"Buffy, wake up."
"Buffy." Angel shook her shoulder a little harder, yet still took care not to be too rough. He needed her awake, but not if it meant she came up swinging.
"Buffy. Sweetheart. You have to wake up."
The pillow she dragged over her head was not a good sign, but two could play at that game. He pulled the pillow back, fighting her for control of the pillowcase.
"Buffy, your mother is waiting in the living room and your father is gone."
She released the pillow so quickly Angel nearly lost his balance. An instant later she was sitting bolt upright in bed, frighteningly awake and alert.
"What do you mean my father is gone? Gone where?"
He held out the note to her. "The good news is that it has nothing to do with Dru."
She read the note quickly before crumpling it and tossing it in the trash. "Business," she said flatly. "Color me stunned."
Angel gingerly sat on the edge of the bed next to her. "Buffy, your mom called him away from his work on really short notice, and he came. To plan your wedding, he thought."
"And when he found out it wasn't..."
"And when he checked his e-mail," he corrected her, "he found out there was a problem he needed to resolve quickly." He gestured to the crumpled ball of paper in the trashcan. "He said he'd be back by this afternoon."
"And he always keeps his promises," she said bitterly.
"He's trying, Buffy. It's not easy for him either." He slid his arms around her, resting his cheek lightly on the top of her head. "I'm sorry," he murmured into her hair.
Buffy buried her face in his shoulder, breathing in the reassuring scent of him, relishing the feel of his arms firmly anchoring her to her future. This was home, right here with Angel. It didn't matter what her father did, or what her mother said, or...her mother.
"Angel, you said Mom was already here?" She raised her head and flung a wild-eyed glance at him before she scrambled out of bed. "What is she doing here so early? God, it's like the crack of dawn or something."
"Otherwise known as half-past eight," he said dryly.
"And the difference would be?" She didn't wait for an answer, but continued to talk as she darted into the walk-in closet. "She doesn't do early, at least not on week-ends. Where did you think I got the sleeping in thing from, my workaholic father?"
She held up a blouse for his inspection, and then abruptly tossed it back into the closet before he could speak. Angel slid back on the bed, propping himself up against the headboard as he watched her flit around the room pulling together an ensemble for the day.
"She said that she and your dad agreed about the time last night, obviously before he had a chance to check his e-mail."
Buffy lifted her head from the dresser drawer she was now pawing through. "I told you that computer was evil. But no, you had to let it in our house."
Angel shrugged, trying to suppress a grin at her indignant tone. For all that he was the one from another century, he still had an easier time dealing with the computer age than his normally au courant girlfriend did.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"And now the time is zero-dark-thirty and we're stuck with an angry mom and an absentee dad." Buffy flung yet another tank top back into her drawer.
"Swell. Let's all gather round the fire for another dramatic rendition of Buffy's childhood."
Angel was off the bed and wrapped around her in an instant, all thoughts of teasing instantly banished by the sight of Buffy's distress. "He will be back and she will calm down. And we will get through this."
Buffy closed her eyes and concentrated on happy thoughts. Angel. The new house. The hot tub in the new house. Angel in the hot tub in the new...she opened her eyes, feeling once again centered and sustained, if somewhat flushed.
"We will," she agreed, catching the breath that always seemed to elude her in his presence. "Especially if we only panic in turns, which is what we seem to be doing."
"Works for me."
Hearing Angel's husky voice, feeling the solidity of his arms around her gave Buffy the tiny patch of peace she so desperately needed. He was, as always, the fixed point in her chaotic universe. She beamed at him and tilted her head up to kiss his chin. Another kiss followed, this one slightly higher up his jaw, and then she began to cross the plane of his cheek.
"Buffy Summers, are you ever going to get up?"
Buffy groaned as her mother's voice penetrated the solid wood of the door. "Kissus interruptus."
"I'll save your place," he promised with a smile. "But for right now, I'm going to go out and see if the coffee is done yet, and you need to finish getting dressed. Don't take too long, though; I'm not sure how long I can keep your mother amused without resorting to falling on Mr. Pointy."
"No Mr. Pointy," she lectured him with mock solemnity. "The vacuum cleaner is broken, and I am not letting Mom track you all over the carpet."
"You're all heart." He turned to open the door. "Now get a move on."
Buffy's voice had a lost quality to it that stopped him dead in his tracks. He spun around to face her, ready to offer whatever comfort she required.
"Do you really think he's okay?"
She didn't need to be more specific; the same thoughts had crossed Angel's mind. He nodded his head slowly, holding fast to her eyes with his own.
"Yeah, I do. She's as trapped by sunlight as I am, and she's not going to do anything unless she has a good escape route." He paused for a moment before offering the less comforting arguments. "Besides, she doesn't want him to come to her; that's too easy. She wants him to bring her to us."
Buffy frowned as she pondered his explanation. It all seemed too complex to be effective, and also a bit beyond Drusilla's metal capacities.
"Are you sure?" she asked doubtfully.
A quick sad smile drifted across Angel's face. "It's what I would have done."
* * * * *
The tap-tap-tap was starting to get on Drusilla's nerves.
It had seemed innocent enough at first, almost soothing in its rhythm. But as it droned on and on, punctuated only by little beeps and clicks, she began to resent the assault on her eardrums. It seemed to be getting louder and more insistent, as though it was deliberately trying to annoy her. As though it wanted to distract her and ruin all of her lovely plans just when she was so close.
So very close to throwing that wretched little box out of the window if the noise didn't stop this instant.
The demon within Drusilla surged to the forefront, coldly assessing the situation and deeming the time not yet ripe for action. With a regretful sigh, the demon began to gather up the tattered remnants of personality it had been forced to work with these past 140 years. Insanity could be a lovely little game, but right now it was a luxury that a demon with a plan could ill afford. Later, when the die was cast and the dying had commenced, it would be time to explore the more colorful aspects of dementia.
For now, Drusilla must appear as calm and serene as Miss Edith at the Queen's tea party.
"You really are too good to me, Hank," she cooed. "And after I broke your lovely little computer too." Drusilla leaned over Hank Summers' shoulder, trying to look entranced as she watched him type various incomprehensible words and phrases into his nasty, noisy toy.
Hank stopped typing long enough to smile up at her. "It's not broken, just a little bit bent, and it wasn't your fault. I never should have tried to teach you about deleting files without being there to walk you through it the first few times." He returned his attention to his ailing laptop.
"I thought I could do it properly, and then I would make you proud of me. But it gave me some very nasty message and started beeping at me and..." She sighed, trying to sound regretful. "I'm such a goose about these things. All the cords and things to plug in; it's simply too much for me." A barrage of fluttering gestures in the air created visions of endless electronic gadgets, all aimed at her delicate psyche. "But it was so sweet of you to let me try with your new toy...and then to come help me when I've made a proper mess of it. I feel so bad about taking you away from your daughter, though. And at such an hour! I never imagined you would get my message tonight."
Not imagined, that much was true. You didn't have to imagine what you knew would happen, and Dru knew the silly boy would sooner die than go a day without checking his "mail."
Of course he could always do both.
Her spontaneous, and apparently unprovoked, giggle made Hank turn around abruptly in his chair, but all was calm by the time she met his eyes. He started to ask a question, and then thought better of it. Shaking his head, he focused his attention once more on the computer.
"I'm just glad I checked my mail before I went to...before I turned in." Hank sat back, watching the scrolling screen with satisfaction. "Well, it took a few hours there, but I think I retrieved everything. I'm only sorry I kept you up all night while I worked. If it weren't for the templates I stored on it...I just couldn't lose all that work." He clicked a few more keys to verify that everything was in its proper place and then began to shut the computer down. "I tell you what. Since we have both been up most of the night, why don't I treat you to breakfast?"
Drusilla glanced at the windows, still covered by heavy drapes. "Breakfast? Outside the hotel?"
"Anywhere your heart desires," he replied with a grandiose sweep of his arm. "I wasn't sure how long this would take, so I told Buffy I wouldn't be back until this afternoon."
"I really shouldn't keep you," Dru said demurely.
"I insist. You grab your purse and a jacket and we'll be off." He closed the laptop and stood up, pulling his jacket off the back of the chair as he came around the side of it. "There must be an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet somewhere in this town, right?"
She smiled widely at him. He really was too delicious for words; so commanding...and yet so completely unaware of the world he thought he had under his control.
"It wouldn't be very polite of me to refuse if you insist, would it?" She patted his arm. "Let me just finish getting ready to be seen in the light of day."
"You look perfect," he protested. His stomach rumbled quietly, forcing a bust of embarrassed laughter. "And I don't know if I can make it until you actually find some flaw that requires fixing."
"Dear man. I simply want to put on some jewelry." Drusilla reverently opened a small wooden box on the nightstand and pulled out an antique golden necklace. She dangled it in the air to show it off before draping it around her neck and fastening it. "This is my very best necklace, and I refuse to shame you by not wearing it when you take me out."
Hank admired the way the ornate strand of darkened gold and the small greenish gem at its center accented Drusilla's milky throat. She really was a beautiful young woman, though what she was doing spending so much of her free time with him, he didn't know. He was just grateful for the experience.
"I'm the one who should worry about shaming you," he said quietly. "But for now I'm going to do my best to make you glad you're here with me."
"Oh I am, my very own Prince Charming." Dru didn't have to lie on that point; she hadn't been so glad about anything in a very long time as Hank's unquestioning presence at her side. "Now let's go find that rumbly tummy of yours some food." With a reassuring pat to the necklace at her throat, she looped her arm through Hank's.
His attentive gaze remained fixed on the long smooth column of her throat; such an impossibly pale expanse of flesh, not even colored with the delicate tracing of blood vessels beneath the surface.
"You're staring," she accused him with a girlish laugh.
"It's...it's your necklace," he stammered.
"You've seen it before," she purred, stroking his arm.
"Yes, well, it, uh, it just goes so well with what you're wearing today and..." Hank forced himself to stop the schoolboy stammer. "It's lovely," he said with painful sincerity. "Almost as lovely as you."
"You are too sweet to me." Dru caressed the necklace with one languorous hand. "But you are right about my treasure. It is pretty." Her voice assumed a faraway tone. "It belonged to my great-grandmum, along with a ring. Angel was given the ring and he lost it." She pouted briefly for effect. "But I'm very careful with my precious things. Great-Grandmother Amara would never forgive me if I lost her special necklace."
* * * * *
Buffy cautiously slipped out of the bedroom and into the hallway, listening intently for noise coming from the living room.
It was quiet.
A thousand possibilities began to stream through her imagination, already primed by Fate to see the worst-case scenario. Maybe her mother had snuck up on Angel and staked him in the back, and then fled the scene of the crime. Maybe Angel had tired of her mother's constant haranguing and bound and gagged her. Maybe Drusilla had slipped into the apartment, uninvited and in the full light of day, and killed them both.
The possibility of them sitting in companionable, or at least non-combative, silence seemed too ridiculous to even contemplate.
Curiosity, tinged with anxiety, drew her into the living room, only to find it empty. Her quick ears caught the sound of voices in the kitchen, however, and she was compelled to follow.
Nothing had prepared her for the sight that met her eyes when she paused in the doorway.
Joyce was sitting at the table, nibbling on a cinnamon bun left over from the previous morning. A mug of steaming coffee rested next to her right hand, between her plate and an empty place setting. Angel was talking, mostly to himself, as he opened cupboards and jotted down notes on a small piece of paper on the counter.
"Morning," Buffy said, forcing herself to saunter casually into the room. If they could play it cool, who was she to rock the boat? "Sorry I took so long in the shower. Any coffee left for me?"
"Plenty," Angel answered quickly, pulling the pot from the warmer and crossing over to fill the empty mug on the table. He pulled out a chair for her with his other hand, nodding his head at the cinnamon roll in Joyce's hand. "We still have some rolls left, if you think you're awake enough to taste them."
"Oh, yeah, like you're usually Farmer Brown Awake With The Chickens," she jeered, smothering a yawn with a wide-stretched hand. "Just for that I might ask you to make me eggs benedict or bacon, or something else hard to cook."
"We don't have anything else," he pointed out, waving his list at her.
"Good morning, Buffy," Joyce said quietly, jumping in to the momentary pause in the conversation. "Did you sleep...never mind." Joyce's mind closed down when she realized that when her daughter slept, well or not, it was in the bed of this man.
Angel was also embarrassed by the turn of Joyce's comments. He slid the coffeepot back onto the warmer and secured the grocery list under a glass by the sink. "I think I'll just go call the others and then jump in the shower before they get here."
Buffy nodded glumly. "No point in waiting until this afternoon, since Dad has flown the coop."
"He'll be back." His hand dropped down lightly on her shoulder, and she reached up to catch it between her own. "Meanwhile, we need to give them the heads up."
She twisted around in her chair to smile up at him. "Make Xander bring doughnuts, okay? Jelly preferably. And tell him not to start eating them in the car."
"I'll tell, but making him obey is something else." After a swift kiss on her forehead, he was gone, leaving Buffy alone to make conversation with her strangely quiet mother.
"So," she said weakly, "good cinnamon rolls, huh? We got them at a little bakery on..."
"It's strange," Joyce mused, almost to herself, "seeing you two together."
"Mom, don't start," Buffy warned. She took a fortifying dose of caffeine before she continued. "You'll have lots of time for this when Dad gets back; I'd rather stick to food and weather talk until then. No Angel-bashing."
"I'm not...that's not exactly what I meant," Joyce protested. "I've hardly ever seen you with him, that's all. When you were dating him in high school, you hid him. And since you got back together, you've been avoiding me. Last night was the first time I've ever seen you two really together as a couple, and then this morning..."
Buffy felt the faint stirrings of hope deep within her. Perhaps Joyce's attitude could be softened with something as simple as the three of them spending time together. Maybe all she needed was to see how good Angel was for Buffy and then she would be as happy for them as they were for themselves.
"It's strange for any mother to see her daughter like that, but knowing what he is..."
"And we're back," Buffy groaned, putting down her coffee mug. "For a minute I thought you were actually seeing him as a real person, but I guess I should have known better."
Joyce looked at her in confusion. "I can't help what I feel, Buffy."
"And neither can I." She sighed heavily. "This is always where we hit the wall, Mom. You can't see that this isn't some schoolgirl romance, and I don't understand why you can't see me as an adult making adult decisions."
"Honey, you have so many choices out there and..."
"And this isn't one of them," Buffy said firmly. "Angel and I didn't choose to fall in love, and for a while we even tried to stop it, but we couldn't. And I am beyond grateful that we couldn't. I don't want to think what my life would be like without him."
Suddenly an image rose in Joyce's mind: Buffy, last night, on the dance floor with Angel. He had looked ill at ease when she first joined him, and Buffy had been frowning. But a few minutes later, as they slowly swayed to the music and drifted off into their own little world, Joyce could almost see the tension between them dissolve like the morning mist. Her daughter was smiling, and laughing and apparently totally relaxed. To Joyce's utter astonishment, her daughter's morose boyfriend seemed equally content. If it were anyone else, Joyce would have said Angel was...happy.
Angel had been happy, and the world hadn't ended. His being happy seemed to add to Buffy's happiness. It went against everything Joyce believed. It was enough to shake her conviction in her own position...until Joyce recalled herself at age 19.
She and a tall blond man named Hank Summers; the man she couldn't have pictured her life without, until it actually happened. But she survived, and so could Buffy.
If her daughter survived to survive, that is.
"Maybe you can't help your feelings, but you don't have to act on them," Joyce insisted, her thoughts turning to the present with a vengeance. "Living with him, committing your life to him; that is a choice."
"And I made it a long time ago."
"You were too young then; you're still too young. There are so many things you can do with your life, so many things you can have, but not if you tie yourself down to this man and his crazy demon-hunting. He's going to get you killed one of these days."
"Is that what this is all about? You think Angel is what keeps me slaying?" Buffy stared at her mother in shock. "It's my job, Mom. Remember? Sacred destiny at a bargain basement price."
"This is his world, his kind of...of people," Joyce sputtered. "Demons and monsters and ghosts and all that sort of thing. They're not real, not for people like us."
"I see. So the hellmouth under my high school was just a coincidence? And all the vamps at my old school were actually imaginary."
Joyce opened her mouth to protest, but Buffy was warming to her subject.
"But the Sunnydale vampires, now they are all Angel's doing," she said. "And FrankenTed? Well that was obviously his fault, never mind that he never even met the guy. Oh wait, let's not forget when you tried to burn me at the stake because you thought I was a witch. That was somehow Angel's fault too, right?"
As opposed to the impression Joyce had formerly given off, namely that most of this was Buffy's fault, or at least her choosing.
Her mother nodded reluctantly, sensing the trap she had laid for herself.
"Because witches are 'his kind of people,' just like the demons and the ghosts?"
"Yes!" The dam burst. "On some level, yes."
"So basically you're saying Willow is the perfect girl for Angel. Well sorry, but he's not up for grabs." Buffy clenched her fists around her coffee mug, and then forced herself to release it before she shattered the thick ceramic shell. "This is crazy, Mom. I slay vampires because that's what I am, who I am, not because that's what Angel wants me to be. If anything, he should blame me for dragging him into the business."
"But last fall you were dating that nice Riley Finn and you were doing all the things you wanted to do in high school; all the things we talked about you doing when you went to college." Joyce leaned over and took her daughter's stiff hand in her own. "You went to parties instead of patrolling all the time, and you actually studied, and you acted like a normal college girl with a nice normal boyfriend. Now are you going to tell me that had nothing to do with Angel not being in your life?"
"No, I'm not, because it did." How could she make her mother understand? "Mom, when Angel left he took a huge part of me with him; I didn't know who I was or what I wanted anymore. But Riley came with built-in specs. He was a T.A., so I knew I should be a good student. He was a fraternity guy; hence the parties. And even though he fought demons too, for him it was more like a hobby, so that's what I made it for me. It was something to do on a date before sex, like other people go to a movie."
Her mother closed her eyes and shook her head. "I don't need to hear all the details, Buffy." Drawing a deep breath, she opened her eyes wide and focused her attention on the future. "All I know is that everything you're describing is what you always said you wanted."
"And exactly what you wanted for me."
"Yes," Joyce said, relief coloring the simple word in brilliant hues. Finally Buffy understood.
"I was Surf 'n' Slay Barbie," Buffy said sharply, "complete with matching Ken doll. But it wasn't me, and I hated it. I hated me." She firmly withdrew her hand from her mother's grasp.
"You were happy," Joyce insisted. "You were smiling every time I saw you."
"You did a lot of smiling after Dad moved out. Were you really that happy, Mom; or were you trying to put on a good show for the crowd?"
Angel stuck his head around the corner of the kitchen archway before a stunned Joyce could muster an answer.
"I got hold of everyone. They'll be here in an hour or so. With doughnuts."
Buffy turned away from her silent mother. "Perfect. Thanks for calling them."
She sounded calm enough, but Angel could sense the troubled undercurrents in the room. He stepped into the kitchen, leaning against the doorframe with a deceptively casual air. "Is everything okay? I can call them back and..."
Buffy held up her hand to stop him. "No, we need them. Everything is fine here. We put the 'boo' in tickety-boo."
Her smile seemed bright, but it didn't fool Angel for an instant. He cocked an eyebrow at her.
"Now why do I find that hard to believe?"
Buffy's forced cheer wilted into a grimace as she wrestled with the wisdom of sharing her mother's latest objections with Angel while Joyce was still here to see his reaction. The last thing her mother needed by way of encouragement was the knowledge that she had drawn blood.
On the other hand, not telling Angel immediately lent Joyce's ideas more value than they deserved, and might hurt him more in the long run. Surely even Angel in high guilt-gear couldn't possibly believe her mother's wild-eyed theories.
Finally Buffy rolled her eyes and resigned herself to the lesser of two evils. "My mother, in her infinite paranoia, now thinks that you are the reason I'm the Slayer."
She watched him carefully, but he seemed more confused than hurt.
"I've done a lot of things in my life, Joyce, and most of them I wish I could deny. But I can honestly say I had no part in Buffy being Called. It doesn't work that way."
"I didn't say that," Joyce protested, quashing the little voice in her head that was fervently agreeing with her daughter. "I said Buffy wouldn't still be slaying if it weren't for you. She would have moved on."
"To another plane of existence. If it weren't for Angel I would have died four years ago, Mom." Buffy smiled, genuinely this time, at Angel listening patiently from the doorway. "He didn't make me the Slayer, and he doesn't make me keep on being the Slayer, but he does make sure I get to make the decision on a daily basis." A heavy sigh broke through the walls she was trying so hard to hold erect. "Now, any other little poison darts you want to toss before company comes?"
Joyce drew a shaky breath. "I think we'd better wait for your dad for the rest of it." She pushed her chair back and started to stand up. "Why are your friends coming over so early? Don't demons observe a day of rest too?"
Buffy winced as she too rose and walked over to dump out the remainder of her cooling coffee. "Actually, there's something we need to talk about, and it concerns Dad's new little friend."
"Buffy, do you want me to explain things to her?" Angel asked, crossing in front of Joyce to stand by his lover.
She rested her hands flat on the countertop and bowed her head, reaching inside of herself for the reserves of strength Angel insisted she had. They felt a little tapped at the moment, but she took what she could before facing her mother again. "No, I think I better handle this one by myself. And Mom, maybe you should sit down."
* * * * *
"She's a vampire?"
"Mom, that is like the fourth time you've said that," Buffy protested as she threw herself down on the sofa. "Strangely enough, the answer has not changed in the last ten minutes. Yes, Drusilla is a vampire, and not the fluffy bunny kind like Angel, either." She frowned, and then amended her description. "Well, actually she is, if you're talking about that rabbit in that Monty Python movie. You remember, the one under the bridge with the fangs and the...never mind." Buffy drew a deep breath and tried again. "She's a demon. She's evil. She's psycho. And she's Dad's newest mid-life crisis. Are we clear on the problem now?"
Buffy watched her mother pace, as she had been watching her pace since they left the kitchen. At this rate Joyce had walked off not only this morning's cinnamon roll, but last night's steak to boot. Yet she still didn't seem to understand what Buffy was trying to tell her.
"Her name...it sounded so familiar. But I don't remember the face. Did I ever meet her when she had...you know?" Joyce pointed two fingers in a downward 'V' in front of her teeth, trying to mime fangs.
"You mean when she was a walrus? Not that I know of. Or in vamp face either, if that's what you were trying to ask." Buffy couldn't suppress a snicker. "God, no wonder Dad always refused to play charades at your parties."
Buffy hurriedly returned to the subject; time was running out. "But you were always letting that loser Spike cry in your cocoa over his ex, who would be Dru."
Joyce blinked repeatedly as she tried to process this new piece of information. "She was the girl, I mean vampire, that Spike was always talking about? But why did she choose your father now? Does he know what she is?"
"No, he doesn't; not yet. We're going to tell him when we tell him everything else." Buffy paused, trying to find a way to answer her mother without telling a lie or the exact truth. "As for why she wants Dad, well, she has kind of a father fixation."
"And he's supposed to be the pick of the litter?" Joyce didn't even try to suppress her disbelief.
"For a vampire, the father of the Slayer isn't too shabby." There, that was close to the truth, yet in no way involved Angel. It was also as much as Buffy was willing to reveal until her mother started behaving like a reasonable person instead of the founder of M.O.O.
"Why on earth didn't you tell me this last night?"
Oh great, now her mother was back on the 'you never tell me anything' riff. This day just got better and better.
"You mean in front of Dad, or in front of Dru? One or the other of them was always around. Besides, she's not after you. Daddy's Little Girl doesn't admit mommy even exists. Too much competition."
"I just can't believe this," Joyce sighed. "It never ends. You have been killing these vampires for four years now and there are just as many as there ever were. And now they know where you live, and who your friends are, and the perfect way to get to you." She finally came to rest in front of an oversized wingback chair, dropping wearily into its shelter.
"Gee, thanks for making this all out to be my fault," Buffy snapped. "I was running a little low on guilt today, so it was really thoughtful of you to shop for me."
"Honey, I didn't mean it like that," Joyce protested. She ran a hand through her short blonde hair, trying to remember exactly how many times she had uttered that same phrase in the past four years. It seemed like a million. "I just meant that this is too much to expect you to handle. You're 19 years old. You should be concentrating on school and your friends and what type of career you want. You shouldn't have these kind of responsibilities dropped in your lap."
"Responsibilities are given to those strong enough to bear them," said Angel from the hallway. "Buffy was Chosen because she has the courage to face the darkness, with or without her Slayer powers. And part of that strength comes from the way she was raised. You should be proud."
Buffy turned her head to smile at him as she patted the sofa cushion next to her. Finally someone who was always on her side. Even when she wasn't sure what her side was.
"My hero. Come join the party, smooth talker. I was trying to explain Dru to Mom, before we got sidetracked into a 'why Buffy shouldn't slay' discussion."
"The others will be here soon," he reminded her. "Maybe we should wait on the rest until we can explain to everyone at once." He sat down next to Buffy, unthinkingly sliding his arm around her shoulders. He realized what he had done a moment later, when he saw Joyce stiffen slightly, but his beloved was already settling in against his side. Joyce's discomfort made a poor argument against Buffy's contentment, so the arm stayed where it was.
"What else is there to explain anyway?" Joyce made an effort to tear her mind, and her eyes, away from the image of Angel and her daughter cuddling on the sofa. "She's a vampire, and you kill vampires. I can see why you would want to warn your father first before you stake her, but other than that..."
Buffy glanced quickly at Angel, reading the distress in his dark eyes, though his face was carefully blank. "It's a little more complicated than that, Mom. She's not exactly an ordinary vampire. I told you, she's crazy."
"She's not exactly..." Angel began, only to be interrupted by the doorbell. He shared a puzzled frown with Buffy. "Who do we know that uses the bell?"
A rattling of the doorknob commenced before she could answer, followed by a loud voice calling, "Okay, stop waxing the old surfboard and put some clothes on, people. Company's here."
Buffy stiffened beneath Angel's arm. She offered Joyce a strained smile as she murmured, "Excuse me for just one second."
She was off the sofa and across the room before Angel could catch her. The door swung wide and hit the wall from the force of her touch, inspiring the visitors assembled on the other side all to take a step backwards. "If 'company' doesn't shut its' collective mouth in front of my mother," she hissed, "then 'company' is going to require reconstructive surgery."
Xander meekly held out a brightly colored cardboard box. "I saved you a jelly."
* * * * *
The Scoobies were scattered around the living room, some, such as Giles, on chairs, but most on the floor. An open, almost empty box of doughnuts lay in the center of the coffee table, next to a cluttered collection of coffee mugs and napkins. To Angel it looked like a normal Sunday morning gathering of old friends, the kind he had seen on TV when Buffy forced him to watch it with her.
"So what's the big? A quick one-two with the old stake-er-rooney and pow! Drusilla's carpet lint and Buffy's the man. Figuratively speaking."
Well, perhaps it wasn't quite like those shows that Buffy watched...except for the enormous coffee mugs.
"Xander, it's more complicated than that and you know it," Buffy sighed. "If she actually tries to hurt my dad, well, sure, 'pow' it is, but otherwise..."
"There is no otherwise this time, love," Angel said grimly, pushing aside any further idle comparisons of real life vs. television. He pulled Buffy's hand over to his lap and gripped it tightly for strength. "She will try to kill him, and we have to be ready to kill her. She knew what she was doing when doing when she came here, and she knew how it would end."
And maybe if he kept repeating that to himself, he'd come to believe it too.
"Pardon me for asking, but does she actually ever know what she's doing?" Xander looked skeptical. "I mean, that chick has had so many brain cells hit the bug light it must have looked like the Fourth of July when you kil...oww!" He rolled on his side and rubbed his ribcage, glaring up at Buffy with wounded eyes. "What was that about?"
"I just don't think we need to be talking about Dru's mental state," she said stiffly.
"Or lack thereof," Willow said darkly.
"She's not really crazy," Angel said, glancing sharply at Buffy. He knew she was hiding something, but he also sensed that now was not the time to go trawling for details. "She never was. When the demon takes over the body, it takes the personality traits it thinks will be the most useful, or most entertaining, and sort of runs with them." He painfully suppressed memories of the traits his own demon found most amusing, choosing instead to focus on the problem at hand. "With Dru, there wasn't much left to work with, but I think the demon preferred it that way. Being crazy gets her attention."
"It got mine, that's for sure," Xander muttered, remembering a certain Valentine's Day.
"So she's not crazy." Oz shrugged, accepting the idea at the same time he dismissed its importance. "Evil seems to be working just fine for her."
"You mean all the stuff Spike told us about the doll tea parties and everything was just for show?" Willow wasn't quite ready to give up long accepted party line. "Seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to impress another vampire. No offense intended," she added hastily.
Angel chuckled, much to Willow's relief. "None taken. And it wasn't so much to impress Spike as...well that was the type of girl he was used to, that we were all used to back then. Very old-fashioned, very childlike and dependent." He scratched his head and grinned ruefully. "I found it pretty annoying, to tell you the truth, but for Spike it was a turn-on; and that kept him right where Dru wanted him."
"Speaking of Bleach Boy; what do we tell him about his favorite little serial killer if you stake her before he gets back from sunny Spain?"
"If it's all that sunny, you don't have to worry about him coming back." Oz always tried to look on the practical side; it kept the stress to a minimum.
"We'll deal with Spike when the time comes. We don't owe him anything, least of all my dad's life in exchange for Drusilla's." There was only one vampire's well being that concerned Buffy, and it definitely wasn't Spike's. "Look, we didn't call you guys over to brainstorm for plans this time. We will take care of Dru. We just wanted you to be on your guard."
"But why?" Anya looked surprised. "She wouldn't want any of us. She wants to punish Angel, and we mean nothing to him."
"That's not true," Angel automatically protested. "I care about all of you."
"As in you don't want us to die horrible bloody deaths any more than you want anyone else to, but basically Anya is right." Willow smiled apologetically at her best friend's boyfriend. "We're not the ones in danger, so we can help without you having to worry about us."
"That's not what I meant," Anya said quickly. She frantically tapped on Xander's shoulder as he rested against her knee. "Xander, tell them that's not what I meant."
"It doesn't matter what you meant, Anya," Buffy patiently explained. "Angel and I are handling this one. Alone. We've actually gotten pretty good at the Demonic Duo stuff."
"Yeah, but who wears the tights in the family?" Xander said under his breath.
"I heard that," Angel growled.
"Hey, wouldn't 'demonic duo' mean you're both demons?" Oz's forehead wrinkled as he worked through his syntax issues. "Not that I object to the use of creative metaphors, but only one of you is playing with a full demon."
"And just what kind of crack is that?" Anya asked stiffly, shifting her ire to Oz in place of the unresponsive Xander. "I know what you people think of me now that I'm no better than you, but I don't happen to need my inner demon. I can function perfectly well as a mortal now. And don't think I can't cast spells anymore either. How would you like to spend this full moon as a were-toad?"
Oz gave the proposition due consideration. "Might be kind of cool, actually," he finally pronounced. "Toads don't have to be good swimmers, right?"
"A were-what?" Joyce asked again, this time slightly louder. Somehow she had lost the thread of the conversation, or at least she hoped so.
Willow glanced quickly at Buffy, who shrugged helplessly. "She was so hung up on Angel being a vampire we, umm, never got around to discussing your love life," the Slayer apologized. "Or Xander's for that matter."
"Swell," Willow grumbled. "Now your mom will tell my mom and oh boy; break out the kindling."
"Probably just straitjackets," Oz reassured her, running a comforting hand across her back.
"Can we get back to the subject, please?" Xander said sharply. Seven heads turned toward him, seven faces wore almost identical expectant expressions. "Okay, now stop looking at me like I'm supposed to remember what the subject was."
"I think it was about Buffy and I handling Drusilla ourselves," Angel quietly offered. "We might need some help with setting the stage, but the two of us will be doing the actual kill."
An odd silence filled the room, as if in respect for the obvious difficulty with which Angel had uttered his last words.
"You know we're here if you need us," Willow said at last. "Not even a question."
"We know." Buffy flashed her a grateful smile. Surveying her guests, she saw nothing but love and support, provided she carefully avoided looking in the direction of her mother or Anya.
Or for that matter her strangely quiet Watcher.
"Okay, Giles; what's the deal?" Buffy quickly slipped off of the sofa to perch on the arm of Giles' chair. "You've hardly said a word since you got here. You know just because Angel gave up the James Dean 'tude, don't feel you have to pick up the slack brood-wise."
Giles flushed slightly as he drew off his glasses to clean them. "I'm sorry, Buffy; I don't mean to be unhelpful. I suppose it just struck me that you really don't need us, me, for this for this sort of thing any more. You've really come into your own the past few years, and you have somewhat outlived the need for a Watcher. It's, well, it's something every Watcher hopes for...but it does leave one a trifle at loose ends." He smiled sadly at her. "I suppose I've been a bit busy feeling sorry for myself."
She gave him an impulsive hug, almost falling in his lap when she leaned too far off the arm of the chair. "Hey, you are still the champion book consulter, okay? We'll just do it by phone, and e-mail from now on. Or you could come visit." She looked quickly to Angel, and she was not disappointed by the encouraging smile on his pale face.
"Buffy is right, Giles. You're welcome anytime."
"And what about the rest of the Scoobies?" Xander asked indignantly. "Do we get the open door policy too, or do we have to wait for the bodies to start piling up?"
Angel was prevented from making any rash promises by Joyce's abrupt rise to her feet.
"I think I'm going to be going," she said quickly. "You don't need me here, at least not yet. Let me know when Hank gets home and I'll come back."
"Joyce, you don't have to..." Angel automatically stood up when Joyce did, and reached out his hand towards her. For a change, she didn't flinch, but neither did she project any sense that his touch would be welcomed. He let his hand drop to his side.
"Mom, you can stay. We're just talking shop; nothing top secret."
"You should stay," Willow encouraged her. "It's kind of fun, if you forget the pain and death part of it."
Joyce continued to back up towards the front door. "That is the part I can't quite get past," she admitted, fixing her only daughter in her sight for one lingering last look. Before anyone could utter another protest, she had pulled open the door and slipped out.
Buffy forced a weak smile as she reached up to take Angel's hand and pull him back down beside her. "Well, that went well," she sighed.
* * * * *
Angel shifted slightly on the sofa, causing a rumble of protest from Buffy, who lay sprawled along the length of his body. He smiled and kissed the top of her head, resting just below his chin.
"Sorry, love," he murmured. "Got a cramp. Go back to sleep."
"Not sleeping," she mumbled unconvincingly against his shirt. "We should get up anyway."
Despite her words, she made no effort to move from her resting place.
"Let's stay here a little longer," he suggested. "We only got rid of everyone a few minutes ago." Angel began to trace small circles on her back with the tip of his thumb, round and round as she arched into the gentle pressure and nuzzled the base of his throat with her cheek.
She was all but purring as she smoothed a lingering hand down the length of his chest in return for his caresses. "I think it was more like an hour ago. We've been really lazy this morning."
"No way. It couldn't have been that long."
"Mmm, at least. I'm hungry again."
He tried not to laugh, but a chuckle escaped his iron will. "And this is supposed to be a good way to mark the passage of time?"
Buffy struggled to push herself off of Angel's chest, but he held her fast. "Hey! I happen to have a perfectly normal appetite...for someone who fights demons for a living." She pretended to pout, but she couldn't hide the relief in her eyes when she heard his laugh.
The past two days had given them little cause for laughter.
"So do we go by your stomach, or by the little voice in my head that says time stops when you're in my arms?" His chuckling had subsided, but the feeling of contentment had not, and it was giving him certain ideas he wanted to communicate to his beloved in the greatest possible detail.
"Stomach," she said firmly, if regretfully. "Dad will be back soon, and we need to make plans."
Angel tightened his arms around her as the smile faded from his face. "What's to plan?" he asked softly. "We tell him the truth, hope he takes it well, and then we go to the hotel and take care of Dru. If she's not there, we go to Willie's and find out where she is. Either way, it's a done deal."
She propped her chin on his ribcage, staring deep into the dark eyes she loved so much. "It doesn't have to be."
"We talked about this when we thought she was being held captive by the Initiative. She's too dangerous to let loose in the world."
Buffy nodded slowly. "Yeah, we did talk about this...when we would be the ones letting her loose. That would be wrong, knowing what we know." She reached out and traced down the line of his jaw, then stroked her way back up to his ear with the backs of her fingers. "But she's already in the wild kingdom, Marlin. I just want her away from my dad."
"And how do you suggest we do that? Pay her off?"
"With blood money?" she teased. When Angel didn't answer with a smile, she tried again. "I was thinking threats of intense pain in her immediate future. Or possibly siccing Spike on her, if we can run him to ground." She shrugged. "Same diff to her these days. Anyway, dusting does not have to be part of the deal, unless we catch her in the act with my dad." Buffy thought for a moment about what she had just said, and then she blushed. "I mean, unless we catch her trying to hurt him."
"And if we stop her this time, what about the next time?" he pressed. "You know there will be a next time, if not with Hank then with someone else one of us loves."
"Maybe not," she insisted stubbornly. "She's not used to doing the groundwork herself; she's probably getting bored."
"Dru isn't doing this to gain some mystical treasure, or even because you're the Slayer and she's a vampire. She's doing this because I love you, and what hurts you hurts me. It's personal."
"But that works both ways," she protested. "I can feel how much this hurts you, and that hurts me. When she dies, I think a little part of you is going to die too, and I don't want that to happen." Buffy looked beyond him, avoiding the pain she knew she would see on his face as she continued softly, "I don't even like knowing that it could. I hate that she has that much power over you."
"It's not her, Buffy. I swear it's not." He applied his hand to her cheek, gently forcing her to face him again. "You're right, it will hurt to kill her because I already took away her life once." He lifted his hand from her cheek and held it up before her face. "And don't start with the 'the demon did it' defense again, because that's not what I meant. I just mean..." Angel struggled to find the right words, as Buffy waited with a worried frown.
"I was there when she died," he said at last. "I remember it. I remember the last moments of the girl she once was, before the demon took her body, and when I end that demon's existence it will also end all traces of that girl. There will be nothing left of Drusilla on this earth...because of me. That's a lot of weight to bear."
"Do you want her to have a soul?" Buffy asked softly. "We can try, if that's what you want."
Angel stared at her in horror. "No!"
He sat up abruptly, dislodging Buffy in the process. She didn't fall; he instinctively clung to her and kept her from tipping over onto the floor. But as soon as she was safe his arms fell to his side.
"You know how hard it was for me to deal, even with your help. Dru was crazy before the demon took over; do you know what the memories of the last hundred years would do to her?"
Buffy slid back to the far corner of the sofa and brought her knees up defensively before her chest. She wrapped her arms tightly around her legs, trying to fight the urge to throw them around Angel's stiff form.
"Well then what do you want?" she asked, her voice ragged with the strain. "I can tell you don't want to kill her, and you don't think she should have a soul, but you don't think she'll ever leave us alone as long as she's a working vampire. What other options are there?" A sharp laugh escaped despite her best efforts. "Maybe we should round up some of those Initiative doctors and get them to spay her inner demonic child after all."
"I told you, we have to kill her. This latest game...she's leaving us no other options; she knows that." His voice was low, barely above a whisper. "It's end match; her or us, and it can't be her."
"Then stop looking like this is the end of us too!" Buffy pounded her fist on the sofa cushion. "I have never tried to kill her, not even when she killed Kendra and you weren't even you, because I knew how much it would hurt you if you had been you. I can't help it if she's trying to punish you now. It's not my fault."
Before Buffy knew what was happening, Angel had reached across the cushions, and the emotions, that separated them and pulled her onto his lap.
"Buffy," he said urgently, "I never, I repeat 'never,' thought that this was your fault." He paused for a moment, seeming to hear her unspoken fears as well as those she could articulate. "And your dad won't blame you either; I'm sure of it."
She fixed her eyes on his shoulder, concentrating on pushing back the pain and the guilt. Despite her fierce control, a single tear escaped to trickle down her cheek, before it was caught on the tip of Angel's thumb.
"Buffy, please look at me," he pleaded, cradling her cheek in the palm of his hand.
Slowly, reluctantly, Buffy turned her head to meet his gaze.
"She's using my dad," she said, every word dragged from a dark and frightened corner of her soul. "She's using my dad, and that means she's using me too, to make you pay. If I wasn't with you...if we weren't together..."
"No; don't even say it." Angel brushed his thumb across her lips to sweetly halt the flow of her words. "Things are going to get rough; I know that," he whispered. "But you are what makes it bearable. You, and what we're building together, are what gives me the strength to do what has to be done."
"But if we weren't together, she'd have nothing to hold over you," she said stubbornly.
Angel nodded gravely, stopping her heart for just an instant.
"Because I'd have nothing."
His voice, as well as his eyes, was reassuringly steady, slowly bringing her world back to an even keel. She caught his cool face in her hands and leaned in, until they were nose to nose.
"I'm sorry," she breathed. "I'm saying everything wrong today, and all I want to do is make things easier." She tilted her head slightly upwards, pressing a soft kiss to his brow.
"You do. You have," he said hoarsely.
"I can do more."
She followed the first kiss with a second, and then a third, each one in blessing and promise. Angel closed his eyes and willed the pain away, inhaling the heady scent of her perfume as it rose from her warm skin. He tangled his hands in her long blonde hair as his lips slid down the smooth line of her throat, searching for a taste of an even more intoxicating blend; that of Buffy herself. She leaned into his caress, giggling a little bit as he hit a ticklish patch of skin.
"Maybe we should move this to the bedroom," he mumbled, taking his lips scant millimeters away from her flesh, just enough to be audible. "Not much room here."
"Love to, but...mmm, my dad will, umm, my dad..." She stumbled in her thought processes, distracted by the southerly direction his attentions were progressing. "Home," she finally managed to put together. "Home soon. Dad. Maybe."
"Maybe not," he said, pulling back to offer her a playful leer.
The smiles quickly faded from both their faces when they remembered what could ultimately prevent Hank from returning at all.
"Boy, way to dampen the mood," Buffy sighed.
"Sorry." He shrugged helplessly.
She drew a deep breath. "Okay, well, we're not going to let you-know-who spoil all this quality alone time. My dad will be home eventually; this we know." She glanced sternly at Angel, daring him to dissent.
"Agreed," he responded promptly, with as much conviction, and enthusiasm, as he could muster.
"So, since it is eleven o'clock in the morning, and my dad is too old and too happily divorced to remember what a 'nooner' is..."
"We can't relocate the festivities," she hurriedly continued, warning him with a look not to disturb her illusions. "He'd be sure to come home in the middle of things, and it was really hard to be quiet last night when we knew he was here..." a blush began to stain her cheeks, "but not being sure if he's here or not, we wouldn't want to have to be quiet and, well it would just be awkward."
"So, what; we play dirty-word Scrabble instead?"
She stared at him silently for a moment, then slipped out of his arms and moved swiftly across the room.
"Buffy," he called after her, "Umm, sweetheart, I was just kidding. I don't even like board games."
She was too busy checking the door to answer him, but the wicked little smile on her face as she returned to his side took his metaphorical breath away in anticipation.
"Actually I was thinking more along the lines of locking the door and staying right here on the sofa." She ran a teasing hand down his chest, stopping just north of the point of no return. "Nothing too NC-17, you understand. But given the Mom situation, we never got to do the make-out-on-the-couch-while-the-parents-are-out kind of thing when I lived with her. I think it would be fun."
The sparkle in his eyes was all the encouragement she needed. Buffy gently pushed at Angel's broad chest, angling him towards the open sofa cushions. He leaned sideways and back, taking her along with him as he stretched out.
Their lips met, at first with relatively innocent intentions. It was just supposed to be a little 'slap and tickle' on the sofa; less than they were now used to, but more than they had once dared try. But habit made things progress at an unexpectedly rapid rate, and neither of them wanted to be the one to call it quits.
And neither of them heard the tumblers in the lock engage, just before the apartment door began to swing open.
Go to Part 13