He was fading away, too weak to hold on anymore. He had lost track of how long he’d been in this hell, could barely remember his name. He had vague memories of going through this once before and couldn’t, wouldn’t do it again. All he wanted now was the oblivion of turning to dust. He didn’t care any longer, couldn’t remember why he should want to live. He was fairly certain he could will himself to die. He was abused and malnourished enough that it shouldn’t take too long. Hopefully, he’d be gone before his torturers came for him again.
He settled back onto the rough stone floor of his prison, wincing as the coarse surface abraded his mangled skin. He closed his eyes and let his mind go. Just as he felt the peace of nothingness, he felt another presence radiating hope and love. He could almost hear the softly spoken words begging him to hold on for just a bit longer. But he was so tired…
“Please, Angel, don’t let go. I’ve almost got you. Please don’t give up.”
Angel let his consciousness fade away into that radiant light instead of the dark nothingness he’d so eagerly sought just moments before, and knew a sense of peace he’d never thought was possible.
When he opened his eyes again, he blinked at the brightness. He’d been in darkness, broken only by the light of flames, for so long, he almost didn’t recognize the warmth and light of the sun. His muddled mind knew he should fear the sun, but he couldn’t quite grasp why at the moment. He felt an odd thumping within, but couldn’t place what it might be and was too tired to figure it out.
Whatever his head was lying on shifted, and something cool and comforting brushed his forehead. He tried to focus and realized his head was resting in someone’s lap. He looked up once more and his confused brown eyes met vaguely familiar green ones that were shiny with unshed tears.
“Hey there,” the young woman said softly.
Angel opened his mouth, but no sound issued forth. A straw was put to his lips and he sipped the cool water gratefully. As he did, he tried to put a name to the white-haired woman who was cradling him so tenderly. He knew her, he was sure. A memory flashed in his mind of him standing in a bedroom, a younger version of this woman standing awkwardly in front of him, long red hair in place of the white.
“W-wi-willow,” he rasped out.
Her smile was almost as bright as the sun. “Angel. Do you know where you are?”
He frowned and shook his head, wincing at the pain the movement caused. Willow tsked and laid her hand over his forehead again. A soft white light slowly flowed over his battered body. Soon, the pain that had been his constant companion for centuries was gone. He stretched experimentally, then sat up, and took in his surroundings.
He stood on shaky legs and Willow rose with him to keep a guiding hand on his arm. He and Willow were in a meadow. Soft green grass and brilliantly hued wildflowers surrounded them. The air was clean and fragrant like after a rain, but the ground was dry.
“Where are we?” he asked softly, afraid to raise his still-rusty voice above a whisper.
“You’re in Heaven, Angel,” Willow said, just as softly.
He looked at her sharply and for the first time really saw her. Willow glowed with an ethereal light, her long white hair flowing over her shoulders, almost blending into the white peasant top she wore with a long white skirt. This Willow was a far cry from the powerful witch he’d known. The Willow he remembered had had an edge of darkness to her that had come from the magicks she’d absorbed. This Willow was goodness incarnate, the embodiment of what he’d always imagined Mother Nature would look like.
“I’m dead?” He still wasn’t tracking too well.
Willow bit her lip. “Let’s just say you’ve moved to another plane of existence. I’m sorry I didn’t get to you sooner. It took me a while to find out what happened.”
At her words his memories flooded back with a force that brought him to his knees.
Wolfram & Hart…losing Cordelia for good…losing Fred…being denied help by Giles…Illyria…seeing Connor again…the Circle of the Black Thorn…signing away his chance to become human in order to become one of them…the suicidal plan to destroy them…the fight with Hamilton…the alley behind the Hyperion…realizing that Wesley hadn’t made it…Gunn dying…Spike turning to dust…Illyria torn asunder despite her still-considerable power…and him, him being cast into the pits of Hell for trying to weaken the Senior Partners’ position on Earth.
Angel sobbed brokenly as he realized that they’d lost, that he’d lost everything. Warm, comforting arms wrapped around him and he buried his face in Willow’s neck. She just held him as he cried, gently rocking him and running a soothing hand over his head.
When he finally quieted, he said, “I called Giles for help. I was looking for you. Fred was dying and we thought you could do something. He told me you were on the astral plane and couldn’t be bothered.”
“I didn’t know, Angel. I didn’t know any of this until we got the reports of L.A. being overrun by demons. Giles and Buffy made the decision not to help you without talking to Xander or me. I finally got the whole story out of them. It was very hard for me not to do some serious damage to them. Xander hasn’t spoken to them since we found out. Neither has Faith.”
Angel reluctantly pulled out of her arms. Willow seemed just as reluctant to let him go, but she did. He sat up and wiped his face with the handkerchief she handed him. The he looked at her and asked, “How long has it been?”
“Since you…left?” she clarified. He nodded and she said, “About a year. It took me a long time to find you. I really am sorry about that.”
“I was ready to give up when I felt your presence. It was like a warm light radiating in my mind.”
“I know. I was almost too late. You’ll never know how glad I am that you held on.”
Angel ran his hands over his face and neck. He paused when he felt the vein jump under his fingers. “Wha?”
He looked at Willow in disbelieving wonder and she grinned happily. “You’re human here, Angel. You went further than the PTB thought possible.” She waved a hand to display where they were. “This is your reward.”
They could both hear the murmur of voices in the distance, the high mountain air carrying them on a light breeze. Angel frowned, “But I signed it all away.”
Willow’s grin softened into a bittersweet smile, “You can’t sign your destiny away, Angel. You made the ultimate sacrifice and the Powers rewarded you accordingly.”
Silence fell as he absorbed what she’d told him. A familiar laugh broke in, and Angel looked towards the tree line. A few minutes later, a group of people he had never thought to see again broke through the trees and headed towards him and Willow. Some were carrying blankets, while others carried baskets. They were all laughing and joking with each other and hadn’t seemed to notice them yet.
He looked at Willow as she stood and held out her hand to him. When he took it and stood, she said, “Don’t worry about the world you left behind, Angel. Enjoy the gift you’ve been given and live this life to the fullest.”
Angel could only stare. His friends and family were here, alive and well. Wesley and Fred walked hand in hand, Cordelia and Doyle were arguing halfheartedly about something, and Gunn and Connor were talking animatedly with…with Spike? He shook his head in wonder.
“Spike’s here, too?”
Willow shrugged, “I asked him what he wanted and he told me this is where he wants to be. His mother lives on the other side of town from him.” Angel blinked at that and wondered faintly if his family was around somewhere. As if reading his mind, Willow said, “Kathy is here. She’s been waiting for you.”
Angel looked at Willow, “My sister?”
“She’s missed you. Cordelia will tell you how to find her.”
Angel shook his head again, feeling overwhelmed. He blinked back tears at the thought of seeing his baby sister after all this time and looked again at his son. He felt sadness that Connor’s life had been cut so short and wondered how it happened. He’d been fine when they’d parted ways at Wolfram & Hart.
“Don’t, Angel, don’t feel bad about Connor. He died well and is happy here. The two of you have the chance to build a real relationship now. Make the most of it.”
Angel looked at Willow. She seemed to be fading before his eyes. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
She nodded, “It’s not my time yet. I’ll come visit when I can.” She pulled her old friend into a hug and squeezed him tightly.
“Be happy, Angel. You deserve it.”
A cry went up from the group and Angel knew he’d finally been discovered. He squeezed Willow just as hard and whispered, “Thank you for saving me, again, Little One. Be careful.”
Willow faded from sight, but Angel could still feel her presence radiating within him, making him feel safe and secure for the first time in his very long existence. As his friends engulfed him in a joyous group hug, he made a promise to himself. He would make the most of this new life and, hopefully, he’d be around to welcome Willow to the fold when her time on Earth was done.
Thanks be to Gabrielle for the beta and the prompt that inspired this fic.