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Almost Home by slaymesoftly
Chapter Nine
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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.”
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