Also Comes in Strange
Stand Alones    Ficlets    Drabbles   Series    Essays    By Pairing

 Title: Taught
Author: Tania
Summary: Always on the chase, many lessons to learn.
Pairing: Angelus/Darla
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 2,998 words


This is how it ends. Three pools of blood, scattered piles of blackened rose petals, a few detached limbs, and a newly dead Irish fool quivering under the pressure of a stake begging for the unlife he’s so generously been given.

How it began… that is a very different story.

The night had just come, the last brushstrokes of orange leaving the sky, only the deepest purple and black remaining behind. Torch posts dotted the cobblestone walkway every few paces, casting shadows over the milky glass of shop windows and the few townspeople still milling about.

Darla pulled at her dress, yanking the material as best she could, trying to keep the whalebone of her corset from gouging her ribs. The finery of London’s shops was the one thing that she had looked forward to during the interminable sea voyage from the New World. The wigs, gowns, jewelry; they had enticed her like a mistress. Yet, in all her visions of the woman she would become on Europe’s shores she had forgotten the discomfort of bosom-crushing corsets. The fashion since she left had moved towards ever smaller waists, ever flatter breasts, and she hated it all the more for making her miss homespun cloth, worn loose about the body, far more than for the look itself.

In London she had endured the worst of the Mantua-makers wares, but once crossing into Ireland and seeing the women’s homely gowns, Darla had let loose her corset strings and given up on Panniers altogether. The men about her did not seem to notice what was lacking, focusing only on the hint of nipple flesh she allowed to peek over her bodice and the blood red of her lips.

The men of Galway had few qualities to entice her, but she enjoyed the quieter pace of Ireland after so many months in London all the same. The Master’s decision to settle in the city for good held no appeal to her, and while it had been difficult to leave his side, she needed to travel near as much as she needed the blood she took each night. She wasn’t sure where she would go next, but as soon as she lay eyes on him, the world seemed to open into possibilities she’d stopped imagining long ago.

Liam was a wild thing. Brought up in what to all outward appearances was respectable society, there was something in him that reminded Darla of the savages she had seen in the New World. His hair fell around his face in waves, as though even the unruly strands could not be bound by the simple ribbon trying to hold them back. There was dirt under his nails, though he’d clearly never worked a day in his life. Darla pictured him scrambling about barnyard floors, scratching at the earth as he violated country maids, promising them the world. Oh but she would take the world from him, that very night she could have him if she chose.

Instead, she watched. For days Darla let him see her. She spent her nights in the one tavern of ill reputation that he seemed to frequent most often. She amused herself with the girls of her old profession, talked up the merchants so proud of their imports of London’s best, and she waited for the boy to show her he was worthy of the desires in her mind.

***

The first week had been chaos. Nights at the slaughter, days at the altar of carnal knowledge. He explored her body as though his eyes had never cast themselves upon womankind, and in truth they had not. Darla was not so old that she had forgotten the amazement of those first days. The way a man’s body radiated red heat when she graced him with a smile, her new eyes able to see his growing arousal long before her hands could feel it. Her boy, Angelus now, her angelic one, was mesmerizing in his beauty. Part of the allure was the passion she saw reflected in his eyes. She had taken a thousand lovers in her lifetime, nay, several thousand, and yet, only he saw the beauty of both her demon and the body that encased it.

Darla had long ago cast away ideas of love and simple things, but in Angelus she found pure devotion. The honeyed words dripping from his tongue amused her, and in time she might even believe his promises, but for now she wanted only to enjoy the naiveté of it all. They walked at night like innocents, knocking on doors of friends known to her new companion, it was perfection …for a time. So quickly men’s bodies wandered, their minds moving beyond the lure of the kill and straight to the lure of the flesh.

They had done with Galway, nothing remained of the people but scattered bodies and the burning pyres of the vampire hunters that now surrounded the town, trying to contain those left to rise from their graves as distraction. Moving towards Belfast at a pace just rushed enough to keep them a day’s ride from their hunters, they had stopped for the day at Belturbet, waiting for nightfall to cross the Erne.

The town garrison was sparsely staffed, just a few half drunk soldiers with one flint gun between them. A few dozen houses skirted the town’s common house and merchant row, a single house advertising rooms available. Darla pulled a drab brown cloak over her shoulders, mussing her hair a bit to give the appearance of the put upon wife, dragged through the night by her domineering husband. The house marm took pity on her, allowing them room for the day despite the daily warnings of riders to avoid strangers. Darla loathed the trusting woman.

The house smelled of raw fish and starchy broth, the odor offensive to human senses and enough to make a vampire murderous, yet she held her temper in check, wanting only to make it to Belfast and into Scotland before the hunters were on them again. Warning Angelus to keep his fangs to himself had been pointless. The hunger was still too new for him to fight, and while he did have moments of lucidity where she almost believed he understood the severity of being the hunted, it never lasted long.

Hours before sundown she awoke to find him fist-deep in the lady of the house. His mouth spilled crimson down his shirt as he alternately fulfilled the only two instincts that had meaning to him now. Survival did not seem to be on the list of ingrained needs.

“You idiot boy,” she hissed.

Denying that what she felt was jealousy, she pulled his half-clothed body off the dead woman and immediately stripped him of his bloodied garments. Ignoring his protests she dragged him to the wash basin and tossed a handful of lye into the bin, taking an iron scrubbing pad from the counter she scoured Angelus until one couldn’t tell where the corpse’s blood ended and his began. She took the bowl into her arms and doused him with the freezing liquid before throwing the bowl into the hearth.

“We have nowhere to go if we do not cross that river tonight,” she pulled him up the stairs to their room, throwing clothes from their traveling satchel as she raged. “There is no going back west and there is no more East unless we cross here. Do you understand that?”

“Of course…” She cut him off with a slap.

“That was a rhetorical question. Clearly you do not understand a word I have said to you or you would have abided my wishes.” She looked around the room, they had nothing substantial as far as weapons except their own bodies, and to reveal them now with the sun still blazing would be suicide. She moved the draperies to peer outside, the streets were mostly quiet. No new traders seemed to be harbored at the dock, which might give them a reprieve from sailors looking to board for the night.

As though on cue a slip floated into the dock and tossed a rope in to the boy sitting in wait. A rush of activity began as the merchants gathered to see what had come in. Two men emerged from below deck, handing a bit of coin to the dock boy before heading into the tavern nearest the boarding house.

“Damn you,” she muttered. Turning her attention back to Angelus, who was now dressed and agitated because he could not see out the window, Darla smoothed her dress and set her shoulders back as she resolved herself to the only plan available. “We’ll have to kill anyone who enters the house.”

“Fine,” Angelus said with a smile.

Darla met his smile with a dagger to the throat as she slammed him against the wall. “You will notice, lover, that I did not say eat. If you get so much as a drop of their blood on your body I will kill you myself. When the sun goes down we are walking out the front door and onto the barge. If you hamper our escape and I have to swim across that river, so help me you will be dust before you see the moon tonight.”

Nodding his ascension, he lifted a hand to her chin. “I will be yer model student, I swear it.”

“We’ll have to wait downstairs, we can’t have anyone running into the street screaming once it begins.”

“Maybe they’ll not come in.”

“Oh, they’ll come. They always come.”

***

She bent under his weight and considered depositing him into one of the many piles of cow droppings that littered the grass around them. Toeing at the ground in front of her, she took careful steps, barely avoiding the many dips and holes of the meadow that threatened to twist her ankles. The dead weight of Angelus’ dangling body made her midnight walk all the more difficult as she moved blindly towards the small house on the far side of the field. The stench of his blood was getting on the last of her frayed nerves and the air swarming with mosquitoes unsure of their prey was not making it any easier to see her way or to ignore the urge to stop where she was and drain Angelus dry.

It was his own fault. Darla harbored no sympathy for him, but knocking him unconscious before they were all the way across the river wasn’t the best idea she’d ever had. It had been hard enough to stay afloat herself with the current threatening to pull them under and the burning remants of the barge floating all about them, but his constant recounting of the fight had been what truly infuriated her. When he wasn’t spitting out mouthfuls of river brine he was replaying every thrown punch and parry out as though she had not been there fighting for her life and his. The branch floating by had merely seemed fortuitous at the time.

Several minutes had gone by since the last flicker of candle light was snuffed out, darkening the house. The faint boxes of orange on the horizon blinking once and then disappearing completely as the flames died. Darla could scarce count the number of times that had happened in her very long life…the lights going out as she drew closer to her refuge. Wondering if there must be something in the senses of mortals that makes them believe the darkness will save them, as though extinguishing their lanterns could also darken the moon, she crept forward through the tall grass and dew. Fools. It’s not as if their home had disappeared with the dying light.

Making her way across the field and into the paddock nearest the house, Darla smiled at the animals cowering in the corner. Penned in by the crude fence and rusted nails they squealed at her, working themselves into a frenzy when she hissed back at them. Darla moved through the muck to the far gate, purposely clocking Angelus’ head against the broad post that moored the thick iron grate. He did not stir in her arms even as fresh blood added itself to that which had been seeping from his wounds for near an hour. For the first time that night Darla wondered if he’d wake up, and worse yet, if the damage done would be irreparable. Her worry was short lived as he began mumbling curses at her, demanding to be put down.

Deciding against standing on ceremony, they slaughtered the family quickly, one by one as they came running out the door to see what had brought on the commotion, amplified by the screaming animals in their pens. It was mere moments before the barrier surrounding the house fell like water over a cliff, its glimmer flashing for a few seconds before disappearing into the hell beneath their feet.

It was a dank squat of a home. Unpainted walls decorated with children’s needlepoint and a few faded portraits of very ugly ancestors. It would do for a short rest before they had to ride on but Darla felt she had done the lady of the house quite a service releasing her from a life that began and ended withing these walls each day.

“The horses will do,” she said, staring out at the barn. “They look better fed than the chattle. We might make it as far as Lough Neagh if we ride hard.”

“Or we could stay the night and make a fight of it.”

“Tell me, Liam,” she says. spitting the name, “have you always been this daft or have you somehow managed to save up a lifetime’s worth of idiocy for my benefit?”

“We’ve managed well enough.”

“Yes, I have managed to survive for nearly two hundred years because I do not taunt slayers and angry mobs. You have not yet survived a month, and at this rate you won’t last the night. I know this because I am mere seconds from staking you myself.”

“Let me make it up to ye, Darla.”

She imagined that the look he was giving her was as close to obedient as he ever managed, but she was not impressed.

“Oh you shall,” she began, far from ready to give in to his grip while they were running for their lives. “First you shall gather up all the bodies and…bits from the landing and bring them inside. You will then help me out of these damned rags and into something of that cow’s, and Angelus, you had best begin praying she has something that will be suitable for me.”

“Of course, Mistress.”

***

Darla was nearly out of her wet and muddy clothes when Angelus brought the last of the bodies up the stairs and deposited them into the corner of the room. His hands were behind his back and as time had taught her, Darla was tensed, waiting for an attack. Much to her surprise he produced a bouquet of flowers, dead on the vine, but beautiful in their darkness all the same.

“What are these for?” she asked, smelling the last remnants of sweetness in the petals.

“A token of forgiveness?” Angelus answered.

“So soon, I expected to have to put up with your insolence for years before you’d apologize.”

“As did I, but then I din’t think I’d have to ask for it so soon.”

“What have you done now?” Darla asked, only noticing his serious mood when she looked up from the flowers.

“They’ve followed us.” Moving to the window, Angelus lifted back the curtain, revealing a dozen or more torches floating through the fields outside at a speed which had to mean their hunters were on horse back.

Darla’s eyes widened and the roses slipped from her fingers, their thorns drawing blood as they fell. “We’ll never outrun them now!”

Her fury grew as she saw the excited bounce in Angelus’ step as he paced from window to window, watching the mob come closer. Spinning around she kicked the night stand into bits, yanking a splintered leg from the wreckage and thrusting it into Angelus’ arm before pinning him to the floor.

“If you kill me,” Angelus gasped, seeing the extent of her rage burning in her yellow eyes as he clutched to his arm with one hand, trying to hold her at bay with the other.

“When I kill you,” she corrected, pressing the tip of the stake against his heart.

“You’ll never make it out alive without me.”

She knew he was right. Releasing him from the floor she turned to the window once more, they were only minutes away.

Grabbing a shift from the wardrobe and the first dress she saw that looked like it was meant for only one woman, Darla threw them over her head, barely taking the time to tie the waist strings.

“Is there a pistol in the house? We might be able to stop a few of them before they make it inside.”

Angelus ran down the stairs, coming back up with two pistols and a bag of powder. He released a handful of shot onto the bed. “This is all I could find.”

“No matter, we’ll only be able to reload twice before they are inside.”

“We’ll be ready.”

“We’re going to London.” Darla said as she loaded the gun.

“Of course we are lover.” Angelus agreed as he followed suit, breaking the glass out of the window once he was done.

“No, this very season. When we leave here I will take you to meet the Master.”

“I didn’t take you for a woman to have a master,” Angelus smiled.

“I have none,” she grinned back, “you however, will spend a year in his company and then I will come back for you.”

“Ye’ll never leave me Darla.” Angelus said with a knowing look.

“Of course not lover.”

She fired two shots. And then she was gone.

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