Summary: Warren ventures out on the town again, and meets someone who knows all too well who he is.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .

Rating: PG-13, for themes and intensity.

Time Frame: A few days after "Dead Things." (spoiler warning!)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@charter.net) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


OPENING LINES


Warren walked into the bar, and glanced warily around before realizing that no one was paying attention to his entrance. Feeling ambivalent about the lack of attention, he walked quietly over the bar and ordered a Kamikaze. He sipped moodily at the drink, glancing around to see if there were any attractive women there. He noticed a tall blonde sitting at a nearby table and turned to grin at her: she sniffed dismissively and turned away to nurse her own drink. Warren glared at her, then turned back to the bar. * That bitch wouldn't be turning her nose up at me if I still had the Cerebral Dampener *

He had tried to get Jonathan and Andrew to help him charge up the dampener for another go; after all, one bad experience didn't mean that they couldn't give it another try. But no, they had to moan and complain about dead bodies and pissed off Slayers and murder investigations. Wusses. Fine-he'd go out and hit the town on his own: he had plenty of money and his own special brand of charm. After all, Katrina had dated him even before he became a supervillian, hadn't she? Was it his fault that she'd been so unreasonable about April? Certainly not. Surely, there would be some sweet young thing who would appreciate the superior breed of man that he represented.

Of course, he had to be careful: Buffy had probably made the connection between Katrina and himself, and the attempted frame-up would probably have her even more pissed off at the three of them than she would have been otherwise. Fortunately, he was fully prepared for this contingency. The telemetry that they had gotten from the time dilation gadget that they had planted on Buffy had allowed him to record the unique signature of Buffy's pulse and brainwave activity, and he had used the data to program a proximity sensor. If Buffy got within a hundred feet of him, he'd know it immediately and it would give him time to activate another device that he had invented, using some of the hardware that had gone missing when the government soldiers had skated town a couple of years back. It would deliver an electrical charge strong enough to stop a rhino in its tracks to anyone or anything who tried to grab him after he triggered it. If Buffy showed, he would be ready.

Another possible threat was Willow: Warren had seen how angry the redhead was at them for kidnapping her, and she'd only be more inclined for payback after the frame-up attempt against her best friend. Again, though, he had planned for this problem. They had taken a hair sample from her during her captivity, and Jonathan had used it to make a warding charm against the already legendary abilities of the young witch: it wouldn't stop her indefinitely, but it would give the possessor time to run like hell, which was all he was after. Jonathan had been reluctant to give it up, but had sullenly handed it over in the end before stalking off angrily. Warren snickered at the memory: that little runt would just be another loser at UC Sunnydale if Warren hadn't come along. Let him sulk-he'd come crawling back in the end.

Warren continued to sip his drink and watch the women walk by him without giving him a second look. He was getting bored and irritated, and did not notice that he was not alone until a set of immaculately manicured and polished nails brushed softly against his left arm. He was startled, and was reaching for the trigger on the electrical device when he saw who was standing next to him and froze.

The woman was tall: six feet tall if she was an inch, with long legs concealed under loose black sweats. She was wearing a tight red top that showed off an extremely generous figure, and she was watching Warren with dark eyes that matched her raven hair. She smiled, dazzling Warren with a perfect smile. Warren opened his mouth, but only faint croaking sounds came out. The phrase "Julie Strain's younger, hotter sister" kept echoing through his head until the woman nudged him and asked in a soft, seductive voice, "Are you all right?"

Warren shook his head to clear it, then managed to grin as he turned to the woman next to him and said the first thing that popped into his head: "Been better since you came along, beautiful: can I buy you a drink?"

She smiled at him, and Warren felt a tingle as she replied, "I've already got one, thanks." She inclined her head at a nearby booth, where a single wineglass rested. She squeezed Warren's arm, then added, "You looked so cute and lonely over here, I thought I'd invite you over. Sound like fun?"

Warren went nonverbal again, but managed a nod as the woman led him over to the booth and pulled him down to sit next to her. She drained the wineglass with a single draft and motioned to a nearby waitress. A few moments later, the waitress brought over a tray with two drinks on it. The woman smiled and handed the waitress a twenty dollar bill, which caused the waitress to smile back, then depart abruptly. Warren raised an eyebrow and commented, "That was a hell of a tip, uh-what's your name?"

He got a grin as a reply, and he was starting to get annoyed when the woman leaned over and whispered, "Call me Aspen." She nodded at the tray and added, "I saw you ordered a Kamikaze earlier, so I decided to order us both another one." She squeezed his arm again, then suggested, "Take one: I'd like to make a toast."

Warren's eyes had narrowed as the woman gave her name: how many people in this town were named after trees, anyway? He reached into his coat pocket, to reassure himself that the charm was still there, then reached for a glass, watching Aspen's dark eyes as he did so. He saw an ever so slight twitch, and he smiled inwardly as he handed the glass to Aspen and commented, "Ladies first."

Aspen smiled, called out "To a memorable evening," and tossed the drink back as if it were tap water, then chuckled deep in her throat as she invited, "You're not going to let me drink alone, are you?"

Warren's suspicions dissipated abruptly, and he downed the drink as quickly as Aspen had. The Kamikaze burned going down, but he managed to avoid choking as he signaled the waitress for another round. He felt Aspen's long, strong fingers stroking his arm gently, and he was preparing to make another suave comment when the room began to spin. Confused, he looked at Aspen and saw a thinly veiled look of malice in her eyes. He tried and failed to cry out, and was reaching once more for his electric device when his eyes rolled up and he slumped in his seat, unconscious.

The woman watched the limp figure next to her for a few moments, then turned to the waitress and nodded.


* * * * *


Warren's eyes snapped open, and he found himself looking at a blank ceiling. Puzzled, he tried to roll over, revealing the fact that he was tied to the bed he was lying on by all four of his limbs. There was enough slack in the rope to let him look around a bit, and he quickly spotted Aspen watching him with a cold smile on her face. She smiled and commented, "I wondered if you'd ever wake up."

Warren scowled and snapped in annoyance, "How could you possibly know that I was going to take that glass?"

Aspen shook her head in amusement and replied, "I didn't: I just made sure I had taken the antidote first. Didn't you ever see 'The Princess Bride'?"

Warren flushed in embarrassment at having fallen for the trick, but his curiosity quickly overcame his anger, and he asked bluntly, "Who in the hell are you, anyway?"

Aspen made a complex gesture with her hands, and she shimmered briefly. When the shimmer faded, she had changed into a blonde woman of medium height and build, with sleepy, light-colored eyes that watched Warren as intently as those of the now-vanished amazon had. Warren's eyes narrowed in puzzlement, and the woman glared at him as she commented, "That's right: you don't bother to find out the name of the people whose lives you screw up. My name's Tara: I'm Willow's girlfriend."

Warren stared: he and the others had found out about Buffy's friends while researching their plans to unnerve the Slayer, but except for Willow they had more or less ignored them once they had determined their general behavior patterns, as they were clearly lesser threats-or so he had thought. Warren relaxed: he wasn't about to quiver in terror at some sidekick. He snickered and asked, "So why have you tied me to this bed, Tara? Looking for a little change of pace in your sex life?"

Tara rolled her eyes and replied, "Oh, how could I ever resist such a manly man with such original and witty come-ons?" She fixed her eyes on him again and coldly added, "You're tied to the bed because I'm not about to let a murderer walk around loose, particularly one who just tried to pin the crime on one of my best friends. I'm funny that way."

Warren tried for bravado, but his voice was audibly nervous as he looked back at Tara and retorted, "You don't know what you're talking about. I never killed anyone." He smirked at her and added, "And even if I had, you couldn't prove it."

"It's always so cute when they act all brave and confident." Warren turned toward the new voice, and spotted another woman, this one still wearing the waitress outfit that she had on while serving the spiked drinks at the bar. She pulled off the long blonde wig and shook her own shorter brown hair loose as she commented, "That thing itched. On the other hand, Xander might like this look for one of our fantasy-"

"Anya. Really not the time right now." Tara's voice was level, but audibly annoyed, and Warren got a good look at the new arrival and was about to open his mouth when Tara added, "Warren, meet Anya. She's not a big fan of yours either."

Anya nodded emphatically and elaborated, "Damned right I'm not. You made Xander very upset when he had to fire Buffy because of that stupid stunt you idiots pulled at the construction site. Not to mention putting her in that time loop that made her quit working at the Magic Box: no one messes with my store."

Warren snickered and commented, "Your concern for Buffy is touching, and I still don't know what you're talking about." He glared at the two women, then added, "So, are you going to let me go, or do we wait here until the cops bust in and lock you up for kidnapping?"

Tara smiled coldly and replied, "The cops won't be coming, Warren. The patrons of the bar saw you cheerfully leave the bar with 'Aspen,' and this room is soundproofed with magic, so yelling won't do you any good. Also, I think the police are going to have a few questions for you when they see you next." She reached into a shoulder bag on the dressing table next to her and pulled out a small tape player. She pressed the play button, and Warren's voice filled the room: "So I grabbed at her and she fell and broke her neck. Stupid clumsy bitch should have just stayed put and went along with the program: she'd be a lot more lively now if she had. Why, I-" Tara hit the stop button, then commented, "Why, Warren, you look so pale. What's wrong?"

"WHAT DID YOU GIVE ME?" Warren shouted, horrified at the taped confession, and knowing that the soundproofing would prevent the authorities from being summoned due to his spleen-venting.

"Oh, just a little bit of this and a little bit of that," replied Anya, visibly enjoying Warren's horrified expression. She grinned, then continued, "There are herbal toxins that have been known to witches for centuries that make sodium pentathol look like NoDoz by comparison. By the time we got you back here, you were only too ready to spill your guts to us. With what you told us, we were able to give your two buddies a call and let them know that we had you all dead to rights. They sold you down the river, Warren: they were only too glad to give us even more dirt on you and to turn over all of the stuff you guys stole in exchange for not siccing Buffy on them. You're going down, Warren, and Buffy won't have to deal with your crap any more. Nice little package deal. We've dropped a copy of the tape in the mail, and the police will have it tomorrow morning. Hope you like prison food and big guys named 'Tiny'"

Warren was just short of total panic: he tested his bonds, then looked wildly around the room for potential exits. After a moment, his eyes narrowed, and he commented, "So, you're just going to sit here until the cops bust the door down? They'll ask a lot of questions that you don't want any part of, you know." He tensed: if they left, he could at least try to get loose and out of town before the Sunnydale Police Department was after him in force.

"That's a good point, Warren," Tara replied, watching her captive with a cool expression. She glanced at the bathroom door, then walked over to it, elaborating, "That's why we came up with another bodyguard for you who wouldn't have any problems with being here with you when the authorities arrive." She opened the door, then coaxed, "Come on out."

Warren's eyes widened as a stunning young woman walked out of the bathroom and coolly looked at him without comment. He blinked, then whispered, "April?"

"Yeah, Willow fixed her up last summer and had her in storage in case the BuffyBot went blooey," Anya explained, glancing at the robot with approval before turning back to Warren and smiling coldly at him and adding, "She'll keep you company until the cops get here."

Warren began laughing, and the two women looked at each other before Tara raised an eyebrow and asked pointedly, "What's the joke?"

Warren smiled evilly, and replied, "Oh, you'll see." He turned and locked eyes with his creation and snapped, "April, override omega alpha zeta. Kill the brunette, and hold the blonde until we can sweat the location of that tape out of her." April growled low in her throat, and Warren's grin grew wider and wider until he realized that his robot was glaring at him, not at Anya, and furthermore that Anya was smiling broadly as Tara handed her a twenty dollar bill. Warren blinked, stared, and asked frantically, "What--?"

"Oh, I just won a bet with Tara," Anya explained, pocketing the bill. Warren's face twisted in confusion, and Anya elaborated, "Warren, we're not as lame as you and your buddies: we knew that you had to have some hidden commands set up inside April, and we got them out of you before the herbs wore off. We did a little bit of reprogramming, so that if you tried to use the override code, you'd get a little surprise. Tara thought that you'd have her free you so you could run off: if you had done that, April just would have stood there and lectured you about how much of a jerk you've been until the cops broke down the door. I thought you'd order her to kill us. I win."

Tara sighed, and she and Anya walked toward the front door of the room, as April slowly and menacingly walked over to the helpless figure on the bed. Warren's eyes widened in terror, and he screeched, "What is she going to do?"

Tara turned back and shrugged, then replied, "Oh. . .your command triggered a data file that contains all of the information about how you abandoned her last year, lied to her, and otherwise treated her like crap. Oh, and we removed all of that stuff about her thinking you're God. Gee, how do you think she's going to react?" The young witch turned away and followed Anya out the front door: the beginning of a shriek was cut off abruptly by the door and the soundproofing spell. Tara winced, and commented, "That sounded painful."

Anya nodded, "Yeah, I wish I'd had robots back in my vengeance demon days. Up for some pizza?"

Tara nodded, and the two women left the motel without further comment. The door remained closed and silent, though an occasional vibration could have been spotted by a careful observer. After a few minutes, those faded as well.

* * * * *


"Sunnydale Police: open the hell up, Mears!"

The two officers assigned to handle the arrest had heard the taped confession, and they were primed to drag Warren off to a small cell to await arraignment. If that process involved some gratuitous violence, they wouldn't complain.

There was no answer, and the officers drew their sidearms and tensed. One kicked the door in, then ducked to avoid potential gunfire. There was no sound of any kind other than the echo from the entry, and Officer Daniels peeked around the doorframe and quickly spotted the large lump under the bedcovers. He nodded to his partner, and they slipped into the room, moving cautiously over to the bed. Daniels quickly checked out the rest of the room, finding it empty. He came back and removed the baton from his belt, then used it to flip back the covers while Officer Randolph leveled his weapon at the bed. The covers were removed, and both officers-who had seen any number of gruesome sights during their years in Sunnydale-were moved to comment, "Yuck." After a moment, Daniels reached out with the baton and prodded the body of Warren Mears. There was no motion, and Daniels commented laconically, "Yep, he's dead."

"Gee, you think?" Randolph's tone was one of disgust, though neither officer was particularly upset at the demise of Mears: the specifics, on the other hand, were rather unique. He craned his neck and commented, "I always thought that was just an expression."

Daniels shook his head and replied, "I've known Warren since he was five years old, and believe you me. . .I've said all along that that boy had his head up his ass. Always good to be proven right." He reached for his radio and asked, "Do you want to call this in, or should I?"



As always, comments are welcomed and desired