*** This part is dedicated to my wonderful husband for putting up with me and my rather odd hobby, not to mention my other idiosyncrasies.

~~ Take Your Time - 38 ~~
 

It was very late, but Willow didn't want to go to bed.  No matter how exhausted she was, she fought drifting off to sleep as long as she could.  Tonight, just as she had every night for the last month or so, she tried anything she could think of to keep awake for even a few minutes more.  As soon as Spike had gone out to feed, Willow began to pad about the cold house, cleaning and tidying the same rooms that she'd cleaned and tidied only the night before, and the night before that.  She wrote in her journals, played the piano or guitar, read, did aerobics as best she could to polka music--all to avoid something that was inescapable.  Sleep, and the nightmares that came with it.

Unfortunately, sleep was no longer a necessary ingredient in order for her to suffer from the horrifying dream-like images.  Just as they had that first time in the alley in Galway only a few weeks earlier, Willow occasionally found herself having the strange hallucinations while she was wide awake.  These horrifying daydreams were equally as vivid as the sleep-induced ones, if not more so.

When Willow was in the middle of the dreams or hallucinations, they were incredibly real.  She could see the vampires before her, feel their touch, hear their rage.  Only later, when it was over and she'd had some time to come to her senses, could she actually decipher some of the fact from fiction, but each time that seemed to take a little longer.  At a loss for what else to do and figuring they'd stop on their own, Willow tried her best to keep busy and live on as little sleep as necessary--all without bothering Spike.

She hadn't told the vampire about her dreams.  How could she explain it to Spike when she didn't understand it herself?  Willow already felt foolish enough for not being able to put everything that had happened between them behind her, and she didn't want to further disappoint Spike with more obvious displays of her weakness and immaturity.  He'd asked about her nightmares once, much to her dismay, but she'd shrugged them both off.  She told herself she could manage just find on her own, thank you very much.  Or so she thought.

Eventually, Willow's fatigue overwhelmed her foreboding of what sleep would bring.  After dressing in her most comforting, albeit matronly, nightgown, she climbed wearily into her bed and pulled the covers over her head, trying to cocoon herself against the inevitable.

Sleep came quickly and the nightmares soon followed.

***

"Bloody hell...not again."

Spike stood outside his bedroom, banging his head in frustration against the solid teak door.  He'd heard the same sounds practically every night since they'd arrived in Vienna, but that didn't mean he'd grown used to it.  Spike wanted to waltz into his bedroom and slam the door closed, effectively dampening most of Willow's whimpers and cries.  That's what he'd done every other night, and that's exactly what he wanted to do again.  But he couldn't make himself turn the knob.  Instead he thumped his head against the door again and again, hoping that the pain would clear his mind enough for him to figure out what the hell to do.

The vampire didn't understand what was wrong with his red-headed companion.  He'd thought Willow's nightmares had stopped after he'd gotten her away from Angelus.  She'd seemed fine, although rather quiet, during their journey from Ireland to the Continent.

When they'd arrived in Europe, they'd headed directly for Austria, the only reason being that, as far as Spike knew, Angelus had never frequented the area.  The plan was for Willow to rejoin her old Rom clan in Romania the following spring when the weather grew warmer.  They hadn't planned much beyond that, knowing that there would be plenty of time for them to elaborate on the scheme later.  Besides, Willow never seemed to want to talk about it.

It wasn't until they were alone together in the small house just outside of Vienna that Spike began to suspect that there was really something wrong with Willow.  Not only had her terrifying dreams returned with a vengeance, but she'd begun to withdraw a little more each day until Spike rarely saw her at all.

To his credit, he'd asked her about the nightmares one night when he'd come home early from feeding, but she'd declined to talk about them at all.  Willow had insisted that everything was fine and that they were just dreams and no big deal.  Spike had started to argue the point, but Willow had stopped him with one of her 'resolve' faces.  Even with the dark circles around her eyes and her sallow complexion, Willow's stubborn expression had still been quite effective.  Or maybe he'd just been looking for an excuse.  Spike was a little afraid that she might leave all together if he pushed her too far.  So the subject had been dropped.  Unfortunately, it was now obvious to Spike that her dreams didn't want to cooperate.

With a snarl of annoyance, Spike finally took mercy on his forehead and let go of the handle.  He turned to lean against the door before fishing around in his pockets for his cigarettes.  Before he could find one, a chilling wail echoed down the hall.  In all the centuries he'd been walking the earth, causing and enjoying others' pain, he'd never heard anything quite like it before.

That mournful cry was the last straw.

"That's it!" he told the empty darkness that surrounded him.  "No more Mr. Bloody Nice Guy."

Spike stormed down the unlit hallway to Willow's room at the other end, determined to do whatever it would take to snap Willow out of it.  When he found her door unlocked, Spike was actually a little disappointed.  Not only was he surprised that she didn't try harder to bar him from that part of her life, but he'd also actually been looking forward to the satisfying sound of the door splintering under the force of his booted foot.  He hadn't kicked in enough doors lately, and he missed it.  Random acts of senseless violence were supposed to be one of the perks of being a vampire.  However, the need to keep a low profile throughout their expedition back in time had severely limited Spike's opportunities to exercise that little privilege.

Opening the door with an unsatisfying shove, Spike stalked into her room.  By that point, he could care less if he woke Willow or scared the living daylights out of her.  He was determined that whatever she was suffering from--be it nightmares, hallucinations brought on by a bit of undigested beef, or a trip down insanity row--it was going to stop now.

Spike loomed over Willow's flannel-clad figure as she tossed and turned, lost in the enormous bed.  The sheets and blankets had become knotted and twisted from her flailing movements until they resembled thick ropes holding her to the mattress.  He watched in dismay as she struggled against both the blankets and some invisible assailant.  Sometimes her head whipped violently back and forth on the feather pillow as she sobbed.  Yet other times she was so still that she appeared to be afraid to move, only to shatter the quiet of the room moments later with a scream.

Spike was crushed.  It was so much worse than he'd expected, and he kicked himself for letting her suffer like this night after night.

Thoughts of yelling or slapping some sense into her completely forgotten, Spike did the first thing that came to mind.  After freeing her from the linen bonds, he slipped carefully into the bed beside her.  He doubted his ability to comfort and cuddle her troubles away, but he had to try something.  He gently wrapped his arms about the trembling woman and pulled her to his chest.

"It's alright, Willow," he murmured in her hair.  "Shhh..."

He held her, trying to soothe away the bad dreams like he had in the past.  Over and over again he found himself promising that everything was going to be fine and that he'd never let Angelus hurt her again.  And not for the first time, Spike was struck by the familiarity of it all.  Not only had he been in the same situation with Willow when they were together years before, but it might as well have been Drusilla that he held in his arms.  Many nights he had comforted his Dark Goddess in a similar manner and for similar reasons.  But as much as he loved Drusilla and found some twisted enjoyment in taking care of her during her weaker moments, he didn't want that future for Willow.

Searching for clues into her subconscious's darker workings, Spike listened closely to the distraught redhead's mutterings as he cradled her. Not surprisingly, Angelus's name came up often, interspersed with pleas for mercy and words of denial.  Nothing new there.

Then he heard it.  Spike's name escaped Willow lips in an anguished cry that left him trembling. He had no idea that he was even a part of her nightmares, let alone an obvious cause of them.

When the guilt hit him, he didn't even flinch.  The familiar feeling had become just another consequence of their little trek together.

"Oh, bloody hell, Red...what did we do to you?" Spike whispered, running his fingers lightly through her tangled hair.

"No...Please..." Willow moaned, over and over again, her struggles increasing.

"Shhh, Red.  I'm here," he said without thinking.  Considering the latest addition to her dreams, Spike wasn't sure how reassuring his presence would be, but he was at a loss for what else to do.  He tightened his embrace on the quivering redhead.

Suddenly, Willow bolted upright in bed.  "No!  Don't touch me!" she screamed, clutching the knotted sheets to her.

Relieved that she was awake, Spike sat up and laid a cool hand on hers.

"Red, it's okay.  Angelus isn't here.  It's just a dream--"

At his touch, Willow wrenched her hand out from under his before scrambling to the foot of the bed.  She knelt there in the gloom, staring blindly at the blonde vampire through wild eyes.

"Please, Spike.  Don't..." she pleaded, but he didn't listen.  Hoping that his slow movements appeared compassionate instead of predatory, Spike edged closer to the trembling girl.

"You were crying out in your sleep, Willow.  I was just trying to--"

"No...don't, Spike.  Y-You can't...please..."

"Can't what, Red?  I don't want to hurt you."
At his words, Willow's face paled even more.  Shaking her head erratically, Willow backed up until she fell off the end of the mattress and onto the floor with a thud.  Spike vaulted from the bed to where the distressed redhead sat crumbled on the cold floor.

"Willow, it was just another one of your nightmares.  It's over now."

Tears began to fall from her terrified eyes, and Spike easily sense her labored breathing and rapid heart rate.  Thinking that all Willow needed was to look him in the eye and realize it had only been a dream, he moved towards her.  But the closer he drew to her, the more panicked she became until Willow had backed herself into the corner.

"Please, Spike...don't hurt me.  Please...I'll be good.  I p--promise," she hiccuped through gasps for breath.

Spike knelt before her. "Pet, I'm not going to hurt you," he said gently, reaching out to wipe her tears away, but Willow only cringed.  She wouldn't or couldn't even look at him.

"Please," she begged, keeping her eyes glued to the floor.  "I-I can't take this anymore.  You win.  Just get it over with now.  You win...you win..." she sobbed repeatedly, wrapping her knees about her chest and beginning to rock.

Spike was appalled at her display of abject terror.

"Look at me, Willow."

Willow shook her head and whimpered.  "No...it's a trick.  You're j--just trying to trick me again...so Angelus can p--punish me.  You win..."

Spike groaned and ran a hand through his short hair.  Why was she still afraid of him now that she was awake?

"Look at me, Willow," he repeated as gently as possible, but she ignored him.

Willow flinched as if she were struck when Spike took a firm hold of her chin and forced her gaze to meet his own.  He wasn't quite ready for what he saw in her glassy, blood-shot eyes, but at least it explained some things.  Although her eyes were open, she wasn't awake.  She was still trapped in some sort of nightmare.  Moreover, she was deathly afraid, not only of Angelus, but of him as well.  The moment the blonde vampire removed his hand from her chin, Willow's eyes fell obediently to the floor.

Just as he had taught her.

"You picked a bloody marvelous time to finally start listening to me, Red," he commented to himself sarcastically.

Spike sat back on his haunches and put his aching head in his hands.  <You really mucked things up this time, mate!>   Whether intentional or not, he now realized his rather rough treatment of her over the past few years may have had more of an effect on the redhead than he ever realized.  He'd hoped that Willow had come to an understanding on the way to Ireland about why he'd acted the way he had, toying with her emotions in order to manipulate Angelus's reactions.  Apparently she hadn't, at least not subconsciously.

"I had to do it, Red.  Can't you see that?" he mumbled dejectedly into his hands.  "It's all a just a grand game to Angelus."  Pulling his hands away, he spoke directly to Willow, desperate for her to understand.  "If I hadn't hurt you, tore you down a little, he wouldn't have been such the gentleman.  Far be it for the mighty Angelus to let someone else take part in his little reindeer games as far as you were concerned.  Can't you understand that, love?"

Willow continued staring at the floor, begging for mercy.

"Fine," he said wearily, getting to his feet, "if you want to play the good little pet, it's time to do a few tricks."

"Willow.  Willow, stand up!" he demanded.  When she obeyed as quickly as her shaking legs would allow, Spike was relieved but far from happy. He didn't want a slave.  He wanted his old Willow back, complete with all her annoying quirks and over-developed stubbornness.  He leaned in until he was close enough to feel the heat radiating from her, and her quick, shallow breaths brush across his skin.

"Look at me," he said in low, even tones, "and no matter what I say or do, do not look away."

"Please...no..."

"You will obey me, Willow!"  Spike commanded.  Willow's response was immediate, automatic even, as her terrified green eyes darted up to find Spike's.

"Now listen closely, Red.  I am not going to hurt you.  I am not going to let Angelus hurt you either."  Spike's voice was calm but compelling, willing her to see the truth in what he said.  "Angelus isn't here, and if I have anything to do with it, you'll never have to see him again.  Understand?"

If Willow heard, let alone comprehended, anything he'd said, she made no outward sign of it.  Although she maintained eye contact with the vampire, she was now hugging herself and rocking back and forth.

"Willow!" he tried again, a definite note of pleading in his own voice, but all he got out of the redhead for his efforts was a wince.

Ready to pick up the nearest breakable anything and hurl it across the room, Spike took to pacing instead.  Losing his temper would only make things worse, frightening her even more.  He stopped his troubled gait after a few minutes, ready to try a different strategy.

"Willow, this is just a dream," he said in the lightest tone he could manage.  "You're dreaming.  Time to wake up so I can beat you at cards!  And if you're really good, maybe we can play that game of strip poker you've been begging me for.  I'll even let you win!"

It didn't work.  Wherever she was, humor wasn't going to get her back. Disgusted, Spike stepped away from the redhead.  He'd seen this type of reaction before...in Angelus's victims...and in his own.  Even Drusilla had been known to cower before Angelus in just such a manner on occasion.  The difference was they had actually been tortured.  Willow hadn't--at least not physically.  But when Spike thought about it, between the three of them, they'd really put her through hell, and he'd been the one to lead the way.

Lost for what to try next, Spike looked about her dim quarters for the first time.  Even when lit by the soft glow of the dying fire, it was practically spartan by Victorian terms.  The huge sleigh bed took up most of the square room.  Next to it, there was a rather ornate writing desk in the corner, and from the stacks of papers scattered upon it, he guessed it was well used.  A plain wardrobe and a dresser occupied the far wall, and he noted her cross dangling from it's mirror.  In the corner by the heavily draped window sat a large, comfortable-looking chair, its seat and the floor around it covered in books.  Other than one exquisite oil painting of a waterfall which rested upon the fireplace mantel, the walls were utterly bare.  The worn wooden floor was also void of any comforting rugs or throws.  All in all, the place was rather depressing.  She'd obviously put no effort into make it homey.

<No wonder you have nightmares, Red,> he thought to himself as he glanced about her depressing boudoir.

And it was cold. Relieved to have something to take his mind off the redhead in the corner even for a moment, the vampire took a few minutes to breathe life into the fading fire using the bellows.  He also added a few new logs and some coal to ensure a healthy blaze.  Then, the vampire lit a few lamps, more for her sake than his should she wake up, before turning his attention back to his reluctant travelling companion.  Willow was still cowering against the wall, trying desperately to be invisible.

Spike sat on the hearth and felt around in his various pockets for one of his hand-rolled cigarettes.  Finding one, albeit slightly crumpled, he lit it from the fireplace, hoping it would help him to spark a new plan.  He was halfway through the irregular cigarette when he knew what he had to do--no, what his sire had to do.  After all, Angelus had played a large part in doing this to Willow.  And it appeared as if only Angelus could undo it.

Mumbling a prayer to every deity--both evil and not--that he could think of, Spike got to his feet.

"One day you'll laugh about this, Red," he vowed.  "I just hope I'm around to see it."

Spike flicked the remainder of his cigarette into the now-crackling flames, then moved to tower over Willow.  Without realizing it, he took a deep breath and held it for a moment.  Then he spoke, slowly, concentrating on each syllable to get the accent just right.

"Ah...there's me Rose."

***

The images were constantly shifting, changing, making it impossible for her to latch on to any sense of reality, let alone the right one.  One moment it was Spike before her, over her, laughing so loudly that it hurt her ears. He taunted her, warping her memories of their time together.

Often the figure before her was Angelus, more tempting than taunting.  Always saying it was time--that he'd come for her and now they could be together forever.  When she resisted, the pain was considerable.  Her desire to fight was slowly seeping away as it became harder and harder for her to remember why she would even want to fight Angelus, fight for her own life.

"Ah...there's me Rose."

At the sound of Angelus's voice, Willow stopped muttering to herself, stopped rocking, even stopped breathing momentarily.

"What's wrong, me little flower? Did ya miss me?"

Hoping to armor herself against Angelus's forthcoming verbal assault, Willow hugged herself more tightly. Her eyes remained tightly closed and she turned to face the wall.

"What happened ta yer manners, Rose?  Remember, I said I be expectin' ya ta behave like the lady that ya are!  That means ya speak when spoken ta, my love."

His voice was as smooth as silk, but it cut through her defenses like a dagger.  Willow muttered something incomprehensible, even to herself.

"Now Rose..." he admonished.  His subtle warning had the desired effect.

"I-I said, 'Yes, Angelus,'" Willow finally uttered in an audible voice.

"Ahhh...there's my Rose.  Much better. "

Willow shuddered at the sound of rustling cloth.  He was moving closer.  She didn't have to open her eyes to know that. She could feel him.

"I missed ya, me love," he whispered in her ear, his lips barely brushing her lobes as he spoke.

Trapped with the object of her worst nightmares, Willow could do nothing but keep her eyes screwed shut and try to wish him away.  Obviously, Angelus had a different idea of how they should spend their time.

"It's time, Rose.  I've waited long enough fer us ta be together, as have you."

Willow even surprised herself.  Turning her head, she pried her lids open long enough to look Angelus squarely in his dangerously dark eyes, before blurting out, "I don't want to be with you, Angelus."

She cringed after she spoke and lowered her gaze, waiting to be punished for daring to speak to him in such a way. Angelus only chuckled as he reached out to smooth the hair away from her face, almost lovingly tucking it behind her ears.

"Why are ya tryin' ta deny it now, my love?" he asked with infinite patience.  "Ya haven't put up much of a fight so far, have ya?  In fact, ya've done just the opposite, haven't ya?"

"No, I haven't..." Willow protested, but a familiar feeling of shame flowed through her as memories of some of her behavior with Angelus came to mind.
 
"The kiss, Rose.  You can't deny that.  You can't deny that ya wanted me...or how good it was.  You wanted me then, lass, and ya always have...always will."

Willow shook her head, hoping to scatter the memories and deny his words at the same time.  She didn't want to remember any of it.  The times when he was alive--the conversations, horseback rides, and the long meals.  Equally painful were the images of time spent with Angelus the vampire--the carriage ride, the poker game, the kiss.  She wanted them all to disappear because that was the only way she could deny that she still held any feelings for him.  But the memories held on tight, making it harder to fight.

"Don't try ta fight me...you know ya don't want ta.  You know this is what you've been waiting fer...what you've been wantin', all along.  Ta be with me forever."

"No," was all she could manage yet again, but at least she was saying something.  She wasn't ready to give in yet.

The hands that were so gently caressing her hair moments ago moved to pin her shoulders against the wall.  She pushed against Angelus's chest with her hands, but he moved even closer until he was keeping her imprisoned against the wall with his body.

Then, without warning, he bit her, sinking his fangs deeply in to the muscular part of her neck.  The intense, shooting pain was immediate, awakening the anger in the weary woman.  It gave her something to focus on other than her shame. Drawing from a well of strength replenished by the pain, she gritted her teeth and put everything she had into a knee lift to the vampire's groin.  Angelus sidestepped it just in time, but it threw him off balance.  Willow saw her chance.  Moving her forearms in a quick circle, she broke his hold on her and pushed him to the side with enough force to make Angelus step away.

Willow darted behind him and grabbed the first thing she saw--a small desk chair.  A heartbeat later, she swung it sharply against the vampire's head.  Angelus toppled to the ground to lie among the remnants of the splintered chair.  It had been a long time since Willow had really fought back, and it took a moment for what she'd done to sink in.  Unfortunately, that brief respite appeared to be all Angelus needed to regain his senses.

Before Willow could move away, Angelus grabbed her by the ankle.  With a harsh tug, he pulled her down until she fell half across his upper body.

"That wasn't very nice, Rose," Angelus laughed.  "On the other hand, it's always nice ta see ya get some of yer fight back.  Just means we'll be havin' all kinds of fun breakin' ya again.  I'm sure you'll tire of fightin' me long before I get tired of watchin' ya try."

"No! I won't let you do this to me," she cried out, struggling with all her might against the hands that held her. With a few well-placed kicks and elbow jabs that she learned from her Sensei, Willow was able to break free long enough to scramble a few feet away.  Angelus was after her in a flash, gripping her free-flowing hair and pulling her back to him.  They landed in a heap on the floor and wrestled for a few moments.

The entire time, Angelus was chuckling, thoroughly enjoying their little scrap and managing to remain calm through it all.  From the amount of bite marks, bruises, and scratches that Willow had inflicted upon him, it almost looked as if she were winning the battle.  In spite of this, Angelus remained flippant in his attitude, which only served to infuriate her more.  Eventually she began to tire, and Angelus easily regained his control over her. He flipped them over until he was upon his back, holding the redhead struggling above him to his chest.

"As much fun as this is, Rose, why bother?  Ya won't kill me, lass.  Ya love me.  We both know it."

"I don't..." Willow denied, tears of frustration trickling down her cheeks.

"Ahh...tears again.  Go ahead and cry, my love.  Cry now fer those friends of yours and yer family because soon they'll die at yer own hands.  Mind ya, there won't be tears then.   No, they'll be begging fer mercy, but the only thing that will be running down yer cheeks will be their blood."

"No," Willow repeated, more firmly this time. She tried to keep her eyes on his neck or his ears, anywhere but the vampire's gloating face, but it was useless.   Soon she was drowning in his eyes and the confusion that they brought her.

"Yes, my Rose.  Soon all yer pain will be over.  I was only goin' ta torture ya fer a couple of days more before I kill ya.  You'll drink from me then and we'll be together fer ever.  As much as I'd love ta carry yer pain out fer weeks or even months, I don't want ta damage yer mind too much...I want ya ta know who yer killin' and why..."

A horrified look crossed her face at the image of killing her own friends and family, snapping their necks, drinking their blood.  In her current, chaotic state, it hardly mattered that she couldn't actually be killed and therefore turned into a vampire.  Facts and truths were elusive things.

"Tell me ya love me.  Admit it ta yourself and then say the words," he offered enticingly.  "That's all I want ta hear, Rose.  Tell me ya love me, and the pain will all stop now.  I promise."

Willow was already feeling the strain in her neck from trying to hold her face up and away from Angelus's.  She closed her eyes.  It would be so easy to say the words, whether she meant them or not.  All she had to do was tell him she loved him and all the pain would be over.  Who was she to resist Angelus?  William hadn't all those years ago, and even Spike seemed to have given into him in the end.  And Drusilla?  Maybe if she gave in now, she wouldn't end up like Drusilla.

"Tell me ya love me, Rose, and I'll end this all now.  I can make the pain, the dreams, stop forever.  No more guilt, no more shame, no more suffering.  Just you and I together forever, my love."

The room was silent.  The only sound was that of Willow's own breathing.  It would be so easy.  Just four little words--I love you, Angelus--and she could finally rest.

Angelus kept up his gentle pressure, pushing her, luring her.  "Say it, Rose, and you can forget about everything...the past and the future.  We'll make a new one together."

Before she knew it, four little words came out in a whisper.

"What would Buffy do?"

The vampire growled.  "That's not what I want ta hear, my love. Give me yer answer, now!"

Willow opened her eyes to stare down at the man beneath her.  His face was tight, expectant, but it was Angelus's features, not the demon's.  She couldn't help herself.  She smiled slightly and relaxed against him.

"You are so beautiful, Angelus.  I can think of worse things than spending an eternity with you."

"Say the words and ya won't have to."

A single tear slid down her cheek to land on Angelus's perfect lips.  Willow dipped her head, brushing her mouth over his and licking away the wetness before he could do it himself.  She deepened the kiss as the tears continued to fall.  After a slight hesitation, Angelus gave in to the sweet pressure of her warm mouth on his.  Dropping his guard, he willingly released her in order to change his imprisoning hold to a more passionate one.

Pausing in her ministrations long enough to take a breath, Willow's eyes drifted open to find Angelus watching her.  The look on his face was still guarded but softer, hopeful even.  With a sad smile, Willow traced a finger lightly over his cheek and jaw as she committed it to memory.  Angelus's lids fluttered closed under her touch as her hand then wandered down his neck to explore his muscular chest and side.  Needing more, she peppered his entire face with wet, hungry kisses, tasting her own salty tears all over his cool flesh.

"I loved you when you were alive, Angelus," she told him softly as she trailed her tongue along his jaw.  When her mouth moved to his ear, both their bodies stiffened ever so slightly in anticipation of her words.

"I love my friends and my family, and I won't let you hurt them...or me...again," she informed him in a surprisingly firm voice.

When Willow suddenly sat up, Angelus's eyes flew open.  Before he could react, Willow lifted the chair leg that she'd carefully hunted around for during the kiss, and held it over his chest.

"Good-bye, Angel," she whispered.

Blinking away fresh, blinding tears, Willow thrust the hunk of wood down at the vision of Angelus beneath her.  As she felt it tear into his flesh, she was overcome with a sense of relief.  It was over.

***

"Bloody hell!" Spike hissed as the make-shift stake penetrated the flesh just below his clavicle.  The wound wasn't dust inducing, thanks to his anticipation of her attack, but it still hurt like a bitch.

He looked up at his would-be assassin.  Willow was staring down at him, confusion animating her jaded features.  Spike had no doubt she was awake now.

"Spike?  Wh--what happened?" she asked, still straddling his hips.

He tried to shrug, but it was difficult considering there was still a substantial length of wood protruding from his shoulder.

"Nothing much.  I bit you, you staked me.  Just another Friday night for us, right, Red?"

Willow's brows knitted together as she tried to make some sense of the fuzzy images she had of the past few minutes.

"I--I was having another flashback or--or dream about you and Angelus--."

"Another?  You've had them before then?"

Willow nodded absentmindedly in answer.  "Angelus was just about to--"

"Um, Willow," Spike interrupted with a grimace.  "As much as I want to hear your side of this sordid little affair and compare notes, do you think maybe we could take the enormous hunk of furniture out of me first?  I always hated Queen Anne..."

"Oh, um, sure..."  Still distracted by the strange turn of events, Willow grabbed the chair leg and yanked it upward, with Spike aiding as best he could.  The delicately carved piece of wood slid out easily.  Willow stared at the unusual stake in her hand as if she'd never seen one before.

"I staked you?  But in the dream, *Angelus* bit me and was going to kill me, kill everyone, so I..."

Her eyes widened as she looked around the room and at her position astride the blonde vamp.  It had been Spike the whole time.  Dropping the splinter of furniture, Willow felt her neck, immediately discovering the fresh puncture wounds.

"You bit me..." she mumbled almost to herself.

"Just a little one.  It's more of a nibble than a bite, really."

"You *bit* me...again!" she said accusingly.

"I had to," Spike enlightened her.  "The nightmares or whatever the hell you call those things, are eating away at you.  The way I figured it, you had to fight back.  You needed to prove to yourself that you'd sacrifice both Angelus and Angel to save your life if you had to.  This sounds stupid coming from me, but it's killing you, Willow."

"You bit me!"

Deciding against verbalizing all the jibes that came to mind at her repetition, Spike played it relatively straight.  "Sorry, love, but I was fresh out of ideas.  I'm not exactly Sigmund bloody Freud, now am I?  Although I bet he'd get a good chuckle out of a woman sinking a chair leg deep into a man's chest," he added with a smirk.

However Spike expected Willow to respond, either with tears of thankfulness, reluctant understanding, or impressed laughter at his impromptu Freudian humor, he wasn't quite ready for her unleashed fury when it came.  One moment she was looking at him as if he'd grown a second head, the next she was treating him like a punching bag.

"How could you do this to me?" she wailed, hitting him with everything she had and then some.

Spike, though surprised, didn't fight her.  He took every punch, every blow, every finger gouge without a word, only protecting himself enough to keep from suffering any real damage.  Willow let all of her anger and resentment flow into her hands, letting her fists be her therapist.

"I trusted you...I trusted you," she lamented over and over again, accentuating it each time with a physical assault on Spike's prone body.

Still under attack and in spite of the pain, Spike shifted, taking Willow's weight with him until he was sitting, leaning against the bed.  Willow's onslaught never faltered under the change in position and he doubted she'd even noticed.

"I trusted you to protect me from him, you promised me you would, but you just gave me away..." she reminded him through hot tears.

At that moment, Spike knew he'd been right, not that there had been much doubt.  Willow still had some major issues with what had happened between them in London.

"I know, Red.  I know," was all he could say. The blonde vampire wasn't going to deny it.  Know matter how he colored his behavior--whether what he'd done was to save Willow or not--he couldn't hide its more selfish aspects.  After all, he'd gotten everything he thought he'd ever wanted.  He'd gotten Drusilla.

"No!  You don't know!" Willow shouted as she pounded on his chest, not caring if she happened to hit the spot where she'd imbedded the stake.  She wanted to hurt him, to make him feel some inkling of the pain he'd caused her.  "I-I thought I felt alone after what happened in Galway when...when you let Darla have Angelus, but this...this was so much worse," she said between sobs.

As she went on, her litany of rage began to wear down.  Her voice lowered and the blows weakened until she was simply clinging to him, soaking his shirt with more of her tears.  Spike held her without speaking, soothing her until her sobs lessened and her breathing came more evenly.

Willow may have calmed down under his gentle touch, but she wasn't through.  She had more to say and Spike was going to hear it whether he wanted to or not.  But she couldn't look at him, not yet, so she stayed there, straddling his lap, her cheek pressed against his relatively uninjured shoulder.

"I know it's stupid, but when you chose Drusilla over me..."

She stopped herself, half-expecting Spike to laugh at her.  Why wouldn't he?   It sounded so ridiculous to be angry with him for saving her from Angelus, and yet, she was.

"You're all I had, Spike...all I've had for so long...."

Her words trailed off again.  She wanted him to understand, but as hard as Willow tried, she couldn't put her anguish into words.  How do you explain to a vampire the concepts of true friendship and sacrifice?

Spike continued stroking her hair, at the same time wishing he could make her understand his point of view.

"I didn't see any other way, Willow.  I couldn't just leave you with the ignorant sod, but I couldn't ride in like a white knight, scoop you into my arms and carry you off into the sunset either, could I?  Besides the little fact that I didn't have a horse or a suit of armor handy, I had to think about William, too.  It wouldn't have done either of us much good if I ended up getting the other me killed in a fit of Angelus's revenge, now would it, Pet?"

She knew he had a good point.  In truth, he had lots of good reasons for everything he'd done, but it still hurt. Willow straightened up, making herself look him in the eye, no matter how difficult.

"Over the past century I've had the opportunity to do more and grow more than I'd ever imagined."  She rolled her eyes at her own words.  "God, I thought I was so strong, so independent.  Oh, look at me!" she scoffed.  "I hung with the gypsies!  I can speak four languages, play the guitar and flip a grown vampire over my shoulder!  Aren't I something?"  Willow asked with a self-depreciating chuckle.  "You gave that all to me, Spike.  Yet one harsh word from you, it was all gone.  I hated you for turning me back into just a 17-year-old virgin, waiting to be rescued."

"Oh, come on, Red.  All I did was give you an extended lifespan and a difficult travelling companion," he reminded her with a gentle smile.  "Everything you did with that extra time, in spite of me, was all your own doing."  Spike continued before she could disagree.  "And don't be so hard on yourself.  You would have gotten out of there on your own, sooner or later."

Willow brightened a little.  "You really think so?"

"Oh, hell yeah!" he told her enthusiastically.  "If you didn't have to worry about me and having to keep it a secret that I was actually the one that wanted Angelus to be dust, you would have found a way to escape.  Both Angelus and William totally underestimated you.  You would have figured something out before it was too late, Willow.  Just like you did tonight."

"Maybe," Willow hesitantly agreed.

"No maybe about it.  You've got more brains in your little finger than those two have between them!"  Spike paused, noting a reluctant smile tugging at the corner of Willow's lips.  "Bloody hell...I just insulted myself, didn't I?"

"'Fraid so."

"Just another one of the joys of time travel, I suppose."

Willow had to struggle not to laugh, even as a few more tears managed to slip from her reddened eyes.

"Dammit, Spike," she said, brushing away the new dampness with the back of her hand.  "I said I was never going to let you make me cry again and here I am, blubbering like a baby." She studied the blonde vampire before her.  "Why is it that despite everything I've done on my own, all the things I've learned and places I've been, five minutes with you and I'm this insecure little girl again..."

"And five minutes with you..." Spike stopped himself.  He was almost going to say that five minutes with her made him wish he weren't a vampire.  But that wasn't true, nor did he wish her to be a vampire.  All he knew was that five minutes with Willow was always five minutes well spent.

"And..." she pressed him to finish his statement.

Spike groaned. "...*and* I find myself having deep philosophical discussions about what happens after five minutes with you."  Willow and Spike were soon both smiling in spite of themselves.  "This isn't natural you know, Red.  What you and I have just goes against all the laws of nature."

Willow giggled and swatted him playfully on the arm.  "I've been trying to tell you that for more than a century now."

"Bloody hell, Red.  I can't decide if we're good for each other or if we're each other's worse nightmares," Spike said honestly.

"With us, I doubt the two are mutually exclusive, Spike."

Her smile faded.  Willow hated to ruin the lighter mood, but, as usual, there was more.  She wasn't done, and it seemed pretty obvious that part of her problem up to this point stemmed from not being totally honest with Spike.

"Spike..."

"Go on, spit it out, Red," Spike encouraged her.  "I can tell you aren't done letting me have it yet.  Besides, I think there's a spot just behind my knee that you haven't managed to turn black and blue."

Willow took a deep breath and said what was on her mind.  "I know you love Drusilla and you did all this for her, but..." She let out a heaving sigh,   "Bloody hell, Spike.  You should have told me, somehow, that it was all an act."

Her casual use of the British slang brought a goofy grin to Spike's face but it quickly faded.

"I couldn't, Red.  You know there's no bloody way you could lie to Angelus.  Hell, I could barely do it!  Your life was on the line.  One way or another, all of our lives were.  I couldn't trust them to your suddenly being able to pull off an Oscar-worthy performance."

Willow nodded again, but she knew there was more to it.

"You enjoyed it, didn't you?" Willow blurted out suddenly without looking at him.

It was Spike's turn to sigh.  "What part, Pet?" he asked.

"All--all of it.  The chance to manipulate Angelus...to get what you always wanted...hurting him.  And me...you liked saying and doing those things to hurt me, didn't you?"

Spike leaned back against the bed, pushing Willow gently away until he could see her face clearly.

"Not as much as I should have," Spike answered honestly.  "Which made me want to hurt you more, which made me feel guilty, which made me want to hurt you more..." Spike paused, a little disgusted with himself.  "Beginning to see a pattern yet, Pet?"

Willow nodded her head as she finally slid off his lap.  She sat on the floor next to him, knees bent, and arms wrapped about her legs.  Spike watched her face closely.  She didn't seem that angry with him anymore or even sad or resentful.  Her face was uncharacteristically blank, and that scared the hell out of him.

"But I didn't like seeing Angelus hurt you or like listening to all his grand plans for your future," Spike rushed to continue.  "I bloody hated it, in fact.   And watching you sitting there so quietly next to the damned pillock while he touched you and played with your hair...seeing his marks on you..."  Spike snarled.  "Bloody hell, Red!  Even though I knew you didn't have any choice, just like I didn't, I hated you for it."  He leaned his head back on the bed, staring at the wood and beam ceiling.  "Believe it or not, I didn't get any jollies watching William plan to shed your blood either, oddly enough."

"Sooo..." Willow said, breaking the silence a minute or two later, "we were both jealous, in an odd, non-romantic yet horribly possessive kind of way."

Spike let out a soft snort.  "That's one way to put it."

Quiet fell upon the room again.  Spike burned holes in the ceiling with his eyes, wondering if he'd said enough.  Or too much.  Willow studied her toes for a while, considering everything, letting his words echo gently through her head until they sorted themselves out, finding ways to blend with her memories.  He hadn't actually apologized, but that was all right.  She didn't need an apology as much as she needed the truth and for Spike to understand what he'd done to her.  She glanced at the landscape above the fireplace then closed her eyes, picturing her calming place with its cascading waterfall, letting its imaginary waters wash away the rest of her anger and confusion.  Underneath the thick grime of built-up resentment and inner chaos, Willow thought she found something she'd lost years before.  Herself.  She latched on, telling herself she'd never let go again.

"Thank you, Spike."  She said it so softly, Spike wasn't sure she'd even spoken at all.

"What was that, Willow?"

"I thought it's about time I thanked you, not only for what you did tonight, but for everything.  I know you took some big chances letting Angelus and William see you, and I also know that putting up with me isn't always a piece of devil's food cake...."  Willow wanted to go on, launch into one of her long, babbling speeches, but in the end she decided that, not only was it unnecessary, but that it might even cheapen the moment.

Spike looked at Willow and found her already watching him with a hopeful expression.

"I guess the gentlemanly thing would be to say, 'You're welcome, Willow'..."

"But..." Willow hedged, waiting for the joke.

"But?"

"But..." she started, attempting her best Spike imitation, "since we both know I'm not a gentleman, I'll just say, 'It's about bloody time, Red.'"

"I wasn't going to say that!" Spike insisted indignantly, but the crinkles forming around his eyes told Willow he was trying not to smile.

"You thought about it though, didn't you?"

Spike let his laughter loose, and it filled the room, warming Willow more than any crackling fire ever could.  She'd missed the friendship that they'd had, no matter how odd it might have been.

"You know me too well sometimes, Red."

"Maybe sometimes," she agreed.  "But I never would've dreamed you'd pretend to be Angelus and then let me stake you, Spike.  I mean, what if I really hurt you?  Or what if it didn't work?  Oh god...what if I chose Angelus and told him I loved him?"  Willow shuddered.  "What then, Spike?"

"Not a chance, Red.  I knew the sensible side of you would wake up sooner or later.  You don't love, Angelus.  Lust, maybe...bloody hell, who can blame you there?  But you deserve better than to be that tosspot's plaything."

"I'm glad you're sure about that, because sometimes I'm not."  Willow looked down at her twiddling fingers.  "It was tempting," she said without looking up.  "Oh, it would have been so easy, Spike.  So easy to just tell him I love him and give in."

Spike shifted so that he faced her, ignoring the pain it sent through his shoulder.  With a finger, he lifted Willow's chin until their eyes met.

"Willow, there's no shame in being tempted.  It shows you're really alive and not just some walking corpse disguised in a breathing body, which is more than most humans can say.  I'd be more worried about you if you weren't tempted.  I understand how persuasive Angelus can be."

"I guess you're right."

"Of course," Spike continued with his most dashing smile, "since it was me pretending to be Angelus, you barely stood a chance.  I'm charming enough, but then add on that girly accent that you ladies all seem to find so sexy, and I'm damn near irresistible."

"Like white chocolate and dark chocolate all rolled in to one--dangerous and delicious," Willow said without thinking.  It wasn't until she felt the familiar burning sensation in her cheeks that she realized she'd uttered her thoughts aloud.  Expecting the worst, she glanced at Spike, awaiting some cutting remark.

Spike was grinning ear-to-ear, obviously trying to choose exactly the right thing to say.  He leaned in, bringing his mouth inches from hers.

"I don't have to pretend to be Angelus in order to be both dangerous and delicious.  Remember, Red?"

<Like I could forget!>  "Cut it out, Spike..." Willow elbowed the vampire out of embarrassment.   Unfortunately, her arm landed directly on his stake wound.

Spike hissed sharply at the contact.  The playful moment broken.

"Oh Spike, sorry...I totally forgot about that whole staking you thing."  Willow jumped up.  "Don't move.  I'll be right back."
 
Before Spike could respond, Willow was gone from the room in a rustle of flannel.  Slowly lifting himself up and onto the bed, Spike eased his shirt off to inspect the wound.  It was big, and although not very deep, it ached.  The chair leg had done quite a number on most of the muscles in that area and Spike doubted he'd be playing cricket for a few days.

Soon Willow reappeared with a large pan of water, some clean dishcloths and an old sheet.  Without a word, she began to clean not only the stake wound, but the other injuries she'd inflected on him as well, until his gentle grip on her wrist stopped her.  Willow looked up at him as he leaned away from her touch.

"Better let me do that, Red."

Willow made an expression somewhere between a pout and her resolve face.  "But I hurt you.  The least I can do is clean you up a little."

"No, Willow.  I'll do it myself."

"But--"

"Look, Willow," he said sternly.  "I don't think it's a good idea, alright? You and I tend to get into...er... trouble whenever we see to each other's wounds.  Or should I say, 'play doctor'?"

"Oh."  There was a pause.  "Oh!" Willow exclaimed, a slight flush warming her face.  "I didn't mean to...I mean, I don't think it would be a good idea if we..."

"Shagged each other senseless for the next 40 years?" Spike finished suggestively.

Willow dropped the wet cloth in his hand with a sly smile.  "I don't think you and I are ready for that kind of relationship again, do you?  I mean, we don't seem to be capable of, um, casual sex...or whatever it is you call what we did."

"I dunno about that.  I thought we were quite capable," he quipped with a thoroughly lewd grin.

Trying to ignore his innuendo, Willow grabbed a sheet and began tearing it into long strips to use for bandages.

"Spike...I'm trying to be serious..." she said between the sounds of ripping cloth.

Spike's grin faded.  He hadn't meant to make her uncomfortable, and the vampire was hardly expecting to pickup where they'd left off years earlier in London.  He just wanted her to be happy and smile again.

"I know, Red, but I think I've had about all the seriousness I can handle for a while."

Spike finished dabbing at his wounds as best he could, handing the cloth back to Willow when he was done.  Promising to behave herself, Willow rinsed it out and cleaned up a few scratch marks she'd managed to inflict on his back, even through his clothes.  Finishing that, she scooted around on the bed until she was kneeling in front of him.  Picking up a clean cloth, she folded it several times into a thick, neat square and placed it over the slightly bleeding hole in his shoulder.  She held it firmly in place, waiting for the bleeding to stop completely.

"Forty years is a long time to be celibate, Red," Spike reminded her matter-of-factly.

Willow took his words at face value.  He was merely stating a fact, not trying to change her mind.  She pulled the cloth away and noted with satisfaction that he'd stopped bleeding.  Willow concentrated on folding another piece of material into a perfect square as she considered his words.  She placed the new bandage over the wound then put the vampire's own hand on top, instructing him to hold it there.  Willow then began wrapping the long strips around his upper chest and shoulder to keep the padding in place.  Spike watched her as she worked, wondering what she was thinking.  He didn't have to wait long.

"I know," she finally said, pulling the piece of cloth around his back, "but it's an even longer time to be sleeping with somebody and then just give them up."  Willow avoided looking him in the face, letting her gaze follow the bandage.  "We don't have to be in love to hurt each other.  I think we already learned that.  You and I are complicated enough without adding sex."

"I see you've given this some thought."

"Yep.  I've actually come up with 23 reasons why you and I shouldn't, er, be intimate."

Spike chuckled.  She was just so damn cute when she talked about sex.

"Twenty-three, huh?"

"Well, some of them kind of overlap--you know, me dying or turning to a shriveled old lady if we were to get carried away, but most of them are quite intelligent reasons, if I do say so myself."

"It sounds like you've spent a lot of time on this, considering we've barely said a civil word to each other in a few years."

"I like to be prepared," she told him matter of factly.

"And I suppose this list includes something about Drusilla flying into a jealous rage if she were to someday find out that we'd been together after I'd met her?"

Willow blinked.  "Oh.  Make that 24 reasons then."

"Not that I would ever let her hurt you," he blurted out at the slightly distressed look on her face.

Willow gifted him with a warm smile.  "I know that, Spike.  But what I said first, about us inevitably hurting each other, is the most important one.  I know you won't take this the right way, Spike, but just being with you, sitting here, talking, playing cards, is more important to me than the sex.  I don't want to lose that again."

Spike was surprised to realize that he felt the same way.  As great as their rather unusual sexual relationship was, it wasn't worth losing everything else that they had.  Getting laid was easy.  It was not having Willow in his unlife that was tough.

He looked away--at his feet, the bare walls, everywhere but at Willow.   It was hard enough for him to admit his less-than-demonly feelings to himself.  It wouldn't do to let her see them in his eyes as well.

"You won't, Red," he told her, suddenly finding the fire captivating.  "Not if I have anything to do about it, anyway."

Seeing the vampire trying to hide his feelings and doing a rotten job of it, Willow had to concentrate to keep her own emotions in check.  She didn't want to begin crying again, even if the tears wouldn't be from anger or remorse this time.

Spike sighed, a far away look in his eye.  "When did things get so bloody complicated, Willow?  Used to be the women in my life were only good for two things--bed warmers or stomach fillers.  Now it looks like I'm going to have to make up a whole new category just for you, Red.  And damned if I know what that category is..." Spike trailed off as just Willow finished her first aid.

Willow smiled, and to Spike it was like basking in the warmth of his first sunrise in centuries.  It was that full-fledged smile that Spike had been waiting to see for weeks.

"It's called a friend, Spike."

Spike pursed his lips, then rolled the word around on his tongue awhile as if it were a foreign language.  "Friend, eh?"

"Sure," she said, playing along.  "Lot's of people have one.  In fact, I hear some people actually have more than one!"

"Really?" Spike's eyes widened in fake disbelief.  "You sure about that?"

"Yep."

"And these friends...I don't suppose they sometimes cross over into either the bed-warming or stomach-filling categories, do they?"

"Not if they want to stay friends, they don't," she informed him.  Willow barely resisted the urge to give the vampire an affectionate pat on the cheek, figuring he'd probably find such an innocent gesture an insult to his demonic manliness.

"Well, that's a bloody shame," he whined.  "Guess I should put my shirt back on then, eh?  I know how easily tempted you are, and it would be a shame if you lost the first friend you ever had."  Spike slowly shrugged back into his ruined shirt, not allowing Willow to assist him.

As Willow tried not to watch him redress, she was relieved to realize that Spike hadn't brought up the kiss that they'd shared when she thought he was Angelus.  Perhaps he was a gentleman after all.

Willow glanced sideways at him, and Spike caught her.  "I'm a bit new at this, but I'm sure friends don't leer at one another when they're half-naked," he teased the redhead.

<So much for being a gentleman,> she laughed to herself.  Now she was sure he'd bring up the kiss one day, out of the blue, just to make her blush.  Willow sighed happily.  Maybe things really could get back to normal between them.

"What's the sigh for, Red?" Spike asked, interrupting her thoughts.  "Feeling guilty for giving me another scar?"

"Nah.  Just wondering why my aim was so bad."

Continuing to button his shirt, Spike suppressed a smile.  "With a friend like you, Red, who needs Angelus?"

Just as Willow was about to take a playful bow, she realized something amazing.

"Spike!" Willow yelped, causing Spike to jump painfully to his feet, ready to fend off a group of marauding pirates or squish a particularly hairy spider.

"What, Red?"

Her eyes were wide.  "I killed Angel!"

Spike groaned and plopped back down on the bed.  "Is that all?  You scared the life back into me, Red.  And I hate to remind you, but you can't take credit for killing Angelus, that was all Darla's doing."

Willow ignored him.  "For all intents and purposes, I staked Angelus."

"And did it with a kiss, no less," Spike said with a wink.  You know, we should celebrate.  Want me to break out the bubbly?"

"Spike..." Willow was deadly serious, Spike realized.

"Look, Red.  It was either him or you.  I gave you no choice.  You said it yourself.  'What would Buffy do?'  Well, as far as you know and since we were never sucked into a hellmouth, you did exactly what Buffy would do, or will do, or did do..." Spike growled in frustration at the grammar involved with time travel.  "You know what I mean," he sighed, drawing a tiny smile from Willow which she attempted to hide.  Spike took a deep breath and tried again.  "You took him out before he could kill you or worse."  The look on Willow's face was far from celebratory, so Spike continued his pep talk.  "Red, you do know he would kill you, right?  You don't have any illusions stashed away in that over-active, do-gooder brain of yours that you can change him, make him into a big, fluffy puppy without the help of the curse, do you?"

"No!" she answered indignantly.  "It's just that I thought I'd never have to make the decision about whether or not to kill him.  I always figured I'd take the easy route and, you know, Super Glue his soul back in place."

"Which we still have to do," Spike interjected.  "And it's not like you really did stake the bloody pillock, Willow.  Remember the small matter of the gaping hole in my shoulder?"

"I know.  I just never thought I could do it.  I mean, I'm not happy about it, yet I'm relieved.  It's just weird, you know?"

Spike shrugged, so Willow elucidated a bit.

"Not 'Kidnapped by a vampire and brought back through time to save his dead girlfriend only to meet him and his sire before they were changed and beat them at poker' kind of weird," she said in one breath, "but just sorta 'hard to wrap your brain around it' kind of weird."

"Oh, you mean *that* kind of weird," Spike teased.  After that little babble, he had little doubt that Willow was going to be just fine.

"Do you still want Angelus dead?  Really?"  Willow asked out of the blue.  Before the words could even completely escape her lips, she regretted prying.

Instantly, Spike's laughter was gone, and he looked away.  The need for a cigarette was suddenly very strong.  Willow watched as Spike painstakingly searched every inch of his clothing.  She wasn't sure who was more relived when he actually found one.  Spike lit it at the fireplace and remained there, leaning against the mantle with one hand.  The silence was thick and Willow was at a loss for words.  She wished she could take the question back since it obviously caused Spike some distress.  Before she could tell Spike to forget it, he turned.

"I want you safe, and I want Drusilla all to myself," he told her in all seriousness.  "As long as I have those things, I could care less what happens to my bloody sire.  It just so happens that in order to make all my dreams come true, Angelus needs to be no more.  Forever cursed or dust.  I don't really care which anymore."

"I'm sorry," Willow said softly, and she was.

"Don't be. I'm not," he said in a curt tone, trying to hide his own chaotic feelings on the subject.  Willow didn't argue the point, ant let Spike continue his cigarette in silence.  When it was down to a tiny nub and about to burn his fingers, Spike tossed it into the fire before turning back around to face Willow.

"Now, as much fun as this isn't, we have 40 years to talk about everything.  And since talking is apparently all we will be doing for the next four decades, why don't you get some sleep now, Pet?  You still look like death warmed over, and not in the good way."

Willow nodded, letting the vampire redirect the topic of conversation.  She couldn't begin to understand how Spike felt about his sire now, and it was obvious that he didn't want to talk about it with her.  Not yet, anyway.

"I feel like I could sleep for a month," she mumbled through an impressive yawn.

Willow slid wearily under the twisted pile of covers, straightening them as best she could by kicking them out with her feet.  Taking pity on her, Spike went to her side and fastidiously began to smooth the multiple stratums of bedding as best he could despite his injury.   Layer by layer the vampire tucked her in until only Willow's face peeked out from underneath.

"You alright, Pet?"  Spike inquired, noting her pensive look.  Willow nodded in the affirmative, but Spike knew better.  She was chewing her bottom lip, a sure sign of Willow being in over-thinking mode.  He sat beside her.

"Come on, Pet, tell daddy..." he coughed, "I mean, tell your old *pal* Spike what's wrong."

"I feel okay, Spike.  Tired, but other than that, I feel better than I have in years."  Willow's brows knitted together.  She was recalling a dream conversation she'd once had with Angelus.

"But..." Spike hinted for her to continue.  Willow looked up at him, her eyes huge against her pallid complexion.  She looked more like a lost babe than the woman he'd grown to care about more than a vampire should, more than he dared to admit even to himself.

"Spike, am I...broken?" she asked in a shaky whisper.

Seeing how her words made the vampire look almost melancholy, she added, "I mean, I feel okay.  Actually I feel really good, considering.  Which makes me wonder if I'm losing the sanity battle.  Maybe I feel a little too good, you know?"

Spike tried not to laugh.  Only his Willow would worry about being too happy.  But Spike kept his thoughts to himself.  She was obviously too exhausted to even think straight at the moment.

"Nah," he finally replied.  "If there's one thing I know, it's an insane woman.  You aren't even close."

Willow cocked an eyebrow at the blonde vampire.  "I thought if there's one thing you knew it was virgins?"

Spike grinned in that cocky boyish manner that she'd come to adore.  "Guess I'm well-rounded."  Before Willow could roll her eyes, Spike rose from the bed and went to stoke the fire one more time.  "Willow, you're going to be fine," he added, thinking that in her present state a little extra reassuring wouldn't go astray.  "Crikey, you're not broken and never bloody were, love.  At the most, you were a little bent.  Kinky, even."

Spike waited for her verbal protest at his choice of words.  He couldn't help himself.  He loved trying to get a rise out of her.  But when her exaggerated sigh never came, he turned back from the fire to find her fast asleep.  Willow's eyes were closed, and her chest was rising and falling in a slow, even rhythm.  She was completely relaxed, sleeping peacefully.  For the first time, she slept like someone without a care in the world.

Spike sighed with relief.  It was over.  The rest would be a piece of cake.  Waste a little time, then have Willow worm her way back into the hearts and lives of the Rom.  He wasn't sure of the final details yet but hoped Willow would be able to convince the Rom to change the curse, one way or another.  Hopefully they'd do it willingly after getting to know his Red a little better, but if not, Spike was not above blackmail or other sorts of darker encouragement.  Too much rested on this not to do whatever would be necessary to ensure that Angelus's soul took up permanent residence in the Irishman and to guarantee Willow's safety in Sunnydale.

Spike turned down the lamps and left Willow alone.  He imagined she'd sleep for quite some time, and that was fine with him.  She needed it.  Then, when she finally woke up, he'd have the deck of cards ready, because some things never change.

~~ End Part 38 ~~

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