Playground of Tears
"I know I will see a light when the dawn finally comes. The cool white light of the moon shining forever in a starry universe that goes on forever, or the warm light of the sun, burning brillantly in a sky all its own, a sky that lasts only a day.
I know I will either
live or die.
I wish I could say which it will be."
It was the first day of summer vacation, the day after her graduation from high school, marking her entrance into adulthood, that Willow found out she was going to die.
Willow woke up feeling unburdened for the first time in as long as she could remember. Willow had made a promise to herself that she was going to do everything she could to enjoy the last summer of her childhood- a summer where there was nothing for her to concentrate on but having fun and nothing to look forward to but the next day of freedom. Sure, she'd be going off to MIT in the fall, and she'd be separated from some of her lifelong friends for the first time ever, but now, on the first day of vacation, with the whole summer before her, Willow couldn't even imagine that time. There was too much free time in front of her to allow herself to become depressed over what the future was bringing. As a wise girl had once told her, you only live once so Carpe Diem.
Willow smiled to herself as she remembered Buffy's words. It had taken awhile but Willow no longer felt the crushing weight of despair that used to accompany her thoughts of Buffy. She still missed her friend terribly, but she didn't allow herself to wallow in depression over the slayer's indefinite absence from her life. They'd tried as hard as they could to track Buffy down, but it had done no good. It was just over a year since the slayer had disappeared that fateful night, and there was still no hint as to her whereabouts. Wherever Buffy had run off to, it was clear she didn't want to be found. Not a day went by that Willow didn't think about her friend, whether in reminiscence over some shared memory, or sadness and empathy over the pain her friend was going through, a pain which kept her away from all those who loved and wanted to help her. However, despite all obstacles and seeming impossibilities, life had gone on in Sunnydale without the slayer. Willow's own life had changed so drastically, but one thing remained the same- her blinding optimism that, one day, Buffy would be back. No matter how long it took for Buffy to gain the strength and the courage she needed to face her personal demons, Willow knew it would happen, and they'd eventually be reunited.
Pushing her thoughts aside, Willow hopped out of the bed with renewed enthusiasm- and quickly found herself doubled over. Pain as sharp as a knife blade cut through her midsection, making her feel as if she was being gutted open. The pain chewed its way through her abdomen, till it found it's way to the ball of nerves in her lower back. It was the same pain Willow had been having on and off for about two months, and she knew from experience that it helped if she bent over and allowed the pain to work it's way through her system. After a few minutes the pain had subsided to a dull throb, and Willow was able to stand up again.
Anger flashed through the usually mild mannered girl. No, Willow thought, I will not be sick during my summer vacation. I will not let some little pain get in the way of the summer-o-fun I have planned. The fun-a-thon starts today and nothing is going to stand in my way from taking part in it.
Willow stood in front of her full-length mirror hanging against her bedroom door and grinned triumphantly at her image. Raising her hands above her head, Willow snapped her fingers and swayed her hips from side to side. "Think positive, Will. Remember- you have your whole life ahead of you." Smiling at her own cornyness, Willow grabbed her robe and skipped happily downstairs, the pain of only moments ago lost in the recesses of memory.
Willow stopped skipping when she reached the kitchen, only to find Xander seated at her kitchen table, indulging himself in a plate of doughnuts situated in the center of the table. "Morning Will, or should I say afternoon. I was wondering if you were ever gonna get up. I've been waiting here a full ten minutes."
Willow glared playfully at Xander. "Ooh, ten minutes, how ever did you keep yourself occupied?"
Xander ignored the sarcasm rolling off her tongue. "Well, luckily I know where you keep the spare key and was able to get in and help myself to a little late breakfast cause that slop Giles fed us last night was none too filling. Seriously, we're gonna have to explain to Bookman the importance of having both chips and dip at any good party. I went to bed with an empty stomach and woke up with it even emptier, if possible. I was beginning to empathize with Deadboy and his bloodthirsty needs. Never was I so happy to see a doughnut."
Willow chuckled over Xander's hyperboles, then decided to chastise him. "How many times have I told you not to call him that. He has a name and I'd appreciate it if you'd call him by it. After all, he's as much my friend as you are, and all my friends must treat each other with equal respect. Besides, I think he's worked hard enough at repenting for all he's done that he doesn't deserve to be treated as an outcast among his friends. Last time I checked, he'd saved your butt a few times." Willow was too busy searching the fridge for something mildly healthy to eat to catch Xander's eye rolling.
"Oh come on, Will.
It's summer vacation. I don't need another dissertation on Dea… Angel's
attributes. It's bad enough you're making me
spend our first day of vacation with him, but do you have to turn it into a Soulboy love-fest as well."
Willow turned around
sharply, her fingers pressed to her lips as she shushed him. "Be
quiet, I don't want him to hear you being so negative.
For all we know he's up and listening to every bad thing you say about him and retreating further and further into that shell I spent months trying so hard to get him out of, so cut it out."
Xander opened his mouth in retort but was cut short by a third voice. "Aw, ease up Will, I'm beginning to feel sorry for the boy. Besides, I'd worry if he didn't try his best to take a dig at me. Might think he was fatally ill or something."
The tension in Willow's expression and shoulder's lightened immediately at the vampire's presence. Smiling, Willow walked over to give the vampire a quick kiss on the cheek before settling down in one of the kitchen chairs. "Morning Angel. I hope you slept well. Did the comforters block out all the sun alright?"
Angel dropped into the seat besides her, pointedly ignoring Xander. "It was fine Will. I'm just sorry I inconvenienced you by trapping myself here for the night. With all the celebrating last night I guess I lost track of time and didn't realize sunrise was coming on so fast."
Willow waved his apology away with the wave of her hand. "Angel, we discussed this all last night- or this morning rather. My parents went out of town directly after the ceremony, and with their room free it was really no bother, so please don't apologize every chance you get. It's not the first or the last time you're gonna end up crashing at my place so relax." Willow stopped her babbling at the look Xander was giving her- a combination of shock and revulsion. Blushing, she broke off a corner of a doughnut to flick at him. "Oh cut it out Xander, you know I didn't mean staying over that way."
Xander couldn't help the feeling of nausea that swept through him at the mental image of his Willow and Deadboy getting to know each other in the biblical sense. Shuddering, Xander tried to push the image away. As close as Angel and Willow had grown since she'd restored his soul and rescued him from Hell, neither had ever given any hint to their relationship being more than strictly platonic. No reason for him to allow his imagination to go places he so did not want it to go.
Willow watched the play of emotions across Xander's face, knowing he was allowing his imagination to run wild. Willow could feel the heat of her flushed cheeks as her eyes dropped down and flickered to the sides to watch Angel out of the corner of her eye. She desperately hoped he would change the subject, cause even jokingly this line of conversation was getting way too close to reality for comfort.
Willow felt her heartbeat
quicken as she took in the sight of Angel. It didn't matter that
she saw him just about every day- each time she looked at him, really looked
at him, it was like a shock to her senses. A sweet throb would fill
her chest, somewhere between pleasurable sweetness and a painful aching,
whenever she saw him. It wasn't just his outlaw good looks, though
that was part of it. She loved his sable soft brown hair, which always
managed to look perfectly tousled and spiked, as if he'd just gotten up
and left it as is, though in reality the look must have taken time to perfect.
His eyes were alternatively warm and intense. Whenever Willow looked
into them she felt as if she was falling into the unfathomable chasm of
his soul. Then there was the chiseled features of his face.
He was a study in planes and angles, with a body that could crush you and
keep you safe all at the same time. He was, without exception, the
best looking guy Willow had ever laid eyes upon, but none of that was what
finally drew Willow to him, what made her want to spend every waking and
sleeping moment close to him. It was something inside of him that
drew her soul unwittingly towards his. He was mysterious and compelling,
a bruised child she wanted to shelter with her love, his pain and his suffering
a burden she instinctively wanted to share. The fact that she was
in love with him was something she had accepted unquestioningly long ago.
Of course, he didn't have any idea how deeply she felt for him- at least,
she prayed he didn't. The last thing she
needed was to be rejected by another guy still in love with her best friend. Willow wasn't foolish enough to entertain the idea that Angel could ever feel anything more towards her than friendship.
Shaking herself out
of her reverie, hoping her lapse into thoughtful silence hadn't been noticed
by either guy. She sneaked a quick glance at
Angel and was relieved to find he seemed oblivious to her open stares of only moments ago. Instead, his attention was being detained by Xander, who was pontificating on the values of not going bronzing tonight of all nights when the whole world was their oyster, so to speak. He spoke around bites of doughnuts, so most of his words ended up being lost in a slur of chewing which caused both Angel and Willow to chuckle quietly behind their hands. The crumbs falling from Xander's mouth as he went on and on were leaving a mess of Willow's kitchen table, but Xander was oblivious, which made Willow laugh harder. As Willow looked from Xander's obliviously messy eating habits to the smile dancing ion Angel's lips and in his eyes, her heart began to swell with warm affection for the two men in her life. Sometimes she was so overcome with love for the two of them it made it difficult for her to breathe. She didn't know what she would do without them in her life.
She was particularly grateful for the new friendship she had formed with Angel. It had begun when she had returned him from hell, risking her life and soul to save a man she had always had tentative relationship with. There had existed a small deal of affection between them, he as her best friend's true love and her own repeated rescuer, her as the best friend of the woman he loved and the only one in Sunnydale who had befriended and accepted him despite his demonic nature. After his return, a bond as unbreakable as any formed by blood took hold of them. Their friendship had been a given, yet the love they soon began to feel for each other was not so obvious to either one. All they knew was that if they went a day without seeing the other, that day was lesser for it, and an ache would begin to claw at their hearts.
Willow, though not exactly an expert when it came to affairs of the heart, knew that the feelings she was developing towards Angel, the love that grew with each passing day she spent in his company, was unconditional and deep rooted. Whether the love he felt for her was as deep, going beyond the boundaries of friendship, Willow couldn't be sure, and apart of her was afraid to find out. She wasn't sure she could handle destroying their friendship if he found out how deep her feelings for him ran and he did not return the favor. Losing him, even if it was for a chance at something greater, scared her senseless and it was a risk Willow was not ready to take. And even if she was, she still wasn't sure she really wanted to go that far. Her loyalty to Buffy remained strong, and in a way Angel would always be Buffy's Angel. Despite the slayer's prolonged absence, Willow still thought of the vampire as belonging to her friend. He had never corrected her unvoiced thoughts in that regard. In fact, Angel hardly ever spoke to Willow of Buffy, despite their closeness and the endless other glimpses into his private most thoughts and emotions he'd often shared with her when they were alone. He could speak animatedly about his time in Hell with her, but Buffy was a topic both feared to approach.
Realizing Angel had turned and was no addressing her, Willow focused her attention once again. "I wasn't sure if you had anything planned, Will, but I was thinking perhaps you guys would like to get out of town for a few days, a kind of semi-vacation. LA isn't too far from here and I still have the apartment from when I was living there a few years ago. I figured maybe if you guys wanted to ditch the slaying duties for awhile we could all drive out there tonight and spend a week or so in the City."
Willow gave Xander a sideways glance and found him with his head cocked to the side, considering the offer. The fact that he could even consider it considering the intense dislike he and Angel had once harbored for each other was a testament to just how much they had changed. The uneasy alliance they had formed for the sake of Willow's sanity and as a way for them both to remain in her life was slowly giving way to a delicate friendship. It was a result Willow found much pleasing. Waiting for her childhood friend to voice his opinion, Willow rose from the table to search her fridge for orange juice. Suddenly her throat felt unusually dry.
Willow smiled as she heard Xander's fervent agreement to the suggested plans, and the image of a lazy, resplendent summer filled Willow's mind once again. There was so much she wanted to do, so many people she wanted to spend time with before she began to enter the new phase of her life that college would bring, and now, on this bright June day, anything seemed possible. Eternal summer stretched before her, hot and warm like the sun and smelling like salty sea air and late night bonfires. Three months of freedom and lazy enjoyment. Had three months of summer ever seemed so much like forever to her before?
Willow reached into the cool icebox and secured her hands around the juice container. As she lifted the cardboard to her lips, Willow voiced her agreement with the plans. "We could visit Oz while we were there. He and Dingoes are playing some clubs there… and I haven't been to the beach in forev,,," her words were cut off as her pain constricted around the fiery ball of pain, stealing her breath.
She doubled over as
twist of pure agony tied up her insides, her fingers slipping from around
the juice container as it flew from her grasp. Her
vision went gray, then white before she collapsed onto the cool tiles of her kitchen floor.
"Willow!" Willow could hear Xander and Angel's voices crying out in panicked voices but she couldn't see them. She couldn't see anything.
"Willow, please answer me?" Now she felt strong hands on her arms which could only be Angel's. The edge of desperation in his tone didn't escape Willow, despite the black void of pain that was distorting her thought processes. If she hadn't known his voice as well as her own she might not have recognized it.
Willow forced gasping breaths of air into her starving lungs. After a few moments the pain began to subside and her vision slowly returned. Formless, colorless shapes began to gain definition and she realized that the massive forms looming before her were actually an extremely worried Xander and Angel.
As Willow rose to her feet, Xander pushed past Angel to be by Willow's side, offering her his arms as support as she struggled to gain control of her motor functions. "What happened, Willow?"
Willow leaned gratefully against Xander. "I'm not sure. I just… there was this pain. It's probably just cramps or something." Willow knew it wasn't cramps- she'd never been one of those girls who needed Midol just to function during her time of the month. However, she didn't want to have two worried guys barraging her with questions- and she definitely didn't want this to ruin their burgeoning plans.
"Weren't you having some sort of pain a couple of months ago? The one that was keeping you up at night. Is this the same kind of pain?" Angel's face was a mask of calm but his voice was strained and Willow could see the hint of fear in his eyes.
Willow hesitated before answering. In truth, the pain had never gone away though she had told Angel it had so he wouldn't worry. She would never have told him about it in the first place if she hadn't fallen asleep one night at the Mansion only to have herself wake up screaming in agony in the middle of the night. He'd stayed the rest of the night with her, just holding her and whispering soothing words as she tried to fight against the stabbing pain in her stomach that she knew could never be attributed to menstrual cramps. She debated whether now was the time to be completely honest with the, because in truth she was scared senseless. She'd tried to ignore it for the past two months, focusing her attention on the end of the school year, graduation, and the prom, but it was two months later and things were only getting progressively worse.
Fear made her decision
for her. "It's the same pain, but I really think it's nothing.
In fact, I was planning to go to the doctor sometime next
week. I'm due for my checkup anyway. It can wait till then." Willow turned hopeful eyes to Angel and found that his own were set in
determination. One look at Xander yielded the same picture.
"But… but, Giles is
expecting us soon. I promised him we'd stop by tonight. We
can't disappoint him, because… well, that's wrong. I never
break a promise I make."
Angel held his tongue,
about to point out that he himself had made a promise to never let anything
happen to Willow, which he wasn't about to
break. He kept quiet since he wasn't the best at vocalizing his emotions, and instead turned towards Xander. Reaching to accept the burden of
Willow's small body, Angel said "My car's in the driveway. I'll get Willow dressed and meet you outside in five minutes."
Xander relinquished his hold on Angel and gave a quick, terse nod. Now was not the time to argue, even if Deadboy was giving him orders like he was one of his minions. They needed to work together now and get Willow to the hospital where they could, hopefully, allay their fears as to what was wrong with her.
As the two men moved with succinct agility as they started fulfill their responsibilities, Willow found herself being semi-carried out of the room by a persistent Angel. Fury at being treated like a child swept through the fiery red head, and she yanked herself out of his arms with strength that surprised Angel but herself even more. Angel turned to find himself face to face with a very ticked off Willow. Her hands were clenched into fists at the sides of her hips, her face hardened with resolve. It was an expression he knew only too well, though it didn't deter him. Willow might be one of the most stubborn women he'd ever know when she got like this, but Angel was more than a match for her. And in this case, his resolution was as strong as steel.
"First of all, I'm
not a baby- I can dress myself. Second, I can make my own decisions.
If I don't want to go to the hospital, you can't make me.
I'm 18 now- that means I'm legally an adult and I have complete control over my own body. If I don't want to see a doctor, then I won't. And if I
decide I'd rather go to LA and deal with stupid pain without telling anyone then that's my business. I don't need to be protected anymore like a weak little child. I'm old and strong enough to look after myself."
Angel folded his arms
across his chest, waiting till Willow's tirade had come to an end.
"Are you done?" Though his face was as stony as ever,
there was a hint of amusement buried deep in his dark eyes. If the circumstances hadn't been so serious he would have allowed himself to fully
enjoy Willow's temper tantrum. He loved it when she got like this. Her eyes would flash with anger and the muscles in her jaw tightened. He could almost imagine the sparks singing the glorious red mane of her hair. If she beautiful usually, then her anger raised her to the levels of a vengeful goddess lit by the Eternal fire.
He watched Willow's entire body tense at the patronizing tone of his voice and he fought to hide back a chuckle. She looked exactly like a panther preparing to spring and claw the offending look out of his eyes. God, he loved that fire inside of her. Matching wits with her always made him feel more alive that any other time. However, this was not the time to bait her anger further. Changing his tone to one more likely to calm her rage, Angel began to plead. "Willow, please let us take care of you. If something is wrong, then it would be so much better if we catch it early. You don't want anything to happen to you because you were too stubborn to go to the doctor, do you? I promise this won't ruin our plans. You're probably right and it's nothing, but we're all gonna feel a lot better hearing that from the doctor, and once we do I swear we'll head right to LA and continue our vacation as planned. So, do we have a deal?"
Though Angel wasn't planning on taking no for an answer, he managed to make the last part seem like a question, as if Willow really did have an option in all of this. The truth was, he was scared enough of the pain he couldn't feel radiating off her like high frequency waves that he was going to drag her to the hospital if need be. For months he'd known she'd been in various states of pain. Whenever he was close to her and the pain opened its fist inside of her, he could feel it. But the times had been so infrequent, at least during his presence, that he'd always just assumed it was menstrual cramps, like she'd explained it away as. Now he was not so sure it was anything so simple, and he wasn't going to take a chance of losing her. If he lost her, his on true friend and… but no, he didn't even want to contemplate it, or what it would mean. He kept those fears locked up along with the rest of the conflicting emotions he often felt in Willow's presence. Now was not the time to deconstruct his feelings- there never was a good time for that.
was busy trying to formulate a plan to trick Angel into letting this visit
with the doctor slide, but one look at his face let her
know it was hopeless to argue. If she wanted to salvage any part of this day then it was probably best to just do what Angel and Xander wanted and then laugh at them when the doctor told them it was nothing more serious than gastroenteritis. Boy would she laugh and laugh at them. She really hoped she would have the opportunity to laugh at them.
Pushing aside such negative thoughts, Willow pushed past Angel and rushed up the stairs to her bedroom. She called out her agreement over her shoulder, adding as almost an afterthought. "But I can still dress myself, if you don't mind." Willow hadn't meant for her words to be anything more than expression of her annoyance, but if she had turned around she would have caught the quick telltale sign of lust that flared in Angel's eyes before he took control of himself and extinguished it. Dressing a naked Willow was definitely an image that would be seared into his mind for a very long time.
Even though Willow
had recently turned 18, she was still seeing her pediatric dentist, at
least until the summer was up and she relocated to
Boston. Her parents didn't seem to mind, and since Willow had been a patient of Dr. Walker's since before she was born, she felt more comfortable seeing him. Willow wouldn't admit it to anyone, lest they think her childish, but she actually liked the hand painted mural that dominated the waiting area. It's depictions of popular fairytale characters always reminded Willow of the Grimms Fairytale collection her father had gotten her for Hanukah when she was six years old. She still had the books on a shelf in her room, though now they shared equal space with the latest computer science texts and demonology lore she was more prone to reading nowadays. Still, every once in awhile Willow would take the books down from her shelf and read them before she went to bed, being careful not to damage the already worn bindings any further. The link they provided to her childhood was one Willow cherished, and the feelings carried over to her trust in Dr. Walker.
Luckily Thursday happened
to be Dr. Walker's late night, so even though it was well after nightfall,
he was still in his office seeing patients, and
when Xander, who was also a patient of his, explained the situation, he made sure Willow was put to the front of the waiting list. Ten minutes after their arrival, Willow was alone in Dr walker's office, seated on top of the examination table, being careful not to disturb the easily crinkled paper blanketing it.
Dr. Walker entered and after engaging in the usual pleasantries, proceeded in examining Willow's abdomen. "The pain is here, you say?" His fingers gentled prodded the skin directly below Willow's belly button.
"Yes, it starts there
and usually moves towards my back. I really think I just pulled a
muscle there or something, which would make sense cause I'm really quite
active and I started taking self-defense classes at the beginning of the
month. I'm well on my way to becoming a black belt, and I
just started getting into kick boxing. I bet my body just reacted badly to all those roundhouse exercises my trainer puts me through."
Dr Walker smiled distractedly
as Willow babbled on about her various hypotheses. As he moved his
fingers a fraction lower, then stopped, the
smile quickly evaporated, his face registering surprise. His brow furrowed in pensive consideration, and in that moment, Willow knew that it was nothing as simple as a strained muscle. The worry in his eyes was portent, and Willow felt a cold foreboding sweep through her body. Something very bad was happening, something that was going to change her life as she knew it. Suddenly the glorious stretch of her future diminished before her eyes. Forever didn't seem so long a time any longer.
Dr Walker began to
question her about her parent's whereabouts. Willow began to prattle
on about their long travel plans, explaining that her
guardian while they were away was one Rupert Giles, and if need be she could contact him and ask him to meet them at the office.
Dr Walker stepped back from Willow and began to scribble some notes in her chart. "No, that won't be necessary at the moment. You're 18 now so I really don't need to get an adult's permission for this. I'd like to conduct some further tests, if you're all right with that. I'll give the hospital a call and explain how I'm sending you over there, and I'll give you a written referral."
Willow physically blanched at the idea. "The hospital!! Right now!! What kind of tests are you ordering?"
Dr Walker placed a
comforting hand on Willow's shoulder though it did no good in slowing down
the active imagination of his patient. "Yes, right now. I really
would like to get this all taken care of as quickly as possible.
And I don't have the proper equipment to run these tests. They
can only be done at the hospital. I'm not going to lie to you, Willow. I'd like to get some x-rays taken, have some blood drawn, and then it's very
likely that you are going to need a CAT scan and an ERCP. Do you know what those procedures are?"
Willow gulped, nodding hesitantly. "I know what a CAT scan is, but… isn't an ERCP- is that where they have to stick a tube down my throat?"
Dr Walker confirmed her guess. "Yes, the tube will shoot some liquid into your pancreas which will then show up on the x-rays. Have you eaten anything in the last 24 hours?"
"I had a tiny piece of Xander's doughnut before coming here, but besides that, nothing since last night."
Dr walker smiled.
"Well, that certainly doesn't count. We can have the tests right now, and
I really do believe it's for the best to do this as
expediently as possible. The sooner we can narrow down the possibilities, the better. If you want, I can call your friends in here so you can let
them know where you're headed."
Willow stopped Dr Walker before he could open the door. "Wait. I need to know- Dr Walker, what exactly do you think is wrong with me? I mean, I know you're trying to protect me by not scaring me needlessly, but I do know that those examinations are pretty major. You wouldn't order them if you thought this was something simple, so, well, what are you thinking? Please tell me." She added when she saw his hesitation.
"Willow, I really don't
want to scare you needlessly, especially since I can't make any sort of
proper medical diagnosis without seeing the results
of these tests. Right now, anything I would say would be entirely speculation."
"I understand, but please tell me. You've been my doctor since before I was born. I trust your judgements."
A battle over his decision
raged in his eyes, until Dr walker relented, following the sympathy and
affection he had for this girl. "The symptoms
you've described to me, Willow, point to many different conclusions. In fact, some of them are unrelated to each other- the nausea, the headaches, the insomnia, the cramps… those symptoms don't typically manifest themselves all together, which is why making a diagnosis is difficult. However, I did feel something will I was examining your abdomen. Something that scared me, which is why I want to ascertain if what I felt is correct."
All of a sudden, Willow felt as if she couldn't breathe. She whispered her guess, not sure Dr walker could hear her until he responded.
"Yes, Willow. I felt a lump, which might, and I heavily emphasize the word might, be the signs of a tumor. I'm only telling you because I know what a sensible girl you are, and I hope you won't jump to any conclusions before I can see the test results and be sure. But you deserve to be prepared for what I feel to be the most luckily possibility." Dr walker exited the room then, giving Willow the time he knew she would need to allow the news to settle in.
Willow surprised herself
by not breaking down into tears. She supposed she was in shock, because
all she could think of was how ridiculous the possibility was. She
stared at the canisters of cotton balls and tongue depressors across the
room, her mind a jumble of hysterical, laughing
thoughts. Dr Walker had to be wrong. He had to be- after all, she was too young to have cancer. It was absurd if you really thought about it. She was young- her entire life was ahead of her. She was going to one of the most prestigious colleges in the fall, preparing for her career as a
world-renowned surgeon or perhaps a career in the computer science field, she wasn't sure what. But then, that was exactly the point- she didn't know what she was going to do with her life, but she had all the time in the world to figure it out, or at least she thought she did.
No, Dr Walker was most definitely wrong. It couldn't be anything near as serious as he suspected. Doctors were known to be wrong. Heck, hadn't it once been a well accepted belief among the medical profession that leaches cured just about any known illness. Sure, there'd been a lot of medical breakthroughs since that time, but nothing was perfect. That was one of the reasons she herself was considering the medical field- to hopefully make some new discovery, some new break through that could end up saving millions of people's lives. Buffy had her way of heroism, Willow hers. Laughing to herself, Willow straightened her clothing before Angel and Xander entered, fully convincing herself that this would all end in nothing. If she was going to be facing death after living her entire life on a Hellmouth, it certainly wasn't going to be from some normal, human sickness rather than a supernatural disaster. It was ridiculous for her to ever contemplate such possibilities.
Xander was the first to enter the room, bursting through the doorway with Angel following at a more sedate pace. The burden of terror he had felt at Willow's house, when he had seen her fall to the floor so suddenly had lifted during his period in the waiting room. Thumbing through back issues of time and Scholastic had helped renew Xander's equilibrium. How could anything seriously wrong be happening in this normal setting. Kids came here to receive checkups and lollipops, not to learn about their impending deaths. The scariest part of a visit with Dr Walker was always the inevitable flu shot. Willow was going to be all right, of that he was sure, because if she wasn't… no, it was so absurd, all fears were quickly banished from his rational mind. "So, Dr Walker said we could see you, but he was being way cryptic when I asked him what was wrong with you. Funny how I never knew he was a graduate of the Angel Medical School." A flash of annoyance across Angel's face didn't stop Xander from grinning as he rushed on. "So, what's the 411? Do we get to feed you lots of tea and soup, or is it your tonsils and I get to do a ice cream run, cause, personally, I could really go for some double chocolate fudge right now. Hey! Are you gonna need some personal attention for the next few days cause I'm thinking sponge bath. That I could definitely be of some assistance with."
Willow smacked Xander playfully against the side of his arm. "Could you get your mind out of the gutter for one second."
Xander tilted his head
as if considering the suggestion. "I could, but it's really quite
comfy down here. All the rest of the gutter men have
elected me King of the Gutter, and it's a position I'm not sure I want to relinquish just yet."
Willow's face lit with her laughter. She was very glad Xander was there. Just hearing his personal brand of humor was helping to keep her grounded in reality. Willow's eyes drifted over to the doorway as Angel stepped further into the room. His face was expressionless, a mask for his inner turmoil, but as their eyes locked, understanding seemed to flash between them. Without the insulating humor that existed between Willow and Xander, Angel was able to delve effortlessly into her soul through the portal of her eyes, seeking the information he desired. Willow wasn't sure what he found there, since she was doing her best to push any fear that refused to dispel deep inside of her, but his passive expression quickly melted into the brooding mask she was so used to seeing on his face, though not as often lately. He resembled the Angel of old, the one she had first met all those years ago, more now than ever.
Xander, oblivious to the unspoken exchange being conducted over his shoulder, continued with his lighthearted questioning. "Well, Wills, what did Dr walker say? Are we free to leave, cause this place gives me the creeps. Funny how I can hang out in cemeteries with ease yet a doctors office can turn me into a babbling idiot." Xander, noticing Willow's inattention to what he was saying, threw the last line in as a temptation for her to pick up the banter they so often engaged in.
Willow, who was trying hard to break away from Angel's penetrating gaze, ignored the easy comeback she knew Xander was waiting for and tried to keep her tone as lighthearted as his. "I need to go to the hospital. Dr Walker's calling them now, arranging my admittance. I, um, need to have some tests." Willow tried to laugh, fighting to retain her whimsy. "I'm sure it's nothing. I'm probably gonna have to stay overnight, so I guess our plans to leave for LA are gonna be shot, but hopefully we can still go tomorrow, right." Willow turned pleading eyes towards Angel, begging him silently to help her blanket this fearful event in normalcy.
Gleaning from her eyes what she needed with an ease born of long practice, Angel nodded. "Of course. We'll leave tomorrow. One day won't make a difference."
Xander, finding it
easier for him to play this all off as if it were nothing unusual, just
some inconsequential tests like the ones they'd ran
after the time he'd fallen off the jungle gym when they were eight and wanted to make sure he didn't have a concussion, helped Willow put on her jacket. "All righty, one trip to Sunnydale General, coming up. Hey, maybe if I'm lucky you'll be attended to by some cute nurses. After all, I am a high school graduate now- and hey, my best friend is probably gonna work there one day. What lady could resist."
Willow chuckled, holding on to both Angel and Xander's hands as she led them out of the office. This was exactly what she needed to delude herself that everything was all right, and the guys (Or Xander, at least, since Angel remained eerily silent) seemed more than willing to allow her the charade. None of them were willing to admit that death was hanging over their shoulder, casting a shadow on their lives that they'd be hard pressed to escape from under.
Willow hated hospitals.
She'd never been particularly fond of them, and after her last stay during
the whole Acathla thing, she feared them with a vengeance. It was
hard to keep her carefully constructed walls that held her fears in check
in such a place, especially after the first few tests
were completed and she was left alone in her room, Xander and Angel forced to go home by the hospital staff. They had both promised to be back later, Xander the moment his could free himself from the endless list of chores his mother was forcing on him, Angel after sunset. Still, that left eight hours at least that she would spend by herself, with the exception of the occasional checkup by the nurses. Willow tried to get some much needed sleep but found herself constantly distracted by the sounds of movement outside her doorway as the hospital staff attended to other patients, and the steady, even breathing of her roommate, a sixteen year old girl as bald as the day she had entered the world, in the next bed. Just looking at her seemed to destroy all pretenses of calm Willow managed to maintain. Looking at the girl was like getting a glimpse of her own possible future, a future she did not want to contemplate.
By some force of her iron will, Willow managed to get some rest that night, though it was far from uninterrupted. Occasionally the pain would return, more forceful than she could ever remember it being in the past, as if now that it had a name, a source, it could take free reign and ravage her system without the protection of mystery.
During the day, Willow blocked her mind of all thoughts by becoming a mindless coach potato, flipping disinterestedly through the few channels offered by the hospitals basic cable system. After wading through the murky waters of daytime programming, with her only choices nauseatingly campy soap operas and trash TV talk shows, Willow found herself wishing for even the mind numbing comforts of MTV, though she rarely watched it while at home. Even an endless barrage of music videos was preferable entertainment to the junk she was stuck with.
After a less than noteworthy
dinner, Dr Walker came to into her room with the test results in his hand.
Willow immediately switched off the
television and gave the doctor her full attention. Though she was relieved she was finally going to be have her suspense abated, she couldn't help but feel scared at the gravity of Dr Walker's expression.
Dr Walker sat perched on the side of Willow's bed, placing his hand over Willow's in an attempt at comfort. Though his face was expressionless, the mixture of sympathy and affection in his eyes was portent. A cold foreboding washed through Willow, and she knew even before he spoke that the news wasn't good. "I've got it."
It wasn't a question, and Dr Walker didn't pretend to misunderstand her. "Yes, Willow. I'm sorry, but it's cancer. The x-rays showed several tumors in your body. It started in the pancreas, but it's spread to your liver, the lymph nodes surrounding the pancreas, and even to your Ovaries. There may even be one on the hypothalamus in your brain and one on your lung but we can't be sure until we do more tests. I'd like to get them done as soon as possible. See, pancreatic cancer is rare, and to have so many tumors as you do, well, I've just never seen anything like it, especially in a girl your age. I'd like to contact your parents as soon as possible. They should be here for this, and I don't want to proceed any further before they're here and I've had a chance to speak to them. I've already asked Dr Mulvey, she's an oncologist, a specialist in the type of cancer you have, to look at the case, and she's ready, if you wish, to explain everything that's going to happen to you."
Willow blinked, disbelieving of what she was hearing. "More tests? I have to have more tests done?" She flinched. The CAT scan hadn't been that bad, but the ERCP had been horrible. She could still taste the ghost of the tube down her throat every time she swallowed.
"Yes, and after that we're gonna have to do some surgery. We're gonna need to take a look at the actual tumors to see what we're dealing with."
Willow tried desperately
to hang on to her sanity, clutching for any portion of normalcy she could
find. "But… it's gonna be okay, right? I
mean, I'll have some chemotherapy and we'll wait for the cancer to go into remission and I'll be fine. I mean- it's not like I'm gonna die or
anything." Willow tried to laugh but the sound was hollow even to her own ears.
Dr Walker didn't answer
right away, and in that split second of hesitation, Willow read the answer
in his eyes. "We really should wait until your
parents arrive before we discuss this any further. We're going to wait for them before we do any testing, so I've prepared for you to be released as soon as somebody come to pick you up. It's best that you're not alone right now. With the brain tumor, it's not unlikely for you to begin experiencing seizures. If that happens, you need to have somebody with you, to ensure you don't hurt yourself. Do you want to call your guardian- Mr. Giles was it? Or perhaps your boyfriend- that nice young man whom was with you and Alexander the other night? They can pick you up as soon as you're ready, then we'll speak again once your parents are back. Have them call me as soon as they get in. Oh, and I'm going to prescribe some pain killers for you. Hopefully it'll take some of the edge of and allow you to sleep comfortably. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call me."
He continued to talk about various things that needed to be done, but Willow stopped listening, merely watching his mouth as it moved soundlessly. She supposed she was in shock because she couldn't feel anything and her mind felt numb. She found herself looking down at the regulation white hospital sheets covering her torso, trying to imagine the cancerous lumps that were inside of her, rotting away the healthy tissue inside, infecting her by their presence alone. Absently, she lifted a hand to the back of her head, scratching at her scalp through the curtain of her hair. Could any of this really be possible? She looked and felt the same, on the outside. With the pain blessedly reprieved for the time being, Willow didn't feel sick. In fact, she felt as healthy as she had always been. The worst infections she'd ever suffered her entire life were the usual colds and flu's everybody got at least once a year- and even those had been few and far between. How was it that her body could be such a mask for the inner workings? If she stared at the pristine skin of her stomach, Willow could almost convince herself that none of this was happening. It was all just a very bad dream. Any moment she was going to wake up, and maybe if she were lucky Angel would be there to reassure her.
As Dr Walker finished
up his monologue, leaving her to make her phone calls, Willow knew it wasn't
a dream, and she instantly reached for the
phone by her bedside. She dialed his number by heart, hoping that just the sound of his voice would ground her in reality and banish the fatalistic thoughts plaguing her mind.
He answered on the fifth ring, his greeting laconic until he heard the barely suppressed sobs in her voice. "What's wrong?"
Finding that hearing
his voice was having the opposite of the desired effect, thrusting her
headlong into the dark oblivion of her fears, Willow
broke down, her tears splashing onto her chest, staining the hospital gown. "Angel… God, I can't even say the words. Maybe if I don't say it then it won't be true."
Angel's voice was tense as he fought to quell the rising panic within him. "Tell me what the doctor said, baby."
Willow was too far into her own rising hysteria to notice the endearment he'd never used before when addressing her. "I've got it, Angel."
In those three words, Angel experienced the realization of the nightmare he'd feared since Willow had admitted Dr Walker's suspicions of her tumors the previous night. Cold, hard fear infused the vampire and he fought back a growl. Now was not the time to scare Willow with his barely checked rage at this unseen foe, which threatened to take her away from him. Before he could collect himself and think of anything to say, Willow rushed on.
"Please, Angel, please come and get me. I'm so scared, I don't know what to do. I don't want to see Giles or Xander yet. I can't face them. I want you to come get me. Please, Angel- I need you. Please come."
"Of course, baby." He reassured her, instantly. He didn't want her to beg when there was never a doubt that he would always be there for her. "Sunset is in an hour but I'll be there before then. I'll take the tunnels." He stayed on the line with her, whispering words of reassurance until her crying had subsided somewhat.
When she hung up, Angel placed the portable phone back on its base, resisting the urge to rip the wire out of the socket. He needed to keep the phone working in case she called back. Instead, Angel took his anger out on the leather upholstery of his couch, shredding the material with his fingernails. The demon, which he had no problem controlling since Willow had permanently anchored his soul, once again had free reign over his actions and emotions. He gave in to the fury, ripping the pillows with ease. The sound of his sobs mixed with the animalistic growls emanating from his throat, making him sound more like a dying tiger than an out of control demon. Turning his attentions to his coffee table, Angel kicked it plainly across the mansion's living room. For once he wished he kept more of his belongings in the living room rather than his bedroom. He really needed to destroy some things now. He needed to release his fury on inanimate objects before he saw Willow. He wouldn't allow himself to indulge in the luxury of his own mourning when she needed him to be strong for her. If he was to be the rock she would lean on, then he needed to release his rage completely.
He felt the bloodlust bubble up inside of him, and before he knew it his features had morphed into that of his demon. Desires and emotions he hadn't felt since he was Angelus came back to haunt him, dominating his every thought pattern. He wanted to tear out of the mansion and go on a rampage, feeding from anyone who was stupid enough to cross his path, raging against the injustice that everyone he touched with his love should end up tainted; that his Willow, whom he loved more than himself, could be afflicted by something he couldn't save her from.
Stalking to the kitchen
with the grace of a predator, Angel tore through three packages of his
blood supply before he felt the bloodlust begin to
recede and he was finally able to regain some of his control. Gripping tightly onto the edge of the marble counter, Angel forced air into his dead
lungs, falling back on to the old mortal habit of regaining calm through deep, even breathing. He refused to move or lessen his grip before he was sure he was once again in control of his baser instincts. Though they weren't completely gone, and wouldn't be until he was sure Willow was safe and healthy again, he was at least in control of them.
Disregarding the mess he had left in the living room, Angel moved on to his bedroom. As he shrugged himself into a simple white T-shirt, a lump of fuzzy pink material caught his eyes. Moving over to the dresser, Angel fingered the sweater lovingly, his emotions immediately in tumult. It was one of the items Willow had brought over a couple of months ago so she could feel more at home when she spent the night, which had begun to happen more and more often as the months progressed and their friendship deepened. There were so many nights Angel spent with Willow, loathing to give up her company and their wonderful conversations with the encroaching daylight and so she would often fall asleep with him, equally reluctant to leave the safety and comfort of his arms. Seeing the sweater now, and dozens of her other possessions strewn all over the bedroom, such as her hairbrush and a bottle of vanilla scented perfume, struck a chord of infinite sadness within Angel.
He'd been blind before
not to realize how he felt for the red headed witch. Like her possessions,
which had slowly found their way into his home,
intermingling with his own belongings, the Witch had somehow found a way into his heart without him realizing it. Sure, he'd known that he cared for her, even loved her as one always loved the closest person in their life, the one who is a friend that's there for you, no matter what. But when had the love of friendship turned into the burning desire to never be apart from she who now possessed his heart? When had he fallen so completely head over heals in love with her so that he could no longer tell which way was up or down? The changes in the depth of his feelings for Willow had been so subtle he hadn't even realized they'd occurred. It had taken this, her sudden illness, to clear the fog that had been blinding him to the true emotions of his heart.
Angel mulled over his
newly realized feelings, testing out in his mind the sensation of being
in love with Willow. It felt so right, for him to love
the one woman he'd ever known who accepted him without any hesitation in manner or thought. With Buffy, the passion he had felt for her had been all mixed up with his demon's endless need to destroy her. He'd been forced to fight against his every instinct in order to love her, and thus, there had never been a moment where he'd felt true peace in her presence besides the one night they'd consummated their love. Buffy had been the first, the one to make him feel things he never had as either a human or a demon. But their love would never have lasted even if he hadn't lost his soul. As it was, the love and passion they'd shared had been shattered the moment he'd reverted back to his soulless counterpart, and then thoroughly destroyed the night she'd sent him to Hell. He'd always love her, but he knew now that she wasn't the one he was meant to be with. If Buffy had been the moon and stars in his universe, then Willow was the sun, banishing the darkness within himself with the mere flash of her bright smile and the lively innocence of her gaze.
He tried not to let
himself dwell on how much time he'd wasted in not realizing his own feelings
sooner, especially since he couldn't be sure of
hers. Though he now realized what he'd been missing by not being truly honest with himself, his feelings would have to remain concealed, especially now when Willow needed him so much. She'd given him so much with her love and friendship, that it was time for him to do the same for her, not confuse her with his feelings when she might not share them. No, it was definitely best to keep their relationship on its current level, since who knew what the future held in store for them.
Grabbing his jacket as he rushed out the mansion and to the sewers, Angel pushed aside his own feelings and concentrated on getting to Willow.