Second Chances

By Amanda Arlequin

 

Prologue

 

Angel struggled futilely against the two vampires that held him captive. Every movement was painfully to his bruised body but the fear he felt as he saw Damian grab Willow by her neck overrode every other feeling. Without realizing it, Angel's face vamped and a low growl rose from his throat.

'Did you really think you could win?" Damian asked the question with childlike glee and satisfaction. He knew he had his enemies right where he wanted them. He leaned close to Willow's ear, addressing her "I've killed people stronger and smarter than you, and I've been doing it for centuries. What made you think you'd be different? You're not the first who's died by my hands on a vengeance mission. You should have just forgotten about her death. Then perhaps you would have remained alive. Oh well, too late for regrets now. Your lover over there will witness your death, and he'll have to live with that for the rest of his tortured existence. Never will he forget the image of your death, or the vampire who brought it about." Damian dropped his voice to a whisper, so that only Willow could hear his next words. "Buffy begged for mercy before I killed her. Will you beg, bright eyes?" He drank in the terror his words evoked before lowering his lips to Willow's neck.

As his fangs pierced the delicate skin of Willow's throat, Angel thrashed violently against his captives. Angel screamed out her name as Damian tore her throat out. The blood that poured forth sprayed outward and Angel felt himself covered in the sticky liquid.

Unable to control their hold on Angel, one of the vampires picked up a piece of scrap metal from the factory floor and knocked Angel over the head with it. The last thing Angel saw before losing consciousness was Willow's lifeless body falling to the ground.

****************

 

Angel wasn't sure how much time had passed when he finally regained consciousness. Without even looking around, Angel knew the factory was empty. There wasn't a sound to be heard besides that of the rats moving about. Angel began to push himself up onto all fours when he noticed that he was lying in a pool of blood. At first he wondered if it was his but when he looked up he noticed the source laying less than three feet away from him, her slight body crumpled on the floor like that of a discarded rag doll.

Crawling on his hands and knees, Angel reached her side and scooped her into his arms. Pulling her close to his chest, Angel tried the best he could to wipe the blood off of her face. Her eyelids law heavy against her cheek. Her expression was so serene she could have been sleeping. There was no trace of the violence that had been done to her. She looked as beautiful as he had ever seen her, which made the pain of losing her all the more stronger. He knew that he loved her. It had taken her death for him to admit it but it was no less true for it. For years he had held on to the memory of his love for Buffy and in the process he had blinded himself to a new love. A love which had been there for awhile, but one which he had never had the pleasure of indulging in, and now never would.

Surprised, Angel felt tears staining his cheeks. He hadn't realized he had begun to cry. The last time he had given in to the indulgence of tears had been four years ago when Buffy had been murdered. Like then, he cried for a lost love, only this time it was for a love that he would never be able to share. He would never be able to tell Willow how he felt. She would never know how grateful he was to have known her, nor would she know just how much he loved her.

Angel was so consumed by his grief he failed to notice the figure standing next to him until he spoke. "She was a beautiful soul. The world will truly miss her." Whistler knelt down beside Angel, removing his hat out of respect. "Destiny had its hand on her shoulder. She was to have done great things."

"She still can, " Angel whispered.

Whistler shook his head. "No, she can't. Her destiny runs with God now."

"No. It doesn't have to be that way." He looked at Whistler, unashamed by the tears in his eyes. "You can bring her back. She doesn't deserve to die this young. She's never done anything but good in her life. It's not fair!"

"You know, you're the last person I ever expected to hear speak so naively. You disappoint me my friend."

"I love her," Angel offered the confession as if it were the key to bringing Willow back.

Whistler stopped smiling, "I know. And so did she."

"How could she know? I never got a chance to tell her."

"She knew in her heart. And where she is now, she knows."

'That's not good enough." Ignoring Whistler, Angel turned his attention back to the body in his arms. He pressed his forehead against hers, marveling at how warm her skin still was. "If only we had stayed in Sunnydale. If only I had talked her out of tracking down Damian. If only I had told her how I felt long ago. We could have been happy together. She would still be alive."

Whistler listened quietly to Angel's fervent regrets and his repetitive mumbled confessions of love. Whistler allowed Angel his time for grieving. It was the least he could do for him.

 

***********************

 

Angel laid in the dark of the room he and Willow had shared. Three days had passed since her death and Angel had spent every moment since then locked in the room. Angel would never have guessed the depth of depression that would begin to consume him. Angel didn't even have the will left to kill himself though it was the only conceivable end to his despair.

Whistler let himself into the hotel room after it became obvious that Angel wasn't going to respond to his knocking. "S'okay man, I'll let myself in." Whistler stepped into the room, taking in the darkness and the immobile figure of Angel on the bed. "Lucky for you I'm a demon and darkness doesn't affect me cause if had tripped over any of this shit you had piled on the floor I'd have to kill you." Whistler stepped over a broken lamp. "Way to trash the room. You do realize of course that you're gonna have to pay for all this."

Angel kept his back turned, ignoring Whistler's approach to the bed. "I've got to say, I've never seen you this bad before bro. Not even when I first came to you." When Angel continued not to answer Whistler pressed on. "You know this isn't how Willow would have wanted things to be right."

Angel tensed up. "No, she wouldn't."

"Well, at least I've got you talking. Look, I've been doing some thinking, and well, I wouldn't do this for anyone but you. You helped me out with the slayer thing all those years ago so I figure I should do something for you." Confused, Angel turned to face Whistler. "It's dangerous though. If you're not careful you can alter the destiny of the world, and I'm not saying this to be melodramatic. I couldn't send you back to save Buffy from being killed- that was part of her destiny- but Willow's death wasn't planned- you can go back and fix that. You've just gotta be sure you don't alter anything else."

"Are you saying you can send me back in time?"

"It's not what you're thinking. It's not like that Back To the Future shit where there's gonna be the past you and the future you and if you meet the world will explode. That's not the way time works. There's only one Angel, one soul. But as time progresses your soul expands as its awareness grows. I can send some of your soul's awareness back to a former you. Your soul of the present will share it's awareness with your past soul, though you won't realize consciously it's happening. Look, the logistics of it are complicated, but basically you'll be able to alter the future by changing the past. If you can tell Willow you love her then she won't face Damian and she won't be killed. The future will be changed for the better, if you ask me."

Angel blinked, the possibilities of what Whistler was proposing not quite sinking in. "You mean I can save Willow's life just by telling her that I love her? But that's easy!" Angel shot up from the bed, bouncing with childlike exuberance. "Well come on, send me back already."

"Hold on their cowboy, it's not that simple. You can't just go back their and declare your love for her the second you see her. I don't even think you'd be able to. Your soul may have a greater awareness but it won't be conscious until the right moment. The time in which fate splits and the path chosen will seal yours and Willow's destiny. Only at that moment will you be able to confess your love to Willow and change the course of fate."

"So basically my soul will just know when the time is right? And what if it doesn't?"

"It's your best chance Angel, I never said it was a perfect solution, it's a gamble. I would think you'd be willing to take it."

"Of course I am, so how do we do this?"

Whistler studied Angel's enthusiastic face. "I can't believe I'm risking this for you. All right, all you need to do is go to sleep. I'll guide your soul into the past. When it's done you'll wake up and if you're successful, well, you'll know."

Angel lay back on the bed. He had never been more anxious to fall asleep in his life. As he began to drift off he realized he hadn't thanked Whistler. 'Thank you Whistler, for everything."

Whistler smiled, "Just don't fail Angel. Willow's counting on you." Those were the last words Angel heard before he fell into sleep.

 

Second Chance (1/?)

 

Sunnydale Cemetery

September 26, 2002

 

Willow stood between Xander and Giles, her eyes locked on the polished black coffin being lowered into the ground. Willow wondered if people thought it was strange that she wasn't crying- after all, it was one of her best friends who was being buried. Well, they could think whatever they wanted. Willow had gotten all her crying over with in private. She was all cried out now, which was just as well because right now she couldn't afford tears. She had to be strong for Xander and Giles. They needed her strength now, and that was more important than indulging in her own feelings of pain and loss.

As the service ended, Willow took hold of both Giles and Xanderís hands and led them away from the graveside. They had walked only a few feet, Xander with tears running down his cheeks and Giles in a sort of shocked silence, when Cordelia joined them.

"Iím so sorry I was late and couldnít be beside you for the service Xander." She stepped forward and he crumpled into her arms, crying on her shoulder. Willow was surprised when Cordelia made not one comment about his tears ruining her expensive Italian jacket. She merely held him in her arms, stroking his back while he indulged in an emotional breakdown.

Willow turned to survey the emptying cemetery with her eyes. She did a double take when she noticed a lone figure standing by the fresh grave. Though his back was to her, Willow recognized the hunched figure as Angel. Without hesitation, Willow moved to join him.

She was half way to the grave when Angel fell to his knees, his hands gripping either side of his head. Willow broke out into a run and was at his side in seconds. Bending down so her face was level with his face, Willow placed a self-conscious hand on his shoulder and stared at his face. He toppled backward, dragging Willow with him, so that they were both seated on the damp earth. His eyes were firmly shut, his lips parted as though he needed to let air in.

"Angel, itís okay. Iím here for you." The words sounded silly even to Willowís own ears but they were all she could think to say. She had no idea how to protect him from the pain Buffyís death must be causing him. She had no idea what to say, so she would just be there for him, wait for him to speak, to tell her what he needed.

Angel opened his eyes slowly. He stared blankly into the distance, seemingly oblivious to her next to him or to her hand on his shoulder. He removed his hands from his head and held them out before him, studying his palms. His study was like that of a man who had escaped death and had to verify life through the flesh and bones of his own body. His eyes roamed downward, taking in his body and clothing, then slowly turning towards her. His eyes were wide, the pupils fully dilated. He looked almost as if he wasnít sure where he was. <I guess Giles isnít the only one whoís still in shock. >

"Willow?" He seemed surprised to see her there, though why she couldnít imagine. "What just happened?"

Willow stared at him doubtfully, not quite sure what he meant. "Iím sorry Angel, I donít know what you mean. Are you talking about Buffyís funeral?"

Angel shook his head, the same dazed expression still on his face. "I just, I donít know what happened. I was standing in front of Buffyís grave, thinking of her and about what a beautiful funeral it was, and then, well, my vision began to blur to the point of I couldnít see anything in front of me. All of a sudden I felt this wrenching in my soul, like I was being torn in two from the inside." Angelís eyes got a faraway look in them, as though he was inside himself, contemplating. "It wasnít painful exactly, I donít know if I can explain how it felt exactly. I think I must have blacked out because once I could see again, you were here and we were on the ground."

Willow stared at Angel with sad, wise eyes. "I donít know Angel, all I can guess is that the day is finally taking its toll on you. Perhaps Buffyís death is finally hitting you. You could be having an emotional overload. Iím not really sure, Iím not an expert on these things. But what I do know is I should get you home."

Angel regarded Willow with a smirk. "You should get me home? Funny, I figured Iíd be the one accompanying you home for protection tonight."

Willow couldnít help but smile back at him, chuckling at their reversal of roles. "Sometimes the protector needs to be protected themselves. And I think you could use a friend right now. We both can." Willow stood up, brushing dirt from the back of her skirt, then reached down to grab Angelís hand and pull him to his feet. She smiled at Angel, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes ĎNow Angel, first things first. Will this be your place or mine."

Angel laughed loudly, glad that he wouldnít have to spend the night alone, fighting his inner demons and wallowing in his misery. Wrapping his arm around Willowís shoulders they made their way towards the waiting figures of Xander, Giles and Cordelia. "Lead the way milady, the choice is yours."

 

 

Second Chances (2/?)

 

Willow's House

 

Willow decided it was best if they skipped the reception at Mrs. Summer's house after the funeral. Though she had managed to get Angel smiling, she knew he was in a delicate state and that being around people, especially people sitting around remembering Buffy, wasn't the best therapy for him right now. They said good bye to Xander, Giles and Cordelia at the cemetery and went over to Willowís house.

After verifying her parents hadnít returned from their business trip early, Willow led Angel up to her room. Willow waved her arm as sign for Angel to make himself at home while she kicked off her heels and tried to make herself more comfortable. Willow sighed as her feet were set free from the binding leather of her Italian heels. <Ah, the price women pay to be beautiful. I never thought Iíd fall victim to it, but those shoes are just so cute. Too bad they make me feel like Iím a victim of Chinese foot binding whenever I wear them. >

Willow pulled grabbed some clothing from the open suitcase on the bed and made her way to the bathroom "Just give me a sec to change Angel. Iím afraid these stockings will become a second skin if I keep them on one minute more." With a fast smile she exited the room, leaving Angel standing in the middle of the room, hands in his pockets. Angelís gaze couldnít help but wander down to take in Willowís shapely legs as she walked out. <The last year certainly has been good for Willow. > Embarrassed by his own lecherous thoughts, Angel turned his gaze Willowís childhood room. His eyes traveled over dresser tops and bookcases, his mind marveling at how familiar this room was to him even though it had been 3 years since his last visit.

Angel stood in front of Willowís dresser, surveying the clutter as if it held hidden revelations of this enigmatic woman he couldnít get out of his mind. During the drive to her house, Angel had been captivated by the changes he could see both on and underneath the surface. As they chatted about their lives for the past 3 years, getting reacquainted, Angel had been amused and bewildered by a woman whom he realized he would have to get to know all over again. The girl who had left Sunnydale, still a bit naïve despite all she had seen during her friendship with the slayer, was gone. In her place was a confident, charming, beautiful woman. The idea of rediscovering Willow Rosenberg excited him and distracted him from the melancholy thoughts that haunted the edges of his mind, threatening to send him into despair. Fiddling with the various cosmetics strewn over the dresser top, Angel pushed the threatening emotions into the recesses of his mind and decided to concentrate on renewing an old friendship, one that could possibly save him from himself.

Willow reentered the room dressed in a pair of jeans and a black sweater with a plunging neckline that caused Angelís eyes to linger on the pale flesh exposed by it. Smiling, Willow disentangled Angelís fingers from a tube of lipstick and led him over to the bed. Shoving her open suitcase over, Willow and Angel settled onto the bed, their thighs and knees touching. Angel tensed, hyper aware of every point of contact between their bodies, his eyes returning to the neckline of her sweater. <My, my, my, it looks like little Willow has done a lot more than emotional growth these past few years. > A rush of shame filled Angel over his thoughts. This was Willow he was thinking about, not to mention the fact that it was the day of his loveís funeral. <Can't get more sleazy than that. >

Willow, seemingly oblivious to the racy nature and self-condemnation of Angelís thoughts, was speaking and Angel forced himself to bring his eyes up to her face and listen to her words. "Ö as I said before, I wasnít sure if youíd show up to the funeral or not. I told Mrs. Summerís it would be best if it was held at night in case you wanted to come but, well, no one had heard from you since it had happened so I wasnít sure. I kind of hoped you would show up though. Itís no good for you to be alone at a time like this andÖ" Willow blushed softly as she realized sheíd been babbling for awhile "am I being totally insensitive by talking about this now. We donít have to, I mean, we can always talk about, well, something else. Iíd understand if you didnít want to think or talk about, you knowÖ it"

Angel sighed, his voice heavy with sadness. ĎI was kind of hoping we could skip over this part, you know, where we both talk about how much we miss Buffy, and how much we loved her, cause then Iíd probably end up crying and well, call me old-fashioned but I donít really like to do that in front of women. Most guyís from my century tend not to like that."

Willow smirked, "Guys from this century donít either. Must be something in the genes." Willow cocked her head to the side, her long hair falling around her like a veil as she studied Angelís face. "We donít have to talk about Buffy if you donít want to. Iíve done all my crying over her death. Itís something I knew would happen someday, though I have to admit I never imagined it would be so soon. If Iíd known Iíd have neverÖ" Willow broke off mid-sentence, chuckling to herself, "there I go talking about her when I just agreed we didnít have to. So, Iím going to leave conversation up to you. You pick the conversation now. Whatever you want to talk about, or not talk about for that matter, is entirely up to you." Willow shifted her position on the bed slightly. Now she was leaning back against the mountain of pillows that framed the bed, but her leg was still pressed against Angelís, a fact that didnít escape his notice.

"Well, how about we talk about you."

Willow looked surprised. "Me? What about me?"

"Well, for one thing you can tell me where the Willow Rosenberg we all knew and loved has gone. Not that Iím complaining," he rushed on when he saw her beginning to open her mouth, presumably to deny his statements. "Now donít go jumping to conclusions Willow. You look beautiful, as Iím sure you know. Not that thatís what I mean. You were always beautiful, even if guys were too dumb in high school to realize it, except Oz of course." A strange expression Angel couldnít quite read flickered across her face when he said that. He knew her and Oz had broken up 2 years earlier and he wondered if the expression had to do with her missing him. He couldnít be sure.

"But thereís something else. Youíve grown up Willow. YouíreÖ" Angel struggled for the words to describe what he meant without coming off as insulting. "Well, youíre grown up, I suppose. Youíre more open, carefree even. At least it seems that way from what Iíve seen so far." Willow blushed and Angel realized with a shock that he was flirting. He hadnít meant for that to sound so forward, though he couldnít deny that he was very attracted to Willow and it wasnít her obvious beauty. There was an inner glow to her, one that had always been there only now it was stronger, more penetrating. It made Angel sit up and take notice. She exuded warmth that wrapped around him and gave him comfort. It was quite peaceful to be in her presence. Watching her now, deep red coloring invading her pale cheeks, Angel felt an overwhelming urge to reach over and caress her cheek. Her full lips beckoned his.

"Well, Angel, it has been 3 years since weíve seen each other. I mean, Iím 21. I would hope that Iíve done some growing up since you knew me. I hope youíre not expecting some grand tale of an incident that sparked the changes in me, cause there isnít one." Willow paused for a moment and Angel waited for her to continue. "I suppose life just changed me. Living on the hellmouth changed me in that it made me bolder and surer of myself. I was forced to confront feelings and situations I never had before. Yet even then I never had to do anything alone. I always had Xander and Buffy with me. We took care of each other. Then, when I left for MIT and Xander went away to Penn State, and Buffy stayed here, well, I was finally alone. I had to take care of myself, without either of their protection. Itís not like Iíve had to face any demons while in Boston," Angel couldnít help but smile back at this "but Iíve had to face life, normal life, and Iíve had to do it on my own. That kind of situation would change anyone. So, here I am. Willow Rosenberg, new and improved, for better or for worse."

This time Angel didnít suppress his urge to reach out to her. Leaning forward, he pulled her into his arms. He wanted to comfort her, the way she had years ago when things had been going badly for him and Buffy. Sheíd been there for him then, and sheíd been there for him tonight at the cemetery. Now it was his turn. He slipped a hand underneath her hair, cupping her head towards him till her cheek lay against his shoulder. He moved closer until her body fit perfectly against his. She wrapped her arms around him, closing her eyes when he began to stroke the top of her head. "Definitely for better Willow."

 

******************

Vampiric instinct forced Angel up an hour before sunrise. Past experience had taught Angel to always make sure he was well protected from the sunís deadly rays before allowing himself to fall asleep, and if he was asleep he always managed to wake up before the sunrise. He'd programmed himself to be cautious and it had saved his life more than once. One look at the huge bay window reminded him that he had better get going if he wanted to make it back to his apartment in time.

Reluctantly, Angel sat up, being careful as he disentangled himself from Willowís sleeping body. Since he didnít want to wake her, it took him awhile to free himself from Willowís arms, which were wrapped around his waist tightly. Angel found himself staring at Willowís face. It was hard for most people to let go of their emotions while sleeping, but Willow seemed to have no trouble. Her expression was one of the most peaceful he had ever seen. All tears from earlier that night were gone. Her breathing was slow and steady, her lips curved in a slight smile.

Theyíd only fallen asleep less than an hour earlier. The entire night and early morning had been spent lying in bed, their faces so close he had been able to feel her words more than hear them. Nothing had happened, at least not anything like what his fantasies of early that evening had been urging him to do. Something else had happened, something even more magical, or at least Angel thought so.

Last night had been the first night he had ever truly opened up to a woman, without any reservations. Angel wasnít sure what had happened. All he knew was that, without realizing it, he was telling Willow every secret he had held locked up in his heart. And she was doing the same. He had told her all about his family, and she had told him about hers. They talked about past heartaches, him listening quietly as Willow poured out her heart, telling him about her recent break up with a fellow MIT student named Julian. Willow had believed that he had been the one she was meant to spend the rest of her life with, but they had broken up less than a month ago when she found him in, as she put it, the most "soap opera cliched situation in history- in bed with my roommate." In his mind, Angel had imagined the slow torturous death he would inflict on this guy for breaking Willowís heart, but he merely held her, allowing her to cry on his shoulder.

Theyíd talked about Buffy but the real breakthrough had come when he told her everything he had gone through during his time in Hell. Not since he had returned had Angel spoken of that time. His mind had shut down whenever Buffy had brought up the subject. He had never been able to deal with that time, and so she had never known what he had gone through. But he told Willow. They had been laughing over an anecdote involving Xanderís last visit to MIT when he had started to tell her about it. Once he started to talk about it he couldnít stop, and Willow had been so supportive, taking in his pain as if it were her own, that he hadnít wanted to stop.

He told her everything. She was now the one person alive, living or dead, who knew him as well as he knew himself. <It felt so right, lying besides her, telling her everything. I never knew I could feel that way. To be so free, just from sharing myself with another person. I donít think I can ever thank her for what sheís done for me. >

He covered Willow with the blanket lying at the foot of the bed, brushing a strand of hair off of her face and stepped back, away from the bed.

Perhaps it was the fact that he was no longer touching her, no longer felt the burning warmth of her skin, or perhaps it was the rising sun that cleared his mind, but as he stood over her, fear trickled in to his heart. There was something wrong with the way he was feeling. The first light of the day was illuminating his emotions, and their strength scared him. He didnít want to leave her, not now, not ever. His heart was aching at the thought. Yet, right beside that was guilt. It hadnít been there before because he hadnít thought through the implications of their night together. But it was here now. Here he was, only a week after Buffyís death, spending the night with another woman, hurting because he was leaving that other woman. And not just any woman. This one was Buffyís best friend, his friend. He was betraying Buffy in the oldest and worst way imaginable.

He loved Buffy still and she didnít deserve to have him feeling whatever it was that he was feeling. He had to stop it, before it was too late. With that thought he turned and left, fleeing from Willow and the power she had over his heart. He ran home, trying to forget her touch and the sound of her voice. He filled his thoughts with Buffy, and prayed to a god he wasnít sure existed to release him from the fold Willow had on him, praying, also, that it wasnít too late.

 

 

Second Chances (3/?)

 

New York City

October 24, 2004

 

Switching off her computer, Willow slipped into her jacket and gathered up her stuff. She was anxious to get out of the office, which was a rarity for Willow. Although most people hated their jobs and were anxious for the 5:00 whistle to set them free, Willow actually enjoyed her job. Loved it in fact. She supposed that if she was working in a field she hated then she'd be like most people. However, not only was Willow working for one of the most successful computer companies in the world, at 23 she was the fastest rising employee in the history of the company. She'd already been made a Junior VP after less than a year with the company, and it wouldn't be long before Willow rose even higher.

Today was different though. In less than twenty minutes Willow was to meet Kaitlyn in Washington Square Park so they could go shopping for their Halloween costumes. They were cutting it short and it was mostly Willow's fault. She just couldn't make up her mind. She knew that her outfit had to be perfect for Robert's party on Friday night. <Maybe Kaitlyn's right and I should just get that Mae West costume we saw at Ruby's. It looked great on me, and those slits up the sides are sure to make Robert sit up and take notice. >

Caught up in her fantasies of Robert, Willow made her way through the office towards the elevators, absently saying good night to her co-workers. <Let's see. Should Robert and I spend our honeymoon in Greece or the Cayman islands? >

Willow was so caught up in her fantasy that when the elevator opened onto the 20th floor and Robert stepped in to the elevator Willow thought it was part of her fantasy and she almost wrapped her arms around him and kissed him hello. Fortunately some shred of sanity held her back and saved her from total embarrassment and the hardship of having to leave the country and find a job in Burma.

"Willow! Just the woman I wanted to see." Robert's eyes crinkled up as he smiled that heart-stopping smile that made him the number one most fantasized about guy in the office. Willow knew for a fact that the girls in accounting kept the picture of his from the company newsletter posted on their department bulletin board. What, with this smoldering hazel eyes, sable soft hair that was a color that could only be described as golden, and cheekbones to die for it wasn't hard to see why. Add on top of that his lithe, muscled body and you had yourself the perfect dream guy to wile away those long workdays.

Willow tried to cover up her staring by speaking, "Let me guess. You have a deadline coming up and you want me to help you meet it."

Robert's smile got even wider and more adorable, causing Willow's heart to flutter inside her chest. "How is it you always know what I'm thinking? You know, one of these days, or nights, you're gonna have to tell me how you can read my mind like that."

Willow felt herself blushing at his flirting. Not that it was unexpected. There wasn't a girl in the office, or New York City for that matter, whom Robert didn't flirt with. It was almost second nature to him, and Willow knew it. Still, that didn't stop her from holding on to the hope that with her it was different, that he meant it when he flirted with her.

"Maybe it's just that every time you have some project due you come to me and beg me to help you finish it. Just to take a wild stab at it." Pushing past Robert, Willow made her way towards the building parking lot.

Robert hurried to keep in step with her. "You got me there. But can I help it if you're the most brilliant woman I've ever met. Plus, when you help me with my work I get to spend the night alone with a beautiful woman. What more could a guy ask for?"

Willow fumbled with the keys to her BMW, almost dropping them at his words.

"So, why are you in such a hurry. I figured you'd be in the office for at least another hour or two. Hot date?" His eyes twinkled as he teased her, a lock of silky hair falling across his forehead. Willow had to suppress the urge to brush it back for him.

"Sure, if you consider a night with Kaitlyn to be a hot date." Willow swore to herself even as the words were coming out. <God forbid you let him think you were going out with a guy Willow. Oh no, he has to know just how pathetic your love life is. >

Robert just kept on smiling. "I wonder if Kaitlyn knows how lucky she is, getting to spend the evening with you? Hey, you two are coming to my Halloween party next week right?"

Willow merely nodded, not trusting her brain to come up with a clever response. Robert stepped forward until Willow was backed up against the car door and there was less than a foot between them. "That's good. The party wouldn't be complete without you there." Willow's breath caught in her throat as he leaned forward, lowering his voice to a seductive purr as he whispered into her ear "Kaitlyn may have you for tonight, but next Friday you're mine." As he pulled back, his lips brushed against Willow's cheek in the softest of kisses. Before Willow's mind could process what had just happened, Robert turned and ran back into the building.

Collapsing into the driver's seat, Willow checked out her reflection in the rearview mirror. Just as she suspected, her face was flushed fire engine red, her chest heaving with each breath. Willow couldn't help but smile as she pulled out of the parking lot. She hadn't felt this exhilarated or this excited in years. <Yep, definitely going with the Mae West costume. >

Caught up in her fantasies of Robert and the upcoming party, Willow failed to notice the figure standing in the corner of the parking lot, watching quietly as her car turned onto Madison Avenue.

 

Second Chances (4/?)

 

Willow's Apartment

October 31, 2004 9:00 PM

 

"Now be honest Kaitlyn. Tell me what you really think cause if you lie to me and I show up to the party looking foolish, I'll have to kill you."

"Come on Will," Kaitlyn whined, flinging herself backwards on to the bed. "I already promised to tell you how beautiful you look, so stop hiding in that closet and come out here and prove me right."

Willow placed her cheek against the cold plaster of the door, enjoying the closed off darkness and feeling of safety the tiny closet provided. <Maybe staying in here all night isn't such a bad idea. >

"Ow," Willow cried out.

Kaitlyn shot up from the bed, "What's wrong?"

"I just stepped on a pair of my high heels, "Willow whimpered, bending down to nurse her injured heel. As Kaitlyn laughed softly, Willow stumbled out of the closet. <There goes my perfect, safe hiding place. >Willow smiled wryly as she limped across the bedroom to stand self consciously in front of Kaitlyn. "So what's the verdict? Do I make a sexy Mae West or am I staying home tonight and eating all of the trick or treater's candy?"

Kaitlyn glared at Willow disapprovingly. "You look incredible, same as you did a week ago when you tried it on at Ruby's. I wish you would stop worrying so much. Didn't you tell me Robert said tonight was his night to have you? That's pretty much a date, in my humble opinion."

Willow sank onto the edge of the bed just as Kaitlyn rose. As she moved the chimes of her belt tinkled, filling the room with it's oddly pleasant sound. "Kaitlyn, you know as well as I do that Robert was just saying that because he knew it would get to me." Willow studied Kaitlyn's costume. "Maybe I should have gotten the belly dancer costume like you."

Kaitlyn grabbed Willow's jewelry box and brought it over to the bed. "Actually, I'm starting to regret wearing it myself. With these sheer pants and top, I might as well be wearing nothing at all."

"Well, you look great." Willow professed truthfully. Kaitlyn's body was curvy enough that the sheer netting of her costume flowed around her body, accentuating her figure. Though Willow's figure was no longer as tree trunk slim as it had been in high school, she was nowhere bear as voluptuous as Kaitlyn. "I'm glad you're Robert's sister and not more competition for me 'cause in that outfit there'd be no contest."

As Kaitlyn smiled, the sides of her eyes crinkling, Willow was struck by how much Kaitlyn and Robert resembled each other. Besides the same killer smile, they shared the same hazel eyes, tan skin, and golden hair. Kaitlyn's long luxurious locks fell down her back in a shower of curls that left Willow wishing her own hair had some of that body. It was funny how Willow wished for Kaitlyn's curls while Kaitlyn was always telling Willow how much she envied Willow her long straight hair. Kaitlyn had already declared the hair salon forbidden territory for Willow. 'It would be a crime to cut off such beautiful hair," Kaitlyn had declared on numerous occasions.

Despite their physical differences, Willow and Kaitlyn were actually quite similar. They had met the same week Willow had moved to New York and started her new job. Kaitlyn had come to the office to pick Rob up for dinner with their parents. Called away to a last minute meeting, Robert had left Kaitlyn with Willow to keep her company. He returned an hour later to find the two girls had become fast friends. The range of their interests, from computers, to class films, to their secret passion for Stephen King novels had given them their instant connection. The next few weeks they had spent most of their free time getting to know each other, their friendship growing stronger each day. During that time, Willow began to recognize a Kaitlyn's overwhelming similarity to Buffy. She shared Buffy's confidence and razor sharp wit, yet underneath there was a vulnerability that not many people got to see. But, above all, there was a strong sense of loyalty, one that kept their friendship strong. No matter what happened, Kaitlyn would always be there for Willow. Their friendship was one Willow would be eternally grateful for. Besides Buffy, Kaitlyn was the best girlfriend she had ever had. Willow hadn't realized how much she had missed having a close girlfriend.

Kaitlyn cleared her throat, drawing Willow's attention, "So, have you heard from Xander lately?" Kaitlyn stared at the bedspread, her eyes boring into the floral pattern.

Willow couldn't help but laugh. It never failed. Whenever Willow talked to either of them they always asked about the other. Ever since Willow had introduced the two of them during Xander's visit to NY a few months back, they had been smitten with each other. During that one week the two of them had bickered more than Xander and Cordy had in their entire four year relationship. And much like Xander and Cordy, the mutual attraction underneath their arguing had been plainly evident to Willow. It had come as no surprise when Xander spent his last night in NY at Kaitlyn's apartment. It was too bad they were both so self-conscious they couldn't talk to each other. They were both so afraid of getting hurt they refused to call, and so Willow remained their faithful go between.

Willow stood in front of her vanity, carefully applying her makeup. "As a matter of fact, he called just the other night. He says he's thinking of moving to New York. Says he doesn't want to continue at UCLA for his graduate degree and may apply to NYU. He says they've got the best film department in the country." Willow snuck a look at Kaitlyn's reflection in the mirror.

"Well, wouldn't that be great. Then you'd get to see him more often." Kaitlyn tried to keep her voice cool but her face betrayed her excitement at the prospect of Xander living in NY.

As much as Willow would have loved to take the opportunity to tease Kaitlyn, Willow found herself thinking about how nice it would be to once again live close to Xander. "Yeah, it would almost be like old times. Sometimes it's hard to live so far away from him. He's my oldest friend in the world. I mean, we grew up with each other. Even though we've both been living away from Sunnydale for almost 7 years, it seems like only yesterday we were hanging out at the Bronze." Willow smiled in reminiscence. "We used to go there just about every night in high school. Me, him, Buffy, Cordelia, Oz, Ang..." Willow busied herself with applying blush to her cheeks. "Um, I mean, sometimes I miss those old days. So, I'm just about ready here."

Willow held her breath, hoping Kaitlyn would realize she was trying to change the subject. Willow had told Kaitlyn about Angel long ago, so she knew it was a sensitive subject with Willow. What she didn't know was how not a day went by that Willow didn't think about him, in some form or context. Though Willow hadn't seen or heard from him since the night of Buffy's funeral, almost two years ago, the feelings Willow had begun to develop for him that night had yet to fade. They were feelings that Willow preferred to repress than deal with, but they were there nonetheless. Talking about them would just bring them to the surface, and Willow did not want to do that. <Just think about Robert and how excited he makes you feel; that'll stop any thoughts of Angel. Those bad thoughts of how gorgeous he looked that night, asleep on my bed when he didn't know I was watching, the way his hair was...Bad Willow! Wrong thoughts. >

Kaitlyn, being her usual perceptive yet pushy self, recognized Willow's attempt to change the subject and refused to comply. "Ah, Angel, the god of your idolatry. I was wondering if you'd forgotten about him. You haven't brought him up in awhile."

Now it was Willow's turn to avoid Kaitlyn's gaze. She studied the glossy wood of her dresser top. "No, I haven't."

"So, you still haven't heard from him? Not even a phone call or a letter? I mean, you'd think he'd want you to at least know he was okay. Men," Kaitlyn sneered.

Willow's mind protested at Kaitlyn's negative dismissals of Angel's behavior. "No, he's not like that. He's probably just been mourning Buffy's death. Angel isn't like other guys. He's..." Willow cut her defense short when she saw Kaitlyn's raised eyebrow. 'It's just, you don't know him. He's one of the most sensitive and caring guys I've ever known. Buffy's death destroyed him. I mean, he was ready to kill himself that night."

"So, you stopped him from killing himself, spent the night listening to him pour his heart out to you, and then he leaves without a word, leaving you worried sick on whether or not his okay or not, and now you're gonna make excuses for him?"

"Dumb huh."

"No, just sounds like love."

Willow jerked her head up, 'What?"

Kaitlyn shrugged, "You can deny it all you want Will, but I can tell you're in love with this guy. You've told me how close you two got that night. How much you shared with each other. And now, here it is two years later and you're still thinking about him, making excuses for him. It's a classic case."

Willow kept quiet. She knew she couldn't deny what Kaitlyn was saying. 'You're right Kaitlyn. I fell in love with him that night." Kaitlyn smiled triumphantly. 'But, that was a long time ago. And I think it's pretty obvious that he didn't feel the same way about me. I mean, he couldn't have made himself any clearer. We got too close, he was worried that I was developing feelings for him, and rightly so, and so he left before things could get out of hand." Willow sighed. "It's probably better this way. I just hope that wherever he is he's happy." Willow glanced at the alarm clock by her bed. "Oh no! It's 10:15 already."

Kaitlyn leapt up from the bed. 'The damn village parade is gonna make traffic down here a bitch. We better jet if we want to get to the party by 11. Let's go." Kaitlyn grabbed Willow's hand and began to pull her out the door. As they put their coats on in the living room, Willow heard the phone ring.

"You wanna answer that?' Kaitlyn asked, waiting impatiently by the door.

Willow shook her head, grabbing her keys from the kitchen counter. 'Don't worry about it, the answering machine will get it. It's probably some stupid courtesy call. I get at least one a day. I think I'm on some international mailing list for courtesy calls. Besides, if we're any later some mermaid may get her claws into Robert before I get there, and of course then I'd have to kick some aquatic booty." Laughing, the two girls shut the door and rushed down the hall, chattering excitedly about the night ahead of them.

 

******************

Angel listened to Willow's recorded message, his heart sinking as he realized she wasn't home. He hung up after the beep without leaving a message. <It's probably better that she's not home. What did you think you'd say to her anyway? 'Hi Willow, it's me Angel. Sorry for not calling the past 2 years, but you know how time can fly for a vampire. So, what's new with you.' > No, it was better this way. The phone was too impersonal anyway. He had to see her in person. Even if it was just to have her tell him to get lost, that she didn't want him in her life. That she was happy with that blond boyfriend of hers, the one from the parking lot. <I owe her that much. She deserves to tell me to get lost after the way I left all those years ago. I need to see her, tonight. > With new purpose, Angel got into his car, hoping he'd be able to find Willow sometime that night.

 

 

Second Chances (5/?)

"Is that a gun in you're pocket or are you just glad to see me?"

 

The moment Willow stepped out of the elevator her ears were assaulted by the sounds of Robert's expensive stereo system as a popular rap song Willow vaguely recognized played. Willow's rib cage ached as the stereo's bass pounded through her body. <Thank God Robert's not one of my neighbors or I'd have to move, no matter how cute he is. >

Kaitlyn gave Willow's hand a quick squeeze of encouragement before pushing the apartment door open. Willow's eyes widened as she took in the party scene before her. Every imaginable costume seemed to be represented in Robert's apartment. There were the typical ghosts and vampires along with more creative endeavors. Willow saw a woman sporting an elaborate gown that looked straight out of the 17th century next to a guy wearing a black suit to which he had pinned law briefs <Law suit, oh brother. > Willow couldn't help but smile.

What amazed Willow more than the costumes was the apartment itself. Even through the massive collection of bodies and dim lighting, the apartment's size and furnishings took Willow's breath away. Willow had never been to Robert's apartment before, though she should have known what to expect from his swanky upper east side address. The building in and of itself was impressive, what with its 34 stories and elaborately decorated lobby with its impeccably dressed doormen. Still, Willow wasn't prepared for the apartment.

The door opened onto an impressive foyer that widened into the living room. Willow eyed the stereo system that contained more than Willow's CD Player/tape deck system at home. Willow couldn't even identify half of the black boxes stacked on the wooden stereo rack. <My God, he has a fireplace. There's a fireplace in his apartment! I didn't even know NY apartments could have fireplaces. And look at that- he has a chandelier. Our old house in Sunnydale never had a chandelier. I thought those were made only for ballrooms in huge mansions. And look at those art prints on the wall. I think that may be a real Warhol. >

While Willow was standing in the center of the room gawking at the elaborate furnishings, Robert came up behind Willow and slipped an arm around her waist. Startled, Willow jumped, slipping out from Robert's grip. "Robert, hi."

"Willow." Robert smiled a slow, breathtaking smile that got Willow's heart beating faster. Robert looked dazzling in his costume, that of the classic vampire. He was dressed entirely in black, his long satin cape falling gracefully around his shoulders. When he smiled, his teeth looked extra white against the black of his clothing. His hair, which usually fell in loose waves around his face, was slicked back with gel, accentuating his angular cheekbones. The entire effect was stunning, and Willow couldn't think of anyone who had ever made a vampire costume look sexier. "I'm so glad you're here. For a second there, I thought maybe Kaitlyn had talked you into not coming. I was dreaming up punishments for her just before you arrived."

Kaitlyn rewarded Robert with one of her classic withering gazes. "What's wrong brother, afraid I was telling her stories about you, putting a cramp in your Mr. Charmer act."

Robert moved forward to slip an arm around Willow's shoulders, pulling her against him. "Oh, I think Willow's smart enough not to believe your tall tales, Sis."

Willow tensed up the moment Robert's arm went around her shoulder. She was hyperaware of his skin against hers, of the gentle motion of his fingers against her shoulder blade. He played with the spaghetti straps of her dress, fingering the thin straps gently. Every brush of his fingers against her skin sent shivers of electric fire through her body. Willow's mind battled for control, trying to concentrate on what Robert and Kaitlyn was saying but she found it incredibly difficult.

Before Willow could pull herself together to concentrate on the conversation, Kaitlyn had walked away, leaving Willow alone with Robert. "I donít believe Iíve told you how beautiful you look in your costume."

Willow flushed with pleasure over his compliment. "Thanks, you look great too."

Robert dropped his voice and took on a Rumanian accent "Do vampires turn you on little Willow."

Robertís comment was innocent enough, but it through Willow off balance. An image of Angel, the way he had looked the last time Willow had seen him, popped into Willowís mind. Robert, a teasing light reflecting in his eyes, didnít seem to notice Willowís discomfort. "How about a dance? You wouldnít disappoint me now would you?" Without waiting for an answer, Robert pulled Willow into his arms. Willow automatically slipped her arms up behind Robertís neck. She wasnít able to enjoy how close she was to Robert. Her thoughts were stuck on Angel.

Despite her attraction to Robert, Willow missed Angel. She would have given anything to know where he was, to know he was safe. Sometimes Willow imagined Angel showing up one day in New York City. Just walking into her office one night or knocking on her apartment door. Willow was able to romanticize their reunion on her head, a luxury she afforded herself since she had no real hopes of him actually appearing. It was all just a silly fantasy to her. In reality, Willow had no idea what she would say if Angel showed up out of the blue. She may romanticize the memory of him, but she had no idea how she felt about the flesh and blood Angel.

"Earth to Willow." Willow looked up to find Robert looking down at her. Wrapped up in her thoughts, Willow had quite frankly forgotten about Robert.

"Iím sorry, I must have spaced out there. I guess Iíve just got a lot on my mind."

Robert pulled Willow closer, so that their bodies were in contact. Her body responded to his, melting to fit herself into his frame. Her bodyís visceral response to Robert confused Willow more. Now her thoughts of Angel, of her past feelings for him, were mixed up with her very real and present reaction to Robertís nearness.

"Good to know it wasnít me making you distant. A guy could get discouraged." Robert ran his palm up and down the small of Willowís back. "Now, what can I do to get your mind to join me and your body here." Robert lowered his face to meet Willowís and she realized he was planning to kiss her. <Donít think about Angel. Angelís gone. He left you. Robertís here, right now, and he wants you. Angel never did. >

Their lips met and Willow frantically pushed her thoughts aside, giving in to the feeling of being with Robert. His lips were demanding, urging her to open her mouth so he could slip his tongue in to her mouth.

Willow closed her eyes and granted him the access he desired. Part of her couldnít believe this moment she had been fantasizing about for the past year, quite literally since the day she had met him, was actually happening. The other part of her mind was telling her to stop thinking and go with the moment. Willow was following the advice Buffy had given her all those years ago. It was time to seize the day.

Robertís kisses matched his personality. They were forceful, demanding, but not in a bad way. Willow had learned the hard way not to depend on a guy for anything. She knew how to be independent. Still, it was nice to surrender control for awhile, to allow Robert to control both of their wills.

Robert pulled away suddenly, looking over Willowís head at someone. Disappointed, Willow realized someone had interrupted them. A pirate Willow vaguely recognized as one of Robertís friends, stood behind her. ĎYo, sorry Rob man, but you told me to let you know if anyone tried to go upstairs and well, some people did."

Robert glared at his friend. "No, Mark, I told you to stop anyone who tried to go upstairs."

Mark looked confused. "Oh."

Robert muttered a curse under his breath. "I better go take care of this. Iím sorry Willow, price you pay for being the host of a party like this. Iíll be right back." He planted a quick kiss on her lips before going off with mark the pirate. Willow stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, dawning embarrassment holding her motionless. Willow realized for the first time that her and Robert had been the center of several peopleís attention during their very public display of affection. She noticed a couple of girls giving her dirty looks from their spot by the buffet table. <Well, well, well, jealous much. >

Willow scanned the room for Kaitlyn. Unable to locate her, Willow grabbed a beer from a nearby ice chest and wandered over to the huge picture window across the room. Willow couldnít remember the last time she had seen a view quite like this. The NYC skyline was really quite breathtaking.

Standing by herself, Willow took the opportunity to try to sort out her jumbled feelings. She wondered how things had gotten so complicated. Yesterday thereíd been no questions needing any answers, except for if Robert liked her or not. Otherwise, Willow had known that Robert was the guy she wanted to be with. He was all she thought about. Even though she had never forgotten Angel, and still thought about him, those feelings had never detracted from her feelings for Robert. Only now they were threatening to unbalance Willow. Nothing had changed in her life except now Willow was wondering if maybe Kaitlyn was right. Maybe she was in love with Angel.

<So what if I am. Heís not here, and heís not in love with me. Besides, Iím in love with Robert. Or at least I could be, once I get to know him better. I can be happy with him as long as I forget about Angel. Angel is the past. Robert is the future. >

Willow found herself slightly comforted by her own inner ramblings. Truly nothing had changed except she had allowed herself to indulge in secret fantasies and desires that could never and would never come true. On the other hand, her relationship with Robert had made a 180-degree turn. Gone was the inconclusive flirting of a few days ago. Robert was clearly interested in her as more than a colleague or a friend or as some girl to flirt with playfully. They were moving forward, perhaps into a relationship, and Willow was ready for it.

Arms embraced Willow from behind. Turning her head upwards, Willow gazed into Robertís golden eyes. "Iím back beautiful."

Willow leaned up to brush a kiss to his lips, delight evident in his eyes. "Iím glad."

 

************************

Angel felt out of place at the party. Halloween always made him uncomfortable, especially after that Halloween where Gilesís old friend had turned everyone in Sunnydale into their costumes, yet even before that, dressing up as ghouls had never appealed to Angel. But tonight it was necessary for Angel to blend in. He adjusted the cape on his shoulders, feeling silly in his vampire paraphernalia. He only wore it cause he thought Willow might get a kick out of the irony. It would be worth it to hear Willowís delightful laugh.

He spotted her by the window, absently sipping from a can of beer, apparently lost in thought. His eyes roamed over her costume, taking in her red velvet hat, then slowly traveling down to study the red sequined dress, his eyes widening at her bare shoulders and the considerable amount of leg the slits in the dress revealed. Angel remembered the way her legs had looked that night in her room, the way theyíd made every rational thought fly out of his head. Those memories paled in comparison to seeing her live and up close. She was, if possible, even more beautiful than he remembered her. His eyes devoured her pale skin with the light blue veins glowing faintly beneath her skin. Her hair, as red as pigeons blood, hung down her back like a cape. Angel wondered if it was soft as he remembered. Her eyebrows were bent in concentration, the way they always did when she was thinking, a trait Angel found incredibly endearing. It made him want to lean over and brush kisses over her brow bone.

Two years without her, and now here she was, same as he remembered her, only more so. More beautiful, more real. She was less than 10 feet away from him. He could reach her in 5 steps and touch her silky hair. He could hold her in his arms, talk to her, tell her how much he had missed her. He knew she would understand. She would forgive him, and things would be right again.

He started to approach her when a handsome blond, the same guy from the parking lot, joined Willow by the window, pulling her into his arms. Angel watched with a sinking heart as the two cuddled in each other's arms. He winced as Willow tilted her head up, beckoning the guy to kiss her, which of course he did. They stayed locked in an embrace for what seemed like an eternity to Angel. In that time, Angelís hopes disappeared, slipping out of his hands as a handful of sand. <What was I thinking? Sheís in love, she has a boyfriend. She doesnít need me in her life, as a friend or otherwise. >

Angel thanked whatever fate there was for stopping him from revealing himself and causing unnecessary trouble. It was best if he didnít talk to Willow. She obviously had a new life and a new guy. His reappearance in her life would only serve to disrupt things. Angel pushed his way through the crowd toward the door. When he finally reached it, he felt compelled to turn back for one last look. The blond was whispering into Willowís ear, and she was laughing, her face lit by her soft smile. Angel couldnít remember seeing her happy. <Thatís the way it should be. She deserves to be happy. > Angel slipped out of the apartment with the image of Willowís brilliant smile in his mind and the overwhelming feeling that he was making a terrible mistake by walking away.

 

Second Chances (6/?)

"But the plans I made still have you in them. Then you come swimming into view."

The Background, by Third Eye Blind

 

June 2, 2005

 

Willow strolled happily along Fifth Avenue, swinging her packages in step with her walking. It was just about summer time, Willowís favorite season, and the beautiful weekend weather elevated Willowís mood a few degrees higher.

<Summertime in New York, could there be anything more beautiful. > Willow smiled at the irony of her thoughts. Willow had grown to love New Yorkís crowds and she didn't even mind the incessant heat of the summertime. During the day the temperature had only gotten to a high of 68 degrees with the sun shinning pleasantly, not incessantly. The day had been perfect for shopping, and now the evening was perfect for doing some aimless wandering.

Willow stopped at the corner to study her To Do list. She and Kaitlyn had accomplished a lot that day. Theyíd gone everywhere from Harry Winstons to Bloomingdales. The majority of their day had been spent in the bridal registry office of Tiffany and Co. where they had been bombarded with choice after choice of ideal wedding gifts. Willow couldnít even remember half the things they had chosen though they had all been breathtaking. Of course, Willow would have been just as happy registering at Bed, Bath and Beyond, but Kaitlyn and Robertís family came from old money. Somehow, she couldnít picture their friends and relatives doing their shopping at such a quaint store.

<Iím going to be married. Iím marrying Robert in less than a month. > Willow found herself constantly having to remind herself that she was, in fact, going to be married; that it wasnít a dream. Of course, saying it was never quite enough to satisfy Willow. She held out her left hand, smiling at the way the diamonds of her engagement ring caught the light, sparkling magically.

Sometimes Willow felt like pinching herself to make sure the last 6 months hadnít been a dream. Ever since Halloween, the night of Robertís party, the night Willowís life had changed forever, Willow had felt like she was living a dream. That night had been one of the greatest in Willowís life. That night, her dream of being with Robert, of him having the same feelings for her as she had for him, came true. And from that night on, they had been inseparable. Theyíd started out by spending their lunch hour together. Soon, there was hardly a Saturday night that went by that they didnít have a date. The more time they spent together, the more serious they got about each other. Robert grew out of his anti-monogamous ways and dedicated himself to his relationship with Willow. He still flirted with other girls, Willow knew sheíd never be able to change those particular spots of his, but it lacked itís previous seriousness and innuendo.

In February, Robert had asked Willow to move in with him. A month later, during their five month anniversary dinner, Robert had asked Willow to marry him. By that point, Willow had fallen head over heels in love with Robert. Her fears that her attraction to him had been purely physical, that their relationship would end after the sex stopped being new, was unfounded. Underneath Robertís overly confident, playful exterior, Willow had discovered a guy who was as unsure of himself as Willow had been when she was 16. There was a childlike vulnerability in Robert that touched Willowís heart. He was one of the most gentle and caring men she had ever known. He was Willowís dream come true.

Willow glanced at her watch. She still had an hour until she had to meet Robert at the 68th Street Sony Theater for their date. Through some incredibly fancy talking, Willow had convinced Robert to take her to see the re-release of Gone With The Wind, complete with previously lost footage. Willow was a sucker for romantic epics though she understood Robertís reluctance in sitting through the expanded version of a romantic girl's film that was already incredibly long. Still, in the end Robert had given in, as Willow had known he would. Robert never denied Willow anything she wished.

Willow debated going home to take a shower or stopping off at her favorite restaurant for a quick bite to eat. <Food or shower, food or shower. Theyíre both so equally appealing. > Willow debated the issue till she got to her car, the rumbling in her stomach making the decision for her.

Twenty minutes later, Willow was seated at a window booth at Silver Spurs, sipping a vanilla milk shake, enjoying the array of sights the village at night always had to offer.

At first, Willowís eyes passed over the figure of a man walking past the window. Willow didnít pay him any particular attention until she began to get a sense of familiarity about the way he walked. It tugged at her mind, bothering her as she stared at his back. When he turned and stared right at Willow her heart began to race in recognition. She jumped up from the table and ran outside after him. Stuck at the corner traffic light, Willow caught up with him easily. Breathless, Willow called out, "Angel!"

He tensed at the sound of his name being calling, and Willow knew it was him. He turned slowly to face Willow, his face strained, his shock at seeing her mixed with some other emotion Willow couldnít quite identify.

They stood in the middle of the sidewalk just staring at each other oblivious to the people rushing past them. Willow was in too much shock to think of anything to say, and apparently Angel was in the same situation.

Finally, Willow asked the question that was burning in her mind. "What are you doing here?"

Looking sheepish, though Willow couldnít understand why, Angel replied, "I was just on my way home."

"Whereís home?"

"300 Mercer Street."

Willow gaped open mouthed at Angel. "Mercer Street, as in the Mercer Street 3 blocks from here." Willow processed the information slowly, trying to figure out what exactly it meant. "How long have you been in NY?"

Angel winced. "Iíve been here going on seven months."

Willow formed her next question slowly, reluctant to hear the answer she knew was coming. "Did you know I live in New York now? That Iíve lived here for the past 2 years?"

Angel seemingly at a lose for the appropriate words, nodded.

"You saw me in the restaurant just now, didnít you?"

"Yes, I did."

Willow couldnít stop the tears from forming in her eyes. All she could say was, "I see."

A pained expression crossed Angelís face. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it quickly. Willow, not knowing what else to say, turned to leave.

"Congratulations."

Willow turned back to face him, not caring about the tears openly streaming down her cheeks. "For what."

"Your engagement. I hope you two are happy together."

Willow couldnít read the tone of his voice. He seemed to be filled with emotion, but which one Willow wasnít sure. Willow was too hurt by the implications of all he had said to take the time to analyze him. She just said, "Thank you, we are," Then turned and walked away. Willow quickly paid for her food then hurried back to her car. She refused to see if Angel was still standing at the corner, watching her. She walked away, her mind shutting down from the pain of all he had said and the implications.

 

 

Second Chances (7/?)

"Every breath you take I'll be watching you."

 

Robert knew something was bothering Willow but he respected her privacy and, after her denial that anything was wrong, left the subject alone. Their relationship was built on a strong foundation of trust. He knew that she would come to him with whatever was bothering her when she was ready, and if not then he knew she had good reasons not to. Robert had nothing but the utmost faith in Willow, which made Willow feel even worse for the thoughts she was having.

 

Willow hadnít been able to get her meeting with Angel out of her mind. She replayed the scene in her mind over and over, an endless loop of painful words and implications that tore at Willowís heart. She tried to understand what had been going on during their conversation, what those expressions on Angelís face had meant, but she was at a lose for explanations. All she could think was that he didnít want to see her. He had known she was living in New York, yet he hadnít tried to see her. He hadnít contacted her; he had stayed away from her, on purpose.

 

He didnít want to be friends with her. A friend would have called, stopped by, said hello, anything. But not Angel. He did none of those things, and so he had rejected Willow. She hadnít realized how much that could hurt. To have an old friend reject your friendship. But this was worse. This wasnít just any friend. This was Angel. This was the man who knew more about her than even Xander. This was whom she had let into her soul.

Willow tried to remember back to that one night they had spent together. She had thought the night was meaningful to him too, that he had opened himself up to her as he never had to another woman. Willow had been holding on to that belief for the past four years. Willow could admit now that she had been in love with him after that night. Of course, she was in love with Robert now, but she still had deep feelings for Angel, feelings that were grounded in the belief that he was her confidante and she was his. <Looks like I was fooling myself. Holding on to a night that obviously meant more to me than it did to him. >

Willow got up from the couch and began to pace in front of the apartment's picture window. For the second time that night, tears threatened to spill from Willow's eyes. Afraid that Robert might come out of the shower to find her crumpled on the floor hysterical crying, kept Willow from indulging those tears. Willow didn't want to worry him.

Willow went to switch on the stereo hoping some music would distract her a bit. The radio was set to a lite FM station. Immediately, Willow recognized the song playing as an old Police hit. Sinking back into the leather cushions of the couch, Willow closed her eyes and sang along softly to the song.

"Every move you make, every vow you break, every smile you fake, every claim you stake I'll be watching you. Since you've gone I've been lost without a trace. I dream at night I can only see your face. I look around but it's you I can't replace. I feel so cold and I long for your embrace. I keep crying baby, baby please."

For the first time since their meeting, Willow found herself wondering about Angel's last words to her. When he had congratulated Willow on her engagement, she had been too upset to wonder how exactly he had known about it.

Willow sat up, a glimmer of hope appearing in her heart. <He knew I was engaged to Robert. There's no way he could have known about that unless he tried to contact me. Maybe he called me at the office and one of the receptionists told him. But why would they tell a perfect stranger about our engagement? No, that can't be it. Maybe he read the announcement Robert's mother placed in the society columns. Wait, Angel reading a society column? I don't think so. He couldn't have found out from Xander or Giles cause they would have told me about it. Okay, the only possibility left is he found out through me. Could have been spying on me? >

Glimpses of long forgotten memories flooded Willow's mind. How many nights have Willow felt as if someone was following her? She'd never thought anything of them. After all, this was New York. Things like that always happened and chances are there usually was some psycho following you around. Same went for the times Willow had felt as if someone was watching her. In New York there were always people watching. <But what if some of those times it was Angel who was watching me. > Willow wasn't quite sure what it would mean if it were true, but she knew the answer was important.

Willow wished she could talk to someone, but Kaitlyn already had an unfavorable opinion of Angel. Besides, Willow was engaged to her brother. She didn't think Kaitlyn was the best person to discuss another guy with. As for Xander, he had already moved out of his apartment in LA and was, at this very moment, in the process of driving cross-country to New York. Since Willow had kept her lease to her old apartment for Xander to move in to, he had been anxious to arrive before the semester started.

<It's best that I don't talk to either of them. There's really only one person who I should be talking to. > Unable to think of anything she could tell Robert, Willow grabbed her purse and left.

 

 

Second Chances (8/?)

 

Angelís apartment

 

Angel uttered a feral growl and kicked the wall of his living room wall, hoping it would do something to help calm him down. Staring at the hole his foot had left in the wall, he knew it hadnít worked. Angel couldnít remember the last time he had been this angry, this hurt, or this disgusted with himself. Angel glared at the furnishings in his apartment, trying hard to control his urge to trash the apartment.

Collapsing on the couch, Angel lay on his back and put a hand over his eyes, suddenly drained of energy. In his mindís eye he could see Willow tears in her eyes, turning her back on him. He felt his heart tighten as he remembered the pain that had reflected in her emerald eyes. Angel hadnít meant to hurt her. More than anything he never wanted Willow to be anything but happy. <If only she hadnít seen me tonight, no one of this would have ever happened. She would never have had to know I was in New York. >

For the past 6 months Angel had been so careful to not let Willow see him watching her. She had never known he was around, and it had been better that way. He had been able to watch her without her knowing or getting hurt. He would lurk in the shadows, something he had gotten very good at over the years, and watch the love pouring from her heart as she walked down the street with her fiancée. He would watch her holding Robert, watch her kiss him, and imagine that it was him she was looking at with such blind adoration and love.

It hurt to see her with another guy, more than Angel cared to admit. Of course, the fact that she had found someone else was his fault. He knew he could have had Willow. The night of Buffyís funeral, they had gotten so close, and he had thrown it all away out of fear and guilt. He had killed his growing love for Willow out of some sense of duty to Buffy. It had been foolish but at the time he had felt it was the right thing to do. Now he knew how foolish he had been. Buffy would have never wanted him to end up the way he was now: alone and in despair for the one woman he loved more than life belonged to another.

Angel just hoped Robert knew how lucky he was. And that Angelís actions of earlier that evening hadnít destroyed Willowís chance at happiness. Even if Angel couldnít have Willow, well, then all he wanted was for her to be happy. Angel tried to remember a saying heíd heard once. Something about having to love someone enough to let them go. If they came back to you then you knew they really loved you, and if they didnít, well then they were never really yours to begin with. Angel had cynically disregarded the idea when he had first heard it, but now it seemed to make sense. He knew he loved Willow enough to let her go.

A knock on the door disturbed Angelís contemplations. Angel knew who it was before he answered the door. He didnít know anyone in the New York besides her- not to mention the fact that he had told her his address. Somehow Angel knew she would come. Deep down he had wanted it. After all, he had told her his address.

Willow stood in the hallway looking reluctant to be there. She had her arms crossed over her chest, preparing herself to be on the defensive in case Angel was angry to see her there. Unable to speak, he pushed the door open further, an unspoken invitation for her to come inside.

Willow stepped gingerly over the threshold, looking around curiously. The apartment reminded her of her old one in Chelsea, which wasnít too surprising since a; the apartments downtown were similar in design. The furnishings were almost identical to the ones from his apartment in Sunnydale.

Angel silently walked behind Willow, allowing her to look over his things. He was glad she had come, but he couldnít think of what to say to her. He decided to let her speak first. She deserved answers and Angel planned to give them to her. He couldnít lie to her.

When Willow reached the living room she turned and was startled to find Angel directly behind her. He gestured to the couch and she sat down, her arms still crossed over her chest. Angel tried to read her expression. She looked uncomfortable and scared, as if she was afraid any words out of his mouth would hurt her more. <God, look what Iíve done to her. I am truly despicable. I donít deserve her. >

Angel sat on the opposite corner of the couch and waited for her to speak. Though he was facing her, she was sitting forward, rigidly refusing to acknowledge him. She stared at the window as she spoke. "Why?"

Angel didnít even pretend to not understand what she was asking. "I donít know for sure."

Willow spun around and glared at him. Her expression flashed from hurt to angry in the span of a five seconds. "What kind of an answer is that." She spat the words out at him, causing Angel to recoil. <Okay, I deserve this. >

"Willow, Iím not asking you to forgive me. I know I donít deserve it. I just want you to try and understand. When I woke up that night, it was as if Buffy was standing there between us. I couldnít reach you cause doing so would mean pushing her aside. I was afraid and feeling guilty. I didnít want to be unfaithful to her memory. I loved her, I still love her."

Willowís face crumpled slightly at his confession. He held his breath, afraid to continue. He knew this was the time to tell her that he had fallen in love with her, that that was the reason for his guilt, but he couldnít do it. Instead, he changed the subject. "I shouldnít have left without telling you. I was wrong. And after that I should contacted you. I wanted to, but as time went on it seemed like it was too late."

"It would never have been too late. Angel, I didnít even know if you were still alive. How do you think that felt."

"I know, and you have every right to hate me. I wouldnít blame you for that."

Some of the anger began to fade from Willowís expression. "Hate you? Angel, I never hated you. Why would you think I would hate you? I was worried about you, and I was hurt that you left me without any clue as to how you were. I may have been angry but I could never hate you."

Angel smiled tentatively at Willow, relief coursing through him. "No, I guess I should have known you wouldnít hate me. And I did try to contact you. I came to New York to find you." Unable to get a clear feeling of Willowís reaction to that, Angel hesitated before continuing. "I wanted to see you and apologize. I wanted ourÖ friendship back. Only I saw how happy you were. You were with someone else and I didnít want to come in and disrupt your new life. I thought it would be best if I left you alone to live your life."

Willowís heart sank as she listened to the answers she had wanted. Unfortunately, they werenít the answers she had been hoping for. Angel had come to find her, only it had been out of friendship. He wasnít in love with her. Instead, he still loved Buffy. <Of course, thatís for the best. He should be in love with Buffy; after all, Iím in love with Robert. Heís the one whoís going to be my husband. I donít need Angel to be in love with me. That would only complicate things. > Still, Willow was unsatisfied. She decided to push the issue further. "Why didnít you leave New York then?"

Angel tried to keep his expression from betraying his true emotions. Willow didnít need to know the real reasons. They would only complicate her life, which is exactly what he didnít want to do. <Iíll tell her the truth up until a point. Itís best that way. > "I wanted to protect you, to be there for you if you ever needed me. Youíre my friend, I donít want anything bad to happen to you."

Willow nodded. It was she had suspected. Gathering her courage, she reached over to place a hand over his. No matter what, she was going to have Angel in her life, even if it was only as a friend. "Angel, weíre friends, weíll always be friends. You could have come to me no matter how my life was going; we will always be friends. I want you in my life."

Angel clasped her hand, squeezing it gently. "I want you in my life as well, Willow."

Willow smiled, content that things were all right with her Angel. She felt as if a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. True, her feelings for Angel hadnít been resolved, and never could be since it was obvious he wasnít in love with her, but at least theyíre friendship could be saved. As long as Willow could have Angel in her life, in any role, things would be okay. She hoped eventually her feelings would fade, but even if they didnít, Angel never had to know about them.

Angel was relieved things were okay between him and Willow. Though he was disappointed there couldnít be more than friendship between them, he would let things be. He would take Willow any way he could get her.

Angel stared at Willow, overwhelmed by her beauty. Every time Angel looked at her it was as if he was seeing her for the first time. He always found something new and totally beautiful to marvel at. Right now he stared at the delicate curve of her neck and the way her pale skin glowed faintly from the dim lighting of his apartment. He could see the girl she had been in her face. Though she was older now, maturer, her face still had the same innocently sweet countenance. <God, I love her so much. I wish I could tell her. Even if she doesnít feel the same way, at least I wouldnít be keeping it to myself anymore. >

Willow rose to leave. Angel vaguely heard her saying something about having to get home to Robert. She moved forward to embrace him, her delicate arms wrapping around his waist. He could feel her heart beating against his chest. He buried his head in her hair, relishing the sweet floral scent of her shampoo that clung to the strands. <It feels so right to have her in my arms. Does she feel it too? >

They stayed that way, holding on to each other, both reluctant to let go, for awhile. In the end, it was Willow who pulled away. Angel tried to catch her eyes, to see what she was feeling, but she wouldnít look at him. <Maybe Iím reading things in to this. I want her to love me so badly Iím projecting. I should just leave it alone. Let it stay at friendship. >

Angel watched Willow walk towards the doorway. He knew that if he let her walk out the door without telling her then he never would. They would be friends and nothing more. Something inside him seemed to awaken. There was awareness where there hadnít been a moment ago. This moment was the one he had been waiting for, though he hadnít realized heíd been waiting for anything. It was if he could see into the future. He was looking down the corridor of time, down two paths of fate that were all tied to this one moment in time. If he let her go now then he would lose her forever. He could see himself, as he would be in the future, holding on to Willowís dead body. It was like a memory of something that hadnít happened yet, but he knew it would. And all he had to do to stop it was tell her that he loved her.

"Willow!" She stopped halfway out the door. Was that hope he saw in her face? He thought so. Without a word he rushed over to her, sweeping her in to his arms. He rained kisses on to her face, brushing his lips over her eyelids, cheeks, forehead, and finally her lips. Surprised, Willow held back at first, afraid that she was imagining this moment. But as he lips connected with hers, she melted into his embrace, kissing him with an intensity that matched his own.

"I love you Willow, I love you, I love you." He whispered the words over and over against her lips. And sometime while he was whispering them to her, she began to whisper them back. Angel pulled Willow into his arms and carried her back in to the apartment, never once stopping his assault on her mouth.

Angel wasnít sure what the next day would bring, but deep down he knew that his future was entangled with hers now. Whatever happened theyíd be together, the way they were meant to be.

 

Second Chances Epilogue

September 16, 2006

 

Angel woke up confused. It took him several minutes before he was able to distinguish his dream from reality. <Where the hell did I come up with a wild fantasy like that? > Angel wasnít sure what made him imagine such a horrible scenario, but it certainly had affected him. The dream had left him with a strong sense of dread that he couldnít quite shake. Angel turned over to find the bed next to him empty. His heart leapt into his throat as Angel began to assume the worst.

"Angel." He looked up to find Willow standing at the door of the bathroom. She was wrapped in his robe, gently rubbing her hair dry with a towel. "Do you still want to come to that political meeting with me and Xander?"

Angel threw the blanket aside and rushed to Willowís side. She dropped her towel as his arms circled around her in a fierce embrace. "Angel!" She cried out in surprised pleasure. "Whatís wrong with you."

He buried his head in to her hair, holding tight as he convinced himself she was really there. "Iím sorry, I just had this horrible dream."

Concerned, Willow held Angel back. "What was it?"

"I dreamt we werenít together. You had gone ahead and married Robert and then we had tracked down Damian and he killed you right before my eyes. You died before I could ever tell you how much I loved you."

Willow squeezed Angel tighter, willing away his fear. "Angel, it was only a dream. Iím not dead, obviously. Thereís no reason to worry. See." Willow held up her hand to show Angel the gold wedding band on her ring finger. "Iím still married to you, nothingís changed."

Angel kissed Willow roughly, his voice thick with emotion. "You know I love you, right?"

Willow smiled teasingly. "How could I not, you tell me almost every day." She stopped smiling when Angel kissed her again, this time more passionately. "I love you too Angel, always and forever."

Angel sighed. "Iím sorry, I just got spooked. It was just so real. Iíve never had a dream like that."

Willow caressed Angelís cheek with her hand. "Itís all right, I understand. Sometimes dreams are like that."

Angel laid back on the bed, watching as Willow started to get dressed for the evening. "Now, what were you saying about Xander?"

Willow sat on the edge of her bed, pulling on a new pair of pantyhose. "I just wanted to know if you were coming with me to Xanderís democratic meeting. He says theyíre going to pick candidates for the primaries. Heís insisting I go. Heís got some silly fantasy in his head that I could run for city council. He thinks I could have a career in politics. I told him, just because he used to call me Madame President when we were 5 doesnít mean itís going to come true. I mean, I donít know anything about being a politician. Anyway, if you come with me maybe we can duck out of the meeting early without hurting his feelings."

Angel leaned across the bed to caress Willowís thigh. "You know, I donít think thereís anything sexier than a woman in power. Canít you just imagine doing it in the Oval office? What a rush."

Willow raised an eyebrow at Angel. "Oh, so are you saying thereís something wrong when we just have sex in our bedroom?"

Angel pulled Willow down next to him, and buried his head in her neck. She sighed as his mouth began to nuzzle her the base of her throat. "How much time do we have before we have to meet Xander?"

Willow yanked Angel over so he was lying on top of her. "An hour."

Angel grinned wickedly. "Sounds like plenty of time to me."

 

******************

 

Whistler stood across the street and watched as Willow and Angel emerged from their apartment building, arms wrapped around each otherís waists. Angel had succeeded, just as Whistler had known he would. Finally, things were as they should be, and Willow could complete her destiny. "Take care of her Angel," he whispered into the breeze. "Thatís a future president youíre in charge of." Smiling, Whistler turned and walked off in to the night, the sound of Angel and Willowís laughter following him.

 

The End