At the temple there is a poem called “Loss” carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it.
― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
“Why would she send herself backups of her work?” Spike asked, picking up one of the many USB thumb drives that had been in the package Wesley had retrieved from Elise’s mailbox and twirling around his fingers.
“For backup copies in case something happened to her laptop, I would imagine,” Wes replied, his attention focused on the laptop computer screen balanced on his knees. Despite his initial reluctance to open Elise’s mail and violate her privacy, he was scanning the contents of each of the drives looking for something, anything, they might have missed or that could be a clue to her whereabouts.
“Her mother hasn’t heard from her. Neither has her aunt,” Angel said grimly, setting the phone handset back on the cradle. “And her agent hasn’t heard from her since the day before her flight left London.”
“Then the last person to see her or talk to her was the cab driver when he dropped her off,” Wes murmured with a frown, continuing to scroll through the list of files displayed on the screen. “He remembered her – good looking, generous tipper, he said. He saw her enter the house before he drove off. Nothing stood out of the ordinary for him.”
“So whoever broke into her house took her, the laptop, a handful of files, and that’s it?” Spike stated more than questioned. He stood up from the corner of Angel’s desk where he had been perched and stretched.
“That seems to be the case, though Angel might be… er… more familiar with her things to confirm for certain if anything more is missing,” Wesley suggested with a fleeting glance at the tall vampire.
“Could the thief be our Benedict Arnold, you think?” The blonde vampire inquired. “Afraid the lady author found something that would give them up?”
“Maybe,” Angel murmured pensively.
Sighing, Wesley sat back in the chair. “I don’t see anything here.” He took the last of the small drives from Spike and inserted it into the computer port.
“Or suppose there’s someone that just disliked her?” Spike proposed with a sidelong glance at the elder vampire. “She was always snooping around… Could’ve poked her nose into someone else’s business, they didn’t like it, and decided to do something about it.”
“But who or what? Unless she kept those incriminating files somewhere else, what’s here is her research on vampires, slayers, Buffy,” Wes interjected, clicking on one of the folders as the contents of the device were displayed on the screen. “There’s a book outline and several draft chapters. One or two odd files with some notes or ideas for other books perhaps, but nothing with any substance. Certainly not anything substantial enough to justify theft.” Or death, he thought morbidly, though none of them had yet concluded that to be Elise’s fate. Or if they had, no one had said as much.
Angel shrugged. “She did investigate some pretty unsavory characters, but I don’t like the timing. Her disappearance and the break-in are too coincidental to finding Buffy. And the stolen items are too selective for it to be a random burglary.”
“I can agree, especially knowing how things seem to go around here,” Spike commented dryly, pacing in front of the desk. “Not much of anything can be declared a coincidence unfortunately. Or hey, maybe she’s the one behind all of it… took off on her own and left us a fake trail to hide that she’s the one pulling the strings?”
The taller vampire quirked a brow in question as he glanced toward Spike; he doubted Elise was the mastermind behind any of this, but then stranger things had happened. They shouldn’t rule anything out without careful consideration.
“Elise wasn’t around when Buffy disappeared,” Wesley mused, his attention only partially on the conversation. “And I can’t imagine she would do something like… well, any of this.”
“Eh, I suppose,” Spike sighed. He didn’t disagree, but it didn’t stop him from searching for answers.
“Hmmm… wait, hold on a second… what is this…” Wes murmured half to himself, sitting forward to stare intently at the screen.
Angel’s head came up. “Did you find something?”
Spike moved to stand behind Wesley, peering over his shoulder at the text on screen.
“It’s probably nothing, but I had forgotten…” Wes trailed off as he glanced up. “What happened to Buffy’s journal?”
“Elise had it. I gave it to her,” Spike said almost diffidently. “Wasn’t it with the other books at the house?”
“Not that I saw,” Wesley replied thoughtfully, trying to recall if he could have missed it. But no, he saw nothing that looked like a journal or diary, and certainly not one like anything he had seen Buffy write in, or they had in their vast library of slayer’s journals. Though he’d have to admit, he didn’t do a detailed search, and Elise did have a lot of books.
“What did you find?” Angel prompted impatiently.
“Well, like I said it’s probably nothing… but Elise has several notes highlighted here about things Willow told her that contradicted what Buffy had written in her journal. It looks like she intended to investigate further to confirm. If we had Buffy’s journal, maybe we could verify it ourselves.”
“Or we could just ask Buffy,” Spike suggested with a lift of his brows.
“What things…?” Angel looked briefly at Spike before returning his gaze to Wes.
“About Buffy’s happiness here, her desire for a child…”
“Ah yes, that’s right… I remember Elise mentioned something about Buffy’s journal having something in it that didn’t seem to match up with what Willow told her,” Spike said reflectively, recalling the brief comments the author had made while they were in London.
“From what she has noted here, Willow told Elise she suspected Buffy had left on her own, that she regretted staying in LA,” Wesley continued as he scanned the abbreviated and somewhat cryptic notes in the file. “Yet according to Elise’s notes, there was nothing in the journal to indicate that Buffy had even considered such a thing. One of the comments here says Buffy had written that staying in LA rather than going to England with Giles and the others had been a ‘rare right decision’. The last appears to be a direct quote from Buffy’s journal. There’s also a mention that Buffy believed Willow to still be practicing magic.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound much like regret, but it does sound like Red has something to hide that Buffy found out about,” Spike surmised.
Angel lightly drummed his fingers on the desk, replaying in his mind the comments Giles had made about Willow’s increasing practice in dark magic. His own instincts told him she had been less than truthful when he had asked her about Dobryshkin but those things alone could not explain the seemingly small discrepancies in the truth Elise had documented.
“Wasn’t Willow with Buffy right before she left in the limo that night?” the Wes asked, his brows drawing together quizzically.
“She was,” Angel answered thoughtfully. Buffy had confirmed as much, telling him Willow had taken the call from Harmony about the arrival of the limo and had relayed the decision for them to meet at the Long Beach Harbor. Harmony denied making any such call – an unknown detail that had never been discussed before until Buffy’s return and consequently her ability to relate her version of the events of that day.
“I don’t know if this means anything, but Elise’s notes from her conversation with Willow suggest otherwise. This is quoted, so I’m assuming it’s what Willow’s exact words: ‘I know Buffy had a doctor’s appointment that day for a check up, but I hadn’t seen her for a couple of days so I didn’t know.’ The comment is referring to Elise asking Willow about Buffy’s pregnancy.
“Red knew about the baby,” Spike commented, perplexed. “That lie aside, why would She say she thought Buffy might’ve left on her own?” Frowning, he turned to catch Angel’s gaze. “Did she ever say anything like that to you?”
“No. Never,” Angel replied unequivocally. He had considered the possibility that Buffy left on her own; had hoped for it in moments of desperation in fact, but no one had ever suggested it.
Spike’s brow quirked up in response, “Not even once? Maybe just a passing comment, or a last hope desperate suggestion?”
“No,” Angel confirmed, shaking his head. He would have remembered something like that, he had no doubt.
“Why tell that to the lady author then?” Spike continued, crossing his arms over his chest and frowning in contemplation.
“Do you think it matters?” Wesley asked, glancing over his shoulder at Spike then at Angel.
“Yes, I think it matters… but how or why…” Angel said, turning slightly in his chair and staring intently at a slight smudge on the nearby wall. He was certain the subtle lies mattered, but the question was how much did it matter? If Willow genuinely believed that Buffy had run away, why hadn’t she mentioned it before? And if she didn’t believe it then why would she say so to Elise? In and of itself, it wasn’t particularly damaging, or indicative of anything suspicious, but it seemed an odd thing to lie about. What could explain it? What was her motive for lying? And why lie about having seen Buffy that day? Or that she knew Buffy was pregnant. That he knew she knew, because she caught him studying the sonogram photo he had found and had expressed her condolences that he had lost more than just Buffy.
“Hmm… not that it means anything, but Willow seemed quite angry, even defensive, when I approached them at the mall. She was quite insistent that Buffy go with her and rather repetitive in bringing up your involvement with Elise,” Wes reflected.
“I’ll add that our resident redhead didn’t even blink an eye, or seem overly concerned when I dropped the little bit of information that Buffy had been in a prison. Clearly wasn’t much of a surprise. And she didn’t even ask one question,” Spike commented. “If I were to bet, I’d say she knew where our slayer had been long before I said anything of the sort.”
“With magic as powerful as we suspect Willow is capable of, it’s certainly possible that she knew, or perhaps uncovered something,” Wes ventured carefully, his expression one of deep concern. “But then, why wouldn’t she have said something?”
The three men exchanged glances.
“She may not have wanted to,” Angel suggested, a pitiless gleam in his eye.
“As much as it pains me to say it, Red’s involved somehow. She may have found something out after the fact, and best case, was coerced or blackmailed to keep her mouth shut,” Spike declared. He left the worst case, that Willow was somehow involved of her own free will, unsaid. “She probably knows who had Buffy kidnapped, and my guess is it’s the same perps who robbed the lady author’s place.”
“She definitely knows more than she’s saying,” Angel agreed, though his thoughts were running in a slightly more sinister direction regarding the culpability of Buffy’s friend. If Giles was correct about the things Willow had been up to, she had long crossed boundaries of loyalty and trust. But before he could do say or do anything, he needed proof. “Before we do anything, we need to know how much more and why.”
They were all silent for a moment, Wes and Spike contemplating the implications of Angel’s statement.
“Is there something more in the diary you think? Something that would answer the questions?” the younger vampire inquired finally.
“Or could there be something someone would fear us getting a hold of?” Wes added.
“I don’t know,” Angel returned with a slight shrug. “Maybe it’s the journal, maybe not. It may just be that whoever broke in to her house thought Elise found out something more than they want known.”
“True,” Wesley agreed. “Though there isn’t really anything here we didn’t already know.”
“But whoever is behind the break-in doesn’t know that,” Angel countered. “They may not even know what she knew or didn’t. Or what we know.”
“Good point, that,” Spike concurred. “Anyway, if the diary was in the house they probably took it.”
“It wasn’t in the house. Elise said she put it in a safe deposit box,” Angel answered to their questioning glances.
“Ah, yes, that’s correct,” Wesley noted, now also recalling the conversation in London in which Elise admitted her reservations about trusting Willow, along with having the journal – the journal Spike admitted giving to her.
“If she locked it up, then it must have something of interest in it, don’t you think?” Spike asked, his curiosity doubly-piqued now by the contents of the diary. “And maybe she knew someone would look for it.”
“Not necessarily. She didn’t want anything to happen to it, accidentally or otherwise. She said she usually did that when she had original materials she was working with,” Angel explained, his expression contemplative.
“Where’s this safe deposit box then?” Spike cast Angel a questioning glance. “If we find it, we can find out if there’s something more in this journal that we should know. Or if there’s something else in the box along with it that someone may be looking for.”
“We’ll have to find it.” Angel picked up a pen off his desk and twirled it between his fingertips. “Wes?”
“I’ll get on it,” the former Watcher replied quickly, already thinking through how best to track down a single safe deposit box in the millions that must exist in a city the size of Los Angeles. He jotted a few notes as he shut down Elise’s laptop and prepared to tuck it back in the box on the floor at his feet.
“Now you’re sure the body was Dobryshkin’s?” Angel asked, turning to Spike and changing the subject.
“Oh, it’s definitely him but he’s not so pretty anymore,” Spike confirmed, taking an unlit cigarette and rolling it between his fingers. “It’s a good thing he was avidly fond of flossing, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to identify him at all.”
The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office had been able to use a single set of dental x-rays taken two years ago to identify the remains found in a storm drain several months prior. Had Spike not found and encouraged Serge’s boyfriend, Adam, whom he finally managed to track down, to follow up on the missing person’s report he had filed and then to contact Serge’s dentist, the match probably would never have been made, and the County Coroner’s office would still have one more unidentified John Doe.
“And you still think it was witchcraft?” Angel queried, catching the younger vampire’s gaze.
“I still do.” Spike’s small shrug seemed to indicate he had never questioned his initial assessment.
Wesley’s eyebrows rose in response to the matter-of-fact reply. “Really? I thought you said he had been burned and dismembered?”
“He was,” the blonde vampire said without further explanation.
“But then… do you think… could it really have been Willow?” Wes inquired hesitantly. Her behavior as of late was unusual and a bit concerning, but it was still a stretch of the imagination to think she was capable of such a heinous act.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Spike countered with a shrug. “It was definitely of the supernatural and it was definitely witchcraft. You tell me who else is capable of such a thing and I’ll put them on the short list of suspects.”
“He was the last direct link then, to the Council and Buffy’s disappearance.” Wesley sighed, disappointed. “Especially if you really believe he was the one paid to drive the limo that night.”
Angel didn’t answer immediately, seemingly lost in thought for a long moment before finally saying simply, “No, he isn’t.”
Willow slipped into the elevator and pressed the access code for the penthouse suite. Reaching the top floor, the doors slid open soundlessly allowing her to step in and look around.
She knew very little about what had happened between the vampire and the slayer since Buffy had left her at the Beverly Center mall – though the whispered rumors that ran through the Wolfram & Hart offices seemed to imply that the pair were now barely speaking.
She took several steps into the living room. A pillow sat atop several folded blankets on the sofa. Obviously someone was sleeping there, and if she were to guess she’d say it wasn’t Buffy. Willow’s lips curved up in a slight smile.
She heard the faint sounds of someone stirring in one of the back rooms. She had seen Angel cross the lobby foyer just before she came up, so it could only be the other occupant of the apartment.
“Buffy?” she called tentatively. “Are you here?”
Several seconds ticked by before a return reply came from the bedroom. “Willow?”
“Ah, you are here,” Willow said, walking toward the room the voice had come from.
Buffy looked up from the pile of clothes she had been sorting on the bed as her friend entered the room. She was surprised by the visit, as she hadn’t been expecting anyone, nor was she really in the mood for company. Still, she attempted a smile. “Yep, I’m here.”
“Well, I wasn’t sure,” Willow explained with a slight shrug of her shoulders. “I haven’t heard from you since our trip to the mall. Is everything all right? I’ve been so worried.”
She met Willow’s concerned gaze and frowned at herself. Preoccupied with her own problems, she hadn’t called her friends or her family. She probably should, she knew, but she thought if she only had a little more time to sort things out then she’d know what to say…
“Buffy?” Willow prompted.
“Huh? Oh, um, things are…” she paused, carefully considering her response. Finally, she simply shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
Willow surveyed the chaos of clothes strewn on the bed. “Are you packing?” she asked, her voice hopeful.
“No… I’m just going through some of my things. You know how fast the latest styles change,” the blonde slayer offered, not completely certain herself if she was staying or leaving. It was a distraction, something to do, rather than be alone with her thoughts. Absently she picked up the nearest article of clothing.
“Buffy…” Willow began almost hesitantly. “Have you figured out what you’re going to do?”
“Well, I’m thinking I’ll go with the straight leg jeans, though I’ll keep a pair or two of the flared legs. I think they’ll come back into style,” Buffy held one of the items in question in front of her as she glanced down.
“I actually meant about Angel. Your relationship… His cheating.” Willow asserted, not quite able to hide the perturbation in her voice. “I was thinking… why don’t we go to Europe? We could see Paris, Rome, the South of France… anywhere we want. We could go to London and see Dawnie, Giles and the others. I’m tired of living in the shadow of Evil, Incorporated. Everything here is bad, especially the management… and I know you could use the time off.”
“Maybe… I don’t know…”
“Taking a break doesn’t mean giving up. I just think some time away from here, away from… well, away from everything will give you a chance to sort out what you want to do. You can always come back if or when you’re ready.
“Yeah, maybe… let me think about it, Will,” Buffy finally answered noncommittally, forcing a smile.
“And all you need is for me to tell you what’s in this?” Fred asked, peering into the small paper bag she had been handed just a few minutes ago by the determined vampire. She had been in the middle of another set of tests for one of the firm’s many client projects when he had shown up in the lab and insisted on speaking with her privately.
“Yep, that’s all,” Spike answered quietly.
“Where did it come from?” she asked as she crossed the room and opened the door to the lab. A few technicians nodded or murmured a greeting, but most stayed intently focused on their work. Fred continued until she reached a sophisticated chemical analysis machine located on the counter near the far wall.
“I believe Angel found it,” Spike replied, the answer technically correct though definitely incomplete. Fred had an uncanny ability to know when he was lying, so he hoped his answer would satisfy, as he didn’t want to tell her anything more.
“A new case?” Extracting the sachet from the bag, she took a small penknife and sliced through the netting to spill the contents of the packet into a small bowl.
“You might say that. It’s urgent, and it’s absolutely necessary that we keep this between us. No one else can know I brought this here or what’s in it.”
Fred glanced up at the blonde vampire. Her gaze narrowed as she studied his expression. “Which case?”
“I can’t really say,” he offered with an apologetic smile. “Not sure I even know myself.”
For a moment, she searched his eyes. She was pretty sure he hadn’t lied to her since they had been working together at Wolfram & Hart – at least, not without good reason.
She poured the contents of the bowl into the machine in front of them then selected a bottle of clear liquid from the shelf above. She added a small amount to the machine and pressed a few buttons. The machine began to whir and hum. “Does this have to do with Buffy?”
“It’s better for all of us if no one knows which case it’s for,” Spike said instead of answering.
“All right, then no one will know,” Fred replied conspiratorially. What he was asking of her didn’t require any sort of moral or ethical violation; she’d trust that he had his reasons for wanting such discretion and keep his secret.
“When it’s safe to tell you what this is about, I will. You know that,” he said in a low, hopefully reassuring voice. Fred was a trusted member of the team; no one thought otherwise. However, the fewer people who knew what they were doing the better – for the safety of all involved.
She said nothing for a moment, mulling over his words. She hadn’t been included in many of their meetings as of late – though with her own hectic schedule, it wasn’t as though she had copious amounts of free time. And she knew, too, the exclusion wasn’t a personal slight. Everyone had cases they worked on largely alone, and there were also those that involved some or all of the team to varying degrees. It was just how things worked out at times. For example, Gunn was spending considerable time in Death Valley on a case – they saw him only a short while every other week or so, though he frequently check in by phone.
“I heard Buffy found out about Elise,” she said finally, her statement quiet and speculative.
“She did,” Spike replied without preamble. He appeared to be intently studying the various dials and gauges on the instrument in front of them.
“How’d she take the news?” she asked quietly, her expression curious and concerned.
Spike debated his answer for a moment before replying. “I don’t really know. As well as one might imagine, I suppose. No one likes to hear that their significant other hasn’t been faithful, no matter the circumstances.”
Fred frowned. “I heard she and Angel are breaking up, and she’s leaving town.”
“Yeah?” He turned toward the Chief Science Officer, his blue eyes gleaming interestedly as he studied her with a direct gaze. “Where’d you hear something like that?”
She shrugged, dropping her gaze. “Rumors, I guess. You know, office gossip.”
When he didn’t reply, she looked at him again and asked. “You don’t think so?”
Spike shrugged and shook his head. “Maybe, maybe not. With those two… they’ll shag and they’ll fight and from time to time probably, yeah, even break up and go their separate ways but when all’s said and done… they’ll be together. They’ve got no choice.” He paused and smiled faintly. “It’s in their blood.”
“I may have found something,” Giles said immediately when Angel answered his phone.
“Hold on. Wes is here, so let me put you on speaker.” Clicking the appropriate buttons, and the side buttons to adjust the sound, Angel sat his cell phone on the desk. “Go ahead.”
“There are literally hundreds of prophecies, mind you, so I’m not sure…”
“We understand. Just tell us what you have,” Angel interjected.
“Saint Malachy, a twelfth century Irish monk…” Through the phone, they could hear the rustling of paper as Giles paused.
“Isn’t he the one who had visions of the various Catholic Popes?” Wes asked as they waited for him to continue.
“Yes, yes… that’s primarily what he was known for… however, he had several lesser publicized prophecies if you will. Several have been chronicled in The Tiberius Manifesto along with some of the other slayer prophecies. Frankly, I’m surprised I never paid much attention to this particular one, but again, one never knows what the future holds I suppose…” he trailed off and the papers rustled again.
“I’m sure we have copy here,” Wes whispered, making a note of the mentioned volume.
“Ah here we go. It’s a rough translation, but it reads something like this…
“In the twenty-first century there will be an epic battle led by blaidd. Shall Blaidd prevail, whole provinces shall be emptied of their inhabitants, and kingdoms shall be thrown into confusion. In many places the land shall be left untilled, and there shall be great slaughters of the upper class. The right hand of the world shall fear the left, and the north shall prevail over the south. Only the progeny of Malach Elohim born of Gunna on St. George’s Day shall stay the rising tide, forcing those led by blaidd into exile for 1,000 years.”
“There’s a bit more elaboration, but that’s really the heart of it,” Giles finished.
“I’m not sure I quite understand…” Wesley began thoughtfully, reviewing the notes he had jotted down as Giles read.
“Well, if my translations are correct… what this prophecy suggests is that a child born of an Angel – Malach Elohim refers to an angel, which we could conclude in our interpretation to refer literally to Angel – and of Gunna … Gunna is an old term for female warrior-”
“Which could be Buffy,” Wes interjected slowly.
“Yes, Buffy. This child would somehow force the rising tide of evil into exile for over a 1,000 years.” Giles continued. “The forces led by blaidd -”
“Which is an old Gaelic term for wolf,” Angel finished, looking pointedly at the stationary on this desk.
“The wolf, of Wolfram & Hart,” Wes suggested with a lift of his brows.
“Indeed,” Giles concurred. “That was my thinking as well.”
“Your child would close Wolfram & Hart for a very long time,“ Wes began.
“I believe it would essentially send the Senior Partners into exile,” Giles added. “Doubtful a pleasant sort of exile, or one they would want to experience.”
“Well, it would prevent this epic battle led by Wolfram & Hart from happening, if there’s anything at all to any of that,” Angel concluded skeptically. He didn’t know if he should put much store in such a prophecy, or if that alone would be enough of a concern to drive the Senior Partners to try to keep Buffy and he apart… but it was something to consider, and certainly more than they had only a few weeks ago.
Angel opened the door that led out onto the roof of the tall Wolfram & Hart building. In years past both he and Buffy had often sought solitude on top of the tall building so he wasn’t surprised to find her there tonight, staring out at the lights of Los Angeles and in the distance, at the darkness of the ocean.
Buffy’s heart began to thud in her chest as she felt Angel’s presence. She didn’t turn around, her emotions still in turmoil. It had been five days since she asked him for time; five days of coexisting in the apartment and behaving like polite acquaintances instead of lovers – albeit, it had been a long while since they could lay claim to the latter description.
A slight frown formed between Angel’s brows as he watched her clench her fingers beneath the too-long sleeves of her lavender sweater, her gaze still directed away from him as though she hadn’t yet noticed he was there. The distance between them was growing wider, or so he feared.
“Buffy?” he murmured softly. He knew he would have to be the one who would bridge the gap between them, but no matter – he was determined to repair their damaged relationship.
“I had forgotten how bright the lights were at night,” she finally said, her gaze still focused on something in the distance. “Or maybe they just seem brighter now.”
“It’s the small things, you know, that you notice, that you miss,” Buffy continued before he could speak. “That you forget, after a while. That’s not to say that you don’t miss the big things, the important things, because you do. But those… you never forget, not for a minute. Those always stay with you… a big, aching empty hole…” she trailed off, her voice barely a whisper.
“They always do,” he murmured in agreement, his two hundred fifty odd years of experience giving him the often undesired benefit of familiarity with such things.
She didn’t reply, seemingly caught up in her own thoughts. They stood together for several minutes in silence before Buffy finally spoke again. “Do you remember that day?”
“Yes.” He didn’t need her to be specific. He remembered that day, every minute easily recalled for play back in slow motion along with his steadily increasing panic as he realized something was wrong, that she was gone .
“We were going to Catalina for the weekend.” Her voice was wistful.
“We were.” We still can, he wanted to say, as if doing so could somehow erase all of the events and the hurt and the pain between then and now.
“I had been to the doctor that day,” she continued almost conversationally.
Angel didn’t move, couldn’t respond. His every nerve was taut. It was the first time since her return that she had mentioned her pregnancy. He often wondered if she knew he had found the sonogram picture on the counter or that he had been aware she had been pregnant. But, out of fear for himself or her – he wasn’t sure which – he hadn’t had the nerve to bring it up.
“Positive. The test was positive.” Buffy exhaled and hugged her arms to her chest. “I was pregnant. 5 weeks.”
“I know,” he admitted quietly. Dropping his gaze, he slipped his hands in his pockets and rocked slightly on the balls of his feet. “I found the picture of your sonogram.”
“You did?” There was a hint of surprise in her breathy voice. “Oh. I left it on the counter?”
“Yes,” he slowly answered. There was no need to tell her of the months he carried the black and white photo with him, until the reminder of the loss became too painful to bear and he finally tucked it away with some of her things.
She was quiet for a long moment. “It wasn’t like the times before. I didn’t miscarry.”
Angel’s heart began quivering sickeningly. He closed his eyes.
“Not that…” She swallowed hard. “He didn’t try to make me. He did.” She shivered, recalling the brutal kicks and punches she had suffered at the hands of Arno.
She didn’t need to say who “he” was; Angel knew immediately, and he wished he had kept the beefy Bjoutan warden alive to torture mercilessly and often. There could never be enough suffering for the cruel, despicable man. No matter how brutal his death, it had been far too kind.
“I went into labor early. Too early,” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes, her full, lower lip trembling.
Angel’s eyes opened and he sucked in an unneeded breath, hoping somehow the air would hold off sinking feeling sliding over him.
“We had a boy… He was so tiny,” her voice broke and she paused. “But he was alive, Angel. And I thought maybe…”
“Buffy…” he turned and attempted to draw her into his arms, but she held up her hands and backed away.
“I wanted to do something, but I couldn’t. I was so tired, so weak and he was so small, so frail. I couldn’t do anything . They only let me hold him for a few minutes. And they took him,” she quietly sobbed, her grief and distress still as fresh as the day it happened.
“The thing is…” she murmured tearfully, “I know they would’ve taken him from me anyway. Arno said so. He said they wanted the baby, whoever they were. There were times when… when I thought maybe it was better that way…” she closed her eyes as the anguish and guilt overwhelmed her. “That he… I don’t know how he would’ve survived there. I don’t know that aI could have taken care of him. And I think… I know they would’ve hurt him. He was a thing, an anomaly to them… a child of a Slayer with vampire DNA…”
“Buffy,” he murmured in a pained voice, reaching out and pulling her small figure into his arms. He ignored her struggles, intent on sharing her pain as his own heart ached for her and their child.
Having Angel hold her, his strong arms around her as she finally shared the burden she had been carrying for months, only forced the stream of tears into a welling flood. Being in his arms felt so undeniably, astonishingly, and frighteningly right that she felt a transient moment of fear. It affirmed how much she needed him, how much his strength and love mattered to her, and how little everything else meant without him. How alone she had been without him. And yet, how tenuous their future was now…
“I’m so sorry, Buffy,” he said, his voice thick with emotion as he ran his fingers over her hair with infinite care. He could feel the warmth of her tears through the soft material of his shirt. He wanted to cry himself, but she needed his strength now. Later, there would be time for his own grief, to give in to the inexorable anguish tearing at his gut.
Still overwrought, she didn’t answer, so he simply held her and waited. After being deprived of her warmth and her softness and her mere presence for so long, he had to resist the urge to crush her into him; she still seemed so very fragile.
When at last her tears subsided, she simply leaned against him weakly, her head on his chest. “I’m scared,” she said at last, bleakly, in a very tiny voice.
“Me too,” he said, gently wiping away a tear.
To be continued…