Touch of Evil
Part 22 **To find her again Upon this my dreams are depending Through the dark I sense the pounding of her heart Next to mine She's the sweetest love I could find So I guess I'll be Hunting high and low High There's no end to the lengths I'll go to Hunting High and Low High Do you know what it means to love you** **"Hunting High and Low"- by A-Ha** Angel must have slipped into unconsciousness, his body shutting down under the burden of his guilt. When he awoke, the first senses to penetrate the fog of despair blanketing his mind were the feeling of a warm hand on his forehead and the brush of silk against his face. The first thing he saw upon opening his eyes was the curtain of hair, impossibly bright in the dimness of the room. As she moved, the silky strands rippled, catching the light of the candles she had lit like rubies basking in the glow of the sun. He found himself fascinated by the changing colors of her hair, as if the strands were woven with actual sunlight, resulting in an endless configuration of movement. The picture she made, that of perfect unworldly beauty, caused her name to die on his lips, leaving him speechless. Her eyes locked on to his and he waited for her reaction silently, afraid with all his soul that she would pull away from him the moment he moved or spoke a word. She lay frozen, her upper body half draped over his where she had stopped her retreat at the realization he was awake. Her eyes were piercing his with deliberate intent, searching the unfathomable depths of his dark ones as if she had the power to access his soul through the portals they provided. Apparently finding what she was looking for, the expressionless features of Willow's face collapsed with relief. Flinging her arms around him, Willow buried her face in the solid wall of muscles defining his chest. He felt the warmth of her tears as her body convulsed with sobs. "Oh thanks Goddess, it worked. It worked… I can't believe he really did it. I thought I had lost you forever." Not pretending to misunderstand her, Angel lifted heavy arms to wrap around her body, pulling her closer to him. The irony of their situation, at their apparent reversal of roles, did not escape the vampire. Instead of him being the one breaking down in the comfort of her arms, Angel was providing Willow with comfort, soothing her hysterics while he himself was relatively calm in the face of all that had happened. With a strength he hadn't known he had, Angel pushed his own tumultuous emotions aside, burying the guilt that was sure to come as he fully regained the memories of his time as Angelus so that he could comfort Willow. Her well being preceded his own and he knew it was her turn for catharsis. Eventually, Willow lifted her tear stained face to look at the face of the man she loved. It was jarring at first. Before he had always been either Angel, Buffy's boyfriend, or Angelus, the man she had wantonly desired and then hated as she had never hated another. Now, starring at the angelic face before her, he represented something totally new and different, a third Angel. No longer was he an impenetrable citadel against which she must never reveal her true emotions. Willow had always desired this man, though she would never have acted on it, given her friendship with Buffy. But now, things were so very different. Angel was the man she had fallen in love with, whether she had known it was him or not, and she couldn't help but stare at him with uncontrolled love and adoration. He was hers now, and looking at the man she loved, seeing him with his true face, was a new sensation, one that would take some time getting used to. Her eyes couldn't stop tracing patterns over his face, drinking in every tiny detail of his features. Her tears quickly melted away as she moved to kiss him, reclaiming what she had thought she'd lost forever. Angel, for his part, was relived to see that the love they had shared while he was masquerading as Adrian hadn't been lost. The naked emotion shinning from the depths of Willow's eyes was enough to squelch any fears inside of him. Though they both knew there were questions and answers that had to be ascertained before they could move on with their lives, for now the need to hold and be held by each other was too strong to ignore. Angel lost himself in the depths of her eyes and the passion of her lips. When Willow began to pull the velvet material of his shirt off his shoulders, Angel pulled away, his conscience overcoming the physical and emotional need within him. "Willow, are you sure this is what you want?" Willow continued with her finger's ministrations while she answered. "I'm sure Angel. I know we have a lot to talk about, but I know that, right now, this is what I want. I love you, and I need you. I need this. I need to know that what we have is real, and not just some insubstantial dream that the rising sun will chase away like so many shadows. I need to feel your body against mine and know that I didn't dream you in to life. You're the only man I truly loved Angel, and I want to you to know just how much I love you." "But Willow, we should talk first… I mean, I hurt you, I lied to you. This isn't even the face of the man you fell in love with. How can you be so sure…" Willow silenced Angel's protestations with the touch of her lips and the slip of her tongue into his mouth. As she pressed her body closer to his, all rational thought escaped Angel's mind. Pure emotion took over, driving his actions as he undressed her with quick, nimble hands. He felt himself being swept up in the rip tide of his love for her, and of hers for him. It was if, with the simple feel of her warm, yielding body beneath his, the entire world disappeared, leaving only the emotions between them. As Angel entered Willow, his physical body becoming a part of hers as no man ever had before, there was no Angelus, no Buffy, no deceptions or deaths to overcome, just the pure, unadulterated need and love that only the other could fulfill. All that mattered was the fact that they were both alive and healthy and in each other's arms, sharing in a love that was truly a gift from the Gods.
Part 23 **Summertime and the wind is blowing, Outside in lower Chelsea And I don't know what I'm doing in this city. The sun is always in my eyes. It crashes through the windows And I'm sleeping on the couch When I came to visit you That's when I knew That I could never have you I knew that before you did Still I'm the one who's stupid. And there's this burning Like there's always been I've never been so alone And I've never been so alive.** **"Motorcycle Drive By"- by Third Eye Blind** Willow and Angel spent the next 36 hours in each others arms, alternately making love and seeking comfort as Angel repeatedly broke down into tears each time he regained a new memory of the various crimes Angelus had committed in the past year. Even with Willow there to comfort him and the unusual circumstance of his having a dual set of memories for the past year, and thus a slight sense of detachment towards Angelus' actions, the pain of guilt was worse this time around than when he had first regained his soul. Now the pain his demon had caused hit closer to home. With the exception of his family, the evil Angelus had first brought upon earth had been limited to strangers, people Angel hadn't grown to love as a human. This time around, the people who suffered were those his soul had been attached to in very personal ways, ways he hadn't allowed himself to be since he was human. He'd hurt the people who had trusted and loved him as if he were still human. And how had he repaid their trust but by releasing his demon on them to rob them of their innocence and, in the case of Buffy and Ms. Calender, stealing their life. The burden of despair that blanketed Angel's soul was so great he was afraid it would obliterate ever sense within him. If it wasn't for Willow's ever present love and comfort, he was sure he would have walked out to greet the sun the moment his soul was restored. On the second day of Angel's return, Willow awoke from her first full nights sleep to find the tormented vampire still asleep, his handsome features visibly showing the strain of his dream ridden state. Willow was grateful for the time alone. She hadn't been able to allow herself to actual think about anything that had happened until now. She'd gone from her two week state of kamikaze grief brought on by Angel/Adrian's death to the past 36 hours of uncontrollable happiness over Angel's return mixed with empathetic pain and suffering over everything he was being forced to go through. Now, as she watched him sleeping, Willow was finally able to consider things. Moving away from him in an attempt to clear her thoughts without the distraction of his body against hers, Willow rose and began to get dressed. She'd known even as she'd held him to her, feeling him inside of her as they'd made love for the first time, that things between them were not going to end happily. There would be no fairy tale romantic ending in their immediate future. Angel was too hurt, too guilt ridden to fully devote himself to loving her. He had amends that he had to make, with himself and with others, before he could put the past behind him and move on with his life. Whether he wanted that life to include her, well, she couldn't be entirely sure. She didn't doubt that he loved her, but would he feel the same when he was able to examine everything that had happened? When he was able to put the past aside and know that he could move on without fear of Angelus ever returning, now that Whistler had permanently restored his soul? Perhaps- Willow wasn't sure, but she did know one thing: she wasn't ready. She loved him. All she had to do was take one look at that angelic face and remember all the times he had comforted her, been there for her when nobody else had, and she knew. It was a love she didn't question, just accepted. She would always love him, that would never be an issue, but she wasn't ready for everything that loving him meant. To love him meant to ignore everything that had been through- to ignore the fact that he had deceived her, no matter how well intentioned he had been, and had made her fall in love with a man that hadn't existed. Adrian didn't exist, she knew that, but it had been Adrian she had thought she was in love with for all those months. Now that she knew Adrian was really Angel, well, she couldn't turn off her emotions. She still loved him, because deep down it was the same man, the same soul that she'd always loved. That they were meant to meet and fall in love, as Whistler had said, Willow did not doubt, because she felt it with all of her soul. It was just difficult to get her mind to blindly follow what her heart already knew and accepted. Willow needed time to allow her young and inexperienced mind and heart to become one in their desires. Then there was the Angelus factor. He was gone but the scars he had caused would remain for long after his demise. Willow hated to admit it but she couldn't help but remember the demon whenever she looked at Angel. He was still a living, breathing entity standing between them, and until she could put the dead to rest, so to speak, she knew she couldn't be around Angel. It was going to hurt to be apart from him but it hurt just as much to be around him. They both needed time to heal before anything could come of their love. Willow needed time to grow up and build her life again. The danger that had dominated her existence, keeping her captive and her life on standby, was finally gone and she didn't know exactly how to start piecing her life back together again. And having Angel around would only make it harder. She needed independence, and if he was around he would always be a crutch she would unconsciously fall back against whenever things got too hard, and that wasn't what she wanted their relationship to be. She wanted them to be together out of love, not mutual dependence. His love might end up crushing her, and she didn't want that to happen. Seating herself on the edge of the bed besides his sleeping form, she brushed a hand against his cheek, marveling at his beauty. God, it hurt to let him go, but she was somehow going to. She needed to find the strength to release him. Only then could they both begin to walk down the roads they needed travel, his towards redemption, and hers towards healing. They couldn't do it together. Not if they wanted their love to last and not wither and decay beneath the weight of the past. She felt him stirring underneath her touch. As her warmth drew him out of the land of dreams, Angel smiled. He looked so content, Willow hated to wake him, but knew that if she didn't do it now, before her will left her, she might never have the strength to leave him, and then they would both be doomed. He opened his eyes slowly, his face relaxing into peace as he saw her hovering over him, all vestiges of the nightmares that had plagued him only moments ago chased away at the sight of her beauty. Tears sprang to Willow's eyes, unstoppable in the face of the pain she was going to cause him, and the smile faltered on his lips. He took in her fully dressed figure, understanding darkening his features as he realized just what she had planned. He'd known, deep down, that their happiness couldn't last, and so he wasn't really surprised when he read everything she wanted to say to him in her eyes. She didn't even have to speak, he just knew. "You're leaving." It was a statement, not a question. Willow nodded, her throat too constricted with her tears to properly answer him. Angel didn't really need to ask the next question but felt he had to. "Why?" Willow ducked her head finding it too painful to watch the shattered pain coloring his eyes. "You know why." Angel found himself getting angry. Not at her, but at what she was about to do to them. It was unfair but he couldn't stop himself. "No, I don't know, why don't you tell me." Willow began to sob harder. "Please don't make this harder than it has to be, Angel. I love you, you know that I do. Despite everything, despite the lies and the confusion that brought us together, I love you. You're the other piece of me, that part that completes me, but I just can't be with you. How can I be with you when I'm so incomplete myself? How can we complete each other if we're incomplete ourselves?" Angel sat up, pushing Willow away so he could rise from the bed. He couldn't stand her touch as the words that would steal her from him left her mouth. "You're making no sense. If I complete you then of course you'd be incomplete without me? So why would you want to push me away?" Willow sat helpless amidst the sheets of the bed, tears falling like raindrops, looking for all the world like the little girl she still was. "I'm saying it badly. What I mean is, I'm still young Angel. My childhood was stolen away from me." She saw his back tense at the implications of her words but she continued on anyway, needing to get this out. "I don't know who I am yet, and I need to find out. I need time to heal and discover myself before I can lose myself in you- in our love. And you need that too. You need to accept everything that's happened, everything Angelus did, before you can put the past behind you. If not then it will always be between us, and it will destroy our love. I want us to be complete and unwounded before we're together. I want nothing to stand in the way of our being together- not Angelus, not 'Adrian', not Buffy, not our own insecurities- not ourselves." Angel stalked over to the dresser, searching for clothes to cover himself. He no longer felt comfortable underneath her penetrating gaze. "'Adrian?'" He asked, latching on to one portion of her explanation. "I see, it's because you can't forgive me for having lied to you." His tone was no longer petulant and angry, but now there was an undertone of self-loathing, as if he'd know this was coming. Willow jumped up, running over to wrap her arms around him from behind. "No, I mean, yes. I mean… it's not that I can't forgive you. Forgiveness will never be an issue with us, nor will my love for you. I just need time to accept everything, time to move past what's happened. Please tell me you understand? Goodbye isn't goodbye forever. Only for a short while?" Angel fought the strength of her embrace, trying to keep himself rigid and tense as a demonstration of his anger. Before long his walls crumbled, and he relaxed in her arms. He wasn't strong enough to hold out against the outpouring of love radiating from her. Silent tears fell from his eyes as he asked, "How long? How long must we be apart?" Willow closed her eyes, wishing she could give him an answer he'd be content with but knowing it was impossible. "I don't know- as long as it takes. We'll both know when the time is right, and then we'll find each other again." Angel moved to face her, his arms closing on her as he returned her embrace. As she buried her face against his bare chest he could feel the tears warming his cold skin. His own throat constricted against the strong emotions he was feeling. "What if it becomes too late? What if we lost each other to time and circumstance? You could find someone else, you could move on, not need me anymore… or I…" Angel didn't finish the sentence because he knew it would sound hollow, even to his own ears. He feared she might move on without him but he knew that he could never do so without her. There would never be anybody in his life like Willow. As long as she was alive, he was only hers. Willow answered as truthfully as she could. "Then it was never meant to be, Angel. I can't promise what the future will bring because I don't know. All I know is that I love you, I will always love you and, Goddess willing, we will find each other again. Deep down in my heart I know that we will." They held on to each other, neither wanting to let go, each knowing this would be the last time they embraced for a long time, God only knew how long. The kiss was bittersweet, loaded down with everything they were feeling, all the love and regret, all the promises for a brighter future, when they would one day be together. Willow pulled apart first. She stared at him, trying to commit every detail of his face to memory before they parted. She knew she would never forget the love that shone from his eyes as if the sun was lighting them up from behind his lids. "I love you, Angel. Please, no matter what happens, don't ever forget that." Angel nodded imperceptibly, too wrapped up in mimicking her own actions. He drank her beauty as if it were blood itself. She was everything good and beautiful to him and he wanted to make sure he remembered every last detail for those long, lonely nights ahead. "I love you too, Willow, aroon. Always." With one final kiss, Willow left. Angel watched the girl he loved as he'd never thought himself capable, the girl he'd never imagined himself falling in love with, leave with her heart in his hands. Somehow he was going to have to move on, but at this moment, watching her walk away, out the door and into the distance, he wasn't sure how.
Epilogue **I didn't hear you leave I wonder how am I still here and I don't want to move a thing it might change my memory oh I am what I am I'll do what I want but I can't hide and I won't go I won't sleep I can't breathe until you're resting here with me and I won't leave and I can't hide I cannot be until you're resting here with me** **"Here With Me"- By Dido** The night Willow left Angel she was 18 years old. It was the summer after what should have been her graduation from high school, the summer before her first year at College. As Willow found herself walking the streets of Los Angeles away from the house and from Angel, she found that, despite the pain of her broken heart, a tiny bubble of freedom had begun to lighten Willow's heart. It seemed like an eternity since Willow had been able to walk down a public street, even in the daytime, without worrying about whom was following her or if the next person to turn the corner would be Angelus. Willow had her entire life before her, and though her life wasn't exactly turning out the way she had always imagined it, Willow found that she wasn't bothered by it. In actuality, her life had gone off course the moment the beautiful, blonde slayer had entered it and, looking back, Willow knew that what was meant to be had occurred. Willow had been tried by the fire and come out stronger because of it. She may only be 18, but she was well on her way to being a woman. She was stronger, more independent, and more talented than she had ever dreamed she could be. She, shy little Willow, had loved and lost. Plain little Willow, who not even her best friend, the boy she had thought she'd loved for so long, had never looked at had been involved in a love affair that not even the most torrid of romance novels could match. The thought made Willow smile. My how things change. Not quite sure where she wanted to go, Willow ended up taking a taxi to the airport. The first person she called was Xander, because she was sure he was worried sick over her whereabouts. All the time she had been away not a week had gone by without her calling him and with all that had happened, they hadn't spoken in about three weeks. Hearing her voice, Xander had broken down and cried. It was the only time in her entire life Willow had ever seen or heard Xander cry. After speaking to him and promising that she was on her way to Sunnydale that day, Willow called Giles and got an almost exact replica of her conversation with Xander, minus the sobs, though from the frog in his throat Willow had a feeling Giles was shedding a few tears. Her third and final call was collect to London where she spoke to Lydia. After some deep contemplation, Willow decided not to tell Lydia about Angel's masquerade as Adrian. Lydia had known Adrian, the real Adrian, since birth and she didn't want to add to the news of his death with the added blow that he had in actuality died almost a year earlier, and not two weeks ago. Willow didn't feel bad about the deception. She knew the Council probably would have liked the information of the PTB's interception in their little melodrama but they were just gonna have to do without that tidbit for their files. Perhaps one day she would tell Lydia, but if she did it would be many years from now, when old wounds had long since healed. Willow was back in Sunnydale that night, and was thrilled to finally see her friends again after all their time apart. She mourned with them the loss of Buffy, which they had known about through Amy, and learned that they had had a memorial service for Buffy a week earlier. Mrs. Summer's, who had never known about her daughter's true life vocation, was a shell of the woman she had once been. She thought her daughter had perished in a fire that had destroyed a warehouse downtown, thus the lack of a body. Willow only hoped that, wherever Buffy was, she didn't come to pay a visit to her mother and spoil the illusion. Buffy's mother was leaving town, returning once again to Los Angeles and her estranged husband, who had returned for the Buffy's memorial service and had asked his wife to return with him. It looked as if they were on the road to reconciliation, both needing the other for comfort after the loss of their only daughter. Willow prayed things would work out for them, and that one day they'd be able to remember their daughter as the hero she truly was. Though Xander tried to talk her out of leaving, Willow only stayed in Sunnydale for a week, long enough to visit both Buffy's and her parents' graves and clear up business with her parent's lawyers over the inheritance. Once everything was settled, and the only ties keeping Willow in her hometown was her old friends, Willow made the decision to leave for good. Xander was headed to New York with Cordelia anyway, both enrolled at universities there (Cordelia at Columbia, Xander at NYU) and Oz and Amy were moving on to LA (Oz to follow his band in their attempts at stardom as well as being matriculated at UCLA with Amy). Giles was being called back to London by the Council, and Willow had decided to join him. Lydia had made it clear that Willow was always welcome there, and if she decided to return she would be more than happy to arrange for her to finish her schooling as they had originally planned, and Oxford was always an option after High School. For the first time since Lydia had first begun to mention it, Willow began to seriously consider her advice. After her cryptic meeting with Whistler, Willow had begun to suspect that perhaps more than just friendship lied in her ties with the Watcher's Council. She felt an instinctual connection to the organization, as if deep down she knew that within their structured society she belonged. She suspected Lydia knew something about those feelings of Willow's, given her repeated, fervent recommendations for Willow to begin watcher training, but she didn't press the issue. Willow had a great deal of faith in Whistler's words- all would be revealed when they were meant to be. As for now, Willow would follow her instincts and let destiny lead her where it wanted. She knew from experience that she couldn't fight fate anyhow (though, with Whistler's help, maybe just distort it a bit). Willow managed to finish her high school degree at a London private school in half a semester and was accepted and enrolled at Oxford by the following Spring, only six months after leaving Angel. Willow double majored in History and Computer Science, achieving her degree in three and a half years before moving back to the States. Willow was 22 when she finally returned to America. She settled in Boston where she could continue with both her educations. She was currently a Grad Student at Harvard where she majored in History and a Watcher in Training with the Council, whose US headquarters were conveniently situated right there in Boston. Willow was involved with two things she loved- education and being a watcher, her newfound passion, and so for the most part Willow was happy. With her life taken up by school and the Council, Willow found she didn't have much time for a personal life. Over the years she'd been out on a few dates, made a few new friends at school and a lot more within the Council, but in terms of her romantic life, Willow had never found anyone to replace Angel. He remained her first and only true love, not to mention her first and only lover, and Willow was content to keep things that way. As the years went by Willow found herself more and more anxious for her reunion with Angel. When she had left him she'd been positive they would have found their way back to each other by now, but then again she had still been rather young and naive back then, despite all she'd gone through. As the time went on and still Willow was apart from Angel, she couldn't help but wonder if perhaps his point that it might be too late had been portent. Though Willow had been able to heal all of her old wounds years ago, she was still not reconciled with Angel, and there was absolutely no signs as to his whereabouts. She'd questioned Giles a few times, who was now living in Greece with one of the newest slayers as his charge, hoping maybe Angel had contacted him, but after the whole Ms. Calender thing that seemed unlikely. Giles claimed to have no knowledge of the vampire's whereabouts, nor did anybody on the Council, though Lydia had tried her best to find out, using whatever source she could. For all intents and purposes, Angel had seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth after they had parted in LA. Even Whistler, whom Willow had seen twice in the past 4 years when the demon decided to pay a surprise social visit, claimed to have no knowledge of his whereabouts. Willow couldn't be sure if Whistler was lying to protect his friend's secrecy, but she didn't press him. As much as she wanted to see him again, she didn't want to force it before Angel was ready. The whole point of her leaving him was so that they could both find each other again when they were both ready. Disappointed, Willow resigned herself to waiting, figuring that as an immortal, Angel had a different sense of time than herself. For him the past 4 years had probably flown by like 4 months would to her. She would just have to be patient and pray that the rift of time wouldn't change things between them permanently, making it too late to reclaim their lost love. So Willow settled in Boston and found herself to be happy with the life she was leading. She got to see Xander and Cordelia often enough. They lived in New York, having been married right after graduating college, and, when they all turned 23, were well on their way to having their first child. Cordelia was being forced to put off law school for awhile, but the expectant mother couldn't have been happier. Willow couldn't help but marvel at the woman Cordelia had grown in to. That wasn't to say her bitchiness didn't rear its ugly head every once in awhile, but Willow found it more amusing than anything else. The two had long ago managed to become friends and, next to Lydia, Cordelia was Willow's closest friend and confidante. She also managed to see Oz and Amy every so often. They were both still in LA, still together though not married- yet. Oz was living it up with the growing popularity of Dingoes, and Amy was in grad school as well, still continuing her Wicca studies. Willow loved when she got to see her because they could practice spells together. To Willow's surprise, Lydia had set her up with a group of established and powerful Wicca's in London who had helped her discover the strong, untapped fount of natural ability within herself. Amy claimed she'd known that Willow had to be a natural witch all along, what with her red hair and all, but Willow had never been sure before. Now Willow was comfortable with her status as full-fledged Witch, though it was a bit difficult to juggle with her Jewish faith. At least she got double the holidays! It was only after a year and a half of living in Boston that Willow returned to Sunnydale. She supposed it was the conversation she had with Xander the previous weekend, when they'd gone out for drinks during his visit and found themselves reminiscing about old times, that had made her decide to make the pilgrimage to her home town. She'd wanted to see how the town had changed since they'd all been away, as well as visit the graves of her loved ones. On her first night in town, Willow had found herself drawn to the bronze, and it was there that she finally saw Angel again. All she had needed was one look at his beautiful face and she had known everything would be all right. Their love was a tangible force, crackling between them as they embraced, the feel of each others bodies responding to the other assuaging any doubts they might have had on how the other might still have felt. Before they knew it they were kissing voraciously, their passion rising with each melding of their lips to a fever pitch. Angel was the first to break the kiss, though rather reluctantly. "Maybe we should go somewhere more private." He broke off as his eyes swept over the crowded club. Though only a handful of people were sneaking peaks at the older couple, Angel still felt their reunion was one that would be better completed in private. As it was he was barely able to control his urge to take her right there and then, spectators be damned. Willow nodded, not quite sure how far things would end up going between them but knowing that privacy was definitely required; especially if they wanted to talk. It wasn't that their kiss of moments ago had left her doubting Angel's continued passion for her- but Willow knew better than anyone that passion did not immediately equate into love. Willow needed more proof than the budding evidence of his desire currently pressing against her stomach. Slipping out into the night, the couple quickly fell into a leisurely stroll, their hands firmly entwined as they wandered aimlessly, waiting till they were far from the crowded streets surrounding the club before either spoke. Seemingly guided by some inner compass, they found themselves headed towards the cemetery. As they walked the solitary rows, a schism seemed to manifest itself between them. The tension from their unanswered questions weighed heavy on their minds, becoming a palpable presence. "So, who should go first?" Willow asked, stopping before an imposing marble mausoleum, unable to cease her nervous fidgeting. Angel stopped a short distance away from her, giving her the room he felt she needed. As much as he wanted- needed- to wrap her into his arms and never let her go, he would wait patiently until she came to him. They'd been apart so long, much longer than they had even been together, he wasn't quite sure what rights he still had over her body, over touching her. "I suppose you're wondering where I've been for the last 5 years?" Willow felt a flash of anger over his seemingly capricious tone, not realizing that it was born of his desire to keep his own deep emotions in check. "Yes, well, until tonight I had no idea if you were dead or alive so, yeah, I can say I'm a bit curious as to where you've been. I mean, you didn't exactly make it easy for me to find you if I wanted or needed to." Angel ducked his head at the accusatory slant to her words. He knew he deserved the recriminations so he didn't try to stop her. "I'm sorry. I know I'm the older one here but at times I can be as immature as a teenager. Those tendencies tend to stay with you even as you grow older, and manifest themselves when you're incredibly hurt or angry- which I was. I suppose that's why I made sure you wouldn't be able to find me. I wanted to hurt you for leaving me, for turning your back on our love." Willow fought for understanding. "You said you understood why I did it, why I had to do it." Angel held up his hands, hoping to abate her anger. "I do understand, but it took me awhile to fully accept what you had decided. And even then, my understanding couldn't quell my feelings of hurt. I reacted badly, I admit, but it was what I needed if I was going to respect your wishes. You said that we shouldn't try to find each other again until we were both ready, but I knew that if I saw you before it was time then I wouldn't give a damn about healing old wounds. I would fall back into your arms and forget the rest of the world." Willow couldn't think of any answer to his confession. Her heart was once again swelling with the love and hope that had overtook it when she'd first caught sight of him at the Bronze. Willow leaned back against the hard marble walls for support. Before she could even begin to contemplate the ramifications of his words, Angel continued. "I wish I could say I was a better person this time around than I had been all those years ago when I was first cursed, but I guess old habits are hard to break. I spent the first two years without you brooding in a house I managed to secure for myself in LA. I can't really remember much of that year beyond the emotions I felt and the memories I made myself relive on a daily basis- some good, most bad. I made good work of tormenting myself. Heck, I'm practically a pro at it. "It wasn't until Whistler found me and tried to talk some sense into me that I realized how futile beating myself up over actions I couldn't change was. Whistler saved me from myself once again." Angel shook his head in amazement. "I really don't know how I can ever repay the demon for all he's done for me. He is truly one of the best friends I've ever had." Willow, who had been silently fuming over Whistler's deceptions to her, was immediately remorseful as she heard the gratitude of Angel's words and tone. The demon had done so much, for both of them, that she couldn't really stay mad at him. He'd done what he'd thought was best, and Willow trusted him enough not to question his motivations. "Well, somehow Whistler got through to me, and he told me that if I really wanted to make amends then he had just the job for me. Amazingly, he seemed to think I could still do some good even after the whole Sunnydale fiasco." He smiled ruefully. "Seems once Whistler sets his sights on redeeming someone he doesn't quit until it's accomplished. "So I followed Whistler to Greece where Giles was just starting his training of Sophia, one of the new slayers. Whistler said that he was pretty sure this time around I wouldn't get into any trouble helping the slayer, since I had you waiting for me." Angel chuckled to himself and Willow couldn't help but smile back. However, Angel quickly grew serious once again. "At first I was hesitant to see Giles again. It was the first time since I had my soul restored and well, I couldn't say I was really anxious to be confronted head on with one of the worst sins I committed as Angelus. It took awhile before Giles and I were able to rebuild the trust between us- after all, our relationship had always been precarious at best. But in time I was able to earn his forgiveness, something I hadn't ever even dreamed possible. I would have settled for a tenuous truce, but, then again, if we wanted to help Sophia then we really did have to work together without any animosity or distrust. Giles is really a remarkable man. A true hero." Lost in a moment in his awe over the strength of their friend, Angel lapsed into silence. "So you've been in Greece all this time, with both Giles and Whistler knowing exactly where you were yet they both kept promising me they had no idea. And Lydia! She must have known as well!" Willow fumed. She couldn't wait to get her hands on all three of the culprits. Angel gave Willow a disapproving look, but the playful glint in his eyes let her know he wasn't seriously chastising her. "Now, Willow darling, don't let that fiery temper I love so much become misdirected towards the people who love you most in this world. They were only doing what I asked them to- what you asked me to do." Willow nodded, though inside she made herself to promise to plan a sweet little revenge on her friends- nothing major, but a harmless prank that would satisfy her thirst for payback. Keeping her plans hidden from her expression, Willow smiled sweetly at the vampire. "So then, you understand why I wanted us to be apart for awhile? I mean… you're here now so, does that mean the past is finally behind us?" Willow felt her apprehension growing as her mind created possible scenarios for his return in her mind. For all she knew he was there to say goodbye once and for all. The kiss back at the bronze, well, that could have been a goodbye. She couldn't be sure and so she needed to hear the words. Angel surged forward, closing the distance between them until Willow was backed up against the wall once again. He restrained himself from touching her, though his body ached for it. It was silly, but he needed to hear the words as well. "I came back because you were right. We did need the time away from each other. I made a lot of mistakes when I first regained my soul. When I was with Buffy, I was still caught up in the guilt over everything I had done as Angelus. The past wasn't dead for me, and so my relationship with her was doomed to failure before it even began. You were right in trying to keep us from making the same mistakes." Tears of happiness began to dampen Willow's eyes. 'I was so afraid you wouldn't forgive me for leaving you. Or that when all was said and done, that maybe you would be right, and it would be too late for us. It's not, is it?" The moment was pregnant with destiny before Angel vocalized what they were both feeling, deep inside. "I could never not forgive you, Willow aroon. I love you- I always have and I always will. You did what was right and for that I will always be grateful. I'm yours if you still want me." Willow threw her arms around her lovers neck, the kisses she rained on his face and lips filled with everything she was feeling. "Of course I want you. I'll always want you. I love you, you silly vampire." The smile that brightened Angel's face was as bright as the rising sun. Reunited at last, the young lovers proceeded in consummating the love they had put aside for so many years. They were barely able to pull apart long enough to run back to Willow's hotel room before they fell back into each other's arms, relearning every inch of the others bodies. They were together again, without anything to stand between them, and together they knew they could face anything life had to throw their way. From that moment on, nothing would ever be able to keep them apart.
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