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Almost Home by slaymesoftly
Chapter Nineteen
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Buffy’s reaction to hearing that Angel had tried to hire Warren to spy on them didn’t bode well for Angel’s future health.
“I’m going to kill him!” she growled, kicking a chair as she walked past it. “And then I’m going to bring him back and kill him again.”
“Right there with you, love. But at least now we know. And they know we know, so he’s going to have to find some other low-life to do his dirty work here.”
“Of all the people to pick!” Buffy was still on a rant. “He has to choose the ones already trying to make our lives miserable. What is wrong with him?”
“If I thought that was a real question, I’d make you a list,” Spike said. “In the meantime, the wards are up at the crypt, which they’ll discover if they’re stupid enough to try to put the cameras in anyway. We know they can’t get in here, and a word to Rupert and Winston should make sure the Magic Box has as much protection as a public place of business can. He did say more listening equipment, so we’ll need to check that out.”
“I wonder if we need to upgrade Mom’s house?”
“You can ask Winnie tonight, but I’d guess it’s pretty well protected all the way out to the edges of the property.”
“I guess we should call Wes and tell him what you found out today.”
“Yeah. But without going through the Hyperion switchboard….”
“Crap. I forgot about that. But if we call his cell, even if somebody’s listening, they’ll only hear his side of it.”
“Could have Rupert leave a message for Wes to call…maybe he can slip into the message that he needs to talk from somewhere out of the building.”
“’k. We’ll do that tonight.”
Giles was shaking his head in disbelief. “So Wesley drove all the way here just to warn you that Angel doesn’t trust him?”
“No, he drove here to tell me that Angel is spying on us. He drove instead of calling because he thinks Angel might be spying on him too and he already had a reason to be halfway here, so he just kept driving.”
While Buffy tried to explain to Giles what Wes had told them, and what Spike had learned from Jonathan, Winston stared around the store, searching for any sign of a listening device. As did Spike, who was listening hard for any mechanical sound that might indicate something already in place. Simultaneously, they each focused on the same display near the front of the store and hastened to it. Spike moved faster, so he had already pulled out the tiny listening device before Winston got there.
As soon as he identified the microphone and put his thumb over it, he held it up.
“Looks like one of them must have come in here pretendin’ to be a customer and planted this. Wonder how long it’s been here?”
“It can’t have been very long if Warren was waiting for money from Angel to buy more stuff,” Buffy said, but Winston shook his head.
“These small listening devices are quite easy to find and very inexpensive,” he said. “It could have been there for weeks.”
“That might explain why Warren had all those wards up and came out holding a weapon,” Giles said. “If he was listening when Willow said she knew who to blame for Tara’s leaving, he would have been expecting her.”
“Could be.” Spike looked dubious. “What else might we have talked about here that we wouldn’t want them knowin’?”
“Where we came from?” Buffy frowned at the little device as if she could destroy it with her glare.
“Let’s hope that hasn’t been the case,” Giles said. “While we’ve no doubt said things that might be obvious to us, I doubt we’ve come right out and discussed it since you first got here.”
“Except when Wes was here—but we were mostly in the training room then….” Spike and Winston moved immediately to the training room, but a thorough search turned up nothing in the way of cameras or microphones.
They were just emerging when Anya and Xander entered, followed by Willow.
“Ah, Anya. Can you recall having any customers fitting the descriptions of Buffy’s annoying stalkers?”
Anya shook her head. “Can you do better than ‘annoying stalkers’? That could be anybody.”
Buffy stared at her, then shrugged and described first Andrew and then Jonathan.
“Oh yes. Those two. They came in together. Complete idiots. What they didn’t know about magic could fill the hellmouth. They wandered all over the store, picking stuff up, asking questions, I was sure they were trying to find something to steal.”
“When! When were they here?”
Anya flinched back at Buffy’s demanding tone. “Last week,” she said, her expression matching her huffy response. “They were here last week.”
She frowned at the sighs of relief from everyone. 
“What don’t I know?”
Spike showed her the small object in his hand, still keeping his thumb over the microphone. “You didn’t know that they weren’t trying to steal anything, they were trying to leave something.”
“They’ve been listening to us?” Her eyes went straight to Giles, who cleared his throat and looked away, mumbling, “So it seems.” He gestured at Spike’s hand. “Why don’t you destroy that thing before we say something we’d rather they didn’t hear?”
Spike nodded and squeezed his fist shut, crushing the little device into flattened metal and plastic.
“Before we decide we’re home free, I think we should spread out and check every inch of this place.” Buffy glanced at Anya. “Is there any place you know for sure they didn’t go?”
“Just the training room and the office. And the bathroom. They didn’t go all the way back there.”
It didn’t take long for everyone to search carefully, not finding anything else. Giles and Winston had a quiet conversation, after which they wandered around the store checking the wards and adding to them where necessary.
“There is a limit to what we can do, given that the store must remain open to the public, but it should be a little safer now. Anything that doesn’t belong here, but is left behind, should make itself known fairly quickly.”
“Okay, well, let’s talk about what we learned last night and today then.” Buffy sat down, Spike on her left, and waited for everyone else to find a seat. Willow hesitated, then sat next to Xander.
“Aren’t we going to wait for Tara?” she asked softly.
“I don’t think Tara will be joining us,” Winston responded, more kindly than she might have expected. “According to Max she’s quite busy with her schoolwork, a part-time job, and of course her ongoing training as a healer. Naturally, if there is something she needs to be made aware of for her own safety, or if we need her skills for something, we’ll include her, but I think she’d prefer to maintain some distance at this time.”
“Oh.” Willow seemed disappointed but her voice was still soft. “I thought maybe she… I mean she isn’t still mad at me, is she?” Willow glanced at Buffy who blinked in bewilderment, but struggled to answer as if it was a reasonable question.
“I don’t know if she’s mad, but she’s probably still pretty disappointed in you. It’s only been a few days, Willow. We told you, in our time it was months before she started to trust you again. You have to earn that trust back and it’s going to take a while.”
“Well, that was in your time—when I messed up and made everybody lose their memories and stuff like that. She had more to be mad about then. I’m sure when I apologize and tell her I won’t do it again, she’ll—”
Even Xander stared at her in shocked silence as she blithely talked about apologizing and getting back together with Tara in another few days. She finally noticed the silence as well as the dumbfounded expressions and stopped herself.
“What? Why are you all looking at me like that?”
As gently as she could, given her impatience with Willow’s refusal to understand how badly she’d treated Tara, Buffy said, “Willow, you’ve violated Tara’s trust in a terrible way. You have to be patient and understand that she isn’t just staying away until she isn’t mad any more. She’s trying to make a life for herself, one that doesn’t rely on having you in it. I’m not saying she’ll never come back, but it isn’t going to happen just because you want it to. It’ll happen because she misses you, and sees that you’re trying to do better. And that you’re really sorry you did it, not just that you got caught—” She paused before she said something that might make things worse. “It’s going to take time,” she finished.
“She can’t… she wouldn’t…. Tara loves me! She can’t stay away from me! I won’t let her!”
The crashing silence that met Willow’s anguished cry stretched on until the realization of what she’d said hit her. She put her hand over her mouth and stared around the table mutely, meeting expressions ranging from sympathetic concern and shock, to cold and unreadable. Anya, Spike, and Giles all had similar expressions of wary suspicion.
“I… I didn’t mean that. Not in the way you’re all thinking. Stop looking at me like I’m… I’m going to hurt somebody. I’m not going to hurt Tara. I love her. And she loves me. She just has to see that we need each other and….”
It was apparent to everyone at the table when Willow remembered her My Will Be Done Spell and how it could have affected everyone when she couldn’t deal with the pain of losing Oz. She gave a low moan and put her head down.
“I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” She lifted her head to look at them all—settling on Buffy, Spike, and Winston. “You three don’t trust me. Even though I’m not the me you know who did all those awful things.”
They didn’t answer her except to gaze back with varying degrees of wary sympathy. She focused on Xander. “You trust me, don’t you, Xander? You know I’d never do anything to hurt you. I wouldn’t try to—”  She stopped herself and stood up, glaring around the table with her hands on her hips.
“I wouldn’t, you know. I know better. and I’m not out of control with grief this time. I just want Tara to come back to me. There’s nothing wrong with that!”
Giles gave a loud sigh and shook his head. “Of course there’s nothing wrong with that. We can all understand the pain of losing someone you love….”
He paused, remembering Jenny. Buffy knew she and Spike were wearing identical expressions of painful recollection. Winston, however, was as stoic as ever, with just the barest trace of sympathy and affection in his gaze.
Giles continued, “However, what would be wrong, would be for you to use magic to change Tara’s perfectly legitimate fear of being controlled or manipulated by you. Rather than look for the quick magical solution, you need to do the work required to rebuild her trust. And that won’t happen overnight. It cannot happen that quickly. You need to accept that, Willow.”
Willow looked around the table again, seeing no support from anyone, then sank back down into her chair.
“So, what did you learn last night and today?” she asked quietly. “Is it something I can help with?”
Buffy gave a sigh of relief and launched into a quick summary of what Wes had told them about Angel and his insistence that he needed to know what was going on in Sunnydale that made Spike a seer, and caused Buffy to allow him to claim her. When she finished, she pointed to Spike.
“You’re on, ‘seer’. Tell everybody what you and Max found at the crypt.”
“Found that the bloody great poof hired the very idiots we’ve been dealing with right along to spy on the Slayer and me and report back to him.  And they… or more likely Meers… are using those ill-gotten gains to add to the stash of tools or parts that he needs to make more of his dangerous toys.”
“Did you kill him?” Willow asked, blinking innocently when Buffy gasped. “I mean, because that would be bad, you know. Killing people—even bad people is bad. Very bad.”
“Of course I didn’t kill him,” Spike said. “Had Max with me, didn’t I? He wouldn’t even let me leave them there to get eaten by some other, less soulled up, vampires.”
“I presume,” Winston said, “Max has taken care of ensuring your… crypt… is perfectly safe now.”
Spike grinned at Winston’s struggle to refer to his old home by its true name, but nodded. “Yep. That’s why he was with me. Once Buffy and I found those two cameras and destroyed them, we knew the crypt wasn’t any safer from those gits than anyplace else we might be, so I asked Max to make it harder for them to get in.”
“Which I don’t doubt it now is,” Giles said with a wry smile.
“Wouldn’t be surprised,” Spike agreed.
“I don’t understand,” Willow said with a small frown. “So is Angelus back? Why is Wes sneaking around behind Angel’s back?”
“Because Angel, who is so very, very much my ex and has been for more years than he knows, is still trying to control my life, even though he doesn’t have that claim on me anymore. You remember that from last year, don’t you, Willow? That it turned out Angel put a claim on me way back when I used my blood to save his life? And he’s been using it all these years to keep me from falling in love with anybody else? Don’t you remember how pissed off I was last year when Spike’sreal claim broke it and I figured out what Angel’d been doing to me?”
“I remember. He was tricking you into renewing it too. It was a sneaky, controlling thing for him to do. It’s… it’s almost abusive behavior. To do that to you when you were unconscious…. You probably should’ve staked him! I mean what an awful thing to do to someone you claim you love…. It’s… it’s like…. ”
It was easy to seen when Willow made the comparison that everyone else at the table already had. She looked at Buffy, her eyes filling with tears.
“Oh my goddess. That’s what I…. But it’s not the same! I’m not trying to control Tara, I just want her to come back….”
“Whether she wants to or not?” Giles said gently.
“Oh goddess,” Willow repeated, sinking back against her chair.
“Getting back to the subject at hand,” Winston said. “What do you know about what Meers is likely to do next? Whether he gets money from Angel or not?”
“Well, in our time, he drugged his old girlfriend and somehow hypnotized or magicked her into thinking she was his slave or something. He made her a live-in maid/I-don’t-even-want-to-know what else, but when the crystal or orb or whatever it was got broken, she woke up and tried to leave. According to what Andrew told us about it, she accidentally hit her head while Warren was fighting with her. He was trying to keep her from going to the police.”
Spike growled and Buffy shushed him. “I’m getting to that.”  She looked around the table. “Accident or not, she was dead, and they left her body near Spike’s crypt and sent a bunch of time-shifting demons to keep me fighting near it. Then one of them— I have no idea which one ‘cause we were busy fighting demons and didn’t even know the jerks were there— pushed Katrina’s body into me, and I thought it was a demon, so I hit her and she fell down. Of course I thought I’d killed her!” She exchanged glances with Spike.
I’m not going to tell them everything.
Nor should you, love. Nobody’s business but ours.
“Long story short, I was going to turn myself in to the police, but while I was at the station, I heard them say her name and I remembered she was Warren’s ex, so I left without turning myself in for murder.”  She shook herself. “Which is neither here nor there. The point is, he’s going to try to kidnap her and keep her prisoner in his house, and Andrew and Jonathan are going to be a part of it. And then, when I stop them from robbing the armored car—” She looked at Spike. “Which should be even easier now that I took his balls away….”
Xander choked on his drink. “You what???”
Giles rolled his eyes. “Meers had obtained orbs that gave him superior strength so he could beat Buffy. However, he already had them on his person when we were there the other morning, and she was able to take them from him much earlier than in her time.”
“Which should be a big help,” Buffy said. “In my time Warren was kicking my butt until Jonathan whispered to me about the orbs and I managed to grab them.”
“And then he shot you?” Winston inquired with deceptive nonchalance.
“Well, not right then. He left Andrew and Jonathan at the crime scene and jetted away with some kind of jetting thing. They went to jail for attempted robbery, and I guess they talked…. Anyway the police knew he’d been responsible for Katrina’s death, so they were looking for him. His life of crime was pretty much over, and he blamed it all on me. So yeah, a few days later, he came to my house and shot me while I was in the backyard. He shot Tara too, but that was an accident. He meant to kill me.”
“Do we expect him to make an attempt on your life this time around?”
Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. “Well, if he’s mad enough, I guess he might. But I haven’t done anything yet except kick over a bunch of candles and yell at him—” She glanced at Willow. “Were you able to track down Katrina so we can warn her?”
“Oh! Oh yes, yes I did. But I didn’t bring it with me. I’ll call you with her address when I get home.”
“Okay. Well, that’s my first job, I guess. I need to warn her not to have a drink with Warren, or go anywhere near him. I hope she listens…. it’s not like I can follow her around making sure he doesn’t—”
“He isn’t going to.”
“Not a bloody chance.”
Spike and Winston exchanged meaningful glances while everyone stared at them, not even sure which one had spoken first. Xander spoke nervously to break the silence.
“Does anybody else think it suddenly got scary in here? he asked.
Anya responded as if he’d asked a real question.
“Well, if I was Warren Meers, I’d be scared.”
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