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Almost Home by slaymesoftly
Chapter Twenty-five
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When they reached the hospital emergency room, they found Buffy already on her feet and ready to leave, a bandage around her head. She was arguing with the doctor, who insisted even a minor head wound was nothing to dismiss casually, but he had to admit she showed no signs of having been unconscious recently.
“I’m fine. Spike, tell him I’m fine!”
Spike rolled his eyes and gave the doctor a sympathetic smile. “She’s fine,” he parroted, then sighed. “She probably is fine. I’ll watch her like a hawk tonight and if I see anything that worries me, I’ll drag her right back in here. I promise.”
After getting assurances that Buffy would keep a follow-up appointment in a few days, and giving them instructions for caring for her scalp wound, as well as a list of symptoms to watch out for, the doctor reluctantly agreed to let Buffy go home. He gave a very subdued and silent Willow a curious glance, but could find no reason to examine her when Giles assured him she was fine, just somewhat traumatized by seeing her friend get shot.
Giles looked at Detective Romano with relief as he and Winston entered the small room in which Buffy had been treated.
“And here’s the detective I called to tell us that the bad guy is… taken care of.” Giles carefully avoided looking at Spike, but Romano didn’t. He stared at Spike, who stared back calmly with no indication of defiance or challenge, but no appearance of concern either. With a sigh, the detective nodded to him, then turned to Giles.
“Yes. It appears the bad guys have been taken care of. One is now in custody, and the other is… no longer a threat to anyone. The bomb has been defused and taken to the lab, and I’ll just need to talk to Buffy to see if she can tell me what happened.”
“Warren tried to shoot Willow and I was in the way,” Buffy said. “And when I woke up, I was in the car on the way here.”
“And why was he trying to shoot Miss… Willow?” Romano turned his attention to Willow whose frightened gaze went back and forth between Winston and Buffy.
Winston inserted smoothly, “I believe Miss Rosenberg had gone there to complain to Meers about his harassment of one of her close friends. They argued, and he seemed to think she should leave, so he produced a weapon. A very unfortunate decision on his part, as Spike happened to be searching in that area and he interrupted the argument just as the weapon was produced. And then Buffy arrived and things escalated until it seemed she needed to get between Willow and Meers. Once he’d shot Buffy, Meers was very aware that her husband was not going to take it well.  He produced the detonator and threatened to… I believe ‘blow us all to smithereens’ were his exact words.”
The detective shook his head. “I’m fairly certain I’m missing some important information, but I’m also fairly certain it won’t help me to have it. The important thing is a dangerous criminal is no longer a threat and his two henchmen are in custody. I’m going to call it a win for the good guys, and wish you all a good evening.”
He turned to Buffy, saying, “I hope you feel better soon, Miss Summers, and you too, Miss Rosenberg.” Buffy gave him a smile and Willow nodded her head without meeting his eyes. He glanced at Spike again, then shrugged. With a final hand shake with Giles and Winston, he left the ER.
“Can we go home now?”
“Yes, of course,” Giles said. “I’m not sure we can all fit into my car, but….”
“You take Winnie and the girls to the Magic Box and I’ll go get my car. I’ll take Buffy home from there.” Spike leaned over and brushed his lips across Buffy’s. “I’ll be right there, love. You just relax and follow doctor’s orders.”
“Okay, fine, but don’t be very long.”
“Not plannin’ to,” he said as he walked out the door.
True to his word, Spike was walking into the Magic Box before they had finished explaining to Anya and Xander, who had arrived there shortly before, what an exciting afternoon they’d had.
Xander frowned at Spike, then searched the faces around the table. “So Fangface killed him? And you’re all okay with that?”
“He shot Buffy,” Spike said coldly.
“And he was trying to shoot Willow,” Buffy reminded Xander. “He would have killed both of us if Spike hadn’t stopped him.”
“Why would he try to kill Willow?” There was a long silence while everyone waited for Xander to remember that they had spent more than a little time trying to keep Willow from killing Warren in this time line.  “All right. My bad. So if Spike killed him, Willow didn’t have to, and she doesn’t get to go all Dark Willow on us. I get it.”
There was another silence, then Willow said softly, “I’m not going to do that this time. I almost got my friend killed trying to save me from doing a very bad thing. And I know Tara would never forgive me for killing someone.”  She turned earnest eyes on Winston. “Can you still find me a coven to work with? To help me learn to be a better witch?”
“I can, but it needs to be because you want it, Willow. Not because you’re worried that Tara won’t approve of you.”
“Can’t it be both?” she asked plaintively. “I want to be a good person. I was a good person before. I can be good! But why can’t I be a good person because that’s what Tara wants me to be?”
Winston gave a sigh, echoed silently by everyone else in the room, then said, “We’ll talk about it. I’ll introduce you to the others and we’ll let them decide if they are still willing to work with you.”
“Well, why wouldn’t they be? I mean, okay, so there are rules and stuff that I need to know, but just think what they could learn from me! I mean, the things I can do without any training except from Giles and Tara…” She waved her hand, “And I guess from working with Max last year. But mostly, it’s just been me. I have a lot to share.”
She sat back and beamed at Winston, her expression losing happiness at Winston’s lack of enthusiasm.
“Aren’t you happy for me? Aren’t we good friends in your time? You told me you really like me.”
“And I am trying my best to hold that thought, trust me, “ he muttered, too low for anyone but Spike to hear. Spike’s snort of agreement, brought an embarrassed smile in his direction before Winston took a deep breath and responded in a more normal voice.
“And in my time, Iam quite fond of you. We’re good friends, who’ve been through a lot together, and I certainly hope that is to be our future in this time as well.  But we’re not there yet. We haven’t had to indulge in an all-out war—for which we should both be very grateful—but we are often at cross purposes when it comes to what is best for you and for those who love you.” He sighed again.
“I’m afraid you remind me a great deal of myself at your age, and I’m trying to spare you the painful lessons that I had to learn. The control I have now—both over my magic and my temper—is something I spent a lot of time learning.  And it wasn’t easy. With great power often comes a great… an abundance of self confidence. One might almost call it… arrogance. It took me a good long while to learn—the hard way, I might add—that no matter how strong you are, there is always someone stronger. And that life is much more pleasant when you are working with others than against them. Or trying to control them,” he added.
Willow looked angry for a moment, then her shoulder slumped and she shook her head.
“I don’t want to be that Willow. The one you and Buffy know who tried to end the world, who tried to kill her friends. I really don’t!”
Buffy spoke up quickly. “My Willow came back from her training and was amazing. We couldn’t have beaten the First without her magic. No one wants you to be less powerful, Willow. We just want you to…. I dunno. To be the Willow who doesn’t want to hurt people while you’re being all powerful.”
“Exactly,” Winston said. “I know you want to use your power for good, you just need to learn how.”
“Then that’s what I’ll do!”  Willow put on her resolve face. “I’ll learn to be the best good witch you’ve ever seen.”
“That’s all we can ask for,” Giles said, smiling to show he wasn’t being sarcastic.
“Why don’t we call it a day, and get some rest? I’ll contact the coven this evening and if they’re in agreement, we can make plans for you to spend the summer with them once your classes have ended.”
“Classes….Oh my god! I haven’t finished my assignments, and I’ll have exams in a couple of weeks! And I have a paper to write!  I need to go home right now!”
“And there she is,” Xander said with a smile. “My nerdy little, straight A-making buddy.” He stood up. “Come on, Anya. Let’s drop Willow off on our way home.”
“You go on, Xander. Giles and I have some things to discuss. Business things, of course. He can drop me off when we close the store.”
Giles looked surprised, but agreed quickly that they probably had things to discuss since he’d spent so much of the day on other things.
Xander frowned, but lacking any reason to argue about it, he nodded and followed Willow out the door to his truck.
“I don’t think Xander wants to marry me,” Anya announced as soon as the door closed behind them.
Buffy tried to look shocked.  “What… what makes you say that?”
Anya shrugged. “He keeps wanting to know if I think it’s a good idea, he even looked at stuff in the store to see if there was something he could use to see the future! I had to hide any amulets that could be used to summon demons he could ask!”
“How… what… how would you feel if he did decide he didn’t want to marry you?” Winston asked kindly. “Have you had any doubts yourself?”
Giles shot him a glare, but Winston ignored him. Buffy and Spike struggled to keep their expressions blank, but something must have shown up.
“What? What do you two know?” She focused her suspicions on Spike. “Did he say something to you?” She switched her glare to Buffy. “Or do you two know something because of what happened in your time?”
“What happened in our time was the result of a demon attempting to disrupt your wedding. We’ll be alert for that this time, so it shouldn’t be an issue.” Buffy tried to smile reassuringly.
“But if you and Xander are both having doubts, shouldn’t that be something you talk to each other about before the wedding?” Winston asked in his most reasonable voice. “I mean, that would seem to be the logical thing to do. Talk to him rather than talking to us.”
“What if he doesn’t want to get married? What if he calls off the wedding?” Anya waved her hands for emphasis.
“Then you won’t have wasted a lot of time and money on celebratin’ a marriage that’s going to make you both unhappy,” Spike responded before anyone else could. “How is that not better than doing it and then findin’ yourselves miserable?”
“Miserable?Are you saying we were miserable in your time?”
Giving Spike a glare, Buffy said, “That’s not what he’s saying, Anya.”  The look she gave Spike said it wouldn’t be in his best interest to repeat it.  “He’s just saying that if you marry each other, and then find out neither one really wanted to, it would be a lot worse than if you talk about it now and maybe decide you should wait and live together a while longer before you get married.”
Giles spoke up softly. “In all fairness to Xander, Anya, you have expressed some doubts yourself, have you not?”
“You weren’t supposed to tell anybody that!” She stared at Giles, her lower lip trembling. “Did you tell Xander?” 
“No, no of course not. I’m simply mentioning it now to reinforce Buffy’s suggestion that you put off the wedding—which will be quite expensive—in favor of living together a while longer so that you’re both sure it’s what you want permanently.”
“Oh,” she said, her expression turning contemplative.
Odds are hearing the expense mentioned twice will matter more to her than anything else.
That’s a terrible thing to say!
Buffy sighed audibly.
But probably true,she admitted.
A glance at Winston’s quirked eyebrow told them he’d had a pretty good idea what the silent exchange had been about, and Spike smirked at him.
“Okay!” Anya announced, standing up. “I’ll talk to him tonight. I don’t want to spend the money for a wedding if it isn’t something we both want to do right now. You can take me home now, Rupert,” she finished.
“Yes, Rupert. By all means take her home now,” Spike snickered, making a rude gesture at Giles’s glare.
“We do seem to be done for the evening,” Giles said. “May I offer you a ride, Winston?”
“No thank you. I believe I will walk myself home this evening. It’s early and I could use the exercise.”
They all walked out to the alley and watched Giles and Anya drive away.
“Well, fingers crossed we’ve avoided another fuckup,” Spike said. “We can take you home, Winnie, if you just didn’t want to ride with them.”
“Thank you, but no. I am quite serious about needing some exercise. My magical… juices… are still flowing and I have some energy to wear off before I settle in for the night.”
“Okaaay,” Buffy said dubiously. “But watch out for vamps. You might have to fight one off on the way home.”
“I’m hoping that will be the case,” Winston said, his expression grim. “More than one would be even better.”
Buffy started to protest, but Spike took her arm and gently tugged her toward his own car.
“C’mon, love. Winnie can take care of himself. Let’s get you and your addled little head home.”
He gave a grateful Winston a wink and thumbs up as he opened Buffy’s door and helped her into the car.
“Have a good night,” he said, somewhat wistfully, then drove off, quite sure he knew what kind of exercise Winston needed. Not for the first time, he was grateful that the powerful mage was on their side.
Their arrival home was uneventful except for a brief conversation with Max to fill him in on the night’s activities.
“Do you believe Willow to be sincere?” he asked. “Tara was quite upset at her initial reaction to the news.”
“It was pretty much what you might expect at first, but seeing Buffy get shot, and then having Winston basically disarm and incapacitate her so easily, she got a pretty good wakeup call. Not sayin’ she’s turned into anybody’s idea of a tame witch, but she’s rethinking things.”
“That’s probably all we can ask at this point, I suppose,” Max agreed with a sigh. “With luck, the coven Winston has been speaking with will help her learn to separate her emotions from her power.” He paused and met Spike’s gaze, exchanging a silent question.
“I think he’s fine,” Spike said, ignoring Buffy’s “who’s fine?”. “Wants to work off a little excess energy by walking himself home tonight. I’ll wager he’ll stroll through a cemetery or two if he doesn’t find what he wants.”
Max nodded. “I suspect you’re right. I imagine Buffy can take the night off.”
“Buffy was takin’ the night off anyway,” she interjected, pointing to her bandaged head. “But what are you guys talking about?”
“Tell you later, love.” He put his hand on her back and urged her toward their door. “Good night, Max.”
“Good night, Buffy, Spike. Sleep well.”
“Okay.” Buffy turned as soon as they got in the door. “What was that all about?”
“That was about Max askin’ if Winnie wasn’t likely to go looking to burn the city down, and me telling him he had it under control. That’s all.”

“Burn the city down???”
“Speaking metaphorically, love.” He frowned. “At least I think so…” He shook himself and continued. “Do you remember how energized Winston was after we killed Glory and Doc? Everybody else was wiped out and he was rarin’ to go?”
“Yeah. I guess so. So, what are you saying? He gets exciting about killing things?”
“A bit. Not like us, where we get our violent tendencies out almost every night and then we want to….” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, laughing when she glared at him.  “More like if he wants to kill things, and knows he shouldn’t… or doesn’t get to do it for some reason. Like letting Harris and me have Doc ‘cause we owed him. I think he might have had a little problem putting the brakes on his destructive urges back in the day, and Max worries about him when he gets to use his power, but not use it enough to satisfy those urges.”
“That’s why he wanted to walk home? So he can kill things?”
“Evil things, Slayer. Take that look off your face. He’s gonna be his own bait for any nasty things that think he’s an easy target. When he’s worked off whatever energy he charged up on while containing Willow, he’ll go home, get a good night’s sleep, and be ready to be a white hat tomorrow.”
“Wow. Just when you think you know somebody….”
Buffy shook her head, wincing when she got a sharp reminder of the wound there. “Owie!”
“Easy there, sweetheart,” he said, holding her still and peering at the bandage to be sure it wasn’t bleeding through. “Promised the doc you wouldn’t do anything to make it worse. Do you need an icebag?”
Buffy resisted the urge to shake her head no and said, “No. But I should probably go to bed and try to sleep it off.”
He frowned, then nodded. “I reckon that’s safe enough. It’s not like you don’t have your own personal vital signs monitor right here.”
“I do, don’t I?” she giggled. “You’ll know if my blood pressure drops or my heart stops beating—”
“Bite your tongue!” He looked horrified and she hurried to reassure him.
“I didn’t mean it was going to, silly. Just that you’d know. I’m fine. And by tomorrow, I’ll be even finer.”  She fingered the bandage. “Except, you know, with a chunk of hair missing…”
“Hair grows back, love,” he said, kissing the bandage. “I wouldn’t care if you were bald as long as you weren’t dead from being shot in the head.”
She turned around and put her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest.
“You killed him, didn’t you?” she asked softly.
“Did. Somebody was going to, figured it may as well be the one whose soul was already going to hell.”
“Don’t say that!” She tightened her grip on his body.
“It is what it is, sweetheart. Maybe I’ll get credit for helping you from time to time, maybe I won’t. As long as you don’t go with me, I’m good with it.”
“Well I’m not! You need to be with me!”
“I’ll be with you as long as I can find a way to do it, love. I promise. Now you get your wounded little head onto a pillow and let that slayer healing get to work on it.”  He gave her a little nudge toward the bedroom, waiting to make sure she was there before getting out some blood and warming up his dinner.
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