Lately the rain, or
more precisely patrolling in the rain, had been one of Buffy's favorite
topics of conversation. Willow could barely restrain
herself, as they were clearing the living room of the mansion for Willow's martial arts lesson, from reminding Buffy that the rain had been keeping the vampire population mostly inside. <She didn't even patrol AT ALL last night. Buffy has spent the last three weeks trying to get involved in my training! > Instead the slayer was getting in the way.
The slender redhead was fully aware that Buffy was pursuing dual goals. The first -- pretending that Willow hadn't changed, that the Slayer hadn't somehow missed something. The second -- trying to rekindle her romance with Angel. <All she does is tell me to be careful, distracting me, or flirt with Angel. >
Cassandra walked into
the room, wearing close fitting exercise clothes. She wasn't part
of Willow's training in this area. She was going jogging
before sword practice. It had become habit -- Cassandra and Angel would sword fight while Willow worked on her computer. Angel was handling the martial arts training completely. Which made him happy, and Buffy clearly unhappy. The Slayer's thoughts currently went two directions. Partly she disliked the training because she didn't like the idea of Willow fighting. <If she's fighting she's in danger. Danger bad." At other times she seemed to be more interested in flirting with Angel and to be worried about the strong friendship between the witch and vampire. <Why are they so close?! Why didn't Willow tell me they were friends? >
"Thank you for helping clear the room. Willow is meeting you to shop this afternoon, isn't she." Cassandra's tone was outwardly polite, but the lack of a questioning tone made it clear that she wasn't interested in talking to Buffy. The Immortal was tired of the Slayer hovering over her student. Buffy completely ignored Cassandra's polite and subtle hints that she was getting in the way. Instead she plopped down by the fireplace to watch Angel and Willow. Cassandra forced herself to not roll her eyes and left.
Practice went much
as it had for the past three weeks. By the fifth interruption Willow
was ready to strangle her former best friend. Buffy got
up off of the fireplace. Angel had moved to hold Willow's shoulders and correct her posture. Fighting off a wave of jealousy, the Slayer had moved to get there first and do it instead of him. Willow hadn't missed the jealous look and bit her tongue, struggling to not loose her temper.
However, Angel's much
strained patience finally snapped. "You're in the way." Angel's
voice was flat and cold. "If you're' truly worried about
Willow's ability to take care of herself LEAVE!"
The blond stared at Angel stunned; he had never spoken to her like that before. At least not when he had his soul. Always, he had been polite to her. She had always been sure that he had just been restraining his emotions because they couldn't be together. Abruptly she was no longer so sure of that. Buffy looked at Willow for support. The slender redhead had carefully avoided her former best friend's eyes. Buffy had left in a huff, seriously put out.
Angel and Willow stood quietly for a moment after the Slayer had stormed out. Then Willow got back into the defensive stance that Angel had been showing her, signaling that she was ready to start.
<I really do still
care what happens to Buffy. She is still important to me. We've
been through a lot together.> Willow reflected. <But we're just
not all that close anymore; we haven't been since graduation. I can't pretend that we are.> The redhead sighed. <Why won't she admit that? All she wants to talk about is Angel anyway -- or the latest nasty she has taken out. >
The Slayer had never wanted to talk about her friend's training and would change the subject when it was brought up. That was a change she wanted to ignore. Willow sighed and turned away from her contemplation of the water running down the window. She winced as she plopped onto the couch, discarding the medical text Cassandra had given her to study and suddenly remembering the bruises she'd gotten in her training session with Angel. He was proving to be a demanding teacher and wanted to make sure she could take care of herself. After a few minutes the muscles bruised during the morning's practice began to loudly protest her curled up position. Stretching, she got up and moved to lean against wall by the window, Willow could see that it was still raining heavily. Willow and Buffy were supposed to have gone shopping again that afternoon, but the Slayer had not shown up. Willow had attempted to study, but hadn't been able to concentrate. So instead, she was figuring out why being ditched by Buffy hadn't hurt.
Lately the only flaw
in Willow's current existence was Buffy and Xander's refusal to accept
the distance that had develop in their formerly close
group. <It's been there for awhile, but they finally caught on that I wasn't a part of the little group anymore. I grew away from them, and they
didn't see it. > Xander was actually accepting the changes fairly well and was simply worried about her safety. <Xander just hovers, but Buffy insists on trying to return us to two years ago. > She always wanted Willow to go out with her, especially at the times Willow was supposed to be training with Angel. <We can't go back. I don't want to go back.>
The sound of the phone ringing, in that loud insistent tone phones get when you're busy, pulled Willow away from her review of the morning.
It was Cassandra. "Willow, can you to come over to the Mansion? A friend of mine, Joe Dawson, arrived this afternoon, and I'd like you to meet him. He brought some old things of mine you'll find interesting."
<How old, precisely?
> Willow wondered. "Sure, I'll be there in a little bit." The
redhead pulled on her jacket, grabbed her backpack and an
umbrella, and headed out the door into the soggy March afternoon nearly humming with curiosity.
The walk was pleasant one -- even with numerous mud puddles. Although wet, the March air was fresh and clean, and Willow spent her time wondering what the old belongings Cassandra had described as interesting were instead of analyzing her relationship to her friends. <I wish Angel could walk with me. > The slender redhead sighed at that wistful thought and bounced up to the door of the Mansion, noting the unfamiliar car parked at the curb as she let her self inside. Angel was, as always, waiting for her inside the door.
"I thought you had plans." His half grin, something the otherwise dour vampire reserved for her, let her know that he was no way upset that she had come to the mansion instead.
"Yeah, I was supposed to go shopping with Buffy again. She wanted to find something for that frat party Friday, but she never showed." Willow grinned to let him know it was okay.
The smile vanished
from the dark-haired vampire's face anyway. "Is it because of what
I said this morning? Are you okay?" He had been only
tolerating Buffy's flirting because she was Willow's friend. <How could I have lost my temper?! The Slayer is Willow's friend. > Angel feared that in doing so he had hurt the person dearest to him.
"I'm fine --- she and
I just aren't that close anymore. Buffy was more angry that I didn't
support her this morning." Willow gave a slightly
exasperated sigh. "She doesn't like that I've changed so she denies that the changes have happened at all."
Angel didn't look quite
convinced but opted to let the matter slide. After, all Willow really
seemed more annoyed - with Buffy - than upset with
him for getting mad. He grabbed her hand and pulled her into the main room.
"Willow, you got here quickly." Cassandra smiled as her student walked over. In only three weeks Willow had regained all of the energy she'd lost in February. Her green eyes sparkled and she walked with a distinct bounce. Her enthusiasm for existing translated itself to those around her; around her even the solemn Angel would grin and laugh. <That seems to shock the Slayer even more than the handholding. Which those two don't seem to even notice they're doing. > Cassandra thought with a wry grin.
"Willow, I'd like you to meet Joe Dawson."
The whole room lit up when the witch was in it. Joe certainly noticed. He had found the vampire interesting and rather serious, just as Cassandra had described him. Cassandra had also described Willow in great detail. The intelligence was obvious. The green eyes were alert and missed nothing. An observer could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. <This one will do well in the Game -- smart and alert. > But Cassandra had been hard pressed to describe the effect the young witch had on the people around her. Joe could now understand why. <She almost glows. No wonder Cassandra said that her friends would go to any length to protect her. > He smiled at the young woman and shook her hand.
Introductions finished, Cassandra began to point out some of the volumes that Joe had brought from the storehouse in Europe where the Immortal had been keeping them. They were all old.
<I saw some of these in the dreams. > Willow thought as she looked at the ornately decorated covers of some of the books, excitement tingling up her spine. <Giles would just love to get his hands on these. > Cassandra had been delighted with Giles' collection of books, finding books that were new to her or that she hadn't seen in a long time. Willow grinned and then was lost in her fascinated study of the treasures spread out on the coffee table. "Oh, look at this one Angel!"
Seeing that her student's attention was completely occupied by the books, and that the vampire's attention was all fixed on her student, Cassandra moved to the kitchen, motioning Joe to follow her.
"Did you have any trouble finding the sword I wanted." She asked quietly. The sword she mentioned was the one she had picked out for her student -- when the time was right. The Immortal hoped that time wouldn't come for a while yet.
"Yeah, no problem. It's in the car. I figured you didn't want her to see it just yet." Joe paused a moment. He had a feeling Cassandra wouldn't like what he had to say next. "I left something else in the car. Another book."
Cassandra looked at him curiously. He looked remarkably uncomfortable.
"Um, there was kind of someone listening into that conversation a few weeks ago."
"Who, Duncan?" Cassandra felt her stomach sink as the Watcher managed to look even more uncomfortable.
"Um no. It was Methos."
"What!" Cassandra yelled. In the next room Angel and Willow looked up from their study of the books (and each other) to realize that the Immortal and her guest had left the room.
"What wrong, Cass?" Willow asked, green eyes full of concern.
"Joe just told me that
as old acquaintance of mine - Methos - was eavesdropping when I called
to tell him that I'd found Willow." Cassandra
watched as Angel vamped out, clearly not liking the idea of anything even remotely resembling a threat to Willow.
"He's not a threat to Willow. He's been staying out of the Game for the last few centuries or so." She reassured him; now that the initial shock was over she began to think about what he would considered important enough to send with Joe. Her student, however, was curious about other things.
"Why don't you like him? You're upset." Concern filled the green eyes.
"He's changed a lot; at least he seems to have changed." Cassandra paused, clearly remembering some unpleasant memories. "He was the one who killed me the first time, so my gut reaction is hate."
"He - he, k-killed you" Willow's jaw dropped. Angel, who had just eased into his human face, vamped back out.
Joe watched the process with a researcher's fascination. "He has had a lot of time to change, Cassandra."
The Immortal glared
at him for a moment then relented. "Yes, he has changed," she acknowledged.
"But that still does not mean I like him." Her
tone was level but clipped.
"How long is a long time?" Angel asked with remarkable calm. Cassandra might claim that Methos wasn't a threat to Willow, but the Immortal also said that he had killed her.
"He's the oldest Immortal. Methos is about five thousand years old."
Willow's jaw continued to hang open, and her eyes became incredibly wide. She tried to speak and failed. Angel, too, had been stunned into silence.
"Joe, would you please get the book out of the car. We might as well find out what it is." He walked out to the car to get the small book that Methos that had insisted he bring. <I think he would have tailed me here if I didn't agree to bring it, > the Watcher consoled himself.
Willow carefully set
aside the heavy volume as she finished scanning it into the computer.
The ornate book was very old and, therefore, very
delicate. Covering it with protective plastic, she set the book aside. Willow popped the disk she'd saved the translation onto and left it where Angel would find it when he and Cass were done with sword practice. Over the past month he had begun reading through the texts her teacher had assigned to her. She stretched as she got out of the desk chair, lifting her red hair off her neck, and reveled in the cool air of the air conditioner. It was broiling outside; August had been extraordinarily hot this year. She leaned against the wall and looked out the clear night sky and reflected once again on how much her life had changed.
The young witch was
beginning to realize that her friendship with Buffy had faded; Willow had
moved on, well before her training had ever
begun. In fact, she hadn't seen Buffy in a month and found, to her own surprise, that it didn't hurt. Xander and Giles had come by the mansion
yesterday but that had been for research.
About midsummer she had decided that living at the Mansion would be far more convenient. She was there all the time anyway. Giles had protested, but Willow put on a firm resolve face and stood firm. Her childhood friend had given Willow his usual careful looking over then had relaxed, apparently reassured that she was safe, well, and happy.
Cassandra had wanted
to take advantage of her student being enrolled in only one college class,
so Willow had found herself studying and
practicing constantly. If she wasn't working with Cassandra on magic, then Angel was having her exercise, going through drills that were very
similar to things she'd watched Buffy do. Once established, this pattern continued uninterrupted into the summer. Her quick mind and
strong determination made Willow master what Cassandra had to teach at a rate far beyond what the Immortal had expected. <I've found a part of me that was missing. Admittedly, I didn't know it was missing, but this feels right. >
Willow had her training
and her computer to keep her mind fully occupied. She also had Angel's
friendship, and he understood her far
better than either of her older friends ever had. Cassandra, too, seemed to understand Willow's need to learn about the magic she had found
inside herself. Even the painful workouts had become welcome, making her feel less weak and helpless. To everyone's, except perhaps
Cassandra's, surprise, she had absorbed the martial arts training like a sponge. She was now almost as good a fighter as Buffy. Angel had
originally been teaching her hand-to-hand techniques. After the fourth week of watching him practice sword fighting, with Cassandra Willow
badgered him into including weapons. She had taken to fencing like it had been her calling in a previous life. Cassandra encouraged these
lessons, and Willow's new stamina allowed her to attempt spells that required long periods of concentration.
<So many changes,
but the changes are welcome ones. I don't have to hide things from the
people who were important to me. > This was true;
everything in Willow's life was now open. Except one little thing -- a secret she kept deeply buried.
<I'm I love with Angel. >
sure when it had happened, but she had fallen in love with the vampire.
Moving into his home, seeing him all the time, had
forced her to examine her feelings. What she had found dismayed her. <This is not good. Bad Willow! > Every time he was around, part of her
melted into a warm puddle. Every small grin or spontaneous laugh from her tall, handsome friend made her heart speed up uncontrollably. Willow worried about how Buffy would react. The two young women weren't close but Willow still cared; once she brought a person into her heart they stayed there. Despite her more than occasional annoyance with her friend and the distance now between them, she knew that Buffy still cared about Angel. It wasn't that she thought Angel was still love with Buffy; she knew he wasn't. Willow was more worried that if Angel
figured out that she loved him he would start putting distance between them. Willow desperately didn't want to lose the close friendship that
had grown over the past year and a half. It was a moot point though; Angel just saw her as a friend. Knowing he was practicing sword
fighting just down the hall <And no shirt (grin) . . . Bad Willow! > wasn't helping her get him out of her thoughts, though.
she needed to distract herself from her thoughts about Angel, Willow decided
to work on translating the book Methos had sent
via Joe. It was written in an obscure dialect of language that Cassandra, surprisingly enough, did not know. Two months of searching
and computer work had been needed to put together a translation program for it. It was not an impressive looking book, especially in comparison to the heavily jeweled book she had just finished scanning and translating. The well-preserved volume wasn't large and had a plain
wood and leather cover. Old enough to have preceded the printing press, it was entirely handwritten. But the tiny lettering lacked even the
slightest amount of ornamentation. <Or as Xander put it, there aren't any pictures. >
the volume had driven Willow to find references on the language to build
a translation program with. <The other option would
be to call Methos and ask him to translate it, but I don't think that idea would go over too well with Cass. > Carefully turning the pages Willow ran the scanner over the words. After ten pages she stopped and fed the newly saved files into the translation program. A small box popped up on the screen next to an animated hourglass. "Five minutes," Willow muttered, "Plenty of time to grab a snack."
A quick foray
into the kitchen provided the witch with soda. The cookies were more
elusive. <I know I bought you. Double chocolate. >
Willow rummaged around the cupboards, ignoring the healthier snacks that Cassandra had purchased. <No rice cakes. I'm definitely in a caffeine and sugar mood. > "There you are!" Willow chortled. Seizing her junk food she went back to her computer. The little hourglass was dribbling to a stop. Grabbing a cookie she munched while waiting for the program to wrap up. A small chime sounded.
Eagerly, Willow skimmed the translation of the mystery book. Half way into second page she swallowed abruptly and began reading every word. By the end of the tenth page she'd completely forgotten the cookies and the soda. She sat back; green eyes still fastened on the screen. Then Willow began scanning the rest of the book into the scanner as quickly as she could, forcing herself to be careful with the delicate pages.
failed to notice when the sword fighting session ended and was, therefore,
very startled when Angel came up behind her. He
waved his hand in front of her eyes to get her attention, and she shot up out of her chair and yelped, "Angel!"
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I was
scanning this book, the one Joe sent, and I lost track of time, it's a
really interesting book, and I wanted to get it all scanned
to today, it's translating now . . ."Willow rambled with an absorbed look on her face.
"All of it?"
Angel eyed the thick volume with an amused grin. It wasn't the first
time Willow had lost track of time during when she was
really interested in something. "Did you eat?'
to the forgotten cookies and soda. Angel rolled his eyes and left
to find something else. The redhead barely noticed his
departure as the last section of text finished translating.
again when Angel tapped her shoulder to get her attention, nearly knocking
the tray of soup and toast right out of his
hands. He sat the tray next to the computer and turned her away form the computer.
"Eat. Now." The look on his face told her that he wouldn't leave until the food was gone. Willow ate quickly.
"Thanks. Goodnight Angel." She turned back to the computer. Angel grinned and watched her from a moment. He knew that when she was this absorbed even her closest friend didnít stand a chance of breaking in.
Cassandra found her student still front of the computer, bleary eyed, at seven the following morning.
you sleep?" Her voice held the slightest of gentle reprimands. The
Immortal had discovered early on that Willow would
study though the entire night if not stopped. It didn't make concentrating on magic lessons go very well.
Willow jumped. "Um, no," She avoided looking in Cassandra in the eye. Getting to her feet she discovered that she was distinctly wobbly.
<Okay, I would say lessons are a lost cause today. > Cassandra thought wryly as she observed the little lurch Willow made as she stood.
"You have to see this, Cass! It's that book Joe brought. It's about vampires. You have to read it!" Willow was babbling, clearly excited.
"I'll read it
--- if you go to sleep. Now." <What could have gotten the child
this excited? She's acting as bouncy as the first day of our
lessons. I think she would start skipping if she weren't so tired. >
Willow looked like she wanted to protest then turned to head for her room.
The book was indeed
about vampires, after the first page or so. The handwritten
volume was a carefully kept journal. A skilled sorcerer
wrote the journal as a record of his experiences to send to a colleague. The first page spoke calmly of an apparently long running
experiment. After that the tone of the journal changed dramatically. The home of the sorcerer's young daughter, newly married, had been
attacked. Cassandra read on, now quite curious. Apparently one of the husband's men at arms had been vamped and had gotten entrance. His
daughter was now a vampire. Only magic had saved his life when the young woman came after him. He had imprisoned his daughter in a heavily reinforced room.
The rest of the
journal was an account of the sorcerer's battle against the powerful master
vampire that had moved into the area. The grieving
father had created several spells to fight vampires. Although simple and easy to use the spells were still quite powerful.
That was not
what had fascinated Willow. What had grabbed Willow's attention was
the sorcerer's struggle to help his daughter. He couldn't
bear to kill her, so he turned his skills to finding a way to return his child's spirit to her body. He succeeded.
The plain little
book, sent by the sorcerer to his friend Methos and from him to Cassandra
and Willow, contained a spell for permanently
binding the soul of a vampire. As far as Cassandra could tell it should work, as the sorcerer said it had worked for his daughter. Like the
other spells in the book it was very simple in its construction. However, it was also highly dangerous. She knew without asking that
Willow would attempt the spell. <And get herself killed doing it! > Cassandra sighed. <Bloody hell! I'm just going to have to help her. >
The meeting was
carefully timed to coincide with Angel's run to Willie's for food and Buffy's
rounds of the graveyard. Cassandra and
Willow thought including either of them would be a bad idea. Giles and Xander looked openly curious. They could both see Willow was nearly
bouncing and bubbling with excitement.
"You'll never believe what I've found, it's wonderful, It -- this book . . ." Willow was in a full speed ramble.
Xander cut in, " Um, Will, you're babbling, which is very Willowy, but I thought you said we only had a half hour or so."
Willow blushed and grinned. "Cass, could you tell them, I' m kinda excited."
<I never would
have noticed. I've never seen someone so hyper. > "Yes. I believe
Willow has mentioned the book that Methos sent with Joe
a few months ago."
Both the Watcher and Xander nodded. Willow's slight obsession with the mystery book would have been hard to miss.
"Well, two days
ago she was successful in translating it on the computer. It proved
to be journal recording a medieval sorcerer's
encounter with vampires. One of the spells he created was for permanently binding a soul to a vampire." Seeing the open mouthed shock
on their faces she paused to give them a little time for the news to sink in.
Giles was the
first to speak, "You mean we now have a way to permanently bind Angel's
soul." He paused, taking his glasses off and
cleaning them. "Why didn't you want Angel or Buffy here?"
calmly then before, explained. "We didn't want to get Angel's hopes
up. Just in case it didn't work." The slender girl
looked down, flushing a little. "And I wasn't sure how Buffy would react. She hasnít tried to speak to either Angel or I for a couple
months." She looked up at Xander and Giles appealingly, green eyes vulnerable. "Are you okay with this?"
her hand, and smiled at his childhood friend. "Willow, I admit I
didn't like the idea of you being around Deadboy at first, but
I've seen enough to know he's your friend. If this is important to you, then it's fine with me. What do you need me to do?"
her arms around Xander's neck, tears hovering in her eyes. "Thank you."
After a few minutes she let go of him and sat back. The
young witch turned to the Watcher, "Giles?"
"I agree with Xander. Plus, I think that making sure that Angelus
can never return must be considered a benefit." <Although I
have no idea how Buffy will receive this news. > The Watcher was well aware of the confrontation that had taken place last spring. For a
month following that morning, the young woman had been wavered between anger and tears when speaking about either Willow or Angel. Now, the Slayer simply avoided seeing them or speaking about them whenever possible. She had been rather quiet lately. Giles was more than a
little worried about how she was handling the changes in her and her friend's lives.
Willow gave them both a glowing smile, and then she and Cassandra began explaining what would need to be done.
A few days later they met just after dawn in an abandoned warehouse not far from the Mansion. They needed space for what they had planned. Willow looked around the decrepit building. <Goddess, there are a lot of these things around Sunnydale. I wonder if there are vampire realtors -- Abandoned building, already sun-proofed, best offer. > The group had decided that it was best to do this during the day, just in case they failed -- releasing Angelus. As soon as the casting was done they would go to the Mansion and check on Angel. Giles had stocked his car with the provisions needed to re-curse the vampire if necessary.
Willow and Cassandra
carefully laid out the diagrams described in the journal and a large protective
circle. The Immortal moved to stand
inside the circle as Willow, Giles, and Anya moved to stand on the diagram. Xander was standing guard; after some discussion, Cassandra
had decided that Anya's years of experience made her the better choice for actually working the spell. Xander's job had been persuading the
former demon to do it. It had taken a lot of persuading, but she finally given in.
dressed in a comfortable leather outfit that morning. She had had to avoid
Angel to prevent him from seeing her in it. He
knew that it was what she wore when she knew she was going into a fight. Leather wasn't her usual clothing choice, but it provided a bit
more protection that regular cloth. Willow had added several amulets of protection to the ensemble -- she didnít care if Cass could heal from
just about anything. The redhead didn't want her friend and teacher to get hurt in the first place.
They were actually skipping the first third of the spell. There were actually three spells laid out in the journal. The first called the soul back to the body, and Willow had already done that. So they were going straight to part two -- destroying the demon that had tormented Angel for over two hundred years. The last spell would lock Angel's soul to his body. The sorcerer had found no way to do that part without getting rid of the demon first.
Willow had read through the spells in minute detail, determined to miss
nothing. Angel would still be a vampire; that was
irreversible. But there would be no demon, and his soul would be bound to him until he was dusted. If, of course, it worked.
The trio standing
on the diagram began to intone the words they had carefully memorized,
and Cassandra drew her sword and held it ready. A
shadow began to form inside the circle.
up from the computer; distracted from the text he was reading. Something
felt strange. <What's happening?! > Inside him the
demon squirmed, shrieking. Sudden excruciating pain flowed through him. <Willow? > "Willow!" He'd felt magic, and the touch of it was
familiar. He'd felt it before -- when his friend had restored his soul and when she had pulled him out of Hell. <What are you doing to me? >
The demon was fighting it. Angel was almost swamped by the wave of intense fear, and he almost gave into that fear and began fighting
alongside the demon -- his enemy. Then he let go -- let the spell do it what it would. Blood tears running down his face, Angel fell to the
floor in pain. <I trust you, Willow. >
As Willow, Giles,
and Anya reached the end of the spell the dark shape in the circle began
to gain solidity. It was the demon -- in physical
form. Hideous didn't even begin to describe the creature. With incredible speed the demon threw himself at the protective barrier that
Willow and Cassandra had set, trying to reach the mortals that had dared to pull him out of Angel. Giles and Anya scrambled back, pulling Willow with them. They watched wide-eyed, unable to help, as the demon turned and attacked Cassandra, the only one within his reach. The Immortal was ready for him; she quickly deflected his claws and ducked under his snapping teeth. The demon shrieked at his prey's evasiveness as he slammed into the barrier again. Cassandra spun and stabbed him through the shoulder. It was a serious but, unfortunately, not fatal wound. The demon was faster and stronger than Cassandra. But while the Immortal was calm, almost detached, the demon was mad with rage at being attacked. He lashed out at his opponent once again. Willow cried out with horror as she watched the demon claw the Immortal's side, gouging deeply. The young woman almost missed seeing Cassandra swing her sword and behead the demon in one smooth motion. Abruptly, the factory was silent. The body fell, turning to ash as it did. Angel's demon hit the concrete floor in an explosion of ash.
in the flurry of ash, leaning on her sword. She turned to the others,
who stood stunned just outside the protective barrier.
She gasped. "Finish it."
Quickly the three moved back to the diagram and resumed chanting.
Angel lay on
the floor, staring blankly at the dark ceiling of the Mansion. The
pain had ending abruptly, allowing the vampire to uncurl
out of fetal position. His demon was gone from the cage in his mind, but Angel was too numb and confused to appreciate or even register the
A feeling like
a warm, comforting hand settled over him. <More magic. > He thought
dazedly. Once again it had a familiar feel. <Willow's hand
on my soul. > Angel let his eyes slide closed and gave into unconsciousness.
The factory was again quiet. Cassandra swayed and fell; the demon had badly wounded her. Blood flowed freely down her side. Willow gasped and ran forward, breaking the circle. Anya ran to get Xander.
Willow knelt in the ashes and blood next to her teacher. "Cassandra!?"
"I'll be fine," she said weakly, "It's not even fatal. I'm old --I heal fast. Just give me a few minutes.
Willow and the rest
of group watched with fascination as the deep claw marks began to close
and shrink with incredible speed. It is one thing
to be told it will happen; it is another thing to actually see it happen. None of them moved until Cassandra took a deep breath and got to
"Let's go make sure
this worked," The Immortal stated calmly, walking out of the factory
and getting in the car, as if she hadn't just fought
a demon to the death. She was only outwardly calm though. <I can't believe I just did that. That thing could have ripped my head off!
Goddess! The things I do for my students! > She forced herself to stay calm, the others were reeling from the powerful conjuring -- Cassandra
wanted no bouts of hysteria until AFTER they'd made sure that Angel was in one piece.
They made Xander drive. Fortunately, they ran into no traffic cops during the short trip to the Mansion.
Cassandra went in first.
There was no telling what frame of mind Angel would be in after what they
had just put him through. She at least
would heal from most damage. Giles followed her with a tranquilizer gun -- just in case.
"In here!" the Immortal
called out. All of them rushed into the Mansion. Cassandra
was kneeling next to Angel, who was still
unconscious on the floor. Willow joined her, taking hold of his limp hand and wiping away the blood tears that covered his face.
better tie him up. The demon is gone, but he could wake up hysterical.
And let's move him to the couch," Willow barely
acknowledged them as they moved the vampire. She simply followed him, refusing to let go of his hand.
As they started
binding his hands, Angel began to surface. His eyes flickered, then closed.
A moment later his eyes flew open and he jerked
to a sitting position, pulling out of Giles and Cassandra's grasp. "Willooow!" he screamed. Willow threw her arms around him; "It's
alright Angel. Everything's okay." Her voice was soothing. He wrapped his arms around the small girl, burying his face in her hair. Angel
calmed quickly as he became more alert. However, he showed no intention of letting go of Willow. Cassandra watched with not a small amount of amusement as he leaned against the couch-back, pulling the redhead onto his lap. His arms didnít loosen and his didnít move his face out of her hair.
kicked in after a few moments, and the vampire looked over at Cassandra.
"What was that. There was magic. The demon -- I
can't feel it anymore." His voice was shaky; and his dark eyes were filled with a hope that he was afraid to express.
Cassandra laid her hand on his shoulder, saying gently, "The demon is gone, dead." His eyes were incredulous. "Willow found a way to force the demon out so it could be destroyed without destroying you. You're still a vampire, but there is no longer a demon. We've bound your soul permanently."
Angel sat with
his mouth hanging open. He searched inside himself and felt only
the slightest bit of bloodlust and not even a hint of the
demon. <Yes, thatís why he fought so hard. > He turned to look into Willow's eyes, only a few inches from his own. "You took that kind of
risk for me? Again?!" His voice went up on the last word.
Willow laid a hand on his cheek. "Of course. You're my friend." She smiled. "If it was me you would have done it."
reeling from surprise, grinned at the truth of that statement. He
learned into her hand. He was about to speak when the
front door opened. Buffy walked in.
She stared for
a moment at the group gathered in front of her. She had come over
because Giles had been acting funny -- like he was hiding
something. It hadn't been hard to realize that it probably something to do with Angel or Willow. Given her behavior lately on anything to do
with them she didn't blame Giles for not saying anything. Buffy had begun to realize, over the past couple of weeks, that she'd been rather
childish. It was a very difficult admission to make. What she saw in front of her was confirmation of all the changes she'd been trying to
like he'd been put through a wringer. His shirt was torn, hair messier
than normal, and his face covered tears. Willow, still on
his lap, had smeared blood and ash all over her pants. Cassandra, leaning against the back of the couch, was also covered in blood, and
her leather shirt had been reduced to tatters. Giles was leaning against the wall, distinctly pale. The Watcher was still holding the
tranquilizer gun. Anya, also pale, was leaning on Xander. <They went into danger without me; I'm the Slayer --I could have helped. > But
Buffy knew why she had not been asked, and she wanted to kick herself. She opened her mouth but little came out.
"What . . .?" the Slayer stuttered.
Seeing no anger,
just confusion (and a little hurt), in her former friend's face, Willow
got up and went over to her. She guided Buffy
over to a chair. "Um, why don't you sit down. No one is hurt." Willow gently described the events of the morning. Buffy's face rapidly
went from confused to stunned.
"You're sure everyone's okay? It worked?" Buffy looked over at Angel. He was looking at Willow. "What about all the blood?!"
Cassandra explained. "There are definitely benefits to being Immortal.
Rapid healing being among the most significant." Her
tone was dry. In a more reassuring voice she continued. "The casting worked. Angel need never fear the domination of his demon ever again."
"I could feel him leave. I felt the demon die, " Angel added, his usually solemn voice filled with wonder and joy.
at him quietly. As she saw the glowing smiles Willow and Angel turned
on each other she felt her confusion fade away. She smiled at them,
and said sincerely, "I'm glad." She looked at Giles's and Anya's
pale faces again. "Giles, you're way too pale. I'm driving you
home. Xander, take Anya home and make sure she rests." Giles and the others relaxed; Buffy was handling the surprise far better than any of
them had hoped.
"My car. . ." Giles began to protest, " and we should review the spells."
"The spells worked.
I can drive your car. You need to rest. MARCH." Buffy's voice left
little room for argument. The Watcher decided it was
best to obey and said his good-byes. Buffy moved to follow the others but then stopped to walk back to Willow. She hugged the young witch
tightly; after a moment of surprise Willow hugged her back. "I'm glad you're not hurt. Get some rest, you're nearly see-through." The Slayer
turned and quickly left, leaving the vampire and the two witches to recover from the morning.
Angel let Cassandra
answer the doorbell when someone rang it just before twilight. Cassandra
was closer to the door anyway. Willow was at
Giles' apartment, helping with research, and the vampire had decided to read the journal that Willow had used to bind his soul to him. He found
it fascinating reading. The sorcerer was a good writer, and his anguish over his daughter came through clearly.
Cassandra was a little
startled to see Buffy standing outside the door. The Slayer was wearing
patrol clothes, her long hair back in single
braid. She looked a little uncomfortable -- on edge.
Buffy spoke nervously,
fingers tugging the end of braid repeatedly. "Um, are Willow and Angel
here? I kind of need to talk to them." She had
come straight here from her mother's house. The Slayer had been afraid that she would lose her nerve if she stopped to see Giles first.
"Willow went out, but
Angel's here." Cassandra didnít ask what the young wanted to talk
about. Buffy didn't seem to intend flirtation, and
her actions a few days ago suggested her anger had abated. <Best to keep my nose out of this situation. The Slayer seems calm enough. > The
Immortal's student and Angel could handle it.
"Angel, Buffy is here and wants to talk to you. I've got to some errands to run; I'll be back in a few hours." With that Cassandra grabbed the light coat that carrying a sword forced her to wear even in hot weather and walked out to her car. She'd caught a few hints that there was another Immortal in the area and being unprepared was a decidedly bad idea.
The vampire looked
up from his reading with a startled look in his dark eyes. He watched
Cassandra leave with a slightly accusatory look on his face. Buffy
entered the room with an uncharacteristically hesitant bearing. Her
normal Slayer confidence seemed to have abandoned her for
the time being. Angel didn't move from the couch as the blond moved to stand in front of him, although he did set aside the thick computer
printout, marking where he'd been interrupted. She paused for a second, obviously unsure what she should do next. Finally, she pulled Willow's chair away from the computer desk and sat.
Angel wasn't going to do anything to make this easier for her, Buffy took
a deep breath and launched into speech, words
rapidly tumbling out one after another. She kept her eyes focused on the floor. "Um, I just wanted to see you and Willow to tell you that
I'm sorry I've been such a jerk. My feelings were hurt, and I acted like a kid whose favorite toy was taken away." She paused, swallowing
hard. "I was upset that Willow wasn't the same as in high school. I wanted her to stay the same . . . be predictable. I wanted her to be my
best friend, whether or not that was what she wanted. And I ignored that you didn't want to be more than friends because I didn't want to accept
that your feelings had changed." The slayer looked up from the floor, facing Angel. "You two were a lot of what got me though adjusting to
being the Chosen One. I donít handle change very well, and I didn't want to let go. I'm sorry."
Angel was briefly tempted to push Buffy out the door, make her suffer more than she already had for the stress the young woman had put Willow through. He quickly stifled that uncharitable and immature thought. <It would hurt Willow. I can't even blame that one on Angelus. > "Apology accepted." His voice was sincere, and he even smiled a little. Buffy visibly relaxed.
"Thank you, Angel.
I would have understood if you weren't ready to forgive me." She glanced
over at the computer. "I was hoping to talk to
Willow too . . . I can't expect us to become best buds again, but I want to be friends. Do you think she'll let me get to know the new her? I've
been forcibly ignoring that there was a new Willow." She looked at Angel with a slightly plaintive look.
"Willow's a forgiving
person." He smiled. "That hasn't changed. She always understood why you
were upset anyway." <And was much more
tolerant of it than me. >
Buffy's face was covered by a rueful smile. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," Angel wanted
to be civil with the Slayer; Willow would prefer it if there wasn't any
extra division between herself and her old friends.
The other changes in the young witch's life were enough.
"If you don't what
to answer, that's fine, but how long have you been in love with Willow?"
Her voice was neither angry nor hurt, although it was a tiny bit envious.
Buffy had realized, sitting across from the vampire, that she had finally
gotten over him. Talking to him and not
seeing any love in his eyes no longer hurt. Finally she had let go. Now she was simply curious.
Angel looked at Buffy
in shock. After a moment it settled in that she wasn't the least
bit angry. Then he realized that his shock wasn't over
the fact that Buffy thought he was in love with Willow, or that she had asked about it. He couldn't brush the question off . . . because he WAS
in love with Willow . . . his best friend. Memories of their year and a half of friendship flooded his mind. How ardently he had missed her
when he'd gone to LA to find redemption and distance from a stubborn Buffy. He clearly remembered his intense fear for her safety when he
learned of the dreams. Angel wasn't sure when his affection for the slender redhead had deepened into love. <You idiot vampire! She can't
possibly feel that way about you! > He had a sudden urge to ram his head against the wall.
Buffy looked at the
shocked and zoned look on Angel's face with some concern. He didn't
even seem aware that she was still here. "Uh,
Angel, are you okay?"
Angel snapped back
to reality, still mentally kicking himself. "I'm not sure when it
happened. It was so gradual . . .. I didn't even let
myself realize how I felt until you asked me."
Buffy realized he needed
some time to himself. Willow probably wouldn't be out much longer,
and Angel clearly wanted time to think. "It's
almost dark now; I need to go patrol." She got up and strode to the door. She turned before leaving. "I hope every thing works out for you.
Please tell Willow I came by and that I'm going to call her. Angel nodded absently in reply, eyes distant. The Slayer let herself out the door and headed for the graveyard.
seated as she walked out; he collapsed against the couch back, letting
his head fall back to rest along the top edge and stared
at the ceiling. Images of Willow continued to bombard his mind. Angel began to have a strong urge to cry or scream. He loved her, but it
would never work. <I'm still a vampire. She's a wonderful girl and deserves far better than me, > he told himself firmly. Finally, his
thoughts drove him off the couch and into nervous motion. He stalked to the door, turning out the lights as he went. Angel walked out the door into the night, hoping that a long walk would help him restore some order to his thoughts -- before Willow got home.
the last of her sundae out of the bowl then dropped the dish into Giles'
sink. Xander had arrived bearing gifts of food to make
the research go faster. Anya and Giles had left just a little while ago to replace some magic supplies that turned out to be necessary, and the
two friends had stayed behind to straighten up and finish off the ice cream. Actually, Xander had eaten most of the ice cream while Willow
put books away. The young witch was beginning to suspect that Xander had gotten Anya to get Giles out of the house deliberately. The young man obviously wanted to say something but wasn't sure how to say it. He was distinctly jumpy.
we've finished every last drop of sugar, so spill," the redhead demanded.
She sat down on the couch and looked at him
expectantly. <Something is bothering him, and we're going to get it out into the open. Now. > "Is this about Angel?" It had been a couple of
days since they had destroyed Angelus; Willow worried that Xander was having second thoughts about accepting Angel.
Xander flushed and ducked his head. He had been hard on Angel for a long time. No wonder Will thought he wanted to complain some more. "No it's not about Deadb. . .," Xander quickly corrected himself, "Angel. I can see that he is a good friend to you. I'm not happy that you hid the fact that you guys were friends, but I understand why you did." He paused, "I actually wanted to apologize."
"Apologize? For what?" Willow was clearly confused.
A bit embarrassed, Xander quickly continued. "Um, for following you and for eavesdropping that first day you were training with Cassandra."
Surprised, Willow yelled. "You what! How much did you hear?!" She jumped off the couch and glared at him.
everything. Including the little trip to Hell you neglected to mention."
He shot her a mildly reproachful look then his
face softened. "It explained a lot, like how you and Angel got so close, and how you trusted him so quickly after that whole 'been in Hell for
three hundred years' thing."
Willow gaped, speechless. She flopped back onto the seat.
"I just didn't want anymore leftover secrets hanging between us. We've been friends too long for that."
Willow managed to gather her wits. "You aren't mad? Are you going to tell Buffy?" Her voice rose on the second question.
"No on both counts.
I've gotten over it, and it's old news so I don't see why Buffy would need
to know." <Plus, she's calm now. A calm Slayer
is a good Slayer. >
At that point
Giles and Anya returned. The former demoness looked at Xander pointedly,
clearly wanting to know if he'd gotten the chance to
talk to his childhood friend that he had needed. He nodded, and she smiled. Willow didnít notice the exchange. Giles noticed, but he
decided it wasn't any of his business.
it had been dark for awhile, Willow stood up. "I need to get going;
there's some e-mail I need to take care of before it gets too
late." She hugged Xander, smiled at the others, and then walked to the door.
"Do you need a ride?" Giles queried. He still regarded her as one of his charges and wanted her to be safe.
"I'll be fine. I can take care of myself now." She smiled again to take any bite out of her firm words, then headed out the door.
Willow walked quickly;
it was nice out, but she was looking forward to discussing the journal
with Angel. He had mentioned spotting some
smaller spells of interest to them in the book. Discussing texts with Angel was always fun, and Cassandra frequently joined in. A few
minutes clearing up her email then they could talk into the night.
Lost in her cheerful thoughts, the young redhead didn't notice the shadow moving in the trees behind her.
She was surprised to find the mansion dark and empty. <Darn, they must have had to run errands. Oh well. > Disappointed, Willow grabbed a soda and plopped in front of the computer. Quickly she was absorbed into her e-mail. She had called Joe yesterday while Cass was out jogging and had asked for Methos' number. The Watcher had given her an email address where the Immortal could be reached. Willow had sent a short but effusive thank you note. He had responded, clearly pleased that the book had proven so useful.
. . . .I only remembered that it was about vampires. I haven't run across a vampire myself in years. If I run across any other relevant texts I'll send them to you. I am glad that your friend has been helped. That must have been a very tense situation. Could you tell me a bit more about that curse? I've never heard of such a thing before. Good luck to you in all of your studies. Feel free to contact me; you run across a lot of information in 5000 years. I understand if Cassandra doesn't want you to. Cassandra will tell you that I have been an evil man -- a murderer. This is nothing but the truth. But I am no longer that man.
A small sound
behind her broke Willow's concentration. She turned. "Angel?
Cass? . . .Who's there?" <I didn't hear the car pull up, or the
door. > A tremor of fear shot down her spine when no one responded to her question. She heard movement again and dashed to the middle of the room, forgetting Angel's instructions to keep her back to the wall. Willow barely had time to respond when a man appeared out of the shadows beside her, swinging a sword at her neck. <Oh, Goddess! This is bad! > Fortunately, the lessons Angel had drilled into the young witch made her react automatically -- preventing the urge to freeze. Dropping to the floor, she kicked her attacker's feet out from under him. He fell against the side table. The table and a lamp went flying, knocking out half of the light in the room. The sharp sword sliced through the air
above Willow's head.
"What the hell
do you want!?" She yelled as she rolled away, dodging his grabbing
arms and sword. The attacker got to his feet quickly,
pursuing the slender woman.
I missed! > "Just your head, Coppertop." Marcus Costior grinned through
his fury. The girl had looked to be an easy mark, and
she was making him look ridiculous. Not yet Immortal and unaware of the fact that she would be; the bitch shouldn't have known how to fight
back. She should have died with the first stroke of his sword.
over the couch, grabbing the second lamp with her mind and launching it
at the nameless attacker. The light in the room died,
the only illumination the pale blue light of the computer screen. Marcus chased after her, the lamp only a minor distraction. Attacking
again, he sliced into her side, leaving a long gash. The witch was aware of the impact and of dull burning in her side. She refused to
think about it. <I have to concentrate. > Quickly she threw a filmy illusion of an attacking demon in front of the man. It was a half-baked
effort, falling apart almost as soon as it was finished. But it worked; Marcus recoiled, yelling. "What the hell was THAT!" Willow grabbed the
sword that Cass practiced with. It was heavier and longer than the novice was used to, but it was closer to hand. Her attacker's choice of
weapon, combined with the fact that he didn't seem to be either a vampire or a demon, let her know what she had to do. Cass had told her
about headhunters. <But why is he attacking ME, damn it!!! >
Willow had proven
to be a naturally talented fighter, but she lacked experience. For
a few minutes she fended off his blows. Then her
guard slipped, and his sword rammed through her chest, puncturing a lung. This wound she couldn't ignore. Looking at the man's smug and
victorious face, she threw her power at him without conscious thought, briefly stunning Marcus. Willow raised her arm and swung Cassandra's
sword --- using her magic to strengthen the blow. His head flew across the room. Willow watched it's gruesome arc numbly. The world was
rapidly going dark and blurry. There was no time for her to enjoy her victory. Still impaled on her attacker's sword, Willow fell to the floor. She stared at the wall, unable to move, and blood dribbled from her mouth. <Oh . . . Goddess, this hurts. > Around her blue lightening danced, exploding the computer. Willow was vaguely aware of the power dancing through her. Moments later, she died, drowning in her own
slowly back to the Mansion. He was calm now, emotions firmly back
under control. It was nearly midnight. <I hope Willow
isn't too worried. > The vampire had walked nearly across town in his need to think. Looking up as he walked up to the door, he noticed that
Cassandra's car was still gone. <How long did she think Buffy and I were going to talk? > Then he noticed that the lights were out as well.
A little worry began to gnaw at him. <Willow is still at Giles? I'd better call and check. > Willow had planned on being home soon after
dark. Angel hurried through the front door.
The smell of
blood hit him the minute he stepped inside. Panic rushed through
him, making his dead heart contract. Eyes searching frantically
in the darkness for the source of the overpowering smell, he almost tripped over Marcus's head. He stared at the grisly thing, horror growing; Angel rushed into the room, all caution forgotten. "Willow." His only thought was that she had gotten home on time -- alone. His sharp night vision allowed him to clearly see the shambles the room was in. He could also smell Willow. Then he found her, still next to the rest of the body of her attacker in a pool of both of their blood. Blood covered her from the wound in her side.
His anguished scream
echoed through the dark Mansion. Kicking Marcus's body aside, Angel
fell to his knees and pulled Willow into his arms.
Violently, he pulled the sword out her chest. He threw it across the room, where it hit the wall with a clang. Gently, he pushed the hair out
of her starring eyes. <NO-NO-NO-NO!!! > Her body was still warm; he leaned his head against her chest -- no trace of a heartbeat -- not even
the faintest murmur for his sensitive hearing to detect. It was too late to turn her, but the lingering warmth in her pale skin let him know it had only been minutes. Angel held her tightly against him, his blood tears mingling with her lifeblood as he sobbed. He sobbed uncontrollably, beyond thought and completely lost in his pain. An animal-like keening filled the room. The grieving vampire sat unmoving with the slender girl in his arms for hours.
He missed the first feeble beat of Willow's heart. Then she took a gasping breath that shook her entire body. Angel bolted upright, starring in shock at Willow's face. She began to cough, choking on the blood that filled her lungs. The vampire turned her over and supported her until the spasms ceased. Willow turned over in his arms; she looked up at Angel with eyes full of confusion, her cheeks flushed.
Angel looked at her
in wonder. He touched her side gently, sliding his hand inside her
torn shirt to touch the spot where the wound had been.
Willow's skin was smooth and unbroken. <Her skin is warm. > Then he slid his hand to her heart, face full of reverence. <Her heart's beating! > He thought joyfully. Angel closed his eyes -- letting his senses focus on her pulse -- its sound and the feel of it under his hand.
Willow was definitely
confused. She clearly remembered being run through and dying.
The corpse of her attacker was lying right next to
her and Angel. <I killed him! > But the shock of being alive <Breathing, breathing is very, very good . . . > was overshadowed by the sensation of Angel holding her tightly and his hands running over her sides. It made her heart beat wildly. Willow could tell he was in shock even through the haze of her own shock. She reached up, after wiggling one arm free of the tight embrace, and gently stroked his cheek. "Angel, are you okay?"
His yellow eyes snapped open. <Am I all right?! She DIES, and the first thing she asks is if I'm all right! > Angel stared, stunned, into her large green eyes, then pulled her to him -- forgetting all his previous injunctions to himself to act just as a friend to her.
With the first touch
of his mouth to hers Willow completely forgot death and headless corpses.
Her only coherent thought was a brief notice that Angel was vamped out.
The kiss was frantic, almost desperate. Angel was reassuring himself
the woman he loved was actually alive, breathing in his arms. Then
he realized, as he was pushing her back against the side of the couch,
that he was kissing his best friend . . . and his
fangs and ridges were out. He pulled back. "I'm sorry, Willow. I love you." Angel put his human face back on, feeling ashamed of his impulsive
action. "I know you don't feel that way abou. . . " Willow didn't give him a chance to finish his sentence. The young witch realized that Angel didn't know how she felt. <Of course, I have been hiding that. Stupid me. > All that mattered was that he loved her. She shut him up by pulling him back into the kiss. Both were quickly lost in the intense moment . . . completely unaware of the world around them.
So, neither of them heard the car pull up.
Cassandra was in a
truly foul mood as she paid the cab driver. <I hate cars.
That is third one of those infernal creations to break down on me
last six months. Goddess! Horses were far more relia . . .> The immortal cut off her internal tirade as she neared the Mansion. She could feel
another Immortal . . . very close, and the front door was standing wide open. Drawing her sword, she walked quickly into the Mansion, already
in a defensive stance. Inside the entry the light switch failed to work. Back to the wall, she cast a simple spell designed to light up a room for about a half an hour. The sight that met her eyes made Cassandra almost drop her sword. The room was a mess. There was unfamiliar decapitated head at her feet, the furniture had been thrown around, and both lamps were knocked over. Next the couch was the body, and the blood, to go with the head. Sitting in that blood were Angel and Willow --- kissing like the world was about to end. The Immortal buzz was coming from Willow, and it was quite strong. <Oh, Hell! I leave the house to get some groceries, and look what happens. > Cassandra crossed the room, picking up the lamps and plugging them back it. Surprisingly, both had escaped being broken; she revoked the unneeded light spell.
cleared her throat; neither of the kissing pair noticed her. "Willow!"
She was still ignored. "WILLOW!" The pair broke
apart with a jump, looking at her in embarrassed surprise. Willow moved to get out of Angel's lap, but he refused to let her go, keeping his
arms firmly wrapped around her slight frame.
In a much calmer voice, Cassandra continued, "Do think that could wait? We need to talk, and this place is a disaster." She looked pointedly at the blood. Willow and Angel suddenly realized they were still on the blood-covered floor. "Eww!" was Willow's first reaction. Reluctantly, Angel let go of her and stood, helping her to her feet.
Let's go in the kitchen --- less blood." Cassandra walked away, and they followed.
Sitting at the kitchen
table, holding Angel's hand, Willow's brain function finally resumed.
"Um, Cassandra? I'm Immortal, arenít I? He
was a headhunter. It's the only thing that makes sense."
"Yes you are. I was hoping that this wouldn't happen for a bit longer."
exploded. He stood up, his chair falling to the floor behind him,
and he leaned across the table. The vampire grabbed
Cassandra. "You KNEW Willow was Immortal! And you didn't even mention it!" he roared. He vamped back out, reacting to his fury.
Angry vampire! > "We generally don't tell! When someone knows they're
Immortal it alters how they deal with life; they take
crazy risks!" Cassandra yelled back at him, shoving him back to sit on the upper edge of his fallen chair. He had to grab the edge of the table
to keep from toppling backwards. Angel glared at her and moved to stand back up. Cassandra started speaking again, this time turning to
Willow. "You tend to do just about anything for your friends, right?"
"Um, well . .
. Yes." Willow stammered. She was still rather stunned and had been
zoning out as Cass and Angel argued. She didn't have the
energy to break up the fight.
"So if you had
know that you couldn't be turned into a vampire or killed in most ways
you would have taken on dangerous things to protect
the others?" Cassandra's tone was supremely reasonable.
slowly. <Oh! > Confusion faded from her face as she started to
understand what Cass was trying to point out. Angel,
however, was still growling. The redhead reached over to grab his hand again. "Angel, calm down. It's okay." She looked at him pleadingly
faced the vampire calmly. "I wanted Willow to live as long as possible.
I was hoping that she would make it to her
mid-twenties BEFORE she stopped aging. <Well, that was a lost cause. > I knew that Willow would take risks if I told her." Willow blushed as
Cassandra directed a wry glance at her student. "So I did my best to prepare her without giving away that she was pre-Immortal."
Angel was starting
to think again by the end of this speech. Forcing down his need to
defend Willow in some way, he resumed his human face.
Willow sighed in relief. He was going to cooperate. For now.
Cass looked the pair over thoughtfully. "Why don't you both go clean up. You are both a disaster. I'll take care of the living room. Somehow I don't think seeing you covered in blood is the best way to break the news to the others."
Willow and Angel were
both liberally covered with blood, and Willow's shirt was badly torn.
The young witch suddenly became aware of the
mess, her daze evaporating. "Ewww!" Willow took off for the shower. <I was wondering when she would notice. > Cassandra thought with a
grin. Angel trailed after her, trying to absorb Cassandra's explanation.
Willow tossed the ruined
clothing into the corner of her room, thinking as she did so that she would
need to burn the outfit later -- between
the blood and the tears it was a complete loss. She turned on the shower as hot as it would go then stepped into the driving spray. Quickly, Willow began scrubbing off the blood. It was everywhere, and the water flowing down the drain in the floor was pink. Willow leaned against the tile wall, watching the water as it swirled away. Finally the rest of her stunned daze began to dissolve.
The small redhead slid to the floor, shaking. It was all just too much. Learning to become a powerful witch had been exciting and much desired. Cassandra's immortality had been a fascinating research topic, and no more. Willow had wanted to know more about what it was like. <But Goddess! This wasn't what I had in mind. > The young witch was perfectly willing to admit that she was terrified, and she couldn't yet absorb what effect this was going to have on her life. For a while, Willow just sat on the floor, water hitting her head as she sat and cried helplessly. About the time the water began to cool, the hysteria began to wear off. She stood back up. <I'd better get up. Angel will be worried if I don't show up soon. > This returned her to more pleasant thoughts . . . reflecting on the intense embrace that they had shared. However, Willow didn't let her thoughts or the warm tingly feeling they gave her distract her. She wasn't ready to have a worried Angel bursting in while she was still in the shower. <Although that could be interesting. Behave, Willow! >
Hair dry and clothes
clean, Willow headed back down the stairs to rejoin the others.
Cassandra was mopping up the floor when her student
walked into the room. Most of the blood was gone, and Angel was wiping up the stray smears that were out of Cass's reach. The couch, still
stained, had been set to one side. The rest of the furniture had been restored to order. The lamps looked rather squished. The blood-covered
carpet Willow and her attacker had fallen on was gone.
Looking around the
redhead found it. It was near the front door. Cass and Angel
had rolled up the remains in it -- for disposal. The sword,
still bloody <my blood >, was on top of it. Willow could take her eyes off the misshapen bundle. <I killed someone, > she thought in shock.
Involuntarily, a shiver shook her.
An arm wrapped around
her shoulders, holding her tight and giving her the support she needed.
Angel leaned down and kissed her forehead. He had abandoned the clean
up operation as soon as she had paled and shuddered. Willow leaned
into his arms, wrapping her arms around his
waist and burying her face against his chest.
Cassandra looked on
in concern. "Are you alright, Willow?" Angel glared at her,
but relented a little when he saw the genuine concern in
the Immortal's face.
up. She had managed to avoid crying again, though her eyes were red.
She had just needed some support. "I'm fine, or I
will be once my head stops spinning." Angel squeezed her, and she grinned up at him. The smile was open and unstrained. It was also full
of the love that the vampire desperately needed to see. He grinned back at her, feeling the knot of worry in his stomach relax and disappear.
Cassandra, looking on, also relaxed. It looked as if her student would indeed be all right, despite the shock.
Willow's face turned
serious again. She turned to face her teacher, leaning back against
Angel. Her moved his arms to her waist, and she
placed her smaller hands over his. Her eyes flickered over towards the carpet wrapped bundle. "I didn't have a choice, did I? About killing
him I mean," she quietly asked Cassandra.
"No you didn't.
He was a headhunter and nasty one. Going after pre-Immortals is seen
as being without honor. If you hadn't killed him
he would have killed you without a second thought. Just knocking him out or even injuring him severely wouldn't have been enough."
Cassandra's voice managed to be both deadly serious and reassuring. "I have gone over the rules of the game with you, haven't I?"
"I think so?" Willow responded her voice unsure.
"We need to go over
that. You must know certain things." She moved to the kitchen,
Angel and Willow following her. Cassandra dumped the
bucket of water, only slightly pink, into the sink and dropped the mop on the counter. She dropped into a chair, tired although it was early
in the day. <Lack of sleep will do that to you, > she thought wryly. She continued speaking. "You'll need to start training seriously now.
Magic will have to wait for awhile. I want to be sure you can handle yourself in a sword fight without magic first."
They sat down at the
table, again, preparing to talk. Cassandra opened her mouth to start
when they all heard the front door open. There was a
brief pause then they all turned to the door and got back to their feet. From the other room came a chorused yell. "What the Hell!?"