author: Lucinda

rating: pg/pg13

main characters: Willow, Angel

disclaimer: I hold no legal rights to any characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. distribution: WLS, Wic, Bite Me, NHA, Paula, Quick-Fic, Tinkerbell, Cat - anyone else ask.

notes: written for Wic's July fic-challenge. AU after 'Wild At Heart'.

Willow walked along the path, feeling as if she was freezing. Her long skirt brushed against her calves, a slithering caress of fabric that had no effect on her. She had pulled a lavender sweater over her shirt, the long sleeves fuzzy and normally warming, but tonight, she still felt cold. She hadn't felt warm since she'd seen Oz with HER. It had been as if her blood had been replaced with ice water, her bones with carved ice. And her heart had simply been torn out and tossed aside.

Buffy had commented on it, saying that she had dark circles under her eyes, and 'this freaky look, like nobody's home, y'know?' Maybe Buffy was right, maybe there wasn't anybody left now, just an empty shell of what had been Willow. Had she given so much of herself to Oz that without him, she was nothing?

She felt as if she must have done that. Given all of herself to Oz, all her heart, all her feelings, all her devotion. But she hadn't had his devotion. Not enough to keep him from going to HER. She felt like she'd been ripped open, and everything removed, replaced with ice and pain and something that wasn't quite nausea.

Nobody wanted to hear about her pain. Somehow, her pain wasn't worthy of sympathy, of them even pretending to listen. It was all about Buffy and her pain at Angel's leaving, at Parker's deception and using, at the greatness of Riley. All about Anya and orgasms. No time left for Willow and her broken stolen heart... She felt broken.

Part of her knew that she shouldn't be out here, shouldn't be walking around at night like this. She didn't even have a stake with her. If she ran into a vampire...

A cold hand caught her elbow, the strength of the fingers actually catching her attention. A man's hands, larger than Oz's had been. She almost felt as if she was in slow motion, her gaze drifting to the fingers, slowly following the hand to the arm to the face of... Angel.

"Willow?" Angel was frowning at her, his eyes flickering a bit between chocolate and honey gold. "Don't you know better than to be out here by yourself at night? Or at least... carry some sort of weapon?"

She shrugged, a single tear sliding from the corner of her eye. "Why does it matter?"

"What? Why does it... Willow, what if a vampire found you?" He looked shocked.

Willow sighed, her eyes wandering down, noticing a faintly lighter spot on his shirt. "One did. You. Your point is?"

"What if it wasn't me? What if I happened to be Angelus?" He looked frustrated, and a little bit baffled. "Damn it all, Willow, you're smarter than this."

"If I was found by a random minion, then I suppose I'd just get killed. Keep anyone from having to listen to poor Willow anymore." She sighed, a bit of his words finally catching up to her. "Are you Angelus? Because... really... Buffy doesn't seem that worried about me now. Wouldn't want to waste your time."

His fingers tightened on her elbow, causing a slight throbbing sensation. "Willow... that isn't funny."

She looked up, her eyes filled with nothing but pain and empty despair. "Who's joking?"

"What about Oz? What would he say if he knew you were out here like this?" Angel prodded with his question.

Willow felt as if something inside had shifted, sending shooting pain through her body. "Oz isn't here anymore. He met someone that he could relate to better, and they decided to get together... only I sort of had to find out by walking in on them naked together."

"Ohhh..." Angel looked as if he'd swallowed something dreadful. "I'm sorry, Willow. But, surely the others... they're your friends, right?"

"They didn't want to hear anything else about it. It's last weeks news, I should be dealing now. Instead I'm still hurty mopey Willow. They don't want to hear me anymore." She tried to shrug, discovering that Angel was still holding her elbow. "I think you're going to leave a bruise there, Angel."

He let go of her elbow, his face showing guilt. "Willow... I didn't... why didn't you say something?"

"Everything's still pretty much numb. It didn't really hurt, but..." She shrugged, the motion unimpeded this time. "What does it matter anyhow?"

"You shouldn't be out wandering like this. Something could just come along and eat you up." Angel looked around, frowning a bit. "Why don't we go have a cup of coffee or something, and I can listen to you for a while."

Willow tried to smile, uncertain how successful she'd be. "I think I'd like to have someone listen for a bit."

They settled in a corner, Willow holding the large cup of coffee in both hands, craving some measure of warmth, of feeling. She stared into the murky depths of the coffee, seeking something, peace, answers, life... anything. Slowly, haltingly, the words began to flow, and she poured out the miserable story of Oz's cheating, of Veruca's attack, of Oz's abandonment and the feeling of emptiness that she'd been left with. The way that she felt like there was nothing left, no emotion, no hope, no life.

Angel might not have been the most talkative, but he was a good listener. He could also piece things together from what she didn't say, figuring out how her 'friends' had abandoned her to her grief, unwilling to listen or offer comfort. He put her hand out, resting fingers warmed by his own coffee on her hand. "Willow... you are more than the woman that was with Oz. You are more than the person who finds knowledge or works magic. You are Willow. You've just lost sight of that for a little while."

Willow looked at him, noticing the rage simmering in his eyes, the way that they looked almost molten yellow, and sighed. "Angel? You look...very cranky. If you don't get a grip over your temper, people are going to start noticing. And I think you're growling."

He looked startled, and then got the most unexpectedly sheepish expression. "I... hadn't noticed. Sorry. It's just... Oz did his damned effective best to break you, and nobody seems willing to help you. It's not right, Willow. You deserve better, even if only for the number of times that you've been there for everyone else, even for me. Even when I didn't deserve it. I... did I ever thank you? For my soul?"

Willow blinked, wondering when Angel had become so... passionate about her. Well, not that he was... that sort of passionate, but... when had she started to matter to him as more than Buffy's friend? "I don't think so. There was a lot going on, but... I don't recall you actually saying so. But I knew you were happy about it. I just wish the timing had been better."

"That wasn't your fault, Willow. And maybe it was something that I deserved... I haven't always been a paragon of virtue." Angel had a soft smile, one that looked full of regrets.

Willow looked into his eyes, so full of emotions, of sympathy, and felt tears start to flow again. Somehow, Angel's presence, the fact that he was willing to listen, the obvious fact that he cared had done something, woken up some damaged part of her, and she could feel again. And it hurt. The next thing she knew, she was leaning against him, arms wrapped around his body, sobbing into his shoulder. Angel held her, whispering soothing words in English and Gaelic, words of comfort, telling her that she was safe, that he was here for her, that it was okay to grieve.

Angel held her as she cried, his strong arms offering the first comfort that she'd had over the whole sad, miserable mess. His soothing words flowed into her, like water into parched soil. Angel was strength, was comfort, was something that could almost pass for peace. Angel gave her hope.

Finally, Willow looked up at him, her face still soaked with tears, and smiled. It was a real smile this time, and she felt... well, she felt miserable, but she felt again. "Thank you, Angel."

"Anytime, Willow. I mean that. I will make the time to listen to you, I will be here to offer a shoulder to cry on, a word of comfort. I could try to get you ice cream, if that would help..." His words were soft, but filled with sincerity.

A soft, strange sound came from her lips, and it was only belatedly that Willow realized that she was giggling. "Raspberry sherbert. Or maybe lemon."

"If that's what will help you feel better, I can find sherbert." He had a wonderful smile.

Willow looked at him, part of her mind wondering what had softened his smile. It wasn't just sympathy. "Angel? Am I really... is there something wrong with me? I've never been enough. I wasn't pretty enough for Xander to notice, not enough to keep Oz... Is it me?"

Angel sucked in his breath, eyes going wide as he looked at her. "Don't say that, Willow. Xander is an idiot, he's always been an idiot. Oz... I have no idea what's wrong with him. But you are wonderful. Sweet, considerate, compassionate, intelligent, incredibly stubborn, beautiful... Someday, someone will realize that, will be able to offer you the love and devotion and passion that you deserve, that will let you know just how much you are loved."

"You almost sound jealous." Her voice was a bare whisper. Something fluttered inside of her, was it hope? Nerves? Confusion?

His smile was bittersweet, and he leaned forward, kissing her forehead gently. "Maybe I am. If it weren't for this damn clause... If I could offer you a future, I would. But I can't... you would give anyone perfect bliss. And I'm the last person that should try that."

"Angel? I'm sorry about that clause. I've been trying to find a way around it, to make sure... to keep your soul with the rest of you. I like you a lot better than... Well, he didn't brood, and the leather pants looked better than chocolate, but he wasn't safe." Willow could feel herself blushing.

He chuckled, his fingers brushing the tears from her cheeks. "Better than chocolate? Thank you. Maybe I should let a bit more color, maybe a bit of leather or silk into my wardrobe then."

Willow ducked her head, not quite looking at his eyes. "You're wonderful, Angel. If... but it doesn't matter."

"Sometimes it's less painful not to think of what you can't have. Sunlight, chocolate, the love of a beautiful woman... I have hope, but sometimes hope feels very thin." Angel hugged her close, resting his chin on her head.

"Thank you." She smiled, feeling his skin against her cheek, his scent wrapping comfortingly around her.

Willow could feel his throat and chest vibrate with his words. "For what?"

"For saving me. For bringing me back. Maybe not literally to life, but... I'd probably be dead without you. Because I don't think I would have got better on my own."

"Anytime, my Willow." His arms were comforting around her.

end Wake Me Up.