Willow sat on her bed, still not believing what she had walked in on downstairs. She had come home from school early after trying to sit through classes with a terrible headache. She'd never expected to find what she had found. Goddess, why did it hurt so much? She should be happy that Buffy had moved on, found a new relationship. Instead, she felt betrayed by the one person she had left to trust. It wasn't because Buffy was screwing Spike. Honestly, she couldn't care less who Buffy was involved with as long as her friend was happy. What hurt was that her best friend hadn't been honest. With everything that had been happening the last few weeks, she'd have expected honesty. Her expectations must be too high, she decided. Maybe Buffy was ashamed, having moved back into a relationship with a vampire. And this one didn't even have a soul, though the chip was close. Thinking back to what she had briefly glimpsed downstairs, Willow knew that it wasn't a sweet, soft coupling. It had been rough and sweaty and needy. So, she reasoned, Spike was giving Buffy something she needed. There wasn't really any harm in that. He did seem to care for her friend, even if he'd kill the rest of them without so much as blinking.
She got up and went into the bathroom, taking four aspirin before simply studying her face in the mirror. She looked terrible, she decided. Dark circles were under her eyes, giving no doubts to the many hours she was not sleeping anymore. She thought she looked more pale, her skin almost clammy to touch. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, wondering how much longer this would continue. It had been a week since she had last used magic. Seven days. Actually, seven days, eight hours and, she glanced at the clock, twenty-eight minutes. She leaned forward until her forehead was touching the mirror, her eyes closing as her stomach rolled. She counted to ten, then to ten again. Finally, she felt the tension leaving. She went back to her room, noticing how empty it looked. There was little left, after throwing out all of her magic supplies. Tara had also picked up the last of her things two days earlier, giving it an even more empty appearance. Twenty years and her life didn't even fill up a room. She began to pace, her mind again taking her downstairs.
Buffy hadn't trusted her. No matter what excuse she tried to come up with, nothing could change the truth. She had no idea who Buffy was anymore. Since she had come back to life, they were practically strangers. Any bond that they once had seemed to have died when the slayer did all those months ago. She still loved Buffy, always would, but she couldn't deny the truth anymore. Their friendship was strained at best, undetectable at worst. She had thought it was getting better, the last week or so. They'd actually talked, had a conversation that didn't include the past. Buffy was trying to help her deal with all this mess. It would appear, though, that Buffy had her own mess to deal with. It seemed like history repeating itself in a weird way. A slayer in love with a vampire. Been there, done that, almost got killed, didn't get a T-shirt.
Willow sighed, running a hand over her face. What was she going to do? She knew that she would eventually have to make a decision, but she hadn't expected it this soon. Dawn was hardly speaking to her. Blaming her for Tara and the spell and just about everything these days. Xander didn't trust her anymore, always watching her as if she'd suddenly turn him into a frog or something. She grimaced thinking of frogs before moving along in her mental list. She and Anya tolerated each other but their tentative friendship had become strained and tense the last couple of months also. There were times she seriously believed she should have left everything alone, never brought Buffy back, then she'd realize that she'd never really had a choice, that the world needed Buffy. Far more than it needed her it seemed. Even Giles had left, for good this last time. He had sent one letter and a postcard and then nothing. It was if he had forgotten them. She assumed his life was so busy that he couldn't give his old friends a passing thought.
She shook her head, not liking the negative direction her thoughts were taking. She heard the front door slam, jumping as it brought her back to reality. She moved to the window, looking outside to see Buffy walking away. Thank God, the slayer hadn't realized she was home. Willow so did not want some horrible, ugly confrontation concerning secret trysts with Spike in the kitchen and what she was doing home so early. She picked up her book bag, tossing it beside her desk. She no longer cared about school. It had lost the ability to excite her, to calm her. The last few weeks, she'd been lucky to stay awake through most of her classes, much less pay attention. She had skipped most of them this week, not feeling up to attending. She caught herself wishing that the last couple of months hadn't happened, that she could simply erase everything.
"Stop it!" she yelled at herself, moving to the desk. She sat down, placing her head between her legs as a wave of dizziness swept over her. No spells. No magic. No erasing anything. She had made her choices, now she had to deal with them. Alone. She had thought Buffy cared, might be there for her. Now, she knew she'd been lying to herself. Buffy had stopped caring back in May, the night she had died. That's when Willow had lost her best friend. Now, she had this stranger that looked like Buffy, sometimes acted like Buffy, but was really a different person. She couldn't put it all on the slayer, though. She had changed too. For the worse, according to everyone around her. She had grown too dependent on magic, she could admit now. She hadn't even realized it until it had almost been too late. Now, though, she knew her problem. She was dealing with it. She looked up, her eyes moving around the room.
It was too tough. There were memories everywhere she looked. She began to pace, her eyes darting all over the room as she began to struggle for breath. She backed up to the wall, sliding down until she was sitting, taking huge, gasping breaths as sweat dripped from her face. The pounding in her head grew as she closed her eyes, her hands moving to cover her ears as she listened to the voices of her friends filled with doubt and distrust and unease. After sitting and rocking for ten minutes, she opened her eyes, wiping them with the back of her hand as she slowly stood up. She had to leave, she decided. She could not recover living here with Dawn and Buffy. Hell, she doubted she could recover living on the Hellmouth. No, she had to go away for a little while. Find out who she was, learn to rely on herself and not magic and not her friends. She got a bag from her closet, packing as well as she could. She knew the others would understand, would most likely welcome her absence. No more fear and worry that she'd relapse and get them all killed. She sighed as she zipped up the bag, doubts nagging at her mind. Was she strong enough to do this? Leave everything she had ever known. A slow smile crossed her face as she realized that, yes, she was strong enough. It was time to grow up.
Willow looked at the door as she chewed on her lower lip and debated on entering. She put her laptop and bag down, her hand moving over her shoulder as she eased a bit of the ache. She turned away from the door, moving into the pretty courtyard of the hotel. She had left Sunnydale two days before, intending to find somewhere to rest and figure out who she was. Only, nowhere had been right. She had stepped off the bus in every town, looking around before getting back on to go to the next town. Ironically, she was now in LA, standing outside Angel's hotel. She had gravitated towards the only other people she could consider sort of friends. She hadn't called home since leaving, having left a nice note for Buffy that explained everything. When she was in a better place, then she'd call. Right now, she was worse than when she had left.
She couldn't remember the last time she had slept for more than half an hour. She looked a little better, her skin not as pale or sticky as it had been, but she was so tired. The headaches were still terrible, no aspirin seemingly able to stop them. She knew they were caused by the magic leaving her body. She frowned as she wondered if it would ever actually leave, the power. She still felt it, still fought to resist using it. It was a struggle not to give in when it was so handy, so easy, so thrilling, but she'd resisted. She was proud of that, if nothing else. She licked her lips, her mouth parched again. She'd gone through so many bottles of water the last few days, her mouth dry almost as soon as one bottle was finished. She took a sip from the bottle, noticing that the water was warm.
She knew why she hadn't gone inside yet. She was scared. Buffy and her best friends hadn't needed her anymore, had been suspicious of her. Why would Angel and Cordelia and their group possibly want her here? She should just go. She sighed as she realized that she didn't have anywhere to go. She had some money saved, but not enough to live on. She couldn't go back to Sunnydale, not until she was fixed. She hated the looks in her friends eyes, never wanted to see it again. Angel didn't know about her magic, though. She hadn't been anything except a novice witch when he had left. To him, she was the hacker. She didn't want to be the witch anymore. It hurt too much. It made people she loved look at her in fear, it pushed them away, it left her alone. She was so tired of being alone. She'd been alone for so long, it seemed. Even with Tara, after Buffy's rebirth, she'd been alone. Her lover had been frightened of her. That had been the beginning to their end, she knew.
They had all been scared of her. Xander didn't trust her at all, questioning her every action and motive. Dawn had almost died because of her, having more reason than any to fear her. And Buffy, well, the slayer seemed to want to help but was unable to care enough to really be any help. Willow knew that wouldn't make sense to anyone, but it was what she had finally concluded during the bus trip. Their friendship had changed, no longer being enough to help her through this mess. Buffy wouldn't have to try so hard anymore. She could be with Spike and take care of Dawn and not have to contend with her best friend's addiction or whatever the hell it all had turned into. Willow had thought she could do it alone, but now she wasn't so sure. Getting away hadn't helped, hadn't done anything except make her more sick. She couldn't remember the last time she had eaten, the thought of food making her nauseous. She needed to go inside, to find out if she could stay here for awhile. She hoped Angel's soul would not allow him to send her away.
Willow turned when she heard the familiar voice, having not heard anyone enter the courtyard. She gathered all of her strength as she gave what she hoped was a smile as she greeted, "Hi, Cordy."
Cordelia Chased looked at the pale redhead in front of her, curiosity and concern in her dark eyes as she asked, "Is everything okay? Why are you here?"
"It's all fine," Willow said, knowing the brunette was worried that she had come bearing bad news like the last time she'd been in town. "Everyone is safe and happy and wonderful."
"You aren't," Cordelia said softly, her eyes noticing the changes in the girl. Willow had lost weight, looking even more thin than normal. Her face was pale, her eyes dull with dark circles underneath, her overall appearance being one of exhaustion. Something had happened, something had brought Willow to LA. Cordelia was dying to ask questions but could see that she wouldn't get any answers yet. She glanced at the door, seeing the laptop and bag and knew that Willow had left Sunnydale. She glanced at the redhead with renewed surprise and asked again, "Willow, why are you here?"
"I need," Willow stopped, unsure how to answer. What did she need? To not feel so powerless, to stop needing to use magic, to be a part of something again, to have someone actually care, to belong. Before she could give any answer, the world began to tilt as her vision blurred. She moaned as a wave of fresh pain swept over her head as she began to fall forward, the world going dark.
Angel placed the cold rag against Willow's forehead, feeling that her fever was still high. Last time they had checked, it had been several degrees over a hundred. He left the rag against her, hoping that the cool would do her some good while she slept. Moving away from the bed, he sat down as he studied the sleeping the redhead. It had been two days since Cordelia's scream had brought him to the courtyard to find Willow laying on the ground. He'd wasted no time scooping the girl up and taking her inside, laying her on the couch as Cordelia had ordered Wesley to contact the doctor. The doctor had come, diagnosing the girl with a severe case of the flu. Luckily, it had been something normal. For an hour, before the doctor had arrived, they'd been worried that something supernatural may have attacked the girl. As it were, the flu was something easily dealt with. Usually.
Willow had not yet woken up. She hadn't so much as muttered once, laying still on the bed as she slept. Her breathing was even, the congestion in her chest seemingly going away. They'd tried to wake her to take medicine to no avail. It was as if she hadn't slept in months and was now trying to catch up for lost time. He wanted her to wake up so that he could find out what she was doing there. Cordelia had told him of the few words they had exchanged before Willow had passed out, about everyone back home being happy and wonderful. Why, then, had she been standing at his door with luggage and her computer? He'd resisted calling Sunnydale, honestly not knowing if Willow would want them to know she was there. Normally, he would have phoned Giles, but that option was no longer available. He definitely didn't wish to speak to Buffy or Xander, so he was left waiting for Willow to wake up.
"She's lost weight," Cordelia said softly as she stepped into the room.
"I noticed," he remarked, glancing at the woman that was his best friend and so much more.
"And those circles," Cordelia trailed off, glancing at him, "What do suppose brought her here?"
"I wish I knew," he said. "Maybe a fight."
"Nah," Cordelia ruled that out as she moved a chair beside his. "Willow wouldn't run from a fight. She's always been pretty strong, pretty much keeping them all together. It had to be something pretty bad for her to leave them. I wish she'd wake up. It's scary, you know? Her being sick and sleeping like that."
"It's just the flu," he reminded quietly, though he understood the underlying fear. "You're right, though. Willow's not the type to run."
"Maybe she just down here for a visit," Cordelia said with a sigh, "I don't know. I can sit with her, if you want to take a break. Conner is napping, but he could probably use some Daddy-time."
"You really shouldn't risk it," he decided, "you might get sick."
Cordelia looked at him and smiled softly, seeing the concern in his eyes, "Angel, I'm the one that caught her. I think I'd already be feeling it if I'd caught it. I'm sure she was past the contagious phase by the time she got here. The doctor was pretty certain she'd been sick for several days."
"I just worry," he said quietly, his eyes moving over her face before he trailed off, glancing at the sleeping redhead. With a nod, he smiled, "Okay. I'll go downstairs for a bit. If Sleeping Beauty wakes up, let me know."
"Will do, boss," Cordelia said as she moved to sit on the bed beside Willow, moving the wash cloth over the girl's face. She sighed softly as she leaned back against the pillows, hoping that Willow's fever broke soon and the redhead would wake up and give them some answers.
She was aware of the bed first. Soft and squishy, her body seemed to be laying on a cloud. The pillow wasn't as soft, though it was flattened where her head had sunk into it. It wasn't her bed, she decided as she slowly began to wake up. Her bed was harder, the mattress flat. The ceiling was the next thing she studied as she opened her eyes slightly. She definitely knew that wasn't her ceiling. Hers was plain old white paint. This was beige and high above the unfamiliar bed she was laying on. Willow closed her eyes again as she struggled to remember the last few days. Where was she? She knew, the knowledge resting in a back part of her mind that was still hard to reach.
Flashes of memories came to her, Dawn being hurt, her books in the trash, Xander's accusing glare, Buffy and Spike in the kitchen. She grimaced at that particular image, her stomach rolling as licked her dry lips. The bus. LA. The hotel. Cordelia. Then darkness. She must be at the hotel, she decided, knowing that Cordelia and Angel wouldn't throw her out on the street if she had fainted. She took a deep breath, feeling foolish suddenly. She had come here for help only to faint like some frilly heroine in a silly novel they sold at the grocery store. That was when she heard the voice.
"And I tried to tell him that a Zaraku demon would explode when he died, but did he listen? Nooooooo. So he was covered in Zaraku slime, which smells like dozens of rotten eggs. And I laughed. Wouldn't you laugh? It isn't my fault he wouldn't listen to me. Thinks he knows everything. Guess he didn't know that, did he?"
Willow tried to focus on the words, her mind only able to keep up with half of what the voice was saying. She rolled her head slightly to the right, her eyes opening again as she looked at the somewhat familiar brunette sitting in a chair beside her bed, still talking at a pace so rapid that Willow was unable to follow her conversation.
Fred smiled slightly as she remembered how Wesley had looked the previous night, her eyes flicking over the sleeping redhead once again. Her words stopped as a large smile crossed her face as she saw green eyes looking at her in curiosity and confusion. "Good, you're awake!"
Willow didn't know her. She looked vaguely familiar, and they may have met, but she couldn't place a name to the face. The mouth was moving again, though Willow was able to follow the conversation a bit easier this time.
"They'll be so glad. I've hardly ever seen Angel or Cordelia this worried, constantly checking on you. They'd be here now, but Angel had a case and Cordy had to go shopping. So, I got to watch you. Did you hear me talking to you? I was telling you about last night, when the boys went to fight the Zaraku demon. I was hoping that maybe a funny story might wake you up, and look. Here you are. They'll be so pleased to see that you're finally up. Do you need some water, Willow? You look rather parched," Fred reached for the glass then moved to give Willow a drink.
She knows my name, Willow recognized. She also knows Cordelia and Angel. They were worried? Bewilderment crossed the redhead's face as she took a sip of the tepid water, the ice having long ago melted. Before she could ask a question, the girl was talking again.
"I'm Fred," Fred said, seeing by the lack of recognition in the green eyes that were studying her so intently. "We met last year, when you came with the news about your friend. Well, we didn't really meet because I was still in my anti-meeting strangers mood, but I saw you and you saw me so I would consider that sort of like meeting. Are you feeling okay? You look sick. Silly me," Fred laughed nervously as she realized just how much she had been talking, "you are sick. With the flu, so the doctor says. We really were worried when you wouldn't wake up. You slept for over three days, you know. You must have been very tired. Golly, Angel and Cordy are going to be so glad you're awake. Did I mention that they had been worried?"
"Sorry," Willow managed to finally say as the girl paused for a breath. She cringed at the hoarseness of her voice, the one word scratching her throat as she finally comprehended that the girl, Fred she repeated putting a name to the face, had said she had been out for three days. The flu. It hadn't been the magic that made her sick? She groaned softly as her head began to throb, questions filling her mind.
"Oh, don't be sorry," Fred dismissed, giving her a smile as she sat back down in the chair. "I suppose it's good for them to worry a bit every now and then. Or are you sorry for being sick?" she asked as she looked at Willow, noticing the girl's glassy eyes moving to focus on a point on the wall. "Because you can't really control being sick. It's part of life. Reminds us that we're human, you know? In fact, just two weeks ago, Gunn got this virus. Only lasted a little over a day, but trust me, you're a perfect patient compared to him. He gets grumpy when he has to depend on his friends....."
Willow closed her eyes as the girl was off and running again with what seemed like a conversation with herself. If she had been there for three days, then it had been five or six since she had left Sunnydale. She wondered if anyone back home even cared. She doubted it, deciding finally that they were probably glad to have the scary, unpredictable witch gone. That was her last thought as she drifted back into a restless sleep as Fred continued to chatter above her.
The next time Willow woke up, she knew where she was. She was at Angel's hotel in LA. This knowledge comforted her as she opened her eyes. She turned her head to the right, seeing that the chair was empty. Fred had gone. Willow wondered how long she had been sleeping this time, still finding it impossible that she had been asleep for three days. Even if she did have the flu, three days was unbelievable. She rarely slept more than a couple of hours a night normally, hardly finding one hour the last few weeks, so she couldn't fathom three days worth of sleep. What was worse was that she still felt tired, as if she hadn't slept at all. Maybe Fred had just been a dream, she wondered, a frown crossing her face as she struggled to sit up.
"You shouldn't be doing that," a soft voice cautioned from near the end of the bed.
Willow jumped as the voice came from the shadows, her heart racing as she looked towards it, relaxing when she saw that it was indeed Angel. She noticed that he was sitting in a chair, his feet on the end of the bed, his eyes watching her. How long had he been there, watching her? It unnerved her, in a way. He always seemed to see things that others missed. Had she spoken in her sleep? Had he called Buffy and found out why she had left? Was he going to look at her with the same fear and contempt as her best friends?
Angel caught Willow's eyes, frowning as he saw the mixture of emotions flickering in their green depths. There was something bothering her, something besides her illness. She seemed almost scared of him, something that bothered him. Willow had been the only one that hadn't looked at him in fear after the entire Angelus mess. Now, she was regarding him silently as if she expected him to attack her. No, he clarified as she looked down at the cover, that wasn't it exactly. What was going on in that brilliant mind? He watched her finger begin to pick at a thread that had come free from the heavy cover, her breathing still ragged from the congestion in her chest. He sighed as he realized that this was not the time for his questions or any answers, her body still recovering from the flu that had gripped her for more than a week. In one fluid move, he got to his feet, moving to get the glass of fresh water that Wesley had just delivered not ten minutes prior. He sat on the edge of the bed, his fingers moving under her chin as he raised her face. "You need to drink."
Willow obeyed without thinking, taking a sip of the cold water from the glass he held carefully at her mouth. When he seemed satisfied that she had drunk enough, he put the glass back on the dresser, his fingers moving from her cheek to rest against her forehead.
"Your fever has broken," he said softly, feeling that her body temperature had gone down several degrees since earlier that morning. He caught her eyes again as he asked, "Do you know what happened?"
She nodded slowly, having learned of her illness from Fred, "Flu."
He felt himself smile slightly as she spoke, her voice raspy from not having been used in several days and so unlike Willow that he found it oddly amusing. He gently pushed her back to lay down, seeing the strength it was taking her to sit up. "Fred said that she had told you. I wasn't sure if she had made sense to you. Following her thoughts is difficult for me at times, so I can imagine how it might have been for one suffering the aftereffects of a virus."
"Joke?" she questioned in disbelief, blinking as she studied the usually somber and broody vampire.
"Bad one, obviously," he said with a grin as she looked at him in surprise. Growing serious, he said, "Willow, you've been asleep for three days. We've had someone watching you since you first passed out. During that time, you hardly moved. I may not be a doctor, but I have to imagine that that isn't very common. So, when I ask you this, I want an honest answer. How do you feel?"
Willow looked back at the cover, unsure how to answer his question. She had been awake for not even ten minutes and he wanted to know how she felt? How could she give him an answer? She didn't even know how she felt. She wasn't as tired as she had been, not as weak. It was still a struggle to breathe, and her head hurt terribly. She had left the familiarity and security of Sunnydale nearly a week before and was no closer to finding herself than when she had stepped onto the bus. How did she feel? She lifted her head, her eyes meeting his as he looked at her with genuine concern. His hand rested on her shoulder with a comforting touch, and he became a friend asking a friend a question. A peaceful feeling washed over her as she gave him a small, honest smile as she finally answered his question, "Better."
"There has to be a reason that she is here."
Angel looked at Wesley and silently agreed, giving no voice to his thoughts. Instead, he shrugged, "Maybe she just came for a short visit."
"I'd definitely want a vacation from Sunnydale, if it were me," Cordelia said, supporting Angel's statement though she didn't believe it herself.
"She's got secrets," Fred said quietly, not sure if it was her place to be involved in this discussion about their friend.
"Secrets?" Cordelia glanced at her friend, a curious statement on her face.
"In her eyes," Fred observed, "haven't you noticed?"
"She hides them well," Angel said as he looked towards the stairs. "But I've seen them."
"She left Sunnydale for a reason," Wesley decided after a moment of thoughtful silence.
"But why?" Cordelia asked, hating not having the answers. "I mean, Willow is the glue. She's always been their glue. She holds them all together. I watched them for years, even when I wasn't part of their group. She's loyal and I can't see her just deciding to up and leave Buffy and the others on their own."
"She's been hurt," Fred said, "and she's scared. Like a frightened kitten."
"Kitten?" Cordelia shook her head, "Not Willow. She's strong, in some ways stronger than Buffy, without all the slayer strength. Something happened, I give you that. But Willow's never been the type to run away from her problems. Running away was Buffy's deal, not Will's."
"Damn fool girl," Gunn muttered as he walked down the stairs. He sat down, gesturing upstairs, "She kicked me out. Said she was tired of having a baby sitter."
"She must be feeling better," Angel said after exchanging a look with Cordelia.
"Do I look like a baby sitter?" Gunn continued as if Angel hadn't spoken, still irritated that some little slip of a girl, a sick one at that, had fired him.
"It's okay, Gunn," Cordelia said with a smile, "Willow's been complaining for the last two days that we're treating her like a child. Since her fever broke, she's decided that she's healed enough to watch herself but not well enough to ever give us any answers."
"Whatever," Gunn said, rolling his eyes as he stood. He looked at Cordelia and smiled as he said, "Good luck getting any answers from that spitfire. Stubborn little brat, probably won't tell you a damn thing."
"You're just upset because she kicked you out," Wesley said dryly, before looking back at Angel. "She's feeling better, Angel. It's time to find out why she's here."
"She kicked you out, too, if you recall, that being the reason I was sent up in the first place," Gunn glared at Wesley before walking towards the kitchen, muttering under his breath
"She'll tell us, Wesley," Cordelia said as she shifted Conner on her lap. "Give her time."
"It's been a week," he pointed out, looking at Cordelia, "she hasn't said two words about Sunnydale."
"She's hardly said two words," Fred said, "but I have to agree with Cordy. Willow will talk when she's ready. If you force it, she might run or not tell us anything at all."
"See? Someone agrees with me," Cordelia shot him a smirk.
"Cordelia, let me take Conner. You should take Willow something to eat, see if she's built up an appetite yet. She hasn't eaten anything since she got here. I know she won't force you to leave," Angel decided, not committing to any plan of action because he honestly wasn't sure what to do. He also wondered if they were making a big deal out of nothing. There was a chance that Willow had come to LA just to visit, with no specific reasons sending her away from Sunnydale. Remembering her eyes, though, he doubted it.
Willow looked up as the door opened, not at all surprised to see Cordelia with a tray of food. It had only been minutes it seemed since she had sent Gunn out of the room, but they already had someone else up to watch her. She felt suffocated, annoyed, yet touched that they all seemed to care. Of course, she knew the main thing they cared about was why she was there. Angel and Cordelia always mentioned it, trailing off when she'd look away from them. Wesley never spoke, which was more disarming than anything. He'd just sit in a chair away from her bed and read, though she'd catch him studying her at times, as if he were trying to read her mind. Good luck to him, was all she could think. She didn't even know why she was there, so how was she supposed to explain it to them? Gunn was the worst because he obviously hated being confined to the room and constantly moved and fiddled with things until she wanted to scream. Fred was the best. She'd just talk nonstop about random things in a way that reminded Willow of herself. She didn't ask questions and expect answers, so Willow was free to just lay there and listen.
"Gunn's mad at you," Cordelia said with a smile as she placed the tray of food on the bed beside Willow. "Said you kicked him out."
"It was for his own good," Willow said softly, "he hates being a babysitter."
"We're not baby-sitters, Willow," Cordelia corrected as she narrowed her eyes, "we're friends looking after a sick friend."
"I'm not that sick anymore," Willow pointed out, glancing at the food and feeling no desire to eat. "I've been feeling much stronger the last day or so."
"Don't rush it, Willow. The doctor said it was a bad case of the flu. He wouldn't have said it was bad if it wasn't," Cordelia said as she sat down. She glanced at the still untouched food and asked, "Are you going to eat something?"
Willow shook her head, "Not very hungry."
Cordelia sighed, "Willow, you can't get your strength back if you don't eat. You've hardly touched any of your food since you've been awake."
"Sorry, Mom, I'm just not hungry," Willow said with a slight smile, wondering if anyone else would find it strange that her former enemy was now acting like her surrogate mother. The last time she'd seen Cordelia had been when she'd told them about Buffy's death. She'd only stayed the night, leaving the next day because Dawn and the others had needed her. During that time, she and Cordelia had talked a bit, but she wouldn't have considered them being close friends when she had left. Now, though, Cordelia seemed to be treating her like some long lost friend. It was rather nice, but also weird.
"Mom?" Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Fine, don't eat. If you want to be stuck in bed all the time with us constantly underfoot watching you, that's your choice."
"That's blackmail," Willow pointed out dryly as she looked back at the food and felt her stomach roll.
"I prefer to think of it as persuasion," Cordelia said with a smile.
"Don't you people ever work?" Willow asked crankily as she scowled at the brunette.
"Actually, yes, we do. In fact, tonight, you get a new friend to watch over you," Cordelia said sweetly, watching Willow's eyes narrow. She rushed ahead, "Lorne is going to be baby-sitting Conner and will only check up on you randomly."
"I don't need a babysitter," Willow said in disgust.
"Willow, honey, you were really sick," Cordelia said softly. "You had all of us worried for several days. You've only been fully conscious for a couple of days so forgive us for being concerned. We just want to make sure you don't have a relapse."
"I'm sorry," Willow looked away feeling slightly guilty. She had been the one that had come to them, yet here she was snapping at them because they were worried about her. "I'm just not really used to anyone caring anymore, you know?"
"What happened, Willow?" Cordelia asked quietly, watching the redhead look up quickly, her green eyes clouding over.
"Nothing," Willow said, not able to look Cordelia in the eyes. "I needed to get away from Sunnydale, from everything. I didn't intend to come here, Cordelia. You have to believe me. I just didn't know where to go and suddenly I was here."
"I won't push you right now, Willow, but I don't believe that you just left for no reason. I know you better than that," Cordelia said, giving the redhead fair warning that there would be more questions.
"I'm feeling rather tired, Cordy. Thanks for the food. I may eat something later," Willow said, laying down as Cordelia sighed and then left. She closed her eyes, wondering if they would care so much about her when they found out what she had done, what she had become, what she was fighting. Or would they look at her like her other friends did, with suspicion and distrust and disappointment and fear? Memories of the past weeks flickered in her mind like a movie that she could not stop as she tossed and turned, again finding sleep elusive.
"That was fast," Angel remarked as Cordelia came down the stairs.
"She said she was tired," Cordelia said with a slight frown.
"Did she eat?" Wesley asked as he glanced up from his book.
"Nope," Cordelia sat down and looked at the men. "Said she wasn't hungry. I don't know, maybe she's still sick."
"She is still weak," Angel said thoughtfully, knowing that Willow had not yet ventured out of bed except to use the bathroom, and then she'd only made it with help from them. "But she should be feeling better. She needs to eat if she's going to regain her strength."
"Ah, but there you have the problem," Wesley said, "if she gets her strength back, she knows that we expect some answers. If she doesn't want to talk, all she has to do is continue being too sick."
"I don't see Willow pretending to be sick to avoid talking to us, Wesley," Cordelia said dryly. "Paranoid much?"
"I'm not being paranoid," Wesley argued. "I just know that there must be something that brought her here, that made her leave Sunnydale. From the haunted look in her eyes and her behavior, I suspect it is something important. The longer we are clueless, the more time lapses that she is dealing with the problem alone. With her here, it has become our problem. With no knowledge of what she is battling, we are useless."
"You make it sound like some big deal," Cordelia said, knowing that Wesley was right but also thinking he was overreacting. "She came to visit her friends, Wesley. Don't you think it is a bit presumptuous to assume it was some terrible thing that made her leave Sunnydale? We all left and didn't have the back story you seem to think she has."
"Willow isn't dangerous," Angel said quietly, stopping the argument before it began. "She's dealing with something, I grant you, but it's her problem to share. We can't force her into telling us. She seems to need us, so all we can do is be here when she decides to talk."
"This might not be important, but upstairs," Cordelia glanced at Wesley before looking back at Angel, "she mentioned that she wasn't used to anyone caring anymore. She sounded so sad, Angel. Like she was completely alone."
"It might have been nothing," Angel said as he started to think about Willow's behavior the last few days, "but it might be everything. Willow has always put her friends first, no matter what. If she left Sunnydale, she must have thought it would be the best thing for everyone. What would happen to cause her to think that?"
"We won't know that until she feels like telling us," Wesley said with a scowl as he glanced at the stairs, hating not having the answers to the questions in his mind.
"Wes, why don't you find Fred. Gunn is meeting us in less than an hour," Angel said, deciding that they had wasted enough time trying to figure out what had motivated Willow into leaving Sunnydale. Wesley was right. They wouldn't know anything until she decided to tell them.
"She went with him," Wesley said as he looked back at the book he had been reading. His voice did not betray any of his emotions, something he was rather proud of. It had become rather obvious to him over the last weeks that his affection for Fred was not returned in any way other than friendship. It was also quite clear that something was growing between Fred and Gunn. He was jealous and unhappy about that turn of events, but they were both friends that he did not wish to lose, so he held his tongue and continued to pine for her silently, hoping in one way that they would be happy and build a rewarding relationship, and, in another, hoping that it would all go terribly wrong so that he could pick up the pieces afterwards. Either way, he was trying to find diversions without raising suspicion, new books, new cases, and anything else that could occupy some brief moment of his time. He heard Angel acknowledge his words and sighed slowly, glad that he had once again concealed his weakness. He stood and shut his book, glancing at Cordelia and Angel, "I suppose we should leave, then."
"Good idea," Cordelia said, making sure that Wesley had no idea that she knew about his feelings for Fred. She felt sorry for him, having grown to like him over the last years. She couldn't even blame Fred for hurting him, knowing her other friend had no idea of the true nature of the former watcher's feelings. Overall, it was a sticky and tense situation, and she was proud of Wesley for keeping silent and letting Gunn and Fred have a chance at finding happiness. She glanced at Angel and saw that he seemed completely oblivious to everything except getting ready for the case. He kissed Connor before handing the baby to Lorne, turning as she looked away, not wanting to get caught watching him. It was bad enough to fall in love with your former boss. It was worse to get caught by him. She gave Wesley a brilliant smile and said, "Let's go."
Lorne put Connor down, pulling the blanket over the sleeping baby. He moved to sit down, startled to find Willow leaning in the doorway. "Where did you come from?"
Willow looked at the green demon, having never spoken to him but remembering seeing him in passing during her illness. She gave him a weak smile and said, "Well, you see, my parents had too much to drink one night and had sex without precaution, the only time either of them did anything foolish, and nine and a half months later, they had me. A constant reminder of their mistake."
He didn't smile, able to hear the emotion behind her sarcastic answer. He looked at her in concern, having heard the others talking about her constantly over the last week. "You should be in bed."
"Not you too?" she asked, making a face. "I'm Willow, by the way."
"I know," he said, still watching her. Something was off with her. He couldn't place what it was. She was sad and lost, her voice thick with loneliness. For a moment, he wished she'd sing. She worried him. "I'm Lorne. And you still should be in bed."
She shook her head, "No. I've been in bed for days. I need to get up and move. Nice to meet you, Lorne."
"You look like you're ready to fall, sweetie," Lorne said as he moved to take her arm. "If you don't want to lay down, fine. But you'd better take a seat before you collapse. I do not want to face Cordelia and Angel if they come home to find you laying on the floor."
"They're pretty scary, huh?" Willow said with a faint smile as she allowed him to help her to a chair. She was tired, the short walk from her room to this one taking much more out of her than she would have imagined. It was just across the hall, down a door, but it had taken a struggle to find the strength not to fall in the middle of the floor. She was so weak, and she hated it.
"Frightening," he said, shuddering and making a face as she laughed softly. Watching her, he sat down, liking her laugh. "So, why are you here, Willow?"
Willow groaned, having heard that question more times than she could count in the last week. She had hoped that he wouldn't ask her. "I don't know."
He raised a brow, having no doubt that she had been asked that a dozen times that day alone. He hadn't expected an answer, but had wanted to see her reaction. Now, he smiled, saying, "You don't know why you came across the hallway to see me? From what I had heard, you were growing rather annoyed with the constant company."
"That's what you meant?" she asked, relieved as she leaned against the chair. "I heard you singing and realized just how quiet my room was. I guess I might have been a bit lonely."
"You heard me sing and didn't run away?" Lorne smiled, "I think you and I are going to be great friends, Willow."
She looked away from him, her eyes finding the crib. She stood up, moving to the edge, looking down at the baby. "He's so tiny," she whispered, having not seen Connor, but having heard the entire story from Fred. Angel was a father. This little baby was his son. Darla had died to give him life, something that she still found hard to believe. The vampire that had killed Jesse had mothered this pretty little baby. The whole thing was still confusing, and she doubted it would ever make any sense, but she was happy for Angel. He'd make a good father.
"Isn't he?" Lorne moved to the crib. "He's got Angel and the rest of them wrapped around his little finger, me included."
"There are people after him?" Willow asked, looking at Lorne as she remembered what Fred had told her.
"Sadly enough, yes," Lorne sighed as he looked at the infant.
"He'll be safe. Angel would never let anything or anyone endanger him," Willow said as she sat back down, closing her eyes briefly as she struggled to breathe. She needed to leave. Angel had too much to worry about already without adding her to the mix. They needed to concentrate on keeping Connor safe. As soon as she had her strength back, she'd leave. She was feeling better, in a way. Not sleeping much since her fever had broke, but she wasn't having as many nightmares either. She had hopes that the worst parts of her withdrawal from magic had been the illness. She still had the need, though. The temptation to do a spell more prevalent since she had been stuck in bed for days. How easy it would be to conjure a glass of water instead of waiting for someone to bring her one. She'd done good, though, refusing to give into the desire. It was growing more and more difficult, though, as she started to feel better. She had to get away from them. She was too dangerous, a threat to those around her. She'd already hurt Dawn and the others, she couldn't hurt anyone else. She'd leave soon.
"Willow, are you okay?" Lorne asked as the girl sat in the chair, her eyes closed and her breathing erratic. She shouldn't have been up, he decided. She needed to rest more.
"Fine," she said, her eyes opening as she was reminded that she was not alone. go back to bed. I need to get better, leave before something happens."
"What's going to happen?" Lorne asked, keeping his voice low, wondering if she was even aware of what she had just told him.
"Nothing," she said, fear and worry flashing in her green eyes as she stood. She said again, "Nothing. I won't let it."
Lorne didn't respond, instead thinking over her words as she moved out of the room. He was going to offer to help her, but knew that she would refuse. She didn't want to need them, it would appear. Had plans to leave as soon as she was healthy and physically able. He stared at the empty doorway long after he heard her door shut, wondering what it was exactly that she would not let happen.
"Why can't we ever fight anything clean?" Gunn complained as they entered the lobby of the hotel.
Cordelia looked down at the orange slime covering her jeans and shirt and made a face, "Why do they always have to be so slimy?"
"I don't know," Fred said with a smile at the girl, "I've heard demon slime can be good for the skin."
"That's just gross," Cordelia said with a glare before she started to giggle. "Oh well, it's nothing a very long shower can't remove."
Angel stilled as he thought over Cordelia's words, a too vivid image of a long shower with her flashing in his mind. Biting off a groan, he shook his head, saying, "I, personally, could do without the smell. The slime isn't nearly as disgusting as the stench." "Tell me about it, Apple Dumpling," Lorne said as he walked down the stairs, holding his nose and making a face. "I could smell you all the way upstairs."
"Ha ha," Gunn said with a glare at the demon before he looked at the others. "Cordy has a great idea. I'm going home and taking a long shower. See you guys tomorrow."
"Good night, Charles," Fred said with a soft smile as he left. She turned to the others, "I'm going on upstairs. It's pretty late and I'm kind of tired."
"Angel, can I borrow your shower?" Cordelia asked, her breath catching as she looked into his dark eyes. He looked away and then nodded, but not before she'd seen it. Desire. She must have imagined it, she decided. Angel didn't want her. She followed Fred up the stairs, glad that she didn't have to walk up the two flights of stairs that Fred had to. She wasn't sure if she would have made it.
"How was Connor?" Angel asked as he ran a hand through his hair. He glanced at Lorne, seeing the amusement in the demon's eyes.
"Connor was excellent," Lorne said, glancing at Wesley before looking back at Angel. "As always."
"And Willow?" Wesley asked as he took off his sweater, glad that he had left a spare shirt at the hotel. He had some research to do before going home so it would be awhile before he got a shower. Luckily, he'd been near the back and only caught a bit of the slime. He slid the other shirt on, buttoning only the bottom few buttons as he glanced at Lorne when he didn't receive an answer. "You did check on her didn't you?"
"Well, Cupcake, I didn't really have to," Lorne said, not at all sure how much he would tell them. He had thought about it after she had left, deciding that maybe he had overreacted to her words, reading more into them than he should have. He had a nasty habit of doing that, usually making things far worse than they were.
"I am not a baked good," Wesley said with a roll of his eyes before asking, "Why didn't you have to?"
"She found me," Lorne said truthfully.
"She left her room?" Angel asked sharply, knowing that she had been weak enough that morning to need assistance to the bathroom.
"Startled me, actually. She was rather tired after walking across the hall, not at all strong enough to be out of bed, but she doesn't listen very well, does she?" Lorne said, reminding them how stubborn she was before they could yell.
"Did she say anything?" Wesley asked, curious if the redhead might have told Lorne what had happened.
"Nothing important," Lorne said, "something about her parents and being a drunken mistake, then she just talked about my singing and Connor and the hotel."
"Her parents?" Angel frowned, exchanging a look with Wesley before looking back at Lorne, "That's it?"
"She was only in there a few minutes, Bran Muffin," Lorne said defensively. "Did you expect me to reenact the Spanish inquisition?"
"Of course not," Angel said patiently. "Connor is asleep?"
"Yep. And so is Willow. I checked on her on my way down," Lorne said. "Now, if you two will excuse me, I'm going to bed. I do need my beauty sleep, you know."
"He's not telling us something," Wesley said as soon as Lorne was out of the room. He looked at Angel, "She must have told him something."
"We stink," Angel said, glancing down and grimacing. "Wesley, I don't see any reason that Lorne wouldn't be honest with us. I also doubt that Willow would have confided in him, having just met him tonight. I wonder if we're not making it far more intriguing than it actually is. Maybe she did just come here to visit. Maybe there isn't some secret that needs uncovered. Maybe we've just been over reacting."
"You don't believe that anymore than I do," Wesley said, daring Angel to deny it.
"Wesley, it's been a long day and night. I'm tired and just want to shower and get some sleep. If she was able to walk across the hall, she must be feeling better. If there is something we should know, I assume we'll be finding it out soon enough. Why don't you go home and get some sleep? You've been working too much the last few days," Angel said.
"I've got some things to finish up here first," Wesley said, "besides, I'm not tired."
"Thanks for the shower, Angel," Cordelia said as she came downstairs. She walked to her desk, rather proud that she hadn't betrayed any of the confused emotions that she had been experiencing since looking into his eyes not half an hour before. Usually, she might have just crashed at the hotel, it being this late. Tonight, though, she needed to go home and think, she needed some space. She grabbed her keys and gave them a big smile, "I'll see you boys tomorrow."
Angel watched her leave, thinking that she was even more beautiful with her face freshly washed and her hair wet. She didn't need all the make up and trappings to be gorgeous. Deciding that he'd better not continue that train of thought, he moved towards the stairs. He glanced at Wesley and said, "I'm going on up. If you feel like cleaning up later or getting some sleep, feel free to use one of the spare rooms."
"Thanks," Wesley said as Angel went upstairs. He entered his office, kicking off his shoes before sinking into his chair. With a sigh, he closed his eyes, running his hand over his face as the hotel grew silent.
Wesley read for over an hour. It was nearly dawn before he lowered his book, rubbing his eyes as he covered a yawn. Deciding that he'd accept Angel's offer, he stood and picked up his shoes. None of the rooms were locked, so he didn't bother searching for a key. When Angel had bought the hotel, he'd discovered that a majority of the locks were faulty, old and no longer of use. Since the rooms would remain empty, the vampire had only bothered to restore locks on the rooms that were being used. His room, the room that Cordelia used when she stayed over, the room that had become Connor's, another room beside that one, Fred's room and Lorne's room. Those were the only six rooms out of over two hundred that had working locks. One time, shortly after their offices had been moved there, Wesley had gone through all the rooms, on all the floors. There were some rooms on the higher levels that still locked, either warped from time or actually functioning. Only a handful of those, either way.
Wesley hadn't been very impressed with the hotel in the beginning. It was too big, too much area that couldn't be watched. He had grown accustomed to it, over time. Liked the ability to become lost when he wanted privacy. It had many rooms and many floors. Even now, that bothered him slightly. Too many rooms. When they had enough money, he wanted to invest in security cameras to cover all angles of the hotel. Years of training had made him paranoid. Since Connor had joined the family, security had become even more important. He'd taken care of any supernatural threats to the boy, placing several protection spells of varying degree on the hotel and surrounding premises. The human element still worried him, but they'd taken several precautions that would most likely guarantee Connor's safety. It was still there, though, the worry and fear. That would never fade.
Fred and Lorne both had rooms on the third floor, Angel and Connor occupying the second. When Cordelia slept over, it was next door to Angel. When Gunn stayed over, it had previously been down the hall on the third floor. Now, though, Wesley knew that Gunn would either be next door to Fred or sharing the same room. He didn't the relationship had progressed that far, yet. But, he knew it would be coming. He was prepared, he thought. It would hurt, but hopefully not as much as the initial discovery of their relationship. He was happy for them, truly he was, but he was also jealous. Fred was special, unlike any girl he'd ever known. He thought that they complimented each other. He'd been wrong, which wasn't anything unusual. He could still remember the infatuation with Cordelia several years before. That had been a farce, at best. Thankfully, nothing had come of it, and they'd been able to move past it and become friends.
Wesley took a room on the second floor, across the hall from Connor's, next door to the room where Willow was staying. He tossed his shoes on the floor, taking off his shirt before walking into the bathroom. He glanced in the mirror, seeing the circles under his eyes. He hadn't been sleeping well lately, finding the act anything but restful. He ran a hand over his face, finding it easy to see why Fred would be attracted to Gunn's handsome face and large smile. Wesley couldn't remember the last time he'd told a joke, much less caused anyone to intentionally laugh. Humor was not something he was often accused of possessing. Gunn always made Fred laugh. He shook his head, knowing it was useless to even venture into that game, trying to decide why he had not been chosen, why he was again the one left out. He never had any luck when it came to women.
He was reaching to turn on the faucet of the shower when he heard it. A loud thud on the wall. Instantly alert, he moved into the room, listening. It was coming from next door. He entered the hallway, surprised that Angel hadn't heard the noise. Maybe he'd been imagining it, hadn't heard anything at all. Deciding he'd better check it out, just in case, he went into Willow's room, snapping on the light as he entered. He made it to her bedroom, relieved to see that the room was empty of intruders. His relief did not last long as his eyes moved over the bed. Willow was laying in sheets drenched in sweat, the wet material tangled around her long pale legs. Her hair was tangled around her face, her eyes closed, her lips torn and bleeding. She was having trouble breathing, short gasps of air all she seemed able to manage. He glanced to the left, seeing the small bedside stand laying on its side. That accounted for the thud he had heard. She must have knocked it over in her sleep. He looked back at the sleeping girl, watching as she twisted and turned, her hands clenching the sheet she was laying on as her body arched up, a painful sob coming from her as she again fell back on the bed, her legs kicking at the bed. He decided that she was having a nightmare. A bad one, it would seem. He knew that she no longer had fever, yet her body was glistening with sweat. The tank top and shorts she was wearing were drenched.
He had heard that you weren't supposed to wake people from nightmares. He wasn't sure if it was true, but he didn't want to take the risk. Instead, he listened as she began to murmur the word no over and over in a soft chant as her breathing became even more erratic. He heard her say the name Dawn and then it was back to the repetition of no. Suddenly, she sat up, her eyes flashing open and rolling back as she let out a soft cry. Without thinking, Wesley sat on the bed, his hand touching her shoulder. She fell against him, her fingers digging into his back as she held him tightly and began to cry, mumbling that she was sorry over and over. Startled, Wesley was silent, simply holding her as the tears fell.
Spike looked at his door as he sensed her. She had been standing outside his crypt for five minutes already and still hadn't come inside. It had been over a week since he had seen her, a week since he had left her in her kitchen. He'd stayed away, not sure how strong his convictions would be if he saw her. He could still remember the look on her face as he had zipped his pants and told her that it over. She'd been surprised, and a bit angry. He'd felt pretty good, ending it before she had the chance. He guessed she had thought that she could had all the control in their relationship, since he was in love with her and she couldn't care less about him. Funny thing, that. He'd been in love with her for over a year, would have done anything for even the smallest bit of affection, but she'd looked at him as if he didn't deserve to even be around her. When she had died, he'd nearly done himself in, he was that besotted with the golden slayer. He hadn't, of course. He'd promised to look after Dawn and the others. Red had needed him. She couldn't very well take care of everyone on her own, though she'd done a damn good job of it.
It was after Buffy had come back that he realized he had changed. Oh, he wasn't above shagging a willing beauty, especially a slayer. The things that girl could do....well, he wasn't an idiot. He'd taken everything she gave and given it back just as well. Wild, rough, animalistic sex. Yeah, that had been fun for a while. He'd known she was using him, though. Always knew it. She'd never look him in the eye, never want to talk, never want to touch him unless it was during sex. He'd noticed, hadn't cared. The love he had felt for her had faded, though he wasn't quite sure when. He'd spent many an hour alone in his dark crypt wondering if he'd ever really loved her, or if he had been in love with the idea of being in love. It didn't really matter. He was getting a regular shag without having to make promises he was no longer willing to make.
Then, things started to change. He could sense her reconnection with her life, realized that his time was limited. Soon, she wasn't going to need him anymore. Surprisingly, he didn't really care. A shag was a shag. He'd take it as long as she was willing to give it. That night at her house, he'd known it was over. He was tired of being used, tired of being there for whatever scraps she'd toss him, tired of it all. He'd realized that he didn't really like the person she had become, the person that might have always been there but he'd been too blind to see. She might have a pretty face, but her soul wasn't very beautiful once you got close enough to see. She could suck you in, though, make you believe what you wanted to believe, play the game without caring who was hurt. No, that wasn't entirely true. She cared about a chosen few. He just wasn't part of that group, no longer wanted to be part of it. He glanced at his door again, wondering why she didn't just come inside. He was growing more and more curious as to what had brought her to him.
Finally, the door opened. She came inside, looking different from the last time he had seen her. Something was wrong. He frowned, asking, "Slayer, what brings you my way?"
"Spike," Buffy looked at him and sighed, running a hand through her hair as she entered the dark crypt, "you really need to think about getting some candles. It's always so dark and gloomy in here."
"I like it this way," he replied. "Can you get on with it? I'm busy."
"Sorry," Buffy said, looking at him in surprise. She had thought he was in love with her, yet, now he was looking at if he could barely tolerate her presence. She sat down, knowing that this would be more difficult than she'd thought. "I just wanted to thank you."
"Thank me?" he looked at her in disbelief. "What for?"
"You know," she said, her face blushing as she remembered their wild coupling on the very sofa that he was now sitting on. "I used you, and I'm sorry for that, but I just needed to feel *something* and, with you, I felt again."
"Spare me," he said, rolling his eyes. He wasn't one for heart to heart talks, especially not with the woman he had just recently stopped fucking.
"Excuse me, but I just wanted to say thanks," Buffy said, feeling better at having officially ended their relationship even though he had done it days ago. "It helped, you stopping it. With Willow leaving, I've had so much going on that it would been impossible to continue our relationship anyway, but I'm glad it happened. God, this is stupid."
"Wait, what do you mean with Red leaving?" he asked, eyes narrowing as he looked at her. "Where did Red go?"
"I don't know," Buffy said softly, still not believing that her best friend was gone, but also understanding why the redhead had left. "She left me a letter, said she had to get away, had to deal with this magic dependence on her own. She said she didn't want to risk hurting anyone else that she loved, that it was better if she handled it alone. I'm scared to death that something is going to happen to her, I wish she'd just call and let me know she's okay, and there's not a damn thing I can do about any of it. I never realized that it had gotten so hard for her, and now it's too late. She left. And, in a way, I can see that it is maybe for the best, but I still feel like I let her down."
"She left?" Spike repeated, not giving a flying fuck that Buffy now felt guilty and was wanting to make amends. She was the one that had driven Red into the spiral in the first place. She deserved to feel guilty. He'd heard them talking about it, as if Willow's use of magic was like some bloody drug. Damn fools didn't understand anything. He had been able to sense the power in Red before she even got started playing with her spells. It had always been there. True, she had made some bad choices, but everyone made mistakes. Her friends had immediately decided that she was heading towards evil and must be stopped. Never stopped to think of all the times Red's power had saved them, too busy wanting the timid little shadow back. Didn't try to help her, just condemned her. He hadn't been much better, too caught up in his affair with Buffy to realize how deep his witch had gone. He looked at Buffy, realizing that she was still talking. "You said your thanks. You can leave now."
"Oh, sure. Whatever," Buffy said as she headed towards the door. She looked back at him, hesitating, "Spike, you won't tell anyone, will you?"
"Not something I'm likely to brag about, pet," he reminded her with a smirk. He could see letting everyone know that, not only was he chipped and unable to feed properly, but he had let himself be used as a sex toy by the slayer of all people. Yeah, that would do wonders for his reputation. He really did hate this town.
He watched her leave, his thoughts moving back to Willow. She had left. He had to admit, he was proud of her. Always thought she should leave the twits behind. Of course, that had usually been when he was imagining siring her, making her his first childe and mate, torturing and killing all her little friends before spending an enternity together. Damn implant, always fucked everything up. Instead, he'd lost her to that vapid little waste of space they called Tara and he's become infatuated with the slayer. Poor Red. She had been suffocating in the Hellmouth. Maybe, now, she would finally be able to learn who she was, learn to live, discover the fire and power that he had seen in her eyes. With a smile, he got off his sofa, going to his bedroom. He packed his clothes, his eyes looking around the crypt as he moved towards the door. He'd packed everything important to him. The rest could stay. There was no reason to stay here anymore. If Red could leave, so could he. He could finally break free of this town and the hold that it had on him for years. He walked into the cool night air, lighting a smoke as he shifted his bag on his shoulder. He had a pretty good idea where Red would have gone, a bit surprised the daft twits hadn't thought about it. He'd go to LA and find his witch. After that, well, time would tell.
Angel stood in the doorway of Willow's room, his dark eyes concerned as he listened to her sobs. He'd been woken from his sleep when he'd heard a crash, immediately going to check on Connor before doing anything else. When he'd been assured that his son was still sleeping peacefully, he'd remembered that Willow was across the hall from him. By the time he'd left his room and gone to hers, he'd discovered Wesley already sitting by her bed, holding her as she cried. The former watcher had a shocked look on his face, as if he wasn't sure what to do in this situation. Angel assumed it must not be something that was covered at the council. How to deal with sobbing women who kept apologizing repeatedly was not something the watchers would probably be very concerned with studying. Angel sighed softly, wondering what Willow was so sorry for, wishing he had some idea what was going on.
Wesley was more terrified than he would have been facing a dozen demons with no weapons at all. Give him demons over an emotional woman any day. He heard movement to his right, glancing up and seeing that Angel had made an appearance. Too bad it hadn't been a bit earlier. Then it could be the vampire sitting here with a sobbing girl in his arms. Instead, he was the one that Willow was holding on to so tightly that he might have difficulty taking a deep breath, if he so wished. He didn't have experience at things like this, had no idea what to do, didn't know if he should say anything or just continue to hold her as she cried. He looked at Angel, silently asking for advice on what he should do.
Angel saw Wesley look at him, seeming to beg him to take over the duty of comforting Willow. In other circumstances, he might have smiled at the look of pure terror in the former watcher's eyes. As it was, he was too concerned about Willow and what had caused this outburst of tears and apologies to take amusement in Wesley's inability to handle the situation. He debated moving to the bed and taking Willow out of Wesley's arms, holding the girl that had given his soul until all the tears had fallen, but he didn't want to startle her or cause her to close herself back off. Making his decision, he gave Wesley a small smile and mouthed the words, "If you need me, I'm across the hall," before he quietly left the room and went back into his, thinking about what could have happened that had left Willow so fragile and sad, wishing he knew, knowing that it was time to get some answers so that they could help Willow get through whatever it was and move on.
Wesley was going to kill him. While he wouldn't chain Angel up outside to watch the rising sun, he was definitely considering spiking his hair gel with holy water. Why the hell had he left? Wesley knew that Angel was aware of his lack of experience at such things. They'd discussed his life one night after too many beers, him mentioning that his mother had died when he was younger and that it had just been him and his father after that. He wasn't used to such displays of emotion, feeling Willow's tears on his chest as she continued to hold him and cry. He knew that she'd been having a nightmare of some sort, briefly wondering if her reaction was caused by some horrible dream, but knowing that it was not very likely. She was whispering that she was sorry in between sobs, her fingers digging into his skin as she hugged his body against hers.
He looked down at the top of her head, wishing there was something he could say that would make her stop crying. A part of him was curious as to what she was apologizing for, knowing that it might very well be the reason that she had left Sunnydale and come to LA in the first place. The rest of him was less interested in finding out the answers that they had been waiting for the last week and more concerned with helping Willow through this ordeal. He didn't really know her all that well, but he couldn't remember ever seeing her in such a state. She had been very intelligent, more mature than her friends, calm and responsible during the worst of situations, shy and quiet at times but very passionate when the topic was something she really cared about, and that was about all he remembered. Since she had arrived in LA, he'd added stubborn, guarded, and intriguing to the list. None of these things gave him the answers he needed, though. He decided to just hold her as she cried, knowing that she would talk when she was ready. He was a bit scared that he'd just make things worse if he said anything, anyway.
Willow cried for at least ten minutes before she finally started to calm down. It was then that she became aware of her surroundings. She'd felt as if she was suffocating, dreaming about that night when she'd hurt Dawn and nearly lost herself. From there the dream had become a montage of her friends and their disappointment and fear and suspicion and she'd been overwhelmed by a sense of sadness and regret, waking from her dream with tears on her face. She'd cried for the first time since everything had started to go wrong. She'd cried after Buffy had died, but not for long. She'd had to take care of everyone and there hadn't been room for tears. She'd wiped her eyes and life had gone on. Now, though, she found that she couldn't stop the tears once they'd started. It was only after they had all been shed that she realized that she was holding on tightly to someone. She knew it wasn't Angel. He was bigger than the person she was clinging to. She felt bare skin under her fingernails, muscular arms holding her as she cried. Reluctantly she opened her eyes and raised her head, her hand moving to run through her hair as she looked at the chest she'd been crying against rather than look into his eyes. She felt a finger move across her cheek, wiping away a tear. She looked up then, saw Wesley watching her with concern and curiosity in his eyes.
"You should lay back down," Wesley said softly, knowing that she was still recovering from a terrible bout of flu and needed her rest. There would be time for questions later, after she'd gotten some sleep and was no longer quite so emotional and fragile. He watched her look away, relief flashing in her pretty green eyes when it was obvious that he wasn't going to interrogate her about what had happened, at least not yet.
Willow looked back at Wesley and gave him a tentative smile, whispering, "Thank you," before she laid back down, her eyes closing when her head touched the pillow.
Wesley was surprised when he heard her soft words of thanks, watching as she laid down and went back to sleep. He moved to sit in the chair beside the bed, reluctant to go back to his room in case she needed him again. He made himself comfortable in the chair, thinking about Willow and Sunnydale until the busy day finally got to him and his eyes drifted close.
End of Chapter 14