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* * * * *

Part 27

"Angel, this is no use." Buffy stopped to lean against the side of a building, using it as support while she removed a stone from her low-rise boot. "We have been to all your old hangouts, or rather to Angelus' hangouts, and nobody seems to know a thing. Hardly anybody is even there except the vampires. And they don't seem to like me."

He smiled down at her, admiring the spirit that refused to let her lose her sense of humor, no matter how dire the dire.

"I told you we weren't going to be popular. As for the places only having vampires in them, well...yeah, that is a little weird," he acknowledged. "I get the feeling something is brewing. I just hope it has nothing to do with Dru."

"And the bet on that would be?" she asked skeptically.

Angel took her hand in his as she pushed off of the wall. "I'm not putting money on that one, love. Look, we're right down the street from the Alibi Room. What do you say we take a quick swing by to check up on our old pal Willie, and then head back to your mom's? You look exhausted." The cool fingers of his free hand slid beneath her jaw and tilted her head up. "Beautiful, of course, but still wiped."

She smiled wearily at him, enjoying the sensation of his distinctive chill against her warm skin. It seemed wrong to find something pleasurable in the midst of all this worry and frustration, but her body could not help responding to his, any more than her heart.

"Willie's it is," she agreed.

But the sign for Willie's Alibi Room, when they reached it a few minutes later, was dark. Angel forced open the door and stepped back to let Buffy precede him into the bar. She stepped cautiously into the room, grimacing at the crunch of splintered glass beneath her feet. Chairs lay scattered across the floor, upended and broken. Angel could feel the demon stirring within him as the heavy smell of blood filtered through the air.

"This does not look good," Buffy muttered. "Willie only closes when the world's about to end, and even then he drags out Happy Hour until the demons get restless." She automatically scanned the room for casualties, or lingering adversaries.

"Someone turned out the sign, though," Angel pointed out, "not to mention locking the door behind them. And this place is not exactly a Zen meditation room. Fights aren't all that uncommon here." He stepped around behind the bar, momentarily losing his footing in a congealing pool of blood. A cautious sniff reinforced his opinion. "This isn't human blood, Buffy. Or demon for that matter, at least not very much. It's mostly animal blood, like Willie keeps behind the bar."

She glanced over at him, hoping he was right. "Well, that would explain all the broken glass. So you think this was just a normal demon hoe-down, and nothing to do with our particular demon ho?"

The corner of his mouth twitched upward, but he refrained from a full-blown smile. Even if this specific disaster had nothing to do with them, there were still catastrophes a plenty to go around.

"I think we better get you home, that's what I think." He quickly rejoined her in the center of the room. "We'll check on Willie again tomorrow."

"I'm a big girl, Angel," she protested.

"And I'm grateful for that every day," he assured her, abandoning private investigator mode for that of concerned boyfriend without hesitation. "But you're also human, and you need some rest. So do I."

Angel rested his hand on Buffy's back, gently urging her toward the door.

"But maybe we could still find some..."

"Buffy, we've done all we can for now. I know you want to keep looking, but the best way to help your father now is by preparing for the showdown Dru is planning. And that means getting some sleep."

The worst part was, she knew he was right.

She sighed as Angel pulled the door closed behind them. It was a beautiful night, warm and soft with starlight. She and Angel were supposed to be cuddling in their new bed back in LA, sated and at peace with the world. Her father, her mother, all her friends; they were also supposed to be safe in their own beds because she and Angel had done their jobs for the day.

Her tired mind shifted. Beds. What a lovely concept.

"You realize we're going to be sleeping on the couch," Buffy said mournfully, winding her arms around Angel's as she rested her head against his shoulder.

"If we're lucky," he agreed with a sigh. "We're the last ones in, remember?"

"We can also beat up anybody in the room, or all of them at once," she pointed out. A slightly mischievous tone crept into her voice. "We'll get the sofa or nobody sleeps tonight."

"You're still going to owe me a massage for this," he warned her as they made their way down the street. "Sofa or no sofa, we're going to be pretzels in the morning. And she's your mother."

She stuck her tongue out at him, reveling in the thousand little ways he managed to inject normality into their crazy lives. It was never so much that she felt stifled, just...what was the word he used? Connected, that was it; connected to the "real" world.

With another sigh, more for effect than genuine emoting, she seized the lifeline he had thrown her. "Just for that, sir, I get to pick whether it's a back massage...or a front."

He groaned when she released his arm and darted away towards the parking lot where they had left the car.

"Now who's not playing fair?" he called after her.

* * * * *

Drusilla smiled as she glanced over her shoulder at the latest additions to her band of merry men, or rather demons, which trailed after her through the back alleys of Sunnydale. These were the last of the available minions-for-hire, lured out of every dive and dumpster ever mentioned in her presence by Spike and Angelus. Not that either vampire had ever taken her to such places; certainly not. They had always sought to shield her from the seedier elements of the afterlife. Angel believed her too much a child for such exposure, while Spike preferred to see her as too much the lady.

Dru had allowed her menfolk their little delusions, but she had her own opinions on the matter, namely that when a lady needed to rely on the 'kindness' of strangers, it was better if they were even needier than she. And so tonight she explored the darker side of the dark side.

The excursion had become an exercise in stealth the like of which she had never known; even as she was out collecting guests for her party, Angel and his pitiable excuse for a mate were out hunting her. Drusilla had caught glimpses of them from afar, but managed to stay out of Angel's "sensor" range. Fortunately, she also had a head start on the demon pub-crawl, and the cream of the dregs were hers to command.

The next stop was to retrieve Hank and the remainder of her entourage from the mansion, assuming her new companions hadn't killed Hank for sport in her absence. If so, there would be hell to pay, and a new plan to form. Otherwise, it was off to the party.

Once she determined where it was to be, that is.

She knew where her sire lived, of course, but she had a nagging feeling that he was no longer there. It would be just like that nasty interfering Slayer to drag him off to parts unknown, just to spite Drusilla. She had no sense of what was right and proper, no idea of the implacable bond between sire and childe that she was forcing Angel to decry. She was just a Slayer, lowest of the lowly human race. A simpering spoiled brat, fit for nothing more than breeding stock for Drusilla's future meals. Assuming she could actually breed anything big enough to eat, the scrawny half-starved chit of a Sla...

Breeding stock.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, midst all the whirling colors and screaming voices, a cold pure light shone forth. That was the message the stars had been singing all night, the one drowned out by the drunken louts she had bent to her will.

The Slayer had run home to Mother.

* * * * *

The Summers house was dark and silent when Buffy unlocked the door and pulled Angel inside. Dawn was still a few hours away, and judging by the heavy blankets she spied hanging over the living room and dining room windows, they wouldn't be overly aware of it when it came. Sleep, and a temporary respite from their woes awaited them.

"Buffy."

The Slayer raised her eyebrow at Angel. It seemed Giles too awaited them.

"In here," continued the soft voice, coming from the kitchen.

Angel shrugged his broad shoulders; he was as much at sea as his beloved. Together they made their way down the hallway to find out what kept the Watcher still watching.

Giles was sitting quietly at the kitchen table, a cup of fragrant tea in one hand and a large leather-bound book in the other.

"Waiting up for us, Giles?" Buffy couldn't suppress a quiet snicker, especially when she noticed the guilty expression on Angel's face.

"I wanted to make you aware of the...well, the accommodations." It was Giles' turn to look embarrassed; despite his best efforts he had not been able to budge Joyce on the sleeping arrangements. "Your mother feels...that is to say she believes..."

As tempting as it was to see if Giles' face could actually get any redder, Angel decided to take pity on him. "Giles, we know we've got the couch. It's okay."

"Well, not exactly okay, but not your fault," Buffy quickly amended. "And we'll live. For one night. After that, we have plans." She grinned up at Angel, reminding him silently of his promised massage.

"You did save us the couch, right?" Angel suddenly realized Giles hadn't been very specific about 'accommodations.'

"Yes, of course," Giles quickly assured him. "It caused a bit of a fuss, naturally...but I did insist."

"You're the tops," Buffy said lightly.

Giles let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. He carefully marked his place in his book and got to his feet. "Now that we have that settled, did you have any luck hunting?"

Buffy shook her head as she leaned against Angel's side; suddenly she was exhausted. "Nope. No one knows anything, no one's seen anything and hardly anyone is even out. It's creepy." She shivered. "And it takes a lot to wig this Sunnydale High grad."

Giles looked concerned. "Do you think it's related to Drusilla?"

"I'm too tired to think." Buffy struggled to master her impossibly heavy eyelids, but she knew it was a losing battle. "I need to recharge my batteries or the only way I'll be able to fight off Dru tomorrow is by eating a garlic bagel and yawning her to death."

Angel suddenly bent over and lifted her up in his arms. "Talk later; sleep now," he said firmly. "Good night, Giles."

"Yes, well, good night," the Watcher mumbled to their retreating forms.

Giles stood alone in the kitchen for a few minutes, worrying over the coming struggle. As always, Buffy was focused on the fight itself; she was a warrior, and that was her duty. She would deal with the aftermath...after. But as a Watcher, or at least a former Watcher, Giles had to keep his eyes firmly fixed on the horizon. He could see the pain that awaited her, both from her own heart and that which she took of Angel's to ease his burden.

In her current fleshed incarnation, Drusilla presented a considerable challenge. But as a specter of a guilty past, she would be a much harder nut to crack.

* * * * *

Part 28

Buffy thought she would fall asleep the moment her head touched the pillows, but for some reason each passing minute roused her weary brain still more.

It might have been the sofa, which was not designed to sleep two, especially when one of the two was the size of Angel. Or it might have been the six other people in the room. She had known that Willow sang in her sleep; she'd heard the witch's repertoire for the better part of two semesters now in their dorm room. But Anya's snores had no doubt woken half the neighborhood and Xander's unconscious attempts to punch the pillow were liable to fracture his hand if he hit the hard wood floor one more time.

Normally the feel of Angel's body wrapped around hers would have been enough to overrule these distractions, but not on this night. She could feel the tension humming along his limbs, transmitting itself to her and then reflecting back on him.

She ran her hand along the arm that held her firmly against his chest, smiling a little at the warmth her flesh brought to his.

"Angel," she whispered.

"Mmm," he mumbled into the back of her neck. It wasn't easy to fall asleep on this tiny excuse for a sofa, especially in his current state of mind, but he was trying.

Unlike some people.

"Did you finish stenciling the downstairs bathroom?"

She wasn't sure where the question came from; she only knew she needed to remind them both of the future that awaited them on the other side of the coming day.

"Wednesday," he whispered back, after turning his head to expel a mouthful of blonde hair.

"And the tile for the kitchen fireplace?" she pressed, still staring out into the darkness. "Did they fix that last panel?"

He flattened himself against the back of the sofa and pulled gently at Buffy's shoulder, rolling her over onto her back as he hovered over her.

"Also Wednesday," he answered patiently. "The prints are up in the bedroom, the refrigerator is turned on and I took out the garbage. Any other housewifely concerns?"

The living room was very dark; thanks to the two layers of fabric covering the windows, but his pale face was still faintly visible in the traces of intrusive moonlight that slipped between the blankets. She reached up to caress his marbled cheek, tracing the curved line of his mouth as he smiled down at her.

"Did the jasmine come for the garden?" she asked quietly.

She felt his cheek turn against her hand, and then his lips brushed her palm in a fleeting kiss.

"Already planted, love. Night blooming jasmine; how did you know about that?"

She slipped her hand around his neck and tugged, sweetly compelling him to pillow his head upon her breast. As his now warm length stretched along, and beyond, her smaller frame, she could feel the stiffness begin to ebb from both of their bodies.

"Just call me a flower child," she whispered against the silken spikes of his hair. "You wanted so much for me to have a garden, but what good would it be without you there beside me?"

Angel was silent for a minute, lost in the rhythm of her strong heartbeat against his cheek. It set the meter for his life and he would never cease to be grateful for the blessings it brought to him.

"So you do understand why I had to destroy the first Gem of Amara," he said at last, his breath flowing across Buffy's bare arm. "That day was the first time I'd stood in the sun in over two hundred years, but without you...it was a joke."

"No more without me's," she promised drowsily. The familiar weight of his body against hers was lulling her into the sleep that earlier eluded her. As she felt his arms tighten around her waist, she surrendered to the darkness.

* * * * *

At the foot of the stairs, Joyce waited, listening for the deepening breath sounds that would release her from her captivity.

She hadn't meant to eavesdrop; she only wanted to assure herself that Buffy was home safely. A part of her mind noted the irony of that phrase, considering her daughter's sofa-mate, but at least Buffy was in the house and the enemy of the week was not.

She had thought either Buffy or Angel heard her door open, or her footsteps in the upstairs hallway; they both had uncannily good ears. Either weariness or preoccupation masked her approach, however, allowing her to nearly stumble into a private conversation. Having arrived unremarked, she found it difficult to leave the same way.

And so she listened. She listened to a brief domestic conversation about bathroom walls and kitchen tiles, and for one fleeting moment she heard the underlying harmony. Walls grew before her eyes, forming the outlines of a house she'd never seen. She had believed the house to be just another part of a child's fantasy: Sleeping Beauty Castle with a pool. But it was real. In the midst of parental battles and demonic assaults and government-sanctioned kidnappings, they had created not just a house, but a home. It was a deliberate step towards a shared future; one she had always believed they could never have.

For Joyce it was an idea born within the space of a heartbeat, and rejected just as quickly. Perhaps their feelings, and intentions, were genuine. Maybe they were willing to work hard for their future, and under a moonlit sky that seemed like enough to ensure it.

But Joyce could feel the coming dawn almost as surely as Angel, and it was not a light he could ever share with her daughter, at least not without spells and talismans. She felt an unexpected twist of pity for the vampire as he slumbered in a state of hopeless denial. All the magick jewelry in the world could not make him the normal human man they all knew Buffy needed.

* * * * *

Angel walked through the cemetery, searching for something; he knew not what. The grass was cool and damp beneath his feet, as the last drops of morning dew were burned off by the sun.

The sun.

He glanced up in a panic. The sun was rising quickly in the sky, yet he did not burn. How was it possible? How could the sun be so warm upon his skin and not turn it to ash? It didn't make any sense; it wasn't...

He was upon the graves before he finished the thought. Two stones side-by-side, testaments to the long arm of his sins. Fathers both, and as such a mystery to him; they lay as markers, one at either end of his guilt.

Padraic Mannion
Born 1702 Died 1753

and

Henry Summers
Born 1958 Died 2000

"This was all your fault; you know that, don't you?" Joyce's voice was calm and cool, almost soothing in its certainty. "They both died because you couldn't control yourself. You were looking for a cheap thrill and you found Darla. Then you got bored with her and started playing with Drusilla's mind. You had to prove you were better than your father thought you were, and then you made him pay the price. Then we all paid."

"That wasn't me," he said intently. "The demon killed Dru, not me. Buffy said so."

Joyce laughed, a trilling laugh that sounded uncannily like Drusilla's. "Buffy wants to see the best in you. She wants to see the best in everyone. If Spike and his amazing chip had stayed in Sunnydale a few more months, she would have started to see redeeming social value in him."

"I couldn't control the demon," he insisted.

"And Darla? There was no demon that night, except inside of her. What was your excuse then?"

He couldn't bear to look at her. He turned his head away, but suddenly she was before him again.

"I was stupid," he admitted. "I was angry and hurt and...stupid. I thought life was supposed to be so much more. I though family was supposed to be so much more." He glanced down at his father's tombstone. "I didn't know what the word meant then."

"And now you're the expert? You separate me from my daughter, kill her father, and suddenly you're Father Knows Best?" She shook her head regretfully. "I don't think so, Angel."

"I won't let Hank get killed; I swear it." He gestured at the accusing tombstone. "This isn't real; it hasn't happened yet. And it won't."

"Now there's what I'd call a touching display of filial affection. Better late than never, eh boy?"

Angel closed his eyes; it couldn't be.

"Nice to know yer willing to save someone's father, if not yer own."

"It wasn't me," Angel choked out. "I couldn't stop him; I wasn't even there. I have his memories, but I wasn't there!" He surrendered to the inevitable and opened his eyes; forcing himself to confront the father he'd killed two and a half centuries before.

"I know, lad." Padraic's voice was unexpectedly gentle. "It was never your fault. Nothing was. The liquor, the women, the fights; none of it was my boy Liam's fault."

The struggle was eternal, and for Angel it was unwinnable; his opponent had long ago turned to dust. Yet he couldn't give up the fight when it was the only way to keep his father, his family, with him.

"I did what I thought would catch your eye. I just...I wanted you to see me."

"Oh I saw, indeed I did. Far more than these olds eyes were meant to see."

"Stop it! That's enough; it isn't helping." Buffy suddenly appeared in the cemetery, a human shield between Angel and his attackers. "Angel, make them go away. You don't need them anymore."

"They won't leave. I've tried, and you've tried, but they never go very far." He stared at Hank's headstone, and at the array of phantom victims now ranging themselves behind it. "I don't think they're supposed to."

"Then you have to make them work for you instead of against you. You can't let them hold you back again." She took his face in her hands, her skin strangely cool against his sun-warmed cheeks. "I need you to be strong for me, Angel. She's here."

"She's here," he echoed, as the sun disappeared behind a cloud and the sky grew black.

* * * * *

Angel awoke with a start, almost banging his head on Buffy's chin as they both tried to sit up at the same time.

"Buffy..."

She nodded quickly, pulling her legs out from underneath him. "I know; we have to wake the others. She's here."

* * * * *

Drusilla and her minions strode down Revello Drive, no longer bothering to maintain any pretence of quiet. There was nowhere for Angel to run; it was almost dawn. And the Slayer would only go so far without her lover.

She glanced over at Hank, who stumbled blindly by her side. He saw nothing she did not wish him to see, heard only her voice, and obeyed her every command. He would be the perfect avenging sword, to slice the bond between slayer and sire.

And of course, he was also going to make a lovely breakfast.

* * * * *

Buffy and Angel were still trying to rouse the Scoobies when the demons struck.

One minute it was dark and quiet in the Summers' living room, and the next there were demons of every conceivable shape and size pouring through the broken door.

A Centrak headed for Xander and Anya as they struggled to disentangle themselves from their zipped-together sleeping bags. The demon's fangs dripped saliva on the hardwood floor as he snared Anya by the hair with one scaly hand. Xander received the back of another hand, leaving the demon three arms free to catch his prey and smack one against the other as human cymbals.

Doyle tried to scramble over the heap of pillows separating the assembled sleeping bags to help his new friends, but he was tripped up by a Tarleth's tail suddenly wrapped around his legs. He fell over Cordelia, carrying all three of them to the floor in a heap.

Oz was not faring much better against the six-legged Elysian demon that sniffed out his werewolf blood and decided to bond. Literally. The gooey substance oozing from the creature's legs was adhering to Oz's skin, plastering him to the demon and the floor. Willow tried to break the two of them apart, but her frantic tugs only resulted in joining her to them.

Giles made it halfway down the stairs, Joyce at his heels, when they were attacked by a deceptively small Borkian demon. Fortunately Giles knew the creatures were much tougher than they looked and fought accordingly, but his efforts were hampered by his desire to honor his promise to Buffy and protect her mother at all costs. Joyce made his job that much more difficult by her fervent desire to "help," which tumbled them both down the stairs in the wake of the falling Borkian.

Buffy and Angel were in the foyer, fighting any demon that came through the door, most of whom seemed intent on getting a piece of the Slayer. Neither bothered to determine species or sub-species; it was a matter of breaking and tossing away, in preparation for the next wave. They didn't even bother to use the weapons Giles had tossed over the banister on his way down; there wasn't time for that kind of finesse.

Into this maelstrom came Drusilla, with a handcuffed Hank as her shield.

* * * * *

Part 29

Buffy dropped the Crall demon she had been preparing to fling against the wall the instant she saw her father in the doorway.

"Dad," she breathed. "Oh Daddy, are you okay?"

Hank didn't even seem to hear the question, leaving Drusilla to answer for him.

"Hank is much too tired to talk now, Buffy. He would like to go to sleep." She smiled, nuzzling her captive's blond head with her cheek. "A very long sleep."

"You have about two seconds before I turn that smirk on your face to a really pale shade of face powder," Buffy snarled.

"Temper, temper," Dru scolded. "How can we have a proper family party with all this awful anger?"

The Slayer pulled together the fraying edges of her self-control. "You haven't been to a lot of family parties recently, have you Dru?"

"It's too crowded in here," the vampire fretted, "it makes my head hurt. Everyone must leave." When her quiet demand was not heard, she raised her voice and tried again. "Get out!"

The Borkian grinned unrepentantly from the foot of the stairs as he struggled to his feet.

"Party's just getting started!" he bellowed, charging halfway up the staircase with his dagger pointed to the heavens. "The day is young and we are..."

Drusilla snatched the hallway mirror from the wall next to the door with one hand and hurled it sideways at the demon's throat, neatly severing head from body. His choked off battle-cry roused the attention of the other demons, who stopped fighting the Scoobies, and each other, long enough to stare at the quivering vampire.

"Take your toys and play outside, boys." No yelling was necessary this time; the Borkian's horned head bumping back down the stairs spoke loudly enough for all to hear. "It's time for the grown-ups to talk."

The Scoobies began flying through the front window as the demons hastily retreated from their less-than-happy hostess. Giles instinctively moved to help his young companions, but Drusilla froze him into place with her words.

"The nasty Watcher-man must stay; he's almost like a daddy and he needs to learn. And Mummy, I think; she should stay too." A regal nod to Joyce, who was slowly getting to her feet. "And, of course, my darling Daddy and his new little playmate. What fun would this be without them?"

"How did you get in? I don't understand how you could..." Joyce stammered. "You're a vampire; they said you were a vampire."

Drusilla blinked rapidly and stuck out her lower lip. "But you invited me; don't you remember? I'm here for my nice cup of cocoa."

"I never said a word about cocoa," Joyce protested, clinging to what shreds of innocence she could claim. "I did, that is I think I did, ask her in for a little chat. Just girl talk, about Hank and...but I never said a word about cocoa."

"God, Mom, do you deliberately invite every vampire in town but Angel into the house?" Buffy tore her eyes away from her father long enough to glare at her other parent.

"I didn't know she was...and then when you told me...I guess I forgot." Joyce shrugged helplessly. "I mean how many times do you casually invite someone to your house who never takes you up on it?"

"In Sunnydale? Usually only once."

Angel paid no attention to Joyce's inadvertent slight; he was too busy studying Hank, who stood docilely within Drusilla's embrace. There were visible welts where chains had bitten into Hank's skin, and a few bloody scratches, but for the most part the human appeared unharmed. It was his eyes that bothered Angel. Too calm, too distant, given the situation. It was possible Dru had drugged him, but more likely it was hypnosis, or shock-induced catatonia.

Angel was hoping for hypnosis.

"It's time to let Hank go, Dru. You've had your fun."

The vampire's voice was as calm Hank appeared, and distantly compassionate. He knew a thing or two about denial as well. He refused to let the pain in, not right now. Never mind the mad glaze in her dark eyes, a sheen that he put there with his endlessly creative tortures. He had to focus on the immediate future, or he would live forever in the shadow of his sins.

"The fun is just beginning, pet. You got to kill your daddy, and mine, and many others too. I just want to get my share." Her game face took shape as she caressed Hank's throat with one long, black nail. "You used to tell me stories about how much you enjoyed killing your daddy, don't you remember? He was so cruel to you in life, my poor Angel. He humiliated you, and he looked down on you and he even beat you when you were small."

He tried to shrug off her words. "It was the 1700's. Back then, it was considered active parenting."

She smiled widely as her voice dropped to a whisper. "But you got big, bigger than him, and he couldn't hurt you any more that way. So he made fun of you, and told you what a bad, bad boy you'd always been, and always would be."

Angel remembered the daylight hours he had whiled away telling her stories of his grand "revenge" on his father. His father's death had left him alone with his self-doubts, and he needed desperately to believe that he was the victor in their struggle. Deep in his gut, though, he had known that his father's ghost would always be stronger than he.

He swallowed the bitter taste of the past and forced himself to focus. "You never knew him; why should you care? Your father wasn't that bad, so you have nothing to get revenge for."

"My father abandoned me," she hissed.

"Oh for pete's sake!" Buffy exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. "Has all that long hair strangled every brain cell you had left? Angel is not your father!"

"Buffy," Giles said quietly from behind her, "now perhaps is not the time to..."

"He is so my daddy!" Drusilla stamped her foot, and tightened her arm around Hank's chest. "He told me so, over and over. I remember."

"And I left you," Angel conceded, still trying to reach out to her. "I regained my soul, Dru; I couldn't stay. I didn't belong."

He never belonged; he knew that now. All those decades and centuries trying to find a place that felt right, like it was waiting for him, and he didn't find it until he looked into the devastatingly open hazel eyes of a half-grown girl who knocked him flat on his ass, in every sense of the word.

"You belonged to me," Drusilla protested. "We were a family. A happy little family."

Until the Slayer ruined it, the stars murmured. She should pay for that. She must pay.

"I killed my family," Angel corrected her as the stars continued to whisper their sage advice. "And I killed yours. We were just playing at being human, using words and concepts that human beings use because they were familiar." He shook his head sadly. "Words like family and love and trust have nothing to do with vampires."

"You did love me," she insisted. "I was your perfect creation; how could you not love me?"

"I'm sorry, Dru; I really am."

She tilted her head and considered the situation. "Sorry for leaving me?"

"I'm sorry for leaving you alone, yes," he agreed, nodding jerkily. "I did that before I killed you, when I took away your family and your mind. I didn't leave you anything to protect yourself with."

Buffy's hand fell on his arm. "It wasn't you, dammit. If it was you, then this is the real Dru, not the demon you created. You can't have it both ways."

He glanced down at her, standing defiantly by his side. She would always be there, no matter his sins; he knew that now.

"I have been trying to have it both ways; I've been doing it for decades," he admitted with a ghost of a smile. "I can't help but feel guilty for what the demon did, but I didn't do much better." He faced Drusilla. "I'm sorry for your death, and your family's death, but most of all I'm sorry I've been such a coward. I should have staked you the minute I regained my soul."

Drusilla hissed, immediately drawing Buffy's attention from her anguished lover to her captive father.

"Angel, maybe you shouldn't..." she began.

He continued, oblivious to any outside forces. "She wouldn't want her body to go on this way, not the real girl I talked to in London all those decades ago. For what I did to her, I owe it to her to end this once and for all."

"You won't kill me," Drusilla purred, suddenly contented once more. "You can't. I'm your penance."

He nodded, taking another step towards her. "You have been. And a beautiful penance too, the kind that keeps on giving. But it's time I stop wallowing and take some responsibility for my actions." He could hear the echoes of his father's voice, overlaid with Buffy's, from his dream. He had to make the ghosts work for him. "Let Hank go, and we'll finish this ourselves. Just you and me again, one last time."

* * * * *

Part 30

A war raged on the Summers' front lawn, one largely ignored by the denial-happy residents of Sunnydale. The Scoobies, Sunnydale and LA branches combined, were severely outnumbered, but the demons they battled seemed more interested in fighting for its own sake. Blood was flowing, and bruises were multiplying, but despite the odds, fatalities were strangely absent.

After all, this was supposed to be a party, and what fun is the piņata after the filling falls out?

* * * * *

"One last dance, pet?" Drusilla cooed, swaying her body and Hank's to music only she could hear. "Me and my Angel, dancing to the sound of starlight. Except that the stars have gone silent." She smiled at him as she leaned forward to take a little nip out of Hank's ear.

Buffy started to move on Drusilla the instant she saw fangs headed for her father's neck, but Angel's arm slammed out to hold her back. She looked at him in alarm.

"Angel..."

"No," he said abruptly. His eyes never left Dru's face.

Drusilla's tongue darted out to lap up the last traces of blood from the wound in Hank's ear. The Slayer should have acted by now, she fretted silently; how much more must she do to set the little viper off? Not only was Hank's body heat warming the vampire to an unbearable, almost human, degree, but she was getting bored again too. If only he would struggle against her it might be some fun, but thanks to her hypnotic spell he lay as quietly in her arms as one of her dolls.

And even in his waking moments he wasn't half the conversationalist Miss Edith was.

"It's almost dawn, my Angel," she purred. "Time for good little vampires to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over their heads; all but me. I have things to do, after I send dear Hank to heaven." Dru pursed her lips and cocked her head to the side. "He will be going to heaven, don't you think? He was a very bad daddy to our dear little Slayer, but he's only human."

"That's right, he's only human. No match for you, Dru." Angel's voice rose and fell rhythmically, almost hypnotically. "He's not the one you're angry with anyway. You want me; I'm the one who hurt you. I'm the one who told you what I wanted you to be, and then left because you were exactly that. It's my fault; only mine."

Drusilla stared at Angel, her eyes black and bottomless pools. "Do you really want to dance with me?"

It wasn't part of the plan, at least not yet. The little Slayer should be punished first, and then there would be time for one lovely last dance with her Angel. Still, it wouldn't do to get his guard up. Best to humor him for now.

"I want to end this," he corrected her, swallowing his regrets at one more failure.

Angel did want to sever the ties that bound them together, but not this way, never this way. It still seemed so unfair to end her existence for all time, when she was only being the creature he made her be. She was his perfect creation, and he had to destroy her for it.

"Angel, let me."

Buffy's plea was quiet, almost whispered, but he heard her clearly. He only wished it were that simple.

"She's my responsibility. I have to face up to my responsibilities."

Yes Father, that much you did teach me, he thought wistfully. It took two and a half centuries, but he finally understood.

"It's time, Dru."

He wasn't going to let her do this her way; Drusilla could see that now. Her plan had been so beautifully simple, and he ruined it with his wretched choirboy soul. Responsibility. Guilt. Shame. How dare he mock her this way? She'd teach him not to blight his childe's hopes and abandon her to the tender mercies of a merciless world.

And then she'd have breakfast.

Dru ran a sharp nail quickly and precisely across Hank's throat, laughing as the blood welled up and dripped on her hand. She thrust him away from her a moment later, hurtling him into Buffy. His dazed condition left Hank in no shape to slow down his trajectory, or alter it, and his greater weight drove both he and Buffy to the floor in a tangle.

"You may cut in," Drusilla allowed, with a gracious nod of her head.

* * * * *

Sirens wailed in the distance. The Sunnydale police were in no hurry to interfere in a brawl that broke out at a costume party, but enough residents of Revello Drive had at last complained about the noise level, and damage to their own property, to warrant a quick stop.

The human combatants were more worried than relieved to hear the sirens; in the past, police interference had usually resulted in more casualties than it was worth. Doyle and Cordelia, in particular, had little use for uniformed assistance after some less than productive encounters with Kate's co-workers.

The demons, on the other hand, seemed unnerved by the noise. Though Sunnydale had an inordinately large number of alternate lifeforms, they generally lived a separate existence from their prey. Contact, when it came, was swift, brutal, and under the cover of darkness. Suddenly they were exposed to the coming light of day, engaged in a public brawl and about to be treated as...humans.

It was more than most of the demons could bear to contemplate. One by one they broke off and scuttled away, aiming for the woods that ran along the end of Revello Drive. The Elysian was the last to go, hurling himself, and Oz and Willow, at a tree to rend the gluey strands that bound the three together. The instant he was free, the demon loped off into the underbrush, dragging large amounts of it with him ensnared in the trailing ropes of sticky excretions.

* * * * *

Buffy struggled to push her injured father off of her, without hurting him further. Giles and Joyce stood frozen at the foot of the stairs, fearful of disrupting the delicate balance in this war of nerves. Angel had used the sudden commotion to his advantage, snatching up a stake from the pool of weapons scattered across the hardwood floor. He now advanced on Drusilla as she stood swaying in the open doorway, bathed in the glow of another beautiful sunrise her "daddy" could not share.

So intent was he on the outcome of this confrontation, Angel forgot where his boundaries lay. One step too far, and a sharp pain lanced through his foot as the morning light met his unwelcoming flesh, even through his heavy boot.

"Poor Angel," Drusilla murmured. "Can't come to claim his dance. One more thing my brave daddy can't finish." She began to hum, spinning in circles in the doorway with one arm raised, as though it were he who twirled her around. With each turn she edged further out of his safe reach.

A few more steps and she would be outside, where only the Slayer could reach her.

"No more," he growled. "No more."

"Angel, don't!" Buffy cried out as she finally managed to settle her father safely on the Oriental rug.

Drusilla spun around to face Angel. She was laughing, as he remembered seeing the real Dru do so very long ago. She was singing and laughing and dancing, in a cruel parody of the girl she'd replaced. It was the foulest display that Angel had ever seen, and it broke his heart to end it.

With one quick lunge he stepped out into the morning light and thrust the stake into her heart, the blow falling clean and true. Without thinking he staggered backward into the safety of the house and stared as her smile dissolved into ash.

"I'm sorry," he whispered to the morning breeze.

* * * * *

She was still dancing.

Angel could not suppress the dazed laugh that spurted from his throat when he realized she was still dancing. He was unmindful of his smoldering clothes, or the deadly sunlight creeping across the threshold; he could not retreat from the sight of those dust motes sparkling as they swirled through the air.

"Angel." Buffy was at his side, tugging at his arm, pulling him further back into the foyer, back to safety, but his world had shrunk down to those particles of dust that the morning breeze was lifting off of his sleeve.

"She's dancing," he murmured. "I remember watching her dance so many times. The night I killed her family, she had gone to a party and I followed her. I watched her dancing with one young man after another." He glanced wildly about the room, as though expecting a band and guests to suddenly appear. "It made me even more determined to break her."

"Angel, please." She frantically looked him over for burns, but he seemed relatively unscathed. The much maligned leather coat, which he had automatically donned in the face of battle, had served as a true suit of armor this time. His hands showed the only real signs of the sun's fury, but the flames had died out quickly, and the scorched skin would soon heal.

She wasn't as sure about his eyes.

"When she escaped to the convent, I knew they wouldn't let her dance anymore. And then when I turned her, I told her..." he suddenly gagged and sank to the floor, his back to the banister. "I told her that I saved her," Angel whispered in horror as he stared at the hardwood. He could feel Buffy's eyes upon him, but he couldn't bear to face her.

Buffy glanced over at her father, but she was reassured to see Joyce stanching the flow of blood from his throat with her cardigan. Hank, apparently returned to consciousness by Dru's death, was trying to help her hold the cloth in place. Giles had rushed out onto the lawn to alert the police that they needed an ambulance, and the Scoobies, bloody but unbowed, were ranged in the doorway. Angel was the one who needed her most. She dropped to the floor beside him and gently touched his shoulder.

"Baby, it's okay," she murmured. "It wasn't you. It wasn't you."

He looked up at her blindly, the tears beginning to streak down his pale cheeks. "I told her that I saved her," he repeated hopelessly. "I was going to recreate her, make her something better than she was. Save her from a boring, normal human life."

Joyce's head snapped around at the sound of his broken words, but any other confessions were muffled as Buffy pulled his head down onto her lap. He lay huddled on the floor, a large man made suddenly small by the weight of the sins crushing down upon him. Her daughter curled protectively over his back, stroking his hair and offering absolution he was not yet ready to accept.

Joyce heard the wail of an ambulance siren with relief, but she was suddenly unsure who was the greater casualty.

* * * * *

Less than a half-hour before, the Summers' living room had been filled with demons; now it was overrun with EMTs and police. Hank was loaded on a stretcher and wheeled out, Joyce at his side. She tried to get in the ambulance with him as well, but the attendants told her she would need to follow in her own car.

As she hurried back into her house to get her keys, Joyce heard a crunch beneath her foot. After the seemingly endless din of shrieking demons and breaking glass, she wasn't surewhy this noise caught her attention, but it did. Glancing down, she saw a small green crystal peeking out from under her shoe. To the right of the crystal, off the walkway and half-hidden by the bushes where a busy EMT had kicked it, lay a twisted rope of antique gold.

Despite all the talk about this mythical Gem before the attack, Drusilla's presence had rendered it unimportant in the grand scheme of things. No one knew which of the many pieces of jewelry she had worn could make such a claim; in the ensuing uproar no one even remembered that she possessed it.

Joyce stared at the stone for a minute, as a thousand different visions of the future flew through her head. The renewed wail of the ambulance siren at last pulled her from her reverie and pushed the final step through the front door.

After she leaned down and pocketed the small green crystal that winked at her in the first light of dawn.

Go to Part 31

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