* I've decided to start posting in somewhat smaller chapters in hopes that it'll make me write faster if I can't dwell, tweak and rewrite a billion times.  Let's hope it works!  So, this chapter 18 is only half of what I had planned which means you'll have to wait until Chapter 19 for some good W/A interaction and for Spike's....  Well, you'll see ;-)

** See full notes in Chapter 1

***  Big thanks to Lisa for being a wonderful substitute beta for me.  Thank you!

****  Medea - Hope you're having a great time!  And I told you I'd fit the 'protein' line in eventually.  Thanks for the challenge ;-)

*****  Dedicated to everyone that volunteered to beta Chapter 18 for me.  It's nice to know I can always depend on help when I need it.
 

It's About Time  ~ Chapter 18
*********
 
 

"Spike, I don't know if this is such a good idea," Willow said as the vampire pulled out her chair for her before taking his seat across the table.  "Wouldn't you rather go somewhere else?"

That earned her a pout, complete with slumped shoulders and a slightly clenched jaw.  "Ashamed to be seen with me now, Red?"

"Don't be silly."  Willow looked around The Bronze as she sipped her soda.  Spike had offered to get her a drink with a little more punch to it, but she'd declined.  She'd have no way to prove to anyone that she was more than 5 times the legal drinking age, so she was content with Diet Coke for now.  "I'm just surprised you chose for us to come here when this is the first chance in weeks we've had to spend any real time together."

"Ah, it's all part of the master plan, pet."

Willow lifted a playfully suspicious brow.  "Which master plan is that?  The one to take over a small island in the pacific somewhere and start your own brave new world?"

"Nah, the *important* master plan, pet," Spike said in hushed tone, as if sharing a critical secret.  "My devious plot to eat one of those tasty fried onion things."

Willow laughed.  She should have known.  No matter where they were, Spike seemed to always have a favorite food that he couldn't get enough of.  In Galway it had been lamb; in London it had been scones with clotted cream, while in Vienna it had been strudel.

"I've never known a vampire who enjoys food as much as you, Spike."

"Known a lot of vamps, have you?"

"The only ones that matter."

That earned her a smile from the unusually reserved vampire.  "Good answer."

"Still, you definitely eat more than Angel does," Willow decided aloud.  "Sure, I've seen him eat his fair share of pizza and glazed buttermilk donuts, and lately he does seem kind of fascinated with ice cream, especially chocolate, but other than that--"

"Way to ruin the appetite, pet," Spike interrupted, scowling.  "Any other little details about the soulful one you wish to bore me to a second death with?  What brand of hair gel the ponce uses?  The exact bloody shade of his eyes when he's brooding 'bout you, perhaps?"

Willow felt heat rush to her face.  She hadn't meant to talk about Angel at all tonight, let alone babble on about him with all the maturity of a preteen girl at a Backstreet Boys concert.  And there was no way she was going to admit to Spike that she'd already identified the *exact* color of Angel's eyes--they were the shade of hot, melted fudge.

Willow barely caught herself before she sighed.  Now her cheeks really were burning.

Directing her thoughts away from Angel and back to the vampire before her, Willow gave Spike a sly grin.  "Actually, it's all part of *my* master plan, Spike," she said.  "Because now that you've lost your deep-fried onion craving, we can go somewhere else."

Spike seemed to relax.  His voice took on a smoother note and a twinkle returned to his ice-blue eyes.  "If you're not ashamed of me, Red, then you must be trying to get me alone so you can have your wicked way with me." He paused with a thoughtful look on his face.  "Actually, suppose *any* way with me would be wicked, on count of the whole demon thing, eh?"

*My* wicked way with you?" Willow teased.  "Isn't that what you have Drusilla for?"  Willow looked around the club full of familiar faces, several of which seemed to be eyeing her and Spike with open curiosity as if they'd never seen her without the others before.  It was making her strangely self-conscious on a night when all she wanted to do was relax and be herself.  "I just thought we could go somewhere less crowded," she said aloud.

Spike's frown returned, and he stared down into his wineglass.  "Your bloody friends aren't even here, Red.  Quit worrying."

"I'm not worried, Spike.  I'd just like to spend some time with you without any drama."

"Is the amazing dog boy playing tonight then?"

"No, *Oz's* band isn't playing tonight," she said softly.

She hadn't spoken with Oz since she'd told him the truth.  He wasn't avoiding her, exactly.  When they passed in the halls Oz smiled instead of running the other way, but she really had no idea what he was thinking or feeling.  Willow knew Oz well enough to realize that when he was ready to talk, he'd come to her.  She wasn't going to push him.

Spike downed the final swallow of wine then dipped his finger in the remaining crimson drop.  He studied the red bead of liquid that clung to the tip of his finger and asked, "You really don't care what they think about this peculiar little relationship of ours?"

Willow watched as his tongue snaked out to lick at the last drop of wine.  It looked like he was going to lay the sexual innuendo on a little heavy tonight.  Probably trying to make up for lost time, she thought with a smile.  Good thing she was strong.  Seeing a man a sexy as Spike lick anything was a lot for any girl to take, let alone 'The Yoda of Virgins' as Xander had recently dubbed her.

"Nope," she replied with only a slight squirm in her seat.

Spike smirked, but then the smirk was quickly replaced with something Willow didn't recognize as easily. "Then you won't care that the Scabby Gang just walked in," he said after a moment, leaning back in his chair to watch her warily.

Willow's shoulders sagged.  This was exactly what she'd been trying to avoid all along.  Was it really too much to ask to spend some time with Spike?

Since she'd come clean with the gang--well, fairly clean anyway--a couple of weeks earlier, she'd had little time to spend with Spike.  They had been able to fit in their poker game that Saturday night, but since then, time seemed to be in short supply.  Willow always seemed busy with school or the gang, and Drusilla took up most Spike's time.  The only reason they'd been able to meet tonight was because the vampiress was doing her monthly 'girls mini-break' weekend away, whatever that meant.  So, Willow had set tonight aside for Spike, which is exactly what she'd told Buffy that afternoon. Why then were the others here?

To play babysitter, of course.

Willow tried to look at the bright side.  Obviously, her friends cared about her and were simply worried for her safety.  There was no sign of Angel either, which was another plus.  The souled vampire hadn't said a word earlier when she'd announced her plans to spend time with Spike.  He hadn't exactly jumped up and down with joy either, but he hadn't tried to change her mind or lift a finger to stop her.  Perhaps he was afraid to ruin their new friendship and wanted to stay on her good side.  Or maybe, just maybe, he understood her need to see her old friend Spike again.  Whatever the reason, Willow was more than a little relieved not to see Angel with the others.

With the heavy feeling of one that was about to forge into battle, Willow pushed away from the haven of their quiet table and got to her feet.  "I'll be right back," she said without looking at Spike.  Her mind was already focused on what she was going to say to her other friends.  She left Spike and walked briskly to the gang's usual table by the dance floor.

They looked up as she approached, trying to look surprised to see her there. Willow!"

"Hey, guys, what are you doing here?  I thought you were going to see a movie."

The three exchanged awkward looks, which Willow easily read as 'Why didn't we come up with a cover story before we came in?'

Xander was the first to attempt an excuse.  "We were, uh, too late for the movie."

"Oh, yeah, Xander's right," Buffy added.  "By the time we'd gotten there, it had already started. You know how it is, Will.  Miss the first few minutes of a movie and you spend the rest of it feeling lost and trying to catch up.  It's too much work for something that's supposed to be mindless fun."

"But you'd left Angel's in plenty of time," Willow reminded them.

They looked at each other nervously before Cordelia finally spoke up.  "We had to, er, stop back at my house so I could change lipstick.  It looked like Buffy and I were wearing the same shade and there is no way I'm going to have people believing that we have the same taste when our coloring is so different!"

Willow sighed.  It was hard to believe that out of all of them, Cordy was the best liar.

"So what are you and...*Spike* up to?" Xander asked with a quick glance over Willow's shoulder at the vampire.

Willow pretended not to notice the way Xander had said Spike's name, as if it were the worst sort of four-letter word.

"We're just talking and are about to share an onion.  So, I'm sure you'll understand if I get back to Spike."

"Hey, I wonder if it's too late to see if we can get the kitchen to sub a huge clove of garlic for the onion?  Maybe he won't notice until it's too late!"

Buffy's smiled for a moment, then her nostrils flared as she stared at something over Willow's shoulder.  Willow wasn't surprised when Spike came up behind her.  He was holding a take-out carton in his hand and wafting from it was the greasy-sweet smell of Spike's latest favorite snack.

"I'll just be on my way then, Red."

Willow spun to face him.  "What?"

"I'll leave you with your...friends," he said simply.

Buffy shifted closer, drawing herself up to her full slayer height.  "Most intelligent thing you've said in months, Spike.  Probably ever."

Xander chuckled at Buffy's joke.  "I'll call Ripley's."

Willow ignored them all.  "Wait...you're going?"

"Oh, and don't forget to let the door crush you to death on your wait out," Buffy added cheekily, repeating Spike's own words from their last encounter.

"Don't want to ruin your fun, pet," he said softly, still ignoring the others.

"But...but...*you're* my fun, Spike.  Tonight's our night to spend together."

Xander grimaced and made a choking noise.  "Any chance you could rephrase that, Willow?" he pleased, causing Willow to roll her eyes with impatience.

"After all, Red, *I* had you for decades," the vampire continued, "and *I* don't mind sharing you."

His tone was lighthearted enough, but the tense muscles of Spike's face revealed his true feelings on the matter.  It was obvious that Spike would let her spend time with her friends if she wanted.  He wouldn't hold it against her and he wouldn't make her choose.  She wasn't so sure the others were going to be so accommodating, which only served to strengthen her resolve to spend as much time as she wanted with Spike.

"You aren't going anywhere, Spike," she said in her firmest tone.  "This is *our* night."  Smiling, she turned back to the gang, softening her voice.  "Guys, tonight I'm going to spend time with Spike.  I don't need a chaperone, so if it was anything other than Cordelia's lipstick crisis that made you miss the movie, you might as well forget it."

"Willow--" the three young people said in a strange distraught union.

"And while I know the polite thing would be for me to ask you all to join us..." At that point, she didn't know who looked more horrified, Buffy or Spike.  "...I'm sure you'll understand when I don't.  Spike and I are going to sit back down and enjoy ourselves.  Have fun, guys, and I'll see you all tomorrow, okay?"  Willow didn't wait for an answer.  With one last smile and a wave goodbye to her dumbstruck friends, she turned around and marched back to the table she'd been sharing with Spike.

Spike and his onion followed.

*****

"Anyone else feel nauseous?"

Cordelia's and Buffy's hand shot up in answer to Xander's question.  For the last hour, the three of them had sat staring at Willow and Spike, who were still seated at a small table tucked in a private corner of The Bronze.

Since Willow had told them about going back in time with Spike, things had definitely improved around Slayer Central.  They weren't exactly back to pre-back-in-time-spell days, but Willow's unusual behavior was starting to make some sense to them now.  She seemed more relaxed, happier. Angel's mood had drastically improved as well, and while he wasn't quite his old self either, things at Slayer Central were looking up.

Or at least they had been until some of the more negative ramifications of Willow's past started to sink in, her relationship with Spike being the most obvious. While they knew that Willow still occasionally spent some time with the vampire, it was something they didn't talk about.  It was their own version of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.  As a group, they also did their best to assure that Willow had as little spare time to spend with Spike as possible.  They went to movies, had sleepovers at Buffy's house, and kept Willow as busy as possible with researching, patrols and even helping them with their homework.

Their subtle plan had worked well, until tonight, when Willow actually declared that she was going to hang out with Spike instead of going to the movies with them.

Oh sure, Willow, hang out with the evil undead, they had all thought to themselves in one form or another.  That's okedoke with us.

Not!

They waited for Angel to talk her out of it, remind her dangerous Spike was, and refuse to let her set one foot out the door, but he'd remained silent at first.  Then, without any sign of anger or sulking, he simply volunteered to take all the patrols that night, then grabbed his coat and slipped out into the darkness, which left them to look out for Willow's welfare this time around.  Without discussion, Buffy, Xander, and Cordelia cancelled their movies plans and put themselves back on top secret Willow duty.

The teenagers followed the pair at a safe distance, ending up at The Bronze.  They weren't quite prepared to find Willow and Spike sitting alone, talking, laughing.  It was *their* territory, after all.  The Bronze was like The Scooby Gang's second home.  Okay, maybe third home, after Slayer Central.  But it didn't really matter where this teen hangout landed on their 'home away from home' scale, it was still wrong to let Spike invade it.

Xander groaned.  "The Bronze better start keeping Pepto-Bismol on tap."

Buffy tried to pry her eyes away from Willow and Spike, but she couldn't.

"I don't like the way she touches him," she announced, frowning.  "She's always putting her hand on his arm or touching him when she's laughing.  I know she used to do that all the time with you, Xander, but this is Spike."  Buffy groaned again.  "Nope, I don't like it.  It's...oogy."

"And what about how he's always leaning in, whispering in her ear and talking real close," Xander added before taking another sip of his soda.

Buffy shook her head.  "Which usually leads to the laughing and more touching.  Have I mentioned how little I like it?"

"And doesn't Willow realize how close the ear is to the neck?  That girl is just asking to get bitten."

"You know," Cordelia began, "Spike smiles a lot for a vampire.  Not the 'oh yummy, dinner's on' kinda smile that we usually get right before Buffy stakes their stupid undead asses, but more of a happy smile.  I wish someone would tell me what the undead have to be so happy about?"

"Angel smiles a lot, too," Buffy quickly reminded them, earning her a pointed look from the others.  "Well, he used to smile like that all the time before..."  She trailed off, not liking what she was about to say.

Xander, unfortunately, finished the thought for her.  "Before *this* Willow came back."  Xander blanched at his own unfair words.  "No!  We can't think like that," he backtracked.  "It's not Willow's fault that things have changed.  It's Spike's."

"Right!" Buffy nodded between sips of her soda.  "And as difficult as it is for us to adjust to the new Willow, it's probably a piece of cake compared to what she's going through.  Can you imagine being ancient and still having to go to school?  Life is so unfair."

At that moment, Willow's laughter broke above the standard noise level of the club.  They looked over to see both Willow and Spike still chuckling over some private joke.

Cordelia set down her drink and frowned at them.  "Oh, yeah.  She's really suffering."

The mood turned quiet again as the teenagers strained to hear what Willow and Spike were discussing that could have her laughing so freely.  Soon they were leaning forward in their seats, their chairs tipping on two legs as they eavesdropped on their old friend.

"Freud?"  Xander said a few minutes later, looking around at the others, his eyes wide.  "Sigmund Freud?  Did Spike just say they met Sigmund Freud?"

"No," Cordelia replied, "Spike just said they sat next to Freud in an outdoor cafe in Vienna and when they realized who he was, they smoked a lot of very thick cigars while discussing their rotten relationships with their mothers and their strange dreams.  Apparently, Freud was leaning so far back in his chair, trying to listen to what they were saying, that he fell backwards onto the ground."

The three paused, noting their own eavesdropping positions.  Sheepishly, they tilted back in their seats until their chairs rested on all four legs again and sat up straight.

Xander pushed his drink away. "Wow.  It sounds like they've really had some fun together."

"Yeah," the girls agreed reluctantly before they all fell silent again.

"So, what are we going to do about this?" Cordelia finally asked.

"Maybe we don't really need to do anything," Buffy answered weakly.  "I mean, Willow does keep saying that they were friends...that Spike saved her life more than once, and Angel didn't seem particularly worried tonight."

Xander shook his head.  "I'm still stuck on the 'friends' part.  *I'm* her friend...I can't remember a time when we weren't best friends.  My oldest memories have Willow in them, but now..."

"She's known Spike longer than she's known any of us," Buffy reminded them.  "Even you, Xander."

"And how the hell am I supposed to compete with meeting Freud and dancing with royalty and sipping wine while exploring Greek ruins?  Suddenly giving her my yellow crayon doesn't seem like quite the life-long bonding experience that it used to."

Buffy patted his arm.  "Try not to think of it that way, Xander."

"I don't like it," Xander grumbled.  "He's still a vampire, isn't he?  Which means that as soon as he leaves here, if he can drag himself away from Willow that is, he'll probably snack on a few strangers on his way back to Drusilla."

"What's to stop him from nibbling on Willow now, anyway?" Cordelia asked.  "She's human again."

"My thoughts exactly," Xander said with a pointed look at Buffy.  "Which brings us back to Cordy's original question.  What are we going to do about this?"

Buffy's face grew grim, her spine went ramrod straight.  "We're going to have to do our best to make Willow see the real danger she's in," Buffy said, sounding every inch the Slayer.  "Even if the truth makes her hates us for a little while."

*****

Spike was in his element.  Other than a spot of violence, there was nothing like a bit of mental torture to make his night, and he was 'happy as Larry' when the Scabby Gang just sat there and took it like the ignorant lot that they were.

As the evening went on, Spike's laugh grew louder and his smile more devilish as he leaned in a little closer to Willow.  He'd noticed their glares the moment they'd entered the club.  He fed on those angry looks, and it only made him grin more.  This was exactly what he'd been hoping would happen.

When Willow wasn't looking, he returned their glares with boastful disdain.  Otherwise, he played it cool.

Now, the vampire faked a little sigh of his own and did his best to look dejected yet understanding.  Bloody hell if he didn't feel like a wally, but it was part of the plan. His real master plan, which had nothing to do with onions or islands in the South Pacific.

"Don't think your pals approve, love."

Willow looked over her shoulder at her friends and gave them what he assumed was supposed to be a cheerful wave, but it looked a little forced to him.

Perfect.

"Seriously, pet, join them if you want.  I'll understand," he said, making sure there was only a tinge of animosity in his voice.  Any more might raise a red flag and make her worry about her friends safety; any less would also be suspicious.  He was a vampire, after all.  Animosity came with the fangs.

"Nope.  Tonight's *our* night, Spike," Willow shot back.  "I mean, I feel like we haven't had a chance to really sit down and talk in months.  It's just that maybe it wasn't such a good idea coming here, Spike.  Now that we've finished eating, maybe we could go somewhere else?"

Go somewhere else?  Where's the bloody fun in that?

"Sure, Red," he said, contradicting his thoughts. He ran a hand through his hair, still working on that lovable dejected look, then took out a cigarette.  "Crikey, love, how do you put up with this?  I mean, for years we went where we wanted, when we wanted," he growled through an exhale of smoke.  "This hiding's going to take some getting used to."

Willow looked hurt.  "Hey, we're not hiding."

"No?  Feels like hiding to me, Red.  Or worse.  Running."

"We're not running or hiding, Spike.  If there's one thing I'm starting to understand it's that there's a difference between being private and being secretive.  Just because I'd like a little privacy doesn't mean I'm trying to hide our relationship."

Spike gritted his teeth.  Where did she come up with that load of codswallop.  Sometimes he wished Red hadn't become so mature and less easily manipulated.

Manipulated.

Why did that word give him a twinge of guilt?  He was a vampire, damn it, and there was no room for these sorts of twinges.  And actually, he wasn't trying to manipulate her so much as lead her in the right direction.

And it's for Red's own bloody good,' he repeated to himself for what felt like the millionth time.  I'm the only one that can make her happy and keep her safe...forever.

He stabbed out his cigarette.  "Learn that trite piece of wisdom from Oprah, did you?"

"Nope...Giles."  Willow grinned then got to her feet.  "I'm going to the Ladies.  Be right back."

*****

Alone in the ladies restroom, Willow washed her hands.  The fried onion had been delicious but very greasy, and she tried not to think about how her arteries were probably clogging up at that very moment.  Now that she was mortal again, she should probably start paying more attention to what she ate.

Willow had just decided to double up on the veggies tomorrow, just in case, when she realized that Buffy had entered the room and was staring at her in the mirror.

"What's wrong?" Willow asked, turning to face her.

"I'm worried about you, Willow," Buffy replied somberly.  "We all are."

Here we go, Willow thought to herself.  Here comes the 'Spike' speech.  He's dangerous, evil, untrustworthy...yadda, yadda yadda...  Wasn't it bad enough that they were all still watching her like she'd grown a second head or something and were listening to every word they said?  Their behavior was distracting, making it hard for her to focus her complete attention on Spike, and she didn't like that at all.  It wasn't fair, but she didn't want to get into an argument with Buffy about it either.  Not tonight.

Stalling, Willow grabbed a paper towel and dried her hands.  "Worried about me?  Why?  Nothing unusual has happened lately.  No strange vamp attacks, no demons following me about.  I haven't even argued with any of my teachers this week."

"That's not why we're worried, Willow," Buffy said, moving up to the mirror to check her makeup.  "While we're glad nothing unusual has happened in a while, we're...wait, you've been arguing with your teachers?" she asked Willow's reflection.

"Not arguing so much as disagreeing.  It's my foreign language teachers.  Mrs. Fell's French is adequate, but Ms. Porter's German?  Please.  I speak better German than she does.  Let's see her conjugate verbs after traveling back in time, then coming back into the future, which is actually the present and...Oops, sorry, Buffy.  Guess I got a little carried away.  What were you saying?"

Buffy laughed as she applied a light coat of lipstick.  "It must be hard when you know more than your teachers.  Can't say I've ever had that problem."

Willow looked at Buffy in the mirror.  "Now, that's not true, Buffy!  How many times have you had to act all weak and unsuper-girl like in P.E.?  With your strength, speed, and stamina, if you wanted to you could be the top athlete in the school.  Yet in dodge ball, you let yourself get hit.  Don't know if I'd be so accommodating if I had your supernatural reflexes."

"Just trying to stay under the radar," Buffy said, tucking her lipstick back into her small handbag and turning to face Willow.  "Luckily, the radar in Sunnydale seems to be set very, *very* high.  Anyway, Willow, it's Spike we're worried about."

Willow tried not to sigh. "Spike?" she asked, sounding surprised, then quickly changed the subject.  "Ooh, Buffy!" she gasped, pointing to Buffy's red v-necked blouse with long flowing sleeves.  "I have the perfect garnet earrings to go with that top.  They look like long crimson teardrops surrounded by silver filigree.  I found them at an antique shop last week.  You can borrow them anytime you want."

As Willow talked, she inched casually towards the restroom door.  It was looking like she might actually escape unscathed, or at least lecture-free.

"Really?" Buffy followed Willow's slow retreat toward the exit.  "Thanks, Willow.  Not that I have a date in the near future that I need to get dressed up for."

"Things still not going well with Jason, huh?"

Buffy shrugged.  "We had that one date, but there was no real sparkage."

"Well, sometimes it takes more than one date.  Or..."

"Or what?"

"Or maybe you're not supposed to be with Jason," Willow suggested, forgetting for the moment that she'd been trying to make a clean getaway.  "Maybe you're supposed to be with...someone else?"

Buffy frowned and stepped out of the way as several girls entered the restroom. "I guess so, but who?"

"Can't you think of anyone you have more in common with?"

"Well, there's Scott.  He's definitely drool-worthy and I caught him looking at me a couple of times in the lunch room, but I thought maybe I had tartar sauce on my chin."

Willow waited as another group of girls came through the door. "I'm talking about Angel, Buffy."

Buffy made a face.  "Willow, haven't I told you before that just the thought of being with Angel creeps me out?  Don't get me wrong...he's a hottie and everything, but...well, Angel is like Giles to me, and I *so* don't want to start my mind wandering down that path."

"But--"

"But nothing, Willow. Not going to happen.  Ever. Besides, after everything you've been through, which I'm sure is still a lot more than I know about, can you honestly tell me that it wouldn't bother you to see me and Angel all couplely together?"

"Of course it wouldn't bother me, Buffy," Willow replied quickly, reaching for the door handle, but Buffy leaned against the door, cutting off both Willow's retreat and the chance of any further interruptions.

The Slayer ignored the knocking on the door, as well the urgent pleas about full bladders and smudged eyeliner coming from the other side.

"Willow..." Buffy said, stretching out her name in a way that made Willow feel all guilty.  "No more lies and half-truths, remember?"

Suddenly talking about Spike seemed like the easier option.

Willow sighed and reluctantly loosened the stranglehold she tried to keep on her emotions where Angel was concerned.  Immediately, she felt her body tense at the very thought of seeing Buffy and Angel together again.  The little voices in her head rejoiced in their freedom as well, squealing:  'Hey, hands off, Slayer!  I saw him first...sorta,' and another very sarcastic voice added, 'Oh, *please*...Buffy and Angel are *so* wrong for each other.  A vampire and a Slayer...is anyone else thinking doomed from the start here?' and a myriad of other pro-Angel rhetoric.  The Willow/Angel shippers in her head drowned out her more sensible side, the one that still felt guilty for breaking up the vampire and the Slayer in the first place.

Willow closed her eyes just long enough to clamp down on her inner brouhaha before it turned into an all-out riot. "Honestly," Willow said, hoping she didn't look and sound as dazed as she felt, "I'm not sure how I'd feel, Buffy.  That's as good an answer as I can give you right now."

Buffy grinned victoriously. "That'll do, Willow.  That'll do."

By this time, the polite requests to enter the Ladies Room had turned to pounding and a string of expletives that would make any sailor proud.  Reluctantly, Buffy quit blocking the door.  It was immediately thrown open and four girls rushed in, shooting Willow and Buffy dirty looks.

Willow made a dash for the door while the getting was good, but she wasn't fast enough.  Buffy was right on her tail.  "Now, Willow," she said, "let's talk about Spike..."

Automatically, Willow searched out her table in the club, and was shocked to find Xander, stake in hand, advancing on Spike in what Willow could only assume was supposed to be a threatening manner.  For his part, Spike hardly looked threatened or even impressed.

Without another word to Buffy, Willow rushed across the club.

*****

Xander's irritation level had risen rapidly with each smile that Willow and Spike had shared, each touch, and each memory.  By the time Willow had excused herself to visit the ladies room, Xander had a lot he wanted to say to the bleached blond vampire.

Xander sauntered over to where the smirking vampire sat.  Without giving it a second thought, he slammed his hands down on the table and leaned in.  "I'm not buying it for a second, Spike," Xander said only inches from the vampire's face.

"Wasn't aware I was selling, Xapper."

"You may have fooled Willow into thinking you're reformed, just some neutered mutt with sharp teeth--"

"Willow doesn't like her men neutered," Spike interrupted with a meaningful lift of his scarred brow.  "Likes her bad boys *intact*."

"You can insinuate all you want, Spike, but I know the truth.  She says you're friends, and we're here to make sure that's all you'll ever be.  But don't get comfortable, Spike, because it won't take long before she'll see the light."

"Ahh...this is the 'She'll See Through You' speech, is it?  'Fraid Angel beat you to it.  As well as the 'Friends' bit and my personal favorite, 'If You Ever Hurt Her.'"

Xander cleared his throat and stood up straight.  "Well, I'm glad you understand your position then, Spike.  Obviously, Willow had only put up with you because she'd been starved for any sort of companionship after such a long time.  But, we're here now, Spike, so you can run along."

"Starved?" Spike chuckled.  "The girl hardly starved for *anything* when we were together."  Spike's suggestive grin took on an even more lurid cast. "After all," he continued, obviously pleased with himself, "I'm all the protein a growin' girl could ever need."

Xander blinked at him a few times, and when the insinuation finally sunk in, he could feel his face drain of all color.  Surely Spike wasn't suggesting that he and Willow...?

"You don't mean...you wouldn't...*she* wouldn't..." Xander stammered.  The very thought of Willow and Spike having any sort of intimate relationship made his stomach lurch and churn.

This time it was Spike's turn to lean across the table. "I do mean.  I did.  She did.  *We* did.  Many times, actually."

Xander swayed on his feet.  "But she's a century-old virgin.  Virgin!  She told me so...several *hundred* times, in fact."

Spike shrugged as if they were discussing something trivial like weather or the best way to behead a demon, not Willow and the vampire's supposed sex life.  "Technically, yeah, Red's intact," he said with irritating confidence. "But there isn't a spot on her body that I haven't touched or tasted, nor is there a spot on my body that she hasn't touched or--"

"Whoa!  Hold on!" Xander interrupted, his voice raising a full octave in his panic.  "Time travel must have scrambled what little brain you have, Spike.  Willow would never...ever...!  I mean, you're a demon.  An evil, blood-sucking, soulless..."

Spike rose slowly, effortlessly to his feet in that irritating boneless way that only vampires seemed capable of.

"Ask your boy Angel," the blond vampire sneered.  "He knows the truth."

Suddenly everything became a little too clear for Xander.  Rather than wait for doubt to muddy it up again, he drew the stake our of his back pocket.  "Let's not and say I did."

*****

Just as the boy slipped out the stake, Willow stormed out of the Ladies, Slayer in tow.

Perfect timing, Red, he thought as Willow rushed over.  She grabbed the boy's wrist, easily wrenched the stake out of his grip, and stepped between them.

"What's going on?" she demanded.  "Xander, why are you trying to stake Spike?"

"Yeah, Xander," Buffy interjected.  "You know I'm first in line for staking in this town.  No cutting!"

"You...you've been sleeping with him!" Xander accused Willow in a nasty tone.  He then turned to Buffy.  "Willow's been sleeping with Spike!"

A long, uncomfortable silence--Spike's favorite kind--settled over the group.  "We need to have this discussion some place else before we draw a crowd," Willow suggested calmly, tucking Xander's stake into her back pocket.  "*Anyplace* else would be fine."

Buffy wasn't smiling anymore.  "No, Willow, I want an answer now.  Have you been..." She seemed to choke on the next word.  "...*sleeping* with Spike?"

Willow looked Buffy straight in the eye.  "Not recently."

"When?" Xander asked, and Willow turned her calm gaze to him.

"In the mid-1800s," she replied.

Xander took a step closer to the vampire. "Did he, er,  *rape* you, Willow?"

"Rape me?  No!" she replied adamantly, then lowered her voice when a few people turned to look.  "Why does everyone immediately assume that?  No, Xander.  Not even close...in fact, I was the aggressor."

Spike felt his boastful grin soften a little.  It was cute how she still blushed when the subject of their sexual liaisons came up.  She could still be so damned innocent at times that it made his teeth ache.

"What?  Willow raped Spike?" Cordelia asked, joining them a little late.

"Crikey, you're a thick lot, aren't you?"

"So it was just a one-time thing?" Xander pleaded in a voice that reminded Spike of a whinging girl. "A horrible mistake, a horrific accident brought about by aging hormones and tight underwear?"

"No, Xander," Willow replied calmly, without a single hint of regret in her voice.  "It was more than once."

"Twice?"

Willow shook her head.

"Four times?" he whimpered, wincing as if he'd been slapped upside the head.

Willow sighed, so Spike took full advantage of the situation, which he knew wouldn't surprise Red in the slightest.  He stepped forward, giving Willow a wink as he casually draped an arm about her shoulders.  "Four times a night maybe, on the off nights.  And then there were the days...  After all, by then Red'd had a lot of time to make up for."

"Okay," Xander said as he began a slow pacing in front of them, obviously grasping at straws. "Now is the time when Willow is supposed to tell us that they only napped together.  That they slept together in the most literal form of the word.  No hanky panky involved."

Willow surveyed the club again. "Please, guys, The Bronze really isn't the place for this discussion."

They ignored her plea for a change of venue, which struck Spike as being very rude.  And she calls this bloody pack of wallies her friends?

"Come on, Willow," Xander said, still pacing like a rat trapped in a shrinking cage.  "Tell me that you only *napped* with the blood-sucking fiend and didn't sleep with him."

"Now hold on a bloody minute!" Spike chimed in.  "That's not...oh, actually...I *am* a bloody-sucking fiend."  Spike stepped back and shrugged.  "Never mind.  Carry on."

Willow sighed, finally starting to lose her patience. "No, I'm not going to tell you that, Xander, unless you want me to lie to you."

"Lie to me, Willow."

"Lie to both of us," Buffy shrieked. "I can't believe you slept with Spike!"

Spike couldn't help himself. "Technically, we didn't sleep all that much--"

"Are you insane, Willow?" the Slayer hissed, stepping very close to them both.  "Spike's the enemy! The undead!"

Willow didn't give the enraged Slayer an inch.  Spike was very proud.

"I'm going outside now," Willow told them in a firm voice.  "I'll probably head back to Slayer Central.  When you're able to discuss this like adults, feel free to join me there."  Without another word, Willow turned and calmly made her way through the crowd and out of the club.

Spike followed her immediately, grinning behind her back at his success.  He hadn't had this much fun since the night he helped the Scabby Gang find out about the trip back in time.

And it was only going to get better.  At this rate, Willow'd be begging him to turn her before the year was out.

*****

End Chapter 18 (archived June 26, 2003)

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