Disclaimer: Joss owns them.
Rating: Oh, PG? Nothing graphic.
Summary: Just because something is unexpected, doesn’t mean it is unwelcome.
Setting: All over the place, really, from the first time they met to just before Joyce’s death.
A/N: Dedicated to my darling Gabrielle – written for her I Feel Selfish ficathon. I am glad that I could step out of my sandbox so far, and I hope this modest effort pleases.
Word Count: 1076
When Joyce opened the door and saw him for the first time, a tutor for her daughter, she had many thoughts in a brief span of time. Too old, much too old, fought for first place and won, but somewhere in the back of her mind she was also thinking much too handsome, and a smile crept over her features as they stumbled through awkward small talk. And then Buffy had blown through and taken him away – and wasn’t that an odd way to think of the young man. As being taken from her, as if she had any claim to him.
She laughed and closed the door, determined to put the incident out of her mind.
But weeks later, there he was again, and they were somehow more comfortable with each other over a cup of coffee – dialogue forming easily and a light banter about everything and nothing at once and more intellectual than she’d felt since college. It was a nice feeling – strange to be having with her daughter’s boyfriend, but there was a clear line there and Joyce wasn’t planning on crossing it.
It was a long time later, after Buffy had disappeared for nearly three months and driven her mad with grief and anger and all sorts of tangled emotions. Damn that book, for making them so much worse than they might have been, otherwise. He’d come to the gallery, late, just before closing, and Joyce had started violently when she saw him through the glass.
“Don’t worry, I’m –“
“Safe?” Joyce inquired, her hand already twisting the deadbolt.
His mouth quirked as he crossed the threshold – she stepped back, but not quick enough to protect her personal space, and Angel took the silent offer, his nostrils flaring slightly as he took in her scent.
Joyce’s heart hammered as she turned deliberately and said, “I have coffee still warm in the back.”
It was an absurd comment, as ludicrous as her questioning of his safe status moments earlier, but it served the purpose of getting them out of the foyer and into the more private office. Which, if she’d been listening to her mind, Joyce might have realized wasn’t the best option for the two of them right now.
She’d been having a lot of conversations in the past few months – with Willow, Giles, and her own daughter, and after feeling more than a little skewed (though thankfully not skewered), Joyce had come to the decision that she could either lose the company and conversation she’d grown to enjoy with an intellectual man, or she could take a deep breath and handle the situation like an adult.
The blonde sat down and smoothed out the creases in her pants before remembering that the coffee was across the room – but Angel was already setting a cup in front of her and sitting down. And his hands only shook a little bit.
“It must have taken a great deal of effort for you to come here,” she said, tearing open sugar packets.
Angel frowned harder over the cup, if that was even possible, and Joyce’s hand was reaching out before either of them could blink or stop it. Her fingers smoothed out the crease between his eyes and brown eyes met blue in a clash of steadiness and paranoia, until the moment was broken by a loud crunching noise.
Joyce looked down and removed her hand, automatically moving into spill mode, reaching for paper towels as Angel stood and looked alarmed at the coffee and ceramic bits now dotting his shirttails. Joyce blotted efficiently, then scraped the towels over the table to collect the broken shards and dropped the entire mess in the trash before Angel could run or say anything.
His mind seemed to be a little slow in catching up, because the first thing he said was, “I’m sorry,” and the second “You probably shouldn’t touch me.” Then he sat back down, his hands safely under the table and out of harm’s way – at least, doing harm to other objects.
Joyce didn’t make it home that night – not for several more hours. Angel walked her back to Revello Drive as the SUV was in the shop for repairs, and when she looked out the window after closing the front door, their eyes met again. She saw that old familiar twist of his lips that passed for a smile; then touched her own lips and wondered if they would atrophy if she smiled as little as Angel did.
Angel was the first to know that something was wrong with her. He convinced her to go to the doctor while they walked through the closed Botanical Gardens. They’d been discussing Darla and his past when a bright flash of pain had sliced through her skull, and he’d set her on a bench and gently pried the truth of the matter out of her.
And so she’d gone. And then she’d driven back to L.A. on a buying trip and waited for him to come, and then she cried. Joyce let the small cracks widen until she could no longer see through her own eyes for the tears, and Angel held her, wrapped around her like a limpet, murmuring Gaelic and English and finally just humming a tuneless melody to soothe her.
They talked for hours that weekend – about plans, about Buffy, and Dawn, and what would happen, and how nothing would happen, she would be fine, the surgery would remove the shadow, and life would go on as previously scripted.
Angel had kissed her then, his hand sliding through her blonde curls, a thumb wiping wetness from her cheek as their lips met and held for a long time. Surrounded by the intimacy of the butterfly cage, Joyce found solace in his arms.
Much as Buffy did, afterwards. That was how Angel thought it – before Joyce, and after Joyce. It was cold when they buried her, and the shadows covered not only his body, but his grief over losing – what? A friend, certainly; a companion, definitely; a lover, oh yes, he thought, his heart constricting. More of a lover than the girl in his arms had ever been to him.
Joyce had always made him feel welcome, no matter the circumstances or the unexpected nature of their friendship. And that was what he grieved for, such an unselfish, giving woman that the world would mourn and forget.
But he would not.