Where the Wind Never Goes

The Bronze.

It was dark and dingy and infested with insects – and teenagers – the music was loud and it was anything but Angel's idea of a pleasant place to spend an evening. But this was where Buffy would be, so here he was.

Looking around the room, he had an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu: Willow was sitting alone at a table… and Buffy was on the dance floor with Xander. Oh, she wasn't writhing against the boy the way she had the other night, but it was clear from Xander's glazed eyes that his memory was supplying the grinding for her… and it was clear from Willow's downcast expression that her memory was working similarly.

How the hell could Buffy be so damned insensitive? Xander Harris had to be the only person in this whole town who didn't realize Willow was in love with him. Buffy certainly knew. Yet, once again, there she was, leading the boy on without a thought for the girl she'd told Angel more than once was her best friend.

Did that even mean anything to Buffy?

Or maybe it was just different for him. He had no friends; he couldn't remember the last time he'd had one. To him, a 'best friend' was something rare and precious. If he were to have a friend like that… Well, he wouldn't be flirting with the one they loved, that was for sure.

Where was this coming from? Two nights ago, he'd held Buffy in his arms while she'd cried away the last of her fear of death and the Master and he had felt nothing towards her but compassion and love. She'd been the whole world to him then – the only thing that mattered – and now he was standing here, watching her, irritated with…

That was it, wasn't it? The other night, while the others had been up in the rafters, he hadn't really noticed them; they hadn't been part of the psychodrama Buffy had played out. No, it had been, for all intents and purposes, just the two of them… and it had been all about Buffy – her pain, her needs, her triumph.

For Angel, up until… this moment, he realized, that had been the way it was too. But now? Now he was staring at Willow and thinking that Buffy wasn't the center of the universe after all. Other people mattered.

Maybe Buffy needed that revelation as well, he decided as his eyes returned to the dance floor. When you loved someone, you watched your behavior even when they weren't around, you thought about their feelings, you… and there was one person here who understood exactly what he was going through. One person who knew what it was like when someone rode roughshod over your emotions and your affections were taken for granted. His eyes moved toward her once more.

Willow. Sweet, caring, innocent, left-behind Willow.

She seemed to sense his gaze because she turned away from the scene on the dance floor and her eyes met his. Guess he should go over and talk to her. It would be easier, he supposed, if he had some idea of what he should say, but probably not much. He and Willow had never really had a conversation before; this would be awkward no matter what. All the more reason, he decided, for making the effort.

"Angel," she said brightly the moment he got to her table; the most desperate and tragically false smile he'd ever seen was on her face. It was nigh to heartbreaking.

"Hey." Smooth, Angel. Nice to see that all those years living in alleys and eating rats did no damage whatsoever to your social skills.

"Buffy's dancing," she said, "but I'm sure she'll be right back." She spoke almost desperately, sure that there was only one person he could possibly want to talk to but eager to retain some company. It pained Angel in a way he wasn't sure he'd ever felt before – and that was a strange experience. Unsettling as well.

He wanted to say he wasn't here to see Buffy, but even if it was true now, she wouldn't believe him, so instead he said, "It's okay. In the meantime, I can talk to you."

The look of gratitude on her face – more of that unfamiliar pain. Did she have any idea how easy she was to read? How vulnerable it made her? She was lucky no predator who knew his game had happened upon her. She'd be perfect prey. "Okay," she chirped. Her grin displayed an endless row of blunt, white teeth. For the first time he looked at her and realized that she was… pretty. Very pretty. Why hadn't he seen that before?

Not hard to answer that question, was it? Buffy had crowded his line of sight and nothing else had registered. Turning back to the dance floor, it was obvious that Buffy's own eyes hadn't found him at all. She was still bouncing to what sounded like noise and performing what looked nothing like dancing to Angel. No, it seemed to function purely as adolescent release and a way to display her abundant charms to every male (and more than a few females) who fancied a look.

The Slayer was nowhere to be seen. The girl on the dance floor was a giddy adolescent princess, glorying in the good fortune of being blessed with a sexy body and a beautiful face and the confidence to use both to best advantage. She was every tavern maid he'd ever escorted into the alley behind the pub for an enjoyable interlude before drinking himself into a state well past the ability to indulge in carnal pleasures.

Why had he come here tonight? How much did he hate himself that he was putting himself through…?

"Angel? Are you okay?"

Oh no. He'd become lost in his thoughts and had ignored the girl sitting right beside him. And what was worse, she didn't even seem angry. No, she was obviously just concerned because he seemed upset or depressed or whatever his facial expression currently read as. "Fine," he responded, trying to think of a way out of this – a way to tell her that his inattention had nothing to do with not wanting her company. How about part of the truth? "The music's so loud here. How can anyone have a conversation?"

Willow looked at him strangely. "You wanted to talk? To Buffy?"

The antithesis of Buffy, that was what Willow was. For a moment, he wondered: what would she be like if she had the self-assurance of the girl currently shaking her ass for all she was worth with the boy Willow loved? "I want to talk to you."

"Me?" Her voice was high and her expression confused and Angel could hear the song reaching its end and… he needed to be out of here, with Willow. He took her arm and pulled her off her seat, through the crowd of hormonal youth, and out the back door before she had a chance to say a word.

Now Willow was staring at him and she seemed frightened. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said gently. "I just wanted to get out of there."

"Oh. Okay." He was puzzled when she glanced at her shoulder, then down, and breathed a sigh of relief. Then he noticed her purse. He felt like an ass for not having thought she might have belongings with her.

"Did you have a jacket?" he asked.

"It's inside. Should I go get it?"

No. That was definitely not what he meant. He put his hand on her arm before she could hurry back into the club. "No. I just meant that if someone takes it, I'll buy you a new one," he offered.

She was clearly unsure of what to say. Genuinely so, and it made him realize how arch and artificial Buffy's pretenses of awkwardness had been. "Uh… thanks." She smiled, but it was an unsure expression and he wanted to kick himself for making her so uncomfortable.

"I'm glad we finally have a chance to talk." It occurred to him that Willow wasn't the only one who was awkward and uncomfortable. "I…"

"Are you bugged about Buffy? I mean, that she's dancing with Xander? Because it's really not…"

"It is," he interrupted, even as he was amazed at her perceptiveness. "It's wrong. Not just to me. It's cruel to you."

Of course, he'd bungled things, said something she wasn't ready to hear – not from him. "What do you mean?" This time her confusion was as false as could be. She knew exactly what he meant; he could see it in the watery shine of her saucer-sized eyes.

Well, he'd blundered into a place where honesty was his only way out. "I know," he said gently. "How you feel about Xander, I mean. I know." He reached out to stroke her cheek, but she pulled back and he didn't blame her.

Her eyes glistened more wetly than before and she seemed about to continue her protestations of ignorance when instead she sighed softly. "It… Is it that obvious?"

Here was a chance to be kind and Angel took it. "I'm a vampire. I notice things."

Angel felt that pain again as he met eyes filled with relief and a tragic gratitude at the chance to believe that her sad excuse for a secret might be secret after all. "Yeah. Vampire…" Her voice trailed off as she was clearly unsure of what to say. There was something dangerous about how comfortable it felt to be in the company of someone as awkward and unsure as he was – and about how differently he felt about that awkwardness now.

"Buffy's your… she's supposed to be your best friend. She shouldn't be dancing with him."

Naturally, Willow took his words the wrong way. "You're jealous."

"No," he responded, meeting her eyes straight-on so she could see the truth in his. "No, I'm not jealous."

She wasn't buying it. "But you… You love her, right? And it's gotta hurt, seeing her like that, doesn't it?" He got it. She didn't need to hear that he knew Xander was no competition; that would make her feel all the more pathetic. No, while he knew she didn't really want him to be hurt, she needed company.

He looked away, mirroring her discomfort with disclosure. "It does."

That did something, kicked a hole in the wall between them, maybe, and now she was the one to touch him. The hand on his arm; it was warm and alive. Strange how he could feel her compassion through his skin. "I'm sorry." She meant it and Angel knew it was wrong. Why should she be apologizing for Xander's hormonal stupidity and Buffy's self-absorbed carelessness?

"Don't apologize," he said, more harshly than he intended.

Nervous and fidgeting again, she repeated herself. "I'm sorry."

There was a certain fragile and vulnerable something in her eyes that kept him from chuckling at the absurdity of her apologizing for apologizing. Not even when he'd been a soulless demon of unimaginable cruelty had he ever seen anyone quite so terrified of displeasing. He shivered at the thought of what Angelus would do with this girl. Thank heavens it could never happen. "It's okay," he said, not chiding her this time.

But it wasn't really okay, was it? Not for either of them. She was tearing herself to pieces over Xander, and Angel? Angel was suddenly wondering what he was doing here at all. He'd been so busy thinking about the things about Buffy that upset him that he hadn't had a chance yet to marvel at the fact that he was seeing her in a harsh, new light to begin with. Why now?

It hit him, or maybe it did: Willow was a mirror of sorts, reflecting back not his face, but what lay beneath. They had a great deal in common – both insecure, desperate to please. In his case, it made sense: Angel had centuries of evil for which to atone and Buffy shone golden-bright with the promise of redemption. It was logical, more than logical, for him to court the Slayer, to allow her calling and the tantalizing prize of absolution it offered to excuse her frailties to the point of madly willful blindness. But in Willow's case? He couldn't for the life of him see why she trailed after that Harris buffoon, begging for scraps.

"You're too good for him," he said at last, trying to free himself from the quicksand of his thoughts.

She snorted and he realized he'd blundered badly – again. "Buffy says the same thing. People always say that, but what they really mean is that the guy is out of your league."

This time Angel was the one who snorted. Willow couldn't possibly believe that, could she? That Xander Harris was out of her league? The snorting progressed to laughter.

"Are you laughing at me?"

Angel couldn't keep from making things worse, could he? "No," he said. "I'm laughing at the idea that you could think…" He paused and got his mirth completely under control. His expression deadly serious, he continued. "I was laughing at the idea that you could possibly think that Xander Harris is out of your league. You really are too good for him, you know." Oh how he hoped she knew he meant that.

Obviously she didn't because she turned away. It looked like she was going back inside. No. He couldn't let that happen, so he grabbed her arm and started pulling her out of the alley and onto the street. The fear was back, but he could worry about allaying it later… Perhaps when he figured out why he was so desperate for her to stay with him.

"What are you doing?" That was a good question and he wondered how to answer it. Should he be honest?

"I don't know," he admitted. Honesty it was.

Oddly enough, it seemed to have been the right choice because she calmed down immediately. That made perhaps even less sense than her crush on Harris, but he was glad of it anyway. Her racing heart had called to his demon. "Oh."

"I know what I said… it sounded patronizing," he said as they stood under a streetlight. Somehow it felt even more deserted than the alley, safer, no one around save for a couple of people filing out of the movie theatre across the street. "I didn't mean to be. You can't help who you…" His voice trailed off. He wasn't just talking about Willow, after all, now was he?

"No," she replied, in a soft and indistinct tone that made him wonder if she meant for him to hear her at all, "you really can't."

This situation was crying out for a subject change, but for the life – well, unlife of him – Angel couldn't think of one. Lucky for them both, Willow came to the rescue with something that would have caught him off-guard if he hadn't been hoping to talk about something – anything – but the passion they each felt for people who were treating them rather badly. "So. What did you do this summer?"

"Not much," he admitted. "Killed a few fledges, but mostly reading. Summers… well, even here in Sunnydale they're pretty dead."

Angel wasn't sure what sparked it, but suddenly, Willow was giggling. What was so funny? "Sorry," she said as she saw he wasn't getting whatever the joke was, "it's just – you know: Dead? Vampire?" Her mirth stilled and it was obvious she thought she'd offended him. "I'm sorry," she said, apologizing again… Just as Angel chuckled. You know, there was something pretty funny about him using that particular phrase after all. He hadn't laughed immediately though and it was readily apparent that Willow believed she'd offended him. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I just… I'm sort of weird – my sense of humour, I mean. Well, not just my sense of humour, but…"

Her words seemed to have wrapped around her tongue, tripping her speech awkwardly, and he hastened to catch her. "It's okay. Really." He had a sudden burst of insight – why he hadn't laughed. "I guess I'm just not used to anyone being so comfortable…with what I am. With my being a vampire."

"But you are one." She was staring at him quizzically now. "I mean, it's not like it's a big deal. Okay, sure, maybe at first, but not now. Now we know you." Her use of the plural was… She was so naïve. Because maybe she was comfortable with his identity, but he was pretty sure she was the only one… possibly himself included. Because she had meant it, hadn't she, when she said it wasn't 'a big deal'?

He took her hand again and said, "Thank you." Again there was that quizzical stare.

"What for?"

"For accepting me."

Her mouth opened and Willow was clearly about to say something, but then she stopped herself. Clearly, she got it – that it wasn't a small or ordinary thing, the acceptance that seemed so natural to her. He kept hold of her hand. "You want to take a walk?"

Phrased as a question though his words might have been, Angel didn't wait for her answer. Instead, he began leading her down the street, away from the club.

Away from Buffy and Xander.

She didn't object; he was glad of that. Turning the conversation back, he decided to ask her the same thing she'd asked him. He was genuinely curious. Who was she when she wasn't researching demons or putting herself in harm's way? "What did you do this summer?" They were directly across from the theatre now and they stopped, watching as the lights turned off.

"Nothing much," she said with a shrug. "I worked on some new computer programs. Oh, and I tutored some middle schoolers. My Mom thinks doing things like that will help me get into college. All the top schools want volunteering and stuff and it's not like I can put 'killing vampires' on my applications." She looked sheepish. "Not that I've even killed any."

That was it? No mention of trips to the beach or parties or shopping or any of the things he just assumed filled the life of every teenage girl. Certainly none of the things which had filled Buffy's time in Los Angeles. Her life wasn't much richer or more fulfilling than his, was it? Other than fighting evil, she didn't have much. "What about your friends?" he said, wishing he hadn't asked when he saw her face fall for a moment before she recovered herself and plastered on a smile.

"Buffy was in L.A.," she replied, "and Xander… We hung out a few times." She smiled more broadly, as if it didn't matter. In the meantime, Angel could almost hear his heart breaking. How could she have no other friends? A sweet, warmhearted, intelligent, charming girl like her? It made no sense to him at all.

"I guess I sort of assumed…" Again he realized he was saying something stupid and, while he stopped before he finished, it wasn't nearly as effective as stopping before he'd started would have been. "Fighting evil sure doesn't leave a lot of time for socializing, does it?" he finished lamely.

Willow didn't take the offered way out. He wondered if she even knew how. "I didn't really have any friends before I started helping Buffy. Except for Xander and Jesse."

She coloured immediately after she said the second name – Jesse – and Angel wondered why. Even after he remembered who Jesse was. Why would Willow feel awkward about bringing up a friend who'd been turned? Anger would make sense, revulsion at the nature of her companion, but she seemed nervous and even upset with herself. "You must miss him. Jesse, I mean," he offered, trying to figure her out.

Why did she still seem nervous? "Yeah. I mean, yes, I do." She turned away for a moment and as she did, he caught the glint of a tear in her eye. "We don't really talk about him anymore," she said, so softly that had he been human, he'd never have heard her.

That didn't make sense, not at first, but then he thought about it and he thought maybe he understood… And he wished he didn't. It made him angrier at Buffy and he didn't want to be. He didn't want this feeling inside him to build up to something that he couldn't get rid of with some rest and a battle by her side. "Why don't you tell me about him?"

If he'd thought she'd welcome the offer… well, he'd thought wrong, hadn't he? Because she looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Or a child in the presence of a vampire. "Darla turned him," she said after a long pause. She used that barely audible voice again.

Was that what…? Oh. She didn't want to bring up Darla. Did she think he was mourning his sire?

That was a better question than he'd realized. Was he mourning his sire? It was hard to say. He had a lot of complicated feelings when it came to Darla and the fact that he'd had to dust her himself hadn't exactly opened him up to dealing with any of them.

"It's okay," he said after a long moment. "You can talk about your friend." Taking her hand again, he added, "And it's okay to hate Darla. I won't be angry."

"I can't." Again her voice was soft, but that wasn't the reason that Angel didn't understand. "I can't talk about him."

For a girl he'd always seen as so simple and straightforward, she was proving to be more mysterious and inscrutable than he ever would have thought possible. "Why not?"

"Buffy." There it was, confirming Angel's angry insight, but magnifying it. She stood in the way of Willow's grief even when she was nowhere to be seen and that made Angel's irritation all the more acute.

But was that it? He wondered. Because Willow saw Buffy in her own way and… maybe what she meant was something that would take away the sting. Or would it make his own conflict so much worse to know?

He had no idea what to do next. Should he simply let the matter drop and change the subject? Or should he press her to tell him what she meant? As much as he'd be more comfortable with the former – and as much as he believed Willow would prefer it as well – he realized that if he was going to be her friend… Yes, he needed to take the latter course.

"What do you mean?" Her eyes were full of pleas and as much as it hurt to push, he was more convinced than before that there was something buried here that needed to be unearthed. "It's all right. You can tell me."

She started walking towards a bench and he followed, watching as she sat with a heavy sigh. "I don't think I'll say it right," she said. "And I just… I won't say it right."

It was astonishing to him, how concerned she was about offending him or saying anything negative about her friends. Before tonight, he'd made no effort to befriend her and yet she was treating him… "I promise you. No matter what you say, I won't be angry." He sat down beside her and took her hand. "I promise," he repeated. He should have said 'with you,' because he couldn't promise not to be angry at all, could he?

"It's just… Jesse was from before, you know?" His first reaction was that no, he didn't know, except… except he thought maybe that he did after all. No one would know better than he did the way Buffy could come bursting into your life, the way she filled up the empty space and then crowded the occupied space until something had to give.

Darla's dust… Jesse's memory. "I know." He let her see into his eyes – a step or two past the blank wall he usually erected. The light from the street lamp was enough; he could tell by the way her eyes widened in stunned recognition. Her eyes were a clear, open window themselves and he marveled that he could have so much in common with someone so utterly innocent and guileless. It was a strange gift, that glimpse into an inner world so unlike the one he inhabited. He decided to give her something more. "I was drunk," he began, immediately to be interrupted. She'd misunderstood him.

"Tonight?"

"No, no," he hastily reassured her. "The night I was turned. The night when Darla made me a vampire."

"Oh." She was surprised, but she was clearly interested… and not repulsed at all. He began to think he was the one receiving a gift by making these revelations.

He continued. "I was thrown out of the pub and… there was a woman standing there. Beautiful." He got lost for a moment in the memory. "Beautifully-dressed. I was too drunk to wonder what she was doing there. I just… Well, I always had a weakness for the ladies, and this one… She promised me things and I… I wanted so much for things to be different that I…" He turned away for a few seconds, the shame of his easy capitulation, his eager surrender to the darkness, overwhelming him.

Her other hand was over his now. "It's not your fault," she offered in the sincerest tone he'd ever heard. "I mean, wanting things to be different… I get that." She did, didn't she? And then she took her turn. "Jesse… He had this big 'thing' for Cordelia and… Deep down I think he wished he was one of them instead of one of us."

If a true demon had ever happened on this girl… The pain in that one small admission… that one small admission which told a story long and sad and opened a doorway that his own demon was screaming to walk through. It was a trap, though, wasn't it? He'd thought of her as perfect prey just a short while ago, but… There was something – a soul that pure could only herald a danger untold if turned inside out. He found himself very grateful that Darla's clumsy minion hadn't sired Willow.

He focused instead on the sadness in the here and now and that was just as fearful in its own way. Being a friend – it was new to him. "I don't think…" No, that was a lie. He had been a boy once and, just as importantly, he knew the other boy in Willow's life. He had no doubt that Jesse was cut from similar cloth to Xander… similar cloth to a young drunkard named Liam. "He was a fool. I'm sorry he didn't live long enough to realize that a friend like you is worth…"

She snorted and he realized too late that what he was saying sincerely was just like the insincere platitudes she was far too used to hearing.

His voice became harder and more commanding. "I've been around for over 200 years. I have had beautiful women in ways even Xander can't begin to imagine." Beneath his fingers, he could feel the way Willow's skin flamed all the way down to her hands but it didn't stop him. "Girls like Cordelia? They're a dime a dozen, and once you've had one then you're on to the next. But in all those years, with a soul, without a soul, even when I was human, I never met anyone like you."

Tears shone in those wide eyes of hers and it was obvious she had no idea what to say. "I miss him," she said, taking the conversation back to Jesse.

"I know."

"Do you miss her?" That should not have been startling, but it was.

More startling was his answer: "Yes." Plain, unadorned, and a truth he hadn't even admitted to himself until just this second. Even though he knew Willow had suspected it, for a moment, he was worried about her reaction. Would she be horrified? Darla had turned her friend.

He should have known better. "I'm sorry." And she was, wasn't she? "Have you… no, I guess you really couldn't, huh?" What did she… Why was he bothering with the charade of asking himself a question to which he knew the answer? She was talking about Buffy – the elephant in both their parlours.

Wouldn't Buffy just wail like a banshee if she knew she'd assumed the form of an elephant in Angel's metaphor?

"No. Just like you can't talk about Jesse." Plain speaking again. When had he ever been comfortable enough with someone to just say things straight out?

"I…" She'd been about to protest, he could tell, but then she stopped and changed course. "No, I can't, can I? Of course, it's not like Buffy even knew him, so…" Her voice trailed off. Her defense was paltry and she knew it. So did Angel. Still, she soldiered valiantly onward. "We should probably go back."

That would have been the right idea a few minutes ago. Now, though? Now it was too late. What had been done couldn't be undone.

The truth, too, was that he was jealous of her company. He wanted her all to himself – for as long as he could keep it that way. "They probably haven't even noticed you're gone." He knew before he said it that it would hurt her and it did. "I'm sorry." Was he?

"No, you're probably right." It wasn't the threat of tears but the tone of defeat that made him truly sorry after all.

"It's not you," he said. "They're thoughtless."

She was staring at him now, searching his face as if she could find something hidden beneath the pale skin of his human mask – something other than ridges and fangs. "You love Buffy." He could hear the struggle to keep it from sounding like a question, but he knew it was.

There wasn't a good answer to that question – and why he was less discomfited by that realization than becoming aware of his grief over Darla was troubling – so he simply shrugged. "The truth is the truth."

"What about my coat?"

He chuckled. "I said I'd buy you a new one and I will."

"You have money?" That was an odd question and it was unexpectedly dense. Maybe that was why it irritated him.

"Of course I have money. How else do you think I pay the rent and buy blood?"

Her flinch told him he'd been harsher than he had thought. "It's just… I mean you never buy anything for Buffy. I guess I thought…"

The rush of guilt he hadn't felt for his anger or for calling Buffy selfish washed over him now. He was an absolute ass. "I'm sorry. I didn't… I just never wanted to explain my money to Buffy. She's the Slayer and…" He seemed to have picked up the habit of unfinished sentences from Willow.

"Oh. Okay." Did she understand? Probably not. It wasn't as if he'd let down that wall enough to allow her to see everything he was hiding. She had an abstract knowledge of his having once been 'evil', but she had no idea what that really meant. All those things Buffy didn't want to know about or think about because it interfered with her romantic notions.

Hell. That wasn't fair. The truth was that, when he was with Buffy, he was just as eager to pretend that he wasn't any of those things he'd once been – that his soul had made them magically disappear, made him almost human. But it wasn't true, was it?

Maybe now was the time to admit that. "I was… I am a demon, Willow. A vampire. And vampires don't exactly go out and get jobs. We need money, just like everyone else does, but the whole nine to five thing? That's not really feasible. When you don't have a soul…"

"It's okay," she interposed, and she meant it. Again. "I understand. I mean, it's not like anyone could blame you for things you did when you were one hundred percent bad guy. And hey, you can't just throw all that money away or anything. Because how else could you support yourself while you're atoning and helping Buffy and stuff?" Angel blinked, not sure he could believe what she'd just said. How was it that she could she be so accepting? It was so simple to her. Was she right? Her reasoning was seductive and he wanted to get lost in it. But she wasn't finished. "It really is okay, you know. I meant what I said before. The whole vampire thing? I don't hate you."

She didn't, did she? That might be why he felt able to say, "I hate myself enough for both of us."

It was obvious that she was about to say something kind but foolish, so he locked eyes with her and let down those walls just a little more – enough for her to see… if she really looked… if she was really as wise as he thought she was…

She did, because she was. "That's not all of you. I mean, yeah, okay, you've done really terrible things. I get that. But you do really good things now. Like… saving my life. Twice. In case I haven't remembered to thank you before, then thank you, because I'm pretty grateful for that."

"You're welcome. Saving your life… I think I did the world a pretty big favour."

The blush that followed brought the tinge of blood to her skin in a way that was both charming and… dangerous. Tonight was complicating his life in ways he could never have foreseen.

He wasn't sure he understood exactly why, however. It wasn't as though there was an attraction or anything. No, there couldn't be. Willow wasn't his type. No lush curves, no blonde hair, no ripe sexuality, no brazen self-confidence. She was the very opposite of everything he found desirable. Well, there had been… no, he wasn't going to think about Drusilla. Anyway, his tragic creation had been chosen for her psychic abilities and not because Angelus had found her attractive (not that that had stopped him from taking the girl to his bed).

But to turn his thoughts back to Willow… no, she was anything but the sort of girl he found appealing. Shy, girlish, demure, insecure, awkward…

Caring, understanding, intelligent…

The latter qualities had never done much for him, though, had they? No, he'd never been much for more than a casual bit of conversation before taking a girl to the nearest bed, alley, barn… wherever he could lift a skirt and drop his trousers. Getting to know a girl on a deeper level? Deeper than he could thrust his cock? Not really.

He hadn't changed much, had he? If Willow had been the Slayer and not Buffy, he'd probably still be hiding in shadows and offering cryptic advice – hell, the Master would probably have killed her and a new girl would have already been called.

Were he able to see his face in the mirror, the shallowest bastard in the world would be looking back at him.

Probably a good thing that his kind had no reflection.

Probably an even better thing that Willow was who she was.

That was truer to him now than it ever would have been since he was doing something he'd never considered before – getting to know her, becoming her… friend.

They were that, right? Because he'd just established that he couldn't find her attractive – not the way a man looked at a woman, at any rate. Though, of course, she was pretty, beautiful even, if you took the time to look past her nerves and her wallflower dress and manner and…

"Angel?" He'd obviously been lost in thought for too long. "Is something wrong?" Had she said something before? She had, hadn't she? And he'd missed it.

"I'm sorry. I guess I was just…"

"Thinking about Buffy?" The question was both resigned and wistful. How many times had Xander's mind wandered for that reason while he was right there by Willow's side?

But she was wrong this time and he wanted to make sure she knew it. "I was thinking about you."

Obviously, that was a completely foreign concept to her and she looked tragically skeptical – afraid to believe for fear it was a joke or at best a kind fib.

"I was thinking that you're the first friend I've had in a long time," he said, and if it was a lie, at least it was one for which he didn't hate himself. And at least it meant she believed she was worth thinking about – by someone, anyway.

"Really?"

"Haven't met very many people since…" He paused. She knew what he meant, he was sure. "Even fewer that I could trust." Their eyes locked and Angel felt caught. "Yes, you're my friend."

"You're mine too," and the smile that came with those words was more like sunshine than the glow of Buffy's hair in the moonlight. He wanted to get lost in it, to drown in that heat and light.

Nothing was making sense.

No, he wasn't attracted to Willow.

So why…

He realized he was leaning in and Willow wasn't pulling away. Maybe it was because she didn't understand… and that would make two of them.

That didn't stop their lips from meeting.

It was the softest of kisses, nothing like the ones he'd shared with Buffy, but it scorched him more deeply than his Slayer's cross ever had.

Willow pulled away as if she too had been scorched. "I… I should get back. They're probably looking for me." The same words she'd said a few moments ago. She spoke as if nothing had happened – no, but as if she wished it hadn't – and she leapt up without waiting for him to say anything. "I'll tell Buffy you were looking for her."

"Wait," he called out, but she was walking swiftly towards The Bronze and she didn't turn back.

The pain inside was indescribable. Tonight had given him something beautiful and taken it away before he could even be sure exactly what it was. He only knew that he already missed it as if it had been a vital organ and he'd miss it more in the days to come. His friend was gone… Willow was gone…

It was dark again and he couldn't see the sun.

The End.