Memento Mori

by Oracle

Part 1

“I miss her.”

Willow swallowed what she was about to say and instead stopped in her tracks just within the door of Angel’s office. His back was to her, his hands clasped behind him as he looked over the broad expanse of the Hackensack River Valley. The valley blazed with the color of sunrise on new snow, and on any other morning it would have been beautiful.

“Oh, Angel. I’m sorry. I … didn’t realize what day it was,” she said, silently reprimanding herself for her oversight.

He turned to look at her. “Today would have been our eighteenth anniversary, you know. God, I miss her. Not really knowing, that’s the worst thing. It’s hard. Hard for me, hard for Elisa.”

Willow felt her heart ache at the pain that showed so clearly in his face, and at the pain that so suddenly rose within her as well.

He absently toyed with a picture frame on his desk and sat down heavily in the large leather chair. Willow couldn’t see the photograph, but she knew it well. Buffy and Angel together, smiling, the snow-covered Cascade Mountains in the background, optimism and love shining bright in the Slayer’s eyes. And a second frame next to that one, with a photo a little girl no more than four or five years old, taken on a long-ago trip to Disney World. The girl was standing with her mother, both of them dressed in touristy tee shirts and baseball caps on a day when the world had seemed a place of joy and promise rather than one of sorrow and regret.

He sighed and gave Willow a small, sad smile that said a lot about their lifetime of intertwined destinies. More than thirty years since sophomore year of high school. Had it been so long already? Over half a lifetime was behind her now, passed in a brief dream.

“Well, no point in living in the past, I suppose,” he said.

“The past is what makes us who we are, Angel. We shouldn’t live in it, but we shouldn’t forget it, either.”

He seemed to ponder that for a few moments as he absently adjusted the alignment of the Angel Summers name placard on his large desk. He’d taken her name. Willow still remembered what he had said to Buffy at dinner the evening after she’d used the Gehenna Key to end the Eternal War against supernatural evil once and for all: “Everything I am is because of you, Buffy. I was less than nothing, and you saved me body and soul. I’m not who I was before, so I won’t use his name. Never again.”

After a bit he propped his elbows on the desk and rested his chin on his clasped hands. His eyes held a mischievous glint beneath the sadness.

“You think Oz might be willing to watch Elisa for a couple of days? I know, she’ll tell you she’s seventeen and doesn’t need a baby sitter anymore, but I’d still prefer she didn’t stay alone.”

“Sure, we’d love to,” said Willow. She loved Buffy and Angel’s daughter as if she were her own flesh and blood. Of course she’d be willing to watch her!

“No, not you and Oz. Oz,” said Angel as he opened a drawer and withdrew a newspaper. He placed it facing her on the desktop.

Willow stepped closer and recognized it as the Sunnydale Sentinel, Sunnydale’s local news weekly. An article near the bottom of the front page caught her eye:

“Bronze Closes Doors — landmark music venue to make way for new mall”

“You know something, Will? I could really use a drink. How about you?”

Willow smiled, knowing instantly what he meant. They’d worked together for too long now for her not to know exactly what he was thinking most of the time.

Angel picked up the phone and dialed an internal DH Group number. “Hi, Fred. It’s Angel. Yeah, have the jet prepped for a flight this afternoon. Just two passengers. Destination is Sunnydale Municipal Airport.”

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