His sullen form stood transfixed in the doorway, a dangerous, uneasy smirk playing across his lips.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
“Oh, Angel… well… um, yes. Sometime soon,” the Watcher answered from his perch behind the library counter, pausing to remove his glasses, “It’s time… but, you already know that, don’t you?”
“The Hellmouth is closed. Not really anymore vampires here for her to slay… Does she know?”
“She suspects. We haven’t actually talked about it yet.”
“Don’t you think you should?” Angel had fully entered the library, and leaned against the huge table in the center of the room.
“Angel, she knows her fate. We’ve been called away. It’s really as simple as that. As you’ve said, the Hellmouth’s closed, and now that Buffy’s mother and father are getting back together, her mother will be moving back to Los Angeles. Xander and Cordelia are moving across the country, and, well, Willow... she’s made it quite obvious that she’s finished with all of us. It’s time for us to move on, as unbearable as it seems.”
“So, I should be saying
my good-byes, then, huh?”
Buffy and Giles had been gone for just over a week. Another Hellmouth had opened in another part of the world, and as the Slayer’s duty dictates, she and her Watcher had taken off to fight the forces of evil. If she survived this next Hellmouth, chances are she would be permitted retirement. No Slayer had ever lived this long, it was unheard of. Buffy had proven stronger than any that had come before her. Whether it was her own inner strength, or the allowances that her dutiful Watcher had allowed her—her friendships with the Slayerettes, or sheer luck, Buffy had changed the rules for all Slayers that would be coming after she was gone.
Angel and Buffy had said their good-byes the day before the pair departed. They hadn’t returned to their past love after Angel had returned from his trip to Hell. It had all been much too painful. The events had caused Buffy to mature enough for her to realize that her love for Angel distracted her from her slaying duties… her sacred duties. Their love had almost cost everyone that they both cared about their lives. They couldn’t—wouldn’t return to that.
Their goodbye had been difficult. They hadn’t seen much of each other in the past year. The Hellmouth had been sealed, and there was no need for Angel to act as her silent protector. Buffy had proven on many occasions that she was plenty strong enough to stand on her own.
The Scooby Gang had held a going away party for itself at the Bronze. Angel hadn’t attended the party, but had instead waited outside for her exit. They kept it short and sweet, with one final tender embrace. They would never see each other again.
Sealed or not, the Hellmouth still oozed an aura of evil. It wasn’t, and would never be again, the center for the convergence of all that is putrid in the Universe. Still, some foolish and ignorant demons would always been drawn to Sunnydale.
With that knowledge, and the extreme desire to not be on a ‘mission’ for once in his eighty plus years of souled existence, Angel decided to remain in Sunnydale. He longed for a calm next century. His past had been too tumultuous, too violent. He felt he owed it to himself to have a little peace for a while. He justified his staying by convincing himself that he was staying to keep the evil away from the Hellmouth. He could dispose of those wayward demons in his sleep if need be, but it gave him an excuse to not go off searching the world for greater evil.
Out of habit, he strolled through the cemetery late one evening. Suddenly, he detected the scent of another vampire < spider sense, as Buffy had called it >. Casually, he turned to face the monster, pulling a stake from his back pocket. As he raised his hand to slay the vampire, he exploded in a cloud of dust, exposing the tiny redhead to Angel.
Angel had almost completely forgotten about the silent Willow, the small spit-fire of a woman that had saved his soul, and returned him from the pits of Hell. It wasn’t so much that he forgot her, as he had simply pushed her to the back of his mind.
He had hurt her, badly. Nearly killed her. Twice, she risked her life to save his soul, twice attempting the Restoration Ritual. Her second attempt had been successful, although not quickly enough for her to keep Buffy from sending him to Hell. Buffy had blamed herself, Xander had blamed himself, and Giles blamed himself for everything. And Willow had blamed herself. If she had been stronger, smarter, braver… if only she had been successful during her first attempt. Realizing what had happened, that Angel was trapped in hell, and Buffy had disappeared, Willow had shut her life off to everything except finding a way to bring him back, and, once again, she succeeded where no one else could. The Wizard Willow. No one knew for certain where her powers had come from, but she got them from somewhere. Giles had silently decided that somehow, Jenny had passed her powers on to her protégée. No one else ever dared to question where it came from, not even Willow.
Angel returned from Hell, damaged, but not beyond repair. Once again, he carried the blood of innocents on his hands. Buffy returned. Nothing was ever the same. Willow retreated into herself. After bringing the two back, but not together, she began cutting her ties with her friends. It had been too much for her, too painful. Many times, Angel had thought back to the small, strong girl. He longed to thank her for what she had done, but she had made it clear to everyone that she wanted no further contact with him. He was Buffy’s, and she had done what she did for Buffy.
And now they were face to face, alone in the middle of the vacated Hellmouth.
The pair stood staring at each other in awkward silence for a few moments before Angel had the presence of mind to lower the stake in his hand.
“Willow, what are you doing? Why are you still here?”
“I could ask you the same question… why didn’t you leave with the others?”
Angel paused to take a long look at the woman who had risked so much to save him. She wasn’t the same Willow… not at all. She was older, years older than her eighteen earth years. And sad… Angel could feel the heaviness hanging on her, inside of her. Looking into her eyes, Angel saw emptiness and sadness, loneliness and regret.
Suddenly, she turned and began to run. Angel caught her quickly, grabbing her as gently as the 245 year old vampire could, and spun her around to face him.
“Willow, don’t run from me, please,” he begged, “For so long I’ve wanted to talk to you, to thank you for everything that you did for me…”
“Did for you?” she cried out, “All I did was cause everyone pain. After I brought you back, it tore everyone apart… everyone away from each other, away from you, and away from me…”
“NO!” Angel began to shake the small girl, “Willow, *you* did not cause all of that to happen… it was inevitable. Oh, my God, you haven’t been blaming yourself all this time, have you?”
Willow began to weep, her head falling forward until her chin nearly rested on her chest. Her fiery red hair fell into her face as her body trembled with her sobs.
“Willow,” Angel released his grip from her shoulders and lifted a strand of her hair, pulling it back away from her face, “Willow, listen to me… you know as well as anyone that Buffy and I couldn’t stay together. How many times did I almost get her killed? How many times did I almost kill her myself…?”
“That wasn’t you, Angel, that was Angelus,” she answered through broken sobs.
“Angel, Angelus… doesn’t matter. I was a huge distraction for her. It was too dangerous. As ugly as this truth is, she is the Slayer. It’s her duty. She’s not… she can’t… as much as she wanted to be a normal teenage girl, she just couldn’t be. My presence in her life almost sent the entire world to Hell. God, Willow, please, you can’t blame yourself. You saved me… more than once, almost losing your own life in the process. You never told anyone else what was involved in releasing me from Hell, did you?”
“Giles guessed. I never confirmed or denied it…”
“I ruined your life, didn’t I?”
“C’mon, Willow… think of how much better off your life would be if I had never been a part of it. All these years, all this time, I only wanted to help, and look at the damage I did…”
Willow sniffled, her tears finally subsiding, “You think maybe we’re both being a little hard on ourselves?”
“I’ve been doing it for the last eighty years, though. I think I’m beyond hope,” he told her, unconsciously slipping into his best beaten-puppy-dog face, “You, on the other hand, certainly are not. What’s going on, Willow? Talk to me…”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Angel. You know everything that happened…”
“No, I don’t know why you shut yourself off from everyone…”
“It’s not like they missed me or anything.”
“Bullshit! It tore them all apart…” Angel began leading Willow to a nearby bench, where they sat to finally talk.
“If that’s true, how come none of them ever came to tell me?”
Angel opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. He had no answer for her.
“You don’t know, either, do you? My so called friends forgot about me…”
“Like they forgot about me? Willow, what happened was horribly painful for all of us, and none of us knew how to deal with it. I maintain that I did the right thing, distancing myself from all of you. Buffy and Giles also chose the right course of action—The Watcher and the Slayer needed to become a single, separate entity. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I figured that you, Xander, Cordelia and Oz would hold each other together, but the fact is, too much had changed. I know you’ve got powers, Willow. I’m guessing that Xander couldn’t deal with that. He made the mistake of turning to Cordelia instead of you, right?”
“Cordelia and Xander were together before all this happened…”
“But you were still his best friend, right?”
“Angel, I don’t know… I just don’t know anymore… I forced myself to stop thinking about it. It’s part of my past and I’ve forced myself to move on…”
Angel stared at the young woman, listening to her words. She seemed so old to him, no longer the giddy young schoolgirl.
“Willow… you’re still so young… you have so much of your life ahead of you…”
“More than you know,” Willow whispered quietly.
“What?” Angel had barely heard her, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, never mind,” she quickly changed the subject, “Look, the fact is, I guess, we got left behind. By choice? Maybe, maybe not. But just like you didn’t do anything to stop the alienation, neither did I. Maybe I’m not the same kid I was a couple of years ago. I miss the old Willow, and I miss Buffy, and Xander and Angel, too… but we can’t get that back, and it’s just silly to even think about…”
“What’s silly? Maybe it’s not just a coincidence that you and I are the only ones left in Sunnydale. Maybe it’s not just a coincidence that we ended up in the cemetery together.”
“Maybe we’re just desperately lonely people hanging out in the one place where we feel we belong…”
“That’s a morbid thought, Willow.”
“Yeah, well, I’m kind of a morbid person these days…”
Without thinking, Angel
took one of Willow’s small hands in his, tracing small circles on the back
of it, “That’s sad, Willow… maybe we can do something to change it?”
Several weeks had passed since the fateful meeting in the cemetery, and Willow and Angel had slowly begun to let themselves into each other’s lives.
Without any planning, and without drawing attention to the fact, they had begun meeting. At first, they would bump into each other out prowling the streets after dark. They both pretended that it was accidental, but the truth was that they sought each other out. Slowly, they gave up the pretense of the chance meetings. Angel followed Willow home nightly, still feeling the need to protect her from demons, even though he knew that her demons were internal.
Willow had moved out of her parents house and was living in a small, shoddy apartment in a disreputable area of town. Angel didn’t like it, and didn’t understand. It made no sense to him. Willow had such a bright future. He knew that there had to be a reason that she severed ties with her family, and why she hadn’t gone off to college, but, whatever it was, she wasn’t telling.
When they talked, in a stark change from their previous roles, it was mostly Angel who talked while Willow listened. She was holding back, not wanting to trust the friendship that was growing between the two. And then there was the secret.
Angel knew she was keeping something from him, something important, but every time he tried to turn the conversation away from himself and towards her, she masterfully steered it right back towards him.
Finally, Angel could take it no more. They were sitting in his apartment, neither speaking during one of their many awkward lapses of conversation. Willow absent-mindedly twisted a strand of her hair while Angel tried to peer into her soul.
“God damn it, Willow, what aren’t you telling me?”
Willow nearly jumped out of her skin, startled by his tone of voice, “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play games with me anymore, Willow. You’ve stolen my cryptic guy routine and I want to know why…”
“No, you don’t… really,” she quietly replied.
“Don’t you trust me?”
“Of course I do…”
“Then tell me what the hell it is that’s eating you up inside. I can see it, I can feel it, and I can smell it, but, damn it, I don’t know what it is…”
“I’m a pixie.”
Angel’s mouth dropped open for a moment before the realization of what she was saying hit him.
“Of course you are! My God, it all makes sense know. I can’t believe I never put the pieces together before… You are everything good and decent about the world… a faerie…”
A huge grin spread across Angel’s face before he realized that Willow wasn’t smiling.
“Willow… what’s wrong? Being a pixie is a wonderful thing!”
“Angel, I don’t want to be a pixie any more than you want to be a vampire, with or without a soul! And why the hell didn’t anyone ever tell me?”
“What do you mean?”
“My parents knew… for eighteen years, my parents knew that I was a faerie… or half faerie… apparently, I’m some sort of hybrid… anyway, why didn’t they ever tell me, before the change happened, so I would know what was happening to me?”
“The change…? The change… when you turned eighteen, the transformation became complete, huh?”
“Sorta… like I said, I’m really only half faerie. It comes from my mother’s side, apparently. I’m everything a faerie is…”
“… except you look human. Where are your wings, and why are you normal sized?”
“Much like you, I can change… if I wanted, I could sprout wings right now and shrink down to the size of a caterpillar. And fly around the room, too…”
A thought struck Angel, “Willow, are you an immortal?”
She paused, not wanting to answer, not knowing what to say, “I think so…”
“What makes you think so?”
Tears began welling up in her dark, sad eyes, “Please, Angel… can’t we drop it?”
“No, Willow… not now. I want you to tell me everything…”
“I can’t,” she hissed through her tears.
“Willow, you’re one of the strongest people I know. Talk to me.”
She knew that there was no escape. She drew a deep breath and began, “I tried to kill myself…”
“What?! You did what?!” he railed at her, “How could you be so stupid?”
“Angel, stop it! Stop yelling at me, please!” she wept.
Realizing how badly he was scaring her, Angel forced himself to calm down. Gently taking her face between his hands, he stared deeply into her eyes, “Why, Willow? Why would you want to hurt yourself?”
She tore herself away from his hands, “Because everybody left me! No one cared anymore… My parents had lied to me for years. Buffy and Giles closed themselves off to me, Xander never forgave me for bringing you back, Oz moved away, you hid yourself away… I had no one, no reason to go on living… I had made such a mess of everything…”
“No, Willow, we all failed you. I failed you… I’m so, so sorry, Willow. God, you went to Hell to bring me back. I should have been by your side every minute of every day, thanking you, showing you what you mean to me… Willow, can you ever forgive me for not being there for you?”
“It doesn’t matter any more, Angel. Your main concern was Buffy. You loved her, I was just her mousy little friend…”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Willow. I was an idiot. I let Buffy cloud everything in my life, and I let myself do the same to Buffy. What we had wasn’t love… it was a dark, ugly obsession. And in the end, you’re the one that got hurt.”
“You’re here now, Angel. That means more to me than you’ll ever know…”
“I think I do… because you’re doing the same for me… but, Willow, being a faerie…”
“Being a faerie with human emotions I would guess is similar to being a vampire with human emotions…”
“But you help people… you’re a spell-caster. Vampires kill…”
“Help people? Look what I did to everyone that I care about…”
“Willow, are you sorry that you restored my soul? Because it would have been a hell of a lot easier on everyone if Buffy had been able to send Angelus to Hell and never look back…”
“Every time you talk about the past, you make it sound as if performing the ritual is the worst thing that you ever did.”
“I-I… Angel, I don’t know what I mean… Of course I’m not sorry for restoring your soul… You have a beautiful soul, you always have… What I’m sorry about is my timing… If I had been successful the first time…”
“If I had never come to Sunnydale, if I had never changed Spike and Dru, if the Romanys hadn’t put the curse on me in the first place, if Darla had never embraced me… Willow, you can’t do this to yourself. You were fighting one of the strongest demons to ever have possession of a human body. Most people wouldn’t have survived to try again… but you did, and you tried again and you saved me. And all this time I never really thanked you, did I? I may have been awfully depressing and broody, but the fact of the matter is that I like being around. I’m glad… ecstatic that you saved me. I owe you my everything, Willow. Somehow, I’m going to make you see that.”
“Angel, you don’t have to…”
“Tell me about your powers, Willow… what do you know?”
“Not much… when my parents told me, I ran away. I haven’t been back to see them since. I’ve tried to do some research on my own, but haven’t had much luck. There’s not a lot of information out there about hybrid faeries… I’ve experimented with my own powers a little… like when I brought you back from Hell. I think I’m immortal because of the suicide thing…”
Willow saw Angel flinch when she mentioned suicide, “Angel, don’t look at me like that… it was a mistake. I was in a dark, black place in my life. While I’m not completely happy with things now, I’ve stopped trying to do myself in… besides, it never worked…”
“You tried more than once…?” he asked darkly.
“Several times… I slit my wrists, I jumped off a building, I shot myself, I took pills… My cuts healed immediately, the bullet passed right through me, my broken bones healed, the pills had no effect on me. I don’t know if I’m immortal or not, but I know I’m awfully hard to kill,” she stated, very matter-of-factly.
“Jesus, Willow… why didn’t you ever ask anyone for help…?”
“Angel, I felt like I had no one… there was no one for me to turn to…”
“All right, we have to stop this… we both do. We’ve wallowed in misery far too long. We need to do something…”
“Something like what? A picnic, a trip to the beach? We’re creatures of the night, Angel…”
“I am, you’re not. There is no reason for you to be crawling around cemeteries all night long, hanging out with a vampire… You can have a life, Willow. A real one… What’s stopping you?”
“I don’t want to do it alone, Angel. What I know is the nighttime. What I understand are vampires and demons. The sunlight scares me…”
Angel grew silently introspective, “What I wouldn’t give to see you dance in the sunlight… You shouldn’t be hiding from it, like me.”
He moved to where she was standing, leaning against a wall, “Willow, I bet you’re so beautiful during the day… I can almost picture the way the sun would light up your hair… make your eyes glow… You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be with me. You belong to the day.”
Willow fell into his
arms, sobbing once again.
“I’ve been practicing…”
“Practicing what?” Angel asked, trying to decide what CD to put in for the pair to listen to during their nightly Scrabble game.
Something was on her mind, he knew, but, again, she wasn’t talking. He had grown to know her well enough in the past several months to know that eventually she would open up to him.
Since she had told him that she was a pixie, their relationship had changed. Willow felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, and she knew that during her hardest periods, Angel would be there to help her.
He had convinced her to speak with her parents. While the meeting had gone reasonably well, the relationship was still strained, but on it’s way to healing through understanding. She left her dingy apartment, but she hadn’t moved home... She moved into Angel’s guest room.
“Magic, Angel. I-I.. Angel, could I try something on you?”
“What? You want to cast a spell on me? What kind?”
He knew that she had been practicing magic during the day while he slept. He often woke up to the smell of incense and sulfur, and he knew that she had hidden away some spell books in her room.
“I… can’t tell you. It probably won’t work anyway. I just need to practice on someone real…”
Angel threw his hands up, “Sure, why not? I mean, what are you going to do, turn me into a toad?”
“Let’s get started… what do you need me to do?” He trusted her implicitly, never hesitating to do whatever Willow wished him to do.
“Nothing yet… I can’t do it until morning.”
“Willow, what is this spell?” His curiosity was getting the better of him.
“It’s nothing, Angel… but telling you breaks the spell… It can’t work. It’s just a little experiment, really. It’s nothing to be excited about.”
Several hours later, Angel interrupted their fourth Scrabble game, in which Willow was beating him fiercely.
“Don’t you need to start getting ready for the spell?”
Willow looked at her watch, “Oh, shit… we- I have to get started.”
She jumped up and pulled a chair away from Angel’s dining room table, sitting it in the middle of the floor. She directed Angel to sit, which he did obediently.
She knelt on the floor in front of him, “Look deep into my eyes, Angel…”
Angel blinked and found Willow staring at him.
“Well, aren’t you going to get started?” he asked.
“Angel, you’ve been in a trance for an hour… it’s all over.”
Angel noticed that Willow looked incredibly tired. Her face was glistening with sweat, as if she had been come back from running a marathon.
“What’s going on, Willow… what happened?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Of course I do.”
Willow took Angel’s hand and led him up the stairs to the second floor of his apartment, into his guest room that had become her bedroom, and, finally, to the bathroom off the guest room. Willow knew that it was the only room in the apartment with a window.
Angel stopped in the doorway, “Willow, you know I can’t go in there…”
“Do you trust me?” she asked again, holding out her hand to him.
He took her hand, and let her lead him into the bathroom. The window was a tiny one, just large enough to allow one small ray of early morning sunshine into the room.
“Willow, are you trying to kill me?” he shied away from the sunlight, cowering in a corner of the bathroom.
“Angel, give me your hand again…”
“Willow, you have no idea…”
“Give me your damn hand…”
Angel slid his hand into hers, watching in fear as she moved their two hands towards the ray of light. Angel felt the heat on his hand, but felt no burn.
“My God, Willow… what have you done?” he asked in astonishment.
Willow removed her own hand, leaving Angel’s to bask in the light. He slowly moved it further into the beam. Still no burn. He turned his hand over, holding his palm to the light. Suddenly he turned and ran from the bathroom, tearing out the door and down the stairs. Willow followed behind him.
Lacking the patience to wait for the elevator, he flew down the stairs, and out the door of his building. By the time Willow caught up with him, he was on his knees in the street in from of the warehouse that was his home, crying, blood red tears streaming down his face.
“Angel?” His name caught in her throat. He was in pain… it hadn’t worked. He was going to combust before her eyes.
Faster than she even knew he could move, he scooped her into his arms, twirling her around in the sunlight.
“Angel, stop, you’re making me dizzy…” she opened her clenched eyes to see the light dancing in Angel’s. A light that she had never seen before.
Angel slowed down, and placed a very shaky Willow back on her feet.
“I can’t believe you did this, Willow… I can’t believe I’m standing in the sunshine. Thank you. How on Earth can I thank you enough for this…?”
“You already have, Angel. Seeing you this happy is all I need.”
Angel could see the change happen within Willow in an instant. She was back. The twinkle returned to her eyes. In a flash, she returned to being the happy teenager that she had been before he lost his soul.
“If I can’t live in the darkness, neither can you. If this worked correctly, and it seems that it has, you’ll never have to hide from the sunlight again, Angel.”
He picked her up and began spinning her around again. Their laughter echoed through the vacant street.
“I love you, Willow. I love you.”
Once again, he sat her on her feet, never releasing his arms from around her small body.
“I love you, too, Angel. I always have.”
“Is that why you did this?”
“It’s why I’ve done everything that I’ve done. I didn’t bring you back for Buffy… I brought you back because I love you. It was purely selfish on my part… I didn’t want to live without having you in my life.”
“Willow, I never knew…”
“I didn’t, either. Not for a long time… it was something that I couldn’t even admit to myself. You belonged to Buffy.”
“Angel, please, don’t ever apologize to me again. It’s made me stronger. It was harder than hell, but everything is perfect, right now. Everything is the way it should be…”
“I owe you everything, Willow. My God, if I had known the woman hiding behind that shy teenage girl…”
“You would have still been obsessed by Buffy… I thought that we weren’t going to talk about ‘ifs’ anymore…”
“You’re right, we’re not. So… what do we do now, Tinkerbell?” he asked with a gleam in his eye.
“We try being happy for a while?” she asked, hopefully.
“Happy it is, then.”
Angel pulled his arms tighter around Willow’s small frame, and lifted her off the ground again, until her face was level with his.
She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, waiting… hoping… for the kiss that was about to follow. Angel didn’t disappoint. He leaned slightly back on his heels, forcing Willow’s face to hover dangerously close to his. She lowered her lips to his, tentatively. The kiss was tender, and slow, and full of love. Gradually, Angel deepened the kiss, prying her lips open with his tongue. Her own tongue snaked into his mouth, playing against his, before pulling back.
She saw a happiness on his face that she had never seen before, a reflection of her own. She leaned her forehead against his, their noses touching, smiles plastered across both their faces.
“Smoochies are good,” she whispered.
Their laughter lit
the whole neighborhood.