Disclaimer:  Joss Wheldon, Mutant Enemy, and FOX own the rights to BtVS.  No Copyright infringement intended.

Trapped Inside a Month of Gray
Beth M.

Part 1

"This isn't going to work."

"Of course, it is.  Angel is sitting around in that dark, icky office of his, brooding constantly,"  Cordelia informed the redhead,  "So, I thought to
myself, 'Who better to cheer him up than Willow?'"

"Buffy, for one!!  And what about you?  And you?"  Willow asked, turning to face the green-eyed demon sitting quietly on the couch playing a game of slapjack with Dennis, Cordelia's ghostly roommate.

"Don't pull me into this, Red... it wasn't my idea,"  he replied in his thick Irish brogue before quickly slapping his hand down on the Jack of Spades just dropped from thin air by Dennis.

"He and Buffy only make each other more miserable.  Bringing her here would only make things worse."

"This is ridiculous, you guys.  Angel and I aren't friends...  I came here to help with some research that you needed help with... not to help unbrood a sulky vampire."

"It's Christmas, Willow.  And you're always little Miss Nothing-Is-Ever-As-Bad-As-It-Seems, so... you know, put on a Santa hat and hop
on down to that office of his and give him some holiday cheer!!"  Cordelia instructed brightly, as if it were the most logical idea in the world.

"Hello?  Jewish!!"

"Then take him a Dreidel."

"Cordelia!"  This time it was Doyle snapping at his girlfriend's lack of tact.

"Did you even stop to think that maybe I had some plans for Christmas?"  Willow snapped.

"Hello?  Jewish!"

When Cordelia turned threw her own words back at her, Willow decided that she had had enough, spun on her heels and stormed out of the apartment.

After wandering the streets for a few hours, she found herself standing in front of the dank building that housed Angel's agency and his apartment.  It was Christmas Eve, after all, and too late for her to head back to Sunnydale, anyway.  Not that there was anything waiting for her there, either.  Buffy was with her mother, Xander and Anya would be spending the holiday in bed, Giles had gone home to England, and Oz... well... Oz was AWOL.

< Maybe misery loves company. >  she thought with a shrug of her shoulders.

She had to bang on the door for several minutes before a grouchy-looking Angel finally threw the door open, staring at her in surprise.


"Merry Christmas, Angel?"  She asked, hopefully.

"You're Jewish."

"Why do people only remember that when I don't want them to?"

Angel looked at her a bit strangely before stepping aside and inviting her in.

Moving into the dark office in silence, Willow noted that it didn't seem to her that Angel was brooding any more than normal.   Of course, it had been... well, actually, it had been only a month since she'd last seen him, and that hadn't been the best of circumstances.

"Can I get you some coffee?"  he offered.

"No, thanks... caffeine makes me wacky."

"Me, too,"  A small grin played across his sad, dark features.

He motioned for her to sit on the couch, joining her as she sat.

"Why are you here, Willow?  Shouldn't you be back home with the others?"

She sat quietly for a moment, thinking about how to answer before deciding honesty would be the best policy.

"Cordelia called me this morning and said that there was some big thing that was going on here, and that you guys needed my help with some research or spells or something and that it was an emergency, and then when I got here this afternoon, she told me that she had really invited me here because you were more broody that normal and she wanted me to try and cheer you up,"  she finished breathlessly.

"Cordelia brought you here to cheer me up?"  he chuckled.

"You think that's funny?"  She certainly didn't find it amusing.

"She had good intentions.  She's changed a lot... she's still tactless as Hell, but she's got a good heart,"  he shrugged.

Willow was quietly trying to blink back the tears that were threatening to spill down her cheeks while Angel talked.

"Since moving here, and since getting together with Doyle, she's opened up more, and isn't nearly as unthinking and unfeeling as she always seemed to be."

< She wasn't thinking about me when she tricked me into coming here. >

Willow was finding it harder and harder to fight back the tears, so she turned on the couch to face away from Angel.

"I should go, Angel... this wasn't a good idea.  I'm certainly not..."

Angel touched her back gently, noting that her usually strong voice had grown weak and strained.


She stopped speaking, gulping down great breaths of air , trying to hold her emotions in check.

"What's wrong, Willow?"

"I hate December,"  she whispered.


"I hate December.  Bad things happen in December,"  she sobbed.

Angel turned the small girl in his arms, gently brushing back her short red hair from her face,  "I hate December, too, Willow."

She lost it then... lost the tiny bit of control that she had, tears streaming down her face, choked sobs forcing themselves out from deep inside her chest.  Angel held her, rocking her in his arms.

After several minutes, her cries subsided and she pulled herself away from Angel, vigorously rubbing her face.

"You OK?"  he asked gently.

She nodded her head, and he stood from the couch, pulling her along with him.

"Let's go downstairs to my apartment.  I'll make some tea, and we can talk.  About why we hate December,"  he reached up and wiped away one last tear that was about to fall from the tip of her chin with the pad of his thumb.

A few minutes later and they were sitting at opposite ends of Angel's kitchen table, each cradling a cup of steeping, hot tea.

Her tears spent, she sadly related the story of Oz and Veruca.  While it had happened in November, facing the holidays alone was ripping Willow apart.  She knew that Buffy and Xander were sympathetic, but still tired of listening to Willow.  They both thought that the time had come for her to get over Oz and move on with her life.  She would have loved nothing more than to be able to push past her depression and move on, but it seemed that the harder she tried, the worse she felt, and no one seemed to care.

"Is Buffy over me?"  Angel asked, already knowing the answer.

"Of course not,"  Willow spouted,  "She'll always love you!"

"Then why does she expect you to be over Oz so soon?"

"I... er... she... you... soul mates and all that..."

"So, you're saying that she loves me more than you love Oz?"

"No... I... Angel..."  she trailed off.

He reached across the table and clasped her hand in his,  "I'm sorry, Willow.  I didn't mean it to sound that way.  But it seems to me that that's what Buffy and Xander are saying.  No two loves can be compared.  No one is greater than another.  You loved Oz... love Oz.  That's something that you have to work through in your own time, not at their convenience.  That isn't the way it works, and she should know that better than anyone."

"I just miss him so much,"  she whispered,  "I want to get over it... I want to not jump for the phone every time it rings hoping it's going to be him... I want to not look over my shoulder constantly hoping to catch a glimpse of him somewhere... I want it to not hurt so much."

"Certain smells remind you of him, certain colors, certain times of day..."

"How do you do it, Angel?  How can you stand it?"

"Because I have to.  And, it does get easier.  The distance has helped.  I still think about her, but not so much anymore.  I've occupied myself with other things.  I can laugh now.  I wish I could be with Buffy, Willow, I do.  I wish we could have a normal relationship between two normal people that love each other.  But we can't have that, and as awful as this may sound, I'm happier without her,"  he answered, haltingly.


"But why do I sit here in the dark brooding all the time?"


"I don't.  I used to do it all the time.  I know it looks like I haven't changed to you, but I have.  But, lately..."  he trailed off, staring into the
nothingness behind Willow's head for a moment.

"You remember last Christmas?"  he asked.

"The snow."

"For a few brief hours, Willow, things were perfect again."

Willow's brow knitted in consternation.

"What?"  he asked.

"Were you happy?"

"Yeah, I was... for the first time in a long time."

"Angel?"  she stared at him.


"Didn't that seem weird to you?"


She gaped at him for a moment in disbelief.

"You were happy, Angel.  Why didn't you lose your soul again?"

"I... I never thought about it."

"Think about it now!  When... after... with Buffy... when it happened... and, you know.. you became him... how did you feel?  I mean, that moment of happiness... was it any different than how you felt last year?"

His jaw dropped and he was speechless for a moment.

"It felt the same, Willow."

The two stared at each other for a few moments.

"Do you think?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I have to call someone."

"Buffy?"  she asked.

He shook his head no, picking up the phone and dialing.

"It's me, Cordy, let me talk to Doyle... Cordy, this is important... Doyle?  Meet me at the post office... Now,"  he hung the phone up and turned back to Willow.

"The post office?"

"I'll explain when I get back.  This won't take long."

It was less than two hours later when he returned.  Willow was curled up on his couch reading a book, which she promptly dropped when she heard the clanging of his elevator as it lowered into the apartment.

"It's done,"  he told her, sitting next to her on the couch.

He leaned back against the soft black leather, rubbing his hands wearily across his tired brow.

"What's done, Angel?"  she asked, knowing from experience that she should fear the answer.

"It's over... there is no curse.  In the hospital, when you did the spell the second time and the voices came through you... that wasn't Jenny, and it wasn't the gypsies... it was the Oracles."

"The what?"

"The Oracles..."

Angel started from the beginning, explaining all the events of his life since the day Buffy showed up in his office.

"So, you just saw the Oracles again, and they told you that the curse is gone... it wasn't part of the second spell I did... and that no matter how happy you are, you won't be Angelus again?"

He nodded his head, still in shock,  "I guess they have other plans for me."

"That's great, Angel,"  she clasped his arm, squeezing gently.

"It doesn't change anything, Willow.  Buffy and I are good fighting together, but bad in every other way.  We still can't be together..."


"Shh..."  he quieted her,  "I know that's what you're thinking.  I don't want to be with her.  I'm still happier without her.  We make each other weak."

"I don't understand, Angel..."

"Yes, you do.  Think about it, Willow.  If Oz came back, right now, and wanted things to go back to the way they were, could you?"


"No, you couldn't.  The hurt and the distance and the time apart... it all adds up to meaning that you can't be together.  You will always love him, just as I've accepted that I'll always love Buffy.  But we can't be with them, and we... eventually, maybe, we'll be able to love someone else."

"You're two-hundred and forty-six, Angel.  It took you that long to find someone that you could love.  I haven't got that long to wait for someone else to come along,"  she sniffled, her tears threatening to spill over again.

"Listen to me, Willow,"  he turned to face her, grasping both her tiny hands in his,  "I was twenty-seven when I was turned, and up until that point, I had never met a woman that I could fall in love with.  You know what I was like before I was turned... a whoring, thieving drunk.  There was no room in my life for love... and after I was turned, I was Angelus.  And he did love, believe it or not."

Willow looked at him blankly, not comprehending.

"Angelus loved Darla and he loved Spike and he loved Drusilla.  And after the curse, I isolated myself.  I had no contact with people until Whistler found me and took me to Buffy.  Maybe that's why I fell in love with her, because she was the first person that I really saw, because she was right there in front of me.  I had something to reach out for, a purpose."

She was still staring at him, confused.

"What I'm trying to say is that I've loved only Buffy in my life.  That's not including the time I didn't have my soul, and that is including the
twenty-seven years when I was either a child or a lush, and the eighty years that I had no contact with people.  Maybe this time it won't take me so long to find someone else to love.  And maybe it won't take you so long, either.  I'm not closing myself off to the possibility of it happening again.  I'm not telling myself that Buffy is the only woman that I can ever love."

Willow finally understood the point he was making.  It wasn't hopeless... for either of them.

Part 2

"Don't you want to do something, Angel?"

"Like what?"  he asked.

"Celebrate, or something.  Angelus is gone.  You never have to worry about that monster coming back."

He laughed... a full, easy laugh that Willow had never heard before, and he pulled her into his arms.

"No, Willow.  Like I said, nothing has changed.  I'm ecstatic that he can't come back and hurt any of you anymore, but this doesn't change anything in my life.  I'm happy right where I am,"  he rested his chin on the top of her head as she snuggled against him.

"I miss this,"  she whispered quietly.

"Cuddling with me?"  he asked, bemused.

"Cuddling, period.  And, those other things..."

"It's nice to hold someone, and be held, isn't it?"

"Not just that... holding is nice, though..."

"What else, Willow?  Tell me,"  his voice grew darker, and more serious.  Things he had discovered that night had answered questions he didn't even know he had,  and now he wanted to help his friend.

"I can't, Angel.  It's about that other stuff... you know... I miss that,"  she whispered against his shirt.

"Willow,"  he gently admonished.

"Sex, Angel... I miss the sex,"  she blurted out.

Angel froze, not really expecting her to be so blunt.  Over the years he had known Willow, sex was something that he had never sensed she would be comfortable talking about, much less having.

She began pulling away from him,  "I'm sorry, Angel... I didn't mean to... I just..."

Angel grunted, pulling her tightly against him again,  "Don't be sorry, Willow.  I just never realized... never thought about you and Oz being that intimate."

"We were together for almost two years."

"I know, but... I just never thought about you that way.  Part of me still sees you as the little girl you were four years ago when we met.  You've
changed so much... more than anyone else in the group, even Cordelia.  You're a woman now... a very intelligent, very special, very beautiful woman."

Willow was glad it was dark in the room, and her face was buried in his chest so he wouldn't see the deep flush that spread over her cheeks and down her body, forgetting that he would be able to feel the change in her body temperature.

"Tell me more... tell me what you miss about it."

"I don't... I can't, Angel..."

"Yes, you can.  Talk to me,"  he persuaded.

"Angel, you know what it's like... what it feels like, falling over that edge.  Sex is a good thing.  I was afraid of it for so long, and then Oz
showed me.   He guided me and he taught me and he was wonderful.  Even the first time, which I know is supposed to be horrible, it was so good.  I couldn't breathe, didn't want to, didn't want that moment to end... and then after that, it got better and better, and he was... he taught me stuff, and taught me what to do, and now that's he's gone, I miss that.  I mean, I know I can... with myself, you know... but it's not the same, and, oh my God, I've said way too much..."

Angel chuckled, a deep, rumbling chuckle, thankful that he hadn't pulled Willow any further into his lap where she would certainly be able to feel the effect her words had on him.

She froze in his arms, afraid to move after she had revealed so much to him.  He felt her tense, and pushed her away slightly, just enough so that he could peer into her vibrant eyes, eyes that were glistening both with watery tears and just a tinge of lust, along with more than a little embarrassment.

"Don't be embarrassed... I know exactly how you feel, Willow.  And I... I do the same thing.  Well, not the same way as you, of course, and I know it's not the same.  Imagine what it's like for me... so cold, all the time.  To be able to sink myself into the heat of a woman... it can warm my entire body.  I miss it, too."

"But, Angel, you can go out and have sex anytime you want..."  she hinted.

"And you can't?"

"I'm not... guys don't fall all over me... I'm not beautiful like Buffy and Cordelia..."

"Willow, you're beautiful in your own very special way.  If you really wanted to, you wouldn't have any problem finding a man that would have sex with you.  But you can't do that, can you, anymore than I can?  Just because we could, doesn't mean we want to, not like that, not with someone that we don't care about at all."

As Willow dropped her chin, unable to look him in the eye anymore, Angel made a decision, unaware that he was even making it.  With Willow's soft words, and the way her body was pressed against his, along with the soft glow of the few candles that Willow had lit while he was gone dancing off the walls, Angel knew that he wanted her.  At that moment, he wanted nothing more on Earth that to lose himself in Willow's arms, and to maybe, if only for  a few hours, take away a little of her pain as well.

He placed his index finger under her chin, lifting it until she was forced to meet his eyes again, making sure that she saw and understood his want before pressing a soft kiss against her lips.

The jolt of electricity that passed between the two of them made them both gasp, their eyes meeting briefly before they came together for another kiss.

Neither of them felt any need to rush... there was no place to be, no one to save, no one to see... just each other.  Their lips caressed each other's, not delicate, but not forcefully, either.  Meeting and melting, pulling apart, then coming together again, meeting and melting, over and over.  Tentatively, their tongues met, tasting each other, gently moving together, setting a rhythm, and then abandoning it for another.

His arms encircled her waist, hugging her tightly to his body as one hand splayed across her back, massaging the fabric of her thin sweater between his fingers as his other tangled gently in her hair.

Suddenly she pulled away from his kisses, startling him until he realized that she was only moving so that she could straddle his legs, pushing him back against the couch as their lips met once more.  She placed her hands on his shoulders and his arms snaked around her body again, his hands moving underneath her sweater to feel the heat of her bare skin.

"Willow,"  he hissed as she ground her crotch against his erection, feeling her heat through her jeans.

In response, she rocked against him, building her own arousal as the realization set in that she was about to make love with Angel. This was
something more than sex, they both knew.  While they certainly weren't in love with each other, they did care deeply for one another, and knew this was a way for them both to escape their own lives for a while, something they both wanted and needed.

He easily pulled her sweater over her head and tossed it to the side before cradling her satin-clad breasts in his hands, kneading them softly as she pushed forward into his hands, sighing softly into his mouth.

He slowly slid one strap down off her shoulder, following it with a trail of wet kisses until it was low enough for him to wrap his lips around the peach tip of her nipple, his tongue swirling around and around the stimulated peak.

Willow dug her fingers into his shoulders as the exquisite pleasure ripped through her body.  Angel repeated his motions on her other side, finally reaching behind her and deftly unhooking her bra.

He took one breast in each of his hands, his mouth alternating between them both as Willow shuddered and sighed on top of him, rocking slowly against him.  Releasing one smooth globe, his fingers moved to the clasp of her jeans, which he released with a snap.  Their lips met again, barely moving against each other as Angel slowly unzipped her pants.  Before moving to the inside, he grasped her core through the jeans, roughly stroking her with his thumb.

With his fingers, he grabbed at the waistband of her panties as they peeked through the V of her open jeans, pulling them away from her body before sliding his hand inside.  His thumb brushed against her clitoris before dipping lower and parting her folds.  He rubbed slowly, feeling no need to rush her climax, spreading the moisture across her outer lips.  She pressed against his thumb, unconsciously trying to force him to relieve the warm ache spreading through her body.  Using his fingers, he pried her open before finally pressing against her with his thumb and rubbing her clit with short, firm strokes.  Her body tensed, and he knew she was about to fall into orgasm when her head fell to his shoulder, and she bit down into his shirt, barely nipping his skin to keep from crying out.

He pressed the hard nub between his thumb and index finger, rolling it gently, then harder, slowing the pace to a crawl before increasing the
pressure and speed.  Her body froze and she screamed his name, waves of desire rolling through her body as she came.

Angel kept up the pressure, slowly decreasing his movements as she came down from her orgasm.  She nestled her face against his neck as her breathing gradually resumed it's natural cadence before pulling away to rest her forehead against his.

She looked into his eyes, darker than normal, yet twinkling and promising at the same time.

"Thank you,"  she sighed, offering him a gentle smile in the candlelight.

"I'm not finished with you yet,"  he replied, lifting her into his arms as he stood from the couch.

He carried her into the bedroom, swinging her around as he passed through the door so that he could kick it closed, knowing that neither Doyle nor Cordelia would think twice about barging into his apartment in the morning.

He gently laid Willow out on the bed, pulling her shoes off, followed by her jeans and panties.  He admired her for a moment, wondering how he could have ever not noticed how beautiful she was before.

He pulled his black sweater off and dropped it on the floor.  Just as he was getting ready to unbuckle his belt, Willow scooted to the edge of the bed, placing her hand over his.

"Let me."

Slowly, she unbuckled the belt, and unsnapped the fastener of his pants, never taking her eyes from his.  As she pulled down the zipper, her mouth closed over his navel, licking a wet trail in a circle around it, before sweeping her tongue inside, and pulling back with a smack of her lips.

Angel groaned... Oz had taught her well.

She pulled his pants open wide, not lowering them.  She cupped his erection through the silk of his boxers, her small hand not quite stretching around his entire girth.

Her hot breath bounced off his stomach, his unneeded breaths coming faster and faster in anticipation of her next move.  Framing the length of his cock with her fingers through the silk, she ran her tongue from the base to the tip, wetting the fabric before caressing him with her hand.

"Willow..."  he gasped, placing his hands on her shoulders for balance.

She grinned up at him, reaching inside his boxers to pull his erection free before engulfing him in her hot mouth.

He knew this wasn't her first time as she expertly sucked on the tip of his cock, swirling her tongue along the bottom of the ridge.  She cupped his balls in her other hand, not squeezing, but rolling them gently in her palm.   Her other hand held his shaft, her thumb stroking firmly along the seam running from the base to the head.  Angel was in blissful agony, never wanting her to stop her torment, and yet wishing that she would hurry and release him, letting him explode.

She flicked at the tip with her tongue, the speed of her hand increasing along with the pressure she placed on his cock.  Sliding her lips back over the head, she sucked him hard, her cheeks caving in as she created a hot, wet vacuum with her mouth.  Angel's eyed were clenched shut, his fingers digging into her shoulders as he fought to control his impending orgasm.

Willow was having none of that... her control had been lost on him, and she wouldn't have him holding back on her.  She released her hold on his testicles, and reached further back, pressing her fingers against his perineum, vigorously massaging his prostate gland through the thin skin.

Angel shouted, his body jerking in a glorious spasm as he came, spilling his seed in delicious spurts inside her accepting mouth.  Willow continued to nuzzle his member, milking the last vestiges of his orgasm, swallowing, and licking him clean as he slowly relaxed.

He released his grip on her shoulders, reaching up to cradle her head in his hands, tilting her face to look up at him.

"You're amazing, Willow,"  he told her breathlessly, bending to capture her mouth with his own.

He pushed her back on the bed, and she stretched back against the pillows, waiting for him to join her.  He kicked off his shoes and pants, lying down on his side to face her.   Placing his hand on her stomach, he leaned in and pried her lips open with his own, his tongue delving inside to push against hers.

He hooked one of his legs over hers, spreading her legs slightly as he softly rubbed his thigh against her mound, the friction causing his cock to begin hardening again.

He showered her face and throat with kisses, moving lower to seize her taut nipples between his teeth, worrying them to an almost painful point of hardness.

"Angel,"  she gasped,  "please...  I need you."

A low grumble emanated from the back of his throat,  "You need me how, Willow?"

"Inside me... please, I need you inside me,"  she begged.

He moved himself over her body, settling between her legs... legs that were quivering in anticipation.  Reaching between their bodies, he swept his fingers along her slit, prying her lips open as he prepared to enter her.

Willow reached out, raking her short nails down his chest, feeling the muscles of his stomach clench and release, his abdomen rippling with the

His cock pressed against her opening, bumping clumsily against her clit.

"Now, Angel!"  she instructed.

Pulling his hips back, he quickly sheathed himself inside her, complying with her wishes.

He stilled, reveling in the feel of her hot, tight core enveloping his cock.  Her muscles clamped down around him as she grew accustomed to his size, her breath coming in shallow gulps.

He lowered himself onto his elbows, placing his hands on either side of her head.

Placing soft kisses on her lips, he asked,  "Are you all right?"

"Better than, Angel... better than..."

He pulled back before thrusting into her again, setting a slow, easy rhythm, rocking against the cradle of her hips, murmuring into her ear, telling her how good she felt wrapped around him.

Finally, Willow could stand his gentleness no more.  Cupping his face in her hands, she forced him to meet her eyes,  "Harder, Angel... I'm not going to break."

Angel captured her lips in a punishing kiss, one that was neither gentle or slow, plundering her mouth with his tongue, knowing that he'd leave her lips swollen from the passion he exerted.  He pushed himself back onto his knees, and grabbed her thighs in his hands, opening her further before pulling out and slamming back into her.  She cried out as he ravished her body, the earlier cautiousness having been abandoned.  She met his rhythm stroke for stroke until it finally became too much for her.  She gave up, allowing Angel to manipulate her body however he pleased, which, in turn, pleased her.

With each thrust, she cried out his name, her walls spasming around his cock as she fell closer to the edge.  His hands still held her thighs... there would be finger-shaped bruises when they were finished.  He slid one hand to her center, this thumb settling against her engorged clit as it protruded from between her swollen lips.

All he had to do was press against the over-sensitized bundle of nerves to make her scream, her orgasm coursing through her body in waves as she shuddered and shook beneath him, her vaginal muscles squeezing his member with a strength he hadn't known her to possess.  With one last violent thrust, he came inside her, his body giving over to his need.

Angel fell on top of Willow, who cradled him in her arms, and they spent long moments enveloped in a loving, needy hug as their breathing returned to normal.

"Think this is what Cordelia had in mind when she came up with her scheme to cheer me up?"  he asked.

"Not quite..."  she replied,  "Angel, no one can ever know about this."

"Willow, we're both adults...  we did nothing wrong.  I'm not planning on picking up the phone and telling Buffy, but I'm not ashamed of it, either, and I plan on doing it again and again until I have to let you go so you can go back to Sunnydale."


"We need this, Willow, and we deserve it.  I'm not sorry, and, if you don't mind me saying so, you were incredible."

"Not so bad yourself, old man,"  she giggled drowsily,  "I don't regret it, Angel,"  she said, turning serious,  "It's just that what we've done can hurt people... people we both care about.  I don't want that, and I don't think you do, either."

"No, I don't.  Why don't we try to get some sleep, and we'll talk about it more in the morning?"

Willow glanced over at the alarm clock beside his bed, noting the time as 3:25.

"Merry Christmas, Angel."

He rolled over onto his back, holding her tightly in his arms against his chest, kissing her lips softly,  "You, too, Willow... you, too."

The End