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Charity Begins At Home

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"So, how'd a flash cove like you manage to wangle an invitation to the de Malmain Christmas Eve bash in the first place, then? His lordship may not be much for society, but he's a proper toff. Real top drawer."

Spike had kept his voice low (though he was so bored it was very tempting to do the opposite), but even so, Angelus glanced behind them to make sure no one was listening.

"None of your damn business," Angelus hissed. "And stop acting the guttersnipe, you fool. You'll give the game away before we're ready." He smiled a false smile, laughed a false laugh, clapped Spike on the back with false bonhomie and said, in a voice meant to carry, "Excellent joke, sir. Excellent. Very droll indeed."

When it became apparent that no one had overheard Spike's uncouth language, Angelus gave him a threatening look and strolled off, to insinuate himself into a group of pompous looking older men, who were slavering over Darla.

Not that Spike could blame them. She looked bloody gorgeous tonight, all black velvet and lace, her slim neck accentuated by a black and gold choker, and black feathers in her bright blonde hair.

As Spike watched, she laughed a tinkling, little girl laugh, and fluttered her eyelashes at a fat bloke with a red face, who Angelus had told Spike was bishop of somewhere or other.

"Why, my dear," Spike heard Angelus say. "Quite a circle of admirers you've collected. Do introduce me, won't you?"

Spike rolled his eyes and drank more champagne. It was pretty good fizz, he had to acknowledge - almost worth gate-crashing this boring party for.

Not quite, though, because apart from watching the antics of his elders (but in no way betters), there was precious little fun to be had here. No music, no dancing. Apparently, his lordship was tone deaf and hated both. How his guests were meant to amuse themselves, Spike had no idea.

Mind you, they looked a pretty humourless bunch. No wonder Darla had gathered such a crowd around her. Not only was she the best looking woman in the room by far, she was the only one with any conversation.

And she and Angelus seemed the only people here at all interested in making new acquaintance. Everyone else was huddled into tight little groups, cold-shouldering all who came near.

Spike waggled his finger inside his stiff collar, which was rubbing against his neck, and seethed inwardly. He'd attended his share of dull society bashes (if not quite so grand) when he'd been human, and becoming a vampire hadn't improved them. What's more, just like pathetic little William, he was back to being stuck in a corner on his own, ignored by everyone.

And all because Angelus and Darla were a pair of desperate social climbers, who wanted to make a big splash.

And all right, Spike had to agree they'd picked their victims well - a bunch of rich but useless (not to mention dull) toffs that no one would really miss, and all their hangers-on and servants -but there was something just...wrong about vampires doing charity work for the poor, even at Christmas (in fact, especially at Christmas), just to be in good odour with some flatulent old hell god. Even if said hell god (one Guernenthar, called the Ascendant) was known to be lavish with his favours if kowtowed to properly, and even if the recipients of said charity were other vampires.

Anyway, if you wanted Spike's opinion, there was no such thing as the vampire deserving poor, unless 'deserving' meant 'lazy and stupid.' What business did a vampire have being poor, when the whole world was yours for the taking?

But of course no one did want his opinion, did they? So here he was, on hand to help his elders (but in no way betters) in case anyone at the party didn't fancy being eaten in a good cause, and bored to tears in the meantime.

It wouldn't be so bad, Spike thought, gloomily, if Drusilla had been here. But Angelus and Darla had decided she was too much of a liability in case she had one of her 'turns' in company, so they'd given her the task of rounding up the objects of their seasonal munificence, which would keep her conveniently out of sight until the right moment.

It did afford Spike some amusement to ponder how Drusilla would fulfil that task (because fulfil it she doubtless would, to please 'daddy') but it was small comfort in the circumstances.

"More champagne, sir?"

A footman had stopped in front of him, bearing a silver tray (which was worth a few bob, Spike could tell) laden with sparkling glasses.

"Don't mind if I do." Spike eyed the footman as he swapped his empty glass for a full one. Tall fellow (far too tall, hadn't anyone told him how rude it was to tower over your master's guests?) good pair of legs (important for a footman), young, personable, could well be blowing the groundsils with Lady de Malmain behind her husband's back.

The footman nodded, and made to move on, but Spike had decided he'd had enough. He was just too bored. Angelus and Darla be damned (more than they already were). He was going to have some fun tonight if it killed him (again), and the footman's inexcusable tallness was as good a reason as any to have it at his expense.

He stayed him with a hand on his arm. "Not so fast, my fine fellow. A moment of your time, if you please."

"Sir?" The footman gave Spike a puzzled look but allowed himself to be steered into a corner of the grand reception room, out of hearing of the other guests. Clearly, Spike thought, the bloke had a guilty conscience. Maybe he really was putting it to his mistress?

In which case, good for him (though having had a good look at the lady in question, Spike didn't much fancy the task himself).

Not that he planned on saying so. Instead, he glanced over his shoulder with exaggerated caution, as if to make sure no one was listening, then, with a quick prayer to whatever infernal deity watched over vampires that the footman was not a great reader, he hissed, "Inspector Bucket of the Yard. There's been dodgy goings on in this household, and I'm here to investigate. If you know what's best for you, my lad, you'll keep quiet about it, and do whatever I tell you."

The footman's mouth fell open in an unattractive gape, then shut with a snap. He looked Spike up and down, taking in his seeming youth and possible inebriation, and frowned. "Are you saying you're a policeman, sir?"

Clearly, he didn't believe it.

Cursing his lack of gravitas (not something that usually concerned him) Spike resisted the urge to stand on tiptoe and puffed his chest out, trying to look bigger.

"I am a policeman, yes. An' not just any old rozzer neither. I'm the chief one, see, and we're on to your boss, so if you know what's good for you, you'll answer my questions sharpish. No more footling about."

The footman glanced across the room, to where his master, the Viscount de Malmain - a tall man with an ascetic cast of face - was holding court amongst his guests, while managing to convey the distinct impression that he wished them all in Hades. The footman chewed his lip. Sweat had started on his forehead.

When he opened his mouth to speak again, Spike was half-expecting him to confess to the mistress-rogering business and plead that the sour-faced old bitch had made him do it. But to his astonishment, the footman drew him further into the corner, and exclaimed,

"Oh thank God! At last!"

"What...?" Spike began, but before he could say any more, the footman went on,

"I've been hoping and praying this would happen, Inspector Bucket, sir. Do you have many men with you?"

Spike blinked in confusion. "A few?" he hazarded.

The footman looked grave. "You'll need 'em, if you're dealing with this lot. The Brimstone Club ain't to be messed with."

Brimstone Club?

Spike just stopped himself from repeating the name in time. Best not to reveal his own ignorance.

"Don't you worry about that, my lad," he blustered. "I've spies all around this room, and a whole army of constables on their way here, even as we speak."

Well, a bunch of undeserving, half-starved vampires anyway.

The footman's face broke into a relieved grin. "Then my Lizzie is saved," he exclaimed. Suddenly, he grabbed Spike's hand in his, brought it to his lips and kissed it fervently. "Thank you, Inspector Bucket, sir. Thank you!"

Spike snatched his hand back and wiped it on his sleeve. "That'll be quite enough of that. And what's your Lizzie, whoever she may be, got to do with this?"

The footman looked surprised at Spike's question. "She's the sacrifice, o' course. If you're on to his lordship, sir, you'll know the Brimstone Club sacrifice a virgin to their devil god every Christmas Eve. And this year they've chosen the second housemaid, my Lizzie." His mouth turned down at the corners. "I did tell her we shouldn't wait to make faces till we was married, or we'd be waitin' half our lives, but she wouldn't have it, and now his lordship is to cut her throat at midnight."

"Oh, he is, is he?" Spike tried to make himself look shocked. He stole a glance at Angelus, now deep in conversation with the bishop of wherever-it-was. Did Angelus know about this Brimstone Club?

It was hard to believe that he did. What hell god would be pleased with an offering of blood of the guilty? Not many, in Spike's experience, and from what he'd heard, especially not...

"You wouldn't happen to have a name for this devil god, would you?" he asked the footman.

The footman blinked. "Is it important, sir?"

Spike stuck his thumbs behind his starched shirt front and rocked backwards and forwards on his heels. "Might be, might be. Just in case we have to exorcise the bugger."

The footman licked his lips. Sweat was running down his face in rivulets. "Gunther," he said. "Or Gunter, maybe? Something foreign-sounding like that."

Spike could hardly believe his luck. "Do you mean Guernenthar the Ascendant?" he asked. "Horrid fellow, eats a dozen innocent children for breakfast at one sitting?"

The footman's eyes grew round as saucers. He looked at Spike with new respect. "Yes, sir. That's the one."

Spike repressed a yelp of sheer glee. The very hell-god that Angelus and Darla were trying to impress. Better and better - and yet more evidence that they didn't know as much about their chosen charitable donations as they thought they did.

Not only were this Brimstone Club acolytes of Guernenthar, they were obviously quite evil (which gave them even less excuse for being such a miserable bunch, in Spike's opinion).

For a moment, he pondered the implications of not revealing his discovery. Angelus would have his guts for garters, just for a start. As for Darla, she'd make mincemeat of him.

Possibly quite literally.

Then he shrugged.

They'd get over it.

In fact, one day they'd thank him for saving them the inconvenience. Because that was the trouble with hell gods. Pay them tribute once, and they'd expect it for ever after.

So if you looked at it in the right light, Spike thought, he was saving Angelus and Darla from themselves.

The notion pleased him. After all, they did say charity began at home.

"Let's get cracking, then," Spike said, aloud, rubbing his hands together. "What's your name, lad, and where's this Lizzie of yours?"

The footman was still gazing at him with hero-worship in his eyes, which wasn't something Spike was much used to. Especially not from someone so much taller than he was.

"The name's Jack, sir. And his lordship has Lizzie locked up in her bedroom on the top floor, guarded by two stout fellows with cudgels."

"Oh he does, does he?"

Spike glanced around the room a final time. Angelus had his back to him, and Darla was still encircled by admirers, blocking her view of the room. His host, meanwhile (who clearly did wish all his guests in Hades, and had probably sent a few there in his time), would be very unlikely to miss him, if he'd ever noticed him in the first place.

"Finish handing out those glasses of fizz, Jack, then meet me by the back staircase."

"Yes, sir." Jack made to do as he was told, but Spike stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Wipe your face first, lad. You're sweating like a pig. It'll make 'em suspicious."

"Yes, sir," Jack said, again. He mopped his brow, then put on his best discreet footman expression, and set off into the room again.

"Good lad," Spike hissed, by way of encouragement, before slipping out a side door into the grand entrance hall.

A couple more footmen were idling about there, in case any guests turned up late. But like many servants in great houses, they could judge your status, or lack of it, with a single glance, and having glanced, they both ignored Spike afterwards.

Fuming a little, if only because their treatment of him reminded him yet again of his pathetic human self, Spike slipped behind them and headed below stairs, towards the servants' hall and kitchens. From there, he made his way to the back staircase.

Jack was lurking at the bottom of the stairs. He was still sweating heavily. With another watchful glance over his shoulder, this time in earnest, Spike gestured for the young man to precede him. They crept up one flight, then another, until they emerged on the topmost landing.

Spike didn't have to ask for directions again. The two 'stout fellows' and their cudgels were loitering outside a door at the far end of the landing. They were passing a bottle of grog to and fro, but didn't look drunk enough to ruin the fight.

And after being cold-shouldered by the footmen in the hall, Spike was spoiling for one.

"You stay here," Spike whispered, to Jack. "Keep out of sight. I'll deal with this bunch."

Jack, who'd been rolling up his sleeves ready for the fray, gave him a startled look, which took in Spike's short stature and slender frame once more, compared them with the hulking great brutes standing guard on the door, and dismissed them as not up to the challenge.

"But Inspector Bucket, sir..." Jack began to protest.

Spike ignored him (not least because if he saw that look on Jack's face again, he wasn't sure he could resist the temptation to off him on the spot, which might ruin the plan). Instead, he set off down the dimly lit landing (no gas on this floor, only a wretched oil lamp), hiccupping loudly and staggering a little as he went, as if he were the worse for drink.

The two guards watched him coming with stony expressions on their faces. Meanwhile, from the room they guarded, Spike could hear the sound of a woman sobbing.

"Think you've taken a wrong turn somewhere, sir," one of the guards said, as Spike drew near. "Servants' quarters up here. Party's downstairs."

"S'that so?" Spike slurred. "Shposhe I'd better toddle off, then." He wavered on his feet, then slumped against the wall, as if to stop himself from falling. "Oopsh! Think I'll have a little resht firsht."

The guards' cold expressions didn't waver. Neither of them offered to help him, which was very disobliging of them, Spike thought. Instead, they watched him with gimlet eyes, as he fumbled in his pockets, brought out a silver cigarette case (which Angelus didn't know he'd borrowed) , and put a cigarette between his lips.

"Either of you two fine fellowsh gorra match?"

The guards glanced at each other. Then one of them shrugged his massive shoulders, produced a box of Swans and proffered Spike a light. Spike bent his head to the tiny flame, inhaled, then blew smoke right into the bloke's fat face. As the man recoiled, coughing and spluttering, Spike grabbed him by the shoulders and head-butted him as hard as he could. He felt a satisfying crunch of bone as the fellow's nose broke and he went staggering back, howling. The heady scent of blood tainted the air.

"'Oi, what's your game?" The second guard lumbered towards Spike, cudgel raised. But Spike avoided the blow easily, kicked his assailant hard in the belly and felled him with a left hook to the jaw. Then he used the cudgel to belabour both guards around the ears.

It was tempting to go to town on the two brutes and tear their throats out as an encore, but young Jack was already pounding up the landing, crying, "Lizzie, I'm coming!" so Spike contented himself with giving the two a bloody good kicking and leaving them groaning on the floor.

Jack was hammering on the locked door with his fists by this time. "Lizzie!" he shouted. "Lizzie, it's me, Jack!" While from the other side of the door, the sobbing had turned to shrieking, and pleas to Jack to be careful.

Spike frowned at all the noise. If the two lovebirds kept this up, they'd rouse the whole household - which might be fun, but might also turn a little nasty if back-up in the form of Drusilla and her squad of vampire 'constables' failed to arrive on time.

"Out the way!" He pushed Jack to one side, grabbed hold of the wooden doorknob, and tore the heavy door right off its hinges.

The shrieking stopped abruptly, and Spike found himself face to face with a plump, but very pretty, young woman got up in a ridiculous white Grecian robe that clung to her body, leaving very little to the imagination, and with a crown of green leaves and lilies on her dark head. She was tied to a chair, and when she saw Spike staring, she blushed red as a beetroot.

"Who are you?"

"Lizzie!" Jack pushed past Spike into the room, then stopped, gaping in shock. "What on earth is that you're wearing?"

"Not a lot," Spike muttered, with a smirk, while Lizzie blushed even darker.

"It ain't my fault, Jack," she quavered. "'Er ladyship forced me. She 'ad Perkins bring Tabby's kittens up 'ere in their basket. She said if I din't do what she told me she'd drown 'em in the bath."

Jack went pale. "That's horrible." He turned to Spike. "Ain't that horrible, sir?"

Spike had been contemplating what a waste of perfectly good kittens it would have been, but he made himself look suitably horrified. "Yes indeed. Very horrible. But what else do you expect from evildoers like that, 'eh? Now, look lively, my lad, an' untie her."

Not long afterwards, Lizzie was free, the thick wool blanket from her bed draped around her like some sort of toga, to protect her modesty, and Spike was slouching in the doorway, smoking another cigarette, while Lizzie and Jack exchanged sickeningly chaste kisses.

As he dragged smoke deep into his lungs, Spike wondered idly whether he ought to kill the two of them and return to the party as if nothing had happened. Lord de Malmain's sacrifice to dear old Guernenthar would be ruined, of course (unless there was another virgin to hand among the staff). Then again, the old boy would soon be dead and not in a position to care.

It was tempting, Spike had to admit. But if he really wanted to save Angelus and Darla from themselves, he had to stick to the plan - not least the part where everyone in the house who might not actually be evil (and their innocent blood thus acceptable to Guernenthar as a sacrifice) got to live through the night.

No, Spike thought. For the sake of his elders (but in no way betters), he must do the right thing and forebear.

Besides, he couldn't wait to see their faces when they realised the truth.

He dropped his cigarette end on the floor and trod it out beneath his heel.

"All right, all right, you two," he growled, trying to sound fatherly, but also gruff and a little bit threatening. "That'll be quite enough of that."

Jack and Lizzie fell apart at once. Which was new, Spike thought. He hadn't even had to vamp out and threaten to bite them to get them to do what they were told.

"L...Lizzie," Jack quavered. "This is Inspector Bucket of the Yard. He's come to arrest his lordship and his bunch of devil-worshippers."

Lizzie stared at Spike in astonishment. "'E don't look like no police inspector," she protested. "'E's too young."

"An' did you say 'is name was Bucket?" she added, a moment later.

"Shush, shush!" Jack exclaimed, hurriedly. "He bested Perkins and Coates in a fight and he ain't even out o' breath." He addressed Spike. "Please forgive 'er, sir. It's the shock. She don't know what she's sayin'."

"Well, well," Spike said, though the urge to eat them both was growing stronger by the minute. "Women, eh? What can you expect? Don't know what they're on about at the best of times, do they?"

", sir," Jack stuttered, while Lizzie gave her beau an indignant look, and Spike felt his ears getting an imaginary boxing from an incandescent Darla.

"Well, now that's settled," he hurried on, "we'd best be getting you two out of here before all hell breaks loose. And not just you. Unless the other servants are all part of this Brimstone Club an' all?"

Jack grimaced. "Some of 'em is, sir. Some of 'em is just scared out of their wits, like we was. His lordship's a bad enemy. Everyone says so. Never forgets an insult or a slight, even from the lower orders."

Spike grinned. "I shouldn't go troubling yourselves about that."

He glanced at his pocket watch (or Angelus's second best pocket watch, as it actually was, a legitimate loan on this occasion). As long as nothing had happened to distract her (always a possibility with Dru) Drusilla and the undeserving horde were due at any minute.

Time to send the sickeningly good members of the de Malmain household on their merry way and let the fun begin.

"Right, then." Spike grabbed Jack by the elbow and hurried him and Lizzie back towards the stairs. "I want you to gather up all the servants who aren't up to their ears in devilry, get out of the house, and scarper."

"But it's snowing outside, Inspector Bucket, sir," Jack protested. "We'll catch our deaths." He glanced down at Lizzie's bare feet. "Especially Lizzie."

"Can't be helped," Spike growled. "If you're still here when my constables arrive, there'll be heads broken, and no mistake, and they won't stop to ask which side you're on."

"Yes, Inspector Bucket, sir," Jack said, in a subdued voice. To Lizzie, he muttered, "Not to worry, my love, we'll find galoshes for you somewhere out the back, I'm sure."

Just as well there was to be some hardship involved for them, Spike thought. At least it absolved him of the horrid notion he was about to do something that, if not exactly good, was well below the standard of evil most vampires - not least Drusilla - expected of him.

Though of course, he reflected, happily, as he hurried Jack and Lizzie down the stairs, even if it weren't blowing a gale and bitterly cold outside, the 'good' servants would still find themselves out of work and penniless at Christmas, so some of them might well wish they'd died along with their master.

Cheered by the thought, Spike parted ways with Jack and Lizzie at the foot of the back stairs.

"Mind you take everyone with you," he said. "An' if there're any kids in the house, make sure you take them too, even if they're his lordship's." He tapped Jack hard in the centre of the chest with his index finger. "I'm relying on you, Jack. Don't let me down."

Jack's eyes widened. He fetched Spike a rough sort of salute. "I won't, Inspector Bucket, sir. I promise."

Spike watched the pair scurry off until they were out of sight, Lizzie still protesting that Spike couldn't be a real policeman and that Inspector Bucket was from a story by Mr Dickens, and Jack imploring her not to speak so loud.

After that, he spent a pleasant fifteen minutes, fulfilling the tasks that Angelus had set him, which included stealthily disposing of one of the footmen in the entrance hall (a pleasure after the way they'd slighted him, not to mention all this exertion had made him peckish), and securing all but the main door to the reception room so there was no escape for the guests.

Now it was time to slip back to the party, hopefully unnoticed (though Angelus might well have missed him, but, with any luck, had had no chance to tear himself away from the droning toffs to come and look for him).

But first, Spike ran up the grand staircase and peered out of the huge window on the landing, in time to see a motley bunch of servants, led by Jack and Lizzie, and including the cook, a gaggle of maids of varying degree, a coachman and groom carrying a small child each, followed by two nursery maids, one holding a basket full of kittens and the other a wildly struggling tabby cat, tumble pell-mell out of a back door and hare away across Lord de Malmain's snow-covered grounds as if the hounds of hell were at their heels.

Which, as it turned out, they almost were. Because just as the fleeing servants disappeared into the wintry darkness, there was a loud knock on the front door.

The remaining footman in the entrance hall, who'd been dozing in a chair, jerked awake with a start.

"Wassat?" he exclaimed. Then, finding himself alone, frowned, and called, "Dawkins, where've you got to?"

Dawkins, of course, was in no state to answer him now, or ever, and after a moment his fellow shrugged and went to open the door.

"Better not be bloody carol singers," he muttered to himself. "They ought to know better after 'is lordship set the dogs on 'em last Christmas."

Spike crept down the staircase behind him. He needed to be inside the reception room at the crucial moment, Angelus had insisted, in case there was a stampede.

Even so, he paused with his hand on the big brass door knob, drinking in the sight that met the rude footman on his lordship's grand front doorstep.

Of the rag tag army Drusilla had brought with her, Spike could see very little, save for the gleam of yellow eyes in the darkness, obscured by curtains of driving snow. But Drusilla herself stood on the top step in the shelter of the columned portico. Where she'd got her clothes from, Spike had no idea (Darla would never permit such garments in the house), but she was all got up like some beggar queen, in a close-fitting red velvet jacket that was worn shiny on the elbows and frayed at the cuffs, and layers and layers of skirts that were all ragged frills, and looked to be composed of old petticoats.

But the piece de resistance was her hat -a huge, soft, floppy-brimmed monstrosity, the hatband decorated with tattered feathers, ribbons and what looked to Spike like rats' teeth, sewn on to it like beads. With her long dark curls spilling down her back, it gave her a piratical air.

The most beautiful pirate in the world.

Spike gazed at her with adoration, while the footman could only gape like a beached fish.

"Good evening, kind sir." Drusilla fluttered her thick black lashes at him. "It's proper parky outside this Christmas night. Won't you invite a poor girl and her friends in from the cold?"

The footman's mouth opened and closed again, lost for words. Then, he recovered himself, drew himself up to his full height (why were all the footmen in this house so damn tall?) and fixed a scowling face on Drusilla.

"Be off, you filthy baggage," he snarled, "or I'll set his lordship's dogs on you, see if I don't."

Drusilla pouted at him, while behind her, a cacophony of whines, growls and outright howls started up, as if a whole pack of dogs were already out there, all of them hungry.

The footman went pale.

"What the...?"

He stepped back and made to shut the door in Drusilla's face, at the same time opening his mouth to call for help.

But Drusilla was too quick for him. One foot, shod in a hobnailed boot, prevented the great door from closing, while blue eyes, luminous as marsh lights, locked on to his and held them.

"I wouldn't do that, if I was you, dearie," Drusilla cooed. "How about you invite us in for tea and cakes?" She looked back over her red velvet shoulder into the seething dark. "We like cakes, don't we, my darlings?"

"Oh yes," the reply came back from multiple throats, followed by mocking laughter. "We likes cakes, Mistress Drusilla, indeed we does."

Spike thought he couldn't have loved Drusilla more than when she held out her hand imperiously to the footman, and, helpless to look away from her, he took it, stuttering, "I invite you in. All of you." Then he handed her inside as if she were indeed a queen.

Well, she was to his eyes, Spike thought as he slipped back into the reception room. He closed the door behind him just as the ragged, yellow-eyed horde spilled into the hallway, like a tidal wave of muddy water, engulfing the hapless footman as it came.

Spike wasn't quite sure what he'd been expecting to see when he got back to the party, except that, unless Lord de Malmain had been told about his virgin sacrifice absconding and was having a whip round among his guests to find a replacement, it was unlikely to be much in the way of fun.

But as it turned out, it was fun (of a sort) after all. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Every head was turned in one direction, and when Spike looked that way himself, it was to see Angelus and Darla, backed into a corner, hemmed in by hefty brutes of a size with the two who'd been guarding Lizzie. From behind this towering human wall, Lord de Malmain glowered at them, looking more ill-tempered even than before.

The other guests were gathered to watch, sneering and jeering, and braying like donkeys. Clearly, this was the most amusing thing that had happened all evening.

"For the last time, you upstart scoundrel," Lord de Malmain thundered, at Angelus, "tell me where you came by your invitation to my house, or by Lucifer, I'll have the information torn from you with red-hot pincers, see if I don't."

"Boil him in oil, Jasper," shouted one wag among the guests. "Red hot pincers're too good for him." Which remark was greeted with yet more sneering laughter. "Cut off his ears," someone called. "Slit him open down to the gizzard."

Oh, this was fun all right. Most definitely. Spike leaned back against the door, from behind which, unheard by anyone else in the room, came the sound of running feet, accompanied by shrieks and screams as Drusilla's army polished off the remaining servants. He lit another cigarette and watched Angelus and Darla with interest.

Being threatened wasn't something they were used to, and he was pretty sure they wouldn't like it.

Sure enough, when Angelus spoke, his 'company' voice had slipped, and there was more than a hint of a brogue in it.

"Red hot pincers, eh?" Angelus sneered. "Ah, you're a man after me own heart, your lordship." He felt in his dress coat pocket for his cigarette case, didn't find it, then frowned across the room at Spike as he realised where it had gone. "As for where I got the invitation, let's say I borrowed it from a...friend I ran into at a card game."

"Borrowed?" Lord de Malmain spluttered, while his men took a threatening step forward. "What do you mean, sir? I insist you explain yourself."

Angelus regarded him quizzically, "All right, then, since you ask so nicely. I stole it. That is, if you can steal from a dead man." He frowned. "Never been too sure on the ethics there."

At this, the red-faced bishop of wherever-the-hell-it-was burst out of the jeering crowd to join Lord de Malmain.

"I knew it," the bishop exclaimed. "I told you this fellow couldn't be Sir St John Mawdsley, didn't I, Jasper? For a start, I've been discussing matters ecumenical with him all evening and I'm almost certain he's a damn Papist."

"That's a damned Papist," Angelus cut in. "Let's be gettin' our insults right here, boys."

The bishop ignored him. "For another, Mawdsley's wife is one of the Stokeham girls, and no great beauty. Indeed, all of them are ugly as sin. Nothing like this one." He was looking at Darla, and Spike could smell his lust from the far side of the room.

The bishop leaned close to whisper in Lord de Malmain's ear, which might have kept his words secret from the surrounding humans, but not from Spike, and not from Angelus and Darla.

"Do what you want with this insolent fellow, Jasper, I don't care. But she's mine. Giver her to me." To which Lord de Malmain's murmured reply was, "We'll see, Horace. But not until after midnight. First things first, eh?"

"Of course." The bishop stepped back, with a pious expression on his fat, red face, which was more than hypocritical of him in the circumstances, Spike thought. The Church of England might have changed somewhat in the ten years or so he'd been a vampire, but he was pretty certain it still didn't run to sacrificing virgins to hell-gods and ravishing other men's wives.

Darla, meanwhile, was looking just as incandescent as Spike had imagined her earlier. He half-expected to see steam coming out of her ears.

"Hang these fools!" she exclaimed. "I've had quite enough of them." Then, darting forward, she grabbed the nearest roughneck by his meaty arm and flung him bodily across the room.

As gasps of astonishment filled the air, followed by screams from the ladies as the unfortunate man flew smack into the marble-clad wall and slid down it, leaving a trail of blood in his wake, Darla turned on Angelus.

"I can only stand so much, Angelus," she practically snarled, "even in a good cause. Time to end this."

Angelus took her black-gloved hand in his and raised it to his lips. "Whatever you say, my dear." Then he put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. "Willy boy? The door," before hauling his arm back and putting his fist in someone's face.

"That's Spike, you big oaf," Spike muttered sulkily, as he swung the great doors wide to let the wave of ragged stinking vampires surge past him. Then he flung himself into the fray.

Somewhere in the midst of the slaughter, he was reunited with Drusilla. They kissed, while all around them the members of the Brimstone Club begged and screamed and tried in vain to run, as what must, in Spike's opinion, be the smelliest bunch of vampires ever sired drank their fill.

"I like your hat," Spike said, when at last, and with great reluctance, he released Drusilla's lips from his.

Drusilla gave him a coquettish smile, then leaned forward to lick a smear of blood off his cheek. "Do you, my darling? I had it made special. All the little ratties scritch-scritch-scratching." She licked his cheek again. "Well, they won't be doing that no more, will they?"

The feel of her cold tongue rasping against his flesh sent a pleasant shiver down Spike's spine. He pulled her close and bent to kiss her again, but before he could do so, the tides of slaughter flowed back around them, washing them up again right next to Angelus and Darla.

Angelus had his hands around Lord de Malmain's throat, while his lordship kicked and flailed at him, purple in the face and spluttering. Darla, meanwhile, had her dainty foot on a fat neck, from which the head had become detached at some point. Bloodily.

Wherever-it-was would be needing a new bishop.

""Lord de Malmain choked, but he couldn't get the word past Angelus's stranglehold.

Spike clapped his hand over his mouth to hide his laughter. The wicked old fool must be trying to summon his demon master, which was a waste of the very little time he had left. From what Spike had heard, Guernenthar wasn't in the habit of sending out rescue parties when his toadies got themselves in a spot of bother. After all, he'd never lack for new ones.

"What's that you say, your lordship?" Angelus sneered. "I can't hear you properly."

To Spike's dismay, Angelus thrust Lord de Malmain from him, sending him sprawling onto a clear (if blood-smeared) patch of floor. Lord de Malmain raised his arms aloft in a suppliant's gesture. "Gu...Guernen..."

Oh bugger! Spike stepped forward to finish him off, before Angelus realised what was going on, but Drusilla was too quick for him. Fierce as an avenging Fury, she seized Lord de Malmain by his silk lapels and cast him into the midst of the mob.

"Here you are, dearies," she trilled. "Mummy's saved the best till last."

The screaming didn't last long.

After that, there was no one left to kill, so the mob set to looting.

Darla watched them with distaste (though Spike observed she'd relieved Lady de Malmain's corpse of its jewellery).

"This had better gain us favour with Guernenthar," Darla said, eyeing Drusilla's clothes with horror. "It pains me to see a beautiful house like this despoiled by such filthy vagabonds. Why, we could have lived here like lords and fed off the servants for months."

"I'm sure the hell god will be pleased enough that we can have any house we choose," Angelus replied, sounding more than a little smug. "And for a lot less trouble than this one has cost us. Speaking of trouble..."

He reached out suddenly, grabbed Spike by the scruff of his neck and hauled him in close.

For a moment, Spike thought his number was already up. But no. All Angelus did was relieve him of the silver cigarette case, cuff him slightly, and thrust him back at Drusilla.

"Here's your boy back, Dru."

Drusilla caught him and put her arm through his, looking pleased as a cream-fed kitten.

"Keep your hands off my property next time," Angelus growled at Spike, looking somewhat askance at Drusilla's hand clutching Spike's so tightly. Then, with some reluctance, "But you played your part well tonight, boy. Maybe there's hope for you yet."

"I doubt it," Spike sneered. Not the way you mean it anyway.

He glanced aside at Drusilla, who winked at him, smiling her secret smile. Oh yes, Spike thought. She knew what he'd done. Of course she did. What's more, she was proud of him, he could tell, and not just for saving 'daddy' and 'grandmamma' from the biggest mistake of their unlives.

And why shouldn't she be, he thought, pleased. He was pretty bloody proud of himself. He'd formed a plan, followed it through, and got everyone to do what he wanted. Angelus couldn't have managed better himself.

He came out of his reverie to find Drusilla still smiling at him.

"Clever, clever little Spike," Drusilla crooned. "It's Christmas. Dance with me."

Spike felt light as a feather suddenly. Laughing, he grabbed Drusilla by the waist and began to whirl her around and around, waltzing to non-existent music. Over the wreckage of the Brimstone Club, and of his elders' (but in no way betters) daft pretensions.

Maybe, he thought, there was something to this charity lark after all?