by Karen Wood

DEDICATION: To all of those who see what I see, and like what they see, and long for more.

He knew the light would be on before he entered the hotel. He could always sense when she‘d left him a message, which was often as of late. It was like when Cordelia insisted she knew ahead of time how many emails she was going to get when she checked. Only it wasn‘t.

There was a time when he didn‘t care about things like messages on answering machines. But things had changed. He‘d even made Cordy go out and buy a heavy-duty business one that would record longer and more messages, not bothering to make up an excuse since he knew she‘d attribute his behavior to his usual oddness. But it wasn‘t like he was afraid there‘d be a repeat of the first message from her. The night of their epiphanies. He knew that darkness had passed.

No, fear had nothing to do with it.

There was no pattern to the messages. Sometimes they were short. Just her voice made even more smoky by the machine. Saying things like “I was thinking about you“ or “I was just wondering how your night went“ or “I thought you might be in … I‘ll call back later“ although she never did and he never expected it. Other times the messages were longer and filled with what she had done that day. One-sided conversations that more than hinted at loneliness and longing. Sometimes, though, when he was lucky, or at least made to feel that way, there was laughter. That rare sound that touched him in a way nothing else had ever come close. Kate‘s too infrequent laugh.

And then there were times when all there was was silence. Profound, prolonged and deafening. Surrounding him and making him ache. Even without words he knew those were from her as well, and he actually felt more connected to her when she left him one of those wordless passages of time. Caught forever on tape along with the others he dated and hid from all too prying eyes.

They didn‘t see each other much these days, but when they did they didn‘t speak of her calls. Not even a knowing glance gave away that the other was aware of the ritual that had been born between them that night months ago when he‘d saved her life. Her refusal to acknowledge the occurrences was from a bitter inability to show she still needed him. That she needed anyone, really. His refusal was from a fear that she would stop if he said anything.

As much as she needed to leave the messages, he needed to get them.

Tonight was a good night. She was telling a story about when she was little. He loved the tone of her voice when she was talking about the happy times she had with her mom. It was wistful and innocent and her words came in bursts of nostalgia.

As dawn crept over the hotel floor, he slowly he lifted the bulky machine, stretching the cord behind him as he went. Fighting sleep, he made his way toward the couch located safely in the center of the room, and carefully lowered the answering machine to the old oak endtable he‘d made Wesley help bring down from one of the rooms. Another occurrence explained away by vampire eccentricities.

He made himself as comfortable as he could on the piece of furniture that was both too small for his large frame and too old to have much cushion left to it. But it‘d do. It always did.

He pulled the throw from the back of the sofa and haphazardly covered himself with it before turning to the answering machine and hitting play again.

Her voice filled the cavernous space of the foyer as he slid his finger along the side to increase the volume. And he completed the final part of his part of the ritual. Hitting play over and over until sleep finally took over.

Then he dreamed of her. And of them together.

She was laughing.


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