A Taste of the Apple

Angel isn't sure what to feel, so many contradictory emotions are roiling around within him. What Spike did… He wants to stake the bastard, send him back to the dust to which he should have banished him the moment Drusilla brought him home with her like some stray dog she wanted for a pet.

But Spike is his blood, and ultimately as much his creation as he is Drusilla's, perhaps more. If he's honest, he knows the answer is 'definitely more'.

Which is part of what is troubling him. Because somewhere in that answer is another answer to another question: Why had Spike chosen Willow? She's hardly the only witch in the world. Surely he could have found one in Brazil, or barring that, somewhere at least far closer to the land to which he'd emigrated, but if it had to be Sunnydale, there are witches here of more experience and practiced skill. After all, other than restoring his soul, what has Willow actually done?

Ah, but that's the rub, isn't it? And perhaps it's what drew Spike to kidnap her – that connection… that connection…

Is that spell the reason Angel can't get her out of his thoughts either?

This isn't happening to him. Since the moment Whistler showed her to him in Los Angeles, Buffy has been all Angel can see. She is the light to his darkness and if her ability to bring him back to humanity was a terrible and deadly illusion, she's still the closest thing to a savior he has.

It doesn't hurt that he's also exactly the type of girl to which he's always been physically attracted, as both human and vampire. She's blonde, reasonably buxom, and free of prudishness in dress or manner; the sort of girl who excites envy on one's arm and excites… other things in private.

But it's so much more than that, because Buffy is also a warrior, fierce and stalwart and tireless as she saves the world over and over again. She is selfless and brave and wholly devoted to her sacred duty, proving that, ironically enough, by sending him to Hell. Buffy is the woman not only of his dreams, but of his destiny.

Which doesn't explain at all why he's at the doors to Willow's bedroom. But then again, it makes perfect, and blameless sense, doesn't it? Because she's been through a lot today – kidnapped by his vicious creation and caught kissing that useless Xander Harris by her milquetoast pseudo-demon of a boyfriend. If she needs anything right now, it's a friend, someone who won't get up on their high horse and shame her, and Angel wants to be that friend.

Looking through her sheer curtains, he sees and hears her curled up on her carpet, weeping bitterly. It's clear she's all alone, not another heartbeat in the house. Coming here was obviously the right decision. He knocks gently.

Obviously caught up in her despair, it takes her a moment or two to realize that someone is here, but then she suddenly leaps to her feet, back still turned to him. He can tell she's wiping her eyes and when she finally rushes to the door, she can't hide the fact that she's disappointed that he's the one standing there. "Hi, Angel." Her voice is dispirited and he tries to tell himself that his feelings aren't hurt, but it's a lie and he knows it.

His invitation into her home was revoked long ago and he stands awkwardly at the threshold wondering how to broach that topic to a girl who is, somewhat insultingly, lost in thought, when out of the blue, she blurts out a desultory 'come in', and so he does.

Being in here… it brings back memories. Not just of the night he killed her fish and strung them like jewels on a necklace, but of visiting her to look for help with Ford… admitting to her that he felt jealousy for the first time in life or unlife because of Buffy. She'd been so sweet and considerate that night and he hadn't even thanked her… hadn't even appreciated what she was offering. They could have been friends. If he hadn't been so foolish…

… but he's going to rectify that now. Because if they're friends, then all of this confusion in his head will shake out and his feelings for Willow will fit and make sense. "I wanted to make sure you're okay," he says, providing the explanation for which she hasn't asked.

She's not on the same page he is, which is clear when her response to his overture of friendship is a patently false grin and a syrupy chirrup of, "I'm fine." Does she really think he'll buy that? Even a stranger could see through it and they're hardly that. He can't stop himself from staring and she just intensifies her efforts, though she's obviously unnerved. "I really am fine, so you can tell Buffy that I'm okay because I am – okay, that is, although I don't know what else you'd have thought I meant."

He can't believe this, though he probably should – she thinks he's here at Buffy's behest. He'd laugh at the shakiness of her logic if he was one for jokes, but Hell had anything but a salutary effect on his sense of humour and he's not in the mood. "I'm not here for Buffy. I'm here because I wanted to make sure…" Just as he's speaking, his eyes light on a picture of her in happier times that's tacked to the wall – a picture of her and Xander – and it tells him something he doesn't want to know about what he wanted to learn by coming here. Clumsily, he manages to finish his sentence the way he'd originally intended. "… you're all right."

The fact that she clearly isn't… he doesn't understand her manner towards him. His memories of Willow are of a girl almost terrifyingly eager for friendship and understanding. At a time like this, abandoned by everyone after an ordeal that had to be terrifying in and of itself? He knows Spike and he knows damn good and well that the version Buffy gave him of what Willow related to her is nowhere near the whole story of her encounter with his evil creation. A part of him is amazed that Spike left the girl as virginal as he found her. His boy must have been far drunker than he'd thought, and that's a blessing. But even with that being true, doesn't Willow need someone to talk to?

Apparently not, or at least she doesn't seem to think so, as she is now outright rude to him. "Well, I am. So you've seen me and I'm fine and… that's it." If he were human, she might be bodily shoving him out the door… and then a flash of memory. She actually did do that the night he came here to ask for her help. Of course, back then he hadn't killed her fish – or her favorite teacher. Now she's far more frightened of him.

It angers him. There's this connection which, as much as he denies it, haunts him constantly, and she doesn't feel it, won't acknowledge it, won't grant him the comfort of transforming it into easy friendship.

His anger, though, it's unfair and he knows it. She's human and, for all that she's dabbled in darkness, she has no idea what goes on in the air that no one can breathe. He'll keep trying, ignoring her obvious attempts to hustle him out of her home, because she really does need consoling. "You've been crying."

She's not giving an inch. "That's not really any of your business." There is, however, a softening of tone which makes him hopeful.

"I'm your friend," he responds and if there's an intensity in his voice that makes the words more commanding and insistent than they should be, it's only there because he desperately wants to repay her for what she's done for him.

Once again, he's thwarted. "No offense, Angel, but there's different kinds of friends. There's the kind of friends who talk about personal stuff, which we aren't, and then there's the kind of friends who fight evil together and don't talk about personal stuff, which is the kind we are."

This isn't what he expected at all and he's fighting the urge to chase that running brings out in a natural predator. He's losing. Reaching out, he puts his hand on her shoulder and he's met with the clamminess of fright. "Why…?" He pauses because the question he's about to ask is all wrong, so instead he says, "We could be the other kind of friends. I think right about now you could use one."

There's the sound of a fawn running through the brush as she just keeps shutting him out. "Thanks. But right now I really just want to be alone. Oh but you're being really nice and I appreciate it and all." If that last is meant to take away the sting of rejection – and other emotions he can't name and doesn't want to – well, it isn't working.

He tries yet again. Yes, he's that desperate and he has no intention of allowing the introspection which would tell him why. "You can talk to me."

Those eyes of hers, they're looking everywhere but at him and the fear beneath her skin has transformed and is almost glowing with heat. ""I need to be alone." Her voice is quavering as she adds a plaintive, "Please?"

Putting his hand under her chin, restraining himself into gentleness, he forces her to meet his gaze. His eyes hold hers in their grip but no, that last thought he had wasn't a wish for Drusilla's gift of thrall. He would never wish for that. So he concedes the battle. "I'll go."

Her response is a thank you and a distressing sigh of relief as he breaks contact; he turns and leaves before he can react. All kinds of thoughts swirl through his brain – like the fact that she so freely gives to Xander what she refuses to give to him. Friendship, that's what he means, naturally. He's not thinking of those stolen kisses. He isn't. Because that side of Willow's life… it's not, as she said, that it's none of his business, it's merely that he isn't jealous.

Because as much as he wants to be her friend – and he will be, he hasn't given up on that at all – he loves Buffy even more, so much that no other woman could ever so much as catch his eye.

Now that he's got that straight, he makes his way back to the mansion. There's no sense in worrying about how much securing Willow's friendship has meant to him since he returned from Hell, none at all. She gave him back his soul; he owes her. It's only natural for him to want to repay such an extraordinary debt. Given her current predicament, she'll realize soon enough that his friendship is something both necessary and desirable and they'll be what they should be.

Then his mind will be quiet and everything will be fine. Just fine.

The End.