* This part is dedicated to Beth because she was so very patient.

 

It's About Time ~ Chapter One
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It was the pain that eventually pulled Willow out of unconsciousness as all the nerve endings in her left hand screamed for recognition.

"Yikes!" Willow yelped, bolting upright to blow on her burning finger. When that did little to ease the caustic pain, she resorted to violently shaking her hand instead, but it was all in vain. Soon she was throwing back the covers and vaulting out of bed. It was as she was hopping up and down barefooted on the soft carpet, cursing softly and shaking her hand until her arm hurt from the strain, that she suddenly realized where she was.

She stopped jumping, the pain forgotten.

"Bloody hell..." she murmured under her breath, slowly spinning in place to finally take note of her surroundings. "It worked! I'm...home! In my own room...and--and I remember!"

Willow paused as a moment of panic set in. She took a deep breath and began to recite the little speech that she'd come up with back in Romania. "My name is Willow Rosenberg," she began aloud to herself. "I'm 17 years old, give or take a century, my parents are Ira and Sheila Rosenberg, and I've lived in Sunnydale, on the hellmouth, all my normal life...I've spent the last 100-plus years back in time with Spike..." Willow stopped herself there and let out a sigh of relief. She did remember.

Willow moved to flip on the light so she could take a better look at her old, familiar room. Narrowing her watering eyes at the sudden brightness, Willow took it all in. From what she could tell, her bedroom was pretty much as she remembered it. Stuffed animals were piled neatly next to her white wicker bed, familiar posters and pictures adorned the walls along side her Sunnydale High banners, fish tank, books, and of course her faithful computer, which sat waiting for her upon her desk. Willow was definitely home.

Just as she was beginning to form several sarcastic comments regarding Spike's prediction that they wouldn't remember their little journey back in time, Willow happened to notice what she was wearing--her old pajamas, the midnight blue ones with the bright gold stars and moons. They certainly weren't the Rom clothes that she'd been wearing when they'd cast the spell, nor did they even remotely resemble the Victorian nightgown that she'd smuggled back. Doubt began to creep its way across her consciousness, drawing questions in its wake. The redhead soon realized that not only did she have no idea how she'd gotten into her pajamas, but she couldn't even recall getting back to her room or, for that matter, anything after they'd completed the spell in Romania.

Growing ill at ease, Willow felt a niggling sensation in the back of her mind, telling her that something else was wrong. Not only was something missing, but she just didn't feel quite right. The redhead took a few moments to compose herself, picturing her calming place and taking a few deep breaths, until she had little problem divining what was wrong. The silver ring of Angelus's that she had worn for more than a century was missing from her finger. Her left hand felt incredibly light but extremely naked without it. Glancing between her bare hand and her childish fire-resistant pajamas, Willow flopped back down on her bed to ponder these new implications.

Just as she was beginning to think that 'no ring plus no gypsy clothes equaled a trip to the funny farm', Willow became aware once again of the pain in her left hand. Inspecting her ring finger more closely, she was relieved to see the very faint band of swollen pink flesh surrounding the digit, precisely where the ring would have been. She brought the area to her mouth, alternately blowing and sucking on the injury. That's when she realized something else strange. The area around her finger wasn't hot to the touch, as it had been when Spike had originally done the spell that pulled them back through time. In fact, it was just the opposite. Her finger was freezing cold.

But at that moment, Willow could care less if would hurt every day for the rest of her life, because the pain meant that she hadn't imagined everything after all. On a hunch, Willow threw open the door to her closet and after rifling through clothes that she hadn't worn in decades, Willow found them. The Rom skirt and blouse and her favorite Victorian nightgown were hanging in the very back of her closet, just behind her winter jacket.

Before Willow knew it, a tear of relief slid down her cheek. "It *is* real, which means once again, Willow Rosenberg, you have managed to thwart insanity!" she informed herself with a smug nod of her head.

Wiping away the tear, Willow had an urgent need to see her parents again. She ran down the hall to her parent's room, only to find their bed empty. That's when she remembered that Sheila and Ira had been out of town all those years ago when Spike had kidnapped her. If Spike was right, then she and the blonde vamp had returned to the exact same time and place that they'd left. So it made sense that her parents were still gone. In fact, she took their absence as a sign that perhaps nothing had really changed as a result of her and Spike's interference.

Despite this knowledge, she sighed at having to wait yet another few days to see her parents, and trudged back to her room.
Willow's disappointment abated a bit as she realized that soon she'd be with all of her old friends again. She couldn't wait to see Xander and Oz, and if everything had worked they way she hoped, Buffy would also be in Sunnydale...and Angel..."

Before Willow's mind could completely wrap around the idea of seeing Angel and Buffy again, let alone together, something on the dresser caught her eye, distracting the redhead. Drawing closer, Willow quickly realized what it was. It was the ring, Angelus's silver band, sitting on top of her dresser as if it had been placed there. Ecstatic--not only for finding the ring but because it was another confirmation that the whole trip back in time hadn't been a figment of her overactive imagination--Willow happily picked the ring up and slid it experimentally back onto her injured finger.

The band was too big, just as it had been that first time she'd put it on--before the spell had magically shrunk it and melded it to her dainty finger. Not wanting to lose the ring, Willow set it back on top of the dresser. She tried to put the ring out of her thoughts, making herself study her room for changes instead, but her eyes kept darting back to it. Berating herself for being a 'ring junkie,' Willow soon gave in and snatched up the small circlet of silver.

Willow quickly padded down the hall to the bathroom and rifled around in the medicine cabinet until she found the Band-Aids. As she fumbled for the tiny red string to unwrap one, Willow couldn't help thinking of all the times the modern bandages would have come in handy during her trip. On Spike alone she could have gone through a few cases of the handy first-aid item. She placed one around her sore finger, and then after choosing another tiny bandage, she wrapped it around the band of the silver ring itself. When she slipped the tiny hoop back on, Willow felt a sense of relief, not only that it felt snug and secure but because it was back where it belonged. After wearing the silver band for more than 100 years, it was a part of her now. Willow didn't want to imagine ever having to give the ring up.

Pushing that thought to the back of her mind, Willow made quick work of getting herself cleaned up. She indulged in an extended brushing of her teeth, having missed modern tubed toothpaste more than she'd ever thought possible. However, the long shower that she'd been dreaming of for so long was going to have to wait. Willow needed to make sure Spike was okay and hopefully get some of her other questions answered at the same time.

Back in her room, Willow surveyed the contents of her closet and dresser drawers. Like a child on Christmas morning, she was practically giddy as she gazed at all of her 'new' and comfortable wardrobe choices.

"Jeans! I can wear jeans! And t-shirts...and sweaters...and...." Willow trailed off as her eyes raked across the bottom of her closet, noting her choice of shoes. The redhead fell to her knees, barely suppressing the urge to kiss her old footwear.

"Oh, thank goodness we didn't accidentally kill the inventor of sneakers...in a roundabout sort of way!" she giggled.

After a short trip down memory lane ala her high school wardrobe, Willow decided on a pair of familiar baggy overalls, a striped T-shirt, and red sneakers. Stripping out of her pajamas, Willow sighed with pleasure as she slipped on a pair of soft, cotton panties and a simple bra. Compared to the multiple layers of clothing she'd had to wear before, Willow was in apparel heaven. Quickly putting on the rest of the old Willow ensemble, she checked herself in the mirror. Her enthusiastic smile waned a bit.

"How come the comfortable clothes make me look like such a...nerd?" she asked her reflection. "Oh well," she added with a shrug, before grabbing a hairbrush to smooth out her long hair. "I'm sure I can find something in between Victoriana and this!"

Resigned to a large shopping trip in her near future, Willow finally headed out the door. In the back of her over-active mind, Willow knew there were other things she should be doing...questions she should be asking...but at the moment only one thing mattered. She had to make sure Spike was okay first. Then, and only then, could she look forward to seeing all of her old friends again.

***

Willow made it through two different cemeteries and was halfway through one of Sunnydale's gloomier parks before she realized that she was in her 'stalker mode'. It was instinct now. Neither her final months with the Rom nor the ten years that she'd traveled with Spike had dampened her wariness. Maybe she didn't have the Slayer's innate ability to sense vampires when they were near, but the redhead had a century's worth of hard-earned experience to fall back on. After all, Willow had spent the better part of a century avoiding vampires, stalking them, or actually living with one, and as a result she felt like she knew as much about vampires as any human could, without actually becoming one, that is.

As Willow continued on toward the mansion, a rustling in the bushes made the redhead quickly take cover behind a large tree. She peeked around the trunk just in time to see a vampire--a fledgling, she assumed, since he was still in 'game face' and making more noise than a vampire should--burst out from the bushes near where she'd been walking only a moment before. The vampire rushed by, seemingly in a hurry. That happened to be fine with Willow, especially since she wasn't too happy about her haphazard hiding place, nor did she have time to fend off a hungry vampire at that moment. When the redhead could no longer hear the vampire's footsteps running away in the opposite direction, Willow resumed her cautious trek to the mansion. She hadn't taken more than three steps before she heard another noise. This time it sounded like a scuffle.

Willow dropped to the ground before proceeding to crawl toward the noise. With a practiced hand, Willow parted the bushes as quietly as possible, but she couldn't contain the slight yelp of surprise that slipped from her lips. From her awkward angle, Willow couldn't see his face. She didn't need to. There was no mistaking him, even from the back--the leather pants, wine-colored, velvety shirt. The fact that he was holding a bleeding teen-aged girl in his grasp only cemented it. Angelus.

<Oh god...something went wrong with the curse!> Willow silently concluded. And with that realization, Willow broke her own rules of stalking. She squeaked and began scrambling backward through the underbrush noisily enough to wake the dead. Even in her panic, she couldn't keep from glancing back up...just in time to see the dark vampire turn and look her way.

Willow finally managed to get to her feet, running as fast as she could toward the mansion. After only a few strides, she decided that the mansion was probably the last place she wanted to be now that she was aware that Angelus was back. As she paused just long enough to change directions, strong hands grabbed her by the forearms.

"And where do you think you're going?" the dark vampire drawled with a smile.

"No..." she gasped, shaking her head in disbelief. After all she and Spike had been through, this could not be happening.

When he smiled at her behavior, it was all too familiar to Willow. Her heart leapt into her throat, stealing her words.

"I've been waiting here forever for you," he reminded her, his voice as deep and dark as she remembered it to be. "You think you can just sneak by me?"

Willow shoved him with all of her strength, twisting out of his grip at the same time and somehow managing to catch him by surprise. She ran as fast as she could, not thinking, not remembering all that she had learned, but in a desperate gait.

Soon she could hear him behind her, closing in. Willow picked up the pace, darting between the trees and the park benches, fitting though spaces that she knew his larger frame wouldn't...anything to put some distance between them. Sparing a glance behind to see if her pursuer was gaining, Willow ran squarely into another body.

She fell back, landing upon her backside on the damp earth. Startled, Willow looked up to find Xander standing above her, rubbing his shoulder and grimacing.

"Whoa there, Wills. What's with all the rushing and slamming into people?"

Willow's jaw dropped open. Although she'd known that she would see her childhood friend eventually, it was still a surprise after all this time.

"Xander!" Willow leapt to her feet, ignoring the hand that he held out to help her. "Xander...it's you! You're here! You're...you!" Willow said in a rush.
The surprised redhead pulled him into a crushing hug, momentarily forgetting the vampire that was stalking her.

Xander laughed. "Yeah, well, I was going to come as Cordelia, but none of her sweaters matched my pants."

"Cordelia?" Willow asked the dark-haired boy, just as the beautiful brunette walked up.

"That is *so* not funny, Xander," Cordelia informed them both. "If you want to explore your feminine side, you'll just have to find someone else's cashmere tops to stretch out."

"Talk about your scary mental images," joked the blonde Slayer as she joined the group.

Willow slid out of Xander's embrace at the sound of her friend's voice. "Buffy?"

"The one and only."

Willow threw herself into her friend's arms, tears of joy spilling down the redhead's cheeks. "It's been so long. Sometimes I thought I'd never see you again!"

Buffy awkwardly returned her friend's hug and traded a puzzled look with Xander, who just shrugged in return.

"Why, Wills? You planning on playing hooky again tomorrow? Giles said you have a fever, but you don't look that sick to me." The blonde grinned knowingly. "Willow...don't tell me you finally sacrificed your perfect attendance record in order to let your bad side out to play?" Buffy teased good-naturedly as her friend pulled away.

"Bad side?" Willow blinked at her friend, not understanding what she was talking about. Luckily it triggered her awareness of the unsafe situation that they were all in. "Oh bloody hell...I was so happy to see you that I forgot! We've got to go and go now. He's right behind me!"

Buffy had a stake in her hand in an instant, ready to do business. "What's the sitch? Vamp? Demon?"

"Angelus," Willow said in a low whisper.

The gang exchanged questioning glances over Willow's head.

"Angelus?" Buffy repeated. She then shoved the stake into Willow's hand. "You're on your own. You two are not going to pull me into your sick little games."

Willow was horrified at the blonde's attitude but grasped the stake with a practiced hand. Willow took a few paces toward the sound of the quickly approaching footsteps before turning around to face her friends. Then the redhead took a deep breath and waited. Seconds later, a cool hand clutched her shoulder. Willow grabbed hold of his arm and, once again using the vampire's weight to her own advantage, flipped him over her shoulder. The instant the Irish vampire landed on the ground at her feet, she was in motion. Without looking at his face, Willow straddled his waist, holding the stake high over her head.

The stake was halfway to the startled vampire's chest, when its forward momentum was halted by a firm grip on Willow's wrist.

"What are you doing, Willow?" Buffy huffed, wrenching it from her friend's hand. "I know you two like to play your little cat and mouse games, but don't you think you were getting a little carried away? You might have actually hurt Angel!"

"No!" Willow exclaimed adamantly, her eyes darting from the Slayer to the vampire beneath her. "You don't understand! This is..."

Her voice trailed off as she finally allowed her eyes to meet his. The soft sable eyes regarding her held no malice, no glint of mocking superiority or trickery, just a touch of mirth.

"...Angel?" Willow finished.

"Looks like my self-defense lessons are finally paying off. You almost had me that time, Willow. For a second there I thought you were really going to stake me."

Willow shook her head. "B-but the pants...the shirt..."

"They're too much, aren't they?" Angel asked, furrowing his brow. "I knew they were too much," he added under his breath. "That's the *last* time I go shopping on an empty stomach. Those salesgirls can talk me into almost anything when I'm hungry..." he joked, receiving chuckles from the others for his efforts. All except for Willow.

"You're not...you know...evil?" she squeaked, much to her own embarrassment.

Angel tilted his head a bit, his lips twitching in barely contained amusement. "Suppose that depends on your definition of the word evil."

"Oh, he's evil alright," Xander cut in. "You should see how red-pen happy he went all over my history paper on the Irish Famine. All I asked was for a little help from the guy--you know, since he'd *been* there--and now he's making me write the whole thing all over again before I turn it in on Monday." The dark-haired boy shook his head. "And you ask me if he's evil," he scoffed.

"You want to talk evil?" Buffy added. "How about Giles making us reorganize all his Watcher books at the library last week. Suddenly the Dewey Decimal System isn't good enough? That's down-right sinister!"

"And the salesgirl who talked Angel into wearing that belt must have been working some seriously dark mojo," said Cordy, adding her two cents to the light-hearted banter.

Everyone looked at the pretty, dark-haired girl.

"What?" Cordy questioned her friends with a tinge of impatience. "Can't I play too?"

Angel laughed, jostling the redhead on top of him. Realizing she was still straddling the vampire, Willow struggled to her feet and backed away. She glanced around at her friends, who were regarding her with concern but didn't seem at all worried about the vampire that was now getting to his feet.

Brushing himself off, the brown-eyed vampire took a step closer. Willow backed up a step. Cocking his head to the side, Angel took another step closer, and Willow once again took an equal step away. Willow's thoughts flashed back to their deadly dance in the woods outside the Rom camp, which felt like only yesterday to the girl.

"Cute dance, Fred and Ginger," chirped Xander. "You kids really oughta take that show on the road."

"I don't dance," the vampire said quite seriously, even as a small smile crept onto his face at their little two-step.

"An--Angelus?" Willow whispered to herself, but from the change in his expression, she knew that the vampire had heard her.

The amusement was gone, his eyes growing wider. "Rose?" he asked almost sheepishly.

Cordelia and Buffy, who'd been watching the strange display, mouthed the word 'Rose' to each other questioningly.

Willow's hands flew to cover her gaping mouth. It was Angel. The spell had worked, and Angel had never relost his soul! Relief flooded through her as she realized the vampire's bad wardrobe choices had just been a fluke.

"Angel...it worked?"

"Yes, it worked," came a feminine voice from behind her. Willow turned to find a beautiful dark-haired woman regarding her with no small measure of relief, Giles at her side.

Willow's new world began to spin out of control. When combined with all of the excitement of the last few days with the Rom, this was too much. Strong hands tried to steady the redhead just as her vision began to grow dark.

"Ms. Calendar..." Willow managed to mumble before unconsciousness stole her voice. For the first time in her unnaturally long life, Willow fainted from something other than blood loss.
~~~~
End Chapter 1
 

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