This part is dedicated to everyone who has waited to so patiently for the rest of the story and truly believed that some day they would see it.  You know who you are.

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Words in <> represent feelings and/or thoughts

Take Your Time ~ 24 ~

Spike sat in a far corner of a crowded pub, facing the door.  It was a habit that all good soldiers learned one way or another, and one that he'd never lost: Always keep an eye on the nearest available escape route.  Unfortunately, he was so caught up in trying not to think about Willow and Drusilla, that all he could think about was Willow and Drusilla.  He quickly forgot about his surroundings and the basic rules of survival that he'd learned many, many years ago.

The blonde vampire shook his head and drained the dark, warm draft with one smooth lift of his wrist, then signaled for another from one the barmaids.  His 'sweet' little talk with Willow earlier had only served to make matters worse.  <Way to go, mate,> he scolded himself silently.  <When she asked you what it was like to be around her, all you had to say was 'nearly bloody impossible, Pet' or 'excruciating'...either would be the truth!  But no....you had to get all poetic...try and impress her.  All you did was make everything more damned difficult!>  As much as he berated himself for his more human behavior and faults that she seemed to draw out of him, the vampire knew that wasn't the main thing bothering about what had happened earlier.

When Willow had suggested in her own flustered way that Spike looked hungry and needed to go get something to eat, he'd hesitated for a moment.  His demon reminded him that all he needed to satisfy *all* of his various cravings was right before him.  It was screaming for him to take her and mark her as his, again.  Spike, in that brief moment's pause, had to admit to himself that she would make a brilliant vampire.  Bereft of her insecurities and most of her human compassion, the baser instincts would be allowed to flourish.  Her intelligence, passion and tenacity would make her a vampire of some importance he'd decided.  It was a conclusion that the more demonic parts of Spike had come to some time ago.  It was only now that the more 'human' side of the vampire came to see her potential as well.

It was then that Spike realized what he had been contemplating.  Even if only for a moment, Spike had considered turning Willow when this was all over, making her a true childe.  This awareness had made the peroxide-blonde hurry from the room and out into the night where he couldn't seem to get far enough away, fast enough.  He didn't want to think about it at that point.  Spike had enough to worry about in the present, and he didn't need to be looking that far into the future where Willow was concerned.  The future was for Drusilla...everything he had done was for Drusilla.  So, Spike had stormed off into the streets of London once again.  There had been no art to his feeding, eating only to satiate the hunger.  When his bloody path had ended at a door of a pub, the vampire hoped that maybe if he couldn't walk away his thoughts, he could drink them away instead.

Now, as he sat and argued silently with himself, he didn't notice as the pub became busier.  He didn't notice that there were so many people that his exit was basically cut off, unless he wanted to draw attention to himself.  By the time he did become aware of the changes in his surroundings, it was too late.

Spike spied them over the rim of his third pint when they walked in.  <Oh, bloody hell...Fate is just mocking me now.  This is bloody ridiculous!> the blonde vampire muttered despairingly into his glass while he watched their movements.  Only now did he notice the large mass of people in the small tavern and that the bar sat between him and the exit.  If he tried to leave now, it would be risky.  Instead of taking the chance of being seen, Spike grabbed a forgotten newspaper that someone had left behind and pretended to read it.  The last thing he wanted was for Angelus to discover him, and he was not yet ready to reveal himself to William.  It was too soon.  While the other two vamps busied themselves talking with the barmaid, Spike quickly made a small hole in the paper.  He felt a little silly, like a two-bit private eye out of some bad B movie, but it did allow him the opportunity to study the other two without attracting much attention.

Watching William, Spike couldn't help being thankful for one aspect of the strange spell he'd used.  Sure, it had its downside, the main one being the need for Willow's virginity, but some of the other effects were less difficult to handle.  Their hair didn't grow, for one thing, and their memories of the past never faded.  He and Willow had discussed the oddities of time travel quite a bit recently and had decided that it was almost as if they were separate from time itself or in their own little time bubble.  It wouldn't be until the spell was completed, thereby sending them to their own time and place that the bubble would burst, so to speak.  Only then would they know what damage they may have caused.  That was the main thing Spike was thankful for--that whatever changes his and Willow's presence may be causing, these alterations hadn't affected either of them yet.  As a result, Spike didn't carry these confusing 'new' memories of William the Bloody's.  Even now as he watched himself in this very pub when he was William, the blonde vampire had no recollection of the event.  In Spike's past, it'd never happened; therefore had no memories of it.  It was as if the William before him were a separate person from himself.  <Bloody hell I need a stronger drink...> he groaned.  Between the complexities of time travel and the rest of his problems, he was getting one hell of a headache.  Nevertheless, as he saw his former self create a new past, Spike watched very carefully.  In fact, he had trouble tearing his eyes away.

*****

Angelus and William had entered the pub together, their eyes making only a cursory glance around before they headed directly to the bar.  Even in the packed room, they had no trouble wading through the crowd.  The throng of people seemed to open in front of them, like Moses parting the Red Sea.  It wasn't because the patrons were particularly afraid of the two men, or that they were aware of what they were, but they did get a strong urge just to leave them alone.  William followed his sire and stood just to his left when they stopped at the serving counter.  Immediately, two seats at the bar became available as the former occupants suddenly felt a compelling need for some fresh air.

"What'll it be, gentlemen?" the buxom barmaid queried the two handsome newcomers.  She eyed them both appreciatively yet wondered why they had ventured to this part of town.  The broader one was obviously a man of means, his well-tailored clothes and clean fingernails were proof that he was not a common laborer, as most of the others in the large pub were.  The more slender one wore the uniform of His Majesty's Army, and although it may not have the colors or ribbons of an officer's uniform, this was still not a pub that soldiers frequented very often when they were on leave.  The Harper's Arms was a working-class pub, and while it did see its occasional man of business, they rarely stayed long.  Still, the barmaid batted her eyelids and leaned forward as much as possible while wiping down the counter, making sure that her ample bosom, of which she was quite proud, was plainly visible.  Strangers tended to be looking for something, or someone, and were often willing to pay handsomely for it.  Belinda was not above making a few extra shillings whenever she had the opportunity.

Angelus and William exchanged quiet glances before the older vampire took the lead.  "We're lookin' for a young lady, and I'm hopin' ya may be of assistance, um...?"  Angelus paused, knowing that the brunette was already salivating at the thought of their loose purses, and she would be especially helpful.

"Belinda.  Me name's Belinda, boys," she told them with a cheeky grin, gratified that she'd guessed right about the two strangers.  Before the night was over, she hoped her purse would be much heavier and perhaps her bed not so empty.  "And what kind of a girl are you looking for...brunette, I hope?" she said with flirtatious toss of her head, causing some strands of dirty sorrel hair to fall out of the unkempt pile upon her head.

The vampires' grins broadened, and William leaned a little closer to the girl.  "Now, how did you know that brunettes are my favorite flavor?" he whispered seductively in her ear while glancing at his sire.

With a slight nod of his head that would have been imperceptible to anyone else, Angelus gave William the Bloody the permission that he'd sought, then leaned back and watched his childe play with his food.  This was the eighth pub that Angelus and William had been in that night, and each time it was the same.  No one knew anything about a redheaded woman named Rose Smith.  By now, the older vampire was getting frustrated from all of the dead ends they'd encountered, and he was no longer finding any joy in toying with the squalid populace that they met during their search.  So for now, Angelus was willing to sit back, have a pint, and try to relax.

He watched William as he charmed the not-particularly-appealing young lady, and in order to cheer himself up a little after his error with Rose, Angelus allowed himself to be proud of the one thing that he had done right recently...William.

William was Angelus's first true childe...the first person that he'd chosen to turn that showed even the slightest bit of promise in being a truly nefarious vampire.  The sire's eyes fell to his own bite marks on William's neck, and he found himself shaking his head a bit.  His childe was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  Every so often he would forget to show Angelus the proper respect, especially in front of the others...the minions...the ones that Angelus had turned and then had basically forgotten.  That kind of error required swift punishment in their world.  A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips as he thought about the times that he'd had to discipline his childe.  He actually didn't mind William's occasional lapses in judgment.  It only made William more of a challenge and more worthy of his attention.  Besides, sycophants rarely made particularly ingenious vampires.  William's dark laughter brought Angelus's attention back to the matter at hand.

"Well, while I try to convince you that you don't need any other woman, can I get you something to whet your appetite?" Belinda giggled coquettishly.

William chuckled again, his blue eyes darting to meet Angelus's.  <Sometimes it is almost too bloody easy!> they both thought.  The vampires ordered a couple of glasses of bitter and took the opportunity while she was pouring the dark liquids to confer.  William saw a dark shadow fall over his master's face, wiping the grin from his own.

"What's wrong, Angelus?  If you want her, she's yours.  I was just having a spot of fun with the tart."

The brown-eyed demon shook his head.  He was no longer in the mood to even attempt to seduce anyone for information, blood, or any other reason, for that matter.  If he needed to feed later, he'd just grab someone on the way home.  Tonight he didn't have the patience for games when there was so much at stake.

"No, she's all yers.  Although, ya really need to think about improvin' yer taste in women, William.  Ya could do much better than this."

William picked up the glass that had just been set before him and waited for barmaid to step out of earshot before commenting to his sire.  "It doesn't matter how you dress them up, Angelus.  Rich or poor, they all taste the same."

He eyed his childe for a moment and had to remind himself that the blue-eyed vampire was still a neophyte who was feeding just to quench the demon's hunger.  Due to this, William had yet to notice some of the subtler differences in blood...like the differences between white wine and champagne.  There was still so much to teach him...so much to look forward to.

He leaned in, speaking low near his ear, "William, one day ya will learn to appreciate the differences.  But, fer now, could ya at least try and pick a woman who bathes more than once a fortnight?" he asked in mild disgust.

"You're just spoiled, Angelus.  That Rose ruined you for all others," William scoffed, recalling the tiny taste of her drying blood that he'd stolen from the door handle earlier.  He could now perhaps see how a large quantity of blood such as that might make a vampire a little more discerning in his choice of meals.

Before Angelus could decide how to respond to the younger vampire's accusation, Belinda was back.  He quickly forgot his slight ire at his childe's insolence.  It was time to get down to business.

"I'm lookin' fer a particular woman...a dear old friend from me childhood that I've heard lives around this area.  Her name is Rose...Rose Smith.  Perhaps ya have seen the lass?" he questioned the woman, his voice dripping with sickeningly sweet charm.  "She has hair the color of wildfire, eyes like the fields of Eire themselves, and she is just a wee little thing, about so tall," he demonstrated with a steady hand.  "She's from America, so she talks a bit strangely.  Have ya seen her or heard of her?  If ya have," Angelus continued, trying not to let his frustration show in his handsome mask of concern for his long-lost friend, "I promise to make it very worth yer while.  She's very important ta me and my family, and I'll never forget anyone that can lead me to her."

The female cast a distrusting eye between the two men.  "You two are family?  You don't look a thing like each other!"

William flashed her a dashing smile.  "He's like a father to me," he said with a nod at his sire.  "He's given me a whole new life."  At that point, neither Angelus nor William could keep from chuckling at the play on words, which instantly irritated the woman since she was left out of their little inside joke.  A slight chill went down her spine at the sound of their laughter and she found she was almost relieved that she didn't know the woman they were looking for.

"Sorry, but there's no one around here like that.  Now, can I get you gents anything else?"

The smile drained from the older vampire's face and was replaced by disappointment, again.  "No," he told her brusquely, tossing a generous amount of money on the bar and then downing his pint quickly.  If Angelus had thought she was lying to him, he'd not hesitate to use more physical means to extract the information from her in private, but she appeared to be telling the truth.

William produced an apologetic smile as he rose to stand.  "Maybe some other time, love," he offered as she took the money with a smile and a shrug.  By the time he caught up with Angelus, who'd paused to question a few of the patrons on his way out with no luck, William had already forgotten about the barmaid.

"Let's try another pub or two on this street, then see if any of the lads have had some luck," he said grimly to William as they finally headed for the door.

*****

Spike watched them go with no small measure of relief.  He wasn't able to pick up everything that they'd said, but he got the general idea.  They were scouring the area for Willow, and it was only a matter of time before someone recognized her description.  Luckily, they weren't very close to the pub she worked in, so there wasn't much chance of Willow being found out this night.  It wouldn't be long though.

"Can I get you another?" Belinda asked the blonde stranger in the corner as she pushed her way around the pub, picking up empty glasses.

Spike barely looked up at her; he just shook his head.  Another drink wasn't going to help the situation now.

"Say, don't I know you?  You look familiar..." the woman said saucily while she studied the pale man's face.

Spike heard himself sigh.  He'd watched as his younger self had trifled with the disgusting woman before him.  It was harmless fun, at least harmless in the sense that the most William would do was bed her then, drain her, leaving her lifeless body for someone else to find.  It was too early for Angelus's brand of torment to have rubbed off on him yet.  Furthermore, it would be many years before Spike would fully perfect the torturing skills that had earned him his current name, let alone develop a taste for the even finer challenges of mental and emotional torment.  Even then, he was never a match for his sire's cruelty in that particular area.

<Those were the good times,> he'd thought to himself while he watched William and his sire together.  <I still thought that Angelus was a bloody god, worthy of my respect and devotion.  We were inseparable those early years.>

"Enjoy yourself now, Will-my-lad," Spike had mumbled under his breath, "because soon things will change.  Soon you'll see the true Angelus."

Spike snapped back to the present when he realized the woman was still there.  "No.  You don't know me," he informed her, never even bothering to look at her face.

Belinda looked at him a bit longer.  She'd hoped that perhaps he was also searching for someone.  He did look lonely and acted as if he were drinking to forget a woman.  It wouldn't be the first time Belinda helped a man forget about his problems, if just for one night.

"No," she finally sighed in resignation when it was obvious that he wasn't interested.  "I guess I don't know you.  With hair like that, you wouldn't soon be forgotten, would ya?  What happened?  Your girlfriend use you for sheep-shearing practice?"

Spike found this amusing and finally let the irony of the whole night wash over him.  "Something like that, Pet...something like that," he managed when he could quit laughing.

All these years he had told anyone who had dared to comment about his short hair and lived that either he had just gotten out of prison or back from a long sea voyage.  Either way, people believed that it was just an easy way to keep himself free of head lice.  In previous times, though, when he'd needed to go unnoticed, Spike donned one of the wigs that were fashionable for true gentlemen of the era.  He hated them though, always thinking they made him look foolish and a bit like a fairy, so he only wore them when absolutely necessary to look the part or to blend into a crowd.  Luckily, as time went on, he knew that fashions would change and hair would get shorter.  Soon he wouldn't be so noticeable, at least not for the length.  For now, though, Spike had little choice but to get accustomed to both the odd looks from strangers and the itchy hairpieces.  Tonight, however, he was au naturale.

Belinda watched the odd man snigger to himself, then she remembered the other gentlemen whose laughter also gave her chills earlier this evening.  <Must be a full moon,> she thought. <It always brings out the nutters.>  Deciding that perhaps he wasn't the kind of company she was after anyway, she turned to leave.

"Wait a minute, ducks," Spike said, suddenly remembering Willow.  "Bring me something to eat.  Bread, cheese, fruit...whatever you have.  I'll take it with me."

She nodded curtly and hurried to the kitchen, leaving the vampire alone to figure out how to keep Angelus and Willow apart.

~~~ End Chapter  24 ~~

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