Title: The Deep End.
Series: Postcards From the Edge of the Hellmouth Part Four.
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Postcards From the Edge of the Hellmouth Part Four: The Deep End by Ligeia.
'Rupert, I'm so sorry. I feel really awful about it.'
Giles came down the stairs from his small office behind the book stacks as
his assistant prepared to lock up the library at the end of the school day.
Lifting her jacket off the coat rack, she turned to wait for him to join
'Don't worry, Julia, it couldn't have been helped. It was all over in a
matter of minutes anyway.' Giles picked up his brown leather satchel from
the library's front counter and they headed out of the school building into
the early afternoon sunshine. 'I must admit, young Buffy has certainly
lived up to Merrick's estimation of her.' Giles paused, blinking in the
strong light as he looked across the expanse of the school grounds for any
sign of Buffy and the others. As they strolled along the covered walkway
beside the main building he turned his attention back to Julia. 'You were
very lucky not to have been hurt.' He looked concerned and Julia reassured
him with a smile. 'How's your car by the way?'
'I dropped it off at the garage this morning,' Julia said. 'A little panel
beating and a new headlight, it'll be fine.'
On her way to join Buffy and the others at the Bronze last night, Julia had
encountered three vampires fleeing the scene following the abortive attempt
by the Master to free himself from the Hellmouth during the Harvest. She
told Giles this morning about the skirmish that ensued, with Angel
appearing in the nick of time to help fight off the attackers. She did not
tell him about the knife-wound she had suffered or that she had returned
with Angel to his apartment behind the Bronze to attend to the injury.
For some reason, she was not sure why, Julia decided not mention the fact
that Angel had called out to the blonde female vampire by name. 'Darla', he
had said, the name articulated with a disquieting familiarity.
'Even though you missed the main event,' Giles continued, 'Buffy wouldn't
have made it there in time without the reference you provided. It gave me
the means to calculate the precise moment of the Harvest.'
'Oh, which one was it?' she asked.
'The Orsini Grimoire. Absolutely fine piece of detective work on your part,
'Orsini Grimoire?' Julia sounded puzzled. 'I didn't get to that volume
before I left last night. I didn't read any of the 16th century Italian
volumes. I certainly never wrote any reference to it.'
'Well, it was in your notes.'
'I didn't write it.'
Julia seemed insistent but Giles was unconcerned; both of them had been
bone-weary from long hours scouring books and scrolls for the exact day and
hour of the Harvest. After two full days spent poring with unremitting
concentration over a hundred different volumes in more than a dozen ancient
and modern languages, it was not surprising that one specific reference did
not immediately spring to Julia's mind.
Stepping out of the door to the science wing, Willow gave a cheery 'Hi!',
hoisted up an armload of text books and joined them in the walk towards the
school gates. Julia flashed the little redhead a welcoming smile; she had
already developed a soft spot for the girl. Willow reminded Julia in some
ways of herself at that age - bright, inquisitive but vulnerable and
Willow and the other kids hardly seemed disturbed at all by the events of
the previous night. In fact, they treated it as some kind of great
adventure. As for Julia, she was still deeply troubled by Willow and
Xander's involvement with Buffy, or more accurately, with the vampires of
Sunnydale. Neither student was really capable of defending themselves in
actual combat but it was far too late to remedy the situation now; their
future involvement seemed unavoidable. Giles had agreed to allow them to
contribute in a controlled manner, preferably from the sidelines if
Perhaps it's best that they're aware of the situation after all, thought
Julia. At least that way they can exercise some caution.
Julia caught sight of Buffy walking along a path to their left, crossing
the newly mown grass to meet them while Xander approached from the opposite
direction. Cordelia sat by the railing talking to one of her sycophantic
girlfriends who was hanging on her every word. Buffy halted nearby, taking
a red lollipop out of her mouth as she stood listening to the exchange. Not
that Cordelia had much to say; as with most of the teenage patrons of the
Bronze, her memory of the night's events seemed mercifully unclear.
Xander and Buffy reached the walkway at the same time. They bounded up the
steps together, Xander giving the Slayer a sardonic grin; he had overheard
Cordelia's comments too.
'What exactly were you expecting?' Buffy asked, popping the cherry
flavoured sweet back in her mouth.
'I don't know,' the boy responded. 'Something! I mean, the dead rose. We
should at least have had an assembly!'
Buffy and Xander fell into step with the other three.
'People have a tendency to rationalise what they can,' Giles offered, 'and
forget what they can't.'
'Believe me, I've seen it happen.' Buffy was secretly pleased that Xander
and Willow had discovered her identity as the Vampire Slayer. She had been
worried at first that they might get hurt, or at the very least, get in the
way, but they had both proved themselves to be worthy comrades as far as
she was concerned. And it was a relief having someone her own age to
confide in. Maybe she wouldn't feel like such a freak at this new school
'The Hellmouth has a secondary effect of lowering people's levels of
disbelief so that extraordinary things may seem, if not normal, then at
least tolerable,' Julia explained. 'It makes ordinary people open to ideas
or situations that would normally be impossible to accept. As Giles said,
time tends to blur things around the edges.' Unfortunately, Julia knew,
this abnormal tolerance of the supernatural could also result in an upsurge
of paranormal and occult activity among an otherwise conventional
'Well, I'll never forget it!' Willow exclaimed.
'Good,' Giles said. 'Next time you'll be prepared.'
'Next time?' howled Willow and Xander together.
' "Next time" is why?'
Julia smiled at Willow's suddenly-less-certain tone and looked to Giles to
'Well,' he began, rubbing his still-tired eyes, 'we prevented the Master
from freeing himself and opening the mouth of hell. That's not to say he's
going to stop trying.' Giles's voice suddenly brightened. 'I'd say the fun
is just beginning!'
Willow groaned. 'More vampires?'
Julia noticed Giles getting that familiar 'faraway' look in his eye. He was
warming to the subject!
'Not just vampires! The next threat we face may be something quite
'A Hellmouth not only provides a portal for beings from other dimensions,'
Julia added, 'but attracts all kinds of paranormal creatures from our own
world too. Like a streetlamp attracts night flying insects,' she paused for
dramatic effect, 'and the things that feed on them.' The rest of the group
looked at her gloomily, quietly considering the grim metaphor.
Buffy took the lollipop out once more. 'I can hardly wait!' she piped
cheerfully, breaking the tension.
'We are at the centre of a mystical convergence here. We may, in fact,
stand between the earth and its total destruction . . .' Giles was getting
dreamy again. He was completely in his element at last, finally doing what
a lifetime of Watcher training had prepared him for. And, by George, he was
going to enjoy every minute of it!
'Well, I gotta look on the bright side,' Buffy continued. 'Maybe I can
still get kicked out of school!'
'Oh, yeah, that's a plan,' Xander feigned disbelief, 'cause lots of schools
aren't on Hellmouths!'
Arriving at the path leading off to the staff car park, Giles and Julia
slowed, allowing the others to walk on, watching and listening as the young
people moved away.
Willow was suggesting, helpfully, 'Maybe you could blow something up!
They're really strict about that.'
'I was thinking of a more subtle approach,' Buffy mused. 'You know, like
excessive not studying.' Willow giggled and Xander rolled his eyes.
Giles adjusted his glasses and turned back towards Julia, remarking, not
entirely unhappily, 'The earth is doomed!'
* * * * *
Julia stood in front of the bathroom mirror at home and lifted her blouse
to check the wound she had suffered in the fight the night before. Peeling
back the surgical dressing she examined the small scab that was all that
remained from the deep gash she had received at the hand of a switchblade-
Julia thought back to the time, almost three years ago, when she first
realised the full extent of her body's powers of regeneration. She had
returned to England after several years in Canada on Watchers Council
business that had become, regrettably, very personal business.
Driving a friend's Austin Healey back to London after a weekend in the
country, Julia had been injured when a drunk driver struck the little car.
As she headed along a winding stretch of narrow road several miles north of
London, the other driver's four-wheel-drive Range Rover hurtled out of a
side-road, became airborne as it ran off the dirt surface of the laneway,
hit a ditch and ended up with its front wheels resting on the smaller car's
driver's side bonnet.
It was 3.00 a.m. Other than the two cars involved the road was deserted.
Julia staggered out of her car, the metal of the crumpled door screaming as
she forced it open, cradling a broken arm. The other driver was barely
conscious, moaning and bleeding from a gash on the head. Petrol ran in a
steady stream from under the larger vehicle and pooled under the rear tyre.
She reached up to pull open the door beside the injured driver. Resting the
door against her shoulder to keep it open, Julia reached up with her good
arm, encouraging the man to roll towards her so she could ease him out of
the wreckage. As he struggled forward his foot kicked a lit cigarette from
where it had dropped to the floor of the car and out onto the road below.
With a low 'whoosh' the petrol caught fire, the flames licking up against
Julia's stockinged leg, melting the nylon and causing a severe burn.
Once she had helped the injured man onto a safe spot on the grassy verge of
the road, Julia used her cell phone to call for help. By the time she
arrived at the emergency room of the local hospital she could feel that the
broken bone in her forearm was already mended. The burned area, which had
been blistered and weeping when the ambulance arrived, was now peeling off
thick scraps of dead skin under which a thin layer of new pink flesh
appeared. It looked like a bad sunburn and felt about as painful. Two days
later it was just a pale patch on her honey-coloured skin.
Since then, she had discovered that the speed of her recovery depended upon
the severity of the damage. Serious wounds to major organs repaired
themselves almost within seconds, broken bones, burns and gashes might take
minutes or hours, while bruises or minor cuts healed at an almost normal
rate. It was one of the advantages of her altered metabolism. This meant
that any injuries Julia suffered had to be hidden from doctors or friends
who might ask uncomfortable questions about her condition. Unfortunately,
the accelerated healing did not decrease the pain of the original injury.
Julia ran her fingertips across the rounded scab of the recent knife-wound
causing it to slough off, leaving the skin fully healed, smooth and white
* * * * *
The following night was Saturday and Julia had a date. Back in England she
had cut herself off from most social contacts. Her parents and brother all
lived overseas and her odd working hours alienated her from old friends and
family alike. She had allowed her affiliation with the Watchers Council to
dominate her life when she was first recruited, then withdrew further from
old associations when she left the Council under a cloud and decided to go
her own way. Now that she was settled here in Sunnydale for at least the
next two years, Julia intended to have as much of a normal life as she
could outside of work.
Paul was a student at Sunnydale College in the final months of a teaching
degree. He was tall, quiet and definitely good looking, with deep blue eyes
and unruly auburn hair. Most importantly, he had absolutely no interest in
Julia was finishing her second glass of wine, admiring Paul's easy walk and
quick smile as he made his way through the crowd to the bar at the Bronze
to order another round of drinks, when she was startled by a familiar
'Isn't there a law against that?'
She looked around to see Angel settling himself into the empty chair beside
her, turning the seat around so he could lean on the chair-back.
'What the hell are you talking about?' Julia was instantly annoyed. This
mysterious, intense young man stirred her emotions in unexpected ways.
Usually well in control of herself, Julia disliked the odd effect he had on
her; she felt strangely out of her depth whenever he was around. Angel's
cool arrogance constantly challenged her. After several encounters she
still knew almost nothing about him while he adopted a cheeky familiarity
that Julia found increasingly irritating.
'I didn't think you'd be allowed to date schoolboys,' Angel grinned
Julia was flustered. 'Don't be ridiculous! He's a college student!' She
could feel her cheeks starting to colour. 'Besides, I'm not a teacher; I'm
just a librarian.' Her face was burning now. Angel's grin broadened as her
discomfort grew. 'Not that it's any of your business!'
Angel glanced over to the bar where Paul was about to order their drinks.
'Not really your type, is he?'
Julia almost squirmed in her seat, biting back a furious response and
gritting her teeth in frustration.
'There's a lot to be said for younger men,' Julia replied stiffly. 'No
complications, no expectations.'
'Not much of a future in it, I wouldn't have thought.'
'So what? Who said anything about a future? Maybe I'm just out for a good
time.' Angel had inadvertently hit upon a sensitive topic. Julia twirled
the stem of her wineglass, desperately trying to think of a way to steer
the conversation to a more comfortable subject. Unsuccessfully.
'Ah!' Angel was enjoying the game and not about to let the matter slide.
'But I thought women these days wanted secure, long term relationships?' He
plucked the wineglass from her fingers, draining the last dregs of the
Julia, bemused, gave an explosive laugh. 'What century are you from?'
'Well now,' Angel replied, a thinner smile on his lips. '*That* is a topic
for another time.'
'What are you doing here anyway?' Julia asked.
'I live here,' he offered sarcastically. Julia glared.
'Okay, okay!' Angel smiled. 'I wanted to check that you were alright after
the other night.'
'I'm fine. Still a little sore, that's all,' Julia lied. 'I told you it
wasn't as bad as it looked.'
'Uh-huh.' Angel sounded unconvinced. He had seen the wound; it was deep and
had bled profusely.
'Seeing you've brought up the subject, I was curious about something that
happened that night.'
'What is it?' he asked.
'The little blonde vampire with the trio that attacked me - you called her
Darla,' Julia leaned forward as Angel finally dropped his dark gaze from
hers for the first time since he had sat down. 'Is she the reason you're
here in Sunnydale?'
Now it was Angel's turn to feel uncomfortable. Julia pressed the advantage;
she needed to know more about this young man who was on first-name terms
with at least one member of Sunnydale's vampire population - and had access
to the Slayer.
'She seemed to know you too.' As the vampire girl had started to run off,
she had looked back at Angel with a look of pure hatred . . . and real
'Oh, she knows me well enough.'
'Did she kill someone close to you?'
'In a way.'
Julia paused, the asked quietly, 'Do you want to talk about it?'
Oh, great! Julia thought to herself. He's going all 'laconic' on me again!
This approach obviously wasn't going anywhere and Paul was on his way back
to the table with fresh drinks.
'Look,' Julia sighed, 'as much as I enjoy these cryptic little
conversations of ours, I am on a date, so if you don't mind . . . '
'Fine.' Angel rose, swinging the chair around to face the table again. 'I
don't want to be a spare wheel.'
Julia laughed again, genuinely amused this time. 'That's "third" wheel! But
I appreciate the sentiment.' Paul was almost there. 'Now, please . . . go!'
Angel rose and headed for the stairs that led outside to his apartment.
Paul placed two glasses of wine on the table between himself and Julia.
Taking his seat again he asked, 'Who was that guy?'
'Just someone I know from work.' Julia continued to stare after Angel's
departing figure. If only I'd had more time, she thought. Maybe he would
have opened up and finally told me something about himself.
Suddenly, she made a decision. 'Paul, there's something I have to do.'
Julia stood up, still looking in the direction Angel had gone. 'I'll be
back in a couple of minutes.' Not waiting for her date's response, she
threaded her way through the crowded dance floor, up the stairs to the
mezzanine and out the second storey back door.
Angel was waiting in the darkness on the walkway outside. He tapped the
face of his watch, that infuriating grin firmly back in place.
'Four and a half minutes! You almost disappointed me!'
Julia's concern quickly dissolved into the increasingly familiar, now
almost obligatory, sense of exasperation. No one got to her like Angel and
she resented his ability to manipulate her emotions so readily.
'You're pretty bloody sure of yourself, aren't you?' she snapped.
'Actually,' he replied with a smile, 'it's you I'm sure of.'
'And just what is that supposed to mean?' Julia was used to being the one
in control, especially where men were concerned . . . being the mysterious
one. Now the tables were turned she didn't know how to behave and it made
'Your curiosity,' Angel continued, unfazed. 'It's gotten you into trouble
several times already, but you just can't let things go, can you?'
'Are you going to tell me why you're here in Sunnydale or not!'
'No.' Angel grabbed Julia's arm as she spun around, ready to storm off back
into the Bronze. Turning her around to face him again he said, 'I need to
talk to you about Buffy.'
* * * * *
They spoke quietly and intently for almost half an hour, Angel sincere for
once but still guarded, refusing to answer most of Julia's questions about
his past. He did, however, manage to convince her that he meant the Slayer
no harm. In fact, Angel seemed to have found a new purpose, a cause he
could dedicate himself to, by aligning himself with the forces for good
here at the Hellmouth. Just what this commitment meant to him and to what
extent it had already changed him, Julia could not possibly know, but his
fervour was apparent and unmistakably real.
Angel's original purpose had been solely to ensure that the Harvest was
averted. He admitted to providing the information Giles needed to calculate
the Time of the Harvest by slipping a note into the files Julia had been
working on that night. He had fully intended to move on after addressing
his 'personal issues' with the vampires he had come here to confront. But
now Angel found in himself the stirring of an enthusiasm he had not
experienced in years; the chance to put right a greater wrong, to do
something selfless, and he had vowed to see things through to completion
regardless of the outcome of his own agenda.
Whether his passion was truly for 'fighting the good fight' or was derived
from an entirely different set of stimuli, an infatuation with Buffy for
instance, was something that concerned Julia deeply but she could not deny
that his experience as a vampire fighter had already proved invaluable.
* * * * *
In the alley behind the Bronze, hidden in the deepest shadows below the
fire escape on which Angel and Julia stood absorbed in their conversation,
a slight figure stood wrapped in darkness both physical and spiritual.
As Darla listened to Angel's declaration of resolve, her anger grew. Her
childe was misguided, his impulsiveness and foolish recklessness not
diminished by the restoration of his human soul. Darla had coldly turned
from him when the taint of his humanity became more than she could bear but
had never ceased to regret the loss of her favourite. She would gladly take
him back again if only he would prove himself worthy. Would any mother do
less? But for now, he was deluded and must be punished. Angel . . . and
anyone he cared for. Only then could Darla be certain he was truly, and
* * * * *
When Julia finally got back to her table, Paul had already left. A message,
written on a coaster and propped up against her drink, said 'Sorry,
couldn't wait ay longer. I'll call you.' Somehow, she didn't think this was
likely. Picking up her coat and purse, Julia headed home. Alone.
* * * * *
It was mid-way through the school week and Julia had finally had been able
to spend some time with Buffy, training together each day after classes
were over. Working out with Buffy was a joy. Julia's own physical abilities
were well outside normal parameters but with Buffy there was no need to
hold back. She was no match for Buffy but Julia found it surprisingly
satisfying to test herself against a tough opponent and really have to push
At first Julia worried that Buffy might find her exceptional speed and
strength suspicious but the younger girl seemed to accept it readily. I
don't think she fully understands the extent of her own extraordinary
gifts, Julia thought.
Buffy had power and stamina but her technique was a little laid-back. After
a half-hour session of weapons training Julia was perspiring heavily and
breathing in ragged, painful gasps. The little Slayer hardly broke a sweat
and continued to chat as though she was taking a casual stroll in the park
instead of wielding an eight-pound battle-axe. Damnit! Julia thought,
momentarily distracted and almost failing to duck a high swing, does the
girl never shut up! Too exhausted now even to call out instructions, Julia
had spent the past few minutes just staying out of the teenager's way.
Holding up a hand in protest, Julia finally called the session to a halt.
'Well done, Buffy. You're really getting a feel for that axe. You can try
the double-bit throwing axe tomorrow. There's room to practice out in the
woods behind my place.' Julia took a long drink from her water bottle then
splashed a little on her face, towelling off the water and sweat before
collapsing on the bench seat by the weapons cabinet. 'If you continue to
progress at this rate we might start on some other projectile weapons soon.
Throwing knives perhaps, or shuriken.'
'What about the crossbow!' Buffy exclaimed excitedly.
'Perhaps.' Julia was non-committal. 'In time .' She removed the chest
protector, which was the only safety gear she wore when sparring with
Buffy. Full protection was too bulky; she needed all her manoeuvrability
simply to keep up.
'Cool!' Buffy walked over to the arsenal and took down an antique crossbow
about ten inches long. It had an ornate silver bow and firing mechanism
with a polished wood pistol grip designed to be used single-handed. Both
the bow and grip were highly decorated with hunting scenes from long ago.
'How about this one?'
'Well, I was thinking something a little more heavy-duty for you, my girl.
That's a single-shot and, while it's cute, it's a bugger to reload in a
'Giles said he doesn't think I'm ready for the crossbow yet.'
'Well, he *is* your Watcher so it's his decision.'
'But you think I'm ready, right?'
'I didn't say that, Buffy. I said if your progress warrants it. Anyway,
it's not my call; I can only recommend.'
'Well, *will* you?' Buffy persisted. Julia didn't answer immediately. 'Go
ahead,' the teenager prompted, 'be brutal.'
'It's obvious you have considerable natural talent in hand-to-hand combat
but frankly, you need more discipline.' Buffy looked disappointed, but
Julia continued. 'You have to understand, Buffy, most girls raised to be
Slayers have had several years training by your age; you've had less than a
year. A crossbow isn't like a stake or even an axe, where you're up close
and personal; it's death at a distance and no second chances. You can't
afford to make mistakes.'
'Merrick would have let me.'
Realising what she had said, Buffy mentally bit her tongue. 'Sorry,' she
said quietly. 'You knew him too, didn't you?'
After a pause, Julia answered. 'Merrick brought me into the Council of
Watchers. He was my mentor, and Rupert's too, for many years.'
'It wasn't my fault he died you know,' Buffy added defensively.
'I never suggested it was.'
'It's what you think though, isn't it? I can tell.' Deep down, Buffy
believed it was so, and would always blame herself for the death of her
'What I think,' Julia said, getting up from the bench, 'is that we'd better
get all this equipment stowed away so you can get home before your Mum
starts to worry.'
Placing the crossbow back on the wall rack, Buffy noticed a small shield-
shaped crest on the butt of the grip. It showed a pair of winged helms and
an orouboros - a dragon swallowing its own tail. 'What's this mean?' she
'That's the family crest of the original owner, Erzibet Bathory. The piece
is early 17th century; Belgian I think. I picked it up from a specialist
collector last time I was in London.'
'Bathory, huh? Why does that sound familiar?'
'Erzibet, or Elizabeth, Bathory is supposed to have used the blood of
virgins to keep herself young and beautiful.'
'She was a vampire?'
'No, not in the sense you mean; not a real one. Just some deluded madwoman,
a human mass-murderer. She killed for vanity not for survival.'
Buffy turned around to look at Julia. 'Does that make a difference?'
'I guess not,' Julia said. 'Somehow, it just seems more, well . . .
indefensible, for a human to do such horrible things. Vampires are demons;
they feed on another species to live, not for reasons as trivial as
Buffy was shocked. 'Surely you don't think what vampires do is . . .
'No, of course not. It's still murder. Vampires that kill have to be
'Now I'm confused! Don't *all* vampires kill humans?'
This was shaky ground for Julia; she had known many vampires who no longer
killed to feed but none who had *never* done so. It was a philosophical
discussion she had no intention of getting into with Buffy; it could only
cloud the Slayer's purpose to question the morality of her calling. And
that could prove fatal. Julia settled for the undeniable truth and left her
own doubts out of it.
'Yes, Buffy. Every vampire I know of has killed humans.'
* * * * *
Julia went down to the pool to take a swim before going home. Sunnydale
High was a small institution with mediocre basketball, football and track
teams but the swim team had traditionally been leading lights of the
school's athletic programme and therefore a focal point for sports funding.
The school had a huge indoor stadium with an Olympic sized pool, fully
Julia had arranged with the maintenance staff to leave the main doors to
the stadium open until they were ready to leave for the evening. She
usually had at least an hour after training before the building was finally
closed up for the night.
Coming out of the teachers' locker rooms Julia noticed that one of the
small windows up near the ceiling was open. Thinking the janitor must have
left it open, she made a mental note to close it after finishing her swim.
She placed her towel, along with the Serpent's Tooth dagger, by one of the
starting blocks at the far end of the pool. Since arriving in Sunnydale she
carried the silver blade with her everywhere.
Julia slipped into the water, grateful for the soothing warmth against her
tired muscles. She swam a few lazy lengths of the pool, then did a couple
underwater, wondering how long she could remain under if she had to.
Several minutes at least, she thought; she was tempted to put herself to
the test but afraid that someone might see her and think she was in
Last time she experimented with this particular ability, she had been lying
at the bottom of a bath in a hotel room in London. In the enveloping heat
she had nodded off, only to wake up spluttering after being disturbed by a
noise in the next room. She had taken a deep breath to call out 'Who's
there!' and succeeded in scaring the living daylights out of the housemaid
who had come in to change the towels.
Julia was swimming a final lap underwater when the lights went off.
Suddenly she found herself floating in almost total darkness, momentarily
disorientated until her eyesight adjusted to the faint moonlight shining in
through the row of tiny windows near the ceiling.
'I'm still here!' she called out, thinking the janitor had not realised she
was in the pool and turned off the lights but there was no answer. Julia
began heaving herself out of the water when she heard the slight click of
the latch as the doors were closed. Then someone was moving around the
'Who's in here?' Her voice was steady, her nerves less so. Lowering herself
back into the pool Julia started swimming, as quietly as possible, towards
her towel . . . and the knife.
Whoever was in the in room seemed unhampered by the almost pitch darkness;
confident footsteps pattered from the doorway to the end of the swimming
Treading water in the middle of the pool, Julia could just distinguish a
darker figure against the shadowy backdrop of brick walls. Someone was
leaning down near where she had left her things.
A sudden cry was followed by the clatter of metal on the tiles surrounding
the pool. The figure stepped back quickly, now standing in the faint
radiance of the open window. It was the blonde vampire - Darla! She cradled
her right hand, which was still smoking from its contact with the pure
metal of the Serpent's Tooth.
Julia was less apprehensive now; a single vampire she could handle. She
swam towards the undead intruder but stopped short of the end of the pool.
The vampire wore the stolen school uniform of a teenager who had been found
dead in the park a few days after Julia had arrived in Sunnydale.
'What do you want, Darla?'
'So, you remember me! I'm flattered!' Darla stepped to the edge of the pool
and hunkered down. She flashed Julia a tight smile, revealing a predator's
grin in the gloom, her partially transformed features a clear indication
that she meant business. 'I'm not here to fight you. Not tonight anyway,'
Julia turned herself in the water, keeping her eyes on the vampire as she
rose and moved around to the other side, leaving room for Julia to exit the
pool if she wished. Julia made no attempt to do so.
'So why *are* you here then?'
'Why don't you come out of there and we can talk . . .' Darla's eyes
glinted in the shadows, reflecting the tiny ripples in the water's surface,
'. . . woman to woman.' She took a few steps back from the edge of the
pool, giving Julia plenty of space.
Deciding it was best not to show any weakness in front of the deadly little
blonde, Julia grasped the handrails and quickly hauled herself up onto the
'So . . . talk.'
Darla began to pace back and forth in the darkness a few yards from Julia
but made no attempt to come any closer.
'I understand you had a very interesting little chat with my boy Angel
Julia was confused and disturbed by this. Was Angel in contact with Darla?
Had he told her about their conversation? If so, just what was he playing
'I guess that's no secret. Why does it concern you?' Perhaps Darla was
bluffing; Julia would give nothing away.
Darla sprang forward with such unexpected rapidity that Julia instinctively
took a step backward.
'Keep away from Angel!' Darla's face had fully transformed. There was less
than an arm's length between them now. 'I'm only going to warn you once!'
'Why are you bothering to warn me at all?' Julia stood her ground now.
'Let's just put it down to professional courtesy . . .' Darla had relaxed
her features back to normal, '. . . vampire to vampire-hunter.' She smiled
again, tiny fangs still visible. 'It's more sporting that way.'
Julia didn't believe this for a moment; there was something else going on
here. Let's see if I can stir the waters a little, she thought, see what
'What did you do to Angel to make him hate you?'
Darla's smile broadened. 'You could say I made him the man he is today.'
'Is Angel here to hunt you?'
Darla's smile slowly faded. 'Maybe I'm here to hunt him.'
'You intend to kill him?'
'No,' Darla gave a husky little laugh, 'it's far too late for that.'
'What then?' Julia was growing tired of these unfathomable dialogues she
seemed to be having with everyone lately.
'He has something I want . . . ' Darla was advancing slowly, '. . .
something I gave him a long time ago. And now I want it back.'
'What's that got to do with me?'
'You're interfering . . .' She stood almost face-to-face with Julia now.
'He tells you things. . . things about us. He likes you . . . He listens to
you.' Darla was almost hissing now, her narrowed eyes glowing cat-yellow.
'I doubt that.' Julia also backed up and was standing with her heels on the
edge of the pool. 'What difference does it make to you anyway?'
Darla ignored the question. 'You and that little Slayer!' Her lips parted,
white fangs showing now. 'But I have something special I mind for her. And
her meddling Watcher!'
Julia's own anger was growing. It was one thing for this undead bitch to
menace her, and danger was par for the course for the Slayer, but the
threat to Giles made Julia's blood boil. One Watcher had already been lost
to this assignment; she'd be damned if Giles was going to be the second!
Moving so quickly that Darla did not have the chance to protest, let alone
resist, Julia reached out and grabbed the collar of her shirt, falling back
into the water and pulling the surprised vampire in with her.
Underwater, Darla transformed fully, using her unnatural strength to push
herself away. Julia swam the few yards to the end of the pool where her
dagger fell after Darla had dropped it. Reaching up to grasp the hilt,
Julia was relieved to find that the tip was undamaged. She slipped back
into the water just as Darla, hampered by her uniform, struggled to haul
herself out of the pool.
Grasping Darla by the back of her pleated skirt, Julia positioned her feet
against the wall of the pool and threw herself backwards, dragging Darla
back in. With her hand still holding onto the skirt's waistband, Julia
rolled herself on top of the now-furious vampire, pressing her, face down,
to the bottom of the pool. Flattening her hand against the small of Darla's
back, Julia sank the dagger in up to the hilt.
Darla kicked and thrashed, a stream of bubbles, silvery in the darkness,
escaping as she screamed with anger beneath the water. Julia had missed her
heart but a steam of blood poured out of the wound as she drew out the
blade, black and viscous as squid-ink in the darkness.
Gaining purchase with feet and hands against the bottom of the pool, Darla
righted herself and began to tread water, the predatory smile back in
place, eerie in the rippling murkiness of the water. Suddenly she dove
forward, ramming Julia hard against the edge of the pool. Before she could
recover, Darla's hands were around her throat; Julia's own hands
instinctively reaching up to tear Darla's away.
Seizing the T-shaped guard below the hilt of the dagger Darla tore it out
of Julia's hand, ignoring the searing pain in her own, intent only on doing
damage to her opponent. She slashed at Julia, who tried to kick herself
away, the thrust catching her in the top of the thigh, slicing deep into
the muscle. Their blood mixed in the water.
Julia managed to reach up and take hold of the metal rail on one side of
the pool, hauling herself up and out of the indigo water as Darla swam
away, emerging from the opposite side.
Bright light flooded into one side of the room as the main doors were
unexpectedly thrown open, shocking both women into immobility after the
intensity of their struggle in the dark silence of the water.
'Julia? Are you in here? Did you still want that lift home?'
It was Giles! She had asked him to drive her home after school until her
car was repaired.
'Giles! Don't come in!'
Julia glanced across the pool at Darla who began circling around the edge
of the pool again, towards her and the main doorway. Darla no longer held
the Serpent's Tooth dagger, having let it drop to the floor of the pool
before climbing out.
'Why on earth do you have the lights off?' Giles reached around the flick
on the light switch by the doors.
'Giles, just stay where you are!'
This time her caught the urgency in her voice and did as Julia said.
Darla had not advanced further but stood by the starting blocks at the far
end of the pool. Her features had returned to 'normal' and she was smiling
'You know, I was thinking . . . perhaps I'm going about this the wrong way
after all. Maybe if Angel gets what he wants, I'll get what I want!'
She turned and ran for the tiny open window at the end of the room, easily
leaping twelve or so feet straight up, wriggled through the two-feet square
opening and disappeared into the night.
As Giles entered the room, Julia quickly wrapped her towel around her
waist, covering the already-healing cut on her upper leg.
'What the hell is going on in here?' Giles's voice was full of concern. 'I
heard voices. Who else is with you?' He spotted the blood clouding the
water and turned to her with alarm. 'Are you all right?'
Now that the danger was past, Julia felt shaken and exhausted. She began to
tremble with the cold and shock. Giles slipped off his jacket and placed it
around her shoulders.
'It was Darla, the female vampire I told you about; the one Buffy fought at
the cemetery and who attacked me on the Night of the Harvest.'
'You *have* been injured!' Giles noticed a thin trail of blood trickling
down Julia's leg, forming a watery pink puddle at her feet. He looked from
her to the traces of blood not yet dispersed in the pool.
'I'm OK, Rupert. Really. It looks far worse than it is; the blood's not all
Giles looked unconvinced. 'What did she want with you?'
'Damned if I know,' Julia answered truthfully. 'Look, why don't you see if
you can find the janitor and get him to close that window then we'll all
head out to the car park together, just in case Darla's still hanging
around. I'll get changed and meet you in the hallway.'
Once Giles had left, Julia slipped into the pool one more time to retrieve
her dagger, wondering again just what Darla was up to and what she intended
to do next. She would warn Giles about the vampire's threats to all of
them, not that they could be any more on the alert than they were already.
As she quickly showered and dressed, Julia's mind filled with doubts. What
about her conversation with Angel? Julia hadn't told Giles or Buffy
anything about it. Should she do so now? Was Angel really involved somehow
with Darla . . . other than wanting to kill her that is? How else did the
vampire know about their exchange? Something had occurred between the two
of them; they obviously had a history, but what? Most importantly, how
might it affect Buffy?
Way too many questions, Julia thought, disquieted by some of the
possibilities that sprang to mind. I'm going to have to go back to the
source; demand that Angel tell me what's really going on here.
Picking up her sports bag from the locker-room bench, Julia couldn't help
but wonder again why she felt the need to conceal her contacts with Angel.
I haven't actually learned anything useful yet, have I? she told herself.
So there's really nothing to tell, is there? All he said was that he's on
our side . . . which may or may not be true. So, no news there.
Even so, Julia could not shake the feeling that, by keeping her contact
with Angel a secret from Giles, she was already getting in too deep.
* * * Fin * * *