Part 17

free web hosting | website hosting | Business WebSite Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

"That's what I said, Giles. Hank insists he saw Dru outside in the sun and we believe him." Angel paused, hearing the doorbell chime. "Yeah," he said, returning his attention to Giles, "I know it doesn't make any sense, but since when do things have to make sense on the hellmouth? Listen, there's someone at the door; I have to go. Come over as soon as you can, okay? Thanks to some construction ordered by the new mayor, your apartment's not on our sewer line anymore, and I'm housebound for a few more hours."

He quickly turned the phone off and hurried over to the door, hoping against hope it was Hank.

"Joyce," he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. "You're back."

"I'm back because Buffy called me," she reminded him as she brushed past him to enter the apartment. "She said you were ready to tell Hank the truth." Glancing around the otherwise empty living room, she came to an unhappy conclusion. "You started without me, didn't you?"

Angel closed the door, resigning himself to entertaining Buffy's mother while her father remained AWOL. He gestured to a chair, and sat on the sofa opposite it.

"Yes, we did," he sighed. "Maybe we should have waited, but we were concerned we wouldn't be able to keep him here long enough for you to get here."

"And it didn't go well." It was not a question.

"Actually it didn't go too badly," he admitted, "until we got to Dru's real identity. He, umm, he didn't take that too well."

"I should think not," Joyce said dryly. "But he actually wasn't bothered by you being a vampire? Does he understand what that entails, beyond the diet?"

He kept his voice carefully neutral. "We didn't go into all the gory details yet, no."

"Does he realize his daughter will never give him grandchildren?" Joyce continued almost before he had finished speaking. "That she'll spend the rest of her life in darkness and danger because of you? Does he even know you almost killed her last spring?"

Angel could feel the anger stirring within him, calling for release. He fought it savagely; there was nothing to be gained from confronting Buffy's mother, at least not now. He forced himself to take a deep breath and count to ten.

Then he counted to ten again.

"Aren't you going to say something?" Joyce finally asked. "No fervent denials, or protests that he will understand someday? No insinuations that I'm a horrible mother for not being more understanding?"

At last something Angel could answer; he jumped on it with wild relief. "I never said you were a horrible mother, Joyce. Neither did Buffy."

"But you think it," she pushed. "Because I'm just so prejudiced about my only daughter devoting her life to the undead. To an undead."

Angel gritted his teeth as he choked out a response. "She's not 'devoting her life to the undead.' This isn't missionary work."

"No, that I could tell people about. And it wouldn't get her killed either."

He considered telling her about some of the missionaries he had dined on in his wilder days, but decided that would be counterproductive. He settled for yet more placations he knew she would not hear.

"She's careful, and she's the best Slayer there ever was. She won't get killed; I won't let her." I can't let her, his heart continued silently.

Joyce stared at him in complete astonishment. "You won't let her. You're the reason she's still doing it. Without you she would have a normal life by now. Once upon a time you told me that was what you wanted for her."

"I want her to be happy, and she is. With me." It felt good to admit that at last. In fact, it felt so good he followed it up with a few more overdue admissions. "I understand her, Joyce; in a way no one else can. And I can fight by her side, instead of needing to be protected the way a so-called 'normal' man would."

"If she had a normal man in her life, she wouldn't need to be fighting so much. You attract danger, just by being what you are, and then you congratulate yourself for helping Buffy beat it."

Joyce Summers wasn't blind; she had seen how close the two had become. But Buffy was young, and love would find her more than once, provided she was alive to be found. With Angel by her side, she would not be for much longer.

"Angel, I understand why she reached out to you," Joyce continued in a gentler, and hopefully more persuasive, tone. "I really do. You talk about strength; she talks about it too. I think that's what attracts her, because she missed that feeling of security with Hank."

"I'm not a father substitute, Joyce," Angel growled. He was getting more than a little tired of Buffy's parents assuming he was only useful as a Hank stand-in.

"Not exactly; no. But she depends on your strength; she needs you. Much more than you need her. It's not fair to her."

He couldn't believe his ears. Of all the wild assumptions Joyce had about his relationship with her daughter, this one had to be the craziest. "Are you serious? You actually think I don't need her?"

"You can get along without her, Angel. You have for two and a half centuries, and you will for another dozen after we're all gone."

Angel's jaw tightened at the thought. Joyce would never know the nightmares he'd had, visions of an eternity spent without Buffy. He knew they would only have a few brief decades together, and each passing day taught him more about what his future would be like once he was robbed of this bliss by time and mortality.

He would not, could not, survive it. Not anymore.

"No," he said flatly.

"You can and you will," she said, regarding him steadfastly. "You're immortal; you don't have a choice. But Buffy doesn't have the luxury of living forever like you do. She must give up the slaying before it's too late."

Angel closed his mind to the unwitting cruelty of terming immortality a luxury, and focused on a more important point.

"Is it really the slaying itself, Joyce, or the fact that it creates a bond between us?" he asked, curiosity warring with pain. "I know you worry about her safety, but I almost think you could live with that part of the deal if I wasn't in the picture."

She was fighting the voice inside her that said Buffy's battles had begun long before her romance with Angel. She was fighting because she had to, because if Angel was not the cause, then his absence would not be the solution.

Keeping that thought firmly in mind, Joyce leaned forward and smiled. It wasn't a pleasant smile.

"There's one way to find out," she suggested.

"Not going to happen. Not again," he promised her evenly. "We already tried it. She was unhappy, I was unhappy, and you were only happy as long as you made yourself buy the act she was putting on. I think deep down you knew the whole time that it was no good for her, but you couldn't admit it."

"She just needed time, and you wouldn't give it to her!"

"Take it from a guy who's got decades to burn; there's not enough time in the world for Buffy and I to get over what we feel for each other."

Joyce took a deep breath. This was going to be harder than she'd thought, especially if Angel was telling the truth about Hank's reaction. Trust her ex-husband to become a fount of understanding just when she needed him to be the stubborn and unreasonable man she divorced.

"I want Buffy to be safe, and happy," she said at last. She forced herself to speak calmly and rationally, knowing histrionics would only strengthen the vampire's resolve. "She's lost a great deal the past few years; more than anything she's lost her last few years of childhood. When she went to college, I thought she was getting another chance. She was putting the slaying on the back burner and working on having a real life."

"It's not a pot of stew, Joyce. You can't put slaying on 'the back burner' and expect the demons to wait while you go to a fraternity party." Angel glanced down at the coffee table, remembering it earlier when it was littered with coffee cups and crumb-covered napkins. "I know she had to grow up fast, but she can't go back. No one can. She's seen real evil, she's felt it, and nothing can wipe that image clean for her. But she's creating a good life for herself in spite of that evil." He couldn't help the pride in his voice when he said, "We're doing it together."

"That's not what I want for her," Joyce insisted.

"It's not your decision," Angel shot back, his temper starting to fray around the edges. "It's not mine either. You have to respect her choices."

"As much as she thinks she's all grown up, she is still my daughter; my child. I don't mean to be cruel, but you will never understand what that feels like. It's a terrible responsibility."

He looked away as he thought of his own responsibilities. Joyce would never know how truly terrifying being a 'parent' could be.

"I thought we understood each other, Angel. Last year we agreed that you and Buffy could not work as a couple. You have no future together. Have I missed some momentous change in you that now allows for that future? Are you suddenly human? Can you give her all the things we agreed she deserves; even something as simple as sunlight?"

Angel could feel all the old insecurities baying like wolves in the back of his mind. Other than the clause in his curse, nothing physical had changed for him. He was still a vampire, and life with him would still require substantial readjustment on Buffy's part. For all the silken threads that bound their lives together, there were many things they would never share, and a part of him would always regret their lack.

The only thing that had truly changed was his perspective. He could finally see beyond what they would never have, and rejoice in the things no one could ever take away.

"No, I can't," he said slowly, turning back to meet her eyes. "Everything you said last year is still true, more or less. And you were right...but for the wrong reasons."

"You call saving my daughter the wrong reason?"

Something deep within him tightened. He had long ago given up hope of forgiveness from his own family, but a small part of him had clung to the belief that acceptance from Buffy's family would heal the old wounds. Now it seemed the rift was only becoming wider, and yet one more chance for redemption was slipping through his grasp.

"The time apart was very hard, on both Buffy and I. But I think we learned from it, and we're stronger now because of it."

"She was stronger before you came back."

"But you weren't suggesting we separate to give us time to grow," Angel continued in bleak resignation, as though she had never spoken. "You just wanted me gone, because I represented all the uncontrollable aspects of your daughter's life. And that was wrong."

"Those uncontrollable aspects you talk about so lightly are injuries and death." Joyce's voice grew tighter with each word. "Horrible monsters and apocalypses and my daughter crying her eyes out worrying about you."

"If I'm by her side, she won't have to worry about me, will she? And that's where I plan to be, no matter what you say. The only one who could make me leave would be Buffy herself, and she's not going to do that."

"Why won't you understand?" she begged. "I'm not doing this because I hate you, or even because I hate vampires in general. I do...hate them, I mean, not you. But that's not why I want you far away from her."

He nodded sadly. In some ways it would be easier if this were just about him, but he finally realized it was not. She resisted the whole idea of her daughter as the Slayer, and since she couldn't hate Buffy for her inescapable fate, he had become the focus of that anger.

"I do understand, Joyce. Better now than ever. But it doesn't change anything. You want her to be someone she's not. Somehow you need to find a way to appreciate who she is, and who she can be." He smiled gently. "If you could just see her the way I do...you'd be amazed."

* * * * *

Willie rebounded off of the paneled wall, his feet holding him up for just enough time to give him the illusion of balance, and then he pitched forward again. A part of him was hoping to land face first on the floor, but as luck would have it, the Slayer caught him by the collar again and held fast.

"Okay Willie, one more time. Dru isn't at her hotel, so where is she? I know you must know; she doesn't exactly creep through town on little cat's feet. She likes to make a big splash."

"I'm serious," he protested. "I didn't even know she was in Sunnydale until you told me. She doesn't go to dives like this. It was always Spike who came in when they were in town."

Buffy held onto him, staring closely into his dilated pupils. She could feel the fear stirring within him, and she knew it was sufficient to overcome his greed. The strange part was that it didn't seem to be fear of her, but rather of Drusilla.

With a snort, she released her grip on his collar and pushed him backward against the wall. "Fine; you're completely out of the loop. You had no idea she was here. Now that you do know, though, where do you think she could be hiding?"

He raised his hands in surrender. "When it comes to that dame, I prefer, as they say, to remain uninvolved. Uninvolved, unnoticed and un-undead; that's my motto."

"Come on, Willie. Everyone knows knowledge is power, and a little guy like you needs all the weapons he can get."

"And sometimes the best weapon is knowing when to not know anything. I'm being straight with you kid; I can't help you. She hasn't been in, and if she's hanging with any of Angel's old crowd they're keeping quiet about it. I know it goes against the grain, but maybe this time you'll have to let her bring the fight to you."

"That's just what I'm trying to avoid," Buffy answered grimly.

* * * * *

Part 18

"Doyle, I'm telling you, something is up."

Cordelia fumbled in her purse for the keys she had cleverly stolen back from Buffy in the car. She glanced over her shoulder at Doyle, the look on his face driving all thoughts of keys from her head.

"What? You know something; I can tell by that guilty look on your face."

Doyle shrugged and tried to project an innocence he hadn't felt since his first confession. "I don't know much more than you do, darlin. Something bad from Angel's past cropped up at the same time they were fixing to let Buffy's dad in on some of that past."

"And he didn't give you any idea what that big bad was? As though it needed to be even more than a little bitty bad, the way things are going." Her hand closed over the keys in her bag and she drew them out slowly as she continued, "I mean, telling Hank the truth? Whose dumb idea was that?"

"Does it matter?" Doyle reached out and gently pulled the key ring from her fingers. "We're going to knock this time, and give them a chance to say no. There's no telling if they're still...telling."

Cordelia agreed with a surprisingly quick nod, and Doyle knocked on the door. Neither of them was expecting Willow to answer the door.

"Hey guys," said the witch, "welcome to Sunnydale High Library East."

* * * * *

Hank blindly followed Drusilla's lithe form through the open doorway and into the Great Hall. His mind was numb after being bombarded by so much confusing information, and he was fighting an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. The world as he knew it no longer existed.

Drusilla ushered him over to a long sofa and pulled back a corner of the dark red sheet covering it. She patted the exposed cushion and smiled encouragingly at him.

"Now pet, you must sit down and tell me what has upset you so. Drusilla can't fix things if she doesn't know what the problem is."

Her tone was sweet and soothing, her smile looked so sincere. Hank gazed deep into her dark eyes and wondered how he could ever have believed his daughter at all. Buffy couldn't be right about this woman; she just couldn't be. She meant well, and she certainly must believe what she said, but she was wrong.

She had to be, for both their sakes.

"I, umm, I just had a very difficult conversation with my daughter." His words came out slowly, each one dragged to the surface by the twin magnets of Drusilla's eyes. "She and her boyfriend, that is to say your brother..."

"My Angel," Dru said simply.

"Yes, your, umm, Angel, he and Buffy have some very strange ideas about you, and I know they can't be true," he finished in a rush. "It's not possible; it's not. I don't know how to explain what he did with his face, but it can't be what he said because if that part is true the rest of it is true too, and that just can't be."

"Your thoughts are all a muddle, love." Drusilla laughed delicately as she ran a cool hand down his cheek. "You must calm down. Breathe."

She forbore from adding, "While you still can," only with the greatest exercise of willpower.

"I know, I know," he said, making an effort to slow his racing thoughts. "It's hard to do, though; especially in this place.

"You don't like it?" she purred.

"It's so gloomy, and it looks abandoned. Why did you want to come here?"

Drusilla's eyes wandered around the chilled and cheerless expanse. Once she had considered this place a tomb, fit only for the living. No moldering flowers lay on the floors awaiting her busy and destructive fingers; no rusty iron gate swung to and fro in a high wind filling the air with lovely creaking sounds; no sarcophagi were at hand to play naughty games on top of. This was almost a home; it had furniture, and a fireplace, and windows.

Windows, of all things. How unutterably human could a vampire lair get?

Today, however, she saw her refuge in a more romantic light. Cold, grey, stone, walls surrounded them on all sides. The sheets Angel had taken care to throw sheets over the plain wooden furniture before he left Sunnydale had not held the dust at bay for long; a fine silt had crept up the legs and drifted across the cushions beneath the linens.

In the center of the floor, in front of the huge fireplace, there was a whitened flagstone showing in stark contrast to the dark grey of the surrounding squares. Beneath the stench of bleach, Drusilla could still smell the faintest remnants of blood, and the stronger scent of despair.

She smiled brightly at Hank. "This used to be my home; mine and my Angel's. We were very happy here once."

Hank raised an eyebrow, trying to imagine what she could see that he did not. "It's big," he said as he took a seat on the sofa. "Lots of room to move around. And I suppose it's actually brighter than you'd expect considering those tiny little windows so high up on the wall. Kind of reminds me of the windows in Buffy and Angel's new place." He stared at the windows anew as a sickening thought was born in his mind. "Those windows, they don't let in a lot of direct light, do they?"

"Oh hardly any," she assured him, her eyes two wide and fathomless wells of darkness.

And now the fun could finally begin, she silently rejoiced.

* * * * *

Part 19

Buffy trudged wearily down the hall to her apartment, dreading the look on Angel's face when she told him the news. Bad enough to know that she failed her father. But to have to watch Angel bear the shames of sins he never committed coming back to haunt him, knowing she was the instrument of their delivery...she couldn't even let the images come together in her head.

She had hunted high and low for Hank, scouring any place Angel remembered as a favorite haunt of Drusilla's. She had seen more mausoleums, funeral parlors and doll museums in the past two hours than she would have ever believed possible. And yet, for all her searching, her father remained among the missing.

All she wanted to do was hide in the circle of Angel's arms until they could figure a way out of this mess. A way that would keep her father safe, and Angel at peace, and her mother at bay.

As usual, the universe had a little something different in mind for her afternoon. A steady hum of voices greeted her as she pushed open the door.

Giles was jotting random words and symbols on a freestanding whiteboard, muttering to himself as he "consulted his books." Anya and Xander were sitting side by side on the floor, Xander taking notes on what Anya read to him. Willow and Cordelia were on the sofa jockeying for control of Willow's laptop, while Doyle tried to settle the dispute reasonably. Oz watched the three silently from his own chair, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips whenever Willow succeeded in seizing the computer.

Joyce sat in the wingback chair she had earlier claimed as her own, an unopened book on her lap and a look of complete confusion on her face.

Angel hurried over to greet Buffy as she walked in, and even in the middle of the disaster that was currently her life, she could feel her heart skip a beat at the sight of him.

"Any luck?" he asked quietly, although he already knew the answer from the look in her eyes.

She shook her head as she tossed her bag on the table and closed the door. "Nope, not a nibble. And I don't mean that in the good sense of not, if you know what I mean. I checked everywhere you suggested, and I even worked Willie over to see what he knew. No one knows a thing."

"Then we need to think of some new places," he said stubbornly. "Just give me a few minutes and..."

"Are you sure she wouldn't go to the mansion?" Buffy knew how much Angel hated to even think about his old 'home' after the last night they spent there together, but the situation was growing desperate.

Angel shook his head, trying to clear away the bad memories at the same time. "No," he stated firmly. "Dru hated that place. She pretended to like it to please me, but I know it gave her the creeps."

"She's a vampire, Angel," Buffy scoffed. "You mean to tell me the Mistress of Pain is afraid of a house?" She clapped her hands together. "Ooh, now I know how to get her. We'll drug her up and ship her back east to Amityville. What's her position on flies?"

"She has to be somewhere in town," Angel insisted, ignoring her sarcasm. He knew only too well what it was designed to cover up. "She wouldn't take him away because then we couldn't see what she was doing."

Buffy steeled herself to look into his eyes, the eyes that always told her the truth no matter how much it hurt. Silently she begged him to take away the fear that plagued her. "Unless she's already...done something. And now she just has to wait for him to..."

"No!" He grabbed her arm, not noticing the attention they had suddenly attracted from the rest of the room. "Don't think like that. I know it sounds crazy to think of this as a positive, but she only wants to kill him. She doesn't want to sire him."

"How can you be sure?" She held up her hand before he could answer. "And don't tell me that's what you would have done, because even when you were him you didn't think like her."

"She wants a father, Buffy. If she sires him, it would be like Spike all over again. Her little boy."

"Oh, now I'm going to be ill," Xander said.

Angel concentrated all of his energies on his beloved, forcing the presence of Xander and the rest of the Scoobies to the back of his mind. He raised a hand to brush away the tears that suddenly appeared at the corners of Buffy's eyes, and then decided to brush them away with his lips instead. She gratefully slipped into his sheltering arms, burying her face in the reassuring solidity of his chest.

"I know this is hard, but we have to play this out to the end," he whispered. "We tried to warn him, and that didn't work. So now we're going to have to let her set the scene, and then turn the tables on her."

To anyone else his tone might have sounded completely confident, but Buffy could hear the underlying fear. He was doing his best to buoy both of their spirits, and she owed it to him to do her part. In keeping with that idea, she resolutely stepped out of his embrace, though she took firm hold of his hand.

"You're right; we can't panic now." She drew a shuddering breath, and then another, steadier one. "So where do we stand?"

"Full research mode, Buff." Xander gestured around the room with his book. "Since Angel can't come out and play until after dark, we brought Giles' library to him. Not to mention Will's computer," he raised his voice, "that some people can't learn to share."

Cordelia glared at him. "Is it my fault Buffy made Angel get a PC for this place? I'm used to a Mac, and that's what Willow has. I see no reason why I should have to make all the sacrifices here."

"And I think Cordelia should leave the computer research to the professionals," Willow huffed. "I mean I always do the Net Girl gig. It's my job. When did she learn 'delete' from 'deliver'?"

"And don't think I've forgotten that one, Rosenberg." Cordelia made another grab for the laptop, this time succeeding in wresting it from Willow's grasp. "Besides, I do all of Angel's computer research now. Somebody has to do it while he and Buffy are out beating the bad guys senseless."

"Now Cordy..." Doyle began.

It was time to call in reinforcements.

"Buffy..." Willow said plaintively, only to be drowned out by Cordelia.

"Angel..."

"Yikes! And you've been putting up with this for how long?" Buffy glanced up at Angel, grateful to have a reason for at least a small smile.

He rubbed his aching head. "Are we talking actual time, or how long it seems like? Because in VR terms, it's been a decade or two."

"Suddenly so grateful we're not having kids." Buffy turned to face both her friends, but not before she saw the surprise in Angel's eyes brighten into gratitude. "Okay ladies, and believe me I'm using the term loosely right now."

"Hey!" Cordelia and Willow protested in unison.

"Great, you've found unity in fighting a common enemy. Now can we go with that idea, but turn it on Dru instead?" Buffy's tone was light, but there was no mistaking the steel in her eyes.

"Sorry," Cordelia mumbled, staring intently at her shoe.

"Me too." Willow tried to meet Buffy's gaze, but found it easier to apologize to her best friend's left shoulder instead.

"Look, everyone is a little edgy right now." Angel squeezed Buffy's hand. "And it doesn't help that we've had zero luck in finding any references to other Gems of Amara."

"Who knew there was a whole collection? I mean, Anya watches the Home Shopping Network all the time and she's never once mentioned seeing them for sale." Xander tossed his latest useless book on the pile under the coffee table, much to Giles' dismay.

"Xander, would you please try to be a bit more careful with a book that was written before Guttenberg invented moveable type?"

"The American Werewolf in London invented moveable type?" Xander put his hand to his cheek as he feigned astonishment. "Who'd have thought? Guess he had trouble holding a pen in his paws."

"Hey, no werewolf jokes," Willow said sternly.

"Actually, I think it was David Naughton who played the werewolf," Joyce commented, trying to contribute to the conversation. "I remember I had a bit of a crush on him."

"I've always been oddly disturbed by that movie," Oz said, politely disregarding Joyce's correction as he pursued his own train of thought.

"Well, yeah, the end...I mean the silver bullets and all." Willow shivered. "I'm not surprised it would bother you."

"Steve Guttenberg was in the "Police Academy" movies," Joyce said helplessly, still trying to steer them back to reality.

"No, I think it was the overuse of the moon imagery in the soundtrack," Oz continued thoughtfully.

Giles patted Joyce sympathetically on the shoulder. "I shouldn't take it personally if I were you. They do it to me all the time."

Angel released Buffy's hand and threw himself into a chair. "It's been like this since they got here. I'd forgotten how they all feed each other straight lines." He grimaced as he ran his hand through his hair. "Meanwhile, we've plowed through just about everything Giles has that refers to talismans and enchanted objects, and nothing. Same for spells."

"We've checked the obvious references, Angel, but we still have the more arcane texts to search." Giles smiled sympathetically. "Don't lose hope now."

"Arcane is not the answer, Giles. I think we've been going about this all wrong." Angel stood up quickly and began to pace, suddenly energized by his revelation. "Dru didn't find this...this whatever-it-is through research; she can barely read. It had to be word of mouth."

"Drusilla can barely read?" Cordelia looked genuinely surprised. "How come?"

"She was born in Victorian England," Angel paused in his ramblings to explain. "She was one of several children in a lower middle class family, and a girl on top of that. She didn't need to know more than the basics."

Xander glanced at his centuries-old girlfriend. "But Anya can read, and she's way older than Drusilla." A moment later he realized his error. "I so did not mean that the way it sounded, An."

Anya sniffed at him, but chose to answer his question anyway. "I taught myself. In my day...my human days, that is...I mean my first human..."

"We get it!" Cordelia snapped.

"Almost no one could read," Anya continued icily. "Class had nothing to do with it. Religion was the field to go into if you wanted to be educated. Or witchcraft. You can only memorize so many spells before you have to start writing them down."

"I hear you," Willow said with feeling.

"I learned to read Greek and Latin as a boy, but it wasn't until I regained my soul that I learned to read English." Angel crooked an apologetic smile in Giles' direction. "Our parish priest was also the schoolmaster; he said he might as well teach us to speak in tongues as to teach us to read the language of the devil himself. And he was forbidden from teaching Irish, so all we had left were the classics."

Angel suddenly felt Buffy's hand on his cheek. His smile turned warmer as he gazed down at her and softly asked, "What?"

"You've always made this big deal out of the age difference. I think that's the first time I've heard you talk about it casually, almost kind of proudly. I like it." She stood on tiptoe and pulled his head down for a kiss as he folded her in his arms.

"Okay, that was real sweet and all, but on behalf of the hormone patrol, can I request a stand-down until we're back at DefCon 5?" Xander looked around the room for support. "All right people, once again, let's see a show of hands on the 'no hands' issue."

Angel reluctantly released Buffy, after a final kiss on her brow. "Forget the vote; we'll behave. Anyway, my whole point was that Dru isn't capable of doing the kind of research those who have had the benefit of a public school education can."

"And score one for the grumpy old guy who doesn't want to pay his school taxes." Cordelia smiled at her boss. "So where do we look if we can't find it in a book?"

"Reach out and touch someone." A plan began to form in Angel's head. "Doyle, you take my cell phone and start calling all your pals. The demons, not the humans. When my phone loses its charge, take Buffy's." He glanced over at his lover. "They're both on the table by the door, right?"

She nodded, his plan taking shape in her head as well.

"Anya," Angel continued, "while Doyle is on the cells in the guestroom, you take the portable phone into our room. I need you to call all of your friends from the old days." An uneasy thought suddenly struck him. "You did have some, didn't you?"

"Friends?" she asked brightly. "Well, not technically speaking; no. You know how it is; being a vengeance demon makes it hard to socialize. The women are all afraid you know more about their mate than they do, and the men are all...just plain afraid, I guess." She paused. "But I do know lots of secrets I could use as blackmail. Will that help?"

Angel viewed her enthusiasm with some misgiving, but there really wasn't a choice. "Whatever gets the job done," he agreed, with the quickest of winces.

"We're on it." Doyle nodded his thanks to Buffy as she handed him the cell phones. A moment later he disappeared into a bedroom, with Anya following suit.

"Now for the rest of you." Angel turned in a circle round the room, scouting their options.

"Cordelia should stay here and check out the demon databases," Buffy said decisively. "Just in case there's some sort of Amara homepage or something that we've missed."

"Hey, just a second," Willow protested. "When did she become the Little Surfer Girl?"

"Will, I need you with me," Buffy explained quickly. "You and Oz and I are going to the Magic Box to get some protective mojo, and to sound the owner out about this Amara-wannabe. You're the token witch, Will. I need you on this."

"Oh."

"Take the convertible this time," Angel offered. "I'm certainly not going to need it for the next few hours, and it's faster if you need a quick getaway."

She nodded, looking around for his keys.

"Meanwhile, Giles, you and Xander should hit the streets and see if you can turn up any trace of Hank," Angel decided. "We may still be able to find him before we have to face Dru."

Xander looked to Giles, but when the older man seemed unwilling to speak for them, Xander volunteered.

"Sure thing big guy, but, umm, you want to give us a picture or something? Because neither of us has ever met Buffy's dad." His smile was surprisingly gentle as he corrected his former enemy.

"Okay, strike that plan." Angel began to pace again.

"Actually, Buffy, I rather think I might be more useful if I go with you." Giles tried to sound offhanded, but there was a certain underlying eagerness his Slayer did not miss.

"What's up, Giles? Is there something funky about the Magic Box?" She caught Angel's arm as he stalked by and forced him to stop and listen.

"Well, nothing demon-related, per se," her Watcher answered, not quite meeting Buffy's eyes. "I think that the owner might be more responsive to me, that's all. I've been, umm, spending a bit more time there since you started going to Los Angeles on the weekends, and we've become friends. He, umm, he has been trying to convince me to buy the shop actually. Now that I have so much free time on my hands."

Buffy raised her eyebrow, but decided to save her ribbing for later. "Sure thing. Oz, why don't you stay with Xander and," she glanced at Joyce, "my mom, I guess, and finish up with the books?"

"Interesting choice for study buddies, but it's cool." Oz temporarily abandoned his chair to kiss Willow goodbye, and then resumed his seat and page.

"Thanks to all that construction in the sewers, I'm grounded till sunset," Angel said quietly to Buffy. "But as soon as it's dark, I want to check out some of Angelus' old hangouts. We might be able to rattle a few cages and get some info there."

"I can go now," she offered, seeing the quick flare of shame at the mention of his alter ego.

Angel shook his head, though he half-smiled in tribute to her fierce protective instincts. "No, they won't talk to you alone. They might not talk to me, for that matter. But if we tackle them together, maybe, just maybe, we can make them talk to us."

"I like the sound of that. The 'we' part that is, not the tackling demons part."

"Me too." He slipped his arms around her.

For a moment she allowed herself to savor the security of his embrace, to bask in the shelter she had imagined during the lonely hours spent searching for her father. The only true peace she knew in this world lay within Angel's love for her, made manifest by his touch. She knew for Angel it was the same.

Their time together, however, must necessarily be divided between love and duty, and her father counted as both.

"I have to go," she murmured into his neck. Angel didn't answer, but his arms loosened, and she was forced to make good her word. With palpable regret she stepped away from him and grabbed her purse. A quick gesture to Giles and Willow to follow her, and she was gone.

Angel stared at the closed door, until Xander's words snapped him out of it.

"So Mr. DeMille, what are you going to do now that the parts are all assigned?"

"You mean until the sun sets and I can actually be useful?" Angel scowled at the curtained windows. "I'm waffling between going to DisneyWorld or going crazy," the vampire muttered, heading towards the kitchen.

"Yeah, well, could you bring back some coffee on the return trip?" Cordelia asked, waving her empty cup in the air without lifting her eyes from the computer screen. "I'm dry."

"Could you please keep it down," Anya yelled as she poked her head out of the bedroom door. "I'm on the phone." She directed her attention back to the receiver. "Hey, Aelefthelea, how are you? It's Anyanka. Long time no...good, good. So, hey, how did that suppurating pustules spell I gave you...you never paid me for it, so yes I do mean 'gave'..." Anya disappeared back into the bedroom and closed the door to finish her negotiations.

"That's my little demon," Xander said admiringly.

"So she really is a demon?" Joyce asked quietly. "I've heard you all making comments about her, and that Mr. Doyle, but he, I mean they...they seem perfectly nice. I don't understand."

"Well Doyle is actually only half-demon," Cordelia explained off-handedly. "But he's a good kind of demon anyway. And Anya, well," she glanced mischievously at her ex-boyfriend, "I guess she's okay, for a recovering vengeance demon. Except for that lack of tact thing. Does anyone else find that annoying?"

"Maybe it's time to rethink the no drinking plan," Angel grumbled as he abruptly changed direction and opened the door to the training room. "At least then I'd have a fun reason for this pounding headache."

Part 20

"So after we pick the Magic Box owner's brain, in a strictly non-demony figurative sense, what do we do, Buffy?" Willow glanced over at her unusually quiet best friend, taking note of the tight lips and creased brow that appeared once she was out of Angel's sight.

"I'm not sure," the Slayer sighed. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as they waited for the light to change. "I wanted to catch her before she found us, so we'd have the upper hand, but I've looked everywhere Angel thought she might be and no soap. We have to wait it out now, and try to figure out where we have the best advantage in a fight. And when." She pounded her fist on the wheel to intimidate the stubborn traffic light. "I mean, everything in me says to get this over with fast, but at the very least we have to wait for sundown so Angel can be there. He needs the closure."

"I never really though about how hard this must be on him too. I mean, you said he gets along with your dad, and of course he's worried about him for your sake too, but to know that it was a vamp that he made that is doing this..." Willow shook her head.

"He just feels so responsible." Buffy's worried thoughts traveled back to the look in Angel's eyes earlier that day when she offered to restore Drusilla's soul. "There's no way out anymore except to dust her, but he's never come to terms with creating her in the first place, so now he feels like he's failed her twice."

"But it's not his fault, not really," Willow protested.

"And he knows that, or at least his head does. But that damn conscience of his says that everything bad that's happened since the Revolutionary War is his fault."

The light changed at last and the Belvedere lurched forward. Willow waited a few moments before she tried to change the subject.

"You and Cordy seemed to be getting along really well," the witch said. She kept her eyes focused on the streets rolling past her window, avoiding the troubled gaze of her best friend. "I know you said she spent a lot of time with Angel, but I didn't realize the four of you like double-dated or something."

"It's not quite like that," Buffy said, smiling with relief at the momentary distraction. "But she's been a really good friend to Angel, and I am so grateful for that. And she's changed; she's changed a lot." She checked in her rearview mirror, concerned she might have lost Giles at the yellow light she just ran. He was, however, still reassuringly guarding her back.

"She seems really protective of him," Willow agreed. "You should have seen her with your mom." A giggle escaped her as she turned to face Buffy again.

Buffy looked suddenly wary. "What did she do?" she asked slowly.

"Well, when Oz and I got there, Giles was just arriving, and Angel was alone with your mom, trying really hard not to talk. I think they'd had a fight," she confided. "Anyway, Giles started handing out books, and then Xander and Anya showed up, and then Cordelia and Doyle and we all started researching. Except your mom, that is. She just sat there looking, I don't know, bewildered I guess."

"Mom used to be more supportive," Buffy said. Her eyes were fixed on the car ahead of her, but her mind saw only the past. "Ever since I got back together with Angel, though, and started to take my slaying more seriously again, she's been getting more and more down on it. And him, of course."

"She sat there and watched us for the longest time, until finally I guess Cordy had enough. She, Cordy I mean, grabbed the book Giles was reading, in mid-sentence no less, and dropped it in your mom's lap." The witch's sympathetic smile turned into another giggle. "She just stood there for a sec, staring down at your mom, and then she said that there were people sitting on the floor trying to work and if your mom was going to hog a chair the least she could do was help."

"And my mom actually obeyed?" Buffy shook her head and laughed as she rejoined the present.

"She knew she met her match," Willow said with mock solemnity.

"That's pretty much what she does with Angel when he gets in a mood," Buffy explained. "Not that he gets that way much anymore; he's changed a lot too. And although I hate to admit it, I think a lot of that is due to Cordy. Well, Doyle too."

"And has nothing to do with you, of course."

Buffy grinned as she negotiated the sharp turn into the alley that ran alongside the Magic Box, leading to the parking lot.

"I might have had a little something to do with it," she admitted. "It's just so good to see him happy, Will; it's all I ever really wanted."

"And you're happy too," Willow said wistfully. "Your new life, I mean."

The convertible slid to a stop in the gravel parking lot. Buffy quickly shut it off and unsnapped her safety belt so she could sit sideways on the bench seat.

"Yeah, I am very happy," Buffy said softly. "And I'm excited about the future we're planning. But that doesn't mean I don't miss you guys already. You and Xander were the first friends I made in this town, and there weren't many brave enough to follow you."

Willow shrugged. "Their loss."

"Some nights when I'm with Angel I'll wake up and I can't believe how things have changed. I can't believe you guys are two hours away and I won't see you at the café between classes, or for a bad Indian movie and stale cheesepuffs that night in my living room." Buffy leaned over and hugged Willow fiercely. "I miss you guys; I really do. But those nights when I wake up...I can feel him lying beside me, and I start to think of all the nights he wasn't there. Nights when I didn't know when I would see him again, or even if. Those were the worst nights of my life."

"I know," Willow mumbled, digging her chin into Buffy's shoulder.

"I'm not saying we won't be back here, maybe even permanently someday. But even with Cordy and Doyle being in LA, Angel and I are still more on our own there, and we need that right now." The Slayer pulled back, but she clung tightly to Willow's hand. "We need a little selfish time to be just 'Buffy and Angel,' not 'Buffy and Angel and Ensemble.' However much we love the ensemble."

"Well, as long as you don't start to like Cordy better than me," Willow said, exaggerating a tremble in her voice to tease her friend. "Especially with her learning that a computer monitor is more than just a spare makeup mirror...I was starting to feel replaced."

Buffy laughed and squeezed her best friend's hand. "There is only room for one Willow in my life," she promised.

"If you ladies are quite finished bonding," Giles said, "I believe we have some talismans to purchase." He stood by Buffy's door, not quite tapping his foot but still managing to convey extreme impatience.

Buffy slid back across the seat and pushed open her door, forcing Giles back a pace. "Never underestimate the value of a little bondage, Giles. And no, I won't tell you where I learned that one."

"Thank you," he said fervently.

"So why are you suddenly Happy Shopping Guy?" Willow asked curiously as she came around to Buffy's side of the car. "Can't wait to get back to your books, huh?"

"Nah," Buffy drawled as she watched her Watcher fidget. "He wants to get in there and do some bigtime shopping. Like buying out the store, and then the store too, kind of shopping."

"I have made no decision as yet," Giles said haughtily. "It was simply an idea I tossed around a bit. I'm sure it will lead to nothing. I'm quite sure I don't want it to."

"It's okay, Giles," Buffy soothed him. "We believe you. And that extra three inches your nose just grew looks very good on you."

* * * * *

"Angel, I think I've got it." Doyle hurried back into the living room, glancing around the room for his friend. "Where did Angel go?" he asked Xander anxiously.

"Training room," Xander mumbled, not looking up from his book. "I think he said something about pounding out a headache." His forehead wrinkled as he gave more thought to his answer. "Can vampires even get headaches? I thought it was a blood flow thing."

"Nerve endings," Cordelia absently corrected him. "I asked him about it too, a long time ago. He made some comment about no one's nerve endings being dead enough to ignore Doyle and I fighting." Her fingers continued to skim over the keyboard as she scanned the screen for any useful information.

"Can't imagine why he'd get one today," Doyle said grimly. "It's been so nice and peaceful around here."

"Willow started it," Cordelia protested, her attention abruptly diverted from demons to defense.

"What did you find?" Joyce asked, cutting through Cordelia's sharp reply with her quiet voice. "Is it this Amara stone you've all been talking about? The one that's supposed to make Drusilla invincible?"

"Well that would be a yes and a no, if it is indeed the right stone," Doyle hedged. "Let me get Angel and I'll tell you all the tale my mate told me."

"We should wait until Buffy gets back." Cordelia met Xander's surprised eyes with a shrug. "What? We're getting along pretty well these days. After all, I'm the one who got them back together."

"So you're the one," Joyce said slowly.

"Cordy's in trouble, Cordy's in trouble," Xander chanted gleefully, until subdued by glares from both Joyce and Cordelia.

Cordelia returned her attention to Joyce after Xander was silenced. "Yes, I brought them back together," the former May Queen said proudly. "Angel was scaring the tourists by shaking his brood thing all over town, and I knew Buffy wasn't doing any better. Somebody had to do something."

Joyce was starting to get annoyed with all these people telling her how little she knew about her own daughter. They made her feel like she was still on the outside looking in, as she had been for the first few years of Buffy's 'career' as the Slayer.

"How about giving them time to adjust?" she suggested, a hint of tightness in her tone. "How do you know what would have happened if you had let well enough alone?"

"Listen to your own question," Cordelia protested. "Since when does 'well enough' equal 'happy'? Well enough just means you decided to take the shortcut off the bridge tomorrow night instead of tonight."

"Buffy was doing fine on her own."

"She was..."

"Enough!" Angel snapped as he walked out of the training room. "I am not going to argue this all over again, not while Hank is still missing."

Angel fixed his steely gaze on Joyce, seemingly in complete control of his emotions. Only Buffy could have seen the hurt lurking beneath the shutters closed over his dark eyes.

"Cordelia is my friend, and she was trying to help me. She did help me," he corrected himself. "And whether you choose to believe it or not, she helped Buffy too. Not to put Buffy in any danger, or rob her of a 'normal life,' and not even just to drive you crazy. She did it to be nice. You will do her the same courtesy when you are in my home."

He turned quickly to Cordelia, hoping to head her off before she spoiled his impassioned defense with a little well-deserved gloating. "And you should...respect your elders."

Cordelia's jaw slacked slightly before she saw the humor of his comment. "You mean since they don't get much more 'eld' than you."

"Not true," Xander automatically protested. "Anya's way older than..."

"If you say that one more time, Xander Harris, you will be forced to create your own orgasms."

Xander winced, and then turned to face the music. "Hi honey. Calls go well?" he asked, meekly patting the sofa cushion next to him.

Anya tossed her head and ostentatiously sat on the floor. "They went very well," she deigned to reply. "In fact, I think I know what is giving Drusilla her power, and it is a stone."

"You know too?" Doyle stared at her in amazement.

"You mean you both found out? I don't understand." Angel ran his hand through the sweat-dampened spikes of his hair. "If this stone is so well known, how come we've never heard of it before now?"

"Well, I heard about it from a Nomakis demon named Deswoutna," Anya explained.

Doyle nodded sagely. "A Nomakis; that explains it. I heard it from Antowsued."

Anya frowned and quickly began to count something out on her fingers. "You spell that with an 'e,' right?" She didn't look up to see Doyle's answer; she was staring intently at her outstretched hands. "Well, that makes sense."

"What makes sense?" Angel asked sharply. "I've never heard of a Nomakis; what are they?"

"Just what you said; they are a they," Anya said simply. She waggled her fingers at him. "You can tell them by their names; they're kind of into anagrams. And crossword puzzles." She shrugged. "No accounting for taste."

"Multiple demons in one body," Doyle explained, getting back on topic. "Well, actually one body and several heads."

"They were very unpopular in the days before phones were invented, because when you see them in, umm, persons, they all start talking at once and it's kind of like sitting through a Congressional hearing." Anya shook her head as she remembered some painful past conversations. "But eight ears are better than two, and obviously they have no secrets from each other. So if Deswoutna knows about the stone, her sister Antowsued would too."

"Brother," Doyle said quickly. "I think. It's actually kind of a moot point with only one body between the four of them."

"Oh ick," said Cordelia.

"This day has been chock full of fun facts," Xander marveled. "Who knew there was a Three Heads of Eve demon?"

"So they knew something about a talisman to allow vampires access to daylight?" Angel asked quickly. Fascinating though this explanation was, he was a student of demonology second, and concerned lover first.

"Don't you want to wait for the others?" Doyle glanced at Cordelia. "Cordy seems to think we should."

"You're right, you're right," Angel muttered, turning away to glare once more at the curtained windows. "I just want to find a way out of this. Soon. Every second we delay puts Hank in more danger, and all I can do is sit on the sidelines and talk about it."

Cordelia shoved the laptop onto the sofa cushion next to her and hurried over to Angel's side. "Hey, we're gonna pull this off, I promise. We're the Little Sleeping, Dining, Club Car, Caboose and Engine That Could, okay?"

"Who's the caboose?" Anya asked curiously.

Cordelia ignored Anya as she dragged her best friend over to a chair and forced him into it. "Sit," she commanded him, "relax and don't, I repeat don't, make us watch another episode of Angel the Amazing Martyr Man. You can wear almost anything, but sackcloth just hangs on you."

She squeezed his shoulder and smiled at him, reminding Angel of all the friends he and Buffy had to support them. As further proof of that friendship, she nobly restrained from wiping his sweat from her palms until she had her back to him.

"I'm just worried about Buffy," Angel confessed, staring down at his folded hands. "She and her dad have come so far, and I know she blames herself for this. If it's anyone's fault, it's mine, but..."

"But it's not," Xander said reasonably. "I know you're the master of guilt and all, and normally I'd be right there backing you up, guy. But I guess living with a reformed vengeance demon has taught me a few things about casually tossing blame around."

He slid off of the sofa and sat on the floor, not exactly next to Anya, but closer. To his relief, she didn't move away.

"Yeah, it can get certain people dead if certain other people don't know when the first certain person is kidding." Cordelia raised an eyebrow at Anya, who smiled angelically and shrugged in reply.

"All I'm saying," Xander continued, after shooting a dirty look at Cordelia, "is that Angelus may have made Dru, but you weren't exactly sitting there waving pompoms and shouting 'go team go!' now were you?"

Cordelia shivered as she sat down next to Doyle. "Angel and pompoms? Let's hope not."

"What do you mean 'Angelus' made Drusilla?" Joyce stared at Angel. "You're the one who made her a vampire?"

Angel looked confused. "I thought Buffy told you."

"She told me Drusilla was a vampire," Joyce clarified icily. "She left out the part about who killed her in the first place."

"Uh oh." Cordelia's lips twisted in a queasy smile.

Joyce pushed the book off of her lap onto the floor as she stood up. Angel, still a prisoner of his 18th century manners, automatically rose with her.

"I guess I was right when I said you were congratulating yourself for helping Buffy out of the danger you subject her to. You know, I was actually beginning to feel some sympathy for you; you seemed so upset at the idea of a vampire stalking Hank." Joyce's voice rose in her indignation. "Now I find out it's because you were the one who created the stalker. Somehow your guilt no longer seems quite so noble."

"You know, your attitude is really starting to bug me." Cordelia scowled at Joyce. "He created a vampire, not all vampires." She paused for a moment to consider her words. "Well, okay, so he probably did create more than one, but someone did it to him first. But did you ever say 'hey, sorry you got killed in a rat-infested back alley' or anything like that?" She tossed her long dark hair over her shoulder. "I think not."

"Cordy, she's right," Angel said wearily. "I made Dru, almost from scratch. And ultimately I abandoned her, which is why she's after Hank." He glanced at Joyce, anger briefly surfacing. "Dru is the one in search of a father figure, not Buffy."

"And if you gave it to her, would she leave my family alone?" Joyce asked evenly.

"The way that I am now?" Angel sighed. "No. She doesn't want this me; she wants Angelus. And I will never let that side of me have control again."

Joyce watched him silently for a moment, noticing for the first time how very old his dark eyes seemed when her daughter was not around. Buffy had always spoken of his physical strength and prowess; they were supposed to be a good argument for having Angel in her life. But she never mentioned the emotional power that seemed to resonate from the vampire, glowing so much brighter when Buffy's flaxen hair was within his sights. After seeing them together, Joyce could now begin to see what a difference her daughter made in the life of this man

And that made Joyce mad.

She didn't want to see him as a person; still less as a person she was hurting. He was safer to regard as a symbol of the life she must steer her daughter away from. Symbols had no feelings, and symbols didn't need anyone to exist. They just were.

"I don't care what you have to do, Angel, but you will fix this." Joyce shoved away the look in his eyes, and the slump of his shoulders, and the nasty looks his friends were giving her. She pushed aside everything that made him a man in trouble and focused on her daughter's future. "You made this mess; you clean it up."

"Yeah, right," Cordelia muttered. "I can't even get him to clean Mordeth spew off of a leather couch. And that actually was his fault." She caught Doyle's frown out of the corner of her eye. "Well, mostly."

Go to Part 21

HOME