Promises and Lies


The Luxury of Choice



Long afternoon shadows were stretching across the quiet lawns by the time Giles got to the house. At first, he was pleased to see her car parked in the driveway, but then he noticed that the mailbox was tightly packed with at least a week's worth of junk mail. He rang the doorbell three times; no one answered. Finally he used his old key to let himself in.

He wondered, as he stepped inside, if she remembered that he still had a key. Probably better not to examine too closely the reasons why he still had it. Best to let useless regrets lie.

"Hello?" he said, and heard his voice disappear into the empty house. Inside it was slightly warm, dust motes sifting through the afternoon sunbeams. Everything was very neat, there was no sign of any violence but there was a thin layer of dust on the furniture, on every flat surface.

On his way over he'd driven past Joyce’s gallery. It was closed, permanently. He stared in confusion at the For Lease signs posted in the whitewashed windows. When the hell had this happened? He couldn’t remember the last time he'd gone to one of the openings she faithfully sent him invitations to. Most disturbing was the fact that Buffy obviously didn’t know.

Buffy had called Giles at 8:30 a.m. that morning, catching him in the midst of running late for his 10:00 tutorial. She was worried. She'd been trying unsuccessfully to reach her mother for four days. She kept getting the machine at home and the gallery phone had been disconnected. PacBell was, surprise, surprise, no help at all.

Falling back into old habits he'd reassured her that it was probably nothing, just some stupid mix-up. He promised to go over and check things out. And truthfully, he hadn't really been concerned. Sunnydale no longer had a Hellmouth, and Julie Ng the new slayer, was doing an excellent job of dealing with those demons who hadn't got the word. Her Watcher, Mr. Coulis, had told him that she complained constantly about being bored; she wanted to go to Santa Barbara, or LA where there was a little more demonic action. Not a problem he’d ever faced as Buffy’s Watcher, but he tried to be sympathetic.

In the kitchen the red eye of the answering machine blinked furiously. He pressed the replay button and listened to Buffy's voice, her tone growing progressively more concerned as the days passed and her mother didn't call back.

He opened the refrigerator to find it empty except for a few condiments and a bottle of water. Which was, he told himself, somewhat comforting, as it was hard to imagine kidnappers cleaning out the refrigerator and taking out the garbage on their way out. It strongly suggested that Joyce had left under her own power, and meant to be gone for awhile.

Which begged the question, namely, where was she? And why hadn't she told anyone that she was going? It wasn't like Joyce, not at all.

For the sake of being thorough he checked upstairs. He merely glanced into Buffy's former bedroom, long since converted to auxiliary storage for the gallery. He couldn't tell if there were more boxes stacked there than the last time he'd seen it.

As he opened the door to Joyce's room, he suddenly wondered how many years it had been since he'd been there. It looked familiar, and utterly normal. Bed made neatly, clothes put away. Everything seemed to be in place. Not that he would know. Pictures of Buffy, of Joyce's parents, of Hank and a ten-year old Buffy sat slightly blurred by dust on the dresser top. There was nothing useful here, he thought, and went back downstairs.

Anywhere else he might consider notifying the authorities, but here in Sunnydale, that would be, at best, a quixotic gesture. The Sunnydale Police Department had years of practice at ignoring mysterious disappearances. The mayor's death and the closing of the Hellmouth hadn't really changed anything in that regard.

He needed help, and he could think of only one person in Sunnydale to ask for it. He couldn't ask for help from Coulis or the Slayer without some evidence of supernatural involvement. Except for Xander the surviving Scoobies had all moved away from town, and Xander had made it very clear that he had had more than enough of playing lethal games in the dark. These days he sold cars at his uncle's DaeWoo dealership, and stayed as far away from Giles as possible. It was funny, he thought as he shut the door behind him and walked back to his car, absolutely *hilarious* that Angel was the one who he had to go to for help. That in a way they had become… not friends, but at least trusted allies.

Giles took out his cell and dialed Angel's number. He could hear the phone ringing, but there was no answer. Giles hung up and thought. It was still a good hour before sunset, quite possibly Angel was still asleep. Giles decided to go over to the mansion, and see if he was there.


The mansion looked the same as always, Art-Deco gothic set well back from the street and its neighbors. It had been built in the 1920's by a fan of Alistair Crowley. That particular would-be practitioner of the Dark Arts hadn't lasted long on the Hellmouth. As he walked across the courtyard to the front door Giles wondered, not for the first time, just how the place had come into Angel's possession. He noticed that although the sycamore in the courtyard was turning colors, shedding its leaves for winter, there were only a few dead leaves scattered across the paving. The image of Angel pushing a broom at midnight wandered inanely through his head as he rang the bell, listened to it echo inside.

No answer. The thought occurred that Angel might be out of town, that he might not even still live here. They hadn’t really kept in touch. But as he stood there listening to the silence, he felt an odd certainty that, unlike the Summers house, this one was occupied. He rang the bell again, knocked. No answer. Damn.

He should simply go away and come back after dark. But he knew that if he spoke to Buffy again with nothing more to tell her than he had now, there would be nothing he or any power on earth could do to keep her from rushing across the continent and tearing Sunnydale apart looking for her mother.

Old skills and bad habits die hard. Giles was almost disappointed at how easy it was to pick the lock. He tucked his tools back into his wallet and pushed the door open. His second B & E of the day, which was a record, even for Ripper back in the bad old days.

"Hello?" he called into the cool darkness. If Angel was home, sleeping away from the light, the last thing he wanted to do was startle him. Silence. He took a deep breath and stepped inside.

It was obvious that someone was in residence. The patterned floor had been vacuumed, and the painfully modern furnishings were free of dust. A neat pile of mail sat on the table next to the door. He resisted the urge to pry and moved into the house.

"Hello?" a little louder this time. He moved toward the fireplace, and looked in surprise at the finely carved African sculpture of a stalking lion keeping guard over the fireplace tools. He recognized it, it, or an identical piece used to sit in front of Joyce's fireplace. He wondered when Joyce had given it to Angel. A Christmas present? It would be like her, though he hadn't thought she'd kept in contact with Buffy's ex. They’d never seemed to have much to say to each other. Standing there he could smell woodsmoke: someone had had a fire in the fireplace quite recently.

Joyce came back to herself with a start. She was in bed, nestled in the rumpled sheets that smelled reassuringly like Angel. The angle of the shaft of sunlight that she’d been staring into, enraptured, had changed. Damn, what time was it? She sat up to look at the bedside clock. 4:10 p.m. Oh hell, more than an hour gone.

She wanted Angel to come home. She hated being alone; with only herself here it was difficult to stay focused. Angel told her not to worry about it, that it was, funny word, *normal*, for a fledgling vampire to get lost that way. Easy for him to say, a couple of centuries distant from his own rebirth. She hated it, the ease with which she could be caught up and rolled over by ephemera: the whisper of wind moving around and through the house, the individual notes of a cricket's song, dust motes dancing in a sunbeam.

It was all too much for her to cope with on her own. She'd died, and been reborn: some changes were to be expected. But she'd never expected the whole world to be transformed. Everything was in sharp focus, every sound and scent overwhelming. Sometimes she was afraid of cutting herself on the razor edges of this new world.

Her own body had become alien to her. She felt like the pilot of those giant Japanese robots; she controlled it, but there was no feeling of connection. It was silent, strong, tireless, and utterly unnatural. There were no odd pains, no fatigue, no back aches, no odd twinges. No heartbeat, no breath. She could be hurt, but never scarred.

Vampires could be videotaped, so she knew that she still looked like herself, only better. She hadn’t grown younger, or suddenly sprouted double-D's but all the transitory imperfections, the bad hair days, the bags under her eyes after a bad night…were gone. She was the ideal Joyce Summers. Preserved for eternity.

There were other good things. She liked being strong, almost as strong as Angel. So long as she was in control, she enjoyed her new senses. Her eyes could penetrate any darkness. She could hear a whisper from the other side of a stone wall.

And, oh yes, the sex. The sex was very good. Her whole body burned gloriously at Angel's touch and now she could meet him as an equal, match him, body to body. No need for him to hold back for fear of her mortal fragility.

And right now, she was hungry. A word that definitely didn't carry the meaning that it used to. It wasn't the vague anxiousness it had meant once upon a time, but a consuming ache that could only be satisfied by one thing. Her mind focused on the plump bags waiting for her in the refrigerator and she was down the hallway, at the head of the stairs… And stopped dead.


Someone was inside the house. Looking for Angel. She moved from the landing, and hid in the shadows. She listened until she was certain there was only one man. He was making no effort to conceal his presence, so probably not a would-be vampire killer. Alone, so likewise probably not from the Council: they always traveled in packs. She dropped to her knees and eased herself forward so that she could see through the railing.

She froze in shock when she saw who it was. Rupert. Oh hell. If not the last, definitely the next to last person she wanted to see right now. The demon mewled its desire to get closer, to *touch* as faint traces of his scent rose to meet her: the leather of his shoes, the wool of his coat, and the blood, his blood…

He was poking around in the fireplace. He was thinner, grayer, than she remembered him. She hoped he was eating right, and not drinking again. Looking down at him she had a good view of his bald spot. She used to tease him about it, back when it was only a slight clearing; remembered the way it felt under her hand, the vulnerability of the bare skin, the baby-soft hair…

She hadn't touched a single living being since her death. Not so much as a cat. Angel took her out at least once a week, on training jaunts to the bookstore, museum, and even the movies once. She spoke to people, walked among them, passed for human. But he always made very sure that she was well fed before she went out. It had been, it still was a shock to find herself thinking of people as food, to have to struggle to resist the enticement of blood whispering to her, just under the skin. It never got easy, Angel promised her, but it would get better.

Now was probably not a good time to test her control. She eased herself backwards, carefully. Got to her feet…and a board creaked under her foot.

A sound. Giles's head went up, his eyes iron hard behind his glasses as he searched the concealing shadows for the source of the sound, and saw a flash of white, a face, gone before it fully registered. "Who's there?" he called. He barely hesitated before going up the stairs, taking the poker with him.

Joyce hurried down the hallway. Sunlight rimmed every window she passed -- no escape there. She needed to hide until he went away, but where? Inside, the demon was awake, and afraid, it recognized Rupert Giles as the Watcher, a sorcerer, a demon-killer in his own right. Its fear began to infect her, even as she tried to think.

He'd never been upstairs before, never had the need; it felt a little like a violation, being in Angel's private quarters. It was as neat up here as down. Expensively, if spartanly furnished. Landscapes and still lives on the walls, no portraits, no abstracts. No mirrors.

The first two rooms he checked were empty, afternoon sunlight making the drawn blinds glow a deep yellow. He was slightly surprised to see a computer center set up in one. He opened the third door and stepped into what was obviously the master bedroom. Heavy dark drapes hiding the windows. Unmirrored bureau. He glanced at the enormous and unmade bed with the black satin sheets, definitely Angel.

Except for the woman's nightgown, peeking out from underneath a pillow.

There were two doors on either side of the bed. Poker at the ready, Giles opened the one on the right: a bathroom, with the one window carefully blacked out, marble floor, mosaic tile walls, enormous sunken tub, big enough for Angel to stretch out in. There were two sets of towels, he noticed, and a scent of something distinctly not-Angel in the air. A hairbrush and comb and hairspray on the shelf above the sink. Deodorant.

Confirming his suspicions that Angel had a lover, a mortal lover. Bugger. He shuddered at the thought. On the other hand, was it really any of his business? Perhaps he ought to just leave. He left the bathroom, and hesitated, looking at the other door. Not hard to imagine a woman being seduced by Angel, but would he have informed her of all the consequences? As a Watcher, even a former Watcher, could he just walk away without being sure? He stepped forwards and yanked it open, and stared in shock at the woman trying to hide herself in the clothes at the back of the closet.

"Joyce?" he said tentatively but as she moved forward into the light, he realized that he was wrong. This wasn't Joyce, for all it had her body, her eyes, her voice. But he knew better. This wasn't Joyce, this pale and perfect simulacrum, not her, never again.

Joyce flinched inside when she saw that expression of disgust and horror on the face she'd kissed, watched relaxed in sleep, contorted with rage, sagging with exhaustion.

It hurt to smell the fear as he stepped back, his knuckles white, gripping the poker.

"Oh, no. God help us all," he said softly.

He sounded so desolate that she couldn't help moving towards him, to comfort him. He flinched, and brought up the poker.

"Stay away," he warned.

"Rupert," she said, making herself stand very still.

"Angel." He said, the name a condemnation in his mouth.

"He did this."

She felt fear as well as pain now. She knew that look of iron determination, and she suddenly realized that the demon was right: that her existence and Angel's were in very real danger. She knew him well enough not to underestimate him.

"Rupert," she said. "It's me. Joyce. Really."

Giles shook his head in quick denial. Her mouth quirked, more grimace than smile. "This is Angel we're talking about Rupert. I have my soul, he saw to it." She stood very still, giving him time to think about it. To decide her fate.


It was nearly sundown and the hotel bar was nearly empty. Other than a probable hooker resting her feet at the bar and a couple of business travelers grabbing a drink before running to catch their flights Angel had the place to himself. He shifted uneasily in the booth, glancing for the nth time at the door. His contact was late, and he was tired of sitting here, nursing a glass of white wine. Every time a jet rumbled overhead he thought of dragons and couldn't help flinching. This entire trip had been something of a comedy of missed connections and petty frustrations that had stretched out his absence from Joyce from one day to nearly a week. He became uneasier with every day, every hour, every minute that he was away from her. He'd called her every night. But speaking to her was only a partial cure for what ailed him. He wanted her in his arms; he wanted to be inside her, he wanted her teeth in his neck...

He checked his watch. 5:15. He sighed and picked up his drink...and froze as the powerful intimation swept through him that something was terribly wrong. Joyce, he thought. He'd swum too long in the seas of prophecy and premonition to ignore it. He fumbled out his cell and called her. Panic started inching coldly down his spine as the phone rang, again and again. Imagining all the things that could have happened. He tried her other number, got the machine.

She was so young, a baby, nearly helpless; he should never have left her alone. There was a reason the world was not overrun by vampires. Fledglings were incredibly fragile. It didn't really take a Slayer to kill them, anyone with a sharp stick and reasonable aim could do it. Very few of them made it even a year into their theoretically eternal lives. Even in a town without a Slayer, he thought as he rose to his feet.

He used the phone to call a taxi to meet him in the underground parking structure. He called Cordelia from the terminal and told her he was sorry, but he had to go home. She didn't ask any questions, and his tone kept her from complaining, much, about him letting her down.

He caught the 5:45 flight to Sunnydale, staring out into the night, willing the damned metal bird to fly faster. Trying not to think about Joyce, out in the night. Innocently enjoying the moonlight. Meeting the Slayer. Not even knowing enough to run. Julie knew about him, but she didn't know about Joyce, had never met her. She would see her as only another of the monsters she'd been called to kill, and do her duty. He growled, completely unaware of his seatmate sitting stiffly terrified beside him. It was a long 45 minutes for both of them.

He called again as soon as they landed. The unanswered rings seemed to mock him. He drove through the darkened streets in a near panic. Joyce. Wishing there was someone to pray to, some God he still believed in, that he could bargain with for her life. He couldn't lose her; she was all he had left.

He stepped into his home and knew that someone had been there. One person, a man, not the Slayer. Then the penny dropped. The scent was brought the guilty memory of blood in his mouth, of trembling flesh cringing under his hands, screaming... "Giles," he whispered.

"Joyce?" He called. There was no answer. He rushed upstairs to their bedroom. The room was empty, undisturbed by any sign of a struggle. But Giles' fear and anger hung in the air along with traces of Joyce's fear.

No, Angel begged the cruel Powers. Please no.

His face shifted instinctively, demon eyes and demon senses better suited to find the trail, to track the faint hint of Joyce, of Giles, out of the room, down the hallway, and back down the stairs. Where, to his infinite relief, they separated. Giles' trail leading out the door again, while Joyce's led deeper into the house. Beginning to hope, he tracks it through the kitchen and down the enclosed walkway to the pool.

The shades have been drawn back from the glass to reveal the night sky, the crescent moon a ghostly flicker on the dark water. The tension in Angel evaporates as he sees a pale shape moving back and forth along the length of the pool. Joyce. Unharmed, here, safe. Angel squats by the robe and towel she’s left folded there, giddy with relief and watches her slice through the water, pale and graceful as a shark.

He'd never used the pool himself, but he'd had it fixed it up when she saw it and told him how much she enjoyed swimming laps. She swam every day now. It helped her concentrate, she said, helped her focus.

It was convenient, but still odd, to not have to breathe, and to know that she could do this for hours. Swimming back and forth, like a goldfish on crank. Trying to obliterate the loss and pain of the past hour in the mindless rhythm. She felt Angel's arrival, the weight of his gaze pressing on her even through the sheltering water. She completed two more laps, and then surfaced, shooting out of the water, splashing him deliberately. She took hold of his proffered arm and let him pull her up into the air. He wraps his arms around her, careless of his leather and she found herself clinging to him, feeling that undeniable shock of pleasure, the connection between childe and maker that isn't love, but something deeper.

He kissed her desperately long and deep; his embrace would have cracked ribs if she were still alive. She responds guiltily. Under the joy, she can taste the fear still clinging underneath. She'd heard the phone ringing, she regrets frightening him now. But busy fighting the urge to go after Giles, to find him. To make him look into her eyes and say her name like it still belonged to her.

She trembles in his arms, cool and wet; her skin is slightly wrinkled, reeking of chlorine. She's been in the water a long time. She pressed herself closer to him, cold lips trembling against his cheek, and he notices how pale she is. He realizes that she's hungry. He smiles, unbuttons open his shirt, and offers her his throat.

No hesitation. Her face remains human, but suddenly sharp teeth slice through his skin into the vein, he gasps, not in pain, as she growls and begins to drink.

And it’s so good, filling her mouth like brandy cooled in snow, chilling and warming her as it flows down her throat. It’s like honey, like sugary fire, satisfying, perfect. She’s tried to think of something it compares to, but nothing even comes close. It’s better than chocolate, better than sex, better than any drug she’d ever tried in the ‘70’s. So much better than the half-dead stuff, warm courtesy of the microwave. Angel’s sweet, thick blood is the elixir of life. Every time she drinks she feels reborn, remade. It’s more than enough to keep her tied to him, and she’s sure he knows it. But right now, she doesn’t care. All that matters is the blood.

And she wonders for a moment what it tastes like fresh, alive.

Angel groans at the exquisite agony of her teeth opening him up, the relentless suction as she pulls him into herself. He runs his hands down her naked back, tracing the delicate architecture of her spine, feeling each swallow through his fingertips. Her shudders of pleasure merging with his as she drinks and drinks. The demon screams in outrage as Angel allows her to drain him, retreating in disgust to the back of his brain. Angelus seldom, if ever, fed his offspring after he sired them. Unwilling to trade his strength for anything, even this ecstasy. More fool him.

She can't grow warm, not from him, but he feels her revival, a prickle of energy where skin meets skin. When she pulls away at last, he's a little bit dizzy, but he still has to resist the urge to press her back, to beg her to drink more. He would feed her forever if he could.

She remains nestled against him, and that is not like her. He finds the towel, one-handed and wraps it around her shoulders.

"Joyce?" he says softly. "What happened?" She sighs, and presses her head to his chest.

"Something went wrong with the call forwarding. Buffy’s been calling me since Monday - Riley's mother died - she'd been sick for awhile, but still... anyway she was worried when she couldn't reach me." Angel swore softly. "Giles went to the house, then came here to ask for your help. He found me instead." She felt the shock of the news strike him.

"He didn't hurt you?" he asked, stroking her head gently. He didn’t mean her body.

"No," she reassured him. "We… talked."

"Talked?" Angel questioned. Joyce hid her face in his chest, remembering.


Rupert had finally decided to let her out of the closet, watching her stone-faced as she sat down on the edge of the bed, knees together, hands folded neatly in her lap. He remained on his feet, alert. It seemed to make him more comfortable to have the advantage of height. He wouldn't look her in the eye. But at least he hadn't run, pulled a stake or a cross on her, or called in the new Slayer. But she'd seen stone statues with more expression. Even his eyes seemed dead.

"Tell me what happened," he said finally.

So she told him. It took awhile. As she explained she felt the day fading outside, the burden of daylight had been lifted entirely by the time she had finished carefully and reluctantly explaining about Jamaica and its consequences. She watched Rupert pacing, too angry to stand still. This wasn't a new thing, she realized watching the slow emergence of emotion to his face, from horror to sorrow to rage. He'd hated Angel for a long time. All those years they'd fought side-by-side, she'd been aware that there wasn’t much warmth between them, but she'd never had a clue about how much he loathed Angel.

All the time they were talking, she couldn't stop thinking of how soothing the familiar sound of his heartbeat was. How tempting the smell of human blood was, Rupert's blood. She wanted to touch him, to hold his hand, to let him know it was all right. To feel his breath, warm in her mouth, his hands cradling her breasts... She pulled her mind away from forbidden thoughts. Dragged herself back to the here and now. To Angel, cradling her gently in his arms, his blood sweet in her mouth.

"He knows everything then," Angel said.

"Yes. I think I convinced him not to tell Buffy," Joyce told Angel. She felt the tiny flinch at her daughter’s name.

"I need to go see him," Angel said.

She looked at him doubtfully, she understood his reasons, but... "I really don't think that's a good idea."

"I have to be sure," he said, brushing a strand of wet hair back from her forehead.

"He hates you," she warned him.

"Yeah. I know."


He’d given up drinking again, so before going home he had to stop off at Beverages etc. for supplies. Selected his own poison from the long aisles of bottles and cans and joined the queue with his two fifths of Black Bush, behind with an old lady with two jugs of plain wrap vodka and three probably not quite legal college students hoping to purchase several cases of beer. Déjà vu, all over again. He wondered idly about the name change. The decor hadn't changed, and in his opinion Liquor Barn at least had the advantage of honesty. Certainly it hadn't been for their customer's benefit. They didn’t care what the store was called, so long as they could get what they needed.

He thought he recognized the clerk as well, but if she recognized him she had the decency not to let on.

By the time he got home, night had finished swallowing the world. He half-hoped that some obliging monster would emerge from the deep shadows of his hedge, and relieve him of the burden of his thoughts, but none did.

He locked the door behind him. Got a glass from the cupboard and sat down on the couch with the first bottle. Poured an inch full and studied the golden fluid. Inhaled the sharp fumes with their undertone of sweetness. Blessed be the Irish, he thought, as he lifted the glass and took his first swallow, feeling it sting his tongue, the back of his throat, the fumes kissing the roof of his mouth gently, before sliding sublimely down his throat. As the warmth rose to coat his brain in soothing layers he wondered why had he ever given it up.

The loss of control. The looks of betrayal from those who loved and trusted him. The blackouts. Crashing the car…

…All of which had seemed more than enough cause at the time, but in the face of this disaster seemed quite trivial. How was he going to tell Buffy? What was he supposed to say to her? "Sorry Buffy, your mum's been turned by your old boyfriend. Not to worry though, she's a good vampire." The whole concept of "good vampire", having proved itself to be the oxymoron he'd always known it to be. The thought of those accusing hazel eyes looking at him threatened to shatter the whiskey's protective haze. Pour, lift, and swallow: there, that was much better.

It maddened him to think of all those times in the thick of battle when he so easily could have killed Angel, simply by hesitating at a critical moment. And God knows he'd considered it. But no, he'd gritted his teeth, pretended to forget if not forgive Angelus' little trespasses: the murder, the torture, the rape.

But it wasn't Angelus who'd killed Joyce. This time Angel would have to answer for his actions.

Joyce. Dead, since April. Her hair shining in the dim room like old gold as she spoke softly, every word chipping away another bit of his illusions. She sounded exactly like his Joyce. He couldn't take his eyes off her, it wouldn't be safe to take his eyes away from her, but he refused to make eye contact. She looked like the idealized version of Joyce, the wet-dream that still occasionally visited his sleep. But there were telltale signs, the way she forgot to blink. The inhuman silence of her when she wasn’t speaking. The way her nostrils flared when he moved and the air carried his scent to her.

Joyce/not Joyce, he'd wondered, standing there in the long shadows of the dying day. How could one tell? God help him, over the years he’d had plenty of contact with vampires, but never with someone he’d known...before. Soul or no soul, could this possibly really be Joyce, who he’d loved, fucked, fought with, and abandoned?

When she was done, she sat there in the dim room, watching him, her face blurred in the darkness while he’d cursed Angel with quiet venom. It was soothing in a way to be spared the details. Until it occurred to him that she could see him quite clearly. He stepped over to the light switch and turned it on. She flinched at the flare of light, and when he moved towards her. He was startled to realize that she was afraid of him.

"Please don't tell Buffy," she'd begged him. "It will only hurt her."

He'd stared in disbelief. "How can I keep something like this from her?"

"It's been four months, she doesn't know. We talk once a week. I know it can't go on forever, but please, please don't take away what time we have left."

"What happens when she comes to visit?" Giles demanded.

Joyce had thought about that. She planned to stage her own death: in a car crash, electrical fire, gas explosion, boat accident. Some way that wouldn't leave a corpse. "But not yet. Please, Rupert. She's my daughter, I don't want to lose her before I have to."

"I should have let Faith kill him," Giles said bitterly.

He'd left her there at last, sitting in her bedroom, their bedroom. Half-hoping all the way back through the dark hallways that he would hear a furtive step behind him, feel a cold breath on the back of his neck, and turn to see her coming for him. The pretense of humanity dropped, giving him something he could fight, win or lose. But she never came. He stepped out into the night free, and lost.

Half the bottle gone, more than half the night left, and the pain was still there. The grating agony of his complete and utter failure. He'd failed Joyce. Failed Buffy. And there was nothing he could do to make anything any better.


He must have dozed off. Someone was ringing his doorbell. Over and over again. Didn't they know that visiting hours were over? The bell kept ringing, and finally he got up to answer it.

He stared in outraged surprise at the tall shape in front of him.

"You bastard," Giles snarled. "Get the hell away from me!" His rage was only increased when Angel stepped forward, his calm in the face of his righteous anger.

"We need to talk," he said.

"About what? You slimy, unspeakable bastard. You’ve got it all over Angelus. He was never much of an actor, never half as devious as you with your poor tortured soul act you goddamned snake!" Angel took the words without flinching, and nodded.

"You're probably right," Angel said. "But we still need to talk."

He looked surprised when Giles lunged for him, and whacked the jug he’d been holding down onto his head. He staggered under the first blow, and the second shattered the heavy glass and slashed his scalp. Angel dropped to his knees, bleeding and dazed.

A red haze seemed to shroud Giles thoughts as he unhesitatingly followed up on his advantage, kicking him as hard as he could, anywhere he could reach. He picked up a chair and brought it down hard on the huddled form of the thing who’d haunted his life for so many years.

All those years of repressing the urge to kill Angel because he was an indispensable ally, a peerless fighter in the battle against evil; and besides, it wasn’t Angel who snapped Jenny's neck and left her on his bed. Not Angel who'd burned neat circles down his chest with a cigarette, and bent three of the fingers on his left hand back till they broke. Not Angel, laughing, his teeth smeared with Giles blood after he'd bitten off his nipple as a preliminary. Not Angel who’d bent him over a table and invaded his body with his huge, icy cock, and as he came, sank his fangs so deeply into his shoulder that they grated against the bone. Oh no that was *Angelus*, the demon of course, Angel was *good*, Angel was blameless. Angel groaned as Giles drove his boot into the back of his head and went still. Well that excuse wouldn’t cover this, not this time. Even Buffy would have to see, at last, what Angel really was. Giles caught a brief glimpse of his reflection in the hall mirror as he hurried past, leaving left the vampire moaning and temporarily helpless for a moment while he rummaged through the closet. Where the hell -- ah, here it was.

Angel groaned. No matter how many times it happened, having the shit kicked out of him still hurt. He was weak, his own damn fault for not taking time to feed before he left the house, he thought as he struggled to get onto his knees. He looked up, Giles was back, leveling a crossbow from three feet away. He was smiling and Angel could smell the joy, the anticipation of vengeance.

"Tell me one reason why I shouldn't kill you," he asked, almost playfully. Angel looked him in the eye.

"Because it wouldn't change anything," he said simply. Giles’ lip curled and his finger tightened dangerously on the trigger.

"No, but it would do me a world of good." Angel wondered if he had ever understood just how much Giles hated him. It was almost funny that Giles’ had accused him of being an actor, when he was obviously in the presence of a master.

"Joyce." Giles went very still at as he heard her name. "If you kill me, what happens to her? She’s not ready to be on her own. Are you going to take care of her… or are you planning to kill her too?"

The thought of Joyce dissolving into dust, gone forever, her eyes accusing him of both her deaths. Of Buffy, her eyes blaming him for not taking care of her mother, not knowing… Giles heart froze at the thought. He looked into Angel’s dark eyes, hoping for a flash of triumph as he lowered the crossbow, for anything that would have given him leave to pull the trigger, but he could read nothing there.

"You complete and utter bastard," he said. Angel didn’t answer as he painfully got to his feet. Still no anger in his face despite his obvious pain as he straightened up.

"You can’t tell her," Angel said.

"What? Concerned about your reputation?"

"It would destroy her. You know that." And Giles knew he was right. Buffy was a grown woman now, and long separated from Angel but this would destroy her.

"Get out. I never want to see either of you again," he said deadly soft, "Leave Sunnydale, and don’t ever let me know where you’ve gone."

Angel nodded and left without another word, Giles enjoyed watching him limping out the door, then sat down at the counter and dropped his head into his hands.

The phone rang. He knew who it was and let it ring two more times before he could make himself answer it.

"Hello," he said.

"Hi Giles. I just wanted to thank you," Buffy's voice, happy, the strain he'd heard last time they'd spoken gone like a bad dream.


"Mom called. Explained about the big screw-up with the phones." Joyce had called, he thought. But...

"Yeah, and she's really sorry she couldn't make the funeral," Buffy said. "Riley's holding up OK I guess. I mean, he kinda knew it was coming, but she was his Mom, after all."

Giles opened his mouth, to say...what? He could imagine her, smiling, happy. She hadn't been happy very often in her life. So much trouble, in such a short life. He felt utterly empty, a hollow gourd. God, he knew what he should do, knew his duty…but he couldn't do it.

"Good, I'm glad she reached you, stupid really," Giles was proud at least, that he could still lie well, and without slurring.

"I'm really sorry for panicking like that. Thanks Giles."

"Yes, of course. I'm just glad it turned out to be something so minor," Giles told her.

Sitting under the window, eavesdropping Angel sagged with relief. Angel could hear the self-loathing in Giles' voice as he continued chatting with Buffy, playing out the sad little charade. "Yes, she is looking well these days…". He listened to the end of the conversation, then feeling every bruise, cut, and broken bone, got to his feet carefully and crept away from the house. He closed the door very softly, and drove away.


The pain grew steadily worse during the drive home. His body screamed for blood, he felt like a mummy, dry and hollow by the time he got home. Tunnel vision focused on the refrigerator and the blood inside it as he entered the house. He ripped open a bag with his teeth and gulped it down cold. It tasted awful, but it did the job. By the time he'd finished the second bag he could feel the healing start. The tingling itch as bruises began to fade, and lacerations began to close. It took another 2 units before he felt the deeper twinge as various bones started to realign and knit themselves back together. He hoped that Giles had enjoyed his violent catharsis, because it wouldn't happen again.

He found her curled up on the bed. Wearing her nightgown and surrounded by pictures of her daughter and her grandsons. He could smell tears in the air. He looked at each photograph as he carefully picked them up and put them away. A recent picture of Buffy, her hair cut short and straight, smiling and still beautiful, but the photograph showed a deep worry crease between her eyes and lines at the corners of her eyes that he'd never seen, or would see in person. The boys took after their mother. They looked like good boys. Joyce had made two trips to Atlanta in the past year, once she realized just how limited her time was. She talked to them once a week. He knew they were going to miss her almost as much as she would them. He put the photo album on the bedside table and pulled the sheet up over her body. Kissed her gently and then went quietly into the bathroom.

He undressed slowly and carefully. He sighed at the condition of his clothes; the shirt was definitely beyond repair. He showered, sitting down like the old man he'd never be. Dried himself and put on his pajamas and slipped carefully in beside her.

He lay there awhile, content just to be there. He felt her wake. "Angel?" she said, rolling over to face him.

He kisses her, and she feels heat blossom between her legs, another little gift of her condition: it takes little or nothing to get her going nowadays. She responds in kind, their tongues intimate as mating snakes. But when she wraps her arms around him to pull him closer Angel winces as bone grates on bone.

"You're hurt! What happened?" Angel shrugged, and wished he hadn't.

"We worked out some issues," he said calmly "I'll be fine."

"I should never have let you go over there," Joyce says guiltily.

"My idea," he reminded her. "He didn't tell her," he added. And it was worth every blow, every slowly healing wound to see her face light up.

"Sssh," she says. "Poor baby, let mama make it all better for you," she purred.

His mouth relaxed into a half-smile as he let her push him down onto his back. She gently spreads his legs and kneels between them, bending forward to gaze down into those dark eyes she can no longer see herself in. Admires his beautiful, deceptively youthful face. There are only a few greenish blemishes left, and they're fading before her eyes, leaving no evidence of what must have been a bad beating. Hard to imagine Rupert attacking Angel. Harder still to imagine Angel just taking it. Catholic guilt rides again. She bends down and kisses him, butterfly soft on forehead, nose, lips. Then insinuates her tongue into his welcoming mouth. He tastes of copper, of blood.

She pulls away from his mouth and continues the journey. He makes a little sound of hopeful anticipation as she presses her teeth against the white column of his throat, she can smell the blood he's just drunk just under the cool silken skin, its transformation into Angel tantalizingly incomplete.

*So easy to hold him down, cover his mouth while her teeth slip through warm skin to the warm blood in her mouth.*

She goes on, kissing and nibbling her way down the side of his neck, over the collarbone to his chest. She's still in awe of all that beautiful flesh, that vast expanse of creamy, perfectly hairless skin. Good enough to eat she thinks as she sucks gently on his sweet pink nipples. At the same time she reaches down and feels his cock, straining at his PJ's. She slips her hand inside the fly and it leaps into her hand. She loves the feel of it, silk-skinned and heavy in her hand. She strokes him teasingly, then lets go. Takes hold of his pants waist with her teeth, and slowly pulls them down and off.

Angel growls deep in his chest as she pumps him a few times, brings him fully erect...then takes her hand away. Leaving him aching as she works her way down, biting his thighs gently, the inside of his knees, his ankle, instep, flicks his arch with her tongue, then slowly moves back up.

It seems to take forever for her to reach his crotch again. He can feel himself straining toward her, desperate. Finally, she's there again, her hair brushes across the head and he moans. Craning his head, he can see her wicked grin as she slowly runs her tongue along the apparently decorative vein from root to head. It jumps, his back arches. His cock feels like it's made of stone, he doesn't believe he could ever lift anything this heavy.

"Joyce," he chokes. His face transformed, eyes tight shut. He no longer tries to hide the demon from her, and she's not sure if she's happy or sad about that. He hisses through razor teeth as she abruptly engulfs him. Feeling her own face shift as he feels his length strain her jaw, the slick head prodding her uvula. Once again, the not-breathing thing comes in handy, she thinks.

She-Was-Really-Good-At-This, Angel thought as she pushed forward until her nose was buried in the black curls of his crotch, then pulled back, letting his cock slip out of her mouth, then she caught the head with her lips, and swallowed him down again, and again.

Then she began fucking him with her mouth in earnest, and his brain went away for awhile. The world shrank down to his cock in her coolly relentless mouth. The sensation building, intensifying, beyond pleasure until he's turned inside out and comes, spurting deep in her throat. He lay gasping, as she swallows and sits up, purring with satisfaction. She licked her lips clean, and grinned at him while he uncrossed his eyes.

"Better?" He answered her by grabbing her, pulling her down and rolling her under him.

"Much," he said, and proceeded to demonstrate.

He made her come, and fucked her. Made her come again, and fucked her again, long and hard, long, his injuries apparently forgotten. Her pussy feels like it's worn paper thin, but it hurts so good. On the brink of her third orgasm he pulls her close and his teeth rip into her, and he takes her blood, feeds just enough that she can feel his need flare in her, and she explodes, and falls into a night filled with stars.

And afterwards, when he tells her they have to leave Sunnydale, as soon as possible, she nods, accepting the inevitable. She drifts off to sleep, while he lies awake, thinking.

For the first time since he was cursed he can contemplate eternity with something dangerously like complacency. Joyce is safe, so he can be almost glad that Giles found out, dangerous as it was. Now they will have to leave Sunnydale. She will have to cut her ties, to Buffy, to the grandkids. It would hurt her, and them, but in the end, it needed to be done. They would go somewhere far away, and start new lives.

He knows that whether she is aware of it or not, she wants Giles. It's the demon in her more than the woman, the call of the blood, of familiarity is innate. Family blood is sweetest; he knows that for a fact. It's why the families of those who are turned seldom survive them long. The quicker he can remove Joyce from temptation, the better. Even if he were the sharing type Giles would either kill her, or give in to her, and then he would have to kill Giles. He'd kill anyone or anything else that tried to take her from him.

He still isn't sure she really loves him. Perhaps that is his penance. But she needs him, and he can wait for her to love him, he has eternity after all. He draws her closer and allows himself to slip into sleep.

END part 6


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