Willow woke to a ringing sound in her ears.
Thank God it was the phone. "Hello? ...What? It can't be--Oh, shit. I'm sorry. I overslept. I'll be down there... Oh. Oh, she is? Won't they be upset? ...Right. I do have a little vacation coming... I'm just not sure what I'd do with my time. ...That's an idea, Sheila, but I didn't think you swung that way." Willow giggled. "I should let you go. ...Right, be free! ...Thanks. Yeah, uh-huh. ...thanks again, Sheila. Bye." Willow collapsed fitfully back on her sheets. She must've slept through the entire day. It was already eleven o'clock at night. It was the first time in weeks she'd gotten a good night's sleep.
"Wake up, sleepyhead." She sat up, quickly, grasping the covers, a warding spell forming in her mind. Then Angel flicked on the lights, looking a bit sheepish. "Sorry."
"I can't see in the dark, you know. Don't scare me like that." She regretted being so harsh once the words had been said. "I thought you were supposed to be gone."
"I stayed and made you some dinner. I was going to bring it to you, but every time I tried you rolled over and pretended I was your alarm clock." He gestured to his left cheek. "You whacked me pretty good."
"Sorry." She propped herself up on the cushions. "I usually never sleep so much."
"It's okay." Angel tried to keep watching Willow, but his eyes always strayed to the decor of the bedroom. It was very large, a queen sized bed only taking up a little more than a third of the room. The walls were painted black, covered with careful designs in white chalk and several substances he couldn't identify. Runes, sigils, something like that. A small hearth stood across from the bed. Little racks of potions and herbs littered the walls. Spell books were stacked on a low shelf in the corner. She had a collection to make Giles' mouth water. "I see you're still a witch."
"I told you that at
the coffeeshop." He nodded, unsure of what to say anymore.
The rest of her apartment had been easy to deal with compared with this.
It was just... It smelled of thousand years old incense, power humans
shouldn't have, ghosts and demons and bogeymen. It was creepy. It was scary. And the red satin sheets were unnerving him.
Did he mention the red satin sheets? She had red satin sheets. Red satin sheets that were tucked around her body, hugging the-- "What was that?" His mind had been wandering while she said something.
"I said, has anyone ever permanently anchored your soul?"
His eyes widened.
"That was it?" He blinked.
"That was it."
Willow wiped ash from her hands, her smile genuinely wide. She had
struck Angel dumb, once again. He just sat there, blinking, trying
to form words that weren't coming. She ran her thumb over his forehead,
rubbing away the ash that clung to it. He closed his eyes as her fingers lightly touched his skin.
The pair was quite a sight. They each sat cross-legged over a small incanting circle, aka, a circle drawn on the floor in white chalk, crossed with the correct stones and herbs necessary to call magic. In truth, Willow's magical command was so great, she really could've done it without the circles or herbs. But she'd learned from a great witch that magic is 'Eighty percent smoke, twenty percent mirrors. At least, that's what it's supposed to look like if it's done right.' Besides, laying out herbs and stones will always help you get into the mindset. "Say something."
Angel tried to swallow the lump in his throat. If he opened his eyes and looked at her now, he'd burst into tears. There's been enough sadness. "...Thank you." He heard her stand, her fingers leaving his forehead.
"Yeah, well. Knowing me is still good for something, I guess. I'm going out."
Surprised, he opened his eyes, glancing towards the door. But she was already gone.
"...Willow." He shook his head and went after her.
"Angel? Is that you? The connection sounds bad."
"I'm at a pay phone. Listen... I found Willow."
"You did?! Is she okay?"
"More or less."
"Don't go cryptic guy on me, Angel. I've been losing sleep over this."
"She's fine. She's... in a job she likes. She's got a great apartment." <She's changed her name and she's a dominatrix, she anchored my soul--> "She looks pretty healthy. But she is messing around with magic, and I don't think she has many friends here."
"Maybe I should fly out there--"
"No!" Angel frowned, correcting. "What I mean to say is, I think she's having enough trouble dealing with me finding her."
"You think Wills went away... you think she ran away from me?" Buffy's voice sounded forlorn.
"No, no, I think... I think she left because she wanted to establish herself on her own. If that makes any sense. She wouldn't run because of a few monsters. There are more out here than there. ...Buffy?"
"...It is me, isn't it? You found her, and she doesn't want anything to do with me."
"--It's not you, Buffy. Believe me, it is not you. I'm glad you sent me after her. I think she does need help. Maybe Sunnydale affected her more than we all thought. ...I--I don't know. I have to go."
Angel waited in her apartment with the lights off. After all, he didn't need them. He'd tried following her, but she'd literally vanished in the middle of an intersection. Disappeared. Willow had been striding away from him at her top walking speed, and then she Just Wasn't There. It was the weirdest thing he'd ever seen. "Witches."
So he'd gone and bought her groceries for the bare refrigerator he'd seen earlier. Then he'd booted up her computer and checked his e-mail through her network connection. And then he'd gone through her spellbooks, spent a very guilty ten seconds looking into her half-leather wardrobe, and now he was lying on her couch, waiting for her to come home. He was seriously contemplating getting some sleep. Her living room had no windows, which wasn't surprising. It was sandwiched in the middle of the building. No danger of sunlight invasion, and it was fast approaching four-thirty. He'd have to leave soon if he was planning on it.
<...Ten more minutes...>
Waking, Angel inhaled sharply. It's a reflex he'd never gotten over. He could hear the jangle of keys being pulled out of the deadbolt and dropped onto the table. "Willow?" He raised himself up on his arms, peering over the back of the couch at the doorway. He ducked again, quickly, as shoots of sunlight were entering the room. The door creaked shut after a moment.
She slid out of her coat, face red and windblown from the temperature outside. The next to go were her boots as she stumbled her way to the bedroom. Angel followed, bewildered. "Willow. Willow?" She didn't even acknowledge his presence. He followed her into the bedroom, noting that she swayed on her feet. It was as if she was under hypnosis. Her right hand tugged sloppily at her shirttails, untucking half of one side before collapsing face-first onto her bed.
"...Willow?" He called softly. "Willow." She didn't move, but her chest did continue to rise and fall in a reassuring way. He grasped her arm gently. "Will." He pulled her over onto her back. Her makeup was much darker than it had been when she left the house, her hair in a harsh twist. Pulling back her eyelid carefully, he noticed her pupils were diallated. He released the redhead, brushing the pad of his thumb over her eyelash as it fluttered to rest against her cheek. She looked absolutely beautiful, if wearing a little too much makeup for his taste--<Wait. That's not makeup...> He pulled his index finger against her purpled eyeshadow. It came away clean. <Magic. She did her makeup with magic.>
It's dangerous not to end spells, but to let them last for hours until they burn away. When he looked down at the comatose hacker, he realized that's what Willow was apparently devoting her time to. Glamours and dematerializations, or worse, transportations...
He nudged Willow towards the center of the bed, pulling off her boots with minor difficulty. <She doesn't own a car, yet walks all that way to work... Right, sure. She probably transports there. That's why she had to buy a subway token when we rode, instead of having a pass. Probably transports herself food, clothes, whatever else she needs, that's why there's nothing in the fridge.> Angrier by the second, Angel yanked the covers out from under her and tucked the little witch in. None of the magic books had a speck of dust on them. They all either got cleaned regularly, or were used quite often. The vampire growled with suspicion it was the latter circumstance.
He searched all the rooms in her house, finding absolutely no beauty supplies--<All her preparations must be from magic...>--and a room that he'd previously taken for a closet. It was a small, wood-paneled room covered with more complex runes on the side walls and two circles. The first circle was carved into the floor, taking up the entirety of the flat surface. Lines crossed it, and little candles and stones were set strategically into it. The second circle was on the ceiling. This wasn't carved, but drawn. On further examination, it was angular, sixteen sided, each side of the circle--Well, not a circle, whatever the hell you call a sixteen-sided figure--Anyway, each alternating section of the circle was drawn in coal and then chalk. It also had lines criss-crossing it, almost in the same pattern as the lower circle. He wanted to step into the room to examine both further, and then came to another sobering conclusion.
These spread to the edges of the closet. You couldn't stand inside the room without being inside a circle. He would be a damned fool to step inside a magic circle without knowing what it was used for. And two facing circles... there was some sort of name for that. The room buzzed with magic. The vampire closed the door slowly, finding he'd slipped into game face.
You don't make a room
like that as a hobby. And you don't keep it up unless you're going
to use it. And you don't cast safe things in a room with complementing
circles. Worst of all, you couldn't cast from the hall. Those
circles were drawn so that the caster would be standing inside them. Casting inside a circle is dangerous. It enhances the affects of the spell towards yourself. At least, you could use it for that. He couldn't just leave, now. This was serious. He decided he'd talk to Willow about it. If she didn't come around...
"I made you some breakfast." He sat at her kitchen table, reading the New York Times. It was a weirdly normal scene. Coffee brewing, toast just out of the toaster. Except they were both dressed in black and he was beginning to realize how hungry he was becoming. It didn't really bother him much, he'd become conditioned against it.
Willow arched a perfectly made-up brow, wiggling her toes against the chill of the kitchen tile. "Why?" She removed one piece of toast, put it on a plate, and proceeded to nibble the corners while staring at him.
"...Because we need to talk." He said, after a moment. The paper was folded and placed aside.
"About you and your magic." Willow leaned back in her chair, sighing dramatically and rolling her eyes. "You have a problem, you know."
"I do not have a problem."
"I don't expect you to acknowledge it. I've seen that room with the circles in it. What do you use it for?--Don't lie to me, either. I can have Giles on the phone cross-referencing before you can so much as disappear."
"Don't threaten me, Angel. I don't like being threatened." The air sizzled around them. Her look could cook eggs.
"Why would you feel threatened?" Angel tried to remain calm as possible, folding his hands. "You know what I think, Will? That you called Buffy, not because you were lonely, but because you wanted someone to come here and force you to start taking care of yourself."
She glared. "It's for summoning demons."
"The summoning room. It's for summoning demons."
Angel snorted. "Now you're just trying to scare me. You can't summon a demon if you're inside the circle as well." But doubt flickered there.
"Not if you want the demon to serve you. It's perfect if you want the demon's strength or power for yourself, without that messy business of having to rely on a demon to do your bidding." Laurel was really having to suppress her grin. He got paler with each word. "They always get it wrong anyway. They pull loopholes in your request on you, that sort of thing. You can't trust them."
"...You're lying to me." He pleaded, gripping the table. "Tell me you're lying."
"Nope. And the two complementing circles help with dismissing the demon quickly enough so that you can borrow it's power without worry that it's going to try and possess you."
"B-but what if you call someone too powerful?"
"There isn't anyone too powerful."
"Goddamnit, Willow!" He thundered, rising to his feet. The forlorn kitchen chair toppled over. "You have to stop this!"
"Why?" She continued to nibble the edge of the toast. "Because you're my friend? Because you care about what happens to me? Because I tried so many times that the group didn't know about to pull you out of hell and you never once said 'thanks'? Because your demon tried to kill me back when I was weak?" Her voice was flat and even. "Or is it because Buffy, the long lost love of your life called and said,--" She did a syrupy-sweet impression, "--Angie-poo? I'm scared. Boo hoo. Go find Willow, so I'll feel better about how I never once called her in all the time she was gone?" She fell silent. "I always was the one to call, you know. Sometimes I did move, but I gave Buffy my number, those first two years. I made sure I kept in touch. It was always, gee Wills, gotta dash. Sorry, in the process of running out the door--but we'll chat later. I guess she just forgot alot. But then there didn't seem to be much point in making the effort anymore." She pushed the half-eaten slice of toast on the plate to the center of the table.
"I want to help you."
"How? You don't even care." She shook her head, taking the dish to the garbage can.
"I do too care. I've always cared. I just... didn't think you liked me."
"What?" She spun around to face him as he righted the chair.
"When I was with Buffy, I always got the impression that you didn't want much to do with me."
"That's impossible! I worked so hard to help you out, cause you were--"
"Because *you* were Buffy's friend. I thought you were helping me just because she asked you to." He picked up the dishtowel, and began clearing away the meal. "We weren't really friends without Buffy, you know, I didn't know--If I would've thought--" The eggs were dumped in the disposal. "If I thought you wanted to be friends over and above Buffy, nothing would've made me happier. I don't have many friends."
"I'm not going to stop using magic."
"Then I'm not going to leave you alone." He said simply, handing her a plate which she passed off to the dishwasher. "We're going to be friends now. I've made a decision. I don't know anyone in New York, and it doesn't look like you know many people--"
"Wrong." She shook her head, putting a spoon in the dishwasher. "We both know Willy." And then Willow smiled. Just a little bit. But it was a start.
"And you're sure you really want to keep working here?" He walked her to the employee entrance, ever the dutiful escort.
"I'm sure. Night, Angel. I'll see you..." She shouldered her bag. "When I see you." And stalked towards the metal door.
"...Could I walk you home tonight?"
"But it's out of your way."
"I plan on being in the neighborhood." And without the use of magic, he was gone.
Angel had a new daily routine. He woke up, checked his e-mail, had a drink, walked Willow to work, went to work himself, walked Willow home, and went to sleep. It was a regimen that seemed to work. He'd gotten Willow to call Buffy and right things with her. She'd even phoned a more mature Xander, who received her call with outright joy. But the weekends were the best. That is, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They both had to work on Fridays and Saturdays, and had their weekends in the middle. Angel waited for the weekends. He and Willow would get together and go see movies, talk for hours over coffee, take midnight walks in Central Park. Never a good idea, but someone would have to be a moron to assault the witch. She was a force.
That Tuesday, he went over to Willow's again, finding her leaning over the counter doing a crossword puzzle.
"What's a four-letter word for mute..? Mute *is* a four-letter word! Gah!"
"Dumb." Angel ducked as she launched the puzzle book at him. "You have too much stress."
"So they tell me." Willow hopped up onto the counter, swinging her legs in the air. They'd agreed in the chatroom that tonight was definitely a movie night. "So, what'd you get?"
"Blazing saddles, What About Bob, Braveheart."
"I'm guessing it was a 'B' theme."
"Yeah. I almost got 'Bannanas' instead of What About Bob, but Bill Murray's so great in it." Angel made microwave popcorn with all the skill Orville Redenbacher could provide.
"I'm saying we go in that order."
"Sounds like a plan. Here." He tossed Willow the bag of tapes, and she dutifully went off to fulfill her role in the video night. She got out the blankets and popped in the first video, letting the credits roll as he poured the popcorn into a bowl.
By three, they were both in tears.
"...I just...Can't believe he's dead." Soft but uplifting bagpipe music played through the cast of characters.
"It's--" Sniff, "Not fair." Angel wiped away a tear with the box of tissues Willow had fetched at the end of What About Bob. Braveheart guaranteed a sobfest. Of course, his tears were bloody, so the pile of tissues looked a bit like someone had experienced an explosive nosebleed. They watched the rest in silence. Angel clicked off the television, looking over at Willow, who was curled up in the blanket. "I guess I should go." She looked so pretty there, in the dark. He could feel the heat she gave off, sitting this close.
"What are you doing tomorrow?"
"Want to stay here tonight?" He took a long look at her, before she blushed.
"No, I don't mean... you know, I mean, just... I have an extra room. I hate to send you home in the middle of the night."
"...Okay. Sure." He smiled. They both retired for the night, but Angel kept tossing and turning. Eventually he just got up and wandered through the house, cleaning up in the kitchen and living room. He stifled a yawn two hours later, and went back to the bedroom to try again, seeing Willow's door was open a crack on the way. He couldn't resist, and peered in at her. She was the true angel. She looked almost ethereal, glowing. ...She was glowing.
He glared, stepping inside the room. "You've been casting."
She stretched, bathing in the red satin. "Helps me sleep. Can't you sleep?"
"No. Willow, I--" All the sudden, he felt lightheaded, like he was floating. The room spun slightly. He stumbled forward, clutching the edge of the bed. "What's happening?"
"Shh...Shh..." She made soothing noises, pulling him onto the bed with her. "Helps you sleep. Don't fight it. Just let go..." Her tolerance was much greater than his, and the vampire dropped off quickly, his head in her lap. Willow's eyes drooped, and it was seconds before she drifted off amongst the clouds.
Warm fingers idly stroked his hair.
"Willow?" He felt wonderful. Like he was lying on marshmallows and had severely overdosed on Prozac.
"What is this?"
"Oh, you're just buzzin' a little. It'll wear off soon enough."
"...You shouldn't be casting." He tried to put a growl behind it, but it came out like a purr. His head was resting on Willow's stomach, and she was taking full advantage of running her fingers through his hair. He moved one hand to her knee, idly tracing circles on it with his thumb.
"I mean it." He squeezed her knee for emphasis.
"Stop! That tickles." Angel caught Willow's hand in his own as she swatted at her knee. "No fair. You're stronger than I am."
"I don't know about that, you floored me pretty quick for someone so small." He squeezed her knee again.
"I'm not small."
"You are too." He slid one arm underneath her, hugging her waist. For now, he was extremely content. Nothing could affect his good mood. "I'm going to be angry at you when this wears off."
"I won't be here when it does."
"Got called into work. Lady Nightshade and Mistress Immiya both got sick." She untangled herself from Angel, who made the most adorable puppy-dog eyes.
"Tell them you can't go."
"I wish I could." She looked longingly back at Angel's waiting arms, the spell's effects having long been cleared from her mind. He would be feeling it for at least another hour. For a vampire, he had a low tolerance. "But I have to."
She walked to the mirror, almost gliding, and peered into it's depths. When she looked away, her face was perfectly made-up, her hair fresh and bouncy. Willow bent over the bed, the lethargic vampire taking in the sight of her nightgown appreciatively.
"I could walk you." He offered.
"If you can so much as stand up in the next hour, I'll be impressed." She laid a kiss on his forehead, and went out.
Angel snuggled into the space where Willow had lain. It still carried her warmth and smell.
The circles breathed.
"What do you mean, no?"
Willow had not gone in to work.
"No, Laurel. It's too much." The rest of the coven sat quietly, letting Zion speak for them. He was an old warlock, powerful enough to be called a wizard but diplomatic enough to know warlock was the best choice.
Willow shifted position. This wasn't going well. She'd arrived at the meeting on perfect time. There were always seven chairs clustered around the center table. Tonight, there were six. "Why? Are you all afraid?" She scoffed.
Zion held a hand up to stay the group. "No, Laurel. Just sensible." He rose on withered joints, leaning heavily upon a hand-carved staff he'd made long ago. "None of us expect to die by the hand of magic. None. What you've suggested so far have been innovative, creative ideas. We've listened, even helped you with some of them. But I'm telling you this not as a friend, but as a fellow dabbler in the Art; If you continue along this path, you will destroy yourself and everyone you come in contact with." The staff thudded against the ground, backing up the man's inflection.
"Y-you--" Tears stung at her eyes. <This isn't fair! They're treating me like I'm some kind of child!> "...Listen. I can cast better than anyone in this room." Five pairs of eyes shared bemused glances. "I-I can! It's true. You know it is. Don't expect me to deny it just because you all happen to be older than I am! Magic isn't supposed to be nice and safe. It's about incredible, dynamic ch-change! You can't just stop, you have to go forward, beyond safe limits, or else you won't be more than a kid with a magic book, doing tricks other people thought of before."
"Laurel." Zion peered out from under bushy white eyebrows. "There is an old saying my father used. 'Bravery is synonymous with stupidity.'"
She advanced a step, nose to nose with the old man. "I am *not* stupid."
Zion didn't budge. "Prove it."
She could feel hot tears of embarassment threatening to leak out of the corners of her eyes. "I already have. If you can't see that, maybe I d-don't want to be a part of this coven anymore."
Peter, the third in the group, a man of about 35, lowered his hood. "Good. Then that saves us another chunk of trouble." Zion glared at Peter, who stuck his nose into the air defiantly. "Someone should let her know."
"Let me...? Let me know what?!" <I'm not going to cry. I'm not going to cry.>
The old man turned on his heel, marched towards his chair, and sank down, creaking as he went. He had found her himself. Zion felt a bit like Obi Wan must've, when he realized his star pupil had a thing for black capes--Not that Laurel didn't have a thing for black capes, she'd been honest with them about that--but she'd had so much potential. And it was being wasted. "We... don't want you to continue being a part of the group."
Peter spat. "Are you deaf, harpy? Go home and spank someone. You're not wanted here anymore."
"Peter!! That. Is. Enough!" Zion glowered. Magic was being drawn by someone in the room. The others could feel it, and they were drawing magic as well.
It had never gone down in the history books, but many a good coven has been dispatched by their own fireballs during disagreements. Witches didn't like to talk about it.
"Willow, I think it's best if you left." Willow's head snapped to attention. <Willow?! Did he just call me ...?>
"What did you call me?" Her eyes narrowed.
"Laurel, calm down."
<They know! How could they possibly know? Angel? It
couldn't be. Of course. That was why they were kicking her
out. They'd found out what a weak-willed little thing she'd been
out in Sunnydale, that
she was lying to everyone-->
"I will not calm down! This is... This is..." She silently pled with Zion. <Don't make me leave.>
"Laurel. You're embarassing yourself. Go quietly, go now. Peace be with you." He raised his hood, as did Peter, albeit not before he snickered.
"Fine. I don't need any of your help." She stalked towards the exit, planting one heel on a small table of bottles and sending it crashing to the floor. "Parlor tricks. Just a bunch of goddamn fucking parlor tricks. Have nice lives."
The six watched Laurel leave. Zion was silent. Aumber, a matronly woman, spoke from the recesses of her hood. "She's going to get herself killed."
Peter nodded. "Sooner than later, I hope."
Maybe Willow would have recanted, had she known her brain was playing tricks on her. She had heard Willow, but Zion had said Laurel.
Willow opened the apartment door, checking. Angel had gone, leaving a note. 'I need to talk to you when you get back in. Call me.' She crumpled it, tears pouring down her face. "Such a fucking joke, that's what you are, Willow Anne." She marched down the hall, opening the little closet door and stepping inside the dormant circles.
They breathed in her scent.
<Wait. I'm stronger than that. I don't even need to use them.> She left the closet in favor of the circle on her bedroom floor, the one for everyday use.
The other side seethed.
She stripped down to her witches' robe, the one Aumbre had sewn for her when she first joined the coven. Barefoot, she stood in the circle, raising her arms straight out.
The demons heard.
Old habits die hard. Angel was feeling really guilty. Guilty, because he felt like he'd caught up on a week's sleep, and even felt like breaking out into a cheery whistle. Magic. He hadn't truly known before why it was so addictive, but he did now. He shouldn't have liked what had happened, he should be very angry at Willow for putting him in that position, but a little devil kept appearing him on his shoulder every time he thought it, reminding him. He'd found it a very agreeable position. Willow was warm, soft, lovely, and his best friend in the entire world. They talked for hours in chatrooms, through Instant Messages, e-mail, the phone when all else failed. She was closer now to him than anyone else had been in a long time.
But romance wasn't
something he did well. He was good at rape, murder, teasing, one-night
stands and turning very suddenly into a bloodsucker. Maybe it was
just that experience was lacking. <Maybe you're afraid.
...Afraid of what? Of yourself. Of what is going to happen to her if you do get romantically involved.> He could now, presumably, be able to consummate a relationship, but could he handle more than friendship emotionally? He didn't know.
Aside from the lapse,
he had seen a decrease in her casting. The magic was still a problem,
he was confident Willow would right herself. Their friendship was
helping her, he knew. They both depended on it. If he tried
to take it to another level, and it didn't work... Could he be able to cope with helping her sink back into witchcraft?
He hoped that one day, with his help, Lady Laurel would be gone for good.
But Laurel had her own ideas about taking a backseat.
"Hi, Willow. I was hoping you'd call." She paused.
"...Could you come over? I think... I think I'm having a problem."
It took him less. He used his key to let himself in quietly, in case there were intruders. She wasn't in the kitchen, or in the living room, or in the hall... The spell closet door was open strangely enough, but Willow wasn't inside. He peered into the bedroom. She lay over the same red satin sheets, head buried in a pillow. "...Willow? ...You okay?"
"Fine." She stretched languidly, rolling onto her side amongst the pillows. "How are you?"
"...Okay. You sounded upset on the phone."
"Yeah. I was summoning. I thought I got caught with part of the bastard inside of me, thought I needed your help. I exorcised it on my own. I was just overreacting."
A million horrible images danced through his head. He squelched them quickly. "You're okay?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm just peachy. Buzzin', a little. Have a seat." When he looked around for a chair, she patted the edge of the bed. "Come on, Angel. Don't be shy. You weren't shy earlier."
"Earlier I didn't have control." He didn't move. "You shouldn't be summoning. There's no reason to. We've talked about this."
"Of course there is." Angel had seen her dressing gown before; what he hadn't seen was the witch wearing Only the dressing gown. "It's fun. Gives you such a high. I would teach you how to do it, but then, I figured you had issues with demons." One foot was idly tracing circles on the pooled sheet, exposing most of her thigh. "Have a seat. You're being all proper. It's making me nervous."
Angel shook his head. "I'm not even going to try and talk to you when you're like this. Call me in the morning, when you've sobered up."
"It is the morning, technically speaking. And I'm not drunk."
"No, you're playing with magic. I want no part of it." He was fighting to hold back game face. "How could you? Things were going so well. I'm leaving." He moved for the door, jumping back slightly as it slammed in front of him. The knob wouldn't turn. "Willow. Open the door." Now he was getting scared.
"I don't think you really want me to. I think you want to play with me. Won't you play with me?" Her hands went to the tie on her gown.
"No, Willow, let me go." He tried staying calm, and didn't stare, except out of the corner of one eye. "This isn't funny. You tricked me into coming here."
"...You could just let yourself enjoy. Would that be so hard?" She pouted, tugging teasingly at the robe. "I could make it so you couldn't resist. Would that make it more fun for you?"
"Don't do what you're thinking of doing, Willow. Don't!" He backed up a step, running into the wall. Part of him was aching to join her there on the bed, to lie in her arms until they couldn't tell what day it was anymore. But the rest of him knew that there was no recovering a friendship after something like that happened. "That would change things between us forever."
"Then I'll make you forget, if you want me to."
"No, Will--" He clapped a hand over his eyes as she opened the dressing gown. "--ow. Open the door."
"...Fine. If you're going to behave like a scared little rabbit. Go, then. But--on one condition." She smirked. "I want a kiss. One little kiss, that's all. On the lips."
"Willow, I didn't come here to play games."
"One kiss, I promise, and I'll open the door."
"I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die." He looked at her eyes for one long minute, seeing only her own soul lurking in the depths.
"Put on your robe." He didn't look downward, true to gentlemanly form.
"...Okay. Ready." She rose to her knees, closed her eyes, and waited.
He stood at the edge of the bed. He would either have to pull her across it, or... Angel waded out a foot amongst the dark satin, hearing it rasp faintly in the dark. He leaned over, one knee on the bed, before halting once again. "Willow, I don't think--Wah-" In one fluid movement, she wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her body flush against his. "Just kiss me." She said huskily, pressing her mouth against his. Angel's arms instinctively wrapped around her waist, caught off guard. For a brief second, he drank in her lips, filing the memory of the kiss away for a lonely night.
Before he knew it, her robe was open and his hands had found places he'd been trying not to think about since he first saw Willow. He suckled down her neck, while the redhead did a valiant job of unbuttoning his shirt. He pushed the robe off her shoulders, leaning Willow back. But it was the low moan in her throat that startled him.
Ever see a Sports Highlights show when they replay in slo-mo an especially heartbreaking fumble?
He dropped her.
He DROPPED her.
The side of her head hit the nightstand.
"Oh, God, Willow, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to--I didn't--" He pulled the sides of her robe closed, backing off. In a panic, he tried the doorknob. It was still frozen. The witch sat up, holding her forehead. A trickle of blood snaked down her cheek. "Y...You're bleeding. Here..." He took the corner of his shirt in hand, advancing.
"Stop." Her body shook with silent sobs, product of the entirety of the last few hours. She wouldn't look at him, holding her hands over her face, physically trying to hold in the outburst in his presence. "Just go."
"Go! Get Out! Just Get Out!!" The door swung open, but Angel wasn't leaving yet.
"Listen to me. I care about y--" Her hands came suddenly away from her face, her tears mixing with the blood from the nasty gash.
"Maybe you didn't hear me. I said," She straightened, rage apparent on her face. Something none of the Sunnydale gang had ever seen before. "GET! OUT!"
The world went dark.
He registered the smell of freshly turned dirt and dead things. Normally, he could see in the dark, but this was total blackness. It took a moment to figure out.
<I've been buried.> He could hardly move in the dirt. <Buried? How did I get buried?> Angel's head was still clearing. The ground was softer to the west of him, so he dug that way, eventually pulling himself into the dim light of a streetlamp.
As if crawling out of the wet ground wasn't enough, he was summarily kicked and beaten six ways from Sunday when he hit the air, eventually landing against a tree, screeching as a stake came his way.
"Angel?!" A surprised voice called. Metal glinted off her uniform. A badge. He looked up, dazed and confused.
"Angel? My god, what're you doing crawling out of grave? What're you doing in Sunnydale?"
"Hang on a minute." He snapped, wiping the grime out of his eyes. <Sunnydale? What... > "New York..."
"Oh, well, sure, pencil me in on the waiting list." She put the stake away. "Are you all right?"
"I don't know... One minute I'm in New York, in bed with Wi..." He trailed off, guiltily looking away as he realized who he was speaking to. His legs felt like Jello, and Angel was sure he was bleeding.
"You and Wills?" Buffy's mouth dropped open. "Oh my god." Then a smile broke out. "Oh My God!" She squealed, grabbing his hands. "You and Wills?! That is so great. I can't believe it! How's Willow doing? Well, now I know she's doing fine, obviously, it's practically wink-wink nudge-nudge time over here, is she in town with you? This is such a surprise, when did you guys get into town?!"
"No, Buffy..." He spat a blade of grass out of his mouth. "I just... Calm down! Five minutes ago, I was in New York... And Willow and I are not involved, we're just friends--"
"You don't have to hide anything from me. I'm happy for you guys."
"Buffy! Listen! Five minutes ago, I was talking to Willow in New York. Suddenly I'm buried in the ground..." His face fell. "Oh shit. Oh, shit!" He sank down against the bark of the tree.
"She transported me. I... we... had an argument, and she transported me to Sunnydale." Buffy's expression was puzzled. "With magic. I can't believe she would do something like that."
"What's going on?"
"Willow... she's out of control." A frustrated tear leaked out the corner of one eye.
Buffy sank to her knees in the wet grass. "Tell me."
Willy shot the lanky transvestite a withering look. "Gee, ya think?" He wiped down the bar as they both watched Laurel wander across the dance floor towards the employee lockers. "Jesus Christ. She looks like a zombie."
"Yeah. Much as I hate to disappoint her clientele, I think I'm going to make her go home. She's been seeing some new guy recently. I wonder if he's been beating on her."
Willy scoffed. "She's a dominatrix. I'd be more worried about him."
Sheila crossed her legs, white glitter platforms matching her dress. "Not this guy. He's a positive beast." She tapped the cigar into the ash tray. "I think I'll wait to see what she's wearing. If she picks the mesh, I'll be able to see. If she picks the full catsuit, I'll make her strip and show me herself." She shook her head. "Sometimes I just hate men."
"But you are one."
Blink. She flicked her cigarette ash at the bartender before walking away.
"Make that all the time."
"Flight 42, now boarding at Gate 7. Flight 42, now boarding at Gate 7..."
"That's me. Thank you."
"Don't thank me, thank Xander."
"Xander?" Angel hadn't seen the man in years.
"How do you think I
managed to get you a ticket on an hour's notice out of L.A.X.? Come
on, I'll walk you up there." Buffy smiled. "Xander can do things
like that, where he is. He has friends everywhere. I don't
know why, but there's something about an Armani suit that transforms him
into an amazing businessman. You know, even if we don't talk that
much anymore..." She smiled. "Friendship. It's the reason
I'm alive today. But then, you
"Flight 42, boarding at..."
"You should go. Oh, by the way, here." Buffy pressed something into his palm. "Goodbye, Angel. ...She'll be okay. I know."
"How?" He wasn't sure of anything.
"Because I have faith in both of you. Now, you... go get her." She pushed him towards the gate, waving. "Good luck, Angel! Call me!" He lost Buffy, waving cheefully, somewhere in the crowd.
It wasn't until he was seated in the first class section of the plane, somewhat to his bewilderment, when he opened his palm.
The Claddaugh ring shone bright as the day he'd purchased it. He fit it onto his pinky for safekeeping, settling in and trying to let the in-flight movie distract him.
"Honey, are you okay?"
"But, Laurel... Sweetie, you really don't look well."
"I'm not going home, don't bother asking." She didn't feel any embarassment at Sheila seeing her naked, and knew she suspected something was going on with Angel. That's partly why she was changing into the skimpiest outfit she had.
"I see that gash on your forehead. Did he hit you?"
"All right. Fine. But don't you be one of those stupid girls that let themselves get hit. You deserve the best, honey."
"No I don't." She slammed the locker door, cinching the leather bra behind her.
"Let me help."
"I can do it, Sheila."
"Fine. Fifteen minutes, room 4."
"Can't wait." Laurel tied her boots, checking her hair for a few minutes before heading out. It was no good to arrive before the victim. And she was in the mood to give the performance of a lifetime.
Bell, Book, and Candle.
...well... more like... Lighter Fluid, Salt, Matches.
He was ready.
The jewelry was loaded into boxes, as were many of the books. Some of them went straight into the fireplace, though, crackling with furious anger as years long magic research went up in smoke. Her clothes went into boxes.
He winced, took a deep breath, and formatted her hard drive. Then he pried her computer apart and made sure no data could possibly be recovered. All her disks went into the fire. Her files went into the fire. Angel saved her passport, social security card, birth certificate, a few other official documents.
Her clothes' pockets were searched, any arcane contents burned. He threw out a couple of outfits in the interest of making Willow a normal person, but deemed it wrong to burn anything that wasn't threatening. Most of it went into boxes. The moving van outside was staffed by a crew that knew they were getting triple their usual pay, plus a bonus.
The bed went, the tables went, the dresser went, the reproduction of 'Sunflowers' hid it's head. He burnt as many herbs as possible, scattered a fine layer of salt over her floor, scoured her walls with handfuls of the snowy white grit, and removed all her candles, throwing them away. The bedroom was purified.
Just one room left. He dismissed the moving van. They would go on ahead and continue with their instructions.
Angel picked up another handful of the coarse rock salt, heading for the closet.
"Tonight felt like it would never be over." Willow rested her cheek against the cool locker door. Appointments had run long, most of the men, beligerent. They never tell you when you first start as a Dom that guys who're submissive can also be very demanding. And whiny. Boy, were those little pissants whiny. Stuff like 'How is *that* supposed to hurt?' and 'Last time I was here, there was this other girl, she looked much more attractive than you, by the way--'. It was annoying. She knew it was only their way of trying to incite the Dom into 'punishing' them, but dear God, why can't people just come right out and tell you to hit them as hard as you can on the toes?
This toe thing... The toe thing really didn't make any sense to her. Whatever floats your boat, she guessed. Besides, the toe guy was only a semi-regular visitor. More frequent strange ones were Marshmallow Man, called that not because he was overweight, but because of what he liked to do with them. Then the guy they called 'Pierce'. He practically wore his own restraints in his skin, probably took home the world record for piercings.
Eventually, it all came right down to not really bothering her. She liked to strut around in high heels, she liked bondage, a fair amount of light torture. But mostly the control part.
She finished changing back into relatively normal clothing, hitting the cold night air with a shiver, and idly wondered exactly where Angel had ended up. Willow felt a little guilty about it; but wasn't worried. He was a big boy, he could take care of himself.
What he was about to take care of was her apartment.
The closet door stuck. He nearly had to go for a crowbar, which was rather odd. It had previously swung out easily. This time, his vampiric strength fought for every inch it opened. It was as if something was holding the door shut. Finally, with a mighty tug, it ominously creaked to the wall and stayed there.
If it was possible, and it wasn't by any law of physics he knew, the empty room was giving off steam. A thin sheet of it rose against the air outside the room, seperating his vision from the inside.
His hand snaked back, a clump of rock salt poised.
The closet hissed in warning.
The grains flew, glittering,
through the air, hitting the wall of steam with little fiery flashes and
combusting airborne into nothing. Angel stared in disbelief.
This wasn't magic he'd seen before. It was amazingly powerful.
The rest of the salt went the way of the first handful.
He had planned to dispell the circles and burn the place out.
Instead he returned to the living room. He would consult Giles later about the circles. Angel sat down heavily on the stool near the door. It was the last real piece of furniture in the house. In a few minutes, a soft click alerted him to the opening of the lock.
He stood in front of the door as it opened, looking down on a startled Willow. Her mouth opened as if to say something. To buy himself some time, he leaned in, kissing her heavily. She didn't return; but didn't pull away, either. His lips crossed her cheek to nibble on her ear as her hands rested on his shoulder.
"Angel... how did you get b..." Something else occured to her. "Where's all my furniture?"
"Willow?" He looked deeply into her eyes. "I love you. Remember that." He took one more quick kiss, which she cut off quickly.
"Angel, I--" Her hands raised in alarm as he covered her mouth and nose with the cloroformed rag. Angel could feel magic gathering on the back of his neck, but the smell was too much for the girl. Her eyes glared at him accusingly from over the rag. He felt awful. This was Willow. "I love you, Willow. I love you..." She fainted dead away into his arms.
"Yes, who's this?"
"It's Angel, not much time to explain. I need your help with a spell. And I need to know what you can dig up on complementing circles."
"R-r-r-right. ...Ahh, what sort of spell?"
"...Sort of an anti-magic spell."
"Let me consult my books..."
Willow's eyes fluttered open as cool liquid was brought to her lips. She drank heartily, head swimming. "...Angel?"
"I'm here, Willow."
"What... what are you d..."
He was pained to do it, but the spell wasn't finished. The chloroform consumed her again. Angel lowered her onto the bed. The room was as near a replica of her bedroom as he could arrange the furniture to be. This one was somewhere in the middle of upstate New York, a nice, secluded area.
He dialed the number he'd dialed eight times in the past five hours.
"Giles? It's me again. Are we set on a spell?"
"Y-yes, this should be suf--"
"Good. Let's begin."
Willow rubbed her eyes with the backs of her hands, looking around at her bedroom, all in order. She was very groggy, though. Instinctively reaching out for the magic she knew would be there to help her wake up, Willow arched a brow.
And the strangest thing happened.
She woke up in a puddle of drool.
Not a pleasant thing. In fact, never a pleasant thing. You wipe your face off the second you get up. It's a given, an established tradition. Willow's senses were kicking in slowly. First, she'd noticed the drool. Second, she'd wiped the crust off her eyes. Third, she moved to another section of the pillow. And so on.
Then came another shocking bit of realization. The room was perfectly quiet. Willow woke up. She could always hear the constant buzz of magic around her, coming off her room in waves. It was a talent she'd had without knowing, one that blossomed shortly after her powers were given full reign over her life. Experimentally, she reached out with a psychic finger and prodded the energy she knew had to be there. <...What?>
No magic. She tried again. Still no magic. Dimly, her mind began to sense a barrier of some sort. It was close, and very powerful. Her eyes drifted around the room. Willow noted, with some surprise--but mostly panic, that it wasn't her own. Her furniture was there, but this place had carpeting, no runes, no magic books... Flashes were coming to her. She'd gone home, it was dark.... <Angel. ...Angel was there...> Her head hit the pillow again, dizzy without magic and from the enormity of betrayal. Willow idly went to rub her sore neck, when her hand hit resistance.
She was wearing a collar. It had to be a collar. The witch pulled herself forcefully out of bed and over to the mirror. The sight that met her was as strange as the room. Her face, without magic, looked sallow. Her skin was deflated, stretched taught over bones. Willow knew she barely ate anymore, sometimes 'helped' herself out in the bust department... But this couldn't be how she really looked. Couldn't... <Did I do this to me...?> The collar was firmly locked around her neck. It was a thick gray metal kind fastened with a padlock, one she'd seen on a couple of club members. It radiated a personal magical vacuum. All dominance issues aside, she was worried.
The window into the room was locked and barred. It was also three flights up. The only other exit was the door in. It looked to be made of good, solid oak. The redhead put her eye to the crack of the door and saw four bolts, equalling four locks, connecting the door to the wall.
Her eyes caught a covered
tray sitting near the door. It had a small white note.
Please eat something. I'll explain later.
"I'm trying not to freak out here. What're you doing? I got a frantic call from Giles, telling me all sorts of wacky things and saying he can't get through to you--"
"I put him on call block."
"What's going on?!"
"...How much did he tell you?"
"Enough to be fucking--pardon my French--worried. When I started this, I hoped for the best, so that if Willow needed anything, she'd know we were here, I did not tell you to kidnap her!" Angel sat calmly down in a kitchen chair. He'd had all his calls forwarded to the house, but hadn't remembered that he would get calls from work about loose ends in addition to shouting slayers and screeching watchers. He had called Giles back after the spell had worked, and had tried to be honest with the man. Perhaps his genuine concern for Willow hadn't quite been received as he'd hoped.
"Of course not. This isn't about you."
"...Is it about you? Do you have some bizzaro thing for locking Willow up?"
"No! It's not about that at all."
"But you do have a thing for her. A really big thing, from what I'd thought and hoped. Geez, I really could see you two together. Willow needs someone to love unconditionally, and so do you, if you'd just admit it, you big crybaby."
"Buffy, are you crying?"
"No!" He thought he heard a sniffle on her end. "Let her go, Angel. She can take care of herself. She's Willow."
"I think that's been our excuse too long. That's why, when she needs help, she's convinced she can do it herself. But this time Willow can't do it by herself. She needs my help. I know she does. I even think, deep down, she really wants it."
"I'm not letting another person I love die. I won't. I'm going to save her, with or without Giles' and your support. Even if I have to make her hate me before it's over."
"...It's illegal, Angel. I have to do something about it. I'm a cop, I can't just let this one go by, not when Willow's my best friend."
"Best friend? Maybe you should've called her more often." The insult hadn't meant to be there, but it was. "You of all people know about bending duty to suit your own purposes."
"ANGEL!!!" Thundered the witch from upstairs, using more lungpower than he'd known she possessed.
"Was that Willow?!"
"I have to go, Buffy."
"Don't you hang up--"
"I have to go!" Click.
She counted the locks. There were four. Made things difficult. Willow had arrayed herself on the bed in a 'you touch me, you lose a testicle' kind of way. It involved muted snarling and poised fingernails. He came into the room, looking a bit sheepish. The witch turned McGuyver noted that if he was in the room, he couldn't lock the door behind him. The locks didn't have faces on her side of the door, so picking them was out of the question. She'd either have to figure something out with the window, or go through Angel himself, physically. Difficult. But not impossible.
"How long have you been awake?"
"Not long." Grr.
"You haven't eaten anything."
"I'm not hungry." It was a lie, but it was a confident lie. She'd never felt this hungry before in her life! It was as if the magic had gotten rid of hunger, too.
"You should still eat something."
"I'm. Not. Hungry. Do I have to spell it? I can, you know. My faculties aren't that far gone." She snapped.
"Why did you do this?"
Angel sat down on the edge of the bed, pocketing the key she'd had a careful eye on the whole time. Even if she had it, it probably wouldn't do any good. Still. Options open. "I notice you didn't ask what was happening, or if I would take off the collar."
"I'm a quick study."
"Then you know what it's for?"
"See previous statement. What are you trying to accomplish? The second I get out, I'll just go back to using magic again."
"Who says you're getting out?" His face was deadly serious.
"What..?" For a minute, his intentions seemed much different than friendly.
"You're getting out." He contradicted, the expression not changing. "But not until you've gained some weight. Not until you've lived without magic for awhile, seen what it's like to be thinking like yourself."
"This is me."
"No, it's not. That confidence? That's magic. Those looks? Magic. That biting wit? Magic. You have nothing real." Her face bled cold fury. "That's not even your anger. It's all an illusion, and incomparable to the kind of incredible warmth and loveliness you radiate when you're not trying to be Laurel. You have your brain and your heart without magic. You have the world, more than anyone can give you. You can do real things, good things, without it." He leaned in closer. "I know how Willow thinks, how she really feels. You want to know what she's thinking?"
"I'll tell you anyway. She's thinking that she wishes she'd done something real with her life, instead of creating this fantasy place. She's thinking it would be so much better if she'd kept writing stories and had a degree on the wall. Maybe become a watcher."
"You have no clue who I am."
"No? There's still time to quit, Will."
"You talk like I'm on crack or something."
"I'm forcing you to give up magic and get healthy again. We can do whatever you want, I can get you whatever you want, movies, food, whatever, but I'm not going to let you on your own until I can trust you."
"Take it off, Angel. I don't like this." The command was forthright. Backed up by her intense skill, it would have sent demons screaming out of the room. Yesterday. Today, it was worth little.
"I'm sorry, Willow." Angel stood up, gazing down with nearly parental disapproval. "This is the way it has to be." He took the key out again, moving towards the door.
"I'm not going to eat." <Ha. That stopped him.>
Angel froze. He hadn't even considered something like that. "Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not. See, I have this strange allergic reaction to people who put me in prison."
"Willow..." Soulful eyes blinked back at her. "Grow up. Have some soup." He was out the door just before she began pounding on the other side, screaming for him to let her out. All his instincts said to get in there and beg forgiveness. But now wasn't the time for instincts. Now was the time to think about Willow's wellfare.
"It's a beautiful idea, Laurel, I just don't think putting it into practice is... Dear God." The old man looked stricken into the old closet. He thanked the lord for inventing the elevator, or he didn't think he'd ever have reached the girl's apartment. "You... You did this?"
"Yup!" She giggled, bouncing into the room. "Isn't it great? I always heard about how spells can be amplified using magic circles and stones, certain conditions, right? But I found out that you can get different effects if you have one a circle and give the other one a special shape. Triangles and circles are great for protection spells, squares seem to inhibit--"
"That's got... thirteen sides?"
"Sixteen. Anyway, Trapezoids didn't seem to do much of anything, that was until I cast a locator--"
"Laurel!" Zion shook his head. "This is a bad, bad idea. How long have you been experimenting with this?"
"A couple of days."
"Young lady... there is a reason why magicians don't use more than one circle to cast. Has no one informed you of this?"
"Yes, but I thought--"
"Laurel! You are powerful. You are. But power goes hand in hand with corruption. You will become too dependent on magic, especially when it seems so readily available. Magic will run your very life. Until you break. You will be 'playing' one day, and you will be turned into something hideous, that's happened often, or possessed, that's even more frequent than a mutation. If you must keep channeling, do it without circles. That requires more difficulty and is better for training. In a real situation, one cannot rely on the exact alignment of circles to save them. They can rely on it to burn them out." One eye was taken by glaucoma. The other peered owlishly from bushy white brows. "Have you ever seen a burned out witch before? They have offended the gods, perhaps nature herself, and are burnt into the raw elements from which they came. You have such potential, Laurel." Zion turned, tapping his walking stick on the ground as he went. "Erase this." The cane tapped on the wall.
"Yes, Zion." Willow rolled over, muttering in her sleep. Angel hadn't moved for an hour. It was the beginning of the fourth day, and she hadn't eaten. Plates had been stacking up on the table by the door. All untouched. The entertainment center he'd brought up was gathering dust. If he came in while she was awake, she started throwing things at him until he physically stopped her, and then Willow would get really disturbing. The other night, she'd asked him if he remembered the time they were five and played Barbies, and then said something about trying to drink Ken's blood. He had the feeling she'd confused him with Xander. Angel reluctantly dragged himself out of the room, locked the door and went down to make dinner.
Scratch marks covered her neck around the collar. While she was asleep the second night, he'd had nightmares of Drusilla slicing his neck, and had gone in with nail clippers, chopping off up to three-quarters of an inch of red-tipped nail off her fingers. The stubby ones she had now weren't low enough to be painful, but couldn't break skin if they tried.
It was Drusilla's voice that would come to him. She was so beautiful, so lovely in her day. There was an invisible halo around her at all times. God had surely meant for her gift to help the world. Pity he'd left her among a family Angelus was convinced did as much psychological damage as he had. The same scene kept replaying in Angel's mind.
"Please..." She sobbed hysterically, clutching the rags of her dress. Blood ran down her trembling chin. "Please... I want to be a good girl..." He'd lashed out for her leg, entirely self-satisfied that she jerked away from him, still backing up. The basement floor was cold, but she didn't try to get up. She just kept scooting backwards, her feet and hands numbly propelling her much more slowly than if she got up and ran, but she was unwilling to turn her face away from the grinning vampire. "I do!...God save us... God save us..." Tears flowed down her shaking cheeks, pushing their way between her tightly-shut lids. Her back hit the wall suddenly, Drusilla realizing through complete terror that there was no where to go.
Angel bent to one knee, creeping just inches from her face. He wiped away a tear gently, doing his 'Preacher's' voice. He'd kept two distinct voices throughout the whole of her breaking. He would speak gruffly when their encounters were in the outside world. But he always met her with gentility in the confessional when she'd come. "Awwh. Is the little girl crying? Tsk. We canna have that now, can we?"
She started at the gentle voice, the one she trusted, despite the fact that it was faceless and kept telling her she was going straight to hell. Drusilla ventured to open one eye. "My dear, why're you so upset? Surely this isn't the place for it. You should be in church." Through the mists and haze of her mind, she saw him. The Father. The only one who looked out for her soul. He was just as beautiful as she knew he'd be.
"Father... are you an Angel?" Her hand moved to touch his jaw.
Angelus leaned into her touch. "Why, you are a smart girl. You've figured it out. The Lord has sent me to you. I am your Angel, Drusilla."
Tears of joy washed down her chees, clearing away some of the blood. She leaned forward. "Oh! Oh, I knew... I just knew I wasn't--if I kept trying to--God would forgive me for the bad things I see. ...Have you come to take me away?" The last was a desperate plea.
Angelus smiled his gentle Preacher's smile, and took her hand in his. "My dear, Heaven has opened it's arms and waits for you." Her smile was radiant, as if her soul was already ascending without waiting for death. "But what's this?" She met his eyes briefly, then shrieked horribly at the invasive stab of two fingers under her skirt. Drusilla closed her legs and shook in violent fear as the Angel held the two fingers up into the air. They had blood on them, from where she'd just been ravaged for the first and last time. "Tsk, tsk." He punctuated his sentences with them, spattering a few drops more onto her blouse. "You've been spoiled." He reached over, wiping his fingers disdainfully across her lips.
Drusilla spat, quaking. "F-father. I did'na mean for... I did'na know..." She clutched the bloody skirts to her, curling into a fetal position.
"You allowed yourself to be spoiled?! You've laid with a man?!" She shook her head to the negative, hyperventilating. "Whore. Whore!"
Her hands darted to his mouth, covering it. "N-no, please, Da will hear you--please!"
"Whore!" Angelus shoved her roughly against the wall. "Whore! Wh-o-re!" He stood, calling to the town. Most of them had been slaughtered at the beginning of the night's festivities, including her 'Da'. She pushed herself from wall, laying at his feet, kissing shoes that had slogged through mud, excrement, and blood that night.
"Please! Mercy..." She sobbed. "Show mercy, Father... I beg forgive--I beg forgiveness..." He waited until her sobs had quieted somewhat, and crouched down, lifting her face.
"Do not cry, my child. I forgive you."
"...I will go to Heaven?"
"No." He morphed back into game face, snarling in gutteral speech. "You come with me." Her screams echoed in his mind.
Angel remembered draining her, forcing her lips to his wrist. He remembered every word. Every single word. Enough to drive him mad. Willow's heart would just give out, eventually. She had the inner strength to sit there in front of stacks of food and not eat a thing.
He grabbed what he'd been preparing, a bowl of stew, some bread, cheese, fruit, a soda, milk, tea, vegetables--Angel had been overpreparing in case he hit on something she really liked and she ended up eating it--put it on a tray, and headed up the stairs. He knocked on her door, just to let her know he intended to come in.
"It's open. Oh wait, it's not."
He unlocked the door quickly, moving in and shutting it behind him. Willow smirked at him from her usual spot on the bed.
"You're looking amazingly coherent."
"I had a long nap."
"So I noticed."
"Spying on me again? Technically, I am your prisoner, you can just come in and watch me if you want."
"Wouldn't want to impose." He pulled a card table up to the bed, laying out her meal. Willow, with concentrated effort, rolled her eyes in the other direction. "Here." She was startled as he tucked a napkin into her shirt collar, spreading it out over her chest. "For crumbs. I hate to sleep in crumbs, and I don't want to try and seperate you from those sheets you love so much."
"Ha. Ha." There was a measured silence between the two Ha's. On a scale of sarcasm, it was a ten.
"Come on, Willow. Eat. You haven't eaten in... how long? ...It's not hard."
"...I'm not hungry." The hollowness in her eyes deepened. There was some sort of reaction going on beneath. What kind of reaction, he couldn't tell. "Take it away."
"You're not Ghandi, Willow."
"Do me a favor, Angel. Don't talk to me."
"All right..." He straightened up, opening a small bag she hadn't noticed before. "Last chance. Eat something?"
Mutely, she shook her head.
His jaw set. "...I don't want to do this, Willow. Remember that."
Angel untied the last knot holding her down without difficulty. She ate silently, some of the meal still dribbled over her chin and down her shirt.
"I'll leave you alone now." He edged out carefully. The door swung shut.
Willow obediantly shoveled forkful after forkful of the meal into her mouth, not caring what she ate, or how much. He'd literally forced her lips open, shoving food down her throat until she choked on it. She'd tried to flail, bite, kick, sceam, all to no avail. His strength was more than her jaw muscles could take. Her throat hurt, and so did her neck, where he held her head against the headboard, two fingers prying her lips open. She bruised so easily without magic.
Ten minutes later saw her bent over the toilet in the adjoining bathroom, throwing up the better portion of the progress she'd made. Dry heaving followed.
Her only relief that night came in finally being able to cry her eyes out in relative comfort, confident that Angel would not disturb her until he let plenty of time pass. The cold tile floor soothed. Willow's thoughts were barely coherent. From the other side of the seemingly thinnest wall she'd ever known, magic swirled in the prettiest of colors. Almost as if it was calling, singing to her...
In a few minutes, she dragged herself up and went back to what little food remained. It wasn't so bad, being the victim. It wasn't. Why did she keep bursting into tears?
This wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair. She'd done everything right, everything everyone had told her to do until she met Buffy. Then they'd told her doing everything right was wrong. So she'd starting doing things wrong. But that was wrong too. Then, she'd thrown everyone's opinions of herself completely away, and started doing everything wrong. And it felt so right! Right and wrong were abstracts that didn't make any sense anymore.
"Angel's right... you can't just go around using magic for everything... but it's not right for him to hold you here..."
Wrong. Right. Right. Left. Left. Behind. In front. Beside. Away. Near. Far. Close. Open. Shut. Down. Butter knives, table legs, patience... stakes...
He crept in quietly, in case she was asleep. When Angel didn't see her anywhere, he felt a panicked tightening in his chest. Then he spotted a foot hanging out of the bathroom door. Stepping inside, he crept forward. She lay on the bathroom floor, breathing evenly against the tile, eyes blessedly closed.
"...Willow?" He whispered. She didn't stir. The vampire moved to scoop her into his arms, when she woke very suddenly, darting away from his grip. Green eyes burned holes through his heart, and from this angle, he could see why. Finger-shaped bruises dotted her neck. His hands. His hands had done that. He was nearly overcome by a wave of shame.
"I tried to eat." She rasped. Keep him happy... we must keep him happy... not expecting. "I-I did eat. A little."
"I'm glad." She shook like a leaf, but he knew if he tried to help her up now, it would be a most unwanted invasion. "...It keeps your strength up. You could really use that right now. ...I'm not going to keep you here forever, you know. I am going to let you out. Don't go giving up, now. I'm not giving up on you." Angel wanted her to react, but knew he couldn't force it. "You hear me?" She nodded a fraction of an inch. "Good. ...I-is there anything I can get you?"
Her voice shook. "Aspirin."
"Aspirin?" Angel repeated.
"Oh. Yes, yes, of course. Aspirin. ...I'll have it for you. Anything else?" She shook her head no. He rose to full height. "Okay. Aspirin it is. I think I'll bring you home some ice cream too. What's your favorite flavor?" She squeezed her eyes shut.
"...I guess we'll go with vanilla, then." Angel stared down at Willow. "Right. I'll be back soon." She heard him leave.
"Not soon enough. Bastard."
Buffy sat amid the stacks of paperwork and wanted to cry her eyes out. Vampire activity was at an all time low and all she could do was sit by the phone, tensed to spring.
But none of the bad people were here. They were all in New York. And her best friend was still in trouble. Maybe even more than before. She couldn't be sure of Angel's intentions. They seemed good, but what did he do that didn't seem good? What if Willow's spells had done something to him? What if Willow herself was evil? Why weren't they calling?!?! The pencil in her hand snapped. The Slayer laid her head down on her hands in exhaustion.
"It's just ice cream. It's just ice cream. It's not a life or death decision." There were thousands of selections. Ben and Jerry's, Breyers, Godiva, Edy's, Starbucks, all sorts of weird brands had sprung up. Years ago, he remembered seeing a small ice cream section. If you wanted vanilla, you picked up a carton labeled 'Vanilla'. Not trippy-dippy-whammo-vanilla-riffic or something like that. Did Willow even like vanilla? Maybe she liked chocolate. He was torn.
It wasn't the ice cream. He'd had to cut off his life-lines to the outside world. No Buffy, No Giles, no distracting work, and especially... no Willow. Oh, sure, he saw her every day, but not in a friendly way. And he'd gone way too far with his inexperienced brand of 'help'. He might as well have beaten her, for all the good it did either of them. Leaving bruises... He hadn't felt this guilty since he'd first gotten his soul back.
He knew then. He had to let her out. He had to. He wasn't helping, he was hurting. He'd let her out. Be damned the consequences. If she burnt him to ashes the second he took off the collar... he would welcome it. That's what he'd deserve. He never should've started something he didn't know how to finish. Never.
"Young man?" He turned to find a small grey-haired old lady standing next to him. She smiled, reached beyond him, grabbed a carton of Chunky Monkey (tm), and patted him on the shoulder. "Life's too short to look so sad."
Angel looked down at her.
He didn't bother with the ice cream.
He called from the first floor, keys in hand. His hands trembled
at the door locks, eventually undoing all of them. It was a mixture
of excitement and nausea at the same time. The vampire had resolved
The door swung open to another empty room. He stepped inside? "Willow?" He looked in the bathroom. No Willow. He'd begun to freak out once again when he saw her small frame in the corner of the room. "Willow? ...Are you...?" She looked up at him.
"...I... fell down. Couldn't... get back up." Her breathing was labored, stringy hair hanging in her eyes. Maybe the withdrawal had just now seriously set in.
"Here... let me help you--" He bent down, arms outstretched.
Her face took on a violent twist. Angel saw this a brief second before a stabbing pain overtook him. Willow's hand arched up, holding a sharp wooden object, propelled with all her remaining strength.
He faltered back, startled by the intrusion. Willow slithered out from under him, sprinting for the door. She didn't pity him. The thin stake had been meant for his heart. At the last second, she'd put it straight through his neck. Blood spurted in waves as the vampire fumbled for the offending object. He rallied quickly, removing the object and shaking off the wounded haze just in time to hear the last of the locks clicking into place.
An anguished cry was muted by the large tear in his throat.
Willow was a rational person. She could tell when she was hyperventilating; that was now. The door's locks had slid into place easily. Now what she needed was her strength back. Furiously, she jammed key after key on the ring she'd snatched from Angel into the collar's lock. Each in turn was rejected. Willow screamed in frustration and began trying each of them again.
A noise behind her alerted her to the fact that Angel wasn't down for the count. A loud banging sounded from behind the door. He was trying to break it down. "Shit." The banging sound paused, replaced by an even louder banging on the wall next to the door. Plaster sprinkled like snowflakes from the ceiling as the wall began to crack. The vampire was coming through, wound or no. "Shit. Shit!" She turned, moving across the house, finding the stairs quickly, but taking them slow. Willow was dizzy from exertion; falling would only end things more quickly than they began.
Reaching the downstairs, she peered outside. A car! The keyring she still grasped held a key marked 'Ford'. She fled the house through the window, not bothering to take time to find the key that would open the front door.
"As far away as fast as possible... as far away as fast as possible..." She climbed into the car, the law-abider in her sorry she didn't have a working liscense with her. It started. "Praise the Goddess!" The Bronco burned rubber down the driveway.
Willow was thinking ahead. If the damned collar was sealed magically, even a pair of bolt cutters wouldn't free her. She could have it unlocked magically; but Zion and the others wouldn't help. She'd have to go to the only place she knew was left.
The circles called.
He looped a ripped piece of those damn red satin bedsheets around his throat, just to stop the bleeding. Angel listened, hearing the sounds of jangling keys outside. He tried to call out, to tell Willow he'd been coming there to let her go--
The collar key was in his shirt pocket. He had to get out there before she accidentally sliced her head off with a hacksaw, or did something even more drastic.
The damn door. It was solid as a rock; he'd made sure of that himself. A bad move, when you're the one trapped inside. It took even blows from his shoulder, didn't creak a bit. When a chunk of old plaster tumbled down from the ceiling, he had another idea. He began chipping away at the wall with all his strength, employing several handy objects. Within a couple of minutes, he'd worked a vampire-sized hole into it, hearing the sound of squealing tires downstairs. Angel flew down the stairs, zipped across the first floor, dove out the window, and watched the tailights fade impossibly in the distance.
"...Willlow... Where are you going..?" He staggered, the hole in his throat almost healed. He'd fed right before he'd left for the store. "Okay, Angel, think. Think. If I were Willow, where would I go?" He pressed his palms to either side of his forehead. "...Where... would... I ...go...?"
The vampire snapped to attention. "Home."
Angel chewed his nails like they'd never been chewed before. It was a weird habit he'd picked up since being a vampire, frightfully easily, since they healed almost the second you bit them. He'd been holding a bedside vigil. She hadn't moved more than a hair's breadth in a day, except to breathe. That kept him going. She wasn't dead yet.
He looked strung out. Hadn't slept, hadn't eaten, hadn't done much but pace around the room, willing her to wake up. Giles had left on some sort of Watcher's conference, and Buffy had been hysterical when they'd talked. He had been tempted to get her out here, just to take some of the burden off his own shoulders, but in the end, he'd decided it was best if he stood over her alone.
For the seventeenth time in the past hour, Angel sat down dejectedly. He laid his head in his hands, rocking back and forth. "Willow... please wake up..."
"Angel?" He blinked into his hands, sure that the voice was a hallucination. "Angel?" She clutched the sheets to her chest. "...I have a headache..."
"I'll find some aspirin." He was at her side in a flash, but careful not to get too close, wary of the unfortunate dynamic their relationship had taken. She looked beautiful, even laying prone amongst the pillows. Willow was almost as pale as the pillows. His hesitation was gone as her eyes fluttered closed. Angel seized her by the shoulders, shaking her. "Willow. Willow! Willow, wake up! Wake up..." Her eyes blinked open.
"Angel..." She rasped. "I'm tired." Her head fell back. One of his hands moved to cradle it.
"Willow. Willow--you've been asleep for three days. A friend of mine--a doctor, a special one--was here. He couldn't find anything wrong with you." Willow was trying to pay attention, Angel knew how attentive she always was, but was having serious trouble. Her eyes kept wandering away. "He wanted me to take you to a hospital, but I was afraid to move you..." And afraid to give you over to a bunch of doctors who don't believe in silly things like 'magic', and was scared to leave you alone, and was terrified I wouldn't ever see you again...
Her gaze fell away again. "Willow? Stay with me. You want something to eat? You want to eat something?" He repeated, trying to get a rise out of her. She seemed very disoriented.
After a moment, her eyes wandered back to his. "Water." Her dry lips smacked against one another.
"Water. Okay. Okay, water. We'll go get some water." The vampire wrapped Willow snugly in the bed sheet, swinging her easily into his powerful arms. He got to the apartment's kitchen without much confusion, using the back of his wrist to flip the tap on. "...Cups, cups..." Angel cursed himself. He'd been moving her things back inside--all the things he hadn't burned, that is--but many of the boxes were yet unpacked. "Here." He propped Willow on the counter carefully. "I'm going to find a cup. I'll be right back." Grimacing at her glassy-eyed stare, he turned towards the living room.
A box marked 'tools'
revealed assorted kitchenware, and the victorious Angel sprinted back towards
Willow triumphantly, coffee mug in tow.
At the sight of her, he dropped the coffee mug, not noticing as his bare feet were cut on the shards scattered over the linoleum.
Willow's head was in
the sink. It was stoppered, and filling with water quickly.
Her red hair floated out, wraith-like, on top of the water. In one
smooth, and almost cruel motion, Angel seized the back of her head, dragging the witches' head up into the air where she continued to slurp what she must not have realized was air instead of water. "Willow. Stop."
Her eyes fluttered open once more. "Thirsty. Thirsty!" He released her head, more out of shock that she'd shouted than anything else. Angel watched with morbid fascination as she ducked her head, inhaling gutfuls of water. A few seconds later, he heard a 'glub' sound. In good nurse fashion, he pulled her back up out of the water, pulling a lock of hair from her mouth and looking for any other sign of life. Willow stood mute, fast asleep.
Angel sighed, unplugged the sink, and put Willow to bed again.
"Buffy..? It's two o'clock in the afternoon." Oh, right. That's only late by my schedule.
I'm sorry to sound a little disjointed--What? Yes! Jesus Christ.
Scuse me.--No, that wasn't to you, Angel. I'm at work. Listen.
was taking a nap on my lunchbreak, and I--I had one of those dreams. I so don't get it, I hardly have them at all anymore, and usually they're the
product of indigestion--but I digress."
"Buffy, slow down."
"You should've been there--I was taking a nap--" The volume of her voice lowered considerably. "--on red sheets, and I rolled over--Willow was there, sleeping--suddenly her eyes fly open, and she's attacking me--I think she was a vampire, but it was like I was powerless--and what was really weird was--you were sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth, like you were going insane--actually, that's not the weird part. The weird part was where everyone in the old gang was watching Willow kick the--Holy Shit! Richter!--"
"Buffy?! Buffy, what's wrong?!"
"--Sorry to scare you like that. Nothing. Richter's this bastard in narcotics. He just came by to spill coffee on me. Spaz. Anyway."
"So what happened?"
"Willow takes out this big old sword--That reminds me, never get Giles on the subject of phallic dream imagery, he's got issues--"
"--Right, right--And she's about to stab it through my chest, when she suddenly turns and goes after you, and--"
"And... she kills you."
"Yeah, I know. Sorry. I guess hoping you'll 'sleep tight' would be a little futile now, wouldn't it?"
"...What's it supposed to mean?"
"I don't know. That you're in danger?"
"Oh, golly, I hope so."
"You sound grumpy."
"I was sleeping."
"Willow woke up this morning long enough to eat a sandwich--and a block of cheese, and a loaf of bread, and some frozen peas... and I think a can of baking soda. It's non-toxic, right?"
"Yeah. So I thought if she's getting better--she is eating, after all--I thought if she was getting better, that I could afford some sleep."
"Angel, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Of course, Buffy."
"What if Willow hates you enough to want you dead? For what you did."
"...then..." He blinked, scratched his head, and was honest. "She has every claim to me. She anchored my soul permanently... and I've hurt her beyond imagining in return."
"That's not true, Angel."
"I know. ...I'm going to sleep some more, Buffy."
"Okay. ...Don't sleep too soundly. If she wants to go all eye for an eye on you, then we're going to have a little talk first. And if I'm not mistaken, you Mister--sure as hell owe me something in the life department."
He managed a chuckle that sounded good-natured. "Buffy. I'll talk to you later."
"All right. Bye, Angel."