Willow walked into Angel Investigations, taking everything in. The dead guy seemed to be doing pretty well for himself she surmised as she walked deeper into the building, a grin on her face. She watched as the receptionist rose to her feet, making her way over. Cordelia Chase. So it was true that Cordi was still working for Angel. She halted her steps and let Cordelia make the rest of the journey over.
"Can I help….you? Willow Rosenberg?" At first Cordi wasn't sure if she was looking at the same mousy, boyfriend stealing….She told herself to calm down. It was years ago. Ancient history. She was over it all. "What happened to the bibs?" she asked as she took notice of Willow's apparel. She walked over and fingered the sleeve of Willow's black silk blouse.
"I traded up," Willow nodded. "So…How have you been Cordelia?"
"Do you care?"
"Not really. Just small talk."
"In any case I'm good – no thanks for asking." Cordelia turned her back and started to walk back to her desk. Willow followed.
"I'm here to see Angel. He around?"
"Lemme guess. Buffy's in trouble somehow?"
"No. Everyone is doing fine…for the most part. I just came to visit," Willow answered. Tara's dead, I pretty much killed the trust I spent years developing with people I love and almost ended the world. …But other than that, things are good.
"He should be here shortly."
"Mind if I wait? I should warn you I plan to wait regardless of your answer."
Cordelia smirked at her defiance. "Well since saying yes is pointless would you like some coffee?"
"No I'm good," Willow answered. The front door opened and both women turned to see Angel and Gunn walk inside.
"Speak of the devil," Cordelia muttered. "Angel? You have a guest."
Angel cocked his head at first. He'd seen that woman before but it wasn't until he got closer that he knew for sure. "Hey Willow!" he said pulling her into a hug. Quickly he lost his happy expression. "Oh god is Buffy-."
"Fine. The gang's fine I just came to talk with you if you don't mind." Willow saw Gunn to Angel's right and offered her hand. "You must be Gunn."
"Miss Rosenberg, is it?" he asked shaking her hand. Willow nodded. "Nice to meet you face to face."
Willow just grinned and nodded politely but Angel felt something underneath the grin that he couldn't explain.
"Why don't we go grab a couple of coffee's?" Angel told her before turning to Cordelia. "We'll be back in awhile," he nodded. Wrapping his arm around her hip, he led her outside.
"So that's Willow Rosenberg? She doesn't look the way Angel described her," he mentioned Cordelia.
"Don't get any ideas. You're not her type."
Gunn sighed. "Damn."
+ + + + +
"Okay I've bored you long enough with my tales. Tell me what brings you all the way to L.A.?"
Willow wasn't sure where to start. She wasn't exactly sure why she came to Angel in the first place but then she realized. "Solace," she answered.
"Well you know I'll give whatever support I can," he answered.
"Has Buffy contacted you? About me, I mean?"
"I got a letter from Xander. Why?"
"I thought maybe Buffy might have told you."
"Told me what exactly? The brooding, cryptic talk is my forte, remember?" he grinned warmly.
Willow grinned too but as they walked along the smile faded. "Tara, my girlfriend...she's dead. Murdered." Willow continued walking but Angel stopped immediately. Willow turned to face him.
"I heard. And I'm so sorry Willow. I didn't want to bring it up because-."
"It's okay," Willow nodded. "I understand. It's not easy to talk about…You know Angel…we spend all this time battling monsters and demons and the deadliest creature of all turns out to be a human…We never even saw it coming."
Angel closes the short distance between them and starts to rub her arms. "Come on," Angel nodded. "Coffee shops not that far away. We'll talk there."
+ + + + +
Willow took a sip of her coffee and looked at Angel. "Can I ask you something?"
"When you became Angel again after being Angelus…again…How did you deal?"
"I'm not sure I'm following you."
"I mean, you had goodness restored within yourself and you realized all the pain you caused Buffy, Giles…All of us…How did you deal with that? Knowing that you killed people and hurt them, how did you make it through?"
Angel took a drink of his coffee and sat it back down. "You killed the man that shot Tara, didn't you?"
"I thought they told you," Willow remarked.
"Not everything," Angel admitted.
"…Yeah, I did."
"How did the others find out?"
"They watched me do it."
"I'm sorry Will-."
"I'm not...Yes I am...Then again..." Willow took a sip. "It's all pretty confusing. I mean I'm sorry I had to be the one to kill him. I'm sorry they all had to watch it – even Anya too," Willow managed with a half grin. "But I'm not sorry he's dead. He hurt Buffy. Killed Tara. Who knows who he might have hurt next. And I hope he spends eternity in a hell dimension being tortured. Makes me pretty evil doesn't it?"
Angel shrugged. "You lost something you loved because of him. Between us, if anything ever happened to you, Buffy, Cordi, any of the gang – old and new…I can't say I'd have much sympathy for the guilty party."
"Even if that someone who did the inflicting was me?" she asked.
"Did you hurt them Willow? Like I said, they didn't tell me everything."
Willow rubbed her forehead. "I think I should go back a few steps…I started getting into heavier magics – black stuff and some nasty spells. Tara couldn't take it and left me because I couldn't stop. Not long after I met up with a guy named Rack."
"Rack? Oh Jesus."
"Yeah pretty evil, scary dude," Willow nodded. "I killed him too for his magic when I got all veiny...Anyway, I couldn't get enough of it. He sent me on trips that were unbelievable. And one night when I needed a fix I took Dawn with me."
"You took Dawn to Rack's?"
"What can I say? I was an addict. I still am in some ways," Willow answered. "Later that night, I was flying pretty high when I got behind the wheel of a car with her. Totaled the car, broke Dawn's arm. Lucky for us Buffy and Spike were nearby. And at that point I just broke down. I don't remember what Buffy said to me. I don't remember what I said. I just remember the look in her eyes – total, utter hatred. She wasn't just mad. She really hated me. It was fitting I guess. I hated myself…I just collapsed physically and mentally. I just fell all apart inside and out."
Angel watched the far off look in Willow's eyes but waited for her to continue. His heart went out to the young woman. Out of all of them, next to Buffy, he knew she had the stuff to be a leader. Sure she was quiet and timid for the most part but once she was inspired either by love or anger she was always a force to reckon with. Angel knew as he listened to her story now he was right…and in the worst of ways he was sure.
"Anyway I knew I couldn't quit on my own. I begged Buffy to help me. Spike saw to Dawn and Buffy took me home. I just kept crying and crying. I couldn't stop. She dressed me for bed and held me until I cried myself to sleep. The next day she and Dawn came in and I told them what to take. Buffy even took out stuff that was her mothers because it had 'magic capabilities'. So I quit cold turkey. Later that night the withdrawals started – the sweats, the shakes…it was really…bad… I was awake all night long and I kept repeating the same thing over in my head 'You don't need magic. You don't need magic'. I made it through three nights like that until it finally started to subside."
"Did you tell them? About the withdrawal?"
"Buffy knew. The second night she came into the room and kept a cold washcloth on my head. But it got better. On the fourth night I didn't shake or sweat. But the days …the days were rougher because I wasn't as tired. I was more awake and alert. I'd want to slip back into my old habits but I held on. I had to. I had so much at stake. Tara had moved out by then and I almost lost my family, you know?"
Angel simply nodded.
"Anyway, I'd been 'sober' for a couple of months. And I finally got the nerve to ask Tara out for coffee. She'd still kept in contact with Dawn, Buffy too actually, so she knew what had happened and she knew I'd been straight…well you know what I mean?" Willow grinned.
Angel gave a snort as he smiled. "Go on."
"So we went out for coffee. She flirted with me. I flirted with her. It felt good. And I thought maybe things could work out. Maybe I could get her back too. I didn't need the magic I thought. She might actually love me for me. Later that night I was up in my room and she came to me. She told me that we couldn't just have coffee and expect everything to be like it was. At first I didn't know what to say. I mean I agreed with her. I'd done a lot of damage and if she were asking for time then I'd give it to her. I'd wait forever for her. She was my girl, you know? I loved her more than life Angel. I really did. Most people say that but…for the first time in my life I really felt it. She was my everything."
Willow let out a sigh and Angel reached over taking Willow's hand in his. "So what happened?"
"Anyway, she gave me this speech about time and patience and needing to regain trust, which I agreed with if that's what she needed. But then she asked me if we could just skip it and could I just be kissing her instead." Willow began to blush. "Needless to say I obliged. And by morning I had my girl back." Willow's grin faded away quickly however and her voice grew softer. "By the next afternoon she was dead…A stray bullet came through the window…I heard the noise…I watched her blue blouse get this dark circle…The last words she ever spoke to me was 'Your shirt?'."
Angel looked confused.
"Well when the bullet past through her it shot blood all over the place. All over my white shirt. I looked down and saw the red dots all over it and that's when she started to drop. It was so quick. It happened in an instant. She was alive one second and dead the next.
I picked her up and started to scream for her. But she was gone. For the first time in months, I called on the magics. I wanted to bring her back. She just came into my life again. She couldn't be gone…When I couldn't do it, when I couldn't bring her back… something inside just…snapped…It was like the world slipped away. And when I finally made it downstairs I saw Xander. He said Buffy had been shot. I asked who did it. He said Warren. So I just walked down the street toward the Magic Box and well…as for the rest…beating the hell out of Buffy and Giles…Xander saving the day…Giles packing me off to England."
Angel held up his finger. "I was with you until the Giles/England part."
"After I came back from the temple with Xander, I was pretty out of it, like I was comatose or something. It was like I could hear them and see them but I just couldn't reply. What could I say? Sorry for thrashing you within inches of your life? Sorry I destroyed your business Anya? You know Buffy I'm real sorry I kicked your ass? There wasn't anything I could say – nothing I could do.
I just remember Giles walking into my room and telling me to pack a suitcase. He and I were leaving – that same afternoon. Next thing I know we're on a plane to England. I thought he was going to kill me over there. I really did. But soon I realized that wasn't the case. So then I thought maybe I was going into some mystical 'detox' program – like a Betty Ford clinic Wiccan style. But instead of detox it was more of a rehab center…teaching me even more about magics than I ever knew. Showing me light and dark, trying to help me balance it. Giles says it's a part of me now. I'll never be able to lose that magic so I have to learn how to control it, making me the master of it instead of it mastering me.
So what I'm looking for now Angel is solace. None of them can give me that…I've wronged them all…Maybe you can give me some direction on what to do?…Where do I go from here? I'm living in Buffy's house now but part of me still isn't able to face them. I see them everyday but part of me still hides, you know?…I don't know if that makes any sense."
"It makes perfect sense. You've hurt the ones you loved most in the world. You betrayed Tara's memory by not only using the magic but inflicting it on the ones you both care about. You've taken lives…whether innocent or not…It makes sense…Been there, done that myself."
"Which is why I'm here," Willow added. "I can't unload to them. They've never had that kind of darkness in their hearts. Not the kind that we've experienced. They don't understand. And I can't expected them to take pity on me when I'm the one that caused them so much pain…So how did you deal with it? It was bad when I was in England. The nightmares that woke Giles up, the memory flashes that would grip me, the visions of the hellmouth. It's gotten better but still…I mean, after you lose your soul and then regained it, where do you go?"
"Well, to answer your question Will…it just takes time. I mean you're living at Buffy's, right? So she is talking to you?"
"Yeah they've all been mega supportive about it all, which to be honest makes it feel worse in a certain way. I mean at least if they were a little bitter or angry I could take some comfort that a good flogging could give."
Angel began to chuckle. "I'm sorry. I'm not laughing at you Will. I just understand what you mean. They still love you and want to take care of you and a part of you wishes they'd just tie you up for a few hours while they beat you; punish you. You want them to make you suffer – they way you made them suffer…But you gotta realize, like you said, we've got a darkness that they don't have…It's not their style. And it's hard when you want a little punishment and all you get is forgiveness."
"Absolutely! It's like…here I am! Shout, scream, bloody my nose a little but don't tell me ya love me! I don't want love. I don't deserve love."
"Yeah I can relate…but you know what Willow?"
"You do deserve love."
Willow rolled her eyes before taking a drink of her coffee.
"Yeah, what you did was terrible," Angel told her. "You can't take it back. But you can move forward. And I'm sure that the gang isn't looking at your 'lost weekend' as much as they're looking at the big picture."
"Giles couldn’t kill you because you've done years of research for him, poured over books for hours on end helping him and his Slayer. Buffy can't hurt you because she knew you turned down a shot at any school in the Ivy League or Silicon Valley to go to Sunnydale U – all because you didn't want to leave her alone in her Slayer fight. And Xander - there was a time you were the only friend he had in this world. You didn't judge him based on what others thought of him. You loved him for him…It's the big picture Willow. Yeah you screwed up. Bad. But we all do at some point – the living and the 'undead'," he grinned. "Point is, they love you because you're pretty easy to love."
"As touching as that is Angel…You're not helping me here! You're doing too! Trying to make me feel better."
Angel held up his hands. "Okay let me spell it all out for you. I love you for taking such good care of Buffy all these years. But so help me if I find out that you've gone on a black magic bender I'll be the first one in Sunnydale to kick your ass into next week. If the Slayer wanted you dead Willow, magics aside, you'd be dead right now. She just wanted to stop you. But if you pull that shit again…I will come…And I will kill you."
"Well, that's a little bit better," Willow sighed.
"You didn't buy it huh?"
"Maybe a little. But I know you'd get there and then you'd run down the list you just recited and I'd beat your ass too."
Angel shrugged and took a drink of his coffee. "It was worth a shot."
Willow chuckled before taking a drink. "Well thanks for trying."
Angel watched Willow for a moment. "Look sweetheart, you want answers that I can't give you. It's something that you're going to have to come to terms with on your own. You've acknowledged that you messed up and that's the first step. They've forgiven you so start forgiving yourself."
"Do you follow that advice?" Willow prodded with a knowing grin.
"I will say I'm getting better at it, yes. It's taken me decades to get better at it but I've got the time," he grinned before turning serious. "You however do not. So put it behind you. Know that your friends love you. Let them know that you love them. Things will get better I'm sure. You'll be able to face them more each day…You'll see."
Willow gave a nod as a small grin formed on her face. "Thanks Angel. I mean that."
"Anytime," he grinned.
"Speaking of time," Willow said looking at her watch, "I better let you get to work."
"They can wait."
"Nah, I better let you go. Besides, I have to get back to Sunnydale tonight. I'd like to be home by the time Buffy comes in from patrol."
"Well you're welcome to stay. I've got the space."
Willow rose and walked over to the other side of the table and stroked Angel's cheek. "For dead demon you're pretty sweet," she whispered.
"Years of practice I assure you," he grinned. "And despite what you think of yourself at the moment Willow, you're pretty wonderful too."
"Take care Angel."
"You too," he told her.
He watched her walk toward the entrance. "Hey Will? Remember, I'm just a phone call away and I'm not afraid of the 'dark'. Okay?"
She smiled knowingly, "Me too…Be safe."
"Always," Angel grinned. He watched her walk out the door and past the large bay window. She had a darkness. He could tell. But despite it all she also had her light. He knew whatever lay ahead at the Hellmouth…she would always have her light.