Part The Ought:
In Which the Gentle Reader is Acquainted with a wide Variety of Disclaimers, a Dedication, many Thanks, Warnings, et cetera.
From almost the minute she first appeared, Dru's been trying to get me to tell her (back)story-- how she (how _anyone_!) could have ended up a "disassociative psychotic demon of the night who pouts at dead birds." So here, finally, after making up (and watching!) an "All-Dru Channel" and following many suggestions dropped in the general SunS list discussion of Our Favorite Undead Psychotic, is my attempt at an answer.
This little piece is completely historical, so, although it features a Slayer (two, actually), it's not OFSlayer, nor any of the current mortal types. Be warned: I wouldn't even know where to begin to get the vocabulary or usage right for these time periods, so I didn't try. Consider them 'translated' from the original, if you like. This was written after "What's My Line?" aired, and before whatever Joss's Evil Brain may have come up with since-- I wouldn't even blaspheme by attempting to predict it.... (Well, not _here_... < g > )
Many thanks for historical research bits from Betsy, and deep gratitude for beta-reading from Celli, Abby, Dawn, Maureen (who raised very good questions and insisted upon _more_ Dru-torture... which not only began to wig even _me_, but caused a major revision that nearly _doubled_ the length of the thing :-ppp), and Boo (who made me laugh myself sick as she ranted, raged, and ripped Angel a new one ;).
The award for "But I don't _want_ to look it up! < lazy whine > Don't you *know*???" Patience, Above And Beyond The Call, goes to ListMummy Lizbet, who kindly refrained from killing me as I pestered her for help with geography, language, history, customs, and everything else I could think of but didn't want to look up myself. (Sample email: "Me again! O.k., I've got Dru, et al., running about in Camden Town in 1795 and I need to lose a child overnight. Is there forest nearby?" :)
This one is dedicated to all my fellow maniacs on the SunS list who help greatly in keeping me, if not precisely "sane," then something of a cooler shade of mad. :-)
WARNING: I've been told this story has a high wig factor and is not for the faint of heart. It's not a happy story (although there is some comic relief in part 10), and we all know pretty much how it ends. Also Angel-droolers in particular should probably have a piece of nice, sweet, Angel-as-a-modern,-re-souled,-nice-guy restorative fic on-hand for reading afterwards, because, let's face it-- he wasn't exaggerating to Buffy in "Lie To Me": at this point in his un-life, he was a real bastard. :(
These are not my characters, they belong to TPTB, and I make no claim on them. Most of the ideas are Joss's anyway, I just went and tweaked them around into a story. I intend no infringement and you're wasting your time and money to try to sue me, guys... believe it!
With muttered curses and profane reverence to Joss, Whose Sandbox This Is, who-- after I had my plot established and my story nearly finished-- decided to make Dru chatty in WML2... resulting in the need to suddenly go back and add "some kid named Anne and an uncle". < Dianne bows, thptpttt-ing loudly :-p >
"For a hundred years I offered ugly death to everyone I met, and I did it with a song in my heart."
-- Angel, "Angel"
Late April 1795,
A small, deserted fishing village just outside Marseilles
Marie-Jeanette de Shayes angrily brushed at her dirt-dulled, raven- black hair with one hand, trying to free it from where the sweat of battle had plastered it to her face. She saw the blood as her hand pulled away. A split lip, nothing more, but the last thing she wanted to be wearing while attempting to destroy an unexpected gathering of les vampires was the reek of blood.
Kicking absently at the pile of ash that had seconds before been her foe, Marie-Jeanette tucked her peasant skirts up higher, reached for the worn leather bag in which she kept her stakes, and moved quietly towards the next fisherman's hut. She was l'Assassin, the one girl in all the world chosen to fight the evil creatures that walked at night. It was a duty she had made her life-- avoiding suitors, and making only a token effort at her nominal trade as a weaver's assistant.
Keeping to the shadows, every sense primed, she moved to the edge of the low, crumbling wall. Luckily for her, she was much better at this endless hunt, her true vocation, than at the weaving. Louisa had come to utterly despair of her success as a proper young woman in the daylight world, but for nearly five years Marie-Jeanette had walked the night successfully, beating back the seemingly endless tide of les demons, Louisa at her side.
Marie-Jeanette knew that old Louisa had been la Veilleuse, mentor and friend, to two Assassins before her. After all, one mistake was all it took; no one can fight endless death forever and win. The life of l'Assassin was hard and short, but without their efforts, evil would overcome the entire world. And so she fought on, as they all had, generation after generation.
Louisa never spoke of them-- the other two-- save in the course of her lessons. The pain of their loss was still too great for her. But now it was Louisa herself that Marie-Jeanette most worried for as she crossed a small hen yard, feeling terribly exposed in the moonlight. One of the fiends had taken la Veilleuse to hold as bait for her, and the only thing calming the pounding of her heart was the knowledge that they would have to keep Louisa safe if they planned to offer any sort of a bargain.
Coming around the side of a large weather-worn chicken coop she spotted yet another victim, tossed bonelessly against a rubbish heap. Muttering curses under her breath and keeping a careful watch in all directions, Marie-Jeanette knelt down to feel the young man's neck. It was already ice-cold, and the two puncture wounds at his throat told the story she knew too well. With a sigh for one more loss, she turned away....
She never had time to see his face as he came at her. Never had time to react as a preternaturally strong hand grasped her arm and pulled her off balance. Never had time to scream as the corpse beneath her reared up, sank its fangs in her neck, and drained her life away.
The vampire who had killed her-- tall, dark, and handsome, despite his pale skin and contorted features-- threw his head back and howled his triumph at the waning moon. A simple trick, to play upon her preconceptions and her sympathies, he gloated as he felt her blood thrilling through him like a liquid fire. It hadn't been so hard at all, no matter that Darla had called him a fool for going after such a prize while still so young....
Tossing the lifeless body of the Slayer towards the far side of the rubbish heap, where it landed against the long-cold corpse of her Watcher, Angelus headed off to track down his maker.
After all, he had some serious bragging rights to exercise now.
"Some lies are necessary.... Sometimes the truth is worse. You live long enough, you find that out."
-- Angel, "Lie To Me"
A few weeks later,
Camden Town, North London
The young woman's voice echoed between the bricks of the close-set houses. "Drusilla, you little demon, come back! It's much too dark...."
Edith Shepherd held the hem of her second-best dress out of the mud and tried not to completely ruin her shoes. Ducking her way between the lines of clothing still hanging from the day's wash, then dodging sideways behind an apple crate, she neatly seized her wayward niece by the collar of her little frock. "*There* you are!" She crouched down so that she could be nearly eye-level with her reluctant charge. "What has gotten into you? Your mother would have my hide if I let you get lost in the streets. Now run inside and have your supper!"
With a smart push she propelled the child back towards the warm, safe light of home. Edith, however, remained outside as the last wisps of blood-red sunset faded from the sky above-- the odd restlessness of the past few weeks straying even more now from uneasy dreams into waking thought.
She walked aimlessly through the little plot of garden she had claimed as her own, here behind the row of houses, not needing even to see the plants to know how they fared. People who lived in the neighborhood were always amazed by the flowers Edith grew with seemingly no effort. She seemed to do nothing more than walk amongst them daily and they grew as if for a magical princess out of hearthside legend.
Many of the other flower sellers on the streets asked for her secrets, but she could never say. They brought her a peace-- a means to soothe her spirit when the world threatened to overwhelm her-- but she had no words to explain the way in which she could feel her garden, as though it were a part of her very soul. Walking like this through it every day she could almost experience the growth herself, the very life of it beneath her skin....
She came out of her reverie, a blinding smile brightening the slight flush on her face. "Billy!"
He met her at the gate in the little garden wall she'd erected to keep out the local strays. Edith flung herself into his arms and he spun around, holding her tight and laughing loudly. "What a welcome!"
"I haven't seen you for days," she said sliding down until her feet once again reached the ground. There was the slightest edge of hurt in her voice.
Billy smiled, arms still around her. "I was here only yesterday morning, love!"
"But I missed you!" Nevertheless she let him steal a quick kiss, his fingers tangled in the midnight-black sweep of her hair-- such a contrast to his own pale curls.
"I missed you too, sweetheart. But look, I brought over a friend of mine." He gestured towards a another young man standing silently to one side just as Edith felt a shiver rush up her spine. She shook herself slightly-- a goose walking over her grave, that's all. Such a silly thing.
The man was handsome, pale and dark, with such an intense look in those eyes....
"Angelus, I'd like you to meet Edith, my Princess," he turned back to steal another kiss as she blushed and tried to protest. "Princess, this is Angelus."
She finally turned to meet that gaze. Angelus smiled, and she felt her hesitation melt away.
Billy continued, "He grew up in a monastery over in Ireland. Clever with books, and all. Works as a merchant's clerk now. Busy all day scribbling away in the dark, yes?" He finished with a friendly clap to the shoulder.
"Angelus," she smiled. "That's a pretty name."
"It's Latin," he returned the smile. The brogue was surprisingly faint, but it was there. "It means 'Angel'."
"That's what you get for growing up with the monks, my boy," Billy offered by way of condolence. "But he's a regular chap now, love. We met up at the Old Black Bird a while back and I thought it was time he got to meet my Princess." He kept one arm protectively about her shoulders.
She ducked her head again shyly. "Billy, I'm not...."
But he stopped her with one finger to her lips. "You are to me, love." For a moment their eyes locked and the rest of the world ceased to matter.
A minute later Angelus' eye caught Edith's and she pulled away, embarrassed. Billy just laughed.
"You're to be married?" Angelus asked.
"At the end of the month. Congratulate me, old chap!" He took one of Edith's hands in each of his and swung them out at the sides. "I'll work at the livery stable, Edith will sell her flowers...." He dropped her hands and turned to Angelus with genuine pride in his eyes. "Aren't they beautiful?"
Angelus made some murmur of agreement as Billy continued, wrapping his arms around Edith from behind. "We'll live here in the house, away from my worthless brothers, raise a mess of little ones with big blue eyes like my Princess'," by now he was almost whispering in her ear, "And grow old and respectable-- arm-in-arm until the very day they come to take us to the old churchyard."
Edith's eyes had closed and she had a dreamy, wistful look on her face. "Together, Billy?"
"Forever, my sweet," he promised, dropping a kiss on her cheek before pulling away.
As if on cue, a woman's voice came loudly from the house, "Edith! Supper!"
"...But not now!" Billy turned to Angelus with a laugh. "Come on, Angelus, if I appear for one more meal this week her mother will think I've moved in already!"
"No, love. I'll be back tomorrow. Promise! And I'll have a present."
A smile lit her face as she batted her eyes in an overt display of coyness. "A present? What?"
Billy laughed again. "A surprise, my sweet! Tomorrow!" He moved away, holding her fingers with just the tips of his. "Now say goodnight to Angelus."
She looked at the handsome, quiet young man and offered another shy smile. "Goodnight, Angelus."
"Edith! Supper!" The voice was closer, louder, and more impatient this time.
"Go, Edith," Billy repeated, giving her the same encouraging push to the shoulders she had given her niece.
When she turned back for a last look from the doorway, Billy was only a pale, retreating shadow in the night, and Angelus was already gone.
The scratching noise at her second-story shutters woke her shortly after she'd fallen asleep. Confused and still bleary, she crawled out of bed, wrapping a blanket around her shoulders against the night chill.
It wasn't so much the cold air hitting her face as she opened the shutters that brought her fully awake as the sight of Angelus' face not three feet from her own.
She fell back a step as a small, choked cry escaped her. He was standing on a protruding joint where the roof of the first story met the wall of the second, fingertips dug tightly into the roughness of the old brickwork. That realization allowed Edith to breathe again-- for a moment he had given the eerie impression of floating upon the air itself.
"Shhhh!" he warned, speaking quickly. "Don't worry, it's nothing improper. I just need to speak to you alone. Let me explain, please?"
The pleading in those deep brown eyes killed the scream before it reached her throat. She studied him for another moment, then swallowed and nodded slightly.
Angelus wasted no time. "I'm here about the dreams-- the nightmares." As her eyes went wide he continued, "You've been having them, haven't you? Dreams of blood and death and monsters who stalk the night?"
She hadn't told anyone, not even Billy.... Edith finally managed to find her voice. "How could you know that?"
"Because I know what they mean."
The shock on her face turned almost to horror. "Who are you?"
Angelus smiled reassuringly. "No, this is about who you are. You are the Slayer.
"And I am your Watcher."
The tale he'd told her, while perched decorously-- if bizarrely-- on her second-story windowsill, echoed in her ears like the rantings of a madman. One girl, chosen from all the world to single-handedly battle with vicious fiends from Hell? The man belonged in Bedlam!
But he knew about the dreams. And he spoke calmly and determinedly, with no light of madness in those penetrating eyes.
He never even tried to enter her room, and left after speaking his piece, after warning her about the dangers to come-- and the destruction and death only she could prevent.
By the time she remembered to turn back and ask him how he'd managed the ascent to the roof, he was already gone.
She sat at the window, wrapped in her blanket, until the first sunlight burned away the terrors that appeared every time she closed her eyes. For the first time in weeks Edith passed the entire night without visitation by the demons who haunted her dreams.
Now they haunted the waking world as well.
By the time the sun was again high in the brilliant blue sky, Angelus' entire visit-- his wild, ridiculous story-- all seemed like a dream itself.
Hellish demons might well stalk the countryside lanes in the dead of night for all she knew, but the thought that she could stop them was nonsense. Angelus had been drunk. Or desperately confused.
Edith put thoughts of Angelus resolutely out of her head and spent the day working in her garden and minding Dru as she played with her friends.
Little Paul was the neighbors' child. Too young to be tolerated by the other boys on the street, he was always to be found with Anne and Dru-- who, truth be told, were usually to be found with each other. He regularly attempted to play the protective older brother to the two girls, even though they were all of an age. For their part Anne and Dru generally allowed little Paul his charade, within limits, with a knowing and amused tolerance that seemed almost too old for them. Edith had to admit, though, it was almost impossible not to find the boy's puppy-like loyalty endearing.
Anne, on the other hand... Anne was something of a trial for Edith. As the daughter of her late father's brother, the child should by rights be dearer to her than little Dru, who was not even blood.... But no sense she told herself could make things so for Edith.
The child was a nuisance, spoiled rotten, to put it plainly, and many of the adults in the neighborhood were quite plain in their opinions. It wasn't really the girl's fault-- her father had married late in life to a woman much younger, who had never quite recovered from Anne's birth. She died of a lingering fever before the child's second year, leaving her with a father who was attentive in mind, but absent in body.
Edith's uncle-- for he was, though she rarely thought of him so-- was senior groom at the Wynn family mansion on Queen's Coach Road. He was very proud of his position there and had always spent most of his time at the house-- even after he had brought home the new lady's maid one day to marry and set him up with a home of his own.
She could still remember how lonely and out-of-place Anne's mother had always seemed, alone in the tiny house only a few streets away. And, after Anne was born she was so sick... and then she was gone. For a while Uncle Edward had taken a serious interest in his daughter, but his attention had eventually waned and he once again spent more and more time at the great house. Word was that he was now courting the cook there, a rumor that seemed borne out by the child's current recitation....
"...And the ladies there, they eat custard every day, and they dine on honeyed cakes every single night."
Dru and little Paul were as attentive an audience as any storyteller could want, eyes open wide as Anne described the wonders of the Wynn larder. "And next week, after Lady Wynn's birthday party," Anne paused with a childishly effective attempt at dramatic suspense, "Daddy's promised to bring me a brandied pear of my very own to eat!"
The other children gasped in innocent awe, to them the rubies and gold of the fabled Indies could not have been more impressive. Edith quietly sighed and pulled a stubborn weed with more force. The man might just spend a little time with the poor child! It would mean far more to her then the presents he brought home whenever he thought to visit. For all he paid a neighbor woman to come in and clean and cook for Anne, the child spent more time at her friends' tables than at her own. The other children adored her stories and never seemed to mind her habitual thoughtlessness. And for all her spoiled and pouting ways, the mothers generally felt too sorry for her to turn her away.
Edith was startled from her thoughts by the cold, wet nose of another of Uncle Edward's guilty presents. "Anne!" she called out in annoyance. "Come and get the puppy out of the garden!"
Sure enough, Anne dined with little Paul and his family that night, from the garden Edith could hear the child's continuing chatter and marveled at the patience of little Paul's mother, who managed a restrained politeness as the girl loudly compared every morsel on her plate against her father's tales of feasts at the great house.
The child would never learn the value of silence, Edith thought. Yet once the meal had begun in earnest and even Anne had quieted, Edith suddenly realized the value of noise. In the silence of the darkening garden, Angelus' madness of the night before began to creep once more into her thoughts.
She found herself perversely welcoming the distraction of her mother's loud, irate call, "Edith! Where's my big black mixing bowl?"
"You let me loan it to Catherine, mother," she called back just as loudly, refusing to be embarrassed into running inside over something so stupid and not caring who heard.
"That was yesterday!"
"I'll go fetch it in the morning, mother!"
Mutters from the direction of the kitchen and a cessation of the shouting volley let Edith know she'd won. She allowed herself a smug smile and hummed a little tune under her breath as she watched the last rays of sunlight quit the sky.
When Billy arrived Edith was more relieved than she expected to see he was alone. She wrapped her arms around him tight-- as much for that as for the present he brought-- a blackbird in a little wicker cage.
"Something to sing for you in your garden all day, love. To remind you of me. Every time you hear his little song you'll remember just how much I love you, my sweet."
It was perfect-- Billy knew her so well. If she couldn't have these warm, strong arms wrapped around her every minute, at least she had a token to remind her of their safe haven. And no madness offered to her as some bizarre destiny by his mad monkish friend could ever change that.
The next morning they found Catherine.
She'd been dragged from her bed and her throat torn open, her blood spattering her shift and matted into her long, fair hair, where it had fallen across the wound.
Edith, arriving for her mother's bowl, felt a chill of horror wash over her. She and Catherine had been friends since they were Dru's age.... Who could possibly have done such a thing?
At that thought both the nightmares that were keeping her up more and more often nights and Angelus' hideous picture of her supposed destiny came rushing in upon her. Neighbors offered words of comfort at what they assumed was grief for a friend, but Edith didn't even hear them, stumbling back home in recoil at the pain of her own thoughts.
She spent most of the day doting upon her niece, desperate for thoughts of life and joy and daylight-- something, anything to drown out the images in her mind.
Still, when Angelus appeared at Billy's side after work that evening, Edith felt a definite sense of relief.
She was sitting on the garden wall, plaiting Drusilla's hair. The child on her lap begged remorselessly for one more song. And another. And another. So she was still there singing when Billy and Angelus arrived.
She caught a stray lock of the child's raven-black hair, brushed it smooth with her fingers, and worked it neatly back into the plait she was making.
Drusilla interrupted her with a shrieked "Uncle Billy!" and was scrambling down to the ground before she'd finished the words, the half-finished braid tumbling loose about her shoulders.
"Drusilla!" He seized her by the waist and swung her around through the air, squealing in delight. Pulling her close and holding her in front of him at eye level, he adopted an almost comical frown and lectured her with mock-severity, "Now, I'm not your uncle yet. So stop calling me that, or Edith's mother will think I've gone and done something very, very naughty with your aunt Edith here!" The lecturing scowl at the niece turned into an open leer at the aunt.
"Billy! Not in front of Dru!'
He just laughed. "Ah, Princess! Dru here," he tossed the child up into the air one more time before setting her gently on the ground, "She's too little to know what I'm saying." He turned to his friend. "And Angelus is old enough to know perfectly well-- even after all that time with the monks, no, Angelus?"
As the two exchanged schoolboy snickers, Edith found herself turning away, pulling the child protectively into her lap once more. The mention of Angelus' origins brought back the horror of this morning and the insanity of two nights past.
Billy noted the change in her at once and was at her side. "Princess, I'm sorry. I'm being rude and...." He gently turned her chin so that she faced him again. "Forgive me?"
They just looked at each other for a moment, then Edith smiled a little and Billy followed. "There we go! That's how I like to see my love-- all smiles." Billy turned to his companion. "Angelus! have a seat." He indicated the garden wall beside him. "We can play at being old married men with families sitting out of a summer evening."
He pointedly ignored Edith's playful elbow in his side and laughed as Dru, hearing the sounds of her friends' approach, blithely disrupted the little tableaux by sliding out of Edith's arms and tearing around the corner of the house-- her half-braided hair swinging wildly. Angelus smiled and took the proffered seat.
"So, have you got a girl you're planning to marry someday yourself, Angelus?" Edith asked, trying to draw him out.
He laughed, "No. Nothing but quickly passing fancies, I'm afraid."
"Angelus here is still a wild roving lad, Edith," Billy protested.
"No, surely not," Edith corrected, eyeing the subject of their discussion critically. "How many years do you have, Angelus?"
"Enough to think I've missed something by always hurrying on so quickly." His look caught her eye just a second over-long. "It's not a mistake I intend to make again."
His smile for a second seemed too cold for the sentiment, but a moment later Drusilla appeared, eyes wide in childish distress, and Edith was able to shake off her morbid feeling.
"Aunt Edith! Uncle Billy! The kitten...." her voice was overcome by tears.
Billy dropped to one knee in front of her, "What's happened to the kitten, Dru?"
She looked at him with a stricken expression as it all came out in a rush: "The puppy chased it and it got up on the fence and I can't get it and it's crying!"
Scooping her up in his arms, he turned to the other two with a hidden, conspiratorial grin. "I think I can handle this. Be back in a minute." Formally addressing the little girl he carried, he assured her, "You've come to the very finest, m'lady. Billy Brown, heroic knight, at your service-- rescue of wayward kittens a specialty!"
As his voice faded with distance, Edith found herself looking at the hands clasped in her lap. Before she could find words, Angelus broke the silence.
"The child is your niece?"
Much as she needed to speak to him on more disquieting subjects, she could not regret the reprieve. "No, not really. She's my best friend Beth's little girl. Beth and I grew up only two houses apart and used to pretend we were sisters, because neither of us had a real one."
She smiled a little and managed to look up. "Now Drusilla knows that I won't scold her for getting mud on her dress or for speaking out of turn, so I'm her favorite aunt." The intense gaze that met hers caused her to look down again. "It's just me and my mother in the house here since father died... it's so quiet sometimes...."
"So you have no brothers? No sisters?"
She looked up in surprise this time. "No. I was the only child my parents ever had."
The confusion on her face deepened as he nodded in satisfaction. "Yes, that is always the way with the Slayer."
Without conscious movement Edith was on her feet, looking first in the direction Billy had left, and then down at Angelus where he still sat on the low wall. "What you've said isn't true. It can't be!"
He looked up at her with a slightly bemused smile. "Why not?"
But the look on his face only made her angry. "I cannot fight demons!"
"Yes, you can."
"You *must*." His eyes seemed to bore right into her.
"Why?" she demanded.
"Because no one else can."
Edith looked and looked but could find nothing but sincerity in his eyes. "This is why you've been having the dreams, because the last Slayer died in France two weeks ago and you are the next. The one girl in all the world who can battle the forces of darkness and win."
Without warning he raised one hand, as if to strike her across the face....
...and with an even faster reflex motion of her arm she stopped it.
Immediately cradling that forearm in the other hand, she stared at him wide eyed. "That hurt!" And it had. That had been no feint. Angelus had swung hard, obviously intending to really strike her.
"But you stopped it." And that was also true. She would swear that she hadn't even had time to see him move... and yet she'd stopped it without effort.... But it was still madness, no?
Edith looked again after Billy. What was keeping him? With relief she heard his voice again, coming closer.
"You can't tell him, Edith." She started visibly. "Billy. You can't tell him or tomorrow morning you may find him laid out on the ground just like Catherine."
She looked at him in utter horror as Billy and Drusilla came nearer. "Not a word, Edith," he repeated with no trace of humor in his face. "*Please*. I promise, you'll regret it if you do."
And she had no time to respond.
Late that night when every shutter was closed and every honest man sound abed, Edith rose, dressed herself in her warmest dress and cloak, and crept downstairs to meet him. As he took her arm and guided her quickly into the unknown darkness her shivering was not from the cold.
"Catherine was buried today?" The soft whisper almost in her ear made her start.
"Yes, of course. At St. John's, just down the way." She pointed and felt him alter course slightly to follow. "Why?"
"Tonight you must begin your training." Edith felt a piece of wood pressed into her hand as they walked. Raising it slightly before her in the low moonlight, she could see that it was a rough-hewn stake.
Arriving at the churchyard, he steered her towards the new grave, only slacking pace as they came within view of it. With a gallant sweep he dusted off and offered her a seat on one of the older tombstones, but she refused it with a shudder, preferring to face the darkness on her feet. With a shrug he seated himself instead and settled in as if to wait.
"Why are we here? What are we doing?" Edith demanded, fear giving strength to her irritation.
"You are the Slayer. You are the only one who can stop the vampires."
"Like the one who killed Catherine?" she asked, only the slightest quaver in her voice.
"Yes, like that one," he responded softly, his face hidden by shadow.
"But should we not warn people?" she demanded, beginning to pace up and down, "Should we not tell them to allow no stranger in their house after nightfall? To stay within in safety?" She was becoming more agitated as she paced, punctuating her words with unconscious motions of the stake.
Gingerly Angelus caught at her arm and deliberately took back the stake, causing a slight blush to rise in her face. "We would do nothing but panic them to tell them of this. Staying within is no guarantee of safety-- think on Catherine. Was she like to wander abroad in her shift at night?"
"No, no, of course not!" Edith insisted, confusion evident on her face. "She... she must have been charmed into opening the door...."
Angelus laughed aloud at that, a sound eerily out of place in the darkened graveyard. "Charmed? Was she blind and stupid then?" Meeting Edith's shocked gaze he calmed himself quickly. "Edith," he continued in a serious tone. "The first thing you must learn as a Slayer is to know your enemy. Much of what you have heard whispered by frightened people in the dark is nonsense." He laid one hand protectively on her arm and smiled reassuringly at her. "That is why I am here. After all, how can you fight what you don't understand?"
She hesitated for a full minute in silence, then laid her hand over his. "And you will be with me?"
"Always," he promised. "Always."
Edith managed a weak smile in response and settled next to him on the tombstone. "So they have no power to charm?"
Angelus reached one arm around her and settled her in against him. "Once you have seen one, you will understand. Even creatures of the Devil do not have such power as to hide their true natures. They are demons, and have the manners and faces of demons. You would have to be mad to be charmed by these beasts."
"And they've no need of invitation?"
"No. That much power Satan has given them-- that they may walk where they will. That is why there must be a Slayer, that they not stand unopposed."
Edith sat silent for a few moments, trying to order her thoughts. But even with Angelus there at her side, the silence soon became overwhelming. "So," she smiled at him, "If I am to know the demons by their faces, am I to know the angels as well?"
Before he could answer the ground at their feet exploded.
Edith tried to scream, but could find no voice. She felt a jolt from behind and found herself stumbling forward, off-balance, toward the ghastly figure in white that was struggling upwards from the earth. She recognized the figure in the dirt-covered shift as Catherine-- it was her form, her hair. But the face....
Belatedly Edith found the power to scream. At the same instant she felt Angelus at her back, blocking her retreat, forcing the stake once again into her hand and ordering into her ear, "Stake her. Anywhere! Just stake her quickly!"
Instinctively following the command, Edith swung at the staggering, monstrous corpse of her friend, slashing at the flailing arms that reached vaguely for her and finally managing to drive the stake hard through the center of its chest.
But still it kept coming. Growling and screeching like the unearthly demon it was, yet twisting and crying out like the young woman she'd known, Edith watched it take the death blow... and continue its stumbling, uncoordinated advance.
"Again!" Angelus shouted, "You must do it again!"
A strength she couldn't explain rose within Edith then, giving her the power to reach forward and pull the stake free of Catherine's corpse. With the same strength of will she ignored the blood pouring from the wound, ignored the shrieks of pain and rage the monster made, and plunged the stake in again... and again... and ag....
And with a sudden puff of ash in the moonlight, it was gone.
Edith stood for a moment, staring stupidly at the empty space before her... before collapsing in on herself like a rag doll.
Angelus caught her before she hit the ground and held her. She clung to him, shaking like one fevered, wracked with uncontrollable sobs. He stroked her hair gently for long moments as she struggled to regain her composure.
Finally she was still, arms wrapped tight about him, her words just a breath in his ear. "I can't do it, Angelus, I can't. Find someone else."
Still holding her he pulled away far enough to see her face. "But you did it, Edith. And there is no one else who can."
Placing a kiss on her forehead he turned and started back, letting her lean heavily upon his shoulder as he walked her back to her door.
She sat awake for hours after he left, wrapped once again in her blanket. Sitting on the bed with her back against the wall and her knees drawn up tight against her, she stared unseeing and unfocused at the shutters that were all that stood between her body and the horrors of the night her mind could not escape.
She was still there when the cry was raised just before dawn.
Drusilla's friend little Paul was the last child of the bakers who lived next door. Fully ten years younger than his siblings, he had always been his aging mother's pride and joy.
So when his mother found his tiny, bloody little corpse just a few steps from the back door her screams woke most of the neighborhood.
Edith spent most of the day at Beth's house, holding Drusilla close and singing her own mother's songs over and over to the child. Billy stopped by several times to see her, becoming more and more worried. True it was a tragedy, a horror. But none of that explained how exhausted Edith looked, nor why the child's death had caused her to withdraw into herself so. It was hard even to tell how much of little Drusilla's fearful expression reflected the understanding that her playmate would not return, and how much was a reaction to Edith's shaking hands and voice.
After speaking with an equally worried Beth, Billy was finally forced to attribute her behavior to concern for Dru-- after all, she doted on that child so. But Beth had no intention of letting Dru out of the house where a mad stray could attack her, and she had nothing that a bloody-minded villain like the one who had attacked Catherine two nights before could want. For all some of the older people were starting to mutter nonsense about demons, the child was as safe as any in this world, and, after some effort, he and Beth finally convinced Edith to return home and to bed.
She was still desperately asleep when Angelus appeared at her window that night.
So drugged with sleep was she that she had opened the window to him before she was even consciously awake. But one look at the long sliver of wood in his hand and she rebelled. "No! No, Angelus! Not a child! Not little Paul! I *can't*!"
With a scowl he hissed at her, "Hush, you fool! Do you want the entire neighborhood to wake?" Pausing for a breath he regained a bit of his calm demeanor. "Do you want the demon to hear our plans?"
"Then come in from the bloody window and close the shutters!" she snapped back, unable to recapture her usual demure composure.
Startled slightly for a moment by her show of temper, Angelus then smiled and proceeded to follow her command. "That's the spirit you need, Edith. *That's* the resolve of a Slayer!'
Edith managed it quickly and with as little conscious thought as possible. The feelings of inner strength and courage that had surprised her over the last few days were accompanied by such a crushing feeling of coldness, of disconnection-- as though she were not even within her own body when these things happened to her... when she forced herself to do these terrible things.
It was at her insistence that they dug up Paul's tiny coffin, catching the demon within him still unawakened. Edith paused, arm upraised, to look at the little corpse. Even with the horrible wound in his throat and the waxy pallor robbing his face of any appearance of life.... Still.... She looked at the stake in her hand, so very big in contrast to the childish chest below it....
And then the eyes opened. The face deformed, and her impulse to strike was pure reflex.
Mercifully the first blow tore such a hole, it only took one strike to shatter the horror into dust.
Edith did not cry this time, did not collapse. Much to her own detached surprise, she merely gathered her cloak from where Angelus had laid it over a tombstone for her earlier and turned back towards home without a word.
With the same lack of concern she turned to wait for Angelus. Before he could speak, she found herself speaking aloud, in an almost dreamlike voice: "Drusilla."
"Pardon?" Angelus looked confused.
"Drusilla played with him from the day they could both walk by themselves, you know." She smiled faintly at the memory. "Before they had nine years between them he had already asked little Dru to wed him at church door someday." She gave a weak little laugh. "In answer, she pushed him so hard he landed on his bum in the gutter...."
"Edith...," Angelus pulled the cloak closed about her and sat her on the broken edge of a crypt.
She allowed him to, indifferent, as she kept up her monologue, "Did you ever dream of the children you would someday have, Angelus? Holding them, singing to them, laying them safely in their bed at night?"
But she gave no indication of having heard him. "I have. I've dreamed of singing my mother's songs to them as I do for Drusilla." The wan smile returned and her eyes became even more distant. "It's as though I can see them already. And they're like her-- pure and innocent and untouched by the world. Like little Dru."
"Don't you think Drusilla is a beautiful name...?"
"The real Drusilla was a mad Roman empress who fell on her back for every man in the palace, including her own brother, Caligula!"
Within a heartbeat Angelus was on his own back on the ground, looking up at a horrified, yet very much aware Slayer looming over him. "That is terrible! What could even make you say such a thing?"
Dusting himself off, Angelus rose warily. "It's true, Edith." She shook her head in repulsed denial. "It's one of those things I learned from the monks. The Romans were all mad-- worse than old King George."
He reached out quickly and caught her hands in his before she could pull away. "Edith, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said such a thing." He appealed with sorrowful eyes. "Forgive me? It's still a beautiful name."
She finally pulled away from him, but slowly. "I want to go home now."
He walked her home, but before they reached her door he stopped her in the street and pressed yet another stake into her hand. "Keep this with you night and day, Edith."
"Day?" she repeated in confusion.
Angelus pulled her to the darker shadow cast by a shopfront and dropped his voice even lower. "Vampires are creatures of the night, Edith, but they are not bound by it. They are free to walk abroad by day as well, as long as they take care to keep to the shadows."
"But vampires are burned by the sun...!"
"No, Edith. They are merely inconvenienced by it. By day it is harder to hide their ferocious faces and horrible deeds." He shook his head sadly. "But you cannot count on the daylight to save you. Keep this with you always."
This time when he pressed the stake into her hand, her fingers curled around it.
But a bare moment later she was shaking her head and trying to hand it back, as though the danger it was meant to defeat could be as easily pushed away. "No, I cannot do this night and day." She took a step backwards. "Soon Billy and I will be married. We'll have children and neighbors and... I can't!"
Angelus' face reflected what looked like genuine pity. "Edith, you have no choice."
"That is precisely why the Slayer does not have a family, does not have children. She has-- *you* have-- a greater responsibility. Only you can defeat these creatures. And if something were to distract you, pull you away from the path you were meant to walk, all of mankind would be doomed."
"Edith, you can't marry Billy...."
"But if I could only explain to him...."
"Not unless you want to see his throat torn out before your eyes!" Edith fell back, wide-eyed, before the fury in his tone. With a visible effort, Angelus regained his composure. "You don't understand, Edith. They can read the very thoughts in your head."
He paused for a moment to watch that thought settle in her mind, in her stricken expression. "You have thwarted this one twice within a handful of nights. It will be angry. It will want to hurt you, kill you. And if you are too well-protected, it will go after those you love."
He took her chin in his hand and spoke reassuringly, "Go to sleep. Keep the stake with you always and do not think on them-- your mother, Billy, Drusilla-- none of them." He smiled encouragingly in response to her stupefied expression. "Think not on them for a few days and they will be safe, I promise."
And with a swift kiss to her forehead he was gone.
Wrapped in her blanket Edith sat up by the window this time, determined not to sleep and to enlist the aid of the ice-cold air outside if necessary to keep herself alert and in control of her thoughts.
Ruthlessly she forced those thoughts, time and again, away from.... No.
To her new duty as the Slayer, cursed to fight these creatures forever, at the price of the family she had always wanted. The family she had planned with Billy....
To the horrors of this past night, driving the stake brutally through the chest of a child. No, a demon in the form of a child, who'd burst into shapeless dust-- along with her dreams of a future, of a child like him, like Drusilla....
In another moment she caught herself deliberately thinking of Angelus in pure anger. That realization frightened her so that she was able to manage several whole moments of detached mental calm....
But within the space of a score of minutes her exhausted body had failed her and she lay slumped, head against the shutters, lost in restless dreams....
The next morning Edith woke with a small cut on her cheek from where the stake, still clutched in her hand, had pressed against her face. The blanket about her was twisted so tight from her restive night that she had awoken from dreams of being buried alive. She wasn't sure what had interrupted her slumber, but it was already late morning and she felt none the more rested for her sleep.
It was as she stumbled her way to her feet and began to recall the night before that she realized with a shock of horror that she'd dreamed-- nightmares of fact and myth, blood and death, and.... She'd dreamed of them. All of them.
Gasping out a shuddering, choked sound she lunged to her feet, twisting herself free of the cloak she was wrapped in. She had to find them, warn them, protect them....
But there were no new cries of grief or horror to be heard. Her mother greeted her with a smile and assured her that no new horrors had been visited upon any in the night.
Yet somehow, Edith couldn't stop shivering.
Billy stopped by on his way to work, fretting over her pale cheeks and shadowed eyes, but she managed to reassure him and send him on his way quickly.
Too quickly, perhaps, to judge by the last look he gave her. A weary sigh escaped her. She hadn't meant to hurt his feelings, but merely having him around now made her fear for his safety. Angelus' revelation of the night before still shook her badly-- she had thought daylight would protect her from the red-rimmed eyes and terrible grasp of demons. Now she knew it would not.
In how much else was she confused? She still could hear Angelus' warning from that first night in the churchyard: "How can you fight what you don't understand?" He was right. As much as she wanted to bury all of her terrible new knowledge away, she knew that it would rise again to attack her, as had little Paul....
She shuddered as she reached for her cloak and walked out to the garden, the stake grasped tightly in her hand. This demon had created a monster out of a little child, what else was it capable of? The only way to protect those she loved was to become this Slayer that Angelus spoke of, always on the alert for danger, striking instantly to protect....
The puppy's growl made her look up, and the sight before her drained all thoughts from her mind. Anne stood at the gate huddled close to Dru, her mouth and fingers sticky and red with blood, reaching out....
"*NO*!" The sound echoed in her ears as Edith found herself bearing down upon the children at full speed, stake clutched in her upraised hand.
The sound of Drusilla's piercing scream and the look of utter terror on Anne's upraised face brought Edith back to her senses just before she could drive the point of the stake into little Anne's chest. Stunned at her own actions, Edith watched paralyzed as the puppy ran to fetch the half-eaten pomegranate the girls had let fall. Dazed, she watched the red fruit roll like a child's ball along the paving stones as she sank to the ground.
Pomegranate juice. Sticky and red and not blood. Not demons. *Children....*
When the full realization of what she had almost done hit her, Edith was unable to think at all.
When she regained her senses she was sitting in a heap upon the ground, propped up only by the fencepost. Anne was crying loudly and Dru was silent, staring at her with the widest eyes Edith had ever seen, her pale skin so white she looked like the very life had run out of her.
Then people were all around-- her mother, little Paul's mother, Beth, the housekeeper Anne's father hired, strangers from the street-- all gathered around in a milling, dizzying confusion. As from a great distance she felt her mother's hand on her arm, on her forehead. She heard Anne sobbing out the story through her tears, all the way back to the pomegranate Dru had been given by her Uncle Billy's friend the evening before, the one she'd saved all night to share with Dru this morning....
For her part, Edith could not stop shaking. Nor could she make a sound in her own defense.... What defense? She'd almost killed an innocent child because she had thought it a hell-born demon. What defense could there be for such a thing?
Those assembled seemed of a like mind. The muttered whispers and sidelong glances said as much. Even Beth looked at her askance, then would not meet her eye.
"Dru." The word finally managed to pass her lips as she realized that she had heard nothing from her little 'niece'. Trying to peer amongst the forest of legs that separated them she could see nothing. An overwhelming fear dragged her to her feet.
She was there, in Beth's arms, being carried to safety, away from her mad 'aunt'. Her face was so still and pale.
Finally the crowd dispersed. Anne was taken swiftly back to her house, her tears slowly subsiding, and her father was sent for. The adults moved away to rejoin their usual lives, muttering and casting sideways glances back at her. Looking at them Edith saw revulsion in the few pairs of eyes that would meet hers, and wordlessly she stumbled back into the house on her mother's arm.
Just after dusk Billy brought word that little Dru was gone.
Apparently she'd run away. Weeping, Beth told those who gathered at the house that the child had not recovered from the morning's terror. First little Paul, now this; she had been withdrawn and silent all day. Beth had tried to get her to eat, but she would not. Finally, Drusilla had simply vanished from the back porch as night fell.
Little Anne had no idea where her playmate might have gone, vowing that they had always stayed close in the neighborhood. Given the recent deaths of little Paul and Catherine, no one was willing to just hope Drusilla would calm down and find her own way home by dawn. Billy gathered a few of the young men (although Angelus was nowhere to be found) and joined the small group of parents that had gathered to search. Little Anne was left behind over her protests, but her puppy tagged along. As Billy pointed out to one of the mocking older men, it might be too young to be of much use, but it had at least known the child well.
Edith insisted on joining the search party, ignoring the raised eyebrows it caused.
They asked through the streets, finding a vague trail of people who had noticed the child's pale, frightened expression, but there was little consensus. Some said she had seemed to be following someone through the crowds, but others swore she was alone. Still others admitted that, in the busy streets and shifting shadows of evening, they could not have been sure.
The trail, such as it was, led finally all the way to Hyde Park, a giant expanse of green in the middle of the city, with trees, ponds, and countless places for a child to become lost. Or worse. And, as night fell, black as death itself.
Nonetheless they wandered the park for almost an hour, stumbling by the light of lanterns and calling her name. Despite Billy's concern for her health and safety, Edith refused to return home, her own guilt driving her on well past her normal endurance.
Had she not scared the children so badly this morning, Dru never would have run away. Had she accepted her calling earlier, had she worked harder with Angelus, she might have already found and destroyed the vampire who was causing such destruction. Had she not been who she was, all who came in contact with her-- even this child she loved as if she were blood-- might not be in mortal danger.
Billy was careful to keep close to her as they searched, but every so often in the growing darkness they were parted by a stand of trees or the edge of a pond.
Thus Edith was alone when she found Drusilla.
The edge of the circle of light cast by her lantern on the ground barely brushed the child's ankle, but with the slightest motion of her wrist Edith covered the child with light. The shock of finding what she'd searched for for so long froze her in place long enough to take in the limp way the little body slumped against a tree, the unnatural way the head lolled back.
The torn flesh and cold, congealed blood at her throat.
The scream that came from Edith's own throat had no words; no words could possibly convey such suffering and desolation of the heart. The lantern fell from her numb fingers and she stumbled blindly back along the path she'd taken, uncaring of the roots that tripped her and the stones that turned under her feet, until she collapsed in Billy's arms.
As the others gathered around, drawn by the sound, she managed to sob out what she had seen. Leaning heavily on Billy and trying not to hear Beth's wailing cries, she managed to lead the group back to the body.
But it was gone.
Lying against the tree, near her own abandoned lantern, lay a torn and bloodied corpse indeed. But the victim death had found there was not a human child. Anne's puppy lay in the clearing, small head against the tree and throat viciously torn out, the blood still dripping slowly from its neck.
Curfew was by that time fast descending, and it was long past time to leave the darkened streets to the villains-- human and demon-- that haunted them after nightfall. Reluctantly the search was called off until dawn. Billy carried Edith most of the way to her home, trying to shield her with his arms from the mistrustful stares, the uneasy sidelong glances of the others who muttered that her own guilt had unhinged her mind.
And he wondered if they were right.
That night Edith slept the deep and dreamless sleep of utter collapse, her mother sharing the bed and Billy sleeping upright in a chair across the room. With first light he was gone to resume the search, but Edith continued to sleep until a commotion in the street below brought her awake.
When she met her mother coming up the stairs, Edith could see the tears in her eyes.
When Billy arrived at Uncle Edward's house to find Edith covered in blood, for a moment he felt a deathly fear that, in her grief, she had done herself harm. Thus he actually felt a sort of sick relief when he realized that the gore came not from her, but from the twisted body of the child in her arms.
His heart broke to see her like this, cradling Anne's small body, eyes closed to hold back the vision of violent death. Rocking back and forth, singing softly....
The decently covered forms of Uncle Edward and the housekeeper lay silent in the corner, but the neighbors could do nothing for Anne. Even Edith's mother had thrown up her hands, unable to wrest the child's body from her own daughter's surprisingly strong grip.
Billy walked forward hesitantly, unsure how to approach her. She had been so withdrawn, so haggard recently-- disinclined to talk to him. The last he'd seen her she was almost mad with grief and worry over Drusilla's disappearance. She had nearly attacked the children the morning before. He had worried she might have been struck by some sort of brain fever, but this...?
Reaching her he laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, only to wince as she flinched away. "Edith? Love, they have to take her now."
Edith responded with a horrible, heartrending whimper that made him think of the mewl of an injured kitten.
Instantly he found himself at her side, arms wrapped tight around both her and her burden. "Princess, I'm sorry. I'm *so* sorry."
Tears began to run down her cheeks then, falling unheeded on bloody clothes and cold, torn, bloody flesh. And Billy held her, rocked her in his arms, as one of the neighbor women took little Anne away.
For the rest of the day Edith sat in the garden, stone-still and wrapped like an invalid in an afghan that seemed to dwarf her. Her mother offered her food, which sat beside her uneaten, and comfort, which fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile the rumors and speculation spread.
No one had come up with a sane, natural explanation for the deaths of her Uncle's family. With nothing to counter them, speculations about demons and monsters of every description were spreading wildly. Almost as well speculated upon was Edith Shepherd's role in the recent tragedies. After all, the victims were all people known to her, and she had acted as one possessed after the Taylor child's death-- a story that had no doubt already grown with each telling.
The kinder gossips argued that she was merely cursed, or haunted-- a victim as much as any of the others. But more vocal members of the community suggested, sometimes quite strongly, that she must have consorted with demons, willfully bringing down this horror on them all.
Or even that she was a demon herself.
The search continued, half-heartedly, into the early evening, but few held out hope any longer. Drusilla's parents were inconsolable; while Edith simply sat, her vacant eyes staring out at nothing.
When Angelus called just after dusk, Edith's mother had already brought her inside and put her to bed like a sick child. Hearing him at the door, Edith simply feigned exhausted sleep until he left.
She utterly refused to think what he had wanted of her.
It was well after nightfall when the cry was raised.
Only at her mother's excited call did Edith reluctantly rise from the bed, wrap herself in a shawl, and make her way to the front door. The sight that met her eyes felt as though it had stopped her heart completely.
Dru. Wrapped in her father's arms. Alive. Whole.
Stumbling forward with a moan, Edith reached out to touch the child's cheek as the crowd passed, but she was pushed aside. She didn't care; never had she thought to find such ecstasy in being proved mad after all.
Standing in the street in bare feet and her shift, shawl trailing behind her and all modesty forgotten, Edith watched wide-eyed and dazed with joy as people came up, offered their prayers and congratulations, and joined in the triumphant procession to the Taylor house.
Then little Drusilla's eyes met hers over her father's shoulder as they all disappeared into the gloom. It was just for the space of a breath and no more before the darkness took them all, but it was enough to make Edith's heart clutch in her chest. She felt as though she'd been struck, drenched in cold water; every nerve in her body burned in sudden pain.
And then it was gone. She tried to shake it off, the lasting urge to go after them, to scream, to warn... to hold her, to touch her warm face, hear her breath... to fight, to kill, to destr....
When Billy came up behind her she nearly struck him down out of pure reflex. Catching herself only at the last second, she stood there, shaking uncontrollably, until he scooped her up and carried her inside.
As though from a distance she heard her mother's murmured reassurances as she was put back to bed-- She is chilled but not harmed, even after all this time. It's a miracle, Edith!-- and she made herself believe it. She fought down her own bizarre reaction, forced herself to ignore it. After all she would have sworn before God himself that she had seen the child dead in the park the night before. Obviously-- Praise Heaven!-- her own senses could not be trusted.
With a rush she tried to sit up; she *had* to see Dru. The certainty burned inside her like the cold night air through her lungs. She must go now, she must be sure....
Both Billy and her mother had to hold her until she calmed, and she finally only quieted when her mother reminded her how much she would disturb the child in her current state. There would be plenty of time tomorrow, she murmured. Plenty of time....
The sudden slam of a window shutter woke Edith up in the dead of night, her pulse racing and every sense alert as it had not been since this living nightmare began. She climbed quietly out of bed, careful not to disturb her mother, and was reaching silently past Billy for her cloak before she even realized what she was doing. And even then she didn't stop.
All she needed was to be sure. She had to see for herself, or she would know no peace at all. She need not even enter the house....
She was halfway to Beth's house before the cold in her feet told her she had forgotten even slippers in her hurry to leave. She dismissed the thought, hurrying on, unable to even begin to explain the sudden dread in her soul.
The lamps were lit at Beth's house, still. Given the horrors the family had been through, she could not blame them. It would be easy to simply peer through the glass....
She noticed the streaks upon the glass first, the thin trails of blood on the inside, as though left by small fingers.... With a strength she didn't even question Edith had wrenched open the door, and stopped short at the sight of Dru before her, blood spattered on her little hands and across her small white shift.
Drusilla was standing there alone in the front room, amidst over- turned furniture and wide smears of blood upon the floor, obviously in shock, her eyes wide and horrified.
"Aunt Edith!" She cried desperately as the spell seemed to break and she rushed forward into the young woman's arms. Instinctively, Edith reached down for the child, swinging her up and crushing her protectively against her chest as she looked for signs of Beth or her husband. "Aunt Edith! Monster....," any further words were lost as the girl buried her face in Edith's hair, her young body wracked with sobs.
She didn't dare set the child down again. Clutching her tighter with one arm, Edith stooped down long enough to break a leg off the nearest chair with the other hand. Then she moved towards the back kitchen.
One look was enough to tell her it was too late. The blood spattered everywhere obviously came from the gaping wounds across Beth and Tom's throats. Their bodies lay like limp and broken dolls in the midst of broken dishes and upset stools. They had obviously put up the best fight they could.
Stepping backwards quickly, so as to spare Drusilla the sight of her parents' end, she thanked God that at least the child had somehow been saved. How in all this destruction she had managed....
The pain at her neck was so unexpected that it took a second to register. But before she could be sure what she was feeling, Edith had already pulled the child away and thrown her to the floor-- a reflex action that would have horrified her, had not the sight of little Drusilla's face horrified her more.
Drusilla was alive. Spared by some miracle from God. She was not this tiny monster-faced demon. Not this horrible caricature of the child Edith so loved.
Not a beast who could have torn her own parents' throats out.
"Aunt Edith?" The demon child before her lisped through bloodied fangs, the confusion in her voice obvious, even through the unholy mask she now wore. "Aunt Edith?"
Edith felt her heart breaking, felt the fragile tissue rip in a searing pain that threatened to overwhelm her completely.
And as Drusilla ran forward again, arms outstretched, Edith embraced her hard one last time-- with a loving arm... and a stake that transformed her tiny body into a burst of ash.
With the coldness that had overtaken her when she felt her heart's blood drain away, Edith broke off strong slivers of wood for Beth and her husband as well. But even after many, many attempts there was no ash, only more cold, congealed blood and torn flesh. Finally she left them as they were, no longer caring, and stumbled back to her house.
When Billy met her at the door, Edith threw her arms around his neck and sobbed openly, pressed tight against him, for nearly an hour.
In the silence that followed he continued to hold her tight, mumbling phrases of love in her ear. Suddenly, as though in response to something he had said, she pulled away.
"Marry me, Billy."
Her manner was wild and her face haunted, nonetheless a smile of relief lit his face at this sign of hope, of life from her. In his arms, at least, she would be safe from these demons who haunted her nights, from wandering the streets in her shift at all hours, unconscious. "You know I will, love. We'll put it off another week or so, let you recover your strength...."
"No, Billy. Marry me now."
He stared at her, startled as much by the intensity in her gaze as by the request. "But, Princess! It's the middle of the night. And we've already planned...."
She laid the fingers of one hand lightly over his mouth and looked soul-deep into his eyes. "Am I still your Princess?"
"Always, love. Always." He met her gaze, catching some of her urgency, without understanding it.
She smiled the smile that always made his heart feel like it was going to swell out of his chest. "Then marry me now, Billy."
He ducked his head slightly to look into her eyes. "Do you feel all right?"
The adoring smile slowly lit her too-pale face. "I do now, Billy."
"And you're sure this is what you want, love?"
The smile deepened and she pulled him forward the slightest bit until their lips met. "I love you, Billy. I need you."
He carefully tucked a stray strand of her hair back into place, a grin like the sun on his face. "Whatever makes you happy, Princess."
She rested her forehead against his. "You make me happy, Billy." Then she straightened up and took a deep, steadying breath. Edith knew she had to tell him. She had to tell Billy what had been happening, the destiny that had been thrown upon her, the terrible nights she had spent with....
Like a vision conjured from her own thoughts, Angelus appeared from the shadows by the foot of the stairs.
She gasped in shock and sudden fear, their eyes meeting for an instant over Billy's shoulder. Then he was gone. She shuddered and turned away as Billy looked about, confused.
"You must not tell him," the words hissed in her ear as she felt a cold shiver run down the back of her neck. "Trust me: If you speak a word out of turn, he will die as well." She could hear the words as clearly as when Angelus had spoken them... when he had.... She suddenly couldn't remember when she'd actually heard them, and she started as a shutter slammed again in the rising wind.
"Princess, are you all right?" Billy's worried tone grounded her, bringing her back to her senses. "You've gone all pale. You're still too weak...."
"No," she said, her eyes locked with his. And even she wasn't sure exactly what she meant by it at that moment. "No."
Billy, uncertain, but solicitous of her wishes, accepted it as an answer to his own question. "All right then, love. Let's go."
"No, Billy, I need to talk to you."
"Now, Billy." She insisted. "There's something I must tell you before we're wed."
He looked at her, loving and confused and just slightly worried, and nodded. "All right, Princess." He brushed the side of her face with a finger. "Talk to me, love."
Edith felt the horrible shiver run down her spine again. "Not here. Alone. Outside. In the garden."
He sighed, so obviously trying to hide his growing frustration for her sake, "All right then, but first let's wake your mother so she won't find us gone and worry."
She followed him docilely up the stairs, only just beginning to wonder on why they'd heard nothing from her at all through all this when....
Edith watched Billy drop to her mother's side, trying to sit her up, to listen for her breath. But no, there was no use... Edith could see that at once. She had already been dead long enough for the blood that had poured from her throat to have seeped down into the cracks in the floor, for the stains on her shift to have begun to dry....
She told him then. Sitting there on her bedroom floor, next to the cool lifeless body of the woman who had birthed and raised her, Edith told him everything. Calmly and with great precision, she told him the entire tale.
To her amazement he didn't interrupt or contradict or try to drag her straight to Bedlam. He just silently held her, tighter and tighter as her voice began to break, until by the end she thought he might crush her with his love.
Only what seemed like a long, long time later, once she had finally managed to cry herself out once again, did he let go of her. The eyes she found looking into hers from only inches away were full of pain and fury and danger-- but not for her.
"I'm going to get the priest, love."
She started to object, but he stopped her with one finger to her lips. "I'm going to get the priest for your mother here, and to keep the demons away. And if you still want, he can marry us here as well, Princess." The utter determination gave his normally sweet eyes almost a wild look. "Nothing is going to keep us apart, princess. Not demons, not curses, not death. *Nothing*." He took a deep breath to steady himself, fighting the growing rage he could not hide. "And certainly not bloody Angelus! If I find him...."
"No! Billy, don't...."
"Please, Billy? Don't leave me." She watched his resolve melt before her pleading eyes.
He sighed deeply. "All right, love. I won't. But I'm still going to get the priest now." He shook his head slightly to forestall her objection. "I'll only be a moment, and then I'll never leave you again."
"*Never*, Princess. I promise." And with a quick kiss he was gone.
Edith sat there for... she wasn't sure. One moment it seemed no more than the space from one heartbeat to the next, and the next she knew that she had been sitting so since the birth of Eve and would still be sitting there when Judgment Day rained down upon them all.
The warnings of Angelus whispered once again through her mind, but she forced her thoughts away. She would not think of him. Billy and she would be wed this night and her life would once more be what she knew, what she had always dreamed of. And the sound of his voice in her head would go away. The demons were dead, all of them. Even the one who wore the shape of her dearest Drusilla. They were gone. The horror was past. Past.
And she was not responsible. It was not her fault. She had not asked for this destiny and these deaths were not upon her head. Billy was here for her. He would hold her and protect her. And the misfortune and suffering that seemed to follow Angelus with the tenacity of a starving wolf could never, ever touch her again.
With a sudden start she realized that she was cold, shivering. Wrapping her cloak around herself, she stumbled to her feet. Where was Billy? How long had he been gone?
As she gazed once more upon her mother's face the simple truth slowly, slowly dawned upon her battered mind. Through all her confusion, her emotions, her exhaustion, her willful denial came the memories: Of casting the child demon easily from her, of the violent destruction throughout Beth's household, of the others-- Catherine, Little Paul, Anne, Uncle Edward and the housekeeper, Drusilla herself. Her mother before her.
It wasn't over. The one who had started this all, the one who had killed them all, the one whose shadow she had never so much as glimpsed, was still out there. Out there with....
She was already down the stairs before her mind finished making the connection. Dragging open a front door that suddenly seemed to be made of heaviest oak, she stepped out and....
No. Not Billy. *No*.
The night was shattered by the horrible, mind-rending sound of a woman screaming... screaming.... A horrible sound that stopped only when she herself gasped for breath.
She was holding the crumpled form in her arms, trying to close the pale, torn flesh of his throat with her hand, refusing to see the cold, fixed stare of those beloved brown eyes.
The sound of running feet and horrified exclamations made her look up in time to see the priest, robes flying and bulk shifting uneasily to such speed, making his way across the street towards her.
Struggling to her feet she tried to reach out to him, her hands and shift covered in blood.... Only to have him stop short and draw back. Looking at her with undisguised horror through the dim light he crossed himself and pleaded with her in a loud, shaking voice. "My child! What have you done?"
Any words she had dried up in her throat. She was alone. They were all gone--any who could help, any who could understand, any who would believe the mad tale that was all she had to tell....
The sense of being outside herself, as though she were in a dream, increased. She watched the circling, growing crowd begin to mutter louder, fear and horror turning to outrage and anger. New shouts and cries suddenly were raised from the direction of Beth's house. And through the weird, flickering light of lamps and torches, Edith could see herself just standing there, her outstretched arms stained with Billy's blood.
This was not real, it had no touch of reality to it at all. This was truly the torment of a soul consigned to hell. Our Father, Who art in Heaven... send me aid. Send to me an angel....
She found herself pushing her way easily through the crowd, running blindly. Angelus could help. Angelus could explain. He was the only one who could understand. He was the source of this madness that had torn her life apart and could save her or destroy her with a single word. He was the only one left....
There was no way to know where in all this devastation he was, but her instincts ordered her to run and her feet obeyed without question. She found herself in the little churchyard, the churchyard where too many lay dead because of her, dead because of this madness that had descended upon her with the arrival of Angelus. Following the same undefined instincts she kept moving towards the place where the newest graves were dug, where Anne and little Paul were laid.
Was this sense of his presence, her ability to track him because he was her Watcher? Less than an hour before she had prayed never to see his face again. Now he was her only hope, her only chance....
Her reaction to seeing his crumpled form was surprisingly restrained. Perhaps, at some level, she had already known. Moving forward slowly, she felt only a spreading sense of numbness, of indifferent calm. There was a certain relief in the sudden awareness that she had no one to lose, no one to fear for. No one more to destroy.
Kneeling gently at his side, she leaned over him, brushing the dark hair from his face and noting the familiar stain of blood at his throat without surprise.
Leaning down closer, she laid a single kiss on his cold forehead.
"Angel? You mean Angelus. I've read about him -- He is a monster."
-- Kendra, "What's My Line?"
A week later, The Convent of the Holy Cross, just outside Kent
"Betrayed by a lover, was she?"
Sister Elizabeth Ann allowed her gaze to slip to the pale, withdrawn figure sitting apart on a bench at one end of the garden.
"So, did he bed her and leave her, or just run off after some bigger dowry?"
"Well?" the more outspoken of the nuns replied, with no trace of defensiveness or shame in her tone. "I'm only trying to understand!'
"Oh, certainly!" her companion replied, with no sense of sincerity in hers. "You're the one back from an entire spring on the road. I thought you'd have had your fill of the wild, wicked world by now?"
Sister Elizabeth Ann frowned. "Well it's certainly your turn to be telling tales, and not mine then!"
"Later," Sister Maureen insisted. "Where did she come from?"
With little show of resistance, the younger nun gave in, "She arrived on foot just before dusk one evening last week wearing nothing but her shift, stumbling and bloody-footed and half-dead. With her hair and eyes so wild anyone seeing her on the road must have thought her a restless spirit... or a lunatic." At the sound of a door closing somewhere nearby the sister caught herself and frowned at her companion. "It is not proper to be gossiping so about the poor creature!"
"So, she's a runaway?" her questioner continued without concern. "What's her name?"
The second sister sighed and acceded to the inevitable. "She calls herself 'Drusilla', but will give no family, nor meet your eye when she says it."
"Ah. She is hiding then." Sister Maureen looked thoughtful. "From her family?"
"From someone!" her companion agreed emphatically. At the other sister's inquiring look, she elaborated, "I helped Mother and Sister Abigail care for her that first night." She looked about and lowered her voice, "Not all of the blood was on her feet! While Sister Abigail was binding those cuts, I helped her out of her shift. When I tried to wash it later, I found dried blood under the mud and road-dirt. So much blood the shift was completely ruined. Yet there was not a mark upon her."
Sister Maureen's eyes had widened in unabashed regard. "Really? A murderess then?"
The first nun dismissed her companion's outrage with a gesture. "You thought the same, no?"
"Well...." Sister Elizabeth Ann trailed off, recovering with a righteous sniff when she caught her confidant's smug grin, "She might well have been the one harmed!"
"You said there was no mark upon her."
"She might have been innocently caught with another's blood upon her. Perhaps her lovers fought a bloody duel for her hand. When one fell, protesting always his love for her, she cradled his bleeding face in her hands and...."
"You've found another romance buried in the library!" Sister Maureen nearly shouted in annoyance. "I want to see it!"
Silent glares took the place of speech for a moment as the birds called softly to each other across the convent garden.
"Something is odd about her," Sister Elizabeth Ann insisted. "When she arrived she could not, or would not, speak at all. Even now, when she's recovered as much as she's like to, she will not give her true name or family. She speaks only when she must, and always has such a desperate sadness about her." The young nun dropped her already low voice further. "She was in confession for nearly an hour yesterday with Father Joshua, and the Father looked terribly pale when he emerged. Then he went and spent the next hour on his own knees in the chapel!"
Sister Maureen's eyes were wide. "What could she have done?"
Sister Elizabeth Ann shook her head. "I do not know, but...," she paused meaningfully, "She's given herself the name of a notorious Roman whore... a depraved woman whose unspeakable crimes nearly destroyed an entire empire!"
"Yes!" she insisted. "I heard Father Joshua tell Mother Superior so myself! And he's insisted that she take vows immediately-- tonight!"
Sister Maureen studied the pale, distant figure for a long moment, then shook her head. "It does not seem she could be so evil."
" 'The devil may charm and deceive'...."
"No," the first sister countered, shaking her head. "I think you had the right of it before. She looks so dazed as to barely lift her own hand! I cannot think her capable of such sins. There is something else...."
After a moment, Sister Elizabeth offered another piece of news: "An older man came this way two days past looking for an 'Edith Shepherd'. He seemed a kind man, a scholarly sort, and genuinely concerned to find this young woman he sought, but although he professed to have urgent business with her-- claiming indeed that her life was in peril should he not speak to her soon-- he did not know so much as the color of her hair." The young nun shook her head. "It was passing strange indeed. I did think he might mean...."
She caught Sister Maureen looking at her oddly and shrugged, "But I could not ask more without revealing her, which would surely make us a fine sanctuary, no?" With obvious reluctance, her companion was forced to agree. "Besides," Sister Elizabeth Ann continued, "She is to take her vows at Vespers tonight, after which her past will well and truly be behind her. So it makes little difference any more."
The Mother Superior of the Convent of the Holy Cross hurried along the portico as the wind rose and icy rain began to fall. The convent's newest sister following silently, wraithlike behind her.
"Saint Dymphna is a humbling example of a woman who never lost her faith, even after she was forced to flee far from her home. I'm certain that Father Joshua made an appropriate choice for you." Mother Superior glanced sideways, tactfully keeping to herself any further speculation about what connection the Father had made between this pale young woman and a martyred Irish princess hunted down by a mad father and known as a patroness of those possessed....
Mother Superior looked up as one of the sisters approached her at a wholly undignified pace, red hair coming loose about her face in the rising wind. "What is it, Sister Maureen?"
The Sister paused only a second to catch her breath. "There's a young man at the front gate...."
"At this hour?"
"He's injured, Mother, or sick. He's collapsed against the door and can't be woken. Sister Elizabeth Ann is in front with him, and she says his skin is much too cold, and he's like to die if you don't let him in...."
"Enough!" Mother Superior sighed, cutting off the stream of words. "Sister Maureen," she admonished sternly, "Pray do not forget that you are no longer in the world, and attempt to conduct yourself in a more humble and seemly fashion."
The censured Sister almost let escape a sigh. "Yes, Mother."
Satisfied for the moment, Mother Superior turned to her newest charge. "Sister Dymphna, welcome to our convent. You are free of whatever demons have haunted you; the past you fled from is no more. Go with God, my child. And sleep now, for tomorrow you will begin your life anew." Then, with a bustle of skirt and veil, she was gone, headed in the direction of the front gate.
The new Sister Dymphna returned to her cell, Mother Superior's words, like an absolution, echoing and re-echoing in her head. It was true. The past was behind her and a quiet, safe life in this holy place lay ahead.
Stepping carefully into the plainly-furnished cell she had been allotted, she moved at once to raise the flame on the small table lamp, while the wind began to shriek through the corridors behind her like the very souls of the damned.
Folding her cloak neatly, she began to shiver slightly in her new habit, a bride at last-- if never to the man she loved, then to God. Turning around she froze, one hand still outstretched towards the bedcovers.
He lay there on her bed, eyes closed, as if in slumber-- pale and perfect, and still as death. Moving as though in a dream, she knelt on the bed and laid one hand along his pale, cold cheek-- above a throat no longer marked by wound or gore.
"Billy?" She smiled faintly to herself. He was more handsome than she remembered, for all that his skin felt like ice and there was no quiver of breath about him. When his eyes opened, she could feel her heart sing. "Billy!" she moaned, collapsing into his arms, "You're alive!"
"More alive than ever, my love," he assured her as she buried her face in his shoulder.
"Then it wasn't true? It wasn't real?"
"I missed you, love," he whispered, holding her closer, "I woke up and you were gone...."
With a burst of rain and wind and noise the door was forced open, causing her to jolt upright in fright. But in an instant she saw Angelus' form filling the low doorway, and she felt almost sick with relief. It really wasn't true. She hadn't destroyed them all. Here they were, alive and safe and....
"Little Dru?" she asked, turning back to Billy, hope and a wondering fear beginning to brighten her fragile features.
"No," Angelus said, still hovering in the shadowed doorway, his voice low and tinged with something that could have been sorrow, "You killed her, remember?"
"No! I...." She stopped, confused. But if it was all a nightmare, unreal? The memory of holding the writhing little body to her and driving the stake home flared in her mind. "But I... I...."
"You abandoned your calling," Angelus continued, and the hint of sorrow was replaced by a stern, lecturing tone. "You left too soon. You left us."
Her head was spinning. It made no sense. Were the horrors she had lived with real then, and her loved ones dead? But Billy was here and alive. She had left because there was no one left....
"You had no need to fear that crowd, you know," Angelus assured her reproachfully as he moved slowly forward. "Once they saw their neighbors beside them begin to fall, gashes of scarlet upon their throats in the flickering light-- the crowd vanished like a puff of dust...."
He finally stepped forward into the light. And his face was the face of Hell.
Great splashes of crimson blood decorated him from chin to waist, and his eyes shone with a fiendish excitement from behind the twisted, distorted features of a demon. She had not the breath to scream, nor the strength to tear her eyes from the vision of perdition before her.
"But I fetched your dear boy for you. After you'd left him all alone." Swatting the small wood cross from above her door the way one might dislodge a mosquito and sending it flying across the room, he took another step towards her. The face that was both his and not his broke into a gruesome grin. "So, what now, 'Drusilla'?"
She simply stared, as powerless to move as a newborn hare faced with a ravening wolf.
"Or do I call you 'Dymphna' now? Or just '*Sister*'?"
Jarringly, he was both familiar and terrible-- both a vision from the Devil's dreams and the friend that Billy had shown off his Princess to...
"Billy!" she breathed, her voice barely a whisper. "Billy, help," but this time the words made no sound at all.
"It's all right, Princess," he soothed, hands moving up to her shoulders and urging her softly forward. "Now we will never die, love," he lisped behind her, the words sounding strange out of his mouth, "We will be together forever."
Angelus was moving closer with the slow stalk of the sure predator. "I have found you, Slayer. And now you will know what it means to be damned."
At the last second, she turned back. And when she found Billy's eyes in the smiling face of a demon, she began to scream, and could not stop.
Not until the physical power to do so was drained away with her heart's blood.
"Do you know what I found works real good with Slayers? Killing them."
-- Spike, "School Hard"
Mid-June 1817, Paris
"Drusilla, love. I'm home!" The blond vampire called out as he turned to close the door of the apartment.
Before the words were out, he felt strong arms wrapped around his waist from behind. Laughing, he tossed the branding iron he carried into the corner and turned around.
"Billy," the pale young woman who held him purred, an enticing smile on her own nightmarish face.
" 'Spike', love." He paused long enough to kiss her once on the lips. "If you can be my sweet Drusilla, then I can be your adoring Spike."
"Spike," she purred agreeably.
"Have you found her?"
He sighed, kissed her lightly on the forehead, then pulled away to sit on the edge of the bed. "Not yet, poodle." He looked up at her where she hung over his shoulder. "Are you sure...."
"She's here," Drusilla insisted, moving away, hands moving to her temples as she winced in pain. "I can feel her!"
He was back at her side in a heartbeat, trying to take her hands from her head and her thoughts from the Slayer. "I know, love. I know. I'm sorry." He gathered her close. "And I'll find her, I promise. I'll find her and kill her and make all the pain go away."
She smiled up at him, eyes wide through the pain. "Promise, Spike?"
Later, when she lay peaceful in his arms, he watched her sleeping the long summer day away. Angelus had been an arrogant fool, boasting to anyone who would hear that he had personally ended the line of the Slayers, parading Dru around like an exotic curiosity, winning high marks with the Master for his skill and initiative.
He and Drusilla had followed along in the orbit of his star, sheltered and tended to like royalty. Angelus-- the crown prince in the master's court-- had taught him everything he needed to know about his new existence, guided him, watched over him like an indulgent father. And life, or the lack of it, had truly been good.
Until the nightmares began.
Dru would wake up in the middle of the day, screaming, her head filled with images of sun and stakes and ash. The visions began to follow her into the waking world, and the pain with which they filled her head became unbearable.
It did not take long for word to reach the Master that a new Slayer had replaced the old and that his followers were again dying left and right by her hand. Following Dru's desperate, pain-filled pleas, he had taken her and left, determined to find and dispose of this new Slayer.
Now he was less sure. Three weeks in Paris already and he had yet to find, let alone kill the Slayer. Dru's visions were only getting worse, becoming more disjointed and confused, the pain they brought intensifying.
It was time to get out. To put some space between her and that bloody girl whose very existence was driving her mad. They would leave, as soon as she awoke tonight, and get as far away as they had to give her some peace. They would tour the capitals of Europe. Hell, they were immortal, unstoppable! They could go anywhere and everywhere-- see the Americas, or China, or Australia-- half the globe away....
He gently kissed her sleeping forehead, so far untroubled by the nightmares that were certain to return. Being turned had never brought Dru the peace it should; she had always had a certain fragility to her, a certain air that made others avoid her with uneasy sideways stares. But he would always be there to protect her, to make things right for her.
Yes, tonight they would leave. With distance perhaps Drusilla could learn to read her visions, use them.
And the next time... the next time they crossed paths with a Slayer, he would hand his Princess her head on a silver plate.
~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*n.b: Saint Dymphna was forced to flee from her position as an Irish princess when her father decided the teenager would make the best substitute for her recently-dead mother in bed. She fled to Germany, where her father finally found her and killed her in a fit of rage. Her areas of patronage include sleepwalking, insanity, loss of parents, martyrs, mental illness, possessed people, princesses, and runaways.
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