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The sun was long set by the time the four friends and their vampire cohort settled in around the table inside the Magic Box. While technically the store was still open, they rarely had customers at this late hour, so they could talk freely.

At the moment Buffy was doing the talking. The pacing too for that matter.

She seemed to think well while she was up and moving; perhaps it had something to do with displacing nervous energy. Willow, Xander and Giles tracked her movements with their eyes. Spike, making his disinterest quite obvious, stared at his nails, chipping away at the black nail polish.

“So you’re saying this demon Gilgamesh—“

“That’s Gilmesh, Buffy. Gilgamesh was quite a different creature,” Giles corrected resignedly, once again removing his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. Why did he even bother correcting her, he wondered wearily. She rarely listened.

“Okay, so this Gilmesh demon,” she paused, shooting a snarky look back at Giles, “is out there killing humans, and nobody knows how to kill him? What kind of a Watcher are you,” she asked, frustrated by their lack of information. She stopped pacing briefly, her eye caught by an Incan fertility statue. ‘God,’ she thought, ‘even the naked Incan statue thingies are starting to look good. That just *proves* that I need a man.’ Blushing slightly, she turned away from the group, collecting her thoughts.

“Buffy, it is simply that this demon has not targeted humans before, and therefore hasn’t seemed like such a threat. In the past, a kitten here and there has been enough to satisfy a Gilmesh. Although the loss of a kitten is certainly not pleasant, it wasn’t as tragic as the loss of a human life. As such, the Watchers have only the most vague information as to how to deal with this creature.”

“But Giles,” she whined, giving him her best ‘cute’ face, “we’re talking about *kittens* here. Cute, cuddly, soft, you know the ones I’m talking about. We have to take this thing out *now* before he kills again.”

“Besides all that other blather, kittens make great collateral at the poker table. If some demon is out there usin’ ‘em for a midnight snack, it’ll play hell with my weekly games,” added Spike. “Might even have to go back to using money again,” he grumbled. Four faces turned to him in shock, unsure if they understood the implications of what he was saying.

“You—you play poker with *kittens*? Cute, fuzzy, little…how could you,” wailed Willow, shooting an outraged look at the blond vampire. He seemed oblivious to her, however, merely looking down his long legs to the toes of his boots and smirking.

“Yeah, gotta go with Willow on this one,” Xander added, shooting a disgusted look at the vampire. “Kittens are not meant to be used as collateral. You’re a very, *very* bad man,” he added, shaking a finger at Spike to emphasize his point.

“Okay, enough squabbling,” Giles interjected, giving the children and the vampire a frustrated stare. “This is getting us absolutely nowhere. We need to find this thing and figure out how to kill it before it gets bolder and more powerful.”

“I think we’re going to have to split up if we want to find it,” Buffy told them. She looked thoughtfully at Spike, Xander and Willow, trying to decide what to do.

“Spike, you take Willow. Xander, you’re with me. Giles, you hold down the fort.” As Xander and Spike started to argue over which weapons to take, Buffy pulled Willow aside and gave her a sad grin. “I’m sorry you always get stuck with Spike, Willow, but it’s gotta be Spike with either Xander or you, and if I were to send him out with Xander, you *know* that only one of them would come back. And unfortunately, I’m pretty sure it would be Spike.”

Willow pulled a face, the edges of her pink lips turning down. She knew Buffy was right but she still wasn’t happy about it. Every time she went out with Spike he either ignored her or insulted her. She knew he wasn’t happy about his current situation, but that didn’t mean he had to take it out on them, did it? She looked over to the weapons cabinet, where at that very moment Xander and Spike were arguing about who got to take the crossbow.

“The witch will need it, you bloody moron,” Spike snarled, grabbing the weapon out of the boy’s grasping hands. “She’s got to have some sort of weapon, and she’s not much good with anything else.”

“Way to go with the tact there, Fangless,” Buffy muttered, drawing an irritated look from the blond vamp. She stole a quick glance at Willow, who seemed to be trying to ignore the whole exchange, her fingers moving along the edge of the shelf, her eyes unfocused.

“Xander, just grab something else and let’s get out of here,” Buffy commanded, heading towards the door, her blonde ponytail bouncing with her steps. Xander hefted an ax, swinging it experimentally. Giving one last glare at the vampire, who took great pains to ignore him, he followed the Slayer out the door.

“C’mon then,” Spike said, eyeing the redhead with thinly veiled annoyance. He handed her the crossbow, selected a short sword for himself, and then grabbed her arm, and pulled her out the door.

They walked in silence; Willow still smarting from his comment earlier in the library. So what if she wasn’t some bad-ass warrior like the rest of them? She was still research girl; none of them could touch her abilities with the computer. And her increasing abilities with magic were another thing that helped the group time and again. But she still had this niggling wish that she could be a fighter like Buffy. ‘Well wish in one hand and crap in the other, as they say,’ she thought to herself. She was who she was, and things weren’t going to change just because some whiney pissed-off vampire wasn’t happy about it. And where did he get off being so nasty anyway? Why couldn’t he just try to get along with them?

“Why can’t you just be pleasant?” The question slipped out before she even knew it had. She looked over at him, biting her lip uneasily. He couldn’t hurt her, not with that chip in his head, but he could still make her feel like a schoolchild with his razor-sharp tongue and his cruel words.

“Why should I bother,” he returned, his voice neutral, his eyes darting carefully around the cemetery, looking for the next demon or vampire that he hoped was on its way. After listening to the Slayer blather on, he was definitely in the mood for a spot of violence. He stole a look down at the redhead next to him, taking in her uneasiness. Her hair, the color of dried blood, coupled with the moonlight, made her face shine. Oh, if only this chip was gone. He would drain her in a minute, enjoying the look of shocked surprise on her face as it turned from a living, glowing visage to a white death mask. ‘Damn soddin’ chip,’ he thought to himself, not for the first time.

Unaware of the vampire’s thoughts, the redhead continued to talk. “I mean, you’re stuck with us. And we’re stuck with you. No matter how much you hate it, we’re your best bet for survival. You’re smart enough to figure that out. Being nice to us increases your chance of us helping you stay alive. Well, stay undead I guess, if you want to be technical.”

“Screw that,” he told her, stopping suddenly to rest against an old cracked tombstone. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he leaned back carefully, looking the little witch up and down. “Let’s get this straight, since you seem to have a problem with it. I’m evil. I’ll always be evil. This little chip in my head? It doesn’t make me less evil. It doesn’t make me like any of you lot any better. The only thing it does is keep me from killing you. If it came out tomorrow, you’d all be dead in a bloody, glorious slaughter. Maybe I’d throw a little torture in for good measure. Hell, those were the days,” he said, smiling to himself, images of past glories filling his thoughts.

The redhead stared at him, horror filling her green cats-eyes. ‘He really means it,’ she thought, amazed that he could be so cold and ruthless. “But—but we’ve helped you. Kept you from starving, given you blood, money, whatever else you needed. Aren’t you in the least bit grateful?”

He saw the fear growing in her face and reveled in it. She reminded him of a small cat, realizing that the tame dog she thought would protect her might not be as safe and well-trained as she thought. ‘I might not be able to touch her, but I can still scare her,’ he thought, an evil smile forming on his lips.

“Sure,” he shot back angrily, pulling his hands out of his pockets, using them for emphasis, “you lot have helped me, but only because there’s something in it for you. It’s purely a business transaction. You give me what I need to survive, and I help you all keep the world safe until the next apocalypse. Why should I be grateful? I put up with a lot of crap from you ‘white hats’ in return for what little I get.”

Willow sighed, giving him a disappointed look, then brushed past him to continue on down the path. She had tried to reach him, tried to be his friend, but he obviously was determined not to be anything more than a pain in her ass. ‘Fine,’ she thought savagely, ‘if that’s the way he wants it, then that’s the way it’ll be.’

He followed behind her, mind churning over the conversation they had just finished. Maybe he had been a little blunt, but basically everything he said had been true. They treated him like a neutered dog, kicking him when he was down, throwing cash and blood at him when they needed something. They never took his feelings into consideration. Why shouldn’t he be bitter?

They continued their patrol in silence, neither one voicing their thoughts aloud. Finally, after another half hour of tortuous silence, they arrived at Willow’s front door. He left her there, watching long enough to make sure she found her keys. Seeing that she had them, he gave a curt nod and then turned and walked away, sinking into the shadows.


‘God I hate him,’ Willow thought to herself, turning to close the front door, then stomping up the stairs and down the hall towards her bedroom. Her footsteps echoed down the empty hall, yet another reminder that her parents were out of town. “Why the heck does he have to be so nasty?” she asked of her bedroom furniture. Fortunately, none of the furniture answered back.

Sighing dejectedly, she picked up her laptop and got comfortable on her bed. As she often did, she prepared to immerse herself in the cyber-world to help smooth over the hurt feelings of the day. No matter what awful thing happened in the ‘real’ world, she could always retreat to this world, where she could be anyone she wanted; do and say anything she pleased.

She flipped on the laptop, listening to the soft whir of the fan as she shimmied her back up to the headboard, resting her head on the cool plaster and trying to clear her mind of the unpleasant evening with Spike.

As the computer went through its usual start-up routine, she wondered where she should go tonight. Willow had a half-dozen boards she posted on regularly, but none of them really called to her at the moment. She wanted to go somewhere different tonight.

Clicking on a random link, she found herself on a Star Trek posting board. Reading the last several dozen posts, she realized that she happened upon a debate about the best captain. The vote seemed to be split down the middle, with the men mainly going with Captain Kirk, while the women seemed to favor Captain Picard.

“I am *such* a geek,” she remarked to nobody in particular as she prepared to enter the fray. Thinking carefully, she composed her argument in her head, along with the supporting facts. This was *not* going to be one of those posts consisting of ‘Picard is the best because he’s so sexy; I want to do him now. Email me, please?’

Ten minutes later she had posted her thoughts and had quickly moved on to answering email. Since it was already well past midnight, she decided to sort through it quickly and then head off to sleep.


‘Another exciting night in Sunnydale,’ Willow thought, as she and Spike walked quietly in the moonlight amongst the tombstones in one of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries. Hey, they ought to put this on the travel posters, she thought, stifling a giggle as she imagined it in her head. ‘Come one, come all, see the amazing nightlife that will leave you dying for more. Literally.’ She wished, not for the first time tonight, that it was Xander or Buffy walking next to her. *They* would see the humor in the situation, she knew.

She lowered her head slightly and shot a glance over at her companion. He was tall and strikingly handsome, his platinum hair shining like a beacon. He was also, as usual being a broody pain in the ass. The vampire pretty much ignored her, except when he expected her to move faster or quieter. Then he would shoot her an annoyed look, his eyes narrowing coldly in his angular face.

In fact, he was giving her that look right now, Willow realized. He had stopped suddenly, dropping down to crouch silently behind a green leafy bush. She stopped as well, dropping down next to him, pulling her trusty crossbow into position, eyes searching for a target. He put his finger up to his full lips, giving the universal ‘shhh’ signal. She nodded slightly, her eyes flashing over the scene in front of him, looking for the cause of his concern.

Before long she saw it. It was the Gilmesh demon Buffy had mentioned earlier, and damn he was ugly. He stood about 7 feet tall, skin the color of rotting flesh, and nasty-looking brown-red eyes. Horns protruded from his forehead, for that ‘chock full of evil’ look. ‘Maybe I’m just being shallow,’ Willow thought to herself, ‘but why are the demons always so ugly? Well, except Spike maybe,’ she amended. As big of a pain as he was, she had to admit that there was something sexy about him. She’d never ever admit it to anyone ever, though.

Willow moved to shoot a glance towards the object of her thought, but as she turned to him, she realized that she was alone. She narrowed her eyes, searching for the telltale blond hair. She hoped he wasn’t about to do something impulsive and stupid. Nobody knew how to kill this thing, after all. They were really supposed to observe it and follow it back to its lair, where Buffy could attack it later. But of course Spike had plans of his own.

Willow heard a soft growl, watching in dismay as Spike jumped out and launched himself towards the demon, hoping to disorient it and take it by surprise. ‘Damn him,’ she thought as she watched him grapple with the demon.

As she watched in growing horror, the creature began to pummel the vampire, its thick muscled legs aiming kicks at his head and chest that would have killed a lesser being many times over. Spike absorbed each hit, but his reactions were getting slower and slower. As Willow stood rooted to the spot, the Gilmesh grabbed him in a chokehold, squeezing as hard as its strong arms could. She knew that if she didn’t do anything soon, Spike would be dead. Again. Still. Whichever, she thought, panic-stricken. She knew he couldn’t suffocate, being of the not-breathing persuasion, but that thing looked as if it could easily pop his head off, and from the sounds and struggles Spike was initiating, Willow was sure that things had gotten pretty bad.

“A little help here, girl,” he croaked out, his eyes filling with pain. He stood directly in front of the demon, however, and Willow was afraid that if she took a shot, she’d hit him and not her intended target. She looked at him worriedly, trying to telegraph her concerns to him with her hands, miming Spike pushing away from the demon.

“Just do it,” he ground out, his voice sounding weak.

Willow knew it was now or never, so with all her strength she hefted the crossbow, aiming it right at the demon’s hideous head, and let loose the arrow, saying a little prayer that it would hit her target and not her friend. Well, her companion, she conceded.

Putting ‘Thank Giles for forcing me to take all that target practice,’ on her list of things to do later, she watched the arrow imbed itself into the demons head, sticking out like a narrower, longer third horn. She sighed in relief as she saw the demon drop Spike, but then her terror started to build again as she watched the demon come stumbling unsteadily towards her. Fumbling slightly, she reached down to load another arrow into the crossbow. As her fingers worked feverishly, she stole a quick look towards Spike.

The vampire was moving slowly, just now managing to pull himself to his feet. “Careful witch, he’s coming for you,” he called out to her.

“No shit,” she answered back nastily, panic making her voice sound harsh and ragged. She was almost finished rearming crossbow. There. She brought it up again, wondering where exactly to aim it. ‘Make a decision quick,’ she told herself, as she watched him close the gap between them.

‘Now or never,’ she thought, aiming the crossbow and sending the arrow to its target. The demon stopped completely as the arrow hit home, his mouth forming a surprised ‘O’ before he tumbled heavily down to the ground, smashing everything in his path.

Spike staggered towards the fallen demon, kicking it in the stomach once or twice in an effort to get some of his own back. Then he wobbled towards the little hacker, something akin to surprise and admiration bleeding through to his cold blue eyes.

Still shaking slightly from her ordeal, Willow looked up as she caught Spike’s approach from the corner of her eye. What was that look on his face? Was he—impressed? As quickly as it had appeared, it was gone, leaving Willow to wonder if she had just imagined it.

Leaning heavily against a thick tree, Spike’s curiosity got the better of him. He just had to know. “So Red, how did you guess that his brain was there?” he asked her, a smirk on his face.

“Between his legs, you mean?” she asked, a bright red color beginning to suffuse her face. “He may have been a demon, but he was still a male, isn’t he?” she shot back, her hair flying out behind her in a crimson wave as she turned and walked back towards the library. She left the vampire to trail behind her, a bemused smile on his face.


‘Well,’ Willow thought as she flipped open the computer, ‘tonight was…different.’ She was pretty sure that she had actually been able to impress Spike, if only for a minute. Once they had returned to the Magic Box, he had given her full credit for the kill, something that surprised them all. Buffy had been ecstatic that they could concentrate on something else for once, and had immediately tried to convince Willow and Xander to go to the Bronze with her. Xander had finally caved, but Willow was tired, and perhaps a little bit in shock still, so after the Slayer and Xander had seen her home, she had taken a nice relaxing bath with her new vanilla and cinnamon bubble bath, and was now sitting, clean and smelling pretty, in front of her computer.

Opening her email, she quickly and methodically read and answered each one. Upon reaching the bottom of the list, she saw an email from “WTB2k”. ‘Probably junk,” she thought to herself, but as she took a quick look at the subject line, she realized it was in reference to the post she had made the other day on the Star Trek board.

Curiosity got the better of her, and after a brief hesitation, she clicked the email open and settled back to read it, snuggling comfortably back against her wood headboard.

TO: GaladrialGal


RE: your post on Picard vs Kirk

Okay, so your argument was well thought out, but you’re still wrong. What is it with all you birds and your obsession with that git Picard? Kirk was willing to kick a little alien ass whenever needed. Picard was way too big with the diplomacy stuff. If he ever came across a real war, he’d wet himself, then retire to his ‘ready room.’

Now let’s see, your biggest complaint about Kirk was that he was shagging any woman he ran across. Well he *is* a man, that’s what we do. Hell, Picard did it too. He was just subtle about it. You think he and Beverly never did the nasty? Don’t be nave. And Wesley? Yeah, I bet he did the kid. And there was definite sexual tension between him and Q. Don’t tell me you didn’t see it. I bet they fucked like rabbits every time the camera was off them.

Willow blinked twice, hoping some of the words would disappear. Especially the words suggesting a sexual relationship between Picard and Q. That was just so wrong! And no, not because they were both men. Hello, practicing bisexual here. But because Q was just everything that Picard was against, and the thought that they would have sex was just…wrong!

Should she answer the email? The thought of letting this WTB2k get to her was unnerving, but she really did want to show him that she was right, and conversely, that he was wrong. She stole a quick look at the clock. 2am. Oh hell, she was wired now. She wouldn’t be able to relax and get back to sleep until she’d had her say. Hitting the ‘reply’ button, she crafted her response. After several false starts she finished her missive, giving it one final going-over before she hit the ‘send’ button.


FROM: GaladrialGal

RE: your recent email

First of all, Picard has proven himself time and again on the field of battle. And he’s done it without ‘wetting himself’ as you so charmingly put it. Just because his first attempt at resolution is usually a diplomatic one doesn’t make him a bad captain. He’s a product of his time, just like Kirk is. Picard’s mission was first and foremost diplomatic, whereas Kirk’s was exploration. They were each a perfect mix for their time and objectives.

As for your assertions that sexual undertones that colored Picard’s relationships with certain crewmembers and aliens, I think you’re way off base on that. Sure, he and Beverly had the beginnings of a relationship, possibly, but I do *not* believe they were ‘doing the nasty’ off-camera. As for Picard and Q? Don’t make me laugh. There’s no way that Picard would ever have had sex with Q. Ever. And thank you *so much* for ruining those episodes for me.

‘That’ll tell him,’ she thought as she hit the ‘send’ button.

Her task finished, she yawned, realizing that the activities of the evening were finally catching up to her. She laid the computer down gently on the floor, stretching and allowing her muscles to flex and relax. Reaching up to flick her light off, she felt her mind float away and her body start to fall into that peaceful place between wakefulness and sleep. She closed her eyes and was soon deep asleep.


‘Another day, another demon,’ she thought as she wandered towards the Magic Box. Sunnydale was giving them another of its beautiful sunsets, the sky filled with amazing shades of pink, blue and orange. People scurried by, on their way home or elsewhere, packages and briefcases clutched in their hands.

Willow wondered idly what normal people did with their evenings. Watched TV? Indulged in hobbies? Spent time with their families? Well that last one wouldn’t work for her, but every once-in-a-while the others sounded slightly tempting. When she considered the matter, though, she realized that spending time at the Magic Box was like being with family, in an odd sort of way. Giles was the father she’d always imagined having. Xander played the part of the annoying pesky little brother that drove her nuts. Buffy was the best sister a girl could have. That only left Spike. Okay, she admitted to herself, that was where the analogy broke down a bit. Unless—yes, she could see Spike as the older brother who was ‘too cool’ for the rest of the family, spending time with them only when forced. She gave herself a mental pat on the back for pigeonholing them all, then laughed to herself at her silliness. She swung the door open and walked into the Magic Box with a smile on her face.

“Hi Giles,” she called out, looking around idly for any customers that might be about.

“Hey Will,” called Xander, sitting comfortably in one of the new lounge chairs Giles had purchased. He was attempting to make the shop more ‘homey’ he said. “So now that you’re a bad-ass demon killer, ya wanna take over the patrol for me tonight?”

She smiled at him, pretending to consider his request. “Hmmm…‘Willow the Vampire Slayer,’ has kind of a nice sound to it, doesn’t it?” She cocked her head to the side. “Nah, I think I’ll stick with ‘Willow the Wicca.’ Besides, what would we call Buffy then?”

“I’ve got a few suggestions,” came Spike’s voice from behind a bookcase. “Although somehow I think ‘Slutty the Vampire Humper’ probably wouldn’t go over too well with the Watcher.”

“Shut up, Oh Neutered One,” yelled Xander from across the room.

“Come over here and make me,” the vamp called back, moving from behind the bookcase to stand next to Willow, his chest pushed out in an aggressive stance.

“You’re just lucky I’m so damn lazy,” muttered Xander from his comfy chair, shooting Spike a look of pure venom.

“Where is Buffy anyway?” asked Willow. “And Giles, is he here?” An idea had been brewing in her head all afternoon and she was hoping that Giles or Buffy could help her with it.

“We are Buffy-less tonight,” Xander told her. “She’s stuck at home tonight. Her mom’s insisting on some down time for her. Movies with the family or something. Giles is out getting eats, he’ll be back before too long.”

“So why are we here tonight anyway?” asked Spike, annoyance in his tone. “I mean, the Slayer’s not here, so obviously there’s not a big apocalypse around the corner. I’ve got better things to do than hang out here with you lot.”

“Yeah, the Big Bad’s gotta go lose more kittens at the poker table, huh,” taunted Xander, resting his feet on the coffee table, a smug smile on his face.

Spike took a menacing step towards him, and then stopped, thinking better of it. “Yeah, things to do, kittens to win, stuff like that. That watcher’s got five more minutes then I’m gone.”

“Well I’d hate to ruin whatever fascinating plans you had for the evening, Spike. I’ll try to keep this short and to the point,” said Giles, walking in the door with his hands full of fast-food bags.

“Food!” Xander bounded up from his chair, suddenly full of energy. Approaching the table at close to light speed, he pawed through the bags the watcher had just placed there, finally grabbing several paper-wrapped packages and settling back into his chair.

“Good evening Willow,” Giles greeted the redhead, placing a hand on her shoulder. “What brings you here tonight. Not that I’m not always happy to see you,” he added as she frowned.

“Well,” she started hesitantly. She had hoped that they could talk about this without an audience, but now was as good as ever, she decided. “I was going to talk to you about some training. For me. I want to be a better fighter.”

Giles looked down at her in surprise, his lips parted slightly, unsure of what to say to the young girl. “Yes, well, certainly, we can teach you some basic self-defense moves. Is that what you had in mind?”

Willow’s face brightened and her enthusiasm started to shine through her eyes. “That’s great! That’s exactly what I want,” she told him.

“Perhaps Spike would be willing to help you with that,” Giles remarked, not noticing the frowns that appeared on both the vampire’s and Willow’s faces.

“I—I was hoping that maybe…” she trailed off uncertainly. This was definitely *not* what she had in mind. She had been hoping that Giles, or even Buffy, might be able to help her. Spike? His name hadn’t even occurred to her.

“Hey Watcher, you know the rules,” Spike growled as he stared over at the nervous redhead, “no pay, no play. You want me to train her, you’d better be willing to fork over some cash.”

“I assure you, you will be well compensated for your troubles, Spike. In fact, I’m surprised none of us thought of this sooner,” Giles remarked, turning to the redhead. “Willow,” he continued, “it would definitely behoove you to take in some training. Young women should always be trained in the basics of self-defense, whether they help the Slayer or not. I was remiss in not coming up with the idea myself.”

“It’s settled then,” declared Spike, wonderful thoughts in his head as he thought of how to spend his newly acquired wealth. And if he played his cards right, this gig could last a while, bringing him in a fairly steady income.

“Be here tomorrow at seven and we’ll start. Dress comfortably,” the vampire told her, watching in amusement as she practically ran for the door in her haste to be out of there.


‘Seven o’clock came way to quickly,’ Willow thought, as her feet dragged her towards the Magic Box. It was dark now, shadows covering the street and small, unexpected noises pulling her attention from here to there. Her mind was still thinking up elaborate plots and excuses for why she could not train with the vampire. She thought about trying to fake a sprained ankle or wrist, but knew that she was such a painfully poor liar that she would be caught out almost immediately. Each excuse became more outlandish than the last, until finally she was forced to conclude that she would have to go through with it.

She walked into the Magic Box as her watch beeped 7pm, the bell jangling as she closed the door behind her. Giles and Spike were at a table, huddled over a book. The topic of discussion must have been her, because the minute the looked up and saw her, they stopped mid-sentence. The watcher had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed, but Spike merely nodded a greeting at her.

“Good, you’re here. C’mon, let’s get started,” he said to her, making his way to the back stairway and starting down into the basement training area that Giles had created for Buffy.

“Good evening to you too,” she muttered, casting a slightly aggravated look in Giles’ direction. He merely smiled at her, his reserved manner bringing her even more frustration.

Willow headed off in the direction that Spike had taken, trying to mentally prepare herself for her training. She would *not* let the vampire annoy, belittle or frustrate her, she declared to herself, her small chin lifting slightly.

As she took the final steps down the stairs, she gave an evaluating look to the training area. She had spent many an afternoon here with Buffy, giggling, telling tales, and talking girl talk. She had never, however, been an active participant in the workouts that went on down here.

A large blue floor mat was situated on the floor in the middle of the room, Spike standing impatiently upon it. The black jeans and red t-shirt he wore accentuated his pale complexion; the harsh fluorescent lights making his skin even whiter.

“So what do I do now?” Willow asked as she approached Spike, kicking off her shoes before moving to join him on the blue matt.

“We’re going to start with some basic self-defense, before we move on to the more difficult stuff,” he told her. “First I’m going to show you what you *should* do, if you’re ever attacked. C’mere.”

Willow did as he asked; as she approached him, he turned his back to her. Reaching back and taking her hands with his own, he curled her arms around his middle, standing back against her so that his back pressed against the front of her body. She shivered slightly at the cold contact.

“Okay, lesson the first,” he told her, his voice all business, “this is one basic hold that an attacker might use. Now pretend I’m the victim, you’re the assailant. Watch me, and I’ll show you what to do next.”

Willow nodded. Then realizing he couldn’t see her face, she answered, “Okay, I’m ready.”

“First, watch what I do with my foot,” Spike instructed, bringing his right foot slowly and softly down on her own foot. “You want to stamp down pretty hard, but don’t lose your balance. The aim here is to distract and startle, although the pain will be useful too.”

“Now while they’re dealing with that, their grip on you should loosen a little. Take the opportunity to turn slightly and throw your right elbow back into their chest.” Suiting his actions to his words, he spun slightly and moved his elbow carefully back towards her chest.

“Then, as you let your momentum swing you around, take your hand, like this, and shove it up into their face. You want to have your palm catch on the underside of their nose and push their head back. Then, once they’re pretty well incapacitated, just run like hell. Got that?”

He turned to face her again, waiting for her to acknowledge his instructions. Willow nodded her agreement, her hair slipping from behind her ears at the movement. Reaching up to tuck a lock back out of her face, she looked up at him, wondering what was next.

“Okay, now you give it a try,” Spike challenged, stepping behind her and snaking his cold hands around her body, using his muscular arms to pull her hard against his chest.

Willow fidgeted uneasily, suddenly distracted by the feel of his cool hands against the thin shirt she was wearing. She didn’t want to hurt him. How was she supposed to do this without hurting him? He wasn’t making matters any easier when he began moving his hands around, then started to dip them below the waste band of her pants.

“Hey there!” she yelled at him, struggling in vain to turn and face him. “Keep your hands north of the border, buddy. This isn’t ‘grope Willow day’ here, this is training time, okay?” She tried pushing his hands up, back to her stomach, but they stayed right where they were, at a seeming stalemate.

“Witch,” he muttered into her ear, his lips bringing goose bumps to the side of her neck, “If this is going to be a realistic lesson, then you’re just going to have to deal with a little added distraction. After all, what demon could resist such a sweet neck,” he told her, stooping to give her neck a soft lick. His cold rough tongue sent shudders though her, and suddenly her mind kicked into overdrive. Using the steps he had just shown her, she stomped down hard on his foot, her anger making her careless and giving her extra strength.

As he started to swear bitterly and started to bent over to inspect his injured foot, she turned and shoved her elbow into his side. He howled in protest, hopping away from her, looking for all the world like an injured kangaroo, the way he kept jumping up and down on his uninjured foot. Although extremely amused, Willow also felt guilty. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. Well, not much anyway.

“Spike,” she asked hesitantly, “Are you all right? Can I bring you…something?”

He glowered over her, subjecting her to one of his most hostile glares. The kind of glare that used to send demons fleeing in the other direction, back in the days of the Big Bad. Instead of fear though, he saw compassion and helplessness in her eyes. Finally he sat down on the mat, still rubbing his injured foot. “Lesson over, witch. Good job. Now get the hell out of here.”

Willow stared back at him, wondering if she should try to help him. But the look that he gave her was chilling. She whispered the words “Sorry,” in his general direction before escaping back up the stairway.


After saying a hurried goodbye to Giles, Willow headed back to her parents’ house. She was the eternal house sitter, she decided. They should just sell the place really…they never spent any time there. At the moment they were in London, preparing for a conference on the adolescent mind. Ironic, she thought with a wry grin.

Relaxing upstairs with a hot cocoa, Willow quickly stripped down and put on her most comfortable nightshirt, the one with the kittens on it. The thought of kittens brought her mind back to Spike. She still felt bad for hurting him, but honestly, what did he expect when he was touching her like that. Unless, the thought hit her suddenly, he had done it for exactly that reason. Maybe he had realized that she wouldn’t be able to attack him comfortably without a little—provocation. If that truly was the case, then she felt even worse. Sipping her cocoa slowly, she considered the situation.

Sighing to herself, she decided that nothing was going to be settled tonight so she might as well just relax and stop feeling guilty. Of course, that was easier said than done.

Seeking to distract her active mind, Willow decided to turn on her computer and see what the latest was in the cyber world. Settling back onto her stomach, she rested her head on her cupped hands and logged on to get her email.

Oh great, another email from that WTB2k. ‘Doesn’t he have anyone else to harass,’ she asked herself. Deciding that she might as well get it over with, she cautiously opened the email. ‘At least it isn’t ticking,’ she conceded. Ticking emails were always a bad sign.

TO: GaladrialGal


RE: your post on Picard vs Kirk

Sorry, didn’t realize that the thought of Picard with Q would disturb you so deeply. Guess I just figured a bird wouldn’t be such a homophobe. Guess prejudice exists everywhere though.

Her, prejudiced? ‘Boy, was this guy barking up the wrong tree,’ she thought with a giggle. She just loved it when people made stupid assumptions about her without knowing what the heck they were talking about. She also enjoyed poking holes in their ignorant little misconceptions about her.


FROM: GaladrialGal

RE: your post on Picard vs Kirk

Sorry to disabuse you of your little theory, but my *ex-girlfriend* would probably have something to say about that whole ‘me being prejudiced’ thing. You should try to have a little more information before you make stupid assumptions about a person.

And just so you know, the reason that Picard would *never* sleep with Q was because Q was everything he stood against. They were bitter enemies, and not in the ‘opposites attract’ type of way, but in the ‘I’d kill you in a minute if it suited my purpose’ type of way.

‘That should fix his little red wagon,’ she thought to herself. Now where to go? Feeling slightly restless, she clicked on some random links, unable to concentrate on anything for more than a minute or two. Finally, she broke down and checked her email again, wondering if he had written back yet.

Sure enough, when she opened her mailbox, she found a brand spankin’ new email from WTB2k. Hopefully it contained an apology for the way he had severely misjudged her.

TO: GaladrialGal


RE: your post on Picard vs Kirk

You don’t think bitter enemies can ever become lovers? Sorry, but it happens. I’ve seen it. Never ends well, really. But it happens.

This emailing back and forth is getting old. Do you have an instant messenger program, like AIM? My AIM name is WTB2k.

Willow stared idly at the screen. Did she really want to talk to this person? She felt restless, craved human interaction, even if it was a stranger with a computer. What could it hurt, really? If he became a pest, she could always block him from contacting her again. It wasn’t like he knew where she lived or anything.

Her mind made up, she opened up AIM and placed WTB2k on her buddy list. It’s now or never, she thought to herself, as her finger hovered over the button that would send her message. Taking a deep breath, she pressed ‘send.’

GaladrialGal: Hello?

WTB2k: Hey. Um, okay, so I’m not the world’s fastest typist. Kind of new to this internet thing in general. Bear with me here.

GaladrialGal: That’s okay—it gets easier with time. Just takes practice.

WTB2k: So, what’s a gal like you doing in a place like this?

Willow laughed quietly at the age-old pickup line, rolling her eyes and wondering how to answer. Fortunately, he sent another message quickly, relieving her from the burden of coming up with a reply.

WTB2k: Okay, yeah, I know that was a corny line. Broke the ice though, right?

GaladrialGal: *giggles* That it did. So, I’m guessing you’re English, right?

WTB2k: Yeah, sure am. Did my accent give me away ? You? I’m guessing you’re an American. West coast, if I had to choose.

GaladrialGal: Wow, you’re good. How did you figure that out? Do I have an accent too?

WTB2k: Nah, just deductive reasoning, my dear Watson. Your English is impeccable, so I figured either American or English. The slang told me American, and the time you’re on screams ‘west coast.’

GaladrialGal: Hmmm…very clever. Where are you from in England? I’ve always wanted to go there, just haven’t had a chance yet.

WTB2k: Originally, I’m from London. I’m not there anymore though. Too dank and gloomy for my tastes.

GaladrialGal: Well nobody would ever say that about where I am. Lots of sunshine and blue skies every day. Sometimes I wish I could scream, I get so sick of it. There’s something relaxing about a nice rainy day, tucked up inside in front of a roaring fire, with a good book, or snuggling with someone you love. God, I sound like a hopeless romantic now, don’t I?

WTB2k: :::Laughs::: Romantic, yes, hopeless, no. Nothing wrong with being a little romantic. Sometimes it can be what helps you make it through the day.

Suppressing yet another yawn with the back of her hand, Willow thought to herself that he seemed rather nice, in a normal, un-hellmouthy sort of way. Maybe she had misjudged him earlier.

GaladrialGal: I’m really sorry; you seem like a really neat guy, I’m just dead tired. I’m gonna crash for the night. But I really enjoyed talking to you. If you’re around tomorrow, maybe we could talk some more?

WTB2k: :::smiles::: Sure thing. G’night then.

GaladrialGal: G’night.

Willow closed down her computer, laying it gently on the hardwood floor. As she closed her eyes and allowed sleep to take her, she wondered if she’d have a chance to talk to him tomorrow.


Across town, WTB2k, also known to many as William The Bloody, continued to surf the net from his small apartment in the basement of the Sunnydale Magic Shop. He had recently managed to convince the watcher that the space below the shop would make an excellent lair for a chipped vampire. In return, he promised to keep an eye on the shop while it was closed, ensuring that nobody would break in and wreak havoc. The arrangement seemed to be working well for all concerned, and Spike really appreciated the chance to get cable and now DSL.

The computer had been an afterthought. The witch was always going on about how neat the internet was, and how much information could be found there. Thinking it might be a way to pass the slow evenings and lonely nights, Spike decided to give it a try. He’d been amazed by the sheer magnitude of it. Webpages devoted to any and every topic, music from every era, movies, you name it. And it was all available at the click of a button.

Settling back into his chair, hands behind his head, Spike thought about his recent encounter. ‘That GaladrialGal had seemed like a nice enough chit,’ he thought to himself. She seemed fairly intelligent, at least. Not that he’d ever actually *date* someone he met online. That was for losers and guys who couldn’t get a real date, he reminded himself. Still, it was always good to have someone to talk to, to while away the hours. Since he couldn’t go out and kill and feed, he needed to have *something* to do, right?


Willow’s fingers flew across her keyboard, thoughts tumbling from her brain down into her fingertips in record time. Thank god for Typing 101, she thought. She couldn’t imagine how frustrating it must be for people who couldn’t make the words appear on the screen as quickly as they thought them.

She and WTB2k were involved in another of their deep discussions. Most evenings when she got home from helping out as net girl, he was there waiting for her. She enjoyed their time ‘together.’ He challenged her mentally, yet he made her laugh too. After an evening of patrolling or studying, she craved some fun in her life like a junkie craved a fix.

Tonight they were discussing the movie Lord of the Rings. WTB had problems with the basic concept. She sensed that he was a deeply cynical person, a concept that seemed almost foreign to her. They were polar opposites in that regard.

GaladrialGal: Sorry, I just can’t believe that.

WTB2k: But that’s the truth, Gal. Nobody is *that* good. They’d be wearing that ring and kicking some ass, no matter what. They’d be on the dark side, no doubt about it. Because of that, I just can’t take the movie seriously.

GaladrialGal: But if you say that, then the whole movie falls apart. You’ve got to believe that there’s someone out there who is better than we are, whose motives are pure. If not, then how depressing is that?

WTB2k: But that’s the way life is. You spend your time expecting someone to prove to you what a good person they are, and they’ll only disappoint you. Like this girl I work with.

Well, technically he and Willow *did* work together. It wasn’t a total lie, he supposed. It was just that it wasn’t one of those 9-5 jobs that had a weekly paycheck. But if he were to tell this bird that he lived on the Hellmouth, fighting demons and other things that went bump in the night, well, he doubted that she’d ever ‘speak’ with him again. And he was beginning to enjoy their evening chats. She was smart, he had quickly realized, and possessed a quirky sense of humor. Maybe they didn’t always agree, but that wasn’t always bad either. Sometimes another perspective on a subject was a good thing to have.

WTB2k: This girl insists on thinking the best of everyone, and is always getting disappointed. She needs to be more realistic in her expectations. That way people won’t always be letting her down.

GaladrialGal: Sorry, I just can’t agree with you. Obviously I’ve never met this person, but I like the way she sees the world. People *are* basically good. You’re not going to convince me otherwise. I mean, sure, sometimes someone will disappoint you. It’s bound to happen. But it’s not the majority.

WTB2k: :::sigh::: Guess we just live on different planets, Gal. Because in *my* world, people disappoint more often than not. You expect a bloke to do the right thing, and you’re just going to get yourself in a heap of trouble.

GaladrialGal: Okay, different subject then. Because we’re obviously not going to agree on this one.

WTB2k: True. Okay, well, new topic. Hmmm…okay, tell me about yourself. All I know is that you’re a computer geek and that you live on the west coast. Oh, and that you seem to be a bit of a sci-fi fan.

Thoughts of an unnamed stalker filled her head. The dark shadows outside fueled her momentary paranoia, but she shook her head stubbornly, as if to fling the fear away. It wasn’t like he was asking her for her address and her PIN number; he just wanted to know a little more about her. Relax, Rosenberg, she told herself, trying to decide how much she would tell him.

GaladrialGal: Hmm…me. Well, before I tell you anything, you have to promise not to turn into a stalker or anything. Okay? Because honestly, the last guy I met online was—well, he turned out to not be what he seemed. And the whole thing just ended, well, badly. For him, at least.

WTB2k: :::laughs::: No worries. I’m not any kind of stalker. I’d be damned good at it, I have to admit, but nah, I promise, no stalking.

GaladrialGal: Good at it, huh? Okay, not gonna ask about how you know that. I bet I’d be a good stalker too, actually. I have a tendency to fade into the woodwork sometimes, comes in handy, actually. People forget I’m there; they’re more likely to tell me things that they wouldn’t otherwise. Oh, but we’re talking about me. Although I guess, technically, that *is* about me, just not the kind of “me” stuff you were asking about.

WTB2k: :::laughs::: Woman, you’re making me dizzy! The way your mind works, it must be fascinating.

GaladrialGal: :::pouts::: You’re laughing at me, aren’t you? Fine then, see if I tell you anything about me. Nope. Not one more word until you apologize!

Willow stopped typing momentarily, rather surprised with herself. I’m pouting. I don’t pout. I’m *so* not a pouter. Am I actually flirting with this guy? Not that there was anything wrong with that, really. But…yes, she was, she was flirting. And she was enjoying herself too. A thrill of excitement shot through her. So maybe she wasn’t much of a flirter outside of the cyber-world, but she was sure having fun now.

WTB2k: Hey now! I wasn’t laughing at you. Well, not much, anyway. And it was in a nice way, not the “you stupid bint” type of way. More of a “this is kind of cute” laugh. Okay?

GaladrialGal: Amazing how you can attempt to apologize without actually saying the words “I’m sorry.”

‘I’m the Big Bad,’ Spike thought, annoyed. ‘I don’t have to apologize to anyone.’ Rubbing his tired eyes, he thought about how boring his evenings had been before he met Gal. Okay, so maybe this wasn’t exactly the same as spending time with a real person, but it did help him pass the empty hours. She did sound cute, he reminded himself. And she seemed to enjoy his company as well. So maybe an apology wasn’t such a big deal.

WTB2k: You caught that, did ya? Damn, Gal, you’re too smart for your own good. Anybody ever tell you that?

GaladrialGal: Yes, I hear it more often than I’d like to. Now what I haven’t heard yet is that apology…

WTB2k: :::grinds teeth::: Okay, okay, I’m sorry. There, you happy?

GaladrialGal: :::smiles sweetly::: Yes, I think I am :-)

WTB2k: Okay, now that that’s all out of the way, you were going tell me about yourself?

GaladrialGal: Oh. Well, I’m a student. I live at home, but alone. My parents are barely ever here. Which is a good thing, actually. Gives me time to pursue my interests. And lots of privacy.

WTB2k: Do you work? Any hobbies? Collections?

‘Work, that’s kind of an awkward question,’ Willow thought. She could just imagine his reaction if she answered back with, ‘Yes, my friends and I kill vampires and demons. We live on the hellmouth, actually. It’s quite fun.’ Okay, maybe ‘fun’ was stretching it, she thought. Hell, the whole thing was stretching it.

GaladrialGal: Well, I do some researching sometimes. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I do it freelance, in my spare time. Hobbies? Not really. My studies and activities keep me kind of busy. I guess you could call my computer a hobby, maybe? No collections either, except for my stuffed animals. But I’ve kind of outgrown them, really. Just keep them around to throw when I get mad :-)

GaladrialGal: Okay, my turn…what about you? What do you do, hobbies, collections, all that good happy stuff.

WTB2k: Well, I work in security.

‘Security,’ he snorted to himself. Well, it *did* sound better than saying, ‘I’m a vampire. Oh, but not the kind that kills people, because I’ve got this soddin’ chip in my head. So lately I just hang out with a bunch of kids who play at saving the world. But if I could, I’d kill them all.’ Yeah, that wouldn’t go over too well, really.

As for hobbies, well, did maiming and torturing count? Nah, probably not, he thought with regret. Too bad he couldn’t be honest, it would make the conversation a whole lot more interesting.

WTB2k: It’s not the most exciting job in the world, but I’ve got a computer and plenty of time to kill in the evenings. No real hobbies at the moment, although I can see how this computer thing could be fairly addictive.

GaladrialGal: Any family? Wife, girlfriend, kids?

WTB2k: Nah, none of those. My family is gone. No wife, girlfriend, none of that. Thought about getting a pet, but somehow I never have. You?

GaladrialGal: I guess working nights would make it difficult to meet anyone, huh? Me, no, no family except for mom and dad, and they’re not really part of my life. I have a group of friends…we are a family, more or less. Had a boyfriend, he left me. Girlfriend did too. God, how pathetic is that? Honestly, I’m not drowning in self-pity. Really I’m not. It’s just kind of…sad, sometimes. I miss having someone else around.

WTB2k: Me, I miss the sex. The other stuff, friends and pets can take up the slack. Sex, well, there’s really only one way you can get that.

GaladrialGal: Wow, well, that’s kind of…right out there.

WTB2k: Sorry, too blunt for ya? Don’t tell me you don’t miss it too. I won’t believe it.

GaladrialGal: Okay, yes, I do miss it. Just wasn’t sure I wanted to admit it to a stranger. I mean, we talk and stuff, but it’s not like I really know you or anything.

WTB2k: It’s not like we’ll ever run into each other at the grocery store, though. You can whisper things in my ear and be sure they’ll never be heard by anyone else.

GaladrialGal: True. It just seems kind of…intimate. Telling you things that my friends don’t know about me.

WTB2k: Okay, let’s play a game.

GaladrialGal: Game?

WTB2k: Well, it’s kind of a game. We talk about the things we miss. I’ll tell you something, then you tell me something. And remember, you have to be completely honest. We’ll never see each other. You can tell me your dirtiest secret and nobody will ever know. Okay?

GaladrialGal: :::frowns:::: I don’t really have any dirty secrets. My sex life has always been rather…vanilla, I guess. I’ll still play though, if you want. I just wanted to warn you…you know, not to expect anything, well, interesting.

WTB2k: Okay, I’m still game. In fact, I’ll go first. I miss kisses.

GaladrialGal: Kisses. Well, that’s pretty ordinary. Okay, I miss…orgasms!

WTB2k: Well that’s a given, really. I mean, who wouldn’t? My turn? I miss…tongues.

GaladrialGal: Tongues?

WTB2k: Tracing a path from my mouth down my neck, to my nipples. Nibbling gently on the nubs.

GaladrialGal: :::blushes::: Okay, tongues. Got it. Me? I miss someone nibbling on my ear.

WTB2k: Feet

GaladrialGal: Feet?

WTB2k: What? Feet can be sexy. They can!

GaladrialGal: Feet? Sexy? Okay, um, if you say so.

WTB2k: They can be, damn it.

GaladrialGal: :::giggles:::

GaladrialGal: Tickling

WTB2k: Moans

GaladrialGal: Licking

WTB2k: Teasing

GaladrialGal: Smiling

WTB2k: Handcuffs

GaladrialGal: Handcuffs?

My, my, Spike thought with a smirk, I sure did surprise her with that one. Guess I’ll just test her; see if Gal’s really as open-minded as she likes to think she is. The night is definitely beginning to look interesting.

WTB2k: Never used handcuffs, Gal? Damn, luv, you don’t know what you’re missing. Some of my best…but hell, it wouldn’t be gentlemanly to kiss and tell.

GaladrialGal: Umm…guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.

WTB2k: Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Thought you were mature enough to handle it. Okay, change of subject.

Willow looked at the screen in annoyance. She wrinkled her pert nose, trying to figure out how to deal with this unexpected surprise. Anger was uppermost in her mind. How dare he try to make her feel like a child, she thought, just because she didn’t rush to sing the praises of bondage? Maybe it was fun, maybe it wasn’t. She didn’t know. She’d never tried it. To be truthful, she just didn’t see what the big deal was.

GaladrialGal: Wait! I didn’t say I was scared. Don’t put words in my mouth. And don’t you dare try to manipulate me. Just because I’ve never tried it doesn’t mean I couldn’t handle it. I’ve just never seen the point of it.

WTB2k: Okay, maybe I was a little guilty of trying to manipulate you. And the point of it, well, that would be fun.

GaladrialGal: Fun? Why would being handcuffed to something be fun? That’s the part I don’t understand.

WTB2k: Sometimes it can be fun to give up control. To let someone else do all the work. All you have to do is enjoy the feelings.

GaladrialGal: :::frowns::: I don’t think I could ever do that. Let someone else be in control. That just doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

WTB2k: Not even someone you trusted?

GaladrialGal: I don’t think there’s anyone that I trust that much. Maybe at one time there might have, but not right now.

WTB2k: Uh oh, someone’s got a control problem :-)

GaladrialGal: No I don’t! At least, not as long as I’m in control :-

WTB2k: What are you afraid of?

GaladrialGal: Well, just the usual: pain, rape and death, that sort of stuff.

WTB2k: Well sure, if you were stupid enough to play bondage games with a total stranger. But with someone you trusted, you wouldn’t have to worry about any of that. Well, except maybe the pain. But that can be enjoyable.

GaladrialGal: Okay, now I’m *really* getting skeptical. Pain enjoyable?

WTB2k: Sure it can be. Maybe not intense pain, but things like candle wax, spanking, that kind of stuff can be really powerful. Makes

things more intense. You should try it before you make up your mind against it.

GaladrialGal: Ummm…maybe I will. Someday.

WTB2k: Well on that note, I’d better let you go. It’s late, you’ve got work tomorrow, I’m assuming. You’d better get some sleep. Wouldn’t want you to blame me if you got fired for falling asleep on the job.

GaladrialGal: Yeah, you’ve got a point there. Okay, g’night and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

WTB2k: G’night luv, talk to you later.

Willow put her computer away, suddenly wide-awake and curious. She laid back on her bed, her mind on WTB’s words. Pain made things more intense? What sort of things? And did it really, or was he just saying that? As she thought about it, she reached down to her core, stroking herself gently, idly, her mind on her thoughts and not what her fingers were doing.

She teased her clit lightly, moving her fingers over it in circles, pinching gently it every so often. Willow felt the telltale signs of an approaching orgasm: her legs clenched, her skin tingled, and her mind emptied itself of any thought except pleasure.

Suddenly the words came back to her, {pain, pleasure} and her free hand moved to her breast, teasing the nipple with soft caresses. Just as she was about to come, her fingers grabbed her pointed nipple and gave a sharp twist. As the pain radiated from her breast, her orgasm finally arrived, hitting her with the strength of a fast-moving truck. She gasped in surprise, her body arching up off the bed with the intensity of the sensations.

When it was over, when the sharp gasps had become nothing more than strong breaths, she had to admit that WTB had been correct. The pain, while nothing special in and of itself, had definitely given her one hell of an orgasm.

Usually when she came it was a gentle, soft pleasure, radiating from her core like a gentle wave. But this, this had been like an attack on her senses. A hurricane, if she wanted to continue with the nature analogy. The strength of it had been intense and unexpected.

Suddenly satiated and rather tired, the redhead laid down on her bed again, and before she could even take the time to further analyze what had happened, she was fast asleep.


Willow wandered into the Magic Box, hoping to get in a little research time on a prophecy that Giles had found. It had mentioned a souled vampire, and she was curious to see if it pertained to Angel. She was fond of the elder vampire. He always treated her as an adult, an equal, unlike another vampire she knew. Even though he had moved on, to L.A. and a life of his own, the two still emailed frequently, and she still liked to keep an eye out for things that might affect him.

As she walked to the counter, Giles looked up from counting the till and gave her a small smile. “Good afternoon, Willow. Here for more research, I see?”

“Just can’t seem to get enough of it these days,” she replied lightly, a smile on her own lips as well.

“Well Xander and Buffy should be here any minute, so don’t get too accustomed to the quiet,” he warned her, a knowing glint in his eye.

The words were barely out of his mouth before the bell on the door clanged loudly and the bickering voices of Xander and Buffy filled the air.

“Just because a girl says she doesn’t mind, it doesn’t mean she really doesn’t mind,” Buffy was saying, shooting Xander an exasperated look.

Xander looked beaten down. He was pretty sure he was losing this argument, although he wasn’t quite sure why. Even so, he wasn’t going to give up without a fight. “If that’s so, then why didn’t she just say ‘yes, I do mind’ instead of lying and saying that she didn’t? I mean it doesn’t make sense if you say one thing and mean the other. What’s the point of talking at all then?”

Buffy gave him a pitying look before waltzing into the room and sitting down at the table. She shot a look at Giles, noticing his preoccupation with the till, and motioned Willow to sit down with her for reinforcement.

“See, Will, I’m trying to explain to Xander about the unspoken things in a relationship. Like when a woman says one thing and means another. But he’s just not getting it.”

“Because it doesn’t make sense. Women just aren’t logical like men are. It’s a documented fact.” Xander plunked down in the seat between the two women and looked at them hesitantly, as if reconsidering the words he had just spoken. “I read it—somewhere,” he mumbled, hunching in upon himself as if waiting for an attack of some sort.

Willow covered her mouth as she attempted to smother a yawn. ‘Guess I still didn’t manage to get quite enough sleep last night,’ she thought.

“What with the mouth action, Wills,” Xander asked teasingly, hoping to distract the two women from his earlier social faux pas. “Some secret boyfriend you’ve been spending your nights with?”

Willow glowered at him, still not forgiving him for his ‘men are more logical than women’ rant.

Buffy misinterpreted the look that the redhead shot Xander and had to wonder out loud, “Wow, did ‘dumb luck’ guy guess one right for once?” She had managed to annoy both Willow and Xander with one well-placed jibe. ‘When I’m good, I’m good,’ she thought to herself, as they both shot her irritated looks.

Hiding her face with her long red tresses, Willow ‘fessed up. “Well, um…I was awake late last night, talking to this guy. Online.” The words came out haltingly, her unease quite evident.

Xander eyed her warily, words of caution forming in his mind. “You *do* remember your last foray into online dating, don’t you? Do us all a favor and just keep this one casual, okay? And if he makes vague statements about destroying the world or sucking it all into hell, give one of us a heads-up, all right?”

Willow saw the teasing smile in her friend’s eyes. She hit him hard on his right arm. Buffy, sitting on his left side, attacked from there. When both girls were finished, he had the beginnings of two large matching bruises, one on either arm.

“Ow! What was that for? I mean it’s not like Willow’s been particularly lucky in love. At least, when it comes to the online kind of love, you know?”

“This coming from the guy who has yet to date a normal, mortal woman,” Buffy chided.

Xander had the good grace to look a little embarrassed. Then he perked up slightly and protested, “Hey now, what about Cordelia.”

“Cordelia? Normal? Not two words I’d put together in a sentence,” Willow answered, snickering. She reached over Xander to give Buffy a ‘high five’.

The boy looked over at Giles, hoping that the Watcher would enter into the verbal battle and save his ass. “G-Man, how about a little help here?”

Giles looked up at Xander, amazed at how the boy always managed to say just exactly the wrong thing with women. It was a talent, really. One that the Watcher had never managed to gain, fortunately. “Xander, from what I can hear, you seem to be doing quite well at embarrassing the male of the species all by yourself. Or was that not what you were trying to do?” he asked in amusement.

Xander, realizing that he had no allies in this battle, slunk down into his chair and started rhythmically banging his forehead on the solid oak table. “Why me,” he groaned quietly.

Seeing Xander suitably distracted, Buffy zeroed in on Willow again, hoping to drag her secret out of her. “So, friend, what’s the haps with this guy you’re seeing?”

Willow was attempting to set the record straight and insist that she was not dating this person, merely talking to him, but before she could say a word, she heard Spike’s snickering voice from just inside the door. “So the little redhead’s finally getting a little, is she?”

“Spike, you’re a pig,” yelled Buffy and Willow in unison. They looked back at each other and giggled. Then they turned their eyes back to Spike, hostility pouring out of them. If only looks really could kill, Willow thought. But then she thought again, realizing he was already dead, and that those ‘killing looks’ would be wasted on a vampire.

Spike took no notice of the glares, merely sauntering towards the table. As he neared Willow, he bent his head down, his cool lips brushing against her ear, and whispered, “I bet you’re a screamer,” and then turned and nonchalantly continued around the table to an empty chair, throwing his long lean body onto it.

“Screamer? What do you mean,” Willow asked, vexed. Buffy leaned over Xander and whispered in the redhead’s ear, and then they all watched the redhead’s face turn a bright shade of red.

“You! You, you MEAN CREEP,” she sputtered, too shocked to think of anything more cutting to say.

“Besides,” Buffy smirked at Spike, “if she is, you’ll never know.”

Spike eyed the redhead speculatively, as if trying to decide whether or not she would taste good. “She’s got a cute little body. You never know, I might give her a go some night.”

Willow looked at him in amazement, averting her eyes nervously as soon as they met his. He had *some nerve* she thought angrily. As if! “Never,” she said furiously, spitting the word at him.

Spike laughed uproariously, but there was no amusement shining in his cold blue eyes. “Never is an awfully long time, luv,” he said, his eyes burning into hers. “You might just feel differently some day.”

“Yeah, and monkeys might come flying out of my ass,” Xander said snidely, trying to give Willow support in his own unique way.

The rest of the room groaned in disgust. “Thanks for taking me to that scary visual place, Xander. Think I’ll just go and wash out my brain with a brillo pad now if you don’t mind,” Buffy responded.

“Ah, yes, Xander. Buffy is quite right. Perhaps next time you might warn us before sending us off on another journey into your own personal hell. I’m not sure my stomach is strong enough to handle it at this time.” Giles continued to polish his glasses, a defense mechanism he seemed to be employing more and more often these days. ‘Perhaps if I were to quit the Magic Box and took up drinking instead…’ he thought, then dismissed the idea as counter-productive.


GaladrialGal: He’s just such a bastard. That’s it. I don’t use that word often, but it fits, and I’m going with it. So there!

WTB2K: So why do you let him bother you? If you ignored him, I’m sure that he’d probably leave you alone. Just like any other pain in the ass, if he doesn’t have anyone talking back to him, he’ll probably get bored and give up.

GaladrialGal: :::sigh::: Because I’m a sucker? I don’t know. He’s just one of those people who manage to get under your skin. No matter how hard I try to ignore him and the things he says, it seems like he still manages to get to me.

WTB2K: Want me to go over there and rough him up a little for you? I’d do it for ya, just say the word.

GaladrialGal: :::snickers::: Thanks for the offer. I can just see it now. The look on his face, it’d be priceless! He’d be all “what’s this about?” and I’d be pointing and laughing. Oh, thinking about it is almost as good as if it were actually happening. Almost.

WTB2K: You just say the word and I’ll be right there, Gal. Nobody messes with my friends. Well, unless it’s me.

GaladrialGal: Thanks :-) Okay, I’d better get to bed. I spent most of the day today yawning because I didn’t get much sleep last night.

WTB2K: We didn’t talk *that* late last night, did we? How late were youb up after you went offline?

GaladrialGal: Um…well, I was up a little later. I—well, I put your theory to the test. :::blushes:::

WTB2K: Okay, you’ll have to be a little more specific than that. Which theory of mine are you talking about? The one where people suck and there’s nothing you can do about it? Nah, proving that theory right wouldn’t have kept you awake long.

GaladrialGal: No—well, it was the one about, um, pain. Making *things* more intense. That one.

WTB2K: Ahh. Suddenly the blushing and hemming and hawing becomes more clear. I know what you did last night. You naughty girl you. :::wags finger at Gal:::

WTB2K: So? Are you going to tell me the results of your experiment? Was I right?

GaladrialGal: :::sigh::: Yes, as much as it pains me to say it (no pun intended), you were right. And that’s ALL I’m going to say on the matter. Some things should definitely be kept private.

WTB2K: :::laughs::: Gal, you never cease to surprise me. And I mean that only in the best way. Okay, I’ll let you go to bed now. But you’d better go to sleep, right to sleep, and none of that naughty touching is allowed. Get a full 8 hours so that you’re ready to kick the arse of that bastard at work. I’ll expect a full report tomorrow when I talk to you.

GaladrialGal: As always, you’ve managed to cheer me up. Thanks! And I’ll save all the lurid details for tomorrow night…tell you how I kicked his ass and everything.

WTB2K: That’s my Gal! Okay, talk to ya later.

GaladrialGal: G’night :-)

The weird thing was, Spike thought as he stretched out on his recliner, I do consider Gal a friend. There was just something about her that made him want to protect her. He wanted to kick the crap out of that guy at work that was bugging her. Tear out his throat and drain him until he sank to the floor, nothing more than a pile of bones.

Maybe it was Gal’s innocence that drew him to her. She was so clueless when it came to all the creatures out there that would love to take a nice big bite out of her. Creatures like me, he thought to himself with a smirk. Yet in spite of the innocence she projected, he suspected that there was an inner strength to her as well. She could handle whatever life had to throw at her, and still come out the other side, bruised and battered, but victorious.

He imagined the taste of her blood, choc full of innocence, light and strength, and felt the beginning of an erection. Okay, time to think of something else, he told himself. No need to get all excited when there was nothing he could do about it right now.

Okay, new subject—friendship and the Big Bad. So maybe the Big Bad doesn’t need friends, but hey, that doesn’t mean that he *can’t* have them, does it? It just means that he doesn’t *have to* have them. Right? He pondered that thought for a while before he drifted off into sleep. Innocent young maidens with red hair and sparkling green eyes danced through his dreams, although when he woke, he didn’t remember them.


Willow curled up on her side, head on her pillow, and tried to quiet her thoughts so that she could finally get some sleep. She’d been tired all day, but now that she finally had a chance to rest, her mind refused to slow down.

She’d told him. Really told him what she’d done last night. She hadn’t intended to, not really. It was just too intimate. Too personal. But she *had* told him, and the world hadn’t come to an end. In fact, he had seemed rather impressed with her.

She wondered what WTB looked like. Whenever she had tried to imagine him, attempted to create a face to go with the screen name, she had decided that he looked rather like an amalgamation of a younger Giles and Wesley. After all, the two Watchers were the only British people she knew. But WTB certainly didn’t act like either of those men. He had a much stronger sense of humor, and on several occasions he’d said things that would have sent the other two gentlemen into a glass-polishing frenzy.

Willow realized that there was one other British person she knew. Well, ‘person’ might not be exactly the word. Creature? Being? Spike, as always, was a category unto himself. Just thinking about him again was starting to make her blood boil.

She sighed and twisted on the bed, then threw herself onto her back and looked up at the ceiling. WTB was right. She needed to ignore Spike. If she could just stop responding to his gibes, maybe he’d stop bugging her.

As she thrust the thought of the blond vampire firmly from her mind, Willow forced her body to relax and cleared her head. Finally she was successful, and sleep claimed her once again.


The next morning Willow awoke with a firm resolve. She would put that snooty, bleach-blond, badass wanna-be vampire in his place for once and for all. Today was another of their training days, and she was going to show him that he could *not* treat her like he had been and expect to get away with it.

She walked into the Magic Box with her head held high, her new resolve showing in her stiff back and neck. With a quick “hello” and a wave to Giles, she made her way into the back and down to the training area. She peered in warily, looking around for any sign of the tormenting vampire, but it appeared that she was alone. Willow breathed a quiet sigh of relief and began her warm-up with some simple stretches.

Her warm-up completed, she sat quietly on the mat, Indian-style, her legs crossed underneath her. Still no sign of Spike, she thought, annoyed. She made a concerted effort to show up on time, and he came sauntering in whenever he felt like it. It was just rude, she decided. She listened to the pounding of her heart, her nerves jangling and on edge. This wouldn’t do, she thought. I need to be relaxed.

Willow closed her eyes as she willed the tensions of the day to leave her anxious body. Slowly her heart rate decreased and her breathing slowed. As the tension left her body, a feeling of relaxation and calm descended, allowing her to clear her mind and concentrate on the feeling. She sat there for a time, relaxed, comfortable and content.

Suddenly Willow felt a strange sensation, almost as if someone were nipping lightly at her ear. As she opened her eyes to investigate, she felt cold hands on the front of her shoulders, forcing her onto her back. A weight fell onto her stomach, and as her eyes flew open; they were greeted with the sight of a blond Master Vampire straddling her waist. His malicious blue eyes glinted down at her, a smug smirk playing across his face.

Willow’s eyes traveled his body, from his sparkling blue orbs, down his hard lean chest, to the slight bulge in his pants. She looked away quickly, embarrassed.

“We really need to have a little talk about always being prepared, no matter what the situation,” Spike told her, laughing as she squirmed in an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge him. He put a cold hand on her stomach, holding her down easily, the smile on his face widening into a full grin.

Since he refused to let her up, Willow started hitting him with her small fists, reaching out to bring her hands into contact with any part of him he that she could reach. She had very little luck with that, but she was hardly going to go down without a fight.

Spike smirked as he enjoyed the show. The little redhead’s eyes were spitting fire, her fists barely tickling his white marble skin. Her little body squirmed so delightfully; her chest heaved as her breath came in sharp gasps. He leaned over and grabbed both of her hands with one of his own and pinned them above her head, then lowered his face down so that they were nose-to-nose. The smell of her anger and fear was intoxicating. He breathed deeply, reveling in the scent that he alone seemed to invoke.

“I’m enjoying the hell out of this,” he whispered, his eyes boring deep into hers, “But don’t we have a lesson to get to, pet?”

Willow had never felt so helpless in her entire life. He had her pinned down like a butterfly pinned to a board, and all her efforts to free herself had only served to amuse him. Her firm resolve from earlier in the day lay shattered on the ground like broken glass. Within seconds of seeing him, she had allowed him to not only capture her body, but inflame her temper as well.

“Get off of me then,” she muttered through clenched teeth, anger and helplessness racing through her blood.

“Make me,” he challenged smugly, pulling back from her face and laughing down at her. The little chit had spunk, he’d give her that. Most women would be trembling with fear by now. Fear or desire, he thought regretfully. Bloody hell, he needed a good shag.

Willow snapped. He’d annoyed her, laughed at her, and put his hands all over her. This was *too much*. With his words ringing in her ears, she made a decision. She smiled; it was a pleasant, beguiling, seductive smile. When he came in a little closer, she reached up and bit him right on the tip of his nose. Not a soft, gentle, teasing bite, but instead a sharp, hard one. She didn’t break the skin, but it was enough to stun the vampire momentarily.

The redhead took full advantage of his surprise. When Spike’s hands flew to his face and he leaned back a bit in shocked surprise, Willow used her own hands to push herself up onto her knees. Her motion spun the vampire onto his back, his hands still cradling his sore nose.

Satisfaction sang through her mind. Willow leaned over to look at her still-prone would-be attacker. She gently lifted his hands away from his nose, surveying the damage she had done with a slight amount of approval. Carefully hidden approval, of course. There was a clear set of bite marks on his skin forming a ring around the tip of his nose. She smothered the impulse to giggle at the sight of him wearing her mark.

“You’ll live,” she told the glowering vampire. “Oh, don’t be such a baby,” she admonished, as he gingerly felt his nose. “You told me to ‘make you’, so I did. I didn’t do any permanent damage. Hell, it probably didn’t even hurt you much.”

Spike slowly got to his feet, eyeing the redhead warily. What the hell was her problem, he wondered. He had just been playing around, teasing her a bit. No reason for her to go all ‘Hannibal Lector’ on him. Not that he had anything against Lector; hell, he was a smart bloke, really. Quite hip with the bloodshed and all that. Would make a mighty twisted vampire, really, Spike thought with satisfaction.

“I want to stop these training lessons,” Willow told him, her earlier resolve returning to her now.

The words brought his previous thoughts to a screeching halt. So the little witch had had enough, had she? Did she think she could just bite him and then walk away?

He looked at Willow, his face a blank. Only the blazing cold fire in his eyes gave her any indication of his true thoughts. As he walked towards her, he watched in satisfaction as she quickly took a step back, then another and another. Soon her back was against the wall, and his body was pressed tightly into hers. Every inch where they touched tingled with delicious sensations.

As he brought his face in next to hers, he eyed her teeth warily as he watched for signs that she might try to repeat her earlier tactic. When she turned her head to the side, he took the opportunity to whisper into her ear.

“We’re not done until *I* say we’re done, got that? So you might as well give up on that idea right now,” he told her, his voice low and angry. His hands came up to wrench her head towards him, and his lips met hers in an angry kiss.

The contact was brief, but it stunned them both. Spike stepped back, slightly surprised by his actions. What the hell had he been thinking? His eyes searched her face, as if it might give him some clue to his own actions.

Willow was flabbergasted. What the hell had just happened? She put her fingers to her tingling lips, still feeling the press of his angry mouth against hers. With one last look at the now-brooding vampire, she turned and fled back up the stairs, running as if the hounds of hell were chasing her.


WTB2K: So Gal, did you give that guy at work the
talk? Tell him he can’t treat you like that
anymore? Get him to lay off?

GaladrialGal: Well, kinda, I guess. Okay, it was like
this…he was really bugging me. You know?
He was getting in my space and well,
bothering me.

WTB2K: Bothering you how? Did he threaten you?
You need someone to help you…don’t you
have a big brother or some kind of friend
who will beat the bloody hell out of him?
I’m still willing, you know…just say the word
and I’ll be there.

GaladrialGal: Oh, but I got him, kind of. When he pushed
his face against mine, I bit him! Right on
the nose. And, you know, it felt really good.

WTB2K: Why you bloodthirsty little vampire, you. Way
to go Gal! I've got to admit, I'm impressed.
So what happened after that?

GaladrialGal: Well, okay, this is where it got weird.
He got really mad at me, which I can
understand, because me with the biting
and everything, but then, well, he kind
of kissed me.

Wait a minute…he kissed her? After she bit him on the nose? Suddenly the fog lifted, and things became quite clear to Spike. He finally realized what was going on here. Gal was…Willow?

The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Gal's late hours, the fact that her taste in movies and books tended towards the supernatural, and the attitudes and opinions that she held that were so hauntingly familiar. Damn, he thought. Why the hell hadn’t he noticed this before?

WTB2K: Bloody hell, got a problem here…Sorry, luv, I’ve
gotta go for a bit. I’ll try to make it back later. Bye.

And then he was gone. Huh, the redhead thought, surprised by her friend's abrupt departure. Hope I didn’t freak him out too much with that nose-biting comment. I mean it’s not like I make a habit of biting or anything. I only bite annoying bleach-blond vampires.

Oh shit, she thought, her mind heading off on another tangent. Vampires. Hadn’t she read once that biting was a kind of sexual thing for vampires? Like foreplay or something? Was *that* why Spike had kissed her? Had he thought she was coming on to him when she bit him?

Willow groaned and held her head in her hands. Had she…encouraged him? Could her night possibly get any worse, she wondered.

The redhead tried to calm her racing thoughts and swiftly beating heart. Surely Spike hadn't thought she was interested in him in that way. And she *knew* that he wasn't interested in her. She was the quiet one, the shy one who stayed in the shadows, around the edges of the group. He rarely even knew she was there most of the time, she suspected.

The kiss was just a fluke, she decided. Who knew what he was thinking when she bit him, but it probably just set off an automatic reaction in him, and that's why he kissed her. Yep, automatic, non-sexual, uninterested, purely instinctual, automatic—had she already said automatic, she wondered—reaction.

So why did that thought not make her feel any better, she wondered?


Gal was Willow, Spike thought in quiet amazement. And then, even more surprising, she thought he was harassing her. Yeah, he admitted, he liked to give her a hard time. Make her heart race a little, but it was all in fun, right? He was a vampire. That was what vampires did, he reminded himself. He may have that soddin’ chip in his head, but he was still a demon.

But now he had a decision to make. He knew who Gal was. And even though he now knew she was really Willow, he still didn’t want to lose her. Lose what they had together. They had been talking every night for over a month, and he really felt like they had a connection. She was fun, intelligent, challenging, interesting. And despite her innocence, there was a wild streak in her that he would love to touch. Just think, all of those qualities were contained in the quiet little redhead that he had known for quite some time. He shook his head sadly, cursing himself for lost time and missed opportunities.

Then again, maybe not. Sure, she was fond of WTB…maybe even considered him a friend. But how would she feel if she knew the truth? How would she feel if she knew that WTB was actually William the Bloody, a.k.a. Spike? The man who had tried to kill her on just *how* many occasions? Would she still enjoy talking with him, teasing him, staying up all night just to argue with him? Or would she retreat back within that shy facade; that wall that she erected between her and the rest of the world? After all, one of the basic safeties of their relationship was the fact that they could tell each other anything without it ever coming back to haunt them. If she had known that she was actually speaking to Spike, someone she considered her own personal tormenter, she would *never* have felt comfortable enough to talk to him about anything, much less the intimate late-night talks they'd had about sex.

Spike made up his mind, not stopping for a moment to consider the possible consequences of his choice. He would not tell Willow, or Gal, for that matter, who he was. He would continue on as though nothing had happened. Maybe, in the future, he would feel secure enough about her feelings towards him to tell her the truth.

In the meantime, he would work towards building a friendship with Willow. It wouldn't be easy, he knew. Gal obviously thought that Spike hated her—hated Willow, that is. He growled in frustration. This was just ridiculously confusing, he thought.

The fact was, his feelings towards the redhead had generally been a mix of annoyance and indifference. Usually he really didn't think about her much at all. She was one of the annoying Scoobies, but she seemed so quiet and self-contained that often he didn't even notice she was there. Admittedly he enjoyed teasing her. And when he did, he could almost always count on her to respond just the way he wanted her to. The few times she had actually stood up for herself, like today, he usually ended up hurting somewhere. He felt his nose gingerly, remembering their altercation earlier in the training room.

The vampire groaned softly, running his fingers through his blond hair, and wondered how the hell things had gotten so bloody complicated. He just *knew* that someone up there was having one hell of a good laugh at his expense. “Bloody bastards,” he said in disgust, casting an accusing eye upwards.


Willow sat quietly at the table in the Magic Shop, her computer sitting next to her, useless for the moment. The room was silent, giving her the peace and quiet that she needed to do her work. Giles had gone out for the evening to attend some sort of symposium in Los Angeles. Before he left, he had asked her to attempt a translation of a scroll he had obtained, and she was doing her best to help him out. Unfortunately, they seemed to be written in a dialect that she was not terribly familiar with, and her frustration level was rising steadily.

Her head turned quickly to the door when she heard the clang of the bell, hoping eagerly for some sort of diversion. Xander or Buffy, while not always the most helpful researchers, were usually pretty good at distracting her from things she really didn't want to do in the first place, she thought with a small smile. The redhead was slightly disappointed to see Spike saunter in. As usual, he managed to project an air as he entered the store: his handsome blond head held high, a slight sneer on his full lips, lips which managed to set off the sharp angular planes of his face, and a slightly predatory walk. He looked as if he owned the place, and everyone and everything inside it. After casting a quick look at his direction, Willow ducked her head back down to the scrolls, her long red hair forming a curtain between her and the vampire.

Willow was surprised by a slight movement that caught the corner of her eye, and the next thing she knew, Spike was sitting down in the chair next to her. His proximity made her nervous, although she did her best to hide it. Choosing instead to study the scroll in front of her even more doggedly, she attempted to ignore the vampire, but he was determined to make that difficult, it seemed.

"So, um, what are you up to tonight?" he asked awkwardly, trying his best to sound casual yet interested. Oh yeah, that was an opening line destined to be a classic, he mocked himself. Bloody hell, it's right up there with 'what's a girl like you doing in a place like this', he thought with disgust. Looking at her down turned head, he thought she jerked slightly at his words.

Willow started slightly at the sound of his voice, surprised that he had decided to join her. Usually he ignored her when he saw her there, choosing to head down to his underground lair and whatever it was that he did there at all hours of the day and night. She looked up nervously, seeing his appraising crystal-blue eyes upon her. His face was serious, looking as if he actually cared about how she might answer his question. That would be a first, she thought grimly.

Still, there was no reason not to be pleasant, the redhead supposed. After all, she was bored and could use some sort of diversion. She shrank back into herself slightly as he stood again to look over her shoulder, his hand brushing against her hair slightly. "What's this all about?" he asked, running his hand lightly over the symbols on the creamy, worn parchment.

"Well," she started hesitantly, looking up into the vampire's face, noting the slight wrinkles that appeared on his forehead when he was trying to figure something out, "I think it's written in a variation of Aramaic, but I can't be sure. It looks an awful lot like Hebrew, so I was hoping I could figure out a close approximation of what it says. Seems like those years and years of Hebrew lessons should be good for something, right?" She cast a quick glance up to the vampire, who was still staring intently at the scroll, seemingly lost in thought.

"No, not Hebrew," he told her finally, lifting his long lean hand off of the parchment and running it through his blond hair. He stood back a little, looking down at the scroll again. "Looks like Avestan to me. Same language family, different variation."

Willow looked up at him in surprise. The first shock came from the fact that he'd been able to put a name so quickly to something that she had been researching most of the night. The second shock came from the fact that he had willingly shared his information with her, without trying to figure out how to use it to his advantage. Both items were cause for amazement, as far as the redhead was concerned.

"Um, thanks Spike," she said quietly, trying not to break the spell that he seemed to be under. She kind of liked this introspective, *nice* Spike. "I didn't know that you knew anything about languages."

He took his eyes from the scrolls finally and looked down into her upturned face. Even now, knowing that she was Gal, he still had trouble believing it. She seemed so different here, in real life. So...fragile, he supposed. He gave her one of his trademark smirks and answered back, "What, did you just think I got by all this time on my looks? I picked up a couple of pieces of information here and there. In fact, I bet I could tell you what a lot of this stuff says. If you want, that is," he added uncertainly.

"Are you kidding?" she answered readily. "That'd be, well, really cool. Then I could get out of here and be home before midnight, and I could--" she trailed off abruptly, not wanting to say the rest of that sentence. Willow knew that telling him she wanted to race home to talk to a friend online would make her sound like the world's biggest geek, so she would prefer to avoid giving him that information.

He had picked up on her hesitation, though, and wasn't going to let her off the hook that easily. Easing his body into the chair next to her again, he rested his feet on the table and leaned the chair back. Looking the picture of an arrogant creature, comfortable and in his element, he asked her, "So you could what? You've got hot plans for tonight, huh? Oh, that's right, the Slayer said the other night that you had yourself a little boyfriend. I thought you were playing for Team Pink these days. Did you find yourself missing a little something?" he asked, smirking suggestively at her.

Now this was the Spike she expected, Willow thought. King of the sexual innuendo and always thinking the nasty thoughts. Were all guys like this? Was it something in the 'guys' handbook that they had to follow? If they didn't, would they get kicked out of the club, lose access to the secret clubhouse, she wondered?

He cursed himself when he saw the look on her face. He was trying to be her friend, he reminded himself. Acting like an insensitive bastard probably wasn't going to get the job done. On the other hand, he did love watching the wonderful pink tinge that graced her pretty face when he embarrassed her. Her face was just so incredibly expressive.

"Not that it's any of your business," she began haughtily, "but you misunderstood what I was talking about with Buffy. I don't have a new boyfriend. Or any boyfriend for that matter. If you hadn't been so intent on...well, being rude, then I would have told you before."

Spike had wondered about that, actually. He couldn't figure out how she could possibly have a boyfriend when she spent just about every night online with him, or at least with WTB. Now the mystery was solved, and the feelings he noticed, growing feelings of irrational jealousy, could be put aside with relief.

"So if you don't have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend for that matter," he stopped and looked at the redhead, waiting for her to nod in confirmation, "then what's the big hurry to get out of here tonight? Not that it's any of my business," he added with a smile, mocking her earlier words.

Willow looked at the vampire uneasily, but finally decided to tell him the truth. "I'm meeting a friend online. We talk in the evenings sometimes. So if we can just get this done," she added, her hand waving to indicate the scroll, "then I could go home and talk with him."

"Okay, luv, how do you want to do this?" he asked.

"Do what," she answered nervously, trying to drag her mind away from WTB and back to the subject at hand.

"Ancient scrolls, dead language, probably a prophecy involved, I'm assuming? There's always some sort of bloody prophecy involved with you lot, isn't there?"

"Hey, it's not my fault," she denied hotly, her temper rising at what she assumed was his accusatory tone.

He looked at the rising color in her face and the snap in her sparkling green eyes and couldn't help but laugh. She reminded him of an angry kitten, facing off against another creature twice its size, but still willing to give in. How he'd managed to overlook her fire in the past, he'd never know. Must be getting daft in my old age, he thought.

Laughter, he soon realized, was apparently the wrong reaction, because the redhead's face turned a bright scarlet and she got up and paced behind him in agitation. "Now, now, witch, relax, I wasn't laughing at you. Don't take everything so bloody personally, all right?"

"Fine," she huffed, plopping her body down into her chair again, the force of her action causing the table to wobble slightly. "So if you are going to help me with this, then start helping. I need to type the translation into an email, so I can send it to Giles. Not that he'll be able to open the email, Anya will have to do that for him," she groused, still annoyed by the ex-Watcher's refusal to learn how to do even the simplest things when it came to the computer.

Spike turned the manuscript to face him, making some notes on a pad of paper that Willow placed before him. It took him about 20 minutes, time Willow spent sneaking curious covert glances at his face and hands, but he managed to determine the bulk of the wording.

"Here's what it looks like to me," he said, turning the pad towards the redhead for her perusal. "Does this match what you had figured so far?"

Willow's eyes followed the bold, broad strokes of his translation as she read the prophecy quietly to herself,

He who leads the dark ones of the great cope
Will be prevailed upon to perform several deeds
The two, the red, and the one will aid
Under dark skies, three, once two, will become one.

"You ask me, these prophecies are always a bunch of rubbish anyway," Spike added, disgust coloring his voice. "So damn vague that even if you knew what they were trying to say, you'd be hard put to read it into what they actually wrote."

Willow nodded absently in agreement with his words, quickly typing the translation into an email and sending it off to Giles. He could do whatever the heck he wanted with it, she thought. At least I don't have to deal with it anymore. Her chore was done, and she was eager to get home.

"That pretty much agrees with what little I had translated," she told him. "Although that symbol there," she pointed to one on the top line of the parchment, "I thought that said 'blood' and not 'dark.'"

"Yeah, I can see why you'd think that," he acknowledged thoughtfully. "But here, let me show you," he said, grabbing her right hand lightly and placing her index finger down onto the character they were discussing. "See this here," he said, as he placed his finger on top of hers, using it to guide her finger lightly across the page to trace the symbol in question. "This is dark. This," he added, again using her finger in order to draw a slightly different symbol, "this is blood. Very similar." His voice, when it said the word 'blood,' had taken on a softer, more sensual tone. It seemed almost as if his memories of other days were intruding on the here and now.

Willow sat absolutely still, enjoying the sound of his voice and the feeling his long, soft hand resting on hers. His cool thumb rubbed small circles onto the back of her hand, although the vampire seemed not to notice what he was doing. The redhead was unsure whether she should say or do something to break the intimate contact, or just enjoy it.

Better let her leave while she still likes me, Spike decided. He never knew what to expect from her as it was; the most unexpected remark or even his laughter might make her angry or start her blushing. Then again, he reminded himself, he had never really understood women. Not the human ones, at least.

"Well, I'd best be off," he told her as he lifted his hand off of hers. "You okay to go home on your own, or you want an escort?"

"No--no, I'm fine. Thanks." Her words were slightly rushed as she hurried to the door and the relative safety of the night. "Thanks, Spike. For your help."

His answering, "You're welcome pet," was lost in the clanging of the bell above the shop door, as the redhead walked out into the warm evening air.

The vampire waited a couple of minutes before slipping out the door after the witch. Although he told himself that he needed to stretch his legs, oddly enough his feet took him by the redhead's house, and his eyes made sure that he saw her enter the house before he left to return home.


A sharp wind rustled through the trees and put a cold bite into the late evening air. Willow shivered slightly and pulled her coat tighter around herself. Speeding up her pace in an attempt to keep herself warm, she peered anxiously down the tree-lined street, looking for anything out of place. Spike walked along beside her, his long legs keeping pace with hers, his eyes constantly roving the street in front of them.

Tonight they were out doing a general patrol; they were not on the lookout for anything in particular. Joyce had insisted that the Slayer take a night off, and since things had been quiet lately, Giles had bowed to parental pressure and allowed Buffy to spend a night with her mother.

Giles had called Xander, Willow and Spike in to the Magic Box to organize a quick patrol, figuring that if they split up into two groups they could cover the small town quickly and then head home. For once Spike didn't grouse. Much to Willow's surprise, he simply grabbed the crossbow and a battle axe and then headed to the door, throwing her a quick "C'mon" over his shoulder as he held the door open for her. She quickly followed, not wanting to do anything that would put him in a worse mood.

The shy redhead glanced up at the blond vampire now, appreciating the way that his keen blue eyes ranged from one shadow to another, his vampiric senses seeking out anything that could cause trouble for them. His good mood of the previous night seemed to be holding, and although they walked in silence, it seemed to be a companionable silence, as opposed to the angry, bitter quiet of evenings past. Willow was glad; maybe he wasn't as much of a hopeless cause as she had thought.

"So, witch," began Spike quietly, startling the redhead slightly, "did you have a good evening last night? Have fun on your date?" The words weren't mocking or antagonistic. The tone of his voice merely expressed mild curiosity or an attempt to discuss something in order to pass the time.

Willow stole another look up at the vampire, feeling slightly uneasy about discussing WTB with him. She still half-expected him to break into his usual foul mood and treat her to a sarcastic comment or two about how the internet only attracted losers or freaks. Her emotional shields well in place, she answered back rather non-committally: "We had a good time; we always do."

"So what do you talk about with this guy? I mean, other than the computer stuff, do you have all that much in common? It's not like you can talk to him honestly about what you do, right? I mean, you haven't told him about the Slayer or living on the hellmouth or anything, have you? Because, if someone told me about that, I'd be getting him or her one of those cute little white jackets. You know, with the long sleeves? Kind of a wrap-around look."

Willow stifled a giggle, taking a minute to imagine the blond vampire in a straight-jacket, his hair wild, the intense blue eyes shaded slightly with insanity. She looked back at him, surprised to find him eyeing her appraisingly.

"And just what brought about that fit of laughter, luv?" he asked teasingly. "Yeah, I saw it, saw you try to hide it. Vampire senses, remember? You'll have to do better than that," he reminded her with a smirk.

"Just imagining you in white," she shot back, a cheeky grin on her face.

Seeing her smile like that made him smile too, in spite of himself. This was the Willow he never saw. Teasing, smiling, happy. Sure, she'd been like this around the moron or the Slayer, but with him she'd always been a timid, shy little thing. He liked this Willow a lot; she reminded him of his Gal.

Spike opened his mouth to shoot back some smart-ass retort, but before he even had a chance, he was blindsided by a demon that came at him quickly from out of the shadows. Before he could even yell out a warning to Willow, he was on the ground, flat on his back, the demon straddling his chest. He attempted to buck the creature off of him, but it was as if a lead weight had settled onto his chest. It was a good thing that the vampire didn't feel the need to breathe; otherwise he would have suffocated under the pressure.

It was an ugly thing--dark green scales covered most of its large body, including its oversized head. The scales surrounding its stomach and belly were flat and smooth like iron plates, but those that protruded from its back were sharp and long; triangle-shaped weapons set out across its body to be used to spear its prey.

Spike looked at the creature above him, his eyes probing for any weaknesses to exploit or soft spots to damage. Seeing nothing obvious, he cast a click look around the demon, searching for Willow. Suddenly his stomach tightened in dread as he saw her facing another of the demons. She was still standing, but the fiend was backing her quickly against a tree. The blond vampire swore softly; he needed to get to her and help.

"Willow, relax, and remember what I taught you," he shouted at the redhead, hoping that she would be able to use some of the self-defense moves they had practiced. By the way she was letting herself be maneuvered by the demon, she was obviously panicking and forgetting what she knew.

Willow heard Spike's instructions and tried to calm herself and prepare to fight. Her back was up against the tree now, and the demon was just a step or two away from her and closing in fast. With the close proximity of the fiend, and the scales covering its body, it was obvious that the crossbow would be of little help. She looked in horror into the creature's red eyes and snarling mouth, the sharp pointy teeth dripping with drool. The demon leered at her suggestively, then leaned close in to her face. Willow screamed, then grabbed the arrow out of her crossbow, her fingers clutching at it in terror, and jammed it as far as she could into the creature's left eye.

The demon screamed in rage, flailing his arms wildly in front of him. Willow held the crossbow in front of her, attempting to move out of the way, and at the same time deflect the violent blows. She tried to dart quickly around it, but the demon still managed to knock her upside the head, and down she went, hitting the ground with a soft thud.

Seeing that the redhead was already down, Spike reached up with his axe and took a swing at his attacker's head. The swing was awkward and the aim was poor at best, but he managed to stun the creature momentarily. Taking advantage of its temporary disorientation, he swung the axe at its face. Although the blow didn't do much damage due to the scales on the creature's face, Spike *did* manage to gouge its eyes and cause a satisfying crunch when the axe crumpled his adversary's nose. Blood and other fluids went flying, and the creature screamed its displeasure.

The two injured demons realized that the creatures they had thought would be an easy dinner had turned out to be something else entirely, and ran off quickly into the night, chattering at each other in a weird clicking tongue.

Spike rushed over to examine Willow. The redhead was lying on the soft brown dirt under a large oak tree. The blond cursed quietly as he noticed her unnatural stillness. Her face was unmoving and serene below him, but he could hear her steady, regular breathing and her stable heartbeat. He tapped her softly on the cheek, trying to bring her back to consciousness quickly, but he received no response.

Hoping that he was making the right decision, the vampire picked her up gently and held her in his arms. Now all he had to do was figure out where to take her.

Spike decided that the Magic Box would be the best destination. Giles had a first-aid kit there, he knew, and if it looked like something was seriously wrong with the redhead, he could always call one of them over and let them make the decision to take her to a hospital. A hospital, he thought, groaning quietly. Poor little slip of a girl--her life should be full of school, boys, and dates, and instead she was patrolling the hellmouth.

He shook his head in an effort to dismiss such thoughts. What was important now was to get her back to the Magic Box safe and sound. Personal musing and soul-searching could come later, he reminded himself.

Spike entered his rooms in the basement of the Magic Box, the redhead still quiet in his arms. During the quick journey home she had not stirred at all, and the vampire was beginning to become concerned. Doubts began to flicker through his mind. Perhaps she had managed to hit her head when she fell. She could have a concussion at this very moment. Or maybe she had gotten punctured by one of the creature's spines, even though he hadn't seen anything like that happen.

Suddenly he felt an urgent need to make sure that there was no other physical damage. He could smell no wounds or blood dripping from her, but he needed to make a visual examination just to be sure.

He laid the little redhead down onto his bed, the black comforter cradling her small soft body. Running a hand over her bright fiery hair, he tried to decide what to do next. What he really needed to do was get her undressed and give her a quick going-over to make sure that no bones were broken and nothing else was wrong. But maybe he'd be better off letting the Slayer or one of her little friends do that work. On the other hand, he pondered, it could take a while for someone else to get there, so maybe he'd just better do it himself.

With deft, confident hands, he stripped Willow down to her underwear. He was tempted to undress her completely, but was afraid that if he did, the Slayer would soon be using his balls for paperweights. Well, she'd probably have to bronze them first or something, but he was sure that the stupid bint was up to the challenge. Or at least she *thought* she was, he conceded with a smirk.

Looking down at the still quiet redhead, Spike lost himself in the contemplation of her delicate body. Pale, unblemished skin with a light sprinkling of freckles, perfectly proportioned stomach and legs, and although the plain white cotton underwear obscured his view, he was sure that the rest of her was just as beautiful. 'You'd hardly know it,' he thought, 'Considering all those baggy, fluffy clothes she usually wore.' She hadn't looked too bad in her workout clothes, he knew, but back then he hadn't realized that she was his Gal. For some reason, knowing that fact made her seem more attractive. Damned if he knew why.

He ran his hands lightly over her body, squeezing here, probing there, looking for anything that might be broken or sprained or just...wrong. As he reached her right ankle and tried to move it to and fro, she groaned slightly and he immediately stopped. His long fingers probed the area gently and he realized that there was a bit of swelling. Perhaps she had twisted it when she fell.

He quickly finished the rest of his examination and concluded that other than the slightly swollen ankle, nothing else appeared to be wrong with the redhead. As he tried to decide what to do next, Willow started to move slightly on the bed, her head turning from side to side, the bright red tresses obscuring her face. As her movements became more agitated, Spike knew that he had to stop her before she hurt herself. Leaning over her, he used his arm and shoulders to hold her shoulders down onto the bed. That seemed to still most of her movements, but panicked words became to spill from her mouth. "Spike, demon, HELP," she moaned, before ending in a strangled scream.

The scent of her fear was strong in the air, and although the smell was intoxicating, Spike knew that he had to calm her down. "Willow," he called out sharply, his hand lightly slapping her flushed cheeks.

She seemed to be clawing her way up to consciousness, and finally her eyes started to flutter quickly and her frenzied movements began to slow, then finally stop altogether.

Willow pried her eyes open, surprised to see the blond vampire staring down at her, his body pinning her to the soft bed. "Why--what--where?" the words tumbled out of her mouth, her semi-conscious brain unable to form a coherent thought just yet.

While waiting for her mind to be capable of forming complete sentences, Willow glanced quickly around her. 'This must be Spike's room,' she thought. She was surprised by the spaciousness of his accommodations as well as the spartan furnishings. The wall to her right hosted a battered dark wood desk, one that had obviously seen better days. It was littered with white papers, haphazardly strewn about. On either side of the desk, the wall was covered with posters of various music groups, with the emphasis on late 70s/early 80s rock and punk. The far wall contained the doorway that lead to a stairway up to the Magic Box. On the left wall was another door that led to the facilities.

'Why would a vampire have a bathroom,' she wondered. 'Well, maybe if he wanted to entertain someone, it might be useful, she supposed.' But 'Spike' and 'entertaining' were not two words she usually thought she'd see in a sentence at the same time.

Willow looked down and noticed her state of dress--or rather, undress, and her eyes began to cloud over, the green darkening and sparks of anger growing in their depths. Her eyes searched the room, looking for any sign of her clothes, and finally spied them draped casually over the chair by the desk. On the far side of the room, of course, she thought bitterly.

"Spike," she spit out finally, her voice low and angry, "Why am I lying on your bed naked?"

"I'd hardly call that naked, luv," he replied, keeping his tone light. He looked down at her face and saw the beginning of a blush forming, the color beginning on the cheeks and spreading downward. He'd always wondered exactly how far down the blush would spread, and watched eagerly to see--

"Dammit, let me go," Willow said as she began to struggle, the fury and fear in her eyes reminding him that his body was still pinning her down onto the bed.

"Sorry," he mumbled, taking his eyes off of her for a minute in an effort to regain the air of indifference he usually showed when he dealt with any of the Scoobies. He could tell by the tone of her voice and the tenseness of her body that she was barely controlling her anger. Slowly he released her, his lithe body moving back to sit next to her, leaning against the headboard of the bed.

"And as for why you were...well, like you are," he added nonchalantly, in an attempt to answer her earlier question, "I needed to make sure you were okay. There was a demon--"

"What, a clothes-eating demon?" she shot back, annoyance making her voice sharp, the sarcastic words cutting into him like a knife, "Oh, so the *demon* ate my clothes, did it? And because you're such a nice guy--er, make that such a nice *vampire*--you decided to do me a favor and take me to your home and lay me down on your bed, where you could molest me at your leisure. So tell me now, Spike, is that what happened?"

"Cripes, witch, you're working yourself into a nasty ol' tizzy, aren't you?" he said defensively. Fine, if the little chit wasn't going to thank him for saving her damn life, then he sure as hell wasn't going to be nice to her. "I saved your life, you ungrateful bint," he snarled at her, forgetting about everything now except how angry she was making him.

"Do you remember *anything* that happened tonight?" he asked sarcastically. "Patrolling, you, me, demons, falling down and hitting your head, perhaps," he continued angrily.

Willow looked at the snarling demon before her, her anger turning to fear at the rage she glimpsed in his cold blue eyes. Bits and pieces of the evening flittered around her consciousness: the two of them walking together amiably; the appearance of one, and then two big ugly green demons; then the fighting, the demon hitting her, and then everything went black.

"Memories coming back now, I see," Spike said bitterly, his face set into solid tense lines, his body wound tightly with his resement of her tirade against him.

"Still doesn't explain why you took me here and undressed me," she countered, her own eyes still displaying her anger as well.

"Oh, so you think I should have left you in the park and just headed on home? Or maybe I should have taken you to your place and left you on the doorstep, seeing as how you were unconscious and couldn't let me in or anything? Yeah, witch, great plan. Gee, why didn't I think of that," he said derisively.

"And since I didn't want you to bleed to death or anything," he continued, "I figured I'd better have a look to make sure that there wasn't anything seriously wrong with you. You were unconscious, remember? And THAT is why I took SOME--but NOT ALL--of your clothes off," he finished, his voice getting louder and louder as he finished venting his displeasure.

Willow looked at him, taking in the rage in his eyes, and thought that perhaps, just perhaps, she had misjudged him. But that didn't give him the right to yell at her, a stubborn inner voice reminded her, as her agile mind mentally calculated the number of steps it would take her to reach the door of the room.

"Well since I'm *obviously* awake now, and none the worse for the experience, I think I'll just be going," she told him, her voice a mixture of stubbornness and fear. Before he could stop her, she slid off the huge bed and turned towards the desk to retrieve her clothes. As the weight hit her right foot, the ankle crumpled, and with a soft cry of pain the redhead slid down to the floor, her body in a tangled heap, tears welling in her eyes.

"Dammit, witch, what'd you have to go and do that for?" Spike growled as he watched her crumple to the floor. Suddenly he saw the tears of pain shining in her eyes and his earlier frustration and anger were quickly forgotten.

He jumped off the bed and knelt down beside Willow, trying to ignore the girl's actions and concentrate on helping her. Gently the handsome vampire lifted her upright, until she was standing on her good left foot, her body leaning slightly against him. He could tell by the tense way she held herself that she was still in pain, and he wished she would let him help her. 'Damn, she was stubborn sometimes,' he thought.

"I tried to tell you about the ankle," he muttered, "but you were being so pigheaded in your attempt to get the hell away from me that I didn't even have a chance."

"I'm sorry," she replied contritely, "But I--wait, nuh-uh, I'm not falling for that. How--how do I know that you didn't just twist my ankle or something while I was unconscious? You're a demon, right? I mean, vampires do things like that. They're not all fuzzy and nice and--and helpful and caring."

She stopped briefly, taking in a deep breath, before pinning him with her gaze. "I've read the Watchers Diaries, you know," she said with a sharp nod of her head, as if those seven words explained everything.

"Oh bloody soddin' hell," Spike muttered. I will *not* let her make me angry, he thought. He repeated the words to himself over and over again, hoping they would give him the strength not to ring her bloody neck. Not that he could do much damage, with that damn chip in his head, but at that very moment he was frustrated enough to give it a try in spite of the migraine that was sure to follow.

"Witch," he began, his voice dangerously quiet, "If I wanted to keep you here in my bed, there are certainly *easier* ways of restraining you than twisting your delicate little ankle." He looked up and over the bed, and as Willow's eyes followed his, they noticed the hook, complete with dangling chains, that were hanging high over his bed.

"Oh I am *so* not staying here one minute longer," she said uneasily, eyeing the chains as she attempted to get away from him, sprained ankle or not.

Spike, tired of arguing with her, finally let her go. He watched with barely concealed amusement as she hopped on one foot towards her clothes.

It wasn't a large room, but when you were hopping, it sure seemed huge, Willow realized. She shot a look back at the now-smirking vampire, surprised that he hadn't tried to stop her.

When she finally managed to get her clothes back on, she realized why Spike had been willing to let her be: although she had been able to hop from the bed to the desk, there was little chance that she would be able to hop all the way home. At least, not without ending up as a super deluxe happy meal, complete with chew toy, for any vampire she happened to pass on the way.

Willow looked back at Spike, who was now grinning openly at her. He was enjoying her predicament, she realized angrily. The young woman knew that she was going to have to swallow her pride and ask for his help, as much as the idea galled her. Hiding her seething anger and frustration, she looked calmly at the grinning vampire.

"Spike," she asked cooly, "Cou-could you help me?"

"Help you with what, luv?" he asked her innocently. He knew it would make her crazy to have to ask him for help, but after all the things she had accused him of tonight, he wasn't feeling all that interested in making things easy for her.

"You know what I'm talking about, Spike," she exclaimed bitterly, her temper flaring briefly. Calming down somewhat, she tried again. "I need some help getting back to my house."

"Getting you home will have to wait for nightfall, I'm afraid. Dawn's less than half an hour away, and although I could probably get you home by then, I'd turn into a big ol' pile of dust by the time I got back to my place. Not that that would bother you, likely, but I do enjoy being all solid and walkin' and talkin', you know?"

Willow glanced guiltily at her watch and realized that he was right; daybreak was not far away. There was no way he'd get her home and get back here in one piece. She sighed then, realizing that she'd have to spend the morning here, stuck with Spike. Hopefully once the Magic Box was open she could persuade Giles or Anya or, well, just about *anyone* to help her hobble back to her place.

Okay, might as well make the best of the situation, Willow decided. She noticed the computer sitting on the desk and wondered idly what Spike used it for. She knew what *she'd* like to use it for. She hadn't had a chance to talk to WTB last night, and she wondered if he had been worried about her. Usually they tried to check in every evening; if one of them wasn't going to be around, they would let the other know via email.

Spike must have been reading her mind, because his next words were along the same lines as her thoughts. "Would you like to check your email? I can boot it up if you'd like."

Willow nodded absently, her mind on WTB still.

"Go on and sit on the bed, Willow, and I'll wrap up your ankle. By the time I'm done with that, you should be able to go online and see if you've gotten any love poems from your boyfriend."

Willow shot him a dirty look at the mention of her 'boyfriend' but she did as Spike asked and sat down on the bed. The vampire poked the computer's 'on' button and watched briefly as it did its startup routine. Disappearing into his bathroom, he soon returned with a first aid kit. He knelt down in front of her and took her ankle, his gentle fingers deftly winding a sturdy bandage around and around it, until he felt that it would give her some support, at least until she could get to a doctor or nurse of some sort.

Willow was surprised at the gentle feel of his hands on her ankle. She had expected him to be ruthless and efficient. Not that he didn't do a good job; he did. But he was quite solicitous of her comfort as well. A couple of times she took in a sharp breath when a twinge of pain hit her. When that happened, he slowed down and softly rubbed the part that hurt until the pain had gone away, then continued doing what he needed to do to get her bandaged up.

Finally he was finished, and although it still hurt to put any more than a tiny bit of pressure on the ankle, it was still slightly better than it had been. With Spike's help, she was able to get up and limp across the room to the computer. As she sat herself down and connected to her mail server, Spike left the room, heading into the kitchenette to heat up a cup of blood. When he returned, he saw a rather concerned-looking Willow logging out of her email and shutting down the computer.

"Anything wrong?" he asked curiously.

"No, nothing really. It's just, I kind of expected to get an email, and it wasn't there."

"Something from your guy?"

"Well, yes. We usually talk by email if one of us is not going to be around, so I kind of expected to hear from him since I wasn't around last night. But there was nothing there. I hope nothing bad happened to him."

Spike looked vaguely uncomfortable, but Willow failed to notice, too wrapped up in her own thoughts.

"I'm sure he just had a bad night. Maybe there'll be an email from him later today." Yeah, he told himself, if he can figure out how to get online without a certain redhead seeing him, that is.

"So," Spike said awkwardly as he helped Willow get into his bed and lie down comfortably. Neither of them was particularly tired, or so they claimed, so in order to pass the time until the Magic Box was open, they were just going to have to talk and be sociable.

"Sorry I don't have anything for you to eat. The housekeeper forgot to come by this week, so I'm all out of Wheetabix," he told her jokingly. "There are some old crackers around here somewhere, although I have no idea how long they've been here," he said thoughtfully, trying to remember exactly *which* year it was that he'd bought them.

"It's okay, I'm not really hungry," Willow told him, stretching out on her back and getting comfortable. As weird as the situation was, maybe this time spent stuck with Spike would have a positive outcome. He *had* been nicer to her lately, so maybe they could build on that and forge some kind of comfortable working relationship. Hey, stranger things have happened, she reminded herself.

She turned her body so that she was lying on her side facing the vampire. He was laying on his back, hands laced together behind his head. Willow stared at his chest, oddly surprised at the fact that it was still and quiet, never moving, lungs never taking a breath.

Spike looked over at his guest and turned onto his side to face her. Although she had denied being tired, her green eyes had a soft, sleepy quality to them. She might not be asleep yet, but he suspected that she would be before too long.

"So what do you think those demons were, Spike?" she asked him curiously. "I don't remember seeing anything like them before, and they weren't really *that* strong. I bet if they hadn't caught us by surprise, you and Buffy could have taken them easily."

"I dunno," he answered back, trying to will his thoughts away from the beautiful young girl lying beside him on his bed. "I don't think I've ever seen them before, but that doesn't mean much. Hopefully the watcher can look through some of his books and find something on them. Not too worried, really. Like you said, they weren't much of a challenge."

"Still, it couldn't hurt much to look them up, right?" Willow asked eagerly, her eyes lighting up at the opportunity to do a little searching. "You could go upstairs and grab some--"

"Nope, not in the mood," he interrupted, watching her face fall a bit. He softened his voice a little, "You can research all you want in a little bit. I'm sure that once the Magic Box is open, Giles will be all in a lather about having something to look into. Right now, though, it's your responsibility to keep me entertained," he informed her with a slight smile.

Keep him entertained, Willow thought with confusion. How the heck was she supposed to do that? And why exactly was it *her* job to do it?

"Um, okay. Do you want to play cards or something?" she asked uncertainly.

"Nope," he told her, settling onto his back again, lacing his hands behind his head. "Tell you what," he began conspiratorially, "You tell me something, something that you've never told anyone else. And I'll do the same."

Willow snorted softly. "Not bloody likely," she told him.

He raised an eyebrow at her choice of words, but smiled a bit none-the-less. "Hmmm...don't trust me much, do you? Okay, well, you could just tell me a story, then."

"What kind of story?"

"I dunno, just something that happened to you. Maybe before I was around."

Willow searched her mind for some story to tell him. Everything that had ever happened to her would seem boring to a vampire who had lived over a hundred years, she was quite sure. Most of the really dangerous and exciting parts of her life, well, they usually involved either Spike or Angelus, or both. And they usually involved the two aforementioned vampires trying to kill her. Since he had actually been front and center for all of those events, they probably wouldn't hold much interest for him.

Then her mind went off on a tangent...Angelus...Angel...PUPPY! Yes, if that story didn't hold his interest, nothing would.

Willow snuggled down into the comforter a bit more, getting ready to tell her story.

"Well, there was the one time that Anya did this spell," she started out, sneaking a look up at him. He had closed his eyes and she wasn't sure if he was even still awake.

"Go on, then," he prompted, his blue eyes opening suddenly to catch her looking at him. He smiled slightly at her, then closed his eyes again.

"See, Cordelia was mad at Buffy, and me and Xander too, I guess. Um...well, I won't go into the reasons. But she made a wish, and then everything changed. I was a vampire--"

"WHAT!" Spike exclaimed, eyes popping wide open to stare in amazement at the seemingly innocent girl laying next to him.

"Okay, well, not *really* a vampire, but there *was* a vampire me. A vampire version of me, I mean, in an alternate universe." Willow covered her face with her hands and groaned in frustration. "Crap, I'm just not any good at telling stories, Spike. I mean, I never know where to start."

Spike sat up and gently pulled her hands away from her face, holding them loosely in his own. "Just start at the beginning, Willow, and the rest will follow along easily enough."

The beginning, she thought. Well as usual, the beginning really had everything to do with Spike and very little else.

Willow looked back at the blond vampire and began again. "It all started when you kidnapped Xander and me, remember, when you wanted me to do that love spell? Well, we thought that you were going to kill us, and that it might be our last moment ever, so we..."


Spike watched Willow's face as she told her tale. His eyes were riveted to her expressive face and he devoured the emotions that passed through her eyes as told him what had happened after he had left her alone with the boy, all those years ago. The thought of Chubbs actually touching his Gal made the vampire irate. How could she have ever been interested in the moron? He was...well, he was a moron. That's all there was to it. Sure, he was loyal enough, and on occasion he could be mildly amusing, but other than that, did the boy have *any* redeeming qualities? Spike didn't think so.

When she told him the part about how they got tossed into that alternate reality, Spike was more than a little intrigued. The thought of a vampire version of this small, shy girl interested him quite a bit. He could almost see her in his mind's eye: confident, radiant, cruel and beautiful. He immediately had to distract his libido. As a last resort, he pictured the watcher, naked, singing badly; the ex-demon and Chubbs kissing; the Slayer, doing what she did best: being a bitch. Anything to keep himself from getting too visibly aroused.

And the bit about 'Puppy', well that was sheer beauty. He laughed heartily as she told him of the things that the 'other' Willow had done to her puppy. How the blond wished that Peaches were here right now, if only to see the look on his face when he heard the tale.

Finally Willow finished her story, and in the ensuing silence Spike thought about what she had told him. To be honest, he was rather torn. One part of him wanted to beg her forgiveness for what he had done to her and what it had led to. Another part wanted to compliment her on the wonderful demon she would make. But he knew that was probably *not* the best road to take. In the end, he settled for a simple apology.

"I'm sorry, Willow," he said, his brilliant blue eyes riveted to her sparkling green ones.

The slight girl next to him was shocked. Spike had apologized? To her? That was something she had never expected to happen, not in a million years. Yet she could see in his eyes that he really had meant it. What did that mean?

"Th-that's all right," she replied a little breathlessly. "I mean, it was pretty scary at the time, but we made it out all right, didn't we?" She tried to make her voice matter-of-fact, denying the uncertainty and surprise she was feeling. Spike had been different the last couple of days, and she was still trying to figure out exactly why that was. "It *was* kind of unnerving, though, seeing myself like that. I mean, if I was turned into a vampire now, is that what I'd really be like?"

"I bet you were beautiful, all pale and leather-clad and strong," he told her softly, trying to compliment her and also trying to derail her train of thought.

"More like skanky and slightly gay, I think," she shot back at him, her skin blushing slightly as she felt his eyes cover her skin like a caress.

"Vampires aren't gay, luv," he told her, smiling slightly.

"Yuh-huh," she insisted, her voice argumentative, "She most definitely was! With the sniffing, and the licking, and the hands in bad places, and--and--everything! Definitely gay." Her tone brooked no argument, but Spike had to smile none-the-less.

"Vampires are bisexual, Willow. That's just the way we are." He wasn't sure if she was ready to hear this, but he wanted to be honest with her. Not that honesty was always the best policy, especially for him. It usually ended up with someone getting angry. But for some reason he just wanted to be straight with her, no pun intended. "We'll screw pretty much anything, male or female, or in-between. It's about pleasure, but it's also about being in control."

Control, Willow thought, her eyes pensive. She really did want to understand, but she just didn't. "Why is control so important? I mean, yeah, I like to be in control of my life, but there are so many things that are beyond our control. You just have to let it go sometimes, or you go crazy."

"With control comes power," he told her. "And power is very important in our society. For some humans too, although not all of them. It's like this," he began, as he stretched languidly and got to his feet, full of fluid motion and predatory grace.

He paced the room, his ears catching the quiet sounds of the watcher and the ex-demon upstairs as they began to ready the shop for customers. As he walked, he saw the quiet girl's eyes follow his body and the sound of his voice. Her eyelids were starting to become heavy, she stifled the occasional yawn, but for now she was hanging onto his every word.

"Okay, so you humans, you define yourselves in a number of ways, right?" He looked over at Willow and saw her small nod of agreement. "You define yourselves by what you do for a living, or how much money you make, or what you own. And you treat each other accordingly. Well, not all of you," he conceded, "but a lot of humans do."

Spike looked over at Willow again, making sure he was still the center of her attention. Cor, she was beautiful, he thought. Her bright, curious eyes were drowsy; her fiery red hair framed her pale fragile face like a picture frame. He mentally kicked himself again, still amazed that he had never recognized the intoxicating combination of her beauty, her intelligence and her spirit.

He continued on, his voice taking more of a professorial tone, "Vampires, on the other hand, don't work. Well, with the exception of that one souled git in L.A.," he added snidely. That git in L.A. was the exception to a *lot* of rules. Spike wondered idly what Angel would think of his interest in the little redhead. Probably think it was wonderfully ironic, the lean vampire thought bitterly. But, he hastened to remind himself, his little beauty was *not* the slayer. She was a powerful witch, with an intellect and an inquisitive nature to match her beauty. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill human, much less a slayer. He shuddered slightly at the thought.

"But other than him," he added, back on track, "we don't work. No point in it, really. We can get whatever we want, whenever we want, by taking it. Well, unless we're stuck with a soddin' chip in our head," he said, his lips twisting bitterly, momentarily sidetracked again.

Willow watched the pacing vampire with growing understanding. When the initiative had chipped him, they had taken away more than just his ability to eat. They had taken away everything that he was, everything that defined him, at least in his own eyes. She saw now that what he needed was a new way to define himself, a new framework upon which to build his self-esteem and self-worth.

Spike watched the young girl's eyes as they flitted to somewhere far away from this room and their conversation. What was she thinking about so earnestly, he wondered? Had his words had an affect on her, sending her mind off on a tangent of some sort?

"So the more power you have over others, the more control you have over yourself, and the less control others have over you," Willow said, showing that she understood what he was trying to tell her.

"Exactly, pet," he agreed, watching as she covertly tried to smothered yet another yawn. "Tired?" he asked sympathetically.

"Hmmmm," was his only answer, as she closed her eyes briefly.

"Me too," he admitted, walking back to the big bed and looking down at Willow appraisingly. "You're welcome to take a nap, if you want," he told her. "I'll join you, if you're okay with that," he added, uncharacteristically hesitant.

She looked at him as if she were considering something, and then nodded briefly, as if he had passed some sort of test. She obviously had some misgivings about the idea, but was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"I promise, your virtue's safe with me," he said, giving her a slight smile and a wink. "And if the watcher or the ex-demon come down, I'll tell them that I promised to keep you safe, so they'd better leave you alone. Right?" he asked, his grin growing to match the one that graced her face as well.

"Shut up and go to sleep," Willow told him, still grinning, before she turned her back towards him and worked determinedly on falling asleep.

Spike spread out on his half of the bed, a light-hearted smile still on his face. Maybe she didn't trust him completely, but this was certainly a good start. As he drifted off to sleep, he laid out his hand out gently against her shoulder, the contact strangely calming.


Buffy sauntered into the Magic Box looking for a familiar face. When she spied Xander relaxing in one of the comfortable chairs, she made a beeline for him, a worried look on her pretty face.

"Xander, have you heard anything from Willow today?" she asked nervously. She hadn't seen her friend at school that morning, and when she had called the redhead's house several times earlier that afternoon she had received no answer. Everyone knew that missing a day of school was completely out of character for the overzealous student, so that, combined with the fact that Buffy had been unable to reach her by phone, was setting off some major alarm bells in the petite blonde's head.

"Nope, I haven't seen hide nor shoulder-length red hair," Xander replied matter-of-factly. "Are you sure she didn't just decide to take a day off of school for some extra shut-eye? She *has* been keeping some rather late hours these days."

Buffy didn't even dignify that question with an answer. They both knew that a lack of sleep would hardly slow their friend down. She seemed to manage to thrive with a schedule that would turn any normal person into a sleep-deprived zombie. The blonde merely rolled her eyes at the young boy to acknowledge the ridiculousness of his answer and then began pacing.

"Yeah, I guess even *I* can't believe that she'd take a day off just for some sleep," he added regretfully.

"So what was the last anyone saw of her, Xan? Did she go patrolling with you guys last night?"

"Uh, yeah." Xander thought back to the previous evening. She and Spike had gone out to patrol together, and that was the last that anyone had seen of either of them. Of course, nobody had actually been looking, so that was not surprising. Surely Spike would have made sure she had gotten home safely. If not because of concern for her physical safety, at least because he knew that Buffy would kick his ass if anything happened to Willow. In a way, she was the glue that held them all together, and they were well aware of that fact.

"She and Spike went out to cover the east side of town, while Giles and I took care of the west side. I'm sure that if something had happened to her, Spike would have let us know, right?" the boy asked. "Well, probably, at any rate," he mumbled a bit more uncertainly. A little bit of the nervousness that was emanating from his friend was now making its way into Xander's mind. The thoughts he was thinking now were *not* of the warm and fluffy variety.

Buffy was in full panic mode by now, and quickly headed towards the stairs leading down to Spike's apartment. "I don't know if he would nor not, but I'm not going to stand around wondering, especially when Willow's life could be at risk." She quickly flew to the door at the bottom of the stairs, Xander close on her heels.

They approached the door into Spike's bedroom, and instead of knocking and waiting for a reply, Buffy, with her usual direct manner, knocked once and then walked right on in. Xander, standing directly behind her, smacked straight into the slayer's back as she stopped dead in her tracks, literally frozen to the spot by the sight that greeted her shocked and bewildered eyes. Willow, her sweet, shy, GAY friend Willow, was sound asleep in the arms of the peroxide pain in her ass, also known as Spike, or William the Bloody.

As she watched in horror, Spike yawned and opened his eyes, stretching his arms over his head languidly before putting them around the little redhead again. He started slightly when he noticed his audience, but immediately relaxed and gave the Buffy and her friend a big, happy smile.

"Guess the watcher didn't waste any time trainin' you on how to be polite, huh? Must not have been in the handbook, I'd wager." The words came out sounding more pleasant than intended, so he added, "What do you want, slayer? Can't you see I'm busy?" then added one of his trademark smirks, as he looked over at the peacefully sleeping girl beside him.

Xander, who had been surveying the scene from behind Buffy, was slowly opening and closing his mouth in shock. If Willow had actually been awake to see him, it would have reminded her of the time that she, Xander and Jesse had spied on Cordelia and a neighbor boy playing doctor. Both Xander and Jessie had been shocked and surprised to find out that girls did, indeed, have different "parts" than boys did. Willow, of course, had seen all the drawings and medical texts, thanks to her parents. For the next several days, both boys had imitated open-mouthed bass every time they had run in to Queen C. While Willow had been rather jealous that Cordelia had been the center of their male attention, she *did* get a heck of a laugh every time she looked at their faces.

Finally Xander's brain and his vocal chords kicked in, and a strangled croak that sounded something like "Willow!" slipped from his mouth.

Somehow the sound roused the sleeping beauty and her ginger eyelashes began to flutter erratically. "Ummmm," was the first sound out of her mouth. Then her eyes opened completely, and a parade of emotions crossed her so-very-expressive face. Confusion and shock made an appearance, quickly to be replaced by embarrassment as she noticed how comfortably she had nestled herself onto the chest of the handsome vampire next to her. Then a movement at the door caught her eye, and she realized that she and Spike weren't quite as alone as she had thought.

"Uh, hi, guys," she greeted them sheepishly, her eyes still half-closed and sleepy.

Buffy shook herself out of her stunned stupor and marched right over to the reclining vampire. A stake slid smoothly into her hand from a concealed spot up her sleeve, and while the other three occupants of the room watched her, she held the wooden projectile just inches above the blond's heart.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't make you a pile of dust right now," she exclaimed through tightly gritted teeth. Rage was building in her eyes, and every second that the demon below her failed to quiver in fear made her just that much angrier. Was he really so stupid that he believed she wouldn't do it, the enraged girl wondered?

Willow saw the approaching confrontation and knew that it wouldn't end well. Quickly, before Buffy had a chance to do any damage, she forced the words out of her mouth: "Buffy, Xander, it's not what it looks like!"

Then she stopped abruptly, and asked a little uncertainly, "Well, at least I don't think it is. What does it look like, really?"

"It looks like you're taking after Buffy and boffing the undead. What *is* it with you girls and dead guys? Does a guy have to lose a lung to rate a look from you two?"

Willow giggled softly, then smiled as she said, "Pot calling the kettle black, Xander? You forget who you've dated. You've hardly made a career out of dating the living yourself. Well, I guess technically Anya is alive, but you know what I mean. There was mummy-girl, and praying-mantis woman, and ..." she added in typical Willow-speak, her voice trailing off as Xander shot her a slightly annoyed look.

"And anyway, if Spike and I want to sleep together, well, then, that's none of your business," she told him, crossing her arms in front of her, her voice defiant and her dark eyes flashing green fire.

"Willow!" The sound of three voices raised in shock reverberated around the room. For Xander and Buffy, it was the shock of their worst fears now being confirmed. For Spike, on the other hand, it was the shock and delight that this wonderful creature was just as devious as she was beautiful.

The occupants of the room were silent and shocked. Willow looked from face to face, each one appeared frozen for an instant that seemed to go on forever. 'I don't think I've ever managed to shut everyone up like that all at once before,' she thought proudly.

Then came the inevitable reactions. Buffy raised her stake hand up to get leverage, planning on using it to pierce the vampire's cold heart. Spike, oblivious to his impending death--his real death this time--was envisioning the beautiful fiery redhead tied up on his bed while he showed her how much fun those chains above his bed really *could* be.

Xander, for his part, was still in near-catatonic shock, eyes closed, hands over his ears. And she wasn't *positive*, but Willow have sworn she could see him mouthing the words "I caaan't hear you, I caaan't hear you."

Finally the one who had started all this trouble in the first place decided that she couldn't let Buffy kill Spike just because of a few ill-chosen words on her part. After all, she wasn't *really* sleeping with Spike. Well, she was sleeping with him, but she wasn't *sleeping* with him, not like that. In fact, the poor demon was probably feeling pretty freaked himself right now, she suspected.

She grabbed the oblivious vampire by the shoulder and did a combination drag/roll so that he was safely on the other side of her and out of the path of Buffy's favorite stake. Unfortunately, gravity and momentum were not her friends at the moment, and when the redhead let go of the blond, he just kept rolling, right off the bed and down onto the floor, where he landed with a solid thud.

Willow gave him an apologetic look and ignored the growing anger in his expression, before turning her attention back to her best friend, who was attempting to talk some sense into her.

"Willow, I don't know what he did to you, but we can take care of it. Trust me. Maybe it was some sort of spell, or some weird vampire thrall thing, or--I don't know, just something else. But let me help you. Just one little prick and he'll be out of our lives for good." The blonde giggled at her phrasing, but she was serious about her intentions.

"My prick is NOT little, I'll have you know," Spike yelled angrily, finally having a better target on which to vent his anger. He couldn't get mad at his Gal, not really. She had just been trying to defend him against that psychotic, stake-wielding bottle-blonde. The Slayer though, making comments about his manhood and such, well, she was fair game. He stood up slowly, rage making his crystal blue eyes darken perceptibly. He'd probably have the migraine of the century and be unconscious for days, but it would be well worth it.

"Buffy, this is a mistake. I mean--I made a mistake." Willow could see that this was going from bad to worse in record time, and as Spike got to his feet, Buffy was heading straight towards him, stake out and at the ready. She could see that her earlier words were having no effect on the situation, so she stood, wincing slightly as she put her weight on her still-weak ankle. Moving as quickly as she could, she put herself between the two enemies and tried again. Taking a deep breath and yelling as loudly as she could, she confessed, "I didn't sleep with Spike!"

Again, that stunned silence. Xander, at least, seemed to be getting a grasp on reality. He lifted his hands from his ears and looked at his oldest friend, a plea in his eyes. "Really, Wills?"

She held out a hand, and he put his own in hers and drew her into a big bear hug. "Really, Xander. But if I had," she continued softly, "It would have been nobody's business but mine, and Spike's. I'm not a little kid anymore, Xan. I'm all growed up, ya know?" she reminded him, slipping into the childish words they had used when they were little in an effort to show him how much their lives had changed.

Xander sniffled a little, trying to act like the grown up that he knew he was supposed to be. "I know, Willow, I know. I'm sorry I acted so silly. It's just, you, and Spike, and sex, and well, it couldn't help but end badly. And I would hate for you to be hurt."

Sensing that the insulted vampire was about to protest, Willow turned and gave him a warning look, and then a grateful one as he subsided.

Buffy, who was still looking like she wanted to stake someone, *anyone*, put her hand on her friend's arm in an effort to get her attention. "Let me get this straight," she said somewhat aggressively, "You're *not* sleeping with Spike, right? Really, really, not sleeping with him. And you're not just saying this so I won't dust him?"

"No, Buffy, I'm really really not sleeping with him," she said, and it almost seemed for a moment that there was a wistful quality to her voice. At least the blond vampire hoped that there was. "And," the redhead continued, "I'm not just saying it so you won't dust him. I promise."

The three friends, and the poor vampire who was beginning to feel like an outsider in his own home, looked at each other with varying amounts of suspicion and relief. Then Spike had a thought.

"Why the bloody hell did you come barging in here in the first place, anyway?" he asked his two uninvited guests.

"We were worried about Willow. Nobody had seen her, and she hadn't been at school, and well, this being the Hellmouth, it never hurts to be sure where your friends are," Buffy answered. "Your enemies either, for that matter," she added with a pointed look, meeting the vampire's eyes.

"Er, well, I'm good, guys, and thanks, see ya later," Willow chirped, trying to act cheerful, as if nothing had happened.

"So, I answered your question, fangless," Buffy said rather pointedly, staring back at Spike, "But you never did explain why Willow was in your room all night, and most of the day too."

Before the two adversaries could get into another heated argument, Willow thought it would be best to tell Buffy what she wanted to know. Even though it went against her whole newly established 'I can do whatever I want and it's nobody's business but my own' policy, she knew that her friends had been worried about her, and some kind of an explanation would only be considerate.

"I hurt my ankle last night, see," she said, pointing down to the bandaged ankle, "So Spike took me back here and patched me up. And by the time he was done, it was too late to get me home without him turning into a big ol' dust bunny, so he let me crash here. And then, well, we were talking, and then I got tired, so he let me sleep on his bed, and then I did, and then you guys came in and found me, and then, well, this," she said, the speed of her words gaining momentum as she continued, until the last few words came out in a jumbled, breathless rush.

"Willow," Buffy exclaimed, "You should have just called me. One of us could have been down here in no time at all and we could have gotten you back to your place. There's no reason you had to stay here with the bleached wonder."

Spike growled slightly, but Willow ignored him. "Buffy, there was no reason to call you. Spike took good care of me, see?"

"Yeah, such good care of you that when we walked in, you were snuggling together like--like--" Xander seemed at a loss for words, but finally came up with an apt analogy, "Like a couple of snuggle-bunnies," he finished triumphantly.

"Bloody hell, can't you three take this upstairs?" Spike exclaimed angrily. "It's bad enough that I have Slutty here busting in whenever she feels like it, but does a man--er, make that a demon, have to sit here and be insulted in his own home?"

"Spike's right," Willow said, looking at Buffy and Xander. "He didn't do anything to deserve this. He really was trying to help me. Maybe I cuddled up to him in my sleep. If he doesn't have a problem with it, then neither should anyone else. I mean, it's *his* reputation that's at risk by this. Imagine what would happen if the other demons thought he was sleeping with a human. Probably kick him out of the weekly poker games and everything!"

"Girl's got a point," he grumbled to the rest of them, "Demon's got a reputation to protect, dammit."

"Fine," said Buffy, sliding her stake back up her arm and sheathing it again, and then heading back upstairs, Xander trailing in her wake. "Come on, Willow, let's get you out of here so Mister Demon can salvage his reputation."

"I'll be right behind you guys," Willow called up to her friends' retreating backs. She waited until she could hear their footsteps walking across the floor of the shop, and then turned to look at the vampire. He was standing at the foot of the bed, a pensive look on his face, as his eyes searched hers for answers.

"Why are you still here, luv? Shouldn't you be following your little friends' lead and running away from the big bad vamp as quickly as you can?" The words came out quietly, but there was an edge of sarcasm and bitterness that Willow picked up on, even as Spike tried to hide it.

"I wanted to thank you, of course," she replied matter-of-factly, as if it was something she had done a thousand times. "Thank you for taking care of me, for listening to my stories, for being nice to me, and for not trying to attack Buffy, although I know you really, *really* wanted to," she added the last bit with a grin.

She watched his face while she spoke, and was relieved to see his lips quirk upwards in a shared grin. "Any time, Willow." He thought for a moment, trying to figure out how to word what he was going to say next. "I know we've never really been friends," he began awkwardly, his eyes looking everywhere but at the girl next to him, "But I don't really have anything against you," he practically mumbled, his words and attitude uncertain.

"I don't really have anything against you either," she said, tilting her head slightly and giving him a shy smile, before she turned and left the room to join her friends.

To be continued...
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The authors own nothing. Joss, UPN, WB, etc. own Buffy, the show, the characters, the places, and the backstory. The authors own any original plots.