Blood and Whisky by Ligeia

'I should never have stayed that night,' Angel said, swishing his third tumbler of Galway Pipe, watching patterns form between the liquid, the glass and the red-tinged light of Willy's Bar. 'I promised to stay away and I was trying . . . really trying.' He took a swallow of the hot smooth liquid. 'I could have left safely enough. I could have slipped away in the early hours . . . before sunrise.'

Willy the barman passed a damp cloth over the timber counter top, refilled the peanut bowl, put out a fresh jar of pickled eggs - the Stryker demons liked 'em, no accounting for some tastes, but then you have to cater for your customers' likes and dislikes, especially when your clientele included Strykers - then wiped out the ashtrays again even though they hadn't been used since he wiped them out a half hour ago. Anything to distract himself from his lone customer's incessant soul-searching.

Vampires, he thought, always with the conversation. Always stuff he didn't want to hear.

'It's not like I expected to sleep at all,' Angel sighed. He had been so comfortable in the pre-dawn hour that he had succumbed to the deep slumber that comes to vampires with the sunrise. 'Not with Buffy so close . . . so warm and alive. I just wanted to stay near her.' He finished off the whisky and upended the glass on the bar. 'Then later . . . that night . . . it all happened so fast. It's been so long. I've resisted . . . kept myself away from human contact. Stayed blood-sober. Mostly. Suddenly I had the taste of her in my mouth, her touch, her scent . . .'

'OK, guy,' the barman interrupted, righting the glass and pouring another drink. 'Too much information! Here, have another drink. On the house. Just don't talk any more, fella, OK?'

*****

Darla watched Buffy and her little friend Willow from among the stacks as they chatted about classes, boys, fashion. The usual girly rubbish. She was a puzzle, this Slayer. Unlike most of the Chosen, this one had friends, family, schoolmates . . .

Why does her Watcher allow it? Darla wondered. He must realise it would be so easy to hurt her through the ones she loves.

Angel's appearance in Sunnydale was a bonus and the Slayer's interest in him, a gift.

Darla would hurt them both.

*****

Angel walked the quiet small-town streets, not really heading home, not really going anywhere in particular. It was still early but he was feeling the effects of the four - or was it five? - double whiskies he had consumed at Willy's. It had been a long time since he had fed and the alcohol was making him fuzzy-headed.

Darla's visit had rattled him. Not the least, her offer to take him back. Returning to the 'family' now was not an option. Darla might have forgotten those final miserable months of their life together but Angel certainly hadn't. She had made her distaste for his altered condition perfectly clear - his human soul disgusted her. The pain of her rejection was all the more acute because it was her fault - she had brought him the gypsy girl who's family cursed him with the return of his soul - then conveniently forgot her role in his metamorphosis, treating him like a pariah until he slunk away, alone and wretched.

And now she was here. In Sunnydale. The sight of her, the faint musky scent of cool flesh and warm blood - she had fed recently - and her voice. How long since he had heard that voice - the silken sound of moonlight on moth wings - call him by name? Call him Angelus? Almost a century. Too long . . . not long enough.

The Powers That Be had wanted him there for the Harvest, of that he was certain. But what then? Beyond that he was on his own. There had been no instructions post-Harvest. Perhaps they thought he would just fade into the background again once his mission was over. Back to L.A.'s seamy underbelly. Back to the rat-infested tunnels and the alleys he had shared with the homeless and destitute. Maybe they had not expected him to survive. Hell, he hadn't expected it himself. Most likely they had not given it any thought at all.

But Angel had survived and here he still remained. He had decided to stay on out of a desire to help the Slayer and her friends, to add his strength to theirs. That's what he had told the dark-haired woman from the Council of Watchers anyhow. The one with the haunting green eyes and defensive attitude. She had believed him; accepted him as a fellow soldier against the forces of evil. And why not? He had almost convinced himself of it; almost believed he was doing this out of a sense of duty. Taking the higher road. Acting for the greater good. Like anything good ever came from foulness. Only it was really out of a sense of desperation. To be a part of something better than himself. Part of a new family.

He shook his head as he walked along. What was he thinking? A new family? That was crazy. Even if the Slayer and her little group of crusaders had accepted him as an ally during the Master's attempted coup, they would never trust him now. Not after he had almost bitten Buffy. Shit, he couldn't even trust himself.

'I thought he could control it - the bloodlust - but I can't,' Angel mumbled to himself. 'I know that now.' This was getting him nowhere. His futile musings, like his meandering footsteps echoing along the almost- deserted suburban streets, both were aimless, pointless.

Perhaps it would be better if I left after all, he thought. Buffy will be safer with me out of the picture. God, I wanted so much to tell Buffy the truth that first night before . . . well, before it became moot. Angel sighed. Darla will target her now because of me or target the people close to her. Maybe if I'm gone . . . or dead . . . she'll leave Buffy alone. Darla never was one to fight on without a good reason.

*****

Darla followed closely behind Buffy's mother, changing into her game face as the woman opened the door of refrigerator.

'Let's see what we have,' Joyce said, moving a plate of cold cuts left over from last night's dinner. 'Do you feel like something little or something big?'

'Something big!'

*****

The streets were mostly deserted. One or two pedestrians, looking ill at ease, hurried by. No one travelled Sunnydale on foot after dark. Not if they could help it. Occasionally a car passed, windows up and lights on high beam. Once, a late model sedan had slowed down to keep pace with him for a few seconds, then sped on. Angel stopped at the corner and read the street sign.

Revello Drive. Buffy's street.

I'll tell her I'm leaving, he thought. Just so she won't be . . . well, not concerned exactly, I can hardly expect that now, can I? . . . but not worried about me turning up, getting in the way . . . vamping out again. Distracting her from her Slayer duties.

But standing at the door Angel had second thoughts. What would this achieve after all? Buffy would be upset, angry. Apologies would be worthless; any attempt at an explanation could only make matters worse. There was nothing he could say to take back the last few days. Best just to go . . . move on. Like he had done so many times before.

Angel turned to leave.

Then he heard a scream.

*****

As Joyce's blood spilled into Darla's hungry mouth the vampire felt a familiar heat course through her body. Starting on her lips and in her belly, it spread quickly, warming her limbs and pinking her cheeks with false life.

Suddenly, the back door slammed open, hitting the wall with a loud crack. It was Angel.

'Let her go!'

'I just had a little, there's plenty more.' Darla held the swooning Joyce tightly and offered Angel a bloodied smile. She had not expected this, had only wanted to hurt the Slayer. This was serendipity and she would make the most of it. 'Aren't you hungry for something warm after all this time? Come on, Angel. Just say yes!'

Then Joyce was in his arms, the open wounds seeping crimson just inches from his lips. Angel could smell the blood, an aromatic echo of the taste he knew so well. He swallowed hard but that only succeeded in carrying the faint coppery saltiness across his tongue. It had been years, decades since he tasted human blood. It would be so easy to take just a little. He tore his eyes away from the twin punctures of Darla's bite but the scent still flooded his senses.

Darla relaxed and smiled again as Angel slipped into his game face. His feral eyes and rumbling growl told her that he had already forgotten who this woman was. She was nothing to him now - nothing but food - and he was starving. Darla stepped forward and placed a now-warm hand against his cool cheek.

'Welcome home.'

- Finis -