Author's Notes: (lit. "Ramblings of the Idiot Responsible") Ah, I'm getting back on track. Next chapter some time next week, at which point all reviews for all chapters will also be answered because damn it, I miss the conversation. And also having an excuse to read over the reviews more than once, but let's not go into that. *grins*

*Part Fifteen*

Sitting on her bed, her legs tucked neatly up under her, Willow thought back on the years she'd spent watching the other girls talk together, all bright colours and quick giggling smiles, looking at the boys out of the corner of their eyes, and how it had *hurt* to know that she'd never be a part of that.

Can't talk to other girls, if they won't talk to you.

And couldn't talk about boys, not to anyone, not ever, because that would be admitting that she liked them, liked them more than books or math or knee socks, that she watched them just like the other girls, but more carefully. That it hurt that they didn't watch her, didn't even *see* her.

And now Buffy was smiling at her, her eyes bright and curious, and the window was a wide black gateway to the night, and the night was full of eyes.

"So," Buffy said, "what were you thinking about? Oz's eyes, right? No? His hands? He has *great* hands."

Irony was hell, Willow thought.

"I, um, was thinking about..." Willow's voice trailed off. Something innocent, she thought. Something believable.

"Something *else*," she said emphatically.

"Something else, eh? Not his hands? Mmm. Exactly how *far* have you two gone?" Buffy said, her eyes sparkling.

"Nrgh?" Willow said coherently, her mind suddenly gone blank.

Buffy waggled her eyebrows meaningfully.

We haven't done much, Willow pictured herself saying to Buffy. Just a little kissing, touching... oh, and biting. Lots and lots of biting.

The imaginary Buffy blinked and said, *Kinky!*

Willow shuddered.

The shrill ringing of the phone cut through Willow's thoughts and she lunged for the handset.

"Hello?" she said.

I love you, person who isn't Buffy, she thought happily.

"Willow."

Willow's smile froze.

Angelus' voice was unmistakable - low and dark and vibrating with... humour?

He isn't angry, Willow thought. Why isn't he angry? I mean, not that I want him to be angry, but he *should* be...

"Willow? Who is it?" Buffy said, looking concerned as her friend continued to stand silently with the phone pressed to her ear.

"It's..." Willow's voice trailed off.

"Tell her that it's Oz." There was an audible smirk in the words, so real that Willow felt like she could choke on it.

"It's Oz," Willow said numbly.

Buffy's face split into a delighted grin and she bounced slightly on the balls of her feet as she began to move towards the door. "Great! I'll just give you guys some privacy-"

"No!" The cry burst out without conscious thought. Don't leave me alone with him, please, with his voice and I can't hang up and I can't get away...

Buffy stopped and looked at Willow. "Are you all right?"

Angelus' voice was cold as he said, "Cover the phone with your hand and tell her that you're fine. And Willow? I'll still be able to hear you."

Covering the phone with her hand, Willow turned to face her concerned friend. "I'm fine Buffy. I'm just..." She mouthed the last word soundlessly. "...shy."

Reassured, Buffy grinned with understanding as she settled back into her chair. Picking up a magazine, she leafed through it as if to show how seriously she *wasn't* listening.

Willow lifted the receiver back to her ear, turning away from Buffy.

"I can hear you breathing," Angelus said, his tone low and intimate, and Willow had to close her eyes to keep the tears from coming.

Buffy was there and all the lights were on and the sick feeling in Willow's chest was making it hard to breathe because he could still get to her, even there.

For the sake of Buffy's ostentatiously non-listening ears, Willow carefully said, "So... how are you?"

A quiet chuckle resonated down the line and Willow shivered, staring at the shining lamp on her desk with sightless eyes, her mind focused on a shadow that the lamplight couldn't drive away.

"I'm fine, Willow," Angelus said, his voice deep and adult and male and very, very amused, "but there is one thing..."

"O-oh?" Willow said.

"It seems that one of my favourite dolls hasn't learned the rules yet." There was no anger in his voice, no threat, but Willow's heart was beating faster.

"It's a shame," Angelus continued. "She's such a pretty doll, with white china skin and red silk for hair... Say 'Really?' for me, doll. We don't want Buffy to get suspicious."

"Really?" Willow managed to choke out.

"Yes, really. I especially love your skin... have I ever told you that? I love the way it feels under my hands... under my mouth. I can see your blood moving under it when you blush, and you always do. I think I make you nervous, doll."

Willow's breath was coming a little faster now, and she swallowed, bringing another chuckle from the other end of the line.

She spoke quickly, without thinking. "That's interesting!"

Mentally she banged her head against the wall. Stupid, stupid stupid!

"Isn't it? I'm glad that you find it interesting, because you really should. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the things that I could do to you, you know. Hours and hours, running it over in my mind."

His voice lowered even farther, going husky, making her strain to hear him. "I thought about how nice it would be if you crawled to me, begging me to forgive you for your betrayal..."

"I didn't-!" Willow cut off the instinctive denial at Buffy's startled glance. "I mean, I didn't do that."

"No?" For the first time she heard anger in his voice.

"No!" Willow said firmly.

"You don't have to be afraid, Willow," Angelus said, his voice once more smooth and intimate. "I love your skin too much to scar it permanently... I won't even burn my name into it, even if that would help you remember who you belong to."

Willow gulped. "You won't?"

Less than reassuring, she thought frantically.

"I won't. Cross my heart," Angelus purred. "But... this isn't to say that it's just forgotten, doll. You made the wrong choice and you have to be taught a lesson." Sly amusement crept into his voice. "And I think I just spotted the perfect thing to use..."

"What? Where are you?" The questions came without conscious thought, propelled by a sudden dread.

"Now, now. You don't get to ask questions - I do. It's all part of the game. Follow the rules, and I *might* give you a hint."

The silence stretched out into minutes as she waited. Finally, Willow's patience snapped.

"What's the question?" Willow said

She realized her mistake a split-second before the dial tone hit her ears.

No, she thought. Oh no.

Willow stood clutching the receiver to her ear, frozen with shock. Got to think, got to- Ah! She dialed *69 and was automatically connected to the last number that had called her phone. The phone rang.

Once.

Twice.

Three times.

"Hello?" The voice was young, male, and totally unfamiliar. She could hear music playing behind him, a rhythmic beat reverberating down the phone line.

"Um... hello?" Willow said hesitantly. "This may sound strange, but where is this phone?"

"This is the Bronze, man!" The man shouted happily. "Who're you looking for again?"

The Bronze, Willow thought and her stomach knotted.

"Who's the band tonight?" she asked.

There was no reply from the other end.

"Hello?"

There was something that might have been a moan, and then another voice came on the line.

"No questions, Willow. I'm afraid I had to give you a penalty for that one, but don't worry - he was nobody you knew."

Willow's eyes closed and she felt pain twist in her like a cord drawn tight around her throat.

Dead, she thought numbly, he's dead, my fault all my fault, he didn't do anything, didn't do *anything*, nothing just answered the phone when I called, when *I* called...

God...

"Time for another test, doll. For the sake of the rest of the idiots in here, I hope you learn quickly."

Click.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

_________

End Part Fifteen

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