Take Your Time
DISCLAIMER: Most of the characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No copyright infringement intended. A few minor characters of my own making will show up now and then. < > indicate thoughts and/or feelings
And it was this Willow, the one beaten down and made bitter by despair and guilt and loneliness, that would lay beneath the feather-stuffed comforter for days without getting up or even changing her clothes. She had finally forced herself to come to London, some 25 years after her revelation. She had taken the first job she found, as a bar maid at a small tavern, and was given a room upstairs. She worked hard and long hours, but never after dark. The once-hacker had explained it as a religious necessity, and was not questioned as good labour was hard to find. But as the time neared, she found it getting difficult to plaster a fake grin on her face as she poured endless pints of ale for drunken, red-nosed men, and eventually it was hard just to get out of bed each day. The owner allowed her a fortnight off, without pay, to get over her 'illness,' and he allowed her to keep her room, on the understanding that when the new bar maid did return, she would have to be nicer to the patrons.
Now, after five days of never leaving her room, Willow was finally disgusted enough with herself to take a quick bath and go for a walk. She wandered past many Cathedrals and museums, but she no longer ventured inside in hopes of finding any useful information. She had long given up that dream. Today she walked with her head down, never meeting anyone's eyes and with no destination in mind. She just wanted to clear her mind and clear her nose of the smell of spilt beer and cheap whiskey.
She was just about to check her pocket watch again, when she heard his voice. "'ello, luv."
A cold chill whipped through her as images of his deceitful face tore at her consciousness. She turned slowly, still not ready for this confrontation after more than five decades, but it wasn't Spike.
Or was it? The man stared at her with Spike's familiar quirky half-smile and cocky self-assurance. Even the manner in which he held his body was Spike's, but so many other things were different. Willow quickly surveyed the man standing before her. He was quite tan, for an Englishman, and donned a slightly disheveled military uniform. He wore the short red coat with gold buttons well, and the color suited his golden skin, despite the fact that it looked like it had seen many a day's battle. The light-colored pants fit snugly enough to accentuate his well-toned thighs. She had to take a deep breath and force her eyes back to his face, when finally it hit her. The real difference was his brown hair.
Willow's face must have been one of sheer bewilderment as she slowly drank in his appearance, for William took great delight in the effect he was having on her. Women of his time rarely eyed a man the way the tiny time traveler was studying him. She compelled herself to stop staring, but it was too late. A flush had already crept in to her cheeks. she berated herself, but she couldn't help it. Alive, he was devastatingly handsome.
He approached her slowly, wanting to get a better look at the girl who was so wantonly watching him. "Are you lost?" he asked, swaying slightly and betraying the fact that he was inebriated. The young woman did indeed look lost, but not as to her location. She appeared as if she had lost her best friend, and the gentleman in him wanted to help her. Unfortunately, the drunken part of him was currently in charge and could only think of one way of cheering her up.
Willow was at a complete loss for words, totally unprepared to be faced with William the Bloody, Spike's human self. "Um...uh...no," she sputtered, backing away and forcing her eyes to the pavement between them. She quickly ran through in her mind the past that Spike had told her about himself, and although from what he had said she had nothing to fear, she couldn't be sure that he had even told her the truth.
"Can I buy you a pint, then?" he leered, swaying even more as he gestured to the pub that they were standing outside of. "You look lonely and sad, and I am sure that I can think of a way to bring a smile to that pretty face of yours!" He lips widened into a full smile, his blue eyes twinkled mischievously.
Warning bells went off in her head. This all seemed a little too familiar. "No," she finally managed as she came to her senses. "I cannot go through this again!" Before Willow even knew what she was doing, she turned and ran as fast she could away from the now-confused Englishman. It wasn't long before she had to slow her pace, exhausted from straining under-used muscles. She turned to see if he was following her. He wasn't.
"That was close," she said to herself through heavy breaths. "Way too close." She walked a while longer, still in shock over seeing William. It was definite now. The time of William's changing was nearing. For a brief moment she considered going back there and trying to find a way to keep William from being turned, the way she had for Angelus, but the thought was fleeting. It would never work. Spike wouldn't allow it, and only heaven knew what it would do to the time line. Plus, to be honest, she just couldn't be bothered.
As Willow calmed herself down, she let herself think about Angelus's family for the first time in years. She had often wondered about what may have happened to them, but she could never bring herself to find out. She had never tried to contact them after that last day in Galway, afraid of what she may or may not find. And even if she did find them, alive and well, she wasn't prepared to answer the hundreds of questions that would inevitably follow.
The day she had fled the bustling Irish town, she had made one stop on her way out, at a jewelry store. She had hurriedly purchased four beautiful and ornately carved silver crosses on heavy chains. With a quick prayer for forgiveness to her ancestors, she had placed one over her own head and had not taken it off since. The other three she had quickly bundled up and, with a heavy heart, headed for the Connellan's farm.
Willow remembered how she had sat on her horse, just outside their acreage for what seemed like hours before she had finally found the courage to trot up the small lane that lead to their house, although in reality it had probably only been several minutes. She knocked at the door with a heavy heart, still not sure what she was going to say, but knowing that she had to warn them somehow. But, in the end, no one was home. She had even searched the property quickly, just to make sure that they weren't attending to some chores nearby, but found no one. So, she had entered the house since the Connellans, like most others of their time, didn't keep their doors locked. The petite redhead had decided that she should at least leave them a note. She wrote to them that the son they once knew had died, and that in his place was a monster bent on evil and destruction. She warned them not to be fooled by his familiar, handsome face and to never again trust him or let him in their home. Then, she thought for a moment before adding that she had come to their town to prevent this from happening, but had failed. She apologized again and again, blaming herself, but never asked their forgiveness. She closed by asking that they wear her gifts in remembrance of their lost son as well as for their own protection.
Willow sighed as she remembered staring at that letter, wondering if it was enough or if they would understand or even believe her, and wishing that she had thought to buy some sort of cross for the father, but a quick glance at the sun getting lower in the sky had forced her to push her doubts away for now. It was time to leave.
She never knew if they had worn her gifts or understood her warning. In fact, Willow never knew if Angelus had ever made his vampiric presence known to his family. She hoped, in some ways, that the young vampire had forgotten about his family in order to get to her, but she really had no way of knowing. She felt her stomach tighten as guilt once again consumed her thoughts.
When Willow finally quit her daydreaming, she was a long way from her tavern home and night was falling. She turned around and picked up the pace, but the setting sun was winning. She decided to take a gamble and turned to cut through Hyde Park. It would cut close to a half hour off of her race against time. She was only halfway through the park before the sun set, but she remained calm, reminding herself that the likelihood of any vampires being in this exact area at this exact moment was low.
"Hello, my little virgin." Spike's voice came from the shadows. "Now, normally I would think that I was being a little presumptuous, assuming that a beautiful woman could remain a virgin for the past 50 years, but in your case...."
Willow froze. "Spike," she said dispassionately, turning in the general direction of where she thought the voice originated from. "I'd recognize that conniving, selfish, lying voice anywhere."
Spike strolled out from the shadows of a nearby grove of trees, already flashing her his patented half smile. "You flatter me, love."
"Stay away from me," she told him pointedly when she was finally able to see his face. She noted the blonde vampire looked exactly the way he did when she had left him-- only the costume was different. Images of the tanned William she had just met flashed briefly in her mind, but she pushed them away. < Spike is no more William than the vampire Angelus had been her human one! > she lectured herself.
"It's been more than 50 years, Willow. Don't you think that's long enough to hold a grudge?"
"An eternity will not give me enough time to hate you, Spike." Willow said the words, and although she meant them, there was no conviction in her voice, and the tiny redhead knew it.
Spike looked at the woman he once shared a house with and felt the now-familiar stab of guilt. She didn't look like the Willow he had known, the Willow whom had stood up to him on more than one occasion, or who had so eagerly learned to play and even cheat at poker, all with an innocent smile and a impish glint in her eye. This woman had all the exuberance and liveliness of a corpse, if it weren't for the fact that he could hear her heart beating rapidly in her chest, he might think she was dead. The hair was the same, as were her other physical features, but everything else was different. Her eyes looked haunted and desperate, like she hadn't had a peaceful night's sleep her whole life. There was no life in them whatsoever. No spark. No humor. Her skin had lost its healthy glow, and she held herself like someone who wanted to hide from the world, even from herself. Willow was only the shell of a woman now, and she looked as if a stiff breeze could crumple her.
Spike stepped closer, not believing that this was his Willow. "Willow, you look like the walking dead, love. You need to take better care of yourself."
"Save your attempts at pretending to care for someone else. I won't buy it this time." The perpetually young redhead couldn't even bring herself to look him in the eye. Willow knew she should be yelling at him, throwing accusations and incriminations at him with every ounce of strength she possessed, but she didn't have the energy, and, frankly, she found she just didn't care anymore. About anything.
Spike took another careful step closer, afraid that she might bolt. "I do care, Red. You look like you are about two breaths away from slitting your wrists."
"Don't flatter yourself, Spike," she said, failing to muster even a hint of venom in her voice. "You are not suicide worthy. Besides, even if I did, just think of all that blood you could have guilt-free. No work involved."
Spike winced at the tone of her voice, it was completely void of any emotion. He had done this to her. He had already killed her; she was just trying to finish the job slowly. The vampire needed her to get passionate about something, anything. Even if it was hating him.
"Actually," he said, letting a boastful grin settle upon his face. "I still can't believe how easy it was... how very easy it was to fool you."
Willow didn't speak but she finally met his gaze.
"I mean, come on, *pet,*" he laughed cruelly. "You have no idea how hard it was for me to put up with you everyday. Pretending to enjoy your company. To sit there night after night trying to teach you a simple card game. But you were too bloody stupid to even learn that, why would I have thought you might figure out my little plan." The vampire waited to see her reaction. It was risky and he knew it, but it was worth the gamble. She was worth the gamble.
Willow couldn't believe what she was hearing. Sometimes she had wondered if that whole sense of camaraderie that she had begun to feel with him had been part of the ruse, if each and every smile and kind word was just another strand in his web of lies. The frail woman searched deep inside of herself for the strength that she once had, for the rage she once survived on, but could still only muster guilt and self-pity. So, she didn't speak, she just stood there, expressionless.
He pressed on. "Of course, when you and that insipid Irishman actually fell in love, well, that was just icing on the cake, *pet.* Never in my whole unlife would I have been able to come up with a better plot. It was like a damned soap opera!" he laughed harshly.
"Why are you doing this?" Willow finally said to him. She wasn't quite yelling, but it was more emotion than she had displayed in years. "Isn't it enough to know that you outwitted me and Angelus is dead because of you?" she reminded herself. "Why do you have to rub it in?" Willow didn't realize it, but she was walking closer to him as she spoke, her voice gradually increasing in volume and intensity. "Do you want to see me cry, is that it? Did you feel that you haven't truly destroyed my faith and trust unless you see me weeping at your feet. Is that it, Spike?" The tears that she had kept inside for close to a lifetime, finally began to fall. "Well, here I am! A pathetic excuse for human being and it is all your fault. You took everything from me. My family, my friends, my home, but that wasn't enough for you, was it? Then you took my hope, my faith and my trust and destroyed it. So, here I am Spike. Look at me! The result of all your scheming and lying is standing before you. Are you happy now?"
< I couldn't be further from happy > Spike didn't speak, he just forced his mouth into a heartless sneer. He was afraid he hadn't really gotten to her yet. She will still holding too much anger inside.
Willow turned and walked away, her hand unconsciously fingering the necklace that lay hidden beneath her dress, but Spike said something that made her stop in her tracks.
"Okay, my wife!" the vampire shouted after her. "Will it make you feel better to hurt me a little?" He spread his arms out wide to the side in a sacrificial manner. "Take your best shot, sweetie, because you only get one for free."
Willow turned to face him, unsure of his sincerity, but she wasn't going to let this chance get away. She slowly stepped to within an arm's length of him, never once letting her eyes leave his. Her whole body quivered with the pent-up anger and frustration of nearly 60 years that were screaming for release. The tiny redhead pulled her hand back, and like a too tightly wound coil, it sprung toward his face.
Spike didn't even brace for the impact, knowing that this frail woman couldn't actually hurt him, but hoping that the act would help her snap out of her despondency. When her hand did connect with his cheek it sent a jolt of pain through him, the likes of which he hadn't felt in years. The combination of pain and shock sent him reeling and he fell backwards to the ground, his cheek and jaw still burning.
Spike looked up in a daze to find Willow standing over him with a smug look on her face. She held her hand up to reveal the silver cross in her palm, it's broken chain dangling between her fingers. "You're right, Spike. I do feel better!" Willow smiled slightly, the first real smile that had crossed her lips in years, and slowly walked away.
When Spike put his hand to his cheek and jaw where he had been hit, he could feel outlined in his charred flesh, a perfect cross.