Fifteen: Next Chapter
The hotel suite was one of the nicest in Sunnydale. It still felt crowded and uncomfortable. And it was made all the more uncomfortable by the way Tara was pacing.
“First, you can’t stay in a hotel, not here. You need a place that belongs to you. A threshold. A home.”
“A home? Hells no. we’re just here for a little operation — tell her, Nate! Tell her!” Hardison had been hanging garlic from the curtain rods since Eliot and Parker started on their way back.
“We could afford a house,” Nate answered slowly. “Or we could steal on. Tara, why is it we need a house?”
“Vampires. They can’t come over the threshold of a home. Hotels, motels, those don’t count as homes, though I did see a hobo once make his cardboard fort so nice it held off vampires.”
Nate studied her skeptically. “We’re buying a house because vampires can’t…”
“Can’t enter a home without an invitation, yes.” Tara raised one elegant eyebrow at him. “Sophie called me in because I’m your expert. Do you want me expertise?”
“She’s right, Nate.” Eliot had flopped into a chair and hadn’t moved or spoken since they returned. He hardly moved now. “Vampires have a very strict set of rules, and they can’t break them. Problem is, they can do just about anything else.”
“I think you should call off this whole operation.” Tara twisted to look at Sophie. “That girl… if she doesn’t want us here, we’re not going to get much done here. She made your earpiece, Eliot, Parker, and she could hear them.”
“I’ve been looking for the hack,” Hardison complained, “and I can’t find anything.”
“Didn’t you hear me?” Tara leaned forward. “She didn’t hack the comms — she heard them. She kills vampires, she can hear better than anyone has a right to… Eliot, would you say she was preternaturally strong?”
Eliot glowered. “She was strong,” he grumbled. “Even a vampire, it’s not easy to shove something through them — Parker could do it, but she’s Parker. I could do it, people like me could do it fine. That girl made it look easy.”
”Vampires,” Hardison complained. “Man, no. We fight con men. Cheats and big businesses. LIars and cover-uppers. This is… no. This is not what we do, man.”
Tara sat down next to Hardison, knees nearly touching him, leaning forward in earnest. “You help people who are up against forces larger than themselves. You help people ‘suffering under enormous weight’. You provide Leverage against things too big to move. Tell me, Hardison, one girl in all the world chosen to fight vampires until they kill her…. how does that not sound like an enormous weight?”
“That girl?” Eliot frowned. “She’s not old enough for black ops.”
“She’s not,” Tara agreed, “but you saw her. Did she look like she knew what she was doing?”
“She looked tired.” Elliot leaned forward, a frown growing. “She looked like she was bored. I’ve seen people get that look, usually just before they crack. She’s been killing for too long. She doesn’t count the deaths anymore.”
“She’s holding a weight,” Parker agreed. “So are her friends. And they didn’t buy our story at all. So… what do we do?”
Nate looked at his team. “We can pull out. Vampires—” he shook his head. “We haven’t gone up against vampires before. I didn’t know such a thing existed until today.” He looked over at Tara. “You seem to know something about them. You can serve as our expert in the field?”
That elicited a small smile from Tara. “You could definitely say that.”
“All right. So… I’m staying. What the rest of you do is up to you, but Hardison, if you’re staying, you might want to look into buying us a house. Sophie, Tara, she hasn’t met you yet, even if she’s heard you on the earpieces. I think we need to approach our friend a little differently. Eliot, Parker, we stick to the original plan.”
“And what will you be doing?” Sophie raised her eyebrows pointedly.
Nate stood up and stretched before reaching for his cane and a garish purple fedora. “Reconnaissance.”
Sixteen: Next Chapter
“And then she just bent over and staked the guy. While she was around his neck. How do I do that? Giles, show me how to do that.”
Giles coughed. “More importantly at the moment, how did she do it? And, while we are asking questions, why did she do it?”
“Well, I mean, vampire. She’d just seen me stake one, and I tossed her the stick. What else was she going to do?”
“That’s exactly it. Most people would run away, or cower, wouldn’t they?”
“Well, yeah, lots of people cower, but that’s not any fun.”
“So they can handle themselves. I think we may have to accept that they might also be ‘handling’ our missing students.”
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