I dedicate this part to Anastasia because I can't hear the song "Smooth" by Santana without picturing a tangoing Spike.  <SIGH>>

Take Your Time ~ 25  ~

When Spike came strolling through his door, he found Willow awake, dressed, and sitting at his table.

"Spike, um, hi", she stuttered as he continued into the room.  He looked like he was in a foul mood, and she knew he wouldn't like it, but they had to talk.  "Spike, we ne--"

"We need to talk.  Right, Pet?"  The obviously distracted vampire finished her sentence before practically throwing a platter of food down in front of her.  "First, you need to eat."

Willow pushed the plate aside to look quizzically at the vampire as he paced the floor in front of her.  <Well, at least he seems to be back to himself and forgot about our little chocolate discussion!  But this won't go well if he's grumpy either,> she reminded herself.  That's when it occurred to her to try and lighten his mood a little.

"What?  No, 'That's the problem with this relationship, Pet...too much bloody talking, not enough shagging'?"  Willow quipped happily, doing a fairly good imitation of Spike's accent and suggestive leer.

Spike turned to watch her little display, but his face remained expressionless despite her attempts to goad him.  He wasn't in the mood to play, but he could prove that he had been paying attention too.

"My turn."  Spike's face suddenly softened and he looked at his hands and began twisting his fingers.  "'Spike,'" he said, in a flustered high-pitched squeak, "'er, I've been thinking, *again*, and this whole, um, thing between us is confusing and as much as I would love, to, um, explore the boundaries of our relationship a little further, because you are the sexiest demon I know, and everything, I think we should just be friends...'"

Willow watched, slack jawed, as Spike mimicked her voice and her mannerisms, right down to pretending to tuck a piece of hair behind his ears.

"I don't really look and sound like that, do I?" she squeaked defensively, then felt her cheeks begin to burn as she realized just how good his imitation truly was.

Although the vampire was pleased with his performance, he knew they didn't have much time.  He had to tell her what had happened, as well as what he'd decided--she needed to leave town as soon as bloody possible.

"Now that we've gotten our dose of teenage angst out of the way, I have some news, and--"

"No," she interrupted, getting to her feet.  "In fact, that wasn't quite what I was going to say."

"Really?"  Spike was intrigued now and took a seat across from her at the table.  All things considered, he figured that another couple of minutes of Willow banter couldn't hurt anything.  "Oh, by all means, then.  Do tell," he said sardonically.

Willow fought the urge to stick her tongue out at him and instead took a long, deep breath before beginning.  "What I was going to say was that I need to go.  I need to leave London...immediately.  Tonight even."  Not waiting for the surprised vampire to interrupt, she plowed on.  "Angelus will be looking for me, and, well..."  Willow had been trying her best not to behave exactly like his previous caricature of her, but she gave in.  "Spike, this relationship of ours is confusing, and if we stay together, like this, we are just asking for trouble.  I mean, here I am, a virgin, living right under your nose.  Obviously you haven't exactly gone on a killing-free diet, but you *have* cut down which makes me too big of a temptation for you."  Seeing that Spike was about to interrupt, she blurted the rest out.  "And look at me!  I'm a 74-year-old virgin, and, let's face it, you aren't exactly chopped liver.  How am I supposed to be with you and not want to *be* with you?  I'm only human after all.  We both want something that only the other can give right now...something that we can't have.  So, for the good of both of us, I need to leave for a while.  At least until we know that Angelus has forgotten about me again and then maybe a little time will help get us over this little hump in our friendship."

When she finished, she flopped down on the coach, exhausted, and already inwardly kicking herself.  <Oh, no! Why did I have to use the word 'hump'?>  When she looked at Spike, she held her breath, waiting for his reaction.  He stood up and slowly stalked towards her.

"Let me see if I have this straight," Spike started, obviously still a little surprised by her speech. "You're leaving because you're afraid *you* might take advantage of *me*?" he asked incredulously as he came to a halt in front of her.

Willow nodded her head and looked up to hold his gaze with her own.  She continued to hold it even as he leaned down to place his hands on the sofa on either side of her head.

She swallowed hard as he drew himself closer.  "It's for your own good," she told him breathlessly.

The vampire stopped to hover mere inches from Willow's blushing face.  His eyes focused squarely on her quivering lips.  "Don't you trust me?" he insinuated, surprising himself by the huskiness of his own voice.

Willow watched Spike's eyes sparkle dangerously as he waited for her answer.  "Um, well, it's not so much that I don't trust you as that I don't trust myself, Spike," she stammered.  "I'm afraid that one of these days, maybe even the next time you do this..."  She tried to indicate the space between them with her hands,"...invade my space like you love to do, I may not pull away like the good girl that I am.  I mean, I know that this is all just a game to you...make the virgin blush, let's see her get all worked up, but one of these times I will call your bluff, Spike.  What would we do then?"  Willow noticed that the small gap between their lips was even smaller now.  While speaking, she had moved closer to him, and her eyes were now firmly fixed on his tightly clenched mouth.

"I'm sure if we put our heads together, Willow, we would come up with something to do."

Willow waited for the telltale smirk to show that he was joking, but it never came.  Instead, they both seemed frozen with indecision.  She was about to fall back on babbling her way out of the situation.  Somehow, she wanted to find a way to tell Spike that she couldn't bear to lose him because he was all that she had in this world.  Furthermore, that however pitiful and silly it might sound, he was her only connection to her real life.  Yes, she wanted to tell him all those things, or she could put her mouth to use in a different way and kiss the vampire within an inch of his unlife.  However, before she could put her feelings into words or her lips on his, Spike suddenly rose and put some much-needed distance between them

"You shouldn't trust me, Willow.  I saw the other me tonight, and I realized just what a lecherous sod I really was, er, am.  But it doesn't matter," Spike told her resignedly.  "I also saw that pillock of a sire of mine in a pub tonight, asking about you.  He's already got half the vampire population of this bloody town searching for Rose."

The sexual-tension-filled moment was quickly forgotten.  Willow's heart sank when she realized just how right she was about Angelus looking for her.

"I'll leave tonight...hopefully there's a stagecoach to Dover so I can catch the next ferry over," she mumbled, staring at her trembling hands.

Spike watched his companion.  She had a far away look in her eyes, and he knew that she was contemplating the long years ahead of her.  He squatted on the floor in front of her so that they were eye-to-eye but kept a respectable, safe distance.  "I have to stay here," he informed her plainly, but his eyes showed that he wasn't particularly happy abut it.  "If we changed things...changed this past...I have no bloody way of knowing what he's going to do next.  And you know we did...we really mucked things up this time!  If I lose track of him now, Angelus may bugger off somewhere and we may never find them again."

Willow was touched by his reluctance to leave her alone again, but she had also come to the same conclusion about Spike not being able to accompany her.

"I understand, Spike."

"Not that I am particularly chuffed with the thought of you being on your own again, Willow.  You didn't do too brilliantly last time, did you?"

Willow looked down at her hands again and fiddled with her fingers.  She wanted to tell him how she felt about him...how in spite of his deceit in the past, she now thought of him as a true friend.  She had tempted him so many times but he had always done the right thing.  He had taken care of her when she needed help despite her attempts to shove him away, and had done his best to make her see the truth about herself and Angelus.  Maybe the friendship wasn't the same as the one she had once had with Xander, and it probably never could be, but she thought it was pretty good considering the circumstances.  One thing was for certain, though.  She was going to miss his company.

"That was different," she explained, speaking about the years following her abrupt departure from Galway.  "I felt betrayed, then, and never so alone.  But it's different now...."  She looked at the vampire and smiled, hoping that somehow it would convey everything that she couldn't put into words.

When Willow smiled at him, Spike felt a stirring deep within.  While he wouldn't allow himself to think about what that feeling meant, he did answer in kind.

She went on.  "I'll be okay," she assured him.  "Although," she added with a sigh, "I can't say I'm really looking forward to it.  I mean, I don't know how you long-life demon types do this!  So much time, but you can't really settle anywhere because people will notice that you aren't aging.  Makes it a little hard to develop any relationships."

Spike chuckled as he got back onto his feet.  "What you need is a hobby."

"You mean, besides finding some guy to neck with?" she teased.

The vampire lifted an eyebrow.  "Are you planning on finding some strapping young lad who can't get it up to meet your needs?"

"Maybe," she answered noncommittally.

Spike once again began pacing the floor nervously.  "You should go to France then...bloody Frenchmen are all talk anyway."

Willow wrinkled her nose.  "I was thinking of going Italian...or Spanish..."

Spike stopped in front of her, turning a serious face to hers.  "Wait another few years until you go to Spain, love.  The Peninsular War is still going on...not a nice place to be for a bit longer."

"Italian it is, then!"  Willow announced to the vampire who had returned to wearing a path on the floor.  "Besides, all the history there should keep me entertained for a while."

"Sounds like a plan, love," he answered absent-mindedly.

"It's a start anyway," Willow said with a shrug, keeping her other plans to herself for now.

Willow's gaze traveled about the room, studying it for the last time.

"Um, do you think you can stay away from my pub, The King's Cross?" Willow asked him after several minutes, breaking the silence.  "I was thinking of telling them that you and I were going to give it another go as man and wife, but in another town somewhere.  You know, fresh start and all."

The vampire finally stopped pacing.  "I think I can force myself to stay away, but whatever you do, don't bloody well tell them where you're going...don't even make up a specific lie.  If Angelus tracks them down, and they mention that you're on your way to America, it's possible Angelus would follow.  Last thing we need is Angelus getting to the States a century too soon."

Nodding in agreement, Willow closed her eyes and let her head rest again the couch.  There was so much to consider.  "Fine..." she told him wearily, not bothering to open her eyes.  "I'll just say we're going to travel around Britain for a while...that should be vague enough."

"Good."  Spike walked over to the doorway and leaned in the door jam, staring into the practically empty warehouse.  He couldn't say that he was looking forward to the next few decades himself.  Following Angelus around and trying not to be seen got pretty old, fast.  <Not much longer though.  Another 50 or so years, and you can see Drusilla again, and this will all be over.>  "Well, it looks like we have everything figured out.  Now we just have to wait for the sun to rise in a few hours.  In the meantime, eat something," the vampire dictated without bothering to turn around.

Willow opened her eyes and focused hungrily on the plate piled high with cheese, bread, cold meats and veggies that still sat untouched on the table.  With a sigh, she left the soft comfort of the sofa to sit at the table.  She had long ago given up trying to stay strictly kosher.  Not because it was impossible since there were plenty of Jews in London and therefore plenty of places to shop and eat without breaking any dietary laws.  But, this whole experience, as well as those from her days living on a Hellmouth, had dampened her beliefs.  Besides, it wasn't like she started celebrating Christmas or anything.  She just didn't allow herself to feel guilt over her religious lapses.  She had enough to worry about, and when this was all over, she was going to have a long talk with her Rabbi.  She did, however, pass on the ham, preferring to tuck into the other items voraciously.

Spike did not move from the doorway the entire time she ate, instead staring past the damp floors of the warehouse below.  Finally, sensing that she had stopped eating, he turned to find her just pushing the food around on her plate.  As there were still a few hours until sunrise, Spike retrieved a deck of cards and tossed them on the table before taking the seat across from her.

Willow's demeanor relaxed as she busied herself shuffling and dealing the cards, then she finally broke the silence.  "Spike, you know all that time I was alone, I never saw anyone play poker.  When I tried to find a game to watch or just sit in on so I wouldn't forget how to play, no one had even heard of it.  They play something called Bragg instead."

Spike rearranged the cards in his hand.  "That's because it hasn't been invented yet," he informed her plainly, not bothering to look up from his hand.

The redhead stared at the cards she held like they were a demonic force in their own right, then let them fall from her hands.  "What?"

Setting his cards neatly down on the table, the vampire got comfortable in his seat, knowing that she wouldn't let the subject go easily.  "Look, love, it's simple, really.  Poker wasn't invented until the 1830's in America...New Orleans, I think.  Then it takes a few years before it catches on here, and--"

"But...but..." she interrupted, feeling incredibly stupid that none of this had even occurred to her before.  "If...it hasn't been invented yet, where did the cards come from?" she asked incredulously.

"I brought an antique pack with me, although I didn't really need to.  The Bragg deck is very similar," he replied smugly.  "Oh, come on, love!  You think I'd pass up an opportunity to be one of the first, and therefore the best, players in all of Great Britain?  Not bloody likely."

"But you said you played in Galway!"

Spike rolled his eyes.  "I did.  I taught a few of the blokes in town how to play and took all of their money.  You didn't expect me to get a real job, did you?"

"No...I guess not.  It's just that, well...oh, never mind," she said sheepishly.

"What?"  When Willow couldn't look at him and started biting on her lower lip, Spike turned serious.  It almost looked as if she was about to burst into tears.  "Willow...spit it out already," he growled softly.

The pained expression on Willow's face was actually due to her trying to restrain her laughter, not her tears.  "Let me see if I got this straight..."she started.  With more than a hint of flippancy in her tone, she began ticking items off on her fingers. "You threatened me, kidnapped me, forced me to dress like something out of a Dickens' novel, cast a spell that hurled us back through time breaking every law of physics and nature known to man...all of this *without* actually having any idea how you were going to bring about this new 'perfect world order' you had envisioned, yet you remembered to bring along a deck of cards?"  Willow couldn't help it.  She started laughing and was unable to stop even as tears started streaming down her face.

Spike's jaw tightened.  "I had a bloody plan, Red.  A brilliant, bloody plan if I do say so myself!" he growled loudly this time, her laughter annoying him more and more with each passing second.  "But someone had to play the good fairy, didn't she?  Some little witch decided to take us back 100 years too far!"  Spike continued to grumble a while longer, most of it under his breath and none of it very complimentary.

Willow covered her face with her hands.  The redhead was trying to gain a handle on her amusement, which wasn't easy when it just made Spike even angrier.  That, in turn, only made her laugh harder, of course

"Look, are we going to play cards or not?" he asked sharply, smacking his hand on the table.

"I guess we better," Willow said with tear-brightened eyes when she could finally manage to stop giggling.  "After all, I would hate to ruin your 'bloody, brilliant plan' to change the world with a deck of cards!"  Willow didn't laugh this time, but she did grin broadly and even winked at him.  Once again, she was reminded that she didn't have to take this whole time-travel thing so seriously.

Spike shook his head in exasperation, but even he couldn't stop a smile from sneaking onto his face.  "Then ante up, my little virgin."


Willow looked up from what she figured was going to be her fifteenth losing hand of the night to find Spike smirking at her once again.  She sighed and put her chin on a hand.  "I'm doing it again, aren't I?  You can still read my poker face that easily?"

"Like a comic book, Red!"  Spike announced, collecting the cards that she threw down on the table to admit her defeat.  The vampire felt a little redeemed.  If he had actually lost a hand of poker tonight, he would have had to stake himself or live with her rubbing it in his face for decades to come.

Willow shook her head in dismay.  One day she would beat the vampiric card shark at his own game, but not today.  The room grew quiet as they both noticed the lightening of the sky through the small attic window.

"When can I come back?"  Willow asked tentatively, as the time of her leaving drew nearer.

Spike's face darkened.  "I can't be sure.  Who knows what that wanker is going to do now?  But, if my brain hasn't turned to complete mush, Darla should still be in Paris for another month or two and--"

"Giving the newlyweds some privacy, is she?"  Willow cut in, playing a hunch about his relationship with Angelus in the early days.  She had been thinking about this for a long time but never had the tenacity to bring it up.  Tonight had seemed like as good a night as any.

She caught Spike off guard, and his eyebrows shot up in surprise.  Seeing the suggestive hint of a smile on her face, the vampire simply shrugged and nodded.  "Comes with the fangs, love," he informed her.  "Besides, Darla never could stay in one place for more than a couple of months at a time."

Willow pursed her lips as more thoughts popped into her mind.  Even though she was pretty well read on the ways of demons, none of the Watchers' records about them could help her to really understand the bond between a childe and his sire.  Vampire relationships seemed to be even more complicated than human ones, and she never felt that she was very good at those, either.

Spike stood to put the cards away in a drawer behind him.  "I suppose you find that disgusting?" he challenged, misinterpreting her silence.

"No."  In fact, Willow found herself blushing as images of Spike and Angelus together crept into her mind's eye, and she decided she needed to change the subject...fast.  "But, as fascinating as this conversation is, Spike, can we get back to the subject?"

Spike turned back around just in time to see her cheeks turn a lovely shade of pink.  "I thought your naughty little mind was the subject."

"No, although it appears to be your favorite topic of discussion lately."  She squirmed a little in her seat and tucked a few stray strands of hair behind her ears.  "We were talking about when I can come back...to England or London."

Spike walked around the room to grab a left-over apple from her dinner and tossed it at her over his shoulder.  "Eat.  You still look pale, and you'll need your energy if you're leaving today."

Willow caught the apple in mid-air, then replied.  "Yes, Daddy."  She had meant it purely as a sarcastic comment for his caring behavior and had not even thought about Drusilla, but as soon as it left her mouth, she realized what she'd said.  She bit her lip as she awaited his reaction, but there wasn't one.  If Spike had even realized what she'd said, he didn't let it show.

Spike felt a twinge of regret mixed with guilt at Willow's casual comment, but like all of the other twinges, stabs and pains he felt whenever he was with her, he shoved it harshly to the back of his mind to be dealt with later.

"I'll let you know when it is safe to come back.  If you'll still want to come back that is."

As Willow nibbled at the apple, she doubted that anything would make her not want to come back to England.  It was home to her now, having lived in it longer than she'd lived in the United States, but she was at a loss as to how he would let her know.

"Um, how?  How will I know when it's safe?"

Spike smirked at her question.  "I'll guess we'll have to keep in touch, won't we?  I've never had a pen pal before.  Blimey, even the words 'pen pal' give me the willies, but I'll give it a shot."

"Pen pal?  You...you can...?"  Willow didn't finish her sentence as she saw the scowl cross Spike's face.

"Of course I can read and write, Willow!  Just because I never went to some fancy school doesn't mean I'm a complete bloody idiot."

"Sorry, it's just that I never saw you read a book...or a newspaper...or ...or anything, actually," she stammered as she let her gaze fall back to the table in embarrassment.  "I just assumed..."  Willow felt horrible.  All this time she'd been wrong about something so basic.

The silence was thick for a few moments, but eventually Spike started searching his room and even the warehouse for a bit of paper, a quill and some ink. Finally finding everything he was looking for, Spike hastily scribbled on the scrap before shoving it at Willow.

"Write to William Smith at this address and let me know where you are.  The postal service isn't very good yet, not that it ever is, but what can you expect from civil servants?  Anyway, there are routine deliveries between here and the rest of Europe.  I'll get it...eventually.  Just let me know where you are, and then when it's safe to show your face around here, I'll let you know," he told her coolly, now taking great interest in the cracks in the walls on the other side of the room.

Willow glanced at the paper, noting the surprisingly readable handwriting before shoving it in her pocket.  She stood up slowly and smoothed out her dress with clammy palms.  It was time to go.

"Okay, well, I better get going.  I have a lot of lies to tell before catching a stagecoach to the port."  Willow's voice wavered just a bit.

"Right.  You need to be out of London before nightfall.

They looked at each other from across the room for a while, each one waiting for the other to make a move, but eventually Willow tired of the awkwardness.  <Geez, I think it was easier when I just stormed out...didn't have to say any good-byes.>  "Yeah...well...thanks for taking care of me, Spike.  Take care of yourself, and I'll see you in a few decades, okay?" she said indifferently, grabbing what few things were hers before heading for the door.  She kept waiting for him to say something, or more importantly do something, but he stood still as stone, his face as cold as one.

Spike watched her head for the door with so many mixed feelings that it left him void of any expression at all.  He wanted her to go so she would be safe and so that he could get on with the business of being a vampire without her big eyes always questioning him.  He also wanted her to go because his future was with Drusilla.  No matter what he may be able to have with Willow at this moment, it was only temporary.  They were only stand-ins, trying to fill the void in each other's life that the spell had cost them...friends, confidants, lovers...?  Yet, on the other hand, he wanted her to stay, because frankly she was bloody good company, and he was as tired of being alone as she was.  Was there more to it?  Probably, but that was just one more thing shoved into storage in the back of his mind.

Willow didn't allow herself to look back as she walked out.  It wasn't like they weren't going to see each other again.  It would just be a while.  "See you later, Spike," she said softly over her shoulder without actually looking at him.  She paused briefly on the landing, long enough for Spike to say something, anything, but he didn't utter a word.

She shut the door gently behind her, then leapt down the stairs and out of the warehouse as fast as her tired legs could take her.  It wasn't until she was outside and the early morning air hit her that she allowed a few tears to fall.  Willow couldn't even decide what it was that she was crying about--the fact that she had to start all over somewhere else, that she was going to be alone again, or that Spike hadn't even bothered to say good-bye.

Spike, for his part, stared at the doorway that she'd been standing in only moments before and kicked himself for not saying good-bye, then kicked himself again for caring whether or not he said good-bye, and then kicked himself one final time just for good measure.  Suddenly remembering something, Spike began to savagely rip up a few floorboards in the corner. Grabbing a pouch out of the now-uncovered hiding place, the vampire ran down the stairs at supernatural speed.

<Damn!> he muttered as he ran through the barren warehouse, realizing that she was already gone from the building and probably gone for good.  He got to the door and threw it open to the morning sun, not caring whether or not he would get singed.  Luckily for him, the sun rose on the other side of the building.

"Willow!" he yelled down the street.  Spike took a few steps into the shaded street, ignoring the odd looks he got from the few people out and about at such an early hour.  He peered down the lane in the direction that he knew she would take but couldn't spot her.  "WILLOW!" he yelled even louder in desperation.

"Keep your trousers on, my husband," Willow's voice came from behind.

Spike quickly spun around and was relieved to find a red-eyed Willow, leaning against the wall of the building.

"What's wrong?" she asked cautiously.  "Did you forget something?"  <Like saying good-bye...you...you big blonde demonic dummy?!>

Spike didn't try to hide his relief in finding her and quickly grabbed Willow by the hand.  Instead of pulling her into an embrace, however, he dragged her back into the privacy of the dim building.

"Good bloody thing I caught you.  I wanted to give you something," he muttered hurriedly, holding out the bag.

Willow couldn't hide her disappointment.  Her romantic mind wanted him to hold her and tell her that he would miss her, while her naughtier thoughts contemplated other ways of saying good-bye.  Instead, he was merely trying to give her something.  <Well, a present is better than nothing!>  She took the rather large leather bag and immediately noticed how heavy it was.  She peered inside to find money...lots of it...more than she'd seen in all of her days working in taverns.

She looked from the money to Spike.  "You're giving me all of this?"

Spike nodded and stepped back.  "I don't want you working in dirty pubs having filthy old men slobber all over you any more.  You're a lady, and I want you to act like one...dress like one...live like one.  If you're smart, that will last you for quite a while."

Willow thrust the bag back into his hands.  "I don't want your money," she said sharply and turned for the door, but a confused Spike quickly stepped in front of her.

"What's your bloody problem, Pet?" he said irately.  He couldn't understand why she wasn't falling over herself to thank him for making the coming years easier on her.  Then something occurred to him and he thought he understood.

"It isn't what you think, you know.  I didn't rob the dead for this money, just the stupid.  These are my gambling winnings from the past couple of decades."

Willow stopped her attempt to leave but didn't look at the vampire.  She stared at the floor, making sure that he couldn't see her face.  "Oh," was all she could say.

Spike felt his ire build.  He never thought she could be so ungrateful.

"'Oh'!  Is that all you have to say?  Not, 'Thank you, Spike,' or 'You shouldn't have, Spike'?" he demanded, once again imitating the woman before him.  "You're going to take this money if I have to--"

"If you have to what?" she fumed, sticking her chin up bravely to match the vampire's glare with one of her own.  "I am not going to take your money!"

Confused, Spike stalked closer, his face growing tighter and angrier with each step.  Willow tried to hold her ground, but before she knew it, the redhead found herself backing away.  All too soon, she ran out of room and found herself between one very cold brick wall and one very cold, pissed-off vampire.

Spike pinned her against the wall, not with his body, but with his eyes.  Standing close enough that she could actually feel the coolness radiating from him, Willow could do nothing but watch as Spike clenched his jaw in frustration.  One more time the vampire thrust the money at her, and once again she refused to take it.

"Why are you being so bloody stubborn?  Take it, or I will shove every piece down your corset then kick you out of here on your stubborn, ungrateful little ass!"

"You wouldn't dare!" she huffed.

An evil grin appeared on the vampire's face, and he reached in the bag for a coin before closing it and dropping the leather sack on the floor.  He took the solitary gold coin and held it up between two fingers for Willow to see, then he pressed it gently against the hollow of her throat.  With the other hand, he tucked one finger under the neckline of her gown and drew it away from her pounding chest.

Willow's eyes shot daggers at the vampire before her, but she refused to give in first.  He simply wouldn't dare.  "Spike, if you--"

Before she could finish the sentence, Spike released his hold on the coin.  Its rolling path took it down her chest and between her breasts to stop somewhere deep in her bodice.

"You were saying, my wife?" he grinned at her as he released the neckline of the dress with a sharp snap.

"I--I can't believe you did that!" Willow stammered, more shocked and embarrassed than angry.

Spike laughed and took a small step back.  "I only wish the coin were colder.  Now, are you going to be a good little girl and swallow your ahead-of-its-time feminist pride and take the damn money, or will you be jingling through the streets of London with a very impressive--if not a tad bit more lumpy than I usually prefer--bosom?"

"No!" she replied, ignoring the rest of his overly descriptive question.  At the same time, Willow found herself dancing around in an attempt to get the coin to drop out of its hiding place so that she wouldn't have to go fishing for it.

"I'd be happy to get that out for you," the vampire chuckled eagerly.  "Of course, it might take me awhile to find it."

Willow couldn't help herself and started grinning.  "You're evil."

"I'd like to say that it all came with the fangs, love, but I think there was always a little devil in me."

When the coin finally found the floor, Spike scooped it up and clutched the warm sphere tightly in his hand.  "I'll think I'll just hang on to this lucky little bugger as a memento, Pet.  It'll be my new good luck piece," he said in all seriousness.

Willow sighed as she studied his familiar face once again.  "I'm going to miss you.  I mean, I'm going to miss the arguments," she stammered, her cheeks reddening.  <Quit fighting it, Willow!>  She scolded herself into action.  "Oh, bloody hell, Spike.  I'm going to miss *you*!" Willow announced and launched herself at him, wrapping her arms around his waist and back in a tight hug.

Completely taken by surprise, Spike was a little slow to return the embrace.  However, as soon as he felt Willow tense as if ready to end the hug because of his awkwardness, he quickly let his arms move about her and pull her back to him.

"I'll miss you too, Red," he murmured into her hair.

"You will?" she asked against his shoulder.

"Like I told you before, Willow.  I'm a bloody masochist."

Neither laughed at the comment.  They both knew there was more than a little truth to the fact that they seemed to only cause each other grief when they were together.  The couple stayed that way for a brief moment longer, not talking, not arguing, just holding on to each other...holding on to all they had of their real life.

Willow finally pulled back.  "I should go...there really is a lot to do...and thank you, for the money.  I will take it after all, and just consider it a loan or maybe payment for my expert stake removal, or something like that...."

Spike picked up the sack and handed it to her.  "We can come up with some sort of appropriate repayment schedule when we get back, love."

Willow smirked her thanks.  "And if I know you, I'm sure you already have a few ideas in mind, Spike."  Shaking her head at the lewd smile on his face, she picked up her other things, tightened her grip on her new fortune, and headed toward the door again.  For the last time, Willow stopped and turned, only to find the vampire was directly behind her, following her to the door.

"Be careful, Willow," he said gravely.

"I will.  You be careful, too, and try to be good.  Well, okay, not good, but try not to hurt anyone more than absolutely necessary, okay?" she paused for a moment as a wicked thought came to her.  "Oh, and one more thing...."

Willow's sweet smile change into something that could only be described as sexy, and Spike was startled when she quickly leaned into him with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.  For a moment he thought she was going to kiss him.  Not that kissing Willow would be a bad thing, but as she'd said before, it would lead to bad things...wonderfully warm, bad things.  However, her mouth didn't close over his in an inviting kiss; instead it moved to the side of his face.  <What the bloody hell is she doing?>  He only had a moment to wonder before he felt the incredible sensation of her teeth sinking into the fleshy part of his earlobe.  The bite wasn't painful, only surprising, and before he could enjoy it, she'd released him.

"I forgot to tell you...I always eat their ears first," she whispered.

<What?>  Spike's mind was reeling, and he once again found himself at a rare loss for words in Willow's presence.  <Oh right, the bloody bunny rabbit...chocolate...ears...>

Willow backed away with a pleased smile on her face and licked her lips.  "White chocolate...my favorite."  Then with one last devilish smile, Willow was gone.

It was several minutes before Spike moved from that spot.  The demon in him was crowing 'I told you so,' and Spike found himself unable to remove the awe-struck grin from his face.  As he climbed the stairs to get some sleep, the vampire gingerly touched his ear before shaking his head ruefully.

"Bloody hell...what's she going to be like after another 50 years of chastity?"
End Chapter 25