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Chapter Twenty-One - I'm With You

'Riley?' Xander said.

He started to turn.

'I said don't turn around,' Riley said, his voice soft, but with the authority of a cracked whip. 'Act like I'm not here.'

'But…' Xander began.

Liz cut him off.

'How did you find us?' she asked.

'I put a homing device on Spike,' Riley explained. 'You didn't think I was just going to let him roam free, did you?'

'Was that one of your Q-Branch toys?' Xander asked.

'One of what?' Suzi asked. She was sitting at the opposite side of the table and could see Riley from where she was. Or at least, she assumed it was Riley. He was so muffled in hat, scarf and worn grey overcoat that it could have been anybody nursing that steaming mug of tea.

'A friend gave me a few welcoming presents when we arrived at the airport,' Riley explained. 'Speaking of which, have you still got my case?'

'It's in the car,' Xander replied.

'Get it for me,' Riley said.

'I'll go,' Suzi said. 'I need to stretch my legs anyway.'

Her chair scraped noisily on the floor as she stood up.

'Watch yourself,' Riley advised her. 'We're not alone.'

* * *

There was a knot of tension between Suzi's shoulder blades. A big knot. She hated being cooped up and she hated the waiting. If the bad guys were here then why weren't they doing anything about it. She reached inside her jacket and brushed the hilt of one of her knives with the back of her hands. The sensation was comforting, soothing. Holding the knife would have been better, but she left it where it was. That sort of thing attracted the wrong kind of attention. Well, the kind of attention her Watcher didn't like, at any rate.

She popped open the boot and retrieved Riley's briefcase. It was heavier than it looked and she wondered what might be in there. She closed the lid of the boot and set the case down on top of it, ready to open the latches.

She hesitated. The car park was deathly quiet. Even the wind was nothing more than a whisper. But she had heard something, she was sure. Something like the beating of wings.

She pulled out her knives, not caring who saw. Something was wrong. Weren't Slayer's supposed to have some kind of sixth sense for danger? So maybe she was not a Slayer yet, but still, that didn't mean she did not have some intuition, right?

She scanned the car park. Nothing moved. Strangely, that was not reassuring. At least if Suzi had been able to see it then she would have been able to hit it. As it was…

As it was, she was seeing ghosts.

A woman stood beside the rental car, a disapproving look plastered across her face as she looked down at Suzi.

Suzi's heart leaped into her throat.

'Mummy,' she croaked.

* * *

'What do you mean 'we're not alone'?' Xander asked.

'You're being followed again,' Riley explained.

'How can you be so sure?' Liz whispered back.

'Because I've been following them following you,' Riley responded. 'And would you please eat something. It looks suspicious you just staring at your food.'

'Well, I'm sorry,' Liz snapped back, 'but you kind of spoiled my appetite.'

'How did they find us?' Xander asked. 'I thought we lost them.'

'I'm sure you did,' Riley assured him. 'Best guess, they got the license plate of your car from the rental company, then set people to look out for it. That's how I would have done it.'

'So we ditch the car,' Xander reasoned.

'First we have to ditch whoever's following us,' Liz pointed out.

'Leave that to me,' Riley said.

* * *

'Hello, Susan,' Suzi's mother said.

'Mummy?' Suzi began hesitantly. 'But I thought…'

'Yes, well, don't strain yourself, dear,' Suzi's mother remarked dismissively. 'I must say, I don't think much to your wardrobe. Or to your hair. I can't see that being acceptable at that nice public school we paid to send you to.'

Suzi opened and closed her mouth a few times. There were so many things she wanted to say, but she could not form the words.

'Oh, please do stop pretending to be a goldfish, Susan,' he mother scolded her. 'I can see that I'm going to have to take you in hand. Again.'

'But…but you died,' Suzi said. 'I saw him kill you. He…he made me watch.'

'Ah, so it does talk,' Suzi's mother remarked with a raised eyebrow.

'And then I…' Suzi choked back a sob. 'Then I killed you again.'

'Yes, not exactly the sort of behaviour a mother wants to encourage from her only daughter. Still, that's all water under the bridge now. We can be together again, Susan, with your help.'

'Me?' Suzi asked. 'What can I do?'

'Munchkin? Are you all right?'

Suzi glanced round. Spike was hurrying towards her, cigarette hanging from his lips. She turned back to face her mother, but she was gone.

'You made her go away!' Suzi shouted as she whirled on Spike.

'Hey, hold on a second, pet,' Spike said. 'Made who go away? You were standing there talking to yourself.'

'Don’t say anything,' the voice of Suzi's mother echoed in her ears. 'They wouldn't understand. It can be our little secret.'

'It doesn't matter,' Suzi told Spike as she hefted the briefcase off of the car. 'Riley wanted me to get this for him.'

'Soldier-boy's here?' Spike said. 'Well isn't he just full of surprises.'

'Yeah, he's just terrific,' Suzi muttered.

'Do I take it you don't much like the guy?' Spike asked, savouring his cigarette.

'Give me that,' Suzi said, snatching the cigarette from the vampire.

'You smoke?' Spike asked, surprised.

'Don't tell me that shocks a big tough creature of the night like you?' Suzi shot back before taking a drag on the cigarette. Then she doubled over, choking.

'You don't smoke, do you, munchkin,' Spike remarked, taking back his cigarette.

'How can you stand those things?' Suzi asked, eyes watering.

'Acquired taste,' Spike replied. 'And what about you, with the smoking and the drinking and the clothes? Don't think I can't see right through you. So tell me, why the act?'

'It's not an act,' Suzi insisted.

'Really?'

'It's not,' she persisted. 'It's who I am. Who I am now, anyway.'

'Let me guess,' Spike said, his voice softening, 'since your folks died?'

'Since I killed them,' Suzi corrected.

'Traumatic events change a person,' Spike remarked. 'Believe me, I know.' He offered her the cigarette again. 'Fancy another go?' Suzi waved it away. 'Probably wise.'

'For the record, it's not that I don't like him,' Suzi said. 'Riley, that is?'

'Wouldn't blame you if you didn't,' Spike put in.

'I just can't stand the way Liz fawns over him, Suzi continued. 'Him and Xander.'

'Liz?' Spike repeated. 'Since when did Watcher's go by first names? Isn't that against their code or something?'

'Liz and I are friends,' Suzi said defensively.

'Ah, so that's what this is about,' Spike deduced. 'You're jealous because the new guys are stealing all the attention.'

'I'm being selfish, right?' Suzi said.

Spike put his hands on her shoulders. Instinctively, Suzi flinched away, but only slightly.

'Way I hear it, pet, since you're folks…moved on, that Watcher-woman's been all you've got,' Spike old her. 'Now, I'm a demon, so I'm hardly one to talk about right and wrong, but you ask me, I don't think you're being selfish at all.'

Suzi wiped a hand across her face.

'You all right, munchkin?' Spike asked.

'Just got something in my eye,' Suzi replied.

'If it makes you feel any better, I'm kind of a fifth wheel too,' Spike said.

'It doesn't,' Suzi replied.

'Look, what I'm trying to say is, I know we're never going to be friends,' Spike continued. 'I mean, you represent everything I can't stand and I'm…'

'A vampire,' Suzi supplied.

'Exactly,' Spike agreed. 'But we're both in this together and, well, I'll watch your back.'

Suzi scoffed. 'People would pay to watch my back.'

'Don't flatter yourself,' Spike retorted with a crooked smile.

Suzi smiled back, but the smile froze on her face.

'Spike, look out!'

Spike turned just in time to be engulfed in a black cloud. He flailed about wildly, striking out at the thing that was attacking him, but every time he made an impact in the cloud, it just flowed back into place.

'What the bloody hell is this thing?' he shouted.

'They're crows,' Suzi shouted back. 'It's a huge flock of crows.'

'Not a flock,' Spike snarled as he let the monster inside of him loose. 'A murder.'

He tore at the birds with his bare hands, plucking them out of the air and crushing them. But there were just too many of them, pecking and clawing at his clothes and at his flesh.

Then a silver flash tore open a gaping wound in the mass of darkness. Suzi was wading in amidst the crows, whirling like a dervish while her blades scythed through the air.

'What in hell's name do you think you're doing?' Spike demanded.

'Watching your back,' Suzi called back, laughing.

'You're enjoying this, aren't you?' Spike said. 'You really are a girl after my own heart.'

Back to back, Suzi and Spike threw themselves into the fray, both relishing the chance to cut loose. Slowly, they inched towards the steel and glass building where their friends were waiting.

'You ready?' Spike asked Suzi when he felt they were close enough.

'I was born ready,' Suzi replied.

'Oh please,' Spike retorted, rolling his eyes. Then, scooping up the briefcase in one hand and Suzi with the other, the vampire threw himself through the door. He landed badly, twisting his ankle beneath him, but he did not, could not, let that slow him. Instead, he hurled himself back towards the door, slamming it shut just before the birds impacted on the glass.

* * *

'We've got trouble,' Spike announced as he limped into the cafeteria, Suzi supporting him as best she could.

'Have you got the case?' Riley asked, standing up.

'Are you even listening to me?' Spike demanded, throwing the case down upon the table.

'Oh, I'm listening, all right,' Riley replied, popping open the case.

'Is that a gun?' Xander asked as Riley took something out from inside.

'Oh yes,' Riley replied.

'I mean, it's not a taser or a tranquilliser or anything like that,' Xander continued. 'That's a real gun that fires real bullets.'

Riley slammed a clip into the magazine.

'It's time to take the fight to the enemy,' he said.

 

 
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