“A Jeep Cherokee?” Xander asked, surprise coloring his words. “G-Man, you own an SUV?”
Spike agreed. A Citroën had been an idiotic choice for a Watcher, and the red convertible he’d brought home just weeks ago probably had less to do with aiding a Slayer with her calling than it did with impressing his new, younger lover. Well, if you could call a millennia old ex-demon young. She was young in this incarnation, anyroad.
Kendra opened the back door for them, and Spike swallowed his growl, ashamed to be seen as weak in front of his natural enemy, despite the fact that he had a truce with this one.
“It took me months to get him to agree with me that a convertible was a terrible idea.” Kendra shook her head, rolling her eyes.
Xander laughed at that as he assisted Spike into the car. “He wanted a red BMW, right?”
Kendra frowned at him. “How did you know?”
“Our Giles just showed up with one last month, after Spike totaled his Gilesmobile running from the Initiative.”
“I did that intentionally, you know.” Spike grouched as he settled into the car. “That Citroën may have been a decent car forty or fifty years ago, but it was well past its prime by the time I put it out of its misery.” That he’d crashed intentionally wasn’t strictly true, but since there’d been no witnesses, he had no problem with adjusting the facts to suit himself.
Giles closed the front passenger door behind Tara. “You totaled my 1963 Citroën?” he asked incredulously.
Spike snorted. “Face it, mate, that thing was an accident waiting to happen.” Kendra closed the door, ending the conversation, but Giles glared at him angrily before walking stiffly around to the driver’s door. He picked up the conversation again as soon as he slid behind the wheel. “I’ll have you know, that car was a classic.”
Xander laughed as he slid in from the other side, crowding Spike’s leg until he gave in and offered Herc a little leg room. He was stuck in the middle, with Foxy Brown on his other side, so Spike supposed he could be magnanimous; after all, Xander’d been quite concerned about Spike’s condition all evening.
“Is that what you call it?” Herc asked. “A classic? It wouldn’t go faster than fifty miles an hour; I call that a safety hazard.”
Tara turned to Herc, as best she could with her seatbelt on. “How do you figure that? I’d think that a car that didn’t go fast would be safer than one that did.”
“Not if you’re on the highway to L.A.” Herc argued. “Anything going less than seventy miles an hour is in danger of becoming a bumper car, only without the extra padding.”
Foxy laughed. “I told him that over and over, but he never listened to me.”
“I did in the end, you must agree.” Giles insisted.
“Only after it died on the highway, and you with no way to contact help.”
Giles sighed as he pulled out into traffic. “Very true. I learned several lessons that day, didn’t I?”
Kendra raised her head, smiling proudly.
“Well?” Herc urged her. “Share with the class!”
“He now carries a cell phone,” she announced.
“Wow! Giles! Way to step into the new millennium.” Xander was obviously impressed. “We still haven’t managed to get our Giles to use one.”
Giles glanced over at Tara, uncomfortably. “Well. I suppose that he wouldn’t find it quite as necessary, with…so many of you around.”
Spike thought it was ridiculous that Giles still wasn’t willing to talk in front of Tara, even after she’d agreed to help Xander and Spike with their upcoming meeting with the Master of the Hellmouth and his Drusilla. He had to know that she was aware of Kendra’s differences. After all, Glinda hadn’t blinked an eye when Kendra’d insisted that they let her come along to protect Tara.
“It’s okay, Mr. Giles. You don’t have to wuh-worry about me. I knew th-that Kendra was one of the slayers as soon as I met her.”
Kendra smiled brightly, ignoring the Watcher’s stammered denials. “How did you know? Does it show in my aura, like Xander’s Buddy?”
Tara nodded at her shyly. “It does; all shot through with bright gold streaks. It’s very pretty. But I might not have understood wha-what it meant, if Drusilla hadn’t told me you would be there tonight.”
Spike barely had time to put his hand up and stop himself from slamming into the seat in front of him as the car jerked to a sudden stop. He managed to get his other arm out to the side, stopping Herc from flying into the front seat, despite the flare of pain it caused him to hold back the weight of a full-grown man.
“Giles!” Kendra grabbed the seat in front of her, even though she had earlier carefully buckled her seatbelt.
“Bloody fucking hell, Watcher! You’ve got wounded back here!” Spike craned his neck around to see if anyone was about to hit them from behind, but fortunately it was late, there was no one on this residential street aside from them.
“Drusilla knew Kendra would be at my apartment tonight?” Giles demanded, oblivious to everything but Tara’s remark.
“She didn’t say her nuh-name, she juh-just tuh-talked about the light and duh-dark slayers, and she said I wuh-would meet the duh-dark slayer tonight.”
“What did she say?” Kendra asked.
“She said th-that there might be two slayers, but th-that they weren’t as duh-different as they seemed. And that I wuh-wouldn’t see the light slayer tonight, b-because she was up north, ruh-riding on a muh-moose, and didn’t have time for me.” She shrugged. “Like I said, she’s ec-c-c-centric.”
Spike frowned, not happy that Giles’ reaction had upset Tara. It was easy to tell when she was nervous; her stutter was much more pronounced.
Foxy burst out in a fit of giggles at the comment about the moose. Giles focused the rearview mirror on her, one eyebrow raised. Seems he was worried she might let something slip about that slutty slayer Faith being up in Canada. The laughter worked, though. Tara smiled back at her, relaxing, and Xander shook his head at them both.
“So Drusilla didn’t say anything specific about them, Tara?” Xander’s voice was calm, just a casual question, that seemed to go a ways toward easing Tara’s nervousness.
“No. I don’t think she wuh-would. Not to me, anyway. She thinks I’m going to wuh-work with the Slayers now. She told me my destiny lies in fuh-fighting the good fuh-fight.”
Kendra beamed her brightest smile at Tara. “That would be wonderful!”
“Now, now, Kendra.” Giles interrupted. “Our life is one of danger and uncertainty; we have no right to ask others to risk their lives in our struggle.”
“I don’t mind, Mr. ju-Giles. I’m not a fighter, but I would be glad to help.”
“That’s very kind of you, Tara, but a Slayer works best in secret, and…”
“Oh, stuff it, Watcher.” Spike interrupted. “She can make up her own mind. Our Tara is proud to belong to the group that makes the world safe for puppies and apple pie. If this one decides she wants to help, the least you can do is to accept graciously and not make a fuss.”
“Giles, our Buffy has lived longer than any other Slayer has ever managed. I know things didn’t happen that way here, but our Giles says that one of Buffy’s main strengths is her willingness to accept the help of others.”
“Even three years is longer than most Slayers live, Giles,” Kendra pointed out. “I want to do my job to the best of my abilities. You did right by Buffy, and I was proud to know her. I wish to follow her example, and I’ll be glad to accept Tara’s help, with or without your approval.”
Tara smiled shyly at her, then glanced at Giles and gasped at the anger in his eyes.
“We’ll discuss this when we get home.” His voice was deceptively mild, but Spike could hear the trembling in it; Giles was near the breaking point.
Kendra held her head high in defiance, and Xander squeezed her hand. She smiled at him and Spike had to restrain himself from growling. Xander should be careful, she might get the wrong idea, and he’d hate to do some damage to the bint, he actually liked her. She was all right, for a Slayer.
“Are we near the park, yet, Watcher?” Spike loved a bit of high drama from time to time, but he was exhausted. His body wouldn’t recover properly until he got the chance to sleep. He was tired of hurting, so he eased the tension a bit by changing the subject. “I thought you said it was nearby.”
Giles cleared his throat. “Yes, it’s just up the street.” He took his foot off the brake, and the car started moving again. Spike grinned as almost everyone in the car gave a collective sigh of relief.
Once they’d parked near Heatherly Park, they sat and discussed the tentative plan they’d worked out at the Watcher’s flat. They would send Dru and Puffy a message arranging to meet them there at the park, near the statue of some idiot on horseback that stood near the front entrance. Why the hell people insisted on sculpting men making fools of themselves on horses, Spike had no idea, but it seemed like every single park in every single town on every bleeding continent Spike had ever been to had a statue of a man on a horse in it.
“There ought to be a law...” Spike mumbled to himself. Of course, with Hercules sitting right next to him, he obviously hadn’t spoken softly enough, as Herc looked over and raised one eyebrow in question. Spike rolled his eyes as Giles expounded on the importance of extreme caution when facing unknown foes.
As if Spike didn’t know Puffy or his dark pearl as well as his own todger. “Ta, much for those words of wisdom, Rupert.”
“Perhaps we should get Spike home soon,” the Slayer said, a subtle smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “He seems to be on the cranky side tonight.”
“Ah. Good idea, Kendra.” The Watcher was extra stuffy for the rest of the evening, dropping Glinda off at her dorm room with a very formal “Good evening, Miss Maclay. So very good to meet you.”
It was obvious that Giles wasn’t too happy that Kendra exchanged numbers with Tara, but he didn’t say anything to Foxy Brown, even after she’d slipped into the front seat, letting Herc slide over and give Spike some room. And if Spike missed the warmth of Xander’s leg pressed up against his own, it was merely a matter of proximity to a hot-blooded human, and had nothing to do with wanting Hercules back by his side.
There hadn’t been any more conversation, the silence dragging on Spike as he struggled to stay awake. He was relieved when they finally reached the lair, and didn’t even fuss when Xander came around to his side of the car, wrapping his arm around Spike’s waist. He fought hard not to show exactly how tired he was, not wanting Foxy to see him that weak.
She dropped the cooler with the rest of the blood packets in it inside the door, and Spike relaxed once the door closed behind her. He let Xander half-carry him to the bedroom, thankful that they’d chosen rooms on the first floor. He would have gratefully passed out as soon as he flopped onto the bed, but Herc insisted on undressing him, which was a fiasco and a half. When he realized that Spike wore nothing under his jeans, he turned bright red, but despite his raised heart rate, Spike was too tired to tease him.
Xander settled him up against half the pillows in the place, and he dozed until he heard Xander’s voice, the scent of blood waking him up enough to drink both mugs dry before insisting that was enough. He wanted to save what was left for tomorrow, and he told Herc so in no uncertain terms when he would have argued with Spike.
“I’ve had plenty of blood, Xan, it’s rest I need now. So stop fussing about like a mother hen, and let me sleep,” he ordered, drowsily.
“Okay, okay. I get the hint.” He pulled the sheets up closer around Spike’s shoulders, and Spike slipped one hand out the side to smack his hands away.
“That’s enough. Go away, now.”
Herc laughed, and skipped back out of reach. “I’m going!” He turned back at the door, still smiling. “I’ll check on you in the morning…”
“No you won’t,” Spike insisted. “I’ll be sound asleep until early evening, and I don’t need your big feet clomping around my door, waking me up every five minutes. If I don’t wake up by nightfall, you can check on me then, but not a moment sooner, understood, Nurse Nightingale?”
Xander rolled his eyes, grinning at his new nickname. “Understood, grouchy guts.” He blew out the candle on Spike’s bedside table. “Good night.”
“Night.” He pulled the blanket over his head, thinking about everything Xander had done for him tonight. He pushed the blanket back down as Xander started to pull the door closed. “Herc!”
Xander pushed the door open, the flickering light from the candle in the hall backlighting his form. “Yeah? You think of something you need?”
“No. ‘M fine. Just wanted to say…thanks.”
Herc grinned at him, and Spike tensed, not wanting a big scene or anything, but warming to his smile, nonetheless.
Xander pulled the door shut, and Spike sighed with relief. Finally he could rest. He’d deal with the rest of the world tomorrow.