TITLE: A Friend's Choice, Chapter One Part One
CATEGORY: Mystery/Drama/some Comedy
RATED: PG-13
CHARACTERS: The whole gang is here but Willow is the main character. Oh, and Spike makes an appearance or two.
DISCLAIMER: Joss Whedon created and owns all the BTVS characters.
SUMMARY: Willow has more in common with Angel than Buffy cares for. More than Willow cares for, too. Hopefully there's enough twists and turns in this to keep you guessing (even about the title) until the end.
SEASON: Season Three, sometime after Amends.

PART ONE

"Wow, that's some thunderstorm," said Buffy, wrapping her arms around herself to keep warm. "Guess this bridge will have to do until it passes. Hope there's no trolls."
"Trolls?," repeated Angel.
"Well, this is Sunnydale. You never know."
"You're shivering. Come here," said Angel, opening his coat. Buffy walked to him and hugged him. Angel closed the coat around her.
"Better?"
"Much," answered Buffy, snuggling her head against Angel's chest. "You know, maybe it'll keep raining and we'll just have to stay here awhile."
"It was a rather dull night. Patrol wise, I mean," whispered Angel. Buffy looked up at him and they kissed. His lips were cold. Buffy didn't care.
Their embrace was interrupted by a flash of lightning and an immediate, loud crack of thunder.
"That was close," said Buffy, startled. She stepped up on her toes and kissed Angel again, her hands around his shoulders now. This time their kiss was ended by a scream. A very loud scream.
"So was that!," said Angel. Then he noticed the very worried look on Buffy's face.
"What?," asked Angel. But Buffy was already running from him, a stake appearing in her hand as she drew it from her windbreaker. Angel ran after her in the driving rain.
Buffy stopped, frantically looking around her. It was too dark to see and whoever had screamed was silent now. She didn't want to call out and give her presence away. Not yet. Angel caught up to her. He could see in the dark better than her but the woods around them were empty.
"The street lights are out. Must've lost power in the storm. See anything?," asked Angel, not looking at Buffy, his eyes moving from tree to tree.
"No. Angel, I could swear that was Willow!"
Angel glanced at Buffy and saw the concern in her eyes.
"Why would she be out here, at this hour?"
"I don't know! Let's split up. Yell if you see anything. Anything at all!"
Before Buffy could move another flash of lightning turned the night into day. And then they both saw it, a figure running away from them, up a hill in the woods. They both ran even before the peal of thunder cracked above them. But they didn't get far.
"Oh my god! No!," yelled Buffy, falling to her knees and dropping the stake in the mud.
Willow lay on her back, her face ghastly white. Two puncture marks were ripped into her neck, though what little blood that seeped from the wound was quickly washed away by the rain.
"Willow! Can you hear me?," screamed Buffy, raising her best friend's head in her arm. Willow's eyes were closed, her skin already cold. Angel knelt beside them and felt her neck for a pulse. His eyes grew wide as he looked at Buffy.
"Okay, stay calm, she needs help. A phone! Where's the nearest phone?," pleaded Buffy.
"I don't know. Maybe half a mile from here. Buffy, I don't think there's time."
"Don't say that! It's Willow! She needs me! I need her," said Buffy, beginning to panic and fighting back tears. "Angel, do something! Please?"
"Buffy, her pulse..."
Buffy put her other arm under Willow's legs and picked her up. She looked around but wasn't sure where the road was. Another bolt of lightning exploded nearby, followed by thunder so loud Buffy felt the ground move under her feet.
"Buffy, stop! There is something I can do. Listen to me! There isn't much time," said Angel, finally getting her attention. Buffy stared at him, expressionless.
"There's something that you don't know about me. About the curse," explained Angel. Buffy's expression didn't change but from her eyes Angel understood that she was listening.
"You know I haven't fed on a human since the curse. What you don't know is that if I did, if I made someone like me, then they would be cursed as well. It's part of my punishment. Do you understand? If I turned someone, they would retain their soul. Like me."
Buffy's eyes grew wide as she comprehended the horror of what Angel had said. Of what he was suggesting he do.
"Angel...I can't decide that. Oh god, don't make me decide. It's not fair."
"Buffy, if Willow died of a car accident, or a heart attack, or something natural, an act of god, anything else...then I would never have even told you this. But Willow is going to die. There's nothing we can do to stop that. And she will die because of a vampire. Because we didn't protect her! Buffy, she wasn't supposed to die!"
Buffy looked at Willow's face. Her mouth contorted as she fought back the tears. Angel was right. Willow died because it was their fault. Her fault. Buffy gently laid her friend, her best friend, on the cold ground.
"Do it. Do it before I change my mind," said Buffy softly, her body shuddering with sobs.
"Maybe you should...step away. Until it's over."
"No! I want to be with her. She needs me. She needs me," cried Buffy.
Angel knelt down on the other side of Willow. His face had already changed into the creature he was.
"Even though she's lost a lot of blood, I still have to ingest some of hers. I hope this doesn't kill her," he said, not looking at Buffy. If he did look he wasn't sure if he could go through with this. Angel bit into Willow's neck. Buffy wanted to close her eyes but she couldn't.
Angel withdrew from Willow, keeping his face away from Buffy. In one smooth motion he slid his coat up, exposing his left arm and pulled a small knife from where he had strapped it to his ankle. Wincing, he made a small but deep cut into his wrist. With his right hand he forced open Willow's mouth, letting his blood drip onto her tongue. Then he massaged her throat, letting his blood run into Willow's mouth as he did. Nothing happened.
"Angel? Is she...," began Buffy.
Suddenly Willow's eyes opened wide and she desperately tried to bite Angel's wrist, making sucking and slurping noises in the effort. Her eyelids closed again and her eyes rolled up into her head.
Angel began to say something to Buffy, but didn't. He let Willow feed for a little while longer, then violently pulled his arm away. Willow sat up, bracing herself on her elbows. The whites of her eyes were now a bright red. She looked at Buffy but didn't seem to recognize her. Her head remained motionless but her eyes darted about, not focusing on any one object. Then Willow noticed that Angel was holding his wrist.
Willow slowly raised two fingers to her lips. There was still blood on her mouth that the rain had not yet washed away, running down her chin. She stared at her fingers and tried to swallow but couldn't.
"Angel?," said Willow, the tone of her voice asking so many questions.
Suddenly Willow grabbed her stomach and rolled on her side, a whimper of pain escaping from deep in her throat.
"Angel, what if you're wrong? What if she doesn't have a soul? Do you expect me to be able to stake her?," asked Buffy.
"I know I'm right, Buffy. I can feel it."
"But you've never done this before. Right?," she added, not sure anymore.
"Trust me!"
Willow rolled over, face down in the mud, holding her sides. She got her knees under her and slowly sat up. The rain quickly washed the mud from her face. Lightning flashed yet again, but this time the thunder was farther away. The storm was moving off. Another one was just starting.
Even though Buffy knew what was happening she wasn't prepared for Willow's face. Her eyes were demon-yellow. Fangs protruded from her upper lip. Sadly, Willow herself seemed unaware of the transformation.
"Buffy, what's wrong? What happened? Did something happen to Oz?," asked Willow quickly, getting worried.
"Oh, Willow," said Buffy, amazed that she would think of someone else first before herself. But that was Willow. "I'm so sorry," Buffy said, putting a hand on Willow's shoulder.
Willow noticed Buffy staring at her face. She touched a hand to her mouth, then quickly turned away from Buffy.
"No," whispered Willow. "No," she repeated, shaking her head. Buffy put her arms around her shoulders.
"Will, do you remember what happened? You were attacked. By a vampire. Angel and I, we found you here. Do you remember?"
Willow looked past Buffy and glared at Angel.
"I remember."
Angel's face had morphed back to human again. He returned Willow's stare and didn't look away.
"Willow, you died. We were too late. But there was something that I didn't know about Angel. About the curse!"
Willow turned and faced Buffy but didn't speak.
"It was my decision. Understand that. I made Angel do it. You would still have your soul. You'd still be Willow."
"Who were you to play god? What about me? I don't have a say in this?," said Willow, angrily.
"Will, there was no time to think. Put yourself in my place. What would you have done? I reacted. Maybe I was being selfish, but I couldn't say goodbye. I couldn't...lose you," cried Buffy, losing control, sobbing with her head in her hands.
"Oh, Buffy. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. It's me. It's still me!," cried Willow, hugging her friend. But Willow suddenly jumped back, gasping. Buffy looked up to see Willow staring at her neck. And understood what had happened.
Buffy stood, ripping the cross from her neck and throwing it on the ground. She stepped on it, grinding it down into the mud.
"I'm sorry! It's my fault!," screamed Buffy. "I'm supposed to protect you. But I didn't, I didn't. How can I ever make that up to you? How?," whimpered Buffy, trying to hold back her tears.
Willow stood up but didn't make eye contact with Buffy.
"What were you doing out here anyway?," demanded Buffy.
Willow reached into her pocket and pulled out a vial of holy water, turning it over in her hand, staring at it.
"You left it on the table in the library when you left. I thought you might've needed it...that you'd forgotten it. So that's what I died for, a damn bottle of water." Willow let the vial drop to the ground.
"Guess it isn't safe for me to carry that around. It might break, you know. And I was careful. I was wearing a cross! She must've ripped it off of me before..." Willow touched her neck. "I was on my way home. Home! Oh my god, my parents. I can never go back there. I can never see them again!"
Willow looked like she was about to fall so Angel caught her. Held her as she began to cry.
"I'll take her to my place. She can stay with me," said Angel to Buffy.
"Can I stay with you? Can I help?," asked Buffy, hopefully.
"No. I know what she's going through, what will happen. You don't want to be there. She'll be in a lot of pain."
"But...," began Buffy, not knowing what to say.
"Tomorrow night. Don't come sooner than that."
"Angel? How...how do I change my face back?," asked Willow, not looking up at him.
"You can't. Not yet, I mean. Not until you've...had something to eat. Willow, I know you're scared, but I'll help you, okay? I promise I'll take care of you," said Angel, holding her tighter.
Angel began walking, his arm around Willow. She kept her head down and let herself be led along. Buffy didn't move and didn't look at them.
"Buffy, go to Giles. Tell him what happened," said Angel, a little louder than he wanted to.
Buffy closed her eyes. She hadn't thought of Giles. What could she say to him? Or to Oz? Or Xander?
"Buffy?"
Willow's voice snapped Buffy out of her funk. Angel stopped walking.
"Willow?"
"Can you do something for me?"
"Anything. Just name it, Will. Anything."
"Talk to Oz. Tell him. But tell him I need to see him. Please?"
Buffy nodded her head slowly. "I will. He'll be there."

*****

She could still hear the two boys on the other side of the hill, laughing as they walked away. Staring up at the branches of an oak tree, she knew she should be cold but somehow it didn't register. Her blouse was torn and she pulled at it, trying to cover herself. How long had it been raining? She couldn't remember.
She sat up and smoothed her skirt down to her knees. And repeated the motion. Again. And again. And then she began to cry. Closing her eyes, she tried to fight back the tears and dug her hands into the ground on either side of her. Lightning lit the sky like a strobelight. She didn't hear the thunder but felt it as the ground shook.
Not far from her left hand was an empty brandy bottle. Blackberry, she remembered. She picked it up and threw it. Hard. The glass shattered on a tree but made no sound. Lightning flashed again and something caught her eye. There, at the base of the tree. It wasn't glass.
Still feeling lightheaded, she crawled over to the tree. The rain had cut a gully in the soil here. Reaching down, she pulled at the white stick she had seen. And then she realized what it was. If she was scared she didn't feel it. Again it just didn't seem to register. Even though no one else was around, out of habit she signed the word for why.
The bony hand she now held had a ring on it. A class ring. From Sunnydale High. The numbers '19' were on one side of the stone, '76' on the other. She began to dig.

*****

She didn't remember how she got there, but Buffy found herself on Giles' doorstep, pushing the doorbell. It had stopped raining. She pushed the button again and Giles opened the door, wrapping a bathrobe around himself.
"Buffy! What is it? What's wrong?"
Buffy slowly raised her eyes, red and puffy from crying. Here hair was wet and flat on her face. As soon as her eyes met those of her Watcher's, she began to cry. Buffy fell to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably.
"Buffy!"
Giles knelt down and put his arms around her, rocking her back and forth.

Giles stared at his cup of tea. He hadn't touched it.
"I said to you once, not that long ago, that you must be so disappointed in me. Well, I'm saying it again," stated Buffy, staring at the floor.
"And as I told you then, I repeat to you now. You'll have nothing but my support and my respect," countered Giles.
Buffy smiled, if only briefly, grateful for his kind words. But she didn't look up.
"I still don't know if what I did was right. Or if I'll ever know that it was. Do you think Willow can ever forgive me?," begged Buffy, finally looking at Giles.
"Buffy, what you did was done out of compassion. It was done because of your love for Willow."
"Some might say it was selfish, that I was thinking of myself and not her."
"Do you really believe that?," asked Giles in a way that showed that he didn't believe it.
"No. But I have different feelings about Angel than other people, including you. I see him as alive but cursed. It's sad but not his fault. I'm afraid no one is going to see Willow as alive but cursed, only dead and cursed. Because of me."
"I think the others may blame Angel, not you. But there is another thing you have to consider," said Giles. Buffy listened, expressionless.
"Willow has to mourn her own death. Her life will never be the same. You can think of her as alive, just different. But she can never go home again, see her parents, attend school. She shouldn't be seen by anyone she knows in Sunnydale. Other than you, and Oz and Xander, no one can know what became of her. Can you comprehend what she is facing?"
Buffy didn't answer.
"Willow will become another missing child, another statistic," added Giles.
"I need to talk to her," said Buffy.
"Tonight. Give her time with Angel. I think you need to talk to Oz first."
Buffy sighed, lowering her head into her hands. What could she say to Oz?
"You're wrong, Giles. I'll mourn for her. For as long as I'm the Slayer."
Just then the doorbell rang.
"Who could that be? It's almost dawn," said Giles, rising from his chair to answer the door.
"Oz!," exclaimed Giles, truly surprised.
"Did I wake you? Of course I did," said Oz, distractedly.
"No, actually you didn't. Come in."
"Sorry, but Willow's missing. She never came home last night. Her mother's worried sick. I went to the library but no one was there. I...Giles, what's wrong? Do you know something? Is Willow alright?," asked Oz. He still hadn't come into the room but stood in the doorway. Before Giles could answer, Buffy stood and spoke. Oz hadn't realized that she was even there.
"Oz, come in. Please."
He only took one step forward.
"Buffy, you've been crying. What happened? Where's Willow?"
Buffy ran to Oz and hugged him. He didn't return her embrace.
"She's...dead, Oz. I'm so sorry." Buffy began to cry again. Giles turned and shut the door.
"Buffy..."
It was all Oz could say. His voice was so empty, so defenseless, so unlike Oz that it scared Buffy.
"Oz, look at me. There's more you have to know," said Buffy, holding him at arm's length. "Look at me!," she repeated, shaking him by the shoulders. He made eye contact but didn't seem to be listening.
"Oz, she was killed by a vampire. Do you understand what I'm saying? She's..."
"No. This isn't real. It's not happening. I need to sit down. I think I'm going to be sick."
Buffy helped him into a chair and knelt beside him.
"Oz, Angel and I found her. She was almost dead. She had no pulse. But there's something I didn't know about Angel...about his curse. You see...if...if she became like him, if he was the one...she would still have her soul. We couldn't save her, there was no time. But...we...I told Angel to..."
Oz stood up and glared down at Buffy.
"My god! You didn't!"
Buffy stood and returned his stare.
"She was dead! We couldn't stop that! She's still Willow!"
Buffy tried to touch Oz but he pulled away. She noticed that his right hand had formed into a fist.
"If you want to hit me, do it. I won't fight back," said Buffy, softly. Oz seemed unsure of what to do.
"Hit me, damn it!," screamed Buffy, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I won't stop you. I won't...Oz, please..."
"Where is she?," asked Oz, relaxing his fist.
"She's with Angel," answered Giles. Oz glanced at Giles but still glared at Buffy.
"How could you? Just because you think there's nothing wrong with Angel you thought this is what she would want?," demanded Oz.
"There was no time to think!," said Buffy, covering her eyes with her hands, sobbing. Finally realizing what this was doing to her, Oz stepped forward and held her. Buffy collapsed into his arms.
"Oz, I'm so sorry. Forgive me. Please, I couldn't...I couldn't let her go. I couldn't..."
"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said..."
Oz couldn't finish. He gave in to his own tears. Giles looked away, biting his lip.
"Buffy, I need to see her."
"Tonight. I promise," said Buffy, wiping her eyes. "She needs time alone with Angel. He said not to come until tonight. But she did ask for you. She wants to see you."
Oz couldn't look at Buffy. He began to leave.
"Oz, please stay. Just for a while," pleaded Buffy.
Oz shook his head. Giles didn't stop him and he closed the door quietly as he left. Buffy exhaled deeply and looked at her Watcher.
"I wish he had hit me. That pain I can understand."
Giles could only nod in agreement.

*****

"Morning, Buffy. Late night? I didn't hear you come in. How about some coffee?"
"Coffee sounds great, mom."
"Buffy, do you feel alright?," asked Joyce, resisting an impulse to feel her daughter's forehead for a fever.
"I didn't get much sleep last night. Mom...Willow's missing. She didn't come home last night."
"Oh, no! Did you call her mother? She must be worried sick!"
"Giles called her. We...don't know anything yet," lied Buffy. She felt bad lying to her mother but she wasn't ready to tell her the truth. Not yet.
"Oh, Buffy. I'm sure she's okay. Try not to worry. You kids have been through a lot of tough times before. Things have a way of working out for you," reassured Joyce, trying to convince herself as well. She went to Buffy and hugged her. Buffy couldn't see the worry on her mother's face and her mother couldn't see Buffy fighting back her tears.
"Yeah, maybe you're right," answered Buffy, flatly. "I'm not really hungry, mom. I think I'll take a shower and head off to the library."
"Will Mr. Giles be there on a Saturday?"
"Oh, I'm sure of it. Old habits and such."
"I'll put on the news. Maybe..." Joyce stopped, startled to see the look of hopelessness in her daughter's eyes. She turned the television on anyway, if just so she had something to do.
"Back to our breaking story. Local police, acting on an anonymous phone call, discovered the body of a teenaged girl early this morning near Miller's Woods."
"Oh no!"
"Mom, it's not her. It's not Willow."
"How can you be sure?"
"The body had been dug up by someone either during or just after last night's thunderstorm. Dental records will have to be used to make a positive identification as police say the body may have been there for twenty years or more. No personal items that may have aided in identifying the victim were found at the scene and details of what the victim was wearing are not being released at this time. Missing persons reports are now being consulted. For more on this we..."
Joyce turned the television off.
"I was there at about that time. We were...looking for Willow."
"Buffy, how did you know that it wasn't Willow they found?"
Just then the phone rang, making both women jump. Joyce picked up the phone before Buffy could.
"Hello? Oh, Sheila! Buffy just told me about Willow. Have you heard anything yet?...Oh, I'm sorry. Try not to worry too much. She's a very responsible and resourceful girl...Yes, maybe that is good news...Of course we will. I'll tell Buffy. Thank you for calling and call me if there's anything I can do...Thank you. Goodbye."
"If we hear anything, anything at all, I agreed that I would call her right away."
"Good news? What good news?," asked Buffy, confused.
"Oh, Sheila said that a mother of a friend of Willow called. I guess her daughter didn't come home last night either. She was hoping that maybe Willow and her went somewhere together, maybe got lost."
Joyce Summers could tell by the expression on her daughter's face that she didn't think that was likely.
"Buffy, are you not telling me something?"
"What's her name?"
"Ruth Stockman. Do you know her?," asked Joyce.
"Yes. Nice person, although the kids at school make fun of her. Both because, well, you know, Ruth? That's someone's grandmother's name. But also because she's deaf and talks funny. Oh, you can understand her. Actually I think she's pretty amazing with how she can read lips and all the difficulties she has to face every day that we don't even think about..."
"Buffy?," said Joyce, noticing how Buffy was staring, unfocused, at nothing.
"Sorry. Just thinking about Will."
Buffy turned and left the kitchen. Joyce noticed that she hadn't touched her coffee.

End Of PART ONE

PART TWO

"Giles, what do we do now?," asked Buffy.
"I've thought about that. For now, Willow should stay with Angel. He will be able to teach her things that she should know, perhaps little details about her everyday living that we don't even consider or take for granted. She's safest there, as well."
Buffy nodded in agreement.
"Meanwhile, we should concentrate our efforts on finding the vampire that did this to her. It would behoove us greatly to keep busy. Perhaps it would make this transition easier for everyone if we focused on a goal," stated Giles.
"Good idea. Maybe Willow remembers more about her attacker now. I know she said it was a female vampire."
"Good. It's a start, anyway," encouraged Giles. He looked around at all the shelves of books in the library, knowing they were useless until they had more clues to research about the identity of this vampire.
"Yeah. It's going to be a long day. I want to see her so badly. I feel like running over there and knocking on Angel's door," said Buffy.

*****

Angel could no longer ignore the knocking on his door. He opened the door slightly, careful of letting the sunlight in, and peered out.
"Xander! What are you doing here?"
"Well, I'm not selling girl scout cookies. Can I come in or would you like to talk out here in the morning sun?"
Angel opened the door and stepped back, not saying anything.
"I'll take that as an invitation to come in then," said Xander.
"What can I do for you? Make it quick, I need my beauty sleep," said Angel.
"Okay. Have you seen Willow?"
"No. Why are you asking me?"
"Well, that's just it. I called her house this morning. Her mom said she never came home last night. She's big time wigged. She can't file a missing persons report for at least twenty four hours. Did you see her last night?"
"No," lied Angel.
"I called Buffy but she wasn't home. Mrs. Summers said Buffy knew that Will was missing. Why didn't someone call me? Giles wasn't home. I was heading to the library when I thought I'd stop here."
"Xander...," began Angel.
"Angel, do you know something? I can tell you're holding something back. What's going on?"
"Xander."
Willow's voice made both men turn around and look at her.
"Willow!," yelled Xander, running over to her and hugging her. "Where have you been? You gotta call your mom, she's so worried about you!"
Willow looked at Xander's neck as they embraced. She glanced at Angel and their eyes met. His stare, she knew, was a warning.
"Xander!," said Willow, quickly pulling away from him. "Sit down. We need to talk."
"I'll let you two be alone," said Angel, turning to leave.
"No, Angel. Please stay. It's okay," said Willow.
Willow took a seat across from Xander and Angel stood by the fireplace. Even though the mansion where Angel stayed was immense with cathedral ceilings, the room seemed small and claustrophobic to Willow.
"We should sit apart. I'm fighting something right now," began Willow.
"Oh. Coming down with a cold?," asked Xander. He glared at Angel, just realizing that he had been lied to.
"No. No. Um...you know, I really wanted to wait until tonight to tell you. I thought I'd feel better by then."
"Huh?"
"Xander, you can't tell my mother that you saw me. You see, I can't go back there. Ever."
"Willow! You're running away from home?"
"Well, in a way, I guess I am. You see, I'm different now. And my mom just wouldn't understand."
"Different? How?"
"Well, I'm not like I was. Or, I mean, used to be. Yes, I'm the same in many ways, but..."
"Willow. Are you..."
"Yes?"
"Do you like girls? Is that what you can't tell your mom? 'Cause, I mean, if you're a lesbian, maybe your mom will have a hard time with the idea at first, but you don't have to run away from home."
Angel rolled his eyes. Willow just stared at Xander.
"Huh? No. I'm not gay!"
"Whew! Well, that's a relief. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But, whew!"
"Okay, Jerry. Or are you Kramer? Let me try again. Xander, this involves Buffy," said Willow in a more serious tone.
"Buffy's a lesbian?," asked Xander, glancing at Angel.
"Xander! Let's start over."
"Okay. That train of thought has left the station," said Xander, humbled.
"Alright," continued Willow. "Why would you...oh, let's not even go there. You understand Angel's curse, what makes him different."
"Yeah, he's dead but he has his soul, unlike the others like him yet who are unlike him. Yadda, yadda."
"Again with the Jerry?," sighed Willow, staring at Xander. "Maybe I should just show you."
"Show me? Show me what?," asked Xander, confused.
Willow sighed again. And then her face changed. It was Xander's turn to stare.
"Does that curl the hair on the back of your neck?," asked Willow.
"That's not all it curled. And I don't mean my toes! Willow! No! What? I don't get it. Is this a joke? 'Cause I ain't laughing!"
Willow closed her eyes. She looked like she was trying to remember something, concentrating very hard. Her face changed back to her human form.
"Sorry. I didn't know how else to tell you, how to make you believe. I didn't want you to see me that way. It's easy to slip into that form but a lot harder to will it away."
"How? How did this happen?," asked Xander, very shaken.
"First, you have to believe me when I tell you that I'm still Willow. I still have my soul. You know I'd never do anything to hurt you," said Willow, getting upset. Xander didn't answer.
"Buffy and I found her, Xander. Last night. She had been attacked by a vampire. We were too late to save her life. But what no one knew about me was that, because of my curse, if I made someone like me, they would retain their soul. It was Buffy's decision."
"But you did it! How could you, knowing what your life, or non-life, is like?," asked Xander.
"Would it be better if I was dead? If I was gone forever?," asked Willow softly.
"No. I mean, I don't know! Oh, god! I can't handle this," said Xander, looking away from Willow. "Wait a minute! You're not Willow, you're that other Willow. From when Anya granted Cordelia's wish!"
"No, Xander. I still have my soul, she didn't. Note the lack of leather clothing?," asked Willow. Xander slowly lowered his eyes, staring vacantly at the floor.
"Xander, it's still me. And I'm going to need your help to get through this. Xander, you're still...I love you, Xander. You know that. Xander, please look at me," begged Willow.
Xander looked at Willow and slowly stood. He looked very pale.
"No, you're not...I'm sorry, I need some time to deal. This...this isn't..."
Xander turned and ran from the room. Willow's faced morphed again as she began to cry. Angel left the room and she didn't even notice. She forced herself to stop crying and her face changed back. Willow gave herself a little smile. When she looked up again Angel handed her a mug.
"Here, drink this. It will help. Trust me."
"I don't suppose it's tea?," asked Willow, wiping her eyes. Angel smiled.
Willow raised the cup to her lips and smelled the aroma of the warm liquid in it. Her face changed once again.
"Is that always going to happen?," asked Willow, her shoulders drooping.
"No, of course not. But it's hard to control sometimes, even for me. It can be the scent of the blood that sets it off, or being in pain, being angry, or even just noticing the shape of someone's neck. You don't have to be hungry with the bloodlust for it to happen. And you did well when Xander held you. I was impressed."
Willow looked down at the floor.
"What?," asked Angel.
"Maybe I didn't look different, but I definitely had an urge. Some friend I am," pouted Willow.
"That's only natural," smiled Angel. "You were great. Really."
Willow half-smiled in appreciation of the compliment.
"Just remember the lesson. That hunger is always there," warned Angel.
Someone knocked at the door again.
"That can't be Xander again, can it?," asked Angel. "This place is supposed to be vacant. Guess I'll have to put up a sign."
Willow shrugged, drank from her cup, got up and walked into the next room. Angel opened the door as the knocking began again. He was surprised to see a tall, blonde haired girl with green eyes standing there. She seemed even more surprised to see him.
"Hello. Is Willow here?"
Angel could understand the girl but immediately recognized that she was deaf by the way she spoke.
"Excuse me, but do I know you?"
"No," she said and signed. "I'm a friend of Willow. My name is Ruth."
"Oh. Hi. I'm Angel. How can I help you?"
Ruth seemed surprised that she hadn't been invited in.
"Can I speak to her?"
"Willow's not here," lied Angel. "Why did you think she was?"
"I know she's here," said Ruth, signing each word for emphasis. "You see, she and I have something in common."
Not as much as you think, thought Angel to himself.
"It's very important that I speak with her," continued Ruth. "Very important."
"I'm sorry, but..." began Angel.
"I have a jacket of hers. With it I was able to cast a locator spell. Now you know what I have in common with her and how I know she's here. Please, I need to speak with her."
Angel hesitated, not sure of what to say. He didn't want a witch mad at him.
"It's alright, Angel. Let her in."
Angel opened the door and realized that Ruth couldn't have heard Willow.
"Please, come in."
"Thank you."
"Willow! I went to your house. I couldn't phone first, of course," smiled Ruth. Willow returned her smile. "Your mother told me you were missing, so I borrowed this," said Ruth, handing a windbreaker to Willow. "She doesn't know that I took it. I used it to find you."
"Wow! A locator spell. You've been studying," praised Willow. Ruth didn't smile.
"Willow, what's going on? Why aren't you at home?"
Willow held up one finger, signaling Ruth to wait.
"Angel, can we..."
"Be alone?," finished Angel. "I'll be in the next room." He nodded to Ruth as he left.
"Ruth, this isn't easy for me. It's very complicated. But I'm running away from home. I don't expect you to understand, but I want you to promise me that you won't tell anyone that you saw me. Please? I need your help with this."
Ruth sat down. Willow did not.
"I'm not going to see you anymore?," asked Ruth, sadly.
"No," answered Willow, signing one of the words that Ruth had taught her.
"Want to talk about it?"
"I can't. Not yet. I'm sorry," said Willow.
"Willow, you know I'm here for you."
"Thanks," signed Willow, not speaking this time.
"I promise not to tell anyone. Besides being worried about you, I came her to tell you something. A secret. But I need to tell someone. I had no one else to talk to," said Ruth.
"What is it? You know you can trust me."
Ruth nodded.
"Willow, last night...last night, I was...he tried to...well, you know."
"Oh, Ruth! Oh, I'm so sorry! Are you...are you okay? Did he hurt you? Did you know him?," asked Willow, sitting down on the edge of Ruth's chair and putting her arm around her.
"No, no. Nothing happened. He just scared me. And laughed. I haven't been home yet. My mother doesn't even think I should be seeing anyone yet, that I'm too young!"
"Oh my god! You have to at least call her," said Willow.
Ruth nodded. "You know, it's partly my fault. I got drunk."
"Did you say no? Did you tell him to stop?," asked Willow, impatiently.
"Yes, but..."
"Well then, but nothing. No means no and stop means stop. It doesn't matter if you were drinking. Ruth, it's not your fault! You can't blame yourself."
Ruth smiled at Willow, teary eyed. She signed thank you to Willow but didn't speak. Suddenly Willow turned away from her. She had gotten angry and had felt her face change. She didn't know if Ruth had seen what happened.
"Willow, what's wrong?"
Willow put a hand out and held up one finger.
"Willow, I can't read your lips if I can't see your face."
Willow kept her hand out and nodded.
"C'mon, Will, get it together," said Willow out loud, knowing Ruth couldn't hear her. She closed her eyes. Hard. When she turned around Ruth's eyes grew wide. Ruth could see that Willow had been crying.
"Sorry, I'm a little upset. I didn't want you to see me that way," said Willow, not intending the double meaning. "Ruth, you should go home. Your mother must be worried sick."
"Yes, like yours must be."
Willow looked down, not knowing what to say.
"Ruth, I'm very flattered that you sought me out for something like this. But don't you have anyone else you can confide in?"
Ruth shook her head sadly.
"You know the other kids tease me. They don't even have to talk behind my back, if you know what I mean," said Ruth, attempting a joke. Willow only frowned.
"It's so unfair. I don't bother anyone."
"Oh, Ruth, if you need me, you know where I am. I'll be here for a few days, at least. Until I figure out what to do."
"Willow, you're my only friend. Can't you tell me about it? You can't run away. You have everything going for you."
"Soon. I'm just not ready yet. Please?," said Willow, signing again. Ruth nodded.
"You can't tell anyone, Ruth."
"You can trust me."
"Ruth, who did this to you? Was it a boy at school?"
Ruth's body tensed before she answered.
"That's not important."
"Not important? He might try to do this to another girl!," said Willow, trying to remain calm.
"No. It wasn't like that. It's because it was me, not another girl."
"But...," protested Willow.
"No, Willow. There's other ways to handle this. I don't want anyone to know. There were two boys, not one. They're students at Sunnydale. School's hard enough without everyone knowing that I..."
"Go on. Tell me. It'll help to tell me," comforted Willow, putting her hand on Ruth's arm.
"There's more. Where I was...in the woods, I found something. I didn't know what it was at first. The rain had uncovered some of it. And then I began to dig. Willow, I found the skeleton of a girl, there, in the woods. She had been a student at Sunnydale."
Ruth pulled on a chain that hung around her neck. From inside her sweater emerged a class ring.
"Class of 1976."
"Ruth!," exclaimed Willow.
"In her backpack was her diary. And...her spellbook. Willow, she was killed because she was different. Like I was humiliated because I am different. Well, I'm not comparing what happened to me with what happened to her. But I believe things happen for a reason. I believe I was meant to find her."
"Ruth, if she was a witch, it might not be safe to wear something of hers. You don't know how strong she was. You have to be careful with stuff like that," warned Willow.
"Willow, how do you think I learned the locator spell so quickly? From her spellbook. Even so, it's not easy to cast. I had a feeling, no, more than a feeling, that she was helping me. And like I said, there are other ways to deal with those boys."
"Ruth, slow down. You don't know much about the black arts yet. You could be getting involved in some really bad mojo."
"I know. You and I have cast a few spells. As you learn, you grow. I'll go slowly at first. I was hoping that you'd help me," said Ruth, looking down for a moment, as if embarrassed to ask Willow a favor.
Willow thought for a moment. She didn't want anyone to find out about her, especially Ruth, who had no friends. But everyone needs someone else.
"Let me think about it. Come here tomorrow. We'll talk again," said Willow, smiling to try to lift Ruth's spirits.
"Thank you," signed Ruth, giving Willow a hug. "I'd better go."
"Make sure no one follows you tomorrow," said Willow.
"And then maybe you'll confide in me. Willow, when you have friends you can face anything."
"You know, you're right," agreed Willow.

*****

"The sun set twenty seconds ago! Anxious, much?," asked Willow.
"Will, this has been the longest day of my life," said Buffy, dropping several bags and a box on the floor.
"And longest night by the way you look. Did you get any sleep? And what's this? Christmas?"
"Of course it's not Christmas. You're Jewish. And do I really look that bad?," asked Buffy, concerned.
"No, I'm sorry. It's great to see you."
"When you're depressed, what's the next best thing to chocolate? Shopping! I can't exactly get your stuff from your house. What would I tell your mom?," said Buffy, her lower lip quivering.
"Ah, a guilt offering. Nice, in a pagan sorta way. But thanks, I really appreciate this," said Willow. Then she noticed Buffy looked upset.
"Hey, no sad faces! You didn't kill me, a vampire did and we're going to find her and kick her ass! So, no pouty faces because, because I can top your pouty face. Not that I can see it for myself, you know, the mirror thing and all. We're just going to have to make the best of this. And with friends you can face anything. Besides, I've always been on the fence as to whether I should be a vegetarian or not, so now I am and I should really shut up so I'll stop talking now."
Buffy shook her head and smiled. And hugged Willow.
"You're still my Willow."
"Uh, Buffy? The neck?"
"Oh, right. Sorry," said Buffy, stepping back.
"No, I'm sorry. But it's kinda like waving chocolate under my nose."
"Hey, your face! You're doing great with the control and all," said Buffy, changing the subject.
"Thanks. It's harder than I thought, though."
Buffy and Willow looked at one another, not knowing what to say next.
"Buffy, I don't want things to be weird between us. You don't need me to forgive you for what happened. I would have done the same thing. You're my best friend and nothing's going to change that. Ever. Thank you for...," said Willow, unable to finish as tears filled her eyes.
"Oh, Will. How about a quick hug? Maybe you can close your eyes for the neck thing."
Willow closed her eyes and held out her arms. They embraced.
"Thank you, Willow. You don't know how much I needed to hear that. Okay, unhug."
Buffy and Willow both sat down.
"You're not just saying that? I did the right thing?," asked Buffy again.
"No doubts, no questions. I would have done the same thing for you. Or to you. You know what I mean."
"Thanks."
"Buffy, is Oz coming?," asked Willow hopefully.
"He'll be here. He's...I tried to call him today. No luck, he wasn't home. Will, he's doing the best he can. It's even harder for him, but I know that he'll be here."
Willow nodded and put her hands to her face.
"Hey, how do I look? For Oz, I mean. Angel helped me but, well, you know, no mirrors? Like a mirror would help me when I'm putting on makeup or combing my...I'm shutting up again," said Willow.
"You're beautiful. Stop worrying," said Buffy, making Willow smile. "Giles will be here soon. I told him that I wanted some time alone with you first."
"Good, I need to ask him something. But I don't know how to say it. To him, I mean," added Willow.
"What is it? Your...nature is like Angel's and I know, well...stuff. Tell me."
"Okay. If I'm the way I am because I'm under the same curse as Angel, then if Oz and I...um, well, you know. If we..."
"Oh, right!"
"Right. If we...will I lose my soul like Angel did?," asked Willow, lowering her voice.
"I'm not sure anyone can answer that for certain. I guess it's better to assume that you would. Lose your soul. To be on the safe side. Sorry. Maybe we should ask Giles?"
"No. No, let's let lying dogs sleep. And I don't suppose vampires can get pregnant? I mean, something that's dead can't create life, right?"
"No. Just like Angel can't father a child," answered Buffy sadly.
"Well, I guess without the happy I wouldn't have to worry about that anyway."
"Hey, I haven't been able to find Xander!," said Buffy, changing the subject. "He's got to know about you. We have to tell him."
"He does," said Angel, entering the room. "He was here today."
Buffy looked back to Willow.
"What happened?," asked Buffy.
"He saw my pouty face," answered Willow. "I don't know if he's more mad or more upset or more scared. It didn't go well."
Buffy exhaled, puffing out her cheeks.
"Time. We all need time to adjust. Everyone's going to handle this in their own way and at their own pace," said Willow.
Buffy nodded in agreement.
"Hey."
"Oz!," squealed Willow, getting up from her chair and taking a few steps towards him but then stopping, not sure of what his reaction would be. Oz smiled and ran to her, hugging her. Buffy smiled, stood and nodded to Angel. She slowly began backing out of the room.
"You look great," said Oz, stepping back to admire her.
"Yeah, for a dead girl," frowned Willow.
Oz stopped smiling.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to be so blunt about it," said Willow, interrupted when Buffy bumped into a table.
"Buffy, you don't have to leave," said Oz.
"No, you two need time alone," answered Buffy.
"Buffy," said Oz, getting her attention. "You and I, we're cool. Okay? You too, Angel. In fact, I want to apologize for the way I acted. I was out of line."
"Oh, no, Oz. You were so in line."
"Hey, if you didn't do what you did, both of you, then Willow wouldn't be here. Understand?"
"Thank you, Oz. It means a lot to me to hear that," said Buffy. Angel didn't say anything but nodded to Oz. "Still, Angel and I will give you some time," said Buffy, taking Angel's arm and leaving.
"Sure you don't want to stay for the mushy stuff?," asked Oz.
"There's mushy stuff?," asked Willow, excitedly.
Buffy smiled and left the room.
Oz reached out and held Willow's hands.
"You're cold. Do you want a sweater or...oh," said Oz, embarrassed.
"Duh!," responded Willow.
"Willow, this is all new. For both of us. We have some tough times ahead of us. But, together, we'll work it out."
"Thank you, Oz. I was so worried about us," said Willow, fighting back tears.
"Hey, I'm not exactly human either, you know."
"But that's only three nights a month. It's full time on my end," said Willow, letting go of his hands.
"So we can't go to the beach anymore. With your fair skin you burned too easily anyway. You've helped me, I'm going to help you. Whatever it takes. You're...you're my Willow. I love you."
"And I love you," smiled Willow. "Okay, girl, try not to get upset. Oh, emotions tend to get me all grrr."
"Oh. Doesn't matter, you know. Not to me," said Oz.
"You're incredible. You know, if Buffy and Angel can work this out then so can we."
There was a knock at the door. Angel entered the room to answer it, followed by Buffy.
"I'll get it. It's probably Giles," said Angel.
"It is," replied Willow.
Angel stopped and looked at her.
"I can smell his cologne. Can't you? I assumed..."
"No, I can't," said Angel.
"You can't?," asked Willow, surprised. "He's carrying flowers, too."
"Way to go, Will!," said Buffy.
"Hi, Giles. Come on in," said Angel.
"Thank you. Willow! How do...how are you doing?"
"Good, thanks."
"Oh, here, these are for you," said Giles, handing her a bouquet of flowers.
"Oh, Giles, thank you! They're lovely."
"Yes, um, chocolate didn't seem appropriate for the occasion," said Giles, making Willow smile.
"Maybe not for her," chided Buffy. There was an awkward silence for a moment.
"Okay. Everybody sit down. Except you, Angel. Those flowers need some water," said Buffy, taking charge.
"Be right back," said Angel. He made eye contact with Oz and Oz walked out with him, out of earshot of the others.
"About last night, what I did...," began Angel.
"Hey, it's cool. I understand now. Last night I might've staked you. But not now. Thank you. I know what you did couldn't have been easy for you."
"You have no idea," said Angel. They both looked at Willow but her back was to them. Buffy, however, noticed. And she realized that she hadn't thought about Angel's feelings and how he was coping with this. She had been too busy thinking of herself and Willow.
"Okay, I think we should limit the number of people that know about Willow. Let's leave Cordelia out of this for now. So, except for Xander, everyone who knows is in this room now, except water boy. Right?," asked Buffy.
"Uh, no. There's Ruth," said Willow after raising her hand.
"Ruth?," repeated Buffy.
"Yeah, Ruth. The deaf girl at school? She was here today," said Willow, putting up her hand again to stop Buffy from talking.
"I'll give you the short version. I felt sorry for her, what with the other kids teasing her and being new because she transferred. We've become friends. She taught me how to sign a few words and expressions and I taught her a few spells."
"Willow!," said Buffy in surprise.
"Hey, she's good! I mean, she's strong and concentrates well. She just needs help pronouncing...okay, the short version. She found out from my mother that I was missing and used a locator spell to find me."
"Locator spell? Isn't that rather advanced?," asked Giles.
"Yes, it is. You see, last night she went out with a couple of boys. She must've been so flattered that someone asked her out. Oh, anyway, I guess they were drinking and they tried to take advantage of her. But nothing happened, she made them stop. Well, they left her alone, but she was so hurt and embarrassed. And after they left she found something. In the woods last night. Not far from where I was."
"Go on, Will," said Buffy, realizing her friend was reliving last night.
"She found the body of a girl. Maybe you saw it on the news this morning. I didn't."
"Yes, I did. She was about your age. But she had been dead a very long time," commented Giles.
"Yes, she had been a student at Sunnydale. Class of 1976."
"How do you know that? The police said that there were no personal items found at the scene. That they would need dental records," said Giles.
"Ruth found her class ring and a diary. And her spellbook," added Willow.
"Spellbook?," asked Buffy.
"Yep. She was a witch. That's how she found me. Ruth used a locator spell that was in the book."
"Willow, I don't need to tell you...," began Giles.
"No, you don't. I told her it wasn't safe. In fact, she's even wearing the class ring. But I made her promise to come see me tomorrow. I'll talk to her, see if I can get her to turn that stuff over to the police."
"What was the girl's name?," asked Giles.
"Name? I don't know. She didn't say," said Willow.
"Ruth might not know either, even with her diary. Knowing a witch's name can be powerful in certain spells and protections. I doubt if her name was written in those books," said Giles.
"What did you tell her about yourself, Willow?," asked Buffy.
"That I was running away from home. I think I can trust her not to tell anyone. In fact, I pretty sure I'm her only friend," added Willow.
"This day sucks," said Buffy.
"There's more," warned Willow.
"What?," asked Buffy, rolling her eyes.
"Ruth wants to punish those boys using the spellbook."
"Oh dear. Willow, you've got to stop her. Dealing in the black arts for someone so inexperienced..."
"I'll talk to her, Giles," said Willow, interrupting him again. Giles didn't say anything but pushed his glasses further up on his nose.
"Ruth didn't say who the boys were, did she?," asked Oz.
"No. She wouldn't tell me," answered Willow. "Giles, we should go to the library, see what we can find out about this dead girl."
"I will. Not we. It isn't safe for you to go there, Willow. Someone might see you," said Giles.
"But I want to help. And I'm better at using the computer than any of you," argued Willow.
"She's got you there," agreed Buffy.
"Someone can be a lookout for me, let us know if anyone's coming," continued Willow.
"I can do that," stated Oz.
"Perhaps you're right. And I'd like to find out the identity of the vampire who bit Willow," said Giles.
"On it," said Buffy. "Angel and I will go visit Willy. Maybe he knows something. We'll meet up with you later."

*****

"Hey Ed, why the long face?"
"Oh, hi Victor. Just broke a mirror. You know, seven years of bad luck," said Ed. He was tending bar tonight at the Bronze and it was just getting busy.
"Well, cheer up. It's not like you have to pay for it, right?"
"Whatever. Victor, don't ask me for a beer, okay? There's too many people here already."
"Ed, would I put you in that position?," asked Victor.
Ed didn't reply but gave Victor a look that made it clear he meant it.
"Alright, Ed. Maybe later, when it thins out. How 'bout a coke?"
The bartender turned away to get the soda. That's when Victor noticed Ruth standing at the other end of the bar.
"Hey, Ruth! Looking for another good time?," laughed Victor.
Ruth turned her head and looked at him.
"Maybe. What do you have in mind?," asked Ruth.
"Hey, you can hear me? How...I thought you were deaf!," said Victor, pointing his finger at Ruth. Then he noticed his hand. The skin on his hand was shriveling and turning black.
"I am. What's wrong, Victor? Something wrong with your hand?," asked Ruth, smiling. She laughed and walked away from the bar. Victor turned to follow her and bumped into Cordelia.
"Excuse me! Walk much?," asked Cordelia, an edge to her voice. Victor didn't even seem to notice her. He was staring at his hands and his eyes were opened very wide. Cordelia had seen that look before.
"Hey, what's wrong with you? I mean, apart from being a clumsy oaf?"
Victor looked at Cordelia and held up his hands.
"Can't you see!?," he yelled, turning and running through the door next to the bar that led to the restrooms.
"Hey!," yelled Cordelia, following him. It was darker than usual back there and she didn't see anyone. Cordelia was about to knock on the men's room door when she noticed the door leading to the alley behind the Bronze slowly closing. Shaking her head, she pushed the door open and stepped out into the alley.
It wasn't as dark here as it had been in the Bronze but what bothered her the most was the smell from the dumpster. The she heard the sound of a garbage can being knocked over, further up the alley and closer to the street. Cordelia wondered why there were garbage cans and a dumpster in the same area but quickly lost that thought as she worried about her hair being in place.
"Hey! Where are you?," she called out as she walked towards the street. She almost tripped over the boy before she saw him.
Victor was lying on his back, staring at his hands and moaning. Cordelia knelt down beside him.
"Are you hurt? Should I get help?," asked Cordelia, not understanding what could be bothering him.
"My hands. Can't you see!?," pleaded Victor. "The bones! The bones!"
"There's nothing wrong with your hands! You must be hallucinating. Are you on drugs? Be honest, it may be they only way I can help you," said Cordelia.
There were pieces of the broken mirror on the ground, spilled when Victor knocked over the garbage can. He saw his reflection in a large shard and saw the skin on his face begin to shrivel and turn black.
"No!," yelled Victor, grabbing Cordelia's arm. "Help me!"
Suddenly Victor grabbed at his chest with his right hand, gasping. He took two more labored breaths and then his head fell to the ground, eyes staring at nothing. He wasn't breathing. Cordelia leaned closer over him, not knowing what to do. Then she caught his reflection in the broken mirror.
Cordelia was looking at a skeleton. The skull was bleached white as if it was very old, but one eyeball hung loose in its socket. Cordy glanced back at the boy, not comprehending what she had seen. When she looked back at the mirror all she saw was the dead boy. She stood and screamed.
Cordelia began to run down the alley towards the street. She had only taken a few steps when she saw Ruth. Ruth was standing at the end of the alley, her arms crossed over her chest. And she was smiling. Cordelia only paused for a moment, then ran out of the alley, not looking back.

End Of PART TWO