Spike stalked through the park, and Xander couldn’t help but stare. He was all vamp tonight; his gameface to the fore as he searched for undesirables who might be hanging about in the shadowy corners. Kendra walked at his side, and although Xander had patrolled with her several times recently, he was amazed at the difference in her. Tonight he was strongly reminded of that ‘otherness’ that set slayers apart from their fellow humans.
Buffy constantly tried to hide it, wanting to fit in with those around her, and Faith’s easy sexuality had never successfully disguised the predator inside her. He thought that of the three slayers he knew, Kendra wore her difference most comfortably; probably because she’d been raised knowing who and what she was, and no longer needed to struggle with acceptance. Tonight she looked like the demons she fought; her eyes sharp and hard, her movements sure and precise.
Kendra moved with the same easy bearing that Spike exhibited, and Xander’s eyes were naturally drawn to them as they prowled, graceful and deadly, through the park. But his job was to protect Tara, so he tore his eyes away from them and watched as she followed in their wake, crumbling dried leaves on the ground, and chanting as she waved a bundle of herbs that smoldered and smoked. The scent of sage made his nose itch, and eventually he gave in and took his hand off his sword long enough to rub at his nose.
When they reached the gates again, having circled the whole park, they all three watched as Tara performed a spell similar to the one Xander did every week on the lair, but even from fifteen feet away, Xander could feel the growing power of this spell, and his respect for Tara increased even more. Tara had told him that his recent firsthand exposure to magic would heighten his awareness to it, but he was pretty sure what he was feeling was all Tara. Spike was really twitchy, and even Kendra seemed uncomfortable and nervous.
By the time dead leaves and dry grass started spinning around Tara in an invisible whirlwind, her extreme concentration and focus was almost frightening in its intensity. He was suddenly very glad she was on their side. Throwing her head back, she chanted to the stars, her hair whipping around her face, and the hem of her skirt flapping around her calves. She spread out her arms and they seemed to encompass the whole park, power surging away from her and rushing past them to the boundaries she’d set earlier. Then she spoke a few quiet words.
The wind stopped instantly, and Xander gasped as his ears popped with the release of pressure he hadn’t realized had built up around them, unprepared for the abruptness with which the spell ended. Tara’s knees buckled under her, and it was a good thing Kendra was already walking her direction, because she barely caught Tara as she fell. Kendra carried her to a bench close by, and knelt beside her, waiting impatiently as Tara slowly came around, blinking up at them groggily. Kendra helped her sit up, and Xander grabbed a bottle of water out of his bag. Tara took it with a grateful smile.
Spike walked up, nodding in approval. “Good work, Glinda. It’s very strong; I can feel it.” He studied her for a moment, taking in her pale face and shaky hands. “You didn’t push yourself too far, did you?”
“No, don’t wuh-worry, Spike. This is why I wuh-wanted to get here so early. I’ll t-take a nap in the car soon, and eat a granola bar to get my energy buh-back. I’ll be fine by the time Master Spike and Drusilla get here.”
Xander sat down next to her. “That’s not our only concern, Tara. We don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
“Th-thank you, Xander. Th-that’s very sweet of you, but I’ll be fine in an hour. The car is protected by the spell, so I’ll be safe there.”
Kendra laughed. “So that’s why you include the street on this side.”
Tara smiled shyly at her. “Always think ahead. T-that was my grandmother’s motto. She had it carved on her gravestone…” she paused to make sure every eye was on her, “…ten years before she died.”
Xander couldn’t help but laugh. Partly from nerves, but he was also relieved to see how quickly Tara was recovering. She’d been stumbling over her words when she first sat up, but he could tell she was better already. Now they just had to wait a couple of hours before the meet started. Great.
Spike spent a lot of the next several hours talking with Kendra. The two of them discussed styles of sword fighting while Xander listened and tried to figure out what they were talking about. Despite the fact that Spike had been teaching him how to use them, he knew very little about swords beyond what kind of damage they could do. Spike was much more concerned that Xander be able to use a sword than he was that Xander learn the proper techniques and forms. He hadn’t taught Xander anything at all about their history or any theories on their use.
Xander hadn’t realized that Spike knew so much about them until now. They discussed small swords and broadswords, rapiers and sabers, katanas and daos - Xander was completely lost. Kendra had been very impressed with Spike’s ability to combine the various styles that he used, and they’d argued about rules and practices and theories until Xander’d thought his ears were going to bleed.
He’d wanted Kendra to like and trust Spike from the beginning, and now that they were getting along he was unhappy about it. But they were just too friendly, and finally Xander recognized what he was doing. He and Spike had been very close for a while now. He’d had Spike all to himself, and now that Spike was getting friendly with Kendra, he wasn’t spending all his time with Xander, and Xander was jealous. He was feeling left out and neglected.
He couldn’t even go talk with Tara, just to get away for a while, because once she woke up from her nap, she’d started meditating, and she needed her privacy right now. Xander wasn’t going to bother her just because he was acting like a baby. He wished that Giles was there, he would at least have had someone to talk to.
Besides, Giles needed to see for himself how powerful a witch Tara was, so he’d stop fussing over her joining them. But Giles had refused to come tonight. He was still angry with Kendra for insisting that she come along to protect Tara. They’d had a huge fight over it, and Xander got the idea that Giles blamed Xander and Spike for Kendra’s growing resistance to his overbearing tyranny. Well, that was just too bad. Kendra needed to grow, and she’d never do it from Giles’ shadow. Giles would come around eventually.
But the time passed so slowly. If they’d been able to spar, or even play a game of basketball on the court at the other end of the park, it wouldn’t have seemed like such a long wait, but there was no way to know if they needed to conserve their energy or not. If they ended up in a fight, they didn’t want to go into it already worn out. There wasn’t supposed to be any fighting tonight, but Xander was aware of exactly how badly Spike’s plans could go, and this was mostly Spike’s idea.
When Spike had told Xander how he sent the invitation, Xander had rolled his eyes.
“Great idea, Spike. Get the Master of the Hellmouth mad at you before you meet with him. That’s going to help a lot!”
“No, see, it will help in the long run. Drusilla isn’t going to let him kill me, I’m sure of that. She’ll want to keep me around, but Puffy is going to want to get rid of me as soon as possible. I’m pretty sure that I can convince him that he’s better off letting us get our business here done, and then we can move on, and he can have Dru to himself again.”
“You think it’s going to be as easy as that? What if he goes behind her back and gets his minions to kill you?”
“No, he won’t do that.” Spike spoke with a confidence that Xander wasn’t sure he could trust. “He’ll do what Dru says.”
“He’s not you, Spike, you can’t know that.”
“I know. But I’m 99% certain, Herc, and those are damn good odds.”
Xander had agreed to go along with his plan, but there had been complications already. Last night Spike hadn’t come home until close to dawn. He’d been out all night scouring the town for some sign of his friend Clem. He had to be careful who he talked to; with the bounty on his head he was a target, but he was concerned about his friend and refused to stay home. Spike hadn’t said so, but Xander was pretty sure he was worried that delivering Spike’s package had gotten Clem into trouble.
“Heads up, people.”
Spike’s voice cut through Xander’s contemplations and he looked up to see Spike indicating the far end of the park. It was too dark for human eyes, but Kendra nodded at Spike.
“Good luck,” she told them both, then she walked over to Tara, who was getting to her feet.
The two of them crossed to a bench a few yards away, where Tara had set out her supplies earlier. She’d be ready for pretty much anything this way, but far enough away to give them the semblance of privacy.
For once, Xander’s nerves weren’t acting up; he felt alert and on top of things. He didn’t trust the feeling, there must be something wrong. He got a shot of amusement from Buddy, and Xander acknowledged that maybe he simply couldn’t accept that he was actually feeling on top of his game for once. But he trusted Buddy to know, and resolved himself to take advantage of the feeling while he had it. He took his place to the right and slightly behind Spike, since tonight was Spike’s move.
Puffy Spike looked the same as always, and Xander studied his hair, trying to see what Spike saw. He couldn’t tell a bit of difference between the two. It occurred to him that he should have made Spike dress differently or something; if there was a fight he didn’t want to have to worry about telling them apart again.
Drusilla looked the same, as well. She wore the same old-timey clothes as the one in their universe, but her eyes were sharper, and they seemed to bore right into him. Xander remembered Spike’s warnings, and looked away; the last thing he needed was to fall under a thrall.
They’d barely stopped in front of Spike before he went on the offensive. “You have my courier.”
Drusilla smiled at him as if his first words to her hadn’t been angry ones. “William, dearest.”
From her look, Xander thought that perhaps she wanted to come closer, but Spike wasn’t acting very friendly, so she kept her distance. He frowned at her, but Xander noticed that he didn’t dispute her claim over him. Puffy Spike scowled at them both. Smiling graciously, Dru continued as if the atmosphere wasn’t so prickly that even Xander could feel it.
“Thank you for sending Clement to visit us. He has accepted our invitation to stay with us for a few days.”
“Has he, now?” Spike’s smile was brittle. “It’s very unlike him not to be home for poker night. He didn’t even let his friends know he wouldn’t be around.”
Puffy Spike frowned at Spike. “You seem awfully attached to your minions.” He gave Xander a pointed look, and Spike took a step forward, blocking Puffy’s view of Xander. That was just like Spike, to block the line of sight between Xander and the enemy. He scooted to the side, not wanting to distract Spike right now by making too obvious a move.
“Clem is not a minion,” Spike growled at Puffy, “he’s my friend.”
Puffy shrugged dismissively. “Well, if you want to speak to him, you know where to find him.”
“In your stronghold? Not bloody likely.”
Dru stepped between them, as if simply her presence could stop them from fighting. She was right; they both immediately took a step back and disengaged from their argument.
“You’d be perfectly safe with us, Spike. You should know that, love.”
Spike looked away from her, his jaw clenched, and Xander got the impression that it took a lot of effort not to accept her at her word.
“How can I trust you?” His voice was full of pain, bittersweet and regretful. “You’ve put a bounty on my head, and you’re holding my friend hostage. How could I possibly trust you?”
“You can’t trust us?” Puffy Spike asked incredulously. “We followed your directions. We came here without backup. You’re the one who had an armed guard poised at our backs.”
“What the bloody hell are you talking about?” Spike looked like he was ready to jump down Puffy’s throat. “I made it perfectly clear that the Slayer would only be here to protect Tara.”
“The Slayer, yes.” Puffy pulled a mangled crossbow from under his coat, and tossed it down between them. “But there was no mention in your invitation of her Watcher ambushing us before we even reached the rendezvous.”
Xander’s stomach twisted as he recognized the crossbow lying broken on the grass. He’d admired the carvings a few days ago when Giles had proudly shown it to him. It had been a gift from his family when he was chosen as Buffy’s Watcher.
He heard Kendra’s gasp as she came up behind them. “What have you done with Giles?”