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.
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