Promises and Lies




Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on our troubles
Will be miles away.

That beautiful voice, low and aching with badly concealed pain, poured out of the radio receiver, spoiling what was left of Joyce's mood.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more….

Joyce fumbled angrily for the off knob while at the same time trying to navigate through the heavy rain that was drowning Sunnydale. She's noticed that there are more cars on the road than there used to be, and most of them seem to have gotten their driver's license out of a box of cornflakes. Or maybe she's just getting old.

Through the years
We all will be together
If the Fates allow…

Click! Relief at last. She actually liked that song, but dammit, Halloween was only a couple of days past and she was not ready to deal with Xmas music. Not that the Sunnydale Chamber of Commerce cared. The merciless bastards had already begun decking the halls downtown for the festival of Mammon. The plastic tinsel, stars and bells twined round the streetlamps and hung over the intersections were wilting forlornly in the downpour.

It's really coming down, she thinks leaning forward over the wheel squinting to see through the water sheeting down the windshield. It's hurricane season in Jamaica, but she believes the rain comes down harder here in Sunnydale. There is no warmth in it, and it comes with a mean wind.

It was a huge relief to finally pull into Albertson's parking lot, alive and well. She parked and leaned back, listening to the rain swatting at the glass. Thinking about how little she wants to go out in that. She's beat; it has been incredibly busy at the gallery ever since the economic recovery made its way belatedly to Sunnydale. She'd spent most of the afternoon unpacking a new shipment of Dabakan drums from Mindanao, and the acrid smell of the cheap varnish they'd been sealed with clung to her skin. She needed a long hot bath. Then she'd nuke something for dinner and maybe watch a movie, if she could stay awake long enough. Or maybe she'll just stay here, safe inside her metal and glass sanctuary; go to sleep right here and wake up in the morning to blue skies washed clean by the rain. A gust of wind blew through the parking lot, shaking the car like a box of Crackerjacks -- then again, maybe not, she thought.

As she stepped out of the car, she suddenly had the too-familiar feeling that she was being watched. She froze and scanned the parking lot, but as usual couldn't see anyone who seemed to be paying any particular attention to her, only other unhappy shoppers hustling to get out of the rain. For weeks she'd had the uneasy sense that eyes were watching her from the shadows, she'd noticed headlights lingering just a little too long in her rear view mirror, answered phones and been sure there was someone listening on the dead line. But when she looked, there was never anyone there in the shadows, the car following her always turned off before she reached her own destination, and *69 came up with nothing. Her GP, Dr. Glass, thought it might be a side-effect of the Elavil. She promised that if it got worse, they'd change the dosage. Joyce shrugged mentally, and headed towards the store.

A young checker smiled at her as Joyce ran through the automatic doors, soaking wet, dripping on the slick floor and Joyce grinned back, feeling oddly invigorated. She shook herself like a dog and grabbed a cart.

Blessedly it's Fall inside the store, red, yellow, and orange paper leaves, cartoon turkeys and cornucopia, and not a Santa in sight. Which reminded her that she really ought to do her Thanksgiving shopping next week, instead of waiting until the last minute like she usually did. She had a lot of work to do getting the house ready for Buffy and the kids who are coming for Thanksgiving, and for a few days after. It's been almost a year since she saw her grandsons and she wants everything to be perfect.

She had almost finished her shopping, and was in the produce section, looking over the tomatoes, trying to decide between pink and hard at .99 lb or actual tomatoes at three times the price. At the same time she was debating silently with herself about whether she should go with the traditional turkey, or maybe try something a little more adventurous, like a goose. Or maybe both. Or a ham would be nice, but Buffy did like turkey...when she was interrupted.


Her face twitched as the familiar voice evoked conflicting emotions. "Hello Rupert," she said, deciding to smile.

Which earned her a quick flash of his patented nervous smile. "How are you." It wasn't the first time or the tenth that they'd run into each other since their breakup, but it was still awkward. He always looked like he expected her to do something ...embarrassing. Woolly sweater, sorry, jumper, under his black raincoat. There was a large black umbrella in the cart. He'd grown up in a wet land, and even after all these years in the semi-desert was never surprised when it rained. That expectation of disaster had always slightly annoyed her.

They exchanged pleasantries. How was she? Fine, busy. Drop by sometime. She routinely sent him an invitation to every opening, but he never came. And how was he doing? Fine, a bit busy himself what with midterms coming up. He was an assistant professor at Sunnydale University now. It looked like the life agreed with him. He seemed more relaxed than the Rupert she'd known, less driven; well, after all, she thought, we won the War. His hair was starting to go, but he was still handsome. Still recognizable as the man she'd loved.

He mentioned having talked to Buffy a month ago, that she'd told him she was coming out for Thanksgiving. Joyce told him yes, that's right, and she was sure Buffy would call him while she was here. He wouldn't believe how big the boys were getting. Then she said goodbye and walked away, wondering if he was watching her go or if he'd forgotten her as soon as she was out of sight.

In a bad mood again, she paid for her groceries and headed home. The rain was unrelenting. She knew there would be reports of hillsides failing, of houses sliding off suddenly unstable foundations to drown in the mud on the news tonight at 11.

On the long nerve-wracking drive through rain and slippery roads she found herself dwelling on Rupert Giles. On What Went Wrong. Part of it was the War, of course, he and Buffy and the rest were the soldiers and she was a civilian. Being kept in the dark, judged not quite capable of dealing with the horrors they fought, had rankled and started the first hairline flaws in their relationship that grew into chasms. Or maybe it was just the universe's inevitable tendency towards chaos.

The rain was still pouring down, drumming on the roof. She had to slow to a crawl to search for the white lines hidden under the glittering water. And there were the headlights again, gleaming half a block back -- and gone when she turned the corner for her street.

Home again, home again. As she stepped out of the car, she heard the phone ring. Forgetting about the groceries Joyce dashed through the rain, unlocked the door and rushed into the kitchen just as the answering machine came on.

"Hi mom..." Buffy's voice. Joyce snatched up the phone.

"Hi honey, I just got in."

"Mom," there was an odd note in her voice that set Joyce's maternal radar on alert. "Uh, I've kinda got some good news and bad news."

Joyce took a deep breath, and held it, let it out as quietly as she could manage. "Oh. Well, honey, you tell me in the order you think best."

"Riley came up to visit two weeks ago and well, we've worked things out." There was genuine happiness in her voice. "We've been talking, and we're going to try again. The kids are really happy. And me, of course."

"That's wonderful honey," Joyce said, going for the Oscar. *She loves him, what you think about Golden Boy doesn't count.*

"So we're moving to Atlanta, in two weeks. Which means...I'm sorry Mom, but we're not going to be able to come for Thanksgiving."

Joyce took a deep breath and centered herself. "I understand. I'll miss seeing you. But you need to do what's best for your family."

"Thanks Mom!" The relief in her daughter voice was worth the cost.

They talked for another 15 minutes or so, mostly about how happy Buffy was, and maybe Joyce could come for Christmas? Joyce ended the call, on the grounds of exhaustion, Buffy promised to call again at the weekend.

Then she stood there in the dark kitchen listening to the rain, shoulders sagging for a long time before she remembered the groceries were still in the car. Her foot was on the edge of the porch, the next step would have taken her out into the rain when she stopped. She knew something was wrong even before he spoke.

"Joyce," Angel said as he stepped out of the shadows at the end of the porch. He stood there, larger than she remembered, his expression neutral. As pure terror sluiced coldly through her, she unconsciously reached for her throat. After a year the scars were almost invisible, but the memory was still raw and painful. She couldn't forget her helplessness as she struggled against his unnatural strength, the pain of his teeth sinking into her flesh, and worst of all the horror as he sucked and swallowed her blood, as this thing she'd made love with, that she'd mistaken for a man, fed on her.

Behind her she hears the wind knock the screen door against the frame, and she tries to convince herself that she might have a chance to get back inside before he could reach her. But she knows better. She stands there, and waits to see what he's going to do.

Angel holds himself very still. He's imagined this moment so many different times, dreamed it in all its possible iterations. So far, this is one of the better ones: despite the scent of fear that the wind blows from her to him, she hasn't screamed or run, so far she's standing her ground. Sometimes in the dreams, she runs and he has to chase her. Those dreams end in blood and screaming.

"Go away," she rasps, and the sound of her voice resonates in him. He's heard her voice many times on the phone or overheard speaking to others during the months he's been watching her, it's entirely different, knowing that she's speaking to him, however cold the tone.

"I just want to talk. That's all." She stares at him in disbelief. "Go inside if it will make you feel better, lock the screen. All I want you to do is listen. Please."

She only hesitates a moment before taking him at his word and running inside. She slams the screen door and latches it; she grabs the inner door but doesn't shut it. Terrified, but knowing damn well that no door can stop him if he decides to come in. Angel had been in the house dozens of times. Even if she'd thought he would come after her, she would have had to explain to Willow why Angel needed to be barred from her home. Not a conversation she'd wanted to have, ever, even if Willow could be trusted to keep the secret.

Her fear delights the demon as much as it upsets Angel. It wants to rip the door aside, pull her back out onto the porch, out into the rain, to shove her face into the muddy lawn and fuck her until she screams. Angel wants to hold her tight in his arms until she stops trembling, to touch her, to feel her, to taste her... But he moves only enough to be sure she can see his face clearly under the porch light.

"How are you doing? I went by the gallery, it looked busy." His hands are shoved deep into his duster; his posture stiff and anxious. He's perfectly dry, she notices, and realizes that he must have been waiting on the porch for hours.

…Or inside the house.

"Yeah, we're doing fine. Busy." She tried to match his casual tone. Just two old friends, having a conversation on the porch. If he wanted to kill her, hurt her, she'd be dead already.

"Good. Are you happy?" His casual tone broke a little when he asked that, his eyes suddenly intent.

Happy? She stands there, thinking about his question, wondering with part of her brain if the damned rain was ever going to stop, it's pouring down like God's taken a diuretic. Is she happy? What the hell does that mean? The right to the pursuit of it is in the Constitution, but she's found the thing itself to be mighty light on the ground.

"I'm fine," she said, which is close enough to the truth she thinks, but he shakes his head.

"I can smell the drugs from here. What is it Xanax? Wellbutrin?"

"It's only Elavil. Who're you, Nancy Reagan? What do you care? Does it spoil the taste?" He winces at the last shot. Good.

"I'm sorry," he says, "I never meant to hurt you." Joyce stares at him, and suddenly he smells anger displacing fear.

"Sorry! You bit me!" She snaps, her anger fueled by the memory of the hellish plane ride back. Clara, her traveling companion, had luckily been too exhausted to ask many questions, and had slept through most of the flight. Joyce had huddled under two airline blanket the whole way back, both to hide the marks, and because she'd been so cold.

She'd opened her mouth to lash out at him again, when the words of an old song wandered subversively through her backbrain " knew all along I was a snake." And Angel looks genuinely guilty, of course he's had plenty of practice at it.

"Go away Angel, there's nothing here for you," she says, more softly than she'd intended.

"You're here. I love you Joyce. I stayed away as long as I could, it's been more than a year." Which is almost but not quite the truth. It has been more than a year since Jamaica, it has been over two months since he came back to Sunnydale and began watching her.

The bargain he'd made that last day with Angelus had been a trap; that one taste of her blood was not enough, would never be enough. He'd tried to stay away, hoping that time would lessen the craving, blur the memory of her voice, her face, her body, her blood; after all it had worked with Buffy, eventually. But he wasn't that Angel any more, his taste for self-denial seems to have worn out.

"I know, I frightened you. But the only way I could let you go, was to have part of you for myself." She could see nothing but perfect sincerity in his eyes when he said that. Did he think that explanation was in any way comforting? Dear God.

"I still love you." Please, no, she thinks.

"You keep saying that. It doesn't change anything. Everything I said in Jamaica is still true."

"Maybe. I don't care. I love you Joyce. I want you. This year has been the longest of my life, but I'll wait for you, for as long as it takes. I've got the time."

God he never gives up, Joyce thinks, holding herself tight. Will he ever give up? The faithful knight. Would he really wait forever? Visit her nights at the nursing home to hold her withered hand, stand a lonely vigil at her grave? The idea is both exciting and frightening. It's a trap nestled in the promise of paradise.

"I don't love you." Truth, despite the connection she can feel moving through the air between them now. She wonders if it's because of the blood he took, or if it's the memory of the long hot hours she spent lying beside him, the way her own heat seemed to be reflected and increased by his chilly bulk, till she thought she'd melt; till he finally quenched her with his kiss.

"I know," he said softly. "But you could, if you let yourself. I can wait. I will wait. I'll go now, if you want me to. But I'll come back again, in a year. And the year after that, and the year after that. I won't give up."

And she can read the truth in his eyes, the certainty that he will be there, haunting the shadows of her life.

"For how long? Will you still come when I'm old, white-haired and wrinkled; tottering about with my walker?" And as she says it thinks about the implication that she'll still be alone.

"Even then. Until you change your mind…or you find someone else."

And here she knows beyond a doubt that he's lying, and is grateful for once that there is no-one whose safety she has to worry about.

"What about Buffy? It would destroy her if she found out. She'd kill you -- and she'd hate me."

"Buffy has her own life now. Aren't you entitled, aren't I entitled, to move on? Aren't we allowed to be happy? I can make you happy Joyce. I can give you what you need. You were happy with me before. Let me in. Please."

Oh God. She sees him clearly at last, Angel, beautiful, pleading, wanting her. Not human. She opens her mouth to deny him again, and can't find breath to say the words she knows she ought to say. Instead she lifts the little brass hook and lets the screen door swing open.

"Come in," she says.


The rain had stopped. The air seemed empty without the sound of falling water.

Here they were again, skin on skin, Joyce thinks. But in her own bed, not his. Cotton/percale under them, not black silk. She keeps her eyes resolutely away from the mirror that would show her alone, arching under an invisible caress as his hands stroke her body, refreshing his memory. She shivers at the same time as she arches into his touch.

He's starving for her, he wants to bury himself in her, wants to pound into her hard and ruthless, to brand his essence into her inside and out, to make her his by fucking her until she forgets her own name. But he is afraid of losing control after so many months of waiting and watching her. So he moves slowly, carefully, as nervous of her as if this were the first time they'd done this.

Angel kissed her and rolled her over onto her front. He begins to massage her, starting at her neck his cool hands working their way down her spine, patiently teasing out the strain stored in her shoulders, arms, and back. He moves on to her legs, his strong, gentle fingers probing deeply into her tense muscles, methodically loosening her from hip to ankles, finally kneading the pain out of her feet, insteps, and toes. Under his care, Joyce felt herself slowly relax, sighing as her tight muscles let go of all their stress, until she felt like a happy woman-shaped puddle.

Only then did he bend down and kiss his way back up her body, to the nape of her neck. He turned her over gently, and began to arouse her with gentle kisses, languid caresses, moving from her mouth, to her breasts, circling her navel, nibbling the edges of her triangle, teasing her lips, her clit. Taking his time, still afraid that she might bolt if he frightens her. He never wants to see fear on her face again. He doesn't think he could wait another year, another month, another hour to coax her back.

Only when she is nearly liquid, way past ready for him does he finally, slowly, let himself sink into her. She gasps, her body remembering the feel of him, thick and cool, filling her; so sweet. She clutches at him, wanting more. He lowers his face to hers, his eyes are dark, but his mouth is smiling as he kisses her long and lazily.

Fearful he'll misjudge his strength, damage this fragile treasure he sets up a careful rhythm, steady as a metronome and safe as a rocking chair. Joyce makes a sound of protest. She tries to hurry him, bucking her hips against him, but he keeps control, holds her close, feeling her heartbeat pounding against his hollow chest. He kisses her throat, tracing cool trails along the smooth skin, across the pulsing vein, finding the faint imperfections left by his teeth. There is a brief jump in her heartbeat as she reacts, but it's lost in her increasing excitement as the smooth cadence of his thrusts inexorably drives her towards orgasm.

Coming is like dying, like letting go of everything, falling into the light. She feels the pain as he bites her, the slight suction; it hurts, but not like before. Shattered by ecstasy she lies too exhausted to care, much less protest as he drinks. And this time she can feel the connection, can feel him taking her in, making her part of him. Binding them together. Sealing her fate. Angel stops drinking and comes with a shudder that shakes the whole bed.

He cradles her, and kisses her again; she can taste her own blood in his mouth. She thinks that she ought to be angry with him. Or afraid. But instead it feels comforting, to know that it's finished, that the decision has been made.


He can feel dawn coming, a prickle at his back, warning him to find shelter, but he isn't ready to stop looking at Joyce yet. She sprawls in the welter of sheets, exhausted and abandoned as a tired child. He tenderly covers her with the sheet, tucking it around her, it was beginning to be a little cool. The odor of sex hangs in the air around her and he wants to be inside her again, encased in her warmth, but he can wait. He wonders if she understands that to him she is little more than a child, less than a sixth his age, and so innocent.

He was deeply grateful for her naiveté. If she hadn't been so ignorant he didn't think she would ever have agreed to let him in. She would have shoved a mop handle through his heart, called Giles, called Buffy, done whatever it took to get rid of him. If she'd ever bothered to learn anything beyond the superficial facts about the monsters her daughter was born to fight she would have known that he was lying when he'd promised that he would take care of her no matter how old and wrinkled she became. She would have known that there was precious little hope of her living that long .

He didn't like thinking about it. He loved her as she was, and he would be careful, as careful as he could be, but at best he could only postpone the inevitable for one year, maybe two if they were lucky. Because he would feed on her, and they would fuck, and unavoidably there would be an exchange of fluids.

The issue had never arisen with Buffy. They'd had only that one night, and he hadn't bitten her then. The romantic in him still wanted to believe that he never would have. That he could have controlled himself, and loved her like a man. The one time he had fed on her (her blood, life itself flowing into him), he'd been delirious and afterwards he'd left town as soon as he possibly could.

If they had made love, after he'd tasted her… he shied away from thinking about it. It was bad enough to have to think of Joyce, slowly becoming sensitive to sunlight, losing her appetite, growing weaker and weaker as the contagion ravaged her mortal body. Ultimately she would die, and be reborn, immortal, hungry, soulless…

But he would be there, with an orb and the new and improved curse. There were other witches in the world besides Willow, and he'd found one to edit the spell, cleanse it of that idiotic happiness clause. He'd make sure that her entry into her new existence would be clean and free of guilt, as he never had been. And she would never be lonely, they would be together, forever.

He sighed and brushed his hand along her warm cheek. He loved her as she was, and would rather she live, would not have minded watching her hair turn grey. Still, this was an acceptable compromise. She might even agree with him, if he'd told her. But he couldn't take the chance. For now he was content to listen to her soft breathing, to stroke her soft hair and rest content in the knowledge that she was his now, and forever.

END part 4

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