Blindfold by Gabrielle
Summary: *Set in the summer between Seasons 3 and 4 of BTVS and just before the beginning of Season 1 of AtS* A routine patrol through an L.A. cemetery turns out to be anything but routine, leaving Angel with a serious problem and only one person he can trust to come to his rescue: Willow.
Categories: Willow/Angel Characters: Angel, Willow
Genres: Fluff, Romance
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 22 Completed: Yes Word count: 56271 Read: 7520 Published: 20/06/14 Updated: 04/11/14

1. Prologue by Gabrielle

2. Chapter 1 by Gabrielle

3. Chapter 2 by Gabrielle

4. Chapter 3 by Gabrielle

5. Chapter 4 by Gabrielle

6. Chapter 5 by Gabrielle

7. Chapter 6 by Gabrielle

8. Chapter 7 by Gabrielle

9. Chapter 8 by Gabrielle

10. Chapter 9 by Gabrielle

11. Chapter 10 by Gabrielle

12. Chapter 11 by Gabrielle

13. Chapter 12 by Gabrielle

14. Chapter 13 by Gabrielle

15. Chapter 14 by Gabrielle

16. Chapter 15 by Gabrielle

17. Chapter 16 by Gabrielle

18. Chapter 17 by Gabrielle

19. Chapter 18 by Gabrielle

20. Chapter 19 by Gabrielle

21. Chapter 20 by Gabrielle

22. Epilogue by Gabrielle

Prologue by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Prologue)

Another muggy, uncomfortable night in Los Angeles; another patrol through a nearly deserted graveyard. It had only been a few decades since he was last here, but it might as well have been a century for how different this town was now. He had no idea what was what and he was still reaching out to a few so-far uncooperative contacts to try and figure things out: where the demons went; who the major players were; where the action was. In the meantime, he tried to do the best he could, going to the old, familiar places – or at least the places he’d been wont to frequent in Sunnydale – and that meant traipsing through cemeteries.

The activity level wasn’t nearly what he was used to and he was starting to itch. The last fledge he’d killed had been over a week ago and the only thing he had found on his nightly patrols since had been a hundred ways to obsess over the end of his relationship with Buffy. Damn it. He needed something to occupy him, to keep him on the path that led nowhere near his old love. He knew there were more bad guys than he was finding and he wished he could just…

Wait a minute. Those were screams he just heard, and when he reached out with his senses, he could pick up something distinctly nonhuman. Well, it looked like his days of wallowing in heartache were over and that the universe was finally setting him back on the path of redemption. People needed saving and he was here to save them.

He took off in the direction of the noise and it was only a few seconds before he found the crisis – a bunch of pimply-faced goth kids who seemed to have come face to face with a real demon and obviously weren’t finding it nearly as ‘cool’ as they’d imagined. Pausing only for a moment to take in the ludicrous robes they were wearing and the chalice one of them was holding, Angel soon turned his attention to the demon – a posturing, adolescent H’rack barely old enough to be out hunting at all, especially by itself. Not much different from the idiotic humans it was trying to make a meal of.

Angel didn’t take the time to wonder what it was doing here away from its pack. Three seconds later, or thereabouts, its neck was broken and it lay on the ground, dissolving into sickly yellow goo. This was not in any way the fight Angel really needed, and, without meaning to, he vamped in frustration… just as he turned to confront the five stupid kids who were still standing right behind him, gawking.

Maybe it was for the best though, because at least they finally seemed to be displaying an appropriate amount of fear. Something needed to shock these kids into staying away from things that went bump in the night. So he stayed in game face and growled at the teens: “Get out of here.”

The smell of urine immediately hit his nostrils as one of them pissed himself and four of them took off running. Not the one with the chalice, though. She shrieked and tossed whatever the liquid in her plastic toy was right into his face. Then she took off after her friends.

Hopefully, they went home wiser and burnt those silly robes.

Speaking of burning… what the hell was that liquid the girl had thrown at him? Oh well, at least it wasn’t holy water and the stinging sensation in his eyes was already subsiding. But the smell… ugh. Now that was awful. It was like rotten eggs and clove and the sweat of a Fyarl demon all mixed together and it was enough to make him really regret having tried to put the fear of darkness into those playacting brats.

Turning back the way he’d come, Angel decided to call it a night. He wasn’t going to find any more demons tonight, he was sure, and he needed a shower. Back on the subject of burning clothes, his shirt was going straight into the dumpster. Damn. He really liked this shirt.

Dumb goth kids.

To be continued…
Chapter 1 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 1)

Last night, Angel hadn’t sensed that anything was amiss. He’d felt completely normal after his shower, if still displeased about the fact that his shirt was in a dumpster outside awaiting a trip to the landfill. But other than that irritation, nothing about him had been the slightest bit different from the way he normally felt. Following his shower, he’d been slightly hungry, so he’d heated up some blood for a midnight (well, technically, 4AM) snack before heading to bed just as the sun was coming up. Everything had gone according to the new routine he was establishing here and, again, it hadn’t seemed as though anything was wrong with him.

Now, though? Now Angel felt anything but normal and something was horribly, catastrophically wrong.

Because when he’d awoken in the afternoon and opened his eyes, he’d found himself in total darkness.

Angel was blind – completely blind.

Willow was just about to lose her mind from the boredom of yet another summer day spent all alone. Even the online forums were deserted as it seemed every geek in the world besides her had better things to do on a sunny July afternoon than log onto their computers. Yeah, even Andrew Wells had a richer, fuller life than she did, huh? This was a definite ‘oh, the humanity’ moment. Just when she was about to swan dive into total self-pity, though, fortune smiled on her as she heard a heartening ringing noise. She raced for the phone, happy that someone, anyone, wanted to talk to her. Was it Xander, calling from the road? Buffy from her Dad's house? Or was it Oz, calling her from wherever in Sacramento the Dingoes were staying?

Picking up the receiver on the third ring, she was disappointed to hear the voice of a total stranger and it took her a moment to register what the woman was saying. “I have a call for Willow Rosenberg from Angel.”

She got it together and said, “Oh. Sure. I know him.”

The first thing Angel felt upon hearing that familiar voice at the other end of the line was an almost pathetic gratitude, which of course reminded him of just how helpless he was. It had taken him over ten minutes just to find the phone, navigate the touch pad, finally, after more than a few frustrating mistakes, dial 411, and then ask the operator for the number of Willow Rosenberg in Sunnydale, all the while hoping against hope she was listed under her own name. Luckily, he was at least charming enough to get the woman who’d found the number for him to also dial it. He couldn’t have borne with the endless fumbling and humiliation it would have taken him to manage a full number, including a separate area code.

He was having flashbacks to his first days in Hell. That feeling of being trapped and at the mercy of anything that wanted to hurt him… and everything had, hadn’t it? What would happen to him now if one of his enemies found him?


“Hey, Angel.” She heard the subtle change as the operator disconnected, leaving her alone on the line with someone she had never actually expected to speak to ever again. “Are you looking for Buffy?”

She was taken aback by the vehement “No!” she got as his immediate response and maybe he realized, because his tone quickly mellowed. “I’m sorry. It’s just best for both of us to make a clean break.”

“Okay.” What should she say now? Because if he wasn’t calling to try and find Buffy, why was Angel talking to her? Trying again, she asked, “Did you want to know how she’s doing or something? Because I’m not sure I should…”

If he didn’t just blurt it out, Willow was going to run through every possible reason for his call without getting anywhere near the truth. “I need your help.”

That stopped her cold for a moment. “Oh. You mean like research? On the net? Like last time when…”

Again, he cut her off. “Magic.”

Huh? Angel was asking for her to help him with something that needed magic? Okay. Except… As much as she wanted to see herself as Mojo Girl, the truth was that floating pencils was really her most consistent achievement. Yeah, she’d restored Angel’s soul, but everything since then had been pretty anticlimactic... or disastrous. She didn’t even want to think about that spell Anya had tricked her into. “Don’t they have any experienced witches in… you’re in Los Angeles, right?” Willow was pretty sure Buffy had told her that’s where Angel had headed. “Because, hey, I’m totally flattered and everything that you’re asking for my help, but…”

“I’m blind.”

All right, Willow could not have heard what she just thought she did because what she thought she heard was… “Did you say that you’re… blind?”

He couldn’t believe he’d just revealed the truth like that to someone… well, the fact was that they weren’t exactly close, now were they? But who else could he trust? That was why he’d called her, wasn’t it? Willow was the only person even remotely connected to magic he knew who would be willing to help him at all and who wouldn’t take advantage of him in his current condition. “Yes,” he said in a low voice, hating how much pity she must already be feeling for him. Dammit! The last thing he ever wanted to be was an object of sympathy.

“How… I mean, you’re a vampire. Doesn’t… Don’t you just heal?”

Every word was a stake to the heart. Because he’d hoped that very thing, but he knew that no healing was going on in his body and he was still trapped in darkness and… “It’s not getting any better,” he snapped.

Bite her head off, why didn’t he. Sheesh! But even as she was about to take offense, her natural empathy kicked in and… gosh. How would she feel if she suddenly couldn’t see anything? She’d really hate it, that was for sure. Guess this solved the mystery of why the operator had called her, huh? Because she’d sort of wondered about that. “I’m sorry.” She was silent for a moment, and then she asked, “Do you want me to talk to Giles?”

Rupert Giles? No! He was one of the last people Angel wanted to hear about his misfortune. There was no love lost between them, and though Rupert had good reason to hate him and Angel understood that, he wasn’t going to hand the man the opportunity to destroy him. Or to enjoy his helplessness. “No,” he stated emphatically. “I don’t want anyone else to know.” He thought about the werewolf who was her boyfriend and he added, “No one. I mean that.” It wouldn’t make sense to a human, he knew, but it was unbearable to think about another demon knowing the vulnerable state he was in. The soul didn’t change his nature completely, did it? It didn’t magically restore him to humanity and its acceptance of frailty.

“Angel, I…”

“Please?” Even he couldn’t believe that he’d broken down and nearly begged her, putting all his fear into that one word. He had to be right about her.

Oh god. He sounded so scared. It was hard to imagine him like this. Even when he’d been poisoned, he hadn’t sounded so small and frightened. It occurred to her that if she promised to keep this secret, she wouldn’t just be keeping important stuff from Buffy and Giles, but from Oz, too. Could she do that? Should she do that? “I promise not to tell anyone,” she heard herself say, and her choice was made. Promises were sacred to Willow. She just hoped that making this one didn’t ruin her life.

Now she guessed was a good time to ask the questions that suddenly sprang to mind. “How did it happen? What do you need me to do?”

“Giles?” Willow called out tentatively as she tiptoed into his apartment. She was really grateful for his habit of leaving the door unlocked. As no answering voice was heard, she was even more grateful that he was predictable. There was a weekly lecture series on British history going on at the downtown library and, as much as Giles ranted about the indifferent speaking skills of the historians, he never missed it – including today’s talk on the role of women in the Industrial Revolution.

Willow sort of wished she could have attended that one, actually, but she knew Giles relished having his own hobbies and pursuits in which ‘the children’ were uninvolved, and anyway, if she’d gone, she’d have missed Angel’s call and… she wouldn’t be here in Giles’s apartment stealing – no, borrowing – a few books on magic which she was sure he wouldn’t miss for a day or two.

The same better be true for her parents’ car, which was also being pressed into service in the cause of helping Angel.

Had Faith bitten her or something? Because Willow suddenly felt like a very bad girl what with the breaking and entering and the grand theft auto.

But that was silly, wasn’t it? Situational ethics were still ethics and all of this was for a very good cause. Even if Angel had broken Buffy’s heart into a million pieces, he was still one of the good guys and he needed her help.

Everywhere she looked she was reminded of the fact that Angel couldn’t see. Oh god! How was he even going to feed? She’d better get a move on. Carefully extracting six or seven pertinent-seeming volumes from Giles’s stash – if only Angel had given her more information to go on; she would be irritated with him if it weren’t for the fact that he was really suffering – Willow tried to make it look as if nothing had been displaced and then, stuffing the books in the duffel she’d brought for just that purpose, she carefully made her way out of the apartment. No one was in the courtyard. Goody! No witnesses!

Trying to rationalize away that last very criminal-sounding thought, Willow hurried to the Honda she had stol… borrowed from Sheila and Ira and drove away. This was going to be her first attempt to navigate the freeway. Now all she had to do was hope that she didn’t get pulled over.

Oh, and had she remembered to pack her toothbrush?

Waiting for Willow’s promised arrival, Angel felt every minute as if it were a century. He hadn’t realized just how very much his sight meant to him until now. He felt trapped. He couldn’t even read to pass the time and, while he’d managed to find his blood in the refrigerator, he’d had to drink it cold, straight from the bag. To add injury to insult, he’d stubbed his toe on something as he tried to return to his chair.

Those damn, worthless kids! Had it been the H’rack they’d attracted who did this to him? Or had it been that slop in the goblet the girl had tossed in his face? His money was on the latter, but what did he know? Not nearly enough if Willow’s barely suppressed aggravation during their phone conversation was anything to go by.

He felt reduced and diminished in a way he’d never experienced before. It wasn’t Hell, but it was its own kind of torment. Never before had he been so dependent and even though it had only been a few hours, he already hated it. When he’d been poisoned, the delirium and the certainty of impending, true death had ameliorated the very feelings he was now experiencing and there’d been none of the fear.

What if this was permanent? What if there was nothing Willow could do?

For the first time since his turning, Angel came close to praying. Please, whatever transgression this was punishment for, please give him the chance to make up for it somehow. He’d be better, do more, fight harder… whatever it was that needed to be done, he’d do it. Just don’t leave him like this – alone in the dark, purposeless and weak.

What did humans do when they lost their sight? How did they cope?

How long had it been since he’d cast his mind back, not to his life as a human – he’d thought about that often – but to himself as a human? To what he experienced? Too long, hadn’t it? Because when he reached inward, there was nothing there. No sense of who he'd once been, not the faintest glimmer of reflection showing him a man inside. He wasn’t there anymore, was he? No more Liam. Just a demon named Angelus and a soul named Angel and a barren void where humanity had once existed.

What a contrast he was to the girl he had reached out to as his savior. She was so very, very human. Goodhearted and idealistic and pure in word and deed. Well, except for the magic. And the werewolf who was her lover. Oh, and hadn’t there been some sort of dalliance with Xander Harris?

He hadn’t thought about her very much before now, had he? Hadn’t put the pieces of knowledge he’d picked up into the picture he’d initially formed of her and then shoved to the back of his mind. No, he’d focused on Buffy and hadn’t spared a moment to care about her friends, not as people.

Well, he had to have been right about Willow’s heart because otherwise he couldn’t imagine why she’d taken his call. Why would she want to help him given the little regard… god, he’d never even thanked her for returning his soul. What kind of man was he that he hadn’t done that much for someone who’d given him the most extraordinary gift? Because it was a gift now, even if it did have some of the same onerous trappings as the curse it was originally intended to be.

There was so much he had to rectify when it came to Willow and the minute he saw… the minute she arrived, he’d start. Now if only, she’d…

A noise drew him out of his reverie. The elevator was coming down. He almost jumped out of his chair, but then his other senses kicked in – scent and… something else – and he realized it was Willow. She’d come. She’d really come to help him. Schooling his expression into stoicism, he listened as the elevator slowly made its way down to his living quarters.

Willow stood in the creaking, old-fashioned elevator as it took forever to get down to Angel’s apartment. She felt like a criminal all over again, even though she was grateful she had learned how to pick a lock on the internet. If only Angel hadn’t locked the darn front door on the building. But she guessed he hadn’t exactly expected to be blind today and to need to have someone come in and help him. Good thing people around here weren’t all that nosy, huh, because lots of people had been walking by when she was breaking in, but no one said anything. It was an even better thing that she wasn’t actually a burglar.

Her overnight bag and duffel full of books sat on the floor of the elevator car beside her as she finally came to a stop. This was Angel’s place. Gosh, it wasn’t exactly bright and cheerful, but… vampire, so picture windows were probably not a design feature he looked for. Still, it was kind of depressing.

What would be more depressing though was if she couldn’t see at all. Like Angel.

She shook off her pessimistic thoughts. The last thing Angel needed was for her to be all Debbie Downer, so she plastered a cheery grin on her face – even if he couldn’t see it – and, as she pulled open the iron grating to enter his place, she chirped, “Hi, Angel!”

He didn’t smile back. Oh well, once she fixed him up, he’d be happy. “I brought a bunch of Giles’s books, so let’s get this show on the road.”

To be continued…
Chapter 2 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 2)

“It’s not there,” Willow said sadly as she stepped back into Angel’s apartment, flashlight in hand, feeling grubby and gross and in desperate need of a shower. She’d been unbelievably thorough, and probably endangered her health and safety even with the ill-fitting gloves she’d bought at the dollar store down the street, but the shirt was nowhere to be found. In fact, it looked as if that dumpster was picked over regularly, and it made her feel very sorry for the homeless population of Los Angeles – especially whoever had made off with Angel’s shirt. Who knew what was happening to them right this very minute?

Of course, this also left her in a quandary as to how to help out Angel. How could she counteract whatever had been thrown at him if she had no idea what it was? Right now, her natural optimism was getting ready to take a vacation.

“How can it not be there? The trash doesn’t get picked up for another two days!” He knew he’d asked a lot of her, expecting her to comb through the filth of a dumpster, but his shirt had to be close to the top of the pile and…

“A lot of homeless people go through dumpsters looking for stuff – recycleables they can turn in for cash, food… Some guy probably felt like he won the lottery when he found your shirt. You do wear nice clothes.”

Willow’s words struck Angel like a slap to the face. He’d been homeless himself. Why hadn’t any of what she’d said occurred to him before? Great. Now he felt guilty. Not just because he hadn’t thought of this himself, but because he’d endangered the homeless person who had found his shirt. “We have to find whoever took my shirt,” he said. “They could be in trouble.”

The fact that Angel’s first concern seemed to be for the stranger who’d unknowingly worsened his own sad lot by taking that shirt out of the dumpster made Willow warm to him. Admittedly, even though she’d agreed to keep secrets and help him, she’d still held a grudge against him for breaking Buffy’s heart, but now… It was nice to know that he was unselfish, so maybe he hadn’t left Buffy just to make things easier on himself the way she’d thought.

“You want me to go back out to the alley? See if I can find anyone who’ll talk to me?” Even as she said it though, she knew it was a longshot. It wasn’t like all homeless people knew each other. And anyway, why would they even talk to some strange girl asking weird questions? Would she answer questions from a stranger? Since the answer to the latter question was no…

“There’s no point,” Angel sighed sadly. “No one will be there now.” It was too late, wasn’t it? The shirt was gone, never to be seen again, and its new owner might be in even worse shape than he was – though that was hard to imagine. Was he feeling sorry for himself? Yes, he was, damn it! He’d had to ask Willow to heat up blood for him… and bring it to him. He was going to need help getting his clothes, finding his way to the elevator… Again he wondered how humans adjusted to this. Because he might have to. Willow’s tone of voice had made it clear that analyzing the potion was probably their only hope to figure out what the hell that teenage bitch had drenched him with.

All he’d been trying to do was save those rotten, fucking kids and this is what he got for it? He couldn’t see! More than anything he wanted to go back and just let the H’rack eat all five of those worthless… This was bringing out the worst in him, wasn’t it?

Thank whatever deity was on his side that his hearing still worked because otherwise the touch of Willow’s hand on his shoulder would have been startling. “I’m gonna figure this out,” she said, her voice almost desperately reassuring – and loaded with pity. He wanted to hit her. Sure, he was pitying himself right now, but that didn’t mean he wanted it from anyone else. Especially not Willow. The girl couldn’t defend herself in a fight against a baby Chaos demon…

But she’d restored his soul, hadn’t she? So alright, maybe this wasn’t as terrible as being pitied by Xander Harris would be, but it still rankled.

Angel was glowering and Willow was about to wonder what she’d done wrong when she realized – hey, he was still blind. Of course he was in a bad mood.

What was it going to be like, she worried, if she wasn’t able to fix this? It wasn’t like Angel had any friends or anything. Well, he had her, but she had to go back to Sunnydale soon. Maybe while she was here… “Get up,” she said suddenly, the moment a thought occurred to her. She cringed, hoping she hadn’t offended him by being sorta rude. Guess she hadn’t, though, because he stood up. Taking his arm, she said, “We’re gonna count off how many steps it takes for you to get everywhere in your apartment and that’ll make everything easier for you.” She hastened to add an optimistic, “For now, I mean.”

First she took him from the chair to the refrigerator, then back to the bed, then from the bed to the chair, and then, kicking herself for not remembering, to the bathroom from all three places. Lucky thing it was a small apartment, huh? Lucky too that Angel had a good memory. At least this way, he could feel more independent and less unsure, at least in his own home. She had a hunch it wasn’t the right time to broach the subject of the elevator… and possibly a cane. But if she couldn’t… if he had to stay this way, she was going to have to and she knew it.

Maybe he could get a guide dog.

Willow wasn’t going to be able to fix him, was she? A part of Angel wanted to drain her or break her neck, but the truth was that the only promise she’d made was to tell no one of his plight. He was the one who’d insisted she be the one to help him and who’d told her not to ask for assistance from Giles or anyone else. When she’d restored his soul, she’d had a spell, a road map, as it were. Now all she had was…

Power, damn her. She had it. He could feel it – had felt it when his soul had passed through her on its way home. Why wasn’t it enough? Why couldn’t she just mumble a few words and call on whatever spirits aided her and fix this? Because being guided around his apartment, calculating steps like a child learning to count, had almost broken him. Imagine if he was never able to open up a favorite book and read again. And how he was going to get blood?

Shouldn’t he be worried about his redemption? Well, he was, but not nearly as much as he was thinking about all the things he already missed – and all the things he already hated. Like silence now that he was sitting here, mind full of how many steps it took to get to the refrigerator from his bed, trapped in the dark. Having instructed him in how to get around his own apartment, Willow seemed to have run out of things to say. All he could hear was the turning of pages. Wait a minute; that might be good. She was researching, right? If she was doing that, she hadn’t lost hope – and he shouldn’t either.

It was probably a good thing that Angel couldn’t see her face, because if he could he'd realize that she wasn’t finding a whole lot of cause for celebration in any of the books she’d brought with her. If only Angel had saved his shirt. Or if he at least had something substantial to offer about any of the trappings those kids were using for what had to be some kind of ritual. ‘Robes and a chalice’ was not exactly long on the kind of details that would help narrow her search.

“Are you sure you didn’t see anything else?” Willow asked aloud, obviously startling Angel. “Like were there any symbols on the ground? Did you hear any chanting? Were they wearing weird jewelry?”

“I told you everything already,” he snapped and she couldn’t stop herself from being very irritated, and from wondering about him. Did he ever pay attention to people at all? Because if you couldn’t even remember the height of the girl who blinded you, what did that say? Even when he had his sight, it looked like Angel didn’t actually see very much – much that wasn’t Buffy, anyway. Guess the girl wasn’t blonde and hot, huh? Well, at least that was a new detail. Nothing helpful, but something more than she’d gotten from the angry vampire whose vision she was currently trying to restore.

On that subject… “Look, Angel. I am doing my best. But you haven’t given me a whole lot to go on. All I know is there were five teenagers with robes… wait a minute.” A thought suddenly occurred to her. That was an odd number for a ritual. How many rituals called for five people? “Were they all wearing the same robes?”


“Okay. That might actually be something, because if they were all wearing those robes, then they were probably all participating and, since they were freaked out by actual demons, they were probably newbies and following instructions to the letter from a book and…” Of course, all of this was spit-balling and if one of them had actual power and the rest were just hangers on… Stop raining on your own parade, Rosenberg. “This could be something,” she reiterated.

She sure hoped she was right. Admittedly, her magical knowledge had come through vastly different, and infinitely more legitimate, channels than that of the average teen dabbler – she still hadn’t bothered to read Silver Ravenwolf or Gavin & Yvonne Frost – and she wasn’t as confident as she wished she were that five was absolutely not a common number for boilerplate rituals of the kind used by occult poseurs.

One thing, though, that she was unaccountably sure of was that these had been posturing kids. Despite the fact that their casting had wreaked genuine magical havoc, this had all the hallmarks of ridiculous adolescent role-playing, right down to the fact that one of the participants had wet his pants when confronted by a vampire.

Unfortunately, it seemed like her own brain was offering more help than the books she’d borrowed and it wasn’t nearly enough. She was starting to wish Angel had just let her talk to Giles about this because having access to more books right now would be really useful. As it stood… and that was also what she did right now. She needed to stretch her legs. As she did, she realized she was also rubbing the bridge of her nose. Great. Please tell her she wasn’t going to start wearing glasses and polishing them all the time. Or take to wearing tweed.

Angel waited for Willow to say something more, but she didn’t. If only he could see the expression on her face. The things you took for granted… he had never known just how much all his perceptions had depended on sight until now. Well, except for one. He was hungry again. It was soon for him, but given the stress he was under, maybe it wasn’t surprising. What was worrying was the logistics of restocking his supply. But feeding was a necessity and being under the same roof with a human… well, getting hungry made things very uncomfortable.

One thing, though, he wasn’t asking her to feed him again. It was humiliating, and in its way worse than drinking cold blood from a bag. So, without so much as a word, he got up and silently counted off the steps to the refrigerator, miserably grateful to have gotten it exactly right and not to have stumbled over anything on the way. Unfortunately, Willow noticed and followed him. While that wasn’t as bad as having to ask for her assistance, it was still an acknowledgement of his infirmity and he barked, “I can get my own blood!”

Of all the moments for his other senses to kick in. He could feel her shrink back from his anger and dammit, he felt guilty. She was just trying to help… just trying to help a demon who wasn’t used to needing the help of humans. His mind drifted back to Whistler. No, Angel wasn’t gracious to non-humans who tried to help him, was he? Of course, Whistler hadn’t been nearly as kind about it as Willow, and maybe that was why he was even nastier to her. “I’m sorry,” he said, the words burning his tongue like holy water. “I just…”

“I get it,” she said as she placed a hand on his arm and what hurt was that he thought maybe she really did, because she wasn’t offering to get his food now. “Hey!” she suddenly exclaimed. “I have an idea. Do you have any tape? Like masking tape or…”

“No,” he interrupted. What the hell would he do with tape?

“Oh.” She sounded deflated and dammit – he felt guilty again.

Then her heard her race across the room and there were the sounds of her rummaging through something and… “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe she left this in my purse!” Seconds later, she was back by his side. “Nail polish!” she crowed. “It’s… well, it’s a friend’s, but I’m sure she won’t mind if I use…” Angel was getting dizzy from the way Willow’s mind seemed to carom off every surface and subject. What did nail polish have to do with…? And now he could smell it. She’d opened the bottle. But why?

“I noticed when I heated your blood last night that it only took a minute and that there’s a button for that on the microwave. I’m gonna paint on it with nail polish so you can feel the difference and know which button to use right away for heating your blood.”

Once more he was torn in different directions, because while what she was doing meant he didn’t need to ask her to heat his blood for him, it also meant… He felt his face almost shift as he growled, “All that stuff earlier about having some idea, about there being some kind of lead on what this might be? That was bull, wasn’t it? You’re not going to be able to restore my sight.”

To be continued…
Chapter 3 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 3)

It was kinda weird taking a shower with Angel right outside. Of course he was blind and anyway she had her clothes in here with her but still… she was pretty shy, except with Oz. She had even been sort of freaked out about showering after gym in front of her classmates – and they were all girls. But you know what? She should just not think about it, because hey, the door was closed, and anyway, again, not like Angel could see anything even if it wasn't.

You know, this was really a nice shower. She’d always been sort of curious about these rainwater showerheads, plus there was this cool massage attachment and… Angel had spent some money upgrading this, huh? Looking at the bottles on the shelf, she realized that the shower itself wasn’t all he spent money on. She’d seen that Kerastase shampoo at a salon once and it was $25 a bottle. Wow. Bet the Hermes body wash was pricey too. Curious, she picked it up, opened it, and smelled the contents. Kind of manly, but very nice. She was almost tempted to use it, but then it occurred to her that Angel, what with his super vamp senses, would probably be able to tell, so, with a pang, she put it back and lathered up with her own bottle of Suave instead, then, with another pang and an accompanying sigh, did the same when it came to shampooing her hair. At least she could enjoy the different shower settings without any guilt or fear of reproach.

Angel sat in his chair, listening to the shower. It occurred to him that now, right now, there was a naked woman in his home… and no matter what, he couldn’t see her.

Of course, a moment later he reminded himself that it was Willow. She was his friend and she was trying to help him and thinking of her as a naked woman was completely disrespectful and frankly almost ridiculous. Not like she was his type anyway.

She was incredibly understanding and sympathetic, though. He’d raged at her a few moments ago and she had calmed him and reassured him and not acted the least bit angry at his seeming ingratitude. It was just… every time he thought about spending eternity like this, he wanted to smash everything he could get his hands on. He was helpless and lost and he hated it. His mind kept replaying last night over and over as he wished for some way to go back and do everything differently.

Was there a spell Willow could do to make that happen?

There was silence now as the water was shut off… and no, Angel was not picturing Willow wet and naked and stepping out of the shower.

Okay, maybe he was, but he was a man… a man whose imagination was all he had now – and possibly forever.

“Thanks for letting me clean up,” Willow said cheerily as she stepped out of the bathroom, drying her hair with one of Angel’s enormous, soft, fluffy towels. For a guy who never took Buffy out to dinner, he sure seemed to have a lot of nice things. If he weren’t already suffering, she’d have a few words with him about that. But she had to admit, it was kind of nice to have access to this kind of stuff. She knew her parents stayed in posh, luxury hotels and were probably used to amenities like these, but they’d never bothered to share those experiences with her.

Great. There’s a way to keep your spirits up, Willow. Think about Sheila and Ira.

“You don’t need to thank me.” Angel sounded down too, not that Willow could actually blame him. She was stymied and she knew it. But she hadn’t given up and he shouldn’t either. Hey, at least he could microwave his own blood now. Would it cheer him up to know that it was Buffy’s nail polish on the button? Probably not, huh? Yeah, she’d been right before to bite her tongue and not reveal the name of the friend who’d stowed the polish in her purse.

She should say something nice. “You have a great shower. Really. I wish I had one of those showerheads at home.” Carefully folding the towel, she set it on a stool.

Willow was probably smiling and Angel wished he could see it. He’d only had eyes for Buffy back in Sunnydale and there were so many things – and people – he’d paid scant attention to. God, right now he’d give anything to even see Xander Harris’s face, but Willow… She’d given him back his soul and he’d never even sketch…

He might never draw again.

The realization hit him like a sledgehammer and he almost wanted to cry. In truth, the only thing that kept his emotions in check was the presence of his guest… his only hope of salvation.

He felt her approach and sit across from him, taking his hand in hers. “I meant what I said before, okay? I haven’t given up and you shouldn’t either.”

Just then, he heard a strange noise and started, until he realized what it was. “You need to eat,” he said, feeling her flush of embarrassment in her hand. And then he realized that there wasn’t any food in the place – none she could eat, anyway. One more limitation being sightless placed on him. It wasn’t as if he could take her out to dinner.

Willow felt like Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. Why hadn’t she thought about picking up some groceries or something? It wasn’t as if Angel should be expected to have human food in the house. “I’ll go and drive through McDonald’s or something,” she said. “Or Jack in the Box. That way I can pick up a breakfast sandwich for the morning too.” She got up, patting her hair to make sure it was dry. Okay, it was still damp, but she was just going through a drive-through, so why should she even care what she looked like? “I’ll be back in just a few minutes, all right?” Without thinking, she went and hugged Angel. How weird was that? Oh well. Guess they’d known each other long enough that affectionate gestures were allowed.

Still, she felt awkward and couldn’t think of anything to say, so she grabbed her purse and headed for the elevator, only remembering to offer a quick ‘goodbye’ as the elevator doors closed in front of her. Angel wouldn’t think she was an oaf, would he? But then how could he? He’d always left without saying anything back in Sunnydale. Heck, he hadn’t even said goodbye to Buffy!

Thinking about Buffy… maybe not the very best of all possible ideas, because she had major guilt now that she was alone with her thoughts about all of this. Because okay – good cause – but here she was, sneakily helping Angel, who had just unceremoniously jilted her best friend. She’d even hugged him, which Buffy would probably sit through a whole day of Wesley’s lectures about the Council for the chance to do now.

Then her perspective kicked in. Angel’s blindness pretty much trumped Buffy’s heartache; even Giles would probably agree… if she’d been allowed to discuss it with him… and if he didn’t still sort of hate Angel. Anyway, hadn’t she already done the reason and logic thing back in Sunnydale and then again on the drive here and come to the conclusion that this was all absolutely aboveboard – even the sketchy and morally dubious parts like stea… borrowing Giles’s books? Oh, and her parents' car? She had, and she’d been absolutely right.

Time to focus on the important stuff again… like, where the heck was the nearest Jack in the Box?

With Willow gone off to buy food, Angel could hear the silence like a roaring in his ears and it was strange. With his soul, he’d always been a solitary creature, shunning companions both human and demonic – well, except for Buffy. Now, however? Now he felt alone in a way that reminded him of when he’d first been cursed… and when he’d been in Hell.

It felt even worse than it had before Willow had arrived – which he was struggling to understand, but it was true nonetheless.

Perhaps it was because she had so much energy. Even when she wasn’t talking, you could feel it pouring off of her in waves that crackled and popped with electricity. She was life in a way that he’d never appreciated before.

Or was he overdramatizing her? Was it just because he was blind? Was he reading too much into the smallest things now that he was basically a cripple?

To put it in modern terms? Introspection sucked. But what if insight was the only sight he would have from now on? What if the inside of his own mind was the only thing he’d ever look at again? No art, no moonlit sky. Not even the ugliest building or plainest woman. All he would have were memories which faded with each use and a mind which would shrivel with isolation and starvation of the spirit.

Self-pity was craven and weak, yet here he was, splashing around in a great big pool of it. But dammit – he couldn’t see! He couldn’t see!

Almost leaping to his feet, he forgot the number of steps to the table and crashed into it, knocking it over. He couldn’t even get around his own home! He kicked wildly at the fallen table and heard the crash of something breaking.

Just then, of course, came the grind of the elevator approaching. Willow was back. Great. He found himself resenting her optimistic nature. He could hardly wait to hear what pep talk she’d come up with this time. Or would she just try teaching him to get around his own home again?

“Hi,” Willow caroled as she entered the room, bags of greasy goodness in hand. She was about to ask how he was doing when she saw the wreckage on the floor. Oh god. “What happened?”

“I’m blind!” he snapped, and she drew back. What had gone on while she was driving around looking for fast food?

“I know,” she replied, not really understanding what was going on or knowing what else to say.

“I’m blind!” he repeated, this time louder and angrier. She drew back even further, almost debating whether to just get into the elevator and go home. What was he yelling at her for anyway?

Then her eyes fell on something in the far corner of the room – it was a sketch. Oh god. It wasn’t just something he did to scare them when he had no soul. Angel was an artist, wasn’t he? Losing his sight… this had to be almost as bad as Hell. Her heart almost broke for him as she suddenly, finally, actually got it.

No matter how confident she seemed when she told him she was going to figure this out, what could it really mean to Angel? There was a big difference between being her and being him, because every second that went by without a remedy was a second he was spending in the dark – the real dark where there was no lamp or moonlight or the promise of the sunrise to make the world all visible again. If it were her? You know she’d probably be crying in a corner and not even Buffy offering her all the mochas on Earth would be able to make her feel the slightest bit hopeful.

She set her bags down and went to him, putting her arms around him. “I’m sorry.” She tightened her hold and continued. “I get that this is really horrible for you and it’s totally okay to be upset.”

Angel stood there for a moment as Willow embraced him before he awkwardly put his arms around her. This was… unexpected. He’d expected platitudes, but instead… He’d underestimated her, which he was well aware was a habit he needed to break. There was so much more to her than met the… there was much more to her than his image of her allowed for.

Her current demonstration of compassion was going a long way towards changing that image though. No judgment and no pep talk. She was offering him the space to just feel the rage and impotence for now. Buffy… his mind flashed back to that night at the cliffs – and to the conversation they never had afterwards.

Didn’t he already have enough turmoil without bringing his ex-lover into the mix?

“Thanks,” he said, still holding Willow after a long moment. There was more he should say, but he wasn’t quite sure how. Then her stomach growled again. She needed to eat, so he let go of her and told her, “Go eat your dinner.”

“More like my midnight snack,” Willow countered as she headed to where she’d left her ersatz food and rummaged through the bag in search of her Jumbo Jack and fries. “I hadn’t realized it was so late. Good thing the drive-throughs here are open a lot later than they are in Sunnydale.”

“Is that any good?” he asked and something else occurred to Willow.

“You’ve never eaten fast food, have you?”

“No.” He seemed to be focusing intently and she realized he was concentrating on the smell of her food… and he didn’t seem to be finding it too appetizing.

She could sort of see his point. Gosh was this burger salty. “You’re not missing much. I mean, it keeps you going during research sessions or when your parents leave town and forget to stock the fridge and you don’t have a driver’s license and…” She paused, not feeling at all comfortable with the oversharing. Not like Angel was really interested in her personal life. “Like I was saying, it’s filling, but you probably ate way better when you were human.”

Angel felt a twinge in his gut, and it had nothing to do with hunger. Willow’s fractured rambling had revealed more to him than she intended and he felt… guilty. Guilty because he’d never really paid any heed to how neglected she had been, and more guilty because of how clearly uncomfortable she was with discussing herself with him. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that it was probably because she was sure he wasn’t interested.

The worst part was that, back in Sunnydale, that was… absolutely true. His idea of being her friend involved using her when he needed her, saving her life when she happened to be around and in danger, but not ever holding a conversation with her – not one that wasn’t about Buffy. His demon had paid more attention to her. On how many more levels could anything possibly be wrong?

Was it too late? Could he change? Could she believe in him changing? How would he even start? “Can I have a bite?” he heard himself asking.

“You can eat?”

“Yes. Food doesn’t taste quite the same, but yeah, I can.”

“Oh. Wow. Neat.” Was it his imagination or could he hear the wheels turning in her agile mind? What he knew he could hear a second later was her all but bounding over to him.” “Here! Try a French fry. You’re Irish and everything.”

Huh? Trying to follow her logic was a scary business. Luckily, he must have looked confused, because she explained. “They’re made from potatoes.”

At that, Angel laughed. Not just for the first time since he’d lost his sight, but for the first time in a long time.

You know what else? Those French fries weren’t half bad.

To be continued…
Chapter 4 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 4)

After polishing off her Jumbo Jack and splitting her fries with Angel, Willow was all set to hook up her laptop and see what she could learn on the internet, but… she was mortified when she suddenly yawned. How could she be tired already? It was only just after 1 AM!

Was this the slippery slope? First high school graduation and now no stamina? Was she going to see a grey hair in the mir…

How self-centered and thoughtless was she right now? On a scale from 1-10 with Cordelia Chase being 10, Willow was pretty sure she was a solid 8. Because even if she did have grey hair, at least she would be able to see it.

Angel, naturally, wasn’t thoughtless at all. “I heard that. You need to get some sleep.”

Wanting to make things up to him, even though he was totally unaware of her recent thoughts, she argued, “I can go for hours yet. Seriously. I’m totally up for more research.” You know, that would have been so much more convincing if she hadn’t yawned again.

As much as Angel wanted Willow to find a cure right this minute, he couldn’t, in good conscience, force her to keep going any longer. He didn’t have to see her to know she was fighting hard just to keep her eyes open. The girl couldn’t stop yawning. “Go to bed. You can start again in the morning.”

“Um… where should I sleep?” The question seemed absurd to Angel; she’d be taking the bed, of course. He said as much and was stunned when she argued. “No, that’s… I’m not taking your bed. I’ll take… the couch! The couch looks totally comfy. All I need is a blanket and…”

“No!” He might be blind, but he was still a gentleman… and he was still the master of the house. Under no circumstances was a woman going to sleep... “I’ll take the couch.” Somewhat gingerly, since they hadn’t counted the steps to it from his chair, Angel headed straight to that very piece of furniture and sat in what he hoped was the center, making himself abundantly clear. “Now you go to bed and get some rest.”

What? There was no way she was taking the bed. Willow was about to unleash her Resolve Face when she realized it was pretty much wasted on Angel in his current condition. Darn. What was she going to do? It was totally wrong for him to be stuck on the couch. But if she brought up his blindness… He’d hate it, wouldn’t he? Not like he wanted to be pitied. Still… “It’s your house,” she began, kinda lamely, and she wasn’t surprised when he interrupted.

“I’m not budging. Go to bed.” He was starting to sound pretty angry and she was about to give in when she turned and got a good look at the bed again. Gosh. It was big.

Okay, this was kind of a wacky idea, but it wasn’t like she and Angel thought of each other in a ‘girl and guy’ type way, so… “We could share. Your bed is huge. There’s plenty of room.”

Angel was taken aback by Willow’s suggestion. What was she…? He should say no. He would say no. Except…

This couch, if memory served, was not quite as long as he was tall and trying to get any real rest on it was probably hopeless. He had to admit that his bed was infinitely more conducive to repose. Not that he was making his own comfort a priority, but… At any rate, wasn’t arguing with a lady every bit as rude as consigning her to the couch? Of course it was. So the gentlemanly thing to do was concede to her logic, accept her offer, and take a side of the bed for his own slumber.

For a moment he thought about the fact that he would be sharing a bed with a woman, but he shrugged it off. This was Willow, not Buffy. Sleeping beside her would be as chaste as sleeping alone. Putting his brief thoughts when she was taking a shower aside, he said, “All right,” trying for a tone that balanced between gracious and grudging.

“That settles it, then. Good. We’ll both get some sleep.”

Wondering for a moment if she should change into the pajamas she’d brought with her, Willow decided against it, feeling sort of weird about sleeping next to Angel in her pj’s. And why hadn’t she thought of any of this before she had packed, anyway? Sweats would have been a really swell thing to have right now. But… she could sleep in her jeans and t-shirt. Not like she hadn’t fallen asleep like this all the time at the library.

So she kicked off her shoes, removed her socks and climbed onto the bed, deciding that, since Angel would probably be sleeping under the covers, it would feel a lot less like they were sharing a bed if she slept on top. Anyway, she was too heavily clothed for sleeping under a blanket.

Gosh. Was this duvet silk? For a moment she felt really cheated that she couldn’t wear skimpier clothes so she could feel all this luxury against her skin. She got over it, though, or rather, she was unconscious before she could work up any real resentment… or even say goodnight to Angel. Within seconds of closing her eyes, Willow was fast asleep.

Angel hadn’t even gotten up from the couch when he heard Willow’s breathing drift into the even rhythm of sleep. Unaccountably, he wished he could see her face – then a memory emerged. Back when he’d lost his soul, he’d stood outside her window watching her more than once; that face, normally so mobile and expressive, gone soft and still. She looked so different then. Gentle and fragile and even more innocent than when she was awake.

But that was before, wasn’t it. What would she look like now? Now that she’d taken a lover and opened herself to magic?

Whether his sight was restored or not, he would never know, now would he?

Carefully making his way through the room and hating the fact that he felt triumphant for not tripping on anything or stubbing his toe along the way, Angel took off his shoes and socks and lay down on top of the duvet. It would be too uncomfortable to sleep fully clothed under the covers. Thankfully, he had always favoured bedding that was comfortable and, in no time at all, the rhythm of Willow’s heartbeat sent him to sleep.

Willow awoke slowly, cuddling close to the man whose arm was around her, his face in her neck. “Mmm… Oz…,” she murmured. Then, as her eyes opened and her memory of the last 24 hours kicked in, her eyes shot wide. Oh god. She was snuggling with… Angel! “Eek!”

She regretted her outburst immediately, seeing as how she woke him up and all, but it was too late – Angel sat straight up in full game face, tense and on edge. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, sitting up beside him and putting her hand on his arm to try and calm him, and herself. “It’s just that I woke up next to you and I thought you were Oz and then I realized it was you and I sort of freaked – not that it’s scary or awful to wake up with you or anything, I just…” Okay, the babbling thing? So not productive right now. “I’m really sorry.”

It took Angel a moment to calm down and get himself back under control. Willow’s cry coupled with his blindness… He’d been terrified that something had invaded his home, something against which he couldn’t defend them.

A moment later, he remembered how it had been before her cry: her soft, warm body nestled against his, a feeling of contentment that had coloured his dreams, dreams he wished he could have hung onto. They were gone now.

That was probably just as well. He had been dreaming of Buffy, hadn’t he? Who else would he have dreamt about?

“It’s okay.” Angel’s words were kind but it wasn’t okay and Willow knew it. She felt horrible and she just knew that Angel had thought she was Buffy just like she had thought he was Oz. If she had to stay another night, she was so sleeping on the couch no matter what Angel said.

“I’m gonna go heat up my breakfast sandwich. Want me to heat up some blood while I’m at it?” That was just good manners, not pity or anything, right?

She waited for a moment, kicking herself all the while as every second seemed to prove that she’d offended him, but then he replied, “Yeah. Thanks.”

Phew. At least there was something she could do to make up for waking him in such a lousy way. So she bounced out of bed and headed to the kitchen, where a breakfast sandwich with a side order of congealed grease awaited. Yuck. Right now, Angel’s blood almost sounded yummier. But it wouldn’t be very nourishing and she needed something she could actually digest so… “Breakfast Jack it is,” she mumbled as she got it and a bag of blood out of the fridge.

Now there was another dilemma. Should she heat up her food first or Angel’s?

Breakfast hadn’t been the cheerful affair that dinner had and Angel regretted that. It had been… fun, in an odd way, discovering French fries, Willow’s potato joke. She’d treated him like he was a friend, a real friend, and he had to admit it was a good feeling. He hadn’t had any friends since he was…

The truth was that he’d never had any friends, not even as a human. Fellows who stuck around only to leech off a full wallet weren’t exactly bosom pals, now were they? But Willow… she wasn’t that sort at all. And when they’d been bantering last night, she hadn’t treated him like he was anything less or disabled just because he was blind. He’d enjoyed it.

Something suddenly occurred to him: He was going to miss her, wasn’t he? When she went home to her boyfriend and her friends and her upcoming college term, he probably wouldn’t talk to her anymore. She’d be swallowed up by all the hurly-burly of her real life… and he’d be just an unusual few days of her summer vacation… an unusual few days that he’d look back on far more than she would.

Well, he’d better not get used to her then.

Sitting in his chair, listening to the sound of her fingers tapping at her laptop keys, he tried to think about something else, anything else, but as hard as he tried, he just kept coming back to this. Great. And of course, he couldn’t even read a book for distraction. Why didn’t he at least have a radio?

Willow had hooked up her computer to Angel’s phone line and was surfing away. Of course, it was slower than what she was used to these days and she was getting darn frustrated, but she stifled any crotchety griping because hey – it could be worse. She could have no internet at all.

Or she could be blind.

It struck her again, Angel calling her, trusting her, and it made her feel even worse for acting like such a spazz when she woke up. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that he didn’t know anybody but her, not anymore. He had to be the loneliest person she’d ever known – well, maybe not as lonely as Marcie Ross, but still very lonely. Sleeping next to her… it was sort of natural that his subconscious would flash back to Buffy and he’d end up holding her.

Out of nowhere, the totally random observation that he did feel sort of nice hit her and boy did she feel guilty. She was Oz’s girlfriend – as well as Buffy’s best friend – and she was so not supposed to think that Angel’s body fit around hers pretty comfortably and he was all cool-of-temperature and not sweaty or anything in the morning, which was kind of unique in summer. But then she noted that, hey, none of her thoughts were of the naughty variety, so okay, she wasn’t exactly a shameless tramp or a bad girlfriend. Of course that still left the whole ‘really terrible best friend’ part, but considering the fact that that box was already ticked by her being here in the first place and keeping it secret...

Mind back on your computer, Willow. Not that it would do much good. She was having no luck finding rituals for five people or for potions that would blind vampires and…

Oh god. She was so incredibly stupid. She was the Village Idiot. Why hadn’t this occurred to her before?

Those kids had not been in the graveyard looking for vampires, had they? No, they hadn’t. So maybe this blindness thing was a totally unknown effect of this potion, one which no one had ever heard of before, which meant… She needed to go back and start from square one. Same went for the specifying five people. These kids were probably best friends, which meant that they weren’t a group devoted totally to casting spells but a bunch of outcasts and the number they had was the number they brought to the table… or circle.

She’d wasted a whole day, hadn’t she?

“Shoot,” she said under her breath, wanting to kick herself – hard.

Angel heard Willow’s mild curse as she delivered it with the same tone as others might mutter profanity and he was instantly apprehensive. Had she learned something? Bad news? He was stuck like this forever, wasn’t he? “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she responded, but she was lying and it angered him.

“What is wrong?” he asked again, his voice hinting at barely-restrained violence. He had a right to know.

“I… It’s me, okay? I messed up. I was being all literal and I haven’t been searching right, not that I even know what right is, and now I wasted a day and I can’t believe I’ve been doing this all wrong and I didn’t even realize it until now.” She paused, not that he was surprised. He was amazed at how long she could go on without stopping to breathe. Perhaps she would excel at free diving.

But then the content of her rambling speech hit him. At first he was irritated, but he quickly admitted to himself that he could hardly blame her for a fruitless search given how little he’d provided for her to go on. Anyway, it wasn’t as if this search had revealed bad news, per se. It was merely that it had failed to yield results. This was hardly the first time research had proved futile. Best to soothe her and calm her down. The sooner her mind was clear and sharp again, the sooner she could try another tack.

And anyway, she didn’t deserve to hate herself. She was trying.

“It’s okay. I wasn’t exactly helpful.”

Willow breathed. Gosh. Angel was being really forgiving. Of course, whether he’d feel that way once she realized she had no idea what to do now, what with not even being able to analyze the potion… She rolled her neck and then stared balefully at the remaining half of her breakfast. Blecch. Remind her never again to try reheating fast food. It didn’t even smell…

Oh gosh! That was it! Or it might be it. Or at least it might be something. If only…

She turned back to Angel and asked, “Do you by any chance remember what the potion smelled like?”

To be continued…
Chapter 5 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 5)

Okay, she needed to get this straight – whatever had blinded Angel had smelled like rotten eggs, clove, and the sweat of a Fyarl demon? While it was vivid, and a heck of a lot better than Angel’s description of the lame goth geeks who got him into this predicament, Willow was still pretty sure it wasn’t exactly the recipe for the potion. What did Fyarl demon sweat smell like anyway? And gosh, before now, she hadn’t really known that demons sweat at all – well, except for Oz, but that was only when he was human… as far as she knew. Maybe she’d ask him about what happened when he was all wolfy when she finally saw him again.

Great. Guilt was rearing its ugly head again. What if Oz had tried to call and she wasn’t there?

What if he hadn’t?

Oh gosh, she needed to focus on Angel’s problems which were way bigger and much more important than her silly insecurities. After all, her boyfriend might be in Sacramento, all unsupervised and vulnerable to hot groupies, but that still wasn’t nearly as bad as being blind.

Speaking of bad, that was the perfect word to describe her research skills, considering the results she was coming up with – namely none. Not even the Silver Ravenwolf message boards were giving her any help. Was she ever going to find any answers?

The clicking of keys had been the only noise for a few minutes now and Angel marveled at the way Willow focused when she researched, her normal chattiness silenced. The last time she was so quiet, he’d felt lonely, but not now – maybe because he had a new understanding. She was serious, deep down, which was something he’d never quite realized before. He should have; no one without deep inner gravity could channel the magic it had taken to restore his soul.

If only it was enough to restore his sight, because there were so many things he longed to see… like Willow’s face as she searched for knowledge.

Willow’s face as she lay peacefully dreaming.


But then he thought about it for a moment. He was an artist and the face was perhaps his favorite subject, so it made sense that he wanted to see her in repose. Nothing untoward in the thought at all. The same went for enjoying the feel of her warm body nestled against him as he slept. It had been comforting, that was all.

Willow felt like Amy right now, spinning round and round and getting nowhere. Which reminded her: Gosh! She hoped Rosalie had read the note she left just in case and had added caring for Amy to her other twice-weekly household cleaning duties. She hated the thought of the poor rat-witch living in filth or going hungry while she was gone.

Did Amy miss her? Did formerly being human mean she had bigger, more important thoughts than other rats or did she think like… Oh god! That was it! The reason her search was going so badly!

She was searching as Willow for the kinds of things Willow would look for the way Willow would look for them. But these kids… they weren’t from Sunnydale. They hadn’t been introduced to magic by a Watcher who guided the one girl in all the world and a techno-pagan whose skills had been passed down through generations and they didn’t have access to the finest magical library in the United States. No, these were outcasts whose interest in the occult probably started with listening to goth or black metal bands and who had no idea what real magic was all about. These were outside world kids. They started with song lyrics and then stumbled around the internet and maybe their local Barnes & Noble, shoplifting whatever books they could slip into their coats out of range of the security cameras.

What Willow needed to do was think like those kids.

Pausing, she realized she was kind of at a loss. Sue her. Some instinct was telling her that black metal sites were the place to start but that kind of music had never been her thing. Wait, though… wait a minute. Tucker Wells used to write band names all over his notebook and she could have sworn he was into… King Diamond! That was one of the bands he listened to. So okay. At least now – maybe – she had a place to start. Time to hit some fan sites and see if anything she found there gave her any ideas.

Victory repeated, Angel thought to himself as he found his way easily to the refrigerator and his blood. Oddly, he was hungrier than usual. Perhaps the constant anxiety was having an effect. What did humans call it? Comfort eating? As he groped around in the fridge, he felt a sense of alarm. He only had two more bags left. Damn it! Whether he ate one right now or not, he was going to have to ask Willow to go replenish his supply and he felt helpless and weak all over again… and yes, as wrong as it was, he felt a flash of anger at her for not being able to fix him yet.

With a growl, he changed plans. “I’m taking a shower,” he all but roared, and with that, he stomped his way to the bathroom, nearly slammed the door, and threw off his clothes. Luckily, it was a small bathroom and figuring out how to turn on the water and get into the shower were tasks accomplished easily enough.

One thing remained totally unchanged by his blindness – he still reveled in a hot shower. He might even feel the pleasure more keenly now as the steam enfolded him and the water ran in hissing rivulets down his chest.

Reaching down for his bottle of body wash, he inadvertently picked up the wrong one and, sniffing it, was instantly assailed by memories of yesterday… or rather, yesterday’s involuntary thoughts of Willow, wet and naked, in this very shower. He bit back a groan. His emotions were certainly caroming all over the place, weren’t they? Just a moment ago he’d been angry at her for not yet curing him and now he was picturing her covered in nothing but soap suds and…

This was absurd! She wasn’t his type and he wasn’t nearly horny enough to excuse desperation, not that Willow was repulsive or anything of the sort. She was a lovely girl – bright, caring, whip-smart, and not all that hard on the eyes… if one actually had them. But he would always love Buffy and she was the only one he wanted to share a hot shower and a warm bed with and as for Willow, well… she was still with Oz, right?

You know, he hadn’t actually smelled the wolf’s scent on her.

So lost in thought had he been, he was surprised when he noticed that not only did it seem he’d found the right soap and used it, but he was now rinsing his shampoo out of his hair. Damn it. His shower was all but over and he’d let his thoughts rob him of one of the few sensual pleasures his curse allowed him. Childishly, he found himself blaming Willow for this too.

In a bit of a temper, and now not thinking at all, he turned off the water, got out of the shower and, clothed only with a towel around his waist and one with which he was drying his hair, he charged out of the bathroom and tried to remember how many steps to the closet.

Success! Aside from the embarrassment she’d felt when a quick perusal of the first site had told her that King Diamond was the name of a singer and not a band, she was all smiles as she scoured the message boards and noted a number of promising links. Man this guy had some dark fans, but in this case that was kind of a good thing since at least now she might finally be on the right track to learning the spell which had blinded Angel…

Who just now came bursting out of the bathroom.

Wearing nothing but a towel.

Oh god. Did he think she was blind? Because this was a whole lot more of Angel than she had ever expected – or wanted – to see. Not that he was deformed or anything, he was just… Well, he didn’t look anything like Oz, that was for sure. Oz was compact and kind of adorable, and sexy too – in the cool, non-traditional way that Willow liked. Definitely more her type than the beefcake muscley-ness of Angel. Still, she had to admit that, aesthetically speaking, he wasn’t all that bad. She could see what Buffy saw in him – since Buffy was Buffy, with Buffy-taste, and not Willow, with Willow-taste and… wow, so that was his tattoo, huh?

Okay, he was getting clothes out of the closet and… he wasn’t going to change right here in front of her, was he? Eek! “Angel?”

Willow’s voice startled Angel right out of his childish pet and he realized just how thoughtless and insulting his behavior was. “I’m sorry,” he nearly stammered. “I guess I… I didn’t think.” Grabbing the first things he put his hands on, he hurried back to the bathroom, tripping once along the way and only just managing not to lose his towel in the process.

What he’d almost done… it was inexcusable. Willow did not deserve to be treated in such a cavalier and boorishly rude fashion. He’d almost stripped naked right there in the same room with her. Even if she’d looked away, as he knew she would have, it was an affront to her dignity. She wasn’t some strumpet!

What she also didn’t deserve was his ingratitude. After all, it wasn’t her fault he was blind and she was doing the best she could. He needed to stop being so damn childish. She had dropped everything to come here and help him. God, it only just now occurred to him that she might have had plans that he’d blithely and thoughtlessly induced her to give up in order to help him. Selfish bastard as a human and now… When he got his sight back, he was going to work on that.

No, he was going to work on that now.

He finished drying himself off and got dressed. Oh how he hoped the shirt and pants he’d chosen actually went well together.

With Angel having taken his nudity back to the bathroom where it belonged and deciding to save worrying about it for another time, Willow got right back to work, clicking on what those same instincts that had led her to King Diamond message boards told her was the most promising link she’d found there. It was a supposed dark magic site and now that she was here she saw that it was run by a self-styled warlock named… Lars Pendragon? Really? People took this guy seriously and he called himself Lars Pendragon?

Boy was she glad she’d learned about magic from people with sensible names like Rupert Giles… and Jenny Calendar. Pushing down the pang she always felt when she remembered her late mentor, she kept exploring the site… and giggling. Lots.

Pretentious much? She hadn’t seen this much ‘thee-ing’ and ‘thou-ing’ in even Giles’s dustiest old books and she was pretty sure that much of what Lars was throwing around was not grammatically correct. Also, glittery purple lettering on a black background? Did he sell potions to cure the headaches his layout caused?

She shook her head. Wrong mindset, Willow. You’ll never find answers with a superior attitude. So she got her mind back in the game and began exploring in earnest. What do you know? This guy wrote a book.

Forty dollars? Was he serious? All she wanted to do was find one measly spell!

It looked like he was really intent on making as much money as possible, though, especially since not one sample page was available on the site and he claimed there was a pain and death curse on anyone who posted so much as a single line from his overpriced book on the internet. Great. Was she going to have to buy this thing? How long would it take to get here? She hadn’t brought all that much with her from Sunnydale.

Oh no: “Please allow four to six weeks for delivery.”

Four to six weeks?!?

How was she going to tell Angel it might be a month before they had an answer?

Just then, her eyes lit on another section of the site. Well, well, Mr. Smartypants McGreedy Pendragon. Maybe you didn’t show your spells online, but in the interests of stuffing a few more coins in your pocket, you decided to plug some retailers… and one of them sold occult supplies!

What were the odds that most of the kids who bought the spell book also took Lars’s advice about which store to go to in order to get the ingredients to use? Pretty good, she’d guess, since they had already decided he was such an august authority that his book was worth forty dollars.

Analyzing the jubilation she felt bubbling forth, she assessed what she’d just discovered, and no, she didn’t know for a fact that this was the site the specific geeks whose spell she was fighting had visited and learned their so-called craft from. But c’mon – the fact that the spells from this book weren’t online did help explain why none of her searches had worked. Plus… call it a gut feeling, but this just seemed right. This was the lead she’d been looking for and soon she’d have Angel’s eyes working as good as new… or at least as good as two hundred year old vampire eyes usually did.

Angel came out of the bathroom, calmer and determined to keep his emotions under control during the well-deserved tongue-lashing he was sure to receive now. As he’d gotten dressed in the bathroom, he realized she’d probably been too flustered by his display to even research. Not to be arrogant, but he was well aware that when compared to the one and only man she’d known intimately, it had to have been rather like seeing a man for the first time. Between that and the intimate details he was sure Buffy had shared with her… he felt a churl indeed and he was prepared to allow her to deal with this unsettling occurrence by lighting into him with what he knew from experience could be quite a fiery little temper.

“Angel!” Willow caroled, taking him entirely by surprise, “I’ve got a lead on where I think those kids got their supplies! I’m gonna drive over there and see if I can find out just what kind of spell they were doing.” Then he was nearly knocked over as she hugged him.

He didn’t have the chance to say a word before he could hear her race to the elevator. “Bye! I’ll be back soon! Wish me luck!”

This was great news! This was fantastic news! If she was right, he could have his sight back within hours! The prospect of having his vision restored was enough to soothe any blow to Angel’s ego that might have been inflicted by her seemingly forgetting his almost-nudity.

It was.

Oh god. He found his way to a chair and sat as the weight of what was happening truly hit him. She really might be about to cure him.

But what if this was a wild goose chase? What if she came back empty-handed and he had to resign himself to more days of total darkness?

He could hear himself growl as he sat alone in his apartment… waiting.

To be continued…
Chapter 6 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 6)

Willow had been so eager to race off to Pagan Earth that she hadn’t bothered to consider the fact that she had no idea how to get there. So, after a quick and embarrassing stop at a thankfully nearby bookstore to buy a Thomas Guide, she sat in the parking lot, trying to figure out how to get to Pasadena and hoping she'd bought the guide for Los Angeles County, because she'd been so dithery that she'd just grabbed the first thing she'd seen that said Thomas Guide and raced for the counter. Maybe she should have actually looked at it for a few seconds longer before handing over her parents' credit card. Please don’t let her have to go back in there and exchange it; everyone would think she was a total dork.

Success! All was well and she'd bought the right guide. As it turned out, Pasadena wasn’t even that far away. In a few minutes she’d be talking to Lars Pendragon’s favorite purveyors of magical supplies and she’d be one –or more than one – step closer to restoring Angel’s sight.

Starting the car, Willow rechecked the map and then pulled out back out onto the street, heading for the freeway. Looked like she was finally going to see the home of the Rose Parade. Not that she was obsessed with it or anything - after all, what else was on TV on New Years morning? - and hey, it was totally normal to follow who made which float and how many trophies they'd won and... Okay, maybe she sort of had a thing and it was entirely possible she'd gotten into a heated argument in an online forum about why Fiesta Floats was superiour in every way to Phoenix Decorating, even if the latter had earned more awards.

Of course she wasn't going to worry about any of that silly parade stuff today; she had bigger fish to fry. Still… maybe the route to Pagan Earth could possibly take her past the Tournament House?

But what this trip was really about was Angel – and fixing Angel’s sight. No greedy guy with a silly name was going to stand in her way, either. She’d get to the bottom of his spells even if she had to… if she had to…

Spend forty dollars to do it.

Of course, all this was based on her hunch being right that the geeks who’d blinded Angel had been followers of Lars Pendragon.

What if she was wrong?

Great. That was sure the kind of thinking needed to keep her spirits up. Nice job, Willow. Just then, she steered onto the freeway… and straight into gridlock. Oh goody. More time to think. She sighed and turned on the radio. Was she going to make it to Pasadena before the store closed?

Solitude was getting more oppressive by the minute and Angel growled, not that it meant anything since there was no one there to hear him.

He was blind. Blind, blind, blind. Yes, Willow had said she had possibly found a source of information which could help him, but…

Faith. He had to have faith in her. Wasn’t that why he’d called her in the first place? He knew she not only had power, but the kind of ‘never say die’ attitude that would keep her looking for answers until the bitter end.

How long would that be? Because it reoccurred to him that he had just barged into her life and expected her to put it on hold for him and he felt almost guilty. No, she hadn’t been away for long as of now, but what if this took… weeks, months? How could he expect her to keep what she was doing secret? Especially from her boyfriend.

She was still with Oz, wasn’t she? Now there was an odd couple. Not that Oz wasn’t a nice enough guy – he’d liked the boy well enough – it was just… he didn’t really seem like Willow’s type. He was a musician – and hadn’t Buffy said something about him being held back a year in school? Odd choice for a girl as academically-inclined as Willow. Plus, musicians weren’t exactly known for their fidelity, and Angel wasn’t too sure that Oz being a werewolf would alter that fact much. Willow deserved better than sitting up nights worrying about whether her boyfriend was screwing some groupie. Then there was the financial stability factor. Angel had heard Oz’s band. They were… well, calling them mediocre would be outright charity. Calling them awful would be far closer to the truth. A couple of years down the road, would Oz still be scrambling for gigs while Willow supported the both of them?

What was he doing? Was any of this his business? Because he was hardly in a place to critique anyone’s choice of lover. He was a vampire who’d fallen in love with a Slayer. If anyone had made an inappropriate choice, it would be him, so what was he doing picking apart Willow’s amorous affairs?

No, this had nothing whatsoever to do with how pleasant it had been to hold her as they slept or with the brief and completely involuntary images he’d conjured up of her naked in his shower. It was just… she was a good person. Better than that, even – a wonderful person – and she deserved a life that was more than youthful ardor fading into disillusionment and/or drudgery.

For a moment he thought of going and fixing himself some blood but then he remembered – he was almost out… and he hadn’t said anything to Willow about getting him some more. Great. Hungry, alone, and blind. It wasn’t Hell… but it wasn’t not Hell either.

Willow walked into the store and stifled the urge to giggle. Man it was nothing like the magic shop in Sunnydale. Black light posters? Really? People took those seriously? Remembering the importance of her errand, she put on her best ‘wow, isn’t this all magical and amazing’ face as she browsed the contents of the cases and…

Oh god! No way! That bottle could not say what she thought it… but it did. The label on the bottle clearly said: Sweat of a Fyarl Demon. In tacky ‘ye olde Ynglishe’ lettering and everything. You know, her instincts were a whole lot better than she was wont to give them credit for. She needed to take them out to dinner or something.

Just then a scarily skinny guy with stringy black hair, a tattoo of a spider on his neck, and a whole lot of thick, black eyeliner approached her. “Can I help ya with anything?” he asked, his voice a teenage whine which starkly contrasted with the whole goth image he was clearly trying to embody.

“I was just… umm… looking at this Fyarl Demon Sweat,” she asked, trying hard to sound like an eager newbie. “What kind of spell would I use it for?”

Just as the goth kid was about to answer, a voice came from the back of the store. “Damien.” The word sounded like a command and the voice was… Willow turned to see who it came from and she was shocked that the man whose voice was so arresting was a slight figure with grey hair in a ponytail and a lined, weathered face. “I’ll help her,” he continued then he motioned to her to join him back by the racks of satin-lined cloaks near the entrance to what Willow presumed was the stockroom. Damien – Really? That was his name? – looked petulant, but he slunk over to the shelves of satanic-looking sculptures and Willow took a deep breath and did as the small man with the commanding voice had requested, walking to the rear of the store.

“Hi,” she said, her voice just a shade too cheerful. She couldn’t help it; it was her nerves. This guy was staring at her super intently.

“Who are you?”

Okay, was this a real question or was she supposed to have a secret password? Maybe she should have bitten the bullet and bought Lars’s book. “Willow,” she answered, hoping she wasn’t ruining her chances of ever getting the information she needed.

“Willow…” He seemed to be turning her name over in his mind as his stare became searching and she was suddenly very, very nervous – damp palms, knotted stomach, and everything. “What is your last name?”

It occurred to her that maybe she should lie to him but before she could think of a realistic-sounding last name, her tongue betrayed her. “Rosenberg.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from the man as his eyes briefly shot wide. Oh god. Was that good or bad? “You’re the one,” he said. Just as she was deciding between asking ‘one what’ or making a run for the door and escaping, he continued, “You’re the witch from Sunnydale. The one who ensouled a vampire.” Huh? How the heck did he know about that? “I felt your power when you came into the store, but I had no idea… Whatever you need, it’s yours.”

Okay, not that she wasn’t flattered, but… he felt her power? She couldn’t even turn poor Amy back into a human, so this guy had to be able to pick up really tiny amounts of power. However, she wasn’t going to argue with him or look a gift horse in the mouth or anything, so she tried to look serious and magically gifted as she said, “Thanks. I do sort of need your help.” She lowered her voice to try and keep this just between the two of them. “What kind of spells use Fyarl Sweat?”

Yes, what he was doing right now might seem weird, but he was bored – and hungry – and he needed a distraction, so here he was in the bathroom, sniffing Willow’s bath gel and shampoo and trying to figure out what was missing. Because they were cheap and awful and artificial-smelling in their bottles, but she didn’t smell like that at all. On her, this ghastly third-hand simulacrum of fruit seemed natural and fresh, as if she’d just finished… oh, baking a pie or something.

How long had it been since he’d even thought about such things?

Weird that of all the sensations he was missing now, so many of them were scents. That sense memory which had been absent before returned full force, carrying with it so many homely smells. The tart fragrance of homemade pie baking; of flour against wood in a busy kitchen; of the smell of tallow mixed with the heavy aroma of roasting meat… he hadn’t cared about any of those things then, but they haunted him now and he wished he’d appreciated them when he’d known them.

Was that the lesson of all this? That he’d always been so closed off – alive or dead, with or without a soul – that he’d never appreciated the world he was supposedly committed to trying to save? Was it a wake-up call to… wake up and smell – and see – not just the roses, but everything? After all, were there any random events in his life? Or if there were, didn’t Fate always take charge, using them for its purposes?

You know, he might just be way too into brooding. How the hell had the horrible scent of cheap shampoo sent him hurtling into this maelstrom of introspective angst?

The fact that he was blind might have helped. But yes, the brooding habit probably also played a role. He needed a hobby.

Man, did he wish he could get laid.

He wished Willow was here – and no, one thought had nothing to do with the other. It was just… she was considerate and funny and she treated him like a human being. Plus, it had been a long time since he’d associated with an intellectual equal. Not that Buffy was stupid or anything, because she wasn’t. It was just… her reaction to his gift of poetry still bothered him, okay?

Willow had certainly read and enjoyed the Brownings and he found himself wishing he could discuss them with her. Who were her favorite poets?

How strange was it that he was almost hoping her lead didn’t pan out? Almost, anyway, because yes, of course, he wanted his sight back desperately. He hated being helpless. But he was really going to miss Willow when she went home.

Willow could barely sit still as she drove back to Angel’s place. Her hunches had been so totally right! Winston – Finally! An occult guy with a normal name! – had told her what spell they’d used, the spell to fix it, and even given her, free of charge, real Fyarl Sweat to cast it with instead of the fake stuff they stocked in front for Lars’s customers and other irresponsible dabblers. Plus, he’d been able to steer her to a really nice man at "Sheffield's Fine Meats" who sold her a few pints for Angel since she’d noticed his stock was running low.

What were those kids thinking, though? Trying to cast a spell to hide their actions from ‘the eyes of righteousness’? What were they planning? A school shooting? A murder? Armed robbery?

None of that mattered, though, did it? Their spell had been interrupted and now she was going to undo the damage they’d done and then she’d… go home.

Home to her empty house with nothing to do where she could sit by the phone hoping Oz would call or maybe that he’d come back to town for a day or two before taking off for another gig and…

As much as she was glad to have found the way to heal Angel so quickly, a selfish part of her almost wished it had taken longer. She was lonely, okay? And bored. So it had been kinda neat to be needed and Angel was sort of… sort of fun, in a dour, broody kind of way.

Also kind of nice to cuddle with.

Okay, that last part? She totally didn’t mean that. It was just that… she was… she had needs and she missed curling up with Oz – among other things. It had been nice to have a guy-shaped presence next to her in bed, not that she felt the kind of naughty things for him that she did for Oz or anything, because she so didn’t, but she could see what Buffy liked about him.

Plus, Buffy had never told her Angel had a sense of humour, but he did, or he laughed at her jokes, anyway, which was pretty cool since Oz wasn’t much for laughing out loud. Not that he wasn’t completely wonderful in other ways. Still, it was neat to have someone make her feel… funny and witty and entertaining.

Shaking herself out of these thoughts as she noted with a grimace that someone had taken her parking spot in front of Angel’s building, she told herself she was being silly. Angel was just being nice because… well, he needed her help. Once he got his sight back, he’d probably be thrilled to see her leave. Not like they’d been all that close back in Sunnydale, after all, and she wasn’t any different now than she was then.

Pull yourself together, she told herself, because hey, home wasn’t so bad. Winston had given her a great deal more confidence in her mojo. If she was powerful enough to be talked about in the magical community, she probably already had the skills to be able to fix Amy. She just needed to believe in herself more. That would do it. Amy would be a real girl again in time to take some summer school classes so she could graduate and not have to repeat her senior year.

Finally circling the block and parking the car in the lot behind Angel’s place, she grabbed the bags of spell stuff and blood and made her way back into his building, a wide smile on her face. It wasn’t hard to be happy; she was about to restore his sight. That was so very much of the good.

Once the ancient elevator had creaked its way downstairs, she came as close to throwing open the rusty gate as she could before realizing that her big entrance wasn’t going to make the same impact since he couldn’t see her. Still, no point in wasting the moment, so she bounded into the middle of his room and crowed, “Angel! I found it! I have all the stuff I need to fix you!”

To be continued…
Chapter 7 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 7)

Angel was reeling. As much as he’d wanted a quick solution, it was hard for him to believe Willow had actually found one. She was amazing. The explanation of how she’d done it… “How did you think of starting with some rock singer’s website?”

“Umm… I was thinking of Tucker Wells and the bands he’d liked and…” Who? Angel’s confusion clearly showed since she stopped in mid-sentence and explained. “Remember the demon dogs from the prom? The ones Buffy killed? Tucker was responsible for those. Anyway, he was a fan of King Diamond, so I thought maybe other fans would be into the occult too and they’d be the kind of kids who would perform spells they didn’t understand in cemeteries late at night.” Her tone of voice made the whole thing sound so simple and logical, but it wasn’t. He was hard pressed to come up with another person whose mind would have made the leaps and jumps which had taken her to the solution.

If there was one thing he’d learned from all this, it was that he’d been an idiot back in Sunnydale for not spending more time talking to Willow and being her friend. Imagine all the wonderful conversations they could have had. A mind like hers… oh how he longed to know her thoughts on Sartre and Proust.

Also… “Thank you. For the blood.” Just then something occurred to him. “Where did you get it?”

“Oh! Winston told me where to go. He’s really nice and boy does he know stuff.” Willow decided not to mention that one of the things he knew was that she’d done the soul restoration ritual. Angel would probably wig and the last thing she needed was that kind of energy floating around while she was trying to cast a spell. “I told him I needed blood for some spells and he sent me to this guy who had a pretty good selection.” Another thing not to mention? That the blood dealer in question knew Willie and that she was pretty sure Winston had figured out why Willow really needed his wares. “You want to eat before we do this? It might be a good idea. Spells can drain a lot of energy when they’re being cast on you.”

Come to think of it, she sort of wished she could eat something too, but she’d been so giddy she’d forgotten to buy any food and all her Jack in the Box purchases were long gone. Oh well. She could handle this on an empty stomach, right? Not like this was nearly as big a spell as the soul restoration, or even the mojo she’d worked when they fought the Sisterhood of Jhe.

At least she didn’t think so.

“I’ll go fix it.” Angel suited the action to the tune, getting up and making it to the refrigerator without having to think about counting the steps. He reached in and picked up a bag, wondering if it was the one he’d had left. No, this one felt different. Opening it, he poured it into a mug and… wow. The scent was bovine, yes, but it was… cleaner? That was the first thought that came to mind and it gave him pause. He didn’t scent anything dangerous about it, though, so he heated it up and then drank it… more slowly than usual, savoring the superior taste. He needed to get this guy’s name and address from Willow. This blood was much better than what he was used to.

“Thanks again. This was great,” he said when he was done. Willow didn’t answer for a moment and he was suddenly worried, but he could still hear her heartbeat so…

“Sorry,” she offered after a moment, sounding somewhat abashed. “I’m just setting up for the spell. Then I need to be quiet for a few minutes so I can center myself.” Angel understood. When this was over, maybe he could teach her some Tai Chi, that is, if she wanted to stick around for a little while. It might help her with her centering.

With a sigh, Willow got back to her work, being extremely careful about mixing her ingredients and then reading over the incantation again. Okay. She was pretty sure she’d done everything except draw the circle, which would wait until right before she did the spell. For now, she sat on the ground cross-legged and drew three deep, calming breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. As she breathed, she grew calm and felt her energy become focused. She closed her eyes and drifted into a meditative state.

When she opened her eyes, she saw Angel sitting in a chair, waiting. She was about to ask him to come sit across from her but then… duh! He couldn’t see where she was, could he? So instead she got up and said, “Angel? I’m ready. Let me show you where I need you to sit.”

He almost trembled as she came over and guided him to where she wanted. “Can you sit cross-legged, facing toward the bed, please? Oh and close your eyes and keep them that way ‘til I tell you to open them.” He did as she asked, but his nerves just kept jumping. Of course, his experience with magic hadn’t been exactly pleasant before now. Even getting his soul back… yeah, he’d been sent to Hell at almost the same moment, so the memory wasn’t a fond one. Then there was the fact that magic had cost him his sight in the first place and…

But he trusted Willow, he did, so he tried his best to calm down and listened for her to begin the spell. He heard some rustling and the sound of sand, and then… what language was that? It took him a moment, but he recognized a few phrases of medieval German along with some other language he didn't know mixed in. A moment later, though, he wasn't thinking about the words.

There was a rush of wind, like a small hurricane, and the oddest sensation – almost comforting - even as he could hear objects flying around the room, the rustling of papers, and… oh no, was that his lamp breaking?

He kept his eyes closed, however, even though reflex was struggling to force them open. Who knew what would happen if he disobeyed Willow? It might put her in danger. So he held on and soon the tumult died down. He could hear the thud of books hitting the ground and the silence that settled over the room, and he waited.

And waited.

But Willow said nothing. Listening, he could hear her heartbeat, but… it was alarmingly slow. No. Please tell him that it hadn’t happened this way. But it had. He knew it had. Things had gone horribly wrong. The spell had failed and something terrible had happened to her. He was never going to forgive himself for this. Even though it was pointless, as he got up to go to her, he opened his eyes and…

Oh god.

He could see. He could really see! But any euphoria he was experiencing died quickly as he saw Willow lying unconscious on the ground. How could he have allowed her to put herself in danger for him? Look at her. She looked like a porcelain doll… a broken doll. Picking her up, he carried her to the bed, cursing his selfishness and vowing revenge against Winston and everyone else at Pagan Earth and that damned Lars Pendragon as well if she were to die or suffer any permanent harm.

What should he do? Should he call an ambulance? What would he tell them if he did? Because the more he tried, the more he realized that he couldn’t concoct a reason for her to be unconscious in his apartment that would stand up to scrutiny.

Her heartbeat was even and steady, so he elected to wait and see if she came out of this. He sat on the bed, staring at her and holding her hand. She really was beautiful, wasn’t she? How had he not noticed that before?

Guess there were many things he hadn’t noticed before, and quite a lot of them had to do with Willow. That was going to change. He’d vowed that before, but he meant it; he did. Looking around his apartment, he was disheartened by how drab and depressing it was. Really? This was how he was choosing to live his unlife? No wonder he brooded. He turned his eyes back to the girl on the bed. “Willow?” he asked softly, “Please wake up.”

Who was driving the truck? That was all Willow wanted to know. Because boy did she feel like she’d been hit by one. Was it possible for the inside of your bones to hurt? She would swear on any sacred text in existence that it was, at least based on what she was feeling right this second.

She tried to open her eyes, but that proved to be beyond her strength, so instead she tried to figure out what had happened and where she was… and why was someone holding her hand? Okay, wait, it was coming back.

Angel! She’d been doing that spell for Angel. Trying to restore his sight. What happened? Had it gone wrong? Oh no. What if… “See?” she asked softly, barely able to make the word audible. She tried harder, pouring all her energy into the effort. “Can you see?”

A split second later, she felt herself being jerked up like a rag doll and pulled into a tight embrace. “Willow!” Ouch. Loud voice. But he sounded happy. “Thank god you’re all right.”

He didn’t let go and oxygen was becoming sort of a problem – as in, she wasn’t getting much. “Breathe,” she choked out, and she was so grateful when he relaxed his hold on her.

“Sorry,” Angel said, keeping his arms around her, but not as tightly. There were no words for how relieved he was. She was awake… and so much her old self. The first thing she’d done was ask about him. “I can see,” he told her. “It worked. You saved me.” Then he added, “Again.”

“Good,” she mumbled. “Sleepy.” And with that, she went slack and… was she snoring? Yes she was. This time he knew she was all right, and he laid her back down, smiling at her slightly open mouth and the cute noises she was making. Guess that spell had taken a lot of energy.

Something struck him – she’d told him to eat, hadn’t she? But had she? He knew she hadn’t eaten anything here, not since that fast food… and he’d wager the last of Angelus’s accounts that she hadn’t bothered to grab a bite while she was out, either. When she woke up, he was going to give her a stern talking-to about taking care of herself, but for now…

Well, now that he could see, he was capable of going out and picking up some food for her. The next time she opened her eyes, he was sure she’d be ravenous.

While he was reasonably certain she wouldn’t wake up any time soon, he decided to err on the side of caution and consideration, so he wrote a note – oh the joy of seeing letters form on paper – and left it on the nightstand, beside the lamp he was glad wasn't broken after all, where she’d be sure to see it when she awoke. Then he got his wallet and checked to see how much cash was in it. Three hundred dollars. Good. That should be enough.

He was about to head right out when… what was he even wearing? He looked down, noticing with relief that his shoes, pants, and shirt seemed to coordinate. Of course, that did have a lot to do with the monochromatic uniformity of his wardrobe, now didn’t it? That was something else he should think about modifying, but it could wait. Right now, the most crucial task was to get nourishment for Willow.

The noise of the elevator gate made him wince, but the only reaction from Willow was a slightly louder snore, so he got in and waited as it made its ancient way up to the ground floor. Were there any decent restaurants around here where he could pick up a nice meal? Or would she wind up with more fast food? He hoped not. A thank you meal should be something far more delicious and satisfying.

How long had it been since he’d worried about finding a good place to eat, anyway? Well, a good place for a human to eat, that is. Luck was with him, however, and his nose told him there was an Italian place not far from his door.

Naturally, his nose was absolutely right and Luciano’s was less than two blocks away. The smell of garlic was a bit overpowering, but no, contrary to popular myth, it didn’t keep him out of the place. Good thing, too, because the menu they had posted wasn’t bad for a hole-in-the-wall sort of dining establishment. The crowd inside also boded well for the food’s quality. While it wasn’t a sure thing, he knew that the more people you saw in a place, the better it was likely to be.

He was just going to order the antipasto salad and manicotti when his eyes fell back on the appetizers and he smiled, remembering her good-natured raillery about his Irish heritage and French fries. There at the top of the list was smoked salmon carpaccio. No bagel or cream cheese… wait! There was cheesecake. Well, that made his dessert choice for him. He caught the maître d’s attention and was directed to where he could place his order to go.

To pass the time as he awaited the food, he looked at everything, appreciating the ability to see more than he ever had. His eyes drank in every detail, from the brick which seemed to be genuinely aged and not some sort of gimcrack fakery, to the odd shape of the lips on the woman in the skimpy top seated at the table nearest the door to the dining room. How strange that her upper lip was so puffy and also larger than her bottom lip. He’d never seen anything quite like it. Of course, he was sure most people never noticed given the other attributes she displayed… that was quite a pair she was flaunting.

Yes, of course he noticed. But unlike the waiter, who almost spilled a drink on her as he served her table, at least he wasn’t blatantly ogling them. If he’d learned anything from Buffy, it was that the modern woman had the right to wear as much or as little clothing as she pleased without being subjected to leering.

It didn’t take long for his dinner order to appear and Angel had to admit he was impressed with the efficiency of the kitchen, especially on a busy night. He took the bag and paid his bill, leaving forty dollars as a tip. It never hurt to be on the good side of the neighbors.

Not three minutes later, he was back in his apartment, bearing bags full of Italian food. Just in time, too, because no sooner had he set the bags on the kitchen table, Willow stirred and sat up. “Pizza?” she slurred sleepily.

Angel chuckled. Yes, hunger had definitely been the problem. Hopefully she wouldn’t mind that the cure was something a bit more upscale than she expected. “No. Manicotti. Is that all right?”

His answer was a redheaded blur nearly levitating to the kitchen table. Was he even going to get the chance to put the food on a plate?

To be continued…
Chapter 8 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 8)

This was the best food Willow had ever eaten.

It might even be the best food ever cooked in any kitchen anywhere ever.

Okay, it was sort of possible that her feelings had something to do with the fact that she was hungry enough to have eaten her own shoes, but she was still willing to bet that even on an ordinary day when she hadn’t exhausted herself doing a spell that should never, ever have been this draining, she would think that it was incredibly tasty. The salmon carpaccio had been amazing and the manicotti? Now that was just heavenly.

She really needed to elevate her eating habits. Womankind did not live on pizza and burgers alone.

Angel handed Willow the last container, amazed at how much food the slender young woman had just devoured. She had been absolutely ravenous.

No, he hadn’t been the least bit aroused by the ecstatic sounds she’d made or the blissful look on her face throughout the meal.

All the same, he was going to find something else to do while she polished off the cheesecake.

So he busied himself in the refrigerator, looking at the bags of blood from the dealer Willow had been sent to by Winston. The bags had an almost silvery cast to them, but no, still no alarm bells going off, so he was definitely going to continue to patronize this guy.

Boy this cheesecake was yummy. To think she’d almost felt let down when Angel had handed her the dessert. In her defense, though, her knowledge of cheesecake up to now had been limited to the kind found in the cafeteria and Sara Lee – not exactly gourmet. But this? This was a totally different cheesecake experience.

Now that her tummy was full, she began to take in everything that had just happened. Oh god. Angel could see! He could see! Already! It was almost unbelievable how easy it had been once she’d thought outside the box. He must be thrilled, huh? He sure seemed to be. Gosh, he was even looking in the refrigerator like he was seeing it for the first time.

He was handsome, wasn’t he?

Oh, sure, she’d thought of him as Buffy’s good-looking boyfriend, but that had been a designation based more on Buffy’s point of view than on actually seeing him through her own eyes. Now, though… gosh, he really wasn’t hard on the eyes.

Not that she was looking at him in a guy/girl kind of way, because hey – she had her own wonderful guy who she was totally happy with.

Even if she hadn’t heard from him in the last two weeks.

That wasn’t the point, though. The point was that Oz was her boyfriend and she loved him and so she was so not looking at Angel with feminine-appreciation-type eyes. But yes, he was really good… You know, maybe she should just think about other things.

Like successfully casting that spell. That was pretty awesome, huh?

Angel turned back to the table where Willow was sitting, having finished her meal. “Was it good?” he asked, realizing as he asked what a silly question it was.

“Delicious,” she said with the sunniest smile, all bright teeth and sparkling eyes. She really was pretty when she smiled. “Thanks.” Then her brow furrowed slightly and she seemed concerned. Why…? “It wasn’t expensive or anything, was it?”

Of all the things… Angel burst into laughter. “It wasn’t. But even if it had been, I think you more than earned it.” He couldn’t imagine Buffy worrying that he’d spent too much money on her meal – or on anything, for that matter. The same went for every other woman he’d ever known. Willow was unique.

She still seemed unsure and it wasn’t amusing anymore. Did she have no idea of her own value? Even if she hadn’t restored his sight, she was worth a decent meal, and then some – because she was a beautiful girl, inside and out.

It occurred to him that Oz wasn’t doing his job as her boyfriend if Willow was this terrified of being too much trouble or expense. He took a chair and sat across from her. “You deserve so much more than this.” Her eyes were wide and full of emotion and he decided she was still beautiful, even though she wasn’t smiling.

Gosh Angel was nice. He was one of the nicest guys ever. More than anything, she wished she could somehow fix his curse problem so that he and Buffy could be together. It felt like the least she could do – well, maybe not the least since she had no idea how and she’d been researching off and on for awhile, but still… “So… seeing. Must be pretty cool, huh?”

He smiled. Really smiled. It felt sort of like a personal triumph to have inspired that since she’d never seen him smile much before. He looked good when he smiled. He definitely needed to do it more often.

How come he hadn’t smiled much when he was with Buffy, not even back before he knew about the loophole in the curse? Of course, he might have felt like he needed to maintain his vampire street cred with a super cool, brooding façade. He’d probably smiled lots when he and Buffy were alone though, right?

“Seeing is… great.” The smile widened. “I don’t think I ever appreciated it before now. Not really, anyway. Everything looks…” He paused and Willow could almost see the swirl of emotions and thoughts behind his eyes. “When I was at the restaurant, I noticed people…” Now he looked at her as if he expected… mockery? Why would he think that?

“I’d be like that too. I mean, when you can’t do something and then you can again, you appreciate it way more. It’s like, when I’m sick and I can’t go out and walk anywhere, that’s all I want to do. And then when I’m all better, it’s so great and I just want to get out of the house and walk everywhere.” Was that lame? Because Angel was staring. Great, Willow. Should she apologize?

She got it. She really did. There was something wonderful about being understood and he was glad he’d opened up to her. He wondered… What would it be like to tell her more about himself? Would she recoil in horror or revulsion if he revealed some of the far less savory facts of his life? Or would she offer her acceptance and insight?

Of course his speculation was just a flight of hypothetical fancy. She’d be going home soon and they might never have a conversation again. She had a boyfriend and a life; she was starting college soon. There was no room in her world for the vampire who lived hours away.

The vampire who’d broken the heart of her best friend.

Buffy was in Los Angeles right now, wasn’t she? Odd that he hadn’t sought her out, to watch her from afar… before he’d lost the ability to watch anything, that is. But what was even odder was that he didn’t want to now. Sure, he loved her, he always would… wouldn’t he?

“I never think of you getting sick,” he said, realizing what an awkward, ridiculous thing it was to say, but tripping over his own tongue in an effort to avoid revealing his private thoughts. “You always seem so energetic and healthy.” Did that help?

Gosh. That was kind of a weird compliment, but it was still really nice. “Thanks.” ‘Energetic’, after all, sounded way better than ‘over-caffeinated’, which was how Buffy and Xander tended to characterize her exuberant behavior. “I make sure to get plenty of Vitamin C. The right way. You know, not with those pills, but by drinking orange juice and…” Something in her own words triggered a thought, or, more accurately, a memory.

Winston telling her that he only sold real Fyarl sweat to a very select group of serious practitioners like her and not to silly wannabes like the kids who’d blinded Angel. If that were true…

“Angel?” she asked, “How much like Fyarl sweat did that potion smell? I mean, did it smell like actual sweat or did it just remind you of it?”

Now he was staring at her like she’d grown an extra head, which kind of made sense considering the very wacky tangent on which she’d just gone off. “Sorry,” she offered, “but I was just thinking about something and this might be kind of important.”

It took Angel a moment to adjust to the sudden left turn in the conversation, but Willow clearly considered this a matter of some urgency, and his mind went back to the graveyard and the stench of the potion as it first hit his nostrils. Thankfully, as a demon he had very highly-tuned senses. “It was Fyarl sweat. I didn’t really think about it then.” He got up and pounded his fist against the refrigerator. “Why didn’t I wonder why I smelled Fyarl sweat when there wasn’t a Fyarl anywhere nearby?” Damn it, but he was an idiot. Instead of giving the matter some thought, he’d merely filed the stench away as an irritant that required him to discard a favorite shirt. What the hell was wrong with him? He had become as shallow as…


Yes, he had just thought that way about the girl he'd been sure was the love of his life. It was utterly unfair and disparaging, but he'd still thought it. He was about to wonder, or brood about, why when...

A second later, there was Willow with her hand on his arm. “It’s okay, you know. I mean, it’s not like you were expecting to need to worry about the potion or anything. If I’d seen those kids, I probably would have been scoffing at their silly get-up and not even considering that their potion might actually do anything.”

Willow was not much older than those kids, was she? Yet experience and wisdom had made her a woman ahead of her time, even more of a woman than… Okay, than Buffy. He thought it. He did. It was the second less-than-complimentary thought he’d had about his ex in the last two minutes. Instead of again being tempted to brood about it, he decided that it meant nothing except that he wasn’t a starry-eyed, idealistic adolescent. Sue him for not being some whey-faced, simpering poet like… William.

Now there was someone he did not want to think about. “I still should have sensed that something was up,” he said, dragging himself back to the topic at hand, which, the feeling of apprehension building within him indicated, was quite important. That and the fact that he was coming to realize it wasn’t just his sight that had been narrow and ill-used. “You wouldn’t have been anywhere near as short-sighted as I was. And I’m pretty sure you would have saved my shirt to run tests on,” he added, remembering her fondness for the laboratory.

That was another compliment, wasn’t it? Oh, but wait… he didn’t know she still had Ted’s head, right?

But that was silly, because Buffy didn’t even know that. Neither did Oz.

Oh god! That reminded her… “I better call my voicemail and see if anyone’s been trying to reach me!” Rushing over to the phone, she dialed her number and then punched in the code. There was a message! From Oz! She could tell because of the area code of the number.

“Hey. We’ve got a couple of gigs lined up in Portland so we’ll be heading north for about a month. I’ll let you know when we get there. Miss you. Bye.”

Willow felt numb as she erased the message. Rationally, she knew Oz was rarely emotional, especially not on voicemail messages, but… there was no ‘I love you’, just an ‘I miss you.’ It hurt and she probably would have cried a little if it wasn’t for the fact that Angel was having a great day and she didn’t want to spoil it any more than she already had with her worries about the potion. So she plastered a smile on her face, turned around, and said, “There was a message from Oz. The Dingoes have some really important gigs in Portland so he’s not gonna be back for awhile.” Okay, the ‘really important’ was sort of an embellishment, but they were important because for musicians all gigs were important, so it wasn’t like she was exaggerating or anything.

Maybe the truth was that she wanted to believe that only something really major would make it so easy for Oz to be away from her.

The smile on Willow’s face made Angel’s gut twist. It was the phoniest, most bogus expression of cheer imaginable and he wanted to rip Oz’s furry head right off his neck for hurting her. How could he spend the whole summer away from her? Werewolves had bigger egos than any other demons if that mutt could be confident that a girl like Willow would still be his when he returned. He could only imagine how many other suitors would happily take Oz’s place… or would if they had any sense, he amended, remembering her inexplicable wallflower status when he’d first come to town. “Why were you asking me about the Fyarl sweat?” he asked, deciding that a change of subject would be far kinder than a single word about Oz’s phone call.

“Oh!” she said with an undercurrent of relief that made Angel feel like he was someone’s friend for the first time, not just the recipient of their friendship. “I was wondering because…” she paused, clearly trying to organize her thoughts before continuing. He admired that. “Winston told me that he only sells real Fyarl sweat to a very select group, never to teenage goth-a-bes and dabblers. He only sold it to me because he knew who I was and…”

Willow’s voice trailed off and Angel’s eyes narrowed as he glared at her. “He knew who you were? Why didn’t you mention that before?”

He could sense her shrinking in on herself and he felt badly, but he was concerned now and she needed to tell him everything. Softening his tone, he continued. “I'm sorry. I just think you should have told me. You see the good in people, and that’s a wonderful thing, but sometimes people…,” a variety of faces appeared before his eyes – yes, including Buffy’s, “they don’t always mean to, but they can betray you or hurt you and we need to figure out if Winston’s a part of anything that isn’t…,” he smiled, trying for a little levity, “kosher.”

Gosh. Angel kind of had a point, didn’t he? And at least he was being nice about it and not all angry the way she’d expected. Still, she was really anxious about this. Guess she ought to tell him everything, though, so she did. “There’s sort of a ‘magical grapevine’ and Winston heard that I restored your soul. Apparently it was big news in the techno-pagan community. I’m kind of a celebrity,” she finished with a nervous giggle. “That’s the reason he was willing to help me, though. So it’s a good thing. Otherwise you’d still be blind… and hungry! Because he wouldn’t have told me where to get blood. Oh, but I didn’t tell him the blood was for you, or that you were the one who was blinded. I told him the blood was for spells. You’d be amazed how many spells use... You’re not mad, are you?”

A second later there were arms around her and she was being hugged. By Angel. Again. She had to admit she liked it. “Of course I’m not angry. So far there’s no reason to think that Winston is anything other than a fellow witch and an admirer of yours. The blood wasn’t tainted and the spell worked perfectly. But don’t keep things from me anymore, okay?”

Anymore? Did Angel mean that…? “So we’re… friends?” she asked tentatively.

“Of course we are,” he said and Willow felt better than she had this whole summer. And no, there wasn’t anything ironic in the fact that she was keeping secrets from all her other friends about the friend she had just promised not to keep secrets from.

Well, not very ironic.

Okay, yes, it was totally, completely, and irrefutably ironic.

Back on topic, Willow, because something had just crystallized. “If Winston doesn’t sell to the type of people who blinded you, how did they get the Fyarl sweat?” And then something even worse occurred to her. She’d assumed they’d be scared away from magic entirely by their encounter with not one, but two real demons, but… “What if they still have some and they decide to try this spell again?”

To be continued…
Chapter 9 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 9)

“Wow. This is a really nice car.” It was, too. Willow had never ridden in a convertible before and she liked it. A lot. The whole ‘wind in the hair’ thing was very enjoyable. Lucky that she didn’t have a hairstyle she needed to worry about, though.

“Thanks.” Angel’s smile was almost the widest she’d ever seen on him and she realized he was definitely a guy for all that he was a vampire. Why did men always identify themselves with their cars? Still, if he had to identify himself with some big hunk of engine-powered metal, this was a good choice.

Hopefully it would be safe to park this at the cemetery, huh? Because that’s where they were headed, hoping like heck that the evil geeks who had blinded Angel had come back for another try. It would make it easier if they were there, that was for sure, because they absolutely needed to find them. If those kids were looking to blind the forces of good, then what they were up to was anything but and stopping them was absolutely crucial.

What do you know? It sure didn’t take that long to get here. Angel parked outside the locked gate and for a moment she wondered how they’d get onto the grounds, but it was pathetically easy to climb the low fence. Toddlers could do rituals here at night. Well, toddlers with transportation and an interest in the occult, anyway.

This cemetery was very different from the one in Sunnydale. It was wide open with no trees except some scattered around the perimeter and all the stones appeared to be exactly the same size and shape with no adornments whatsoever. It seemed… cold and unfriendly, and yeah, okay, cemetery, but the one she knew so well was much prettier. This was like a chain cemetery or something. Welcome to McGraveyard. Would you like fries with that coffin?

“It’s kind of sterile, isn’t it?”

What an odd thing to say. Angel turned and stared at Willow for a moment, but then he looked around and… you know, she was right. This was a sad, impersonal place. No beautifully carved stones paying tribute to the ones whose bodies lay buried. Just flat, plain markers with names and dates carved in identical script. He didn’t even see any quotes or sentiments. This was a terrible place to bury someone. He wondered if anyone had loved any of these people, or if they had they been dead to the world long before their bodies had given up the fight. This was a warehouse, a junkyard, a place where the departed were discarded, not interred.

How had he not noticed any of this the other night? It was as if he had been given back a completely different pair of eyes – and they worked a great deal better.

He needed to employ them right now, that was for certain. He scanned the graveyard, bringing all his senses into play, and it quickly became apparent that they were the only visitors – not a single human save Willow was here and there were no demons either. Damn it. If only he had any details about those posturing little bastards. Willow was right – it was crucial that they be found before their bumbling did any further damage. “They’re not here,” he sighed apologetically to his companion.

“It was a longshot.” She shook her head ruefully, acting as if she were the one who had failed in this endeavor.

“This isn’t your fault,” he said, hand on her shoulder in a comforting gesture. She was warm, he noticed, and he was still trying to figure out why she smelled so… natural and fresh, despite those horrid bath products she used. Hmm… Perhaps as a thank you gift, he could buy her nicer shampoo and all. He had a feeling she’d smell even better – not that he cared, of course, because she was his friend, not his… Was she contagious? Because his thoughts were getting as jumbled as her conversation often did. While he had to admit that was part of her charm, it felt a lot less charming in his head.

Get back on track, Angel. “There’s nothing more we can do tonight. Why don’t we stop somewhere and buy you some food for the morning and then go home?”

Home? Already? But… Oh. Angel meant his home. Which made sense since they still needed to find those kids.

“Okay,” she said, following him back over the fence and to his car. Off they went to the market. Then it would be back to Angel’s apartment, where she was probably going to stay until they could make sure there was no more to fear from the magically-armed and dangerous amateurs.

She was sure going to miss him, though, when she finally did go home, back to Sunnydale, and not just because nobody was around. She would miss him just as much when Buffy and Xander and even Oz were there.

Would she ever see him again? It wasn’t like he could come and visit her and she’d be busy with school and her friends, who couldn’t know that she was friends with him, and… This was sad. She’d only just discovered that Angel was a really neat guy in his own right, entirely separate from his former identity as Buffy’s boyfriend, and now she was going to lose him. It didn’t seem fair.

Of course, then other things occurred to her. Was he going to miss her? Or was he one of those people who really didn’t bond? Well, except with Buffy, who he hadn’t asked her a single question about and… was it just her or was that kinda weird? Because if it were her…

Guys were different, however, and Angel had a well-documented tendency to play the cool, taciturn, man-of-mystery card, so there was no point in reading anything into his silence on the topic of Buffy and… Wow. She’d thought they’d be going to a 7-11 or something, but instead, here they were at a big, bright, deluxe supermarket. Guess the world outside her bubble was very different. Of course, since Los Angeles wasn’t on a Hellmouth, it stood to reason the markets would stay open later, still, this was a really nice market and again… wow.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to find you some food here,” Angel offered, smiling at Willow’s wide-eyed expression as she gazed at the brightly-lit store. Did she realize how her thoughts showed so clearly on her face? Another reason why he wondered what she saw in Oz. He was so… unemotional. He didn’t even brood. Just calm, even blankness all the time. If Angel’s nose wasn’t so reliable on such matters, he’d have sworn the boy smoked copious amounts of marijuana – pot, if the slang hadn’t changed since last he’d heard the stuff discussed. No one realized how hard it was for a vampire to stay au courant.

He escorted Willow through the automatic doors and into the huge market. It was bigger than the street markets he recalled from his day and there were stores like this every three or four blocks, it seemed. The array of products… it was astounding, almost more than he could comprehend. How did people choose what to eat?

Why had it taken him so long to wonder about that?

“Let’s get you enough for the next few days, okay?” He watched as she carefully checked prices as she put items into the cart and quickly added, “I’m paying for everything, so just choose whatever you want.”

“I can’t do that, you…”

He snorted. He was about to tell her that he owed her for what she’d done, but instead he said, “You’re my guest. I’m paying. End of discussion.” Considering how little experience he had of being a gracious host… but he meant it. His desire to make Willow’s stay comfortable and pleasant wasn’t entirely about gratitude. He enjoyed her company and wanted her to remember her stay fondly, even if he knew she’d never miss him the way he would her. “Pick out some things you’ve always wanted to try,” he insisted, looking stern for good measure so she’d know the matter was not up for debate.

The deli and meat counters were unstaffed, sadly, but there were still items in the cases and Willow tentatively put her hand out to touch a large lobster tail wrapped in plastic. “I’m not exactly kosher,” she said, and Angel chuckled, grabbing the package and putting it in the cart. He bet she'd be surprised to learn that it was something he knew how to cook. He could make dinner for her.

Willow explored the aisles, choosing crackers and bread and cookies and lunchmeat and soda and milk, along with the lobster and a steak that had looked really delicious. As she checked the cart, she realized there was kind of a lot of food in there. Way more than she would eat in a day or two. “Maybe I should put some of this back,” she offered, looking over the items in her cart to see what she would return to the shelves.

“Why?” What did he mean ‘why’? “Even if we find them tomorrow… You don’t have to go home right away.”

He wanted her to stay? Really? Gosh. That was… “Okay.” She had no idea what else to say without seeming like a pathetic dork, but… he liked her company, enough not to kick her out, anyway, and that meant a lot. If they wrapped this whole thing up in the next day or so, maybe they could do stuff. Like go visit the Walk of Fame or something. Willow had never seen any tourist-y places before. Angel would probably think that was silly, huh? Were there any museums open at night? She liked art, too, and, what with him being an artist and all… “I’d like that. I’ve never really seen L.A.,” she finished lamely, pulling herself out of her incipient reverie.

“I’d love to show you around. It’s changed a lot since the last time I lived here.”

Angel had lived in Los Angeles before? Did Buffy know that? “When was that?”

His voice went low and quiet. “About fifty years ago.”

Oh gosh. “I’ll bet there was a lot less traffic.”

“Much,” Angel replied, laughing. The way her mind worked was entertaining. Definitely one of the reasons he was glad she was willing to stay for awhile. His eyes fell on a jar of something… caviar. They sold it in supermarkets? Sniffing at the lid, he realized it wasn’t top grade – or even close – but still, he put it in the cart. He wagered that if she kept dating guys like Oz, she’d never get anywhere near even this kind of caviar again.

If she liked it, he promised himself he’d track down the finest there was and get it for her.

“This place has a much better selection than the stores in Sunnydale. We have a Von's, but it’s nothing like this.”

She sounded so impressed and it was almost sad. She’d never been anywhere, had she? He was saddened by that. Here was a girl with a mind as broad and open as the sky and her world was as limited as… Xander Harris’s vocabulary. For a moment he entertained the fanciful notion of taking her somewhere – Paris, maybe, or Rome – to show her things she’d never seen before. What would it be like to see those cities through her eyes? To watch as she got her first glimpse of buildings older than the country in which she lived?

It was just a silly daydream, but a part of him deeply regretted that he couldn’t make it come true. She was tied to her home by a sense of duty that made him feel small and shriveled and petty. Buffy told him about all the famous universities Willow could have attended, even Oxford, and how she’d given up those opportunities to stay behind and fight the good fight on the Hellmouth. Buffy had smiled when she’d told him – giddy that her best friend was remaining by her side – and Angel had thought nothing of it at the time, but now… God, how selfish could anyone be? Because now that they were friends, Angel wanted nothing more for Willow but the chance to climb the wall and escape into a life that was about so much more than slaughtering demons and researching impending apocalypses. How could Buffy not have at least tried to convince the girl she called her best friend to get the hell out of Dodge?

Then again, now that he knew what it was like to be her friend as well, he understood why Buffy would be so reluctant to let Willow go.

Willow felt incredibly guilty as the groceries were bagged and the total kept mounting. Wait… they were buying caviar? She hadn’t chosen that. Oh gosh. Angel was buying her caviar? He was so incredibly generous. No matter what it tasted like, she was so going to rave about it.

“Thank you so much,” she said, her fingers itching to shove the emergency credit card her parents had given her into the checker’s hand before Angel could pay, but restraining herself. He’d insisted and she guessed this was probably his way of paying her for the spell and all. She never thought like that. When she did something for someone, she didn’t expect anything in return.

“You’re welcome.” He smiled again as the sleepy-eyed bagger put the groceries into their cart. Guess this wasn’t the guy’s normal shift, huh.

“Have a nice day,” the checker said automatically as they left, walking out the door into anything but daylight. Why did people always say that, anyway? Did they really care? Wouldn’t just a polite ‘goodbye’ be more sincere? Then again, she’d hugged Harmony at Graduation, so she really wasn’t one to talk. She might have even hugged Cordelia, which was possibly more hypocritical still.

The night air was just cool enough as they made their way to Angel’s car and everything seemed peaceful until…

There was a shrill scream from the darkness by the dumpsters. “Stay here!” Angel yelled as he ran in the direction of the disturbance.

For a moment, Willow considered actually doing as she was told, but then… gosh, that was a whole lot of crashing going on back there. Plus – who did he think he was telling her to stay here? She’d been fighting demons for years! No way could she not handle some human scuffle in L.A.

So, leaving the cart and its contents where anyone could steal it, she went racing off in the direction of the screams and crashing, sure she was going to help Angel stop a mugging or…

A huge pink demon. Oh god. A really, really huge pink demon. She’d never seen one of these before, and judging by the fact that it seemed to be getting the better of Angel, neither had he. Well, at least it seemed like the original victim had gotten away, though she’d dropped her purse, but… Angel!

The demon had just raked his chest with its enormous claws and now… oh god. Oh god. It knew about vampires because it was fashioning a stake out of a crate and it was about to… Quick, Willow! Do something!

“Get out of here!” Angel called out weakly, obviously gravely injured. Yes, she was terrified, but there was no way Willow was leaving him to die. She’d just saved his sight!

A spell… a spell… there had to be… Fire might distract it, right? “Incendere,” she called out tentatively as she pointed a trembling finger at the piece of wood the big, pink meany was holding, hoping like anything that her little candle-lighting spell was of some use. Oh shoot, nothing was happening. The soon-to-be-stake in its hand wasn't even smoldering. What kind of witch was she? But instead of allowing herself to collapse in a big ball of futile self-pity, she shot another look at Angel lying helpless on the ground and something gave her the courage to try again. She took a deep breath and… “Incendere!” she cried again, pointing more emphatically.

This time things went very differently. There was an inhuman shriek and a smell like rotted fish mixed with patchouli oil as the brightly-coloured demon went from bad guy to goo in a flash of flame.

Oh god. That was way bigger than… but… She did it! She really did it! She killed it! And she hadn’t even needed two Slayers and Giles for back-up like the last time she’d used a spell in a danger-type situation!

Angel got up from the ground slowly, the pain from the claw strike still sharp. Willow had… It seemed like he’d never repay his debt to her. Contrary to what he’d believed, she could hold her own, couldn’t she? Still, he felt duty bound to chide her. “I told you to stay by the car.” His heart wasn’t in it, though – largely because, thanks to her, it wasn’t dust, along with the rest of him – and he followed that admonition with, “Thanks.” Woefully inadequate he knew, but frankly, he was overwhelmed by this brand new Willow who could be a powerful ally in battle… and the feelings she was stirring up.

Yeah, he found her attractive.

That wasn’t going to make it any harder when she left, now was it?

Right now, though… “Let’s go home.”

And of course, she immediately put everything back in perspective. “Oh god! I hope our stuff didn't get stolen!”

To be continued…
Chapter 10 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 10)

Guess that old saying about good deeds never going unpunished wasn’t so true after all because Willow’s groceries had been right where she’d left them and so was Angel’s unlocked car.

Giving the purse back to the woman who’d originally been attacked by the demon had been sort of tricky, but after ten minutes Willow had managed to coax her into opening her apartment door just wide enough to get the purse inside. Considering what had just happened in the alley, Willow could see why the woman wasn’t big on trusting strangers. She took a good look at the seedy, rundown building and figured that if she lived there, she wouldn’t have trusted some of the other tenants either. She sort of regretted making Angel stay in the car, but with his torn shirt and all, she’d thought he’d attract attention. Boy had she been wrong. He’d have gone completely unnoticed, what with the two dirty, greasy, shirtless guys in the lobby. Were they junkies? She thought so, but she’d never known any so it wasn’t like she could be sure. All she knew was that she was relieved when she was out of there at last.

It was very late when they finally got back to the apartment, and Willow was now feeling the adrenaline and magical crash, though her faculties were still sharp enough that she noticed with no small degree of curiosity that the fire spell had been far less draining than the spell to fix Angel’s sight. Huh. Because she’d never created fire anywhere near that big or deadly before.

Oh well, maybe undoing other people’s evil mojo affected your magical gas mileage or something. She decided not to worry about it and instead concentrated on being able to help Angel carry in the groceries.

While the canons of gentlemanly behavior compelled him to try and keep her from hoisting so much as the jar of caviar, Willow insisted on being modern, so Angel grudgingly allowed her to help bring in the food. He could tell she was tired, though, so he ensured that she didn’t carry the weightiest bags. His vampiric healing had already taken care of most of the damage done by that garish demon’s claws, so he was more than equal to the task of ferrying soda, though it was surprisingly heavy.

Soon enough, they were inside and he set to work putting things into the refrigerator and cabinets, so grateful that he could see… even if all that emptiness being temporarily filled seemed like a literal metaphor for his life. Willow was here, connecting him to humanity in a way he’d never been before – not even when he was human – but she’d be leaving as soon as they found those kids.

Of course it was for the best. Sure, they were friends and he was going to miss that but he had also become attracted to her, which was a complication neither of them needed. She wouldn’t be happy at all if she knew, of that he was sure. What could come of it anyway? With his curse, there was nothing he could offer her save chaste kisses and sexual frustration. She deserved better than Oz, but he wasn’t that, not really. The truth was that she deserved more than either of them could give her.

How could he be thinking like this? What about Buffy?

What about Buffy?

Willow listlessly sat on the bed, laptop before her, trying to find a name to go with that pink demon she incinerated, but her eyes were crossing and research wasn’t going to get her anywhere tonight. “Is it okay if I get some sleep?” she asked, but even as she did, she was closing her laptop and then taking off her shoes.

She looked up and Angel had the strangest expression on his face. Or maybe she was just really tired. That had to be it… which was the last thought she had before she laid back, legs hanging over the edge of the bed, sound asleep.

Saving him had once again taken its toll on her, and Angel couldn’t help but feel guilty, still, he remembered the way she always bounced back and he marveled at it. How had he never realized how strong she was until now? Why had he seen the brains but not the bravery?

Was it moments like this? Because even in sleep, Buffy had always looked like a warrior in repose, but Willow… she looked every bit the fragile innocent she’d appeared when Angelus had stalked her. No evidence of the magic that had saved his sight, slain a demon… and restored his soul. It was there, though – not in the face or the body gone still and peaceful, but crackling in the air like imminent lightning.

He took her laptop and set it on the table, then moved her so that she was lying on the bed comfortably, her head on the pillow… but he turned her face towards his favorite chair. His sketchpad and pencil beckoned and he fetched them, sitting down and allowing himself the indulgence of art.

It was somehow fitting, wasn’t it, that hers was the first face he was committing to paper since regaining his sight. In a moment, he wasn’t thinking at all, the whole world was reduced to lines forming into beauty before him. It stayed that way for a long time.

On the bed, Willow kept on sleeping, oblivious to her new career as an artist’s model.

She was in the shower.

How did she get here? Hadn’t she been sleeping just a second ago? Guess she was still pretty out of it, huh.

Mmm… the water felt nice, heat and steam relaxing her muscles. She closed her eyes, enjoying the sensations as she reached down for her bottle of body wash and… Oh god. Where was it? She opened her eyes and realized that not only was her body wash gone, so was her shampoo. Where…?

“Use mine.”

She heard Angel’s voice just as the shower door opened and… “Eek!” In a split second she was cowering against the wall, trying desperately to cover her nudity. It was then that she noticed she wasn’t the only naked one. Oh gosh! So that’s what had been under the towel. “What are you doing in here?” she squeaked, trying not to notice that part of him was… growing.

“You’re so tired. I thought you could use the help.” With that, he got into the shower with her.

Hadn’t this stall been much smaller a minute ago? It seemed so big now, big enough for two. Also, Angel’s excuse for hopping in here with her… should it make sense? Shouldn’t she be telling him to get his yummy nakedness out of… wait a minute – since when had she thought of Angel as yummy?

The whole ‘thought process’ thing suddenly came to a screeching halt, however, as she realized she was no longer covering herself up. Instead, she was facing the wall with Angel behind her, massaging her shoulders. “Mmmm,” she moaned, leaning into his very pleasant touch.

She heard a rumbling chuckle as his hands began to move lower, caressing, arousing… how she felt… and then… his hand was between her legs. “Angel!”

“Don’t worry,” he murmured against her neck, “you fixed the curse, remember?”

After a time Angel was drawn from his work by an unexpected sound. He stared at Willow. Did she just moan? Her eyes were still closed and she was still asleep. She was dreaming, that was it, and clearly that dream involved her wolf. How else to explain the thick, sweet scent of her arousal?

Oz was one lucky bastard. Angel couldn’t take his eyes off of her; she was lying on her back and it arched ever so slightly. Then there was the curve of her neck… oh god, another moan. He needed a cold shower and he needed it now. Just then, however, her eyes shot open. Panic, not lust, was the expression she wore. What had happened in that dream?

Willow sat bolt upright with a start, panting, feeling guilty and so embarrassed. Oh no. She’d just had a naughty dream about Angel! She was a bad, bad Willow. This was because she’d lied to her friends, wasn’t it? Lying was the gateway drug. Sure, it seemed fine at first; after all, did anyone even need to know? But look what happened – now she was lusting after her best friend’s man… cheating on Oz – at least in her heart – again!

Not saying a word, she jumped off the bed and dashed for the bathroom. Cold water, that was what she needed.

Willow was in the bathroom. Great. Just when he needed the shower… which he could now hear being turned on – not the only thing in this place that was. But why would she need…?

Could she…?

No, no, no. That was strictly wishful thinking on his part. She must simply be embarrassed about having an erotic dream in his apartment and the shower was… well, to clean herself off, maybe remove the scent, and it was a normal, hot shower, he was sure. Still, he couldn’t help but indulge in a little bit of fantasy… picturing her instead in that cold shower he had intended to take – teeth chattering, nipples puckered as she tried in vain to scourge away the desire, pale skin reddening with the chill…

Big mistake. He was hard as a rock now.

Wow. This shower sure was cold. Cold, cold, cold. But at least she wasn’t all… hot and bothered now. Not physically anyway. Mentally she was still pretty bothered. How had this happened? It wasn’t like she’d ever even looked at Angel back in Sunnydale. Well, she’d looked at him as in seeing him, but not looked at him like ‘hubba hubba’ or anything like that. Now, though…

Maybe it was because he saw her in a way nobody else seemed to – as someone strong and capable who could save the day all by herself and didn’t need to hide behind Buffy when things got dangerous. She hadn’t even seen herself that way before, but now… now... Yeah, she could do stuff. Her magic could do lots of good and she was able to call upon it under pressure.

Tears sprang to her eyes. Could she have done anything stupider than fall… getting a crush on Angel? He was in love with Buffy - as in doomed, forever and ever, no-one-could-ever-compare type love. He’d never even look at her. Anyway, despite her dream, there was the curse.

Oh, and there was also Oz.

Shouldn’t she have thought of him first?

Well, at least she’d thought of him back in bed. That made it… You know, she was overdoing this cold shower thing. Her skin was turning blue. Unless she wanted to experience hypothermia for herself, she needed to get out, dry off, and get dressed. Then it was time to face the star of the porno in her head.

The sound of the water turning off jarred Angel into action – the action of trying to calm his body down. Holding the sketchpad on his lap would only work so well. Luckily, terror at having Willow discover his feelings and leave immediately worked wonders, especially when he imagined the revulsion on her face.

Of course, then the bathroom door opened and something was missing.

Steam. There was no steam.

And despite the towel she had wrapped around her head, Willow’s teeth were chattering.

Down, boy. Please, please, down! Just because she took a cold shower, it in no way meant that he was the star of that erotically-perfumed dream she’d had. He surreptitiously – he hoped – took a breath and willed his body into submission. No, he was not going to ask her about… “Cold shower?”

Okay, so he was.

Willow almost jumped out of her skin at the question. She hadn’t expected it. She should have. Why hadn’t she? Answer, Willow, think of an answer – one that in no way involved naughty thoughts. “I wanted to wake myself up so I could research right away.” You know, that was a pretty good answer. She’d gotten better at lying since… No, just don’t think about lying.

Research! Hadn’t she just said that was what she wanted to do? “I’m gonna get started,” she said, grateful she had something to do to distract her.

She powered up her laptop. First things first – what the heck had that demon been? She called upon her memory and, as she typed in everything she remembered on that site she couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of last night, she marveled at how often scent played an important role in things lately – first with that potion and now… yup, the smell of rotten fish mixed with a patchouli oil-type scent was a unique emission of a dying Klomaronek demon. Gosh, she’d never even heard of one of those before. She was gonna have to find a way to insert that into the database she shared with Giles – not that he ever looked at it.

Would it kill him to show computers – and those who used them – a little bit of respect?

Well, at least now she was distracted and annoyed enough to talk to Angel. “It was a Klomaronek.” He seemed totally confused and she realized she hadn’t told him what she was looking for so she added, “That thing we killed last night. It was a Klomaronek.”

‘We.’ She’d said ‘we’. The truth was that if it wasn’t for her, he’d be dust and the Klomaronek would still be out there slaughtering people in alleys. He looked at her face… there wasn’t a trace of awareness of what she’d said. It was as natural to her as breathing, this self-effacement and humility. She had no idea… “You’re the one who saved the day,” he said, completely sincere. He hoped she noticed it and accepted it. “Without you, I’m pretty sure I’d be part of the Hollywood grime right now.”

This time the pink of her skin wasn’t from cold. “I’m sure you’d have killed him yourself in a minute.”

He shook his head. It would have been hard to admit to anyone but her how wrong she was. “No, I wouldn’t have. I’m glad you were there.”

Her skin flushed even more. He might not be aroused at the moment, but he was more attracted to her than ever. No, he hadn’t died in that alley, but a piece of him was dying right now. Willow wasn’t his; she never would be… and soon she’d be gone. Somehow, he managed to keep a soft smile on his face. She had no idea what he was feeling and she never would; that was the way it had to be.

“I’m gonna see if I can find any leads on those kids. I thought maybe local high schools would be a good place to start, see if there’s anything in the student files – you know, red flags on loners, misfits… Ever since what happened at Columbine, schools have been getting sorta paranoid. Guess you can’t really blame them.”

For all her magic, the brain he’d always admired was definitely still part of the package. It was an excellent thought. “Great idea.”

Willow beamed at the latest praise then kicked herself mentally. She shouldn’t read anything into it. He was probably just glad she was going to get the job done soon and go home, which she really needed to do. Sure, he was grateful to her and all, but no way would he be happy when he realized that she was becoming googly-eyed over him. No, not seriously, because she loved Oz – she did - it was just… Focus on the task at hand, Willow.

Which she did. The first high school database she decided to search was South Pasadena High School, seeing as how it was in the vicinity of Pagan Earth, so she set to work.

Post-massacre paranoia had not extended to enhancing their cyber security, so hacking into their files was almost pathetically simple and within two minutes she was scanning the ones flagged for ‘extra guidance.’ The name on the first one she opened, Jeff Parker, wasn’t familiar, but when she opened it and looked at the picture… “Oh god! I know him. He works at Pagan Earth.” Yes, it was Damien. Why was she even surprised that Damien wasn’t his real name?

She wasn’t sure if finding his file meant anything at all, but if he had anything to do with the jerks who’d blinded Angel, Winston had a whole lot of explaining to do.

To be continued…
Chapter 11 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 11)

You know, she’d killed a demon last night with her magic. The least Angel could do was trust her to take care of herself. But no, he insisted they wait until nightfall to go to Pagan Earth and see what Winston, and Jeff or Damien or whoever he was, had to say.

Then she thought for a moment and… okay, she could see his point, and it wasn’t all about her not exactly being Buffy when it came to self-defense. He was the one who’d been there in the cemetery that night and he might actually recognize Damien (or Jeff). That might be something useful to know when doing the questioning and everything.

So she relaxed slightly and went back to staring at her computer screen… and finding a few more files. The one that interested her most was a girl named Skylar, especially since Angel had told her that a girl had been the one who doused him with the potion. Taking a look at her photo – yeah, she had the whole ‘posturing goth’ thing down pat. Willow kept reading. It seemed like Skylar came from a really prominent family, but whoa – she’d been expelled from a very fancy-sounding private school for girls, though the details of what happened were pretty fuzzy. What did it take to get expelled from a place your parents were spending a lot of money to have you attend, anyway? Committing murder? Of course, on the other hand, maybe it didn’t take much at all. Not like she knew all that much about private schools. The only one in Sunnydale was Catholic, which wasn’t the same thing.

Willow looked up the school. The manicured lawns and Craftsman buildings immediately caught her eye. What would it have been like to attend a school like that? A school where the girls wore pastel uniforms and where it was supposed to be all about preparing to go to Ivy League universities. Would it have been better? Would she have had lots of friends? Maybe even been popular?

Of course, if she’d gone there, she would never have met Buffy, discovered magic, helped save the world…

“It’s beautiful.”

Angel had come up behind Willow and was looking over her shoulder, wondering what had caused the sad, dreamy expression on her face. It was a website for a school. Why she was looking at it, he had no idea, but from the effusive description he was reading, it sounded like an amazing place; the kind of school at which a girl like Willow would have been challenged and encouraged and where she’d have shone. The pictures made it look like an oasis, a place where young girls were safe from all the dangers of the world outside.

He had the feeling, though, that the pictures didn’t tell the whole story. They never did. For every wholesome, smiling maiden – so much the same in a way that had nothing to do with the uniforms they wore… “But it’s no place for an individual.”

Willow turned around with a start, eyes shining a bit too brightly. “I wouldn’t want to go there.” The words came too quickly and affirmatively and it made Angel’s heart hurt. It was hard to be alone, to be that one person… Yeah, he got it. Sometimes, the lure of being part of the multitude, of losing the ache of loneliness in the cocoon of sameness, could sing the song of a thousand sirens. She wouldn’t be happy though, whether she realized it or not.

“Their loss.” Her answering smile had at least a small amount of sincerity and it made him smile in return. “And my gain.” He’d said that without thinking and he panicked. Great job of hiding your feelings there, boy-o.

Luckily, she didn’t seem to pick up on the subtext. “Mine too.”

Oh god! Why had she said that? Would Angel be able to tell she had stupidly developed a crush on him? “Did you go to school?” Oh god! Where was her dunce cap? Because that was the stupidest question ever. Could she possibly be a bigger idiot? “I’m sorry. That was lame, huh?”

Angel shook his head slightly and she assumed he was about to agree with her self-assessment, but then he said. “A lot of people in my day didn’t have the opportunity for schooling. My family was fairly well off, though, so yes, I did get an education.” He paused and it was clear Willow’s question had dredged up difficult memories. Gosh she felt badly about that. “Not that I did anything with it,” he finished at last.

Not thinking about anything except making him feel better, Willow got up and hugged him. “You’re doing so much with it now.”

Willow’s words were kind, but the sensation of her body against his was torture. Clearly, she had no idea that his feelings for her had evolved into something other than pure friendship. “Thank you,” he choked out. Because she was kind… and generous… and she was in the habit of saving his life… and she was… yes, she was beautiful.

“I mean it,” she said. “Look at all the languages you know – you know even more than Giles. We’d have been lost researching without you.”

She was the first person who’d ever said anything like that to him. Truthfully, he’d always been in awe of what she was doing on the computer and had considered his own contributions trifling. Was she humouring him?

No, she seemed completely sincere, which only worsened the ache in his chest where his heart was supposed to be utterly dead. “You’re the one we’d have been lost without. I still can’t believe what you manage to find out with that computer. I mean, I’ve taught myself a little since Sunnydale, but…”

He was interrupted by a bright smile and an enthusiastic squeal. “You’re interested in computers? Really?”

Out of all her friends, he was the only one… well, okay, Oz was into them too, but he never really wanted to talk about computer stuff with her anymore. Gosh but it would be fun… No, she was going home soon. In fact, based on all the fluttery feelings she was getting in her stomach when Angel was around, she was kind of thinking ‘the sooner the better.’ “That’s great,” she added.

“Maybe before you go home you could help me pick out one of my own? And make sure I have the best ISP?”

Oh god. He knew how important the right ISP was. That officially put him way ahead of Buffy and Xander. Plus – wanting her help? Think of Oz, Willow, think of Oz.

She needed to say no. She needed to say that she had things to do back home and… “Sure. I’d love to.” Nice work, Willow. Way to deal with a totally inappropriate crush. Because spending even more time with Angel will so help you get over it.

Just then, her stomach growled. Could she be any more humiliated? How many times had this happened in front of Angel anyway? “Sorry. I guess I kind of forgot to eat breakfast.”

Angel was mortified when he heard Willow’s body betray its hunger. He already knew she took no heed of herself. Why hadn’t he offered…? “I’ll make you something to eat,” he said, getting up immediately and almost racing to the kitchen to forestall the argument he knew was dancing at the tip of her tongue.

Now, of course, he had to think of what to make. Thanks to last night’s supermarket venture, there was food in the house and Angel at least knew what to do with the eggs, but… Didn’t she deserve something a bit… Wait a minute. There was caviar. And bread. Somewhere in the back of his mind lurked the memory of a dish he’d once seen. All it would take was the addition of some of the cream Willow had picked up for her coffee; he hoped she wouldn’t mind that.

“Please don’t,” he heard her say, though he didn’t turn around, “I can make myself something. Really.”

“I’m cooking,” he replied in a tone he hoped would end the discussion. With that, he got out the ingredients and got to work. Thank whatever deity watched over vampires that there was cookware in this place – and a toaster.

The only sound he could hear from Willow was an occasional indecipherable mumble and the tapping of her fingers against the keys of her laptop. He’d meant what he said; he really did want her to help him pick out a computer for himself and get it set up properly. It was time for him to officially enter the modern world. Besides, they seemed… fun. You could find almost anything out there in the reaches of cyberspace if you knew how to look. And then…

Okay, yes, he was hoping to keep up with Willow via email, which he knew was a preferred form of communication these days, at least among the technologically-oriented type Willow exemplified and which was also less likely to cause her problems with her friends – or with her fur… boyfriend – than phone calls would. Was that so wrong?

He needed to get his head back into his cooking, because he almost forgot to add the cream to the eggs. Luckily, however, all was not lost, and, as he finished and began assembling the dish, everything looked perfect.

It was a safe bet Oz had never made her breakfast – and certainly not with caviar.

Looking up from her fruitless attempts to distract herself on her computer, Willow wondered: What was Angel making? Boy did it smell tasty. Despite her objecting on principle to having him cook for her when he didn’t even eat, her stomach was almost yelling at her to get in there and devour every morsel of… whatever it was. It involved eggs but, gosh, it sure didn’t smell like the eggs she made for herself at home. She was about to give in and head for the kitchen table when Angel turned around from his position at the counter and came walking in with a plate in one hand and silverware and a napkin in the other. She dutifully headed for the other table and sat down.

“You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble.” She stared at the dainty plate he’d arranged for her. She’d never even heard of having caviar with eggs before and the way he’d put everything so neatly on the piece of bread… “It looks like something out of a food magazine,” she breathed. Way to sound like a total rube, Willow. But it really did. It was so pretty she almost didn’t want to eat it.

Almost, because her stomach was making dire threats and she really was hungry, so she picked up the fork and, with as much restraint and delicacy as she could muster, began to eat. “Mmmmm,” she moaned before she could stop herself. This was even better than that manicotti. Wow. There was a whole world of wonderful food out there, wasn’t there? She had a hard time imagining anything better than this, though. The saltiness of the caviar reminded her a little bit of lox but it was totally different and it blended perfectly with the creaminess of the eggs and the buttery crunch of the toasted bread. “Where did you learn how to cook like this?” she asked, at a rare moment when her mouth wasn’t full.

Where had he learned to cook? Angel was distracted from his very impure thoughts about just what else might make Willow moan the way she had by that question and the answer wasn’t all that cheery, but something in him compelled him to share. “In New York,” he began. “I was homeless… living in alleys… feeding on rats. But there were people – people much worse off than me. I used to go to this soup kitchen and volunteer when I could. There was a man there who taught me a few things.” Suddenly something occurred to him for the first time. “He never asked me why I didn’t eat.”

A second later, Willow rose from her seat and came to him, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tightly. “I never knew… Buffy never told me you were homeless.” Her voice was choked and it sounded as if she were about to cry. But then his thoughts returned again to the homeless man – or woman – who must have taken his shirt from the dumpster. Why hadn’t he thought about them before now? It hadn’t been so long since he’d been one of them.

“I wish we knew how to find whoever has my shirt.”

She tightened her hold for a moment before letting go and looking into his eyes. “It’s not your fault, you know. You didn’t know there was anything wrong with that shirt when you threw it away.” If only it were that simple, but for him, the stakes – and the toll – were always higher. Every small misstep counted against him in a way it didn’t for the good and the righteous… the human.

“Were you atoning?” she asked and it took him a moment to figure out what she meant, because he was always atoning.

“When I was homeless?”

She nodded, kneeling before him now, all rapt attention and kindness and sympathetic curiosity.

He could do as he’d done with Buffy – give her a few sketchy details and platitudes and steer the conversation back to sunlight and Sunnydale. Somehow, though, he didn’t think that would satisfy Willow… or him. Not now. He decided to be brutally honest. “I told myself I was, but I wasn’t, not really. I was wallowing in self-hatred. I thought punishing myself, degrading myself… But it wasn’t. I wasn’t helping anyone, except maybe myself.” Her expression grew quizzical at those last words and he explained, “It was a lot easier to live with what I’d done when I was dirty and starving. Easier to lie to myself and say the debt was repaid.”

Willow reached out and put her hand over his. “I get it. I mean… as much as I can. It’s kind of stupid to say I know how you feel or what you’ve been through, because how could I? But I think I can see how… it’s a lot easier to hide, isn’t it?”

How…? It was astonishing to him how this slip of a girl came closer to really understanding what he’d experienced than anyone he’d ever known, and without even appreciating her own insight. She was a miracle. A red-haired, magic-wielding, pure-hearted miracle who’d given him his soul, saved his sight, saved his unlife, and offered him friendship and caring unlike anything he’d ever known existed. She was plucky and brave and bright and unusual and… soon she’d be gone and something inside him shattered at the thought in a way it hadn’t when he’d left Buffy behind and…

He wasn’t thinking anymore. Instead, he stood, pulling Willow to her feet along with him.

At that moment, he almost did the single most idiotic thing he’d ever done… but then the phone rang.

Who the hell could be calling him?

To be continued…
Chapter 12 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 12)

What almost happened? Willow wasn’t sure, because there was no way Angel had been about to kiss her, right?

Oh god. What if he had been?

Why would he do that, though? Because he and Buffy had the kind of eternal love which did not allow for any sort of interest in other people, especially not best-friend-of-Buffy type people, which she was… well, except for the whole betrayal thing Willow had been doing since she’d agreed to help Angel without telling… She’d been right: lying so was a gateway drug. She was a bad, bad Willow.

But why had Angel been about to – if he really had been about to, which she wasn’t exactly sure of? Did he sense her stupid crush? Was he doing it to be… That had to be it. He felt gratitude and pity and had been about to do her a favour because he felt like he owed her. Great. She hadn’t felt so humiliated since Cordelia lifted her skirt in second grade and everyone saw that she was wearing her Monday day of the week panties on a Thursday – the incident which had led to tights becoming her signature fashion statement.

There was no more time to reflect on her own status as most pathetic girl ever, though, because Angel had answered the phone and…

“Giles,” Angel said as he heard the voice on the other end of the line. He hoped he didn’t sound as nervous and unsettled as he felt. “Is something wrong?”

“I… I realize this is rather a ridiculous question, but I’ve telephoned everyone else and no one… Have you by any chance heard from Willow?”

That very girl was gesturing wildly and shaking her head, though she hardly needed to be so demonstrative. He had no intention of telling Giles she was here. “No, I haven’t talked to Willow since I left,” he said, adding a touch of concern to his voice, “Did something happen to her?”

“We don’t know. She seems to be… No one has any idea where she might be, actually. Some… texts of mine seem to have gone missing as well, so I thought perhaps… well, as I said, this was rather a long chance. I’m sorry I bothered you.” Giles sounded worried and distracted and Angel felt sorry for him, but not enough to betray Willow – or himself.

“I’ll let you know if I hear anything,” Angel lied.

“Yes, yes, quite,” Giles said as he hung up, leaving Angel standing there holding the phone receiver and wondering how Willow was going to extricate herself from the predicament he’d created for her.

“Giles is looking for you,” he said. “It sounds like everyone else is too.”

Huh? Oh great. This whole summer in Sunnydale, she’d sat around her house for ages with no one so much as sending her a postcard, but – boom! –now that she was spending a few measly days in Los Angeles, everyone was frantically looking for her. She felt a brief stab of annoyance and self-pity.

Then, of course, she got over it. This was the universe punishing her for being a bad girlfriend and an even worse friend, huh? Also for stea… borrowing Giles’s books. Which reminded her… “Did Giles say anything about…?”

Angel seemed to know exactly what she meant as he nodded, so she wasn’t surprised when he said, “He mentioned missing books.”

Tilting her head back for a moment, she looked heavenward as if there was some useful knowledge to be gained from the ceiling. “I shouldn’t have taken them. They weren’t even any help anyway.” With a sigh, she sat down heavily on the couch.

Of course, Angel defended her… against herself. “You had no idea what you’d need. Anyway, it’s my fault. I’m the one who told you not to tell anyone. I can call him back, let him know what happened, explain that you did what you did because I was desperate and made you promise to keep things secret. Do you want me to?”

Please say no, said the little voice in Angel’s head which knew that, once that call was made, she would be back in Sunnydale as fast as her car could carry her. Giles would insist and Willow would obey.

But it might be best if she left at that. What he’d been about to do… yes, that would have destroyed their friendship and upset Willow, and if she stayed, who knew if he’d be tempted again? Could he count on another timely interruption to save him from himself?

It looked like he was going to have to hope so. “No. We still have to figure out who those kids are and keep them from doing… well, doing whatever they were planning.”

She was certainly right about that, but then something occurred to him – something he was deeply ashamed hadn’t occurred to him before. “What about your parents? Shouldn’t you call them? I’m sure after talking to Giles that they’re…”

“Giles hasn’t talked to them.” Willow’s voice as she cut him off was calm and certain, but there was an undercurrent there and now he felt badly for having broached the topic in the first place.

As close as they’d become these past few days, Willow was taken aback for a moment at Angel’s ignorance about her parents. Boy, for all that they’d shared so recently, they really hadn’t talked back in Sunnydale, had they? “I don’t even know for sure where they are,” she confessed. “I think this month it’s Tel Aviv.” Angel looked confused, so Willow explained, “My parents are on a lecture tour.”

Great. There was pity in his eyes now. Just what she didn’t want. “It’s okay. They’ve always been really busy with their careers. I’m totally used to it.” She plastered on a perky grin and added, “Besides, it’s usually better with them gone. Look what happened when my Mom was actually home.” Another blank look. Gosh, they really hadn’t known each other in Sunnydale at all, had they? “Remember that demon that was masquerading as two little kids?” Recognition dawned. Good. “Yeah, well, my Mom sort of tried to burn me at the stake.”

This time the look in Angel’s eyes wasn’t pity, but she wasn’t sure she was any more comfortable with it. The rage she saw threatened to undo all her rigorous self-therapy, the therapy that had allowed her to brush the incident off as if it were no big deal, even though her mother had left town without even making good on that vow to force her to bring Oz home for dinner.

Oz. Oh god! Was he one of the ‘everyone’ that Giles had told Angel were now wondering where she was? Without so much as a by your leave, she went straight to Angel’s phone and dialed her number, then the code for her messages.

Wow. There were kind of a lot. First was from Giles – lots of suspicious-sounding references to missing books – then another from Giles – worried this time – and then one from Xander - was he back from his road trip already? - chiding her for ‘making the British guy have a tempest in his teapot’. After that came another one from Giles and then one from Buffy.

The last one was from Oz – telling her the number where he was staying in Portland. Well at least he was one name she could cross of the list of ‘everyone’ who was frantically searching for her. And hey – he’d kept his promise and proved he cared since if he didn’t he would have just blown her off for the summer.

So why wasn’t her heart skipping a happy little beat?

Wait a minute. She felt guilty about how worried her friends were. That was it. That had to be it. Oz was still her guy and Angel was just a flu… No! Not a fluke, anything but a fluke. He was a glitch or a blip or some sort of weird statistical anomaly, but not a fluke. Not in any way, shape, or form a fluke.

Now that she had that settled, she set the phone down in the cradle and turned back to Angel. “Giles wasn’t exaggerating. I even got a call from Buffy.” Oh great, that made it sound like Buffy hadn’t called all summer. Okay, that was actually true, but it sounded self-pitying and… all right, yes, she’d been indulging in just a bit of that very sin when Angel had called her for help, but… Oh gosh. Say something, Willow. Get yourself out of this. “Oz called, but Giles hasn’t said anything to him so he’s not worried at all.”

Even a call from Buffy? Had she said ‘even’? Buffy hadn’t called her best friend before this all summer? And Oz? Shouldn’t he know Willow better than to think that everything was all right when he’d only spoken to her machine the last two times he called? As for Xander… words failed him. If he was half the friend he should be, he’d have noticed her absence before Giles called him. Angel was almost beside himself.

This was what Willow was going back to?

He was starting to wonder… Maybe there were alternatives. He was pretty good at self-denial. She could…

“It’s almost sundown,” she said, breaking through his thoughts, “We should probably go to Pagan Earth.” Had she said anything before that? He had the feeling she might have, but he’d been so caught up in his anger and his wishful thinking that he hadn’t heard her. She probably thought he was the rudest, most inconsiderate man… but that was silly, wasn’t it? Because he wasn’t a man at all.

“Let’s go.”

A few moments later and here they were, headed for Pasadena, Willow driving them in her parents' car this time – since she knew the way - and babbling about… the Rose Parade? Yet another one of the paradoxes that made her so damned attractive to him. Imagine a girl like her, a creature of genius and magic, being so fascinated with floats and flowers. She was sentimental at heart, wasn’t she? The warrior-witch as ingénue.

And it was all contained in balance somehow – no awkward, untenable inner conflict like Buffy’s professed dreams of being a ‘normal girl’, the tissue thin self-delusions he’d seen through even before that panicky, weepy day when she’d lost her powers and the lies had crumbled into dust like so many fledglings before her stake. He wondered if Buffy would envy Willow if she knew and he felt sympathy for her even as he knew that there was one more thing...

He ran his hand through his hair and fought the urge to groan. This was becoming something far more serious than an inconvenient attraction.

Willow noticed Angel messing up his hair and kicked herself inwardly. She was boring him to tears with her stupid Rose Parade babble, wasn’t she? Not like he cared about whether Raul Rodriguez or Fiesta Floats had the better entries last year. Not only was he a guy, but he wasn’t a dork. She really needed to learn when to just shut up… or maybe how, which might be more of the problem. “We’re almost there,” she said brightly, halting her Rose Parade ramblings in their tracks. There was a lot of traffic on Colorado tonight and she needed to focus on trying to find a decent parking space without having to pay for it.

Sadly, a few trips around the block told her that the search was in vain so, with a heavy sigh at the thought of how much this was going to cost, she headed into a parking garage, took the ticket, and found a spot on the third floor kinda-sorta near the elevator – which translated to being able to see it once they’d gotten out of the car.

They didn’t talk as they walked or as they took the elevator down to the street – too many people. She’d never been claustrophobic before but that could change after another minute crammed into an airless metal box with crying babies and obnoxious yuppies having vapid conversations. These were the people who inspired all the loathing of California she saw online.

Luckily, the ride was over before she was tempted to use magic to make the one talking about the script he had in turnaround shut up forever and she and Angel were soon walking the two blocks to Pagan Earth, with its black light posters and cheesy Satanic statues… and its clerk who might be a danger to himself and others.

“This is the place?”

Willow could well understand Angel’s skepticism because she too was still having a hard time reconciling Winston with the shop he owned. It was hard to believe that anything more magical than Magic: the Gathering went on here, but it did.

They stepped inside. No one was at the counter. Willow might not be Buffy, or Angel, but her own version of spidey senses immediately started tingling. Something was wrong. Turning to her companion, she could tell he felt exactly what she did.

“Something’s not right.”

Willow’s voice was soft and Angel was glad of that. He didn’t feel anything demonic, but his keen sense of danger told him that things weren’t safe here at all. He almost wished Willow had stayed at the apartment until he reminded himself that, after what she’d done in that alley so recently, she was no helpless damsel liable to get in the way. Oh no indeed.

Still… “Stay behind me,” he cautioned softly, and she did as he asked, following in his wake as he made his way slowly towards the back of the store. As he did, he began to hear voices… and he was pretty sure he recognized at least one human scent. “They’re here,” he whispered and he knew Willow knew who he meant. He stayed stealthy and she did likewise as they moved closer and closer to the storeroom.

Peering inside, he saw a man tied to a chair. Grey ponytail. That must be the Winston she’d told him about. He turned around; Willow’s hand over her mouth and wide, frightened eyes told him he was right. It was clear the man was unconscious… and that something dangerous and possibly deadly was going on.

A tall, gangly fellow with dyed-black hair who he didn’t recognize at all suddenly spoke. “Are you sure we should be doing this? I mean, Winston’s a pretty good dude, y’know.”

There was a snort from a girl just out of his line of sight. “He has power. We need power. Get it?”

The boy shrugged, clearly cowed. Just then, the girl moved into view. It was that bitch who’d thrown the potion in his face! If he hadn’t noticed that there were magical symbols drawn all around the chair to which the man was tied, he might have stormed in in a rage. Luckily he did notice. Now was the time for proceeding with caution.

“Oh my god,” Willow whispered, “They’re going to drain Winston’s power. He’ll die. We have to do something.”

But before he even had a chance to think, Willow came out from behind him and raced right into the room. “Stop!”

It looked like caution had just been thrown to the wind.

To be continued…
Chapter 13 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 13)


Stop? Really? This was her brilliant plan to save Winston and stop a bunch of evil teens? Barreling into the room and yelling ‘stop’? Yeah, because that always worked… except when it didn’t, which was pretty much every single time it had ever been tried. Had she learned nothing at all from years of fighting evil alongside the greatest Slayer in the history of… slaying? Maybe she should have accepted that scholarship to Oxford after all, because from where she was… standing, she was sorely in need of higher education.

It was too late now, though. She and Angel were going to somehow have to save the day despite the fact that she had just pulled a move straight out of the Scooby Doo playbook.

Oh gosh! That girl. It was the one whose picture she’d found in the school files: Skylar.

But before Willow could whip out her psychology tricks and try and bond with her using the intel she’d gathered, she noticed that it wasn’t just Skylar and Damien – or Jeff or whatever he was calling himself today – that she and Angel were going to have to deal with. Four surly-looking teenage boys were hanging back as well. Oh great. There was a reason she was the sidekick and people like Buffy and Angel always took the lead. Unfortunately, she hadn’t remembered it in time.

“Who are you?” the girl said just before her eyes found Angel. He met her stare with his own, letting his eyes flash gold. That was enough… or was it? Because she was nowhere near as afraid of him as she’d been that night in the cemetery – in fact, she didn’t seem afraid of him at all. “Vampire.” Well, she’d been hitting the books since last they’d met; he’d give her that.

He slipped into game face, hoping that would significantly enhance the intimidation factor.

There were gasps and some gratifying cringing from the males in the room, save the unconscious Winston, but as for the girl… all she did was smile. This was not going well.

“Power,” she said rather melodramatically as a smirk crept up the side of her mouth. At another time he’d have laughed at her inept attempt to look menacing, but right now… Angel noticed something. Shooting a glance at Willow, he realized she had just noticed the same thing – the crackle of magic in the air.

Oh no, this was definitely not going well.

Willow began to tremble as she realized just what was going on. The spell had already been started, and while their interruption might be halting things for a moment, Winston’s power center was open and this girl was about to empty it. It was clear she was already drawing on it. She had that weird, almost drunk look that Amy used to get when she did her darker spells – like the one which had turned her into a rat.

Which made her wonder: Was Amy okay? Was she being fed properly? Was her cage clean and was her wheel free to spin properly?

You know, now might not be the best time to worry about that, because Winston was about to be drained to death and she and Angel weren’t exactly safe either, a fact which was brought home when Skylar yelled, “Get them!” and they were immediately rushed by her five loyal minions.

A part of Willow had to admire Skylar for her empowerment and all, but… not so much in the current circumstances. Luckily for her, her tendency to memorize pretty much every spell she read was coming in really handy right now. Raising her hand at the guys, who were helpfully close together in one group, she intoned, “Kali, Hera, Kronos, Thonic. Air like nectar thick as onyx. Cassiel by your second star, hold mine victims as in tar."

Oh wow! That spell really worked. They were all standing there, clearly struggling, but completely unable to move. Angel looked pretty impressed. Hey, join the club, because Willow was kind of impressed with herself too. She wasn’t used to doing all the big mojo completely without Giles’s help yet and it was kind of a thrill.

Unfortunately, one dangerous person in the room was completely unaffected and she was clearly gearing up for battle.

Pointing a hand at Winston, Skylar yelled, “Be in me!” Winston’s body jerked against its bonds and Willow swore she could see the magic being pulled out of him… and that he was in agonizing pain.

She had to stop this, but how? How?

Wait. One of the books she’d brought with her… Volume Twelve of the Writings of Dramius… She’d memorized the reversal spell. It would work. It had to work. Otherwise, Winston was a goner. All Willow had to do was watch the archaic verb tense highlighted in the seventeenth footnote and she’d be okay… right?

Oh well. Not like she had any choice. Raising her own hand and pointing it at Skylar, she began the tricky Latin recitation, hoping like heck she’d memorized this absolutely perfectly or things were going to go very, very haywire.

Words fell from her lips the same way they had when she’d done the soul restoration spell… and the spell to restore Angel’s sight. It was if she were guided by something outside herself, something big and powerful and wise, which was very much of the good since she was none of those things.

Her eyes closed as magic flowed through her and it felt like an electrical current. This part was sort of different and really, really unpleasant. Guess there was maybe a reason why Giles had kept this book hidden from her, huh?

Just at the moment when it was getting really painful, though, the feeling suddenly stopped… and she heard an unearthly scream. Unfortunately, before she could open her eyes and see what the heck was going on, she felt a sense of total lightheadedness…

Then she didn’t feel anything.

“Willow!” Yes, the boys were standing dumbfounded, no longer trapped in that weird sort of stasis Willow had locked them in, and the girl had screamed in agony before crumbling to the ground, but Angel didn’t care about any of that.

Because Willow had also collapsed.

Angel ran to her, scooping her up in his arms, and turned his angry gaze on the boys… two of whom immediately pissed themselves, just like back in the cemetery. Yes, he was in game face. “We gotta get outta here,” the tall one with the dyed-black hair cried out, and he and the others suited the action to the tune. Angel let them go. It was okay. He’d torture their names and addresses out of the bitch on the floor if anything happened to Willow.

There was an old couch off in a corner and Angel set Willow down on it before going to the chair and untying the man – Winston – who seemed to be regaining consciousness. “What did…?” Then his eyes opened wide as he took in the girl on the floor – and Angel. “You’re the vampire. The one who… Willow’s friend.”

Angel nodded, not sure what that pause meant and also seeming to remember that Willow told him she hadn’t mentioned who he was to the man. Now wasn’t the time to worry about it, however. “We need to restrain her,” he said, indicating the prone figure before them, “And I’m guessing getting rid of all these symbols might be a good idea.”

As Winston slowly rose from the chair, he nodded. “I’ll need to cleanse the room, but for now… do you see that set of shelves? Right where there’s a puddle on the floor?” Ah yes, those shelves… and that puddle. “There’s a jar of salt on the very top shelf next to the scarabs there. That should do the trick for now.”

Retrieving it, Angel handed it to the man, who then mumbled a blessing and sprinkled the salt over the symbols… which promptly disappeared as he did so. Guess this was not exactly ordinary table salt. Once Winston was done, Angel – with no small amount of anger and distaste – picked up the girl and deposited her in the chair, using the ropes which had bound Winston to secure her tightly. Then he hurried back over to Willow. “Please be awake,” he whispered, but she wasn’t.

A second later, he felt Winston’s presence behind him. “She saved me.” It wasn’t a question, but Angel got the impression Winston wasn’t the kind of man who needed to ask many.

Conscious again, the man radiated magical power, which left Angel with a question of his own: “How did they get the drop on you?”

Winston reddened slightly before shrugging. “It’s too easy to become complacent in one’s arrogance. I suppose it never occurred to me… Damien and his friends – they are powerless poseurs. I had no idea that the weak could be quite this cunning. And even the most powerful of magicians is as a child when asleep.” He nodded towards Willow. “Right now, if I were so inclined, I could steal her power.” Angel growled and Winston chuckled. “Have no fear, my undead friend. I know too much about the ways of magic to do any such thing. Her power would be mine for but an instant, for all intents and purposes, but the consequences… those would be eternal. She’s a special creature, your lady.”

The way Winston said the words ‘your lady’ brought Angel up short and he was about to say something when Willow stirred. He immediately knelt beside her and took her hand in his.

You know, if every time she did a big spell, she lost consciousness, maybe she needed to focus more on her studies and on getting a real job – one with really great health care benefits just in case she did spells in her spare time, because right now some prescription strength painkillers would so not be unwelcome. Ouch. “Did anyone get the license plate number?” she quipped groggily, her eyes still closed.

“Huh?” Oh great. Angel didn’t get it.

With way more effort than it should ever require, Willow managed to open her eyes. “It was a joke,” she groaned. “The one we always use when we get knocked out.” Then she noticed the guy standing behind Angel. “Oh. Hi, Winston.” One more thing she noticed – Angel was holding her hand… stroking it, actually.

“Thank you.” Oh. Gosh. Guess Angel had filled him in, huh.

“You’re welcome,” she said, feeling sort of embarrassed because he was looking at her like she was some superhero or something and really, she wasn’t. She was about to try to sit up but Angel stopped her; the eye-work that went along with his hand on her shoulder put her Resolve Face to shame. “Guess I’ll stay lying down,” she grumbled under her breath. Oops. Angel heard her and she got a double dose of the Resolve Glare.

“What did you do to me?”

Was there a word for a tone that was both a bellow and a shriek? Because Skylar had just achieved it. Willow stretched her neck to look around Angel and saw that the high school hellcat was tied to the chair where Winston had been. Well, it was a relief that she was still alive. Willow hadn’t exactly been sure about that before passing out cold.

At least now Angel let her sit up, which sort of helped since she wanted to talk to the girl. “I had to stop you.”

“Why?” Another bellow-shriek, although this one leaned more toward the shriek side with just a dash of whining thrown in for good measure… but really: Why? Did she seriously ask that?

But what if she didn’t remember? Or was possessed? Those were actual possibilities. So, instead of treating her like an idiot, Willow strove for a stern but kindly tone and answered, “You were trying to drain Winston of his power. You almost killed him.”

“Duh!” Okay, that was snotty and rude and totally uncalled-for.

Angel had had it up to here with the bitch’s attitude. She’d blinded him, nearly killed a man, and, worst of all, had forced Willow to do a spell that clearly could have harmed her severely. He wasn’t eager to hurt a human, least of all a teenage girl, but he was warming to the idea when it came to this one. “You might want to change your tone, little girl.” He was back in game face, but no, he wasn’t getting a thrill out of the fact that it once again seemed to cow the little cow.

All right, he was, but he had a right, dammit. She’d blinded him.

“Why would you want to do that? To hurt someone?” Willow asked, her tone so kind and conciliatory that Angel marveled once again at how much better she was than him.

“Power, you stupid bitch! I would have had it, too, if you hadn’t shown up and spoiled everything. What is it? You just have to be the one chick in this town with any real mojo? Is that it? Or is it because I’m cool and rich and you’re…?”

“That’s enough!” Even Angel was surprised at the booming voice that suddenly came out of Winston, and when the man turned to him and said, “Take Willow and leave,” it didn’t take him three seconds to pick up the protesting girl and carry her right out the back door.

“What are you doing?” Willow cried as she was carted off into the alley like some helpless damsel, and without having any say in the matter. “I was trying to get through to her.” She started to cry, suddenly realizing that they’d left Skylar alone with a man she’d just tried to kill. “What if he hurts her?” Angel set her on her feet just before they reached the street and she leaned against him for balance even though she was pretty pissed off at him. She couldn’t help it. She was still getting her strength back. “I could have helped her.”

A second later, there was a hand under her chin and Angel was staring into her eyes. “No, you couldn’t have. Don’t you see? You’re everything she wants to be. She’d never listen to you. She’s way too jealous.”

Willow flashed back to what Skylar had said right before Angel had hauled her off, but those were just the rantings of a thwarted teenage wannabe. She shook her head. “Once I had the chance to explain things to her, I know…”

Angel looked at her incredulously as he interrupted her with, “Explain what? That you’re not one of the most powerful witches in the world? Because you’re nowhere near a good enough liar to pull that one off.”

Huh? Angel thought she was… No. Okay, yeah, she’d read some books and done a few spells and, all right, there was the demon in the alley the other night, but… “I’m not all that powerful. Seriously. You should have seen what happened when I summoned the elements in my bedroom. And anyway, I haven’t even managed to change Amy back into a human.”

She was serious, wasn’t she? After all this, after everything she’d done, she had no idea…

Maybe it was because he’d thought he might lose her just a few moments ago. Or maybe it was the fact that he’d just held her in his arms again. It could even be because she looked so adorable standing there completely innocent to her own abilities and achievements. Whatever it was, it broke down all of Angel’s resolve.

Without thinking of the friendship he was about to sacrifice or the fact that this would more than likely alter both their lives, Angel did what he’d stopped himself from doing a short while ago.

Pulling Willow into his arms, he kissed her for all he was worth.

Now he truly knew what magic was.

To be continued…
Chapter 14 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 14)

Willow was still a little woozy from the spell and upset about not being allowed to finish reasoning with Skylar, so she wasn’t at the top of her game, but one thing was really, really clear: Angel was kissing her.

Angel was kissing her.

This was actually happening, wasn’t it? It wasn’t another naughty dream? No, it couldn’t be, because her dream had gotten right to the nudity and there were no public places, unlike now, where there was clothing and nearby crowds of people and… At this moment, her brain proceeded to shut down for the most part, leaving her with only thoughts like ‘mmmm’ and ‘oh god.’

Unfortunately, her brain being her brain, it didn’t stay shut down for nearly long enough… or maybe it was fortunate after all, because she realized that she was doing a very bad thing. She unwound her arms from around Angel, pushed him away, and cried, “What about Buffy?”

As Angel was consumed by the sudden loss of Willow’s lips against his, it took him a moment to hear the words she was saying. Buffy? Who was… Oh Buffy.

What about Buffy?

He hadn’t thought of her, not really, at least not the same way, since Willow had arrived. No hours of brooding… no longing for what might have been. It was as if Willow had dragged him by main force out of the past and plunked him down into a shiny new present, a present where he was part of the world he was pledged to save, a present that was no longer centered around a hopeless longing for the one girl in all the world.

It was better by far than the past, better even – in its way – than the moment of perfect happiness he’d found between Buffy’s thighs. That gave him pause. What did it mean? But that wasn’t the question he asked Willow. Instead, he merely repeated the question she’d asked him and he’d asked himself: “What about Buffy?”

How could he ask that? Okay, she had asked it first, but she’d placed completely different emphasis on different words, and anyway, it was one thing for her to ask, but another for him because… Oh god. She was arguing semantics with herself when the real and salient point was that she was betraying… “Oz,” she breathed. She’d betrayed him, too… again!

“He left you to go gallivanting all over the country with his… band,” Angel all but spat at her. That was kind of rude… but he was right, technically, anyway. More to the point, though, in a very important sense, she had left Oz, hadn’t she? It wasn’t like he was crazy about her magic, but she still pursued it and… gosh, now that she was doing so much more with it, he’d like it even less, huh? But she wasn’t going to give it up any more than he was going to give up his music… the music she didn’t share with him.

They were doomed. Maybe they always had been. Kinda like Angel and Buffy.

Still, that did not make what just happened okay in the slightest.

Oh god! Speaking of things that weren’t okay… “Skylar,” she said. “Do you think she’s all right? Are you sure we should leave her alone with Winston? I mean, she just tried to drain him and not everyone forgives that kind of thing and…”

As much as Angel admired Willow’s warm, caring nature, there was a point at which it went too far… and this was that point. If she had her way, she’d be back in Pagan Earth, offering to braid Skylar’s hair and inviting her to one of those childish sleepover parties. For all that she was an extraordinarily powerful witch, she was an astoundingly naïve and hopeful young girl, so in the interest of saving her from herself, he grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the alley and down the street in the direction of the parking garage, setting a pace that cut her off in mid-sentence and left her too breathless for effective protest.

In what seemed like seconds, they were back at the elevator, jammed into a glass box with people so annoying it was a good thing Angel had a soul. Angelus would have drained them all. Especially the woman going on about redecorating her beach house. Was he the only one who wanted to scream at her to shut the hell up because absolutely no one cared how much per roll she was paying for imported taupe silk wallpaper?

He just wanted this elevator ride to end so he could get Willow to the car and they could talk.

Fortunately, while the trip seemed to last an eternity, the elevator actually reached the floor on which they were parked in relatively short order. The moment the doors opened, he shoved his way through the other occupants, Willow in tow, and headed straight for the car.

Geez, Angel – rude much? He stepped on at least three people’s feet getting them out of the elevator and yeah, okay, one of the sets of toes he crunched belonged to a really annoying woman who made Cordelia look positively egalitarian, but still… Wrong was wrong and bad manners – not to mention assault – were wrong.

Of course, so was cheating on your boyfriend – again! – but that didn’t seem to have stopped Willow from kissing Angel for all she was worth. Oh god. She was as evil and skanky as her vampire doppelganger, wasn’t she? Next thing you know she’d be making with the inappropriate licking. Hmm… what would Angel’s neck taste like?

No! Bad Willow! Bad!

Thinking about her own badness made her remember what they’d been talking about when Angel had peremptorily dragged her out of the alley. “I hope Winston didn’t kill Skylar. Are you sure we shouldn’t go back?”

Angel shook his head. Again, it was sweet of her to be concerned, but in his opinion, whatever punishment Winston visited upon Skylar, the little bitch had more than earned. Besides, if there was one thing Angel knew about, it was the killer instinct… and Winston didn’t have it. Oh, no doubt he was wreaking some creative vengeance on the girl, but she’d live through it. Winston was too crafty for murder. “She’ll be all right.”

“Are you sure?”

He replied with a nod as they finally made it to the car. This parking lot was the size of a village. Time to go home, he thought as he opened the driver’s side door for Willow. As much as he disliked being a passenger, he was not going to try and wrest the keys from her. This was her parents’ car, he recalled, and he knew she felt badly about having borrowed it. She’d hardly be inclined to let someone else drive it.

Just as he thought that, she handed him the keys. “I’m still sort of woozy. Do you mind driving? I can give you directions to get back – plus I have a Thomas Guide.”

He nodded again and fought back a grin as he followed her to the other side of the car and opened yet another door for her. It occurred to him to suggest she lie down in the back seat, but she’d be safer and it would be easier for him to keep an eye on her if she were buckled up in front, so he waited as she got in and fastened her seat belt, then went back and got in himself.

Navigating the complex series of exit ramps to make it to the toll booth and then pay the exorbitant parking fee was annoying, but in a few minutes, they were back out on Colorado Blvd. and on their way back to the freeway. It was a good thing he actually did know his way, because Willow had fallen asleep in the seat beside him before they’d even made it out of the parking garage. He would have been concerned, but her breathing was normal and even and it was clear that this time she was merely resting.

It still boggled his mind, how innocent and fragile she looked in repose. The most cunning and perceptive of demons would never be able to guess that behind that sweet, sleeping face was the brain of a genius and magical power beyond imagining.

And he had just kissed her.

What a kiss that had been. If he hadn’t burned awareness of danger so sharply into his consciousness that a lobotomy wouldn’t make him forget even before his brain healed, he’d have been hard pressed not to take her right there in the alley…

Which only made kissing her the biggest mistake he’d ever made. How much more lonely and difficult his life was going to be now that he’d had a taste of what he could never truly have.

One thing was for sure: Oz was an idiot. If Willow could be his… he certainly wouldn’t abandon her for a whole summer to go traipsing around the country with a bunch of incompetent losers pretending to be musicians.

Angel sighed and focused his attention back on the road just as some cretin in a Corvette tried to cut him off. L.A. drivers. Oh how he hated them.

Willow was dreaming. Strangely, she knew it, which wasn’t the way it usually was while she was dreaming. This time, though? Not only did she know, but she was somehow able to be very think-y about the whole thing while she was dreaming.

Weird. So weird. In fact, weird enough that she was having an official wiggins.

Weird enough that she tried to wake herself up.

She failed, however, so she was stuck… dreaming that she was exactly where she knew she was right now. In the car, on the way back to Angel’s. Only this time she was in the back seat, sitting next to… “Angel?” she asked, panicking despite knowing this wasn’t real. “Who’s driving the car?”

“You are.” That answer didn’t come from Angel. No, it came from someone seated where she was supposed to be. Winston.

“How can I be driving?” Her voice was nearly a squeal now, as she watched the car change lanes with no one at the wheel.

Winston chuckled. “Power. You can’t see it. But you have it. You can go wherever you want. Both of you can. You just don’t know it yet.”

With that, Willow suddenly woke up, gasping for breath. Oh god. What kind of dream was that?

“Are you all right?” Angel almost swerved and hit an SUV, but how was he expected to react to Willow awakening in such a state?

However, his driving didn’t seem to be helping matters. “Can you watch the road?” she pleaded. “My parents…”

“I’m sorry,” he apologized. But then he got right back to what was important. “Did you have a nightmare?”

Okay, he was reasonably sure that was the kind of question you could answer fairly easily. Then again, this was Willow, so he got an adorably furrowed brow and some noises he assumed indicated she was thinking before she finally said, “Yes… I mean no… I mean it wasn’t… I just…”

Only Willow could be this confused over whether she had a nightmare or not. All the contradictions of her… for a heart long dead, his was doing a fine impression of writhing in agony right now.

He loved her. How could he not? She was a powerful warrior, a genius, and an awkward, innocent naïf all rolled up into one beautiful package… and she was even further out of his grasp than Buffy had ever been.

It occurred to him just now… had she dreamt of the kiss? Was that why she had first characterized her dream as a nightmare? Would she be packing her things and heading right back to Sunnydale the moment they got back to his place?

Had his folly cost him even her friendship?

Speaking of getting back to his place, here they were.

Oh god. They were back at Angel’s place – already. She was going to be all alone in a dimly lit room with Angel… a room that contained a bed. Oh god. Remember the curse, Willow, remember the curse.

Yes, sue her, she needed to remind herself. Who wouldn’t after a kiss like the one she and Angel had just…? She was so going to Hell for this.

The parking spot she liked best had opened up and so Angel parked right in front of the building and they got out, went inside, got in the elevator, and…

Nothing. He didn’t even try to kiss her again.

Which was great. Wonderful, even. Because, hey, she was Oz’s girlfriend and Angel was in love with Buffy, and anyway, there was the curse.

All right, it hurt – a lot – that he didn’t grab her again. Could we please just call her a skanky ho and have done with it?

They weren’t even talking to each other, she realized. The only conversation they’d had since the kiss had been about Skylar… and the dream. Did Angel regret kissing her? Was she bad at it or something? Well, hey, excuse her for not having tons of experience.

Feeling pretty defensive as she stewed on the way down to the apartment, Willow barely waited until they were off the elevator before she rounded on Angel. “Did you hate it? Kissing me?”

Did he what? Where had that come from? It had taken all of Angel’s forbearance not to kiss her until she forgot how to breathe the moment they’d entered the building. Couldn’t she feel the tension? She had to. What kind of game was she playing?

But then he looked at her face, at the pain and insecurity which shone from her eyes, and he realized that no, she had no idea. He dialed back his emotions and took her hand. “I didn’t hate it at all. But kissing you… it was wrong, Willow. You have Oz. I’m… I can’t give you everything you deserve.” Nice euphemism there, boy-o. “I shouldn’t have done it. We’re friends and that’s all we can ever be.”

Her face fell, but she nodded. She knew he was right. He pulled her to him and hugged her, enjoying what contact they’d be able to share from now on.

So caught up was he in savoring the warmth of her body and the way she fit so neatly against him that, astonishingly, he didn’t hear the elevator grinding into motion. Apparently Willow didn’t hear it either. Which was why they both started, Angel going into game face, when they finally did hear something – the elevator doors opening again to admit an uninvited guest… and one who could apparently pick locks as well as Willow could.

“Willow? You're here?”

To be continued…
Chapter 15 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 15)

“Willow? You’re here?”

Oh god! How did he…? Willow almost fell on her butt as she pushed herself away from Angel. “Oz! Hi. Why are you…?”

“Kinda asked a similar thing just now.” His eyes were slightly narrowed and the barely perceptible inflection to his usual monotone read angry. “Haven’t been able to reach you. I called Giles when we got to L.A. and he said you were missing. Thought I’d see if Angel could help, but…” Wasn’t he supposed to be in Portland? Guess now wasn’t the time to ask about that, huh? What she needed to do was come up with a really awesome reason why she was here, hugging Angel, and not letting anyone in on her activities.

Angel immediately leapt into the fray. She could have kissed him… again - especially since he wasn't all ridge-y and fanged anymore. “It’s my fault. I needed her help and I asked her to keep it a secret. I thought we’d be done before anyone realized she was even gone.” You know, that was pretty darn good. Succinct, to the point, and free of the kind of extraneous detail that always tripped her up when she tried to lie.

Too bad it didn’t seem to be working any better than the overworked folderol she always came up with. Oz didn’t look a bit less angry. “It was kind of on the world-save-y-emergency side,” she offered, going to him and putting her hand on his arm.

He shook his head and shrugged off her touch. Oh god. This was serious. “We were worried about you.”

All right. Angel had had just about enough of this. As much as a part of him relished the sight of a rift between the two, he hated seeing Willow hurt, and the injustice of Oz’s actions and attitude rankled. “I already explained that it was my fault. I made her promise and if you know her at all, you know that promises are things she tends to keep. Tell Giles she’ll be home soon. She’ll return the books she borrowed – again, at my request – and they’re none the worse for wear. If all you’re here to do is try to make her feel guilty for helping a friend, and by the way, saving an innocent man from certain death just about an hour ago, then you can leave. Because this is my house.”

Was that movement he saw in Oz’s expression? Yes, it was. An eyebrow actually rose. Would wonders never cease? And now his eyes narrowed slightly. “What is it you guys are involved in?”

If things had been different, maybe he would have told Oz the whole truth, but not now. Now he wasn’t in the mood to share his weakness with anyone, even though he’d been cured. “I asked for her help with something. Then we stumbled onto a coven whose leader was trying to kill the owner of a magic shop in Pasadena. That’s who Willow just rescued.”

“And that’s what the hugging was about?”

Oh no. He’d noticed the hug. “We just saved a guy’s life,” Willow said, hoping he wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t exactly answering his question. She was such an awful liar.

“Yeah.” He looked away for a moment and then said, “So this was some magic thing, huh? Thought we agreed you’d take it slow.”

Okay, now she was offended. “No. You agreed. And anyway, you think it would have been better for Winston to die and for some teenage power junkie to be wreaking havoc all over Los Angeles?” She was worked up now and she just kept going. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I promised Angel. Anyway, you were gone and I had no way to get in touch with you, so I couldn’t have told you if I wanted to, which I didn’t, because I made a promise – which I kept and I’m glad I kept it.” Wow. Even she was kind of amazed at how long she could talk without stopping to breathe.

Oz looked completely taken aback… and Willow was immediately engulfed by a tidal wave of guilt. Oz was a musician. It was his life just as surely as magic was becoming her life. But here she was yelling at him for being himself, which was totally hypocritical – and wrong.

Not to mention the fact that she’d kissed someone else – again – and liked it… a lot.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a much softer tone of voice before she turned to Angel. “I’m gonna go upstairs with Oz for a minute so we can talk, okay?”

Angel nodded, even as his gut twisted. This was the part where they went upstairs, talked things out, and ended up closer than ever. And he’d have to smile and pretend to be happy for Willow when the two eventually came back down… holding hands, no doubt. He watched as they entered the elevator and it made its way slowly back up to the ground floor.

With a sigh, he walked aimlessly around his apartment before settling down in a chair… the chair where he’d sat drawing Willow as she slept. The sketchpad was still here beside it and he picked it up. Why not just torture himself a little more while he was at it?

There she was… asleep in his bed. He could still recall her scent when she awoke from that dream… the dream which had driven her to a cold shower… the dream which had probably starred the lucky mongrel she was upstairs with right now. Dammit. She was more unattainable than Buffy. The universe just refused to stop torturing him.

But he didn’t put the sketch away. No, he just kept staring at it. Masochist – that’s what he was, a masochist.

“I guess we should talk,” Willow said, sort of randomly, as she and Oz emerged into the dimly lit emptiness of the main floor. Of course they needed to talk. But then she shocked herself – and Oz – with what she said next. “This isn’t working, is it?”

Oz’s expression didn’t change, but even in the gloom, she could see the emotion in his eyes. “I love you.” He wasn’t arguing with her, though.

“I love you, too. It’s just…”

“Yeah.” A second later, she was in his arms, but the hug felt like what it was: goodbye.

“I really am sorry. I mean for making you worry – all of you, really. I know I should call Giles. It’s just… Angel…” She had no idea what she was saying. It hit her like a punch in the stomach just now. She was breaking up with Oz. Really and truly. Her first real love. Her first lover. It was over.

“You should call him,” Oz agreed. He was doing more than agreeing with her, though, and she knew it. He was saying that he was leaving it up to her. With everything she’d just done to him…

“You’re a wonderful guy.” She meant it, as much now as ever. Then he kissed her softly. There were so many more things she wanted to say, but she had no idea if saying them would make this better or make it harder, so she didn’t, and he headed for the door. “Guess I’ll see you when classes start.”

The look on his face… “I was just thinking…”

“You’re gonna focus on the Dingoes, huh.” It wasn’t a question. You know, whether he realized it or not, she really had done the right thing. Music was who he was, and if he’d been shackled to UC Sunnydale… It was hard enough out there in the music world if you weren’t a werewolf. “I know you’re gonna do great.” Tears began to fill her eyes as she stepped to him one last time and kissed his cheek.

“Thanks.” His expression was unreadable and it was a strange thing for him to say, but he was out the door before she had a chance to ask him what he meant.

She was never going to see him again, was she?

Even though this had been her doing, she couldn’t help it – in seconds she was bawling.

So there she stayed, by the door, crying, for what seemed like a very long time. Then, finally, she calmed down enough that she was able to bring herself under control, wipe her eyes, and pull herself together so that she could go back downstairs.

Angel did his best to feign an aura of nonchalance as he heard the elevator descend. In fact, he was so focused on his sang-froid that it wasn’t until the door opened that he realized there was only one occupant… and she’d been crying. Why had she been crying? And where was Oz?

“We broke up,” Willow said softly, answering the question he hadn’t asked, as he got up.

“Are you all right?”

“It was my idea.”

His heart soared as she spoke, but another look at her face and he responded, “That’s not what I asked. Are you all right?”

First she nodded, but then… then she shook her head. “I don’t know.” What should he do? More than anything he wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her uncertainty away, but that was a road down which they couldn’t go, and he knew it.

“He’s gone?”

She nodded again. “Yeah. He’s gone.” She stood before him now, eyes liquid and pleading. “What am I gonna do?”

That was a question Angel longed to answer by suggesting that she stay in Los Angeles, at least for awhile. He thought of couching the offer unselfishly as a way for her to avoid all the memories Sunnydale contained. But he couldn’t, could he? Her life was there, and she needed to, if nothing else, take Giles’s books back to him. Which made him think of something else: the grief she was bound to get for agreeing to help him and keep it a secret. “I should go with you,” he blurted out. “When you go back.” He sighed heavily and ran his hand through his hair. “This is all my fault, isn’t it?”

Huh? What was Angel…? Was he telling her she had to leave right now? Was he annoyed with her sorrow over Oz? Did he want to get rid of her that badly? But if he did, why was he offering to go with her? And what did he mean by saying this was all his fault? Willow was unstrung and confused and… Oh! He blamed himself for her breakup with Oz. That wasn’t right. Yeah, okay, maybe the whole thing with helping Angel – and other stuff – had precipitated it, but Willow knew that it had been inevitable. She and Oz had dreams that weren’t taking them down compatible roads anymore and they’d both seen it. Heck, it was probably better that it happened now, when the Dingoes were building momentum on the road and it wouldn’t be halted by Oz trying to play Joe College just to be with her. “It’s not your fault,” she said gently. “None of it. Oz and I… we just weren’t meant to be. Love isn’t always enough, you know?” And it wasn’t. Especially when part of her brain was mulling over the difference between ‘love’ and ‘in love’ and asking whether she’d felt that latter for Oz at all… at least lately. Did you kiss other people when you were really in love with someone?

“I still… I should have let you tell him.”

“Pfft,” she said, trying to be dismissive. “I didn’t know how to get in touch with him anyway. Besides, I don’t think it would have made a difference. Or if it did, we’d have still broken up later. It wasn’t just this thing with you and me, you know? Oz? He has goals and stuff – important, musical stuff – and being with me was holding him back. It was kinda the same for me with magic. He didn’t like it, so I didn’t try to do as much.” She sighed, feeling older and wiser and not sure she liked it at all. Guess that was why she was too distracted to notice what Angel was doing until he pulled her close.

This was a mistake. This was such a mistake. Holding her… it was killing him inside. Not because he wanted to take her to his bed right now – because he did and he didn’t – but because every touch made it so much harder to deal with her inevitable departure. “You’re an amazing woman,” he said, trying not to think about how soft her hair felt or how perfectly she fit against him.

“That’s probably not what Giles and Xander and Buffy are gonna say,” she said dispiritedly.

“I won’t let you face them alone. Because that part is my fault and I’m going to make sure they understand that I’m the one, the only one, they should be angry at.” He paused, fighting not to plant a soft kiss on the top of her head. “Tomorrow night we’re going back. No arguments, okay? I’m going back with you and I’m shouldering all the blame. It’s the least I can do.”

She shocked him by nodding and saying, “Okay.”

“As for tonight? I’m going to make you some dinner and then we’re going to go and do a little sightseeing. There’s plenty to see late at night here and you deserve some fun before you have to go home.”

When Willow looked up at him and smiled, he could feel his heart shatter into a thousand pieces. But he smiled back and let go of her before heading for the kitchen. “What would you like to eat?”

“Surprise me.”

Oh god, he groaned inwardly, if only she knew how many ways he wanted to do just that. But he tamped down his thoughts and began going through the food he’d purchased. Lobster. Perfect. This was, after all, his last night alone with Willow and he was determined to make it special, even if it had to be platonic.

Even if it really was the last night he’d ever spend with her.

Right now, he really hated Oz. Why had that boy decided to show up now?

To be continued…
Chapter 16 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 16)

The lobster dinner Angel made her had been delicious beyond anything Willow had expected and sightseeing had been fun, even if it had also been exhausting. Boy, Melrose Avenue had sure been eye-opening… in a lot of ways. How had that girl managed to dye each one of what looked like a hundred dreadlocks a completely different colour? For that matter, did anyone else in the universe have anywhere near that much hair? And the clothes… there were girls on Melrose who made Cordelia look like she was the one who’d seen the softer side of Sears. They all looked like models… and maybe they were. This was L.A., after all.

But even surrounded by all these gorgeous women, Angel had never once let go of her hand. She would always remember that… along with the jealous stares she’d gotten as they walked down the street. Boy was it ever a good thing that looks couldn’t kill.

Or maybe not, because now here they were – back at Angel’s apartment. Alone. And Willow was way too tired to stay awake. Which meant sleeping. In the same room as Angel. For the last time.

Part of her really wanted to insist on sleeping on the couch.

The other part of her wanted to cuddle with him on the bed and fall asleep in his arms.

Obviously, the second part was the part whose critical thinking skills – and memory of soul loss-age badness – had been left out in the car or had fallen behind the fridge or something.

“So. We’re here,” she said, feeling like the most brainless dork in the world the moment the words emerged.

“That we are.” Angel nodded, feeling like an idiot even as he did. Nice job with the witty repartee there, boy-o. He couldn’t help being tongue-tied, though. Tonight had shown him more than anything else how much he’d changed… and how much he loved Willow. All those women on Melrose, most more scantily clad than his companion by far, and he’d only had eyes for her. No, it was more than that – it was as if no one else existed. He could still feel her hand in his even though he was holding it no longer. Losing her… it already felt like a stake being driven slowly into his heart and she wasn’t even gone yet.

Just then she covered her mouth to stifle a yawn and he had to stifle a groan. She was going to need to sleep any minute… which meant she’d be lying in his bed. Again. After today, could he dare to lie beside her? Trust himself? Now that he knew she returned his feelings, at least to some extent, the answer to those questions was probably a resounding ‘no’… but he would and he knew it. “You’re tired,” he said, again kicking himself for saying something so lunkheaded and obvious.

She blushed even as she yawned again. “I guess I am, huh.” She decided the pajamas she'd previously eschewed as too intimate were actually just the ticket tonight. They were the opposite of sexy, so the odds of tempting him - or of him being inspired to tempt her - were pretty much nil. Grabbing her bag, she hurried into the bathroom. Should she pack up her stuff now? No. That was silly. They weren’t leaving until sundown and she should take a shower and brush her teeth before then. Oh god. Shower. Wet, naked Angel… Great time to think about that dream, Willow.

Shaking her head to clear out the naughty thoughts, she changed into her cow pajamas and exited the bathroom, just knowing that her sleeping attire was probably gonna make Angel wish he’d gotten the numbers of some of those girls on Melrose… not that he could do anything about it, but still…

She emerged and saw that Angel had taken off his shoes and… was lying on the bed with his eyes closed. Oh god. They were sleeping together. Well, not… but sleeping and it was together, so…

Biting the bullet, she climbed up on the bed beside him, gazing at him in the soft glow of the light cast by the bedside lamp. He didn’t move, so he must have already fallen asleep. Was she glad or sorry? Probably both, huh? With a soft sigh, she lay down and closed her eyes too, sure it was going to take her a lot longer to join him in slumber.

It didn’t. Within seconds she was snoring softly.

Angel opened his eyes with a start; he wasn’t in his apartment asleep. Instead, he was standing – standing? – in Pagan Earth. What the…? He wasn’t alone, though he couldn’t see anyone, and he slipped into game face, instantly on guard.

“I thought you’d have better things to do,” came a chuckle from the shadows.


“You could be home enjoying yourself, but instead you choose to come to me?”

Huh? He hadn’t chosen to come anywhere. He didn’t even know how he’d gotten here. But he said nothing, hoping an explanation would be forthcoming,

“You’re free, freed by the bonds you have forged. Just leave your baggage in Sunnydale and enjoy your flight.”

No, that wasn’t an explanation, it didn’t even make any sense, but if there was any more, Angel didn’t get to hear it. A second later…

His eyes opened again – really opened this time. He was lying in his own bed next to Willow, who was still asleep. What the hell… It took him a moment, but he realized he’d been dreaming. The dream, though… it had felt so real. Dreams like this… they always meant something. He just hoped it wasn’t the usual: trouble. Lots and lots of it.

He sighed and stayed where he was, staring up at the ceiling. It wasn’t like there was anything to do about it now.

A second later, Willow sat bolt upright beside him, breathing hard and looking around.

“Willow? Is something wrong? Did you have a nightmare?”

Okay, that was Angel’s voice, wasn’t it? Had she… oh gosh. That had been a dream, huh? But boy had it felt real – way more real than the dream in the car… or, sadly, even the naughty dream she’d had that… Maybe thinking about that one would be a bad idea right now, especially with Angel having the super vamp senses and all. “Not really a nightmare,” she finally said, very conscious of him now sitting up with his arm around her. All she wanted to do was pin him to the bed and… Oh god. She was so going to hell for this… and she had a hunch that this time Angel wouldn’t be there.

Maybe if she told Angel about the dream, it would distract her from the inappropriate thoughts. “It was just… I dreamt I was at Pagan Earth and Winston was there. Only I couldn’t see him. I just heard his voice. And what he said… it was kind of weird in ‘not making very much sense’ kind of way. Something about leaving…”

“Your baggage in Sunnydale and enjoying your flight?” Angel said, finishing her sentence and freaking her out more than a little. “I’m guessing we had the same dream.”

Yeah. Probably a very good guess since it was Willow’s guess too. But what did it mean? “Do you understand what he was talking about?” Gosh did she hope so because she had no clue.

Angel shook his head glumly. He’d really been hoping that instead of asking that question, she might have been able to answer it, but that seemed not to be the case.

“Well it has to mean something. ‘Cause we both had the same dream.” She was right about that, but it didn’t make any answers suddenly appear and he sighed heavily. Willow continued. “We should probably do some research. This could be major badness, you know? Like one of Buffy’s prophetic dreams? Maybe it’s something we need to know before we go back tomorrow, something we need to tell Giles.”

Without another word, she bounced off the bed as if she’d had a whole night’s sleep and not merely the half hour or so the clock told him they’d been slumbering. He followed, grabbing some books as she turned on her laptop. For a moment, though, he wondered if this was so urgent after all. Now that he thought about it, what Winston had said in their dream didn’t sound dire at all. Still, the fact that they’d shared this dream, right before returning to Sunnydale? His initial concerns, which gibed with Willow’s, were probably right on target. This had to be trouble. The only question was what kind.

Hours passed, filled with the sound of computer keys clicking and pages turning, but no answer was uncovered. Not even the slightest of clues as to where one might be found. It was frustrating and Willow was beginning to think she was losing her edge. She’d thought her failure to hack the Mayor’s files was an anomaly, but what if it wasn’t? What if she’d lost her mojo? Oh god. Was she doomed to be Xander, whose sole skill on the computer was finding the most virus-laden porn sites ever?

Angel turned another page and then looked up at her. “There’s nothing here. No prophecies, not even anything that might help with any kind of meanings or symbolism.”

His failure didn’t make her feel any better about her own. “What are we gonna do?” They were going back to Sunnydale soon and possibly facing something major and they had no idea what it was… well, except for the part where everyone was furious with her for leaving without telling them and steal… borrowing Giles’s books. That she definitely knew they’d be facing.

The answer she got? “We’re going to see Winston the moment the sun goes down.”

“You really think he’ll be able to help? I mean, yeah, he was in the dream, but lots of times people in dreams are just symbols of things and not who they really are.” Of course, right then, she just had to flash back to her naughty dream… the one where Angel most definitely did not symbolize anything but Angel.

The blush creeping into Willow’s cheeks as she spoke intrigued him and Angel almost asked her about it when he decided it would be wiser just to stick to the subject at hand for the time being. “He’s our best… our only shot at this point. This dream has to mean something and the fact that Sunnydale is mentioned? We better try to figure it out before we go back there.”

Her shoulders slumped and she sighed sadly. “This has to be about me. I mean, I’m the one who…”

Angel was having none of it and before she could even begin her self-hating rant, he went to her, pulling her to her feet and into his arms. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You were helping me, doing exactly what I asked you to.” How could she even think her actions were the cause of something terrible… something he wasn’t even sure was terrible. The more he thought about it… “Winston… what he said in the dream? It didn’t sound like a warning.”

She looked up into his eyes, her expression quizzical and her brow furrowed adorably. “But aren’t prophetic dreams always bad? Buffy’s always are. And this one has to be prophetic because we both had it.” As syllogisms went, this one was more of a logical fallacy, but he supposed he couldn’t blame her. He too had defaulted to ‘trouble’ before some thought had changed his perception.

Putting his hand under her chin, he smiled gently and said, “No matter what this is, it’s not your fault.”

“You don’t know that.”

He shook his head at her tendency to take the blame. “I know.” This time, he didn’t wait for her to argue. Instead, he leaned down and kissed her.

Oh god. Angel was kissing her. Again. This was so tempting more badness. It was also making it harder and harder for her to imagine enduring the inevitable – losing him forever after tomorrow.

One more thing that was her fault. Why couldn’t she have somehow fixed his stupid curse? Even the gypsies had to realize that clause was a mistake since Angelus had killed not one, but two more of their own. So why – why – was it still impossible for him to be happy?

Or for Willow?

Because yeah, she was already miserable and she wasn’t even back in Sunnydale yet. But how could she not be despondent? She had a future of substandard professors, annoying roommates who’d probably bring random guys back to the dorm who’d steal stuff before they left in the morning, and worst of all, a broken heart to which she could look forward as of now. This was punishment, wasn’t it? Was it because she’d never really repented for Vamp Willow beating up Percy? Or was it for cheating on Oz by kissing other guys… twice? Or was it the books… because she was returning them – and the car – and she’d always intended to do exactly that, so it had totally been borrowing. Seriously. Okay, there were some legal issues on that point, but…

Thinking was becoming an issue, because Angel was still kissing her. She was kissing him back, too; getting lost in the feel of his mouth against hers, the taste of him as their tongues… ooh, hands. Hands in new places. Good places… no, bad places, but bad places that felt good and…

Okay, they were on the bed now. How did they get here?

It hadn’t taken long at all for the kiss to go from sweet and comforting to intense and passionate and Angel, to his shock and shame, did nothing to rein himself in. The opposite in fact. He lost himself in savoring the taste and scent of her, the feel of her body against his, the silk of her skin under his hands. Sure, he could tell himself that this was just because soon she’d be gone from him forever, but that was no fit excuse for the risks he was taking… especially when he’d somehow maneuvered her onto the bed, and this time they were not getting ready to go to sleep.

His hands had moved up under her pajama top and were now caressing her breasts. This was very soon going to pass the point of no return… and that would be disastrous. He had to stop and he had to stop now. Wrenching himself away from her, he stood, panting reflexively in frustration. Damn the universe for doing this to him!

Grabbing his leather coat from the closet and grateful that there was still an hour before daylight, he growled, “I need to take a walk.” With that, and without even turning back to look at Willow, he got on the elevator and headed upstairs. Hopefully no passersby would be about to notice the state he was in, but whether they did or not, Angel needed a walk. Distance and a chance to cool down were the only things that could keep Willow – and the world, for that matter – safe.

To be continued…
Chapter 17 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 17)

Willow shed more than a few frustrated and angry tears as Angel’s absence stretched from five minutes to ‘was he ever coming back?’ How had this even happened? When she left Sunnydale a short while ago, she had been happily looking forward to college and was sure she loved Oz with all her heart. Her friendship with Angel had been based almost entirely on their mutual bent for world save-age and both of them caring a lot about Buffy. Now, though? The thought of college depressed her in a way she thought was reserved for Xander and her heart belonged whole and entire to Angel.

Again, how had this even happened?

Also, this level of sexual frustration was new and completely unwelcome (and no, she didn’t want to think about Buffy feeling the same way because that just reminded her that she was betraying her best friend by even thinking about Angel in a naughty way, let alone the make-out session that had just happened).

She glanced at the clock and started to worry. Oh gosh. It was nearly 6 AM. The sun had to be coming up. Where was…? Just then she heard the sound of the elevator and breathed a sigh of relief. At least he wasn’t dust.

“Sorry,” Angel said the moment he entered the room and saw the expression on Willow’s face. “I needed to clear my head. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“It’s okay,” she said, and she clearly meant it – which was more than Angel would have done had the situation been reversed. “Are you okay?”

Other than wanting her so badly that his body still ached with it? “I’m fine.” That was nearly a lie and he headed for the refrigerator. Slaking one hunger would help him control the other. He didn’t stop to think about the silvery bag or where he’d gotten it until after he’d heated and drunk its contents, but even then, he couldn’t see any reason for concern. Winston owed them his life – he would have warned them if there were anything wrong with the blood he’d sent Willow to buy.

Speaking of which, he should probably make another run while Willow was still here. Who knew if he’d be able to get this stuff himself? He might as well enjoy it while he could… which brought him back to the subject of his companion. “I’ll miss you,” he said, the words feeling paltry and tasting of ash on his tongue. There was so much more – so very much more – but how could he say it without increasing his own pain to where it became intolerable?

Miss you? After what had just happened – or almost happened, but that was splitting hairs, wasn’t it? – all she got was ‘I’ll miss you’? Willow wasn’t sure if she wanted to cry or slap Angel in the face, maybe both, but she elected to do neither. She had learned from years of enduring Cordelia Chase (and Sheila and Ira) that the last thing you ever wanted was to let people know when they’d hurt you. So she put on her best I Don’t Care Face – the second cousin of her Resolve Face – and tossed back an airy and careless, “Yeah. I’ll miss you too. You should set up an email address so we can keep in touch.”

Two seconds later, she felt Angel’s strong grip on her upper arms as he stood in front of her. Whoa. “I didn’t mean it that way. You know that.” Well, she did now. And as much as she was absolutely 100% feminist, she had to admit that Angel’s caveman routine was reassuring… and sort of hot. What was hotter, though? That would be when he kissed her again.

Oh god. Every time they kissed it just became more intense and more exciting and the last thing she wanted to do was stop before they tore each other’s clothes off but… She broke away, panting. “We can’t.” Tears of frustration were in her eyes now. “It’s not fair,” she all but wailed, “but we have to stop or…”

“I know.” He pulled her close and she noticed that… yeah, she wasn’t the only one who really wanted to do naughty, naked things right now. Wow. He was… not small. “But this is why you have to go home. Why we can’t see each other again.”

He could feel her head nod against his chest, right where the heart which never beat was somehow managing to break. What in the hell had he done this time to make the universe torture him so? And what about Willow? She’d lost Oz because of him and the feelings she now had. How was this just? What had she done to deserve to have her life laid to waste?

“I know,” she said softly.

“You should try and get some more sleep. We have a lot ahead of us tonight.”

She nodded again as she gently pulled out of his embrace. “Yeah. I guess that’s a good idea.” She headed toward the bed, but then turned back to look at him quizzically. “What about you?” As if he could lie next to her and either of them could get any rest.

“You take the bed. I have some things I want to do. Besides, you need sleep more than I do.”

For a moment, it appeared she might argue, but then she yawned. Clearly the adrenaline from their encounter and all the resulting emotional turmoil had dissipated. Good. She needed rest. Thanks to him, her ordeal was far from over. All he could do was vow to stand between her and as much of the anger and opprobrium headed her way as possible.

There was something about her, lying there in those childish pajamas… again, there was no trace of the powerful creature who’d fought beside him with weapons as potent – or more so – than his demonic abilities. She looked for all the world like a fragile young girl, a perfect innocent, and it was startling. The contrast, he had to admit, was more than a bit arousing.

Fantasies fresh in his mind, he sat in the chair facing the bed and took up his sketchpad once more. Giving his imagination free rein, his charcoal began to move across the paper, bringing images to shadowed, un-lived life… the only life they’d ever know.

Unaware of what she was doing on Angel’s paper under the tutelage of his pencil, Willow slept dreamlessly for a long while…

Until suddenly, her mind was shocked into wakefulness. “Huh?” She rubbed at her eyes. She was standing. When had she gotten out of bed? And how had she gotten to Pagan Earth… in her cow pajamas?

“You’re a lucky woman to have a man who considers that to be sexy lingerie.” Winston. Willow suddenly realized that she was dreaming again. Which made sense. She would never have worn her pj’s in public.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“I thought I’d be asking you that, but the answer is clearly nothing.” The knowing look he gave her told her exactly what he was talking about.

“We can’t,” she countered, wondering why she was opening up to an almost-stranger before she remembered that – hey! – this was a dream and she could say anything she wanted. “There’s a curse. Angel can’t…” Okay, she was still herself and there was only so far she could go. “Well, he can’t, not without losing his soul. It’s a curse,” she repeated. “A really powerful one.”

Why was Winston laughing? Even in a dream that made no sense. “Oh my dear. Did your parents never wash your mouth out with soap? The best cure for cursing. Or most everything really. A good cleaning will fix almost anything… well, at least when you add some magic.”

Just as she awoke, bolt upright yet again, it occurred to her that Winston’s voice didn’t sound at all like him but the thought disappeared as she noticed Angel sleeping in the chair across from her. Was he having the same dream?

All right, a moment ago he’d been sketching Willow and she was… He’d been sketching Willow, okay? Leave it at that. So how in the heck had he gotten…?

He had fallen asleep, obviously, because despite how real this felt, this was the second trip to Pagan Earth which had started this way and he knew darn well this time that it was a dream. He was sick of this cryptic nonsense. Two hundred plus years as a demon and all this decoder ring crap was getting way too old. “Winston!” he bellowed. “If you have something to say, just say it, okay? It’s not like I can’t beat it out of you when I see you.” Flies with honey, not vinegar, you oaf. So he rephrased. “Willow just saved your life. Don’t you owe her?”

“Didn’t your mother ever wash your mouth out with soap?” the man asked, this time his voice oddly changed. But before Angel could ponder the meaning of that, his eyes flew open. Here he was – back in his apartment, sitting in the chair where… glancing down at his sketchpad, he quickly flipped it so his latest art couldn’t be seen and looked over at the bed where Willow was sitting, staring at him.

“I guess you had another dream, huh?” It was pretty obvious from the way Angel had awakened. “Same as mine?” she asked before she realized how silly that question was. “Sorry. Guess it would help if I told you about mine first, huh?” He smiled at her and her heart did a painful little flip. Could he please just stop that? “I was at Pagan Earth and Winston… well, he didn’t say much, but he said something weird about my parents washing…”

“Your mouth out with soap?” Angel interjected. It was clear that Winston had told him the same thing.

“Oh. Well it sounds like we had the same dream then. Except you probably weren’t wearing cow pajamas.”

He chuckled softly and his eyes crinkled at the corners and… darn it. Her heart did that little flip thing again and it hurt – again – and she wished he would just be obnoxious and repulsive. Couldn’t he please do that knuckle-cracking thing that always drove her crazy when Xander did it so she could feel at least a little less hopelessly in love with him?

“What time is it?” she asked, wondering if she wanted it to be early so they’d have more time together and it would hurt lots more when she and Angel had to say goodbye once and for all or late so they could get everything over with and she could go back to Sunnydale where everyone would be mad at her and she’d lose Angel forever and… there was no good option, was there?

“6:45,” Angel said, shocked at how late it was and by the fact that he’d been so disoriented he hadn’t realized it was this close to sundown. “You slept for a long time.” And he’d slept far too soundly when he had. He put the sketchpad back on the side table and got up. “I suppose you ought to start getting your things together. We should be able to leave in about an hour.” He headed for the kitchen, figuring a little more blood wouldn’t hurt to fortify himself for the many difficult encounters ahead.

“You were drawing,” she said, out of nowhere. “Can I see?” Before he could stop her, she’d picked up his sketchpad. Was it too much to hope that she’d stop at the first sketch of her sleeping? Yes it was, because she glanced at that one for a moment before she flipped the page and… “Oh!” Her eyes were so wide he could see the roundness of her eyeballs. “I… ummm…” She flipped to the next drawing and her eyes grew wider still as her mouth opened in an ‘oh’ which was silent this time.

He was about to apologize when he noticed something… her scent. She wasn’t offended at all – quite the contrary, in fact – which only made him curse the fates that played with his life more roundly than ever. All the soap in all the world couldn’t make him stop reviling them for sadistic bastards. He’d give anything to try that second sketch with Willow in the flesh. She was an active girl and he was sure she was limber enough. She was staring longest at the third one, though… and they’d never be trying either one, so he really needed to stop thinking about it. Maybe burn those sketches when he got back from Sunnydale.

Or not. Without her here, there’d be no danger and he could… well enjoy them.

You know, Angel was a really good artist. Which was totally why she was staring at these drawings. Because she was so not paying attention to what was going on in them and no, she was not wondering if a little pain really did feel good, the way it looked in the drawing of her with… wow, was it hot in here? She resisted the urge to fan herself though and was just grateful she wasn’t blushing… until she remembered Angel’s sense of smell. Oh god. He totally knew she was turned on by the idea of him… You know, there once was a time when she’d thought woman on top was the height of kinky, but now… Yeah, she was a total pervert.

And more depressed than ever. If this was her punishment for lying and steal… borrowing stuff then consider her chastened, okay? So, so chastened. Could she please somehow stop hurting now? “I’m just gonna go change and get my stuff out of the bathroom, okay?” With that, she set the sketchpad down, grabbed her bag, and almost ran out of the room.

Once the door was closed behind her, she went to the sink and turned on the cold water, splashing her face with it over and over. She loved Angel, she wanted Angel, and after tonight she was never going to see Angel again. This was bad. This was so bad. This was worse than anything that had ever happened to her, ever. She thought she’d known heartbreak when Oz had caught her fluking with Xander. Hah! She hadn’t even known what heartbreak was then. This? Now this was heartbreak.

But there was nothing she could do. In a few minutes, they’d be on their way to Pagan Earth to question Winston about all the wacky dreams and then… off to Sunnydale so Giles and Xander and maybe even Buffy could yell at her for what a terrible person she was and how much worry and trouble she’d caused. After that, Angel would go home and she would say there and…

No, no tears, Rosenberg. Buck up. Besides, you’ll do plenty of crying later.

So she quickly changed into a lightweight sweater and jeans, gathered up her cheap shampoo and cheap body wash with a sigh as she resisted the urge to take one more whiff of Angel’s fancy products, grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste, and, after stuffing everything, including her pajamas, into her bag, headed back into the main room.

Was it wrong that Angel was almost glad that Willow looked as miserable as he felt when she emerged from the bathroom? Hell, he was already paying for more sins than he’d ever committed, he could be allowed to indulge in a bit of misery loving company, even if that company was the woman he loved. Naturally, he immediately felt guilty about it. She didn’t deserve to share his agonizing loneliness. She had given him so much and so unselfishly. He wanted her to be happy; he did… just not where he could see it.

The sun was setting now. He could feel it in his bones, the way all vampires could. Tonight was the last night he’d be spending with her, with the woman he loved.

He wanted to tell her no: he’d changed his mind; she shouldn’t go back to Sunnydale at all; they could ship the books back to Giles; they would hire someone to drive her parents’ car home; he’d pay for her to enroll at USC… but he couldn’t do that, could he? Because after tonight he knew he’d never be able to resist temptation and he loved her too much to leave her at the mercy of Angelus, who would glory in the chance to avenge his second imprisonment behind the bars of Angel’s soul.

It was time. “Your books and laptop are on the table. We better get going if we want to stop at Winston’s first. After all, we have two sets of dreams we need his help to decipher.”

She nodded. “Yeah. We really better get them figured out before we see Giles. They’re probably really important.”

As she spoke, she took her laptop and put it in its case. Angel was about to pick up her books for her when something occurred to him. Yes, it was selfish and possibly silly, but… “If it’s okay, can we make a stop first and pick up some blood from the dealer you found?”

To be continued…
Chapter 18 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 18)

Okay, this was weird. Very, very weird. “I wrote down the address and everything,” Willow said as she drove around the block for the third time looking in vain for the building where she’d purchased Angel’s blood. A chill went down her spine as she took a good look at a vacant lot and saw… Oh god. There. Lying on the ground. It was the sign that read “Sheffield’s Fine Meats”. Only now… now it was old and decrepit and surrounded by garbage and possibly a homeless encampment. This was no longer weird. It was now officially scary. Should she tell…? “Ummm… Angel? I really don’t want you to freak out, but that vacant lot? It’s where I got the blood. Only then it wasn’t a vacant lot.” What had she done?

“We need to see Winston. Now.”

Was that fear in his voice? Oh no. It was. And it was all her fault. “I’m sorry.” Boy was that lame and insufficient. Sorry? Really? Then her brain started whirring. What could have been in that blood? Could it be a slow-acting poison? Possibility after possibility clicked through her mind. She’d been so sure Winston was a good guy. Why would he want to do something terrible to Angel? Was it possible that he was Kalderash? Oh god! What if he was? If he was, there was no telling what could be happening to Angel right this very second; it could even be… Had she restored his sight at the cost of his soul?

The blood he’d been drinking for several days had come from a butcher shop which didn’t exist recommended by a man he and Willow barely knew, but Angel wasn’t panicking. That would be silly. Vampires never panicked.

All right, yes, he had to concede that what he was experiencing was something that could possibly be mistaken for panicking, but it was not panicking. It wasn’t.

Of course, if he were panicking, anyone could see that he had good reason, but still – no – he was not panicking.

Just the same, he really wished Willow would drive a little faster so they could get some answers from Winston. Voluntarily or not – Angel didn’t much care either way. “It’s not your fault,” he finally said, proud of how calm he managed to keep his tone.

Willow tried to smile and be a brave little toaster, but her hands were shaking on the steering wheel and, Angel’s absolution notwithstanding, she felt worse about this than she did about anything she’d ever done – even not being able to fix Amy. What kind of person just took it on faith that a random guy who owned a magic shop was trustworthy? It was the compliments, wasn’t it? She’d been so flattered that he knew who she was that she lost all discernment and common sense. Was she ever going to get over her stupid insecurities?

Hopefully, she was at least be over them enough to intimidate Winston into giving them some straight answers, though, because here they were – looking for a place to park in front of Pagan Earth. Luckily a space opened up, because Angel got out almost before she’d finished parking.

“Wait up,” she called out as she almost got tangled up in her seat belt trying to exit the car. At least he was enough of a gentleman to slow down, so they entered the store sort of together.

“Winston.” It was all Angel could do not to start the conversation by reaching over the counter and grabbing the guy by the throat. “We have some questions for you.”

Was it his imagination or did the man look as if he’d been expecting him?

“I’ve been expecting you.” All right. Not his imagination at all. But he still kept a cautious eye on Winston as he came out from behind the counter. For a small, slight man, he certainly had a great deal of presence, didn’t he? Was it the magic? “I want to apologize. I realize the dreams were rather cryptic.” Winston’s expression… it was slightly odd and Angel thought for a moment that his eyes drifted toward the back room, but he couldn’t be sure and the man seemed genuinely apologetic, so he let it slide… for now. Especially since what worried him more was Winston confirming that he had sent the dreams in the first place.

“Those dreams were definitely on the cryptic side,” Willow affirmed. She was more nervous than ever now that Winston had admitted that he’d sent the dreams. Oh god. That meant he’d seen her in her cow pajamas. This was almost as bad as those dreams where she went to school naked. “Why did you send them anyway?”

He smiled paternally. “Because I could see that you didn’t know.”

“Didn’t know what?” She was having flashbacks to the days of Xander and Cordelia.

“That you’d anchored Angel’s soul.”

“I what?”

It was at that precise moment that Willow would have fainted – if only she could have figured out which way was down.

Angel wasn’t sure he’d heard Winston correctly. “Willow…”

“Anchored your soul, yes.”

She what? “How…”

“When she came to me, asking about the spell… she let it slip that the one who had been affected was a vampire. Knowing her history, it was easy for me to deduce just who it was, so…” His voice trailed off and Angel shot a glare at Willow, who looked suitably abashed. Her babbling… though in this case maybe her indiscretion hadn’t been such a bad thing after all.

But wait a minute… “How did you…?”

“Know about your curse? It’s not much of a secret how you lost your soul, my friend. Even if the Kalderash are a fairly discreet bunch, there are members of the Order of Aurelius who aren’t.” That clinched it. There was a stake with Spike’s name on it. Had that bleached moron told everyone? “And of course, once I met her, I knew Willow had not felt confident enough to alter the original curse in any way before restoring your soul.”

Okay, maybe he had a point but Winston’s remark about her confidence stung. How confident would you be, Mr. Smarty McMagicpants, if your first major spell was restoring the soul of a vampire? “I was in the hospital with a concussion when I performed the curse,” she started to explain when the look on Winston’s face stopped her momentarily. Was that awe? Oh wow. That was so cool. Must be what Buffy felt like, huh? Being impressive. Of course, in the interests of honesty, she had to continue. “Plus, it sort of felt like getting taken over by something else. Not sure how much of the cursing was actually me.”

There was that indulgent smile again, but he still seemed impressed. “Yes, that would have been the Kalderash ensuring that the curse stayed the same.” He shook his head. “Hatred – it’s never the right place from which to draw magic. Thankfully, however, you’ve corrected it and now it’s all about –,“ he gave them a knowing look, “love.”

Willow couldn’t stop herself from blushing, but her head stayed clear enough for her to remember something. “What about the blood?” she blurted out. “The place you sent me…”

Winston’s chuckle was her first answer. “Ah yes. So he’s gone again, eh? He never does stay in one place for long. But he always seems to know where he’s going to be needed, bless him. Anchoring Angel’s soul required pure blood, untainted and clean, or Angel would have had to drink from you, but…”

“You knew I’d never do that.” Angel glowered at the man. If there was anything he hated, it was feeling like a pawn in someone else’s game and that was how he felt right now. “Why didn’t you tell Willow what was going on?”

“Confidence,” he said, and Angel could almost feel Willow’s annoyance. “It would have done no good for her to feel too much pressure. But the moment she entered my store, I could feel her power. I knew she was more than capable.” That was inarguable and Angel hoped she realized how true it was. Look at how she’d saved his life and…

Oh god. The reality suddenly hit him and he found himself restarting an earlier exchange, only this time in a vastly different mindset. “My soul. It’s…”

“As I told you: anchored, my undead friend. You no longer need fear the happiness you so clearly deserve.”

Could vampires faint? Probably not, though Angel felt that it might be a close run thing. His soul. It was his. He could do anything he wanted, be… with anyone he wanted. A month ago, that would have been Buffy… or he’d have thought it had to be Buffy, but now… now the only thing he could see was a future with Willow.

Except that she had a life in Sunnydale and close friends… including Buffy. Who would never accept the two of them together.

So it looked like, no matter what, he was never going to be happy.

Willow’s brow furrowed and unfurrowed, seemingly of its own volition. Gosh! Angel… she’d anchored Angel’s soul. So that’s what that feeling had been, the way she was so drained after what she’d thought was a simple reversal spell. Now it all made sense. That was a whole lot of casting going on, huh?

Then her mind got to the part where… oh. Oh! She’d anchored Angel’s soul. Which meant he could be happy – as happy as he wanted to be… like, in a physical way.

What would that mean, though? Because… yeah, sure, absolutely, she was happy for him no matter what and she would never regret… but what if he decided to go back to Buffy? How was she supposed to… But how could she be with Angel if he wanted to be with…?

She couldn’t. She could never hurt Buffy like that, no matter how much she wanted to be with Angel.

There was just no way for any of this to end without her heart being broken into thousands of tiny pieces.

After a few moment’s dismal reflection, Angel noticed that Winston was staring at him. “What?” he huffed, still not sure whether he liked this guy or not.

“I don’t understand. I would have thought you’d be pleased, but you both look as if… well, certainly not as if you’ve been handed the keys to a bright future.”

All right, the man had a point, but without divulging far more of his personal life to man who already knew more than he should to begin with, what was Angel supposed to say? “It’s complicated.” He all but winced as he heard the words come out of his mouth. Nice. That was eloquent indeed, m’boy. If Spike were here… oh hell. He’d already have been doubled over in hysterics but this would have pushed him right over the edge.

“I don’t see why. You love her. She loves you. Now that no curse stands between you and… expressing those feelings…” Winston smirked slightly, but he looked nothing like Spike.

He shook his head. “It’s not that simple.” Great. Repeating himself with only a slight difference in wording. But honestly, what else would serve by way of explanation?

“It really isn’t,” Willow agreed, oddly cheered by the fact that it seemed Angel was not, in fact, rushing off to reunite with Buffy. Of course she hated herself for that. She should want her best friend to be happy, right?

Winston didn’t know anything about their personal lives, though, so Willow wasn’t surprised by his confusion. “Why isn’t it simple?”

Okay, what was she supposed to say? Because Angel hadn’t used the ‘B’ word, so she wasn’t sure if it was okay for her to bring it up, but… “Angel used to date my best friend.”

“The Slayer. I know.” The raised eyebrow confirmed that… yeah, he knew. “But she has to be aware…,” he turned and addressed his words to the big pale guy, “Surely, Angel, by now she, like you, realizes how ridiculous the notion of a union between a vampire and the Slayer is?”

Umm… maybe she better let Angel take this one since, up until this very moment, Willow hadn’t thought of it as being ridiculous exactly. In fact, until she’d fallen for Angel herself, she’d seen Angel and Buffy as sort of poetic and star-crossed.

“Buffy’s young,” Angel said carefully. He had been wont to think disparagingly of her lately and he felt more than a little guilt on that score. He could at least keep from speaking ill aloud; that might ameliorate his shame. “I was her first love.” And she had been his, hadn’t she? At the height of their passion, he’d thought no greater love could exist. He’d been wrong, but he only knew that because of what he now shared with Willow. Unless Buffy too had moved on… Oh how he hoped she had. It was possible, after all. Maybe that was the reason she had neglected Willow this summer. The thought cheered him…

Until he gave it some greater thought. If she’d fallen in love, Willow would have heard from her immediately. She wouldn’t have been able to contain herself. He sighed, seeing a mirror of his own despair in Willow’s downcast expression.

“Your soul being anchored is still good news, though,” Willow said, her eyes locked on his and making his heart ache with the knowledge of what he could have had… if only. Then she seemed to shake herself and put her brave mask on. “We better go. We need to get to Sunnydale before sunrise. Thanks for everything, Winston.”

That same man looked confused…again. It seemed to be a habit with him. “Why are you going back there? I thought…. Didn’t the dream…?” He stopped himself and Angel thought he saw him cheat another quick glance to the back room. What the… “Your friends are coming to see you. In fact, they’ve probably already arrived at your home.”

What? Buffy and Giles… Oh no. This couldn’t be good. How had they even learned Willow was here?

Her face was chalk white and Angel went to her, pulling her into his arms. “We’ll face them together,” he said. “And I’ll do everything I can to make things right.”

With that, and a perfunctory farewell to Winston, Angel guided Willow back to the car. He took the keys. She was in no shape to drive.

Given what might be waiting for them back at his place, he completely understood.

Why on Earth had Giles come to L.A.?

To be continued…
Chapter 19 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 19)

“We’re here.”

Angel spoke softly, but his voice still jolted Willow, who’d been in a disoriented haze throughout the entire drive back from Pagan Earth. “Oh,” she said, once her racing heart slowed. “I guess that makes sense, seeing as how we’re parked and all.”

He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “It’s going to be all right.” She watched him look around and her gaze followed his; she paled as he smiled and said, “I don’t see Giles’s car.”

“I do. He… he doesn’t drive the Citroen anymore. See that red convertible?” The one sitting right under the streetlight, looking like a big ‘Danger’ sign. “That’s his.”

Was that a snort of derision from Angel? Was it because his car was bigger? What was it with men and cars, anyway? And was now really the time to even care? “He doesn’t know anything about performance,” Angel sniffed, sotto voce, but not so low that she couldn’t hear him. She didn’t reply, though. It wasn’t as if she knew anything about cars. All she knew was that she thought Giles’s car was cute and sporty, but yeah, Angel’s was sleeker and more imposing. That didn’t exactly qualify her for an editorial position at Motor Trend.

Again, none of this was at all relevant or important at the moment. They needed to get out of the car and face the firing squad, aka everyone in the world who mattered to Willow… at least everyone who wasn’t Angel.

Once he was done glaring disdainfully at Rupert Giles’s woefully underpowered, pretentious set of four wheels attached to outrageous future repair bills – and what on Earth was a dyed in the wool Englishman doing driving a German car anyway? – Angel got his mind back on track and scanned his surroundings, looking for their visitors.

They were nowhere to be seen.

Oh no.

It looked like Willow wasn’t the only one capable of breaking into his office. Dammit! He really needed to see about upgrading his security, although at the moment it seemed as pointless as locking the barn door after the horses had escaped. “They must be inside,” he said to Willow, trying not to sound as worried as he felt… or as she looked.

They got out of the car, both nervous. Angel was glad for once not to be human… at least his palms weren’t sweating when he took Willow’s hand. “It’s going to be okay,” he said, not for the first time, as he pulled her to him and planted a kiss on top of her head. “They love you.”

Willow heard Angel’s words but she wasn’t sure she believed him. Okay, maybe Buffy wouldn’t stake them, but… Would her friends still love her if they knew the whole truth? She said nothing, however, just taking a ludicrously deep breath and letting Angel lead her through the door into his building.

The office was empty. Oh god. So they had taken the elevator down to Angel’s apartment. Great. Perfect. Maybe they even found the caviar. Things could not be more dire.

You know, she should never have had that thought, she realized as they got into the elevator for their own trip down, because if experience had taught her anything it was that things could always get worse.

Taking another deep breath, she clutched Angel’s hand so tightly that she could feel her knuckles go white. There was no time to say a word or even share a look because just then, the elevator arrived at its destination. With nothing more than a nod to her, Angel opened the gate. Here goes nothing.

“Do you have any idea how worried we’ve been?” three voices asked, more or less simultaneously. Oh goody. An ambush. She was so not a fan of being put on the spot. She could already feel her tongue tying itself in knots and she hadn’t even tried to speak yet.

Angel felt increasing sympathy as he witnessed Willow’s reaction to her friends. She was a witch powerful enough to slay demons, restore his sight, and anchor his soul and yet she shrank into herself when facing people she knew and loved, more terrified of losing their affection than she was of losing her life. Looked like it was his turn to be the hero.

For a moment he was tempted to start by putting them on the defensive by asking why the hell they’d broken into his home, but he decided that would do more harm than good and instead began with an apologetic, “This is all my fault.” He watched as the group’s attention instantly shifted to him. “I asked Willow to come here and not to tell any of you.” All right. He’d used those exact same words with Oz. Sticking with what worked in the past was always a viable option. This time, however, a little bit more was needed. “And before you ask about the books,” he said for Giles’s benefit, “She needed them. I had a problem and magic was needed to solve it.”

What met those last words were a collection of skeptical and questioning looks. Well, he’d planned on revealing the truth anyway – at least some of it – so he supposed it didn’t matter that he was doing so now and under very different circumstances. “I was patrolling in a cemetery near here and some kids were there trying to cast a spell. One of them threw a goblet of something in my face. Nothing happened then, but when I woke up the next day… I was blind.”

Buffy gasped and her gaze turned to what he hadn’t wanted to see: a combination of pity and clear confusion as to why he hadn’t called her. He understood - two weeks ago, had the situation been reversed, he’d have felt the same – but that didn’t mean he wasn’t uncomfortable now. He decided to head her off at the pass. “Buffy,” he said gently, “We decided on a clean break. And anyway, it’s not like there was anything you could do. This was magic, not exactly something you could slay.”

“But Willow could.” Buffy’s voice was soft and slightly lost-sounding and it made Angel’s heart ache. It was more clear than ever to him that he no longer loved her, but what he felt almost as deeply as he’d once adored her was a sense of compassion for the pain she was experiencing. She didn’t deserve it.

“I’m magic girl,” Willow offered, hoping there was some way all of this could end up with no one getting hurt – physically or emotionally. Well, not any more than she and Angel were already hurting, anyway. “It sort of made sense for him to call me.”

Of course Xander had to chime in. “But how could he call you if he was blind?”

You know, that was actually a good question, as evidenced by the almost admiring glance Giles gave him before all eyes were fixed on her and Angel again. “I had the operator call her,” Angel explained and Willow nodded, glad there was something about which they could be completely truthful.

“Yes, well that does make sense.” Giles had that shrewd thing going on with his eyebrows, though, and Willow was definitely worried.

“I also made her promise not to tell anyone she was helping me. I didn’t… I thought the whole thing would be cleared up in a day or so and no one would even know she was gone.” Willow loved him so much for trying to take all the blame, but Giles was still giving her shrewd-eyebrows so she wasn’t sure it was working.

“Well, obviously she was able to cure you, so I suppose calling her was the right thing. However, I don’t understand why we were not to know.”

“Yeah,” Xander added, apparently conveniently forgetting something.

“You and Buffy weren’t even in Sunnydale,” she reminded him. “In fact… weren’t you supposed to be gone for the whole summer?”

That almost turned things around, and it would have worked if she were just facing Xander, but Giles just had to step in again. “Be that as it may, I was in Sunnydale and you did take books from my home without my permission.” He took off his glasses and polished them. “This isn’t like you at all.”

All right. As much as Angel wanted this all to remain completely civilized and as loath as he was to hazard burning Willow’s bridges, he was not going to stand by and see her put on the spot like this. “I thought I was pretty clear that I made her promise to keep this a secret from you – all of you. Now I’m sorry if any of you were worried, but not only did she save my sight, she stopped a dangerous would-be witch from murdering a man for his magic. If you want to be angry at me, go right ahead, but there’s no reason to blame Willow for… anything.”

Shit. Had he just stumbled over those last words? He had, hadn’t he? Because Buffy was looking at him with wide, liquid eyes and he could feel the pain radiating from her. “I guess a lot happened while Willow was here, huh?” It was clear that there was quite a bit of subtext and he was about to suggest something when she beat him to it. “Can we… can we talk? Alone? “

He nodded, realizing that he had done the damage he’d feared he would. “We can use the office.” Gesturing for Buffy to go ahead of him, he turned just before he joined Buffy on the elevator and shot Giles a look. The man had better not light into Willow while he was gone. Giles nodded ever so slightly and Angel took that as agreement, so he closed the gate and stood in silence next to Buffy as they headed up.

Willow was shaking with nerves. She didn’t know which was causing her more anxiety – being alone with Xander and Giles or Angel being alone with Buffy. Maybe just call it even. Not like portioning her panic out was going to lessen it in any way. “Umm… have I mentioned that I’m really sorry?”

Giles was peering at her with a degree of interest that went way beyond wanting to hear her grovel. “What was this about a man being drained of his magic?”

Oh. “Oh! Yeah. The owner of a magic shop. It turned out that one of his employees was buddy-buddy with the kids who blinded… And there was this girl. Skylar – she’s the one who threw the potion at Angel – so she decided she wanted some real power and she figured she’d get it from Winston. We happened to show up in the nick of time and I was able to use that reversal spell…”

“You don’t mean the spell from the Writings of Dramius?” Giles interrupted, a look of horror on his face. “My god! That’s very dangerous magic. Hardly something a beginner should be trifling with.”

Okay, now she was insulted – and kind of angry. Didn’t he remember the part where it had saved a man’s life? “But it worked! Winston’s still alive and so am I and hey – so is Skylar.” At least she thought Skylar was still alive. They’d kind of forgotten to ask Winston about that. Oops. But she was still on a tear so she kept on… tearing. “I killed a Klomaronek demon, too, you know. All by myself. With that fire spell. And… and I fixed Angel’s sight! And his s-…” Oh no! Shut up now, Willow. In fact, you should have shut up a couple of words ago. “And his sight,” she amended, with an emphatic nod and humph, arms akimbo to make it all look more officially end-of-the-sentence-y, as she hoped everyone would accept this new version of her rant as the definitive text.

Xander, unfortunately, was way better at reading her than he was at reading his schoolbooks. “Okay, there’s a something here. As in something you’re not telling us.”

Giles joined Xander in staring at her intently. Oh god. Now she knew exactly how a deer felt when it caught its first glimpse of a Mack truck.

Would her Resolve Face do her any good?

Now that they were alone, it was obvious that neither Angel nor Buffy knew just how to begin this conversation. But since he didn’t want to tell her anything she didn’t already know, he was going to wait for her to speak first, no matter how long that took.

Thankfully, it took a surprisingly short amount of time for it to happen. “So. Willow did really well with the magic, huh?” Buffy tried to sound airy and casual, but her arms were wrapped tight around herself and she was looking at his shoulder rather than into his face.

“She did.” His tone was gentle and even as he nodded, searching her face for signs. Was it possible she hadn’t seen the truth after all? That all this was about was her finding a chance to talk to him alone? He couldn’t help but hope that was the case. Was it wrong of him to want to be able to keep some things secret? Well he did and it was for her own good. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel the pain of knowing that she no longer held his heart… that the one who owned it now was her best friend… and that his soul was now secure. She had been his first real love and he would always care about her, enough that protecting her was still important to him. He smiled softly as he got back to the conversation, doing his best to keep his manner noncommittal and light. “You’d have been proud of her.”

Buffy smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m just glad you’re both okay.” Then she finally met his gaze. “But I don’t understand why you didn’t want us to know.”

As hard as this was, it was definitely the easiest of all the possible conversations. That didn’t mean it was easy though. “I was helpless. I didn’t want… I just thought it was better if Willow was the only one who knew.” Something occurred to him. “How did you know she was here?”

“Oz.” Dammit. That boy had promised… “I ran into him this morning. He told me he'd visited you and that you hadn't seen her, but he was way too calm about it. I mean, yeah he's the definition of taciturn, but he loves Willow. Giles told me that when he first told Oz that Willow was missing, he was so worried that there was actual inflection in his voice, so... I put two and two together and figured out that she must be here – with you. So I called Giles and he brought Xander and… I was right.” Okay, so Angel wouldn’t be hunting down and skinning a werewolf any time soon. “Giles isn’t too happy that you lied to him.”

“I wasn’t thinking about Giles.”

That was a little blunter than he’d intended to be and Buffy was back on the defensive, looking lost. “Nothing’s the same, is it?” Her eyes held a plea for him to tell her that one thing hadn’t changed, but as much as he wanted to spare her any anguish, he couldn’t bring himself to lie.

“No, Buffy. Nothing’s the same.”

He reached out to put a comforting hand on her arm, but she flinched and backed away. “You love her, don’t you? Willow. You’re in love with her.”

What was he supposed to say now?

To be continued…
Chapter 20 by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Chapter 20)

“Okay, there’s a something here. As in something you’re not telling us.”

Willow wiped her palms on her jeans, wondering what the heck she was supposed to say or do. Her Resolve Face? Nah, that wasn’t going to work this time. Giles was glaring at her while Xander was giving her the Best Friend Stare and she had no idea if she was going to be able to stop herself from spilling her guts. Wait a minute… she just thought of something. She smiled and, focusing on Giles because Xander’s stare was way more dangerous, said, “I have your books up in the car. Why don’t we go get them?”

Well, she was still being glared at, but at least now the questions were now on a different topic. “Why are my books in your car?” Giles seemed perturbed. Oh great. Now he thought she was mistreating his books.

“We were on our way back to Sunnydale, but then we….” Oops! No! The last thing she wanted to do was bring up Winston and the curse and the dreams and… “I forgot my toothbrush. So we came back and hey – here you were!” Please let them believe she was so attached to this particular toothbrush that she came back for it rather than deciding to buy a new one later.

Luckily, that seemed to be plausible to them both, judging by the nods, and Giles appeared to be mollified. “Oh. Well… Yes. I see.” But then… “Angel was accompanying you?”

You know, that had seemed totally innocent when they’d originally made the plan, but Giles was looking at her warily and then Xander caught the suspicion bug. Now they were right back where they started. “He wanted to help explain – you know, about me coming here being his idea and everything.”

“So you were coming back to stay?”

Huh? “Of course I was. I live there. What did you think?” She paused for a moment when something occurred to her… something really bad. “Don’t you want me to come home?”

“You love her, don’t you? Willow. You’re in love with her.”

Buffy’s words twisted like a knife in his gut – because he knew how very much the realization hurt her.

Looking into her pain-filled eyes, Angel wished he could lie, but she wouldn’t believe him so it would only hurt her more. Instead, he nodded. “Yes.”

One word, but it turned the bravest Slayer who ever lived into a heartbroken and vulnerable girl and the knife twisted more violently than ever. She was in tears now and Angel hated himself for doing this to her. Leaving her had been bad enough, but when he had, they’d both believed his love for her would last… if not forever, at least longer than her summer vacation.

What did this say about the depth of love he'd felt for her? What did it mean when it came to the loss of his soul?

More questions. More guilt. Both badly needed, because he certainly didn’t brood nearly enough as it was.

“I’m sorry,” he offered, reaching for her again. This time, she didn’t draw back but allowed him to pull her into his arms. “I never meant… I never thought this could happen.”

He felt her nod against his chest. “I know.”

Hastening to defend the other party in this unintended offense, Angel added, “Willow never…”

“I know that too,” Buffy interjected. “Neither of you meant…” She gathered herself and, looking up into his face, asked another question. “Does she feel the same way about you?” But before he could answer. “She does, huh? I guess Oz knew about that too.” Angel nodded again and waited, wondering how Buffy would react. “I… I wish she didn’t. Not like there’s any more hope for her…” Angel felt a palpable sense of relief until he saw something… wheels turning behind Buffy’s eyes, connections being made. “There isn’t, is there? I mean, you guys can’t…?” Wide eyes fixed on his again.

Oh no. Not again. Angel was caught in a trap. What on Earth was he going to tell her?

“Of course you’re coming home!” Xander cried, glaring daggers at Giles. “We want you home. We absolutely want you to come home.”

“Yes, yes. I’m sorry if I seemed… of course you’re welcome. I never meant to convey anything else.” Giles had ‘but’ face, though and Willow wondered what it meant.

“Well then I’ll come home,” she said, even as her heart sank and she realized she’d almost hoped Giles would tell her that she was no longer welcome in Sunnydale so she’d have an excuse… to stay… here… with Angel.

Guess Xander noticed her lack of enthusiasm. “Gee, don’t sprain a muscle in your face by smiling too much.”

She reddened slightly and ducked her head briefly to regain her composure. “Sorry. I just… I was kind of having fun here and all. Oh, not the part where Angel was blind or anything. It was just that I was really useful – not research useful, but fighting useful. I liked it, you know?” Of course she omitted the part where she wanted to tear Angel’s clothes off and… Bad Willow! Bad!

To her surprise, Xander hugged her. “I get it,” and all of a sudden, much to her shame, Willow got it too, because she realized how much Xander missed the way he’d felt after bringing Buffy back.

She decided to remind him. “Yeah, well, you already know what it’s like to be the big hero, what with saving Buffy’s life when the Master killed her.”

“But you gave Angel back his soul.”

“Had to do the spell twice. You saved Buffy on the first try.”

“Sisterhood of Jhe.”

“Cafeteria lady.”

“Buffy was really the one who stopped her.”

“She needed your help.”

Giles cleared his throat and Willow collapsed in giggles. It felt so good, bantering with Xander again. She’d almost forgotten… yeah, there really was no place like…

Then she looked around and she couldn’t help but feel as though this was home.

Oh great. Because there were tears in her eyes now. Was it too much to hope…? “Will? Why are you crying?”

Yeah. It was too much to hope.

“I still have my soul, Buffy,” Angel said, trying hard to figure out how to make this work. He hated lying to her and he was hoping he could manage to mislead her without being actually dishonest. “The curse is still there.” Both of those things were true… although he supposed the latter was only true in the most technical sense now.

Was she mollified? Angel couldn’t tell. While most of the time he’d been able to read her, she had her inscrutable moments and this was certainly one. “I sort of guessed you still had your soul,” she said, slightly peevishly, and he understood that. Thinking back over his words, they’d been a bit patronizing.

He decided an apology was in order. “Sorry. I just… I know there’s things you expect and you have a right to. I didn’t realize that…”

“That you’d stop loving me?” Her eyes were full of tears and Angel hated himself all over again.

Time to try to do what he’d never been skilled at – expressing his feelings in words. “You were my first love,” he began, knowing what he was about to give her wouldn’t be nearly enough, but hoping it would help, “and a part of me will always love you. It’s in the past, and I know that hurts you, but you’ll always be important to me. No, I didn’t have any idea this would happen, but if you think about it – really think about it – you’ll realize it’s for the best. You have a right to more than I ever gave you, more than I ever could give you.” It was truth itself, even knowing now that, if he wanted, he could have all the sex with her that she could wish. Because she deserved a man who loved the woman she was first and foremost and saw the Slayer as being part of the whole, not someone who’d fallen for the Slayer before he’d ever met the girl.

She deserved someone who loved her the way he now loved Willow.

A few seconds later, he was holding her as she cried – her questions lost in the salt sea of dying dreams… the sea from which new dreams would emerge, if she’d let them. But he said nothing, just held her and let her let go.

He couldn’t help but wonder, though: What was going on downstairs?

Xander was staring at her as he asked again why she was crying and Willow almost hated him for knowing her too well, because he had that look on his face that meant he knew the answer but was hoping she’d lie and tell him what he wanted to hear. But she couldn’t. Not just because she was the world’s worst liar, but because he was Xander and whether he liked it or not, she respected and loved him too much to deceive him anymore. It would be sort of great if Giles could leave for a few minutes though, but just as she was about to ask, she remembered that Buffy and Angel were upstairs. Oh drat.

“I just… I’m gonna miss it here, you know?” Please don’t let her have to say more.

“You’re gonna miss Angel?” The way he said Angel’s name brought forth another very welcome giggle. It felt good to laugh, even at the expense of the man she loved.

“Yeah, Xander. He’s my friend.” Please tell her that her tongue hadn’t actually stumbled slightly over the word ‘friend.’ Please, please, please, plea…. Oh shoot. Giles was polishing his glasses. That was so not of the good.

“No!” Xander was pointing at her like she was a naughty child. “Whatever this… this is that’s going on between you and the big, dead, pale guy? It stops now, because you are coming home with us right this minute.”

Hadn’t she already said she was on her way home? But now that Xander was ordering her… “You’re not the boss of me!”

“What about Oz?” Okay, did he – her partner in fluking – really just say that? Now she stood, arms akimbo, and glared at him with an ire that put her Resolve Face to shame. Words were not needed, because Xander seemed to shrink before her eyes. “And you know, maybe I wasn’t the right person to ask that question.”

“Ya think?” Her arms stayed right where they were.

“It’s just… it’s not like you and the pulseless one can… you know… have a real relationship.” Oh god. Did he almost make an explicit hand gesture? Best not to think about that. The thing to think about was how not to give away the fact that she and Angel could get… real any time they liked now, thanks to Winston.

“News flash. Pretty hard for me to forget the curse seeing as how I’m the one who performed it.”

“Yes, quite.” Giles’s voice startled her. She’d almost forgotten he was there. “But do you really think it would be safe for you to remain here? Seeing as how you have… certain feelings. After all. He is… err… a man, in many senses of the word, despite… and well, of course, you’re a young woman with…” Was it wrong that she was fighting back some very inappropriate laughter right now? She couldn’t help it. It was sort of hilarious hearing Giles try to talk about sex without actually talking about it in any way.

“I’m good with restraint,” she offered, then realized too late that her words might evoke… Oh yeah, they were both harkening back to her vampire counterpart and Willow’s own words about playing Mistress of Pain. She could tell by the glazed eyes and the slack jaws. She rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically and they snapped out of it. Then she decided to try another tack. “Besides, it’s not like…”

“Don’t, Will. It’s obvious to everyone that he has a thing – a very big thing… for you, I mean. A big thing for you,” Xander amended as he caught a very speculative look from Giles… and one from her, too. “Pretty sure that’s what Buffy’s upstairs asking him about.” Then his eyes took on a very scary gleam. “You think maybe she staked him?”

Oh god! Willow hadn’t even considered… What if…?

The sound of the elevator making its descent stopped her thoughts and all she could do was wait until it got to this floor. She saw the grating being opened and then… Buffy and Angel entered the room. Phew! But when she saw Buffy’s red-rimmed eyes she didn’t feel relieved at all. In fact, she felt awful – like the worst friend in the history of friendship. “Buffy?” Her voice was tentative, waiting for the cruel words and the promise to slaughter her if she ever dared enter Sunnydale again.

That wasn’t what she got. Instead, within seconds, she was enveloped in a tight hug. “It’s okay,” Buffy said softly. “Or it will be. Either way, I’m not mad at you.”

She wasn’t? “You can be,” Willow offered. “It’s okay if you are.”

Buffy let go and stepped back, taking Willow’s hands in hers. “I’m not mad. I refuse to be mad. I love you, Willow. You’re my best friend. Whatever happens, we’re not losing that, or I really will be mad.”

At that moment Willow wondered why Angel didn’t love Buffy anymore because she seemed darn near perfect. But then she started to cry and hugged her friend again and all she could think about was how much she… was going to miss her. “I think I…”

“You’re gonna stay here?” Buffy interrupted, shooting a death glare at Xander, who seemed poised to object. “I kind of already knew that. Angel and I talked. He promised to be careful and assured me you could fry him with your magic if… well, anyway, I kind of figured what with L.A. having better schools and Angel needing someone who can wield a spell or two to help him protect it… But you’re gonna visit, right?”

“Of course!” Oh god. Was everything really going to work out? It looked like it was. “I guess I better go get my stuff out of….” Oh no! The car! She needed to get the car back to her parents. And what about the rest of her clothes and… “Amy! What am I going to do about her?”

“I can take care of Amy,” Buffy offered. “She’s pretty low maintenance and I’m sure I can sneak her into the dorm. If not… well, Mom could use the company to ease her into being an Empty-Nester.” Then she smiled brightly. “I’ll drive your car back so your parents will be none the wiser about you borrowing it.”

The offer to take care of Amy was much appreciated, but Willow’s eyes widened in growing horror as she remembered the last time she'd ridden in a car driven by Buffy. “I think I should let Xander drive. I mean, he’s had so much practice on freeways lately what with his road trip and…”

“You don’t trust me to drive your car?”

“Should she?” Giles asked drily. Guess he’d seen Buffy’s skills behind the wheel too.

“Hey now! That minivan totally came out of nowhere.”

“Buffy, it was parked.”

"It was not!"

“Yes, well, be that as it may, I think Xander is best suited for ensuring that Willow’s parents’ car is returned to them in one piece.”

“All right,” Buffy grudgingly agreed, muttering darkly under her breath about having her driving criticized by someone from a country where they drove on the wrong side of the road.

In the meantime, they all got into the now cramped confines of the elevator and made their way up… three of them for the last time.

She opened the trunk of the car and started unloading it, making sure to show Giles just how carefully she’d packed his beloved books. He leaned in and kissed her gently on the forehead – it was a shock to them both. “Well I… I shall miss you terribly,” he stammered out. “I never even got the chance to have you show me how to use that infernal machine.”

Willow’s eyes welled up and soon she was all but bawling. Lots of hugging went on between her and Xander and Buffy and everyone was babbling and she hoped she’d remember what everyone said later, but for now, all she could do was think about how lucky she was and how much she was going to miss them, but how happy she was to be able to stay here, with Angel.

Before she even realized what was happening, Giles was pulling away from the curb and Xander was following in her car, with Buffy beside him in the passenger seat. She watched as their cars disappeared into the ever-present traffic.

Turning to Angel, she gave him a watery smile. “I love you.”

“I love you,” he replied… and then he kissed her.

Which reminded her... oh god! They could totally have sex now! Grabbing a bag, she let Angel carry the heaviest stuff as they hurried back into the hotel. No time like the present to take Willow's latest magical accomplishment for a test drive, right?

Life in L.A. was going to be absolutely wonderful.

The End… (but not quite)
End Notes:
Many of you are probably ready to ask me: "But what about Winston? What the heck was going on there?" Funny you should mention it... because there's an Epilogue which I will be posting tomorrow. So sit tight, because that one final piece of the puzzle will be fitted into place very soon.
Epilogue by Gabrielle
Blindfold (Epilogue)

With Willow and Angel safely gone, Winston could focus his attention on the man who’d borne witness to their conversation from the back room, so now he made a pretense of relaxing as he sat across from his unethical guest, sipping a cup of tea. He winced slightly at the bitterness; Protection Blend did not impart a particularly delightful aftertaste to his usually irreproachable Earl Grey. However, recent events had shown him all too clearly that a man could never do himself harm by erring on the side of caution.

“My dear fellow, there was no need to spoil your tea with that folderol.” Winston started and the man raised an eyebrow. “I can smell those foul herbs, you know. While I suppose I’m flattered that you’re on your guard, I assure you that I have no ill intentions where you’re concerned.” He paused and his next words were delivered sotto voce. “Those meddling Powers wouldn’t let me get away with anything anyway, I’m sure.”

Allowing himself a soft chuckle, Winston once again sipped his tea before daring to ask, “What have the Powers permitted you?”

His visitor sipped his own tea and then shook his head ruefully. “Nothing, my mistrustful friend. Were it not for you graciously allowing me to assist you with the dreams...” Winston raised an eyebrow and received a short bark of laughter for his trouble. “All right. Perhaps I was less than helpful. But do indulge a fellow. Here I was, forced to do nothing but stand on the sidelines when I could have had such fun. You would hardly expect me to turn down the chance for a little amusement.”

Hmmm. “So you had nothing to do with their… feelings?” When he'd first met Willow... well, he certainly hadn't thought she was the sort to fall in love with a vampire and all the gossip to which he'd been privy had painted Angel as being almost ridiculously besotted with Buffy Summers, so one could hardly blame him for being quite surprised by the drastic change in circumstances and feelings on the part of both. Surprised… and suspicious.

More refined laughter. “Oh heavens no. Though I should dearly love to take credit for throwing a spanner into the works of that dimestore novel of a romance between The Slayer and her pet vampire, I would have done things far differently. You of all people should know that. There was scarcely a bit of drama about the thing.” He snorted in disgust. “What a waste.”

Winston, of course, viewed things quite the opposite way, and he hid a smile and a sense of happy relief behind his teacup. It did make sense, now that he thought about it. Willow was a remarkable woman, more than capable of exciting a man's ardour beyond what he might feel for another. And besides, why would the Powers have even allowed such a deception knowing that there were many less tricky and combustible emotions on which they could rely to bind Willow to Los Angeles and their agenda? With his mind soothed on one score, he turned his attention back to his companion.“So what are your current plans?”

“Plans?” Another cock of the eyebrow and an attempt to look innocent which failed miserably… then another chuckle. “All right, you have me there. I do have it in mind to look in on someone.” Winston glared at him and he raised his hands in mock surrender. “Oh I have no evil designs, but after all, now that Miss Rosenberg is going to remain in Los Angeles, thus depriving Sunnydale of one of its last true intellectual citizens, well… I happen to have a friend there who could probably use some refined company.” Winston’s eyes narrowed but his guest was lost in his own personal reverie. “Yes, yes… I think dear Rupert could certainly do with a visit from his old chum, Ethan Rayne.”

The End.
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