Stopping Time: Part Three: Willow

It had been a year and somehow, while nothing really changed, everything kept getting worse. The pain, the fear, the isolation…it all hurt more every single day. And every single day she hated Angel with increasing intensity.

It didn't seem to matter, though, not to him. What Drusilla would gladly have given him willingly, he was more interested in taking from Willow.

"I love you."

The words punctuate each thrust of his cock into a body from which she wishes she could separate. She wants to torture and kill whoever invented lubricant. It makes it easy for Angel to invade her…easy for him to pretend it isn't rape.

"I love you."

The words come more often. It's almost over. As much as she hates hearing him say what sounded sweet and beautiful in Oz's soft voice, at least this is a harbinger of something to which she can look forward – the end of a night's sexual degradation.

"I love you."

It's a shout this time as he spills inside her, staining her with what she can only give thanks is as dead as he is. The thought of bearing the child of a monster such as he is nearly makes her vomit.

He doesn't say it again, but even as he pulls out of her, he pulls her to him and holds her close, an obscene masquerade of the afterglow she'd dreamed of sharing with Oz.

"I hate you," she whispers softly as tears roll down her cheeks. He says nothing as his lips brush against the back of her neck.

This is the night when Willow looks into the Old Testament and can't find God.

Her saddest day came when she looked into the mirror and couldn't picture a girl in a pink sweater and a multi-coloured hat staring back at her. Instead, she saw a girl with dead eyes in a pale green blouse and a camel skirt, her dull auburn hair neatly brushing her shoulders. Willow - the Willow worth being, at least - was gone...and she was never coming back.

She didn't cry, though she wanted to so badly. She wondered why once and came close to realizing it was because grief meant acknowledging death before turning back on the road of her thoughts and staying wrapped in the safe warmth of confusion. There was so little heat in her world anymore; she could be forgiven for clutching tightly to what shabby blanket she could find.

"Why do you love him?" she asks Drusilla one day.

"Why are the stars silent?" It could be an answer or a non sequitur. With Drusilla, there are no certainties, no words without layers of emptiness and mystery between them and meaning.

Willow waits for a while and there is nothing more. All she has is what her visitor gives her. Drusilla rises slowly, holding out her hand as if this is a ballroom and she's been asked to dance.

"I'm sorry, Willow," she says as she glides out the door, the click of the lock echoing behind her. Willow should hate her – she doesn't, and that's another question that remains, full and hollow and forever lonely without its mate.

It was frustrating, never knowing where they were. Had she looked hard enough, she'd have seen tiny fragments of the old Willow in the furrow of her brow as she tried desperately to find clues, to ferret out the name of at least the country they were in at any given time – not because she thought she could escape if she knew – just because she wanted to know.

She still begged for a computer, even though she knew it was useless. It irritated Angel and that made it something more than futility. No matter what, she never forgot that she was at war with Angel. She couldn't win, of course – she'd given up that foolish idea the first time he forced himself inside her – but she could make his victory a Pyrrhic one, and that was the loftiest of all goals now.

"We're going shopping today. Won't that be fun?" Angel speaks to her as if she's a child. It would bother her were it not the least of his sins. As it stands, she wishes he *always* treated her like a child.

"Yeah, whatever," she says dispiritedly. She doesn't actually need any new clothes; she hasn't needed any in ages. Of course, Angel rarely lets her wear the same thing twice. That would matter if the clothes didn't all look exactly the same to Willow anyway. How many shades of beige are there?

"It will do you good to get out for a bit." There's that tone again. He's addressing a fractious child. And what is she supposed to say to that? It's not as if it matters if she ever leaves this room. She's in prison, and just like in prison, how much difference is there between the yard and the cell? You're still a prisoner, no matter where you are.

"I don't need any new clothes," she says, realizing as she crosses her arms over her chest that she is acting every bit the stubborn youngster his manner implies she is.

He chuckles. "It's not about what you need. I love dressing you up, seeing how beautiful you are after all those years you spent stifled."

She starts laughing and she can't stop, not until her hysterics trap her in the prison of his embrace. Now she is stifled.

Of course, nothing compared in horror to the nights, or what she thought of as the nights. Who knew what time it was here? Blacked-out windows and a vampire captor – even her trips to the homes of Angel's friends and the carefully-selected shops and sights did little to give her a sense of time to which she could hang on.

But whenever it was, once dinner was over and he led her to the scaffold that was her bed…that's when she realized that old saw about rape being a fate worse than death was no old-fashioned, patriarchal nonsense – it was as true as the shape of the world and the existence of evil.

He's inside her…again…forever. It never hurts less than it did the first time.

"I love you."

Someday she hopes the words will become sounds, devoid of meaning and no longer an additional instrument of torture. But it hasn't happened so far. Even now, when Angel says them, they remind her of what she'll never have.

"I love you."

He's slow tonight, some sick parody of tenderness, something he'll call 'making love' when it's over and she'll have to fight back the bile that will rise in her throat. His hands caress her as he thrusts.

"Beautiful."

It's the new words, the changes in the routine, that make it impossible for her to numb herself, to focus on the rhythm and not the event. She knows he knows it; he's too skillful a demon to reveal his strategy, though, even as he deploys it. His are the eyes of a tormented innocent. She wonders if he ripped them from her sockets as she slept.

"I love you."

Always it comes back to those three words. She lies beneath him and cries bitterly. It's now that she realizes that a Pyrrhic victory is still a victory to him, maybe even a greater one. If suffering is good for the soul, hers has polished his to diamond brightness, his own tears convincing him he's paying the toll for his sins even as he travels the road of cruelty.

"I love you."

It's over…for now…and then it will happen again. This is a circle, a Catherine wheel, and the torture will never end.

She looks into his eyes and she knows it's a mistake - there are tears there, tears he has no right to shed. But there they are, for all the injustice of it. He feels entitled to be loved by her, feels cheated of something due him, and she shatters, pieces of herself she didn't know she had left exploding into dust the way he never will.

"I love you."

He whispers it one last time, his voice choked and aching. He strokes her cheek as he remains above her.

Tonight is the last time she cries.

End Willow