Disclaimer: I own nothing. Everything belongs to Joss Whedon, etc.
Willow stared at the computer screen frustrated that she hadn't been able to find any information on where Angelus might be hiding out. He wasn't exactly Mr. Inconspicous, which meant that he might go for a more high profile place to hole up. She glanced at the clock. It was already eleven thirty. Buffy had gone out to the Bronze with Cordelia and Xander leaving her to do all the research. It was happening more and more often lately. It seemed like Buffy was purposely trying to push her out of the group.
"I'm going to head home Giles. I still have to study for a history test tomorrow."
She began to gather up her books.
"Yes, quite right. Do be careful." He didn't even bother to glance up from the book he was absorbed in.
She shook her head and headed out of the library. The streets were quiet, but that wasn't unusual in Sunnydale. Most people knew to be inside after sunset. She sighed, wishing that she had someone to talk to about Buffy. It made her so mad that they were excluding her from things. It was always 'Protect Willow' or 'You wouldn't enjoy it' or even 'This isn't your type of thing. Why don't you go home and study?'.
She was so absorbed in her thoughts about her friends that she didn't hear the footsteps behind her.
Angelus smiled when he saw the little red head walking down the street. 'She should know better,' he thought. He crept up behind her. Soul boy loved the little thing, though he doubted she had any idea. She thought Angel was hung up on Buffy.
He saw that she was almost to her house and decided to make his move. He walked up behind her and clamped his hand over her mouth. He delighted in her gasp of fright and could smell the fear rolling off her in waves. "Well what do we have here? Looks like no one ever told you that it's dangerous to walk alone at night." He smiled and held her close, whispering in her ear. "You're coming with me. Daddy's going to play tonight." He slugged her hard enough to knock her out, knowing that there would be a bruise on her face before long. His first mark on her. And if he had anything to say about it, it wouldn't be the last." He swung her up into his arms and headed for the mansion.
Dru paced back and forth in front of the fireplace, trying to cover her ears to the screams that echoed off the walls. "Miss Edith whispers to me about the weeping tree, Spike. She says that Daddy was wrong to take her. It was not her time…. I can feel her despair. I don't like this feeling. Miss Edith says you have to take her and leave."
He stared at her curiously. He was still in a wheelchair though he'd been able to walk for some time. But Dru wasn't supposed to know that. "I can't walk, luv, let alone drive."
"Lies…all lies. Daddy doesn't know you're better, but I do. I won't tell a soul."
"I won't leave you, Dru. Not with him."
"Shhh…someone's being naughty and talking back. I can take care of myself. Miss Edith has told me so. I shall live for a long while and I will see you again soon. We're family.
Dru began to purr. "I thought you said you'd do anything for me Spike."
Spike sighed, knowing that there was no way he was going to get out of this. He was going to have to leave Dru behind for once. He looked up at the ceiling as another scream pierced the air and couldn't help but wonder if Dru was right about him going.
Willow was in a black void of pain, feeling it radiate through every part of her body. She opened her eyes slowly, letting them adjust to the dim light in the room. Her vision was slightly blurry but she could make out enough to tell that she wasn't at home in her bedroom. She tried to move her arms and legs, which felt like dead weight, when she realized that she was handcuffed naked to a bed. She didn't know where she was or how she got there. The last thing she remembered was walking home from Buffy's after the slayer assured her that she would be all right because it was only two blocks.
"So you're finally awake, luv?" she heard a low voice ask. It was familiar to her. The accent was British that much she could tell. He kept talking when she didn't respond. "You there, Red? You've been passed out for about three hours."
She turned her head in the direction she thought she heard the voice coming from. All she saw was a flash of platinum hair but it was enough. "Spike," she whispered. Her mouth was dry and sticky. She was very thirsty.
"Yeah. You okay?
She shook her head, which only succeeded in sending a searing pain through her skull. She moaned softly. "Where…?"
"Angelus' place on Crawford."
Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. The second she'd seen Spike she'd known. She was beginning to remember everything clearly now. She tried to shut her eyes, tried to close her mind to the painful images and memories flooding her, but she couldn't. She saw Angel…no, Angelus…over her, around her, inside her. He tore her and cut her. He even let his minions feed off her. She endured hours of torture wanting nothing more than to die. "How long…?"
"You've been here twenty six hours," Spike said, trying not to lose his temper at the sight of the girl tied to the bed. Twenty six hours of screaming. Blood curdling, horrified screams. Between her and Dru there was going to be another insane vampire roaming the Hellmouth. Sure, he was a vampire and enjoyed blood, but this went beyond anything he'd ever seen. The souled version of his sire must have really loved this girl for Angelus to tear her apart so badly.
Willow tried to look down at her body, wondering what Angelus had done to her, but she couldn't see much except for a couple of deep knife wounds across her breasts. She knew there was more though. She could feel blood oozing out of cuts all over her body. She felt it congealing on her face, tightening the skin. He left no part of her unmarked.
"What's your name, Red? I never did get a proper introduction," he said, trying to take her gaze off of her body. "I'm Spike, also known as William the Bloody."
"Willow," she whispered, grateful that he was trying to take her mind off her present situation.
"That's right. Knew you were named after a tree or somethin'."
Willow looked at him, able to focus on his face clearly for the first time. He was sitting by the bed, wheelchair bound. "Where is he?"
"Him and Dru went out hunting. Left me here to guard you. S'not like you're exactly going anywhere."
She sighed, realizing that she probably wouldn't leave this place alive. "Nope. Going nowhere."
He couldn't help but watch the small red haired girl. She used to possess so much fire, but now all he saw was a wish for death. She reminded him of Dru during Angelus' courtship, terrified and alone. 'Fuck it,' he thought savagely. He was going to listen to Dru and get the chit out of there. He was not going to let another girl be driven insane by his sire. He stood up out of the chair and went over to the desk where he knew Angelus kept the key to the handcuffs.
Willow's tired mind barely registered the fact that Spike could walk. She was so exhausted she just wanted to sleep forever. Suddenly she felt her hands drop free from above her and knew that he'd released her bonds. He did the same with the manacles around her ankles.
Spike covered her in a blanket wrapping it tightly around her. He picked her up gently. "I'm going to get you to a hospital, luv. They're going to take good care of you there."
"No…no hospitals. Not here." Her head lolled back against his chest.
"To the slayer then or her watcher."
"No. Take me with you." For some reason she felt like she could trust him despite his track record. She didn't want her friends to see what Angel…Angelus…had done. It would destroy Buffy. She couldn't bear the looks of pity.
Spike cursed silently. Dru had told him to take the weeping tree and leave, but he had reservations about leaving her behind. Willow curled sleepily into his arms and he knew that she was passed out again trying to block the pain. His decision was made.
He strode to the door and headed for the DeSoto. He sat Red on the passenger seat and shut the door. He slid into the driver's side and started up the engine. The more distance they put between themselves and Sunnyhell the better.
The DeSoto roared as it shot down the streets of the sleepy California town leaving a cloud of dust in it's wake.
Willow watched Spike sleep and wondered if he knew how innocent he appeared when he was so relaxed. She smiled, knowing that he'd deny it. He wouldn't want to appear to be anything other than the Big Bad. Drusilla laid next to him, her body curled into his. It was amazing how different she was now that Willow had managed to cure her insanity. She and Spike actually had a normal relationship. Spike was pleased that Dru no longer needed to rely on him for everything.
She stretched in the back seat of the DeSoto, tired from traveling. It seemed like every time they went on a job it always took longer to get back home.
This time they'd traveled to Washington, D.C. Needless to say she was glad to be headed back to the Big Easy. It was her dream home. She looked down at her arms, grateful that she blended in with the strange people that inhabited the city. Angelus had left her scarred beyond repair. She thought back to when Spike took her out of Sunnydale. They'd gone south and the first place he'd stopped was a hospital in Orange County. She could still see the look on the doctors' faces when they'd seen the cuts and bites that had marred her body. She remembered the police asking her and Spike hundreds of questions that they couldn't answer. It had taken several days but the doctors finally told her that plastic surgery was not an option. The scarring had been too extensive to repair.
She touched her face, her fingers running over the raised skin that ran from her temple to the corner of her mouth on her left cheek. She did the same on the line that ran from her ear across her right cheek, curling under her eye. People looked at her like she was a freak. It had taken a year just for Spike to get her to venture out into public.
When she finally was able to deal with people staring at her she began to go out more and more. She managed to contact the Watcher's Council two years after leaving. She made them swear not to reveal her location to anyone in Sunnydale and she learned from them that Miss Calendar had managed to restore Angel's soul before he opened Acathla. Apparently though, no real search had ever been done to find her. It was as if they didn't care that she'd just disappeared.
"Spike, wake up," she said, nudging the vampire.
"Not now, Dru. I'm tired."
She smacked him on the chest. "Spike!"
He bolted up, shifting Dru enough so that she woke as well. "Bloody hell, Red! I thought I told you not to do that!"
"Sorry, but it's time to get going. I'd like to be home by midnight."
Spike looked out at the sun shining. He figured it to be around one o'clock. "Not a problem, luv. We don't have much farther to go."
Dru looked at Willow. "I liked Washington. Can we go back some day?"
Willow smiled. "Sure, Dru. We'll go there for a vacation next year."
Drusilla grinned and looked at Spike who was easing them out onto the highway. "Why do we sleep in the car when the Council is willing to pay for a hotel?"
"Habit. Besides, you know I hate taking anything from those gits."
"They're our employer Spike. They are supposed to give us certain things. Like a paycheck. And remember they pay for the house, the other cars, expenses, and food. We need them like they need us. It's a win, win situation. You've been working for them for nearly four years and yet you still complain. I just think that you're not happy unless you have something to bitch about."
Spike smirked. "You know me too well, Red."
"Can we go shopping when we get back? Our bonus for this last assignment should be there when we arrive." Dru bounced in her seat, giddy, like a child at Christmas. "There's this dress at Divinity that I want to buy. It'll be perfect for the Richmond's Ball." She looked at Willow. "You are going this year, aren't you? You promised."
Willow sighed. She should have known this was coming. They'd been trying to get her to attend the ball for two years. It was one of the most important events on the New Orleans social calendar and they Council required at least one of them to attend. There were several high ranking officials and Council members there every year and they always had to be convinced that an elite team of immortal assassins was a worthy endeavor on the Council's part and worth funding. So far Dru had managed to charm all of the stodgy old men. She had a way of wrapping them around her finger until they were willing to agree to anything.
"You know that I shouldn't go Dru. If those Council guys see who they're really paying they'll revoke the budget so fast our heads will spin and we'll be out on the street."
"They would not. I'd convince them not to. Besides, so what if they decide to yank our funding. We could always make a go of it on our own. People know how effective we are and I'd bet they'd be willing to hire us as independent contractors."
"You mean mercenaries."
"No. Humans don't know about us and I won't work for demons."
Dru sighed, knowing she wasn't going to get anywhere. Willow was far too stubborn. "Okay, so Spike and I will go to the ball. You can stay home and wait for us or work on whatever assignment pops up next."
"Thank you. I really would like to go, it's just…" Willow said, glancing at her arms and indicating the two scars on her face.
"We know," Spike said, holding Dru's hand. "Don't you worry about it, luv. Dru can handle those wankers." He glanced back at her and grinned.
"Thanks, Spike." She leaned back and looked out the window, drifting off into her thoughts as the Louisiana countryside passed by in a blur.
Willow looked up the front steps of Le Maison Blanc and sighed, glad to finally be home. The impressive old plantation home was lined in the front with six Ionic columns and was impressively well lit, with windows lining both floors all the way around the house.
Spike carried a sleeping Dru up the front steps and said goodnight before heading to bed. She glanced at Betty, the head housekeeper, and John, the butler. "You have a guest, miss," he said. "Mr. Reynard is waiting for you in the study."
Mr. Reynard. 'There must be a new assignment or watcher boy wouldn't be here,' she thought to herself. She headed toward the study and opened the doors.
"Ah, Willow. How very good to see you again. I take it everything in Washington went smoothly."
"Good, then I can tell you about your next assignment." He paused gathering himself to figure out how to put what he was going to say. "As you are aware the Council knows of your past." Willow shuddered, not liking where he was taking this. "It seems that there is a new threat to the Hellmouth and the slayers are not equipped to handle such an enormous task herself. Your new assignment is to travel to Sunnydale and take out this creature." He handed her a book with a full-page illustration of a Tarnack demon. "The Tarnack demon spits a venomous poison to blind it's prey and you cannot touch it's body because it secretes a coat of acid to injure possible predators. The slayers couldn't get anywhere near enough to kill it."
Willow didn't bother to look at the picture. "I can't go back there."
"We are all well aware of your reasons behind staying away," he said, ignoring the glare that he got. "We are also aware that if you do not kill this demon then Hellmouth will open and the legions of demons trapped inside will be released, literally bringing about Hell on Earth.
"You know I can't do that. Why can't Spike and Dru go on they're own? They are just as good as I am, if not better."
"Because the Council is requiring a test of your effectiveness. I know that you just got done in Washington and you did quite well, but that was not a difficult assignment. This is. This is your test. Having Drusilla suck up to old men at the Richmond Ball this year isn't going to cut it. You must complete this assignment in the allotted time or you lose your funding."
Willow grabbed the file folder off the table. "Fine. When do we need to be there? And how long do we have to kill this demon?"
"You will be expected there Saturday evening. I've already informed Rupert Giles to expect our best team of assassins. He will inform the others. It is your decision how you will proceed from there. The assignment must be completed by Wednesday evening."
She stood and turned, walking out of the room. "John will show you out," she called back over her shoulder. She slammed into her room and threw herself down on her bed, the file folder dropping to the floor beside her. She was actually going back again. And this time she'd have to confront all of her past. She closed her eyes and fell into her thoughts remembering the last time she'd tried that.
She didn't really know what she was doing there or why she even came back. She knew, though, that maybe she needed to face everyone. It wasn't as if she planned on staying.
She wandered through the park, heading for the high school. She'd learned from Willy that Buffy and another slayer, probably Kendra's replacement, had blown it up at graduation to kill some demon. The city apparently rebuilt the school and the gang still met in the library.
Slowly she wandered the hallowed halls and thought about the last time she'd seen any of them. They'd been pushing her out of the group and their lives so why was she doing this?
She spotted the library doors and heard laughter coming from within. She peeked in and saw Buffy and a dark haired girl she didn't recognize sparring with each other.
"Come on Faith, I know that you can do better than that," Giles said from the sidelines.
She watched as Xander and Cordelia kissed, obviously still together. Miss Calendar was typing on a computer, having taken over the role that Willow used to have. What caught her attention though, was the man sitting in the corner, wearing his usual black on black ensemble, his expression brooding, 'When was it ever anything else?' she thought bitterly.
Buffy stopped sparring and looked at Giles. "So have you found out anything more about these new guys that work for the Council?"
"I'm afraid not. Apparently no one even mentions they're names. The only people they have contact with are the board members who give them their assignments. I believe that they are assassins. The only thing I have been able to find out that one of them is apparently severely scarred and that they are immortal. Apparently one of them is a voodoo priestess and she did a spell to make them invincible."
"Ewww…how scarred?" Buffy asked, not noticing the expression that was on Angel's face.
Giles sighed when Buffy only caught on to the word scarred. "There are several rumors about this person. Some say that the scarring is on the face only…others say it covers the entire body. No one knows for sure. They can't even tell me whether this person is a man or a woman and the people that do know refuse to speak of them."
Angel was ignoring everyone. He was tired of coming to these meetings where all the group did was spar and talk. He glanced toward the library door and that's when he saw her. Her hair was long, nearly to her waist and a dark auburn red, but it was her eyes and face that caught the attention. Her eyes were filled with pain that had obviously been there for a long time and the scars that marred her fair skin were puckered and pink.
Angel leapt out of his chair, calling out "Willow!" He raced across the room determined to speak to her. Everything inside him was screaming for him not to lose her.
Willow moved as quick as she could, taking off at a dead run when she saw Angel approaching, unaware of the commotion behind her. Buffy was right behind Angel, having heard him shout her friend's name, but Willow had learned to move quickly and hide very well. Angel and Buffy watched, stunned, as she practically leapt over a tall brick wall to a private residence, but when they followed her over, she was gone.
Willow watched from a tree as Buffy turned on Angel. "What the hell is going on? Willow's been missing for years. Now suddenly she shows up at the library only to take off at a dead run, leaping over a wall for God's sake, when she sees you. Why?"
Angel didn't answer her, just turned and began to walk away, but Willow knew Buffy wouldn't leave it at that. She grabbed Angel's arm, things starting to click in her mind. She'd been horrible to Willow that year, pushing her away, treating her like she was only worth what she could research. When she disappeared no one had been able to look for her because Angelus was going to send the world to hell. Now she had to wonder what kind of hell Willow had suffered because of her indifference.
"You took her, didn't you? When you were Angelus?" She released him when he didn't answer. "Oh my God! You did and you never told us. Where is she? What did you do to her you bastard?" Tears were pouring down Buffy's cheeks as she launched herself at Angel, tackling him to the ground. She began to beat on his chest. "Where is she?"
"I don't know." The words came out as nothing more than an anguished whisper. "I went out with Dru, hunting, and told Spike to watch her. When we got back they were both gone."
"What did you do to her?"
Angel laughed, a bitter, self-deprecating laugh. "The question is what didn't I do." Tears began to flow silently down his cheeks. "I loved her you know." Buffy sat back in horror, realizing what his words meant. "She meant more to me than anything. It's why I wanted to destroy her when I became Angelus. I loved her and I destroyed her and I have to live with that every day."
Buffy moved off of Angel. "Get up!" She stood in front of him, jabbing her finger into his chest. "I'm going to go back to the library and I'm going to tell them that it was just someone who looked like Willow. Neither of us are ever going to mention that you took her or that you did…whatever is was you did to people you loved back then. I don't even want to know. But they are not going to find out that she has spent the past five years running because of you. They are not going to know that you hurt her in any way. You wouldn't live to see tomorrow if they did and I think living with the guilt is a more suiting punishment than dusting you." Willow watched as Buffy made her way back over the wall, leaving Angel standing there.
He looked up at the tree, sensing that she was there. Willow stiffened. "For what it's worth," he said softly, "I'm sorry for what I did to you. I loved you. I'm sorry I never got the chance to show it."
Willow dropped down from the tree, knowing that he wouldn't come after her. She just stood there, staring at him. He took in the scars on her face and arms determined not to look away. "You may be sorry, Angel," she said, her voice harsh, "but I really don't care." She didn't say another word, just turned and left him standing there.
Sunnydale, January 2005
Buffy looked out the window of the library, anxious for them to arrive. They were finally going to meet the infamous trio of assassins that worked for the Council. She looked at Faith, her partner in slaying, and grinned. They were the two longest living slayers ever. It was probably because they worked so well together.
Xander and Cordelia were seated next to Faith and were ignoring everyone, too busy kissing to pay attention to anything. Giles and Mrs. Calendar were sitting opposite them, quietly discussing the mystery group that was due to arrive any minute. She looked at the wedding band on Mrs. Calendar's finger, glad that her watcher finally got her down the aisle. The techno-pagan teacher had decided to keep her own name though. The only person she didn't look at was Angel. Ever since that night in April two years ago, things between them had been strained. She knew that she shouldn't have blamed him for everything. Yes, Angelus took Willow and did…something… to her. She still didn't know what. But she had also failed her friend by not looking for her, by not even really caring that she was missing. She'd been so obsessed with stopping Angelus and possibly getting Angel back that she hadn't realized what she lost until it was gone. Besides, it took too much energy to hate Angel. He hated himself enough for both of them.
"So B, do you have any idea who this group is?" Faith asked, propping her feet up on the table.
"Sorry, Faith. No clue."
"I just wish they'd get here. There's a store down on Main having a great sale and I want to get there before all the good stuff is gone," Cordelia complained. Xander smiled, noting that some things never changed.
Suddenly Angel stiffened in his seat. Buffy and Faith both took notice. "What?" Faith asked.
"Vampires. And they're coming this way."
Both slayers grabbed stakes off the table and fell into a fighting stance in front of the group. The door swung open and in walked a petite, red haired girl. Recognition set in immediately.
Willow looked at the group, smiling at the fact that Buffy and Faith were armed with stakes. "Wow, what a great welcoming committee. Remind me to thank Reynard when I get back home."
"Willow," Xander croaked, his voice raspy. He couldn't believe that the girl in front of him was his old friend. She was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a short sleeve mini-tee. It wasn't exactly made to hide the scars that crisscrossed her arms and stomach.
"Xander." She looked at everyone, her eyes moving over them slowly, noting the changes. She didn't even glance at Angel though.
"This is Willow?" Faith asked turning to Buffy. Buffy just nodded.
Faith dropped her stake and stepped forward, her arm extended. "Nice to meet you. I'm Faith." Willow didn't take her hand so she stepped back.
"Willow," Giles began, unsure of where to start. "Where have you been?"
"Oh you know…here…there…everywhere in between."
"You've been gone for quite some time. Why did you decide to return now?"
"So many questions, Giles. You always did need to know everything." She laughed bitterly. "Trust me when I say I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be."
It clicked for Giles. "You're one of them, aren't you?"
"Give the man a prize. The others said it would take at least ten minutes for you to figure it out. I bet on five. Looks like I win."
"Others?" Buffy asked, confused as hell and wondering what was going on.
"They'll be here in a minute. They just stopped at the vending machine to get a bite to eat. They were hungry."
Before anyone could say anything, a very loud, very British voice shouted, "Red, where the bloody hell are you? This place is too damn big!"
Willow turned, a smiling lighting her face for the first time since she'd walked in. "I'm in here, bleach boy! Did you bring loony tunes with you?"
The door swung open and Spike walked in, cocky and arrogant as ever, but dressed to kill in a pair of black leather pants and a black t-shirt. Dru was right behind him, wearing a blood red halter top and a pair of black stretch knit pants that molded to her body. Her raven hair hung in loose waves down her back.
"I thought I told you not to call me loony tunes anymore," she said, pouting slightly.
"You know I can't help it. After all, you used to be quite insane."
"Don't remind me." She looked up when she heard Angel growl. "Hello Daddy," she said coolly, not exactly thrilled to see him.
Buffy's gaze bounced back and forth between Willow, Spike, and Dru. "Everybody stop!" she shouted. "What is going on?"
"We're here because the Council ordered us to be. We're here to kill the Tarnack demon."
"You're an assassin?" Xander asked, finally regaining his voice.
"Why are they here? You know that's the bitch that killed Kendra, right?"
"Don't call her a bitch. And yes I know she killed Kendra. I also know that she was insane at the time. She's not anymore."
Buffy glared at them. "So you all work for the Council?"
"Duh. Didn't I just say that?"
Giles spoke up, determined to keep this civil. "Willow, why don't you and your friends explain to us what exactly you do."
"No!" Xander interrupted. "I have some questions…like, where the hell have you been? Specifically. And what happened to you? Why did you never come back?"
"Look at me Xander and think about that last question. You'll have your answer. As for where I've been, specifically…New Orleans. The Council put us up in a nice little twelve bedroom plantation house on about ten acres of land just outside the city. Finally, I don't think you really want to know what happened."
"Yes, I do."
Willow grimaced and began to tell her story. "I was on my way home one night after doing some research here. I was grabbed just outside my house, beaten, raped, and tortured for twenty six long hours. By the time he left me, I was ready to beg for death. But apparently my captor had a thing for playing with his toys. He liked to play until they broke." Several sets of eyes shot over to look at Angel. He was sitting stone still, his entire body frozen. "Fortunately someone didn't like the sounds of my screams and got me out of there."
Giles kept his eyes on Angel when he asked this next question. "Why didn't you have this person bring you to us?"
"Look at me Giles. It took me a year just to work up the nerve to go outside. I still can't touch people easily. I didn't want you to see me like this. I didn't want Buffy to have to deal with another problem. Angelus was giving her enough grief as it was."
Angel felt like he was dying inside. He looked away, unable to bear what he'd done to her. Giles watched him and just knew. "It was Angelus, wasn't it?" he said, not caring about the vampire sitting next to him.
Buffy's gaze snapped his way. "Giles!" she snapped.
He looked back at her. "You knew?"
"I was here two years ago. Buffy chased me that night, but she never caught me. She found out then, from Angel. She didn't want you to know," Willow said. "And I'm glad she didn't."
"Why are you with Spike and Dru?"
"Because if it wasn't for them I'd be dead. Miss Edith told Dru that Angel was wrong to take me. She told Spike that he had to get me out of town. Then she got Angel to take her out hunting which allowed Spike enough time to get me out of the mansion."
"Why did you become an assassin?" This question came from Mrs. Calendar who had been quietly listening up to that point.
"Well, I kind of figured falling in love and having a family was out since I can hardly bear for people to touch me and I'm so damaged inside I can't have children." Buffy and Cordelia gasped. "What you thought that he'd leave me pure? Not likely. He damaged me about as much as he could short of killing me." She paused. "As I was saying, I wasn't going to go to try to finish high school and college somewhere else looking like this. So I contacted the Council hoping to get a gig doing research for them. I did that for a while until Spike began to train me to defend myself. Soon I was also learning weapons and I became a proficient marksman. The Council gave us an easy assignment. We went in, did it, and have been doing it ever since."
Giles cleared his throat and looked around at the horrified faces of his charges. This was no longer the girl they'd known. She was hard and bitter. She was a product of what had been done to her. "I think we've heard quite enough for now. Why don't we call it a night and meet again tomorrow. We all need some time to digest what you've told us."
"Okay. Later." She turned and walked out of the library. Spike and Dru went to follow, but Angel was rushing past them, after Willow. Spike growled but Dru just stopped him.
"Let him go. He needs to talk to her. And she needs to speak to him. It's the only way she'll be able to move on."
Everyone heard Drusilla's words and wondered how she'd become so lucid again.
"Willow!" Angel called, desperate for her to stop. He jogged up behind her when she did. Slowly she turned to face him.
"What do you want?" Her voice was bitter and tears were burning the backs of her eyes.
He stepped forward, knowing that what he was about to do could get him killed, but he had to try. He saw her eyes widen with fear and tried to calm himself. "I'm sorry. I know I said that before, but I really do mean it. I would take it all back if I could. I would take it all back. All I ever wanted was one chance to tell you how much I miss you and that I fell in love with you when I wasn't even looking. I never meant for it to happen and I certainly never meant for you to end up my victim. I'm so sorry." He raised his hand slowly, ignoring how she flinched slightly. He placed his hand softly on her hair and slowly ran his fingers down over her face, tracing her scars lightly and rubbing his thumb over the softness of her lips.
She couldn't help the way her skin jumped slightly from his touch. She stepped back away from his hand, not wanting him to know that his touch affected her. "Why did you do that?"
"I just wanted to know what it was like to touch you…just once. I wanted to be able to recall with perfect clarity the one time I got to have a piece of you, even if it was just for a few seconds. You see, I know you'll never forgive me, let alone ever care for me. I just wanted one memory of touching you the way I always wanted to. Just one."
Her eyes hardened at his soft words. He had no right to talk like that. "Well now you've got it. I may have to be in this town for my job, but I don't have to converse with you. Stay away from me. And don't go anywhere near Spike or Dru. They hate you almost as much as I do. I wonder, Angel, what it's like knowing that you're completely alone in the world and you will be forever. I hope it's as painful as the torture that you put me through." She spun on her heel and walked away, hair swishing softly against her back.
"You have no idea how painful it is," he whispered, walking the opposite direction. He didn't go back to the library. He didn't notice Drusilla and Buffy watching him go by.
Buffy walked next to the woman beside her, wary of her. They were strolling through the park, deciding to talk after witnessing the coversation between Willow and Angel. She couldn't help but think about how odd this situation was. It wasn't everyday she played nice with a former enemy. Except this Dru was nothing like the one she'd fought against so long ago. She was sane…and happy.
"So you and Spike are still together?" Buffy asked, in a small attempt to make conversation.
"Yes. I followed him to New Orleans after Angel got his soul back. He and Willow were already living at Le Maison Blanc and invited me to live with them as well. Willow was studying voodoo with a powerful priestess and together they managed to restore my sanity as well as my soul. Spike got his soul too, clause free…but don't tell anyone, he still likes to be thought of as the Big Bad. We are much happier now that I don't have to rely on him for everything. I chose him. There's no obligation on his part anymore."
"Oh. I never knew there was. He never seemed to mind looking after you. He loved you." Dru looked at her with a confused expression on her face. "It was obvious to everyone how much he loved you, even me. He would do anything for you."
Dru smiled. "I know that now, but it's nice to hear that it's always been that way."
"So how bad has it been for Willow?" Buffy asked
"When I first got there, it was horrible. The scars were almost healed but she was having nightmares every night. I finally cast a spell to give her pleasant dreams. We couldn't bear the screaming. Eventually she began to heal. Spike told me what they'd had to do to her in the hospital. It wasn't pretty. I think what hurt the most was that she'd never be able to have children."
"I don't think I want to know what he did to her to cause that much damage. Seeing the scars is enough."
"Did he tell you he marked her?"
"No. I didn't even know that he was the one who took her until two years ago. I didn't want to know the details."
"He marked her. There's an A carved into her right shoulder, right below the scar from his bite. He claimed her you know."
"Angel will never enforce the claim, but it was to show that she belonged to him until he got bored with her and decided to kill her. If he didn't kill her, it bound her to him for as long as she was alive. He was very possessive of his toys. No one else could ever touch her unless he allowed it. He allowed his minions to feed from her."
Buffy shook her head, trying to block out the horrible images that were flooding her mind. "Please don't tell me anymore. I don't want to know."
"You feel guilty."
"Yeah. I was so consumed with the possibility of getting Angel back I didn't even think about Willow. I didn't look for her when she didn't show up for school. I didn't look for her after Angel got his soul back. If I had things might have been so different."
"Even if you had looked it would have been too late. The damage was already done."
"I still should have tried. She was my best friend and I treated her like crap."
"Guilt is a wasted emotion. You can't change the past. Angel doesn't understand that. He doesn't understand that all you can do is move toward the future and try to do things differently."
Buffy looked at Dru. "You've really changed. I never thought about what you would be like sane. You're a lot smarter than I thought you would be."
Dru smiled. "Thanks. So what do you think we should do about Willow and Angel?"
"What can we do? Willow won't go near him and Angel's guilt will keep him away from her."
"She loved him. She didn't tell anyone that, not even Spike, and they share everything. The only reason I knew was because when Miss Edith told me to have Spike take her and go, she also told me that Willow was in love with Angel. It's why it destroyed her when Angelus tortured her."
Buffy frowned. She thought back to when she and Angel had been together, trying to think of any signs that Willow had loved Angel and vice versa. The more she thought about it, the more apparent it became. How had she missed it all that time? And if he was in love with Willow, why had he been with her?
"You think that because he fell in love with Willow that he never loved you? He did. Willow just snuck up on him when he wasn't expecting her. They are so much alike it's scary. Both of them are introverted people but they shared the same interests. Angel, even as Angelus, loved to learn. He was fascinated with books and the arts. He can draw so well. He used to sketch us all. He's smart, really smart, just like Willow. He loved you, he just didn't fit in with your life. You're social and outgoing. Angel's not. I think that's why when he fell in love with Willow he didn't know what to do about it. You were the first girl in eighty years that he'd had a relationship with. He didn't want to hurt you."
"How do you know all of this?"
"Visions…Miss Edith…the stars. They all talked to me of Angel before I ever came here. For eighty years they talked of him. I couldn't get him out of my head, despite that fact that I was with Spike. But, hey, I was also insane at the time."
Buffy smiled. She never thought she'd be in this position. Drusilla was nothing like she'd thought. It was nice to have her to talk to. There were just some things she couldn't discuss with Cordelia or Faith. Her past with Angel was one of them. "So how do we fix this? Angel's still in love with her. Could Willow ever forgive him? She may never let him touch her again, or even let him close enough to love her, but is forgiveness possible? I think that he needs it. He looked so shattered tonight. I've never seen him look like that. He's been carrying this around for years."
"The only way you could even get them to stay in the same room together for more than five minutes is to lock them in it." Dru laughed, thinking about it. Willow would probably kill Angel.
Buffy stopped, contemplating Dru's words. "That's perfect."
Dru looked at her like she'd gone crazy. "You've got to be kidding. I was joking. Willow would kill Angel."
"No she wouldn't. Not if she was really in love with him."
"And if she isn't anymore?"
"Well, we'll just have to make sure that there's nothing in the room she can kill him with."
Dru shook her head. "And where do you suggest we lock them up at?"
"Miss Calendar owns a shop called the Magic Box. There's a room downstairs that has a bed for her to crash on if she's there really late. We could use that."
"Okay…but how would we get them to the shop? And then down into the basement?"
"We leave Willow a note that I want to meet her there to talk. We do the same to Angel, except we say that you're the one that wants to talk to him. When they get there and in the room, we shut and lock the door behind them." Buffy smiled. This idea had to work.
"Okay, so you've got it all figured out except for one thing. How long do we leave them there? It's not like we'll be able to know for sure when they have talked things out. They could lie just to get out."
"We'll bug the room or something. Or we could just check on them every day. If we hear them fighting we'll just leave again."
"This is never going to work. They'll kill us when they get out. Unless they destroy each other first."
"Trust me, this will work. I'll write up the note to Willow tonight and you write the one to Angel. We can set the meeting time for nine o'clock tomorrow night." She turned, ready to head home. "This will work. I'll see you there tomorrow just before nine."
Dru watched as Buffy jogged back the way they'd come. She could only pray that this would work. If it didn't Willow might never forgive her.
Willow picked up the note that had been slipped under her hotel room door. She ripped it open and read:
I thought that we could get together tonight and talk,
just the two of us. Meet me at the Magic Box on Main. I'll be
in the basement. Miss Calendar owns the place so just come
right down. Be there at nine o'clock. See you then.
That was odd, even for Buffy. Why didn't she just call and ask? Oh well, with Buffy who knew what was going on in her head. She glanced at the clock. Six hours. Sighing she laid down on the bed and flipped on the tv. She'd just relax until then.
Across town Angel was reading a similar note from Drusilla. It seemed his childe wanted to talk to him. He thought he had an idea about what, but couldn't figure out why she'd picked the Magic Box basement as the place to meet. In the end he just chalked it up to Dru being a little strange. That had to be it because she wasn't insane anymore. A fact which he still couldn't believe. Willow had cured his sanity challenged childe. It meant a lot to him. He sighed, thinking about the red head that occupied his thoughts. He regretted so much, but she'd never know that. He sat down, picking up the book he'd set aside when the note arrived, trying to banish thoughts of Willow from his head.
Willow pushed open the door to the small room in the basement of the Magic Box where she was supposed to meet Buffy. It was completely dark and she couldn't see a thing. "Buffy?" she called out, walking farther into the room. She spun around though, when she heard the door slam shut behind her. "Hello?"
A light flicked on and she turned. 'No!' her brain screamed when she saw Angel standing in the corner. This couldn't be happening again. She saw the bed and began to back toward the door. She was so wrapped up in her fear that she didn't see the pain in Angel's eyes. "No, God damn it! How could you do this to me?" she screamed.
She turned and began to pull on the door, but it wouldn't open. She pounded her fists against it. That's when she heard Buffy on the other side.
"Willow, stop pounding on the door."
"What they hell is going on?"
"You and Angel need to work things out. Both of you need to talk and you wouldn't go near each other. So Dru and I decided to lock you up, hoping that it would force you to discuss things."
"I will never forgive you for this Buffy! How could you go along with this, Dru? What about the assignment? I need to be out there to finish it! Please don't leave me in here!"
"I'm sorry Willow. Buffy has the key. She thought I'd be too tempted to let you out. Spike is going to handle the assignment. He's already staked out where the Tarnack demon is hiding and plans on finishing it tomorrow night."
"There's food and blood in the mini-fridge next to the bed. The bathroom is through the door on the opposite wall. We put some towels and extra clothes in there for you both. We'll be back to check on you tomorrow night," Buffy said.
Willow could hear them walking away and she turned around, her back against the door. Her legs wouldn't hold her up and she slid to the floor. She began to mumble, "No, no, no…."
Angel watched Willow unable to believe what he'd done to this young girl. "Willow," he said softly, taking slow steps toward her.
That seemed to snap her out of her stupor. She shot to her feet. "Don't you touch me," she hissed, anger flaring to life in her eyes.
It occurred then to Angel what she needed. He kept walking toward her. "Why? Are you afraid of me, Willow? Worried that I might be able to hurt you and there's nothing you could do to fight back?" He let some of Angelus out, knowing that it was what she needed. It was killing him to do this to her, but she needed to work out her anger at him. "Poor little Willow. You always were a pathetic little thing. I still remember how you screamed for me. I remember the taste of your blood as I claimed you. I could taste your fear. I can smell it now. It's rolling off you in waves. Even as an assassin you're still nothing but a scared girl. I wonder if you'll beg for Buffy to save you like you did last time?" He kept advancing, noticing each flinch of her body. He could see the anger in her eyes. He was getting to her. It was working. He was standing right in front of her. Quick as lightning he grabbed her wrists and forced them above her head, pinning her to the wall. Leaning toward her, he licked the scar from his bite and whispered in her ear, "Scream for me Willow."
Willow had been unable to move, petrified with fear. She was angry but she couldn't seem to get her body to move. Why was he doing this to her? He wasn't Angelus. This was Angel. Guilt ridden, brooding Angel. He wasn't supposed to scare her. But he didn't seem like Angel anymore. He was acting like Angelus and her heart was beating so fast she thought it might explode. Even when he was standing right in front of her, she couldn't move. Then he grabbed her wrists and pinned her to the wall. When he whispered 'Scream for me, Willow' something inside her snapped.
She pulled her wrists free of his hands and slugged him, sending him stumbling backwards. "You bastard! I hate you! I hate you!" she screamed, her hair flying wildly about her face. She slugged him again and he fell back onto the bed. She tackled him and pinned him beneath her on the bed. She kept hitting him, over and over, and he let her. Blow after blow rained down on him, his face was bleeding from several cuts and his nose. She pounded on his chest bruising the flesh beneath his shirt. Tears were falling down her cheeks onto his face with each punch. Gradually the blows slowed until they stopped completely. Willow collapsed onto him, sobbing. Angel didn't move a muscle, even though he wanted nothing more than to put his arms around her. He just let her cry. It was probably the first time in years that she'd done so.
It took several moments for Willow to realize that Angel wasn't moving beneath her. She assessed her position, stunned that she was straddling him, collapsed on his chest, her head buried in his neck. She shot up like a bullet and looked at him. Blood was running down his face from several cuts on his cheek and temple. His nose was bleeding as well, but he didn't seem to care. He was watching her. She looked in his eyes and knew. He'd done it on purpose.
She rolled off him and walked to the bathroom. When she came back he was still laying on the bed, looking at the ceiling. She threw the wet washcloth at him and it landed on his chest. She went and sat on the floor against the wall, her knees pulled up to her chest, arms draped around them. "Why?" she asked as he sat up, wiping the blood from his face. One of his eyes was beginning to darken a purplish color.
"For you," he said, holding the washcloth to his nose. "You needed it."
She sighed. They were going to have to talk. She couldn't live like this anymore. There was so much anger in her. "Why is it that I flinch when people touch me, yet I've touched you more in the past two days than I have anyone else in years, and I haven't shied away from it? I should be scared of you more than anyone."
"You've only touched me in anger. I doubt that you would be able to touch me when you weren't angry. I'm the one that did that to you. You should be scared of me."
The bleeding had stopped on his face and the cuts were already beginning to heal.
"How could you do that to me, Angel? I loved you…."
His head shot up and he looked at her, stunned. She was looking at the floor. "I know this is going to sound weird, but it wasn't me, Willow. It was Angelus. But I'm responsible. If I hadn't loved you, it never would have happened."
Willow nodded. This was like ripping out her insides and baring them to the world. She didn't want to talk anymore. She just wanted out of the damn room so she could go back to hating him. She didn't want to forgive him, but if she stayed in here any longer she knew she would.
He got up and knelt down in front of her. Those emerald eyes he loved so much watched him warily. "Why don't you go to sleep? Take the bed, I'll sleep on the floor."
She gazed at him and couldn't believe what she was about to do. God damn her heart for betraying her. She still loved him. Even after all that had happened. Hesitantly she said, "We…could share it."
Angel closed his eyes, grateful for the gift she'd just unknowingly given him. He went to help her stand and she didn't draw away. She just toed her shoes off and walked toward the bed, pulling back the sheets. She climbed in and stretched out, her back to him. This was going to be pure torture and he would relish every moment of it. He climbed in behind her.
She held her breath, unable to believe that she was actually doing this. She was supposed to hate him forever. She wasn't supposed to forgive him. She looked at the scars on her arms, trying to draw on the anger that she'd relied on for so long, but it wasn't there. He'd known what he was doing when he let her beat him. He'd done it on purpose to let her release her anger.
She could feel his eyes on her back and knew that he was watching her. The bed was only a double so she could feel him practically pressed up against her. Without saying a word she turned over. She didn't look at him as she curled into him, pulling his arm around her. She felt him stiffen and looked up at him, wondering if she should have done this. What she saw there made her breath hitch. He was looking at her as if she'd just given him the world. She smiled shyly before ducking her head back into his chest and closing her eyes.
Angel's entire body felt alive with sensation. Willow actually wanted him to hold her while she slept. It was more than he'd ever expected from her. All he'd wanted was forgiveness. This was a gift that he never thought he'd receive from her. He pulled her tighter against him, his eyes drifting closed when he heard her soft sigh.
Willow woke with a start, panic flaring in her mind. Someone was holding her. She glanced up and saw Angel's face. He looked peaceful as if this was the first time he'd had a restful slumber in ages. She glanced at her watch. They'd slept for nearly a full day. She raised her hand, her fingers brushing over his face gently. She'd forgotten what it felt like to touch someone. It was strange that the person who'd caused her pain was the one who was taking it away. She was also beginning to realize that while they may have the same face, Angel and Angelus were two different people. Her fingers ran over his soft lips, but she drew them away when he began to talk in his sleep. "Willow," he whispered, his eyes moving back and forth beneath the thin eyelids. His lashes fluttered wildly. "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me." He became quiet again and a tear slid down his cheek.
Willow wiped it away, not knowing what to think about his words. Last night she'd made a gesture that she never thought she'd make, but had she forgiven him. Her fingers ran over the two scars on her face. She had. She squeezed her eyes shut but tears managed to seep out from the corners. Letting go of all her anger and hatred was painful and she felt like she couldn't breathe. It was what had kept her going for so long. Yet for the first time in years she felt free. Angel had given that to her.
Angel woke up when he felt the tears against his chest. "Willow?" he asked softly.
She looked up at him and he didn't know what to make of the tears until he heard her whisper, "Thank you."
"For pushing me to let go of my anger."
Angel just watched her, unsure of what to say so he didn't say anything at all. He couldn't believe he was still holding her. It was the hardest thing he'd ever done. He'd wanted her for so long. He still did, but he knew this was as close as he would ever get to her. So he accepted the boon and was grateful that he got to touch her at all.
Willow glanced up at him, waiting for him to say something, but was surprised when she saw a flash of desire in his eyes, before he hid it. He wanted her. Even now, with the scars that marred her body, he wanted her. "Angel?" she whispered.
"If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?"
'You,' he thought to himself. She was the one thing he'd always wanted. He decided to be honest. "You."
Willow smiled up at him, the first smile she'd graced him with. It was dazzling. He was so enraptured by it he missed the subtle movement of her head. When her lips covered his gently, he pulled back slightly in shock. "I want you to kiss me, Angel."
She held herself very still as Angel settled his lips on hers gently. He didn't move, just held it. It was Willow who opened her mouth allowing him to deepen the kiss.
For several minutes it went on, just the softest touch of their lips melding together. Heat flared between them, but Angel kept it under control, not wanting to scare her. When he finally pulled away, they just stared at each other wide eyed.
"Ummm…I never meant for that to happen," Willow said. Angel's eyes, which had been so alive, quickly shuttered closed as he hid his feelings behind a wall inside. "I mean, it's not everyday I get a kiss like that. Actually that's the first time I've ever been kissed. It was nice."
He leaned forward, wanting to kiss her again, but she stopped him, putting her hand on his chest. "I need to talk to you. I need to know what this is. I've touched you more in two days than I have anyone else in years. I do forgive you Angel. It's taken me a long time to realize that you and Angelus aren't the same person, even if you do look alike." She took a deep breath. "I'm scared, because I never stopped loving you. Even when I hated you, I loved you. But if you're doing this out of pity or guilt, I need to know. I don't want to start something just to end up hurt again."
"Willow, I want you. That hasn't changed. And these," he said, running his hand over her scars, "don't matter to me. You're just as beautiful to me now as you were then. I'll never not want you or love you. I know that it's going to take time for you, but I'm willing to wait as long as it takes. I have an eternity to wait for you."
"Well, I don't think it's going to take an eternity, but it will take some time. I'm just getting everything back on track. I like what I do and I love where I live. I like working with Spike and Dru. They're my best friends. I wouldn't have anything if it weren't for them. Spike's the one that encouraged me to work for the Council, which was a big surprise. I'm in a really good place right now and I don't want to leave it."
Angel knew that this was coming. She had a whole new life…away from the Hellmouth and the constant danger. He knew that she wasn't going to stay and he would never ask her to. He didn't have that right. So he was going to do the only thing he could think of. He was going to let her go. "I would never ask you to stay, Willow. I don't have the right to. I know that things have changed and I'm glad that you've been able to find some peace."
Willow looked at the door that was holding them there. It would have been so much easier to just keep on hating him. Now things were so complicated. She wanted to go home but she wanted to know where this might lead. Things were so different for both of them maybe it was time to embrace what might have been. Her next words came out so soft he barely heard her. He wouldn't have known she said anything at all if it weren't for his sensitive hearing. "You could always come with us…?"
He smiled into her hair, holding her close. There was no way that he was going to turn down her invitation. He'd let her go once, thinking it was best for her. Now that the Fates or Powers or whatever they were called, were giving him a second chance, he wasn't going to be stupid enough to throw it away. "Yeah, I'd like that."
They sighed in contentment, relaxing back onto the bed, falling into a deep slumber, unaware of the two faces that peeked in ten minutes later. Drusilla and Buffy watched the sleeping couple for several moments.
"Look like it worked," Dru said. "Congrats on a wonderful plan."
"I couldn't have done it without your suggestion." Buffy smiled. "I'm going to miss him, but I'll be happy knowing he's happy. Speaking of happy…she can anchor his soul right?" Dru nodded. "Good. I'd hate to see Angelus make another appearance. I'm glad that he agreed to go with her."
Dru shook her head. "I don't know if that's such a good idea. Spike's going to be really angry. He's protective enough of Willow and I as it is. Angel being there would throw him into overdrive. Besides, can you imagine them trying to work things out with Spike's constant interference?"
"That's why you're there. To keep Spike from killing Angel and ruining everything we've worked for."
"I don't know, Buffy. The only time I was ever able to go against Spike was the last time we were here and he was in a wheelchair. He's not anymore."
"So here's what you do. Spike was trained by Angelus right?" Dru nodded. "So he gets off on a little violence. Just fight with him and hit him a few times and he'll be ready to drag you off to bed." Dru looked at her shocked. Buffy turned to her. "What? You think I never noticed that fighting gave him an erection hard enough to drive nails with? Please. It was impossible not to notice with him always wearing those jeans."
Dru laughed. "I don't think I like the fact that you noticed this about him when he was supposed to be your enemy."
"Hey, there's no law that says the enemy can't be considered gorgeous. As long as I don't get involved with them, who's to say that I shouldn't look?"
Buffy and Dru walked up the stairs and out of the Magic Box into the night, still talking about how to keep Spike out of Willow and Angel's hair. They were both laughing hysterically as they walked toward the school. It looked like things were going to turn out all right.