Author: Lucinda

rating: pg 13

First story in Guardian Angel series, which will be Willow/Angel

main character is Willow. Minor W/Oz, but not for long.

Disclaimer: I do not own anyone from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Distribution: WLS, NHA, Bite Me, Wic, Soul Mates... anyone else I gave a general permission to. Otherwise, ask first.

Note: set after Becoming. Will shortly become AU.

Nothing was right in Willow's world anymore. A single night had tipped the fragile balance that she'd been maintaining between her life as a student and helping fight the monsters that belonged in nightmares and horror movies. Willow had been injured when Drusilla and a group of minions had attacked the library, and even though she'd been released from the hospital, she was still confined to a wheelchair, and suffered from headaches. Buffy was gone, vanished after her fight to stop Angelus from opening Acathala. Clearly, she'd succeeded in that much, but... what had happened? She didn't have any answers, only questions, about Buffy, about the restoration ritual, about Spike and Drusilla. As it turned out, nobody could piece together more than a very few answers. So Joyce Summers was blaming Giles, as if it was entirely his fault that Buffy had been the Slayer.

Willow didn't know what had happened with the ritual either. She was certain that her spell had... well, it had definitely done something. But had it restored his soul? Had she restored him only to have Buffy kill him? No, she'd sent Xander to tell Buffy about the ritual, so she would know. But then, why had Buffy vanished? Why was she being tormented by those dreams?

She settled at the smaller computer that she'd carefully set up, having Xander and Giles help her run cables to the phone line and power outlet, booting it up and mentally debating if it would be better to start with the Watcher Council's website or with Sadira's. She needed to find a good site on dreams.

Oh yes, as if the wheelchair and the headaches weren't bad enough, she kept having troubling dreams of Drusilla. Some were fairly straightforward, reliving the attack, hearing her make her threats, seeing Kendra die, which she hadn't actually witnessed. Nightmarish, but easily explained. Other dreams would go entirely differently. She would be sitting somewhere peaceful, like at the base of a tree under the soft sunlight, and the sky would go cloudy, and Dru would be there, her gown and dark hair fluttering in a breeze that touched nothing else, her eyes bright with intensity, flickering from dark to yellow. Then, the vampiress would speak to her.

"You have to bring him back. Only you can bring my daddy back to me. Bring him back before he's all cinders and ashes... ashes, ashes, we all fall down... have you posies in your pockets, little witch? Can you see the circle? It's made out of fire and evil, let out by the sword… The ring is growing, ring around the roses... ashes everywhere... Daddy fell into the ashes… can you taste them?" Then, she would have her hand on Willow's chin, her nose touching as she looked into Willow's eyes. "CAN YOU TASTE THE ASHES?"

She would always wake up, her pulse hammering, gasping for breath, utterly confused. She'd been having the dream since she'd been released from the hospital. There had to be significance to it, and she needed to figure it out quickly. She had the feeling that there was a time limit.

She was still incredibly wobbly from the bookcase that had fallen on her in the library. She was supposed to be using a wheelchair to go places, in order to allow herself to regain her strength. Stubbornly, she was already trying to stand without it, and to try hesitant, wobbling steps along things, like the back of the couch. Three feet would leave her pale and shaking, her muscles screaming at her and this odd throbbing in her back. She wanted to be mobile again. Xander had said she'd been in a coma, the doctor's had assured her that it had simply been a 'perfectly natural period of unconsciousness following a traumatic injury'. She sighed, letting herself into the school as she slowly wheeled herself to the library. She had a coroner's office to check, and a listing of bodies to prepare. She most definitely couldn't help patrol right now, but she could still research.

At least, in the two hour blocks she could manage to endure. Longer than that and her vision blurred too much, a lingering side effect from where something from the bookcase had hit her head. Or maybe it was from the stress of everything, the questions, the desperate efforts to keep the Hellmouth safe. There was also the fact that she couldn't get to the large tables, the main computer, or almost half the books, including a couple rows on types of demons and…hmmm, magical weapons? She was stuck on the upper half of the library, cursing the architect who'd put so many steps in the school

Willow sighed, her vision blurring from staring at the monitor. She felt so helpless after the attack in the library. She pushed her chair back from the computer, slowly wheeling herself down between some of the shelves. She inhaled, part of her mind finding the scents comfortingly familiar, the library having become more home than her parents house. She shivered, reminded of all the reasons why Sunnydale was dangerous, and of her own helplessness as a result of this wheelchair. She couldn't even try to run away unless she was attacked by some sort of demon snail or sloth-monster. If there even were slow moving types of demons.

Frowning, she tried to recall what Giles had said about Buffy's Slayer dreams, how they could be prophetic, and hadn't there been books to help interpret them? She was almost positive there had been a large, red, leather bound book with copper corners that Giles had consulted. She began searching for it, ending up almost near Giles' office. There were voices inside, Giles and Xander, and they were talking about something serious. Feeling curious, she tried to listen in, wondering what could have Giles sounding so upset...

Another part of her mind half expecting to hear a soft voice with a British accent uttering threats. Dru had been here, had violated the library with madness and death. She shivered, wishing that her dreams weren't haunted by the images and words of Drusilla. Why did she keep dreaming of her, what was the significance of the ashes and of the circle?

end part 1.

"No luck yet, G-Man?" Xander's voice, somewhat sad.

There was a sigh. "No, I haven't been able to find her yet. It's most frustrating. We are certain that she wasn't at the mansion, and the world was not sucked into hell..."

"I could argue that... I mean, its summer vacation and I'm in school. You sure that's not hell? A special kind, just for teenagers?" Xander again, sounding almost like he was trying to deflect focus from some sort of guilty secret. It set off alarm bells in Willow's mind.

Willow tried not to breathe loudly, fearful that she would miss something important. She couldn't quite explain her sudden desire to eavesdrop, but she had a feeling that they would say something important. She closed her eyes, the better to concentrate on listening.

"It might help if we could reconstruct the events as much as possible. You spoke to her before the fight? Did she know that Willow survived the attack at the library?" Giles sounded worried, and she could almost picture him pinching the bridge of his nose while pacing.

"Yeah... I told her Willow lived. She was awake then, and I told Buffy... I passed on a message from Willow." Xander had paused before his sentence. What had he said? Had he tried to... what had he done?

"Willow had you give Buffy a message? What was it?" Giles sounded as if he was trying to be interested, but was utterly exhausted.

She heard a sound, as if Xander was shuffling his toes over the floor. "I told her... Willow said to kick his ass. For everything, you know?"

Willow felt as if her stomach had fallen out of her, and the world was spinning. 'Kick his ass'... she hadn't said that! She'd told Xander that she intended to try the restoration ritual again, and to make sure he told Buffy... and he'd said 'Kick his ass'? She felt something inside go cold and knotted, and her mouth tasted like bile. How could he have done that? Could he really hate Angel so much that he would try to have him sent to Hell? Or had he just wanted the vampire killed, soul or no soul? Had he done it in an effort to win Buffy over?

It didn't matter now why he had done it. She felt the world still spinning a bit, and her vision was blurred and filled with bright specks from having scrunched her eyelids shut so tightly. How could he have done that, betrayed her trust like that? How had he betrayed Buffy like that, denying her the chance to be reunited with her love? She tried to wheel herself back into the depths of the shelves as quietly as possible, her mind still spinning over this heart wrenching discovery.

What would have happened to Angel if she'd restored his soul? She'd felt him, felt her soul touch his as it passed through her towards his body... had it been in time? She had the sinking suspicion that it hadn't been. Why else would she be having those dreams?

She would have to find the books on Acathala, discover a bit more about what the demon was supposed to do, and how, and what could stop it. Then, maybe she could figure out what had happened. Maybe she could figure out why she was dreaming that Drusilla wanted her to see a circle, and what that meant. The dreams made her shiver, and frightened her, partly because it was Drusilla and partly because she was certain they had a meaning, an importance to them. There was something she had to do, and she needed to figure it out soon. Her hands shook as she picked up a hefty grey tome, covered in something almost pebbly textured. She would take this home with her, that way she could look at it in smaller sections, away from this place. The library just didn't feel safe anymore.

She would go home, away from this place and it's memories of attacking vampires and away from Xander's words that still echoed in her head 'kick his ass'... 'Kick his ass'. Had Xander's jealousy and hatred caused Angel's death? The whole thing was painful and getting worse.

But at least she still had Oz. He hadn't betrayed her, hadn't abandoned her in her weakness. She had Oz to hold her and tell her that the pain would eventually fade, that the headaches would lessen and stop, that she would heal. That it was alright that she still had nightmares. Oz would be there to comfort her while everything was falling apart.

End part 2.

She slowly made her way back home, her head spinning from too many thoughts, and none of them happy. Pondering her nightmares, and trying to pick out the message inside them, wanting to understand why Xander had lied to Buffy, why her head would pound so easily, why she had to have been injured. So many why's, and so few answers. Perhaps she should be grateful that she was alive to have the headaches. Perhaps she should just worry about being glad the world hadn't been sucked into hell.

She wasn't feeling very glad, or grateful.

"Hey." Oz' soft voice brought her attention to her surroundings, and she discovered that she was already home.

"Oz… I'm home? Can you help me inside, I'm feeling particularly wobbly, almost like Jello, which is pretty unnatural for a person to feel like." She smiled at him, noticing that his hair was almost sandy blond, with darker streaks along the sides. Yesterday the streaks hadn't been there.

"Yeah, in we go." He grinned a bit, helping her inside. "You look pale."

Willow smiled just a bit, feeling glad that Oz hadn't been trying to deceive her about anything hadn't been hiding something terrible, well, just the werewolf thing. But that wasn't a problem. "I feel pretty washed out. So, did Devon hear anything from that record guy he said he knew?"

"Yeah." Oz felt more thoughtful in his quiet as he helped her into the house, leaving the chair near the door and letting Willow lean on him as they went to the living room. "Good news, bad news sort of thing."

Willow allowed herself to collapse onto the couch, leaning over until her head rested on Oz's leg. "So… let's start with something good?"

"Record guy called back. He wants us to go audition and play at this club in LA. Might even get a regular paycheck. It could be good for the Dingos." Oz sounded almost smug.

Willow smiled, looking at him with a smile and a feeling that she wouldn't like the bad news. "What's the bad part?"

"The part where we have to relocate. Away from here, which would be good, except… you're here." Oz had this little sad smile, and he tugged gently on a lock of her hair.

Willow blinked, feeling sorrow and resignation fill her. "So… is this the end? No more us? I mean, I want your band to do well, but…"

"Maybe. It doesn't have to be forever, but…" Oz shrugged, as if the whole thing was to messy to explain in words. "I'm your friend, Willow, and I always will be. And if you need me, I'm there. But… I just… it would be too easy for this to hurt you."

She tried to smile. "This does mean I won't get a hey Willow letter, or have to walk in on you and some groupie. But… I mean, I'm glad for the band, and it's a good opportunity for you but… but… I'm going to miss you. And what about the whole wolfy thing?"

"I don't know yet, but I'll find a way." Oz smiled a bit, still touching her hair. "Everything's not over. Maybe I'll come back and see if I can have another shot?"

"Maybe. Who knows?" Willow smiled a bit, her vision suddenly blurry. "But this… we weren't bad together."

"Yeah. We were good. But it's not right for the moment." Oz sighed, looking sad. "Maybe not again. Be happy, Willow. Whatever it takes, I want you to be happy."

"Happy… that would be nice. Can you help me to my room? I think maybe… a nap?" Willow sighed, remembering how she'd thought that she could be happy with Oz. But that didn't look very likely at the moment. Once, she'd wished to find happiness with Xander, but that would require him noticing her.

"Sure thing." Oz helped her to her feet, picking up the book with a frown. "A little light reading?"

"Not quite. I've… been having really weird dreams, and I think it's connected to Acathala. Or maybe the spell for Angel. But I don't know, so I was hoping to do a little research." Willow sighed, her head spinning. "But Giles is so busy trying to find Buffy, and Xander… well, research isn't his strong point. And he… I heard him and Giles talking. I... don't think he'd be much help if it does involve Angel."

"There is a bit of jealousy there." Oz nodded, his eyes sad. "I hope you find the answers you need."

Willow collapsed onto her bed, everything aching and wobbly. Her eyes itched, although she wasn't certain if it was strain or tears. "You're great, Oz."

Oz looked at her, pausing in the doorway as he prepared to leave. "Glad someone thinks so. You're quite the human, Willow."

Willow smiled as he left, before closing her eyes and letting the tears flow. She was glad for his big chance, she really was, but… she would miss having someone to snuggle with, someone that could hold her and make her feel a little bit safer from the scary things outside, from whatever had just made a sort of rattling sshhhhsssss noise outside. Everything was crumbling all at once.

End part 2.

"You still don't see it. You have to see it, to listen." Drusilla's voice rang in the misty air.

Dampness clung to Willow's body as she looked around. It was as if she was wreathed in fog that came to somewhere between her hips and her shoulders, undulating around in an uneven layer that obscured everything. The stars were shining brightly over them, glimmering and sparkling, little whispery hints of sound ringing above in high, crystal voices that she couldn't decipher. Everything smelled like blood and ashes. "Drusilla?"

"Yes. Miss Edith said you didn't understand. I brought you here to show you. Do you hear them singing?" One hand gestured upwards, waving at the stars almost lazily. Drusilla was garbed in a gown the hue of fresh blood, the fabric clinging to her body, looking almost damp from the fog… hopefully from the fog.

"I hear them, but I don't understand the words. Everything smells like ashes and blood… Where am I?" Willow looked at Dru, somehow certain that this wasn't just a dream. Somehow, this was real… or at least, real enough. And it was something that the insane vampire thought important enough to contact Willow from wherever she was.

"The ring opened. But this one wasn't a ring of posies… it was fire and light and pain… and it took my Daddy. Took him away to the ashes and fire. I tried to find him, to bring him back, but I'm not strong enough." Dru was suddenly beside Willow, her cold fingers gripping Willow's hand.

As the dream-Dru pulled Willow along, she realized that she was also dressed in a long flowing gown of the same style that Dru wore, only this one was a pale green color. Her hair was even hanging in ringlets. Dru brought her to a gap in the fog, an area covered in what looked like pale gray gravel surrounding a perfectly smooth black pool. They knelt beside the pool that was not water.

"Look and see." Dru slashed her hand open, allowing the brightly crimson blood to fall onto the surface of the pool. Ripples spread, as if the surface was a trampoline that had been struck, and then an image formed.

Angelus slashed his hand with a sword, running it along the edge, allowing a coating to fall over the blade as he smiled, an expression that held a dark joy. "The blood of the worthy…"

Then, Angelus and Buffy were fighting. That was oddly fragmented, jerky… as if she was only seeing bits and pieces, but not bits that fit smoothly together. Swords clashed, fists and feet flew, and a bright dot appeared on the chest of the huge toadlike shape of Acathala. It grew, becoming a fiery ring around a swirling gray vortex. Angel stood there facing Buffy, a look of utter confusion on his face as the ring grew behind him. Willow could feel the wind as the vortex pulled at her…

"Close your eyes." Buffy whispered the words, kissing Angel. Stepping back, she plunged the sword into him, the impact pushing him back into the portal, which howled, screamed inside Willow's head

The circle flared brighter before closing, taking Angel with it. The pool became black and still once again.

"The burning circle took my Daddy away, and I can't get him back." Dru's voice sounded so sad, so lost. "I tried, but it didn't work. Can you bring him back? Before he's all ashes and gone forever?"

Willow blinked, her mind still reeling from the images. Buffy had sent Angel to hell? The restoration had worked at the worst time… "I don't know."

The mist closed in, swirling around Willow, clinging to her, wrapping tightly and tangling around her, making it hard to breath, to move. The stars faded, leaving her in darkness, the scent of blood and ashes thick, almost choking. Dru's voice echoed, sounding almost distant, or underwater. "You must try…"

She gasped for breath, arms trying to flail. Her eyes snapped open, at first registering only darkness before one of her frantic movements revealed that the dark and half smothered feeling came from being face down against her pillow. Her blankets and sheet had tangled around her, as had the long pale nightgown… Willow's mind froze.

She didn't have a long pale nightgown.

Carefully, she began untangling herself from her covers. She was wearing the same pale green gown that had been in her dream, and she still thought that she could smell blood and ashes. The scent made her shiver, her whole body aching. Dru had contacted her in a dream, asking her to bring her Daddy back before it was too late. Shown her a vision of Angel sent to hell.

She'd wanted to know what the dreams had meant. This had cleared up all of her confusion on that. Angel had gone to hell, and his Childe wanted him back. Dru thought that she could bring him back. Willow wasn't certain which part of that frightened her the most – a crazy vampire invading her dreams, Angel sent to Hell, a vampire wanting her to bring him back, or the possibility that she might be able to do it.

Slowly, Willow let out her breath. Could she do it? Could she bring back Angel from Hell? Turning over the idea in her mind, Willow sighed again. She wasn't certain if she could do it or not, but she wouldn't be able to live with the idea that she'd had a chance to maybe save someone from hell – literally, and had just done nothing. Now, she needed the right sort of book to give her a ritual…

End part 3.

It took her nine days to find a book that might help her. Nine days of searching, flipping through book after book in so many languages that her head throbbed and hurt, her eyes burning with the strain of focusing. In that time, Giles had left, hearing rumors through the Council of a girl in Chicago fighting against vampires. He was going to investigate, hoping to find Buffy.

Nine painful frustrating days where Willow learned more than she ever had wanted about Hell dimensions, cross dimensional time flow, and portal opening rituals. She was about to weep with despair, having found nothing that she was certain would work. All the rituals either demanded human sacrifices or something of the being that she wanted to summon. She'd scoured the mansion, finding a few strands of hair, and a crowbar with a bit of blood on the end, and not too much else that might help.

She would just have to improvise and hope that it wouldn't get her killed or sucked into hell along with Angel. She would use those few hairs, and the sheets that had been on his bed. After all, people shed skin cells all the time, right? Hopefully, that still applied to vampires? And there was a little bit of something dried on the end of a crowbar… a couple short dark hairs… That gave her a little bit. It would be enough for a locating spell, but would there be enough to let her bring him back? Was she even powerful enough to bring him back?

Willow closed her eyes, trying to gather her confidence. She had to try it. She had to gather everything that she would need. And… maybe it would be best to have blood on hand when she did the ritual. Angel had been away for a month, Sunnydale time. That was probably close to a century, maybe two in that place, depending on the time flow. Somebody with far to much time and a morbid sense of curiosity had written a listing of hell dimensions by name, and included precise ratios of their time compared to earth time, but… none of them had been listed as 'where you go if sucked into Acathala's portal'. He'd certainly been gone long enough that he'd be hungry when he got back.

She managed to get all the supplies, and took them to the Mansion. Surely, the place where he'd been taken from would be the easiest to bring him back, right? She set up a few of the things, the candle sticks, the bowls that would hold the burning herbs, and the hair. Nothing that could get easily damaged. Then, she made her way to Willies. There were a few people there, mostly human looking. Some of them might have been a bit… not so human, but Willow didn't care. She was just too busy being glad that nobody was trying anything hostile. Walking up to the bar, she leaned against it's solidness gratefully. Her back and legs were hurting from all the effort.

"You don't look legal for alcohol, kid." The guy had a permanently nervous look to him, and his eyes kept darting around, as if he was expecting trouble or disaster.

She looked at him, wondering if he would try the same hassles that Buffy had complained of, somehow doubting it. Her words were soft, not loud enough to carry to any of the other patrons, assuming they had normal human ears. "Good for me that I'm not looking for alcohol then, isn't it? I want blood, human, fairly fresh. Plenty of it."

He blinked, a slow smile spreading over his face. "What, you decided that you want a pet vampire? Is that going to be the new big craze?"

She felt like crying, or screaming. Instead, she put on hand on the counter, looking into his eyes. "I'm not looking to pick up a vampire. I have that taken care of already. I was trying to keep my vampire from coming out looking for something slow, stupid and helpless to eat. In the interests of your own continued survival, give me the blood."

With a small noise, he went pale and disappeared into a back room of his bar. Willow closed her eyes, not certain if he would actually bring her the blood or not. She had been bluffing, partly. She didn't really think that Angel would eat Willie… actually, she'd been more worried that she would work the magic and pass out, being left alone and unconscious with a vampire that might not remember her and had probably been a century or so between decent meals. Not a good idea.

While she didn't think that Angel would hurt her if he was himself, she was worried that he might not be quite himself when he got back. That he might be too hungry to think, or half mad from his trip. She wasn't so certain of her safety then.

There was a thump on the counter, the vibration seeming to go straight up her arm to her aching back. The cooler looked huge. Willie leaned on it, his eyes fixed on her. "This should be plenty. Now, just…. Try to keep your…. Keep control, okay?"

Slowly, she nodded, a part of her mind trying to calculate just how many packets of blood were inside. "Of course. How much do I owe you?"

In the end, they'd settled on a figure that had sounded high, but was probably not unreasonable. She'd put it on her parent's credit card, a copy of the one they used for all their trips and entertaining. Hopefully, they wouldn't notice the charge.

Getting it to the mansion was… well, painful, time consuming and dull. But it made a lovely table for mixing the various herbs and powders that she needed for the ritual. It took a long time, and by the time she finished, her hands and wrists hurt from all the dicing and grinding and blending.

Carefully, she lit the candles, her movements slow and careful. Not out of any sense of ritual, but from the ache of having already pushed herself to the edge of her body's strength. She began the chanting, having carefully checked the translation of the Latin words yesterday to make certain that they really said what they were supposed to say. No more Molochs.

The fire burned green, flames reaching over a foot into the air as she chanted. Her voice shook with exhaustion. But she didn't want Angel to stay there any longer than necessary. He'd already been there far too long. With the final words, she felt herself sinking to the ground, her legs refusing to hold her up any longer. The green fire from the candles suddenly swirled inwards, forming a burning ring, and then it wasn't just green, but green and yellow and orange and red, with a bitter smoke…

She felt blinded by the bright flash. It felt like it had seared not only her eyes, but into her soul, and it hurt. When her vision sort of cleared, Willow could make out a still form on the floor, messing up some of her careful lines of herbs. She could see every rib, vertebrae in his back, and a covering of blood and ashes covered his skin. Welts and burns marked his body. Long, dark hair fell in a shaggy, tangled mess. She tried to look around the bright after image of the ring. Was this Angel?

"Angel?" The croak that emerged from her throat startled her. It didn't sound like it should be her voice.

He moved, slowly going to a wary crouch. Yellow eyes looked around, as if searching for danger… or food. He looked at her, a low, almost questioning growl emerging from him, and his tongue ran over sharp teeth. He moved a little closer.

Willow looked at him, far to exhausted for fear. She raised one trembling hand, and pointed at the cooler. "Over there. In the box."

He kept watching her as he carefully shuffled to the cooler, still half crouched. He was naked, only the ashes and blood concealing his skin. It was an image that would have been much more appealing if he didn't look so starved and dirty. He looked at the box, his hands running over it, nails far longer, almost claw like. Then, he pushed the lid open, and looked inside. With a sort of curious noise, he lifted the first packet out, running his hand over the smooth plastic before lifting it. He sniffed, and carefully, nibbled at the corner before taking a solid bite.

He swallowed, a sort of contended noise emerging, not quite a croon, not quite a purr. When the bag emptied, he dropped it, reaching for another. Willow felt herself smile, right before everything became dark. Angel was feeding, and not on her. Good…

End part 4.

The next thing that Willow was aware of, she was on the floor. Not quite the stone floor, but on the small carpet near the fireplace, which had a few half charred logs in it. Not only was she on the floor, but… she wasn't quite alone. An arm rested over her waist, and she could feel a body curled up against her, longer legs cool behind hers, and her back pressed against a chest. His head rested on hers, his nose next to her ear.

Well… that was all sorts of weird. But she was getting cold. A careful moment, and she remembered the blanket on the couch. She focused, and it leapt from the couch, unfolding and falling over her. But the magic caused places inside her, the channels for magic to scream and whimper, and her head spun again, blackness reclaiming her.

Her eyes felt gummy when she woke again. Her whole body felt stiff from sleeping on the floor, even on the rug. Angel wasn't draped behind and over her this time. Slowly, she sat up, hissing as the movement sent dull aches of pain through her muscles. Where was Angel? She looked around, and smiled when she found him, again crouched by the cooler of blood. He'd apparently woke up hungry again… or maybe still. Once again, she felt a wave of relief that he wasn't feeding on her. That had to have been one of the bigger risks that she'd taken.

Willow wasn't certain that she could get to her feet unaided, so she sort of crawled to the couch, using it's arm to pull herself to her feet. He was there, near her, his eyes full of uncertainty, far less predatory than before. How long had she slept? When she spoke, her voice was a hoarse whisper, but not quite a croak. "You need a bath, Angel."

He tilted his head, looking at her in puzzlement. One hand reached towards her, slowly. Maybe he didn't want to frighten her? Willow smiled at him, and reached for his hand, feeling herself sway without the support of the couch. He pulled her closer, a tiny frown on his face now.

Willow managed to half lead, half lean on him and get them to a bathroom. The large garden bath might have seemed extravagant at another time, but at the moment, it was perfect. She turned on the water, and Angel jumped, staring at the water with what looked like surprise. Willow made a few adjustments, ending up with water that was warm, not too cold or too hot. She tugged at his elbow, trying to convince him to get into the water.

He moved a bit closer, reaching one hand towards the water that flowed into the tub. It spilled over his hand, and his eyes widened as he saw it washing away the grime. He almost leapt into the tub then, hand rubbing over his skin in an effort to clean himself. Willow smiled as she brought over a washcloth. She hadn't got a good look at his injuries, soap might not be good yet. Eventually, they managed to get him clean, with Willow carefully using the washcloth on his back. The burns and welts had faded, still there but no longer so raw. He was still so thin looking…

After staggering to what had clearly been Angelus' room, she managed to find a pair of loose fitting pants with a drawstring, and convinced Angel to put them on. Willow had also grabbed a comb, and managed to convince him, with a bit of demonstration on her own hair, to allow her to comb out his tangled mane. It fell unevenly almost half way down his back. He seemed to like the attention, leaning back against her, making that crooning purr again. The soothing sound lulled her to sleep.

She awoke, half curled at the pain in her stomach. For a moment, Willow couldn't figure out what was wrong. Then, her stomach clenched, and there was a disturbingly predatory growl… When had she last eaten? Her mind struggled for an answer, concluding that it must have been too long ago. Her stomach growled again, and then Angel was beside her, his yellow eyes full of worry. He held a bag of blood in his hand, almost as if he was offering it to her. Yep, he was definitely offering it to her.

"I can't… I'm not a vampire. I need… solid food." Her voice was less hoarse, but faint. How long had it been? Willow's head felt light, and she was almost dizzy again.

Angel looked puzzled, and then slowly ran one finger over his own sharp teeth, and then reached out, running his finger over her own blunt teeth. Willow let him, confident that he wasn't trying to hurt her. His finger had been cut on his teeth, and the taste of blood filled her mouth. He sort of sat back, looking as if he was thinking of something. Then, he got up, moving out of the room before returning with a knife, a block of cheese, and some dried apple chips.

Willow felt better after the cheese and apple chips. It was hardly a balanced meal, but it was much better than nothing, and better than trying one of those packets of blood that she'd got for Angel. She would probably be able to get Angel to follow her home, so that she could have something a bit more balanced later.

She wasn't very surprised when he insisted on following her. Actually, she was very grateful, since she was still feeling rather wobbly and stiff. He stayed at her side, making the reassuring noise the whole slow way to her parents' house, while at the same time watching the surrounding area in case of any danger. She was just so glad that they had gone away for a 'romantic weekend', despite the unwelcome idea of her parents being all... ughh. It prevented any unpleasant explanations.

"You are welcome in here, Angel." She pulled at her keys, fumbling with them until she could get the door open. He looked around slowly, as if he feared some sort of attack. He looked with surprise at the refrigerator, holding his hand near the cold, and then in the rest of the kitchen. He smiled as he watched Willow put together a more solid meal, standing protectively near her as she ate.

"Looks like I have my very own guardian Angel…" Willow smiled, feeling amazed and delighted.

She gathered a few changes of clothing, and her toothbrush, somehow not surprised that Angel had gathered more of the things that she had eaten. Nor was she surprised at his gentle, wordless insistence to return to the mansion. He seemed more comfortable there. And the Rosenberg house really wasn't sunproof. It didn't even surprise her very much that he ended up snuggled near her again, under the same blanket, one arm over her. There were far worse things than being snuggled up to him.

End Guardian Angel 1: Angel in Need.