By Amanda Arlequin
Willow sat and watched helplessly as he shut her out. He sat across from her at their kitchen table putting all his attention into reading the morning paper. She tried desperately to catch his eye but he refused to give her any comfort from eye contact. Willow knew he was hurt, that he felt betrayed, and he wasn't about to forgive her anytime soon. Perhaps he would never be able to forgive her.
Willow supposed she deserved his hatred, though it killed her to be shut out from him. To know that he was hurting and that she was to blame. That the actions of one night of impropriety were going to destroy 7 years of marriage, and there was nothing she could do about it.
For years he had ignored her feelings for him, oblivious to her love and devotion for him. When they were in high school she had waited for him. In college, she had tried to move on, to be with other guys but even then she had kept her heart for him. She had waited patiently for him to realize what he had in her, the way everyone said he eventually would. She had been there on those late nights when some other girl had broken his heart. When he called she would play the role of the best friend and give him reassurance and comfort. She loved him and so she could forgive his blindness and wait for him.
There had been moments where Willow had been sure the veil that had clouded his eyes was being lifted, that he was rediscovering her in a new light, but those moments would never come to fruition. Another pretty face and voluptuous body would walk by and the veil would stay put. Each of those unfulfilled moments would pierce into her heart; digging a hole that she feared would never be filled.
Then, during her sophomore year at MIT, that hole began to be filled. Angel returned to America. Having parted with Buffy years earlier, he had spent the last 2 years abroad trying desperately to relieve the burden on his soul left by Angelus' crimes. The night he returned, showing up at Willow's door in the middle of the night, he was in worse shape than when he had left. For 2 years he had battled his inner demons, literally and figuratively, and the emotional scars where blatantly evident. Willow, alarmed by his pain and self-condemnation, had invited him in, hoping to offer him so form of comfort. She had listened quietly as he emptied his soul to her, telling her everything he had been through, everything he was thinking and he was feeling. And she had listened, not judging but being there for him the way he needed. As someone to listen to his confession, to hold him and tell him that everything would be okay.
Angel stayed with her for weeks after that night. She hid him in her dorm room, thankful that her roommate had transferred out at the beginning of the term. Her days were filled with her classes and schoolwork, but her nights belonged to Angel. She spent every twilight hour with him and she never begrudged him it for a moment.
Angel became her first lover. He confessed that he was falling in love with her. Willow never regretted their night together, though in later years she had been objective enough to admit that a lot of their coupling had been due to the intense emotional strain they had both been under. The timing for their relationship had been right. Only God knew whether they would have been together under any other circumstances, and though it may have been foolish romanticism, Willow liked to think that it had been meant to happen. Their souls craved something that the other was able to provide that perhaps nobody else could provide.
Not long after that fate had pulled them apart. News from Giles of Buffy's illness summoned them back to Sunnydale. They returned to find Buffy a broken woman. She had finally met her match in a vampire by the name of Damian, and her first encounter with him had left her in a coma with severe internal hemorrhaging. The injuries were fatal. All that was left to do was to sit and wait. To pray that she would at least wake up from the coma before she passed so they wouldn't be denied the opportunity to say their good-byes.
In silence they had sat by her bedside. For four days they waited for her to awaken. On the night she opened her eyes for the last time, Willow and Angel were the only ones in the room. Mrs. Summers, Giles and Xander had left only moments earlier to speak to her doctors. Those few minutes would deny them their good-byes but Willow and Angel were given theirs.
Angel had broken down then, worse than he had that first night he had come to Willow weeks earlier. He clutched Buffy's slight body in his arms, spilling his tears onto here. He begged her to fight, to use her strength to survive. His hysterical reaction brought tears to my eyes and I wished desperately for a way to comfort him, but I knew there was none. Buffy had whispered her final confession then. She admitted that she still loved him. The last 2 years of her life had been swallowed by regret for having shut him out and pushed him away. And now fate was taking her away from him, but she said she was able to rest now that she had been able to tell him. She then beckoned Willow to come to her. Leaning close, Willow strained to hear Buffy's request. She asked that Willow, her best friend, take care of Angel. And with that last request Buffy passed on, her last thoughts of her love.
Willow often wondered if things would have been different if, during those first moments after Buffy's death, she had done things differently. Seconds after Buffy stopped breathing, Giles and Xander returned to discover that they were too late. Giles' solemnity had been expected, but what had not, though perhaps it should have been, was Xander's hysterics. His hatred for Angel had never faded and the fact that he had been the one to be with Buffy during her last moments tore at Xander. He screamed at Angel, blaming him, however irrationally, for Buffy's demise. And then, for the first time since they had been children, Xander cried. Without his humor to hide behind Xander was left to confront his emotions unprotected. His body crumpled to the floor, broken by his sobs.
Willow stood looking from Xander to Angel who was sitting on the bed in a daze. Angel had remained silent throughout Xander's attack and Willow saw that it was because he wasn't truly there. His eyes were blank as though there was nobody existing inside. He was dying along with Buffy, and Willow wanted desperately to save him.
But she was torn. Torn between an old love and a new love that was just beginning to develop. Torn between her loyalty to her oldest friend and her promise to Buffy.
When Xander began to call her name through his tears her decision was made. She cradled Xander in her arms, turning her warmth and attention on him, and in the process, sealing all of their fates.
Angel disappeared from the hospital that night without a word. When he didn't attend Buffy's funeral, Willow knew she would never see him again. For a moment she allowed herself to indulge in regret and sadness, before she locked it, along with her seedling of love for Angel, inside her forever.
Buffy's death succeeded in accomplishing what nothing else could. The veil was lifted and behind it Xander discovered his love for Willow. Together, they comforted each other, helped each other deal with the loss of one of their best friends. Together, their love grew and it blanketed their hearts.
They married while in their junior year, less than a year after Buffy's death. Willow's parents protested the wedding, claiming it was too soon for Willow to be tied down. However, Willow knew it was right. Though they'd only technically been together for a year, Willow had already loved him for a lifetime.
Willow never told Xander about her brief but passionate relationship with Angel. Xander hated him more than ever after Buffy's death. Willow knew that the truth would do more harm than good and so she kept it, along with her memories, to herself.
There were times when those memories would awaken and Willow's heart would be plagued by 'What If/" questions. But those times grew more and more seldom, and after the birth of her and Xander's first child, a little girl whom they named Buffy Anne, Willow's indulgence in such questions stopped all together.
Then, without any warning, Angel reappeared the previous evening at Willow and Xander's home in Long Island, New York. After putting little Buffy to bed, Willow had gone to sit on the porch and wait for Xander to get home from his late night at the office. Lost in her thoughts of Buffy and how proud her namesake would have been if she could see her, Willow failed to notice the figure emerge from the shadows. It wasn't until he was standing less than three feet away that she realized she was looking at Angel.
They stared at each, each waiting for the other to speak while both were unsure of what to say. It was Angel who spoke first. He explained that he wasn't sure why he was there but it wasn't to try and break up her and Xander. He just couldn't stay away. When he left, he had been consumed by his grief and leaving had been the only way he could deal with his emotions. He admitted that his love for Buffy would never die but he had also discovered that neither would his love for her.
As Willow listened to Angel's declaration of love the locked portion of her heart, the part she had always saved for him, opened up. She was carried away by her emotions, giving in to, for the first time since they had been separated, the love and desire that had drawn them together the first time. They fell into each other's arms clinging to emotions that had almost been lost 8 years earlier.
When Xander found them they had been kissing for awhile. The sound of Xander calling his name, his voice full of hurt and barely concealed fury.
Willow and Angel sprang apart like the guilty lovers that they were. When Angel opened his mouth to offer some sort of an explanation, Xander stepped forward and punched him. Startled, Willow called out Angel's name, dropping down to his side to see if he was okay.
That single act was enough to stop Xander, who had been preparing for another punch, in his tracks. Devastated, he watched as his wife, the woman he loved most in the world, reach out to comfort his most despised enemy. For Xander, that one act revealed volumes, as a similar one had to Angel eight years earlier. Without another word, he turned and went into the house.
Later, once Angel had left, Willow tried to explain everything to Xander. She tried to tell him how much she loved him, that she had never meant to hurt him. But Xander refused to listen. Xander, who was usually so open in his love for Willow, was shutting her out.
And now, with the morning light out to reflect on the situation, Xander chose to block Willow out of his mind, despite her close proximity to him at the kitchen table. And Willow, her own emotions in turmoil, found herself facing the same old question. Her first love, or her first lover? Times would change, the situations would grow more complex, but the same question would always remain. That same question and its answer still held the power of their fate in its hands. And still, Willow could not decide.