The package had surprised her and the item inside had shocked her even more. Willow had checked the address and name again, thinking that such a lovely ring couldn't possibly be for her, but it was.
Holding it in her hand, she studied it and in doing so discovered the infinity symbol engraved on the inside. She looked for a return address, but only found a Los Angeles cancellation stamp. Her mind immediately was filled with one person. Angel.
Willow had rolled it around in her brain for a long time, never mentioning the ring, never wearing it. Buffy would be hurt, Xander disgusted, and Oz…well, Oz had turned out to be full of surprises, but she didn't think he'd be thrilled either.
Why exactly did Angel send the ring? That was the foremost question in her mind. Willow would seesaw back and forth. Was it a thank you present for returning his soul? Or was it a friendship ring? If so, why didn't he acknowledge it with a note?
The one thought that always managed to leap to the forefront, unbidden, was that Angel had feelings for her beyond friendship. That idea left her with mixed emotions: excitement, curiosity, a bit of nausea, and not a small amount of longing. Angel was beautiful, to be sure, but his darker side also intrigued Willow. She felt a strange kinship. Most people took Angel at face value, never bothering to see what was beneath his good looks and sharp clothes. Willow had been judged in a similar manner all of her life.
Finally, an opportunity came up for her to attend a lecture series at UCLA and Willow took it. She’d loved Angel as a friend, just a friend, she’d believed. But the more she thought about it, the more she began to realize that there was more to her feelings than friendship. There was only one way to find out. Willow called Angel, her head spinning and her hands shaking, practically inviting herself over. She needed to know though and she wanted…well, she didn't know what she wanted, exactly, but she wanted a lot.
Now, here they were sitting in awkward silence on his sofa, brief snippets of small talk sparsely spoken between long lulls. After they established that Buffy, Xander, Oz and Giles were fine and that his 'business' with Cordelia and Doyle was going well, they were lost for conversation.
Finally, Willow blurted out, "Why did you give me the ring? I mean…you did send it, right? Because if you didn't, well, you don't know what in the heck I'm talking about and I should go before I make a jackass of myself…but…it was you, wasn't it?"
Angel answered quietly; "I sent it. I wanted you to have it."
"Thank you. But, why? It's too expensive for a friend and we're just friends…right?
Angel moved closer to her on the couch, taking her hand in his.
"Yes, we're just friends. That's the way it is. And I'll probably hate myself for burdening you with this, but self-loathing is nothing new for me." He paused. "You know I love Buffy."
Willow nodded, slightly distracted by his cool fingers rubbing the pulse point in her wrist.
"Well, you…your beauty and intelligence, your kindness…I…you haunt me, Willow. You have for a long time. I don't know when it started, but it's not stopping. Those things I said when I was dying? They were meant for you, not Buffy. I know I shouldn't tell you this. I don't want to hurt or confuse you, but I've just seemed to have figured out that owning up to my mistakes and my feelings…” he paused. “Well, confession is good for my soul.
Willow sat in stunned silence. What he'd said was what she'd secretly been hoping to hear. It was a revelation to her, she had hardly even admitted to herself that this was what she'd come here for.
Angel waited. He had all the time in the world to wait for her to say something…anything. As he'd revealed his feelings, he'd watched her face flush and felt her heartbeat quicken. All he knew was that he'd either excited or upset her.
Willow finally found her voice. "I think I knew it, deep down…and I wanted that to be your answer. I know it's wrong. Buffy's my best friend and Oz and I are still seeing each other. I never expected to feel this way, but I can't stop it…or stop wanting you."
She clutched her free
hand to her abdomen, as if she were in pain. "I want this."
Angel cupped her face in his hand, "I can't say I'm not glad that you care for me, that you want me. Maybe I was wrong to ever tell you, but I'm happy I did. Willow…I know that this has to end right here. I can't be your lover in the literal sense that I think we both want. I can't be there for you, to give you what you'll need."
Willow spoke softly, looking down and refusing to meet his eyes, "See, I think you can."
She continued her voice filled with misery. "Please don't be angry. I didn't tell either of you. I couldn't. I wasn't absolutely positive, only about ninety-nine percent sure. I couldn't put Buffy or you through that torture. I changed the wording when I did the curse. I made your soul permanent."
Angel's mouth went dry as she spoke. She couldn't have, could she? "You're sure? Well, sure enough?"
Willow nodded. "Yes. And if you want to throw me out and drive straight to Sunnydale and Buffy, I'll understand."
Angel stood, his hands clenching and unclenching. He paced for a few moments as Willow watched him with growing apprehension. Finally, he turned to her and spoke. “Wait.”
The door closed with a bang. Willow sat motionless on the couch, her stomach in knots. It had actually gone better than she’d expected. He hadn’t immediately kicked her out after all. Now she just needed to wait for him to return, so she could apologize again and turn tail back to Sunnydale as quickly as possible to give Buffy the news.
In the hallway, Angel continued his frenzied walking, his mind racing. How could she have kept it from them? She had no right! None whatsoever. What had she been thinking of? His step slowed down, but his thoughts were in over drive. He wanted to scream, to break something, to grab Willow by the shoulders and shake her so hard her teeth knocked together, leaving her breathless. Then he’d pull her to him and kiss her hard enough to make her head spin and carry her into his bedroom and make love to her until neither of them had the strength to move. //Well, that came out of nowhere. //
Angel leaned against the wall, his head in his hands, and sank into a sitting position. He sat for over an hour mulling things over. Curse or no curse, he and Buffy didn’t belong together. His leaving had been inevitable. Theirs may have been a love for the ages, but it wasn’t one that could withstand their differences. A slayer and a vampire would never have had a happily ever after. Even if they had been able to have sex, he’d still be exactly where he was at this very moment. His eyes filled with sudden tears over the realization, while at the same moment his heart leapt at the thought that Willow was waiting for him. Beautiful, sweet Willow, who cared enough to tell him the truth, knowing that it might mean the end of something before it even began. He rose and went back to her.
Willow was curled onto the couch, her chin up to her knees, her face showing the evidence of her tears. She looked up at him with eyes so full of sorrow it almost hurt too much to look at her.
“I’m s…sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ll go know. I know that’s what you want.” Her words ended and she hiccuped slightly, tears catching in her throat.
"No. I don't. Do you want to? I know you and Oz…”
Willow visibly relaxed
at his words and she interrupted, "Oz and I have an 'open' relationship
now. His idea, not mine. Oz has kind of a…colorful…sexual past.
I'm not sure if it's for my benefit or his, but we're allowed to date other
people. I don't know what I want, beyond finding out how I feel about
you. I'm a little overwhelmed.
One minute, I'm Miss UC Sunnydale with out a care in the world, and the next I'm on my way to becoming a vampire's mistress." Willow blushed, surprised at her words. "I…I just want to be sure. I don't want anyone
"We're discussing the future of a relationship and we haven't even kissed. Could I?"
Angel moved towards
her, gently pulling her forward, his hand on the back of her neck.
The first brush of their lips together sent shivers through her and made
Angel's stomach muscles involuntarily tighten. The kiss became more
intense, Angel's tongue sliding into her mouth and stroking hers.
There was sweetness, desire, sadness and promise of the future in the kiss.
Both of them knew that it was more than just a kiss. It was the closing
of some doors and the opening of new ones…the end and the beginning.
A tear slid from beneath Willow's lashes and
spilled down her cheek.
They pulled apart and looked at each other, Angel brushing the tear from her face.
"What now, Willow?"
She hesitated. "Uhm…I don't want to rush…I mean…I'm not going to do the lecture series. I'm going to tell them all I am, but I'm not. I can be here every weekend for the next month. We can feel each other out…” Willow blushed at her choice of words, “Get to know each other better…if you want…I mean, I know you're a guy, a vampire guy anyway, and you haven't, you know, in a long time…but I want to take it slow for awhile. Is that okay?"
Angel caressed her cheek. "I need to kiss you again. Or do you want to take it slower than that?"
Willow shook her head and inched closer to him. He turned her and lifter her on to his lap.
"Good. We'll go as slow as you need, though." He buried his face in the nape of her neck, losing himself in her scent, running his hands down her back. Willow shifted in his lap, enjoying the sensation of his hardness pressing against her. She let out a pained groan as he held her near.
"Slow…I said slow. Just keep reminding me…and don't hold me to it if I suddenly change my mind."