Promises and Lies




The fire burning in the massive hearth provides the only light in the mansion's living room. Angel had brought in a hospital bed a week ago and placed it as close to the heat of the fire as seemed safe. But no matter how many quilts he wraps her in, or how high he stokes the fire her body shakes with chills asleep or awake. He wants to lie on the bed with her, to fold himself around her and soothe her with his body, but he has no warmth to lend her.

So instead he sits here beside the bed, holding her hand, hoping that it is some comfort to her. The hand he holds is a foul parody of its former self, loose skin hanging like a badly fitting glove on the fragile bones. Deep in the solace of the morphine, Joyce is pale and still, her breathing is shallow, the pulse under his fingers thready. Her skeleton has emerged triumphant from her flesh over the last weeks as her body destroyed itself fighting a hopeless battle to evict the contagion that is trying to take it over, to transform her from day to night.

He is tired, having barely left her side for the past three days. He has experienced 240 years on earth and several centuries in Hell but the past 26 days have lasted an eternity. It is agony past anything he had experienced in hell, to be forced to watch helplessly as his lover changes from a beautiful woman into a stinking, frightened, scarecrow of herself. To see the hatred burning in her eyes for him, and the fear. To listen to her scream in pain and have only the needle to offer her. To remember their nights and days of warm skin on cool skin, of the sweet slippery embrace of mouths, fingers, tongues, cunt and cock, the delight of her ambrosial blood filling his mouth as she called out his name in orgasm, the glory of her warmth encasing him and milking him dry: memories irreversibly tarnished by the knowledge that every touch and loving act had led to this end. To have to watch her die, and know he is the cause.

He closes his eyes, seeking a momentary escape, but dark memories wash over him instead, conjured by the sickroom atmosphere, the inconstant light. Memories of the dark buildings dimly lit by flickering flames and crowded with the dying that Angelus used to haunt. Angelus was always far more than a simple predator, he was a true aficionado of pain and death and a visit to a reeking hospital ward was like a visit to a pleasure garden for him. A few coins to the staff and he was able to move unimpeded through the ward, inhaling appreciatively the miasma of blood, piss, shit, gangrene, and most delectable of all, despair, that thickened the air. The moans and whimpers of pain coming from the crowded beds were sweet music to his ears.

He varied his amusements. Sometimes took on the disguise of a visitor, sitting by some poor sufferer's bed, pretending sympathy while he murmured obscenities and ground the bones of the helpless patient's hand together. Other times, he'd show the unlucky object of his attention his true face, enjoying the pounding of their heart, the flare of terror as he bent down to take that first exquisite sip. Despite himself, Angel's mouth fills with the anticipation of Joyce's blood: sour with illness, thick with dead cells, laced with the metallic tang of morphine: *delicious*.

<Soon>, the demon whispers eagerly as Angel shakes himself free of his disturbing reverie. He would like to deny it, but they can both smell death in her shallow exhalations. She is teetering on the border between life and death and she will fall in a few hours, before dawn most likely. And if he does nothing, she will stay dead. The infection will kill her body, but it won't be enough to raise her. She'll need him, his blood to overcome death.

Joyce turns in the bed, and pulls her hand away from his. She whimpers in her sleep. Angel glanced at the clock on the bedside table. The morphine was starting to wear off; she'll need another dose soon. The needle and the little vials are ready on the bedside table, but the line between relief and euthanasia is becoming razor thin.

Before the drug dragged her under she begged him, again, to end it, to let her go. She doesn't want his gift of eternity, she wants to die. But she's in horrible pain, and angry, how can he be sure she means it?

He moves away from the bed, abandoning Joyce and the firelight. He needs to think. As he walks deeper into the shadowed house he can feel Angelus, close under his skin, enjoying the ride. It has been years since the demon has feasted so well: Joyce's sweet cries of agony, her begging, her curses and of course, that old staple, Angel's guilt.

He had known what would happen and still he'd made the choice to give into temptation and blacken his hard–won soul, rather than face eternity alone. He’d made the decision freely and thought he was prepared for the consequences. But it was one thing to know in theory what would happen, the reality was worse than he could have imagined.

They'd had more than three years, and he had become complacent in their domestic bliss. He'd felt almost human, caught up in the illusion of normality: of waking up with her, being with her day-in, day-out. The spoils from the War had made him wealthy enough to cater to her every wish, her most casual desire. He had loved her without reservation, and watched her change and blossom under his attentions. Forgetting that there was always a heavy price to pay for his happiness.


Joyce surfaced reluctantly from blessed unconsciousness into painful awareness, fighting consciousness, wanting only to stay wrapped in the warm darkness where nothing hurt. Every time she sinks down into morphine’s black cotton embrace, she prays it is for the last time, that this time she will be allowed to slip down and out of her misery, but it never happens. Inevitably she is dragged back up into waking on sharp hooks of pain.

And God it hurts. Much worse than childbirth, the previous champion. No epidural here. It felt like someone was grinding her bones to powder, inside her skin, like something was ripping out her guts with a dull spoon, driving pins into her brain. Freezing her alive. When she was conscious, she made sure to tell Angel about the pain in as much detail as she could manage.

Angel, Goddamn him. She opened her eyes expecting to see his lying face staring down at her sadly, so damned guilty, ready to accept her curses, her hatred as his just desserts but instead there were only the shifting shadows cast by the dying fire in the empty room. Where was he? A cold chill ran through her at the thought that he might have gone, left her here to die alone. Wasn't that what she'd asked him for? She moaned unconsciously as the pain rose through her body, but managed to raise herself up enough to see that her beloved syringe, the blessed vials, and the little rubber hose were there on the table. She collapsed back onto the pillow thinking that if he didn't come back soon, maybe she could manage to inject herself. How many vials would it take to make her sleep forever?

Wonderful, wonderful morphine. If Heroin was half as good, no wonder there were so many junkies. Angel had been her own drug of choice, addictive, deadly. Like any addict, she'd thought she'd known what she was getting into. He said he loved her, she let him love her. And having Angel love her wasn't exactly a difficult gig and for more than three years, life in her golden cage had been very, very good. He treated her like a queen, made her come as many times a day as she could stand, cooked gourmet meals for her and watched her eat them like it was the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen. When he took her out (never in Sunnydale, that was tempting fate a little too much) to dinner, the theater, the movies she was aware of the jealous gazes she attracted. He sketched her, producing images of her that almost made her believe in the beauty that he seemed to think she possessed.

And if occasionally she felt a little…confined, controlled, conflicted, well, life wasn’t and never could be perfect.

He learned to talk to her. He stopped treating her like his teenaged mistress and began to treat her like an equal. He loved books; for so many years, books were the only pleasure he could safely indulge in and his favorite memories of his mortal life were of sitting in the parlor and listening to his mother and sometimes his father read to the family. Cuddled up against him before the huge fireplace, listening to him read Austen or Thackeray she found herself…content.

She didn’t see much of Buffy over those three years. Two Thanksgivings and one Christmas visit to Atlanta, where Buffy and Riley seemed to be making a go of it. One Christmas and a summer vacation on Buffy’s part. Her grandsons were growing up tall and smart, the eldest, Tommy, could already read at 5 and a half years. She talked to her daughter weekly on the phone, and not once during that time did Buffy ask if she had anyone in her life. Which made one fewer lie she had to tell. When, occasionally, she saw Giles around town she said hi; she continued inviting him to openings, knowing he would never come.

The beginning of the end came in Paris. He'd persuaded her to close the gallery for a month and spend time in France with him. They had thirteen lovely days in the City of Light, shopping and eating and lying in bed. Walking the night streets with his arm around her, knowing she was safe from all perils, including discovery. She remembered thinking that if she wasn't happy now, this would do. It was wonderful, right up until that cold, cloudy February morning in Paris, when she'd gone out shopping and returned less than an hour later empty-handed, every inch of exposed skin feeling like it had been painted with acid. She'd stumbled into the hotel suite whimpering with pain and rushed into the bathroom. She felt him come up behind her as she stared in disbelief at her reddened face, blisters forming as she watched, eyelids swollen. Her eyes felt as though they'd been boiled. He stepped away and shut the half-closed blinds all the way; she was deeply pleased by the relief it gave her, until she worked out the implications.

Only then did the treacherous bastard admit what he'd done to her. Apologized, as if that made a difference. He loved her, that old excuse. And to put the cherry on it, promised her that he would make sure she didn't become a monster; that she would be like him. Not understanding at all what a horrible prospect that was.

"You're telling me I'm going to die," she said, seeing her dreams of watching her grandchildren grow up; of maybe even someday having her own life again wither and burn away to ash. He dropped his gaze, nodded reluctantly. She'd lifted a lamp and hit him with it. For starters. She'd gone a little mad there. Screamed at him, called him every foul name she could think of and pretty much destroyed the room throwing everything she could get her hands on at him. When she ran out of missiles, she clawed his face, she drew blood and the smell was so good, the flavor of it better than anything she'd ever tasted as she licked it from her fingers… When she realized what she was doing she howled and fled the suite and the hotel, running out into the treacherous daylight in search of sanctuary.

It took him two days to find her holed up in a dark and rickety hotel near the Gare-du-Nord. When he broke down the door of the room she was passed out on the narrow bed, the reek of cheap wine and tears soaked into the air. He carried her out of there, still unconscious, and took her back to the Hilton. She wasn't surprised when she woke and found herself back, with him watching her. She didn't bother to try to avoid him when he bent down to kiss her tenderly. She knew there was no point in running away from him again.

She'd spent those two days in that dingy room drinking and running through her options while the trains rattled and screeched endlessly.

Suicide? Despite everything, she still wasn't ready to go.

Kill Angel? Then and now she frequently wanted to, but she didn't think it would help.

Confess to Giles and hope he and his contacts knew of a cure? She didn't think there was one, and as soon as Giles knew, so would Buffy. She was even less ready for that.

So she decided to cope. No crying over spilt milk. She doubled up her old prescriptions, bought scarves and hats and 100 UVP sunblock. She arranged the sale of the gallery. Not only would she not be able to run it as a nocturnal creature, but also as Angel reluctantly warned her, it might be months before she had the control to safely interact with people. What a lovely thought. She smiled, pretended normality, even went back to having sex with him.

She'd almost gotten used to hiding from the sun when she stopped being able to stomach solids, and odors began to control her life, one in particular. She coveted Angel's stash of ruby red bags, but she found she couldn't keep blood down either. She began to feel tired all the time, and then the pain started. It started as an ache, grew into a dull throbbing, and just as she thought herself adjusted, blossomed into absolute misery.

The pain became the central object of her life; it sapped her strength, made it impossible to think about anything but pain, and how soon she could have her next dose. When Demerol stopped working, Angel got a supply of morphine for her. Wonderful stuff, morphine...


He walked downstairs, to the basement where everything was ready and waiting. Checking again to be sure that the shiny new chains, with the padded cuffs that had amused Angelus so much when Angel bought them, were securely stapled into the wall. Looked at the table and confirmed that the orb and all the other magical paraphernalia he needed to perform the spell were there, ready. He opened the new refrigerator and looks at the rows of plastic bags waiting there, bulging with human blood. It's for both of them: the new demon would be ravenous, and he would need all his strength to deal with it.

He shivers at the image of Joyce that rises in his consciousness: the marks of pain erased from her face, hair gleaming, hazel eyes glowing, her mouth red, and moist, hungry for him...

Yellow eyes, and sharp teeth, the incarnation of hunger... <Yes please,> Angelus murmurs longingly. In his own way the demon loves her too, and wants her as badly as Angel does.

He doesn't know if he can do this. So much is uncertain. He's taking it on trust that the spell will work, that he will be able to put a soul back into her undead body. That even if he succeeds, the resulting creature will still be *Joyce*. He always wondered if it was Liam's soul that the Gypsies forced into Angelus, or something more generic. He has Liam's memories, but not his personality; of course he'd been Angelus for 140 years before he was ensouled. Joyce won't have to spend a single day without a soul. Even if it truly is Joyce, will she want to go on like this, locked in an eternally dead body with a demon?

She has been very clear that she doesn't want to be turned. Doesn't want his particularly pyrric form of immortality. After she came back to him she asked him to promise that he would release her to death, that he wouldn't turn her.

But he never promised.

Still, it would probably be best if he went back upstairs and snapped her neck or gave her a double or triple dose of morphine, and sat beside her waiting for silence.

It would be best, but he knows he won't do it. Can't do it. Can't let her go. He knows he will eventually have to pay for his betrayal of Joyce, for her murder, and if he has to go back to hell, he damned well wants to enjoy the fruits of his crime beforehand. Still, he goes back upstairs slowly like a man condemned.


She hears him coming, taking his time, and realizes she's dozed and missed her chance. It's hard to care through the mounting pain and the exhaustion. She closes her eyes and pretends to sleep. She doesn't want to see him. She’s sick and tired of his dark morose gaze, his guilt, his pain. She was the one dying in agony, the one who would never see her daughter, or sunlight again, but somehow it always ended up being about Angel: Angel’s pain, Angel’s guilt.

Her eyes are closed, but she's on the edge of waking. Soon she will open her once beautiful eyes, and look at him and he realizes that he can't face her, can't stand to see the hatred and pain in her eyes one more time. It's time to make an end.

She feels the mattress tilt as he settles on the bed beside her, he says her name softly, then his hands are on her, lifting her upright, cradled against his bare chest. The thought occurs that they must look like a La Pieta, heavily revised for the 21st century, this one featuring a dark, muscular young Christ and a haggard Mary Magdalene. She wants to smile, but the effort of moving the muscles is just too much for her. He places his mouth against her throat, velvet soft and perfectly still.

The teeth in her throat are not a surprise. This has been coming for a long, long time. Still, she struggles feebly as her traitor heart begins to pump her life into him. She opens her eyes, but he is holding her so that all she can see is the fire. His grip is implacable, and it is much easier to lose herself in the constant motion, the gold and orange of the living flames.

Her blood is thick but still sweet, despite the drugs and her illness. It tastes of Joyce refined to her essence. She moans an inarticulate protest, and tries to pull away. Angel holds her still, and drinks, her life filling his mouth warming him. So good. All the times she's fed him, all the times he's drunk from her, are distilled in this last draught.

And he doesn't have to stop this time.

The flow begins to falter at last, Angel pulls away reluctantly and realizes just how limp she is, how close to death. Her breath rattles in her throat. All he has to do is let her go, let her fall to the bed and wait for a few minutes and it will all be over. Perhaps he can still save a part of his soul.

The little knife is barely four inches long and razor sharp, just right for the job. It cuts through the skin and flesh of his chest so easily that the blood is already oozing out before the pain hits him. He pulls Joyce back up, opens her unresisting mouth and presses her lips to the wound. He can just detect a thread of a pulse under his hand.

She lies there, slack and unresponsive and he can feel the blood trickling over her unresponsive lips and onto his belly. He's waited too long. Hesitated, and lost her. Angelus rages and despairs along with him. <Fool> <Fool>

"NO!" he growls, and quickly places her on her back, her blood-smeared mouth gapes idiotically. He uses the knife to slash open the vein in his wrist and shoves the spurting wound to her lips. She doesn't react as the blood fills her mouth, overflows, and spills down her face in black streams.

She is flying, a dark winged bird in a universe of stars. She can sense her destination, somewhere not far ahead, rushing to meet her; and she flies happily towards its embrace…

…And she coughs, and swallows. Trembling he holds his wrist in place and with a sense of triumph and doom feels the first slow suction as she begins to feed. Weakly at first, she pulls in his life, the strength of her draw slowly increasing, till it's close to pain, then blooms into bright agony, but still he holds still and lets her continue to take from him. He knows that the more she feeds, the stronger she will be when she wakes, and he wants her to be the best, the strongest, the most perfect of his Childer.

Only when he feels himself beginning to weaken does he push her away. She makes a mindless sound of protest, looking up at him with eyes gone completely dark. Then she gasps and her eyes shut as she sags bonelessly against him. He holds her tight while her body convulses, against his chest he feels her heartbeat speed up, become erratic, and then stop. Her breath goes out one last time, and does not return. She dies, as he promised, in his arms.

He continues to hold her for a while, watching the fire die down to embers, feeling her slowly cool. Then he lifts her limp form and takes her downstairs. It feels odd to snap the manacles around the limp wrists, to check the security of the chains binding what looks and feels like a corpse, but another part of him is aware that appearances are deceptive. Somewhere inside the demon is being born, beginning to transform the shell it has taken possession of, assimilating the memories it's fallen heir to, getting ready to wake. It may take an hour, or as long as a day, but he knows that she will wake. He sighs, and caresses her lank hair, knowing that it will shine again soon.

Then he goes back upstairs, to their empty bed, and lies down in the quickly fading remnants of her scent, to wait.

END part 5


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