* I know it's been a very long time.  It will probably take a while for me to get back in to the swing of things, fan-fic wise, but I'm going to give it a shot.  This chapter is short (only about a 1/3 of what I have planned, but I wanted to get it posted anyway) but better than nothing, right?

** See full notes in Chapter 1

*** Not beta'd so all mistakes--and there will be mistakes--are mine.


 

It's About Time  ~ Chapter 23 ~
***
  Willow leaned wearily against the frame of her open French doors. The cool breeze that brushed past held more than a faint bite of autumn. The sun sat low in the western sky, painting the balcony in reflected shades of orange and red, letting her know that it would be dark soon.  Then Spike would come for her.  She had no doubt.  

Willow shivered but it had nothing to do with the chilly night air.  What a difference twenty-four hours made.  Yesterday, she'd been looking forward to spending quality time with Spike.  For that brief moment in time, she'd actually allowed herself to believe that the two diametrically opposed halves of her life were somehow going to meld seamlessly together.  She'd have her friendship with Spike and her friendship with the gang, and they would all live happily ever after.
 

Yeah, right.

Unless happily ever after always starts with someone on their knees, emptying the contents of their stomach behind a bush in the park, then it looked like her life was more of a cautionary tale than a fairy tale. 

Last night, when Buffy had found her in the park, Willow hadn't had to tell the Slayer what had happened between her and Spike.  She'd pretty much figured it out on her own.  Surprisingly, there were no admonishments of "I told you so," or you-got-what-you-deserve looks from the Slayer.  Angel wasn't there either to add his two--"I told you not to trust Spike"—cents, but as Buffy helped her home, Willow could feel the dark vampire near. 

Out of sight, but never out of mind.     

But now was not the time to think about Angel, Willow reminded herself.  With one last look at the fading sun, she pulled her balcony doors closed, locked them, and pulled the blinds down before turning her attention to the two large rolling suitcases and the bus schedule that waited on her bed.  Several buses would be heading east the following afternoon.  She didn't care where they were going.  She'd simply take the next one leaving when she got to the station, but first she had to pack.  


Willow
surveyed her piles of belongings and the suitcases.  She'd done a lot of packing over the long years, but never before had she felt so unsettled.
   It was different this time and not just because the clothing was different or because her suitcases had wheels.  For years home had been wherever Spike was.  Now, home would be wherever he wasn't.

Willow
was folding her leather pants when she heard the unmistakable click of the French doors behind her being unlocked from the outside.  He had a key.  Bloody hell…she'd forgotten that she'd given Spike a key a few weeks earlier!  She dropped her pants in the suitcase just as the inevitable creaking of the door handle turning broke the silence of her room.  She'd been meaning to oil the squeaky doors for the longest time but had never gotten around to it.  Now it looked like she'd never have the chance.
 

Knowing it was futile, Willow still spun around and rushed towards the doors hoping to hold them closed, but it was too late.  Before she could even cross the room, they were pulled open from the outside.  


Spike stood on her balcony, swathed in his usual leather duster and arrogant smirk.  Oh how she wanted to slap the smug look from his face!


"Hello, Red."
  Willow stood just inside the threshold, physically blocking Spike from entering her home.  It took every ounce of strength she had left to look him in the eye.  She had none left to speak his name aloud.
 

Spike smiled, but not too broadly, she noted.  He showed just enough teeth to look friendly.  He was good at that. It was a real talent.  "I think it's time you and I finished what we started this morning," the vampire said.  "Time for another one of our infamous chats, Red." 


"No."
 

"No?"
 

"No," she repeated, her throat tight.  "No more little chats.  I'm all chatted out for this lifetime."
 

"Oh, come on, Red," he said, his grin widening.  "I understand you're a bit miffed with me now, but we've been through this before, haven't we, pet?  So let's go inside and get on with it, already."  He pulled a bottle of wine out of his duster pocket.  "Come on 'n beat the crap out of me and then we'll drink a bottle of Beaujolais and have a good laugh about all this nonsense."
 

"No."
 

He shrugged and pulled another bottle of wine out of the other pocket.  "Merlot then.  Lady's choice."
 

"No wine."
 

She was pleased to see his smile dim a bit as he tossed the bottles of wine over his shoulder.  They landed with a heavy thud in the bushes below.  


"You want to do this sober, then?  Fine.  Let the yelling and hitting commence."  Spike closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and appeared to brace for the impact of her anger.  Oh, it was tempting all right.  It would probably be quite cathartic to give him a matching scar on his other cheek or on his chest.  But as great as it might feel at the moment, no amount of hitting or shouting was going to solve their problem.  Not this time.
 

After a silent moment, Spike opened his eyes.  He seemed genuinely disappointed that she hadn't taken out her anger on his flesh.  The disappointment quickly turned to irritation as his eyes focused on her neck.  "You afraid of me now, Red?" 


Without even realizing it, Willow was clutching the cross she wore around her neck.  Angel's cross.  
 

"You really think that little trinket of yours could save you from the big bad?"
 

She tucked it under the neckline of her shirt.  "You really want to chat, Spike?  Then tell me how long you've been planning to turn me?" she asked from her side of the doorway.
 

"Bloody hell, Red," he groaned.  "You're like a broken record. Give it a rest!"
 

"How long?" 


"Always, I suppose," he finally and reluctantly admitted.
 

"Always."  Willow nodded to herself.  She wasn't surprised by his answer, but it was still painful to hear.  "Always," she repeated.  "Of course."
 

"Pet…you're blowing this whole thing out of proportion."
 

"*Thing*" Willow repeated.  "This whole *thing*?  To which *thing* are you referring?  My life and/or unlife?"
 

With an exasperated groan, Spike whirled around to leave.  "I see you still have your knickers in a twist 'bout last night.  I'll give you another day to calm down and come to your senses." 
 

"I don't need another day, Spike."  He stopped and looked at her over his shoulder, an oddly hopeful expression on his face.  "Are you leaving town or not?" Willow
continued, erasing his burgeoning smile. 

He stalked back toward her, his jaw clenched so tight that a vein stood out on his throat.  With no more than an arm's length separating them, Spike deftly pulled out his pack of cigarettes, slipped one between tight lips and lit it.  After a long drag, he slowly exhaled.  The smoke drifted lazily up to disappear into the dark night. "Like I said, Red, I've got roots here now.  Home Sweet Bloody Home, right?  I'm…Not…Budging," he added deliberately.
 

"Then I better finish packing."
 

He chuckled.  "Not bloody likely, pet." He took a step closer to where she stood just inside the doorway, but Willow held her ground, even when his exhaled smoke made her eyes sting.
 

"You can't come in, Spike."
 

His eyes widened.  He seemed to find this whole thing very amusing, as if she were a petulant child threatening to runaway from home because she couldn't get her way.  This made Willow more determined than ever to follow through with her plan.  


"You going to stop me?" he asked, and Willow didn't reply.  "That's what I thought," he said with a smirk.  Spike moved to brush past Willow, but he bounced backwards the second he tried to cross the threshold.  "What the...?" The broken cigarette dangled from him bottom lip, still smoldering.
 

Willow
looked him in the eye, and her blood chilled as she watched his amusement quickly change to anger. "Like I said, you can't come in, Spike.  You're no longer welcome in my home or in my life."
 

Spike tried again and again to cross the threshold and his fury grew with each denied access.  "Bloody hell, Red!  Invite me in now!" he demanded as his face morphed to its vampiric form.  He took a few steps back and threw himself at the barrier with such unleashed fury that Willow instinctively reached for the stake she kept in her back pocket.  


Luckily, the magical barrier that Jenny, Buffy and the others had created held against the vampire's violent onslaught.  


Seeing the stake in her hand, he changed tactics.  "Go ahead, Red," he said.  "Come out and stake me. Give me a scar on the right shoulder to match the left.  Feel free to use the nearest chair if you want to make them a lovely matched set. Go ahead and kick me, pet.  Hit me, stake me...been here, done this, got the scars to prove it, haven't we?"
 

Still so very, *very*  tempting. "You don't get it!  I don't want to stake you.  I don't want to hit you, hurt you or give you another scar.  I just want you gone and out of my life forever."
 

"Not gonna happen, pet," he said, almost sounding bored.  Once again, he was treating her as if she were nothing more than a spoilt child demanding an extra scoop of ice cream.  She wasn't getting through to him and maybe she never would, but she had to keep trying.


Willow
thought she detected movement in the bushes across the street.  "Buffy!" she called out.  "Promise me if I ever become a vampire you'll stake me.  No trying to reason with me, no trying to rehabilitate me or find some way to fit me with a soul.  Just stake me."
 

The shadowy hedge and its occupants remained silent.
 

"Buffy, I know you're out there. Promise me you'll stake me."
 

The Slayer slowly stood from where she'd been hiding across the street.  "Willow, I don't think--"
 

"It's your damn job, Slayer!" Willow snapped back.  "Black and white, right?  Will you do it or not?"
 

"Yes, Willow."
 

Willow
continued.  "Xander, Cordy…I know you're all there.  I want you all to promise me that if I get turned, you'll stake me.  Right away.  No silly attempts to rehabilitate me or curse me with a soul.  Promise?"
 

The couple stepped out from their hiding place next to Buffy.  Cordelia clung to Xander, who held her tightly, stroking her hair.
 

"I promise, Willow," Xander called up, his voice cracking.
 

"You can count on me too, Willow.  No problem whatsoever," Cordelia shouted back.
 

The cheerleader's voice was a little too bright, but Willow didn't mind.  She could use all the bravery she could get right now, even if the fake kind. 
 

"Angel?" Willow called out, her eyes still glued to Spike's.  "I need your promise as well."
 

"You have it, Willow," he said in a clear, unwavering voice that gave her the strength to continue.
 

"As even you can see, Spike, there's no point in vamping me," Willow said.  "You'll be sentencing me to real death, one way or another."
 

Spike barely spared a glance for those below.  "This is all very touching, pet.  Must warm your heart to know how easily your friends are willing to sacrifice your life."
 

"It is touching, actually.  It proves they care more about my wishes than their own.  I think I can get used to having friends like that… for a change."  Or at least I could have, if I were staying in Sunnydale, she reminded herself.
 

He clenched his jaw and then started to smile, like it was all a big joke to him. 

 "We'll just see, won't we, Red?  Sunnydale is my town now, and like I said, I'm not going anywhere.  So you have a nice trip then, eh?"  Spike quickly turned around and jumped on to the balcony railing.  He looked as if he were just about to leap when he looked at Willow one more time over his shoulder.  "It doesn't have to be this way, Red.  I'm only thinking of what's best for you."
 

Willow
gave him a weak, sad smile.  "You know, I almost believe you really think that," she said.  "Almost," she repeated, then turned her back on the vampire and continued packing.  She didn't watch as Spike jumped down to the grass below, and strolled away without a word to Angel or the others.

 

*****

 

"Spike!  Spike, wait!"

 
At the sound of Willow's plea, Spike smirked into the darkness.  "Knew she couldn't go through with it," he mumbled before turning around.  "Miss me already, pet?"
 

"You've forgotten something," she called back.  Willow whipped a large object out from behind her and held it out over the balcony.
 

The guitar.
 

"Red, you don't want to do that!"
 

Spike shivered as the hollow, cold sound of Willow's laughter reached his years. "Since when does it matter what I want?"  Before Spike could make a move to stop her, she hurled the guitar down with all her might.  It spun through the air before hitting the driveway with a sharp crack.  The body of the guitar splintered and the neck cracked off, causing the strings to snap with an eerie chord that lingered in the air.  Before he could recover from that shock, the case flew toward him as well.  Shocked, Spike looked up, but Willow was already gone from her balcony.
 

Spike stood in the dark, speechless, gazing at what was left of the guitar he had given Willow as a gift.  The sound of the splintering wood still echoed in his ears.  
Eventually, he began to painstakingly pick up every single shard of wood and ivory that littered the ground, carefully putting them in the battered case.  He didn't care that the Scabby Gang watched him, no doubt reveling in his pain, and he didn't even notice the other three shadowy figures who were also watching all of  the drama unfold.

End Chapter 23 (archived June 03, 2006)

****

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