End of May, 2004
Sitting at one end of a fully laden table, Buffy looked at the appetizers piled on the finest bone china sitting atop platinum charger plates, studied her matching platinum silverware, and wrangled with the finely woven silver linen napkin in her lap – patently avoiding her lover’s gaze as he sat at the other end. Only the best of everything life had to offer was laid out before her. A wide variety of catered pasta, meat and vegetable dishes filled every square inch of space in between them, yet nothing caught her fancy.
She twisted in her seat, gazing at the statues lining the walls. There were dozens of them, maybe more. Realistic portrayals of men, women, and children in one form of servitude or another; offering bowls of fresh or sculpted fruits or flowers.
She'd seen them many times over the past year and never given them a second thought, but for some reason, tonight they gave her the wiggins.
The Immortal had taken a bunch of grapes from one of the decorative platters and slowly suckled them into his mouth, one at a time, punctuated by a small pop as each one passed his lips. She quickly turned back to her meal.
With a delicate shudder, Buffy pushed the plate aside. She wasn't the least bit hungry; the very thought of spending more time with the Immortal than was necessary was making her physically ill.
She'd been looking for a way to break up with him for the past week, ever since he’d told her of the demise of both her vampire lovers in that flippant way of his; of his part in keeping their last visit to Italy secret. Knowing that they had both come to Rome, sought her out and were turned away with lies put her relationship with the Immortal in another perspective.
Whenever she tried to broach the subject, he either found somewhere else to be or tried to distract her with precious gifts. And they weren’t the kind she could just refuse. Books that Giles needed urgently; rare spell ingredients for Willow that were unavailable otherwise; a new dagger for Xander – one he’d been lusting after for weeks.
Yes, she was being toyed with. Buffy didn’t need her Slayer senses to figure that out, but the idea of being the one to end their relationship still twisted her stomach into knots. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to play out. They were supposed to leave her. They’d always left her in the past. Except… except she had left Spike. Twice. Once before acknowledging they were together, and once to die in the Hellmouth.
Gone was the sophisticated romance she thought they'd shared. Instead, she was being manipulated and treated like a five year old who could be distracted with a piece of shiny wrapping paper. Tonight was it. She would end whatever was left of their time together, and try to move on with her life. A life without…
"I'm sorry," Buffy blurted out. "It's not you, it's me. I knew what you were, or I thought I did. But I can't handle being with someone who could lie to me as you did."
He acted as if he hadn't even heard her, offering her a plate of pastries as if she'd told him she was going shopping.
Swallowing her temper, Buffy tried again. "I want... no, I need to go back home. To end this, this sham. What we have... what we've had... is over. Finito!"
"You knew about Angel's fight to the death with the Senior Partners. You knew that Spike had been resurrected, and lost again, and you never thought that I'd be interested enough to be told? I can't live with lies and half-truths anymore. I'm moving back home with Dawn."
"But mi amore…" Sincerity dripped from the Immortal’s full lips. His black eyes flashed with pain at her words. The perfect expression of imminent loss.
Buffy couldn’t help but stare deeply into the face of the man she thought she’d grown to love over the past few months. Tall, broad shouldered, swarthy complexion – the epitome of most Italian males, but somehow… more. Wavy black hair, perfect features; hard to resist for a lonely woman in a new country.
Now Buffy knew she had to be strong. She refused to let herself be pulled in by that honey sweet voice. If she did, she'd never be able to go through with this. She rose swiftly from her chair, turning for the hallway without a look backwards.
"What now, cara mia? Not even a kiss goodbye?"
Even though his tone was mocking, Buffy took a deep breath, turned, and walked back, resignation weighing heavily on her shoulders. One kiss to say goodbye; he deserved at least that, if not for her, then for the help that he had given her friends.
He touched her face, lifted her chin so she'd look in his eyes and smoothed a lock of hair away from her face; gently urging her closer. She guessed he was hoping to get one last chance to change her mind. It was already too late.
A flash of icy cold fear swept down her spine as Buffy found herself unable to move. Staring into the Immortal's face, she tried to plead her case, but to no avail. A bitter chill crept over her, starting at her lips, moving further up and down her body like a virus affecting each and every cell.
Please, her eyes begged. But he just smiled, stripped her methodically, and posed her hands modestly to cover her nudity; one arm across her breasts, one lower, fingers spanning across her sex.
He molded her like pliant clay, arranging her head just so, gazing slightly downwards in submission. For a finishing touch, he wrapped a small jeweled belt around her hips.
Stop it! she wanted to say, but was unable to utter a sound.
"Oh, mi amore, you'll be my ultimate work of art. A beauty to be treasured for all time, and a gift for Angelus that will finally break his filthy vampire heart."
She felt like she was slowly being submerged in sub-zero water as the ice slipped through her veins.
What have you done to me?
Buffy knew the Immortal could hear her thoughts, yet all she received was a smile for her efforts. He walked out of her sight, returning shortly thereafter with a full length mirror.
The image reflected was that of a white marble statue; nothing human left except her hazel eyes.
"Don't worry, cara. I won't add you to my galleria. Soon I’ll send you to your lost love. Let the vampire take care of you until you realize whose heart you should have truly belonged to."
No! she cried, silently. Words were beyond her. And all that was left was emptiness and silence, until they placed her in a crate and took away even the light. She wondered if she would ever stop screaming.
The touch of his hand on her skin was the last thing she felt before her eyes glazed over and she was trapped in the darkness of the crate.
Middle of May, 2005
Awakened by his son's caterwauling, Angel became aware that someone was pounding on the lobby door.
He wished he could just do away Spike once and for all. Only he couldn't now, could he? The Powers had seen to it and it would be wrong. He just wished for a little one-on-one time with the Powers to give them a piece of his mind for a change. Was that so much to ask?
The youngster was dressed in blue cotton pajamas with yellow ducklings. He also wore rubber-treaded slippersocks to prevent slipping as he’d begun to walk. Angel nestled little William over his shoulder, rubbing his back vigorously to get him to stop crying and go back to sleep.
Damn the little bastard. One day he’d pay for this. Once he was old enough to know exactly what he'd done wrong, that was.
Not so gently placing the little boy back in his crib, listening for the sound of his steadying heartbeat as he drifted off into a deep sleep, Angel grabbed his robe and trudged down the stairs to see what had been delivered. Not that he could remember ordering anything, but maybe one of his crew had. He’d have to ask them when they returned to work on Monday.
A big, unmarked wooden crate stood in the entranceway. Angel took the proffered clipboard and signed for it, handing it back to the delivery man. When staring at it hadn’t resulted in it growing legs and walking into the hotel on its own, Angel sighed and picked up the crate. Hefting it onto his shoulder, he carried it inside. Vampire strength occasionally came in handy.
Whatever was inside was heavy and it shifted, making his hands slip along the sides of the crate - the wooden crate - embedding small splinters in the meat of his palms.
As it slipped through his fingers and slammed to the floor, Angel howled with frustration, more than pain, which was immediately followed by an eardrum shattering cry from upstairs. Damn, that boy has ears like a vampire.
He grabbed a crowbar to pry open the crate. Part of his brain insisted that opening an unknown box was dangerous, especially after the Illyria incident, but who was he going to ask? Gunn? He no longer worked for him in gruntwork capacity. Not like there were that many people left that he could ask for help, what with Wesley gone.
No, that left only left one person with access to the information he might need: Rupert Giles, and the thought still left a bitter taste in his mouth after the last time he asked for help and was turned down, resulting in Fred’s death. Hopefully, just opening the crate alone wouldn’t destroy him and there’d be no need to contact the man.
The baby's cry had become more insistent, and Angel knew he'd have to fetch the little bratling before he'd have enough peace to check out the crate's contents. He ran up the stairs, hoping against hope that the boy hadn’t woken up Nina with his fussing. Balancing the need to keep the child safe and save his own hearing, the beleaguered vampire gathered little William in his arms, and along with his bouncy chair, they headed back downstairs to un-crate the potential disaster.
He had to force his way, not just through the wood, but through the packing material. Someone had tried to make sure that whatever was inside, wouldn't be broken during transport. Of course, whatever it was was encased in another crate, this one more like the packed Styrofoam that coddled all sorts of delicate merchandise these days.
He peeled off the enveloped taped to the front, addressed in an old fashioned hand to 'Angelus'.
As soon as he recognized the writing, he was ready to drop the letter. The only thing that stopped him from doing so was his own curiosity. He opened the envelope carefully, as if it were dipped in holy water, trying not to smell it. He didn't want to have Buffy's relationship with that hellspawn forced into his face once again.
What does one give an old friend to commemorate an engagement? A little memento from time spent with a mutual acquaintance. May you and your future bride enjoy this little look into your past.
Good luck with your upcoming nuptials.
Angel broke down the inner crate, not overly careful about destroying whatever was inside. If it came from the Immortal, it couldn't be anything good.
Angel was distracted by a gleeful laugh from William. He was staring avidly at the statue his father had just un-crated.
The thing was nigh perfect, a study of Buffy down to her very toenails. A very naked Buffy. What the hell was the Immortal playing at?
"Are you coming back to bed, honey?" Nina's tired voice called from upstairs. He had hoped the baby's cries wouldn't have awakened her, but it appeared luck wasn't with him today.
She came down the stairs and noticed him practically fondling the statue. Nina stared with a sense of awe as she saw it, touching it and feeling the texture of the stone. Being an artist herself, she was appreciative of the workmanship that had gone into it.
"Lovely!" she exclaimed. Her brow furrowed upon closer inspection. "Isn't this a statue of the girl… Buffy, wasn’t it? The one who was murdered last year?"
Angel removed the rest of the packing materials from the statue and set it on its wooden base on the floor. "He's planning something…" he whispered, far too quietly for Nina to hear the words.
There had to be something more about this, after everything that happened, Wolfram and Hart, Wesley and Fred dying, Spike... There was no way that this was just a gift.
“Who sent you this masterpiece? It was obviously done by someone who cared for her very much.” Nina walked around the statue, examining it from all angles. “It's so well done you almost feel the life in it.”
Thunderstruck, Angel stopped dead in his tracks. "What did you say?"
His hand touched the marble and he felt... he almost flinched away before he had to try again. There was a heartbeat underneath the marble, it was almost unnoticeable, except to a vampire's senses and he froze at the probable meaning of it.
Nina didn't understand and seemed almost affronted at his reaction to the statue, yet all Angel could think about was Buffy; whispering her name over and over. But of course she didn't answer.
It took him hours before he could bring himself to call Giles for help. Several more before he was put through and found Giles barely willing to listen to him.
What changed the tide were the two words Angel managed to spit out before the Watcher could hang up on him: "Buffy's alive."
"Good God, Angel. Don't you have anything better to do than play games with her grieving family?"
"Do you think I didn't grieve? Do you really think I'd play games with something like that?"
William started crying again, responding to the anger in Angel's voice. Angel quickly picked him up, trying to calm him down. When that didn’t work, he handed the boy off to Nina, who managed to distract him with a nursery rhyme and a walk around the statue.
"Is that a baby I hear? What is this, another prophesy child?" Giles voice rose in register with each question.
Angel made his goodbyes abruptly after requesting Giles’ help, and quickly hung up the phone without discussing the child. With any luck, he would never have to know about William.
Angel continued staring at Buffy, trying to find some way, any way to get her out of the marble. He didn't dare to just break it, doing so might harm her even more. He'd put the child down on the floor and the boy was constantly underfoot. Not that that was something new.
At just a few days shy of being one year old, William maneuvered his chair rapidly about the floor like a drunken driver, constantly getting in-between his father's legs and grabbing on for support. Each time Angel moved him out of his path, William came back, giggling happily.
The baby found his way to Buffy's statue and patted her legs. He pulled his hands away quickly as if he'd been shocked, letting out a squawk of indignation.
Angel quickly picked him up out of his chair and pulled him away. He couldn't quite say if it was worry for the child, or a sense of jealousy of Will touching her once again, and felt oddly uneasy that the thought entered his mind at all.
As soon as Angel walked away from the statue, Will began to howl. Tears ran down his little cheeks and he looked for all the world as if his heart were breaking.
Angel frantically ran his hand over his boy, thinking that he'd cut his hands on a sharp piece of stone, but found no injuries. Yet no matter how he tried, Will would not be soothed. A bit of inspiration had Angel change into gameface, hoping that it would work for Will as well as it had for Connor. The youngster looked at him, but wouldn't stop crying.
As they passed closer to the marble figure, Will nearly lunged out of his embrace, reaching out to touch it.
"No, no, Will," Angel scolded gently. "No touch.” As he kissed each little finger, he murmured: “It hurt you, remember?”
The boy chewed lightly on his lower lip, producing that pout which was at once new as it was far too familiar. William might or might not have deserved his reward, but Angel was sure he hadn't deserved this punishment; this constant reminder of his erstwhile pain in the ass grandchilde.
He sighed, realizing he'd better get over his disappointment and resentment if he was going to do right by this child. It might not be fair, but it was the way it was.
And it wouldn't hurt that Nina was getting more involved with him. If they were going to be married by next year, she'd be Will's mother full time, not only on weekends. The only mother he'd ever know.
Will's first word snapped Angel out of his reverie, and in spite of his reticence to feel anything for the boy in his arms, his heart melted just the slightest bit. "That's right, little one. For better or worse, I'm your Da."
The sound of a clearing throat behind him made Angel turn swiftly, nearly dropping Will when he noticed who was standing there.
"So it appears I'm not going deaf in my dotage," Giles said, his expression carefully neutral. "You’ve fathered yet another child. Who is the mother this time?"
Angel pulled Will closer to his chest, trying to hide the boy’s face. It didn’t seem like a good idea to let the council know that William the Bloody was now a helpless human child. "Nobody you'd know," he replied, trying to keep himself under tight control. He didn't want to show how much Giles being here upset him;
"How nice of you to pop in unannounced," Angel ground out through tightly gnashed teeth. "Let me get the boy settled and I'll be right with you."
He used the few moments it took to bring the boy to Nina to compose himself. Angel knew Giles had teleported with the express purpose of unsettling him. Ever since Angelus had made the scene, their relationship was beyond repair. Each passing year just made the situation worse until it came to a head over Fred’s death. But he needed the man’s advice now... he owed that much to Buffy. And he knew that Giles loved the girl more than - or almost more than - anyone else.
By the time Angel returned to the lobby, Giles was studying the statue, trying to hold back his tears. The vampire wondered if he’d caught on to the reality behind the marble.
"Did you have this commissioned after Buffy's demise?" he asked, his voice constricted with the effort of staying calm and in control.
"Look closer, Giles."
Giles looked back as if he were daft.
"Wait." Angel said. He went to his office and picked up one of Wesley's old stethoscopes. It always amazed him how well prepared the man had been for most any situation.
After a few seconds of indecision, Giles finally brought the stethoscope to the statue. Angel watched as he flinched back, astonished.
Giles touched the marble with reverence. "Buffy? Can you hear me?"
Not a sound, of course; the stone was silent.
Angel shuddered, remembering when Cordelia had been trapped in her visions, seeing and feeling an overwhelming multitude of events at the same time, yet unable to respond to anything around her, frozen in pain and terror. Frozen … like marble. But Buffy still lived. A true miracle. Now the trick would be to free her from her marble prison
"How did she get here?" the shaken Watcher murmured.
Slumping down onto the circular couch, Angel fished around in his pocket. He didn’t trust his voice to answer, and held out the Immortal's note with a shaky hand.
Giles’ glare grew cold.
It was odd, Buffy thought, swimming back slowly to consciousness. Feeling like she was submerged in water, or wrapped up in cotton, her senses were dulled, but she could both see and hear. Where was she? And who was talking? Damn that Immortal to hell, anyway. He should have just killed her and been done with it.
She looked around the room at least as far as her limited field of vision would allow. Everything was hazy – as if someone had tied a silk scarf over her eyes – clear enough to see shadows, but too dark for details.
The voices got progressively louder and more recognizable as she began to see two shapes coming closer.
“He always has to have the last word, always has to go after my women.”
Oh yeah, that had to be Angel. But who was he talking to? Buffy wondered
“How dare you?”
Giles? What would bring them together now? Neither man could stand the other!
“The Immortal has always gone out of his way to prove he's the top dog. He went after Darla and Dru just to piss us... me, off”
She could almost see Giles taking off his glasses and cleaning them with his hanky, furiously enough to wear a hole in the lenses.
“You're, you're incredible. Buffy is frozen in marble and all you can say is he might have done this to piss you off? Don't you ever consider you might not be the center of the universe?”
“It's the Immortal. What other reason would he have to do this?” Angel threw his hands in the air. “We have… history!”
Why that egotistical vampire… Buffy really wished she could punch him in his self-centered face.
"Look, Giles. It doesn't matter why that soulless bastard did this to Buffy. What does matter is undoing it."
That's more like it, Buffy thought. Get me the hell out of here. My nose itches.
"Did you ever follow up on Buffy’s death, or did you just take it on that fiend’s word that she was dead?"
Giles stopped his pacing and stared at the seated vampire. “Yes, right. He said she was gone and we all threw a party. What do you think, you pillock? The Immortal's flat was investigated, and they found blood... Buffy's blood. And his statement that he'd disposed of her body... wait, he said 'and she's gone from you all, now. No trace will be found.' It was two days after we found out about your rout at the hands of the Senior Partners.”
“We've had the coven on the lookout for him ever since, but there's been no clue as to where he is. For as long as he's been alive, I'm sure he's got plenty of bolt holes - he won't be found until he wants to be.”
Angel forced himself to calm down, he had no choice but to agree. William was still crying upstairs and it was getting on his last nerve. Between the Buffy situation, Giles and the screaming child, he was swiftly losing control of his temper
He could hear Nina singing to the boy, but the crying wouldn’t stop. Nina wasn’t exactly comfortable with all aspects of parenting, having just been dropped into the boy’s life several months ago, and she tried her best, but now was not the time to exercise patience. The vampire excused himself to go upstairs and take the matter into his own hands.
He didn't notice until he was holding Will that Giles had followed him up.
"Come on Will, you've eaten already, you’re not wet, you’re not dirty…what more do you want from me?"
"A first birthday party?" Nina muttered under her breath, knowing those super-powered vampire ears would pick up on it.
Angel glared at her, They'd talked about it a dozen times already. Will wouldn't remember it, there was no use for it and it wasn’t like they knew any other couples with babies...yet. Gunn’s wife, Anne, was six months pregnant, but that didn’t count.
"It's his first birthday, Angel.” Nina crossed her arms over her chest and glared right back at him. “I don't give a damn whether he'll know what's going on now or not. What if in a few years, he looks through the photo albums and thinks we didn't care enough to give a party?”
"I don't care who he used to be. He's an innocent kid now and he deserves a party."
Giles cleared his throat, announcing his presence. "What do you mean, 'who he used to be'?"
“None of your business.” Angel pulled Will closer to his chest. The boy was still crying, "Dada" interspersed with sobbing.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence, do you? He’s a year old, and a year ago Buffy disappeared,” Giles insisted. “Who is he Angel? If this has anything to do with Buffy...”
Glaring at Giles, Angel snarled, barely keeping his gameface in check. "This has nothing to do with Buffy. It's about the unfairness of the universe. It's about the Powers playing their mind-fuck games one last time and taking away the one damn thing I'd dared to hope for."
Angel thrust the crying child into Giles' arms. "This is my son, William Matthew Jamison Pratt, previously known to you as William the Bloody."
Giles stood there, stunned, staring at the boy with disbelief and not a little bit of fear in his eyes. Oddly enough, it was at that point that Will finally decided to stop crying.
William stared at Giles, quietly snuffling as his tears stopped. Reaching out one chubby little hand, he grabbed at Giles' glasses, sending them to the floor with a shriek of delight.
Angel didn't bother to apologize, just reached around Nina’s waist and brought her to his side for support.
Giles held the baby out in front of him, studying him. Angel wondered if Giles could recognize those way too blue eyes; whether Giles could see that all too familiar twinkle in those eyes.
"Spike... but how?"
Giles held the boy in one arm and picked up his glasses, Will kept grabbing for Giles' hair.
Better Giles than me, Angel thought to himself. "You remember that little Shanshu prophesy Wesley helped uncover all those years ago?"
Giles nodded, never taking his eyes off the little boy playing happily in his arms.
"Seems the Powers that Be decided the other souled vampire was more 'worthy' than I was, and poof, your newest champion was transformed several days after the battle in the alley."
Still fighting to keep his human mask, Angel continued, bitterly. "Just one last little joke for them to play on me before deciding they no longer gave a damn about me."
Giles looked at him, then at Will, and started laughing. His whole demeanor changed as he burst into giggles. "Oh, Angel. You poor old sod. This was the carrot keeping you on the straight and narrow? And they handed it over to the one vampire who wouldn't give a damn? Jolly good sense of humor, indeed."
Will hopped up and down in Giles' arms, giggling along with him. His happiness was infectious, causing Nina to chuckle quietly.
Angel, however, was not so happy. “Nina, get the boy out of here,” he yelled. “Take him shopping – get him something for his birthday, but no way in hell are we having a party for him. I - I have to get out of here. I'll see you and Giles later."
He slammed out of the room, heading downstairs to Buffy. He couldn't bring himself to touch her, could barely bring himself to look at her. She would have understood. He was sure she would.
Gathering his reserve and coat, he tore out of the lobby, coattails flapping in the breeze.
God, what a freakin’ Drama Queen!