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Almost Home by slaymesoftly
Chapter Twelve
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“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. 
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