Take Your Time
Angelus's movement on the other side of the room brought Willow back from her memories. "We're not sure," she started abruptly. "It's possible that nothing would happen and the spell would just end, leaving me stuck here...in Britain, I mean." She whispered a silent prayer that he had yet to ask her about where she came from, let alone when. "Or, I may age very rapidly and turn to dust as the years I've spent looking like this catch up with me, or we could just disappear, going back to where we first cast the spell and then none of this will have ever happened. I just don't know."
Angelus leaned against the wall and watched her as she spoke about the other vampire and her possible future. This other vampire had obviously hurt her in some way. Maybe not physically, but the way her face darkened when she had to think of him made Angelus almost jealous of this other odd-looking demon. He'd succeeded where Angelus had yet to...he'd gotten under her skin and wormed his way into her soul, changing her permanently. And while Angelus had no doubt that he'd also achieved this is many ways, it was more due to the feelings that she'd once had for his living, souled self, not because he'd caused the redhead to care about his vampiric self. It would happen though...he had no doubt about that at all.
The silence was eerie to Willow. She had expected him to ask more questions, especially about Spike, but he was simply watching her instead. It was obvious that he was thinking, probably trying to decide his next move, but she thought she preferred him talking to plotting. Still, she couldn't think of anything to say.
"It's gettin' to be late, my flower," Angelus informed her, breaking the uncomfortable silence, "and since I hardly wish to ruin yer reputation by bein' seen leavin' yer room by some scullery maid, we need to be gettin' on with the other matters."
"O--other matters?" Willow squeaked. "I've already told you everything that I can or will!"
Angelus shook his head in wry disbelief. "I know there is more fer ya to be tellin' me, but that can wait. Right now we need to be discussin' our little wager."
That wasn't quite what the redhead was expecting to hear, and she was filled with a sense of relief. But that was short lived as it dawned on her that he would, of course, have ulterior motives.
"What wager? Save the betting for the table, Angelus," she told him while she busied herself with poking at the fire.
"Now, Rose, as much as I love takin' all these other sods money, *yer* what I'm here fer."
That was no surprise to Willow, but she found it more frightening then flattering. "I'm not part of the game," she informed him as she added some wood to feed the flames, hoping to warm her chilled body and soul.
"You and I are the best players here, by far. These rich old men aren't gamblers. They're just bored and willin' ta throw money away fer a little excitement in their lives. Even if they lose all they brought, which I assure ya they will, they have a thousand times more at home, at least. But you and I, Rose. We're different from them. We know what it means ta be takin' risks...suffer the consequences...don't we?"
Willow shook her head, denying the possibility that she had anything in common with the evil vampire. "I don't know what you mean, Angelus. A game is a game, either you win or you lose. That's all."
Angelus came up behind her and gently stroked her hair. "Ah, come now, lass. We both know there is so much more to it than that. What ya were doin' before I arrived, that wasn't gamblin'...that was just card playin'. It's not until ya actually stand to lose somethin' that ya can't bear to part with that it becomes gamblin'. It's the risk ya love, Rose. It excites ya...I can see it in yer eyes when ya play, even when there's only money at stake."
Willow, preoccupied by Angelus's comments, didn't even think to pull away from him. "Poker is plenty risky for me when it's only money to be lost, Angelus," she said quietly, engrossed in her own thoughts. A lot of what he'd said she couldn't dismiss. She enjoyed poker. Heck, who was she kidding? She loved it! But if it weren't for the gambling aspect of the game, she could take it or leave it. Yet, when the stakes were high and the competition fierce, the rush of adrenaline she felt was almost like...<Control yourself Willow...he's doing this on purpose!>
"Don't even try ta deny it, my love. Ya love the game, and ya love ta be playin' someone who's a true challenge to ya. Ya came alive tonight, Rose, but not until I sat at the table. Not until ya had a worthy opponent."
Finally coming to her senses, Willow stepped out of his reach. "I can't believe how conceited you are," she commented to the flames. "I was surprised and frightened to find you there, to--to have to sit across from a vampire. What you saw was the result of me having to be in the presence of a killer, and that's all!"
Angelus acted as if he didn't even hear her. "Do ya have any idea how beautiful ya were tonight? The fire in yer eyes when ya raised the stakes, the way ya wet yer lips whenever I called yer hand. I wanted to sketch ya right then and there ta catch the look of anticipation as ya played--"
But the dark vampire didn't stop. "I want ta see how beautiful ya are when the winnin's are higher, me Rose. It would be a shame if the only thing you and I stood ta lose tomorrow was money, when we would both enjoy a different manner of profit."
Willow spun around but was surprised to see how near he was and had to quickly face back toward the hearth. "Angelus...it's only a game..." she mumbled unconvincingly.
"Not ta you, it's not. Nor ta me. It's life, Rose, and we both know it--without risk, there isn't much point ta either."
Considering his words, Willow viciously jabbed at the fire with a long piece of kindling until it roared back to life. She stared into the fire, wishing she could burn away her confusion over Angelus until there was nothing left but ashes.
"What...do you have in mind?" Willow finally asked as her curiosity for the better of her.
"When I win, Rose, ya will come back ta London with me, in me carriage, of yer own free will."
Willow put on her poker face, the unreadable one that she'd learned from many long and hard lessons with Spike, not all of which were about cards. Then she slowly turned to look him in his cold, dark eyes.
"*When I* win, what do I get?"
He met her stare with a penetrating one of his own. "Ya get to leave on yer own. Ya get yer freedom." He paused for a moment, waiting to see hope flash in her eyes, but she kept her emotions well hidden, much to his dismay. "Consider it a head start, because I'll not stop lookin' fer ya, Rose. I've found ya and I won't lose ya again...ever. But, this way I'm given ya a sportin' chance..." he trailed off, smirking.
Willow crinkled her forehead as she thought his offer through. "Why are you even bothering with the bet? You could easily force me to come with you. And how do I know that you won't change your mind...that you'll keep your word? From my past experiences, vampires aren't the most trustworthy creatures of the night," she grumbled.
Angelus just shrugged, but on him, even that simple gesture looked menacing. "Before I saw how good ya were, I had every intention of takin' ya against yer will, but now that I've seen the passion in yer eyes when ya play. Well, if ya best me, it'll almost be worth it just ta see yer face when ya show me yer winnin' hand. However, I'll just find ya later and take ya with me by whatever means necessary. But fer now, I want Lady Luck and yer own skill at the game to decide yer fate."
Willow began to rub her temples as a dull throbbing began. <Why am I even thinking about this?>
"But," Angelus continued, seeing her reluctance, "if ya refuse, and I have ta take ya kickin' and screamin', I will. It just means I won't be able ta play poker with these pathetic men again, and I do so like takin' their money. Of course, some innocent people are likely ta be killed in the process as well..."
Willow shook her head. She couldn't believe this was happening--that everything she'd worked for could end because of a poker game...a game that shouldn't have even been invent yet.the game that Spike had taught her...the game that Angelus had taught his childe. Irony was a bitch.
"How do I know that I can trust you?" she questioned him through a heavy sigh. "That you'll let me leave on my own when I win and that you won't just steal me away in my sleep or throw me over your shoulder like some barbarian?"
"Ya have me word, Rose. Would it help if I swore on a bible fer ya? I'm sure Mr. Simms is a God-fearin' man, and we can find a scarcely used copy around here somewhere," he laughed arrogantly.
What choice did she have, whether she trusted him or not? She couldn't leave; he'd made sure of that. So she could either win and leave with her dignity intact, lose and made a scene knowing that it would probably end in bloodshed, or lose and go quietly under the guise of his friendship and protection. There was no choice to be made. His threat to hurt innocent bystanders had clinched the deal.
"Okay, I agree to your terms, Angelus. Now go," she told him wearily. Willow suddenly felt every second of her one-hundred-plus years.
Angelus clucked at her impatience. "One more small matter," Angelus said. He then walked to the wardrobe and threw open the doors.
"What are you doing?" she demanded, as he started going through her clothes, throwing some of her gowns on the floor.
"Tryin' to find somethin' more suitable fer ya ta wear tomorrow. In that dress yer wearin' ya might as well be in a convent!" he told her with disdain, casting an impatient look at the modest cut of her current clothing. "I want every man and demon down there ta see what will never be theirs and what will forever be mine!"
Willow rolled her eyes at his possessive language. What was it about vampires and the word 'mine'?
"No! First of all, I'm not yours and I never will be! But, more importantly, I'm not some doll for you to dress up, or some trophy to impress your blood-sucking buddies with!" she informed him, exhaustion making her impudent. She grabbed a blue dress from the pile the vampire had made on the floor. It was long sleeved and had quite a high lace collar, but the cut was very flattering to her. The lines of it nicely showed off her assets, without being obvious or making her self-conscious. <Last thing I need is all the men staring at my chest! Although...it could distract him and help me win...> she thought briefly. <No, I'll win because I'm the best, not because of my body!>
"I'm wearing this tomorrow. It's the only thing suitable that I haven't worn already!" she informed him brusquely. Angelus eyed the high cut gown with displeasure. It would show little of her neck or collarbone, let alone her soft, tantalizing bosoms.
"No, ya won't be needin' that frock...ever again." He turned back to the task at hand, looking at the three dresses. "Don't ya have anythin' that's *red*?"
Willow started picking up the mess he'd made. "No, I don't have anything red! I'm supposed to have just come out of my mourning period, in case you didn't know. Widow, remember?" she griped, but Angelus paid her no heed.
"Ah! That's more like it!" he extolled as he held up an emerald-green evening dress that he'd found in a garment bag in the back. It was still too modest for his taste, but at least it was of a style that was worn off the shoulders. It would look beautiful on her, accentuating her graceful neck, coppery hair and angelic face.
Willow shook her head adamantly. "No, I can't wear that...that's an evening dress. I brought it just in case there was a more formal dinner. I can't show that much skin during the day they'll think I am some sort of...prostitute!" She shoved the more simple and demure dress in his face. "This is what I'm wearing, and I don't care what you have to say, now get out!"
Grabbing the dress she was holding, Angelus placed two hands along its ample hem line. With one swift motion, he pulled it apart, rendering a huge tear from the bottom to the waist. "Guess ya won't be wearin' it now, will ya?" he said with a cocky smirk before dropping it on the floor. Then he thrust the green dress at her. "Yer wearin' this, or do I have ta rip up every article of clothin' in this room?" he snarled, making Willow remember exactly what he was again. "And wear yer hair up...I want ta see yer pretty, fragile little neck," he added, moving his hand so that it wrapped around her throat and giving it a slight squeeze.
"Go to hell, Angelus!" she retorted as she stepped away from him. "But first, get out of my room!"
Angelus laughed. "Ya want me to go ta hell, do ya? As if that would be a punishment fer a man like me" he snickered again. "If I do go ta hell, my flower, I'll take ya with me. Yer mine, and ya best be rememberin' that!" he said darkly, stepping closer. "And now, a goodnight kiss and I'll leave ya ta yer dreams of me."
"Just go," Willow said weakly, turning to face away from him. She was drained and wanted to sleep.
"One day, me love, ya will beg fer my lips on yer skin," he whispered in her ear without touching her. "But I can wait. We have forever, remember. Forever."
Forever. That last word sent a shudder of fear through her body. Forever for vampires was a very long time...too long.
Before Willow found the strength to turn around, she heard him open the door. She didn't relax until she saw the door click closed behind him. After locking the door, Willow quickly threw a few more logs on the fire and changed into her nightgown. Snuggling as deeply under the covers as she could, she still couldn't seem to get warm, even with the blazing fire. Eventually, however, she managed to fall into a deep dreamless sleep.
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