There's something in the air that she can't quite make out. They've been burning herbs for hours, and she wants to believe it's just the mixture of peat moss and white sage that burns her throat, but deep down, Willow can taste the poison that seeps from Angel's pores.
Her words are hushed as she lights yet another candle, "Offer him peace," she says to the empty room. "Guard him through the night," her voice says, raising to the heavens along with swirling plumes of smoke. "Deny him passage," she breathes over the tip of flame until it has extinguished.
"I think he's sleeping," Oz says, entering the room, paler than normal, crinkle in his nose.
"Sorry about the smell," Willow apologizes, waving her hand over the smoldering leaves in a vain attempt to scatter the odor. "I just hope it will help."
"Of course it will."
His words are meant to comfort, but in the end it is only his kiss and strong arms around her waist that allow her a moment's calm. For the span of a kiss she is no longer in the mansion's Spartan interior, gray walls dragging her hopes into the dullest recesses of her soul. When Oz kisses her she is surrounded by warm comforters and flannel sheets, in the warmth of her room, safe.
"Someone should sit with him until Buffy gets here." She presses softly against his chest, fingers straightening until she is only inches from him, yet the space feels vast. "You can do the chanting," she says, desperate to think of the job they've been given and not the immense feeling of emptiness within her. Every step Oz takes from her the feeling grows, and it is only when she cracks the door to Angel's room open, and sees his trembling body that she remembers, at this moment, he needs her touch far worse than her lover.
The soft click of the door latching behind her is enough to open Angel's eyes. For a moment she has hope, maybe the poison has run its course and he will be lucid, but when he curls his fingers around her wrist, tracing over her pulse as if he could tell her face by its rhythms, she knows he is still in the barrens.
The chair beside the bed is hard, it's woven seat leaves splinters in the backs of her thighs as Willow moves to hear Angel's whispered words. After several moments she rises and joins him on the bed, her lithe body barely moving the thick mattress as she sits beside him. Cool rag in hand, she wipes over his brow, careful not to let the mixture of poisoned sweat and herb soaked water drip into his eyes. Gliding the cloth over his bare chest and abdomen, she thinks there is the slightest look of relief crosses over his face.
"It was a fool's dream," he says, raising his hand to her shoulder.
"What was Angel?"
"To think I could live without you, just leave in the night." There are tears in his eyes and she wonders if it's the poison or the memory of something worse that breaks him. His words come in steady streams, and Willow knows he no longer talks to her, but to the ghosts in the room. "I always leave in the night, I'm sorry for that, it's just easier."
"Angel, it's okay, you're doing the right thing, really you are," she wants to comfort him, take the pain away with cool rags and amateur magic, but it could never be enough. Willow mourns a little for her best friend's lover, the man Buffy fell in love with, and even a little for the demon that she helped bury. If she hadn't brought back his soul maybe it would have been easier on both of them. But then the maybes and what ifs are always easier than the must be's and what nows.
His hands are always in motion, shaking, searching hands, Willow knows what he seeks, his words beg for the Slayer to come, shallow hope that seeing her before he fades to dust will be enough.
"I'm sorry I love you I'm sorry," he mumbles over and over and Willow can't decide where the periods go, whether it is an apology for loving too much or not enough to stay, but her heart breaks for him either way.
The sudden fear that Buffy won't reach him in time crawls over her skin now, it's an engulfing sort of terror that she must find a way to give him peace, all the while knowing it's not really hers to give. She wipes his forehead again, pausing only when his hand rests on her arm, sliding down to hold her hand.
"It's okay, Angel," she leans over him, placing the softest of kisses on his cheek, "it's okay," she whispers again.
"It can't be," he cries into her shoulder as she moves away.
"Angel there's nothing wrong with loving her, you just love so hard it crushes you both," Willow cries with him, soft tears of empathy dripping down her cheeks, mixing with his as they run down his naked chest. "It's going to be alright, just hang on."
And so he does, he holds on to her, and she to him until the door creaks open and the reason for his penance walks through with one last way to break his heart and leave his mouth filled with blood.