****I dedicate this part to the girls at THP because I can't wait to see them in one month and because they never fail to make me laugh!

~~~~~~~~

Take Your Time ~ 26 ~

1855

Willow knelt in the bushes and watched the ebony door as she had for the past few nights.  She was getting pretty good at this lurking thing now.  So good, that she couldn't even remember how many times a vampire had stepped within several feet of her without being aware of her presence.  <Stealth girl...that's me!> she would smirk to herself as she watched the hungry vampires pass her unaware.  Occasionally, she would stake one, just to keep in practice, but she was still quite afraid of messing up the timeline, so it was a rare occurrence.  The most important thing to avoiding vampires, she had learned, seemed to be to keep downwind.  Another important factor was to avoid perfume, heavy soaps, or anything else that left a lingering 'unnatural' scent.  She'd also discovered that they had more trouble detecting her on rainy nights or cold ones...anything that mixed up her unique aroma.  On the other hand, Willow had found out the hard way that it was virtually impossible for vampires not to be aware of her presence on very hot and humid nights.  Even if she had 'Secret,' the deodorant strong enough for the Slayer, the redhead was sure that the demons would still be able to detect the scent of her sweat.  Luckily, Willow's ability to defend herself was just one of the things that had matured over the years.

Wrinkling her nose in distaste at her own odorous thoughts, Willow focused once more on the door.  By her best estimate, it was only a half-hour at most until sunrise.  She was thankful that she wouldn't have to wait much longer to stretch the muscles that ached from crouching for so long.  Within seconds of that thought, she saw the object of her cloak-and-dagger behavior strolling up the street.

He was alone, again, as he had been for the past few nights so Willow decided it was time to reveal herself.  When he paused at the door to his lair to unlock it, Willow slipped out of the shrubbery and across the dark street.  Making herself comfortable, she leaned against a small tree.

"So, what's a bad vamp like you doing in a nice place like this?"  Her delicate voice broke the early morning stillness.  Willow was very proud of herself when she saw that she had caught Spike completely by surprise.

Spike spun around, already in attack mode.  His 'game' face slipped instantly into place, and his body tensed, ready to spring into immediate action.

Willow simply smiled and waved, not in the least frightened by his demonic reaction.

Upon seeing the identity of the intruder, Spike suddenly stood up straight, looking more than a little puzzled.  "Willow?  What the bloody hell are you doing here?" he lisped slightly through his fangs.

Willow stuck out her lip in a mock pout.  "Aren't you happy to see me?" she teased further.  "After all, you're the one who said the coast was clear...all the nasty vampires are out of the country for a few years.  'Alle alle in-come-free!'" she shouted through cupped hands, then smiled brightly.  It was good to seem him again, even if his less-appealing visage was all she had yet to see.

Spike shook his head in irritation.   "That was years ago, Willow.  Over 10 years ago I told you it was safe to come back!  Where the bloody hell have you been?"

Willow stood her ground.  "Hey, it's not like you didn't know I was safe!  Heck, I have a box full of your letters, so you knew where I was...most of the time.  Besides, I told you I was busy...things to do...places to go...people to see.  I also told you that I'd come back when I was finished."  Knowing that she'd come across more defensive than she'd intended to, Willow paused and took a breath.  The calming effect was almost instantaneous.  Now that the smile was back on her face, she took a casual step closer, but only one since he didn't seem overly delighted to see her.

"Well, I'm all done, so here I am!" she chirped, regaining her previous enthusiasm.

When the shock of suddenly seeing his make-believe wife after 45 years wore off, the vampire took a moment to take in her appearance.  She looked good--very odd and out of place because of what she was wearing--but still good.  Not that he would admit it.

"What the hell are you wearing, Red?  Isn't it a little early for Halloween?"

Willow took a few strides closer until she was illuminated fully by the gaslight and then stopped and did a twirl.

"You like?" she asked, grinning like a Cheshire cat as she indicated the men's clothing.  "The best part is, not only are these comfortable, but they're also great for lurking, stalking vampires, and general mischief making."

Spike still hadn't moved; however, much to Willow's relief he did force his demon back into hiding, and along with it the ridges, fangs, and yellow eyes.  Right then, his blue eyes were noting her tall riding boots, tight black breeches and dark shirt.  She even had most of her red hair hidden under some sort of cap.  She looked comical and stunning all at the same time.  Spike could barely remember when he last saw a woman in form-fitting pants, and he suddenly had a strong desire for someone to hurry up and invent Lycra.  Realizing he was staring, he latched back on to his previous anger.

"You look absolutely, bloody ridiculous, Willow," he snapped at her.

Her smile waned a bit.  She had hoped that he would at least pretend to be happy to see her.  Much to Willow's dismay though, he appeared annoyed more than anything.  <He's mad.  In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd say he's pouting because I didn't come back the second he told me it was safe!  Vampires and their egos!  Geesh!> she thought as she watched the bitter vampire glare at her.

"Well, um, it beats a corset any day of the week.  Besides, I don't wear it very often, only when I don't want to be seen at night.  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to sit in a steel and wire hoop skirt and half a dozen petticoats?  And you can forget about being stealthy because you practically squeak when you walk...kind of like the tin man but without the cute little funnel hat," she joked with an easy smile.  Apparently, Spike didn't see the humor because his stony exterior didn't soften in the slightest.

Her smile fading fast, Willow kicked at the ground for a moment.  At this point she'd have preferred his sarcastic gibes to the deathly silence, but even those weren't forthcoming from the unusually stoic vampire.  Eventually, Willow decided she'd had enough.  She'd been ignored enough for one night, if not more.

"Well, obviously I'm bothering you, so I'll leave you alone, Spike.  I just wanted you to know that I'm in town, safe and sound." She paused just long enough before continuing to allow Spike to interrupt if he wanted to, which apparently he didn't.  "I have a place down in Grosvenor's Square.  The vampire population seems pretty sparse in that part of the city."

Spike shoved his hands into his overcoat pockets.  "That's as good a place to be as any, I suppose.  That area is too rich for most vamp's blood," he said with disinterest.

Willow took a few hesitant steps backwards, her eyes now leaving the vampire to gaze down the street longingly.  She wanted out of there and away from the aloof vampire, as the silence was almost painful.  She looked back at Spike one last time to find that he was now staring at his pocket watch like he had somewhere else he would rather be.  <I can take a hint, Spike.>

"Well, I'll leave you to get some sleep or whatever.  I'm sure we'll manage to find each other in a few years after Dru is turned, then we can both go home and face real life again."

When Willow made her move to go, Spike turned back toward his door and finished opening it with a harsh shove.  "See you then," he grunted to the door and stepped inside.

Walking away, Willow could only shake her in head at his behavior.  She'd only taken a few steps when she had a rather cheeky idea.

Just as he was about to close the door, Willow called over her shoulder in her most innocent-as-a-lamb voice, "In the meantime, if you're ever in my neighborhood, you should stop in for a bite."

Spike did a double take and reopened the door.  He had to see the expression on her face.  Did she realize what she'd said?  If not, then she'd be blushing and would quickly start backpedaling and babbling, and he'd hate to miss that.  And, if she'd said it on purpose, well....

But she was gone.  He darted out to the landing and glanced up and down the street, but Willow had already disappeared.  Not allowing himself to feel or show a speck of disappointment, Spike took out one of his hand-rolled cigarettes from the inside pocket of his overcoat.  <She'll be back, mate.  She'll be back,> the vampire told himself as he walked back into his current lair and shut the door behind him.

Willow dashed quickly back to the place where she'd stashed a fairly loose-fitting dress and some other basic essentials.  Hidden in a thicket formed by one of Spike's neighbor's flowering bushes, she pulled the gown on over her 'stealth-wear', as she liked to call it, slid the trousers off, and changed her shoes.  Even with the light fog and the cover offered by the shrubbery, Willow wasn't about to take the time to dress properly.  The point was to not draw attention to herself, not to win a fashion show.  Pulling a coat on to cover the rest of her fashion faux pas, Willow headed for home.

After sometime, the redhead managed to hail a carriage. On the long ride to her new place, Willow admitted to herself that she was more than a little disappointed in how the meeting with the vampire had gone.  She knew Spike wasn't pleased when she hadn't run back to London the second he let her know it was safe.  Oh, how she'd wanted to, though.  It kept her awake many a night, wondering if she was doing the right thing.  But like she'd told him, she had things that had to be done first.  It wasn't until all her work was complete that she finally allowed herself to return to her adopted home.

It was obvious, though, that Spike didn't understand that.  And why would he?  She'd never told him what she was doing all those years, and he'd never pressed her for details.  Still, it was obvious that his pride was wounded, again.  He'd probably figured that she'd be dying for his company...maybe even take things up where they'd left it off.

Willow smiled, remembering their last days together.  When they'd parted, it was pretty obvious that they both wanted more from each other than a philosophical discussion on the virtues of chocolate, but that was a very long time ago.  Clearly since then, Spike had overcome his temporary fascination with her, just as she had for him.  It was to be expected.  After all, their original desire had sprung from the simple fact that all they had was each other.  Luckily for the both of them, things were different now.  He had gotten on with his life, she did her best to create one for herself, and, most importantly, Willow had finally learned to keep her under-used hormones in check.  <Yep, a lot can change in half a century.>

She did miss him though.  The letters that they'd exchanged, while always wonderful, weren't enough.  It was funny.  Even though the amount of time they'd actually spent together during their journey back in time had been relatively small, the blonde vampire had somehow become the most important person in her life.  <*Friends* usually are,> she reminded herself promptly.

Willow let her head fall back against the cushion of the handsome carriage as the first rays of the early morning sun touched her face.  <God he looked beautiful...better than I remember!>  Willow sighed deeply with the knowledge that she'd never be able to reenact some of the steamier dreams she'd been having lately, but that was okay.  She'd accepted that many years before.  More importantly, she was home now, and eventually Spike would quit being so stubborn and drop by.  They'd play cards, talk, tease each other, and it would have to be enough for both of them.

"Can you take the long way home?" she asked the driver.  "It's such a beautiful morning, and I'm in no hurry.  Just take your time."

******

It was several weeks after her surprise visit to Spike, and Willow was bored.  Both the days and nights seemed to be passing much more slowly lately.  Maybe it was because she was alone, even though she should have been used to that by now, or maybe it was because she was clock watching--calendar watching, to be more accurate.  Five years to go.  Five years until Drusilla's family would move to London, Angelus and William would return from Europe, and all of Spike's dreams would finally be fulfilled.  It was during seemingly endless nights like these that Willow just knew that the next five years would pass more slowly than the previous one hundred had.  She puttered around her house for a while, as she did every evening, cleaning and rearranging things.  Being the fairly neat person that she was, that never kept her occupied for very long though.  Add to that the fact that she had a lady come in a few days a week to help--as was expected of a lady in that day and age-- it meant that Willow had a lot of extra time on her hands.  Normally, after her nightly 'nesting' activities, Willow would throw herself into her new favorite pursuits.  Well, relatively speaking they were new, but she'd taken them up several decades earlier.  After all, Spike had told her to get a hobby, and now she had several.

Willow had started keeping a journal within days of leaving England the last time.  She found it incredibly liberating to finally be able to express all of her feelings and describe all of her experiences, even though only on paper.  She had already gone through several journals.  The first, unfortunately, was barely legible since it took her some time to get used to using a quill and inkpot. Still, each page overflowed with emotions and thoughts, fears and hopes, and even vague sketches of some of her more haunting dreams.  It was more than just a diary to her, and the diary she'd kept at home so long ago during her 'real' teenage years seemed almost inconsequential.  If those youthful ramblings had seemed comforting to her then, then her writings now were her salvation.

Tonight, after adding a few pages to her latest leather-bound volume, she put it back in the top drawer of the writing desk that sat in the corner of her bedroom.  Skipping back down the steps, Willow headed into the parlor to lose herself in her other favorite pastime--the guitar.  It was, in fact, her passion now.  Her writings may have saved her, but her music gave her life meaning again.  A day did not pass by when she didn't hold the guitar close to her for a couple of hours, her fingers caressing its rich wood as if it were her lover.  Under her ministrations, the fine instrument was no longer inanimate, sometimes seemingly whispering and sighing in response to her touch, while other times roaring passionately as she drew from the dead wood the sounds of life itself--sorrow, joy, regret, love, hatred, fear...  By creating such ardor from a simple handmade guitar, Willow found an outlet for the rest of her pent-up emotions.  The feelings that she couldn't even convey with ink on paper seemed to find their release through her alternating rhythms and slowly cresting melodies.  Whenever she would finish, Willow would be spent--physically, mentally, and emotionally.

As usual, tonight the time passed quickly as she played, but soon she even grew frustrated with her music.  Willow had been inside too long and needed to get out, no matter what time of night it was.

"That's it!" she exclaimed as she reached for the cross that she kept on a table by the door.  "I'm going for a walk.  I'll keep in the light, amongst the crowds, just like I always do, and I'll be fine. Besides, it's not even nine o'clock yet.  Still early enough for a quick stroll around the block," she convinced herself as she once again put the familiar heavy cross around her neck.  She couldn't be bothered putting on her stealthy clothes tonight.  She found it tortuous enough trying to put a corset on every day by herself when most women had someone else to help them, but taking it off was just as bad.  She didn't want to wait another hour before getting out of her prison home.

"Besides, if I don't get out of here and get some fresh air, I'll end up crazier than Drusilla!"  At the last minute, she grabbed a shawl and headed out into the night.  Standing on her stoop, she quickly surveyed the street.  The London fog was fairly thick, but she'd seen worse.  She was able to see where she was going and the gaslights along the street, and she could even make out other people as they passed by her house.  Looking up, she was a little sad that the fog made it utterly impossible to see the moon, let alone the stars.  Nevertheless, Willow knew that sooner or later there would be a clear night, and she promised herself she would take full advantage of it when it came.  But for now, Willow wrapped her shawl tightly about herself and set off into the damp air, hoping to clear her mind and sooth her anxious nerves.

She hadn't walked more than two houses up the street before she felt the grip of a cold hand on her shoulder.  In an almost knee-jerk reaction that she thought would make her Sensei proud, Willow grabbed the offending hand and arm with both of hers, leaned forward, and used her body as leverage to flip her assailant over her shoulder.  With a loud thud, the vampire landed on the ground before her.

"Evening, Willow," the slightly shocked blonde vampire said from the ground.  "Or should I be calling you Jackie Chan now?"

"Oops...sorry," Willow said sheepishly, offering a hand to help him up, which Spike ignored.  "I don't know what came over me.  You startled me, and I grabbed your hand and next thing I knew, there you were...on the ground...at my feet," she said, trying not to laugh.  When Willow noticed the puzzled looks from a young couple that had stopped to see what was happening, she tried to offer a flustered explanation since proper Victorian women didn't usually go around the streets of London flipping men over their shoulders.

"It--it was like one of those stories that you hear about--people finding incredible strength when their, um, cat is trapped under a car, or something."  Then seeing their puzzled looks turn to sheer confusion, she babbled on.  "*Carriage* cars, that is.  Yep, that's the kind of car I meant, because there aren't any others yet, are there?  Yep, they just grab onto that train and lift it right up to save their babies.  Read all about it in the London Times just the other week...think it happened somewhere in Brighton..."  Willow breathed a sigh of relief when the young man, obviously trying to impress his companion, began nodding his head and commenting that he remembered reading about her fictitious story.

While she was prattling on, Spike had momentarily forgotten he was lying on the cold ground.  He was so entranced watching Willow squirm as she tried to come up with an explanation for her behavior, that he was content to lie there.  An embarrassed Willow, all red-faced and disconcerted, was one of his favorite things.  Only now did he realize just how much he'd missed it.  Nevertheless, Spike snapped out of it when the idiotic couple bought her story.  The agile vampire quickly curled his knees to his chest and then arched his back, springing to his feet.  Much to her suitor's chagrin, an awed whisper came from the young female stranger at Spike's fantastic feat.

Spike quickly explained, "Oh, I, ah, used to be with the circus but had to quit.  They were working me to death."  Before the onlookers could ask any questions, Spike took Willow by the elbow and led her away.

"I thought I told you to stay in at night, Red!  Although I must be brain dead to think that you would actually start listening to me now," he continued grimly.

"Don't take it personally, Spike.  I never really listen to anybody anymore.  Besides, I was very bored, and I was going to be careful."  Willow stopped walking and latched onto her necklace, shoving it in his general direction.  "See!  I have a cross!"  Then she started rooting around in the pockets of her skirt haphazardly, "and I know there's a stake around here somewhere...Anyway, once again, I think I proved I can take care of myself."

Spike shook his head as he renewed his grip on her arm, even tightening it some, and set her back in motion again.  "You were just lucky, Pet.  If I'd been trying to kill you and not just get your attention, you'd be one dead Rose.  Now, let's go inside.  If you're that bloody bored, I guess I could beat you at poker a few times."

Willow jutted out her chin.  <Don't do me any favors, Spike.>  "You know, I managed fine without you, again, for a long time, Spike.  And since you were the one that ended up flat on his bum, it's pretty obvious that I don't need a baby sitter," she reminded him as they walked up the stairs to her home.  <At least he didn't ask me how I learned to flip people over my shoulder!  Good thing I didn't kick him, too!>

Spike shrugged and finally let a small smile pull at the corners of his mouth.  "Then consider it a date, Pet, if that makes you feel all grown up."

When she finally noted that hint of a smile that she'd wanted to see so badly weeks before, instead of making her happy, it irked her.  She was determined not to let him run the show this time.  Willow opened the door and entered her house, then turned to stare at him.

Spike stood outside with his hands in his pockets, looking at Willow expectantly.  "Um, love," he said, with a smidgen of exasperation, "I know it's been a long time, but aren't you forgetting something?  You have to invite me in, remember?"

"Not until I hear the magic words, Spike," she said coolly.

Spike rolled his eyes and groaned.  "May I come in and disgrace you at poker, *please*, Willow?"

Willow smirked and shook her head.  "Very nice, Spike.  But that isn't what I want to hear."

He clenched his jaw viciously.  <He, a vampire, had said 'please' after all. What the hell else could she want?  Oh, sod it all to hell...!>  His own thoughts angered him and the hint of a grin was quickly replaced by the now-more-familiar scowl.

"I'm not in the mood for games, Willow," he informed her while taking a step back.

She couldn't help sighing slightly.  "Me either, Spike.  Good night," she said and softly shut the door.  Willow didn't even look through its stained-glass panels to see if he was still there.  She just turned and headed up the staircase to her room.  Not that Spike would have noticed because he had already walked away without a backward glance.

There were both very proud of themselves.

Spike was still shaking his head as he walked down the street.  He didn't know exactly what had happened, but there was one thing he was quite sure of, and it brought more than a hint of a smile to his face.

"After all this time, she still wants me," he chuckled to himself while he felt around in his pockets for a cigarette and matches.  "Poor thing is setting herself up for a bloody big disappointment."

"I can't believe he still wants me...like that," Willow later said to herself while preparing for bed.  Then she laughed when she realized how frustrated he must have been when she didn't succumb to his charms.  "Yep, it's a good thing one of us has come to our senses while we were apart!"

*****

It was a beautiful, clear, spring night, several weeks later, and Willow was in her small backyard.  On rare nights such as this, it was her favorite place to be, especially when for the past two weeks the weather hadn't allowed her to be outside much.  If it wasn't the fog, then it was the rain, but not tonight...tonight was perfect.  She looked about her tiny section and smiled.  While it was much smaller than her backyard in Sunnydale, it was the perfect size for her now.  It gave her enough room for a small wrought-iron table, a couple of chairs, and even a swing.  In the sunniest corner there was a flowerbed.  She had big plans for that little spot, too.  Since it looked like she was finally going to be in one place for a little while and she'd decided to take Spike's advice and stay off the streets at night, this was the one place she could go at night to enjoy the outdoors.

The thing she liked most about her backyard was the privacy it afforded her.  From where she sat on the candle-lit patio, only rare, muffled street noises reached her ears, but she hardly noticed them.  Rows of evergreen bushes surrounded her yard on three sides, forming a privacy screen just tall enough to stop the views from the neighbors' windows, without blocking too much sun or, more importantly, her view of the stars--that is, when the famous London fog didn't blanket the ground.  She figured she even had enough privacy that she could whirl around naked if she wanted to and no one but the magpies would know.  Tonight Willow wasn't spinning around but instead just sitting back, looking at the stars.

She missed this.  The sleeping out in the open was something that she'd grown used to during her travels, and Willow often felt cooped up whenever weather forced her back indoors.  While her backyard lacked the romanticism that came with traveling--the campfires, the sounds of the night creatures, and the strains of the guitars--it was still better than sitting in a gloomy house with only the ceiling above her.  At least this way, she had the familiar stars and moon.

Willow reached for a glass of wine on the table beside her and took a long sip.  That was another aspect of the 'new' Willow.  She had developed a taste for red wine and enjoyed a glass, and sometimes more, almost every night after dinner.  Feeling a little silly due to the boredom, she lifted the glass in the air.

"Here's to change," she toasted to herself, then started giggling.  "Oh, won't you be surprised, Spike?" Willow said to her glass.  "There is just so much you don't know."

Setting her empty glass back down, Willow leaned back and looked for her favorite constellation.  She had just located it, the one known as the Watcher, when she got the feeling that she wasn't alone.

"I knocked but no one answered," Spike's voice came from the side gate,  "I thought I heard you back here."

Willow crowed with triumph inwardly but remained cool on the outside as she looked over to find the vampire walking toward her.  "Sorry, I wasn't expecting company."

Spike hid a smile as he took in the surroundings.  Willow had candles all about the yard.  Some just sitting on the ground, others poking out of bottles that had become covered in multicolored wax to the extent that you couldn't see the bottle underneath.  There was a bottle of wine on the table and two glasses.  <Sure you weren't expecting me, love.>

Willow watched as he noted the candles and the wine  <Egotistical vamp!  I bet he thinks I wait here every night for him!>  "Make yourself comfortable," she said coolly.

Spike took a seat across from her and met her stubborn look with one of his own, but his quickly melted away just from seeing the familiar mischievous sparkle in her eyes.

"It's good to see you, Willow," he said finally with a broad smile.

Her face lit up and her smile easily matched his.  "Now, was that so hard?" she quipped happily.  "Why couldn't you say that a few weeks ago?  It would have saved us a lot of time!"

Spike was taken aback.  "What?  You mean, that's all you wanted me to say?"

"Is that all?  Spike, you barely looked at me when I came back.  You acted as if I had intruded on your life.  I felt like an unwelcome reminder of something you'd rather forget all about."

Spike shrugged and took out cigarette.  "You surprised me, that's all.  Believe it or not, I'd been worried about you since I hadn't heard from you in bloody ages.  I was starting to think that something had happened to you, and then all of the sudden you were standing in front of me," the vampire explained before lighting his smoke and taking a long drag.

"So..." Willow began slowly, trying to decipher Spike's thinking process, "because you were worried about me, that made you behave like an old grump since we all know that big strong vampires like you shouldn't be concerned about one little girl like me, right?"

"In a nutshell, love," Spike chuckled, nodding his head.  "But I'm over it now.  I've come to terms with--"

"Your feminine side?" Willow offered teasingly.

Spike growled playfully.  "I was thinking more like my pathetic need to know that you're okay.  I guess you'd call it my nurturing side.  It's my only personality flaw, really."  Spike waited for a burst of laughter from the redhead or even a loud "Ha!" but instead she looked a little nervous...preoccupied.

Willow took another sip of her wine then ran a finger along the rim distractedly.  "Actually, Spike, I've been around for a few weeks.  I just wanted to make a grand entrance," she started, then paused, trying to find the right words.  "Also, I wanted to make sure that you were, well, alone."

"You were playing stalker to see if I'd made any new friends?" he laughed in disbelief.

"I just didn't want to interrupt anything, Spike.  For all I knew, you could have started a new 'special' family and had lots of little ankle biters running about the place."

Spike smirked but the laughter was gone.  "I didn't make any permanent attachments over the years, Willow.  I've decided I kind of like being a lone wolf; it's a damn sight easier, I can tell you.  And I can have short-term 'friendships' whenever I want."

"I couldn't agree more," she said as she nodded her understanding.  She then turned her attention back to the stars while Spike watched the smoke from his cigarette drift lazily in the night air, deep in thought.

"Wine?" Willow finally asked to bridge the silence.  "It's your favorite color."

The vampire pursed his lips as he studied her, noting the slight blush to her cheeks.  He was curious as to precisely how much she'd already had to drink.

"Wine isn't exactly my cup of tea, but I hate to see a lady drink alone.  After all, what would the neighbors think?"

"They think I'm a fairly well-off young widow, just out of her period of mourning, but not yet ready to face the real world on her own," she said over-dramatically and rolling her eyes.  "So far, they pretty much leave me alone, which is best I think."

"Widow...again?" Spike chuckled.

"It's practically the truth!"  Willow replied as she got to her feet.

"And how did you lose the love of your young life this time, Lady?" he asked in a very posh accent.

"Oh, it was a very tragic, er, blimp accident, Sir.  I fear I shall never love again," she wailed, pretending to cry into her hands.

"Never fear, Lady Smith.  I'm quite sure your heart will go on," he somehow managed with a straight face, but just barely.

Willow looked up in surprised amusement at his movie reference, and before she knew it, the words were out of her mouth.  "I missed you, Spike."

Before she could become embarrassed, Spike fixed her with a wicked smile.  "I know."

"Now's the point where you would tell me you missed me too, if you were any kind of gentleman," she reminded him with a huff.

Spike leaned back in the chair, put his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes.  "Well, I never was a bloody gentleman," he reminded her.

Her eyes narrowed at his familiar conceit.  "Now, before you get all mushy on me, I'll just go get a glass for your wine."

His eyes flitted open and Spike reached for the extra glass on the table.  "Why bother, Red?  Oddly enough, you seem to have an extra one here already?  You weren't waiting for me, were you?"

Willow quickly took the glass out of his hand.  "I don't think you want that one, my husband.  It may still have some Holy Water in it.  I sometimes keep a glass of it out here with me, just in case."

Spike scrambled to his feet.  "Bloody hell, love," he grumbled, eyeing that goblet with distaste.  "You should warn a bloke if you're going to do something as daft as that!"

"Sorry, Spike," she said innocently.  "If I'd known you were coming, I would have put it away.  But I like to spend a lot of time back here at night, and the wine glass is less suspicious than a big bottle with a cross on it," she informed him, then headed for the back door to get a clean glass and another bottle of wine.

"Willow?"  Spike called after her, causing Willow to stop and turn in the doorway.  "I suppose I did miss you...a little...every once in a while...."

Willow's face erupted into a huge smile. "I know, Spike.  I just wanted to hear you say it," she informed him with a wink, and then turned and entered her house.

*****

"I can't believe that we remember so much about life *before*," Willow commented a little later as she poured them both some more wine.  "I still remember most things so vividly, as if it were just yesterday--the songs that were popular, lines from movies obviously, and even the way everyone looks."  <Just none of the important things like soul restoration spells!  Probably since I'd never memorized it in the first place....>

Spike took a sip.  "Another side effect of that damned spell, I suppose.  What amazes me is how bloody lucky we've been so far, Willow," Spike continued.  "No matter how much we seem to balls things up, eventually everything goes the way it should.  Angelus and William are traipsing about Ireland right now, having the time of their unlives, just like I did the first time around.  Soon, they'll hop over to France for a year or two and be a general nuisance there.  Oh, and that's where I'll bag my first slayer, I might add!" he said with a boastful grin.

"Slayers," Willow groaned.  "I guess it's just a matter of time before one of us ends up in the same place as the Chosen One."

"No.  No more annoying little do-gooders in London for another half a century or so, and by then we'll be long gone," Spike said merrily.  "See? Lucky again!"

Willow snickered.  "Luck has nothing to do with it, Spike.  I can't help but wonder how much control we have over our own lives.  It's almost like from the moment you cast that spell, we became someone's puppets.  No matter what we do or where we go, the end result will be the same."

Spike wrinkled his brow in consternation before dropping his stub and grinding out the last dying embers with his heel. "That's a little fatalistic, even for you, Red.  Now, care to explain precisely what you mean by that?"

Willow took another sip of her wine and then a deep breath as she told him the subject of some of her recent journal entries.  "Think about it.  I mean, don't you find it strange that on my first day in Galway, I run into Angelus?  Then, in London the first time I cut through the park at night, I run into you.  Later, once again, just a fluke, Angelus finds me.  Not to mention that time you saw Angelus and yourself in a pub, or the time I met William while you were still alive, and then there was the time--"

"What?"  Spike demanded, bolting out of his chair to crouch in front of Willow.  "What did you just say?"

"I said 'fluke', Spike...not f--"

"Not that!  The part about William...you met him?"

"Oh, yeah, didn't I mention that before?" Willow asked coyly.

"No, Willow," he ground out through gritted teeth.  "You never mentioned that incredibly important little tidbit before.  How could you be so bloody stupid!"

Willow flinched under his ire but brushed it off.  "No need to get so upset, Spike.  We--"

"Did you talk to him?" he interrupted.

"Well, yes, but--"

"How could you, Willow?" Spike said into the hand that was how clutching at his forehead.  He shook his head violently, like he was trying to destroy his thoughts.  When that didn't seem to help he turned to pacing and occasionally throwing his hands up in the air like he were pleading to some higher power for strength.

Willow watched his childish tantrum, a little hurt that he would think she was stupid enough to actually do anything that might harm the timeline.

She started to explain.  "I was just walking by a pub one day and he was standing outside.  He said I looked lonely and sad, and he wanted to buy me a drink to cheer me up."

"And?" he grunted.

Her eyes narrowed at his rudeness, and she felt the need to prolong his torture just a moment longer.  "He told me I was beautiful," she told him truthfully, with a far-away look on her face.

Spike couldn't believe it.  <Why the bloody hell didn't the little chit tell me that William had tried to chat her up before?>  "Oh bloody hell, Willow.  Don't tell me you fell for it?  I, er, *William*, would have asked you what your sign was if *he* thought it would get you in to his bed!"

Willow was growing angrier by the second, and to hide it she quickly took another gulp of wine.

Spike stared at her, his pacing now stopping directly in front of her.  "Well, go on."

Willow knew she should tell him the truth, but she was angry.  "I couldn't help it, Spike," she began, flustered.  "I was intrigued, for some reason.  It was a chance for me to get to know you, before you became, you, and...."

"And?" he urged.

"And we had a few drinks, talked, and, well...."

Spike, tired of her sheepish behavior and stalling tactics, grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her to her feet so that they were face to face.  "Well what, Willow?"

Willow didn't flinch this time; she met him eye-to-eye instead.  "You're an adult, Spike, figure it out.  Or do you want me to draw pictures?  I may need you to pose though."

"Willow..." the irate vampire growled.

"Oh, come on, Spike," she continued mercilessly.  "Obviously we didn't do too much since the spell is still working."

"How much?"

Willow pursed her lips and let her most innocent look fall into place.  "I'm not the kind of girl to kiss and tell."

Spike's jaw fell open and he shook his head in denial, taking a few steps back.  "I, er, I mean, *he* kissed you?"

"No."

Spike visibly relaxed.  "That's a bloody relief.  I don't know what we would have done if--"

"I kissed him," she lied, and the game was on.

Spike's eyes widened in shock momentarily but soon narrowed in disbelief.  It just didn't sound like his Willow.  He strode back to her, studying her face closely for any of the telltale signs that she was lying.  He just couldn't be sure.

"No you didn't."

Willow shrugged. "Okay, then, I didn't.  Whatever makes it easier for you to handle Spike."

Spike upped the ante.  "Prove it."

This time it was the emerald eyes that widened in surprise.  "Excuse me?"

"Prove it, Red.  Kiss me, like you kissed him."

Willow backed away, shaking her head in disbelief.  "You're kidding, right?  Tell me you're kidding, Spike, because that is the most juvenile thing I've ever heard!  How old are you supposed to be anyway?"

Spike disregarded her taunting and kept firmly focused on the subject at hand.  "What's the problem, Willow?  If we've already kissed before, like you said we have, it shouldn't make a difference if we do it now."

"Uh, uh!" Willow exclaimed.  "That was a living William, and you aren't William...or living, for that matter!"

It was Spike's turn to smirk.  "Now who's the one being childish, Pet?  I always knew you weren't mature enough to handle an adult relationship, and this just proves me right, doesn't it?"

Her mouth fell open as she realized the lengths he would go to just to see her blush again.  She quickly figured out his little game, however.

"Don't even try to use reverse psychology on me, buster!" Willow chided, wagging a finger at him.  It was her turn to call his bluff.  "I know perfectly well that you're just trying to goad me into kissing you.  Well, it won't work.  If you want to kiss me so badly, then come over here and do it yourself!"

"Now who's using reverse psychology?  Who's trying to make the big bad vampire seem like less of a demon because he can't ravish one tiny little female?"  The smirk developed into an arrogant smile that encompassed his whole face.  Even his stance seemed to be mocking her, and Willow's fury grew.

Willow glared at him from across the brick patio.  No matter what she said, he would be able to twist her words, making her look like desperate fool.

Seeing her pause, Spike smelled victory but decided to give her a chance to come clean.  "Admit it, Red.  Tell me the truth about your little tete-a-tete with my living self."

A sly smile crept on to her face.  Willow hurried into the house only to stand in the doorway seconds later with a deck of cards.

"You beat me, and I'll tell you the truth, the whole, truth, and nothing but the truth."

Spiked walked to the doorway wearing a grin that equaled Willow's in its potential for mischief.

"Deal."
~~~~~~~
End Chapter 26
 

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