This is a scene I've wanted to write for over a year, and yesterday my muse finally let me. I hope you like it. Oh, and these characters still aren't mine. This is set after "Beneath You" and "Ground State".
Willow shuffled anxiously off the plane, her subconscious desire to not to brush up against any of her fellow passengers making her extremely twitchy. As if the initial flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles International hadn't been long enough, she now had to wait three hours before the tiny puddle-jumper plane would take her the last leg of the journey back to Sunnydale. It would have taken less time to get a bus back, but she had been too detached when purchasing the ticket to realize that inefficient flaw and avoid it.
Giles had assured her that she could do this. That she had learned enough. That she could face them. Not that they would let her, necessarily, but that she should trust herself. And here she was. Almost. But the thousands of miles she had just flown seemed like nothing compared to the distance that remained between here and home. Was it home? Was she allowed to call it that anymore after what she had done?
She felt so isolated and cold. She ached with a need to talk to someone. To confide. To be comforted. But the person she wanted to turn to most for those things was gone forever, and the others…Willow doubted whether she'd even be able to meet their eyes when she arrived, let alone have deep, soul-baring chats with them. Giles had been cautiously supportive, and they had conversed many times over tea during the long summer months of her…rehabilitation? Exile? Grief? But he was still in England, and too busy with Council matters to give her moral support now. Not to mention that it was currently some hideous hour of the morning there, and moral support was not best served by those who had been rudely awakened. Still, the tightness in her chest would not go away, and it was becoming unbearable. She needed to talk to someone before she got on that second plane.
While churning through her gloomy thoughts, Willow had been staring vacantly at a large plastic sign, and its words suddenly registered in her mind. "Welcome to Los Angeles: The City of Angels". And then it hit her. There was someone she could talk to.
It wasn't hard to find. The address was still burned into her memory from the last time she had come. Going to tell an old friend that the love of his very long life had died was not something easily forgotten. And there's another thing I can relate to now with him. At least we could bring Buffy back, though, but Tara… The hollow sensation in her chest threatened to swallow her, but she bravely planted one foot in front of the other until she finally stood before the doors of the Hyperion. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then pushed the doors open and crossed the threshold.
Angel glanced through the armful of new case files that needed sorting, trying to figure out where they should go in the absurdly illogical system Cordelia had set up (and which he would not, therefore, be changing any time soon), when he heard the door open.
"You guys are back earl—" he began, but stopped, mid-sentence, when he looked up to find, not Fred and Gunn, but Willow, who stood there twisting her hands together agitatedly and looking frankly desperate. He almost dropped the files as half-formed panicked thoughts assaulted him along with the memory of her last visit. He hastily deposited the files on the lobby counter and approached her, preparing for the worst. When she stared at his feet and seemed reluctant to speak, however, he broke the silence. "Willow?" Her eyes darted up to meet his, and he was startled to see what was in them. They seemed to have acquired a lifetime's worth of anguish and remorse since last he looked into them. It reminded him of Faith, and he was so taken aback to be reminded of Faith by looking into Willow's eyes that he almost forgot his apprehension. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Well, everyone in Sunnydale is fine, I mean. Or, I think. I just got back from England today." Relief flooded him.
"Oh. That's good." Silence fell. Willow didn't appear bothered by it—or, rather, she was already too bothered by her own thoughts to notice it—, but it quickly grew heavy and uncomfortable for Angel. "Then why are you here?" he asked eventually. She jolted back out of her reverie and met his eyes again. What had happened to her? Having been the bearer of some of the worst news he had ever received notwithstanding, he had always liked Willow very much, and it worried him to see her so distressed.
"I need to talk to someone before I go back." Though phrased as a statement, Angel heard the questioning plea in it clearly.
"Sure," he said. The tension drained visibly out of her. "Can I get you something to drink?" She shot him a confused look, and he chuckled. "Not blood. Do you want tea?"
"I spent the summer with Giles. I'm kinda sick of tea," she said, grateful for the lighter subject. "Is there hot chocolate?"
"I think so. You can sit down over there," he said, indicating the cluster of sofas. "I'll go look."
He returned with a steaming mug of hot chocolate a few minutes later. He wasn't exactly capable of telling the difference, but he at least thought he'd gotten it suitably rich and creamy.
"Thanks," said Willow, accepting it and drinking a sip. "It's good."
"You're welcome." Willow drank some more, and Angel sat across from her. "What did you need to talk about?"
"Do you know—I mean, did anyone call you over the summer about—," she broke off, for his expression had suddenly darkened. "What?"
"I spent the summer in a steel box at the bottom of the ocean," he said bluntly. "Didn't have much contact with anyone."
"Oh." For the first time, Angel caught a glimpse of the Willow he had known as her expression became horrified and sympathetic. "How come? Are you okay?"
"I'm okay," he said, choosing not to address the first question. "But I take it I've missed some stuff."
"Yeah." The way she'd been acting since she arrived told him that her visit had nothing to do with Buffy this time, and he was fairly certain that if she was here to discuss her own problems with him before taking them to one of the Scoobies, they had to be pretty big.
"Does this have anything to do with why you spent the summer in England?" he guessed, sensing that she needed some more prodding.
"It does." She looked up at him intently. "You're all about helping people and saving souls here, right?"
"Don't know how much of that we've managed lately," he said, his thoughts turning to his estranged son and friends.
"But that's what you do," Willow insisted. "You fight demons and you saved that girl from another dimension and you—you helped Faith."
"Is that why you're here?" he asked. He thought he knew now, but she had to say it. And she did. It all came pouring out at once as her voice shook and tears streaked her cheeks.
"You know how they say that power corrupts? Well, it does, and I had a lot of power. I killed people. I hurt my friends. I tried to destroy the world. And now I have to go back to where that happened. To where she died." Unable to let Willow sit there sobbing and falling to pieces, Angel moved to her side and put his arms around her. She cried into his shoulder for several minutes, and he just held her.
Of all the people to go through this, he would never have expected Willow Rosenberg to be among them. Babbling, computer-hacking, doe-eyed Willow. And now she had blood on her hands too. She was different from Faith, though. Loss had triggered her fall, not rebellious rage. He knew a little bit more about that now, but after Connor's abduction, both Wesley and Holtz had experienced his wrath and lived—though only because of lots of persistent nurses in the former's case, and the latter had been killed hours later and Angel had gotten the punishment for it anyway. Remembering who he owed for not still being at the bottom of the ocean, he felt a twinge of guilt that he had tried to end the man's life. But though Willow had actually succeeded in taking her revenge, and apparently then some, Angel knew he wouldn't have to talk her into seeking redemption like he had needed to do for Faith. She already wanted it so badly he could practically smell it, and he could tell that she would do anything for it. The only thing stopping her was fear.
"You think they won't take you back," he said, letting go of her once her sobs had subsided into hiccups.
"Why should they?"
"Because you're trying to change. I didn't think I deserved acceptance either after what I'd done, but I got it."
"But you didn't have your soul. I did. I did all that stuff on purpose, Angel, and I liked it," she said, self-loathing dripping from every syllable.
"I wasn't just talking about when I was Angelus," said Angel. She looked up at him, and he began to explain. "About a year and a half ago, I did things that probably hurt my friends worse than he could. At that point, all I could see in this world was the darkness, and it just didn't seem worth it to fight anymore. But it is. To say I learned that the hard way would be an understatement. Everything we do matters, Willow, and all we can do is keep fighting, even when it gets hard, and even when the demons we're fighting are our own. If you show them that you're on their side and that you want to make amends, they'll let you, but it probably won't happen overnight." She nodded.
"Thanks for the hot chocolate…and for letting me cry all over you," she said, offering him a watery, slightly apologetic smile.
"No problem," he said, smiling back.
"And for what you said. I think I can do it. Keep fighting?"
"Okay, well, I should probably get back to the airport. I think I have to go through security again." They stood up and hugged, before she turned and walked towards the door. Her stride had gained a great deal of determination.
Once the door had closed behind her, Angel headed back to the stack of files, still smiling to himself. "That's what we do here," he told the quiet hotel with conviction.
I've always loved how Angel does such a good job playing the elder brother figure to Faith, Fred, and Cordelia (well, to Cordy until he starts falling in love with her, at any rate), and this struck me as the perfect opportunity to let him do the same for Willow. And he's pretty much the perfect one to have this conversation with her. What's even better is that helping Willow at this point in his story can benefit him as well, because this is set just after "Ground State", which is when he learned that Cordy won't be coming back (or so he thinks, anyway, since she'll actually back by the end of the next episode, which isn't the point), and is still trying to come to terms with that. Helping Willow continue on her path would in turn help him do the same, which is why he echoed her assertion about what Angel Investigations does at the end.