"She's smiling," Angel muttered into Buffy's ear. "Why is she smiling?"
He wasn't really expecting an answer as he steered them both around a chair left in the aisle by a careless waiter. His lover, however, had a fairly good idea of her mother's thought processes.
"Umm, she thinks she's going to win?" Buffy glanced up at Angel, all traces of levity gone. "She's not, you know."
Angel drew a deep unnecessary breath. "I know."
"This is so funny," she marveled as they approached the table. "When we met my dad, I was the one who was jell-o and you were fine. I guess the foot's on the other...no, wait, reverse that."
"At the time you were barely speaking to him; it really didn't matter if he liked me," Angel explained. "Now you two are a family again, and you and I are a family and you and your mom are a family. I'm just not sure if you and I and he and she can make one family."
"Doesn't matter. The you and I part is the only part that counts."
"No, it's not."
She didn't have a chance to reply; they were at the table.
"Buffy, Angel." Joyce nodded regally at them from her chair. "You're a little early."
"Says the woman who's halfway done with her martini already." Buffy draped her shawl across the back of a chair and tried a slightly stiff smile on for size. "Is Dad here yet?"
"It's a vodka gimlet, actually; I didn't like the martini they brought me. And yes, he was here before me even. He and his date, imagine that." Joyce forced a soft laugh. "They went to check her coat or something, but they'll be right back."
"His date? I thought this was supposed to be a family dinner." Buffy made a face as Angel pulled out a chair for her.
"Yes, well..." Joyce's voice trailed off, not quite mentioning Angel's less than family status, but leaving her companions in no doubt as to her meaning.
Buffy flushed with annoyance, but Angel's hand was steady and cool against her back as she took her seat. It reminded her not only of the battle to be won, but the prize for victory.
"I just didn't know Dad was seeing anyone," she explained with grudging patience. When Angel sat down beside her, Buffy took his hand firmly in hers.
"Did you know?" she asked him quietly. It wasn't like Angel to keep secrets, at least not anymore.
He shrugged as he signaled a waiter to come over to take their drink orders. "No, this is the first I've heard of it. Must be someone new."
There was a brief awkward moment of silence. Angel reached back in his memory for the right phrase or question to use to break the ice, but Joyce had been right about one thing: even as a human he had never been a "dinner with the parents" type of guy.
"So, umm, I noticed you've traded in the SUV, Joyce. How do you like your new Cruiser?" It wasn't much of a conversational gambit, but if Joyce liked cars the way Hank did...
...And yet there was always the chance she didn't, Angel realized an instant too late. Obviously a mutual passion for cars was not one of the things that brought Joyce and Hank together. Still, and despite the distinct chill in the air, he persevered.
"I had to laugh when I first saw those cars. Not because they're funny or anything," he added quickly when he saw Joyce's lips tighten. "They're just kind of old-fashioned looking; it surprised me. I mean, I used to have a car just like that back in the..." his voice dwindled away for a moment before he gathered the strength to finish his ill-advised comment. "Back in the forties," he finally said, flashing an apologetic look at the wincing Buffy.
If anything, Joyce's expression became even cooler.
"So did my grandfather."
Angel was saved from further foot swallowing by Hank's return.
"Well, good evening everybody." Hank kissed Buffy's cheek and shook Angel's hand as he came around the table. "Sorry I stepped away; I just needed to take care of something." He slid into his seat next to Joyce and beamed at one and all.
"Or someone," Buffy corrected him dryly. "Mom told us you brought a date." She glanced over her shoulder. "Where is she?"
"She needed to make a brief stop in the, umm...well, I think she wanted to fix her make-up or something. Make a good impression and all."
"So how did you two meet?" Buffy asked, struggling to act normally. She really didn't relish Joyce shooting verbal daggers in front of a complete stranger, but there seemed to be no escape from the situation. Maybe it would at least draw some of the heat away from Angel.
"Listen, this evening is about you and Angel. No talk about my love life." Hank nervously cleared his throat. "Not that there's much to tell anyway. I just met her a few weeks ago. That conference I went to in New Orleans; do you remember me mentioning that? She was staying at the same pension and we...well, I wouldn't have even brought her tonight, but she got all dressed up for a family dinner and then I guess her family had to back out. I felt bad."
Angel shot a quick look at Buffy, gauging the state of her temper. She seemed more exasperated than truly angry, which relieved him immensely. There would be enough issues to deal with in the next few hours without the addition of hurt feelings over Daddy's new girlfriend.
"Well, I'm sure she appreciates you inviting her," Angel said smoothly. Truth be told, he was rather relieved to be sharing the spotlight as the outsider at a family picnic.
"I just hope I'm not inviting her into anything too personal," Hank joked. "I'm assuming this urgent need for a family conference has to do with setting a wedding date."
Buffy immediately pounded her choking mother on the back as Hank stood up and waved to someone approaching from behind.
"Here she is."
Angel gave Buffy's hand an extra squeeze.
"Did you start the party without me?" asked a voice from behind them.
Buffy and Angel both froze in the act of turning around in their seats. The voice was lilting and musical, and in the past it was usually followed by the sound of screams.
As she came around the table, Drusilla beamed at them.
* * * * *
Hank rested his arm around Drusilla's waist. "Drusilla dear, I want you to meet...Buffy, what's wrong?"
Buffy was halfway out of her seat before she realized she couldn't attack her nemesis in the middle of a restaurant. Even if the crowd of diners hadn't been an issue, the solid bulk of Angel's body provided a substantial obstacle, suddenly positioned as he was between she and Dru.
Sometimes it bothered her that Angel could read her thoughts before she even finished the sentences.
"Umm, nothing Dad," Buffy managed to choke out. She clutched Angel's arm with a deadly grip, though she wasn't sure if it was for the sake of her hold on reality, or his.
"Angel love, I had no idea." Dru slipped away from Hank to move closer to her sire. Her smile was innocent and charming...as long as one didn't attempt to look too deeply into the black pools of her eyes.
"You two know each other?" Hank hoped his voice didn't sound as suddenly deflated as his ego. This was a most unexpected, and none-too-welcome turn of events.
Dru glanced quickly over her shoulder, lightly brushing Angel's face with the swinging tips of her long dark hair. "Angel is my brother, dear one. The one I told you about."
"Drusilla," Angel acknowledged her gravely.
He didn't trust himself to say more, and he could only hope his face was as impassive as he tried to make his voice, in the teeth of her familial fictions.
Hank's face cleared in an instant. "Your brother? Well that's great, just great! I had no idea that Angel was..." he looked quickly at Angel, "though come to think of it, you did mention you had a sister. Is Drusilla the one that nicknamed you Angel?"
"No," Angel snarled before he could help himself. The swift mocking smile that danced across Dru's lips forced him to control his temper. "That was my little sister Kathy." He paused. "She died a long time ago."
Joyce glanced from Drusilla to Angel in abject confusion. "Your sister? But how is that possible?" And why did the girl's name sound so familiar?
"We'll do the family tree later, Mom." Turning to Dru, the Slayer all but growled, "What are you doing here?"
Buffy instantly felt the muscles in Angel's arm cord beneath her fingertips, reminding her that antagonizing Drusilla in a restaurant full of innocent people was liable to end in the diners becoming the entrée.
"We thought you were in Spain," she continued in a slightly less menacing tone.
"I was, but I missed my family." Dru turned to Hank, her peculiarly sweet smile at full wattage. "Are we going to sit down?"
"Oh, of course." Hank pulled out a chair for her, seating Dru between himself and Joyce. He sat down next to Angel, glancing from his daughter's companion to his own. "Well, I can certainly see the family resemblance."
Angel was visibly startled. "I don't think I..."
"The dark hair, the eyes, the pale skin," Hank elaborated, gesturing from one marbled cheek to the other. "Even the cold hands," he joked, swiftly caressing one of Drusilla's hands as it lay on the table next to his own. "The only thing that doesn't match is the accents."
Buffy winced as she took in the similarities her father pointed out. She had never noticed how much they looked alike; she was only grateful that Dru was not yet another entry in Angel's little blondes book. There were already too many of those for comfort.
"Angel is from Ireland," Dru said limpidly. "He was raised there by his mother."
Angel had a brief flash of memory. Silk pressing down on his face, held there by slabs of oak. Clods of freshly turned earth raining down on him as he forced open the lid of his prison. Air rushing into his lungs, drawn there with greedy, but unnecessary gasps. And waiting at the end of the journey was Darla, coolly amused by his struggles, yet heatedly impatient for his arrival.
Drusilla was not lying; his mother had indeed raised him, from the grave if nothing else.
"I was raised in London by my father," she continued, flashing an impish grin at Angel.
"So you're not completely brother and sister? I mean you're half or step or something?" Hank frowned as he worked out the logistics. "Actually, if your mother wasn't her mother and Drusilla's father wasn't..."
"We're half," Angel replied heavily as he pulled Buffy's chair back into place for her.
"I still don't understand." Joyce's voice was a little louder this time, and more insistent. Whoever this girl was, and it was clear Buffy and Angel knew even if Hank did not, she could not be Angel's sister.
"Angel really didn't get along with Drusilla's, umm, father," Buffy interjected hastily. She slipped into her chair and pulled Angel's cold, still hand into her own warm ones, squeezing it tightly. "They had nothing in common, nothing at all. So he didn't see much of Dru until a few years ago."
"Daddy and I were very close." Her tone was soft, but steady, with none of the familiar singsong quality Buffy had come to associate with her mad rival. "It broke my heart when he died. I would give anything to bring him back."
"That's never going to happen," Buffy said flatly. Vivid images suddenly rose in her head, demonstrating how she could easily prevent such an occurrence. Most of them involved Dru and various types of wood, some of it in the form of torches.
Really big torches.
"Buffy!" Joyce was pulled from her own confused ruminations by her daughter's rudeness. This girl might be lying about her family, but it in no way excused how far beyond the bounds of civility her daughter had wandered. "That was a very unkind thing to say."
"Mom, you don't..." she started to protest, before remembering her mother had never met Drusilla face to face before. "Never mind." Buffy dropped her head for a moment in discouragement before meeting Dru's eyes. "I'm sure you miss your 'father'," she said through gritted teeth, "but sooner or later you have to move on."
"And I am," Dru said stoutly, "with the help of kind new friends." She patted Hank's arm fondly.
Angel resumed his seat, trying not to watch as Drusilla's platonic patting became more demonstrative. If he didn't see it, he wouldn't have to stop it.
The waiter at last made his appearance, pen and paper poised to serve. "Can I get anyone a drink to start with?"
"God yes," Angel groaned before he could help himself.
"Nothing for me, thank you ever so much." Dru smiled sweetly at the waiter. "I'm sure they don't carry bottles of my favorite."
"You're not getting anything on tap, that's for sure," Buffy muttered under her breath.
Summers, party of five, was a quiet table. Periodically Hank would try to start a conversation, but responses were generally monosyllabic and monotone. He thought at least Drusilla could be sparked into animation, but she merely smiled at his efforts and toyed with her food. Eventually even Hank the eternal optimist had to admit defeat, and lapsed into silence. The only sounds they heard came from other diners, and the clicking of silverware against the plates.
Suddenly Drusilla's clear voice penetrated the oppressive stillness.
"Angel, love, won't you please dance with me?"
"Excuse me?" The steak knife slipped from Buffy's suddenly nerveless fingers, arcing through the air over the table.
Without even thinking about it, Angel stretched out a long arm and caught the knife as it flew past him. Buffy flashed him a grateful smile, which quickly died when she realized the utensil's trajectory had placed Drusilla as an end point...and the handle of the knife was wooden.
Hank whistled, releasing the breath he'd been holding. "That was quite a catch," he said shakily.
Angel shrugged, not daring to meet Buffy's eyes. "It was nothing."
"I want Angel to dance with me," Drusilla reiterated stubbornly, seemingly oblivious to her near miss with a powdered future.
Buffy snatched the knife back from Angel and placed it on the table with exaggerated care. Her fingers lingered on the handle. "I don't think this is really the time for dancing, Drusilla. Some of us are still eating."
Drusilla pouted and tugged at Angel's sleeve. "Your father is still eating, but I'm done, and Angel is sitting here all in a lump, not eating a bite."
"My appetite is a little off," Angel mumbled, grimacing slightly as he pushed his plate away.
"Isn't that the pot calling the kettle anorexic?" Buffy asked, her voice dripping with saccharine. She gestured at Drusilla's nearly full plate. "You hardly touched your own steak. Not tartare enough for you?"
"I'm too excited to sit still and eat. All of us here together, it's everything I imagined it would be. Except that Angel is all grumbly." She pushed her chair out and stood up, dragging at Angel's arm again. "I think he needs some fun."
"I think he needs some peace and quiet," Buffy said succinctly. She abandoned her steak knife to wind her arms around Angel's other arm, leaning solidly into his shoulder.
Angel sighed heavily and pushed his chair back, raising Buffy's hand to his lips for a kiss before he stood up. "And I think the only way he's going to get it is by giving the lady a dance." He looked sharply at Drusilla. "One dance," he repeated firmly.
She clapped her hands and squealed in delight. "Oh goody; a dance, a dance. I do so love to dance."
"Angel..." Buffy's voice trailed off as she worriedly looked up at her lover.
Angel leaned down and rested his hand gently on her shoulder as he spoke softly in her ear. "We need to know why." He said no more, but he could tell by the unhappy look in Buffy's eyes that she understood him too well.
"Be careful," she mouthed at him, not daring to say the words out loud for fear of what they could inspire in Drusilla.
"Always," he whispered back, and they both knew there was more to the promise than safety.
* * * * *
Drusilla slid easily into Angel's arms once they reached the dance floor. He was disturbed by how familiar it felt to be holding her, after all these years. After a few minutes of silent dancing, however, he realized a significant difference from the Dru of old. This Dru actually stayed in his arms, instead of spinning wildly across the room, laughing and singing and...killing every human within reach.
"I can't believe you're so calm, Dru," he said dryly. "I always knew a lot of the New Age moonchild chatter was just for show, but I had no idea how much. You really are quite the little actress."
Drusilla scowled at him as she swayed to the music. "You're not being very nice to me, Angel. And after I came all this way just to see you and my new mummy."
"Oops, careful there." Angel waved a scolding finger at her. "You can't very well pull off whatever it is you're trying to pull off if you start the little girl routine again. Spike might have fallen for it hook, line and sinker, but you look a little too close to Buffy's age for Hank to feel comfortable with it."
She tossed her head defiantly. "Men love to feel protective of a woman. It makes them feel all manly." She waited for approval of her witticism, but Angel was not so obliging.
"There's protective and then there's pedophile."
"It always worked on you," she said shrewdly, "or does Daddy not remember that far back?"
"I remember. I remember it got real old real fast. Why do you think I encouraged you to make a little playmate of your own?"
He closed his mind to the sudden reminder that her little playmate had been a person, a live human being, whose death he solicited not even for something as necessary as blood, but just for his own peace of mind. Drusilla's childlike behavior had rapidly worn out his limited patience, and Darla's.
A knowing smile crept across her lips. "I think it was because we made Darla just a teensy bit too jealous. You were afraid of getting staked in your sleep."
"Why are you here, Dru?" he asked abruptly. "Spike's gone; he already sailed to Spain looking for you." He tipped his head back and contemplated the ceiling as he mused. "But chasing after him isn't your style anyway. You'd want him to do the legwork. And I can't believe you gave up Pamplona for a trip down memory lane with me."
"But Spain was so boring," she complained, a frown marring the smooth landscape of her pale brow. "All those noisy humans speaking with those funny accents; it made my head ache."
He smiled at Dru; a smile Buffy only let herself remember in her nightmares.
"Spill it, starshine, before Buffy gets completely fed up and comes after you with that steak knife she was fondling." He removed his hand from her back to run a finger down his lapel. "You know, I honestly don't mind getting a little dust on this coat if it's in a good cause."
"I missed having a daddy," she said with a pout. "Spike was a fun toy, but he was my little boy." Drusilla tilted her head at a coquettish angle and batted her eyelashes at him. "I need a father to protect me."
"Just what do you think I'm going to protect you from?" Angel was honestly amazed; he thought Dru had realized the change in his feelings was permanent. "And do I even need to mention the 'why' part?"
"Oh, I don't mean you." Bewildered innocence oozed from every pore. "Buffy has you wrapped round and round her little finger, like a snake around a tree branch. There's no room for me anymore."
"So what's the deal?" he insisted, as though he didn't already know. He had trained her; he knew how she thought, better than anyone, because he had taught her to think that way. Drusilla's next words confirmed his worst fears.
"There are other daddies out there, Angel. Good daddies, and not so good, and some are good to the last drop." She started to laugh, a slightly maniacal giggle, but quickly stopped when she saw the relief on Angel's face.
"You've been playing the basket case too long, Dru; you've started to buy into your own act. That's going to trip you up faster than I can."
He hoped, oh how he hoped, that was true.
"I can do anything; be anything," she said confidently. "My daddy once told me so."
He remembered that conversation well; how could he not? Her first kill. He had told her precisely what to do, and then watched as she proceeded to make a thorough hash of it. Still, he had told her that she showed great promise, and he was proud of her. On the inside he might have been laughing as hard as Darla, but stronger was the perverse desire to succeed where his own father had failed. His child would grow to meet his every expectation, simply because he did the polar opposite of his father.
Meet them she did, and then some. And if he didn't watch his step now, she might prove herself all over again.
"Leave him alone, Dru."
"What do you mean, pet?" Innocence was once again the weapon of choice.
"I know how the game works, Dru. Hell, I taught you the game. Leave Hank alone."
"I see all these pretty circles of words spinning out of your mouth, just like smoke rings." She twirled her finger in the air, higher and higher, laughing softly the whole time. "Up, up and away."
Angel gritted his teeth and tried again, speaking very slowly and clearly this time. "Hank is not your father, and I won't let you use him as an appetizer, so leave him alone."
"Tit for tat, Angel." A beatific smile lit up her face. "Buffy took my daddy, and now I shall have hers in return." She gently patted his shoulder to show all was now right with the world.
"This isn't a warning, Dru; it's a promise. There is no room for negotiation this time, and there will be no mercy."
"But Angel love, why would you say that?" Drusilla cocked her head and stared at him, seemingly puzzled. "I'm not going to hurt your little Slayer, just her father. You always used to say fathers were only fit as Sunday dinner, don't you remember?"
"That was a long time ago, and to put it mildly, things have changed."
"But fathers haven't." Her hand came to rest over his heart. "My poor Angel. So much guilt; I can feel it pulsing like blood through your veins. Do you really think saving Buffy's daddy from the big bad vampires will make your own father forgive you for killing him?"
* * * * *
"Well, this is nice." Joyce smiled at her daughter and her ex-husband as they stared at their significant others on the dance floor. "The three of us having a quiet dinner together. And in a restaurant too, so no dishes to worry about." She only wished she hadn't had that second gimlet to settle her nerves; then there would be no headache to worry about either.
Buffy dragged her attention away from Angel long enough to cock an eyebrow at her mother. "I'll give you the dishes part, Mom," she said carefully, "but there are actually five of us here tonight."
Hank forced himself to stop gawking at his date, a woman who looked a little too comfortable dancing with her own brother. "Honey, I think your mom is just glad the three of us can sit at the same table without arguing. It's been awhile."
"I'm not going to touch the you and her arguing stuff, Dad, but part of why Mom and I are fighting is because she says things like that. Things that exclude Angel."
Before Joyce could form a reply, Hank jumped in again. "Well, I think we should take advantage of this little intermission to discuss why we're all here tonight, or at least give me a hint. I've pretty much decided wedding plans are not on the agenda, but I'm not sure what is."
"Where did you get this wedding idea anyway?" Joyce quickly shifted her focus from her distracted daughter to her clueless ex-husband. "They're not engaged, or if they are no one has bothered to tell me."
"But I thought..." Hank's forehead wrinkled as he turned to Buffy. "Honey, didn't you tell me that you and Angel were engaged?"
Buffy had no answer for her father; actually she hadn't even heard the question. She had returned her attention to the dance floor just in time to see Angel flinch, as though from a blow, and now he was standing frozen in the center of the crowded floor. Buffy knew Drusilla hadn't struck him; she would have seen that. It could only be words the vampire was using to inflict wounds.
For Angel, words could be the most brutal of weapons.
Buffy abruptly pushed back her chair and seized her father's hand. "Come on, Dad; I feel a sudden urge to dance."
* * * * *
Hank stumbled slightly as his daughter spun a bit too enthusiastically across the parquet floor. He was under no illusions about her true purpose in asking him to dance; he just wished she would be a little less determined in her pursuit of her goal.
"Honey, we're making a scene here," he whispered, pulling her closer even as she strained to back them across the floor. "Calm down and try to look like we're actually dancing."
Miraculously, Buffy seemed to hear, and even understand him. She stopped her insistent tugging at his shoulder and tried to relax in his arms.
"Sorry, Dad." An anxious smile flashed across her face. "I'm just a little antsy."
"About Angel dancing with his own sister?"
"There's more to it than that, Dad. I know you like her and everything..." Buffy tried hard to repress her instinctive shudder at the thought, "but there's things you don't know. Big things you don't know."
"I can tell she upsets you," Hank answered carefully. "I wouldn't have sprung her on you like this if I'd known, but I'm not sorry I've gotten to know her."
"Buffy, the way you see her, and the way her brother sees her, is completely different from the way I see her."
"You have no idea," she grumbled.
"And while I'm willing to listen to your side of the story," he continued sternly, "I expect you to respect my choices in life, the same way you want me to respect yours." He glanced pointedly at Angel, who was almost within reach.
"This is so not the same thing," she protested. "Comparing Angel and Dru is like comparing apples and...alligators."
"Hank," Drusilla purred a moment later, preventing him from completing the dreaded 'I remember three names and you're out' parental gambit. "Dear sweet Hank, have you come to rescue me from this dull boy?"
Without waiting for a reply, Drusilla stepped away from Angel and sidled over to Hank, holding out her arms. Buffy glared at her, and then turned her attentions to her shaken boyfriend.
"Angel, are you okay?" she asked softly, slipping into his unresisting arms. "What did she say to you?"
Those same arms tightened ferociously about her for an instant before reluctantly allowing her room to breathe.
"I'm fine; it's nothing," he answered hoarsely, not meeting her eyes.
She reached up and pressed her palm to the side of his averted face, applying gentle pressure until he looked at her. "Would that be an actual nothing, or a 'we'll talk about it when we're alone' nothing?"
He sighed and kissed her forehead. "When we're alone," he promised wearily.
Buffy glanced over at her father and Drusilla, now cozily intertwined a few feet away. "Of course, 'alone' may be a relative term right now," she muttered. "And I do mean relative."
* * * * *
"Well, this has certainly been an....unusual evening."
Buffy smiled uncertainly at her father, trying to decide if there was anger beneath his carefully chosen words
"Things didn't go exactly according to plan," she hedged, nervously twisting a lock of hair between her fingers. "I know we were going to go over to Mom's and talk after dinner, but I'm just so wiped from all my packing. I really think," she glanced up at Angel as he manipulated the key in the door, "that is we really think it would be better to have Mom come over here tomorrow for brunch. We can talk then."
"Talk about what is what I'd like to know," her father grumbled, waving her into the apartment before him. "None of you will tell me. I know your mother doesn't like the idea of you two moving in together, but since she knows I'm behind it...or at least not against it," he amended in the interests of honesty, "I can't see how she could believe a conference is going to help. There has to be more to it than that, but what?"
"Hank, there are a lot of things we need to discuss," Angel said slowly, "but none of it needs to be said tonight." He tossed the keys on the coffee table. "Buffy is right; we need to get some sleep. It will all seem clearer in the morning."
"Including why you two were so panic-stricken at the idea of me staying at a hotel?" Hank asked dryly. "And yet you were only too anxious to tell your sister to get a room. Are you afraid we'd get the same one?"
"No, of course not," Angel lied. "You're an adult, she's an adult...it's really none of our business what you do together."
"And we so do not want to know, either," Buffy hastily added. "Besides, that was a nice hotel that we checked her into. The thing with her staying here is..." she glanced quickly at Angel for direction, but he seemed equally stumped for a good excuse. "Umm, well, Dru is kind of a bad houseguest. I know you wouldn't think it to look at her, but she honestly eats everything in sight, and she leaves the place a mess and we..."
"Don't want to deal with it anymore," Angel finished firmly. "We've had enough."
"Oh yeah," Buffy said with feeling. "And once you invite, I mean let, her in, you're kind of stuck with her."
As they spoke, Buffy was slowly herding her father towards the guestroom, Angel following close behind.
"I had no idea there was this kind of animosity between you two." Hank's brow wrinkled with concern. "From the way she talked, I thought you were a very close family."
Angel looked away as the past came creeping over the borders of his mind. "We were," he admitted softly, "once upon a time. A very long time ago."
Buffy anxiously stroked his arm, trying to recall him to the present and away from the painful shroud of the past. "Dad, can we just do this in the a.m.?" She gestured to the open bedroom door behind Hank. "It's been a really long day, and you know I just finished finals, and you guys have been playing moving men the past few days and...we're all tired."
Hank hovered indecisively in the doorway to the guestroom. "I guess we can pick things up then," he gave in grudgingly. "But I would like some answers, some good answers for all this strange behavior tonight, young lady. So start thinking them up tonight."
Hank backed quickly into his room and closed the door, trying not to imagine what else his daughter would be spending the night doing. Sometimes he envied the fathers of old, who could marry their daughters off before having to worry about their futures, or their virtue. It wasn't easy being a modern, liberal father...unless of course your only daughter was a nun.
* * * * *
Buffy firmly closed their bedroom door and leaned against it, effectively barring Angel's escape. Not that she thought he had the energy to go over the wall; he looked drained, and suddenly much older.
She had grown used to his smiles in the past few months, familiar with his quiet chuckle; she had almost reached the point where she accepted them as the norm. Earlier tonight, when they were intertwined on the dance floor, she hadbasked in the warmth of his contentment, despite all the chaos that surrounded them.
But the Angel before her now was the man she remembered from the old days, when guilt and remorse threatened to overwhelm even his love for her.
He frightened her. And if there was one emotion a Slayer refused to accept, it was fear.
"Okay Angel, it's share-time," she said briskly, trying to disguise the quaver in her voice.
"I thought it was bedtime." He tried to raise the ghost of a smile, and Buffy wanted to weep for the effort she could see behind it.
"Later. Something Dru said has you freaked, or maybe it's just that she was here to say it in person; I don't know. So tell me." She crossed her arms over her chest and prepared for the blow.
Angel wandered restlessly around the room, removing his watch and slowly slipping off his jacket as he tried to compose an answer. It was never easy for him to put his feelings into words, and now he must try to boil down two and a half centuries of emotional dysfunction into things as simple as names and dates.
"It's partly that she's here, I guess, and partly why she's here." He paused in his ramblings long enough to capture Buffy's eyes with his own. "She's here for your father, Buffy."
"Well duh." Buffy snorted; this was not news to her. "It's obvious she's latched on to him as part of some plan to..." her voice trailed off as she saw Angel slowly, sadly, shaking his head.
"He is the plan," he corrected her gently. "Him for me. Your father...for Dru's."
She drew a deep breath and tried to control her suddenly racing heartbeat. "Okay, so now we know why she's here. We'll call the others, we'll make plans, we'll do what we always do...which is win. We will win, Angel; don't worry."
She felt strange being the one to do the reassuring, especially about her father's safety, but Angel seemed to be devastated by the danger Dru presented.
Angel was on the move again, prowling around the bedroom like an animal inspecting the limits of his cage. "We have to win, Buffy; that's not the issue. It's just that...this is my fault. I made her what she is."
"No, he did." Buffy swiftly crossed the room and grabbed Angel's arm, forcing him to stop pacing. "We've been over this, Angel; just because you and your evil Siamese twin are joined at the memory engram does not make you responsible for what he did. He killed Dru, not you."
"But I trained her, Buffy." His voice was barely a whisper, yet the anguish rang through loud and clear. "I guided her, and I praised her, and I encouraged her all the way, no matter what." He paused, trying to find the words to convey the true measure of his shame. "I was exactly the kind of 'father' that I always wanted to have, and this is the result."
"It wasn't you," she insisted. "As much as I love what you can do with this body, the truth is it's just a shell that the demon used to drive around town." She clung to his arm with one hand and moved the other to his chest, flattening her palm to encompass the breadth of his heart. "This is you, the real you."
He shook his head, stubbornly resisting the comfort she offered so freely. "It's not that simple. I know the demon is the one that killed her and her family. I know that the demon is the one that turned her, and I'll even grant you that the demon is the one who taught her how to kill. But he, it, whatever, was using my memories of my father, the remnants of my feelings about him. He did it because I wanted it." He wrenched free of her grasp and spun away; he couldn't face her right now.
Suddenly old conversations began shuffling through Buffy's brain, words and phrases coming back with painful clarity and significance.
"You mean the demon used the problems you had with your dad against you, I mean her."
He dropped heavily on to the edge of the bed, still not looking at her. "Pretty much," he agreed bleakly. "All my life, when I was alive that is, I wanted to prove myself to my father. First it was to be the son he wanted me to be, and then, when I finally realized that was never going to happen, I wanted to do him one better."
Buffy cautiously sat down next to him on the bed, but made no further moves to touch him just yet. She wasn't sure he would accept her comfort, and to touch him and have him push her away...that she could not bear.
"Go on, Angel," she said steadily. "I can take anything but lies."
"I wanted to be exactly the kind of son he thought I was, and then some. It felt like the only control that I had over my own life...until Darla changed me." He laughed harshly and met her eyes at last. "Suddenly I had the power."
"And you used it."
This, at least, was familiar territory for her. She knew what had happened to Angel's family and she accepted it. There was nothing else to do but accept; it was done.
"I used it against him, and the rest of my family, but it still wasn't enough to show him up." Angel paused for a moment. "And then I found Dru."
"I don't understand."
Buffy could hear how small her voice had become against the vastness of history and emotions he was spreading out before her. She wanted to be there for Angel, as he had always been there for her, but she was suddenly beginning to realize the enormity of her task.
Angel looked away again, but before he did he reached out and clutched Buffy's hand. The further into the ocean of his past he wandered, the more desperate his need became for a lifeline.
For Angel, that would always be Buffy.
"I wasn't exactly Mr. Introspective when I was human," he began, "and losing my soul didn't really improve the situation. You know that I destroyed Dru's family, and her sanity, before she was turned. At the time, I thought I was just doing it for...fun." His hand tightened reflexively around Buffy's, and to his overwhelming gratitude, she did not try to remove it.
"But I've had a lot of time to look back on it since then. I needed to reduce her to nothing; take away everything that defined her so that she was completely mine to mold." He drew a deep breath. "I made her into the equivalent of an infant, so I could be the one to 'raise' her."
"She calls me Daddy," he continued, desperate to complete his confession, "because that was what I made myself, so that I could prove I could do it better than my father."
Buffy could think of little else to say. He needed her reassurance; he needed it desperately, but what was the right thing to say? Was she supposed to belittle his efforts to make him think he wasn't responsible, or tell him he did a great job...according to vampire lights?
Angel quirked his old sad half-smile at her. "Exactly. So, now that Dr. Frankenstein has done such a bang-up job of creating a monster, what's the encore?"
Buffy was shaken from her self-absorption by the bitter tone in his voice. No matter what she said, it had to be better than silence; a silence he would interpret as condemnation.
"I'm thinking that Kenneth Branagh killed the monster," she answered slowly.
She squeezed his hand as she rested her head against his shoulder. "But can we skip the part where we sail away and get stuck on an iceberg? It looked way too cold for this California girl."
"This isn't a joke, Buffy."
"I didn't say it was. But we can't change what happened, and the why's don't matter anymore." Buffy tried to keep her voice calm and level; she needed to talk Angel down. "The past is beyond your control, honey, superpowers or not. But I am not letting Dru exchange you for my dad like a wrong-sized sweater. And I am not losing you to her, or to the scenic guilt trip she's trying to book you on. I won't; end of discussion."
Angel heard the determination in her tone, and the fear that lay beneath. Too many times he had let his guilt come between them; no wonder Buffy dreaded Dru's effect on him more than the danger to her father. Vampires she could face without a qualm, but the past had claws and teeth made all the more deadly for being invisible.
* * * * *
Hank paused outside of his daughter's bedroom door, his hand poised to knock.
He could hear voices inside, so he knew they were up, but he was a little leery of disturbing them. Knowing that they were living together, even helping them to move in, was not the same as being confronted with the reality of it as a houseguest. He could be walking into an intimate situation, and for all that he had come to like Angel, he wasn't sure if the phrase "Get your hands off my daughter!" wasn't a matter of paternal hard-wiring he would be helpless to suppress.
This was ridiculous; he knew that. He was a grown man, afraid to confront his grown daughter for fear of having to face her being altogether too grown-up. She has a right to live her own life, Hank reminded himself sternly. And he had the right to sleep on a bed with little amenities such as a pillow and blankets, things the guestroom seemed to be sorely lacking. He had a perfectly reasonable excuse; no, make that reason, to disturb them.
Still his hand hovered millimeters away from the door.
* * * * *
Buffy reluctantly lifted her head from Angel's shoulder. "Did you hear something?" Her eyes narrowed as she focused on the closed bedroom door. "Something in the hallway, maybe?"
Angel had been too preoccupied to hear anything but his own thoughts, but he respected Buffy's keen senses. "Could be your dad." He frowned. "Did we make up the guestroom yet?"
Buffy puzzled for a moment, debating the probabilities and whether they merited further investigation. Investigation that would take her away, albeit briefly, from Angel's side.
"Nah, he'd just knock if he needed something," she finally decided. "And anyone else we know wouldn't bother to knock...so I must have been imagining things." She laid her head back down on Angel's shoulder, and relaxed into the arm he slid around her waist. "Too much coffee at the restaurant," was her final diagnosis.
"We didn't have to stay there so late," he reminded her gently. "The idea was to go back to your mom's and play Truth and Consequences."
"Don't you mean Truth or...no, you probably don't." She sighed, turning her head to press a kiss on the side of his neck. "I know we should have gotten it over with, but there was no way to explain you and me without explaining your so-called sister too, and I don't think either of us was up for explaining her tonight. For right now we're good; Dad is safe with us, and Mom is not about to invite his new girlfriend in for a late night cup of cocoa." She paused. "I think."
"So we wait for morning then."
"Hey, maybe we can ask Giles to bring some of his books for Dad tomorrow. You know, for a little Slayer 101. I'm sure once he sees this isn't just some trendy new Southern Cal invention, he'll be on board."
Angel didn't say anything at first, but she could sense his skepticism. She really couldn't blame him. Even to a former cheerleader, that sounded a little too optimistic.
"I think we'd better tell your dad without an audience," Angel finally replied. He slipped his other arm around Buffy's waist, holding her firmly against his side as proof against his past and hers. "It won't be easy for him to face all that he's been denying. Trust me on that one."
"I trust you on everything."
The simple words shot deep into his soul. They had been uttered not with coy charm or seductiveness, but only a devastating sincerity. He looked into her eyes, and saw the best part of himself reflected back.
"You make up for it all, you know," he said softly, his lips edging ever closer to hers. "Everything that's been, and everything that's to come; you make it all worthwhile."
A slow smile spread across her face, not only at his words, but also at the lightening tone of his voice. He had come close to the abyss tonight, yet together they had talked it through until the danger had passed. There was still more talking yet to be done, but they were finally learning to make the words work for them instead of against them.
She slid her hand across his chest and around to his back, flattening herself against him as she slid onto his lap.
"No, we make it worthwhile," she corrected him, proving her point with her lips until he could have no further doubts on the subject.
Suddenly Angel broke the kiss and stood up, still cradling Buffy in his arms. "Dance with me," he whispered as he gently set her on her feet.
She couldn't help the low giggle that escaped her lips, any more than she could help the way her body melted against his. Both were inevitable: like the tides, and the triumph of true love.
"Dance with me," Angel repeated, twining a length of her long blonde hair around his finger as he spoke. "Tonight, when we were on that dance floor, you made everything else in the world disappear. All I knew was the feeling of you in my arms."
She rose quickly to her toes, pressing a kiss on the side of his chin. "But there isn't any music," she murmured against his cool skin.
He shook his head, still smiling tenderly at her. "Your heartbeat is all the music I'll ever need."
Without further protest, she wound her arms around his waist and rested her head on his chest. His hands glided up and down her back, starting small fires under her skin with his cool fingertips. Slowly they moved as one around the bedroom, guided by a rhythm only lovers can hear.
* * * * *
Hank lowered his hand. The voices had grown softer and less distinct, and then he heard a throaty feminine laugh.
He quickly backed up.
The man in Hank knew what that sound meant, and it made the parent in him want to run away whimpering. No father should ever have to hear that laugh coming from his own daughter.
Suddenly blankets and a pillow seemed like a very bad idea. They were things that went on a bed, and the last thing Hank Summers wanted to think about right now was a bed.
He couldn't go to sleep now; that much was obvious. Maybe he could use the computer he'd noticed in the guest room. He'd received e-mails from Buffy, so he knew that they were online. That was it: he'd check his mail and then do a little harmless surfing to pass the time. Nothing like the Internet to keep his mind off of sex.
A moment later, as his brain fully absorbed the puddle at the end of his stream of consciousness, the whimper got the best of him.
* * * * *
"Angel, did you hear..."
She sighed blissfully. "Me either."
* * * *
A single floor lamp glowed in the corner, softly illuminating the sofa, and casting the rest of the living room into the shadows. The only sound came from the page of a book being repeatedly turned, and then turned back again, as the reader attempted to make sense of a fictional world with no vampires, or demons, or Slayers.
Suddenly a knock disturbed the fragile serenity of the quiet living room.
Joyce put down her book and hurried to the door. Few people stopped by the Summers house so late without good reason. Few people in Sunnydale were actually out so late without good reason...or a death wish.
She pulled open the door, fully expecting it to be Giles in search of Buffy, or perhaps Hank looking for a private conference. Instead, she beheld literally the last person she was expecting to see that night.
"Drusilla, how on earth did you get here?" Joyce poked her head outside, searching for Hank's car, or Angel's. "I don't see a cab. Goodness, did you walk here from the hotel?"
"It was such a lovely night. The stars were calling to me."
Too late Dru realized her error, but a quick glance reassured her that Joyce didn't know she'd meant that literally. Thank the stars for feeble human hearing, she thought, and then giggled.
Joyce frowned. "You really shouldn't be out by yourself, and on foot too; it's not safe."
"I know, and it's so terribly late as well. I shouldn't have bothered you." Drusilla said in a rush. She dropped her chin towards her chest, peering up at Joyce through her lashes. "It's terribly rude, I know, but I just had to apologize. I shouldn't have intruded on your lovely dinner tonight."
At the moment the only apology Joyce thought due from her unannounced guest was for this late night visit itself. She was curious, though, to know what transgression the girl thought required forgiveness. She was even more curious about the girl herself; who she really was, what her true relationship to Angel was, and exactly what she thought was awaiting her in a relationship with Hank Summers.
"You don't need to apologize for that; Hank invited you. If anything we should be apologizing to you for it dragging you into a family quarrel." Joyce's eyes narrowed slightly as she attempted some subtle prying. "Of course since Angel is your family, I guess maybe it was your business too, wasn't it?"
Drusilla fought the urge to whine in frustration; this game was taking too long, and it just wasn't as much fun anymore. She longed to snatch the nasty Slayer's nosy mother by her brittle blonde hair and sink her teeth right into that little freckle winking at her from the juncture of Joyce's shoulder and neck. Now that would be fun. One quick taste and then...and then all her plans would be ruined. The demon within her abruptly recalled her ultimate goal, and enforced a suitably docile code of behavior.
"I didn't mean to cause any trouble."
"You didn't, not at all."
A sudden breeze rattled the leaves on the trees, and Joyce noticed Drusilla shiver in the aftermath. Putting aside any doubts about a girl who apparently found both Hank and Angel irresistible, the mother in Joyce responded to a child in need. She reached out to Drusilla as she said, "Please, won't you come in so we can talk?"
"What was that?" Drusilla pivoted slightly on her heel, stepping away just before Joyce's hand touched her cold flesh. "Oh, silly me, just a car door." She turned back to Joyce with a tremulous smile. "I really can't stay, but thank you so much for the invitation."
"Are you sure? I was only reading a book; you won't be disturbing me at all. And we can get to know each other a little better."
"I really can't." The regret in Drusilla's voice was almost palpable. Her last decent meal had been simply hours ago. "A friend of mine lent me his portable computer, and I must send him something, an e-mail I think they call it, to show that I'm trying to learn to use it." She shook her head and laughed delicately. "It will take me half the night."
"You must let me drive you back to the hotel at least," Joyce said firmly. "You can't walk back; I won't allow it."
"If...if you insist." You silly old cow, Drusilla continued silently.
* * * * *
The morning sun shone weakly through the slightly streaky windowpanes, highlighting the dust motes in the air, and the scowl on Cordelia's face.
"Yes, yes, a thousand times yes," she snapped into the phone.
"Words I've always dreamed of hearing you say to me." Doyle couldn't resist teasing his ladylove as he walked into Cordelia's apartment, and the tail end of her conversation.
Cordelia glared at him over her shoulder, but continued speaking to her mysterious caller. "I said I will, and I will, as long as you do what you promised. Now go away. I mean, stop calling." She banged the phone down onto the desk without waiting for a reply.
"Are we getting obscene phone calls at," Doyle glanced at the clock on the mantel, "eight a.m. now? A deviant who gets out of bed that early on a Sunday morning can't be all bad." He grinned as he tossed Cordelia a bag of crullers and settled himself on the sofa, balancing the cardboard tray of coffee cups on a pile of magazines on the glass table in front of him.
"Yeah, and if it was that kind of creep, don't you think bed is exactly where he would be calling from? That was Angel. Again."
She sat down next to Doyle, though not as close as he would have liked. Deviants weren't the only ones who could get ideas at eight a.m.
"So you told him about the package." Doyle nodded his head at the small parcel on Cordelia's desk. "Must have been some relief to him."
He fiddled with the plastic lid on his coffee, at first attributing Cordelia's silence to a mouthful of cruller. When he raised his head and discovered the bag still unopened on the cushion between them, he looked more closely at his goddess.
She was wincing slightly, presumably not at his choice of breakfast food. Doyle wasn't quite sure whether to mark the expression as guilt or trepidation, but neither was a good sign.
"You did tell him, didn't you?"
She sighed gustily. Better to get the shouting over with now, so she could enjoy her breakfast before the coffee got cold.
"No, I didn't tell him," she held up her hand to silence Doyle before he could protest, "because you and I both know he would have been brooding about it all day, and then as soon as it got dark he would have been driving back to get it."
"And that would be wrong because?"
"He can't leave Sunnydale right now. I don't know exactly what's going on, because he couldn't tell me since Hank was sleeping in the next room, but..."
"Hank?" Doyle interrupted her. "Buffy's dad was sleeping there? What is he even doing in Sunnydale?"
"I don't know," she repeated carefully, a slight edge in her tone indicating Doyle should start paying closer attention. "Angel said he'd call back later and explain, after they talked with Hank, but I don't want to wait."
To that end, she opened the lid on her coffee and reached into the paper bag for a cruller. Doyle seized her wrist, stopping her hand in mid-grope.
"Cordelia, me darlin', what is it that you're planning?"
The words were soft, the tone beguiling, but his eyes meant business. Cordelia bowed to the inevitable: confession before crullers.
"We're going to Sunnydale ourselves, just as soon as you let me eat my breakfast." She tugged her wrist free, abandoning half of said breakfast in the process. "Great, now see what you made me do," she complained, waving the mangled pastry under his nose.
"Why do we need to go to Sunnydale? So we can deliver a package Angel would have picked up himself if you hadn't lied to him? You, who gave me the grand lecture on lying, I might remind you."
She carefully placed the cruller on a napkin on her lap and met his eyes squarely for the first time that morning. "He needs us there."
"And did he say..."
"No he didn't say. He couldn't say, and even if he could, he wouldn't say." She smacked her forehead. "Gee, thanks for making me sound like the Cat in the Hat." Her fingers delicately explored her hairline. "And for making me get powdered sugar in my hair." This time it was Doyle's forehead she smacked.
"Hey!" he yelped, more in surprise than pain. "I'm just trying to find out what we're supposed to be rescuing the man from. Are we talking garden-variety evil, or did the forces of darkness come up with something really clever this time?"
"Parents," she said flatly. "In-laws, I guess would be a better word. I mean words. I mean...does the hyphen make it one word or two?" She paused only long enough for Doyle to open his mouth before she barreled on ahead. "No matter. What I'm trying to say is that Buffy and Angel ended up staying there unexpectedly, and Hank showed up unexpectedly, and Joyce still doesn't like Angel...is any of this registering with you?"
"Aye. You think Buffy's mum bushwhacked Angel, and he needs some back-up."
"He needs family." The correction was swift and automatic, surprising even Cordelia. "We're all he has, except Buffy of course, and right now she's what they're fighting over."
"And this wouldn't have anything at all to do with wanting to see what's in that package?" He smirked at her, the more so when he caught the first signs of a blush creep across her cheeks.
"You and I both know what's in it, though I don't know why he's so all-fired anxious to have it right now." She frowned at the puzzle, but then recalled herself to the subject at hand. "Anyway, what I really want to see is audience reaction. Especially Mommy Joycest."
"Not nice." Doyle waggled his finger at her and tried to look stern.
"Not caring," she loftily informed him, reaching in to the bag to retrieve the remainder of her cruller.
"So the package just gives us an excuse to poke our noses in uninvited," he summarized.
"Doyle, if I have learned one thing the past few years of demon dodgeball, it's that you have to play to your strengths. Ours is that, unlike a perfectly nice vampire we know, we don't have to be invited."
He decided to play his own trump card. "You realize we'll have to close up shop for a few days. No employees equals no new cases, and that means no money coming in." He leaned back on the sofa and began to whistle, just waiting to see how long before Cordelia would cave.
Her triumphant hoot was not the reaction he was expecting.
"As if!" She took a final bite of her cruller before she rose, and walked over to pick the phone up off of her desk. "Watch and learn, my naive friend. No clients may equal no money, but no employees just means you have to be creative."
* * * * *
Angel couldn't help grinning, even after Cordelia rather abruptly ended their conversation. He had known he risked her wrath by calling at such an hour, but a small part of him couldn't resist yanking her chain now and again. By all rights, he could have blamed his behavior on the demon within him, but he was pretty sure it was more a matter of brotherly payback for the hair gel comments.
As expected, Cordelia had not been any more receptive to an early morning phone call than the late night one, and she had let him know this in no uncertain terms. Apparently the going rate for such sins was a new cappuccino maker for the office, since the current one was "defective." Defective, of course, meaning even Cordelia couldn't stand her own coffee anymore.
Of far more concern to Angel than the expense of the call was lack of news she had for him. No packages, big or small, arrived yesterday, and today was Sunday. It was unlikely it would come to the office today, and every day he had to wait only added to his anxiety. There were arrangements to be made, and he was too far away to make them, and he didn't even have the necessary ingredients for a back-up plan.
And of course, any plans were subject to change by Drusilla, anyway.
The smile slowly faded from his face as the ramifications of last night began to sink in. He had so much already invested in the next few days, but he couldn't afford to consider any of it until Dru was taken care of, and Hank was much the wiser in the ways of the real world. Deep inside, he still held on to a tiny hope that Hank's education would not be at the expense of Dru's existence, but if it came down to a choice, he knew without fail where his loyalties lay.
The sudden whir of the clock ticking off another lost minute brought him back from the future and reminded him of his present obligations. Defending Buffy's father with his life was not the extent of his responsibility; there was also breakfast to consider.
Angel padded quietly through the living room to the kitchen, careful not to make any unnecessary noise that might disturb their guest. Before he could make any plans for the future, romantic or battle, he had to make the coffee. He wasn't sure about Hank's early morning persona, but Hank's daughter qualified as an unexploded missile before her daily caffeine infusion.
Everything appeared to be in good order in the kitchen when he flicked on the light; all the dishes were put away; the food, such as it was, was stacked in the pantry; the chairs were all tidily arranged around the cherry table. The only sign of a human presence was the small square of paper trapped beneath the edge of the sugar bowl.
Angel crossed the room and picked up the note, trying to quell the feeling of dread clenching his gut. He knew it couldn't be from Buffy; he had left her sleeping soundly in the bedroom not ten minutes ago. That only left Hank.
He had barely opened the note before the doorbell chimed.
Go to Part 9