When she could no longer hear their voices or their footsteps, Willow finally opened her eyes.
She'd come to wakefulness slowly, for a change. The voices had come to her first, interrupting the quiet dreamless sleep that blanketed her. Before she could manage to open her eyes, the sound of Angel's raised voice permeated the drowsy fog, and she automatically began to regulate her breathing. She wasn't really sure of where or even when she was, but she was sure that the conversation going on around her was one she wanted to hear. Keeping her eyes closed and her breathing and pulse even, Willow listened with sickly fascination to Jenny and Angel's discussion. While some of it was confusing to the redhead, the conversation was a wealth of information. Angel--if that's who he really was, she reminded herself--had apparently never revealed their shared past to anyone. Even to the 'other Willow'. And the redhead was barely able to keep from groaning aloud in confusion at the thought of the Willow that had taken her place in this new timeline.
Time travel was certainly more perplexing than she'd ever imagined, and as she finally sat up and took a look at her surroundings, the confusion magnified.
The room she found herself in wasn't at all familiar to her. At first she thought it was a library and that perhaps Sunnydale High had finally invested some money back into the school in an area other than sports. After all, the only thing she could see from where she sat was a large, full book case, a comfortable looking, leather winged-back chair, and a couple of library-like tables, surrounded by library-like chairs.
Yep, it was definitely a library, she'd decided. At least until she stood up and had a look around. That's when her mouth fell open. If it actually were a library, it would have to be a private one.
The room was even larger than she'd thought, several times larger than the high school's library, and the high, sloped wood and beam ceilings did nothing to reduce the openness of the room. Huge sturdy bookcases dotted the worn wooden floor, interspersed with groupings of more comfortable chairs, sofas and the occasional table. Lamps rested upon each table, no two alike. In one far corner, a good-sized TV and stereo occupied some space, surrounded yet again by plenty of seating choices. Against a different wall, several computers, complete with scanners and printers, awaited instructions.
To Willow it was heaven, or at least it would have been about a century earlier. But at this particular moment, she found it terrifying.
She took a few shaky steps away from the sofa to peer around the book case that was partially blocking her view of the other side of the room, and that's when she realized where she was, or at least the significance of the building itself. A streetlight outside illuminated one of the many tall windows that wrapped around both long sides of the building, bringing the colored glass to life.
They were stained-glass windows. Her eyes darted to what she assumed was the front of the building, and there it was. A small raised area, a dais, which now hosted another seating arrangement. At the other end of the room, large double doors sat open, revealing the lobby-like narthex and another pair of closed doors which, she assumed, led to the outside.
There was no doubt about it now. She was in a church...or at least it had been a church in its former life. Now it more resembled a place of learning than a place of worship, albeit a comfortable place of learning. Chairs and sofas replaced the pews, reference books were substituted for the hymnals, and tables took the place of altars.
With a trembling hand, Willow silently slid a book off of the nearest shelf and glanced at its title--'Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons,' by M. Jurker. She frowned, remembering the book from Giles' collection at the school library and wondered why it was in this place. She reshelved that one before grabbing another, more expensive looking volume--'Aetia, Iambi, Hecale and other Fragments,' by Callimachus. Translated by C.A. Trypanis. Her frown deepened with the unfamiliar title.
Willow was still perusing the odd collection of books when she actually 'felt' Angel enter the room. She turned around in time to see him ambling in her general direction. Much to her relief, the vampire was now wearing dark pants--non-leather--and buttoning an equally dark shirt. <He looks like Angel,> Willow thought to herself. Angel was so focused on the sofa that she'd just been lying on that he didn't notice her standing by the bookshelf across from it. Willow thought she detected a hint of panic in his eyes when he saw the empty couch, but an instant later, he noticed her. When their eyes met, he stopped where he was, hands frozen, his shirt still only half-buttoned. They stared at each other, neither quite sure what to say.
"You're awake?" Angel finally said. He was aware that he was stating the obvious, but someone had to talk first, no matter how ludicrous the words.
Willow guiltily looked down at the book in her hands and quickly returned it to its rightful place. "Um, I think I'll just have to trust you on that or pinch myself a few hundred times."
There was a long pause again and Willow found herself doing a few deep-breathing exercises just to keep from fidgeting like a child in church. At the same time, she tried her best to look the vampire in the eye. From the look on Willow's face, Angel had no doubt that she remembered everything that had happened during her trip back in time.
Angel shoved his hands in his pockets and tried again. "You must have a lot of questions."
Willow nodded sheepishly. "You probably have a few yourself."
With a soft grunt, Angel forced himself to move forward a few steps, even though his feet felt like lead. He was relieved when Willow didn't back away from him this time, but the way her eyes widened, he knew her first thoughts were to flee. He didn't blame her.
"One or two...hundred," he admitted with a slight smile, hoping to allay her fears somewhat. "But ladies first."
Willow was concentrating so hard on not looking away from Angel, trying to ignore the persistent voice within her that insisted that running away would be a good thing, that it took her a moment to realize what the vampire had actually said.
"Oh! Um, well, you and Ms. Calendar answered some of them already."
"You were awake? You heard what we were saying?"
Willow could only nod again, but Angel noted that she at least had the courtesy to look a little guilty for eavesdropping on them.
"Some of it, anyway," she admitted. "When I woke up you were kinda yelling at Ms. Calendar for not telling you what was going on...I heard about how I got here...and Ms. Calendar's opinion of your fashion sense."
"I kind of liked the belt, myself. I thought it made me look..." Angel's words trailed off as he stopped his forced lightness, much to both their relief. He glanced at his shoes for a moment, wondering where his ability to make conversation had disappeared to, before looking the redhead in the eye once again. "We should talk."
"And sit," she agreed. "Sitting is good when you talk." Willow took a seat in the leather chair and curled her legs up beneath her. Angel sat on the sofa across from her, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, his fingers and thumbs forming a familiar triangle.
They sat there in silence, both glancing from their twiddling fingers to the other's face every now and then. Angel cursed himself silently. After all, he'd only thought about this meeting a million times over the last century, yet now he was at a complete loss for words. All of his perfectly prepared eloquent speeches had fled him earlier that night when she'd called him 'Angelus'.
"So..." he started.
"So, you're Angel now?" Willow interrupted, cutting to the chase.
The vampire sat up a little straighter. Maybe he couldn't remember his witty monologues, but he was quite capable of answering questions. "I've gone by Angel for a while now."
Willow nodded yet again, and the uncomfortable silence continued for a few more minutes.
"And you have your soul?"
"I've had my soul ever since that night in Romania when I was cursed with it."
Willow shifted in her seat until she was sitting quite straight and proper, her feet on the floor. "You, um, never got happy, lost your soul again, and went on a people-and-fish-killing spree?"
Angel's lips curled slightly at the question. "I've killed a few fish in my time but I wouldn't exactly call it a spree. There was a parakeet too. I don't seem to do well with pets." Angel's uneasy grin faded when Willow didn't smile at his attempted humor.
Willow rose from the wide chair that suddenly felt too confining. As she looked about the unfamiliar room, she thought it all seemed a little too easy. She turned back and wagged an accusatory finger at the vampire.
"But...you chased me through the park...and that girl! She'd been bitten and was bleeding, and..." Willow stopped. Before she could finish her allegation she already knew the answer. It had been obvious even then but she'd been too panicked to see it. "It was that other vampire, the one who ran by me, that was the one who hurt her, wasn't it? You were just helping her."
Angel nodded, thankful that she'd figured out the truth on her own. "She was just a little disoriented. He'd hardly bitten her when I came across them but she felt the need to thank me..."
"It all makes perfect sense," she admitted almost reluctantly. "I don't think I can remember the last time something made perfect sense." Her eyes widened. "But-but you said that you'd been waiting there *forever* for me. Ah ha! Explain that one!"
Angel's expression darkened slightly and he rose slowly to his feet. "You were late, Willow. We were all supposed to meet there."
Willow cocked her head to the side and watched him through narrowed eyes as she considered his words. It was fairly believable that they'd all meet there. After all, Buffy had been there too, and the others as well. Not to mention the fact that they'd all basically said he was Angel and hadn't appeared even slightly afraid of him. Yet, there'd been too many games played at her expense over Willow's long lifetime, and the redhead wasn't quite ready to celebrate her victory.
Aware that Angelus would have an answer for anything and everything, Willow knew there was only one way to be sure. She approached him cautiously, studying him from head to toe as she drew nearer.
At first Angel nearly smiled as he found himself being sized up by the petite redhead, but as her intense scrutiny continued, the vampire became uncomfortable. He didn't know how to give her the assurance that she so obviously needed. By the time Willow came to a stop before him, the vampire felt like he should drop down on both knees and beg for her forgiveness and understanding, but he didn't. Angel simply returned her burning gaze, inviting her to do whatever she felt necessary to be sure of who he was.
Willow peered as deeply into his sable eyes as she could, the whole time fighting a nearly overwhelming urge to get as far away from him as she could. Yet she remained mere inches away from the looming vampire, ignoring the tremors that his nearness sent coursing through her body.
She knew it was silly. She knew it was doubtful that she could really tell if he had his soul simply by looking into his eyes, but she had to try. Willow was almost disappointed when she didn't see a neon sign somewhere in their depths, flashing 'Soul in Use'. She frowned, ready to give up that particular line of silent questioning, when she finally saw him--Angel. Angelus's coldness was gone, as was the usual mocking superiority. For the first time ever, his fathomless eyes hid nothing from her. It was all laid out for Willow to see and with such clarity that her own eyes stung in response. Pain, guilt, shame--emotions she'd never seen in Angelus's eyes--and still there was more. She found anger, relief, doubt, even gladness at her presence and at least a dozen other emotions she couldn't quite put her finger on, all swirling about in his dark orbs. He was obviously as confused as she was, torn between being happy to see her and an intense hunger for answers. Willow had never seen such a myriad of emotions in the soulless Angelus, even when he'd tried to fake it. Her last shreds of doubt drifted away.
"It is you, Angel..." she whispered. Before Angel could express his relief, Willow launched herself at him. The redhead unabashedly hugged the vampire, and when Angel's arms immediately returned her embrace, her tears began to fall.
"Yes, Willow. It's me...soul and all."
As caught off guard as he was by Willow's embrace, Angel's response was still immediate. He pulled her even closer, cradling her head against his chest, savoring the moment that he'd waited for, for so long. All he could think about was that Rose was back, and while it was early days yet, she wasn't afraid of him. One of his nagging fears had always been that she'd forever be repulsed by him once her memories returned and she truly knew what he was capable of. But at that moment, all his fears began to drift away as he held her once again.
Willow's eyes fluttered shut and a sigh escaped her lips at the feeling of Angel's fingers running through her hair. She was flooded with a warming sense of relief at his cool, gentle touch.
But the moment of contentment was short lived. Without meaning to, Willow recalled how Angelus had held her like this only once before when he was still alive. In spite of all the turmoil at that time, Willow had felt strangely safe and at home in his arms. As the familiar feelings began to well up within her, thoughts of Buffy and Oz quickly followed, and the moment was shattered. As a wave of guilt washed away the warm happy feeling, she stiffened and pulled out of his arms.
"Sorry, Angel," she sniffled as he reluctantly let her go. "It's just a relief to know that you're really what you say you are and not Angelus. I just wasn't sure, and after everything that has happened...."
Angel took a step back as well. Already missing the feeling of her heart beating against his chest, he finally thought to finish buttoning his shirt.
"No need to be sorry, Willow. It's understandable, and I should be the one to apologize."
Willow wiped her remaining tears away with the back of her hand. "For what?"
Willow watched as Angel's grin rapidly melted into a more familiar dour look. "No, you don't have to do that."
Angel tilted his head to the side, wondering if he'd heard her right. "You don't think I need to apologize for what I did to you--for what I promised to do to you the next time we met?"
Willow hesitated in answering. A tiny voice inside of her was demanding that the vampire be made to beg for her mercy and to suffer at least some small portion of the anguish that she'd had to endure at his hands. But it was a very small part, easily drowned out by the larger, louder portion that was caterwauling for Willow to move on with her life and pretend the whole thing never happened.
Giving in to the nearly overwhelming need for normalcy in her life, Willow threw her arms out at her sides. "I don't know, Angel. On the one hand, you did terrify me, gave me years of nightmares that I still can't forget, and not to mention all the cruel words...and well, you know...the biting..."
Angel winced but didn't look away.
"But on the other hand," Willow added, "considering who and what you were, I think you were probably on your best behavior with me. I mean, as bad as it was, it could have been so much worse, right?" Willow realized she probably sounded a bit trite, but she was trying to keep the mood lighthearted, having decided that it would be best for all parties concerned if they both simply put it all behind them once all the explanations were over. After all, if Angel started to act weird and even more broody than usual every time they were near each other, it would make things difficult, not to mention uncomfortable. She also didn't want it to affect her relationship with Buffy.
"Much, much worse," Angel replied somberly. "But that doesn't mean that you don't deserve an apology."
"Maybe we should save the apologies for after we get everything out in the open. I still have a lot of questions, Angel," .she informed him as she looked about their surroundings again. "And I know you do as well. Maybe when we're done spilling our guts, figuratively speaking, we can take turns apologizing to each other."
"You're going to apologize to me?"
"Maybe for some things..." she said softly, and then added more forcefully, "But I won't apologize for what happened to you, Angelus--I mean, Angel," she corrected herself with an embarrassed rolling of her eyes. "I'm not sorry you have your soul, even if the idea to give it back to you wasn't originally ours in the first place."
"I don't expect you to apologize, Willow."
"Good. Because I won't."
Angel smiled at her familiar stubbornness just as Jenny walked in, holding a tray laden with the usual tea supplies. She stopped at the sight of the Willow and Angel talking.
"You're awake, Willow."
Willow turned to look at Jenny and wished she hadn't. The redhead was positive that she had an odd look on her face as she stared at her supposed-to-be-dead computer teacher.
"So Angel tells me," the redhead said, more than a little awkwardly as Jenny set the tea service on the nearest table. "But I'm still waiting for a camel to walk by and Luke Skywalker to break down the door, light saber at the ready."
Angel chuckled. "No doubt about it. She's Willow."
Smiling, Jenny gave her student a hug. "How do you feel, Willow?"
"Confused...tired...embarrassed for fainting like that...but I'm thinking confusion is pretty much the emotion of the day."
"That's understandable, considering everything Spike put you through," Jenny reminded her.
Ignoring the Spike gibe, Willow glanced around the converted church. "I guess I never thought this day would come and now that it has, I'm a little...lost."
"Things are different then?" Angel blurted out, unable to bridle his curiosity any longer.
Unconsciously, Willow's eyes darted to Jenny. Then, trying to cover up what she figured was probably a huge time travel faux pas, Willow forced herself to look about the room again.
"You could say that...in fact, you could say that a hundred times, and I don't think it would quite cover it."
Jenny quickly poured the chamomile tea, handing both Angel and Willow a steaming cupful. "What do you remember, Willow?"
"I remember everything. I remember the whole 'back in time' episode, and everything that happened before that.
"What about the last couple of years?" Angel questioned, trying unsuccessfully to keep the anxiousness out of his voice.
Willow was confused by the question. "Sure," she said after a gulp of the warm brew, "the last two years I was with Spike and the Rom--"
"No, Willow," Jenny interrupted. "What about the last two years here with us in Sunnydale?"
"Of course I remem..." Willow stopped, finally realizing that everything she recalled of her last two years in Sunnydale was obviously no longer accurate. After all, Jenny had died and Angel...well, he hadn't been the souled Angel, had he? She set the teacup down with shaking hands. "I--I guess I don't remember everything because not only do I not have the slightest idea where I am, but neither of you would be here..." She looked at her teacher and had to quickly look away again. How do you tell someone that they are supposed to be dead or burning in hell?
Seeing the young woman's distress, the teacher tried to ease her discomfort. "It's alright Willow. Your reaction to me in the park confirmed something I had suspected for sometime now. In your past, I'd died, hadn't I?"
Willow bit her lip as she nodded her head.
Jenny squeezed her hand reassuringly. "It's okay, Willow. We can talk about that later if you want. But I would imagine that you must have a million questions. I know I do, but I think it's only fair that you go first."
She led Willow to the couch and sat beside her. Angel took a seat on the arm of the chair across from them.
"So, Willow, where do you want to start?" the dark-haired woman asked.
Willow was acutely aware that Jenny and Angel were scrutinizing her, trying to figure out how she'd changed, and if she was still Willow. <That's a good question.> Jenny was right, a million questions were bouncing around in Willow's head, screaming for resolution, but she knew that until she told them what they needed to know they would continue to stare at her like she was some sort of science experiment gone awry.
"It's okay. You two go first. Fire away." Willow hoped that she sounded excited, but in truth she was terrified.
Jenny and Angel looked at each other in mild surprise.
"Alright, Willow," Jenny began. "Why don't I just tell you what I know first, then you can fill in the blanks, okay?" Willow nodded and the Gypsy continued. "This is going to be confusing no matter how we do it..." She took a deep breath. "What I know, Willow, is that Spike found a spell that took you both back in time. The spell had a side-effect that made you temporarily immortal, and--"
"Wait, "Willow interrupted. "How do you even know that much?"
Jenny rose and walked to the table where she'd been sitting before. She grabbed the large, leather-bound book that she and Angel had argued about and handed it to Willow. "I have your journals, Willow, or as they are now called, 'The Writings'. The entries that you made throughout your travels have been passed down from generation to generation of Rom. It's very obvious, though, that they aren't complete. It had been decided long ago that no one should know too much about the future, so the Elders edited it heavily, leaving only hints and sketches as to the events of both your travels in the past as well as your life in Sunnydale before Spike kidnapped you. From the way The Writings were edited, as well as a few other statements, I had even suspected that Angelus had killed me, even though that too must have been deleted from your writings long ago."
With shaking hands, Willow lifted the well-worn cover. She knew instantly that the book she held wasn't one of the many tomes that she'd actually written in for all those years. When she reverently studied the yellowing pages, she was surprised to find that it was not in her handwriting, nor was it even in English. Although she had learned to read, speak, and write the language of the Rom during her many years with them, she had always written in English for the privacy that it afforded her. Willow looked at Jenny questioningly.
"Your original and complete journals are kept in our people's safe place, guarded by many wards and spells of protection. This is just one of the translations. I should probably explain that I am its Keeper. It is, or was, my responsibility to see to it that the prophecies therein were heeded."
"Prophecies? You used my journals, the pages and pages I wrote about my life here in Sunnydale, as prophecies?"
Before Jenny could respond, Angel spoke up. "The Writings are by Willow? The prophecies that have helped us to defeat the Master, destroy Acathla, and everything else were written by Willow? She was the mysterious, all-knowing prophet?"
"Yes," Jenny said in answer to both of their questions. "Because she traveled back in time, Willow was able to prophesize her own future, in a sense."
Angel was speechless. All this time, The Writings were nothing more that Willow's diary. Yet, they had become invaluable in their fight against the darker forces that existed in abundance in Sunnydale. Now it all made a perfect twisted kind of sense, and he was ashamed that he hadn't figured it all out earlier.
Willow shook her head in amazement, not trying to stop the tears of relief that were trickling down her cheeks. "It worked," she smiled at the others. "It actually worked. I mean, everything happened so...so fast in the end that I hadn't prepared the way I should have. I--I had written everything down once and had given it to the Watchers Council in London. I had hoped that they would use it to help Buffy in case things didn't work out right...."
She closed her eyes and hugged the book tightly to her chest. "I never thought of leaving the responsibility to the Rom instead of the Council. Tekla is...was...an amazing woman."
"Yes, she was."
Willow took a deep breath, readying herself to go on, when an embarrassing thought occurred to her. She looked at Jenny, hoping she could keep from blushing.
"Jenny, who else has read my journals...the original ones?"
Sensing the source of Willow's discomfort, Jenny squeezed her hand. "Don't worry, Willow. Even *I* haven't read your journals. No one has in more than a century, as far as I know. They are forbidden. And The Writings are *completely* lacking in the personal thoughts department. All of your secrets, if you had any, that is, are still secret."
Willow let out a long sigh of relief. She didn't know how she'd be able to face her friends, let alone Angel, if they were to have read her most private thoughts and the more intimate details of her time in the past. The mere idea of the possibility made it nearly impossible for her to look at Angel for the next few minutes.
"Can I go on, Willow?" Jenny asked, gesturing to the book.
Willow handed it to her with a nod.
"Let's see...as I was saying," the teacher said, skimming quickly through its pages. "Spike took you back in time to seek revenge on Angel for the death-suicide of his lover Drusilla. Like I said, the details are sketchy, but I do know that you arrived in Galway around the time that Angelus was sired by Darla. *But* if I understand this correctly, Spike had wanted to arrive closer to the time that Drusilla was actually sired in the mid-1800s so he could kill Angelus afterwards, but you somehow affected the spell, causing it to take you back to when Angel was human instead, correct?"
Willow simply nodded before sneaking a peek at Angel. From the pained expression he was wearing, Willow had no doubt that the vampire was hearing it all for the first time. Now the redhead felt the need to go into details--not for the Gypsy, but for Angel's sake.
"I just couldn't let Spike kill him because I knew we needed him here. I was worried about Buffy...and so when he told me to concentrate on a date close to Drusilla's being vamped, I...well, I kinda cheated. I didn't know if it would work. We were lucky, I guess."
To Willow's surprise, Jenny jotted down a few notes in the margins of the book. Then, oblivious to the effect her words were having on the vampire, Jenny continued.
"Now, in Galway, you and Spike reached a compromise of sorts, yes?"
Willow took a deep breath. "Yes. I agreed to stay in the past for another 50 or so years until the time of Spike's own turning *if* Spike would let Angelus live. The plan was for me to keep Angelus busy so that when Darla came to town they would never meet. Then, when she was gone, Spike and I would lay low for a while and he'd either sire himself or get Darla to do it, or something." Willow shrugged a little sheepishly. "We hadn't really figured that part out yet."
Willow quickly glanced at Angel and found him watching her, but his face was expressionless. She gave him a small smile, trying to somehow reassure the vampire. Without acknowledging her attempt, Angel got to his feet and moved to stare out the window.
"And he agreed to this?" Jenny asked.
Willow sighed, her eyes now fixed on the back of the dark vampire. "Yes...but he lied to me. He never had any intention of letting the human Angelus live. By the time I figured it out, it was too late."
Angel let out a soft half-grunt, half-laugh. "He betrayed you too, then?"
"Yes, but that was a long time ago, Angel. He didn't know any other way to get back the Drusilla he loved without you siring her. Spike was consumed by his need to be with Drusilla again."
Angel made no comment as Willow tried to explain his childe's actions. He continued to stare unseeing through the colored glass.
"What did you do then?" Jenny questioned the redhead. "The journals say that you traveled on your own for a while."
"I ran away from Spike. He tried to explain to me why he'd done it, but I wouldn't listen. For almost fifty years I traveled throughout Britain, avoiding Angelus and Spike, and trying to find a way to fix the mess I had created. I felt...responsible for Angelus's death. I felt like I had let everyone down. For fifty years I searched everywhere, either for a way to end the spell or for the Rom curse so I could recurse Angelus myself, but I failed at that too..." Remembering that painful time brought Willow to her feet. She hugged her arms about herself and took a few aimless steps toward the center of the room, away from Jenny and Angel.
Choosing to ignore the increased tension in the room, Jenny pressed on. "From now on, the details get even fewer and farther between, Willow. It says you eventually ended up back in London, where you accidentally ran into Spike again."
"Then what happened?"
Having heard enough, Angel turned on the teacher. "Don't you think you've put her through enough for one night?" he demanded.
"It's okay, Angel," Willow said without turning around. "Yes, Spike and I ran into each other. It wasn't pleasant at first...I was so bitter...but in the end it all worked itself out. Spike became injured and I helped him. That same night, I stupidly walked through the park and was attacked by a couple of vampires..." Willow turned and looked squarely at Angel. "I was bitten, very badly...but somehow I managed to escape and make it back to where Spike was staying. He...helped me."
"You trusted him?"
"I had to, Jenny," Willow answered, but her words were more for Angel now. "In a manner of speaking, Spike *saved* me in more ways than one. After that, we were friends. I trusted him completely."
"You were...friends?" Jenny repeated, not quite sure she'd heard Willow right.
Willow tore her eyes away from Angel long enough to answer Jenny. "Yes, Spike and I were friends. And although we've had our ups and downs, we still are."
For just a moment, Jenny's mouth fell open, but she quickly composed herself. Angel managed to resist the urge to put his fist through the window, but he was far from composed when Jenny insisted on extending their torture.
"The Writings simply state at some point in the early 1800s that you stayed with the Rom for a considerable length of time. And while there are pages and pages about your stay with them, once you leave, the information is even sparser than before. All I'm sure of is that somehow, Angelus managed to trace you back to the Rom decades later, and that's when Spike had them curse Angelus with his soul, and just in the knick of time, apparently."
"That's all it says?" Willow asked a little suspiciously.
Willow hoped her enormous relief wasn't too apparent on her face. After all, Jenny hadn't mentioned anything about how close she and Spike had actually became, or how Rose and Angelus had run into each other again playing poker, or about her little stay with him and William and the subsequent deal she and Spike had made with Angelus. The more she thought about it, the more thankful she was for the abridged version of her personal journals.
"Good, because that pretty much covers it," Willow stated in a matter of fact tone. "After all, here were are."
Jenny gripped her pen, the tip hovering over the margins in the journal as she readied herself to make more additions.
"But what about all those years in between? What about you and Spike? Did you meet Angelus again? How did he find you? What were the circumstances and events that had lead to Angelus being cursed with his soul the first time around?"
Thankfully, Willow's stomach chose that precise moment to let out a ravenous growl.
"Ooh, sorry. I haven't eaten in--"
"A century and then some," Angel filled in, also thankful for the interruption.
"Anything in particular you've been craving, Willow?" Jenny asked, momentarily putting aside her note taking.
"Pizza and a coke," Willow responded immediately with a hungry grin.
"Considering the time, is frozen okay? I'm sure we have your favorite kind in the freezer."
"Ooh! And can I have *lots* of ice? I missed ice in my drinks."
"I'm sure I can manage that," Jenny laughed as she left Angel and Willow alone, disappearing down the same hallway that Angel had made his entrance from earlier. It wasn't until she was gone that Willow thought to wonder why they had her favorite kind of pizza on hand, but she doubted this was the best time to ask Angel any questions. He seemed far from happy about what he'd just heard.
"Somehow I always thought playing 'This is Your Life" would be more fun than that," Willow mumbled to herself.
"You ready to hear that apology yet?"
"For what, Angel?"
Angel went to stand in front of Willow. He wanted to pull her into his arms again, but resisted the urge. "I never knew you spent all of that time alone, Willow. That must have been horrible for you...all alone in a strange country, strange time...."
Willow shrugged it away and stepped back from the vampire. "It wasn't fun but I survived. Besides, that was hardly your fault. I'm just sorry you had to find out this way about Spike. This must be hard for you to hear. I saw how close you and William were."
"Spike is not my William, never was," Angel said in a near growl. "William would never betray me like that...not for Drusilla, not for anyone."
Willow opened her mouth to try to explain Spike's actions but thought the better of it. Perhaps when everything wasn't so fresh, she could make Angel understand Spike's motivations...at least as much as she understood them. Trying to change the subject and hopefully ease some of the tension, Willow glanced around the room again.
"Nice place Jenny has here."
Angel looked up from the spot on the floor that he'd been boring holes in with his eyes. "Hmm? Oh, this is my place, not Jenny's." He paused. "You don't recognize it?"
Willow gnawed on her lip as she reluctantly shook her head. "No."
Angel frowned at the new revelation but decided to worry about its possible significance later. At that moment, he was more concerned with how uncomfortable Willow looked in his home. He wanted to put her at ease.
"As you can probably tell," Angel began casually, taking a seat on the windowsill, "it used to be a church."
"It's beautiful," Willow responded truthfully.
Jenny joined them, handing Willow a pint glass nearly overflowing with ice and cola. "This place has been a godsend, really," she added. "The basement is perfect for Buffy's training. Lots of room for her to work out. Rupert keeps the majority of his reference materials here now instead of at the school. Makes it easier when we're up all night researching this and that. Now we don't have to worry about being caught at the library after hours or Snyder questioning the sort of reading material he has on public display at the library. We have everything we need here. It's become like our second home."
Willow didn't know what to say, other than the sudden need to shout "But this is all wrong!" Willow held her tongue by taking a huge gulp of the fizzy drink instead. As delicious as it was, Willow couldn't enjoy it. Her uneasiness was growing exponentially.
"So, if you've never been here before, where did Buffy train?" Jenny asked, noting her darkening disposition. "Where did we research in your...time?"
Willow tucked a section of hair behind her ears and licked her dry lips. "At the school library, actually. Believe it or not, no one ever questioned our presence there at 2 AM on a Wednesday or on a Sunday afternoon during the summer. Actually, no one ever commented about the occult section being ten times larger than natural science section, either. Doesn't really bode well for the American public school system, does it?"
"Would you like a tour while you wait for the pizza?" Angel asked.
"Why not," she said with a forced smile. "Maybe it will jar my memory."
Angel looked about the room with a quiet smile on his pale face. "This was the Church of St. Odilo, and that's actually him in that window there," he said, pointing to a particularly ornate stained-glass window near the front of the church which depicted a benevolent appearing man surrounded by many despondent souls. "It was left vacant in the 50s when its congregation was absorbed by a larger catholic church in town. Since then, it's been a homeless shelter, among other things, and most recently several failed antique shops."
With Willow at his side, Angel slowly walked down the row of windows, turning on a light now and then so she could see the beautiful handmade windows and fine millwork.
"I found it one of my first days here in Sunnydale. It had two huge 'For Sale' signs in the front windows that you could barely see through the over-grown lawn, but somehow when I saw the name of the church, I knew."
"What do you mean?" Willow asked before taking another sip of her soda.
"St. Odilo is the patron saint of souls in purgatory. Seemed a fittin' home fer a vampire with a soul, seekin' redemption," Angel commented, slipping into the brogue without realizing it. Willow, however, noticed it. As her hand clutched the glass even more tightly, she reminded herself that Angel was as Irish as Angelus was, as obvious as that may have seemed, and he had every right to speak his native tongue. Still, it unnerved her more than she cared to admit. She blamed the chill that kept running along her spine on the icy glass she was holding.
Willow continued to numbly follow Angel around. She listened as best she could but the more he went on about what all he, Giles, Jenny, Buffy and the Scooby Gang did in the converted church, the more uneasy she grew. On one hand, it sounded great. They had their own place to hang out, research, do the Slayer and Wicca thing, without having to worry about outside interference. Better yet, Angel seemed interested in helping them as much as he could and in many different ways. He'd even purchased many of the library's rarer volumes himself. Heck, it sounded like a great little club that they'd created for themselves.
<And everyone knows the secret handshake but me,> she mused silently.
Angel led her down the long hallway in the front of the sanctuary. It had once led to the Sunday school rooms and offices in the back, but they now served as storage rooms and, oddly enough, spare bedrooms. There were actually three spare bedrooms, and apparently she and the rest of the Scooby Gang used them quite frequently when their researching kept them there at all hours. Angel gestured to a door at the end of a smaller side hallway. He informed her that it led to what was once a smaller, more private chapel.
"Now it's my bedroom," Angel said, causing Willow to choke on her Coke.
"Sorry...not used to the ice cubes...went down the wrong way," she sputtered, her face flushing.
Trying not to smile, Angel continued the tour. He showed Willow where the bathrooms were and the small but well-equipped kitchenette near the end of the hallway. Willow's stomach growled again at the delicious aroma wafting from the oven.
Next to the tiny kitchen, a staircase led down into the basement. As they stood at the top of the stairway, Willow listened to Angel explain that the basement held a rarely used industrial-sized kitchen, another room almost as large as the upstairs of the church itself that Buffy used for workout and training space, plus more rooms for storage and so on. Apparently, there was also a handy access to the sewer system, making it only a quick hop-skip-jump to the school.
Just as the tour was to actually continue down into the basement, the buzzer went off, indicating that Willow's long-dreamt about pizza was ready. Promising he'd show it all to her later, Angel went back into the kitchenette and donned a pair of red and black checked oven mitts before sliding the pizza out of the oven.
Willow shook her head as she walked back up the hallway to join Jenny. It was wrong--all very, very wrong in a 'didn't everything turn out great?' kind of way.
Willow was too lost in her thoughts as she devoured three slices of pizza to even savor the flavor. As she ate, Willow avoided their eyes. There was so much more to talk about tonight and somehow she knew it was only going to get worse.
"Willow," Jenny finally said as she brought her another Coke, "why don't you tell us what your life was like before you left? Who your friends were, what you did in your spare time, our lives? Anything you can think of that may have possibly changed."
"Were all those details deleted out of the, er, Writings?"
"Yes. After you get a chance to look at them you'll see that very little personal information remains. Of course, now that you are back, we can see about getting the originals from Romania for you."
"I'd like that."
"So, Willow," Jenny continued, resuming her seat next to the redhead, "Tell us about yourself before Spike decided to play God."
Willow suddenly felt very cold. She finally met her teacher's eyes, and Willow could easily see that the woman sensed there were more differences between the two timelines. She put the rest of her pizza down. Her appetite had vanished.
"Okay, well here it goes..." she began after a deep breath.
Willow quickly detailed her childhood, her lifelong friendship with Xander and Jesse and continued on to the day that she met Buffy. So far, Angel and Jenny hadn't exchanged any knowing glances, so Willow felt comfortable that there were no monumental changes in her life as she knew it. Willow took a deep breath and continued, realizing that if things were going to be different in her life, the changes would probably have occurred after Buffy's arrival. She told of the friendship that had quickly developed between Buffy, Xander, and herself after they learned the Slayer's secret. Willow quickly skimmed over Angel's introduction to the 'Scooby Gang' and how he began to help them. She told them how Jesse died, the problems they experienced with the Master and the Anointed One, and while Jenny indicated that things had happened a little differently because of The Writings, the end results were the same.
Willow took a deep breath when she came to the point in her story were Angel became Angelus.
"One night, on Buffy's birthday, Angel...um...lost his soul."
"It was when we were trying to stop Spike from assembling The Judge. Things looked really bad, and....Wait. Did that happen? Did William, I mean Spike, try to assemble The Judge as a gift for Drusilla?"
Jenny shook her head. "We never gave him the chance. Because of The Writings, the Watchers Council had been collecting pieces of him over the years and destroying them."
"How did I lose my soul, Willow?" Angel prodded anxiously.
"Oh...well...you had a moment of, um, true happiness...I--I explained it all in my journals."
Jenny squeezed the girl's trembling hand. "I'm sorry, Willow. I know this is hard for you, but again, many of the events that I'm sure you went into great detail about are not in The Writings. The Elders kept everything vague and, well, quite prophesy-like. Even the parts that discussed Angel, the vampire with a soul, were rather oblique."
Willow couldn't help scowling at Jenny's words. As thankful as she was for Angel never having lost his soul, she couldn't understand why the prophetic parts of her journals weren't more straightforward and accurate. It could have made everything so much simpler.
"So," Jenny went on, noting the pensive look on the girl's face. "I understand that there used to be a--I guess you called it a happiness clause--but exactly how did Angel lose his soul in your old timeline? How did he achieve a moment of true happiness?"
<This is *so* not fun anymore,> Willow silently fumed. Willow rose to her feet and walked to the nearest window. She couldn't see much out of the stained glass, but she wasn't really trying to look outside.
"It happened after he had sex...I mean, made love..." Willow said, tracing one of the lines of leaded glass with a shaky finger, vaguely wondering who the person was depicted in the glass.
"You and Angel made love and he lost his soul?" Jenny asked as delicately as possible.
"Me? No, not me," she laughed nervously. "Angel and Buffy, of course."
"Buffy?" Jenny and Angel exclaimed in unison.
It was the incredulous tone in both their voices that started the warning bells chiming in Willow's head. She turned to face them, finding that their surprise was just as evident on their faces.
"Of course, Buffy. You two were--*are*--in love." The amazement was gone from the vampire's face, only to be replaced with something darker.
"Buffy and I slept together?"
Just the once, Angel, because after that you weren't exactly lovey-dovey anymore. Not the kind of boyfriend one invites to the prom," she added a little more softly, remembering a conversation she'd had with Spike about that same topic.
Angel ran his hand down his face wearily, and then he slowly moved to stand at the redhead's side.
"Willow, Buffy and I are not sleeping together at all. We're not--
"Oh, I see," Willow interrupted. She turned away from him to study the books on the shelf next to her. "You two haven't slept together yet because you were worried about losing your soul, right? Jenny wasn't kidding when she said they edited my journals. Would have been nice if they'd left that part in," Willow barely stopped to breathe before continuing with her embarrassed and uncomfortable babble. "To make you two wait like that isn't very nice, and I think I know something about waiting. Of course, in my case it was a little different, but--"
Angel took the book out of her hand and reshelved it, trying to get the redhead's full attention. But she was undaunted and grabbed another book before walking away, pretending to study its pages.
Angel followed. "No, Willow, you don't understand..."
Feeling the unmistakable urge to flee, Willow began to head for the exit. She wanted nothing more than to get out of earshot before he said something that she'd rather not hear.
"I mean, you've waited a long time, Angel." She dropped the book on the nearest table as she rushed for the doors. "So maybe I should head home and you can call Buffy and tell her to come over and--"
Angel was on the redhead's heels. He stopped her retreat, grabbing the babbling girl by the upper arms and turning her to face him. As Angel gently made her look at him, all the air seemed to leave the room, and Willow found her breath coming in shallow gasps.
"Willow, Buffy and I aren't...close."
Willow already knew were the conversation was heading, and she didn't need any prophetic writings to figure it out, but she was refusing to believe that it was possible. Could she really have messed up things that badly? Could she have inadvertently come between the two soul mates?
She flashed Angel a fake smile as she tried to wriggle out of his hold. "Well, you're taking your time, then? That's good. Very, um, romantic, and I'm sure Buf--"
"Buffy and I aren't dating. We aren't a couple, romantic or otherwise. Buffy and I are friends, and that's all, Willow. All it has ever been, all it will ever be."
Angel let her go then, and Willow backed away, shaking her head.
"Please tell me you're joking. Tell me anything but that, Angel. Tell me that Ronald Reagan was elected for three more terms or that...that Canada invaded and we all have to learn how to play hockey now, but not this.... Please, Angel, tell me that you and Buffy are...."
The look on Angel's face said it all. With her back against the wall, Willow sank to the floor only a few feet from the exit. She pulled her knees against her chest, wrapping her arms about her legs.
"Oh God...what have I done?" she repeated over and over again with her forehead on her knees.
Angel was at a complete loss as to how to help Willow. He was still too stunned at Willow's announcement to be much use in soothing her. Before he could come up with any kind of comforting thought, Willow's head jerked up.
"What else is different?" she demanded, not bothering to wipe the new tears away. "What else have I ruined? Is Buffy okay? What about Giles? Are Xander and Cordelia still together?"
"Xander and Cordelia are still the happy couple, strangely enough," Jenny answered. "Rupert is...Rupert, as far as I know. Although, I *have* managed to get him into a pair of jeans once or twice. Lord knows that nearly took a magik spell in itself."
Willow focused on Angel. "What about Buffy?"
"Buffy is fine, Willow. She's a normal teen-aged girl, or at least as normal as the Slayer can be. She dates, she goes to school, she even asked my opinion once on what to wear on a date. She didn't listen, but she did ask."
Willow didn't even blink before she uttered the next word. "Oz."
It was when Angel and Jenny exchanged a 'look' that Willow felt the bile begin to burn its way up her throat. Her stomach clenched, preparing for the next blow.
Jenny knelt in front of the distressed redhead. "Willow, about Oz, we have some...bad news."
"Just say it."
Jenny glanced at Angel and then back to Willow before continuing. "Willow, Oz is...well, he's a werewolf."
Willow finally blinked. "And?"
Jenny looked to Angel for help.
"For three nights every month, we have to lock him in the old walk-in refrigerator in the basement, Willow. He becomes a werewolf...a killer..."
Willow used the wall to push herself into a standing position. She looked back and forth between the vampire and the Gypsy, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Is that all?" she asked disbelievingly. Jenny stood up and confirmed it with a nod of her head.
Willow allowed herself to feel the slightest bit of relief. "I know that," Willow told them. "He was a werewolf when we were together, too. Although, I wish the Elders had left that part in because then maybe we could have warned him to avoid his cousin Jordy with the biting tendency..."
As Willow babbled on, she didn't notice the other 'look' that Jenny and Angel exchanged.
Jenny elbowed Angel, who in turn shook his head, elbowed Jenny right back, and then quickly backed away.
Jenny mouthed 'chicken' to Angel, before clearing her throat and stopping Willow in mid-babble. "When you say 'together' Willow, how exactly do you mean?"
With the tiny smile of relief still fresh on her face, Willow quickly turned away from them both. The hint of a grin quickly melted away as she easily deciphered the meaning behind Jenny's question.
"Um, I think I'm going to go now," Willow said distractedly, glancing about the room one last time as if looking for a coat. "I'm, um, really tired and would like to sleep in my own bed for a change." Willow turned to face them, flashing a brave but obviously fake smile. "I'll see you...um... tomorrow and we can talk more...."
Willow's feet were taking the last final steps toward the door before she'd even finished speaking.
Jenny moved to stop her. "Willow, wait. There's more you need to know."
Willow threw upon the door with one hand, holding the other up to stop Jenny. "No, I don't think I can take anymore good news tonight.
Jenny stopped and sent Angel a pleading look.
"Willow, it's almost four in the morning," Angel reminded her. "Just stay here tonight. We don't have to talk if you don't want to. You can go straight to bed and we'll leave you alone."
Jenny sent the girl an apologetic look. "Angel's right. Maybe we shouldn't have sprung all of this on you at once, but stay here tonight. You'll feel better in the morning when everyone comes over."
Willow turned around, her hand firm on the brass handle of the door, the cool night air blowing her hair into her face. She couldn't bring herself to look at either Jenny or Angel, afraid of what answers she might be able to see in their eyes. She instead kept them on the oriental throw rug beneath her feet.
"You know, I always thought seeing Buffy and Xander again would make me happy. Now I'm not so sure." She glanced about the beautifully renovated church, yet it meant nothing to her. "You all have lots of memories of this place, your little pizza and research slumber parties, and I'm not a part of that."
"Yes you are, Willow. You just don't remember it!" Angel insisted.
Willow turned back and stepped through the door, out onto the stoop. She stopped and looked over her shoulder. "How can I have memories of something I never did, Angel? It *wasn't* me! And you don't know me any better than I know you. None of you do anymore."
Angel watched as Willow practically slammed the door behind her, his eyes closing at the hollow sound.
"Angel, she just needs some time, and we should give her that. But perhaps you should follow her, just to make sure she makes it home safely," Jenny softly suggested.
Angel's eyes flew open. "She's not going home," he informed her as he headed for the door to follow the redhead. "She's going to see *him*."
Angel couldn't keep the venom from his voice. "No, she's going
to see my traitorous childe. She's going to see Spike."
End Chapter 3
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