DEDICATATIONS:  To everyone who waited so patiently, and even those who weren't quite so patient ;-)

* REVISED VERSION - For some reason, I had an unbeta'd version on here before.  This is the beta'd and slightly different version...better, if you ask me.  The formatting is all wrong, but I'll fix it when I have a chance.

 

Take Your Time  ~ Chapter 36 ~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Willow paced the floor of her bedroom prison. She knew that somewhere under the same gabled roof the two vampires were deciding her fate yet again.  <Probably doing more than that,> Willow silently mused. While there had been more than a little sexual tension between the sire and his blonde childe when they were all together, at the moment she could care less if they were professing their undying love for one another. Her life, her future, was in their hands, and she'd never been more confused in her whole incredibly long and frustratingly complicated life.

In some ways she was elated. Why shouldn't she be? It looked like Spike had arranged to get her out of there and just in time too, considering she now 'belonged' to Angelus and was his to do with what he pleased. Or so the Irish vampire thought, anyway. Of course, she had Spike to thank for that added complication as well. Still, a part of her wanted to hug Spike senseless for saving her from a fate that, for the most part, she didn't want to imagine at his sire's hands. But the larger, angrier portion of the exhausted woman desired nothing more than to strangle him, kick him, hit him, stake him . . . every violent thing that her overactive imagination had come up with over the past few years. Not that it would get her out of her current situation, but Willow was willing to bet that for a brief moment it would feel pretty damn good.

Wishing she had her guitar so she could lose herself in her music for just a little while, Willow instead had to find some other way to occupy her mind. Even as exhausted as she was, the argument with Spike had rejuvenated her momentarily. She wasn't exactly sure why, but just 0letting herself say what she was thinking, no matter how childish, was akin to a couple cups of coffee. Unfortunately, the energy boost was more mental than physical, so she found herself analyzing and reanalyzing everything that had been done and said over the past few days. When she added to that the possible consequences to the future, it only made the confusion increase and a dull throbbing start behind her eyes.

It was in an attempt to clear her mind that Willow had first taken to pacing and grumbling, and then to grumbling and pacing. She even took the time to loosen her corset and other overly tight undergarments, trying to get more comfortable. However, nothing could alleviate the aches and pains that come with overexerting an already driven-to-the-limit body, and she had to stop.Besides, it had done little to put her at ease.

Still on edge, she then took a seat at the large desk and explored it forthe first time. Willow was pleased to find several sheets of fine stationary, as well as a quill and ink. Thankful for any way to help pass the time, she began pouring out her thoughts onto paper. She started with everything that had happened at the poker weekend. It seemed like a lifetime ago that she had first stepped into Mr. Simpson's manor with expectations of a profitable couple of days of card playing, when in fact only a few days had passed. How quickly things change, she thought--relatively speaking, of course. She went on to describe how she felt to find herself seated across from Angelus at the table, her vivid dreams that night, the carriage ride, and everything that had happened since then. She held nothing back, not even the odd dream she'd had while standing in front of the mirror. And for a few hours, Willow was able to momentarily forget about the crossroads at which she was standing. That's why when Spike burst through the door, Willow leapt out of her chair in startled fright.

"Get your stuff! We're leaving!" he commanded without so much as a glance at the redhead whose heart was hammering at top speed. Spike headed straight for the wardrobe, grabbed her bag, and started shoving her clothes in it.

Willow didn't move, except her jaw, which dropped open. "We're leaving? Just like that?"

Spike continued his rough packing of her things without bothering to look at her. "Are you deaf as well as dumb, Pet? Help me, or so help me, I'll drain every last drop of your blood and shove your unconscious body into this bleedin' bag and drag you out!"

Deciding that the details and her anger could wait until they were somewhere else, anywhere else, Willow silently grabbed a few necessities and finished packing. It required leaving her steamer trunk and most of the clothes that Angelus had acquired for her, but she didn't care. She'd buy new ones that were more suited to her taste. She looked around, making sure that she hadn't missed anything, and spotted her recent writings on the desk. She quickly snatched them up and folded them before adding the papers to her bag. Inspecting the room once more, Willow didn't see anything else that she wanted or needed. She didn't necessarily want to keep mementos of the past few days.

Spike still hadn't looked directly at her, but when she appeared to be done, he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her out of the room.

"Spike?" she questioned, struggling to keep up with the vampire's lengthy strides. "What's going on?"

"I suggest you shut your gob and make those little legs of yours move faster before either Angelus or I change our mind!" he growled, increasing the speed of his gait.

Willow opened her mouth to tell him just where he could shove his suggestion, but she soon saw the soundness in his advice and promptly silenced herself. She even did her best to pick up her pace a little bit, which wasn't an easy task considering the heavy carpetbag she was lugging with her. It wasn't until Willow almost tripped that Spike wordlessly grabbed the bag out of her hand before continuing to drag her along. Fortunately, there were no other vampires in the halls to hinder their progress. Even the previously posted guards were nowhere to be found.

After practically flying down the stairs, they reached the front door. Spike didn't hesitate to open it and step out into the night. Willow, however, was a little more reluctant. Something made her stop in the doorway and turn around.

He was there, just as she knew he'd be. Angelus was standing in the doorway to the parlor, watching her. They stared at each other, neither moving. Even though she knew that Angelus could change his mind at any second--every moment she dawdled could lead to the torment she was trying to escape--Willow couldn't make herself turn around and walk away. Not yet.

"Heard you're leaving us, Pet," a voice said from above, startling her slightly.

Willow's eyes darted up to see William at the top of the stairs.

"Well, I guess you and I'll be seeing each other again in about another century," he continued. "I only hope that by then I can get Angelus here to share you with me at least once before he kills you." His devilish expression grew into a huge grin. "Better yet, maybe someday I'll be calling you 'Mum'--one big happy but bloody family, right Red?"

"William . . ." Angelus growled. "Don't ya have somethin' else ta be doin'?"

"Just saying my good-byes, Angelus, like the true gentleman that I am. I didn't mean to ruin the mood," he teased.

Actually, ruining the mood a bit was exactly what William was trying to do, for his sire's sake. The younger vampire knew it couldn't be easy for Angelus to just let her go. And if making his sire a little irritated at him could help in any way, then he'd willingly set himself up for a little punishment. On the otherhand, William wasn't an idiot either, so he didn't push too hard. He just wanted to remind Angelus that he wasn't, and never would be, alone.

"Now, you two lovebirds behave," he added with a sly wink before disappearing back into Drusilla's room.

With William's exit, Willow's gaze automatically slid back down to meet Angelus's, and her breath caught. The look on Angelus's face was one she hadn't seen on him before, yet it was very familiar. It was Spike's 'Drusilla expression'--at least that's what she'd labeled it long ago. Anger born from ill-controlled frustration, jealousy, confusion, pain--all the feelings that a master vampire should be above--were minced together and shaped into one confusing look.

In the blink of an eye, it was gone. In its place stood the stoic, composed Angelus that Willow knew from both her waking and sleeping hours. Instantly she was telling herself that she'd been mistaken--that she couldn't have seen that much emotion in Angelus. Not only was he incapable of it, she wasn't capable of causing such a change in any man, living or dead, let alone Angelus.

"I have a gift fer ya, Rose." Angelus's smooth brogue interrupted her thoughts.

"Gift? No. I--I don't want a gift. I don't want anything you could give me."

Ignoring her objections, Angelus took a few slow steps closer, pinning her in place with his eyes. "Ah, my love, but I insist." Angelus reached into his waistcoat pocket and took out a small bundle, the simple movement spurring Willow back into action.

Shaking her head, Willow backed away until she came up hard against the jamb of the open door. Angelus stopped an arm's length away and held the gift out to her. Not able to quell her intrinsic curiosity, the redhead cast a quick glance at the item in his hand. Whatever it was, it was loosely wrapped in a piece of shiny black cloth, tied with a blood red ribbon in a simple but perfect bow. As she stared at Angelus's offering, Willow could imagine all sorts of possibilities, very few of which were pleasant. For some reason, the image of someone's still-beating heart kept coming to mind.

"No, thank you," she protested meekly.

Seeing that he had her attention, Angelus slowly unwrapped the piece of ebony silk until she could see what lay within it. She couldn't have been more wrong. The fabric didn't hide a bloody piece of human anatomy or even some type of warning, thinly disguised as a gift. It was her cross--the one she'd bought in Galway for protection after Angelus had been turned, the one that had gone missing from her room at Mr. Simpson's country house. Willow made no move to take it, but she couldn't hide her surprise at the odd present.

"You--you're giving me a cross? My cross. Why?"

Angelus's dark expression didn't change. "I need . . . *want* ya ta stay safe until we're together again. I be figurin', between Spike's protection and yer cross, ya should make it safely home. Of course, it might come in handy if Spike should happen ta misbehave. As ya said before, vampires aren't the most trustworthy creatures of the night, now are they?" he asked grimly as he carefully undid the clasp and held the necklace up to her.

"No . . . thank you," Willow repeated, albeit reluctantly because she really did want her cross back.

"Ya aren't leavin' without it, Rose," Angelus insisted with a slight smile for her continued stubbornness. "So ya might as well stop playin' the martyr and let me put it on ya now. Otherwise, I'll call Spike or Lambert in here ta hold ya still fer me while I place it around yer delicate little throat."

"I'll put it on myself, thank you." Willow reached out to grab the piece of jewelry, but Angelus held it close, out of her reach.

"That's not what I said, now was it, me little flower? Guess I'll ask Spike ta come back and hold ya."

"No!" Willow yelped as Angelus signaled to his childe who was watching everything from a short distance down the road. "Don't call him. I mean, you don't need Spike's assistance. You . . . you can put it on me . . . if you want."

Reluctantly, the redhead turned until her back was to Angelus. Facing the open door, she saw Spike stalking back toward them with a less-than-amused look on his pale face. Angelus, chuckling at her submission, motioned to Spike with a wave of his hand that he wasn't needed.

"Ya forgot ta say please, Rose. Now remember, I expect ya ta mind yer manners." There was a pause before he added, "And obey Spike as ya would me."

Even from where Spike had stopped at the bottom of the porch steps, the grin that formed on his face at Angelus's words was unmistakable. Willow gritted her teeth. As much as she hated to play his little game, she was only a few steps from freedom. She told herself she could swallow her pride . . . yet Again . . . if it meant being free from both of them.

"Yes, Angelus," she told him solemnly. "I'll obey him as if he were you."

"And . . ." Angelus whispered in her ear.

Turning her head just enough to meet his sable eyes over her shoulder, she prudently added, "Thank you for the kind gift, Angelus. Please, would you help me put it on?"

His mouth lowered, hovering achingly close to hers before twisting into a jeer. "That's a good lass."

Quickly looking away from his mocking yet handsome face, Willow had to take a deep breath to calm herself. She was so busy trying not to tremble from his closeness that she was oblivious to the slight quiver in Angelus's hands as he slipped the heavy chain with its ornate cross around her neck. After having worn it almost every day for nearly a century, it had become a part of her, and she'd missed it sorely. Willow welcomed its cool, familiar weight on the heated flesh over her hammering heart. She touched the symbol fondly, taking comfort in its familiar corners and curves.

Angelus's normally nimble fingers fumbled with the tiny clasp at the back of her slender neck. It was hard to focus when he could feel her warm, tender flesh next to his own skin. When the small latch was secure, his hands lingered of their own accord. Masterfully, he began massaging her taut muscles, kneading them into submission.

Willow didn't fight Angelus's soothing manipulations. As his fingers explored the exposed lines of her shoulders and neck, she let some of her tension drain away, all the time telling herself that she was simply playing along to hasten her escape. It was the sensation of his skin warming against hers and his thumbs tenderly tracing her hairline and collarbone that was mesmerizing. Her eyes were already half-closed when she suddenly remembered precisely where she was and the very real danger she was still in.

Alarmed and a little ashamed, Willow tried to move away, but Angelus resumed his hold on the necklace, denying her a quick escape. Slowly, he pulled her back against him, using the links of silver like a leash.

"Mine," he whispered with fierce possessiveness. "Tell me ya know that, Rose. Before I let ya walk away from me, tell me that yer mine."

Willow's heart fell and she stiffened against the vampire's touch. She knew it had been too easy. Apparently, Angelus had one more mind game to play.

Looking out the door, longing for escape, she noticed Spike watching them both from the bottom of the porch steps. Even in the dark she could see him clenching his jaw in impatience at her delay.

"No, I--I don't belong to anyone . . ." Willow said weakly. The reminder was mainly meant for the vampires, but she needed to hear it as well. "I don't care about your ritual. People don't own people," she managed a little more forcefully this time, not noticing Spike's face cloud with anger.

"Yer still so young," Angelus laughed, using his grip on her shoulders to turn Willow to face him. Sliding a hand from her shoulder down her arm, Angelus intertwined his fingers through hers. "What's a weddin' ring then, Rose?" he snickered, lifting their clasped hands to study the ring on her left hand. "It's just a symbol of ownership, no different than me mark that ya bear upon yer lovely throat."

"No! There's more to it than that," Willow interjected as she tried to wrench her hand free. The last thing she wanted to hear was Angelus's thoughts on the sanctity of marriage, but his grip was firm.

"Marriage is nothin' more than makin' a claim, showin' the world that ya belong ta someone else, Rose," he continued, easily keeping hold of her ringed hand despite her struggles.

Willow couldn't help herself from being drawn into the debate. "But at least in marriage, it's a two-way street. You promise yourself to each other. The couple *belongs* to each other, but they don't *own* each other!" she blurted out. <Great, Willow. Now it sounds like you want to own *him*. But . . . if I'm his, does that mean he's mine?>

Her mouth opened, the question poised on her lips, but she already knew the answer.

No. Angelus, in all his various incarnations, was never hers and never would be. He would always belong to someone else . . . whether it be Darla, William or Buffy . . . but never Willow, or Rose, for that matter. <Bloody hell . . .> she silently cursed to herself. <Why am I even thinking about this? Darn Spike . . . this is all his fault!>  

Seeing her confusion, Angelus's twisted smirk turned into a throaty chuckle. "If it's that important ta ya, Rose, when we're together in yer time I'll marry ya . . . *then* I'll torture ya ta death. Consider it me weddin' present ta ya."

Willow winced, much to Angelus's delight, and he continued. "Say it, Rose. If ya want ta go home, tell me what I want ta hear . . . what ya know ta be true."

"I'm yours, Angelus," she finally conceded, somehow managing to look into his eyes as she spoke. "Forever." Unfortunately, the fingers she held crossed at her side, hidden in the folds of her gown, did nothing to lessen the humiliation she felt at her words.

With her admission, his possessive grip on her tightened, becoming more painful than sensual. It only reinforced his equally hardened voice. "Yer mine, Rose . . . now and forever . . . My mark upon ya is more bindin' than any ring that ya could ever wear, fer it goes beyond life. Yer death, when I finally allow it, will bring us even closer together."

Willow couldn't break free from his hungry gaze, let alone form a coherent thought. With agonizing slowness, Angelus gently drew her to him once again.

"Remember . . . this is just a delay, my love," Angelus murmured against her throat, his lips and tongue lightly skimming the quickened pulse point. "Nothin' will change but the settin'," he finished huskily.

And then he let her go.

The spell was broken. Willow paled at his words of warning as her fear roared back to life, stealing the air from the room. He was right. Nothing had changed. Spike had still 'given' her to Angelus, so all she'd done was gain time . . . time to imagine what his plans would be . . . time for him to perfect his plans of exquisite torment. <What was it that Angelus once said to Giles? They hadn't even invented chainsaws yet . . . .> Shaking her head to clear her mind of the new horrors, she backed out the door, turned, and ran as fast as she could.

Angelus watched her run away. Considering what he was, having a woman run away from him wasn't that unusual of an occurrence. What was unusual, though, was how much pain he felt with every step that took Rose away from him. He loathed having to let her go. It wasn't fair. Angelus had waited so damn long, finding her and then losing her again. She just kept slipping through his fingers. Worse yet, this time he was *letting* her go when all he really wanted was to carry through with his claim as was his right--bite her, drain her, hurt her in ways that he hadn't even thought of yet . . .

Kiss her, touch her, taste her, take her, and make her whimper and call out his name from pleasure instead of pain. Make her need him so much that she'd die without him.

Make her *want* to die for him.

Instead, he was sending her away and into Spike's care. The last thing he wanted was Spike's help, especially if that required him touching his Rose in anyway. It was bad enough that he had to wait more than another century to finally have her, but to have to release his prize into Spike's hands was far from reassuring, considering their past history. If he thought even for a moment that Spike actually had any real feelings or desire for Rose, Angelus never would have considered letting them go together. But Spike only had eyes for Drusilla, and that suited him just fine.

Angelus caught Spike's gaze one last time, holding it until the blonde vampire finally hurried to follow Willow. A slight smile tugged at the corners of Angelus's lips as he remembered the last few hours he'd spent alone with his blonde childe. Not that he could really forget, since he still ached pleasurably from the bruises and bite marks that covered his body. Being the eldest, Spike had certain rights to which Angelus rarely had to submit. He'd fought it at first, much to Spike's delight, but in the end Angelus surrendered completely. With a guttural growl of frustration at losing both Rose and Spike at the same time, Angelus slammed the front door closed then took the stairs to William's room three at a time.

***

Willow flew down the steps, rushing past Spike and down the dark street. She paid little attention to where she was going, just turning at the first corner she came across. Her only thoughts were of putting some distance between herself and Angelus. Willow didn't realize Spike had been following her until she slowed to catch her breath and her bearings, and he stepped out of the shadows.

"So, now that you've had your tearful good-byes, are you ready to go home, love?" Spike asked grimly.

Willow came to an abrupt stop. Spike's sudden appearance and dark words did nothing to quell her panic. She shook her head and started backing away.

"No, way! Uh-uh! If you think I'm going back now just so I can be a plaything for the short-haired, leather-panted version of Angelus, you're dead wrong!" Willow informed him.

"You're half right, Red," Spike smirked as he lunged for her, pulling her close before she could get more then three steps away or make a grab for her cross. "We're going back to Galway so we can end this bloody nuisance of a spell once in for all!" he said very loudly, causing Willow to flinch.

"No!" she struggled against him, "not before I can find the cu--"

Her words were quickly cut off as Spike clamped a hand over her mouth, which she promptly bit.

"Bloody hell, Red!" he hissed softly, shaking his throbbing hand. "I'm all for making this look good, but I'd prefer not to be trailing blood through all of London!"

"What?" she exclaimed, still fighting him.

"I don't think we're being followed yet, but you can bet your corset we will be. Keep your voice down and just play along for now."

"No!" Willow told the vampire angrily. She didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about and at that point, she didn't care. "I'm not going anywhere with you! I hate you . . . more than anything . . . more than frogs. . . more than--"

"More than Angelus?" Spike interrupted.

"Why? Is it a contest?" she retorted in a tone that easily echoed the coldness in Spike's voice. "Sorry, but you'll have to settle for a tie."

"Fine, Pet," he said sharply, letting her go. "Yet again, I welcome your hatred of me." Spike turned and began strolling away. "I just thought you might want to find your little Rom mates and see about a certain curse," he added over his shoulder, just loud enough for the wide-eyed redhead to hear. "But if you'd rather hold grudges, well . . ."

He'd caught Willow totally off guard. Never before had Spike even hinted at the possibility of allowing Angelus to 'live', let alone be cursed with his soul once again. That had always been her plan, not his. Curious and more than a little bewildered, Willow quickly grabbed her bag that Spike had dropped on the damp cobblestones and shuffled after the blonde vampire. With some difficulty, she was able to get in front of him, stopping his progression.

"What did you say?" she demanded, poking him in the chest with one angry finger.

Spike pursed his lips and glanced back over her shoulder, checking to make sure they were still alone. "You heard me. But we can't talk about it here, not now." As if the discussion were closed, Spike turned on his heels and continued his cocky stride away from his old home. But Willow was not about to be ignored, again.

Throwing her bag down and stamping her foot in rage, Willow called after him. "We *are* going to talk about it right here and now. I'm *not* going anywhere with you until I know what's going on! And even then, it's doubtful!

Spike spun around, his patience quickly withering under her stubbornness. Thankfully, it appeared as if they were still alone.

"Look, Pet. You're just going to have to trust me, aren't you? So for now, quit your whinging and hurry up! Otherwise, you might as well just turn around and walk right back into that house, tie yourself up, and get ready for some incredible pain," he instructed her, waving a finger in the general direction from which they'd come. "No matter what Angelus feels for you . . . no matter how much he wants you," Spike said with obvious distaste, "his plans hardly involve long romantic strolls on the bloody beach or odes of undying love. He'll hurt you in ways you can't even imagine, Red."

Willow stood as straight as her overwrought body would allow and jutted out her chin in defiance. "I know that, Spike. Believe it or not, I hardly intended to ask Angelus to take me to the Prom. I'm aware that he doesn't really care about me. It's just an infatuation . . . obsession . . . and not in the good way."

Spike shook his head as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "You have no idea, my little virgin."

"Wrong again, Spike. There isn't anything that I haven't imagined . . . or dreamed. Every night my mind comes up with some new horror. I don't need you to spell it out for me or draw me pictures!"

Spike purposely and savagely clenched his jaw, hoping it hid the grimace caused by her words. "Well then, since you're so up with the state of the play, what'll it be?" he asked Willow coolly.

She stood her ground, but her voice was shakier. "Why should I trust you again?"

Unable to hold her gaze, Spike studied his shoes for a bit. It was a good question. Yes, it was a very good question. He only wished his answer were its equal.

"Because," he eventually began, meeting her angry eyes, "for the first time we have the same bloody goal in mind, Willow, and because you have sod-all choice."

"And what goal might that be?" she pressed further.

He took a couple of steps closer so he wouldn't have to speak so loudly. "I don't want Angelus back in Sunnydale anymore than you do. As much as it kills me to say this, I'll do whatever it damn well takes to make sure that it's your favorite soulful vampire, *Angel,* that migrates to Sunnydale and not the new and improved Angelus."

"You will?" she asked skeptically, receiving a curt nod from the blonde demon in return.

Willow was silent as she contemplated Spike's little revelation. It came back to Drusilla, yet again. Spike was obviously not willing to take *any* chance that Angelus might renew his interest in the vampiress. Yet, she'd thought that things had changed between Spike and his sire, so Willow was actually a little surprised at his confession. She scrutinized him for a moment, trying to find a trace of the Spike that she once knew intimately, but she just couldn't be sure who he was anymore. Then her eyes noticed something interesting on his neck.

"By the looks of that little love bite you have there, I'd think you'd be happy to have Angelus in town," she said caustically, pointing to the healing bite wound on his throat. "You two seemed to have gotten quite chummy, considering you ruined my life to kill him and all."

Spike's hand rose to a bite mark and a sheepish grin crossed his face. "This is nothing, Red. You should see the ones I left him to remember me with. Oh yeah . . . sometimes it's good to be the oldest," Spike sighed, his grin broadening as he wagged his eyebrows suggestively. His good humor quickly faded, however, when Willow's cold façade didn't soften in the slightest.

"Look," Spike groaned, "I know you have little bloody reason to believe me or trust me, but I'm sure if you give it some thought, you'll understand why I don't want Angelus back in Sunnydale."

Willow shook her head in resignation as she picked up her things and started slowly walking again, Spike at her side. She tried to come up with all sorts of noble reasons why he would want to ensoul Angelus and keep him that way. It definitely wasn't for her own sake. His behavior for the past few days proved that. So that left only one thing. As she'd suspected all along, he'd do it for Drusilla.

"Drusilla," she answered without looking at him.

"Give the girl a cookie. You got it on the first guess," he said without much enthusiasm.

"Fine. You don't want to share Drusilla, again, so you're willing to stick around for another few decades so we can make sure the gypsies curse Angelus with his soul."

"Only this time, it'll be permanent. None of this bloody happiness clause to muck up all our fun."

Willow stopped and tightened her grip on the bag. "I'll take care of it," she said formally, as if accepting a new job assignment. "When it's done, I'll meet you at our spot in the park in just under 40 years."

Not waiting for Spike's response, Willow changed direction. She didn't know exactly where she was going. All she cared about for now was that it took her far away from both Angelus and Spike. However, the blonde vampire had other ideas, and he put her exit to an abrupt halt, seizing her by both shoulders.

"And just where the bloody hell do you think you're . . ."

His question was cut off as he suddenly found himself sailing through the air to once again land with a loud thud at Willow's feet.

". . . going?" he ended with a grunt. In the split second that stars were dancing in his head, Spike still had the presence of mind to make a mental note to someday ask Willow where she picked up that move. When he came to his senses, Spike was a little annoyed that Willow ignored both his question and his plight. She simply picked her bag up from where she'd dropped it when she flipped the vampire, and then proceeded to step over him and continue along in her previous direction.

Spike scrambled to his feet and rushed after her. Not wanting to make the mistake of trying to stop her again, the vampire this time got in front of her and blocked her path. Each time she tried to step around him, he easily obstructed her new route.

Finally, an angry and tired Willow threw her bag down. "Just get out of my way! I'll take care of everything with the Rom and meet you back here! So, why don't you go find yourself some . . . some gaunt, Drusilla look-a-like to suck on for the next few decades, live in your little fantasy world, and leave me alone!" she huffed.

Ignoring her gibes, Spike shook his head. "Sorry, Red. No can do. We're going to finish this thing together. No more splitting up . . . no more Separations . . . it's about bloody time we started trying to make this marriage work."

Spike's attempts to make Willow smile failed miserably.

"I don't want to be with you for another 40 years!" she informed him in no uncertain terms. "I don't want to be with you for another 40 seconds!"

"I don't see as you have a choice, Pet. So grow up and--"

He never got to finish the statement. Spike's mouth was closed for him when Willow landed a punch squarely to his face. Spike's head snapped back under the surprising force of the petite redhead's blow. <Bloody hell . . . where *did* she learn all these new moves?>

Rubbing his jaw, the vampire refocused on Willow in amusement. "Got yourself quite a le--"

"My right isn't bad, either," she informed him as her other fist made contact with the opposite side of his face.

Spike's eyes sparked yellow, but the warning quickly faded. "Now, I can't help wondering why you never hit Angelus like that, Pet! Maybe you didn't really want to get away," he insinuated, making Willow's eyes widen in shock.

"What? Hey . . . wait! We both know what would've happened if I even dared to lift a finger against Angelus," she growled, wanting to smack the twisted smile off his face permanently. "I certainly wouldn't be standing here right now, so don't you dare suggest that--"

"But you dared to lift a finger against me, didn't you, Red?" Spike reminded her, interrupting her angry outburst. "Doesn't that mean something?"

Willow's eyes widened at the implication. She had been so caught up in her own anger and confusion that it had never even occurred to her that Spike had every right to retaliate for her striking him--twice. After all, the Irish vampire had told her to obey Spike as if he were Angelus.

Seeing a glimpse of fright creep into her face, Spike quickly changed tactics. He'd been trying to make a point, not scare her.

"I guess it just never occurred to me that maybe you didn't want to get away until now. You don't look the sadist type, but then again, it's always the quiet ones, isn't it?" he teased lightly. "Shame we didn't have a little more time together to explore that side of your personality more thoroughly."

Indignation soon pushed her fear into the background, causing Willow's mouth to open and close a few times as she fought with herself over her answer. In the end, she refused to give him the satisfaction and simply repeated her initial question instead. "Why should I go with you?"

Spike's face darkened as he realized she wasn't going to make this easy for him. He wondered if he should even bother trying to make it up to her. That was an easy question. Yes. Without a doubt.

"Willow . . ." he started softly, trying very hard to keep his tone light. "First of all, we *both* have to go to Galway. Angelus is going to send one of his minions to spy on us, so we better come up with some bloody good illusion to fool him into thinking that we actually did the spell and it worked! Then, and only then, can we head to the continent and try to find the damned Rom." When the only response he got from the redhead was one of the most evil glares he'd ever seen, he continued. "Look . . . I know you're angry. You probably want to use my entrails for dental floss right now," Spike continued, not even drawing a look of disgust from the virginal redhead, "but I'm not letting you do this alone. You can hate me if you want. You can spit in my handsome face every single day for the next four decades if it'll make you feel any better--which I kinda hope you don't," he added as a sidebar, "because my skin is very sensitive and dries out easily. Point is, you're stuck with me. So you might as well get used to it."

This time, before she could reply, he picked up her bag and trudged back in the original direction he'd started out in--toward his own residence. Willow didn't watch him go. Instead she remained where she was, her face in her hands.

"Nothing in my life is ever simple anymore," she repeated wearily into her palms. Finally prying them away, Willow took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She'd go to Galway with him, concoct some phony spell with some colored smoke and a little gunpowder, and then . . . . Well, she'd worry about that later. With one last look around, Willow hurried after Spike.

Hearing Willow's footsteps behind him, Spike stopped and waited. He chose not to turn and face her, but he could still see her well enough with his peripheral vision. Willow was also looking straight ahead, purposely not looking at the vampire beside her.

"Are we ready then?" he asked her.

"Yes," Willow replied firmly, then quickly snatched her bag out of his hand. "I can carry my own bag," she said firmly, and in unison they both started back up the street.

After a brief moment, Spike couldn't resist trying again. "You just spent your first 40 seconds with me. Now, was that really so bad?" he joked.

Willow gritted her teeth and kept her eyes on the road ahead. "Why don't you shut *your* bloody gob, Spike, and see about hailing us a hansom cab?"

Spike clenched his jaw viciously as he silently counted from 1 to 40. It was going to be a long trip.

***** The next day, after stopping off at Spike's old place to pick up a few things and tie up some loose ends, they were on a train and headed for Wales.  From there, they would catch the ferry to Ireland.

Spike and Willow sat across from each other in a private compartment.  The shade was pulled down on the window of the cabin door to give them privacy, but the shade to the outside was up so that Willow could enjoy the scenery. Luckily for Spike, the sun was on the other side of the train at the moment. They hadn't said more than ten words to each other since Willow had told him to shut up the night before, and then only out of necessity.  Since they had gotten on the train two hours earlier, neither had uttered a syllable.

The droning of the train and its constant rocking motion was making it hard for Willow to stay awake.  As much as she wanted to watch the beautiful English countryside go by, she couldn't keep her eyes open.  Giving in to her body's demands, she laid her head back against the seat cushion and closed her eyes.

Spike, who was busy reading a first edition of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses,' peeked at Willow when he felt her relax.  He'd hoped she would get some sleep because she looked exhausted.  Maybe when she was better rested she'd be a little more reasonable and let him explain.  He returned to his book but had only gotten about ten more pages done before she surprised him by speaking.

"Spike?" she asked with her eyes still closed.

Spike barely glanced up from his book.  "Yes, Willow."

"Why are we going to Galway?"

"Because I told Angelus that the spell had to be done in the exact same spot where we originally arrived.  It doesn't, of course, but he doesn't know that.  Stupid git."

The next silence lasted long enough for Spike to read another few pages.

"Why?" she asked, breaking the stillness.

Knowing what she meant, Spike replied, "Because otherwise the pillock would have made us do the spell right there in front of him so he could watch. This way, Angelus won't be around, and we'll be able to fool the stupid sods he sent to follow us."

Silence again.  This time six pages were read.

"Why doesn't he come himself?"

The blonde vampire resisted the urge to ask if she missed Angelus's company that much.

"Two reasons.  One is the wayward world-traveler Darla is due back in a couple of days, and as her childe, he needs to be there to welcome her home with open arms and veins.  Two, he doesn't trust himself around you.  He knows if he's near you for much longer, he won't be able to stop himself.  I guess we should be thankful you're so irresistible, Willow," he deadpanned.

Willow didn't open her eyes, let alone rise to his bait.  She was worn-out and in desperate need of sleep.  Unfortunately for both of them, there were too many unanswered questions.

"Spike?" she said after another long break.

By this time, Spike was equally as tired and had mimicked her position, having put his book away for the time being.

"Still here," he retorted.

This was the hardest question of all, but the one Willow needed answered the most.

"The things you said to me . . . did you mean them?  All of them?"

"Yes, Willow," he replied calmly.  "Everything I said to you I meant, at least at the time I did."

A soft, "Oh," was all she could manage in response.  Even though she had expected as much, it hurt to hear him say it, more than she wanted him to know.

Many long minutes later, it was Spike's turn.  "Willow?"

"Still here," she whimpered after a deep breath.

"Which things in particular are you worried about, because I'd bet Angel's soul right now that you're replaying every bloody little thing I've ever said to you in that busy box of a brain of yours.  Be specific and I'll tell you the truth."

Playing along for the moment, Willow focused her myriad of doubts down to the basic root of all her questions.  In the end, there were two incidents that really plagued her--the rest she could either flag away to simply being his ego or his temper talking.  She was used to that from the vampire.  The one thing she did need to know was if Spike really had used her like he'd implied.

"The things you said to me just yesterday . . . about when we were . . . you know, together . . . did you mean those?" she asked softly, hoping to answer most of her questions with his one reply.  "Tell me the truth.  No matter how much it may hurt, I want the truth."

There was a long pause, but just as she was about to take his silence for the answer, he spoke.

"Willow, look at me."

Too tired to make things difficult, she finally lifted her head and opened her eyes.

"What did I say to you last night . . . exactly?" he questioned her.

She took a deep breath and began repeating his words almost verbatim. Spike's face remained unreadable as he listened to his own comments about sacrifice and friendship and how easy it was to get her to volunteer to trade places with Drusilla.  When she stopped, right after his remark about making herself pretty for Angelus, Spike leaned forward in his seat.  Having said all she could bear to, Willow waited for his answer, but instead he just stared at her, waiting.  Willow returned his stare in anticipation.

Eventually he spoke first.  "Finish it, Willow.  Finish what I said to you. There was more."

She knew there was more.  Willow just didn't want to have to say the words and relive the humiliation again, but Spike was insisting.  His eyes wouldn't let her end it there.  Finally, she forced herself to go on.

"You . . . you said that you knew what Angelus was going to do to me, and you only wished you could help."

Spike kept watching her.  "No, that's no quite what I said.  Say it again, word for word, just like I said to you," he insisted, still watching her intently.

Willow glared at him for his cruelty, but did what he said anyway.  "You said, and I quote, 'Yes, I do know.  I'm only sorry I can't help him!'"  She had to practically spit the words out to utter them, but she met his eyes and held them, demanding an explanation.

"I think you forgot something, Pet.  That isn't all I said," Spike insisted.

Willow was ready to scream she was so frustrated.  "Enough with the damned games, Spike!  Just tell me the truth!"

He shook his head.  "You already know the answer.  Think about what I said. Say it again!"

"No!" she yelled at him.  "I don't need to repeat the words.  Fine!  I get it!  You meant every word you said to me just like you already told me.  You don't have to rub it in, all right?"

Spike chuckled as he sat back in his seat and took out a cigarette. Sometimes she was more fun to get all stirred up than Angelus was.

She glared at the vampire one more time before closing her eyes, picturing her 'happy place,' and forcing herself to relax.  Just when she'd calmed down and was trying to come to terms with the fact that Spike had used her all along, he interrupted her thoughts.

"Willow?"

"What!" she growled through gritted teeth, refusing to open her eyes.

"My exact words were, 'Yes, I do know.  I'm only sorry I can't help him, Rose,'" Spike reminded her.

Willow never wished she had a stake or even a slab of wood and a sharp knife so badly in her whole life.  She'd whittle a stake right now if she had to.

"That's what I said . . . that you said . . ." she huffed a little awkwardly.

Seeing some humor in the situation that Willow didn't, Spike grinned.  "For such a smart woman, you aren't very bloody bright, Willow."

Suddenly Willow's eyes opened, and then grew wider.  "Oh, I get it!  You just want to make me cry again, don't you . . . or . . . or this is just some little subplot you contrived with Angelus to drive me insane . . . or . . ."

Shaking his head, Spike felt a little guilty for teasing her.  After all, she'd been through a lot.  She was exhausted and barely able to stay awake, let alone think straight.  He moved to sit next to her, taking her wrists in his hands before she could move away.

"I said, *Willow,*" Spike began again, more slowly this time, "'I'm only sorry I can't help him, *Rose.*'"

Willow winced at the words, not wanting to hear them ever again, but now they were bouncing around in her head like a half-dozen super-charged atoms. A tear started to slide down her cheek and she hated herself for crying again.  <Wonder if Spike thinks of my tears as a gift just like Angelus thought of Rose's . . .> she speculated morosely.

Rose.  Willow.  <*Rose!*  *Willow!*>

She sat up straight and looked at Spike, her mouth falling open.  "I'm Willow," she said very seriously, looking him straight in the eye.  "I'm not Rose."

Spike heaved a sigh of relief and let go of her hands to throw his up in the air.  "Finally!  Thank the ever-bloody Lord!" he exclaimed.  "I was starting to think I was going to have to draw pictures or something!"  He started laughing, but the sounds soon died on his lips when he noticed Willow wasn't even smiling.  She was still staring at him.

His face fell.  "Crikey, love.  You aren't going through every conversation we ever had again are you?"

Willow could only nod.

He turned so he faced her directly.  "Let me make it easy.  The things I said during--"

But Willow interrupted him before he could launch into a lengthy explanation.  "Hold on, Buster!" she suddenly said, stabbing at him with a long finger.  "Don't try to make me think you had this planned all along--the swapping and the ritual and the running back to Galway for a light show--because I'm not buying it!  You meant a lot of the things you said to me.  I saw the way you looked at me, and. . ." she stopped, trying to find the right words.  Only one seemed to fit, so she took a deep breath and said it.  "You *loathed* me.  And I'm not even talking about what happened that night we saw Dru," she added.

Spike ran a hand through his hair in frustration.  So much had happened, but the last thing either of them needed was to rehash every moment of their relationship right now.

"Willow," he said as softly and sincerely as demonly possible, but he was a bit out of practice, "I won't apologize for the things I said or did that night we saw Drusilla.  And I won't patronize you by saying that I didn't mean them.  At the bloody time, I meant every word of it.  I wanted to hurt you a bit . . . *needed* to even.  I can't explain it any better than to say when I saw Drusilla and then lost her again because of you, I snapped.  End of story."

Willow looked at him blankly for a moment.  She understood most of what he said.  After all, she'd pretty much come to terms with his reaction after seeing his Dark Goddess already.  But it wasn't enough.  There was still the matter of his behavior the last few days.

"You call that an apology?  I already said I understand why you reacted the way you did to seeing Drusilla.  And I kinda understand why you said the things you did and why you behaved like such a . . . a .  . . poophead!" she said wearily, too drained to even muster a good insult.  "And although I'm not happy about the way you bit me or--or what you said or that you broke my guitar, I understand.  Like I said, I don't care about that!  It's what's happened the last three days that you need to explain to me."

Spike sat up a little straighter.  He'd thought he was prepared for her all of her inevitable questions, but instead he found himself going on the defensive.

"Explain?  Explain what?  I saved your cute little ungrateful ass!  And have I heard a simple thank you yet?  Not bloody likely."

"What?" she exclaimed unbelievingly.

"Listen, Princess.  If I hadn't come along when I did, you'd be sitting there quite dead."

Willow blinked at him.

"Err . . . or lying there, I suppose," the vampire continued.  "You know what I mean!  Without me, Angelus would have had his wicked way with you by now and we'd both be suffering the consequences."

Willow couldn't believe the vampire's gall.  His ego was as bad as his sire's.  "So you expect my undying gratitude for everything you've done to me?"

"Bloody hell, Pet.  I don't want your first born or anything.  I'd settle for a simple 'Thank you, Spike.  You're my hero!'" he said in a falsetto voice, batting his eyelashes.

Willow's irritation grew at Spike's casual attitude.  "I can't believe you expect me to thank you for . . . for--"

Spike vaulted to his feet, startling Willow enough that she forgot what she was saying.  "And I can't bloody believe that you are so daft as to not see what I did for you!" he informed her as he began pacing the length of the small compartment.

"*For* me?  *To* me is more like it!" she retorted, standing up to face Spike directly.  "For starters, you said some horrible things, demeaned me, and --"

Spike groaned.  This wasn't going the way he expected.  After all, she was an intelligent woman.  She should've been able to figure it all out by now with a little thought.

"Oh, come on, Willow!  Angelus was standing in the bloody hallway when I said those things, wasn't he?  If you hadn't kept pestering me for an answer and babbling on about friendship, then I wouldn't have had to say all that, now would I?  And, like I said before, I was saying all of those horrible things to *Rose*, remember?" he ground out, his patience wearing thin.  He could go on for hours, giving explanations for the various things he'd said and done, but he felt that he shouldn't have to.  "Besides, even if I did say them to you, Willow, big bloody deal!  So I had to hurt your feelings a little bit in order to save your whiny little bum.  You think Angelus would have made this deal if he thought we sat around giving each other pedicures and discussing the meaning of life?"

Willow deflated a little.  "Well, no . . . but . . ."

"And don't forget William," he reminded her, catching what he thought was a small spark of understanding in her face and wanting to build on it.  "You know, if I hadn't been there, the younger, less worldly and understanding version of me would have enjoyed showing you what kind of demon he was. Kneeing him in the family jewels wasn't very bright when there was nowhere to go, Red."

"But--but I almost escaped before you stopped me!" Willow declared, drawing another groan of disbelief from the vampire across from her.

"You think you would've escaped?" Spike scoffed.  "You think Angelus would just let you walk out?  Doubtful, Pet.  He would have caught you and then spent then next fortnight reminding you what happens when you disobey him. And he wouldn't have been using words to punish you like I did, Willow. Trust me.  You got off easy."

Willow frowned and then began gnawing on her lower lip.  Easy?  It didn't feel easy.  Not only did she have to listen to Spike's hateful comments, she also had to put up with Angelus's mind games--games that made Willow wonder what Angelus may have had in mind for her in the original future.  <Stop it, Willow!  You'll drive yourself crazy.  It was a game . . . all a game . . . and now it's over!  God. . . please let it be over!>

Plunking herself back down on the leather train seat, Willow was silent, much to Spike's relief.  He hoped it was all beginning to sink in now. Unfortunately, his hopes were shattered when Willow's interrogation continued.

"But Spike, why did you have to *give* me to him . . . and then pretend that you were going to save me . . ."

Spike rolled his eyes.  "I can't believe you're all boo-hooey about that. It worked, didn't it?  You're free, and without so much as a broken nail from the experience.  And I did try and let you know that it would be over soon.  Not my fault if you're too bloody thick to see through my little play."

"You tried to let me know?  How?" she queried skeptically.

"How?"  His disbelief raised his voice to near shouting level.  "I said I wouldn't let them hurt you!  I--I squeezed your bloody shoulders as reassuringly as I could!"  Spike ran his hands down his tired face.  He just couldn't seem to get through to her.  "Give me a break, Willow.  I'm a demon after all.  Playing the white knight doesn't come easy to me.  But you're a bright girl, so I'd thought you'd figure it out."  Turning away from her so that she couldn't see just how close to losing his temper he really was, Spike banged his head against the interior wall of the compartment a few times . . . just to calm himself.  "I guess next time I'll have to wear a white hat or something so you won't have so much trouble telling the good guys from the bad guys," he grumbled.  His sarcasm wasn't lost on Willow.

"I don't' think they make a hat big enough for an ego as large as yours. And you're no John Wayne, Spike.  John Wayne never just threw a girl to the wolves like you did!"

Spike spun around.  "That's enough, Willow!  Come on!  What do I have to do to get it through that thick skull of yours?  This is bloody ridiculous! Don't you see a pattern yet?  It took me awhile, but I came up with a plan, and I did everything I could to get you out of there before anything too horrible happened.  Sure, I had to change the plan a bit now and then, but I did the best I could, and if you don't like it, well. . . you can just sit around and feel sorry for yourself for the next 40 years.  I'm getting pretty used to your childish moods by now!"  

"And," he continued before Willow could express her anger, "You're just damn lucky I think so fast on my feet!"

"Oh yeah," Willow snorted, crossing her arms over her chest in a disgruntled display.  "I'm the luckiest girl in the world.  I'm practically betrothed to Angelus who's going to spend the next 100 years coming up with all sorts of wonderful ways to spend our honeymoon."

Spike sighed.  She just didn't seem to get it.  "Why are you even worrying about that?  I already told you, I've no bloody intention of ever allowing Angelus to show up in Sunnydale.  Basically, I gave you to *Angel*, not Angelus,"  Spike reminded her, confusing Willow all the more.

She was almost afraid to ask.  "Um  . . . so?"

The vampire wanted to scream.  He just couldn't believe it was taking her so long to understand.  The only thing he could come up with to explain her behavior was that she must have been even more exhausted than she looked, which would make her equivalent to the walking dead at that moment.  Finding a long forgotten well of patience somewhere within, Spike tried to spell it out for her while lightening the mood at the same time.

"We're talking about our Angel here, Willow.  Remember the broody bore with no fashion sense?  At most, he'll cry and beg your forgiveness until you're ready to stake him yourself just to shut him the bloody hell up.  Although, I suppose putting up with brood-vamp is a bit of a torture in itself. 'Course, since the curse won't be in effect, you'll likely have to pry him from out between the Slayer's legs for that apology."

Willow barely took any notice of his crude comments.  She was too busy rubbing her temples as the dull pressure in her head grew.  Spike was right. . . why hadn't she figured that out before?  Maybe the vampire really had thought this whole thing through.  And besides, they were only words, right? Angelus didn't have any 'real' power over her.

Willow offered him a weak attempt at a smile, hoping it conveyed the beginning of her understanding.  Relieved to see a spark of comprehension in his companion's face, Spike continued.

"Or he'll pretend it never happened because he won't be sure that it ever did," he added, totally catching Willow off guard.  Her eyes widened; her brief moment of lucidity was shattered.

"But . . . why would he think it never really happened?"

Spike shrugged.  "Because, as I figure it, there's a good bloody chance that you and I won't even remember it, love.  Well, I'll remember bits of it, I Suppose . . . the 'William' part, but not the rest."

"Y--you think we won't remember?  That we'll forget the whole last 100 years?" Willow squeaked.  She was beginning to feel like the least intelligent one in the room, which did nothing to quell her aching head. Even with Spike's explanations, she couldn't think straight.  It was too much for the weary girl to sort out at one time.

"Maybe, maybe not," he said matter of factly.  "If we do, it'll be confusing.  The old future and the new one, the past century, and then whatever the hell is happening in between while we're gone.  I don't know, love, but I suspect it's a strong possibility."

Willow's face fell.  "Oh.  I never thought that we wouldn't remember this whole thing.  I guess it would be confusing, especially for you with the old William and the new William and everything.  You're reliving, or um, re-unliving you old past, but it's the first time for me.  It might be difficult to keep track of."

"Too right.  I think we'll all be better off if we don't remember.  You won't have to worry about every little thing that you did . . . like seducing both me and Angelus," he teased, then went on before she could express her irritation at his suggestive tone.  "Plus, there's the added bonus of Angel thinking he's insane," Spike said with a satisfied smirk. "So see?  It's not that bad, Red.  We just have to get through the next few decades, and then it'll all be over, and all will be right with the world."

"Yeah . . . um, great . . ." Willow responded absent-mindedly.  Between her headache and utter exhaustion, Willow just couldn't think about it anymore. She wasn't sure she even wanted to.  She looked at Spike and found him staring at her questioningly.

"I'm going to try and get some sleep now.  Too much information makes Willow's brain go numb.  I'll try to make some sense of it all later," she murmured sleepily as she tried to make herself comfortable on the hard seat.

Spike frowned.  Somehow he'd expected her to be a bit more excited with the thought of putting everything behind her and not having to really deal with some of the possible consequences.  Plus, it was apparently going to take her awhile to accept what he'd done to free her.  Yet, even taking that into account, in Spike's opinion, something still didn't seem right with the redhead.  He only hoped a good kip was the answer--they were both tired.

"Take your time, Pet," he whispered so softly that he wasn't even sure she'd even heard him.  "I'm not going anywhere."  Spike then flopped back down on the bench across from Willow, stretching out before closing his eyes and feigning sleep.

Sleep didn't come to Willow either, much to her dismay.  Instead she watched the world go by outside her window.  It was hard for her to believe that she might not even remember this beautiful country when all was said and done.

"Spike . . ." she said in a whisper awhile later.

"Still here," answered Spike, opening his eyes to find Willow still watching the scenery.

She let out a deep, cleansing breath.  "We really screwed-up the timeline good this time, didn't we?"

Spike smirked.  "Willow . . . I've a feeling that by the time we're actually done and get back to civilization, we'll be bloody lucky if the sky's still blue."

"Oh well . . ." Willow said in a sigh.  "I always thought a purple sky would be much better anyway."

"Purple?" the blonde vampire snorted.  "I was thinking more along the lines of black or blood red, myself."

"What a surprise," Willow remarked, rolling her eyes.

Relieved to see some of his old Willow and even a ghost of a smile, Spike flashed her a roguish grin.  "What can I say, Pet?  Some things never change."

Willow wanted to laugh.  More than anything, she wished everything could be like it was before--before she had been discovered by Angelus at the poker game, before she and Spike had happened upon Drusilla on the street, and even before she and the blonde vampire had shared a bed.  She would welcome another lifetime of the teasing and the sexual tension over a minute of this awkwardness and doubt.  She couldn't go back, though.  And even if it were possible, something deep within her wasn't ready to move on.

Willow closed her eyes, willing herself to relax.  Before she finally succumbed to sleep, she murmured, "I hope you're right, Spike.  I hope you're right."
~~~~~

End Chapter 36

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