* * * * *
Buffy huddled over Angel on the hardwood floor in her mother's foyer, her limbs cramped but her soul unwilling to surrender. She still stroked her lover's hair and back, offering succor he barely seemed to notice. At least he was calmer now, his occasional breaths no longer dragged from the air in harsh gasps, his rambling confession first slowed and then silenced. She wanted to get him away from the door, and the steadily approaching daylight, but he seemed oblivious to any danger.
In truth, he seemed oblivious to everything, including Buffy. His focus was inward, to some dark and distant place she could not reach. She, in turn, knew only him.
No response, prompting Xander to clear his throat and try again.
"Hey Buff. I can fix the door, but I can't do anything with the shutters. Not without plywood or something." He gestured first to the living room and then to the dining room, both awash in the rosy glow of early morning's light. "You're going to have to get Combusto-Boy out of the line of fire until dark."
She raised her head from its resting place on top of Angel's, slowly withdrawing from her attempted communion with her lover's troubled soul.
"I know. We should go upstairs." She looked down at Angel, still sprawled across her lap in dreadful silence. "Angel, honey, we have to get up now."
For a moment she was afraid he was too lost in his own mind to hear her, but then he slowly began to draw himself upwards, folding one long limb into another until he was seated on the floor beside her.
"Well, that's step one," Xander said with false cheer. "The next step is called stepping, strangely enough. Up steps, stranger still. Gotta love those crazy kids who invented the English language." He leaned down and offered Angel his hand. "This is, of course, a once in a lifetime offer. Need a hand?"
Angel glanced up at the boy, expecting to see at least a glimmer of amusement at his expense. He saw friendly concern, however, and a bewildering hint of compassion.
"I'm okay," the vampire answered in a hoarse voice. "Thanks."
"Hey, Angel and Xander are being polite to each other," Cordelia complained. "I thought the scary part was over." She moved quickly across the living room, which she, Doyle, Anya and Xander had been attempting to clean. "Angel, are you sure you're feeling...you? I mean, you were kind of on the far side of the universe for a while. And your hands...are the burns gone now?"
He started to get to his feet, leaning heavily on Buffy as she clung to his waist. "I'm fine, Cordy."
"He just needs rest," Buffy said quickly. "We all do."
"He could probably use a pint too," Doyle said practically. He seemed surprised by the glares that greeted him. "I meant of blood. The man got burned; he needs blood to heal completely. He is a vampire, you know."
Buffy glanced anxiously at Angel's averted face. She could feel the fatigue quivering in his limbs, more than he should suffer from the burns or the lack of sleep.
"Yeah, great idea," she answered absently. "Can you get some?"
"We'll try that creep Willie's," Cordelia said eagerly. "You like his stuff, right Angel?"
Cordelia could deal with a brooding Angel, had in fact done so for many months before Buffy came back into his life. But this vacant and dependent Angel frightened her deeply. If blood was what it took to put him back on his feet, then blood was what he would get. She'd even bleed into a bottle herself.
After everyone else had kicked in a pint first, of course.
"He was closed last night. You'd better call first." Buffy guided Angel into a slow turn towards the staircase.
"Sure. I'll just use my..." Cordelia looked quickly around the ravaged house, her gaze finally coming to rest upon Doyle. "Doyle, what did you do with my cell phone? I gave it to you last night on patrol because I didn't want to carry a purse."
"Phone?" he said blankly.
"Yeah, phone," she snapped. "Honestly, you're worse than Angel with those things. Every time I turn around we're getting new cells because you've lost them." She stalked off to the kitchen, calling over her shoulder as she went, "You keep phone hunting; I'm going to look up Willie's in the yellow pages. Do you think they have a listing for bars for alternative lifeforms?"
Angel suddenly turned to face Buffy, seeming to really see her for the first time. His brow creased as he took in the multitude of raw scratches on her face and arms, and the tears in her clothing.
"Are you all right?" he asked hoarsely. The hand he had been using to guide himself along the wall came up to trace a cut on her lip. "You were bleeding."
"I'm fine, Angel," she quickly reassured him. "Nothing a few band-aids and abnormally fast healing won't take care of."
She smiled hopefully at him, praying his concern was a sign of returning equilibrium. Unfortunately, Angel's brief interest in the real world waned once he was assured of her well-being. His gaze shifted once more, from her face to a place somewhere beyond the wall at the top of the stairs.
The Slayer sighed and focused on gently forcing her battle-scarred boyfriend up each wooden step towards her bedroom.
"Angel, just a few more," she pleaded half under her breath. "Not much further, I promise."
There was a moment of silence before he rumbled quietly, "I remember."
He faced her steadily this time as he spoke, and there was a faint sign of the man she loved lurking in the dark depths of his brown eyes.
"Good," she said simply, trying to mask the extent of her relief.
"Are you sure the curtains are closed?" Anya suddenly called from below. She was on the stairs in an instant, brushing past them on her way to Buffy's bedroom. At the top of the stairs she collided with Willow as the witch emerged from the upstairs bathroom.
"Oh, I'm umm...well, sorry, Anya," Willow stammered, backing up into Oz as he exited the bathroom behind her.
Anya looked at Willow and then down at the front of her halter and capri slacks. "You didn't stick," she said flatly. "Why didn't you stick?"
"We're goo-free now." Willow held up her hands. "See."
"Cordelia wouldn't let us in the rest of the house until we got cleaned up," Oz added, shrugging his shoulders at the mystery that is Woman.
"Then you may help me clean now," Anya announced, with more than a little satisfaction. "You dripped Elysian spit all over the stairs when you came up here, and it's making it impossible to wipe the Borkian blood off the wood. Xander says it will take the finish off if we don't get it cleaned up soon."
Willow glanced over Anya's shoulder at Buffy and Angel as they slowly cleared the top step.
"Maybe we should help Buffy instead," Willow said gently. "Is there anything we can do?"
Anya rolled her eyes at their blindness.
"Fine, let Xander spend a weekend refinishing Mrs. Summers' staircase instead of having sex with me," she called loudly over her shoulder as she stalked into Buffy's bedroom. "As if anyone cares about my feelings."
Willow grimaced at Anya's retreating back and glanced again at Buffy. "So, can we help you guys? Cause, you know, Borkian blood mixed with Elysian goo...so very not my favorite thing right now."
Buffy glanced up at Angel's set face and made a decision.
"Yeah, you could, Will. Would you guys go to the hospital and check on my dad?"
"We're on it," Oz promised, reaching for Willow's hand almost before Buffy finished her request. "Should we bring him anything?"
"Buffy," Angel said shortly.
Buffy turned to him as they entered her bedroom. 'What is it, Angel?"
He smiled wearily at her as he sat down heavily on the foot of the bed. "I meant they should bring him you. He needs you right now."
She was on her knees before him in an instant, clutching his unnaturally hot and reddened hands in her own. The quick wince that he tried to hide from her automatically loosened her grasp, but she did not let go entirely.
"You need me. Dad has my mom, and Mom has Giles. They can take care of each other. I just thought Willow and Oz could spell them if they need it, and you know, maybe bring back a report or something." She tried to sound confident of good news, blocking out the memory of all that blood. "In case there's anything to report."
Willow glanced anxiously at Oz. "Maybe we should wait downstairs for a few minutes and let them talk." She took a few steps back and waited in the open doorway for Oz and Anya to follow her lead.
Oz gave the proposition careful thought as he ambled out of the bedroom. "How about you wait, and I'll get started on the stairs? Just in case."
"But I want to hear," Anya protested. "For eleven hundred years I heard couples do nothing but argue. I had no idea make-up sex even existed until I met Xander."
Willow didn't bother replying; she just groaned as she reached in and grabbed Anya's hand to drag the ex-vengeance demon into the hallway. Oz stepped back to let the girls past, grinning as he closed the door behind them.
Angel paid no more attention to their departure than to their presence. "You're worried about him. It's okay; I understand. I'd understand less if you weren't." He pulled one hand free of Buffy's tender restraint and pressed it against her flushed cheek.
She didn't want to worry, but she couldn't stop seeing the blood. So very much blood. Kendra died from the same type of wound, inflicted by the same vampire, and she hadn't bled that much. At least not that Buffy remembered. Not that she actually remembered much of that night besides Angel.
Angel. She couldn't save him then, but she was not about to lose him to Fate, or anything else, ever again.
She shook off the past with a conscious effort. "My dad is in a hospital, and he's being taken care of by professionals. He's all right," she insisted, kissing Angel's palm before she gently pushed his hand away from her face and began to ease him out of his leather coat.
"And I'm all right," Angel countered, shrugging his shoulders to help free his arms from the sleeves. "A little singed and a lot sad, but still here. And I will be here when you get back," he added, shrewdly guessing a major source of her hesitation.
"I never thought..." she protested, as a traitorous little voice in her head sighed with relief at his promise.
Angel looked at her steadily, offering her love and understanding with his eyes that he could never begin to express within the limiting structure of human words.
"Go to him," was all he said.
"I don't want to leave you alone," she whispered, laying her head on his lap.
He twined his fingers in the long strands of golden hair that trailed across his hands. Even her hair seemed to be a living creature, vibrating with as much energy as the heart he could hear pounding in her chest. She was so full of life, and he was death incarnate.
And like all polar opposites, neither could exist without the other as a part of the definition.
"Do you still love me?" he asked quietly, almost casually.
Her head snapped upward, an unbelieving hazel-eyed stare meeting his pensive gaze.
A single, bewildered syllable was all that she could manage in answer. After all that bound them together, could he honestly doubt that basic truth?
"Then I'm not alone." Angel pulled her hands up to his chest, ignoring the twinge of pain he felt as he clasped them tightly over his heart. He bent down to brush her lips with a kiss, murmuring against her lips, "Go to him."
She pulled back and looked deep into his eyes, taking the measure of his newfound calm. He seemed sad, and still a little lost, but overall much steadier than she had seen him since Drusilla delivered her last laughing taunt.
"I'll be back soon," Buffy promised. She got to her feet, but couldn't seem to make herself step away from him.
"Take your time; I'm not going anywhere," he said, showing a welcome trace of his usual wry humor. "If you want to stay all day, I'll come join you when the sun sets."
She bent down and held his face in her hands, giving him a quick, fierce kiss. "I'll come back early, and then we'll go back together tonight. And then, after that, we'll go home. Well, the Sunnydale version." She ventured a wheedling smile. "But at least it has a bed."
"And houseguests," he reminded her gently.
"We will get them a hotel room," she said, ruthlessly abandoning all pretense of hospitality. "I'm all for friendship and one for all and all for one, but not all for one room. Not after last night."
"Sounds good to me." The weariness had returned full force; he lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, murmuring, "Sleep now."
"I love you," she whispered as she backed out of the door.
"Love you too," he mumbled, rolling over onto his side as he blindly reached up for a pillow. Perhaps in sleep he could escape the endless echo of Drusilla's laugh, which thus far only Buffy's voice had drown out.
* * * * *
Buffy hated hospitals.
She hated the sounds and the smells and blinking lights and the hurried footsteps. Most of all she hated the knowledge that whatever occurred between these walls was beyond her power to prevent. She, who defended the innocent, and sometimes even the not-so-innocent, all day every day, was forcibly off-duty the moment she walked through the automatic doors of a hospital.
She really wished Angel was beside her as she walked into the Emergency Room. Willow and Oz were the best of best buddies, especially Willow, but they couldn't take the place of her beloved. They couldn't make her feel safe when every bone in her body was screaming "Danger, Will Robinson!" They couldn't hold her hand hard enough to for her really feel it, and they wouldn't know when to stop treating her with kid gloves and make her behave like a grown-up.
The only thing that kept her placing one foot in front of the other down that long cold tiled hallway was the knowledge that Angel needed her at home, and if he could let her go in one of his darkest moments, she could be brave enough to face down IV tubing and beeping monitors.
A nurse at the front desk had directed them to the room where her father had been admitted. Buffy walked just a pace ahead of Willow and Oz down the hallway, determined not to give in to her fear. Still, it was with a palpable feeling of relief that she recognized Giles sitting in one of the waiting room chairs.
"Buffy," he called out softly. "I didn't expect you for several more hours." He hurried to meet them halfway, taking Buffy's elbow when he reached them. "Your mother is in with your father."
Buffy glanced up at the man she thought of as her other father. "How is he?"
"He's...well, here's your mother. You can ask her," Giles stammered. "She's been talking to the doctors more than I."
Buffy saw Joyce leaving one of the rooms, pulling the door closed behind her. She darted ahead of the others to greet her mother.
"Mom, how is he?"
Joyce sighed; pushing her slightly bedraggled blonde locks off of her forehead as she tried to pull herself together for her daughter's sake. Hank's injury frightened her more than she would have expected, and it was hard work to stay calm and focused. Even if she had occasionally told Hank to drop dead during the disintegration of their marriage, she never expected to see him do it.
"He's resting now." She laid her hand gently on Buffy's shoulder. "He lost a fair amount of blood, but it looked worse than it really is. She didn't go wide enough to hit any major blood vessels, and it wasn't deep enough to touch his windpipe."
"You're sure?" Buffy asked insistently.
Her mother grinned wryly. "He's going to have an interesting scar to explain at work, but he'll be okay."
Buffy slumped against the wall, a dizzying feeling of relief sweeping over her. Her father was going to be okay; her mother said so. He had been hurt, and Angel as well, if some wounds showed less than others. But they would both be okay. She wouldn't settle for anything less.
As if reading her daughter's mind, Joyce cleared her throat and forced herself to assume an offhanded tone. "And Angel? How is he?"
Buffy heard the question clearly; complete with all the underlying threads it was bound in. "He's a little shaky, but he's going to be fine." She paused before carefully adding, "Thanks for asking."
"He, well, he seemed very upset over what happened. I didn't realize...that is I know you were worried about him but I didn't know it...I'm, well, I'm just glad he's feeling better."
"He's not," Buffy said shortly. She was a little angered by her mother's assumption of such a quick recovery, but a quiet cough from Giles reminded her that everyone was feeling the strain of the past few days. "He's not," she repeated in a more moderate tone, "but he will be."
Joyce drew a deep breath and looked at her daughter steadily. "I'm sure you'll see to that."
The quiet moment of understanding was broken by a wailing heart monitor and pounding footsteps in the distance. Buffy looked alarmed, despite her mother's apparent calm.
"It's not your father, Buffy," Joyce said softly. "See for yourself." She pushed open the door and gently steered Buffy inside the dimly lit room.
"Dad," Buffy said weakly to the quiet figure on the bed.
Hank raised his hand, but before he could speak, Joyce forestalled him. "He's not supposed to talk," she said sternly. "Not for a day or two, unless he really needs to. He might pull out stitches."
Buffy took a few steps closer to the bed and peered anxiously at the bandages showing snowy white even against her father's grayish tan.
"She didn't hit the jugular," she murmured to herself. "No, of course not; you wouldn't be here if she hit...she really didn't hit anything important?"
Hank shook his head, a faint ghost of a smile crossing his white lips. "Muscles," he whispered, before wilting in the face of Joyce's glare.
"I'll do the talking, mister," she said firmly. "I waited most of our marriage for the chance to have the last word, and I'm determined to get it while the getting is good." Her smile removed the sting from her words, and was rewarded by an echoing smile from her ex-husband.
Buffy glanced from her mother to her father, amazed at the harmony she sensed between them. She hadn't seen her parents so comfortable in each other's company since she was a little girl, and it gave her a warm, almost forgotten, feeling of belonging.
These two people, as hard and as often as they had fought, had once shared a bond that time could wear smooth, but never eradicate. She was the product of that bond, but not its only expression. It would endure in the people they touched during their lives, because their own lives had changed from loving each other. It would endure in the lives of those she touched, especially in Angel, and it would continued to spread outwards as long as none of them closed off from humanity.
It was family, in its simplest form. Now all she had to do was convince each member of this family that no one was expendable. Especially not the man she loved.
* * * * *
Buffy spent a few hours at the hospital with her parents, trying to make conversation with her father and repeatedly being scolded by her mother for her efforts. Finally she gave up and made her farewells, not without a certain feeling of relief. She knew Angel was all right; someone would have called her otherwise. But seeing was believing, and she really needed to be able to believe right now.
Her mother's house was almost back to normal by the time she arrived. Willow and Oz had returned with Giles as soon as she went in to see her father, and the combined forces of all her friends had accomplished miracles against the legions of demon blood and broken glass.
Of course Xander's construction company contacts hadn't hurt either; the windows weren't replaced yet, but they were neatly boarded up, and the front door seemed good as new when she pushed it open.
Cordelia spotted her first, though Buffy had tried to be quiet as she snuck up the stairs.
"He's still asleep," Cordelia said softly, hurrying over to the foot of the staircase. "We've been talking turns checking in on him, so he wouldn't get mad at any one of us, but he's slept through it all."
"Sleeps like the dead, that man does," Xander joked as he wandered into the hallway.
Buffy made a face at him before returning her attention to Cordelia. "I guess it makes sense; he's had a really rough day, and it's not like we've gotten a lot of sleep since my dad showed up with Dru," she said. "I just want...I mean I don't want him to shut himself away over this."
"Give him time, Buffy." Cordelia laid her hand over Buffy's on the railing. "He's scaring me too right now, but give him time. He'll bounce back." She gave Buffy her best professional 'Yes-you've-grown-a-tail-and horns-overnight-but-we-don't-think-there's-any-reason-to-be-concerned' smile. "He's a very bouncy vampire."
"Just call him the Tigger of the demon set," Willow chimed in, leaving the kitchen to join her friends. "A-N-double 'grr'-E...no, wait, that only works if he used two 'g's in his name." She cocked her head to the side, as though seriously pondering the dilemma. "Do you think he'd mind changing the spelling? Cause otherwise it really works. I mean he is the only one of his kind and all. And he does 'grr' really well."
Xander patted her shoulder. "We'll work on him, Will. Just for you."
* * * * *
Angel finally woke up at sunset, to find Buffy curled up next to him on the bed. In some subconscious way he had already sensed her presence in his sleep, and rested more easily because of it, but it still gave him a queer throb of pleasure deep in his weary soul to see her blonde head resting just below his chin when he first opened his eyes.
He lay very still, not only guarding her hard-won rest, but also the privilege of watching her sleep. He loved how active and vibrant Buffy was during her waking hours; she gave him life by the very ferocity with which she lived her own. But he also long cherished these quiet moments, when he could observe her soul undisturbed. Once upon a time, it was the only way he could drop the walls between them, when sleep robbed her of the ability to hide her feelings, and him of the necessity to hide his. The need was now gone, but the hunger remained.
He was musing on this strange reality, working very hard to push all other realities to the back of his mind, when he felt her stir. He brushed his lips against the top of her head.
"Go back to sleep," he murmured into her hair.
For a moment he felt her relax, as though she was going to do as he suggested, but then her arms tightened around his chest and her cheek began to slide along his ribs until she turned her head to face him.
"Hi," she said softly, staring deep into his eyes.
He smiled down at her, hearing every unspoken question implicit in that simple word.
"How was your dad?" he asked, trying to turn her focus from him.
"Being bullied by Mom, but I think he's loving every minute of it. Reminds him of old times, I guess. She talks; he ignores." She slid her elbow beneath her body to prop herself up and looked hard at him. "How are you?"
"Not in the hospital," he countered. He turned his head slightly to verify what he already felt in his bones. "The sun's set; we can go back to see him if you're up to it."
"I'm fine," she said sharply. "You're the one I'm worried about."
He ran his hand through her long hair, trying to smooth out the only tangles he felt capable of fixing. "I've had better days, but I've had worse too. I'll survive." His eyes remained focused on the bright gold strands sliding through his fingers, carefully avoiding her concerned gaze.
"Not good enough. We deserve more than that." The hand that had been resting flat on his chest suddenly clenched into a small fist. "You deserve more than that."
He laughed, a short choked sound displaying little in the way of good feeling. "My father used to say what a fine mess I'd be in if ever I got what I deserved."
He sat up abruptly, gently but firmly pushing her to the side as he rose. "And speaking of fathers, yours is in the hospital, thanks to one of my old drinking buddies. I think I probably should go apologize for a few things, like almost getting him killed."
She drew her legs up in front of her chest, huddling defensively on the bed. "It wasn't your fault," she argued. "If you are, were, responsible for Dru, then Darla was responsible for Angelus, and the Master was responsible for her, and all the way back up the line."
He crossed the room and stood in front of the closed door, his hand hovering over the knob. His voice was steady and strong, but he wouldn't turn to look at Buffy.
"And I'm the one who should have been the end of the line." His shoulders slumped in defeat for just an instant, not long enough for Buffy to reach out to him. "I'll be waiting downstairs when you're ready to go."
The door opened and he slipped out, silent as the Angel of old.
"Angel..." she called uselessly after him. "We're not done talking about this, dammit!"
The only answer was the click of the latch as he closed the door behind him.
* * * * *
Joyce was nowhere in sight when Buffy cautiously opened the door to Hank's hospital room. The Slayer peered into the corners, and glanced at the open door to the bathroom, but a sleeping Hank seemed to be the only occupant. As far as Buffy was concerned, this was all to the good. Angel wasn't in the greatest shape to be dealing with one of her parents, let alone facing a tag team approach.
Hank turned his head a moment after she and Angel stepped into the room. "Buffy, is that you?"
His voice was rough, and very soft, but he sounded much stronger than Buffy remembered from just a few short hours before. She squeezed Angel's hand in relief as she answered, "Yes, Daddy. Angel and I came to see you." She took a few steps closer to the bed before stopping. "Is it okay? That you're seeing us too, I mean. Do you want to sleep some more first?"
Hank quickly shook his head, but regretted it a moment later when his grimace of pain set off guilty looks on the faces of his daughter and her boyfriend.
"No more sleep for now," he rasped. "Need to talk to you." He glanced from Buffy to Angel, taking their measure in the dim light afforded by the lone fluorescent bulb stretched over the head of his bed. "Both of you," he clarified.
"Should you be talking?" Buffy asked anxiously.
Hank grinned and nodded at the door. "Warden went to get some dinner. She's the one who thinks I shouldn't talk. The doctor says I'm fine."
Angel pulled a chair over to the bed for Buffy, and took his place behind her, his large hands resting on either side of her shoulders as she leaned against the caned back.
"Dad, we really just wanted to see how you were, and if you needed anything," Buffy said swiftly. She leaned forward and took one of her father's waxen hands in her own. "Talking can wait till you're stronger."
"Shouldn't put things off," he answered stubbornly. "Never know when you're going to run out of time to do them." A quick, rueful smile, so like Buffy's that it made Angel's chest hurt, darted across Hank's face. "I learned that one the hard way."
"You're right," Angel said. His hands reflexively tightened on the back of Buffy's chair. "That's why I need to tell you right now how sor..." He stopped with a choked laugh that made Buffy turn in her chair and grip one of his clenched fists. "Sorry," he continued when he regained a small measure of his equilibrium. "Somehow 'sorry' doesn't quite cover this one, but it's all I have to offer. I'm sorry for how my past put you in danger, and sorry for not making it all end sooner, and sorry for...well, I've done pretty much everything there is to do in my time, and I'm sorry for most of it."
Hank considered the vampire's words carefully. He'd known this moment was going to come; he'd known it since he first woke up in that strange old mansion at Drusilla's mercy. At that precise point in time, he wasn't sure if he was going to live long enough to settle things with Angel, but he knew if he did, they were in for a long and awkward confrontation.
Not one of your better perks of survival, Hank reflected, but here they were. He and his only child, and the vampire she was adored. The vampire who adored her right back. There was definite Kodak moment potential here, but only if he used better judgment than he had so far.
"Does this mean you're sorry for loving my daughter?" he asked at length.
Angel regarded him steadily. "No. Never that."
"Are you sorry she loves you?"
A brilliant smile flashed across Angel's somber features, and then was gone. "Sorry for her maybe, but not for me."
Hank reached under his head to push his pillows up against the headboard, and edged himself up against them. Once he was settled, he reached for the glass of water on the nightstand next to the bed and took a long drink. When he finished, he set the glass down on the table, making a clink that echoed in the otherwise silent room.
"Then I don't see what you're apologizing for," Hank said blandly, looking squarely into Angel's shuttered face. "You tried to tell me the truth, and I wouldn't listen. Ran out like a teenager. Then you, and Buffy, saved my life." He gently touched the bandages at his throat.
"Which wouldn't have needed saving if it weren't for me," Angel said patiently. He appreciated Hank's generosity, but he knew it was the result of gross oversimplification. Eventually Hank would realize that too. "Dru went after you deliberately, to get to me. She almost killed you; probably would have if I'd left her a few more marbles to play with."
Buffy looked alarmed at his last sentence, but Hank took the confession calmly. "It's okay, honey. Drusilla told me how she and Angelus...met. Actually she told me a lot yesterday, pretty much everything she knew about him." He leveled a sharp look at his only daughter. "I'm expecting the same thing from you about Angel, by the way."
"Daddy, I'm sorry we didn't tell you all this before," Buffy said quickly. "And I am so beyond sorry that I didn't warn you about vampires, bad vampires, a long, long time ago." She slumped against the back of her chair, barely feeling Angel's cool hand digging into her shoulder. "I'm the Slayer; I'm supposed to protect people. I can't even protect my own father."
"It wasn't your fault," Angel all but growled. "She was my responsibility."
"Stop this," Hank said sharply. "It's done."
He cleared his throat, and immediately felt the arrows of pain shooting in every direction. Logically he knew it was a warning not to talk, but somehow it only made him determined to make the pain count for something.
"She's gone, and we're not," he continued, though in a milder tone of voice. "I don't want to waste any more time thinking about what should have happened, or even what did. I'm just grateful to be here, and I wouldn't be if it weren't for the two of you."
"That's very generous of you, sir." Angel's polite tone indicated more than a little disbelief.
"Hank. Call me Hank. We were past the 'sir' part before all this happened," Hank insisted. Suddenly a bizarre thought crossed his mind. "Actually, if you get right down to it, shouldn't I be calling you sir? You are older, after all."
He wasn't sure how his joke would go over, and he was relieved when a small smile graced the vampire's face. His daughter appeared comforted as well, the hand she clasped over Angel's relaxing slightly, though not enough to break the connection.
"He's a little sensitive about the age difference," she confided in a stage whisper. An impish glance over her shoulder told her that she could push Angel a little further in the hope of raising his spirits. "And whatever you do, don't try that 'When I was a boy I had to walk twelve miles uphill in the blinding snow to get to school' routine on him. He's got a real thing about declining educational standards these days."
"Is that why your grades picked up this year?" Hank asked hopefully.
"Sort of. Mostly I decided I couldn't get by on my great looks and superpowers forever...but he's been a good influence on me too."
It was intended to be a compliment, but somehow it fell more as an indictment, at least to one as self-conscious as Angel.
"I need to make up for all the times I..."
Hank held up his hand, trying to halt the confession in its infancy. "I know there's a lot Buffy needs to tell me about the two of you, but I'm not looking for 'True Confessions' here. Whatever you did to my daughter is in the past. She's obviously forgiven you for it, and I don't think I have the right to get mad on her behalf at this late date." He leveled a stern gaze at Angel. "Of course the future is anybody's ballgame."
"Angel would never hurt me," Buffy said confidently. "He couldn't." The rigid stillness she could suddenly feel in Angel's hand on her shoulder forced her to add, "At least, not anymore. And before...he only hurt me to keep the demon from doing a better job of it."
"That's one way of putting it," Angel said sarcastically.
She turned around in her chair and glared up at him. "If we're talking about the leaving town thing, you know I'm right. And if we're talking about what I think we're talking about, you were dying. The only thing you need to apologize for that night was making me beat you up before you'd drink."
Angel's eyes immediately shifted to a scar on Buffy's neck, and Hank's eyes were only a beat behind. The scar was fairly small; two pale ridges of flesh rising from the landscape of her tanned throat. If Angel hadn't pointed it out, albeit silently, Hank might never have realized what those marks signified.
Angel had bitten his little girl.
Hank could feel anger bubbling within him, brought on not only by the harm done to his daughter, but also himself. Harm caused by vampires like this man. For a brief moment he found himself in the rare position of sharing an opinion with his ex-wife.
And then he noticed the tear slipping silently down his daughter's cheek. Buffy was staring at Angel with her heart in her eyes, and it was obvious that the only thing she regretted about that scar was the pain it was causing him. Hank replayed her words in his mind, and realized they still had a long way to go before he really got to know his own daughter.
"I think I'm missing some details here," he said cautiously. "And I probably don't need to hear them all now. Maybe never; I'm not sure." He thought for a moment about all the tales Drusilla had shared with him, and how few he intended to pass on to his daughter. "I guess I'm going to have live by my own words and let the past rest."
"But we're clear on the difference, right?" Buffy brushed the tear from her cheek with an impatient swipe of her hand as she turned her wide beseeching hazel eyes on her father. "No mix-up between Angel and the demon he time-shares with?"
"We're clear," Hank assured her, though somewhat less heartily than a few minutes earlier. "You've known Angel for a couple of years now, and I trust your opinion of him. Strangely enough, I still trust mine too." He felt a sharp tugging in his abused throat muscles, but forced himself to go on. If he said the words, he could make himself believe them. "I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for...everything."
He could only hope he would survive the telling.
Buffy leaned forward again and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "You should get some rest. Mom is going to kill me if we let you talk anymore."
He stretched out his hand to pat her golden head before she sat back down.
"Your mother worries too much," he whispered, giving in to the ache in his throat. "Don't let this one do the same," he added with a small smile, nodding his head at Angel.
Buffy glanced up at her beloved, taking in the set line of his lips, the distance in his brown-eyed gaze, the characteristic guilty slouch of his body. None of it spelled 'happy Angel' to her.
"Well, you always said I needed long-term goals," she answered.
* * * * *
Hank had almost drifted off to sleep when he heard the door open and Joyce's glass-encrusted rubber soles click across the tile. He didn't bother to open his eyes this time; there was no need between them for a show of strength.
"Are you ever going to go home and change?" he grumbled good-naturedly. "Those shoes of yours are getting on my nerves."
She was beside his bed a moment later, pouring the glass of water he didn't want, but probably needed anyway.
"This is the thanks I get for being a forgiving ex-wife?" She sniffed and tried to sound annoyed. "You bring your girlfriend over to wreck my house, I end up having to play nurse for you, and yet you're still treating like I'm the old ball and chain."
He smiled as he opened his eyes and accepted the water he had known she would be holding out. "She brought me, and I seem to recall hearing you're the one who invited her in to begin with." His eyes twinkled at her over the edge of the glass as he took a sip from it.
"God, what a mess this is, Hank." Joyce abruptly ceased her teasing and sat on the edge of his bed. "I'm not sure whether to be sorry for you because you got dragged into all this the hard way, or mad that you got to miss so much of what happened before. Maybe if you had been around more, we could have avoided this day somehow."
His instinct was to lash out, to wound her as sharply as she did him. But something, perhaps the painkiller swimming through his veins, or maybe just the realization of his failed responsibilities, made him tread lightly.
"I would have been a little more careful who I invited to a family dinner; you've got me there, Joyce." When his jest wasn't met with a smile, he abandoned humor for the straight truth. "I should have been here for Buffy; I know that now. I screwed up and I can't change that. But maybe there is some good that came from it." He took another fortifying swig of water, sensing a long discussion ahead of them.
"That is so like you." She pursed her lips and turned her head to stare at the blinds drawn over the windows. "Always seeing the rainbows while you hide from the storm."
"I can see her as an adult, Joyce," he said gently. "I missed the teenage years. Through my own fault," he added hastily, "I missed them. She went from little girl to young woman while I was busy with my job and my own life. But at least that lets me see her as a woman. You're having trouble with that one because you're looking at her from too close up."
"So me being an attentive parent is suddenly a fault?" She whipped her sharp gaze back to his contrite face. "You don't know what's been going on, Hank. You don't know what she's been through, and how much of it he's caused, even if he didn't mean to."
Hank held up his hands in surrender. "You're a good mother, Joyce; no one ever said different. But Buffy doesn't need either of us the way she used to." He tried to smile over the prospect, but the result came out a little twisted. "She does, however, need him. And you're going to have to get used to it."
Joyce quickly got to her feet and began to pace. "You shouldn't be talking this much; it's bad for your throat." She turned to the door. "I should go."
"I'm perfectly fine, and we have to talk about this." The rasp in his throat belied his words, but he wasn't about to let a little pain stop him when he could use it to his advantage instead. It reminded him of all that he could have lost, and now refused to. "He's not going away, even if you close your eyes and wish really hard. We have to deal with him."
"You don't have to sound so pleased," Joyce snapped. When she turned to face him again, it was with her hands on her hips and exasperation in her voice. "I can't believe after all you've been through you would be saying this. I thought once you knew..."
"I do know; that's the problem. Drusilla told me things I will never share with anyone, and I wish to God that I had never heard them myself." Hank closed his eyes for a moment, willing away the inexorable echo of that cold...dead...sweet voice. She was gone, and Buffy remained; now was about his daughter. "But unlike you, I got to know who Angel is before I learned what he is, and that makes a difference."
It did; he swore it did.
Joyce sighed and reluctantly sat down on one of the chairs. "Buffy introduced him before I knew...but she's kept him carefully out of my way ever since. I think the past few days is the most time I've ever spent with Angel."
"He's not such a bad guy, if you'll give him a chance, Joycie."
Joyce felt the green gem in her pocket weighing her down. Buffy hadn't mentioned it when she was here earlier, not had Giles or Willow or Oz. Everyone seemed to have forgotten it, except for Joyce. It bumped against her hip whenever she moved, and laid warmly against her side when she was still, serving as an ever-present reminder of chaos. It upset the natural order of this unnatural world her daughter was forced to navigate, and in the wrong hands it could become an instrument of evil between the space of two heartbeats.
But in her daughter's reality of blackish greys and greyish whites, which were the wrong hands, and who got to decide that they were wrong?
"Hank, it kills me to say this, but you're right. We need to talk." She wagged a finger at him as she shivered in disgust. "But only if you promise never to call me 'Joycie' again."
He grinned and reached out to grab her hand with the tips of his fingers. "I'll even shake on it."
* * * * *
Buffy crept into the darkened bedroom, tossing her robe in the general direction of the chair before she slid into the bed beside Angel. His cool arm automatically slid around her shoulders and pulled her close to his side, right where she wanted to be.
"Cordy and Doyle settled in?" he murmured.
She nodded, burrowing her head into his shoulder and pressing a kiss on his smooth chest. "Mmm, finally. Still think we should have sent them to a hotel." She giggled softly, any discontent with the situation rapidly fading in the comfort of Angel's embrace. "Looks like we did forget to make up the guest room, though, just like you thought."
She brushed the flat of her hand across his chest, trying to stay in constant reassuring contact with him. He needed to feel connected to her and the world, and she wasn't about to let him slip away through laziness.
"Well, they're all set now, and since Dad said he was going to be staying with Mom for a few days after they release him, we won't have to do it again. Not until someone visits us in LA."
"Mmm." He nuzzled her hair and closed his eyes, trying to let the scent of her skin and her hair fill his consciousness, driving out all demons, real or imagined.
"Angel," she said hesitantly, "he does forgive you. You believe that, don't you?" She twisted her head to look up in the direction of his face, though he was invisible in the darkened room.
His answer was too quick, his tone too noncommittal for Buffy's taste.
"You don't, do you? Or you do, but you think he'll change his mind. That's it, isn't it?" She reached up by instinct and pressed her hand to his unseen cheek. "You're always saying how much I look like him. Well, I get my stubbornness, to ideas and to people, from him too. He's not going to change his mind about you any more than I am."
Angel opened his eyes and gazed down at Buffy, his vampire senses allowing him to actually see her, at least dimly, even in the dark.
Her jaw was fixed, her lips a firm line, her eyes resolute. As always, she was determined to protect him from anyone who would hurt him, including himself. He loved her for that, but at times like this, he also feared for her.
Somehow he had to live up to her courage.
"Buffy, even if he changes his mind, I know you won't. I do trust that, honestly." He shifted restlessly in the bed, dislodging Buffy's head from his shoulder as he twisted and turned. "I just need some time to process everything."
She remained still for a moment, and then scooted over to curl up against his side again. "Time you can have, but the days of wide-open spaces is over in California, mister. I'm sticking right by your side until you're the you you used to be again."
"You mean the guy who hid in the shadows with his regrets for a century?" He was only half-kidding.
"I mean the man who stood up to every dirty trick the Powers threw at him and still had enough courage left over to share it with me." She wound her leg around his as she nestled in for the night. "You're a survivor, Angel, and so am I. We will get through this."
Eventually Buffy drifted off to sleep, while Angel lay silently, listening to her breathe. He tried to imagine a point in time when they had actually gotten past all the heartache his past inspired, and his biggest concern would be her occasional tendency to snore. He wanted so badly for that day to come, but right now he couldn't even picture it.
Or maybe he was just afraid to, in light of past experience. Invariably, whenever they thought all the problems were behind them, something new crawled over the horizon and they were forced back into survival mode.
He was tired of just surviving and 'getting through' things; he wanted to live.
Whether he deserved to or not.
The page of the magazine crackled as she turned the page, creating a strangely loud sound in the silent apartment. Buffy smoothed the glossy picture flat as she stared unseeingly into the model's heavily made-up eyes.
Another quiet day loomed large in front of her. Doyle and Cordelia had already left, trying to give their hosts some time alone. She and Angel would use the time to train, and later she would go out to get more groceries. The gang would come over in the afternoon, and Doyle would keep Angel company as she and the rest of the troops helped Giles stock his new store. Then, when the sun had set, it was time for dinner with Mom and Dad. If they were lucky, they would spot a vamp or two on their post-dinner patrol.
This was not a slayer's life. Well, except for the patrol part, and maybe the training. But it was the silence of it that bothered her. She loved knowing what Angel was thinking, but she didn't want to do everything with him without even discussing it because they did the same thing every day. That was just a little too normal and humdrum for her, but it seemed to be the way Angel felt safest right now.
She missed the sound of his voice. From the night they first met, he had captured her heart with that soft, serious, and yet slightly flirtatious voice. But the past four days he had spoken very little, and it was starting to worry her. No, they were beyond the start gate; she was worrying at full gallop.
A knock on the door interrupted her grim thoughts. She hurried to answer it (wouldn't want to disturb the lovely silence, now; would we? her inner voice mocked her) and found her friends assembled on the doorstep.
"Hey Buff," Xander said easily. "We thought we'd get an early start today so we can go out and party tonight." He started to shimmy into her apartment, showing off his dance steps, but his plans were quickly derailed by Cordelia.
"You are so not going to embarrass me in public by dancing like that," she commanded, catching hold of a swinging arm just before it connected with her shoulder.
"He's not an embarrassment to you," Anya snapped. "He's my boyfriend now, and I'm the one he embarrasses in public." She made a great show of pushing Cordelia's hand off of her boyfriend.
Cordelia shrugged. "You said it; I didn't."
"Ladies, please," Doyle pleaded as he followed Cordelia into the apartment. "We want a nice friendly outing. A little bit of fun to celebrate your Mr. Giles finally getting his store stocked, and us not having to help anymore." He glanced over at Buffy and quickly added, "And of course, Buffy's dad being almost a hundred percent again is another reason to break out the bubbly."
Buffy considered the offer. An evening out, a break in the routine, might be just what Angel needed to shake him free of his dolorous thoughts. At least free enough to share them with her; she would settle for that.
"Well, I'm not sure Angel will go for it," she said doubtfully, "but I'll give it the old Slayer try."
"Withhold sex from him if he does not comply with your wishes," Anya advised her quite seriously. "It always works on Xander."
A dull wash of red crept up Xander's throat and across his face as all eyes turned to him.
"Buffy, could you pick up the pace with the persuading?" he whined. "Some of us need to find a nice noisy place to have a little chat about the rules of Show and Tell."
"I will withhold sex," Anya warned him.
Buffy smiled reluctantly as Xander groaned. "I'll try to hurry," she promised her long-suffering friend.
* * * * *
She slipped quietly into the kitchen, keeping her eyes carefully fixed on Angel as he mechanically moved from dishwasher to cupboard and back again. The same number of measured steps from one end of the kitchen to the other; the same single swipe of the dishtowel along the outside of whatever utensil he retrieved. Over and over, like his body could operate independently of the mind locked inside of it.
He had been doing pretty much everything by rote the past four days.
The first day after Drusilla's death, he had seemed a little lost, but still better than she expected. But somehow the more time passed; the further away he seemed to drift into his own thoughts. Physically he was never very far from her, yet she felt the silence growing between him and the rest of the world.
"Angel," she said after a few minutes observation, "the gang is here. We thought maybe tonight we could go out and celebrate Giles' new shop, and my dad being out of the hospital. Now that Oz's 'time of the month' has passed and all."
He stopped his mindless repetitive motion long enough to blink at her. "Out? Sure. Great."
"Like hell," she flared, catching hold of her temper a moment too late. 'Hell' was not a word thrown around loosely in their home. Buffy took a deep breath and regrouped. "Angel, you have to talk to me. I know killing Dru hit you hard, even harder than we thought it would. But you can't pull away like this. I won't let you." A few quick steps had her at his side, his arm held firmly in her grasp to prevent escape. "You shared a lot with me about her the other day, all about her death and afterwards. But that doesn't mean we're done dealing with her, or the rest of the past. You're the one who always tells me we can't outrun it; now it's time to put up or shut up."
He stared down at her, his dark eyes filled with jagged shards of memories. "I don't regret what I did to Dru," he answered dully. "It had to be done. I just..." with a sigh, he pulled his arm free and dropped into one of the kitchen chairs.
"You just what?" she prompted. Her hand strayed to the back of his neck, pale and strangely defenseless as it rose from the collar of his sweater. Her strong fingers massaged his cool skin, bringing him warmth any way she could.
Angel bent his head, allowing her more access to his neck. It felt so good, so right, to accept her comfort, but the rightness of it made it all the more a guilty pleasure. Who was he to deserve such blessings, when he had meted out so few himself?
"I just wish I had done it sooner," he admitted, studying his folded hands as they rested on the table. "I should have killed her as soon as I regained my soul. Dru, Spike, Penn...all of them down the line. I could have saved so many lives if I'd had the guts to face up to my sins."
Her fingers abruptly stilled on his neck, and then both hands reached down to cup his face and gently turn it towards her.
"Hey, who died and made you me?"
He stared at her, his brow creased with confusion. "I don't..."
"Last I knew, there was only one vampire slayer in this family," she continued firmly. "Did I miss a meeting?"
"They were my responsibility," he insisted. "I made vampires, who killed God knows how many people and who also created vampires, and then those vampires went on to kill more people and create more vampires and..." He drew in a ragged breath. "I should have ended the cycle a long time ago. But they were my...well, sick as it sounds, they were my legacy. Proof that I existed. I couldn't make myself give that up."
"Honey, you were barely keeping body and soul together for most of the last hundred years, no pun intended." Her hands fell away from his face to caress his shoulders as she turned and slid onto his lap. "If you want to start rounding them up now, then great; we'll start tomorrow night. But I'm not going to let you beat yourself up because the first thought your newly restored soul came up with wasn't 'kill vampires.' I don't think that's why you're here."
"Then what do we do day after day?" he asked wearily.
"We kill vampires," she allowed him, "but we also go after a whole smorgasbord of other creepy crawlies without fangs. I may be a vampire slayer, but the past few years have taught me there are actually worse things in the world than O-pos junkies."
"My father always lectured me on taking responsibility for my failures. I disappointed him so many times in life because I refused to do that, but I can't run away anymore. It's time I faced up to what I did. Me, not just the demon."
"Angel, from what I heard in that dream, your dad came down on you for pretty much everything," she said gently.
"That wasn't him, it was just my memory of him," he reminded her.
"And you are the most generous, forgiving person I know," she countered. "So if that's the way you remember him, I don't even want to think about how bad he really was." The corners of her mouth turned down as she remembered more of their shared dream. "For that matter, I think it's time you traded in those rose-colored Ray Bans and took a good hard awake look at my mom. The way she talked to you in that dream..."
"She loves you, and she worries about your future," he interjected. A worried frown creased his own forehead at the thought of causing more dissension between Buffy and Joyce. "She's supposed to do that. I guess my father must have felt the same about me. I certainly gave him enough reasons to worry."
"You said yourself that you wanted him to notice you. I'm guessing he was pretty good at looking past you. Which is not to say he deserved what the demon did to him," she hastened to add, seeing the objection in his eyes before it reached his lips. "I'm just saying you might want to take some of his lectures with a grain of salt. Or maybe the whole saltshaker. Plus a margarita."
"He was...a product of his time. And maybe I was too, in my way." Trapped in a time and way of life that kept children at home until they married, and bid sons to follow in their father's footsteps regardless of their own natural talents or inclinations. Maybe there had been another way to escape the boundaries of his life, but at the time drink, and Darla, had seemed like the best bets.
"But you're not stuck in that time, Angel," Buffy reminded him, bringing back from his fruitless musings. "You've brought little bits of it with you, but you changed your opinions, changed the way you look at people and the way you treat them. You've learned." She stroked his cheek gently. "Do you think he ever would have?"
Part of him wanted to defend his father, to make up for all the suffering he had caused him. But Buffy expected, and deserved, honesty.
"I don't know," he admitted.
She thought carefully before she offered her next bit of advice. Angel had lived with his guilt a long time; it had helped to shape him into the man he now was, and in his own way he cherished it for that very reason. But she meant what she said in his dream; he couldn't let it hold him back anymore.
"Angel, I never knew your dad. Obviously." She grinned self-consciously. "Maybe he was a good guy who just didn't know how to be a good father; I don't know. But I do know that you can't put him on some sort of pedestal because you feel guilty for his death. Just because all saints are dead doesn't mean everybody who's dead gets a little gold ring to hang their hat on."
"He wasn't a saint; I never said that," he protested. He looked away for a moment, thinking how strange it was to have someone else know the inner workings of his mind so well. "But I'll never really know if I could do better either. I mean, look at..."
She swiftly laid her hand over his lips. "Don't even say it," she warned. "She wasn't a child; she was a demon, sired by another demon for the sole purpose of causing pain. And I think she did her job really well where you're concerned, so she's not getting any sympathy cards on Father's Day from me." She paused for a moment. "Or she wouldn't if she was still here, which she's not, so she really, really won't. We just need to put her to rest."
"I'm trying, love. In my own way."
"By brooding night and day?" she asked skeptically.
"Yes, actually." He smiled gently at her. "I've got a lot of memories to make sense of. Most of them aren't pretty."
"Is it getting any better?" she asked wistfully.
"A little." He shook his head ruefully. "Maybe you're right; I need to take my ego out of the equation. For all the thinking I did before I met you, most of it wasn't too clear. I never really thought about why I wanted them to survive until a few days ago."
"So maybe not going on a killing spree wasn't exactly the non-crime of the century?" She tilted her head to the side and frowned again, seeming more puzzled than distressed. "Did I double that negative or triple it? I lost count."
He allowed a small grin at her blatant attempt to lighten his mood. "I love you, Buffy Summers, even if you quadruple your negatives."
"Never doubted it for a minute."
He kissed her softly, and thanked the Powers, any Power, that had brought her to him when he needed her the most.
"I know you're worried about me, and I'm sorry. Now I know how Doyle's been feeling the past few months, with all of us trying to make him open up when what he really needs is to step back and just be for a while."
She slipped her arms around his neck and pressed against him, digging her chin into his shoulder. His arms circled her slender body, holding on to her tightly from need, not force of habit; she could feel the difference. He was still in pain but he was here, in spirit as well as body.
"You could never just be; you think too much. But when you're ready to think out loud, you know I'm here," she whispered. "Always."
He kissed her neck lightly, touching the scar with his lips for the first time since that fateful night it was created.
"I've already told you most of it," he answered. "Now it's just a matter of living with it."
"You know, the hardest part when you came back from hell wasn't not being able to touch you." She allowed a small smile as she pulled back to look him in the eye. "I mean that was hard, but the worst part was not being able to make you feel better about yourself, and about us. I tried, but I was always afraid if I did too much or said too much that he..." She stumbled to a halt, but Angel smoothly picked up on her train of thought.
"That I would lose my soul, and become Angelus again."
It wasn't a question.
Buffy nodded somberly. "This little voice in the back of my head said if I made you feel too loved or secure, if you ever felt too...happy...about us, that it would start all over again." She leaned in again and rested her cheek on his shoulder. Her lips moved gently against his throat as she continued to speak. "All I wanted to do was make sure you knew exactly how much I loved you, but that was the one thing I couldn't do...then."
Go to Part 35