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Almost Home by slaymesoftly
Chapter Twenty-four
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Spike stepped in front of Buffy as Winston came to his feet, balancing on the balls of his feet as a fighter would if he was expecting trouble.
“Do you know what she’s talking about?” Winston asked Buffy quietly, never taking his eyes off Willow.
Buffy exhaled loudly. “I think so. Let me talk to her.” She stepped out from behind Spike, ignoring his growl. “Willow, can you calm down and talk to us?”
Willow’s hair settled around her head, but she never took her furious gaze off Buffy.
“Why didn’t you tell me? You’re my friend, you should have told me!”
“Okay,” Buffy’s tone became slightly less understanding. “A – I just found out this afternoon. And B – it wasn’t my place to tell you. It was Tara’s right to choose when and how to do it. And obviously she did,” Buffy added with a roll of her eyes.
“She’s leaving next week! Next week!” Willow’s demeanor changed as grief overcame her anger and she sagged against the door frame. “How could she not tell me what she was going to do? Why didn’t she ask me if I’d be okay with it? Why didn’t she ask me to go with her?”
Buffy went to Willow and put her arm around her.
“Think about how you’re reacting. Can you blame her for putting it off as long as she could?”
“This is all Max’s fault. He put this idea into her head.” Willow began to straighten up and regain her indignation. “I should­­—”
Winston stepped forward, interrupting her. “What you should do, is not finish that thought no matter where you were going with it.” He waited until she turned her renewed angry glare on him. “Never mistake Master Maximillian’s gentle manner for weakness. He will not allow you to control Tara or interfere with the opportunity she’s been offered.”
“What’s an old earth magic guy who doesn’t like to hurt people going to do to stop me?” Willow sneered, then her eyes narrowed. “How do you know? Did they tell you too? Why didn’t you tell me? You said we’re friends in your time. Is this how you treat your friends?”
“As Buffy has already said, it wasn’t my story to tell. And your behavior is making it very obvious that Tara was wise to be worried about your reaction.”
“Well, I’m going to pay Max a visit and tell him to leave Tara alone. She doesn’t need to go to New Zealand or anywhere else.” She whirled to go out the door, finding herself stuck in place although able to talk and move her head.
“What?” she demanded. “And I hate it when you do this. Someday….”
Winston sighed. “Someday, you will either learn to control your temper or….”
“Or what!” The incongruity of continuing to argue with someone who was capable of holding her in place without seeming to exert any effort seemed lost on Willow as she berated Winston.
“Or you won’t,” he said flatly. “I strongly suggest you leave Max alone and accept that he has Tara’s best interests at heart.”
“Or you’ll do what? Protect him from me?”
Remind me again about Red’s IQ? Right now it’s looking pretty low.
She’s just really upset. When she calms down, she’ll realize she’s digging herself a big hole.
Un huh.
Buffy and Spike’s silent exchange had taken less than a second, so Winston’s answer was almost simultaneous with it. He’d taken the time to sigh heavily before answering.
“I would if I needed to. However, I won’t. And that is important knowledge for you to have. Max does not, and never will, need magical help or protection from me or anyone else now alive. Please take that information to heart.”
With a flick of his wrist, he released her. She was visibly struggling to control her anger in the face of his show of power.
“Somebody needs to pay for this,” she finally gritted out. “It all started with Warren and his blabbing to her.”
Without another word, she continued her way out the door, leaving shocked silence behind.
“Well, I guess that could have gone worse?” Xander ventured. “Maybe I could talk to her and—”
“And get yourself turned into a toad!” Anya objected. “Stay away from her!”
“Actually,” Buffy said. “In our time, it was Xander who talked her down when she was trying to destroy the whole world. She did listen to him… eventually.”
“Unfortunately,” Giles said. “In this timeline, she has not made the same regrettable mistakes that she did in yours or in Winston’s. She is more invested in the power she has than she is in atoning for past mistakes. And I fear she is about to make another one….”
“I guess we need to find Warren before she does,” Buffy said. She looked at Spike. “Did you say a cloaking spell doesn’t work on vampires and demons?”
“Most likely not. Any spell or glamour Meers is using can’t be as good as what Glory used to hide her changes. And I had no trouble with that.”
“Well, let’s go then. We’ll start in the part of town you saw Jonathan heading for and hope you can see something I can’t.”
The attempts to locate Warren’s hideout went nowhere. There were just too many abandoned buildings in Sunnydale for them to investigate in only twenty-four hours. So, the phone call to the Magic Box from Jonathan was a surprise to everyone. Although he asked for Buffy, he had to settle for talking to Giles who promised to pass the message on.
“I have something to tell Buffy. Something important… Tell her to call a meeting tonight and I’ll be there.”
“If you just need to talk to Buffy, why do you want her to call a meeting… and where would you get the idea that—” Giles stopped, remembering that the trio had been spying on them for at least week before they found the devices. “Never mind that. The question still stands, why a meeting?”
“Um, uh, I… I guess I just think everybody should hear it?”
“Uh huh. Well, let me consult with Buffy and see what her plans are for this evening. Where can I reach you?”
“You can’t. I’ll call back.”
The line went dead and Giles cursed quietly.  He was still drumming his fingers on the table in frustration and indecision when Winston walked in.
Giles began to tell him about the phone call, then paused when Buffy came in and he waited for her to sit down.
“So”, he concluded when he’d described the short conversation in great detail. “What do you think? Do we listen to him, or is it a trap?”
Buffy bit her lip and sighed. “I don’t know. In my time, he had a last-minute change of heart and told me how to beat Warren by smashing the orbs.  But I don’t know how he feels this time. I mean, if he wanted to be a good guy, he could have just turned himself in to the police and told them where to find Warren.”
“He could have, but he didn’t. Instead he went shopping for ingredients for a bomb…”. Winston said dryly.
Giles frowned. “Where’s Spike?”
“He’s walking around the part of town where we think Warren could be hiding. He kind of put a disguise on, so between that and being in the sun, he thinks they won’t know who he is.” She sighed and shrugged. “He’ll be here later if he doesn’t find anything. The question now is, do we call a meeting, and risk putting everyone in danger if it’s a trap, or do we not call them in, and take a chance that Jonathan won’t talk to just us?”
“Or, we could join Spike in his search for the hideout. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier, but I’m fairly certain whatever level of magic Meers is using to hide, it won’t be something those of us with some magical knowledge can’t at least see. Somewhat like Rack’s hidden door, you might have trouble with it, but supernatural creatures and magic practitioners should have no trouble.”
“Way make me feel useless, Giles,” Buffy grumbled, half-seriously. He ignored her in favor of asking Winston how he felt about going for a drive through the less attractive parts of Sunnydale.
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Winston agreed. “I’m a bit ashamed it didn’t occur to me earlier as well, but now that it has…”
Buffy said, “Okay, you both suck. Now that we know you can do it, let’s go.” She turned pale, and Giles frowned, “Are you quite alright, Buffy?”
She shook her head. “I’m just remembering who else knew how to find Rack’s place… and how pissed she was when she left here….”
“Dear Lord, yes. We’d forgotten about her anger at him.”
“I guess we need to hit the road now.” Winston gave Buffy a shrewd glance. “Do you know if Spike’s had any success yet?”
She frowned and grew silent as she felt for Spike and tried to understand his jumbled emotions. Her eyes grew wide as she got a picture of him standing between a floating Willow and what seemed to be an empty lot.
“He’s found him, and so has Willow. We need to go before she tries to kill Spike too.”
She flew out the door, barely pausing to shout the vicinity of the hideout at them before she was gone.
“Remind me to work with you on teleportation,” Winston grunted as he followed Giles out the back door and into his car.  They took off from the alley, narrowly missing the trash truck attempting turn in, and sped toward the part of town Buffy had indicated.
They arrived just in time to watch Buffy throw herself between a furious Willow and Warren, who was aiming a pistol at her. Willow had clearly seen through Warren’s glamour and destroyed it as the decrepit building was now completely visible.
He was standing in the doorway and sneering at Buffy for protecting Willow, pointing at Spike, just staggering to his feet. “You don’t want me to shoot your friend? After what she just did to him for getting in her way?”
Buffy hesitated briefly, turning her head to look at Willow, but the witch was beyond noticing anything but the man facing her. While her hair billowed out around her, she began chanting, pointing one hand at the arm holding the gun. It slowly began to bend, bringing the gun around to point at Warren’s chest. Buffy moved to interrupt her friend while Spike leapt toward Warren.
Buffy’s shout and her attempt to make Willow drop her hand was enough to break her hold on Warren and he swung the gun around, firing toward the two girls now struggling in front of the building.
A muffled cry from Buffy when the bullet struck her head was all Spike needed to go into game face as he knocked the gun away. Spike was holding Warren by his neck, but not yet applying lethal pressure, as he cocked an eye at Winston and Giles. Although he was worried about the blood on Buffy’s head, he could tell from her vital signs that, in spite of being temporarily unconscious, she was in no danger from the minor head wound. He waited to see what was going to happen with Willow, maintaining his firm grip on Warren’s throat.
Freed of Buffy’s attempts to stop her, Willow refocused on Warren and once again began to chant. As Giles knelt to check on Buffy, he gave Spike a nod. Winston waved him on, saying, I’ve got Willow, you do what you need to do.”
Willow broke off in mid-chant to attempt to throw a magical bolt at Winston, but, unlike the one she’d thrown at Spike, this one fizzled out as it left her hand. Using more obvious magic than he had before, Winston pointed at her and she fell to the ground, unconscious.
Warren held up his free hand which contained a small device. “I’ve got a bomb with me,” he managed to croak out. “If I release this button, we all get blown to smithereens and I’ll see you all in hell.”
“You first,” Spike grunted, grabbing the hand and crushing it in his grip hard enough to maintain pressure on the device. “Get everybody out of here,” he snarled at Giles, who nodded, picked up Buffy’s limp body, and retreated to the car with her. Winston moved Willow without touching her, waving his hand at Giles to drive away. As he did so, Winston turned back and walked toward Spike and Warren.
“Do you know which finger is holding the button?” Winston inquired.
Spike nodded. “His thumb.”
Without further discussion, Winston froze Warren’s thumb to the button, then nodded to Spike.
“He can’t release it now. If I was Max, I’d probably just dismantle it without any trouble, but I think I should probably hold it while I study it. I’d rather it wasn’t attached to him, though….”
“No problem,” Spike said, his eyes glittering. With a twist of the hand he was holding Warren’s with, he ripped the arm off just below the elbow and handed the bloody limb to Winston. “He won’t be needed this.”
As Warren struggled to scream through his now-crushed throat, Spike increased the pressure on his windpipe until he quit struggling and hung limply from Spike’s hand. Giving the body a good shake just to be sure, he let it fall to the ground.
“Have you got this?” he asked. “Need to go see about my girl.”
“Got it. I’ve disconnected the wires inside.” He glanced up at the sound of sirens in the distance. “We’ll leave it to the bomb squad to locate the main device and disarm it. You go on,” he said. “I’ll remain here, until I’m sure they know what they’re looking for.” Winston put the device back in Warren’s hand and left them on the ground.
As Spike took off running in the direction of the hospital, Winston prepared to explain why there was a handless dead man in front of a building that hadn’t been visible the day before. Fortunately, Detective Romano rolled up right behind the patrol car and the bomb squad, so elaborate explanations weren’t necessary.
Romano looked at Warren’s corpse, noted the missing lower arm and the hand that the bomb squad was now gingerly prying the detonator from, and frowned at the bruises on Warren’s neck.
He raised his eyebrows at Winston. “No teeth marks? I understood that he shot Buffy. I’m not surprised about the arm, but I would have expected… a lot more blood.”
Winston gave a tight smile. “I don’t think Spike was hungry, he just wanted to get to his injured wife as quickly as possible. This wasn’t about being a vampire, it was about ridding the world of the man who has tried to kill Buffy more than once.”
Romano nodded. “I suppose there’s a good explanation about why we couldn’t see this building yesterday when we had patrols check every block in this area.”
“There is,” Winston said.
The other man shook his head and smiled. “And I’d just as soon not know what it is.”
There was a shout from the building and one member of the bomb squad emerged with a handcuffed Jonathan in tow. One glance at Warren’s body and Jonathan bent over to throw up. The man with him ignored him and offered no sympathy, but spoke to Detective Romano.
“We found him trying to run out the back. He told us where to find the bomb, and it’ll be safe in just a few minutes. I’m guessing this is your third fugitive.”
The detective nodded his head and gestured for a uniformed officer to take Jonathan to his car as soon as he’d finished vomiting. “Good work, men. And here comes the coroner now. We’ll be all wrapped up here in time to be home for dinner.”
He glanced at Winston. “Would you like a ride to the hospital? I’ll need to get statements from Buffy and her husband, and anyone else who was there.”
“I’d appreciate that, thank you.”
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