With thanks to Perri & Mo for beta'ing; and with regards to "Helpless"... and the thoughts that came out of it.
December 6, 717 A.D.
She had come so far, and now she had only one duty to perform before she could rest. The page led her through the narrow hallways to the Council chamber, past lamps on the stone walls guttering in a draft, and Helena hugged herself, fighting weariness and an unexpected chill. A few more yards. That was all it would take, and then she would face them with her news.
"Sister Helena," the page announced her, holding the door for her. The men sitting around the long table rose to their feet, all of them showing respect to someone who appeared to be only a very young nun, one just past her first vows. The page must think it very strange. Nuns did not travel often, but it was easier to pretend to be one than it was to journey as a young woman alone. Or even a young man, given the wars breaking out in Germania and Francia. She would have been conscripted into someone's army if she had travelled in any other guise.
But it was appropriate that these men did her honor, no matter what any outsider would think. She had never taken any oaths, or made any promises to God. But she still fought for Him in the cause of humanity, as did any anointed monarch or vowed knight. Udolfo had taught her that.
The door shut behind her and Helena turned and lifted the heavy oak bar, placing it in the brackets which would hold it in place, keeping out any outside intrusion. She closed her eyes, feeling grief and exhaustion sweep over her, wanting nothing more than to collapse to the floor weeping. But she couldn't do that. Not yet.
"Slayer. This is unexpected." She opened her eyes and straightened her shoulders, Udolfo's teachings coming back automatically, then turned on her heel to face the Watcher's Council. The man at the head of the table --- old, but no dotard, his gray hair still streaked in places with black --- watched her with keen blue eyes. "We received no message informing us of your impending arrival. And where is your Watcher? I would have thought that he would have had the courtesy to tell us of your visit."
Mention of Udolfo cut at her, and she swallowed, forcing herself to control her breathing, as if in a fight. "That is why I am here." Helena's fingers knotted together, and she took a few steps forward, studying the faces of the men around the table. "I regret--- I am sorry to tell you this. Udolfo---" Her throat closed up, and she swallowed again, trying to keep her face a mask. "My Watcher is dead."
"How?" one of them rapped out, frowning severely at her. "Who killed him?"
"A vampire queen that was living in the Florentine court." She watched them chew on that, not liking the taste of it. "She captured him by trickery, and held him captive to gain my cooperation in fulfilling a prophecy. Udolfo warned you about this."
"Ah, yes. The Prophecy of Danae. Di Rossi mentioned something about that in his last missive," one of the younger men commented, leaning back in his chair. "So she actually tried to fulfill it? Amazing... I wouldn't have believed it."
"No. You didn't, did you?" Helena stared at the ten men gathered around the table, watched a few of them squirm, the others merely look resigned. "Udolfo begged you for help. He asked for assistance, for more attention to the writings of Aurelius---"
"What he asked for was plainly impossible, given how little we knew and the current state of events here in England," the first man said severely. "We are facing another invasion by the Norse, as well as other barbarian tribes. Our duties to the Slayer come before anything else, but we must preserve our heritage, and we had far too much to do. Di Rossi'ssuspicions were too nebulous to require our attention in the face of the impending crisis." He shook his head, retaking his seat and folding his hands in front of him. "Go on. Tell us how he died."
Rage was building again. The same rage that had seized her in Firenze, sending her blazing through the vampire queen's army, killing without stopping, intent only on reaching her goal. "She wanted me to sacrifice myself for him, on the altar of the Errinyes. If I had done that, she would have been too powerful to defeat." Helena dropped her eyes to her hands, seeing them twisting together without her will as she remembered the pain of making that choice, knowing what the consequences might be. "I chose to attempt to rescue my Watcher."
She lifted her gaze to the Council. "I arrived too late." The nightmare scene she had found when she had finally reached the queen's inner chamber --- and what she'd had to do then, in order to put her Watcher out of his pain --- had haunted her all the way to England. Something had changed in her at that moment, holding Udolfo's hand, watching his life bleed away.... She had believed herself no longer innocent; believed that she had become inured to the suffering caused by the vampires she hunted. Not indifferent, but hardened, perhaps. Used to it.
People died. Vampires killed them. She killed vampires. Nothing more than that. Nothing more to be done. Nothing she would let herself break her heart over.
The vampire queen had taken a very long time to die as payment for proving Helena wrong about that.
There was a momentary silence, and she searched their faces again, looking for some feeling, some trace of compassion. She saw regret, yes; but no deeper emotion. "A pity," one of them said thoughtfully. "He was a valued Watcher. His will be hard shoes to fill."
"Mmmm. True. I don't envy the next man," someone commented.
"Who shall it be?" Another one asked, looking around the table.
"Gentlemen----" The leader stood again, his voice tired. "This discussion can be saved for another time. It will require a great deal of consideration and thought. In the interim, we must prepare for the Norsemen." He turned back to Helena. "You have our sympathies, Helena. And I apologize, but we will not be able to provide you with another Watcher either at this time or any time soon. You will have to stay here until this is settled, of course. Gerard will show you to your chambers." He reached for the bellpull, but stopped at the sound of Helena's voice.
"That's all?" She was trembling, the rage nearly a red veil in front of her eyes now. "That's all you have to say to me? All you have to say about Udolfo? Too bad, stay here, go there, wait a bit and we'll get you another?" She unknotted her hands, letting them form the fists that they'd been instinctively attempting to become since she walked into the room. "I don't want another Watcher. He was my father in every way that counted, and I had to kill him to spare him unendurable pain. I don't *want* to go through this again. I don't want to be the Slayer any longer."
"My dear, you don't have a choice. It is your destiny---"
She swore at him in Latin and Firenzan, vulgar curses that Udolfo would have tutted over, but he wasn't there to care anymore. "Destiny. It was destiny that the vampire queen would attempt the Danaen Ritual, but you ignored that. You ignored Udolfo's pleas for help, and ignored both of us in Firenze for as long as we were doing our jobs. I fight and kill every day, while you write in your books!" Tears were gathering in her eyes, as much as she despised herself for it. "You don't give a damn about anything but your precious heritage and damned customs and your triple-cursed formalities. You didn't know him. You didn't *see* him, see what she did to him---"
"Helena, you must control yourself---"
"Must, must, must! *Damn* you, he died for me, he died for you, for this Council and your bloody destiny, and all you can think about is who will be next, and you didn't even try to stop it---"
"You are overwrought. We understand your grief---"
Her temper broke. "You do not!" She brought her fist down on the end of the table, cracking it, sending a rift through the wood that reached to the other end, splitting it in two, falling into splinters and shattered oak at her feet. They fell silent, holding themselves still, finally aware of her as the Slayer. Not just the young woman whom they ordered this way and that, but the killer of vampires, a supernatural being possessed of powers they did not.
"You let him die. Just like you're going to let me die. How long? How long will this go on? Until the millenium? Until Judgement Day? When will you bastards do more than sit in this chamber and debate the possibilities, and actually *fight* against them?"
"Helena...." Their leader drew a deep breath, rose to his feet again, not looking down at the ruined table. "This is what we must do, in order to ensure the survival of the Slayers. If we took part in the fight, too much might be lost. We must stand back, and keep the records of what has gone before, so that we will always have the knowledge with which to fight them---"
"It isn't enough," Helena whispered. "It isn't nearly enough." She was breathing hard, but her mind was clearing, entering that icy state beyond rage and grief. She welcomed it. "And I'm not going to let you do this any more. Not to me. And not to another Slayer."
They stared at her, puzzled and offended, but not fearful. They should have been afraid. Udolfo had been afraid; the man who had comforted her after her worst nightmares had been crying with terror and pain before she came to rescue him. To save him. While these men had stayed in England, and discussed their options at a thousand miles' remove.
She couldn't save Udolfo. But she could save the next Slayer.
Helena reached out to the man nearest her, easily, so easily, and snapped his neck with a twist of her hand. The eyes of the remaining nine men glazed in shock and fear, and she smiled, a feeling of peace descending on her.
"You will have to fight now. For your lives."
Buffy jolted awake with her own panicked calls, her hands scrabbling for purchase on the books and notes spread around her.
"Buffy? Buffy, it's okay! It was a dream, whatever it was, you were dreaming it!" Willow was patting her arm, her green eyes large with worry as she tried to calm her friend. Buffy stared at her a moment, still gulping, then went boneless with relief. She was in the library, it was broad daylight, she'd just drifted off while studying. It wasn't real.
"What was it about? Something that's going to happen? Another premonition?" Willow got to her feet, her expression troubled. "I could get Giles, Principal Snyder just grabbed him for some administrative meeting he was missing----"
"No." Buffy straightened, looking away from Willow, shaking her head in denial. "No, it wasn't about the future. I'm positive. Just a nightmare." She smiled weakly, staring back down at the books again. "Even if it was a deeply wiggy one."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Ummm... not really." The Slayer glanced at the clock. "You're going to be late to class if you don't motor, Will." She met her friend's skeptical glance and grinned. "Honest, I'm fine. I just want to forget it. Since it's not a future thing, I don't have to think about it, right?"
"If you're positive...."
"All right. But you should tell Giles about it anyway, just to be sure." Willow gathered up her books and headed for the library doors. "Okay?"
"'Kay. Bye, Will." Buffy waited until she was sure her friend was gone. Then she reached out for the new diaries of Wesley's that they'd been studying right before she had the nap attack. 500 A.D., 600 A.D., 700 A.D.... Buffy paged through the one covering the eighth century, looking for Udolfo di Rossi's name, or Helena's. There was nothing about them in the Diary for that year, or that decade.
Finally she found something, a little footnote in the next Watcher's journal.
.... Helena's remains were buried secretly, in an unmarked grave at the foot of Udolfo di Rossi's cemetary plot. All mention of her tenure as Slayer will be expunged from the official records, save the following entry:
Helena di Firenze, 700 A.D. - 717 A.D.
Slayer for Florence, 714 A.D. - 717 A.D.
Died by the judgement of the Watchers for crimes against the Council.
Buffy stared at that entry for a long time, chilled and wondering.
Notes from the Watcher's Council Minutes, 718 A.D.: Conference of Wales
(1) The next Slayer has been called in Brindisi, in the mountains above Greece. A new Watcher has been dispatched to train her and replace her current Watcher, in accordance with the directives.
(2) The Watcher's Council has been re-established within the confines of Wales, in a small village near the Mabinogen Hills. The places left by the deceased members of the Council have been filled, at least for the time being.
(3) After much consideration, it is the finding of the Council that the cause of the tragedy in London can be laid at the feet of Udolfo di Rossi, and his excessive consideration for the Slayer in his care. The sole witness to the massacre has reported the Slayer's remarks regarding the death of her Watcher, and her stated reasons for her actions. It is the Council's belief that her grief left her abnormally imbalanced, and that lingering effects from proximity to the vampire queen may have also resulted in a clouding of her mind.
In the future, every precaution will be taken to prevent such an intense attachment from forming, both for the sake of the Slayer and Watcher, and for the preservation of the Council's ability to effectively control the next Slayer.
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