SPOILERS: BtVS (seasons 6 and 7) and Angel (seasons 3 and 4)
DISCLAIMER: The characters of Buffy and Angel belong to Joss Whedon.


He stood silently in the neverending rain that had been falling since early morning.  It was a rain that soaked through skin and burrowed into souls.  It was a gentle rain that made him think of home and her and him.  A rain that called his name softly until he could no longer bear to be inside and had to escape into it.  Dusk arrived and he donned a black leather duster to protect his black silk shirt and black jeans.  With his dark hair and darker eyes he looked like what he was:  death walking in the rain.

His journey ended at a small stone church in an older section of the city.  He stood watch in a bankrupt storefront across the street.  From the church he heard sounds of his childhood:  voices intoning ancient Latin prayers, wine poured into silver chalices, the soft hiss of melting wax, whispered words of mercy and forgiveness.

A door opened and a cloud of sweet incense billowed to his sentry post.  An old man regarded him with the grey eyes of wisdom and blessed him.  He shrank away from the offering, not from fear of the hovering cross and droplets of holy water but rather the absolution of sin.  When the last parishioner departed, he silently entered the church.  His fingers unconsciously reached for the holy water placed at the entrance.  He slid into a pew and cradled his scorched fingers in his lap.  At the altar, a priest turned and nodded a welcome.  When the man had completed his duties, he walked to the rear of the church and sat beside the imposing visitor.

They spoke of many things - humanity, truth, death, justice.  Yet the conversation always returned to familiar topics:  a faraway homeland ravaged by religious strife and cyclic violence, a woman living with darkness, a child conceived in despair.   The priest offered compassion; the penitent refused it.  An understanding was reached, and the priest rose to make a phone call for his companion.

Three words were spoken into a battered telephone.  A hundred miles away, they persuaded a woman to dress hurriedly and drive recklessly.  She arrived in a flurry of screeching brakes and burning rubber.  A car door slammed and she ran into the sacred building.  Her eyes searched the pews at the rear of the church.  He was not there.  She was on the verge of panic when she found him on his knees before rows of burning candles.  As she edged closer, she heard his deep voice whispering in Gaelic.

When he was done, he stood and simply stared at her.  She was thinner since he had last seen her.  She was sadder too.  There was pain hidden deep in her eyes; he could feel it.  She was equally surprised at his appearance.  His toned and muscled body was gaunt.  His normally stoic face was crisscrossed with tears.

She waited for him to act.  He held his clenched hand out to her with his palm face up.  She took his hand and opened his fingers.  A silver claddagh ring lay there.  It was the ring she had left on a mansion floor so many years ago.  She waited for him to speak.  His words were contrite and loving, fearful and sad, painful and wondrous.

Then it was his turn to wait.  She was afraid to answer him.  She was terrified that she would destroy his love with her horrible truths.  She feared that he was too late.  And still he waited.  When she spoke, she had to rip the hateful words from her mouth.  Each word cut her and burnt him.  Her words painted a desolate picture of despair, blind need, and desperation.

He uttered two words in Latin and silently prayed that she would not deny him.  She stepped into his embrace and pulled his head down to hers.  She wiped the tears from both faces and repeated the words to him, "Mea culpa".  Her eyes pierced his, daring him to deny her sins.  He nodded his acceptance and covered her lips with his.  As the kiss deepened, he drew her body against his.  When he finally released her, she was flushed and breathing deeply. His hand still held the ring.

"Not yet," she whispered and caressed his cheek with the palm of her hand.  She could not accept his absolution of her. She turned and walked tearfully out of the church.  He listened as she started the car and drove off.  Then he too walked into the driving rain clutching tightly to the ring and a promise.


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