Career Advancement


by
Two Ladies of Quality



13

Slowly Xander raised his head to see Buffy standing next to him, staring at him in disbelief. He blinked for a few moments. "So," he said brightly, "what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"

She blinked at him, obviously still fighting for words, until a floppy eared demon bounced up to Buffy's side. "Miss Buffy! Hi! I never thought I'd see you in here."

Years of Mrs. Summers' careful etiquette training apparently paid off. She still looked completely confused, but she managed a sincere smile at the the demon. "Oh, hi, Clem, how are you?"

Xander blinked, then turned to look at Spike, who was also looking flummoxed. Xander pointed back over his shoulder and tilted his head questioningly. Spike slowly shook his head. Xander turned back around. "Hey," he said to Clem. He took a quick breath and put out his hand. "I'm Xander."

Clem's ears perked up as he grinned and shook hands. "Hey, Xander."

He'd had social graces training, too. "This is Reinhard, and this is Spike."

"Oh, I know Spike, we play poker. Hey, Spike, hey, Reinhard."

Spike waved his bourbon glass, and Reinhard nodded.

Xander looked back at Buffy, who was still looking from person to person with a confused and uneasy look on her face. "What *are* you doing here, Buff? Not your usual hangout."

She focused on him with something that looked almost like gratitude. "It's not yours either." She frowned. "Is it?"

"No, I just wandered in here with Spike."

"With Spike? Since when are you hanging around with Spike?"

Spike smirked. "Oh, I just ran across the whelp in a tattoo parlour down the street."

Buffy stared at him, closed her eyes and shook her head hard, then grabbed Xander's arm and hauled him out of the booth. Xander managed not to yelp too loudly. "Excuse me, guys, I'm needed over this way."

He managed to dig his heels in enough to stop his progression before Buffy made it too far towards the door. Slayer-strong she may be, but height and mass did count for a little something in leverage. She turned and was about to speak, and he pulled them towards a nook between the bar and an empty table.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

"That's what I was going to say, but you beat me to it. What are you doing?"

"Getting you out of here!"

"Why?"

Her mouth dropped open, then she took a deep breath.

"Don't yell," he added quickly.

The air whooshed out of her, and she took another, slower breath. "Why are you hanging out in Willy's with Spike after being in a tattoo parlour? Did you get a tattoo?"

He stomped down on his automatic defensiveness. "Yes, I did."

"Oh, my god, why, a tattoo? In some kind of filthy demon place, with the needles and ick, and why?" She even had her hands on her hips as she glared at him.

"Because I wanted to," he finally said after having to take a couple of breaths. "So, how do you know Clem?" he asked before she could finishing inhaling. "The two of you seem very cozy."

"I met him one night when I was out hunting." She flipped her hair back and raised her chin. "And how did you meet Reinhard?"

"He knocked down my front door by accident when he came by to challenge me to a duel over Anya."

She straightened up into Defender stance. "He challenged you--"

"Old news, Buff, that's all been settled. Anya granted him the right to try and woo her, and he wants to know what he should get her for Christmas."

Buffy relaxed and looked confused, but it morphed into a bemused smile. "Did you ever think that maybe our lives are weird?"

He gave her a fake-worried frown. "And this is only dawning on you now?"

She looked towards Reinhard and the others, then her eyes went to Spike, and all humor faded. "How can you just sit down and have a drink with him after what he did?"

"After what he--Oh. The Watchers."

"Yeah," she snapped, "remember them?"

Honestly, he hadn't, not really. Except as the reason for why Spike was so torn up over Drusilla. Even Angel's grief and rage had made more of an impression than what had happened to the Watchers. He had to face it, though, nearly a dozen humans had been killed by the vampire he had been chatting so casually with. That gut squirm of guilt and horror reassured him that not all his Scoobie instincts were dead, but life had been much simpler before his hat had turned grey.

Buffy's stern look faded a little. "You shouldn't be here, Xander."

"And you should be?" he snapped.

"Well, I am--"

He put up a finger. "And don't say because you're the Slayer."

"Well, I am! And this is my town, and I need to stay on top of things, and stuff is happening that I don't know about." She gave the room an all-inclusive glare. "Demons robbing banks, cameras in my house . . ." She shrugged angrily. "Willy sometimes knows stuff. I thought I'd come see if he'd heard anything."

"I don't know what it's worth," Xander said, "but I saw Jonathan coming out of a bookstore just down the street, and he was not at all happy to see me. He jumped into a van that drove away awful fast."

Buffy frowned. "Well, what the heck is he up to now, and who's he working with? Dammit." She mulled it over unhappily for a few moments, then looked back up at Xander. "You really should get home."

He managed not to say the first two things that came to mind. "I've got a drink and a conversation to finish."

"With the demon who wants to date Anya."

"Well, we hadn't gotten to that part, yet, we were talking about the comparative evolution of humans and demons when you showed up."

"Huh?"

He wanted to tell her what he was learning, about possible common ancestors and everything, but he suddenly remembered running home in the second grade to tell his mother about how cool the rocks looked under the magnifying glass Mr. Armstrong the Science Teacher had passed around, and his mother had blinked at him, half-drunk, and said blearily, "That's nice, honey."

"I'm going back over there, Buffy," he finally said. "Be careful going home or wherever." He turned to go.

"Xander--" She reached for his arm, and he spun and caught her wrist. She gaped at him, blinking, then looked down at his large hand clamped around her slender wrist. "Um, ow?"

"Fuck." He let go and backed away. Buffy stared at him and absently rubbed her wrist. "I'm--dammit. Good night, Buffy." She just nodded.

Spike, Reinhard, and Clem were pointedly not staring as Xander went back to the booth. Xander dropped into his seat and drained his beer.

"Something stronger would probably sit well at the moment," Spike observed over his glass.

"God, the last thing I need is something stronger." Xander rubbed his forehead and tried not to hate himself.

"You didn't hurt her."

"She said ow."

"You rattled her, that's all. She's not used to her minions using her own tools against her."

Xander glared at Spike. "We are not minions."

Spike shrugged and sipped his drink. "She just left, by the way."

Xander looked towards the door, which was closing on a Slayer-less bar. He took a deep breath and turned back to Reinhard, whose tentacles were coiled up tight in discomfort again. "So, Christmas. Anya. Has she given you a list yet?"

Reinhard fidgeted with his own glass. "Yes, she has, and there are many things on it I do not understand. What is lingerie, and why did she say I'm not allowed to purchase her any yet?"

"Oh, god," Spike muttered. "Oh, explain this, whelp, I want to hear it."

Clem looked between them. "I think I saw some of that on Home Shopping Network. It didn't make sense."

Xander rubbed his head again and wondered if wanting to laugh was a sign of sanity or what.


***


The morning was bright and sunny when Buffy opened the front door to a bouncing, smiling Willow. "Good morning, Buffy!"

Buffy smiled despite herself. "Hey, Wills, thanks for coming over. Tara couldn't make it?"

"No, she went to class. One of us should take notes."

"One of you?" Buffy tried to look stern. "Willow, are you cutting class?"

Willow looked dignified. "It's for a noble cause, summoned to aid the Slayer. Besides, when's *your* next class?"

"Three o'clock, so there." She gestured Willow in and closed the door. "But I am glad you could come. I need some help searching the house."

"For what?"

"These." Buffy pulled the little cameras out of her pocket and handed them to Willow. "I found them in my bedroom, and I'm afraid there are more of them."

"Euw, in your bedroom? These are spy cameras!"

"Yeah, double on the euw from my side. And if there are any in Dawn's room or Mom's room--"

"Euw! Who put them there?"

"We can check that after we find out if there are more of these little suckers."

Willow pulled off her backback and dug out her spell casting materials. She used a piece of canvas instead of drawing a circle on the Summers' carpet, then sketched out the circle and runes. She put the cameras in the circle, sat down next to it, and held out her hands. "Invenio," she said.

A group of tiny gold lights rose from the cameras, hovered for a moment, then flew out. One zipped to a vase of silk flowers on a shelf next to the TV, and one shot into the kitchen. Another went upstairs.

"Dammit," Buffy muttered. She hesitated between going to the vase or upstairs, then ran for the staircase.

Up in the hallway, a glow was coming out of the eye socket of a South American angel sculpture hanging on the wall across from the bathroom. Buffy hesitated, just in case, then remembered Giles had certified that sculpture as 100% supernatural influence-free. And someone had come into her house and messed with it. She reached into the eye socket and pulled out the glowing little camera. She scowled into its lens then crushed it in her fingers.

She ran back downstairs. Willow was peering cautiously into the vase on the shelf.

"Just pull it out and squish it, Wills," Buffy said.

"No, I think I can figure out where it's transmitting to. These things don't have a very long broadcast range. There must be something somewhere picking up the signal and boosting it." Willow drew a circle in the air above the vase, making glittery sparks of light appear. Waves rippled out from the vase, picking up the sparks. "Qua es vos iens," she muttered. All the sparks joined into one and shot out through the wall.

"Oh, now where," Buffy said, heading for the front door.

She looked around the house for a glowing spot but couldn't find one. Willow followed her out, frowning. "It couldn't have gone very far."

Buffy studied the cars parked on the street. There weren't any vans in view, and the only cars belonged to the neighbors. "Could it be going to a car?"

"None of those cars are glowing, and that spell showed it was being actively received somewhere." Willow's eyes narrowed, and she turned to study the house. "Aperio," she said firmly. The base of the rhododendron at the corner of the porch began to glow.

"Whoa," Buffy said. "What was that?"

"It was cloaked," Willow frowned. "Whoever put those cameras in the house shielded their receiver with magic."

"So not only are they Inspector Gadget, they're Mr. Wizard too?"

"Science and magic, yup." Willow tilted her head. "It's really kind of neat." Buffy glared at her. "Or not."

Willow pulled a long crystal out of her bag, tied a string around the middle of it, then performed a spell to track the signal. Buffy then took a deep breath, and they got in Joyce's car.

Buffy drove slowly, anxiously watching the road and the crystal direction finder. It led them to a residential district about a mile away from Revello Drive. Buffy carefully parked, running up on the curb only once.

Willow stared at her in wonder. "You just parallel parked!"

Buffy grinned. "I know!" She looked out at the street and shrugged. "Of course, it helps that there's nobody else on the street to bump into."

"Still!" Willow got out and looked admiringly at the distance of the wheels from the curb. "Oz tried to teach me how to do this once. He kept wincing when I hit the curb, though, so that lesson didn't last long."

Buffy joined her on the sidewalk. "You need to invent a car that parks itself by magic."

"Oh, that would be neat." Willow studied her dangling crystal. "That way."

The house they were led to looked a little shabbier than its neighbors. The lawn hadn't been mown in quite a while. They paused on the sidewalk in front to study the place.

"It stinks of magic," Willow said, frowning. "Dark magic."

The front door didn't look like it had seen much use. Buffy headed towards the driveway. Some of the oil stains on the concrete were still wet. The basement door in the side of the house wasn't latched completely.

Willow grabbed her arm just before Buffy stepped onto the concrete stoop in front of the door. "There's something in that bush." Willow picked up a small branch from under an unpruned rose bush and waved it cautiously over the stoop. Two spikes on wires shot out from the rhododendron on the other side of the stoop and into the rose bush. The rose bush shivered under an electrical discharge.

Buffy jumped back. "What the heck!"

"Taser," Willow said. "Boobytrap."

"Oh, whoever this is so needs their butts kicked."

Willow poked at the rhododendron, then pulled out a tiny laser emitter. "Here's their tripwire."

Buffy glared at it. "Do you see anything else?"

"Nope."

"OK." She kicked the basement door open. It bounced off an inside wall and would have slammed close except that it was cracked in three places.

Willow blinked. "So we're not going with the subtle approach today."

"Nope."

Buffy ripped off a piece of door and slid it down the stairs. At the third stair from the bottom, another taser shot out of the wall and embedded spikes in the opposite wall.

"If a boulder starts rolling down the stairs,"Willow said, "I am not going to be happy."

Buffy went to the bottom of the stairs and stopped, studying the room beyond. Workbenches and computers lined three of the walls, but three comfy recliners were gathered around a really big screen TV on the fourth wall. Potato chip bags lay around the chairs, and a Pringles can was upside down in one of the recliners. Several dozen Mountain Dew cans were scattered around, a few on their sides with soda still spreading out on the floor.

Buffy frowned. "They didn't leave that long ago."

Willow prowled through the equipment, tapping on keyboards. "It looks like they've all been erased. I guess they knew we were coming?"

"Squishing all their cameras would have been a big clue." Buffy picked a crumpled t-shirt off the floor with two reluctant fingers. "God, if there was ever a time when Slayer senses were a bad thing. This looks like your neighbors' room at the dorm."

Willow nodded. "The tech nerd's dream home. Huh." She began rummaging through a pile of papers stashed behind a bank of monitors. "What the heck?"

"What?" Buffy asked, coming over and stepping carefully over piles of things on the floor. She stared at a square empty space. "It looks like they took some stuff with them."

"Yeah, there are gaps in the mess. Look at this." She handed over some pages.

Buffy frowned at the diagrams of a female form, with added wiring and circuitry. "What is this?"

Willow bit her lip. "Robotics."

"Robotics? Like--creepy Ted robotics?"

"Uh huh." Willow folded up the pages she held. "It looks like they were building a robot."

"A girl-bot! Euw! They've got diagrams for the texture of--Euw!" She glared around. "Do you think it's around here somewhere?"

"They probably took it with them, if they'd gotten to the assembly stage." Willow crumpled up the pages and tried to stuff them in her backpack.

"What are those?" Buffy asked.

"You don't want to see them."

"More robot diagrams?"

"Really, you don't--"

"Oh my god, were they building a copy of Dawn!? Let me see!"

Willow started to argue, then winced and handed over the pages.

Buffy flattened out the pages and stared. The first page was a diagram of the robot's head--with her face. The next page was a full-body sketch. The next one was another full-body sketch--of her in a French maid's outfit waving a feather duster. The last page was full of scribbled phrases--"Yes, Master" and "You're so strong!" and "Isn't it a little warm for all those clothes?"

"Dialogue?" she gasped.

Willow wrung her hands. "I told you you didn't want to see them."

"They were making a robot version of me? To be their little slave?" She shoved the pages back. "Find them. God, is that why they had the cameras in the house? To get--ideas?" Her eyes went huge. "My missing clothes . . ."

Willow hugged her. "We'll find them, Buffy. And then we'll kick their butts."

Buffy put her arms around Willow. "What if they've already built it? What if they're . . . doing things with it?"

Willow moved her away and looked into her eyes. "Something like this would take a lot of work. And you wouldn't be able to get the parts at Radio Shack. I'll do some checks when I get home with electronics supply houses. And something that looked like you but wasn't you will be very easy to find magically. We won't let them get away with it. Let's see what else we can find here."

In the refrigerator, among lots of boxes of takeout food, were some bottles of glowing liquid. Willow didn't think they were a weird sort of soda and tucked them into her backpack. Buffy disabled another set of booby traps on the steps up into the house. The upstairs didn't look lived in except for three bedrooms and a very gross bathroom.

Willow winced at the mess. "Maybe they really want the robot to clean up after them?"

"Yeah, I don't think so."

Buffy searched the bedrooms. She called in Willow to look at some magic paraphernalia in one room, and in another she found a photograph of three young men. "Hey, this is Jonathan!"

"From high school Jonathan?"

"Yeah, in the tower with the rifle. I don't recognize the other two." She looked at the picture more closely. The trio were wearing equipment harnesses of some sort. "I think they're playing Ghostbusters or something."

Willow came into the room, stuffing more things into her pack. She looked at the picture. "Those devices look like some of the diagrams I saw downstairs."

Buffy frowned. "Science doohickeys and all that magic stuff . . . they look like they're in a comic book. Willow, did you see anything that might be a freeze ray?"

"Um, like the notebook I found that said Freeze Ray on it? Oh! The jewel heist and the guard and all that!"

"Yeah, like that. And demons robbing banks."

"I found books on demon raising in one of the bedrooms." Willow shrugged. "Nothing really obscure, Giles had those books, but there were lots of bookmarks--and he dog-eared the pages!"

Buffy smiled and hid how much hearing her Watcher's name still hurt. Then she frowned. "He had books on raising demons at the Magic Box?"

Willow fidgeted and blushed. "Uh, yeah, at the store, um, behind . . ."

Buffy hugged her. "Yeah, I can guess what qualified as behind the counter stuff for him. Xander said he saw Jonathan coming out of a bookstore in the demon part of town last night," she added, changing the subject.

Willow perked up. "You saw Xander?" She frowned. "What was he doing hanging around demon stores?"

"He was--he was getting a tattoo. With Spike!"

"He and Spike got tattoos?"

"I don't know if Spike got a tattoo. But he and Xander were having a drink at Willy's, and they were hanging out with a real demon-y demon, and Xander didn't even seem to care!"

"Maybe it was a magic tattoo! Maybe Spike's controlling him somehow."

Buffy frowned. "If Spike was controlling him, I don't think he'd just be making him hang out at Willy's with him."

Willow grimaced. "Yeah, that does seem a bit . . . tame for Spike."

They both paused, and neither admitted what they thought Spike might be forcing Xander to do.

Buffy slumped. "Have you seen Xander much? What with summer school and the Watchers and the vampires and everything, I haven't been paying attention to him as much as I should."

Willow fidgeted. "Ooh, no, I haven't. I was doing school stuff--and studying stuff, then there was Amy, and--oh, I'm a bad friend."

Buffy hugged her. "We're not bad friends, Will, we're just . . ."

"Bad friends."

"Yeah, probably, kinda. On a Hellmouth."

"Did he look OK?" Willow asked in a small voice.

"I--think so. He was laughing when I saw him."

Willow frowned. "He was talking to demons and laughing? But he hates demons."

"That's what I thought." She rubbed her wrist. "I tried to get him out of there, but he wouldn't go."

"He gets stubborn. I should call him."

Buffy nodded. "Me too." She looked around the bedroom. "And find these jerks. And finish that paper for Sociology."

Willow nodded. "I've got Information Management for the Sciences." She brightened. "And Amy needs some help with catching up in classes."

"She's only been back what, a couple of days? And she's in classes already? Doesn't she need a little more 'Hey, I've only got two feet, yay!' time?"

"She said she didn't want to dwell on that," Willow shrugged. "I took her by the high school. Or what's left of it. She was very impressed."

Buffy found herself nostalgic for the simplicity of blowing things up to stop the bad guy. "So she's doing OK? Does she have a place to live?"

"Oh, yeah! Sure! Turns out the bank has been paying the mortgage on her house the whole time, very handy, she's all set. And her college fund is right there, ready and waiting."

"Yeah, that's . . . handy." Really, really handy.

Willow jumped and looked at her watch. "Crap, I've got class in half an hour. We should grab these papers and stuff and get going. We can see about tracking this guys down later."

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, I've got class too in a couple of hours. I should probably at least look at the cover of the book that has the reading that was supposed to be done."

"Poor Buffy. There's a spell I found that helps you retain knowledge, it's really handy during cram sessions!"

Buffy grinned at her. "So that's your secret, huh? Magical cheat sheets?"

"It is not! I don't cheat in class!"

The pout did not look faked, and Buffy hugged her. "Sorry, sorry, I know you don't, you don't need to." She sighed as they packed up more sheets of paper and headed towards the basement. "I can retain the knowledge. I just have to find the time to sit down and meet the knowledge."

Willow nodded decisively. "Like when Giles would go with you on patrol and quiz you on stuff. We need to find you a slayage tutor."

Buffy let her go down the basement steps first so she wouldn't see the wince at yet another memory of Giles. She used to go into the Magic Box when she was stumped in class, and Giles would look so excited about what she was studying.

"What's wrong?" Willow stood at the bottom of the steps, lookng up.

Buffy hurried down. "I--I was just thinking about Giles. I miss him."

"I think he misses you too."

"As much as a vampire can miss a Slayer, I guess."

"Oh, but he--" Willow bit her lip. "When we were at the convent . . ."

Buffy sighed. "Wills, he's not Giles-with-extra-pointy-bits. He's a vampire. He goes by Ripper. He killed a whole bunch of Watchers. He probably knew most of them! He sure knew Quentin Travers!" She stopped at the threatening tears in Willow's eyes and hugged her. "I'm sorry, Wills. I know he was helping you with that spell and everything, but we can't forget what he is."

Willow hugged her back. "But--didn't the Watchers kill Drusilla? He got mad, didn't he?"

Buffy smiled and squeezed just hard enough to get a tiny oof out of Willow. Poor Willow, so eager to see the best in everyone. Who wasn't Cordelia in high school. "Yeah, he got mad." She stepped back and kept her hands on Willow's shoulders, staring her in the eye. "But the Watchers can't let him stay like this. He's not eating pig blood, Wills. He and Spike hunt, and it's just because I haven't caught them at it that I haven't tried harder to stop them. And I'm going to have to do it eventually."

A tear escaped. "But--Giles."

She pulled Willow into her arms again. "I know." She hoped her sniff was hidden by Willow's own.




tbc




Leave Feedback on Livejournal



Back Index



Feed the Author

 Visit the Author's Website  Visit the Author's Live Journal

Home Authors Categories New Stories