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Challenge #7: Threshold of the Mind

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  • Challenge #7: Threshold of the Mind

    Rating: PG-13
    Length: 2000 words, give or take an introductory poem. (I can't leave those alone!)
    Pairing: Angel/Drusilla
    Summary: After Spike dies in Prague, Drusilla calls for help from the one person she has left...

    And shall I take a thing so blind,
    Embrace her as my natural good;
    Or crush her, like a vise of blood,
    Upon the threshold of the mind?

    --Tennyson, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”

    The arrow coils through the rain toward him like a snake, the greasy point that grazes his arm its fangs. Angel screams.

    Spike snarls through his own fangs, and leaps forward. The arm Angel stretches out to hold him back is not his own, nor is it quite fast enough. A second serpent drives teeth into Spike’s chest. “Dru, luv,” he gasps, “run.” And then the rain is pelting what remains of him into the mud.

    Angel weaves through the streets, staggering and retching. The serpent’s venom has weakened him, but somehow he manages a burst of speed, and then he is in the river, bobbing with the current. A part of him understands that the arrow must have been poisoned—mystical perhaps, possibly even something lethal—but the greater part, the dreaming part, knows only disoriented fear.

    Angel is wet and cold, hungry and weak. And then Angel is wet and cold, hungry and weak, and awake.

    It takes him more time to understand than one might expect. Drusilla has never touched his dreams this way, except rarely, since his soul was restored, to mock him, and as mockery this makes no sense. He even enjoys, a little bit, the thought of Spike’s death…

    Spike’s death. It means Drusilla is alone.

    And she’s calling him.
    ******
    It takes him two nights to make his way to New York City, and the greater part of another to stow away aboard a ship. There are not so many these days, at least with passengers among whom he could hide. Despite the lapse of time, Angel still is not sure what he will do when he finds her.

    She deserves to die. But then, he killed her long ago.

    She deserves to suffer. But then, she has.

    He wants to tear her to pieces. But then, he’s not sure which part of him wants it.

    He wants to comfort her. But then….No. He knows what part of him that comes from.

    If he can’t trust his soul, what can he trust?

    Humanity has done all it can to wipe out the vermin that infest the bellies of ships. The rats take it in stride. Angel gnaws at them, wondering if he will have the strength to do what needs to be done. Whatever that is.
    ******
    All through the journey she flits in and out of his dreams. She’s moving, too, tracking him as he tracks her, stumbling blindly towards him across a continent. Her appetite wanes, waxes, wanes again like the moon. Even when the hunger is gnawing at her insides, sometimes she can find no one to eat. Humans instinctively distrust the pale, emaciated girl who totters through the streets at night, though they could not tell you quite why. A homeless woman, perhaps, sick with some contagious disease. Pity her, but stay away.

    “Like this,” Angel says. He moves, lightning quick—or as much of a facsimile of lightning as he can manage, these days. The dog struggles—it is a construct of his mind, but he wants it to be as realistic as possible—until he snaps its neck. He drains the corpse before the blood has time to cool.

    Drusilla imitates him. He expects her to make a face; he will not lie to her about what dogs taste like, and could not in this state if he would. It almost kills him to feel her arms around his waist, to hear her murmur thanks.

    The next day she is not so hungry. Neither is he.
    ******
    “Where’s Darla?” he asks her from Lisbon. He has not seen Darla in decades. Darla could be impatient with Dru at times, especially when the younger vampire’s whims got them into trouble, but just as often she would try to soothe the girl after her nightmares. Drusilla’s dreams twist her body into pieces, threaten her with sunshine, mock her with heavenly wrath. Even these dream-visions in which they speak are full of menacing brightnesses; once he must ward off a furious angel, wondering wryly if it is meant to be him.

    Drusilla shakes her head. “Grandmum’s flown off to the Master’s nest,” she sings airily. “Forgotten her family, all for him. She spoils Great-Grandpa so, like all his little girls and boys.” She floats above Paris, surrounded by twinkling lights and beams of steel. Neither of them is terribly fast these days, but they can travel more quickly than a cruise line or a freighter is likely to sail. “Oh dear,” she says, giggling and staring into the distance. “They’re being so naughty.”

    It could mean many things. Angel decides he doesn’t want to know which.
    ******
    They meet, at last, in Madrid. He knows what will happen now.

    Dru will study him with that distracted gaze. Her eyes will catch the soul that lurks inside him, and she will pronounce him “not her daddy” and turn away. That should be excuse enough to end her.

    But she only stands there, staring into some distance he cannot perceive. “William,” she whispers, “come and see. He’s come for us.”

    He stands there, unable to act without her permission. “William,” she calls again. She topples against him, all angles and bony arms, and begins to sob. “He’s gone. Oh, William, my prince, where have you gone?”

    Angel finds himself stroking her matted hair.
    ******
    She has no appetite for several nights after that. Angel discovers, impossibly, that he is coaxing her to drink.

    Vampire blood is like a sugary, tasty treat, and burns away as fast. He keeps quiet and still as much as he can, trying to preserve the virtue in his for her, eating for two. She keeps close by his side, as starved for affection as for blood, and he offers such comfort as he can. When he moves, it is to hunt dogs and cats—larger beasts, when they can be found, but this is not America with its wide-open spaces and sprawling farms.

    Near the end of the week, she rouses enough to feed for herself. He lets her help, as much as she is able. After so long starving, she says nothing about foul odors or disgusting tastes, though she gazes longingly at humans when they pass by.

    He says nothing. It’s not as though he’s never done the same.
    ******
    Little by little, the haze of sickness lifts from her eyes. She moves more easily, and complains of hunger more often. For this sensation, which has been his companion for decades now, he has no cure.

    The night finally comes when he returns to find her crouched over the body of a young man in a university jacket. There is a moment of red fog, and then she is pressed against the wall with him looming over her, fist raised to strike again. “You disgusting, murderous bitch,” he rasps. “I should—“

    Drusilla gazes up at him, a tiny smile twitching on her lips. “Have I been wicked, Daddy? Will you punish me more?”

    Angel leaves the corpse where it will be found. Eventually.
    ******
    He tests her responses as best he can. Regardless of their nature, threats carry little weight. Violence is greeted with good humor—and sometimes, as she grows stronger, is returned to him with teasing hints, or more than hints. He cannot bring himself to reciprocate, and Drusilla flounces and pouts.

    Angel knows she has limits—he remembers pressing her beyond them. Those memories, though, he cannot bear to re-enact, and in any case, he also recalls her threshold rising once she recovered.

    Gradually he comes to understand that she responds to his actual feelings, rather than his mere expressions. Empty threats draw derisive giggling; furious beatings she fears, yet enjoys when they come. Most disappointing are threats honestly meant but not carried through; after those, she can sulk for days. His scruples, he discovers, make him distressingly good at them.

    Little by little, he thinks, he is training her. If not to be good, at least to do less harm. Still…accidents will happen. Angel cleans up after her and tries a little harder. She watches, amused, and sometimes claps.
    ******
    “Your uncle is such a bad little boy,” she tells him. “Such dreams he has. Great-Grandpa should take care.”

    Angel has no idea who she is talking about. The Master no doubt has spawned vampires now hiding in every corner of the world. This could be prophecy, or babbling, or both.

    “Do you like my insides?” she asks him. “The parts you can’t see?”

    “You have the blackest heart I know,” he tells her truthfully. Almost.

    Drusilla tsks at him. “Bad Daddy. Too proud by half.”

    Angel sighs. Sometimes Dru is as blind as she is mad.

    She stands on tiptoe to reach his ear. “The Master will rise,” she tattles, “and the Slayer will die.”

    He gives a little shrug. Slayers do that.
    ******
    Angel never dreamed that life with Drusilla could become routine. But one can, he finds, become used to anything.

    She has reached a point where she will feed from animals for weeks at a time. Inevitably, it fails to last, but she has discovered that the longer between killings she goes, the more amusing the humans’ response. Whenever possible, Angel points her at escaped convicts and the like. Unlike Darla, she seems not to care.

    He knows this game will not go on forever. By the time it ends, though, he’ll have something new. Planning always was his strong suit.

    “Why do you never play with me anymore, Daddy?” she asks one day. He fumbles for an answer, thinking she means the killing. “It always made Willy so cross. He was so much better when he was cross. Grrrr.” Oh. He says nothing, hoping she will lapse into melancholy, but Spike’s hold on her is fading. Perhaps it would have eventually in any case. What did she ever see in the prat?

    An idea strikes. “You’ve been such a bad girl anyway. What’s the point? Now if you were to be very good for a couple of weeks, we would both have to be, ah, naughty at the end to make up for it.”

    She studies him skeptically. He’s sure she’s far too addled to tell when two weeks are up. He can probably string her along for at least twice that, and finally she’ll just forget. Drusilla grins broadly at him. “Yes…that we would.”
    ******
    “It’s too late to matter,” the demon says, “but I was curious what had become of you. Call me Whistler.”

    “Why would I call you anything?” Angel mutters. He’s not inclined to go much past “Get out.”

    “Ever heard the name Acathla?” Whistler doesn’t wait for Angel’s nod. “All the signs said you were supposed to stop him from waking. Then, one day, poof! You’re gone.”

    “Somebody’ll handle it,” Angel says. Someone always does. The world didn’t end after the Master rose.

    “It was gonna be you,” the demon insists.

    “Yeah,” Angel scoffs. “Big damned hero. That’ll be the day.”

    “Darla seems interested enough.” Whistler shrugs. “At least once she found out it was the Anointed One as killed old Mr. Nest. Hard part’s gettin’ Kendra to cooperate with her. I’m worried it’s gonna be a close one.”

    “The brat has big ideas, huh?” Angel’s heard enough through the rumor mill to know the kid is in over his head. “Somehow I’m not too concerned.”

    “From your lips to the Powers’ ears,” says the demon with a grimace. “Anyways, I was just wondering what you’d come to.”

    Angel turns away. He doesn’t need to see this Whistler walk out to know when he leaves.

    “He tingles,” Drusilla complains. “Such sharp edges!”

    “He’s gone,” Angel tells her. “Nothing to worry about.”

    Maybe this life isn’t what destiny had planned for him. Angel watches Dru drift back to sleep. And living with her has its problems, true enough. But what of it?

    Angel supposes he’s as happy as he’ll ever be.
    Last edited by Mabus; 01-03-08, 11:11 AM.
    DeadWar: Burden of Proof
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