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Almost Home by slaymesoftly
Chapter One
IWSHLYPart 3. –
The first full Scooby meeting at the end of what had been a relatively quiet summer began, as it had the previous year, with Buffy and Spike prepared to give a rundown of the coming year’s most memorable events.
“So, what was going on during this month in your time, Buffy?”
The suddenly uncomfortable tension in the room stretched out as Winston tried to recover from his innocent question.
There was a long pause before Buffy said, "You’ll have to ask Spike. I wasn’t around."
"Wasn’t much happening,” Spike finally broke into Winston’s stammered apologies for being so thoughtless.
“Rupert, Red, and I patrolled, sometimes with the­–” He stopped, obviously remembering they’d glossed over the Buffybot’s existence when talking about how the previous year developed. “All of us patrolled,” he said with a nod toward Xander, Anya, and Tara. “Did what we could to keep vamp numbers down and hide the fact that Buffy was…. not around anymore.”
“Did that work?” Giles looked incredulous.
“Well, the keeping her absence a secret was a little easier than you might think…. but it probably wasn’t working as well as we hoped,” Spike said with a grimace. “It’s not like her spectacular dive off Glory’s tower didn’t have any witnesses. Or like any of us was hiding his emotions very well, but as long as we kept the vamp numbers down and nobody cried in public…”
“And it was summer,” Buffy put in, resting a hand on his arm when she could see how the memories were affecting him. “So, pretty slow in terms of evil running amok. It probably wouldn’t have worked much longer.” She paused and bit her lip, then shrugged. “You guys were doing great, but you really needed a…. slayer.” Buffy glanced at Willow, who was already cringing in anticipation of being scolded for what she knew she’d done in Buffy’s timeline.
“I know it probably seemed like the right thing to do at the time, Will. You had no way of knowing…. anything, really. I mean, obviously you knew Giles wouldn’t–and Spike probably… but you couldn’t know why they wouldn’t have….”  She exhaled. “You haven’t done those things, you aren’t going to now, so stop looking at us like we’re going to hate you.”
Willow tried for a smile, saying, “But future me kinda indicated I tried to end the world. Which… I can’t imagine that, but if I said I did it–”
“In my time, you had your very best friend since kindergarten to talk you down.” Buffy smiled at a shocked Xander. “And in Winston’s time,  you had…. something else that stopped you.”  She carefully avoided looking at Winston, having long since understood that he and Willow probably had a magic war that she’d lost. 
She could see Willow wasn’t fooled. Her letter to herself had been very specific, and she’d had a lot of conversations with Winston since then. Her eyes flashed a little as she looked at him, but her tone was calm when she said, “Yeah, apparently there was somebody else more powerful than I was around… then.”
Another uncomfortable silence reigned as even those not fully aware of what had gone on in Winston’s time caught the gist of Willow’s momentary anger.
Giles cleared his throat. “So, Spike, what were you doing during this undoubtedly painful time?”
“My job,” he said shortly. “Looking after the Bit and providing muscle so the Slayer’s idiot friends didn’t get themselves killed tryin’ to do her job.”  He paused. “And drinkin’. A whole bloody lot of drinking.”
There was another silence, broken when Buffy said with false cheerfulness, “So, what do we think about that demon gang? Wait for them to show up, or get ready for them and stop them at the edge of town?”
Spike gave her a grateful look as he said, “They came because they knew you weren’t here. There’s no reason this time for that word to go out into the demon world, so if they’re smart, they won’t even show up.”
“They’re demons, Spike…”
“Point taken, love,” he said with a grin. “Alright then. Stop them at the town limits it is. Who’s with us?”
Buffy beamed when every hand except Anya’s went up.
“What?” Anya said when Willow and Xander stared at her. “You don’t need me. You’ve got Buffy, who kicked their butts before, right? When she was just out of her grave.” She looked to Buffy for confirmation. “Now you’ve got her, Spike, Willow and Winston. Xander and I don’t need to be there.” She sat back, quite pleased with her logic.
“Anya’s probably right,” Spike said with a smile at her. “If we catch them off guard before they have time to spread out and start wreaking havoc, we should be able to take care of any of them too stupid to turn around and leave.” He frowned. “I hope it isn’t too easy. Need to get myself another bike.”
“Spike, we have money! You canbuy yourself a motorcycle if you want one.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Reacting to the bewildered expressions around the room, he clarified. “Had to take his bike away from one of the ugly buggers so the Bit and I could find out what was going on. Not like I could leave her alone in the house with demons rampaging around, is it? And she couldn’t keep up with me runnin’, so we needed transportation.”
“Well, we did,” he muttered as Buffy shook her head at him. The smile on her face belied the way she was trying to seem disapproving.
“Do we have a date for this event?” Giles asked, in an effort to get the meeting back on track.
“Know exactly what day it was,” Spike said softly, reaching for Buffy’s hand. “We’ve got another month yet.”
Tara understood first, giving a little gasp. They all watched as Spike kissed Buffy’s fingers and held a whispered conversation that trailed off when they switched to mental communication. It was easy to see the understanding spread throughout the small group, and Buffy squeezed Spike’s hand and sat up straighter.
“So, demons first,” she said.  “The rest of the year… I don’t know. We tried to put a stop to Warren’s delusions of grandeur last year, and we talked to Jonathan the year before, but that’s no guarantee that they won’t try to be pains in my butt again. I guess we can follow them around closer this time and try to stop any evil stuff before they get too into it.”
After giving everybody a quick rundown of some of the things the Trio of Wankers (as Spike referred to them), had done in their time, Buffy and Spike left the others to talk about how much they could do to interfere with what were just human villains. The fact that they had used magic and demons to commit some of their crimes, including making Buffy think she’d killed someone, had Winston exchanging looks with Giles that didn’t bode well for Warren and his buddies.
“So, quick patrol and then what? Home to bed?” Spike wiggled his eyebrows and leered at Buffy who shook her head and laughed, but groped him anyway. He growled his appreciation and pulled her into an embrace. “Did you want to start now, love?”
Buffy peered around him and shook her head again. “Down boy,” she said, pushing him away. “I think we have a situation.”
Spike sighed, but released her and turned around. “What the hell?”
Facing them was a bewildered-looking blue demon, and behind him was Andrew, holding some sort of amulet and saying, “That’s her. Get her!”
The demon made a sound that seemed a great deal like “Huh?” before advancing tentatively toward Buffy. He cast one eye at Spike, who had let his own demon out, then stopped and turned to look at Andrew again.
“Get her!” Andrew said, his voice becoming shriller as the demon didn’t obey and Spike began to growl. “I command you to attack them!”
“I wouldn’t, if I were you, mate,” Spike said, dropping his vampire mien and smirking. “This is the Slayer. She’ll have you for lunch.  Metaphorically speaking,” he added when Buffy said “Ewww!” and glared at him. 
The demon said something to Spike that made him shake his head, then repeated it in Fyarl.  Spike responded in the same language. The demon then rolled his eyes, and muttered a Fyarl version of an apology before turning to glare at Andrew, who was rapidly retreating toward a black van with an open door.
With a loud “Eek!” Andrew dove through the door, throwing the amulet at the advancing demon who picked it up and sneered  before crushing it under his foot. Without another word or look at Buffy or Spike, he ran off in the general direction the van had taken.
“Well, looks like Andrew is on the same path,” Spike said. “But his demon-summoning skills are still pretty shaky.”
“What was that one?”
“Dunno for sure. But he spoke Fyarl, so must be from this dimension. Who knows where the idiot summoned him from?” He put his arm over Buffy’s shoulders. “What do you want to do about him, love? Should I eat him?”
Buffy snorted. “Andrew would probably like that, and he’d want you to turn him.”
Buffy laughed. “Well there you go, then. We’ll have to find another way to keep him from going all evil on us.”
“If he was jumpin’ out of that van, he’s already hooked up with at least one of those losers,” he pointed out.
Buffy sighed. “Yeah, I guess he has. Well, I’m not going to worry about it this early on. If we catch them doing something they shouldn’t, we can try to convince them to change their ways.”  She frowned. “I think I’ll try to find Katrina and warn her about Warren, though. I don’t know exactly when he tricked her into drinking with him. Or how long they had her before she tried to get away and got killed.”
Spike growled and Buffy shuddered. “They really were pretty evil, weren’t they? We make fun of Andrew and Jonathan, but they went right along with everything Warren did.”
“Souls didn’t do them much good,” Spike muttered. “I know demons with more morals than that crew of wannabes.”
“I think I’m old enough now to understand that not all evil is non-human and soulless,” Buffy said with a sigh. “But that doesn’t change what my job description is. I can’t be the whole world’s cop. All I can do is fight evil when and where I find it.”
“And the hellmouth is the most likely place for that,” Spike said with a nod toward the entrance to the cemetery they’d been planning to patrol.
“And that’s why we live here,” she agreed, leading him through the gate and deeper into the darkness.
The short patrol turned up only two newly risen vampires, one of which Buffy staked before he was even all the way out of his grave.
“That wasn’t very sporting of you, pet,” Spike said, putting his arm around her.
“Would you rather I wasted a lot of time fighting him, or would you rather I did it efficiently so we could go home sooner?”
Buffy gave him a sideways glance as she ran her hand over his jean-clad rear.
“Efficiency is my middle name,” he said quickly, snorting in surprise when she then squeezed one cheek. “Tryin’ to tell me something, love?”
“Just reminding you that I’m here,” she said. “And that I like your sexy butt.”
“I never forget that you’re here, sweetheart. Or that you like my fine arse,” he added, dancing away from her half-hearted swat. “It’s all yours as soon as we get home.”
When Buffy walked into the Magic Box the next day, she was surprised to find Giles, Winston, and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce sitting around the table in the back in deep conversation. She walked up to them, eyeing Wesley with suspicion.
“Hi, Wes,” she said, then turned to Giles. “And what’s he doing here?” 
“He had some questions about Angel’s claim and how you learned of it. And he wanted to talk to you in person.”
“So you can go back and tell Angel? Did he send you?”  Her cold stare as she turned back to Wesley made him shrink back in his chair. The fear on his face reminded her that he’d had some very unpleasant experiences with Faith in her time, and she wondered if his obvious fear of her meant that Faith had behaved similarly this time.
Mentally scolding herself for not having tried to keep track of what Faith was doing after they sent her away, she tried for a more conciliatory tone.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.  “It’s not you I’m mad at.”
“For which I am sure he is very grateful,” Giles said with a wry smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. 
When Buffy saw the same look of mild disapproval on Winston’s normally friendly face, she sighed and pulled out a chair.
“I am sorry, Wes. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m not really feeling as homicidal as I was when I first figured it out.”
“If what you said is true, you had every right to be furious with Angel and anyone who may have supported him.” He shook his head. “But surely you understand that even a former watcher would never condone such an outrageous abuse of your trust?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m pretty sure he didn’t brag about doing it.  Even Spike says he probably meant it as another layer of protection when he first did it.  Since the bite was already there, he just marked me so maybe other vamps would think twice about biting.”
“But I assume he didn’t let it go at that?” Wesley frowned.
“Of course he didn’t.  Bloody wanker that he is…” Spike’s voice preceded him even as his silent approach to the table startled everyone except Buffy and Wes, who had seen him emerge from the basement.  “He didn’t tell you about it, then, when you left here?”
“Only to say it was for Buffy’s own good,” Wes responded. “And to tell me in great detail why it was such a terrible idea that she had allowed you to bite her.”  He gave Spike a challenging glare, which faded as Spike just shrugged and leaned down to kiss Buffy before turning a chair around to sit beside her.
He crossed his arms over the top of the chairback and stared back at Wesley. “Why don’t you tell him the rest of it, love?” he said.
Buffy exchanged glances with Winston and Giles, reading in their expressions that they weren’t yet ready to let Wesley know about the time travel. She nodded and smiled at him.
“Well, you know I had a… thing… with Angel when I was in high school. I thought I was in love with him, and it broke my heart to think he might die, so I goaded him into feeding from me­­­—”
Spike’s explosive and snarled, “Don’t give a rat’s ass how sick he was, ‘s no excuse for tearing you up like that or almost draining you!” had Buffy’ pausing to soothe him and give Wesley time to relax again.
“So, anyway,” she continued when he’d subsided to grumbling, “it seems that while I was unconscious, he put a claim on me. Of course, I didn’t accept it, or even know about it, but before the fight at Graduation and then after he left me­—Sunnydale—every time we spoke, he always asked me if I was still his girl. And, of course, I said ‘yes’ ‘cause that’s what he wanted to hear. And that’s kinda how I felt, you know? Like he was my forever love and even if we weren’t together, I would always be his girl.” She stopped talking and glanced at Spike.  “I was wrong about that, but I still felt a connection to him. And it got in the way of being able to appreciate what I had.”
Wes frowned at them as they exchanged smiles and moved their chairs closer together.
“So, he basically tricked you into renewing a claim you never knew existed….” He was silent for several minutes, clearly rethinking what he knew about his boss. Then he raised his eyes to Buffy again.  “And how did you figure this out?”
“I thought she showed you,” Giles said. “When you and Angel came here last spring?”
“She seemed to indicate that Spike had put a claim on her, and that it was mutual. But that seems….” He glared at Spike. “Why would she do that? Just because you’ve been helping her?” He turned his gaze back to Buffy. “How could you do that if Angel had already done so?”
Buffy nudged Spike’s arm. “You’re on, vampire guy.”
Spike shook his head. “It was a half-assed claim at best,” he said. “With Buffy not having knowingly accepted it, and them not seeing each other or talkin’ all that much, I had no trouble putting my own mark on the other side of her neck. May have been a bit trickier if I was right-oriented, but I bite to the left, so the only effect it ever had on me was to make me mildly uncomfortable about kissing that side of her neck. I never thought to ask myself why I stayed away from that side.”
“All it did to me, was keep me from falling in love with anybody else….” She smiled at Spike. “Or keep me from admitting it to myself, anyway,” she said. “I got older, and smarter, and—”
“And you fell in love with William the Bloody? Who, last I heard was searching for the Gem of Amara so he could kill you? Exactly how and when did this happen? Is Angel correct that Spike must have used magic of some sort to cause this sudden change of heart?”
There was a pause as everyone realized that without knowing what they did about Buffy’s true age, Spike’s soul, and their lengthy history together, there was no reason for Wesley not to be extremely doubtful about Buffy’s casual acceptance of their relationship.
“I guess it does seem kind of sudden to you,” Buffy began cautiously. “But we’ve had plenty of time to work together since then and… it just seemed like a good idea last year. A little insurance in case—"
Wesley's skeptical look didn't change, and Buffy looked at Giles and Winston. "Help?" she said meekly.
Giles spoke for her. "I think the best we can do for you at this time, Wesley, is to say that your boss knowingly tied the Slayer to him without her knowledge or permission, and that when she realized it, the connection was broken and she is much happier now."
"You don't trust me," Wes said flatly, leaning back in his chair. "You trust William the Bloody and a slayer with a history of relationships with vampires, but you don't trust me." His face and voice were expressionless, but Buffy could see the pain and anger in his eyes.
Giles shifted uncomfortably. "We do not trust Angel quite as much as we may have before this revelation. And you are his employee and friend, are you not?"
Chapter Two
Wesley didn’t get to answer before the door opened and Dawn came in, followed by Xander, who stopped beside Anya. Dawn went right to the silent group at the table and stopped to glare at Buffy and Spike.
“I thought we agreed that I don’t need to be picked up after school any more?”
Buffy glanced at Xander, who held up his hands and shrugged. “All I did was offer her a ride,” he said.
“You’re over-reacting, Dawn. Calm down and say hello to Wes—Mr. Wyndam-Pryce.”
Dawn barely glanced at Wes as she said, “Hi” then turned back to Buffy. “So, you didn’t tell Xander to pick me up after school?”
“No, we didn’t. He was just being nice to you. Obviously a waste of his time,” Buffy snapped. She sent Xander an apologetic smile. “He’ll know better next time.”
“But if we had, Bit, we’d be expecting you to be a bit more gracious about it and thank the man.”
Spike gave Dawn a disappointed frown, earning him an annoyed “There you go with that ‘I know you better than you think and I can tell you what to do’ stuff again. You aren’t my mom… or my big brother,” she finished in a mutter.
“Not quite,” he agreed quietly, smiling at Buffy’s sympathetic hand on his arm. “But I know your mum raised you better than that.”
Wes frowned again at the obvious pain Dawn’s words had caused Spike. “Why do I get the feeling I’m missing a great deal of what I need to know?”
“Prob’ly ‘cause you are,” Spike said. “Till we can be sure you aren’t here just to feed the big poof’s need to control Buffy’s life, there’s no sense tellin’ you things he doesn’t need to know.”
Wesley nodded. “I have to respect that concern.  What can I do to alleviate your fears?”
Spike shrugged. “Not sure what you can do to convince me, Oxford. Best talk to the Slayer and the watchers and see if you can make them believe it.”
Wes raised an eyebrow at Spike. “Just so we’re clear, is your lack of trust based on my relationship with Angel, or does it have something to do with your nickname for me?”
Spike gave a grin that didn’t reach his eyes. “Now why wouldn’t I trust a fellow alumnus?”  
While Wes gaped at him, Giles interjected a quiet, “Remember the rule about not blaming people for things they haven’t done.” Understood, but unspoken, was the “yet”.
“Right you are,” Spike admitted. “My apologies, Watcher. Maybe we can steal you away before you become too involved in his little gang of minions. Or fall in with the wrong ladies—urk!”
Buffy’s punch to his back interrupted him before he could say too much. Between her punch and glares from Giles and Winston, he sat back and mimed zipping his mouth closed.
Wesley frowned in confusion, having no idea what ladies Spike might be referring to as he was sure Spike had never met Fred.  “Are you referring to Cordelia?”
Spike shook his head, saying, “The cheerleader? Nah, she’s a bit of alright, inn’t she? No. I meant nothin’. Just using my mouth too much.”
“And I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you.”  Xander approached the table and nodded to Wesley. “Used-to-be-watcher person. How’ve you been?”
“Ah… Mr. Harris, is it?”
“Just Xander. Mr. Harris is my old man and you don’t really want to know him….”
“Ah, yes. Of course. Xander. How are you?”
“Still getting used to my friend Buffy having another vampire in her life… but at least this one has a sense of humor.”
Wesley’s lips twitched and they all watched him struggle to balance loyalty to Angel with any sign he agreed with Xander’s truthful remark. “Indeed” was his final response as he gave up and joined the unanimous smiles around the table. “It seems we are all struggling with that.”
“Struggling with what?  The big poof’s sense of self-importance, or the Slayer’s obviously improved taste in men?”  Spike’s words were said lightly, but his stare was challenging.
“In all honesty, I would have to say… both.” Wesley’s returned gaze was just as challenging.
“Fair enough,” Spike replied with a nod.
“If that’s settled, can we get back to filling Wesley in on what he can be told?” Giles looked around the table until he’d received nods from everyone. “I think it’s fair to say that we can tell him about Glorificus, and what we had to do to contain her. I’m not sure it’s necessary to discuss the Key in great detail, but….”
“But it won’t make a lot of sense without it,” Buffy said.
“So, this Key, and the hellgod from which you were keeping it, that was what kept you too busy to properly chastise Angel last year?” Wesley seemed genuinely interested in Buffy’s answer.
“Pretty much,” she admitted. “Which he should be thankful for, by the way, because my first impulse once that claim was gone and I figured out how he’d done it, was to drive a stake through his arrogant heart.”
Buffy’s tight lips as she finished speaking made Wesley flinch away from her, although he nodded his agreement.
“An understandable reaction,” he said. “But events here prevented you from doing so?”
“If I may?” Winston cleared his throat.  “At the time Buffy and Spike determined to initiate their own mutual claim, the reason for which goes somewhat beyond simply being in love with each other, things with Glory were coming to a head and it was important that we be prepared for anything. Buffy’s presence was key to luring Glory out to where we could best defeat her without endangering innocent lives.”
He looked at Buffy. “Would you like to explain, or shall I?”
“You go ahead. You’re all magic guy and from the Council, so he’ll be more likely to listen to you,” Buffy said with a quick glance at Wesley.
“You are a member of the Council of Watchers?” Wesley raised his eyebrows, not having moved as far away from his upbringing not to have his own sources there.
“Only in the sense that they are responsible for my being here,” Winston said smoothly. “I am not a member of the current Council of Watchers.”
Buffy and Spike exchanged small smiles at this easy semi-truthful explanation, which Wesley accepted at face value and nodded at Winston to go on.
“How does he do that?” Xander whispered to Spike, who shrugged.
“Wish I knew. I’d get myself in a lot less trouble.”
Winston quickly summarized the previous year’s issues with the Key having been given to Buffy to protect, as well as the arrival of Glory and her minions. He glossed over what the Key actually was and explained the plan they’d come up with to destroy the hellgod.
Wesley interrupted him to ask Spike, “So, your job was to kill the hellgod’s human form?” His disapproval was palpable.
“Mine, or whoever else was in a position to do it. Slayer didn’t want to. I didn’t have those inhibitions.” He gave Wesley a yellow-tinged stare to make his point.
“Clearly not,” he said thoughtfully. “The advantage of not having a soul, one must assume.”
“Assume away,” Spike said shortly. “I’ll be outside havin’ a fag in the nice dark alley.”  He stood up and walked to the back door, surprised when Xander walked out with him.
“So, you’re not liking Wesley’s version of you?”
Spike shrugged. “Got to keep remindin’ myself he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know—like that it was his bloody idea to send me here to kill Glory’s human host or to keep Willow from bringin’ her back if Buffy died anyway.” He threw the only partially smoked cigarette away. “Or that he was the one workin’ the mojo part of what sent me back.”
He shook out another cigarette and stuck it in his mouth. “Should be thankin’ him, I guess. Brought me back to Buffy, didn’t it?” He lit the cigarette and blew a smoke ring at Xander.
Waving away the smoke, Xander said, “I was gonna point that out if it didn’t occur to you. It worked out pretty well for you it seems to me. For both of you,” he added.
“It did.” Spike raised an eyebrow at him. “Might need you to remind me of that every now and again. I didn’t realize he was quite such a straight-laced watcher type before.”
“Trust me. Compared to what he was like when he showed up to be Faith’s watcher? This is loose as a goose.”
Spike snorted. “Must have been a real treat then. How’d the girls do with him?”
“About what you’d expect. They sassed him and then did whatever they wanted to. He didn’t last long.”
“Sorry I missed it,” Spike said with a laugh. “Would have been a lot of fun rattling his cage.”
Xander nodded his head. “I think it was pretty rattled by the time he left here.” He watched Spike leaning against the wall to enjoy his smoke. “So, in your time, were you friends?”
Spike shook his head. “Not really. Had a few good talks while I was a ghostie. I expect we could have been friends. He’d lost the stick up his arse by then, but he was all about the ‘we know what’s best for the world’ attitude that Angelus has, so I never got time to get to know him better. They explained my lack of options to me not long after I was solid again, and off I went to good old Sunnyhell.”
“And Buffy.”
“And Buffy,” Spike agreed, flicking his butt away. “Reckon I’d best be gettin’ back in there in case she needs me.”
He sat down beside Buffy just in time to hear Wesley say, “I understand from Angel that you had a seer helping you some time ago.” He looked at Anya briefly, then back at Buffy. “Is it Willow? I remember that she was quite busy with magic at one time.”
“Willow’s amazing with the magic—she helped us out with the spell to keep Glory in her human form.” Buffy smiled at him. “But no, she’s not a seer.”
“So, you no longer have someone who can see into the future? I was hoping to meet him or her to compare notes.” He seemed disappointed.
“Compare notes? Are you a seer now?”
“No. No, of course not. But Cordelia—” 
“Buffy nodded. “That’s right. I forgot about that. She got Doyle’s seer powers, didn’t she?” She frowned at Wesley. “That was the reason Angel came up here at Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. The seer told him there was danger here.”
“Danger. On a hellmouth. Imagine that,” Xander scoffed.
Ignoring the rude interruptions, Wesley continued. “I was really hoping to meet your seer. It’s quite disappointing that I cannot. Has he or she left Sunnydale then?”
There was silence as they all tried to come up with an appropriate response that wouldn’t give too much away. Finally Anya blurted, “It’s Spike! He’s the one who can see the future.”  Ignoring Xander’s groan, she beamed, pleased with her contribution to the conversation.
Wesley looked from Anya’s smiling face to the blank ones around the table, finally settling on Spike’s.
You are the seer?” He frowned, obviously realizing that he wasn’t getting the whole truth.
“In a manner of speaking, I reckon,” Spike said eventually. He glanced at Giles, who gave a shrug.
“And is that something you picked up from your sire? Did Drusilla pass her abilities on to you? How was it that Angel didn’t know about it?”
“The big poof doesn’t know what he doesn’t need to know,” Spike said shortly. “Didn’t tell him, ‘cause it wasn’t any of his business. He was just here to bitch at us for livin’ together and there wasn’t any reason to tell him how we knew what we knew. All he needed to be told was that we had good reasons to be working together and our personal lives were none of his business.”
Wesley looked back and forth between Spike and Buffy. “And yet, working together against a common enemy is hardly a basis for forming a permanent bond between you. It still seems unlikely that two such natural enemies would be spending enough time together to fall in love.”
“It’s going on almost two years since then,” Giles broke in. “More than enough time for feelings to develop between two people who are spending a lot of time together working on the same problems.”
“Two people, perhaps. A slayer and an unsouled vampire….”
“The poof didn’t tell you that part of it, I take it?” Spike growled.
“What part?”
“Spike has his soul,” Buffy said. “He got it for me.”
Wesley’s mouth dropped open. “Where…? How…? When…?”
“Perfectly good questions, all of ‘em,” Spike said. “Maybe someday I’ll tell you about it.  But not today. All you need to know is that it’s another thing your boss left out of his story. And it’s one he does know about. He saw it when he was here the first time.”
He stood up and glanced at Dawn who had been chatting with Anya. “Are you going to need me for help tonight, Bit?”
She shook her head. “No, I think I’ve got it. It’s easy stuff, and science. Not exactly your strong suit, is it?”
“Not my fault the world’s got so complicated an old vamp can’t keep up with it,” he growled.
She laughed at him, then pulled him toward the door.  “It’s getting dark out, so you have to walk me home anyway, Big Bad.”
Buffy wasn’t fooled by Spike’s grumbling about being used as a bodyguard for an ungrateful bint. She knew he was happy to have some time to spend with Dawn.
“You two go on,” she said.  “I’ll do a quick patrol and meet you at the gate to Restfield, ‘k?”
“Alright, love,” he said, dropping a quick kiss on top of her head. “I’ll meet you there shortly.”
Chapter Three
Buffy watched Wes’s face as his gaze followed Spike and the laughing teenager out the door. He gave a little frown when Spike didn’t even flinch away from the last dying ray of sun that touched the hand he was using to hold the door for Dawn. When the door had closed behind them, he looked back at Buffy in time to catch her impatient stare.
“Have you learned what you wanted to know?” she asked, making no attempt to hide her lack of interest in continuing the discussion.
“Truthfully, no I have not,” he responded, meeting her eyes and holding them without blinking. “I have learned more than I’d cared to about the behavior that the souled vampire I do know is capable of. However, I’m still not clear on how, in the  less than two years between when you and Spike were bitter enemies and last spring, you became so romantically involved as to bond yourselves together forever. Even allowing for the mutual affection you seem to have, why go to that extreme so early in a relationship?”
Buffy sighed and glanced at Giles again before responding. “Wes, all I can tell you right now is that Spike and I know each other much better than you might think, and that we had good reason to be concerned about our ability to remember that going forward.” She cocked her head at him and smiled. “I wish I could tell you why I’m comfortable with being bonded to William the Bloody, but unless and until you understand that Angel isn’t giving you the whole story…..”
Giles cleared his throat and interrupted. “If you could just take the word of a fellow former watcher that I’ve had time to watch this relationship… develop….” He paused, and glanced at Buffy who was smothering a smile at his careful lie. “Let me assure you that I have every confidence in both their commitment to each other and to the world’s safety.” He shook his head and added, “And I will likely be apologizing to them for the foreseeable future for not realizing what Angel had done to her when she was vulnerable.”
“I’m over it, Giles,” Buffy said. “None of us figured it out, including Spike who probably should have at some point….” She frowned. “We might have to have a conversation about that. He could’ve figured this out­—” She stopped herself just before she uttered “years ago” and smiled broadly at Wesley who was narrowing his eyes. Reminding herself that the Wesley Wyndam-Pryce they first met had been inexperienced and naïve, not stupid, she looked for a way to change the subject.
“So,” she said brightly, “the nerd trio. We ran into Andrew last night and he tried to sic a demon on us.”  She giggled. “It didn’t go quite like he wanted it to, but the point is, he was trying to tell it to ‘get’ me, and he escaped in a black van, so….”
“So, you think they’ve already begun?” Giles was careful not to say what had begun, but Buffy could see Wes’s gaze bouncing back and forth between them, a frown creasing his forehead.
“Begun what?” he broke in. “Is this something Spike has foreseen?”
“In a way,” Buffy said quickly. “I mean we knew we needed to watch out for a black van, and there it was. Right in front of us and giving Andrew an escape route.”
“And who is Andrew?” Wes persisted.
“Oh, just the younger brother of a kid I went to high school with. He thinks he can summon demons and make them do what he wants, but he’s not very good at it yet.”
“And you expect him to get better?”
“He might,” Buffy muttered, throwing another “help me!” look at Giles and Winston.
“And this ‘nerd trio’,” Wesley persisted. “Who are they?”
“Just Andrew and another kid who went to my high school and an older guy that I had a run-in with last year. It’s no big deal.” She was pretty sure all three men could see that she was reaching the end of her patience.
Winston, who had remained quiet throughout, came to Buffy’s rescue. He smiled at Wesley.
“I understand you are something of a practitioner of the magic arts,” he said in his smooth flattering manner. “I dabble a bit on occasion. I wonder if we might compare notes?”
Buffy mentally rolled her eyes as Winston’s soft language had its usual calming effect. Wes’s face lit up and he seemed more than willing to get into a discussion of magic with Winston. As she stood up, saying she was off to stake some vampires and meet up with Spike, she and Giles exchanged small smiles. “I still think it’s magic,” she whispered as she walked past him. She just barely heard his snort of agreement as she went out the door.
Buffy had only been waiting a few boring minutes before Spike came strolling up, whistling as he walked.
“Well, you’re in a good mood,” she said, smiling at his happy expression.
“I guess I am,” he said. “Had a chance to talk more with the Bit, and she seems to be liking me a bit more. She actually apologized for snappin’ at me.  Said she wanted to sit down some time and let me tell her about what we did back in our time to get so close. I promised to do it whenever she’s ready.”  He smirked at Buffy. “And now I get to spend some time killing things with my lady. All in all, shaping up to be a good evening.”
Buffy shook her head and poked him. “You know you probably just jinxed us, don’t you?”
“Ah, it’s still summer-time. Evil’s probably still on vacation, don’t you think?”
As he spoke, they were strolling through the cemetery, watching for new graves or disturbed ones, finding only one that looked as if it might contain a new vampire.
“What do you think? Stay here and watch, or keep going’ and check it again on our way out?”
“I think we ought to follow the black van that just came in that gate.” Buffy pointed across a swath of older graves to where a van without lights on was just visible entering the cemetery.
Spike immediately went into his vampire mien to see better. He growled low in his chest as he watched it move slowly between the rows of graves.
“Where do you think it’s going?” In spite of knowing they were probably too far away to be heard, Buffy was whispering.
“If I didn’t think I knew better, I’d say they were headin’ for my crypt,” he whispered back as he pulled his coat up over his head. “I’m gonna try to get closer.”
“Not without me, you aren’t!” Buffy’s indignation made him smile.
“I promise not to do any damage without you there, love, but your hair and that white jacket you’re wearing aren’t exactly invisible, are they?”
“I hate it when you’re being practical,” she muttered. “Okay, fine. Go be all creepy creature of the night guy. But you better let me know what’s going on.”
“Will do, love. We could probably use the practice anyway.”
She snorted at his reference to the telepathy they’d learned was part of their claiming bond. With Glory gone and little fighting to do over the summer, they rarely bothered with it except when they were making love.
“If I’m remembering last night, I don’t think we need any practice. It works just fine.”
“Mmmmmm,” he agreed. “Now that you mention it, we do seem to be bloody good at that part of it. I think I remember….”
He sent her a mental image of her sitting on his face with her head thrown back in ecstasy, and sprinted away laughing when she leaned against a tombstone for brief support.
Not funny!” she thought at him. “Payback’s a bitch, you know.”
Silent laughter was the only response, so she settled against the tombstone and watched the new grave while she waited for Spike.  Her growing boredom was relieved when the surface of the grave erupted and a pale hand waved around, grasping for something to use to pull himself up. Buffy waited until he was almost all the way out of the grave, then leaned in and thrust her stake through his back before he even noticed she was there.
“I guess Spike would make one of his ‘that wasn’t very sporting’ comments , but I didn’t get any grave dirt on my new clothes, so yay me.”
Pleased with herself, she began to wander in the direction Spike had gone, sending out tentative hints that she could use a little direction. The curt “stay put!” from him made her frown, and she picked up her pace, only to feel his fear and anger through the connection. “Do as you’re bloody well told for a change!” he sent clearly, following it with a mental image of himself on the roof of a crypt peering down at something.
She slowed her steps, but continued in his direction, ignoring the vague threats he was muttering until she was near enough to see the large crypt upon which he was crouching like a gargoyle. Shaking her head at both his posturing, and the complete obliviousness of the three young humans below him, she walked right into the circle they had painted on the grass and began kicking over the candles around its perimeter. Their outraged shouts quickly changed to shrieks when Spike leapt down from the roof, duster spreading behind him like wings.
He landed lightly, game face to the fore, and snarled, repeating it just to enjoy the way they all flinched away from him. Which put them closer to Buffy, whose expression wasn’t any less frightening.
She stared from Jonathan to Warren and back again, opting to talk to Jonathan first. 
“Didn’t we talk about this a couple of years ago? About making good choices for your goals in life?” She waved one hand at Warren and sneered in his direction. “Not to mention, how important it is to have decent friends?”
Without waiting for an answer, she turned her coldest slayer gaze onto Warren. “And I know Spike and I talked to you last year. I thought we made it pretty clear we’d be watching you?  Did you think I was kidding?”
From the corner of her eye, she could see Andrew trying to slink away, but before she could say anything, Spike’s growled, “Sit down, Andrew.” had him flinging himself to the ground, eyes wide.
“You… you know my name….” he whispered. “William the Bloody knows my name.” He slumped against the side of the van, his expression a mixture of awe and fear.
“Bloody hell,” Spike growled, rolling his eyes as he brought out his human face. “I can’t get away from—”
Buffy’s giggle made him growl again.  “Not funny, Slayer.”
“Yeah it is,” she said, giggling again before turning her attention back to Jonathan and Warren. There was no trace of the giggle left in her voice as she asked them, “What were you trying to raise?”
“None of your business,” Warren said with a sneer. “It’s a free country. If my friends and I want to spend time in a cemetery, it’s got nothing to do with you.”
“If you’re raising demons I’m going to have to fight, it’s got everything to do with me,” she snapped back. “Now what was it?”  She stepped toward him, fists clenched and the full power of a slayer glare aimed at him. To her surprise, Spike touched her arm, stopping her advance.
“Let it go, love,” he said. “We stopped it, and they know we’re on to them now.”
Buffy stared at him with her mouth open.
What is this? Good cop, bad cop?”
“Something like that.”
“Fine. Be the good cop then.”
 She rolled her eyes, but stopped staring at Warren as though deciding how hard she could hit him without killing him. Instead, she turned her attention to Jonathan.
“You really, really should have paid more attention to me. It won’t be my fault whe­—if he gets you killed.”
“I told him you wouldn’t like it,” he protested. “But he said you wouldn’t hurt humans, and Spike can’t, so—”
Spike’s guttural snarl made Jonathan cringe in spite of his words. “You go believin’ everything that piece of shite tells you, it will get you killed. I promise you.”  He turned his glare on Warren. “And just so we’re clear, my lady doesn’t kill humans—if she can help it. I don’t think she’s all that fussed about how badly she has to hurt them to stop them from being stupid.”
So much for good cop!”
“Decided it didn’t suit me,” he replied silently with a quick grin only she could see.
“So, what are we going to do with them?” she said, kicking a candle. She walked around the area, stepping on any candles she hadn’t already kicked away and dragging her feet through the painted grass forming the circle. “It’s going to be a real drag if we have to follow them around all the time just to keep them from being evil.”
“We already know one of them is evil,” Spike said, casting an amber glare at Warren. “If the other two gits are stupid enough to stay with him, then I guess we’ll just have to let them get what’s comin’ to them.”
“Morons!” she said, glaring at Jonathan, who was looking apologetic, and Andrew, who had yet to move from where he’d collapsed when Spike yelled at him. “Both of you. He’s using you, you know. He’s not your friend.”
“Get out of here, the whole lot of you,” Spike ordered, going back into game face until they had all scuttled into the van and it was weaving its way through the tombstones toward the gate.
“They’re going to be pains in my butt again, aren’t they?” she said as they walked farther in to the cemetery.
“Not if they’re smart.”
“I’m pretty sure they are smart – but only in some ways.  Dumbest geniuses I’ve ever met.”
Spike snorted his agreement.
“Hey, we’re at your crypt.”
“Yeah, thought that was one of our reasons for coming here? Check up on the place and see if it’s alright.”
“Home, sweet home, huh?” Buffy said as Spike pulled the metal door open, then nudged the inside door until he could get in and pull it open a little more so she could  enter. When she was safely inside, he pulled the outer door shut, then closed the interior door and dropped a bar across it.
“Well that’s new? When did you do that?”
He walked in a little further and lit a big candle.
“Last year. Fixed the place up a bit in case we needed to use it and thought it might be a good idea to be able to shut the world out.”
“Shut the world out…. kinda what we used to do here, isn’t it?” she said as she gazed around at the familiar stone walls.
“We did.” He cocked his head at her. “Think you might like to revisit those days once in a while?” he asked as he walked to the sarcophagus in the middle of the big room and lit a lantern. “Do a little reminiscing?”  He pulled the cover away from the entrance to his bedroom and held the lantern over the opening.
Buffy walked over to peer into the lower area, gasping when she saw the bed and rugs looking so much as she remembered them from when this had been her place of refuge from the harsh world she didn’t want to be in. Of course, in this time line, there’d been no fiery explosion down there and wasn’t likely to be one, but it was still amazing how well Spike had replicated what the room used to look like.
“Did you plan this?”
“Maybe. Do you like it?” He preceded her down the ladder and lit a few more candles, then blew out the lantern’s brighter light.
Buffy followed him, gazing around at the familiar and yet, totally new room. “This brings back a lot of memories,” she said, shaking her head.
“Good ones or bad ones?” He gazed at her, giving no indication of what he might be thinking.
Buffy stared back. “Some of both, I think. For me, anyway. How about you?”
He moved closer and pulled her into an embrace. “A mixed bag,” he admitted. “But more good than bad. As unhappy as I may have been watching you run out, virtue fluttering, I still had the memories of what we’d been doing just before. And those memories usually made up for the lack of post-shag cuddling.”
She cupped his cheek and smiled ruefully. “Didn’t know what I was missing, did I? I had a world class cuddler and didn’t appreciate him.”
He held her palm to his lips and kissed it, tickling it with his tongue until she giggled.
“As long as we’re here with this nice bed, I’m more than willing to give you a chance to appreciate me properly.”
“You’ve been planning this all day, haven’t you?” She shoved him away and followed him, continuing to shove until he fell backwards onto the bed, laughing at her.
“Now this feels familiar,” he said, leaning back on his elbows.  “Gonna start ripping my clothes off, are you?”
“Maybe.” Buffy knelt at the edge of bed and began to move up his body on her hands and knees. “Maybe I’ll just take my virtue and run off fluttering it and leaving you here to take care of this little….” She grabbed his cock and squeezed it hard. “problem yourself.”
“Little!” His outraged snarl made her collapse on top him, shaking with laughter.
“You are so easy,” she snickered as he wrapped his arms around her tightly and pretended to be biting her neck while snarling threats. When his mock bites turned to open-mouthed kisses and his hands slid down to pull her hips against his, she stopped laughing and rocked against him.  “Maybe not so little,” she gasped, opening her legs so his cock would be where she could rub against it.
“Tell me what you want, Slayer,” he said, arching into her and groaning. “Tell me what you want from me.”
“I want you to make the world go away. Just like you used to….”
Chapter Four
Hours later, the temporarily sated couple were relaxing on the bed, Buffy draped over Spike’s body while she rubbed circles on his chest with her thumb.
“We could really erase those old memories by spending the night here,” she said. “Just you and me. No worries about who might be wondering where I am….”  She sighed and sat up. “I don’t suppose you installed a bathroom in here this time?” she said wistfully. “I kinda need to pee and the idea of walking out to the sewer naked just isn’t all that appealing.”
“I did, actually,” he said with a laugh. “It’s not quite as elegant as I wanted it to be, but it’s almost private and easy to access without actually going all the way to the sewer.”
“Really?” Buffy gave him a dubious smile. “When did you find time to do that?”
“Once we’d gotten rid of the hell-bitch, you know the rest of the year was pretty slow. And summer’s been even slower. I’ve had plenty of time to work on my home-away-from-home while you were off shopping and doing other girly stuff with Dawn and your mum.”
Buffy cocked her head at him. “First you show me where my bathroom is, and then…..”
She stood up and stretched, giving him an arch smile.  “And then I’m going to make up to you for all the times I ran off without even thanking you for making the world go away for a little while.”
He leapt from the bed to his feet in one smooth move, took her hand and led her into the darkness. Buffy grabbed a candle as they went past the dresser and followed him only a short distance before he stopped and gestured into a small alcove. Holding the candle up at the entrance, Buffy gasped. Inside the alcove was a small, portable plastic shower stall, in which she could see her favorite shampoo on a shelf. Beside it was a toilet made to look like an old fashioned one with the tank for the water hanging over it.  A roll of toilet paper sat on the floor between the toilet and the shower. The floor was made of wooden planks suspended over the mud of the cave floor. Drains ran under the boards from the toilet and the shower. The entire small area could be hidden from prying eyes by a black shower curtain at the entrance.
“Whoa! And wow. You did all this?”
“If I said yes, would you believe me?” He  beamed at her skeptical expression, then laughed.  “No, one of the demons that works the sewers and does above ground plumbing on the side owed me a favor. He did most of the work. I just told him what I needed.”  He shrugged. “The shower works, but we don’t have the hot water part figured out yet. He thinks he can find a small electric water heater for me, but I told him it wasn’t a priority.”
Buffy smiled at him. “Considering that we have a perfectly good tub and shower at home, I’d say it wasn’t.” She looked around. “Where was this guy back in our time? This is a lot nicer than two boards and a toilet from the dump plopped down over the sewer.”
“Did the best I could then, love,” he said, suddenly more subdued.  “Didn’t have the money or the resources I do now.” He turned away. “I’ll just let you do your business then…” He walked off, shoulders hunched as if in pain.
Buffy stared at him, seeing his rigid posture, and going back over what she’d just said. With a strangled cry, she dropped her candle and covered the short distance between them in one bound, landing with her face pressed against his back and her arms around his body. She clutched him until he flinched, then loosened her grip.
“I’m sorry,” she said to his still stiff back. “I know how hard you worked to make it comfortable for me down here. I knew it back then­­. It’s just that it made me feel even more guilty about leaving you here by yourself, so I never said anything about how much I appreciated it.”  She forced him to turn around so she could see his face. “But I did. Appreciate it, I mean. I wasn’t complaining about it just now. It was just a joke. Not a very funny one, I guess.”
“It’s alright, love,” he responded, softening his expression. “That was just me remembering what I was askin’ of you back then. Knew spending the night in a big grave wasn’t your idea of a romantic getaway. Did what I could to make it seem less like a hole in the ground, but I know it wasn’t what you deserved.”
He pushed her away toward the bathroom and snatched his lighter off the dresser. Gesturing toward the now-darker area, he handed it to her saying, “Best relight that candle before you try to use your new amenities.” Buffy snatched up the candle and set it back in its holder. She set them on the floor, lit it, and pulled the curtain across.
“I’ll be right out. You’d better be naked.”
“I am naked!” he said. “And so are you, you silly bint.”
There was no verbal reply, so he got back onto the bed and leaned against the headboard as he waited for her. The whoosh of water released from the tank into the toilet was quickly followed by Buffy’s appearance at the exit from the tunnels. She set her candle down on the dresser and studied him, hands on hips.
“I wonder where I want to start?” she said, more to herself than to him.
She laughed when he slid down and canted his hips up, making it obvious where he wanted her to begin.  She walked toward him, licking her lips and never taking her eyes off the body part swelling up in front of her. When, instead of climbing onto the bed, she walked around it, still watching the still-growing cock, she could hear a low rumble building in Spike’s chest.
“Relax,” she said with a giggle. “I’m just planning my approach. I don’t want to rush this.”
“Rush away, Slayer,” he growled. “Nothing wrong with a little rushing now and then. I’m all for it.”
Buffy paused at the foot of the bed and nodded. “This is as good a spot as any,” she said, kneeling on it and nibbling on his big toe. She worked her way up one leg, nipping just hard enough to be felt, but not hard enough to draw blood. When she got to his balls, she nibbled on each of them before beginning to bite her way down the other leg.  His rumble that had become more of a purr, went back to sounding like a growl as she worked her way away from his now fully erect and straining cock. When his growl approached a snarl, she stopped and glared at him before biting down hard on his thigh.
“Aaaah,” he gasped. “Do that again, love.”
She shook her head. “I almost forgot how much you like it when I hurt you,” she said with a sigh. “Silly me.”
She nibbled her way back up the inside of his thigh, biting down hard just often enough to keep him guessing when it was going to happen. Once again, she by-passed his cock and began to kiss and nibble her away across his lower abdomen from one side to the other, pausing to sink her teeth in just enough to be painful when she was over his femoral artery. She sucked hard there, pulling the blood to the surface and making him swear in several languages. She licked the area, smiling at the very temporary love bite she’d managed to bring out, but then she responded to his incoherent mutterings, nudging his cock with her nose.
His sigh of relief when she put her lips on him didn’t last long, as, instead of taking it in her mouth, she began biting her way up and down and around. Only when it began to sound as if he was going to vamp out did she slide her mouth over the head and begin to bob up and down on him.  His “yeeessss!” made her smile around the head, but she never stopped what she was doing and it wasn’t long before he was arching up into her and shouting her name as his pleasure flowed through the claim and brought her to her own small orgasm.
When he’d relaxed enough to begin a satisfied purr as he stroked her head, now resting on his stomach, she kissed the tip, turned her head and smiled up at him. “Did you like it?”
“If I didn’t know who it was that taught you how to please a vampire, we might be havin’ a real unpleasant conversation about now,” he said with snort. “I’m pretty sure you could tell how much I liked it.”
“Oh, I dunno. A lot of what you were saying wasn’t in English.”
“Bloody good thing it wasn’t,” he said with a laugh.  “C’mere you.” He tugged on her arms until she was once again lying across his body with both his arms around her tightly.  “You know I love you more than life itself,” he murmured into her hair.
“I know,” she agreed, then lifted her head to meet his soft gaze. “And I love you too. You believe me, don’t you?”
“I do. Don’t understand it sometimes, but I believe it. You can’t fake something like that when you have a claim.”
“What else can I do to thank you for how good you were to me back then?”
“I think that rather spectacular blowjob has gone a long way to remove any debt you might think you have.” He chuckled, then added quickly, “Which you don’t. You let me love you and let me pleasure you… and myself…. Gave me a lot more than that crumb I’d hoped for. For every time you were bitchy to me, I’m sure I was givin’ as good as I got. You were in hell, and I was one of the monsters you had to share it with.”
He pulled her closer and hugged her tightly. “Did I wish for something more like what we have now? Of course I did. But you gave me what you could, and I took it. Wouldn’t give up that time for anything.”
She snuggled even closer and closed her eyes. “Okay, then. Let’s just get some sleep.”
He reached down with one hand and pulled the quilt up from the floor, covering them
“Good night, my love.”
“Night, Spike. I love you.”
They didn’t linger in the morning, Buffy making it very clear that as nice as the shower was, she was not interested in beginning her day with a cold one.  Spike laughed at her and, while she dressed and straightened up the bed, jumped in and out quickly, only to realize there were no towels.
His happiness at waking up in the crypt with Buffy still beside him couldn’t be ruined, even by her snickers when he had to use his tee shirt to dry off enough to get his clothes on, and they were soon on their way out of Restfield and on their way home.
“So, does this make us rich?” Buffy asked.
He frowned. “We are rich, sweetheart. More or less, anyway. Does what make us rich?”
“Owning two homes,” she explained. “Isn’t that what rich people do? They have more than one house so if one gets dirty they can just go to the other one?”
He laughed and put his arm around her. “I guess we could look at it that way, but I doubt very many in the jet set would consider a crypt in an old cemetery much of a second home.”
“Hmmm. Well, I’m just going to pretend it’s on the Riviera or something.”
He laughed. “Can pretend whatever you want, love. As long as you’re there with me, I’m happy.”
They were quickly back to their apartment, giving Max a cheery wave as he came down for the morning paper.
“You two are up early,” he said.
“Oh, we spent the night in our other house,” Buffy said, waving her hand around airily. “It’s on the Riviera.”
Max had clearly seen Spike’s rolling eyes or heard his scoff, because he just nodded and smiled. “Well, I’m glad you’ve had a nice vacation. Welcome home.”
Buffy looked at Spike. “I don’t think he believes me,” she said with a mock pout.
“Be surprised if he did.” Spike shook his head. “But if you want to believe the Sunnydale sewers are the French Riviera, love, you go right ahead.”
“Sewers?” Max seemed intrigued.
Buffy hastened to explain. “We spent the night in the… where Spike lived for a few years back in our time.  He fixed it up again and showed it to me last night.”
Max raised an eyebrow at Spike who shrugged.
“It’s a crypt. A big one, with two levels and access to the tunnels under the city. It was pretty perfect for a vampire who ran around a lot in the daytime.” He smiled at Buffy and stroked her hair.  “And not a bad place for a newly alive and not very happy about it slayer to hide from the world when she needed to.”
Buffy leaned into him and nodded.
“And that. Most especially that.” She straightened up and said more briskly, “Spike staked his claim on it again this time just in case we needed a hidey hole last year, but we didn’t have to use it.”
“So, you really do have another home?” Max looked thoughtful. “I hope I’m not losing my favorite tenants.”
“Not a chance,” Spike growled. “We know when we have it good. The crypt may be comfy for a giant grave, but we’ll never be as safe there as we are here.”
Max shrugged. “Not that I want you to leave, but if you think you might be spending time there, I’m sure either Winston or I could add at least a minimal level of protection to your ‘vacation home’.”
“Wow. That’s really a good idea,” Buffy said, beaming at Max. “Why didn’t we think of that, Spike?”
“Wasn’t something we did in our time. We left all the magical stuff up to Rupert and Red.”
Buffy frowned, then shrugged it off.  “And only my mom and Dawn actually hid out in the crypt, so it probably didn’t occur to anybody to put wards on it.”
“Doubt they would have wanted to protect it anyway,” Spike snorted. “If neither one of them had enough sense to protect your mum’s house or your dorm room….” He shook his head. “I’m a little disappointed in the watcher that your mum’s home wasn’t protected. Pretty sure that’s basic watcher training. Keep your slayer safe when she’s sleeping.”
“Well, vampires couldn’t get in the house anyway… except for you, I guess….”
“Until you locked me out,” he growled.
“I let you back in… eventually. Quit pouting about it.”
“I’m sure there’s a very entertaining story behind this budding argument, but I believe I’ll just skip it and take my newspaper to read with my morning coffee.” Max smiled at them to show he was kidding, and turned to leave. As he walked away, he said, “Let me know if you want my assistance with securing your other home.”
They waved and walked around to the entrance to their own apartment. Using his completely unnecessary key, Spike unlocked the door and held it for Buffy. She had no sooner taken off her jacket and put her phone on the kitchen counter than it began to ring. A glance at it showed her it was Giles.
“I guess that vacation is over,” she sighed as she picked it up again. “Hi Giles. What’s up?” She made a face at Spike who was making “hang up” signals.  “Oh. He does? They do? Yeah, I guess we can­—” She stopped and frowned at the phone. “Okay. We might have to talk about that.  What time do you want me there?  Uh huh. ‘K.”
She put the phone down and responded to Spike’s curious expression. “Wes wants to meet with me…. without you. Giles said he and Winston would be there too, but Wes specifically asked that you not come with me.”
Spike shrugged. “Whatever you want, love.  Maybe he’s worried you won’t tell the truth if I’m there. It’s not like he can hurt you.”
“I guess not. I don’t know what else I can tell him that we didn’t cover yesterday, but maybe something came up when he and Winston were talking. We’ll see. The less I talk to him, the less likely I am to say something I shouldn’t, though. You’d think Giles would realize that.”
“We have become a bit complacent, haven’t we, love? What with everybody we spend time with in the loop, haven’t had to watch our words since the soldier boys left here.”
“Exactly! None of us are used to being careful anymore. Anybody could slip up. Even Winston or Giles.”
Buffy took her time getting to the Magic Box, having a leisurely breakfast and stopping at the coffee shop for a latte before making her way there.  She gave Anya a wave as she came in and glanced around.
“Where are they?”
Anya pointed to the training room. “They want privacy, I guess. Giles said to tell you to meet them in there.”
“Privacy, huh?” Buffy frowned into her latte. “Are we supposed to be telling secrets?”
“It’s fine with me.  It’s disturbing to customers when there are a bunch of non-customers sitting around the back of the store.”
Buffy nodded her understanding of that concern as she reached for the door to the training room. “I never thought about that. It’s just what we did, you know?”
“What is what you did?”  Wesley greeted her as he pulled it open and held it so she could come in. Buffy stumbled and almost spilled her coffee.
“Uh – meet here in the Magic Box, which is a store and has customers and we just all hang out in the back like we own the place.”
“I do ‘own the place’,” Giles said. “Was Anya complaining again?”
“Kinda? Not really. She just said it makes customers uncomfortable when we’re all sitting around out there.”
“It’s a fair concern, I suppose.” Giles looked around the training room. “We could bring in more chairs….”
“Why not just put up some sort of decorative screen?” Winston asked. “The customers don’t go back there for any reason, do they? So something that seems part of the décor, but blocks their view of the table and any deliberations going on there should be sufficient to prevent any discomfort on their part.”
“That’s a great idea!” Buffy said.
Giles agreed, adding, “I will leave it to you to share this excellent suggestion with Anya.”
Buffy and Giles beamed at him. Laughing when he pretended to be frightened.
“It does seem a good suggestion,” Wes said, a puzzled frown creasing his brow. “What is so amusing?”
“Anya is very protective of her—Giles’s— store, but Winston has a… a knack… for wording things in such a way that even suggestions that might not be welcomed manage to appeal to the recipients of his charm.”
“Charm, right,” Buffy snorted and they all three laughed, leaving Wes still frowning. 
“I feel I am missing something,” he said.
Giles clapped him on the shoulder, saying, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll have time to study him and figure it out.”  He turned to Buffy. “Thank you for coming in again. Wesley has more questions for you and he would like to return to Los Angeles later in the day.”
“Okay. I wasn’t planning anything special today.”  She plopped down on a stack of mats and took a big drink from her cup.  “So what’s he want to know?

Wesley met her curious gaze with his own intense stare before saying, “I’d like to know from how far in the future you have been sent back here, and why that caused you to form a relationship with William the Bloody.”
Chapter Five
Buffy sprayed the table with coffee, sputtering and coughing as it came out her nose.  There was a tense silence while she wiped her face and attempted to clean up the table with the small napkin that had been wrapped around her cup. She looked to Giles and Winston for help, but they were obviously as dumbstruck as she was.
“How…. why…. who….” Buffy shook her head and stopped her efforts to mop up. “I don’t remember you being this smart,” she finally said with a sigh.  “What gave it away?”
“Actually… you did, just now. You and these other two, who apparently also don’t think much of my IQ.”  Wes glared at Giles, who managed to look somewhat apologetic.
“If you’re really as intelligent as you think you are,” Giles said stiffly, “you will understand why we’ve tried to limit the number of people who know about Buffy and Spike.”
Wes blinked in surprise. “The vampire also?” He turned his attention back to Buffy. “So, you were serious when you said you and Spike know each other much better than I would have expected?”
Buffy nodded. “Yep. We’ve known each other for….” She paused to count up the years in their time plus the two years they’d already been in this one. “Um… something like… um… eight years. Give or take,” she added, deciding he didn’t need to know about their respective temporary deaths.
“You’ve been together for eight years? How is that possible?”
“I didn’t say we were together all that time, just that we met that long ago and have had that long to get to know each other.”  She grimaced.  “It was a work in progress for most of that time.”
“So, the claim Angel put on you….”  Wes frowned. “It didn’t stop you from forming a relationship with William the Bloody?”
“I don’t know.” Buffy shook her head as she tried to answer honestly.  “It didn’t stop us from becoming close, or… anything else that’s none of your business… but I think it kept me from being willing to admit to myself that I was in love with him.”  She bit her lip. “It probably caused us both a lot of unhappiness and… pain… that might not have happened if I didn’t—hadn’t had that feeling that Angel was the only one in the world for me. He was still pulling that ‘my girl’ stuff even after—”
Giles cleared his throat and Winston interrupted. “It’s one thing to let Wesley understand why you know what you know and why you and Spike are so close now, it will be quite something else if you throw at him things you know about a future that we sincerely hope will not happen now.”
Wesley nodded in reluctant agreement. “As wildly curious as I am about that future, I understand why it wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest for me to know more about it than I do now.”
“Whew!” Buffy mock-wiped her brow. “So, we’re okay then? You understand why Spike and I were so willing to be bonded? And you don’t think it’s weird?”
Wesley’s expression said he thought that would be going a bit too far, but he didn’t argue with her, only turned his attention to Winston who was speaking again.
“I don’t think it would be sharing too much information if you tell Wes that what led to the bonding was in large part your mutual fear that you might not remember your relationship once the future was changed so radically. And that it had been a shared fear right from the time you first arrived and discovered each other’s existence in this timeline.” He glanced at Wesley, who was frowning.  “There was also the thought that the resulting close connection between you and Spike would offer some communication assistance if we needed it in our fight with Glorificus.”  Winston smiled at Buffy who put her hands on her hips.
“Don’t try those Jedi mind tricks on me,” she grumbled, even as she smiled back.
“Jedi mind tricks?” Giles snorted. “I believe you may be spending too much time around Xander.”
“Don’t kid yourself, Giles, I live with a geek. He’s just not as open about it as Xander is. It would be bad for his image.”
“What image is that, love?” Spike’s voice preceded him into the room.
Wesley stared at him, then said, “I’m sure I requested that Buffy come without you.”
“She did come without me,” Spike said, meeting the challenging look with his own steady gaze. “I came by myself.”
Tiring of the staring contest, Spike shrugged and turned to Buffy. “What image is it you’re accusing me of, Slayer?”
“Don’t pretend you didn’t hear me, bat ears,” she said with a sniff. “And don’t try to deny it.”
He laughed and shook his head. “So, I’ve been outed because I like the Star Wars movies. I’ve been accused of worse things.”
“Um… that’s not exactly all you­—we’ve been outed about.” She pointed at Wes. “Mr. Smartypants there guessed about me… and he knows about you too.”
Spike turned his suddenly less-amused gaze back to the ex-watcher. “Is that right?” he said. “The both of us?”
“Yes,” Wesley said. “And now I find myself even more curious about your nickname for me and how you came to know me.”
Before he could say more, or Spike could respond, Buffy gestured to Winston and Giles, explaining, “They think it’s okay for him to know how long we’ve known each other, ‘cause then he can stop worrying about whatever it is he was worrying about when he thought we’d gone from sworn enemies to….” She paused, unsure of what to call their new relationship.
“Mates?” Spike said with a grin. “C’mon, Slayer. You can say it.”
“We are not wolves,” she growled, but with a resigned eyeroll. “We’re partners for life.”
“She’s quite correct about my concern,” Wesley said, ignoring the byplay. “My fear was that you had put her under some sort of spell that was allowing you to control her behavior.”
“Control her­—” Spike’s surprised gasp was genuine, before he began to laugh. “You really don’t know Buffy very well, do you?” he managed to say before Buffy punched him in the arm. 
Wes looked from them to the obviously snickering Giles and Winston, then shook his head.  “Now that I think about it…. I suppose my brief experience as her watcher is probably what led to me believe it had to be a spell that allowed her to suffer a bite from you. I couldn’t fathom…. and Angel seemed so sure….”
Spike’s snarl put an end to all the laughter. “Knew that had to be behind this. Sent you here to find out what I did to her, did he?”
Wes shifted uncomfortably in his chair. 
“In all fairness to Angel, I had the same concerns about Buffy’s willing participation. In my case, it was my lingering sense of responsibility from my short time as her intended watcher that led me to feel I should make sure she was not somehow in thrall to a master vampire. In his case, it was his disbelief in­—”
“It was his bloody need to control her himself that made him not want to see the claim broken.”
Spike took a deep calming breath and exhaled. “Wish I’d picked up on the reason I stayed away from that side of her neck a long time ago. I should have noticed.” He gave Buffy a glance from the corners of his eyes. “Doubt she would’ve welcomed the news back then, or even believed me, but I’d have at least­—”
“We can talk about this in private,” Buffy interrupted. “Nobody here needs to listen to us talk about that time.”
He nodded his agreement. “So, where does that leave us then?  We don’t want Wes going back and telling everybody in L.A. we know what’s going to happen, because we bloody well don’t know. We’ve made some major changes in this time line, even not counting the big one we were sent back here for, so we’ll be winging it from here on out just like everybody else.”
“Well, I don’t believe that’s exactly so. Your worries about the three young men trying to summon demons is clearly based on something they did in your time. And I’m sure you have knowledge of many other events.” Wesley frowned at them, his reluctance to remain in the dark clear in spite of his saying he understood.
“Don’t know yet, do we? Those wankers seem to be on the same path, but most other things are different enough that it’s possible nothing else will be the same.” Spike exchanged glances with Winston. “At least we can hope not.”
“Indeed,” Winston agreed, causing Wes to heave a big sigh.
“I’m not going to learn anything else, am I?”
“I do think that’s best,” Giles said, giving Wesley a sympathetic smile. “Although I must admit I can empathize with the need to know more.”
“Once a watcher….” Buffy said, but gave Wes her own understanding smile.
“Alas,” he said, his lips twitching as he tried not to smile back at her. “It is our curse.”
Spike snorted, then said, “Thing is, anything we could give you in the way of a warning or some such, might be complete bollocks now. And it could make things even worse for you... and anyone else you care about.”
Wes nodded. “I do understand that. It’s just the researcher in me is gnashing his teeth at knowing there is so much to know that I never will.”
Buffy, Spike, Giles, and Winston exchange glances before Giles said, “We could always just see how things go, and as a danger passes or is handled, they could tell you what happened in their time.  Assuming it was any different.”
“I suppose that’s the best I can hope for just now,” Wes said, barely smothering a sigh. “Can you at least tell me how many of the people I’ve spoken with here are aware of your situation?”
“If, by situation, you mean that we came back from our future so we could try to fix a big thing that really needed fixing…. pretty much everybody you’ve seen knows that.  My mom, Dawn, Willow, Tara, Xander, Anya.  It was just too hard trying to fix things without changing too much and without telling them who we really were. They needed to know why we were behaving so….not like they expected us to.”
Buffy gave Wes a tentative smile. “Does that make sense? I mean, we kinda had to. We see them every day and they needed to know why we were doing the things we were doing and why I was so different all of a sudden. Telling Angel—or you—about it… it just seemed like a good idea not to.”
Spike added, “Even they don’t know everything. We tell people what we have to when we have to, and the rest of it we keep to ourselves. All we shared with everybody was what they needed to know.”  He shrugged. “And now you know that I don’t have Buffy under some sort of thrall or spell, so you can go back and tell the big poof that we’re mated, it’s alright, and he can soddin’ well butt out.”
Wes shook his head, saying with a wry twist to his mouth, “My common sense tells me you’re quite right to protect your secrets, but the researcher in me is having a bit of a problem with it.” He gazed around the table, focusing on Giles and Winston. “I presume you both know what it was they were sent here to fix?”
“We do,” Giles said shortly. “And, to the best of our knowledge, it has been. It remains to be seen how that has changed things going forward.”
“I see.  I don’t suppose you could share with me exactly what that was?”
Winston spoke smoothly. “The short, simple answer is that Glorificus did not succeed in opening that portal. It took the combined efforts of all of us, including Buffy’s friends, to destroy her and prevent it from happening this time. However, we succeeded, and now, in some ways, the world is a very different place from the one Buffy and Spike left.”
“And is there a longer, more complicated answer?” Wes asked with a shrewd look at Buffy.
“There is.”
Wes waited, but it became obvious no one was planning to elaborate on Spike’s terse response. With a snort, he shook his head and stood up.
“All right. I do appreciate how forthright you’ve all been… as unsatisfying as I may have found it. I will take myself out of your hair for the time being.”  He frowned, hesitated, then said, “It’s possible I’ll have to rethink my relationship with Angel, based on his obviously prejudiced views of both Buffy’s proper relationship with him, and Spike’s right to have replaced him in her affections. As well as some of the things he’s done to have his way elsewhere. I will be watching him more closely from now on, and if I don’t care for his actions, I may take myself out of the picture.”
He glanced at Winston and then at Giles. “I trust I may keep in touch with either of you if I need information or have a question?”
“You may,” Giles said quickly.
Winston nodded and smiled, standing up and holding out his hand. “Anytime,” he said.
Wes gathered his notes and gazed at Buffy and Spike. “You have no idea how hard it is for me to leave two time travelers without learning everything you know about the future.”
Spike shrugged. “We only really know about the next couple of years or so, and even that’s suspect now,” he said. “It won’t be long before you know just as much as we do.”  He paused then added, “Might want to stay away from any nefarious law firms if you can.”
“Spike…. “ Buffy’s voice held a warning, but he just turned away.
“Nothing Rupert might not have said himself, love. It’s just generally good advice. Isn’t that right, Watcher?”
Giles glared at him but agreed. “It is, indeed, good advice in general, but I don’t believe any of us are stupid enough to think that’s how you meant it.”
“Good advice is always appreciated, no matter how it is meant,” Wes said, nodding to Spike. “I’ll definitely try to follow it.”
They watched as he left the training room and offered Anya his appreciation for the use of her shop.
“What do you think?” Buffy asked the room in general. Nobody said anything for a moment, then Winston spoke up.
“I think he’ll be back at some point. We talked quite a bit yesterday evening and not just about Buffy and Spike.  He’s sometimes not comfortable working for Angel, even though he says he believes Angel is trying to do good to atone for his years as a killer. However, learning that Angel claimed Buffy without her knowledge or permission, and allowed her to reinforce it by asking her a question she wasn’t aware she was really answering has put a rather major crack in his admiration for his boss.”
He smiled at Spike. “Learning that you have your soul, and that Angel knows it but continued to rant about how evil you are has added to the width of the crack. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t become at least a frequent visitor here. I won’t be surprised if he becomes something of an auxiliary member of the Sunnydale ga—gathering of world-saving people.”
“You almost called us a gang, didn’t you?” Buffy gave Winston a mock glare. “You could have just said Scoobies.”
He laughed. “Well, even if I knew what a Scooby was, I cannot fathom myself referring to your circle of friends as ‘the Scoobies’.  I need a concise word to indicate your little group of world-saving people.”
“It’s not my group, Winston, it’s ‘our little group’. You’re just as much a part of us now as Giles is.”
“I think Winnie’s first act as an official Scooby should be to buy drinks for everybody tonight.”  Spike grinned at Winston who made a rude British gesture at him.
“And on that note….” Buffy rolled her eyes and walked toward the door. “I told Mom we’d come by the gallery to help her unload and set up some big sculptures. Let’s go, Spike.”
“Yes, dear,” he muttered, loud enough for Giles and Winston to hear, but not Buffy. It didn’t help him. She turned around to glare at him. With a sigh, he followed her out the door, the sound of muffled laughter behind him doing nothing for his mood.
Chapter Six
William the Bloody does seem to be well and truly tamed, does he not?” Winston said with a chuckle.
“Buffy tends to have that effect on evil creatures,” Giles said wryly. “They either become tame or they die.”
Winston nodded. “Although in my time line, only Buffy was sent back by the Council, we did have knowledge of Spike’s reappearance at Wolfram and Hart, and his own subsequent trip here. Of course, we were aware of his role in closing the hellmouth, but details of how he reappeared at Angel’s offices and how he was returned to this time were very sketchy. Now that I know him better, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t make a bigger deal out of saving the world.”
Giles nodded. “It took wearing the amulet that Angel provided to be ‘worn by a champion’. I suspect the fact that Buffy is more than willing to share what he did with it has much to do with his reticence. As long as she is impressed, I don’t think he cares that much about the rest of us.”  He shook his head.  “It seems Buffy made the right choice when she gave it to Spike, even though she thought it had killed him. They haven’t really been any more forthcoming than that about what was seemingly a terrible time for them. Unless Spike has shared more with you?”
Winston shook his head. “I’ve enjoyed speaking with him. He really is very unusual, and much more intelligent than he seems. However, he’s been very careful not to share anything he doesn’t want me to know….”
Giles nodded. “For someone who loves to brag, he is remarkably reticent about his accomplishments. Had Buffy not told me about it, I’m not sure I would even know about the soul. It actually was quite a help to me when I was learning to trust him. Knowing he had done such a selfless thing to save the world… and Buffy… and yet wasn’t using it to insist he was now, as he calls it, ‘a white hat’.”
“Surely that’s not still a problem for you?” Winston raised his eyebrows. “I’d never met the man until I got here, and I was prepared to trust him, just based on what I knew from those who’d been there.”
“I do trust him. Now. I will admit, as you well know, it took me a while to overcome my years of training, and the memory of the difficulties Angel caused when Angelus made a surprise appearance didn’t help. But what we’ve seen in the past year or so has cemented my trust in him.”  He smiled at Winston. “You had the advantage of knowing what he and Buffy had done, and how long he’d been helping her. To me, he was William the Bloody, Slayer of Slayers, who on one day was trying to kill my slayer, and then suddenly, he was supposed to be harmless and souled and she was insisting he could be trusted. Having you appear here to back up their story of being sent back in time, went a long way to helping me keep an open mind.”
“That, and the letter you sent yourself…..”
“And that.”
“So, when are you planning to tell Harris that he leaves Anya at the altar and she goes back to being a vengeance demon?”
“Whoa – wait, what brought that on?”  Buffy stopped walking to stare at him.
Spike shrugged. “Was just trying to remember anything else that got bollixed up this year before Red went off the deep end.  We may as well get the little things out of the way while we can in case we can’t head her off.”
“I don’t think that will happen now,” Buffy said, walking again. “I mean she knows how badly she messed up in our time, and she also knows what she did in Winston’s time. And he knows what she did, so….”
“Don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, love, but she’s not Winnie’s biggest fan any more. Seems like being part of a hellgod-killing magic spell has made her feel almost as powerful as bringing you back did.”
“Don’t smush my excitement,” she grumbled. “You weren’t here for that whole mess—”
“Meaning when you got shot?” His snarl reminded her that he’d wanted to kill Warren last year, and she stopped again.
“Well, yeah, among other things. Like Tara being killed just after they’d kissed and made up. That’s what sent Willow off the deep end. But it isn’t going to happen this time, so….”
“Too bloody right, it isn’t,” he said, the calmness of his voice more frightening than the snarl had been.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” she said, hands on her hips. “Just ‘cause you got away with killing one human—who really wasn’t one anyway—doesn’t mean I’m going to let you start playing judge, jury, and executioner from now on.”
“No idea what you’re talking about, Slayer.” If Spike’s real thoughts were at all different from what he was saying, Buffy couldn’t tell. Suddenly that undercurrent of connection that was always present between them wasn’t there, and she frowned.
“Where did you go?”  She narrowed her eyes at him.  “How did—Are you blocking me?”
“Maybe?” He cocked his head at her. “This is as new to me as it is you, Buffy. I don’t think I did anything intentionally, but I did try not to be thinkin’ anything you might object to. Can’t feel you either,” he added with his own frown.
Well, stop it! she thought at him. I’m not stupid. I know you were probably thinking about killing Warren. Suddenly she could feel him again, although he spoke rather than trying to connect with her telepathically.
“Was,” he said. “But I didn’t try to shut you out, just tried not to think it very loud.” When she just stared at him dubiously, he added, “I swear, love. I didn’t do it on purpose. That’s not what the bond is about, hiding things from each other.”
“It was kind of….” Her voice trailed off and she raised worried eyes to him. “Scary. I didn’t realize how much I’ve become used to that little tickle in my mind that tells me you’re alive.  If I hadn’t been standing here looking at you, I’d have been terrified that you dusted.”
Spike put his arms around her and pulled her in tightly. “Ah, love. I’m sorry. Never meant to do that to you.”  He nuzzled her neck. “Reckon this means no secrets for us… ever.”
“No big secrets. Little ones like what we’re getting each other for Christmas….”
His laugh shook them both. “And there she is, my girl who keeps her priorities straight.”
They started walking again, shoulders brushing as they did.
“Don’t kill Warren, ‘k?”
He sighed. “I can’t promise you that, love. Depends on what he does this time. But I promise you I won’t kill him just so he doesn’t get a chance to do anything really evil. If he gives me a good reason, all bets are off.”
“I guess I can live with that,” she said with a sigh of her own.  She gave him a sideways glance. “I think we get along better when we have something really evil and dangerous to fight,” she grumbled.
“Be careful what you wish for, love,” he said with a nudge.
“I know. I know. I just don’t want us to start fighting about unimportant stuff just because we’re bored.”
He held the door for her to walk into the gallery.
“Don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” he said, as they stepped into what was obviously an attempted armed robbery.
Joyce was backed up against the counter, arms raised defensively as one man rifled through the cash drawer and the other held her at gunpoint.  They could see her store manager Sara huddled on the floor, holding her bleeding head.  Both men whirled to stare at the intruders, the armed one bringing the gun around to face the new threat.
“I’ve got the gun,” Spike growled, as Buffy looked back and forth between the two men.
“Over my dead body,” she said, dropping to the floor and rolling into the man’s legs, causing him to fall. She had the gun in her own hand before he could think about bringing it to bear on her, wrenching it free and throwing it across the room. Where, to everyone’s surprise, Joyce ran to pick it up.
The man at the cash register moved to intercept her, only to find his way blocked by a grinning vampire in full game face.
“Don’t think so, mate,” Spike said, grabbing the man by the throat and lifting him into the air. He looked over to where Buffy was now sitting atop the no-longer armed robber and punching him repeatedly.
She continued to pummel the man’s face and torso long after he had quit moving, her own anger fueled by Spike’s silent encouragement.  He frowned when she didn’t seem inclined to stop, and ceased his mental applause. He dropped his own now-unconscious victim to the floor and faded back into his human face.
Buffy? Slayer? You’re about to kill him, love. 
She stopped, met Spike’s worried gaze and shuddered all over. One look at Joyce’s horrified expression, as well as the equally frightened Sara, and she stood up, hiding her bloody fists behind her back.
“Um, so, are you okay, Mom?” She started to walk toward Sara, stopping when the woman flinched back against the wall. “May­—maybe you’d should check on Sara and see if she needs to go to the hospital?” Buffy said, embarrassed at her behavior now that it was over.
To kill time while Joyce coaxed Sara to her feet and tried to convince her that Buffy and Spike were not monsters, Buffy called 911 and asked for police and an ambulance. She glanced at the two men and raised her eyebrows at Spike, who shook his head.
“Not dead, love. But yours isn’t in very good shape. Mine’ll be okay once he gets his wind back.”  He nudged that man with his foot. “Quit pretendin’ you’re unconscious, you berk, or I’ll see to it you stay that way.”  The man opened a bleary eye and tried to glare, but one sight of Spike’s fangs changed it to a flinch.
Buffy ducked into the little employee restroom and quickly washed her hands and the sleeves of her shirt.  She brought a wet paper towel out and handed it to Joyce who used it to blot up the blood on Sara’s head.
“So, what the hell was that?” Buffy asked. “Who robs an art gallery, for god’s sake?”
Joyce sighed and shook her head.  “They were looking for the new shipment,” she said. “I’m not sure why, but it seemed they were following orders to find something in the crates. But when they couldn’t get the sculptures out, they decided to settle for whatever we had in the cash register.”
“Not much there, I expect,” Spike said, smiling at Sara and clearly trying to appear as harmless as she’d formerly thought him to be.
“No. Almost everybody uses credit cards for purchases. We never have much cash in there. I think they were getting mad about it.”
“Is that why he hit Sara?”  Buffy fixed a baleful eye on the conscious but cowering would-be robber.
“I guess so. He kept demanding her to show him where we kept the ‘real money’. Jerk!” Joyce sent her own glare that made it clear she’d recovered from watching Buffy almost beat a man to death.
Spike grinned. “Want me to eat him, Joyce?”
“Don’t tempt me,” she muttered, sending the man cringing even more.
Buffy walked up to him and leaned over. “What were you looking for? And who sent you?”
The man mimed being unable to talk, rubbing his bruised throat and glaring at Spike, who just flashed his fangs and laughed.
“Here.” Joyce handed Buffy a pen and a pad of blank paper. “Make him write it out.”
Buffy handed the pad and pen to the man, who nodded, keeping one eye on Spike as he began to write, a frown of concentration on his face.
The arrival of the police and EMTS put such a look of relief on the man’s face that even Sara laughed. While Joyce explained what had been going on when Buffy and Spike arrived, the EMTs were examining the man Buffy beat up.
The EMT glanced at Spike, noting his ordinary size and stature, and frowned. “Did you do this to him?”
Spike shook his head. “Nah, I was subduing this one. The Sl—Buffy took care of that one.”
The man transferred his unbelieving gaze to Buffy. “You did this?”
“He was pointing a gun at my mom.” She shrugged. “It made me kinda mad.”
“Let it go,” one of the cops, who recognized Buffy for who and what she was, said. “Just get them out of here.”  He glanced at the one handing Spike the pad he’d been writing on.  “You, are you injured?”
The man glanced at Spike, then rubbed his throat.
“Think he’s got a bit of a sore throat,” Spike said blandly. “Probably be alright to talk in a day or two.”
The cop frowned, bending down to peer at the man’s neck and then back at Spike. “I don’t see any wounds”
“Didn’t give him any. Just held him up by his neck long enough for him to rethink his career choices.” Spike stared back at the obviously knowledgeable cop, who dropped his gaze and nodded.
“Okay, take this one to the precinct. The other one can go to the ER and we’ll catch up with him later.” He smiled at Joyce who had been explaining what happened to another policeman. “I guess it’s a good thing your daughter and her… friend… came by.”
“Yes. It certainly was.”
“We’ll have to take the gun with us for evidence, but I’ll let you know if we need more information from any of you. I’m glad no one was badly hurt.”  The EMTs had already cleaned up Sara’s small wound and been assured that she was fine, just frightened. Everyone’s gaze immediately went to the man on the gurney. “Well, except for him. But it seems he had it coming, so….”
When everyone not directly involved had left, Spike glanced at the pad in his hand.
“Crate containing small stuff. Get the fat devil. Little blond guy with money.”
Spike began swearing almost before he finished reading.
“Andrew….” Buffy’s tone of voice didn’t bode well for Andrew’s future well-being. She and Spike exchanged looks, his tinged with amber. “Let’s get that crate open and see what’s in it.”
Joyce led them to the back of the store and pointed to the crate in question. It was lying on its side, a crowbar beside it.  Spike grabbed one corner and pulled, ripping away the nailed in wood. Between the two of them, it took no time for him and Buffy to completely open the crate.
As Joyce checked off the items she expected to find in it, they were left with a small, rather nondescript gray statue of a snarling demon.
“Fuck!....” Spike said at the same time as Buffy said, “Is that a mini-Acathla?”
“Looks like it to me. The question is, can it do what the big one did?”
“We should just smash it now….”
“We should smash Andrew now,” Spike growled. “Maybe after he tells us what he was planning to do with the ugly little bugger here… maybe not.”
Buffy sighed. “I guess we need to let Giles and Winston take a look at it. They might know if it’s dangerous.”
“Are we doin’ that before or after we rip Andrew’s throat out?”
Buffy shook her head, knowing he wasn’t really serious. “Let’s take it to Giles and Winston first. Then we’ll know what to do with Andrew.”
She picked up the ugly little statue and set it on a work table.
“Let’s get the rest of these crates open and put the heavy things where Mom wants them.  Why don’t you call Giles or Winston and ask them where they’ll be later and tell them we have something to show them.”
Buffy began pulling one of the other crates open as she spoke, and Spike rolled his eyes but went to the phone and dialed the Magic Box.
“Have something for you and Winnie to take a look at later on. Where can we find you?”
He paused for a response, then gave a brief rundown of what had happened when they reached the gallery.
“Yeah, yeah. She left him alive, but she kicked his arse right proper. The other one is entertaining the local constabulary with his story of what they were doin’ here. Seems like our old buddy Andrew didn’t get the strong hints to lay off the demon-summoning.”
Chapter Seven
After helping Joyce and Sara unpack all the sculptures and placing a few of the heavier ones on display for them, Buffy and Spike turned down Joyce’s offer of dinner at her house.
“Thanks, Mom, but I think we need to find out what this little guy is and how dangerous it is.”
“Maybe it isn’t dangerous,” Joyce said with a frown. “It’s ugly, but certainly seems harmless.”
“If the Trio of Twits want it, you can be sure it’s got some use to them.” Spike growled. “Acathla didn’t look like much either until Angelus figured out how to wake it up. Then it was send the world to hell time.”  He smiled at Buffy. “Hadn’t been for your amazing daughter here, who knows where we’d all be by now.”
“Probably dead,” Buffy said, blushing. “And I had a little help from a vamp that wasn’t as bad as he thought he was.”
“Oy! I was as bad as I wanted to be!” he said.  “Just didn’t want the world to disappear. I was still having fun in it.”
“Whatever. And you wanted to get your girlfriend away from Angel—Angelus.”
“And that,” he muttered. “Point is, this little lump of rock looks just like the big lump of rock, so we don’t know if it can open portals to hell dimensions or not.”
Joyce was looking back and forth between, a small frown creasing her brow.
“Are you talking about years ago, when you… when I… you were saving the world?”
Buffy sighed. “Yes, Mom. Happens every spring. I’d think you might have figured that out by now. I know I don’t tell you everything, but I do usually warn you when there’s an apocalypse coming up.”
“I didn’t believe you,” she said. “How could I have been so stupid?”
“You believed what you wanted to believe, Mom. Don’t worry about it. I sent Angel to hell, took a bus to L.A., closed down a demon slave ring there, and came back in time for school to start again. It’s all good.”
“And what did you do?” Joyce demanded, turning to Spike.
“Did what I promised her I would. Got in the way when Angelus realized she was there, then took Dru away so she couldn’t help him. I thought the old bastard might’ve killed her, but I should’ve known better.”  He beamed at Buffy.  “Angelus didn’t have a chance.”
“You thought he might kill her, but you left anyway?” Joyce looked like she might be seriously reconsidering having given them her blessing.
“Relax, Mom. It was a long time ago—even longer for us than it is for you. He was still evil, but he helped me save the world anyway. That was our deal—that he would help me catch Angelus off guard and take Dru away so she couldn’t help him.” She grinned at Spike. “Of course, he also said he wouldn’t come back, but he did.”
“Always will, love,” he said, putting his arm around. “Can’t stay away from you. Never could.”
“It’s a good thing I had time to learn to appreciate that,” she said, smiling up at him.
“You two are very confusing,” Joyce said with a sigh and a shake of her head.
“Good times and bad times, Mom. Remember when I told you that last year? Any time  we say or do something that makes you think we’re crazy to be together, just remember what I said. It took all those times—good and bad—to get us where we are now.”
She picked up the small stone creature and tossed it to Spike. “Here. You carry this ugly thing.”  She frowned at her mother. “Remind me to ask Winston or Max about putting—” she stopped, remembering Sara’s presence. “I’ll ask them if they have any ideas about how to prevent something like this again. I think Max has some pretty… sophisticated… protection for our building. Maybe some of it would work here.”
“Like an alarm button?” Sara asked. “One of those things that calls the police if you touch it?”
“Yes!” Buffy said with relief. “Exactly like that.”
Joyce and Spike both turned away to smother smiles, but Buffy ignored them and beamed at Sara.
When they got back to the Magic Box, Buffy took the sturdy shopping bag Joyce had lent them and plopped it down on the table in front of Giles and Winston.
“Here it is. Just as ugly as the big one was.”
Giles lifted the stone carving out and placed it on the table.
“Very primitive,” Anya sniffed from her place by the cash register. “But it’s definitely Acathla.”
“You know what he—it—looks like?”
“Sure. All demons know. I mean, he’s the way to get to hell, right? So if you’re a demon, you need to know to avoid him, just in case.”
“Or how to use him to send the world there,” Spike said with a growl.
“What kind of idiot would do that?” Anya seemed aghast at the thought.
“Angelus did… or tried to. I stopped him by sending him through and closing the portal.” Buffy rattled off what had been one of the worst events in her life as if she was reporting on how many vampires she staked last night.
“Sheesh! No wonder you broke up with him. What a loser!” Anya lost interest in the conversation and went back to counting money so she could close out the cash register for the night.
Spike’s snicker made Buffy glare at him, but when Giles and Winston couldn’t hide their smiles, she sighed and nodded.
“Yeah. All things considered, it’s a good thing I broke up with him.” She smiled at Spike, adding silently, A very good thing.
An’ getting’ better all the time,he agree with a smile meant only for her.
That settled, they both turned back to Giles and Winston, who were studying the mini-Acathla intently.  Giles stopped staring at it long enough to get the books in which he’d learned about Acathla when Angelus was trying to open the portal. He thumbed through them searching for the parts he needed.
“Ah! Here it is….” He read on, “While Acathla’s essence is contained in the statue carved from volcanic stone, several smaller copies were made that have disappeared over time. Rumor has it that the smaller versions cannot open a portal sufficiently large or strong enough to take in the entire world.  They can, however, be used to open smaller portals through which demons may be summoned… or victims may be sent.”
“Awesome. I guess now we know what Andrew wanted with it. The moron.”
“If he he’s so bloody eager to see hell, I’m more than willing to arrange it,” Spike growled. “And I’ll throw his mates in with him, just in case.”
“I guess it’s time to pay them a visit,” Buffy said with a sigh. “I’m really disappointed in Jonathan… and Andrew, for that matter.”
“This isn’t the Andrew we know, Slayer,” Spike growled. “He’s still all about the following his wanker of a leader and being evil. If he’s trying something this big, he’s not ready to renounce his evil ways.”
“I’m kind of hoping he won’t have to kill Jonathan to do that…. But, you can bet Warren’s behind it. Even if Willow doesn’t­—” She topped herself before she could say something she didn’t want Anya to hear. “Even if things don’t work out quite the way they did in our time, Warren’s evil enough all by himself, and he’s obviously planning something. Something big.”
“You should have let me bite him last year,” Spike growled and stood up.  “Never too late, though,” he added, turning toward the door. “Let’s go, Slayer.”
He stopped when Winston cleared his throat.
“If I might…” he began, glancing at Giles. “Perhaps if someone less… homicidal… were to talk to this Warren person, we could explain things to him in a reasonable manner.”
“Is that Watchers Council speak for ‘don’t kill the evil human?” Buffy asked, resting her hand on Spike’s arm to keep him in the room.
“Explain to us again, in more detail, what sort of activities you had to deal with in your time.”
Buffy sighed and sat down. Spike grumbled, but pulled out a chair and straddled it, facing them with his arms crossed on the back, while she began.
 “Okay, here’s what I can remember they did….”
When she’d finished, with a few insertions from Spike who’d had his own input when it came to the time loop demons, she sat back and stared at Giles and Winston.
“So, that’s it. They used a combination of magic, demon summoning, and, I guess, technology or science to make my life more miserable than it already was. Mostly, I think, they were trying to be master criminals or something. Stealing stuff from the museum, using a demon to rob a bank, trying to rob an armored car… And somewhere in there Warren killed Katrina. That was sort of an accident according to Andrew, but it was an accident that happened because Warren used some kind of science or magic to thrall her into being his slave.”
“So, add kidnapping, imprisonment, and one must assume, rape, to their other activities?” Winston’s face bore an expression they hadn’t seen since the previous year when he stared at Doc.
“You can see why I don’t much care if he lives or dies,” Spike said. “Especially when he used a lot of his tricks against Buffy. And then, he shot her. Red saved her life that time, but only because she had other plans in mind for the bullet.”
“Spike….” Buffy’s glare was accompanied by We don’t want Anya to know what Willow did in our time. She hasn’t done it here, and probably won’t.”
“Right you are, love. Forget I said that,” he said to Winston, making sure it was loud enough for Anya to hear. “It’s got nothing to do with this time line, which is completely different.”
Anya sniffed and slammed the cash drawer shut. “I couldn’t hear you anyway,” she said. “I’m going home now, so you can talk about stuff you don’t want me to hear.”
“My apologies, Anya,” Giles said quickly. “We don’t mean to shut you out, it’s just—”
“It’s just that you don’t want me to hear. I get it.” Anya walked to the door just in time to bump into Xander.  “We can go home now, Xander,” she said. “They’re telling secrets.”
She ducked under his arm and out the door. Xander gave Buffy a bewildered look, but she shook her head.
 “It’s nothing,” she said. “Go on home.”
He shrugged, and with a wave in the direction of the table, he followed Anya out the door.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to share with us?”
“I thought we told you when we first got here?”
“You made vague references to Willow’s reaction to Tara’s… death?” At Buffy’s nod, Giles continued. “But I believe at the time, the major concern was to get Willow to break her My Will Be Done spell so as to stop her from pulling power from the hellmouth. And then to prevent Buffy’s death, so there would be no need or attempts to bring her back.”
Spike concentrated on Winston as he said, “Long story short, Red was using too much magic for everyday stuff, and gettin’ more than a bit addicted to the power. Tara left her, stayed gone a good while, then they kissed and made up. Meanwhile, Buffy’d been doing her best to thwart all the nefarious plans of the Trio of Twits, and Warren took it upon himself to shoot her. One bullet went into Buffy, the second one went through the upstairs window and killed Tara. Right in front of Willow. Wasn’t here for any of it, but Buffy’s told me about it often enough.”
“Where were you?” Giles frowned as if disappointed that Spike hadn’t been there to assist Buffy.
What do you think, love?
It’s up to you. I don’t think there’s any reason not to. Buffy met his eyes and nodded.
“I was off in Africa, getting my soul. Had no idea I’d gone off and left Buffy to face anything like a man with a gun…. or an out of control witch.”
Buffy gazed at Winston. “What happened in your time?”
“Very much the same things. However, I was in this country at the time and able to get here to… assist… her in calming down.”
“So, in your time, Xander didn’t stop her from ending the world?”
Winston flinched. “No. He was unable to stop her.” There was silence as they all stared at his conflicted face.
Giles and Buffy looked confused, but Spike narrowed his eyes.  “She killed him, didn’t she?” he said. “That’s why you had to stop her. She didn’t stop herself.”
“She did not,” Winston said curtly. “As Spike has so cleverly guessed, Xander is no longer alive in my time.”
“Oh my god,” Buffy whispered, horrified. “She must have wanted to kill herself after she—”
“After she got over wanting to kill everyone else?” Winston said with a wry twist of his mouth. “Yes, her recovery period from those two losses, one of them her fault, was quite lengthy.”
“No wonder that letter she wrote to herself made her end her My Will Be Done Spell! I’m surprised she didn’t swear off magic forever!”  Buffy’s expression showed nothing but sympathy and sorrow for Willow, and Spike put a comforting arm around her.
Not going to happen, love. Not this time.
“So, in your time, did she hang on to that spell even longer?” he asked Winston, who nodded.
“She did. She eventually gave it up when she had an accident that almost killed everyone, but the additional time she’d spent pulling magic from the hellmouth made it much too easy for her to fall into those same habits she had in your time.  And the transition from angry grief to world-ending homicidal happened more quickly.”
“But you were there to talk her down,” Buffy said. “How did you do that if Xander couldn’t?”
Winston exchanged glances with both Spike and Giles, who both nodded, before turning back to Buffy.
“I may have been a bit disingenuous when I said I ‘assisted’ her in calming down.”
Buffy frowned, and he sighed. 
“Do you recall what I did to her when we first met? When she was refusing to listen, and threatening to make Spike’s chip fire?” He waited while Buffy thought. He nodded at her gasp of understanding. “I did not ‘talk her down’. I immobilized her. And held her while I tried to undo some of what she’d done. I could not, of course, bring Xander back to life, even though his death was quite accidental and I was sure she would regret it.  However, with aid from another practitioner,” he smiled at Giles, “we were able to repair much of the damage to inanimate objects.”
“I imagine she was something of a handful when you released her,” Giles said, his curiosity barely contained.
“It was a process,” Winston said sadly. “She had to remain contained until she was safely with the coven and their counselors could help her deal with her grief.”
“But you’re friends now, aren’t you?” Buffy persisted. “Everything’s fine between you.”
“We were when I left,” Winston said with a grimace. “She was ultimately grateful to me for preventing her grief-fueled destruction, but we seem to be drifting into a more adversarial relationship this time. I hope we will be friends once again a few years from now, but….”
“But she’s still on that power trip, and she’ll blame you for anything that slows her down,” Spike growled.
Winston sighed. “I sincerely hope not, but I don’t seem to be able to establish the same mutual respect and affection we grew to have in my time. I’m sure she blames me every time we call her down for something, and she seems to have little regard for what I can do.” He sighed.  “Which may be my fault. I’ve tried to limit myself to talking to her, rather then simply demonstrating that she cannot fight me.”
“But you froze her before….’
“I did, but only briefly so we could talk, and she wasn’t aware of it. She knew something happened, but she had no idea what it was… or what I was prepared to do if necessary.”
“So she might turn out to be this year’s Big Bad anyway.” Buffy’s sadness was obvious even to those not as connected to her emotions as Spike was.
“Perhaps not,” Giles said gently. “You­—actually we—” he gestured between himself and Winston “—are going to attempt to thwart the humans who caused so much trouble in your time. As they were the source of Willow’s grief, if Warren never shoots you or Tara, there’s no reason for her to go off the deep end.”
While Buffy thought about that and nodded hopefully, Spike stroked her head saying, “Think you should tell them everything, love. It was all those little magic mishaps that added up to what finally happened.”
Buffy flicked her hand at him. “You tell them. I’m just going to sit here and go la-la-la and pretend it’s all going to be fine.”
Spike snorted, but quickly ran through Willow’s steadily increasing use of magic, the forgetting spell that endangered them all and caused Tara to leave her, the relationship with Rack, the car crash that injured Dawn, Xander’s accidental summoning of Sweet and the demon’s kidnapping of Dawn when she shoplifted the necklace from the Magic Box. Both the mention of Rack, and finding out a demon-summoning piece of jewelry might be in the display case had Giles jumping to his feet and cursing.
He went directly to the display case, located the appropriate item and pulled it out to be put in the safe. The whole time he was muttering to himself about knowing he should have done something about Rack when “that bloody bastard” first came to Sunnydale.
“Do you know him?” Buffy asked, his muttering having been loud enough to catch her attention.
“I do,” Giles said shortly. “From my mis-spent youth. He’s an acquaintance of Ethan’s. I permitted him to stay because I didn’t think he could do much harm, and it was good to know where to go for information if we needed it.”
He sighed as he sat back down. “Clearly I was wrong.”  He frowned. “I wonder why I didn’t stop him once I knew Willow was going there?”
“You weren’t here,” Buffy said shortly, waiting for him to remember that in their time he’d gone back to England, leaving her to struggle with raising a younger sister, earning a living, and friends with problems all by herself. The devastated look on his face told her he remembered being told that he’d left her on her own.
“Dear lord, Buffy. I’d forgotten I left you in your time. I can’t imagine what I was thinking!”
He turned his gaze on Spike. “Didn’t you step in to provide assistance? Surely you were there to help her out?”
There was silence as Buffy and Spike exchanged sorrowful looks. Then, while Spike looked both ashamed and angry, Buffy took a deep breath and said, “Spike would have helped me if I’d let him. Our relationship was pretty much a work in process that year, and I was still in denial about it. He gave me what I would take… which was a way to shut out the world I didn’t want to be in. I turned down anything else he tried to offer.
I was stupid,” she said, turning to look at Spike who was still trying to hide his emotions. “And I thought being soulless meant he couldn’t possibly love me, so I couldn’t possibly love him. And then there was the whole ‘Angel is my true love’ crap….”  Buffy’s voice trailed off to a growl before she stood up and put her arms around Spike, who bowed his head over her. Their silent communication was obvious to Winston and Giles, who waited patiently for them to separate.
Buffy gave them an embarrassed shrug as she turned back to them.
“Sorry. Some memories are better than others, and that whole time… yeah. It wasn’t a lot of fun… for either one of us.  And you did come back when you found out about Willow. The power the coven gave you wasn’t quite enough to stop her, but it did do something when she pulled it from you. Something that allowed Xander to reach her.”
Giles looked at Winston. “Where was I in your time?”
“On your way back. It’s just that I was closer and the coven sent me too. When I saw what Willow had already done…. I couldn’t wait for you. I had to act.”
Giles visibly tried to hide his resentment, saying, “Of course you did.”
“You were an equal partner in repairing the damage,” Winston said with an understanding smile. “The coven hadn’t so much shared their magic with you as they simply removed the barriers the Council had set up, allowing you to access the power you always had. You did much of the magical repair work while I held Willow in check.”
Still standing within Spike’s loose embrace, Buffy looked at Giles and said, “So, you magic guys are going to talk to Warren? And figure out what to do with our little ugly garden gnome?”
“Yes. I believe that to be the plan. Perhaps after I make it clear to Rack that he has worn out his welcome here. I’d like to do that before Willow learns of his existence. Of course, we’ll continue researching the statue’s possible uses, and also see if we can find out the intentions of your nemeses.” He looked puzzled when Buffy laughed aloud.
“That’s what they called themselves in our time.  I just called them pains in my ass.” She stepped out of Spike’s embrace and took his hand, tugging him toward the door. “If you’re good here, we’re just going to go… do stuff.”
“Um, yeah. You know, patrol, fight evil, stuff.”
“That sounds like an excellent plan,” Winston said, giving Giles a look. “We’ll handle our end of things here and talk to you tomorrow.”
“”K, good, night!” Buffy pulled a smiling, but confused, Spike out the door and away from the building.
Chapter Eight
I think I did even more tweaking at the last minute (like, just now) than usual, so be assured any booboos you find are all mine and wonderful beta all4spike had nothing to do with them.
“Not that I’m complain’, love, but if you’re this eager to get home and to bed, I have to wonder if I wasn’t up to my usual standards last night.”
“Don’t be stupid,” she said, sending him warm thoughts about how satisfied and happy she’d been in the morning.  When she saw his smile widen, she slowed down and moved closer to him. “I just don’t like being reminded of how I treated you, or how different life might have been if I’d just—”
“Ah, sweetheart. It was what it was, and we were who and what we were. As much as I might have wanted to take care of you and the Bit, I probably would have bollixed it up at some point anyway. You were being loved by a demon, and he didn’t always make good decisions about how to go about wooing you.”
Their quick steps had soon brought them home, and they were entering their apartment as Buffy brought the subject up again.
“But still. You were trying to be what I needed, and I was being a bitch.”
“Never heard me complain, did you?” He reached for her and pulled her tightly against his body.
“Uh… yes? All the time? ‘Don’t leave me here, Buffy. Spend the night, Buffy. Tell your friends about us, Buffy….’ Am I ringing any bells here?”
“Okay, you win. I was a poor love-sick victim and you were a bitch.”  He stepped back and spread his arms wide.  “Feel free to do whatever you need to make it up to me.”
She giggled in spite of herself and grabbed the top button on his jeans, popping it open. “That was the plan.” She unzipped him, smiling to see his cock was already pushing its way out of his pants.
“Good plan,” he gasped as she fell to her knees and took him in her mouth. She teased him into a cursing, laughing fit, then stood up and stared at him until he stopped laughing and frowned.
He pulled his jeans closed and pulled up the zipper, leaving them gaping open just enough to be able to get out of them quickly.  “What’s wrong, love?”
“I… I changed my mind. I just want you to make love to me. Is that okay?”
You really need to ask? The warmth and lust in his response was impossible to miss.
 He swept her up and carried her to the bedroom, dropping to his knees as he laid her gently on the bed. He raised one hand and stroked her cheek.
“What’s going on, Buffy?”
“I just want us to make love the way you always wanted to.”
He shook his head and stood up to shrug out of his clothes before joining her on the bed and beginning to unbutton her blouse.
“I’m not sure where you’ve been these past two years, Buffy, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been doing that all along. Thought you were here with me….” 
She felt his confusion and pain through the bond and struggled to explain.
“I was. I am. I just….” She sat up and began to wriggle out of her own jeans and underwear while he gazed at her with a worried frown. She was silent until they were both naked and she’d pulled him down on top of her.
“I just want to be sure you know how much I love you. And I want to be able to say it back to you when you say it instead of running away or yelling at you.”
He rested his forehead against hers, blinking back tears. “Sweetheart, I canfeel you. You’ve got nothing to prove to me. Know you love me, don’t I? Even without the bond between us, I’d know you loved me, but now? Now I can feel it there all the time. Even when you’re brassed off or disappointed in me, I know it’s there.”
He shook off the emotion, raised his head, and nudged her legs apart.
“On the other hand, far be it from me to turn down a good shag just because I’m worried you’re feeling guilty.” 
He grinned down at her as she wrapped her legs around his hips and pulled him in.
“And there she is, my greedy little Slayer. Take what you want from me, love. You’ll never hear me complain about findin’ myself in this position. It’s my favorite place to be.”
“Yes, love?”
“Shut up.”
Shutting up now.
 He began moving his hips, opening himself up completely so she could feel how happy he was to be there, feeling her squeezing around him and enjoying both the physical sensations and the emotional warmth he could feel coming from her. With the bond open and allowing them to feel each other’s pleasure and emotions, it took only a short time to climb to a mutually happy conclusion. One that went on for some time as the pleasurable sensations flowed back and forth between them on an enjoyable loop.
In spite of the communication path open and the emotion flowing through there, it was a surprise to them both when Buffy grabbed her marks in her teeth and bit down hard enough to draw blood.
Mine! You are mine, Spike.
Always was, always will be. And you are mine.
Never loath to renew the bond, he had already slipped his fangs into her throat, and he took several deep draughts before licking his mark closed.
Yours. No matter what.
With matching sighs, they relaxed bonelessly, still intimately connected, but temporarily satiated.
“We should do that more often,” Buffy said, dropping her legs to wind around his and hold him in place.
“You’ll get no arguments from me,” he said, still licking his marks.
“Why don’t we?”
He stopped licking to bring his head back and to meet her gaze.
“Why don’t we what? Do it more often?”
“Yeah. Why don’t we do it more often? It’s okay to renew it, isn’t it? Is there a reason why we don’t?”
“No… of course not. If we were both vamps, it would probably happen all the time.”
Buffy stiffened beneath him.
“It’s because I’m not a vampire? Is that why we don’t do it? You don’t want to bite me?”
“Bloody hell, Slayer! Are you really that stupid?”
 He regretted his word choice immediately, but it was too late to apologize before she threw him off the bed. He stared at her from his place on the floor, his common sense, as well as the fury coming through the claim, telling him to stay down. Without looking at him, Buffy grabbed her clothes and ran into the bathroom. He still hadn’t moved when she came out a few minutes later, and pulled on her boots.
“Buffy? Love? Where are you going?”
“To kill some vampires. Don’t follow me.”
With that she threw the door open and left, leaving it open and quivering behind her.
Spike slumped onto the floor and shut his eyes.
“Bloody buggering fuck,” he muttered.
Buffy’s anger carried her all the way downtown before she slowed down enough to notice her surroundings. When a wall just ahead of her began to shimmer, she paused and stepped behind a small tree. Her eyes narrowed when a scruffy-looking man stepped out and glanced up and down the street.  She left her tree and walked up to him.
“Are you Rack?”
“I might be, darlin’. Who are you?” He looked her up and down and gave her a leering smile.
“I might be a stupid witch coming to you for more magic,” she said, stepping closer. “But I’m not. I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you’re out of business in my town.”
When he flinched back, held up his hand, and began to chant, she drove her fist into his diaphragm, then brought her other fist up to hit his chin, now conveniently within easy reach as he doubled over. Two more punches and he was lying on the sidewalk, moaning but still conscious.
She leaned over to growl at him, “Have I made myself clear? You need to leave.” She glanced down at him and shrugged. “As soon as you can walk.”
She felt along the wall, looking for the door, but found nothing. Suddenly it appeared just to her right and she whirled to see if Rack was already on his feet, only to find Giles and Winston looking at her with some disappointment.
“We were going to handle this, Buffy,” Giles said. “How did you find him?”
“I didn’t. I was just walking here and he stepped out in front of me. I wasn’t looking for him, but I figured as long as I found him I might as well make sure he knows to stay away from Willow.”
“Why were you trying to find the door?” Winston asked, reaching past her to push it open. When Rack gave a gurgling noise of complaint, one flick of Winston’s hand froze him in place, his eyes wide with fear.
“I dunno. I guess I thought I should make sure he doesn’t have any magical prisoners in there or something.”
“Well, let’s check, shall we?” Winston gestured for her to precede him.
Giles cleared his throat and pointed to Rack whose eyes indicated he was conscious and struggling to retaliate, but even as they darkened with magic, it faded away and he was still unable to move. His once again normal eyes showed his frustration and growing apprehension.
“No problem.” Buffy grabbed the immobile man by one arm and lifted him just far enough that she could drag him after her into the building. She dropped him on the floor inside and watched curiously as Winston and Giles entered and the door closed behind them.
They began to gaze around the small apartment, Giles and Winston exchanging occasional comments that meant nothing to Buffy. She gave a small cry when she spotted a girl sleeping on a cot in the corner of the main room.
“It’s Amy!  Willow must have de-ratted her already.”
“I beg your pardon?” Giles frowned at the girl.
“Amy. She went to high school with us. You remember—her mom was a witch—a bad witch? Amy got turned into a rat… accidentally,” she hastened to add as Giles and Winston frowned. “Willow’s been keeping her as a pet until she can turn her back into Amy.” Buffy frowned down at the sleeping girl. “If she’s here, I wonder if that means Willow’s already been here?”
Buffy turned a glare on Rack, who in spite of not being able to move, managed to cringe. She walked over to Amy and tried to wake her up, then glared at Rack again.
“Why can’t I wake her up?” she demanded. Before he could cringe again, the door opened and Willow entered. She stopped just inside the door, staring from Buffy to Amy to Rack.
“What are you doing here, Willow?” Buffy demanded.
“I… I just came to get Amy….” Willow responded, trying not to look at Rack where he was lying on the floor.
“You knew she was here? You knew how to get in?” Buffy’s accusatory tone had Willow going from embarrassed to angry.
“This is magic stuff, Buffy,” she said with a haughty sniff. “It’s got nothing to do with vampires or demons or anything that’s your business—”
“Indeed,” Giles said quietly. “It would be our business.”
Willow whirled, obviously not having noticed his presence or Winston’s. She had a moment of brief hesitation before standing up straighter and giving them a confident glare.
“You’re not the only magic people in Sunnydale. I have a right to go to somebody else for… stuff.”
“People do not come to Rack for ‘stuff’,” Giles said, shaking his head. “Why didn’t you ask me about him before you decided to seek him out?”
“It was Amy,” Buffy said. “I remember now. She de-ratted Amy and they started hanging out together after Tara—”
“After Tara what!” Willow turned on Buffy. “Are you telling her things about me? Are you trying to break us up?”
Buffy shook her head. “No.” She gestured around the sleazy apartment, and to the unconscious girl on the cot. “But this kind of crap will.”
She let that sink in, giving Willow time to remember that Buffy knew what could happen.
Willow seemed genuinely frightened of losing Tara, so Buffy softened her tone.
“We need to wake Amy up and get her out of here,” she said. “Do you know how to do that?”
Willow glanced from Rack to Amy, then nodded. She walked over to Amy’s cot and mumbled a few words as she waved a hand over her head. Then she shook Amy’s shoulder and said, “Wake up, Amy, it’s time to go.”
Amy blinked, rubbed her eyes, and sat up, looking around the room. She noticed Buffy and smiled. “Hi Buffy! I’m not a rat anymore.”
“I see that. Congratulations,” Buffy said. “Now get out of here and don’t come back.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Winston said smoothly. “Mr. Rack is taking his business elsewhere, so the shop will be closed.”
Willow looked from Winston to Rack, finally noticing his battered condition, and back to Buffy.
“Did you do that to him? Why?”
Buffy shrugged. “I was in a really bad mood when I bumped into him.” She rolled her shoulders. “I feel a lot better now.”
“Why isn’t he moving?” Willow’s gaze went from Buffy to Winston, then back to Buffy.
“Because he can’t,” Winston said without his usual polite charm.
“Well, I can fix that,” Willow said confidently. “I need to talk to him, so…” She waved her hand and muttered another few words, frowning when nothing happened. “That’s weird.” She tried again, adding more words.
She glared at Buffy. “What did you do to him? Why won’t he move?”
“All I did was beat him up. You’ll have to talk to Winston about the not moving.”
“He’ll be able to move as soon as we ascertain that your friend here is the only magical victim in the flat. Then we will escort him to the bus station or to his vehicle if he has one, and he will leave Sunnydale.”
“What if he doesn’t?” Amy demanded. “What if we want him to stay?”
“He willbe leaving.” Giles said. “You’re welcome to go with him, Miss—Amy. But he will be leaving.”
Winston remained where he was, where he could see Rack as well as Willow and Amy, while Giles and Buffy quickly looked around the small apartment. Every now and then, Giles would pick up an artifact or an amulet and mutter to himself. He began dropping things into a small bag he’d picked up causing Buffy to ask, “Are you stealing his things?”
Giles shook his head. “I’m merely removing potentially dangerous items from a place where they could be misused.” He paused beside a small cabinet and pulled it open. “Bloody hell,” he murmured, stepping aside so that Buffy could see the small statue of Acathla there.
“How many of these things are there?” she said in disgust.
“I’ve no idea, but finding two of them in Sunnydale
Chapter Nine
II’m a little nervous about posting this chapter today because I’ve only got two more completed ones on here and no idea if/when I’m going to have the time and inspiration to write more until after the holidays. But, today is Thursday, so……. I may end up taking a week or two off for the holidays if it appears I’m going to run out of chapters before I run out of month. But we’ll see….
She’d only gone a short distance when she spotted Spike striding in her direction and stopped to wait for him.
“I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry.”
They shared abashed smiles, brushing shoulders as Buffy stepped past him and began walking again.
“Am I forgiven?” he asked, turning and falling in beside her.
“I’ll forgive you for saying something stupid, if you forgive me for over-reacting.”
“Done deal, love.” He walked beside her for a few steps. “Are we goin’ somewhere in particular?”
She sighed. “I don’t know. I guess I should patrol. It seems like I’ve had enough adventures for one day, but none of them have involved doing my job.”
“Tell you what. We’ll hit the two cemeteries between here and home and then call it a night and you can tell me why you had smoke comin’ out of your ears just now if you weren’t still brassed off at me.”
“I switched from you to Willow, as soon as I heard myself tell her she was dumb for not knowing something she really should know by now.” She stopped and peered up at him out of the corners of her eyes.  “I honestly do understand that biting me is different from biting another vampire. I know you’re just trying to protect me and not let the demon think he can bite me any time he’s hungry—”
“Buffy, the demon loves you too. He’s me. I’m him. And neither one of us thinks of you as food.” He tipped her face up to his. “But drinking from you every time we make love could become a habit, and you’re not—as you frequently remind me—a vamp chew toy. You’re the Slayer, and stronger than other humans, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be weakened by losing blood every day. I just don’t want to do anything that might take away from your ability to do your job.”
“I knew that,” she said. “You were right. I’m not that stupid.” She brushed her lips over his, then stepped away before he could pursue it. “But you probably should find some other way to remind me of it.”
“I’ll work on curbing my mouth, but not makin’ any promises. I know better.”  
Buffy’s only response was a snort of agreement.
They made short work of the two cemeteries, finding only a few newly risen vampires and staking them with little trouble, and were soon making their way home. Although it wasn’t nearly as late as usual when they got home, the building was dark, and they went to their own door without speaking with anyone.
Buffy collapsed onto the couch and patted the cushion beside her.
“Wanna watch a movie?”
He dropped his coat on a chair by the door and settled next to her with his arm across her shoulders.
“If you want to, pet. But first catch me up on Willow and why you had to tell her she wasn’t dumb.”
Buffy rattled off her actions after she’d left the apartment, concluding with Willow’s reluctance to admit that Winston could be stronger than she was.
“So, Rupert and Winnie are sending Rack off to be evil somewhere else?” He seemed dubious.
“Well, he hasn’t actually done anything here yet, except giving Willow and Amy what they came to him for. They said he was going to leave town. I didn’t ask them how they knew that. Might be one of those things I’m better off not knowing. They sent me to walk Willow and Amy home while they talked to Rack about—oh! I almost forgot to tell you about that. We found another little Acathla in Rack’s closet. I think that’s what they want to talk to him about.”
“I reckon how he leaves Sunnyhell might have something to do with how willing he is to tell them everything he knows… and possibly some things he doesn’t.”
Spike made no attempt to hide the appreciation in his voice and Buffy glared at him.
“I don’t need to know what you think they’re going to do to him.”
“I’ve got no idea what they might do to him. Know what I’d do, but I’m a demon—not a more-powerful-than-he-knew sorcerer or a man who, for all we know, could destroy the whole bloody world with a flick of his wrist if he wanted to. I expect Rack is learning things about Rupert and Winnie the hard way right about now.”
“Not my problem, I guess. I’m not even sure Rack is human.”
“May have been at one time, but I’d guess he isn’t anymore. Dark magic does things to people.”
“Cheery thought.”
Spike shrugged. “You saw up close and personal what it did to Red in our time. And she’d only been dabbling for a few months… not countin’ what she had to do to bring you back, mind you.” He shook his head as he remembered that meeting Rack hadn’t been Willow’s first foray into darker magic. “Either way, she didn’t have the time for it to change her humanity, but I s’pect he’s been at it for years. Plenty of time for him to lose his.”
Buffy nodded. “Okay. End of any worries about what Giles or Winston might do to him.” She laughed. “I beat him up—that didn’t bother me at all. Maybe I’m just being selfish about who gets to fight the bad guys.”
“Well, you gave that would-be robber a right decent pummeling and got your licks in on Rack, so between that and a few unfortunate vamps, I’d say your need for violence ought to be satisfied for a while.”
“I don’t need violence!” She glared at him until his calm stare made her drop her eyes. “I just… sometimes… like it,” she mumbled.
“Got a demon in you, love. You know that. She might be more inclined to be good than bad, but she’s still a bloodthirsty bint at heart.”
“I hate it when you make sense!”
“Just so you don’t hate me, that’s alright,” he said with a smile, tightening his arm around her.
“Nah. I kinda like you,” she replied, raising her face for his kiss. “Most of the time, anyway.”
“And sometime you love me,” he murmured, pulling her into his lap and deepening the kiss.
“Sometimes I do,” she breathed into his mouth. “Sometimes I love you a lot.”
Giles and Winston weren’t particularly forthcoming about how they convinced Rack to leave Sunnydale, simply saying he’d decided it was better for his health to be elsewhere and they’d assured him that was quite true.
“Did you help him on his way?” Spike asked shrewdly, smirking when Giles flinched and Winston smothered a smile.
“In a manner of speaking,” Winston said with a straight face.
“I’m pretty sure we don’t want to know,” Buffy said, shaking her head.
“Oy! I want to know,” Spike protested, but didn’t pursue it, instead asking, “So, what do we know about that second ugly little bugger he was keepin’?”
“That he was, in fact, keeping it for your much-less-amateurish-than-they-seem acquaintances. They’ve been trying to collect them for some time—buying them on the internet and having them shipped to Sunnydale.”
“So more than just the two we know about?”
“It would seem so,” Giles said with a sigh. “He didn’t have any other information about how successful they’ve been, only that this was not the first one to come in through him. I need to research more about these smaller versions to find out what they can do if brought together in one place.”
Giles looked at Spike. “I don’t suppose you have any idea how Angelus knew what to do with Acathla?”
Spike shook his head. “Dru and I read about the new relic in the museum, and then she had a ‘vision’. I showed the big poof the newspaper picture that gave her the vision and he knew right away what it was. Pretentious git gave us a little history lesson about Acathla and then went off to collect it. When he had it back in the mansion, he already knew to open it and that he had to pull the sword out, but he wasn’t clear on exactly how to do it. Angelus had to experiment a good bit before he figured whose blood was needed to get that sword out.” Spike shrugged.  “Don’t see any mouse-sized swords in either of the two we have, so must be some other way to activate them.”
He perked up. “I could try to scare it out of Andrew. That’d be fun.”
“We’ll be sure to keep that in reserve,” Giles said dryly. “In the meantime, we’ll have to look elsewhere. I can check with the Council.”
Spike sighed his disappointment, saying, “Much as I hate to admit it, the big poof might be a good place to start. Not like either of us wants to talk to him, but you might be able to.  Or maybe Winnie can get Wes to find out for us.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Winston said. “Either Rupert or I could reach out to Wesley and ask what he knows, perhaps without involving Angelus. He may have books and resources that we don’t have here. He was, it seems, a rather successful demon hunter for some time after he left Sunnydale.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Buffy smiled, then sobered. “What are we going to do about Willow? She was really mad at us last night. And Amy, as happy as I am that she isn’t a rat anymore, isn’t a very good influence on her. I kinda wish she’d gone with Rack.”
Giles sighed again. “I suppose, given what we now know about these statues, we should have a meeting and bring everyone who needs to know up to speed. Who knows where the next one will turn up, or what else these semi-incompetent gits may be trying to do with them?”
It was late afternoon when everyone gathered in the Magic Box, pulling extra chairs around the table and making Anya frown at losing the seating in the main part of the store. She said, “I thought we agreed you were going have your meetings in the training room, or somewhere else that isn’t my store space?”
When she saw the expression on Giles’s face, she obviously rethought what she’d just said. “I mean in Giles’ store, that I take care of for him, so of course if he wants to have meetings here, he can. Because it’s his store. Not mine.”
“Just sit down, Ayn,” Xander said, sending Giles an apologetic shrug.
Giles shook his head and waved away the apology. “Anya is quite right. She does take excellent care of the store for me. And I have no intention of interfering with that. However, as the actual owner of the building, there will be times when I prefer to have meetings here rather than at my flat, which, as we all know, isn’t very large.”
“Right, meetings,” Willow said. “So what else is going on that you’ve decided it’s all right for the rest of us to know?” She paused, then said, “Tara couldn’t come, by the way. She’s been busy learning more healing stuff from Max, so I told her to skip it and I’d fill her in.”
Buffy fought back the urge to respond to Willow’s snarky remark, saying mildly, “Giles, why don’t you and Winston lead this off?” She exchanged a look with Spike who verified what she was thinking.
Didn’t want Tara here to learn about where she’s been hanging out, did she?
Probably not. Tara would be really upset.
With a quick glare at Willow, Giles reached into the canvas bag at his side and pulled out first one, then the other statue of Acathla. He set them down in the center of the table, asking, “Do we all know what these represent?”
Having been filled in earlier by Anya, Xander spoke up. “They’re mini-versions of the thing Angelus tried to use to end the world. But I thought we only had one of them?”
“We found another one with Willow’s friend Rack.”
Anya gasped and stared at Willow. “What were you doing with him?” sheblurted.
“None of your business,” Willow muttered.
“The point is,” Winston interrupted before the girls could start arguing, “before Mr… Rack left Sunnydale, we learned that Buffy’s enemies from her own time have been ordering these and bringing them in to town in various ways, sometimes through him, but not always—as we know from the one Buffy got out of a crate delivered to her mother’s place of business.”
He looked around the table. “We have no idea yet how many of them may already be here, nor do we know what they can be used for. We are, of course, looking into any possible uses for them. The most likely seems to be opening small portals that can be used to bring demons from other dimensions, but we are only guessing at that.”
“Why aren’t we paying these guys a visit and making it clear this is a bad idea. Maybe Buffy won’t hurt them, but I’m okay with it.” Xander glanced at Spike. “And I’m pretty sure Fangface here would be all over it.” Spike gave him a thumbs up and they exchanged grins.
“We have every intention of doing that in the near future,” Giles said. “But it would be useful to know as much about them as we can before then. They appear to be ordinary humans with some magical abilities as well as some advanced technological skills.” He smiled at Willow. “I almost think Willow might be the most qualified of us to challenge them.”
Willow looked surprised, then pleased. “Do you mean that?”
“Of course!” Giles looked equally surprised. “You’re not only magically gifted, if somewhat—” He cleared his throat. “You have both magical knowledge and technical knowledge. You would be quite suited to sort out for us what we’re looking at exactly. Of course, only if you’re willing.”
Buffy had to hide her rolling eyes as Willow pretended to be thinking about it. After a quiet moment when they all waited for her, she nodded. “Yes, of course I’m willing. Obviously you need someone with my skills. When do I start?”
Giles and Winston exchanged glances, then Giles said, “I believe you should begin by finding out all you can about them. Buffy and Spike will be able to help with complete names and what have you, but the more you can learn about their skills, interests, and locations, the better.”
Willow nodded dubiously, clearly unhappy not to be using magic right away, but she took out a pen and a pad of paper. She looked at Buffy and Spike expectantly.
“Okay, who do I start with?”
“Let’s start with Jonathan. You probably know him. He was in our class.”
“Jonathan…. Jonathan Levinson. I remember him. Little nerdy guy, used to get picked on a lot… really smart, though. His SATs were almost as high as mine. I mean, not really, obviously, but they were good.  Didn’t he try to date Cordelia? And do something else really weird a long time ago?”
“In my time, he did a lot of weird things. Here, all he did was carry a rifle to school one day.  He was planning to kill himself, but it was the day I could hear what people were thinking, so I talked him down. He tried something a couple of years ago where he did a spell to make himself a super hero… to everybody. I’d tried to warn him not to, but he didn’t listen. Since Spike and I knew what was going on, we were able to make him break the spell before it caused too much damage, but it was still a pretty evil thing to do even if he didn’t think he was hurting anybody…. Anyway, I think the warning I gave him when I first got here must have made him change his mind about some of the things he did in our time. He calls himself a warlock because he’s learned to do a few spells, but I don’t know how much magic he really knows.”
Spike snorted. “Lots of brains, not much common sense.”
Willow shot him a glare, but his expression was sheer innocence as he watched Buffy frown before she continued. 
“Wow. Now that I think about it, he was working his way up to being one of these guys the whole time.  Which is weird, cause I think he’s kind of a nice guy at heart… just looking for a way to make his mark.”
“Okay, let me start with him.” Willow stood up. “I’ll need my laptop and I left it at home with Tara. I’ll get started on this now.”
“Don’t you want to know who the other guys are?”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess I should do them all at the same time, huh?” She sat back down and put the pad of paper in front of her. “So who are the other two?”
Once she’d written down Warren Meer’s name and what Buffy and Spike could remember of where he lived when he was with his mother, as well as Andrew’s last name, Willow stood up again.
“I think this is enough info,” she said. “I should be able to track them down through the school system.”  She frowned. “Of course, if you hadn’t been so rude to Rack, he could probably have told us more about where to find them.”
Winston smiled tightly. “He told us as much as he could about them. He wasn’t inclined to keep good records on his customers.”
The frown Willow sent his way was more annoyed than worried. She sniffed. “You should have let me ask. You wouldn’t know if he told you everything or not. He’s very powerful.”
Everyone, except a bewildered Xander, stared at her with identical expressions of disbelief. After an uncomfortable silence, broken only by Spike’s less-than-subtle coughing, Giles said tersely, “Not anymore, he isn’t.”
Without explanation, he stood up and went to the front of the store to have a quiet conversation with Anya.
Willow stared back and forth between Winston, whose bland expression revealed nothing, and Giles, who was holding a whispered conversation with Anya who was nodding vigorously. Buffy could almost see the whirling thoughts as Willow tried to process that short piece of information.
When Willow turned to look a question at her, Buffy shrugged. “I wasn’t there, remember? I walked out with you and Amy.” She left unsaid that she assumed Giles’s statement was true, but there was nothing doubtful in her expression.
Without more conversation, Willow turned and walked out, not bothering to say good-bye to anyone, even Xander, whose gaze followed her out the door. When she’d gone, he turned to look at Buffy.
“Did I miss something?”
“Last night I ran into Rack—” At his confused expression, she said, “Ask Anya about him.  Anyway, I realized who he was and suggested he leave town. Then Winston and Giles showed up and we went inside where I found Amy—you remember her, right? Amy the rat? Only she isn’t a rat anymore and she was sort of passed out or something on a couch. Then Willow came in and got kinda ticked off that she was caught—”
Xander frowned and interrupted. “What do you mean ‘caught’? Who is Rack and why was she there?”
“I’m trying to explain,” Buffy said with a sigh. “In our time, she and Amy got really into the dark magics with Rack and she…. it caused a lot of problems. I was hoping we’d get rid of him before that had time to happen now, but I didn’t know she’d deratted Amy yet and had already started going there.”
“Sheesh, Buffy. You make it sound like they were visiting an opium den or something.” Xander shook his head.
“Or something,” Buffy said flatly. “Talk to Anya about Rack. All you need to know right now is that Winston and Giles got rid of him, and Willow’s pissed off about it.”
“We sincerely hope that putting her in charge of looking into these gentlemen who are accumulating Acathla statues will give her enough to do that she will remember which side she is on.”  Winston smiled at Xander, but his words hadn’t carried their usual charm.
“There are sides now?”
“Good. Us. Evil. Not us. Ringing any bells, Xander?” Buffy stood up. “The important thing to know is that the bad guys are human and they’re trying to collect these statues for some reason.
“A nefarious reason, we’re assuming? Is that because they were bad guys in your time?”
“It is.  And it looks like they’re trying to be just as bad now.”
“I still say Fangface and I could talk them out of it. How’d you take care of them in your time? Are they still wannabe criminals?”
Buffy and Spike exchanged looks, then glanced at Winston who shook his head slightly.
“Only one of them is still alive,” she said shortly. “And that’s all you need to know.”
“Wow. Now I really wanna know what happened to them,” Xander said.
“No, you really don’t,” Spike growled. “Just trust the Slayer when she tells you it’s all you need to know.”
Chapter Ten
The next meeting was without both Xander, who had to work, and Tara, who, it was obvious from Willow’s garbled explanation for her absence, was still being kept away from anyone who might mention Rack or Amy to her.
Willow looked around the table at the expectant faces and smiled. “Well, finding out about them was pretty easy. Hacking into their computers was a little harder, but I managed to out-geek them.” 
Buffy smiled back at Willow, but had her own reservations.
Do you think she used magic?
Wouldn’t be surprised,Spike responded. Don’t know a lot about computers, but I suspect it’s usually harder than that.
Well, if it helped her help us….
Slippery slope there, love.
Buffy gave him a glare, then turned her attention back to Willow.
“So, what do we know now?”
“Well, I know that Warren Meers isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. His encryption sucked. Jonathan’s was better. But not good enough.”
“What about Andrew?”
Willow waved her hand dismissively. “He didn’t even try to hide anything. I was able to see all the sites he’s gone to looking for information on demons… and Acathla.”
“He was looking up Acatha?” Giles sharpened his gaze.  “Were you able to access those sites?”
Willow gave a scornful eye roll. “Of course I was, Giles. What do you take me for? An amateur?”
“Of course not, Willow. I’m simply anxious to hear what you may have learned.”
“Oh. Well, not much, actually,” she said with a shrug. “Most of them were just repeating the same old stories that we know probably aren’t true. I guess nobody knows that Acatha woke up, but then went back to hell when Angel got sucked in and pulled the portal closed.”
Somewhat rhetorically, Buffy asked, “So, people are still looking for him?”
“Some are,” Willow said. “But there were a few sites where they talked about the little statues. On at least one site, someone was insisting that the little ones could be used to bring the big guy back, even if you didn’t have his stone likeness.”  She frowned. “I’m not really sure why anybody would be that stupid. I mean, what do you do with Acathla besides end the world? What’s the point of that?”
There was a long pause as Buffy and Winston remembered when Willow had tried to do just that, then Buffy gave herself a mental shake.
“Do we know where that statue went?”  Buffy looked at Spike who shrugged, then back at Giles. “It wasn’t there when I went back to look, but I’m sure it was still there after… after the vortex closed.”
Giles cleared his throat. “It… that is I….”  He shook himself. “When you’d disappeared and we had no idea where you were, I went to the mansion. The statue was still standing there, with no sign of you or Angel or Angelus….” He glanced at Spike. “Or of Spike and Drusilla. Of course, at that time, I wasn’t aware that he’d joined forces with you to defeat Angelus nor that he had his mobility back, so I was really only concerned about Drusilla. When I didn’t see any sign of her, I left to borrow a sledge hammer from a friend and returned to the mansion with it.”
“You smashed Acathla? Go Giles!”
“Good thinking, Watcher,” Spike agreed. “So we don’t need to worry about that wanker popping up somewhere.”
“That is my hope.”  He gestured toward Winston. “I believe Wesley is also looking into it for us, as best he can without actually alerting Angel to whom he is assisting, but until we learn differently, I’ll be assuming that Acathla cannot return to this realm without his stone body.”
Winston nodded. “Wesley is consulting some books on demonology that he has in his possession and trying to assess what else Angel might know about the demon. He’ll contact me if or when he finds anything important.”  Winston paused. “Of course he was curious as to why we were asking, and I took the liberty of telling him we’d found a few of the smaller statues.”
Buffy and Spike exchanged glances, then Spike shrugged. “Can’t see how that can hurt anything. This is all new to us too, so no way to know what, if anything could muck it up.”
“You do have a history with those trying to accumulate these statues though, do you not?” Winston asked.
“We do. As you well know. But this is a very different scenario from the bollocks Buffy had to deal with. We’re as ignorant as you are about what those wankers are tryin’ to do now. All we can know for sure is that they’re up to no good.”
Willow was looking annoyed that the conversation had taken the attention off her, so Buffy quickly tried to include her in the conversation.
“Wills, did you find out anything else?”
Willow gave Buffy a grateful smile. “Yep. I learned that Jonathan isn’t doing much of anything except what he’s told to. I think he’s supposed to be working on some magic potion or something for that robot-building guy. He’s working on something he thinks will get him back together with his old girl friend.”
“Katrina!” Buffy gasped. “He’s getting ready to kidnap her again!”  Buffy stood up. “I’ve got to warn her.”
“Do you know her?” Willow asked.
Buffy sat down again, slumped in her chair. “No. I don’t know her. And I don’t remember her last name, if I ever knew it. But she lives in Sunnydale or he wouldn’t have been able to find her last time.”
“I’ll see what I can find out,” Willow said confidently. “She can’t hide from me.”
“In the meantime, I suggest we think about takin’ robot-boy down a peg or three.” Spike growled his response.
“I thought we’d agreed that Giles and I would attempt to reason with him, first?” Winston said with a raised eyebrow.
“Best get to it then,” Spike growled. “I’m not planning to let him kill that poor girl this time, even if there is no way he could blame it on Buffy or make her think she did it.”
“Quite,” Giles said. “In the meantime, if Willow has the address information for the other two, perhaps you and Buffy could get one of them to tell you what they plan to do with their collection of demon likenesses? Including how many of them there are and how many more they need.”
“We’re on it,” Buffy said, taking the slip of paper Willow had passed to her. “Let’s talk to Jonathan first. I still think he’s the smartest and least wannabe evil of them.”
“You know we need to do this at night, don’t you, love?” Spike said as he entered their apartment.
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I kinda forgot, but you’re right. They don’t need to know you can get around in the daylight. We can save that for a surprise.”  She made a face. “Unless, of course, they’ve already started planting their damn cameras everywhere.”
“Might be something to share with Max,” Spike said. “And maybe take him up on the offer to protect the crypt. Not that they know about it this time around, I reckon, but we don’t really know what they know about us yet.”
As if mentioning his name had summoned him, there was a knock on the door, which Buffy opened to find Max smiling at her.
“Hey, we were just talking about you. How’d you know?”
His eyes twinkling, Max said, “What kind of a magician would I be if I didn’t know people were talking about me?”  His accompanying laugh told them he was joking and Buffy blushed in embarrassment.
‘Well, I don’t know what you can and can’t do,” she muttered.
“I can’t hear through walls—unlike your companion,” he added, gesturing at Spike. “May I come in?”
“Oh, of course. I’m sorry. Come in, Max.”
“ ’S not like you have to ask,” Spike said with a smile. “You do own the building, you know.”
“Manners are manners,” Max replied as he entered and Buffy shut the door behind him. “I’ve tried to pick my tenants so carefully that I will never feel a need to enter an apartment without their permission.”
“How’s that working out for you?” Spike asked with a shrewd sideways glance.
“Quite well, actually. It took a mistake or two, but now….  Which brings me to the reason for my visit.” He sat down on the couch and waited for them to sit also.
“You had some visitors earlier today. Or, should I say, attempted visitors?  They didn’t get in, of course, but they got as far as your door before the wards picked up something that alerted me to their presence.” He looked at Spike. “Apparently they knew Buffy would be out, and they expected you to be here alone.”  He paused before saying softly, “They were carrying stakes.”
Spike snarled as he stood up. “Not to worry. They won’t be back.” He snarled again when Buffy grabbed his arm.
Her expression as furious as his, if not more so, she said, “Wait a minute. Let’s hear what else Max has to say.”
“Fine. I’ll listen. Then I’ll go kill them.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “If they’re coming after you, I might turn out to be the one that kills them, but let’s find out, ‘K?”
They both turned expectant eyes on their landlord.
“I’m assuming then, that you know who they are?”
“We do. They caused more than a bit of trouble in our time, but we didn’t think they’d turned the corner to dangerous yet. Slayer was hoping Winston and the Watcher could change their minds about their plans—whatever they may be in this time.”
“Ah. So, does the fact that my name came up just now indicate you wanted me for something?”
Buffy nodded. “We were just going to tell you about them in case you wanted to bump up the wards like you did for Glory. Guess it was a good idea, huh?”
“So it seems. And consider it done,” Max said. “If you’ll fill me on what sort of things they might get up to…?”
“I was just going to warn you that they might try to put cameras and recording devices around the building so they could keep track of me. I had no idea they might come after Spike! In our time, I don’t think they paid much attention to him….”
“It was later in the year that they put their spying things about,” Spike said. “We weren’t really expecting them yet, just wanted to give you a heads up.”
Max nodded. “The wards I already have in place should be more than enough to interfere with any devices they may try to place around here. The closest they could get with them would be the sidewalk, and they won’t receive anything but static even from there. They were able to approach your door with wooden stakes because they are human, but I will address that issue immediately. You may have to re-invite your friends in, but anyone you haven’t asked in will have to go through the main office as they do now with packages and mail.”
“Sounds like you’ve got it covered here, then. We’ll just have to have Winnie and Rupert check out their own flats and the Magic Box.”
“And your crypt,” Buffy added. “I’m not taking any chances that they don’t know where it is.”
Max nodded. “I’m quite sure Winston will be able to provide proper protection.” He glanced at Buffy. “I’m assuming your mother’s home is still warded?”
“Yep. We decided we’d keep most of the wards up, just in case some demon gets ambitious and thinks he can get to me through my mom or sister.” She sat down again, tugging on Spike’s arm. “I guess Winston has told you about the little Acathla statues?”
Max shook his head. “No, we haven’t spoken lately. I’d assumed there was nothing troubling right now. In fact, there was a lessening in the evil magic currently available in Sunnydale. Aside from what is naturally released by the hellmouth, and what I now realize is probably coming from your amateurish, but potentially dangerous acquaintances, there was another source of powerful and less-than-benign magic here that seems to have disappeared.” He cocked his head and smiled at Buffy, waiting for her response.
“Yeah. That was Rack. He was Willow’s go-to-guy for dark magic in my time, and I guess she was working on it now too. But I beat him up a little, and then Winston and Giles sent him packing. I didn’t ask how.”
“I did,” Spike muttered. “But Buffy’s a spoilsport and wouldn’t let them tell me.”
Max chuckled at both Spike’s affronted expression, as well as Buffy’s sigh and eye roll.
“That explains it then,” he said. “So what am I missing about Acathla?”
Buffy explained about the statues they’d found so far, as well as what they’d learned about who was collecting them. As usual, it was impossible to tell what Max was thinking, his expression remaining bland and mildly interested. His response, however, was telling. He waited for Buffy to finish, then said, “Would you please let Winston know that I’d like to speak with him? Perhaps he could drop in after he has warded your ‘vacation home’.” His eyes twinkled as he glanced at Buffy, who giggled.
“Sure. We’ll tell him.”
“And how is Willow doing?” Max asked, too casually, even for him. Spike narrowed his eyes while Buffy sighed again and told him about Amy, and finding her at Rack’s, and Willow’s anger at all of them. 
“But Giles gave her some computer stuff to work on, and she did great at finding addresses and stuff for the nerds, so she’s happier now and not using magic so much.” At Max’s skeptical expression, not helped by Spike’s snort of disbelief, Buffy asked more softly, “Is she?”
Max shook his head. “Perhaps not. Tara did indicate that she was concerned… but if Willow was seeing this Rack person and taking from him, or allowing him to take from her, that might explain the things that were upsetting Tara.” He gave them a shrewd look. “You do know she has thought about leaving Willow, don’t you?”
Buffy winced. “She did leave her in our time, but I was hoping that wasn’t going to happen now. I didn’t know Willow had already deratted Amy and started going to Rack until we found them there. I was hoping we could chase him away before Willow had a chance to meet him.”
“Well, perhaps with that source of dark magic gone and Tara still in her life, we can avoid the things that happened in yours. Winston and I can talk about it when we see each other.”  Max rose to his feet.  “You’ll let me know if you want me to safeguard Spike’s crypt, won’t you? Or, if you’re more comfortable having Winston do it, I have no objections to that and it won’t hurt my feelings at all. But do make sure someone does it soon.”
Buffy promised they would and walked Max to the door. “I’m glad you were here to catch those guys,” she said. “I’d have been pretty unhappy to have come home to a pile of dust for a boyfriend.”
Max nodded. “They may be back. They were a bit frustrated at not being able to break in, but blamed it on shoddy tools.” He frowned. “I believe they were quite serious about removing Spike from your life. There was talk of setting fire to the apartment if they couldn’t get in the next time they tried.”
“They want to set fire to your building? Ohmygod, Max! Why didn’t you say so? We’ll move out right now!”
Behind her Spike snarled his agreement, although he stared at Max intently, saying, “I doubt that’s possible, love. Right, Max?”
“Of course,” Max said with a shrug. “Please don’t be concerned for me or the building, Buffy. There is no way they can harm it.” He snickered. “Although they’re welcome to try. That may keep them out of your hair for a while. They don’t seem to handle frustration very well.”
“Well, Warren doesn’t, that’s for sure,” Buffy said with a reluctant smile. “Maybe you’re right and they’ll be so busy trying to figure out why they can’t do anything to our apartment, they’ll forget to be criminals.”
“Not likely,” Spike scoffed. “But we’re going to have those ‘talks’ with Jonathan and Andrew anyway.”
“Just be careful,” Max said as he walked away. “And let me know if you need me.”
So, who’s first. The little guy, or the weasel that’s going to kill him someday?”
Buffy shrugged and glanced at the addresses Willow had given her. “It looks like Andrew and Jonathan are living together at Andrew’s house, so maybe we can hit them both at the same time.”
“I’d like that idea better if I thought you meant I could really hit them,” Spike said with a hopeful nudge.
“We’ll see how it goes,” was Buffy’s laughing reply.
They approached the non-descript house, pausing before they actually reached the edge of the property, and studied it carefully.
“What do you think, Slayer? Barge right in, or reconnoiter a bit first?”
“Your night vision is better than mine. What do you see?”
Spike went into game face and ran his enhanced gaze around the yard and up to the front door.
“I can see a small camera by the front door. Don’t see any traps or whatnot in the yard, but I can feel magic.”
“Yeah, I’m getting a little tingle that shouldn’t be there.”  She stamped her foot. “Crap! They’ve got their own wards up.”
“Seems like,” he agreed. “What do you want to do? Wait and come back with the big magic guns?” Before she could answer, he grabbed her arm and yanked her behind a hedge in the neighbor’s yard.
“What the hell—” Spike shushed her and gestured toward the house. Peering through the shrubbery, Buffy watched as Jonathan emerged, looked up and down the street, and began walking in their direction. They crouched in the bushes until he was well away from them, then followed him down the street. Once they were well out of sight of Andrew’s house, they sped up to fall into step with him, one on each side.
“Hi Jonathan,” Buffy said cheerily. “Where ya goin’?”
“Wouldn’t be to try to break into our apartment, would it?” Spike said, his tone just shy of being a growl.
“Oh god. I told them that was a bad idea….” Jonathan’s face had gone so pale, Buffy could see the color change even in the dim light.
“It was,” Buffy said, nodding her head. “Like, a really, really bad idea. I mean, you know, with you guys carrying stakes and all.  It kinda looks like you might’ve been planning to dust Spike.”  She gave a grim smile and added, “I really wouldn’t like that. There’s no telling what I’d do if that happened. I don’t think I’d be responsible for my behavior. Not even a little bit….”
In spite of the fake smile and cheery tone of voice, her grip on Jonathan’s left bicep was slowly crushing it.  He whimpered in fear and tried to pull away, giving up almost instantly when her hand tightened even more.
“I think you’ve watched too many Dracula movies,” Spike said, adding his own only slightly less painful grip to Jonathan’s other arm. “You do know that vampires don’t really sleep all day, right? And that we’re perfectly capable of waking up if we think we hear something?  Don’t suppose you lot are really so dumb that you believed you could just walk in and stake me in my sleep? Which wouldn’t be very sporting of you….”
Jonathan moaned, obviously unable to respond verbally just then. He shrieked a little when they turned into the gate of a handy cemetery and threw him to the ground.
“Give me one good reason we shouldn’t just leave you here to be somebody’s breakfast?” Buffy pointed at the very new grave marker and the fresh sod they’d tossed him down on.
Jonathan stared back and forth between them, his eyes wide with fright. One glance at Spike’s yellow gaze had him turning to Buffy, but her hard glare was only slightly less terrifying.
“What… what do you want?” he finally managed to squeak out.
“We want to know what sort of nefarious plans you three losers are working on. And we want to know it all. Starting with why you were tryin’ to stake me.”
“And then you can tell us why you’re collecting mini-Acathla statues,” Buffy added, snickering at his shocked expression.
Chapter Eleven
“How… what…?”
“Which part of ‘we’ll be watching you’ are you gits finding so confusin’?” Spike growled.
“But we’ve been so careful…”
“What was careful about sending one to my mom’s gallery?” Buffy demanded. “And almost getting her shot, by the way.”
“Your mom’s­­—Oh god… The art gallery. J. Summers is your mother?”
Jonathan gave a soft moan.
“Why did you send one there?” Buffy asked again. “Are you stupid?”
Jonathan shook his head. “Andrew didn’t know your mother owned an art gallery. He thought it was a good choice. How did you know?” 
Spike snorted.
“The blithering idiots he hired to find the statue couldn’t figure out how to do it. They were still there when we came by to help with the big crates. The wanker that was pointing a gun at Buffy’s mum is currently in critical care. The other one’ll be spilling his guts to the cops as soon as he can talk again.”
“We wondered why it wasn’t here yet.”
“Oh, it’s here, but you’ll never see it. And we have the one Rack was holding for you too.”  Buffy glared at him, hands on hips. “Any time you want to start spilling your guts, we’re listening. ‘Cause, right now? I don’t much care if that guy digging his way out behind you has you for his first meal or not.”
Jonathan whirled around so fast he lost his balance and fell face down right in front of the hand clawing its way out of the dirt. He gave a small scream and scrambled backwards like a crab. Spike grabbed him by his collar and lifted him to his feet, shaking him until his eyes rolled back in his head.
“Enough fun and games,” he snarled, his yellow eyes making it clear how serious he was. “What are you planning to do with those ugly little paperweights, how many do you need to do whatever it is, and how many do you have now?” He paused to watch Buffy stake the new vampire that was just emerging from the grave, then turned his attention back to Jonathan. “And where can we find them?”
“We—Andrew thinks he can use them to summon Acathla back to this realm.”
“What gave him that idea?” Buffy demanded. “And why the hell would he want to?”
“He said if he can bring the big one back, he’ll be able to control a portal to…. somewhere.”
“Hell,” Buffy said flatly. “The portal goes to demon Hell.  And he won’t be able to control it, trust me. He can ask Angel about that if he’s curious.”
“An…Angel? Isn’t that the guy you were dating when we were in high school?” Jonathan cast a worried look at Spike who was growling under his breath.
“He lost his soul for a while and reverted to Angelus. A big part of The Scourge of Europe. He thought it would be a cool idea to open Acathla’s portal and let him pull the whole world into hell. The only way to stop it once it was opening, was with his blood.”
Jonathan looked around in bewilderment. “Then why aren’t we all…dead or something?”
“Because the Slayer put a sword through his evil heart and shoved him into the portal,” Spike said with a growl. “Broke her little teen-aged heart, but saved the bloody world and all the useless gits in it… like you,” he added in case Jonathan missed his message.
“You killed your boyfriend?” Jonathan looked at Buffy with wide eyes that narrowed as he remembered their senior year. “But I saw him again. At Prom. You were dancing with him.”
“The Powers That Be sent him back after he’d been in hell for a long time. I had nothing to do with it.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “None of which is any of your business,” she said, with a quick glare at Spike. “The point is, Acathla is well and truly gone to his hell dimension, and he’s not coming back. And if he does, I’ll send him to hell again,” she muttered under her breath.
“He can’t come back?”
“Were you paying attention, you ignorant wanker? The portal closed when she shoved Angelus into it. And her watcher made sure the statue was pounded into dust and gravel.”
“So we can’t bring him back?”
“Why the bleedin’ fuck would you want to?” Spike turned away in disgust. “Let’s just kill him and be done with, Slayer.”
“No! No, no,” Jonathan said quickly. “No, I get it. It would be very bad. We didn’t know it could end the world. Andrew said it would allow him to bring a demon through any time we needed one for something.”
“What would you need a demon for?” Buffy asked. “Sending it to rob a bank for you?”
Jonathan paled again. “How did you…?”
“You’d be surprised what we know,” Buffy said. “Now answer our questions. How many of these little ones do you have? How many more are on their way here?”
Jonathan sighed and slumped to the ground. “We only have one. The first one we got from Rack. Andrew hasn’t had time to pick up the other two yet.” He hesitated. “I guess if you have them….”
“You’ll never see them,” Buffy assured him. “How many more are coming?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I know Andrew thinks he’s found a couple more, but we can’t afford to order them until we get some more money.”
“I want those sites—where Andrew thinks he can get more of them.”
“I don’t know them… Really!” he added when then both glared at him.  “But I’ll get them for you. I promise.”
“Even better, why don’t we just walk you home and we’ll all wait for Andrew to show up.”
Jonathan opened his mouth as if to object, then took a deep breath and stood up. “All right,” he agreed. “I told him we weren’t going to get away with it anyway.”
“Good call,” Spike growled. “Not goin’ to get away with much else either,” he said.
Buffy whirled on Jonathan. “Yeah, that invisibility thing? Don’t even think about it!”
“That’s more Warren’s­—wait! How do you even know….” He stared at Buffy with wide eyes. “You’re scary,” he said. “And I mean that in a good way.”
“Just hold that thought,” she muttered, realizing she was going to have to be careful.
I forgot how smart these guys are in some ways. We’re going to have to be careful what we say we know.
Got it, love. If Wes could guess it so easily, I reckon nerds that play around with robots and ray guns could also consider the possibility.
If nothing else, they’ll do like Angel did and think we can see the future somehow. We’re just going to have to be really careful.
When Andrew walked in the door of the small house he was sharing with Jonathan, he was talking so fast he was all the way into the living room before he spotted his guests.
“You’re not going to believe this, Jon-boy! I went to pick up our— Eeeek!”
“Hi, Andrew. Come in and sit down so we can talk to you.”
Buffy’s smile was so obviously fake, Andrew whirled around to leave, only to run into Spike’s chest. From which was coming a deep snarl….
“Don’t even think about it, wanker,” Spike said, shoving him away and into the room. “Slayer told you to sit down, so sit down!”
“Y… you can’t hurt me. Warren said so. He said you have a chip in your head and if you try to hurt me—”
Spike snatched Andrew off the floor by the front of his shirt and pulled him close enough to run one fang down the side of his face. “You really need to stop believing everything that corpse-waiting-to-happen says,” he growled, licking his bloody lips as he dropped the now-crying man. “We told you he lies to you and he’s using you—both of you stupid gits.”
The sight of the small Acathla on the floor at Buffy’s feet, made Andrew’s eyes get even wider and more frightened. He stared at Jonathan.
“What have you done?” he said.  “They can’t know about those!”
“’They’ already do know about them,” Buffy said. “In fact, we have two more just like it that we got from Rack and from….’ She stood up and loomed over Andrew who’d slid the floor when Spike released him. “….my mother’s store!”
Andrew cringed against the wall. “Your… your what?”
Rather than repeat what he’d already told Jonathan about what happened, Spike just snarled, “One of your incompetent employees is in ICU and the other is in jail. When he can talk again, he’ll be spilling his guts about who hired them.”
“Why… why can’t he talk now? And why is one in the hospital?”
“Because the Slayer and I walked in and caught them tryin’ to rob the store. Slayer didn’t take well to seeing some low-life wanker threatening her mother with a gun. Since she took it upon herself to see how much of a beating he could take before croaking, I had to settle for throttling the other one.”
Andrew blanched. “They weren’t supposed to rob anybody. Just break in, find the statue and bring it to me.” He peered up at Buffy. “I thought you didn’t hurt humans?”
Buffy exchanged exasperated looks with Spike. “What is wrong with these people? Don’t they get that I fight evil? All kinds of evil?” She glared back at Andrew. “I don’t kill people. Not on purpose, anyway,” she added, remembering the Knight of Byzantium that she’d fought in their time. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t do whatever it takes to stop them from being evil.” 
She turned her icy stare on Jonathan. “And you two are well on your way to being just as evil as your buddy Warren. Anything he does, with help from you, makes you just as guilty as he is.”
Casting a frightened look at Spike, Andrew then asked Buffy, “So, what you’re saying is…. we aren’t safe from you just because we’re… you know…. human beings?  What about Spike’s chip?”
“Chip might have reached its expiration date,” Spike growled. “And so will you if you don’t listen to the Slayer.”  He snorted. “And if you think being human makes you safe when you do something stupid or evil….” He shrugged. “You obviously haven’t been paying attention. You might want to check in with your hired help… if he’s off the critical list yet….”
“Just so you know, we knew it was you because the guy in jail told us. He might not know your name, but that doesn’t mean the police aren’t going to figure it out too.”  Buffy smirked at him. “Just in case you want to get a lawyer now.”
“This is all Warren’s fault!” Jonathan blurted out. “He’s the one who said we could do whatever we want because the cops are stupid and you’re only interested in vampires and demons.”
Buffy rolled her eyes again. “When you started using demons to commit crimes, who did you think would be the one to investigate it?”  She shook her head and stood up. “This is pretty much your last warning,” she said, handing the Acathla statue to Spike. “You can blame Warren all you want—and trust me, he’s going to get a visit too—but the bottom line is, you guys are responsible for whatever you do. He’s not forcing you to do this stuff with him. Either smarten up and stop trying to be evil, or suffer the consequences. He will,” she added almost under her breath.
“Before we leave, let’s have a little chat about what you want with mini-Acathlas, and how many more of the bloody things are on the way here?”
Andrew and Jonathan exchanged resigned looks then sighed.
“You tell them.”
“No, you tell them.”
“You should tell them.”
“You’re the one who wants them. I told you it was a bad idea.”
“You’re always saying things are a bad idea!”
“Because they always are!”
Spike slammed the small statue down onto a table, cracking the wooden top and leaving bits of stone dust on it, and bringing their bickering to a halt.
“Argue about who’s the biggest git later. Just answer the question.”
Andrew’s expression settled into a frightened pout. “I have one more on the way—but it’s supposed to go to… to a friend’s….”
“Not happening,” Buffy said. “Your friend Rack is out of business, and his place is closed… permanently.”
Spike laughed at the dismayed look on Andrew’s face.
“Assuming you actually had all these ugly little things, what did you think you could do with them? And just so you know? Bringing the big guy back isn’t possible.”
“I… I don’t know, exactly. But if I had enough of them, I think I could figure out how to open a portal and bring through demons from somewhere else.” He glanced at Buffy apologetically. “I thought maybe they’d be harder for you to fight, and they’d keep you busy while we—” He stopped himself by putting a hand over his mouth.
“While. You. What?” Buffy said, slowly and carefully. “What are you planning that you needed me out of the way for?”
Andrew just stared at her, clearly appalled at himself and with no idea what to say next. When he just continued to stare, Jonathan jumped to his feet.
“For God’s sake, just tell them!” he said, turning to look at Spike. “Warren wants her out of the way so he can get the materials he needs for something he’s trying to make that he needs to practice using.”
“Which is….?”
Jonathan shook his head. “I don’t really know. He has lots of idea and inventions in the works. He doesn’t tell us everything, he just tells us what he needs for whatever he’s working on.”
What do you think, love?
I’d like to tell them we know what he’s planning to do, but­—
But, they might figure us out. Let me try something….
Spike rolled his eyes up to the ceiling and pretended to be thinking.
“Let’s see, we’ve got one mad scientist/inventor-type bloke who’s a slime ball. We know he makes robots… Could be more of those, I reckon. Another robot girlfriend? A definite possibility. But what else might he try for, hmmm? Maybe, I dunno, a time machine?” He shook his head. “Nah, that’s probably not possible. A ray gun?” He stroked his chin as if he was still thinking. “Cameras to spy on people? A cloak of invisibility? Something to enslave women?”
He snorted. “It’s not as if any of you losers are going to have actual girlfriends unless they’re mechanical or bespelled somehow. That’d be my guess. You’re all hoping he’ll invent something to get you laid.” 
Buffy glared at Jonathan. “You know all about using spells to rape women, don’t you?”
“What?  No! I never—” He seemed genuinely shocked.
“Really? So when you tried to make yourself all wonder boy a couple of years ago, those twin girls were already dating you? You didn’t need a spell to get them to move in?”
His face drained of color. “But I didn’t… I mean I guess I would have… but you stopped me. I didn’t do anything to them!”
“Only because Spike told you to break the spell or he’d break you,” Buffy said. “I’m so disappointed in you, Jonathan. I’m starting to think I should have let you shoot yourself way back when.”
“Shoot yourself?” Andrew looked at Jonathan with curiosity. “And what twins? Where was I?”
“Shut up, Andrew,” Jonathan said. “You were probably in diapers for all I know.”
“The point is, whatever Warren’s planning, I’m going to be watching for it. And if you’re smart, you’ll let me know what it is as soon as you know. Unless you want to go down with him. That could be arranged….” Buffy walked toward the door.
Tossing the little stone statue up and down as if it weighed no more than a tennis ball, Spike flashed his fangs at them one more time for emphasis as he joined Buffy at the door. “And don’t even think about trying to set fire to our apartment. You’ve got no idea what a bad idea that would be.”
With that final warning, they walked out, pausing for Spike to smash the camera on the porch.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. They’re scared of us right now, but who knows if they’ll stay that way after Warren gets hold of them again?”
There was silence as they walked through town, until Buffy finally said with a sigh, “I know what you’re thinking.”
“The bugger died in our time anyway, didn’t he? Would you rather Willow did it and had to live with that?”
“I’d rather nobody had to live with it.”
“You may not get that choice, love. We’ve seen enough to know that by now.”
“If he’s not dead, the First Evil won’t be able to use him to make Andrew kill Jonathan and let out the first Turokan next year.”
“If the First Evil wants to manipulate Andrew, I suspect he’s got more than one way to do it. The boy’s a complete fool.”
“He really is, isn’t he? I’d almost forgotten what he was like before he decided to be not-evil.”
“Andrew goes whichever way the wind blows,” Spike growled. “Wouldn’t trust him any farther than Dawn could throw him.”
“Let’s get home with our new artwork,” Buffy said. “Maybe we can sit him in the windowsill like a flowerpot.”
“Halloween’s over, pet,” Spike laughed. “He’d scare people away.”
“Maybe I can put a Santa hat on him,” she mused.
“Or maybe Wes will have given Giles more information and we’ll know if we should just have a statue smashing party, or if we need to hang on to them for some reason.”
“Or that. Either way, I guess it can wait ‘til tomorrow.”
Chapter Twelve
“Are you coming with me to the shop? I want to put this ugly little guy with the others that Winston and Giles are guarding.”
“I’ll join you there, love. I think I need to act like a vampire for a while. It wouldn’t do for it to be common knowledge that I can walk around in the daytime. Might lead to awkward conversations….”
Buffy frowned, but nodded. “I guess that’s true. But it’s not like you haven’t been out and about in the daytime since I gave you that ring.”
“I have. But not that often if you think about it. And not in public all that much. The grocer and the butcher might be a mite suspicious of me, but since they didn’t know me before, they probably think I’m human… just really pale for some reason.”
“Hmmmm.”  Buffy grinned at him. “Well, I guess you know by now you don’t freckle.” 
The reminder of their fight when he had the ring in their own time, made him smile.
“Nor tan,” he agreed. “Not that you gave me time to learn that back then.”  He shook his head. “Another one of those times when my mouth got me into trouble.”
Buffy giggled as she lifted the bag holding the Acathla they’d taken from Andrew and Jonathan. She blew him a kiss and went out the door, waving in acknowledgement as he reminded her to tell Winston that Max wanted to talk to him.
By the time Spike had worked his way through the sewers to the Magic Box, Buffy had already shared the message from Max and Winston had called him, as well as sharing what he’d told them about the attempt to get into their apartment.  Winston and Buffy glanced up as Spike emerged from the basement.
“Am I to understand these three people made an attempt on your life?”
“Seems that was the plan. They didn’t get the memo that I’m not quite the pushover we’ve told people I am, and what they don’t know about vampires would fill a book.” Spike snorted his disgust at their thinking he would be in a daytime coma when they got in.  “Even if they knew I’m not harmless—which at least two of them do now—they apparently expected me to be so soundly asleep I wouldn’t hear them in the apartment. Ignorant wankers.”
Winston nodded as Giles approached the table, saying, “Wankers they may be, but potentially homicidal wankers it seems. I believe we need to put an end to their activities sooner rather than later.”
“Well, as of last night, I think the two we confronted are pretty intimidated by us, especially by Spike because they were sure he couldn’t hurt them.”
“So, trying to maintain the fiction that you’d been defanged by the Initiative seems to have worked?”
Spike shrugged. “At least as far as they’re concerned. We were just talkin’ about that a bit ago.  It’s not like we made a big deal of it before this. We just allowed everybody who was told about the chip at first to assume it’s still there.  And to spread the word about it. Not to say there aren’t some Sunnydale denizens who have reason to think I’m a perfectly functional vampire, but  I don’t go out and about in the daylight all that often, and I don’t make a point of actin’ like I’m not a normal, but harmless, vampire unless there’s a good reason to do so.”
Buffy nodded her agreement. “We haven’t really gone out of our way to hide that he isn’t as harmless as we did at first, but we don’t worry about it too much. Except when Wes was here. He didn’t need to know that Spike has the Gem, or that he can hurt humans if he wants to.”
“Indeed. That is probably information we would not want Angel to have,” Giles agreed with a sigh. “But I can’t decide whether it’s in your best interest to acknowledge your chip-free status or not.”
Spike shrugged. “Given that the big bads this year seem to be all human, I’m more likely to be effective as a threat if they know I’m not, than I would be if they think they’re safe from me.” He grinned, remembering Andrew’s reactions the night before. “On the other hand, never underestimate the value of surprise.”
“So. What’s the sitch?” Buffy asked. “Do we get to talk to Warren, or are you guys going to talk to him.? And when I say ‘talk’ I really mean send him into another dimension.”
“We’re going to pay him a visit.”  Giles and Winston exchanged looks, then Giles said, “Perhaps, in order impress upon him the seriousness of the situation, you should go with us?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Buffy said. “If he doesn’t like your ‘reasonable’ arguments—” she glanced at Winston who smile back innocently— “maybe the fear of being eaten or pummeled will do the trick.”
“When do you want to do it?” Spike asked.
“Perhaps tomorrow?  Max and I are meeting tonight, and I thought we’d have a nice evening out at the same time. We can discuss it by phone before tomorrow evening.”
“Okay. So, we’ll just patrol tonight and talk to you tomorrow.”
“Wh…who are… y…you?” Tara stammered in a way she rarely did anymore when Warren stepped out from behind his van to block her path. Even as she asked her question, she recognized the black van and understood who he probably was. Willow had shown her yearbook pictures of Jonathan and Andrew, so she knew he wasn’t either one of them.
“I’m just somebody who thinks you should know that your girlfriend has been cheating on you with Rack.  You know who he is, right?”
“I know what he is,” Tara said. “But Willow would never….”
“She would if she had rat-girl to show her the way,” he said. “She’d be all over those black magics.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Tara frowned suspiciously.  “Are you just trying to get Willow in trouble because she hacked you and your friends?”
His face reddened and his expression darkened. “She what?”  He shook his head. “She might be trying to hack me, but nobody’s getting into my system. Least of all some full-of-herself witch who thinks just because she did some computer work in high school….”
“Uh…. ok.  If you say so.” Realizing she probably shouldn’t have said anything about Willow’s computer skills, Tara was more than willing to backtrack and change the subject.  “Then why are you telling me lies about her? Are you trying to start trouble just because we’re Buffy’s friends?”
Warren glared at her. “The Slayer and all her do-gooder sidekicks need to stay out of my business. That includes you and your cheating girlfriend. If you don’t believe me about Rack, ask her yourself. Ask her if she isn’t using black magic.”
He whirled and jumped into the driver’s side of the van, pulling away from the curb and leaving Tara staring after him, torn between fear and suspicion.
“Willow wouldn’t…. I’m sure she wouldn’t,” Tara assured herself as she continued on toward their apartment. “She knows better.”
The conversation with Willow hadn’t gone well, and Tara was in tears by the time she got to Max’s. With only a little coaxing, she told him about Warren’s words and how Willow had reacted.
“She pretty much admitted she knew Rack and that she and Amy had been going there. Then she went off on Buffy for hitting him, and on Winston and Giles, claiming they did something to Rack just because they were jealous of him!”  She took a shaky breath. “I told her if they had done anything to him, they probably had good reason, and she should be grateful for it and glad he hadn’t sucked her in too deeply. Then she got really mad and told me I knew nothing about ‘real’ magic and I should just trust her.”
“And do you?” Max asked kindly.
“I don’t know.” Tara shook her head. “I want to, but she lied to me about Amy and about going to Rack’s with her. At least by omission. And that’s after we’d talked about how important it is to stay away from black magics. I reminded her that future Willow had warned her, but she just said things are different now and Buffy and Winston need to realize that and stop watching her like a hawk.”
“I see….” Max looked concerned. “I believe Winston and Rupert have taken care of Rack and his disruptive magics. I no longer feel his presence, and haven’t since they confronted him. Perhaps, when Willow has had time for the effects of his influence to wear off….”
“I hope so,” Tara said. “I don’t think I can stay with her if I can’t trust her anymore, but I said I’d give her a chance to show me it’s going to be okay.”
“I hope so too,” he said with a gentle smile. “Shall we work on those spells for healing broken bones to put us in a more cheerful frame of mind?”
“Yes, let’s.”
When they’d finished working, Tara picked up the healing supplies she’d brought with her, thanking Max for his help in sorting out which ones were genuinely useful and which ones were just harmless, if ineffective, old wives’ tales.  She walked home, deep in thought, without even noticing the vampire she automatically flicked a fireball at until he screamed. She smiled when she realized what she’d done, and she picked up her pace, suddenly anxious to see Willow and talk about their day. As she walked into the apartment, she saw Willow glance up, then back down at the crystal she was holding.
“Hi, baby. I’m glad you’re home.” Willow looked at her expectantly and Tara smiled back.
“I’m glad to be home. I missed you today.” Tara sighed happily at being back in their apartment with her lover and partner, wondering why she felt as if she needed to remember something important.
Willow gave a satisfied smile, kissing her on the cheek as she slipped the crystal into her pocket and said,  “I thought we could spend some time together in the kitchen. Maybe make some cookies?”
Tara’s brow briefly creased in confusion as she tried to remember what it was she was going to ask Willow about, then she shrugged and smiled.
“Sure, that would be fun.  Did you have a good day?”
“Sure did. But it wasn’t as much fun as I have when you’re with me.  We need to have more classes together.”
“Maybe next semester we can do that. I’d like that.”  Tara beamed. “So, what kind of cookies are we making?”
Winston and Giles were wearing grim expressions when Buffy and Spike walked in the following afternoon.
“Whoa! What’s with the apocalypse faces?  It isn’t Tuesday, is it?” Buffy giggled at her own joke, the giggle trailing off when neither man responded with even a smile.
“Okay, let me have it,” she sighed as she sat down. “What do I have to kill?”
With his own sigh, Winston said. “Things are not that dire at the moment. However, I dined with Max last night and he tells me Warren approached Tara and told her about Willow and Rack. Apparently Willow became angry and they had words about it. Tara is very close to leaving Willow which, as we all know, isn’t likely to improve her disposition.”
Giles spoke up. “I’ve taken the liberty of calling a meeting tonight, under the guise of wanting to share information about the small Acathlas, in hopes that we can get Willow back on track by giving her something else to concentrate on. I asked that Tara come with her this time.”
Buffy frowned at him. “What do we have to share?”
“We’ve received some new information from Wesley, and we think we know what we need to do.  As it turns out, the smaller statues have little value except as warnings. They apparently can animate if and when Acathla is coming. Given that his host statue is nothing but dust on the floor of Angel’s former home, it would seem they are of no use at all.”
“Then why does the wanker trio want them?” Spike appeared dubious. “They’re pretty focused on collecting as many as they can.”
“Through the centuries, the story has become distorted from their being able to warn about Acathla’s arrival, to a belief that they can occasion it. Neither my research, nor Wesley’s can find anything to verify that common belief, and we’ve concluded it is a very unlikely possibility.”
“But just in case….” Buffy said, standing up. Giles smiled his agreement.
“Just in case, wewill be smashing them into dust.  And following up on any indications that there are more available to import or on their way to Sunnydale,” he added.
Spike looked thoughtful. “When the big poof was braggin’ about what all was going to happen when he finally opened Acathla, he mentioned that the statue was getting a big boost from being on the Hellmouth. If the same holds true for the little ones….”
Giles nodded.  “Indeed. Thereis just the barest chance the power from the Hellmouth could flow through them and create…. something. We’ve no idea what, but just that possibility makes it imperative that we destroy them lest they fall into the wrong hands.”
“Can’t get much wronger than those idiots,” Spike growled.
“Exactly. We will have to continue to monitor their communications and activities to ensure they don’t receive any others without our knowledge.”
“That’ll give Willow something to do,” Buffy said with relief. “Anything to take her mind off Amy and whatever she was getting up to with her.”
When Willow and Tara walked in hand-in-hand, looking very much in love and nothing like two people who were fighting about anything, Buffy and Spike exchanged confused glances with Giles and Winston. Winston seemed especially surprised, as his conversation with Max had made it clear Tara was teetering of the verge of leaving Willow. There was no sign of tension between them now and Tara seemed quite content with Willow and her place in her life.
When Xander mentioned Rack, asking Willow a question about him, Tara spoke up before Willow could respond. “Oh, Xander, Willow would never have anything to do with somebody like that. You’ll have to ask Giles that kind of question, not my Willow.”
Buffy’s eyes got big and then she gasped as she remembered what Willow had done in her time. “Really, Willow? Is that right? You wouldn’t know anything about somebody like Rack?” she said with a hard stare at her frowning friend.
Flashing Buffy a glare, Willow said, “Of course I know of him, but you know I wouldn’t mess with dark magics. Not with Tara to show me how powerful earth magic can be.”  Her glare changed to a look of pleading, and Buffy reluctantly nodded her head.
“Of course you wouldn’t. Silly me” She and Spike exchanged glances; glances that weren’t lost on Winston. While Giles explained to everyone what he’d learned about the small statues, Winston and Spike retreated to the back of the shop for a private conversation.
“That’s not the Tara Max met with yesterday,” Winston said.
“It’s her,” Spike growled. “She’s just got a mojo on her to make her forget they had a fight about Rack and dark magic.”
“What makes you so sure?  Not that I’m doubting you,” he hastened to add.  “I can feel the magic around Tara.”
“Because that’s what Willow did in our time. She took Tara’s memories away. In our time, she bollixed it up, and we all lost our memories.”
All of you?”
“Oh yeah. Was a right mess for a while there. Worst of it was Rupert and Anya thinking they were engaged to be married. Lots of snoggin’ going on there.” He glanced up to where Anya was watching Giles with rapt attention. “Not that hard to imagine it, now that I think on it….”
Winston followed his gaze and frowned, then shook his head. “No, no it isn’t.”  He sighed. “So, what happened to make her end the spell?”
“Harris accidentally stepped on the crystal and it broke the spell for everybody at the same time. That’s when Tara left her for real. She couldn’t believe Willow would do that, knowing what Glory’s mind-stealin’ had done.”
“I suppose I should end it now, while Tara has support around her.” Winston seemed to be musing to himself, and Spike stared at him.
“You could do that? Wipe out Red’s spell without the crystal?”
Winston just stared at him until Spike nodded in apology.
“ O’ course you can. Sorry, mate. Sometimes I forget what you are.”
“And I you. Doesn’t change anything, though, does it?”
“Nope. I’m still a vampire, and you’re still the best sorcerer in the world.”
Winston grimaced. “I’m pretty sure you don’t want to say that in front of your landlord. However, I’m adept enough to break a simple memory spell from another practitioner. In fact, I’d be surprised if Rupert couldn’t easily end it if he knew about it. He’s come a long way since he got rid of the inhibitions the Council had placed on him.”
“Meanwhile….” Spike nodded toward the table, when conversations had drifted into various ways and means of disposing of the small Acathla statues as well as what they could and should do with Warren and his minions. Willow’s voice carried to them quite strongly.
“Don’t worry about Warren Meers. I’ve got plans for him,” she said with a haughty toss of her head. “He won’t be bothering us any more.”
“Uh oh,” Spike whispered. 
Chapter Thirteen
Without asking Spike for an explanation, Winston briefly fixed his gaze on Willow. He had already looked away by the time she flinched and reached into her pocket. Her muffled “What the hell?” halted all conversation as everyone paused to look at her.
“What is it, Willow?” Tara asked, her brow wrinkled in concern. “Are you okay?”
“Uh, yeah, sure. I’m fine. I just think I must have dropped something.” She bent down to search the floor under her chair.
Winston turned to Spike and held out his hand in which rested the missing crystal.
“Will you do the honors, or shall I?”
“I’m on it,” Spike said, taking the purloined object and putting it on the floor. “You watch for the drama.”
Spike brought his Doc Marten down smartly, then, to be sure, ground the shards under his heel. At the table, there was an audible gasp from Tara who shrank down in her seat, shaking her head in confusion. Then she turned tear-filled eyes on Willow. While everyone except Buffy looked puzzled, Tara took a deep breath and stood up, moving away from the girl she’d just been thinking how lucky she was to have in her life….
“I can’t believe you did that to me, Willow. I won’t be home tonight, and I’ll move my things out tomorrow.” She noticed Buffy’s sympathetic face and frowned at her. “Did you know?” she demanded.
Buffy shook her head. “I was starting to worry about it, but I wasn’t sure until just now. So it ended?”
“What ended? What’s going on?”
Xander stared around the table from Tara’s heartbroken expression to Willow’s equally unhappy one and then over to where Buffy was shaking her head with sad resignation.
“Willow did a spell to take away Tara’s memory of finding out about her visits to Rack and the fight they had about it. Isn’t that right, Willow?”
“How did you—oh, right. You know everything. How could I forget?” Willow snarled at Buffy who had moved to put a sympathetic arm around Tara.
“I’m sorry you did that to Tara again, but at least it’s over, and it didn’t affect all of us like it did in our time. It caused a lot more trouble for everyone then.”
Spike coughed loudly. Ended up with us fighting vampires together, and then snogging in the Bronze. Wasn’t all bad, was it, Joan?
Buffy glared at him, but her lips twitched. No, not all bad, Randy.
“What happened to us in your time?” Xander’s innocent curiosity reminded Buffy of all the confusion about who was dating who and she shook her head.
“Nothing anybody needs to hear about. There was some… confusion… for awhile, but we all survived it.  The important thing is that Tara has her memories back now and it didn’t last very long.”
Willow glared around the table, then turned her glittering eyes upon Winston, who gazed back at her expressionlessly. Her tightened lips made it obvious she’d figured out what happened to her spell, but before she could say or do anything, Tara laid a gentle hand on her arm.
“Please don’t blame someone else for what you’ve done,” she said softly. “You know it was wrong, or you wouldn’t be so angry.” She dropped her hand and turned away. “I’m sorry, Willow, but this is no one else’s fault but yours.” 
Willow stared around the table, only Xander’s confused frown didn’t contain at least some measure of dismay or condemnation, and she whirled with a final parting, “This is not my fault. I know exactly whose fault it is,” as she ran out the door.
Buffy and Spike exchanged worried glances, then turned to Winston who was also looking concerned.
“What don’t we know that we may need to know?” Giles asked. “Clearly you are all familiar with similar experiences in your own times.”
Spike and Winston joined the table as Buffy gave a sigh and sat down again. “You can stay with us tonight, Tara. Tomorrow we’ll help you get your stuff and find a place to live.”
Tara nodded and sat down also. “So, in your time she erased my memory too?”
“Yours and everyone else’s,” Spike growled. “Just lucky she didn’t get one of us killed before the spell broke and we sorted things out.”
Buffy ran through a quick recap of the forgetting spell and its results. Out of the corner of her eye she saw how Giles and Anya winced at being told they’d thought they were engaged, and how Xander frowned at being told he’d thought he was dating Willow.  He cheered up when she explained that he’d been the one to smash the crystal and break the spell, and she quickly assured everybody that once the spell was broken, they were all fine. “Well, I guess except for Tara and Willow,” she admitted. “They broke up as soon as Tara realized what Willow’d been trying to do to her.”
“It was much the same in my time,” Winston said. “Although of course, I wasn’t there to see it. I learned about it much later after….” He trailed off, remembering that some of the events in his time were very different, including Xander’s accidental death. “Much later,” he finished.
“The question now is, why do Buffy and Spike seem so disturbed?” Xander asked, still not willing to accept that Willow was anything except being careless with magic.
“Because, as much as I want Warren stopped before he can really hurt someone, I don’t want Willow to be the one who stops him. I don’t want her to live with that.”
“Live with what? What did she do to him in your time?”
“You don’t want to know,” Spike growled. He turned his attention to Buffy. “I told you I’m more than willin’ to take that particular burden off her.”
Buffy shook her head. “I know.” She looked at Giles. “Weren’t we going to go to see Warren tonight? Maybe we need to stick with that plan.”
“Perhaps. But it’s getting late. I doubt Willow will do anything tonight. I’d suggest we not worry about Spike’s attempt to appear to be a normal vampire and we approach Warren tomorrow during the day.”
Buffy shrugged. “Okay. I guess he won’t do anything terrible between now and tomorrow morning. Just give us some time to do a quick patrol, and then if one of you can drop Tara off at our place?”
“Maybe you could skip patrol?” Anya said.
“Not tonight. There were a lot of funerals in the last two days. At least some of those have to be vamp-related. It won’t take too long. Most of them were buried in the same two cemeteries.” Buffy glanced at Tara. “You don’t mind waiting for us, do you? It’s early enough, Max might still be up and he can let you into the apartment.”
“I… I don’t want…to…to… be any trouble,” Tara stammered. Her face, what was visible through her hair, was red with embarrassment. “I can go to a hotel.”
“Don’t be daft,” Spike growled. “You’re more than welcome at our place.”
“I’ll drop her by,” Winston said. “I’d like to speak with Max again, anyway.”
“‘K then, we’ll see you tomorrow. What time do you want to go after Warren? We’ll need to help Tara get her stuff sometime during the day.”
“I’ll call you in the morning and we can decide the best time then.”
With another reassurance that Tara was not going to be a problem, Buffy and Spike waved their good-nights and went out into the night.
After a longer than expected patrol through the two cemeteries, they were finally heading home.
“It’s late, isn’t it?”
“Not if you’re a vampire,” Spike snorted. “It’s just mid-evening.  Besides, we did for almost a dozen new vamps tonight, so it was time well spent.”
“You are so full of it,” she said. “You know as well as I do that what took so long was stopping at your crypt for a quickie that wasn’t actually quick.”
“Just trying to take the edge off so we don’t embarrass our guest,” he said, pulling her close to his side. “I’m considerate like that.”
“Just so you know, I wasn’t planning to do anything that might embarrass a guest in our tiny little apartment.” She elbowed him in the ribs, forcing him to let go.
“And that’s why I knew we needed to visit our vacation home first,” he said, dancing away from the swat she took at his head.
“You’re incorrigible.”
“And you love it,” he said. “Admit it. You’d be worried if I wasn’t always… interested.”
“Well, I’d definitely think there was something wrong with you,” she agreed, laughing.
To their surprise, they got home to find a note from Tara on the kitchen counter saying that Max had invited her to stay with him as he had a guest room to offer rather than a couch.
“Well, that was nice of him.”
“She’ll be safer with him,” Spike said. “Probably would have been safe here too, but in the same apartment with Max… Red can chant until she’s blue in the face, but she won’t be able to mojo Tara out of here.”
“You think she’s going to keep trying?” Buffy looked at him with dismay. “She didn’t do that in our time. She tried to use less magic so she could get Tara back.”
“This isn’t our time­—or Winston’s for that matter—she hasn’t done any of those things that she felt guilty about then. She’s still thinkin’ she’s too smart and clever to need advice from Max or Winston.”  He stared back at her. “And you know as well as I do that she’s got plans for Meers that aren’t going to be good for his health.”
“I know,” Buffy sighed. “I wish I knew what to do. He has to be stopped, but killing him is just… it plays into the hands of the First.”
“The miserable old whatever-it-is doesn’t have as much to work with now, does it? You didn’t die and come back to life, I’m not hidin’ in the school basement goin’ crazy from getting my soul back. There’s no way it can try to rise now.”
Buffy stared at him, eyes wide and fearful. “Did you just totally jinx us?”
“I s’pose I may have at that. Bloody hell, I’m stupid!”  He gulped, then shouted at the ceiling, “I didn’t mean it! You hear me, Powers That Mess With Us? I wasn’t issuing a challenge.”
Buffy snickered. “Let’s hope that works. Never has for me, but who knows….”
“Was worth a shot,” he said with an abashed grin as he pulled her closer. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll just have to kick his arse again.”
“In the meantime, we need to get to Warren tomorrow before Willow does and convince him he needs to leave Sunnydale or change his ways.”
“Not holdin’ out a lot of hope for either of those things, love. If he leaves, he’ll just pick up doing evil nerdy things somewhere else. And if he doesn’t, I don’t see him changing his ways here either.” He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Remind me what happened after you shut him down the last time?”
Buffy glared at him. “He got a gun and shot me,” she said. “And he killed Tara.”
“And you don’t think he’s going to be just as brassed off at you this time when you tell him you’re not gonna let him do any of the things we know he’s planning?”
“I think we have a couple of weapons I didn’t have back then. You, for instance. And Giles and Winston.  He can’t shoot all of us.”
“He isn’t going to shoot any of us,” Spike snarled, then shook his head when she stared at him, her disapproval obvious. “Look, love. All I’m sayin’ is we know what he’s capable of. He killed his ex-girlfriend, after he kidnapped and raped her, and he tried to kill you. More than once.  And he did kill Tara, which is what made Willow go all black magic woman on you… and on him. You need to be prepared to let somebody do what needs doin’ if it comes to that.”
Buffy sighed and nodded.  “I know. And I know that in both our time and Winston’s he died, so maybe it’s one of those things we can’t prevent… but it doesn’t have to be Willow who does it!”  She glared at him fiercely. “And it doesn’t have to be you!”
“So, you’d rather Rupert or Winston had the guilt this time?” he said mildly as he walked into the bedroom and began shedding clothes.
She stared after him, then walked around the apartment, checking the door and turning off the lights before entering the dark bedroom and going into the bathroom to brush her teeth and prepare to sleep.
Which didn’t happen after she slid into bed but remained out of touching distance of Spike’s still back. She waited for the slight movement that would indicate he was asleep and, as he always did, inhaling and exhaling occasionally, but he remained as still as the dead man she knew he was.
When sleep didn’t come for her either, she eventually moved marginally closer and whispered, “Are we having a fight?”
“I’m sleeping,” he mumbled back. “Don’t know what you’re doin’ all the way over there.”
“You’re not sleeping, you liar. You’re just laying there being mad at me because I don’t want you to kill anybody.”
His shoulders heaved as he sighed, then turned to face her. She couldn’t see his face in the dark room, but she could feel him staring at her.
If I was really brassed off at you, you’d be able to feel it.”
Well, if you aren’t mad, then why­—
I just need to accept that your idea of a solution to a problem isn’t always the first one I think of, that’s all. We’re usually going up against non-human evil and we’re thinkin’ the same thing when it comes to how to handle it. I forget that you’re going to see it differently when the evil has a heartbeat. Needed to have a little talk with my demon, is all, sweetheart.
She felt the emotion coming through their bond, as his hand drifted over her face, and she reached up to hold it against her cheek.
And I need to remember that you and your demon will do anything to protect the people you love, and that’s one of the things I love about you.
“You know, back in our time, we could have turned this into something that kept us apart for weeks,” he said, pulling her closer and nuzzling her neck where he’d marked her.
“Yay us for being all mature about our little disagreements now,” she said, arching her neck to give him better access. “And mmmm, that feels really good,” she added as he began to suck lightly on his mark.
“You know what else would feel really good?” he purred, kissing his way down her body to where she’d already let her legs drop open.
Not one to ignore an invitation, he licked until she was panting and tilting her hips up, then pulled her clit into his mouth and sucked her into a quick orgasm. While she was still recovering, he rolled onto her and nudged his way into her familiar warmth. Buffy’s legs came up around his hips and she began moving under him before he was even fully seated.
“In a hurry, are you, love?” he said with an audible smile in his voice.
“I want to be sure you’re tired and satisfied before we go to sleep,” she mumbled as they fell into a familiar rhythm that built into something that had her biting his shoulder and digging her nails into his back. Not to be outdone, Spike pounded into her, knowing she could take it and give back as good as she got. Between Buffy’s muffled shrieks and gasps, and his growls, an onlooker might have been hard put to say if they were having sex or trying kill each other.
Not having that problem themselves, they allowed their pleasure to build until they mutually sank their teeth into the nearest flesh while their bodies shook with the force of their release. They came down slowly, licking each other’s wounds and relaxing tense muscles. Buffy’s arms fell to her sides and her legs dropped from where they’d pinned him in place. With a lingering kiss, Spike rolled just far enough off that he didn’t have his whole weight on her, but was still draped across her body.
“Make up sex is the best sex,” Buffy said with a happy sigh. “We should fight more often.”
“Wasn’t a fight,” he muttered, nibbling on her shoulder. “Was a misunderstanding.”
“Fine. We should misunderstand each other more often.” She rolled her eyes, knowing he would be able to see it if he was looking at her face.
“Probably not going to be a problem, love,” he said with a soft laugh she could feel shaking his chest. “If I know us, we’ll be feeling the need for more make up sex in no time.”
“Um huh,” she murmured. “Sadly true. But let’s save it for after we take care of Warren tomorrow. I want to sleep now.”
“Whatever you want.” I love you, Buffy.
Love you too, Spike. Night.
Night, love.
Chapter Fourteen
 Been dealing with a nasty virus for almost a week and have been either coughing too hard to think or type, or too drugged for either thing. Therefore, I'm only one full chapter ahead of this one and may have to take another week or so hiatus if I can't get back into the groove. We'll see. I am much better now and able to cut way back on the drugs, so hoping I can get more done over the weekend.

In the meantime, moving right along to Chapter 14 behind the cut. Any mistakes are probably due to my drug-induced fiddling and all4spike is not responsible for them. :)
After sitting down with Max and Tara over coffee in Max’s much larger kitchen, Buffy and Spike filled them in on the plan for the day.
“If we can catch Warren at home, before Willow has time to go looking for him, maybe we can convince him to leave Sunnydale.”
“Nothin’ like knowing your sk—” A nudge from Buffy reminded him that Tara had no idea what kinds of things Willow did in their time. “Sorry. Forgot who I was speaking to for a moment. Point is, if we get there first and can convince him to get out of town, we can keep Willow from doing anything she’s going to regret.”
“So, is this just like in your time then?” Tara asked with genuine curiosity. “What happened then? What did Willow do that you’re trying so hard not to tell me she did?”
“Not as blonde as you look, are you, luv?” Spike said with a warm smile. “An’ you’ll need to ask Buffy. Everything I know is second hand.”
Tara frowned at him. “But you said you were there when we lost our memories.”
“When Willow removed everyone’s memories,” Max reminded her gently.
Buffy looked temporarily nonplussed, then said, “In our time, she did take all our memories, including her own. But it was accidental­—she only meant to do you… and maybe me… which doesn’t make it any better I guess. But she wasn’t mad when you left her so much as she was sad about it. And she had no reason to blame it on Warren then. He had nothing to do with it.”
Buffy sighed and continued. “You and Willow had already been having arguments about how much magic she was using for little things. Once she tried to wipe out your memories of it… well… you did the same thing then that you did last night. You broke up with her. And you stayed broken up for a long time. She really worked hard not to use so much magic for everyday stuff during that time, and you were working your way back to trusting her again. Then, just when you and Willow kissed and made up, Warren got really, really mad at me for messing up all his plans and sending Andrew and Jonathan to jail, so he did something stupid-dumb. And awful.”
“He shot me,” Tara said softly. “He shot me, and she went crazy.”
“Whoa! I didn’t think she…. she told you that?”
“It was in her letter from herself, and she read that part to me to help me understand why she worried about me so much. But she didn’t tell me what happened after I…. died.”
“I’ll bet she didn’t,” Spike muttered, wincing when Buffy kicked him in the shin.
“I don’t think you need to know anything about that other than it was really bad in our time, and even worse in Winston’s. But it happened much later in the year, and when the dust settled, Willow went back to England with Giles to recover and work with the Council’s coven.”
“And when the First Evil tried to take over the world, he used Meers’ image to control Andrew and bring the…. well, never mind that. Point is, we’re trying to keep the wanker as un-evil and alive as we can this time around.”
“It’ll be a lot easier if he’ll just listen to us and stop trying to be some kind of master criminal. Maybe we should just tell him if he doesn’t stop being evil, he’s going to die… painfully.” Buffy frowned. “I’d do that if I thought he’d believe us without wanting to know why we’re so sure of it.”
“I can assure him he’s going to die painfully without letting on we know it happened in another time,” Spike growled, not hiding his meaning. When Buffy glared at him he said with a shrug, “Sorry, love, I’m not sayin’ I think I’d have to do it. Could be I can just scare the evil out of him once he understands I’m not as hobbled as he thinks I am.”
“If he’s talked to Jonathan and Andrew, he probably already knows you aren’t chipped... anymore,” she added for Tara’s benefit.
“Well, there you have it. A few minute’s chat with my demon, and he’ll be on his way to church to confess his evil ways.” Spike sat back with a satisfied smile.
Tara was looking back and forth between them in horror. “But that all happened because I died!” she said. “All I did this time was break up with her.”
“That’s quite true,” Max said soothingly. “She has much less reason to be angry at him this time. He isn’t responsible for the break-up, it was Willow’s attempt to control your memory that caused you to leave. Surely she can see that?”
Buffy gnawed her lip. “You’d think so. But she was really mad when she left last night. I didn’t get the feeling she thought it was her fault. She was blaming him for telling Tara something that started the fight, and….” Buffy shared a frightened look with Spike. “And Winston for breaking the spell she thought had fixed the problem.”
She turned her worried gaze to Max. “You don’t think—”
He shook his head. “I imagine that possibility has already occurred to Winston, and he’s taken the necessary precautions.  Willow is very powerful, but she would be quite out of her league there.”
Buffy relaxed a little and sighed. “I hope you’re right—oh, not about how strong he is, just that he’s going to be watching for… anything. I mean, Tara knows magic, and she didn’t know Willow had put a spell on her.”
Max gave what would have been on anyone else, a smirk. He patted Tara’s hand as he said, “Tara’s wonderful gift for healing, as well as the magic she can pull from the earth, would not prepare her for sensing evil intentions. Particularly from someone she trusts.”
He sighed, almost sadly. “Winston will not have those barriers to sensing a magical attack. Trust me.”
“Okaaaay. On that note, I guess we need to call Giles and see what time they want to visit Warren today.” 
Buffy smiled at Tara. “When we get back, Spike and I can drive you to the apartment to get your stuff.” She frowned. “Which isn’t going to be very useful unless we can find a place to stash it until you get a place to stay. Maybe my mom would let you use her garage….”
“Oh, we forgot to tell you. Max has a small furnished apartment on the second floor that’s vacant right now. I’m going to rent it until I finish the school year and then—”
“And then we will see where things stand,” Max said. “But I can at least take that worry off her mind.”
“And keep her safe from Red’s mojo at the same time,” Spike said with a grin. “You are a sly one.”
“I have my moments,” Max agreed in his usual calm manner, but Buffy thought she spotted a twinkle in his eye.
“’K then. We’ll let you know when we’re done.”
After speaking with Giles and agreeing to meet him and Winston on a street corner near Warren’s home, Buffy and Spike left the apartment and began walking.
“Do we want to use the car?”
Buffy shook her head. “We’ve got plenty of time and I need the exercise.” Buffy frowned at Spike. “Do you want to drive?”
“It’s not so much that I want to drive, as it is I was just thinkin’ about what Giles said about not letting the big poof know about the ring, or that I have it. No sense givin’ him more to be foamin’ at the mouth about than we already have. And the more I’m out walking about in daylight, the more likely word might spread that far. Not all demons are nocturnal, as you well know, love. Would be just like him to have one or two locals on the payroll, so to speak, keeping track of us.”
Buffy sighed and stopped walking. “Wow. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I might end up having to think of Angel as somebody to worry about. Angelus, hell yes, but not Angel.”  She glared in the approximate direction of Los Angeles. “On the other hand, I didn’t know he would ever do anything like try to claim me without my permission, so good call on your part, I guess. Okay, let’s use the car.”
A quick side trip to pick up Spike’s car still put them in Warren’s neighborhood with time to spare.  Spike parked a full block away from their destination and they walked slowly toward the house in question.
“I guess if Andrew and Jonathan had wards and cameras, he will too.”
“Yeah, he’ll have something. Might be he’s so into the techno stuff that it’s all electronic or mechanical though. The magic is more the useless twosome’s thing, I think.”
“Or not,” he muttered as they got closer. “Can you feel that, Slayer?”
“Feel what?” She took another step. “Oh, I feel something – like there’s something holding me back? Like it’s just too uncomfortable to keep going forward.”
“Yeah. I’d guess he’s got something up. Doubt it’s magical if we can both feel it—more like some kind of vibrations that get more uncomfortable the closer we get.” He winced. “And that hurt my ears. I’m guessing he’s using sound waves somehow.”
“I’ll vibrate him,” Buffy growled, shaking her head against the high-pitched whine she could now feel in her own head, and pushing herself forward in spite of the way her body was fighting it.
“Hold on, love. Here come the big guns…. Bloody hell! And Willow.”
Just as Giles and Winston reached them and started to comment upon the barrier, they spotted Willow storming up from another direction.  Ignoring them, she paused at the first bit of discomfort, then snarled, “A vibration barrier? I don’t think so!” She threw up one hand, chanting loudly. Buffy cringed when Willow’s hair stood out from her head and her eyes began to darken.
“You take the house, I’ll take Willow,” Winston said as he and Giles moved apart.
There was a popping noise and the unpleasant vibrations ended, allowing Buffy and Spike to move closer to both Willow and the house. When Warren emerged from the house, a weapon of some sort in his hand, he found himself trapped behind a new barrier­—one that Giles was holding in place with both hands.
“We’ve got this,” he said to the puzzled and angry young man. “We’ll be ready to speak with you shortly.”
“I’ve got nothing to say to you… and who the hell are you, anyway?” He turned his gaze on Buffy and Spike. “It’s Buffy-the-pain-in-my-ass and her neutered—” He stopped himself, frowning as he looked from Spike’s demon visage and up to the sun overhead.
Spike grinned at him through his fangs. “Not neutered, and not as unable to get around in the daytime as you might have thought when you tried to stake me in my sleep.”
Warren turned his gaze back on Willow, who was in an obvious stand-off with Winston.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
 She glared back at him, her eyes still darkened. “I’ll take care of you in just a minute. I have to take care of Mr. Mr. Busy-body here first. I’ll get back to you.”
Answering for Willow, Buffy said, “We’re here to keep her from doing anything she might regret. You can thank us later.”
Willow turned back to Winston. “You can’t stop me. If you try your stupid immobilization trick on me, I’ll just—”
She raised her hands to throw a blast of dark magic at him, only to find herself thwarted. The magic blast flickered and died before it had gone more than a foot from her. Her eyes were still wide with surprise when, with a flick of his wrist, Winston froze her in place, leaving only her head free so that she could see what was going on around her.
“You’ll just what, Willow?” he said, his voice soft, but his expression harder than she’d seen it since it since he’d frozen Doc.
Unaware of what had just happened in front of him, Warren stared at Willow whose expression had gone from surprised to furious, although she remained still.
“What could she possibly do to me?” Warren snorted. He hefted the odd-looking weapon in his hand and gestured at Willow. At a nod from Giles, signaling that he’d dropped the temporary barrier, Spike leapt onto the porch and knocked the gun from Warren’s hand.
“Guess I was right, huh? A ray-gun was on the nerd agenda.” Spike picked up the funny-looking gun, snarling a warning at Warren when he tried to stop him with a punch to his head.  To everyone’s surprise, the punch rocked Spike back on his heels and his snarl deepened. He backhanded Warren, who blocked it and punched the now furious vampire again. Before Spike could follow up on his snarled threats, Buffy darted past him and quickly frisked Warren for theOrbs of Neezla'khanshe guessed he was drawing strength from. After a tense moment of dodging his attempts to hit her, she located the pouch and snatched it away, dancing out of his reach.
“Got ‘em,” she said. “Now you can hit him back.”  
Warren pivoted and dove back into his house, leaving Spike snarling helplessly on the other side of the normal vampire barrier. Warren retreated farther into the house and Buffy sighed. “I’ll be right back. You hold his balls,” she said as she handed the orbs to Giles before sprinting after Warren as he ran toward what she assumed, from all the equipment and computers, was his lab.
When he realized she was right behind him, Warren turned at bay, holding a flask of something green.
“Stay away from me,” he said. “Or I’ll blow us both up.”
“I doubt that,” Buffy snorted. “All you’ve ever cared about is yourself. You’re not likely to do anything that’s going to hurt you. Or mess up all your toys here,” she added glancing around the room.
“What are you even doing here?” he almost wailed.
“Trying to keep you alive and to make your rethink all your evil plans,” Buffy said with a sigh.
“If you’re trying to keep me alive, why is your pet vampire threatening to kill me?”
“Well, you did hit him,” Buffy pointed out. “But really we’re just here to keep Willow from doing it.”
“Willow? The witch? What could she possibly do to me?”
Buffy cocked her head and studied him. “You really, really don’t want an honest answer to that question. All you need to know is having Spike bite you or break your neck would be the easy way out.”
Warren stared at her calm expression and unwavering gaze, and lowered his arm to put the flask on the counter.
“How do you know so much about me? How did you know about the Orbs?”
“Sorry, that’s on a need-to-know basis,” Buffy said. “We’ll just wait for Winston and Giles to handle Willow and then we’ll decide what to say to you.”
Handle” her?What are they going to do?”
“That’s another one of those things you probably really don’t want to know….” She gestured toward the front door. “Let’s go see what’s going on out there now, ‘k?”
With obvious reluctance, Warren followed her to the door, refusing to step through the barrier that was keeping Spike outside. Spike snorted and sat on the steps to watch as Giles tried to talk to Willow. Although she couldn’t move, she could see and hear everything that was going on. With a small twitch of his finger, Winston allowed her to speak, ready to rescind it immediately if she tried to do a spell.
Willow gave him a look that could have killed, but said, “You made your point. You can let me go now.”
Winston sighed heavily. “I wish I could believe that, Willow, but I think I’ll wait until we’ve talked for a bit.”
She broke off the chant she’d already begun as soon as she realized she was unable to accompany it with the necessary hand gestures. Having proven his caution to be valid, she snarled in his direction, her eyes flashing with fury and frustration.
“I might talk to Giles, but I’ve got nothing to say to you,” she said, then turned her glare on Buffy and Spike.  “And why are you two here?”
Giles answered for them, saying calmly, “We were all meeting here to speak with Mr. Meers and explain to him both the danger and the futility of his continuing to pursue his experiments in magical and technological criminal endeavors. Our hope was to have completed our task and resolved the problems before you could follow through on your obvious anger against him for telling Tara what you’d been doing.”
Buffy glanced over her shoulder to see Warren’s expression darken at the casual explanation of why they were all in his front yard, she nudged Spike with her foot and moved nearer to the door in case she needed to be within reach of Warren for some reason. Spike was playing with the gun that he’d taken from Warren, but watching carefully as Giles tried to reason with Willow.
“So you’re all here to make sure I don’t what­­—kill and skin him?”  
Warren’s gasp had Buffy moving even closer.
“What the fuck is she talking about?” he asked, almost in a whisper.
“I’m sure she’s speaking rhetorically or metaphorically, or whatever the word is that means she doesn’t really mean she’d do that,” Buffy whispered back in what she hoped was a reassuring manner.
“Then why did all four of you think you needed to get here before she did?” He narrowed his eyes with suspicion, and Buffy had to remind herself that he was just as intelligent as he was evil. She was careful when she gave her response.
“We knew she was really mad at you last night, and we just didn’t want her to accidentally do anything she’d be sorry about after she cooled off.”
“All I did was tell her girlfriend what she’d been doing with black magics. It’s not like that was a lie, or like I killed somebody!”
Buffy stared at him, then said quietly, “We’re going to get to that.”
“I said I haven’t killed anybody. What do you mean you’ll ‘get to that’?” Instead of looking offended, Warren was staring at her with even more suspicion.
“Two words: Freeze ray. Now just shut up and let Giles concentrate on Willow,” she muttered, turning back to the scene in the front yard.
His eyes grew wide, but he was silent as he watched with her.
Chapter Fifteen
“I’m assuming that won’t be necessary,” Giles replied smoothly to Willow’s comment about skinning Warren. “Surely you would never do such a terrible thing just because learning the truth caused Tara to leave you? She’s taken herself out of your life because you abused your power and tried to control her, not because she learned you’d been lying to her about your activities.
“That is the true issue, and one for which you must accept responsibility. Mr. Meers may have provided Tara with specific information she needed to have, but she was already uncomfortable with your behavior and already wondering if she should stay with someone so interested in dark magics. All his information did was confirm suspicions she already had. It was your response that pushed her over the edge.”
He looked at Willow with as much sympathy as he could put into his expression, getting nothing in return but another glare, this one just barely tinged with doubt.
“You are a brilliant woman, Willow, and you’ve always had a good heart. I feel sure if you allow yourself to accept that it was your own behavior that caused this rift between you and Tara, and that it was your attempt to control her by magically removing her memories of that rift that was the final straw, you will understand there is only one person to blame here. And it is neither the admittedly reprehensible man we will deal with shortly, nor your good friend, the man who merely freed the woman you claim to love from your inappropriate effort to control her.”
Willow’s angry stare went from Giles to Warren, who was trying to hide behind the much shorter Slayer in front of him, to Buffy, whose face showed nothing by sorrow, to Spike, whose sympathetic expression seemed to momentarily surprise her, to Winston, who gazed back, his affection for her as clear as was his willingness to confine her until he felt she was safe to be around. She remained silent long enough for Winston’s tentative smile to fade and for Giles to step far enough away to be safe from any magical retaliation from either one.
However, by the time she’d finished her survey of all the people waiting for her to respond, Willow’s expression had become more thoughtful than angry.  With a sigh, she nodded her head, her face contorting in anguish as tears flowed down her cheeks.
Winston stared thoughtfully at her for a moment, as if assessing the sincerity of her tears, then moved his wrist, causing Willow to stumble at the sudden release. She collapsed onto Giles, who put his arms around her and murmured to her soothingly until she pulled back and wiped a hand across her eyes. She took a deep breath and exhaled with a sigh.
“I’m sorry, guys. I don’t know what got into me.” She looked at Buffy and shook her head. “You tried to tell me. I should have listened to you.” She cast another glance back at Winston. “About everything,” she added, although her glance at him didn’t carry quite the same regret as when she looked at Buffy.
Buffy nodded her understanding, flickering her glance at Winston who smiled briefly. His own relief at not having had to actually harm Willow was clear on his face.
“It’ll be all right, Willow. Why don’t you let Giles take you home, or back to the Magic Box, while the rest of us deal with the wannabe master criminal here?”
Giles and Winston exchanged a quick glance. The silent communication was all it took for Giles to nod and gesture to his car parked several houses down the street.
“That sounds like an excellent idea. Come, Willow, let’s go have a cuppa and leave dealing with this wanker to the more violence-prone people in our group.”
“You said ‘wanker’!” Willow said with a snort as she allowed him to lead her away.
“When the shoe fits….” His voice trailed off as they walked away, leaving Winston, Buffy, and Spike to turn their eyes on a wary Warren Meers.
“There’s no way,” he blustered. “No matter how much those two morons I have to work with might have told you, you can’t know anything about what I’ll be doing from now on. You don’t know the future.”
“Of course not,” Buffy said with a fake smile. “We’re just making guesses here. But why don’t we go inside and talk about how important it is for you to make better choices from here on out?”
She walked into the house and pointed to the living room and its assortment of well-used furniture. Warren started to object, then laughed when Spike found himself on the outside of the invisible barrier. The laugh tapered off to a gulp when Winston strolled in with a soft “Come in, Spike” as he passed the vampire.  When Spike grinned and followed him, Warren stared at Winston in dismay.
“You don’t live here! I know my vamp rules. He can’t come in unless I invite him.”
“And yet, here I am,” Spike said, sprawling casually across a lumpy chair.
“How did you do that?” Warren demanded, ignoring Spike to glare at Winston.
“Easily,” was the terse reply. “Now why don’t you sit down?”
Warren gazed around the room at the three people staring back at him, then walked to a tall stool and perched on it, enabling him look down on those seated.  He stared back and forth between Spike and Buffy, then his gaze went back to Winston, who seemed like such a perfectly normal human man, but clearly wasn’t.
Putting on a smarmy, just-between-us smile, he addressed Winston.
“So, you’re the magic muscle now in this little band of Slayer sidekicks?” he said. “I don’t know what she’s paying you, but I can do better. Between your magic and my skills, we could have this town at our feet in no time.”
Instead of responding to Warren, Winston raised an eyebrow at Spike. “You’re on,” he said.
Be careful. I think he’s already suspicious of what we know.
Got it, love. No talking about things we shouldn’t know yet.
Spike walked up to Warren and looked him in the eye, allowing his demon to emerge slowly. When Warren had flinched away from him, he went back to his human visage.
“Just wanted to remind you what I really am,” he said softly. “And that Willow isn’t the only one who can think of creative and painful ways for you to die.”
Avoiding what Spike was suggesting, Warren responded with, “How did you even get here? It’s ten o’clock in the morning and the sun is shining.”
“All you need to know is that I can. You aren’t safe in the daylight, and now, thanks to Winston here, I have an invite to your house. All you need to know is that the Slayer can and will kick your arse if she has to.  And I can tear your throat out if it seems like a good idea…. or if I’m feeling peckish….”  His eyes lingered on the pulse pounding in Warren’s neck and they took on an amber tinge as his attention wandered. Warren flinched away from him again, his expression fearful but still seeming defiant.
“Spike! Focus.”
“Bugger! Sorry, love. Where was I? Oh, right, I was explaining to the genius here why he wants to listen to us when we tell him he needs to change his ways.” He held up a hand and ticked off on his fingers.  “The Slayer can kick your arse, I can make you wish you’d never been born, and Winston here, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you can see is the real deal when it comes to magic, unlike those two losers you keep asking to raise demons for you.” He gave a fangy smile. “You prob’ly don’t want to know what he could do to you.” He dropped his game face and turned away. “And none of us is planning to let you become some master criminal here or anywhere else.”
“It’s a free country,” was Warren’s somewhat feeble reply.
“It is indeed,” Winston said, standing up and gesturing to Buffy and Spike. “We are simply here to point out that actions have consequences, and your actions, if we don’t like them, could have very unpleasant consequences. How you deal with that information is entirely up to you.”
Without another word, all three left the small building and began walking toward Spike’s parked car.
“What do you think?” Buffy asked, looking between the two of them.
“You two are more familiar with him than I am,” Winston said. “Does it seem to you that he will be reasonable?”
“You’d be the expert here, pet. I never had much to do with him after… after last year. And wasn’t in a position to help you if I’d known I needed to. As grateful as I am that the chip gave us a chance to know each other better, I’m not sorry I don’t have it anymore and can back you up against human evil.”
Buffy sighed. “Okay, well, in our time, he started out with small stuff, like making time go wonky—” She stopped and smiled at Spike who was growling. “No, before that time. It was annoying but not—not like what happened then.”  She touched his face. “I should have listened to you.”
He smiled softly and leaned into her hand, then began to smirk. “Could you repeat that please? For the record? You heard her, didn’t you, Winnie?”
“Very funny,” she said, pushing him off the sidewalk. Turning back to Winston, she continued to run through the things Warren and his minions had done, ending with the attempted armored car robbery and Warren’s jet-pack-powered escape.
“So, Jonathan and Andrew went to jail, and Warren disappeared until he came back with a gun and shot me and Tara. Of course, this time, I’ve already taken his magic balls away, so he’s not going to be able to beat me up.” She frowned. “Which, now that I think about it, kinda makes a gun his next choice…I didn’t think about that. We haven’t left him very many ways to stop us from interfering now….”
Winston frowned. “So heis capable of premeditated murder, not just as a side effect of something else or accidentally.” He looked thoughtful. “That may put a different slant on how we need to deal with him.”
Buffy chewed her lip. “I guess it does, now that I think about it. I mean that stupid freeze-ray gun killed the museum guard. And when they turned me invisible, they were going to let me dissolve into a puddle of goo, and then with Trina…. killing her might have been an accident, but drugging her and keeping her prisoner wasn’t.”
She looked from Winston to Spike. Both men were wearing identical expressions as they waited for her to acknowledge the damage she knew Warren to be capable of.
“Okay, fine,” she sighed. “He’s evil. And he’ll probably hurt or kill somebody if we can’t stop him.” She looked at Spike hopefully. “Maybe you scared him straight?”
He snorted. “Right. He swore off evilness immediately.”  As they reached the car, he put his arm around her. “I’m sorry, love. But you know all I did was give him something to think about. Could tell he was frightened, but I’ll wager he was counting on you to step in if I actually bit him. He wasn’t nearly as terrified as he should have been.”
“Maybe he’s just a good actor,” she said with a stubborn pout. “You don’t know.”
“I do know, Buffy. I’m a predator. And one with years of experience enjoyin’ the way my prey is feeling. Could hear his heartbeat, smell his sweat, hear if there was a hitch in his voice…. I rattled his cage, but he never felt in fear of his life. Now, how much of it was because you were there, and how much of it was just stupidity on his part, I can’t tell you that.  For all we know he had to change his trousers when he had time to think about how close he may have come to dying. But I’m not countin’ on it.”
As Winston got into the back seat where Spike had tossed the confiscated gun, Buffy opened her door while Spike went around and got into the driver’s seat.
“So, back to the Magic Box to see how Rupert and Red are doing?”
Willow and Giles were enjoying cups of tea and some store-bought cookies when the others arrived. He got up immediately to get another cup for Winston who smiled his gratitude while Buffy and Spike shook their heads.
“None for us, thanks. We’re not staying long. Spike wants to get his car back into its hiding place before some demon recognizes it and wonders how it got here in the middle of the day.”
“Are you still determined to maintain the fiction that you are an ordinary vampire?” Giles asked innocently.
“Oy! There’s nothing ordinary about me!” Spike said with a growl.
Buffy giggled at his indignant expression and Winston didn’t try to hide his amused snort.
“Well I’m not,” Spike grumbled, looking only slightly embarrassed at himself.
“We all know that, honey,” Buffy said soothingly. “I’m sure that’s not what Giles meant.”
Smothering his own smirk, Giles nodded. “Quite so. I simply meant that you were not advertising exactly how not ordinary you are in many ways.”
“Decided you were right about the big poof,” Spike said, looking slightly mollified. “The less he knows about what I can and can’t do, the less nosy he’ll be about what’s goin’ on here.”
Winston glanced at Buffy. “Did you have any interactions with him in your time this year?”
“Just the one time we met at a diner half-way between here and LA so he could see for himself that I was all alive and… alive.”  She glanced at Spike and Willow before saying, “It didn’t go well. He couldn’t even tell how miserable I was, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the vampire who understood me.”
“And there’s no reason for that meeting now, given that you haven’t died and been resurrected.”
“Exactly. No meeting this time. Not to mention, I’m still pissed off at him for that whole claim thing. If he’s smart, he’ll stay away from me for… I dunno, a couple of decades?”
Everybody chuckled in agreement. Buffy put the gun on the table in front of Willow.
“Here, I brought you a new toy. I’m guessing this is the freeze ray gun, because there’s no reason for him to want to make us invisible but I’m not sure. You can play with it. Maybe it will be useful.”
Willow began to turn the gun over in her hands, looking at it with great interest. She smiled up at Buffy.
“Thanks. By the way, before you go, how long did you say Tara and I were broken up in your time? Give or take,” she added when Buffy looked uncertain.
“I really don’t remember.” Buffy glanced at Spike. “But it was a few months, at least. Right?”
“Somethin’ like that,” he said quietly. “If I didn’t know how poncy I’d sound, I could probably give you exact dates.”
Months?”  Willow’s face fell. “It already feels like forever, and it’s only been a day! Why did it take so long?”
“You had to earn back her trust,” Buffy said softly. “And she had to see that you really were cutting back on using magic for everyday things, not just pretending to be doing less.”  She gave Willow a smile and touched her hand. “It’s going to take a while, Will. But it’ll be worth it. She… she missed you too. But she knew she had to be strong for both of you.”
“And you’re going to make sure Warren can’t shoot anybody this time, right?”
Although she was only looking at Buffy and Spike, Winston and Spike responded simultaneously:
“You got it, Red.”
“I think months seems kind of excessive….” Willow muttered, smiling brightly when she saw the worried looks on their faces.  “But it’s fair. Totally fair. I mean, Tara broke up with me, so I have to win her back. I get that.”  She waved at Buffy and Spike. “You guys have a good day.”
Trying not to seem as dubious as she was, Buffy waved her own goodbye and followed Spike out the door.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“If it’s that Willow never even acknowledged Winston’s presence, then yes. If it’s that she seemed to be thinkin’ about shortening the time she’s without Tara… then I think she doesn’t know her as well as she thinks she does. Under that softness is a lot of steel.”
“You think she fooled us all today?”
He sighed. “Not so much fooled anybody, as hasn’t really changed as much as we’d like. She’s sorry, yeah, but still lookin’ for the easy answer.”
“Not to mention, she’s kinda pissed off at Winston.”
“That too,” he said quietly. “There are some fences to be mended there.”
When Spike had put his car away in its normal place, he put an arm around Buffy and gestured toward his crypt.
“What say we visit our vacation home for a while before we go to your mum’s for dinner?”
“Ummmm,” she murmured as he nibbled on her neck. “That sounds like one of your better plans.”
“I thought so,” he agreed, pulling her in to a long kiss that left her breathing heavily and leaning on him for support.
They walked to the crypt hand-in-hand, until Spike stopped and growled.
“What?” Buffy went on alert immediately, sending her own senses out.
“Can smell the two idiot wankers. Not fresh, but recent enough. Let me go first, yeah?”
“So I can watch you dust if they’ve rigged a trap?” Buffy snorted. “I don’t think so.”
“Fine, let’s go in the back door,” he growled, pulling her toward the nearest manhole.
It was only a matter of minutes before they were working their way toward the lower entrance to the crypt. Spike stopped to sniff frequently, but shook his head when she asked if he smelled them.
“Not down here, I don’t,” he said. “And it looks like our back gate hasn’t been tampered with.” He examined the heavy metal barrier he’d installed against any surprises coming from the tunnels. The key he’d hidden in a small niche in the wall was still there, and he unlocked the gate and relocked it after they were through.
A quick look and sniff around his bedroom indicated it had not been visited, so he went silently up the ladder. Lifting the plywood cover just enough to peer around, it took him only a little time to locate a small camera not quite hidden next to one of the larger candles. He pointed and made shushing motions to Buffy as he let the plywood slip back into place.
“What do you think?” she whispered when they were sitting on the bed.
“No idea, pet. We’ll have to disable them before we leave, but I don’t want them to see us come up from down here, so we’ll have to go out and around. I didn’t see any traps, just a camera. We’ll take a good hard look before we leave.”
“When do you think they did it?”
He shrugged. “I’ll be able to tell more when I’ve got it in my hand,” he said. “I’d say they probably did it before we had our little chat with them and we just didn’t notice because we came and went through the tunnels the other night and never went upstairs. Who knows? They could really be stupid enough to have done it this morning. Either way, I’m going to make it clear this home is off limits just as much as the apartment.”
“Guess we should have had Winston or Max do the wards right away instead of waiting,” Buffy sighed. “These guys are really getting on my nerves….”
“Mine too,” he admitted as he fell back and pulled her on top of him. “Must be something we can do to relax those nerves, don’t you think?”
Chapter Sixteen
“Feelin’ better, love?” Spike purred as he lowered her from his face and left her draped across his body.
“A little bit,” Buffy said, playing with his nipple. “But I think I still have some nerves that need soothing.” She rolled all the way onto him and sat up. She felt his cock swelling beneath her and smiled as it nudged against her bottom. “You’re so easy,” she teased.
“I am when I’ve got your warm little arse sittin’ on me. Don’t think I’ve got it in me to turn that down.”
“Well, let’s just put it away then, okay?” Buffy blinked her eyes innocently as she raised and lowered herself until she could feel him filling her. “That’s better, don’t you think?”
His response was an incoherent growl as he pushed his hips up.
“What was that? I don’t think I heard you. Did you say ‘Get off me’?” She giggled when he grabbed her hips, holding her in place. “I’ll take that as a no,” she said, her voice dropping to a lower register as she started one of their favorite games.
She began squeezing him, gently at first but steadily increasing the pressure. In return, he’d stopped moving his hips and just held her still while he went into his demon face and used his curved cock to touch places most human men wouldn’t have been able to. Without either of them seeming to be exerting any effort, their sighs and moans increased and the expressions on their faces showed them how clearly they were reaching the point where one or the other of them was going to win the game.
Spike’s shout of “Buffy!” as his hips pushed up preceded her gasping collapse onto his chest by only enough time for her to claim a hard-won victory.
“I won,” she mumbled against him, now lying flat against his body, but with his spent cock still inside her.
“Best two out three?” His inability to summon even a twitch putting the lie to his words.
“You wish,” she snorted, also unable to summon enough energy for anything but a feeble squeeze that ended almost before it began.
His chest vibrated under her head as he laughed.
“I do. But I reckon it makes more sense to check out what we need to see upstairs and then be on our way to your mum’s.”
“As soon as I can move.”  She rested for another minute, then dropped a kiss on his chest as she rolled off to the side and sat up. “Okay. I’m moving. Let’s go.”
Dressed and recovered, they went out the way they’d come in, again re-locking the gate behind them and walking through the sewer quickly. A peek out the manhole cover showed that it was already late afternoon, and Buffy gasped in surprise.
“How long were we in there? It’s almost dark already!”
“Time flies when you’re havin’ fun, love,” he said with a laugh. “At least I don’t have to worry they’ll see me walking in the daylight.” He frowned. “Reckon it doesn’t matter now, though, does it? Already showed their boss I can do it.”
“You know what I don’t like?”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Jack Daniels straight from the bottle?”
She swatted at him, but couldn’t smother a laugh.  “No doofus. I don’t like that they know so much about us that they know where we live and that we have a hideout.”
“Does kind of defeat the purpose of a hideout, doesn’t it?” he agreed. “They must have been watching us a bloody lot more closely than we thought. And for longer.”
Muttering about what she was going to do to the pains in her butt, Buffy pulled the door open and waited for Spike to go in first and use his better night vision to scan the room. In addition to the camera they’d already spotted from below, they noticed another one on a shelf at the very back of the crypt. Tracks in the dust showed where two people had entered at some point since Buffy and Spike had last been in the upper room of the crypt.
You get that camera, love. I’ll get the one at the back and see if I can sniff out or hear anything else.
Okay. Can I yell threats at them before I smash it?
“Whatever you want, Slayer,” he said, laughing as he walked past the first camera without looking at it. Coming in from the side, Buffy snatched it off the shelf and put it lens-down on the floor. Before smashing it, she stood still and stared around, trying to see where the footprints went, but it was too dark for her eyes. As if reading her mind, Spike lit a candle next to the other camera.
“Just stay still until I can see where the footprints go, then we’ll know where else to look.”
He put the camera he’d picked up into his coat pocket and moved slowly toward her, watching the floor for any sign the other footsteps had veered off anywhere, but they seemed to go nowhere except to and from the two cameras they’d seen.
“Looks okay, Slayer. What do you want to do with these two devices?” he asked as he pulled one from his pocket. “Got to assume they can hear as well as see us.” He stared into the lens and went into his demon face, snarling viciously.
Buffy picked hers up and said clearly, “What I want to do is take them to Andrew’s house and shove them up their—”  She dropped the camera and stepped on it, smashing it into pieces.  “Oops!” she said, smothering a giggle when Spike laughed aloud.
“Well done, love,” he said as he demolished the one he was holding by squeezing it until pieces began to fall out. “That thought should keep them on their toes for a bit.”
He snuffed out the candle and they left the crypt, closing both the inner and outer doors.
“You know, it’s not really locked just because we closed the doors,” Buffy said, making a face at him.
“Maybe we should do something about that.”
“Like what? I mean, there’s the bar on the inside, so we’re okay when we’re in there, but we can’t lock it from the outside.”
“Could put a padlock on it. That might at least slow somebody down.” He shrugged. “Or we could just always go in and out the way we have the last few times. If we use the tunnels to go in and out the way that does lock, we could just put the bar across the door on the inside and leave it that way. Could even pull something heavy across the door for backup.”
“It seems weird that we have to worry about something like that when we never did before.”
“Didn’t have wankers leaving cameras in my crypt before, did we?”
“Nope… but they had one in the Magic Box….”  Buffy moved slightly away from him.
“Think I’ve apologized for that enough for one lifetime,” he sighed. “Don’t you?”
“It depends. If I feel like being honest with myself, I know it was as much my fault—well, mine and Xander’s I guess—as yours. And I know I told you to move on, and I know you were both drunk, and…..” She peered at him from the corners of her eyes. “And then sometimes I just want to scratch Anya’s eyes out and beat you to a bloody pulp.”
“This Anya and I haven’t done anything, Buffy. And we aren’t going to, so just put those green eyes away.”
“I know,” she sighed. “Just finding cameras someplace we might be doing something we’d rather they weren’t watching…. It just kind it brought up those memories. You’d think I’d be okay by now.”
“As chuffed as I get when I know you’re jealous of some bint, I can’t tell you how much I regret having given you an actual reason for it.  But there’s not a bloody thing I can do to change that now. You know that, love, don’t you?”
“I do. I’m over it. Really.”
She ignored his quiet scoff.
While they walked to Joyce’s, Spike called Max and told him the crypt had had visitors. Max offered to come immediately to take care of it, but Spike interrupted him.
“We’re on our way to have dinner with Buffy’s mum, so tomorrow’ll be fine. I’ll bring the car ‘round so you don’t have to walk all the way to Restfield,” Spike said. “But we appreciate the offer. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I guess once Max has done his thing, we won’t have to worry about a lock on the front door,” Buffy said with a grin.
“I’m guessing not.”
They had a pleasant meal with Joyce and Dawn, who then prevailed upon Spike to help with her English homework while Buffy helped Joyce with the dishes.
“So, anything exciting happen today? Or do exciting things only happen at night?” Joyce smiled at Buffy, remembering that they had dealt with Glory while it was broad daylight.
“Yeah, kind of, I guess. With this year’s bad guys so far being humans, daytime can be pretty interesting sometimes.” Buffy went on to give Joyce a somewhat truncated story of what had happened already that morning.
“Willow? You were worried about what Willow would do?” Joyce sat down on a kitchen stool. “Why am I suddenly feeling out of the loop again?”
“Cause I don’t want you to have to deal with or think about loopy things now that we’ve taken care of Glory and Dawn is safe. I want the two of you to have as close to a normal life as you can.”
“My oldest daughter is a time-travelling slayer who goes out to fight evil every day and is living with a time-travelling vampire who she apparently is married to somehow. I think normal life left the building the day you were born.” The affectionate smile Joyce bestowed on Buffy took any sting from her words, and Buffy gave a rueful smile back.
“Touché, Mom”
“So, what am I missing about Willow?”
“In our time, Warren shot m­—Tara, and Willow went kind of magically nuts. She’s not as into the dark stuff this time around, but she has dabbled in it, and because she didn’t do some of the things she did in our time, she doesn’t think she needs to listen to us about how dangerous it is. This time, she was mad at Warren for telling Tara about what she’d been doing with black magic, which she thought Tara didn’t know about. They had a fight over it, and she used a spell to take away Tara’s memory of the fight and why they had it.  Which is kinda what she did in our time too, so we figured it out really fast. Winston broke the spell as soon as he realized what was going on, and Willow got really pissed off.”
“At Winston? Or the other one?”
“Both of them, I think, but it was Warren we thought she was going to go after, and we were afraid she might be planning to hurt him. We wanted to try to get rid of him before she could do anything she’d have to regret.
“And did you? Get ‘rid’ of him?” Joyce frowned at Buffy’s terminology.
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t think so. We just tried to scare him off. Maybe get him to leave town or at least not follow up with the stuff we know he might be planning.  He’s probably safe from Willow now, but I’m not sure how safe we are from him.”
She gave Joyce a hard look.
“Another reason to keep you out of it. Those idiot minions of his already almost got you killed, I don’t want them to even think about you or Dawn. They know I don’t live here now, so there’s no reason for him to come near you or this house.”
She shrugged. “Not that I think he could get in, or even close, with the wards up, but I’d just soon it didn’t occur to him.”
“I understand your concerns, Buffy, but wouldn’t we be safer if we knew about things like this? You don’t have to make us part of your team, but I’d really appreciate it if you could keep us aware of what’s going on and what we should watch out for.”
Buffy sighed. “You’re right, Mom. You win. If and when something happens or is going to happen that I think you need to know, I’ll call you, okay?”
“Okay. And thank you, honey. I know you’re used to being on your own and doing things without me, but since I’m still here in this time, I’d really like to feel like your mother once in a while.”
Buffy ran over and hugged Joyce tightly. “You are my mother! And you always will be. I can’t tell you how happy I am to still have you in my life this time around. I’m sorry if I made you feel like you weren’t important!”
They clung together for a moment, breaking apart with a laugh when Spike and Dawn peered into the kitchen.
“Are you two finished being all huggy and stuff?” Dawn asked. “Cause Spike isn’t helping me, he’s just making me look up the answers, so they might as well just go off and kill things.”
“And on that cheery note…” Joyce shook her head and gave Spike a grateful smile. He smiled back and nodded, having previously settled with Joyce that any help he gave on Dawn’s homework would be instructive, not a do-it for-her so she didn’t learn anything.
“I wonder why Dawn doesn’t’ ask me for homework help? I mean, not when it’s History or Latin or something like that, but when it’s more modern stuff. I am a high school graduate, you know!”
Spike chuckled at her offended snort, then said, more seriously, “I suspect it has  something to do with tryin’ to make me feel better about our relationship this time ‘round,” he said. “Once she had a chance to understand how much time we used to spend together while you were… gone, she softened her attitude, and I think she sussed out that what I say I feel for her is just as real as what you and your mum feel.”
“Oh. Well that makes sense, I guess. I’m sorry I kept you two apart so much when I came back. I didn’t know about all that bonding either, and I thought you were just trying to be more in my life.”
“Water under the bridge now, love,” he said, pulling her against his side. “We both made a lot of mistakes back then. I’m just glad we’re getting a second chance, and that we’re making the most of it.”
We are making the most of it, aren’t we? All claimed and everything.
More than I ever hoped for or expected, sweetheart. More than an old vamp had any right to wish for.
I think saving the world did a lot for your cred with the PTB.
I try. 
Buffy’s giggle was aloud and he joined in her quiet laughter.
“What say we hit a few cemeteries, and take ourselves home? At least we know there are no cameras waiting for us there.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
A couple of hours later, newly risen vampires having been summarily disposed of, they approached their building to see a familiar-looking car.
“Oh joy. Look what’s waiting for us,” Buffy said with a sigh.
“It’s not the poof, love. Just Oxford. Must be important for him to be camped out here on the street.”
They walked up to the car and tapped on the window, startling Wes out of his nap. He rubbed his face, then sat up and opened the door.
“What are you doing out here?” Buffy asked. “Why didn’t you knock on the office door?”
Wes shrugged. “When I couldn’t get any closer to your door than this, I just thought I’d wait for you.”  He raised an eyebrow at Spike. “I could understand why Angel was restricted to the pavement, but is there a reason the approach to your apartment is now warded against humans as well?”
“There is,” Spike said curtly. “Why don’t you follow us in and we can tell you about it after you tell us why you’re here?”
After locking his car, Wes followed them hesitantly, pausing at the curb, but Spike gestured to him.
“It’s not as formal as a vamp barrier. If we’re willing to have you in, we just have to say so.”
“Did Winston put up these wards?” Wes’s eyes widened at the implications of having something so subtle in place.
“Nope. Didn’t need him. We have a very special landlord.”
“I’d like to meet him.”
“Don’t doubt you would, but we don’t make appointments for him without his say so.”
Spike held the door open so Buffy and Wes could precede him into the apartment. Buffy gestured to the couch, saying, “So why don’t you tell us what’s so important you couldn’t just make a phone call?”
Chapter Seventeen
Before Wes could answer, Spike’s phone rang and he frowned.
“It’s late. Who the bloody hell….  Hello?” His face relaxed. “Ah, Max. Yeah, we do have a guest, but the big poof wasn’t with him, so we invited him in. Haven’t had a chance to ask him why he’s here yet. Do you want me to have him move the car?”
Buffy mouthed “our landlord” at Wesley while she waited for Spike to get an answer.
“Yeah, she’s­­–we’re fine. But thanks for checkin’ on us.” He saw Buffy’s frown and laughed. “I think you might be giving the Slayer a complex. She thinks it’s her job to worry about people, not ours to worry about her.”  He laughed again. “Will do. Thanks. Yeah, I’ll catch you in the morning about the other thing.”
Still laughing, he ended the call and gestured for Wes to sit back down. “He says it’s fine. As long as he knows who the car belongs to and that we’re okay with it, it can stay in front for the night.”
“Do cars not normally park there?”
“Only for short periods of time to conduct business with Max. And I guess the last time he saw yours was when you and Angel showed up to yell at Buffy about breaking the claim he’d put on her. He was just worried about her.”
Her is just fine, and can take care of herself,” Buffy muttered.
“That’s what I told him, so he said to tell you it was me he was worried about.”
“I guess you two think you’re funny,” she said, her lips twitching to hide a smile.
“We think we know you pretty well,” Spike said, blowing her a kiss. He took a beer from the fridge, raising an eyebrow at Wes who shook his head, then settled on a stool to drink it.
“Now then, you were about to tell us why you drove up here?”
Wesley sighed and settled back. “Angel doesn’t believe you’re the seer,” he said to Spike. “Apparently I wasn’t convincing enough when I told him that’s all I found out. I suspect he’s going to have people here, watching you and Buffy, and looking for… well, I’m not sure what he’ll be looking for, but—”
“Oh come on, we both know he’s still looking for some kind of reason to come ridin’ to the rescue when he figures out why Buffy’s with me.” Spike snorted his disgust and swallowed more beer.
“I was thinking… and I know you don’t want to tell me things you don’t think I should know… but if you could tell me one little thing to watch out for this year, maybe that will ease his mind a little. It could be something really vague…”
Spike shook his head. “Told you before, we don’t know what’s happening now. Especially in L.A. It’s all different. We’re working on some of the same problems here, but even those are different enough now that we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve got some idea what to watch out for, but no idea what events are coming for sure or when they might happen.”
Buffy added, “And we don’t know much at all about what’s happening where you are because we were here all year. And kind of busy with our own stuff. Angel didn’t know or care what was going on here­—and vice versa to be fair.”
“You don’t know either?” Wes asked Spike.
“Wasn’t near LA in this year in our time. I stayed home taking care of the Bit and then when Buffy…. I was here. The big poof and his doin’s were the last thing on my mind.” He shook his head, continuing, “I’ll give it some thought, but I’d have to be remembering conversations I might have overheard while I—“ Suddenly remembering that they’d told Wes nothing about how or when Spike was sent back, he stopped talking and shook his head when Wes tried to make him go on.
“Why couldn’t you call and ask us?” Buffy frowned her suspicion at him as she tried to change the subject. “That can’t be all you needed from us.”
Wes looked uncomfortable, then said, “I don’t believe Angel trusts me right now, and it just didn’t seem that a phone call, which could be overheard or monitored, was the best idea. If he knows I’m keeping something from him….”
“He’ll go all Angelus on you,” Spike said.
“That would not be in his best interest,” Wes said coldly, his face growing still. Suddenly it was much easier for them to picture him hunting demons on his own.
“Maybe Max was right and we shouldn’t have invited you in,” Spike said with a grin as he tipped his beer toward the couch.
“You and Buffy are quite safe from me,” Wes said. “However, I’m not convinced that’s true where my boss is concerned, and since I’m the one in possession of the correct information, I felt it was my duty to let you know that you need to be careful. I had an errand to run—a book store between here and LA had some things I wanted, so I just extended my trip a bit to see you.”  He made a wry face. “I don’t know why I didn’t remember that you work nights and might not be home.”
“And we appreciate it, Wes. We really do,” Buffy said. “At least we’ll know to watch for any strangers paying too much attention to us.” She snorted. “It’s not like we don’t already have enough nosy people of our own to worry about.”
Wes nodded. “The best we can do, I suppose. If I learn anything more specific, I’ll find a way to let you know. I suppose I can always leave the building to make a phone call…. But at least now you know there’s something to watch for.” He leaned back and asked, “So, what are the human problems you’re having? And how can I help?”
“The same wankers that were harassing Buffy earlier in the year. Behavin’ a bit differently in some ways, the same in others. The wanker-in-chief seems to be winding up to do some serious criminal mischief. But then he made the mistake of brassing off the wrong witch a bit earlier than he did in our time and we had some damage control to do.”
“Wrong witch? Willow?”
Buffy nodded. “She’s come a long way from the nerdy little high schooler you knew. And because of things that changed here, she thinks she shouldn’t have to listen to any warnings I give her about black magic.”
“What has that to do with the… um… wanker-in-chief?”
Buffy explained briefly about Rack and Willow’s involvement, and how Tara didn’t approve but hadn’t been sure about it until Warren told her. Buffy exchanged a glance with Spike, then shrugged. “No reason why you can’t know what’s going on now, I guess. You’ll know just as much as we do about what’s going to happen now.”
“Which is pretty much nothing,” Spike muttered. “Winston stopped whatever she was planning to do to Meers this morning, but we don’t know if she’s really over it.  She left with Giles,  and then we tried to put the fear of the Slayer, Spike and Winnie-the-wizard into Meers, but I doubt it worked.”
“What set her off? Surely simply having been revealed to be lying to her… friend… wasn’t enough to justify retaliation that required magical intervention from someone of Winston’s caliber?” Wes glanced back and forth between Spike and Buffy, waiting to see who would answer him. 
Buffy shook her head and responded.
“Willow wiped out Tara’s memory of what Warren had told her and the fight they’d had about it, and then brought Tara to the meeting last night. It didn’t take us long to figure what she’d done, and Winston broke the memory spell in the middle of the meeting. Tara left Willow right there and then. It was a pretty public break up, and now Willow is mad at everybody–me, Winston, and Warren.”
“Why was she angry at you? Did she do that in your time?” Wes frowned, clearly not understanding why it was such a problem.
“More or less,” Spike said. “Mostly more. And it was later, after other stuff happened.”
Wes raised his eyebrows and Buffy sighed.
 “Long story short, in our time she messed up and wiped everybody’s memories for a while. All of us. None of us had a clue who or even what we were. It was kind of a mess for a while, and once the spell was broken, Tara left her immediately—for a long time.” She frowned. “Then Warren shot me for shutting down all his master criminal plans, and he accidentally killed Tara when he did it. It was just after she and Willow had gotten back together after being broken up for so long.”
She paused and sighed again. “Willow went a little nuts. She killed Warren, slow and painfully, and tried to kill his buddies. She saved me, but then beat the stuffing out of me for trying to stop her, drained Giles of magic the coven gave him, and tried to end the world.”
“Red doesn’t handle grief very well,” Spike understated, causing Wes to take his shocked attention off Buffy briefly.
“We were trying to avoid anything that bad this morning. And we did, we think. But Willow gave up kind of easy, and I think she’s still mad at Winston, just maybe a little bit more respectful of him. And if Warren isn’t going to stop, and I have to keep messing up his plans, then he might try to kill me again, and….”
Wes turned a disbelieving stare on Spike. “And you’re going to allow that?”
Spike just stared back, letting his eyes go yellow and his fangs hang out just enough to make his point.
“Right then. Not going to happen this time.” Wes nodded and stared at them. He sighed, then said, “I have acquired some… knowledge… of the magic arts in the past several years. Including a brush with the darker magics.  Do you think it would help if I spoke with Willow? She has no reason to be angry with me, perhaps….”
“To be honest, Wes, I don’t think she wants to talk to anybody. She might not have as much reason to be mad at you as she is at Winston and Giles, but she also doesn’t have any reason to talk to you about stuff she thinks is nobody else’s business.”
“I see.  Then you’re dealing with two more or less separate issues. One is an untrustworthy novice witch–“
“Don’t let Willow hear you call her a ‘novice’!” Buffy interrupted so emphatically that Wes frowned.
“How concerned are you about her?”
Buffy sighed again. “If we didn’t have Winston? I’d be pretty worried, to be honest. Without telling you things you don’t need to know, let’s just say we could be in real trouble.”
“But you’re not concerned now?”
Spike broke in. “Don’t know how much you learned about him when you and Winnie were getting to know each other last time you were here, but I don’t see Willow or anybody else going head to head with him and not losin’.” He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and pointed. “With the probable exception of our landlord,” he admitted with a small smile. “Winnie’s well aware of what Red is capable of. More so even than we are. He isn’t going to let down his guard. And he can handle her.”
“So, it’s the other potentially homicidal human who is the real problem.” Wes gave Buffy a shrewd glance. “He didn’t survive in your time, did he?”
Buffy shook her head.  “No. I already told you that. But next year might be easier for us if he stays alive. We don’t know. Maybe it won’t matter, there are plenty of other dead people in the world for the—for something evil to use. Maybe he has to die anyway. Some things we can change, some things we haven’t been able to. I just don’t want Willow to do it if we can stop her.”
“That’s understandable.” He shifted his gaze to Spike. “But you wouldn’t object if Spike does?”
“Of course I’d object!”  Buffy indignation passed quickly. “But I’d probably live with it. He’s not going to let Warren kill me… or anyone else, for that matter… and I know that. I’ve accepted it.”
“You know Angel would jump all over it if he knew you’d allowed Spike to kill…”
“Angelus doesn’t have a lot of high moral ground to stand on,” Spike growled. “Ask him to tell you about his experiences in WW II and his time with us before the whore threw him out for being all souful.”
Wes blinked in surprise, but didn’t pursue it.  “Good to know if I have to find myself defending Buffy’s choices,” he said as he leaned forward, preparing to rise.  “I suppose I should be getting back before I’m missed.”
“Stay here and get a good night’s sleep,” Spike said with a grin. “Tell the nosy bugger you had a hot date and got laid.”
“As tempting as that thought is, we do have our own issues to deal with, and I can be home in a couple of hours at this time of the night. And since I did have a legitimate errand to run….” He patted the lumpy couch upon which he’d been sitting. “Although I’m sure I’ve slept worse places.”
“Well, the offer’s there. I hate to think you made such a long drive for something like
having to warn me about Angel.” Buffy shook her head. “But we appreciate it. Can we offer you coffee or something before you head out?” she added. “It’s getting a little late.”
“Thank you, I believe I’ll just stop on my way out of town and grab something to go.” Wes stood up and shook the hand Spike offered. “Just be alert to anyone who might be trying to learn more about you.” He smiled wryly. “It’s not like you don’t slip upon occasion.”
“Everybody’s not as smart as you are,” Buffy muttered. “But we’ll be careful. Warren isn’t stupid either, and he’s just nerdy enough to consider time travel.”
With renewed thanks for the news and offer of help, they watched from the door as Wes made his way back to his car. Buffy gasped when from seemingly nowhere, a fledgling vampire popped up from behind the trunk, but Wes hardly broke stride as he slid a stake into his hand and turned the unlucky new vampire to dust.
“Wow. I didn’t see that coming.”
“Neither did that vamp. But Wes seemed pretty confident he could handle Angelus if he made an appearance, so we shouldn’t be too shocked that he could take out one vamp without breakin’ a sweat.”
“People can surprise you,” Buffy said, shaking her head.
“All the time, love. All the time.” He closed the door as Wes’s car pulled away from the curb.
Chapter Eighteen
Late the following morning, Spike and Buffy knocked on the office door, then opened it in response to Max’s muttered, “Come in, come in.”  They exchanged glances and entered to find Max grumbling as he looked through a rolodex.
“What’s wrong?” Buffy asked.
“Oh, nothing important, it’s just that I had arranged for someone to mind the office this morning while I take care of your vacation home and run a few errands, and it seems her child is ill so she won’t be here.”  He raised apologetic eyes to meet Buffy’s puzzled frown. “Which is perfectly fine!” he said quickly. “Obviously her child is far more important than sitting here while I run around. I didn’t mean that—”
Buffy giggled. “Relax, Max. I know you wouldn’t get mad at somebody for having to take care of a sick kid. We can wait for the wards. It’s not an emergency. We smashed the cameras, and we can bar the door from the inside if we need to. Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s fine,” Spike put in. “We have no real reason to go back there any time soon anyway. I’ll sneak back in tonight and lock the door from the inside and it’ll be fine.”  He grinned at Buffy. “And if they heard what Buffy was plannin’ to do with those cameras before she smashed them, I’d wager you couldn’t pay those two losers to go near it again.”
Buffy gave an embarrassed smile, but nodded her head. “What he said,” she agreed. “And just in case they didn’t hear it, we’ll be paying them another visit today.”
“Well, if you’re sure….” Max seemed equally embarrassed “I hate to break a promise.”
Buffy smiled reassuringly. “It’ll be fine. Spike lived there for three years in our time without any kind of protection and…..” She paused. “Well, I guess Glory’s minions got him there, but we’re done with them already, so I think it’ll be fine. We’ll just hang out where we know we’re protected from nosy spy people.”
Spike nodded. “Like her mum’s, or the Magic Box or Rupert’s place, or Winston’s… or here.”
“Speaking of here, I see your guest didn’t stay very long. Is everything all right?” Max frowned his concern.
“Yeah, I think so. Wes just worries the bloody poof doesn’t trust him right now, and he wanted to warn us that Angel’s still trying to figure out what’s going on with us and will probably be sending spies or something. He was afraid to do it by phone from the Hyperion, even using his cell.”
“So there’s no problem with… Wesley is it?... having access to the building?”
“I don’t see why there would be, but I doubt he’ll be here very often, so if you want to block him again, it’s alright.” Spike gave Max a sly smile. “He was more than a bit impressed by your wards,” he said. “I think he was dying to meet you, but we told him we don’t make appointments for you.”
“And I thank you for that.” Max smiled back. “I know he and Winston have talked quite a bit. I’d just as soon let that suffice for now.”
“No problem.”
Buffy changed the subject. “Has Tara left for school already?”
“I believe so. She’s an early riser… unlike yourselves.”
“Hey! We work nights!” Buffy’s indignation was as fake as Max’s insinuation that they were lazy, and they all laughed.
“Indeed you do,” Max said. “But Tara has early classes, and I believe she has found herself a part-time job, so she’s out and about early most days.”
“Tara has a job?”
“I told her it was unnecessary, but she seems to feel she should be paying her own way and I wouldn’t insult her by telling her she needn’t do that.”
Spike nodded. “Girl’s always had to work hard; she knows life isn’t easy.”
“Says the man who found a hoard of gold and jewelry that we’re living on….” Buffy said, laughing at Spike’s seriousness.
“Would’ve had a job in a heartbeat back in the day if I’d thought you’d be willing to accept the money from me,” he growled. His expression softened when Buffy stroked his cheek and stepped closer.
“I know you would have.  And I’m sorry I didn’t understand that you were trying to take care of me. I was an ungrateful bitch.”
“Ah, you were being courted by a demon, love. And he didn’t always make good decisions about how to go about it.” He leaned into her hand and they smiled as they leaned toward each other until Max cleared his throat and they broke apart.
Blushing, Buffy mumbled an apology, but Max quickly interrupted her.
“No apology necessary. It does an old heart good to see two heroes getting the reward they deserve. I was just afraid you might be heading into TMI territory.” He smiled to show he was joking, but Buffy blushed again.
“I think one of the best things about getting this second try at making things better is knowing that we don’t have to hide who we are, or how we feel about each other. Maybe sometimes that does get a little TMI….”
“As long as nobody’s ripping clothes off, don’t see what soddin’ business it is of anyone’s what else we do,” Spike growled.
Buffy rolled her eyes and shoved him. “Behave yourself!”  She turned to Max, who was still pawing through his list of contacts, remembering that he’d mentioned having errands to run.
“Does the office sitter have to be somebody who knows… anything? I mean, I can sit here for a couple of hours if you and Spike want to go do stuff. If you have errands to run, you might as well do it while you have a chauffeur for the day.”
Spike nodded his agreement. “That’s brilliant,” he said. “Buffy can mind the store, so to speak, and I can take you where you need to go.”
“If you don’t mind?” Max smiled at Buffy. “There really isn’t much to do. Let the mailman in, accept any deliveries—” He waved a list at Buffy. “If the delivery isn’t listed on here, ask to have it left on the steps and I’ll deal with it when I get back. And answer the phone if it rings, which it rarely does.”
“I think I can handle that,” Buffy said with a smile at Max and a glare at Spike who was shaking his head.
“All right, then. Let’s go. I’d tell you to lock the door, but I’m guessing you’ll be perfectly safe….”
“I’m sure I will. It’s broad daylight. Any demons will know who I am, and any humans… well. I’m pretty sure any humans you aren’t expecting won’t make it past the sidewalk,” Buffy said.
Max laughed, waved, and followed Spike out the door.
Spike had already picked up his car, so he and Max only had to walk down the steps to where it was parked at the curb.
“This is a lovely old thing,” Max said, gazing around the old Desoto. “You’ve taken good care of it.”
“She’s my baby,” Spike said, patting the dashboard. “I neglected her for a while in our time, but this time I’m keeping her clean and running perfectly.”
Max ran his fingers down the heavily shaded window beside him. “I’m assuming you don’t actually need all this extra protection?” he said mildly.
Spike glanced sideways at him. “I don’t,” he said shortly. “But there’s no need to let the entire world know that. Don’t go out of my way to hide that I’m not exactly what I should be, but I do try to seem like a normal vamp most of the time.”
“Which you clearly are not—normal I mean. Even aside from the fact that you came here from a future that even you don’t know much about now.”
Spike grinned at him. “You’re dying to know, aren’t you?”
Max shrugged and laughed. “If I said I wasn’t very curious, I’d be lying,” he said. “However, I respect your privacy and your need to keep your secrets.”
“No offense, I think we know you well enough now to trust you, but I’ll need to run it by the Slayer first.”
“Don’t worry about it. I can tell there’s magic involved, but it feels very old. Much older than you are. I’m just curious. It’s a curse sometimes.”
Spike nodded as he entered Restfield and drove to the shed he used to hide his car. He waited for Max to get out, and gestured toward the crypt which was easily visible from where they were concealed.
“That’s it right there, we’ll just—Stay here!” Spike’s tone and demeanor changed as he spotted Warren’s black van just pulling up near the crypt. Moving silently from shrub to shrub, he was able to get almost upon them before the three humans noticed him.
“Eeeep! It’s Spike!”  Andrew’s shriek brought all their heads around to stare at the snarling vampire.
Making no attempt to pretend he couldn’t move around in the bright California sunlight, Spike walked up to them and snatched Warren up with one hand. While Andrew and Jonathan watched and shivered in fear, Spike shook Warren like he was a small child.
“What the bloody buggering fuck are you losers doing here?” he snarled, turning a quick glance on Andrew and Jonathan, but without releasing Warren. “Didn’t you get the Slayer’s message about what she plans to do with those cameras?”
While Spike waited for an unnecessary response, Warren pulled a cross from his pocket and hit Spike in the face with it. When he didn’t even flinch, Warren dropped the cross and pulled a vial of fluid out and threw it in Spike’s face.
“Now that stings a bit,” Spike growled, dropping Warren in order to wipe the holy water off his face. The obvious burns began to heal as the trio watched in horror. Before things could escalate any further, all three humans froze in place as Max walked up.
“So, Winnie’s not the only one who can make the world stand still,” Spike said, shaking his head until there were no drops of holy water left in his hair. “Good to know.”
“Are you all right?” Max asked, his concern evident. “I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner, I wasn’t expecting him to be so prepared.”
“Neither was I,” Spike muttered. “Bloody careless of me, it was. But I’ll be fine.”
“So I see….” Max shook his head. “I will admit to being relieved not to be returning you to Buffy in damaged condition, but now I’m even more curious.”
Spike grinned. “We’ll talk when we get home. In the meantime….” He turned a glare on the three immobilized men.  “Need to decide what to do with these wankers. And find out what they were plannin’ on doing here.”
“Let’s do what I came here to do, and then we can explore their reasons.” Max waited for Spike to open the heavy doors, then followed him inside.
“Will they be all right there?” Spike gestured with his head at the trio. “Can they hear us?”
Max shook his head. “No. They’re completely unaware of their surroundings at the moment. If and when we want to, I can release one enough for us to ask questions, but right now they’re just….paused.”
“Like Winston did to Willow when we first met him.”
“Very likely. It won’t last forever, but it’s quite handy when one needs to have some time to oneself.”
Without further conversation, Max walked around the crypt, muttering under his breath when he came to a dirty window or other possible point of entry. He raised an eyebrow when Spike lifted the cover off the bedroom, but dutifully climbed down the ladder and mumbled some more down there. There was no need for the candle Spike was ready to light, as Max had his own small light that followed him around and into the tunnels. When he’d finished, the light went out and he climbed back up into the main room.
“Very nice,” he said as Spike put the cover back on the entrance to the lower level. “I took the liberty of extending the wards some distance beyond your gate, so at worst, you’ll be alerted if anything is approaching, and at best, it will decide to go elsewhere”
“’preciate it. Are we done here, then?”
“I think so. It’s nothing fancy because we really don’t need to hide the wards from anyone. Vampires or demons will recognize them for what they are and turn away, and humans will just find it much too difficult to get in.”
“Good enough. Thanks again.”
“My pleasure. Now, shall we talk with your unwelcome guests?”
They stepped outside, and while Spike closed the doors behind them, Max studied the three men.
“Which one is more likely to tell you anything useful?”
“Probably him,” Spike said, pointing to Jonathan. “But hold off a second….” Spike took a knife from his boot and walked to the van. With a grin, he went from wheel to wheel, stabbing each tire.  Nodding at the sound of escaping air, he looked at Max. “Okay, now you can let him talk.”
Unlike the wrist flick that Winston used to immobilize and/or free people, Max simply glanced at Jonathan until he was suddenly staring around in panic.
“Where am I? Who are you? Why are we—” He spotted Spike and remembered what had been going on before he seemed to have blanked out. “What happened? Why can’t I move?”
“What happened is, you wankers didn’t learn a thing yet, and here you are back at my crypt for some reason. The question is, why are you here? And are you really that stupid?”
Jonathan sighed. “I told them it was a bad idea. But Warren said the guy was going to pay us—him—really well and he’d be able to get some things he needs for… stuff he plans to do.”
“What ‘guy’?” Spike snarled.
Jonathan shrank back as best he could while being unable to actually move anything except his head. “Buffy’s old boyfriend. From high school?  I think his name was Angel or something like that? He took her to Prom.”
Spike started swearing in several different languages, then walked off some distance and pulled out his phone, dialing Buffy’s number.
“’lo, love. Looks like Wes was right. Keep an eye out for anyone tryin’ to get into our apartment. Yeah, the poof is trying to hire spies. Good thing for us he picked the loser gang this time. Tell you all about it after we get what we can from Jonathan. We’ll be back soon.”
He closed the phone and walked back to Jonathan and Max.
“What else can you tell us?”
Jonathan shook his head. “I don’t know much. Warren was the one he was dealing with. Seems crazy to me. I mean, what’s her high school boyfriend doing spying on Buffy now? And wouldn’t he be afraid of you? I mean, if he knows you’re a vampire?”
“Oh he knows. Trust me. And he should be bloody terrified now.The real question is how can somebody like Meers here, who grew up in Sunnydale, not have known he was dealing with a master vampire? Ol’ Angelus must have been on his very best behavior….”
“V… vampire?”
“My grandsire, to be exact,” Spike said with a toothy grin. “You’ve been hired by the Scourge of Europe to spy on his ex.”  He lost the grin. “So what, exactly were you supposed to be doin’ here? More cameras?”
“Uh, I guess. We got some new ones, smaller and easier to hide. And we’re supposed to put them in your apartment too….”
Max scoffed audibly, bring a curious look from Jonathan who hadn’t actually figured out yet that the unassuming man with Spike was the source of his inability to move.
“Good luck with that,” Spike snorted. “Is that it?”
“You’d have to ask Warren. I think we’re supposed to try to follow you around too—and maybe put some more listening equipment in the Magic Box?”
“If I catch you followin’ me or the Slayer, I will have you for lunch and pick my teeth with your bones… are we clear on that?”
“Y…yes sir.” As Spike and Max began to walk away, Jonathan squeaked, “You aren’t going to leave us here, are you?”
“Tempting as that thought is…. probably not.”
They walked away, waiting until Spike had backed the car out of the shed and begun to drive off before Max waved his hand toward the crypt.
“Should have left them there all day,” Spike muttered. “At least until dark.”
“I’m not sure how your lovely wife would take that,” Max said with a wry smile. “And, unfortunately, I tend to agree with her when it comes to taking a life unnecessarily.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t feed the wild vampires. She’s such a spoil sport.”
“Please allow me to watch when you share that with her,” Max snickered.
Spike’s only response was a growl as he drove back to the apartment building.
Chapter Nineteen
Buffy’s reaction to hearing that Angel had tried to hire Warren to spy on them didn’t bode well for Angel’s future health.
“I’m going to kill him!” she growled, kicking a chair as she walked past it. “And then I’m going to bring him back and kill him again.”
“Right there with you, love. But at least now we know. And they know we know, so he’s going to have to find some other low-life to do his dirty work here.”
“Of all the people to pick!” Buffy was still on a rant. “He has to choose the ones already trying to make our lives miserable. What is wrong with him?”
“If I thought that was a real question, I’d make you a list,” Spike said. “In the meantime, the wards are up at the crypt, which they’ll discover if they’re stupid enough to try to put the cameras in anyway. We know they can’t get in here, and a word to Rupert and Winston should make sure the Magic Box has as much protection as a public place of business can. He did say more listening equipment, so we’ll need to check that out.”
“I wonder if we need to upgrade Mom’s house?”
“You can ask Winnie tonight, but I’d guess it’s pretty well protected all the way out to the edges of the property.”
“I guess we should call Wes and tell him what you found out today.”
“Yeah. But without going through the Hyperion switchboard….”
“Crap. I forgot about that. But if we call his cell, even if somebody’s listening, they’ll only hear his side of it.”
“Could have Rupert leave a message for Wes to call…maybe he can slip into the message that he needs to talk from somewhere out of the building.”
“’k. We’ll do that tonight.”
Giles was shaking his head in disbelief. “So Wesley drove all the way here just to warn you that Angel doesn’t trust him?”
“No, he drove here to tell me that Angel is spying on us. He drove instead of calling because he thinks Angel might be spying on him too and he already had a reason to be halfway here, so he just kept driving.”
While Buffy tried to explain to Giles what Wes had told them, and what Spike had learned from Jonathan, Winston stared around the store, searching for any sign of a listening device. As did Spike, who was listening hard for any mechanical sound that might indicate something already in place. Simultaneously, they each focused on the same display near the front of the store and hastened to it. Spike moved faster, so he had already pulled out the tiny listening device before Winston got there.
As soon as he identified the microphone and put his thumb over it, he held it up.
“Looks like one of them must have come in here pretendin’ to be a customer and planted this. Wonder how long it’s been here?”
“It can’t have been very long if Warren was waiting for money from Angel to buy more stuff,” Buffy said, but Winston shook his head.
“These small listening devices are quite easy to find and very inexpensive,” he said. “It could have been there for weeks.”
“That might explain why Warren had all those wards up and came out holding a weapon,” Giles said. “If he was listening when Willow said she knew who to blame for Tara’s leaving, he would have been expecting her.”
“Could be.” Spike looked dubious. “What else might we have talked about here that we wouldn’t want them knowin’?”
“Where we came from?” Buffy frowned at the little device as if she could destroy it with her glare.
“Let’s hope that hasn’t been the case,” Giles said. “While we’ve no doubt said things that might be obvious to us, I doubt we’ve come right out and discussed it since you first got here.”
“Except when Wes was here—but we were mostly in the training room then….” Spike and Winston moved immediately to the training room, but a thorough search turned up nothing in the way of cameras or microphones.
They were just emerging when Anya and Xander entered, followed by Willow.
“Ah, Anya. Can you recall having any customers fitting the descriptions of Buffy’s annoying stalkers?”
Anya shook her head. “Can you do better than ‘annoying stalkers’? That could be anybody.”
Buffy stared at her, then shrugged and described first Andrew and then Jonathan.
“Oh yes. Those two. They came in together. Complete idiots. What they didn’t know about magic could fill the hellmouth. They wandered all over the store, picking stuff up, asking questions, I was sure they were trying to find something to steal.”
“When! When were they here?”
Anya flinched back at Buffy’s demanding tone. “Last week,” she said, her expression matching her huffy response. “They were here last week.”
She frowned at the sighs of relief from everyone. 
“What don’t I know?”
Spike showed her the small object in his hand, still keeping his thumb over the microphone. “You didn’t know that they weren’t trying to steal anything, they were trying to leave something.”
“They’ve been listening to us?” Her eyes went straight to Giles, who cleared his throat and looked away, mumbling, “So it seems.” He gestured at Spike’s hand. “Why don’t you destroy that thing before we say something we’d rather they didn’t hear?”
Spike nodded and squeezed his fist shut, crushing the little device into flattened metal and plastic.
“Before we decide we’re home free, I think we should spread out and check every inch of this place.” Buffy glanced at Anya. “Is there any place you know for sure they didn’t go?”
“Just the training room and the office. And the bathroom. They didn’t go all the way back there.”
It didn’t take long for everyone to search carefully, not finding anything else. Giles and Winston had a quiet conversation, after which they wandered around the store checking the wards and adding to them where necessary.
“There is a limit to what we can do, given that the store must remain open to the public, but it should be a little safer now. Anything that doesn’t belong here, but is left behind, should make itself known fairly quickly.”
“Okay, well, let’s talk about what we learned last night and today then.” Buffy sat down, Spike on her left, and waited for everyone else to find a seat. Willow hesitated, then sat next to Xander.
“Aren’t we going to wait for Tara?” she asked softly.
“I don’t think Tara will be joining us,” Winston responded, more kindly than she might have expected. “According to Max she’s quite busy with her schoolwork, a part-time job, and of course her ongoing training as a healer. Naturally, if there is something she needs to be made aware of for her own safety, or if we need her skills for something, we’ll include her, but I think she’d prefer to maintain some distance at this time.”
“Oh.” Willow seemed disappointed but her voice was still soft. “I thought maybe she… I mean she isn’t still mad at me, is she?” Willow glanced at Buffy who blinked in bewilderment, but struggled to answer as if it was a reasonable question.
“I don’t know if she’s mad, but she’s probably still pretty disappointed in you. It’s only been a few days, Willow. We told you, in our time it was months before she started to trust you again. You have to earn that trust back and it’s going to take a while.”
“Well, that was in your time—when I messed up and made everybody lose their memories and stuff like that. She had more to be mad about then. I’m sure when I apologize and tell her I won’t do it again, she’ll—”
Even Xander stared at her in shocked silence as she blithely talked about apologizing and getting back together with Tara in another few days. She finally noticed the silence as well as the dumbfounded expressions and stopped herself.
“What? Why are you all looking at me like that?”
As gently as she could, given her impatience with Willow’s refusal to understand how badly she’d treated Tara, Buffy said, “Willow, you’ve violated Tara’s trust in a terrible way. You have to be patient and understand that she isn’t just staying away until she isn’t mad any more. She’s trying to make a life for herself, one that doesn’t rely on having you in it. I’m not saying she’ll never come back, but it isn’t going to happen just because you want it to. It’ll happen because she misses you, and sees that you’re trying to do better. And that you’re really sorry you did it, not just that you got caught—” She paused before she said something that might make things worse. “It’s going to take time,” she finished.
“She can’t… she wouldn’t…. Tara loves me! She can’t stay away from me! I won’t let her!”
The crashing silence that met Willow’s anguished cry stretched on until the realization of what she’d said hit her. She put her hand over her mouth and stared around the table mutely, meeting expressions ranging from sympathetic concern and shock, to cold and unreadable. Anya, Spike, and Giles all had similar expressions of wary suspicion.
“I… I didn’t mean that. Not in the way you’re all thinking. Stop looking at me like I’m… I’m going to hurt somebody. I’m not going to hurt Tara. I love her. And she loves me. She just has to see that we need each other and….”
It was apparent to everyone at the table when Willow remembered her My Will Be Done Spell and how it could have affected everyone when she couldn’t deal with the pain of losing Oz. She gave a low moan and put her head down.
“I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” She lifted her head to look at them all—settling on Buffy, Spike, and Winston. “You three don’t trust me. Even though I’m not the me you know who did all those awful things.”
They didn’t answer her except to gaze back with varying degrees of wary sympathy. She focused on Xander. “You trust me, don’t you, Xander? You know I’d never do anything to hurt you. I wouldn’t try to—”  She stopped herself and stood up, glaring around the table with her hands on her hips.
“I wouldn’t, you know. I know better. and I’m not out of control with grief this time. I just want Tara to come back to me. There’s nothing wrong with that!”
Giles gave a loud sigh and shook his head. “Of course there’s nothing wrong with that. We can all understand the pain of losing someone you love….”
He paused, remembering Jenny. Buffy knew she and Spike were wearing identical expressions of painful recollection. Winston, however, was as stoic as ever, with just the barest trace of sympathy and affection in his gaze.
Giles continued, “However, what would be wrong, would be for you to use magic to change Tara’s perfectly legitimate fear of being controlled or manipulated by you. Rather than look for the quick magical solution, you need to do the work required to rebuild her trust. And that won’t happen overnight. It cannot happen that quickly. You need to accept that, Willow.”
Willow looked around the table again, seeing no support from anyone, then sank back down into her chair.
“So, what did you learn last night and today?” she asked quietly. “Is it something I can help with?”
Buffy gave a sigh of relief and launched into a quick summary of what Wes had told them about Angel and his insistence that he needed to know what was going on in Sunnydale that made Spike a seer, and caused Buffy to allow him to claim her. When she finished, she pointed to Spike.
“You’re on, ‘seer’. Tell everybody what you and Max found at the crypt.”
“Found that the bloody great poof hired the very idiots we’ve been dealing with right along to spy on the Slayer and me and report back to him.  And they… or more likely Meers… are using those ill-gotten gains to add to the stash of tools or parts that he needs to make more of his dangerous toys.”
“Did you kill him?” Willow asked, blinking innocently when Buffy gasped. “I mean, because that would be bad, you know. Killing people—even bad people is bad. Very bad.”
“Of course I didn’t kill him,” Spike said. “Had Max with me, didn’t I? He wouldn’t even let me leave them there to get eaten by some other, less soulled up, vampires.”
“I presume,” Winston said, “Max has taken care of ensuring your… crypt… is perfectly safe now.”
Spike grinned at Winston’s struggle to refer to his old home by its true name, but nodded. “Yep. That’s why he was with me. Once Buffy and I found those two cameras and destroyed them, we knew the crypt wasn’t any safer from those gits than anyplace else we might be, so I asked Max to make it harder for them to get in.”
“Which I don’t doubt it now is,” Giles said with a wry smile.
“Wouldn’t be surprised,” Spike agreed.
“I don’t understand,” Willow said with a small frown. “So is Angelus back? Why is Wes sneaking around behind Angel’s back?”
“Because Angel, who is so very, very much my ex and has been for more years than he knows, is still trying to control my life, even though he doesn’t have that claim on me anymore. You remember that from last year, don’t you, Willow? That it turned out Angel put a claim on me way back when I used my blood to save his life? And he’s been using it all these years to keep me from falling in love with anybody else? Don’t you remember how pissed off I was last year when Spike’sreal claim broke it and I figured out what Angel’d been doing to me?”
“I remember. He was tricking you into renewing it too. It was a sneaky, controlling thing for him to do. It’s… it’s almost abusive behavior. To do that to you when you were unconscious…. You probably should’ve staked him! I mean what an awful thing to do to someone you claim you love…. It’s… it’s like…. ”
It was easy to seen when Willow made the comparison that everyone else at the table already had. She looked at Buffy, her eyes filling with tears.
“Oh my goddess. That’s what I…. But it’s not the same! I’m not trying to control Tara, I just want her to come back….”
“Whether she wants to or not?” Giles said gently.
“Oh goddess,” Willow repeated, sinking back against her chair.
“Getting back to the subject at hand,” Winston said. “What do you know about what Meers is likely to do next? Whether he gets money from Angel or not?”
“Well, in our time, he drugged his old girlfriend and somehow hypnotized or magicked her into thinking she was his slave or something. He made her a live-in maid/I-don’t-even-want-to-know what else, but when the crystal or orb or whatever it was got broken, she woke up and tried to leave. According to what Andrew told us about it, she accidentally hit her head while Warren was fighting with her. He was trying to keep her from going to the police.”
Spike growled and Buffy shushed him. “I’m getting to that.”  She looked around the table. “Accident or not, she was dead, and they left her body near Spike’s crypt and sent a bunch of time-shifting demons to keep me fighting near it. Then one of them— I have no idea which one ‘cause we were busy fighting demons and didn’t even know the jerks were there— pushed Katrina’s body into me, and I thought it was a demon, so I hit her and she fell down. Of course I thought I’d killed her!” She exchanged glances with Spike.
I’m not going to tell them everything.
Nor should you, love. Nobody’s business but ours.
“Long story short, I was going to turn myself in to the police, but while I was at the station, I heard them say her name and I remembered she was Warren’s ex, so I left without turning myself in for murder.”  She shook herself. “Which is neither here nor there. The point is, he’s going to try to kidnap her and keep her prisoner in his house, and Andrew and Jonathan are going to be a part of it. And then, when I stop them from robbing the armored car—” She looked at Spike. “Which should be even easier now that I took his balls away….”
Xander choked on his drink. “You what???”
Giles rolled his eyes. “Meers had obtained orbs that gave him superior strength so he could beat Buffy. However, he already had them on his person when we were there the other morning, and she was able to take them from him much earlier than in her time.”
“Which should be a big help,” Buffy said. “In my time Warren was kicking my butt until Jonathan whispered to me about the orbs and I managed to grab them.”
“And then he shot you?” Winston inquired with deceptive nonchalance.
“Well, not right then. He left Andrew and Jonathan at the crime scene and jetted away with some kind of jetting thing. They went to jail for attempted robbery, and I guess they talked…. Anyway the police knew he’d been responsible for Katrina’s death, so they were looking for him. His life of crime was pretty much over, and he blamed it all on me. So yeah, a few days later, he came to my house and shot me while I was in the backyard. He shot Tara too, but that was an accident. He meant to kill me.”
“Do we expect him to make an attempt on your life this time around?”
Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. “Well, if he’s mad enough, I guess he might. But I haven’t done anything yet except kick over a bunch of candles and yell at him—” She glanced at Willow. “Were you able to track down Katrina so we can warn her?”
“Oh! Oh yes, yes I did. But I didn’t bring it with me. I’ll call you with her address when I get home.”
“Okay. Well, that’s my first job, I guess. I need to warn her not to have a drink with Warren, or go anywhere near him. I hope she listens…. it’s not like I can follow her around making sure he doesn’t—”
“He isn’t going to.”
“Not a bloody chance.”
Spike and Winston exchanged meaningful glances while everyone stared at them, not even sure which one had spoken first. Xander spoke nervously to break the silence.
“Does anybody else think it suddenly got scary in here? he asked.
Anya responded as if he’d asked a real question.
“Well, if I was Warren Meers, I’d be scared.”
Chapter Twenty
Buffy tried her best not to look distressed about the clear message from both Spike and Winston, but Giles just nodded and continued the discussion.
“So, you will endeavor to prevent that murder by warning the victim to stay away from him. And what about the armored car?”
Buffy sighed. “Well, that’s what they did in our time, and Warren thought I couldn’t interfere because he had his magic orbs-of-kick-Buffy’s-ass, but he doesn’t have them now, and they know I’m watching them, so I really don’t know what he might do now. Maybe try to rob a bank again or something….”
“It’s…” Willow spoke hesitantly, as if not sure anyone wanted to hear from her.  “It’s too bad we can’t turn the tables on them. If we put our own cameras or microphones where we could see what they’re doing….”
“And this is why we love you!” Buffy said. “Of course! If we can see who goes in and out of Warren’s house—”
“And Andrew’s,” Spike growled.
“And Andrew’s,” Buffy agreed. “If we can actually watch them, we’ll know if they kidnap Katrina, and maybe even what else they’re planning. At least we’ll know what deliveries they get and who else goes in and out.”
“I like that!” Xander said. “Spying on the spies. If only we had a way to connect what the cameras see to something to watch them on. Somebody who could….” He stopped as Willow just glared at him.
“Oh, right. We do have somebody like that. Sorry, Wills, you’re so much with the magic now I forgot you can do computer magic too!”
Willow sniffed her disappointment, then said, “So, do we want to do it?”
“I can’t see why not,” Giles said, smiling at her. “It’s an excellent idea. And will certainly save Buffy and Spike a lot of hours spent trying to watch them all the time.”
“Okay. I’ll go online and order what we need as soon as I get home. How many places do we want to see?”
Buffy frowned as she thought about it, speaking almost to herself. “Well, Warren’s house for sure, front and back doors maybe? And ditto for Andrew’s house. If there was some way to get something on the van…”
“Could hide one in the radiator,” Spike said. “At least we’d be able to see where it goes….”
“Excellent idea!” Winston said at the same time as Buffy’s “Should I be worried that you have such sneaky ideas?”
“Vampire, love,” he said, grinning at her. “Thought you might have noticed that by now.”
She rolled her eyes at him and shook her head.
Giles brought the attention back to the subject at hand. “So, Buffy and Spike will do what they can to watch for misbehavior from them, and she’ll try to warn off Meers’ old girlfriend. Willow will handle obtaining the cameras, which someone will then install where we can watch the houses without setting off alarms.” He raised an eyebrow at Buffy.
“Are we assuming that after Spike’s encounter with them, they will no longer be in Angel’s employ? Or that they’re the only spies here?”
“Don’t think we can assume that, based on what Wes told us. We’ll just have to hope that whoever else the poof hires is just as clumsy and stupid.”
“Will you be calling Wesley to let him know you found the spies?” Giles asked.
“Uh, we kind of need you to do that so Angel doesn’t know Wes’s been talking to us. If you call his cell and try to get it across that he should call one of us some time when he’s away from the building…” Buffy shrugged. “Or you can just tell him yourself what’s going on. As long as he doesn’t have to say anything back that might get him in trouble, you could probably let him know. It’s not like he needs to do anything about it from there. If he wants to talk more to you or us about it, he can call you back from a safe place.”
“Do you trust him?” Winston spoke up. “He does seem to be disturbed by much of what he’s seen from Angel, but they have been working together for some time and we can’t be sure where his loyalties lie.”
Giles responded. “He was a bit of a prat when he was younger; however, I don’t believe evil is in his nature. Whatever mistakes he may make, or have made, I’m confident they would be because he was trying to do the right thing. If he no longer believes that Angel is as admirable as he once thought, I believe we can trust him.”
Giles glanced at Buffy. “Is there anything else we should know about Meers’ actions?”
“Hmmmm… well, I think I already discouraged him from making or using the freeze ray, and…. Oh wow. I almost forgot about the make-everything-invisible gun!”
“I didn’t,” Spike said with a leer.
Buffy threw a pencil at him and blushed.
Xander held up his hand. “I’m pretty sure we don’t need to know what that’s about.”
Spike laughed. “You didn’t know. Had a naked Buffy right in front of you and never—” This time Buffy grabbed a book from the shelf behind her and threw it at Spike’s head.
“Ow! You’ve got no sense of humor, Slayer.”
“Shall we assume from this over-sharing that they made you invisible? That hardly seems in their best interest.” Giles waited for an explanation.
“It was by accident,” Buffy said. “They were practicing on a fire hydrant or something, and I walked in front of it. It wasn’t a really big deal, except that it turned out things that got zapped turned into puddles of goo sooner or later, so we had to get the gun away from them and zap me back to visible before I became a Buffy puddle.”
She sighed. “I guess we’d better watch for any signs they’ve made that invisibility ray thing again. I don’t know what the original intention was, but I’m sure they were hoping to do something criminal with it.”
Buffy looked at Giles’s concerned expression and continued, “Getting that away from them and destroying it probably didn’t make Warren very happy with me either. I’d almost forgotten about that.”
“You almost forgot that, accidentally or not, they did something that could have resulted in your death?” Winston looked like he was disappointed in her, and Buffy gave him a wry smile.
“I’m a slayer, Winston. Something is always trying to kill me. For a while it was even Spike. It’s not quite the surprise you might think.”  
“Still and all,” he muttered. “It means he has tried to ruin your life, if not end it completely, multiple times. I just feel you might be taking this ‘the Slayer doesn’t harm humans’ thing a little far in this particular case.”
“Hear, hear,” Spike mumbled, not quite as low as he’d hoped. He coughed vigorously when Buffy turned to glare at him.  She glared until he sighed a “Sorry, love. But you know how I feel.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “And you know why I want him alive!” she said. She looked around the room and sighed again. “Here’s the deal, guys. Next year, the First Evil uses Warren to get Andrew to kill Jonathan over the hellmouth and release a Turok-han. I’m kind of hoping, if he isn’t dead, then maybe that won’t happen.”
Giles frowned. “The First can take the form of anyone who is already dead, can it not?”
“Yes. Yes it can. And it does. It uses Spike, me….” She hesitated, not wanting to bring up who else might have died. “Pretty much anybody who is, or has been, dead. It’s just that it used Warren to start the whole ball rolling here.” She threw up her hands in surrender.
“I don’t know! Maybe it doesn’t matter. I mean, if keeping me alive and un-resurrected means the balance isn’t out of whack—which was the whole point of this little adventure in time travel—than maybe the First won’t be able to cause as much trouble. I mean that’s what you, future you,” she pointed at Giles, “thought, thinks, will think, whatever… And it’s what future Wes thought too when he sent Spike back.”
Giles nodded. “That’s quite true. You are both here because two different groups of knowledgeable people concluded that it was your resurrection that allowed the First Evil to make its way into our world again.”  He frowned. “But just in case it matters… let’s make sure that pillock doesn’t get to shoot you this time either. I don’t think Willow’s removal of the bullet and subsequent healing of the wound would constitute a resurrection, but let’s not take any chances that it will be necessary. Anything we do to keep the First Evil down where it belongs, can only be a good thing. With luck, next year everything will go smoothly and—”
“Sheesh, Giles! You know you just jinxed us, right?” Xander rolled his eyes and moaned.
Buffy giggled, but had to agree. “Yeah. Let’s go with if or when the First Evil tries to come up here, we can knock him back down without losing anybody or watching Spike pull Sunnydale down around his ears. ‘Go smoothly’ is probably too optimistic for a hellmouth. I’ll settle for an easy win and nobody dies.”
“All right then, let’s get operation spy-on-the-bad-guys underway. Willow, you’re going to do your computer magic thing and hook into the cameras, right?” Xander beamed at her, clearly happy to see Willow being part of the team again.
Willow nodded. “I might even be able to pick them up here in Sunnydale tomorrow at the electronics place downtown.” She looked at Buffy and gave a tentative smile. “I’ll let you guys know when I’ve got them and you can decide where and when you want to put them out.  I’ll just need to have time to link them to my laptop before you do it.”
“That sounds like a plan,” Xander said, beaming at her. “That’s my Willow. Girl genius.”
Willow rolled her eyes, but smiled in gratitude. “Okay then. If we’re done here, I should get home and start researching the best options.”
Spike surprised everyone by asking, “Will you need some dosh, Red?” He was pulling out his wallet when she shook her head.
“Thanks, but I’ll just use a credit card. If it turns out they’re real expensive, maybe I’ll ask for some money then.”
“Credit card purchases are traceable,” Spike said. “Cash might be a safer choice….” He sighed. “And if I’d been thinkin’ halfway straight, I’da grabbed whatever they had in the van this morning and we wouldn’t have to be buying anything.”
“Wow. You do have a sneaky mind,” Willow replied. “And that’s good thinking. That’s how we tracked down the knights last year.”
Spike took several large bills from his wallet and passed them over to her, grumbling the whole time, “I don’t know why I have to keep reminding you lot that I’m evil and have been for over 100 years!”
Buffy’s giggle did nothing to improve his disposition, but when he caught Winston and Giles trying to hide smiles, he gave a disgusted snort and sat back down.
“Fine,” he growled. “I’m mated to the whitest of all white hats. Doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything all those years I was evil!”
“Wasn’t that just like… a year or so ago?” Xander asked.
“In your time, I guess it was,” Buffy said. “In ours, he’s been helping out the ‘white hats’ for a long time. It’s easy for me to forget sometimes that he wasn’t such a pussycat back in his day.”
“I guess that chip was really a good thing then,” Xander said. “Without it, Buffy would have had to stake you.”
Spike shrugged. “Chip helped her see me a little more clearly, but if Dru was right, I was already fallin’ for Buffy way back when I first saw her dancing in the Bronze. Took me a while to realize it, and bit longer to stop trying to deny it, but I’ve been on her side longer than anybody knows… including her,” he added, smiling at Buffy’s raised eyebrows.
“We will be discussing that comment,” she hissed at him, ignoring the kissy face he made at her.
“Let’s not and say we did,” Xander said. “I don’t need to hear you were already perving on Buffy back when she was in high school.”
“That would have been my bog-trotting, virgin-raping grandsire,” Spike growled. “All I did was admire how beautiful and deadly she was. She was all grown up by the time I realized I didn’t want to kill her anymore.”
“Okaaaay,” Buffy said. “Weren’t we talking about cameras and other non-embarrassing and more appropriate things like that?”
“I’m on it,” Willow said. She smiled at Buffy. “I’ll call you as soon as I have what we need.”
“Okay. I guess that’s it for tonight then. Thanks, Willow. Anybody else have anything?”
Buffy glanced around the table, her comfort with taking charge of a meeting and giving out assignments more than clear to everyone. When she realized what she was doing, she took a quick glance at Giles, but rather than seeming put out, he was smiling at her proudly. He noticed her apprehensive glance and his smile broadened.
“While I can only apologize for my former self’s abandoning you in your time of need, I’m fairly certain the confident and strong woman I see now is who he was hoping you would turn out to be if you didn’t have him to turn to for emergencies.”
Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her chair, exchanging quick looks with Spike. “Maybe so,” she agreed, “but it wasn’t a lot of fun getting here on my own, and I wasn’t willing to lean on Spike until a lot later.”
“After I got the soul,” Spike muttered. “In case anyone’s wondering.”
Buffy glared at him, then relaxed.
“That probably had a lot to do with it. That, and Angel’s stupid claim. I know Spike wanted to help me, but I wouldn’t let him. So that’s my fault. Or Angel’s fault. But it wouldn’t have been the same as having you here anyway.” Buffy smiled at Giles. “I needed my dad.”
Giles blushed and coughed vigorously to try to hide how affected he was by her words, but Buffy just continued to smile at him until he acknowledged her words with a mumbled, “And I will continue to apologize for my older self as needed until I am forgiven.”
Buffy sighed. “It’s all right, Giles. If you hadn’t left me, who knows if I would have gone to Spike for… comfort. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really happy to be where I am right now, and I don’t know if that would have happened if our lives didn’t work out the way they did. We might not be in love—”
“Oy! Speak for yourself, Slayer!”
She gave Spike an apologetic look, but continued talking to Giles. “And older you is who figured out to send me back here. Not that you knew Spike was going to be here, I guess…. but points for making it happen anyway.”
“And on that, also over-sharing note, I think Anya and I will give Willow a ride and head home ourselves.” Xander stood up and held Anya’s jacket for her. They all three waved and walked out the door after Anya admonished Giles to “be sure you lock up properly”.
Spike and Winston snickered as Giles sighed and assured her he knew how to close up his own building. Even Buffy couldn’t hide an amused snort at his ill-concealed impatience.
Giles shook his head and with a wry twist to his mouth, he said, “Apparently one of things about being human that Anya has yet to master is the relationship between employer and employee. She seems easily confused.”
Buffy laughed. “Well in all fairness to Anya, in our time, you left her in charge every time you went back to England for something, and by this time, she was pretty much the boss in all but name.  I guess she sent you money when there was a profit, but she was in charge.”
Spike snorted. “Maybe she’s starting to feel that vibe….”  Buffy and Giles snickered, but Winston looked thoughtful.
“That’s an interesting thought, actually. I wonder if, just as there are some things you haven’t been able to change, there may be other, somewhat less important but still strongly felt, things that can exert influence on this time line?”
“That is an interesting thought,” Giles agreed, reaching for a notebook. “We should add it to our notes on time travel.”
“A Watcher is a Watcher, love,” Spike said. “So, are you and Winnie going to write a handbook on time travel?”
“Possibly. We should at least be noting things that, while somewhat changed, are still seemingly affected by what happened in your time.”
“You mean we’re making stuff happen, just because we know about it?”  Buffy looked bewildered, but worried.
“I doubt there is quite that direct a correlation,” Winston put in. “But who knows how or if your own expectations or worries may be influencing people and events. It’s an intriguing idea.”
“I’m sure you meant to say freaky and unnecessary,” Buffy grumbled. “Like, if I expect Warren to shoot me, he will?”
“We sincerely hope not!” Giles said, almost drowned out by Spike’s snarled “Over his dead body….”
“Rather than worry about events we are fully intending to prevent, why not try to think of anything else that might reinforce the idea that some events are, if not exactly the same, seem to be leaning that way?”
“You mean like Anya and Rupert, even though they never thought they were engaged in this time, might still be thinking about snogging?”  Spike’s look challenged Giles to deny what he and Buffy had noticed about the look Anya and Giles had exchanged when they learned about the listening device.
While Giles coughed and stuttered, all three laughed at him, Winston finally asking, “Shall I include that information in the notes, then?”
“I’ll pretend you didn’t say that,” Giles said with a glare. Turning back to Buffy and Spike, he asked, “Are there any other events from your time line that could show up here?”
“Well, Xander used the demon-summoning necklace to bring Sweet here from whatever hell dimension he comes from. But you already took care of hiding that in a safe place, so…. He said he did it because he was worried about how he and Anya were going to work out, and he thought he could find out that way.”
“And did he?”
“I don’t know. Everybody was dancing and singing about their deep dark secrets, so I suppose he and Anya must have sung about their doubts.” She sighed. “It’s how they all found out I’d been in Heaven. I sang it when we all were at the Bronze trying to save Dawn from being taken back with Sweet.”
“Why did he want Dawn? I thought you said Xander summoned him?”
“Yeah, well, seems like the summoning isn’t real specific about who did the callin’, and the Bit was wearing the necklace when his minions came looking for it, so he was going to take her.”
“I take it he didn’t manage it.”
“I think he got a little sidetracked by how everybody took my little confession about where I’d been… and then he let me try to dance myself to death… so when that was all over and he knew it was a guy who called on him, he just said we won and he went poof!”
“Dance yourself to death?” Winston zeroed in on that part and stared at Spike.
“Uh yeah. Some people who got infected by the whole singing and dancing thing danced so much they spontaneously combusted. And I guess that’s what I was doing.”
“But you didn’t catch fire?”
Buffy reached for Spike’s hand. “No. Spike stopped me. He saved my life.”  She smiled at him. “Not that I was all that grateful at the time, but I figured if he wasn’t going to let me go back to Heaven, then he was going to have to help me want to be here.”
“I take it he did that?” Winston smiled at the way they were unconsciously moving closer together.
“He did,” Buffy said simply. “And don’t bother asking how. You don’t want to know. At least, I’m pretty sure Giles doesn’t,” she finished with a giggle.
“I’m quite sure I don’t,” Giles said, shaking his head. “But I am grateful for it, never-the-less.”
Spike grinned at him, then began tugging Buffy toward the door.
“Time to go, love. We have a few cemeteries to hit before we can call it a night.”
“’K. Night, guys. We’ll let you know when Willow’s ready to hook stuff up.”
They waved and went out the door, closing it firmly behind them.
“So, you and Anya, huh?” Winston smirked at Giles, who glared at him.
“There is no Anya and me. Just some conversation between a woman who isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life, and an older man who has no advice to give.”
“You do know she’s much older than both of put together,” Winston said, still smiling.
“Let’s not speak of this again,” Giles growled, closing the notebook. “We can decide much later if it’s worth putting into the book.”
Chapter Twenty-one
It only took Willow two days to find the listening devices and cameras she wanted, and another day to work out how to route what they recorded to her laptop. Assuring everyone that she could work on one of the school’s computers if she needed to do classwork, she suggested leaving the laptop in the Magic Box in Giles’s office where someone could check it frequently.
“What if it’s night time?” Anya complained. “We shouldn’t have to stay here all night!”
“That’s quite all right, Anya. You… and Xander if he’s here…  may go home whenever you like. By the time I close up for the night, Buffy and Spike will be out and about, and based on what we’ve seen from the cameras, they will have some idea where they need to be.” Giles spoke softly, but his expression served as a reminder that he was still her boss and she subsided quickly.
Willow set up the laptop on Giles’s desk and smiled at him. “I gave Buffy the cameras and stuff this morning, so as soon as she tells us they’ve got them in place and turned on, I’ll bring them on line.”
Buffy and Spike found the van on the way to set up Warren’s house. They noticed it parked near a small club that was popular with what passed for the socially active young adult crowd in Sunnydale.
“Well, that was easier than I thought it would be. Reckon we should try to do it now?”
“Might as well. If we can get away with it without being seen. The place doesn’t look busy yet, and it seems like the bouncer isn’t watching anything but the door.”
Spike nodded. “And the van isn’t parked where he can see it anyway.”
After carefully studying the parking area and building and finding no one watching and no windows on the parking lot side, Spike quickly got to work hiding one of the cameras inside the grillwork on the van. While he worked, Buffy loitered nearby as if waiting for someone, groaning when she recognized one of the girls approaching the door.
Since she hadn’t had to save Trina from April in this timeline, Buffy wasn’t surprised there was no recognition on her face as she passed Buffy without really seeing her. While she dithered about what to do, the girls flashed their IDs and entered the club.
“What’s the problem, love?” Spike asked as he joined her.
“Katrina just went in there, and we know Warren’s here too. It’s kind of early in the year, but what if tonight’s the night?”
“It’s alright. We’re here, and we know what to watch for. How do you want to play it? Do we go busting in like John Wayne, or wait here to see how or if they leave together?”
“What if we go in and I try to stay close enough to Katrina to watch her drink, and you try to get close enough to Warren to flash some fang?”
“Not bad. But if we don’t want him guessing how we know things, might be a bit better to just watch for them to come out.”
“That’s true, and we… heads up!”
They turned their backs and moved away as Warren emerged from the open door, letting out the sound of music and laughter. Without noticing them in the shadows where they leaned against a nearby car, kissing, he spoke with the bouncer for a few moments, then went to the van and took something from the back. He put it in his pocket and returned to the club, nodding to the bouncer as he went by, never seeing Spike and Buffy who were alternating genuine kisses with watching his actions.
“All right. Let’s get in there. I don’t think he ran out here because he forgot chewing gum or something.”
“Right behind you, love.”
Neither of them appeared young enough for the bouncer to worry about carding, so he waved them in after Spike paid the small cover charge. They entered the dark club, giving Buffy’s eyes time to adapt before moving toward the dance floor and searching for Warren or Katrina. Spike quickly spotted Warren at the bar and pointed silently.
“If we stop him from doing whatever he’s planning to do, he’ll know we know things we shouldn’t know.” Buffy almost growled at the dilemma they were in.
“And if we don’t, love, she’s going to swallow that drink I just saw him slip something in,” Spike growled.
“Okay, let me see what I can do without letting him figure out we know what he’s planning. You stay away so he doesn’t notice you’re here right away.”
Buffy walked over to the bar, giving Warren a frown, as would be appropriate, given their dislike for each other. She carefully didn’t look at Katrina as she pushed her way to the bar and smiled at the bartender.
“Hi,” she said cheerfully. “I’m looking for my… boyfriend. Blond hair, leather coat? Said he’d meet me here?”
“You mean that guy over there?” The bartender pointed across the room where Spike, rather than remaining hidden, was obviously flirting with a goth girl who was staring at him with undisguised lust.
Warren gave a sneering laugh. “Looks like he’s found somebody his type, Slayer. Serves you right for being such a bit—” He broke off at the look on Buffy’s face, obviously remembering who and what she was. “I mean, shouldn’t you go over there and remind him who he lives with?”
“What are you doing here, Warren?” Buffy ignored his insinuation to get right to the point.
“I’m having a drink with an old friend.” He gestured toward Katrina who was sipping from the drink he’d handed her and frowning at the confusing exchange of words. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Did I interrupt something?” Buffy turned her smile on a bewildered Katrina. “Hi, I’m Buffy. It’s nice to meet you. What a pretty drink, may I taste it?” Buffy reached for the drink Katrina had just placed on the bar, knocking it away and spilling most of it.
“Oh no! I spilled your drink! How careless of me! Let me buy you a new one. One that Warren hasn’t had his hands near.”
While the bartender wiped up the spill, Buffy instructed him to replace the drink and tell her what she owed.
“What the hell are you doing, Summers?” Warren snarled. “Go find your undead boyfriend and get the hell away from us.”
“I’m just replacing the drink I spilled. Sheesh! You’d think I’d ruined another one of your evil plans or something.”
Buffy kept her expression completely innocent as she paid for the new drink and handed it to Katrina.
“Here you go. Better hang on to it, you know how dangerous it is to leave drinks unattended in bars. You two have fun now. Bye!”
Leaving Warren to come up with an explanation of who she was and why she was so weird, Buffy walked over to Spike and waited for him to notice her.
“Ah, an’ here she is now,” he said smoothly, turning from the goth girl to Buffy. “Looks like she didn’t stand me up,” he said. “Some other time, luv.” With a wink at the disappointed girl, he put his arm around Buffy and walked her toward the door.
“So, mission accomplished?”
“I’m not sure. She’d already drunk some of it before I could knock it over. I think we still need to watch them.”
After watching for a short while, they saw Katrina frown and shake her head as she put down her drink and walked away from Warren. She paused as she passed them, giving Spike a look that clearly said he didn’t belong there, then saying to Buffy, “I don’t know what that was all about, but that first drink made me loopy so I’m heading home. I wouldn’t have come if I’d known Warren was going to be here.”
She paused as if expecting Buffy to offer an explanation, but Buffy just nodded and smiled her best ditsy blonde smile.
“Yeah, if you don’t feel good, you should probably go home. It was nice to meet you. Warren’s a jerk. Bye now.”
Spike stood where he could watch out the door­—now open almost constantly as more customers arrived—nodding when he saw Katrina get into a cab that had just delivered two girls to the club.
“Looks like she’s safe for tonight, love. What do you want to do now?”
Buffy just shrugged. “I dunno. Finish what we set out to do?”
“How about we go to his house, get the cameras set up and call Willow to turn them on? That way, if she’s sees him come home with anyone while we’re working on the two losers’ house, we’ll know and can run back if we need to.”
“Okay. I guess it’s safe enough to leave Warren here. Maybe she picked up on my less-than-subtle hints to keep her drink away from him, and she won’t let him near her next time she runs into him.. She might just figure I was talking from experience and brush him off.”
An hour later, after a phone call from Willow when they’d just finished installing cameras at Andrew’s house, Buffy wasn’t so sure.
“Thanks, Will. We’ll go looking for them now.” She ended the call and began swearing.
“What’s going on?

“The camera in the van caught Warren half-carrying a drowsy girl toward it. She couldn’t see what happened after that, but the van left the parking lot and headed away from town on the old highway into the desert.”
Away from town? Not toward his house? Or even this one?”
“Nope. She said away from town. Winston and Giles have taken off to try to find and follow him. She’ll call me back if they find them.”
“Bugger! Let’s get in the car and head for the highway.”
Thirty minutes later, they came upon Giles and Winston who were trying to explain to a very confused girl who was not Katrina, that they had not just happened upon her, but had been, they thought, rushing to her rescue.
“What’s going on?” Buffy’s question confused the girl even more and she peered at the new arrivals, clearly visible in the cars’ headlights.
“Who are you people?” She looked hard at Buffy. “Don’t I know you from somewhere? And where’s the guy who brought me out here?”
“We’d like an answer to that too,” Buffy said. “Do you have any idea where he went? Or what happened?”
The girl shook her head. “I got all sick and dizzy in the club and he said he was helping me outside to get some fresh air. I think maybe I passed out….” She glared at them. “I know I haven’t had that much to drink! I’m not drunk!”
“We don’t think you are,” Buffy soothed. “So Warren took you outside for fresh air and then you passed out?”
“I guess. When I woke up, I was in his van and we were way out here in the middle of nowhere. I got scared and started crying and yelling at him to let me go, and when he slowed down, I opened the door and jumped out.”
“And he let just you go?”
“Yeah. He yelled something like ‘Good luck making it back from here, and it was just a dry run anyway’—whatever the hell that means’ and drove off. I wasn’t sure which way was back to town, and it was pretty scary being out here in the dark all by myself, but then these wonderful guys came along and stopped for me.”
She gestured to Giles and Winston. Apparently, their refined British accents had convinced her that they were harmless, and Buffy hid a smile as the girl beamed at them.
Spike snorted and shook his head.  “It’s probably a good thing they did. Never a good idea to be out in the dark by yourself, even if you aren’t actually in Sunnydale. You never know what nasty things might be lurking in the shadows.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.
“Oh, I know,” the girl said, nodding vigorously. “I was born in Sunnydale. Trust me, I know what to look out for.” She beamed at Spike, who snickered until Buffy smacked his arm.
“Okay… what’s your name?”
“Ellie, it’s Ellie Johnson.” She peered at Buffy again.  “Didn’t you go to Sunnydale High?”
Buffy nodded, but went back to her subject.  “Okay, Ellie, here’s what we’re going to do. Giles and Winston are going to take you back to town and you’re going to tell the police that Warren Meers drugged you and kidnapped you.”
Ellie frowned, but shrugged. “Okay. I can do that. But what if they don’t believe me?”
“They’ll believe you. Why wouldn’t they?”
“I don’t know… because I was drinking and because he didn’t try to stop me from running away?”
“P’bly figured you wouldn’t make it to the cops before something had you for supper,” Spike said. “You’d be gone and unable to identify him, and he’d be somewhere with a good alibi.”
Ellie turned her gaze on Giles and Winston again. “You guys really did save my life!”
“Ahem.” Giles cleared his throat while Winston smothered a smile. “Well, perhaps. Although Buffy and Spike were looking for you also….”
“But you found me. Not them.”
“Exactly. So they’re taking you back to report what happened, and we’re going to look for Warren.” Buffy was using her General Buffy voice and everyone nodded.
“But… how did you know…?”
“I’ll explain while we return to Sunnydale,” Winston said, holding open the passenger side door for her.
Buffy and Spike grinned at each other, knowing that by the time Winston was through explaining things, Elli would be perfectly comfortable knowing that complete strangers had been aware of her kidnapping and had run to her rescue.
“He can just tell her we were watching Warren for some reason, and just happened to see him take her away. Or something like that. Winston will think of something.”
“Don’t doubt it for a second,” Spike said.
He reached in and turned off the headlights of his car, leaving them under a star-filled sky.
“No sense runnin’ down the battery,” he explained, leaning against the fender and pulling her between his legs. She willingly molded her body to his and raised her face for his kiss.
“Mmmmm. As nice as this is… mmmm… it isn’t helping us find Warren….” As she felt him chuckle, she wriggled against him, causing him to growl and pull her in even tighter.
“Can’t see any reason to waste this beautiful night chasing that wanker,” he murmured into her ear. “I’m certain there’s an old blanket in the car, and we can find ourselves a nice patch of sand away from the road.”
He released her and opened the back door, reaching in and pulling out a blanket. “See? Warm night, starlight, and a blanket to keep the sand from getting into any uncomfortable places.”
“I can’t see anything,” she said, but walked hand in hand with him until he found what he was looking for, trusting his much better eyesight to keep them from stepping on anything she wouldn’t want to.
“You just happened to have a blanket in the car?”
“Keep one there in case I need to keep the sun off,” he responded. “But it has more than one use….”
He stopped and shook the blanket out, letting it settle onto the sand.
“What do you say, love? A quickie with our clothes on, or enjoy the night air by getting naked in it?” As he spoke, he was shedding his coat, spreading it on top of the blanket.
Without waiting for her answer, he skimmed off his tee shirt and unbuckled his belt.
“You’d get naked anywhere,” she said, laughing, but kicking off her shoes. “You have no shame.”
“Got nothin’ to be ashamed of,” he said, sitting down to untie his boots and toe them off. His pale skin and bright hair were easily visible in the starlight, even though their surroundings were too dark for Buffy to make out most objects, even the car.
“Come on, sweetheart. Live a little. Get naked for me.”
Buffy didn’t answer him, but began to unbutton her blouse, staying far enough away that he couldn’t reach her. Knowing he could see her perfectly well, she performed a slow strip tease that soon had him growling in impatience. With a last flourish, she shimmied out of her thong and tossed it at his face. He batted it away without ever taking his eyes off her.
“Get that gorgeous arse over her now or I’m not responsible for any misplaced sand,” he said, crouching as if to spring at her.
“You get sand in my places, and it’ll be the last time you see me naked,” she threatened, shaking sand off her feet before stepping onto the blanket and using one bare foot to push him off balance and onto his back.
He grabbed the foot and sat up, kissing her toes while she tried to maintain her balance on the uneven sand beneath the blanket. He kissed his way up her leg, and when he found what he was looking for, he fastened his mouth on it. She whimpered and lost her balance, falling forward onto to him as he collapsed onto his back, grabbing her hips as he did and bringing her down with him. His mouth and tongue were busy, eliciting whimpers and squeals from Buffy as he held her against his face, teasing her until her whimpers began to resemble sobs, then sucking on her clit until she spasmed with a small shriek and collapsed over him.
While Buffy was still trying to recover her equilibrium and breathe normally, he pushed her down his body, kissed her briefly, then rolled them over and slid into her moist warmth. She brought her legs up around his hips and began to move with him as he set up a steady rhythm while murmuring his appreciation of the way she felt to him, as well as the way she smelled and tasted.
Even if his changed breathing and shout hadn’t given it away, she would have felt him explode inside her as she clenched around him. But before she could relax and enjoy the afterglow, he was already hard again and now in game face, using his demon enhancements to touch what she mentally referred to as “that place”. Giving him as much verbal and non-verbal encouragement as she could, she tilted her head to give him access to her neck, hissing her “yesss” when he didn’t resist the invitation.
With his cock hitting the spot she wanted it to with every stroke, and his fangs in her throat, Buffy soon filled the empty desert air with her cries of fulfillment. She was joined by Spike’s satisfied roar as the infusion of Slayer blood ensured that he would need at least some recovery time from this orgasm.
They lay together, panting and murmuring endearments, oblivious to their nudity or the cold night air. Not until Buffy started to shiver, did they reluctantly untangle themselves to snuggle under Spike’s coat, both unwilling to separate any farther than that.
“The stars are beautiful out here,” Buffy sighed, turning her head to gaze into the sky above them.
“Don’t know about you, but I’m not sure the stars I’m still seeing are in the sky,” he said, giving her a squeeze. She could hear the smile in his voice.
Buffy giggled. “That was pretty spectacular, wasn’t it? And we didn’t even do the claimy part of it.”
He chuckled in agreement, but said, “I think all those sweet nothings probably count toward the claim, love. Close enough, anyway.”  He kissed her forehead and added, “But anytime you want to renew it officially, all you have to do is say so.”
She shivered again in spite of the coat covering her and Spike immediately sat up and wrapped it around her.
“You sit here while I get your things and warm up the car.”
He got to his feet and walked unerringly to where she’d dropped her clothes, picking them up and carrying them back to her. He paused to swear and hop on one foot when he stepped on an unseen sharp rock, throwing the clothes and her shoes at her when she laughed at him.
“That’s the thanks I get for being a gentleman,” he grumbled as he pulled on his jeans and boots. “Ungrateful bint, you are. Just for that, I won’t warm the car up before you get in.”
Buffy ignored his complaining in favor of pulling on her own clothes, pausing to shake the sand out of them first. When they were both dressed and safely shod, she held Spike’s coat while he shook out the blanket as best he could and wadded it back up. He held her hand as they walked back to the car, picking his way carefully over the more rock-covered ground near the road.
Once they were settled in the car and the heater was blowing warm air on Buffy, Spike asked, “Well, do we go looking for the wanker, or just let the gendarmes take care of him?”
“I guess we could swing by the Magic Box and check the cameras. We might be able to see where he went, or if he went home.” She bit her lip. “Do you really think he expected Ellie to run into a vamp or demon before she got back?”
“I’d guess he was sure enough of it not to worry about her going to the police. Stupid mistake on his part, if he did.”
“He was playing the odds. It actually does kinda sound like something he’d do.”
“Yeah, well, let’s just go check up on him and see if he’s somewhere easily found, or safely back home for a while.”
Chapter Twenty-two
A quick drive to Warren’s neighborhood and a walk past his house showed the van parked in the driveway and lights on only in his lab at the back of the house.
“Well, guess that’s it for tonight. He doesn’t seem to be worried that Ellie might have made it back to town and turned him in….”
“Wanker. Hopin’ the local vamps will do his dirty work for him.” As Spike spoke, car lights appeared and slowed as the vehicle reached the house.  “Looks like he’s getting company…. Duck, Slayer!”
Spike grabbed Buffy and pulled her behind a neighbor’s car just in time to be out of sight when Andrew and Jonathan parked an old car behind the van. They got out and walked up to the front door, giving a quick series of knocks. Warren opened the door and glared at them.
“Well? Did you get her?”
Andrew shook his head. “No. We couldn’t find her anywhere. If she was walking back to town, somebody must have already picked her up.”
“Or a vampire got her,” Jonathan said with a shudder.
“Great. I ask you two morons to do something simple like find a drugged girl and bring her back, and you screw it up. Now we don’t know where she is. You better hope a vamp got her,” Warren said darkly.
“Why didn’t you just grab her when she jumped out?” Jonathan whined. “Wasn’t she still woozy?”
Warren shook his head. “It was wearing off too fast. That’s one of the things I was testing. Damn Slayer messed up my test run on Trina, and I needed to know how much it would take to keep her out of it until I could work the spell with the orb. If that Ellie bitch had stayed unconscious, I would have just dropped her off back at the club parking lot.”
He opened the door wider and waved them in. “Now we don’t know if she made it back or not. We need to figure out what to do if she went to the cops.”
Jonathan hesitated. “What ‘we’? You did it. All we did was try to find her for you after you let her get away.”
“Shut up,” Warren said, slamming the door behind them.
“Well. That was…. interesting.”
“I know you meant to say creepy and grounds for turning him in,” Buffy grumbled.
“It is that. But if Giles and Winnie have done their thing, Ellie should be entertaining Sunnydale’s finest with a tale they can follow up on without worrying about running into something they’d rather not.”
Buffy sighed. “I’m really disappointed in Jonathan and Andrew. I know they’re idiots and not…. but I didn’t think they’d go along with something like kidnapping.”
“Did in our time, didn’t they?” Spike jerked his head in the direction of his car and they started walking. “Weren’t all three of them in on making Meers’ old girlfriend wait on them hand and foot? I doubt he would have shared the affections of such a pretty girl with that pair of losers, but they got to enjoy watching her walking around in her little French Maid outfit.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. “How do you know about what she was wearing?”
He got very busy lighting a cigarette and clearing his throat, responding only when she stopped walking and began to tap her foot. 
“Andrew talks a lot,” he mumbled.
“He told you about it?”
Spike shrugged. “Reckon he was tryin’ to impress me with what a big bad he’d been. Didn’t work,” he added. “Needless to say…”
“Please tell me you didn’t get into an I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours with Andrew!”
He laughed. “Was supposed to go that way, probably, but my first story shut him down bloody fast. He was quiet for the rest of the day. And stayed out of the basement too. Was a good five minutes work, if I say so myself.”
Buffy shook her head and continued walking, waiting until they reached the car to ask, “Do you think we need to tell anybody what we heard?”
“Let’s wait until we know what Ellie told the cops, and how Giles and our magical explaining expert handled the fact that they were looking for her.”
“Okay. Time to go home, I guess. I do need to get up early tomorrow.”
“Guess it’s a good thing I got my quota of lovin’ earlier then, yeah?”
“You don’t have a quota,” she said, groping his cock which immediately filled in her hand. “See?”
She ignored his indignant “Hey!” and slipped into the passenger seat.
“Home, William,” she said with a wave of her hand.
“Yes’um, Miss Buffy. Whatever you say.”
Buffy did get up earlier than usual in the morning to attend one of the two classes she’d signed up for that semester. She’d done one class the semester before and managed to get a B in it, finding that having Spike to help with patrol, as well as not have an apocalypse to worry about, meant she could devote more time to things like working on her degree.
“I guess having money this time around helps too,” she said to Tara, who she’d met for coffee before class.
“I’m sure it does,” Tara said with a smile. “I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for you­—adjusting to being alive, your mother was dead, you had no money except what you could make at a fast food place…” Tara paused. “Didn’t Willow and I pay you rent? We were living in your house, weren’t we?”
Buffy nodded. “Yes, but that was to take care of Dawn, and you did most of the cooking… it’s not like you guys weren’t earning your keep while I was dead. And even after I came back, I was pretty useless for a while. Too busy being unhappy about being alive to participate in the household. And when I started spending more time with Spike….”
“Didn’t that help? I thought you and he were already together?”
Buffy shook her head. “No, I guess with you not getting serious with Willow until after we’d been here a while, you missed Xander’s reaction to Spike. In our time, by now, they were usually okay… I mean they worked together when we were fighting Glory, and they worked together while I was gone and he got used to Spike going in and out to help with Dawn, but he would have pitched a fit about me and Spike being a couple. And probably so would Willow and Giles. The only one who didn’t see him as just extra muscle to help out when they needed it was Dawn.”
She sighed and gave Tara a small smile. “I guess you were okay with it because you didn’t remember him when he was evil, but I l worried about how everybody else would react, and I let it make me ashamed of what we had. I’m still apologizing to him for that, for how I treated him when he was just trying to love me and help me.”
“And did he? Help you?”
“He did. He gave me something to look forward to, something to live for, and I found my way back into the world. But I still didn’t….” Buffy sat up and shook herself. “I was a bitch, he was an soulless demon, and it didn’t go well. We pretty much worked it out the next year when he came back with his soul, but it took awhile. And by that point, I had more important things to worry about than making my friends happy with my choice of the most important person in my life.”
Buffy picked up her coffee and tried to pretend it hadn’t grown cold while she’d been talking. “That’s enough about old history that isn’t going to happen this time. How are things with you? Max says you’re turning in to one of the best healers he’s ever seen.”
Tara blushed and briefly hid behind her hair, then sat up straight and smiled. “That’s very sweet of him. I’m sure it isn’t true, but I do think I’ve learned a lot. Max is very attuned to earth magic and he can do amazing things with it. More than I’ll ever be able to.”
She hesitated, then said, “He wants me to study with some friends of his. They have a coven in New Zealand and they said I’m welcome to join them after this semester and stay as long as I’d like.”
“Well, that’s…. wonderful? Do you want to do it?”
“I think I do. They sound like really nice women—I’ve talked to a couple of them on the phone—and it would be really fun to be with a group of real practitioners who use the same kind of magic I use.”
“Unlike Willow,” Buffy said, keeping her tone as unjudgmental as she could while she met Tara’s gaze.
“Unlike Willow,” Tara agreed sadly. “I do love her, but I don’t think we’ll ever be totally happy together. We’re just too different in our approach to magic.” She sighed. “In your time we did get back together, didn’t we? And it was working?”
Buffy shook her head. “We’ll never know,” she said softly. “You started spending more time together, and I guess Willow was really keeping a grip on her need to do magic for everything, so things between you were getting better. And then, the day you really got back together…. That was the same day Warren shot us. Me on purpose, you by accident. But I didn’t die, and you did. In Willow’s arms….”
“And she went nuts.”
“She did. And it was awful. I tried, Giles tried, but it was Xander who was able to stop her before she destroyed the world.”
Tara looked distressed, and Buffy leaned forward to put her hand over Tara’s clenched fist.
“What’s wrong? None of those things are going to happen this time. Warren’s pretty close to pushing Winston or Spike into… into doing what I’m trying very hard not to. And if Ellie told her story to the cops last night, Warren might be in jail by now. And he has no reason to think it’s my fault, so no mad-enough-to-shoot-Buffy this time.”
When Tara didn’t look convinced, Buffy continued, “And anyway, I don’t live at Mom’s house and neither do you or Willow, so even if you were home when—if—he shoots at me, you know that bullet isn’t even going to reach the building, never mind either one of us.”
Tara smiled her agreement at the complete confidence they both had in Max’s ability to protect his tenants, then she frowned.
“How do you think she’s going to react when she finds out I’m moving to New Zealand to  spend time with a coven?”
“Oh wow.” Buffy sat back. “Well, okay. That’s probably not going to go over real big, but, hey, it’s not the same as making up with her and then dying.”
“She’s already wondering how long I’m going to ‘stay mad’ at her. She really doesn’t understand how wrong it was to use that spell on me. She thinks we’re going to kiss and make up any time now.”
Buffy sighed. “I know she does. I’ve tried to explain that you were apart for months in our time before you were willing to trust her again. I can’t believe she’s talking to you about it already. I told her to leave you alone.”
“It’s okay. It hasn’t happened very often. She can’t reach me when I’m at home, and we aren’t often on campus at the same time. But I know she’s expecting me to come back soon, and I just don’t think that’s in our immediate future. Someday, maybe, but for right now….”
“For right now, you deserve to be allowed to live the life you want to live. Willow can be a little… bossy.”
“Ya think?” Tara’s uncharacteristic sarcasm had them both giggling as they got up to throw their cups away and go to their respective classes.
When Buffy arrived at the Magic Box that afternoon, she waved at Anya who was waiting on a customer and went right back to Giles’s office. He looked up at her and smiled, although he looked tired.
“Hi. Are you okay? I mean, nothing personal, but you don’t look so hot.”
“I’m not sure how that isn’t personal,” he grumbled, “but I don’t doubt it’s quite accurate. Unfortunately, unlike you and Winston, I had to be up early this morning to open the shop.”
“Hey! I got up early…ish. I had a class to go to. And we were out late too!”
You were not sitting in the Sunnydale Police Station while a young girl you barely know was explaining how she was drugged and kidnapped, only to be rescued by total strangers who just happened to be on the same stretch of desert highway that she had escaped on.”
“Oh. Yeah. That’s true. But we didn’t go right home.” She told Giles about checking on Warren, only to see Andrew and Jonathan show up.
“You’re saying he sent them out to find her and bring her… to him?”
“That’s what it sounded like. He was really pissed that they didn’t find her. Then he slammed the door and we couldn’t hear anything else.” She pointed at the laptop. “Did you see anything this morning?”
He shook his head. “Nothing useful. Andrew’s car is now back at his house, so we can assume they went home at some point. To the best of my knowledge, Warren has not left his home.”
“No cops yet?” Buffy frowned.
“No. However, they indicated that there would be paperwork to obtain this morning before they could make an arrest, search warrants and what have you, so I wasn’t really expecting anything right away…. Hello! Here we go.” 
He pointed to the screen which showed that several police cars had pulled up to Warren’s house, one blocking the driveway and the other parked in front. As the detective walked to the door, warrants in hand, the camera focused on the back door suddenly drew their attention and Giles enlarged that picture. Just as several uniformed officers approached the back yard, Warren bolted out the door, and using a jet pack strapped on his back, he shot into the air and across the backyards in his neighborhood.
The small image from the front camera showed much yelling and arm-waving by the police at the front of the house who, although they hadn’t actually seen Warren leave, quicky realized that he had somehow managed to flee while they were coming in the front door. They ran around to join the officers in the back and added their cursing to that of those already there when they saw the open door still vibrating from Warren’s forceful push against it and no sign of him in the yard.
 “Well crap,” Buffy said. “That’s kind of what happened in our time. Except that they arrested the other two and just Warren escaped like that.  But this time, unless we tell them we were watching last night, the police won’t know about Andrew and Jonathan.”
“Perhaps it won’t matter. If they find the drugs he used, and perhaps whatever else he may have there that would be incriminating, they’ll have enough on him that they won’t need confessions from his cohorts. They have a victim’s statement, I’m sure they’ll be conducting interviews at the club in an effort to find witnesses, and with the addition of physical evidence from the house or the van….”
“The van! We put a camera in the van!”
“It doesn’t matter. It has served its purpose and allowed us to rescue his victim. Spike installed it, did he not?”
Buffy nodded. “But—”
“And they will have very little success finding a match to his fingerprints should they find it and attempt to identify him.  Willow paid cash for the camera, and if I remember correctly, she wore a wig and sunglasses. So, they won’t have any idea who might have put it there. I’m confident they will find other surveillance equipment in his lab, so with luck they will assume he installed it himself.”
“But just in case, we need Willow to disconnect it, or whatever she needs to do to so they can’t find out where it was sending stuff.”
“Excellent point. I’ll call her now.”
While Giles called Willow’s phone, leaving her a message about what was needed, Buffy watched the police carrying things out of Warren’s house.
“Looks like they’re taking all his stuff. They should be able to figure out what he’s been doing and what he was planning to do.”
“We can hope so,” Giles replied as he ended his message for Willow.
Chapter Twenty-three
Things were fairly quiet for a few days as the search for Warren went on. At one point, a detective whose daughter had gone to high school with Buffy, and who, having been born and raised in Sunnydale, was more than a little familiar with it’s darker denizens, stopped in to the Magic Box to talk to Giles. He introduced himself as John Romano, and assured Giles that Buffy was not in trouble (remembering, no doubt, when she’d been wanted for Kendra’s murder at one time).
“I really just wanted to talk to you,” he said. “I’ve been a cop too long to believe in coincidence, and after talking to the girl who was kidnapped and finding out that Ms. Summers was also present when you found her….” He paused. “I’m just trying to figure out if there’s more to this situation.”
Giles sighed. “Buffy wasn’t with us when we found the young lady, but she was also out there looking for her, and she arrived soon after. I’d rather not tell you how we knew where to look or that Ellie might be in trouble, but we did have good reason to know Warren Meers would have had something to do with it. Buffy has been wary of him for some time, as he hasn’t restricted his nefarious activities to those that would bring him to the attention of… human authorities. She’d already had some unpleasant encounters with him and his cohorts.”
“Cohorts? Are you saying he had help?”
“Well, not at that moment, no. However, in the course of checking up on him later that evening, Buffy and—” Giles paused, unsure of whether or not he should mention Spike.
“Buffy and…. her sometimes sunlight-averse husband?”
Giles smiled and nodded his head. “Indeed. They usually work together, daylight permitting, of course.”
“Of course. You were saying…?
“While they were outside Meers’ home, his two friends drove up and they overheard conversation indicating they had been aware of the kidnapping, and had, in fact, been sent out to find the girl and bring her back to Meers.”
“I see. I don’t suppose you have a name or address for either of these two accomplices?”
“I do.” Giles wrote down Andrew and Jonathan’s names for Detective Romano and told him what street they lived on. “I’m sorry I don’t know the exact address off the top of my head, but no doubt Buffy does.”  He thought for a moment, then added, “I’m sure you remember when there was an attempted robbery at Joyce Summer’s art gallery a while ago.”
Detective Romano laughed. “I do indeed. It’s fortunate for Buffy that one of the uniformed officers knew who she was and was able to explain away the condition of the would-be perps.” He looked thoughtful. “Although I’m not sure what that has to do with—”
“They were hired by Andrew and Jonathan to steal a particular object from the store’s latest shipment. It’s one of several incidents that has led to her keeping her eye on both them and Meers himself.”
Romano nodded. “That does explain her interest, I guess.”
“Normally, she pays little attention to humanl evil doers, having enough on her plate with her usual nightly duties. However, Meers and his assistants have been known to utilize both magic and creatures more likely to be encountered in Buffy’s line of work to help them in their illegal activities.  Although no one anticipated exactly what happened to Ellie, we became aware of it in time to organize a rescue attempt.” Giles gave the detective a small smile.  “To be honest, it was something of a relief to have an incident which could be reported to and handled by the authorities.”
The detective rolled his eyes. “Well, I’d hardly call letting him escape out the back door ‘handling it’, but we hope to make up for that by catching him soon. Certainly this information about his accomplices will be a great help to us. Thank you very much for your cooperation.”
Giles stood up to shake his hand. “You do understand that had you not been as knowledgeable as you clearly are about life in Sunnydale and Buffy’s place in it, I wouldn’t have been so cooperative.”
“I do. Trust me. But you can’t have been a cop in this city for any length of time without knowing about the things that prowl our streets at night, and the girl who thins their ranks for us. I understand that most of what she does is outside our realm of responsibility, but please let her know that we’re not the enemy, and sometimes we may be of use to each other.”
Giles walked him to the door, saying, “I’ll pass that information on to Buffy. I’m sure she’ll be pleased to hear it.”  They shook hands again at the doorway, smiling at each other.
As the detective left, neither he nor Giles noticed the old woman watching from across the street. Nor would they have recognized Warren Meers if they had seen him.
It was only another week later—a week in which Buffy and Spike were able to fall into a routine of patrolling every night and then retiring for what Spike referred to as a “rehydrating” at the Bronze or even the club where they’d first seen Warren with Katrina. Knowing the police were after Andrew and Jonathan, as witnesses, if nothing else,  and that they hadn’t found them yet, no one was watching the laptop monitor as faithfully as before.  So, it was just sheer luck that Giles was working in his office and glanced up to see Andrew being escorted out of his house by Detective Romano. Arms waving, Andrew was clearly protesting vigorously as he walked to the waiting squad car and got in. There was no sign of Jonathan, but Giles was confident that the detective would have his location soon—assuming that Andrew actually knew it and that Jonathan hadn’t just left town.
Jonathan approached an abandoned-looking building cautiously, knowing that vampires might be lurking inside, but too frightened at having seen Andrew get placed in a police car not to hope he could still take refuge there. He was grateful that his own reluctance to visit their house for the first time since they went into hiding had saved him from a similar fate, although he wasn’t looking forward to spending more time here than he already had.He called out as he reached the door.
“Warren?” his voice quivered as he entered and peered around the dim interior. “Are you still here?”
“Where the hell else would I be?” Warren growled as he emerged from another room. “Can’t go home, can’t go to the bank and get my money, the Slayer’s little friends are talking to the police, and somehow they knew what we were doing.”
“What you were doing,” Jonathan muttered, doing his best to convince himself that he was innocent of anything illegal.
“Fine. That I was doing. You were going to help me, so don’t be getting all holier than thou with me. You’re just lucky that girl never saw you, so she can’t rat you out to the cops.”
“Well, somebody ratted us out,” Jonathan said. “They took Andrew away a little while ago. I was just lucky I wasn’t quite there yet and they missed me. Now I can’t go home again either.”
“Fuck! I had things I needed you to do for me. It’s that dammed Slayer and her little gang of do-gooders! They’re causing all this trouble.”
“I was watching their magic store the other day. I saw a cop go in and he stayed way too long to suit me. The cop and her whatever-he-is looked all chummy when he left. I’ll bet that’s who told him where to find you and the other idiot.”
Jonathan slumped to the floor, leaning against the cracked wall.
“Great. So Buffy’s probably told them all about Andrew hiring those jerks to get the statue from her mom’s store, so now they’ll think I was part of that too.”
“You were part of that, you sniveling little girl. That was your only job—collect enough of those statues to open a portal. And you blew it. Both of you. Worthless minions.”
“They probably wouldn’t have worked anyway,” Jonathan muttered in defiance. “That was Andrew’s stupid idea. I told him he shouldn’t mess with demons and things; that Buffy would stop him. And she did. We can’t beat them. She’s got Willow­, who’s magical and a computer genius, Spike who’s just….” Jonathan shuddered. “Scary, and….”
“And those two refugees from the land of fish and chips,” Warren growled. “One of them has stronger magic than the redhead. I’ve seen him in action.  We should just get rid of the whole bunch of them.”
Muttering to himself, he sat down on the opposite side of the room from Jonathan who was staring at him with wide eyes.  After a while he stood up and threw a wig, some clothes, and sunglasses at Jonathan.
“Put these on, loser. I’m going to give you a list of things to buy for me.”
“But I… the police…. I don’t have any money!”
“The cops aren’t looking for an ugly blonde girl, and I’ve got a credit card that isn’t traceable to this address.” He looked around the seedy building. “Not that this is even an actual address. Another thing that’s her fault. Making me huddle in here like a rat or something.”
“Or something,” Jonathan said under his breath as he obediently took the wig and clothes Warren had thrown at him and began to change into them. “At least we know they can’t see it, in case Andrew blabs.”
It was sheer luck that Spike was cruising the aisles at the big box store when he smelled a scent that seemed oddly familiar. Following his nose, he found what he finally identified as Jonathan and shadowed him as he moved around the store, consulting a list in his hand occasionally. Spike had to admit it was a good disguise. Without his ability to smell the people around him, he doubted if he’d have paid any attention to the strange-looking “girl” dropping items into a cart. Although, now that he knew who it was, he could tell from her carriage and gait that it wasn’t a woman.
He frowned as he watched Jonathan pay for the items, then followed him out of that store and down the street to one selling cheap electronics. The new store was too small for him to unobtrusively watch Jonathan, so Spike had to settle for lurking in a nearby alley until he came out. Deciding he’d seen enough and wouldn’t be able to remember everything he’d seen Jonathan buy anyway, Spike watched him hustle off toward the part of town where nobody paid any attention to anyone else. He shrugged and went back to the original store to pick up the things Buffy had asked for.
Leaving Spike a note to say she would meet him later at the Magic Box, Buffy went to her class and ran into Tara as she was leaving the building.
“Hey! How’s it going?”
“Pretty well, actually. I’m wrapping up my classes here for the semester. Most of my professors are willing to let me take my exams early so I can plan my trip and leave before the rates get higher during vacation times.”
“Wow.” Buffy gave her a side-long look. “Are you sure you or Max isn’t working some magic? I can’t picture any teacher I ever had letting me do that.”
At Tara’s shocked expression and stammering, Buffy quickly apologized. “I’m kidding! I know you wouldn’t do anything like that! I’m sorry. I’m just jealous!”
“I knew that,” Tara said, blushing.
“No you didn’t, but that’s okay. It was another Buffy foot-in-mouth moment. You’d think I would have outgrown that by now.”  She smiled at Tara anxiously until she got a return smile. “So, how did you do it? Was it hard to get them to be all right with it?”
Tara shook her head. “Not as hard as it’s going to be to get Willow to be all right with it.”
Buffy made a sympathetic face. “You haven’t told her yet, huh?”
“No. I know that’s cowardly, but I want to be sure it’s actually going to happen before I get into a fight about it.”
“Huh! That’s pretty smart.” Buffy smirked. “Maybe you should talk to Spike about taking that approach to breaking bad news.” Both girls giggled as they exchanged hugs and went on their way.
The informal Scooby meeting that night was more about just catching everyone up and enjoying pizza than it was official business.
“Let me get this straight, Tucker’s brother is in jail now, Warren is hiding from the police, nobody knows where Jonathan is, but the cops want to talk to him too… And Tara’s alive and well, so Willow isn’t thinking ‘end the world’.  We’re pretty much home free this year, aren’t we?”
The crashing silence that greeted Xander’s comment made him obviously rethink what he’d just said, and he quickly took it back.
“I didn’t mean that!” He raised his gaze to the ceiling. “Honestly! I didn’t mean it! Don’t smite me!”
“Xander, you’re an idiot,” Anya said.
“I took it back. I’m calling a do-over.”
“I don’t think the Powers That Be give do-overs,” Buffy said, shaking her head and laughing at him.
“I don’t know about that, pet,” Spike said with a smirk. “I’d call what happened to us a do-over, wouldn’t you?”
“Huh!” Buffy thought for a second. “I guess it kind of is, isn’t it?”
Giles gazed at them incredulously.  “I’d say it was a rather major ‘do-over’,” he said. “I realize Spike is referring to your current domestic relationship, but that is hardly all that’s happened. Given that you haven’t died or been resurrected, and have managed to at least alter, if not completely prevent, many of the unfortunate events from your own time… and Winston’s, I’d say we’re in the midst of a quite spectacular do-over.”
“Wow. I guess we are. Go us!” Buffy beamed at Giles. “Good think you decided to send me back, huh?”
“So it seems.” Giles looked pleased at his future self’s actions.  “Although, let’s not become complacent just because things seem to be going well at the moment.  We don’t know if we have totally prevented the First Evil from making an attempt to rise into our world. We can certainly hope so, but I suggest we not let down our guard yet.”
“Party pooper,” Buffy pouted.
“I believe that is part of my job description,” Giles replied with a wry grin. “I’m quite certain it was the first lesson I learned as a watcher… always expect the worst.”
“What else could go wrong this year?” Anya said. “And whatever it is, it better not interfere with our wedding!”
Only Winston and Xander caught the startled looks Buffy and Spike exchanged, but they both saw what was clearly an unwelcome thought.
“Care to share?” Xander said, narrowing his eyes.
“It’s nothing,” Buffy said quickly. “Giles already hid Sweet’s amulet, so he won’t be showing up, and Spike’s going to take care of anything else.”
Good for me. What exactly am I supposed to do?
Talk to Xander. if you have to, tell him what he did in our time after the demon showed up at the wedding. Don’t let him do that this time.
I can try to talk sense into him, but no promises, love. He did that spell because he was already having doubts…
Buffy just fixed him with a determined glare and he sighed.
“Right then. Ol’ Spike will fix it. No problem.”  He looked over at a curious Xander and said, “Might could use a bit of help with it, now that I think of it. Are you interested in doing something useful, Harris?”
Xander looked surprised, then pleased. “Yeah, sure. I’ll help you out if you can’t handle it yourself. What do I need to do?”
“Just meet me here tomorrow afternoon and I’ll explain what we need to do.”
“Got it.”
Buffy gave Spike’s hand a quick squeeze and smiled at him.
Thank you.
He smiled back and sent a vivid image of her standing naked in the desert.
You can thank me later, love.
She rolled her eyes and shook her head, but her face turned pink and she felt herself grow warm. Tearing her eyes away from him, she said to Giles, “Have you heard anything more from that detective?”
He shook his head. “No. I’m assuming they have not yet found Warren, in spite of whatever information Andrew may have shared with them.” He frowned. “Of course it’s possible Warren is hiding somewhere with a cloaking spell to conceal it from most eyes.”
“Wouldn’t work for demons,” Spike said, and Anya nodded.
“No, most cloaking spells only work on humans. Spike might be able to find him, but the police would probably walk right by without even noticing the building.”
“Well that sucks. So even if Andrew does squeal on him, they might not be able to find where he’s hiding.” Buffy frowned. “I wonder if Jonathan is with Warren?”
“Oh! I almost forgot.” Spike slapped his forehead. “I did find the little minion, but he was dressed like a girl, wig and all, and I decided to just follow him around for a while. Wasn’t real inclined to tell the authorities that I could smell who he was….”
Before Spike could continue with what he’d observed Jonathan doing, Giles broke in, “Detective Romano seems to be quite aware of what you are, if a bit puzzled at having seen you out and about in the daytime at least once.”
“Huh. Good to know, I guess. Anyway, that idiot minion was buying up all sorts of odd things at the gigantic hardware store, and then he went into an electronics place that was too small for me to follow him without being seen.” He shrugged. “I guess I should have followed him, but I thought we were leaving Meers and his minions to the police.”
“What sort of things was he buying?” Winston asked.
Spike pulled a paper from his pocket and passed it to Winston. “Here, I scribbled down what I could see of it on the back of the list Buffy gave me. Some of it makes sense to me, some of it doesn’t.”
Winston glanced over the list, frowned, and handed it to Giles, who also frowned as he perused it.
“What?” Buffy said. “Why are you two making serious-face?”
Winston shook his head and replied. “Many of these items could be combined to make explosives. If Jonathan is with Meers, I find it more than troubling that they are accumulating what could constitute bomb-making materials.”
“Awesome,” Buffy groaned. “Now he’s going to blow something up.”
Giles sighed. “It would seem so. Possibly a bank vault? They’ll need money if they are to be able to leave Sunnydale.”
“Probably so. He’s just determined to be the bane of my existence this year, no matter what.” Buffy sighed her dismay.
“Shouldn’t we tell the police what we know?” Xander asked.
“I’ll call Detective Romano tomorrow,” Giles said. “I believe I’ll also mention the possibility of a cloaking spell hiding Warren or his refuge. He many not have resources to work around such a thing, but if they know it’s a possibility…”
“Also, we know at least one of them is going out disguised as a woman, so that might help.” Buffy smiled at Spike.
“That too. Something for those of us without Spike’s heightened senses need to be aware of. If you see somebody odd-looking…”
“Giles. It’s Sunnydale. I slay odd-looking things every night.” Buffy’s snorted comment brought smiles all the way around the table.
Before they could continue comparing ideas about how they could help the police find Jonathan and Warren, the door flew open and Willow was standing in the opening, her hair standing out from her head.
She glared straight at Buffy as she said, “How long have you known about this?”
Chapter Twenty-four
Spike stepped in front of Buffy as Winston came to his feet, balancing on the balls of his feet as a fighter would if he was expecting trouble.
“Do you know what she’s talking about?” Winston asked Buffy quietly, never taking his eyes off Willow.
Buffy exhaled loudly. “I think so. Let me talk to her.” She stepped out from behind Spike, ignoring his growl. “Willow, can you calm down and talk to us?”
Willow’s hair settled around her head, but she never took her furious gaze off Buffy.
“Why didn’t you tell me? You’re my friend, you should have told me!”
“Okay,” Buffy’s tone became slightly less understanding. “A – I just found out this afternoon. And B – it wasn’t my place to tell you. It was Tara’s right to choose when and how to do it. And obviously she did,” Buffy added with a roll of her eyes.
“She’s leaving next week! Next week!” Willow’s demeanor changed as grief overcame her anger and she sagged against the door frame. “How could she not tell me what she was going to do? Why didn’t she ask me if I’d be okay with it? Why didn’t she ask me to go with her?”
Buffy went to Willow and put her arm around her.
“Think about how you’re reacting. Can you blame her for putting it off as long as she could?”
“This is all Max’s fault. He put this idea into her head.” Willow began to straighten up and regain her indignation. “I should­­—”
Winston stepped forward, interrupting her. “What you should do, is not finish that thought no matter where you were going with it.” He waited until she turned her renewed angry glare on him. “Never mistake Master Maximillian’s gentle manner for weakness. He will not allow you to control Tara or interfere with the opportunity she’s been offered.”
“What’s an old earth magic guy who doesn’t like to hurt people going to do to stop me?” Willow sneered, then her eyes narrowed. “How do you know? Did they tell you too? Why didn’t you tell me? You said we’re friends in your time. Is this how you treat your friends?”
“As Buffy has already said, it wasn’t my story to tell. And your behavior is making it very obvious that Tara was wise to be worried about your reaction.”
“Well, I’m going to pay Max a visit and tell him to leave Tara alone. She doesn’t need to go to New Zealand or anywhere else.” She whirled to go out the door, finding herself stuck in place although able to talk and move her head.
“What?” she demanded. “And I hate it when you do this. Someday….”
Winston sighed. “Someday, you will either learn to control your temper or….”
“Or what!” The incongruity of continuing to argue with someone who was capable of holding her in place without seeming to exert any effort seemed lost on Willow as she berated Winston.
“Or you won’t,” he said flatly. “I strongly suggest you leave Max alone and accept that he has Tara’s best interests at heart.”
“Or you’ll do what? Protect him from me?”
Remind me again about Red’s IQ? Right now it’s looking pretty low.
She’s just really upset. When she calms down, she’ll realize she’s digging herself a big hole.
Un huh.
Buffy and Spike’s silent exchange had taken less than a second, so Winston’s answer was almost simultaneous with it. He’d taken the time to sigh heavily before answering.
“I would if I needed to. However, I won’t. And that is important knowledge for you to have. Max does not, and never will, need magical help or protection from me or anyone else now alive. Please take that information to heart.”
With a flick of his wrist, he released her. She was visibly struggling to control her anger in the face of his show of power.
“Somebody needs to pay for this,” she finally gritted out. “It all started with Warren and his blabbing to her.”
Without another word, she continued her way out the door, leaving shocked silence behind.
“Well, I guess that could have gone worse?” Xander ventured. “Maybe I could talk to her and—”
“And get yourself turned into a toad!” Anya objected. “Stay away from her!”
“Actually,” Buffy said. “In our time, it was Xander who talked her down when she was trying to destroy the whole world. She did listen to him… eventually.”
“Unfortunately,” Giles said. “In this timeline, she has not made the same regrettable mistakes that she did in yours or in Winston’s. She is more invested in the power she has than she is in atoning for past mistakes. And I fear she is about to make another one….”
“I guess we need to find Warren before she does,” Buffy said. She looked at Spike. “Did you say a cloaking spell doesn’t work on vampires and demons?”
“Most likely not. Any spell or glamour Meers is using can’t be as good as what Glory used to hide her changes. And I had no trouble with that.”
“Well, let’s go then. We’ll start in the part of town you saw Jonathan heading for and hope you can see something I can’t.”
The attempts to locate Warren’s hideout went nowhere. There were just too many abandoned buildings in Sunnydale for them to investigate in only twenty-four hours. So, the phone call to the Magic Box from Jonathan was a surprise to everyone. Although he asked for Buffy, he had to settle for talking to Giles who promised to pass the message on.
“I have something to tell Buffy. Something important… Tell her to call a meeting tonight and I’ll be there.”
“If you just need to talk to Buffy, why do you want her to call a meeting… and where would you get the idea that—” Giles stopped, remembering that the trio had been spying on them for at least week before they found the devices. “Never mind that. The question still stands, why a meeting?”
“Um, uh, I… I guess I just think everybody should hear it?”
“Uh huh. Well, let me consult with Buffy and see what her plans are for this evening. Where can I reach you?”
“You can’t. I’ll call back.”
The line went dead and Giles cursed quietly.  He was still drumming his fingers on the table in frustration and indecision when Winston walked in.
Giles began to tell him about the phone call, then paused when Buffy came in and he waited for her to sit down.
“So”, he concluded when he’d described the short conversation in great detail. “What do you think? Do we listen to him, or is it a trap?”
Buffy bit her lip and sighed. “I don’t know. In my time, he had a last-minute change of heart and told me how to beat Warren by smashing the orbs.  But I don’t know how he feels this time. I mean, if he wanted to be a good guy, he could have just turned himself in to the police and told them where to find Warren.”
“He could have, but he didn’t. Instead he went shopping for ingredients for a bomb…”. Winston said dryly.
Giles frowned. “Where’s Spike?”
“He’s walking around the part of town where we think Warren could be hiding. He kind of put a disguise on, so between that and being in the sun, he thinks they won’t know who he is.” She sighed and shrugged. “He’ll be here later if he doesn’t find anything. The question now is, do we call a meeting, and risk putting everyone in danger if it’s a trap, or do we not call them in, and take a chance that Jonathan won’t talk to just us?”
“Or, we could join Spike in his search for the hideout. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier, but I’m fairly certain whatever level of magic Meers is using to hide, it won’t be something those of us with some magical knowledge can’t at least see. Somewhat like Rack’s hidden door, you might have trouble with it, but supernatural creatures and magic practitioners should have no trouble.”
“Way make me feel useless, Giles,” Buffy grumbled, half-seriously. He ignored her in favor of asking Winston how he felt about going for a drive through the less attractive parts of Sunnydale.
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Winston agreed. “I’m a bit ashamed it didn’t occur to me earlier as well, but now that it has…”
Buffy said, “Okay, you both suck. Now that we know you can do it, let’s go.” She turned pale, and Giles frowned, “Are you quite alright, Buffy?”
She shook her head. “I’m just remembering who else knew how to find Rack’s place… and how pissed she was when she left here….”
“Dear Lord, yes. We’d forgotten about her anger at him.”
“I guess we need to hit the road now.” Winston gave Buffy a shrewd glance. “Do you know if Spike’s had any success yet?”
She frowned and grew silent as she felt for Spike and tried to understand his jumbled emotions. Her eyes grew wide as she got a picture of him standing between a floating Willow and what seemed to be an empty lot.
“He’s found him, and so has Willow. We need to go before she tries to kill Spike too.”
She flew out the door, barely pausing to shout the vicinity of the hideout at them before she was gone.
“Remind me to work with you on teleportation,” Winston grunted as he followed Giles out the back door and into his car.  They took off from the alley, narrowly missing the trash truck attempting turn in, and sped toward the part of town Buffy had indicated.
They arrived just in time to watch Buffy throw herself between a furious Willow and Warren, who was aiming a pistol at her. Willow had clearly seen through Warren’s glamour and destroyed it as the decrepit building was now completely visible.
He was standing in the doorway and sneering at Buffy for protecting Willow, pointing at Spike, just staggering to his feet. “You don’t want me to shoot your friend? After what she just did to him for getting in her way?”
Buffy hesitated briefly, turning her head to look at Willow, but the witch was beyond noticing anything but the man facing her. While her hair billowed out around her, she began chanting, pointing one hand at the arm holding the gun. It slowly began to bend, bringing the gun around to point at Warren’s chest. Buffy moved to interrupt her friend while Spike leapt toward Warren.
Buffy’s shout and her attempt to make Willow drop her hand was enough to break her hold on Warren and he swung the gun around, firing toward the two girls now struggling in front of the building.
A muffled cry from Buffy when the bullet struck her head was all Spike needed to go into game face as he knocked the gun away. Spike was holding Warren by his neck, but not yet applying lethal pressure, as he cocked an eye at Winston and Giles. Although he was worried about the blood on Buffy’s head, he could tell from her vital signs that, in spite of being temporarily unconscious, she was in no danger from the minor head wound. He waited to see what was going to happen with Willow, maintaining his firm grip on Warren’s throat.
Freed of Buffy’s attempts to stop her, Willow refocused on Warren and once again began to chant. As Giles knelt to check on Buffy, he gave Spike a nod. Winston waved him on, saying, I’ve got Willow, you do what you need to do.”
Willow broke off in mid-chant to attempt to throw a magical bolt at Winston, but, unlike the one she’d thrown at Spike, this one fizzled out as it left her hand. Using more obvious magic than he had before, Winston pointed at her and she fell to the ground, unconscious.
Warren held up his free hand which contained a small device. “I’ve got a bomb with me,” he managed to croak out. “If I release this button, we all get blown to smithereens and I’ll see you all in hell.”
“You first,” Spike grunted, grabbing the hand and crushing it in his grip hard enough to maintain pressure on the device. “Get everybody out of here,” he snarled at Giles, who nodded, picked up Buffy’s limp body, and retreated to the car with her. Winston moved Willow without touching her, waving his hand at Giles to drive away. As he did so, Winston turned back and walked toward Spike and Warren.
“Do you know which finger is holding the button?” Winston inquired.
Spike nodded. “His thumb.”
Without further discussion, Winston froze Warren’s thumb to the button, then nodded to Spike.
“He can’t release it now. If I was Max, I’d probably just dismantle it without any trouble, but I think I should probably hold it while I study it. I’d rather it wasn’t attached to him, though….”
“No problem,” Spike said, his eyes glittering. With a twist of the hand he was holding Warren’s with, he ripped the arm off just below the elbow and handed the bloody limb to Winston. “He won’t be needed this.”
As Warren struggled to scream through his now-crushed throat, Spike increased the pressure on his windpipe until he quit struggling and hung limply from Spike’s hand. Giving the body a good shake just to be sure, he let it fall to the ground.
“Have you got this?” he asked. “Need to go see about my girl.”
“Got it. I’ve disconnected the wires inside.” He glanced up at the sound of sirens in the distance. “We’ll leave it to the bomb squad to locate the main device and disarm it. You go on,” he said. “I’ll remain here, until I’m sure they know what they’re looking for.” Winston put the device back in Warren’s hand and left them on the ground.
As Spike took off running in the direction of the hospital, Winston prepared to explain why there was a handless dead man in front of a building that hadn’t been visible the day before. Fortunately, Detective Romano rolled up right behind the patrol car and the bomb squad, so elaborate explanations weren’t necessary.
Romano looked at Warren’s corpse, noted the missing lower arm and the hand that the bomb squad was now gingerly prying the detonator from, and frowned at the bruises on Warren’s neck.
He raised his eyebrows at Winston. “No teeth marks? I understood that he shot Buffy. I’m not surprised about the arm, but I would have expected… a lot more blood.”
Winston gave a tight smile. “I don’t think Spike was hungry, he just wanted to get to his injured wife as quickly as possible. This wasn’t about being a vampire, it was about ridding the world of the man who has tried to kill Buffy more than once.”
Romano nodded. “I suppose there’s a good explanation about why we couldn’t see this building yesterday when we had patrols check every block in this area.”
“There is,” Winston said.
The other man shook his head and smiled. “And I’d just as soon not know what it is.”
There was a shout from the building and one member of the bomb squad emerged with a handcuffed Jonathan in tow. One glance at Warren’s body and Jonathan bent over to throw up. The man with him ignored him and offered no sympathy, but spoke to Detective Romano.
“We found him trying to run out the back. He told us where to find the bomb, and it’ll be safe in just a few minutes. I’m guessing this is your third fugitive.”
The detective nodded his head and gestured for a uniformed officer to take Jonathan to his car as soon as he’d finished vomiting. “Good work, men. And here comes the coroner now. We’ll be all wrapped up here in time to be home for dinner.”
He glanced at Winston. “Would you like a ride to the hospital? I’ll need to get statements from Buffy and her husband, and anyone else who was there.”
“I’d appreciate that, thank you.”
Chapter Twenty-five
When they reached the hospital emergency room, they found Buffy already on her feet and ready to leave, a bandage around her head. She was arguing with the doctor, who insisted even a minor head wound was nothing to dismiss casually, but he had to admit she showed no signs of having been unconscious recently.
“I’m fine. Spike, tell him I’m fine!”
Spike rolled his eyes and gave the doctor a sympathetic smile. “She’s fine,” he parroted, then sighed. “She probably is fine. I’ll watch her like a hawk tonight and if I see anything that worries me, I’ll drag her right back in here. I promise.”
After getting assurances that Buffy would keep a follow-up appointment in a few days, and giving them instructions for caring for her scalp wound, as well as a list of symptoms to watch out for, the doctor reluctantly agreed to let Buffy go home. He gave a very subdued and silent Willow a curious glance, but could find no reason to examine her when Giles assured him she was fine, just somewhat traumatized by seeing her friend get shot.
Giles looked at Detective Romano with relief as he and Winston entered the small room in which Buffy had been treated.
“And here’s the detective I called to tell us that the bad guy is… taken care of.” Giles carefully avoided looking at Spike, but Romano didn’t. He stared at Spike, who stared back calmly with no indication of defiance or challenge, but no appearance of concern either. With a sigh, the detective nodded to him, then turned to Giles.
“Yes. It appears the bad guys have been taken care of. One is now in custody, and the other is… no longer a threat to anyone. The bomb has been defused and taken to the lab, and I’ll just need to talk to Buffy to see if she can tell me what happened.”
“Warren tried to shoot Willow and I was in the way,” Buffy said. “And when I woke up, I was in the car on the way here.”
“And why was he trying to shoot Miss… Willow?” Romano turned his attention to Willow whose frightened gaze went back and forth between Winston and Buffy.
Winston inserted smoothly, “I believe Miss Rosenberg had gone there to complain to Meers about his harassment of one of her close friends. They argued, and he seemed to think she should leave, so he produced a weapon. A very unfortunate decision on his part, as Spike happened to be searching in that area and he interrupted the argument just as the weapon was produced. And then Buffy arrived and things escalated until it seemed she needed to get between Willow and Meers. Once he’d shot Buffy, Meers was very aware that her husband was not going to take it well.  He produced the detonator and threatened to… I believe ‘blow us all to smithereens’ were his exact words.”
The detective shook his head. “I’m fairly certain I’m missing some important information, but I’m also fairly certain it won’t help me to have it. The important thing is a dangerous criminal is no longer a threat and his two henchmen are in custody. I’m going to call it a win for the good guys, and wish you all a good evening.”
He turned to Buffy, saying, “I hope you feel better soon, Miss Summers, and you too, Miss Rosenberg.” Buffy gave him a smile and Willow nodded her head without meeting his eyes. He glanced at Spike again, then shrugged. With a final hand shake with Giles and Winston, he left the ER.
“Can we go home now?”
“Yes, of course,” Giles said. “I’m not sure we can all fit into my car, but….”
“You take Winnie and the girls to the Magic Box and I’ll go get my car. I’ll take Buffy home from there.” Spike leaned over and brushed his lips across Buffy’s. “I’ll be right there, love. You just relax and follow doctor’s orders.”
“Okay, fine, but don’t be very long.”
“Not plannin’ to,” he said as he walked out the door.
True to his word, Spike was walking into the Magic Box before they had finished explaining to Anya and Xander, who had arrived there shortly before, what an exciting afternoon they’d had.
Xander frowned at Spike, then searched the faces around the table. “So Fangface killed him? And you’re all okay with that?”
“He shot Buffy,” Spike said coldly.
“And he was trying to shoot Willow,” Buffy reminded Xander. “He would have killed both of us if Spike hadn’t stopped him.”
“Why would he try to kill Willow?” There was a long silence while everyone waited for Xander to remember that they had spent more than a little time trying to keep Willow from killing Warren in this time line.  “All right. My bad. So if Spike killed him, Willow didn’t have to, and she doesn’t get to go all Dark Willow on us. I get it.”
There was another silence, then Willow said softly, “I’m not going to do that this time. I almost got my friend killed trying to save me from doing a very bad thing. And I know Tara would never forgive me for killing someone.”  She turned earnest eyes on Winston. “Can you still find me a coven to work with? To help me learn to be a better witch?”
“I can, but it needs to be because you want it, Willow. Not because you’re worried that Tara won’t approve of you.”
“Can’t it be both?” she asked plaintively. “I want to be a good person. I was a good person before. I can be good! But why can’t I be a good person because that’s what Tara wants me to be?”
Winston gave a sigh, echoed silently by everyone else in the room, then said, “We’ll talk about it. I’ll introduce you to the others and we’ll let them decide if they are still willing to work with you.”
“Well, why wouldn’t they be? I mean, okay, so there are rules and stuff that I need to know, but just think what they could learn from me! I mean, the things I can do without any training except from Giles and Tara…” She waved her hand, “And I guess from working with Max last year. But mostly, it’s just been me. I have a lot to share.”
She sat back and beamed at Winston, her expression losing happiness at Winston’s lack of enthusiasm.
“Aren’t you happy for me? Aren’t we good friends in your time? You told me you really like me.”
“And I am trying my best to hold that thought, trust me, “ he muttered, too low for anyone but Spike to hear. Spike’s snort of agreement, brought an embarrassed smile in his direction before Winston took a deep breath and responded in a more normal voice.
“And in my time, Iam quite fond of you. We’re good friends, who’ve been through a lot together, and I certainly hope that is to be our future in this time as well.  But we’re not there yet. We haven’t had to indulge in an all-out war—for which we should both be very grateful—but we are often at cross purposes when it comes to what is best for you and for those who love you.” He sighed again.
“I’m afraid you remind me a great deal of myself at your age, and I’m trying to spare you the painful lessons that I had to learn. The control I have now—both over my magic and my temper—is something I spent a lot of time learning.  And it wasn’t easy. With great power often comes a great… an abundance of self confidence. One might almost call it… arrogance. It took me a good long while to learn—the hard way, I might add—that no matter how strong you are, there is always someone stronger. And that life is much more pleasant when you are working with others than against them. Or trying to control them,” he added.
Willow looked angry for a moment, then her shoulder slumped and she shook her head.
“I don’t want to be that Willow. The one you and Buffy know who tried to end the world, who tried to kill her friends. I really don’t!”
Buffy spoke up quickly. “My Willow came back from her training and was amazing. We couldn’t have beaten the First without her magic. No one wants you to be less powerful, Willow. We just want you to…. I dunno. To be the Willow who doesn’t want to hurt people while you’re being all powerful.”
“Exactly,” Winston said. “I know you want to use your power for good, you just need to learn how.”
“Then that’s what I’ll do!”  Willow put on her resolve face. “I’ll learn to be the best good witch you’ve ever seen.”
“That’s all we can ask for,” Giles said, smiling to show he wasn’t being sarcastic.
“Why don’t we call it a day, and get some rest? I’ll contact the coven this evening and if they’re in agreement, we can make plans for you to spend the summer with them once your classes have ended.”
“Classes….Oh my god! I haven’t finished my assignments, and I’ll have exams in a couple of weeks! And I have a paper to write!  I need to go home right now!”
“And there she is,” Xander said with a smile. “My nerdy little, straight A-making buddy.” He stood up. “Come on, Anya. Let’s drop Willow off on our way home.”
“You go on, Xander. Giles and I have some things to discuss. Business things, of course. He can drop me off when we close the store.”
Giles looked surprised, but agreed quickly that they probably had things to discuss since he’d spent so much of the day on other things.
Xander frowned, but lacking any reason to argue about it, he nodded and followed Willow out the door to his truck.
“I don’t think Xander wants to marry me,” Anya announced as soon as the door closed behind them.
Buffy tried to look shocked.  “What… what makes you say that?”
Anya shrugged. “He keeps wanting to know if I think it’s a good idea, he even looked at stuff in the store to see if there was something he could use to see the future! I had to hide any amulets that could be used to summon demons he could ask!”
“How… what… how would you feel if he did decide he didn’t want to marry you?” Winston asked kindly. “Have you had any doubts yourself?”
Giles shot him a glare, but Winston ignored him. Buffy and Spike struggled to keep their expressions blank, but something must have shown up.
“What? What do you two know?” She focused her suspicions on Spike. “Did he say something to you?” She switched her glare to Buffy. “Or do you two know something because of what happened in your time?”
“What happened in our time was the result of a demon attempting to disrupt your wedding. We’ll be alert for that this time, so it shouldn’t be an issue.” Buffy tried to smile reassuringly.
“But if you and Xander are both having doubts, shouldn’t that be something you talk to each other about before the wedding?” Winston asked in his most reasonable voice. “I mean, that would seem to be the logical thing to do. Talk to him rather than talking to us.”
“What if he doesn’t want to get married? What if he calls off the wedding?” Anya waved her hands for emphasis.
“Then you won’t have wasted a lot of time and money on celebratin’ a marriage that’s going to make you both unhappy,” Spike responded before anyone else could. “How is that not better than doing it and then findin’ yourselves miserable?”
“Miserable?Are you saying we were miserable in your time?”
Giving Spike a glare, Buffy said, “That’s not what he’s saying, Anya.”  The look she gave Spike said it wouldn’t be in his best interest to repeat it.  “He’s just saying that if you marry each other, and then find out neither one really wanted to, it would be a lot worse than if you talk about it now and maybe decide you should wait and live together a while longer before you get married.”
Giles spoke up softly. “In all fairness to Xander, Anya, you have expressed some doubts yourself, have you not?”
“You weren’t supposed to tell anybody that!” She stared at Giles, her lower lip trembling. “Did you tell Xander?” 
“No, no of course not. I’m simply mentioning it now to reinforce Buffy’s suggestion that you put off the wedding—which will be quite expensive—in favor of living together a while longer so that you’re both sure it’s what you want permanently.”
“Oh,” she said, her expression turning contemplative.
Odds are hearing the expense mentioned twice will matter more to her than anything else.
That’s a terrible thing to say!
Buffy sighed audibly.
But probably true,she admitted.
A glance at Winston’s quirked eyebrow told them he’d had a pretty good idea what the silent exchange had been about, and Spike smirked at him.
“Okay!” Anya announced, standing up. “I’ll talk to him tonight. I don’t want to spend the money for a wedding if it isn’t something we both want to do right now. You can take me home now, Rupert,” she finished.
“Yes, Rupert. By all means take her home now,” Spike snickered, making a rude gesture at Giles’s glare.
“We do seem to be done for the evening,” Giles said. “May I offer you a ride, Winston?”
“No thank you. I believe I will walk myself home this evening. It’s early and I could use the exercise.”
They all walked out to the alley and watched Giles and Anya drive away.
“Well, fingers crossed we’ve avoided another fuckup,” Spike said. “We can take you home, Winnie, if you just didn’t want to ride with them.”
“Thank you, but no. I am quite serious about needing some exercise. My magical… juices… are still flowing and I have some energy to wear off before I settle in for the night.”
“Okaaay,” Buffy said dubiously. “But watch out for vamps. You might have to fight one off on the way home.”
“I’m hoping that will be the case,” Winston said, his expression grim. “More than one would be even better.”
Buffy started to protest, but Spike took her arm and gently tugged her toward his own car.
“C’mon, love. Winnie can take care of himself. Let’s get you and your addled little head home.”
He gave a grateful Winston a wink and thumbs up as he opened Buffy’s door and helped her into the car.
“Have a good night,” he said, somewhat wistfully, then drove off, quite sure he knew what kind of exercise Winston needed. Not for the first time, he was grateful that the powerful mage was on their side.
Their arrival home was uneventful except for a brief conversation with Max to fill him in on the night’s activities.
“Do you believe Willow to be sincere?” he asked. “Tara was quite upset at her initial reaction to the news.”
“It was pretty much what you might expect at first, but seeing Buffy get shot, and then having Winston basically disarm and incapacitate her so easily, she got a pretty good wakeup call. Not sayin’ she’s turned into anybody’s idea of a tame witch, but she’s rethinking things.”
“That’s probably all we can ask at this point, I suppose,” Max agreed with a sigh. “With luck, the coven Winston has been speaking with will help her learn to separate her emotions from her power.” He paused and met Spike’s gaze, exchanging a silent question.
“I think he’s fine,” Spike said, ignoring Buffy’s “who’s fine?”. “Wants to work off a little excess energy by walking himself home tonight. I’ll wager he’ll stroll through a cemetery or two if he doesn’t find what he wants.”
Max nodded. “I suspect you’re right. I imagine Buffy can take the night off.”
“Buffy was takin’ the night off anyway,” she interjected, pointing to her bandaged head. “But what are you guys talking about?”
“Tell you later, love.” He put his hand on her back and urged her toward their door. “Good night, Max.”
“Good night, Buffy, Spike. Sleep well.”
“Okay.” Buffy turned as soon as they got in the door. “What was that all about?”
“That was about Max askin’ if Winnie wasn’t likely to go looking to burn the city down, and me telling him he had it under control. That’s all.”

“Burn the city down???”
“Speaking metaphorically, love.” He frowned. “At least I think so…” He shook himself and continued. “Do you remember how energized Winston was after we killed Glory and Doc? Everybody else was wiped out and he was rarin’ to go?”
“Yeah. I guess so. So, what are you saying? He gets exciting about killing things?”
“A bit. Not like us, where we get our violent tendencies out almost every night and then we want to….” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, laughing when she glared at him.  “More like if he wants to kill things, and knows he shouldn’t… or doesn’t get to do it for some reason. Like letting Harris and me have Doc ‘cause we owed him. I think he might have had a little problem putting the brakes on his destructive urges back in the day, and Max worries about him when he gets to use his power, but not use it enough to satisfy those urges.”
“That’s why he wanted to walk home? So he can kill things?”
“Evil things, Slayer. Take that look off your face. He’s gonna be his own bait for any nasty things that think he’s an easy target. When he’s worked off whatever energy he charged up on while containing Willow, he’ll go home, get a good night’s sleep, and be ready to be a white hat tomorrow.”
“Wow. Just when you think you know somebody….”
Buffy shook her head, wincing when she got a sharp reminder of the wound there. “Owie!”
“Easy there, sweetheart,” he said, holding her still and peering at the bandage to be sure it wasn’t bleeding through. “Promised the doc you wouldn’t do anything to make it worse. Do you need an icebag?”
Buffy resisted the urge to shake her head no and said, “No. But I should probably go to bed and try to sleep it off.”
He frowned, then nodded. “I reckon that’s safe enough. It’s not like you don’t have your own personal vital signs monitor right here.”
“I do, don’t I?” she giggled. “You’ll know if my blood pressure drops or my heart stops beating—”
“Bite your tongue!” He looked horrified and she hurried to reassure him.
“I didn’t mean it was going to, silly. Just that you’d know. I’m fine. And by tomorrow, I’ll be even finer.”  She fingered the bandage. “Except, you know, with a chunk of hair missing…”
“Hair grows back, love,” he said, kissing the bandage. “I wouldn’t care if you were bald as long as you weren’t dead from being shot in the head.”
She turned around and put her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest.
“You killed him, didn’t you?” she asked softly.
“Did. Somebody was going to, figured it may as well be the one whose soul was already going to hell.”
“Don’t say that!” She tightened her grip on his body.
“It is what it is, sweetheart. Maybe I’ll get credit for helping you from time to time, maybe I won’t. As long as you don’t go with me, I’m good with it.”
“Well I’m not! You need to be with me!”
“I’ll be with you as long as I can find a way to do it, love. I promise. Now you get your wounded little head onto a pillow and let that slayer healing get to work on it.”  He gave her a little nudge toward the bedroom, waiting to make sure she was there before getting out some blood and warming up his dinner.
Chapter Twenty-six
 Chapter Twenty-six
True to his word, Spike spent the entire night awake, listening to Buffy’s breathing and her even, regular heartbeats. His nose told him there’d been no more bleeding from the scrape across her scalp, and by morning he felt comfortable closing his own eyes and drifting off to sleep.
Sleep which didn’t last long as he woke up to Buffy’s whimpers coming from the bathroom. He leapt out of bed and ran to the open door.
“What’s wrong, love? Do you need to go back to hospi—” He broke off when she turned around and waved the bandage at him.
“Look at me! Did they have to shave half my head for this?”
“This” being the large hairless spot on the right side of her head surrounding what he had to admit was a fairly small and already healing wound.
Smothering the urge to laugh, he said soothingly, “In all fairness to them, love, they had no way of knowing you were going to heal up so quickly. I’m sure they felt it was safest to keep any hair away from the open wound until it had a chance to close up.”
“It is closed,” she pouted. “And I’m bald!”
“You’re not bald, Buffy. In another day or so you’ll be able to comb your hair right over that and on one will ever notice it.” He turned away, thinking he could get a little more sleep.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to bed. I got up because I thought something was wrong. It isn’t, so I’m going to try to get some more kip before I have to face the day.” He continued his way to the bed and fell face down on it, putting a pillow over his head.
“I’m going to take a shower….”  When there was no response, she huffed and slammed the bathroom door. Even with the door shut, she could hear his growl and she smiled to herself as she turned the water on.
To her surprise, when she emerged from the bathroom, wet hair combed as best she could without touching the still tender and delicate wound, he was sound asleep and as still as the corpse that she knew he was but never allowed herself to think about. She understood he had probably stayed awake all night watching over her, which made her feel guilty about waking him, so she crept around quietly to get dressed. When she went out to the kitchen to have some breakfast, she pulled the bedroom door closed behind her. She knew it wouldn’t really keep him from hearing anything, any more than would the pillow he had over his head, but it made her feel a little better about having interrupted his sleep.
She’d promised her mother a visit, but one look in the mirror near the door changed her mind about that.
“I’ll give it a couple more days,” she muttered as she studied the still-healing, but by no means disappearing wound. “You’d think slayer healing would include things like faster-growing hair.”
“If it did, you’d be shaving your legs twice a day,” Spike growled as he walked naked to the refrigerator.
“I thought you were asleep!”
“I was, but somebody was walking around talking to herself out here.” He put his blood in the microwave and sat on a stool to wait for it.
“Um… you know you’re naked, right?”
“I can’t be naked in my own kitchen?”
“Considering that the kitchen and the front door are kinda in the same room….”
Buffy’s phone rang, interrupted her scolding.
“Hi Tara. What’s up?”
“Oh, yeah, sure. Just come on down. We’re both awake….  ‘K, see ya in a few minutes.”
She turned to look at Spike. “You sure you want to stay here like that?”
“Tara won’t care.”
“I’m pretty sure she will… and I care! Go put some clothes on! She’s coming down to say good-bye before she leaves for New Zealand.”
“Bet she won’t care,” he muttered, even as he went into the bedroom to put on jeans and a shirt.
By the time Tara knocked on the door, he was already dressed and seated at the counter again and drinking his breakfast.
Buffy opened the still-locked door and smiled to see both Tara and Max.
“So, today’s the day? I thought you had till the end of the week?”
“I was able to get an earlier flight, and it just seemed like a good idea to leave now….”
Tara looked briefly unhappy and smiled sadly. “Willow isn’t taking it well, and I’d rather not spend my last few days here arguing about it. I do love her, but I think the time apart is going to be good for both of us.”
Buffy nodded her reluctant agreement, then raised an eyebrow at Max. “Are you going with her?”
“I’m just accompanying her to the airport,” he replied. “I had thought about joining her on the trip, but I don’t like to be gone from the building that long. I’ve become quite the hermit in my old age.”
No one mentioned that they had no idea what that age actually was, and Max smiled at them in appreciation of their lack of nosiness.
Buffy and Tara hugged tightly, while Spike wished her a safe trip. He tried not to look pleased when she hugged him too, but Buffy wasn’t fooled and she and Max exchanged smiles.  With much waving and “safe trip” and  “call when you get there” they watched from the doorway as Max and Tara helped the driver load her luggage into a cab.
Spike kept his arms around Buffy, pulling her against his chest as they watched the cab pull away.
“So, what’s the plan for today, love?”
“I thought your plan was to sleep,” she said, leaning against him and tilting her head back to meet his gaze.
“Still might be. I was just a mite hungry. If you don’t need me for anything, I’ll probably try to catch some more kip.”
“Go ahead. I’m not going to see Mom until my head looks better, but I think we need some groceries, and you need more blood, so I’ll go run some errands. I’ll have my phone with me if you need me for something.”
They stepped back into the apartment and closed the door. Spike went back to his blood, making a face at how much it had cooled off, and Buffy picked up her phone and purse. They exchanged a quick kiss while the blood was rewarming in the microwave, and then Buffy went out the door.
She decided to swing by the Magic Box before buying perishable food, and was surprised to find Winston already there with Giles. Buffy glanced around.
“Where’s Anya?”
“It appears that she and Xander are having that important conversation about whether or not they’re ready to marry, and it seems to be an ongoing discussion. She may be in later if they have resolved their issues.”  Giles’s expression indicated he felt that was unlikely.
Winston said to Buffy, “What, exactly, happened in your time?”
Buffy shrugged. “Well, Xander did that spell that brought Sweet to Sunnydale, and I guess he and Anya sang about their doubts then, but they went on with the wedding plans anyway.”  Buffy looked embarrassed. “Honestly? After Sweet’s visit… well that’s when Spike and I started our… whatever it was. And I don’t think I was paying much attention to anyone else except Spike and the Nerds. Oh, and Willow. Cause that’s when she started seeing Rack…”
“Speaking of Willow….” Giles turned his gaze to Winston.
“Ah, yes. Well, I’ve been talking to some people, both here and in England, and we think the coven over there would be best for her. They have people who are very good at teaching young witches how to channel grief and anger constructively and without endangering others.”
“And you think they’ll be able to handle her?”
Winston gave a twisted smile. “The coven leader is an old friend. She is more than capable of handling Willow. Perhaps not as easily as I do, but more safely. Should anything go wrong, the coven as a group is also capable of binding Willow’s power. Not something anyone wants to do,” he added hastily when Buffy began to frown. “It would only be a last resort if she lost control and they feared she would hurt someone. It’s very unlikely to happen.”
Still looking dubious, Buffy asked, “When is she going to do this?”
“Not until Willow’s classes are over for this term. It will be a while.  She’ll have exams to take, and will need a passport and so on. I’m planning to accompany her there, actually. There are friends I wish to see.”
“You’re coming back, aren’t you?” Buffy stared at him in dismay, suddenly realizing how dependent they had all become on his magical assistance in important situations.
“Oh yes. I’ll be back. Long before we have to worry about the First Evil making an attempt to emerge.”
“An attempt we hope we’ve thwarted,” Giles pointed out.
“If we haven’t, we’ll be ready for him this time,” Buffy said, her cold expression causing both men to blink.
“Quite,” Giles agreed, flinching at the reminder that this Buffy had already defeated the First Evil once, but at tremendous loss of life and livelihood for the town in which they all lived.
“I hope we can do it without that damn amulet. I’m not letting Spike burn up from the inside this time!”
Giles nodded. “Ah yes, the amulet Angel got from Wolfram and Hart. Well, we don’t know if Angel will even end up with it this time, do we?  So much has changed…”
He frowned and sighed. “It’s only fair to tell you, I’ve spoken to Wesley and took the liberty of telling him that the three humans threatening us had been… taken care of.” He appeared thoughtful. “Although he didn’t go into detail, it appears that they may be having difficulties of their own… some involving Angel and his soul.”
“Angel lost his soul again?” Buffy sat up abruptly. “Do they need me?”
Giles shook his head. “He seems to think they have the situation under control. He did tell me that Faith is there, so they have a slayer if one is needed. He has promised that once the situation has been resolved, he will come to Sunnydale and fill us all in on anything he thinks we need to know.”
“If Angel isn’t Angelus, then he must be behaving like a real jerk to cause that much trouble….”  Buffy frowned her concern about what was going on in LA.
“It all seemed very complicated and he didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it. All we can do is trust him to keep us somewhat in the loop. You did make it clear you didn’t want to see or hear from Angel, so I suppose Wesley is trying to spare you having to make the trip.”
“Well, okay. As long as he knows I’m willing to come if they need me.”
“If and when I speak to him again, I’ll be sure to tell him,” Giles said. “In the meantime, it sounds as if we can relax a bit for a while.”
“Thanks, Giles. You probably just jinxed me for the rest of the year….” Buffy glared at him, and he had the grace to look ashamed.
“Indeed,” he said, glaring at Winston who was snickering. “My apologies. But in all honesty, unless there’s more you haven’t told us, it would seem that we’ve already seen and responded to the worst of it.”
Buffy tried to keep her expression blank as she replied. “Yeah, I guess we have.” Memories of beating on Spike, his ‘date’ at the wedding that made her heart ache to see—even though she’d known it was just to make her jealous—his attempt to convince her she loved him by trying to have sex with her on the bathroom floor all flew through her mind. When she noticed how hard they were watching her, she sighed.
“Nothing you guys need to know about. There was lots of Spike and me stuff—some good, mostly bad—but we got through it.  I mean, he did go get his soul back from some demon in Africa, but he did that when it was almost summer. We didn’t see him again until after Dawn started school in the fall.”
When they continued to stare at her with blatant curiosity, she added, “And that’s all you need to know about it.”
With obvious reluctance, Giles stop looking expectant. “Quite. You’re entitled to your privacy about your personal life. I didn’t mean to pry, I’m just not a fan of surprises.”
Buffy nodded. “Neither am I. I hope Xander and Anya have a good talk and can make the right decision about this wedding she wants to have. I mean, I know what to expect, and Spike will be there to help, so the demon that made Xander change his mind just before the wedding ceremony isn’t going to get near him this time.  But just in case, it would be a lot better if they put it off.”
“Are they not together in your time, then?” Giles asked.
Buffy took a deep breath. “They were working their way back together the whole next year, but….”
“How did Anya take having the wedding cancelled?” Winston asked with, it seemed to Buffy and Giles, more than idle curiosity.
Buffy stared at him in surprise, remembering that in his time, things had probably gone much the same way.
“In my time, she went back to being a vengeance demon,” Buffy said. “Didn’t she do that in yours?”
“I presume so. I wasn’t here for the wedding… or lack of wedding if I’m understanding you correctly? And when I was here, it was after Tara was killed and my focus was on Willow.”
“She became a vengeance demon again? What was she thinking?” Giles made no attempt to hide his shock.
“Spike said it’s easier being a demon than it is being human. A human man had just broken her heart in front of all her friends and relatives, so when D’Hoffren offered to give her old job back, she took it.” 
At Giles look of horror, Buffy hastened to add. “It didn’t work out very well for her. She’d been one of us long enough to relate to humans better, and when she worked a vengeance for a girl who didn’t mean she wanted hearts actually ripped out, she relented and undid the vengeance.”
Winston frowned. “That can’t have gone over well with her boss.”
“No, it didn’t. But to punish her, instead of killing her—or letting me kill her, ‘cause I was already there with my sword—he killed her best friend, Halfrek.  It wasn’t a great time… for any of us.”
“And then the First began to rise.”
“And then the First began to rise. Fun all around.” Buffy’s twisted mouth indicated exactly how not fun it had been.
“You say they were working their way back together…. But she’s not around in my timeline. Not with Xander, anyway.”
“No, she’s not around anymore.” Buffy sighed and avoided looking at Giles. “She got killed during the fight in the Hellmouth. Andrew saw it happen, but we couldn’t go back for her body—”
Andrew saw it?”
Buffy sighed again. “Yeah, I don’t know how any of that’s going to shake out next year, cause this time he’s still going to be in jail.” She waved her hand around. “It’s Andrew. He’s an idiot. Somehow he went from being all evil and controlled by the First to just being an annoying guy to have around.”
“Oh my God, poor Anya!” Giles looked so concerned that Buffy patted his hand as she reminded him, “But none of that stuff’s going to happen this time, remember? If she and Xander don’t put off the wedding, Spike and I are going to tell him what he did in our time and make him stick to any decision he makes. Plus, like I said, we’ll be there to intercept the demon that messed it up.”
“And with luck, there will be no battle in the Hellmouth in which she could be killed,” Winston said firmly.
“That’s kinda the whole point of this little time-travel adventure, isn’t it? In my time and in your time. Next year is going to be really different. Even Spike and I won’t know what to expect, because we don’t know how hard the First is going to try, or if it even can, now that the balance isn’t as off as it was when I died and came back.”
“I think we can rest assured it will try…. the question is, what form will the trying take?”
Buffy glanced at Giles. “If we learn of any potentials that go missing, or are killed… that would be a sign. I don’t think we picked up on that soon enough in our time. The Council needs to know so they can tell all the watchers to protect their girls!”
Giles and Winston exchanged glances. “And yet, we must be careful not to appear too sure of what will happen to them. We’ve come this far without alerting them to your unique situation, I’m not comfortable with suddenly telling the Council that you and Spike are time travellers….”
“I agree, Winston said. “When I left my time line, there was no knowledge of any time travelling except for what you were sent off to do shortly before I was. Although, I did know to expect Spike… so that much had changed….”
“I’ll let you two worry about the Council, all I want to know is when and how will it raise the Turok-Han.”  She stood up. “You know what? I think I need to get my groceries and go home to my… husband. Giles, you can look up Turok-Han in one of your books.”
Buffy entered the apartment as quietly as she could, putting the things that needed to be kept cold in the refrigerator, then creeping toward the open bedroom door. She peered in to find Spike lying in bed, staring at her in amusement.
“You know,” he said, putting his arms behind his head and flexing his biceps. “You’d think a slayer of all people, especially one living with a vampire, would remember that I can hear things you can’t, including your heartbeat. You can’t sneak up on me.”
“I wasn’t trying to sneak up on you,” she said with a huffy sniff. “I just didn’t want to wake you up if you were still sleeping.”
“I’m not,” he said. “I’m awake. All of me is awake.”
“So I see.” She giggled at the tent growing under the sheet. She began to remove her own clothes, kicking her sneakers across the room and tossing her jeans at his head. He batted them away so he could continue watching her strip for him. When she’d sling-shot her bra and panties at him, he sat up and growled.
“C’mere you.”
Buffy’s response was to leave the floor and jump toward him, with no thought that he wouldn’t catch her. Which he did, grasping her waist and gently lowering her against his body.
“There she is,” he murmured, as she wrapped her legs around him. Using just his feet, he managed to push the sheet down so that there was no barrier between them. Buffy raised herself up just enough to slide against his cock, spreading her moisture on it and teasing herself with every slide past her clit.
“Not sure which one of us you’re trying to drive crazy with this, Slayer, but as much fun as it is….” He stilled her hips on the next slide up and lifted her just enough to put his cock where he wanted it to go. Buffy settled down against him with a happy sigh.
“This is where I belong,” she whispered, keeping her face buried in his shoulder.
“That it is, my love. Want you here forever. Or as close to that as we’re allowed,” he added, common sense overruling his need to make a romantic declaration. He began to suck on his mark on her neck, at the same time as his hips began to move against her.
Buffy hummed her approval and tilted her head to give him better access, while falling into the rhythm he established. She used her internal muscles to squeeze him, bringing about a faster rhythm and a growl. She felt the prick of his fangs against her throat, as well as the subtle change in the size and angle of his cock. Her humming changed to whimpers as she quickly approached what she hoped was going to be her first orgasm of the afternoon. The first hard pull of her blood sent her over the edge and into a repeating cycle of sensation as she clutched him with every muscle in her body.
I love you.
 You are mine!
As he released her throat, she bit down hard on the small scar on his neck, adding her thoughts to his.
I am yours, and you are mine!
Never doubt it, love. I belong to you eternally.
As they both stopped trembling, Spike fell backwards and they rolled to one side so as to be facing each other. He pushed a sweaty tendril of hair off her face and smiled at her.
“Now that’s what I call an Afternoon Delight.”
She smiled back and snuggled into him. “I have an idea,” she said, almost shyly.
“Which is?”
“You know how most everybody thinks we’re married on account of that’s what we said when we rented the apartment? And you know how our mutual claim means we’re more married than most married people?”
“I do…. Where are you going with this?”
“What if we really did get married? I mean like regular human people do? Just because Xander and Anya might not get married this year doesn’t mean we can’t.”
He cocked his head to one side and began to smile, then released her and slid off the bed to kneel beside it. He took her hand in his and kissed it before saying, “Buffy Anne Summers, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
“Why William Pratt. I thought you’d never ask!  Of course I will!”
(of this story. To be continued in Part 4 of I Would Still Have Loved You, title TBA when it has one and when I’ve actually written that story.)