The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Despite her fatigue, Buffy had a smile on her face and a bounce in her step as she made her way through the winding corridors of Wolfram & Hart to the private elevator that would take her to the penthouse suite that had been her home these last three years.
Hearing her name just as the elevator doors began to slide together, Buffy stuck out her arm to halt their progress.
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” Willow said breathlessly as she hurried forward and slipped through the doors and into the elevator. “How did it go?”
“Well…” Buffy began quietly, her expression somber. Instead of finishing her sentence, she simply held up the small black and white picture clutched in her hand.
Willow studied the blurred image for moment then returned her gaze to Buffy’s face, her expression questioning.
Unable to continue the serious pretext, the blonde Slayer grinned and nodded exuberantly. “Yes!”
“Yes, really,” Buffy answered happily, stepping out of the elevator into the apartment foyer. Unwrapping the scarf from around her neck, she dropped it on the back of the chair as she passed through the living room.
“What did Angel say?” Willow asked, taking a seat at the kitchen counter and watching as Buffy opened the refrigerator. Glimpsing the packets of blood hanging in rows next to the food items Willow grimaced, and wondered silently how Buffy could so casually ignore the less than appetizing sight day after day.
“He doesn’t know yet,” Buffy replied, holding up the half-gallon of milk she had taken out. “I’m going to tell him tonight.”
Willow shook her head no at the offered drink, so Buffy poured only a glass for herself and took a big gulp. “I’m only about five weeks along, and already I have this craving for all things dairy. Milk, cheese, ice cream… It’s so weird.”
“You’re that far along, and Angel doesn’t know?” Willow remarked with surprise.
“Um, yes and no…” Buffy admitted sheepishly. “But the five weeks would explain why the sonogram looks mostly like a blurred picture of a cashew.”
Willow laughed, glancing once more at the picture Buffy had propped up on the end of the counter.
“And no, Angel doesn’t know, though I’m sure he’s beginning to wonder.”
Setting the glass on the counter, Buffy sighed heavily. The emotional rollercoaster of the last several months had been hard on both of them. Even with top-notch medical care and access to specialists, in vitro fertilization wasn’t easy. The daily shots, the invasive medical procedures, the back and forth swings between hope and disappointment…
“It’s just… things have been so strained lately. It seems like we never have any time together anymore, much less any time alone. And after the previous attempts, I just couldn’t tell him yet… I didn’t want to get his hopes up again until I was really sure.”
“What did the doctor say?”
“The same thing that she said last time – I’m young and healthy and so far, from all she can tell, the baby is healthy. But, given my history, there’s always a chance I might miscarry again,” Buffy said sadly, the disappointment and loss of the previous months still fresh and poignant. She stared at the sonogram picture, wondering if she could dare hope this time would be different from the previous.
“You’d think with all of the medical expertise available here at Wolfram & Hart they could be more certain, or that they could do something more,” Willow commented with an empathetic shake of her head. “But,” reaching in her bag, Willow pulled out three small, elegantly wrapped bundles of herbs and held them aloft, “where science falters, perhaps a little magic can help.”
Pulled out of her reverie, Buffy returned her attention to her friend. She looked at the offered sachets skeptically.
“I’m not practicing magic,” the former Wiccan quickly explained. “It’s just some morning glory blossoms mixed with raspberry leaves, pine, and a touch of chamomile. Think of it as a little bit of happiness, a touch of protection, and some sacred wisdom mixed with a little speck of comfort. I mixed them up for you, hoping maybe it’d help, you know, somehow. Just tuck them in your bag or a drawer or something.”
“That’s so sweet,” Buffy said, smiling as she took two of the bundles, leaving Willow toying with the third. She sniffed one, inhaling the delicate scent before setting it carefully in front of the sonogram print. “Thank you. And if it will help, I’ll carry them around twenty-four-seven. I’ll do anything to give this baby a chance…” Fear and hurt were evident in her expression, even though she tried to hide it as she slipped the other sachet in her pocket.
Changing the subject, Willow asked, “So you and Angel are going out tonight?”
“Sorta,” Buffy answered, glancing at the clock. “Actually, we’re going away for the entire weekend. Angel rented a place in Catalina for a few days. Oh, and I need hurry and pack before he gets home.”
“Sounds nice,” Willow said as she followed Buffy into the bedroom. She sat down on the foot of the bed as Buffy took a bag out of the closet.
“I hope so. We really need some time alone, and away from here. Sometimes I feel like there’s something here conspiring to keep us apart.” Buffy’s voice was muffled as she leaned further into the closet in search of a particular pair of shoes. Tossing the black heels behind her with a small sound of triumph, she dove in the back of the closet to find the dress that went perfectly with the shoes. She was halfway wedged between the hanging clothes when the phone rang a minute later. Cursing softly, Buffy called over her shoulder, “Will you get that?”
“Sure.” Willow crossed the room and retrieved the portable phone. “Hello?”
“Is it Angel?” Buffy asked, tossing a pair of Juicy Couture sweats on top of the small pile accumulating behind her.
“No,” Willow answered, holding her hand over the mouthpiece. “It’s Harmony. Angel’s at the Long Beach Harbor waiting for you.”
“What?” Buffy exclaimed, jerking back and turning to look at her friend. Her hair was now in a wild disarray from her foray into the closet.
“That’s all she said. Well, that and the limo is downstairs waiting for you.” Willow shrugged, returning the phone to the stand after Harmony hung up.
Buffy crammed her things into her bag haphazardly then rushed into the bathroom. The sound of slamming doors was heard as she hastily gathered up her makeup and toiletries.
“I thought Angel was meeting me here,” Buffy explained from the nearby room as she rapidly ran a brush through her hair.
“Maybe he went early, anxious to get the weekend started?” Willow suggested helpfully. She adjusted the things Buffy had stuffed into the suitcase, straightening them. In one corner, she tucked the remaining bundle of magic herbs she had been holding.
“Well, I was hoping to shower and change,” the petite blonde continued as she rushed back to the bedroom. She dropped her things in the suitcase and zipped it up. “I wanted to be wearing something a little more date worthy than this.” She glanced down at the dark brown skirt, cream-colored sweater, and heeled boots.
“You look great, Buffy,” Willow said with a smile as the pair made their way through the apartment. “Besides, Angel doesn’t care what you’re wearing.”
“I hope you’re right, Will,” Buffy replied less than confidently, eyeing her outfit critically once more. She ran a hand over her skirt, smoothing it as the elevator doors closed behind them.
“I am.” Willow affirmed with a nod. “Trust me.”
When the elevator reached the basement garage, the two women stepped out and glanced around. Within seconds, a long black limousine pulled forward from where it had been parked alongside the row of cars. The driver got out and without a word, opened the back door then took Buffy’s bag and put it in the trunk.
The stoic silence of the unrecognized driver gave her a momentary pause, but Buffy was too anxious to see Angel, get their weekend away started, and, most of all, to share her good news. Giving Willow a quick hug, she climbed into the car. Rolling down the window, she waved. “See you sometime on Monday night!”
“Bye! Have fun!” Willow waved as the window rolled back up and Buffy vanished behind the darkened glass.
Just after the car exited the garage and the automated door rolled down behind it, Marcus Hamilton came out of the shadows to stand next to the current, though largely unknown to others at the firm, head of the magic department at Wolfram & Hart.
“It’s done then,” he said coolly.
Willow’s eyes grew dark and her expression hardened. Her lips curved upward in an unpleasant smile. “Yes, it’s done.”