And So it Begins

"It hurts."

Willow's words were hardly necessary, but Angel found it somehow comforting that she spoke them, all the same. He was so alone that any sort of companionship, even mutual heartbreak, was almost grotesquely welcome. He offered nothing in reply, though, believing that anything he said would be presumptuous. Did she really want to share something personal, even a sense of betrayal, with a vampire?

She kept talking, however, and Angel was surprised at how easy it seemed to be for her to unburden herself to him, how unguarded and open she was. It was as if they were friends.

"I mean, I know he's had a crush on her since the day they met, and I know he's never going to see me that way, but she knows - she knows how I feel about him and she still...oh my gosh. Angel! I am so sorry. I didn't mean...I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it, I mean I know how she feels about you and this is probably all just some weird acting-out thing, but..."

"It hurts." He spoke. He felt compelled to, to let her know he was listening to her, that he cared about her feelings and that he shared them. It seemed to him that he wasn't the only one who'd been hurt, who felt lonely and lost. He smiled slightly at the thought, though he wasn't quite sure why.

She was looking at him intently, her brow creased slightly in that adorable way it always did when she was thinking. Would it frighten her to know that he'd observed her well enough to be aware of all her expressions and what they meant?

"Yeah." She was silent now, uncertain of what to say because she couldn't tell what he was thinking. There was something disquieting about the fact that he was finding a sort of pleasure in having the power to affect her so strongly.

The silence went on, but no matter how uncomfortable she became, she didn't say a word. The sense of control and dominance that gave him...that was something he didn't want to ponder too intently.

As she became lost in her own unease, he found himself reaching for her hand, taking it in his. Her hand was soft, uncalloused by stakes or hardened by fighting; he could feel the agility in her fingers, the agility that was an extension of a mind even more adept and clever. She made no move to withdraw, unconscious of the fact that her hand was being held at all. He reveled in the moment and allowed himself to enjoy the contact while it lasted, letting her warmth seep into his skin.

He began to walk, her hand remaining in his grip, though now she was certainly aware of their contact, as she was staring, seemingly transfixed, at the way his fingers fit around her own. She allowed him to lead her down the darkened streets of Sunnydale. It was both exhilarating and troubling that she remained lost in some world of her own, trusting him to keep her safe from all the creatures he could feel in the shadows who longed to prey on the oblivious girl. Did she realize what it meant to give herself over so completely to the care and protection of a demon? Or what it would mean, he amended, if he didn't have a soul so thoroughly pledged to humanity.

They kept walking, her silence a struggle he could feel in the weight of the bones in each slim finger as he kept hold of her hand. But she held her tongue, obedient despite the fact that it must almost have been physically painful for her. There were images that obedience brought to life in his mind, images of things he had no right to think of an innocent girl.

He found his way to Willow's house with ease, and it was obvious she was shocked to realize that he had not had to ask her for directions. Her eyes begged for permission to speak. He granted it with his own, wanting desperately to believe that it wasn't arousal her submission was stirring within him.

"How did you know where I live?"

What should he say to that? "I've followed you home before." He paused for a moment. There was a reason, but how to put it into the right words, the words that would not give rise to more questions, questions he did not want to have to answer. "To make sure you were safe."

He had told the truth, after a fashion, though that wasn't all of it. Oh how he wished it was. If only keeping her safe was an end unto itself, instead of having a motivation he'd not dared to look at too closely, or at all.

She seemed to sense that there was something left unsaid. Damn her for her bright mind and her intuitive nature.

Surprisingly (or maybe he only wished it were surprising), she said nothing, despite her visible curiosity. Once more, she obeyed his unspoken wishes and held herself in check, leaving him to drown in the implications of what he could no longer pretend he didn't feel.

What exactly was he feeling, though? It was easier to acknowledge that something was there than it was to understand just what that something was. He loved Buffy. He knew that. What lay between them was everything he remembered about love from the days before he knew that humanity was something that could be ripped out of the body, leaving a soulless mockery of the man it comprised. Not that he'd been in love in his human days, of course, but he knew what it was like, he knew that he loved Buffy, and he knew that what he felt for Willow was nothing like what he felt for her best friend.

It wasn't lust either, though, certainly not like any lust he'd known as man or demon. It wasn't base or crude; this was something complicated...something frighteningly like what he'd felt for Drusilla. But it couldn't be that. That obsession had been borne of his demon, the demon held hostage by the soul, the demon he no longer was.

Willow was still there, beside him, her hand still in his, her pale skin glowing softly in the moonlight, and she was about to speak. When she did, they would part and he would be alone, alone with his thoughts, and without her .

He had to stop thinking and he had to stop her from going inside. So he did the only thing he could do to quiet his mind and keep her with him: he kissed her.

As soon as his lips met hers, he was lost - lost in the taste and the smell of her, lost in the silk-satin feel of her skin, lost in the way she clung to him, as eager for him as he was for her. She was innocence and temptation, redemption and damnation, she was a fire that was going to consume him and leave nothing for the fight he was pledged to and the world he was sworn to save.

He didn't stop kissing her. Instead, he held her closer, exploring her warm mouth with his tongue and nibbling at her lower lip with the tips of the fangs he couldn't prevent from dropping down. He wondered if she could feel the ridges of his true face as she kissed him back. If she did, she didn't seem to care. The thought that she might accept him, desire him - vampire and all - aroused him further and he tried not to think about what this might mean.

There was one thing he knew, however. This would not be the last time he held her in his arms.

He let her breathe for a moment and kissed her again. She made no move to stop him. The kiss went on.

The End.