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:
<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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.