Eliot fought the urge to snarl at Parker, at this ridiculously perky teenager with a very distinctive style he’d never seen before, at the dust on his clothes, at the ridiculous teenagers showing up and acting as if nothing was strange at all.
He settled for the little half-smile that had gotten him through not strangling Hardison more than once. “The youth group. Alisha is here to join.” His smile morphed into his best fake smile. “I’m here to help keep an eye on things. You know how much trouble you young folks can get in.” He draped a protective arm around Parker’s shoulders and hoped they bought it. He wasn’t a grifter, damnit, and they’d just seen him fighting.”
The blonde narrowed her eyes at him. “The youth group?”
“Oh, I hear it’s a lot of fun!” Parker smiled brightly. “There’s supposed to be singing, and some sort of handiwork, right, Uncle Dave?”
“That’s right, young missy. And it’s all good clean fun.”
“Says the guy who was taking on two vampires by himself.” The blonde narrowed her eyes at him. “Who are you, and where are you from?”
“I’m Dave Palmer, and this is my niece Alicia, and we’re from Boston to help out with this youth group.” He gave them his best good-ol’-boy smile, the one that showed teeth and crinkled his face. Sophie liked it; she said it made him look genuine.
“All the way from Boston?” The brunette girl frowned at him. “That’s a long way for a youth group.”
“Aw, well, we go where the mission takes us, you know.”
“And you fight vampires.” The blonde girl was unhappy with him. The feeling was mutual.
Eliot let a little of the good-ol’-boy slip. “I was in the armed forces, ma’am. I don’t take kindly to people attacking me, and I will fight them when they do so.”
She shifted backwards. “We don’t want the government getting involved.”
He held up both hands in surrender. “Was, ma’am, mustered out and I don’t play that game anymore. But it don’t mean I can’t hold my own against some creeps.” He brushed off his clothes. “Just didn’t expect to see creeps quite like that here, in such a little town. Certainly wasn’t in the brochure.”
The last was slanted, almost a snarl, and directed directly at Hardison. On the other end of the comms, he held up both his hands, although Eliot couldn’t see the gesture. “Don’t look at me, man. Nobody told me we were fighting the undead hordes, either.”
- “Oh dear.” Tara plopped down in a seat next to Hardison and held out her hand for one of the earpieces. “Eliot already encountered some vampires, did he? I did say you were going to need me,” she added over her shoulder.
Nate frowned at Tara, at Sophie, at the absent Eliot, at Hardison. “Vampires? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No.” Tara’s voice was level and calm — and more serious than Nate had heard her be in years. “They’re not kidding, and I’m not joking, either. Eliot and Parker are lucky they survived. Eliot, disengage from the woman before you offend her. I’ll explain everything I can when you get back here.”
“Brochure?” Buffy could hear the faint buzz of conversation in the earpieces, but she noted that for later discussion. “Oh, that silly thing? It doesn’t tell you anything at all about friendly Sunnydale. The vampires, the four days a year it’s not really sunny here, all of those dirty little secrets. Now, this youth group you’re here to join, it wouldn’t be the Idle — Cordy?”
“Idle Hands Workshop.” The brunette girl stepped forward, getting into Eliot’s face without the faintest whiff of fear. “That wouldn’t be you and your friends, would it? Because if it is, I’ve got some questions.”
- “Eliot, disengage.” Tara’s voice, on the other hand, sounded worried. “Nate, we’ve got to reconsider this mission.”
Eliot smiled even more sharply at the brunette. “No ma’am.” He offered his hand. “Cordelia, was it? No, we are not part of the Idle Hands group, but we heard they were having a spot of trouble, and we came into town to see if we could help.”
“That trouble wouldn’t involve—” Cordelia trailed off into a muffled noise of indignation as the young man slapped his hand over her mouth.
The man smiled brightly and took Eliot’s hand with his free hand, shaking it firmly but without any real grip-testing. “What Cordy’s trying to say is that we’ve heard there was some trouble, too. Maybe we’ll come check out the group with you?”
- “Elliot…” Tara’s voice was down to a whisper. “This could go so badly.”
“Sure!” He smiled brightly at the young man. “Here, let me write down my number — Alisha, hon, write down my number, wouldja? I don’t remember it — and we’ll get your information. We can work something out.”
Twelve: The Warning
“You’re something else.” Buffy shook her head at the man and wrote down the library number. “Look, I’m not supposed to get calls from strange men—” She masterfully ignored the snorts and suppressed laughter from Xander — so here’s our librarian. He’s a good friend, and he can handle any ‘working anything out’.” She wrinkled her nose at the man. He was too affable, too nice, and way too good with fighting. “Maybe we can spar sometime? If you’re going to be wandering around being bait, I can show you a few things about fighting vampires.”
Most men wouldn’t like being taught by a girl, especially not army men. This guy, he just smiled wider. “I’d love that, ma’am. Ah, here.” He handed her the paper the maybe-a-new-Slayer had written on. “That’s where we’re staying. I do hope we see you around.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes. “Tell your friends — the ones on your phone thingies — that they’re right. You’re in Sunnydale now. Things are going to go badly.”
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