full 3/4 1/2   skin light dark       
Almost Home by slaymesoftly
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.
<<     >>