"Face to Face"
face my lovely foe
Mouth to mouth raining heaven's blows
Hand on heart tic tac toe
Under the stars naked as we flow
Cheek to cheek the bitter sweet
Commit your crime in your deadly time
Commit your crime in your deadly time
It's too divine I want to bend
I want this bliss but something says I must resist
Another life Another time
We're Siamese twins writhing intertwined
Face to face no telling lies
The masks they slide to reveal a new disguise
You never can win It's the state I'm in
This danger thrills and my conflict kills
They say follow your heart Follow it through
But how can you when you're split in two?
And you'll never know You'll never know
One more kiss before we die
Face to face and dream of flying
Who are you? who am I?
Wind in wings two angels falling
To die like this with a last kiss
It's falsehood's flame It's a crying shame
Face to face the passions breathe
I hate to stay but then I hate to leave
You'll never know . . .
-Siouxsie and the Banshees "Face to Face"
Angel's firm knock on the service entrance door the next evening was answered by the Watcher, Giles, who had overseen the bulk of the ceremony the previous day.
"Ah, yes, you must be number V73 then. Follow me," he said, with none of the pomp and circumstance Angel was accustomed to receiving as a vampire among Watchers. Even the DHST instructors who had been his constant monitors for just over twelve months had never treated him so casually. It was somewhat of a relief to be treated as if his presence were a normal occurrence. Angel followed, silently walking several paces behind the more slightly built man. He noticed with something very close to relief that Giles didn't once check over his shoulder. Trust was something Angel wasn't often given and the Watcher's small gesture, however unintentional, went a long way to easing his stress.
The hallway they walked through was lined with offices. This was obviously the section of the house devoted to Daniel Holtz's work. Angel was fairly certain he wouldn't be seeing the residential part of the sprawling structure ever again. In spite of the cool reception he had received, Angel was impressed by what he saw.
The rooms were large, done in dark woods and smelled of brandy, cigars, leather and old books. The smells were both comforting and bittersweet, conjuring memories of Angel's childhood. He spent countless hours as a boy in his father's sprawling library, soaking up every drop of attention the man had been willing to give him. Regardless of how badly he was treated in The City, Angel knew that he would be able to take some comfort in this space. He followed Giles through an impressive library and into Holtz's private offices.
The leader of the Watchers' Council was seated behind a heavy wooden desk, his attention focused on the text in front of him as he dictated to a young woman, with curly chestnut locks that brushed the collar of her blue button-up shirt. She took dictation on a laptop, not bothering to look up as Giles and Angel entered the room.
Angel instantly recognized the girl for what she was, a demon - or perhaps a half demon, sometimes it was hard to tell. Holtz and Giles as trained Watchers would have possessed the same powers of perception, so obviously the girl's heritage was no secret.
Why on earth would Holtz have a demonic secretary? Angel shook off the thought and elevated his assessment of his employer's character. Obviously, there was more to Holtz than met the eye. He had been Head of the Watchers' Council for more than two decades, and ruled with an iron fist. Yet, he employed both a nearly three centuries old vampire, and a demonic assistant. Apparently, he was well versed in dealing with shades of gray.
Angel took a moment to watch the man who held his destiny in his hands. Yesterday's silk suit was nowhere to be seen. Holtz looked much more at home in the worn white shirt. His battered leather jacket was thrown over the back of his chair. Mindlessly, he brushed a swath of unruly gray hair back from his forehead. Angel noticed that he wore a pair of gloves, obviously to protect the delicate pages of the book from the oil on his hands as he leafed through the tome. A pair of surprisingly thick spectacles were perched on the end of his nose. He was a curious man.
Angel's nerves were so frazzled that he almost missed the peculiar tingling in his stomach. But the sensation was so unique, so demanding that he was forced to take notice. Turning his head, he caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye. On a nearby loveseat sat Buffy, her hands clenched tightly around some sort of computer printouts. Those large hazel eyes that had formerly bewitched him, now riveted him in place. Angel couldn't have taken a breath if his life had depended on it - luckily, it didn't. Her mere presence caused him to shiver unexpectedly. Given the force of her gaze, she had undoubtedly noticed his reaction, but made no acknowledgement. With obvious effort she tore her gaze from his, turning her attention back to her papers. Endeavoring not to appear self-conscious, she smoothed the papers flat, hiding the physical fact of her unease.
Giles noticed his reaction and smiled somewhat conciliatorily. "It will take some time to acclimate to working so closely with the Slayer," he said. Giles directed Angel to take a seat in one of the chairs in front of Holtz's desk. He did so nervously.
It was several minutes before the Watcher finally closed the ancient book and looked up, studying the vampire over the rim of his glasses. He was silent, looking Angel up and down. "You were on time," Holtz commented. "I suppose that is a good sign. Whistler vouched heavily for you, but still, I'm not one to take a half demon's word at face value."
Angel nodded, but couldn't help noticing Holtz's secretary frown in annoyance.
Removing his glasses, the Head of the Watchers' Council stood behind the desk. "Subject V73," he said, "you may address me as 'Holtz' as do all those in my employ. My rules are straightforward and simple. I expect your conduct to be absolutely professional at all times. I don't want to know about any personal issues you might have, and you had better keep them from interfering with your job. You will report for work one hour after sundown each day and leave one hour before sun up each morning. You may, on occasion, be expected to work during daylight hours, though, of course, not outside. Is this understood?"
"Yes, sir," Angel replied coolly.
"Good," Holtz replied, motioning for the vampire to stand. "This is Mr. Giles, you two have already met. The woman with the laptop is Anya Emmerson, my personal secretary." He pointed to Buffy, "Last but not least, this is Ms. Summers. She is the Slayer. You are employed to assist her in any way possible."
Angel swallowed convulsively, regardless of the pain from the collar. He knew that they would be working together, but he hadn't dared to hope so closely. He chanced another peek at her, but Buffy avoided looking at him.
"About your eye," Holtz said to Angel, motioning towards the bruise he had inflicted the previous evening. Angel was an elder vampire and as such, the wound should have already faded to non-existence. However, since he was woefully underfed, subsisting on the most meager amounts of blood, his healing abilities were severely impacted.
"Yes," Angel said, stiffening at the remembered slight.
Holtz smiled, looking almost friendly for a moment. "Even I am watched," he said cryptically.
"So what am I supposed to call you?" Angel asked, wincing in discomfort at the movement of his throat, as he followed several paces behind the tense Slayer.
She was dressed for mobility, rather than fashion, in a snug, black cotton shirt and a pair of faded, denim jeans. He soaked up her appearance greedily, noting everything from how a few unruly strands of her long blonde hair were escaping the loose ponytail at the nape of her neck, to the soothing, vanilla scent that seemed to cling to her body.
He felt slightly drunk. What he should have felt was fear. He knew that, but the knowledge did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm. She continued to leaf through her papers as they walked, but Angel knew she wasn't paying them any mind. All of her attention was tuned to the vampire trailing behind her. He could see her taut muscles as she moved, walking with her head held high, her weight evenly distributed on her feet so she could move quickly if necessary - to attack him.
"My name is Buffy," she replied, her voice tight.
He followed her into the library, a huge series of interconnected rooms whose ceilings were at least two stories tall. It took some doing, but Angel kept himself from staring at Buffy. As she took a seat at a long, oak table, he let his vision travel the room. He knew it would be best to give her time and space in which to acclimate to his presence. She was clearly edgy and he had no intention of getting their working relationship started off on the wrong foot.
Patiently, he stood in the center of the large room. He studied the library as a means of distracting himself, maintaining a safe distance of several yards from the jittery Slayer. The cavernous space was paneled in rich, old wood and from the look of it, was well loved. Angel knew from first hand experience that many Watchers reserved their affection for their libraries, often preferring the company of their books to that of their own families. Angel's own father had been much of the same mentality, especially after the death of his eldest son, Colin.
Shaking his head, Angel pulled his thoughts away from the unpleasant memory of the loss of his brother. He had been afraid of this, afraid that after so many years that the familiarity of his surroundings would open wounds he thought long healed.
Tamping down on his unruly emotions, Angel studied the rooms, scrutinizing them for long moments before he realized something was amiss. His vision picked the room apart wall by wall, until finally, it dawned on him what was wrong. His eyes once again shot to the vaulted, paneled ceilings. His gaze swept the room. Every available inch of wall was covered from floor to ceiling with bookshelves.
"No windows," Angel said in a near whisper, both because they were in a library and because it hurt to speak.
Buffy looked up, meeting his gaze. Slowly she nodded. "Sunlight would damage some of the texts," she said succinctly.
There was something in her manner that gave Angel pause. Yes, sunlight could be damaging to some older texts, but it was odd, even for someone as devoted to their tomes as Holtz appeared to be.
Angel looked at Buffy expectantly. She shifted, almost imperceptibly, under the force of his gaze. "What?" she asked, fighting the urge to turn away from the unexpected power in his eyes.
Deliberately but slowly, he closed the space between them, taking the chair directly across from her. "Al-yahs," he said clearly.
All of the color drained from Buffy's face as she stared at him, her eyes going wide. When Holtz had first informed her that Whistler had found them a DHST contact, Buffy had known he wouldn't be your average vampire. But she hadn't expected he would be so completely dissimilar from his brethren.
She'd known, at first glance, that there was something odd about him, something hauntingly familiar. With complete disregard for any social niceties, she scrutinized him. "What do you call yourself?" she asked, her voice sounding deceptively even.
"Angel," he replied, once again meeting her gaze with self-composure foreign to most of his kind.
Angel. A demon named Angel.
She smiled in spite of herself as she took in both the apparent contradiction and appropriateness of his moniker. Her gaze traveled over his body with the sort of predatory detachment she used when appraising a tactical schematic. Angel was pale, even taking into account his vampirism. It was an easy assumption that he was underfed, as were most DHSTs. But it still took decades for human skin to bleach to the unnatural pallor that his flesh exhibited. He looked as if he was hewn from marble by a particularly talented artisan. Only, no artist would have been able to marry the alabaster quality of his flesh with the rich chocolate brown of his eyes and hair. Even the minimal bruising around his left eye didn't mar his attractiveness.
Buffy took a deep breath, forcing herself to be colder in her appraisal. The rest of his appearance was impeccable. His clothing was standard issue, black button up shirt and pants with black work boots, but he was neat, tidy and clean. His fingernails and hair were both clipped short without being severe. It was apparent that he took some pride in how he looked. Most DHSTs wouldn't have bothered. He bore none of the trademark signs of most vampires living in The City. He had no clan insignias, no skin irritations from fighting his tags. If it weren't for the bands of leather and his lack of pigmentation, she would have said he looked ... human. He didn't have the uncivilized, animalistic appearance of most of his kind.
"Yes," she said slowly, "we have the Al-yahs texts. How are you familiar with them?" The Al-yahs texts were known only in the most exclusive Council circles. They were a set of prophecies written millennia before ... in vampiric blood. They could not be exposed to sunlight lest they disintegrate. They held many insights into the times in which they now lived.
"I've had occasion to view them," he replied evenly. "Though that was quite some time ago."
The shock registered in Buffy's eyes and Angel was glad that she was being forced to redefine her notion of him. Everything that happened this night would set the standard for the entire future of their working relationship. He would not be treated like an animal and apparently she was reevaluating his merits as a sentient being.
"How old are you?" Buffy asked, her eyes slitting as she watched him. In spite of their immortality, the life span of the average vampire was much shorter than the life span of the average human. Their mortality rate was phenomenal due to human predation and strife with others of their kind. Most of them didn't survive as the walking dead for more than a few decades at most.
"I will be 274 in May," Angel said matter-of-factly.
Buffy stared at him in stunned silence. That little tidbit of information had been conspicuously omitted from the files Holtz had given her on Angel. Vampires of his age were almost unheard of, and never, never taken on as DHSTs. It was surmised that it would be impossible to rehabilitate a vampire of that age and power, regardless of whether or not they possessed a soul. They were almost never seen near The City and if they were, they were usually dispatched as quickly as possible. "Why are you here?" she demanded.
"It was arranged," he answered, being intentionally evasive.
She glared, unaccustomed to vamps pulling any attitude with her. "Tell me," she said quietly.
Angel looked at her passively, his exterior calm belying none of the turmoil raging inside of him. He knew he was intentionally baiting a Slayer. She was angry, he could sense Buffy receding and the Slayer emerging, but he willed himself to remain calm. He was going to have to work with her day in and day out. He wasn't about to let her think that she could push him around, regardless of his emotional attachment to her. "If Holtz wanted you to know," he said in a measured tone, "I'm sure he would have informed you."
Buffy flinched, and Angel instantly regretted his provocative comment. Why would things be any different now than they had been two and half centuries before? Odds weren't good in the favor of the Council becoming more mindful of the emotions of the young girls in their charge. He knew the drill was the same now as it had been two hundred and fifty years ago. He knew how the Council handled their Slayers.
He knew without being told that Buffy was forcibly removed from her biological parents as a very young child and raised within the confines of Council Headquarters, surrounded only by Watchers and other girls from similar backgrounds, allowed no outside contact. It was the way things had been done for millennia but that did not make it any less damaging to a small child.
Angel learned during his DHST training that Buffy held the title of Slayer since she turned fourteen, which meant that six years ago she was transplanted into Holtz's family, expected to fit in as if she had always been there. He knew that was rarely the case with such transplants. Although tradition dictated that the Slayer should live as the daughter of the Head of the Watchers' Council, in reality it was almost never a smooth transition.
Holtz had at least two daughters of which Angel was aware, but after the confrontation with Kate, the Watcher had told him to stay away from his 'children'. The statement indicated that Holtz could have more progeny. Angel knew Holtz hadn't included Buffy in his statement about his children, otherwise he would have been forbidden to see her. Pointing out how much Holtz left the Slayer out of the loop had been a foolish move. Angel hadn't meant to wound her.
"Fine," Buffy said, clearly flustered, but trying to hide any emotional response, "keep your secrets for now, but don't think for one second that I won't stake you if I get any indication that you're a security threat to the Council."
Angel nodded dutifully, his guilt clearly etched on his face. He opened his mouth, searching for something to say to make it better.
Heavy footfalls sounded in the hallway outside the library. Both Buffy and Angel turned to see a Council soldier enter the room. The young man's gaze flicked over Angel, automatically dismissing him and moved to Buffy, lingering there. "You ready?" he asked the Slayer.
Though the soldier was dismissive of Angel, the vampire did not return the favor. His gaze raked over the young man. He was tall, muscular, fair haired. Angel snorted. The soldier was the human ideal, young and hearty, dedicated to the protection of The City. He suppressed the urge to growl.
Oblivious to Angel's turmoil, Buffy nodded to the soldier, rising from the table. "Stay here," she ordered Angel. "I'm going to patrol. When you're familiar with procedure you'll assist me, but not tonight. Check with Giles, I'm sure he'll have something to keep you busy."
Angel watched silently as she joined the soldier and left the room. So much for getting started on the right foot. He managed to insult her and then was forced to watch her leave with another man. With considerably less enthusiasm than before, he went in search of Giles.
Angel finished picking up the books he used in the translations that Giles assigned to him and headed for the door. It was a quarter after five in the morning and he was going to have to rush to beat the sun home.
"Angel, just a moment," Giles called, trotting to the door. As he came to a stop beside the vampire, Giles handed him a stack of books. "I believe these are yours," the Watcher said.
Angel stared, dumbfounded, at the books in his hands. They were old, and well loved. He knew that for a fact since they were his. When he entered DHST training, he was forced to give up all of his earthly possessions, even his books, as a symbol of leaving his former life behind. The collection was small, but extremely rare and valuable - at least to those who knew what they were looking for. He had missed it dearly. "How did you get these?" he asked quietly.
"I made sure that they were set aside when you entered training," Giles said. "I kept them. I assumed that if you passed that you would want them back."
"I didn't think I'd ever see them again," he admitted, running one hand lovingly across one of the battered spines as he had a thousand times before. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," the Watcher
said with a smile as he turned to leave.
[END CHAPTER 2]
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