Even better than the audience, though, was the electricity. When they'd come in, the house lights had been up, famously blue-white and sharp, like high noon. It was nothing like gas. Things stood out almost painfully clearly; the first time Will looked straight at one of the bulbs, he winced. There was no smell of gas, no warmth or flutter. At first he wasn't sure he liked it, and then he saw how it cast sharp, dark shadows, almost exactly like the sun. He hadn't seen shadows like that in two years. Suddenly electricity seemed like a much more interesting development.
They found their seats and as they were settling, Will caught a thread of something strange off Angelus. A sharp, abrasive smell, like the smell of fingernails on a matchboard. He turned his head; Angelus was staring at a ring of bulbs in the cornice above the stage. His expression was dark and focused.
"What's the matter?"
Angelus looked at him, and he sank back into his seat without another word.
He listened to a conversation in the row behind them, about how all the gasworks would be out of business in five years' time, about how D'Oyly Carte was a genius, or possibly only lucky, and about whether the seats were as comfortable as they might be. The man used a floral pomade that Will had smelled before. The woman was barely pregnant.
Angelus looked sideways, noticed his nostrils flaring, and stepped deliberately onto his toes. Will flinched and wished briefly that the women had come along. A night alone at the theatre with Angelus had seemed like a wonderful excursion, earlier.
The lights went down and the show began, and Will was caught up despite himself. Humans were idiots, but he'd eaten already, and he'd never seen Gilbert and Sullivan. He found himself wishing he'd brought a pen, to scribble some of the lyrics down. But they went by too quickly, and besides, he couldn't imagine Angelus putting up with that sort of thing. When the humans who were supposed to be fairies came out with electric bulbs in their headdresses, and Will gasped along with everyone else, Angelus turned his head and gave him a long, cold look.
"What?" Will muttered, glad he couldn't blush. "'m blending in, aren't I?"
Angelus said nothing, but didn't look away. After a few more seconds Will chanced a nervous glance at him, and was startled at the look of fury in Angelus's eyes. He opened his mouth to protest, and Angelus's hand closed painfully around his bicep.
"What, in the middle—?"
They had to step over humans all the way to the aisle, and Angelus didn't take much care in doing it. Will dangled and made apologies. Then he was being frogmarched up the carpet, tripping over his own feet and trying to look as if he were leaving of his own volition, while behind him the fairy queen sang about love and its dire consequences.
Outside on the Strand, the night was blacker than it had ever seemed, and the standing gas lamps were dimmer, smokier. Most of the shops were closed now, their windows dark. Will's eyes felt blinkered, and when Angelus shoved him forward he almost fell into the street.
"Stand up." Angelus's hand caught the back of his coat and yanked. "Stand up properly."
Will bit back his reply and stood, facing the far side of the street. He could smell the river, the slow stink of sewer water, the dust in the street. He could feel Angelus's hand still at the back of his coat. A cab passed by, and the driver's head turned slowly to stare at him. He lifted his thumb to the man, then settled his shoulders, brushed his trousers down, and risked a glance back.
Angelus was holding his coat as if he'd forgotten about it, standing with that arm out and the other dangling at his side. His head was turned back toward the theatre, and he was staring at the door they'd just walked through. His face was hard.
Will tugged at his coat, and Angelus let go without looking at him. There was a curl of that same smell in the air, the little sulphur smell that made Will want to step away because it was part anger, part something he liked even less than anger. He didn't step away; he stayed where he was, and looked back at the theatre entrance too.
"Stupid play," he said after a minute. There was room to skip back if he had to.
For a few seconds Angelus didn't do anything. Then, without turning his head, he said, "You liked it."
Will hesitated, then said, "Well, some bits were all right."
Angelus didn't say anything. He turned and stood facing straight back at the theatre, staring at the entrance as if someone were standing there. Will shifted uncomfortably.
"We going home now?" There was no response, and he added, "Sir?" quietly enough that it might not be heard.
"What did you like about it?" Angelus asked, crossing his arms. It always made his coat seams stretch, no matter how large they were cut. Will felt a tingle at the base of his spine, and again he had to stop himself from stepping back.
"I don't know," he said, and then quickly added, "I mean, some of the words were all right. Bit fast, though."
Angelus said nothing, and the smell was getting stronger, so Will went on a little desperately. "Good fun sitting in the middle of them like that. And—" He paused. "And the lighting's…novel."
The smell was suddenly very strong, and Will took the step he'd been wanting to take, back toward the curb. Angelus turned and looked at him.
"You like it?" he asked, and jerked his head back toward the theatre. Will looked, and realized there was an incandescent bulb in the entryway. Just one: an advertisement for the light inside. He stared at the sharp little glow.
"I—" He paused, and looked back at Angelus. Angelus's eyes were black and sharp, and his face had that lean, unfamiliar look it got when there was no talking to him. When the only thing to do was turn and run.
Will turned and ran.
Angelus caught him in three steps and punched him hard in the chest, the way he'd punch a human, to stun the heart and stop the breath. Will didn't breathe, didn't need his heart, but the blow was shocking, like a hammer to his breastbone, and he went down with a yelping cough. Angelus had a hand clamped on the back of his collar, garroting him. He was making a low, bubbling snarl in the back of his throat, and the fact that he was doing that in public, on a public street, made Will's knees go weak with fear.
"I don't—" He tried to get his hands up, tried to get his feet beneath him. Angelus jerked him to the side, off his balance, and punched him again in the side, under his flailing arm. Something popped, and white fired all up and down Will's side. He yipped and twisted, his shoes scraping sideways along the pavement. He'd be thrashed for the scuffs.
That was all he had time to think before there was a sound of footsteps, and a voice saying "What's all this then?" in unmistakeably official tones, and Angelus's grip on his collar loosened for just a moment. He didn't need any longer. He was gone before he could even feel grateful.
His legs took him pell-mell across the Strand, ducking a cabhorse with one white sock, ducking the whip that the driver cracked at him, shoving through a gang of drunken odd-men, and dodging into an alley hardly wider than his shoulders. He was panting; he couldn't help it. His chest felt broken. The pain in his side drew him that way, made him awkward and crooked. He slipped, almost fell, caught himself up, and kept running.
He was almost out the other end, out into the dark blue rectangle of night and freedom, when something dropped down from above, black as despair and just as heavy. A fist caught his chin and he saw stars. His teeth closed through his tongue. Blood filled his mouth. That was bad. Blood made everything worse.
He was sitting down somehow, propped against the wall with his legs awkwardly turned beneath him, and he tried to stand up. Something pressed against the top of his head, holding him down.
He tried again to stand, and something hit him in the face, driving his head back into the brick. He could feel blood running down the bridge of his nose.
"You ran, Will." Angelus's tone was conversational. "That was very stupid of you."
He coughed, and heard Angelus draw his foot back fastidiously. Then the pressure at the top of his head went away, and Angelus's hand came under his arm and pulled him to his feet. Will kept his eyes down. The alley was very dark; he could only just make out the fruit peelings and rags at their feet.
Angelus looked down too, and toed something with a sound of disgust. "It's like Holywell in here," he said. "Such fine locations you choose, Will."
"Why are you—" Will said, and Angelus shook him till his head cracked the brick. He kept his tongue clear this time, and his hands at his sides.
"Turn around," Angelus said, and Will let out a little moan. Angelus laughed. "You're a sheep now, are you?" His fingers bit into Will's shoulder, into the tendon of his neck. "Turn around."
Will let his legs buckle, then tried a sudden desperate feint to Angelus's left. Angelus's elbow snapped into his temple and sent him to his knees in the filth for a second. Only a second, because Angelus had already grabbed the back of his neck and spun him, half off his feet and still blind from the blow. He got his hands up just in time to save his nose from being broken against the wall.
Angelus's hands were already grappling at his trousers, and he made a final effort to push free, his feet skidding in the wet mess on the stones. Angelus took one hand off his trousers to slap him across the ear, and then suddenly he froze.
Will stood still, panting, blood falling in thick strings from his nose and mouth. After a second he heard footsteps coming down the alley toward them. Angelus stepped closer and pressed his whole body against Will's. Will tried to stop breathing and choked on the blood running down his throat. Angelus's hand came round and wiped his face, then flicked the stuff to the ground with a sound like raindrops.
The footsteps came right up to them, and there was a moment's pause. Will closed his eyes and felt his fingers twitch against the brick. Angelus said nothing, and didn't move.
"Pardon, sirs," a man's voice said, and then there was a slight further pressure as he squeezed between Angelus and the far wall.
"A lovely evening to you," Angelus called after him. The footsteps quickened, and by the time they were at the end of the alley, they were at a run.
As soon as they were gone, Angelus took a step back and yanked Will's trousers down. "Apparently," he said, wrapping a hand around the back of Will's neck and pinning him to the wall, "one has to be quick in these lanes." Will heard the sound of buttons popping. Angelus leaned close and spoke into his ear. "I can be quick."
Will closed his eyes tighter. Angelus's fingers parted him, and then there was a hard blunt pressure, dry and awful, and he jerked his hips forward until they hit the wall. Angelus braced against his shoulder and pushed into him, hissing at his neck, fumbling for his hipbone to yank him back. Will's eyes watered. His hands trembled on the wall beside his head.
"Good boy," Angelus whispered, and pushed in harder. Will's legs shook, and his mouth was filled with blood. He wanted to scream, strike out, go to game face, bite the hand that moved clumsily over his face and fastened on his forehead, pulling his head back and arching his spine. The blaze in his side was crippling, blinding. He wanted to bite and fuck and kill. And he wanted to reach back and find Angelus's working hips, grab the fabric of his trousers, and pull him closer.
He did nothing. When Angelus came, he wrenched Will's head back and bit his throat. Not the vein itself, just twin pairs of punctures on either side of his windpipe. Will stared up at the sliver of night blue sky, the single star left between the rooftops, and felt Angelus's teeth close around his breath. It occurred to him that fairies looked more like stars than anything else. And were about as much use.
Afterward, Angelus helped him dress, wiped his face with a clean handkerchief, and half-carried him back to the house. Nothing in between made sense; it was all a blur. There were lights on the river, and dark shadows moving all around them. Angelus seemed happy.
Will had the knife-boy's room, which for some reason didn't have a gas lamp, but only a candle. Angelus laid him on the bed and lit the candle, then disappeared and came back with a basin and a cloth. The room was too small for him to move in. He chuckled when he bumped things, and his hands were gentle as he cleaned the grit out of Will's skin.
"You never told me what you liked about the play," he said after a while, when the water in the basin was deep red, and Will was warm and floating. Will couldn't think of an answer, so he said nothing. After a minute or two Angelus put out a finger and ran it lightly down his cheek and neck. "The fairies?"
Will coughed. "I liked…the lights."
Angelus's finger stilled, and the look he gave Will was long and pensive. Will looked back, through the eye that wasn't closing. He wasn't afraid. He felt numb and oddly grateful.
"Of course you did," Angelus said, and looked away at the candle. "It's good that you did. We're going to have to learn to live in them."
"Live in the lights," Will repeated faintly, to show he was listening. Both his eyes were closing now. He saw the warm orange glow of the candle through his eyelids.
Then Angelus leaned forward and blew the flame out, and the darkness was sublime.