Down at the docks, near a merchant vessel, Angel and Buffy stood sadly.
Angel showed Buffy a ring. Buffy gasped and told him, "It's beautiful."
"My people," Angel explained, "before I was changed -- they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It's a claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty . . . and the heart . . . Well, you know. Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this." The air was positively fraught with emotion. Of love about to be lost.
Angel then displayed his own ring. Buffy reached over, touched his hand gently, and then kissed the ring.
"Put it on," Angel told her. On her reluctance, she took the ring from her hand and slipped it softly onto her finger.
Beginning to cry, Buffy choked out, "I don't want to do this."
Angel said grimly, "Me either."
"So don't go," came Buffy's answer.
Neither said anything after that, and then they kissed. Buffy embraced Angel for what seemed like forever. It had to be forever. They wouldn't see each other for months.
Finally, they pulled apart. "Buffy, I . . ." he trailed off.
"What? What?" the Slayer asked.
"I need to be going." Then he pulled away, picked up the box containing the Judge's arm, and got ready to get on the ship.
"Don't leave me," she choked out.
"I have no choice," he answered, and vanished slowly back into the darkness.
Buffy stared at the spot as though by sheer desire she could will him back. But it didn't work.
It didn't work.
Almost overcome with grief, Buffy staggered her way up the docks and back onto the nearby street. She almost didn't register the three nearby vampires.
She recognized the first one - the same one who'd burglarized the tomb back in October. He swore and said, "DAMN that Drusilla!" The other two jumped Buffy immediately. They were strong.
Buffy, at this point, didn't know from strong. Channeling her pain, she dodged the first one and threw him onto the docks below, while thrusting a stake through the second one's heart. Almost negligently, she staked the first one just climbing up from behind her and advanced on Dalton.
"What did you mean, damn Drusilla?"
"W-well," the vampire nerd said nervously, "Spike was ready to send us out. After you. After the arm. But Drusilla insisted we all stop to have tea first. If we'd left ten minutes earlier -"
"You would have been dead ten minutes sooner," Buffy said nonchalantly. "Where is he?" No answer. Buffy pulled out a vial of holy water. "Where is he?"
Eventually, he told.
* * * * *
Three months later, a lone, weary figure staggered down the road entering Sunnydale from a northerly direction. He limped, he crawled, and finally, bone-tired and exhausted, he crawled onto Buffy's front porch.
She heard the knock on the door. "Angel," she said, hugging him.
"The arm . . . is gone. We don't need to worry about the Judge anymore."
"No, we don't. Come on in. We've got a lot to talk about -- hey, what's that matchbook?"
"Oh, that? Nothing . . . ."