiss, sliding his hands under Sanja’s shirt and his tongue into her mouth.
Whatever, he was tried to make a point, right? Talia would definitely be hearing about this before the night was over.
People oooooo ’d again and whooped. Sanja’s legs tightened around his hips and she bit his tongue lightly. They adjusted, Calder pulling her closer and running his thumbs a little higher over the crests of her ribs. She ran long fingernails through his scalp, making his blood tingle.
He broke it off before anything too embarrassing happened.
The stood there for several long seconds, breathing each other’s air, and the crowd hushed while they waited for Sanja’s verdict.
She cleared her throat, dropping her hands from his shoulders and pushing herself back on the table a few inches. She drew out the appraisal for several more long seconds before she said, “How much do you want?”
Everyone cheered and over the din, Calder said, “Just one shot...and a piece of this action.” Sanja raised an intrigued eyebrow.
Stepping out from between her knees, Calder hopped up on the table next to her and said, “From now on, anyone wanting a shot has to come through me, too.”
The crowd laughed and a few people cheered until they realized what that meant for them. A few others booed. Sanja laughed, taking the bottle back from Emma and a shot glass from the table behind her, handing both of them to Calder. “I didn’t know you had any bi inclinations, Lauchley,” she said.
“I don’t,” Calder replied, pouring himself a shot. “But if you keep the beer coming I could just for tonight.” The crowd laughed again and someone shouted for someone to get Calder a beer. Calder gestured to William with the bottle. “Except him, he gets a best friend pass.”
People shouted again, jostling William around with friendly jealousy while Calder downed his shot. Sanja told William he’d better step on up, then, and someone pressed a plastic cup of cold beer into Calder’s hand.
He drank three long swallows and then leaned back on one hand while William won his vodka with a kiss, wondering how long it would be before Talia Malan found out.
“I think I should feel honored,” Judith was saying from across the wooden table at the Dragon’s Crown. “William said you laughed when he asked you to take him driving until you realized he didn’t mean in your car.”
Angel twirled his glass of whiskey a little sheepishly. “Yeah, well, you’re not a brand new driver. And you’re historically-minded. If you want to learn to drive like we used to back in the day, I’ll teach you.”
Judith smiled and said she’d think about it.
After going to see Connor, Angel had gotten on a tram to head over to Old Galway, where the Dragon’s Crown sat at the edge of the city center. No, the old city center, Angel still had to remind himself. Galway had grown since Angel had been human, and sometimes it still baffled him just how much.
East of the old city center was the new city center: the heart of high rises that housed offices and flats. Angel lived there, now, just across the street from Galvia Hospital, which was new to Angel, but was still well over 200 years old. Even further north was the newest section of the city, Uptown: one of those environmental, off-the-grid experiments from the mid-21st century that flourished in success and popularity.
So the Dragon’s Crown wasn’t the closest pub he could go to, but it was his favorite. It was old - it hearkened back to Angel’s human days, in fact, though he’d never gone at the time. The taverns he’d frequented back then were on the west side of the city, closer to home. The Dragon’s Crown smelled old, in the most delightful way.
It also turned into a demon pub around midnight, which gave Angel a good place to socialize (as much as he had to), a place to meet people to exchange information or goods, a place where he could be himself. He was known as the surly vampire in the far booth, but that didn’t stop demons from talking to him or inviting him to a game of kitten poker. It was just who he was; accepted as known fact. He didn’t have to pretend to be any more human than he felt like, and it felt so damn good.
At the stop after Angel had gotten on the tram, Judith Cole had boarded, having just gotten off work at one of the clinics she was sometimes sent to instead of the much larger Galvia Hospital. He enjoyed her company, partly because she didn’t make him feel like he had to pretend, either, and though she did have a tendency to kill the surly atmosphere he’d created at his booth, he didn’t hesitate to ask her to join him. And then it hadn’t taken long after sitting down for their conversation to turn to William’s driving lesson.
“I appreciate what you’re doing for him, Angel,” Judith went on. “I know driving is far more mundane than your usual lessons, but I think it’s important to him that you said yes.”
Angel nodded. Honestly, it was a little important to him, too, but he couldn’t place why and saying it out loud would have made it more real, so instead he responded with, “I don’t mind.” And then, feeling like that was more brush-off-y than he intended, added, “I enjoy driving. And it’s lower stakes than taking them out to a graveyard to teach them to fight while keeping them alive.”
“That , I also deeply appreciate,” Judith said before taking a long sip of her gin and tonic.
“Keeping them alive or teaching them to fight?” Angel asked, meaning it as a joke.
But Judith replied, “Both.” When Angel didn’t respond in his surprise, she added, “It’s what he wants for his life, and apparently, being a Champion of Good is in his future. How could I not be grateful that he has such a good teacher for that?”
The corners of Angel’s mouth twitched with unexpected warmth and he nodded once, raising his glass to his lips for a sip of whiskey.
“Can I ask you something?” Judith asked when he lowered his glass again. Angel nodded a little trepidatiously, and she went on, “Are you at peace with the whole thing from last summer? With the Powers That Be taking an interest in a corner of your life again?”
The very question made Angel’s stomach clench. “No,” he replied. While it was true that nothing had happened, vision- or PTB-wise since then, it hadn’t even been a year. It probably just wasn’t time yet. “But at least… I don’t regret my actions. After Cordy dragged the vision out of me, that is.”
Judith smiled at him, soft and grateful. “You don’t regret helping us in the end.”
“No,” Angel replied. “I’m not signed on with the Powers, but I’m signed on with you guys.” He let out a nervous breath at the confession. It felt like only a matter of time until those allegiances clashed, with the boys destined for Champion-hood. But maybe by then he’d figure out a solution.
“That,” Judith said with a gentle seriousness that Angel had never seen mastered so well in anyone else, “is very comforting to hear.”
That made one of them.
Calder helped Sanja screen the vodka consumers until the bottle was gone and, two beers and another shot down, stumbled off the table, high-fiving her a job well done. He couldn’t remember seeing Talia in the crowd, so he went off in search of information and gossip, a fresh beer in hand.
“Hey, Will,” Calder slapped the shoulder of someone who turned around and was not, in fact, William. “Oh, sorry. D’you know where William Cole is? Or Talia Malan? Or Pete Dyer? I heard they were snogging earlier. Not all of them. Just Talia and Pete. Will is blameless.”
Subtlety had never been Calder’s strong suit, and apparently it was even less so when he was drunk.
The person - whom Calder knew but couldn't quite put a name to, shook his head.
“Thanks, mate.” Calder patted the guy’s shoulder again and lumbered off.
In the living room he found another Will lookalike who turned out not to be Will.
“Damn, you all look the same,” Calder complained. “Look, d’you know where Will Cole is? Or Talia Dyer? Or Pete Malan? I heard they were snogging earlier. The first two. Last two, I mean. Will is good.”
“Everyone saw them snogging,” the Will-lookalike (who Calder just noticed was wearing a dress and was named Lissa Scarpelli) said. “No sign of them for a while though. Maybe they went upstairs?”
“Thanks,” Calder told her and then leaned in to kiss her, since it had become a bit of a habit.
“Uh-uh,” she pushed him away.
“Riiiight,” Calder nodded and then turned and tried to walk away as smoothly as he could. Later William told him he looked like he was pretending to be an ice skater.
“You’re drunk,” William accused, appearing from the crowd.
“Will!” Calder cried triumphantly. “Am not. You are.” Calder had no idea how many beers William had had.
“Am not!” William protested, then leaned in worriedly. “Do you think my mum will be able to tell?”
“That you’re not drunk?”
Calder swayed, stumped by the question. “Well I won’t tell her.”
William reached out and draped an arm over Calder’s shoulder. “ Thank you,” he breathed gratefully. His breath stank of beer.
Calder took a sip of his own beer and wrapped his arm around William’s back. “Anytime. D’you know where Pete and Talia are? You’re blameless, by the way, I’ve been telling everyone.”
“Thanks,” William said, sipping his own beer. “But uh...I hate to tell you this, mate…”
“They were snogging, I know,” Calder nodded, waving his beer vaguely. “And you know what, I don’t even care, you know? Why would I care? We weren’t dating, so I don’t care.”
“Right,” William agreed quickly.
“I don’t care at all. Not even a little care.”
“Not a little one. Or a big one.”
“Or any one. I just want to find them to see if Talia knows that I just kissed half the class because I don’t care about her snogging Pete. I want her to know I don’t care, you know?”
William nodded. “Totally reasonable. Let’s go find her.”
They turned and stumbled, arms around each other’s shoulders, and somehow managed to climb the narrow stairs, arguing about who was fatter the whole way up. It was even darker up there than downstairs, and since neither of them had a free hand, neither could dig out their Palms for some light. It didn’t occur to either of them to use the light switch.
“I found a door!” William cried after they lost their balance and crashed into one, beer sloshing all over them.
“Open it!” Calder told him excitedly.
“Can’t, I’m still holding beer,” William told him.
Calder rolled his eyes. “Then finish it, dummy.”
William raised his cup to his lips and drank what remained of his beer in two large swallows. Calder, inspired, did the same, and together they crushed their empty cups in their fists and dropped them to the floor. They fistbumped, missing the first two times, and turned back to the door, dropping their arms from each other’s shoulders.
“Okay,” Calder nodded. “Now open it.”
William grabbed the doorknob and pushed it open.
It was the bathroom and it was occupied. Joey Jones looked up from the toilet in horror and reached out a leg to kick the door back. Through a chorus of whoas and heys , the door slammed shut again and William turned, wafting the air under his nose. “I might throw up,” he choked. “Joey needs to see a doctor or something. It’s not supposed to smell that bad. You can open the next one.”
They each took a wall and felt their way along it until Calder shouted that he found another door, pushing it open before he even finished shouting. The noise startled the couple inside on the bed.
“Talia?” Calder asked, oblivious to the scandalized looks he was getting.
“Lauchley?” came Thomas Ruck’s voice. “Get the hell out of here!”
Well if it wasn’t Pete, it probably wasn’t Talia. Calder closed the door.
“I found the next door, Cal,” William’s voice said a little further down the hall.
Calder made his way over to him. “Remember,” he said, “if she’s in there, we tell her we don’t care.”
“I remember,” William nodded seriously. “Also remember, don’t tell my mum I’m not drunk.”
“Right,” Calder patted William on the back. He took a deep breath and said, “Open it.”
William grasped the knob and twisted...but it wouldn’t turn. He tried again. “Huh,” he said like he couldn’t quite comprehend it.
Calder tried it.
It was no use, the handle wouldn’t turn. Which meant...that whoever was in there didn’t want to get caught. Like maybe they knew that Calder Lauchley might be mad and didn’t want to face him.
Calder backed up a few steps. “Move away, Will,” he said somberly. He lifted his right foot off the ground, squinting at the place he was aiming for. He wobbled. He set it foot down, regained his balance, and tried again.
“Actually, Will, come over here and keep me steady. I think I might be a little drunk.”
William stepped up beside Calder and let him use his shoulder to balance with. Calder raised a foot, kicked, and yelled in pain and the impact shot back up his leg. But the door made a promising cracking noise, so he raised his foot again.
The door broke open on the second try, banging against the wall on the other side. The people inside whipped around to face them, their faces hooded from view in the ambient light from the air that...sparkled?
A small unicorn figurine galloped out the door and down the hall, leaving a trail of glitter dust behind it.
“...The hell?” William murmured.
“Talia?” Calder asked hopefully.
“I hope that the ballet was as glamorous as they were expecting,” Judith said as she set aside her empty glass with a dull clink on the table. “ Giselle is a classical favorite of mine.”
“Oh, it was...memorable,” Angel agreed vaguely. “Definitely trippy...and a little bit--” He stopped suddenly and cleared his throat. “The owner was a vengeful sorcerer. We stopped him. And...the whole company. They don’t exist anymore.”
Judith straightened up a bit. As a former dancer herself - ballet as well as other styles - her back was habitually straighter than most people’s, but it seemed that she felt it could always be straighter. “Oh,” she said simply. “Well, then if it’s all the same to you, I might not invite you along the next time I go. At least not to any of my favorite companies.”
Angel nodded. “I understand.”
A comfortable silence fell, but Angel nevertheless filled it with finishing off his whiskey. He set his glass aside with the same dull clink .
“So how is Cordelia?” Judith asked. “Have you heard from her?”
Angel glanced up at Judith and then shook his head. Not since she’d left, promising to come back to see him “sometime.”
“I guess she’s pretty busy,” he said with a light shrug, “and I don’t have a phone that can call across dimensions, so…”
Judith nodded. Another brief silence. “Still, it must be nice knowing that she’s out there somewhere.”
“It is,” Angel agreed. It was nice. It was also so much more than nice . So much better and so much worse. But “nice” was good enough for now. For this circumstance and this person across the table.
Judith looked like she wanted to press the topic but she bit her lip in hesitation, probably wondering if she thought she and Angel were good enough friends to pry. Angel wondered that, too. He wondered if he would truthfully answer the questions that a prying friend might ask.
Was Cordy part of his life again? Yes? Maybe. Kind of. If you call the promise of an occasional visit every few years being part of someone’s life. If you think that the visits count more if it includes sex, then a little more toward the Yes.
Had they…? Yes. It had won out over food.
Were they…? Together: no. In love: Angel was trying very hard not to be. He thought he probably failed a long time ago.
Judith took a deep breath as she prepared to speak.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you: William is unavailable this weekend. My mother is coming into town for a visit and he’s forbidden from leaving me alone with her.” There was a small spark of humor in her eye, though her tone was serious.
Angel leaned back with a small smile, glad to be moving on to someone else’s uncomfortable topic instead of his own. “A Mother Shield,” he said. “Kid is pretty good at defense.”
“And the Grandson Parry is a mighty powerful one,” Judith gave a little shudder like she were contemplating just how lost the war would be without it.
The corner of Angel’s smile twitched once before it relaxed into sobriety. “Things aren’t good with your mother?”
Judith considered him a moment, also seeming to waver over how much light to make of the subject. Finally she said, “Well I don’t expect fireworks… But we may set off a few smoke alarms.”
“I’ll alert the fire department,” Angel told her.
“And you’ll let me have my son under house arrest from Thursday evening until Monday afternoon.”
“What about school?”
Judith did not meet his eyes as she said in a haughty sort of defense, “Spring break starts the following week. It’s not unusual for students to take the Friday beforehand off…”
“Judith, Judith,” Angel tsked . “That’s his education .”
Judith shot him a friendly glare. “It’s my sanity.”
Well, who could argue with sanity? Angel raised his hands in surrender. “Got it. He’s all yours.”
“Thank you.” Judith pulled out her Palm to check the time. “I should be going. I have an early shift tomorrow.”
“I’ll walk you to the door,” Angel said as they both slid out of their seats. “I have to see a guy about a thing in Renmore.”
Judith gave him an odd look between pulling up a payment option on her Palm and leading the way up to the bar. “The tram I’m taking goes right by Renmore,” she said. “You’ll only take me to the door?”
“I thought I’d walk,” Angel said. “Atalia Bridge is nice at night.”
“Oh.” Judith tapped her Palm against the small payment kiosk and waited for the approving beep . “I’ll have to do that sometime.”
Angel had a running tab that charged his account at the end of every week, so he just turned to nod to Marty as they left.
Drunken fighting had a gritty sort of glamour in movies and holos, but Calder very quickly found out that, while the grit was real, the glamour was not. Except in that weird sparkly electric-type stuff in the air. With his vision blurred and his cognition backslid at least 16 of his almost-18 years, the swirling sparks of light were kind of glamorous in their own right.
Something hard and knuckle-y slammed into Calder’s cheekbone and he went flying. His feet lifted off the ground and he swam through the electricity and the sparking swirls and past dark, heaving bodies and--
He landed on something wonderfully soft and Calder thought that it would be a wonderful time to take a nap. He was so sleepy…
And a little nauseous.
Groaning, Calder sat up.
“Cal?” Will’s voice drifted slowly and loudly into Calder’s ears.
“Yeah,” Calder shook himself, cheek throbbing, but instead of clearing his head it was like shaking a snowglobe. A snowglobe of bright, glittery lights. “Blech. Yeah.”
“I’m pretty sure we have to smash the unicorn,” Will’s voice came from the other side of the room now. There was thuds and grunts all around. “Spop the starklies. Stop the sparklies.”
“Rrrrright.” Calder pushed himself up. “Spop the sparklies. Will?”
“Where’s the unicorn?”
Someone in a dark robe and hood loomed out of the darkness at Calder. He ducked just before the blow would have hit him and in a move that was automatic now, rammed his shoulder up and into the stomach of his attacker. The person blew out a painful-sounding whoof of air and moaned. Calder let the person fall backward onto the ground and looked wildly around.
It was hard to see in all light from the sparks against the darkness of the room, glaring off his drunken vision like tiny headlights. Figures moved everywhere, people were shouting, grunting, the music downstairs still booming.
“Stop, stop! ” Jodie Dempsey was shouting. She was wearing one of the robes, too, but the hood had slid off. She was trying to push William and someone else Calder didn’t recognize apart, and Calder couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t seem to be drunk at all anymore.
Suddenly, downstairs erupted into chaos. There was an uproar like the swell of a crowd at a football match shouting “Go!” and “Run!”, only much more panicked, and Calder dimly registered flashing lights outside the house. Someone behind Calder swore and knocked into him on their way out the broken door.
“Will!” Calder shouted, tripping over several pillar candles on his way to William. “Will, let’s go! Police!”
Angel ended up walking with Judith to the end of the block, where she stopped to wait at a station for the next tram that would take her up to Ballybaan, and Angel continued on to Atalia Bridge, which would take him to Renmore. Spanning Lough Atalia, it was for pedestrian and bike traffic only, and Angel often liked to use it to get to the Dragon’s Crown so he could stare off into the dark water below as he walked.
He noticed the flashing lights not long after he made it to the other side and was passing through the neighborhood of townhouses where he’d bid goodbye to the boys for their party. Angel tended to ignore chaos and crowds as a general rule, especially when the bright lights of police cars were involved - they hurt his eyes. But he had an odd sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and he didn’t question himself as he veered toward the emergency vehicles.
When he rounded the corner he saw the house of the busted party, police monitoring and questioning the kids who had yet to be picked up by seething parents, and a few said parents were hauling their stumbling teens home with looks that ranged from irate to livid.
Angel wondered if William and Calder were still there or if they’d made it out. He wondered if he had any sort of moral responsibility, here. To do (or to have done) what, he wasn’t sure. He sometimes bought them beers at the Dragon’s Crown (with Judith’s permission, he might add), and it wasn’t like he hadn’t known - or guessed - that there weren’t going to be parents there.
He scanned the people as he approached and stopped when he noticed the two boys sitting on the front steps. They looked miserable. William was holding an ice pack to his jaw, Calder one to his left cheek. A single policeman stood in front of them, partially blocking Angel’s view with his not-so-thin stature.
“We told you,” Calder was saying with a slurred kind of pain through the ice pack at his cheek (and, Angel guessed, some unknown but significant amount of alcohol), “we stopped the fight. Can’t you just - ”
“No, I ‘can’t just,’” the officer replied wearily, like it was the fifth time they were going over this. Angel approached them quietly, ghosting up behind the officer to listen more closely. “Kid, I’m only going to say this one more time: Give me your IDs. Now . Or I’m taking you in.”
“I left mine at home,” Calder muttered grumpily as William shifted nervously beside him.
“I’ll bet,” the officer muttered just as grumpily. “Alright, up you--”
“What the hell is going on, here?” Angel shouted, stepping out from behind the officer. The officer jumped and turned, hand automatically going for his belt. The boys jumped, too, and their expressions were a hesitant mix of relief and horror to see him. This pleased Angel: maybe he wasn’t such a bad influence that they weren’t at least a little afraid that he might actually be mad at them.
“I knew it,” Angel nodded briskly before the officer could reply, biting his lower lip like he was angrily disappointed in the boys. “As soon as I heard-- What am I going to do with you two?”
The officer’s tension eased a bit. Angel noticed that he had remarkably bushy eyebrows as their inward slant relaxed upward. “Sir, are you their father?”
“Sometimes, I wonder,” Angel replied crossly. He gave the boys a hard glare and then turned to the officer. “What have they been up to, officer?”
“Oh, the usual for this crowd,” the officer replied, placing his hands on his hips. “Drinking, fighting. No drugs this time, from what we can tell. Mother is out of town. Your boys didn’t want to give me their IDs, or your number to call you.” He gave them a significant glare that plainly said that he didn’t believe for a second that Calder’s ID had been left at home. Angel knew for a fact that William’s hadn’t - he’d used it to rent the school’s car earlier.
Angel shook his head in disbelief. “Irresponsible brats. Too afraid of owning up, is what it is. Calder’s particularly bad,” Angel nodded toward Calder, who gave him a somewhat offended look. Angel turned back to the officer and took note of the name on his badge. “What do you need from me, Officer...McCullough?”
Officer McCullough breathed a visible sigh of relief at finally getting somewhere. “Their IDs would be ideal - we haven’t found any open bottles of hard liquor, so I just have to verify that they’re 18.”
“Try again, Pat,” another officer appeared in the doorway behind the boys, holding up an empty bottle of vodka. She gave Officer McCullough a Dumb kids, eh? look. “Found it at the top of the bin. ‘Scuse me, kids,” she squeezed between William and Calder on the steps and passed between Angel and the officer on her way by.
Officer McCullough sighed heavily and turned back to Angel with an exasperated look.
Angel shrugged apologetically. “I’ll eat my hat if either of them thought far enough ahead to bring their IDs. Say, when are lot going to catch up to the digital age and start accepting electronic IDs?”
“Hey, I don’t make the rules,” Officer McCullough shook his head. “Guess it’s too easy to make fake ones. The chips in the cards are more secure, or something like that. Would make my job easier, though...”
Angel chuckled, reaching in his own back pocket to pull out his wallet. “Will mine do if I give you my word they’re over 18? In age, if not in intelligence.” Angel offered his card to the policeman, who sighed.
“I’m really not supposed to…” he said as he took it anyway. He pulled out his Palm, which had a small attachment for reading ID chips. He stuck Angel’s card in the device and they waited for a few seconds. When it beeped, Officer McCullough’s bushy eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Oh ,” he said, staring at the information that popped up. “Oh, right. Of course, sir, there’s no problem here.”
“Great,” Angel smiled. “Thank you so much, Officer McCullough. So...can I get these two home? I think their mother will want a strong word…”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Officer McCullough handed Angel’s ID back to him. He turned to William and Calder and raised a finger. “You didn’t have any of that vodka, right?”
William shook his head quickly while Calder nodded vigorously. “Right, no, of course not,” they said in rounds.
Officer McCullough nodded. “Next time, remember your IDs, okay?”
William and Calder mumbled incoherent but enthusiastic affirmatives and thanks as they stood up, dropping their ice packs on the stoop. They edged around the officer, looking uncertainly up at Angel, who maintained a stony, disapproving glare at them.
“Well?” Angel jerked his head toward the street.
They shuffled hurriedly off and Angel gave the officer one last What are you gonna do? eye roll before thanking him and following the boys.
None of them spoke until they were out of sight around the next corner, when Calder blew out an exaggerated sigh of relief. “Whew! Thanks, Angel. That could’ve been really bad. Now: we have to go back.”
Angel raised an eyebrow. “Back home? Damn straight.”
“No, no, back to Jodie’s house. The unicorn has to stay smashed.”
“Uh huh,” Angel agreed vaguely. “I’m sure it’ll still be there tomorrow…”
“No ,” Calder insisted. Even walking next to him, his breath stank of beer. Angel wrinkled his nose. “Tell him, Will.”
“It’s true,” William agreed. “It needs to stay smashed. Are you mad at us? Are you going to tell my mum?”
Calder sighed again, this time in frustration. “Will, that’s not-- Tell Angel about the unicorn.”
“It needs to stay smashed,” William told Angel.
“Yeah,” Angel said, pulling them both by the elbows down the next northward turn. He was pretty sure there was a tram stop at the end of that road. This was a residential area, and all the townhouses looked the same to him. “So I’ve heard.”
“No, Angel,” Calder protested, though he allowed Angel to drag him along the empty sidewalk, “you don’t get it. See, behind the locked door there were sparkles and people with hoods and a little unicorn running around and we smashed it once, but then it came back .”
Angel stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and pulled Calder closer, smelling for the presence of drugs.
“Hey! Whoa, Angel, I’m not looking to snog anyone anymore.”
Angel let go of him and moved onward. Calder smelled clean (of drugs, but not of much else), but not all drugs had a detectable scent. “What’d they put in your beer?” he asked.
“Huh?” Calder asked, trotting to keep up with Angel’s quick stride.
“Hops, water, alcohol...” William started listing.
“Drugs?” Angel clarified.
Calder shook his head. “Nope, no drugs.”
“...grains, yeast, deliciousness…”
“Come on,” Angel said tiredly. Where was that tram stop? Next street over?
“Really ,” Calder insisted.
“No! Look, I know what I saw! We’ve got to go back and make sure that unicorn is smashed or who knows what’ll happen.”
“...fizzies, the color gold...”
“I do,” Angel told him. He spotted the tram stop up ahead and breathed a sigh of relief. “Nothing. Nothing’s going to happen. Little unicorns that come back to life don’t exist, and the only sparkly magic spells I know of are directly related to Tinkerbell and Peter Pan. Go home, Calder. Sleep it off. And drink lots of water or your head will be splitting by morning.”
“You don’t know all the spells in the world,” Calder retorted grumpily.
“I know more than you,” Angel replied. “And I’m sober. Benefit of logic goes to me.”
“Alright, fine,” Calder said, spinning around so suddenly it made Angel dizzy. “I’ll do it alone.”
“That’s what she said,” William laughed, but then quickly stopped to follow Calder. “But actually, I’ll help.”
“Guys!” Angel growled.
The boys stopped and looked cautiously back at Angel.
“I just saved your asses back there. Are you really going to--”
“Yeah, hey,” Calder frowned, pointing a finger at Angel, having just realized something. “What’s your ID say, anyway?”
Angel waved a hand dismissively. “It’s nothing, it’s a vampire thing.”
“It says you’re a vampire?” William asked.
“Not exactly. But look, guys: I’ve been there. I know how much you think you’re right about this, but can you just trust me? Go home.”
Calder folded his arms across his chest stubbornly. Angel sighed in frustration. If they wanted to get arrested, why not let them?
“Fine,” Angel held up his hands in surrender. “Go smash the damn unicorn.”
He turned on his heel and began stalking away.
“How about you trust us?” Calder called after several paces. Angel paused. “If there’s no unicorn, then someone somehow drugged an untapped keg of beer that Jodie just got from the brewery.” He had a difficult time pronouncing brewery.
“And also,” William added, “beer isn’t hallucin-- hall-- hullcintary…”
“Hallucinatory,” Angel said, turning around slowly. They were right.
“That,” William agreed. “Are you going to tell my mum?”
Angel shook his head. Judith would find out from the smell anyway.
“There were people in hooded cloaks,” Calder said, his voice lowering seriously, “and they were chanting something and they were not happy that I interrupted.”
Angel took a few steps toward them, still not quite believing them, but for the first time starting to have doubts.
“And there was a little unicorn and little angels in the middle of the pentacle, but they scattered when I came in,” Calder continued. “And the people came after me and Will and that’s how the fight started.”
“So really, we lied to the officer,” William said somberly. “We didn’t help stop the fight… My mum’s going to kill me.”
Angel frowned, thinking their story over. “Do you have any idea who they were? Or why they were there?”
Calder shrugged, but William offered, “High energy potential? Lots of people, lots of dancing…”
“Lots of snogging,” Calder grumbled.
Angel scratched the back of his head, thinking.
“Are we going to go?” Calder finally asked.
“No,” Angel replied slowly. Calder made a noise of frustrated protest, but Angel held up a hand. “We’ll look into it,” he promised. “Just not now. Whatever they might’ve been trying to do was disrupted. I don’t think they’ll try again tonight.”
“But there’s a tiny unicorn running around,” Calder reminded him.
“We won’t be able to find it now,” Angel told him. “Let’s get you guys home. Come over tomorrow after sundown and we’ll look into it.”
William perked up a bit. “So you believe us?”
Did Angel believe in sparkly unicorn-angel spells? Not particularly, but he’d seen enough to know that he couldn’t rule anything out completely. And he did owe the boys some trust, after all they’d been through. “I believe something’s going on,” he said diplomatically. “Even if it’s just that someone drugged a whole keg of beer.”
Calder punched Angel lightly in the arm, but started walking toward the tram stop on his own. Angel turned to walk with him, and William followed.
“Was it at least a fun party before the fight?” Angel asked as they walked.
“Yeah,” William said at the same time as Calder snorted derisively.
Angel gave him a questioning sideways glance.
“Talia Malan was snogging Pete Dyer in the corner,” Calder answered morosely.
The girl’s name rang a bell, but Angel couldn’t quite… “Oh, the girl you were going to ask out?”
“Yes ,” Calder huffed, crossing his arms.
“Ah, sorry,” Angel winced. That was why he’d stuck with tavern wenches: it was their job to snog everyone.
“So then Cal snogged half the school in return,” William said.
“Well,” Angel said thoughtfully, “I guess that’s better than punching...whatshisname? Pete? Good for you, Calder.”
“I was thinking of you the whole time, Angel,” Calder replied.
“I...don’t know what to think about that,” Angel said, blinking.
“Not like that, just that you’re a good influence,” Calder told him. “I still don’t like guys. I kissed a bunch of them because I don’t care about Talia snogging Pete and they all wanted vodka, but I wasn’t really into it.” Angel wasn’t sure if he should try to keep up with the logic of events. “Except that Louis Goldberg has the softest lips I’ve ever felt…”
“My mum’s going to find out, isn’t she?” William said despondently from Angel’s other side. He crossed his arms.
“That was three seconds in heaven…”
“Probably,” Angel told William. “You reek.”
“You could stay at my place tonight,” Calder offered. “I don’t think my parents’ll notice.”
“Or you could just get it over with,” Angel said. They reached the station and Angel pressed the call button to let the next tram know it had passengers. “It’s not like you can get much more grounded than you already are…”
“Huh?” William asked.
“Oh right! I was supposed to tell you--”
“I got it,” Angel waved a hand. “House arrest. Grandson Parry. Might as well earn the work, huh?”
“I guess…” William agreed.
“Too bad you two live in flats,” Angel continued thoughtfully. “When I was your age, I’d just climb through a window on the other side of the house.”
“Drunk?” Calder asked, impressed.
“Sure. You walk a lot of it off on the way home anyway.”
“You kids have it so easy,” Angel said, remembering how he’d have to jump over the bushes without crashing into the outside wall and balance a landing on the sill.
“Yeah,” Calder agreed. “I bet you didn’t have an older vampire friend to lie to the police for you.”
An icy realization hit Angel and he looked at William. “On second thought…” he said slowly, “maybe you don’t tell your mom about this.”