Rating:  PG for some fairly unhappy stuff.

Feedback:I'm still rather new to all of this, so please, be gentle.

Spoilers:  Up to the previews we saw for "Forever."

Distribution:  Um, here.  If you are interested, please let me know.

Summary:  When Buffy's life is at its lowest point, the return of Angel helps to soothe her. 

Author's Note:  They never did tell us how Angel found out, did they?  Oh, and there is a sequel to this called "Comeuppance" which deals with the little visit Angel mentions at the end. 

Disclaimer:  All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

Dedication:  Know what?  I'm actually dedicating this one to Joss for creating such a lovely, intelligent show.  Thanks.

Aftermath

            Gunn didn't exactly relish the thought of telling Angel the bad news.  After all, the vampire had just managed to climb out of a tailspin depression the likes of which he'd never seen.  Still, he paged him with a 911 signal to drop whatever he was doing and call the office.  As he waited for Angel to respond, Cordelia entered the room.

            "Hey, what's up?" she asked Gunn in concern when she saw his serious expression.

            Before he could answer, the phone rang.

            "Probably better if I tell you both at the same time," he said as he picked up the phone.  "Angel?"

            "Gunn.  What happened?" 

            "Hang on.  I'm putting you on speakerphone.  Cordy's here too."  He pressed the button and paused before he continued.

            "Gunn, what is it?"  Angel's voice echoed with worry in the dingy office.

            "I hate having to tell you this, but Buffy's mom died."

            He was met with stunned silence from both Cordelia and Angel.

            "How?"  It was Angel who asked it, and judging by his tone he had slipped into game face.

            "Natural causes."

            "Oh, God, poor Buffy…" Cordelia's voice faded away as she sank into one of the mismatched office chairs.  "And her sister.  This has got to be awful for them."

            "How did you find out?"  Angel's voice asked.  He was obviously fighting waves of emotion.

            "Just got the phone call now.  Some English guy.  He hung up before I could get his name."

            "That's Giles," Cordelia said.

            "Well, whoever he was, he says Buffy needs you.  The funeral's tomorrow.  He also threatened to remove your lungs through ears if you don't come."

            "Giles and I didn't exactly part on good terms," Angel said in an unhappy voice.  He'd hoped that the ex-librarian might have been able to soften towards him a little in the past few years.  Still, he'd been kind enough to let him know.  He appreciated that.

            "Are you going?"  Gunn asked quietly.

            "Yes.  If she needs me, I'll be there."  Always, he added mentally.

            "I'm coming too," Cordy added firmly.

            "Look, Gunn, why don't we just shut down the office for the next few days.  Could one of you call Wesley and tell him what happened?  I think he'll want to go to.  He was Buffy's Watcher, even if it was only briefly."

            "I'm on it.  Hurry back, Angel," Cordelia managed to squeak out before she started to cry.

            "I'll be there in ten minutes.  See you soon."

            Eventually, all four of them decided to go to Sunnydale.  Gunn simply didn't feel comfortable sending his friends off to a funeral alone, even if he'd never met Buffy.  Plus, it gave him a chance to actually put faces with some of the names he'd heard over the past year.

            The morning of the funeral was gray and rainy.  Angel was relieved to find that the service was being held inside the funeral home, thereby ending his fears of sunlight.  He tugged uncomfortably on his tie as he and the three other members of Angel Investigations exited their car underneath the covered canopy.  After more than 200 years of existence, he still had no idea what to say at times like this.

            "Maybe you guys should go in first," he said uncertainly.  "I don't want to startle anybody."

            "Giles was the one who asked you to come.  I assume he told her," Cordelia started to argue, but one look at the vampire next to her told her that he needed a moment or two to adjust as well.  "Okay.  We'll give you a few minutes."

            Wesley gently took her arm and escorted her inside.  Gunn stayed beside Angel for a brief moment and gave him a firm punch in the arm.

            "It'll be okay.  Take your time."  Then he followed the other two inside.

            Angel had always liked Joyce.  She hadn't been thrilled about his relationship with her daughter, but eventually she'd come to understand that he did love Buffy.  She'd even tried to go out of her way to make him feel welcome after he'd returned, smiling at him even when many of the others couldn't bear to look at him or giving his hand a reassuring squeeze when he felt awkward.  She really had been a gem.  He was going to miss knowing that she and her ability to make others feel comfortable were in the world.  Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the doors of the funeral home and walked in.

            He could feel Buffy's presence before he saw her.  He still missed her terribly.  Leaving her had been one of the most difficult things he had ever done, although he still felt that it was his only choice if he wanted her to be happy someday.  When he saw the back of her from across the room, looking strangely lost and overwhelmed in the sea of black clothed figures, his heart went out to her.  In a moment, he was beside her.

            "Buffy?" 

            She turned around at the sound of his voice.  In that one moment when their eyes met it became obvious that time had changed very little.

            "Angel," she whispered. 

The next thing either of them knew, they were in each other's arms, holding on tightly.  Her grief began to come forth in rasping sobs as she buried her face against his suit.  He deftly maneuvered her into a smaller, nearby room where the two of them sank onto an overstuffed couch.  He held her as she cried, letting her release everything that had been locked inside of her during the formal, polite conversations that go hand in hand with a wake.

She couldn't believe how much she needed to feel his arms around her.  It was like she'd found some tiny corner that was protected from the storm that was raging around her.  Angel is here, she kept thinking.  He couldn't make it stop hurting, but at least she had someone to cling to, someone to make her feel safe.  It was a long time before they spoke, and when they did, it wasn't really the words that mattered.

"How are you holding up?" he asked as he stroked her hair.

"Not so good," she answered softly.

"Buffy, I'm so sorry.  I don't know what else to say."

"You're here.  It's enough," she said simply.

Angel remained by her side throughout the rest of the day, taking care of any matters of business that came up in dealing with the morticians and service directors, making sure she had the opportunity to sit down during the constant press of mourners, spiriting her away briefly so she could eat, and allowing her to lean on him.  When he wasn't dealing with her directly, he looked after Dawn.  Generally Willow and Tara had helped the younger girl through her grief, but like her sister she found the presence of the protective vampire comforting.

"Anything I can get for you?" he asked the girl who reminded him of his little sister in his most soothing tones.

"Not really.  Nothing that'll help," she replied in a strangely distant voice.  Then she murmured something under her breath that Angel knew he wasn't supposed to hear, but did.  He decided that her bizarre comment was the result of grief and let it go at that.  He gave her a warm hug that she returned gratefully before he went back to Buffy.

Eventually, the day came to an end.  The service was finished, the mourners left, and only the central group of friends remained.  Everyone looked exhausted. 

"Thank you," Buffy said as she and Dawn looked around at those closest to them.   "I don't know how we would have made it through the day without all of you.  We're both pretty tired, though.  Xander, Anya, could you give us a lift?"

"Sure thing.  Dawn, you can take shotgun," Xander suggested, trying to lighten the mood.

"It was interesting to see you again Angel.  I am glad that you didn't try to kill anybody this time," Anya intoned in her strangely innocent yet offensive way.

"Um, yeah, it was good to see you too," he said uncertainly.

"Angel, as much as I don't believe I'm actually saying this, I'm glad you showed up," Xander admitted quietly as he shook Angel's hand firmly.

"Thanks, Xander," he replied, startled by his almost friendly behavior.

Dawn turned to Angel and gave him a long hug.

"Thank you for coming.  I'm glad you were around; I've missed you."

"Hey, anytime you want to talk, you pick up the phone and give me a call, okay?" he said with a bittersweet smile.  She nodded at him and followed Xander and Anya back to the car.

Angel and Buffy looked at each other before he took her into his arms again. 

"I wish I could do something for you," he said helplessly.

"You did.  You cared."  Her voice quavered as she spoke.  "I better leave now before I fall apart again.  Are you heading back to L.A. tonight?"

"Unless you need me to be here tomorrow."

"It's okay.  Mind if I give you a call though?"

"I'll be waiting for it."

With that, she followed her sister to Xander's car and disappeared into the night, leaving Willow, Tara and Giles with the visitors from L.A.

"Angel, you really helped them through today.  I'm very thankful to you," Giles said sincerely.

"And I'm grateful to you for calling me and letting me know," Angel responded, happy to see the Watcher wasn't nearly as angry with him as he had feared.

"Letting you know?"  he asked with a confused look on his face.  "Angel, I never called you."

"I thought… Gunn, didn't you say that the man you talked to had an English accent?"

"Yeah, but it wasn't Giles.  The voice is different," Gunn replied.

"Wait half a moment.  You're saying that someone called your office anonymously to tell you about Joyce?  And whoever it was spoke with an English accent?" asked Giles in a strange voice.

"Yes.  I mean, I just assumed it was you.  Aside from you and Wesley, how many English men does Buffy know?" Angel asked in bewilderment.

Willow and Tara exchanged stunned looks with Giles.

"You don't think…" Willow began slowly.  "It couldn't be.  It's just, you know, too nice a thing to do for it to be him.  Isn't it?"

"Who?"  asked Angel, completely in the dark.

"Did, t-the caller say anything else?" Giles asked Gunn.

"Well, he did say he'd rip Angel's lungs out through his ears if he hurt Buffy and didn't show up."

Everyone stood in shock for a moment.

"Angel, did you honestly think I would threaten you?" Giles asked in disbelief.

"Well, you weren't very happy with me the last time I saw you.  I figured a bit of Ripper was coming out.  Wouldn't blame you."

"Did the caller do anything else unusual?" Giles asked again.

"That's right, I forgot.  He called Angel something," he said trying to remember the exact words.  "Something weird.  A big pouf."

Everyone's jaws dropped open in shock except for Gunn's and Wesley's.

"Wow.  That's, like, really decent of him," Willow said as though trying to get herself to understand it.  "Not the name calling part, but the calling part."

"I'd have to agree," Tara added nervously.  "I mean, that was surprisingly unselfish.  I don't think he ever intended anyone to find out it was him."

"Is there something I should know about?" Angel asked.

"Well," Willow responded, "Spike kind of seems to be alittleinlovewithBuffybut pleasedon'tkillhimsincehedidsomethingnice."  She took a very large step back and waited for the explosion.

Which didn't occur.

"Giles, Willow, I'm sorry we had to meet again under these circumstances, but it was good to see you," Angel said after a pause. He shook Giles's hand and Willow gave him hug.

"Tara, very nice to meet you.  Take good care of Willow for me, okay?"

She nodded, gave him a lop-sided smile, and impulsively hugged him as well.

After Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn made their good-byes, they went back to Angel's car and drove away.

Two Nights Ago

            Pain.  Frustration.  Confusion.  Anger.  Hurt.  Spike ran his fingers through his hair as he mentally cataloged the different emotions that were wracking through his brain.  How could something as simple as picking up a newspaper bring the world crashing down around him?  And yet it had.

            When he had arrived at Willie's earlier that night he had been in a sulky mood.  The Watcher had all but threatened to rip his head off if he ever came near them again.  The others were treating him like a leper.  Even the nibblet, who he knew perfectly well had had a crush on him for weeks, refused to so much as look at him.  Not that he could blame them.  His behavior hadn't exactly been sterling.  As he had sat at the grimy bar, drinking cow's blood that tasted vaguely rancid, he slowly became aware that somebody had left a copy of the Sunnydale Times sitting on the counter.  Bored as usual, he picked up the paper and began leafing through it, intent on finding the week's summary of Passions

            Instead, he'd come across the obituaries.  His first reaction at the name Summers was his undead heart exploding into his throat in violent fear.  Oddly, the thought that it was Buffy didn't even occur to him.  He simply felt he'd know if something happened to her.  And since the world hadn't come to a sudden end, which would probably be the result if Dawn died, he knew even before he read her name that Joyce was gone.

            The room's occupants rushed for the exits as he grabbed a chair and smashed it into the mirror behind the bar, roaring in fury.  How could this happen?  Joyce was still young, the doctors said she was well, and he simply didn't want her to be dead.  Shouting a blue streak of profanity, he tore out Willie's front door and raged at the night, breaking into a run, driven forward by his emotions.  He had absolutely no idea where he was going.  He soon found himself, as though drawn there, inside the charred factory.  For the next two hours he destroyed everything within reach until he finally dropped to the floor in exhaustion. 

            He'd really liked Joyce, and he couldn't say that about many people in his 126 years of unlife.  She was tremendously kind-hearted, and that was another thing he couldn't say about many people, either.  Her gentle, compassionate nature had reminded him poignantly of his own human mother.  No one, not even Angelus or Drusilla, had ever known that, contrary to vampire tradition, he had not killed his mother after being turned.  It was no secret that he had a remarkably high ability to have tender feelings towards others, something that had gotten him in trouble time and again in his new world.  He simply never stopped loving his mother.  He'd left her, knowing that their bond was irrevocably broken, but he'd never stopped caring about whether she was all right.  Unexplained packages of money had arrived on her doorstep for the rest of her life. 

            Now Joyce, who had been his one link to his own long-since departed mother, was gone.  Without realizing it, he began to sob deep, wrenching tears that seemed to come from where his soul had once been.  Memories ticked by in his mind's eye:  hot chocolate, her concern about Drusilla, the Christmas card she'd sent him that no one knew about, even that hopelessly boring Greek amphora story.  Gone.  Taken away.  He felt like he'd lost his mother again.

            Finally, hours later, he managed to pull himself together.  He was startled to realize that he had taken the paper with him.  It had fallen to the floor during his violent outburst.  He uncrumpled it and turned once more to the obituary page, noting that the funeral was set for the day after tomorrow. 

            "Survived by her daughters Buffy and Dawn," he read aloud.  "Cor, wonder how they're taking it."

            Without another thought, he left the mansion and headed towards the Summers's home.  He wondered briefly how he would get inside now that the barrier was back up, but then it occurred to him that maybe he shouldn't even try to enter.  It dawned on him, very slowly, that if his presence was known it would probably cause more problems for the woman he was still insanely in love with and her grief-stricken kid sister.  That was one thing he didn't want to do.  When he arrived outside their home, he blended seamlessly into the shadows and peered through the windows.

            It had to be about 3 a.m. now, he thought.  Both of them should be asleep.  No lights shone out in the dark night.  Quietly, he climbed the tree outside Buffy's window and listened intently, trying to hear from her pattern of breath if she was sleeping.  Instead of the regular rhythm of sleep, he heard the muffled sound of crying.  His heart broke into a hundred pieces.  He wanted so desperately to hold her, comfort her, dry her tears, but he knew that she didn't want him anywhere near her.  All he could do was sit in the tree like a deranged squirrel and beg whoever would listen to a vampire's prayers to send her into the peace of sleep.  When he simply couldn't stand it another moment, he climbed back down the tree and moved to the other side of the house, hoping that Dawn was faring better than her sister.

            After climbing the second tree, he was once again met by signs of grief.  The girl had left the shade up, and he could see her, facing away from him, curled into a ball on her bed.  Her body was actually shaking with her silent tears.  His previously broken heart was hit by yet another sledgehammer.  Dropping soundlessly to the ground, he took up a post at the front door, deciding that since he could do nothing else, he would keep guard over them without their knowledge.  Shortly before sun-up, he returned with a heavy heart to his lair.

            He had to do something.  Both of them were in agony and he wanted to make it stop, but he knew he couldn't just kill the demons and make everything better this time.  He stared at the crinkled newspaper in his hand and an idea occurred to him.  There might just be one thing he could do.

            "But I'm not!"  he shouted at nobody.  "I have not gone that soft!  I'll plunge a stake through my own heart before I even seriously consider…"

            His voice died away as he realized something.  The pain he felt when he thought about what Joyce's daughters were going through was at least as agonizing as a stake to the heart.  He took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and dialed the number he'd memorized months before for the sole purpose of making crank calls.

            "Angel Investigations.  Gunn talking.  You got supernatural troubles, we got your back."

            At least it wasn't anyone who knew him.

            "Um, I need to speak to Angel.  It's about a personal matter."

            "Sorry, he's out."

            "Do you know when he'll be back?"

            "Not sure.  If this is an emergency, I can page him with a message," Gunn said cautiously.

            "I think you'd better.  Tell him that he's needed in Sunnydale.  Joyce Summers is dead." the phone.

            "Okay, and you need help getting the thing that killed her?"

            "You don't know who she was, do you?" Spike muttered slowly.

            "Sorry for your loss, but no, I didn't know the lady."

            "She was Buffy's mum."

            "Wait, THE Buffy?"

            "Not exactly a common name, is it?"  Spike snapped in exasperation.  It was hard enough making this call as it was.

            "Angel's gonna go ballistic when he finds what killed her."

            "It was natural causes."

            "Then why…" Gunn started.

            "Just tell him that Buffy needs him!  Funeral's tomorrow.  And if the great poof doesn't show and lets her down once again, I'll come to L.A. and rip his lungs out through his ears!" he yelled as he slammed down the phone.

The Present

"We'll be making one brief stop before going home," Angel said quietly as he turned into the cemetery.  "Do you guys mind waiting in the car?"

"Nope, not a bit," Cordelia replied quickly.  Nope, she thought, definitely don't want to get Spike's ashes on my new Manolo Blahniks. 

A few moments later the door to Spike's crypt slammed open.

"Spike?"  Angel called out as he entered.  "Where are you?"

"Behind you, mate," Spike answered as casually as possible.  He was standing in the doorframe, obviously just coming in.

Angel glared at him.  His grandchilde returned the gaze steadily, not so much as blinking.  The tension in the room was so high it was almost audible.  Despite his usual self-confident grin, Spike couldn't help thinking that Angel showing up in his home fell decidedly under the category of not good.  After what seemed like a very long time, Angel finally spoke.

"Thank you."

Spike's mouth opened, shut, then opened and shut again before he finally came up with the perfect response.

"Huh?"

"I know you were the one who called."

"Don't know what you're talking about…" he spat out too rapidly.

"Spike, there is no other being on the face of the earth or under it who refers to me as 'a great poof'."

Spike made a disgusted face. That had been a pretty obvious slip.

"Fine.  So, I called.  No big thing.  Didn't want the Slayer going all broody like you and deciding to stake me right and proper. Just looking out for my own skin," Spike said defensively.

Angel gave him a slow smile.  "Sure.  That's why you decided to call the person you hate most in the world to take care of the woman you're in love with.  Selfishness.  Not buying it, my boy."

If looks could stake, Angel would have been a well-coiffed pile of dust.  "Just get out, alright!  Go back to L.A. and buy more hair gel or something."

"Got a message for you."

His expression quickly changed.  "How much?"

"How much what?"  Angel asked in confusion.

"How much dosh do I have to hand over before you tell me!"  Spike hollered angrily.

"Considering you did actually help Buffy out, not a penny.  This time," Angel said with a slightly playful accent.  "You told me Buffy needed me.  I'm telling you Dawn needs you."

"She what?"

"She didn't think I'd hear, but when I asked her today if there was anything I could get her, she said no, but then she muttered under her breath that she wished she could talk to you.  She misses you."

Spike's eyes widened in shock.  Little Bit missed him?  Why did that make him feel almost happy?

"So go.  Now.  Before I decide to forget that I have a soul, you have a chip, and I am semi-responsible for your existence.  And believe me, if you ever hurt either of those girls in any sense of the word, I will suddenly have a serious memory slip on all of the previously mentioned items."

Angel turned to leave, but before he was out the door Spike asked him something that had been bothering him all day.

"Angelus, one thing.  Did her father show?"

Angel turned back around slowly, his eyes flashing a menacing gold in the darkness. 

"No." 

His tone was deadly quiet; Spike shivered involuntarily, then nodded.

"I'll give you this much Angel.  You may have been a psychopathic, murderous, unholy terror, but you were never a deadbeat sire."

Angel gave him a smirk that was pure Angelus and replied, "Yeah.  Sorry to leave so soon, but I've got an appointment to keep in L.A. with a guy named Hank."

Spike chuckled softly.  He wouldn't want to be in that bloke's shoes for anything.  Heck, if he didn't have that blasted chip lodged in his brain, he would have offered to come along and help.

Once Angel left, Spike sat for a few moments, considering his options.  He could simply go to the Summers's home now and demand to see Dawn, but that didn't sound like a particularly good plan.  Besides, most people tended to be emotionally drained after a funeral and fall into a deep sleep, especially a kid.  Finally, he hit on an acceptable idea.

The next morning, Dawn woke late.  Everything seemed to ache.  As she slowly stretched, a bright red envelope lying on her windowsill caught her attention.  She had unwisely left the window open last night, but hadn't particularly cared at the time.  Curious, she opened the envelope, took out the single sheet of paper it contained, and began to read.

Bite-Sized One,

First off, lock this window at night!  Anybody other than me could have come right in and murdered you in your sleep!

Now, back to the reason I'm here.  I'm sorry about your mum.  She was a good one.  I always had a lot of respect for her.  I know you and the Slayer are going through a lot of pain right now, and it bothers me to no end that I can't do a single thing to help.  Besides which, if your sister caught me around here, I would wind up as campfire leftovers.  But I couldn't not say anything at all.  I really am sorry.

It may not be much comfort just now, but remember that Angel got sent to you-know-where once upon a time.  It makes sense that if there's a place of eternal torment, there must be a good place, too.  I'd bet any amount of money that's where your mum is right now.  I'm going to miss her.

If you ever want to talk, let me know.  Not that I don't have PLENTY of evil things to be doing.  But I can put them on hold for a bit if you need an ear. 

Spike, who should still frighten you senseless despite this note

Dawn actually did something she hadn't done in days.  A small smile crept over her face.