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Back to Black (PG-13)

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  • Back to Black (PG-13)

    Title: Back to Black
    Rating: R (language, some violence)
    Characters: Buffy, Spike, Xander, Willow, Dawn, Faith, Angel, Wesley
    Relationship Overtones: Minor Buffy/Xander, Buffy/Spike
    Spoilers: Through Buffy 8.08 "No Future For You, Part III" and Angel: "After the Fall" Chapter I.
    Notes: This is in response to a quasi-challenge to write a meeting between Buffy and Spike in the Season 8 context ? their first meeting since "Chosen". Because I really don't like writing "AU" if I can help it, certain liberties and assumptions are made to make sure that the current flow of Season 8 and "After the Fall" aren't disrupted. Well, one AU note ? in this fic, whenever the Season 8 timeline is, Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" album and songs have at least been recorded, if not actually released yet.
    Disclaimer: All characters and events references are the sole creative effort of Joss Whedon and others to whom he has expressly directed to write them on his behalf.
    Beta: Kold



    "I think it's a cute name," Willow offered as she looked out the window of their rented stretch limousine. The tastefully lit neon sign over the club said only one word: Wanderlust. She glanced back over her shoulder to the other seats in the large passenger cabin, where Buffy and Xander waited for the driver to get them closer to the door. Buffy studied her hands on her lap, smoothing out her fuchsia dress in the places where it bunched up. Xander tapped his foot idly and stared out his rear window. Willow drew in her breath and let out a quiet sigh as she stared at them. It was like their parents were making each other go to the prom together.

    "Guys? Hello, there was a claim of cuteness made from this side of the limo," Willow prompted, gesturing out the window as if it was obvious.

    "Say, isn't wanderlust something you get when you want to run away from everything for months on end?" Buffy asked casually, looking up at Willow with a pointed but good natured smile.

    "Well, you'd know, runaway," Willow snotted back, leaning forward and rolling her head in joking sarcasm. Her eyes caught movement, and she glanced over to Xander. He looked handsome tonight, a black suit over a grey open-necked dress shirt. Only the eye-patch stuck out. Willow smiled to herself, remembering for a moment why she'd had such a crush on him. He was pulling at the neck of his shirt, though, like it was too tight on him. "Xan, what's the matter? Egyptian silk all? scratchy on ya?"

    Buffy looked over to him curiously. She flicked a small piece of lint from his shoulder unconsciously.

    "Well, it's no burlap sack," Xander answered, clearing his throat, "can't beat that burlap for comfort." Willow noticed he was still staring out the rear window, not looking at her or Buffy.

    He glanced back when his joke got no answer. Looking between them, all he saw was their expectant stares. "Hey, I didn't do drama club, okay? Going in to some swanky jazz club and trying to look like the bad-assed kingpin of an international supernatural organization? Not something I have the formal training for."

    Buffy furrowed her eyebrows, nodding slowly. "Xander, you kinda are the bad-assed kingpin of an international supernatural organization."

    "Slayer Consigliere," Willow agreed with an encouraging grin.

    Xander started to say something in protest, but stopped himself, seeing their point. "Okay, well, I'm just nervous because I prefer a double breasted jacket?" Willow patted his hand with a sympathetic smile.

    "Okay, guys, show time," Buffy said, sitting up in her seat as the limousine idled to a stop. "Renee, pull around a block to the east and be ready." Buffy continued turning to the driver's seat. The young Slayer turned back, tipping her chauffeur's hat in acknowledgement of the order.

    When the doorman opened the limo door, Xander started to move, but a look from Willow locked him to his seat. He remembered, she was supposed to be their "assistant" in this little show, and it would hardly look smart to have the big boss of the international criminal whatever-the-hell holding the door open for his servants and mistress. He winced a little, even contemplating Buffy's planned role in this charade.

    Willow would have felt Xander's embarrassment, even if his aura hadn't changed color behind her, she knew her friend. Grabbing her clipboard, which was really just a bunch of random glyphs and doodling she did in the car, she stepped out of the car. She felt a little awkward herself, wearing a black pantsuit and a white and black pattern sleeveless blouse. She swept her hair back over her ear to uncover the Bluetooth headset Xander had given her. She thought it looked ridiculous, despite her tech geek instincts chiming in as emphatically in favor of the new toy.

    Buffy turned to Xander, giving a quick smile and a wink. "Relax. Have fun, okay? You're Winston Wolf. You're Morpheus." Her pep talk given, she slid out of the car. Various scenesters were assembled outside the club, some hoping to slip past the velvet ropes into the concert, others just seeing if they'd recognize any of the VIPs showing up and showering them with pictures. She did her best impression of a Hollywood starlet, smiling aloofly at anyone she made eye contact while she waited for Xander to step out of the car.

    "Morpheus," Xander agreed glumly to himself. He climbed out of the car and stood up, doing his best at cool and disinterested. He nodded to Willow, who turned to walk ahead of them. Buffy reached up to take his arm, and they started across the sidewalk.

    The plan was simple, on the surface. They had tracked the sale of mystically enhanced weapons across all of Europe to an American distributor who was visiting London. Some kind of warlock with a flair for glamours of celebrity for himself, Willow had said. He'd be in London tonight, apparently hosting a sale at this club. He'd control the VIP list and be vetting it closely ? not for rock stars and actresses, but for people with supernatural connections; big shot demons, witches, maybe the odd Slayer. Getting Xander in depended on them selling the idea that he could pass muster as a big shot of his own. Tonight, he was just another demonic weapons dealer, with an innocent new Slayer as his personal arm candy. Buffy had come up with that idea, thinking that if a Slayer is around and looks like she's in charge, bad guys tended to expect it to be her.

    They were there to get close to the warlock and identify his buyer ? hopefully helping them to keep some dangerous weapons getting to the wrong hands. Or into Twilight's hands, which wouldn't be good news for anyone. A simple plan, on the surface.

    Below the surface, it involved a 25 year old former carpenter and a missing eye mingling with the London club scene. And evil demons.

    As they stepped into the club, Willow looked back over her shoulder. She could feel Xander's anxiety, but thankfully couldn't see it. He was doing a better job than he himself had thought he would. Buffy hugged his arm affectionately, perfectly in character, looking around in wonder like an Innocent Young Thing would.

    Okay, guys, Willow sent, reaching out to Buffy and Xander telepathically, You look great. This should be a three-way call, now.

    8-6-7, Xander free associated.

    5-3-0-9, Buffy agreed reflexively.

    I'll take that as a "yes, we can hear you Willow, and your useful talents continue to impress", then, Willow answered in her mind. Buffy didn't answer with words, but a mental picture for Willow ? her sticking out her tongue at her. You guys have me up here; I have Renee, Leah, and Maritza on this nifty Bluetooth.

    Willow, once we mark the buyer, tell the others to take him out on the street. We don't want Casman knowing we've got his boy, Xander thought back to her.

    And then I'll do something painful to Mr. C in the VIP room to see where he's warehousing the weapons, Buffy continued.

    Willow was pulled out of her mental focus for a moment by a hostess walking up to them. "Mr. Casman wanted me to get in touch with all of our special guests to say that he's having some last minute cleaning up to the VIP lounge done ? a touch of disagreement in there from his last meeting, I'm afraid." Her accent was drenched in posh, and her smile wide and completely false.

    "There's a delay," Willow said aloud to Xander, "our host isn't ready to entertain."

    Xander frowned back to her, and Buffy put on the most adorable little pout Willow had seen on her, and whined out a quiet "nooo". She was having fun with the vapid groupie act, Willow thought. Xander gestured to her to come closer and pretended to whisper something in Willow's ear. His approach was apparently to look important by not speaking to the help directly, which Willow thought sounded like a decent enough approach. Angel was terse. Oz was terse. She'd been pretty terse when she was evil. There was a reason it was a classic.

    Turning back to the hostess, Willow said, "Mr. Fury will enjoy the show from the floor, then. He looks forward to the lounge being opened as soon as possible." The hostess nodded smartly and hurried off.

    Mr. Fury, Buffy laughed in all their minds, was Nighthawk already taken in the demon underworld?

    I stand by my codenames, Xander sent back, if evil could appreciate great wit such as mine, it wouldn't be able to stay evil.

    "So, who is this chick, anyway?" Buffy asked aloud, figuring it was safe to speak openly about stuff she'd be asking even if she wasn't Secret Agent Gal tonight.

    "Amy Winehouse," Xander answered. "Some of the girls listen to her ? heroic chic meets Ella Fitzgerald, roughly."

    Faith likes her, Willow put in, deciding it was safer for the "assistant" to not join the conversation in words.

    Buffy shrugged ambivalently. Whoever she was, it looked like her set was about to start.

    The first song was fast-paced and lively. Buffy became aware of people in the open floor in front of the stage starting to dance. It wouldn't do anyone any good to think that "Mr. Fury" was a wallflower.

    "C'mon? let's dance!" Buffy enthused, in character, pulling on Xander's arm. He looked back at her with bewilderment, but complied. He was glad he'd watched so many Fred Astaire movies ? this Winehouse chick was singing about going to rehab, but basically, this was that old style music that they used to dance to in movies like that. He led Buffy around the dance floor with enthusiasm as the brass band backing the singer up drove the beat along for them. Others were watching ? they were VIPs, after all, he tried to remember ? but slowly the whole sting operation started to disappear.

    Buffy was surprised at this burst of coordination from Xander ? he didn't usually do graceful. Still, she loved it. All those 40s and 50s movies they had watched with Willow were fresh in his head, and hers too, and she laughed in spite of herself when he spun her out and back in toward him.

    When the song wound down to a halt, Buffy and Xander found themselves face to face, smiling and breathing heavily with the exertion. It was a completely unguarded expression, and Willow saw them both blink and shake their heads quickly as the next song started. The guitar ran up the scale quickly as the song started; a slow and sexy number. Willow watched as Xander put his hand out for Buffy to take, an invitation to dance again.

    When Xander pulled Buffy in close to him, their hips molded to each other and they moved together to the samba-like rhythm. Willow felt a burst of sensation from Xander, a purely masculine sensation, and felt a little embarrassed on his behalf. She glanced down at her pretend notes on her clipboard and let her mind pull back from Xander and Buffy a little ? they'd be able to hear each other "shout", but could feel more secure in their privacy. She had a feeling Xander would appreciate it, at least.

    "It's never safe for us? not even in the evening, when I've been drinking?" Amy Winehouse sang into the microphone.

    Xander didn't feel particularly safe. The mission vanished from his mind completely, and all he felt was Buffy, her hips against him, his hand warm against the curve of her lower back. He felt absolutely hypnotized by their closeness, and his breathing picked up despite his best efforts.

    Buffy let Xander turn her around the floor. Mission or not, she found herself enjoying the closeness. Xander's muscles were more solid than they'd been since they were in high school. She danced like this with him then, she remembered, the memory popping into her mind of her "sexy dance". That had been about jealousy, though. Now, she just enjoyed the feeling of his body against hers. He sure wasn't as uncertain of himself as he'd been back then.

    "When will we get? the time to be? just, just friends," Winehouse sighed into the microphone.

    Xander couldn't believe the unlikelihood of this specific song ? an ode to the awkwardness of wanting someone you can't have. He wasn't sure, but that seemed like a feeling he might have had some experience with in the past. Settling into the slower tempo of this song from the last, Xander put space between himself and Buffy, deciding to spin her again. It had nothing to do with the tightening feeling in his pants, at all.

    Willow watched all of this, and felt the most intense parts of it from where she stood near the bar. She hadn't realized just how much Xander may still have felt for Buffy until she was standing there watching it pour into his aura in waves. And unless she'd lost her mind completely, Buffy wasn't immune to their closeness either.

    Before she could explore the implications, the Bluetooth headset chirped awake in her ear.

    "Ms. Rosen-Willow, we've got a situation out here." It was Renee, from the limo.

    "Renee, what's going on sweetie?" Willow liked the younger girl, but she tended to get a little worried about nothing.

    "Well, there's a? a police truck pulling up to the building. The offices of the club, out back. Leah said it's ?SO19', probably about to go on a raid. What do you want us to do?"

    Crap, Willow thought. Actual police doing actual police work? At a big city nightclub with a known criminal element that attends it? This was just unfair. She glanced out at the dance floor, where Buffy and Xander looked? lost in each other, and screwed her face up in a rueful smile. Nothing for it, she'd have to tell them to get closer to Casman right away before the police did anything.

    "Renee, just slide out of their way, sweetie. The police wouldn't want any of us little girls getting hurt, would they?"

    On the dance floor, Buffy was feeling something she couldn't believe. Either Xander was a great dancer, or their little play-act was kind of sexy, or he had some letterman's jacket mojo working on his suit, but Buffy was enjoying their closeness more than she felt comfortable with. And it didn't help that she couldn't stop meeting his eyes.

    The music slowed to a halt and everyone started clapping. Xander still had his hand on Buffy's back, and was staring down at her. The moment between them got heavier and heavier.

    Xander looked down at Buffy. When he could tear his eyes away from hers, they never made it past a lick of hair that had slipped down along her cheek. He wanted to push it back over her ear. Her lips were parted as she looked back up to him silently. He reached up toward her cheek?

    Buffy, Xander, there's a big problem! Willow burst in so suddenly Xander visibly jumped. Buffy shook her head clear and concentrated on Willow's thoughts. London police are about to raid the club. Leah was on the police scanner, Casman is also a good old-fashioned drug lord, apparently, and they're coming in in about 30 seconds. Buffy, if you're going to get him first, you need to be in the VIP lounge now.

    Buffy answered in agreement in her mind, but still stared at Xander. Whatever the moment had been, it was broken. She turned to head toward the VIP lounge to get at their target.

    "Buffy, need this?" Xander stopped her, pulling a wooden stake partway out of his suit pocket.

    "Not a vampire, but I like where your heads at anyway," Buffy smiled, spinning on her heel as she backed away and strode toward the closed lounge door.

    Xander didn't look up or bother to care about looking like "Mr. Fury" when Willow stepped up alongside him on the floor. Amy Winehouse had moved on to sing about being left by "her guy". He idly slid the stake back and forth through his hands, blowing air through his lips in exasperation from the heated moment he'd just shared.

    "She ran off and left you to play with your stake, huh?" Willow asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

    "You have no idea, Will."

    Outside, Renee watched in horror as the police swarmed out of their vehicles, guns drawn, and swept into the club offices to Wanderlust. She notified Willow but was again told to stay put. Hard to complain about that, Renee figured.

    At least, until she saw the light shining out of the upstairs office. The light? and then the fire. An explosion ripped through the upstairs wing of the club offices ? fire shot out the windows, but then doubled back and drew in on itself.

    Car alarms up and down the street started going off. Even from where she was parked, Renee could hear people on the street and outside the club asking what happened and whispering about terrorists.

    The stairwell in the offices was strewn with debris and unconscious police officers from the bizarre explosion. The room where the blast had originated was ruined, office furniture shattered. A faint glow still filled the air, as if a light had been on or a door open in the room. A man in a black leather duster lay on the floor, dazed, with his clothes smoking slightly. He finally sat up, regaining some sense of awareness.

    "Where the bloody hell did I end up, anyway?" Spike demanded of nobody in particular.
    Last edited by KingofCretins; 01-12-07, 04:57 AM.
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  • #2
    Chapter 2
    Beta: Dorian's Kitten

    One Hour Earlier

    Spike studied the ruined walls of Angel's office. The d?cor had certainly not made the adjustment to hell well. Spike half expected that the building would have just stayed the same, and that the walls would have changed to something appropriately hellish. Taupe, maybe.

    "Well, you brought me up here from a perfectly good sitting about, hero," Spike said, staring at Angel pacing back and forth through the office. He was like that Christmas movie kid trying to figure out how to ask for his BB gun. Spike pulled the tails of his duster in front of his legs and leaned back against Angel's desk. When the other vampire didn't answer, he tongued the inside of his cheek impatiently. "Let me try again. Me, Spike, you Angel, us stuck in hell dimension, your fault, and you're calling me here for, what, a game of Scrabble? You want something from me. Sodding get on with it already."

    Angel stopped pacing and met Spike's eyes. Just as quickly looked away and focused on the doorway where Wesley stood watching. Or whatever the hell it was Wesley was. Spike thought he was a pretty lively corpse, all things considered. And he had apparently decided to spend his undeath dressed like Head Boy again.

    "Spike," Angel started, and stopped. Spike stared back at him without blinking. He had his own hellish pit to get back to without being dragged into Angel's to watch him brood.

    "Look, Spike?"

    Spike waited. Angel began again, and, wonders never cease, continued. "Wes and I have been looking at a way to get us out of this dimension, and he thinks ?"

    "Least you could do, seeing as we're stuck here because of you," Spike interrupted.

    "I didn't hear you disagreeing when you raised your hand ?"

    "Gentlemen," Wesley put in. His voice was normal, but emotionally detached, and Spike thought that made him, or it, sound more authoritative. "Recrimination over the decisions that brought us all here isn't going to resolve the issue. I've been able to take certain steps within the scope of my duties to Wolfram & Hart that might be of help.

    "Spike, we've managed to create a portal of sorts. By create, of course, I mean Angel captured a dimensional traveler and helped me torture him for cooperation. The point is, we can create a temporary portal back to our world. We should be able to send someone back there for a short period? perhaps as long as a day and a half, give or take a few hours? to communicate to the outside world for us."

    Spike arched a skeptical eyebrow at Wesley. "And, what, you want me to thank you? We all got stuck in this bloody dimension and the best news you have is that you've Jack Bauered some demon into helping someone go back to earth and, do what, say "sorry L.A. is in hell now, our bad"?

    Angel stepped in front of Spike and stared him down. "You think we'd be doing this if we didn't think we could use it to get out of here?" He growled, "This is our chance to get help, to get the right people working on this, to go out there and fire off a flare gun to let someone know that L.A. still needs saving."

    Spike stood upright and got in Angel's face for a moment, before walking around him and pacing through the office. "And, I'm here, why? You need someone to golf clap for you while you set off your ?flare gun'?"

    "No, you moron. You're here because we need someone to be the flare."

    Now

    The explosion shook the entire building, and Amy Winehouse and her band stopped in mid-song. The lighting fixtures shook, and all the dancers and drinkers crouched in place. Only two people didn't drop down looking for cover.

    Xander whirled his head around and found Willow staring back at him. She shook her head ? she didn't know either. When he turned back to look for Buffy, she was already off the dancefloor, probably in the VIP Lounge. He reached into his jacket pocket, replacing his stake.

    "Will, I'm going to check out the explosion. Get a report from the team outside and find out what the hell happened. If you can still reach Buffy ?"

    "She's fine ? still in character. Mr. Casman is being very ?gentlemanly' trying to make sure she feels safe from any kind of terrorists with him."

    Xander ground his teeth reflexively for a second, and nodded. If Buffy was fine, he could concentrate on the explosion. If they'd been made ? or if Twilight were attacking them in the field ? things could go bad pretty fast.

    Willow watched him turn and walk off the dance floor, heading toward an employee door that led to the offices in the building instead of the VIP lounge.

    Renee? What's happening out there? What exploded?

    The Slayer's thoughts came in a jumble, but organized themselves quickly. There was an explosion right after the police went in. It was up on the third or fourth floor I think. It's weird; the flames burst out through the windows? and then pulled back in and vanished.

    Vanished, like ?hi, I'm a gas fire or something and just vanished as fast as I started-vanished', or ?I'll be your cryptic supernatural explosion for the evening-vanished'? Willow sent back.

    Uh? the latter, I guess. This is, mm, pretty weird, Willow, Renee answered. Willow realized what was wrong ? she'd used her powers to connect mind to mind with her, rather than the headset. "Sorry about that, Renee," Willow said, using the Bluetooth. She could hear Renee let out a relaxing breath.

    "Willow, Leah has all kinds of chatter on the police scanner now ? ambulances are on their way, as well as more cops. We've got maybe five minutes, ten tops to get out of here before the awkward questions start."

    "Got it. Buffy is after Casman, Xander's checking out the explosion. Get Leah back to the limousine and send Maritza to Heathrow ? we'll finish it on the inside."

    When Renee acknowledged the order, Willow concentrated on the scene inside Wanderlust again ? the dancefloor was emptying, various club employees politely but firmly ushering everyone outside. A very subtle, mellow fire alarm was telling people not to worry, but to get out. Willow thought it funny how polite the emergencies seemed to be getting.

    In the office wing, Xander checked the pulse of one of the cops on the debris littered stairwell. He was still alive, thankfully, but he knew they'd have to hurry and get out of here. He wasn't sure why he felt compelled to investigate this, but an explosion in a club that they were doing a job in felt intuitively like it was their responsibility. He took the stairs two at a time up to the third floor. The stairwell door was blown out, but apart from some smoke and the debris, there was no evidence of heat or flame. Another two policemen were knocked out cold by the exploding door. Xander checked them ? both alive. On an impulse, he took the semi-automatic pistol out of one of their hands and checked the safety before investigating further inside.

    Stepping into the office, Xander was amazed at the devastation ? every piece of furniture was kindling, but there was still no clear sign of where the explosion had started or what had caused it. He stepped past the remains of the office desk, and heard movement behind him.

    Whirling around, he saw a figure dressed in a black coat pop to its feet behind him, spinning on its heel to face him.

    "Aaaggh!" Xander shouted in alarm. Not a cop, not nearly. Nothing human could be moving that was in this room before he was. He raised the gun and fired a single shot.

    The man staggered back and roared in pain ? not a human roar, vampire. "What the ?" it began, and reached out, grabbing Xander by his lapels.

    Then Xander saw his face.

    "Spike? Spike??!" Before he could think of what he was doing, he shot the vampire in the stomach again.

    Spike growled ? Xander? Buggering Xander they'd sent him to, and he gets shot twice for his trouble? He reached across with his right hand and knocked the gun to the floor. He grabbed the man by the shirt and threw him over the desk fragments. When he hit the ground, Spike saw a stake fall out of his suit pocket. What the hell was Xander doing in a suit anyway, Spike had no idea.

    "Oh, that was not your best idea ever," Buffy said from behind him. Spike turned when he heard her voice. He was amazed at how the sound vibrated through every corner of him, pain from gunshot wounds aside. It had been, unbelievably nearly three years since he'd heard that voice, and he was nearly hypnotized in place by the sound.

    When he turned, he smiled. "Buffy? Buffy?" he started gently, unsure of how to speak to her. After everything he'd seen the past few months, seeing her right in front of him was like every Christmas wish he'd ever heard made.

    Buffy's face didn't warm. It cooled. Then hardened. Spike had only a moment to **** his head curiously, wondering what was wrong. He didn't get a chance to ask before she was on him.

    Buffy drove her fist right up and into his jaw. Spike flew off his feet and flipped back over the ruined desk, landing beside Xander. Spike struggled to sit back up, to get her attention, but felt her high-heeled shoe plow into his chin, sprawling him back out on the ground.

    "You Twilight guys are so pathetically lame!" Buffy spat out from over him. "What's this, the latest mind game? You find some new Lucky Charms reject warlock to start magicking up vampires to look like my exes and think it's going to get under my skin or something?"

    Spike had no idea what she was talking about, but the next two kicks in his stomach reinforced the idea ? Buffy didn't realize it was him. Which was putting him in a lot of danger, Spike knew. "Buffy? not trick? it's me?" He muttered through the pain.

    Buffy reached down and picked up the stake Xander had been carrying, flipping it in her palm as she stood over the vampire. "All you're doing is making me dust you faster, dumbass ? I respect his memory too much to let some random wannabe wear his face." She grabbed the imposter by the collar of his leather coat, and drew back her hand to stake him.

    Spike took the only chance he had and kicked her in the thigh. She dropped forward right down on top of him, and he batted the stake from her hand. Before she could struggle free, he grasped her left hand in his right, and deliberately interlocked their fingers, holding her tightly and meeting her eyes.

    "No you don't," Spike said, managing to smile a bit, "but thanks for saying it."

    He watched Buffy's eyes widen. She stared back at him for what felt like a day, and then they were kissing helplessly on the office floor.
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    • #3
      Chapter 3
      Beta: Dorian's Kitten


      Buffy gasped for breath as she kissed Spike. She didn't know what she was doing or where she was for those seconds. Spike's lips were cool, as they had always been; there was no doubt it was him. How it could be possible, she? couldn't care less. It was like having every memory and choice she'd made in her entire love life staring into her eyes, and it had taken her over.

      "Whoa? wha, wait?" Buffy gulped for air, pulling away from Spike. The vampire leaned his head up to keep the contact, but didn't force the issue.

      "Buffy?" Spike whispered. Buffy looked straight at his lips again for a moment, hesitating, before she was distracted by the sound of motion. Glancing to her right, she saw Xander sitting back up, trying to get reoriented. Right, she remembered now ? Xander, exploding office, mission. She scrambled back away from Spike, still staring at him in shock.

      "Buffy, did you get him?" Xander mumbled, pushing his way back to his feet and turning around to find her. "If I didn't know better, I could have sworn it was?"

      "Spike," Buffy finished, looking Xander straight in the eye, her lips curled in a wan, confused smile as she gestured towards him with her hands. To Xander she looked like a game show hostess unenthusiastically showing off the prize. "It's? it's Spike."

      Xander heard the words, but didn't quite process them. There was a vampire on the ground in a leather duster. Looked like Spike around the face, maybe. But... no. No time for this right now, Xander remembered.

      "Buffy, where's Casman?"

      "He skated. He was in the middle of trying to get me to give him a thanks-for-not-letting-the-building-fall-down handjob when Willow told me there was a? uh, vampire up here? where you were."

      Which brought Xander's attention, unhelpfully, back to Spike. The vampire finally got to his feet, grimacing and holding his stomach where Xander had shot him. So, the mission had tanked and Spike was back. Xander made a note to keep himself from offering to go into the field again for a few weeks.

      Xander, Buffy? Willow asked telepathically. Xander jumped in spite of himself. Unless you have a great two man stand-up act to perform for the fire brigade, Renee says you have two minutes to hit the street.

      Xander looked up and saw Buffy nodding back to him. "Help me grab him," Buffy said, nodding her head toward Spike.

      Spike had no idea what they were talking about and didn't care. He could smell the panic from people on the street through the blown-out windows, though, and was even starting to hear sirens approaching. That's all he needed.

      When Xander approached him to help him climb out of the wreckage, Spike shoved his hand away. "I'm fine, you git, as long as you don't have another gun in your James Bond costume." Xander threw up his hands and turned toward the door.

      None of them spoke. Xander led them down the stairs, Spike behind him and Buffy trailing. They slipped out the service door of the stairwell unto the street and walked as casually as possible down the street where Renee was waiting with the limousine.

      When they stepped up to the car, Xander pulled open the door, watching back the way they'd came to see if anyone was noticing them. Spike balked for a moment, a truly confused look on his face, before Buffy shoved him into the car and climbed in after him. Still watching the street, Xander climbed in and pulled the limo door shut. "Go, Renee," he ordered, settling into the leather seat. He dropped his head back against the seat as he felt the limousine pulling away.

      When Xander looked back up, he couldn't help but feel for Willow. She was inside the car already, and was frozen with a perfect mix of confusion and horror on her face as she looked at Spike. She actually pulled her feet up off the floor a little to shy away from the vampire, who was crouching on the floor of the limousine.

      "Look what we found," Xander said with a sarcastic bite. Willow finally broke her stare from Spike and looked back to him. She had severed her mental tie to Buffy and Xander as soon as they'd gotten out of the building; she knew it was a useful tool, always had been, but it wasn't the type of power that should ever be used in place of conversation.

      "Uh? yeah, seeing that," Willow answered slowly, glancing between Xander and Buffy, "Um? we didn't have one of these when we left the castle, did we?"

      Spike looked up at the witch and rolled his eyes. He laughed, which turned into a cough, and pulled himself up to flop backwards onto the limousine seat beside Willow.

      "Whassa matter, Red? Never seen a? oh sod it, sense of humor's been shot out." Spike winced, grabbing his stomach.

      Buffy reached out and pulled Spike's shirt up, revealing the two bullet wounds in his stomach. She shot Xander a look.

      "What? Demon thing jumps out of the wreckage in the Room o' Kaboom, I shoot it."

      Spike tried to laugh again. He had no idea what kind of alternate reality he'd jumped into if the Scooby gang rode around like mobsters and Harris of all people carried a gun. "Nothing I can't? " he clenched his jaw as Buffy felt around the wound, "? can't handle."

      "Spike, I? we can get you patched up. Willow?" Spike followed Buffy's gaze as she said the witch's name.

      "Already on it," Willow answered. "Pull his shirt off."

      Xander shut his eyes and started rubbing his face wearily. Buffy yanked Spike's shoulders up unceremoniously, and pulled his arms free of his coat. A moment later, the shirt was off. Buffy continued to survey Spike's torso, hands patting around his chest. Her movements were efficient, but still personal, and Spike felt obliged to try to deflect them.

      "Spike, stop flinching," Buffy ordered.

      "Sit still if you want me to heal you. Buffy, hands clear, please," Willow followed. When Spike complied, Willow held her hands out palm down over his stomach. He watched her hands, almost certain he could them glowing, or vibrating or something.

      "ARRAAGGGgggghgahhh," Spike bellowed suddenly. He could feel his guts burning like he hadn't felt since his soul trials. The pain began to abate after just moments, and when he opened his eyes again, he saw two bullets floating up into Willow's hands. The holes in his stomach were already patching themselves up.

      "Bloody hell," Spike muttered, "that's different, innit?"

      Willow looked down at him with a shy smile. He sat upright and got his bearings again. Willow knelt on the seat to his left. Across from him, Xander was still doing his best to stare through the ceiling of the car. On the rear seat, to his right, Buffy just looked at him, unblinking, uncertain. Spike thought, or at least hoped, she was thinking about sitting closer to him, but the kiss could have been a mistake?

      Once he thought it, he couldn't escape it; she was already regretting it. She had a boyfriend, he remembered, and half-heartedly tried to save some face.

      "Yeah, sorry about acting like you had the cooties, pet," Spike said abruptly, pulling his shirt back on. "Wouldn't want your new big bad getting jealous, would we?"

      He noticed Xander lift his head in response. A glance around the limousine cabin and all three were looking at him like he had a kitten climbing in his hair.

      "Come on, I know you're the Immortal's new bird, I don't like it, but where the hell else are you lot going to get a limo," Spike glanced at Willow, who still had her Bluetooth," and funny high tech ear things."

      The other three passengers still didn't say anything, just started exchanging glances with each other.

      "Spike, what are you? ? " Buffy began.

      Spike felt a surge of indignation, he didn't like the idea that she'd be coy about it. "Your new wanker of a boyfriend! The Immortal?"

      "My new what which of a huh? The who?" Buffy's face was sculpted out of bewilderment.

      Spike glanced over at Xander. The other man shook his head slowly. "You were in Rome! We saw? you were dating ?"

      At the mention of Rome, Xander and Buffy both drew in a breath as if some kind of understanding had dawned on them. "Spike," Xander said, "Buffy's never set foot in Rome. We have a decoy for her there."

      Spike squinted at the complete lack of helpfulness in that explanation. "Decoy? But, we were at your flat, Andrew told us you were with the Immortal. That you were that worthless ponce's new snuggly wuggems."

      "Spike, I couldn't have less of a clue what you are talking about. Can you rewind it? Once more, with coherence?" Buffy shrugged nearly to her ears.

      Spike caught them up. The short version of his history with the Immortal, he and Angel going to Rome, Andrew telling them that Buffy was with him, that she'd moved on, that they should as well. He considered telling them that Angel had cried, but he couldn't help but realize how bad this already sounded. Not one of them spoke during his explanation.

      When he finished, he saw Willow looking at the skylight, Xander staring straight into his lap, and Buffy looking back at him. The Slayer pursed her lips tightly, nodding as she thought it over.

      "So," Buffy let the word unfurl over a few seconds, "Andrew? told you, and Angel, that I had given up slaying, and was living in Rome as the arm candy of an immortal social climber whose claim to fame is being morally ambivalent? and you? bought that?"

      Spike started to protest and stopped. There was a brief silence in the car. Spike couldn't tell who cracked first, but in an instant, Buffy, Xander, and Willow were all giggling helplessly. Spike shut his eyes tightly, suffering through it.

      "Well, the Immortal is a very powerful guy," he tried, but the giggling only started over. "Andrew can be quite convincing when he's dressed like a grown-up, I'll have you know."

      When the laughter died down, it was Willow who spoke first. "Spike, how did you go to Rome with Angel when you died in Sunnydale?"

      All laughter ceased, and Spike realized that the awkwardness had only just started.
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      • #4
        Chapter 4
        Beta: Dorian's Kitten


        Awkward hadn't even covered it, Spike thought, thumbing the gas pump. They were an hour or more north of London now, at a petrol station just outside some village he hadn't cared to catch the name of. It had gotten so awkward in the limousine over that hour that he'd practically punched a window out volunteering to pump. He was relieved that Buffy and Willow stayed in the car, especially Buffy. It gave him an unguarded moment to just take it all in.

        Earth. Air. He was back in the saddle, in pure Aerosmith fashion. He didn't need the oxygen, but he still smelled things, still tasted things, and the air in the British countryside smelled sweeter than he could have ever dreamed. Spike had smelled every kind of foulness and pollution that he could imagine. Then L.A. had gone to hell, and it had gotten even worse.

        Xander had gone into the station with the two tag-a-longs, as Spike thought of them before trying to remind himself instead that they were Slayers. The brown-haired one seemed like a smitten kitten when she looked at Xander. Spike still thought that the idea of Xander as some general was about the daftest idea he'd heard. And, Spike wondered, where had they gotten a castle?

        Buffy's face had been warm and welcoming the whole time Spike had explained about Andrew's "sense of humor", but had cooled steadily since he had started explaining about coming back. Being a ghost haunting Wolfram & Hart, being made corporeal again? telling Andrew to lie to Buffy about it (and hadn't that gotten a look from her and Xander both, Spike smiled ruefully to himself). He told them about Fred dying, what had replaced her, and what they'd decided to do when they learned what Wolfram & Hart had planned for them.

        Spike felt the pump shut down, topped off the tank, and replaced the handle. When he'd woken up that morning, in hell, he had not imagined himself as a pump-jockey for Buffy's personal limousine service. And as pleasant as that unexpected surprise was, all things considered, the good news hadn't kept coming.

        Spike had thought he'd be explaining the big mystery of what had happened to Los Angeles, the enormous city that had dropped off the face of the earth into a hell dimension. He and Angel hadn't a clue, it turned out, just how evil, not to mention prepared, the Senior Partners were. As far as Buffy and her Scooby club, and all their supercalifragilistic resources, knew? Los Angeles was still there. Smoggy, putting out shite programs for the telly, host to demons and wannabes, but still just Los Angeles. Whatever the Senior Partners had done to the city, they'd left one hell of a glamour in its place.

        In other words, nobody even knew they were gone.

        "Spike."

        Spike pulled back from his wool-gathering and turned to see Xander walking toward him. The two Slayers were giving Spike a wide berth as they walked up to the driver's seat of the limousine. Both were staring, though, and Spike arched an annoyed eyebrow at them, thinking how much less impressive the two dead Slayers he was always so proud of must sound now in a world with 2,000 of them.

        Spike laughed the thought away and turned back toward Xander. "Would you care to have me do the windshield for you, mate?" Spike chirped with false enthusiasm. Xander ignored it and kept walking right up to him. He grabbed Spike's right hand and slapped something down into it. Spike glanced down and saw a pack of smokes. The first decent looking pack he'd seen since before L.A. fell.

        Spike turned up to Xander with a disbelieving face. "Uh, yeah," he began,"Thanks?"

        "For shooting you. You probably still had at least one of those coming but, not both." Xander explained. He saw Spike starting to answer, and cut it off. "Shut up."

        Spike laughed and pulled out one of the cigarettes, taking it into his mouth. Xander remembered something, and tossed a disposable lighter to Spike. It still had the price tag on it. Spike lit up and took a savoring drag off the cigarette. The two men stood there in a rather awkward silence, neither wanting to be the first one to climb back into the car with Buffy and Willow.

        Spike's reverie was interrupted by the sound of the limousine's rear door popping open from behind Xander. Buffy burst out of the car, walking hurriedly toward the station. Xander called her name as she went by, gently pulling her to a stop by her hand.

        "Buffy?" he asked. "Are you okay?"

        Buffy's eyes looked damp, like she'd been crying. "Yeah, Xander, I'm? I'm okay. Just gotta use the bathroom all of the sudden."

        Spike watched as she put on an encouraging smile. Saw the two squeeze each other's hand. Despite himself, he felt jealous ? the very idea was ridiculous, Buffy and the whelp? Spike shook off the thought as he watched Buffy vanish into the store, and he figured out a way to at least confirm he had gone mad.

        "So?" Spike began, trying to sound as neighborly as two men who had always hated each other could, "This new castle gig. Big man and all that, now? That gilded cage has gotta make Anya a happy bird, yeah?"

        Xander looked up at Spike like he'd been slapped. He had no idea what the hell Spike thought he was playing at, but if that was his idea of graciousness ?

        A look at Spike brought the thought to a halt. He was staring at Xander studiously, like he didn't get why Xander looked so pissed all of the sudden. Then Xander realized, it's because he didn't. Spike was down in the Hellmouth, and however he got back out, it wasn't through the front door. He didn't know about Anya, or anything else in their lives since that day that he hadn't been able to infer from riding around with them telling his own story.

        "Spike, no," Xander said quietly. He swallowed hard before continuing. "She? Anya didn't make it. That day, I mean. She died in Sunnydale. I couldn't find her, and the whole city collapsed, but? she was killed. She was killed saving Andrew's life." Xander smiled faintly, imagining how brave she must have been.

        Xander could tell Spike wanted to say something, but was grateful that he didn't seem ready to try. However much he might mean it, fair or not, nothing Spike said would be welcome. What he did do, however, was. For Spike, at least, it was a grand gesture; the vampire deftly knocked a cigarette out of his newly opened pack and offered to it Xander.

        Xander chuckled quietly. "Thanks anyway. Trying to quit."

        Spike shrugged amiably, and spotted Buffy coming back out of the store. He hadn't noticed when she got out of the car, but she'd changed clothes. She was wearing blue jeans and boots now, with an oversized cotton sweatshirt that said "Northwestern" across the front. Spike turned to Xander, ready to ask about the odd fashion, but the other man was already answering it.

        "Long distance parenting present from her dad," Xander offered by way of explanation. Spike nodded as if he understood.

        Buffy saw Spike and Xander standing next to each other there, leaning against the side of the limo. Leaving aside the whole Spike dying, back from the dead, and off to hell thing, she never, ever would have guessed those two could have stood in each other's company without some kind of macho posturing. At least not without other people there to keep them in line.

        "Would have thought turning into a pile of ash might have gotten you to quit doing that," Buffy admonished gently, looking at Spike's cigarette.

        "Peer pressure, pet," Spike answered, nodding toward Xander, "Ethan Hunt over here must be trying to poison me."

        Buffy furrowed her brow and glanced at Xander. He was being nice to Spike? This night wasn't getting any less weird. "You bought Spike cigarettes?"

        "What can I say?" Xander shrugged. "Hanukkah Spirit."

        It took Buffy a moment to remember, but her breath caught. He was trying not ?to be an ass about it', as he had told her once. She wasn't sure to be pleased at the new approach or disappointed, and then couldn't figure out why she'd be disappointed anyway. She shook the thought off when Xander started speaking again.

        "Hey, if we've got everything, we should get back on the road. When we get home we might still be able to track Casman. And, obviously, we've got other stuff to work on now."

        "No argument here. But Casman will wait. Spike? Los Angeles? that's priority one for anyone that isn't in bed or on patrol," Buffy answered. She'd meant Los Angeles, of course, and glanced over at Spike to see if he'd reacted. He was staring off down the road, as if not listening.

        Apparently he had, though. "I'm glad we've qualified for the to do list," Spike observed, tossing away his unfinished cigarette, "let's put the hammer down and get back to Slaywart's already."

        Xander nodded and ducked back into the limo. Buffy held Spike's gaze for a moment before moving toward the door. Her breath caught again when he caught her arm gently but firmly.

        "Buffy," Spike said quietly, "Thank you for this. Working on this, I mean. There's something I don't know if I've made clear, and I need to." He was leaning in close to her, his blue eyes gleaming.

        "Spike, we shouldn't? I mean?"

        "I have to go back. They told me before they cast the spell. 36 hours tops, and I'm headed back to hell."

        Buffy's own eyes gleamed back at him. She felt no surprise, but an intense burn of anger all the same.

        "Like hell you are."
        Last edited by KingofCretins; 01-12-07, 05:27 AM.
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        • #5
          Chapter 5
          Beta: Dorian's Kitten


          "Well," Spike said, pausing to chew on his lip in thought, "You look good, Dawn."

          Spike was looking eye to eye with the Slayer's kid sister. Literally "to eye", since, with Dawn nearly 50 feet tall, one eye was all he could fit into view at once. She was lying on her stomach with her chin resting on her hands on the castle grounds. Spike figured this was as close as the clearly misnamed Niblet could get to conversational space.

          "And you look? well, pretty short," Dawn smiled. Spike remembered how she'd threatened to kill him in his sleep and thought about how much bigger than him her shoes were. But it was comforting to more than just his sense of safety that she seemed happy to see him. He had really always cared a great deal more for the girl than he'd admitted even to Buffy.

          "But, the whole not-being-ash thing is agreeing with you," Dawn continued.

          "And you're looking remarkably well kept up, considering," Spike offered. Awful pun aside, small talk really could only go so far with a giant. He desperately wanted to ask about her predicament, but also knew he'd have probably been told on the drive up if the Scooby club had known anything about it. "So, these castle digs, you taken to them?"

          "Well, the parts I fit in anyway," Dawn shrugged. Some dirt kicked loose from under her elbows as she did it. "You could imagine I like having my privacy up here in the middle of nowhere, what with the size and all."

          "Yeah, stands to reason. Listen, bit, I appreciate your company, but I feel a little ditched ? Big Sis and her entourage ran up into your fortress while I was still stumbling out of the car. Did I not make the bouncer's list?"

          "Who do you think the bouncer is, Spike?" Dawn smiled mischievously, lifting her head up from the ground for emphasis. Spike knew she had a point. "I think it's pretty important that they mention the vampire at the gates. There are about 50 Slayers up there, after all."

          Inside the castle, Xander had gathered the Slayers who were awake in their command center for a briefing. There were only a dozen or so, since it was barely five in the morning, but it was worth getting them together to keep Spike from getting staked on site. Buffy and Willow conferred off to the side.

          "Ladies," Xander began. He'd been able to ditch his suit in favor of jeans and a cable-knit sweater before calling this meeting, and was much more comfortable standing in front of the group without being dressed like a secret agent. "We've got a special? well, interesting visitor with us. He's a vampire. I mention this because you are vampire Slayers. While that title carries with it certain expectations most of the time, we wanted to let you know that you can consider yourselves excused from all vampire slaying on the castle grounds for the time being.

          "You may, however, make fun of his bleached hair and taste in clothing at your discretion," Xander couldn't resist adding. The assembled Slayers giggled obligingly. Some were fully dressed from patrolling or manning consoles for the night shift, others were still in robes and fuzzy slippers and thinking of breakfast. "That's pretty much everything. Don't forget, Friday is Hawaiian shirt day."

          The girls started heading off in their own directions; Xander always said that at the end of a briefing. That chore complete, he turned back to find Willow and Buffy, deep in conversation.

          "Willow, you're talking a little over my head, here," Buffy was saying. She looked tense, and Xander sympathized. There was a lot of world-saving in their lap every day. Saving a vanished city and a vampire walk-in from a hell dimension? Gas? fire. "Bottom line it for me."

          "The short version is, getting L.A. out of hell is going to be out of the question. I spent the entire trip reaching out to feel the city on an astral level. Whatever those Senior Partners did, whatever they are? it's out of my league," Willow said apologetically. "It's like watching a magic show and knowing what the trick is, but still not being able to spot the move. I know what they've done, and how they probably did it, but I can't get a fingerhold to break through it. The magical surface of it is totally smooth."

          Xander thought he understood the gist; Willow had always been pretty good at making him feel like less-than-a-total idiot when she explained spells and magic. Getting Los Angeles out of hell might have been something Willow could take a decent stab out, but she couldn't get a grip on it to even try.

          "Forget L.A., then," Buffy declared. "I mean? don't forget it forget it, but we still have Spike here and maybe we can do something about him. Just because Angel and Wesley set him up to boomerang doesn't mean we can't snatch him out of the air."

          Willow nodded understandingly. "Buffy, I promise I'll work on it. But, are you sure we shouldn't let him go back? They sent him to call for help, I think they'd need to know how it went."

          Xander looked from Willow to Buffy, already sure of what Buffy would say. He wasn't surprised or disappointed.

          "Spike may have been sent for help, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need some, too. He got us the message. We'll do what we can for L.A. with more time. Angel and the others will know the message got through when we save them." Buffy steeled herself around that idea with confidence Xander hoped she actually felt.

          "Okay," Willow answered. "I'm on it. We'll keep the dimensional repo on hold, Buff."

          "Buffy, all the girls who are already up know about him, I think we can let him in now," Xander interjected. Buffy nodded to him. She gestured with her head for him to follow. As Xander followed Buffy out, he caught sight of Willow, sitting in the lotus position and glowing faintly as she concentrated.

          Spike was still leaning against the limousine in the dark when he caught site of Buffy and Xander walking down the drive. Dawn had gone back to bed, having done her best to keep him company while he waited.

          "She sure as hell sprouted," Spike observed, taking a drag of another of the cigarettes Xander has given him. "Everything okay up in your tree house now? Secret handshakes all worked out?"

          Buffy looked ready to bite out something sarcastic, but was cut off in mid-thought when Xander announced, "We invite you in."

          Spike arched his eyebrow skeptically. It felt, to Spike, like the boy had stolen her thunder more than a little. Buffy must have thought so as well, as he noticed her arching her own eyebrows and straightening her posture indignantly.

          "What?" Xander asked. "I figured I might as well do it voluntarily this time. My castle, too, after all." He was smiling. Spike saw an edge under it, but well contained. Dawn wasn't the only one rebuilt since Sunnydale, just the most obvious, Spike thought.

          "I'll let you have that one," Buffy said, cocking her head at him. "I'm going to give Spike the tour myself. See if Willow needs some help. Actually," Buffy caught herself, "with her poking around with the magics, she might be pissing off the Animal Farm enough to do something annoying. When you get back upstairs, could you check in with all the teams?"


          Xander nodded and patted Buffy on the shoulder. With his left eye covered by the patch, Spike lost any hope of reading his expression from that angle. Xander took off at a brisk walk back up to the castle. Buffy turned back toward Spike and rocked on her heels.

          "So?" Buffy started, and followed it up with silence.

          "Animal Farm?" Spike asked. It broke the ice again, at least.

          "Oh, that. When Angel took over at Wolfram & Hart, Giles explained where the name came from. Senior Partners. Animal Farm."

          "Would that we could share your humor," Spike said. "Right bloody bastards, they are."

          Buffy couldn't think of a ready answer, and instead gestured for Spike to join her as they walked. Spike was careful to keep his hands in his pockets as he followed.

          While Buffy showed Spike around, the command center was less serene. Willow squeezed her eyes shut more in frustration than aggravation. It was nearly eight in the evening, and the sun was starting to wind its way down. It had been about 20 hours, then, since Spike had been back. 20 out of a possible 36 in which she had the chance to save him from going back to Wolfram & Hart's Home for Wayward Champions and the Cities that House Them. And she had basically jack to show for it.

          She had been aware of, without being distracted by, Xander and other Slayers working in that room throughout the day. They had been making sure things were quiet on their various fronts, and thankfully, they must have been. Everything was going about as well as it could be. Except for her job, anyway. Willow didn't feel any closer to finding a way to keep Spike in their dimension than she had when she'd started the job before breakfast.

          "Oh doody," Willow whined to herself in exasperation.

          "Such language," Xander said from behind her. "Such language as my virgin ears cannot bear!"

          Willow turned from where she sat and rolled her eyes at him. "Trust me, mister, I've got more colorful than that in mind. This is going nowhere fast. Or very slowly. If it was going there fast, at least I'd know I should try something else."

          "You'll figure it out, Will," Xander encouraged. "Nobody's witchfu can oppose your witchfu."

          "Much as I'd like to believe that? Doesn't snap the rubber band around Spike."

          "So what does?"

          Willow shrugged. "Maybe our own rubber band pulling him the other way? Not sure how much fun being the rope in a game of interdimensional tug of war could be for him, but I'll see if it's something I can work."

          Willow appreciated having Xander to bounce ideas off of at least, even if he didn't understand the magic side of it. She was just beginning to settle back into a meditative state, looking for a way to anchor Spike, when Xander chimed in again.

          "So, what do you think they ? "

          Willow couldn't bear to let him start down whatever road he was looking down. "Xander, do you really want an answer to questions like the ones you're starting to ask?"

          She looked back toward him again, eyeing him sympathetically. Xander's hung his head to his chin and crossed his arms over his chest. "That obvious, huh?"

          "To me, yeah. To anyone else, who may be say short, blonde, and a Slayer? You might actually have to tell her again someday."

          Xander looked up at Willow, ashamed to have drawn that type of bluntness out of her. He realized that she was too busy to indulge him at the moment, and that he couldn't expect her to. "I'm going to go give Buffy an update," Xander announced. Willow smiled at him patiently. She would never just tell him to get out her hair, but he knew her well enough to figure it out. With a quick nod, he ducked out of the command room and into the corridor.

          In the lower levels of the castle, Buffy led Spike into a dungeon-like chamber. "And, this is where freaky army guys kidnapped Willow," She said by way of introducing the room. She smiled wanly at Spike's questioning look. It felt like she'd been giving him this tour for a week, even if it had just been a couple hours. She just didn't know what to say to him and felt miserable for it. When she'd come back, Spike had known the count of days. Buffy didn't, and couldn't even guess. And worse, where Spike had once patiently abided and stood by her, she had found excuses to blow him off all day. ?Spike, I've got to lead a training session, I'll be back in a couple hours'. ? Spike, why don't you take a soak in our whirlpool ? there can't be any good spa action in hell'. And so it had gone.

          Buffy wanted to hate herself for it. He had just gone along with it all, trying hard to look interested, when she knew he was still thinking about the night before but was unwilling to ask. And besides, Buffy remembered, who cares how nice he was when she had come back? She'd been alive again for a few hours when he found out. Spike had been back for almost three years and hadn't said a word.

          "Why didn't you tell me?" Buffy asked quietly, abruptly. Spike was in the middle of some trite observation about the castle and stopped instantly, looking back at her. She brought her eyes up to meet his. "You said you were gone nineteen days. You were gone less than three weeks and then came back, and you didn't think I'd want to know about it?"

          Spike lifted his head and blew air through his lips. "At the time, every reason I could think of was a good enough reason not to say anything. I was a sodding ghost for a couple months. Later, I thought I could make a difference staying in L.A. ? I know you don't believe in what Angel was doing out there, Buffy, and hell, I didn't believe it myself half the time, but it felt like I could make a difference; be a champion. Like you told me I could."

          "Don't say that word, please," Buffy breathed. She could feel herself wanting to tear up and fought against it. "I made you wear that thing. I told you it was for a champion, you wore it, and it killed you."

          "Well? brought me back too, dinnit?" Spike said, aiming for levity and missing badly. "Look, it killed me, it would have killed Angel? I knew the deal that night, love. I'd have rather caught fire being what you thought I was than have stayed in one piece thinking you thought I couldn't do it."

          Buffy stared at Spike, and saw his eyes searching her face. She knew he meant it. "I didn't know that, though," she explained, and dammit, her eyes were starting to fill. "I thought you were gone, and that it was my fault. Willow wasn't around? if I hadn't had Xander and Dawn, it would have eaten me alive."

          Spike was starting to get it. "And the whole time," he said, nodding to himself, "I could have picked up the sodding phone and fixed that. It wasn't just those reasons, Buffy. It was my pride, too. I don't know why I'm even telling you that, makes me look like a bigger ass than I must already, but there it is. I wanted you to remember me that way. Didn't want to risk you losing that image of me. Having me around," he shrugged, "you might recall that I am a bit rough around the edges, pet. Not always saving the world and such."

          He saw her expression turn to disbelief as she wiped away a few hard-fought tears. "Spike, I was so proud of you. We all were," Buffy smiled reassuringly. But the smile melted in the light of memory. "I grieved for you. Grieved for months. But we had so much to do, and it felt like I had to ignore it. And, God, I don't know. Xander had lost Anya, and at least we had each other to talk about it. Someone who understood."

          When she trailed off, Spike couldn't hold the question in, the one he'd first thought of at the gas station when he'd seen them hold hands. "Buffy, is that ? I mean, is there something between ? ?"

          "Spike, just shut up, please," Buffy cut him off. He didn't know if she had even listened to the question. She came toward him, almost gliding, and put her arms around him. She put her elbows on his shoulders, tugging him down, and kissed him. He returned it, pulling her body tightly against his, he surrendered.

          "Just shut up."
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          • #6
            Chapter 6
            Beta: Dorian's Kitten
            RATING: NC-17


            The walk to Buffy's chambers ? bedroom just didn't adequately describe the space ? had been a blur of rising heat for Spike, and when they stepped through, Buffy was back in his arms, kissing him again. Hungrily. He couldn't help but answer the kiss. Every damn fool reason he'd had not to reach out to her when he'd become corporeal again flew out the window the moment he'd seen her. This, she, was all that he wanted. He'd been too daft for words.

            Buffy broke their kiss and peeled Spike's coat off for the second time since he'd arrived. He pulled his own shirt off, as Buffy pulled her sweatshirt over her head. Their eyes found each other again ? Spike stood there bare-chested, Buffy still in her jeans and a light blue bra.

            "Buffy," Spike whispered, "I should have called. I should have come running. I thought? "

            "It doesn't matter, Spike. If things had? this is how it should have been." And they were kissing again. Spike pulled his fingers through her hair as they moved together toward her bed. But he couldn't shake a moment of fear, that it was the same as before. That he was just convenient. Beneath her.

            "Is this what you want, Buffy? No other reason but me?"

            "Spike," she answered, kissing him before he could draw out more of an answer. And, as she pulled at his trousers, he lost his nerve to ask again. He laid her back on her bed and let his lips leave hers, kissing her neck, her chest. He let his tongue glide over her stomach as he unclasped her button jeans and tugged them down her legs, panties right alongside. Buffy leaned up on her elbows long enough to unclasp her bra, throwing it away from the bed before digging her fingers into Spike's hair.

            Both of them were naked on the bed. It had been nearly four years, but Spike remembered her body like he knew his own. He reached between her legs with his right hand, and felt moisture and heat there, slipping two fingers inside her slowly. She gasped and clutched his hair, rolling her head back into her pillow. Spike took the encouragement and dipped his head, licking her sex while rocking his fingers inside her.

            "OHhhh," Buffy gasped, to Spike's satisfaction. She wanted this, wanted him, and that's all he cared about anymore. He flicked his tongue against her clit with mischievous pleasure.

            "Spike? no? inside me, please," Buffy interrupted, tapping him on the shoulder. Spike climbed back up above her without protest. He was already hard, he rested his member between the lips his fingers had warmed up for him. The heat of her body against the cool of his was exquisite. Spike met Buffy's eyes. She spread her legs wider, waiting for him. To his surprise, she took his hand like he'd taken hers the night before, interlocking their fingers and holding it between them. She nodded to a question he hadn't asked, and he pushed inside of her.

            Buffy's back arched away from the bed immediately as Spike began to make love to her. He wrapped the fingers of his free hand into the curls of her hair, kissing her, sucking gently at her neck as he rocked in and out of her. Her insides tightened against him and she wrapped her legs tightly around his hips. Despite himself, he quickened his pace, thrusting into her harder and more quickly, but still trying to savor every second of it. Kissing her lips, staring into her eyes, he lost any sense of time.

            He felt her fingers raking at his back, not clawing but digging, and the pinch only drove him on to take her harder and faster. He wasn't sure how long they'd been connected, but knew he couldn't continue. Buffy must have sensed it. She had never let go of their joint hands, but used her free hand to put a hand on his chest ? the message to stop.

            Spike paused, every muscle in his body screaming in protest, before he realized what she wanted. He helped her keep their hands locked as she rolled him over onto his back. She straddled him and reached between her legs to line him up against her again before letting her weight carry her down against him, all the way to the hilt, and feeling every inch of her from inside. Buffy took over the rhythm and rode him slowly, in a long, deep grind. Spike pulled their joint hands to his lips and kissed her fingers. Back then, it had been their hands on fire, now if felt like every part of them. Buffy sped up, her lips opening in small gasps as she filled herself on him again and again.

            Spike felt his own body beginning to buckle as she began to pound against him. Desperate to have her closer, he pulled her down to him with his free hand and kissed her. She began thrusting backwards against him as they lay there, skin against skin, and kissed him back with a tenderness that contradicted the building fury of their love-making.

            "Buffy, I love you so much," Spike whispered. Buffy was still kissing him when he felt her orgasm take off around him. He wouldn't let her lips go, and he felt his body release right after hers did. She gasped against his mouth, and began slowing down, letting each thrust linger. Their fingers separated at last.

            In the corridors of the castle, Xander turned back around. Buffy and Spike hadn't been in the training room, the infirmary, or the kitchen. One of the girls mentioned seeing them down in the dungeons, but Xander's had no luck. He wasn't sure where to look next, and was starting to feel like a dope for volunteering to update Buffy in the first place.

            When he went back by the training room, Satsu caught his attention. "Mr. Harris," she called. He turned right away and gave her a meaningful look. "I'm sorry? Xander," Satsu corrected, albeit with a slight bow of her head, "I wondered if you could do me a favor."

            "Sure, Satsu," Xander answered, glad for the distraction of an official duty. "What do you need?"

            "It's very embarrassing? Renee and Diane have a bet over how many time Leo tells Kate Winslet he loves her in Titanic. Renee says two, Diane says just one."

            Xander nodded; official duty indeed. "Tell you what, get in the bet, the answer is none. I'll go get the DVD for you."

            Satsu smiled and thanked him, and Xander headed up toward his quarters. He may not be able to find Buffy, but at least his bedroom didn't move around. A couple moments walk and he arrived on the floor where he and Buffy both kept their rooms. As he passed by Buffy's door, he heard something that drew him short ? she was inside. Great, two birds, he figured, saving Spike from hell and movie trivia on one errand.

            He held his hand up to knock when he heard Buffy again, and froze. She wasn't talking. She was moaning. She was? oh God. Buffy and Spike. Again. Xander thought about knocking, but couldn't figure out why. It's not like there was actual good news to give so far anyway, and it could only be awkward. With a heavy sigh, he stepped away from Buffy's door and headed down the corridor.

            Hours later, in Buffy's room, she and Spike lay on her bed. She had settled in next to him with her head on his chest. As much as she wanted to just go to sleep here with him, she knew she couldn't leave Willow and Xander on their own looking for answers. Not when they had only hours left to save Spike.

            Buffy began to sit up, to tell Spike she was going to get dressed and see if she could help the others. He was already staring at her when she turned her head to face him.

            "I'd hoped you might fall asleep this way, pet. Nice way to spend the morning before going back to hell," Spike admonished gently. He reached up and ran his fingers over her cheek.

            "You're not going back, Spike. We're going to keep you here, like I said." Buffy didn't like the tone of resignation in his voice.

            "Don't really care one way or another right now, to be honest. Might be on my way to a nasty hell dimension in a few hours no matter what Red does. If I have to go out in a blaze of Hellmouth-demolishing sunlight, or cozied up to you after a dance like that, there's no competition at all."

            Buffy felt herself begin to blush. She both loved and loathed Spike's poetic background when it came to compliments. "That's very sweet, Spike, but I'm not kidding. You did the job, we know what happened to L.A. There's no reason you have to go back if we can stop it."

            She saw Spike thinking it over. "You think Red can do it?" He asked cautiously?

            "She's Willow," Buffy smiled, sitting up in bed.

            Spike stared at her naked body ? she had never really liked for him to see her in the nude the way things had been before. But he didn't want to gawk, either. And anyway, he still had some things he needed to know.

            "Y'know, when Angel and I went to Rome looking for ?you'," Spike started, "he told me about the talk you had in Sunnydale. Remember, the tongue-y hello?"

            Buffy arched her eyebrow at him as she stood from the bed, crossing to her dresser and picking out a dark blue cotton tank top. "I remember," she answered as she pulled on the shirt and started looking for panties.

            Spike pushed ahead. "He gave me your ?cookie dough' talk about not knowing what you want, or when you'd know and all. I can't help but wonder as I sit here naked in your bed?" he gestured helplessly at the mess they'd made of the bedding through the night.

            "Honest answer?" Buffy met Spike's eyes. When he nodded, she answered with a shrug. "Still extremely true. Still Tollhouse Buffy cookie dough. I think. I might be browning on the outside, if that helps."

            Spike pursed his lips, and Buffy looked out her window. She had pulled on underwear and a pair of sweatpants. "So this was just more, what, moonlighting?"

            Buffy heard the implication and whirled to face him. "Hey," she demanded, "Hey. It's not that. I'm not trying to use you. You wanted this and so did I. I? I missed you, Spike. Isn't that enough?"

            He stood up and reached for his pants and underwear as well. Buffy saw no anger suggesting he'd storm out, just like he wanted to stay on even footing. "So I'm licking the cookie batter out of the bowl, or some such? So to speak, anyway?"

            "Spike, this wasn't supposed to be a bad thing," Buffy sighed. She watched Spike finish dressing, all but his coat, and continued to pull on her own slippers. It was warm enough in the castle to walk down to the command center in just this, she figured. "Look, once we make sure you're safely in this dimension? We'll keep talking about this. Why don't you come with me now, though ? so we can get to bed. I'm pretty tired."

            She glanced at the clock and saw it was nearly three in the morning. She tried not to let her anxiety over the time show as she pulled Spike out of her room by the hand.

            Willow heard Buffy and Spike enter the empty command room and opened her eyes. She was lucky she could control her use of energy and hadn't needed sleep ? solving the Spike problem was not something she could take a break from and not miss their window. Although she was starting to think it wasn't going to matter, unfortunately.

            "Hey guys," Willow said, standing and waving at them. She saw Buffy's change of clothes and Spike's dishevelment and her eyes widened slightly. They didn't waste much time at all, Willow thought. Of course it didn't look like she was going to be buying them any extra time.

            "Hey Will," Buffy smiled, looking around curiously. "Nobody on watch?"

            "I do a decent job of multi-tasking," Willow answered. "Xander came down around eleven, maybe midnight and asked how things were going. He said that there wasn't any sign of Animal Farm activity, so he closed up the night shift and I guess he went to bed." However, Willow was having an easier time understanding why Xander seemed so terse when he'd been there. She knew her friend very well, and enough to realize that he had found out about Buffy and Spike somehow, as well.

            "Can't blame a guy for needing some shut-eye after a day of playing Professor X, can you?" Spike put in. Willow thought he was trying to decide what to do with his hands while they stood there. She just nodded in agreement, not wanting to talk about Xander just then.

            "So, how does it look?" Buffy asked.

            Willow didn't have good news, but couldn't bring herself to let it out. "There's some hope. It's going to be a pretty close call, though. I'm actually going to need to borrow him?" Willow saw both Buffy and Spike's eyes widen, "? for the spell to work. Some chanting, maybe a tiny bit of his blood?"

            Buffy nodded, her face brightening. Spike looked more relieved than he probably wanted either woman to realize. "See? Plenty of time to talk. You help Willow, and I'm going to go to bed. You can let yourself in? into any of the open quarters on the grounds."

            Willow saw Buffy swallow after catching herself. Her friend, however, also squeezed Spike's hand for a moment, clearly to make the invitation more specific. Willow smiled sadly.

            Spike watched Buffy all the way back out of the door before turning back to Willow with an awkward smile. "So," he said with enthusiasm, "need to open up my veins? You have a knife, or just want me to bite myself?"

            Willow took one more look at the door to be sure Buffy was gone before answering. "No, Spike. I can't help you. You're going to have to go back. I'm sorry."
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            • #7
              Chapter 7
              Beta: Dorian's Kitten


              Spike started back at Willow, uncomprehending. She was kidding, maybe? He laughed in spite of himself. "You? you just said, little poke-it, drain-it, chant-it, no more hell?" He asked nervously. Willow's face was turned down sympathetically, but didn't flinch.

              "No Spike," she answered, "it can't be done. It's not that there's not something to try, but? but it can't be done. You said Angel called you a "flare", and that's not really wrong. I thought you were on a sort of pulley, y'know, magically, but you're not. You're a projectile. When you bounced off the ?back wall' of our dimension you ?exploded', and when the spell wears off, it will fire you back to wherever it is the Senior Partners sent all of you.

              "I can try to grab you and keep you here at that exact moment. But you'd still explode. Like a bullet blowing up inside a gun. And there's no telling how big it would be."

              Spike thought it over, staring from his shoes, up to the ceiling, and back down before answering. "No telling at all? Look, Red, I'm not a magic spells, and hoopla kind of man, and I don't particularly fancy going back to hell today. What kind of explosion are we talking about?"

              Willow thought it over, shrugging. "You mean, aside from Rotisserie Willow? If we did it here, it could knock down the castle. Or, y'know, Scotland. Depends on how bad that dimension wants you back, I guess."

              A lot, Spike thought. It would want him back a lot. The Senior Partners, he'd learned, weren't much for the half measures. "So you sent the Slayer off to tell me this? Was it past her bedtime? You don't really expect me not to tell her what's going on, do you?"

              Willow surprised him by stepping right up to him and putting her hand on his shoulder, almost in condolence. "Spike," she said, "I need you to tell her. I needed you to understand it first, and to explain it to her. Buffy? Buffy has a hard time letting go of some things, probably because she's had to do it too much. It's part of what makes her strong. If I told her, she either wouldn't believe me, or she'd want to ignore the consequences and? we can't? do that." Willow explained, stumbling for words at the end.

              Spike was thunderstruck. Just a day ago, he'd been cussing out Angel and Wesley for wasting his time and thinking he'd be making a day trip. But things were? better than he thought they'd be. He didn't want to go back. And now he knew he couldn't stay.

              "It's just? it's just that?" Spike staggered through the words. He didn't need to unload this in front of Willow, but there was nowhere else to turn.

              Willow surprised him by stepping closer, sliding her arms around him and embracing him warmly. She pulled his head down to her shoulder, offering comfort that was almost motherly. "Spike, I know. It's okay, I know. So does Buffy."

              For once, Spike couldn't think of anything he could say to toughen himself up. He didn't cry, but he didn't let go, either.

              Xander looked at his alarm clock and saw it was nearly ten in the morning. He muttered an obscenity and flipped his legs out of bed. Collecting his eye patch from his nightstand, he pulled on a pair of wrinkled jeans out of his hamper and a zip front sweater over his muscle shirt. He felt too hungover to dress more ?professionally', despite not having had anything to drink. When he was finally dressed, he grabbed his Bluetooth headset off his dresser and stepped into the corridor, hoping that he could get off this floor without any more auditory brainstamps coming from Buffy's room.

              What he wasn't expecting to see was Spike in the hallway. But there he was, standing in front of Buffy's door. Xander walked closer slowly, and saw that Buffy's door was open. The vampire was fully dressed; even wearing his coat, and standing in the door watching Buffy sleep on the other side of the room. Xander was too confused to be outraged by the seeming voyeurism, and Spike whispered to him before he could even form a question.

              "I'm standing here like Hamlet's vampire father, I know. I just," Spike sighed, "I just wanted to look at her for a while."

              "Spike, you'll probably be staring at her a lot and not have to be in the hallway to do it. Close the door before you creep out our girls."

              "Won't be staring too much, mate, just for a while now," Spike said, frowning and still staring at Buffy. Xander couldn't tell what he was talking about at all, but it was a little disturbing. He asked Spike, and the vampire looked at him for the first time.

              "Going back to hell, Xander," Spike said with what was almost a smile, "going right back down the black hole Wolfram & Hart shoved us in. Red can't stop it, and I can't face it. That's why I'm just watching, see? If I look, if I just look, I can leave her."

              Xander was floored. Not that Spike wouldn't be able to stay, even though he had been confident Willow would figure out a way, but because Spike was telling him. "How long do you have?"

              "An hour or so, tops."

              "And you're not going to say anything to her?"

              "Not in my plans right now, no."

              Xander grabbed him by the collar with a sudden anger and dragged him away from Buffy's door. Spike didn't dare yell for fear of waking Buffy, and Xander took the opportunity to drag him down the corridor, up the stairs, and out onto the castle roof. It was day, but Xander knew this terrace was shaded at this hour, and he and Spike stood there in the shade, face to face.

              "You listen to me, Spike. She dealt with losing you for months. She's going to be dealing with you not telling her you were back? for months. You don't get the luxury of slipping back to your very own hell without telling her and putting her through that, too."

              Spike felt his own blood heat up at being pushed around, and shoved Xander back a step in anger. "What do you know about making the hard decision. I've been around you for years, you git. Don't pretend that you've got a secret from me, not about the Slayer. I've made mistakes with her, and with everything else, but I don't owe you, of all people, an explanation for keeping a secret from her, do I?"

              He watched Xander break eye contact, shell-shocked by the retort. Spike pressed on. "I've been here a bloody day, and I've got you read. If anybody should be telling her the truth, it's you."

              Xander looked up at him and held his stare. "You're right. She does need me to tell her the truth," Xander decided. He punched Spike in the jaw and caught him off-guard. Acting quickly, he stepped back inside the castle and locked the terrace door. Spike was trapped ? nowhere to go without sunlight. Xander didn't smile at his own cleverness, and walked briskly down to Buffy's room.

              "Buffy," he said, massaging her shoulder gently. He couldn't help but stare at her for a moment. "Buffy, wake up. Spike needs to see you on the upstairs terrace."

              Spike stood out on the terrace, kicking loose bits of masonry in frustration. He'd been caught like a bloody mouse. When he heard the door click open, he prepared to chew out Xander for being a pain in his ass, but drew up short when Buffy stepped outside with him. The breeze whipped through the morning air, blowing her hair back, and pushing the tail of his coat against his legs.

              "Xander came and woke me up," she said neutrally, "said you had something you needed to tell me."

              "I half expected he already would have," Spike muttered. But he knew Xander wouldn't have taken it that far. They'd understood each other better than either would admit. "Look, I didn't know how to tell you. Willow can't save me, okay? I'm for the trip back. If I'm ever getting out at all, it'll be because we figure it out from that side." Once it was out, he felt a little freed in spite of himself.

              Buffy, on the other hand, looked miserable, disbelieving. Her eyes widened and began to fill, "But she said? there was a spell?"

              Spike smiled helplessly and shrugged. "We looked it over and it won't work. Has this nasty habit of blowing up Scotland, as it happens, and the Scots tend to disapprove of that."

              Buffy's eyes filled, but she said nothing. Spike stepped over to her, took hold of her arms. "Buffy, we did the mission here. You guys will work on the whole Hell-A problem. I'll go back and kick a little demon ass. Back before you know it."

              Buffy heard the words but knew even Spike didn't really believe them. He didn't think there was any coming back from Wolfram & Hart's sentence for him and the others; he hadn't even thought there was a point to the trip he had made. It felt like he was giving up, no matter how optimistic he sounded.

              "Spike, I don't know if I can do this again," Buffy said, breaking down more than she could prevent. "We were going to? we were going to talk! I wouldn't have gone to bed if? if?"

              Spike kissed her. He couldn't even attempt some sort of Hollywood kiss, he was barely holding it together as it was. But he kissed her, through her words and her tears. When he pulled away, he said "Buffy, I'm not gone. We're both still here, love. You're not alone anyway, whether I'm here or not. Believe me? you're well loved whether I'm around or not."

              Buffy heard the words but couldn't speak. She realized there could only be minutes left, if nothing could be done.

              "Buffy, there's? I can't go without asking you something. Last night? and back in Sunnydale. Did you mean it? I'm not looking for a promise from you. Hell, a promise is the last thing I could ask. I just need to know. I didn't believe you before, and I don't know why. You didn't answer last night."

              Buffy understood the question, couldn't pretend not to, but couldn't quite find the answer inside. It was like she was reaching into her emotions from miles and miles away. "Spike? I can't?"

              "It's selfish of me, pet, I know it. I know it. I love you. You know that. You know what I want. If you mean it, say it. If you don't mean it, say that. It's about all I've thought of for a few years. Don't want to say I made the trip for nothing, do I?" He smiled bravely.

              Buffy looked away from Spike out toward the sun-drenched valley below them. Did she love him? Had she, or would she ever? When he was dead, she hadn't had to really think about those questions, think about whether she'd meant it back then at all. Maybe their moment had passed. She couldn't keep up with her emotions. It had been two years, and she had been starting to feel things -- but, she had kissed Spike so quickly...

              The changes were all too much, and too fast. She felt the wind pick up suddenly on the terrace and blinked her eyes. When she opened them again, looking out over the landscape, she realized she had the answer. "Spike, I ?"

              When Buffy turned to face him again, she was alone on the terrace. Her breath caught in her throat in horror. Spike had gone. She hadn't known what would happen, had thought there'd be more? just more. When she'd lost him before, it had been a pretty big show.

              She wanted to cry but couldn't. She hugged herself tightly and announced her answer into the wind blowing across the terrace before going back inside.
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