Angel approached the school with trepidation.
The sign over the door read, "Formatia trans sicere educatorum":
"Enter All Ye Who Seek Knowledge". He remembered
clearly the first time he'd read it...
...and the time he'd quoted it to Jenny Calendar.
He sighed. So much of his past was bound up in this building... the saddest and finest days of his life had revolved around its daily business -- being both the home of the Slayer's Troupe, and the cap of the Hellmouth.
He set his jaw, firmed his resolve, and went inside. He could hear the ghosts everywhere, whispering to him, replaying scenes that had happened in these halls... chasing Jenny... attacking Willow... laughing with Buffy... conferring with Giles...
He sharpened his focus and tuned out the visions, barreling through to the library. Tonight he truly sought knowledge, and he could not allow himself to be distracted by reminiscing. He was not here to battle the demons that plagued him personally, but only those that threatened the world.
Giles was alone when Angel arrived. He found it felt good to see the Watcher again, despite the still-present irrational fear and anger in the man's eyes. Angel had taken more from Giles than almost anyone, and each time the man had helped him since then -- hell, each time he just *talked* to him with civility -- Angel felt as though it were a grand gesture on Giles' part. A true testament to the man's character.
They sat down to tea, and Angel shared the pertinent details of what he had learned in the last two months. He told Giles about Dannan and her Society, the Council, the Prophecies -- and his bizarre place in them, as well as the Coming of the so called Double Damned.
Giles listened with fascination. He had never, in all of his rather knowledgeable years as Watcher, had any inkling that such a thing as an organized, clandestine nation of vampires could possibly exist. He had once heard a funny metaphor about organizing some groups of people being like herding cats. He could think of no better example than a "vampire society" -- and a seemingly democratic one, at that. Vampires tended to be walking chaos -- organizing and providing a democratic vote for each individual seemed more than oxymoronic, to Giles. Although, he supposed having a soul provided an exception to every vampire certainty, much as it was with Angel.
"It's quite akin to something out of a paperback novel..." he gave Angel a pointed look, "Ad libitum...someone's fondest wish..."
Angel nodded. "I thought so, too. But I've seen it -- well, some of it. I've spent time with these people..."
"Vampires..." Giles reminded him.
"Yes," Angel chose to ignore the blatant jib, "But there they are, living in a nightwalker version of human culture. And Dana, the Witch, leads the Council, under the guidance of the Books of Be'lheran. She believes the Souled to be on the edge of a great evolution, and that Buffy and I will play a central part in what will happen. I need to understand what's going on. Do the Watchers have anything to say about this?"
Giles nodded, pulling out a stack of notebook paper covered with his scrawled notes, as well as a pile of computer printouts Willow had generated.
"Remnile, a very early Watcher, makes note of Albianat and his Witch, who I assume is this Dana. They blazed a trail of bloody terror around the world -- Old and New -- but they disappear from history around the turn of the first millennium. What is on record are mostly horror stories of brutal mass murder, including the death of at least one Slayer.
The Damned -- the hunters you mentioned -- have been known by many names in many different times and places. In modern times they call themselves the Double Damned, and with good reason. They are a fearful pack of assassins, programmed to rid the world of the forces of good, and pave the way for evil to dominate. It seems their primary targets -- their specialty, if you will -- are demon hunters and Slayers. The Codex tells a great deal about the Last Days, and the Damned are said to play an important role. What that role is is rather confusing, actually, for the term seems to apply both to this group of fearless assassins, and also to an individual, mentioned time and again as central to the `Change of Man' which is said to be coming. What is known is pretty vague and not terribly helpful for your needs, I'm afraid."
"No, this is good," Angel assured him, " At least I know at least some of what Dana has been telling me is true, and we have some further idea of what the Damned are about. What else does the Codex have to say about the Slayer and the End Days? Anything about Be'lheran's Prophecies?"
"Yes, um..." Giles put his glasses back on and leafed further through the notes, "Oh, yes, here it is. The Be'lheran prophecies are mentioned in the Codex, briefly throughout the years, but as you say, the references grow more numerous through the End Days. It appears that no one has ever actually *seen* the volumes, but legends based on them abound in vampire lore. The Codex speaks of the `Change of Races' or the `Change of Man' that I mentioned earlier. There is mention of `the Slayer Who is Not a Slayer' defeating the Greatest of Vampires... if I'm translating correctly, `with a look', or perhaps a 'glance'. There will be a great war between vampire clans... which I assume means both within the society of the Souled and between the Souled and the demons. The Damned we are now speaking of are prophesied to be only the first wave -- sent to try to prevent the coming of the `King', who is central to these changes. Again, just who this King is and what his role will be is unclear. It goes on further to say that the 'Slayer Who is Not a Slayer' will join with the massing armies of good and turn the tide of the battle, the Damned at her side, which makes no sense...However, it is not her actions in the context of the war that will be of the greatest importance, but the `product of her union with the Damned' -- the `Bloody Sun' or `The Sun that Bleeds'. It is difficult to translate. All of this is rather vague, I'm afraid. And much of it is contradictory."
"Dana seems to think that I'm this King -- she insists that I am the central player in what's about to happen."
"Well, I don't know about that, but I doubt that you are the King prophesied here. The legends say that the King is mortal -- an extraordinary mortal, some vampire-human hybrid, but a living man, nonetheless. So unless you have managed to discover some miraculous magick that has eluded sorcerers, shamans and Witches since the beginning of time, I have some doubt that it is you."
Angel felt a profound sense of relief. A foot soldier, he could handle being. No messiah, he... He sighed. "I really wish I could understand what's going on here. I'm not any clearer on the things Dana's been telling me. It seems the more information I get, the less sense any of it makes. So this King must be someone else -- another player..."
"The legends seem to agree. The King will herald a new day... one that sees vampires and humans come to a truce..."
Angel was aghast, "A truce?" Upon further thought, he imagined it made sense -- Dana had spoken to him about the human touch he would bring to the Council. Maybe it was this King's job to bring that -- maybe the war would not be on his head, but that of this other.
Maybe the past months had all been Dana's idea of a sick joke.
"It sounds highly dubious to me, as well," Giles went on, "But that is what the books are rumoured to say. And the Codex states that it will be the Slayer Who is Not a Slayer who will bring him to the throne, after the victory of the Dark War."
Angel nodded, "But what we really need to focus on is the more immediate problem... the Damned. What needs to be done about them?"
Giles rose to grab a dusty volume off the table behind them.
"The Damned have a singular purpose -- to hunt and kill their assigned quarry. Due to their doubly magickal nature, they are doubly dangerous, especially to...eh... mortals..."
"Well, Buffy is no mere mortal, but yes, I'm afraid involving her at this juncture would prove very hazardous, indeed."
"What if I can pick them off before they leave L.A.?"
"Well, I suspect you will have little choice in the matter. Chances are, they will be looking for you. Once you are out of the way, *then* they will come after the Slayer."
Angel left the school more depressed and confused than ever. He'd come to Giles looking for answers, and instead had left with only more -- and more complicated -- questions. He was clearly not the King of Dana's prophecies -- no one was further from mortal than he. Then why had she been so certain he was? Why was everyone in the Souled Society so interested in him, if he was just another demon with a soul? He had to focus on the matter at hand -- the Damned. But he had trouble concentrating on simple demons when so much else seemed to be at stake.
He found himself on Buffy's street before he'd noticed he was going that way. Of course, he had needed Giles' assistance -- another set of answers he trusted more than the ones he already possessed, and to be sure, he'd wanted an excuse not to get Buffy involved in the upcoming battle. Giles had provided both.
But this was why he had really returned to Sunnydale. He looked up at the stucco apartment building, to the patio outside what he knew from endless lurking to be the window to her new bedroom. He climbed the tree outside easily, and it led to the perfect perch outside the window. The familiar routine brought back memories, good and bad, of a hundred clandestine visits to Buffy's window in the house on Rubelo Drive over the years. He remembered her face framed by the light behind her as he'd walked hesitantly away... she used to blow him kisses...
Suddenly her face was before him -- her beautiful face, bare of makeup for bedtime, her golden hair jammed casually on top of her head in a clip, her tiny frame clad in baggy sweats and a tank top. She smelled like lavender...
"Giles told me you might be coming," she told him.
The sound of her voice ripped through him... he was so glad to see her, it was all he could do not to grab her and steal her away... away form all this death, all this danger... away from their damned Destinies.
"Hi." was all he could muster.
They sat and talked on her bed through the rest of the night. Angel told her all that he had learned (with the exception of the Damned) and seen, about the Society, the Council, The Prophecies... about Dana.
Buffy listened as she always did, with loving patience -- gasping at surprises, laughing at funny scenes, worrying about all the intrigue that surrounded him... he watched her face cloud over as he talked about the time he spent with Dana... about the Ball and their talks... but he felt she had a right to know.
"Wow," Buffy said when he was through, "That's a lot to have to deal with."
He nodded. "It's hard to believe I have any destiny besides killing your average everyday monsters..."
"A whole society? I mean, *millions* of vampires like you?"
He nodded again.
"Wow," She repeated.
"And Dana insists on helping me at every turn. She's been studying my life since before even my ancestors were born. It's all pretty profound... confusing..."
Buffy took his hand. A shock passed through him as if she had struck him, rather than made such a loving gesture. He'd almost forgotten how warm her skin really was... how tiny her hands, which belied their strength...
"You really care about her..." Buffy said, jealousy and sadness clear in her voice.
He met his love's eyes. "She really cares about me, apparently," he said, "I honestly don't know how I feel about her."
Buffy said nothing. Of course she was jealous -- hearing Angel talk about someone else with such affection crushed her heart. But she knew she and Angel were doomed to always be kept apart... by their past, by their differences... and he had a right to be as happy as he could be, in his own way. No matter how much she longed for it to be *her* that made him happy, no matter how much she loved him, and as of this moment she couldn't imagine how it could be more, she knew that this was probably the last time they would be together, like this.
"My heart will always belong to you," he added, "Always. I hope you know that."
She knew. But she also hoped he could find some happiness somewhere -- that someone better suited to him could show him all the love he needed and deserved. She gently touched his face -- the face that smiled at her in her dreams...the lips that kissed every inch of her... the eyes that always regarded her with the deepest love.
"I know that you will be okay," she promised him, "You will be doing what you've always needed to do -- helping make the world a better place. With people like you... people you can share your life with..."
`I wish it could be with you,' he thought, and saw the same mirrored in her eyes.
"I will always be there to help you, if you need me, Buffy. Whatever it is in my power to contribute, I will give you without hesitation. The Prophecies say we will fight side by side again, so this isn't goodbye..." It came out like a vow.
"But it is, in a way. We never said goodbye, before..." she reminded him, and he watched a single quicksilver tear run down her smooth cheek. Pain washed over him, as he remembered the days and nights before his departure. How could he walk away from her again? She was the only thing that ever made sense to him, and now that he was hurtling headlong into chaos, how could he not bring his very foundation with him?
Angel looked deeply into her soft green eyes, took her face between his hands and studied it for a long moment, memorizing every detail. Then he softly, briefly, kissed her.
"Be happy," she called after him as he climbed out the window.
He didn't see how he would ever be happy again.
Story and Mangled Graphics by Ducks, 1999. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org