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Angel grits his teeth as he runs a badge through the scanner and slips through the automatic door, stalking down the hallway before it can even fully open. His senses are on alert as he strides forward, neoprene-blend jacket flapping at the backs of his boots as he walks.

The building is old. The floor is made of that laminate stuff that went out of fashion in the late 2040's, and burning weakly overhead is a single halogen bulb. A thin film of dust coats the walls, especially along the baseboards which probably haven't been cleaned in twenty years or more.

He pauses under the light bulb, his senses riveted to the object as it…sways…ever so slightly.

There's no breeze, and this is one of the last buildings in the area with a ground-level entrance.

Still watching the bulb, he reaches up to activate the comlink attached to his ear.

"Brown Fox."

"Brow—Who—?" He scowls, his expression lost on the empty room, then continues, "Bradley, what have I said about those code names?"

"Uh, not to use them?"

"And…?"

"But I think I make a better Brown Fox. Sounds so much more…covert than Bradley, don't you think? Plus, it's a big hit down at the club with the guys."

"And spreading around your 'code name' to score a one-nighter doesn't…defeat the purpose?"

"Oh. Point taken. Uh, Boss, was there something you wanted?"

"Yeah. We have any more intel on this 'oracle'?"

"Hmmm." Bradley's voice deepens and he's all business. Angel can just see him pecking away at his touch screen, lip bitten in concentration as he scans through the records. "Not much on the oracle, but I found the building's history."

"Go on."

"Originally a hotel of some sort, the building was erected in 2003, remodeled thirty years later. It did a steady business until 2073, when the business suddenly dried up and the place was abandoned. Last known title holder was…huh, initials only—T. H."

"Not the most helpful information, but—"

"Wait. The building does ping on the radar as a possible gathering of the Resistance."

"Damn. Do I need to vacate?" He braces himself to turn away.

"No, no. The building was taken off the watch list after SWAT stormed the building and found only…out of date furniture and half a dozen cats."

"Cats. Why is it always cats?"

"At least it's not cockroaches."

"And with that pep talk, I'm out." Flicking his comlink off, Angel takes a left into a long, narrow hallway with only one door at the end. The hairs on the back of his neck begin to stand up the closer he gets to the door—he reaches into his pockets and pulls out his steel with his right hand, an EMP saber with the left.

Something inside is powerful.

Not that he's surprised. This case has taken him deeper into the technomagical realms than he cares to go.

And anyone referred to as an 'oracle' by the Boss of the Southside Half-Breeds has to be packing some serious mojo.

A spark of electrical energy skims over his skin as he approaches the door, scanning him head to toe.

So much for the element of surprise.

Whirling into action, he kicks down the door and charges the room, hurtling over a sofa and toward the desk, weapons raised.

He skids to a stop before he crashes into the furniture, blinking.

The woman at the desk gapes at him for a moment before she breaks out into a smile.

"Angel?"

He shakes his head, not believing what he's seeing.

"I—you're—I mean…" Slipping the saber back into his coat, he scratches the back of his neck as his brain scrambles for an answer. There's only one solution, and even though he's seen it all, he's still reeling from the juxtaposition of past and present and finally, as her smile begins to fade and concern creeps over her features, he's able to speak.

There's only one thing he can say.

"Willow?"

 

***

 

"Yeah?" she answers his question, biting back the amusement bubbling up in her chest at the flummoxed look on his face.

"But you're…you…" He ducks his head like a shy little boy before glancing up at her again. "Are you…you—you?"

"Me—me?" She echoes innocently.

"You should be dead."

"You're a little kettle to be calling me pot." She crosses her arms over her chest, eyebrow raised in challenge.

"No, I mean…this is just unexpected." He's studying her intently, looking for flaws in the mirage.

When he tries to flare his nostrils discretely, she tilts her head to the side and offers an unobstructed sniff. She's only half-surprised when he takes her up on the offer, cool breath ghosting across her skin as he takes a brief whiff.

"Willow." This time, it's more a statement than a question.

"That's me."

He smiles—and for all that she'd never got the appeal, even when she was straight, she catches just a glimmer of what Buffy might have seen in him all those years ago.

She can't help but echo the expression. And since she's always been a sucker for her friends—even almost-not-quite-somewhat friends—she decides to let him off the hook.

"The spell I did, back in Sunnydale, activating the Slayers with the big mojo? Well, all that magic just kinda…stuck. And here I am, a hundred and sixty-three years later, still kickin'…metaphorically speaking." She shrugs. "I'm still not much for the hand-to-hand."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

His brow furrows in that familiar grumpy concentrating-constipated look he'd worn so often when they first met, and suddenly she's overwhelmed with a wave of nostalgia for Xander, for Buffy and Giles and Jesse and home. She fights back the unexpected emotions churning in her gut, sensations she hasn’t felt for nearly a decade, and pushes to regain her focus.

"So you're looking for information on the Sorensen case."

"Yeah. We got intel that an oracle was housed in this building, but I'm guessing it was a bad tip."

"Not really."

"You?"

"I've been called worse." She shrugs. All business, she turns to the console against the wall and types in a few numbers. After a moment's pause, she extracts a microdrive from the device and delicately places it in Angel's hand.

"You're dealing with a Class Four Entropy demon. They're notoriously hard to track from the seemingly random pattern of circumstances leading up to their victim's deaths, but I've found a subtle signature in corresponding weather patterns that might give you some good leads." She logs out of the portal and turns to face him once again.

"That's…Thank you."

"No problem. Now, I do have to get going if you don't mind." She begins packing away the elements she'd been logging, extra careful of the more delicate compounds.

"Yeah. Hey, I…Can we keep in contact?"

She pauses to study his face, wondering just how much she should say. It may be risky, but she decides to follow her gut.

"A contact address is in the file. If you want to keep your job, don't use it on a Stream."

He nods, appearing to give the request the weight it merits. "I've still got connections."

"Thanks, Angel."

"Willow, it's…good to see you."

"Yeah. You too." And surprisingly, it is.

She watches as he turns to go.

"Oh, and Angel?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell Brown Fox to keep the number tonight—this one's a keeper."

 

***
***

 

After Angel's team manages to find her headquarters, she has to move.

Her wards are the strongest around and her systems—in addition to being fully Sly, and completely undetectable by the government's Steam system—are also encrypted with a magical signature lock. She knows that Angel's team had searched quite extensively to find her, but still…

…she can't take a chance.

Even if it kills her to give up the last link she has to her family.

As she packs up her physical belongings—the shorter of her two tasks, taking only four days—and begins the painstaking process of deconstructing her elaborate security shields and the equally complex job of laying new, longer-lasting and lower-maintenance wards, her mind wanders back.

She remembers Tara, the second girl she'd loved by that name—although in completely different ways—beaming with Dawn's smile and Xander's big brown eyes, as her "Nana Will" examined the structure for structural and magical suitability for the new headquarters of the Resistance. She remembers Faith, seventy-eight and stubbornly clinging to life past her slaying prime, peering through her bifocals at the décor, smartly rapping on the walls and making suggestions on how to use each and every room.

She remembers they all listened.

She remembers planning sessions and recon missions, heated debates and laughing at funny movies until three in the morning.

She remembers when Faith passed away quietly in her sleep. Ironic that she would go so gently when she lived so vividly.

She remembers how it felt to be the last one of the gang.

She tries not to remember—scrabbling and searching for mental walls once strong against the past, now soggy and crumbled by Angel's appearance like cookies dipped in milk.

And she remembers blood.

She remembers the weight of Tara—so different, yet so alike her namesake—limp in her arms.

And now she's simply the last.

Closing her eyes against the memories, she sets the last ward and walks away.

She doesn't look back.

 

***

 

Willow's information is good—not that he expects anything less, but it's nice to know that some things haven't changed—and they bind the Entropy demon with a modified four-point Star of Thebor scrawled in wax across the linoleum in a shiny, chrome kitchen, the homeowner's screams rising in counterpoint to Alisha's chanting. From there, it's just a matter of containment—something that has gotten increasingly simpler the more the DDV learns and networks with other supernatural governing agencies.

In all truth, it should have ended there—he know the way the Sunnydale crew went when demons became mainstream and the government stepped in, and Willow's request to keep her information out of Stream technology more than confirmed that her sympathies hadn't changed, but…

…the twinkle in her eye, the flip of her hair, her scent, her smile, her laugh…they echo in his mind for days after the encounter, pulling memories to the forefront. He remembers when the mission was new and all-encompassing, when he was excited about helping the hopeless, when he felt he had a purpose, when he was focused and driven and sure.

He wonders when his fervor for right died.

Then he laughs at himself, imagining how Cordy would roll her eyes and call him "Mr. Broody Pants" if she could see him. He's left with more questions than answers, but somehow he feels more at peace than he's been in a while.

He returns to Willow's hideaway a week later and she's not there.

 

Her absence gnaws at him for a solid month before he finally reaches out to his less-than-legitimate contacts and finds a secure way to use her contact information.

As he stammers awkwardly into the receiver, she says his name.

She sounds surprised to hear from him.

He can't keep the smile from his face; it sounded like a pleasant surprise.

 

***

 

He shows up about two months after she's made herself at home in the abandoned shell of an underground nightclub that went out of business around the turn of the century.

She felt him from miles away, naturally, but still feels a pleasant rush of emotion when she opens the door to his face.

He shuffles in, carrying a parcel loosely-wrapped in a tattered swath of black leather. He's serious and quiet, studying her as she returns the scrutiny.

For several minutes they don't speak.

"Here." He breaks the silence, pushing the package into her hands, his gaze fixated on her fingers as they pull back the leather. "It's, uh…a book."

"I did recognize that." She glances up at him through her lashes, trying to gauge the effect of her humor on his mood.

His lips don't move, but his eyes crinkle a bit at the corners as he looks up at her face.

"It's…special." He takes the book from her hands and whispers against the spine, turning so that she can watch as the title appears on the front cover. "You just tell it what you want and it…appears."

She's reaching out to take the gift from his hands, mouth open to explain she's familiar with the enchantment, when he continues.

"It's from Wolfram & Hart. When we—" He clears his throat, turning away and walking a few paces into the dining area before facing her again. "When we moved into the firm, these were part of the package. Wes was…He was thrilled."

Her eyes close as she recalls the snooty Watcher, fresh from the Council, then the rough, broken man she'd met the last time she'd visited Angel in L.A.

She can almost see his eyes light up as he whispers name after name along the spine, growing giddier with each rare title that appears.

"You..." Angel's voice draws her attention away from memory. "You're the only one who loves books as much and…I…I'd like you to have it."

She crosses the floor in three strides and takes the gift, gently placing it on a table before wrapping her arms around Angel.

It's only when his arms close around her shoulders that she realizes: it's been years since she's had a hug.

 

***
***

 

He doesn't expect to see her, of all places, at the grocery store, but there she is, carefully sorting through a display of oranges, sniffing and squeezing each one to find exactly the right specimen.

He's got his monthly allotment of blood in a cold pack, and it's been months since they've seen one another, so he takes the time to venture closer.

"Hey."

Startled, she looks up, her eyes widening as she sees him in such a strange place.

"Do you want to look at the oranges? I—I can move, if you want."

"Huh? Willow? You know I don't eat those."

"Don't you think you need to show a little discretion?" she asks, her voice quiet in the supermarket clamor.

He reels back, shocked. "Whoa. Sorry for bothering. I guess I just didn't expect Speciesism from you."

"Speciesism? Really?" She glances around at the other patrons before stepping closer. "Angel, it's bad for you to be seen with me."

"I don't understand."

"Angel, your job!" she replies, incredulity passing across her features. "I'm not exactly welcome in the circles of government, you know."

"And why is that, do you think?"

Her arms cross over her chest. "Weren't you a P.I. at one point?"

"Yeah, okay. I get it, but I don't getit."

She shakes her head, turning back to the oranges and plucking three haphazardly from the pile and placing them in her basket.

"And this is why we don't discuss politics."

A swell of anger fills his chest and he steps closer, invading her space and prompting her to look up.

"I thought we were friends."

"This has nothing to do with...friends?" She cocks her head like a puppy and studies his face. "You think so?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, what else would we be?"

She picks up another orange, rotating it in her hands and picking at the edges of the silicone wrapping.

"I guess I just never really...I mean, it was mostly about Buffy." Her gaze flickers upward and for a moment he glimpses the shy girl he'd met and barely noticed in Sunnydale. Somehow, it's comforting to know that girl still exists.

"Yeah, it was, but I think we've moved past that. I mean, it was a long time ago, and it's nice to have someone around that remembers, you know."

"So that's what it's about?"

"Yeah. I mean...no. Not entirely." He turns toward the oranges as well, poking at the fruit absently. He wonders what they look like from the outside, two people playing with oranges and avoiding eye contact. He feels ridiculous. "I don't really know, I guess. I just...like talking to you."

She leans into his body, her warmth comforting.

"Yeah. Me, too."

He leans back, nudging her with his shoulder before turning to continue down the aisle. She joins him, their shoulders brushing as they pass the onions and cucumbers and melons.

"I guess I just like to think we can talk about anything."

"Angel..." She sighs. "I just don't think it's a good idea."

"Because?"

"Angel, I hate to be queen of the obvious, but you work for the DDV!"

"I guess I don't see a problem with that."

"It may have slipped your notice, but I'm part of the Resistance, and for good reason, too. The Department of Demons and Vampires wants to regulate the vampire population." She pulls away, scowling. "Come on, Angel. That's insane and you know it. Vampires don't need to be regulated, they need to be slayed!"

"Willow!" He admonishes, glancing around. "Be careful where you say that."

"I'm a witch with enough power to keep me alive and looking twenty-one for decades past my expiration date. Do you really think I can't cast a silencing spell?"

"Right." Angel looked sheepish. "But I still don't know that they're completely wrong. I mean, look at Spike—"

"He had a chip!"

"But he did change. Maybe not completely, but…"

"And how many chipped vampires are out there right now?"

"None…that we know of, but that's not the point."

"Then what is the point?"

He slumps into the pre-packaged dehydro meals.

"I don't know. But...it is what it is."

"Yeah." She pauses and leans against the shelf on the opposite side of the aisle.

For several moments, they just look at one another.

When their staring contest is broken by another shopper slipping between them to browse in the vacuum-sealed goods, Willow turns toward the exit.

"Well, I've got to check out." She glances back once, then turns and disappears into the crowd.

"Yeah." Something in his chest sinks and he becomes aware of something sticky dripping off his fingers.

Looking down, he discovers he's crushed an orange in his hands.

 

***

 

Exhausted, Willow trudges home—or what passes for home nowadays—dropping her belongings inside the doorway and pressing the activation code for her wards into the entry console. Truth is, she prefers to support the shields on her home herself, but she has so little energy lately that she's been relying on a fixed-focus spell to take the brunt of the work.

She sighs, trekking across the empty bar floor and into the back room, previously furnished as an efficiency apartment.

She drops the glamour, her eyes sliding closed for a moment in relief, and studiously avoids the mirror as she passes through to the bed.

Slumping between the pillows, she pulls the book—Angel's book, Wesley's book—from the bedside table and strokes the soft leather binding. She curls into the bed sheets like a sleepy kitten and whispers into the book's spine.

Bridge to Terabithia appears in swooping golden letters across the cover.

She smiles, remembering the day she'd happened upon the book at one of the elementary school book fairs, carefully selecting it from among the other paperbacks and earning a free unicorn bookmark by purchasing more books than any other student.

As a child, she'd read it over and over, never failing to cry at the end, tears of empathy staining the pages.

She thinks it's been a century since she's even thought about the book, but she finds herself more and more remembering the past, memory and regret and celebration mixing into a wonderful mess.

For years she's avoided remembering.

But she thinks it's about time to go home again.

Taking a deep breath, she opens the cover.

A single tear rolls down her cheek as she begins to read.

 

***
***

 

Angel and his team invade a nest of rogue vampires in early October. Expecting half a dozen of the undead, they're caught completely unaware by the twenty-three vamps in residence. Angel whirls into action, his skills honed by centuries of practice, while Bradley, Alisha and Gen fight together, Alisha's spellwork blending seamlessly with Bradley's katana and Gen's nearly balletic martial arts.

The fight lasts hours or minutes, time standing still with the rush of adrenaline, the constant flow of enemies, the dance of predator and prey, hunter and hunted. It's during these times that Angel has learned to let himself go, to let his vampiric nature bleed through until he's all blood and flesh and instinct. As much as he works for the greater good, there's an equal part of him that does it for the thrill of the fight.

So he does. Each step deliberate, his every move economic and calculated.

Then he hears a scream.

He whirls into action, making quick work of the two vampires he was dealing with before turning toward the commotion: Bradley is bent over Alisha's still form, fingers slipping through the blood oozing from her scalp while Gen fights off the remaining three opponents.

In moments, the vampires are a mess for the cleaning crew and they're all kneeling around Alisha as she trembles and gasps for breath.

He assesses the situation in moments: during the scuffle, one of the vamps came through the wards and crashed into the trio with Alisha taking the brunt. Unfortunately, when she fell, she cracked her head on the edge of a console.

He's seen these kinds of wounds before. In spite of all the advances made in medical technology, he knows there is only one way this will end.

Glancing up, he takes in Bradley's panicked face and Gen's tears.

"Bradley." He grabs a shoulder and shakes it until Bradley looks up. "Take Gen and get out to the car."

"But—" Bradley begins to argue as a loud sob erupts from Gen's chest.

"Go!" He feels the ridges spring to his face as he leans into Bradley's space.

Scrambling backwards, Bradley grabs Gen and stumbles toward the exit, his gaze never leaving the gruesome scene on the floor.

When they've gone, he finally makes eye contact.

She's barely breathing and he can tell it takes quite a bit of effort to hold his gaze.

He wants to look away, but he makes himself meet her eyes; she deserves that dignity, no matter how much he wants to avoid the fruits of his mission.

"I'm sorry."

She doesn't answer—she can't—but he's certain he sees the denial in her gaze. He can imagine what she would say—he's heard it all before, after all—but he can't escape the weight of responsibility. It was his mission first, and no matter how many strays he picks up along the way, he still feels the burden of their cut-short lives on his soul.

He turns the corners of his mouth up in an attempt at a smile.

"It's going to be okay."

She blinks at him, her eyelids heavy as she continues to lose blood. He likes to think she believes him.

She closes her eyes.

His fingers look unnaturally large against the pale skin of her throat.

 

***

 

He's not surprised when he ends up at Willow's hideaway.

Or when she takes one look at his face and ushers him in, pushing him onto the truncated sofa in the corner of the living quarters before plopping down next to him.

He doesn't speak.

Neither does she.

 

***

 

She worries about him now. Not that she didn't think of him occasionally before, but it was always in an abstract way, their distance aided by the separation in their politics and her feelings that he'd abandoned his mission. Now that he's back in her life, however, she finds her thoughts drawn to him, wondering what he's been doing in the last century or so, how he made the decision to join the DDV, if he ever thought of Sunnydale.

She's well aware there are things she doesn't know, so when he shows up at her doorstep, covered in blood and looking like a ghost, she doesn't press.

The girl she once was would have been burning up with curiosity by now, but over the years, she's learned that the answers always come if she waits long enough. So she just lets him sit, and she sits with him.

When he finally gets up three hours later and leaves with only a squeeze to her shoulder and a fleeting glance, she doesn't protest.

She knows he'll tell her eventually.

But when a month goes by without a word, she begins to get edgy. She learned a long time ago to attend to her emotions before they got out of hand; even as well-practiced as she is at handling her power level, she knows emotions can throw a spanner in the mix and do so quickly.

Thus far, she's let Angel—or fate—make the first moves. She has sound reasons, naturally. The most important being that her presence in a Stream-infested building is just screaming for a DDV SWAT team to come in and apprehend her. Not to mention the trouble that would be brought to Angel's doorstep.

Still, she's not a witch for nothing, so she prepares to cast her tightest, most personal wards. It requires the use of her last bit of powdered unicorn horn, which is practically impossible to replace, but she won't be needing it soon. She gathers the few components necessary for the mixture and begins to infuse the concoction with power, closing her eyes as it leaches from her fingers and toes, the very hairs on her head standing on end as she funnels not only her own power, but taps into the building, the earth below, and even the air she's breathing.

Within a matter of moments, the once-dead bar comes to life, overhead lights shining brightly, jukebox cheerfully belting out whatever electrotech crap was popular some sixty years ago, even the uneven faux brickwork seems to be new.

The mixture turns from a slimy grey sludge to a brilliant crimson the consistency of tomato soup. Holding her breath, she begins to drink.

There's a moment where she explodes, cells expanding and contracting in turn, heart jumping out of rhythm, DNA unraveling and re-attaching.

She sighs.

It is done.

She could walk into the Pentagon and go entirely undetected. But she has a different destination in mind.

 

***

 

He's sitting at the desk, completely alone in his office, when something brushes his shoulder. Instinctively, he snags the invisible appendage and turns, flipping the form over his body and following through until they both land on the carpet with a thud.

The body beneath his own is smaller and softer than he'd expected.

"Angel."

He sniffs delicately, flummoxed when all he smells is the funky moldy carpet he's never had the funding to replace, so he leans his weight on one shoulder and presses his hand in the space between his face and the floor.

Hair, silky and smooth; skin, soft and virtually without texture; the fine arch of a brow; the flutter of lashes against his palm; the defined line of a nose; soft, moist lips.

"Willow?"

"Hey."

As he watches, she slowly comes into view, gradually solidifying until he can barely see the mysterious brown stain on the carpet through her body. He can't put his finger on it, but she looks a little...strange—apart from the transparent thing, of course—a little...duller.

He blinks as he realizes he's still sprawled over her body. She doesn't protest, but smirks a little as he fumbles his way to his feet and reaches out for her hand.

"You...how did you get in here? The alarms..." For a moment, he panics, his role as an agent of the DDV overridden by his place as a friend and the worry churning in his gut. The security system should have detected a being as powerful as Willow crossing the threshold.

"I whipped something up." She grins, but it doesn't reach her eyes. He has a feeling that whatever spell she's holding is very taxing and he can see the strain in her face.

"Do we need to go?" He gestures to the door, logging out of his console and pushing his paperwork into a pile without breaking eye contact.

"Not exactly, just...you have somewhere we won't be disturbed? If we stay close, my silencing spell should cover us both."

"Close..."

"Somewhere between four and five feet," she answers, squeezing the hand he'd never withdrawn. "As long as we're all conjoined, we'll be okay."

He nods, breath catching in his chest as he turns to lead the way and she follows, small, warm hand clasped tightly around his fingers.

 

***

 

His bedroom is three times the size of her living quarters, complete with sitting area and a fluffy king-sized bed with an outdated mahogany four-poster frame.

He heads naturally toward the chair in the corner, where he often sits and reads after work.

Clucking, she rolls her eyes and pulls him toward the bed, the only place—he belatedly realizes—they can sit close enough to keep the silencing spell active.

They settle against the headboard, pillows and blankets piled high and warm into a nest of privacy, and Angel wonders at the feeling of having a warm body in his bed, even if just for a chat.

"So..." she begins, pausing a little awkwardly, and he realizes exactly why she's come, remembers exactly the last time they'd met, and how few words they'd said.

"Yeah." He sits forward, allowing her to pull his hand in her lap, small fingers giving him a squeeze. "I guess you're wondering about before."

"A little."

He doesn't look, but he can feel her gaze spear him through.

"I—We lost a team member." He can still feel the sticky rub of her blood against his palm, the flutter of her pulse against his fingers. It doesn't matter how many times he's been covered in blood from head to toe—whether by his doing or by another's—he still reacts, his stomach twisting into knots, his heart sinking in his chest.

She doesn't speak, just squeezes his hand again.

"Alisha, our...magical technician—"

"Your witch," she interrupts, raising her eyebrows when he glances back at her interjection.

"Yeah. You sound like her. Said her job title made her sound like she should be wearing blue coveralls and smeared with foxwort."

A laugh bubbles up from Willow's chest. He can feel her shaking through their clenched hands and he leans back into her side, feeling his own chuckle come forward.

Her head comes to rest on his shoulder. Relaxing her body weight into his, she sighs.

"It's never easy."

"No," he answers without thinking. Belatedly, images of Alisha, of Marcus, Raquel and Mari, of Will, of Sue-Ann and Lex, of Cordelia, Gunn, Wesley and Fred flash across his mind. Each one all-too human (selected demon-y parts aside), each one all-too mortal.

"I've thought about ending it, you know?"

Her bald statement strikes him deeply; for all that he hadn't even known she was still alive in the past few decades, he knows intrinsically that the universe would have felt all wrong without her.

"After Tara—Dawn and Xander's only grandchild—passed, I...well, I guess I got lost."

"Yeah." He can't say he hasn't had the urge a time or two, himself, sunrise-greeting stint in Sunnydale notwithstanding. "Wait. Dawn and Xander?"

"Yeah. They were cute. Not like—star-crossed or anything, but they really loved each other."

"Huh." He pulls his hand from her grip and slides his arm across her shoulder.

"It's nice, though."

"What's that?"

"That you're still here."

She draws in a quick breath and he waits for her to speak. After several moments of silence he prompts her to continue.

"Willow?"

"Huh? Oh, nothing. Just…yeah. It is nice." There's something on her mind, he's sure of it, but his own recent pain makes him reluctant to scratch beneath the surface. Besides, he's sure she'll tell him when the time comes.

They stay curled together for nearly an hour, and he thinks he might've slept the night through without moving if he hadn't become aware of the slight trembling in Willow's frame.

"Your spell," he mumbles against her hair, giving her a squeeze.

"Yeah, I'm about out of juice." She pulls away, grunting in effort. He swears for a moment he sees her flicker, sees her hair change—longer, lighter—and her form shrink ever so slightly. But when he blinks, the image is restored and happy, smiley Willow is back, looking a little grey, but mostly normal.

If it weren't for his other senses, he'd think she was a shapeshifter or some other imposter, but the smell, the feel of Willow are too distinct to fake. He passes the anomaly off as a glitch of her spell—he knows the amount of magic needed to stay hidden in a Stream-integrated building has to be massive.

"I'll see you out," he offers, shifting his weight to crawl out of their nest, but he's interrupted by her voice.

"No." She gives his ankle a squeeze from the foot of the bed where she's managed to escape the blankets. "I'll be fine."

She smiles—something sweetly sad and wistful in her gaze—and turns to leave.

For some reason, he feels both utterly content and strangely bereft.

The feeling stays with him until he falls asleep.

 

***
***

 

She gets wind of a possible N'fashnik nest from one of her scans. Normally, she doesn't take cases any more, usually consumed with research and scrying and building magical wards for the few remaining pockets of the Resistance. But there's something about this case that catches her interest, and she can't help but investigate.

As she creeps into the shadows that night, she almost feels like a Scooby again.

She half-expects to hear Xander's voice floating over her shoulder, offering a quip or random observation to lighten the tension.

She finds the crypt, a sixteen-story, gleaming masterpiece of steel and granite—and a far cry from the moldy stone shelters that had housed the majority of Sunnydale's undead. Magicking her way past the security checkpoint, she takes the stairs to the fourth floor where the chapel, and hopefully the N'fashnik nest, is located.

As she approaches the correct floor, the sounds of a fight reach her ears and she climbs more quickly, casting a quick see-me-not spell before peeking into the hallway.

The chapel doors fly open and a body soars across the hall, impacting the wall with a bang and sliding to the floor. From the greenish tint to his skin, she can tell it's an N'fashnik. She maneuvers her way closer, eyes flicking from the doorway—where crashes and grunts and shouts are still filling the air—to the motionless demon on the ground.

Reaching the fallen demon, she quickly checks for a pulse behind the ear. It's dead, so she slips into the chapel area unnoticed by the combatants.

The deep green of the uniforms confirms her suspicions: this is a DDV raid and she needs to vamoose on the double. She slips in between the few remaining pews, ducking as a vidscreen flies over her head, and makes her way to the exit.

As she's moving away, a flutter of black fabric catches her eye.

It's Angel. The N'fashnik has him pinned against the podium, dangerously close to the remnants of a destroyed pew. She's half-way across the room before she decides to move, flinging aside furniture with a thought, intent on her target.

Angel's still putting up a fight, using his strength to knock the N'fashnik back, causing them both to topple toward the makeshift stake jutting up from the floor. The demon falls, impaled on the spike.

Angel hovers just overhead.

She doesn't even realize what she's done until she's slowly lowering him to the ground.

He gapes at her, hands sliding over his own chest as if checking for splinters.

"Hey," she offers, just before a warm body tackles her and she lands on the floor in a heap.

As she lands, she realizes she must have lost control of her cloaking spell during the fracas.

Oops.

 

***

 

"Whoa!" Angel's eyes widen as Gen comes flying through the air to knock Willow to the ground, fists flying. "Hey Gen, let up."

Gen and Willow squirm on the floor until Gen emerges on top, straddling Willow's torso and pressing her wrists to the floor.

"What's that, Boss?" Gen peers at him with dark eyes, idly blowing a sweaty strand from her face.

"She's...uh, not a problem."

"You kidding?" Her eyebrows raise in disbelief. "You know who this is?"

He glances down at Willow, who offers a hopeful smile.

"Yeah. She's—"

"A known member of the Resistance," Bradley fills in as he approaches, tranq gun at the ready.

"—an old friend," he finishes, gently sliding his body between Bradley's bolt and Willow's exposed body, his hands held up in placation. "Seriously, guys, she's not a problem."

He watches as Gen and Bradley exchange a glance. They've grown closer since Alisha's passing six months ago. If he didn't know Bradley fell firmly into the "boys only" club, he would have thought there was something going on between the two. But then, he's seen enough to know that death either pulls people apart or pushes them closer. He's glad to see they've chosen the latter route.

Bradley's eyes flick to his own, holding Angel's gaze for a moment before slowly lowering his gun. Gen rolls away from Willow and onto her feet in one smooth movement, senses alert and poised for action. Willow grumbles until Angel offers her a hand.

Once she's regained her feet, he brushes the debris from the fight off her shoulders while she does the same for him.

When they finish, their gazes catch.

"Thanks for the save."

"You'd have managed." She smiles and he feels something inside begin to warm.

"Uh, Boss?" Gen's voice breaks through the connection and they turn to face the rest of his team.

"Sorry, guys. This is Willow. She's a long-time friend." Angel gestures while he talks, glancing between the old and the new, memories of the past and present colliding and mixing in his head. "And this is my team, Bradley and Gen."

"Hey," Willow offers.

Bradley nods and Gen crosses her arms over her chest. She backed down out of respect for him, but he has no doubt that she's reserving judgment and will react quickly if necessary.

"I'm sorry to hear about your loss."

Two suspicious gazes dart toward Angel. They've been after him to grieve over Alisha's passing for months and their eyes tell him they're simultaneously jealous and relieved to know he has spoken about the event to someone.

"Yeah." Bradley finally answers, thumbing the safety on his weapon and putting it away. "So, Boss. I think Gen and I will head back to the office, get started on paperwork."

"What—" Gen begins to protest, but Bradley's fingers wrap around her wrist and she stops.

"That would be great."

"Uh, you want us to call for cleanup, or you want to do that yourself?" Bradley asks. It's an unusual request—standard procedure dictates the first back to an encrypted console should send out the report—and he's touched by the unspoken offer to let him get Willow well away before DDV agents swarm the place. It's especially meaningful given that Bradley's family has a six-generation military history.

"Thanks, Bradley. I'll let them know."

Bradley nods, his eyes flickering toward Willow only for a moment before he pulls Gen from the ruined chapel, her protests following them as they leave.

Angel turns back to Willow as soon as they're out of sight, surprised to see her slump into one of the few pews left undisturbed by the fight.

"You alright?" He kneels next to her and pushes the cowl of her robe back. He pauses as he notices how a few strands of grey along the crown of her head catch the light from his angle.

"Yeah." His concentration is pulled back to Willow, who sucks in a deep breath and sighing deeply before continuing. "Just threw around a lot of magic, I guess."

"Thanks again, by the way."

"Like I said," she grins, but it doesn't reach her eyes, "you had it handled. Besides, it wasn't a big deal."

They turn to the exit, weaving through discarded pieces of furniture and debris from the fray, and pick their way into the hall. He's just turning toward the stairwell when he feels Willow's body crash into his side. He spins, just quick enough to get a hand under her head before it crashes against the ceramic floor.

"Willow?" Angel fumbles with her robe, trying to uncover her face to see if she's still conscious.

"Whoa," she moans, pushing at his hands while she sits up. She finally sorts through her layers of clothes and he's able to see her face. She shakes her head as if to clear her thoughts before sheepishly meeting his eyes. "Kinda forgot to eat lunch."

He frowns. He knows it isn't unusual for her to work right through a meal while researching, and it makes sense, but there's something off with Willow, and he can't quite figure it out.

"Come on," he offers, slipping his arms around her back and under her knees and lifting her against his chest.

"Angel! What are you doing?" She protests, pushing against his chest and kicking her feet ineffectively.

"You nearly passed out. I'm taking you home." He adjusts his grip and begins descending the stairs; she weighs even less than he expected.

"This is really unnecessary." She glares at him, her resolve-face burning into his skin from only inches away.

"Yeah well, so is skipping meals."

"Hmm." It's not so much a concession as an agreement to let things go, but he takes what he can get.

After they descend the stairs and exit the building without a hitch, she seems to give in, sagging against his shoulders and resting more fully in his arms. He doesn't think about how nice it is to have her warmth close against his chest, but he does vow to keep a better eye on her; she's the only one of his friends who will be sticking around for a while, and he doesn't want to lose her.

 

***
***

 

Willow hums as she examines news footage surrounding Toronto. She's looking for suspicious circumstance while waiting for a reply from one of her contacts at a coven in the area. The sudden upswing in supernatural sightings was brought to her attention three days ago as a possible rupture in the dimension's parageological barrier. If there's one thing the world needed less, it was a new Hellmouth, so she's been diligently researching since then.

Anything to keep her mind off recent happenings.

Of course, that's when the universe steps in and brings the issues right to her doorstep. Or Angel does, anyways. At one point, he was the PTB's go-to, so there's no telling.

When he knocks, she opens the door without a glance, nose buried in her console as she ferrets out potential locations of vampire activity in the area under surveillance.

"Uh. Oh. Are you busy?" He asks from the entryway, tentatively hovering near the door, coat in hand.

"A little, but you can sit." She waves idly at one of the barstools that are still standing from the building's livelier days.

She doesn't watch, but she hears the door close and footsteps cross the room as she downloads another vid from her contact.

The video is only about fifteen seconds long. It's shaky, as if taken during an earthquake, and shows only one scene: the evening sky is an even grey with the slightest hint of pink above the scraggly trees, the landscape thrown into silhouette by the sinking sun. As the video scrolls through the seconds, a small red crack in the earth begins to shift, widening and shrinking in turns, almost as if the very ground is breathing.

It doesn't look good.

"That doesn't look good." The voice startles her and she whirls around, heart in her throat, body thrown across her console defensively.

"Angel! Don't sneak up on me like that."

"Sorry." He shrugs, peering over her shoulder. "Where?"

She studies him for a few moments, strangely reminded of the first time they met again in her former hideaway. At the time, she chose to trust him to keep her existence a secret and he's not mislead her.

There is a time coming when someone will need access to all of her secrets and there's no one better equipped to handle all that she knows.

"Toronto." Slowly, she steps aside, allowing him full visual access. As he steps forward, she joins him.

Side by side, they examine the findings.

 

***

 

He's not surprised by the amount of research and data Willow has access to, although he is a little startled that she's allowing him so much free reign.

Of course, it's not like he's going to betray her to the government, but he knows she holds the lives of many others in her hands and in the information she's allowing him to see.

The presence of another potential Hellmouth isn't exactly unexpected, but it is discouraging. For all the time and money the DDV has poured into research on containment and population control, it seems as if the unregistered demon population is still actively growing.

Still, learning about Willow's work with the Resistance isn't why he came for a visit. So, while they're taking a break, pressed together on her tiny sofa, he addresses his purpose.

"I thought you'd want to talk about it."

She jerks as if startled, meeting his eyes for the barest moment before her gaze flickers away.

"About what?" Her body shifts away; he misses the warmth.

"About...you know."

She looks at him for a moment, her expression serious.

"No. I don't know."

Angel scratches the back of his head. As much as he feels the need to bring this up, he doesn't want to actually bring it up. She's usually the one that broaches the tough topics—it figures she's picked this time to put the responsibility on him.

"The Carson case."

"Really?" Immediately, her solemn expression becomes animated, eyes flashing, brows furrowed in consternation. "You really think we should talk about Carson? Me and you?"

"I just—"

"You just what? Thought it would be a good idea to talk about another one of your department's brainless flub-ups with a member of the Resistance? Because friends or no, Angel, I'm not sure you want to know my opinion on the matter."

"Willow, I—" He sighs, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "I'm having a hard time with this one—"

"Huh? You?" She jumps to her feet and begins to pace, gesturing animatedly. "A card-carrying investigator for the DDV? Having trouble with the fact that a man is being charged with second-degree murder for slaying a rogue vampire without a license? I thought that was what you boys were all about—limiting the stake-wielding public from possibly dispatching a member of the hemoglobin brigade. Never mind that the poor guy was just defending himself. I mean, he's got fang marks in his neck for god's sake!"

He sits and lets her finish her rant, staring at the patch of balding yellow carpet between his feet. He almost hates that she's just said everything he's been thinking for the past week.

"Yeah." It's time to be honest with her, with himself. "I don't know. I mean, I thought I was doing some good. Ever since my link to the Powers that Be died after the Wolfram & Hart fiasco, I've been floating, you know. Then The Awakening happened and the public knew and the Department was looking for enforcers and I thought...there's my link again. Pretty naïve for my age, huh?"

"No." She plops back onto the sofa. "I'm sorry, Angel. And it's not naïve, not really. I get it, I really do. No matter how over-the-top I was when I found out, I mean, I do understand the why. And I can't say that you haven't done a lot of good, because you really have. No one can doubt that."

"Yeah." He has taken a lot of dangerous demons and vampires off the street, possibly more than if he weren't a part of the DDV. He just thought he could ignore the politics portion and get on with doing his job.

"But the DDV's got some screwed-up conceptions, you know?" She leans into him, her head pillowed on his shoulder, and something inside unclenches.

"Yeah." He slides his arm around her shoulders and leans back. "You know, the Department has found no empirical evidence to suggest a soul makes any difference."

"That's bull and you know it."

"I—I don't really know."

"Angel, don't be an idiot."

"I just guess I've always wondered. I mean, as much as I didn't want to admit it, Spike changed, even before his soul, and I just...I guess I'm curious."

"We've talked about Spike."

"Yeah. And I know the chip changed things, but I can't help but think about what it might mean for other vampires."

"And they're just lining up around the block to get their own headache-inducing government-implanted chip, right? It's like the lapband for vampires."

"Okay, point taken. I just guess…" He sighs, ruffling shaky fingers through his hair and raking it into uneven tufts, "I guess I just want to believe. That redemption's real, you know? I mean, I've seen humans change so much and I just…I guess I'd like to believe that we can, too."

"Angel."

"I know. Stupid."

"But you've got to try."

"You don't hate me for siding with the enemy?"

"Nah. Who could hate that pretty face?"

She smiles, and he thinks she means it. For the first time in a week, he feels as if he can truly relax.

"Angel, you do realize that even if vampires never change…" She trails off, as if uncertain of how to continue. "You already have. I'm not talking about the soul—that choice was taken from you—but about your choices, about what you've decided to make of yourself."

"With a little help from my friends."

"Naturally." She grins as a sharp elbow jabs into his side.

It doesn't hurt.

 

***

 

Angel leaves Willow's with a smile, feeling more a part of a team than he has in years, in spite of the number of other agents he's worked with. It's strange to have an actual friend. He's had dozens of colleagues, teammates and even lovers, but friends…those are rare for a vampire, much less a vampire with a soul.

When he gets to the street, he discovers it's raining. The temperature is nice and he's warm inside from Willow's trust and suddenly he can't think of anything nicer than a walk. He decides to leave his car and make the journey home on foot.

He gets about half a block when he remembers he forgot his coat—normally not a big deal, but his security badge is in the front pocket and he won't be able to get into the building without it.

So he turns around.

 

***

 

Willow is glad Angel stopped by. Even though she didn't plan on bringing him into her research, she knows it was the right decision to make.

It's not too late, but she's exhausted from holding herself together so long, so she begins the preparations to go to bed. She logs off the console and releases the lock-grip hold she has on her magic, relaxing for the first time that day.

Of course, that's when the door opens.

 

***

 

Angel doesn't think about knocking. He was just there after all, and knows she won't mind if he comes back for his coat.

He isn't prepared for what he finds.

She's standing less than five feet from the door when he opens it, shock splashed across her face like a glass of cold water, and she's...not the same person he left only moments ago.

"Willow?"

"Uh...Hey." She attempts her mousy-Willow smile, but it doesn't mask the fear in her eyes.

She's...aged, considerably. Her hair is much longer than before, mostly grey with a few strawberry strands sprinkled throughout. She seems to have shrunk a little, her body curled in on itself with age, and she has deep crow's feet next to her eyes.

"What...?" He steps closer, unable to believe what he's seeing, even if a lot of answers begin to fall into place.

"I'm...sick," she answers, her voice cracking on the last word.

His lips move, but he can't seem to get any words out.

He's stepped into a rabbit hole, and he doesn't know the way out.

 

***

 

He's floundering for words, eyes full of denial, body posture rigid and screaming denial.

"Pretty sure it's cancer," she begins, filling in the blanks and answering the questions he can't seem to get out. "Have a doctor friend on the Sly that helped me with the assessment."

"But that's not such a big deal any more. What about treatment?" He steps closer, as if looking at her from a different angle will change the results.

It doesn't work.

She knows; she's tried over and over.

"Angel, if I set a foot within any hospital I'm going straight into custody."

"But this is your life," he protests, closing the gap between them and grabbing her arms, squeezing just a bit.

"That I've been living for one hundred and sixty-four years now." She pulls away, but gives him a small smile to ease the rejection. She gestures toward the living quarters, thinking she could really use the sofa about now.

He follows like a lost puppy.

"Besides," she continues once she gets settled on the couch with a pillow and a purple fuzzy blanket that reminds her of her childhood, "it's not just my body...it's eating my magic, too."

"It can't," he states so simply, as if saying it simply will make it so.

She's tried that before, too.

"I mean, can't you just stop using magic or something?"

"If I do that, I'm going to die anyways. According to nature, I should be pretty dusty by now, you know."

"This is...I can't—" he falters, bending at the waist and burying his head between his knees, fingers white-knuckled across the back of his scalp.

She reaches out and rubs along his shoulder blades, staring at the age spots on the back of her hand.

 

***

 

"How long?" He asks much later, stretched out in the bed next to Willow, her short, shallow breaths warming the hollow in his throat.

"Do I have, or since I've known?"

"Both." He pulls her closer, her head resting over his too-still heart, sliding his fingers through wiry, grey hair.

"I found out after you came here for the first time. I mean, I knew something was going on when my spells started draining me so much more quickly, but I didn't really know until then." She sighs, and he can't help but wonder how it felt to bear that burden alone.

He wishes she'd told him.

He wishes he'd found her sooner.

He wishes he could make it all go away.

"And the other?" he prompts.

"Not long. A month, maybe. Less if I use a lot of magic."

"Then it stops. Now." He wraps an arm around her waist and pulls her closer, as if he can protect her from this disease with his body. He would if he could. "No more spells. No more magic, Willow."

She snorts against his neck.

"I mean it."

"I can't stop being a witch, Angel. There's too much to do. I've just found this emerging Hellmouth in Toronto, and someone needs to keep an eye on the demon population around here, and then there are my wards..."

"Let someone else take care of it, Willow. You've done your share."

She pulls away, just a little, until she's looking him in the eye.

"This is my life, Angel, and my choice. I've over a century and a half old, and it's time." Trembling a little, she sinks back down against his body, her lips brushing his collarbone while she speaks. "I can feel it in my bones, Angel. I'm...I'm done now. It's been weird, actually. For the past few years, I've been wondering...things have gotten...tedious, and I thought it was time, you know. But it's like there was something left. And there was." A frail hand reaches up to squeeze his shoulder. "I had to find you again."

"Willow—" he begins, but she cuts him off before he can finish.

Not that he knew what he was going to say anyhow.

"I'm really tired, Angel. Can we sleep now?"

"Yeah."

He holds her close, playing with her hair and soaking up her body heat, as she falls into slumber.

He doesn't sleep all night.

 

***

 

He's back the next night, and the next.

She sleeps better than she has in a century.

 

***
***

 

She gets her affairs in order. There's not actually much to sort out other than the Resistance business, and that will be taken on by other members. She's not actually legal anywhere, so she asks Angel to distribute her possessions.

She has plenty of opportunity, after all, since he practically moves in and stays for a week.

He's been very protective in the time since she told him—or he walked in on her sans glamour, but who needs semantics? As much as it would be smothering otherwise, it's actually very comforting to have his care and concern as she prepares to leave.
She really tries to approach the whole thing in a fairly business-like manner. After all, she's lived way past her expiration date and has thought more than once that she doesn't want to remain in this life any longer.

But as the days count down, she begins to feel the fear creeping up her spine.

Death.

As a Lifetime Member of the Scooby Gang, it's something that is always around the corner, yet always to be avoided.

She's dealt with death her entire life—and if that's not ironic, she doesn't know what is—and she feels like she ought to be more prepared.

She isn't.

She's scared out of her mind, and she wants Xander, and Giles, and Buffy. She wants them to hold her hand as she takes her last few breaths. Strange that the closer she gets to the end, the more her memories drift back to the beginning.

The friends of her childhood are gone, but she does have Angel.

She just hopes he'll forgive her for one more lie.

So she begins to prepare, gathering her magic for one more spell.

 

***

 

When he knocks on the door, she's ready. Her glamour is affixed and a sexy, but elegant, green shift is flowing over her curves.

He looks taken aback when he enters; she stopped using the glamour after he'd learned the truth in order to save energy.

"Hey." As opening lines go, it's not her smoothest.

"What's going on? I thought we discussed no more magic."

Willow can't keep the smile from her face, touched by his concern even at this stage. The expression soon falls as she remembers what she has on the agenda for the evening.

She bites her lip as she takes in his frown. She worked for an hour on the glamour, making sure she got everything just right, but she doesn't even know if he found her attractive in the first place. He never made any indication about her before, either way, and she kinda wants to kick herself a bit.

"I just thought…" The words escape in an effort to take the wrinkle from his brow. "…that you might...well, I really wanted, once, before I...you know." She closes her eyes. She can't believe how hard it is to ask for this. "Would you prefer a blonde? I should have thought about that earlier." Of course he prefers blondes. Except there was a thing with Cordy, wasn't there? She stares at the floor between her feet, thinking this was a very bad idea. "Or a brunette. I think I'd make an okay brunette."

She chances a glance up toward his face; his expression is blank. Perhaps she's being too obtuse?

"I just, it's been a long time, you know? And I know you're all with the male parts, but...I mean, if it's not too much to ask...?"

She watches as comprehension dawns on his face.

 

***

 

Angel is startled when he first walks into Willow's building.

She looks beautiful.

Not that the beautiful part is the surprising thing, it's just that he's never really seen her that way. For a moment he wonders if he was always blind before, or if she's done something extra with her glamour. But when he thinks about it, he realizes he never noticed because he was always so focused on something else.

When then she begins to babble about changing her hair color—making very little sense and looking as insecure as he's seen her in a century and a half—he has to stop looking and start listening.

Then he hears her request, unspoken as it is.

The moment the idea pops into his head, he can't pry it loose. Not only is he willing, but he finds he wants to grant her request. He wants to take her to bed, to peel off that flimsy shift and press their bodies together as closely as possible.

He crosses the room and presses his lips to hers before he can think.

She tastes tangy-tart like citrus, her lips so soft and warm and welcoming, and he can't believe he's kissing Willow. He's kissing his friend, and it's unexpected and extraordinary, and there's a funny feeling in his chest that is at the same time as familiar as walking and talking and as strange and unfamiliar as he can imagine.

He pulls away, watching as her eyelids flutter and green eyes open lazily to catch his gaze. The skin of her cheeks, the curve of her jaw, the smooth line of her neck, are soft beneath his fingertips.

This is Willow.

This is his friend.

In that moment, he realizes that what he's feeling is love. It's not the same desperate passion he felt for Buffy or the burning lust he felt for Darla. It's something altogether different.

But it's love all the same.

He nuzzles the skin of her temple, lips grazing the side of her face until they're brushing her earlobe.

"Drop it."

"Huh?"

He pulls back to examine her face. She's blinking dazedly, looking, for the first time since they've reconnected, as if she's at peace.

"The glamour. Drop it."

"Angel," she begins, before pulling away.

He grabs at her waist, pulling her back against his body and tucking her beneath his chin. He tilts her face upward to look him in the eye.

"I mean it. I want to do this, but that's my only condition. I want to see you."

 

***

 

She looks as him skeptically. Surely he doesn't mean he wants to see her all wrinkly and grey and gross?

But he hugs her closer to his body and keeps smiling gently, and somewhere deep inside, she actually wants to believe him.

Bottom line? She trusts him.

So she takes a deep breath...

...and she lets go.

She keeps her eyes closed while his fingers trace the contours of her face, gently caressing the crow's feet next to her eyes, and then slipping down the thin skin of her cheeks.

His lips find hers again, and if possible, it's sweeter than it was the first time, blossoming out from her chest to her limbs, pulsing gently all the way to her fingers and toes.

She realizes that even if everyone she's ever known was available for her last day on Earth, there's no one else she'd rather spend it with.

He breaks the kiss and she can't help but smile.

When he takes her hand and pulls her toward the bedroom, she can't help but follow.

 

***

 

When he wakes, the bed is empty.

So is the building.

He's left only with a tattered slip of paper and the memories of the night spent pressed together...

…skin against skin…
…her breath warm against his chest…
…the wet heat between her thighs…
…the way she sighed when she came…

He wishes he were surprised.

He wishes he wasn't.

 

***
***

 

Two months after Willow's passing, he visits the former Sunnydale site for the first time since the collapse.

The crater is still there, but instead of an empty chasm in the Earth, it's now a lake. The pristine blue waters reflect the expanse above with hardly a ripple in the surface.

He sits along the bank, watching as turtles float under the surface, only their heads poking out from beneath, and tiny fishes dart along the shallows.

He wonders what lurks beneath the water, but he doesn't dwell on the idea.

He glances down at the slip of paper in his hand; it's been in his pocket for the last two months and he reads it every day.

Follow your heart.

It's good advice, and it's about time he takes it.

He pulls the DDV identification badge from his chest and tosses it into the water.

He watches as it sinks, then turns to go.

He has a lot to do.

 

 

 

FIN.