Xander looked at the people around him, then let out a sigh of disgust, looking at the person glaring at him instead. "What did you want me to do? Let people die?"
"Did you not think about calling for help?" the detective demanded. His dark hair and blue eyes made him easy to look at but the glare coming out of them was nearly chilling Xander.
Xander stood up and glared at him. "Where I'm from, I AM the help. So, no, I didn't," he finished sarcastically. "But thank you for being so concerned. Are you charging me?" He shook his head. He knew the answer, you couldn't charge someone for making a pile of dust. "Then I'm going to go take a nap and put another soda out of its misery." He walked out shaking his head. This was just too dumb. A cop had seen him dusting a vampire and they had demanded he talk to them. He slid past the people outside the room, shaking his head and moving his arm away from one. "Don't touch! I'm not yours to grope, thank you!" He headed for his apartment, going to deal with the rest of his night. It had been barely dark when he had been caught. Now it was nearly ten and he was sure he probably shouldn't do anything like go out. He wasn't sure if they were going to follow him or not, but he was betting on yes. He caught a cab outside and headed back to his car, paying the driver through the little slot in the window. He got out and pulled out his keys, glancing around like the paranoid person he was. Sure enough, there was a cop car on the corner. He checked again before getting in, locking his door immediately. He heard the growl and sighed, turning to look at the vampire in his back seat. "Magic?"
The vampire smirked and nodded. "No one can see what's going on inside the car. Neat, huh?" he asked happily.
"Not really." He grabbed his crossbow and shot him through the seat. "But that is. Now I'll have to clean the damn car." He checked the back seat then started the engine and headed off, going home with a quick stop for dinner and a few sodas from a packette near his place. He parked in his usual spot, which was magically warded so only his car could take it, then headed up to his apartment with his bags. He had to put things down to open the door, and heard a cough, looking back at the detective standing there. "I didn't need an escort, thank you." He got the door open and picked up his stuff, heading inside. He didn't even bother slamming the door, it'd only piss him off. He headed into the kitchen and came out with a carton of Chinese food, sitting on his couch to look at the man in the doorway. "You wanted...?"
"To know more." He walked in and shut the door. "Since I can tell you're not local," he offered, looking at him. "Where you from, kid?" He moved closer, looking calm. "New York isn't your usual habitat," he noted dryly when nothing was said but a bite was taken.
"No, it's not. I'm from Cali." He ate another bite. "If you're hungry, buy your own, this isn't a date," he said at the continued staring. "This is my lunch." He ate another bite.
"Where in California?" He sat across from him, in the oldest, rattiest recliner he'd ever seen.
"Near the computer stuff?"
"No, near LA. Dale, not vale." He ate another bite, then sipped some of his soda. "In my former town, the vampires outnumbered the people and I was helping even out that ratio. Me and a few friends. That's why I don't scream like a little girl unless I'm facing a machine gun." He took another drink then put the can down and ate another bite. "How many have you seen recently?"
"Sixteen. Something like that. Why?"
"There's been an influx of activity in New York and up the East Coast. That's why I'm here at the moment. I'm looking into the cause while I meet with my publisher."
"You're a writer?"
"Yeah, and I wish like hell I could've made it as a horror writer instead of romances. 'Cause let me tell you, I've never felt so manly in my life as when I'm writing pirate smut." He ate another bite. "But no, Xander can't write horror stories, or mysteries, or even the stuff he reads, fantasy novels. He has to write romances. It's the only skill he's got outside of construction stuff." He put his food aside and shifted so his legs were crossed lotus style in front of him, looking at the detective. "What do you really want to know?"
"How long have you been doing this?"
"Years. I was in tenth grade," he said honestly.
"And you're what? Twenty?"
"Twenty-one. Barely. It's not the usual after-school job but it took up most of my study time. Which is why I have no skills besides writing thinly veiled smut and construction stuff." He shrugged and smirked at him. "Some day I figure I'll get a real life but at the moment I'm doing okay enough I suppose."
"How many times have you ended up in the hospital?"
"Who says I go?" he asked dryly. "One of my friends knows how to stitch minor things. It doesn't get much nicer than her, unless you had pain killers." He shrugged. "It happens and I'm not going to lie, but it'd be nicer if I didn't get hurt on occasion."
"That's fine. I'm sure we all want someone to not get hurt." He stood up. "What was in your car? One of the guys still on the scene saw someone breaking into your backseat but the patrol I ran into there didn't say anything about you kicking him out and I can't see into your backseat."
Xander nodded, picking up his soda again. "The vamp in the back seat magiced the windows opaque. I got him with the nice wooden thing I have in the car."
"Uh-huh. Magic?" he asked.
Xander took his soda into the bedroom, waving him on. He opened the doors of the wardrobe in there, pointing at his altar. "Some of us can make it work, some can't. I can do very little." He blew toward it and the candles lit. "I'm a good boy most of the time."
"I can see that." He moved closer, looking at the setup. Then he looked at the kid. "How long are you in town for? Just in case?" They needed to figure out if he was a danger first and then get information on him, so they could figure out if anyone else wanted him for something violent. It was always the worst psychos who were nice guys it seemed like.
"At least the next four months. My publisher wants me closer for a bit. He thinks I've had a sucky run of luck recently since I've been hunting and not writing." He closed his eyes for a moment then blew the candles before shutting the doors again. He looked at him. "Detective...."
"Detective Flack, I have no problem dealing with these issues. I've been doing it for a while. I'm still trying to figure out why you guys are being plagued. So if you need me, call me. I'm good with that. It's been a long time since I was normal."
"You know they used to be human, right?"
"Yeah, and they ate my best friend and made him like them," he said bitterly. "They're not human, they don't eat food. They don't breathe. They don't have a heartbeat. That means they're former people. I can kill former people. I can't kill present people. You don't have to worry about that." He gave him one of his goofy grins. "Do you have idea what I can do to get out of writing pirate smut? I need a different area of the world."
"I don't read those things," he noted dryly, shaking his head quickly. "Stay here, stay safe, and stay out of trouble. I don't wanna have to talk to you again."
"Eehh, next time run the other way, just in case they get free before I can stake 'em." He grinned. "Have a better night and be safe after dark, Detective Flack. If you've got an idea, call. I could use an idea or six."
"Sure. I'll ask around the office. Some of the women read 'em." He walked out, going back to his car. Once safely locked inside, he called the others he had been working with. "Can you pull DNA from the ashes?" He started the car so he could go back, glancing up the lit windows. "No, this is just too strange. We're talking magic too. Oh, and he writes romance novels." He let out a small laugh. "Yeah, not who I'd expect to do that either." He hung up and pulled into the street, heading back. This was too weird for him. One of the CSI guys could deal with it. They dealt with the strange stuff and made it make sense to the rest of them.
Xander looked up from his typing when his door was knocked on almost a week later, checking the time on his laptop. He sighed when they knocked again, getting up to answer it. "Detective Flack," he sighed, letting him in. He looked at the guy behind him. "You are?" he asked, giving him a long look. "You're interrupting my work." He shut the door behind him. "And I ask again, you are?"
"This is Danny Messer. He's one of our CSI guys. Can you explain this stuff to him?"
"Probably not," he admitted, going to save his current story and put his laptop in a safer location. "Sorry, pirate smut again. I really need to get a new subgenre." He sat down, looking at the new guy. "What did you want to know?"
"How about we start at the beginning? Vampires? Magic?"
"Two very diverse fields," he noted dryly. "I can't really go much into magic, I'm pretty piss poor at it really. I've got some skills but nothing too great. Vampires are pretty standard. There's a lot more than you think. Most of them can't fly. Most of them can't change shape. All of them turn into dust when staked, beheaded, or set on fire. Holy objects do work on them."
"How?" he asked, sitting next to him, but facing him. "How do they get that way?"
"See, the nearest anyone can figure, the vampire crap is a virus that eats your natural cells and changes its form. It also opens you to the demon kernel for the possession part. Demons are real by the way. You've got a good crop of them in the Village." He grinned at the detective. "Did you enjoy trailing me that night?"
"A lot. Did you sleep with the big, purple guy?"
"No, he was telling me about a nest." He shrugged and grinned. "It was very nice of him but they were pissing his family off." He looked at Danny again, noticing the guy looked really tense. The blue eyes behind the glasses weren't exactly friendly either. "Let's go." He got up and hauled him up by the wrist. "We're going to talk to someone more knowledgeable. I don't know how they first started." He put on his sneakers and drug Danny out to his car, shoving him in.
"You don't lock it?" the detective asked from behind him.
Xander looked at him and smirked. "It's kinda warded nicely." He got around to drive. "Up to you if you want the back seat, Detective Flack." He got in and started the engine but the detective got into his own car to follow them. "We're going to find one of the older Masters in the city and have him not eat you."
"That would be nice, yeah," Danny said, looking a bit confused. "We've got masters?"
"Oh, yeah." He checked, then pulled into traffic and headed for downtown Manhattan. He found the building he was looking for about an hour later, parking in front of the club. "We're here." He got out and walked around to let him out. "Childproof locks," he excused. He looked at the detective as he pulled up, nodding at the front doors before heading up the stairs. He pounded before walking in, nodding at the guard. "The vampires are now in the attention of the NYPD." He walked past the guards. "If they get touched, I get to hunt in here!" he called back as he walked off. He opened the inner doors and let them walk in first. "Oh, idiots!" he yelled as he walked in.
"Fuck!" someone in there yelled. "Do you know what time it is!" He came out of a back room and looked at them. "Harris," he sneered.
"Vampires are now known about by the NYPD. I don't have the books to explain this or the brains. I'm muscle," he said with a smirk. "Instead, you've got Dimitri. Dimitri can explain all this better than even a normal, mortal Watcher can. So let us borrow Dimitri and we'll let you go back to your beauty sleep." The vampire's face changed and he pulled a stake, throwing it at him. "Try again," he ordered, nudging the detective. "It won't hurt them. The gun'll only piss them off." He looked at him again. "Dimitri?"
"Fine," he growled, pulling the stake out of his stomach. "Your aim sucks."
"It's the distance," he said, blowing a kiss. "Dimitri? So we can let you go back to sleep?"
"Fine. Dimitri!" he bellowed. A middle aged redhead came out of the same back room and nodded politely at him. "Tell these morons what they want to know so they can leave."
He looked at the three men, staring at Xander. "You know about me how?" he asked. "Since I smell ash on your soul?"
"I hunt with Buffy."
"Ah." He nodded, moving closer. "What's the problem? More demons? A higher one?"
"Well, I would like to know if you know why I had to come handle some of the population problem, but these nice cops did see me staking someone the other day and they need to know stuff that I'm not comfortable explaining." He grinned. "That's why we're here, Watcher Dimitri."
"Very well." He waved at another door. "There's seats this way."
"Go ahead. If we're attacked, I get to kill everyone in the building," Xander assured them, following behind them. "Hey, Dimitri, I need an idea where to put the next book, a setting besides pirates. Got any ideas?"
"College campus?" he offered, shrugging a bit.
"I never went, I can't even imagine that," he said bitterly. "It's got to be at least a bit believable. I can imagine pirates but I can't imagine most places I haven't been." He closed the door behind him, making Danny jump. "Relax. He used to handle the people who hunt." He flopped down, looking at them. "I also explained a bit about magic. Not well," he admitted at the tired sounding sigh. "I'm not that powerful or theoretical." He looked at the older men. "Sit. Now."
"Fine." Detective Flack sat and looked at the vampire across from them. "Can you...do whatever you did before?"
"He means vamp out," Xander explained.
The vampire groaned and changed over, making Danny move closer and touch the new ridges. "That's just odd," he decided, sitting down to stare at him. "Do the picture thingies work?"
"No," Dimitri noted.
"Only with certain digital filters," Xander told him. "Which I don't have. There's one brand that it does work on, it's usually on a video camera instead of a plain camera."
Dimitri looked at him. "Since when?" he demanded.
"Since Rosenburg, man. Who do you think?" he asked dryly. "As I told your Master, I'm the muscle. She does the brainy stuff."
"Like us," Danny joked, smirking at Flack.
"Yeah, but you make good muscle," he taunted back. He looked at the amused man again. "Sorry. Every now and then he breaks out oddly."
Xander pinched him. "Be nice. Don't make me try to hex you. You'd turn out funny."
"Yeah, let's not do that," Danny agreed, smirking at his friend. He looked at the vampire again. "Okay, let's get back on subject."
"Of course. What did you need to know since that one is young, brash, and stupid?"
"Hey!" Xander complained. "I was in an alley! The damn vampire screamed and brought a cop!"
"As I said, stupid," he sneered.
"Keep it up, I'm telling Rupert where you are. He'll tell Travers just to play with you."
"Good point," he said bitterly. "You won't tell?"
"I'll tell him I ran into you, but that it was in the demon bar in the Village."
"Good enough I suppose," he admitted, looking at the other two men. "One such as he should not exist. The girls are supposed to hunt alone. He's irritating the normal order by helping her."
"Yeah, I can see he's the sort to jump in," Danny agreed, glancing at Xander. "Vampires?"
Xander sighed as he had to stop work a few days later, getting up to answer the door. "Danny," he said politely, not letting him in. "I'm in the middle of a sex scene. Is it *really* important right this minute?"
"Yeah, kinda. We had Flack taken last night."
Xander walked away from the door, going to the bedroom. "Get me something of his, something he holds, chews on, something with his hair or something. I can do a location charm."
"You can? We can't get him on the GPS on his phone," he admitted. He handed him a baggie from his pocket. "His comb."
Xander took it and pulled out what he needed, setting it on the bed. He concentrated and focused, making the map shift as the comb touched it. He pointed at the mark where the comb was standing on end, looking at it. "Here. The Village." He got out of the way but held a hand on the map to keep it focused.
"I know that place. How do we go in? Since I doubt SWAT's gonna be much help."
"Give me two to change." He nodded and Xander found his car keys. "Go get my crossbow from the front seat and the extra arrows out of the trunk. I'll meet you there." That got another nod and Xander pulled open his closet door, going to pull out what he needed. His black jeans, his favorite t-shirt. His favorite over-shirt, even though it was warm today. Underneath he put his wrist guards with the silver daggers. He found his boots and pulled them on, doing them up. Then he grabbed his usual jacket for hunting and a ball cap. He saved his present spot on the way out, locking the door behind him. He met Danny beside his car, taking everything. "You can get there faster. I barely know the area."
"Sure." He let him get into the car and got in to drive, turning on his siren. "Is there any chance he's okay?"
"His comb wouldn't have worked if he had been turned. That doesn't mean he's not being held captive by a succubus, an incubus, any other sexual demon, or about fifty other kinds of demons." He checked his crossbow, tightening the tension on it as high as he dared. It wasn't too long before they pulled up in front of the club. He got out and walked around to the alley, finding the hidden door. Danny came behind him and he nodded at him. "Behind me. Watch your ass." He kicked the door in after a deep breath, then walked inside. The two humans in there got an odd look. "You managed to track him?"
"No. He's here somewhere on this block."
Xander closed his eyes and muttered, then pointed down. "Yup, he is." He looked around, finding the door down. He skipped down them, crossbow beside his hip, but ready. He ran into his first obstacle and looked at it. "Don't make me shoot you."
"Begone, human," he sneered.
"Try Pack Leader," he hissed, then shot him. He moved past him, reloading and shooting the others. The last one hissed and stood in front of the detective, who was tied to the table groaning and shirtless. "Move, sweetie. I don't wanna hit him." She hissed and pulled a dagger. "Fine, we do this the other way. Danny!" He tossed his crossbow, hearing it be caught. "Hold that." He handed back his arrows as well, then pulled both daggers and waved her on. "C'mere. We can go for his honor and all that." She lunged, her dagger held in a clawed hand. He ducked her swing and got her on the stomach, then turned to get the back of her neck, making her shriek. He kept going after her, ending up pinning her to the wall. "What are you?" he hissed in her ear, tipping her face up to look at her. "Succubus. Did you feed?" he sneered. "Did he taste good?" She whimpered and he backed off, backhanding her. "Stupid bitch. Why do you think I'm here?" She collapsed as much as the daggers pinning her to the wall allowed and he pulled them, going over to cut the straps since they couldn't undo them. "They're linked in magic, probably tied to him." He held him down, staring into the detective's eyes. "You're going to have a headache in a moment," he said gently, laying a hand on his forehead and saying something quiet.
"Latin?" Danny asked.
Xander relaxed and released him. "There." The straps fell apart and he helped him sit up. "You need to eat a lot. You need to rest. If you're Christian you need to take communion. Immediately if possible," he ordered quietly, staring into his eyes. "That's a succubus if you know a priest who has a clue." He nodded. "She was slowly going to have you for dinner, and yes, before the guilt starts, it felt good. It always does. It makes for a better meal." He helped him stand, letting his friends catch him. He took his arrows and crossbow back, then headed up the stairs. A few demons were standing around. "How fucking stupid were you to take a fucking cop!" he shouted. They ran. He headed out to catch a cab, taking off his cap and his outter shirt. The weapons got wrapped in it and the daggers went into his hat, which also got wrapped up. He loosened the tension with a flick of the screw and waved down a cab, smiling at him. "Ten-twelve...."
The door opened and Danny hauled him out. "Go ahead. I can give him a ride back." The cab driver took off and he glared at him. "You can't leave yet!"
"Yes, I can. I have a deadline!" He looked at him, then at the cops coming out, then back at him. "What more do you want? I don't have to do paperwork." He stared into his eyes. "Do you really think anyone wants to read a report about succubuses?"
"No," he admitted. "But I need a damn clue!"
"I gave you a few. I've got the books back at the house for that. I called Willow just in case you needed them. Including a camera if you needed one, or in case I needed one." That got a sigh and the indications of a temper being held in. "Really, I'm not a cop. The only paperwork I have today is smut. I've got to finish this book within the month."
"We're still gonna talk," Danny ordered.
"Yay. That's fine. Make sure he takes communion if he's Christian, have him eat a lot, sleep a lot, and make sure someone keeps an eye on him for the next few days."
The dark-haired, older man walked over. "Are we making a scene?"
"He's the one who stopped me from going home."
"Not the point," he assured him patiently. "How did you do that?"
"I've been doing things like that since tenth grade. That's what I do in my spare time, when I'm not writing romance novels." He looked at the others. "Eat something," he called.
"Fine. You sound like my mother."
"Eww! I don't wanna be a girl again! That was a bad Willow mistake and she fixed it! Don't mention it again!" He looked at the older guy. "Listen, I did my part. You're the cops, you figure out what to say and tell everyone. That's not my job. I do rescues, not paperwork. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to finish my present book. I don't have that long left on my deadline." He hailed another cab and got in, heading home. He had to run upstairs to get his wallet, leaving his weapons there until he got back. Then he went back to his smut of the moment. He did call Willow to warn her what had happened and so she could do a background hunt on them. Just in case something was going to pop up.
The three CSIs and the detective looked at each other, then the leader cleared his throat. "I want a better explanation."
"Yeah, me too. I was in a haze but he still killed 'em all," Flack complained.
Danny nodded. "I wasn't in a haze and I've never seen anyone move like that."
"I have but they went through some very special training," the boss said, looking at them.
"You think he's government trained, Mac?"
"I don't know what to think. I want you to go back to the office and find out everything you can on this boy."
"It's in my desk," Flack offered. "What little there was." He looked at the woman helping hold him up. "Can I go home? I need a shower. I feel nasty and slimy."
"Sure," she promised, leading him to her car.
"I'll get that file," Danny called, then looked at his boss again. "Mac, I have no idea. I can tell you what the vampire Watcher guy told us. I don't understand it, but I can tell you. The digital tape did copy."
"Please. I want to know what's going on. We have a lot of strange stuff, but that's just ...too much."
He walked off and Danny headed for his car to go back and get that file. He ran into Flack's Lieutenant and grinned at him. "We found Flack, he's fine. He's showering and eating dinner. He was being held but not by something dangerous. Some mental chick. He wanted a file from his desk. Can I?"
"Go ahead. On who?"
"The Harris kid." He went to search his desk, coming up with it. He waved it. "Thanks. He should be home by now. Stella drove him." He headed back to Mac's office, handing it directly to him and then went to get the copy of the tape they had made. That got handed over as well and he sat down to look over the evidence again. He agreed, this was too strange, even for New York.
Xander growled as someone knocked on his door later that night. "I'm busy!" he yelled.
"I brought you a coke," Flack called. "A present."
He sighed and saved his work, getting up to let him in, then got back to work. "It's not a problem, Detective Flack, it's what I do." He reread the last sentence. "That makes no sense," he muttered, correcting it. "I'd pay more attention but my editor believes in and practices blood magic and he's going to use me if I'm not on time."
"Does he deal in this?" he asked, looking around. He did open one of the sodas and put it next to the typing hands.
"No. He knows but he doesn't handle it very well." He looked at him, watching him look at the posters he had hung since the last time he had been here. "I don't charge sex for rescues," he promised dryly, then hit himself on the head and put that line in where he needed it. "You must be a muse's offspring, thank you."
"Not a problem. I'm glad you don't charge for rescues, especially at the price'a sex these days." He sat down to look at the kid, getting a few sideways looks. "How do I make sure they don't come back?"
"Don't go with the ones who seem that hot for you," he admitted. "There's no known way to protect yourself against them other than saying no in the bar." He shrugged and typed a few more lines before saving it and putting his laptop aside to look at him. "Let me guess, she bought you a drink, took you onto the floor, you had sex in the bathroom or the back hallway, and then you blacked out?" he suggested.
"How did you know that? All but the sex part?"
"It's how they usually operate. That's why having sex in the clubs is a bad idea, AIDS not included." He grinned a bit. "They love me. I've been tagged a few times by them but they never do more than nibble at me. I give 'em indigestion." That got a faint smirk and the blush eased some. "It's a matter of need. You don't wanna go with someone that needy." Someone knocked politely on his door. "That's no one I know." He got up to answer it, finding the head guy standing there. "Hi," he said patiently, looking at him. "Needed something further."
"Mac's a good guy," the detective vouched.
Xander let him in and checked the halls, then closed the door again, looking at him. "I'd offer you something but I don't cook and if Detective Flack hadn't brought me soda I'd be really thirsty at the moment. What's up?" He went back to his seat, putting his feet up.
"I want to know where you trained."
"I didn't. I trained on the job."
"No one trained you?"
"No. It's a matter of necessity where I'm originally from. I did some sparring with the actual huntress and her Watcher, but otherwise all self-taught."
"You moved really well," Flack offered.
"Yeah, well, that's kinda due to a possession now and then," he admitted. "Sometimes the old animal hunting instincts come back out." He shifted, crossing his ankles. "I never trained anywhere, really."
"Mac, why do you think he's trained?"
"The way he moved. Most of the time that speaks of training, heavy training." Xander shook his head. "Define on the job training."
"I jumped in during my tenth grade year, when my best friend was taken and killed. I've been doing it every since," he said simply. "Most nights really. This is the easiest time I've had since I started since I'm not supposed to be hunting, just looking at the reasons why there's been a sudden growth spurt in the vampire and demon populations centered on just outside the city to the north." He took a drink of his soda. "It's not something I can explain. Yet. With any luck we'll figure out why and it'll be finished before this holiday season."
"You can't just magic it away?" he asked dryly. "If you believe in that."
Xander looked at him, then at his shirt, changing the color on it for him. "That suits your coloring so much better," he said dryly, smirking at him. "And no, not unless and until we know the reason. Then maybe we can magic it away. Unfortunately my publisher has promised to use me in a blood rite if I don't finish this book."
"How do you know anything about pirates?" Flack asked, looking confused.
"That life I can imagine. I can imagine harem life, I can imagine a few other things but they've been overdone. Plus I got yelled at for making the romance too dark when I included demons, vampires, and hunters." He shrugged. "It happens." He blinked at the other man, who was still staring at his shirt. "Make sure I got the back too," he offered dryly. "And hey, I didn't do what Willow did the last time she had an accident during a cold and change you into a girl." He finished that soda and tossed it in the can, then grinned at the detective. "Thank you for bringing me dinner."
"Not an issue. Are you going out hunting again tonight?"
"No, I'm under orders to lie low unless something happens in front of me or around me. My friends are idiots who believe I can't take care of myself."
"Maybe they worry," Mac said, staring him down. "Change it back." Xander concentrated and it faded back to the original color. "Thank you. Are you sure they're not worried about you?"
Xander shook his head. "Why would they be? One's a Slayer and the other's a more powerful witch. The witch and I have been hunting with the slayer since tenth grade. They both believe I'm helpless, weak, a demon magnet, and unable to take care of myself. That's not worry, that's eating at my self-esteem. That's why I volunteered to come here for this one."
"You volunteered?" Flack said with a smile.
"More or less. I wanted away from them before I screamed and ranted what I really thought about their disliking me that heavily. So when I got ordered I didn't protest. Besides, this way I can focus only on my writing, not writing, construction part time, and hunting. Which is why I'm coming up on my deadline." He gave him a wry look and then a small smirk. "My publisher is scarier than anything I've ever met before."
"At least you've got one. Plenty of folks don't."
"Oh, I like him. He's a nice guy, but he's scary too. Like Dimitri's master scary." That got a nod. "So, did you enjoy listening to him rant and rave at the world around him?"
"I did. It was informative. I never knew cranks like that still existed." He stretched a bit. "My priest did have a clue and he did give me communion earlier."
"Good. That's always the best idea. Just remember, don't go with anyone who seems that eager. The strongest *may* be able to hook you with just a kiss but the majority of them need a more intimate physical contact or drugs."
"Gotcha. It's wise to keep in mind anyway. I still think I was drugged." Xander gave him a long look. "I do."
"I've been there. I had one give me cocaine and I had a very strong reaction to it. Freaked her out majorly. I got dropped on Buffy's doorstep." He looked at the other man. "So...Mac, wasn't it?" That got a nod. "What can I fill in for you?" He picked up his laptop and typed that line in and a few others, then saved it again. "Thank you, I needed that transitional line." He made sure it was saved, then looked at him again. "What else did you need to know?"
"Are you dangerous to the public?"
"Only if you all wake up dead one morning."
"Okay," he agreed. "So, you can't take on humans?"
"No. I'm not supposed to take on humans. I'm pretty good at not taking on humans, I usually check before I fight back or hunt something down. Though I have been jumped and gotten the hell beaten out of me a few times. Humans are slower and I'm trained against faster things. I keep tripping trying to slow myself down."
"I see. Are you a bare handed fighter?"
"No, I'm a weapons person. Battle axes, short swords, daggers. Mostly edged weapons but I have had to spar with Buffy with a staff a few times." He shifted so he was once again in a near lotus position and resting against his knees. "I'm best with weapons in hand. That's why I used the daggers earlier instead of just taking her on with my bare hands. Buffy could've beaten her that way, I'm not that good and I realize that."
"You're sure you don't go after...living beings?"
"Not unless they attack me. I don't need to get into some pissing match with some guy to prove how manly I am. I write romance novels, I'm pretty good on my macho levels most of the time. When I'm not, I go do stupid stuff in the bars, like riding a mechanical bull or something."
"I didn't figure you for a country guy," Flack noted dryly, waving a hand at the posters.
"It's my unhappy with the world at large music. Sometimes I go for other stuff instead. Sometimes I end up accidentally in a demon bar and notice everyone's staring at me. That's usually my first clue. Then I usually have a drink, a few dances, and leave promptly for a less dangerous area of the world."
"Okay, I have a question. You mentioned slayers and so did the tape. Are they a formal organization?"
"No, the Watchers find them, train them for the time when they're called, and then send the one currently called into the field to die until they do. Then the next girl is called and she's sent into the field until she dies. It's been going on since before writing."
"Yeah, and some aren't that well trained," he noted dryly. "They also take them away from their families, keep them from understanding anything about life, having creative thoughts, and generally being human or having fun. They missed Buffy and Willow and I upset the old order by helping her. It's supposed to be one Watcher, one Slayer, until one dies. If it's her, then a new pair is sent. If it's the Watcher, then another of them is sent. We're still trying to break the Watchers of their bad habits but it's not going very quickly. Like I said, they predate writing."
"So, is Dracula real? Danny wanted to know."
"He is, or possibly was. He's the only one we've found who could do those things. We're not sure if he was using magic or what, but he showed up to test himself against Buffy since she's lasted the longest ever at this point. The average is under a year, something like ten months, and she's been going now since she was fifteen. The rest of them can't shape change, fly, fog up, anything like that. Though some do collect harems." He grinned at him. "Some also have bad taste in their harems. I ended up being a Renfield guy when he showed up, but I made him have creeps and bad dreams."
"Don't worry, you've given me a few too."
Xander grinned. "Awwww, that's so sweet!" he cooed, getting slapped on the arm. "Ow! You still don't hit as hard as Buffy but I need that arm to finish the pirate smut and do gladiator smut afterward."
"You using 'em to work out some past life issues?" he taunted back.
"No, I wasn't a gladiator. Thankfully. I was told I was a wine boy. Which meant I bent over and took it a lot from my owner, but otherwise it was fine. I guess that's why I have such bad taste in women now." He looked at Mac again. "Your turn," he offered.
"How can you make jokes about this?"
"Because I'm twenty-one. I had barely turned sixteen when I started hunting. Do the math, Mac. Jokes help me deal with life. I'm a fun-loving guy most of the time. Unless you don't have a pulse or you're trying to eat people. I will go after something trying to nibble on the population."
"But not humans?" Mac asked again.
"I can't help the human hunters, that's *your* job. I doubt you could do mine and I really doubt I could do yours. If I had to shoot an actual breathing human I'd freak. For that matter, if I hadn't been in the center of the fight, I would've hid from your people and tracked the vampire later. It was stupid of me to get caught and I know Dimitri has already told Giles, which means I'm in for an asschewing once he finds my phone number again." He shifted, putting his feet back out again. "As a recommendation, the next time I get hurt during a hunt, which ER is the best to not have my injuries turned over to you guys?"
"That depends on your insurance."
"I have some. It's pretty decent," he admitted. "It has to be, just in case. Even if Willow does stitch we've had a few times into walls and things."
"I'm feeling like I have a concussion anyway," Mac admitted, standing up. "How long before you leave the city?"
"Until we figure out what's causing the problem and cancel it out."
"Fine. You'll stay on-call in case something else happens?" Xander nodded. "Thank you. I'm heading home, Flack, call if you're having more problems," he ordered, leaving before he felt like he was going insane. Because he did feel like he was living in some demented fairytale and he was going to go insane soon. Rational minds didn't deal well with vampires and demons, even when they see them.
"How do your town's cops deal with this stuff?" Flack asked.
"Sunnydale's people have the worst case of 'I don't see you' ever recorded. Even when it's right in front of them, they don't see it. I've walked past one with my battle axe and gotten a smile and a wave and him telling the person next to him that I'm a nice boy."
"So they're protecting their sanity?"
"Everyone in town. Which is why we've got such a high death rate really. Since no one believes, they don't take precautions. Until they're forced to see and deal with it, and even then they can move back into denial pretty easily. My kindergarten class had about one hundred kids the year we all started. We graduated with a class of fifty-two. And that was the most of any year. The death rate went down once Buffy came and we started to help her. The town got really good at burying empty caskets and pretending there was a body inside. Or burying a body and then not caring that the grave opened itself later. Most of the time you don't go back to visit graves like you do in other spots. We just move on with our lives because we've lost so many we're mostly immune to it. Unless it was someone special in our lives. Then you're allowed maybe a week or two and then you get funny looks if you're not over it."
"Even in your group?"
"Yup. Especially in my group. Especially since we're usually the ones keeping them from hunting and ending their lives so they get an afterlife. I have to sneak in to see anyone's graves on their birthday or death days and I'm given funny looks each time I go."
"You know you don't have to go back there," Flack offered suddenly.
"I don't think your boss would appreciate me staying," he noted dryly, staring at him.
"No, he probably wouldn't, but that doesn't mean you've got to go back there. You can write from anywhere. There's also cheaper places ta live too, kid."
"I noticed how high the rent is around here," he agreed bitterly. "It's like a bathroom is gold." That got a snort and a nod. "I'm thinking about it but I don't know if something'll happen that'll end up having me called back anyway. They may protest that I'm useless and in the way but let them get into trouble and I'm the first they call," he noted bitterly. "I don't like it, but they do need me."
"Then think of this as a trial separation."
"It's not a marriage. Thankfully," he sighed, stretching then standing up. He went into the kitchen and came back with a snack cake. "Even with the few months I've been here I've already been called back once to help." He sat down again, shifting so he was leaning against the back of the couch sideways so he could face him while he nibbled. "I'm not sure they won't die without me and they're my only friends."
"You can make new ones, ones who won't put you down. I did. Danny did."
"I'm not good at that. I don't deal very well with people," he told him. "I never have. Normal people are like some fascinating demon breed to me. Something to watch in awe for their strange habits but not dangerous enough to hunt." He ate another bite of chocolate and held it out. "You can have some."
"I shouldn't. I've got to keep in shape."
"I get enough of that hunting," he noted dryly. "I've lost weight since I got here too." He finished off that snack cake and then dusted off his hands. "I don't know what I'm going to do yet, Detective Flack, but if I stay locally I'll let you know in case something like this comes up again."
"Thanks, kid." He stood up. "I'd better go have dinner. Should I eat a lot of protein?"
"Up to you. What're you craving?"
"Then have pizza," he told him. "You've got to live a little to enjoy it and if your body's craving it, it's smarter than the mind is usually."
"Sure. Thanks for the rescue, kid."
"Like I said, I don't charge sex for them," he offered with a smirk.
"Yeah, because I don't think I could pay that price." He nodded and let himself out, listening as the kid locked his door behind him. He headed down to his car, thinking heavily until he realized it was dark now. Then he hurried to his car, checking inside before diving in and locking the doors. There was no way he wanted to be eaten today. Or else the kid might start charging for rescues.
Xander pulled up a darker story he had been working on and added to that for a little bit until he felt better. It was how he dealt with depression. It was healthier than a mechanical bull and let him get it out without hurting himself or others.
Xander came out of his publisher's office happier. He had accepted both stories this time. The editor was already sharpening his red pencils for both of them. He was sure he'd get complained about for the darker one, but oh well. Maybe it'd help others calm down. He walked over to his car, checking around before he stepped into the street to unlock the door. He heard a shout and groaned, getting back onto the sidewalk to look around again. He heard another scream and headed for it. The alleys were dark enough for attacks, even in the middle of the day. He found the one where the guy was pawing the woman and cleared his throat. "Let's not make me beat an ass today," he called loudly. "I've already called the cops." The woman sneered and let the guy go, advancing on him. "Hmm, not the usual problem." He looked at her. "Listen, lady, I could care less that you're going to kill him or whatever. Just wait until I'm gone, okay? No sane person wants to watch you kill people."
"Oooh, such a pretty boy," she sneered. "Are you afraid?"
"Hell no, I've seen scarier women than you. I know a cheerleader scarier than you. I dated her." She lunged to hit him and he allowed that one so he could get within her defenses and hit her back. He laid her out, wiping the blood off his mouth. "There, I feel better now." He walked over to the guy, nudging him with a foot. "Should I call the cops now?" That got a nod and a groan so he pulled out his cell and called, walking back to the end of the alleyway to get the nearest building's address. "Hi, I just ended up stumbling onto a mugging or something. The female who was beating up on the guy is down," he said, looking at her. "No, she came after me too," he sighed. "I only hit her twice and she's presently nursing a broken nose and a fat lip. The guy's in worse shape and he's probably going to need someone to look him over. Across from 1136 North 36th St. Yeah, there. Thank you." He hung up and went back to help the guy. "Hey, they're on their way. They said about fifteen minutes. Can you hold on that long?" He nodded, letting out a small moan, looking behind Xander. Xander spun and blocked the hit, swinging her into the wall casually as he stood up. "Don't try me, babe. I'm not the average guy." He walked over and slammed her head into the wall then went back to helping the injured guy. He heard footsteps and looked up, waving the officers on. "I interrupted a mugging or something. She was beating the crap outta him and tried me."
"I noticed the bruise starting, sir," he offered, coming over to check her. "Are you sure it was her hurting him?"
"Well, she came for me," he said dryly, standing up again. "I think he's got broken ribs." He stepped back. "I called 911 a few minutes ago."
"They told us to come," he assured him calmly. "Do you live around here?"
"No, I was visiting my publisher. I was about to get into my car when I heard someone shout. I looked, followed the next scream, saw them together, interrupted from the end of the alley. She dropped him and came after me."
"He assaulted me," she yelled.
"It's called self defense, bitch. Otherwise I wouldn't have a bruise on me." He looked at her and she backed away. "Really. You didn't have to try to hit me the second time either." He looked at the cops again. "I left her back at the end of the alley and came over to help him. She came back. That's why she's got brick dust on her forehead."
"Thank you, sir. Can we get your name and address?" Xander sighed and handed over his ID so they could copy the information. "Thank you." He handed it back once he was done. "We can handle it until they get here."
"Good. He's got ribs four and five broken on the left, rib five on the right, and bruised intestines probably. Maybe a concussion, he's only grunted so far." He walked off, heading back to his car. He let the ambulance park before he pulled into traffic, then headed to get a drink then home. His check would be coming in a few days, once they got a first read-through.
Xander looked up as his phone rang, reaching over to answer it. "Xander's house of pirate smut. Head pirate speaking." He listened to the rant and sighed. "Gee, Giles, I don't know. Why was I in an alley dusting a vampire who attacked me?" he asked dryly. "Why did the cops try to save him when he screamed like a little bitch?" He hung up and turned off the ringer, then got back to work on his next one, gladiator porn. He managed to get a whole three pages written before his cell went off. He checked the number and opened it. "Yes, my greatest publisher's assistant type person?" he asked. He listened to her rant. "You'd rather I kept it inside and hurt someone?" he asked when she took a breath. "No one said you have to accept it but I know some others who might like to read it." He snorted at her renewed assault.
"Oh, please. We both know that I live that life, sweetie. The same as we both know you know that I live that life. It's getting it out of my head and you know there's a market for it. If you don't like it, ship it to someone who would. Now, if you don't mind, I'm writing gladiators. Why? Because I don't have another setting in mind at the moment. Do you?" He rolled his eyes. "Never been to college, how in the hell should I know what it's like on a campus and how the dating stuff goes?" He listened to her be quiet for a moment. "I can only write what I can visualize, which is fighting, sex, and smut. If you want something else, give me another idea that takes advantages of those problems. Okay?" He took notes on her suggestions. "I'd have to do some research but I'm sure I could do some on samurai," he admitted. "I'll get started on that tomorrow and leave the gladiator smut for whenever. Any others?" He made a few notes. "Sure, I'll head to the library tomorrow for some history books. Thanks, dear. Have fun with the pirate smut." He hung up before she could complain again.
He finished making his notes and reread his last few paragraphs, getting back into the flow. He could visit the library in the morning. So when someone tapped politely on his door he groaned. "Is it a world ending emergency?" he called.
"Yes, it is," the landlord called.
Xander saved what he was working on and went to answer it, looking at him. "I paid you this month."
"You did. Your car needs to move."
"Why? There's a meter there and no one was parked there."
"Yeah, and how did you do that?" he asked dryly.
Xander gave him an impish grin. "Magic. How do you think I did it?"
"Fine. Whatever. Just move it. My girl's coming in tonight. You can have it back tomorrow."
"Sure. Have fun with that project tonight." He grabbed his keys and his shoes, going out to move his car and reward it in its new spot. He saw the cop staring at the front of the building and smirked at him. "Morning. We being too loud?" He went to move his car, parking it up the block this time. He awakened the security system then got out and locked it. He could have his spot back in the morning. Even if he did have to come out and remagic it. He walked back to the building, finding the cop staring at his notepad. "Who're you here for?" he asked patiently.
"Me." The cop looked at him and he waved. "About that assault I stopped?" He nodded. "Am I in trouble for being a nice guy?"
"No, but we needed a better statement. The cop at the scene didn't write anything down. Can I take one now, sir?"
"Sure." He sat down with him on the steps, letting him take it all down. At the end, he looked at him. "Where's the nearest good library for research?"
"Downtown, sir." He finished off his notes and stood up. "Why are you doing research?"
"My publisher wants me to set a book in samurai times and codes. I've only seen anime samurai." That got a smirk and a nod. "My publisher is such a slave driver."
The cop smiled and nodded. "I hear most of them are, sir. Thank you for not making this too difficult."
"I'm an easy guy to like." He got up and headed back inside. "Have an easy night, officer," he called before he shut the door, going back to his smut of the day. He found someone standing in his hallway. "I thought you had to have really strong magic to teleport," he noted dryly.
"You broke up a mugging?" Flack asked, sounding amused.
"That's the sorta guy I am. Is the library downtown good enough to do research for a samurai based novel?" he asked as he walked in. He found Danny in there. "Am I hosting the party tonight? No one told me or I'd have gone grocery shopping for chips and stuff."
"Nah, I came to talk some more about this stuff." He nodded at the laptop. "That's just an odd start."
"Yeah, I know but I didn't want to make it too cliched." He flopped back down. "Sit, talk. Since I handed in the last two, I'm free for a few more days of chatting."
"Good. That's good." He sat down next to him. "What can we do to make you go away faster?"
Xander chuckled, shaking his head. "I should've expected this. Your boss wasn't happy with me either. Mostly I need to find out why there's a spot of convergence energy twenty miles outside of town and what I have to do to stop it. Once it's stopped, I'll be here for a few more weeks and then I can go."
"Have you been out there yet?" Danny asked.
"Twice. It's in someone's field. They're not happy people either. They're the sort I could almost hope get eaten." Danny smirked at that. "You could come in, Detective." He came in, looking down the hall. "Problems?"
"Yeah, the girl coming up the hall was like the one who got me."
"Well, the landlord said his girlfriend was coming in so I had to give up my parking spot." He shrugged. "Unless he's attacked, I can't do a thing about it. He might know."
"Oh. Why would anyone do that willingly?" he demanded finally.
"For the great orgasm," Xander answered truthfully. "It's a great one right before you die. They can prolong it for hours."
"You been near there?" Danny asked.
"Yeah, I had a...former friend who I was trying to help and she decided to choke me and attack me. I was probably within minutes of death. It was a great feeling but not one I want to ever have again."
"Oh." Danny looked at Flack, then they both stared at him. "Was she arrested?" Danny asked.
Xander shook his head. "Nope. She was stopped and she's in a coma for something else she did and the fight afterward. Besides, I seriously doubt the Sunnydale PD would've taken a rape complaint seriously or from a male. They kinda live in the fifties where everything's okay; there's no child abuse, and parents don't try to kill their kids or use drugs." He looked at Flack again. "I've already done the records search on that area, see if someone new had moved in. No one moved in close enough to affect it. The time I felt the magic growing that way and went up to check, no one was there using it directly, which means they've somehow managed to do it via a distance method, like contagion or something. There's no known prophecies that I've been told, and nothing else I've found has led me to a reason. Unless it's a case of a buried something that's now radiating because it's been taken out of its protective covering, I'm not sure why yet." His cellphone rang so he grabbed it and answered it. "Yup?" He listened to his publisher complain about the darker novel. "What did you want me to do? Live it instead?" he demanded. That got silence. "I use it to get it out of my head. Yeah, well, it's helping until I can move somewhere else." He pulled the phone away from his ear at the shouting. "Because I can't. The NYPD don't particularly like me. Here, you can talk to them yourself," he said, handing the phone to Flack. "You tell him."
"Hello?" He listened. "No, this is Detective Flack. No, Mr. Harris isn't in trouble but his...other hobby came to our attention suddenly earlier in the month. There are certain people within the department who think he could easily switch over and they're a bit nervous having him around." He listened to the part read, then looked at the kid. "Explanations?"
"I'm using it to keep myself from doing it. It's how I get rid of the instincts, the anger, and the pain before I remove them on someone else. This way no one's really hurt."
"Good idea," he decided, going back to the conversation. "He said he's using it as stress relief and so he doesn't actually hurt someone. We like that idea really. Less chance of him switching to humans." He looked at the kid again, who shrugged and shook his head. "No, we're fine, but we would feel easier if he did move out of the city and somewhere less populous. He seems a bit edgy surrounded by all the people. No, I'm assuming it's because his former town only has about a thousand people in it," he told her. "That's why a few of us have been assigned to help him." He moved the phone from his ear again. "No, something about drawing things here so therefore he had to come?"
"The convergence point you pinpointed for me," Xander called.
Flack nodded, then smirked at him. "Sure. Thanks, sir. No, we can help him with that and he probably won't be moving that far away. He seems to have a good feel for the city."
"I'm not moving to LA," Xander assured him. He looked at Danny again. "You ever feel like your life is in the Twilight Zone?" He nodded. "I'm having that feeling today."
"It happens. I have since I first met you."
Xander grinned. "Awww, another compliment. I'm so happy I could warp reasonable people further." He took the phone back once Flack had hung up. "Where does she want me to move?"
"Easy commuting distance."
"Connecticut," Flack offered.
Danny coughed. "Pennsylvania maybe. Or Delaware."
"She ordered you to not go back to Sunnydale. Said she doesn't want her favorite pain in the ass killed."
"Hmm. We'll see," Xander noted. His cell rang and he sighed, looking at the number. "Giles," he muttered before answering it. "What? No, I'm being talked to by the cops who now know because they want to help me fix it sooner." He rolled his eyes. "Gee, Giles, I wonder why. Have you seen the rent in New York recently? Uh-huh. Try three times what I was paying for my two bedroom in Sunnydale and it's about a third of the size. Really? I don't even have room for a desk. Giles, what did you want me to do? Live in the car?" he snapped. "Then fucking get over it, Giles. Then have someone look up the average rent. No, I'm sure I can get my check in the next few days to cover next month's rent and hopefully the one after it, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to be able to come back," he snapped.
"Gee, Giles, I don't know. Why would people want me to come back?" he asked snidely. "Do you have a damn prophecy about this or not? Yes, you were supposed to be looking. Giles, you have those books out there," he said patiently. "You sent me here. You wanted me to handle this situation, and then you leave me without information. So if I don't have it, I can't handle it, and that means more vampires bothering the NYPD. Which they don't like. This isn't London or Sunnydale, where the police look the other way," he said snidely. "So, yes, you said last week you were looking up a prophecy for me." He took a deep breath. "You know what, when you're sober and being more like yourself, call back." He hung up and slouched down. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to cut this night short. Apparently there's a mechanical bull somewhere with my name on it." He went into the bedroom and slammed the door so he could change, coming out to find both guys still there. "Not that I don't trust you or anything," he offered. "But I've got to go out."
"Be safe," Danny told him. "This is the sort of mood where you end up in lockup." He stood up and looked him over, then into his eyes. "You're going out to attract trouble?"
"No, I'm going out to find some stress relief, one way or another," he noted bitterly. "Before I manage to magic myself back there so I can yell in person." He waved a hand, grabbing his keys and wallet. "Shall we?" They left and he checked around before locking the door and heading out. He was even smart enough to grab a cab and giving him a general order for a country bar.
Xander woke up, looking at the cell around him. "Damn it, what did I do?" he sighed, sitting up, holding his head. It didn't really *ache*, it was more like he had a null spot in the center and it was making him dizzy. He looked at the person coming over to him, raising an eyebrow. "What did I do?"
"You were knocked out. There was a brawl and you were at the bar. The cops responding decided that you were too drunk to take home on your own and not bad enough to go to the ER." He unlocked the door. "You okay? We've got some aspirin."
"No, I'm fine," he admitted, standing up. "Thank you." The cop nodded so he walked past him. "My wallet and things?"
"At the desk, like everyone else's, sir."
"Xander," he said, giving him a weak smile. "Nearest coffee place?"
"Up the street." He walked him up there, letting him sign for his things. "You sure you can make it home?"
"I was cabbing. I can have them drive me," he offered with a small smirk. "But thank you for taking good care of me." He walked out into the early dawn light, wincing a bit at it. He found a cab dropping someone he vaguely recognized and took it from her, heading to a drivethru and then home. He flopped down on his couch, getting comfortable and watching tv until his head quit feeling off. He heard his cell go off and turned it off, ignoring everyone. He didn't have voicemail but he didn't care at the moment. Only his editor would worry and he'd call back later. He got up to get another soda then sat back down to watch cartoons, deciding to start something on a cartoonist who fell in love with his editor. It was something that hadn't been done to death and he could get him to draw a bunch of cute things to her.
Don Flack walked up to his desk and found someone already at it. "What? I just got here," he complained.
"That kid was leaving this morning," she said, standing up to look at him. "He took my cab when I got out."
"I don't know. He looked like he had been clubbing. I asked in holding and they didn't say anything."
Flack nodded and headed that way, nodding at the desk guy. "Harris? He was here?"
"Yeah, nice guy. He got knocked out during a bar brawl. He was too drunk to wake up and not drunk enough for the ER so we put him in a cell and let him sleep it off for a few hours. He just left, Detective."
"Thanks. He charged?" The guy shook his head. "Thank you." He went back to his desk, finding Danny and Mac there. "There was a bar brawl, he was knocked out, too drunk to go home, too sober for the ER so they let him sleep it off." He sat down at his desk. "Notice they didn't say he was *in* the bar brawl." He looked at Mac, who would've went there. "He's got a way to work it out in his own head so he doesn't take it out on others."
"He's fine?" Danny asked. Flack nodded. "Good. 'Cause I got a message from one of his friends." He handed it over. "In my email, my personal account, not the PD one."
Flack read it, then looked at him. "Wonderful. I'm sure he'll be even more pleased at this. At least he's getting paid for the books." He handed it back, shaking his head. "Don't I have reports and information coming from you guys?" Danny handed over a file. "Thanks. Shoo. I've got work to do too." They left, not talking about the kid, for now. He knew they'd be talking about him later. Mac wouldn't leave this alone.
Xander looked up, growling in irritation at the new interruption two weeks later. He saved his last few pages and got up to look out the door, opening it to find Danny out there. "No, not tonight. I'm in the middle of a streak." He closed the door and went back to work, ignoring it when the door opened and the guy walked in. He got to the end and smiled, saving it twice just in case, and under two names, then he relaxed and rolled his head to pop his neck. "Ooh, better," he sighed. He was nudged and a beer handed over. "Thanks. I don't usually drink." He did this time, it was good to celebrate the happy moments. He looked at his buddy, raising an eyebrow at the odd look he was getting. "What?" he asked between sips.
"Your friend Willow wrote me this morning. She said you haven't answered your phone or anything since the night you got knocked out during that brawl. She said if you were dead to hand your laptop to your editor or someone so they could finish whatever off. Then to call her so she could get your stuff."
"Yes, I do have very caring friends," he said bitterly. "Anything else?" He opened a new document and got to work on another dark piece. "Sorry, but I've been on a hot streak recently."
"No, I guess all you writers get them," he offered, sitting down again. "You okay?"
Danny took the laptop and put it down, making the kid look at him. "Shower and eat, Xander. It's probably been a while." Xander sighed and nodded. "Please? That way you don't die and leave me ta handle all this crap."
"There was another attack?"
"No, not yet. We have noticed some bodies starting to show up though."
"Which means they're getting stronger," he agreed tiredly. "Let me shower and then I'm heading up there to check on the field." He got up, going in to take a long, hot shower. He could use the relaxation. When he got out, he got his clothes out of the wash, he hadn't had the time to run out with the streak he had been on. It had been two weeks though so they might as well be clean. He walked out and found a note written in big letters, "call me when you get back so I know you're okay and we can get a status report." It made him happy that someone cared. It was a nice change really. He grabbed everything he would need and headed down to his car, saying a silent prayer to the goddess as he drove off that he would be able to come back and hand in that last book since it was good in his opinion.
Danny looked up as his lab phone rang, picking it up. "Messer, Trace." He listened, then sat down shaking his head. "Yeah, I know him. I've been wondering where he was. No, he went up there to check on something or something like that and that was about four days ago." He listened to the officer on the other end of the line tell him what was going on. "No, you'd have to ask him, officer. No, he's a pretty nice and decent sort. He's got some friends who're flakes, but they're all from near Los Angeles; ya know?" He smirked. "Yeah, well, he's a writer so it's a hobby for him to research that stuff for his books. Sure, go ahead and wake sleeping beauty again." He listened to the tired voice come on. "Where the fuck are you?" he demanded with a touch of humor. He listened to the report. "Fine. You need picked up?" He heard the quiet words. "That's good. How long so I can tell the bitchy one?" He nodded once, making notes on that. "Thanks. Sure, I'll write her now. You rest up and come back. Your publisher tried to track you down through Flack. He handed over your laptop for safe keeping since Willow showed up for a day or so. No, we kept her from barging in on your place. That's why he took your laptop, so she couldn't. Sure, you rest, Xander." He hung up and moved to the computer to log into his other email account and send that cryptic message back. 'The problem was solved and the HM was closed'? He looked up, noticing Mac standing in the doorway. "Give me two more."
"What're you doing? Checking your email without taking a break?"
"The cops who found Xander passed out in his car just called. He's woken up upstate," he said as he typed, then he sent it. "There, that way the cranky redhead won't come back." He turned to look at him. "He's fine. He's just spent the last three days unconscious. He said the problem was fixed. I told him she showed up and that Flack had handed his laptop to his editor." He shrugged. "He just sounded tired and didn't say anything else was wrong."
"So this is nearly over with?"
"Hopefully. I don't think the kid has enough energy to feed himself at the moment. The cop said he'd send a fax so we could tail the kid while he was here and figure out if he was involved in the couple who lived near the field's disappearance. They vanished, no idea where, but they know they can't prove Xander did anything and he told 'em that he
was up there to study paranormal crap. So he's covered there and on his way back soon." He went back to his analysis and hit a few buttons, printing out a report and handing it over. "Rubber cement, Mac. All over the inside the vic's mouth."
He took the report, looking at it. "Thank you. Tell Flack since he's still worried." He walked off, going to contemplate making sure the boy left the city.
Danny called Flack's desk, getting a very disgruntled person. "Xander's awake now." He hung up, leaving it there. At least Flack would come bug him and ease some of both their boredoms.
Xander slowly walked up the stairs to his apartment, finding his landlord standing there. "I have a check in the bank, give me two days to get to it, man," he said tiredly, leaning against the wall.
"Not a problem. I was going to check on you since no one's heard a single swear at a typo for the last week." He looked the boy over. "Hospital?"
"Oh, yeah," he said tiredly. "I passed out in my car." He pulled his keys with a wince, but the landlord opened his door. "Thank you. I'm going to nap for a few more days. If one of my friends shows up and annoys the neighbors by pounding, tell 'em I'm asleep." He walked in and headed right for the bed. He was still worn out from closing the hellmouth there. He was not the witch Willow was. He wasn't sure how he had managed it on his own but he had. Usually it took Willow and Giles to keep it closed. Fortunately there hadn't been any visible monsters. He hoped that couple had just ran instead of being eaten, but he hadn't seen any monsters when he had checked before approaching the field.
The Landlord looked up as a man slammed his car door, smirking at the blond man. "Harris is asleep. He wobbled in looking like shit and went to bed."
"He okay? More or less?"
"Looked like he had been mugged by a gang," he admitted. "Some bruises, some limping, some hissing while moving his arms. He said he'd been in the hospital. Said to tell you he went right to bed."
"Good. That's probably a good thing," Danny agreed, looking around for Xander's car. He found it but it seemed different, less shiny somehow. "When do you think he'll be up?"
"He said he'd get to the bank to pay me in a few days. Where's the other guy?"
"They sent me," he admitted with a dry smirk. "Too afraid of what he'll do if he's really tired."
"Swear at the typos, like usual," he joked back. "With the way the kid looked, I doubt he can fight."
"You'd be surprised. Can I peek in on him?"
"Sure." He handed over the keys. "Since I know you're a cop and all." Danny grinned and headed up at a jog to look at him. He came back a few minutes later and handed over the key, again smiling. "He still living?"
"Yeah, and snoring. You weren't kidding about the bruising." He looked at the car again, then at him. "Tell him to turn back on his cell when he goes to the bank, that his editor and Willow both want to talk to him." The landlord nodded. "Thanks, I'll tell the others." He headed back to his car, getting in to head for the station, calling Flack on the way. "Man, he looks horrible. Nah, he's one big bruise. I've seen kids who're gay bashed with less bruises. No, sleeping. Didn't even realize I was in there to check on him. Yeah, it's in my other email account. I sent back the message he gave me. She didn't like it and sent back a few choice words. I have no clue," he said, turning the corner. "Yeah, tell 'im I'm headed back now," he said patiently. "You two sent me." He hung up and got back to driving. He hated the midday traffic, it was why he took the subway to and from work most of the time.
Xander woke up to a pounding on the door, getting up and heading to the bathroom first. By the time he was done the pounding was getting louder. He walked that way, opening the door to give the landlord a bleary look. "Bank," he said finally. He got an impatient nod. "Let me find my wallet and stuff so I can head."
"By six, Harris." That got a nod and Xander found his shoes and keys, walking out in the same clothes he had come home in. They smelled really bad but he didn't want to tell the kid that, it'd delay him getting his rent to him.
Xander went down and hailed a cab. He knew he was too tired to drive. He called his editor while he waited for one to show up. "It's me. I'm alive. No, I'm heading to the bank," he said as he got into the cab. "First National." He listened to her. "It had better be," he noted dryly. "Belay that, 1130 North 36th St. The check wasn't deposited."
"Yeah, I'm sure. She's got it in her hand." He went back to listening. "So, how did you like the new one since I heard someone say that you had my laptop while I was sleeping?" He let out a dry chuckle. "Yeah, you heard and felt right. Hey, I managed it. I'm not sure how but I managed it. No, I'm just barely awake now. Fine, but I'm in a cab." He hung up. "My publisher," he noted dryly at the odd look in the mirror. "She was supposed to deposit my check for me and didn't. Then we'll need to hit the bank and back where I started."
"Sure, buddy." He changed lanes and sped up. This was going to be a good fare.
Xander trudged back into his apartment building, handing his landlord a money order. "Yours," he said quietly, heading up to his apartment.
"Those three guys are back," he called after him. "They let themselves in."
"Fine. Thank you." He walked his laptop inside and flopped down, giving them all bleary-eyed looks. "What?" he asked finally. "I'm definitely not in the mood to party tonight."
"What happened?" Mac asked.
"There was a hellmouth opening there," Xander said bitterly. "The family disappeared or were eaten. I didn't see any remaining creatures but there was no sign of the family when I got up there. I closed it, somehow, and it should stay closed. If and when I move, I'll give you my new number so you can call if the stuff picks up again." He yawned and slunk down some. "I got paid for that last book too. He liked it," he said, smiling weakly at Danny. "I'm still tired."
"It looks like it."
"Why was there blood on your clothes, Xander?" Mac asked.
Xander looked at him, then stood up slowly. "Gee, let's see. I was drinking at the bar when a brawl happened behind me and got my ass knocked out by a flying stool that missed the original target, Mac. Why do you think?" He grabbed him by the arm and shoved him out the door, then slammed it after him. "I'm too tired to put up with your shit, come back when I'm not." He looked at the other two. "That goes for you two too if you're gonna be like that."
"No," Danny assured him. "That was all Mac. We know what happened at the bar." He made Xander sit down again. "Maybe you should eat."
"'m not hungry," he muttered through a yawn. "Just need more sleep."
"It's been a few days since you fell into bed, and you don't look much better," Danny offered.
Xander looked at him. "You'll make one hell of a mother if you piss Willow off and she makes you a girl. Fortunately I've already had one of those abandon me. So drop it." He looked at Don. "You got anything you want to put in or can I go back to sleep now?"
"No, go to sleep after you eat something. It's been two days since you came home, kid." He stood up. "You be all right alone?" Xander nodded. "You sure? Willow threatened to come over and yell."
"Fuck her," he said bitterly. "She didn't tell me there was a hellmouth this way, nor that I might have to do something she can barely do magically by myself, when she uses help. You can tell her I said that. You can tell Mac that if possible, I'm staying in the city since my publisher wants me too, but I might be moving a bit further into the 'burbs. Watch him freak and have fun with that. Suggest I'm moving next to him." He yawned again. "I'll be normal in a few more days. Right now I'm under extreme exhaustion."
"You still need to eat."
"I will when I get up. It's not like I'm burning calories," he joked, getting up with a wobble.
"Whoa," Flack said, catching him. "Into the bedroom with you. You wanna try to take a bath?" Xander groaned and shook his head. "Okay. He sat him on the side of the bed. "Get naked and get in." Xander gave him an odd look. "I don't know you well enough to undress you and I'm not like that, kid. Just get naked and climb in." He turned around and heard the kid sigh but move slowly. Once he heard the sound of a body hitting the mattress he turned back around, making sure he was under the covers. "As soon as you wake up, call us so we can get into this again." Xander blinked and nodded slightly. "Good, boy. You rest, kid." He walked out, looking at Danny. "He's got bruises all over his chest and back."
"Wonderful. I'm sure he'll be fine." They walked out together, going to make Mac see the kid was the *good* guy in this, not a bad guy. It was going to be a long, uphill battle on that one. Of course, when they got there, Willow was stomping around, glaring at them. "Hey," Danny said, getting in her face to stop her from scaring the others. "He's fine. He's went back to bed."
"He did what?" she growled, hands now on her hips, staring into his eyes.
"Well, apparently he did something really strong and had to close something he called a hellmouth," he said dryly. "By the way, he's a bit mad at you for not telling him there was one nearby." She snorted and rolled her eyes. "I'd take this one seriously, Willow. It's not like you're *loyal* to him." She backed off at the ice in his voice. "See, I've talked to the kid and I've talked to you, I believe him when he said you're the reason he doesn't wanna go home."
"Who said we want him?" she sneered.
"And that's why he won't be coming back to save your ass next time," he snapped, making her flinch. "Since he's one big bruise right now, he's not really up to more than sleeping."
"Bruise. Yeah, like all over."
"No, that means the magic's eating him. It's using his body to recharge itself."
"And the answer is what?" Flack said from behind her.
"I need to see him, see if it's still draining him." She looked at him and noticed his look over her. "My girlfriend would be pissed."
"I wouldn't touch you anyway. Women who treat their best friends like you do that kid should be locked up in a kennel." He looked at Danny. "You wanna?"
"No, but if she's right and he's being drained we might have ta."
"Damn." He considered it. "Handcuff her before we let her in and put a gag on her?" Danny nodded that they could do that. "Or, hey, Stella," Flack said, catching sight of her.
"That's mean," Danny said with a smirk. "Stella? You busy?"
"Not at the moment," she admitted, coming over with the other female member of their team, Aiden. "What's up? Who's this?"
"This is Willow Rosenburg, Harris' supposed best friend." She looked amused at that addition to her name. "She wants ta go in and see him. He's back asleep. The only way Flack and I wanna let her near him is handcuffed and gagged."
"I don't know why in the hell you protect him, he's not that good. He trips over his feet constantly," she snorted.
"Is this the same guy that saved Flack and scared Mac to death?" Aiden asked. Danny nodded and Flack smirked. "Uh-huh. How is the kid? I heard Mac muttering about him."
"He had enough energy to make Mac leave the place but he's still exhausted and one big bruise," Flack told her. "I ended up helping him into bed. He's still at the 'blue' stage of bruise."
"Oooooh," Stella said, wincing. "Sure, we can take her to look at him. Aiden?"
"I'm up for it. Maybe the kid'll know a nice few guys."
"Only if he's suddenly switched to dating them, which would be a good thing," Willow told her snidely. Flack popped her on the head. "Hey!"
"Shut up. Need Midol?" He walked off, letting Danny hand over the set of keys he had made. "Have fun with that."
"Yeah, great fun," Aiden agreed. She and Danny shared a smirk before the women led her off.
By the time they got there, Willow was about ready to fear being dropped in the middle of the river. These women were scary and overprotective of *Xander*, for some reason, and she knew she had stepped in it. She nodded at the landlord as she walked past him. "How long is his lease?"
"By the month but he said his editor wants him ta stay," he said, looking at the two women, one of who flashed her badge. "You work with the other three?" They nodded. "That Mac guy's up there."
"Wonderful." They hurried after her, finding Mac glaring at her. Not his usual glare, but a colder one.
"He's got to eat. Otherwise the magic will continue to destroy his body to rebuild itself and it can cause organ damage."
"Why was he doing something like that without backup?" he demanded coldly. "He said he didn't even know there was one up here. Or that it was able to open."
"Hey, I wasn't supposed to...." This time Aiden got her with the slap.
"Danny said something about you guys supposedly researching stuff so he could fix this." She looked at Mac. "The boy's staying for a while, even if you don't like it. Get over it." She walked in to look at him. "Stella, are you sure we shouldn't take him to the ER?" She ducked the pillow missile and got down to look at his arm. "Shit, man, what did that?"
Xander blinked at her. "Do I know you or are you one of the scary bitches I seem to draw?"
She grinned. "Both, but I'm Aiden."
"Danny's said nice stuff about you. Can't I nap now?"
He mumbled something and pulled the blankets over his head. "Whatever. Just let me sleep."
Stella and Mac came in together, looking at the kid. "Xander," she said quietly. He groaned from under the blankets. "Come on, they wanted a second opinion here." She moved the top portion of the blankets, looking at the bruising. "That looks fresh." He shrugged then winced. "What are you taking for that?"
"My sunny personality," he said flatly.
Willow came to the doorway rubbing her wrists and looked at him. "That's the magic eating him. He's got to start eating to make it take that instead."
"I'm not hungry," he said flatly, glaring at her. "You're in so deep with me right now."
"Hey, it wasn't...."
He got up and stared at her, making her take a step back. "Yeah, it was your job to tell me if there was a hellmouth here, any prophecies that might be affecting it, and gee, what do I find? A prophecy, a hellmouth, and someone using it," he said coldly. "That means you failed in your job to protect me and I can only guess why, Willow. Ya know, the only ones out there I respect are Tara and Joyce. You and Giles can take Buffy and shove her up your asses. It's about all your good for and it's going to get her killed someday soon too." She took another step back. "Yeah, I know very well that I'm drained. I still managed to close a hellmouth by myself and guess what, you still need help to do the spell. It's a damn good thing I actually took that book with me, huh?" She took another step back and he followed. "Get out. I don't want to hear from you, Willow. Not until I'm very much less angry and that's going to take an act of the Goddess at the moment." She turned and fled. He took a calming breath and went to light the candles on his altar and pray for patience, calm, and health. He got the same answer, go eat a lot of stuff and it'll help. He looked up. "As you say," he muttered. He blew out the candle and got up, heading into the kitchen. He knew he looked like hell, he looked like he felt, the same as he knew some of it was new bruising. He looked at the empty fridge and freezer and moaned. "Hell."
"You need something, kid?" Aiden asked from behind him.
"She was probably right, I should eat something," he admitted quietly. "Unfortunately I haven't went shopping in weeks." He closed the cabinet he had been staring in and turned to look at her. "So, you're the sister to Danny?"
"Kinda," she admitted. She looked him over. "Will eating cure that?" He nodded. "Then we can drop you off at the store."
"I'll be fine, but thank you." He smiled weakly. "I'm still okay to protect myself."
"Uh-huh. And I thought my brother was stubborn. Go put on clothes, after a shower."
He sniffed his arm and grimaced. "A shower might be good," he agreed, heading that way. "Still think I'm the scary one, Mac?" he asked as he walked past him.
"Yes, but for different reasons." Xander looked back at him. "You are, kid."
"At least I'm getting those urges out without hurting things with a pulse." He looked at Stella, frowning at her. "Where do I know you from?"
"I was there when you saved Don."
"Oh. Okay." He nodded. "I'm going to shower. Not to be rude or anything."
"Sure." She left him alone, taking Aiden back to the station so they could drop Willow off at the bus station.
"You need anything?"
"I'll be fine. Thank you anyway." He walked into the bathroom, wincing at how bad he looked in the mirror. "She was right, the magic is trying to rebuild using me." He turned on the shower and stripped off his boxers, getting in with a hiss and a wince. "God, this is like the morning after Faith tried to kill me," he complained. "Or the morning after I stripped." He got to work on his arms and chest with the soap. It was helping ease some of the ache. "Maybe I'll find my wallet and have takeout," he decided. That way he wouldn't have to move too far.
Xander looked up as Danny knocked on his door, groaning at the cheerful voice. He got up to answer it, looking at him. "What?"
"Willow sent me your mail."
"Willow's low person on my favorites list," he said as he let him in. "You made the scary women bring her?"
"It was better for her," he said smugly. "They could rip her a new one in girl-speak." He looked him over. The bruises were starting to fade. "You up for a slow walk around the block?"
"Why? Was there another attack?"
"No. Here, read," he said, handing over the mail.
Xander looked at the envelope, then opened the letter to look through it. He noticed the check had flecks of magic on it and put it carefully aside. It didn't feel like happy magic to him. Not that his magic senses weren't dulled and messed up still, but it felt like a curse instead of happies like the letter suggested. He looked at the letter again, then logged onto the internet to write Tara. "Give me ten."
"You gonna deposit that?" he asked, looking at it.
"Not sure yet. It's been magiced." He finished typing in his email and got back an answer, and it wasn't in 'Tara speak' so he knew it wasn't her. "Buffy," he said, rereading the words. "Nope, I'm not touching it." He carefully put it into the envelope and put it in the bedroom, hiding it from himself. Then he came back. "They want me back."
"They want you ta crawl and beg," Danny corrected. "New message."
Xander looked and smirked. "That's Tara. One of the few people in the town that I'll miss." He smiled at the warning and nodded. "Let's see what I can do." He typed back another message, assuring her he'd have it cleaned before he did anything with the check. Or that he'd toss it if the curse couldn't be cleaned off. That he'd miss her and Joyce, to tell Joyce that he wasn't coming back thanks to Buffy, Willow, and Giles, and to tell Giles that the local hellmouth was now closed and guarded, something he should've known. Then he logged off and looked at Danny. "Okay, so besides delivering the bad omen, what else was going on?"
"I was wondering if you wanted to go out tonight."
Xander considered it. He was still bruised and sore, but his shoulders *ached*. "Not this weekend, Danny. Next weekend maybe. Once I get my shoulders worked out."
"Sure. You need a good massage or somethin'? I know a few people who do it."
"I'm not sure what I need. I was going to call someone I knew to look at the check and me, see how long it'll be before I'm fully better."
"They've got doctors for that stuff?" he teased.
"No but they've got Dimitri and a few others who're much more powerful than I am and who'd have a clue." He grinned a shy, sweet grin. "Thanks for checking on me."
"Not an issue. Next weekend?"
"Sure, we're on. I'll even let you pick the club." That a grin back. "How's work?"
"Tiring. Lots and lots of tiring." He shrugged. "It's the way it goes sometimes. You eat something more than take out."
"I'm going to try for a real steak tonight," he agreed. "I made it out to buy groceries."
"Good job," he praised. "You sure you're gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, I'm on the upside of this injury. Just some residual stiffness and stuff."
"Okay. Call us if you need help."
"Sure I will." Danny grinned and left. Xander picked up the phone and called the vampire club he had taken the boys to. "Hey, it's Harris. I need to let Dimitri know what happened. Yeah, barely living. Dude, I closed a hellmouth. Please. That's fine, I can reward my door when he's gone. Thanks. Know the addy?" He smirked. "I thought you might. I'll be awake, which is a good thing." He hung up and called someone else. "Rayne, Harris. How would you like to uncurse a check that Willow and Rupert sent? No, I'm serious. Because they hate the fact that I'm not going back since they're such bitches. No, a nice sized check but it's got a curse in the ink. Hey, I figure you can unwarp it if anyone can and I could use a magical opinion anyway." He shifted and moaned. "Funny, but no," he said with a wince. "I'm the one who closed the hellmouth locally." He heard the silence. "I'm good on the starting to eat again stuff and the bruises are fading but my magic senses are screwy and wrong. Hell, I'll even trade favors. Thanks, man. Need the addy? No, but I can reward the house after Dimitri goes home. Thanks." He hung up and relaxed, looking at his laptop. He should probably write Joyce but he didn't want to go there yet. Let Buffy rant at her mother and slip up. Joyce was a smart woman, she knew who was at fault in this case.
He got up to answer the knock on the door, looking at Dimitri and his guards. "You two stay out here. Come in, Dimitri." He slammed the door on the other two. "On the coffeetable, an account. I figured you were still keeping a Chronicle or could pass it back to whoever was."
He looked at the boy. "You nearly died. You stink of it."
"Yeah, I realized that when I woke up in the hospital after four days of near catatonia according to them. I'm healing and no one else came to help," he offered bitterly. "By the way, I'd appreciate knowing if the slayers or Willow or Rupert came to town so I can find the best weapon to kill them all." The former Watcher looked stunned. "They didn't even tell me there was one nearby."
"It's been known about for centuries! All Watchers are made to memorize where each and every Hellmouth is and what it's near!" Xander shrugged. "He didn't tell you? We've got that one out of town and the one in the park, but that one is monitored by the local Pagan network."
"Good to know. Tell 'em I closed the one outside of town." He flopped down again. "I know I nearly died, man, but I did what I had to do."
"I can tell. You're still moving wrong." He picked up the account, reading it over carefully, then he looked at the boy. "They let you go in that condition?"
"No, but I walked out once I could drive." He gave him a long look. "I'm rather like that. Comes with the hyena instincts."
"I can tell. You need meat."
"I've got a steak in the fridge. I've been working my way up to it since I basically didn't eat for a week." That got another nod. "Is it supposed to hurt like this?"
"I'm not one to use magic but I've heard the burn from the overuse is that bad, yes." Someone tapped on the door. "Shall I?"
"Yeah, if that's Ethan let him in. Giles and Willow sent me a curse," he said fondly. The vampire looked alarmed and went to let the chaos sorcerer in. "Bedroom," he said with a wince and a point. "Bedside table, right side, drawer. Envelope addressed to me."
Ethan walked in and looked at him. "You're still in pain. You shouldn't even be near magic."
"Yay me. If I can get that check cashed, it'll help me a lot more to finish recuperating. If not, I've got to start working on the next book."
"You're writing?" he asked, heading toward the bedroom. "Right side you said, boy?"
"Yeah." He tipped his head back. "I'm writing romance novels." Ethan let out a long laugh. "Yeah, I know, but I'm decent at it. I've just sold three stories." He looked at Dimitri. "I'll be rewarding the doors tonight, just in case," he said quietly.
"Not unless you want to finish dying," Ethan said as he came back out with the check. "This is very good work. He and Miss Rosenburg work well together."
"Yeah, to keep me from knowing that there was a hellmouth nearby," he said bitterly. "Or that there was a prophecy or that one of you was opening it slightly to suck the power off like the whore he was." Ethan looked at him and he nodded. "I felt someone trying to stop me. I'm sure they're in much worse shape considering that's the way the excess power drained when I shut the stupid hole."
Ethan put the check aside and took Xander's hand, looking into his eyes as he chanted. He slumped and nodded. "You'll be fine. The Goddess does protect fools."
"Yeah, well, I didn't have a choice. It was open and it's not like they'd have helped," he said bitterly. "Giles sent me here to fix the situation and look what I get."
Ethan nodded. "I can see why." He moved closer. "Off with the shirt. I can release the magic from your body and it'll help. Then you'll have to rebuild your stores."
"Are you sure? I'm barely not bruising with new bruises."
"I am. It's the wrong magic for you. We'll take you into the park so you can recharge and renew." He looked at the vampire, then back at him. "I'll redo the wards." He looked at the vampire again. "An account?" It was handed over and he looked at it, then at the boy. "The Goddess really does protect fools from themselves." He handed it back. "Make sure someone higher knows about that."
Xander groaned and pointed at his laptop. "In my address book is Travers' personal email at the Council. Only opened by him and his secretary." That got a mean smirk from the vampire. "Have fun with that."
"Oh, I shall." He got in there to copy it down, then left, taking his guards with him.
"You're suddenly mean," Ethan noted. "You weren't usually like this."
Xander looked up at him, then leaned forward and took off his shirt, letting him see him. "They didn't tell me that there was *a* hellmouth nearby," he said quietly. "Nothing about the prophecy, nothing about the family. I had to find them in the damn public library and the prophecy was found by my publisher, who does blood magic." Ethan shuddered at that. "Giles sent me here to die, Ethan. And now they've sent a curse so I have to go crawling back when the misfortune in it disrupts my life. I'd rather sell my ass than go back there. The only people I'll miss are Joyce and Tara."
"I understand fully. He once did the same to me to get me out of his life," he said bitterly. He looked at the boy's chest and back. "Lie on your stomach. This should help a lot." Xander groaned and laid down, stretching out for him. "Good boy. Would you consider taking up my side of the magic field?"
"Nope. I'm still a good guy, even though the side of Good is fucking me up the ass," he said into the couch cushion. That got a small chuckle. "Sorry, Ethan. What can I do to repay this?"
"I'll come to you when I get into trouble next time." He laid hands on the boys back and concentrated, finding the knots in his magical aura. "Did she see you like this? I felt her show up."
"She showed up and yelled at me. I was more bruised then. Ordered me to eat. I've been working up to the steak in my fridge."
"Yes, you could use the protein," he agreed dryly.
Xander let out a moan, then shivered. "Whatever you're doing...."
"It should feel like that, yes," he assured him. "Just let it go. It's going to go out that way." Xander nodded and let him finish getting him off so the magic could leave his body with his seed. He finally felt happy and relaxed, but so limp he couldn't move. Plus he now had a different headache. "Go get dressed in your ritual clothes." He helped the boy up and into the bedroom, watching him dress. "Janus could do much for you, Xander."
"He's already done much to me, Ethan. I don't know why I'm one of his favorite toys." He finished pulling on a new all-cotton t-shirt and cotton jogging pants, then put on his sandals. It was still warm enough. They walked out together, Ethan locking the door behind him.
Xander limped out of his publisher's a week later, looking at the people across the street. "Poor guys, they gotta work." He headed for his car, which was behind the tape, and groaned. He looked at Aiden when she smiled at him. "My car?"
"Has ta stay, sorry."
"Fuck. I've got a new idea," he complained.
"So go handwrite it or something," she ordered, making a 'shooing' motion. "Shoo. Now."
"Fine. Come get me, I'll be wherever people eat around here." He headed for the Subway on the corner, going to get lunch. Or at least a snack. He was still really hungry after the magic stuff. By the time he was done they weren't and he watched, looking at the woman watching him. "My car's behind the tape."
"So's mine. My husband jumped out the window."
"Cool." For some reason he could tell she was lying. He got up and gathered his trash, then walked back up to the counter, ordering some bottles of juice and soda to take back there. He was more sensitive now to what people wanted and needed. He carried them back, coughing really loudly. "The woman who said her husband jumped with a not very sincere or grieving face is at Subway," he said, handing over the bags. "For you guys. Tell when I can get my car." Stella gave him a look so he looked at it.
"He landed on your trunk, it's gonna be a while. But thank you, kid."
"Welcome. Heading home in a cab." He went to call one and wait outside his publisher's place. He looked back, smirking at the assistant he usually worked with. "What's up?"
"That's what I was wondering."
"Someone jumped and hit my car."
"I'll make sure it gets back to your building if they don't tow it to look it over for evidence." She patted him on the head as the cab came up the street. "That's probably for you."
"Blessed be," he said dryly, heaving himself up. "I'm off to slave for your pleasure."
"Good. I liked the gladiator story, Xander." He grinned and headed down to get into the cab and head home to write.
Stella walked the bags over after finding the one she wanted, handing Flack the cold coffee. "The kid's car is the one that got landed on."
"If we take it, I'll make sure he gets it back," Aiden assured her. "Anything else?"
"Diet Pepsi," Stella said, handing it over. "He said there's a woman in the Subway on the corner who said her husband jumped but she wasn't grieving or sincere."
"Good, I like that information," Flack agreed, heading that way. He'd never had one of those before but they weren't too bad, just tasted a bit off since they were cold and flavored. He walked in and the counter worker smiled. "The widow?" She got a point. "Thanks." He walked over there. "Ma'am, the deceased was your husband?" She looked and nodded. "I'm Detective Flack, ma'am, I'm going to need to ask you a few questions. Can I sit?" he asked. She nodded and smiled at him. Oh, yeah, no grief. This was going to be a game to her.
Danny got tired of knocking so he pulled out the spare key he'd had made off the press- casting of the landlord's master, walking in. "Xander?" He heard a grunt and headed back to the kitchen. "You ignoring the world again?" He watched him type and stir the pot now and then.
"The muses are being fussy," he complained. "I'm not getting any sleep either." He saved it and moved the laptop further from the stove. Then he looked at him. "Morning."
"Evening actually. I brought your car back and parked it."
"Thanks. Do I need my insurance guy?"
"He dented it but not too bad. His ex-wife pushed him out. She's the one you met. How did you know what we wanted to drink?"
"I don't know. Since Ethan fixed me, I've been getting a lot more of that. The muses have picked up too." He stirred the pot and tasted the noodle, then took it to the sink to drain it, using the spoon to hold back the pasta. Then he dumped it onto a plate, added butter and sprinkle cheese, taking it and his laptop back into the living room. "Thanks for bringing back my car."
"Not a problem. You okay now?"
"Better. Just the freaky 'sensitive' thing at the moment." He stirred his dinner to mix in the melting butter, then took a bite. "You want some?" he asked, holding up his fork.
"Nah, I've got dinner waiting," he assured him.
Xander raised an eyebrow then smirked. "Yeah if I had that sort of dinner waiting, I'd hurry home too. Have a nice dinner, Danny."
Danny blushed. "Um...."
"I'm not saying anything, it's all good ta me."
"I'm not seeing anyone."
Xander looked at him again. "Then I'm getting want and need? If so, I'd make a move. One of them thinks that way about you but he's stubborn." He ate another bite and waved his fork at him. "Shoo. Go tell them what you need."
"I can't do that. He won't like it."
"They never do but he's hiding the same thing. He's just confused."
"That's good. Which?" Xander just smirked. "Don?" He nodded. "Well, at least it gives me hope. You good?"
"Mostly. Hungry, muse filled, but decent enough once I write out what they want." That got a small quirk of a grin. "Shoo, Danny. Watching me type isn't exciting or anything. When're we going out?"
"Tomorrow night good for you?"
"Sure. I promise to tell the muses I need the night off even."
"Good. I'll call first." He headed out smiling. It was a good thing he had learned. It did explain why he got a V-8 instead of a soda too. It was what his body needed instead of wanted. Even if Flack had teased him about it.
Xander looked up from his dancing, feeling the magic moving around them. He was still attuned. He nodded at his dance partner and headed back to the bar to get a new drink, smiling at the pretty blonde woman who walked in. "Joyce?" he called, waving a hand. She walked over and hugged him. "I missed you," he said over the music.
"Willow said I was saving on airfare. I'm in for an auction."
"That's fine. You can have my bed and I'll take the couch." She patted him on the cheek. "I'm here with someone but I can go." He looked over as Danny strolled up behind them. "Danny, this is Joyce."
He smiled and waved. "He said a lot of good things about ya," he called back. "You heading?" Xander nodded. "I'll see ya later."
"Sure. Kiss someone pretty for me," he called back, glancing up the bar. He smirked at him and took Joyce with him, taking her bag from the bouncer, and getting a smile. "Thanks, man. She's like my mom." He got her into his car and smiled at her. "So, auction?" he asked, starting the engine.
"What happened to your trunk, Xander?"
"Someone fell on it after his ex pushed him out a window." He checked before pulling into traffic and took the long ride home. "Sorry, I live a bit further out," he offered. "It's cheaper than downtown."
"I'm sure it is. I'd be living in New Jersey with the rent around here." She shifted to look at him. "How have you been?"
"Better since I'm fully recovered from closing the local hellmouth. How's Tara?"
"She's doing well. She said to give you a hug and a kiss, plus the candy bar in my suitcase." He grinned at that. "Who was that?"
"Oh, he's a CSI guy I met due to a vampire attack."
"They pay attention to that here?"
"Yeah, all too often. Did you know I had fans?" he asked suddenly, grinning at her at a red light. "I went to a multiple author book signing the other day in Times Square and they were shocked I was a guy, but decided I was gay. I was ordered not to tell them differently. Thankfully I'm secure in my manliness."
She kissed him on the cheek. "You usually are, Xander. We've missed you at home."
"I can tell, that's why Willow sent me a second cursed letter," he said dryly. He found a spot and pulled over to park, looking at her. "Why did they really send you?"
She shrugged. "Willow said I'd save on airfare. She sent me to wherever you were."
"Which could've seriously gotten you hurt," he pointed out. "If I had been at home, it's a residential neighborhood. You wouldn't have known what building I was in."
"I do have your address," she admitted. "Rupert thought you might be out hunting."
"Rupert thinks very highly of me considering his lack of helping and sending me here to die nearly did cause me to. Feel free to kick his ass when you're home." She stared at him, frowning a bit. "Ah, you haven't heard more than what Buffy's told you."
"I did, and I also got confessed to by her about why you're here."
"Did she also tell you that Willow and Rupert knew about the two hellmouths and that one was going to open? That there was a very well known prophecy about that one opening?" She shook her head. He nodded. "There was. I nearly died closing it by myself. He sent me here to die and then Willow sends me cursed stuff."
"I don't know. Ethan came to help me when I nearly died, I had to beg nicely to have him help me with the magic poisoning that was eating me from the inside out. He said Rupert did something similar when he wanted him to go away."
"Are you doing chaos magic?"
"No," he said flatly. "I'm doing the same magic Willow is." She let out a small moan. "Which is why you and Tara are the only two I'm speaking to in that whole town. You and she are both more than welcome to move in with me."
She smiled and patted his cheek. "If the town goes under, I'll consider that," she agreed, smiling gently at him. "Come on, let's get you home."
"I'm healed," he assured her. But he did restart the car and pull back into traffic to head to his apartment. He found Mac on his doorstep and looked at him. "Joyce Summers, this is Mac Taylor, he's Danny's boss. Danny was the guy from earlier."
"Charmed," she said, shaking his hand. "Do you help Xander?"
"No, I watch to make sure he doesn't hurt others."
"Ah. He's not like that. I've known the boy since we moved to Sunnydale."
"She's Buffy's mom," he explained. He came up and looked at the bleeding spot. "I've got some holy water and bandages upstairs. Come on." He opened the door, letting Joyce through first, but letting Mac catch it. He smiled at his landlord. "This is Joyce. She's in town for a visit."
"That's fine. You know you're bleeding, right, detective?" he asked.
"Yeah, he's promised me to bandage it." He followed Xander up there, walking in the open door and shutting it behind him. "So, Ms. Summers, what do you do?"
"I run an art gallery in Sunnydale. I'm in for a series of auctions to get a few pieces for one of my clients." She sat him down and looked at the marks. "It looks like a neosporin level injury, Xander."
"Sure." He went to get some of the special tube and handed it over. "Premixed with holy water." She smiled and accepted it, then took the bandages he found for her. "There you go. Where were you attacked?"
"The club I was in."
"That is prime hunting territory but the population has declined dramatically," he admitted. "So it was probably part of the native population."
"Does that mean you're heading home?"
"After they sent me misfortune and agony? Hell no." He sat down, looking at him. "I'm looking for a place a bit farther out so I can save money now and then, but my publisher and editor want me closer since I'm on such a roll with my writing."
Joyce smiled at him. "I've seen a few of your books and I've got to say, they are very good, Xander."
"Thank you." He grinned at her. "I do know that she cut out a bit of foreshadowing in the last one. It pissed me off to no end."
"I was wondering where that ghost came from." She kissed him on the cheek. "Let me make some coffee. Detective?"
"No, I'm good." He looked at the kid. "I thought you were leaving after it was done."
"It's not like I'm going back there after they treated me that way. Which makes me a runaway who came to New York," he said with a smirk. "Just like the millions of others over the years. I may move somewhere more affordable so I can live off my book writing but that doesn't mean I'm going to be going back to Sunnydale. Not now."
Joyce came out with coffee for them, kissing Xander on the head. "I agree, Xander. You probably shouldn't if the girls are plaguing you that way. Buffy and I are going to have a *long* talk however." That got a small smirk. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tara knew, I thought she would, and I know you can get the truth out of Buffy."
"Good point." She sat down, smiling at him. "How are you otherwise?"
"Giles sent me a cursed check for a good amount of money so I'm okay on cash at the moment. I just had to have Ethan Rayne help me uncurse it."
"Do I know him?"
"He's the guy behind the halloween nightmares and the candy bar incident," he said, taking a sip of his coffee. "You do this so much better than I do."
"He's local?" she demanded. "I should slap him for that."
Xander gave her a long stare. "You're a lovely woman, Joyce, and you needed the breather from being an adult," he said gently. "It was good for you and it made Giles relax for a while too." She blushed and smiled so he shrugged. "Truth and I thought it was really funny that you kept telling Buffy to relax, that she was too young for that stress." She did giggle a bit at that. "You should get out and date."
"I probably should but I don't need another disaster like Ted was." She took a drink and put her cup down. "How about you? Have the nice police officers you seem to know had to save you from your usual sort?"
He blushed and shook his head, taking another drink of his coffee. "Nope. No energy to date at the moment."
"He's got a problem with dating?" Mac asked.
She snickered and shook her head. "Not really, it's more his taste in women. You see, there's never been a woman Xander didn't date that didn't try to kill him. My daughter makes half her career saving him from the women he chooses."
"Why do they want to kill him?"
"I'm not sure. No one is."
Xander looked at her. "Remember, you had one living under your roof for a week or so and it's not just the women I date, it's also the vampires that your daughter dates."
"Don't remind me of that being, please," she said firmly. "Where is he anyway?"
"LA saving them." He finished off his coffee and got comfortable. "He's working with Cordelia and a few others."
"I'm sure it suits them to work together. He's soul sucking and she's energy sucking."
"And then some," Xander agreed dryly, making her laugh and swat him. "She wants to be an actress, I'm sure she's perfecting that skill." That got another blush and another giggle. "Sorry, Detective, one my exes. She didn't really want to kill me, just emotionally kill me and make me a weeping heap of man on the floor next to her Italian pumps." He looked at Joyce again. "I haven't had the energy to date, but when I do I'll be sure to send you the details of why all New York's women want to kill me."
"I'll miss you, Xander. You always did liven things up."
"No one says you can't visit," he reminded her. "Hell, the next apocalypse, come see me while your daughter fights."
"I will, dear. Now, why was there no food in your house?"
"Because I still can't cook and I've been eating everything in sight," he offered dryly. "I'm still regaining my strength from the magical battering my body took when I had to close the local hellmouth." He looked at Mac. "Need sugar?"
"I could use a packet. It's been a long day," he admitted. Xander got up to find him something so he looked at Joyce. "Was he always dangerous?"
"He's never been dangerous unless you're something that needs to be hunted, and then my daughter made him the way he is today. He's not dangerous to the normal people and they like to pick on him most of the time." She gave him that same gentle, motherly smile, then got up to close the kitchen door. "Detective, what do you think is wrong with the boy?" she asked. He started to open his mouth. "Let me alleviate some fears. Xander comes from a very...harsh background. He was emotionally needy when my family moved to Sunnydale. I became the boy's mother because he needed one. The same as I did for the rest of the group. The same as Rupert did their father. Willow wasn't so bad but her parents were negligent to say the least. Xander is one of those unique people, he's loyal. He may have to lie to you to get you to do something you need to do, and he has to my daughter to force her to do her job when all she wanted to do was cry, but he's also done her job for her when she slacked and went out on dates." She sat down again.
"That boy has saved a lot of people's lives. He's no worse than any veteran of any war that came back a bit mixed up morally. Yes, he hunts those who need it but unless he's attacked there's not going to be a human harmed by him. Unlike some of my daughter's other friends. Then again, I've also seen Xander hurt by humans because he doesn't defend himself. I've also seen him trip over his feet when Rupert or one of the girls was watching. They've destroyed his self esteem to a level that even I wanted to slap them for. My daughter will soon be fixed, because I'm going to kill her when I get home. His friend Willow won't be sitting for a good, *long* time if I have my way about that either. Rupert and I are going to have very strong words. Now, the only thing you have to know about Xander is that he won't defend himself against humans; if it's someone like *you* who wants to harm him emotionally or physically, then he'll suddenly start stumbling and falling because he's conscious of that, and he's very loyal. You should also be aware of his nature influencing the women he dates. For some reason every psychotic bitchy woman in Sunnydale wanted that boy.
"I won't have him being hurt. Therefore, get off your high horse and see the actual person, not the fighter you saw however you did. He did what he had to do to save lives. I'm sure you've been there before?" she asked coolly. He nodded. "Good. Then I'm sure you understand better than most. Survival is very hard to do when you're outnumbered three to one some nights." He swallowed. "That boy has saved our whole town a great number of times. Including my daughter, even though she won't admit he brought her back to life after she was drowned, or when he stopped the boys putting a bomb in the high school while my daughter was in there fighting someone. All you'll hear from my daughter and Willow are complaints about the women drawn to him and how they've had to save him when his true nature comes out and he starts to trip during patrols because they're ignoring him or they're trying to put him down. Again. If *someone* would give a damn about the boy he's the most loyal friend in the world." She crossed her legs again. "Are we very clear on why you will not harm that boy's fragile emotional state any longer?"
He nodded. "It's my duty to look out for the normal people in the city."
"They have nothing to fear from Xander unless it's one of his dates and she goes through one of them to try to kill him."
"I'll keep that in mind," he agreed. Xander came out and handed over the sugar packet. "Where were you earlier?"
"Danny and I went out to a club in the Bronx he knew about. He and Don were both there when I left. Along with Aiden."
"Oh. Interesting. Good music?"
"Fast, hard, and somewhere you can lose yourself and forget about life," he told him, sitting down and looking at Joyce. "Dear, did you need more coffee?"
"No, I'm fine, Xander." She smiled at him. "I should probably retire for the night so you can go back to having fun."
He grinned at her. "It's okay. How long are you in for?"
"About a week. Are you sure? I can get a hotel room."
"Hell no," he said firmly. "They're really damn expensive in this town, Joyce."
"I've been here before," she pointed out. "I knew that already, Xander, and I make a good salary."
"So do I and I'm living on the money that Rupert sent me," he said sweetly. "So you're staying and I can find a grocery store tonight."
"Fine. Then I'll see you in the morning. Should I remake the bed?"
"No, I changed the sheets when I got up. I thought I might have guests. I've been a bit open since I had to be drained and refilled with good magic." She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Happy sleeps, Joyce."
"You too, dear. Don't fuss too much." She took her bag into the bedroom and shut the door.
Xander looked at him. "Yes, that was a subtle hint."
"You don't like me."
"Why should I? The first time I met you, you accused me of being a serial killer, or nearly one." He stood up and looked at him. "Now that you understand a bit more, have one of the others bring you by again, detective. I don't need the strain with my muses going into overdrive."
"I'm sorry, but you know I have to check."
"Do I care? Learn subtlety. I'm sure it's an asset in your job." He stared him down. "Now then," he said more kindly. "Maybe you can see what others do. You trust your people's instincts, maybe you should look at what they see." He pointed at the door. "Shall we? I've got to find food."
"I'm sorry, Xander."
"So am I. Prejudging shouldn't be done by a man in your job." He grabbed his keys and wallet. "Joyce, I'm heading out for groceries," he called. "I'll be back in about an hour. Don't answer if someone knocks. The door's warded." He walked out, locking it behind him. Then he skipped down the stairs to his car, going to find the Super Walmart he knew was around there somewhere.
Mac watched him go, thinking about what he had been told. His own observations were at odds with people who knew the boy best. So either the boy had snowed over the mother upstairs, which seemed pretty hard to do with the way she had ripped into him, or he wasn't right about his theory. It was time to reevaluate and reconsider the kid. Maybe he'd talk to Flack or Stella tomorrow, at a decent hour he decided, heading for his own car so he could head home.
Xander smiled at the knock on his door, going to let them in. "Come on in. I'm out of my muse haze at the moment and my pseudo mother is in town. This way you can see I know normal people too," he offered with a grin. "Joyce, quit fussing over the food," he called, heading back to the kitchen. "Some of the guys I know are here. I invited them over for lunch." He kissed her on the cheek, dragging her out of the kitchen. "I can make a salad. Really. Danny Messer, Don Flack, this is Joyce Summers, my pseudo mother from Sunnydale. She's Buffy's mother but she adopted me too. Joyce, Danny works with the detective from last night and Don works near them."
"It's nice to see Xander's made some decent friends," she said, shaking their hand and smiling. "Sit, tell me how you three met Xander. He refused." Xander scurried back into the kitchen.
"The first night we met him, he was fighting with a vampire in an alley and the thing yelled for help," Don admitted, sitting across from her. "I don't hear him mentioning Buffy very often."
"That's probably better unless you want to be polluted by swearing," she offered sweetly. "My daughter's going to have a bit of a problem with sitting when I get home." That got smiles. "Let me guess, you ran into Willow?"
"Yes, her and her rant about getting rid of his stuff since he hadn't called or talked to anyone in two days," Danny admitted, sitting on the couch next to her. "So, what do you do?"
"I run an art gallery in Sunnydale. I'm in town for some auctions. Xander wants me to move, but I like my gallery." She smiled at him. "I must say, you're both much nicer than the man last night."
"Mac showed up," Xander called, bringing out plates. "Here. Let me get the dressing." He went back in there, bringing out the dressing, the optional meat topping, and the bowl of cheese. He then went back for waters. "Danny, Don, beer, water, or soda?"
"Water's fine," Don called.
"Me too," Danny offered. Xander brought them out and sat down with his plate. "Nice job, kid."
"I don't know who's a veggie person and who's not so I let the meat be optional for everyone," he admitted. Someone tapped politely on the door, then knocked harder. "Did you invite someone?" he asked. They shook their heads. So he shrugged and got up, smiling at the women. "Are you hiding?"
"Yeah," Aiden said. "We were wondering what's wrong with Mac."
"He got bitten last night but I bandaged it."
"Then why is he so quiet?" Stella asked.
"Oh, I chewed him a new one over his thought that Xander's dangerous to normal people," Joyce offered, smiling at them. "You are?"
"These are Stella and Aiden, they work with Danny and Mac too," he told her, looking at them again. "We're having salad. I've got extra if you want to stay. You can tell her how good I've been since she's the closest I come to a mom."
"Sure," Aiden agreed. "Then I can complain about the bruises on your throat." She tipped his chin up. "What caused that?"
"The woman I flirted with at the grocery store." He went back to the kitchen, coming out with paper plates. "Sorry, I've only got a set of four."
"It's fine," Stella assured him, smiling at him. "I see it's meat optional?"
"I'm used to having a semi-vegetarian person nearby. Tara's like that now and then." He waved a hand and sat on the floor across from them. "Toss me my water, Aiden. There's beer, water, and soda in the fridge if you want some."
"Get me a soda, Stella?" Aiden asked when she headed that way.
"Sure." She came back out and smiled at him. "That's much better than the last time I snooped in there. There's food."
"I couldn't expect Joyce to live on Chinese and cookies like I do," he said dryly, smirking at her. "What's wrong with Mac now?"
"He's in heavy thought," Don admitted. "He called me at nine this morning to talk about you. Apparently her chewing him a new one helped."
"Good," Joyce agreed. "Xander's not a dangerous guy. He's usually in danger because he dates." She ate a bite and looked at him. "Why can't I see the bruises?"
"Concealment charm. Aiden's really resistant," he said dryly. "I flirted over the broccoli and she flirted back. We met again at the cars, she gave me her number, pushed me against the car, kissed me, then tried to choke me to death. The standard, just faster. Usually it takes at least a real date before they become homicidal." He ate another bite, watching them stare at him, then at Joyce, who nodded. "At least there's only been the one who pressed charges against me for making her feel homicidal. They told her that wasn't against the law unless I was harming her or stalking her somehow." He ate another bite and grinned when they all stared at him. Then Joyce chuckled and nodded again.
"I remember her very well. She came to apologize to me for harming you a few days later, claimed she didn't know what came over her."
"Me either. I'm hoping it doesn't really follow me. I'd be a lonely Xander without someone to cuddle up to now and then. That's next on my list of accomplishments. That and finding a cheaper place to live."
"If you can find it, sublet somewhere rent controlled," Aiden offered. "That's what I do. It helps a lot. I sublet my gram's apartment in college." She ate a bite of food, then licked the dressing off her fork. "What is this?"
"Something Joyce taught me. Homemade orange, poppy seed, and sunflower seed dressing." He ate another bite. "Using only organic stuff."
"I'm hoping we don't get drug tested this week," Danny said, eating another bite.
"We can claim it," Stella reminded him, adding more to her salad. "This is really good, Xander. Good job."
"Thank you," he said happily. Someone tapped on the door. "There's no food left," he called. They knocked again. "Fuck," he muttered, getting up to answer it. He looked at the cop standing there. "Problems?"
"Mr. Harris?" Xander nodded. "Sir, there was a report of a vandalism in this neighborhood and someone noted you had been out late last night. Did you see anything?"
"No, I hadn't. I went out about midnight for groceries but I wasn't really *aware* of the neighborhood at that time, ya know?" That got a nod. "I got back just before one and I haven't left since then. What got hit?"
"This building, your car, and a few others."
"I knew I should've magiced the car again," he complained. "I wish I had seen them, you'd have been handed some greasy spots."
The officer smiled at that. "That's what your landlord figured too, sir. So you didn't see anything?" He shook his head. "Thank you for your time and cooperation." He left, going to the next apartment.
Xander shut the door and looked at them. "Someone did what to my car?"
"Painted a line down the side," Aiden told him.
"Oh, cheery. I'll go down later to see if it can be scrubbed off." He sat down again, sipping his water before taking another bite. "You can chat. I don't mind."
Joyce laughed. "They're enjoying real food, dear. I'm sure they don't get much time to cook at home with their jobs."
"Not too much energy to cook after a long day," Stella agreed, smiling at her. "How long have you known him?"
"I'm Buffy's mother. We moved in during their tenth grade year. I've been there though some of the worst things."
"At least she made you leave for graduation," he noted calmly.
"True, she did," she agreed, smiling at him. "That was still a brilliant battle plan, Xander." He tipped his head and smiled. "I wish my daughter was less stupid. I'll miss having you around to save the brat."
"It happens. Tell Rupert he's free to hand me more money to live off of if he really wants to. I'll gladly uncurse it again." She laughed at that and he finished his salad. Then he stretched and popped his shoulders. "I should start playing the lottery. I've been having a good week."
She smiled and nodded. "I can tell. What's your newest book about?"
He grinned. "A geeky comic shop owner. I got asked to write a gay piece, even though I protested I have no idea how they do anything or if it's a different formula for dating and stuff. My editor thinks it'll go over well with my fans."
"You've got fans?" Aiden asked.
Xander nodded, beaming at her. "I went to a book signing the other day with a bunch of other authors in Times Square, and they were all shocked I'm male, so if I'm writing romances I must be gay. My editor thinks it'll give me a broader base and more sales. You can't really find too much information online about gay dating except personals and clubs where you can go to get laid. I only found one good site with dating tips and questions."
"You could try asking someone," Stella offered.
"I don't know any gay people except Willow and Tara, and Tara's *really* shy. She stutters a lot and doesn't date. Willow was her first girlfriend."
"What about going to a local club?" Aiden suggested.
"I'd be feeling like I insulted someone," he complained, looking at her. "How do you walk up to someone and go 'hi, I'm writing a romance novel with gay characters and I need someone to tell me what it's like, oh, and can you give graphic sexual details as well, just in case I need them'? I'd get punched really quickly."
Danny nodded. "Yeah, you would," he admitted. "Especially in New York." He looked at Don. "Do we know anyone?"
"Not that I've been told," he offered back. "Then again, I'm not the guy that most people come out to."
"I am," Xander sighed. "Larry thought I was tense and came out to me in the locker room one day when he decided I was hinting about his secret." He finished his water and put the bottle onto his plate. "Then he kept hinting until he died during graduation that I really was too, and that it was okay if I wasn't ready to come out yet."
"You know, Xander, that might solve your dating problems," Aiden offered with a grin.
Joyce shook her head. "The only males around him want to kill him and are homicidal maniacs most of the time. Let him stick with women. They're just psychotic and dangerous."
"And the few demons who were hiding it," Xander reminded her. "I'm kinda glad Anya doesn't know where I am."
"Rupert told her. I heard Buffy talking to Willow to find your exact address and location so they could help her visit."
"Uh-huh. Do it and watch me call on one of her work buddies to get them for me," he said dryly. She smiled at that. "I promise to leave you and Tara alone and not kill Buffy by using the wish demon system."
"Thank you, dear." She smiled at Don. "You seem like a nice boy. Don't you know any nice girls?"
"Not my type, unfortunately," he offered with a cute grin. "My mother wishes it was but I haven't met one in years."
She swatted him on the arm, shaking her head. "I'm sure you're exaggerating. Who wouldn't like a strong, handsome, employed, talented man like you?"
"About half of New York," Danny teased, smirking at his friend.
"Let's not mention when you last dated, Messer," he complained.
"It's been since you have, Flack," Aiden taunted.
"How would you know?" Stella asked.
"He came in complaining about her. It's not like you and Mac listen to him," she snorted.
"Aiden, I'm fine," Danny reminded her. "Stella and I aren't buddies like you and me."
"Fine, be that way then," Stella said, staring at him. "You could tell me. I do listen."
"Now and then," Flack agreed. "But most of the time you're very focused on work and Mac. Speaking of which, when you gonna ask him out?" he asked with just a hint of a smirk.
"Never. We're too close at work. He'd act funny when I dumped him for not coming home because he spent all night in the lab," she shot back.
Xander giggled. "If that happens, tell me and I'll have a little imp run through and scare him enough to make him wanna go home," he promised.
"Xander, that's mean," Joyce said, scowling at him. "You know better than that."
"They're harmless, won't track stuff into the lab or anything like that, but they look really scary. They'd never do more than creep you out or make you shudder in horror, maybe scream if they sneak up on you and try to pounce, but the first time you show any move toward them they disappear."
"If you do that, I wanna know," Danny ordered.
"Yeah, so we can prep the video camera," Aiden agreed.
"You two are horrible," Stella complained, shaking her head. "Some days I feel like the mom around the lab."
"You are the mother around the lab," Danny assured her. "And a right Mother you are some days, Stella."
She grinned. "You say some of the sweetest things."
Flack stood up and went to get another water. "Anyone need a new drink?" he called.
"Get me a soda please," Xander called, grinning at them. "See, that's what I need, someone w ho can tease unmeanly," he told Joyce.
Who nodded. "You do, dear. That and someone who cuddles."
"I'd offer but I don't wanna turn too bad," Aiden teased, grinning at him.
"It usually takes at least a date," Joyce assured her, patting her on the hand. "I had one foreign exchange student who didn't want to kill him for nearly a whole week after hanging out with him and my daughter."
She blushed. He was a nice, employed guy who liked her sense of humor. Maybe they could do the dating thing a few times, it'd break her dry spell. "Xander?"
"Sure, pick the spot and I'll treat," he promised with a grin. "Dancing, dinner, I'm good with that."
She smirked. "Oh, you don't know what you just got yourself into, little man."
"You'd be surprised and I am technically legal," he teased back.
She laughed, looking him over. "You sure about that?"
"I turned twenty-one right before I moved. I'm very sure I'm legal." He got up and kissed her on the forehead, going to see if the fridge ate Don. "You okay?"
"Staying out of the crossfire," he admitted, handing over the soda. He came back out and Xander followed. "You done, Aiden?"
"Hell no. The man promised me dinner and dancing."
"He looked good on the floor last night when we went trolling together," Danny assured her. "Of course, I'll expect you to protect him in case another psycho woman comes up."
"Nobody touches what's mine, even if it's only just a date," she assured him. Joyce smiled at her for that. It was a good omen that the kid's mom liked him.
Danny looked up the morning after Aiden's date, seeing her wobbling in wearing the same clothes she had yesterday. "You wanna borrow a shirt?" he called.
"Bite me," she said hoarsely. She headed for the locker room, going to do her hair and put it up wet for now, and change clothes. She came out of the shower area and found Stella waiting on her. "That boy is trouble incarnate," she told her, sitting down with a heavy thump. "But fun. Damn fun."
"Was he good?" she asked.
"Oh, hell yeah. Sixteen complaints by the cops about the noise," she said with a smirk. "I should've called off."
"I'll make sure you don't have to question anyone," she promised. "Change clothes. Mac's already seen you." She got a groan and headed out, going to divert Mac's attention for a bit. She ran into Flack in the hallways. "Where is Mac lurking?"
"Interrogation." He looked at her, then the direction she came from. "Aiden finally show up?" She smirked and nodded. "I heard about the noise complaints. A few times the cop didn't even get out of the building. In a row."
"She can't talk," she told him. She glanced back, then looked at him. "I want details!"
"Hell, if he's that good, my sister says she's got a nice, normal, sweet friend who adores his books. I was ordered to get her an autograph."
Stella smiled. "I'm sure he'll be happy to." She walked off, going to find Aiden something out of the way to do. Otherwise the girl would be picked on forever for her lack of voice.
Aiden came out and found Flack waiting. "The sad thing was, it wasn't real sex," she quipped quietly, shaking her head. "The boy's hands are magic." He burst out laughing and she went to work. Even if she was limp as anything she had ever tried to cook and so relaxed she couldn't even growl at the idiots in her way of getting caffeine. She walked past the main desk, going back when she saw the flowers. "Anything for me?" she whispered. The flowers were pointed to and she smiled, taking them with her. They were a pretty bunch of wild flowers. Not really the best, like roses, but more thoughtful. She read the card and grinned. "If there's a next time," she told the flowers, putting them in a safe spot so they wouldn't shed on her work.
Danny leaned in, catching sight of the flowers. "That's sweet. No roses?"
"More thoughtful," she told him, clearing her throat. "Nothing like that happened, pervert," she assured him at his smirk. "He's a nice boy."
"Yeah, and I'm doubting the limp you've got is from a backrub," he taunted, coming in and closing the door. "So give!"
She pinched him on the arm. "Some day maybe. Not right now."
"No homicidal feelings?"
"I can't work up enough anger to growl," she assured him. "It was a really good massage and some light fooling around. He's asked me out again too." She nodded at the flowers. "Next time we'll go keep my building up."
"That might be a good idea, yeah. Especially since one of the guys in patrol told Mac why you were gonna be late."
"Which is a good thing, but why did he let you go?"
"The muses hit," she said dryly, shaking her head. "He was typing madly when I left." That got a grin. "Shoo. Go work."
"Fine. You might wanna think about some life savers or something for your throat." He went back to his lab, smirking at Flack when he passed by him. "She got flowers too."
"Classy guy. Roses?"
"Hmm. Still classy for a first date," he decided. The guy was smoother than he looked and apparently he had *skills* in some good areas. "I guess writing smut all the time makes sure you know what you're doing," he decided, going to get a report from Stella. He could pick on Aiden later, when she could talk back.
Joyce walked into the Magic Box the night she got back, looking at the man in front of her. "Mr. Travers, it's been a long time since I've seen you," she said, shaking his hand. "Are you here to yell at Rupert for sending Xander cursed checks or for sending him to die? Or did my daughter so something more stupid?"
Giles choked and looked at her. "Excuse me?" he asked finally. "I did not send him to die!"
"No, you only neglected to tell him of a very well known prophecy, one he found the next week in the New York Public Library system, and that there were two hellmouths there that could have been opening," she said, staring him down. He shrank back from that. "By the way, he said Ethan sends his love after fixing your mistake this time. Apparently Xander had been being eaten alive by the magic he had to use to close the lesser hellmouth outside the city and Ethan, being the nice guy that he is, helped him release it so he was no longer being eaten cell by cell." Willow let out a small whimper. "And you, Miss Rosenburg, not only were you rude to some very nice police officers, who I had a very nice lunch with, but you discounted Xander and refused to help him."
"I told him he needed to eat so the magic would take that instead," she defended.
"Ethan ended up draining it from him two weeks later, Willow. You're in deep shit and I'd run," she vowed. The girl took off running. She smiled at Tara. "Xander wanted to know if you'd like to move closer and go to college near him. He said New York has a wonderful set of lesbian bars and he'd be more than willing to play dutiful escort until you got accustomed to it. Plus he said one of the officers he knows has a very pleasant friend who might like you. He did say he would miss you terribly if you couldn't come out."
"Mom?" Buffy asked.
She grabbed her daughter, walking away with her. "We'll be right back, Rupert. Do wait on me." She slammed the office door and started to scream.
Rupert swallowed, looking at his former boss. "Well," he said finally.
"You sent him a cursed check? How interesting, that backs up the report I got from Dimitri. Who has been watching over the boy. He was there the night Rayne showed up to help him. It was really brilliant for him to go to Rayne since you don't seem to care enough to save his life." Giles flinched. "I knew you were a bastard when you got rid of Ethan and changed, Rupert, but really. We may not like the boy on the Council because upsets the natural order but that doesn't mean we want him dead. Should I check on him for you?" he asked.
"No, I can call later."
"I doubt he'd take it," he said coldly. "Considering no one else seems to be able to reach him. By the way, ask him to send me an autographed copy of his next book, would you? My wife would like one. She *adores* his writing." Giles nodded. "Tell him I'll even pay for the hardback copy." He looked over as Tara chuckled. "I take it you read them too?"
"I do. I got an advanced copy of his new one," she said quietly, smiling at him. "You like the Xander?"
"He vexes me greatly but that's because he upsetting the normal order of things. I must admit, without him bringing Miss Summers back to life that time, we wouldn't have known just how strong some of the girls can be." He glared at Rupert again. "I suggest you make amends before you end up haunting him as well." Joyce came out and Buffy was crying. "My dear Mrs. Summers," he offered with a gentle smile. "How is the gallery going?"
"Quite well and I was able to pick up most of the pieces I wanted." She smiled back. "What did you want, Travers? You know very well we hate each other."
"Good point, and right to the point. A nice change. Miss Summers is needed to go on a trip to handle a small problem. It shouldn't take more than a few days. Rupert and Willow can of course go with her."
"Fat chance," she noted. "Use the other one." He looked stunned. "I doubt my daughter is going to be in any shape to travel, even if she weren't grounded now. I'm sure it can be handled another way."
"Only if I impose on the boy."
She smirked at him. "What problem? By the way, he did want to know how he was able to close it on his own when it takes Willow and Rupert working together to close the one here."
"The one outside the city is a weaker hellmouth. Willow should be able to close it by herself. It sounds like he warped it to eat the person who was using it this generation and then the rest attacked him so he used it to close the thing." He smiled at her. "We would, of course, pay for them all to go to Barbados for the week it'll be. I'd even send someone like Wesley along," he ignored Giles' moan, "to monitor the situation and take over should something go horribly wrong. Unfortunately it's a rather large demon eating the population and it's hit the press. Otherwise I wouldn't ask."
"I'll allow it as long as you give Xander a Watcher's salary and have someone *decent* train him in magic without interrupting his writing."
"My wife would get very upset if I interrupted his output. I'd never get tea again," he said with a bright smile. "As for the other, that's easily done. Dimitri's turned so the boy would be the on-site Watcher to record if something was going on and to approach any of the girls found in the city. Can he handle that?"
"He won't remove them," she warned.
"I figured as much," he said dryly. "That would be a fight we'd have with him at that time."
"I'll approach him on that condition."
"I have a layover in New York anyway. Do you have his address?" She took a notepad and wrote it out, handing it to him. "Thank you, Mrs. Summers. Any idea where Mr. Rayne is?"
"Back in London. He stopped by before I came back to tell the boy he was leaving and he'd be alone, but to give him the name of a contact he could go to if he was still having outbursts of magic. Apparently the draining left him open to feeling the desires of others? He said something about knowing what soda people wanted and things about who the others liked. He really has made some nice friends with the officers and he had a charming young woman dating him earlier this week. He even put me up for the night in a hotel so he wouldn't appear to be making a move on her or have to make awkward conversation with me there."
Travers smiled at that. "That's good to know. She doesn't want to kill him?"
"She's part of the police department. So far she hasn't, as far as I know." He smirked a bit at that. "One never knows about later on however."
"He's dating someone who carries a gun?" Buffy asked. "Isn't that risking death for him?"
"Shut up, dear," her mother ordered. "Get in the car. You can patrol later tonight."
"Yes, mom." She trudged that way. "Sorry."
"You're going to be," she agreed. She looked at Giles. "As will you, Rupert. That was incredibly mean sending him a check cursed to grant him misfortune and misery if cashed. Thankfully Ethan uncursed it for you." He flinched back again. "Tara, dear, come over for lunch tomorrow. We'll have a long chat about the schools he showed me." She smiled at the girl. "When is she needed?"
"Within the week. I was going to arrange for later this week."
"She doesn't have a passport."
"I have one for her," Giles admitted quietly. "It's standard protocol."
"At least you followed *some* of the rules," Travers said coldly. He smiled at Joyce again. "I'll make arrangements and have them dropped off to you. Thank you for being so understanding."
"Oh, she'll be standing through the flight," she promised. "Thank you for helping Xander out as well."
"Of course." He nodded politely and left.
Joyce turned and glared at Giles. "I'd run as well." She stomped out.
He slumped and Tara glared at him. "She's not the only one I'd run from." She went back to the dorm too. She was incredibly angry at her adopted family at the moment.
Xander opened the door, looking at the man standing there. "Damn. What happened? Didn't Dimitri hand over the report I sent?"
"He did. May I come in?"
Xander got out of the way, letting Travers in. He closed the door but didn't lock it, leaning against it. "What? You know damn well I hate your ass."
"I do, Mr. Harris, but I had a long talk with Mrs. Summers and we came to an arrangement about your circumstances." He saw the boy looked confused so he smiled. "You know the Watchers Council has Watchers stashed in strategic areas in case something massive happens or in case a new girl appears?" Xander nodded, he had figured they did. "Seeing as Dimitri has been turned, he can no longer serve in the post. You're the next best option and she thought you wouldn't mind terribly doing the duty since it's not arduous. It's actually quite pleasant and would give you an extra paycheck, which would allow you to move to a more...fashionable neighborhood." He smirked a bit. "We can argue about any future girls you find when and if you find any. There's no girls projected in this area for at least the next decade, so unless we get a sudden birth we're not expecting, it should be fine. At that time, you could call for someone else to train the girl or you could take over her training but that would upgrade you to a field watcher if she was called."
Xander stepped further in. "Let me get this straight. You want me to be a field Watcher? You hate me because I jumped in and brought Willow with me."
"Well, yes, but you do have a good handle on the subject matter," he noted dryly. "Personally I don't want you as a field Watcher, I want you to be the one to send in reports on unusual activities and watch over both hellmouths near you. That would mean making contact with the other practitioner's in the area. What'd you'd be doing anyway. She did also mention that you might benefit from some tutoring in the ways of magic, which you know we can do as well."
"I'm fairly low level except for the hellmouth and now the openness I've got," he admitted, rubbing his forehead. "You want me to do this?"
"It is the best solution and Mrs. Summers did say you might not be quite so objectionable now. Especially since your only help is a few police officers and a very cranky former Watcher who wants to move to Texas with his master."
"Good point." Xander considered it, then looked around his apartment. "How much more are we talking?"
"Approximately seven hundred a month, American dollars. Should you become a field Watcher, it'd double due to hazard pay. We also offer decent group insurance and book borrowing privileges."
"Sure," Xander decided. "I can do that. I need to know what you need and how much time this is going to take away from my writing." He frowned and got something off the shelf, tossing it to him. "Joyce said you wanted one of those."
"Thank you. How much do I owe you?"
"The book's usually twenty-five." Travers opened his wallet and handed over a fifty. "Thanks." He tucked it into his pocket, it'd be dinner later since he didn't want to cook. "What sort of teaching?"
"Mostly books. We don't have anyone in the area but we can approach some of the people we have dealt with to see if they can find you an actual hands-on teacher. Rupert has said many times you're not the bookish sort."
"That'd be nice. I'd like to be able to block out this want and need thing I've got going."
"I'm sure you would. Do you have no shields?" Xander shook his head. "Not even after the possessions you've had?"
"I tried, they wouldn't form for me."
"Oh, dear Christ," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. He took out a pen and some paper, writing down a few titles. "Have the local library find these for you or order them. They're New Ageish but they do have the same feel that you need. Rupert should've gotten you them all and handed them to you after that first possession."
Xander looked at the titles. "I looked at the second and fifth one but they still didn't work."
"It's progressive. Start with the first and then move on. The second book is the hardest but it works well with the exercises in the first. You'll want to do the exercises before attempting to build it up by the end of the second. Each time you start, do all the exercises until book three."
"I can do that, thank you," Xander admitted, smiling a bit. "And for the extra job. The extra money is always welcome."
"You're very welcome. As I said, you're filling in a blank spot for us. None of the other Watchers wanted to move here. They don't much like New York, too many strange things. You're from the worst of the strange so you know how bad it can get but isn't." He smirked at the boy's nod. "I've got to go now. I'm heading back to the Council directly. I'll send you the official proclamation in the next day or so. Start on those tonight if possible, Mr. Harris." He nodded politely and left, heading back to the airport. He found Dimitri against his car and looked at him. "The Harris boy is taking your spot. Do help him before you disappear," he ordered.
"If I must," he agreed blandly. "I can't go near him, my shields ache for him."
"I gave him the book list."
"I've got the complete set. I'll hand them over tonight." He looked over as Xander came out. "I've got the books, boy. You can have them and my journals. That way you're not without resources. I'll even teach you what you need to report and what you shouldn't."
"Thank you," Xander said happily, beaming at him. "This is the first moment that I've been really happy that they tried to kill me." Travers smiled and ducked into his car, heading off. He looked at the vampire. "Have they been bugging you?"
"Not really. That one, Taylor, has now and then when something strange happens. I'll refer him to you from now on." Xander nodded, still looking happy enough. "Give me a day to gather everything together and I'll bring it over tomorrow night. We'll work on it then."
"Sure, whenever you've got time, Dimitri. I was heading to get some dinner." He grinned and bopped down the street to the music in his head.
"That's one way to punish the Council for hiring Rupert against your judgement," Dimitri noted, heading to call his Master and tell him his duties were almost done. He had to give it to Travers. The Council was going to be feeling his anger at that decision for decades to come, long after most of the present Council retired.
Aiden looked up as someone coughed, taking the small envelope from the receptionist's hand. "Thanks," she said cheerfully. She opened it and looked at the message. Then she chuckled and went to find Danny, handing it to him. "The officials wanted him to sub in for the vampire he took you to?"
"The Watchers, the guys over all that stuff," he told her. He looked at the note, then smiled. "That's a nice place to go and a dinner party would be a good thing." He looked at her. "You two still together?"
"Kinda but not. We decided to keep it casual, when one of us needed. He's too intense for an everyday thing. I think that's why the others wanted ta hurt 'im. He's much too intense all the time. It probably scared 'em." She shrugged and grinned. "He's still one of the best lays I've ever had," she noted dryly.
"I bet." He grinned at Mac and Stella as they came in. "Xander just moved," he said, handing Stella the note. "And he got a second job."
"Wonderful." She smiled and handed it back. "Remind me later so I can pencil it in. Will Joyce be there?"
"No, but he said that Tara was coming out to look at another school," Aiden offered. "She'll be out in about three weeks. So she might be here for the party." She grinned. "Whatcha got for us, Danny?"
"Oooh, many things," he teased, handing out the various reports. Mac nodded and walked out so he looked at Stella. "What crawled up him and died this time?"
"I'm not sure. There's no telling with him sometimes." She smiled and took her results off to compare to what she had.
Danny punched Aiden on the arm. "If this Tara girl is nice, maybe we can set up Flack's littlest sister."
"Maybe. They'd be about the same age," she agreed, heading out to get back to work. She ran into Flack, handing him the letter. "Stella, Danny, and I know. Now you."
"Sure." He looked at it, then grinned. "That's a nicer neighborhood."
"It is. I live about seven blocks away," she agreed happily. She took it back and went to her lab to get back to the serious work.
Flack leaned into the lab Danny was working in. "I just got a message to come meet his friend Tara soon."
"Tara's the pretty blonde in the pictures," Danny told him as he prepared a sample for testing. "She's a nice girl, shy, quiet, stutters some." He looked back at him. "Hot as hell too, but likes girls. We were thinking your youngest sister's about that age."
Flack smirked. "You're so bad. I'll see." He looked around. "Got anything for me yet?"
"Mac's got it."
"Decent. Thanks." He went to track down his information.
Tara looked around the nice loft area, smiling at Xander. "This is really nice. How did you find it?"
"It's just recently come up," he admitted happily. "Dimitri was leaving town so I took it over and I sublet from him. Come see," he said happily, leading her to the kitchen area. "See, all new appliances."
"I see." She hugged him. "Now if only you could cook." He grinned at her and hugged her. "I missed you too, Xander."
"I wish you'd move out here, Tara. You and Joyce. I want you safer."
"That's okay." She pulled back to look at him. "I'm fixing Willow so you have your Willow friend again." She squeaked when the buzzer went off.
"Door," he told her, calming her down. "Go change into something pretty. Some of the guys are coming over." He went to turn on the security system and let them in, leaving the door open slightly.
Danny walked in and whistled. "This is nice," he said. "How did you find this place?"
"Dimitri. I'm subletting," he said happily. "He owns the building." Tara peeked out and he walked over there, pulling her out. "This is Danny, Danny, this is Tara. Tara's a great friend who eats ice cream with me." Tara blushed and stammered a weak 'hi'.
He tipped her face up. "I'm not the scary one. That's Aiden, but she's cool." He grinned and she gave him a shy smile. "Be yourself, we will. We like Xander too. We appreciate the hell outta him since he saved Flack a few months back. Then we got to know him and liked him anyway." She grinned a bit more strongly at that. "Come on, show me around, Tara. Get used to the nice people in the city. Blush and stammer at Mac later." He looked at Xander. "He said he's coming." He walked her off, letting her show him around.
Aiden walked in a few minutes later after being buzzed in. "Man, I can make this room echo later," she teased, kissing Xander heartily. "So, where's your buddy Tara?"
"Danny's showing her around," he admitted, walking her back to find them. Tara was showing him the view and they were watching the sun set. He had to go answer the buzzer to let in the others, who were trying to crowd into the doorway. He smiled as they walked in. "They're watching the sunset from my bedroom window," he explained.
"Tara too?" Stella asked, heading for where she could hear other voices.
Flack looked around. "This is nice. I take it the second job pays well?"
"The former guy in the job owns the place and I'm subletting to give him some income while he hides in Texas."
"Interesting." He went to look around, smiling at the older furniture that had migrated. "You need a new recliner," he called.
"There's a sale coming next week," he called back, shutting the door. "Hi," he told Mac.
"Xander. I'm sorry I was so wrong about you."
"Not an issue. As long as you're seeing the truth now." He walked into the kitchen, pulling out the pans of stuff he had been heating up. He dished everything up and loaded up the cart he had found, rolling it out to the living room area. "Food!" He flipped on the big screen tv, an older model that Dimitri had said was too heavy to carry. Flack gave him an indulgent look. "Dimitri said it was either this or his bed and the bed had too many good memories." He shrugged and grinned. "I've even already got cable." That got a laugh and Danny hugged him from behind. "He left it for me."
"I can see that he left you that and books. Lots and lots of books," he said, looking at the wall of books. "Strange stuff?"
"Some and two of mine," he said proudly. He grinned up at him. "Food?"
"Food's good." He walked around and sat down in the good spot on the couch, making Tara sit between them. "What're you studying in college, Tara?"
"Social sciences," she said, taking the plate Xander nudged her with. She looked at him. "You have some very normal friends."
"I do," Xander agreed happily. "It's nice, it keeps me centered when the muses hit."
"Yeah, like in the middle of sex," Aiden teased.
"Hey, I only took down six words then got back to you," he teased back. Tara eeped and blushed bright red. "It's a nice thing, she hasn't wanted to kill me yet."
"I did that day," she assured him, patting him on the head. "You need a haircut."
"I need many things, and Flack said a new recliner was one of them."
"There's a good sale starting next week. We'll go then," she promised. She smiled at Stella, who was watching Tara. "She's sweet," she agreed quietly.
"She seems to be." She smiled and sat across from the main couch, grinning at the young woman. "So, are you thinking about transferring out, Tara? There's some great colleges in the city."
She nodded, not quite meeting her eyes. "Xander thinks it'd be safer, even with the crime rate and stuff out here."
"Ya know, there's a few smaller colleges just outside the city," Danny offered. "They're in suburbs so there's less people and less crimes, but you can still commute if you end up living on Xander's couch for a bit." She gave him a shy smile and he patted the back of her head since his arm was across the back of the couch. "You'll do okay and we can check on you now and then. By the way, how's your girl Willow? I met her while she was in both times."
"She's very sorry she acted that way."
"I'm sure she is. You seem like the sort who can make her regret doing stupid stuff if Joyce let her live."
"For many weeks once they got back from Barbados to kill something," she agreed, smiling at him. She could like this guy.
"They got sent to Barbados?" Aiden asked. "Damn! How can I get in on that?"
Xander looked at her and smirked evilly. "I can train you since I need to keep up with my training. That'd give me someone to spar with. Someone to get sweaty and overheated with too."
Tara pinched him. "No smut, Xander. This isn't one of your stories."
He grinned and winked at her. "But I've got to have someone to workout with."
"Later, dear. After the first one, we'll see." Aiden looked over at Tara. "You know, I've never met anyone as quiet as you. My family's all loud and yelling at each other."
"Mine too," Stella admitted.
"Mine wasn't so much loud but drunk," Danny told them.
"My dad was pretty cool," Don admitted with a smirk for them. "I couldn't do much since the whole damn city was watching me for him, but it was pretty quiet now and then. My sisters are the loudest creatures ever born, but they're good most of the time." He looked at Tara. "If you move this way, one of my sisters is about your age. I'll introduce you." She smiled sweetly at him. He grinned back. "What did Xander make special for you? He keep swearing he can't cook."
"He can't. He burned brownies," she assured him. She looked at her plate, then the stuff on the table, then at Xander. "Hot pockets, pizza bites, and chex mix?"
"It's a loftwarming, you're supposed to have finger food and then go for takeout. I'm told so by Dimitri, who handed out little pigs in blankets and things." He looked at Mac. "You can eat. Or did I forget plates?" He got up to get some, handing them to Mac. "Here, dig in." He sat down again between his ladies. The door buzzer went off so he got up and Don shifted over.
"It's got a loose spring," he told her, making her blush but give him another naughty grin. "So, he said you know about the wiccan stuff. What does he do to his car so he's always got a parking spot and can you do it on mine?"
She blushed and nodded. "It's not that hard," she promised.
Xander accepted the food from the delivery guy, winking at him as he handed over a nice tip. "Thanks, man." He kicked the door shut and added the stack to the table. "There, other food."
Danny laughed. "You take good care of us, Xander."
"Hey, I gotta have a hobby, right? Besides, Joyce said you're too thin and I should invite you over more often so I'm around nice people." He looked at Don, then sighed and sat down in his recliner.
Mac came over to sit next to Stella on the floor. "Where were you going for furniture? There's a few nice places downtown."
"Aiden said she's got an uncle who works in a warehouse place and they're having a sale next week so she'd take me there. I need to replace the bed too. I think I sprung a spring." Aiden blushed at that. "No, since then, Aiden. I was tossing and turning a few nights ago and got poked." The door buzzer went off and he got up. "I have no idea who that could be."
Stella got up and stole the recliner, grinning at Xander when he came back. "Not for you?"
"For Dimitri. He told everyone but some people don't listen." He settled in at Aiden's feet, leaning against her legs. "Eat, people. You've had a long, hard day at work." That's all it took and they were all eating, which helped Tara feel less self conscious because Flack snorted soda through his nose at one point, making her giggle loudly. It was good to have real friends.