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Part 21

Angel closed his eyes and tilted his head to let the hot water rush down his face. Normally the sensation would have soothed him, but suddenly the symbolism seemed to make a mockery of his simple pleasure. He was trying to cleanse himself, to bathe himself in purifying heat and water to erase the stains of the day. But no water in the world was pure enough to save him now.

He had believed Fate was giving him another chance; but now it seemed just a cruel trick. His old sins were coming back to swallow him whole, and a part of him was screaming that he deserved every misery he suffered. Buffy, however, had done nothing to deserve this, and yet she suffered right along with him.

Angel opened his eyes as he dropped his head and shook the water from his hair. This was supposed to be their time; these precious few days, of all days, were supposed to belong to them.

He could feel the anger building in him as he thought about what was being taken from Buffy, without her knowledge, let alone consent. It wasn't right, and he would not stand for it. Somehow he had to look past Dru, and Hank, and Joyce, and whoever the hell else stood in his way, and focus on the plans he had already made for this time.

Focus: that's all he needed to do. Focus on the future, while keeping a close eye on the present and an even closer eye on his past.

"Oh yeah, piece of cake," he sighed, as the water suddenly turned cold.

* * * * *

The visit to the Magic Box had proved useless, except perhaps for Giles. Although Buffy had been the one to suggest the purchase of protective powders and potions, it was more of a pro forma gesture; she didn't really have much faith in their ability to deter a foe as tenacious as Drusilla. And the owner of the store, who was usually almost as informative as Willie, but cheaper, proved a wasteland when it came to the concept of vampires and sunlight.

He did, however, make a very tempting final offer on the store as a whole. Giles, in his haste to get an increasingly edgy Buffy away from so many mystical, and highly breakable objects, accepted without a second thought. The preliminary papers were signed and a closing date was set before the Watcher even knew what hit him.

Willow was full of commentary on the deal on the way back to the apartment, but Buffy had little to offer in response. Her thoughts were slowly circling inwards, a funnel cloud of worry and fear spiraling downward to the source.

Drusilla.

The vampire had to be stopped, for once and for all, but the longer Buffy had to imagine the inevitable, the harder it became to face. Judging by Hank's reaction to the truth about Dru, her father's feelings were much deeper than he was willing to admit. She didn't like to think about him having romantic notions about anyone but her mother, least of all one of Angel's old girlfriend's. Still, his emotions could not be ignored or belittled.

And somewhere out there, Spike was waiting in the wings. He couldn't harm Buffy in his current chip-challenged state, but Angel's inner demon left him fair game. In fact, if it weren't for Spike's overwhelming instinct for self-preservation, Buffy might be tempted to hunt him down first and send him to join Dru just to be on the safe side. Fortunately for her bleached blond nemesis, she couldn't honestly believe he would be foolish enough to take her on just to revenge himself on Angel.

Angel; he was the real concern. Ending Dru's existence would put paid a very deeply buried hope for him; one Angel had never admitted aloud, and Buffy had been too slow to see before now.

It wasn't until this morning, when Hank mentioned seeing Drusilla in the sunlight, that Buffy had seen the thought surface. It was there one moment and gone the next, but she knew her beloved well enough now to read the truth in his dark eyes, however fleeting its presence might be.

For just one instant Angel believed Dru might be human again.

As long as she existed, Drusilla carried with her the possibility of his redemption. It didn't matter that Angel knew on a conscious level she could never recover her sanity. And it didn't matter that he could never restore that which he had stolen from her. As long as she existed, a tiny hidden part of him could imagine that somehow, someway there was a magical right the wrongs he had done her.

She was his greatest sin, and nothing Buffy could do would truly assuage the wounds Dru's existence, and her inevitable lack of existence, created within Angel. He would have to live with it, and Buffy would have to live with him living with it.

And that was the part of being an adult that made Buffy want to barricade herself in her blanket fort until Mr. Gordo said it was safe to come out.

* * * * *

"Buffy, I found your gem," Anya said anxiously as soon as the Slayer walked in the apartment door. "Well, Doyle helped too, but I think I found it out first. And I certainly had to talk to more annoying demons than he did."

"You found it?" Buffy looked from one face to the other, not seeing the one she really needed to see. "Where's Angel?"

"He's in the shower, thank God," Cordelia said fervently as she stood up and stretched. "Or at least he was until Xander decided to wash a glass for the first time in his life and diverted all the hot water to the kitchen sink."

Xander cleared his throat, glancing nervously around the room to see who had heard her remark. "I thought we decided that was going to be our little secret, Cor."

"So now you have secrets with old girlfriends," Anya said, her lower lip beginning to tremble.

He patted her on the shoulder. "Just the ones that will keep Angel from hurting me, An."

Cordelia rolled her eyes, but decided to withhold comment, at least for now. Turning back to Buffy, she continued, "Angel put in some time beating up the nasty punching bag for making him stay indoors on such a nice day. Naturally, he worked up quite a sweat teaching it who's boss." She paused, remembering Angel's disheveled appearance. "Come to think of it, it's probably a good thing you weren't here; one look at him all worked up and worked out, and you would have been on him like leather on a hot summer day. Then we'd never get anything done."

"Sweat is a very powerful aphrodisiac," Anya said seriously. "I prefer Xander sweaty. When I'm talking to him, that is." With a loud sniff, she deliberately looked away from her less-than-silver-tongued boyfriend.

"I better go check on him." Buffy opened the bedroom door as she spoke and slipped inside the dimly lit room.

"No need to mention the whole kitchen sink thing, okay?" Xander called after her.

"Well we're not going to see them for a few more hours. Especially if he's still in the towel." Cordelia shook her head and sighed dramatically as she flopped back down on the sofa.

Xander raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't make comments like that around Buffy if I were you, Cor. She's a little possessive."

"Oh please; Angel's like my much, much, much older brother. Everyone knows that." She stuck her tongue out at Xander. "But even Doyle admits the man wears Martha Stewart well."

"I, uh, never actually said that," Doyle quickly interjected. He glanced from one sympathetic face to another. "Honest."

"Hang it up, Doyle," Xander advised him with a sigh. "The more you try to explain, the 'cuter' the girls are going to think it is that you feel like you need to explain."

The Irishman's lips curved up in a slightly goofy grin as he hitched his thumb in his belt loop. "Really?"

* * * * *

The bedroom was empty when Buffy slipped inside. She debated the wisdom of cornering Angel in the adjoining bathroom, but decided to wait it out. The shower had already stopped, and she knew he would not be long.

She turned up the light next to the bed and sat down beside it just as Angel exited the bathroom, wearing only a towel loosely slung around his hips.

"Buffy."

She stood up quickly. "Hey."

"You are back; I thought so." A spark kindled in his eyes. "Or maybe I just hoped."

Something warm was stirring deep inside her, brought to life by his voice, and his smile, and the knowledge that he had been waiting for her. Just her.

"You know, that's the third solo shower for one of us today," she pointed out, taking a step closer to him. "It's getting to be a bad habit."

He smiled ruefully as he shook the remaining water from his hair. "Little tough to do anything else with half the extras from 'Gone With the Wind' out there. Speaking of, did they tell you what they found out?"

She nodded, fighting the urge to slip into his arms. He was right, and even if there hadn't been a room full of people waiting for them, her father was still missing and in danger. It would be selfish to think of her own comfort in these circumstances.

"They told me, but they didn't give me any details. Or, well, I guess I didn't wait to hear any. So what gives?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "We decided to wait for you."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Here I am, in all my present and accounted for-ness."

"I'll be ready in just a minute or two," he promised. "As soon as I remember where I put that grey shirt."

"Actually, you look pretty good to me as you are." She would have regretted her ill-timed slip into intimacy, were it not for the little smirk her words brought to his face.

"Somehow I don't think your mother would approve of me coming out like this."

Buffy's good humor vanished as though it had never been. She scuffed her foot on the carpet, trying desperately to think of the right thing to say.

"Oh, yeah, my mom." After an intense study of her big toe, she raised her troubled eyes to meet his. "Angel, I am so very sorry about leaving you here to deal with her. Twice."

"It was okay. We got some things...clarified." He looked away for a moment before gently confronting her. "Buffy, why didn't you tell her the truth about Dru?"

"The truth about..." Buffy started to ask. The patient look in his eyes gave her the necessary clue an instant too late. "Oh, you mean the, umm, whole truth and nothing but the truth. As in how she got be what she got to be."

"That would be the truth I'm talking about." He walked past her to the bed and sat down gingerly on the edge, mindful of his still damp condition. "I thought we weren't going to keep secrets anymore. Wasn't that was why we told your dad?"

"Telling Dad was not my idea," she quickly countered. Her shoulders slumped as she sighed. "It's just that, well, when all is said and done...my mother is still saying and doing. She's just so...unreasonable when it comes to you. I didn't want to give her anything more she would think of as ammunition."

"You and I have come a long way when it comes to honesty, Buffy." He held her prisoner with his eyes. "But we have to be as straight with everyone else as we are with each other. Regardless of what your mom is going to think, you have to respect her enough to be honest with her. Otherwise the relationship won't work."

She sat on his lap, pushing aside any petty concerns for the state of her clothing, or the people waiting for them. Comfort was not always a mere pleasure to be indulged; sometimes it was a need that must be fulfilled. She wrapped her arms around his damp chest and clung to him with all her might, offering and taking sustenance from the gesture.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, pressing her forehead to his cheek. "Bad habit left over from early Slayerhood, I guess. When in doubt: keep Mom in the dark."

He turned his head so he could brush his lips across her brow. "I'm not going to let you be forced into the middle. We're all adults; there has to be a way we can work this out."

She closed her eyes and tried to see the future as he did, but the present kept getting in the way. Mr. Gordo and the blanket fort were looking better all the time, especially if she wasn't camping alone.

"Mmm, you know, aside from the parts where I get to live with you, and I only have to zip up my coat if I really, really want to, being a grown-up kind of sucks."

He buried his face in her hair, marveling at the peace he found in such a simple gesture. "Yup," he murmured, "that it does."

She smiled as she rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, enjoying the feel of the warm water dappled on his cool flesh. "Did they even have zippers when you were old enough to not zip up?"

His breath stirred her hair as he chuckled. "We had buttons. I can translate."

They sat silently for a few minutes, taking advantage of the rare time alone to just be Buffy and Angel. No sacred obligations existed here; no destinies called out greater than the trusting of one heart to another's care. It was their perfect refuge.

Reality, however, was waiting for them just outside the door.

"Did she, umm, take it well?" Buffy asked hesitantly, her head still pillowed on his shoulder.

She could feel him instinctively start to pull back within himself, and she hung on for dear life. "Angel, you know it doesn't matter what she thinks. I mean, it does, and I wish she'd be rational about all this, but it can't touch us unless we let it. The same goes for Dru."

"She took it as well as she's taken everything else," he said evasively, ignoring the subject of Dru entirely for the moment.

"Which is to say not well." Regretfully, Buffy slid off of his lap. "We probably should go out there. If Mom is in a snit, the sooner we get this resolved the better."

"Let me dry off and throw on some clothes and I'll join you." He stood up and looked around for the shirt he had pulled from the closet before he went into the shower.

Buffy opened a dresser drawer and began to dig through. "I need some drying off too now, actually." She stared down at the neatly folded piles, remembering all the times her mother had admonished her to put her clothes away carefully. It was all part of being a grown-up, according to Joyce.

You're old enough to be taking care of your own clothes now, Buffy. Buffy Anne Summers, you're old enough to know that homework comes first and friends second. Buffy, you're too old to expect that actions don't have consequences. You're old enough to know better, Buffy.

You're too young to know what you want, Buffy.

She straightened up and shut the drawer with a swift shove. "You know what? I look fine as is."

"You always do," he said with a grin, "just not quite so damp around the edges."

"I don't care," she answered firmly. "So I'm a little soggy. So I've been hugging my own boyfriend in my own bedroom of my own apartment. I'm a grown-up now, right? I get to do those things too. Let them deal."

Head held high, she stalked over to the door. Before she could open it, she was stopped by Angel's quiet voice.

"Buffy, would you zip up your coat if I asked you to?"

"Of course." She smiled sweetly at him. "Once I got over the shock of you asking me to cover up instead of get undressed."

For an answer, he slipped the towel from around his hips, balled it up and tossed it at her. She caught it easily and held it to her chest, eyeing him as he waited next to the rumpled bed.

"You don't play fair," she accused him with a smile. If it were not for her friends and family in the next room, she would be only too willing to take him up on the challenge she saw in his suddenly mischievous brown eyes.

Since their company did exist, however, she opened the door just enough to slide through and closed it behind her. She leaned against the door, trying to control the slight hitch in her breathing and the flush on her cheeks. A flush that grew deeper when she realized she was still clutching the towel.

"Decide to take a little shower yourself, Buff?" Xander drawled, glancing pointedly at her clothing.

She reached behind her to open the door and threw the towel back into the bedroom without looking. As she slammed the door shut, she drew a deep breath.

"Grow up, Xander."

"Hey, she made it out a lot quicker than I would have bet," Cordelia said cheerfully. Her brow furrowed with concern a moment later. "He's not sick, is he?"

Part 22

Buffy's flush had faded, and her clothes had dried, by the time Angel joined them in the living room. She slid over on her chair to make room for him as he perched on the arm, his own arm draped over the arched back.

"Did I miss anything?" he asked her quietly.

"You mean aside from a few dirty looks from Mom for my post-your-shower condition, and Giles inventing a new shade of red for the Crayola 96-pack for the same reason?" She shook her head and reached over to squeeze his leg. "Not a thing. We were waiting for you to get to the good stuff."

"And now that we have waited for both of you until my pause button is broken, can we get on with this?" Xander shifted slightly on the floor, edging over towards Anya. "Some of us have some heavy-duty groveling still to do."

"Unless some of us enjoy sleeping alone," Anya agreed coolly.

"You said you knew where Dru's sudden tolerance for sunbathing came from. So what's the deal?" Buffy glanced from Anya to Doyle, waiting impatiently to see who would break first.

"According to my," Doyle glanced at Anya, "that is to say 'our' sources, there is another Gem of Amara."

"Sort of," Anya qualified. "It was made by the sorceress Amara, and it is a gem." Her expression became more animate as she warmed to her subject. "Did you know she came from a village not too far from mine? She was born a few centuries after I'd left home, of course. She became a great sorceress, but she had kind of, well, poor taste in men. Her lover was the one who turned her." She shook her head at the perfidy that is man. "Now there's a woman who could have used a vengeance demon, but I guess she took care of it on her own."

"She beheaded him," Doyle explained with a wry smile that died when he saw the horror on Joyce's face. "He wasn't a very nice vampire," he added hastily. "No conscience or anything. Probably didn't even brush his teeth after he, umm, never mind."

"Just good in bed, but that's what they say about all of them. Supernatural stamina and all." Anya looked speculatively at Angel, earning her a glare from Buffy as the Slayer scooted a little closer to her favorite vampire.

"This jewel she created," Angel asked, oblivious to the undercurrents surrounding him, "it does protect against sunlight, right?"

Doyle and Anya both nodded vigorously.

"Oh yes, it's a great little sunscreen," Anya said cheerfully.

"But that's about all it does," Doyle finished. "Which is sounding pretty lucky for our side."

Buffy exchanged a puzzled glance with Angel before they returned their attentions to Doyle. "So it doesn't make her invulnerable to stakes or anything?" Her hand gripped Angel's leg tightly. "No super super-powers? Just a free ticket to the tanning salon of her choice?"

"Good news, eh?" Doyle grinned, hoping to inspire a similar reaction in his somber friends.

He was, however, destined for disappointment.

"It's, well, it is good news," Angel stammered. "I mean, I guess it is." He looked down at Buffy. "Isn't it?"

She forced her lips to twist into a bright smile. "Sure, honey. If she doesn't have any tricks beyond sunbathing, we can take her out without a problem."

"It does seem to take the sport out of it, doesn't it?" Anya mused. "Perhaps you could fight her one at a time, or maybe blindfolded. You two blindfolded, I mean. Not Drusilla. That would really take the sport out of it."

"This isn't WWF wrestling, Anya. She's still dangerous." Willow looked over at Buffy. "But Anya is right, you know. Dru's no match for the two of you if all she can do is get a tan without risking skin cancer."

"I know, I know," Buffy answered impatiently. "We should be grateful her Coeur de La Mer came out of a Crackerjack box. I am grateful. It's just..."

"That it won't replace the gem that Angel destroyed," Giles finished gently.

The chorus of "ohs" around the room told him the collective light had dawned for the Scoobies.

"Well, I can see why that bothers Buffy," Willow said hesitantly, "but Angel, what about you? Would you really want to be invincible? I mean it looks like fun on TV, but I don't think Superman was a very happy person deep down."

"But he wasn't truly invincible," Oz quickly interjected. "And the last Gem of Amara we found didn't seem to have a Kryptonite clause. Maybe that would make a difference."

"Sweetie," Willow said gently, patting her boyfriend's knee. "We all promised not to use the 'C' word about Buffy or Angel, remember? Unless it's in the Santa sense, that is."

"And then it's Will you want to zip the old lip in front of," Xander offered from his own store of past experience.

"I never wanted to be invincible," Angel explained, trying to answer Willow and ignore the others. "If you can't be hurt, it's too easy to forget the damage you can do to others. But I...," he fixed his eyes on the blonde head now resting against his side, "I'd be able to guard Buffy's back better. If they can't kill me, I wouldn't have to worry about defending myself. I could focus on Buffy."

The woman in question smiled ruefully. "You never worry about yourself anyway. But I do." She tipped her head back to look up at him. "I was kind of hoping this would keep you safe."

He rested one hand over hers on his thigh, and with the other hand he traced the line of her upturned jaw. "Guess we'll just have to depend on each other instead of magick. Think you can live with that?"

Cordelia could sense a tender reply was in the offing, and in one sense she approved. She approved in the sense that they were two adults who were deeply in love with each other. She disapproved in the sense that they were two adults in a room full of other adults, most of whom had love lives of their own to pursue when and if this mess was ever cleared up.

"Okay, so why isn't this little baby as powerful as Amara Mark I?" she asked briskly, effectively breaking the mood. "Is it made from recycled gems, or was it enchanted on a Monday or a Friday? Or are we just talking the hazards of mass production here?"

"What about size?" Willow asked. "Is it smaller than the other one?"

"Willow, please," Giles said patiently. "This is magick; size doesn't matter."

"Yeah, that would be magick all right," Cordelia said with a snort.

"Men," Anya sighed in a moment of rare agreement. "Eleven centuries and I haven't heard the song change yet."

Cordelia eyed her speculatively. "You know, Anya, you and I might just get along after all."

"We think this was the prototype," Doyle said quickly, trying to head off further embarrassing segues, if only for Giles' sake. "The first jewel was only given the power to protect against sunlight because that was all Amara could figure out at the time. Later, as her own powers grew, she created another enchanted stone and gave that one even more wards."

"Either that or she just wanted to have one for daywear," Anya offered. "The one we found last fall was a little on the gaudy side, if you remember."

Buffy remembered that ring all too well. She had sent it to Angel thinking she could still protect him, even if it was only from a distance. Maybe hoping, too, that with one of his arguments for staying away abolished, he would come back to her and try again.

It hadn't turned out the way she'd planned, but they both found the courage to start over anyway, despite the obstacles. Perhaps this was the reward.

"Do we know what it looks like?" Buffy pressed. "Is it another ring, or a necklace or a bracelet or..." she saw the crestfallen look on Doyle's face, "or we don't know?"

"We don't know," Doyle confirmed. "My advice? Get all her jewelry off, and then try it on Angel piece by piece near an open window."

"And whatever doesn't start a campfire is the right one," Xander added cheerfully.

"Oooh, oooh, dibs on the pictures if it's earrings," Cordelia crowed. "I'd love to see Angel in a pair of hoops."

Angel winced at the thought; there were some aspects of the modern world he'd never become reconciled to, and one of them was the sight of men in earrings. But to be able to share the daylight with Buffy, to know he wasn't responsible for adding still more darkness to her life...for that he'd wear hoops the size of the Belvedere's tires, and he'd wear them with a smile on his face.

"I don't know why you're all going on about this silly stone; the important thing is to rescue Hank." Joyce looked hard at Angel, reminding of whose fault it was that Hank needed rescuing in the first place. "Now that you know this secret weapon of hers doesn't make her any stronger, you should forget about it."

"Easier said than done," Doyle muttered, catching the look that passed between Buffy and Angel. Hank's rescue was their main concern, but it was not the only part of the future up for grabs.

* * * *

"Wakey, wakey, Hank."

The voice was cloyingly sweet. The flat of the palm applied to his cheek was not.

"Drusilla is getting bored, precious. You must wake up and entertain me."

The voice was rapidly falling into step with the hand. Hank fought hard to obey, pushing open his leaden eyelids to blearily survey his companion.

She sat on a large wooden chair, dragged over to face his own. Her once dark eyes were now yellow and alight with glee, and her face...Hank had to force himself not to flinch at the sight of her face. It was almost like that of a cat, with elongated teeth and a shape made suddenly triangular by her jutting brow. Given the unholy gleam in her eye, Hank would not have been at all surprised to see a mouse-tail dangling from between those large shining teeth.

"So you are awake," she cooed, leaning towards him. "Were you just being a bad boy and playing possum with poor Drusilla?"

He tried to recoil from her long cold hands, but suddenly he realized there was nowhere to go. The last thing he remembered was looking into the dark pools of her eyes and asking her about windows. Now he found himself securely chained to a large wooden chair facing a roaring fire. And Drusilla.

Somehow, of the two, he felt safer with the fire.

"Now, now, pet, mustn't struggle." She had noticed his instinctive battle with his restraints, and it amused her no end. "It wouldn't do for you to bruise yourself before it's time; you'll be no fun at all for me if you're fussing over cuts and scrapes." She raked a hand down his cheek, placidly licking his blood off of her nails after she had completed the pass. "That is, unless I want you to have them."

"They were right about you," Hank said stupidly. "I didn't believe them, but they were right."

"Did they tell you all about me?" she asked, clapping her hands in delight. "Did they tell you all about my Angelus and how he came to be my daddy? Did he tell you about my family and how he killed them one by one, laughing as his feet slipped in their blood?"

Hank was silent, trying not to picture the scene she was painting.

"There was so much blood," she continued dreamily, getting to her feet and beginning to circle his chair. "More than he could drink. It stained the floors of my house, the floors my mummy worked so hard to keep clean. It stained him too, but he loved the smell of it...and the taste and the feel. He taught me to love it too." She stopped her pacing and looked at Hank in a sudden fury. "Did he tell you that?"

"No," he answered quickly. "We didn't get into...I didn't hear any details."

He thought the answer would satisfy her, and in a way it did. It gave her the perfect opportunity.

"Do you want details, my love? I can give you details." She stood behind him now, running her hands over his shoulders and across his back. "We have quite a wait ahead of us until we can go out and find my Angel. You came to me much too soon, you know. We have to find a way to entertain ourselves for all these long, long hours."

"You could let me go," he suggested, not really believing she would fall for it.

She didn't even seem to hear him. "I can tell you all about my Angel," Drusilla continued in a sing-song voice, "when he was my Angel. I can tell you about all the lovely nights we shared over warm fresh bodies. I can tell you all about his likes and dislikes, and what he would do when I made him very angry. That was the best part." She smiled nostalgically as the hands she was smoothing over his back flexed into claws.

Hank flinched and tried to pull away. "I really don't need..."

"Oh, but you do need," she interrupted him, suddenly stepping back from him. "You were all set to welcome my daddy into your little family, so you certainly need to know what his intentions are." She circled the chair again, coming to a stop in front of Hank. "In my day a man would never dream of giving his daughter to a man without knowing his intentions."

Hank closed his eyes for just a moment, trying to focus on his daughter's face. She trusted Angel; even knowing what he was, she trusted him. And Hank trusted her.

"I think I know more about his intentions than you do," he said bravely.

Drusilla laughed; a light, trilling sound that shivered in the warm air.

"You only know the shell," she said at last. "The poor pathetic humanity he wears with his shoulders bent and his head all tucked in like a little turtle." She mimicked Angel's half-hunched stance. "I know the demon inside. I know what he is and how he came to be. He told me everything. And now I'm going to tell you."

* * * * *

Part 23

"So that's it," Buffy said to Angel in a low voice. "That's the grand plan. We corner Dru, where we don't know, and steal her jewelry, for which piece we also don't know. Then we stake her, and try to pick up the pieces. Of us, not her."

He sighed, running his free hand across her tense shoulders. "Yeah, that's it, so far anyway. I take it you didn't have any luck at the Magic Box in running her to ground?"

"No, but Giles is now a proud retailer-to-be, so I'm guessing we'll be getting our wolfsbane at a discount from here on out." She smiled sadly at her lover. "Does that count on the plus side for the day?"

Angel didn't answer her at first; he was too busy surveying the inhabitantsof the room as they packed up books and sorted supplies for the coming storm. Everyone was here, ready and waiting for battle. And yet in the fight to come, they represented leverage for Dru more than allies for the Slayer's team. If the vampire was reckless enough to threaten Buffy's father, she would not hesitate to take out anyone else at the same time.

"We need to get out of here," he said, more to himself than Buffy.

"I'm a little house happy myself, but umm, honey, there's the little matter of the sun," she delicately reminded him. "You know, big ball of gas that makes you go 'poof' if you decide to play in it." A firm shake of her head brushed the swinging tips of her blonde hair against their intertwined hands. "Not a good."

"I can wait until sunset, but we need to get everyone else someplace safe before dark."

Buffy looked at him quizzically. "Why is here not safe? We can protect them. All our weapons are here, and she hasn't been invited in and..."

"I'm not sure she needs an invitation," Angel interrupted, his jaw twitching in a grimace. "I'm not sure any vampire does."

"Okay, now you're scaring me. Why would they be able to just walk in? We live here; this is not neutral territory." Fear, and anger, sharpened her voice.

"You live here, that's true. But so do I." The corners of his mouth turned down, following the course set by the furrow between his brows. "Buffy, I never had to be invited in here, or into the new house, for that matter. It never occurred to me until today, but cosmically speaking, me living with you apparently makes that house a vampire's dwelling, and that means anyone can drop in whenever they feel like it."

She drew a deep, shuddering breath; this was not what she expected when they decided to live together. Home was supposed to be their sanctuary.

"All right, that wasn't mentioned in the floor plans, but I can deal." She looked up at him sharply. "Correction: we can deal."

He heard the unspoken doubt in her words.

"Yes, we," he answered firmly. "I'm not going anywhere, Buffy. And somehow I will convince you of that."

She reacted instantly to the hurt in his eyes, reaching up to stroke her finger along his downturned lips. "I do trust you, Angel. It's just sometimes I still get a little scared. Being with you is the part of my life that matters most; it's what gives me the strength to face the rest. But I know you and that noble streak of yours haven't always gotten the hint."

"Consider me hinted."

Reassured once more, she turned her mind back to the business at hand. "Okay, so tell me what's the big about sunset. She can get out before dark now, remember?"

"She won't," he said positively. "I can't, so she won't...at least not until tomorrow. She wants to draw things out and make us sweat, but she also needs me immobilized."

"Helpless," Buffy offered, remembering the feeling all too well.

He nodded and squeezed her shoulder. "I think she'll bring him to us tomorrow, when the sun is up and I can't chase her."

"You mean chase her after she kills my dad."

He quickly shook his head, hoping he was conveying more optimism than he was feeling. "No, that's only what she thinks. We're going to stop her before she can follow through. But first we have to get everyone out of here and make her look for them...and us. You know as well as I do that it doesn't take much to throw her off her game."

"You're sure she won't lose her grip and take it out on my dad if she can't find us?" She slapped her hand to her forehead. "What am I saying? She's already gripless."

Angel snatched her hand from her forehead and brought it to his lips for a kiss. "She has an agenda, and she won't lose sight of that. She's very focused...in a random sort of way."

She smiled half-heartedly at his awkward attempt to offer comfort. "Not exactly an ironclad guarantee, but I guess I'm not going to get much better. So where do we pack the children off to?"

"We need to keep everyone together," he mused, glancing from one busy friend to the next. "But from the hints that have been dropped the past few days, that's not going to be easy. Willow just moved back home for the summer, Oz is pretty much living in his van until school starts again, and Xander and Anya's place has more windows than they should allow in a state known for its earthquakes."

"So, that leaves us with Giles' place, which is too small, or..."

"Your mother's house," Angel finished grimly. "I know."

Buffy gripped his hand firmly in hers as she got to her feet. "I'll go ask her." She glanced down at Angel, expecting him to disagree.

He smiled half-heartedly, hearing the unspoken question. "I'd offer to do it...but you're the one who complains I'm too noble."

"Oh sure, now you listen to me." She tugged at his hand, pulling him to his feet. "Well, you're coming with at least. For the good of the cause and all."

"I suppose it wouldn't help to say I heard the Confederates yelling that at Gettysburg," he sighed as he followed her over to talk to Joyce.

"You did not," she shot back over her shoulder.

"No, but if it would help I'd be willing to say I did."

* * * * *

Joyce wanted to refuse when Buffy asked if they could shift the base of operations to Revello Drive. She couldn't put her finger on why the idea made her uneasy; perhaps it was the idea of sheltering her daughter's unwanted boyfriend from his own past, or maybe it was the new knowledge that Buffy's own home was not safe due to that same boyfriend's past.

Or maybe it was something else, some seemingly insignificant event or conversation that turned Fate from one path to the next. Whatever it was, the stress of the past few days, actually the past few months, had relegated the source of her qualms to the far corner of her mind, along with all the other minutiae that make up a human life. Since it was not available for study, she had no choice but to agree to Buffy's request.

Giles saw Joyce slip out while the Scoobies were still loading books and weapons into the cars. He had had been waiting for an opportunity for a word alone with her, and since he had also heard mention of various side stops for sleeping bags and foodstuff, now would seem to be the perfect time.

He rehearsed his speech in the car, and it sounded quite convincing to his ears. Some might even call it rather brilliant. Unfortunately, every last word vanished from his head when Joyce opened the front door.

"Rupert, you're early." She stepped back and gestured for him to enter.

"I wanted to...that is to say I thought I should...We need to talk." As he stumbled and staggered through the preliminaries, Joyce unwittingly forced him back on track.

"Why don't you put your coat up in Buffy's room first to stake your claim? I'd tell you to leave your bag, but you don't seem to have one." She glanced pointedly at his empty hands as she closed the door behind him. "But I'm going to put the kids in the living room anyway, so it's all yours."

He glanced away for an instant, and then forced himself to face her. Time to put his money where his mouth, as well as his foot, was.

"Don't you think Buffy might mind?" he asked mildly as he followed her to the foot of the stairs. "As much as I appreciate the offer, I rather imagine she expects it to be waiting for she and Angel when they join us."

She stopped abruptly, one foot poised above the lowest riser. Slowly the foot came down and she turned around to stare at him.

"Did you really think I was going to put my 19-year-old daughter in the same bedroom as her...boyfriend?" She shook her head. "Even if things were normal, and we both know they're anything but, I wouldn't do that."

He raised an eyebrow, pretending surprise at her reaction. "They are living together, Joyce."

"And that's supposed to help?"

He moved closer, resting his hand on her arm. "It's supposed to make you recognize that she's already made her decision, whether you agree with it or not. She's not a child any longer, Joyce."

She pulled free of his restraint. "Don't you dare try that line with me, Rupert Giles! She is my daughter, not yours, and she always will be. Just because she's too big to send to her room does not mean that I have to blindly support her choices."

"If you want to remain a part of her life, you have to at least accept them," he counseled her. "Surely you've realized by now that she won't give him up. Nor should she, in my opinion." Giles cleared his throat, preparing to make a difficult admission. "Much to my surprise, and going directly against everything I was raised to believe, I am forced to admit that he is...good for her. He gives her hope, as much as she does him."

"He's going to get her killed." Joyce spoke slowly and clearly, enunciating each word with painful distinction. "He's already nearly killed her himself, more than once. One of these days either he'll do something or he'll get her involved in something, and she won't make it out."

"Then neither will he." He smiled faintly at her skeptical expression. "He would die for her, Joyce; of that I am sure. And more than likely die without her, though perhaps not physically. Not right away."

"It's Buffy's life I care about," Joyce said at last. She thrust aside the memory of Angel's face earlier, when he talked of what he had done to Drusilla. She could not let herself care for his pain, or his future; only Buffy mattered. "He's all that she can see right now. Everything is about him, and for him. She's already given up so much for him; I don't want her life to be next."

"She is the Slayer. Every day she survives is a testament to her incredible determination, and his." Even Giles was surprised by the suppressed anger in his voice; Joyce was touching on his own guilty fears now. He drew a deep breath and tried to soften his tone.

"We are all of us facing an uncertain future. The only surety life offers is its eventual end." He sighed, faced with the inadequacy of his words to reconcile a mother to the mortality of her child. "Every living creature dies, Joyce; we must, to make way for others. But if we are lucky, we will have lived our allotted span to the fullest, and leave with few regrets."

"I don't intend for my daughter's early death to be one of mine," Joyce said stubbornly. "I can't make her leave him; I've accepted that. And encouraging him leave just delayed things; it didn't put an end to it. But I can't stop hoping she'll realize on her own how dangerous he is. Rupert, I know that if I just keep on talking that..."

"You'll drive her away completely," he finished for her. "She's already distancing herself from you. Her father, on the other hand, has made an effort to get to know Angel, and their relationship has improved considerably because of that."

Joyce made an impatient gesture with her hand. "Hank doesn't know; he doesn't understand. Or he didn't. When we get him back," her voice faltered for a moment, "when we...well, he knows now. At least he knows part of it. Angel said they didn't tell him everything yet, but when he knows everything..."

"He has spent the last several hours with Drusilla," Giles snapped. "I daresay that when we find him, he will know a great deal more about true vampires than you will ever wish to hear."

"But he doesn't know Angel. No matter what that...thing tells him, she can't explain the effect Angel has on our daughter."

"He gives her hope, Joyce. And that is something a Slayer needs more than anything." Giles' patience was wearing thin, but still he persevered. He cared far too much about both the Summers women to give up on them now. Even so, a dull red glow crept across his cheeks as he tried to explain Buffy's love life to her mother.

"He makes her believe that it is possible to walk in the darkness night after night and still find love, and a happy life. Angel has made her realize she can be the Slayer, and yet not lose the woman inside of her."

Joyce stared at him silently. What he saw in Buffy was what she hoped to see, but she couldn't make herself believe that Angel was responsible. He was the darkness; how could he also be the light?

"I, of all people, understand how...difficult...it is to view this relationship objectively." Giles smiled wryly and scratched the back of his head, marveling at his gift for understatement.

'Difficult' indeed.

"I was raised to be a Watcher, raised by other Watchers with a long tradition of service in the fight against vampires. When I first saw Buffy with Angel, even knowing about his soul..." He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts, and then continued very slowly, choosing each word with great care. "It took every ounce of self-control I possessed to make myself treat him as a human being. As for their romantic interest in each other, well, I wrote that off on Buffy's part to adolescent hormones running rampant."

"And Angel? What can he possibly find in a relationship with a teenage girl...beyond the obvious?" Joyce's mouth twisted as she acknowledged the one part of Angel she was sure she understood.

"To be honest, I thought...and mind you, this seemed increasingly likely the more I came to know his somewhat depressed personality...I frankly thought he was suicidal." He could tell by the blank look in her eyes that Joyce didn't understand him. "What surer way for a vampire to court death than to court the Slayer?" he explained.

"But she's the one in danger!" Joyce fell back to the living room to defend her position. As always, the front window beckoned her, and she took up her usual position to watch for her daughter's safe return home. "Every night she's out there, with him, risking her life for some indefinable cause. It's too much to ask of her."

He sighed as he followed her into the room. Joyce was reminding him all too clearly where Buffy got her sometimes admirable, and frequently exhausting, stubborn streak from.

"The cause is quite simple to define, Joyce. It is the oldest of wars: good versus evil. And as for it being too much to ask, is that of her, Joyce...or of you?" Leaving her with that final thought, Giles turned on his heel and quietly went upstairs.

Go to Part 24

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