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~*~*~*~*~*~*~

She moved sensuously to the music. The throbbing of the bass and pounding of the drums worked its way through her, awakening something that had been dormant inside, something primal. Her eyes were closed and she was unaware of the looks she was getting from the other dancers. Space opened up around her so they could watch. She didn’t notice. All that mattered was the dance.

~*~*~*~

He watched her from the balcony. He loved to watch her. There was something inherently wicked in her that made his demon purr in contentment and left the man he was speechless. He was pleased with his choice of mate, pleased with the way their life was. He didn’t want anything to spoil it.

The single sheet of paper folded in the inner pocket of his coat had the power to do just that.

He could feel the air around her change. The young and wild were gearing up to make their move. It wouldn’t do them any good; she would lay them flat with just a look. It was time to claim what was his once more.

It was time.

~*~*~*~

The air around her was charged and a few brave souls were working up the courage to approach her when a tall, darkly handsome man invaded the open space around her. He, too, was dressed in leather and velvet, but his shirt was a deep blood red, where hers was an emerald green corset. He moved with feline grace, like a panther stalking its prey. He moved toward the redhead without hesitation and her other would-be partners abruptly abandoned their plans.

The man was behind her and her eyes were still closed, but her lips curled into a wicked smile, like she knew he was there, just as his hands settled on her swaying hips. She melted into him and they moved together as one. A lazy grin crossed his face when her hand came up to cup the back of his head and pull his lips to her neck. They danced in their own little world, heedless of their audience.

The man whispered something into her ear and her eyes popped open. It was too dark in the club to see their color, but one could definitely see the wariness and alertness in them. The sensual haze surrounding them faded and the crowd shrugged and turned to other pursuits. The man and woman silently made their way out of the heavy atmosphere of the club and into the night.

~*~*~*~

Willow looked at Angel as he guided her to their car. “Are you sure?”

Angel nodded then handed her a folded sheet of paper and flipped on the dome light. She quickly read the email message and paled. The page slipped from her trembling fingers and she clenched her hands into fists to try to calm down.

“We don’t have to go back,” he said quietly.

Willow chuckled humorlessly. “Spike sent this to you. He’s asking for his Sire’s help. You know it’s big if he asked. I know the both of you would rather bathe in holy water than be in the same room. Angel, he said, “please” for crying out loud! Of course we have to go back. It’s just…”

“You thought we’d have more time,” Angel finished for her.

She shrugged a little. “Well, yeah.” She looked at him in the confined space of the car. “I know they weren’t happy that we were leaving, but I thought we finally got them to understand. I guess I didn’t really expect them to actually call us for help ever, but especially not within a year.”

“If you want to stay here, I can go on my own.”

Willow snorted. “Yeah right.”

Angel grinned at her and started the car. “That’s what I thought. The plane is waiting. We’ll be there sometime tomorrow.”

Willow watched the scenery pass by as they drove to the airport. She’d been enjoying Prague. Hell, she’d enjoyed everywhere she and Angel had been over the last year. Leaving Sunnydale had been hard, harder than she’d thought it would be, but she was more certain now than ever that it was the right thing to do.

Getting away from the Hellmouth had made her realize how dirty she’d felt. The sheer evilness of the town had seemed ground into her pores, but it had slowly and thoroughly been washed away the longer she was gone. She felt clean and at peace in a way now she’d never felt in Sunnydale.

Angel called her wicked, and maybe she was, but it was a wickedness of her own making and not some taint of the Hellmouth. She’d grown up, become her own person, out of the shadow of Buffy and the others. They were all in for a hell of a surprise if they were expecting her and Angel to be the same as when they left.

She turned her attention to her mate. Angel’s face was grim in the darkness, the streetlamps occasionally throwing his features into stark relief. He had changed as much, if not more than she had. Leaving first Sunnydale, and then L.A. had been the right thing for him, too. He laughed now, actually took pleasure in life. He might be undead, but he was finally living.

Willow closed her eyes and leaned her head back as she thought about those first tumultuous months. They’d spent the first two months in Ireland. That had been hard for both of them, but it had also brought them together.

 

****flashback****

“Leave me alone!” Angel roared. He went to clutch his head, but the coffee mug he held got in the way. It shattered as he threw it at the wall. It missed her by a good six feet, but she flinched anyway.

Willow ignored the blood dripping down the wall. She just stared across the room incredulously at the vampire who was panting for unnecessary breath. The look on his face was one of complete disbelief and dawning horror. He stared at the splash of red on the white wall and shook his head. He wouldn’t look at her and it made her angry.

“Look at me, Angel.” He stubbornly refused and she yelled, “Look at me!”

Frightened brown eyes met hers and Willow slowly moved towards him. She kept her voice low. “What was that all about?” she asked.

He shook his head once more and pressed his lips together. Before she could question him again, Willow cried out in surprised pain and looked down. She was barefoot and had just stepped on a sharp piece of Angel’s broken mug. She balanced on one foot and lifted the other to see how bad it looked. It wasn’t pretty.

“Willow?” His voice was strained and Willow did her best to reassure him.

“I’m alright. Just need some tweezers and some bandages. Maybe a few sti- hey!” She cried out in surprise as Angel swept her into his arms and carried her into the bathroom. He set her down on the closed toilet seat and knelt in front of her. He lifted her injured foot so he could see the damage and Willow saw his eyes flash gold before he set his jaw and deliberately went about cleaning the wound.

Angel was sure he was going to go mad. The scent of Willow’s blood was intoxicating and it was right there for the taking. His demon had been battering at its cage, tempting him with unbearably delicious suggestions of all the things he could do to her. It had been like this since they’d left Sunnydale. He wanted Willow, badly, but he didn’t dare take her. Angelus was oh so persuasive though. He was the devil on his shoulder and there was no balancing angel anywhere in sight. The only thing keeping him from succumbing was the knowledge that she wouldn’t survive the encounter, at least not with her soul. He would turn her and he knew it. He couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t.

Angel was staring fixedly at his bloody fingers and Willow was beginning to get worried. “Angel?”

“Do you have any idea what a temptation you are?” he asked softly. He went on without giving her a chance to answer. “I had no clue how difficult it would be to resist you. We’re friends and I value that friendship very much. I want you, but I don’t want to hurt you.”

He still wouldn’t look at her, so he didn’t see the surprised look on her face. She opened her mouth, but he went on. “Angelus has been talking to me. He’s been quite vocal since we left. He wants me to take you, make you mine- ours. He wants me turn you so we’ll be together for eternity. He wants me to feed from humans. He says there’s no reason for me not to now that I’m not under the Powers’ thumb. He wants me to set him free again.”

“Oh Angel.” Willow gently stroked his hair. The last thing she wanted was to be a burden to him. She wanted him to be happy. It wouldn’t be easy for her to leave, but she would if it was best for him. She’d had no idea she was the cause of some of his internal conflict. “Maybe I should go. I don’t want to be another source of pain to you. I didn’t realize.”

She lifted her foot out of his unresisting hands and finished bandaging it. The cut wasn’t as deep as she had thought it was. A few butterfly strips and a larger protective covering and she was fine. She also took a couple of aspirin. Willow packed away the first aid supplies and stood.

Angel didn’t seem inclined to move, so she quietly left him kneeling on the floor. She recalled something else he’d said and she had to admit that it didn’t sound unreasonable to her. For a moment she marveled at how much she’d changed.

She looked back at him from the doorway and said gently, “Angelus was right about one thing. There is no reason for you to live on pig’s blood any longer. There never really was.”

Angel’s head snapped up and he stared at her with burning eyes. “What did you just say? Are you seriously suggesting I start killing again?”

“Oh, God no! Of course not, but Angel, you can feed without killing. I know you don’t get all that you need from bagging it. It sustains you, but it doesn’t satisfy you. I’m sure you could find people more than willing to let you feed from them. Spike once told me you could charm a nun out of her knickers if you were of the mind.”

Angel rose gracefully to his feet and moved towards her. The look on his face was one Willow hadn’t seen before and couldn’t begin to describe. She took a step back, then another. She was starting to get scared.

“You seem awfully eager for me to completely turn my back on everything we’ve been doing for the past five years, Willow. Why is that? What are you really doing here with me? You told me you wanted me to live my life on my own terms, but you’re always there, pushing and cajoling and suggesting we do this or that. You’re much more subtle than the others, but it’s starting to look like you want to control me as well.”

Willow shook her head as she continued to back away from Angel. For the most part she kept her eyes on his, only shooting brief glances over her shoulder to make sure she didn’t bump into any furniture. She couldn’t tell him, especially not now. He wouldn’t believe her.

“No, I don’t want to control you, but I do want you to be happy, Angel. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. You’re tearing yourself apart by denying your demon side. Accepting who you really are will go a long way to bringing you peace.”

Angel’s face darkened in anger and he kept advancing on her. “Who I really am? What the fuck do you know about who I really am? What kind of game are you playing here, Wilow?”

She looked over her shoulder again and angled for the door. Her purse was on the table next to it. Maybe going out for a while and letting him calm down was a good idea. She looked back to him and said, “I’m not playing games with you, Angel. I’m trying to help you.”

That was apparently the wrong thing to say. Angel’s face shifted into that of the demon and Willow’s courage fled. She shoved a chair towards him and bolted for the door, barely managing to grab her purse on the way out. She didn’t think about her bare feet until she was already out the door.

Willow ran for the elevator, her only thought to get away from Angel and let him calm down. She hadn’t meant to anger him so. It just didn’t make sense to her for him to deny his nature. She hadn’t been suggesting that he become a psycho killer like before, just that he not deny himself what he needed to really live.

Her injured foot was throbbing and possibly bleeding again, but she didn’t slow down. Their apartment was at the opposite end of the hall from the elevator and they were on the 18th floor. She so wasn’t going to risk breaking her neck on the stairs. She was nearly to her goal when she heard their door crash open and Angel’s booted feet in the hall behind her. She had no chance against vampire speed, but she kept going. She slapped the down button and blessedly, the door opened immediately. She slipped in as soon as the doors were opened wide enough and hit the ground floor button, then the door close button. The doors started to close as she wedged herself into a corner.

A pale hand came through the closing doors and then Angel was there, human face back in place, but with his dark brown eyes flickering back and forth between brown and gold. He slid into the car with her and let the doors close behind him.

She shot a glance at the alarm button on the control panel behind him, but knew she didn’t have a chance of reaching it. Angel followed her gaze behind him then hit the ‘stop’ button. The car shuddered to a halt and an annoying buzz sounded for a few seconds; then the car was silent except for Willow’s breathing.

“You ran from me,” he said harshly.

Willow swallowed. “Seemed like the thing to do at the time.”

He growled low in his throat and reached for her. There wasn’t anywhere for her go and she silently prayed that her death would be quick. She was completely unprepared for him to snarl, “You are mine!” in her ear or for the feel of his lips on hers, his tongue demanding entrance to her mouth. Her lips parted on a gasp and he was in, taking her mouth like she’d occasionally dreamt he’d take her body. The kiss was raw and hungry and passionate in a way she’d never known before. She buried her hands in his hair and kissed him back for all she was worth.

Angel finally released her mouth when she whimpered from lack of oxygen. She gulped in lungfuls of air as he kissed and nipped his way down her neck. The inherent danger of having an angry vampire’s teeth in the vicinity of her jugular didn’t escape her, but Willow couldn’t bring herself to care. It felt way too good.

Angel didn’t give her or himself any time to think. He lifted her up and she instinctively wrapped her legs around his lean waist. He got his belt and pants undone then reached under her skirt and ripped her panties away. Willow gasped at the sting and looked into his flickering eyes. ‘What am I doing?’ she thought hazily. All thought fled when she felt the head of his cock seeking her entrance. Angel groaned harshly and captured her lips as he smoothly entered her. He swallowed her cry and anchored her to him with an arm around her hips. His other hand cradled the back of her head and held her steady for his kisses. He took half a step forward to brace her back against the wall as she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. Willow rolled her hips and Angel started thrusting.

Their coupling was fast and furious. There was too much anger and passion between them for finesse and tenderness this first time. Angel fought to keep his face from shifting, but he could smell the fresh blood from her injured foot mingled with the scent of her arousal. That combined with the tightness and heat surrounding him and it was a losing battle. He tore his mouth away from Willow’s and watched her eyes as he shifted. He saw no fear, only fascination and acceptance. His thrusts slowed as she hesitantly touched his face, mapping the ridges and bumps. She cupped the side of his face and he nuzzled into her hand.

Willow leaned in to kiss him, fangs and all, and Angel sped up again. He felt her lip catch on one then tasted the sweetness of her blood for the first time. It was like heaven and hell all mixed together. Angelus howled in triumph in his mind, but Angel refused to give in to the demands that he turn her. Willow tightened around him and broke the kiss.

“Oh god, oh god, Angel! Please,” she panted. She was so close. She watched him through narrowed eyes and saw that his gaze was focused on her pulse. She pressed on the back of his head to bring him closer and gasped out, “Please,” again. He looked at her for a moment, startled, then bent his head and lapped at her pulse point before gently sinking his fangs into her skin. The sharp pain morphed into shattering pleasure as he drank from her and Willow screamed as her orgasm washed over her. The taste of her blood and the clamping of her inner muscles took Angel over the edge as well, and he pulled his fangs from her neck to shout his release.

He slumped against her as the final shudders faded and Willow was thankful for the wall behind her. They stayed that way for a few minutes before Angel finally pushed away from the wall and Willow uncrossed her legs from behind him. He set her down and held her steady as she found her balance. Her foot throbbed when she put any weight on it so she stood on one foot and braced against the wall. Angel swept up her purse then hit the release for the elevator. He pressed the up button and their floor number then picked Willow up and cradled her against his chest. Aside from her breathless pleas at the end, no words had been spoken since she told him running had seemed like a good idea. Willow was quite hesitant to break the silence.

The doors opened to show several of their neighbors milling about in the hall. A couple of them opened their mouths to ask questions, but one look at Angel’s face and Willow’s bleeding foot stopped them. He walked out of the elevator like carrying a woman was an everyday occurrence and ignored everyone. Willow just buried her head in his shoulder and prayed that her blush would eventually go away. It didn’t seem likely when she realized that her panties were shredded and still sitting on the floor of the elevator.

Angel closed the door to their apartment and carried her back into the bathroom. He set her back down on the closed toilet seat then turned on the taps to fill the tub. He started stripping out of his clothes and once he was naked, started on her. Willow didn’t protest, partly because she didn’t want to upset him anymore than she already had and partly because a bath seemed like a really good idea. His touch was gentle as he stripped her and tended to her foot. He replaced the bandages with waterproof ones then turned off the taps. He lifted her and set her in the tub, getting in behind her. He settled in, bringing her back to rest against his chest.

They sat in silence for a few minutes then Angel said, “Talk to me, Willow.”

She didn’t pretend to misunderstand. After what just happened between them, she had to tell him. She leaned her head back so that it rested at the curve of his neck and closed her eyes. She said, “You know that Spike was caught by the Initiative and chipped, right?” She felt him nod and continued. “Watching him not be able to feed or defend himself against humans, to not be who and what he was almost broke my heart. I know he’s tried to kill me on several occasions, but it just didn’t seem right for him to have to live that way. So I found a way to take it out.”

She felt Angel tense and she said, “Don’t. You wanted me to talk and I am. Don’t interrupt.” He grunted in agreement and settled back down.

“It was some pretty powerful magic, and I wasn’t quite ready for it, but I did it. He’s back to his old self, with a few notable exceptions. I worked a spell so that even though he could feed again, he couldn’t kill his victims. He wasn’t pleased, but he wanted the chip out. I thought he’d take off as soon as it was done, but he decided to stick around. We kind of became friends. He noticed what was happening to me before I did. I was being drawn to the books of dark magic at the Magic Box and at Giles’ house. The ruins of the high school were calling me as well. The Hellmouth was trying to take me. He could have let it happen, but he was grateful for what I’d done for him. He took me to a healer in Ojai who did a soul cleansing. Let me tell you, it was very unpleasant. It was right after that that I found the book of prophecies. I knew that if I stayed in Sunnydale that I would succumb to the temptation of the darkness.”

“Spike and I got to talking one night soon after I found the book and we got on the subject of you. I’m not going to give you details, but I started thinking about what it must be like for you to live as you do. Then Cordelia called and told me you were turning into Angelus again. You know what happened after that.” Angel nodded again and Willow fell silent, trying to gather her thoughts into a semblance of order.

“I could be very wrong about this, but it makes sense to me. I think that if you balance your human and demon sides, you’ll be a lot happier. You’ve spent a long time denying the demon. That’s one of the reasons Angelus went so cuckoo when he was loose a few years ago. If you accept that part of you and give it a little freedom now and then, I don’t think you’d ever have to worry about losing control like that again. Work out a compromise.”

She lifted her hand out of the water and brushed her fingers against the bite mark on her neck. “I know you fought not to do this. I know you were afraid you would lose control and turn me, but you didn’t. You stopped long before I was in any danger. I’m not saying that I want to be a vampire, because I’m still wigged about meeting my vamp-y self. She was a skanky ho, but she did show me that I have that strength inside me.”

Willow sat up and turned so that she was facing Angel. He regarded her with hooded eyes. It occurred to her that she was sitting in a bathtub, naked, with a very handsome man, and she wasn’t at all embarrassed. Then she realized that this was nothing compared to facing a bunch of neighbors while her panties were in a shredded mess on the elevator floor.

She flushed a little and gave him a crooked smile. “Maybe the edges of right and wrong have blurred for me, but I don’t see the harm in feeding from humans in moderation. If you want to only go after bad guys and leave their weakened bodies at the cops’ front door, go for it. If you want to seduce someone into letting you take a few mouthfuls, well, you’re S.O.L. because I don’t share.” He grinned at her, but didn’t say anything.

She dropped her eyes. “If you want me to leave, I will. I don’t want to cause you any problems. I don’t want to be a cause of conflict within you. I love you, Angel, but I’ll go if you think that would be best.”

Angel tipped her chin up and met her eyes. “Say that again.”

“I love you.”

“Do you mean it?”

“Very much.”

He tugged on her hand and she moved closer. He kissed her tenderly and murmured, “I love you, too, Little One,” against her lips. He pulled back and looked at her solemnly. “I’m sorry I scared you earlier.”

“Don’t apologize. I can see how my actions and words could have been misinterpreted. I was trying not to make you do anything you didn’t want to do, but I did want you to look at different options. I guess in my own way I was trying to manipulate you. I’m sorry.”

Angel shook his head and reached around her to flip the drain. They got out and dried each other off, trading kisses and caresses as they did. Angel picked her up so she wouldn’t put any pressure on her foot and carried her into his bedroom. Willow pulled back the covers and soon they were curled around one another.

She was just drifting off to sleep when she heard him say, “Feed off the bad guys, and leave them on the police’s doorstep, hmmm?”

She giggled. “It’s a suggestion.”

****end flashback****

Angel’s voice brought Willow out of her thoughts and she realized they had arrived at the airport. She got out of the car and slipped under his arm as he talked to the captain. Arrangements were finalized and they boarded the private jet Angel had bought before they started their journey together. He hadn’t been kidding when he told her he had plenty of money.

As they settled into their seats, Angel asked her, “What were you thinking about so fiercely, Love?”

Willow smiled and leaned over to kiss him. “I was remembering our first time together and how much we’ve changed since then. I don’t think they’re going to know what to do with us.”

Angel smirked. “It won’t be dull, that’s for sure.”

“In and out then we get back to our life.”

Angel took his mate’s hand and absently rubbed the silver Claddagh on her left hand. He wore a matching one on his. He had found more happiness in the last year with Willow than he had in his whole life. He’d be damned again if he let anything happen to destroy it. If any of the old gang tried to break them apart, they would have to make do without their help. It wasn’t their fight anymore and no one was going to change their mind about that.

“So after we’re done in Sunnydale, where do you want to go?” He asked as the plane started to taxi.

Willow just shrugged. “Surprise me.”

-30-