Author: dragonydreams (Elisabeth)
Pairing: Willow/Angel (friendship)
Summary: What if Willow's friends didn't see her get off the airplane in Sunnydale because she wasn't on it?
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership over these characters. I am merely borrowing them from Joss et al.
Spoilers/Timeline: BtVS, the beginning of "Same Time, Same Place" & AtS after "Ground State"
Distribution: My site, the usual lists, anyone with previous permission. Anyone else - just ask.
Feedback: Yes please! It makes me happy and keeps me writing.
A/N #1: Thanks to emeraldswan, velvetwhip and Kat for the beta.
A/N #2: The song used is "My Sacrifice" by Creed.
A/N #3: This was written as a birthday present for Lisa Kelley. I'm so sorry it's late.
Willow shifted uncomfortably on the hard plastic chair. Nervous eyes darted up to glance at the monitor then back down to the nearly empty coffee cup in her hands. She knew she shouldn't be drinking coffee when she was already jittery from nerves, but she convinced herself she needed the frothy mocha treat.
She'd already called Giles, having made a beeline to the nearest phone as soon as she'd stepped off the airplane. She assured him that she'd made it to the States in one piece and gotten one more reassurance that she was doing the right thing.
Looking up at the bank of monitors again to see that her flight to Sunnydale was still scheduled to leave on time, Willow once more questioned her readiness to see her friends.
She imagined the look of guilt in Buffy's eyes, mistrust in Dawn's, and sadness in Xander's. Tears sprang to her eyes at these thoughts. She didn't think she could take it, living with their disapproval, seeing it day in and day out.
Willow scrubbed her eyes with the back of her hand as the voice on the loudspeaker announced that her flight was beginning to board. Willow gathered her belongings and stood. She tossed the coffee cup in a trash bin and began to walk towards the gate, then past it and out of the terminal, down past the baggage claim, and out to the taxi stand.
"Los Angeles, downtown. I'll give you more directions when we get closer," she told the driver and sat back, hoping that would buy her enough time to figure out where she could go. As the car pulled out into traffic, she closed her eyes at her cowardice.
She'd told Giles that a two hour layover in LA wasn't a good idea for her. He'd known there was a possibility that she wouldn't get on her connecting flight to Sunnydale. But he'd reassured her that it would give her some extra time to steel herself before seeing her friends. Willow silently apologized to Giles for not being strong enough to go through with it.
A song began to play on the radio and, listening to the opening lyrics, Willow suddenly knew where she was headed.
It's been awhile, where should we begin?
Feels like forever
Los Angeles… friend… Angel!
Speaking through the hole in the divider separating her from the driver, Willow instructed him, "We're going to the old Hyperion Hotel."
Willow used the time that it took to get to Angel's to figure out what she was going to tell the vampire. She didn't think, "I'm afraid to see my friends, can I hide out here?" would fly.
While in England, Willow had heard rumors at the coven that the souled vampire had had a human son. She didn't want to be an imposition if Angel really did have a baby - a thought that boggled her mind.
It also occurred to her that Angel might not know what had happened with her. He might not know about her attempt to end the world and subsequent trip to England.
A perfect love that you gave to me
Oh, I remember
When you are with me I’m free
I'm careless, I believe
Above all the others we'll fly
This brings tears to my eyes
Angel had never met Tara. He wouldn't understand the beauty and light that had been stolen from her. She had been the definition of good and love. Maybe if he opened a dictionary, Angel would see Tara's picture there under the heading for Goddess.
Oh how quickly life can turn around
In an instant
It feels so good to realize
What's in yourself and written in your mind
Let's find peace there
Willow started to think that maybe this wasn't the best idea. Angel had a child, something good and pure. She shouldn't dump her pain and fear on him. She was about to tell the driver to turn around, go back to the airport, when they arrived at the Hyperion.
"I guess that settles that," Willow muttered to herself as she paid the driver and stepped out of the vehicle.
She stared up at the large building, unsure of how to proceed. It became glaringly obvious that she hadn't thought this plan out. After all, all that she had with her was her shoulder bag containing her precious laptop, along with a few personal items for "just in case" her luggage was lost, and her small handbag.
"Too late now," she told herself. "Well, we're here now, so let's go inside and at least say hi. It would be rude not to after all, right? Right. Okay feet, let's get a move on."
Willow nodded her head, as if agreeing with herself, and took a determined step forward. It wasn't as if she were going to meet a bunch of strangers. This was Angel, her friend. While Cordelia and Wesley weren't exactly people she would call friends, they were still all on friendly terms.
All too soon, she was standing in front of the main entrance and pushing the door open. She didn't know what she expected to find on the other side of the door, but it wasn't an empty room. She had an odd sensation of déjà vu, only this time she wasn't bringing news of the death of Angel's beloved, but of her own.
Releasing the breath she'd been holding, Willow walked all of the way into the room. The sound of her heels on the tile echoed through the spacious lobby, drawing out the occupant of the office.
"Hello, welcome to Angel Investigations, may I help you?" a woman's voice addressed Willow's back.
Willow spun around to face the owner of the voice, who was distinctly not Cordelia. Willow squinted in thought for a moment before placing the petite brunette before her. "Fred?"
"Yes," Fred confirmed, slightly shocked. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"
Willow smiled, "I'm Willow, a friend of Angel's… from Sunnydale. We met once a couple of years ago. You'd just gotten back from some sort of trip."
"Oh, right. You're the one who came to tell Angel about his true love being dead, but then she wasn't dead."
"Yeah, that's me."
The two women smiled at each other during the awkward silence that followed, both disturbed by memories of that time.
"So, um, is Angel here?" Willow hesitantly asked.
"You're not gonna tell him that girl's dead again are you? 'Cause he's had about enough bad news for a while."
"No, Buffy's fine. Alive and kicking. Did I come at a bad time? If I did I can go. I don't want to bother him…" Willow offered.
"What? No, don't go. Maybe a visit from an old friend is just what he needs," Fred quickly suggested. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? Here I am scaring off one of Angel's friends. It's just been a rough couple of weeks."
"I know the feeling," Willow agreed, smiling to try to comfort them both.
"Angel's up in his room, probably moping. C'mon, I'll show you," Fred said, already heading up the stairs.
"Thanks." Willow followed a couple of steps behind, wondering what could have happened to have put this woman so on edge. It was kinda nice knowing that someone was looking out for Angel, though.
Fred stopped before a closed door. She knocked on the door, calling out, "Angel, there's someone here to see you."
"Is it a client?" came the gruff reply from behind the door.
"Then tell them to go away."
Fred offered Willow a small smile of apology before trying again. "I really think you'll want to see…"
"Damn it, Fred," Angel interrupted, yanking the door open. "I said I didn't… Willow?"
"Um, hi, Angel," Willow nervously greeted the vampire. Fred wasn't kidding when she said it had been a rough couple of weeks. Angel looked awful - tired, depressed, lost.
"Willow?" he said again, "What are you doing here? Is it Buffy?"
"No, Buffy's fine. I, um, was in the neighborhood?" she answered, knowing her explanation sounded forced.
"Then what are you doing here? This really isn't the best time." Angel turned and went back into the room, leaving the door open. He sat down in his armchair and picked up the sketchpad he'd obviously been working on before their interruption.
Fred nodded her head, indicating that Willow should follow. Fred closed the door behind the redhead once she was in the room, hoping that maybe she'd be able to cheer Angel up. Yeah, they all missed Cordelia, but she was in a better place now, right?
Willow stood just inside the door for a minute before moving to sit on the couch near Angel. She caught a glimpse of the drawing of Cordelia that Angel's fingers were tracing.
"That's beautiful, did you do it?"
Angel jerked his head up, as if he'd forgotten she was there. He pulled the drawing to his chest, shielding the image from prying eyes. "Don't look at her," he all but growled.
"Angel, I may be gay, but I'm not interested in Cordy," Willow joked, hoping to lighten the situation. At the hardening of Angel's features, Willow realized that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do.
"I'm sorry, Angel. I didn't mean to joke. What's wrong? Oh, goddess, did something happen to Cordy?" Willow just now realizing that she hadn't seen the former cheerleader, but there were many reasons why she might not be there, so she hadn't dwelled on it.
"She's gone," Angel whispered.
"What? Gone? When?" Willow couldn't believe that she was just now learning that Cordelia had died. Granted, they hadn't been the best of friends, but they'd grown past the bitterness of high school.
"A few months ago," Angel answered. "We were supposed to meet… she never made it. Then again, neither did I, but I didn't know…"
It was clear to Willow that he wasn't really talking to her anymore, rather, he was reliving his own pain. Angel obviously cared much more deeply about his seer than he had the last time Willow had been here.
"How… how did it happen? Was it a vampire? Some other demon? Please tell me she died from some something supernatural. Nothing mundane, not from a gun…" Willow felt her own pain rearing its head and had to blink back tears.
Willow's sorrow seemed to snap Angel out of his brown study. Her pain assaulted all of his senses, and he had a feeling that she wasn't simply empathizing with him anymore.
"What? No, she isn't dead. She's been elevated. She was called to become a higher being."
Willow hiccupped as her tears fell free - tears of relief.
Angel didn't know what to do. Watching the redhead sitting in his dark room, crying, just seemed too bizarre. What was Willow doing here if she didn't know about Cordelia and nothing was wrong with Buffy? Why had she gotten nearly hysterical from thinking that Cordelia was dead?
Instinct taking over, Angel moved to sit next to Willow on the couch and pulled the girl into his arms. Her tears were stopping, but she was still trying to control her breathing. He rubbed soothing circles on her back as he spoke quietly to her. "Shh, I'm sorry, Willow. I didn't realize how that would sound. Cordelia's been blessed. Just think of all of the good that she can do now that she's a higher being. I'm sorry to have scared you. I just miss her. She's been such a presence in my life for years now. It's lonely without her here."
"I know that, Angel," Willow sniffled, pulling out if his comforting embrace. "I think it's wonderful what happened to Cordelia. I just overreacted. I've been kinda sensitive, emotionally, lately." She tried to flash him a reassuring smile, but had a feeling that it fell short.
"Is that what brings you here?"
"Kinda," Willow admitted. "Look, um, I don't think that you're going to like what I'm gonna tell you, so can I ask for a glass of water first?"
"Of course," Angel smiled. "Although I doubt that you could tell me anything bad enough to kick you out without water."
"I'm not so sure about that," Willow mumbled as Angel moved into the kitchen area of his suite.
She picked nervously at her purse strap, debating how much to tell Angel about what had happened. She jumped slightly when a pair of shoes suddenly blocked her study of the carpet.
"Oh, um, thanks." Willow took a much needed drink before returning to staring at the carpet, which was visible again due to Angel having resumed his seat in his chair.
"You know you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," Angel offered, recognizing the signs of a good brood forming.
"What? No, I should tell you. I guess first I should ask what you've heard from Sunnydale recently."
"I was pretty much out of… town… for the last several months. I just got back a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn't told of any messages from Sunnydale."
"Oh, were you undercover or something? Or just on vacation?" Willow asked.
"We'll get to my story later. It'll take a while to explain. And you're stalling." He smiled to soften the remark.
"Busted," Willow sighed. Slowly, she began to tell Angel about the last several months of her life. The longer she spoke, the more she found herself admitting. She told Angel about getting into dark magicks, about Tara, her destructive grief and trip to England.
Angel sat and listened to the redhead pour her heart out, keeping a careful, concerned expression on his face. This became increasingly difficult the longer he listened. He never would have believed some of the things that Willow was telling him if he wasn't hearing it from her own lips.
What had happened to the shy, nervous girl he'd met just a few short years ago? The girl who always had a smile on her face and was ever eager to lend an ear to whomever needed it, even a lonely vampire. She grew up, that's what happened, he told himself. Life on the Hellmouth had finally taken its toll on this innocent.
"…and I just couldn't face them," Willow admitted forlornly. "I'm sorry to just drop in on you, but I didn't know where else to go."
"I'm so very sorry for your loss," Angel finally said. "I know that doesn't do anything to relieve your heartache, but I am sorry that you are going through this. How are you coping with what you've done?"
"I'm starting to deal," Willow admitted. "Giles and the coven did a lot to help me, more than I ever expected, or deserved," she finished quietly.
"You deserve it," Angel insisted, forcing Willow to meet his eyes. "You've been one of the best people that I've had the honor of knowing. One moment of darkness doesn't cancel that out."
"Angel, I tried to end the world," Willow protested. "I killed two men! I don't deserve their friendship."
"Do I?" Angel softly asked.
"What?" Willow looked up at him, surprised.
"Do I deserve your friendship? Or anybody's? I've tried to end the world too, Willow. And I've killed many more than two men."
"But you didn't have your soul then," Willow rushed to point out.
"And neither did you, not really," Angel countered. When she looked ready to argue, Angel pressed on. "You said it yourself, Tara was your everything. She had a part of your soul, and when she died, she took that part with her. The absence of that piece seemed to overshadow the rest, creating an outlet for the magicks I can feel stored inside you. From the sound of it, Xander found a way to plug that hole, stretching out his share of your soul to put a patch over the part labeled 'Tara'."
"That doesn't make any sense," Willow argued, not ready to believe that she wasn't completely at fault.
"Isn't it? Why did you bring Buffy back?"
"Because the world needed her," Willow automatically answered, wondering at the sudden shift in topic.
"Be honest," Angel prodded.
"Because I needed her," Willow admitted in defeat. "Because you two are soulmates."
"Now, I don't think you gave my soul one bit of thought when you made that decision," Angel chided. "And I think we both know that a slayer and a vampire with a soul can't be soulmates."
"Has moved on," Angel adamantly stated. "As have I."
"Cordelia," Willow guessed.
"Is that weird?"
"A little," Willow said. "But not really. With you guys working together so closely for so long, I guess it was kind of inevitable."
"Inevitable," Angel grinned. He liked the idea that they were fated to fall in love. He just cursed the timing. Hadn't he spent enough time pining over Buffy to not have to go through it all again with Cordelia? Or was this part of his redemption, to never be able to be with the woman he loved?
"So, now that you've heard my tale of woe, give me some good news. I heard rumors that you have a son?"
"Connor," Angel confirmed with a smile, which quickly turned into a frown. "He has a lot to do with where I was for the last few months."
"Did you take him on a trip?" Willow asked.
"More like he sent me on one," Angel mumbled. Willow lifted an eyebrow in question, silently urging him to continue. "Now it's my turn to admit to having a lot to catch up on."
"Not all hearts and rainbows?"
"Not hardly," Angel agreed.
"You listened very patiently to my saga, I think I can return the favor. What happened, Angel?"
With a needless sigh, Angel began to tell Willow about his last few years. He told her about Darla, Connor, Holtz, Wesley, Quor-toth, and being sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
"So your one-year old son is now fifteen and he hates you?" Willow confirmed. Angel nodded. "I guess that's no stranger than having a ball of energy suddenly becoming your fourteen year old sister."
"What?" Angel asked.
"Oh, right, I forget that she wasn't always there. I seem to remember her walking in on Buffy and me making out quite a few times."
"Hehe, so does she. She says she's scarred for life," Willow laughed. "Did you know her first kiss was from a vamp? Only she claims she didn't know what he was beforehand."
"Figures the slayer's kid sister would fall for a vampire," Angel chuckled. "Did he get staked?"
"Oh yeah. Dawn had to do it, but Buffy, Giles and Spike were all waiting in line."
"Spike's still hanging around?"
"Thinks he's in love with Buffy," Willow gossiped. "Oh, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that."
"That's okay, Willow. I already told you I'm over her. But Spike's delusional if he thinks Buffy would ever love him."
"That's what we all keep telling him, but he doesn't seem to listen."
Willow's stomach chose that moment to growl, loudly. She blushed furiously. "Did you hear that?"
"Your stomach growling at me?"
"I guess that's a yes."
"When's the last time you ate?" Angel queried.
"Um, a real meal, sometime yesterday I think. What with the time difference and airplane food, and nerves, I haven't really been hungry. Until now."
"Let's go downstairs. Fred has all kinds of menus down there. We'll order you some dinner and then you can get some rest. I imagine you're rather tired too. Are your bags downstairs?"
Angel stood and led the way out of his room and back down to the lobby.
"I don't actually have any bags with me," Willow admitted. "They're probably in Sunnydale by now. This is all that I have with me." She held up her shoulder bag. "I told you this was an impromptu decision."
"Well, tomorrow you can do some shopping. I have Cordelia's belongings in one of the rooms, you can probably try to find some clothes in there in the meantime."
"Thanks, but if I'm gonna hide out here, I'll just go shopping. I've got a few things with me, personal necessities and the like. You don't mind me hiding out here, do you?"
"Of course not. While I shouldn't enable you, I can understand you wanting a bit more time before facing your friends. Just remember, they are your friends. My one condition for staying is that you call them and let them know where you are. They're going to be worried sick if you don't get off that plane."
Willow pouted, but agreed.
Fred looked up at the jovial sound of Angel's voice as he entered the lobby and then the office.
"Angel, you're out of your room!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, I am," he agreed. "Willow's hungry. I thought we could order her some food from that place you like so much."
"Do you like tacos?" Fred asked the redhead. When Willow nodded, Fred pulled open a drawer and picked up a well-used menu. "Here, pick what you like. I love their tacos, but Charles sometimes orders other stuff off the menu."
"Charles?" Willow looked at Angel.
"Gunn. You've met him. He'll be around later."
Willow nodded and studied the menu for a minute before giving Fred her order. Angel ushered her back out to the lobby while Fred made the phone call. Instead of heading towards one of the couches, Angel steered Willow to the reception desk and in front of a phone.
"Now?" she blanched. "You want me to call on an empty stomach?"
"Better to do it sooner rather than later. I don't want you saying after you eat that you're too tired, maybe tomorrow."
"Drat, you've seen the master plan. All right, fine."
Willow wiped her sweaty palms on her pants before picking up the receiver and dialing Buffy's number. She breathed a sigh of relief when the machine picked up and realized that they were probably on their way to the airport to pick her up.
"Hi Buffy. By now you probably noticed that I wasn't on the plane. I'm okay; I'm just not ready to come home. I told Giles I wasn't ready, but would he listen? No. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I'm safe, and I'll give you a call in a couple of days. I'm sorry, but…" The machine clicked off.
"You didn't tell them you were here," Angel pointed out.
"So that they could drive out here to get me? No thank you."
"The food should be here in half an hour," Fred announced from the office doorway. "So, you're staying?"
"It looks like it," Willow confirmed, smiling at Angel. "For a little while."
Author's (final) Note: Before anyone asks/demands more, I am going to say I don't have a plot to continue this story. I'm not opposed to continuing it, but I don't know how I would do it. So unless inspiration strikes, this is it. If, however, I can think of something suitable to occupy the AI gang's time while Willow and Angel fall in love, I will add on to it.