The following night was warm and hazy,
one of those nights when the humidity in the air made it feel like he was breathing soup. Dana dressed in another strappy dress, this one
ankle-length black velvet, and black sandals. She made a gift
to Angel of a casual cream shirt and a light pair of jeans, telling
him he dressed "too seriously". She wished they could
see themselves together-- your average young, wealthy, beautiful
couple out for a night at the fair.
Dana knew the carnies well -- she'd been seeing them perform for several hundred yeas, all around the world. All the troupe were Souled Ones -- or at least vampires. Dana dragged Angel on all the rides and stuffed his smiling face with more junk food than a body could handle.
"Ah, but that's only a *mortal* body. There are some perks to being dead, you know!" she announced to him through a mouthful of cotton candy.
An hour later, her arms were filled with a giant stuffed bunny Angel won for her at the dart throw. The game was obviously rigged, but with a vampire's enhanced strength, dexterity and senses, Angel was able to finally overcome... after $20 worth of darts. When the prize was finally awarded, the carnie winked knowingly at Angel, and whispered over the counter to Dana that he was never sad to lose to kin.
Angel didn't think he had never experienced anything so odd in his life... and that was saying something.
He took Dana's hand automatically when they entered the House of Horrors. A little shock passed through Dana at his touch, and she turned to look at him, but he was smiling, looking ahead and didn't even seem to notice as he handed the carnie their tickets. It was a fairly decent scary house, and Dana found herself genuinely startled a number of times. Once, so much so that she practically jumped straight into Angel's arms. He laughed at her and their eyes met...
A million jumbled thoughts and emotions rushed through him... but the loudest voice called for him to kiss her...again.
A second elapsed... two... if Dana had a heart that beat, it would be pounding. Their lips were only inches apart.
Then the moment was over, and they were pushed along by the line.
As they walked back to the car in silence, Dana thought that a few more moments like that, and control might quickly become a concept she lost any concern for.
She suggested Angel remain at her apartment in L.A., while she went back to the Council to face their angry inquiries. Distance was what she needed, for now. She needed to think about what she would have to do next.
"I want to come with you. You'll need me when you go before the Council," Angel insisted.
Dana sighed, running her fingers through her thick curls. "I think it will only be worse if you were there right now. Besides... I've been dealing with the Council since before you were born..."
They argued more, and Dana left with Angel still angry with her. That was fine, as far as she was concerned. She would not subject him to the danger of the Council, not yet. Not while he was still so fragile and uncertain. And the angrier he was at her, the less likely he was to come after her in some misguided attempt at chivalry.
She sat at her desk, staring absently at the report she held in front of her. The words and numbers seemed to run together, and her mind wandered... to some joke Angel told her or some sweet thing or another he'd done...
She snapped herself out of her reverie. Where was her *brain*?! She had *work* to do -- work that would be much more important to Angel's future than her lust for the boy!
She adjusted her reading glasses and tried to focus. Suddenly, the room lurched, then began to spin. Dana's stomach followed suit, and she struggled toward her bathroom to be sick. The moment her hand touched the doorknob, she was over come by a vision -- she was chasing a small, dark girl down a dirty alley. Bloodlust flooded her every cell and she stalked, a predator out for one thing only -- the kill. Dana caught the girl without much trouble and rejoiced in the smell of youthful blood as she sank her fangs into the sweet flesh, answering the child's screams for mercy with hungry snarls...
Dana's vision cleared. She quickly sank back down in her chair while she shuddered, fighting to regain her composure. She found herself shaking and sweating horribly -- exhausted as if she had just taken part in the chase she had seen. What was *that* all about? She hadn't even thought about killing in 2000 years... she let herself drift for a moment. Why would the bloodlust return after all this time? And how could it have just overtaken her like that, so completely, so overwhelming?
In a flash, she knew. The curse... the spell that had returned her soul all those years ago, banishing an exceedingly cruel and homicidal demon. Her time was growing short. She did the math, and realized, yes, it was almost 2000 years to the day since the ritual that had put her on the path to this place -- that had given her her life, her purpose... Angel...
Now the magick was fading, as she always knew it would, but she bemoaned the timing. Why now? There was still so much to do, so many decisions to make before she would be ready to leave this incarnation...
She remembered the dank temple hall, the smoke of frankincense, lotus and sandalwood... millions upon millions of candles... the walls echoing with chants from the assembled Council. And they had told her that her time was finite -- that it was meant also as punishment for her crimes. The end of her curse would not be so simple as to leave her finally, permanently dead. The Council had made sure she would pay not only by knowing the time of her death, but also the nature of her ending. That her soul would once again be ripped from her and cast into the ether, leaving the demon inhabiting her body, to be hunted down and destroyed like a rabid dog. Perhaps, she often thought, like they should have done then...
But then she never would have experienced all she had in her long life...never seen the magick and the beauty of this world. She never would have seen her precious nation rise around her. And she never would have gotten to know Angel.
Soon it would all end. Of course, she had no intention of letting her demon loose on the world, or of letting the Council put her down with a stake through the heart in her sleep, like a rabid dog. She had something completely different in mind...
Angel. What was she going to do about Angel? She'd been considering her options all along, and she knew, mostly, what needed to be done, but she was finding its undertaking more difficult than she ever imagined. Her other defiances of council law would pale in comparison to this, and no doubt Angel would be less than happy with her, as well.
She laughed at the understatement, despite her growing sense of dread. If she told Angel the whole truth, it would throw his already confused life into yet *another* blinding tailspin. But if she didn't fill him in on everything, who knew what the Council might do to him when she was gone? They had gone to extraordinary lengths to destroy him once before... and in the long run, the truth, and Dana's magick, would be his only defenses.
She had to make a decision, and soon. Angel's fate, and the future of her entire race, depended on her next actions.
At the moment that Dana was having her spell, Angel was thinking of her across town...
Despite his anger over her stubbornness, he thought happily how spending time with Dana made him feel so normal. How much he'd come to enjoy their evenings together, and the warmth (at least, metaphorically) being around her made him feel. There was a fire to her that pulled him, despite his ongoing struggles to the contrary. He thought of kissing her, a few nights before... her lips were cool and sweet, like some exotic fruit, and she awakened passions within him he had long ago been forced to abandon, for Buffy's sake.
When he found himself comparing Dana to Buffy, it always tended to bring him back to his heart's ultimate reality -- that his love for Buffy was the brightest diamond, and Dana only a pale sapphire in contrast. What Angel felt for the Slayer came from his deepest depths, from some part of his soul that was unable to put to words what she meant to him. All their tragic time together, never had two people struggled more to give all that they could to one another, against impossible odds. Angel loved Buffy beyond space, beyond time, beyond the not-so-mundane facts of their daily lives... the facts which kept them apart.
But Dana was real. She was before him, open, warm and waiting. What he felt for her was something different than what he felt for Buffy, but it was just as much a reality... and a safer and less ironic one, at that. Buffy seemed only a dream of perfect happiness, dangled before him like the eternally unattainable carrot, while Dana was a feast lain on a table before him -- a physical reality -- a solace right within his reach.
He struggled often with his conflicting feelings. His continued fear and mistrust of Dana -- his nervousness about a momentous future she sometimes held before him and sometimes withheld... his vow of devotion to Buffy... his ultimate and growing desire to be alone once again, free of all these decisions.
It never dawned on him before that part of him wanted to be alone... his only companion his memories and his constant and nagging pain, both easily understood.
But as it was, he somehow wasn't alone... and he found himself wishing that Dana was there.
Dana stood, gathering her strength, before the Chamber door. She knew there was going to be trouble when the messenger told her it was only the Elders who were to meet with her, rather than the full Council. That usually signaled something dire, something that required the immediate action that waiting for citizens to vote never provided time for...
Apparently, the time for democracy, tolerance, patience, and lenience was at an end.
A page swung the doors open before her, and stepped aside to allow her entrance. The Elders' Chamber was as familiar to Dana as her own office, as she had been among their number for a thousand years. She had assisted in the design of this building, this room... insisting on a circular table rather than the enormous rectangular one that dominated the public Council hall. This way, no Elder sat at the head, or foot, but each had equal view of all the others.
Today, Dana did not feel so diplomatic about the round table. She took the seat of one accused, rather than her accustomed position of one in charge. There were six present, including herself. Six vampires of a thousand years or more -- three older than she herself. And these three had been present at her restoration: Erishka, her foster mother, Toloshan, her trusted mentor, and Kayeli, an ancient Caribbean man whom she had often argued metaphysics with.
Never before had she been so glad none of Martonius' young troublemakers were among the Elders. In the end of any vote by the Society, it was their opinions that ultimately held sway -- and the Elders were nothing, usually, if not fair. But considering the angry looks on the assembled faces, Dana doubted she would fare much better with these than with the full Council.
"I am here," Dana declared, "What is it that you want?" She had decided the offensive might be the best tactic.
"Dannan," Toloshan began, "Certain facts have come to the Council's attention which concern us deeply. Facts that imply you might not take your vows to the Council regarding Angelus as seriously as you might."
Erishka continued the lecture, keeping the ruse of her ignorance with conviction, "We simply want to understand your intentions -- and your motivations."
"And the implications of any possible actions you might choose to take." Kayeli added.
Dana nodded, "I am well aware of all these things..."
"Are You?" Toloshan stared pointedly at her, "Once, perhaps... but now? You threaten to unravel our very existence. You have shared more details of Angelus' destiny with him than any of us -- or indeed, the entire Council -- is comfortable with."
"Rumours abound, Dannan," Kayeli went on, "Our entire population is in a terrified frenzy over Angelus' presence among them."
"Nonsense," Dana objected, "They like him. They treat him as the honored brother that he is. He is becoming one of us, just as you requested."
"Is he?" Erishka asked. Despite her love for Dana and her growing affection for Angel, she wondered... "Is he only another Souled One? Just another vampire?"
"No. He is not," Toloshan confirmed, "He is the Chosen One -- the Damned of Prophecy. The Greatest Vampire to ever live. His life and its product will signal the start of a war that will stretch across eons. His issue will take control of this Council. We will no longer be able to live in the safety and peace we have enjoyed all these centuries..."
"Why are we reviewing all this again?" Dana interrupted.
"Because we know that your time is short." Erishka answered, an edge of sadness to her ancient and powerful voice, "And we fear what you might do in your guilt and desperation."
"We realize our decision to amend Angels' curse was an unpopular one -- and in hindsight, perhaps, rash and unwise. But it is done, all the same. The Council decided an age ago to provide the Kalderash with the magicks to restore Angelus' soul, but also to prevent him from building his prophesied life with the Slayer. To prevent his legendary obsession with regaining his mortality. To prevent his union with the Mother of Kings..."
"I KNOW ALL OF THIS, TOLOSHAN!" Dana shouted, "I TRANSLATED THE BOOKS MYSELF! I WAS ON THE COUNCIL WHEN THE VOTE WAS TAKEN! I HELPED TO..." she quieted, "I helped to create the magicks used against Angel..."
"We are aware of that, Dannan." Toloshan ignored her outburst and went on, patiently, "But we feel perhaps you have forgotten the importance of these events. And it is now time for you to be reminded what we hoped to accomplish all those years ago."
The grilling went on for hours -- more and more of the same. The sum result was that Dana was to find a way to throw Angelus off the scent by the Vernal Equinox, or he would be summarily executed.
Dana chuckled bitterly. She didn't have that much time left to her, but it was enough to do what she had to. It was enough to save Angel and restore him to the life that had been stolen from him. So far, her luck still held, and Erishka had kept her silence about the Incantations of Incarnation.
Only one task remained to be undertaken before she could proceed.
She had to assure Maella's silence.
The girl had lost weight, and her skin had a pallor unusual even for a vampire, having a greenish tint. She was sullen and pouty, sitting in the love seat in the eastern parlor, waiting for Dana with her hands in her lap.
Dana regarded her from the hall for a long moment. She felt horrible that Maella had chosen such a fierce stance against she and Angel, and she regretted the events at hand coming between their long friendship. Especially in these final days... they had shared so much together, it seemed a shame they could not share in this, too.
She put on her serious Council face, determined not to give away her sadness and anxiety, and stepped into the room.
"Maella," She said, startling the girl form whatever thoughts she had been lost in.
Maella's thoughts were jumbled, as they often were, these days. She struggled between her fear of what she knew was coming and her anguish over her rift with Dana, especially in light of the latter's impending death. She struggled too, with her choices -- would telling the council that Dana had the magicks to restore Angel to his destiny solve any of the problems at hand? Surely the two would be hunted down and executed, but would the Souled, their people, still be saved? She knew from years of learning from Dana that prophecies were tricky things... that as often as not, they came true when all odds seemed against it being so... Dana was always telling her that all beings must evolve -- if that were true, whatever happened to Dana and Angel, might her race not become extinct anyway?
This was ridiculous. Why should she allow Dana's love for some boy set their destruction in motion? She had finally accepted Dana's invitation to talk, hoping to force her to see sense before it was too late. But if she continued to be so stubborn...
Now that Dana stood before her in all her blazing glory, her bravado about her like a cloak to protect her from Maella's anger, the girl felt a pang of regret that things had gotten so far out of hand. Something in Dana's carriage warned of her deteriorating health, and set Maella to mourning their younger days, when the nation of the Souled was brand-new, and a world of possibilities lay at their fingertips...
"Hello, Dana," she said as coolly as she could manage, trying to keep her feelings as close to the chest as possible, so as not to loose any advantage she might have in the argument.
Dana sat beside her in the loveseat, curling her long legs up underneath her. The casual, easy way she moved made Maella notice something else new in her sister, too... something that almost overshadowed the aura of death around her...
She was certain it must be love, and she found herself both glad that Dana had finally found it, and angry once again, that it would be with someone who would mean her end...
"I'm glad you agreed to meet me," Dana said, allowing some measured emotion in her voice.
"Time is short. You were right
-- it is time we talked," Maella replied.
"You know, then," Dana said, not surprised in the least. This woman knew her better than anyone...
"I can read a calendar. I can read the signs."
Dana nodded. "Then you know too, what I must do. What justice... what fate... no, what love, compels me to do."
Maella reached out and took her sister's hand, holding her gaze. "I beg you, Dana. Don't do this. Let Angel return to his old life... send him away. Don't spend these last few weeks plotting against your own people... against me... Angelus is no good for us -- no good for you..."
Dana shook her head. "My sister... I must..."
"WHY?" Maella exploded, months of not sleeping or eating well swiftly catching up with her, "Why MUST you? Why do you owe this boy anything!? He will kill you -- destroy your life's work!"
"My death is already at hand..."
"But you know... you KNOW... the Spells of Incarnation will kill you! The amount of soul energy it requires to bestow life would rend the giving soul dead even in the strongest being..." Maella began to cry, all her control now gone, "You can't think to do this..."
Dana looked at her, her face drawn in pain, "Maella, can't you understand? Every being has a right to pursue their destiny! And after what the Council did to deny Angel that fundamental right... What I did, however unwillingly... there is no other choice. I must restore him!"
She hesitated for a moment.
"I love him so much, my sister... can you deny us these few days together? Can you deny me the right to finally make amends for my crimes?" She looked directly into the girl's teary gaze, "Can you deny me the one gift that I have to give the man I have loved for all time?"
Maella tore away from her and leapt from her seat, angrily pacing the floor.
"Dana... what about all else you have loved -- have dedicated your life to? What about me?" Her voice became small and weak at the last, "Have you not loved me, as well? Can you destroy me, destroy our world, so easily? For love of a man?"
Dana rose to go to her. But the room pitched, she lost her balance, and nearly fell to the floor. The blood filled her vision and she became consumed with irrational rage.
"You are an underling. No more!" Dana spat at her, her voice low and vicious, "Do not presume to tell me about love. You know nothing of it!"
Maella gasped. As Dana rose, she found she was looking into a face she had never seen before -- the face of Dana's demon. Her vampire face.
"Dana...oh..." Maella objected weakly, fearing suddenly for her very life, yet utterly unable to move. Dana crossed the space between them in a moment, clenching Maella's throat in a crushing grip. Her yellow vampire eyes flared, and her breath stunk of dead things... Maella had never felt such terror before, not even in the hands of the witch hunters, all those centuries ago.
"Do not interfere with me, girl," the creature snarled, "Or you will quickly be dust."
Maella said nothing, but only quaked in Dana's grip. A moment passed, then another. Suddenly, Dana reeled, releasing her and falling to the floor, gasping.
Maella had a brief urge to stop and help Dana, but her anger and survival instinct got the better of her, and she bolted out the door, slamming it behind her.
"Maella, wait! I'm sorry!" She heard Dana call weakly from behind her.
The pathetic sound only convinced her further of what she must do. Time was slipping away as quickly as Dana's soul...
Story and Mangled Graphics by Ducks, 1999. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org