It is about how people grow and change and how small silences in a relationship can grow deafeningly loud.
— from a review of This Life is In Your Hands.
Almost one year later….
The sound of the rain woke her and Elise rolled slightly and reached out, searching for the figure that had been there earlier. Finding the bed empty, she opened her eyes. Stretching lazily and squinting at the clock in the still dark room, she saw that it was just before five am.
She rose quietly and found the dress she had been wearing earlier where it had been shed near the foot of the bed. Slipping it over her head, she padded on bare feet through the dark apartment to the living room. She paused in the doorway, gazing at the tall form silhouetted against the lavender sky.
“Angel?” She softly queried.
Deep in thought, he didn’t even hear the voice behind him.
“Angel,” she repeated, walking up to stand next to him. Reaching out, she touched him lightly on the arm. “Is something wrong?”
Yes, he thought morosely, everything. Everything is wrong. Never in all of his imaginings of the future had it been like this – cold and empty, nearly bereft of hope and happiness. Unable to bring himself to give voice to his bleak thoughts, however, he simply stood still and stared out at the drizzling rain.
Elise noticed the open box on the table nearby, the contents spread out on the surface: a silver ring, a woman’s scarf, some sketch books, and several photos, the top of which was a black and white picture of a sonogram. Next to those sat a half-empty bottle of whiskey, the carelessly discarded cap having rolled to the floor.
“Talk to me, please,” she whispered apprehensively. He had been preoccupied for the last few days, but when she questioned him about it he casually dismissed her concern as unnecessary. Now, however, she was almost frightened.
Angel sighed softly. In the last few weeks he had finally managed to relegate his memories to temporary exile, but right now, tonight… the eve of the one-year anniversary of her disappearance… he couldn’t.
“I’d like to be alone,” he finally replied, his voice gruff. He hadn’t even glanced in her direction, his gaze still trained on something in the distance.
Elise looked at the items strewn on the table once again. “I understand,” she murmured, hugging her arms to her chest.
When she left the apartment a short while later, Angel was still standing in the same spot staring out the window at the gradually lightening sky.
It was just after nine when Angel appeared at her door five days later. He stood on her threshold looking distant and remote, his eyes shadowed with weariness.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. His hands were tucked in his pockets, his shoulders slightly hunched against the wind and rain.
Elise studied him for a moment, her caramel brown eyes darker in the dim glow of her porch light. “Are you all right?”
A small silence fell between them, only the sounds of the nearby street traffic conspicuous in the stillness.
“I don’t know,” he said finally, obviously discomposed.
“Why don’t you come in?” she asked, stepping back and opening the door a bit wider. “I’ll open the bottle of Martel that Wes gave me, and we can talk.”
A few minutes later they sat next to each other on Elise’s over-sized sofa, Angel moodily contemplating the bottom of the brandy glass he held in his hand. A fire burned low in the fireplace, staving off the chilly night and casting the room in a warm, golden glow.
“I knew when we met that you had been involved with someone,” Elise ventured softly, tucking her feet beneath her and turning sideways on the couch to face him. “And that you were mourning her.”
Angel’s dark eyes came up and he looked at the beautiful brunette he had met almost six months ago. She had been researching werewolves for a novel she was writing, and he had been seeking the creature that had reportedly attacked several people in the area when their paths crossed. She helped him find the werewolf, who in fact, turned out to be the perpetrator of the attacks, and he, in turn, provided her with access to Wolfram & Hart’s extensive library. A safer form of research, he had explained with an exasperated shake of his head.
Over the next several months, Elise spent a considerable amount of time cloistered in the high-ceiling room reading volume after volume of demon lore. She and Wes became friends, often spending hours debating various theories and prophecies. The eventually revealed fact that her beloved stepfather had been a formidable member of the Watcher’s Council furthered their friendship as they bonded over the challenges of a childhood in which the supernatural was taken as fact, and clandestine meetings, strange visitors and travels in the middle of the night were common occurrence.
In small degrees, Angel found himself drawn to Elise as well. Her wit and infectious energy were so like Buffy’s that, in his grief, she pulled him in like a lodestone. He began to seek out her company, joining in the conversations with Wesley or simply finding excuses to spend time in the library when she was there. Over a month ago, with no small amount of prompting from both Wes and Fred, he had finally asked her out for dinner.
“Is it that obvious?” he asked quietly.
“Well, yes,” she replied with a slight smile. “But then I recognize the signs better than some, I think.”
“I’ve dealt with a lot of things in my life, but this… losing her… it’s harder than I ever imagined.” His voice was a hoarse whisper.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Elise asked softly, her brown eyes compassionate.
“She just… vanished,” he murmured, sliding down on the sofa and resting his head against the expensive suede-like fabric with an anguished sigh.
“You don’t know what happened to her?” she inquired softly, her brows lifted slightly in surprise. Given the guilt he wore so obviously, she had been expecting him to say she had died, possibly because of his lifestyle or involvement with Wolfram & Hart.
“No,” he murmured, taking a sip of his cognac. “I looked for her for months, followed every lead or clue no matter how small or remote or improbable. Still do actually.” He chuckled bitterly and ran a hand over his eyes, thinking of the many times that the sighting of someone even vaguely similar to Buffy sent him off on what inevitably proved to be another wild goose chase.
It was an understatement to say he simply looked for her. Every person at Wolfram & Hart had been deployed in the search, as well as everyone Angel knew or could call in favors on. Finding her Claddagh ring and several strands of blonde hair in one of the Wolfram & Hart limos two days after she had disappeared had nearly been his undoing. From that point on, the search only intensified with near manic urgency. In the following weeks and months, he used every resource available, from science to magic to good old-fashioned footwork, frantically searching, day in and day out, until he was worn out, exhausted and ultimately, defeated.
“Do you think she’s still alive?” Elise asked, unable to keep the inquisitive, journalist trained, novelist side of herself at bay. She wondered for a moment what would be worse – not knowing what happened to a loved one, or knowing, even when it’s something tragic. Immediately she concluded it would be worse not to know. There would be no closure, only an open wound that refused to heal.
He stared at the amber liquid in his glass. He couldn’t feel her anymore, and that was perhaps the hardest thing for him to accept. That subtle sense of her presence he always carried with him, no matter how far apart they were, had abruptly disappeared about a week after Buffy did. That terrified him. He had only felt this way once before, and that was when she had, in fact, died.
“I don’t know,” he said finally. Even after all this time, he still couldn’t bring himself to say it, much less completely accept it. He just couldn’t.
Tilting her head slightly, she gazed at him for a speculative moment from under the dark fringe of her lashes. One didn’t need to be clairvoyant to understand. “I’m sorry. I know how painful it is to lose someone you love so much.”
He shook his head, and turning his dark eyes held hers. “You lost someone too, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” she said, easily able to vividly recall the overwhelming sorrow she felt when Colin had been murdered. He had been so full life one minute, the next laid low by a senseless act of violence: stopping for smokes at small liquor store, he unknowingly walked into a robbery. A simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time had taken away the man she had loved and had planned her future with. She had thought at the time that she would never get over it.
Her grief obvious, Angel reached for her hand and squeezed it gently. “I’m sorry.”
She leaned into him, and he put his arm around her, both seeking comfort from the aching emptiness of their memories.
In a soft, quiet voice she told him about the man she had loved and of their dreams for the future. For months after his death she wanted to die herself, but instead had thrown herself into her work. She became fearless, venturing further and further into the dark of Los Angeles in search of new subjects and new stories. Vampires, demons, ghosts and other creatures of the night weren’t at all unusual for someone whose stepfather had been a member of the Watcher’s Council and they made great subjects for spine chilling tales. Her novels sold well, the last few making the best seller’s list. Few people had any idea that they were actually based on true events and real stories.
“Colin was everything to me. I was devastated when he died,” she concluded, her voice low and filled with emotion. “But as hard as it is at times, I still feel incredibly blessed to have had such love in my life even once. Though,” she smiled sadly, staring down at the amber liquid in her glass. “I can’t imagine it ever happening again. I may fall in love with someone else, some day, but I can’t imagine it will ever be the same as what I shared with Colin… what we had… it was… all consuming, wild, passionate and at the same time, warm, and comfortable, like coming home. It’s been four years now… but some days I still miss him so much it hurts.”
Angel didn’t answer for a lengthy interval. The months since her disappearance hadn’t dimmed even the most vivid dreams of Buffy or suppressed the gloomiest melancholy, but he wouldn’t give up even one minute of what they had shared for the same reasons. He had never loved anyone the way he had loved her, and he doubted he was capable of feeling that same way again.
“I didn’t expect it to turn out like this. But then things usually do go badly when I get complacent,” he said quietly, a hint of derision in his voice. Running a weary hand over his hair, he sighed. “We were trying to have a baby. I can’t have one naturally of course, but with the resources of Wolfram & Hart, and access to the very best doctors with their advanced medical expertise… it seemed like it would be possible.”
Elise turned her head and looked up at him. She couldn’t quite hide the surprise in her eyes.
“She had a miscarriage, that could not be explained by the doctors. She had been healthy, the baby healthy as well, or so we had thought. She had just been to see the doctor the day she disappeared.” Pausing, he swallowed hard trying to force away the lump forming in his throat. The picture of the sonogram had been propped up on the counter; it had been one of the first things he had seen when he had walked into the penthouse apartment that night. He could still remember picking it up carefully, his hand almost trembling as he studied it. He still had it in his hand when the first feelings crept over him that something wasn’t right. Later he hadn’t realized he had put it in his pocket, but it was still there when, weeks later, the first thoughts that Buffy was more than gone crept into his mind. He closed his eyes against the steadily increasing pain in his chest. “She was pregnant. She never even had a chance to tell me before she disappeared.”
“Oh, Angel,” Elise exclaimed softly. She set her glass aside and moved into his arms, hugging him tightly. “I’m so sorry.”
Having spent over two centuries keeping emotions at bay, Angel couldn’t expose the extent of his distress, neither could he completely hide the emptiness he felt. Unable to find any words, he simply wrapped his arms around Elise and held her in comfortable silence. He appreciated her compassion, her warmth and her companionship, as well as the simple, uncomplicated ease between them. She didn’t make judgments or demands, nor did she seem to expect more from him than he was willing to give.
And she, like so few others, seemed to understand his feelings of loss.