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The Perfect Present

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"Let's spend Christmas in the country," Darla said.

"Why, yes," Angelus agreed. "The fresh air will do us all good. How about Yorkshire? We enjoyed it last century."

As he spoke, he broke the neck of the importunate police constable who was trying to apprehend him. The body dropped to the snowy ground, limp as a sack of wet sand.

"One thing's for sure-"Darla dispatched her own assailant with similar ease -"we can't stay in London a moment longer."

She turned a withering gaze on Spike. "Thanks to you, you stupid boy. One cannot just break every jewellers' window in the Burlington Arcade and expect to walk away unchallenged. Why can't you learn some common sense?"

Spike had his fangs buried in a constable's fat neck. His response was a shrug and a rude hand gesture.

Still glaring at him, Darla brushed imaginary dirt from her grey silk skirts and set her hat to rights.

"Tell me again, Angelus, why we don't just stake the idiot and be done with it?"

For answer, Angelus looked up from fastening the buttons on his coat and indicated Drusilla, who stood between banks of neatly shovelled snow at the entrance to the arcade, gazing up its grandiose sweep at the utter devastation within.

Every shop the length of the arcade, from its arched entrance on Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens at its northern end, now sported frontages like gaping mouths, the few remaining fragments of window glass their broken teeth.

The marble floor, under its great vaulted roof, was covered in debris; shards of glass, splintered wood, bolts of velvet and silk torn from the jewellers' displays.

Amongst the chaos, the bodies of shop assistants, Burlington Beadles and luckless police constables lay piled up together, mangled and bleeding.

Drusilla wore a gold ring on every black-gloved finger, some with stones so large her delicate hands seemed weighted down by them. A tiara, all gold and diamonds, sat precariously on the brim of her black velvet hat. Gold bracelets looped from her wrists, like chains.

One by one, she tore them off and dropped them to the ground.

"Not this one, not this one," she muttered, shaking her head and sending the tiara flying.

"Not this one!" she screamed, as she tore the last ring from her little finger and hurled it through the nearest shop window.

"Spike?" Her voice was a broken, despairing wail. "Spike? I can't find it, Spike. My perfect Christmas present that you promised me. I can't find it."

Burying her face in her hands, she began to sob, as if her heart, too, were broken.

At once, Spike's fangs retracted from his victim's throat. Casting the unfortunate constable away, like so much trash, he leapt to Drusilla's side.

"Don't fret, princess. You'll have your present. I'll find it for you. Just you wait and see."

And he was off, running up the length of the arcade, kicking bodies aside, peering underneath them, climbing into open shop fronts to examine the spilled contents.

Soon he was back, and fastening a delicate gold necklace, hung with a single ruby, big as a quail's egg, around Drusilla's neck.

"There you are."

Drusilla's hands dropped away from her tear-streaked face. Feeling her throat with uncertain, fluttering fingers, she craned over her shoulder to look at Spike.

"Is this really it, Spike? Is it?"

Spike grinned at her and nodded. The next moment, his arms criss-crossed her body, holding her close against him. His tongue licked a wet stripe over the tender flesh behind her ear.

"Looks much better around your sweet neck, Dru, than some fat society bitch's."

Drusilla laughed a high, brittle laugh. Tapping him on the nose with a velvet-gloved finger, she wriggled around in his grip until they were facing each other, and kissed him on the mouth.

"Mind your language, naughty boy. There are ladies, present."

"Ah, sod 'em." Spike kissed her back. "'Cept for present company."

Darla watched their interaction with pursed lips.

"Ah yes, of course. That's why we don't stake him. Every invalid needs a nursemaid."

She rounded on Angelus again.

"But now she has one, I fail to see why we should be saddled with the girl any longer. Twenty years, Angelus. That's a long time to pander to a...a passing whimsy. Even for you."

Angelus adjusted his top hat.

"As if you don't enjoy pandering to the same... whimsy now and again yourself, dearest. In fact," he winked conspiratorially at her, "I can distinctly recall some rather vocal pandering only last night. If young William and I had not been engaged together in pandering to a different...whimsy, you two lovely ladies would have kept us awake."

As he spoke, Angelus stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly to summon a passing hackney coach, just visible through the murk.

"And before you dismiss Dru's little pet completely out of hand, my dear, note that he has unerringly chosen the most valuable item in the entire arcade as a gift for his lady love."

He smirked into his insufferable moustache (which would not survive the Christmas season, if Darla had her way).

"Perhaps he is not so entirely lacking in common sense after all, eh?"

Darla's eyes narrowed as she looked at the necklace glittering around Drusilla's neck, and at Spike, currently kissing his way down the same neck. His eyes were closed, his expression that of a worshipper at a shrine.

She scowled.

Behind her, there was the sound of a match striking. She turned to see Angelus, lit cigar in hand, still smirking at her.

"And perhaps, my dear, you are just jealous that I don't feel called upon to raise merry hell - not to mention the entire Metropolitan police force - just to find you a Christmas gift."

His smirk twisted into a cruel sneer. "For you have often averred that we are above such sentimental nonsense, have you not?"

Darla opened her mouth to make an angry retort, but at that moment the hackney coach pulled in beside them at the kerb, sending a wave of mud and slush across the pavement.

She leapt back with a cry of fury, narrowly avoiding a soaking.

"Where to, guv?" the cabbie asked. Then his jaw dropped as he took in the state of the arcade, and the corpses littering the pavement. "What the bloody hell....?"

Quick as a wolf, Angelus dragged the man from his perch, snapped his neck and cast the body at Darla's feet.

He fetched her a mocking bow. "This is more your sort of gift, dearest, is it not?"

Darla went rigid. Distaste warred with anger in her face as she drew her skirts away from the sprawled body. Her hands were clenched into fists. She would not look at Angelus.

After a moment, Angelus's self-satisfied expression changed to one of sneering incredulity, then to outright fury.

"Oh, for..."

Casting away his half-smoked cigar, he stomped across the pavement, through the red-tinged slush, and past Spike and Drusilla, whose public attentions to each other were threatening to become positively indecent.

A moment later, he was rummaging in one of the ruined window displays. Darla saw him pick something up, turn, then pause and bend to snatch up something else, which he slipped into his coat pocket.

He fetched Spike a clip around the ear as he walked past him again

"Stop that, you bloody idiot, and come drive the damn coach."

Meanwhile, his free hand snaked out and grabbed Drusilla's wrist, dragging her out of Spike's arms and into his own.

"Hey!" Spike protested. "Let go of her, you big ape."

But Angelus ignored him, except to say, "Or stay here and wait for that pitchfork with your name on it. I don't care either way."

As he reached Darla's side, Angelus flung something at her feet. "Merry Christmas, dearest."

Then he was past her and bundling Drusilla into the coach, while Drusilla exclaimed, "What a lovely new pocket watch you have there, Angelus. My little Spike is so generous. Did he give it to you?"

"No he damn well didn't."

Angelus slammed the coach door behind them.

Darla stood where Angelus had left her, fists still clenched, eyes on what lay at her feet. They were beautiful, of course - Angelus had chosen them, of course they were - and she wanted for a pair of diamond earrings. However...

"Sentimental nonsense indeed," Darla said, through gritted teeth, and lifted the hem of her skirt to kick the glittering studs across the pavement.

"Let me."

Spike was at Darla's side suddenly. Bending, he picked up the earrings, wiped them on his sleeve and slipped them into her reticule. Then, taking her hand in his, he fastened a diamond bracelet about her wrist.

"Matches them earrings perfect, don't it? Quality, see? Thought of you the minute I set eyes on it. Beautiful but cold, I thought, like your cold, dead heart."

Raising her hand to his lips, he gazed up at her, blue eyes sparkling with mischief. "Merry Christmas, Grandma."

Darla gaped at him in astonishment, caught between outrage at his familiarity and a sudden urge to clear her throat, which had acquired an exasperating choked-up feeling.

"Must you speak like a guttersnipe, William?" she snapped, though her anger sounded half-hearted even to her. "I thought you were raised a gentleman."

Spike just grinned at her and shrugged again. "Yeah, so?"

Darla frowned, but she let him keep hold of her hand and lead her to the coach. The diamonds about her wrist sparkled very gratifyingly in the lamplight.

Inside the coach, Angelus had Drusilla penned in one corner, his big hand fumbling under her skirt. Drusilla giggled dutifully and squirmed at his touch, but her eyes, gazing out at Darla and Spike, were huge and pitiful.

Darla paused at the sight, pursed her lips again, then seated herself next to Angelus. Raising her voice, she said,

"Dear William - Spike, I mean -how very sweet of you to go to so much trouble for my sake. The bracelet is beautiful. I declare, I never had such a fine Christmas gift."

A note of sultry promise crept into her voice. "Remind me to thank you properly when we get to Yorkshire."

Leaning out of the coach window, she seized Spike's face by the chin and kissed him full on the mouth.

"Eh? What's this?"

At once, Angelus had let go of Drusilla and thrust his way between them.

"Hands off my woman, idiot boy," he shouted, in Spike's astonished face, "and up on that box with you! Then get those horses moving and don't stop until we reach King's Cross."

Angelus pushed Spike hard, sending him staggering back, and almost tipping him into a snow drift. "The night train to York leaves at ten, and thanks to you and your antics, we must be on it."

Satisfied that Spike was sufficiently chastised, Angelus dragged Darla into his embrace. The velvety brogue in his voice was suddenly much more evident.

"Why, darlin' if you wanted a bracelet to go with the earrings, you only had to say."

A moment later, at Darla's muttered, "Get rid of the girl, Angelus," Drusilla was bundled unceremoniously out of the coach and into Spike's waiting arms.

Over Angelus's broad shoulder, Darla flashed Spike a conspiratorial smile.

Spike rolled his eyes at the vagaries of the old folks.

Helping Drusilla up onto the box, he draped the cabbie's ratty old blanket around her, then put his arm about her waist. Drusilla sighed with pleasure and rested her head on his shoulder. The ruby at her throat gleamed like blood fresh from the vein.

Behind them, from the direction of the ruined arcade, came the sound of screams and the frantic blowing of police whistles, but their eyes were only for each other and they paid them no attention.

Snow had begun to fall again as Spike whipped the horses into a canter.

"Onwards to Yorkshire!"