In the Silent Depth

Part Five

By Gem

True is love when your heart takes aim.

In the silent depth nothing ever stays the same.

* * * * *

They went at it from every angle, but in the end Doyle's idea was the best.  He, and a select few demon friends and relations, could lure the Scourge to Santa Marisa, then swiftly depart after Giles made the Initiative aware of the hostile demon presence.  The plan hinged on the bad guys falling for the "poor little helpless demon who wandered into the wrong part of town" routine from the Brakken. Given the inflated egos they were dealing with, however, no one really doubted the Scourge would believe they were the hunters and not the prey.

"Just remember, Doyle.  If you don't come back, I won't let Dennis give you a moment's peace in the afterlife," Cordelia threatened him.  She tried to hide the quaver in her voice, but a Brakken's hearing was almost as good as a vampire's. 

"Tell your see-through roomie not to fret, darlin'.  I have no intention of coming all the way from Ireland on a sacred quest just to die in a little town north of nowhere."  He decided this was the perfect moment to make his move, and slipped his arm around her.

Cordelia smacked his hand lightly as it draped over her shoulder, but she did not shrug it off.  "You so did not come on a sacred quest, unless that's what you call escaping the law by the skin of your teeth."

"And what could be more so?"  Doyle pretended indignation until he saw the speculative gleam in Kate's eye.  "She was kidding, kidding.  No law, no skin of my teeth."

"I want to go too," Angel said suddenly.  "You're going to need all the help you can get if you get caught."

Buffy wanted to scream.  All this time talking about how scared she still was for him, and knowing full well the danger represented to him by the Scourge, yet he still wanted to throw himself into the fight.  She wanted to shake him, or strangle him, or take him in her arms and never let go.

Fortunately, as Buffy was debating her best option for dealing with Angel, Cordelia decided to make her opinion known.

"Are you trying to get him killed?"  She planted her hands on her desk and leaned across it to glare at Angel.  "How much help are you going to be traveling in the trunk of the car?  Or do you honestly think those precious sewers of yours run all over the state?"

"Cordelia's right," Buffy said, eagerly, not pausing to recognize the humor in this phrase coming from her mouth.  "You are anything but a day person, and they can't afford to travel only at night."  She rested her hand on his arm as she tried to let him down gently.  "I'm not just saying this because I'm scared for you, which I am like crazy; I admit that.  But honestly, you'd only slow them down."

"Besides, I think this is something I need to do on my own."  There was a strangely serious expression on Doyle's usually merry face.  "I don't know why, but I get the feeling this is one enemy I'm supposed to handle, not you."

Angel looked from one friend to the other, trying to sense any support for his plan.  Even Kate looked doubtful.  When at last he realized he was defeated, he sighed and gave in gracefully.

"Okay, you're all right.  If we really want this to work, I can't be on the front lines this time."  He looked sharply at Doyle.  "But be careful.  Don't take any unnecessary chances.  Especially if you're getting 'feelings' about these creatures."

"Who, me?"  Doyle laughed as he patted his chest.  "This hide has always been my favorite possession.  I've no plans to let the Scourge use it for a picnic blanket any time soon."

"Hey, question."  Cordelia gazed somberly at Buffy.  "Is this okay, what we're talking about?  With your Slayer code, I mean, or whatever you call it.  We are talking about sending demons after humans, after all.  Is that sort of thing okay with the universe, or are we asking for a take-out order of bad karma?"

Buffy locked eyes with Angel, knowing the same thoughts had crossed both their minds already.  She suddenly longed for the days when being a Slayer just meant hanging out in the cemetery all night picking off vamps as they rose.  The hours may have wreaked havoc with her grades, but life certainly was a lot simpler back then.

Unfortunately, those days were long gone.  Buffy sighed heavily and answered for both of them.  "Fighting demons is supposed to be what the commandos, sorry, the Initiative, are all about.  They know what they're getting into, more or less.  And as for them being human...well, that doesn't mean they're the good guys.  Maybe this isn't quite fair to them...but it's the only answer I can come up with." 

"Speaking as someone they'd love to get on an examining table, I'm not wasting any tears on that lot," Doyle said emphatically.  "They're no different than the Scourge."

"Minus six layers of mismatched facial skin and an outdated uniform, of course."

"Now that we know how to tell them apart," Buffy said with a sharp glance at Cordelia, "we need to get cracking.  We still need to track down the Scourge, and meanwhile it's already Tuesday and the commandos have to be back in school on Monday.  Can you start calling your friends now so you can start the sting today?"  Buffy rose from the sofa to fetch the phone when she heard a loud pounding on the door.

"First we need to stop that racket," Cordelia said.  "Not that any of the other tenants are likely to be in at this hour of the morning, but we wouldn't want anyone to call the police again, now would we?"

"I'll get it," Buffy sighed, opening the door to behold a purple-faced Hank Summers in mid-hammer.  "Dad!  What are you doing here at," she glanced at her watch, "seven a.m.?"

"I am here to take you home.  Immediately."  Hank stalked into the office, glaring at one and all.  "I got a call this morning from an old friend of mine who happens to be with the LAPD.  He noticed my daughter's name on a police blotter in regard to a gang war and thought I might be interested."

The sudden guilty silence, punctuated by rapid glances darting from one person to the next, told Hank all he needed to know.

"It's true, isn't it?  He," Hank pointed to Angel, "got you involved in a gang fight, of all things.  I should have known he was dangerous from the weapons, let alone all that your mother told me.  But I gave you the benefit of the doubt, I trusted your judgement, and he almost got you killed.  Well, no more.  You're going to pack your bags and I will drive you back to Sunnydale for a long talk with your mother and I about making appropriate choices."

"Excuse me?  You think have you should have some say in how I run my life?  Since when have you actually been a part of my life, Dad?  I'm thinking junior high, but I could be giving you a little too much credit."  She tried to keep her tone light and wittily sarcastic, but the bitterness crept through despite her best efforts.

"Buffy, why don't you..." Angel gently took her by the elbow and pointed her towards the stairs leading down to the apartment.  "I think you two need some privacy," he said softly.

She smiled fleetingly at him and squeezed the hand that held her arm.  Taking a deep breath, she prepared for a battle that had been a long time in the making.

"Dad, downstairs."  She gestured to the stairs.  "If you want to have talk, we're doing it now.  But trust me, it won't take long."  She didn't bother to see if he followed her as she descended into the apartment.  Regardless of his decision, she'd already chosen her course.

Hank followed her slowly, taking the time for one last glare at the man he held responsible for this chaos.  Kate watched for a reaction from Angel, but he met Hank's eyes impassively, giving nothing away with his expression.  When he turned to watch Buffy, however, the glow in his eyes spoke volumes.  As the door to the apartment clicked shut, Kate broke the silence.

"I get it, okay?" 

Angel looked at her in confusion, though Cordelia could have told him what was going on.  Kate's hangdog expression said it all.

"I said I get it," Kate reiterated.  "I mean, I don't get it, the whole attraction between you, but I get that it's there, and it's real.  I'm sorry if I've made things more difficult the past few days."  She nervously twisted a strand of her blonde hair in her fingers, waiting for the inevitable recriminations.

Angel smiled at Kate, the first real smile he'd ever directed her way. It would have taken her breath away, if she had been able to convince herself it was really about her.  As it was, somehow she knew it existed only because Buffy's presence had freed it.

"Difficult?  Kate, Buffy and I have literally been to hell and back.  This is nothing."

"To hell with hell, man," Doyle exclaimed. "This is the angry father of the teenage girl you've been sleeping with.  This is serious."  He would have elaborated, but a warning glance from Cordelia hinted he might have might then have to explain where and when he acquired his expertise in the subject.

"Doyle's right, but I think I can help," Kate said confidently.  After a moment her smile wavered, and she continued in a more subdued tone, "If you'll let me, that is." 

* * * * *

In the apartment below Angel Investigations, relations, and relatives, were not nearly so amicable.  Buffy awaited her father's presence in the living room with ill-disguised impatience.  She had way too many things going on this week to spend time convincing her father to deal with the inevitable, but it appeared to be the only way to get rid of him.

"Buffy, we really should be doing this with your mother," Hank said when he joined her.  "I know she has some definite opinions on the subject of your boyfriend, and I think you need to start listening."

"I've heard Mom's opinions, and so has Angel, unfortunately.  You need to hear my opinions for a change."

Hank moved a few steps closer to his only daughter, and tried not to wince when she instinctively backed up and crossed her arms defensively over her chest.

"Princess, you're so young.  You've only dated a few boys and suddenly you know this is the guy for you?  Your mother and I have both been through the good and the bad of love when we weren't much older than you.  We just want to protect you."

"But you don't need to protect me from him," she insisted.  "He's a good man, Dad.  He's gentle and thoughtful, and he listens to me, all of which you'd realize if you gave him half a chance.  But whether you do or not, nothing you or Mom says is going to change the way I feel.  I love him."

"Why are you suddenly so hostile towards me?"  Her father's tone abruptly switched from pleading to accusatory.  "Is this what he's done to you?  You never used to be this way."

Buffy couldn't suppress a slightly hysterical laugh.  "You're telling me what I was like?  How old is the memory this is based on, Dad?  Seems to me that you haven't actually been around to know what I was like in a couple of years.  If you don't know me anymore, that's your problem."

"Your mother and I divorced, Buffy.  It happens all the time.  But I didn't divorce you.  I am still your father and I love you." He was struck by the coolness in her tone.  He could have dealt with tears or anger, but the distant, almost adult, tenor of her voice cut him to the quick.  When had she grown so old?

"Then where have you been for the past four years?  A weekend here, a summer there, that's not a relationship, Dad.  If you wanted one of those, you should have tried a little harder." 

His anger faded as swiftly as it had flared.  Looking at the woman who used to be his little girl, he realized how much she had changed out of his sight.  Had it really been so long since he had seen her, or had this all happened overnight?

"I did try, sweetie.  But you needed to reach out to me, too.  You're a young woman, now.  I didn't want to crowd you."

Buffy couldn't believe her ears.  He was trying to blame the failure of their relationship on her.  After all the cancelled visits and missed phone calls, he was trying to say she gave up on him.

"God, Dad, I was sixteen when we moved, not even, actually.  I was the kid; you were the adult.  You had the car and the long distance carrier; I had the curfew.  Reaching out was your job."

He looked deep into her hazel eyes, the eyes she inherited from him.  He could no longer see the little girl he used to let stand on his shoes when he taught her to walk, and to dance.  His charming and slightly flighty daughter had been replaced with a stranger with a life in which he had no place. 

Therefore, he realized it was up to him to create a place.

"Buffy, I didn't realize how fast time slipped away from me.  Suddenly I look at you and you're almost grown up.  But I think I acted as though you were an adult before you were ready for me to.  I believe my not wanting to butt into your life has led you here, and this is not a safe place to be."

She had a sudden flash of memory, unwillingly freed from the recesses of her mind.  She was four years old, and her father had just bought her a brand-new pair of figure skates while they were vacationing in Lake Tahoe.  Her mother thought she was too young to use them, she would fall, but her father insisted that with her unusually good coordination, she was ready.  So Hank laced up the boots, over Joyce's nervous twittering, and set her down on the ice. 

She remembered the cold air on her cheeks, and the feel of the world slipping away under her feet, but mostly she remembered her father's face as he smiled encouragingly at her.  He skated backward in front of her, holding her hands until she got her bearings, but as soon as she was steady, he drew away.  And then he came back to pick her up and set her on her feet again two minutes later, after she fell.

"Dad, we're never going to have what we had when I was little."  Her tone was a little gentler now, in tribute to the memory of the father he had once been.  "There is no safe place to be anymore and you can't protect me from the monsters when they come to get me.  Maybe Angel can't either, but I know he'd die trying.  If that isn't enough for you...then good-bye." 

She felt a part of herself wrench loose when she delivered her ultimatum.  The man standing before her represented all that she used to be and have.  A lot of it wasn't good, but there were pieces of her childhood she would always carry happily within her heart, and he had been a part of them.  To give him up meant leaving the old Buffy truly behind her.  A voice inside of her tried to say she wasn't ready, but she remembered the man waiting for her upstairs, and she knew she could face whatever the future held, if he was by her side. 

And the man in front of her was the one who taught her to pick herself up after every fall and start over.

"You can't mean that."

"I do," she replied somberly.  "He's the best part of my life and I won't lose him again, especially not because of parents who think they have the inside track on what's right for everybody else."  She took a step closer to Hank, needing to connect with him, to make him understand this much at least.  "He left me once, did Mom tell you that?  He thought I deserved better than him.  You see Angel's dad spent most of his life telling Angel he was a loser, and then Mom put the candy coating on top when she told him he wasn't good enough for me and never could be.  So he walked.  And I let him."  She sighed heavily.  "I let him because I thought that's what happened in relationships.  You love someone, you trust him, and then he disappears from your life without a word.  And you die inside, but you never ever tell him how bad it hurts because then you know for sure that he won't come back.  Guess who taught me that one, Dad?"

"I never meant to..."

She closed her eyes momentarily and shook her head to shut out his protest.  "I know, I know."  Facing him once again, she smiled briefly.  "After all this time I do actually know, but that doesn't change what happened between you and I, or Angel and I.  He and I were lucky, though.  A friend made us realize how incredibly stupid we were being, so we decided to try again.  I can cut you the same slack, just as long as you can deal with Angel being a part of the package.  Otherwise, we have nothing left to talk about."

"So that's it?  Him or me?"  Hank's voice was bleak. 

"You're the one making a federal case out of my love life.  I'm just setting the ground rules.  I'm willing to try, but if you want us to have anything in the future you're going to have to make nice with Angel."  She shrugged her shoulders, suddenly at peace with her decision.

He looked at her for a long moment, trying to sense any weakness in her resolve.  Instead he saw a stubborn streak as wide as her mother's.  Whether he thought her decisions right or wrong, she would always follow her heart's lead.

"Then I guess I need to start getting to know both of you."

"I might able to help on that score."

Buffy and Hank were both startled to hear Kate's voice from the top of the stairs.  The policewoman raised her hands, feeling as though she was entering a hostage situation like the ones from her patrolman days.  In this case, she wasn't quite sure whom she was rescuing.

"I know, I know, I was supposed to knock, but Angel said it was okay.  Actually he said it was okay after Cordelia told Doyle to drill a hole in the floor so everyone could stop wondering what was going on down here."  Kate stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked pleadingly at Buffy.  "I offered to come down because I think I can help.  And I promise not to use my gun this time."

* * * * *

EPILOGUE

The days slipped away, one by one. Bulletins from Santa Marisa were encouraging, but they all knew no one would sleep well until Doyle returned safely. Duty and demons still called though, even on vacation, and Cordelia required more attention than usual during her sparring partner's absence. There weren't enough hours in day or night to do all that needed to be done, yet somehow the lovers managed to steal a moment here and a moment there to talk, to love, to just be.  The week was not all they could have hoped for, but it was an educational first step in building the life they would share from this time forth.  Then, all too soon, it was almost at an end.

It was a gloomy, rainy Sunday morning in sunny Southern California.  Car alarms were blaring, the neighbors were screaming, and the swallows had obviously decided to bypass not only Capistrano but the entire state as well this spring.  Buffy peered out the bedroom window as she hung up the phone and began humming softly in delight. The tuneless little tune carried her across the living room and into the kitchen to join Angel and Cordelia at the table.

"You're sure in a good mood," Cordelia observed.  "What gives?"

"Santa at Christmas?" Buffy teased.  "What, I'm not allowed to be in a good mood?"  She reached for a piece of toast and a knife, narrowly missing Cordelia's eye as she smothered an enormous yawn with the hand that clutched the knife.

Angel grinned as Cordelia threw herself back in her chair to prevent further possible injuries.  "Umm, you're not really a morning person, Buffy," he said tactfully, gently taking the knife from her hand and turning it right side up before she dipped it in the butter.

"Ha!  That's the pot calling the kettle a late sleeper," Cordelia jeered.  "You're both sunrise-challenged, and you're on the verge of the big farewell scene again, so that should make you doubly drippy.  And yet you hum.  Color me suspicious."  She tapped her finger on her chin and tried to appear coolly amused.  "Was that Doyle on the phone?  Did he say something funny?" 

Buffy's grin faded as she took in Cordelia's thinly disguised anxiety.  "Sorry, Cordy, that wasn't Doyle.  But I'm sure he'll call soon, or maybe just drop by.  Everyone else does."

"Doyle's fine, Cordelia."  Angel laid his hand briefly on her shoulder as he poured her coffee.  "He called last night to say he was on his way, and the Scourge and the Initiative were too busy fighting each other to notice a bunch of Brakken."

"Did he sound okay?" Cordelia was not yet reassured.  "He was all wiggy just before he left, with all the talk about feelings and things he was meant to do alone.  Is he back to his usual annoying self yet?"

Angel grimaced; Doyle had still sounded slightly strange, but he had no wish to worry Cordelia until he knew more of what was going on with his friend.  "We really didn't talk for that long, but I'm sure he's fine.  Just give him a little while to catch up on his sleep and he'll be in the office harassing you the same as usual."

"And then you can annoy him right back," Buffy promised around a mouthful of toast.  "You're gifted that way."

"And then you two can pretend you're retreating down here because you don't want to listen to us when all you really want to do is..."

"I think we've taken this projection as far as we need to," Angel firmly interrupted.  "So we know it wasn't Doyle.  Who was on the phone?"  He poured himself a glass of juice and took a sip.

"It was Kate," Buffy breezily informed them, her good humor fully restored by the stunned look that passed between Angel and Cordelia.  She helped herself to a congratulatory swig of Angel's orange juice to celebrate shocking her normally unflappable boyfriend.

"Kate?" Angel croaked, after Cordelia put an end to his choking fit with a few well-placed blows to his back.  "Since when are you so buddy-buddy with Kate?"

"Make you nervous, lover?" Buffy purred, running a teasing hand up and down his arm.  "Afraid of a little girl-talk?"

"More like a great big cat fight," Cordelia answered for him as she resumed her seat.  "Are you setting her up for something, or did you suddenly declare amnesty on women who go after your boyfriend?  Because I know of a few takers on that deal, if it's on the table.  Not me, of course," she added quickly.

Buffy grinned as she abandoned her chair to sit on Angel's lap.  "We're not all 'braid my hair' or anything, so don't worry.  She just wanted to let me know everything is cool with my dad.  She's been doing her own version of making amends by talking to him.  She's told him what she can about the cases Angel has helped her on, and really tried to make him understand what a good person Angel is.  From her, he believes it.  Guardian of the people and all."

"Now aren't you glad I didn't let you kill her?"

"So your dad is okay with us?" Angel asked slowly, not paying any attention to Cordelia's strange question.  He looked deep into Buffy's eyes, searching for any sign of doubt or evasiveness. 

She sighed, but met his gaze squarely.  "He still thinks I'm too young to be so serious about a relationship, and he's kind of nervous about the type of people you associate with…"

"And just what's wrong with us?" Cordelia asked indignantly.

"Not you," Buffy answered impatiently.  "I mean the gangs and the psychos and the mobsters."

"Oh, the clients."

"Anyway, he's still a little wigged by what you do for a living, but at least he knows it's legal.  Well, it's not exactly, but Kate didn't mention the tiny little detail about the lack of license."  She began ticking off complaints on her fingers.  "He also doesn't like the weapon collection, and this not to say he likes me being a partner in the family business either," she smiled teasingly at her lover, "but that's still better than where we were a week ago."

"It's more than I expected, actually."  Angel breathed a sigh of relief.  One parent hating him was enough; two made it a little too "Romeo and Juliet" for his taste.  Two and a half centuries had not improved his liking for Shakespeare's view that destiny was inevitably tragic.

"Kate told him he would feel a lot better if he got to know you.  And now he'll get the chance when I move to LA this summer," she finished in a heroic attempt to sound casual.

Angel looked sharply at her.  They had discussed eventual relocation several times, but in general terms.  They had both carefully avoided the subject of who would be the one moving.

"Are you sure, Buffy?  Or is this a test run and we'll see what happens?  We have the apartment in Sunnydale now, so we can live there."  He resolutely kept his tone neutral so he wouldn't influence her.  Regardless of what was most convenient for him, the bottom line was that he wanted to be with her, wherever she felt at home.

Buffy wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder.  "I'm very sure, and it's not just a dry run.  I'm going to call the registrar's office at UCLA first thing Monday morning and see what paperwork I need to transfer for fall semester.  Then I'm going to get my transcripts from Sunnydale and start the ball officially rolling forward."  She raised her head and smiled as she kissed away the worry line from between his brows.  "I want my life to be here, with you.  The hellmouth always gives at least two hours warning before it opens, and the daily demon grind hasn't been all that grindy lately.  I think Sunnydale can survive without me."

"I can't," he confessed with a rueful smile, "but I don't want you rearranging your life because you think I won't rearrange mine.  I can live anywhere, Buffy, as long as we're together."

"Good, because we're living here."  She looked around the apartment, taking in the gloomy dark wood, the multiple entrances to be guarded, and the lack of closet space.  "Well, not necessarily here as in right here."

"Hey, I think you've got a better shot at getting Hank to like you than Joyce, especially since he doesn't know about the liquid diet yet," Cordelia pointed out reasonably.  "And it's not like the hellmouth is anyone's idea of a fun place to live.  No one who isn't evil or crazy, that is.  I say you take the girl up on this before she changes her mind."

"Mom, of course, will have a coronary, but maybe there's some hope for my dad and I now."  Buffy looked away momentarily, then she turned to face Angel again.  "I think I really scared him when I told him if he made me choose he would lose.  He's not promising to turn into Mike Brady overnight, but I think we're past 'Runaway Dad: An After School Special' now."

"I'm glad," Angel said softly.  He dropped a gentle kiss on her forehead before he rested his own against it.  "Of course I'd feel even better if the parent who actually knew how to kill me was the one who tolerated me."

"One thing at a time, love.  We've been through the wringer the past few days. Give me a chance to catch my breath and then I'll take on my mother."  By force if necessary, she added silently.

"We," he corrected her, pulling back slightly to gaze steadily into her eyes.  "We are in this together, so we will take her on."

"But not quite yet," Buffy begged.  "Right now I'm kind of looking forward to something simple like demon uprisings, or maybe an apocalypse.  I've had all the normal relationship issues I can handle for one vacation."

"No, not yet," he agreed, "but soon.  It's time to face the last of the monsters so we can get on with our life." 

This time it would be his own inner demons he would have to conquer, the ones constructed piece by piece from every careless criticism dropped from his father's mouth.  The ones Joyce cemented into place on the day she came to see him at the mansion.  They would be no easier to face than Buffy's fears, but he would not, could not, let them prevail.

"Sweetie," she responded in a very soft voice, "that is my mother you're talking about."  She watched him squirm for a moment, knowing he'd be bright red if he could only blush.  Finally, she took pity on him.  She patted his hand gently as she kissed him.  "Only I get to call Momzilla a monster."

"Can I at least watch?" he begged, only half in jest.

"If you're a good boy," she promised with a teasing smile.  She leaned in very close and ran her finger lightly over his lips as he chuckled.  "And I know you're very good," she murmured.

Angel's arms tightened around her as he tilted his head to steal a kiss.  He looked deep into Buffy's eyes as their lips met and...

"Stop!" Cordelia commanded, raising her hand to shield her eyes.

Buffy and Angel turned their heads as one to stare in confusion at their distraught friend.

"This is a kitchen," she explained, gesturing around the room.  "And this is a table."  She dropped her hand to pat the object in question.  "People eat at it.  Now if we're getting a new roommate we're going to have to establish some ground rules, and rule number one is no smoochies at the table."

"Cordelia, I think…" Angel began.

"No, you listen," she firmly overrode him.  "I eat off this table, and the last thing I want is to be wondering what you two were doing on it before I got here, so we'll just say a big no to the PDAs in the kitchen in general.  Major eww."  She majestically rose to her feet and departed, head held high.

Buffy stared after her with a thoughtful expression on her face.  "Now what is it about Cordy's rules that makes me want to break them?"  She glanced mischievously at her mate, who smiled wickedly in return.

"I love it when you're rebellious," Angel all but purred as he lifted her onto the table. He leaned over her, pushing dishes out of the way as he started to gently recline her on the hard wooden surface.  Buffy propped herself up with one hand on the table and laid the other firmly on his chest to restrain him.  He looked at her quizzically.

"Lock the door first, silly," she murmured.

* * * * *

You and I, we were meant to be.

Love and madness may run us out to sea

So we'll leave them here

beating East on a tangent

veering from the wave to the fury.

-THE END-