Take Your Time ~ Chapter 8

 

"Now, that wasn't too bad , was it?"

Angelus was watching her expectantly, and Willow was reluctant to answer.

"Truth? It was horrible!" Willow admitted after Angelus had nodded his head. "She hates me!"

"She doesn't hate ya. She's just needin' a little more time to get to know ya!" he said diplomatically. "She has never met someone from the colonies before."

"Angelus, you don't have to lie to me. I saw the way she was looking at me, at us! She thinks that we are, um, well you know...."

He gave her a quizzical look. "No, I'm not knowin' watcha mean."

<Oh, no! Don't tell me I can't be vague in the past.>

Angelus saw a look of dread cross her face and thought he should put her out of her misery. He couldn't contain his amusement any longer, "Don't worry, Rose. I will talk to me mum and make sure that she is understandin' that ya and I are just friends."

Willow exhaled in relief. "Actually, while you were checking on the horses we had a little chat."

It was Angelus's turn to wear a look of horror. "Oh, Lord! Are ya all right? I'm surprised she didn't drag ya off to communion right then and there!" <Mum, stay out of it or ya goin' to scare her away!>

<Oh yeah! Communion would go down so well in the Rosenberg household.> "It went as well as can be expected."

 

She thought back to the afternoon she had spent at his family's farm. Willow had been invited to tea by Angelus's mother that afternoon. The young time traveler had wanted to find an excuse to get out of it, but Angelus had assured her that it was inevitable, and it was best to get it over with. "Me mum is a very stubborn woman, Rose. When she wants somethin' only God himself can stop her. I'm truly sorry." Willow reluctantly agreed, and had to admit to herself that she was curious about the woman who had brought Angelus--Angel--into the world.

They had exchanged pleasantries and made small talk, and Willow thought it had gone quite well, but at one point Angelus had to go outside to check on a new foal, and Willow was left alone with her. She stared at Willow for a few moments then cut right to the chase.

"What kind of a relationship do ya have with me only son, Rose?"

The young woman almost choked on her tea. "Relationship? We don't have a relationship. We are, are friends and that is all!"

The older woman slowly poured them both some more tea, and the silence only made Willow more nervous. "And yer husband," she eventually continued. "What does he think of the amount of time yer spendin' with me Angelus?"

<Relax, Willow. Take a deep breath and lie your ass off!.> "William? He trusts me and knows how I spend my time. In a way I think he is relieved that I have such a good friend because he is a very busy man."

"Interestin'," she said never taking her eyes away from Willow's. "What does yer husband do that keeps him so busy that he would allow another man to entertain his wife?"

Luckily, Willow had thought about this in advance and she and Spike had prepared a life for him. "He writes, mainly books about travel, but he is also in insurance. Life insurance." Spike had added that bit himself and had laughed about it for days, not really caring whether or not life insurance was even invented yet.

"So, he is away a great deal of the time then?" Angelus's mother didn't seem happy about this revelation at all, and Willow grew more nervous as she saw the woman's eyes narrow.

The young woman knew where this was going, and decided to get it over with. "Ma'am, I understand that you are concerned about your only son spending so much time with a married woman. But please believe me when I tell you that I only want the best for your son. He is a wonderful man, and I hope that someday he will find a woman here in Galway and settle down and give you grandchildren. I apologize if I have been selfish by seeing him everyday, but we do have an understanding and friendship is as far as it will go."

The elegant woman picked up her teacup again and slowly took another sip, considering the girl's words. In spite of herself, she found she liked the younger woman. She seemed very sweet and intelligent, nothing like the girls that Angelus usually showed interest in and not the type of woman who would break her marriage vows. She smiled at the young woman, feeling a little guilty for being so hard on her.

"Thank you, Rose. But I can't help but be wonderin' how is he goin' to do that when he spends so much time with ya. And he does have quite a reputation with the ladies, in spite of all that I have tried to teach him."

When Willow saw her smile, she changed her approach. "I know!" she laughed. "You should have seen how he tried to charm me the first couple of times we met! I'm afraid I actually lost my temper a little and accused of behaving in an ungentlemanly manner. And the look on his face, you would think that no other woman had ever resisted him before!"

Mrs. Connellan laughed at this. "I wouldn't be surprised if ya were the first, Rose. Then what did my devilish boy do?"

"Well, a couple of days later he apologized and asked if we could be friends. And that is what we are, ma'am, good friends."

Mrs. Connellan stared into her tea and thought about how similar her boy was to the man she had married. He was a scoundrel as well when they had met, likely to waste and entire week's wages at the pub or on some simple barmaid. But when they fell in love he had changed and had given up many of his wilder ways. <I only wish the same would happen to me Angelus. Well, at least if he is with her he isn't drunk in some harlot's bed.> "I'm sorry if I have been hard on ya," she eventually said to Willow. "But he is me only son, and I just wish he would be settlin' down already."

Willow saw the impatience and despair in the other woman's face and felt her stomach tighten when she thought about the notion that she might be keeping Angelus from having the life that he deserves. "Mrs. Connellan, if it helps any, William and I will be leaving soon. I haven't told Angelus yet, and I would like to tell him myself, later. So, I would appreciate it if you wouldn't say anything about it for now."

Angelus's mother couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief. She saw the way her son looked at the young woman and was afraid that he may fall in love with her. <"Tis a shame she is already married. Yet, if she is leaving town soon with her husband, that should put an end to it.> "No, Rose. I won't tell him, although I am sure he will be disappointed."

After that they changed the subject and spoke of many things, including the beautiful horse that Willow had bought from her family soon after her arrival. When Angelus returned they visited a while longer, and Willow had a chance to meet his two younger sisters before he made excuses for them to leave.

 

"Rose," Angelus said, bringing her out of her reverie. "Are ya going to tell me what ya talked about with me mum?"

Willow decided he didn't need to know every detail of their talk. "She asked about my marriage and our relationship, but I think I finally convinced her that I was not out to corrupt you."

"Pity!" Angelus teased as they neared where he had tied their horses. "Okay, forget about me mother, there is somethin' I've been wantin' to show ya." Angelus's grinned impishly.

Willow raised an eyebrow in mock suspicion.

"Trust me, Rose. Ya will love it"

"What is it?"

"It's a surprise," he informed her as he climbed onto Chance, his horse. He held is hand out to her to help her up.

Willow coyly ignored his outstretched hand and scrambled onto her own white mare. "I'll just ride my own horse, if you don't mind. After all, I had the best teacher."

"Suit yerself," he laughed and took off galloping down the lane. "Try and keep up, if ya can!" he goaded over his shoulder.

Willow spurred Honour into action and smiled at their impromptu game of cat and mouse. She may not have been riding for long, but she was getting better and was more than capable of keeping up with him.

They had ridden for quite some time before Angelus slowed his pace. "The path follows the cliffs for a while now, so watch yer step."

The path, barely wide enough for two horses to walk abreast, paralleled a rock wall on one side while the other fell away to the ocean some distance below. If the view weren't so magnificent, Willow may have been leery of their chosen course, but she was so caught up in its raw beauty that she didn't think to be scared. Finally the path opened onto a meadow where Angelus came to a stop.

"The surprise is just ahead, so close yer eyes and no peekin'," he said, grabbing her reins.

Willow smiled skeptically before closing her eyes and allowing him to guide her horse for a short time.

"Open yer eyes, Rose."

Willow inhaled sharply at the sight before her. Nestled atop the next hill a short way in the distance were the ruins of a small castle. She stared in wide-eyed wonder at the crumbling stone walls and decaying architecture.

"Oh, Angelus. It's breathtaking!" She spurred her horse into a gallop, not even looking back to see if Angelus was following. As she neared, she could make out that most of the inner structures were still intact, and that it was mainly the outer walls that had ceased standing countless years earlier. A tower stood close to the cliff's edge, a lone sentinel against invaders that would never come again.

Angelus remained seated on his ebony horse as Willow tied Honour to a nearby shrub. He marveled in her strength and sure surefootedness as he watched her scramble over the fallen walls and piles of stone as she made her way without hesitation for the opening to the fortress.

Eventually, Willow heard Angelus behind her and she waited for him. "What is this place?" she asked without looking at him. She had always wanted to travel Great Britain someday and see every castle and ruin that it ever gave birth to. And now she was able to walk freely among one, without the lines or tourists, decades before people would become fascinated with them again.

"It's a keep that once guarded the southern border of the county. It was abandoned when the center of trade moved to what is now Galway town hundreds of years ago. It would be me pleasure to escort ya around and tell ya what little I know about the place."

Willow answered with an emphatic nod, completely bewitched by this ancient site.

They wandered slowly through the once-fortress that over looked the sea, and Angelus spoke of its history and importance centuries earlier. Willow was enthralled by his knowledge of this place, hanging on every detail about how they were able to construct such immense structures as well as defend them. He told her of the people that ruled there and of those that had lived around it.

As Angelus talked, he again found himself studying her. He watched her face, the way she held her head, and even how she fiddled with her fingers. Later he wasn't really surprised when she offered her own ideas on how the keep was built and what life may have been like for the people in the area. She was a well-educated woman, that she had told him herself, but she was smart as well. The kind of smart you can't find in a book. <She is a different class than you, boyo. Ya don't deserve a woman like this.>

They wandered around the remains for the rest of the afternoon and later Angelus had another surprise when he produced some food from his saddlebags. They sat under a tree that had grown by one of the outer walls and talked some more. She was becoming almost as comfortable talking with Angelus as she used to be with Xander when suddenly Angelus became quiet.

"Rose, I need to ask ya a question," he said in a serious tone. "Yer husband, what kind of a man is he?"

Willow noticed he was staring at her hand and the ring that was molded to her finger. She self-consciously moved it to her side, almost sitting on it. "Why do you ask?"

Angelus peered intently into Willow's eyes, willing her to tell him the truth. "Does he beat ya, Rose? I have seen the ring yer wearin', and it looks to me like he wanted to make sure that ya never thought about takin' it off. And, on the rare times when ya talk about him, ya seem to be afraid of him. So tell me the truth, Rose. Has he hurt ya, because I can't abide a man that would harm a woman."

Willow forced herself not to look away. She needed him to believe her since the last thing she wanted was for him to confront Spike. "No, Angelus. He doesn't hurt me. You need to understand that ours is an, um, arranged marriage, of sorts, so we are really still getting to know one another. But he has never hurt me, and I don't think he ever will." She took her hand out from under her and looked at her finger, mentally kicking herself for not thinking of an excuse for the melted ring in advance. <Think fast Willow.> "This was just an accident," was all that she could manage at the moment. <I hope that is good enough!>

He searched her face again and believed her, and although he was relieved, he also had to admit to himself that a part of him was looking for any excuse to hate her husband. "Ya see this ring that I wear?" he asked as he removed the simple silver band from his right hand. "This was me grandmum's wedding ring. She gave it to me on her deathbed last winter, as her grandmother gave it to her a long time ago. It has been passed down many a generation in this way, to the eldest grandchild." Angelus stopped for moment, and to Willow it looked as if he was trying to decide whether or not to go on with his story. "She told me to give it to the woman I love when I find her, but only when I was ready to pledge myself to her completely. She told me that marriage should be an equal sharin' of lives, the joinin' of two souls for eternity, a bond that not even death can break." <I wonder if that is the kind of marriage she has.>

Willow was speechless, not quite sure of what to make of Angelus's words, and she stared down at the ring she wore, the same ring that he held in his hand. <Oh, God! Thanks to Spike's using it for an anchor in his spell, I am wearing Angel's grandmother's wedding ring! Deep breath, Willow. He doesn't seem to recognize it!>

"I hope you find that woman someday, Angelus." Willow eventually managed. She meant every word of it, but her stomach twisted when she remembered that he would never meet Buffy. <There will be someone else to make him happy. There just has to be!>

Angelus stared again at the ring on her finger, before looking away from her and out to sea. "There is a thick fog comin', Rose, and it will be gettin' dark soon. We better be gettin' ya home.' Angelus started readying the horses while Willow gathered the remains of their picnic. It took only a few minutes, but already a heavy mist was settling in, making it hard for her to see more than a few feet.

"It would be safer it ya rode with me. The part of the path that follows the cliffs can be tricky in the fog," Angelus said as he held a hand out to help her onto his saddle.

"I can manage, Angelus," she told him plainly as she took her seat upon her white mare.

"Are ya goin' to be stubborn, then?"

"Yes, I guess I am," Willow retorted without looking at him, adjusting her skirts. She was still feeling some guilt about keeping Angel and Buffy apart, and it was reflected in her tone.

"Fine then. Ya don't give me much of a choice, little one." With two bounding steps he was at her side. His strong hands grabbed her by the waist and pulled her off of her horse.

"Angelus!" she said with a huff. "What do you think you are doing? Put me down now!"

"Rose, ya are bein' stubborn and pig-headed! Ya have no experience up on these cliffs in the fog, and I do. Besides, Chance knows these bluffs. He was born up here."

He firmly placed her in his saddle, and although Willow couldn't see the look on his face, she had a feeling that it closely resembled her own 'resolve face' so she decided to let him have this one. The fog was quickly becoming even thicker, and Willow had to admit to herself that she was a little scared now that she was unable to see more than a few inches in front of her.

Angelus tethered her horse to his saddle and then climbed behind her. With an arm on either side of Willow, he urged his horse into a slow walk. Willow sat tall and straight in the saddle, reluctant to allow any more contact between their bodies than absolutely necessary. Suddenly images of Buffy and Oz were running through her mind, and a pang of guilt caused her to tense even more.

"Relax, Rose. I won't bite ya," he chided softly. When Willow remained stiff in the saddle, he added, "Yer gonna spook the horse. I told ya they can sense fear. Besides, I won't be lettin' anything happen to ya."

Willow could feel his warm breath on her cheek as he spoke, and it sent shivers down her spine. "I, I'm not afraid," she stammered. " I have been in worse situations than this before."

"Oh? Tell me about them, Rose." This time his breath was on her other cheek and she jumped a little in surprise.

"Oh, demons, mummies, witches, after Christmas sales. You know, just the usual. So, don't you worry, Angelus. *I* will protect *you*." She said the words in a joking manner, but inside she meant them.

She felt, more than heard, Angelus chuckle as the sound of the crashing waves from below grew louder. "We need to be quiet now. Chance needs ta be able to hear the way home," he whispered softly in her ear, and his arms tightened a little more around her.

They rode in silence for some time. Willow tried hard not to think about the ocean breaking on the rocks many feet below, nor about the handsome man who was practically cradling her in his arms. After sometime she realized that she had relaxed against him and could feel his strong chest against her back. This caused her to jolt upright again, only to find that minutes later she was again at ease against his hard body. Willow finally gave up the struggle and allowed herself to be enveloped in his warmth as night began to fall and the damp air took on a chill.

Angelus wanted to laugh every time he felt the beautiful woman abruptly pull away from him. She was so stubborn and independent when compared to the other women he knew, and he found that very attractive. Many girls in the village flirted with him and every barmaid knew his name, if not more. While he admittedly enjoyed the attention, he had not met anyone with whom he was interested in more than a mere dalliance. He easily grew bored with either their flattery or their self-absorption, but Rose was different.

Over the past few weeks they had ridden countless miles over hills and through forests, and she had never once complained when a bramble caught her skirt or the wind played havoc with her long hair. Not a whine crossed her lips when they were accidentally caught out in the rain still some distance from the town. Instead, she smiled at him and at the rain, freely letting it splash upon her upturned face. Her wonder at the land and his people's ways often seemed childlike to him, but in every other way she was a woman, so it only served to heighten his fascination with her.

When Angelus finally sensed they were on open ground and out of danger he kept it to himself. He knew once he told her they were back on the main path to the town, she would insist upon riding her own horse, and he was reluctant to give up this rare opportunity to be so close to her. And now that they were no longer in jeopardy, it took all of his strength to resist touching her. He could sense that his mouth was only inches from her cheek and occasionally her hair would brush against his neck. His need to kiss her, to taste the sea spray on her skin, was becoming maddening, and his unusual display of restraint alone was testimony to his feelings and respect for her, so it was almost a relief when he was able to discern some lights ahead through the thinning fog.

He brought his face close to hers, feeling the heat radiate from her. At the same moment, Willow noticed the lights and turned back to tell Angelus. They found their lips a hair's-breadth away from each others as both tried to speak at the same time. The words died on their lips and they froze, eyes locked on the other's mouth. An eternity seemed to pass as Willow's thoughts turned to Oz and Buffy, and Angelus's to her husband and the promise that he had made. Finally, the Irishman leaned back in the saddle and put distance between them.

"We're almost home," he said a little too loudly.

"Good. William must be getting worried," Willow lied, in answer to the Irishman's sudden coolness.

Before reaching town, Willow insisted on ridding Honour the rest of the way. They made small talk until they had reached her cottage where he bid her a quick goodnight before spurring his horse to a gallop and heading back towards town. Willow watched him hurry away then readied the mare for the night, removing the saddle and giving her a quick brush down. When she thought about her day, she grew only more confused about her feelings so she decided to put it out of her mind. <Don't think about it Willow. Soon you will have to leave.>

Willow entered the cottage to find she was alone, and she assumed that Spike had left at the earliest opportunity since fog would make for easy feeding. She went to bed early that night, hoping sleep would keep her thoughts of Angelus at bay for a little while.

~~~~~

End Chapter 8

***

Take Your Time ~ Chapter 9

 
Willow stared at the cards in her hand and occasionally stole a covert glance at her companion and tried not to smile. She had begun to look forward to their daily game of poker lately. Spike wasn't the most patient teacher at first, but when he realized that she had honestly wanted to learn to play well, his mood had lightened. Sometimes when she was with him, she would go for hours without thinking of him as a vampire. He was becoming a person to her now, and she liked that. And as a result, she was finally able to relax around him. Friendship was probably too strong a word at this point for their relationship, but she thought that even he would admit to a growing sense of camaraderie between them, seasoned with a large helping of sexual tension, of course.

Another reason she enjoyed this time together was that Spike was more likely to open up to her while they were playing, and she was often able to worm information out of him. Not that she tricked him in anyway. He told her only as much as he wanted, but it was more than he usually said. Over cards she learned in detail about the events that took place that night in the mansion with Acathla, Buffy, and Angel. He told Willow all about his little truce with the slayer, and that that was what had hurt Dru the most. She also learned a little more about the blonde vampire's past before his changing, including that he was orphaned at a young age and basically raised himself on the streets of Manchester and London before joining the military. And of course there were many stories about his years with Angelus, Darla, and Dru; and Willow took the opportunity to memorize the dates and any important information, just in case. <You never know when this stuff may come in handy!>

"I met Angel's family the other day," Willow told Spike and watched for his reaction.

Spike looked at her and pursed his lips. "Why?"

"I was invited for tea, well, actually, we were invited for tea, but I respectfully declined on your behalf. Hope that was okay." Willow said as she stared at the cards in her hand.

"Oh! I missed tea and crumpets with Cleavers? My feelings are hurt! Oh, that's right, I don't have any feelings. So, how's the family?"

"Well, I didn't meet his father because he was in another county looking at horses, but his little sisters are adorable. His mother is a beautiful woman as well, but I don't really think she likes me very much."

"Why are you surprised? They are a God-fearing Catholic family and her only son is falling in love with a married woman. Now, if they only knew the rest of the story they would probably have an exorcism done in your honor."

"Angel, er, *Angelus*, is not in love with me! We're just friends, and besides, he loves Buffy, or at least he will, or would have. And...and I don't love him either. I still love Oz!" Willow gifted the sneering vampire with a dirty look and concentrated on her cards again.

"Whatever, Red. The point is, you need to be careful. No matter what act he is managing to pull right now to convince you that his intentions are good, somewhere deep inside he is still the Angelus we all love to hate. You can't tell me that he was a perfect angel before he met Darla. There must have already been something there before."

Willow didn't want to hear this and tried to find a way to change the subject. Finally, she decided that the best defense was a good offense <I knew tutoring those bonehead football players would come in handy!> "I think someone's jealous," Willow teased in a sing-song voice.

"Hardly! And why would I be jealous? We have the perfect marriage!" the vampire smirked as he leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the table. "You don't have to cook, I'm never around, I let you spend all the time you want with another man, and, although it is hardly a benefit, no shagging." Spike raised his eyebrows cockily and put his arms behind his head.

Willow laughed, "You think this is easy? I never know where you are at night, or whether you are ashes in an alley somewhere. You never take me out to eat or bring me flowers anymore. The romance is definitely *dead* in this relationship!" Willow ended with an overly dramatic sigh.

Spike thought for a moment and then abruptly stood up. Willow was wondering if he had misunderstood her little joke, then he held his hand out to her in a gentlemanly manner. "Shall we go for a little stroll? It's been awhile since we made a public appearance together, and the sun is just about to set."

She warily took his outstretched hand. "I could use some fresh air anyway, and it looks like a beautiful night."

Willow and Spike strolled casually in to town, side by side. She couldn't help but glance at him every once in awhile, and she noticed that he did the same. It was a warm, cloudless evening, and there were a large number of people out wandering the streets in town. Willow was surprised at how many she actually recognized and who said hello to her. Quite a few people seemed to know Spike as well and wished 'William' a good evening.

"Quite the popular couple, aren't we?" Spike snickered. "Funny, Dru and I used to play this little game where we would stroll the streets at night, looking like any other happy couple. Then, whoever was the first to wish us a good evening, we would have for dinner. It was just one of those cute little things that couples do."

"How romantic," she commented with only a hint of sarcasm. Then Willow looked up and noticed the moon. "Full moon," Willow said wistfully. "If we were home right now, I would be locking up Oz, and he'd be all howlie and growling at me. I'd be reading "Call of the Wild" to him, or maybe checking the tranquilizer gun to make sure it's ready. "

They both sighed simultaneously.

"I miss him."

"Damn, I miss her." Their voices echoed in unison as they lamented their current situation.

They stopped walking and looked at each other for a moment, both smiling at each other's idea of a romantic evening. They sat by a fountain in the middle of town, lost in their own thoughts. After a while, Willow began to chuckle softly to herself. "How pathetic are we?"

"You're right, you know," Spike agreed, jumping back to his feet. "Sometimes I make myself want to heave! I may just have to kill myself again."

"No way!" Willow retorted. "That is what got us in this mess in the first place, and if I am stuck here then so are you!"

He grinned for a moment and absently looked for somewhere to put his hands in his coat. "I miss my leather duster," he said irritatedly. "It had great pockets, you know? I looked damned good in it too, plus it lent me an air of mystery. While this thing," he said, indicating the brown colonial-like jacket he wore like every other man around, "just makes look like a husband!"

"Is that so bad?" Willow teased.

"For any other vampire it would be bad enough, but for me it is a fate worse than life," he joked. Then he stopped and turned to face her, looking very serious. "Willow, tell me the truth."

Willow nodded, wondering what was suddenly bothering him so much. <Oh no, Spike is serious. This cannot be good!>

"Does this coat make me look fat?" he deadpanned, pretending to suck in his stomach and check his appearance in a mirror.

Willow burst out in a laugh loud enough to catch the attention of passers by. He had caught her totally of guard, and she was laughing so hard that the only retaliation she could manage was a sharp elbow to his gut when he sat back down beside her. When she was finally able to keep it to a quiet giggle, she looked at him with tear-stained cheeks. "I will get you for that one Spike, when you least expect it!"

Spike didn't know why he did that. It was uncharacteristic of him to make a joke that wasn't at the expense of someone else, but he liked to see her laugh almost as much as enjoyed seeing her angry. "I'll be waiting with bated breath," he half-smiled in return, obviously pleased with himself. Slowly, their conversation turned to making plans for the next few decades.

***

Angelus was just about enter a pub with several friends when he spotted her. The moonlight bouncing off of her auburn tresses had captured his attention. He told the others he would catch up with them in a minute.

"Somethin' wrong Angelus?" his friend Colin asked, trying to figure out what he was staring at.

When he didn't respond right away, Colin followed his gaze to a young woman in the square. "Ah, is that the lass that has ya so preoccupied lately? And the man with her would be?"

"Her husband," Angelus admitted reluctantly.

"I should have known. Angelus, I warned ya that one of these days ya would actually fall for a taken woman."

"I haven't fallen for anyone, Colin," he protested loudly. Then under his breath, "Not yet anyway."

"Come on Angelus, I'll buy ya a pint and ya can drown yer sorrows. Besides, there are plenty of beautiful *unattached* women inside waitin' for the pleasure of our company!"

He took one last look at the couple talking by the fountain and fought the temptation to go over there. <I just want to see what he looks like. I need to see the way they look at each other!> At that moment he saw her face explode into a huge smile, but it was her laughter ringing across the square that caused him to look away. "It's goin' to take more than a pint tonight, Colin," Angelus said as he opened the door. "And possibly more than one woman as well!"

Slapping his friend on the shoulder, Colin said, "Well then, let's just see how many more!"

**

They had been sitting by the fountain for several hours, just talking, when Spike finally said, "Well, my wife. I am getting hungry so why don't we get you home?"

Willow's face fell a little, for a short time again she had forgotten what Spike was. "That's okay, William," she said as she stood. "I can find my own way home. You must be starving by now anyway."

"If you're sure?" the vampire said, already taking steps away from her. "Goodnight, Rose," he called to her after she started back toward the cottage they shared. He wanted to call out to her to be careful, but to do so would be to admit to himself that he cared about her welfare, so he hurried in the opposite direction.

Willow wasn't nervous about walking home alone because it was still early and there were many people about. She was only a few blocks from home when she heard footsteps close behind her. She knew it wasn't Spike because he barely made a sound when he walked, so as they grew nearer she readied herself for an attack, quickly reviewing Giles's self-defense lessons. When the steps seemed to be directly behind her, the once-substitute slayer spun around suddenly and delivered a powerful fist to her would-be accoster's stomach.

Angelus fell back on his butt, holding his aching stomach but already laughing at the situation. "Remind me never to sneak up on ya again, Rose. Ya got yerself one helluva punch."

"Angelus!" Willow cried in embarrassment and helped him to his feet. "I am so sorry. I just heard someone following me, and..."

"Now, I have to be wonderin' where ya learned to hit a man like that?" the Irishman interrupted.

Willow smiled, a little pleased that she was able to knock a grown man down. "I told you before I kinda grew up in a rough neighborhood. A girl has to be able to look after herself. <And stake a demon or two!>

Angelus was still chuckling when she started walking toward home again, and he walked beside her, occasionally putting his hand on the small of her back to guide her. "Wait a minute," Willow said suddenly, and Angelus's hand snapped back to his side. "Were you following me?" she asked, already missing the weight of his hand against her spine.

"I was in a pub and saw ya and yer husband sittin' by the fountain this evenin'." His voiced turned bitter and angry. "Then the next thing I knew, he was walkin' one way and ya the other. I'm sorry, Rose, but a true gentleman would escort his lady home! I don't understand why he let ya go alone at night!"

Willow was touched by his concern for her safety and she reached out and squeezed his hand for a moment. When his eyes met hers she suddenly became flustered and released his hand. "Well, as you can see," she said in a rush. "I really can take care of myself, and William knows that."

Angelus nodded his head grudgingly and teetered a little unsteadily on his feet as they started walking again. His misstep was not lost on Willow.

"Are you drunk?" she asked, trying hard not to sound like she was nagging.

"Just a little," he replied lightly. "By all rights I should be a lot drunker, but I knew ya wouldn't like it."

"I don't understand."

"Rose, I need to apologize to ya for the other night."

<Oh no, he is going to apologize for when I almost kissed him. How embarrassing!> "Oh? For what?" she asked coyly.

"For puttin' yer life in danger. I should have been watchin' the weather more closely. There is no excuse for not gettin' ya home before that fog set in. If anythin' had happened to ya..."

"Shhh... Angelus. It's okay. I am fine and *nothing happened*." Willow finally admitted to herself that she wish something had happened that night, but they were better off that it didn't. "Now, I think you better be heading for home yourself. Will you be all right?"

He stared at her, standing in front of the cottage that she shared with another man, and thought she had never looked more beautiful. The moon brought out the best in her. Her hair was luminous and her eyes twinkled like the stars. <Dammit man, get out of here before you do somethin' stupid, like kiss her!> "I'll be fine, Rose. Don't ya worry about me." He turned and took several paces away before turning back once more. "See ya tomorrow?"

"Sure! Goodnight, Angelus." Willow watched until he turned a corner and was out of sight before she went inside.

It took her hours to fall asleep that night. All the feelings she had tried to suppress were screaming for attention. She loved Oz, that she knew, but she also was beginning to feel something very deep for Angelus as well. She didn't know if it was love, but she yearned to be with him and to be in his arms again. She craved the warmth and safety she felt that night when she rode in his arms. <Lust, Willow! That's all it is. You are in lust with your best friend's never-to-be boyfriend!> And as if that wasn't confusing enough, there was Spike. At least she wasn't falling in love with him. No, that wasn't the problem. But she did care about him and enjoyed his company. The dilemma was that he was the enemy, wasn't he? She was consorting with the enemy and enjoying it. Sure, she had little choice in the matter, but their relationship had gone past just putting up with one another. She felt that they actually appreciated and looked forward to spending time with each other. When she finally fell asleep, she dreamed of home. The way it used to be.

***

"Dammit!" Willow shouted and threw her hand at the wall.

Spike raised his eyebrows in surprise at her uncharacteristic behavior. "Such language! I do believe my virgin ears are blushing!" Spike teased as he dropped his winning full house onto the table.

Willow stood to pick up the cards she had flung so vehemently moments before. "We have been playing poker almost every day for close to two months now, and I still haven't won a single hand!"

She flopped back down dejectedly across from Spike.

"Okay, beautiful, why don't you tell daddy what is really wrong?"

"You want to know? Okay, I will tell you!" Willow jumped back up and started pacing around the room as she counted off what was bothering her on her fingers.

"One! I miss jeans! I want to wear a pair of pants. I am so sick of these dresses, and corsets, and ribbons. I feel like a doll!"

Spike opened his mouth, but Willow silenced him by holding up two fingers. "Two! I miss my family and friends. I miss my computer. I miss pizza. I miss *Oz!* Basically, I miss having a real life, not this little historical soap opera we have been living for the past two months!"

"Well...." Spike interjected, but Willow silenced him again with a look of death. <She is quite tasty when she is angry!>

"Three! Why have I not won once in all this time? I mean, I understand the rules, and I am pretty smart, if I do say so myself, so I can figure out the probabilities of making a certain hand. But, when I get a good one, do I win? No! Why not?"

Spike sat quietly waiting for her to continue.

Willow stared at the vampire, impatiently tapping her foot. "Well?"

Spike didn't even try to hide his smile, amused at her anger. He always appreciated seeing the stronger, feisty side of her, and he didn't get to see it as much now that she spent so much time with *him.* The Irishman seemed to make her happy, for the most part; although, recently she was more restless, and Spike wondered if she was regretting having to leave soon. Or, maybe she was feeling guilty about her canine counterpoint back in Sunnydale, considering her growing feelings for Angelus. <Or maybe she is dreading spending 50 years with me!>

"Well, beautiful, the problem is..."

"*Don't * call me beautiful!" she fumed. "That's number four! I am *not* your lover, so you can drop all that mushy stuff. Don't call me Pet!" she spouted at him haughtily. "I am not a poodle! And I know that whole 'love' thing is some sort of cultural deal, so I will put up with it, but don't call me beautiful. I don't need your pity!"

"Pity?" he rose to stand in the path she was wearing in the floor. "Is that what you think this is? If I felt sorry for you at most I might let you win at cards, but I don't *do* charity. It doesn't work well with this whole soulless killer rep I have going. I call you beautiful because you are, especially when you are brassed off. Sexy even."

Willow stopped her rant long enough to realize how she must have sounded. She sighed heavily and said, "Spike, I wasn't fishing for compliments, so you can save the flattery for the next virgin you kidnap. I am just frustrated, and well, with it getting so close to the time that Darla is supposed to arrive, I guess I am a little tense. Add to that the fact that I can't seem to win a simple card game and it makes for a grumpy Willow. I just want to win a hand of cards. Is that too much to ask?"

"Do you wanna know why you never win? Because poker is a game of lying, of bluffing, and *gasp* sometimes a game of cheating, Red. It is not a game of odds, and because you couldn't lie if the fate of the world depended on it, which it just might someday. So, you lose."

Willow knew she was a rotten liar, but she thought maybe she had improved with all the practice she had been getting lately. "Really? I'm that bad? How can you tell?"

Spike stepped closer and slowly ran a finger from her forehead, down her nose, over her lips and chin, watching as her skin blanched under the light pressure. "You wrinkle your forehead, you can't look me in the eye, and you tend to prattle on and on about odd things." He took a step back when he realized that for the first time she didn't flinch under his touch. <Come on, mate. Keep it together!> "You have a great grasp of the game, love," he told her as he sat back down. "Now we just need to work on bringing out the liar in you. If you wanna win it will take a bad girl, Willow. Can you be bad?"

Willow considered what he said for a moment before she sat back at the table and began to shuffle the cards, her eyes twinkling. "Teach me the ways of the dark side, Spike."

~~~

End Chapter 9
 

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