The mall courtyard was a neutral enough place, for their purposes.
After six years apart,
a Slayer with a badge and a not-quite-as-broody (but still going strong!)
vampire met. She had a cappucino. He was content to watch.
Buffy had aged, but only in good ways. Her hair had drifted to a
light brown color and her style had become more conservative. But her eyes still sparkled with the same impish fashion-following glee they had before.
It was ten minutes before either of them spoke.
After the opening lines, conversation came easily. There were so many stories to tell of the years they'd been out of each other's lives. Buffy was on her third cappucino when they heard the loudspeaker announce the mall's closing.
"Crap. I'm never going to get to sleep after all that coffee."
"Should've thought of that earlier." Angel suggested with a hint of smile. The pair rose from the relative safety of the table and the topics of her first attempt at a career in advertising that quickly gave way to a life on the police force, and his acclimation with downtown LA.
"Well, you can't just drop me home now, else I might not ever see you again... before I tell you the rest of what happened to everyone."
"Nobody's... dead, are they?" He couldn't help but ask. Buffy grimaced slightly.
"None of the Slayerettes.
Even Anya is still around. She teaches at an all-girls school in
Sacramento. Let's go for a walk in the park. Otherwise known
to tweedy-bird as patrolling." The Gilesean nickname had begun with
Xander and was rapidly becoming a favorite with the students at Sunnydale U, where he still worked. "--Giles will always be Giles, of course. He's gotten grayer, but he seems like he always was. Stammer man."
"You'll have to tell him hello for me."
"You're not staying more than tonight?" The vampire shifted uneasily. Like every painful part of his past, even though Sunnydale contained less guilty memories, he instinctively avoided the area.
"No. Finishing the real estate deal, then I'm moving on."
Angel looked thoughtful for a minute. "Probably New York. I've made all the memories I care to make in LA."
"New York. City of crime, sex, drugs, and lights. ...At least remember to send a postcard. We worry about you sometimes."
Neither wanted to admit it, but by the time they rounded the first corner of the old park where they'd alternately kissed and throttled each other, they knew.
The love that would
never die... had done just that.
"...And after the last time, he and Drusilla should be in New York somewhere."
"I don't think they'll ever go away. If they don't come here, they go to LA. Never a moment's peace." Buffy scuffed her shoe against the ground as they reached the end of the park. "But, such is life as the Chosen One."
"Tell me about Xander and Willow."
"Xander graduated with
a degree in business... he works with textiles, or something. He
got married for awhile, but then was divorced really really fast.
Poor guy. He's kinda lonely now. At least, that's how he always
seems to me when he calls. And Willow..." Buffy sucked in a breath, deciding just to blurt. "Willow quit after her freshman year at Sunnydale U. She starting doing lots of writing, got a few things published under pen names, then vanished... God knows what she's doing. She never calls anymore and she doesn't tell me anything when she does. When she does call, it's always rushed, like it's an obligation." Angel shared her frown as the Slayer's brow creased further. "I think she's in trouble sometimes. I have a tracer... Managed to get a hold of one, me being Ms-Officer-of-the-law person now, and I keep waiting for her to call me, so I can find her and make sure she's okay."
Boots crunched on the gravel. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Oh, don't worry about Willow. I keep telling myself I shouldn't. After all, if anyone can take care of themselves, it's Willow." Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. "Right?"
At Buffy's front porch, all that needed catching up was caught, and the caffeine was beginning to wear off. Their eyes locked in an awkward silence.
"Well." He half-grunted
the Angel equivalent. She tried to be bright about it. "Here
we are. ...Uh..." After considering and discarding several
methods of attack, she finally decided on hugging her ex-honey as tightly
she possibly could. But in a friendly way. He returned the display of affection, and with a kiss on the cheek, they bid farewell for another final time.
"...Wills? Is that you?"
"Yeah, hey. How's everything?"
"It's great, Wills, how goes it with you wherever--say, where are you these days?"
"Uh... I...I'm a-a-around." There came a scratchy cough through the receiver...
"Are you sick?"
"Oh, no, em, I'm peachy, dandy, fine, keen--peachy-keen--Is everybody there still okay? Like, Giles, Xander, Cordelia, are they okay?"
"...They're fine. Although Cordy's still in LA... Willow?"
"--Sorry! Dropped the phone!" A squeaky, highly enthusiastic laugh made Buffy pull the phone from her ear. "I hate w-when that happens, when you're doing something, and then something stupid happens, and oh god, Buffy!" The Slayer held the phone closer as gut-wrenching sobs filled the static. "I'm so scared. I'm all by myself again. I want to--"
"Willow?" The static picked up, crackling malevolently through the hacker's words.
"--ome. I'm so sca--" The scream came unexpectedly into the receiver, the Slayer dropping the phone, startled. By the time she'd fumbled it back to her ear, the haunting sound of a dial tone was all that remained.
"Willow?!" The trace flashed back incomplete. But she did have a lead.
New York. Willow was somewhere in New York.
She'd rung Xander, Cordelia, Anya, Amy, her mother, the Rosenburgs, Oz, everyone else in the Sunnydale phonebook she still had from about five years ago. Not that she was a pack rat, Buffy just tended never to throw things away, in case she'd need them later. Okay, so she was a pack rat. But she'd found a use for the phonebook, finally. Which just goes to show you.
Still, nothing turned up but a few old friends who wanted to reminisce.
Kicking her nightstand
in frustration, Buffy dialed Angel's number again. Ever since he'd discovered
the Internet, it was impossible to get through to his apartment.
"Stupid AOL. ...Booted me again..." Angel waggled a finger threateningly at the screen. "I'll do it. I swear, I'll switch to Mindspring. ...Don't you--Sonofa--" He picked the phone up on the first ring. "Hello?"
"Angel? Great! I've been trying to get through to you all day--er, night. I found Willow!"
"Really? How is she?"
"I don't know yet,
I mean, I only sort of found Willow. She's not here--She called,
sounded like she was in trouble and wanted to come home. She's somewhere
in New York. I really need your help. I can't get out there
Angel frowned into the phone. <Just like Buffy not to take off work to save her best friend's life.>
"--I called all the airports, even the one in Nevada, and they don't have anything to New York this time of year. You know what the Christmas season is like. I waited at the airport on standby all of last night. There was this girl there that reminded me..." He thought the edge of a muffled sob came from her end. "I'm going on about nothing. Hang on. Okay. I need you to look around, see if anyone knows anything. She sounded like she was sick, and really needed help. Please do this for me, Angel! You're the only person I know up there that I can trust."
He nodded into the phone. <How could I think Buffy'd be that shallow? I'm a jerk.> "Of course I'll look for her. She's still my friend."
"Theoretically." Buffy put in. "We don't know what she's been up to. She might be messing around with magic again, and there's no telling what might've happened."
"I'll make the rounds now. I just wish I knew more people out here. Things might go faster."
"Any help would be a big help. Thank you so much, Angel."
"I'll be arriving on Saturday night, promise to call, even collect! if you find anything."
"No problem. Bye, Buffy."
He wandered the streets.
The gangs didn't see him, because they're all waiting for a good target,
not one that might turn out to be carrying a gun. The cops didn't
see him, because they're all just waiting for the gangs to
pick on someone, and he didn't look like a crack dealer. Crack dealers hang out; this man moved with a mission. Everyday people didn't see him because, let's face it, who cares if he's hot? It's after midnight and he could be a
killer. Anyone out in this part of New York at this time of night in this weather was crazy anyway.
<Where do I start? Where do I even look? She's probably in an apartment somewhere, being tortured by some demon--Hey! What am I doing, thinking about stuff like that? God, I'm a sicko.> Angel realized he'd been mumbling aloud about the time a homeless man threw a beer bottle at his head. It didn't connect, thank god. But it reminded him of good old Willy the Snitch. Not that Willy was in New York, but that bartenders have a supernatural ability for picking up gossip. <If I had the slightest damned clue what I was looking for besides a beautiful redhead in trouble!>
He stalked the streets
America Online: People Connection.
Angel couldn't sleep. And when he couldn't sleep, he was on the Internet. It was like being connected to the human race despite the sunlight. It, like cable television, made him feel more mortal.
Chat: Find a chat now
He clicked through the list. Nobody was on in the morning. Nobody.
AOL Member created chats: Places: New York City
Empty as hell. About four people talking. About web pages, of all things. <Web pages. Maybe Willow has a web page? ...Can't hurt to look. But what are the odds?> He typed in every search category she might be under, and still came up with about a thousand search results. <Oh, come on! That many people cannot be named Willow.>
<Ah-ha. I was right!> Most of the search results had nothing to do with people named Willow. There was however, a serious glut of people in Red Willow County who had web pages.
could take all night.>
"No need to get snippy about it."
"Sorry. I've been up all day."
"Internet searches. Last night I hit the club scene."
"Nothing. I'll try again tonight."
"Thanks, Angel. I really appreciate this."
"I know. I'll
call back later. Bye, Buffy."
His nerves were wearing
thin. Much as he wouldn't admit it, his sleep schedule was very important
to him. He'd become spoiled, working at night, taking a nap when
he got home, checking his e-mail, sleeping the rest of the
day. Social skills didn't come too easily to the vampire, so he didn't mind being a little closed-off. Thirty-six hours awake, subsisting on bagged blood and adrenaline. He'd drifted into a seedy bar at eleven, and had watched with some trepidation as it filled to the brim with leather-bound trash by twelve-thirty. As usual, no one knew who he was talking about. The bartender, a balding man of about fifty with three nose rings, was the last on the list.
"What'll it be?"
"Scotch and soda." His fingers drummed absently on the bar. "Can I ask you something?"
"That's what I do, son, I pour and I listen."
"I mean, really. I'm looking for a girl--"
"There's lots of places around here for that." The tender flipped a glass towards him, smirking.
"No, I'm looking for a specific girl. She's around five-eight, bright red hair, into magic, the occult. That sort of thing."
"We don't get much call for that sort of thing around here. All you're gonna find is generic hookers."
A blush threatened to rise in Angel's cheeks at how loud the bartender was becoming, then his cheeks remembered--they don't blush. "I'm not looking for a hooker--"
"Course, if you're into all that 'weird' stuff, there is a place. They might have exactly the girl you're looking for."
"I'm not looking for a brothel, I'm looking for a friend--"
"But that's only if you're into the, you know, freaky sort of stuff."
"What, the occult?"
"Yeah, You wanna know how to get there?" "Hundred bucks." The vampire scowled at the tender, and contemplated the reaction the rest of the bar would have to his trying to strangle the man. "Come on." Grudgingly, Angel handed over a crumpled hundred. "Of course, if you want them to let you in right away... that's extra. Another hundred." Angel growled this time, having to fight not slipping into game face. But he had so much money in investments, what's two hundred bucks? Even if it was a dead end, he'd at least tried.
"Thank you kindly,
sir. Now, if you take the subway down east..."
It was an even worse part of town than he'd been in before. From a certain point of view. Sex shops and seedy bars are up-front. You know what goes on there, you know exactly what to expect. The blank, faceless building walls that surrounded him betrayed nothing of what they hid. People on this street didn't stroll. They nearly ran, fast as they could, towards the subway entrances.
<You've been through hell and back. Why're you worried about walking into a club? Even a strange, one... whose entrance is hidden down a dark alley... hmm.> A large metal door, one that looked pretty soundproof, loomed against the night. <Here goes the neighborhood.> He rapped on the door. Once. Twice. Three times. The whirr of a moving security camera above the door caught his attention. A speaker crackled on.
"We don't recognize you. Have you been here before?"
Angel swallowed and glanced around the deserted alley before speaking into the air. "No. No, I haven't."
"Who sent you to us?"
"Uh... Inspector Clouseau. He's a bartender, down at the club--"
"We do know the Inspector." The camera lens zoomed toward him in a leering way. "Who are you?"
The speaker crackled. "An appropriate title. Enter, Angel." The door slid open, stairs descending into blackness. Angel took a deep breath, albeit he didn't need to.
<What am I getting myself into?>
Suddenly he was back
in hell. Unfamiliar hands seized his arms, several pairs. In
the darkness of the room, he could only feel the hood being slipped over
his head. He lashed out, trying to use his vampiric strength to
bail out of the blackened room. Handcuffs met his efforts.
"Mr. Angel, please!"
A voice issued from his left. Someone had his right arm, another
at his left. At least three. Could be more. "We try not
to surprise everyone, but so few newcomers are willing to wear the hood.
necessary to keep our operation, and your identity, under tight security. If you'll just let the guards escort you, all your needs will be addressed." The pair of guards dragged him forward by the elbows.
"Where are you taking
me?" He had fallen into step with the guards, who led him down several
flights of stairs, right, left, then back and forth in so many directions,
he lost his bearings easily. "I don't want any trouble, I'm
just looking for a girl--" He no longer cared who he was talking to, there didn't seem to be much point in waiting to see. "She's about five-eight, bright red hair, big green eyes, ivory skin."
He was shoved into another small room, feeling the guards leave him. He felt the handcuffs give way and yanked the hood off his face hurriedly. He was met by a small blonde woman who smiled seductively. "My, my... You're a live one. Follow me." Another door slid open in the wall. Angel stepped through, bewildered by his journey so far.
The room beyond made
him swallow. It was spacious, dark, and filled with men and women
of every shape, color, and maturity. The ethereal glow of blacklights
surrounded the packed crowd on the dance floor. Many of them
were half-naked, dressed in... <Oh. Wow. New use for mesh.>
So this is what the 'Inspector' meant by freaky. Instead of going to a coven, he'd run into a bunch of bottom-feeding users. A whole *lot* of them, too. A couple hundred patrons, a large crush of them on the dance floor, the rest scattered over booths and the bar area, some heading towards the darkened back area of the club.
"I'm Cookie. Like the dessert." His eyes snapped back to the little woman, who'd apparently been trying to introduce herself. "Unfortunately, if you want to have me for dessert, you'll have to make an appointment, but... in your case..." He scrambled backwards slightly as she latched onto the lapels of his jacket. "I might just have to have you with my coffee break." Talented--and *way* too experienced--lips met his.
Angel would later liken
the situation to removing a leech. There was a loud sucking sound,
such as the filling of a vacuum, and Cookie found herself held aloft a
foot in the air, at arm's length. His eyes steeled as he found
himself entranced by the lines of her neck. It would be so easy to--No, won't think about that. Not here to eat. "I'm looking for a girl."
"Look, I'm straight up, I'm not into that D/S junk, aight?" Cookie kicked her legs in the air. "Put me down or I call security!"
"Listen to me."
His voice lowered as vampiric strength floated her to the floor.
"I'm looking for a girl. You probably haven't seen her. She's
got bright red hair--Not the fake kind, the real kind--Big green eyes,
about Five-eight, slender, drop-dead gorgeous, and the smartest person you've probably never met." His fangs flashed. "Now you just--"
"You talkin' about Laurel?" Angel pulled back his canines before they became much too apparent.
petite blonde nodded and took another long leer. "Now I know why
a looker like you decided to show up. She practically brings in customers
off the street. You look about her taste, but I'll be damned if
you'll get an appointment. They've been booking her solid." Her claws took another appreciative, if cautious, perusal of his bicep. "But I'll see what's going on back there. Don't wander too far." With that, Cookie
flashed him a smirk and sauntered back into the writhing shadows that seemed to complete the club's idea of a good time.
"But I'm not looking for... Screw it." There was no way someone like Willow would be working here. Not a chance in Hell. He'd just have to tell the girl he wasn't here for their idea of a good time when she came back. And why was his assertiveness gone suddenly?
The woman thankfully left him alone, and Angel, being a man of great intention but only fair innovation, made his way towards the bartender, waving him over. As he waited to be served, the vampire took in the conspicuous lack of exits.
"Can I help--Well! If it isn't everybody's favorite soulboy. What can I get ya, Angel?"
"Willy?" He could
have recognized that voice in a wind tunnel. The man tipped his fedora
and poured a gin and tonic, which he slid to the vampire. "I know ya don't
usually drink, but hey, for old times." Willy bent closer.
"By the way, I see any sudden violence directed in the vicinity of my face, and you're out of here so fast--" An unspoken threat remained unspoken, mostly because Willy the Snitch was a man of regurgitated gossip, and not one of linguistic skill. Besides, he'd never been threatening to anyone in his life, a fact that made him, happily, off everyone's hit list. "So what's going on?"
"You're a very poor imitation of Indiana Jones."
"So they tell me, so they tell me. But if I keep quiet about the vinyl underwear, nobody minds. I wear the companion pin-stripe suit on Fridays. Makes me look like one of those gangster snitches."
<It wouldn't take much either way.> "What kind of place is this? An underground club?"
The Snitch furrowed a brow. "Underground, yeah... You mean you just sorta floated in here without figuring it out? ...Hey! We've got rooms for that sort of thing! Yeah, you in the clamps!"
Angel made the mistake
of glancing at who the Snitch was yelling at. He didn't think he'd
be able to get the picture out of his head. He'd been rationalizing
since he hit the main room, but he couldn't deny it any longer.
"S and M club.
Yeah, basically. The atmosphere takes a little getting used to, but
why should that bother the Sunnydale crew, right?" The Snitch practiced
an overhand shaker catch, like they did in 'Cocktail'. "Look,
we've got three of us at once. Hell, when's the Slayer gonna show up?"
"...Did you say, 'three'?"
"Yeah. You, me--though I don't even think I really count, but hey, you know?"
"Who's the third?"
"Laurel." Willy caught the look Angel was giving him, and whispered conspiratorially. "You know, the witch girl. Willow."
"Willow works here?!"
Willy grimaced visibly. "You didn't know?" He set the shaker down. "You should probably leave, while the getting's good."
"Where is she?" His eyes roamed the club for the hacker. "I don't see her!" He nearly wailed against the din. "Is Willow all right? Is she in trouble?"
"It's Laurel, now. She works in the rooms back there. But, if you ask me, it's a terrible idea to go and s... Angel?"
The vampire was already careening through the dance floor, moving like a soldier in a minefield, which meant he was going as fast as possible without hitting anything unpleasant. Reaching the back of the club, he saw a nicely decorated waiting area branching off down a hallway. He faintly heard a soft woman's voice coming from around the corner, and he power-walked down the rest of the hallway, seeing a man blocking his view of the receptionist at the desk. <Please let it be Willow. Please let this be Willow!> The man moved. It wasn't. "Damn." She couldn't be actually working here. Willow, innocent little Willow, could not be working here. He just wouldn't let that be true. And if she was, she <probably just filed or answered phones, or maybe she modeled or-->
"There you are!" His teeth ground against each other at Cookie's voice. "I thought I told you to stay put. Aren't you in luck, I'm such a shot, I got you in to see Laurel."
"Yeah." She nodded,
no better than a cheap street whore in a seventies movie. You could
hear 'Play that Funky Music' in the background as she sized him up like
a block of meat. In this light, Cookie looked old. "Come on.
You should have filled out paperwork first, but she had a no-show. I couldn't believe anyone wouldn't show up." She led him down another maze-like hallway, stopping at an open door. "But, first time for everything. Go on in and put on the hood. ...I was hoping we would get to have fun later, but Lady Laurel's going to tire you out, if I'm any judge, and I am. Maybe next time."
You don't want to get on her bad side. Hurry up, get in. Don't keep
her waiting." The door slid shut. He found himself in another
seamless room, except this one had... features. There were racks...
things. A hood lay on the table. He gingerly placed it over his head, and waited. A few minutes later, he heard an even, steady click. It got closer and closer until it was right next to him.
"Hello..?" His voice rasped out to the room.
"Shh..." The sound was more a rush of air than an actual word, but immediately recognizable to Angel.
"Wil--" He cut off slightly as something stuck between his lips, forcing part of the hood back into his mouth.
"No... Talking." Her voice was unmistakeable. Willow. This was Willow. His joy hit like a ton of bricks on the pavement when he realized something else.
It explained so much of the weirdness.
"That's a good boy."
A gloved hand moved over his collarbone, caressing the taught muscle where
his neck met shoulder. "You're so... tense... Mmm..." The doppelganger.
Of course. It had all been a trick to lure Buffy out of
her support range, to a place where she'd be vulnerable. Lots of vampires live on the wallets they lift from their victims, but some have been known to find jobs they can safely hold down in the dark. Her gloved fingers slid
across his throat.
Hot, exhausted tears
stung his eyes. This was worse than the first time. When the group
had met up with the Vampire Willow at the Bronze, he hadn't had time to
think about it. He'd just run to Buffy, still in shock. Then
the real Willow had been okay. Still, Angel had walked home very slowly that night, as many of the others took some time to do after the event. Except this time she wasn't alive. The sweet little girl who had risked her life to
save his soul had been turned. He felt beaten.
"On your knees."
He heard the words, but stood there, dumbly letting it sink in. "I
said... on your knees." Angel had another second to register the
command before he felt the back of his right knee kicked in sharply.
the floor with barely a wince, stricken, grasping the hard flooring with both hands, like he was going to fall off of it.
"I see we're not going
to be cooperative. ...That's all right. More fun." Another
sharp kick sent him rolling onto one side. "For me." He couldn't
see where she was going, and was having trouble sensing her. Going
hood rewarded him with a third kick, this time to the wrist. "Naughty, naughty. I get to decide how we play." Her hands wrapped around his neck, dragging the vampire up onto his knees.
But just now, Angel
didn't feel like playing. His right fist shot forward, knocking her
back. At the same time, he grabbed Willow's falling body by the throat,
snarling angrily, and ripped the hood from his face. He was ready
come up with something really malevolent and pithy to say, but stopped short.
The girl's weak hands clutched at his arm while at the same time, her feet were doing a patheticly spirited job of kicking at his nether regions. Angel's snarl faded. He couldn't smell or hear the pulse of Willow's blood--even her body temperature was practically that of the room, but he could feel every vein in her neck against the pads of his fingers. She had a pulse. His fingers loosened their death grip.
"Willow?" Same red hair, a bit shorter and sleeker than years ago. Same big, shining green eyes. Same flawless complexion, same soft skin, lips--
"Angel?" This was the voice he recognized. "L-let me---gluu..." He dropped her unceremoniously to the floor as two security guards who looked like they were Kevin Sorbo's stunt doubles burst in and grabbed him. He wasn't a match, especially not for the one of them who was a vampire. The guard hit him twice in the stomach before the three of them were halted.
"Wait!" The fiery
woman on the floor barked. She rose to a height of nearly six feet
in the monster stiletto thigh boots. They were black, as was the
little of her bodysuit, apparently welded onto her sumptuous curves and
sculpted from the same material as her boots... a sort of vinyl/leather/metal thing... Angel realized he'd been staring at exactly where the vinyl molded to the creamy skin of her hips. The guards hauled him to his feet at her
sharp nod. The hardness came back in her face again. It was a subtle physical shift, but he swore he could see Willow go from the high school innocent he knew to this 'Lady Laurel'. <Dear God. Look at what she's...>
The riding crop she
held nudged his chin upward forcefully. "Yarding's Coffeeshop.
Corner of Eighth and Ten. Tomorrow night. Eight o'clock." Cold
green eyes and a monotone betrayed no hint of what was to come. Lady
Laurel flung the riding crop away and nodded to the guards.
"Willow, I need to talk to--" In a flash, Angel was re-hooded, hauled up several painful flights of steps on his back, and dumped into a garbage bin.
The vampire spat a sliver of greasy cardboard away. All he had left as evidence was a plain piece of black material and the string that went along with it. Angel was fairly sure he'd have to have a ballistic missile to break into the club again.
It was Thursday night.
"What was that?"
"Still no news of Willow?"
"Y--No. Sorry. Got a lead. But I'm not sure."
"Listen, I was on standby for Saturday, but I just got bumped. I don't know when I'm going to be able to make it out there."
"That's fine, Buffy. I'll keep things up on this end."
"Right, Angel. Thanks. I love you, Bye."
"Oh. Oh, gosh, I'm sorry... I... force of habit."
"That's okay. I understand."
"But I do love you as a friend, so I guess it works. I'm praying for you and Willow."
"I'm Catholic now. ...I guess some people are born again, I just sorta... needed it. I'm a better Slayer because of it."
"I'm glad of that."
Crazy Dream Sequence
Angel drifted in and
out of consciousness for about ten sunlight hours. He really wanted
to sleep. He really needed to sleep. This was going to get
him killed. But he was terrified that clear thinking would keep her
in his thoughts. And that would make him crazy.
Willow wouldn't leave his dreams.
He remembered fragmented
sections of nightmares. Acathla, Angelus, Evil Willow, and for some
reason he didn't dwell on, lots of leather. And the last dream...
more clear than the rest...
He could see her on
the tower, even though he was far below, out of reach. Angel knew he'd
fought hard to reach her prison. The briar scars still traced his
bare arm. Though the danger in remaining was great, he couldn't
control himself. The princess must be saved.
"...First star I see
tonight..." He threw the cloak aside, dismounting the stallion and
heading for the rough face of the tower with no door. His fingers
were rough-worn from weeks on horseback, and well-suited to the task
of climbing. The boots were a sharp-toed variety. He would have the princess, if it killed him.
"...I wish I may..." The tower face was laughable up close, full of nooks and crannies enough for a child. He wondered why she hadn't tried to come down before. He had almost reached the top...
"I wish I might... Have the wish..."
"I wish tonight." He finished the call, vaulting easily over the balcony to kneel at her feet. "Your majesty..." Angel removed his helmet, laying it next to his bended knee. "I have come for you, my Lady Willow."
"Who decided I was to be your lady?" Her white nightgown hung like gauze, billowing in the night breeze. At risk of being much too forward, he rose, taking her cool hands in his own, pressing a kiss on her gathered fingertips.
"I burn for you, my lady." He pressed a kiss onto her palm, urging her to stroke the curvature of his cheek. His hands came to her waist.
"I do not know your name..."
She smiled, fingertips running over his lips. "An appropriate title." His mouth swooped lower, but the princess ducked back. "Ah-ah. Be careful. I'm fragile."
"Indeed, my lady." His lips caught hers in a bruising kiss, taking her light form up in his powerful arms, crushing the princess to his chest. She whimpered pitifully against his assault. He stroked the small of her back, feeling the damp nightgown cling to her skin. Damp..? Angel pulled back.
Where fingers should be, there were claws, rending her ivory flesh. The nightgown's gauze lay wet with blood against her savaged skin. His fangs had slit the length of her lips. Rivulets of blood coated the floor.
Startled, he tried
to lift her off his chest, but every time he tried to touch her, his hands
would lacerate a new section of the girl. Her eyes were the worst.
Cold and dead, mute from shock, her mouth opened in a silent
scream to the heavens. Roughly, he threw her from him, sending her tumbling. The red-head hit the floor with a sickening thud.
He threw back his head,
laughed heartily, and bent to drink, yellow eyes flashing.
Angel poured himself another bag of A and wiped the sleep out of his eyes. Tonight, he was going to see Willow again. Whether she was good or evil, he had no idea. Maybe it was the thought of her innocence that made his stomach turn so violently at the woman he'd seen last night. Maybe she had a good reason for being there. Maybe she was working undercover, tracking demons or--
Angel sighed again
and looked at the clock. He was going to be late if he didn't get
going soon. But he was scared out of his mind.
"...Where is she?"
His hands wrung together nervously. Exhaustion in a coffeehouse could
only lead to one thing. Drinking one espresso. Waiting. Drinking
another espresso. Waiting. Drinking a latte, for variance.
Waiting. Having a cappucino. Angel was wired like a Christmas light display. Then she walked in.
He half-expected the
outfit to be black vinyl with studs, and swatted away the mental picture
when it hit him. Willow smiled brightly at the waiter, bouncing slightly
on her toes. She looked just the same, maybe a little
older, but just the same as she had years ago. Her youth and beauty had seemed only to deepen. Angel was shocked. Buffy had changed. Cordelia had definitely changed. Willow looked exactly the same. But then there was last night...
He looked down at the murky depths of the coffee mug, coughing and praying that the tightening of his jeans would go away quickly. A lilting voice broke the silence.
"Angel." Her eyes shone with warmth. She stood there, a little awkwardly. "You came. I'm glad." Willow sank into the chair across the room gratefully, sighing a little. "I didn't think you would."
The priss in him got the better hand. "After last night--" He shook his head, frowning. "What was last night?"
Willow smiled brightly at the waiter, who handed her a coffee cup and a napkin. She looked from the napkin to the waiter, who blushed, smiled, and left.
"What was that about?"
"He gave me his phone number." Willow turned a shade of red only available at a Sherwin Williams paint store near you. "He's tried to flirt before."
"Willow... we need to talk."
"We are talking." Her innocent face took on a few lines up close. "I just... I don't want to lose another friend."
"Neither do I. What's going on? You call Buffy frantically, you run around, I see you in the weirdest of places doing God knows what--Wait, I do know what you do. It's disgusting, Willow. What happened to college? What happened to all the wonderful things you were going to do with your life? What happened to you?"
"I became me." Willow's eyes flashed cold again.
"That's no excuse--"
"Shut up, Angel. You're not my mother."
"I'm your friend."
"Then be quiet and
let me talk." Her voice resonated and harmonized with the air.
Angel tried to force his lips to move, but all that came from them was
air. She stared down at him, a little of the cold leaving, but with
definite chilliness. "I didn't mean to cause anyone any trouble. By the way, if you're interested, this is a pretty handy spell for getting people's attention." The coffee met her unmarred lips, dream images flashing through
his mind. "I've taken your voice away. I'll give it back to you in a minute. Just let me say my piece."
"I was plain old Willow
Rosenberg. Useful, but ultimately not creative and nothing more than
smart. Pretty, but virginal. Even when I'd had sex a couple
of times, virginal little Willow. Fragile little Willow. Willow
is a sad name, you know. My parents gave me that name because I was
a colicky baby. I never stopped crying. I cried all through
school and all through college, and I spent most of my life hating myself
and wondering what was
wrong with me."
"I am a witch now.
Not a Wicca. I gave up that whole goddess thing. I'm a witch in the
true sense, the empowering, controlling one. I can hold the world
in my palm. I'm practically a sourceress. I enjoy power.
power. It gives me a happy, as we used to say." She smirked, sipping the coffee. "I left college because Oz was there, Xander was there, Buffy was there, Giles was there, and I couldn't be the person I wanted to--needed to
be. I'm not cut out for life as a Watcher Wicca. And I don't want to have little baby wolves, and I don't want a husband who doesn't speak with inflection, and for one moment in my whole stupid, dumb life, I wanted to
live. So I left."
"I came here with a few dollars, my computer, and a willingness to do work. I got a job as a phone sex operator. I know, phone sex, with my voice, right? I was never very good at it, but as long as I spoke the lines... Easy enough. I published two fantasy/sci-fi stories under a pen name, still write a little, and through my telephone connections, got involved down at the Hall."
"You once said to me that vampires aren't necessarily that different from their human selves beforehand. It's true. There are parts of me that I can't make known to the group, and I can't hide them in Sunnydale. But I can live here, in comfort and happiness, do what I want, when I want, and I don't have to be sad little Willow anymore. I can be Laurel. She suits me."
Willow sipped her cappucino. She'd gone over the speech a thousand times in her head, knowing the day would come when one of them found out. "Oh, by the way, you can talk now."
Angel cleared his throat. "I'm not sure what to say."
"Then don't say anything. Just go back and tell them I'm fine."
"I can't do that. Buffy's worried. ...Why did you call her like that in the middle of the night?"
A flush again rose in her cheeks. "I'd been... working a spell... and my shift ran late, I forgot to eat... I was just... out of whack, and--"
"No!" She swallowed her acid tongue. "I mean, no. I'm fine, really. Just got a little carried away."
"Willow, you shouldn't be working in a place like that."
"Yeah, well. It's nice, actually. Let's me get alot out of my system that I need to get out." He arched a brow. "Well, geeze. It's not like I ave sex with anyone. There's no blood-play. I just parade around in things I shouldn't be wearing in front of equally perverted strangers, and hit them." Angel gave her another strange look. "There's really much more to it, but... You won't tell the others what you found out, will you?"
"I've only talked to Buffy in the last six months. She won't hear it from me."
"Okay, then." Willow glanced at her watch. "I should get going soon. It's almost time for my shift." She rose to collect her purse.
"Wait. That's it?" Angel was still a little fried from the night before. "That's it? You tell me what's what over a cup of coffe and I'm just supposed to accept it? No. That's not the way things work, Willow."
"It's Laurel." She bent over, unexpectedly pecking him on the cheek. "And that's the way it's gonna be." Willow, aka Laurel, flounced out of the coffeehouse, swinging her hips hypnotically. Angel didn't even notice the waiter, a decent-looking guy in his twenties, come over. They both watched Willow leave.
"Man, that girl's something, isn't she? ...Hey, are you two going out?"
"Just asking. Thanks."
No, they weren't going out... but he'd be damned again if he let her get away this time.
Willow shut her locker,
tucking the last vestiges of her normal clothing away for the night.
She turned the combination lock to zero, a little ritual, and set to fastening
on her outfit.
It really wasn't that hard, being a dominatrix. As long as you were willing to suppress your inhibitions and your conscience, a girl could really start to get into it. It was hard to admit to yourself you enjoyed the kink, even
more than the people who paid her more than lawyer's wages for wearing a leather bustier. After two years working in a Hall upstate, the corporation (Nobody quite knew who ran or owned them, but hey, they treated her right, why ask questions?) moved her to Manhattan. They'd set her up in a nice apartment and put her on a hefty salary with full medical. It was better than working for a computer company.
She wiggled her hips,
cursing her damp skin. It was harder to get vinyl on than leather,
generally speaking. Especially when it was all skin-tight. Next were
the thigh boots. They always took a few minutes to finish lacing.
The outfit was so tight on her it squeaked. Strangely enough, Willow loved it.
"Hey, Sheila." Another woman passed through the locker room. Actually, technically, Sheila wasn't a woman. But she may as well have been. You could hardly see her Adam's apple, and she was so sensitive about the whole thing. Sheila was a trannie who worked out front at the desk.
"Lady Laurel. Voluptous as ever. You know, I may just have to turn lesbian."
"You and me both. Nice shoes. ...Bet I could make more money that way."
"Oh, go with what works, girlfriend. You are the hottest thing in here. Besides me, of course." Sheila winked slowly, her carefully glued glitter lashes touching the blush of her cheek. "By the by, honey, you're booked up."
"Augh. Again? Do I at least have time for a break?"
Sheila glanced around conspiratorially, and then snapped her fingers. "Just for you, honey, I will see what I can do. Gotta dash now. Toodles!" Sheila tottered out of the room expertly on six-inch platforms. That was a drawback of working here. You were required to wear high heels. But you got used to them after awhile.
Thank god no one had mentioned the commotion with Angel. The two guards thought he was just an old boyfriend or something, come to make trouble. A few of the girls had that sort of problem. Cameras in the rooms kept a strict eye on what went on inside. The guards would leap to the rescue at the first sign of ignoring a safeword or outright abuse by the Dom, and likewise would come out with billy-clubs swinging to take care of the guys who gave into the impulse to give as much as they got. A girl really was pretty safe. Safer than on the street, anyway.
Time for the first
He'd followed her in the shadows, hardly believing Willow walked to work, and at night through that street. She was crazy. Nuts. Completely psychotic. Angel shoved his hands in his pockets, feeling guilty about lying to Buffy again on the phone. He couldn't tell Buffy himself about Willow's behavior, but knew he wouldn't be able to resist if she pressed. In a strange way, having Buffy there would be comforting. A woman can bitch-slap the sense into another woman far more humanely than a man is able. Just a gender talent, there.
She turned down a different alley, entered through a different door manned by a guy who was masquerading as a bum out in the alley. Angel also saw the camera sitting above the door. As Willow walked down the alley, she waved bouncily to the camera and spoke briefly with the previously sleeping bum, who held the door for her.
Angel didn't want to be seen by that camera, and was getting the feeling that Willow would eventually come out through that same door. He hoped. The vampire hunkered down behind a box, ignoring the freezing cold and the hunger pain he was getting. Soon, it gnawed at him, so he did something he'd not done in decades.
wait? Try a ...Convenient rat.>
She spun the locker dial open distractedly. The shift had been unusually grueling and even upleasant. Guess that's the way with all jobs, though, sometimes. Her Dom gear switched for jeans and a sweater, her head spinning.
<Not another headache!> Migraines were the worst. They'd been coming more and more often, lately. It was the magic use. Sometimes it was all she ever did. Conjure, from morning until night. Go to work. Come home, catch an hour or two of sleep, conjure. It was an awful, abusive power, but still she didn't stop.
Willow departed the
hall at her usual time, walking out through the same alley, not paying
a bit of attention to the drunk in the alley--Not the guard, the other
bum--because eye contact is what gets them interested. She turned
down the street, never noticing a shadowy figure following. She boarded
the subway, no problem, and got on an empty car. The lines were deserted
at three-thirty, so Willow was surprised to find she had another
passenger to contend with. He sat straight across the aisle.
"Hello again." Her eyes darkened.
"Angel, I'm not in the mood for this right now. I've had a really awful day."
"Whatever! Geeze." Willow crossed her legs demurely. All Angel could see was the memory/fantasy of her thigh boots pressed together. "Why are you following me?"
"I want to make sure you're okay."
"I'm fine. I'm a grown woman, I can take care of myself."
"Good, that'll save
me a lot of trouble."
They sat on the train for another hour and a half. The battle of wills was still going strong.
"Why aren't you getting off?"
"Why aren't you?"
"You're following me."
"I already told you, I'm fine."
"You don't look fine." <You look beautiful.> "You look like Ally McBeal gone wrong." He tried another approach. "Look, Willow--"
"Fine, this is silly. Just let me walk you home--"
"So you can find out
where I live and put up surveillance? I think not." The train pulled
into Times Square. Willow looked out at the sign anxiously.
Five people boarded. Early risers were starting to head to work.
counted the seconds carefully. Angel narrowed his eyes. One. Two. Th--
The red-head shot for
the closing door, squeezing through just in time, nearly getting stuck
in the door. She chuckled, before frowning at her own response.
The train pulled swiftly away. Getting out her mace, never could
be too careful, she took one step towards the stairs--
"Willow." Her eyes rolled and her foot stomped the ground.
"You're still here?" She turned to find Angel standing on the opposite platform. He'd managed to squeeze out the other door.
"What?" Willow hugged her coat to her body. "No. Why?"
It was like watching a trapeze artist. He sailed cleanly over the track, landing in a cat-like crouch. She shivered a little, that damn headache coming back again. "Fine. Come on, then. I only live a couple blocks from here."
Her eyes did that 'I'm
angry' cold thing again, he noted with some discomfort. He was even
startling to think of Willow as two different people. One, nice and
sweet, the other, Laurel. If she turned out to have split persaonlities,
he wouldn't be at all surprised.
"Laurel. Get used to it. What?"
"What time is it?"
"It's about... five-fifteen. Why?"
"I'm... not sure I can make it to my hotel in time." He grinned sheepishly. "Could I...?"
"I got a spare room. Goddess knows why they gave it to me. A single would've been fine." She didn't even look back. Her headache was getting worse, and all her pills were on the counter. "You can stay until dark." Keys jingled softly in the dim light, and suddenly the entrance to her apartment was illuminated. "Well, don't just stand there. It's nothing special. ...Oh. You're invited in. Sorry." A blush rose again. <Why do I always do that?! Gods, I'm driving myself crazy. ...Just need to take some of the pills, then get to casting. I'll be fine.>
The apartment was spacious.
It wasn't a palace, but it was nicer than most people in New York managed.
The decor was light and colorful, a reproduction of 'Sunflowers' hung over
the mantlepiece. He stopped to admire a
distinctive sculpture for a moment, and then tagged along after Willow. Of course, being who he was, his eyes bugged out at the sight. She'd tipped about half a dozen little white pills into her hand, set them to her mouth--
"Willow, what are you doing?!" He snatched the bottle from her inexpertly, sending a shower of them into the sink. She folded her arms, then reached behind him for a glass of water.
In the close proximity,
he noted her body temperature had started to rise to normal human levels
again, and her cheeks were more flushed than when she'd invited him in.
Willow's breathing was slightly labored, too. His hand
closed around her wrist, nearly causing her to drop the glass of water. His voice was slow and full of threat. "I don't know what you've been taking, but you're going to spit those out right now." To show he was serious, the
other hand came under her chin, for her to spit them in.
Laurel gave a bit of
a cold smile, and dry swallowed. "You want them? You'll have to come
in and get 'em." His grip loosened on her hand, and she pulled the
glass of water to her lips, tongue flicking the edge before she
downed the water, ridding herself of the acrid medicinal taste. She could've been wrong, but that must've been a gulp. She was getting to this one. He'd be easy to have...
<WHAT THE HELL AM
I DOING?!?!> The empty glass slipped from her hands, shattering on
the floor. Willow backed off a couple of steps, swearing under her
breath. "God, I'm sorry. Stupid, silly, stupid me." She
bent to pick up shards of the glass, her limp hair falling in front of
watery eyes. She felt ashamed. Of her behavior, of how she'd
disappointed everyone. "They're headache pills. I get migraines.
I took two more than I should've, to help
me sleep a little bit. I'm an insomniac, sometimes it's so hard for me to get more than a couple of hours' sleep, and then I go to work practically dead, and-and-and the body temperature thing is just so that I don't get jumped at night by some vampire cause there's a group of them that hunt alot around here and they harassed me before--" She hissed slightly, one of the shards stabbing into her hand. "--And now I cut my hand." Willow dumped the
collected pieces onto the kitchen floor, trying vainly not to cry. It didn't work.
"Here. Let me
see..." He crouched at her level, taking her palm in his. His subconscious
wanted to lap at the small wound, but the rest of him didn't even think
about it. Willow was hunting. "Just a scratch. Doesn't
bad at all."
Her voice was tiny,
in the shadow of the kitchen counter. "I'm sorry, Angel. I'm
sorry for being mean to you. I don't mean to get like this, I really
am happy, I really am. I like what I do, and I like who I am.
I'm just... I
just wish..." She didn't need to say anything. He took her into his arms, letting her incredible warmth pour onto his skin. He stroked her back softly, whispering soothing words into her ear as she cried into his shirt.
Cradling her until
she was asleep.