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.
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