HAPPILY EVER AFTER II
A Price to be Paid
Ireland, Willow Rosenberg had decided, was a nice place to be. She'd just arrived that morning, and since the people she'd been supposed to meet hadn't come in yet, she'd spent part of the afternoon dealing with her jet lag, then had launched on her own, self-led tour of Dublin. The December winds were chilly, but she gamely stuck with her plan to find a good, authentic, Irish magic shoppe. The efforts had paid off. Just before six o'clock, she walked out of the little store she'd found with a bag full of Gaelic books on traditional Celtic magic.
So she was feeling particularly light-hearted, and not paying a great deal of attention to anything but the sheer fact she was in Ireland, and carrying a bag full of Gaelic books, when she slammed headlong into a very large man. Her bag flew out of her hands, spilling books all over the sidewalk.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, her face burning with embarrassment. She scrabbled after the books. "I was so not paying attention."
The man had dropped to a squat next to her to help her with the books. She was too flustered to look up at him and hadn't registered much about him except that he was big and dark. A hand reached after hers, toward the books. A big hand, wearing a silver Claddagh ring on the second finger. It caught her off guard for a second, because it reminded her of Angel. Of course, she was in Ireland, and Angel was Irish, so of course lots of things in Ireland would naturally remind her of Angel even though she hadn't seen him in years and years, certainly not since Buffy had died . . .
She jumped. The big hand had frozen just a couple of inches away from the book. She looked up, into the man's face.
Okay, that *really* reminded her of Angel. Particularly since it *was* Angel.
"Angel?" she said, because her brain had ground to a halt and she couldn't think of anything more original or intelligent to say.
He smiled. "Hey, it *is* you." He gathered up the last of the books and helped her put them back in the bag. "What are you doing in Dublin?"
"I'm here for a Wicca thing. Why are you here?" Her tone sounded a little accusatory, she realized, but that wasn't her fault, he'd just caught her way, way off guard.
"I live here now."
"Oh. Like, back to the old mother country and all."
"Something like that."
She stood there for a second staring at him, and for a minute she thought she was going to cry, because he made her remember sad things. But he looked kind of happy. Kind of happier than she'd ever seen him look before, though it was hard to tell because he still had that perpetual crinkle on his forehead and those naturally low-slung eyebrows. But he looked happy. Did he not know what had happened to Buffy? Finally she said, not feeling at all comfortable about it, "Would you like to go get some coffee or something?"
"I'd love to." He pointed over her shoulder, toward the shops behind her. "There's a place over there I go to sometimes. I need to pick up some pastries, anyway."
"Okay." She followed him, wondering why he needed pastries but not certain she should ask. He was still Angel, after all, still all semi-glowery in spite of the happy, still all black-coated sexy swirliness that she didn't quite know how to respond to.
"You look kind of upset," he said. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. No worries."
He opened the shop door for her. "Need help getting around at all? I can help you out if you're lost."
"No, I'm good."
He looked at her a minute. Yeah, there was definitely some happiness in those dark eyes under those eyebrows. Maybe she shouldn't tell him about Buffy, if he didn't already know. Maybe he'd found somebody else--come to think of it, hadn't that ring on his hand been heart-down? Oh, but wouldn't that be bad, if he had a lot of happy? Maybe that twinkliness under those glowery eyebrows should be telling her something. . .
"On second thought," he said, "you look a little freaked out. Why don't you go have a seat and I'll get you some coffee."
She found a table and sat down. There were plenty of other people in here, so regardless of what was causing the happy on Angel's face, she would be safe as long as she didn't go with him anywhere dark and lonely. She felt a little guilty, thinking about him that way, but she hadn't seen him in years, after all, and God only knew what he might have been up to in all that time. Opening her purse, she peeked in. Sure enough, she still had her mini vampire kit, a little bag with a cross and some holy water. Enough to scare him off if necessary.
He came back to the table with two large coffee cups and a bag of pastries. He laid the pastries down on the table, smiling. "So, you're here for a Wicca thing?"
"Yeah, we're going to try to conjure some forces by some of those standing stones right outside of town. I doubt it'll do much of anything but it's a good excuse for a vacation and I've always wanted to go to Ireland."
"It's a little cold this time of year."
"We wanted to try for the winter solstice."
"Ah." He sipped his coffee. "So how are things back in Sunnydale?"
"Still pretty Hell-mouthy. Giles keeps talking about moving back to England. I think he's going to do it pretty soon. Xander left a couple of years ago, he's in Vegas now."
"How's the new Slayer?"
She looked up, feeling her own eyes starting to get wide and weepy. "Oh. You know about that."
"Yeah." The word gave her no indication how he felt about it, though. Surely he was sad. She peered a little closer into his eyes. Still with the happy. Then, suddenly, happy went to puzzled. "You mean she didn't--" He stopped. "Willow, you need to come with me. I have something to show you that you're going to like. A lot."
She looked quickly over his shoulder, at the counter. Still several people. Leaning closer to him--just a little, still out of biting distance--she said, "No offense, Angel, but I'm not going to go anywhere with you right now."
He looked hurt. "Why?"
"You've just got too much happy on your face. It's really bothering me."
"Oh." The hurt faded from his eyes and he chuckled. Pushing his coffee out of the way, he stretched his right arm out across the table, palm up, then held his other hand out toward her. "Give me your hand."
She stared at him. Was this a good time to be scared? But there was something in his face . . . Evil Angel looked happy, sure, but he also looked--well, evil. This wasn't evil-happy. This was something else.
She touched the tips of her fingers to his. He guided her hand to his wrist, aligning her fingers in a straight line just under his thumb. Then he settled his free fist under his chin and looked at her with that little smile she'd always thought looked kind of devilish even when he wasn't evil.
She sat that way for a long moment, not quite able to believe what she was feeling. Then, looking into his happy-but-not-evil face, she said, "Angel. My God, you have a pulse."
"Yeah. Kinda neat, isn't it?"
Suddenly oblivious to the presence of other people, she scooted her chair around the table and pressed her fingers against his throat. The pulse was big and strong there, just like it shouldn't be because vampires didn't have pulses. Still flummoxed by the unexpectedness of it all, she shoved his coat open and stuck her ear against his chest.
Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Big, broad, hard, manly chest with a big, lubdubby heart pounding away inside.
And suddenly the implications of it all hit her and she leaned away from him, hands over her face, crying. His face fell and he reached for her, holding her shoulders. "Willow, what's wrong?"
"It's just . . . it's just . . ." She gulped a few times, looking around. Between sticking her head in Angel's chest and then crying, she'd managed to attract a lot of attention. She closed her eyes and forced herself back under control. "You're mortal. Aren't you?"
"Yeah." The crinkle in his forehead deepened. "Aren't you happy?"
"Well, yes. I mean, I would be, but . . . it's just so wrong, I mean, you could be with Buffy now but Buffy's--Buffy's dead." She stopped. Her voice was spiraling into hysteria and she was about to start crying again. "It's not right! Why can't anything ever work out the way it should?"
Angel cupped her cheek with his big, warm hand. "Willow." She hiccuped. "Willow, who do you think the pastries are for?"
She stared at him. "That's the surprise? You have Buffy at your place and she's not dead?"
He nodded. The smile had come back.
"Oh, my God, Angel, get me there right now before I throw my holy water on you."
He stood, picking up the bag of pastries. "It wouldn't hurt me if you did."
"You know what I mean. Let's go."
Not-so-tall Willow had long-legged Angel going at a half-run by the time they reached the apartment building around the corner. Stopping in front of his door, he put his back against it and spread his arms. "I'm not letting you in unless you calm down. I want to surprise Buffy, too."
She smacked him in the chest. "I can't believe you guys have been here all this time and didn't tell anybody Buffy wasn't dead. I'm so mad right now!" She took a deep breath. "Okay, not so mad now. Open the door."
Grinning--she didn't think she'd ever seen Angel grin--he put the key in the lock and pushed the door open. "I'm back!" he called.
"It's about damn time." Willow put her hands over her mouth, tears welling again at the sound of Buffy's familiar voice, coming from the bedroom. "A person could starve to death waiting for you to buy a couple of doughnuts--"
She came out of the bedroom, wrapping a bathrobe around herself and froze, staring at Willow. Willow stared, too. It was Buffy. Really, really Buffy. And Buffy was tying her bathrobe up high, right under her breasts and right above a giant belly bulge that looked like it could have a toddler curled up inside it.
"Willow?" said Buffy.
"Buffy?" said Willow at the same time.
Then they both screamed, jumped up and down, and threw themselves at each other.
Willow clutched at Buffy, crying and laughing and jumping up and down at the same time. "Buffy, you're alive!" Willow stepped back, holding Buffy's hands and looked at her stomach. "And there's a baby in you!"
Buffy rubbed her stomach possessively, slanting a look at Angel, who was leaning against the wall by the door looking rather pleased with himself.
"I mean, it is a baby, right? It's not, like a demon fungus or something?"
"Willow, how could you say that? Of course it's a baby. C'mon, feel. He's kicking."
"It's a he?"
Willow tentatively laid her hand against Buffy's stomach and was rewarded after a moment by a solid, twitchy kick against her palm. "Oh! He feels kinda big!" She lowered her voice. "Is it Angel's? I mean, I know he got all mortal, but can he--" She broke off. "I mean is he--"
Angel pushed away from the wall. "Excuse me, but I'm in the room." He walked past them into the small kitchen area, separated from the living room by a counter.
"Of course it's his," said Buffy. "Yes, he can." She grinned at Angel, who smiled back. "And does. A lot."
"As often as possible," said Angel.
"Okay, I don't think I needed to know that, but I'm still happy for you." She hugged Buffy again and Buffy jumped up and down a little in her embrace, as if they were both sixteen again. Then Willow pulled back. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Buffy's smile faded. "I didn't tell anybody." She looked at Angel. "I needed time. I needed to be sure it was real."
"Giles has been miserable."
Buffy nodded soberly. "I'll tell him. I'll tell him after the baby's born."
"Baby Giles," said Angel.
Willow grinned. "Really?"
"Yep," said Buffy. "We already decided."
Sniffling, because she seemed unable to quit leaking around the eyes, Willow said, "I just can't believe this. I'm so happy."
Buffy smiled, looking again at Angel, who gave her a slow, smoldering smile in return, the kind of smile that made Willow think maybe she should be someplace else.
"So am I," said Buffy.
She sat on Buffy's couch and talked and talked until she finally noticed Buffy wasn't answering and looked over and found out that Buffy was asleep.
"Oh!" said Willow. "I'm sorry. I made her tired."
Willow turned around. It occurred to her that she hadn't heard from Angel for a while. He was still standing in the kitchen, eating crackers out of a box.
"She gets tired. It's the baby."
"Yeah, I guess." It seemed strange to see Angel eating crackers. She wasn't sure if it was the ex-vampire thing, or just that it was crackers. He closed the box and came back into the living room to sit carefully next to Buffy. Gently, he adjusted her hair. She moved a little in her sleep and he smiled.
"I owe you a hell of a lot, Willow," he said suddenly, "and I don't think I ever thanked you."
"What do you mean?"
"You gave me back my soul."
She stared at him. The thought had quite simply never occurred to her. "I . . .I felt kind of bad about it at the time. I mean, it made it all so hard for Buffy."
"But if you hadn't, I don't think I would have come back."
"Oh." She looked at Buffy, pregnant and blissfully sleeping. "Oh."
"So thank you."
Buffy opened her eyes suddenly, looking up at Angel. "Angel?"
"Hey, sleepyhead. Let me get you to bed--"
But Buffy's expression had changed, her eyes suddenly filled with fear. She lurched to her feet. Angel stood, as well, reaching for her.
"Angel!" she said, and collapsed into his arms.
In the hospital, after they took Buffy away on a gurney, Angel couldn't sit still. Willow watched him pacing, back and forth, his face folded into a dark glower. Back and forth, back and forth, long black coat swirling around his ankles. Sexy, but not very comforting for the others sitting in the waiting room waiting for word on their loved ones.
"Angel," she said after his third or fifth pass across the room. "Why don't you go get us some coffee?"
He swung toward her, rubbing the back of his neck. "Huh?"
"Coffee. I saw a vending machine."
He left the waiting room and there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief. "He's really worried," said Willow, just because it seemed like she needed to say something.
He came back a few minutes later and slumped into the chair next to Willow. "I forgot why I left."
She patted his hand. "You were going to get coffee."
"Oh. Do you still want some?"
"No. I didn't want any to begin with."
He put his face in his hands, and for a second she thought he might be crying so she patted him on the back. "You okay?"
He lowered his hands. "I want to know what's going on."
"I'm sure they'll tell us." She patted him again, wondering if he even noticed. It seemed kind of useless, all the patting, but it made her feel better to think she might be making him feel better, if only a little.
He nodded. His back felt hard and knotty, shifting under her hand. "Thanks for staying, Willow."
"It's okay. I'm worried about her, too."
A doctor came into the room, holding a chart. Willow looked up, hoping he was looking for them. "Mr. Summers?" the doctor said. Angel hunched in his chair. "Mr. Summers?"
"Angel. Mr. Summers. That's you, isn't it?"
Angel jerked around to look at Willow, then looked up at the doctor and shot to his feet. "Yes. That's me."
"Come with me, please."
Willow scooted to the edge of her seat, looking encouragingly at Angel. "Go on."
"Come with me?" His dark eyes pleaded.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Summers, but there really doesn't seem to be anything we can do."
Angel shoved a hand through his hair helplessly. "What about the baby?"
"The baby seems to be fine. Everyone seems to be fine. We can find absolutely nothing wrong with either your wife or your unborn child."
"Except that she's unconscious." His voice rose edgily on the last word and he took a step toward the doctor, looming.
"Angel, don't loom," said Willow, catching his elbow. "I'm sure the doctor's doing everything he can."
The doctor looked nervously up at Angel, who took a step back so he wasn't so loomy. "I'm sure." He turned away and crossed his arms, looking out the window. At the sun, Willow realized. He blinked a little. "I'm sorry, Dr. Sullivan. I'm sure you can appreciate I'm very worried about my wife and child."
"Yes, I do. And I'm very sorry I can't give you any better idea of what's going on."
"Can I see her?"
"Not just yet. We're running a few more tests. I'll send someone out to let you know when you can, or if there is any change." He stood. "Where will you be?"
"We'll be in the chapel," said Willow.
Angel looked at her in surprise. "We will?"
To Willow's surprise, the doctor touched Angel's arm reassuringly. "We're doing everything we can."
Angel nodded. "Thank you."
As the doctor left the room, Angel dropped his arms and stepped closer to the window, staring out into the sunlight. It fell through the window onto his hands and he looked at it, turning his hands so the light spilled into his palms.
"Why the chapel?" he asked Willow.
"What else can we do?" He nodded and followed Willow out. "Actually," she ventured, "there is one other thing we could do."
He caught up to her in two long strides. "Do you think we should?"
"I think we should find out if anything like this has ever happened before. If a Slayer has ever had complications during pregnancy."
He nodded. "That might be a good idea. Did you see a phone anywhere?"
"No worries." She pulled her cell phone out of her purse. "Come on. If there's no one else in the chapel, we'll call from there. It'll be quiet."
The chapel was empty. Willow went to a corner and dialed. There was no answer. Great. Now she would have to leave a cryptic message. "Giles, this is Willow. I need you to call me. It's an emergency. Please call me on my cell as soon as you get a chance." She hung up, switched the ringer on the phone to vibrate, and dropped it into the pocket of her cardigan.
"He wasn't there?" Angel asked.
"No. I'm not even sure what time it is there." She patted him again; it just seemed like the thing to do. "I'm sure he'll call. He'll be able to help."
Angel nodded. "Look, I think I should leave and let you do the praying. I'm just . . ." He looked sidelong at the crucifix on the back wall. "I'm not really comfortable here."
Willow poked him. "You stay right here. Sit down. Touch the Bibles. Get used to it. I'll be right back."
"Where are you going?"
"Just do as I say."
"I don't remember you being this bossy."
She gave him her resolve face. "Do it for Buffy."
He sat near the front of the small chapel, but folded his hands and put them between his knees, as if trying to make himself as small as possible.
She hurried about her task at the gift shop, afraid he might get the major wiggins in the chapel and give up. Sure enough, when she got back he was standing just barely inside the door, inching his way out.
"This is too weird, Willow--"
"No. Get back in there. I know what I'm doing."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm making you do something you don't want to do." She pushed the little bag from the gift shop into his hand. "Take this."
"What is it?"
"Just take it."
He took the bag and looked in, then closed it again and handed it back to her. "No."
"Yes. You remember how, don't you?"
"I remember the words, yeah."
"Then take it." She pulled the small wooden rosary out herself, holding it up, waving the little metal crucifix right in his face. He flinched. "It's not going to hurt you."
He looked at her, as if judging her seriousness, and he must have figured out what her resolve face meant, because finally he lifted a hand toward the rosary. At the last second he hesitated, then gingerly let his fingers touch the crucifix.
"See? No hissy burny, no flames. You're good to go."
"You have family now and there's a crisis. That's when we go back to our roots."
"Whatever you say, Jewish Wicca-girl."
"Smartypants. For your information, I've been having large going-home moments lately with Kabbalah. So, see, I learned my lesson, too. Now, take that rosary and kneel over there and do some Hail Marys like the good little ex-vampire lapsed Catholic boy you are."
She could have sworn he smiled, but it was hard to tell. Maybe the corner of his mouth pulled up a little. "We really can't do anything else until we hear from Giles," she added, apologetic, wondering if she'd pushed him too hard, because she knew full well there was no way she could understand what he might be thinking, or going through.
He nodded and went to the rail in front of the altar. She watched him, almost holding her breath, as he stared at the little crucifix in his hand, then finally sank to his knees. He put the rosary to his lips, then bent his head. She heard his voice mumbling hesitantly in Latin. She'd forgotten he'd do his Hail Marys in Latin. Vatican II was way after his time.
She went to the altar herself, to light candles, then went to the rail and knelt next to Angel, listening to his uncertain voice as she offered her own, silent, Jewish Wicca-girl prayers.
About twenty minutes later, a nurse came to the door. "Mr. Summers?"
Willow had to elbow him. Obviously he wasn't used to being called that yet. He jerked his head up and, seeing the nurse, lurched to his feet. "Is she--"
"You can see her now."
Angel gave Willow a desperate look and she nodded. "I'll come with, it's okay."
"Are you family?" the nurse asked.
"Yes," said Angel. "My sister."
"All right, then you can both come this way."
Still a little flummoxed over suddenly being related to Angel, Willow trailed after him and the nurse, down the hallway to Buffy's room.
"Just a few minutes," said the nurse. "Talk to her. It might help."
"Do they know what's wrong?" he asked. Willow swallowed a lump in her throat. His voice had been neutral, but the pain was all over his face.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Summers. We're doing all we can."
He went into the room. Buffy lay silent, still unconscious. Angel went to his knees next to the bed. Willow stopped in the hallway. She couldn't bring herself to walk into the room. The moment seemed too fragile, too private. Angel began to talk to Buffy, but Willow couldn't hear what he was saying. He picked up her hand, lifting it gently to his lips.
In her pocket, the phone suddenly vibrated. She took another step back into the hallway and answered it. "Hello?"
"Hello? Willow? This is Giles."
The familiar voice sent relief flooding through her. "Thank God. Giles, this is really important."
"What is it? Where are you?"
"I'm in Dublin. Now listen to me. I'm going to tell you something and I need you to just answer my question. I know you're going to wonder what the hell's going on, and I promise I'll tell you, but first just answer my question."
"All right." He sounded puzzled, and rightly so.
"Okay, listen very closely. Do you know if any Slayer has ever had complications during pregnancy?"
There was a silence. "Pregnancy?"
"Just answer the question. It's really, really important."
Another silence. Willow could picture him taking off his glasses, thoughtfully rubbing the bridge of his nose. "To be honest, Willow, I don't know if any Slayer has ever been pregnant, much less had complications."
"I need you to find out."
Another silence. When Giles spoke again, his voice was strained. "Buffy's alive?"
"At the moment. There's really not time to explain."
"Giles--" Suddenly a big hand grabbed the phone away from her. "Angel, that was rude!"
Angel didn't seem concerned about the niceties of the situation. "Giles, this is Angel. Buffy's at thirty-two weeks and she's suddenly lapsed into some kind of a coma. The doctors can't find anything wrong with either her or the baby. We need to know if this has ever happened to a Slayer before." He paused. "I'll explain everything as soon as there's time. Right now I just don't want her to die . . . Thanks."
He hung up the phone and handed it back to Willow. "Sorry."
"I was doing just fine, you know."
"I know. Thank you." He took one last, despairing look back into Buffy's room. "Let's go back to the chapel."
Buffy floated. She had no idea where she was; there seemed to be nothing around her but smoke and vague, shadowy light.
Then a voice.
"Did you think you could just walk away?"
The mist swirled, but no one was there.
"Did you think there wouldn't be a price?"
Giles didn't call back right away. Angel had by this time fallen into the rosary repetition as obsessively as he approached anything else, and when Willow brought him a sandwich he refused to budge from his place at the altar.
"You need to eat," she said. "Or did you forget you do that now?"
"I don't like ham," he said stubbornly.
She sighed. "Well, *I* can't eat ham. I'm Jewish, remember?"
"You're not kosher."
Since she couldn't argue with him, she left him alone and ate the ham sandwich herself, looking at her phone every few minutes to be sure she hadn't missed a call.
When the phone finally did vibrate, she jumped, startled, before pulling it out of her pocket. "Giles?"
"Willow, I'm sorry, but I can't find any record of any Slayer ever having given birth."
Willow closed her eyes. "Damn. So they either never got pregnant, or never had the babies if they did."
"I'm afraid so. Although I'm certain that if a Slayer had gotten pregnant, it would be in the records. I think possibly it's simply never happened."
"This is not good." Sensing movement, she looked up to see Angel looking at her expectantly. "Nothing, Angel. I'm sorry."
He sank down into one of the pews. Willow walked over and patted him on the shoulder. At least he didn't seem to mind being patted.
"Giles," she said into the phone, "I know I promised you an explanation--"
"Don't bother. You can tell me when I get there."
"What kind of price?" Buffy said, though she had no idea how she spoke, since she seemed to have no mouth, no body, no flesh, no weight. She could see nothing but the swirling mist, and sensed she was suspended here, with no matter, no time. "What do you want from me?"
"What are you willing to give?"
"I don't understand. Willing to give for what?"
"For your freedom. It does not come for free."
"Whatever I have, you can have it."
The voice was silent for a moment, then out of the fog it spoke again. "Even your child?"
"You need to rest," Willow told Angel as, outside, the sun headed toward noon. "You've been here most of the night and half the day."
"So have you."
"I know, but I had a ham sandwich."
He looked up at her with tired, grim eyes. "All right. I'll go eat."
They went to the cafeteria, where he wolfed down three sandwiches and a bowl of soup. Watching him, Willow said, "See? I told you you needed to eat. You're a big guy, you need a lot of fuel. More than just a couple of glasses of pig's blood every twenty-four hours."
"I forget," he said through a mouthful of sandwich.
"Did you forget you need to sleep, too?"
He shook his head. "Do they have any pie?"
"Yeah, I'll get you some. What kind do you like?"
"Cherry if they have it. And some chocolate. A candy bar or something."
She shook her head. "How in the world do you manage to keep your girlish figure?"
"I work out." He laid his sandwich down long enough to fish his wallet out of his back pocket and hand it to her.
She went back to the counter and bought two pieces of cherry pie and a few different kinds of candy bars, plus milk and a few bottles of tea. That should keep them going for a while.
"Two pieces of pie," said Angel when she came back. "Thanks."
"Hands off. One of those is for me."
They ate for a time in relatively comfortable silence, until finally Angel said, "I should have known this would happen."
"Because every time I'm happy, something awful happens." He handed her his half-eaten candy bar. "Here. I don't want any more."
She watched him as he pushed out of the chair and left the cafeteria. Somehow she didn't think patting him would be much help this time.
She finished her meal slowly, then went to check on him again. He wasn't in the chapel, so she went instead to Buffy's room.
He was there, kneeling again by the bed, his head on folded arms next to her. As far as Willow could tell, Buffy hadn't moved. She went back to the chapel, curled up on a pew, and went to sleep.
When she woke, a few other people had joined them. A young man sat in a pew, and a woman knelt at the altar praying a rosary. Angel was back at the altar, as well, slumped against the railing, rosary trailing out of his hand, asleep.
Willow went to check on him and the woman at the altar looked up at her, smiling. "There's a small bed in the room at the back. For people who don't want to leave. Do you think you could rouse him enough to get him there?"
"Maybe, but he'll be grouchy."
"Men always are." She moved in to serve as Willow's backup as Willow hesitantly poked Angel in the shoulder until he stirred.
"Wha?" he said. "Is she better?"
"No, Angel, I'm sorry. Come with me, we're going to get you someplace comfortable to sleep."
"Want to see her."
"You just did a little bit ago. She's fine." She urged him to his feet and the other woman helped guide him into the room, where they settled him onto the small bed. Willow wasn't entirely sure he'd been awake at all during the operation.
"His sweetheart?" the other woman asked as they went back.
"His wife. She's pregnant."
"Oh, that's a sad situation." She resumed her place at the altar. "I'll pray for them, as well. My daughter's only here for an appendectomy, so I'm sure she'll be well enough."
Willow smiled. "Thank you."
Willow was sleeping again when someone patted her gently. She opened her eyes, expecting to see Angel. Instead, she found Giles bending over her.
She sat up. "Giles, you're here."
"Indeed I am. Is there any news?"
"No. I'm afraid not."
"Is Angel here?"
She pointed toward the little room. "I left him in there sleeping. He hasn't left the hospital since we brought her in. Neither have I." She yawned. "I don't even know what day it is."
She nodded. "I won't even bother asking the time. It's irrelevant, frankly."
"Yes, it does seem that way." He frowned for a moment at the altar. "Angel's here? Inside the chapel?"
"Yeah. Let's go get him. He's probably hungry. He keeps forgetting he has to eat."
He gave her an odd look, but followed her to the small room. But Angel wasn't there. "Hm," said Willow. "So he's either in Buffy's room or in the cafeteria." She turned toward Giles. "Let's check the cafeteria first. If he's with Buffy, I don't want to disturb him."
He was in the cafeteria, hunched over the table.
"My God," said Giles.
"What?" said Willow.
"He's eating pie."
Willow nodded. "Yeah. He can do that now. He has a heartbeat and everything. If you ask him nice he might let you put your ear on his chest and listen. He let me." She paused. "Well, actually, I just did it without asking, but you might not want to try that. I can get away with things like that because I'm a girl."
"He's eating pie," said Giles.
"Yeah." Willow, grinning, walked toward the table. "Cherry."
Giles laid his glasses down on the table. "I can't believe all this happened and no one told me."
"I'm sorry," said Angel. "We were going to of course, eventually, but we just wanted to lay low for a while. It was all so new, and we were kind of . . . caught up in the . . . newness of it."
Willow, scraping up the last of her pie, said, "He means they were holed up in their apartment going at it like bunnies."
"That's not what I meant. I mean, we kind of were, but . . . it's not what I meant."
"Far too much information," said Giles.
"Jeez, Giles, how do you think she got pregnant? Do you still think a stork brings babies and drops them down the chimney?"
Giles gave Willow a chastising look, which had no effect on her.
"What I *meant*--" Angel's look actually managed to make her feel a little guilty. "--was that we wanted to be sure things went well before we told anyone. We didn't want to take any risks."
"Well, you may have done exactly the opposite."
"You found something?" From his expression, Willow assumed it wasn't good.
"I couldn't find anything about a Slayer pregnancy." He put his glasses back on. His expression had become grim. "I did, however, find a reference to a Slayer who died and came back--just as Buffy did--for the express purpose of prematurely ending her tenure as Slayer. Just as Buffy did. When you told me she was alive, I thought that might be what had happened, so I looked it up."
Angel's face had crumpled into morose fear. "What did it say?"
"That there is a price to be paid, to balance the scales."
"But there's another Slayer," Angel protested. "The duties are covered."
Angel looked down at the table, at the detritus of his meal. Willow peered at him. "Angel, are you okay?"
His eyes turned up to her. The strange fear in them looked hideously familiar. "I don't feel so good."
"Perhaps too much pie," Giles offered.
"Giles, this is serious," said Willow.
"Buffy," said Angel. He slid off his chair and hit the floor.
Angel was floating. He could see very little through the strange, wispy mist.
"Where am I?" His voice seemed to barely exist in the dead air.
But then came another voice, this one sharp and clear and frightened. "Not my baby!"
"Buffy!" He ran toward the voice. But he couldn't run, because somehow he had no body, and then suddenly he was simply *there*, right next to Buffy. He couldn't really see her, but he could sense her, and suddenly that changed into something like sight. She was small, shadowy, and afraid, and she clutched her swollen belly protectively.
Another voice came from above them. "Then what price will you pay?"
Buffy whirled toward him. "Angel, no."
"They want you to pay a price for leaving your duties as Slayer. They can have me."
"No," said Buffy. "It's not right."
"You, too, Angel, have left your duties prematurely."
He shook his head. "What do you mean?"
"We had a plan for you. You went outside that plan."
"How did I know? For all I knew, the doctor was part of the prophecy." He looked toward Buffy, whose face was crinkled with confusion.
"You were very close," the distant voice said. "We had almost completed our work with you."
"This is not Angel's fault," Buffy broke in. "Leave him out of this."
"It is my fault," said Angel. "I convinced you to die. I convinced you to leave and come with me."
The mist gathered more thickly above them. "The question remains. What price?"
"Take my powers," said Buffy. "I offer my Slayer powers. I don't need them anymore."
There was a hesitation while the mist rotated. "Possibly a reasonable offer. Angel, you have already offered your life. Are you still willing to give it?"
"No!" said Buffy.
"Yes," said Angel. "Anything for her. For my son."
"Then we will take it. We will take the years you were meant to have given us."
Silence fell heavy. Finally Angel said, "How many?"
He let out a long breath. "Only fifteen?"
"We wanted fifteen more years from you. If only you could have waited."
He shook his head firmly. "It wouldn't have been fair. In fifteen years Buffy would have been forty-five. It would have been difficult for her to have children."
The voice made a small humming sound. "Ah, yes. We forget sometimes the limitations of your human bodies. But we must make this trade. The scales are extraordinarily delicate. They must be balanced carefully, and your rash decision has skewed them."
"Fine. Then I accept the consequences." He looked down at Buffy, who still looked worried.
"We will take your fifteen years over the next five," the voice said. "You will age rapidly and it may prove difficult for you."
"Don't do this to him," Buffy protested. "It's not right."
"Buffy, it's okay. It's a fair deal."
The voice seemed to laugh. "I see your interaction with us over the years has taught you something about how we function. I will give you something in return for this, something besides the love of your Slayer and the life of your child."
"You have searched for years for forgiveness. You have failed to find it. I will tell you that you have been looking in the wrong place."
"I don't understand."
"Until you take the path of forgiveness etched inside your heart, you will never be at peace."
"Okay," said Buffy. "Still with the cryptic."
Angel reached into his pocket. Somehow, even here, the small wooden rosary was still there. He drew it out. "You mean this?"
"Your heart has been written to understand that this is the only path to forgiveness. Until you confess your sins, one by one, and are absolved by the rites of the church that formed you, you will never find the peace you seek."
"It has been impossible up to now. But now you are human."
"If I do this, I'll be forgiven?"
Again, the soft laughter. "We forgave you a long time ago, Angel. This is only so that you may forgive yourself."
Angel reached for Buffy's hand. "You'll let her go now? Let her wake up?"
"I will. But remember, Slayer, when you awaken you will be only Buffy Summers. No longer the Slayer."
"That's fine with me."
"Your price, Angel, may be more difficult. But she will help you through it. Because you took a human path in recovering your mortality, the road will carry perils. It has been smooth so far, but it will not be in the future. I wish you luck."
The mist faded. He was alone with Buffy in the midst of a wide plane with no beginning, no end, no direction. He smiled at her, and then she was gone, and he opened his eyes.
A doctor was just bending over Angel, where he lay on the cafeteria floor, when he woke. "Buffy," he said. He pushed himself to his feet, wavered, caught himself on Willow. She clutched at him, trying not to fall over at the impact of his weight.
"Angel, are you okay?"
"Buffy," he said, and staggered out the door.
Willow and Giles followed.
"What do you think happened?" Willow asked.
"I don't know."
Angel broke into a run and they gave up any pretense of trying to keep up. By the time they arrived at Buffy's hospital room, he was sitting on the bed, and she sat next to him, her head against his shoulder as he held her, stroking her hair. "Buffy, I was so scared."
"It's okay now," she said, her voice weak. "Everything's okay."
Willow put her hands over her face. Giles, sniffling a little, put his arm around her.
Much to the bemusement of the doctors, Buffy was back on her feet by evening, and they sent her home the next day, declared fit and well, with no explanation of what had caused her lapse into unconsciousness. Willow thought she looked sad though, even as they all gathered around in her apartment. Angel had been holding her hand or touching her in some way all the way home, as if he was afraid she might disappear. Now he sat next to her on the couch, her hand under his on his thigh.
"So no more slayage," said Buffy. "I'm just normal now."
"I doubt that," said Willow. "I mean, c'mon, you're still Buffy."
"Don't be smart, Will," Buffy said. "It's not becoming." She looked at Angel. "There was more."
"I don't want to talk about it," said Angel. "I'll deal."
The others looked at him, obviously concerned. "Was it anything serious?" Giles asked.
"Nothing I want to talk about. Nothing I can't deal with." He laid his hand on the large curve of Buffy's stomach. After a moment he looked at Willow. "I need a favor from you."
Willow was surprised. "From me?"
"Yes. You saved my soul once, I need you to do it again."
"I don't understand."
"You know a lot of really . . . interesting people. Do you know if there's anyone around here, a priest, for example, who would be willing to take confession from an ex-vampire?"
Willow smiled. "Are you going home?"
He smiled back. "Something like that."
"Then I know just the guy."
Angel didn't want to go right away, but Buffy threw him out of the house. Giles could look after her for a few days, she said, and Angel was driving her crazy with his hovering. So Willow went with Angel to visit her friend Father O'Shea. American by birth--Willow had met him at a spiritual retreat in Connecticut--he had worked out of a small church on an island off the east coast of Ireland, only a short ferry ride from Dublin, for the past five years. Willow had promised several times to visit and had never taken the time. But he was a good man, she felt, and his knowledge of things otherworldly rivaled Giles' at times.
"This is nice," Angel said to Willow, looking out the window of the rental car at the rolling green fields as she drove down the narrow, twisty roads. "I could get to like this place."
"It'd be a cool place to live if you don't want to be around people much," Willow conceded.
"That's me," said Angel. "Mister Antisocial."
"You're getting better."
Willow had called ahead, and Father O'Shea was expecting them. He looked Angel up and down when they came into his office. "The pictures don't do you justice," he said, then peered closely at him. "Are you sure you're not a vampire?"
Angel held out his hand. "Feel my pulse."
The priest did so. "Strong and slow. You must work out."
"A little." He looked uncomfortably at Willow. "You sure this is the guy?"
"I am the guy," said the priest. "I've done a lot of research on the subject of vampirism, and I've read some books particularly about you, so I'm pretty sure I know what we're going to be dealing with here. 1758 to 1898, heinous barbarism; 1898 to 1996, brooding and guilt, and since then, honest attempts at making amends."
"Sounds about right."
"Then let's get started." He sat down at his desk and withdrew the stole he used for confession.
"Good luck," said Willow. "I'll wait outside."
"We'll keep the first session short, I promise," said Father O'Shea.
Angel watched Willow go, feeling like he'd been set adrift. He wished Buffy were with him. But, in the end, this was something he would have to do alone, so he might as well start it out alone.
"There's no confessional?" he said. "There were always confessionals . . . before."
"It's not necessary. Everything you say in this room stays in this room. I'm clear on the concept of Angel versus Angelus. So go."
"Are you familiar with Liam?"
The priest frowned. "No, I guess I'm not."
"Then let's start there." Angel bent his head. "Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been . . . two hundred and fifty-some odd years since my last confession." He took a long breath. "When I was sixteen years old, I forced myself upon a neighbor's servant girl in my father's barn . . ."