The Adventures of Willow 'Danger' Rosenberg and Angel the Souled Vampire (Chapter Twenty-Two)

"Buffy. Gosh! It's great to see you!"

Did that sound sincere? Willow sure hoped it did. She let go of Angel's hand - hoping Buffy hadn't noticed she was holding it in the first place - and hurried to offer a hug to her friend.

"What brings you back so soon?" Xander asked. "And can I thank it?" Willow would have giggled at Xander's eagerness – and how new was that? – but she was feeling too guilty. She'd been wrong; her middle name wasn't Danielle or even Danger…it was Brutus. She should have checked her hands for knives before she hugged Buffy.

"I heard there was some new Big Bad in town and I figured you guys might need my help. Judging by the fact that all of you are here, I'm guessing you're already on the case." Her brow was furrowed with concern.

This was so like Buffy – putting her own life on hold to do her sacred duty. If she knew just what was waiting for her… Just a minute. There was another Big Bad? Oh no!

Before Willow, or anyone else, could ask her about it, Buffy helpfully continued. "So do we know anything about Porthus other than that he's evil and apparently a one-of-a-kind collectible?"

Oops. Guess news didn't actually travel all that fast after all. Who knew? Of course, no one could have been happier about that than Xander, whose face bore an expression of such joy that Willow came perilously close to those giggles that hadn't happened earlier. He was so excited at the chance to tell Buffy of his own heroism.

He took a breath, drew himself up, and said, "You know, funny thing you should mention Porthus…"

"Xander accidentally killed him with a chocolate bar while he was trying to turn Willow into his mate." Yes! Payback time! Angel fought the urge to rub his hands together in glee. This would teach Xander to call him 'Deadboy'. After all, even if they were supposedly only playing at mutual antagonism, demeaning nicknames took it way too far.

Uh-oh. The expression on the boy's face told him that they wouldn't be calling things even anytime soon.

"A chocolate bar? He was supposed to be the biggest Big Bad ever and you killed him with a chocolate bar?" Buffy seemed dumbfounded, as well she might. Even Angel found it stupefying and he'd had weeks to process the event.

"It was actually a lot more dashing and heroic than it sounds," Xander offered, looking rather more crestfallen than Angel had wanted. Oh well. What was done was done and he couldn't help but chuckle at the memory of the look on Xander's face when he'd realized he was facing a demon armed with nothing more than a half-eaten candy bar.

Laughter had not been the right choice at the moment.

"See if I offer to help when you need to buy a birthday present for Willow. Without me, you'll wind up in the doghouse, Deadboy."

Thanks, Harris.

Angel was reasonably sure he had not been able to rid his face of the 'deer caught in the headlights look' nearly fast enough and even if he had, Xander's face still wore that stricken look so the damage was done. He was going to throttle that boy just as soon as his soul – and Willow – permitted. (And no, none of this was his fault for being so juvenile as to bait and mock the boy in the first place) Please let Buffy not be quick on the uptake tonight.

"Why would Angel buy Willow a birthday present?"

Oh no. Now Willow looked as guilty as Xander did. This was really not going well at all. Why, oh why had Angel not invested in a stake-proof vest?

Oh gosh. Buffy was looking at her all curiously and stuff and Willow…well…she sucked at lying, even in a situation like this where it should be super easy because Buffy would never believe the truth and…

"Xander was just joking around. You know what a kidder he is. Angel? Buy me a present? Gosh no. He'd never do anything like that. We barely ever even talk – well we talk about demon-y stuff, but that's it. Absolutely it." She punctuated her words with a 'gee whiz' gesture even as she fought not to wince at the phoniness of her voice. And could she have over-emphasized much more?

Buffy just stared, first at her, then at Angel. Oh no – this was so not looking good.

"Oh my God," Buffy breathed. "You and Angel?"

The game was up. Please let death be swift and painless. "Uh huh," Willow squeaked as she closed her eyes and waited for whatever horrible fate was in store. She just hoped Angel would survive.

To her shock, she was immediately enveloped in a Slayer-strength hug. "Willow! You have no idea how happy this makes me!"

Huh?

Okay…what? Just as Angel was cursing himself for not getting between his former and current girlfriends in time, it all went strangely sideways. Buffy was happy that he was with Willow?

"I was so worried. I mean, I was going to tell you this on the phone but then I couldn't and…"

Buffy was interrupted by a scruffy stranger who seemed to have just appeared in the doorway. "Hey, Buffy. You gonna be done here anytime soon? Cuz I'm kinda gettin' lonely out in the car."

Who the hell was this guy and what made him think he could just barge into Giles's apartment?

"Excuse me. I'm afraid we haven't been introduced. May I ask what you think you're doing walking into my flat?" Giles got a word in edgewise for the first time.

"I'm with the G-man on this one. Just who the heck do you think you are?" Xander seemed more than a little miffed, which probably had something to do with the fact that the man was under 80 and clearly knew Buffy.

"Oh!" Buffy cried, letting go of Willow and hurrying to the man at the door. "Guys? I want you to meet Pike."

Pike? What kind of name was Pike?

Pike? Willow's brain clicked back on after shutting down in shock at Buffy's reaction to her perfidy and, after shuffling through a few hundred girl-talk memories, it provided her with background to go with the name – and the man who bore it.

It was Buffy's ex-boyfriend. The one she'd broken up with rather fuzzily right before she and her mom moved to Sunnydale. The one who did the thing with his tongue that… Wow. So this was Pike.

And suddenly there was an explanation for the fractured and incomplete conversation they'd had about two weeks ago. Buffy hadn't been referring to sex with Angel when she'd talked about big things that impact relationships, she'd been talking about…getting back together with Pike.

"Ummm…nice to meet you, Pike. Buffy's told me a lot about you." Yes, and most of it could never be shared with anyone else in the room. Willow gave him the most surreptitious once-over possible. Boy he sure didn't seem like…down, Willow. You have your own man. And hey, he bathed, which was a really big plus. Pike was just a bit too disheveled for her taste. Cute, though, and maybe Buffy could threaten to stake him if he didn't get a haircut and shave.

"Which puts you way ahead of the rest of us." Xander was glaring at Pike. Oh no. Poor Xander. Now that she had Angel, Willow had really hoped that Xander would actually have a chance with Buffy. Looked like that wouldn't be happening. Her best friend was all alone. Memories of her dream about Cordelia surfaced and she shuddered – there were worse fates for Xander than dateless weekends, she decided.

"You didn't tell them about me?"

"No, she didn't." Angel's tone was a bit hard and he regretted it the moment he looked at Willow's face. He smiled at her to let her know his reaction didn't mean what she thought it did. Willow was the one for him, of that there was no doubt. But give a vampire a break – it sure looked like Buffy had gone way down market when shopping for a new boyfriend. Wouldn't any guy be slightly offended at being replaced by a scruffy ne'er-do-well type named after a fish? Porthus was actually higher up the ladder than this fellow. Hell, Harris was higher up the ladder.

"He's Buffy's ex-boyfriend," Willow offered helpfully.

Pike chuckled. "Not so much with the 'ex' , but you got the last part right." He walked right up to Angel and shook his hand then stared at him quizzically. "You're a vampire," he said, backing away and pulling a stake out of his back pocket.

Looked like Buffy wasn't big on keeping anyone completely in the loop. Angel assumed battle stance and waited to see what would happen.

"He knows about…vampires?" Giles asked with great annoyance – and not a little remaining inebriation. "Buffy, I thought we discussed the imprudence of your sharing these…details…with civilians." Way to keep your eye on the salient point there, Watcher. Oh, and next time, watch your diction, or were you under the impression the word was pronounced 'discushed'?

Willow raced towards him, actually willing to put herself between him and a stake. If he'd had any doubts before, he didn't now – Angel loved Willow.

"Pike, no!" Buffy yelled as she grabbed the arm holding the stake.

"He's a vampire."

"Yes, but he's not one of the bad guys. He has a soul, okay? I know him."

"Would have been nice if you'd mentioned that before I almost staked him. Are you sure?"

"She's sure," Willow said, her Resolve Face at the fore. Oh how she hoped it worked on strangers. "Angel's one of us. He even helped kill Porthus." She beamed up at her boyfriend, who was gazing at her in a way that made her forget that she'd ever doubted his affections a few moments ago. She guessed anybody would be a bit nonplussed at their ex showing up with a random guy out of the blue and all.

"Hey, let's not forget who actually dealt the death blow, okay?" Oops, she probably should have thought more about the last vestiges of Xander's pride before speaking.

"Death by chocolate," Buffy grinned as she spoke."Way to go, Xander." Her tone couldn't have been more filial and Willow's heart ached for her friend.

"He's dead?" Pike sounded disappointed. "Well that sucks. Here I was all ready to do battle beside the Slayer and…wham! The Big Bad is dead."

"It's okay, honey. You'll get plenty more chances. We're on the Hellmouth now, remember? Evil shows up every day." Buffy put her arms around Pike and Willow could almost see Xander's heart breaking. At this moment, she was officially willing to let him date Cordelia Chase if it would make him feel better – not that there was any actual chance of that, but still…

"So, Buffy, I take it your friend knows all about your 'secret' identity." Gosh, Jenny needed to lighten up. Even Giles was coming around about Angel and hey, Pike had known Buffy before Giles even did.

"I saved him from a vampire the night I found out I was the Slayer. Kinda hard to keep it a secret after that."

"I didn't actually need saving, you know."

"Of course you didn't. But I saved you anyway" Buffy kissed him and that seemed to settle things.

You know, they were pretty cute together, even if Pike did need a shower and some clean clothes.

Willow wrapped her arms around Angel and followed Buffy's example by giving her own guy a kiss.

Things were going to be okay.

In fact, they were going to be great.

"So you know all about…" Giles was still trying to catch up.

"Vampires, demons, the Slayer. Yeah, I know all about it. Buffy and Merrick filled me in awhile back."

Buffy's face fell at the mention of that last name and Angel was glad she'd shared something with him in the past so he could follow the conversation. What had happened to her first Watcher naturally still hurt her. Angel understood that. There were times when he almost regretted dusting Darla.

"You knew Merrick?" Giles asked.

"Yeah. He was a good guy."

"Giles is awesome," Buffy interposed. "Really, you guys are gonna get along so well."

"Quite," Giles responded. Guess he wasn't too enamoured of Buffy's new swain's idea of hygiene. Join the club; Angel was still a bit insulted. Thankfully, the knowledge that this guy had been her boyfriend before - and the fact that Angel was head over heels for Willow - made it palatable.

"So this obviously means you're okay with the whole 'Angel and Willow' thing." Xander sounded peevish. No surprise. Angel felt dirty for this, but he was actually sorry that Xander wasn't going to have a chance with Buffy.

"Yeah. It's great." Buffy's smile was absolutely genuine and, while Angel was mostly very pleased that he and Willow had nothing to fear from her, was it too much to ask that she be just a tiny bit disturbed? The most infinitesimal amount of jealousy would be enough to suit his ego.

He wasn't going to get it though and he fought the annoying urge to sigh. Luckily, looking into Willow's eyes took care of the problem completely. Love was like that.

The one person who had something negative to say was, oddly, Pike. "Isn't Willow your best friend? How can you be okay with her dating a vampire? I mean – hello! He's dead, well, undead, but still – not exactly a great idea, wouldn't you say? Especially for a normal human girl."

"Willow's not quite a normal human girl." Was that Giles? Okay – Giles was defending Angel's relationship with Willow. It would seem the man was a whole lot more intoxicated than Angel had thought.

"What do you mean?" Buffy seemed concerned.

"It seems the reason Porthus was so determined to make Willow his was because she has innate magical power," Jenny offered.

"Yeah. Giles has been training her for about two weeks and she can already do stuff. She floated a pencil right before you got here. It was pretty amazing." Thank you, Xander.

Willow was now blushing adorably, unable to say a word. Angel held her close and kissed the top of her head.

Jaw slack and eyes wide, Buffy stared for a moment. "Wow. Will. So you're…magic girl, huh?"

And there it was, just for a split second. Of course, immediately afterward, Buffy beamed and a general round of discussion of Willow's prowess ensued, but Angel experienced shame, nonetheless. He felt badly that he'd ever wanted Buffy to feel envy. He was too old to be that immature. He'd leave that to Xander, thank you very much.

"I'm not ready to take over the slay-age. In fact, I'm pretty sure you're always gonna be the top dog around here, Buffy." Had Willow noticed, too? Angel didn't think it was possible, but he might just love her more.

The talk moved to 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation' and Angel stayed quiet, his arm around Willow, taking in the way the group somehow didn't change – even when it did.

He kissed Willow again.

Things were going to be okay.

In fact, they were going to be great.

The End