In the Dark (the What's a Nice Jewish Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This remix) by Gabrielle
FeatureSummary: *AU of the AtS Season One episode In the Dark* Oz has a gig in San Francisco so Willow is tapped to take the Gem of Amara to Angel instead, leading her into danger... and into the deepest recesses of herself.
Categories: Willow/Angel Characters: Angel, Cordelia, Other Male, Spike, Willow
Genres: Angst
Story Type: Multi-Chapter
Warnings: Abuse, Violence
Series: None
Chapters: 2 Completed: Yes Word count: 15512 Read: 3224 Published: 10 Aug 2013 Updated: 10 Aug 2013

1. Part One by Gabrielle

2. Part Two by Gabrielle

Part One by Gabrielle
In the Dark (the What's a Nice Jewish Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This remix): Part One

Like nearly all – well, a whole lot - of the danger Willow’s been in since her sophomore year of high school, this is – probably – Buffy’s fault.

Willow is really, really sick of being taken hostage.

”But I thought the Dingoes were playing in L.A.” Willow realized she had just whined, but she couldn’t help it. A feeling of dread was already overwhelming her and she hated herself for feeling it.

“We’ve got the chance to play a showcase in San Francisco. Could be big.” Oz’s voice was the usual monotone, but there was a light in his eyes… yeah, this was major and Willow was so not going to rain on his big, musical parade.

He rained on hers though. Not by what he did, but by what he didn’t do. Wasn’t he supposed to invite her to go with him – or express regret that she couldn’t because now she’d probably have to take the Gem of Amara to Angel by herself? Either would have been good.

She decided to make her own sunshine, pulling her guy into a passionate kiss. “We still have time before you have to leave and I have to leave and… we both have to do the leaving thing, right?”

Sex: it might not fix everything, but it fixed some things. At least this way, she’d have something to smile about before she had to head over to Buffy’s, get the ring, and make the long, traffic-choked drive to Los Angeles. As she shimmied out of her jeans, she tried not to think about the fact that she seemed to be more into this than he was.

Do your best friend a favour by taking the ex-boyfriend she’s not emotionally ready to see again a mystical gem guaranteeing him invulnerability and the freedom to tan and what do you get? Being suspended in chains by evil vampires… and this is so not even the first time this has ever happened to her.

Even after all these years, she sometimes has nightmares about the night she was almost drained of blood to raise the Master. Unlike someone as shallow as, say, Cordelia, she’s not able to take comfort from the fact that she was wearing overalls when she was hanging upside down. What stays in her mind is how helpless she felt.

This has been said before, and only a moment ago, in her internal monologue, but it bears repeating: Willow Rosenberg is officially sick of being a hostage/kidnap victim/whatever. Oh, and she’s really sick of Spike.

“I told you to go back to Sunnydale,” Angel hisses, and Willow immediately amends her most recent thought – she’s sick of vampires, all vampires, with or without souls. She hates them. They’re bigger poopheads than Parker Abrams. Because Angel chiding her for getting kidnapped when all she was doing was trying to find the stupid gem in his stupid apartment to keep it from falling into the wrong hands? Yes, absolutely, she so needs that right now.

Oh goody, things are getting even worse. Because while the other creepy vampire is ramming a poker into Angel’s thigh, Willow’s enduring something far more loathsome and horrible – Spike’s hand is moving up her leg… way, way up her leg and he inhales in deep and exaggerated fashion. “Well, well,” he drawls, “looks like the little girl is all grown up and got herself a taste for doggy style.” Willow hates herself for turning beet red. Isn’t it about time she got over this whole dorky modesty thing? Oz is her boyfriend. They have sex. It’s allowed. But then she finds herself blushing even more when Spike winks lewdly at her. “What do you say, Little Red Riding Hood? Wanna try out a better class of demon?”

She’s about to say something awesomely bad-ass and smart-aleck like ‘I’ll tell you once I meet one’ when Angel groans out a testosterone-thickened cliché: “Don’t touch her!”

What makes it worse, and even more demeaning, is the way Spike leers and waggles his tongue, running his hand up her other leg… while looking at Angel. This whole ‘pawn in a game between two men’ thing? It’s reminding her of something she’s never wanted to face and it’s the reason that, even hanging here in the clutches of two evil vampires and unlikely to be alive tomorrow, her life isn’t flashing before her eyes.

She doesn’t have a life. Not one of her own, anyway.

Nope. Willow Rosenberg, reared to be an independent, self-determining icon of feminism – well, as much as her mother could actually be bothered to do the rearing thing – is nothing more than a supporting character in other people’s lives. She’s Buffy’s trusty sidekick, Giles’s eagle-eyed research assistant, Oz’s encouraging girlfriend. She exists to aid other people in shining, but she’s never stood in a light of her own.

Always too timid, too afraid she isn’t good enough to even try, too afraid people who already hate her will hate her more and that the few people who let her hang on their coattails will hate her worst of all if she stops letting them stand on her shoulders to be taller.

She’s a small, blurry shadow, faded and indistinct, and when she’s gone… people might miss what she does for them, but will anyone miss her? No they won’t. And you know why? Because there isn’t a her to miss.

“Well now, isn’t that sweet? The brave poof defending the honour of the helpless damsel.” Spike’s words both break through and confirm her depressing thoughts. His ensuing chuckle maddens her, but it’s the words ‘helpless damsel’ that really get her goat… and it’s a goat she’s about ready to sacrifice for just a smidgen of respect, especially from herself.

No one’s even looking at her, are they? No, the other one, Marcus – that’s his name, is jabbing that poker in Angel again and Spike, even though he has his hand on her thigh… “Enough!” she cries in a voice she doesn’t even recognize. It’s a voice filled with fury and it would scare her if it wasn’t for the fact that the fury is hers. What comes next would scare her still more if she wasn’t so consumed by that very hot rage.

Without realizing that she’s looking for anything, her eyes find a piece of wood and, before she can even think about what she’s somehow doing, that piece of wood hits its target… and the poker clatters to the ground as Marcus explodes in a shower of dust and a shrill scream.

“What the hell?!?!” Spike cries, looking around before his eyes finally come back to her… and that smirk she hates so much is completely gone. Whatever he sees in her face, she’s pretty sure it’s nothing you could describe with the words ‘helpless’ or ‘damsel’. For a moment, she wonders why the stake hit Marcus and not Spike, but she has no idea. What she does know is that she enjoys the way Spike looks like a deer caught in very big, very hot headlights right now. Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe it’s all about seeing him realize that she’s not some pathetic little victim after all and it’s not like he’d realize anything if he were dust.

Or maybe she just wanted to save Angel, being the good little supporting character, as usual, putting others before herself… whoever that is.

She looks at where Spike was standing and now he’s gone; there’s an echo of footsteps so she knows he’s not dust. Is she sorry? Who knows? Of course, she and Angel are still doing the bondage thing.

“How did you do that?” There’s a something in Angel’s voice that she can’t figure out at all and it somehow brings her back to…

How did she do that? Suddenly she doesn’t even remember what it was like to feel powerful. She feels like the Willow she’s always been – scared, confused, and not at all in control. Also chained.

At this same, difficult moment, Cordelia and Doyle appear. Good, because even though she managed to magically dust a vampire just a minute ago, she has no idea how to get herself out of these chains. “So this is where you are,” Cordelia says and Willow is suddenly not at all sure she’s still glad to see her, because the tone in her voice… it’s like she’s blaming Willow for something. This day is all badness and pain and not even the fact that at least her magic didn’t go wonky when it counted is enough to make any of it okay.

Especially not the part where she saw herself in a mirror so much clearer than any glass.

Interestingly, though, it’s the thought of that which makes her cut off Angel before he can say a word and bark, “Marcus is dust, Spike is gone, you’re safe. Just get us down, okay?” The way Cordelia takes a step back is almost as nourishing to her self-esteem as the fear she’d seen in Spike’s eyes. It soothes the sting of… well… everything.

Naturally, it’s Doyle who begins to undo the chains… on Angel. Yes, chivalry is dead. Oh well, at least now she can feel a little bit feminist… along with a whole lot afterthought-y. “You look like hell, boss,” and Willow restrains herself from quipping that he’s been there. What’s weird to her is that she was about to in the first place. Then Doyle asks the big question, and of course he asks Angel. “How did ya ever manage to dust that…”

To her surprise, Angel cuts him off with the truth. “Willow did it. Magic, I think.”

Setting Angel down, Doyle regards her with eyes so wide she can see the roundness of his eyeballs. “Aren’t you the spitfire then,” he offers with a low whistle. At last, he sets to work on her chains. “Surprised ya didn’t get yourself down.”

“I’m surprised there was a pencil here,” Cordelia snarks and Willow’s back in the library again, wearing a baggy sweater and biting her tongue.

Again, Angel’s the one to speak in her defense. “She didn’t use a pencil. She used that board over there.”

Grateful – she should be grateful that Angel is standing up for her and her skills, but instead that rage is building inside her again. Who is she angry at and why? Everyone, but mostly herself. And she knows why. Rotating her shoulders to soothe the ache, she wonders if she has enough magical energy to jab that poker lying uselessly on the warehouse floor into Cordelia’s side. Something inside her tells her that she doesn’t want to know the answer.

Temptation is a suitor whose attentions she might not want to court.

Then again, Oz hasn’t exactly been the best boyfriend lately.

Is now really the time when she wants to think about that? Or does it matter? Because right now she’s got all kinds of painful thoughts crashing around in her head, so why shouldn’t one more join the party?

“We should get you to a hospital.” Willow’s about to argue when she realizes Doyle isn’t talking to her. Of course not. He’s talking to Angel. Which makes no sense.

“He’s a vampire,” she reminds them curtly. “Hospitals don’t usually treat patients who don’t breathe and have no heartbeat.” She walks over to Cordelia. “Where’s the ring?”


“The ring. You know, the reason we’re all here? The reason Angel and I were kidnapped to begin with?” And no, it’s neither inappropriate nor self-pitying that she’s reminding them that yes, she was part of the festivities.

It isn’t, is it?

No more worrying about that because Doyle hands her the ring – which Willow then shoves onto Angel’s hand. Immediately, and in a way that actually makes for kind of an interesting show, his wounds begin healing.

“Wow. That’s some special piece of jewelry there, boss.”

“Yeah. Too bad it can’t fix your shirt.”

Willow snorts at Cordelia’s unchanged shallowness, but no one hears. Nope, it’s all about Angel; the fact that Willow’s the one who came up with the idea to fix him up with the ring has already been forgotten. Great. Once again, this day just keeps on sucking.

One piece of goodness amidst all the badness is that Willow sees her purse lying about twenty feet away. She makes a beeline for it… and there’s her wallet, obviously emptied, lying right on top. Spike stole her money. Things just can’t stop getting worse, can they? She picks up the purse and wallet and notes with relief that at least her ATM card is still there – and the keys to her rental car. So okay, not complete and total badness.

Except for the part that here she is in some warehouse that reeks of dead fish and salt water and she has no idea where it is in relation to her car.

Well, the only way to find out is to start walking. Maybe find a gas station or something where they can tell her how to get back to Angel’s place. Judging by the fact that no one has even looked over to see what she’s doing, she’ll have better luck with strangers than with anyone she knows and anyway, right now, the last place she wants to be is stuck with those three.

She needs to leave before she starts crying – or incinerates Cordelia and Doyle and Angel in a magical rage. That second option would be bad. It would. It really would.

What’s worse is the fact that she really has to sell herself on how bad that incineration idea actually is.

It suddenly strikes her that even though she’s restored a vampire’s soul and done a bunch of other – okay, smaller - spells, it’s only now that she truly realizes that there’s power in her and it can do things – big things. Those things can be good, but they can be dangerous too, and she’s still not sure how she feels about that last part.

It has to be better than being helpless, though. She knows she’s really fed up with that, just like she’s fed up with being invisible and easily ignored. She’s left the warehouse and is shielding her eyes from the harsh, smoggy glare of the sun, and yeah, it hurts to realize that she could make good money placing a bet that no one realizes she’s gone.

Well, she can stand here and drown herself in self-pity, or she can start walking. The salt breeze tells her the ocean’s not far, which means there have to be gas stations and ATM machines nearby for the throngs of tourists who always clog California beaches. So walking it is.

About a block and a half or so down the road and she’s lost in the thinkiness of trying not to think, because it just doesn’t seem like the right time or place to be assessing herself and her existence. It’s harder than you’d believe, this whole not thinking thing, and she’s wondering if Xander was right about her when he said she had too many thoughts. So lost in her not-thoughts is she that she doesn’t realize someone is behind her until there’s a hand on her shoulder.

She whirls around and – oh god, it’s Angel. Sunlight and… yeah, he still has the ring on, so he’s not on fire. No, she’s not going to think about the fact that she has mixed feelings about that, but hey, if she does, she’s entitled. After everything she’s done for him, he’s never even tried to pretend to be her friend. Does he know her last name? A part of her wants to ask him – right this second. Would he get paler? He’s pretty pale, she realizes, and he looks more like a pathetic goth wannabe than ever.

Despite the crappiness that is this entire day, she can’t help smirking as she remembers that dork at the Sunset Club who was all decked out in a stupid satin shirt and black pants just – like – Angel. Oops, because he’s noticed her expression and… you know, why should she even care? She’s just unstrung enough from the magic and the self-loathing and the way she’s been treated to blurt out exactly what she’s thinking. “I was just remembering that time at the club when you said none of the kids knew how vampires dressed and the nerdiest one was wearing the exact same clothes you were.”

Ouch. She scored, huh? He takes a step back and stares as if he’s never seen her before. About time he realized – because no, he hasn’t. “You’re angry?” He’s phrased it as a question and he’s standing there all bewildered and acting like the aggrieved party and… you know? She doesn’t have time for this. She has a car to find and a non-life to hurry back to.

Instead of trying to explain or defend herself she gets back to the business of finding a gas station and/or ATM. She starts walking and doesn’t look back – not even when she hears footsteps behind her. Of course, that changes when Angel grabs her arm again. She wants to zap him, but unfortunately her magic doesn’t seem to be doing the ‘on command’ thing right now. Darn… no, damn. Damn it! She’s old enough to start cursing like a grown-up.

Turning around, she does her damnedest to at least glare hard enough to have an effect.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Again with the put-upon look, like he’s Mr. Perfect. She can almost hear him thinking ‘PMS’ and she’d knee him in the groin if she didn’t suddenly realize that it might be stupid to assault an invulnerable demon. He’s got some nerve, though, looking all innocent and confused.

“Nothing,” she spits out. “Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I have a car to find. You’re welcome for bringing you the ring. Buh-bye now.” Of course, he ruins a picture-perfect ‘storming off’ by grabbing her arm again. Stupid jerk vampire.

Oh great. Now he brings out the ‘wounded soul’ look. “I didn’t thank you, did I? I’m sorry.” Willow wants to barf. Did this work on Buffy? Because if it did, she’s rapidly losing respect for her best friend – and finding it disturbingly and unpleasantly easy to see how Parker got into her pants.

No, that’s not fair. Love, as she knows well, makes you do the wacky – and so does heartbreak. So she’s not thinking uncharitable thoughts about Buffy anymore. Angel, though? Yeah, he’s a creep. She’s not going to waste any understanding on him; not today. “Don’t worry about it. You’ve never thanked me before. There’s no need to start now.” She meant to deliver that with a Faith-like carelessness but it rings in her ears with tinny self-pity and she just can’t stop hating this whole stupid day. “You better go back and catch a ride home with your staff,” she says, this time coming closer to managing the level of airy superiority she was trying for. Mentally high-fiving herself, she goes for the gold medal. “Because standing out here in public in that shirt? No offense, but if you wind up in some ‘worst dressed’ column, Cordelia might never speak to you again and you sure wouldn’t want that.”

Yay! He’s let go of her arm and she’s about to walk away – finally! – when he says, “Wait,” in a tone of voice that the dutiful girl within instinctively responds to. Great. One more reason to kick herself for being… herself. She watches as he whips off the tattered rag he was wearing and now he’s standing there, shirtless and pale and… yeah, he looks like a male model. Is it supposed to whip her hormones into a frenzy or something so she’ll immediately forgive him, maybe even beg him to forgive her? More proof that he really doesn’t know a – single – damn – thing about her because she is so not into the GQ look. Hello, dating Oz? He of the small, compact, not-very-muscle-y-ness? Thanks for the show, Angel, but it’s wasted on this girl.

At least, however, it does a nice job of irritating her into action. She rolls her eyes very dramatically and makes it clear she’s now officially on her way. Time’s a-wasting, much like the Chippendale show Angel trotted out, and more than ever, Willow just wants to get home… even if she will be boyfriend-less for awhile and have to answer way too many questions from Buffy and be forced to relive this whole stupid day over and over.

Even if it’s back to being everything she now realizes she despises. Back home, it’s entirely possible she’ll forget she hates it at all.

As she turns away, though, she catches a look on Angel’s face that almost – not quite, but almost – makes everything okay. Because she was right, he was totally trying to disarm her with his ‘manly charms’ and his deflated ego is splattered all over his face like egg or tomatoes thrown by an unappreciative audience. It’s another powerful sensation and, as much as hurting people’s feelings has always been one of her seven deadly sins, she has to admit she’s enjoying being a bad girl. Take that, dumb jerk vampire!

And yes, there is now a spring in her step for which she probably should feel guilty, but doesn’t. Hey, he was trying to manipulate her. Spiking his guns is fair play.

Unfortunately, instead of scuttling after Cordelia and Doyle, Angel is following her. Oh goody. If he so much as uses a word beginning with ‘b’ let alone says her name, she will rip that ring off his finger and watch him fry like bacon in the sun. She is so very not in the mood to be the good little sounding board, especially since she’ll have to spend hours being just that upon her return to Sunnydale.

“The warehouse is back that way.” She points for him, in case he really is just big, dumb beefcake and has no idea where he’s going.

“What did I do to you?” he asks, and she wants to punch him in the jaw. Let’s see, shall we? Dead fish, dead teacher, not so much as a smile for the returned soul… and that’s just the greatest hits. She could add more to this list. But why would she even bother? Because the fact that Angel doesn’t have a clue is proof that there’s no point.

Then again, why should she be angry at him for not thinking of her as a real person – like Buffy or Cordelia – when she has to admit she really isn’t, now is she?

She could be, though. She’s supposed to be. There’s a sensation in her limbs like wings beating frantically against glass and it hurts, and she’s angry – so, so angry – and it’s worse than when she was in chains and she’s afraid that something else will happen and…

Across the street, the window of an abandoned building shatters. No, there’s no one else around and she’s pretty sure there’s no one in the crumbling structure, so…

“You did that,” Angel says – and is that just a hint of awe? “Why?”

For some reason, she decides to be honest. “I don’t know. I didn’t mean to do it, actually.” She thinks about those wings. “Maybe I did. I don’t… I really don’t know.” There’s that fear again, because she has no control. If she did, would she be as scared of what that power inside can do? Does she want to know the answer to that question?

“Let’s walk,” he says, taking her arm, and she has to agree it’s probably a good idea to leave the area since you never know if loud noise will draw a crowd, though she’s coming to realize that there are all kinds of oblivious and Sunnydale’s is not necessarily the most potent.

So they walk, heading where Willow needs to go, and it suddenly dawns on her that – oh god, this is Angel’s first walk in the sunlight in… centuries. Wow. Bet he wishes he was sharing it with someone else. The truth is that she does too. Maybe she’s selfish or a bitch – finally, at last – or petty, but she’s not softened by being part of this epochal moment. The funny thing is, she might have been before he took off his shirt, but that last insult to her intelligence and depth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They’ll never be friends, not now. Still, she seems stuck with him, so she plays the part. “This is pretty big for you, huh? The whole ‘sunlit stroll’ thing?”

He smiles that ‘man of mystery’ half-smile and says, “Yeah,” and she realizes she’s supposed to ask questions or somehow otherwise wrest from him the inscrutable intangibles of his experience.

Sadly, she’s such a Pavlov-reared creature that she does. “Bet the world looks a lot different than you remember.”

There’s that smile again. “It does. I never thought… it’s hard to describe.”

Buffy would find this magical and Willow has some unselfish feelings of guilt and regret. For a moment she wonders if this has any effect on his soul. Should she look into this? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. She’s still the ultimate sidekick: Research Girl. “I’ll bet,” she says noncommittally.

They keep walking in silence – not Willow’s usual style, but hey, maybe it’s time to change that… change something, anyway. For a moment, just a moment, but a sharp one, she wonders if she should take the car, drive… somewhere – anywhere with a university would do. She really was accepted to every learning institution with a stamp and enough chutzpah to think someone of her calibre would matriculate there.

Of course she won’t, but just considering it is something she would never have done before and maybe it’s a small victory. Sad and pathetic by most standards, but heroic for a girl like… a girl who isn’t much like a real girl at all. Or at least she wasn’t.

“Why were you so angry? Back there.” Angel’s second attempt at getting her to tell him what he thinks he’s supposed to want to know breaks through her thoughts and she’s not happy about it. She knows how this conversation goes – and it ends up with being patronized and made small and unimportant and she’s not volunteering to help with that this time. Especially not with Angel as the arbiter of her worth.

It shocks her to the core – and the words sound even louder than the crash of broken glass a few moments ago – when she answers, “Why do you care? It’s not like we’re friends.”

The look on his face… “We’re not?” He can’t really be as stunned as he looks. Is he that stupid and clueless? Really? How has he survived all these years? Harmony isn’t that dense.

And isn’t that a super memory? Her hand drifts to the mark on her neck. Oh great, Angel notices – though, hey! Big, honking bite mark that pretty much anyone who looked at her for ten seconds would see. Which explains why neither Cordelia nor Doyle saw it… and why she pretty much had to drape it in tinsel and take out an ad announcing its presence for Angel to spot it. “Where did you get that?”

Willow shrugs. “Oh, the bite? Harmony. No big deal, though. She’s not all that tough.”

“She bit you,” Angel counters.

“Caught me by surprise,” she shoots back. “Not like she’s the kind of girl you think of as being a super villain.”

“You knew her?”

Oh god. Angel really didn’t pay attention to anything or anyone but Buffy, did he? And even then he seems to have missed a whole lot of conversation. “She was in our class. Cordelia’s best friend, actually. Turns out she got vamped while we were fighting the Mayor.”

He gets that brooding look and… You know, he’s feeling more deeply about Harmony, a girl he doesn’t even remember, than he’s ever felt about her and it’s just one more confirmation that somehow she’s been robbed of her personhood and her humanity and her… self and she’s feeling that rage again – the beat of wings against glass. However, if she doesn’t get control, more stuff is going to get destroyed and the last thing she needs is to be responsible for damage to the BMW across the street.

The neighborhood has changed rather abruptly from industrial to what seem to be expensive seaside townhomes jammed up against each other as if every inch of space is too precious to waste on privacy. Even the garages are narrow – so narrow that fancy cars are parked on the street. It’s so different from the world of spacious backyards and comfortable distances where she lives. For a moment she wonders, but then… no… she’d be just as invisible here as she is in Sunnydale.

It’s not for nothing that she thinks of Marcie Ross more than anyone will ever know.

Angel’s talking now, so she grudgingly leaves her unpleasant thoughts for his even more unpleasant conversation. “I’m sorry.” You know, it really doesn’t mean much coming from him since he pretty much uses guilt as a way to get off. Does he even miss sex? Because scarily, she is about ninety percent sure that the answer to that is ‘No.’

She knows she’ll hate herself for asking, but she does. “What for? Not like you were even in town. And anyway, Harmony wouldn’t have drained me.”

Oh how she enjoys the weird look on his pasty white face. “Why do you say that?”

“Please. As much like her human self as she acted? I guarantee she’s still obsessed with being super thin and too dumb to know the perks of being undead. No way would she risk her figure by drinking me down to the last drop.”

Well what do you know? Angel is laughing. Curiouser and curiouser. Well, maybe now he’ll remember her. Someone should.

Does Oz miss her? Or is he having too much fun with the band in San Francisco? Because he seems far away so often now, even when they’re making love. Can you even call it making love anymore? It’s starting to feel disturbingly like fu…screwing.

Guess she’s not ready to go all the way with the grown-up cursing.

But then, considering her willingness to go right back to the second class world she lives in and slip right back into her nothing role, it seems like she’s not ready to go all the way with much of anything, is she?

“We were talking about you,” Angel suddenly says. “Why you were angry.” Oh goody. The one time, the one and only time that Willow can remember, that someone has come back from a tangent that took them away from talking about her, and it has to be now? It has to be Angel?

It occurs to her that here – and only here – she can be honest and mean and it won’t matter. She won’t be jeopardizing the fragile tissue paper of her negligible identity. So she repeats what she said before, only more vehemently and with more venom: “Like I said, we’re not friends, so what’s the point? Because you care so much? Spare me, Angel. You might not realize this, but my IQ is a whole lot higher than Cordelia’s. Higher than yours too. So nope, not falling for it.”

You know, she’s starting to enjoy the nonplussed look on Angel; it suits him. Just as he’s about to say something and ruin it, a commotion from a nearby parking lot causes both their heads to whip around. What do you know? They’re right by the beach… and something bad is happening. They race across the street just in time to see a man shoving a screaming little boy into a sedan. There are onlookers – or were – but Willow hears the man telling them that the boy is his son and all this fuss is just because he doesn’t want to go home. The people are buying it and walking away, maybe because the car is a Mercedes and everyone knows that’s a guarantor of solid respectability, right? Willow, however, comes from Sunnydale, home of the demon mayor, and she doesn’t believe it for a second, especially not when she locks eyes with the little boy through the back window of the car. He’s terrified.

“Hey!” He was about to get into the front seat, but now the man turns and looks at her. He all but sneers dismissively and it reminds her that Sunnydale isn’t the only place where she is small and insignificant. It doesn’t seem that he’s any more impressed by Angel. Guess that rich criminals are as snooty as law-abiding rich people because it’s pretty obvious from the movement of his eyes and the way they linger on various points that their respective wardrobes are fueling his disdain. Maybe she should get his number and give it to Cordelia.

“Let the boy go,” Angel growls and Willow’s not going to argue with him taking part. What matters is rescuing that small, frightened child.

“He’s my son,” the man repeats. While she’s pretty sure the boy can’t hear him, Willow sees him shaking his head. His eyes are wide and scared and helpless and it reminds her of… She doesn’t want to think about that.

Instead, she draws herself up, trying to find some grip on the power inside her. Maybe it only works when the enemy is as supernatural as that power, because facing off against a human? She feels like just plain Willow, the girl who’s more closely related to Marcie Ross than anyone with whom she actually shares DNA, the girl whose eventual death will be as empty as the life that can’t flash before her eyes.

No, no, no. She’s not going to just stand by and let Angel be the hero while she’s the useless lump on the sidelines. Not here. Not this time. Something in her cries out to her that she’s needed and it’s time – time for her to exist. Wings beat hard against glass once more. “Yeah, right,” she cracks, a beat too late, but not so late that it’s pointless. “I think you need to just open the door and let the kid out.”

The response she gets is far from encouraging. A dismissive smirk and the man’s hand on the driver’s side door, ready to leave… with the boy. At last the rage is back, tingling along the edges of her fingers.

Angel is moving toward the man – cautious, probably hampered by his inexperience in doing this stuff in daylight and with humans, but he’s going to pounce any second.

A few people are standing around, watching the show, though, so maybe she should do something herself, something that won’t draw attention to the fact that Angel isn’t exactly human. She could use magic, maybe in some subtle way that won’t look like magic.

There is, however, the small matter of control, something she doesn’t actually have. Plus, moving objects telekinetically? Not so subtle. People, even normally oblivious people, have a tendency to notice stuff floating through the air.

She closes her eyes and prays – or something – for guidance or help or a set of instructions, and it happens. Jerking her head at the opposite side of the car, the passenger door flies open; for a split second her eyes are locked with those of the boy, and she silently screams at him to run.

Which he does, faster than he ever has, she’s sure, tiny feet in white sneakers pounding against hot asphalt and carrying him out of sight in short order.

Hopefully, there’s a family waiting for him, a family who have been looking all over for him and will be so very grateful to find him safe and sound. But no matter what, he won’t be enduring whatever nightmare this creature had in store for him.

Angel’s grabbed the man’s arm now, keeping him from fleeing, but it’s sort of superfluous. The guy seems totally paralyzed; he isn’t even looking at the big, shirtless, pale guy with a meaty grip on his bicep. Nope. He’s staring at her. His eyes are wide, pupils blown, and all she did was open a door. Fear and disbelief are pouring off him in waves she can actually feel and she’s guessing maybe the reason her magic was needed to get that door open in the first place was that this guy had it rigged so it wasn’t supposed to be able to open at all – not from the inside, anyway. Makes sense if you’re a creepy, kidnapping pedophile.

A creepy, kidnapping pedophile who’s more frightened of her than he is of the vampire right in front of him.

It’s a heady sensation and she feels the danger more keenly than ever.

She also feels the high.

That’s something she needs to get away from, so she gets her head back into the situation going on. “Call the police. This guy tried to kidnap a child!” she barks at one of the looky-loos, and he rushes to a car. Guess he’s got a cell phone, which makes sense, what with this being L.A. Everyone’s an actor or a musician or a mogul and they can’t be out of range of their ‘people’ for two seconds.

Oh god, she can almost hear her mother’s voice as that last observation makes itself in her head. It’s an almost verbatim transcript of the last conversation they had, not that it was much of one, but it was more than the far more common ‘bye-darling-the-bills-and-the-credit-card-are-on-the-hall-table-back-in-insert-month-here’ which usually passes for mother-daughter interaction at her house. Her father’s voice is completely gone from her memory. She thinks that maybe they spoke a year ago, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.

Does she really need to be focusing on her parents right now? No.

Time to take charge.

She strides to the passenger side of the car. The door’s still utterly intact – magic is an amazing thing – and she closes it. Well, slams it would be more accurate and she enjoys the way the creepy pervert winces at her manhandling of his expensive automobile. Angel gets what she’s doing and, in a flash, he’s got the door on his side open and shoves the guy in, closing the door even more sharply than she had. “Keep an eye on him until the police get here,” Angel instructs the gaggle of people who are still watching all of this like it’s a movie. The guy is pounding on the window, trapped, and it sounds nothing like her wings. She lets Angel take her arm and they set off back in the direction they came from at a brisk pace.

When you're a powerful witch and an invulnerable vampire who've just subdued a pedophile with the help of magic and supernatural strength, getting out of Dodge seems like the best course of action.

To be continued
Part Two by Gabrielle
In the Dark (the What's a Nice Jewish Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This remix): Part Two

It seems like no time at all before they’re worlds away from the parking lot and the pedophile and the little boy and the people whose questions they’ll never have to answer. There are no more throngs of tourists and the sidewalks are devoid of pedestrian traffic. This isn’t Sunnydale; everyone drives.

“Think anything’ll happen to the guy?”

“I remember his license plate number,” Angel replies and for the first time today Willow actually respects him.

“I can get his info off the computer,” she offers. Hacking – it’s magic of a different and more temporal kind than what she’s been doing today, but it has its uses and she has to admit that for the most part, it’s still a weapon with which she’s more skilled.

That’s changing, though, isn’t it?

“Thanks,” he says, and she thinks he’s about to say something more, but he doesn’t. He’s looking at her, though, really looking. It’s strange and unfamiliar. Maybe Oz looked at her with as much focus once upon a midnight dreary, but that was a long time ago. “You’ve come a long way.”

Really? Nice cliché there, Angel. Way to show that you don’t see anything after all. She’s this close to clapping him on the shoulder and thanking him for bursting the almost-sort-of-happy bubble that had been about to shimmer around her. “No,” she corrects him, shrugging as if it means nothing, “restoring your soul was a way bigger spell than opening that door.”

He’s staring again and it occurs to her that he hasn’t even thought about the fact that she’s the one who returned his soul, not recently, and maybe not ever. For a vampire who fancies himself a do-gooder, he’s not much for gratitude. Or maybe, she ponders, thinking of Buffy and Cordelia, he’s only grateful to hot girls.

“I never thanked you for that, did I?”

There’s a saying: Better late than never. It’s bunkum. Or maybe it’s the very specific timing. Having to practically shove the words into his mouth in order to hear them renders them absolutely meaningless, or worse, insulting.

She decides to pretend to be as stupid as he thinks she is. “You thanked me a second ago. I told you, it was easy.” Maybe it was easy.

“I didn’t mean the car.” Had this been a test, Angel would have gotten a big ol’ F. He really does think she’s stupid, huh. Not that he treats her that differently from everyone else. This is pretty much par for the course her whole life has taken.

So why does it suddenly bother her so much?

Did this all start in that moment of blankness where a life didn’t flash before her eyes? Or is that just when the Jack in the Box popped up, propelled by the pressure of years and years of pain and resentment buried so deep and well that even Willow hadn’t seen the upturned earth or the mark of shovels?

It occurs to her that this feels old, this painful beat of wings against glass, old and familiar like pale pink scars and bruises just barely purple and yellow under new skin.

She’s a riot of colours, screaming.

Angel is staring, offended, and she realizes he said something else, but she has no idea what it was. “I wasn’t listening,” she says, and she tries to stop herself, but the habits of years won’t allow her to not add, “I’m sorry.” At least she has managed to keep that last from sounding sincere. Small favours aren’t always so small. Not when your world is even smaller.

Still staring. It’s not as unfamiliar now and she almost likes the way it means he is at last realizing that he has no clue who the heck – hell, learn to curse, Willow - hell she is.

“I thought we were friends,” he says, and she thinks maybe this is meant as some sort of ham-handed segue to the conversation he attempted earlier – the one she’s still oh-so-very-not-interested in having.

You know what? She doesn’t even care if right after this he calls Buffy and tells her he thinks that goody-two-shoes Willow is possessed because she’s so very ready to be a raging bitch. “You’re kidding, right? Have we ever had a conversation, Angel?” There’s a movement of lips that looks like it’s about to be an interruption and she speeds into the pause just ahead of him. “I mean a conversation that isn’t about Buffy or some sort of evil-fighting emergency.” Nothing. Not a word from the big, shirtless, pale guy. “I rest my case. We’re not friends, Angel. Friends know stuff about each other. They have actual conversations about stuff like… their hobbies, the movies they like, what foods they hate, what they always wanted to be when they…” She stops at that last part because even she doesn’t know that about herself anymore. She had dreams all her own once, what seems like an eternity ago, but she barely recalls them now. Jesse would remember.

He’s dead though.

He never got to be a fireman.

For a moment she thinks maybe she should do that herself, live that dream for him, but then she thinks that no – if he were here, he’d want her to have a dream of her own. Or maybe that’s just one of those wacky conceits where the dead are always so much saintlier.

Screw… Fuck it. She’ll see Jesse in as bright a light as she wants to.

Angel’s just standing there and if there’s one thing Willow’s grateful for, it’s that he’s not suddenly turning into Sharing Guy. Still, they need to keep walking, so she sets the example and he follows. Where they’re going is anybody’s guess. Good thing she’s in shape, but boy is she starting to feel the strain of the day. “I need to find an ATM,” she says. “Spike stole my money.”

Well, at least Angel seems to know what an ATM is, or he’s pretending to, because there’s no confused look going on. It’s a relief. She got more than enough of tutoring back in high school. She does notice something when she looks at him, though. “You don’t sunburn,” she observes “That ring seems to really do the job.”

Okay, there’s a look on his face – he’s brooding and even though she doesn’t… okay, maybe ‘care’ really isn’t the right word, but she’s curious. “Is something wrong?”

He shrugs but doesn’t explain and it makes her wonder if this is some sort of juvenile reaction to her making him aware that he’s not her friend. Isn’t he a little old for this? Is he going to throw himself to the pavement and pound his big, meaty fists on the ground? Too bad he doesn’t have any breath to hold so he can turn blue. That might be fun to watch. “I don’t suppose you actually know where there’s a machine or anything so I can get some money for a cab, huh?”

“A cab?”

Is he always this slow? Because she knows Buffy doesn’t have brains in her top five of attractive ‘guy traits’ but this is just ridiculous. “I kinda need to get back to my car,” she explains, not bothering to worry about the fact that she sounds like a preschool teacher.

“I thought we were walking.”

Okay, here’s the part where she explains something he really needs to know. “I’m not a vampire or a slayer, Angel. Between the kidnapping, the walking I’ve already done, and the magic? My feet are getting kinda tired – along with the rest of me. I need to take a cab, get my car, and then possibly check into a motel, ‘kay?” Yes, she’s still using her overly-enunciated, irritated preschool teacher voice and no, she doesn’t give a damn.

“I’m sure Cordelia would let you bunk with her,” he says and she just boggles at that. He really is a moron. At least Parker managed to get admitted to UCS. She’s pretty sure Angel would flunk out of the New Zoo Revue.

“Yeah. Sure. Because I haven’t been through enough, what with Spike’s hand between my legs and all. I really need to deal with your assistant-slash-hateful-bitch and all the insults she likes to throw my way. Thanks. I feel so appreciated. And hey, thanks for proving I was right and that you are not now and have never been my friend.”

She’s so done. A sudden turn and she sprints across the street. She’s just spotted what looks like a gas station mini mart a couple of blocks up from here and she’s seeing the light at the end of a very dark and dingy tunnel.

Or maybe not because Angel doesn’t get the hint. He’s right beside her a scant two seconds later. “I didn’t know you two still didn’t get along. I thought that thing with Xander … I thought it was over.”

She snorts – again. Once more and she should be able to hunt truffles. “Because we were such close buds before Xander and I made with the smoochies? I didn’t actually need any more proof that no one but Buffy has ever mattered to you.”

Rolling her eyes, she keeps on walking towards the Promised Land, also known as the AM/PM Mini Mart, tantalizing her with its neon and plastic goodness just a short distance away. Angel hangs like an anchor beside her. Is it her imagination or is it really taking longer to get to that market and its ATM because he’s with her? “I’m sorry,” he says and she’s about to snort again when he surprises her by adding, “You’re right, you know. I never really got to know you.”

She wishes she could just blow it off except… he didn’t add anything facile and hypocritical like ‘I wish I had.’ All he did was acknowledge the truth. Maybe she doesn’t want to, but she has to respect that. “Okay,” she replies, feeling the anger subside at long last, which might be a good thing considering how much glass there is around here. There’s still the ache of battered wings, though. When will that go away?

The mini-mart. Finally. She walks in, enjoying the blast of cold air and oddly soothed by the acrid smell of hot dogs and other fake food cooking on metal rollers. There it is in the corner – the ATM. She almost runs toward it.

The mechanics of withdrawal are smooth and automatic and a few clicks and whirrs later she has two hundred dollars in her hand. Checking her balance, it looks like her parents remembered to make their monthly deposit. Nice, considering she doesn’t even know where they are. Still, thanks to her own frugal ways, she could hire a private detective to track them down with the amount she has in her checking account alone.

“Will that be enough?” Angel asks, startling her a bit.

“I can get more later.”

For a moment, he looks like he’s going to say something that she thinks might be an offer of money, but he doesn’t, which fits right in with how cheap she remembers him being in Sunnydale. He never took Buffy out to dinner, that’s for sure. How could Buffy sleep with…

But then again, does Oz ever take her out to dinner?

Great. She’s just started to get over being irritated and annoyed with Angel and she has to think about Oz. The universe hates her.

Luckily, she has expediency as a distraction - she needs to call for that cab. “Excuse me,” she says to the not-bad-looking guy about her age who might be from India who’s working behind the counter, “is there a payphone around here?”

“Around the side.” Hmm. The accent seems a little off of Indian, if her memories of Indian TV haven’t failed her. Maybe he’s from Pakistan. Either way, still kinda cute. Much to her own shock, she smiles at him in what might be a flirtatious manner and he smiles back… like she’s a girl and a hot one. So okay, it’s possible the universe doesn’t hate her after all. Of course, then she feels Angel being all ‘grim presence’ beside her and the cute guy looks away nervously.

Yes, the universe hates her.

Huffing, she stomps out of the store and around to the side where, yes, there’s a graffiti-covered payphone and a phone book that looks much the worse for wear hangs from it. Angel is still beside her, shirtless and sickly-white and really annoying. Doing her best to ignore him, she calls the first cab company listed and tells the bored sounding guy on the other end of the line what her cross streets are. A lazily drawled “Be-there-in-bout-half-an-hour-be-waiting” is her answer and it’s followed by a dial tone before she can even say, “Can’t you get someone here sooner?” Great. Just great.

“It’s going to be awhile,” she tells Angel, “so if you want to walk, be my guest.” Please take the hint. Please, please, please take the hint. Because right now being alone seems like a really swell idea.

But no, he seems to be here to stay. “Why don’t you just ask that guy in there for a ride? I’m sure he’d give it to you.” Angel emphasizes the word ‘ride’ in a way that’s insulting and she’s this close to slapping him. He has some nerve.

“Oh, I get it. This is 1760 and I’m not allowed to wear my skirt above my ankles or to flirt with a good-looking guy?”

“You think he’s good-looking?”

This cannot be happening. He is so not playing this game with her.

But he is and he’s about to learn the hard way that Willow Rosenberg isn’t to be trifled with. Not anymore. “Yes, I do. It’s too bad he lives so far away from me, ‘cause I might have asked for his number.” Of course, she wouldn’t have, not really – at least she doesn’t think so – seeing as how she supposedly has a boyfriend, not that Angel even…

“What about Oz?”

“He’s fucking groupies in San Francisco, so I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t care.” Did she just say that? She did, didn’t she? Just casually blurted out what she’s been scared to admit is probably what’s going on right this minute.

Angel looks shocked too, but she has a feeling it’s because she used the word ‘fuck’ and not because he’s surprised at the thought of Oz cheating on her.

“It’s not really 1760,” she points out. “I can curse if I want to. Oh, and if the next thing you want to say is that you’ve never heard me do it before, ask yourself how often you’ve talked to me and then just don’t say it.”

“You’re right. I can’t say it suits you, though.”

“Whatever. I don’t know why you even care. I’m not Buffy or Cordelia, so what does it matter?” She’s angry again. Goody gumdrops, because she really missed the physical pain of all this where-the-hell-did-it-come-from rage roiling around inside her.

“You’re right. You’re not them.” Does he want a cookie for that? Then he continues, “But it still doesn’t suit you.”

“You’re not sharing my cab,” she shoots back. “I am so fed up with being in this… this box that everybody has me in. Nobody bothers to learn who I am inside, what I think, how I feel – they all decide that they know who I am and the truth doesn’t mean… one - fucking - thing.” And yes, she just enunciated the word ‘fucking’ as if she was teaching it to a class full of eager students. Sue her. Cursing is new to her. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the right to do it.

You know, he’s easier to read than those stupid Dick and Jane books because she already knows what he’s about to say. “Spare me the ‘Buffy’s not like that,’ okay? Because other than what she’s like in bed, I’m pretty sure I know her better than you do.” Oh boy is she going to feel guilty about insulting the girl even she has on a pedestal – and that guilt will hit her soon, she knows – but for now she’s just bitter and acting on emotion, even if she knows full well that the person who’s most to blame isn’t Buffy or any of her friends or Oz or even Angel… it’s Willow. The girl whose shadow she sees in the mirror every morning. The girl she’s been pretending is a real person.

The girl who is anything but.

Some random blonde in a bikini top and cut-off shorts is staring at Angel and licking her lips, so of course Angel’s eyes drift right over to her. As much as Willow is sure she’d enjoy scoffing and snickering inwardly while Angel and the airhead make with the flirting, she’s smart enough to think of using this little interlude as a distraction instead. Maybe she can make a break for it, call a different cab from somewhere else.

Before she can even pick a direction, though, Angel does something that stuns her senseless. He moves closer and puts his arm around her, giving her a fond look like…

Eww. He’s not flirting with the beach bunny at all, no, instead he’s acting like Willow’s his girlfriend. Do they make vamp-sickness bags?

Well, the hate-filled, jealous look she’s getting from Malibu Barbie isn’t entirely unwelcome, but she still wants to barf. There’s nothing to be done, however, so she tries hard to think of… well, Oz, sort of, or maybe that cute girl – yes girl – in the ridiculous Wicca group she’s been frequenting and looks up at Angel with what might pass for a look of answering fondness. Why are they even doing this?

Then she flashes back to that bit with the shirt and her confession about Oz and she gets it. She wishes she didn’t, but she gets it. This is Angel’s idea of doing her a favour. God. As Buffy might say: Ego much? He really thinks this is going to make it all better, like his make-believe affection is the band-aid for all her hurts. Is he really so shallow? Worse, does he think she is?

The glossy Barbie doll flips her hair over one tan shoulder and goes into the store as Angel takes Willow’s hand and leads her to a bus bench in front of the station. “We might as well sit,” he says and she agrees, but not happily, because agreeing with Angel makes her itch. She’s feeling the fatigue she spoke of earlier more than ever though, and she sits more heavily than she wants to, unable to stifle a soft sigh of relief.

“Hope the cab gets here early. I should have offered to pay extra.”

“You really don’t want to be around me, do you?” As he says it, Willow almost tumbles off the bench. Look who just got a clue.

She’s honest because she can be. “No, I don’t. But then, it’s pretty much mutual and it’s not like I’m important to you, so at least I’m not hurting your feelings.”

“Did it ever occur to you that you don’t know everything about me?” Angel shoots back and it’s enough to stun her almost speechless.

Almost, though, isn’t enough, and she stammers out a “sorry” that’s more sincere than she’d have expected from herself.

The silence that follows is very uncomfortable, but she’s not the one who ends it – no, that would be Angel. “I asked you before why you’re so angry. You never really told me.”

He’s right. Mostly because she had no interest in doing the sharing thing with him but also because she… not that she doesn’t know, at least on some level, she just doesn’t know how to put it into words. But she sort of owes him because she’s been pretty bitchy and okay, maybe she had some justification, but still… she’s still Willow and decency still matters. “You know how when you think you’re gonna die, your life’s supposed to flash before your eyes?” Angel seems to think that’s a non sequitur, but he nods and she continues. “I thought Spike was going to kill me for sure, but… there was nothing, okay? Nothing at all. Just this total blankness where my life was supposed to be.” Does he get it? She doesn’t think so. “I have no life. None. I’m just this sidekick, this supporting character who fills up space in other people’s lives, but when they’re not around, I’m nothing.”

That’s the signal and she waits for the platitudes. Sadly, she doesn’t have to wait long. “That’s not true, Willow. Buffy…”

Oh god! “Do you hear what you just said? You don’t think of me as a person in my own right. You can’t even look at me without seeing Buffy. Because that’s who I am to you – Buffy’s friend. Net Girl. Research Gal. Sidekick.” She’s about to get up and bolt, but he obviously senses that because he grabs onto her arm, forcing her to either stay seated or create a public spectacle.

“You’re right.” No duh. “I guess maybe I see why you’re upset.”

“Gee thanks.” Yes, she’s sarcastic. So what?

“Your friends, though, they have to see you as…”

“The same thing you do,” she finishes for him.

She thinks she’s shut him down and ended this depressing conversation at last, but then he turns the tables on her. “What do you see when you look at me?”

That’s so not fair – except that it is. It’s very fair and that’s far more irritating. She does the actual looking thing for a moment and she’s glad that she can be honest when she says, “I used to see Buffy’s boyfriend. But a minute ago when I thought you were gonna flirt with that girl, I didn’t think about Buffy at all. So I don’t know. I think I just see you as somebody really pale who I barely know and don’t really like.”

Okay, he’s sort of half-smiling and that’s just… weird. It’s totally inapropos, in fact, so she just has to ask. “What?”

“It’s just that you talk about me like I’m a person. It’s… different.”

You know, Angel is really, really strange. Also – hooray! There’s a cab pulling up and she’s instantly on her feet with a big smile, waving so the driver knows who his fare is.

Just as she hoped, the cab stops right there at the bus stop and they both stand. Angel opens the door for her. Time to say goodbye. She did tell Angel he wasn’t going with her, right? But just as she’s about to say something, Angel practically shoves her in and then gets in with her. Big mooch! Here she is paying for this ride and he’s taking advantage. Now more than ever, she knows she meant what she said about not really liking him.

Luckily, there’s a distraction – the driver’s not a guy, it’s a girl. And you know – okay, maybe it’s sort of weird to be thinking this way about yet another woman – this driver’s kind of cute. A little too old for her, but she looks kind of like the cabbie in that Bogdanovich movie, They All Laughed, freckles and all.

Naturally, Angel being such a throwback, he totally takes over, giving the driver the address and not even letting Willow speak. But she smiles and hopes the woman sees it in the rearview mirror. Is she flirting?


Now is probably not the time for this, but… yeah, she still likes guys; it’s just that she’s starting to think there’s an ‘and’ in there, or, more accurately, a ‘bi.’

Out of all the things she’s learning about herself today, this is easily the least troubling, though she’s pretty sure that, if her friends find out, Buffy will freak, Giles will stutter and polish his glasses a lot, and Xander… will want to watch her and some cheerleader type.

Whoa. Wait a minute. It suddenly occurs to her that she didn’t factor Oz in at all. So many times today, she’s had to remind herself that she has a boyfriend. Is this what he’s been feeling too? This sense of disconnection? This sense that they’re together for no good reason other than that there’s been no dramatic excuse to break up?

She doesn’t know – can’t know, really, not without asking questions she thinks she won’t have the courage to ask once she gets back to Sunnydale. But, weirdly, she thinks she knows – or might know – something about Angel that even he doesn’t know.

That’s probably something she’ll lock away, but she wishes she had the gumption to say something. Oh, not in the car with a witness who doesn’t know anything about vampires and hellmouths and Slayers, but… sometime, somewhere. She doesn’t though, so what’s the point in even wondering?

Willow’s drawn back into the mundane of the here and now as the car slows down and pulls over to the curb and… well, what do you know? They’re here. Willow’s rental car is parked where she left it. Angel gets out and Willow fishes for her wallet and gets out a couple of twenties. “Keep the change,” she offers with a smile.

The cabbie turns and frowns cutely. “You’re paying? Your boyfriend’s no gentleman.” Her voice is low and husky and really kind of sexy.

Turning on the charm without thinking, Willow half-smiles and says, “He’s not my boyfriend.” Yep, she’s officially flirting.

There’s a chuckle and a soft head-shake before the cabbie says, “If I were a few years younger…”

“If I lived in L.A…”

They stare into each other’s eyes for a moment, and then the cabbie shakes her head again with a rueful smile. “Have a good one, cutie.”

“You, too.” Willow gets out of the cab, closes her door before Angel can do it for her, and watches as the car drives slowly away.

Angel’s jaw is slack and he looks almost like a cartoon character. “What was going on in there with you and the driver?” Really? Like it’s any of his damn business. She shrugs and does her best to look innocent. He’s not buying it. “Do you flirt with everybody?” She can almost hear the ‘except me’ at the end of his question.

Let’s see if we can really make his jaw drop. Shrugging again, she answers with a nonchalant “She was cute.” Angel is staring and Willow goes for broke. “Oh, c’mon, Angel. You’re what – 300 years old or something? I’m pretty sure you know about bisexuality by now.” Oh gosh. For a split second she sees a flicker of… bullseye! Yes, Angel is very aware of bisexuality. Intimately. She’s sure of it.

But then he surprises her? “When did you know? Was it after your double…?”

Huh? Okay. Honestly, she hadn’t even thought of her vamp self, so no, that wasn’t it at all. She decides to put the games on hold and just be truthful. “No. I… It’s been pretty recent.” Looking down at her hands, she sees that they’re shaking – and this time it’s not from rage. Sure that Angel can see her nerves, she figures more honesty is pretty much mandatory right now. “I guess I didn’t really know until… uh… today?”

She waits for him to say something else, and he does, but it’s not what she expects. “I’m sorry about Oz.” Angel’s given her more than a few surprises today – but not as many as the universe has. She wonders what’s going to happen to her when she goes home and the ache of wings still haunts the marrow of her bones.

“Yeah, well. Maybe it’s payback.” And hey, maybe it is. She wonders… if he’s really doing what she thinks he is, what do the groupies look like? Are they prettier? Better in bed? Or is it enough that they’re not Willow?

“For you kissing Xander?” He scoffs. “There’s a big difference between that and having sex with random girls.” It suddenly occurs to her that Angel is accepting what she said; no dismissals, no attempts to talk her out of believing what she’s sure is true, just acceptance. She wonders if he realizes that this is so much more meaningful than that pretense of being her boyfriend back at the mini-mart. He looks around and she realizes that they’re standing on a public street and there are people walking by. This is Los Angeles, not Sunnydale. There are no empty spaces. “C’mon,” he says, taking her arm and leading her inside.

They don’t go into the office or even down to Angel’s apartment, instead, they take the elevator to the roof. Guess he still wants to enjoy the sunlight. Can’t really blame him for that, though the blossoming sunburn on her skin is going to hurt like heck – hell, remember you’re supposed to be old enough to curse – tomorrow. Could she do a spell for that? She supposes she could. How much harder could it be than that glamour she’d done on a pimple?

How much harder could it be than staking a vampire or shattering glass with only her anger?

Angel sits down near the edge of the roof and so does Willow. She’s never been afraid of heights. “It’s been quite a day,” he says quietly, staring into the sunlight as if he’s taking it all in for the first time.

Or the last.

That’s the thought that makes her wonder, but she doesn’t say anything. She’s a leaking balloon, all the air and energy of today’s magic draining away, leaving nothing but battered wings and a feeling of hopeless dread and… longing. Yes, longing. Longing to hang on to what she’s learned even as she knows that it will all vanish into the sulfur mists when she heads home. After all, there’s no room for it there – there’s no room for her there – and she’ll be expected to wedge right back into the tight, confining space afforded someone who only exists to decorate other people’s lives.

Of course, the truth is that she won’t need to be forced. What is that saying? That if you had a choice of any kind of misery, you’d still pick your own because it’s familiar? In her case, she thinks it’s even worse – that even if she could choose something better, she’d still cling tight to the threadbare, airless existence she knows even as small avian bones break and anger whistles, high and shrill, beneath her skin.

“You did incredible things today.” Angel’s voice breaks through her thoughts. “I can’t… I think if they knew, what you can do, I mean…”

She shakes her head more ruefully than ever that cabdriver did. “Yeah. Because giving you back your soul earned me so much respect.”

Whatever the look in his eyes is right now, she can’t figure it out and she’s not sure she even wants to.

The sky is turning pink and red and gold. It’s sunset, isn’t it? “Must be kind of amazing for you, the first time you’re seeing this after so long. Think you’ll ever get used to it?”

He’s got that expression again, the one she thought was that of someone seeing this for the very last time, and she doesn’t think he heard a word she said. “Earth to Angel.” She even waves her hand in front of his face for good measure.

“I’m just trying to remember…” He stops short and she has a sinking feeling… along with a new, anguished flare of anger.

“You can’t be… You really are, aren’t you? You’re going to do something totally stupid like destroy the ring.” She gets up, pacing, not even sure at all why this even matters to her, but that doesn’t change the fact that she wants to punch Angel in the face. “God! After everything… Spike put his hand between my legs today…” Her tongue is tight and words are spat hard. “How can you be such a martyr?”

Is he afraid of her? Worried she’s about to jump? “That’s not it. My redemption…”

“Oh yeah. Your redemption. Oh well, now I totally get it. Because sure, brooding in dark corners does so much more good than – say – saving lives.” Her arms are flailing and she’s caught an unwelcome second wind of rage. “Do you really think that little boy was the only person you could help during the day?”

“It’s not that simple.”

Great. He’s patronizing her now. Secret vamp stuff a mere mortal like her would never understand. Like Oz’s werewolf stuff and Buffy’s Slayer stuff and Giles whenever she’s asked him to help her with magic and… “It is that simple,” she snaps back, barely recognizing the angry voice emerging from her throat. “You just like this whole suffering and abnegation thing. You get off on being the king of self-sacrifice. I bet you don’t even miss Buffy because it’s so much more fulfilling for you to be the poor, tortured vampire who had to give up his one true love.”

Maybe she crossed the line because Angel’s eyes have just flashed gold and she’s reminded of the fact that he hasn’t given up that ring yet. “You know, I’m starting to get why Oz…”

When Angel shoots, he doesn’t miss. For all the distance between her and her boyfriend, Willow feels that unfinished sentence like a knife in her gut. He’s not wrong either, is he? She flashes back to this morning’s perfunctory sex. “Why Oz would rather be with anyone but me?”

There might be tears in her eyes or something because Angel immediately seems remorseful. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s the truth.” Her tone is clipped and guarded. She doesn’t want his retraction… or his pity.

“It was a cruel thing to say.” God, he’s an even bigger wimp than she is.

“Technically, I was the one who said it.”

He looks pensive. “You’re wrong, you know.”

“About what?” Because honestly? He could mean just about anything.

“About me leaving Buffy because I like suffering.”

That isn’t quite what she said, but she lets it go. Earlier, she’d had the energy for extended battle, but now? Now she isn’t sure she can make the drive home tonight. The anger had surged a moment ago, but right at the moment she’s that balloon again and she feels rubber against fractured bones. Suddenly it’s as if there’s no one here on the roof with her. There’s no magic inside at all, or if it’s there, it’s hiding too deep to be found. All that’s left is a scared girl who’s all alone and terrified of everything going back to the way it was… but even more terrified of not returning to the status quo.

“It’s never been like this,” she whispers. She remembers Angel now, and she realizes that, yeah she had yelled at him, but he wasn’t the only one at whom she was shrieking.

Angel heard her of course. “The magic?” he asks and she has to admit that, for someone she’s been prone to characterizing as an insensitive lummox, he’s kind of astute.

She nods. “Yeah.”

So okay, she’s girding her loins and preparing for the questions, but they don’t come. Either he’s really considerate or he just doesn’t care. She’s not sure it matters which; she’s just glad not to be expected to vomit up all this inner turmoil.

The sky is growing darker and she’s still feeling small and helpless, but she has to ask, “What are you going to do with the ring?” even though she just knows he’s still going to…

“Keep it.”

And she just about faints. “Really?”

“I’m not going to wear it, I just…” he stops and looks at her with more respect than she thinks she’s ever gotten from him – or maybe from anyone, but she doesn’t want to think about that, “I think someday it might be right for me to use it. You made some good points.”

What on Earth is she supposed to say? Is it weird that she’s more furious with him now than ever? It is, isn’t it? But damn him, he’s just made everything infinitely harder and he’s lucky he hasn’t taken that ring off because she wants to stake him so badly. “Good,” she says through gritted teeth, hoping – no doubt in vain – that she comes off as sincere. She’s not interested in opening her wounds so that Angel can drink her metaphoric blood.

“What’s wrong?”

Oh gosh, Angel… got a century? Oh wait. He actually does. She doesn’t, though. She also doesn’t have much energy. If she doesn’t get into her car and get away soon, she won’t even be able to make it to a motel. And no, she is so not sleeping on Cordelia Chase’s couch. She’s been through enough… she’ll be going through enough for the rest of her not-really-a-life.

“I better go. I need to get on the road if I’m gonna make it…”

Angel grabs her arm as she turns to leave and she doesn’t get to finish her sentence. “So that’s it?” He seems incredulous – and angry. So the tables have turned. “You can dish it out but when the chips are down, you’re just a mouse.”

You know, she would take offense to that if it wasn’t… totally true. She takes offense anyway, but she doesn’t really have the right. Still, more intense feelings right now? This is all too much.

She begins to sway on her feet and she sort of has to admit that it’s kind of a good thing Angel’s right there when her knees start to buckle, because…

“I’ve got you.”

The part where he caught her? Not the annoying part. No, it’s the sound of his voice – all manly and protective and ‘I’ll save you, helpless damsel.’ Okay, yes, technically at the moment she’s sort of on the helpless side, but… Not today. Not all of today. Today she staked a vampire with the force of her will and shattered windows and caught a child molester and…

There’s the ache of those wings again, she’s feeling it in every inch of her bones and she can’t help it – she starts to cry.

Before she can protest, she’s been picked up like that same damn – damn, damn, damn – helpless damsel and carried into the elevator and down into Angel’s dark and gloomy apartment. Oh goody. Especially the part where he sets her down, not in a chair, but on his bed.

“Don’t get up,” he says – well, orders – and her Pavlovian training kicks in and she obeys. Because that’s what good little sidekicks do, right?

She says nothing, just looks around, noticing things she hadn’t before. Like that the stuff in the kitchen is much cheaper than the bedroom furniture. Angel’s not so monastic. He spends on the things he uses. Also… this is some expensive bedding she’s laying on. She knows silk when she feels it and this is definitely a silk duvet cover under her hands.

Something about sitting on her best friend’s true love’s fancy bed is making her very uncomfortable and she really, really wants to leave. But instead, she blurts out, “Was this the same stuff you had in Sunnydale?” and what she means is ‘Did you and Buffy have sex on these sheets?’

Much to her dismay, it’s clear Angel heard the music and not just the words because he too knows exactly what she meant. His eyes narrow – predatory and sly. “No. I left almost everything there. I wanted a fresh start.”

There’s music there, too, but she has no desire to learn the tune. It harkens back to that flash of knowledge she thought she had earlier, when she’d wondered if there was anything real left between her and Oz.

Deciding to just focus on the fact that she’s glad not to be touching bedding Buffy had sex on, she smiles guilelessly and says, “I understand that.” With that, of course, she’s stepped on a live land mine.

“You can start over too, you know. If you want.”

This is a point which needs to be argued and she hopes she has the wherewithal to manage it. “I’m enrolled in school. I have commitments, a boyfriend…”

“There are better schools in L.A. and your boyfriend is probably cheating on you right this minute.”

Why she’s suddenly backpedaling, she has no clue – or more accurately, doesn’t want a clue – but she hears herself nearly whine, “I don’t know for a fact that he’s cheating. I might have read too much into…” Okay, she was about to way overshare and she’s so glad she hit the brakes just in time.

Unfortunately, her magical-emotional crash has sapped her psychic strength and Angel’s eyes are locked on hers, seeming to pull against her weak defenses. All she can manage is defiance as she finds herself revealing the embarrassing truth. “The sex, okay? We had sex right before I left to bring you the ring, but he wasn’t really into it. It was like he did it just to placate me. There. Are you happy now?” The tears are threatening to come back because she can only imagine what he’s thinking. God. If he tells Cordelia…

But if she was expecting amusement or scorn to colour his expression, then she was dead wrong. He looks… angry. You know, come to think of it, that sort of makes sense for a guy who can’t actually indulge in those naked activities Oz seems to find so enervating when she’s involved, even if she’s the last person on Earth he would want to indulge in them with. “He’s a jackass,” Angel spits out, and again, yeah, Willow can see his point of view, but no, he’s not making her feel better.

He’s not convincing her to make the break and move to Los Angeles either, though she is thinking again about just taking off, maybe for Massachusetts, and starting over somewhere completely new. Not Los Angeles, though.

She’s supposed to say something, isn’t she? She guesses it should be something about Oz, though she’d rather not. It’s not easy to talk about the fact that your boyfriend finds sex with you to be a chore. If she wasn’t a shadow, she wouldn’t have this problem, would she?

“It’s not you,” Angel says, as if he’s read her mind. Not as freaksome as you might imagine since – hey – what else would she be thinking? So of course he’s saying what you’re supposed to say in circumstances like this. Gosh, Angel. You’re a mensch.

“Thanks. I appreciate you saying that.”

“But you don’t believe me.” Look who’s still Mister Insight.

“No, I don’t.” There’s so much more she wants to say, but her will doesn’t have the kick it did before and she’s not equal to the task of… well, much, as she’s discovered in these past few minutes.

He sits down next to her on the bed and she’s incredibly uncomfortable, but it’s not like she can tell him not to, can she? This is his apartment. “It’s not you,” he repeats, his voice low and tinged with… something, something creepy and unsettling that she’s not at all okay with having there – clogging the air as if it were ash and making it hard to breathe.

“You don’t know that,” she says, fecklessly squandering what might just be the last flutter of those wings for who knows how long to bring a flash of fire into her eyes – the fire that burns shining and dangerous and was once able to dust a vampire with its force of intention.

What she’s just done… it might have been a mistake. There’s an answering gold suddenly glowing behind Angel’s gaze and she realizes that, for all that she airily proclaimed he didn’t know her, the truth is that she doesn’t know him any better. How on Earth had she ever gotten the impression that the soul made Angel into some sort of goofy, fanged puppy?

Maybe, she thinks, because he does a good job of creating that illusion. She’s learning, though, isn’t she? Vampires are not werewolves. Angel doesn’t leave his fangs in a cage at the end of a full-moon-night.

But what does any of this have to do with her?

“I know,” he says firmly, and it takes her a moment to remember what that’s even about. When she does, her feelings of awkwardness and discomfiture increase. She’s too drained not to feel dorky and unsure and really not equal to dealing with talking about sex anymore with Angel. Gone is the confidence that enabled her to flippantly share her bisexuality with him on a public sidewalk. She’s a tenth grade geek again who can barely speak around any boy who isn’t Xander.

Is this who Oz sees when she takes off her clothes? Is this who anyone would see? Would it even matter if she moved on to someone new?

Angel’s still staring at her. “You’re an amazing woman.” Those words could be sweet or kind or simply an insincere platitude – she’d prefer any of those options to the scuttling of an unseen spider she can hear beneath his voice.

What has she done? What has she gotten herself into?

The rollercoaster her psyche is on is making her nauseous. A few seconds ago her biggest fear was that underneath her college girl clothes was the dorky, tenth grade loser who couldn’t have gotten a date if her life depended on it and now, as Angel’s eyes bore into her, she’s terrified of something else entirely, because she doesn’t want to know any more about what he sees than she already does – that what he sees is anything but the geek he knew in Sunnydale… and that he… No, she doesn’t know anything.

But she’s still afraid.

There’s one thing you can say for fear, though: It’s a surefire source of adrenaline. The Mr. Wizard side of her brain calculates she has enough of it coursing through her to make it to the car and the nearest motel. Good enough.

Getting up suddenly and without indicating her move beforehand, she gets halfway to the elevator before announcing, “I really have to leave.” And then she’s inside, door closed, on her way up. Please don’t let Cordelia or that Doyle guy be in the office to slow her escape.

For once, her luck holds. There’s no one else there and she dashes – literally – out the door and makes it to her car even as she hears Angel behind her. Guess there were stairs too. Oh well, a miss is as good as a mile because she’s got the car in drive and she’s pulling away from the curb and – hey! Bonus! An additional adrenaline rush from the euphoria of success.

That last is excellent because in her initial calculations, she’d failed to account for the quicksand that is Los Angeles traffic. Will Angel follow her on foot, she wonders? But no, she whips around periodically, knowing her mirrors are of no use, and she doesn’t see him.

Ridiculous, isn’t she? Because why on Earth would Angel bother? She doesn’t think about the gold glowing deep in his eyes or hear the echo of his offer to stay; with luck she’ll forget them by the time she gets home.

Home. Because she is going there. No matter what she thinks she learned today or all the feelings coiled up inside, she’s ignoring the frantic beating of those wings and she’s getting on the freeway just as soon as she’s had a few hours rest and she’s going right back where she belongs – into the small, narrow space into which she’s always fit.

Even if this time she has to chop off pieces of herself to manage.

Back in Sunnydale, she won’t break windows – won’t do any magic except in one hundred percent approved-by-Giles situations and only with his supervision. She won’t flirt with girls. She won’t say a word to Oz about what she thinks he’s done. She won’t get angry anymore.

She won’t remember the look in Angel’s eyes when her own flashed magic and danger. And she certainly will never call it hunger.

She’ll never again feel the beat of wings inside as if her body was a cage from which something within longed to break free.

When she sees the sign that says Welcome to Sunnydale, she’ll be herself again – her sweet, wholesome, sidekick self.

That’s good.

That’s great.


The End.
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