DISCLAIMER:  All of these characters and all of the background belong to Joss Wheden, Mutant Enemy and the WB.

For Once In My Life
Written by Beth M

Part 1

"Explain to me exactly what you mean when you say Spike has Willow?"  The Slayer had both of her hands wrapped tightly around her boyfriend… ex-boyfriend… boyfriend's neck.

"Buffy, let me go and I'll explain."

Buffy released her death grip from Angel's throat and he slumped to the ground.

"I thought you weren't trying to kill me anymore…"

"Don't change the subject…"

"All right, all right…  the word on the streets is that Spike just grabbed her walking home from the Bronze last night… what the hell were you doing letting her walk home alone?"

"Hey, don't turn this around on me…  You're the one that told me that Sid and Nancy left Sunnydale…"

"I'm sorry, Buffy, I didn't mean to snap at you…  we have to get her back. They're going to change her, if they haven't already."

"WHAT?!  Why?"

"What better way to get back at you and me both?  She's your best friend, and she's the one that almost lost her life giving me my soul back…"

"Oh, God… Angel, where are they?"

"I don't know, Buff… I've lost track of them."

"We've got to find them now.  It's time for Spike and Dru to not be anymore."

"I'll hit the streets…  you go call Giles."

"And Xander, and Oz…  oh, shit,"  The Slayer began to sniffle.

"Buffy,"  Angel gently shook her,  "Get a grip…"

Part 2

Two hours later, Buffy was sitting on the library floor, head in her arms.  Giles was pouring through stacks of books, Cordelia looking over his shoulder trying to help.  Xander sat in Giles's office, staring at a spot on the wall,
as Oz paced from one end of the library to the other.

Angel burst in the door.  It was now only about an hour before sunrise.  It had been a month since Angelus became Angel again, thanks to Willow and her dedication.  Buffy and Angel were desperately trying to recapture the love that they had before The Change, but it was becoming apparent to both of them that nothing could ever be the same.  Giles, although he put on a good act, would never be able to forgive him for killing Jenny.  Xander had always hated him, but more so now after Willow almost lost her life at his hands.  Angel knew that Buffy would never be able to see him the same way again, and he couldn't blame her.  The guilt he was carrying on his shoulders was heavier than ever.   He was withdrawing into himself the same as he had years before, when the gypsies originally restored his soul.  He remembered all the hideous things that he had done, from killing Jenny, to Willow's fish, the torture of Giles, and every nasty thing he said to Buffy, and the guilt was almost overwhelming.

The only person that still treated him like Angel was Willow.  She had been the one that refused to give up on him.  Willow was so open and innocent that somehow, despite all the evil that she had witnessed on the Hellmouth, she still saw the good in everyone, and now, after regaining his soul, Willow was the only one that could look him in the eye and still see Angel, and now she was gone.

"Buffy…"  Angel cried out as Buffy jumped up from her spot on the floor.

Everyone immediately knew that something was wrong.

"Angel, what is it?  Where are they?"  She grabbed his arms and began to shake him.

"It's… it's too late.  They've changed her."

"NO!  God damn it, no!"  Xander tore from Giles office and tackled the much larger Angel, pummeling him in the chest with his fists.

Angel didn't even try to fight back.  This was his fault.  This was all his fault.  If he had stayed away from Buffy in the very beginning… if he hadn't fallen in love with her, none of this would be happening.

To his surprise, it was Giles, not Buffy, that pulled Xander off of him.

"Giles, what are you doing?  He's the monster that started all of this.  He killed Jenny, for Christ's sake, and now Willow is… is… she's… Oh, God…  she's one of them."  He fell sobbing into Cordelia's arms.

Oz left.  He was in love with Willow, but he couldn't be with the others.  He had never really been a full part of their inner circle.  He saw Willow in a way that none of the other's ever had.  From the moment he laid eyes on her,
he was smitten.  Not like Xander who couldn't see her beauty if it bit him on the ass.  Not like Angel who saw her only as Buffy's smart little friend.  Not like Giles, who saw her as the hacker.  In their world, Buffy was the center.
In Oz's world, it was Willow.  He needed to grieve on his own.

Angel remained in the floor.  Willow.  Sweet Willow.  His heroine.  Gone.

After a few minutes of silence, Cordelia spoke.

"Why don't we just do the ritual thingy on her?"

Four heads spun to stare at her.

"Why do you all always look at me like that?"

Part 3

"We can't…"  Giles began.

"Why the hell not?  It worked on dead-boy over there…"  Xander screamed, seemingly oblivious to the glare he was receiving from Angel.

"Because… because it's just too dangerous.  And she still won't be Willow.  She'll still be a vampire…"

"We could help her, Giles,"  Buffy told her Watcher.

"It…  it…  we can't do it anyway.  None of us knows the ritual.  Willow had memorized it and got rid of the disk after… after…"  he nodded towards Angel.

"No, she didn't.  I have the disk,"  Angel spoke quietly.

This time everyone turned to stare at Angel.

"She came to see me after I became… me… again.  She wanted to check up on me, see how I was, and she brought the disk with her.  I wanted her to destroy it, but she wouldn't.  She wanted me to have it for some reason.  She was adamant about it.  Maybe she knew something…  I tossed it in a drawer and hadn't even thought about it until now."

"Then lets do it,"  Xander hissed.

"It's not that easy, Xander,"  Angel finally spoke to him,  "Do you have any idea what it will do to her to get her soul back?"

"Screw you, Angel.  If it was Buffy, you'd be all for it."

"He's right, Xander,"  Buffy told him,  "this is Willow we're talking about here.  Willow.  Imagine how she will feel?"

"Could you kill her, Buffy?"  Cordelia spoke again,  "You couldn't kill Angel, and I know that you love Willow just as much.  Could you kill her if you had to?  Would you all please stop staring at me?"

"My God, she's right, Buffy,"  Giles said,  "None of us could kill her…  I… I…I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try.  Angel, we'll need your help."

"Of course…  I know where she is.  I'll get her away from them… and… uh…  I-I can help her… after the change."

"Tonight,"  Buffy said,  "We have to do this tonight… before she gets her first kill.  She couldn't live with herself if she killed someone."

"Right.  Let's get started."

Angel looked towards the windows and saw the sun starting to rise.  Buffy noticed.

"C'mon, Angel, I'll go back to your place with you to get the disk.  You can meet us back here right after sunset tonight."

The rest of the day was spent in preparation.  Giles was familiar enough with the ritual to understand the basics of what was going to happen.  The rest of the gang spent the day studying it with him.

Angel spent the day pacing his apartment.  Rest was out of the question.  He knew what was about to happen to Willow.  Being changed into a vampire isn't that horrific because you lose your soul.  You lose the ability, the desire, to care about what happens.   Your whole life instantly becomes a quest for blood.  The demon is in control.  But what was going to happen tonight would be so different.  Willow, if the ritual was successful, and if they were early enough, wouldn't have the guilt that Angel carried with him.  She had never harmed a soul in her life.  But, realizing that she could never be the same person she was before would devastate her.  And Angel knew that he was the only person on Earth that could help her.

As soon as the sun went down, he returned to the library.  A sense of urgency surrounded them all.  Angel left immediately to find Willow… to get her away from Spike and Dru.  The night before, he had discovered their lair.  He waited in the shadows until the threesome emerged.

A shock jolted Angel as he looked at Willow.  She was no longer the same Willow that saved his soul.  Hungry for her first kill, she was already wearing her game face.  It appeared that Dru had dressed her.  She looked like
a Victorian porcelain doll with a monster's face.

He noticed Drusilla sniff the air.  She would know that he was near.

"Angel?  Angel, my love?  Come out, come out, wherever you are…  come meet your little Willow…"

Angel stepped from the shadows.

"You know I'm not letting you take her."

"C'mon, Angelus,"  Spike told him,  "Dru and I are both strong now…  you can't defeat both of us.  Give it up, old friend…  you lose."

"Not without a fight, Spike.  You know me better than that,"  With that warning, the fight began.

The three vampires were engaged in battle, with neither side gaining any ground when suddenly Spike jumped back.

"She's gone,"  he said.

Angel and Dru stopped fighting and looked around them.  Willow had disappeared off into the night.

"Oh, I'm so proud of her,"  Drusilla drawled, "Our little Willow, going off on her first kill all by her lonesome…"

Angel took off running.  He knew that the ritual would have begun by now, and he had to find Willow before she regained her soul.  He knew that she couldn't be alone when that happened.

Part 4

The ritual was in full force.  Buffy was guarding the door, as Giles, Xander, Cordelia and Oz performed the ritual.  A few more minutes and it would all be over.

Willow flew into an alley, unable to ignore the searing pain anymore.  All she wanted was blood.  All she wanted was to kill.  She was nearly paralyzed, though.  Slumping to the ground, she didn't notice the figure standing at the
mouth of the alley watching her… watching what he had gone through only a month before.

Angel began to hear the sobs, watching her body shake as the realization dawned on her.  He knelt beside her, and pushed her hair from her face.

"Willow?"  he asked gently.

"Angel?"  she looked up into his face,  "Oh, Angel, what's happened?"  she wailed.

He took her in his strong arms,  "Shh… Willow, shh…  I know, I know."

Willow cried for what seemed to be hours, while Angel held her tight. Gradually, her cries subsided as she wore herself out.  Angel knew that she would be hungry.

"Willow, you've got to eat."

"NO!  No, Angel, NO!"

"Willow, you have to… c'mon, I'll take you back to my place…"  Willow was too weak to protest any further.  Angel helped her to her feet, and held her in his arms as they walked back to his apartment.  By this point, Spike and Dru would have figured out what had happened, and he felt certain that they would be coming after them soon.  Thankfully, the same rules applied for vampire homes as well as mortal homes.  Spike and Dru wouldn't be able to enter his apartment without an invitation.

Once they reached the apartment, Willow curled up on the couch.  Angel went to the fridge and grabbed a pint of blood for her.

"No, Angel… I can't."

"Willow, you have to.  I know you don't want to, but you have to.  I know it's hard to understand now, but you'll feel better afterwards, I promise,"  he pleaded with her.

"No… no, Angel,"  he waved the cup under her nose, and she began to smell it.

Angel knew her resolve was weakening.  The scent of the blood would be too much for her to resist.  She looked so pale and frightened, and alone.  Angel left her with the cup in her hands, knowing that she would drink, and went to the phone.  He dialed the library and Buffy answered the phone.

"Angel?  Do you have her?  Is she OK?"

"She's… the ritual worked, but I wouldn't exactly say that she's OK."

"Why?  What do you mean?"

"Buffy, she's just realizing that she's a vampire.  I'm afraid that she's going to need some time before she can face anyone…  you should just go home.  All of you.  Spike and Dru are going to be incredibly pissed off, and I don't
think any of you are really safe right now.  I'll take care of Willow…"

For some reason, Buffy was suddenly overcome with pangs of jealousy.  She knew that Angel didn't feel anything but friendship towards Willow, but she still didn't like the thought of her being alone with him.  She shook it off,
though.  This was Willow she was talking about, after all…

Part 5

Angel was right.  She did feel better…  more human again, if that was possible.  The taste wasn't as bad as she thought it was going to be.  <Because I needed it.>  She looked around the apartment, taking in the
surroundings.  Angel was whispering into the phone.  She watched as he talked.  He looked different to her now…  she had always felt a bond with Angel.  Same with Buffy.  They were all outsiders, none of them wanted to be who they were.  But this was different.  She felt that she was a part of Angel now.  And she felt so distanced from Buffy.  And the others.  Oz… she realized that there was no connection there now.  Xander… she felt pangs in her heart when she thought of Xander.  Would he hate her the same way he hated Angel?

Angel hung up the phone and went back to the couch with Willow.

"Um, well, Angel… thanks.  I guess I should be going home…"  she started to rise from the couch.


"Home, Angel, I've got to go home…"

Angel grabbed one of her hands, pulling her back down on the couch,  "Willow, you can't go home.  You know that."

"But-but… where will I go?"  she began to sniffle again.

"You'll stay here with me…  for forever if necessary."

"Angel… I can't stay here."

"Willow, calm down and talk to me.  I know what you're going through.  I can help you.  I will help you."

"Angel, I can't do this to you.  I can't be your burden.  You've got too much other stuff going on than worrying about me.  I'll be OK… somehow…"

"You saved me.  I won't let you go through this alone.  Don't you realize how important you are to me?"

"I'm just Buffy's friend…"

"Oh, come on, Willow… you are so much more than that.  You're the one that's always had faith in me.  Even after Buffy lost it, you held on.  You kept searching for the restoration ritual.  You almost died performing that ritual.
For me.  And you did it twice.  For me.  Willow, you've been there for me when no one else was.  When I didn't deserve it.  There's no way I'm letting you go through this alone."

"Angel, that's really sweet… but you're still trying to put your own life back together.  I-I don't need you to baby-sit me."

"Willow, would you stop being so damn stubborn?  You can't do this on your own.  You don't know how.  I know you've seen a lot over the past couple of years, but you just really can't imagine how hard it is to be a vampire.  Have you even stopped to consider this?  The sun… remember the sun?  You'll never be able to see that again.  Mirrors… forget seeing your reflection ever again.  Your family, Willow.  You can never, ever go home again…"

"Angel, stop it,"  Willow cried,  "Stop saying those things…"

"See, Willow?"  he took her into his arms again,  "You can't do this alone. You just can't.  Please let me help you…"

"I want to die…"

Angel knew that this would be coming.  Once the realization of what she was started to set in, her first reaction would be to want to commit suicide.  It was only natural, and perfectly understandable.  Willow was dead.  She still had her body and soul, but she was dead.  Her heart no longer beat.  She would never see daylight again.  Never be married, never have children, never see her family.  Never have any semblance of a normal life again.  Of course, she wanted to die.

"Willow, you can't…  I know what you're thinking, and believe me, I understand, but you can't…"

"Why not, Angel?  Tell me why not!  You have a reason for living,"  she sobbed,  "you have Buffy.  I have nothing."

"Bullshit!  For starters, I don't have Buffy…  things haven't been the same between us since I returned, and they'll never be the same again.  We feel responsible for each other, but what we have is not love anymore.  And you
have Oz… and Xander, who'd never admit it, but he loves you, too.  You should have seen him last night…"

"But Oz and Xander both loved the old Willow…  God, Angel, you should understand that better than anyone.  I'm not what they fell in love with… Angel, just let me die."

Angel grabbed Willow by the shoulders and shook her violently,  "I can't let you die, Willow.  I can't.  Don't you understand that I need you, too?  I've never before had anyone that really understood me.  Someone that knows what it feels like to be a vampire with a soul.  I need you.  I need you to stay by my side, to help me get through this, too.  We're… we've got this bond.  Please, Willow.  Please, just try."

Willow's sobbing subsided as she absorbed his words.  Angel needed her.  Angel wanted to share his world with her.  Willow.  Frumpy, dumpy second banana Willow.

"I'm so tired, Angel,"  she rested her head on his chest.

She had never felt this close to anyone before.  Not even Xander, over all the years that they had been friends.  Angel belonged to Buffy.  She knew that what he was asking her for was nothing romantic.  Angel wanted a friend… a friend that understood him, and that was Willow.  Maybe that bond was there even before she was changed into a vampire.  At this moment, Willow was too tired to think anymore.  The only thing she wanted was sleep.

"Take the bed, Willow.  I can sleep on the couch."

"Oh, no, Angel.  You're a lot taller than I am.  You sleep on the bed.  I'll be fine on the couch."

Angel grinned at Willow, "I'm two hundred and forty-two years old.  I still believe in chivalry.  You have to sleep in the bed."

Willow smiled back at him, smiling for the first time since Spike had changed her.  She walked into the bedroom and crawled into bed.  Angel followed her, and tucked her in like a child.

"If you need anything, I'm right in the next room.  I won't leave you alone, Willow."

As Angel turned to leave the room, Willow mumbled,  "Buffy's so lucky."

"What was that?"  Angel turned to look back at her, not hearing what she had said, but she was fast asleep.

Part 6

The next few days, Angel and Willow didn't leave the apartment.  The days were spent sleeping, the nights were spent talking.

Willow experienced a thousand different emotions every second that she was awake and it confused the hell out of her.  She missed Buffy, Oz, Xander, Giles, and Cordelia, but she didn't want see them.  It was as if they were all
gone, a part of her former life, which they were.  It didn't seem to matter that they were only minutes away.  She missed her family more than anything, and mourned for her lost parents.  She knew that she could never see them
again, and allowed Angel to hold her as she wept for them.  She was trying to become used to her new powers.  Angel was guiding her along.  He taught her how to do that disappearing thingy that she used to be so intrigued by when he'd do it.  He was teaching her how to control the incredible new strength that she had.  Each day that passed, she felt slightly better.  Angel was responsible for all of that.

There was nothing that she could say or do that seemed to shock him.  He was by her side every time she needed him.  And when she needed to be alone, he disappeared.  It was as if he could read her mind.  He could.

"Angel, I don't get it."

"Get what?" he asked.

"Why you always know just what I need when I need it."

"Willow, look at me."

They were sitting in the floor, and Angel was telling her about his life when he was mortal.  A silence had fallen over the room as they both began to grow tired.

"I am looking at you, silly."

"No, Willow, sit here right in front of me and look me straight in the eye."

Willow sat cross-legged and stared into his eyes.

"Don't think about anything, OK, Willow?"

"All right…  I'm blank,"  she joked.

< You can hear me, can't you? >

"Of course I can hear you.  You're sitting right in front of me."

< Willow, I'm not talking. >

Willow jumped out of her skin,  "Stop that!  Don't do that!"

"I can't help it, Willow, and neither can you."

"You can read my mind,"  Willow was horrified.

"It's not exactly like that.  It's not mind reading.  I've never experienced anything like this before.  It must have something to do with the ritual.  I can only hear thoughts that are directed at me, and you can only hear thoughts
that I direct at you.  I can't just tell what you're thinking."

< Thank God… > Willow thought.

"I heard that."

"Stop it, Angel, I mean it."

"Then stop thinking thoughts that are directed at me,"  he replied, slightly bemused.

"Don't you dare laugh at me, Angel, or I'll… I'll…"

"You'll what, Willow?"  he was laughing now.

< I'll turn you into a toad as soon as I figure out how… >

"We're vampires, Will.  Not witches…"

< Did he just call me 'Will'?  Has he ever called me that before…? >

"Did you hear that?"  she asked.

"Hear what?"

"Oh, good,"  she sighed,  "I was thinking to myself."

< This could be fun, Willow… and it could come in handy sometime… >  He thought

< How about if we're having a conversation, and we don't do this, OK? >  She thought.

"It's kinda creepy,"  she spoke.

"As you wish,"  he sighed with a smile,  "Hey, when are you going to want to see everybody.  You know that they're all concerned…  you're going to have to do it sometime."

"I know, Angel.  I'm just so scared.  What are they going to think?  Will they be repulsed?  Will they try to act like nothing has happened?  I-I don't even know if I want to see them again."

"I understand…  I really do.  But you really have to see them.  They love you."

"They loved Willow… and I'm not that same Willow anymore."

"Yes, you are.  More than you realize.  You are still inside there… the demon took over, but it never got the chance to take hold of you.  It never got a chance to affect who Willow is."

Willow sat silently with her thoughts for a few moments,  "Maybe tomorrow night?  Do you think it's safe for us to leave here?"

"I'll protect you… and you're a lot stronger than you realize."

< I won't let anything happen to you… >

"Stop that!"  Willow laughed.

Part 7

Angel made sure that Willow was sleeping before he called Buffy.  He wanted the others to be expecting her tomorrow night, so that it would lessen the trauma of the experience for her.  The less shocked they seemed to see her, the more comfortable she'd be.

"How is she, Angel?"  Buffy asked.

"Getting better…  still not great.  She's actually laughed a couple of times. I think that seeing you guys will do her good.  She's so worried about what you're all going to think of her."

"She's still Willow, though, right?  I mean, basically?"

"A very melancholy Willow, but still Willow."

"Come early…  you were right about Spike and Drusilla being pissed.  They've been wreaking havoc all over town the past couple of nights."

"I figured as much.   We're going to have to figure out something to do about those two."

"As soon as I can get close enough to them, they're dust, I swear."

"I'll see you tonight, Buffy."

"I miss you, Angel."

"I miss you, too."

After he hung up the phone, he realized that he was lying.  He didn't miss Buffy.  He had hardly thought about her the past few days, which was really a relief.  Worrying about Willow as much as he was, he didn't have time to feel all the guilt about Buffy and everything he had done.  Buffy would always be a constant reminder of his demon.  And he knew, although she'd never admit it, that he would always be a constant reminder of his demon for her, too.

His thoughts were punctured by screams coming from the bedroom.  He knew immediately that Willow was having a nightmare.

He raced into the room and shook her awake.

"Willow…  Willow, wake up.  You're just dreaming."

She woke up still screaming and shaking in his arms.

"Hey, come on, calm down…  it's OK, I promise…  It's not real."

"Yes, it is, Angel.  It is real,"  she sobbed,  "I'm a vampire.  I am a vampire."

"Willow, I know it's hard to see this right now, but there are worse things than being a what we are."

"Yeah, like what?"

< Like having no soul… >

"Oh, Angel… I'm sorry… I didn't mean to…"

"It's all right.  I'm just thankful that you never got a chance to be what I was."

< Did you think that I'm as horrible as you seem to think you are? >  He asked her silently, unintentionally.

"Angel, no… I never thought you were horrible, except, when, uh, you know… you were Angelus."

"I didn't even mean to ask you that, Willow… that was unfair…  it's just that you and I are the same now, I guess, and I'm watching you every day, beating yourself up, thinking you're such a monster, and you never thought that about me.  At least, I don't think you did.  Maybe you did without realizing it."

"No, I didn't.  You were always so caring and so concerned about Buffy.   I swear, I didn't think badly of you.  I didn't."

< I wished I were Buffy… >

"Oh my God…"  she said,  "Did you hear that?"

"No,"  Angel lied,  "Hear what?"

"Nothing…  I didn't know vampires had nightmares."

"I have them all the time…  Like mortals, sleep is just another state of consciousness for us.  We sleep, we dream, we have nightmares…"

"Great.  The one part of being mortal that I hated is the one part that I get to keep."

"Lie down and go back to sleep,"  Angel smiled warmly at her,  "I'm right in the next room… If you have another one I'll be right here again,"  he started walking towards the door.

< Don't leave me, Angel. >

Angel turned back to face her, mouth slightly open, not knowing what to say.

"Angel, I didn't mean to do that… It just happened.  Sorry."

"Willow, if you want me to stay here with you, just tell me."

"No, I'm fine, Angel… just a little scared.  I'm fine, though."

< Liar… > He thought at her, pulling back the covers and climbing into bed beside her.

"Angel, you really don't have to do this…  I mean, you know, I've never been in bed with a guy before, not even Oz, even though I thought about it a couple of times, OK, maybe more than a couple, and Xander of course, I mean, I didn't sleep with Xander, well, we did when we were kids, but, wait, no, that's sounds gross, Xander and I slept in the same bed, but we didn't sleep together, you know…"

"Willow, shut up,"  Angel laughed, turning to face away from her,  "just go to sleep."

< Thank you. >

< You're welcome. >