Note to flist: My LJ cuts are fucked up. This is pissing me off a great deal. I am posting from a computer I usually don't use. It's possible the font and format of the story might be slightly different than normal. Apologies.
Title: The Hard Choices
Timing: Season 5, Forever
Characters: Buffy, Angel, Joyce
Summary: Angel reflects on his relationship with Joyce as he drives to Sunnydale to visit her gravesite in Forever.
A/N: Written for fantas_magoria’s episode prompt for “Angel.” After watching the episode over again, it occurred to me that this is the first time Angel meets Joyce. I’ve never seen a fic that addresses Angel’s feelings about her, so this is my attempt at rectifying that. Beta’d by the magnificent eowyn_315. Now with better punctuation!
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No profit is gained from my writerly endeavors and no copyright infringement is intended.
His private line rings and he picks up on the third, cradling the receiver against his ear.
He’s met with silence. Listening intently, he can just hear the quiet wisp of breathing on the other end.
“Hi.” There’s a pause, some hesitation in her voice. “It’s – it’s me.”
It’d be an understatement to say that he wasn’t expecting this, whatever this is. Buffy’s not one to pay social calls. A dart of concern licks through him. He steels himself.
“How are you? It’s been a while.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it has. I’ve always been bad with that. The keeping in touch thing.”
“I know the feeling,” Angel admits.
“I’ve wanted to get away. Just for a weekend even. Maybe come to LA. But, you know, there’s always the sacred duty to think about. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else. Yay, heroics,” she glumly confides.
“Things have been busy here, too. It’s probably best you haven’t dropped by. I’ve had my hands full.” He leaves out the part about Darla and Dru. There are some things that just don’t bear repeating.
“Any good kills?” she asks, veering off onto a different trajectory. “Me, I’ve got this one hell bitch that just won’t die no matter what I throw at her.” She laughs heartlessly. Angel frowns. She seems… off.
“Is everything all right?”
She sighs heavily, like she’s been caught out. All at once, her cheerful banter is gone and she just sounds tired.
“No. No, it’s really not. It’s my mom.”
“Did something happen to her?” Angel leans forward in his chair, one hand coming up to hold the phone to his mouth.
“She’s gone,” Buffy whispers, and yet, the words come out like a door slamming shut. Startling.
“Oh, Buffy…” He wants to hold her. God, he wants to hold her. “I’m so sorry.”
“It was really sudden. She’d been sick, but… it was sudden. It’s been so crazy the last few days between making arrangements and sending out the announcement – I only just got the chance to call.”
“What can I do?” He’s at a loss for words. He wants to do something. Turn back time, resurrect the dead, anything to wipe the sound of sorrowful defeat from her voice. Of all people, she should never have to sound that way.
“The funeral’s this afternoon. Could you come?”
“I’ll be there. I’ll leave as soon as the sun sets.”
“Good. Good… because I don’t think I can do this by – ”
“I know.” She shouldn’t have to.
“Okay,” she murmurs with relief. “There are some last minute things I have to take care of. I can’t really talk, but...”
He can hear her shuffling through her closet on the other end, pushing hangers back and forth in search of the perfect outfit to wear for an occasion she’d much rather not have to attend. He rushes to reassure her, to absolve her.
“Of course. Go. Get ready. Don’t let me keep you.”
“Thank you, Angel. I’ll see you soon.”
As she starts to draw the phone away from her ear, he calls her back.
He has to know. “Was it a vampire?”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that. It was an aneurism.”
She hangs up before she can hear his sigh of relief.
On the drive down he thinks about getting flowers. Flowers go with funerals. But then… he doesn’t want to remind Buffy of her loss, not when the grave is still fresh, the earth still soft. Instead, his thoughts drift to Joyce while he continues to stare into the dark, as the interstate’s orange lights occasionally send flashes of neon haze across the road.
He barely knew her, really. Buffy’s mom. Joyce Summers. A passing acquaintance at best. That was all she was to him. Except that wasn’t it at all. She had been influential in changing his life; she’d asked him to be strong enough to make the hard decisions. And here he was, driving to Sunnydale to see the daughter that Joyce had asked him to leave. To see the daughter – daughters – that she had left now, too.
He couldn’t say that she liked him; it was fairly obvious she didn’t. Threatening, older, dead – yeah, those were all valid reasons to worry about her sixteen-year-old daughter. That first night at the house, she had been weary, apprehensive, scrutinizing. In retrospect, he wishes he could have said something, been more personable. The second time they met, holding her in his arms, blood drained from her neck… not really a good impression, either.
Whatever reservations she may have had about him, Angelus did plenty to substantiate all her doubts. He remembers the gratifying look of shock that crossed her face the night that he told her he had deflowered her sweet little girl. Slinking up close to her as she struggled with her groceries and keys, he could smell her fear. The things he would have done to her – the thought of it now nearly makes him feel ill. That it could have been him. That it could have been a vampire… nearly twice.
There were other times, too, when Joyce was forefront in his mind. Sitting at her windowsill in the dead of night, he had crept in to the draw her pretty face. Between strokes, his cock became hard as the memory of her blood, the way it had smelled, tickled his senses. Darla had left the puncture marks oozing. He remembers, even now, how easy it would have been to sink his teeth in and bite. He’s still not sure what stopped him.
The specter of the bite-that-never-was taunted him every time they had exchanged words or a look. His eyes had immediately dropped to her neck the day she had come to him in May two years ago, interested in discussing Buffy’s future with a forceful maternal air. Her mouth moved. He heard the words. But it was her elegant throat that spoke of the past damnation it had held. Angel wonders if she ever questioned where the smudge of charcoal left on her cheek had come from the night he sketched her.
He reflects on the first time and the last – how it was never easy for them. How she had always forced him to make the hard choices. Drink or let live. Leave or stay. To think… he could have had both Summers women. To think he had nearly murdered them both.
Pulling into the cemetery’s drive, it occurs to him that by all rights Joyce should have been burying Buffy, a Slayer set to expire at any given moment. If Xander hadn’t revived her, it would have been Buffy’s grave he stood over. It would have been Buffy he mourned.
She’s there facing the grave as he quietly approaches, the sole sentry to guard her mother’s memory. When he reaches her side, her hand slips into his and he thinks, for better or worse, at least it’s not her.