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Author's Chapter Notes:
Dedication To Nat, for all she does for the W/A fanfiction awards. I know I don't tell you how much I appreciate you near enough. And to all the old school W/A writers...you know who you are. I can remember when I first got hooked, years ago.
Notes: You probably want to read "Forever Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be" before you read this, as this is just a little tidbit to try to get me writing in the BtVS 'verse again.
“Do you think we should go wake them?” Willow sat up, not minding that her red hair tumbled about her face. Slender fingers clasped the silk sheets to her chest, but the action was more to ward off the faint chill in the air than to keep her privacy. Privacy was the one thing she lacked in this relationship…not that she would have asked for more had the topic came up.

“You could,” her bed-partner, life-partner, eternal-partner chuckled, rolling sideways until he could press his head to her side. His dark hair tickled what little skin she had left bare and Willow giggled, though the sound didn’t cover up his next words. “But only if you want to be a dead little Hacker. And since I prefer you alive…”

“So waking them up isn’t on the agenda for this evening,” she laughed again, letting Angel draw her down into his arms. Not once in all the time she’d known him—at least before their relationship had slid out from under the fog of denial and been exposed to daylight, so to speak—had she pegged him for a cuddler.

How wrong she’d been.

Perhaps it was a throwback of the curse; after all, he’d had to avoid happiness for a good chunk of his extended life. Perhaps it was just an Angel-attitude that had been hidden as he tried to play at being the brooding stranger who swept in to save the day and disappeared before they could thank him. Perhaps it was the addition of Gabriel and Spike to his life…the return of his old lovers had definitely mellowed him. Willow never could quite put her finger on what had brought out this softer side to the vampire, but she’d learned rather quickly over the past few weeks.

Angel loved nothing more than a good cuddle.

Oh, he wasn’t a slacker in bed. Red color followed the spill of heat across her cheeks at just the thought, a heat that was matched by the flare of desire in the pit of her stomach. She couldn’t get enough of his developed skills at sex, even if the mere thought of what they did when the sun went down was enough to leave her stuttering for a week.

And he definitely wasn’t a slacker in the romance department. Willow was sure that the few florists in Sunnydale were running out of their stock of roses, no matter how quickly they tried to order more. Every night since Angel had been cursed with his soul permanently and Angelus would be no more, the vampire had sent her a dozen…if not more…of the most perfect flowers she’d ever seen.

But a good cuddle, right when he woke up each night, and as the last thing before sleep claimed him as the sun rose…that was what Angel seemed to live for. Willow laughed quietly at her thoughts, the sound creeping through their room, twisting around the half-melted candles, the spell books, and the piles of drying roses, each pressed between copious amounts of newspapers.

She had to admit she didn’t mind the quiet time spent in his arms.

The peace was rare, even now. In the aftermath of Angelus’ return, consequent ravaging of Spike, and Willow’s…shall we say less than typical behavior toward the dark vampire, her friends had grown distant, none more so than Buffy.

Willow couldn’t blame her, not really. After all, you should be able to trust your best friend with your boyfriend…ex-boyfriend, the Hacker reminded herself. Angel and Buffy had been over long before her own feelings for the vampire had become known.

Still, Buffy felt betrayed thrice: first, to be face to face with Gabriel, who had spent more time in Angel’s arms than the Slayer could ever dream of; second, to learn that Angelus’ return had been sparked by Willow and Angel’s first bout of lovemaking; and third, to lose her love to her best friend. That much pain added up to a large amount of bitterness, and Willow understood that.

However…the Slayer was taking her anger to extremes, as she did everything else. Even Giles had since forgiven the young witch, claiming that she had been beyond loyal to them all, and if Angel made her happy…well, that was all he could wish.

Buffy had yet to speak to either of them. In fact, Gabriel had mentioned only the other night that she thought Buffy was purposely leading large groups of disgruntled vampires to wherever Spike chose to hunt for the night. Willow had dismissed the idea at once, unable to believe that the Slayer would ally herself with those she hated, especially in the aftermath of Angel’s latest ‘betrayal’ as she would surely see it, though Willow herself thought the word was too harsh.

Gabriel might have had a point, Willow realized. The night before they’d chosen a small park to relax in as they waited for Spike to finish his evening meal. Gabriel had put the kibosh on his killing those he drank from, much to everyone’s surprise, as she’d never had a problem with it before, and was, in fact, a demon herself. However, she’d mumbled something about not wanting Angel to have the upper hand, and then had whispered lewd suggestions into Spike’s ear until he had agreed to her stipulation. It took him longer to finish hunting now, but he did it willingly.

Besides. Once a week the couple traveled out of town in search of the darker side of humanity…and to those, rapists, child molesters, thieves of the highest caliber, they showed no mercy.

A small smile caused Willow’s lips to twitch up when she realized she was rambling on, even inside her own head. The point of her trail of thoughts had been the previous evening. As they’d waited for Spike to return, she and Gabriel had taken to the swings, playing at being kids again…though, now that she thought about it, Gabriel’s childhood wouldn’t have contained swings. She was old enough that they were a new thing to her, or at least using them for the purpose they’d been designed for was new.

As the night wore on without any sign of Spike, Gabriel had begun to look more and more agitated. After more than three hours of waiting, she had abandoned the swings and taken up pacing.

Willow could clearly remember the look on her face when Gabriel had stopped in front of where she sat, building a castle in the sand. Terror of unexpected proportions colored her eyes to the darkest black, and the moment she began to speak, Willow knew there would be no reasoning with her.

It was good that Gabriel had demanded that they—Willow and Angel of course—help her search for Spike, because when they’d found him, he was outnumbered…but never outclassed. Even under the pile of vampires, dust motes flooded the air, causing Willow to choke on the first breath she sucked down her throat. He’d killed a good number, and when Gabriel exploded into the battle, fangs and claws weapons of mass destruction, the tide had begun to turn.

Angel’s addition had guaranteed a win. His Childe was hurt, bleeding so profusely that his senses were overwhelmed by the scent of it, and these creatures, these lesser vampires who had dared to gang jump his favorite, would pay.

And they had. Not a single one had escaped…of course, that meant that not a single one was left to explain how they’d all come to be together in one group, or how they’d stumbled onto Spike when he was usually so careful with his hunting.

Gabriel had looked up only once from tending Spike’s wounds, her face twisted as she dragged air into her nose, sniffing so much that she reminded Willow of a bloodhound. Buffy’s name had hissed between her teeth, but Spike had chosen that moment to try to speak to her, and she’d seemed to forget whatever she had sensed.

Willow, however, had not, and worry twisted her stomach. If Buffy was setting vampire packs onto them…she didn’t really know how to deal with her ex-best-friend’s continued anger. Why couldn’t Buffy even try to forgive them? Xander—even as wrapped up as he was with Cordelia again—had spent over a week being angry…but had made his way back, given time. Buffy wasn’t even trying.

“Stop thinking of her, little one,” Angel sat up, twisting his body until he could press his lips to Willow’s forehead. “She’s going to be upset; just give her time. More time,” he added, seeing the expression on her face. “She is quite hurt. It will take many many months…maybe years.”

“But if she’s going to hurt Spike…” Willow trailed off when a phone rang down the hallway. The extension next to their bed remained silent, and the sound was not repeated, so she shrugged and continued on. “Gabriel’s not going to sit by and wait for the next attack, Angel, and you know that. She’ll take the fight to Buffy, and I don’t want that.”

“You’re right,” Angel admitted. Willow grinned up at him, her nose wrinkling as she basked in his words. Though he wasn’t sparse with praise, it always felt nice to hear such things. “But I don’t know if the best idea is to focus on Buffy. There is nothing we can do for her…maybe we need to focus on solving the problem from Gabriel’s end.”

“Yeah, well, if that’s all we can do…” Willow shrugged, then leaned into him as he settled back on his arms. She rested her head on his chest, listening to the faint rumble as he purred, just for her, just for a moment. “I don’t want a war breaking out here, and that’s exactly what could happen, especially if Gabriel calls in some of her demon friends. I never want to have to face any of them again.”

Angel lifted one hand and ran it down Willow’s side once, twice, and three times to try to drive away the shudders that wracked her body. She wouldn’t be soothed; nothing could ever take away the memory of the demon Belthezar they’d been forced to deal with right after Gabriel had arrived in town.

“She wouldn’t do that,” he promised Willow, but his voice held more than a few traces of doubt, even to his own ears. Gabriel was magnificent when protecting her own, he’d seen that first hand, both as one of the protected and as one of those to be fought, and for Spike to be the one targeted each time…the odds were rapidly stacking up against them.

“Maybe we should get her out of town for awhile,” Willow mumbled, rolling her head until she could press her lips to his bare chest. Angel nodded, letting his groan sound, even when he could have held it back, for the slightest noise during their time together encouraged Willow a hundredfold.

“Already planned.” Willow jerked upright, much to Angel’s disappointment, but the voice had startled them both, and his witch wasn’t one to keep going when there were others about.

“What do you mean?” Willow asked, clutching the sheets even tighter to her chest. Gabriel laughed as she stepped the rest of the way into the room, the half-light streaming in from the hallway highlighting her dark hair. Though the laughter continued until she reached the edge of the bed, there was no humor to be found in her expression.

“My debt has been called,” she explained, though it wasn’t much of an explanation as far as Willow was concerned. She felt Angel flinch behind her back and turned to look at him, but his face gave less away than Gabriel’s did. “I’m to leave tomorrow.”

“Where?”

“Santa Carla.”

“Why?” Willow broke in again before Angel could ask another question. “What debt has been called in? Why do you have to go so far north? What’s going on, Gabriel?” The demon sank down to sit at the edge of the bed, her long nails scraping slowly over a miniscule patch of silk sheet.

“Angel’s soul,” she admitted at last. “The permanent spell came at a price, you remember that.” Willow nodded and she continued on. “Well, the debt I owe has been called in. My…services are needed in Santa Carla.”

“Well, I guess we’d better start packing.”

“What?” It was Gabriel’s turn to stare in disbelief, confusion filling her dark blue eyes. She leaned forward, resting one hand on Willow’s calf, though the covers separated them. “What are you talking about, packing?”

“You think I’m going to let you go alone?” Willow laughed, shaking her head emphatically, not bothered by the fact that her hair smacked against Angel’s face as she did so. “You think Spike would? Nope, you’re stuck with us, Gabe, and we’re all coming with.”

“I don’t know…it could be dangerous. That’s not what I want.”

“It’s getting pretty damn dangerous here,” Angel reminded the older woman. He flashed a grin her direction when she twisted her head just enough to glare at him. “Besides, I could use a vacation, and I’m sure Willow could too. And you know Spike won’t let you go alone…looks like you’re outvoted, Gabriel. Three to one.”

“Angelus,” she grumbled beneath her breath. “You may have a soul now, but you’re still an evil bastard.” Her comment drew laughter to both their lips, and that, more than anything, seemed to goad her into action. “Fine, fine, fine, you can come along. Be ready at sunset tomorrow; we have a long trip ahead of us.”

“We’ll be ready,” Willow assured her and Gabriel nodded, just once, a tense motion. She shoved herself to her feet and headed for the door without another word, not stopping until Angel called out to her.

“Gabriel, go easy on feeding him,” he admonished her. One of her hands drifted up to rub the fang marks in her throat, marks she’d thought were hidden by her long hair. “You’re strong, Demon, but even you have limits. If he needs more blood, I can be a donor. Or we’ll grab him a meal.”

“Yes, Sir Vampire Sir,” Gabriel whirled around on the balls of her feet, saluted him sharply, then disappeared down the hall, strained laughter the only sound to float back into their room.

“Well, that’s one crisis averted,” Willow murmured as she sank back down against Angel, her mind still focused on the situation with Buffy. Angel rolled her gently in his arms until he could see her face and press his lips to hers.

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” he told her quietly when they drew apart. “I’m not sure you’ll like the new situation any better.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, snuggling against him and draping one arm over his bare waist. Angel, momentarily distracted by her soft touch, took too long to answer and Willow leaned forward, nipping at his throat—her teeth closing down on him hard enough to leave marks—to get his attention.

“Gabriel’s friends…” he stopped, unsure how to go on. “Her informants were never the…most friendly of people. And were usually among the more dangerous creatures on the planet.”

“Great,” Willow giggled, lifting her head to bite his chin. “Adventure.”

“I’ll show you adventure, Little Girl,” he growled as he rolled them both until she was pinned beneath his large body. Willow’s shriek carried down the hall, but the sound was tempered by so much love and so much desire that neither of the other occupants of the mansion felt like checking to see what was causing the disturbance.

Or perhaps they were too busy with their own.

The End


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