Author: Tim Knight
Title: Price of Victory

Copyright: July 2002
Rating: PG (reflections of a tragedy)
Spoilers:
Buffy: Season 2 until Phases. Specific Episodes, Family, Smashed, Wrecked.
Highlander: Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives.

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander.

Summary: A Slayerette thinks about the personal injury she suffered and wonders how to discuss it with her family, particularly the man she loves.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties, and copyrights are the property of the respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

The characters Shaw Hunter, Ulric Johansen, and Brenna are mine. Anyone wishing to use them may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.
The characters Steven St. Wolf, Randi Jessup, and Brian Jessup, are property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at Steve711@concentric.net.
The characters Robin Goodfellow and Liam Danahure belong to Mike Weyer. Mike can be contacted at SWERJ321@msn.com.

Author's Notes: This story takes place in late January and earliest February 2000, a month after Die Hard in Sunnydale and two weeks after XXX, both by Mike Weyer. In the latter, Shaw went under the "Toth effect" (those of you who memorize everything Buffy will pretty much know what that means) with a Wandererverse twist. Shortly after having the "Toth effect" cancelled, she had to be rushed to a Grail-run hospital for what was originally thought by the Slayerettes to be caffeine poisoning. When Shaw found out the true nature of her injury, she refused to divulge the information to any of her teammates, preferring to try and deal with it herself. Until now.

Dedications:
To Steve, Grand High Poobah of the Wandererverse, for surprising me by giving a VERY quick okay for this story when I just suggested something of this nature.
To Jack, Almighty Editor (or half-Almighty, sharing those duties with Red Ink Rebekah), Scene Sprucer Upper, and Mighty Published Writer in Legend (Yes, there's an in-joke there), who until reading this will not know that he was the one who got me thinking about this idea (I hesitate to say inspired for reasons that will become clear). As someone who agrees with you that we could include more "prices" for our heroes' victories, I think the price can't get much higher than this.
To Mike, Matchmaker For The Pointy Eared, who patiently took twenty minutes over an AOL Instant Message chat to help me narrow down exactly when this "tale of tragedy" could actually happen.

Here are the changes from your regular shows that might play a part in this story:
Buffy:
1. Amy joined the Slayerettes in February of 1998, and has avoided becoming a rat, being changed back and then turned back into a rat again in the space of 15 seconds, and avoided becoming a magic junkie.
2. Willow has avoided a break up with Oz, getting an offer she could refuse from D'Hoffryn, having a snake come out of her mouth to resurrect a dead Slayer, becoming addicted to magic, and becoming the Wicca version of Dark Phoenix, even if she could kill a couple of geeks all by herself.
3. Faith showed up on the Hellmouth in January of 1999 and has avoided turning to the Dark Side of the Force (although she DID face that dilemma), joining the Ward Cleaver of the demon set against the Scoobies, entering a coma, switching bodies with Buffy, boinking Riley Finn while in Buffy's body, and getting busted for an accidental death.
4. Tara showed up in Sunnydale in August of 1999 and has already been attacked by a vampire (in the parking lot of the bus depot), formed a crush on everyone's favorite Boston Bad Girl, met Q, helped save the world, and dealt with her fear of becoming a demon when she turns twenty.


The Price Of Victory
(When Does The Price One Pays To Help Others Become Too High To Bear?)

Hunter/Johansen Residence
Sunnydale, California
30 January 2000

I stare at my reflection in the mirror, watching the way my head tilts, the way my left hand drags the brush through my hair in strokes that aren't as measured or precise as usual. I stop when I recognize the listless, empty hazel eyes of my mother reflected back at me. After a few moments I decide I can care less about attempting to look nice. No, let me rephrase; I can *not* care less. I drop the brush on the table and use my hand to take a white scrunchy from my dresser.

A few simple turns and twists and I'm done. My hair can do as it wishes. I simply do not care today. Or any day since...

My jaw clenches involuntarily and I feel my nails digging into my palms. "No," I hiss defiantly. I will *not* do this. I will *not* cry.

It's not that I don't want to. It would be a blessed release. My fear is that when I start, I will never stop. I breathe deeply, in and out, trying to regain my composure.

// Shawukay, let me in... // comes that accented voice. She's been trying to find out what is wrong but I cannot tell even her.

"No." I refuse to open the door to my bedroom, although it's not my room she wants to enter. I canít share it with her, though. If I told Brenna, the others would know within minutes. I can't deal with them until I...

That I now want to tell him, does that mean I'm trying to deal with this? I look into the mirror again, hoping for some sign that I can take the step I know I'll eventually need to take. My hope isn't answered.

If the legends are true and the eyes are the windows to the soul, what does it say about my soul at this point when I can't tell what my eyes say?

I look at my clock. 12:15. Ulric is at work, leading a sermon. He did not wake me. He knows I prefer to rise with the sun to pray. The irritation I feel for missing my morning devotion wars with my knowing he allowed me to sleep in case I was not fully recovered from the injuries that delivered me in the hospital for two or three days.

I realize the irony in that this injury might affect more than myself and fight down that wave of agony that has been a more intimate companion than my lover for the last fortnight.

How do I tell him, them? How do I tell them...

I tremble and silently ask my Mother, "How do I tell them the cost I paid?"

For once, She is silent and I know that this time, She cannot provide the solace I seek.

I look at my wardrobe; royal blue knit sweater over a white tank top, black colored Jordache jeans, and Capezio ballet flats with very low heels over my bare feet. Not the high fashion that Faith or Cordelia expect from me these days. Too bad. I don't feel beautiful these days, either.

I slide into my leather jacket and start to walk out, knowing there is only one place I can go to think about my fears and injury. Before I leave, I remember. Knowing what would happen if anyone saw it, a wave of fear rises through me, chilling me from head to toe.

While I know Ulric would never invade my privacy or be ungentlemanly enough to go through my underwear, his sister Katrina would in a single beat of my heart. Not that she would invade my privacy, but since coming to visit him from Baltimore a week ago, she refuses to allow either Ulric or I to do *our* own chores. I think it's both subtle revenge for him not telling her that he had a daughter now (she knew about me, but not the depths of our relationship), as well as the fact that throughout history, little sisters find ways to drive their older siblings insane, even if they do not mean to. Considering the effect Faith has on both Buffy and myself, I speak from experience.

I turn back, fighting the suddenly flaring panic of her discovering *this* about me (let alone my racial origins). I open my drawer and pull out the folded sheets of paper that destroyed my blissful spirit only weeks ago and shove them in the pocket of my jacket.

The secret I fear coming to light safe for the moment, I leave, ignoring Brenna's soft pleas to let her help in my own dismal hope that I might find some peace.

Dismal hope, sometimes, is all you have to cling to.

*****

Sunnydale High Library
Sunnydale, California
31 January 2000

I'm startled out of my self-pity when a small stack of papers drops on the table next to me. I jump and jerk my head around, more shaken than I have a right to be.

I see Giles standing there, dual looks of worry and frustration in his green eyes. He knows I'm keeping something from him, just as the others do, but obviously professionalism will win out over counseling now.

"What is it, Giles?" I try to put some emotion in my voice to show I care about whatever he wants to talk about. I don't fool him, but it is worse for me; I wanted to *feel* some emotion for this.

He nods to indicate the papers and points at them, using his glasses. "Shaw, I was just looking over these order forms. They're unacceptable."

I pick the papers up and examine them. I don't see the problem but just acquiesce to his opinion. He has been doing this for a longer time. I sigh, "I will correct them at home tonight."

"Shaw," he says, catching my attention. I know what he sees when I look at him; someone who needs to release something to others but refuses to do so. He puts his glasses back on and sits down. "There's nothing wrong with them. The fact you didn't see that shows me you're in worse shape than I had believed." I tense and he takes it as the sign he's right. I do not want to admit it. "Shaw, you've been in some form of emotional distress for over a week now. I know it's none of my business in a personal sense, but as your teammate and your teacher, I have to note that we'd be willing to help you if you would just let us know what the problem is."

I know he means well, because he cares. They all do. But what I am facing is not something he can help me with, no matter how much I respect him. My decision must show in my eyes because he looks dejected before I even say the word. "No." I try to stand so I might avoid what is coming but he grasps my wrist, stopping me. Even with my strength, Giles is stronger. And if our tempers flared, I know that "the Ripper" would leave my Irish-influenced ire pounded into bloody submission.

"Shaw," he says, mixing determination with concern, "Jenny's told me your work is slipping in class. Sandra says the same thing. Glancing at your other classes, I see the beginnings of a slide in your grades. You are only going to make yourself suffer if you keep this inside. We just want to help you."

My temper breaks first. Perhaps it's the lack of Giles' British culture, but I do not care. "You cannot help me with this. Do you think I would have kept this to myself if you could?"

"If you thought our knowing might endanger us, yes."

I cannot argue with his casual answer, frustrating as it is to me. But I am not one to be swayed by the gentle counselor, not now. The fear and anger that have been tearing at me for days on end demand a release from the cage of my heart, banging against the proverbial bars. I let my eyes fall to the hand around my wrist and then turn my head the slightest bit to glare at him.

He doesn't allow me to leave. Instead he tries to be understanding. "If you won't tell us what the problem is, then either you think it will place us in danger... or you don't know what to do." It is then that I know why he kept his hand clenched. I can make my face not react to things people say, but the slightest tension of my body gives him his answer.

"Let me go." I refuse to let him use my body as a lie detector.

This time he releases me. He stands and towers over me, but his posture is not threatening. In a low whisper he says, "Shaw, I understand you're in pain right now. I'll respect your privacy on the matter, but I would at least like to offer some advice." He hesitates and I know he doesn't want to say what he's about to tell me. He takes his glasses off and starts to clean them. "Do you remember last year when Raidon died? You went into a 'funk,' I believe the others call it, because you were so upset over the events leading up to his death. It wasn't until you sat down and discussed your issues with Faith before you started to recover." He glances at me, showing the fatherly concern he reserves for Faith, Buffy, and Kendra. "Up until the episode where you were... affected, you seemed to be happier than I've ever seen you. Jenny said the same thing. But since then..." He sighs. "If you're willing to answer the question, does your problem have to do with your hospital stay?"

I do not deny that much, and I fail to believe that he does not *know* that. "Yes."

"I see." He puts his glasses back on and turns more professional than paternal. "I won't pry, but I do want to bring up that this issue, whatever it is, is affecting every aspect of your life. If you don't mind a suggestion from a friend, Shaw, please think about how it's affecting your relationships. If you can't think of how to deal with this issue on your own, if you need someone to talk to, pick one of us and ask. That's all you have to do."

Does he think I haven't been thinking about this?!? All I've been *doing* is trying to do is find a way to *tell* him! How dare he! "And just how am I supposed to deal with that idea?" I snap at him. I feel the need to curl up and let someone hold me raging harder than before. It's all I can do to *not* lose myself. I won't let it come out! I can't do it, not here! I feel a cold detachment, that emotionless fragment of my being that I fear more than anything, covering and reinforcing the prison of the pain and guilt I carry. The need to keep my control and desire to unload this burden upon someone else still war, but I keep my silence. I do not answer him. Instead, I pick up my backpack and turn in the direction of the library doors and freedom.

"Where are you going?" Giles actually sounds shocked.

I realize I owe him an answer. I'm surprised when I realize it's the answer he is hoping for. Without slowing down, I push the door open as I tell him.

"To think."

*****

Main Street
Sunnydale, California
1 February 2000

My cell phone beeps again. I sigh in anger over the constant noise and pull it out. Who is calling me now?

I glance at the screen and see my home number on the display. Ulric. I stop walking and stare for a bit, realizing that he must be worried about me. My first reaction is why, since he knows I am more than capable than taking care of myself. My second is that walking out of the library, going home and packing some clothes, weapons, and leaving Brenna asking me if I was nuts might give him reason to worry. Of course, leaving my books at home and not showing up at school this morning might have exacerbated that.

I cannot ignore him but I need time to think. I have been out since I walked away from Giles and it has not helped. All I can think about is what am I supposed to do...

I flip open the damned device. "Hello?"

"Shaw?" Ulric's voice asks me. As I thought, worry. But I hear a more than a little frustration. "Shaw, where are you?"

I hesitate and feel like kicking myself. I look around the lunch throng starting to appear along the avenue and answer. "Ulric..."

"Shaw, tell me where you are," he says. I hear the urgency in this voice.

"I need to be alone." There. I've said it. If he disagrees, I will have to move before someone, he or one of the others, decides to come and pick me up.

He is the one that hesitates now. Softly, he says, "Shaw, I'm worried about you. Are you all right?"

I fight to keep from snapping that if I *was* all right, I wouldn't be in the middle of town during school hours, trying to keep from breaking into... I steel myself and just tell him, "Yes. I'm all right. I have some things to think about. I..." What can I say that will sound more than feeble? I know I am in for discipline when I get home but even that I don't care about. I'm just so tired. "I'm sorry, Ulric. I..."

"Shaw," he says, confusing me with the compassion he is known for. I can't begin to wonder why he isn't angry with me before... "Shaw, Liam's been calling all day. He's worried about you."

That does it. I feel the bars starting to break. I'm losing control... NO! NOT HERE! NOT NOW! I start trembling and end the call. I turn my phone off and jam it back into my duster pocket. I start walking, going as fast as I can without breaking into a full sprint. Part of it is that I don't want to attract attention to myself.

Mostly, it's because this is something I can't get away from. There's only one place I can go that I might find some peace. I have to get there. Maybe there I can...

Maybe there I can finally let my feelings erupt.

*****

Wooded Glade
Borders of Weatherly Park
Sunnydale, California
1 February 2000

I barely notice the shadows playing across the small glade where I set up my private shrine over a year ago. I look at the small altar made using wood shaping spells and again wonder what I could give the Lady in order for Her to tell me what...

I walk up to the altar and sit down, crossing my legs. Amy and the others typically kneel when they pray, but I've never been comfortable doing that. I fall into myself but it is hard for me to focus on Her presence inside of me. I barely touch it and silently plead for Her advice.

The all-encompassing love She gives me wraps me in a... I've tried to describe it before, but the closest idea I can give someone, pitiful as it is, is that if love was something you could wrap yourself in, like a thick comforter in front of a warm fire, this would be it. My jaw clenches again because She knows what I am going through. This time, She gives me reassurance. If She were physically here, I think I would equate it with a motherly kiss on the cheek to go with the hug. I want to keep myself there because I finally feel safe again, but it's only temporary.

Behind the "kiss" comes Her advice and I know what it is. TELL HIM. LET HIM SHARE THIS WITH YOU. I wonder if I imagine the slightest bit of sternness behind the love, but I know that it's deserved in any event. I've... I've shut my love out because of my fears. I know I have no choice but to face him.

It's not the only thing wrong though. I... I have nothing left. Nothing to remind me. To know what...

THEN MAKE YOUR OWN REMINDER.

The Mother of my soul departs with that piece of wisdom and I find myself thrust back into the mundane world of my troubled mind. < My *own* reminder? What are you talking about! > I shout to no avail. She has given me what I asked for... no, what I needed someone to tell me.

But how? HOW do I make a reminder? I feel the frustration exploding like a fireball and I pound my fists into my thighs. I don't *have* anything to make a reminder! All I can do is *imagine*....

I stop and again think about her. I think like I've done so many times since I found out. It doesn't help me feel better. It only makes me feel worse because I'll never know.

I still don't know why, but when I think of her, I imagine her at my... no, at Amy's age. At Faith's age. A teenager. But the variables make the image different every time. I try to hold onto one permanent image but realize it would be wrong of me to do so.

Some things I can imagine with a small amount of certainty; green-shaded eyes being the foremost. A thin but athletic body. Wild hair refusing to be tamed. The color, I don't... can't know. Black and blonde run on one side, red on the other. I shudder to think of the mixing of those colors. I can't even imagine her height; a history of ancestors over six feet collides with the two *very* short (compared to said ancestors) people who spawn... I lose the image again, not daring to stereotype her. I...

If I only *had* something other than my imagination, my mind. I need something... real. Something to know what I... what we... proof. What I want is proof. More than something on paper or in my dreams. I need proof that she is... was real. To know she existed.

I look around, vainly hoping for a sign of what I can do to make her "real" to me. I feel tears threatening to open a cloudburst of emotions, or to burst the dam I've built up around... *our* loss. I want to share her with him but...

Something catches my attention and I stare at it. I finally see a possibility. Part of the reason I chose this glade to make my private shrine. I... I could easily...

It seems empty. A hollow gesture. But I shake my head in mute defiance, trying to hold control for just a bit longer. *Any* gesture, however hollow, is better than nothing. Even for me.

I need this.

I need HIM. I need him too. I finally do what I have to do. I have to confront my fear. Jaw tensing, I pull out my phone and hit a number on the speed dial option.

It's immediately picked up and I hear the voice I've wanted to cry to all this time. "Lass? Where are ye?"

The frantic voice sends a shard of guilt piercing into my heart. I fight the urge to hang up, to put off what might be my last... I steel what little determination I have after these last two weeks and weakly say, "Liam?"

His relief is palpable but only hurts my heart more. "I'm here, lass! Where are ye!"

In a voice I would normally associate with a scared, frightened toddler, I tell him where I am. I tell him we need to talk.

He hesitates and I know what he might be thinking. It's the opposite of my fear when I tell him. But he says he'll be here immediately.

"No!" I blurt before I can stop myself. Gripping the phone with both hands, I nearly crush it. "No. Please... just come normally." I give him a weak, "Please?"

"All right, lassie. Anything for you."

He hangs up and I replace the phone. Why is it that I can't tell what's worse? The silence that scares me after hearing his last words, or the fear that tonight will be our last...

*****

He arrives in less than twenty minutes. I wonder if he "nudged" his car's speed to get here but I don't mind that. It was having him teleport in, before I could even think about how to confess. I wanted to avoid that.

I hear him coming and know it's a courtesy on his part; being as old as he is, he doesn't even need to use magic to leave no trail through a forest, his woodcraft is that good. It usually makes me jealous, being a ranger, but not tonight.

I don't turn to face him; I can't. I don't want him to know before I tell him. Oh Blessed Mother, what is he going to think?!?

"Shaw?" he says as he enters the ground I've consecrated and obscured from normal eyes. He's been here before, the only person other than myself. As I respect the Amazons' private sanctuaries, so they respect mine. "Shaw, I've been worried sick about ye. What's wrong?"

He knows why I've called him here. Is that supposed to make it easier or harder for me? I keep my back to him. I can't face him yet. I slowly bring out the papers and lower my eyes. No. Not that way.

"Shaw?" His uncertainty is as great as mine. But he is not the one who might lose everything.

"Do you remember my hospital stay?" It's the only thing I can think of to start my confession with.

"I was there by yer side when ye woke up, lassie," that Irish brogue answers. Goddess, he's calling me lassie. I may never hear "accushla" again and it tears at me. I hear his footsteps and feel a hand lay on my shoulder. Supportive but hardly intimate. "Shaw, it wasn't your fault that you... well, that she decided she couldn't do without those chocolate bars."

He still thinks it was caffeine poisoning. I hate this. I hate myself! But he has to know. I slowly raise my head to look at the stars I love watching from time to time. A shooting star burns across the opening in the trees and I wonder if it really means anything.

I shake my head, although all he sees is my hair moving back and forth. "It wasn't caffeine."

"Then what was it?" he asks. Now he's confused.

I feel the overwhelming urge to run from him but fight it down. Barely. My vision becomes blurred by tears. "The thing that I've been keeping from you..." Now or never. I have to tell him. "Two weeks ago, the doctor told me something."

Liam waits for a few seconds and gently prods me. He whispers, "What did he say?"

"That I... I..." I'm trembling so hard I feel his hand vibrating. "I was two weeks pregnant."

I've said it. I've told him. But it doesn't help. It only makes it hurt worse because....

"Is that all?" Liam asks, sounding surprised.

I turn on him, knowing my eyes are wide with shock. "Is that all?!?" I shout, my fear temporarily beaten down by outrage. "Is that ALL?!?"

Liam places both hands on my shoulders, shaking his head. "Lass, I'm over 40,000 years old and I've been married 287 times. Did ye really think I've never sired a child before?"

I blink at his misassumption and my own. Oh Goddess he thinks I... "Of course not I..." I'm babbling and I can't stop. Oh Goddess he doesn't understand... I finally look into his eyes. "Liam, you don't understand..."

"I understand somethin's scarin' ye, love," he tells he, concern showing in his eyes. "Ye're usin' more contractions than I think I've heard in the entire time we've been together. Lass..." He looks into my eyes and I see the love that we share, that I fear I'm about to... "Just tell me lass. I'll be here for you."

But for how long! How long when I... Oh no. I feel it breaking. I can't stop it... "Liam..." I weep, my voice cracking, "the doctor said I *was* pregnant..."

I stop and the words won't come out any more. I can't tell him and I can't take it back! How do I.... I clamp my jaw shut. I can't make any excuse that he'll accept. He won't forgive me. If only he could see.... Oh Goddess....

"Read my mind." He has to do it. He has to...

"Lass, I'd never..."

"DO IT!" I shout in desperation. If there's any way he can understand and forgive me...

He hears the fear in my voice and nods in reluctant agreement. He gazes deeper into my eyes, or so the illusion makes it seem. I can't tell; I'm too blinded by tears.

I feel the caress of his power and again I feel what Amy or Willow would call "warm fuzzy" feelings. He's so gentle about my shields and privacy... it's as gentle a caress as when his hands trace over my body...

The feelings disappear with such speed it makes me jerk. His eyes blink and go just a bit wider and his mouth opens, empty of words. He knows. He knows. Oh Goddess I'm going to lose...

He takes a single step forward, closing the gap between us. His arms come up and before I can even react to what I dread will be his good-byes, I'm pressed against his chest, enveloped in his arms as he holds me with the deceptive power I know resides in his small frame. It's some moments before I realize he's still here. He's still...

"Oh God, lass," he breathes into my ear. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, accushla..."

I start trembling. I can't help it! I can't... I start shaking and I feel my mouth opening. My blurred vision is moot now; my eyes are shut too tight to see anything but darkness. It matches the emptiness in my heart. I can't stop it. I can't....

My beloved's voice, so gentle and sorrowful, sends tingles through my head as his words and breath tickle my ear. "By Saint Patrick, Shaw, I understand. Ye didn't know what to do. Ye just didn't know what to do. I understand. God I understand. I'm so sorry."

I hear a howl in the distance and shake harder. I dimly realize that the howls are no such thing, they're quiet wails coming from my throat. I don't care; I can't do this any longer. It's too much....

"Ye're not going to lose me, love. Ye're not going to lose me..."

The fears start draining but that's all. Goddess, the pain hurts so much... I can't stop hurting inside. All because of *him*.... All because he hurt that child who did this to me. It isn't fair... was it the caffeine? The innocent enjoyment someone found in trying something new? Or the shock of the deviceís effects being cancelled? It just isnít fairÖ the fearís leaving but thereís so much pain. . .

I start to sag. I can't stop falling. I just want to fall to the ground... I feel gentle arms guiding me, settling me on the ground. My legs are straight out as if I were lying down but my upper body's not going down. Liam. He's holding me in his arms. Mother Mielikki, he's not leaving me. He's not leaving me...

My Irishman just rocks me back and forth, not saying a word. Words won't help us. Goddess what is he feeling? Has he ever had this happen? Why didn't I just tell him...

I don't know how much time passes. I'm only aware of two things. The pain of what we... *we've* lost, and the one thing keeping it from overwhelming me. Him.

Finally the tears begin to stop but I can't stop shivering. I can't because I've let it out. He knows.

He knows I lost our baby.

He must still be connected because he says no. I don't feel it but his words are coming to me. I don't know if it's from his mouth or his heart. I can't tell. All I know is that he still loves me.

"I know, lass. I know." Goddess what was I supposed to do... "I understand, little lassie. Ye wanted someone to take yer anger and guilt out on. Someone to punish. Ye'd never hurt the wee lass with the wand and the bloody bastard that was responsible for her was dealt with. And ye didn't want to hurt us instead. Ye held all this inside so ye wouldn't take it out on us."

But I couldn't... I start crying again. Oh Goddess make it stop! I can't go through that pain again...

Liam just holds me and keeps whispering to me. He holds me to him and strokes my hair. It wasn't my fault. I literally didn't know what to do. I was scared he'd hate me for losing his...

Again there's that touch in my mind. His touch. But this time I don't feel words or thoughts. My breath catches as I'm enshrouded by what he's showing me. Love. His love for me. I feel sadness and the beginnings of grief, but it's peripheral, like a single breath in a hurricane. He's showing me how much he loves me.

I squeeze him for all I can. I don't want to let go. I don't want to leave his arms. If I do I have to tell the others. I can't hold it from them anymore. I know they'll care but they can't understand. No matter how much I wish they could.

But Liam does. He knows. I feel that it means this has... Oh no. He's been through this before? Oh Goddess...

"That was then lass. This is now. This is you. And ye're the one I love more than anything on this Earth." He keeps holding me and somehow I know he's crying. Not just for me or her, but for what we will never have. What we will never know.

We'll be asking ourselves, "Why? What if? What could have been?"

I've been asking myself for so long... but no more. Now it is we who face that pain. I then realize part of my reasons for shutting him out. It wasn't just that I might lose him. I cry a bit more. Because now that he knows, he has to go through this too. He has to know that someone cost us so much. I did it to him.

He understands. I hear it in my mind. He tells me that's part of being in love; we don't do things alone. We don't just share the happiness, we share the sadness too. I wanted to spare you that, my mind sobs. He just brushes it aside and says he doesn't want to be spared. He wants to share it. All the pain. All the anger. All the love we'll... we'll never get to give her.

I finally stop sobbing. The tears keep falling but I just feel so empty inside. Liam stands me up and I see tears falling from his face too. He takes his thumbs and so gently wipes tears away from my cheeks.

"I'm so sorry," I whisper, shaking my head since I know it is so little, so pathetic. "I didn't know." I bow my head and close my eyes, unable to bear the sadness in his eyes.

He knows what I mean. I didn't know about her before I lost her. He cups my face in his hands. "I know that, love. I know. It wasn't yer fault." He brings his head forward and kisses each of my eyelids. "I'm sorry ye had to go through this, beloved. I only wish I'd known."

I stiffen but he coos to me. He doesn't blame me. He wishes he'd known so he could have helped me from the beginning. He's blaming himself.

"No," I whisper. "No." I open my eyes again and mirror his actions; I hold his face in my hands. "I... I was so angry because..."

He finishes for me. "Because ye didn't have any proof she was real. Ye wanted something more than a piece of paper or a doctor's words to know what ye'd lost."

I turn my head and concentrate. I know he feels the touch of magic as I cancel the obscuring spell. His eyes follow in the direction I look and he sees it.

He turns his head back to me and I swallow. I can barely say the words. "It was all I could think of. It... it was all I can think of to give her. To know..."

Liam nods. "To know the wee one was real to us."

I look at the ground, wondering what I've done to deserve someone like him. I add, "I love you."

"I love ye too, accushla," he murmurs. He takes me into a hug born of love, not sympathy or support. Again he surprises me. "And it's not hollow, Shawukay. It's something to help ye... help *us* remember why we do what we do. It's more than for our memories. It's a sign to hope that others don't have to pay such a sorrowful, terrible price."

I look over his shoulder and stare at the stone that, in the past, I've used for placing ritual instruments on. No more. I've changed its purpose. Thanks to three stone shaping spells, where there was once a rough, half-buried piece of sparkly, thousand pound granite, now sits what people refer to as a Celtic cross.

"To reflect the Irish heritage she'd have from me," he whispers, knowing my every thought. I don't mind; I need him and his love. I can't do without it... "And the Irish and Scottish in yers. I think the lass'd approve."

I back up and look into his eyes. "What do you mean?"

He smiles sadly and whispers, "Shaw, just because there isn't a physical piece of her dinna mean that there isn't a spiritual one. There may be a little lass born from us that's soarin' on wide, white wings up around the Pearly Gates. Maybe someday we'll meet her. Someday, when we go to the next plane. Lord knows, maybe someone'll tell her that there's a wonderful lass that loves her, even though they haven't met *yet*." He places a kiss on my forehead and his next words are totally telepathic. // Hold onto that hope, lass. Hold onto that hope. //

I do hope. I hope that he's right. But something is missing. Something...

I turn to the stone again and I realize the final step I want to take to begin healing. If I can ever heal from this. I glance at him again and see my pain mirrored in his eyes. I start to tear up again.

"I need your help, Liam. I only ask this thing of you. Please help me," I ask, starting to blubber.

He's not in my mind anymore or he'd know. He just nods sadly. "Anything, love."

I face the... the headstone. I face it and... "I want... I want to give her a name."

Perhaps he did know but didn't ruin this. Maybe he wanted me to say it so I could be the one to ask this from him.

"What do ye want to name our baby, lass?"

Our baby.... *ours*. He... I fight down the pain before it takes me again. Liam's hand takes mine and I know he's using a touch of telepathy to keep me from losing myself. Not for good, just until we can share it together. So I won't be alone again.

I've been thinking about a name. What do I... I know. Goddess, will he allow it? "What..." I can't bring myself to ask him. I don't have that right...

"Mary," he says, and I feel the pride and sadness he's feeling in that single word. Pride in her, sadness because like our baby, she's gone as well. "Me mother's name was Mary."

"Mary," I whisper. The mother of Jesus. I don't argue. I think it feels right. I don't know why, but it's right. My tongue licks my lips and I feel that Liam is supporting me as much physically as emotionally. My mind whirls for something and it finally comes into a verbal form.

"Kathleen," I murmur, my heart breaking as it means I'll be going on while she will never get the chance to even begin. "Mary Kathleen."

"Itís a beautiful name, accushla," he whispers.

He knows why I chose it. Somehow I think he would have too. I feel a touch of magic and see his eyes glowing. I frown in confusion but he just nods back at the marker. I turn and see whatís he done. A final touch.

He put her name up there. So weíll never forget.

"A beautiful name," he says, hugging me from behind and laying his head on my shoulder. "From a beautiful woman who'll make a *beautiful* mother."

I just nod my head, not able to say anything. I don't know if I agree with him, not when I didn't even know...

He turns me around and nods. "I'm certain of it, lass. I know it in me heart. Ye know it in yers, but it's broken right now. Someday ye'll see I'm right."

I can't help it. I have to say it. "Because you are always right?"

"Aye, lass. That's why," he says good-naturedly. It doesn't reach his eyes though. It's then that I know.

"You miss her," I say. This is one thing I understand. I cannot help but understand.

"Aye," he says, the sadness I now know he's feeling finally breaking through his exterior. The one he's keeping up for my sake. "I miss her." A couple of tears slowly slide down. "But come what may... we'll miss her together."

The words are meant to comfort me, and perhaps they do. But they also make me break down my facade and I feel my face crumpling. I pull him close and we hold each other, just loving each other and crying for what we have lost.

*****

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
2 February 2000 - Early hours

Amy, Robin, Faith, Cordelia, and Xander stop when they see us sitting there. I see worry, anger, and the gamut of emotions caused by my "disappearance." I stand up with more power than I thought I had left. I'm so tired from the crying. I didn't stop the entire walk from the shrine to Steven's house.

My face is dried but it doesn't fool them, especially Amy. She knows something's wrong just from looking at me.

Her anger and frustration are scattered to the four winds as sisterly worry takes their place. She starts walking forward. "Shaw, what's wrong? What happened?"

I hesitate long enough for her to search my eyes. She sees the pain and shakes her head. "Shaw, what happened?"

I start sitting down and she follows me, gripping my arms in that way that women do when they're about to share something bad. I take her arms as well, needing to know that I can tell her. I hear footsteps and know that Robin is going towards Liam while Xander and Cordy are waiting for us... for me to explain.

My eyes meet Amy's and I know, at least this time, that I can tell them. I can tell them what's happened to us. Faith sits down next to me and I hear the worry in her voice over my strange actions.

"Dammit, Redeye, whereíve you been? Was it that bad you had to start channeling me here?"

My eyes come up to Amyís. She just waits for me to speak, knowing something terrible is on my conscience. "What is it, cuz?"

IÖ I feel the rush again and instinct makes me try to keep in inside. But I canít stop it again, the wounds are open and raw and I canít stopÖ

"I-IÖ" I stop and start sobbing again Oh Goddess it still hurts! "I was trying to. . ." My eyes begin leaking tears again. . . "To find a way to. . ." Finally it bursts forth like the waters from a dam. "To tell Liam I lost our baby."

Amyís mouth opens and her eyes show the same sadness. It just makes me lost control and start sobbing fully. She leans closer and tightens her arms around me. I latch onto her like a lifeline to keep me afloat in my empty heart.

I feel more arms encircling both of us and somehow, even through my grief, I know itís my sister. My left arm moves and grips Faithís powerful forearm and the hug tightens around Amy and me. They hold me to show me their love; I just hold on to survive. To survive my loss.

Oh Goddess what would I do without them?!? I keep crying for another reason; my baby wonít ever know their love either. I. . . I miss her. I miss her so much. If only they knew. . .

A flash in my mind hits me. I just know... somehow, whether it's from Liam, the Lady, or from my own subconscious...

Somehow I know.... they will understand. They *will*.

Because we're family.

End

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