Two days later, a long, black limo appeared
to collect Angel promptly at 7:30 p.m.. The driver was a beautiful Asian
woman who smelled like new leather and smiled flirtatiously at
her handsome fare as he climbed the steps out of his sunken living room.
She checked him out, head to foot.
"You look very nice, sir," she said, her voice thick and sultry. This sexy bit didn't intimidate her, no matter what people were saying about him.
He smiled politely at her. "Thanks," he said. A tone that clearly but gently told her he wasn't interested in any more intimate contact than that. She felt nearly set on fire by the boy's gentle eyes.
She held the limo door open for him and watched as he stepped into an uncertain future.
`What I wouldn't do...' she thought.
Dana's mansion was incredible -- a monstrous Grecian affair with giant marble pillars and verandas overlooking lush, starlit gardens. The driver helpfully told him that it wasn't her primary residence -- it was the home where she held court, where she held her giant Council galas at least twice a year.
Hundreds of vampires scaled the enormous marble steps into the building. They were dressed in every imaginable costume from every known human time period. Angel felt as though he had suddenly been driven into a walking museum exhibit. He straightened the rose in his lapel, took a deep breath, smile his thanks at the driver as she held the door open for him, and strolled into the crowd.
It was a sensation long since forgotten to him... he was suddenly overwhelmed, awash in a river of beings... beings with intense feelings, with expressions and secrets and lives and high expectations of the evening to come. He smelled cologne and leather, cotton, chenille, brocade, silk and velvet. He was inundated by chatter and laughter, swept up and over the stairs and into the mansion's foyer in a wave of those who walked the night... his kin.
"Madame, your guest had arrived..." the maid said breathlessly, the anticipation almost more than she could bear.
Dana nodded and went to meet him. Her anticipation was no less for knowing what surely would happen.
Angel saw her the moment she reached the staircase. He gaped at her as she floated down the steps, her fair skin highlighted by the alternating pale and deep emerald green chenille of her designer slip dress. She wore her hair piled atop her head, with red ringlets escaping here and there. At her throat, wrists, and fingers, she wore the most exquisite garnets and emeralds, set in fine silver, that he had ever seen. Her delicate face was lightly powdered, cheeks made warmer by pale blush, lush lips painted the color of her garnets. Angel thought she outdid even his sire, Darla, a vampire known for her opulent style. But Dana, rather than being garish, was a picture of subtle elegance -- a stunning beauty.
She wasn't dressed in the garb of the age in which she had lived... she had clearly matched her gown to the style of his tuxedo... simple and contemporary. His heart warmed a bit at her attempt at supportive camaraderie.
Music swelled from the orchestra in the ballroom... it seemed to carry Dana over the rich blood red velvet carpeting on the stairs... a group of equally elegant women in various periods of dress followed close behind her. The throngs in the foyer moved aside as she reached the bottom... all cleared the way for Dana's path.
When she reached Angel, she took no dramatic pause, gave no moment for the assembled revelers to gape at them, before she reached out her hands to take his in welcome. He accepted them gratefully, and shared the European style kisses she lay on the air beside either of his cheeks.
"Welcome, Angelus," she said softly, but everyone near could hear the words echo through the silence. There was barely a moment of shock in the crowd before she took him and led him away toward the ballroom and the music. The mayhem immediately re-ensued and followed close behind them like a chasing wave.
The orchestra began to play once more upon their arrival, filling the spaces on the elegant walls where mirrors were obviously originally meant to be with low, soothing tones of string and brass. The room was edged and detailed in gold, the floor of shining gold-speckled tile, and the effect was one of dancing in a sunlit meadow.
Dana swung him out onto the dance floor, and then allowed him take over the lead. Angel had never lost his particular talent for dancing, and he waltzed her, then reeled her so skillfully it made her dizzy.
She laughed and squealed with delight, following him gracefully, until the pace slowed to a more modern ballad, leaving them face to face and eye to eye for the first time.
"This is very nice," he offered lamely.
"Why thank you, Angel!" she gushed, as if he had offered the grandest compliment, "I am so glad you decide to come. The Rites of Spring are the biggest party all year. Are you having a good time?"
He nodded weakly, shrugging a little... it was all so much.
"Well, if you're not yet, you will be... look at them, Angelus. Look at them watching you... each and every one of them know exactly who you are... each fears and honors and reveres you, in their way. Each has had stories of your deeds told to them time and again for centuries... Each of them came here tonight to satisfy their curiosity about you. They came to see your eyes, your hair, to see what you wore, to hear what you say, to watch what you do... Angel, you can't begin to know how important you are to them... how much hope you represent to many of them... hope and fear... Tonight has become less about Spring, and more about you..."
The evening wore on... they danced for a few more tunes, then Dana led Angel off the dance floor and into the crowd that surrounded the edges and spilled out onto the veranda. She introduced him throughout. He thought he shook more hands in two hours than he had in all of his 2 ½ centuries. He was exhausted and exhilarated... surprised at being welcomed so warmly, a little hurt at being constantly kept at arms length. Old-looking ladies fawned over him, younger ones pawed at him, and males challenged or questioned him, according to their age and disposition/. He met members of the council and various guilds -- artists, teachers, craftspeople, musicians, politicians... hundreds and thousands of people paraded before his blurry eyes, each taking their bit of him before moving along.
It was nearly dawn before things slowed down and Angel had a chance to breathe. He lounged easily on the bench in the near garden, watching the first touch of lighter blue appear on the top of the horizon. When the gold began to appear, he would need to be in for the day. He looked with longing at the brightening sky for a single moment more, then rose and returned to the house. He found Dana in the ballroom playing the piano, watching him through the French doors. She smiled at his approach, offering him a seat beside her on the piano bench. Servants scurried everywhere, drawing thick velvet curtains against the dawn that began to trickle in through the windows. They straightened and carried garbage and dishes away in all directions. It seemed only moments before the room was quiet and plunged into total darkness.
Angel sat beside Dana on the bench. Along with all of the strange things he'd seen that night, he had seen a great deal more of her, as well. How she handled all the courtiers and hangers on... how she ignored the pointed glances of elder council members and floated above their obvious malice like a cloud. He watched her be alternately charming and harsh, soft and brutal... and through it all she'd stayed by his side, keeping an eye on him and giving him a strong shoulder to lean on should he get caught in a situation he couldn't handle...
Throughout the night he had watched her, watching him... she looked happy, proud, and as radiant as a dead woman can look.
Dana had been thinking how glad she was to have set all this in motion, whatever the Council might say. She had been thinking how beautiful Angel was, how charming and poised he had remained throughout the night... she had been thinking about the light all around him -- the way the air crackled with his smile... The way the young girls flirted with him, flashing their big eyes and fanning their trussed-up bosoms at him.
She hadn't meant for the evening to be all about Angel's return to Society, at least consciously. She had meant for him to slowly just blend in, just another freak in a world of freaks. She had hoped people wouldn't find out that Angelus was coming out at the Spring Ball...but somehow they had (probably from the Council proceedings, she imagined), and there they had all come, even those who didn't usually bother with such things. They all came to gawk at the King of Prophecy... the Chosen One.
The ballroom was mausoleum quiet when she finished her little tune... Dana could see Angel clearly in the dark beside her with her night vision. He had undone his bow tie, and looked tired and worn, and very, very young.
"Do you know how to play?" she asked, touching a few of the keys. He nodded and began a Chopin piece, which Dana joined in... they played the duet for several minutes, chasing one another up and down the keyboard.
Somewhere in between, the room became softly lit by candles set in golden sconces along the walls. Angel realized that Dana must have done it with a thought.
"Very nice," he said. They stopped playing.
"What did you think of the evening, Angel?" She asked her glance still locked on the piano keys.
He regarded her for a long moment in the candlelight. She raised her eyes to his and smiled softly.
"Honestly? It was a bit more than I expected. And you are more than I expected..."
She realized incredulously that she was blushing under his intense stare.
"How so?" she asked.
"You, or the evening?"
He turned away from her and studied the same piano keys that had so fascinated her a moment before.
"For almost 100 years, I've thought I was unique... alone. Alone with my soul's torment. To find out that that is so *very* not the case is a little overwhelming. And that everyone is so interested in me is even more so."
Dana smiled at him, understanding, knowing it would be that way.
"And you?" he went on, "I had no idea what to think about you. Four days ago, you barreled in and bulldozed over my whole existence. I couldn't comprehend your interest-- I still can't -- I know I'm part of these prophecies that everyone is so interested in, but I can't help but wonder why you have really taken such a close, personal interest. Of all the events you say come to pass, why is *my* life so very important?" he hesitated for a moment, "I don't need an answer to that right now. Right this second, I'm only glad that you did take interest. And I think I know what you've risked to bring me here... that makes me think that you are quite an extraordinary woman..."
She smirked. "Being two thousand years old isn't enough?"
"Well, you know, you've held up well."
They laughed together.
"So does that mean you like me?" Dana asked, half joking, half hopeful.
His smile was warm and genuine, his regard of her that of an old friend. "I guess. I don't think I've had this much fun since... well, ever."
"I'm so glad. And get used to it, because there is a lot more of this ahead of you... more things to see and people to meet...you should begin attending Council, studying the Scriptures... there are so many beautiful things in our world that I'm sure you would love to see..."
Her voice faded into the background as his mind finally caught up with what was going on. What was he doing here? At a piano in a candlelit ballroom flirting with this incredible woman who was so distinctly not Buffy, discussing a future so complicated and unbelievable, he still couldn't take it all in? Was he bewitched, somehow? Dana *was* probably the most powerful Witch on the planet... he'd forgotten who and what and where and why he was, for a while.
But it all came rushing back. Buffy... his calling... his eternal punishment. He shouldn't be here. This was all wrong.
`You were meant to be punished, not to live as human...' he remembered the Gypsy's voice, all those decades ago...
Dana snapped her fingers in front of his nose, startling him from his reverie. He shook his head to clear the building pain.
"Where did you go?" Dana asked.
"Nowhere," he replied, "I should go."
"Not unless you brought a particularly strong sunblock, you shouldn't..."
"Oh," he remembered the coming of the dawn as the curtains had been drawn to block it.
Dana stared at him, more than a little confused, though compassionately so. As Angel had told her -- she had firebombed his reality... the reconstruction would probably require more struggle and pain than he had ever faced before. And he certainly wouldn't be able to come to a comfortable understanding, after only one night.
"Angel... I realize you have a lot to absorb. I apologize for trying to rush you." She put her hand comfortingly on his arm, "I have more rooms than I know people... you're welcome to any apartments you like for as long as you like."
Their eyes met. In his, Dana saw the pain of a century of self-flagellation and loneliness. In hers, Angel saw strength of conviction, compassion and genuine affection. He softened a little bit as she lay her hand gently on his cheek for the second time since they'd met... this time he let the soothing magick pass over him. His headache faded... he felt calm spread over him.
"Angel," Dana said, "I don't want to hurt you, frighten you, or even make you a little bit uncomfortable. I only want to give you what you have been denied for so long... a life... love... companionship that is truly and fully yours... you can be sure... you are safe with me."
He started as if she'd struck him. His sudden movement broke the spell, making it accurate say that he felt anything *but* safe. He rose suddenly.
"Thank you for your hospitality, Dana," he said curtly.
She stared up at him, bewildered, but rang for a servant nonetheless.
A tiny raven-haired girl in a black dress appeared.
"Shelly, show Angelus to the guest apartments in the West wing. Please make sure he has everything he requires."
The girl regarded Angel with obvious interest. "Yes, ma'am." She said enthusiastically, and curtsied. She motioned for Angel to follow her into the hallway. He gazed at Dana for a moment, then turned and followed.
Dana sighed sadly, watching him disappear down the long hall. "That boy is worse off than I thought."
Story and Mangled Graphics by Ducks, ©1999.
Email the author at email@example.com