A rush of cool air swept into the living room from the air-conditioned hallway, but neither it, nor the click of the door closing aroused the attention of the couple on the sofa.
"Never...played this...this exact game before," Angel mumbled between kisses. "Things were a little...different when I...was young. How far can we..." His fingers lingered just beneath the edge of her tank top, awaiting a signal.
She grasped his hand firmly, sliding it further up her ribcage.
"Not quite...there yet," she answered breathlessly, as her own hand tugged impatiently at the buttons of his shirt.
"Now see, most guys would already have been there and back again without you," a cheerful voice pronounced from the far end of the sofa. "Trust me, I speak from experience."
Only slayer reflexes allowed Buffy to land on her feet as she rolled off of Angel in surprise; and only vampiric strength prevented Cordelia from becoming a victim of raging slayer hormones denied a more preferable outlet.
Angel gently, but quickly, pulled Buffy back down next to him onto the sofa as he sat up, his arms firmly wrapped around her waist to restrain any violent impulses from being indulged.
Hers or his.
"How did you get in here?" Buffy demanded, trying to control breathing disrupted by both passion and anger indulged in too quick of a succession.
Cordelia ignored the question; she was too busy exploring. Her visits to Sunnydale were few and far between, by choice; and as a result she had yet to see Buffy and Angel's home away from home.
"This is much bigger than I thought it would be. And much better decorated," she said frankly. Cordelia gazed appreciatively around the spacious room; at Angel's watercolors hanging on the ivory walls, and the dark green and dull gold upholstery, and at the gleaming oak that made up the tables and bookcases. "Not too shabby, guys. I was thinking way more black and martial-artsy. Sort of Elvira meets the Karate Kid."
"That's in the training room," Angel said dryly, nodding his head at a closed door on the far side of the living room. "But if you'd like me to get out some weapons to make you feel at home..."
Cordelia made a face at him as she ran her hand along the edge of a bookcase. "Very funny. What I want to know is how you can afford this place, and that big new house. And the office." She raised a speculative eyebrow. "Yet somehow I'm not seeing any staggering amount of numbers to the left of that decimal point on my paychecks."
"What I want to know is how you got in," Buffy repeated impatiently. She would have said more, but she felt Angel's hand grip her arm, signaling her not to press the issue right now.
"Cordelia, I pay you and Doyle everything that we earn, but I can't pay more; I thought you understood." Angel looked worried; he didn't want his friend to believe he was cheating her in any way. "If we didn't take any money, or we just took cash...but we take checks and credit cards, and that means the IRS is watching." He risked a small smile. "I kind of thought you might like to avoid talking to them."
"Well sure, if you put it that way it sounds reasonable," she said grudgingly. A moment later the obvious hurt in his eyes made her add, "And I know you probably don't want to use the old money anyway, knowing where it came from."
"No, I don't, but for the moment I don't have a choice. Unless we can figure out a way to cap off the hellmouth, we need a home in Sunnydale as well as LA." He paused, trying to find a delicate way to make the suggestion that just occurred to him. "But I can think of a way around the IRS, if you'd like."
Not that he had any doubts about her liking it, or telling him in no uncertain terms if she did not.
"If you want, I can set up a charge card for you at a boutique." He saw the look of glee that swept across her face, as well as the corresponding apprehension on Buffy's part. "Just a small one," he cautioned. "A small limit, so don't get carried away. I'll set one up for Doyle too, wherever he wants."
"I'll get you the name of the bookstore," Cordelia promised.
"Bookstore?" Angel asked, his doubt shining through more clearly than he intended. "I was thinking more...well, I suppose we wouldn't really want to run an account for him with a bookie or at a liquor store...but a bookstore?"
"Maybe she got the names stuck together in her head," Buffy suggested. "Bookie, liquor store, bookstore."
"I said bookstore and I meant it. He can read, you know." Cordelia glared at them both, wishing she'd kept her mouth shut. Or better yet, that she had the right to explain her answer.
"Not a problem," Angel said quickly. "I'll take care of it as soon as we get back."
"Meanwhile, you still haven't told us how you got in here." Buffy could tell Cordelia thought she'd gotten off the hook, but the Slayer wasn't ready to give up yet.
Buffy was the one struck speechless, however, when Cordelia held up a small golden key, twirling it between her fingers as she grinned.
The Slayer turned instantly to Angel, who was staring at the key in dismay.
"You gave Cordelia a key?" She pulled free of his embrace and crossed her arms over her chest. "We finally teach her to knock, most of the time, and then you give her a key?"
"I did not give Cordelia a key," Angel said quickly.
He could tell from the sudden cleft in his beloved's forehead that his reply had been a shade too defensive. She didn't say a word; she just looked at him until he was forced to confess.
"I gave Doyle a key," Angel admitted. "In case of…well, with the way our life usually goes, in case of who knows what, but just in case."
"You gave a key to Doyle," Buffy repeated slowly, "knowing that these days that's as good as giving it to Cordy directly."
Chagrin was rapidly being outweighed by a sense of injustice. "Tell me you didn't give one to Willow," he challenged her.
Buffy shrugged that off as inconsequential. "Well sure, Willow, but..."
"And Giles," he pressed, sensing victory, or at least a reprieve.
She flushed, no longer meeting his eyes. "Okay, so Giles too. But that was just in case of...just-in-case stuff."
"Ha! He got you!" Cordelia crowed.
Buffy didn't seem to hear her. "Boy, and I thought you losing the guilt switch was going to be a good thing," she grumbled, facing him long enough to stick her tongue out at him. "You're still supposed to feel guilty when I tell you to, you know. You're the guy."
Angel leaned forward, brushing his lips against the hair beside her ear. His voice dropped down to the husky tone Buffy had told him did wild and wonderful things to her nerve endings.
"Can you find a way to forgive me?" he murmured.
Buffy turned back to face him; their heads now so close their lips almost touched. Angel could feel the promised shiver run down her spine as he rested his hand lightly against her back.
"If we make it a mutual forgive." Her lips curved in unmistakable invitation.
A familiar heat lurked in the depths of his dark brown eyes. "Wouldn't have it any other way," he assured her. His arms slipped all the way around her again, drawing her body flush against his.
"Hey, hey, hey!" Cordelia protested. She raised one hand to cover her eyes while holding the other out wave a scolding finger at the lovers. "If I wanted to see this kind of thing I could have just stayed in LA and watched the guys in the office building behind us shooting their porno films."
Angel closed his eyes and reluctantly turned his attentions away from Buffy. "Cordelia, what are you...what are you doing here?" he groaned.
"Not just me," the former cheerleader said with an unrepentant grin. "Doyle's parking my car, and then he'll be right up."
Buffy disentangled herself from Angel's embrace and threw up her hands in defeat. "Oh, honestly, why don't we just sell tickets? At least then we'd make some money off of our frustration."
"Please," Cordelia scoffed. "If you two were any less frustrated you wouldn't be able to walk straight."
"Cordelia," was all Angel said, but his tone spoke volumes.
"Hey, I'm sorry; I really didn't know what was going on when I unlocked the door." Cordelia looked earnestly at him. "I know I should have just walked out again when I realized...but you guys weren't all that involved. I mean, no one was naked yet, and I know Buffy's dad is staying here, so it's not like naked was on the schedule for the living room any time soon either, so..." she shrugged and smiled apologetically, "so I decided to have a little fun."
"What was fun?" Doyle asked, pushing the door closed behind him as he entered the apartment.
"Embarrassing Buffy and Angel," Cordelia explained coolly over her shoulder. The moment of contrition had passed. "You'd think they'd get over the blushing thing by now, with the way they do the bunny hop 24/7...but I guess not. And somehow my fun never fades."
Buffy scrambled to her feet. "I'm so happy we amuse you. Now could you tell us why you're here? Is something wrong at home?"
It gave Angel a queer thrill to hear Buffy call LA home, and he could tell from the look on her face that she felt the same way. He had to force himself to focus on his friends and why they had suddenly appeared.
"Since you're both here, can I ask who's minding the store? Or did the PTB's declare a holiday?" He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at them, waiting curiously for an answer.
* * * * *
"David is running things," Cordelia answered brightly. "Just answering the phone and taking messages. Nothing too do-goodery." Her light dimmed slightly when she saw no corresponding flare of recognition from Angel. "You know, David Nabbitt."
"You have one of the clients running the place? Oh this I've got to hear." Angel drew a deep breath, trying to calm himself. Somehow he'd never envisioned these types of problems when he went into what his employees called "the redemption racket."
"We needed someone there to keep an eye on things, and Doyle, umm, ran into him last week at the...at the..." She flailed about for a suitable location.
"Laundromat," Doyle said quickly. He smiled in relief, until he noticed Angel's rise to new heights, carrying Buffy's along with it.
"Laundromat," Buffy said slowly. "You mean the one where you, and all the rest of LA's millionaires go."
"That would be the one," Cordelia snapped. "Anyway, when we needed help we naturally thought of him. He knows about demons already...and he likes them." Her best cheerleader's smile was forced into bloom to help sell the decision. "I mean liking demons, really, really liking demons is how he got blackmailed and ended up on our doorstep in the first place, right?"
"Cordelia..." Angel rose to his feet, hovering over her in an attempt to assert his authority.
"And I told him not to wear the cape," she said in a rush over her boss' continued protests. "He wasn't exactly happy about that part, but I insisted. And he was so grateful to help; Angel, you should have seen him." She appealed to Doyle, "Wasn't he just too cute for words?"
"Adorable," Doyle agreed hastily.
With a sigh, Angel gave in to the inevitable. "Since it seems to be too late to tell you 'no, don't do that;' why don't we just move on? Why are you here? Is this business, or personal?" he asked, his gaze wavering uncertainly between Cordelia and Doyle.
Cordelia threw a desperate glance at Doyle; they had neglected to agree on a cover story, despite the two-hour long car ride they had shared.
"Umm, we just wanted to see...that is I wanted to show Doyle my hometown," she stuttered. "You know, before Buffy moves to LA and we have like zero reason to be here."
Buffy couldn't help the flash of panic that darted through her veins, and traveled to her eyes. She had meant to leave behind the hellmouth, but never the friendships it had brought her.
"We still have friends here, Cor, and my mom too. I mean, we won't be back a lot, but there's more here for us than skinny dipping in the mystical convergence."
Angel draped his arm around Buffy's shoulders and squeezed tightly. "Of course we'll be back. It's only a two-hour drive."
"Well, yeah, but..." Cordelia looked uneasily from Buffy to Angel, sensing her well-intentioned lie had done more harm than good.
"We thought you might also need some help packing," Doyle jumped in. "You said you had to stay a few more days, so we figured maybe that meant you were bringing back more than you thought. So we brought an extra car, and a few more willing hands; right, Cordy?"
Cordelia offered a weak smile. "You know me; I live to pack."
"So here we are." Doyle shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Just the four of us and probably plenty of work to do, if your closets are anything like my, umm, like Cordelia's."
Buffy grinned at Doyle's revealing slip of the tongue, but a frown quickly succeeded the smile as another difficulty presented itself. "Well, it'll be five when my dad gets back, which makes for just the tiniest problem. Where were you guys planning to stay?"
"Here, of course." Cordelia stared at Buffy in complete confusion.
"Here only has two bedrooms, and both are occupied," Buffy explained. She glanced up at Angel, searching for options. "We've got the couch, but that will only fit one."
"Looked like it fit two to me." Cordelia snickered behind her hand, until Angel's glare brought her back to the more serious side of things.
"Xander and Anya have their own place, and a spare room," Angel suggested.
"Oh yeah, like I want to sleep in the same apartment as my ex and his new girlfriend," Cordelia sniffed, "especially considering what Willow has told me about their sex life. May I just say 'ewww' and yes, 'ewww' again, to that plan?"
"You could stay at my mom's," Buffy offered with a grim smile. "I happen to know she's got at least one spare room for rent."
"Or you could stay at your mom's and we could...no, that probably wouldn't work either, would it?" Cordelia glanced doubtfully at Buffy, feeling yet another sting of remorse at the sadness in the Slayer's eyes.
"Nooo, don't think so," Buffy replied slowly. Her arm slipped around Angel's waist, holding fast to the best part of her life. "Well, the only thing left, outside of a hotel, which would be too expensive, not to mention kind of silly, is the mats in the training room."
"Hey, works for me." Cordelia beamed as she continued, "I'm sure you two will be very comfortable in there."
"I was thinking of you and Doyle, actually," the Slayer protested.
Buffy had liked Doyle from the moment she met him, and Cordelia had turned out to be a much better friend than anyone could have imagined...but Buffy had spent enough time on those mats to know they were only suitable for certain types of gymnastics.
"But we're the guests. Aren't the hosts supposed to give up their bed for the guests?"
"You mean the uninvited guests?" Buffy asked pointedly. "Besides, we only have one bed in there. Anything you want to tell us?"
Cordelia flushed and turned her head away slightly. Despite her free commentary on Buffy and Angel's sex life, she wasn't ready yet to share details of her own. Not until things were a little more settled.
Doyle slid his arm loosely around Cordelia's waist. "Why don't we just take the training room and have done with it?"
"Cor, I'm sorry if..."
"No, Buffy, it's okay." Cordelia turned to face her friends again, resting her hand over Doyle's as it lay against her side. "Some things are just meant to be private."
Cordelia grinned, her good humor fully restored. "Okay, so maybe I should remember this the next time I get the urge to barge in on you guys, huh? I'm not saying I will, of course...but maybe."
"Close enough," Buffy sighed.
"Don't suppose you've got any spare mattresses hanging about? If those are like the mats back in Angel's apartment, they'd break a man's back to lie on too long." Doyle rubbed his back and grimaced, thinking of the long night's lack of sleep ahead of him.
Buffy snapped her fingers. "Air mattress. Or mattresses. Whatever. I know Oz has some because the band is always crashing in his van when they can't afford motel rooms."
Cordelia raised a carefully plucked eyebrow. "You really expect us to use mattresses that even the Dingoes only use under duress?"
"We have clean sheets, Cordy. And I'm sure the mattresses are the blow-up plastic kind, so they won't carry germs." Angel was growing weary of the negotiations, almost to the point of offering to sleep in the training room himself. Only the steely look in Buffy's eyes prevented him from speaking up.
Well, that and the perverse feeling that as the undisputed eldest of the group, he was entitled to a bed at night instead of the floor.
Cordelia threw herself down in the wingback chair. "Fine. Call Oz and have him bring the mattresses over. Problem solved."
Buffy looked quickly at Angel, correctly reading the half-pleading glance he directed at her. "Or we could go get them, Cor," she suggested, rubbing her hand up and down Angel's side. "My car is stuffed to the gills, but we could take yours. Just you and me. Female-bonding time, you know."
Cordelia's eyes narrowed. "Just what are you up to, Buffy Summers? You're not going to make me listen to the band practice or anything, are you? You know, so I can use my contacts in Hollywood to turn them into that band no one has ever heard of singing the theme song to a show no one is ever going to watch?"
"Hollywood contacts?" Buffy sputtered. Only the gentle reminder of Angel's hand on her shoulder prevented her from saying precisely what she thought of Cordelia's so-called contacts. "No, Cordelia; no band. I promise."
She turned to Angel and stood on her tiptoes to press a swift kiss on his lips, before she reached over and hauled Cordelia to her feet. "Now let's go."
"Won't you be needing help?" Doyle called out, shooting an anxious glance at Angel.
"No, you guys sit back and let the womenfolk do the lifting." Buffy smiled broadly. "Talk. Catch up on the what's happening."
"Oh," Doyle said glumly, "that."
* * * * *
Doyle knew why Angel wanted to see him alone, but he suddenly realized he had a thing or two he needed to tell the vampire himself. No sooner had the door closed behind Buffy than he pulled a small brown cardboard box from his jacket pocket.
"Someone told me you'd been expecting this." He tossed the box to Angel, who snatched it from the air and cradled it in his palm.
"When did this come?" the vampire demanded, rapidly shifting his sights from his friend to the package in his hand, and back again. "Cordelia told me this morning that..."
"Ah well, Cordelia told a bit of a fib," Doyle interrupted him, throwing himself down on the sofa with a sigh. "She meant no harm, though. She knew you'd want it right away, and she wanted to be the one to bring it to you."
Angel sat down on the opposite end of the sofa, still staring at the small box in bemusement. "That was really nice of her," he said absently. "I feel..." he raised his head to look at Doyle, "well, now I feel bad about calling her so early, and so late."
A small grin tugging at the corner of his lips, however, suggested his remorse would not be too difficult to overcome.
"I wouldn't be accessorizing that hair shirt too soon if I was you. She had other reasons for coming too, and there you may not thank her for the helping hand."
Angel's suspicions were instantly aroused. "What's wrong?"
Doyle held up his own hands in surrender. "Not a thing on our end," he protested. "She was worried about Buffy's dad showing up unexpectedly. She thought you might need some back-up against the in-laws."
The vampire still was not reassured. "She didn't bring the swords with her, did she? Because I told her no weapons."
"Relax, man. The closest thing to a weapon she brought is that nail file thing of hers. You know, the six-inch blade she insists is perfectly harmless."
The two men shuddered in memory of the wounds that blade had inflicted when Cordelia was not paying attention to what she was doing. Still, it was not technically a weapon.
"So how much protection do you need anyway?" Doyle asked. "Cordy said you promised to tell her later, and by my watch, later it is."
Angel gazed at the box in his hand, thinking of all the promise it contained. Promise he would have to struggle through the next few days to fulfill.
"Angel if I'm overstepping me bounds, just say so."
"Buffy's mother thinks it's time we tell Hank the truth," the vampire said at last. "About me, about Buffy, about how we met and what we do. The whole deal."
"And you're letting her push you into it? Isn't that what got you into trouble last year?" Doyle could feel the beginnings of anger stirring within him, and he could only imagine how his fiery, and extremely outspoken, Cordelia would react when she learned the truth.
"She's right this time, and for the right reason too." Angel laughed; a quick harsh sound bearing no resemblance to the sound that earlier had so delighted his beloved. "Hank has tried very hard to accept my relationship with his daughter, and to get to know me as a person. It's not fair to blame Joyce for not doing the same when she knows I'm not..."
"And that's where we part company," Doyle firmly overrode him. "Buffy's mum may be right about him needing to know the truth; if he's going to be hanging about he should learn who the players are. But it appears to me that she's using it as an excuse for herself too, so she don't have to make the effort to get to know you."
"Maybe." Angel would concede the possibility, but no more. Not yet, at least.
"Ah, well, give Cordy five minutes with the man and she'll have him straightened out, if it's straightening he needs. Pity the man, woman, or child who gives you a hard time of it in her hearing."
Angel grinned. "That's her job."
"Damn straight," Doyle agreed with a conspiratorial wink.
"This was," Angel nodded at his palm and its precious burden, "this was really nice of her, of both of you. I didn't think we'd be in Sunnydale for more than a few hours, but some, umm, unexpected complications came up, and I don't mean just Buffy's parents." His hand tightened reflexively around the small box. "It's really important, though, that I have this...this box this week."
Doyle grinned at the sheer naivete of his two hundred and forty-four-year-old friend. "Angel, we know what's in the box. We don't know why you're fretting so about having it this instant, but we know what it is."
"Well Buffy doesn't, so not a word, okay?" Angel waved an admonishing finger at his partner. "I want this to be a surprise. We haven't had too many good ones, so I'm determined to do this one right."
"Aye-aye, cap'n." Doyle offered a mock salute. "You have my word on it, and I'll even try to keep the fair Cordelia silent, though if I were you I wouldn't put things off too long. She's not too good about things like tact, so lying is an even harder pill for her to swallow." Doyle stopped speaking abruptly, remembering certain things he, too, had asked Cordelia to keep quiet about.
"Uh, yeah; I'll keep that in mind." Angel glanced down at the box again, and then turned his body on the sofa to face Doyle more easily. "Listen, as long as we're talking about secrets and things...I have a feeling there's some things you've been keeping from me. Not bad things," he hastened to add, "just...things."
"We all have our little secrets," Doyle said evasively. "Nothing wrong with that, is there?"
"No," Angel answered, "not as long as they're not hurting anyone. And by anyone, I mean you too. I feel like whatever it is, is something you really do want to say, but you're afraid to, and I'm not sure why. Whatever it is, Doyle, it can't be as bad as anything I've done." He shook his head ruefully. "No way can it be as bad."
"I didn't say it was a bad thing...you know, if there was a thing, a secret thing. There's just stuff that has to come in its own time, when the world is ready for it."
"Boy, it's a beautiful day out there," marveled Hank from the open doorway. "You fellas really should be out there enjoying the sunshine."
"Even if you and the world disagree on what that timing should be," Doyle continued, casting a pitying glance at his suddenly frozen friend.
* * * * *
"Hank," Angel said, "we, umm, we weren't expecting you back for a while." He stood up quickly and gestured Buffy's father to enter, realizing that his initial slack-jawed response to Hank's arrival might be interpreted as less than welcoming. "Actually we were kind of surprised you had anywhere to be back from. Not that you had to check in or anything, of course. I mean you can come and go as you...Did you take care of your business problem already?"
"Uh, yes, and I am sorry about that." Hank crossed the room and shook Doyle's hand before seating himself in the reclining chair. "I lent my laptop to...well, a friend, and she accidentally deleted some crucial files. I had to restore them before anything else was damaged."
"She?" Angel mused unhappily. "That 'she' wouldn't happen to be Drusilla, would it?" He sat down heavily on the sofa.
Hank instantly went on the defensive. "And if it was? I'm an adult Angel, and so is your sister. If we want to spend time together..."
Doyle smelled trouble and hastily jumped in to defuse the tension before things got out of hand.
"Angel, man, you have a sister? Since when?" He sat down next to his friend and slapped him on the back. "And why did you never try to fix her up with your old pal Doyle?"
No sooner had the words been said than 'old pal Doyle' remembered exactly how old a sister of Angel's would be. Suddenly his questions assumed significance far beyond social pleasantries.
"She's not exactly my sister," Angel hedged.
"What do you mean, 'not exactly'?" Doyle and Hank asked at the same time.
Angel ran his hand through his hair, wracking his brain for a quick and bloodless escape from this mess. Buffy was supposed to be here for this, and so was Joyce. Maybe it would be better coming just from him, man to man. But that wouldn't change how his beloved, or her mother, felt about being left out of this life-altering conversation.
"She is family, sort of," he said at last, stalling for time. He rose to his feet again, gesturing Doyle to stay put. "Listen, believe it or not, this all has to do with what Buffy and I needed to talk to you about, Hank. So I'm just going to call Buffy's cell phone, and call Joyce at home, and then we can all have that talk."
"Angel, I really think if this has to do with your feelings about me getting to know your sister, that my ex-wife should not be involved."
"Dru is just part of it; she's not why Joyce asked you to come to Sunnydale," Angel protested. "We didn't even know you knew her. But you deserve to know all about her, which means learning more about me."
"So this little talk is actually about you? Am I finally going to learn why Joyce is so dead set against this relationship?"
Suddenly voices were audible from the hallway outside the apartment.
"Listen, Cordy, with the way you drive, I wouldn't think you'd want to give the police your real name." Buffy poked her head around the door as she opened it. "Cordelia forgot her license," she explained as the brunette breezed past her into the living room. "I tried to convince her we didn't need it to get to Oz's, because I didn't want to interrupt you guys, but...Dad, you're back."
"And just in time to find out what's going on," he informed her. "Looks like you just need to call Joyce, Angel."
Buffy stood hesitantly in the doorway. "You were going to talk to Dad without me?" she asked. There was no anger in her voice, only quiet hurt.
"No," Angel answered quickly. He sat back down and surreptitiously stuffed the small box in his hand in between two sofa cushions. "We got on the subject of Dru and, well, one comment kind of led to another and...I was just about to call you. And your mom. I think it's time."
"I think it's past time," Hank interjected. "And if you don't mind, unless Joyce knows something neither one of you does about this, I'd rather begin without her, and she can add her little commentary when she arrives." He crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his foot, waiting impatiently for an answer.
"And that would be our cue to leave," Doyle said hastily. "Cordy, me darlin, we're going to get those mattresses ourselves, and then you can give me the guided tour of Sunnyhell, I mean 'dale.'" He didn't wait for the sputtering Cordelia to complete her protest before he grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the door.
Buffy looked with resignation at Angel. He shrugged and smiled half-heartedly. Ready or not, it was time.
"I'll go call Mom. Angel…can you make my dad a drink?"
"Honey, it's a little early," her father protested, waving his watch to support his statement.
"Make it a big one," she said firmly.
* * * * *
"I really don't need that drink, Angel," Hank said quietly as he resumed his seat. "All I need is the truth. For a change."
Angel squared his shoulders, bracing for the coming scene. "And that's what you'll get on both counts. The only thing we have to drink here is coffee and soda anyway. I lost my taste for alcohol a long time ago, and Buffy's underage."
"I'm not sure whether I should be relieved you remembered how young she is, or wondering what you were doing at the same age to turn you off of drinking."
"You're about to find out."
Buffy reentered the room before Hank could question Angel further. "Mom's on her way," she said as she took her seat next to Angel on the sofa. "Where are we?"
"Trying to figure out where to begin," Angel answered. He offered her a weary smile. "You first or me?"
Buffy cast a speculative glance at her father. He was trying not to fidget, but she could tell he was rapidly losing patience with the delays.
"Umm, we'll try me." She started to reach out for Angel's hand, but it was already poised just above hers. In an instant they were united, and suddenly she had her beginning point.
"Dad, before I say anything about the past, there's something I want you to understand. I love Angel. That's never changed, and it never will. And he loves me."
"With all my heart," Angel said steadily.
"And this is the big news?" Hank asked.
"No, I just wanted to make sure you understood that what we're about to tell you, and how you react, has nothing to do with us...as us. I mean I hope you'll understand, but even if you don't, it won't affect us. We belong together, and no one will ever convince us that we don't."
"Not again," Angel promised.
"All right, I see the line in the sand. Now do you want to tell me what inspired this declaration?
"Okay, deep breath time." She suited her actions to her words. "Umm, Dad, you remember all the fights I used to get into that last year at Hemery, and all the nights I slipped out of the house without telling you or Mom? And the bloodstains I wouldn't explain, and the, umm, little fire at the gym, and..."
Angel shook her hand gently. "I think he gets the drift, Buffy."
Hank looked at Angel in shock. "You told me this was about you. This is supposed to be about you, and it goes back that far? Just how long have you been dating my daughter?" He leaned forward, as though to grab the vampire.
"Dad," Buffy said sharply, "focus. This part is about me. My story. I'm trying to tell you there was a reason for all that stuff, but it was not Angel." Thinking of her mother, she quickly repeated herself. "It was not Angel. I got in those fights because I'm a...a vampire slayer."
Hank stared at her for a moment, and then he slowly sank back into his chair. A small, relieved smile played on his lips. "A vampire slayer. I see."
He was taking it much better than Buffy had expected. Actually he was taking it a little too well. She wondered if perhaps he just didn't see the big picture.
"I kill vampires. Bad vampires, that is," she added, after a quick glance at Angel. "There's a whole long spiel about my duties and my powers, but I don't want to bore you with it. Basically, I kill demons. I've been doing it since I was fifteen, when all of the, umm, trouble started at school."
Buffy winced and waited for the confusion. Waited for the anger. Waited for the hurt.
The laughter took her somewhat by surprise.
"Dad, you're not yelling." This should have pleased her, but instead she was worried. "No yelling, no questions, no instinctive denials." Buffy shook her head. "I begin to see why you and Mom didn't mesh in the long run."
"I should be yelling," Hank admitted frankly. "You should never have let one of those games pull you in like that, but I was young once too and I remember how exciting they can be and..."
"Games?" Angel asked urgently. He shared a quick confused look with Buffy. "What games, Hank?"
"D&D." He saw their identically blank expressions and elaborated. "Dungeons and Dragons, right? Or whatever they're calling it these days. I dabbled in role-playing games a bit myself when I was in college, though not as much as one of my roommates. So I can understand how Buffy got hooked on it, but..."
Buffy sighed; a swing and a miss. "No, Dad, it's not a game. It's real. Real life and real death."
"Honey, I know it feels real; that's the point." Hank smiled indulgently at his only daughter. Who knew they had so much in common? "But you have to keep your perspective. You're not still playing it, are you? You've been doing so well in school; you must have given it up."
She tried again. "Dad, I hunt vampires. Demons. Anything that goes bump in the night on its way to take over the world or kill someone. That's my job."
"Well, actually it's more like sacred destiny." Angel's correction was gentle, and the pride that Buffy saw in his eyes before he turned to Hank took her breath away. "Only one girl in a generation is called at one time, and she is gifted with special strength and skills to help her. Buffy is the best I've ever seen, the best period. You'd be very proud if you ever saw her in action."
"Sounds like a great character. Though a little more violent than I would have pictured for my little girl." Hank turned to the now open-mouthed Angel. "So who do you play?"
Buffy started to protest, but she realized the futility of it before she could even compose the argument in her mind. "My bad. How is he going to believe I hunt vampires if he doesn't believe there are vampires?"
"Which makes it my turn." Angel fought against his instinctive grimace as he tried to prepare himself for the fear, and possibly disgust, in Hank's eyes.
Buffy nodded unhappily and squeezed his hand. "And I think we better start with the Show portion, and then the Tell this time."
"Better brace yourself, Hank."
With this brief warning, Angel let the demon within him rise just a little closer to the surface, forcing his facial features to reshape themselves.
He hated the sensation as his teeth lengthened and sharpened, nicking his lower lip as they grew. He hated the feel of his forehead thickening as the bones rearranged themselves, leaving a ridge shading his eyes. And he hated the haze that seemed to fog over those eyes as they yellowed. Suddenly people and animals, any warm blooded creatures, had outlines to them; rings of heat gradually diminishing the further they extended from the source.
Most of all he hated the sharpening hunger for chaos that was the demon's stock and trade. The only solace he found in this carefully metered exhibition was the control he could exercise over the demon. It gave him a fierce pleasure to know he could contain the beast...but the pleasure itself angered him with its intensity.
It had been a long time since Angel allowed himself to contemplate the demon within him. Life with Buffy had been too...ordinary, really, to create such thoughts. He had been too happy to brood about that which had the power to make him unhappy.
As a result, it took him several minutes before he came back from his inner musings to realize that Hank was deathly pale and hyperventilating.
* * * * *
"Just breathe, Dad," Buffy was saying as Angel surfaced from the depths of his own mind. "I know it's a shock, but just breathe." She hovered over her father, fanning him with the torn-off cover of the doughnut box.
Angel's face instantly assumed its human appearance. "Hank, I'm sorry," he said quickly. "We probably should have said more to explain first." He glanced at Buffy. "Maybe we should have borrowed those books from Giles after all."
Buffy was too preoccupied to answer him. "A bag; isn't that what people breathe into?" She stood up abruptly, anxious to be doing something genuinely helpful. "We have bags in the kitchen. I'll go and get..."
"We only have plastic," Angel said, more sharply than he intended. He softened his voice when he added, "You're thinking of paper bags."
"Oh." Her voice was small. "Not exactly interchangeable, huh?"
"I'm fine," Hank gasped. He shook his head, trying to banish the image of those fangs, and the yellow eyes. "I just need...I need a minute here. Let me think."
Buffy quickly sat down next to Angel again and took his hand in hers again. They shared numerous worried glances, but observed a respectful silence while her father processed.
"That wasn't a mask?" Hank asked hesitantly a few minutes later. "No, of course not; I was looking right at you. And this isn't a studio, so that rules out a blue screen. And I haven't done drugs since coll...I mean I never did anything that could repeat...I mean I never did...what the hell was that?" Hank cried out, lost in confusion and guilty memories.
"I'm a vampire. Buffy is the Vampire Slayer, and I'm what she's hunting." Angel spoke quietly, and though Hank was too stunned to hear the underlying pain, Buffy was not.
"Or he would be," she added hastily, "if he didn't have a soul. Which he does. So he's good. Very, very good."
"You are," she said indignantly, forgetting her father for the moment. "You are the best person I know. And I do mean 'person,' too." She turned back to Hank. "Mom can't see him that way, but Angel is a wonderful person, who just happens to be..."
"A vampire," her father contributed, smiling weakly.
"That would be me." Angel cleared his throat. "Hank, I know this is a lot to absorb, and you're really doing great, by the way. We never wanted to deceive you; you have to know that. But the Slayer usually doesn't even live with her family, let alone share her calling with them, and as for me, well," Angel shrugged apologetically, "being a vampire tends to put people off."
Trying to be the portrait of nonchalance, Hank choked out a laugh. "Go figure."
He would remain calm, Hank ordered himself; he would remain calm. His daughter was living with a vampire, but he, Hank, would remain calm.
"You need to know this stuff, Dad. Angel hunts demons too, and now we're going to be working together, in LA. We'll be seeing more of you, and you'll be seeing more of what we do." Buffy leaned forward, resting her free hand on her father's knee. "We don't want to have to pretend or lie or hide things anymore."
"And I appreciate that," her father assured her. "I think."
She sat back on the sofa again with a relieved smile. "I know once you think about it, and after you spend some more time with Angel, you'll realize his being a vampire just doesn't stack up against all the other things he is."
Her father blinked a few times as he tried to make that phrase fit with the world as he had always known it. In truth, he wanted nothing so much as to run far away from this room and the reality he had been forced to confront here. But running away had almost cost him his daughter once. Leaving now, when she had risked all to include him in her life would surely finish things between them forever. So he tried to ask normal, father-type questions, as though this was a normal father/daughter problem.
"So Angel being a, umm, a vampire...it doesn't matter to you?"
Buffy's answer came quickly, as the result of many long nights' contemplation.
"Of course it matters. I'm not just 'a' slayer, Dad; I'm 'the' Slayer. As in a 'guess who's in charge of saving the world tonight' kind of 'the.' And you know it's lonely at the top." She risked a small smile. "I mean I'm not totally on my own; my friends help as much as they can, and so does my Watcher, Giles."
"A Watcher?" He rubbed his scalp; these segues were beginning to make his head hurt.
"He's sort of like a personal trainer/tutor/one-man reference library," she said, making vague gestures in the air to demonstrate Giles' versatility. "Anyway, they all help, but none of them knows how it feels to be the one responsible; to be the last line of defense. Angel does." Buffy squeezed her lover's hand. "He knows how hard it is, and how lonely it is, and how scary it is. And he makes it not be."
Hank opened his mouth to comment, but Buffy wasn't finished yet.
"Besides, Angel wouldn't even be here if he wasn't a vampire; he would have died almost 250 years ago." She smiled winsomely, as though this last piece of irrefutable logic was the ace in the hole.
"A vampire...with a soul," her father said slowly. "I thought...well, I thought that was why vampires had no reflection. Because they had no soul."
"Sure, no one remembers Shakespeare's sonnets, but everyone knows their Bram Stoker," Angel grumbled.
"Vampires," Angel said loudly, "are..."
"Sometimes a little sensitive about the rep that the media gives them," Buffy jumped in to finish for Angel. She touched her fingertip gently to his lips before she continued, "Honey, I totally agree with you, but can we save the PSA for after we get Dad comfortable with the basic concept of vamps?"
He gave in gracefully, with a nod and even the barest trace of a twinkle in his eyes. If he had learned anything from Buffy and her friends, it was the delicate art of laughing at himself.
"You're right. Later."
"The no-reflection deal is more of a protective thing, like the claws on a cat," she told her father. "But Angel's soul being front and center is unusual. When a person becomes a vampire the soul is gone and all that's left is a demon. A bad demon," Buffy specified, for the benefit of a parent who never knew there was any other kind of demon.
Who never knew there were demons at all, for that matter.
"I was...it sounds strange to put it this way now, but I was cursed with the restoration of my soul." Angel smiled quickly at Buffy, taking one finite moment to marvel at a world where curses could secure for a man his heart's desire. "It was over a hundred years ago, and at first I thought it would drive me crazy. The guilt and the shame were...beyond words. But then I met Buffy, and I started to realize there might be a greater purpose to my life."
"A life that should have ended before George Washington went for a sail on the Delaware." Hank glanced uncertainly at the man he thought was to be his future son-in-law. "You really don't look...umm, you probably don't age; do you? Ever? Or die?"
"Not a natural death, no. And no to aging too." The corner of Angel's mouth turned up in a half-smile. "Those are supposed to be the selling points to joining the club."
"A joke. I don't know why that surprises me, but..." Hank shook his head, as though to clear away all the confusion by physically rearranging his thoughts. "I know you," he protested. "At least I felt like I did. I just can't believe there was so much I missed."
"Dad, we wanted you to know Angel as a person first, not like, well, some people who haven't dealt with the 'us' idea so well. And you did get to know him; you guys have become almost friends, right?" Buffy was a little ashamed of the pleading note that had crept into her voice, but the stakes were too high to let pride have its way.
"I love Buffy; you know that, Hank." Angel's voice was husky with emotion, but he met Hank's eyes squarely. "Whatever else is true about me, that is the most important truth."
Hank did not doubt Angel's sincerity; he had seen the proof of that love with his own eyes. But a darker thought was sliding insidiously into Hank's mind past any thoughts of romance or devotion, spawned by Buffy's references to 'some people.'
"How much of this does Joyce know? And when did she find out? How did she find out?"
Angel abandoned handholding for a more substantial form of contact as he slipped his arm around Buffy's waist and pulled her firmly against his side. This was where things were going to get really messy.
"Mom knows everything...almost," Buffy answered reluctantly. "I told her the night I ran away from home two years ago. She, umm, was the someone who didn't take it too well, and there wasn't a whole lot of time to explain at first."
She dropped her head to stare intently at her shoes as tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. To this day, she still could not remember that night, that terrible night she sent Angel to hell, without tears.
Things were suddenly a lot clearer to Hank Summers, not that he was too happy with the clarity.
"And is that why you ran away?"
"Hank..." Angel began.
"Angel, it's okay." Buffy looked up at her love and smiled. It wasn't much of a smile, but she was trying. "I ran away from home for a lot of reasons, Dad, but not really because of Mom. I mean she did wig out on me, but she wasn't the real problem." She paused, forcing herself to be calm. "My job makes me do things I really hate sometimes...you have no idea how much. That night was one of those times. When it was over, I just couldn't...I couldn't stay."
Angel trailed his fingers down her cheek, drawing her face towards his. "Sshhh, Buffy. It's over; it's done. And we survived. The important thing now is that your dad gets to know who you really are."
Hank watched his daughter and her boyfriend as they once again withdrew to their own private world. He'd seen a lot of that the past two months, whether they were in the same room, or just on the phone with each other. He'd found himself in the odd position of being almost jealous of his daughter; that she'd found something deeper and more enduring at her tender age than he would ever know. Once upon a time he'd thought he and Joyce might have that elusive bond, but it was not to be. And while things might be going well with Drusilla at the moment it was still far too soon to...
Hank could almost see the light bulb exploding inside his brain as he realized the further implications of Angel's confession.
"Drusilla!" he snapped, for an instant not caring what healing process he was interrupting. "You said she's not exactly your sister, and I can tell she's not because she'd have to be over two hundred years old for that. But how does she fit into this?"
Angel's warm Buffy-directed smile faded in the harsh light of reality. His hand dropped from his beloved's face as he turned to face Hank.
"She's not 200, no," he agreed gravely. "And she's not my sister. But she is, in a way, part of my family. She's a vampire, Hank." He could feel Buffy tense beside him; he could feel her almost physically willing him not to continue, but he'd meant it about ending the lies. Hank needed full disclosure...and Angel needed closure.
"She's a vampire," Angel repeated, "because I made her one. One hundred and forty years ago."
* * * * *
Buffy thought her father had been pale before, when he'd seen Angel's game face, but he'd looked positively glowing compared to now. Hank's normally tanned face had gone a dull grey, and tiny beads of sweat dappled the skin above his chalky lips
"That is not possible," he ground out, fighting for every word. "You are not trying to tell me that that sweet girl is a...a..."
"Vampire," Buffy finished quietly for him. "I'm sorry, Dad. Believe me when I say I know how you feel."
She looked quickly at Angel, remembering a winter's night in her old bedroom, when all the glorious possibilities she'd been spinning out in her mind turned to ash. But at least for them, there had been a chance. It was not an easy path, but the rewards were worth the fight.
For Hank, there was no chance at all.
"Hank, I don't know what to say." Angel could scarcely stand to look at Buffy's shattered father. "I know that you've been spending a lot of time with her, and you thought you were getting to know her, but she's not remotely who she said she was. The girl you've built up in her mind was never Dru; it was a part she was playing."
"And you think this helps?"
"Now?" Angel shook his head. "No. Not a bit. But in the long run it will save your life."
"So you're trying to convince me that it's all right for my daughter to be in love with a vampire, but I..." He couldn't frame the words; he wasn't even sure if they applied. All he knew is that if they were telling him the truth, he would never know.
"She doesn't have a soul, Dad. And we can't give her one because she was kind of, umm, messed up before she was turned." Buffy carefully avoided Angel's eyes, and braced herself to physically restrain him if he tried to explain the causes of Dru's mental condition. "Angel had a really tough time handling the guilt, but Dru...there's no way."
Hank abruptly rose to his feet. "This is crazy, all of it. I mean, maybe you are a vampire, Angel. That face...and I've never seen you in a mirror; why would I look? I've never seen you out in the daytime either. That's supposed to be a tip-off too; am I right?"
"I can't go out in the daylight," Angel agreed with a grave nod. "That's one of the reasons I left Buffy last year; I thought it would be selfish to keep her with me in the darkness."
"Yeah, so sayeth Mom." Buffy shot her father an anxious glance. "It's only direct light that hurts him, and anyway it doesn't matter to me," she said firmly. "That part of him being a vampire does not matter."
"You don't understand," Hank responded wildly. "You tell me that Drusilla is a vampire too, but I've seen her in the daylight. Outdoors. With me. Today."
* * * * *
"Hank, that's not possible."
Angel remained calm. Obviously Drusilla had used some glamor to convince Hank that they were outside...not that glamors were actually that strong. Or maybe she had worked a spell on him...except that she didn't know anything beyond the basic witchcraft every vampire knows. Or maybe...maybe Hank was just imagining things.
Whatever the explanation, Angel was at least certain of one thing: Drusilla could not go out in the daylight.
"I tell you I saw her. I've been with her outdoors. Today even. We went to a little streetside café for coffee, because she didn't want breakfast..."
"She's not a real big eater, Dad. She prefers a nice warm drink, preferably café au corpuscles."
"Stop saying that!" Hank glared at his daughter. "You've been telling me all these incredible stories that you expect me to believe without question, and yet when I tell you one simple fact I absolutely know is true, you think I'm imagining or hallucinating or something."
"I'm sorry, Dad." She flushed with embarrassment. "I know this is a big shock, and I really, really know how much it has to hurt. But it was, well, kind of a shock for us too last night, seeing you with her."
"Hank, we do believe...that you believe," Angel said swiftly. "But what you're saying is not possible. I made Dru; I know what she is because I'm responsible for it. I live with that knowledge every day."
Buffy anxiously stroked his arm. "Soul versus no soul; we've talked about who's supposed to maximize those mea culpas." She turned her troubled gaze to her father. "Dad, I know vampires; I can sense them. Dru was a vamp the last time she was in Sunnydale, and I'd know if something was different last night."
"Even if by some...miracle, Dru was made human, I would have known too." Angel swallowed at the idea of Dru being human again, of the sins that would erase, or at least mitigate, for him. "I would have felt it last night when we danced. I would have heard her heart beating."
Buffy looked away, remembering their dance in the bedroom last night. She never noticed his heart's silence when they were together; she took it for granted now that her heart would be enough for the two of them.
"I don't...I don't know about heartbeats, but I know what I saw," Hank insisted. "I saw Drusilla walking down a sunny street this morning, and it's not the first time. She's not really a sun worshipper, but she goes out in the daylight. So she can't be a vampire." He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. "I can't believe I just said that."
Buffy turned to Angel, worry written clearly across her features. "Look, I know this sounds crazy, but I'm starting to believe him. Not that Dru isn't a vampire anymore, but that she's found a way to beat the 'no sunlight' clause in the contract."
Angel squeezed her hand tightly. "I am too; I just don't understand how. It's one of the few absolutes I know of: sunlight plus vampire equals no more vampire. You've used it yourself; you know as well as I do."
Buffy nodded, never taking her eyes from his. "And I also know that we know of at least one way around it." She took a deep breath. "I know you destroyed the ring, but are you sure there wasn't enough left to be rebuilt?"
Angel shook his head vehemently. "No, absolutely not. I was afraid of that, so I smashed it with a brick. It...basically it exploded. Green glow and everything. It's gone."
"And are we sure that's the only one?" she asked, steadily gazing at his pale, troubled face.
Angel wanted to give her a swift and absolute 'yes,' but honesty compelled him to study the matter from all angles. He ran a hand repeatedly through his dark hair as he searched his memory for any relevant myths or legends, any possible scrap of information.
"It's the only one I've ever heard of," he said at last, "but I suppose there could be others. It's not likely, though," he warned her. "A ring with that kind of power, well, word gets around. I think in 250 years I would have heard if there were two of them lying around waiting to be taken."
"Maybe it wasn't lying around. Maybe it was already taken, and then Dru took it back." Buffy turned to face her father. "Dad, do you know if...Dad? Dad, where are you?"
Buffy and Angel looked frantically around the room, calling out to Hank Summers, but receiving no answers. Clearly sometime during their conference, he had left.
"Oh God, where could he...do you think he went..." Buffy couldn't finish the sentence; the look in her eyes begged Angel to say 'no' without her having to put the thought in words.
Angel knew what she wanted, but he also knew she needed the truth more. "Yeah, I think he did. And we have to get to him first." He glanced at the heavily covered windows and frowned at what they represented. "Make that 'you' have to get to him, since I don't have Dru's shiny new magic power, and I'm not at my most persuasive when I'm exploding into dust."
She leaned over and kissed him, hard and fast, to shut out the mental image his last words had given her.
"That's okay. One of us needs to send Giles scurrying for his books to find out how she's doing this and how we can stop her. You're better with the research end of things anyway."
He grabbed her arm as she started to stand up. "Be careful, Buffy. If she does have a part of the Gem of Amara...she's invincible."
"Only as long as she's wearing it," Buffy pointed out cheerfully. A moment later a frown wrinkled her forehead. "We just have to figure out what 'it' is."
* * * * *
Drusilla hummed a little tune of her own composing as she polished her favorite necklace. The antique gold was responding well to her ministrations, but the stone at the apex continued to mock her. No matter how gently, or how vigorously, she rubbed it, its flat and lifeless appearance remained untouched. Gradually her contented murmurings gave way to discordant silence.
She had never liked the color green; it was the color of decay. Festering bloodless useless bodies...and rotting cabbages; that was what green meant.
Now black was a lovely color, just like the night. And red, of course, was her favorite color. That went without saying. Even white was nice, because it was the color of the stars, and it set off red so well.
But what could you do with green?
She held the necklace away from her, dangling it from her fingertips so she could examine the green stone at its heart as other must see it.
It was pale, as though it was the best it could do. There was no sparkle in its depths to draw the eye to it, and the cut was old-fashioned even by Dru's standards. It might have been a washed out chunk of bottle glass for all the allure it held.
There had to be something more to it, she fretted. How could she wear such an ugly old thing on her neck, making people think of bottle glass or rotted vegetables? She would be laughed at, humiliated. There must be something to make people respect it, and her, when she wore it.
An insistent pounding noise reverberated through the door, and was duly catalogued by her distracted subconscious. Dru had much more important matters to attend to than interlopers, however, and the sound was put aside for later investigation.
She stalked over to the window, determined to see some saving grace in this hideous old relic. A savage yank at the curtain rope flung the drapes wide open, allowing the late morning sun to stream through the glass and pour into the room.
As the sun's rays bathed both her hand and the necklace draped across it in light, Drusilla smiled in relief.
Now she remembered what made the necklace so pretty.
Go to Part 17