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Chapter Twenty - Crossroads

For what seemed like the hundredth time, Xander brushed his sodden hair out of his eyes. He could have stayed in the car, he supposed, but they had been driving around for hours and his need to get some air had far outweighed the inconvenience of the steady rain.

His companions had all opted for the dry alternative. Liz and Suzi were sitting in the front talking softly to one another. They were keeping their voices low so as not to disturb Spike who was stretched out in the back (well, as much as was possible in the rental car) hiding from the daylight under a blanket. Xander glanced up at the sky. It wasn't like there was a lot of daylight to hide from, but he supposed Spike was of the opinion that he was better safe than sorry.

It had been a difficult afternoon. They had pulled up in front of the hotel just long enough for Suzi and Spike to throw themselves inside before tearing away again. Then they had driven around haphazardly, choosing directions at random, always alert for signs of pursuit, but, finally, they were convinced that they were not being followed. Which was when the arguments started.

They needed a plan. At present, they were travelling without direction, but, with the fate of the world at stake, that had to change and soon. But who was supposed to make that decision? Liz and Suzi were here as a favour to Giles and more than willing to follow the lead of the Sunnydale posse. Spike…well, nobody was going to listen to Spike even if he had bothered to contribute to the discussion. And Riley was missing in action.

Which left Xander.

Who am I kidding, he thought to himself. I'm no leader. Sure, I might want to be, but when the chips are down, that's where Buffy comes in. Or Giles. Or Riley. Or even Will. Me, I'm right down at the bottom of a very long list. Heck, I probably don't even make it on there.

Why had he even volunteered to come out here? He could have stayed at home with Anya. He would have to be some kind of crazy person to want to fly off on some life and death quest than to stay in Sunnydale in the soft, loving arms (and everything else) of his very beautiful girlfriend.

This was Riley's mission. Riley Finn, secret agent. With the strength and the gadgets and just the all-round cool, Riley was everything Xander wanted to be (well, except for the bit about his boss creating Frankenstein's monster, but who didn't have at least one psychopathic woman in their past, right?) and part of him resented him for that. But it was a small part. Riley was one of the good guys and, more importantly, a friend. And he was trained for this sort of thing.

'You okay?' Liz asked. She was walking round the car to join him.

'Just thinking about Riley,' Xander replied, 'and how he would have Plans A to K all worked out by now. Why don't you go back in the car? You're getting all wet out here.'

'Suzi is best taken in small doses,' Liz replied, 'and I'm not the only one getting wet.'

'You know, there are some people who'd tell you I was a bit wet already,' Xander joked half-heartedly.

'That I can't imagine,' Liz told him. 'You're not feeling sorry for yourself out here, are you?'

'Maybe a little,' Xander confessed. 'I'm just wondering why I'm even here. It’s not like I have any useful skills to contribute. Even Spike has more right to be here than I do.'

'But I wouldn't trust Spike to watch my back,' Liz pointed out. 'You came because you're friends needed you and loyalty is not a trait to be sniffed at.'

'I guess not,' Xander mused, standing maybe a little taller. 'But I guess you'd know all about that, seeing as you're only here because Giles asked you.'

'Rupert and I go back a long way,' Liz explained. 'I owe him.'

'Sounds like there's a story there,' Xander remarked.

Liz turned away, her hair falling in front of her face.

'There was a scandal,' she began. 'It's not important.'

They stood in silence, watching as the streetlights flickered into life.

'He's not going to be able to find us,' Liz said at last. 'Riley, I mean.'

'I know,' Xander replied. 'And they'll be waiting for us back at the hotel so we can't go back for him.'

'Riley seems like the kind of bloke who can take care of himself,' Liz consoled him.

'He is that,' Xander agreed, 'and he knows we're going to be heading to Tintagel so if he doesn't find us at the hotel he'll probably go looking for us there.'

'Be a shame if we weren't there to meet him,' Liz continued.

'Then I guess we'd better get moving,' Xander replied, starting for the car.

'See, this decision-making lark isn't so hard after all, is it?' Liz said as she followed him.

* * *

It took them an age to get out of London. They got snared up with the commuter traffic heading home and Xander was left in no doubt that for a long stretch it would have been quicker to walk. Spike spent the whole time complaining because they would not let him smoke in the car. Xander kept expecting Suzi to threaten to stake him again, but she did not. In desperation, Xander turned on the car's radio and eventually came across a station both Liz and Spike liked and he did not mind so much. Suzi hated it and said so loudly, claiming it was too old, but everyone else ignored her.

Some heroes we are, Xander mused to himself. We'll be lucky if we don't tear each other's throats out before we get where we're going. If the four of us are responsible for the fate of the world, it's time to go looking for a new world.

The going got a lot easier once they got out on to the M4. The rain was still falling, but it was not heavy enough to cause them any problems. Spike took it upon himself to keep them all amused by regaling them with stories of his adventures in the various places they were passing, which even Xander had to admit were entertaining at first. Unfortunately, all of the stories seemed to end in horrible and bloody death and, after just a few of these, Spike was prevailed upon to keep his reminiscences to himself.

'Do you think he'll be okay?' Suzi asked at one point.

'Who?' Xander asked. He had been drifting off to sleep and had to shake himself back to wakefulness.

'Your friend,' Suzi replied, 'you know, secret agent man.'

'Thought that would be a bit before your time, sweetheart,' Spike said with a smirk. Suzi just glared at him.

'He'll be fine,' Xander told Suzi as if Spike had not spoken. Xander hoped he was not lying to the Slayer-in-training. He did not even want to think about what he would say to Buffy if anything did happen to Riley.

'Sure he will,' Spike added. 'If even Xander over there can get the better of the evil empire then Captain Cardboard should have no problem.'

'Hey!' Xander protested. Then he tapped the side of his head. 'Riley got the better of you, didn't he?'

Spike scowled.

'It's just a temporary setback,' he declared. 'When I get this bloody chip out I'll…'

Suzi coughed pointedly.

'…be a well-behaved monster who's nice to fluffy bunnies and the like,' Spike concluded.

'There's a good widdle vampire,' Xander taunted before turning away.

But making fun of Spike could not quell the ache in the pit of his stomach. What had happened to Riley?

* * *

At Bristol, they joined the M5 heading south and it was at this point that Suzi started to complain that she was hungry. Xander's put-down died in his throat as he realised that he was too.

'Is there anywhere we can stop?' he asked Liz. 'You know, for Suzi's benefit.'

'I think we could all use a bit of a break,' Liz replied with a smile. 'There's a motorway services coming up in a few miles. I'll pull in there.'

Sure enough, about ten minutes later they were entering a car park. Then, having found a space, they ran to the main building to get out of the rain. Xander felt that the place looked like a greenhouse, but with less foliage and more newsagents. There was a small video arcade near the entrance where a small kid was playing some kind of beat-em-up game. His mother stood nearby, arms wrapped about her as if she were cold, while her eyes glanced furtively at anyone who walked by. Xander offered her a weak smile and she looked away.

There was a self-service cafeteria at the rear of the building. It was decorated in a yellow and brown colour scheme that Xander found repellent, but, as he got closer, he could not deny the attraction of the aroma of food.

'I'll be outside if anyone wants me,' Spike announced.

'You'll what?' Xander responded.

'It's not as if I'm hungry,' Spike pointed out, 'at least, not for anything they're likely to be serving, and outside I might be able to finally have a smoke.'

'And you think we're just going to let you wander about on your lonesome,' Xander retorted.

'Get a bloody clue, would you,' Spike shot back. 'Where would I go.'

Xander scowled and Spike rolled his eyes.

'Look, I'm going outside,' he said. 'If you want to come and keep an eye on me, that's up to you. Frankly, I couldn't give a toss one way or another.'

The vampire spun on his heel and stalked away. Xander started after him, but Liz put a hand on his arm.

'Leave him,' she said. 'He's just trying to wind you up.'

'I know,' Xander admitted. 'I just wish he wasn't so damn good at it.'

The remaining three of them entered the cafeteria, filled a tray with food and then went to sit at a table by the window. Xander turned to peer through the glass.

'Do you reckon we can see him from here,' he said. 'I don't like the idea of no one keeping an eye on Spike.'

'Will you relax,' Liz said. 'It's not like anything's going to happen here.'

Then a voice caused Xander to practically jump out of his seat.

'Don't turn around,' the voice said.

 

 
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