I have to sleep with the lights on, these days.

It's weird, to be suddenly so afraid. It's not like I haven't been afraid pretty much all the time, ever since I met Buffy, but it was always handleable, you know? I could be afraid but still go charging up against demons and vampires and stuff, because Buffy needed me -- for moral support and computer backup, mostly, but she still needed me and I could help.

But I can't help with this. And I can't stop being afraid. It's worse because I was never once afraid of Angel, not before. No matter how much Xander wigged, or how much Giles warned, I was never afraid of him. And not because I was in love with him, like Buffy. More because I never saw a reason *not* to trust him.

I've got one now. Lots of them. That's why I sleep with the lights on. Otherwise, I can hear his voice in the dark, hurting Buffy by threatening me. I can feel his hands around my throat, his breath on the back of my neck. I shouldn't have gone to him in the hallway, not when I *knew* something was wrong, . But I did, and if Xander and Ms. Calendar and Buffy hadn't come, Angel would have killed me.

No, that's wrong. Not Angel. Angelus. I have to remember that, or I'll go crazy. I'm still not afraid of Angel and I never will be -- but Angelus scares me to death.

But I have to sleep sometime. It's only a little after midnight; Buffy's probably still out on patrol, but there haven't been any interesting crisis for a couple of days, so Giles wouldn't let me stay at the library. He told me to go home and get some sleep. Great. Sleep. So everything I work on blocking out during the day can come tearing in and get me at night. That's a plan.

The nightmares have been pretty bad, lately. I mean, not Buffy-level bad -- I don't really *want* to know what she dreams any more. But mine are bad enough -- Angelus and Drusilla and Spike... Heck, even Moloch decided to come back and visit last night. It's Old Home Week in Willow's Brain. How fun.

I lie back underneath the covers, pulling all of my stuffed animals close. They used to chase away the bad dreams when I was younger, but that was before I knew that the bad dreams were real. Now, all they can do is build a wall between me and the rest of the room. I haven't opened the curtains on my big window in a long time. Angel came in that way once; I can't even look at it without seeing Angelus do the same.

I take a deep breath and close my eyes -- and they pop back open at a noise outside. A branch breaking? The wind? A vampire.....?

No. Sleep. I have to sleep. I close my eyes and take another deep breath; the light of the lamp shines through my eyelids, a nice warm glow....

The sun is nice and warm on my shoulders as I walk along the school sidewalks, listening happily to Buffy and Xander talk. It doesn't really matter what they're saying, as long as Xander is laughing and Buffy is smiling, those horrible ghosts gone from her eyes for a little while. We're heading for the library and we'll tease Giles and he'll pretend to mind and everything will be just like normal....

The screams reach us first; a girl shrieking at the top of her lungs. We've all heard those screams before and we know what they mean. Buffy is off and running, with me and Xander right behind her, before anyone else around us has time to react.

It's Cordelia, of course, standing in the middle of the quad, her hands over her face, screaming. And in front of her is... Ohmigod. It's Angelus. It's *daytime*, it's the sun, he can't *be* here!

But he is. He's holding a body, dangling limp carelessly from his arms, and he raises his head and it's the demon's face, smiling at Buffy. She's stopped cold, frozen in shock, her face whiter than paper. Next to her, I think Xander has stopped breathing. Then he snarls, an angry, tearing sound of agony that I've never heard from him before, never thought he was capable of.

He dives for Angelus, reaching for his throat, but Angelus just bats him away without even dropping the body he's holding. Xander hits the ground so hard I can *hear* him. I scream his name and I run to him, falling on my knees beside him on the pavement. I reach for him, try to turn him over so I can see his face -- and my hand goes right through him.

"Xander? Xander!" It's Buffy now; she's staring at Xander with her eyes wide. Then they get cold and hard and focus on Angelus, still smiling. "Two down," he says, gloating, and I blink. He's only hurt one of us....

"Let her go," Buffy says, her voice so grim it scares even me.

Angelus doesn't care; he just lets the body dangle from one arm. "What, this? No, you don't want this." He grins, a vicious mockery of Angel's reluctant smile. "Nothing left here anymore."

I keep kneeling over Xander, trying to force my hands to work. They sink into his shirt without stopping and I have to yank them back out as Buffy lunges for Angelus, pulling a stake out of nowhere. I still can't touch Xander, and there's blood underneath his head. I scream, but I can't hear my own voice; just Angelus and Buffy fighting, and Cordelia still screaming, high and raw and shrill.

Something thuds to the ground next to me with a dull sound, like someone dropped a stack of garbage. I look over involuntarily, barely able to see through my tears of fear and frustration. It's the body Angelus was holding. A girl, with red hair covering her face.... The wind picks up, blowing my hair in my face, blowing the girl's hair away, leaving her face bare...

And I look at myself, seeing the blood trickle from the twin wounds at the base of my neck, seeing my eyes stare wide and blank up at the sky.

"No!" I can hear my scream this time, feel it tear at my throat. I close my eyes, fisting my hands and trying to pound them on the ground. They go right through and I fall forward, still screaming.

"Scream all you like, pet. There's no one to hear you, no one to come. I've brought you here to play with me."

I know that voice, although I've never heard it. I look up and a vampire with dark hair is standing over me. I know she's a vampire, even though her face is human; the utter lack of sanity in her eyes would give her away, even if I didn't know Drusilla's face.

She smiles down at me, like we're old friends, and holds out her hand. "All of your other playmates are gone," she tells me, smiling broadly like I should be happy to hear it. "There's only me now, but we'll have such fun. We'll have a party and we'll play and then I'll kill you."

"No!" I can move again suddenly, and I do; but I can also touch again, and I'm moving too fast to avoid Xander. I stumble over him and fall to my back beside him, looking into his face. He looks back at me, with eyes open and sightless and empty.

"Xander!" Even as I cry his name, I hear Cordelia echo my scream and see Spike come out of nowhere, grabbing her by the hair and forcing her backwards into his arms. Buffy sees, too, but in the second she looks, Angelus hits her across the face, sending her stumbling backwards, her stake falling from her hand to the ground. I can't get to Cordelia, I can't even move, as Spike bends his neck and buries his fangs in Cordelia's neck. She screams one last time, then goes limp and still.

Buffy's somehow gotten her balance back. She sees Cordelia but it's too late. Her face goes wild with rage and she goes after Angelus with another stake aimed at his heart. Their bodies collide, then they both go still. I watch, waiting for Angelus to be dust, wishing with blind hatred that he would just *die*.

But it's Buffy who takes a step back, her hands going to her chest -- where the stake she dropped is buried. She tries to say something, and Angelus smiles down at her, caressing her cheek in a horrible parody of Angel's touch.

Then she falls to the ground.

Spike drops Cordelia and she falls too, blood trickling from her neck. Drusilla bounces and claps her hands. "There! All done!" She smiles down at me, her face slowly shifting from human to demon. "Now, we can play with you."

I cower back as they advance on me -- Spike, still licking Cordelia's blood from his lips; Drusilla, happy smile firmly in place, her fangs poking through; Angelus, with Angel's face and an evil glee that Angel would never have worn. I can't run, I can't hide, I can't even scream.

"Nothing left, little girl," Drusilla croons, bending over me, blocking out the sunlight that still surrounds them. Spike and Angelus laugh, and their faces close in on me, still laughing. As they surround me, I huddle into myself on the ground, and pray that they kill me quickly.

Except I'm already dead. I'm dead and I'll die and it's over and I'm dead and I'm dead.....

"Get away from her!"

Hands come out of nowhere, grabbing Angelus and Spike and forcing them away from me. Another body comes between them and me; another shape blocks out the sunlight. I know this one, too.

"Leave her alone," Angel snarls. His face is enraged, but still human, not even squinting in the sun. The other three back away from him slowly, not running.

"No fair," Drusilla pouts. "You're spoiling *all* of our fun! We were going to play games."

"Not here," Angel tells them, his voice a low, protective growl. "Not here and not with her. Get out."

"You think you can give orders?" Angelus demands, stepping forward, his eyes gleaming yellow. "You're not in charge anymore, remember? You had your chance, and you blew it. You can't stop us, *Angel*."

His voice makes the name an insult, but Angel doesn't even blink. "I can't stop you out there, but in here -- I'll kill you." He steps towards Angelus again, his hands in fists at his side. "Get. Gone."

The three vampires look at each other, and Angel smiles. Really wide, like he's daring them; if it was anyone but Angel, *I'd* be running. He looks like he's waiting for an excuse to kill them all.

Finally, Drusilla turns away with a flourish. "I didn't like this game anyway," she pouts. "I'll find something more fun to play."

"Yeah, we will," Angelus promises her -- or maybe he's promising Angel. They're still having a staredown; the same eyes, the same face, but nothing else the same. "You can't protect them forever."

Angel's jaw tightens. "Watch me."

Angelus snarls, but Angel just keeps staring him down. Finally, he turns and stalks after Spike and Drusilla.

Angel watches them go, then he kneels beside me, his hands on my shoulders. "It's all right, Willow," he whispers. "It's all right."

I shudder, trying not to cry and let my head sink to the ground, relief making me weak and dizzy. Angel's hands are strong, keeping me from falling on my face.

When I look back up, I realize it's night again and I'm back in my bedroom -- and he's still there.


He smiles at me, a real smile, one that makes me feel warm and safe down to my toes. "Yeah. Don't worry, Willow, they're gone. And they won't be back."

I shake my head, the room still going in slow circles. "Xander? Buffy? Cordelia?"

"They're fine," he assures me quickly, helping me stand, then just as quickly helping me sit on the edge of my bed. He kneels in front of me. "I can't help you out there, but I can fight them in here. I promise you, in here, I'll keep you safe."

He brushes a piece of my hair away from my face, and touches my cheek. "Sweet dreams, Willow." One more smile, his eyes gentle. Then he stands up, and then he's gone....

...And then the sunlight is falling on my face as I sit on the side of my bed. Sunlight all around me, pouring through the uncovered window, around the curtain that had been closed when I went to sleep last night.

I hear Buffy's voice as I go through the library doors. Xander is sprawled there, too, looking like he's gotten about as much sleep as I did, his face studiously blank.

"I'm telling you, Giles, it was real!" Buffy is insisting.

Giles is shaking his head, polishing his glasses like he does when he wants an excuse to not look one of us in the eyes. "Buffy, I understand that you want to believe this was real. But there is absolutely no evidence that...."

"They. Were. Real." There's absolutely no room for doubt in Buffy's voice and face. "Spike and Drusilla and Angelus. They were all real. I saw them kill Willow and Xander and Cordelia, and then I watched them kill me. Then he was there, and he stopped them."

I stopped being able to move when she said the vampires' names, frozen in mid-step as surely as I'd been frozen in my nightmare. Had she said....?

Giles sighs heavily. "They were spells designed for attacking the sleeping mind in the book Spike stole from the library, but the idea of his actually being able to cast it, and then of Angel somehow appearing, able to defend you -- it's rather far-fetched. Your subconscious, perhaps, supplying a means of self-defense...."

He looks apologetic as he says it, feeling guilty for trashing Buffy's hopes. I bite my lip, then start to tell them -- but Xander has his hand half-raised, tentatively.

"I, ah...." His voice trails off, then he sighs heavily and continues, reluctantly, "I saw him, too. Last night. And Angel is the last place *my* subconscious is gonna look for help."

Buffy and Giles both turn on him. "What?" "What did you see?" they demand pretty much in chorus.

Xander shrugs, not looking at them. "Angel.. *Angelus* killed Willow." He has to stop to gulp after that, and I smile at him a little, although he hasn't see me yet. "I went for him and I watched him kill me... then they went after Buffy and Cordelia. When they were... done, they came back for me again. And Angel stopped them."

He shakes his head, bemused. "It was.. weird. He said he... couldn't fight them 'out there', but he said, 'I promise you--'"

"'--in here, I'll keep you safe.'" I finish the quote along with Xander. And so does Buffy, the three of us in perfect unison. Giles blinks at all of us, realizing for the first time that I'm there, then blinks again as what we've just said sinks in.

We stare at each other in silence for a long, long time.

I get ready for bed that night like always -- nightshirt, stuffed animals, blankets tucked in. The lights are still on when I get under the covers -- my hand hovers over the lampswitch for a long time. Then I finally turn it off.

Darkness falls around me, moonlight shining through my window onto my bed. I pull my teddy bear close and turn over, closing my eyes. Angel will keep me safe; he promised.

Angelus scares me to death -- but I'm not afraid of Angel and I never will be.

"in the arms of an angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you're in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort there"
   -- Sarah McLachlan, 'Angel'



Yes, I know what the song 'Angel' is about, but I have no issues with someone else's artistic integrity; out of context, this quote works just fine. So there.

As dumb as it sounds to say a story was inspired by a dream, it was -- both an actual dream, and the nightmare that second season was for all lovers of Angel. Willow's description of Angel getting between her and the monsters was actually a welcome relief in the middle of arelatively terrifying nightmare, not long after "Surprise" and "Innocence" aired. While the story has been somewhat Jossed, I still believe it's possible. And nice. < sniffle >

Dedicated to Chris, who helps make the nightmares go away.