Take Your Time ~ Chapter 13

~~ 1810 ~~

Willow walked the damp streets of London, keeping a close eye on her ladies pocket watch and the setting sun. She rarely allowed herself to be out at night anymore. Only when it was absolutely necessary for her job did she scamper quickly down crowded streets, under a lamp-lit night. She wasn't taking any chances of running into vampires, and if that made her life a little more difficult, then so be it. <I deserve it.>

It had been 57 years since she fled the cottage she shared with Spike. Those first days she rode as hard as she could for the ferry that would take her to England, knowing that Spike and perhaps even Angelus would not be far behind. She rode day and night, only stopping to feed and rest the horse, not allowing herself to do the same until she was safe on the ferry.

For a long time she refused to give into despair, instead she chose to cling to her anger like it was a lifeboat. Whenever memories came back to her, as they did everyday, of a happier time, she pushed them away. Not feeling that she deserved any happiness after her failure to save Angelus, she rarely allowed herself to remember the good times back in Galway or Sunnydale. Not even of Oz. The only memories she allowed to run through her mind like a 24-hour film festival were of her last night in Galway. She would never forget the look in Angelus's eyes before he tried to kill her, or the feeling of Spike's fangs puncturing her neck.

At first the memories were empowering. They made her angry, which in turn gave her the drive to survive for so long. She also had a plan and that gave her some hope, and for now she even allowed a glimmer of forgiveness for herself.

Willow knew her initial goal should be to contact the Watchers, but she thought it was best to avoid London for the near future. She figured it would be the first place that Spike would look for her. So, instead, her first years were spent at the various centers of study-- Oxford, Cambridge, and others, searching desperately for any clues to the spell that had brought her here or even to the soul restoration spell that she had done back in her own time. Endless nights were passed without sleep as she exhausted herself trying to remember the spell that she had cast twice before, but only fragments of it remained with her. She remembered the order of the spell and many of the herbs but could recall little of the words that she would have to recite. So, she had resorted to what she did best. Research.

She spent the equivalent of years in those libraries, devouring every book and manuscript she could find on magick, witchcraft, druids, and so on, and finding very little. And she did whatever it took to find this material as well. Often she had to dress as a boy to even enter the libraries and had even taken to sneaking in the private rooms of museums and universities where information on these more controversial subjects was often found. She visited monasteries and churches, anywhere that she thought might house the information she desired, but found nothing.

Even her attempts, years later, at locating the Watchers Council were largely unsuccessful. When she was finally able to find a Watcher, he was of no use whatsoever. He had looked down at her, glasses perched on the end of his nose, and declared her to be a fraud. Willow quoted Slayer verse and recited important moments in Vampire history, but was unable to convince him of her integrity, let alone her sanity. She had read that they had been a stoic and closed-minded group in the past, but never did she imagine them so pretentious and unreasonable. In a last attempt to persuade him and to perhaps alter some future events for the better, she handed him a thick manuscript. It contained page upon page of her encounters of the not-so-normal kind in Sunnydale, as well as some select information as to how she came to be in the past. The man took them from her with a snort, but as soon as she was out of sight the manuscript was thrown on the fire. Willow was on her own for now and she knew it.

During these many long years, she managed to survive financially different ways. She held countless jobs, but none for very long. She would barkeep in the town near a monastery while she researched, or she would nanny for a professor near a university. She did what she had to do to survive at the time, and with the combination of that tenacity and the money she had taken from Galway with her, she had managed to spend very few nights sleeping out of doors or going hungry.

The one good thing, she often had to remind herself, was that she was finally able to see England like she had always dreamed, as well as Wales. The petite redhead also occasionally made the journey back to Ireland, but her visits were few and short, and she avoided the areas of Dublin and Galway at all costs. At this point she wouldn't allow herself to dwell on Angelus's family and what may have become of them. She knew it would compromise her thin hold on, if not her sanity, then at least her hope. After more than 30 years chasing every lead, talking to anyone that claimed to be a druid, or even a descendent of a druid, chasing down wandering gypsy clans, and of reading every book on ancient religions and the occult, she finally gave up.

It happened suddenly, she remembered. One night she was tending bar in a quiet pub in Carmarthen, Wales, perusing the pages of a yellowing manuscript that claimed this town to be the burying place of Merlin, when it finally hit her. She was never going to find the spells, either of them. This was not going to work and her only way out of this was to meet up with Spike at some point in the future, until he performed the spell to take them home. Either that or never meet up with him and live in the past until she either forged a new life for herself, or couldn't stand it anymore and took her own life. In that instant, the minuscule amount of hope that she had clung to was ripped away from her, and the desperation and loneliness of the past years, and of those yet to come, secured itself in its place.

~~~~~
End Chapter 13

***

Take Your Time ~ Chapter 14
 

And it was this Willow, the one beaten down and made bitter by despair and guilt and loneliness, that would lay beneath the feather-stuffed comforter for days without getting up or even changing her clothes. She had finally forced herself to come to London, some 25 years after her revelation. She had taken the first job she found, as a bar maid at a small tavern, and was given a room upstairs. She worked hard and long hours, but never after dark. The once-hacker had explained it as a religious necessity, and was not questioned as good labor was hard to find. But as the time neared, she found it getting difficult to plaster a fake grin on her face as she poured endless pints of ale for drunken, red-nosed men, and eventually it was hard just to get out of bed each day. The owner allowed her a fortnight off, without pay, to get over her 'illness,' and he allowed her to keep her room, on the understanding that when the new bar maid did return, she would have to be nicer to the patrons.

Now, after five days of never leaving her room, Willow was finally disgusted enough with herself to take a quick bath and go for a walk. She wandered past many Cathedrals and museums, but she no longer ventured inside in hopes of finding any useful information. She had long given up that dream. Today she walked with her head down, never meeting anyone's eyes and with no destination in mind. She just wanted to clear her mind and clear her nose of the smell of spilt beer and cheap whiskey.

She was just about to check her pocket watch again, when she heard his voice. "'ello, luv."

A cold chill whipped through her as images of his deceitful face tore at her consciousness. She turned slowly, still not ready for this confrontation after more than five decades, but it wasn't Spike.

Or was it? The man stared at her with Spike's familiar quirky half-smile and cocky self-assurance. Even the manner in which he held his body was Spike's, but so many other things were different. Willow quickly surveyed the man standing before her. He was quite tan, for an Englishman, and donned a slightly disheveled military uniform. He wore the short red coat with gold buttons well, and the color suited his golden skin, despite the fact that it looked like it had seen many a day's battle. The light-colored pants fit snugly enough to accentuate his well-toned thighs. She had to take a deep breath and force her eyes back to his face, when finally it hit her. The real difference was his brown hair. <Brown hair!>

Willow's face must have been one of sheer bewilderment as she slowly drank in his appearance, for William took great delight in the effect he was having on her. Women of his time rarely eyed a man the way the tiny time traveler was studying him. She compelled herself to stop staring, but it was too late. A flush had already crept in to her cheeks. <Grow up, Willow!> she berated herself, but she couldn't help it. Alive, he was devastatingly handsome.

He approached her slowly, wanting to get a better look at the girl who was so wantonly watching him. "Are you lost?" he asked, swaying slightly and betraying the fact that he was inebriated. The young woman did indeed look lost, but not as to her location. She appeared as if she had lost her best friend, and the gentleman in him wanted to help her. Unfortunately, the drunken part of him was currently in charge and could only think of one way of cheering her up.

Willow was at a complete loss for words, totally unprepared to be faced with William the Bloody, Spike's human self. "Um...uh...no," she sputtered, backing away and forcing her eyes to the pavement between them. She quickly ran through in her mind the past that Spike had told her about himself, and although from what he had said she had nothing to fear, she couldn't be sure that he had even told her the truth.

"Can I buy you a pint, then?" he leered, swaying even more as he gestured to the pub that they were standing outside of. "You look lonely and sad, and I am sure that I can think of a way to bring a smile to that pretty face of yours!" He lips widened into a full smile, his blue eyes twinkled mischievously.

Warning bells went off in her head. This all seemed a little too familiar. "No," she finally managed as she came to her senses. "I cannot go through this again!" Before Willow even knew what she was doing, she turned and ran as fast she could away from the now-confused Englishman. It wasn't long before she had to slow her pace, exhausted from straining under-used muscles. She turned to see if he was following her. He wasn't.

"That was close," she said to herself through heavy breaths. "Way too close." She walked a while longer, still in shock over seeing William. It was definite now. The time of William's changing was nearing. For a brief moment she considered going back there and trying to find a way to keep William from being turned, the way she had for Angelus, but the thought was fleeting. It would never work. Spike wouldn't allow it, and only heaven knew what it would do to the time line. Plus, to be honest, she just couldn't be bothered.

***

As Willow calmed herself down, she let herself think about Angelus's family for the first time in years. She had often wondered about what may have happened to them, but she could never bring herself to find out. She had never tried to contact them after that last day in Galway, afraid of what she may or may not find. And even if she did find them, alive and well, she wasn't prepared to answer the hundreds of questions that would inevitably follow.

The day she had fled the bustling Irish town, she had made one stop on her way out, at a jewelry store. She had hurriedly purchased four beautiful and ornately carved silver crosses on heavy chains. With a quick prayer for forgiveness to her ancestors, she had placed one over her own head and had not taken it off since. The other three she had quickly bundled up and, with a heavy heart, headed for the Connellan's farm.

Willow remembered how she had sat on her horse, just outside their acreage for what seemed like hours before she had finally found the courage to trot up the small lane that lead to their house, although in reality it had probably only been several minutes. She knocked at the door with a heavy heart, still not sure what she was going to say, but knowing that she had to warn them somehow. But, in the end, no one was home. She had even searched the property quickly, just to make sure that they weren't attending to some chores nearby, but found no one. So, she had entered the house since the Connellans, like most others of their time, didn't keep their doors locked. The petite redhead had decided that she should at least leave them a note. She wrote to them that the son they once knew had died, and that in his place was a monster bent on evil and destruction. She warned them not to be fooled by his familiar, handsome face and to never again trust him or let him in their home. Then, she thought for a moment before adding that she had come to their town to prevent this from happening, but had failed. She apologized again and again, blaming herself, but never asked their forgiveness. She closed by asking that they wear her gifts in remembrance of their lost son as well as for their own protection.

Willow sighed as she remembered staring at that letter, wondering if it was enough or if they would understand or even believe her, and wishing that she had thought to buy some sort of cross for the father, but a quick glance at the sun getting lower in the sky had forced her to push her doubts away for now. It was time to leave.

She never knew if they had worn her gifts or understood her warning. In fact, Willow never knew if Angelus had ever made his vampiric presence known to his family. She hoped, in some ways, that the young vampire had forgotten about his family in order to get to her, but she really had no way of knowing. She felt her stomach tighten as guilt once again consumed her thoughts.

***

When Willow finally quit her daydreaming, she was a long way from her tavern home and night was falling. She turned around and picked up the pace, but the setting sun was winning. She decided to take a gamble and turned to cut through Hyde Park. It would cut close to a half-hour off of her race against time. She was only halfway through the park before the sun set, but she remained calm, reminding herself that the likelihood of any vampires being in this exact area at this exact moment was low.

"Hello, my little virgin." Spike's voice came from the shadows. "Now, normally I would think that I was being a little presumptuous, assuming that a beautiful woman could remain a virgin for the past 50 years, but in your case...."

Willow froze. <Geez, I can't even stay out after dark for one night!> "Spike," she said dispassionately, turning in the general direction of where she thought the voice originated from. "I'd recognize that conniving, selfish, lying voice anywhere."

Spike strolled out from the shadows of a nearby grove of trees, already flashing her his patented half smile. "You flatter me, love."

"Stay away from me," she told him pointedly when she was finally able to see his face. She noted the blonde vampire looked exactly the way he did when she had left him-- only the costume was different. Images of the tanned William she had just met flashed briefly in her mind, but she pushed them away. <Spike is no more William than the vampire Angelus had been her human one!> she lectured herself.

"It's been more than 50 years, Willow. Don't you think that's long enough to hold a grudge?"

"An eternity will not give me enough time to hate you, Spike." Willow said the words, and although she meant them, there was no conviction in her voice, and the tiny redhead knew it.

Spike looked at the woman he once shared a house with and felt the now-familiar stab of guilt. She didn't look like the Willow he had known, the Willow whom had stood up to him on more than one occasion, or who had so eagerly learned to play and even cheat at poker, all with an innocent smile and a impish glint in her eye. This woman had all the exuberance and liveliness of a corpse, if it weren't for the fact that he could hear her heart beating rapidly in her chest, he might think she was dead. The hair was the same, as were her other physical features, but everything else was different. Her eyes looked haunted and desperate, like she hadn't had a peaceful night's sleep her whole life. There was no life in them whatsoever. No spark. No humor. Her skin had lost its healthy glow, and she held herself like someone who wanted to hide from the world, even from herself. Willow was only the shell of a woman now, and she looked as if a stiff breeze could crumple her.

Spike stepped closer, not believing that this was his Willow. "Willow, you look like the walking dead, love. You need to take better care of yourself."

"Save your attempts at pretending to care for someone else. I won't buy it this time." The perpetually young redhead couldn't even bring herself to look him in the eye. Willow knew she should be yelling at him, throwing accusations and incriminations at him with every ounce of strength she possessed, but she didn't have the energy, and, frankly, she found she just didn't care anymore. About anything.

Spike took another careful step closer, afraid that she might bolt. "I do care, Red. You look like you are about two breaths away from slitting your wrists."

"Don't flatter yourself, Spike," she said, failing to muster even a hint of venom in her voice. "You aren't suicide worthy. Besides, even if I did, just think of all that blood you could have guilt-free. No work involved."

Spike winced at the tone of her voice, it was completely void of any emotion. He had done this to her. He had already killed her; she was just trying to finish the job slowly. The vampire needed her to get passionate about something, anything. Even if it was hating him.

"Actually," he said, letting a boastful grin settle upon his face. "I still can't believe how easy it was... how very easy it was to fool you."

Willow didn't speak but she finally met his gaze.

"I mean, come on, *Pet,*" he laughed cruelly. "You have no idea how hard it was for me to put up with you everyday. Pretending to enjoy your company. To sit there night after night trying to teach you a simple card game. But you were too bloody stupid to even learn that, why would I have thought you might figure out my little plan." The vampire waited to see her reaction. It was risky and he knew it, but it was worth the gamble. She was worth the gamble.

Willow couldn't believe what she was hearing. Sometimes she had wondered if that whole sense of camaraderie that she had begun to feel with him had been part of the ruse, if each and every smile and kind word was just another strand in his web of lies. The frail woman searched deep inside of herself for the strength that she once had, for the rage she once survived on, but could still only muster guilt and self-pity. So, she didn't speak, she just stood there, expressionless.

<Bloody hell, Willow! What is going to take to get you to snap out of it?> He pressed on. "Of course, when you and that insipid Irishman actually fell in love, well, that was just icing on the cake, *Pet.* Never in my whole unlife would I have been able to come up with a better plot. It was like a damned soap opera!" he laughed harshly. <Hell, I am even beginning to hate myself. Come on, Red. Show me that fiery temper of yours!>

"Why are you doing this?" Willow finally said to him. She wasn't quite yelling, but it was more emotion than she had displayed in years. "Isn't it enough to know that you outwitted me and Angelus is dead because of you?" <No, Willow! Because of you!> she reminded herself. "Why do you have to rub it in?" Willow didn't realize it, but she was walking closer to him as she spoke, her voice gradually increasing in volume and intensity. "Do you want to see me cry, is that it? Did you feel that you haven't truly destroyed my faith and trust unless you see me weeping at your feet. Is that it, Spike?" The tears that she had kept inside for close to a lifetime, finally began to fall. "Well, here I am! A pathetic excuse for human being and it is all your fault. You took everything from me. My family, my friends, my home, but that wasn't enough for you, was it? Then you took my hope, my faith and my trust and destroyed it. So, here I am Spike. Look at me! The result of all your scheming and lying is standing before you. Are you happy now?"

<I couldn't be further from happy> pike didn't speak, he just forced his mouth into a heartless sneer. He was afraid he hadn't really gotten to her yet. She will still holding too much anger inside.

Willow turned and walked away, her hand unconsciously fingering the necklace that lay hidden beneath her dress, but Spike said something that made her stop in her tracks.

"Okay, my wife!" the vampire shouted after her. "Will it make you feel better to hurt me a little?" He spread his arms out wide to the side in a sacrificial manner. "Take your best shot, sweetie, because you only get one for free."

Willow turned to face him, unsure of his sincerity, but she wasn't going to let this chance get away. She slowly stepped to within an arm's length of him, never once letting her eyes leave his. Her whole body quivered with the pent-up anger and frustration of nearly 60 years that were screaming for release. The tiny redhead pulled her hand back, and like a too tightly wound coil, it sprung toward his face.

Spike didn't even brace for the impact, knowing that this frail woman couldn't actually hurt him, but hoping that the act would help her snap out of her despondency. When her hand did connect with his cheek it sent a jolt of pain through him, the likes of which he hadn't felt in years. The combination of pain and shock sent him reeling and he fell backwards to the ground, his cheek and jaw still burning. <What the hell was that?>

Spike looked up in a daze to find Willow standing over him with a smug look on her face. She held her hand up to reveal the silver cross in her palm, its broken chain dangling between her fingers. "You're right, Spike. I do feel better!" Willow smiled slightly, the first real smile that had crossed her lips in years, and slowly walked away.

When Spike put his hand to his cheek and jaw where he had been hit, he could feel outlined in his charred flesh, a perfect cross.

~~~~~~~

End Chapter 14

***

Take Your Time ~ Chapter 15
 

It took about two weeks before Willow realized what Spike was really doing that night. She had thought about their encounter every spare moment she had, replaying the whole thing over and over again. Something about it did not ring true, but the redhead had to admit to herself that ever since that night, she felt a little better.

"Ay, I do believe I saw our little Rose 'ere smile! Did ya see that too, Simon?" a rather large and balding man asked the younger man who sat on the stool next to him.

"Yes, I did. And a beautiful smile it was too!" The redheaded man chuckled.

Willow couldn't help but smile again. These two men had come in the pub every afternoon since she had worked there, always flirting with her and drinking until they could barely see straight.

"Now, maybe I can get her to give me a chance, George." He flashed Willow his most dazzling smile, or at least it may have been dazzling had he still had all his teeth.

Willow disregarded his attempt at charm, having heard it all before.

The older man shook his head. "Yer better off with out 'em. Trust me on this one, Simon. Wives are a bloody pain in the arse!"

"And how would you know?" Willow joked back, in a better mood that she had been in a long while. "You hardly ever see your wife. You are always in here talking me ear off!"

"Ya are right there, little miss, but I'll tell ya why," the larger man said, excited to bestow another one of his tidbits of married wisdom. "Take last night for instance. She was mad at me, I knew it the moment I walked in the door, but would she tell me why? No!" He shook his head for a moment before draining his pint glass. "So, just to get 'er to tell me what was wrong, I picked a fight with 'er 'bout somethin' stupid."

Willow listened patiently and poured him another pint of the warm ale. She had heard plenty of his stories before, and countless other men's, as they moaned about their lives.

"So," he went on. "I told 'er that if she didn't 'ave my dinner on the table the moment I walked in the door from that night on, then not to even bloody bother, the silly old cow."

"You said that? To your wife?" Willow furrowed her brow, not seeing how that would have helped.

"Yea, I had to, remember? I knew somethin' was botherin' 'er and she wasn't bloody likely to just tell me. So, I made 'er mad!"

"Did it work?" the younger man asked, hanging on the more experienced man's every word.

"Like a charm! In no time at all she was layin' into me about never taking 'er anywhere. So, I took 'er out for a meal, and everythin' is back to normal." He stopped and took a deep breath for dramatic effect. "Women are like watches, Simon. Sometimes ya really gotta get 'em wound up, before they'll give ya the time of day!"

Willow suppressed another smile. She couldn't help but remember a similar conversation, albeit only a joke, that she had with Spike years ago about him never taking her out anymore, when it hit her. She almost dropped the glass she was holding and had to lean against the bar for a moment. <Could he have said all those horrible things to me on purpose? Did he just want me to get angry with him, to get me talking?>

"Ya all right, luvie?" George asked when he noticed her stunned look.

Willow looked up. "Um, yea, I'm fine. It's just that...." She never finished her sentence, instead the perpetually young woman ran to the back room. "I'm leavin' a little bit early!" she yelled at the owner and ran out the door and into the diffused rays of the setting sun.

***

Spike sat on a bench in the middle of the park, like he had every night for the past two weeks. The blonde vampire hoped to see Willow again, just to see if she was okay and if anything he had said had made a difference.

Spike always knew that she would be hurt and angry after he let Darla have Angelus. He simply figured that she would just pout for a while, maybe a decade at the most, but in time Willow would see it his way and forgive him. The problem was he had never counted on the whole encounter with Darla and Angelus, let alone any bloodletting being involved. Spike had planned to get her out of town as soon as possible so that she wouldn't have to see the vampire Angelus. But, because of a simple miscalculation on his part, Willow had sobered up and gotten away from him.

"I saved her bloody neck from that animal," Spike yelled to the nearby shrubbery. "And do I even get a simple word of thanks? Not bloody likely...." He continued his rant, now pacing amongst the trees. "A demon tries to be nice and what does he get? Another bloody scar for the trouble!" he drew a long cool finger across the fading scar on the side of his face. <Damn thing should have completely healed by now!> he noted distractedly about the cross-shaped welt on his skin.

Spike shook his head in dismay before sitting back down, pale face in his hands. He remembered very well the day all his plans went up in smoke, and the looks on her face both when he had lowered his head to feed from her and as she left him trapped by the sun's rays in their home. They haunted his dreams, and the fact that it mattered enough to him to sneak into his sleeping hours, haunted his waking ones.

The moment the sun had set that day fateful day decades ago, he was on his horse and racing for the nearest ferry, trying to catch up with her before she disappeared in Britain completely. When his horse tired, he traded, bought, or stole a new one, never wasting a single moment of darkness. Unfortunately, he still had to hide during the day, and as a result, Willow was long gone by the time his feet touched down in England. The vampire rode straight for London on the hunch that Willow would first try to locate a Watcher, and he spent years there looking for her and asking about her, but never found a clue as to her whereabouts. After having no luck with his search for the fiery redhead, Spike decided he should just do what she had said and follow the timeline. He eventually returned to Ireland and caught up with Angelus and Darla in Dublin.

Once Spike knew that the other vampires were in Dublin just as they should be, at least according to the countless stories he had often endured of Darla and Angelus's early years, he left and only returned every once in awhile to make sure that things were still proceeding as planned. He was always very careful that they didn't notice him and that he didn't attract any attention when he was in town. Then, during the times he wasn't checking on the other vampires, which required him traveling all over the British Isles, Spike continued his search for Willow, but never found even a hint as to her location. The blonde vampire eventually returned to his old stomping grounds, London, a few months before William the Bloody was due to be sired by Angelus. Everything seemed to be paralleling the past so far, which meant the only problem was Willow.

He had only recently thought that perhaps she was now in London, after a few discreet questions here and there had turned up some possibly favorable results. Spike had been spending most of his nighttime hours walking the streets and parks looking for her, hoping that sooner or later it would pay off, but it was only a lucky coincidence that he had run into her in the park that night. Up to this point, Spike had always presumed, incorrectly, that his Willow hadn't changed much with time, and that she would be working in a ladies shop somewhere or maybe teaching. Therefore he had never looked for her in pubs or smoky taverns. She was above such things. His greatest fear, he had thought at the time, was that she would meet a man and fall in love. If that were to happen, she would be content to live in the past and maybe Spike would never see her again, and therefore he would be stuck here too. Then, there was also the little matter of her virginity....

***

Spike clenched his jaw when he realized now that he couldn't have been more wrong, and her settling down here didn't seem like the worse thing that could happen after all. At least then she would be alive and happy.

Suddenly, Spike's attention was catapulted back to the present by the sound of someone running toward him. He could tell it was Willow long before she was able to see him. "Willow! What's wrong? Somebody after you?" he demanded as he rushed to offer his protection.

Willow simply shook her head, taking a moment to catch her breath. She took the opportunity to search his face, seeking answers in his penetrating blue eyes.

Spike immediately wiped the concerned look off of his face, hoping she didn't notice. "Why are you here then, and where's the bloody fire? You scared me half to life running in here like that!" he huffed at her.

Willow ignored his quirky attempt at humor, but his obvious display of concern for her only created more questions. She wanted the truth and she wanted it now. "Why did you say those horrible things to me before?"

Spike was caught off guard. He was relieved to see that she seemed more vibrant today, but wasn't expecting her to figure out his little ploy, at least not so soon. The blonde demon set a smirk on his face and replied coldly. "Obviously because I meant them, you ninny."

Willow refused to give up that easily. By now she had caught her breath and was standing up straight, looking him square in the face. "If you meant them, and if spending time with me was so painful to you, then why would you care if someone was chasing me through the park? Jack the Ripper could be my roommate and it shouldn't bother you!" she exclaimed pointedly.

<Oh, bloody hell! Women!> He rolled his eyes. "Because, no matter how little I feel about you, I still need you alive and intact!"

Willow chewed on her lip for a moment, a habit she had never been able to break. "No! I don't believe you," she said firmly to Spike's back as he walked away from her.

He stopped and leaned his head against a nearby tree for a moment. The vampire was frustrated and was trying to decide the best way to proceed. The handsome vampire was relieved to see that some of the old Willow was back, and that there was a little color in her cheeks and some fire in her words. Not much, but it was a start. Finally, he decided to change his approach a bit. He turned around and stared at her for a moment, trying to decide if she could handle the truth. Satisfied that she would probably never drop the subject unless he was honest, he continued. "Because, you need to find something to live for, and if that means hating me with every bloody beat of your heart and every breath that you take, then fine. I can handle your loathing of me. In fact, I welcome it!"

She shook her head slowly, still trying to understand what was going on. <He wants me to hate him?> "Spike, I already hate you. Don't you think that was a little overkill?" she asked sarcastically.

The blonde vampire laughed, not coldly or cruelly, but a real laugh that Willow thought she remembered. "Overkill is an oxymoron to vampires, Red." Then, his face darkened again. "I will not watch you kill yourself with apathy and neglect, Willow." He walked back toward her, hands in his coat pockets. "We have too long to go yet for you to give up on life already. The fate of the world is *not* on your shoulders. Quit bearing a burden that was never yours. So, hate me, despise me with every ounce of tasty blood that is in your body, but do not blame what happened on yourself. "

Willow shook her head again and backed away. She was not ready to give up her blame and guilt, it was a part of her now. <It is not that easy, Spike!> "No, I trusted you. I trusted a soulless killer and that makes *me* the fool to blame for Angelus's death, and as a result for every death he ever causes."

Spike fought the urge to grab her and shake her. "When are you going to face the truth? You can't fix the whole damn world! Everything that happened had already happened before, without you. You didn't make Darla a vampire, you didn't bring her to town, and you didn't drive Angelus into her arms. It all would have happened whether you were here or not. I just let time take its natural course."

"Spike," she said coolly. "That's a little simplistic, even for you!"

"It's the truth. Think about it, Willow. Your only mistake was trusting me. There are worse mistakes you could have made."

The once-hacker stared down at her feet. Some of the things the vampire had said made sense, and most of them she had tried to tell herself several times in the past, but she just couldn't see an end to this. She couldn't see an end to the guilt. Willow looked at him one last time before turning and walking away. She needed more time to think, all this had done was confuse her more.

It wasn't long before she noticed that he was following her. "Leave me alone," Willow said firmly without turning around.

"I am just going to make sure you get home in one piece," Spike said reassuringly to her back.

She stopped and spun around to face him. "Spike! I have taken care of myself for 57 years, just like I told you I could. In all that time, I have never been attacked by a vampire, raped, mugged, or even looked at cross-eyed by an angry dog, so I don't need your help!"

Spike pursed his lips but didn't budge. "Angelus will be in town anytime now, love. You need to be extra careful."

Willow paled visibly and for a moment he was afraid she was going to faint, but she steadied herself. She knew Angelus would be here soon, but she had just tried not to think about it. "Thanks for the info, Spike." She turned and headed for home. He still followed her, but the confused woman didn't argue the point. Willow didn't turn around until she entered the tavern, and by then he was gone.

~~~~~

End Chapter 15
 

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