Me and You....
Willow stood by her bedroom window and waited for the sun to set. Her mind drifted back over the events that had led her to this point in her life and she examined each memory carefully, knowing that she would need a clear head for the task she was about to perform. Images of her childhood were the first to surface, bringing a sad smile to her face. In her hand, she held the infamous Barbie that Xander had once stolen from her. She idly stroked the doll's hair and thought of all the experiences she and Xander had shared and of all the times they had laughed, cried, and gotten angry together. Xander's mother had, on more than one occasion, wondered out loud if they shared a brain. As they grew older, she had amended that (given the difference in their academic abilities) by insisting that they shared one spirit.
Willow's next thoughts were of Buffy. She still considered the day she met the Slayer to be one of the best of her life. Despite everything that had happened over the past few months, she didn't regret getting involved with Buffy's struggles against the forces of darkness. For most of her life, Willow had been afraid–of rejection, of failure, and of the things that lurked just outside the range of her sight. When Willow had joined the Slayerettes (as she still thought of the small group) she had found a way to combat those fears, not to mention an atmosphere where her gifts were respected and even needed. She had learned more about herself in the past year and a half, then she had in all the years before. Plus, she smiled to herself, there was the added benefit of belonging to a group for the first time in her life. The library was more of a home than the room in which she now stood and the people there were more family than the people who had raised her.
Reluctantly, Willow turned away from the window and put the doll back into the box under her bed. Angelus would arrive soon, she was sure, and she needed to be ready. She offered up yet another prayer to the Goddess that the "un-invite" spell was the real deal. If not–well, she would be forced to face a very pissed off vampire by herself. Buffy wouldn't be there to protect her and neither would Xander or Giles.
Willow's thoughts were interrupted by the ringing phone.
"Hey, Will. You ready?" Willow sighed in relief when she heard Cordelia's voice.
"Ready as I'll ever be." Willow surveyed the spell components on the desk and ran her fingers lightly over the crystal ball. "As soon as the sun sets, I'll get started."
"How long will it take?"
"I don't know. Giles doesn't suspect anything does he?" Willow's voice held a note of worry.
"Nah. For a Watcher, he sure can be dense." Both girls giggled. "You know," Cordelia's voice turned serious. "If this works, he's gonna be ticked."
"I know." Willow swallowed around the lump in her throat. "But what else are we supposed to do? The Watcher's Council won't send Kendra to help us and we can't fight Angelus on our own."
"You're right." Cordelia
interrupted, having heard the speech before. "I'm just saying that
if.... *when* this works, you're going to have to be the one to face the
wrath of Rupert Giles." Willow snorted with laughter. Her mirth
died quickly, however, when a glance at the window showed her that the sun was just starting to set.
"Listen, Cordy. It's almost show-time. I should go."
"Good luck, Willow. Be careful."
"Thanks. I will." Willow was suddenly reluctant to hang up the phone.
"Call me when it's over, okay?"
"I will. Bye."
Willow slowly placed the receiver back into its cradle, took a deep breath,
squared her shoulders and turned to the task at hand.
Angelus grinned evilly as he approached the Rosenberg house and pondered his strategy for the evening ahead. It had been a month since his last visit to Willow's bedroom and he mentally chided himself for waiting so long. Of course, he had been busy–that idiot Watcher had burned down the factory, which meant that he had to go find someplace suitable for his "family." He had also been forced to replace the fledges who had died in the fire and that had taken a while.... after all, Angelus was rather picky about the people with whom he chose to spend eternity. But now that those little problems were taken care of, he could get back to torturing the Slayer and her little friends. The vampire's expression became puzzled when he realized that he hadn't actually *seen* the Slayer since the night he had killed that Gypsy witch. He made a mental note to ask Willow about this mystery..... she would be more than happy to give him the information he needed, once he turned her.
The vampire easily climbed to the balcony and smirked when he realized that the stupid little girl had left the French doors slightly open.
"Willow, Willow....." he chuckled as he walked up to the doors "I thought you were the smart one....." Angelus' voice trailed off as he got a good look at what was happening inside. Willow was seated on the floor and seemed to be completely oblivious to his presence. There were small bowls and bunches of herbs scattered around her and he smelled incense. Willow's legs were crossed and she was leaning forward, with her elbows placed on her knees. She was concentrating intently on something that was nestled in her lap, but Angelus couldn't see it through the curtain of her hair. Suddenly, Willow's body jerked and her voice became louder and stronger, almost as if some force had taken control. Angelus stared at her in shock for a moment, then realized that the object sitting in her lap was, in fact, an Orb of Thessaluh. Realization hit him and he unconsciously shifted into his demonic features.
"You little bitch."
he shouted. "I'm going to tear you limb from limb....." Willow continued
to chant, obviously completely unaware of what was happening around her.
Angelus pulled the doors wide open and strode into the room..... or attempted
to, anyway. He found his way blocked by the invisible barrier that
prevented him from entering most homes. In a flash, he realized that
Willow must have somehow gotten a hold of the spell that prevented him
from re-entering her house, even though he had already been invited.
Not only that, she had somehow found the spell to restore his soul and
there wasn't a damn thing he could do to stop her from casting it.....
"Willow!" he shouted in frustration, then turned to run. Just as
he reached the balcony railing, the world spun and Angelus fell to his
knees fighting tooth and nail to remain in control.....
Angel blinked rapidly
and tried to get his bearings. He slowly lifted his head and looked
around. For some reason, he was on Willow Rosenberg's balcony.
Her French doors were open and he could see her sitting on the
floor, staring at him.
"Willow?" Angel's voice conveyed his obvious confusion.
"Angel?" Angel noted that, for some reason, Willow's face wore an expression that he could only describe as being hopefully fearful.
"Yeah, it's me. What happened? Where's Buffy? How did I get here?"
"What's the last thing you remember?" Willow stood up and walked to a spot just inside the doors.
"I was with Buffy..... we were..... uh...." Angel really didn't want to share the details of his intimate encounter with the Slayer, but Willow's face made it evident that she didn't need him to elaborate.
"Okay, a lot has happened." she sighed. "Are you okay? I mean, are you hurt or anything?"
"Uh, I don't think so." Angel did a quick survey of his body parts and informed her that everything was as it should be. He slowly stood up and walked towards Willow. He became even more confused when she involuntarily took a step back. He reached out to touch her, but his hand bumped the invisible barrier. A hurt look crossed his face. "Willow, what's going on?"
"What? Oh. Come in." As he slowly entered her bedroom, he noticed that Willow was holding her breath.
"Willow, why are you acting like I'm going to hurt you?" Willow opened her mouth to answer, but was saved the trouble when a low moan escaped Angel's lips.
"Oh God, no....." As he was bombarded with memories, Angel's knees buckled. Willow caught him and eased him down onto the floor. Her fear was completely gone. It had been replaced with compassion for the man sobbing in her arms and sorrow that he had to go through this. As she stroked his hair and made soothing sounds, she vowed that he would never have to go through it alone, no matter how angry Giles was sure to be at them both. Finally, Angel calmed down enough to stop crying. He slowly extricated himself from Willow's embrace and leaned against her bed, suddenly exhausted.
"Will you..... will you tell me what happened?" he asked, timidly. "I remember things, but they make no sense...." Willow wiped a few stray tears from her cheek and nodded.
"I just need to call Cordelia and tell her that I'm okay." she said, shakily.
"Cordelia? What about Buffy or Giles?" Angel's confusion returned, full force.
"Don't worry, I'll explain everything." Willow assured him. She grabbed the phone and pulled it onto her lap. She quickly dialed and tapped her fingers impatiently as she waited for Cordelia to pick up.
"Willow?" Willow's eyebrows rose when she heard the concern in the cheerleader's voice.
"Yeah, it's me."
"Did it work?"
"Oh yeah." Willow
said, as she stared at the miserable vampire who was currently using her
dust ruffle as a hanky. "I can't talk now, though. Angel's really
confused and I need to explain things to him..... I'll see you
"Okay. And Will?"
"I'll come with you when you tell Giles..... that is, if you want....."
"Oh yeah." Willow chuckled weakly. "You can be my human shield." Cordelia laughed and hung up the phone. Willow returned her attention to Angel.
"Where do you want me to start?" she asked, quietly.
"I remember the surprise party......" Angel started, slowly ".... and I remember going to the factory to destroy the Judge...... Buffy and I escaped and went back to my place..... we.... uh....."
"I know about that part." Willow said, hastily.
"Uh.... okay. Well.... that's where things get kind of hazy...... did I really try to kill you?" Willow winced at the memory, which was all the answer Angel needed. He hung his head and the tears began to fall again as Willow started to talk.
"It turns out that there was a loophole in the gypsy curse. If you experienced a moment of true happiness, you would lose your soul again. Don't ask me why the gypsies felt it necessary to add that little booby trap, but...... anyway, when you Buffy..... uh.... well, you know, you.... uh.... how do I put this..... you got a happy. Those are Xander's words, not mine, by the way. Anyway, that broke the curse and you lost your soul. We didn't realize it at first..... you came to the school and.... uh..... well, you grabbed me...." Willow started to speak faster as she got to this particularly painful memory.
"Willow, I'm so sorry....."
"..... well, anyway..... " Willow continued on, apparently not having heard him. "We found out that Ms. Calendar was actually a member of the gypsy clan that put the curse on you in the first place. She was supposed to watch you and make sure that you never experienced happiness We didn't know about that.... and I'm assuming you didn't know either...." Angel shook his head. "You.... I mean, Angelus..... became obsessed with Buffy and started doing things that were meant to scare her.... and the rest of us..... Ms. Calendar decided to do the curse again only you..... he.... found out somehow and..... uh....."
"Killed her." Angel said, flatly. "I killed her."
"*Angelus* killed her."
Willow stated firmly. Before he could protest, she continued.
"Anyway, he destroyed all her computer equipment. Luckily, she had
already saved the information about the spell onto a disk and it fell
behind the desk. I found it last week....."
".... and did it again." Angel stared at the young woman in awe. Willow nodded.
"Obviously, it worked." she smiled sadly. "This is the first good thing that's happened in ages."
"Okay." Angel took a deep breath and attempted to get his thoughts in order. "I need to get to Buffy..... I need to tell her that I'm back." He attempted to stand, but stopped when Willow put her hand on his arm. He looked at her face and became afraid. "What? What's wrong? Is Buffy okay? Please tell me I didn't....."
"No, no, no." Willow hastened to assure him. "She's fine.... as far as I know. She's gone."
"Gone? Gone where?"
"We don't know." Willow admitted. "She left right after Ms. Calendar was kill..... died. Xander left two weeks later."
"What? Xander's gone too? Willow, what are you talking about?"
"I'm sorry. I'm not making much sense am I? Okay, I'll start again. Buffy ran away from home a month ago."
"Why?" Angel interrupted.
"We're not entirely sure. She left a note but it was pretty sketchy. Best we can figure, she probably just couldn't take it anymore."
"You know...." Willow waved her hands in a vague gesture. "You being Angelus, Ms. Calendar dying..... I think she realized that if she stayed in town she would have to kill you."
"Poor Buffy....." Angel moaned. Willow nodded, then continued.
"We looked for her, but every time we got a lead, she'd disappear before Giles could get there. Two weeks ago, Xander decided to follow her trail. I guess he figured that he'd have more luck... I don't know..... We haven't heard from either of them."
"Why on Earth would Xander just run off after Buffy like that?" Angel wondered out loud. "I mean, I know he liked her, but...."
"Loved her would be closer to the truth." Willow had to swallow around the lump in her throat. "He's always been in love with her. Even though he was dating Cordy....."
"Hold it." Angel shook his head in an effort to make sense of what Willow was telling him. "Xander was dating *Cordelia*?"
"Yeah." Willow smirked. "See what happens when you go away for a little while?" Her eyes grew sad and her voice took on a corresponding tone. "Cordy was really upset when Xander broke up with her. I feel really badly for her."
"Since when?" It popped out of Angel's mouth before he could stop himself. He added hastily "Cordelia Chase has never exactly been on the top of your..... hell, *anybody's* list."
"She's changed." Willow replied, simply. "We all have." Angel thought about this, then braced himself for the question he dreaded most of all.
"And Giles?" Willow lowered her eyes and took a moment to choose her words.
"He..... he's okay, all things considered. Ms. Calendar's death hit him pretty hard. They broke up after he found out that she knew about your curse..... but I guess they were on the verge of getting back together when....."
"I know." Angel murmured. "Why isn't he here?" he suddenly asked, looking around. "Or why aren't you at the library?"
"Uh.... well," Willow blushed. "I didn't exactly tell Giles I was doing this......"
"Are you *insane*?" he nearly yelled. "You could have been hurt or killed...." Suddenly, it hit him..... she had put herself in danger to help *him*. "Willow....." his jaw worked for a moment as he attempted to come up with words to express his current state of mind. "Let me see if I have this right." he finally started, slowly. "I slept with Buffy. I experienced a moment of true happiness and lost my soul. I spent the next several months making your lives miserable. I killed Jenny and destroyed her notes on the curse, only I missed something and you found it." Willow nodded. "Okay. While all this was happening, Xander was dating Cordelia, but was harboring feelings for Buffy. She took off a month ago and he went after her."
"That pretty much covers it." Willow nodded. "You skipped a few little details, but they're not important right now." Angel leaned back against the bed and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes.
"Okay, so te big question is why? Why would you put yourself at risk just to restore my soul?" Angel didn't wait for Willow to answer. "I think I can figure it out, actually. With Buffy gone, there was nobody to fight Angelus. I mean, Giles could try, but he doesn't have a Slayer's strength. Add to that the fact that his emotions make him vulnerable..... "
"That was part of it," Willow allowed "but not everything. In fact, I didn't even think of it until I had to justify this to Cordelia."
"Because I wanted my friend back." The simplicity of her answer stunned him. "Also, when Buffy gets back, she'll be thrilled."
"Do you really think they'll come back?"
"Absolutely." Willow's confidence in her friend was touching. "Buffy just needed to get away for a little while. She'll come back. Then you two can be together."
"I highly doubt that. Even if she forgives me for all the things I've done.... and that's a big if.... there's always going to be the danger that I'll lose my soul again."
"Um.... I've actually figured out a way to fix that, I think." Willow said.
"What? What is it–wait! Don't tell me."
"Look, Willow. I don't want you putting yourself in any more danger for me."
"No buts." he said, firmly. They lapsed into silence again and it was a few minutes before Willow spoke again.
"What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know." he answered, after thinking about this for a while. "To be honest, the idea of going back out there scares me."
"Really? Why?" Willow had never pictured Angel being afraid of anything.
"Well, I feel..... I don't know.... I feel *safe* here. I mean, I've done some absolutely horrible things for the past few months and you have every right to hate me....."
"I don't hate you...."
"I know." Angel smiled at her. "I know that, Willow. But other people do. When I leave, I'm going to have to deal with everything that's happened. It hasn't really sunk in yet. I'm just not sure if I'm ready to deal with it."
"Stay here until you're
ready to face the world again." Angel started to protest, but Willow
held up her hand. "My folks are out of town, so that's not an issue.
Nobody knows you're here except Cordelia..... unless you told
"No." Angel sighed in relief. "I didn't tell Spike or Dru where I was going. It was supposed to be a ‘surprise.'"
"Okay then." Willow nodded vigorously. "You can stay in my parents' room. They've got thick curtains on the windows which will block the sun......" She stood up and almost fell over when a wave of dizziness hit her. "Oooh!"
"Willow?" Angel jumped up. "Are you okay?"
"I.... I think so." She slowly sat down on the edge of the bed. "Casting that spell took a lot of energy and I'm getting a headache....."
"Angel, you're not going to start apologizing every five seconds, now are you?" Willow looked at him reproachfully. "‘Cause that could get really annoying, really quickly."
"Sorry." Angel chuckled
as Willow hit him with a pillow.
The mall's food court was crowded and Buffy had to search for an empty table. She wearily dropped her bags and only barely managed not to spill her tray of Chinese take-out. It had been a productive morning, but she still had several stores to hit before she went back to the apartment. As she tucked into her egg roll, Buffy idly surveyed the mall, noticing how little it had changed since her last visit.
In fact, Sunnydale hadn't changed much in the six years since she had left. In some ways this pleased Buffy, in others, it made her slightly sad. She wondered if her friends and her mother were still the same. With a shiver, she briefly wondered if they were still alive, then pushed the thought to the back of her mind. She refused to consider the possibility that anything bad could have happened to her loved ones. She felt the old guilt welling up again and searched for something to take her mind off of it. A familiar voice provided just the distraction she needed.
"Okay, after we eat, we just have to stop at Lord & Taylor's, then we're done." Buffy looked around frantically for the source of the voice, then breathed a sigh of relief when she realized that Cordelia Chase was sitting directly behind her and, therefore, wouldn't see her.
"We need to pick up the dress.... and what else?" The other voice was definitely female, but unfamiliar to Buffy.
"We need to get something for the bride to wear on her wedding night." Cordelia snickered. Buffy idly wondered who the bride under discussion was. "Oh, hey! We can stop at Victoria's Secret on our way."
Cordelia's dining partner snorted loudly. "Can you really see Willow in any of the stuff they sell there?" Buffy nearly choked on her soda. Willow was getting married? *Her* Willow?
"Come on." Cordelia was saying. "Victoria's Secret has some really classy stuff. Where do you think I got that little green teddy?"
"Really? That was nice. Okay, we'll stop there, but I'm not going to let you get her something trashy."
"Nothing with feathers, sequins, or edible material." the stranger declared.
"Oh, all right." Cordelia pouted. "I'm almost done here, how about you?"
"Yeah, just let me finish my soda." Buffy's mind was awhirl and she decided to follow Cordelia and her friend around to see if she could learn more about Willow's upcoming wedding. She wanted to know all the details including the most important–the identity of the groom.
"Willow, down!" Willow immediately dropped to the ground, never even bending her knees. She instinctively rolled left, which allowed Angel to close with the demon. Willow bounded to her feet and plunged her stake into the nearest vampire. She turned just in time to see the demon throw Angel clear across the clearing. Her heart skipped a beat when she heard the loud *thud* his body made when it hit the tree. He was momentarily dazed and the demon grinned maliciously as it walked towards its prey.
"Oh no you don't." Willow muttered as she gathered her energy. The demon yelped as a blue flame arced from her fingers and burned the skin on its back. It turned towards her, growling, and Willow gulped, realizing that she had probably just made the worst–and last–mistake of her life. She gasped as an unseen foe grabbed her from behind and pinned her arms to her sides.
Angel came to just in time to see a vampire grab Willow from behind. He was about to bite her when the demon spoke.
"No! She is mine."
Angel struggled to stand, but the collision with the tree had left him
with a nasty concussion which was making basic coordination difficult.
He knew he was in no condition to save Willow, but that didn't
stop him from trying.
Willow struggled helplessly as the demon slowly approached her. She searched her mind desperately for some spell that might help her get out of this situation, but she could think of nothing that would be even remotely effective. She was in the process of commending her soul to the Goddess, when the demon suddenly roared and fell backwards. Not wasting any time, Willow stomped on her captor's foot and pushed away when his arms reflexively loosened. The demon seemed to be otherwise occupied, so she turned her full attention to the last vampire. After a brief, but furious fight, she staked it and turned just in time to see the demon topple over, a sword embedded in its chest. A stranger was standing over the dead creature, grinning.
"You Buffy?" The girl's voice startled Willow.
"Uh.... no. I'm Willow." The girl looked confused for a minute.
"You know about the vampires?"
"Yeah." Willow took a look around and spotted Angel, who was trying to stand up. "Angel!" she cried, completely forgetting about the stranger. "Are you okay?" As she approached him, he managed to get to his feet.
"I think so." he replied, right before falling to his knees. "Maybe not." Willow reached out to help him, but nearly shrieked when the stranger grabbed her arm.
"Don't go near him." she hissed. "He's one of them."
"One of who?" Willow asked, confused.
"He's a vampire!"
The stranger pulled out a stake and lunged, so Willow did the only thing
she could think of. She reached out with mental fingers and *pulled*.
The girl yelped as her arm suddenly flew wide of its target and
she was powerless to prevent herself from embedding the stake in a tree.
"What the hell is the matter with you?" she yelled. By this time, Angel had recovered his senses (somewhat) and attempted to place himself between Willow and this new threat.
"Who are you?" he snarled, making sure his "game face" was in place.
"I'm Faith.... the Vampire Slayer." the girl sneered, as she pulled another stake from her belt and lunged again. Angel easily dodged and tackled her.
"Hold still." he ordered, pinning Faith's arms to the ground. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"Yeah, right." Faith's laugh was humorless. Willow quickly grabbed the stake from her hand and looked at Angel.
"Okay, I think maybe you should go home now." she told him.
"Angel, will you please trust me?"
"Oh all right." he sighed. Patting Faith down, he found two more stakes and handed them to Willow. Only then did he release her. "Will you be all right?" he asked as he stood up.
"Yeah. I think we're going to head for the library." Angel nodded and walked off. Willow turned back to Faith who was scowling furiously. "Okay, I can explain....."
"Good. ‘Cause from what I can see, you're consorting with the enemy."
"Angel's not the enemy." Willow assured her. Once she was sure that Angel was gone, she handed the stakes back to the Slayer. "Come on. We can talk on the way." Faith paused for a second, then reluctantly followed her. "Yes, Angel is a vampire, but he has a soul."
"And I'm Mother fucking Theresa." Faith snorted. Willow's eyebrows rose at the language, but she continued.
"It's the truth. Angel helps us....."
"If you believe that, you're stupider than you look. Who's us, anyway? Where's this Buffy person I've heard so much about? How come you're out here by yourself?"
"I think I'll let Giles explain that." Willow sighed, knowing that things were about to get a lot more *interesting* in Sunnydale.
"And Giles is....." It was obvious that she was becoming impatient.
"Giles is Buffy's Watcher."
(Later that evening)
Willow didn't get home until well after midnight. Angel arrived on her balcony just in time to see her kick off her shoes and wearily sit down on her bed. She looked up when he tapped on the doors and smiled.
"It's open." she called, then stood up to open it herself when she saw the large box in his arms. "Hi. Come on in. What's that?"
"It's a surprise." he grinned.
"Really? For me?" Willow jumped up and down in delight.
"No, I thought I'd buy a present for the *other* girl who lives here." In the past year, Angel had found himself cracking jokes more and more often and was surprised at how good it felt. As a human, his sense of humor had been rather unsophisticated and as Angelus, he had specialized in cruel barbs aimed at his friends, enemies, and subordinates. His new "lighter side" pleased him to no end, as did the fact that he had found an appreciative audience in Willow. A slight movement from the box in his arms brought him back to the present matter. "Sit down and close your eyes." he ordered. Willow giggled and did as she was told, seating herself Indian-style on her bed with her back against the pillows. "Now hold out your arms and don't open your eyes until I tell you to, okay?"
"Okay." Willow bit her lip to keep from asking questions, then yelped as something was put in her arms. The mysterious gift was warm, soft, and very much alive. "What.....?"
"You can open your eyes now." When she did, Willow's first sight was Angel's smile. Looking down, she found herself staring at a small, wriggling puppy.
"Oh, Angel..... he's beautiful!" Willow held the dog up to her face and squirmed when it began to enthusiastically wash her face. "And friendly!" she laughed. "Where'd you get him?"
"After you went back to the library with that..... person, I was patrolling and I came across this kid whose mom was making him sell his dog's litter. I saw this little guy and something told me I *had* to get him." In fact, the compulsion to get the dog had been almost frightening. However, Angel knew that his instincts had been correct–Willow and the little puppy were a perfect match.
"What's his name?" she asked, gently stroking his ears.
"That's up to you." He watched her think about it for a moment, then saw her eyes light up with an idea.
"I'll call him Boo." she declared.
"Yeah, from the song."
"What song?" Angel, as usual, found it confusing when Willow's trains of thought jumped tracks.
Willow began to sing softly. "Me and you and a dog named Boo..... traveling
and living on the land....." Angel's blank expression told her that he
had no idea what she was talking about. "Never mind, I'll play
it for you later. Trust me, it works."
"Okay, whatever." he chuckled, shaking his head. "Boo it is."
"He's so little." she murmured.
"I think he was the runt of the litter. He was the only one left when I got there."
"Well, he's perfect to me." she stated.
"I also got some dog stuff from the pet store." Angel proceeded to pull the items out of the back and Willow inspected each, nodding in approval.
"This is great! Thank you so much, Angel."
"But why?" she managed to tear her gaze from the puppy long enough to look at him inquiringly.
"He can protect you when I'm not around." Angel quipped.
"Oh yeah, what's he gonna do? Slobber on all evildoers?" Just then, the dog's demeanor changed. Up until now, he had been happily washing Willow's face and tasting her fingers. Suddenly, its body stiffened and he began to growl. Both Angel and Willow's eyebrows rose, but Boo's behavior was soon explained.
"Yeah mom, I'm in my room...." Willow motioned frantically with the hand that wasn't holding the puppy and Angel nodded. After whispered "good nights," he quickly left the room and took up his favorite position–a shadowy spot on the balcony that wasn't easily visible from inside. He had never actually met either of Willow's parents and wasn't about to miss this opportunity to observe them. Willow stood up and, cuddling the puppy protectively to her chest, opened the door to her room.
"Willow, I just came up to tell you that....." The dog yelped and tried to jump out of Willow's grasp. "What is that?"
"It's a dog."
"I can see that. What is it doing here?"
"His name's Boo. A friend of mine gave him to me. Isn't he cute?" Willow held the dog out, but her mother ignored it.
"That's nice, dear. Listen, your father and I have just been invited to present papers at the Warwick Convention in London. We'll be leaving May 5th."
"That's great, Mom." Willow tried to muster up the appropriate enthusiasm. "How long will you be gone?"
"Three weeks. We'll be back on the 28th."
"But that means you'll miss Graduation–that's on the 15th."
"I know, sweetie, but that can't be helped......" Angel could see that Willow was doing her best not to cry.
"Mom, this is my *graduation*. You go to the Warwick every year, why can't you skip it.... or come home early. Maybe you could just miss a couple of days....."
"Don't be so melodramatic, Willow. You know how long we've wanted to speak at the Warwick..... besides, it's not like you won't have other graduation."
"I guess you're right." Willow sighed. Her mother smiled, patted her cheek, and left. Willow stood at the door for a moment and buried her face in the puppy's fur. When she lifted her head again, Angel saw that the tears she had held in during her conversation with her mother were now sliding down her face. She sat on the bed and cried for a few minutes, all the while cradling Boo. Finally, she reluctantly put him on the floor and went into the bathroom. When Angel heard the shower start, he slipped back into the room and picked up Boo.
"Take care of her, huh pup?" he whispered. Angel was increasingly worried about Willow–she was becoming too isolated from the world, in his opinion. When she wasn't in school or doing schoolwork, she was busy researching or training with Giles or on patrol with him. Her social circle was limited to those few people who worked to protect Sunnydale. He tried to be her friend to the best of his ability, but he could only see her at night and much of their time was taken up with "Hellmouth business." More and more, Giles treated Willow as a Watcher training a Slayer. He was still kind and courteous, but he put more and more demands on her–physically, mentally, and emotionally. As for Cordelia..... Angel smirked...... well, she tried. So, he had bought the dog in an effort to give Willow something which would love her unconditionally and someone on whom she could lavish her affections freely. For some strange reason, as he left the Rosenberg residence, Angel felt a slight twinge of envy towards Boo.
Buffy adjusted the cap she had bought earlier in the day, took a deep breath, and entered Victoria's Secret. She moved to the center of the store and was studiously examining some robes when Cordelia and her nameless friend entered the store. They were engaged in an animated conversation and Buffy oh-so-casually followed them as they headed straight for the racks that held nightgowns and teddies.
".... so he's got Willow thinking that they're just going to find the nearest judge to marry them. The wedding is actually going to be a surprise." Cordelia was saying as Buffy got closer.
"But why?" the stranger inquired.
"Because it's romantic!" Cordelia declared. "You know you could take a lesson from...."
"Can I help you?" the salesgirl interrupted the conversation.
"Yeah, we're looking for something to give a friend who's getting married." Cordelia replied. During the ensuing conversation, Buffy took a minute to examine the two girls she was shadowing. Cordelia had changed very little in the past six years. She was dressed in skin-tight jeans and a revealing t-shirt and her hair was perfectly styled. Her companion, on the other hand, was dressed in baggy fatigue pants and a black tank top that left almost nothing to the imagination. Buffy could see a tatoo encircling the girl's right bicep and noticed that she was wearing scuffed-up combat boots. Buffy wondered who she was and why she was hanging out with Cordelia Chase of all people. The salesgirl finally left, after asking Buffy if she needed help, and the two girls started to talk again.
"How about some of these silk pajamas?" Cordelia suggested.
"Somehow I see Willow in one of these long, flowy white numbers." Buffy agreed with the girl. The Willow she knew would prefer to go to her wedding night looking as pure as she probably was.....
"It's not like she's a virgin or anything." Cordelia giggled. Buffy's eyes nearly popped out of her head. What had Willow been up to while she and Xander were away? "Besides, from what she tells me, Angel has a thing for unbuttoning her shirts......" Whatever else Cordelia said was lost to Buffy as her mind reeled from this latest revelation. Willow was marrying *Angel*? That couldn't be right, but Buffy knew what she had heard. She suddenly felt suffocated and spun around to leave. Unfortunately, she spun the wrong way and ran smack into Cordelia.
It started out as a typical day for Angel. He woke up late in the afternoon, showered and dressed, then grabbed a bag of blood from his well-stocked fridge. It wasn't until he saw the boxes on his kitchen table that he realized that this day was going to be anything but ordinary. Angel was a heavy sleeper, but he knew he would have heard anyone trying to enter his apartment, unless..... He grinned when he realized that Willow must have come in earlier and left the things for him. She knew the codes to his security system and, over the years, had learned to move without making much, if any, noise. A glance at his calendar confirmed his suspicions–today was the anniversary of the day she had restored his soul.
Every year since his return, Willow had made a point of commemorating the event in some way or another. Angel eagerly examined the boxes and recognized the logo of his favorite bakery on one of them. Opening it, he found that Willow had purchased a small cake with chocolate icing (his favorite) and the words "Happy Birthday, Angel" written in blue icing. She did this every time and when he protested that it wasn't really his birthday, she had pointed out that there wasn't really room to write "Happy Soul Restoration Day, Angel", nor would it be at all convenient to have to explain the meaning of the message to the baker. She had also reminded him that none of them knew when his birthday actually was.
Angel carefully removed
the cake from the box and put it on one of his few plates. He then
pulled out four candles. Placing them on the cake, he lit them and
blew them out, making a wish the way Willow had instructed him. He
cut himself a generous slice and then settled down to open his presents.
As usual, Cordelia bought him clothing–this year, it was a green silk shirt.
Faith gave him a set of drawing pencils and a pad of paper, while Giles'
gift was a record containing some of the hard rock the Watcher loved so
well. He was on an ongoing crusade to "broaden Angel's horizons."
Angel opened Willow's gift last, savoring the suspense, and laughed out
loud when he tore the wrapping off of a finely bound volume of the collected
works of Edgar Allen Poe. Recently, they had been holding an on-going
argument about horror stories. Angel was a devout fan of Steven King
and stated that no other author, past, present, or future could describe
the evil of a man's soul like King. Willow had obviously decided
to prove him wrong. She was slowly, but surely, introducing him to
her favorites. Angel sat still with a grin plastered across
his face, then glanced at his watch. With a start, he realized that
it was already time for him to head to the library for the evening's activities.
Willow and Boo were the only ones in the library when Angel arrived. Willow had her head in a book, as usual, and Boo lay at her feet, chewing on a doggie toy.
"Hi Angel." she said, without looking up. "Happy Birthday." He didn't bother to ask how she knew it was him. Instead, he turned his attention to the dog.
"You gave me away again, didn't you?" His voice held a reproachful tone, but Angel's actions belied his words as he crouched down next to Boo and gave him a good head-rub. He was always amazed at the dog's almost supernatural ability to discern whether a newcomer was a friend or foe to his mistress and they all had come to depend on Boo's instincts. It was one of the reasons Giles had finally allowed Willow to start bringing him to the library.
"He did that bouncing on his toes thing again." Willow giggled, as she put down the book.
"Can't get anything past you, can we, boy?" With a final pat, Angel stood up again and took a seat across the table from Willow. "Where is everyone?"
"Giles and Faith are out on patrol and Cordelia is having dinner with her folks. They'll be here soon. Did you like your presents?"
"Very much." he grinned at her. "Thanks for the book and the cake."
"You're welcome." Willow got a blissful expression on her face, which Angel had come to think of her "I've done something to make someone happy" face. In the past four years, he had learned many of Willow's expressions and he had titles for each one. This was one of his favorites.
"What are you reading?" he asked, gesturing at the book.
"Giles is letting me look at the Watcher's Diaries..... finally." Willow grinned widely.
"Really? How'd you talk him into it?"
"I pointed out that I probably know more about the undead than most people in the Council."
"You probably do, too." Giles commented, as he and Faith entered the library. Both stopped to pet Boo before heading to their accustomed seats. "Happy Birthday, Angel."
"Thank you." Angel nodded. "And thank you for the album."
"What he means is," Faith interjected "thanks for giving me a relic that I can't use because I don't have the right equipment, and who wants to listen to a bunch of psychos who only know three chords, anyway?"
"Angel has a record player." Willow protested.
"And I'll have you know that the artists I favor are quite technically skilled and have very few, if any, psychological issues–unlike many of today's so-called ‘musicians.'" As the friendly debate continued, Giles began flipping through a stack of mail. He picked up one letter, looked at it for a moment in surprise, then handed it to Willow, saying "This one's for you." With a puzzled look on her face, Willow took the envelope and opened it quickly. Faith and Giles continued to argue the relative merits of their favorite bands, but Angel tuned them out to watch Willow. As she read the letter, all color left her cheeks and she looked like she was going to be ill.
"Willow, is everything all right?" he asked, interrupting Faith in mid-sentence.
"It..... this is from Xander." she murmured. This shut the others up in a hurry.
"What?" Giles reached over and plucked the letter from Willow's trembling hand. He scanned it quickly, then handed it back to her. "I can't read a word of it. Xander always did have horrid handwriting."
"He says.... he..... "
"Why don't you read it to us." Angel suggested, gently.
"Uh.... okay." Willow swallowed in an attempt to dislodge the lump that had formed in her throat, then began to read slowly. "‘Dear Willow, I'm sending this to Giles at the library because I assume that you're long gone from Sunnydale. You're probably off at college somewhere, having a great time and I'm sure you've tried to forget about all that craziness we experienced in high school, just as Buffy and I have. That's right–I said Buffy and I. I found her about three weeks after I left Sunnydale and we've been together ever since. I guess that's a pretty good intro for the biggest piece of news I have for you–Buffy and I were married six months ago. We're both incredibly happy and I hope you'll be happy for us.'" Willow stopped as Cordelia breezed into the room.
"Hey guys." She
dropped her purse on the circulation desk and walked to the space between
Giles and Faith. She planted a quick kiss on the Slayer's lips, then
looked around at the others. Noticing their somber faces, she
sighed. "What's wrong now?"
"Willow got a letter from Xander." Faith said.
"Just now." Giles replied. Cordelia slowly sat down in the seat that he pulled out for her and Willow re-read the first part of the letter for her benefit. "‘.....I hope you'll be happy for us. Willow, I know that I promised you that I would come back to Sunnydale, but when I found Buffy, she couldn't handle the idea and I couldn't handle leaving her. Now that we've had a chance to live in the real world, neither of us wants to go back to the way things were. I'm sure you know what I mean–I bet you still remember the exact moment when you realized that there was a world where you didn't have to worry about dying at least once a week.... a world where you didn't have to carry a stake and cross every time you went outside at night and where the scariest monsters you had to deal with were on movie screens. Wasn't it a great feeling? Anyway, I hope life is treating you well and I hope you don't feel any kind of guilt about everything that happened. I know you and Giles tried to find us–heck, for all I know you're still trying–and that you've probably told yourselves that if you'd said or did just the right thing, events might have turned out differently or we might not have left. Please don't. All that stuff happened for a reason and, even if I could, I wouldn't change a minute of it. We did what we had to do, as I'm sure you've done, and things have turned out for the best. If you're still in touch with Giles, would you please tell him that I wrote you and tell him that Buffy and I won't come back to Sunnydale, so there's no real point in him looking for us anymore. If anyone can convince him to back off, I know you can. I guess that's all I really have to say. Buffy wants me to add that she says hello. We both miss you and love you and, God willing, we hope to be able to see you again some day. Until then, we hope you have a happy life. Take care of yourself. Love Xander.'"
"I don't believe this." Faith muttered, when Willow was finished.
"Neither do I." the redhead responded. The flat tone in her voice sent chills down Angel's spine. "Are you okay?" she asked, looking at him.
"I'm fine. Buffy married Xander..... that's....."
"Weird." Cordelia declared. "That's just plain weird."
"What about you?" Angel asked, looking closely at Willow. "Are you all right?"
"I'll be fine." Willow sighed. "This is just..... a shock."
"Yeah, who'd have thought that Buffy would end up with *Xander*?" Cordelia rolled her eyes. "I mean, I always thought she had more taste than that."
"Didn't you used to date him?" Faith asked, sweetly.
"I plead temporary insanity." Cordelia shot back. "Seriously, Willow, are you okay? I know you used to have a thing for Xander...."
"Oh, I got over that around about the time I caught you two making out in the utility closet." Willow waved her hand, indifferently. "I guess I'm just surprised at their.... attitude."
"They do seem to be rather casual about things, don't they?" Giles grimaced. Willow stood up and began pacing. Boo also rose and followed his mistress around.
"That's a nice way of putting it. They don't seem to give a damn about what happened to us after they left. I mean, Angelus, Dru, and Spike were running around killing people, but, they got away, so ‘things have worked out for the best' right? Oh! Sorry, Angel, that didn't quite come out the way I meant it to...."
"It's okay." he assured her. "Maybe they found out that you restored my soul.......?"
"How? They certainly didn't call and ask me or Giles..... or anyone else for that matter.... I mean, Willie promised he'd contact us if he heard from them, right? So did Mrs. Summers. How would they know that you're back? Or that you staked Spike and Dru? They just assume that we're alive and okay."
"That's probably the
only way they can live with themselves." Giles said, his voice gentle.
"It's too hard for them to face the reality that they left us, even though
they knew what kind of danger we were in. They have to tell
themselves we're all right, in order to sleep at night."
"Obviously they don't feel *too* guilty. Otherwise, they would have come back a long time ago." Willow pointed out.
"I personally like the fact that they just assume that Giles would still be working as the high school librarian." Faith snickered.
"I *am* still the high school librarian." he reminded her.
"But would you still be here, if it wasn't for me?"
"Yes, I would. I'm needed here."
"How come Xander didn't ask about me?" Cordelia's voice held the tiniest hint of a whine.
"They probably think that you got the hell out of Dodge as soon as possible." Faith replied.
"Yeah, I bet they can't conceive of the notion that some of us might not run at the first available opportunity." Willow practically spit her words out. "Xander went on and on about how great it is not to have to be in Sunnydale.... I guess he just thought I'd share his feelings...."
"Do you regret staying here?" The words were out of his mouth before Angel could stop himself. He had often wondered this, but had never asked because he was afraid to hear her answer.
"No." Willow shook her head vehemently. "I'm glad I stayed. I'm angry.... I'm angry because Xander seems to feel that everything that happened–including the stuff that happened before you.... uh....."
"Became Angelus." he prompted
"Yeah, well, it's like none of that matters. He and Buffy just want to forget that Slayers and vampires and Sunnydale ever existed. They've gone off and made their own lives and the rest of us don't matter." She paused for a moment, and hung her head. "I guess what really bothers me about this is that I always had this hope.... deep in my heart..... that they'd come back....." When she looked up again, Angel saw tears standing in her eyes. "Why won't they come back?" she whispered, then collapsed into a heap on the floor. Angel rushed to her side and held her as she cried.
The library was silent except for Willow's sobs and Angel silently cursed Buffy and Xander–not for leaving, but for writing the letter and dashing Willow's hopes. It broke his heart to see Willow hurting this way and to know that there was nothing he could do to make it better. On the other hand, he was glad that Willow had finally gotten these things off her chest. He could see that they had been building for some time and had been slowly eating her from the inside out. He believed her when she said that she didn't regret staying in Sunnydale, but he also understood that she resented that she hadn't really been given a choice. While others might have argued that she could leave at any time, those who knew Willow knew that she would never leave someone to get through danger on their own.
Willow's sobs finally subsided and she slowly lifted her head off of Angel's shoulder, only to discover that Boo had put his head in her lap, effectively pinning her legs. "I... I'm sorry." she sniffed. "I shouldn't have gone off like that....."
"It's quite all right." Giles interrupted her, tossing a box of tissues to Angel. "In fact, I'm surprised that you haven't done something like this already. It's not healthy to keep this kind of thing bottled up, you know?"
"Yeah, I know." Willow blew her nose and swiped at her eyes.
"Feel better?" Angel asked as he stroked her hair.
"Yeah. Sorry about your shirt....."
"Willow, it's water.... it's not like there's going to be a stain...." Willow chuckled weakly and Angel gave her a hug. "Now, come on. I'm going to take you home so you can get some rest. You look exhausted."
Cordelia and Faith shared an apartment with Willow, so they ended up taking her home–after they spent several minutes trying to pry Boo off of her lap. When the girls were gone, Angel turned to Giles and noted, with concern, how tired the Watcher looked.
"You know, Willow's not the only one who needs some sleep." he said.
"I know, I know." Giles rubbed his face. "I'm not sure I'm going to get any, though."
"Are you all right?" Angel asked, carefully. He and Giles had slowly, but surely, managed to repair their relationship over the past four years and Angel hated having to remind the man of a time when they hadn't been friends.
"I will be." Giles sighed. "Willow's not the only one who harbored hopes that Xander and Buffy would return someday....."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really. I do, however, think I'm going to go home and get staggeringingly drunk."
"Whatever works." Angel smirked.
least tomorrow's Saturday, so I'll have time to sleep it off before patrol."
The Watcher stood and began to collect his things. "Good night....
and Happy Birthday, Angel."
Later that evening, Angel sat in his apartment and thought about everything that had happened. Xander's letter bothered him and he was trying to put his finger on the exact reason why. It wasn't the revelation that Buffy and Xander were married–he had accepted the fact that Buffy would move on with someone else, eventually, and he was actually rather glad she had chosen to make a life with Xander. Xander already knew her deepest, darkest secret and accepted her for the person she was, which was something Buffy desperately needed. He also didn't share Willow's feelings of abandonment–after all, when they had last seen one another, he had tried to kill Buffy–but he could sympathize with them. He decided that his real problem was with the insensitivity of the letter itself. It was obvious that Xander and Buffy had given very little thought to the people they had left behind. If they had, they probably wouldn't have chosen the words they did–in fact, they probably wouldn't have written to Willow at all.
As they always did these days, Angel's thoughts turned to Willow. He had long since admitted to himself that he was hopelessly in love with her, but he had not revealed this to anyone else–especially not to Willow herself. Memories of his doomed relationship with Buffy combined with guilt over his actions as Angelus, kept him silent. Plus, there was the little matter of the fact that she only saw him as a friend. As he thought about her breakdown that evening, Angel renewed his vow to be the best friend to her that he could possibly be. After all, he thought as he glanced at the half-eaten cake sitting on the table, wasn't she the best friend anyone could have?
"*Buffy*?" Cordelia's eyes were wide with shock. "Oh my God.... I don't believe this is happening......"
"You're not the only one." Buffy muttered. "Hey, Cordy."
"*You're* Buffy???" The stranger looked at her, disbelief all over her face. She turned to Cordelia and added "I can't believe you all made such a big deal about *her*."
"Who are you?" Buffy asked, irritated.
"I'm Faith." the girl smirked. "The Vampire Slayer."
"The what?" Buffy's blood ran cold. "What happened to Kendra?"
"Okay, I think that maybe we should have this conversation elsewhere..." Cordelia interjected. "Buffy, we just need to get something at Lord & Taylor's, then we'll take you to the library, okay?"
"I have my car." Buffy said. "And you can pick up the dress some other time. Let's go."
"Wait a second....." Faith's face darkened with anger. "How did you know.... have you been following us?"
"I heard you talking at lunch." Buffy admitted without a trace of remorse. "And here, too. But I know I didn't hear right, though. Willow can't be marrying *Angel*, can she?"
"Oh, we really should not be having this conversation here." Cordelia groaned.
"You're right." Buffy sighed. "I'm going to go call Xander and I'll meet you in the parking lot. I'm not quite clear on directions....."
"Oh." Cordelia said. "Okay. Come on, Faith." Without another word, the two girls hurried out of the store.
"We should call Giles and give him a heads up." Faith whispered to Cordelia, once Buffy was out of earshot.
"I've got my cell phone in the car." Cordelia replied. "I hope he has some ideas on how to deal with this, ‘cause I sure as hell don't....."
"Me neither." Faith
shook her head. "Why couldn't she have stayed away for one more day....?"
When Angel arrived at the library, it was empty. This wasn't a surprise–it was, after all, four o'clock on a Friday afternoon. Giles was most likely at the weekly staff meeting and Willow didn't get off work until five. He decided to start searching for a particular book of prophecy and, thus, was far back in the stacks when Faith and Cordelia entered the room. Before Angel realized what was happening, the two girls were on the steps, making out furiously. Angel decided to allow them a few moments of privacy and slipped back into the shadows, unseen by either girl.
He grinned when he thought of the two–who would have ever thought that Cordelia would end up madly in love with *Faith*? When the Slayer first arrived in town, she had carried a chip on her shoulder that was roughly the size of the island of Manhattan and enough emotional baggage to fill a good-size bus. Giles had once confided that he was worried that she might be tempted to abuse her powers. She and Cordelia had disliked each other on sight and had taken to bickering at every opportunity. Later on, Willow had told him that Cordelia's relationship with Xander had started in much the same way. As time went on, Faith had finally come to trust, then care about the small group of people who defended Sunnydale against the forces of darkness. She and Cordelia had tentatively embarked on a romance about a year after her arrival. They had been together ever since and Angel credited the former cheerleader with providing the Slayer with the sense of stability and the unconditional love she so desperately needed.
Angel was brought back to the present by the sound of voices. He made his way towards them again, only to stop again when he heard the personal nature of the conversation.
"..... feel so good." Faith was murmuring.
"So do you." Cordelia cooed. "But, we are in a public place and Giles will be back soon."
"So what?" the Slayer pouted. "It's not like he hasn't seen us before....."
"He's seen us kissing. He's never seen us in various stages of undress. Now get up, so I can fix my makeup." Angel breathed a sigh of relief. He decided to give them a few minutes to get decent, before he made his presence known.
"What time is Willow getting here?" Faith asked.
"I don't know. She said something about stopping off at Angel's first."
"She said that she had to talk to him about something." Angel checked his watch and debated whether or not he had time to make it back to his place before Willow got off work.
"What is *wrong* with that girl?" Faith was incredulous. "I mean, he's smart, single, and oh-so-fine.... and all she wants to do is go over there to *talk*?"
"I said that's what she's going to do..... I didn't say that's what she *wants* to do."
"Oh really?" Both Faith and Angel's interests were piqued. "Do tell."
"What's to tell?" Cordelia looked askance at Faith. "You know how Willow feels about him..."
"No, *you* know how Willow feels about him. Every time I bring up the subject, she changes it. So dish the dirt, girlfriend."
"Oh man, I really shouldn't have said anything...." Cordelia squirmed, uncomfortably.
"Well you did, now c'mon..... spill!"
"Okay, but you have to promise me that you're not going to mention this to either Willow or Angel. She'll kill me if she finds out I told you and God knows what she'd do if he found out....."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You don't have to worry about me. So, Willow has a thing for Angel, huh?"
"It's more serious than that. She's been in love with him for God knows how long." Angel reeled from this revelation.
"Does he know?" The girls continued to talk, completely oblivious to the vampire's presence.
"God, no. Listen, you have to promise me that you're not going to say a word to him, okay?"
"I promise." Faith's voice became serious. "I don't get it, though. They'd be *perfect* for each other..... why doesn't she tell him?"
"Lots of reasons."
Cordelia shrugged. "She's afraid of being rejected...... she thinks
he's still in love with Buffy...... she doesn't want to ruin their friendship......
you know Willow. She's got about as much self-esteem as
"She certainly is Little Miss Inferiority Complex, isn't she?" Faith agreed. "I wish we could help...."
"Whatever it is you're thinking, don't."
"At least tell me this.... is Angel still hung up on Buffy?"
"I have no idea. Angel doesn't exactly confide in me, you know."
"Well, what do you think?"
"It's hard to say...." Cordelia said, thoughtfully. "Angel and Buffy's relationship was incredibly..... intense, I guess is the right word. They couldn't keep their hands off of each other, no matter how hard..... uh.... certain people tried to break them up. But it seemed like they were fighting every other day...... Buffy would go spastic if Angel talked to another girl and he'd go off in a corner and brood if she went to a party without him. On top of that, you had that whole ‘I'm the Slayer and you're a vampire' thing happening. On the one hand, there was the lure of the forbidden and on the other, it has to have been difficult for them to deal with their instincts...."
"I can see that." Faith nodded. "So, where was Willow during all this?"
"She was doing the best friend routine. She was also pining after Xander who was completely oblivious. He was either chasing after Buffy or doing his best to get past first base with me."
"Okay, that makes sense. But it's been six years.... surely Angel's over Buffy by now...."
"Not necessarily." Cordelia shook her head. "You'd have to have met Buffy to understand this, but she's one of those people who.... I don't know..... makes sure that you'll never forget her, you know what I mean? She makes herself the center of your life and then, when she leaves, it's impossible to just go on like before."
"I got you." Faith sighed. "Poor Willow."
"Yeah, she's never gonna get the nerve to say anything to Angel because she's afraid of being compared to Buffy."
"How is it he doesn't know about this?"
"You know guys.....
they should all have the word ‘dense' tattooed on their foreheads."
Both girls giggled, then the conversation ended abruptly as Giles returned
from his meeting. Angel slipped out through the back door and stood
in the sewer for a minute, trying to absorb everything he had just heard.
Willow was in love with *him*? When had that happened? How
had he not seen the signs? What on Earth was he going to do now?
Looking down at the book that was still in his hands, Angel realized that
this was neither the time or place to figure this out. Putting his
"Cryptic Guy" face firmly in place, he re-entered the building. Willow
arrived a few minutes later and the group embarked on that night's research.
"Hey, kid." Angel nearly jumped when Whistler sat down next to him. He had been in the park for several hours, simply staring at the stars and thinking about Willow.
"Whistler." the vampire nodded at the demon, then asked "What are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you too." Whistler pulled a genuine New York pretzel out of a paper bag, handed it to Angel, then pulled out another one for himself. Angel noted that the pretzel was still warm, but didn't bother to ask how Whistler had managed to accomplish the feat.
"Thanks." He took a bite, then turned to look at his old friend. "What are you doing here?"
"As usual," Whistler said as he chewed thoughtfully "I am here to help you pull your life together." Again, Angel didn't bother to question how the demon knew about this latest upheaval in his life.
"What do I do?"
"What do you want to do?"
"I want.... I want to go find her right now, take her someplace where there is no Hellmouth and I want to spend the rest of her life making sure that she's never hurt or lonely or sad......." Whistler nodded, but said nothing. "I want to tell her that I love her.... I want to hear her say she loves me..... I want to tell her that she's the most beautiful creature I've ever seen and I want to feel her hands exploring my body...... I want to meet her parents and stand beside her when we're pronounced man and wife...... God, I want to pick out china patterns and baby furniture with her."
"Okay. What's stopping you?" Angel sat up straight and turned to look at Whistler.
"You're kidding me, right?" His voice was full of anger. "There's no way I can do any of that stuff."
"Why not?" Whistler's voice was maddeningly reasonable.
"I'm a vampire, remember?"
"I'm well aware of your membership in Club Undead, kid. You're a vampire, she's a mortal. It's been done before. *You've* done it before."
"Yeah, and look how well that turned out."
"Your problems with the Slayer had nothing to do with the fact that she was a mortal."
"Oh, please enlighten me." Angel used his most sarcastic tone of voice.
"Your problems stemmed from her career, your super-size pity party, and the fact that neither of you knew how to act like reasonably mature adults." Angel opened his mouth to protest, then remembered Cordelia's all-too-accurate description of his relationship with Buffy. "What else?"
"Well there is the fact that I tried to kill her...."
"I thought she forgave you for that."
"She did, but....."
"But nothing. What else?" Whistler's steady gaze was unnerving.
"Dammit, Whistler!"Angel nearly shouted. "Willow deserves some nice guy who can give her a house with a white picket fence..... someone who can take her on long walks in the middle of the day..... someone who can give her children and can grow old with her....."
"All that may be true," the demon's voice remained calm "but she's in love with you. You can give her the fence and long walks–although I grant you, without sunlight–and as for kiddies, you're not the first guy whose needed some outside help in that department."
"But.... but, she's *Willow*." Angel sputtered.
"And you're Angel." Whistler chuckled. "Listen, kid. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that life is short–even if you're undead. We both know that you can be happy without posing a threat to yourself or others, so why not take the opportunity that's been handed to you on a silver platter? Forget all this ‘I deserve, she deserves' crap. In the end, it's pointless. Your soul will be judged based on what you did during your life, not what you gave up because you felt to guilty to grab a little bit of joy. I can pretty much guarantee that being in love is not going to mess you up with the powers that be." Angel's jaw moved as he tried to come up with another ojection. Whistler grinned and, without another glance, stood up and began to walk away. Angel stared at the ground for a moment, then looked up to thank the demon. As usual, Whistler had vanished into thin air, leaving no trace that he had ever been there, except for the half-eaten pretzel in the vampire's hand.
Slowly, Angel began
to walk back to his apartment. By the time he crawled into bed, he
had decided to take Whistler's advice. As he drifted off to sleep,
he began to make plans.
(February, 2004 - Valentine's Day)
Angel slipped in through
the back entrance and quickly glanced around the library. Luckily
for him, Giles was the only one in the room. The Watcher was seated
at the table, absently stirring a cup of tea and turning pages in
a book at the same time. Angel slipped out from behind the stacks and nervously cleared his throat.
"Oh! Hello, Angel." Giles barely raised his head to acknowledge the vampire's presence. "I'll be right with you....." Angel sat down and waited in silence until Giles finished the passage he had been reading. The Watcher finally closed the book and put it aside. "Now, what brings you here so early?"
"I need to talk to you..... about Willow."
"Really? Is something wrong?" Giles instantly became more alert.
"Oh no." Angel hastened to assure him. "I just have some questions, that's all."
"Does she still keep in touch with her parents? I know that they drifted apart after she graduated high school....."
"Yes, her decision to pursue her academic career here in Sunnydale, rather than in an Ivy League institution, caused a great deal of friction in their relationship." Angel nodded.
"So.... would you say that we're her..... family? Or the closest thing to her family?"
"I'd say that, yes." Giles nodded. "Angel, why are you asking this?"
"That would make you the closest thing she has to a father, right?" Angel peered intently at the Watcher.
"I suppose so.... Angel, what's going on?"
"I'd like your permission to court Willow."
"You want my what to do *what*?"
"Hey Xand, it's me."
"Buffy! How's my favorite girl?"
"Not good. You need to get to the library as soon as possible."
"Why? I thought we weren't going to make our presence known until after the end of the semester."
"Plans have changed. I ran into Cordelia at the mall..... and she wasn't alone. She was hanging with this chick who looks like she just walked out of ‘Mercenary Life.' She claims she's a Slayer..... but that's not the problem."
"Apparently Willow..... our Willow..... is getting married..... to Angel."
"I'll be there as soon
as I can."
"Giles, it's me."
"Faith! I'm glad you called. I need you and Cordelia to...."
"Save it, G. We've got a serious situation."
"Cordelia and I ran into someone at the mall..... are you sitting down?"
"Who was it?"
"Are you sitting down?"
"Yes, yes. I'm sitting down. Now who did you see?"
"Buffy. Giles? You there?"
"Yes, just let me.... I need to sit down."
"Are you sure it was Buffy?"
"Cordelia is. Anyway, she's coming with us to the library and she called Xander. Giles... she knows about the wedding."
"Oh, good Lord....."
"We'll be there in about fifteen minutes."
"All right. I'm going to call Angel..... Do we know when Willow is getting back?"
"Uh.... hold on, let me check. Cordy says that her plane lands at six."
"Good. I don't
want to involve her unless it's necessary. I'll see you when you
"Angel? It's Rupert Giles. I need you to get to the library as soon as possible."
"Giles, if this is for some sort of bachelor party thing, can it wait until I've had eight hours of sleep?"
"No, it's not..... Faith just called. Buffy and Xander have apparently returned. Angel? Angel? Are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here. Did you just say that Buffy and Xander....."
"..... are back. Yes, that's what I said. Buffy knows about the wedding."
"My thoughts exactly. Will you come?"
"As soon as I can."