What Price Glory?

Buffy was dead.

It hurt, but not nearly as much as Angel had always believed it would. Perhaps it was because of the time they'd spent apart, or maybe, deep down, the knowledge that Slayers were doomed to die young and his love would likely be no exception, despite her skills, had inured him to the agony of her loss somehow. Or maybe it was because he had no time or space for this sort of grief, not now, not when a source of anguish every bit as terrible was still here, within his walls, before his eyes every single day.

Buffy had vanquished a terrible god and saved the world; she had sacrificed her own life to save her sister. But for all of that, there was one thing she hadn't been able to do, one life that neither she nor anyone else had been able to put right.

Angel never turned on the light when he entered this room. Someone else would later, he knew, but it was so hard for him to face what was inside, harder still that his enhanced sight made it impossible for him to ignore what would have been shrouded in shadow to anyone else.

"Good morning, Willow."

"Morning? It's dark." She frowned. The darkness seemed to bother her so much now; perhaps she recognized it for what it was: the place she'd somehow gotten lost in, the villain that had stolen her from herself. He felt selfish and cruel, but that never made him reach for the light switch. He consoled himself that his insensitivity was so much less than what she suffered the depredations of every day. What was physical darkness, after all, when compared to the darkness within her mind?

"Cordelia will be here soon and she'll take you for a walk, okay? You'll see that it's morning."

She went to the windows, the windows he'd had painted black ages ago, knowing she'd do what she did every day: open the curtains. She did so today, as he knew she would, throwing them wide and frowning when the room stayed dim and cold.

"Sunlight. Where is it?"

He sighed, long past being impatient with her and with her inability to retain such simple facts as the nature of her caretaker. He'd lost track of how often he'd reminded her that he was a vampire and sunlight was fatal to him, and of how many times she had forgotten that very information. She couldn't help it, it wasn't her fault that Glory was gone, and with her, what had once been such a special and magical thing: Willow's mind.

"Cordelia will be here in a few minutes, sweetling, she'll show you the sunlight." Cordelia came every morning, taking Willow out for fresh air, doing whatever she could to stimulate her mind, her memories. Someday, maybe it would work. Something had to, someday - it couldn't be that Willow would stay like this forever.

She smiled, vacant and sweet, and another part of him died, the piecemeal decay that was so much less merciful than a stake to the heart would have been. She was still so lovely, but it was agonizing to look at her and see what wasn't there, what Wesley's magic and Fred's science and his own constant care had so far been unable to revive.

"Tara?"

Now there was a name she didn't say often, but when she did, it hurt. He wished it was one of the things she couldn't remember, knowing that somewhere inside her she must be lonely and in pain. Her love for the girl must be a remarkable thing to have remained in spite of how much else she'd lost. How could he explain that Tara wasn't coming, that caring for Dawn and holding the Sunnydale gang together as Willow herself would have wanted had she been able to ask had made it impossible for her to care for her shattered lover as well? And that visiting was too hard, leaving Willow behind was too anguishing?

Did Willow really remember her, though? What they'd shared? Or was the name just an echo of something she no longer understood? Just a word, a word she played with like a child with a favorite toy.

Fortunately, like that very child, she was easily distracted. The kitten Tara had bought for her on her one disastrous visit - the kitten which he was told looked like a cat the two of them had once owned - began to play with the curtain pull.

"Kitty!" Willow loved the cat, though she often forgot she'd ever seen it before. This morning seemed to be one of those occasions. One more piece of Angel's soul fell dead and rotted away.

The only salve for his scarred heart was the smile that brightened her face as she watched the tiny feline at play. It wasn't her old smile, the one full of life and sparkle and humour, but it was at least evidence that she was engaged and alive and it was i something /i , meager though that something might be.

Willow picked up the kitten, amused at its struggles to free itself from her embrace. It managed, after scratching her, and leapt away, it's claws scratching the window as it made its escape. A tiny sliver of sunlight came in where the cat scraped the paint away.

"Magic!" She sounded so full of joy; it nearly brought him to tears, especially when her brow next furrowed in thought. "I do magic?"

He hugged her then, more tightly even than she had held the kitten. "Yes, Willow, you do magic." There it was, a memory - or at least the ghost of one, and it served somehow to keep his hopes alive. It meant that somewhere inside this helpless child was the brilliant, agile mind of Willow Rosenberg. It might take time, but he'd find it and restore it and she'd be the girl he knew again. She'd be the Willow who'd once dazzled him with her computer skills and the unusual way she thought, she'd be the friend he still regretted having left behind, she'd be herself.

It was odd, but holding her now, he realized he'd never held her when she was whole, not when he had his soul, at any rate. Only Angelus had known the feeling of her, warm with life and fear. All Angel had ever held was the hollow shell in his arms, the girl who looked something like Willow, but wasn't really Willow at all. Why had he never embraced before? Surely the girl who'd given him back his soul deserved some affectionate gesture, some expression of gratitude beyond the meager "thank you" which was also something he'd never bothered to give her. How much he hated himself, how many regrets he had for words unspoken and good deeds un-repaid, and how useless every bit of that was when all was said and done.

He let her go and she stared at the window with a look as close to concentration as he'd seen on her face in so very long; he wondered why. Oddly enough, she actually told him the answer to that, at least after a fashion.

"Why can't I make more light?"

There were tears in his eyes now. He'd gladly turn to dust if it meant that she had come back far enough to fill the room with sunlight.

"Because you're still sick, sweetheart. When you're all better, you'll be able to do anything you want."

"Oh." Her brow furrowed again. He hated reminding her that she was damaged and broken. Would it be more merciful to let her lose herself in this creature she'd become, to let her be happy? No, he couldn't accept that. He could never allow her to forget that she was once something else, something better, something clever and powerful and complicated and strong. For if she did, he was terrified that she'd get lost in this blank void that had nearly swallowed her whole and nothing could ever save her. He couldn't let that happen. He owed Willow too much to let her slip away. The world needed her. i He /i needed her.

Cordelia knocked at the half-open door and Angel shook himself out of his dismal reverie.

"Good morning, guys. So, Willow, ready for your walk?" There was pain in Cordelia's eyes that she tried to mask with a bright smile and overly-cheerful tone of voice. The tricks worked on Willow, but not Angel, never on Angel.

"Walk?"

She sighed, trying hard to rein in her frustration. It seemed almost harder for her than for any of them to accept Willow's new limitations. "Yes, Willow, we're going outside, just like we do every day. You always like that, remember?" There was irritation in her voice and Angel glared at her. Willow didn't notice. Oh, how Angel wished she did.

How wonderful it would be if Willow's mind could be stirred to life by remembering her one-time rivalry with Cordelia Chase. But she didn't recall any of it, not now. She wasn't the least bit affected by Cordelia's patronizing, impatient tone. Nothing could be a better illustration of how far away she was.

"Sunshine?"

Cordelia sighed as she reached out and took Willow's hand, leading her to the bedroom door and out into the hall. She looked back at Angel, a small, apologetic smile on her face, though Angel wished she'd apologize to Willow instead. Willow, after all, was the aggrieved party. Try explaining that, though, to a girl who was losing her own memories of who Willow once was with each passing day.

They would take their walk today, the same walk they'd taken for too many yesterdays. Angel could only hope, as he always did, that the girl who came home with Cordelia was somehow different than the one leaving with her now. Hope, after all, was everything, was the world entire. Cordelia's words echoed in his ears as he went back to his own room to sleep.

"Yes, Willow, there'll be lots of sunshine."

If only that light could finally be enough to show her the way home.

The End.