Angel kept his body still and his back pressed against one of the oak trees. He didn't turn toward the gypsy camp, but he could see the faint flickering of their bonfires reflected in Gunn and Fred's eyes. He could just hear Cordelia saying, "the absolute LAST place you'd expect," and briefly he looked skyward. Only Cordy.
Gunn muttered, "Have I mentioned that this is a real bad plan?"
"Only six thousand times or so," Angel replied.
"Well, here's six thousand and one," Gunn said. "Angel, these guys hate you. You killed, what was it, the favored daughter of their clan? The second you walk outta the woods, you are gonna get staked. Or beheaded. Maybe both."
Far away, Cordelia was saying, "And you wouldn't, like, you know, KILL anybody who was trying to help you get revenge, right?"
Angel said, "Gunn, if the gypsies had wanted to stake me, they had their opportunity. They didn't take it. They want to curse me."
"They'll want to curse you tomorrow," Fred pointed out. "Today, they might just want to stake you."
That, Angel had to admit to himself, was a good point. But it was already too late. Cordelia was calling, "Um, unexpected help? I think they're ready for you."
"I'm going out there," Angel said. "Stay on either side of me -- but stay at a distance. If they see I'm in human company, they'll know something's changed right away."
"What if they just think we're vampires?" Gunn said.
"Then duck any stakes." Angel took a deep breath -- purely for courage -- and walked forward.
As he stepped into the circumference of the firelight, gasps rang out. Mothers snatched up their children and retreated into the shadows, while the men all reached for the closest weapons to hand, grabbing knives, axes, pitchforks and wielding them threateningly.
Yet, strangely, within a few paces Angel realized that he didn't have to steel himself to walk toward the gypsies. In fact, it felt almost as if he was drawn to them, as if the morass of grief and anger and pain he'd created was pulling him in. All his troubles -- every wretched second of souled existence, from the first rush of stunned guilt over the gypsy girl's death to the moment he'd realized Connor would never come back -- they all flowed from this place, this moment. It was dangerous and terrible, and he was likely to get killed, and yet Angel felt as if this place was where he belonged.
No, he couldn't think about that now. He had to concentrate. Everything depended on what happened next. Angel held up his hands, as though showing he was without a weapon could possibly reassure these people.
A very tall, powerfully built man with a gray beard-- the girl's father, Angel remembered with an agonizing jolt -- stepped forward. "Angelus," he said.
Fully aware of how improbable it must sound, Angel said, "I've come here to help you." At the sound of his voice, the gypsies jumped again.
"Help us?" another man exclaimed. His accent was thicker than the others. "This beast killed our Gia, and he pretends that he wants to help us?"
"I'm not the Angelus of 1898," Angel said. "We're not from the present day. Magic has brought us from a time more than a century in the future. I have the soul you cursed me with."
At that, a ripple of shocked and outraged exclamations passed around the crowd. "He lies!" the girl's father shouted, and a chorus of agreement rang out around him. Now that the initial shock of Angel's appearance was wearing off, the mood of the gathering was rapidly becoming violent.
Fred and Gunn crowded closer to Angel, trying, as Cordelia was, to form some kind of human shield around him. "I don't guess I could convince you guys to stand at a safe distance," Angel said.
"Nope," Gunn said. "Let's face it, Angel. A safe distance would probably be, like, Detroit."
Suddenly the crowd quieted, then parted. Angel didn't realize why until the gypsies nearest to him stepped back deferentially to reveal a very tiny, very old woman who hobbled slowly toward Angel, leaning on a carved stick. Her back was bent with age, so that when she raised her head it was clear the movement caused her no small measure of pain. But the rheumy eyes that gazed at Angel were unafraid.
"Gregor," she said, addressing the gray-bearded man. He replied in Romanii, and for several tense minutes Angel could only stand quietly while they debated vehemently in a language he didn't know. Unsure what else to do, Angel kept his hands in the air and tried very hard to look sincere.
The gray-bearded man, Gregor, finally said, "Mother Yanna says you have your soul. But how can this be? What magic takes people through time?"
"We're kind of wondering that ourselves," Fred said helpfully.
"It is a trick," the thickly accented gypsy said. "He has some kind of spell, something that makes it appear he has a soul. He discovered our plan and tries to stop us through deceit. This is the Angelus we seek."
The mob muttered angrily, and a few of the weapons were hoisted even higher. Angel thought fast. "I am from the future," he said. "And I can prove it."
Gregor held his head high. "Prove it, then."
"There's a loophole in the curse," Angel said. He meant to use this only as evidence, but as he spoke, long-buried anger began to push its way to the surface. As dangerous as it was -- to him and to his friends -- Angel couldn't keep the edge out of his voice as he continued. "If I experience perfect happiness, and only perfect happiness, then I lose my soul, become the monster again. The curse you put on me made it possible for me to kill innocents again, people who had nothing to do with your daughter's death, people who haven't even been born yet. But since you never saw fit to tell me that, how could I know -- unless it happened?"
They all stared at him. Gregor said, "But -- you have your soul now --"
"We re-cursed him," Cordelia said. "Nifty spell, by the way. Nice, smelly herbs."
"As long as we're having this conversation, maybe you'd like to explain it to me," Angel said. As his anger grew, he could hear his voice becoming colder, harder. "Why did you make it possible for Angelus to get out again? You freed me from all that guilt, for a while. I didn't suffer at all after my soul was gone. Is that really what you intended?"
The old woman, Mother Yanna, stepped forward and spoke in halting English. "That part of the curse -- that was not for you."
"Sure felt like it was for me," Angel said.
"What would give a creature -- creature like you -- perfect happiness?" Mother Yanna said. Her gnarled hands were clasped in front of her, and Angel realized with shock and disgust that she was smiling. "Only -- only to be forgiven. Only to be loved. If such a creature were forgiven, if he were accepted and wanted, then our curse, it would have no meaning anymore. You would be young and strong and happy forever. This we would not have."
"Rather than let me be happy, you'd condemn more people to die?" he demanded.
She shrugged. "Their deaths would be the price of vengeance. But only one we wanted you to hurt -- whoever it was who was fool enough to forgive such a monster as you. Whoever cared so little for our lost Gia that she would love the monster who killed her. That one -- she ended our vengeance, and so she had to pay." Mother Yanna smiled a gap-toothed grin. "The soul, it was your punishment. The return of the monster -- that was her punishment. Our revenge on the one who loved you. And I see by your face that this is how it came to pass."
Angel couldn't speak. He wanted to kill that old woman, feel her brittle old bones snapping in his hands like matchsticks. He wanted to kneel down on the ground and weep. Perhaps more than anything, he wanted to just turn around and walk away. Cordelia's hand tightened around his arm, and he wondered if she were remembering that bleak winter of 1998 and her terror for her own life. God, he could have killed Cordelia then, and he would never even have known who she really was --
Somehow, Angel kept his voice steady as he said, "You chose a powerful vengeance. But someone has come from the future to try and prevent that vengeance. You want to curse me with a soul. Believe it or not, I want you to curse me with a soul. But if that's going to happen, we're going to have to work together." As the crowd murmured, he added, "I don't like it any more than you do, but there's no other way."
Finally, Gregor asked, "This person -- you know who it is?"
"It's not a person," Angel said. "It's a vampire. She's powerful, and she's insane, and it's going to be difficult to predict her moves. But I can predict my own -- because I remember them."
More murmuring. As the gypsies argued among themselves in Romanii, Gunn glanced over at Angel. "So far, would you say this is going well or badly?"
"None of us are dead yet," Cordelia said.
"Speak for yourself," Angel said.
She made a face. "None of us are more dead than we were ten minutes ago. I think that means it's going well."
Fred said, "I would really like to have a higher standard than that."
"Silence!" one of the men shouted. "If you want to talk of other things -- while we talk of our dead daughter --" He gestured toward a nearby tent. "Go there. Talk of other things there, if you can."
Cordelia began tugging Angel toward the tent. "Let's get out of immediate staking distance, okay?"
"'Bout time somebody had a good plan," Gunn said as he took Fred's hand in his and headed toward the tent. Angel and Cordelia followed them, but as they walked closer, events from the past -- from the near future -- began to come back to him. He realized what the tent was, why the gypsy had taunted him to enter.
"Maybe you guys should stay outside," Angel said.
"Excuse me, did you not see the hysterical, torch-wielding mob?" Cordelia said. "I think we're better off out of sight."
Gunn reached for the flap that served as the tent's entrance, but Angel put a hand on his arm, stopping him. "She's in there. The gypsy girl, or what's left of her." After a moment, he added, "Gia." He hadn't ever known her name. It seemed appropriate to finally call her that.
The others stood very still. Finally, Fred said, "Angel, would you mind so much if I didn't see her? It's not like I don't know you used to kill people, 'cause I do know that, and I understand that things are different now, and I love you all to pieces -- not in a Charles way! Just in a friends way, but a really-good-friends way, and that's not going to change, not ever, not even if I see her, but -- but -- I don't want to see her."
Gunn sighed heavily. "What she said. But shorter."
"You don't have to go in either, Angel," Cordelia said. Her eyes were brilliant in the firelight, and she was staring at him intently, trying hard to read him. "Not if you don't want to."
"They want me to," Angel said. "Given what we're asking them to do, I think I should do what they ask. And -- I just think I should."
Cordelia squared her shoulders. "Okay, then. Let's go in."
"Cordy --" Angel felt his chest constrict at the thought of Cordelia seeing the evidence of his brutality.
Maybe she could read what he was thinking after all, because she simply said, "I went to Miss Calendar's funeral."
Angel nodded and went into the tent, Cordelia at his side.
The gypsy girl -- Gia, her name was Gia -- lay on a bier. Angel remembered the glimpse he'd had of her when the gypsies herded him into this camp to be cursed; they'd changed her clothing by then, straightened her limbs, wiped the blood from her body. None of that had been done yet. Angel could see the blood on her mouth, where he'd kissed her as she shook in her death tremors. A hundred years ago. Yesterday.
The sleeve of her dress was ripped away, and the dark bruises of his fingertips were deep in her arms where he'd held her down. But what sickened Angel most about his memories of her death was not how brutal it had been, but how ordinary. She had been a special treat, but still, in the end, just another kill, a few hours' distraction. His recollections of her death were mixed up with all the other things he'd thought about during it -- places he meant to go, things he meant to do. He walked closer to the body, let the memories come back to sting. He could use them; this was pain with purpose.
"Did you break her neck?" Cordelia whispered. She was still at his side; Angel had thought and wished that she would remain at the entrance, but instead she was leaning over the girl's body as well. She was looking at the girl's smooth, unmarred throat.
"No," Angel said. He hesitated, wondering if the indignity of what he was about to do was too much. Then he looked again at Gia's dead body and realized it wasn't; he had already committed the ultimate crimes against this girl. There was nothing else to be done to her, no further injury she could suffer. He pushed her skirt up away from her legs. Cordelia's eyes went wide as she took in the brutal bite marks on the insides of the girl's thighs.
Angel could remember the pure sensual satisfaction of drinking from her there; for a moment, it was as if he could taste the blood again. Cordelia was staring at him, unnerved at what he had done -- not only in killing her, but in showing her off now. Angel realized, with disgust, that he felt a sense of ownership of this girl, or what was left of her. Claiming her was a vampire's instinct, and still his own.
Then again -- wasn't she really the one who owned him? Angel looked down into Gia's still, drawn face and murmured, "You were avenged." It didn't seem as though there could be anything else to say.
Angel smoothed her skirts back down and looked into Cordelia's face. Miss Calendar's funeral, he knew, was no preparation for this. He had killed Jenny Calendar quickly, after a only few brief moments of fear. Her death had been easier than most of his victims', easier by far than Gia's. Angel felt a deep, horrified shame that Cordelia was seeing this -- and yet, at the same time, it felt right. She should know, he thought. She deserves to know.
Cordelia's fingers fluttered out, as though she meant to touch Gia's hair, but then she let her hand drop. She said only, "This is what you remember."
Angel nodded. To his surprise, and deep gratitude, he felt Cordelia wrap her hand around his own.
"Memory," said a voice behind them. "A difficult thing. What do you think I will remember?"
Angel and Cordelia wheeled around to see old Mother Yanna, who stood in the entrance to the end. Behind her, Angel could just make out the figures of Fred and Gunn, both of whom were determinedly not looking into the tent.
With an imperious wave of her hand, the old woman said to Cordelia, "Leave us."
Cordelia -- never one to respond well to direct orders, Angel thought ruefully -- looked like she meant to argue with that. He touched her arm. "It's okay, Cordy. Go to Fred and Gunn. I'll handle this."
"Are you sure?" Cordelia whispered. "She's giving you the harmless-old-biddy routine, but she could be packin' wood."
"She doesn't do her work with stakes," Angel said. "Wait outside."
With a dubious backward glance, Cordelia left the tent. Angel faced Mother Yanna alone. Somehow, she was more intimidating than the entire mob outside -- this one woman's pain, and fury, and complete lack of fright.
Mother Yanna gestured toward Gia. "A pretty girl. Clever. Good with herbs and medicines. I was to teach her my craft." Angel, wordless, could only nod. "My granddaughter. Did you know this?"
"No," he whispered. "I didn't."
The memory came rushing back, so sudden and so strong that it felt as though he were possessed -- not by a spirit, but by the past. Angel could almost feel Connor, shifting ever so slightly within his father's arms as he sucked greedily at the bottle of formula Angel held, its microwaved heat warming both his tiny body and Angel's cold hand. Small eyes, unfocused but clear, gazed up at Angel in the early morning hours in total contentment and trust. It was the only hour in Angel's life when he'd known with complete certainty that he was exactly where he needed to be, when his heart asked for nothing else but what he held. It wasn't perfect happiness -- his fear for his son was always there, beating away the seconds in the place of his heart -- but in some ways it was better than perfect happiness. What he'd felt for his son was too real for perfection.
Angel had mourned his victims before, sincerely and deeply, but also, he now realized, blindly. He had imagined what it would be to lose a child. Now he knew, and he finally understood that a century's imaginings of grief still weren't adequate to grasp the truth of it.
"I know what it means, now," he said. "To lose someone you love. I know that I made hundreds -- thousands -- of people feel that pain. I know what I did to them, and to you." He repeated, slowly, "Because of you, I understand."
"You have lost someone, then," Mother Yanna said. Her deep, creased eyelids blinked contemplatively. "Not long ago, I think."
"A few days," Angel replied.
"The pain -- it is like no other, is it not? And you understand pain, if I have done my work well."
Angel closed his eyes. "You have."
She made a sound that was neither a laugh nor a sigh -- a sound of satisfaction and surprise. "It tears at you, this grief. It makes you something that you were not before, something -- lesser. Something you despise."
He tried to remember exactly what Wesley's face looked like in the moment before he grabbed the pillow. He couldn't remember. He could only recall how the pillow had felt in his hands, how weak Wesley's struggles had been beneath it. "Yes," Angel said.
"I must endure this forever," she said. "You have done this to me, to everyone who ever loved her. We must be these creatures until we die."
Angel opened his mouth to -- to say what? To apologize? How stupidly inadequate, but what else could he possibly say? Yet Mother Yanna kept talking. "But you -- you need not suffer as we suffer. The grief you feel, this can be lifted from you."
What could she mean? Angel stepped away from her. "You still have to curse me with my soul," he said. "You can't take that back. I can't allow that to happen."
"Fool," she said, strangely gentle. "It would take more than this to stay my hand. You will suffer; we will see to that."
Angel wondered just how strange his world was that her words made him feel relieved.
"Your soul, it will remain. But I can do more. I can do far better by you than you have done by us," she said. Her voice was gentler yet. "I have shown you that we are stronger than you. I will show you that we are better than you as well. I will stop your pain."
Transfixed by her voice, by her wrinkled old hands held out to him, Angel whispered, "How? It feels -- it feels like nothing could ever --"
"Your memories of the one you have lost are nothing to you now but torment," she said. "Nor will they ever be anything else to you any longer."
She spoke quietly, so quietly Angel had to strain to hear her, and yet it seemed as though her voice were the only sound in the world, soothing and calming him. "I can't stop thinking about what I've lost," he said.
"I can take this pain," she said. "Let me take it from you. So many burdens you carry, and this is your heaviest. This burden, you can lay down."
Angel felt himself relaxing as he stepped closer to her. "I'm so tired," he said.
"I understand," she whispered. Her hands -- trembling not with fear, but only with age -- went to his temples, and he felt the soft brush of her skin against his. "You need only lay the burden down, and then you will be free."
Lay it down. Let it go. Let the memories go.
Connor in his arms, looking up at his father. The tiny face receding, the memory becoming strangely dim...
Angel reeled back, pushing the old woman away. She raised an eyebrow as he stared at her.
"My memories," he said. "You were going to take away my memories of my son."
Mother Yanna shrugged, her lips curling in a cruel smile. "Would this not end your pain?"
Connor, Angel thought. I wouldn't even have remembered him. I'd never even be able to think what his face looked like. I'd never have remembered that again. He felt his body begin to shake. "It would have been -- worse than pain. A thousand times worse. And you know it. You would have robbed me of the only thing I had left."
"Yes!" she shrieked, all pretense gone. "As you robbed me!"
"If you want to find out if I'll still fight you," Angel said. "I will. I'm here to make sure you curse Angelus. That's the punishment you chose, and that's the punishment I'll help you with. If you try to take my memories -- this truce is over." He stepped closer to the old woman; this time, she couldn't hide a moment of fear, and Angel felt a sick satisfaction as he saw it. "And if you hurt my friends, you'll spend the rest of your life wishing you were dealing with the demon."
She smiled that terrible smile of hers again. "You come to us and you speak soft words of help and guilt. But deep in your heart, you hate us still."
Angel remembered lying in Buffy's arms that long-ago night, with no idea that her punishment was bound to his own. "Yes," he said. "I hate you."
Mother Yanna nodded. "I do not trust your soft words, vampire," she said. "But your hatred -- this I can trust. If your hate is true, perhaps the rest is too, hmm? We shall see. We shall see."
The gypsies are going to help, Angel realized. We did it. He wondered whether he ought to feel better or a hell of a lot more afraid.
Darla sat up in bed, wondering what had woken her.
Beside her, Angelus slumbered on, one arm sprawled comfortably across the bolster. The curtains of the villa's master bedroom were tightly shut, although the sharp glow around their edges told Darla it was daytime.
Downstairs, she heard the crash of something being violently destroyed.
She shook Angelus roughly. "Wake up."
He rolled over on the mattress, opened one eye and smiled at her lazily, still sated in every way from the previous night. "Again? Well, if you insist...."
"Listen," she instructed him. A second later, the noises downstairs started again. Angelus frowned, then sat up beside her, now fully awake.
"What time is it?" he asked.
Darla looked to the clock which sat on the mantle above the bedroom's fireplace. Or, more accurately, she looked to where the clock should have been. It was gone.
Angelus had seen it, too. "Thieves," he said. "And still downstairs, plundering. To think, there are people of such low morals in the world." He smiled, a wolfish, hungry smile that wakened Darla's own appetite.
She smiled back and got out of the bed, pulling on her robe before tossing Angelus his. Quietly, they moved along the upper floor of the villa, then down the ornate stairs to the tiled entrance hall. The dwelling was among the finest in Sighisoara and must have seemed as ideal a target for robbers as for the local gossips who had lately been wondering about its new tenants, who had arrived so much earlier than anticipated.
The noises were coming from the drawing room. Darla reached out to open the door, but stopped when Angelus laid his hand over hers. She looked at him questioningly.
In a low voice he said, "When we confront them, pretend to be frightened, as a woman would be. It will be a great ruse."
Angelus and his games. Usually Darla was happy to indulge him, but sometimes she craved killing in its purer forms -- straightforward, quick and satisfying. But for Angelus, even such an unexpected opportunity as this had to be molded into artifice. Men and their hobbies. Without answering him, Darla pushed the door open and went into the drawing room.
Deception was unnecessary. There were no thieves.
In the center of the room, every clock in the villa had been piled into a ticking, chiming heap. Darla saw the clock from the bedroom, the kitchen clock -- even the grandfather clock had been dragged in from the hall and now lay in an undignified position on its side next to the writing desk. Every inch of the drawing room floor was covered in shards of broken glass and wood. At the center of the orgy of destruction, Drusilla sat cross-legged, intently smashing the clocks one by one with the fireplace tongs. She was humming to herself, wholly content.
"Drusilla!" Darla snapped.
Drusilla didn't respond, and after a second Darla saw why -- she had wound her hair ribbons, one green and one violet, into rolls and then pushed them into her ears. She reached for another clock -- one that had walnut casing and was probably an antique -- and happily smashed its face. Darla noted with annoyance that Drusilla was wearing that outfit again -- the black velvet basque with the tartan skirt -- that made her look like some escaped Scottish lunatic. She raised an eyebrow at Angelus, who understood her meaning and laughed. "It's appropriate," he pointed out. "Drusilla hath murdered sleep."
Not in the mood for literary allusion, Darla marched across the room and pulled out Drusilla's improvised earplugs. "What are you doing?"
"Killing time," Drusilla said. "Before midnight comes, and we all turn to pumpkins. Tick tock, tick tock, I couldn't sleep for the noise." She looked at the ribbons dangling from Darla's fingers and playfully snapped at them, like a kitten playing with a ball of string.
"You've broken every clock in the house," Darla said angrily, waving a hand at the wreckage. "How are we supposed to tell the time now?" She marched to the window and yanked open the curtains, making sure to stand well back while noting with satisfaction how Drusilla threw her hands over her face and cowered from the light. "I know -- there's a sundial in the garden. Perhaps we'll send you outside to look at it."
"A monster with a clockwork heart," Drusilla muttered. "But it turns to flesh under the hammer, and he will bleed and bleed."
Darla looked to Angelus for support and saw with irritation that he was smirking, amused by what he no doubt saw as Drusilla's delightfully crazed antics. His patience with her was far greater than Darla's own; while Angelus saw Drusilla as a work of art, Darla was more inclined to view her as their halfwit child.
Spike's voice came from the hallway outside the drawing room. "What's happening? Drusilla's gone --"
Two halfwit children, Darla thought sourly. What a fine family we make.
Spike appeared at the door, and he ignored the devastation to comfort Drusilla. She clung to him, and he stroked her hair. "What's the matter, pet? Were the clocks saying nasty things to you? Like the lampshade last week?"
"I did it to stop the future," Drusilla said. "It hurtles toward us and brings terrible things with it."
"The only thing bringing terrible things to you in the near future will be me," Darla said.
"Come, Darla," Angelus said lightly. "A little destruction is good for the spirit. And draw the blinds, lest you end up punishing us all for Drusilla's little game."
Darla brought the curtains together so hard they cracked; the last shaft of sunlight made something in the debris glint familiarly. Darla leaned down to retrieve it and smiled smugly when she recognized the ruined remains of Angelus' gold pocket watch. "Yours, I believe," she said, handing it to him.
His face changed, darkening with anger, and he threw the watch down in disgust. "Our little magpie's almost more trouble than she's worth."
"She's just bored," Spike said. "Christ, we're all bored. Bored of this provincial piss-hole, bored of superstitious, garlic-chewing peasants, and most of all, bored of hanging around while YOU --" he pointed to Darla, "-- wait for a fancy dress party where you're not even planning on killing ANYONE, and YOU --" now he pointed at Angelus, "-- plan one of your theatrical kills that any REAL vampire could manage in less time than it takes to snuff out a candle."
Angelus snarled. He grabbed Spike by the neck, lifting him and pinning him to the drawing room wall. "If I were you, I would not speak so freely of being snuffed out. It might give me ideas."
Spike, unable to reply because of the hand on his throat, just grinned, a touch nervously. After a moment Angelus, apparently satisfied to have won the point, let him slide to the floor. "Leave my sight. Both of you."
Drusilla looked forlorn at her banishment, but Spike was smiling as he picked himself up. He was always happy, Darla noticed, to get Drusilla away from Angelus, to reserve her attention solely for himself. "It'd be a pleasure," he said. "How about it, love? It's early enough for us to go out the back. We'll take a stroll in the shadows to the cathedral, then snack on the pious all day long."
He helped Drusilla to her feet and guided her to the door. But as they passed Angelus, Drusilla stopped, refusing to move even when Spike pulled her arm. She placed one bony finger in the middle of Angelus' chest. "Daddy has a reflection again. It's looking down at the little dead girl, and it has guards -- a lady with short hair, and a lady with long hair, and a man with not any hair at all. The reflection's put his hands through a mirror to reach you, and they're all cut up, and he wants you to be cut up too."
Darla made a noise of exasperation. Sometimes Drusilla even sounded insane by Drusilla standards. Angelus was the one who tried hardest -- and had the most success -- at finding the occasional method to Drusilla's madness, but even he was merely shaking his head at this.
"Come on, Drusilla," Spike said as he towed her out of the drawing room. "The pious are piping hot and waiting for us."
"Hot cross buns," Drusilla said, already cheerful again, as they passed out of hearing.
Angelus shook his head. "The time it takes to snuff out a candle. That's what Spike thinks of as an appropriate duration for pleasure. No wonder we're forever trying to get Drusilla out of our bed and into his."
Her patience ended and her mood black, Darla snapped at him. "He's just tired of your amateur theatricals," she said.
"I don't expect Spike to understand the difference between pleasure and art -- but you, Darla," Angelus shook his head. "You were the one who taught me this. This theatre is not the work of an amateur. And timing is everything."
"Perhaps," Darla said, making no effort to hide her irritation, "you should explain the plot to me again."
Angelus began to pace the drawing room, feet crunching over the scattered cogs and wires and hands. "Lord Percival Dalton believes he is a vampire hunter. Indeed, he has become obsessed with the creatures since reading a certain recently published novel by Mr. Stoker."
"That hack." Darla rolled her eyes. "It's so blindingly obvious that he's never even met Dracula. If he had, he wouldn't have been half so impressed."
"Lord Percy has come all the way from his comfortable residence in London to the book's setting, Transylvania, to find vampires. And, by a happy coincidence, he has struck up a friendship with a gentleman with similar interests." Angelus gave a low bow, as if introducing himself. "Tonight, I expect to receive an invitation to dine with Lord Percy at his home. I have given him reason to believe that should such an invitation be extended, I will use the occasion to present him with a genuine vampire."
"This deception may amuse you, but I'm growing bored waiting for your elaborate plans to come to fruition. For once, can't you just kill someone without making a show of it?"
"It takes a second to stop a heart beating. To destroy a life takes time and planning." Angelus stopped pacing, and drew Darla into his arms. "You understand that."
His hand rested on the small of her back, then began to slide down. Darla wasn't in the mood and twisted away from him. "I understand that when I desire a little novelty, I have to conjure it myself. Just last night, I brought you the gypsy whore. I didn't hear you talking of the benefits of planning as you took her virtue and her blood. What gifts have you brought me of late?"
"I paid for those fool rooms in the hotel," Angelus said. "Where we're to pack up and move tomorrow, even though we're quite well-established here. Why? So you can have one of your wretched views and be a half-mile closer to the grand ball tomorrow night, where you'll wear all the finery I've bought you --"
"Dresses. Hotel rooms." Darla was pacing. "The sort of banalities any mortal might bestow on his wife. Those aren't gifts. Those are no less than I deserve."
"You refuse to be pleased," Angelus said angrily.
"And you refuse to please me!"
"Who are you?" said a strange, feminine voice. "This is intolerable! Edgar, come here at once!"
Darla spun around, surprised by the unexpected voice. A woman was standing in the doorway of the drawing room, glaring at herself and Angelus with haughty disdain.
A man, with an Englishman's irritating deference of manner and poor taste in tailoring, came to join the older woman. Behind them, Darla could see a few people moving about, bringing trunks and cases into the villa's entrance hall.
"Edgar," the woman said, "These people should not be here. Make them leave."
"Now, Mama," the man said, "I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation." He looked around at the wrecked clocks lying over the floor, before apparently deciding that politeness required pretending to have noticed nothing amiss. "I'm dreadfully sorry about this, but there seems to have been some kind of mix-up --" Abruptly, he broke off, and to Darla's surprise, smiled widely at Angelus. "Why, my dear fellow, how excellent to see you again. I nearly didn't recognize you out of costume. And what a smashing wig! Quite wild, very in the spirit of Robinson Crusoe, what? Elspeth, come here -- it's our good friend the actor."
Another woman -- young and oozing sweetness, docility and every other quality Darla loathed about her sex -- rushed to join the man. "What a marvelous surprise," she gushed. "However did you get here before us?"
"Another of your amusing deceits, Angelus?" Darla asked wearily.
But he shook his head. "I don't know these people."
"Of course you remember," the man prompted. "We met on the road. You sang that song about the little boat, and the shipwreck --"
"And the coconuts," the young woman added.
Darla stared at them, then at Angelus. "He sang a song about -- coconuts?"
"I did not," Angelus snapped.
"Edgar," the older woman said imperiously. "When are you going to tell these intruders to get out of our house?"
"YOUR house?" Darla repeated. "Oh, no. I don't believe so."
"It is ours for six weeks," the woman said. Her manner was superior, her tone arrogant, as if the world had an obligation to conform to her view of it. "We're renting it. You should not be here."
"The previous tenants haven't left," Angelus said smoothly. This was true, after a fashion; their desiccated corpses were sealed up in barrels in the kitchen.
Suddenly, Darla was bored with all of them. Bored with foolish little humans who did not understand their importance began and ended with the red fluid in their veins. Bored with Drusilla's crazed antics, with Spike's constant impudence, with Angelus' obsessive game-playing. Most of all, she was bored of the grinding, unchanging sameness of her recent existence.
"I'm going back to bed," she announced. "When I wake, I expect this --" she waved at the mess on the floor, "-- and them --" she pointed at the three people standing in the doorway, "-- to be gone. No more unpleasant surprises."
Angelus glared at her. "And I thought you were eager for novelty."
Darla didn't answer him; instead she stalked out of the drawing room, past the newly deposited pile of luggage in the entrance hall, and up the stairs. Behind her, she could hear Angelus' voice as he took care of their unexpected visitors.
"See, now -- renting. That was a mistake. You have far more rights in a home as an owner than you do as a renter. For instance, the right to deny someone permission to enter --"
Not even the sound of screaming that followed was enough to lift Darla's foul temper.
"Okay, so, I know the peasant look is back in style," Cordelia said to Fred. "But I don't think it would be if people had to wear real peasant underwear."
Fred grimaced slightly as she nodded. Discomfort aside, though, it was sort of interesting to wear these clothes, so different from the ones she was used to. She had a long, heavy skirt that fell almost to the ground, cloth shoes and a loose blouse; her hair was braided up on top of her head in a more complicated style than she'd ever attempted herself. The gypsies only had the smallest hand mirrors, so Fred had no idea what she looked like. But from the amusement on Charles' face, she suspected the overall effect was more than a little silly.
Cordelia, as usual, made it look good. The skirt that dragged around Fred's legs flowed around Cordy's, and the folds of the soft peasant blouse draped the best curves of her figure. The kerchief tied around her head to hide her short hair was brilliantly colored and patterned. But the face beneath the kerchief still looked unhappy. "I mean, what IS this?" Cordy muttered, pulling in an undignified way at the material beneath her skirt. "Burlap?"
"At least you HAVE underwear," Charles said.
"You are now entering the TMI zone," Cordelia said. "Gotta say, though, they did a pretty good job of wrapping you up otherwise." With the high-collared coat, muffler, gloves and wide-brimmed hat Charles now wore, very little of his decidedly non-Romanian skin tone showed. Fred giggled as Charles posed, model-style, in his gypsy clothes; she clasped her hands together, felt the gold ring she'd slipped on one finger and became quiet again. She looked down at the ring, their one-and-only ticket back to the present -- assuming there was still a present to get back to.
Angel had only pulled on a coat over his normal clothes; if things went according to plan -- insofar as they had a plan, Fred reminded herself -- he wouldn't be seen by anyone until after dark, if at all. He was pacing the tent where they now stood, restless and uneasy, and Fred suspected that had very little to do with the fact that he was shielded from the sunlight by only a drape of canvas. "Let's review this, okay?"
They'd done little besides reviewing it all morning, but Fred thought it wisest to humor him. "Sure thing. Take it from the top."
"No, I want you guys to take it from the top," Angel said. "Step by step. Come on."
For a brief moment, Fred was reminded of Wesley, drilling them on the details of a case. She put that thought aside, took a deep breath and spoke. "Drusilla -- old-timey Drusilla, the one who actually belongs in this century -- she left the house you were all staying with early in the morning with the vampire called Spike."
Charles picked up the story. "Wasn't a whole lot of way to get in that house except first thing in the morning and after sundown. So Dru -- the one who belongs in the 21st century -- what do we call her? New Dru? Dru Two?"
Angel looked slightly pained. "Just keep going."
"Dru couldn't have gotten in as early as this morning, and so she can't get back to you to warn you or anything before tonight," Gunn said. "So she can't make her move until sundown."
"As it so happens," Cordelia chimed in, "sundown is just the time when a certain Scourge of Europe gets into a bust-up with his girlfriend and announces he's going out for a while, to -- where did you say you were going when you left Darla?"
"I didn't." Angel frowned. "I remember arguing with Darla, and I remember leaving, but I don't remember where I was going. But the important part is that I left."
Charles cast a worried glance at Fred. She fought the urge to return it, though her stomach was clenching with fear. This entire operation depended on Angel's ability to remember exact details of the most traumatic, confusing night of his existence. What if he got it wrong?
Cordelia quickly said, "Let's just say you were -- I mean, Angelus was -- going for a moonlit stroll. But while Angelus is admiring the stars, he's attacked by gypsies. They drag him out into the woods, all the way back to the camp, and boom! Curse-o-matic pops the dice."
"Drusilla would have heard some of this story from Darla," Angel said. "I told of her some of the rest myself, back in 1998. So she knows where she needs to be."
"Somewhere between your front door and the gypsies," Fred said. "So right outside your front door is where we need to be."
"See, Angel?" Cordelia said. She spoke playfully, but Fred could hear the gentler tone beneath her words. "We know the drill. We know what we're doing. We're ready."
Angel straightened up a little and actually smiled at Cordelia. "Yeah," he said. "We are." He glanced at the others. "Have you guys slept enough? Had plenty to eat?"
"Too much adrenalin to do more than nap," Fred said. "And we've eaten. That goulash was the -- goulashiest."
"So, now we get to call for our wagon," Gunn said. He didn't look happy. "Are we gonna have one of these gypsies driving us?"
Cordelia shrugged. "I can ride, but I never tried to drive a wagon or carriage or anything. So I guess we'd better ask."
Gunn looked even less happy. "I'd much rather have somebody who didn't mostly want us dead behind the wheel. Well, not 'wheel,' really, but --"
"I can handle the reins," Fred said. When the rest of them stared at her, she shrugged. "My granddaddy had horses out on his farm."
"You learn how to handle horses in Texas," Cordelia said. "See, I KNEW the flyover states had a purpose."
Memories were dreams, insubstantial and ever-changing, and not to be trusted. But there were a few, a very few, which never changed, which were somehow more real than the rest.
Dru remembered a time before the cold and the hunger and the constant confusion, a time when everything had made a lot more sense than it did now. She remembered the taste of bread dipped in warm sweet milk, eaten sitting at the feet of an old woman whose thumbs clicked as she knitted. She remembered picking up the needles herself and crying when the delicate pattern of yarn disintegrated in her clumsy fingers. She remembered a kindly voice telling her, "The whole pattern hangs by a single stitch, my dear. Drop one, and it all unravels."
Change one stitch, and everything would fall apart. A stitch in time...
Dru looked down at the gold ring she'd slid on her finger for safekeeping. It was the needle, and time was the thread. She would change this one stitch.
Daddy would come back. Or else never leave.
The cathedral was quiet: on this bitter November afternoon, most of the pious had decided to choose the warmth of their homes over godliness. Dru wasn't cold -- she'd met a kind man who'd given her his woolen cloak and his nice, warm blood. Her tummy was full and her head buzzed as she walked down the aisles, chills running up and down her back from the knowledge of the cross behind her. She wasn't precisely sure what was supposed to happen next, but that didn't concern her -- Dru never planned further ahead than her next footstep, and yet somehow she was always just where she needed to be.
She knew she was in the right place, again, when she heard her name being spoken.
"Come on, Drusilla. I know something's wrong. You can tell me what it is. You can tell Spike."
She ducked behind a pew and waited. When Spike and the other Drusilla appeared, she pushed herself further back into the shadows and watched them. Spike's hair was that boring old color again, and the her-who-wasn't-her was wearing that lovely plaid skirt, the one that made her think of thistles and dirks and beheadings. Dru remembered wearing it, and there she was, wearing it. It was like one of those funny stories, she decided, the ones Spike used to like to stare at on the glowing television-box, the stories of people who weren't really real. Drusilla thought those were silly stories -- why would anyone be interested in people who weren't real? This story was much better, because it was real, and because she was going to change it.
"Didn't you like the vagrant?" Spike smacked his mouth with some distaste. Their footsteps echoed on the stone. "Don't blame you. That was cheap plonk he'd been drinking. Bit of an aftertaste, there."
The other Drusilla peered over Spike's shoulder, and her eyes met Dru's. At first Dru felt confused -- then she smiled at the other Drusilla. The other Drusilla hesitated, then smiled back.
"Spike," the other Drusilla murmured, "I'm cold. Kill me something warm. Something nice."
>From where she stood, Dru could see Spike grin as he put his finger under the other Drusilla's chin, tilting her head up toward him. "That's more like my girl. You wait here. I'll try and find someone who's been drinking a little less. Or at least a little less dangerously. I'm sure there's a nice prior or friar downstairs." He paused. "Any particular denomination? All right. I'll be off then."
He disappeared into the outer chambers of the cathedral, and Dru came forward, out of the shadows of the pews. She waved at the other Drusilla, who bounced on her heels and clapped her hands in glee. "There's two of me!" the other Drusilla said. "Do you remember things forwards, like I do?"
"And backward," Dru said. "But I have more backwards than you do."
The other Drusilla nodded. Lowering her voice, she whispered, "He's going away. Soon. Daddy's going away, and none of them care."
"He won't come back until he's happy," Dru told her, taking the other Drusilla's hands in hers. They were cold and pale and exactly like her own.
"What makes him happy?"
"A slayer," Dru said. "A slayer in his thoughts and his heart and his bed. And Spike will follow."
The other Drusilla's eyes filled with tears. "I'm a good girl. Aren't I a good girl?"
"Don't fret, pretty. All the stitches will come undone."
The other Drusilla looked hopeful, but uncertain. "How?"
Dru let go of the other Drusilla's hands. "Like this," she said, then hit her over the head.
The other Drusilla's eyes rolled up into her skull, and she slid down on to the cathedral's cold stone floor. Dru took her by the ankles and dragged her into a confessional. Once they were out of sight, she set to work unbuttoning the other Drusilla's velvet cloak, followed by the basque and the skirt and layers of petticoats and corsets she wore underneath it. Corsets were so stiff, and they hurt so. Oh, how she had missed corsets. And what pretty, pretty skin she had. What pretty marks Spike and Darla and Angelus all made. Maybe she'd have such pretty marks again soon.
The last buttons slid through their buttonholes just as she heard footsteps approaching. Dru stepped back out into the church at the same time as Spike rounded the corner, pulling a half-unconscious man with dark hair and swarthy skin behind him. He was smiling, obviously pleased with himself. "You wanted something hot -- this one was in charge of the spices for the monsignor's kitchen. At least, that would explain the paprika." He noticed the feet sticking out of the confessional and looked disappointed. "Oh, you've eaten already."
"Just a taste," Dru told him. She smoothed down the front of her gown. "Is this a pretty dress, Spike?"
Spike let go of the cook, who collapsed on to the floor with a moan of pain. He came toward Dru, taking her by the shoulders and kissing her deeply. She felt the thrill of being worshipped, as she deserved. "'Course it is, love."
She smiled at him. "I missed the pretty dresses. I don't like dressing like a man."
Spike laughed. "You should try it. A bit racy, that. But if you think I'm putting on corsets and a bustle, think again." The cook moaned again and tried desperately to crawl away from them. Spike stopped him by bringing his boot down on the man's hand. "You want any of this? Before it gets cold?"
"Save him for afters," Dru said. She held out her arm and smiled when Spike took it. As they started to walk away, she said, "I dreamed there was another me. A me who wasn't. Could you stake another you?"
Spike thought for a second. "Someone who looked like me, you mean? Yeah, I reckon I could." He grinned. "I wouldn't, though. I'd keep the bugger around for a bit, see what I looked like with different hair, make sure my clothes looked right, that kind of thing. It would be like a mirror you could maim."
"Mirrors have sharp edges, and they cut," she said. "The sharp edges came crashing down on my head, only it wasn't my head at all."
"That's a lovely story, pet," Spike said absently.
"Yes, the story's lovely," Dru said blissfully, "now I'm telling it."