"Subject V73, This is Your Life"
I actually really like this chapter title. As an aside, I hate titling things. I hate the titles that I come up with. So this one is noteworthy simply because I don't hate it.
Angel stopped just inside the threshold, instinctively scenting the air. It was like every other Council building he had ever been inside, cold and antiseptic. For some reason, the familiarity disappointed him deeply. Some part of him had longed for an event so tied to his destiny to be more auspicious, unknown and exciting. He couldn't stand the thought that it would smell the same as the rest of his life, full of pain and despair.
If I ever have to look at that paragraph again, I may well kill someone. I looked at it every day for eighteen months. It has lost any sort of objective significance to me. It is the albatros coo coo cachoo.
After today, his existence would never be the same.
The blow clipped him brutally behind the right ear, tearing him from his silent pondering. He stifled the growl, tamping down the urge to rip the offending human limb from limb. Control was everything and he would not allow his to be compromised, no matter how great the insult. Before the pain had completely receded, he was pushed forward. He complied with the command and continued of his own volition. His entire existence depended on his ability to control himself, to follow rules. He only recently found a reason to live and he wasn't ready to give up yet ... not without knowing Her.
The others were already present, more than he thought there would be, but still startlingly few considering that the world's demonic population nearly equaled that of the human. He was one of eight vampires to which the Council reluctantly deigned to grant audience. At the Council Leader's direction, they were seated in a largely empty auditorium. It was a very potent reminder that nearly eighty vampires had started the DHST training a year ago, but only eight had completed it. The rest were dust.
The leader of the Watchers' Council grimaced as he appraised the vampires before him, his already harsh features taking on an even more sinister look. It was obvious he found this whole scenario distasteful, but he had little choice in the matter. Reformed vampires were a necessary evil to daily life within The City.
So the last few paragraphs are just setup. Angel's less than human. The people around him know what he is. In retrospect I don't know how I feel about the conspicuous use of capitalization. Her and The City. At the time I thought it worked. Now it just seems WAY overdone. Le sigh.
Straightening his expensive and impeccably tailored black suit, he walked to the podium to address his captive audience. He looked clearly uncomfortable in the formal attire, but as he moved to speak, the transformation from unwilling bureaucrat to seasoned general was palpable.
"You are here, on the first day of the first year of the new millennium," Daniel Holtz said, his powerful voice reverberating sharply in the cavernous space, "because you possess human souls."
"Through your training over the last year, you have proven yourselves to be worthy of a single chance at life within Guardian City."
Angel took a deep, unnecessary breath. January 1, 2001. Certainly an auspicious day for his second rebirth and reentry into the world that had cast him out two and a half centuries earlier.
"You have passed our tests," Holtz continued, "proven yourselves dedicated to the human cause, and will be given admittance into The City and status as a DHST. As you well know, you get one chance to prove yourselves. Any infraction of our laws or DHST codes of conduct will be dealt with swiftly and with finality." The last word hung in the air. It was a cheap theatrical trick, but somehow no less sinister for it. Daniel Holtz meant every word he said. One misstep would be dealt with on the spot, with a large wooden stake planted neatly through the heart.
Angel wondered if the Council Leader often meted out the punishment himself as a means of relaxing. While a man of Daniel Holtz's obvious power and social status could have sat back and lived the life of a well-fed pen pusher, Angel instinctively knew that wasn't the man's style. Holtz learned to lead by actually leading, and he would never expect anything of his people that he wasn't willing to do himself. His body and face were grizzled and hardened by years of reconnaissance missions and hand to hand combat with the minions of Varkesh. He was a man well acquainted with hardship and death, having experienced first hand a multitude of both.
I have a thing for Holtz. It shows in this fic. I wanted him to be the righteous opposition, I loved it when that's what he used to be on AtS. Holtz hates Angel and everything that Angel symbolizes, but that doesn't make Holtz a bad man at heart. He has a shitty job and it necessitates him removing himself from humanity and human emotion to an extent.
"Today you start a new life," Holtz said, his voice sounding anything but auspicious, "see to it that you do not waste it." With a flourish that clearly illustrated his distaste for the proceedings, Holtz turned over the remainder of the ceremony to a Watcher by the name of Giles.
Angel's attentiveness did not waver one bit as Holtz's second in command took the reins. He knew that Rupert Giles would be every bit as important a figure in his existence as Holtz himself, possibly even more so. Dressed in tweed, rather than silk and Egyptian cotton, Giles wasn't as mentally imposing a presence as Holtz, but it was clear from his carriage that he too was well used to leading. His features were as etched and scarred as that of his superior, and Angel surmised that Giles must have gained a great deal of his field time side by side with Holtz.
"You have heard Council Leader Holtz's words," Giles said, his voice much less theatrical than Holtz's though no less authoritative. "You can be certain his sentiments are echoed by the entire Council and the inhabitants of Guardian City."
Giles' meaning was brutally clear. Though they were being allowed into what was locally called only The City, the vampires should *not* get any ideas about being treated like citizens. Angel gave a sideways glance to his temporary compatriots. A few of them were clearly startled by the bald implications. Young. They had to be young. Only someone not fully acquainted with the harshness of life could be startled by the Council's policies. The vampires spent the last year being poked, prodded, tested and indoctrinated to Council beliefs. Clearly, they expected to be viewed as part of The City.
Just as clear, was the fact that that would never happen.
For his part, Angel wasn't shocked in the least. The Council's policies, while not too terribly heartwarming, were understandable. They were simply doing what was required in order to ensure the survival of the human race. Whereas some of the human cities - there were close to a hundred scattered all over the world - were much more lenient with DHSTs, The City, Guardian City, was not. They could not afford such a risk.
The largest of the human cities, Guardian City was built directly over the Hellmouth and home to the world's only Slayer and the Watchers' Council Headquarters. In some of the smaller cities, the ones less tempting to the demonic hoards, ensouled and reformed vampires could be more or less assimilated into the general population. In The City, however, that was far too risky a venture. There were no blurring of the lines, no shades of gray. Within the thirty foot high, reinforced concrete walls that separated the teeming, human metropolis of multiple millions from the dangerous, demon controlled wastelands, a vampire with a soul was still a vampire and treated as such.
I really wanted to stress that Guardian City is different. The idea that humans exist in pockets all over the world, in cities, but that The City is really the Council's platonic ideal of how human life should function. It's a thing unto itself, the biggest and brightest humanity has to offer in this grim world. I liked the idea that within The City's walls that life functions more or less as we know it. People go to school, drive cars, hang out in coffee shops. Life as normal. In the other, smaller cities, they're much more in close proximity with the Wastelands (logistically more than physically). In other cities, vampires can mingle almost as equals, but not in The City. Not in the Council's back yard. There's an enormous stone wall physically separating The City from the rest of the world. That's pretty much to reinforce the Us vs. Them mentality. Vampires are a necessary evil, but they are not to be taken lightly nor to be treated like regular people with pointy teeth.
The remainder of the ceremony continued in like fashion and Angel could almost feel the collective enthusiasm of his fellow DHSTs wane to the point of nonexistence. His resolve, however, never wavered. The Council's policies did not shock him and did not deter him from his intended course of action.
He would meet Buffy Summers.
So that's my world. I'm not sure I did a great job setting it up. I wanted it to be contemporary, yet not contemporary -- a fairy tale without being a fairy tale. I have a mad on for tales of forbidden love in a caste society. It shows a lot in my writing. I wanted a world where Buffy and Angel could work together, but not be together, where all of society understood what each of them was, making their attraction that more dangerous. Also, I wanted to establish the Council as a truly brutal force. You get a lot more of that later when you delve into Buffy and Justine's histories, the Council's absolute ruthlessness, their institutional corruption despite the individual integrity. I also wanted to establish that Angel, personally, was far older than your average vampire living in the city, that he's much more jaded on a lot of levels.
"Tagging" was the appropriate term for it. Angel felt like an animal, which, he noted, the Watchers' Council and society at large viewed him to be. Regardless of the fact that he had been pronounced in possession of a human soul, proven he could handle religious artifacts without pain, sacrificed everything he had to gain admittance to The City, he was still lower than your average human criminal. He was still a vampire and nothing would ever change that.
Angel and the other vampires were given a set of standard issue clothing; shapeless, mass-produced, coarse cotton, button up shirts and pants. The uniforms were dyed a dull black to accentuate the paleness of the being that donned them. A set of heavy duty black boots completed Angel's new attire.
That damn uniform turned out to be a killer in continuity, remembering that every time I have a vamp they need to be in all black shirts and pants, collars, etc. That took forever to sort out.
After the outfitting, the vampires themselves were inspected for distinguishing marks, tattoos, or scars. The vampires that bore such marks, as did Angel, were carefully photographed and then assigned a number. The ones who didn't had tagging numbers tattooed onto their gums. As Angel watched a young female vampire held down while the technicians none too gently branded her for all of existence, he was silently grateful for the moment of youthful impetuousness that had prompted him to have the large Celtic design tattooed on his right shoulder blade.
Lastly, but most importantly, and most degrading, were the "tags" themselves. Each vampire was given a set of heavy grade leather collar and wrist bindings about an inch wide that had their numbers branded onto them, along with the words "Domesticated Hostile Subterranean". The collars were intentionally cinched too tight. Had the vampires needed to breathe, they would have been in trouble. As it was, the collars kept them from even attempting the habit, making them stand out even further among humans. The collars also had the desirable side effect of making speaking and feeding especially difficult, which undoubtedly pleased the Council.
Angel did not flinch as a burly young tech tightened his collar to the point of pain. He could deal with the physical discomfort, but the unpleasantness wasn't limited only to the choking sensation. The collar stank, invading Angel's sensitive nasal passages although he wasn't drawing breath. The leather had been steeped in a pungent dye. No doubt that if a particularly stupid and daring DHST were to somehow remove the collar and wrist bindings - a nearly impossible feat given that they were magically reinforced and only the Council had the keys - he would surely find that, beneath the leather, the skin had been stained permanently.
I honestly can't remember now why it was so important to me that the collars "bleed" into the skin other than to drive home the point that they couldn't just take them off and blend in with humanity.
Finally outfitted in a manner befitting their kind, the DHSTs were lined up against the wall as the techs sorted through their assignments. The first six were standard, assigned to work in conditions unsuitable for humans, such as menial labor, high-risk construction sites, and human biohazard areas. Several years earlier, the bulk of them probably would have been assigned as subjects for behavioral studies in Doctor Walsh's labs, but the Council no longer supplied her with DHSTs.
Planting the seeds about Walsh. *sigh* I loved her. I thought she was a fabulous character. On the show, I mean. Not in this fic.
The seventh, a slender redhead with piercing green eyes with whom Angel had become friends over the last year, was directed to the central library because of her ability to read, write and converse in several dead languages. Angel possessed a similar knowledge as well, but he already knew he wasn't going to spend his time translating next to Willow.
Willow is really a footnote in this fic and honestly, she's really only here because she plays a very large role in the sequel. Which, yes, I am working on.
Subject number V73, the vampire who called himself Angel, was not given a standard assignment.
He waited patiently, as always, while the techs checked and double-checked his placement order. He wasn't shocked. He knew where he would be placed long before appealing to the Council for admittance to The City. The knowledge, however, did nothing to dull his anticipation. There was still much for him to fear.
A skinny female tech of about twenty-two with long black hair and deep olive skin looked at him warily. Angel accepted the scrutiny without reaction, the smooth skin of his face undisturbed by any betraying expression. She held out the work order to him, quickly rattled off the directions and stepped back with alacrity, wary of him in spite of her vast experience with DHSTs. He nodded and left without comment.
Despite all of his hardened years, he still felt a twinge of anticipation as the heavy steel door that separated the tagging room from the general population of The City was rolled aside. Cautiously he walked over the threshold, finally within the confines of his new world. He had lived long outside the rules of society and he was as afraid as he was anxious about his new surroundings.
The sky overhead looked the same deep, midnight blue, speckled with the twinkling light of the stars. Within the walls of the City, that much at least was a constant. There, however, the similarities ended.
The street teemed with humans regardless of the late hour and Angel was struck by the different rhythm life took inside the Council's reinforced walls. Outside, those who chose to live without government rule, were relegated to the harshest of living conditions. No human with any dose of self-interest would have dared to venture out within an hour of sundown, yet within The City the streets were packed with shoppers, street merchants and mischievous children looking for trouble.
There was a whole subplot about Angel's life before he saw Buffy and decided to become a DHST. It got condensed into a few lines. Basically the point of it was how much life inside the city wall was a 180° from life outside and how even though we pick up the story with Angel first coming into the city that his experience is unique. There isn't a lot of traffic from inside the city to the Wastelands or vice versa. Pretty much if you start out in one place, that's where you stay. No crossover.
Angel stopped for a moment, soaking in the scenery. For some reason the sight of simple, unaffected life proceeding as normal pulled at the heart he thought long dead. He had seen nothing so simply normal for more than a hundred years. It made him long for the world of his childhood, before the demon plagues and vampire uprisings.
"Move, beast," a uniformed guard shouted loudly, pushing Angel off the sidewalk and into the street.
He stumbled, narrowly managing to avoid being run down by a car, but quickly regained his footing. The guard gave him a challenging glare and Angel dutifully bit down on his tongue, dropping his eyes to the ground. Abandoning his reverie, he set about reaching his destination as soon as possible though he held no hope of it being any more hospitable than that to which he'd just been subjected.
He had the street address and a map in his pocket, but he needed neither. He spent a significant amount of time while in training as a DHST going over the route. It was forever imprinted on his mind despite the fact that this was the first time he actually traversed it. He headed for the bus stop that would take him across the city, away from Council Headquarters and into the gated communities reserved for Guardian City's wealthiest and most powerful citizens.
Ah, the depth of Angel's obsession with Buffy ... It's kind of creepy in retrospect. Stalker much? Of course, that's fairly canon.
The front door to the large, stately house was slowly opened following his perfunctory knock. The woman regarded him coolly, her icy blue eyes fixing him in place. Her air of authority was unmistakable. Angel pursed his lips together and lowered his eyes, but not before taking careful note of her appearance. She was probably in her mid-twenties, blonde, very attractive and very, very controlled. She had to be one of Holtz's daughters, Kate if he was not mistaken. She worked for the Council and he had seen her a few times ordering around soldiers as if she had been born to do it.
Kate is nothing more than a placeholder in this story. For that, I apologize. I needed her so that I had something to contrast Holtz's treatment of Buffy with, the real daughter vs the adopted daughter. Maybe that was necessary, maybe not, but it feels poorly done. As an aside, I found an early, early version of Dom the other day and in the original, it was Fred, not Kate who was Holtz's daughter.
"Subject V73. I have a work order," he said quickly, wincing at the pain the collar caused as he spoke.
Oy. More with the continuity pain in my ass, remembering that vampires can't really speak freely because of the collars.
Forcefully, she said, "Give me the papers," careful not to step over the threshold.
Angel reached into the pocket of his shapeless, black, standard-issue pants. Finding the work order, he handed her the documents. Kate took the papers, careful to avoid touching him. She scrutinized the documents, finally peering at him over the top. Abruptly, she handed it back to him, satisfied that he had legitimate business. Turning on her heel, she headed back into the house. Clearly, she expected he would wait.
And he did, for long minutes. He had no other choice.
As his attention drifted back to the task at hand, he was surprised to find he could hear nothing of the goings on inside the home. The house had obviously been proofed against his kind. After long moments, the door opened again and Kate was nowhere to be seen.
Angel found himself face to face with Daniel Holtz.
The punch took him off guard, and Angel stumbled backwards, sitting stunned on the porch for several moments. The Watcher glared at him, all of the contempt he harbored for the undead clearly visible on his face.
"Never come to my front door," the Watcher bit out succinctly. "And do not even *think* about speaking with one of my children again."
Again, Holtz qualifying that Angel never speak to his children, when obviously Angel has to speak to Buffy. Just more setup for Buffy's loneliness.
Angel looked down at the piece of paper wearily through his swollen eye. From the brutality that initiated his working relationship with Daniel Holtz, things had not gotten progressively better. Angel was informed that under no circumstances would he be staying in the Holtz household. He was given the address of a rooming house that took "his kind" and summarily dismissed.
Trudging down the street, Angel hoped it wouldn't be much farther. He had been walking for miles. It was no great shock that the boarding house that would cater to vampires was nowhere near the upscale neighborhood where his employer lived. Shaking his head, Angel took inventory of the myriad of differences between life inside The City and out.
That was an attempt to drive home the enormity of the city, and of how many different kinds of people lived there.
For years, he lived in a small enclave, comprised of assorted beings, human, demon, and hybrid. As long as you minded your business and did your work, no one cared much what you were. There were others like him, victims of the demon plagues, outcast from human society, living side by side with human criminals who had been thrown out of one of the Council's many protected cities. Ensouled demons and anti-social humans commingled, equally despised by both humans and demons, free to live - no, not live, to exist - as they were able in the wastelands.
But that was before the war swung into full gear, before Varkesh decreed that neutrality was not allowed, before the true demons had herded him into one of the holding camps for those who refused to fight the humans. His captors didn't care that he possessed a human soul, that he always had. He was a vampire and as such, he was expected to assist with the slaughter of the humans. When he refused to help, they took it out of his hide, literally.
Stopping at the threshold, Angel double-checked the address Holtz had given him. This was it. He stepped through the door into the large structure unimpeded, a sure sign that other vampires were in residence.
The suite of rooms he rented was sparsely furnished, but it had all the conveniences a vampire would want, namely a refrigerator for meals, a bed, a shower and no windows. Willy, the manager of the Hyperion, had been civil enough, and well used to dealing with DHSTs. After some haggling, Angel managed to negotiate an arrangement for room and board that he could afford on his meager salary. He was somewhat relieved that Willy would take care of all of the arrangements necessary to procure the packaged blood on which he had subsisted the last year. He would at least be spared the indignity of begging at blood banks, or of finding willing victims. He couldn't do that, not again. Sighing deeply, he sat down on the lumpy, but clean bed.
"I hope I didn't just make a huge mistake," he whispered to the empty room, pondering the wisdom of his choice for the first time since he made the decision to be a DHST. Maybe he wasn't quite as hardened as he thought. His eye still throbbed where Holtz had belted him and his neck and wrists ached from the confining leather straps. His undamaged eye watered from the noxious dyes that wafted up from his tags.
Life in the camp had been hell or at least as close as he could get without actually leaving the dimension. Angel was starved, beaten, tortured every day for years, but somehow in those settings it had been easier to retain his sense of self. He knew who he was, he knew why he was being tortured.
My attempt at showing how uncivilized civilization is from Angel's point of view, how while living inside the protected wall he actually feels like less of a man than he did living like an animal in the Wastelands.
Now, in The City, living in a "free" society where life was valued, he never felt like such a non-entity. He was dirt, lower than the low, not even worth the time it would take to spit on. He was well accustomed to the egotism humans were capable of, but he never imagined himself resigned to the role of chattel. He was punished simply for what he was. The concept was staggering. Angel had a soul, but it was not unblemished. He possessed sins too numerous to count, but the Council didn't care about them. They weren't punishing him for anything other than succumbing to a sickness he could not fight.
When Whistler approached Angel in the camps, offering him freedom if he would be willing to join the human cause, the ensouled vampire was hesitant. He was sick of fighting, his soul tired and longing for release. His memories of being banished from human society, nearly two centuries earlier, were still fresh in his mind despite the passage of time.
In retrospect, Angel should have known Whistler would play dirty. The half demon helped him escape from the camp without securing a promise of assistance. At the time, Angel thought it odd, but he had no idea how good Whistler was at playing hardball. They hiked through the wastelands for weeks, all the while Whistler refusing to tell Angel where they were headed.
Then one night, the annoying little beast had pulled Angel from a sound sleep. They hiked several hundred meters through the dense underbrush to an outcropping known as Morton's Rock. Angel found himself staring down at a small group of human soldiers out on a routine reconnaissance mission. That, in itself, was not strange. The Council routinely scoured the wastelands around their cities, keeping an eye out for any nearby demon movement. What was surprising, however, was that the human soldiers, clad in their standard issue camouflage uniforms, their upper arms emblazoned with the deep red insignia of the Watchers' Council, were not alone.
Angel had seen Her for the first time.
In the sea of green and brown camouflage, her red leather pants and tight black tanktop clearly singled her out. Even more offsetting was the long mane of thick, golden hair, pulled back in a large braid that hung down her back. He knew instantly what she was, if not whom.
To most people traveling with a group of Council soldiers, her appearance would have been a liability but not to her, not to the Slayer. Her outfit was designed to draw attention. She was more dangerous than the dozen soldiers she traveled with combined. She was the fiercest fighter for the human population, born to rid the world of his kind.
She turned abruptly, facing in his direction. Her vision hadn't spied him, hiding within the craggy outcropping of rocks, but he knew she sensed his presence. Her body was tense, prepared for a fight or chase that never materialized. He was spellbound, lost in the lush fullness of her pale pink lips, in her large, hazel eyes.
He shuddered, not at her beauty, but at the bleakness in her gaze. He never thought to see his own emotions reflected in another being with such painful precision. Had he not already been crouching, the sense of synchronicity, of understanding and affinity, would have brought him to his knees.
He fell in love with her in an instant, overpowered by the sheer force of her presence. She waited motionlessly for nearly half an hour, watching for him to betray his position Recklessly he stayed rooted to the spot, unable to turn away from the sight of her even if it meant his safety was compromised. He studied her in absolute silence and stillness, noting the fine sheen of perspiration on her golden skin from the tension in her body, the perceptible flaring of her nostrils as she fought to pinpoint his position.
I wanted to portray Buffy and Angel's relationship very deliberately as them being concurrently mortal enemies and kindred spirits. For me their attraction is of like minds, like dispositions, rather than being attracted to each other's physical beauty.
Her patience was to no avail. After two and a half centuries of avoiding the Council, Angel would not be found. He almost sighed aloud with regret as she finally turned away, tiring of her fruitless pursuit. Effortlessly, she ordered the troops, suggesting they find a new camp for the night.
He stayed long after she was gone, drunk on her energy, blissfully smitten with the vitality that clung to her like a second skin. She was a goddess, a sorceress, effortlessly bewitching him into selling the only thing of value he owned, his soul.
"She's the one you would be helping," Whistler whispered in his ear when the Slayer was out of earshot.
There was no decision for Angel to make. He knew that he would gladly die for that girl. In a moment, he understood that she was his salvation, his single chance at redemption and understanding. He had been given the opportunity to do something meaningful with his life.
Whistler merely smiled and said, "I knew you'd see things my way."
It was quite the understatement. But then, of course, came the year of DHST programming. The rigorous codes of conduct and segregation rules for DHSTs had clearly reinforced just how different he was from the girl he vowed to protect. But not all of his studies were boring. In between The City ordinances he was forced to learn, he managed to pick up a few key bits of information.
Her name was Buffy Anne Summers.
With a painful sigh, Angel pushed away
the memories. Laying back on the bed, he kicked off his shoes and
surveyed his new home. It was definitely going to take some acclimation,
but he forced himself to keep in mind that starting over wasn't supposed
to be easy. And tomorrow was a new day. He fell into an exhausted
slumber, too wiped out to bother with getting undressed or under the covers.
[END CHAPTER 1]
"Face to Face"
Title taken from a Siouxsie and the Banshees song that I absolutely love. The lyrics seem so terribly perfect for Buffy and Angel. The first line: "Face to face my lovely foe"
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.
More hints at Angel's past.
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.
So it's a little in your face. But yes, Holtz is a complex character. I'd like to think that most of the major characters are. Neither completely good nor completely bad, all with their own intricate set of motivations.
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.
I think I really botched that scene. I mean, it's Buffy and Angel's first real face to face and it just sort of gets lost in the traffic. It should have been punched up quite a bit more.
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.
I love Holtz.
"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.
She's prickly. Very prickly. Very much by design. This Buffy is a less quippy version of the Wishverse Buffy. She got all the same bad as Wishverse Buffy but without the initial 15 years of normalcy. I wanted her cold, lonely, mechanical.
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.
So we get one line here about Colin. We have no mention of him again until the very end of the fic. I got ripped on a list which shall remain nameless (those bastards) for my epilogue because it "contradicted so much of the rest of the fic". Actually, no it didn't. If you think it did, you weren't paying attention. I get that, I do. It's a long story, I know people skim, but DO NOT take me to task for your miss.
I'm not bitter. Really.
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.
Al-yahs is Shayla spelled backwards. Shayla up to this point had been pretty much my only beta. I detest coming up with names for things almost as much as I detest titling chapters. At some point, I just started throwing in people or spelling things backwards, making combos. Very unoriginal. Ask me if I care.
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.
I actually like that part. I didn't think it would be believable at all to have Buffy take one look at Angel and fall in love. She's too cold for that, too detached. When she initially looks at him, the only thing she sees is a vampire. Everything else, physicality, gender, makes no difference. It isn't until he can throw her on an intellectual level that she is forced to really evaluate him and start to see him as an individual. But I like that even her initial assessment of him is very sterile. She knows he's attractive, but she isn't necessarily attracted to him.
"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.
Ganked that straight from Blade.
"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.
I always include Angel's human years in his age. I don't see the point in counting only his vamp years.
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."
I liked the idea of Angel being totally taken with her, but I also didn't want him to be a wimp. Yes, he's attracted to her. Yes, he's done all of this, made all of these sacrifices just to be near her, but he isn't her lapdog. She snaps at him, he snaps back. He demands to be treated as an equal with her. I have no love for pussy whipped Angel or for Angel humiliation fics. They need to be equals or it doesn't work.
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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