The Choice

Rating: PG at most.
Spoiler:  "Becoming"
Feedback: Please. All comments and constructive criticism appreciated.   No flames please.
Disclaimer: Willow, Angel, Buffy, Xander, and so on are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No copyright infringement intended.

NOTE:  This is the first anything that I ever wrote, unless school/college counts.  At the time, I didn't know how to handle dialogue, hence the complete lack of it!  I had always planned on a sequel, but started Take Your Time instead.  I will do a sequel sometime this year - 2000.  Promise ;-)
 
 

The Choice
 

"Come on Willow, get yourself together," I berated myself as I stood outside the church. Absently fingering the necklace that lay hidden under my dress, I tried to steel myself against the inevitable onslaught of emotions and memories that I knew would hit me once I entered. I had always known this day was coming. I guess we all did, but this was too soon. I wasn't ready. But I didn't have a choice so I took a deep breath and walked in. It was time.
 
Once inside, I looked around and saw many familiar faces, as well as many that weren't familiar. Friends from school and relatives, I assumed. Buffy's mom was in the front row, trying very hard not to cry. I saw Cordelia and, what a surprise, she was checking her makeup. I was not able to see Giles from where I was standing, but I knew he would be there. My eyes eventually landed on Xander who was trying very hard to put on a brave front. I remembered the last time we were together, when I was home from college last summer. Back then I never dreamed we would see each other again so soon and under these circumstances.

Buffy looked beautiful. Of course she always looked beautiful but never so serene and at peace. The chapel was filled with flowers, and I wondered if there was another flower left in all of Sunnydale. I am not going to cry I promised myself, not yet anyway.

As I walked slowly toward the front of the chapel, the memories came flooding back. I remembered with a smile the first time I saw Buffy, the new girl in school, and I remembered even better the first time Xander told me how he felt about her. He often used me to practice asking her out. For that split second, Xander was able to make this geeky 16-year-old girl feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. That is until reality came crashing back to remind me that I was only the temporary stand-in. I can smile about it now because two people helped me to quit sniveling over him, Oz and Buffy. Oz was my first love, and Buffy was the best girlfriend that I ever had and probably will ever have.
 
I was a junior at MIT when I received *the* phone call. It was too soon! Buffy was too young I wanted to scream through the phone. But I didn't, because they were counting on me to be strong and help with some of the arrangements.

Buffy and I had kept in constant touch while I was away. A week didn't pass without us spending a whole night on the phone, and rarely a day passed when we didn't exchange email. I had not even wanted to go to MIT. I wanted to stay in Sunnydale and be with my friends. Then everything would be the way it was before, and besides, Buffy needed me. But she wouldn't hear of it. "I'll be fine!" She told me over and over again. She reminded me that she and Xander would be going to the same community college. Plus, she still had Giles and even Cordelia since she decided to attend Kent College. Yes, the very same college where a fraternity had tried to sacrifice her to some reptilian deity only a few years earlier. Cordy said something about its M.R.S. Degree being the best in the area. It's nice to know that some things never change, and I actually hope that she does find herself some rich man to drive insane.

There was a time when I thought Buffy and I may not be able to continue to be friends. Xander calls them the dark months, those many weeks when Buffy disappeared after sending Angel to hell. It was only a few weeks after I restored Angel's soul that he came to me. I was lying on a hammock in the back yard when he stepped out of the bushes. I reached for a stake before I realized who it was. It took only one glance at his despondent form to confirm my belief that the second try had been successful. He looked terrible, like someone who had crawled out of the pits of hell. I would learn later that 'spit out' was more accurate. I guess a repentant soul isn't of much use in hell these days, and heaven decided an eternity of trying to make up for his evil ways was the best use of his 'talents.'
 
I only needed to wonder for a minute why he was here. The moment I looked into Angel's eyes I could see that they were begging for the forgiveness his lips could not yet ask for. Angel found it in me because it had always been there. I was easily able to separate Angelus's actions from Angel, although I am not sure why. We talked that night for hours, or at least I listened for hours because that was what he needed. I remember at times feeling like a priest hearing confession and wishing that I could give his soul the absolution that it was yearning for, but I couldn't. What does a little Jewish girl know of Hail Marys and Our Fathers? But I gave him all forgiveness, patience, and understanding that I had, and more. It was almost dawn when he finally asked me about Buffy. I told him what little I knew about what had happened and that seemed to be enough, for now.
 
By the time Buffy finally came back toward the end of that summer, things had changed enormously. There was a lot of resentment from those that Buffy had left behind. No one had believed that she would stay away so long and leave us to defend Sunnydale on our own. After all, we were only *slayerettes.* Our strengths were in research and brainstorming and in the inevitable monkey work that resulted from defending the world against the forces of evil. But that was before she left. On our own we had to become stronger than we were before. Giles coached us as best he could to defend ourselves and dust the vampires. When I look back at it now, I think it changed me more than it did the rest. I had to face my fears and could no longer hide behind my computer 24 hours a day. I became a more confident and stronger Willow that summer, in more ways than one. That strength did not come without a price however, as I gave more and more of myself to helping slaying and Angel, my relationship with Oz slowly starved to death. We ended it mutually but would always remain close friends.

The Buffy that came back to us was a different person. She was cold and distant, but that was not the thing that made her different. I had seen that side of her before after the Master had almost killed her. I could deal with that Buffy. But this wasn't someone who was pushing her friends away while she struggled with her own mortality. No, this was a person who was already dead on the inside. I had seen it before with Angel, guilt was eating away at her, and she wasn't even putting up a fight. The guilt came from being unable to forgive Angel, it came from deserting us and her mother, and for leaving her sacred duty. It was too much guilt for one person to bear. She wouldn't talk about it much at first, but I tried to help as much as I could. Once again I was able to offer forgiveness when it was needed.
 
She relied on me more than normal now. Schoolwork alone kept us busy. We worked very hard to get her caught up so that she could take the finals she missed. In the end, we were again victorious, and she was allowed to start as a senior that fall. Things were not any easier though. Her mother tried her best to cope with what her little girll had become and to understand the responsibilities that her daughter had to shoulder. When Buffy looked at her mother, she saw only regret and confusion, and her mother looked at her like she was a stranger. Giles too was having difficulties, feeling that he had failed as a watcher, and he was unable to mask his disappointment with Buffy for leaving. Then there was Xander. Poor Xander was the most confused. He was angry at Buffy for leaving, and at the same time felt responsible for not telling Buffy that I was going to try one last time to restore Angel's soul. So in the end, it seemed that I was the mediator. No one was mad at me, and I in turn had long forgiven Buffy for leaving in the manner that she did. So that left me to bring us all back together. To try and make things the way they were before.
 
By the time Buffy had returned, Angel and I had spent countless nights talking and just hanging out. Angelus's memories haunted him has he tried to come to terms with what he had done. Memories of his torture of Giles and the death of Jenny. He remembered every attack, both physical and psychological, on Buffy and the rest of us. Not to mention the countless others whose names he did not even know. He struggled for months to come to terms with Angelus's deeds, and was slowly able to begin to, if not forgive himself, at least move on. But Angel's pain was easy to handle when compared to Buffy's. All of Buffy's actions were her own, not some demons.
 
Buffy didn't know how to feel when I explained to her what I had done for Angel. Relief. Regret. Gratitude. But not forgiveness. She was never able to forgive Angel; she couldn't even look him in the eyes. More importantly, she wasn't able to forgive herself for not being capable of granting Angel the amnesty he needed.
 
She knew I spent time with Angel, helping him in much the same way as I was helping her, but she didn't want to know about it and asked that I never mention his name again. So I honored her wishes, and in the end that would be our undoing.
 
I remember the first time I saw Angel truly smile after the restoration. It was months later, just after Halloween, and we were in my backyard looking at the stars as we often did. We weren't talking about anything important, not his past and not the future, we were just talking. Some how I found myself telling him about a particularly embarrassing incident of stage fright that occurred to me during our 2nd grade musical production of "The Frog Prince." By the end, we were both lying on our backs looking up at the stars, and I was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down my face. When I looked at him, I noticed that he was watching me, and I saw that the sparkle was back in his eye. He had somehow decided that it was time to go on with his 'life'. That was when it happened, and I think that was when he first felt it too. He would later tell me that my laughter had sounded like heaven to him that night. I never asked him exactly what that meant. I guess I didn't want to know what hell had sounded like, but from that night on, our souls were one.
 
I knew from the beginning that I had to tell Buffy that my relationship with Angel had evolved, I just didn't know how. She had moved on with her life, and although she knew that I still saw Angel, she never asked about him. She didn't want to know. To her, Angel was dead. I tried to tell her many times after that, but anytime I even mentioned his name she would change the subject, or leave the room, or whatever it took to make sure that I was never able to tell her that we had fallen in love. But she knew. I could see it in her eyes, so I let it go. As far as Buffy was concerned, as long as I didn't say the words, it wasn't happening.
 
Then the bottom fell out. I should have known better. I should have been more careful, but love makes you do the wacky. Buffy was spending the night at my house while my parents were away for the weekend. It was like old times, the first time it had felt that way in so long. Xander had come over, and the three of us watched old movies and made fun of them until two in the morning. They had finally both fallen asleep on the couch, helped along by a sinful amount of Ben & Jerry's.
 
I was still wide awake, having slowly become even more of a night owl than I was before, and being blessed with a metabolism that could survive quite happily on four or five hours of sleep a night. I had wandered into the back yard to lie in the hammock, and just stare at the beautiful night and ponder life's interesting little twists and turns. But before my thoughts could even make it around the first bend, he was there. I remember laughingly accusing him of spying on us before making room for him on the hammock. We were swinging there, laughing and kissing when she saw us. Suddenly the backyard lights were on, and Buffy was storming toward us with such intensity that I was frightened, but for Angel not myself. I scrambled to get off the hammock but only succeeded in causing it to flip over. Angel and I landed in a tangled mess on the wet lawn only to have Buffy looming over us with a look that I can only describe as mournful.
 
Buffy never cried that night. In fact, she never even said his name when she gave me the choice. "The Choice." That was how we would refer to it later. Years later when she begged my forgiveness over the phone. Later when she tried to make everything right again.
 
Ah yes, The Choice. It was simple enough. Buffy or Angel. She couldn't be my friend anymore if Angel and I were to continue to see each other. Funny thing. She didn't yell, or scream, or throw a tantrum over the fact that I was romantically involved with her ex-boyfriend. She didn't even raise her voice. She just stated a fact. I had to choose. I couldn't have the best of both worlds, the Hellmouth wouldn't allow it. Her sanity, her innermost self, and the new world order that she had begun to create and surround herself with couldn't handle it. If she was to continue to save the world and get her homework in on time, Angel could not be in her life. Nowhere in her life. And if Angel was in my life, and I was in hers . . . well, you can see where this was going.
 
I made the decision, right then and there. When I reflect back, I didn't even pause to think. That is probably what hurt the loser the most. I made it seem effortless. Piece of cake! I can eliminate this side of my life like taking off a Band-Aid. Just do it quickly so it won't hurt so much.
 
The pain in Angel's eyes was unfathomable. I could tell that he didn't believe it was happening. Hell had opened up and swallowed him whole, again, and this time I wouldn't be able to save him.
 
Buffy on the other hand didn't even flinch. When I grabbed her hand and walked back into the house it was like nothing had ever happened. In fact, we did not speak of it again for over a year. I never even knew if she told Xander what had happened that night.
 
Angel came around the next night, of course, hoping that he had misunderstood. Hoping that we could still be together when Buffy wasn't around, just like it was before. Then he looked into my eyes, and he knew. When he asked why, all I could say was that *Buffy really* needed me now. I never even apologized. Something had changed inside me that night. I had made the Choice, and in that split second I took all the love that I had felt for Angel, wrapped it up in a neat little package and buried it somewhere deep inside. Pushing it as far away from my heart and my soul as I could, I became the antithesis of my name sake and wouldn't change my mind. I was a rock, and all of Angel's pleading and tears did nothing to erode my surface. Slowly Angel's tears turned to anger, and he was gone.
 
I never saw Angel again; however, I found a note he had left a few days later. It was in a neat little package tied with red ribbon. Inside was a beautiful necklace; an ornately carved silver star on a long chain. I noticed when I held it up that it seemed to shine more brightly than those we spent many nights gazing at. The note was short:
 

I was going to give you this on Valentine's Day
You may have saved my soul, and Buffy's, but who will save yours?

Goodbye

A.
 

I guess some people prefer to take the bandage off slowly, one hair at a time. And still I did not cry.
 
  A few months later I had to have an emergency appendectomy. I told myself that when the doctors removed my inflamed appendix they would also remove that little bundle that was screaming to be opened. Later in the recovery room, someone asked if I wanted to keep my appendix in a little jar on my dresser. I remember telling them that they should give it to someone who could use it and wouldn't waste it the way that I had. Anesthesia has a funny effect on people.
 
It was early my Sophomore year when I received a late night phone call from a hysterical Buffy. I never found out what set her off, but I assumed Xander had something to do with it. They had become very close after I left, and I was glad. She begged my forgiveness for what she called her selfishness in making me choose. She pleaded for me to try and find him, and told me that it wasn't too late. She would apologize to him and beg his forgiveness as well. "What kind of a friend would make you decide between love and friendship!" she wailed. I gave her as much forgiveness over the phone as I could. It was old news now. I had moved on with my life, and I was sure that Angel had too, and I was fine. Xander told me later that she had continuously tried to find Angel with no luck, but it was thought that he was still 'alive.'
 
 The minister's voice finally broke me out of my reverie. I looked around sheepishly hoping that no one noticed my little visit to memoryville. Oz caught my eye and smiled reassuringly. I smiled back, Oz always seemed to have a way of knowing what I was thinking. I turned back and focused my attention on the minister. I will not cry. I will not. . . And then it was over. The familiar organ strains filled the church, and suddenly it seemed like everyone was crying.
 
I went to Xander and hugged him for what seemed like forever, neither one of us wanting to let go. Then I leaned over and kissed Buffy on the cheek. "Congratulations Mrs. Harris," I whispered as I hugged my best friend. "It was the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen," and finally I let the tears fall.

*******

The End

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