Diary entry, Sunnydale, undated:
The old man's predictions have been on my mind lately. I took out my last diary – the one I closed off when I left London those few short months ago. Feels like a lot longer. Looking back over my notes, it's eerie how accurate he was.
Or maybe not. Maybe this was all meant to be – karma, fate, whatever. Maybe I just want it to be . . . I don't know, destiny or something. That would ease my guilt a little I suppose. Still, it is weird . . .
My London diary talks about an abyss. Power flows from it, the old man said, and the evil one imprisoned inside fails in his cause. There's a 'darkening of the light' when a man with a troubled soul resolves to fight on the side of good. 'Darkness has caused him to lower his wings; having once climbed to heaven he is now descended to the earth.' Could this be a reference to Angel?
Then a passage that must refer to the Master again. 'The leader of an ancient clan bites through flesh.' And there's a warrior who 'encounters many demons.'
Buffy is unmistakable as the Maiden who has 'remained undisciplined beyond the proper time. The chosen one, whose weapons have been concealed'. Who, 'in the company of allies, will walk alone,' and who 'wields weapons of fire and wood but draws no blood.'
There could hardly be a better description of a vampire slayer.
But who is the one 'thought weak' who 'will come to wield great power'?
I guess time will tell.
- Julia Devereaux
Almost midnight. The blinds were drawn up and the full moon shone into the apartment, the only light. Music from the bands performing at the Bronze's 'Post-Fumigation Grand Re-Opening Party' had been audible for several hours and would be playing for at least an hour or two more. Nursing yet another whisky from the previous tenant's ample supply, Angel stretched out on the Corbusier, trying to think of nothing in particular.
The vampire became aware of a presence in the hallway, someone standing outside, hesitating, moments before he heard the knock on the door.
'Buffy?' Angel leapt up and swung the door wide open.
But it wasn't the Slayer.
'Sorry,' Julia said, shrugging. 'Just me.' Angel smiled self-consciously, looking a little disappointed and she was disturbed to find it hurt a little. 'Well?' she prompted. 'Can I come in?'
'Sure.' Angel stood aside to let her through into the living area. She noticed his right hand was bandaged, somewhat clumsily.
'So,' Julia began, giving him a sardonic look. 'Vampire, huh?'
'Yeah.' Angel was obviously uncomfortable but the dark English beauty tuned on a dazzling smile.
'Bummer!' she remarked cheekily, pleased to see him relax a little, hanging his head to hide the beginnings of a smile.
'Well, it can be a little inconvenient,' Angel admitted.
'I'll bet.' Julia looked
around the room. He had moved some things around since last time. Added
some new prints. Nice.
'I guess you'd know all about that.'
'What?' Julia swung around, looking shocked.
'Isn't that what you do? Research vampires?' Angel continued. 'History, biology . . . habits.'
'Oh . . . yes. Of course.' Julia turned away, closely studying various bits and pieces by the open window.
'But, I guess you're not here for that, right?'
'No. Not really,' she replied. 'You have something of mine, I think.'
Angel looked puzzled until Julia pulled the front of her coat aside to reveal the empty scabbard on her thigh. He nodded then walked over to a antique tansu chest and opened the lowest drawer, removing a silk-wrapped object. He handed it over to Julia who immediately peeled back the red silk square and held the dagger up to the moonlight, turning it over and testing the tip with the pad of her thumb.
'No damage, ' she remarked, breathing a visible sign of relief. 'I went back to look for it after . . . afterwards. But it was gone. I was afraid someone else might have picked it up.' She slipped the weapon back into the leather covering.
Angel marvelled at how much more relaxed Julia seemed than during their previous meetings, even though she knew for sure what he was now. She did not seem at all uncomfortable with the idea. Probably nothing new to her, he supposed. Once again, he realised how much she reminded him of Ariel. Confident, graceful, and a little irreverent. As she turned away from the window, he noticed how the moonbeams gave her smooth black hair a silver sheen. He wondered what it might look like in sunlight.
'Beautiful,' he mumbled.
'The dagger. It's a Slayer's weapon, isn't it? I'm surprised the Council of Watchers let it out of the Archive.'
Julia nodded towards Angel's bandaged hand. 'How's it feel?'
'It's OK.' He looked down at the badly wrapped injury and flexed his palm, wincing a little.
'Let me see.' Julia moved closer to take his hand in hers and began removing the bindings. Exposed, the entire skin of his palm was blistered black from its contact with the silver-handled dagger. Bloody fluid oozed from deep cracks in the scorched skin. Julia took a slightly shaky breath at the sight of it then looked up into his dark brown eyes. 'How does it really feel?'
'Painful. It burns still . . . and throbs,' he admitted. 'I haven't slept.'
'I brought something that may help.' Julia searched the pockets of her coat, producing a small crystal perfume bottle filled with a peach coloured fluid. Removing her coat she threw it over the lounger then took Angel's hand in hers again.
Turning it palm up she poured a little of the creamy liquid onto the burn. Angel gasped as the drops hit the damaged flesh. It felt like ice falling on hot coals, almost sizzling. Julia quickly pulled her own hand away.
'Maybe you should do this yourself,' she suggested, already a little uncomfortable with the feel of the vampire's cool skin against hers.
'Keep going,' he said, smiling and holding his hand out ot her. 'You're doing fine.'
As she applied the thin ointment the open wound began to close over, the skin on the outer edges of the burn starting to turn pink almost immediately.
'Well, will you look at that!' Julia exclaimed. 'It actually works!'
'You sound surprised,' Angel remarked. 'Haven't you used it before?'
'Not really. Not much call for Watchers Council personnel to be practicing the healing arts on vampires. It's meant to neutralise the minute traces of silver that remain in the wound but I had no idea it would work this fast.'
The worst of the damaged area began to soften and peel off like severe sunburn, thick and pliable, with new skin already forming underneath.
'Where did you get it then?'
'It's an ancient Chinese recipe called 'Dragon Tears'. I found it in a scroll of herbal remedies recorded by the court apothecary of a Qin Dynasty prince from a remote province who the Council believed was a vampire. The prince that is, not the apothecary. The document was the first thing I translated when I joined the Council's research department.'
'A Chinese vampire prince? You're kidding?'
Julia poured a little more of the ointment onto the wound and worked it in with both thumbs, massaging the ointment deep into the tissue.
'Nope. Mainstream scholars think the appellation 'The Bloodthirsty' referred to his propensity for torturing his enemies, like Vlad the Impaler . . . ' she trailed off when she noticed Angel grinning broadly. 'Have I said something amusing?'
'It's just that I haven't heard anyone use the words 'appellation' or 'propensity' in conversation before.'
'You're not really in a position to be mocking me, you know.' Julia smiled and handed Angel the crystal bottle. 'You're obviously well enough to finish that yourself.'
Leaving Angel to continue applying the salve himself, Julia strolled around the apartment, admiring the antiques.
'You have some very interesting pieces.' A stone statuette caught her eye. 'This is especially lovely. Tang Dynasty, isn't it?'
Angel shrugged. 'I don't know. It's not mine. It came with the apartment.'
Julia was surprised, and a little disappointed. She was used to 'her' vampires being sophisticated. Nick and Lucian, the Venetian vampire Lorenzo, the Ventrue Clan and others she had spent time with, all had excellent taste and a deep appreciation of art and history. But Angel was young at just over 200, almost still an adolescent in vampire terms. She turned to face him again.
'How long since you've fed?'
Angel, caught off guard by the sudden and uncomfortable change in topic, was unsure how to answer.
'More than two weeks, at least, I'd say.' Julia had noticed how sunken and bruised-looking was the skin under Angel's eyes. His hand had felt dry and papery.
Finally, he nodded. 'Almost three.'
'There's a bar in town. Willy's. They can organise it . . . or so I hear. Contacts at the blood bank or some such.'
'Yeah. I know.'
'Then why haven't you been feeding?' Julia's voice took on a serious edge.
'That question's a little personal, don't you think?'
'No. I don't. Not feeding makes the hunger strong, less controllable. Makes you more of a danger. And if you're going to remain in Sunnydale, it's better by far that you have control over your appetites.'
'I'm not sure yet that I will stay.'
Julia sat down on the lounger, reaching across the sideboard under the window to pick up the ivory netsuke depicting a pair of Japanese lovers.
'Angel, you would have been gone by now if you didn't intend to stay.'
'I wanted to kill Buffy that night.'
'Really? I got the impression she was the only one you didn't want to die in that fight.'
Angel did not answer. This was uncomfortably close to the truth. He re-stoppered the ointment bottle and handed it back to Julia who slipped it back into the pocket of the coat draped beside her.
'It can't have been easy for you, killing your own Sire. Or was that a last-minute decision?'
'You still don't really trust me, do you?'
Julia merely raised an eyebrow in reply.
'Isn't it enough that I made the choice?' Angel was angry now. And hurting. Julia could see that but would not allow her sympathies to stop her from saying what had to be said.
'It isn't so much a matter of trust as it is of dependability. If you're unsure of your own motivations . . . if you should end up, shall we say 'reconsidering' your options, or your alliances, at a later time . . . Well, you can understand my concerns.'
Angel shook his head, unwilling to say more. No one had ever spoken to him like this before, questioned him, expected him to justify his actions. It was unfamiliar and disturbing . . . and far too intimate. Worse, it made him reflect on the very things he had been trying to avoid thinking about for the two days and nights since Darla died.
'Angel,' Julia continued, more kindly. 'I have some idea of what it must have cost you to make that choice. I know the bond between Sire and Childe is a fundamental and compelling one. For a vampire to destroy the one who created him is extraordinary . . . almost unheard of. I need to know that you are clear on why you did it. Was it to free yourself? Or to be certain she wasn't left behind to make trouble for Buffy after you were gone?' She paused. 'A vampire with a death wish is hardly a reliable ally.'
Angel reflected on how long it had been since he had opened up to anyone about . . . well, anything really. Anything real. It had become second nature to tell only half-truths, so easy to couch every conversation in euphemism and outright lies. He had wanted so much to tell Buffy everything, knowing that it was impossible; there was so much she would not have understood or accepted. A young girl, the Slayer . . . how could she?
But maybe somebody else could.
'I've been a coward,' he began quietly. 'I should have done it myself, got it over and done with. Not expected Buffy to do it. I guess I'd convinced myself that it would be . . . I don't know . . . fitting or noble somehow, to have the Slayer end it. I've lived a long time.' Angel had turned away as he spoke and did not notice Julia hang her head at those words. 'Almost three centuries if you count my life before I met Darla, most of it bloody and pointless. I just wanted it to be over.' Angel looked back across the room at Julia. She was sitting on the edge of the lounger staring down at the tiny netsuke she held in her hand, turning it over and over. Was she even listening? 'I guess you'd find that hard to understand.'
Lost in recollections of the past, Julia whispered, 'I have lived too long, aisuru.' Looking up at Angel's puzzled expression, she added, 'Oh, I understand alright.' She stood and picked up her coat, preparing to leave.
At the door, Julia stopped, realising she still held the little ivory carving. She held it out to Angel, placing it in the centre of his now fully healed hand.
'I guess you have some decisions to make, then,' she said.
Angel, confused by the sudden change in her demeanour, opened the door. The music from the nightclub swelled, loud and lively. He realised suddenly that he did not want to be alone just yet; too many unpleasant memories had surfaced, clamoured in his mind now, waiting to drag themselves up for full and bitter review when there was no longer any conversation to drown them out.
'Have you seen Buffy since the other night. Is she OK?'
'Maybe you'd better ask her yourself.' Julia stepped into the hallway. 'She's downstairs now.'
'I thought you didn't approve of me seeing Buffy,' Angel said, smiling a little. 'You know, in your official Watcher capacity and all.'
Julia considered this for a moment, remembering the last entry in her diary.
'Perhaps some things are destined to be. Besides,' she added. 'I have a feeling Buffy is one Slayer who intends to do things her own way. And so far, that's worked out pretty well.'
'And the Council of Watchers, do they support that theory too?'
'Well, seeing as how I write all the monthly progress reports,' Julia replied, offering another, gentler smile, 'I expect I shall just have to put a slightly more . . . conventional . . . spin on things, shan't I?'
'Why do you do it? Work for the Council, I mean. You obviously don't agree with the way things are done.'
'I don't know. Maybe that is the reason. Change the system from within and all that.' Julia replied lightly but was taken aback by the question. She was uncomfortable being put on the spot, having the tables turned and asked to take stock of her own motives. 'The Watchers Council was my life for a long time. I felt I was part of something . . . I don't know . . . important? Something that was a force for good in the world. Then, one day, the system and I no longer seemed to be such a good fit anymore and I left.'
'So what happened? Why'd you come back?'
'Trying to redeem myself, I guess.'
Down in the Bronze Giles endured the discordant, too loud music and waited for Julia to return. She had gone to speak with Management about her lost dagger but seemed to be taking an awfully long time. What if they were asking awkward questions? He was getting worried. He sighed. Pretty much par for the course lately. Always seemed to be one thing or another. Watching, waiting, worrying. Oh, dear.
One of the pool tables and several pieces of furniture were missing. Posters covered odd places on the walls. Buffy and the others, now up on the dancefloor, had looked a little guilty when they arrived, especially after overhearing staff talk about the damage they found when opening up the place the morning before last.
Kids, they said. Delinquents. Vandals.
Giles was relieved when Julia finally returned and took her seat beside him.
'Did you find it?'
Julia smiled, crossed her long legs and tapped the leather sheath.
'No inconvenient questions from the manager?' Giles asked.
'Not a one,' she replied, quite truthfully. 'Don't look so glum, old boy.' She patted her friend on the knee. 'How about I get us another round of drinks? A whisky for you, Rupert?'
Giles nodded, still not completely at ease and looked around the room, trying to figure out when music had changed. Stopped being entertainment and turned into so much incomprehensible brain anaesthesia.
God, he thought, I'm only in my late forties. When did I get so old!
Across the room, Buffy, Willow and Xander were sitting with some other teenagers from school. At least Giles assumed they were from school. Not that he knew any of them by sight. At times he wondered if some practical joker didn't set up an 'Off Limits' sign outside the library each morning after he arrived.
He sighed again.
All for the best really, he thought. Can't have folks just popping in, can we, asking for books and the like while Slayer training is in progress. 'Excuse me, Mr Giles, but would you have a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse about you?' 'Certainly, young sir or miss, right over there, under the freshly sharpened stakes, just to the left of those bottles of Holy Water.'
Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Where was that damned whisky?
Becoming a Watcher, it was all he ever really wanted to be, much as he tried to convince himself and others that it wasn't always so. Years of groundwork, study, training, teaching – but none of it had prepared him to deal with the emotional aspects of the role. A girl was Called, her Watcher trained her, provided direction and motivation. Did the research. Then stood back and sent her out to do her duty. Coldly. Impersonally.
The easy way.
The Slayer is an agent of the Council of Watchers and as such, must have certain qualities. Or so he was taught. Absolute compliance to the dictates of her Watcher, single-minded focus on the job, a killer instinct. These were the things that made her an effective instrument against the forces of evil.
For a time anyway.
Usually a very short time.
A burst of merriment carried across the room and Giles look over at his Slayer - Valley Girl chic - laughing and chatting with her friends.
Obedient, respectful, aloof from the world. That was how a Slayer was meant to be.
Buffy was none of those.
And Giles was glad.
-- Fin --
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