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Almost Home by slaymesoftly
Chapter Twenty-three
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Things were fairly quiet for a few days as the search for Warren went on. At one point, a detective whose daughter had gone to high school with Buffy, and who, having been born and raised in Sunnydale, was more than a little familiar with it’s darker denizens, stopped in to the Magic Box to talk to Giles. He introduced himself as John Romano, and assured Giles that Buffy was not in trouble (remembering, no doubt, when she’d been wanted for Kendra’s murder at one time).
“I really just wanted to talk to you,” he said. “I’ve been a cop too long to believe in coincidence, and after talking to the girl who was kidnapped and finding out that Ms. Summers was also present when you found her….” He paused. “I’m just trying to figure out if there’s more to this situation.”
Giles sighed. “Buffy wasn’t with us when we found the young lady, but she was also out there looking for her, and she arrived soon after. I’d rather not tell you how we knew where to look or that Ellie might be in trouble, but we did have good reason to know Warren Meers would have had something to do with it. Buffy has been wary of him for some time, as he hasn’t restricted his nefarious activities to those that would bring him to the attention of… human authorities. She’d already had some unpleasant encounters with him and his cohorts.”
“Cohorts? Are you saying he had help?”
“Well, not at that moment, no. However, in the course of checking up on him later that evening, Buffy and—” Giles paused, unsure of whether or not he should mention Spike.
“Buffy and…. her sometimes sunlight-averse husband?”
Giles smiled and nodded his head. “Indeed. They usually work together, daylight permitting, of course.”
“Of course. You were saying…?
“While they were outside Meers’ home, his two friends drove up and they overheard conversation indicating they had been aware of the kidnapping, and had, in fact, been sent out to find the girl and bring her back to Meers.”
“I see. I don’t suppose you have a name or address for either of these two accomplices?”
“I do.” Giles wrote down Andrew and Jonathan’s names for Detective Romano and told him what street they lived on. “I’m sorry I don’t know the exact address off the top of my head, but no doubt Buffy does.”  He thought for a moment, then added, “I’m sure you remember when there was an attempted robbery at Joyce Summer’s art gallery a while ago.”
Detective Romano laughed. “I do indeed. It’s fortunate for Buffy that one of the uniformed officers knew who she was and was able to explain away the condition of the would-be perps.” He looked thoughtful. “Although I’m not sure what that has to do with—”
“They were hired by Andrew and Jonathan to steal a particular object from the store’s latest shipment. It’s one of several incidents that has led to her keeping her eye on both them and Meers himself.”
Romano nodded. “That does explain her interest, I guess.”
“Normally, she pays little attention to humanl evil doers, having enough on her plate with her usual nightly duties. However, Meers and his assistants have been known to utilize both magic and creatures more likely to be encountered in Buffy’s line of work to help them in their illegal activities.  Although no one anticipated exactly what happened to Ellie, we became aware of it in time to organize a rescue attempt.” Giles gave the detective a small smile.  “To be honest, it was something of a relief to have an incident which could be reported to and handled by the authorities.”
The detective rolled his eyes. “Well, I’d hardly call letting him escape out the back door ‘handling it’, but we hope to make up for that by catching him soon. Certainly this information about his accomplices will be a great help to us. Thank you very much for your cooperation.”
Giles stood up to shake his hand. “You do understand that had you not been as knowledgeable as you clearly are about life in Sunnydale and Buffy’s place in it, I wouldn’t have been so cooperative.”
“I do. Trust me. But you can’t have been a cop in this city for any length of time without knowing about the things that prowl our streets at night, and the girl who thins their ranks for us. I understand that most of what she does is outside our realm of responsibility, but please let her know that we’re not the enemy, and sometimes we may be of use to each other.”
Giles walked him to the door, saying, “I’ll pass that information on to Buffy. I’m sure she’ll be pleased to hear it.”  They shook hands again at the doorway, smiling at each other.
As the detective left, neither he nor Giles noticed the old woman watching from across the street. Nor would they have recognized Warren Meers if they had seen him.
It was only another week later—a week in which Buffy and Spike were able to fall into a routine of patrolling every night and then retiring for what Spike referred to as a “rehydrating” at the Bronze or even the club where they’d first seen Warren with Katrina. Knowing the police were after Andrew and Jonathan, as witnesses, if nothing else,  and that they hadn’t found them yet, no one was watching the laptop monitor as faithfully as before.  So, it was just sheer luck that Giles was working in his office and glanced up to see Andrew being escorted out of his house by Detective Romano. Arms waving, Andrew was clearly protesting vigorously as he walked to the waiting squad car and got in. There was no sign of Jonathan, but Giles was confident that the detective would have his location soon—assuming that Andrew actually knew it and that Jonathan hadn’t just left town.
Jonathan approached an abandoned-looking building cautiously, knowing that vampires might be lurking inside, but too frightened at having seen Andrew get placed in a police car not to hope he could still take refuge there. He was grateful that his own reluctance to visit their house for the first time since they went into hiding had saved him from a similar fate, although he wasn’t looking forward to spending more time here than he already had.He called out as he reached the door.
“Warren?” his voice quivered as he entered and peered around the dim interior. “Are you still here?”
“Where the hell else would I be?” Warren growled as he emerged from another room. “Can’t go home, can’t go to the bank and get my money, the Slayer’s little friends are talking to the police, and somehow they knew what we were doing.”
“What you were doing,” Jonathan muttered, doing his best to convince himself that he was innocent of anything illegal.
“Fine. That I was doing. You were going to help me, so don’t be getting all holier than thou with me. You’re just lucky that girl never saw you, so she can’t rat you out to the cops.”
“Well, somebody ratted us out,” Jonathan said. “They took Andrew away a little while ago. I was just lucky I wasn’t quite there yet and they missed me. Now I can’t go home again either.”
“Fuck! I had things I needed you to do for me. It’s that dammed Slayer and her little gang of do-gooders! They’re causing all this trouble.”
“I was watching their magic store the other day. I saw a cop go in and he stayed way too long to suit me. The cop and her whatever-he-is looked all chummy when he left. I’ll bet that’s who told him where to find you and the other idiot.”
Jonathan slumped to the floor, leaning against the cracked wall.
“Great. So Buffy’s probably told them all about Andrew hiring those jerks to get the statue from her mom’s store, so now they’ll think I was part of that too.”
“You were part of that, you sniveling little girl. That was your only job—collect enough of those statues to open a portal. And you blew it. Both of you. Worthless minions.”
“They probably wouldn’t have worked anyway,” Jonathan muttered in defiance. “That was Andrew’s stupid idea. I told him he shouldn’t mess with demons and things; that Buffy would stop him. And she did. We can’t beat them. She’s got Willow­, who’s magical and a computer genius, Spike who’s just….” Jonathan shuddered. “Scary, and….”
“And those two refugees from the land of fish and chips,” Warren growled. “One of them has stronger magic than the redhead. I’ve seen him in action.  We should just get rid of the whole bunch of them.”
Muttering to himself, he sat down on the opposite side of the room from Jonathan who was staring at him with wide eyes.  After a while he stood up and threw a wig, some clothes, and sunglasses at Jonathan.
“Put these on, loser. I’m going to give you a list of things to buy for me.”
“But I… the police…. I don’t have any money!”
“The cops aren’t looking for an ugly blonde girl, and I’ve got a credit card that isn’t traceable to this address.” He looked around the seedy building. “Not that this is even an actual address. Another thing that’s her fault. Making me huddle in here like a rat or something.”
“Or something,” Jonathan said under his breath as he obediently took the wig and clothes Warren had thrown at him and began to change into them. “At least we know they can’t see it, in case Andrew blabs.”
It was sheer luck that Spike was cruising the aisles at the big box store when he smelled a scent that seemed oddly familiar. Following his nose, he found what he finally identified as Jonathan and shadowed him as he moved around the store, consulting a list in his hand occasionally. Spike had to admit it was a good disguise. Without his ability to smell the people around him, he doubted if he’d have paid any attention to the strange-looking “girl” dropping items into a cart. Although, now that he knew who it was, he could tell from her carriage and gait that it wasn’t a woman.
He frowned as he watched Jonathan pay for the items, then followed him out of that store and down the street to one selling cheap electronics. The new store was too small for him to unobtrusively watch Jonathan, so Spike had to settle for lurking in a nearby alley until he came out. Deciding he’d seen enough and wouldn’t be able to remember everything he’d seen Jonathan buy anyway, Spike watched him hustle off toward the part of town where nobody paid any attention to anyone else. He shrugged and went back to the original store to pick up the things Buffy had asked for.
Leaving Spike a note to say she would meet him later at the Magic Box, Buffy went to her class and ran into Tara as she was leaving the building.
“Hey! How’s it going?”
“Pretty well, actually. I’m wrapping up my classes here for the semester. Most of my professors are willing to let me take my exams early so I can plan my trip and leave before the rates get higher during vacation times.”
“Wow.” Buffy gave her a side-long look. “Are you sure you or Max isn’t working some magic? I can’t picture any teacher I ever had letting me do that.”
At Tara’s shocked expression and stammering, Buffy quickly apologized. “I’m kidding! I know you wouldn’t do anything like that! I’m sorry. I’m just jealous!”
“I knew that,” Tara said, blushing.
“No you didn’t, but that’s okay. It was another Buffy foot-in-mouth moment. You’d think I would have outgrown that by now.”  She smiled at Tara anxiously until she got a return smile. “So, how did you do it? Was it hard to get them to be all right with it?”
Tara shook her head. “Not as hard as it’s going to be to get Willow to be all right with it.”
Buffy made a sympathetic face. “You haven’t told her yet, huh?”
“No. I know that’s cowardly, but I want to be sure it’s actually going to happen before I get into a fight about it.”
“Huh! That’s pretty smart.” Buffy smirked. “Maybe you should talk to Spike about taking that approach to breaking bad news.” Both girls giggled as they exchanged hugs and went on their way.
The informal Scooby meeting that night was more about just catching everyone up and enjoying pizza than it was official business.
“Let me get this straight, Tucker’s brother is in jail now, Warren is hiding from the police, nobody knows where Jonathan is, but the cops want to talk to him too… And Tara’s alive and well, so Willow isn’t thinking ‘end the world’.  We’re pretty much home free this year, aren’t we?”
The crashing silence that greeted Xander’s comment made him obviously rethink what he’d just said, and he quickly took it back.
“I didn’t mean that!” He raised his gaze to the ceiling. “Honestly! I didn’t mean it! Don’t smite me!”
“Xander, you’re an idiot,” Anya said.
“I took it back. I’m calling a do-over.”
“I don’t think the Powers That Be give do-overs,” Buffy said, shaking her head and laughing at him.
“I don’t know about that, pet,” Spike said with a smirk. “I’d call what happened to us a do-over, wouldn’t you?”
“Huh!” Buffy thought for a second. “I guess it kind of is, isn’t it?”
Giles gazed at them incredulously.  “I’d say it was a rather major ‘do-over’,” he said. “I realize Spike is referring to your current domestic relationship, but that is hardly all that’s happened. Given that you haven’t died or been resurrected, and have managed to at least alter, if not completely prevent, many of the unfortunate events from your own time… and Winston’s, I’d say we’re in the midst of a quite spectacular do-over.”
“Wow. I guess we are. Go us!” Buffy beamed at Giles. “Good think you decided to send me back, huh?”
“So it seems.” Giles looked pleased at his future self’s actions.  “Although, let’s not become complacent just because things seem to be going well at the moment.  We don’t know if we have totally prevented the First Evil from making an attempt to rise into our world. We can certainly hope so, but I suggest we not let down our guard yet.”
“Party pooper,” Buffy pouted.
“I believe that is part of my job description,” Giles replied with a wry grin. “I’m quite certain it was the first lesson I learned as a watcher… always expect the worst.”
“What else could go wrong this year?” Anya said. “And whatever it is, it better not interfere with our wedding!”
Only Winston and Xander caught the startled looks Buffy and Spike exchanged, but they both saw what was clearly an unwelcome thought.
“Care to share?” Xander said, narrowing his eyes.
“It’s nothing,” Buffy said quickly. “Giles already hid Sweet’s amulet, so he won’t be showing up, and Spike’s going to take care of anything else.”
Good for me. What exactly am I supposed to do?
Talk to Xander. if you have to, tell him what he did in our time after the demon showed up at the wedding. Don’t let him do that this time.
I can try to talk sense into him, but no promises, love. He did that spell because he was already having doubts…
Buffy just fixed him with a determined glare and he sighed.
“Right then. Ol’ Spike will fix it. No problem.”  He looked over at a curious Xander and said, “Might could use a bit of help with it, now that I think of it. Are you interested in doing something useful, Harris?”
Xander looked surprised, then pleased. “Yeah, sure. I’ll help you out if you can’t handle it yourself. What do I need to do?”
“Just meet me here tomorrow afternoon and I’ll explain what we need to do.”
“Got it.”
Buffy gave Spike’s hand a quick squeeze and smiled at him.
Thank you.
He smiled back and sent a vivid image of her standing naked in the desert.
You can thank me later, love.
She rolled her eyes and shook her head, but her face turned pink and she felt herself grow warm. Tearing her eyes away from him, she said to Giles, “Have you heard anything more from that detective?”
He shook his head. “No. I’m assuming they have not yet found Warren, in spite of whatever information Andrew may have shared with them.” He frowned. “Of course it’s possible Warren is hiding somewhere with a cloaking spell to conceal it from most eyes.”
“Wouldn’t work for demons,” Spike said, and Anya nodded.
“No, most cloaking spells only work on humans. Spike might be able to find him, but the police would probably walk right by without even noticing the building.”
“Well that sucks. So even if Andrew does squeal on him, they might not be able to find where he’s hiding.” Buffy frowned. “I wonder if Jonathan is with Warren?”
“Oh! I almost forgot.” Spike slapped his forehead. “I did find the little minion, but he was dressed like a girl, wig and all, and I decided to just follow him around for a while. Wasn’t real inclined to tell the authorities that I could smell who he was….”
Before Spike could continue with what he’d observed Jonathan doing, Giles broke in, “Detective Romano seems to be quite aware of what you are, if a bit puzzled at having seen you out and about in the daytime at least once.”
“Huh. Good to know, I guess. Anyway, that idiot minion was buying up all sorts of odd things at the gigantic hardware store, and then he went into an electronics place that was too small for me to follow him without being seen.” He shrugged. “I guess I should have followed him, but I thought we were leaving Meers and his minions to the police.”
“What sort of things was he buying?” Winston asked.
Spike pulled a paper from his pocket and passed it to Winston. “Here, I scribbled down what I could see of it on the back of the list Buffy gave me. Some of it makes sense to me, some of it doesn’t.”
Winston glanced over the list, frowned, and handed it to Giles, who also frowned as he perused it.
“What?” Buffy said. “Why are you two making serious-face?”
Winston shook his head and replied. “Many of these items could be combined to make explosives. If Jonathan is with Meers, I find it more than troubling that they are accumulating what could constitute bomb-making materials.”
“Awesome,” Buffy groaned. “Now he’s going to blow something up.”
Giles sighed. “It would seem so. Possibly a bank vault? They’ll need money if they are to be able to leave Sunnydale.”
“Probably so. He’s just determined to be the bane of my existence this year, no matter what.” Buffy sighed her dismay.
“Shouldn’t we tell the police what we know?” Xander asked.
“I’ll call Detective Romano tomorrow,” Giles said. “I believe I’ll also mention the possibility of a cloaking spell hiding Warren or his refuge. He many not have resources to work around such a thing, but if they know it’s a possibility…”
“Also, we know at least one of them is going out disguised as a woman, so that might help.” Buffy smiled at Spike.
“That too. Something for those of us without Spike’s heightened senses need to be aware of. If you see somebody odd-looking…”
“Giles. It’s Sunnydale. I slay odd-looking things every night.” Buffy’s snorted comment brought smiles all the way around the table.
Before they could continue comparing ideas about how they could help the police find Jonathan and Warren, the door flew open and Willow was standing in the opening, her hair standing out from her head.
She glared straight at Buffy as she said, “How long have you known about this?”
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