La Belle et Le Bete
La Belle Époque Part 2
A Darker Prometheus series by Ligeia
Summary: In 1899, has Angelus found love?
Disclaimer: Joss owns all.
Feedback: Feedback is welcome! ligeia_angel(at)yahoo.com.au
True love is like a rose, gentle, soft, yet willing to draw blood in its own defence. - Anon.
Angelus raced along the Rue de Martyrs dashing through tiny islands of light beneath the gas lamps with Robin laughing wildly at his side. The mob wasn't far behind. At the Rue D'Orsel Angelus turned east while Robin headed west along the Rue des Abbesses. They would meet an hour before dawn at Sacre Coeur and make their way back to the Ritz Hotel where their Sire, Darla was waiting.
Leaping over a high wall Angelus landed in the garden behind a semi-detached two storey house. Leaning against the rough bricks he listened to the pounding footfalls of the few hardy pursuers who had almost managed to keep pace with the two vampires on their flight from Pigalle. Damn, it was close this time! Robin's penchant for taking chances was going to get them both killed!
The recent murders of several whores had the city up in arms, much to Robin's amusement. He had become a liability as far as Angelus was concerned; leaving a 'calling card' at each of his kills, bringing unnecessary attention to the deaths of a few prostitutes which might otherwise have gone unnoticed or at least unremarked. Robin left a rose petal in the mouth of each victim and, with his usual disregard for safety, wore a rosebud in his buttonhole when they went out to feed. Angelus half hoped the vigilantes would catch up with his erstwhile companion and put an end to his dangerous games. As the sounds of pursuit receded Angelus prepared to scale the wall again.
'He's not here you know.'
Startled, Angelus spun around. A young woman stood a few metres away. Dressed in diaphanous white, she seemed to float in the circle of flickering light cast by the candle she held in one hand. In the other she held a small leather-bound book.
'Who's not here?'
'The man you're looking for. The one everybody is out looking for.' She smiled a little uncertainly. 'The bad man.'
'Oh.' Angelus looked around for another way out of the walled garden. 'Well, that's a comfort.'
'Did Papa send you? To see that I was all right?'
'Something like that.' Distracted, Angelus turned back to face her. How odd, he thought, she doesn't seem afraid at all.
'I thought so,' the girl continued, 'seeing you're English too.' Angelus didn't know what to make of this and said nothing. 'Do you work at the Embassy with my Papa?'
'My Papa's a very important man.' She paused, pouting a little. 'That's why he's away so much, I expect.' She brightened. 'He's the Ambassador.' She grinned sheepishly. 'Silly me! You already know that!' Her mercurial moods and ingenuous chatter reminded Angelus of Drusilla. This childlike young woman, he sensed, was also a little 'touched'. Back in Galway, he mused, they would call her 'fey'.
'What are you doing out here in the garden all alone?' he asked. 'It's well past midnight.'
'Reading of course!' She said it like it was the most natural thing in the world. She pointed to a patch of grass behind a thick hedge where she had been lying. It was littered with volumes of fairy tales - Hans Anderson, Aesop, Perrault - all in their original languages.
'I come out here, sometimes, late at night and read by candlelight. Tottie doesn't know I do it,' she giggled. 'If I lay down behind the hedge she can't see me. The stories all seem so much more real by candle light.'
'Miss Trotter. She's my nanny. When I was little I couldn't say her name properly so I called her Tottie. That's funny don't you think?'
Her slightly husky voice was a fascinating contrast to her child-like manner. Angelus smiled. Indicating the volume in her hand, Angelus held out his own.
'May I see what you're reading?'
The girl handed over a well-thumbed book. It was an illustrated copy, in French, of Madame de Villeneuve's 'La Belle et La Bete'. Opening it, Angelus saw an inscription inside. 'To my Wild Rambling Rose on the Occasion of her Sixteenth Birthday from your Loving Papa, 1896.' It was signed Sir Edwin Day.
'It's my favourite,' she said. 'Because of the rose.'
She took the little book from his hand and opened it to an illustration of an old man plucking a pink rose from a vine trailing over the doorway of a decaying castle.
'You know the tale,' she prompted. 'Belle's father goes on a journey. Her sisters ask him to bring them back fine clothes and jewels but all Belle wants him to bring her is a single rose.' Her pale hands hugged the book to the ruffled bodice of her nightgown. 'Papa calls me his wild rose. Why he calls me it I do not know, for my name is Eliza Day.'
'And Sir Edwin's your father?' The girl nodded. Sir Edwin Day was the British Ambassador in Paris. As the murders of the Parisian prostitutes were being blamed on an Englishman, the Embassy made a show of assisting the French police in tracking down the murderer, naturally to no avail - no one ever suspected the truth. Disbelief was, Angelus knew, the vampire's best refuge. Sir Edwin was out now, called from his bed following Robin's predations of that evening. But his home would not be deserted.
'Where's your mother, Eliza?'
'Mama's dead,' she replied. 'She died when I was born. I took such a long time to come into the world, you see. And she was tired out.' Eliza absent-mindedly twirled a lock of pale blonde hair. 'Sometimes I think I'm like the girls in my stories. Lots of them don't have mothers either, you know. Cinderella didn't have a mother, nor Snow White.' She paused then turned her big blue eyes towards Angelus, frowning a little. 'You don't suppose it was my fault do you? Papa says it wasn't my fault. Do you suppose he says that just to make me feel better?'
Angelus felt a sudden stab of pity, an uncomfortable new emotion now that his soul, and his conscience, had been restored.
'No, Eliza, I'm sure it's true. Your papa wouldn't lie to you, would he?'
She shook her head. 'But sometimes I think that's why he's away so much. Because he's angry with me. I get so lonely sometimes.' Eliza looked back at the pile of books on the grass. 'At least I have my books. The people in them are my friends. They never leave me.'
Unused to voicing his newly rediscovered compassion, Angelus was at a loss to offer any words of sympathy.
'Papa has been so very busy trying to find the bad man,' Eliza said. 'The French say it's an Englishman but I don't believe it. Neither does Tottie. She says no Englishman could do such terrible things.'
A voice calling from the other side of the garden surprised them both.
'Angelus! Let's go!'
It was Robin, sitting atop of the far wall banging his heels against the bricks. Noticing the girl, he slipped down from his perch and ran over to where she and Angelus stood, never once taking his hungry eyes from Eliza. As Robin approached Angelus turned to leave but the slim, blond vampire, grinning widely, threw an arm around his shoulder, mumbling, 'On the other hand, there's no rush, is there brother?' Glancing down at the volumes of fairy tales scattered about, Robin turned his pale grey gaze back to the girl.
'Who have we here?' He reached out and fondled her long blonde ringlets. 'Goldilocks, perhaps?' Eliza giggled prettily. Fascinated, Robin gave Angelus a lascivious wink. 'What's your name, then, pretty thing?'
'Eliza. What's yours?'
'Maybe I'm the Big Bad Wolf?'
Eliza shook her head. 'You don't look like a wolf.'
'Well, looks can be deceiving, especially in fairy tales.' He paused, ignoring Angelus's glare, dark and dangerous. 'I'm Robin.'
'Robin? Like Robin Goodfellow!' Eliza clapped her hands. 'How jolly!'
Robin bowed, low and courtly, much to Eliza's delight. 'Sweet Eliza, thou speakest aright. I am that merry wanderer of the night!'
'You were supposed to wait for me at Sacre Coeur,' Angelus reminded him stiffly.
'Well, I got bored and came looking for you, brother.' Robin noticed with glee how Angelus's jaw tightened; he hated it when Robin called him that. 'With all the evil abroad these nights, there's no telling what trouble you might have gotten into,' Robin chuckled, adding quietly, 'and who'd have thought those fat drunken Frenchies would have such stamina! What a fuss over a few Pigalle sluts!'
'We have to go. Now!' Angelus took the other vampire by the arm and began to drag him away. Robin shrugged off the restraining hand, doffed an imaginary hat to Eliza, bowed again and skipped away.
'Well met by moonlight, pretty Eliza! Perhaps we'll meet again some other night!'
Enchanted, Eliza's blue eyes shone with pleasure.
'Go back inside now, Eliza.' Angelus was reluctant to leave but wanted Robin away from the girl as soon as possible. 'It's cold out here.'
'You will, won't you, Angelus?' she called after them. 'Come and visit me again, I mean?'
'Of course I will, Eliza' he called over his shoulder, not willing to look back at her, a lonely figure standing in the guttering candlelight. 'Of course I will.'
Not meaning it at all.
Every night, while the household slept, Eliza waited in the garden reading and re-reading all her favourite stories. Over and over, whispering to herself in the dark, she recounted the magical tale of a beautiful lonely girl who releases her prince from the body of a beast, her love the key that sets him free. She lingered longest over the final illustration - golden-haired Belle in the arms of her dark Prince, once so cruelly spellbound, now set free by her unselfish love. And thought of Angelus.
Finally, as Eliza knew he would, her own dark prince returned.
Angelus waited until the lights in the house were extinguished then climbed up the trellis to the wrought iron balcony outside Eliza's room. When he tapped lightly on the window pane she was there at the casement immediately, still dressed, as though expecting him. Wordlessly, she slipped into his embrace, her slim pale arms around his neck, rosy lips warm against his cold mouth. Her trembling subsided in his sure embrace and with a careful hand he wiped at the tears that ran down her face. Her cheeks blushed pink under the night's cool kiss.
'I knew you'd come!' she whispered.
Angelus murmured something in response then remembered the gift he'd brought. He reached into the pocket of his evening coat and withdrew a single red rosebud.
Later, as they lay together on the cool grass behind the hedge, Eliza's small body cradled against his, Angelus thought about what his life had become since the restoration of his soul. Darla had grown ever colder, Spike and Dru openly displayed their contempt for him, while Robin baited him at every opportunity. He placed a soft kiss on the moon-paled skin of Eliza's bare shoulder and she snuggled a little closer.
Drawing the fabric of her white lace teagown from where it lay on the ground beside her, Angelus covered her bare body. Maybe it was time to finally leave Darla and the others behind.
'I know a place where the wild roses grow, sweet and scarlet and free.' Eliza raised her golden head and smiled at his gentle words. 'If I show you the roses will you follow me there?'
As the lovers left by the rear gate, neither saw Robin's shadowy figure emerge from the deeper darkness of the night-shrouded garden and follow.
Each evening Angelus and Eliza walked down by the river that ran though the grounds of the abandoned chateau to make love among the tangled blooms of the rose garden gone wild. Why he had stolen this changeling child from her father, Angelus did not know, only that he needed to look into those eyes, as blue as the sky he thought he had long forgotten, and see trust rather than suspicion, love instead of fear.
'For the rose is the lightning of beauty that strikes through the bowers on pale lovers who sit in the glow unaware!'
Angelus turned sharply, pulling Eliza close as Robin stepped out of the shadows of the old oak against which he had been leaning, watching quietly as the lovers strolled in the moonlight.
'What a charming scene,' he grinned mirthlessly, 'to be seen by the Seine.' He reached to touch Eliza's smooth cheek but she shrank back, chilled by the bleakness she saw in his winter-grey eyes. He dropped his hand, and his smile.
'I told you we'd meet again, my lovely.' Robin turned his sharp gaze to Angelus. 'Come along, brother,' he said. 'You've had your bit of fun; it's time to go home.'
'This is my home now,' Angelus replied. 'If you and the others are ready to move on, go without me. I'm staying here.' He gave Eliza a little push towards the path back to the chateau. 'Go on, Eliza. Wait for me back at the house.'
The girl, shivering now, hesitated a moment then began to run. But Robin was too quick. He seized her by the arm and swung her, whimpering, into his pitiless embrace. Angelus lunged forward but stopped as Robin cruelly tightened his grip on Eliza. She began to cry.
'Don't be a fool, Angelus! There's no future in this. What do you think will happen when she finds out what you really are?' Robin had one bloodless hand over Eliza's mouth. Her eyes grew wide with fear as he tilted her chin, stretching the tendons in her neck until they were taut as bowstrings. 'Either kill her or turn her, but do it now!'
Angelus approached them slowly, running his hand along the tight flesh of the girl's exposed throat. Robin released his hold on her, smiled and stepped away.
'I knew you'd come to your senses, old chap.'
Eliza moaned as Angelus laid his lips against the soft whiteness of her neck. Brushing his cheek against hers, he whispered, 'Don't be afraid, my love,' and pushed her sharply away.
Robin was taken by surprise as Angelus swung around and landed a blow squarely on his jaw. He lurched backwards, more surprised than injured, then lunged at the older vampire. As they fought, Robin continued to taunt Angelus, laughing as they struggled.
'Come on, old man!' he sneered, ducking punches. 'She's not worth it! Kill her and be done!' Angelus had not fed since he left Paris and Robin could tell he was tiring quickly. Pressing the advantage, the younger man shoved his opponent hard up against the rough trunk of the oak, slamming his head hard into the wood. Anger broke over Angelus like a wave and, reverting to his 'true' face, he leapt again at the other vampire.
Eliza, unnoticed now, sank to the ground beside the river and sobbed.
Suddenly, Robin broke from the scuffle. Holding up his hands in mock defeat, he shook his blond head.
'I fold, old chap,' he declared, backing away. 'If you want her that much then take her, and good luck to you!'
Not taking his eyes off the smirking Robin, Angelus bent down to help Eliza to her feet but she shrank from his touch. Still seated on the damp ground, she brushed the back of a small hand across her tear-stained face.
'I thought you were my prince,' she said miserably, 'but you're still the beast inside!'
'No, Eliza,' Angelus began, not knowing how to comfort her when he was the source of her pain. As he reached out a hand to touch the golden silk of her bowed head, he did not hear Robin approach from behind.
Angelus groaned as consciousness returned, the back of his head bloodied but already healing as he lurched to his feet. The oak branch Robin had struck him with lay broken in two a few feet away.
By the river bank Eliza and Robin stood locked in each other's embrace.
Only they were not embracing. Even from several metres away Angelus could see the thick line of blood that trailed from the place where Robin's lips met Eliza's ivory throat. As Angelus staggered towards them he saw the dual trickles of blood from her wounds, at first pulsing in time to her rapidly beating heart, slow and stop.
Robin relaxed his grip on the girl, letting her body slip gently to the ground then knelt down beside her. Taking the rose from his lapel he raised the bud towards his mouth, drawing the long sharp thorns across his tongue. Lifting Eliza's head, he kissed her deeply, letting his blood fill her unresponsive mouth.
Angelus caught Robin by the coat collar and roughly hauled him away from Eliza.
But already the transformation had begun. Angelus leaned over her, watching as her skin paled from ivory to marble, her eyes flickering beneath the lids like a restless dreamer. As she opened her eyes, no longer the colour of the sky but sapphire hard, he raised his hand and brought it down hard against her skull, the rock he held smashing through her forehead. She fell back on the grass, a red stain slicking her long golden hair, a lifeless doll broken by some careless, wilful child. The transformation was incomplete; she would not rise.
Angelus brushed away a strand of bloodied gold and gently closed his lover's eyes.
Robin sauntered over, picking up her inert hand and letting it drop onto the grass.
'Now look what you've done. You've spoiled the game!'
Angelus rounded on him angrily.
'This is no game! This was a life! An innocent life!'
Robin snorted derisively.
'How did you expect his to end, old fellow? What did you think you were going to do with her?' Robin asked.
'You didn't want to make her one of us.'
Angelus shook his head. He never wanted that.
'What then?' Robin insisted. 'Keep her with you? And when you tired of her, what then?'
'I don't know, Robin. I don't know.'
Angelus realised he had not thought that far ahead, living each of the few short days they had spent together as though there was no future, no past, only the present - like the 'people' in one of Eliza's stories. Had he really hoped to take the sun and sky with him into the night? Or had he only hoped to find some easing of his own pain by taking the girl away. But Robin wasn't finished. Leaning down beside Angelus, he tore some petals from the dark red rose he wore and scattered them over Eliza's serene face.
'If you'd really cared about her you wouldn't have gone back after that first night. You knew what would happen. You can't pluck a rose then expect to be able to put it back on the vine, old thing. Oh, it may bloom for a day or two, but then it must wither and die.'
Painful as it was, Angelus knew he was no better than the soulless demon he had been for so long, taking whatever or whomever he wanted without regard for the object of his selfish desires. Angelus bent to kiss her one last time, tasting blood and roses. It was true. All beauty must die.
Robin rose and dusted the grass and soil from his trousers.
'Come on now old chap, this is all for the best don't you see? What kind of a life would she have had shut up in that garden like a prisoner? This is kindness after all, don't you think? She got to live out her fairy tale. Her dreams came true after all.'
- Finis -
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