Notes: Warping season of Glory. Anya somehow managed to trap Glory in another dimension with herself forever and ever. So no Anya. Small change later. Mentions of death of characters, non graphic, just a statement that it happened.
Girlfriends and Boyfriends.
Xander looked across the bar, sizing up the targets around him. It was a nice place and far from Sunnydale so no one there would be able to recognize him. Even if he hadn't been wearing a very unXander-like outfit. As a matter of fact, if his friends found out that he was sitting in a bar in a dress, he'd be in real trouble, but for right now, he was happy and content with himself. He smiled at the nice looking man who bought him a drink, blushing shyly. He was rather new to all this stuff, this had begun a few years back but this was only his third time in a bar. He desperately hoped this time wouldn't turn out like the others.
"Hey, beautiful," the guy said, smoothly sliding in next to her. He looked her over. "You cover very well."
"Thank you. I'm still kind of new to this," he offered quietly, intentionally making his voice quieter and trying for a bit higher. The man smiled at his attempt. "Not your first time here? I got a rec from my clothing store earlier." He sipped his drink.
"Erin's?" The faux woman nodded, giving him a bit of a smile. "Plenty of us shop there. Where you from, gorgeous?"
"Ah, then you'd be the new chick she's been gushing over with her buddies in the corner." He patted her on the hand. "Don't worry, I'm not scary." Xander nodded, still a bit uptight. "Have you ever tried it?"
"I didn't start this to pick up men. Not really," he admitted, looking down.
"You're one of the rare ones who can only let go and not be a total alpha in female form?" he asked. Xander nodded. "Hmm, high powered job?"
"Stressful rest of my life. I'm a construction worker."
"That explains the muscles."
"And the bulk. I'm trying so *hard* to slim back down," he offered with a small pout. He looked at him. "How long have you been coming here?"
"About six years." He smoothed some of the wig's hair off her cheek. "Come dance with me, pretty one?"
"Xander? Now I know your name," he teased. He took her out onto the floor, leading the dance, cradling her closely, which was what she wanted. "Does anyone have any idea about you at home, Xander?"
"No, not really. One of my friends' sisters walked in on me a few weeks back. She's sworn to secrecy and she's the one who found me Erin's shop. I blew my whole paycheck earlier." He chuckled at that. "She's also vowed to help me with my makeup."
"Having a girlfriend can help with those awkward things," he agreed gently. He felt her stiffen and looked around, noticing the large man that just walked in. "Ahhh, a coworker," he teased.
"My boss," Xander whimpered. "I'm so fucked if he sees me."
"No beautiful woman like you would normally swear," he chastised gently. He tipped her face up and kissed her. "Are you looking for a ride home for the night, Xander?" he asked gently.
"I don't know, I never tried it," she admitted sheepishly. "Usually the act of dressing up is enough."
"Then let me show you. That way he can't blackmail you." He walked her back to the bar to pick up her jacket, helping her into it as was only proper. Then he led her out to her car. "Motel?"
"Would be fine. I'm staying in one," she promised, smiling gently. He smiled back and let her into his car, then walked around to drive.
Xander nearly jumped when his bedroom door was flung open, panting in fear since it was Dawn standing there. "I know I locked that."
"You did. Willow undid the chain. I sent her for soda." Xander hurriedly put everything away, shoving the basket of dirty clothes back into the closet. She looked around, moving his makeup into his top dresser drawer for him. Then she walked him out, tugging on his arm. "So, how was it?"
"Interesting." He grinned at her. "Kinda creepy there for a bit. I almost ran into my boss."
She winced and hissed. "That could've been nasty."
"Yeah. He is the sort to blackmail me." Someone knocked and he flinched, grabbing the purse off the couch and the jacket to put away while he she let his other friends in. "Hey, guys, why the meeting at my place?" he asked as he came out of his bedroom, closing the door behind him. No one would need to go in there, the bathroom was off the kitchen. "Not that I'm complaining or anything, but aren't there any apocalypses coming?"
"We didn't get to see you all weekend so we're here to bug you now and steal your cable," Buffy assured him happily. "You get Showtime."
He chuckled. "Sure, watch away," he promised, tossing her the remote. He walked into the kitchen, Willow had left everything in the plastic bags yet again. So he put things away but he wasn't about to cook. If they wanted food they could come make some. He was not their chef. He headed back to the bathroom to tidy up in there as well. Not that he had left a mess, but his wig was sticking out from under the sink. He heard his cell ring and groaned, walking out to take it from Willow's hand. "Yeah?" He grimaced at her before walking off. "What's wrong, boss? Need me for some overtime or something?" He listened, nodding slowly, then he walked into the bathroom and shut the door. "No, I'm not talking to you about that stuff, boss. I thought I made that clear when I left." He hung up and walked out, looking at Dawn. Then he shook his head and walked off.
"Problems?" Buffy called.
"Minor ones. My boss caught me out at a club over the weekend and wanted to talk about it. I told him no."
"What were you doing?" Willow asked, looking amused. "It's not like you use drugs, hit on teenagers, or flirt with guys."
"I was in a pretty hardcore metal club dancing and I'm not sure what he wants. I doubt it's polite." He shrugged and went into the bedroom to get the paper, closing the bedroom door behind him. Both older women gave him an odd look. "That way I don't have to heat in there until I go to bed. I don't mind sleeping in a cool room but I've only got the one heater and it's chilly today. It'll raise the bill by at least thirty bucks if I have to heat everything."
"Oh, okay," Buffy said, frowning a bit. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Bills, Buffy," he sighed, sitting down to look through the classifieds. He liked working construction, he really did, but he was not going to allow his boss to blackmail him. He'd leave first. He circled a few, looking at his cell as it rang. "What?" he answered. He listened. "No, I'm not. Anything else?" He listened some more. "No, that wouldn't be me either, boss. Thanks anyway though for that astounding bit of confidence in me. Nope. Boss, not like I care," he admitted dryly. "Yeah, and I may love the job but not enough to have this discussion with three females sitting in my living room." He listened to the threat. "You know what, stick it." He hung up. "So I'm officially unemployed again."
"If he's forcing you to do something bad to keep your job, you can sue him," Willow reminded him.
He just looked at her, then snorted and shook his head, getting back to his paper.
Things had moved on relatively simply for the last six months. Xander had flirted with a few nice men at the clubs his clothier kept a list of, careful to keep away from his former boss. His new job didn't pay as well but it wasn't as physically strenuous either. Of course, just when you become content, bad things happen. Joyce died of a brain tumor. Buffy lost it after she was buried and followed. Xander and Willow started to fight over what was best for Dawn. Finally, Xander looked at the young girl. "Do you want to go with me?" he asked quietly. "Far away from here? It's still dangerous. I'm not hunting anymore."
Willow burst out crying and stomped off. Dawn looked at her, then at him. "Why?" she asked quietly.
"I can't. I just...can't, Dawn. I'm heading for somewhere I can get a good job in construction. I'm offering to bring you with me. Your sister left you in my custody since I have the job. Willow can follow if she wants, there's probably going to be a college nearby." He moved closer. "It's too dangerous to stay, Dawn," he offered quietly. "They've started to attack the house. We maybe have weeks before we're subjected to a full out assault."
She swallowed and nodded. "It makes more sense not to die here. What about the house?"
"You can sell it. It'll go into your college fund. After all, I've got some money saved." She smiled tentatively and nodded, giving him a gentle hug. "She'll want to go somewhere with Tara," he offered quietly. "I can't take the death."
"Agreed." She looked up at him. "Can we go somewhere I can make you look like a hottie?"
"Of course," he agreed, patting her on the cheek. "Willow, you're more than welcome to move with us," he called. He let Dawn go when Willow didn't reappear, heading for the kitchen. No Willow, no Tara. He sighed and called Tara's room phone. "Tara, I'm sorry. I can't hunt anymore. We're in danger here, and I don't want to bury anyone else. I'm going down to hurricane alley to get a good construction job and I'm bringing Dawn with me. She'll be safe with me. You know she will be. If you and Wills want to follow, come right on down. There's colleges all over the area. I'll miss you guys otherwise. I'll have Dawn save you a few of the pictures." He hung up and walked back to the living room.
"Okay. For now, pack. My apartment's safer than the house. We'll pack everything else and put it into storage so we can have it moved in a few months." She nodded, going to do that. Xander sat down to look through the real estate agent listings in the phone book, finding a few he knew were honest. Dawn came back down with three bags and her backpack for school. "Who do you want to use?" he asked quietly, tapping at the few he had marked. She considered and pointed at the one she had met with her mother, her mother had talked to her at the store when they ran into each other. "I'll start the arrangements tomorrow. For now, let's go have food and rest." He helped her get her bags to his car and got her into it, letting her stare. "If it was safe, I wouldn't care," he reminded her.
"I know." He walked around to get in and drive, so she looked at him. "I can come back for the rest of my stuff, right?"
"Of course. We'll put everything you don't think you'll want immediately into storage and bring it down or whatever you want."
Dawn looked at the house, then at him. "Just some of the smaller stuff. I don't want the couch she died on or the tv you and Buffy threw popcorn at."
"I leave that up to you, Dawnie." He patted her on the knee, starting the engine and taking her to his place for the next few days. When he got there, he pulled out a map and circled the area he was thinking about. "Anywhere in the circle has a desperate need for construction guys." She looked at him. He grinned. "I liked the job, just not my boss when he blackmailed me after seeing me in drag," he offered quietly. She shook her head. "He's a predator, I was warned by a few people to stay away from him. My instincts were crossbow perfect that time."
"Will they have to call him for the reference stuff?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I'll tell them the truth, I caught him hunting at a gay club and I quit rather than being blackmailed." He looked over the map. "Let's see, the last bad hurricanes were in this area," he offered.
"Not New Orleans. All Giles' books said they had vamps running out of the taps down there." He nodded, crossing that area off. She looked at the map, then at him, tapping southern Florida. "Miami, Tampa?" He shrugged. "You're going to let me decide?"
"Yeah, as long as I can get a job down there," he offered.
"Miami's hipper according to all the magazines."
He went to pull it up on his computer, letting her look at the area's statistics and their board of education's site. She smiled and nodded, tapping one school. "Okay, send them a letter of interest. I'll contact their employment board in the morning after I talk to the realtor. With any luck, I can find a job through them so I can start the day I get down there."
She hugged him. "Thank you, Xander. I know you're doing this for both of us."
"The ghosts are too thick, Dawn. Your sister was just the last straw," he admitted. She nodded, cuddling up to him. He patted her on the back, just comforting her. He'd never hit on her or anything like that. She was like his little sister.
Xander walked onto his site the first morning, shaking his new boss's hand. "Harris, reporting as ordered, ten minutes early?" he offered with a shy grin.
He looked him over. "Ready to work too. That six months dull your skills?"
"No, sir. I did plenty of fixing for the woman I was being a secretary for." That got a laugh. "What's the rule about cellphones on site? Like I said in my letter of interest, I'm the guardian of a young teenager and she's starting school today as well."
"On vibrate if you've got to have it on. I understand, you're not the only single father around here." He walked him into the office "We're rebuilding the lab, Harris, and it's the pride and joy of the city."
"Every building should be the pride and joy of someone." The boss smiled at him for that. "I'm more used to house construction but I'm good with commercial. Same things, different codes. I'll pick up a code manual tonight on my way home if I can to update myself."
"Good. I like diligence." He walked him into the office and closed the door. "I did contact your last construction employer to see what he'd say. Drag queen?"
Xander grimaced. "More like I can't let go, boss," he admitted honestly. Dawn had ordered him to be honest if asked directly. She said it'd cause less trouble and this site had other gay men on it. "That's the only way I can let go."
"Okay," he agreed, nodding. "So he caught you....."
"He's a predator. He tried to blackmail me. I quit."
"Understandable. You don't do it during work?"
"No," he said, shaking his head quickly. "I'm not a trannie. Nothing like that. I don't like being as bulky as I am, but I'm not like that. It's the only way I can let go and be the weaker one."
"Okay." He smiled and handed him the paperwork. "Here you go, fill it out and I'll walk you around." Xander smiled and sat down, pulling out a pen to fill it out. He went to find one of the crew leads, clapping the guy on the back. "I got you one with experience. Referenced two of his former coworkers but his last boss was blackmailing him." The crew lead looked interested at that. "He's got custody of a former friend's teenage sister. He's honest."
"How old is he?"
"College age. Twenty-two if I remember right. He's filling out paperwork. Said he'd update to local codes tonight if I'd let him borrow a book. He was crew lead on house construction out there in California."
"How did his work record look?"
"Like his boss was blackmailing him but his coworkers sent pictures and a lot of praise from his former crew. They miss him."
"That's all I need to know then," he agreed, heading that way. Xander looked up and smiled, then went back to the paperwork. "Yeah, it's a chore."
"Done it many times in the past," Xander said dryly. "My first year after high school I worked about eighty jobs." That got a laugh. "Mostly fast food and stuff." He shuddered. Then he signed the last one and handed it over with a grin for his boss. "There you go."
"Thank you, Harris. This is your crew lead, Thomas. Thomas, this is Xander."
"Hi, nice to meet you," he said, standing up to shake his hand. "I've got my tools, helmet, and safety gear in the car if you'll let me know what I need."
"Let's look over the job first. I want your opinion on something."
"Sure." Xander followed him out, looking around. "Are we putting in glass?" He nodded. "Bulletproof?"
"Some. In certain areas." He watched as the kid headed for one sheet that had been installed. "What's wrong?"
"That's too thin, it'll crack when you put the upper pane on." He motioned him closer. "It's already starting to grind."
"It is." He frowned and looked around at the guys who were putting in the windows, motioning one over.
"Not my choice, boss, they wanted the pretty glass. If it cracks, it's their fault."
"I'll have the main boss call someone about that to make sure we got the right stuff," he promised, patting Xander on the back. "This is Xander, he just moved from near LA with his little sister." Xander grinned at that and shook the guy's hand. "This is Felipe. He's a good guy, been with the company now for a few years."
"Nice to meet you," Xander said happily.
"Nice to meet you too. Doing commercial or housing out there?"
"Houses mostly. Sunnydale's a quiet, small, quaint town."
Felipe looked at him, then crossed himself. "You come from Sunnydale?"
"My whole life." He grinned a bit. "Let me reintroduce myself. Xander Harris."
"Ah!" He nodded and hugged him. "It's calm down here but I understand why you left. My wife's psychic."
"Cool. I may be sending Dawnie nearer to her then." That got a nod and Felipe walked off. Xander looked at him. "My high school graduation got attacked and I ended up running the defense movement," he explained quietly. "Some people know me from that."
"A small gang attack and they blew up the school. It was cleverly covered up as a gas main blowing." That got an eye roll from his boss. "It was just another reason to leave, boss. The town was only getting more dangerous and Dawn deserved a chance for a happy life."
"Good man," he said, then led him off. He gave him the tour then let him get his gear so he could start work. He watched him all morning, he was good and he worked hard. He was a good hire. The boss came over at lunch and they talked about him. "Harris!" he called. Xander came trotting back. "Federal files?"
"Um...." He scratched the back of his neck and sighed. "There was a few military personnel in town who had alternate opinions on our right to exist without self defense. My friends and I rather had it out with them when they tried to take over the town. Didn't I pass the background?"
"You didn't, but that's because it was blocked," the boss offered. "Which means you can't work on this site, but I'm moving you to the less sensitive one."
"Sure, I fully understand. I'd like to kick those guy's asses again for doing that to me." That got dual smiles. "Really. It was a matter of living or not."
"I get that. I did some checking on your town. It's really dangerous."
Xander nodded. "And then some, bosses. Why do you think I moved?" That got a smile from Thomas. "So, where am I headed and how long do I have to get there?"
"You'll need to introduce yourself today, then start work tomorrow," the boss offered.
Thomas cleared his throat. "Ignore the crew lead Justin. He's an asshole to be perfectly honest. Bible belt wearing and thumping redeneck. He'll make crude innuendos about your little sister. Don't hit him."
"Sure. As long as he doesn't say it to her face or try to hit on her." That got a snicker. "Her sister was one scary woman. I'm going to live up to her expectations."
"I understand, kid." They looked over as something shattered. "Hell!"
Xander ran over, moving two of the guys out of the way and grabbing a third to move him. He had a large glass shard in his neck. "Fuck. Someone get someone! And someone get me something to hold against this!" A towel was handed over. "Thanks." He shook it out, then carefully pushed it around the glass. The glass pressed in deeper. He counted to ten, thinking while he held it down. "Boss, tell them this glass is cutting deeper. I need to remove it!" he called.
"Don't you dare!" another voice yelled.
"If I don't, he'll die sooner." He looked at the older lady. She was elegant, dark skinned, and dressed fairly nicely. "Putting pressure on it means it causes more damage."
"Pulling it out fully exposes it."
Xander took her bag and opened two syringes, then stuck some tubing between it, moving around the injured area in the main vein it had hit. Then he carefully shifted the glass out, making her gasp. "There!" He handed it over, then got back to direct pressure. She just stared at him. "Field medicine, I'm from near LA. I lived in a very rough town." He looked down at the groaning man. "You'll be okay," he said more gently, continuing to press on the wound. "Go get the others." She swatted him. "OW!"
"Don't tell me what to do, I'm the actual doctor."
"Sorry." He looked around, seeing the paramedics. "Guys, I put in a makeshift shunt?" They came rushing over. "It's all right, you'll be okay," he promised, letting them have it. He got helped up and back by someone, giving them a gentle smile. "Sorry to take charge," he told his very stunned boss. "Not the first one." He dusted himself off. "Can I have the address so I can head home and change before I go to the other site, boss?"
"Um, sure." He walked him back to the office. "That was the ME for the crime lab, Xander."
"Oops. Sorry. I've always been a jump in kinda guy though." He took the address and looked at himself, then at him. "Was I dressed decently enough for a first day?" That got a nod. "Cool. I'll head over after I shower."
"That's fine, I'll tell him you're bathing off glass dust before then. Thank you for saving him."
"It's what I do." He headed out to gather his stuff and then nodded at Thomas.
"Oh, no, he stays!" Felipe ordered loudly. "He saved my guy, he stays!"
"Felipe, man, Initiative blocked my file," Xander said quietly in his ear. "They can't do a background on me, it's blocked." Felipe stomped off. Xander shrugged and headed out to his car. He found the ambulances moving off and nodded politely at the older woman. "I'm sorry I took control from you."
"It may have been the right thing to do," she admitted. "That was unorthodox in the extreme however."
He gave her a sheepish grin. "We had a lot of really bad things that happened in town, ma'am. It's not the first time I had to do one of those." He got into his car and headed off to shower and report to the other site.
The boss looked at Felipe, who was still scowling. "If you can find a way around that block, I'll have him sent back," he offered quietly.
He nodded. "There was a special ops group that went there to do some experiments. Xander and his friends are nearly legendary for driving them off." He looked around then back at his boss. "Doesn't surprise me they're that petty."
"If I can find a way around it, I'll bring him back." Felipe nodded. "You know about his town?"
"Bad things happen there. Many, many bad things." He walked off to check his crew. "Get the windows people here, boss. This wasn't right."
"I know. He pointed that out earlier." He went to call them then call someone at the agency that did their background checks to see if they could find a way around it. The head of the lab walked into the office so he hung up. "Lieutenant. It looks like it was a weak piece of glass. I've already informed them and they're coming down to make sure the glass that they delivered is what was in the plans."
"Good. Who was that young man?"
"Harris, sir." He handed over his forms. "New hire, just moved here from outside LA. Apparently his town was dangerous and he had to help defend sometimes. He told Thomas that Felipe knew him because he had led a defense when his high school graduation was attacked and the school blown up."
"I see." He closed the folder. "Why isn't he staying?"
"His background is blocked. Felipe!" He came jogging in. "Tell him what you know."
Felipe swallowed, then closed the door. "The boy comes from a town so dangerous it's got a fifty percent mortality rate for getting out of your twenties, Lieutenant. He handled things there so they started to calm down. He defended a great many people." That got a single nod. "He's a good guy. I want him back, but I understand how the military can get petty when you help shut down a torturing program of sick people."
"Let me look into it. I may be able to get his background cleared," the Lieutenant said quietly. "I definitely want to know more about his background at the moment since he took over from Alexx and seemed to know what to do."
Felipe looked at him, then suddenly smiled, writing down an address. "He used to handle things like what happen there, Lieutenant Caine."
He crumpled up the address. He knew that place very well. "I see. Thank you, boys. I'll do what I can to get him back here by the end of the week." He walked off with the file.
Felipe looked at his boss, shrugging a bit. "I figure he's had a case that touched on it." He headed back to help with the clean up.
The boss frowned a bit. He opened his laptop and googled the kid's name, coming up with some very interesting mentions on some very odd sites. Though most of them did mention he left the old life behind to take care of his friend's sister, which was what he had told him. Interesting. Very interesting.
Xander flopped down from his first night, looking at his little sister. "Hey." She grimaced. "Bad first day?"
"Not the suckiest, I had pecking order problems and pointed out I could care less. You either liked me or you didn't. I'm good at making friends." She shrugged. "You?"
"First site was okay but the background wouldn't clear thanks to the Initiative. So I got told to move to the second site when one huge ass sheet of glass came down and hurt some people." She hissed. "And I ended up showing off in front of the ME when I shunted around an injury and removed the glass since it was causing more damage. The second site is one you're not allowed on because the boss is a bigot and I'll be damned if I'm going to make you kick his ass for an off-color joke. I did glare at him earlier for some of his, along with a few others. He threatened to fire me. I shrugged it off and said 'yay' and pointed out he had no problem with lesbians by his jokes, maybe he was hiding something. He stomped off. I'm hoping they can clear my background up so I can go back to the better site. Not that I mind the other one. It's a nice brick job, which I like doing anyway." He shrugged. "Did you cook or am I cooking?"
"I say we order pizza."
"Dawn, I don't get paid for three weeks," he reminded her patiently. "We can order pizza then."
She glared at him. "The house money is my money and I'm buying a pizza with it."
"You've only got sixty bucks a month allowance from that fund," he said firmly. "Plus I'm paying you back for the grand I had to borrow to pay the deposit. I seriously had no idea the cost of living was so high down here."
"That's okay, Xander." She got up to hug him, making him pat her on the arm. Someone tapped on the door so she went to look, then cautiously open it, leaving the chain on. "Yes?" He pulled out his badge to show it. "Are we being too noisy? I haven't even squealed recently."
Xander looked, then waved a hand. "He runs the lab that the first site is building. Let him in." She closed the door to release the chain then let him inside without inviting him in. "Lieutenant," he said, standing up to shake his hand. "My boss said you're doing the background on me. Is there a problem?"
"Not yet." He sat down and Xander sat, giving him an interested look. "You're aware your last construction boss had a bit of a problem with you?"
"Yeah, he saw me at a gay club and tried to blackmail me. I used two of my coworkers as references instead of him."
"I saw that." He put the folder down, then looked at him. "What was the Initiative?"
"Freako torturing bastards who came after my sister with their commandos," Dawn said, sliding down next to Xander, who gave her a look. "Yay. I'm not going to the kitchen or the bedroom, Xander."
"Fine." They looked at him again. "Before you ask, I sleep on the couch. That's her bedroom. I only get closet and dresser space."
"I wasn't going to comment. I know how bad housing can be down here," he pointed out. She smiled at that. "Why did you really leave?"
"The town got to be too dangerous after her sister died. We were constantly being tried and pushed at. So I took everything I could and got her to safety, like her sister would've wanted."
"Mom would've loved the idea too," she admitted, sniffling a bit. Xander pulled her against his chest, letting her cry on him.
"She lost her mother and then her sister within two weeks," he offered quietly. "We moved about a month after that, Lieutenant."
"I understand." He looked at the file. "How did you know what to do today?"
"Not the first time," Xander offered. "I had to do it around a big piece of metal in someone's leg in the past. Any pressure would cause more damage from the sharp and pointy edges. Our friend Willow used to study medical texts when she was younger, she told me what to do since she wasn't present."
"All right," he said quietly. "Big piece of metal?"
"Technically, yeah," Xander sighed. "The front third of a sword if you want to get technical about it." He raised an eyebrow. "You wanted the truth."
"I do," he agreed, looking at her. "Go ahead and help her calm down. I can wait." Xander nodded, heaving them both up and taking her to the bedroom to get her laid down and comfortable, then he came back after closing the door. "I know this is a hard time."
"It wouldn't have been much better there to be honest," Xander pointed out as he sat back down. "What did you need to know to get around the federal block?"
"Technically they're trying to erase you from the system."
"Are you sure it's them and not our hacker buddy?" he asked dryly, finding his cellphone. "Tara, me. No, small issue. Is she trying to erase me from all the systems? If not, the idiots in camo are. She's fine. The person doing my background check is here and her mom came up so she's in bed. She's fine. First day snarking. Thanks." He handed the phone over. "She can get you around that."
"Hello," he said, listening to the young woman on the other side. "And your name?" He made note of that. "Thank you. Do I want to know...." He smirked at Xander. "I thought you were kidding."
"Nope. Willow, just remove the block," he called. "No getting fancy or anything." A few minutes later the phone was hung up and handed back. "They tried it on me once before. They think I'm the easier target for some reason."
"I have no idea why." He looked at him. "The man you saved today is going to be fine." Xander smiled and nodded at that. "About that glass....."
"Too thin. Remember, you're going to be putting another layer on top of it. It won't hold that weight. I expected cracking and things, but that shattering was odd. Too much weight at the wrong point. Maybe a bubble in the glass. They'll be able to tell, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, Mr. Harris. Let me get this background run tonight for you so you can get back to my lab." He stood up and shook his hand. "I won't tell anyone."
"Thank you. I'm retired unless I have to be," he offered quietly. He got a nod. "You look like you knew who I was before you stepped in."
"It was pointed out that you did things like certain areas of the city, which I have had to deal with in the past. Retired?"
"I'm not letting Dawn be an orphan again," he said quietly.
"That's a good sentiment. Thank you, Mr. Harris." He walked out, leaving them alone for now. Not that he wouldn't be watching, because he would be. Very closely in fact.
Xander flopped back down, then looked toward the kitchen. He stamped down on his mind when a soda started to float out, getting up to get the fallen can and relock the door. He hated it when he did that.
Xander looked up as his temporary boss shouted his name, waving a hand and finishing what he was doing before walking over there. "Yeah?" he asked, hammer loose in his hand. "Six more rows hopefully before I break for lunch."
His boss blinked at him. "During lunch, you're traveling back to the other site. They finally got you cleared, Harris." He stared him over. "Why couldn't they clear you immediately?"
"I don't know. Maybe a hold up since my high school was destroyed?" He shrugged. "That's fine. I'll leave on time and eat on the way over. Thank you for letting me know. Anything else?" He got a glare. "Then I'm going back to my bricks." He went back to them, starting a new row. "Hey, Kyle," he called. "Can I get a bit more mud?" he called. "I'm leaving at lunch to head to another site." That got a nod. "Maybe five, six more rows?" That got another nod and the guy on the mixer started to work on that while he got back to work on his pattern. He put another brick in place and dotted the drawing beside him. It was odd and tedious work but he could do this. The boss came over. "It's coming along, boss. I'll be cracking one for that triangular spacer in a few," he said quietly.
The map got looked at. "Are you sure you're doing this correctly, Harris?"
Xander stood up to look at the pattern, then pointed at the word 'top' on it. "Yeah, boss. That's why I'm marking each one off as I go." He took it back and accepted the new pan of mud. "Thanks, Kyle." He grinned and got back to work, it was the repeating part of the pattern so he got to work faster.
"I still say that's upside down."
Xander looked back at him. "The word 'top' came from the original design. You can check if you want. I copied it off there, boss." He got back to work. He hated this guy.
"Think you're so hot," he sneered.
Xander looked at him. "No I don't. I have fairly low self esteem in most things, but thank you for asking, boss."
"Bet you're one of those pussy boys," he sneered.
"Not that I'm going to share my personal life, but no. I lost my last girlfriend about six months ago if you want to be technical about it." He glared at him. "I also lost my mother figure and a woman who was like my sister since then, anything else you want to know about my private life or that of my little sister?" He stomped off. "Check the drawing, boss. I'm pretty sure I photocopied it correctly." He got back to work, losing himself in the pattern, dotting the drawing as he went. A new shadow fell over him. "Thank you, I needed the shade." He looked up to see Thomas. "Look at this, tell me I'm doing it right?"
He took the drawing, then nodded. "Looks right to me." He handed it back. "I came to get you, he said you're an asshole."
"Feeling's mutual and I know guys who bend over and take it whose holes aren't as big as his is." Xander finished off his current spot then nodded at Kyle, handing it to him. "Here, dot each one as you go," he said, handing over the marker. "That is a triangular spacer," he said, handing over the rest of that brick. "Have fun."
"Not an issue." He clapped him on the back and gathered up his water bottle and sweat towel, then followed him back. "I've got my car."
"That's fine. Stop on the way over for lunch and change your shirt."
"I've got another t-shirt in the car," he promised with a slight grin. "Thank you!"
"Welcome." He waved it off. "Go eat and head over. Early is fine. I'll show you where we're having you do wiring later." Xander nodded, sliding into his car and turning on the AC by the way he sighed in pleasure. Thomas laughed and watched him go, then went to have a talk with Justin. "You know, none of my guys disliked him. Only you and your little gang of hate did. He even made Caine smirk in pleasure. I don't know what your problem was. By the way, I checked that pattern, very interesting design. Kyle's got it now and Xander showed him where he was. I suggest you keep him on that, he could use the experience."
"It's not something we need," he sneered.
"Well, the owners wanted that pattern. We're here to make their dreams come true."
"There's still something off about that boy," he sneered. "Doesn't hang out for beers. Doesn't talk about his past. Not dating. That tells me there's something wrong with him."
"He lost his fiance six months ago. He's taking care of a friend's little sister since she died, and who'd tell you about their past? You'd try to turn it around on him. I wouldn't tell you anything and I've known you for ten years, Justin. You're an asshole." That got a sneer. "Fortunately we like the boy on our site. He's a good worker." He walked off, leaving him to his misery. He'd talk to the boss about his son-in-law again but he doubted it'd do any more good this time.
Xander saluted the boss, finishing his soda. "Reporting as ordered, boss. Where do you ya want me?"
"That's a loaded question to some of us," one of the guys called.
Xander smirked at him. "Sorry, I'm picky, you'd have to do a lot of drooling before I ask you that for real." Then he blew a kiss, earning a laugh. He grinned at the boss again. "Thank you for getting me away from him and his homophobic ways."
"Not a problem, Harris. I want you on structural wiring." He walked him over. "It's a bit more complicated than house wiring."
"I can work second if you've got someone over me," he promised. "I know I'm not a supe."
"Good, I like that." He patted one guy on the back. "Harris here is under you for wiring duties. He's done houses."
"Okay, I can show him what to do and hand-hold for a bit." He nodded at Xander. "Welcome back. Nice tan."
"Thanks, I was doing the brick walls." That got a hiss. "Not too bad. I marked off each brick as I got to it. I left it with Kyle since he was doing mud." He shrugged. "Can I refill my water for later?" That got a nod so he went to do that and came back, leather gloves back on. "Okay, show me where," he offered. That got a smile and the guy over him showed him where they were. Xander switched out for some thinner leather gloves and got to work looking over the connectors and wires. "Do we twist them together?"
"No. That way they can fix a problem easier. It creates a mess but it works better in case something happens."
"Okay." Xander found the blueprint taped to the stud next to him and followed it, looking up and getting a ladder to connect another section of ground wire and carry it through the holes and down. "Do we have a problem with the holes being rough?"
"It shouldn't be. I've had one so far," he admitted. Xander nodded, gathering the wires together and feeding them through another hole. "Good. I'll be back in a half-hour to look over your shoulder."
"Yes, sir." He got back to work, going from the ladder to kneeling then back. This was a main wire branching junction and it was harder work than he had been doing all morning. He didn't know why people went to the gym when they could do this all day. His legs were certainly burning. His boss came over and looked while he got a drink and put his bottle back out of the way, earning a smile. "That's harder than bricking."
"It can be. Later on, it'll be walking and inserting mostly." He pointed at one. "That connector's on backwards."
"I couldn't get it to fit the other way," he offered, turning it around and trying it. The boss looked it over, then groaned. "Wrong wire?"
"Yup." He got the box of wrong stuff and replaced it with the right stuff, helping him take that out since it was partially his fault. He looked at the blueprint, moving one wire in the opposite direction and tapping it into the frame. He looked at him, getting a sheepish look. "Need glasses?"
"Quite possibly." He looked again. It was a really faint line. "Probably." He gave him a wry look. "Sorry."
"That's okay. One was yours, one was mine." He worked with the kid on the next branching point, making sure he knew what he was still doing. Xander checked to see if he hitched the grounding wire in, getting a nod of 'yes' so he did that, earning a smile. "I've been doing it each juncture even though it says every two, just to be safe," he offered quietly. Xander nodded, going on that theory. The boss came over, giving the plans a look before he looked them over. "I've been doing the ground every juncture, just because this'll have a lot of power whipping through it, boss."
"That's probably safer," he agreed. "If not, the way you two are doing it, we can pry up the excess taps and just cap the wires together." He clapped Xander on the back. "Good job."
"Thank you, boss." He got out of the way, pointing at a connector. "I've got another that won't fit either way." They looked at it and a pocket knife was dug out so they could fix that, making him smile. "Okay, I can do that."
"Just remove some of the plastic, don't hit the metal pieces," his supervisor of the moment ordered.
"Sure." Xander nodded and looked, then connected it, watching it fall off. They both groaned and took that bit off, letting him put on a new piece. They got back to work and Xander looked at his coworker. "How long have you been working here?"
"About six years now. The boss is really fair and we're a union shop." Xander nodded. "Was your last one?"
"No. Not even a local chapter where I was. We had some guys who complained about that and some guys who said it was a good thing but I have no idea either way what that means." The guy smirked at him. "Really. Before that, I did fast food."
"I'll have our union fairy show up to talk to you, kid." He patted him on the back. "That way you understand about dues and meetings, and regs."
"Give me ten." He got up and headed over to another guy, who nodded and made a call.
"Is that important?" Thomas called.
"Harris has no idea what a union is," his supervisor noted. "This way he knows to bring paperwork with him." Thomas nodded at that and Xander put his water bottle aside again. "There, he should be here about finishing time. Who's watching the kid for you?"
"She's fourteen. She can come home and do homework for two hours. I've got nosy neighbors."
"Good. Is she thinking about taking up band or anything?"
"I haven't asked. Right now she's just looking things over, finding some new friends, being bothered by the supposedly cool kids for being an orphan. Little things like that."
"Interesting. She okay?"
"Getting there. She only lost her mom a month and a half ago, then her sister a month ago. Her father's a shitbag who never called or wrote back when she tried to contact him. He's somewhere in Spain."
"You sure he's alive?"
"Yeah, we've had sightings of him and the letters weren't sent back. He simply doesn't care." He shrugged. "His loss. Dawn's a great young woman. She'll be a fantastic woman when she's finally grown up. She's a crap cook, but she'll get better. She shows real promise with cookies and pasta." His coworker laughed and he grinned. "Neither of us cook a lot. Dawn brought one of those disgusting puberty sandwiches with her to school today. The sort that only a kid in puberty could like."
"My son's done that a few times. He's sixteen."
Xander grinned. "I remember that age. It was not long ago. I think I lived on ho-hos that year."
"So, is she dating?"
"I don't think she's ready yet. She's fourteen so I don't mind if she goes somewhere to hang out but *dating* dates? Not yet. Probably not for another year and not until she's healed a bit more from the grief."
"Yeah, that's gotta come first."
"I'm hoping she doesn't have her sister's taste in men. It was rotten. Too old and dangerous." He shrugged and got back to work. "When she's ready, she'll come talk to me. That's why her sister gave me custody of her, because she does talk to me."
"How are you guys doing housing?"
"I sleep on the couch, she gets the bedroom, and I have closet rights." His coworker laughed at that. "The cost of housing out here is twice what I'm used to."
"I'm not really surprised. Small towns are always cheaper."
"Yeah, I guess. I've only ever really lived in Sunnydale and here. Fortunately we're somewhere pretty safe." He heard an alarm go off and leaned backward to look. "Crap, tell me it's a drill?"
"That's not the fire alarm. That's the 'someone escaped' alarm. Don't do anything stupid, okay?"
"Not an issue." He got back to work. A few people went running past and he glanced at them but they had it well in hand apparently. He got an odd look from Thomas. "Did you expect me to pounce?" he asked with a teasing smile. "They didn't look like pizzas."
Thomas patted him on the head. "It's okay. Be yourself, kid."
"I am, I only pounce things that go 'grr' or go 'here Xander Xander Xander'." That got a lot more laughs. "Dawn quickly learned to hand me coffee instead of waking me that way. She makes a very good teddy bear."
The boss walked past snickering. "When do we get to meet your little sister?"
"She'll probably show up the first day she skips," he said wisely. "Looking for lunch money." All the parents around him nodded wisely at that one. "Every now and then you've got to have a free day but she only gets two a semester. We agreed."
"You're better about that than I was," his coworker noted. "I screamed at my kids when they took off."
Xander smirked. "I graduated with the record for skip days. I understand needing a day off but she'll be better than I was about it. The same as she will not live in detention like I did." That got some smiles and they got back to work once officers quit running past them. Xander pointed at the wires. "Is all this really necessary?"
"Oh, it is," Thomas agreed. "This is the main juncture and then it spreads out to the rest of the lab."
"Cool. I guess the machines are different than we had in lab class." He shrugged and took another drink then got back to work. He watched one last guy go walking past, smirking at the cool, confident, collected walk of someone who knew they were in the wrong spot. Security wasn't his problem however. All he had to do today is finish laying wire. Which wasn't that hard. As long as he didn't have to climb and then kneel for a while.
Dawn looked up as Xander came in after payday, giving his frown a long look. "Union dues that high?"
"No, taxes that high."
"Not your fault." He kissed her on the forehead. "I'll pay your college fund back half this week and half next."
"Xander, let it go for a few months," she offered. "It was only a grand. The house sold for nearly eighty. I got seventy of that. I'm okay on college at the moment. Mom wouldn't have cared as long as it gets paid back before I graduate. You still owed her twenty bucks when she died." He blushed at that. "So start an account and start saving for now. Pay me back this summer." He nodded, flopping down on the couch. "So, what else was wrong?"
"Just a long day. Laying sheetrock." He looked back at her. "I'm tired."
"I'll take the couch tonight, go sleep on the bed."
"No, that's your room."
"Dawn," he growled.
"Fine. Be that way. Take a nap." She scowled and pull the pan off the heat, dishing herself up some and the rest went into the fridge. "I'm going to work on chemistry while you nap. When you get up, food's in the fridge." She kissed him on the top of the head. "You're all sweaty."
"AC went at work," he said dryly. "Which makes laying sheetrock very hard to do when you're that sweaty and can't get any sweat on it." She shuddered at the nastiness of that thought, heading into her room. He sighed as he bent to undo his boots, spraying the inside with the anti-stink spray, then he laid down, only undoing the button of his jeans. He'd change into pajama pants later, after he took a shower. He crashed right there, more than happy to sleep until someone knocked on the door. Well, until Dawn ran past him to answer the door, but he only mumbled and flipped onto his side, curling around a pillow.
Dawn checked, then opened the door to look at the handsome guy standing there. "Problems?" He held up a badge. "Did the twat not tell me something that happened at work?" she demanded, frowning at him.
"I'm not here about anything at work, ma'am. Is Mr. Harris here?"
"My guardian's asleep," she said, nodding behind her. "Can I help? I'm Dawn."
"Well, I'm supposed to talk to him." He checked the papers in his hand, then her. "I really am supposed to talk to him. Sorry."
"Xander!" she called. "Police!" He sat up, panting, blinking at her. "Cutie here is PD and has to talk you and only you?"
He waved him inside, doing back up the button on his jeans. "What's up? Did something happen at the site?"
"I'm one of the construction crew on the lab."
"Oh." He smiled and shook his head. "Thank you for helping us with that, but no. No, I got asked to bring you notification," he said quietly, handing over the papers.
Xander looked then sighed and crumpled them up, looking at Dawn, who was frozen. "Willow. Tara's in the hospital with Giles," he said quietly.
Xander shrugged. "I don't know. We can call. Find me my phone, I've got the hospital's number." She nodded, going to do that. He looked at the officer. "Anything else that came?"
"No, sir. I'm sorry."
"So am I, that's why we left." He nodded and left. Xander got up and went to find Dawn, hugging her. "We'll go back for the funeral," he said quietly. She looked at him. "If at all possible, I will." She nodded, sniffling a bit more. He sat her on the bed and found the phone she had borrowed earlier, his old one, and found the number in it. They had all visited way too many times over the years not to have it in their phones. He dialed and listened. "Can you please connect me to Rupert Giles' room?" he asked quietly. "Tara Maclay then?" He listened as the phone was switched to that room. "Riley, why are you in town?" He listened to the explanation, his eyes narrowing. "What happened? Yeah, and I've got Dawnie with me. What happened? No, we left for her safety and because I couldn't stand it anymore. What happened!" he demanded. He listened, hugging her tighter. "Okay, what can we do to help? There's no distance in some forms of magic. She might not be able to heal them but I'm not sure." Dawn shook her head. "I'll see what we can do. Thank you." He hung up. "Riley's team was tracking a major bad back to Sunnydale and called Willow for help on her end," he said quietly. "She stopped the demon but it got Tara and Giles then landed on her. She died instantly. Tara and Giles were trapped by the slime."
She looked at him. "I went looking for the magic stuff here in town," she admitted. "I know who I can call to help me." He handed her the phone. "Are you sure?"
"I'm leaving that in your hands, Dawn. You're nearly as grown up as we were when we started to patrol. If you do decide to go on with it, you're getting trained by someone reasonable. Not Ethan and not Giles, but Tara reasonable." She nodded, dialing a number she had memorized earlier in the week. She got up and went into the bathroom, leaving Xander to grieve alone. He picked up his new phone. "Boss, Xander. No, my remaining friends," he said softly, holding his forehead. "One's dead, one's in a coma, one's babbling at the stars." He nodded. "I know. Can I take some unpaid time for the funerals and to check on them? This weekend would be fine. I doubt they're going to do the funeral until Friday anyway. Thank you. I hate to do this but this isn't something I expected, ya know?" He hung up on the quiet words of sympathy, just holding his head. He looked up as Dawn came out of the bathroom. "We can head back for the weekend. I'm taking Friday off." She nodded, swallowing hard. "Yes, no?"
"Yeah, we've got to meet her on a beach."
"I'll drive." He got up and found his sneakers, then his keys, following her out the door. The beach wasn't far from where they lived so it was relatively fast to get there. Dawn was silent the whole way, just thinking. He reached over, taking her hand to hold. "We'll get through this like we did your sister's. You've still got me."
"What happens if something comes for you?"
"Who'd know to look for me here, Dawn?" he lied. He parked and looked at her. "Yes, someone does know that I saved the graduating class. Nothing else. We're safe here and if we aren't, I have nothing here that would make me stay if you're in danger." She nodded, tearing up. He held her, letting her cry for now. A few minutes later she pulled back. "We'll do what we can, princess. You know that. Okay?" She nodded and got out. He followed, heading after her down the beach to where someone was waiting. He looked her over, appraising how she was standing. Non-combative. Non-aggressive. Not totally hippie and totally loose though. He coughed and she turned, smiling at them. "Hi. Xander and this is Dawn."
"I met Dawn," she offered, hugging her. "I'm sorry, Dawn."
"So am I." She pulled back. "Can we help Tara and Giles?"
"I'll lead you on a guided exercise out of your body to look at them. He can guard us." Xander nodded, plopping his butt down right there. "Ah, you've seen the works in the past?"
"I've watched Willow and Tara work many times," he agreed quietly. She patted him on the head and walked Dawn a few feet away, sitting down in front of her, taking her hands and speaking quietly while she worked her into the right mental state. "Just like meditation, Dawn," he called when she was having problems. She nodded and let herself drop that way. He looked around, assessing threats in the few midnight walkers. He saw a familiar face and nodded politely when the man stopped beside him. "They're doing a guided exercise to check on someone," he said quietly.
The lieutenant sat beside him, looking at the two women, then at him. "I wouldn't have taken you for someone who believed that way, Mr. Harris."
"After watching Willow do stuff, kinda hard not to," he sighed, looking at him. "She died earlier."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"We're going back for the checking and funeral stuff this weekend." He stood up, frowning when he felt the danger coming in. "Oh, crap." He moved closer, touching the teacher on the shoulder, getting a look. "Chaos."
"I feel. Who?"
"Not a clue," he admitted, looking around, on edge now. He saw who appeared and his face and body tensed. "Ethan," he hissed, pointing him to come closer. Ethan shook his head so he walked that way. "Why are you here?"
"I was checking on Ripper and she glows brighter than the sun," he said quietly.
"She's checking on Tara and she'll be taught."
"I wish no harm, Xander," he said patiently. Xander quirked an eyebrow. "I don't. Ripper was mine."
"Was?" he asked quietly.
"He was on life support. His mind trapped by the slime. Tara was in better shape. He's been released." He stroked his cheek. "When are you returning?"
"This weekend. We'll leave after I get home Thursday."
"I'll arrange both funerals for Saturday then," he agreed. "Take good care of her." He walked off and disappeared.
Xander turned and kicked his car's tire, grunting something uncomplimentary in demon. He stomped back there and sat down, nodding at the teacher. "It's safe. He was checking on one of them and felt her." She nodded and guided Dawn farther. He looked at Horatio. "It's been one of those days that started out okay and then turned sucky."
"I know that feeling." He gave him a gentle shoulder squeeze. "Don't stay out too late. We've had some muggings on this beach recently."
"I doubt they'd take me," Xander said honestly.
"Still, better to be safe than shot."
"True. Thank you." Horatio nodded and got up, walking off. Xander watched them, thinking over everything. He pulled out his phone, getting a dirty look. "I've got to tell her other ex." He shifted further away, finding the number he had for an Oz message, hitting the overseas number. "Hi, I need to get a message to Oz, Daniel Osbourne," he said quietly. "No, a simple one. Tell him we two are the last ones. Funeral's Saturday. Thank you." He hung up and put his chin on his knees, watching how Dawn glowed in light dark. His phone rang so he got up and walked off a few steps. "Xander." He listened. "Oz. No, demon. Riley, yeah him, called her and Tara in to help. The demon landed on her, got Tara pretty badly, and Giles just died," he said quietly. "Oz, we called about Buffy almost two months ago. Didn't you get that one?" He moaned. "No, she couldn't take it after Joyce died and followed. Yeah, man, you, me, and Dawn. Miami. We're going back for the funerals. Because I couldn't take Sunnydale anymore, Oz. It got to be too much and too dangerous. That's why I brought Dawn with me. Sure, if possible. Thank you." He hung up and sat down to think. Dawn took a deep breath and sat up, then burst out crying, letting him know he could walk over there to hold her. "Shh, you've got me," he reminded her, rocking her gently.
"They'll save Tara, maybe," she offered weakly, clinging to him. "Why?"
"I don't have that answer. I wish I did," he soothed, stroking her back. "We'll leave late Thursday, stay overnight with Angel and them. Then head up." She nodded, wiping her cheeks off. "I'd expect you to cry," he promised, helping her wipe the tear tracks off. "Please, cry away. It's good for you." She looked at him. "I'll let go later." She nodded, taking his hand to hold. He looked at the older witch, just blinking and watching her.
"She needs trained."
"I know. I want a Wiccan with a very non-combative viewpoint to do that. Defensive spells are fine, but not offensive if possible."
She nodded. "I know of some. When she returns, I'll talk with them on her behalf."
"Thank you," Dawn said, touching her hand. "I needed that." That got a faint, sad smile. "Peace be with your night, sister." She stood up and Xander followed, trying hard not to kick sand on her helper. "We're heading home."
"Be careful, I got told there had been some muggings here, sister," Xander offered, walking her back to the car. "I'll make the reservations once we get home and I find the phonebook. Then I'll call Angel." She nodded, getting in to close her eyes and try to find her mental center. He slid into the driver's side and took them home. He could cry later.
Dawn opened the door later that night, frowning at the man standing there. "Lieutenant, is there a problem?" she asked quietly. "Xander, visitors!" He groaned but came out in his normal male clothes.
"What's up?" he asked, letting him inside.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. It's not like this is the first death around us," he said gently. "But thank you for checking on us, Lieutenant."
"It's not a problem." He looked them over. "Maybe you should call off tomorrow as well."
"I can't," Xander sighed. "Unfortunately I've got to work." She nodded at that. "I'm letting her stay home from school if she wants, but I've got to go be the responsible one."
"I understand." He moved slightly closer. "Xander, we ran into a problem."
"Please don't make him hunt," Dawn begged. "Please?"
"I have no intention of it," he assured her. "I need to pick his brain about something." Xander nodded, heading into the bedroom and coming out more appropriately dressed. "I'll have him back within an hour, Miss Summers."
"You'd better. I'm still the scary bitch of the family." He smiled at that and nodded, taking Xander off with him. "Damn it, why won't it leave us alone?" she complained, sitting down to sulk.
Horatio led Xander up into the framework of the lab. "We had someone look them over for us and it was noticed that we had a few extra hiding spaces."
"Let me guess, they have an external exit but they're roughly just big enough for a body?" He nodded. "Any internal access?"
"One has one from the morgue. I'm not sure why." Xander gave him a 'get real' look. "All right, I am sure why. I wanted your ideas on how to plug them."
Xander nodded, looking over the first one. "Can you get sunlight or lights in here?"
"It's too far back from the grate."
Xander examined things, then nodded and jogged out to his car, coming back with a bag that had been in the trunk and his tools. He crawled into the hole and installed something, running a wire out. He hooked the wire into the main alarm system, then showed it to him. "That'll tell you if someone's in there. That way you can find them. They'll have to code the open spots."
"That's fine, I can have someone do that."
"If anyone asks, it's because it's a security hazard, which it is. I'd also seal that grate on the other end. They're stronger but not horribly so." The Lieutenant nodded and let him install the others, then Xander got to work on the pathway up to the holes. It was sealed with a simple steel panel that got screwed in place, which was more than enough to be heard and probably stop a new fledgling. Xander backed out and looked at him, then at his boss, who was giving him a curious look. "He found hidey-holes. I wired the sensors I installed into the main systems and sealed this crawl tunnel."
"Okay. I had no idea we had those," he admitted, coming over to look at that one to check his work, then moving to look at the ones outside. "These'll need sealed."
"I can have that done tomorrow," Horatio assured him. "They were put in as wind breakers to help save the building during a hurricane."
"Probably won't," Xander offered. "A simple grate wouldn't affect that purpose though."
"That was my thought. Thank you, Xander."
"Not an issue," Xander agreed. "Just remember, I'm retired. Dawn can't lose anyone else." His boss looked at him. "My might-as-well-be sister Willow and our mentor, Giles, both died," he told him. "Tara's still listed in critical condition."
"I'm sorry to hear that, kid. I can give you unpaid leave sooner."
"It's Saturday. We're leaving after work on Thursday. I'll be back Monday morning. We're a bit used to death out there. Another really good reason to leave." That got a nod and his boss clapped him on the back. "Anything else you noticed, Horatio?"
"Not yet, but if I do, are those motion sensors?" Xander nodded. "Okay, I'll have non- infrared motion sensors wired into them." Xander handed him a spare one. "Thank you."
"Welcome. I'm headed home. Have a better night, guys." He walked off, going out to his car. He went home and got back into his girls' clothes, then let himself slip back into the weaker mindset so he could have a good cry while Dawn held him. It was the only way he could let go emotionally.
Xander walked in the next working morning, meeting his boss at the elevator. "What's wrong?"
"We have a problem."
"The boss saw me put in those sensors for the lieutenant," he said, looking confused.
"The building has some fairly big holes for wind breaks, and they weren't very secure so I put motion sensors in and wired them into the alarm system's wires."
"Nothing like that. The other site's brick wall was mislaid. The pattern got messed up after you left."
"Because Justin changed it or because Kyle miscounted?"
"Personally, I think Justin but he's trying to blame it on Kyle."
"Everyone over there is sticking up for him. Point is, we need you over there for the rest of the week."
"I'm not going to be here Friday, boss."
"Why?" he asked patiently.
"Two of my friends died last night. I'm going home for their funerals. I called the boss, I thought he would've told you or I'd have called you personally."
"No, I haven't been briefed yet, he's running late," he admitted. "I'm sorry, kid."
"Not your fault."
"Not so much the car, but definitely a crash. Something big and heavy fell on them."
"I'm sorry. Do they know why?"
"Yup, and if he's still there when we get in, he's going to be limping home at the very least."
"Remember your sister," he cautioned. Xander sighed and nodded. "When are you leaving?"
"After work on Thursday. The plane leaves at six so I need to leave at four. I made the reservations this morning." He handed over the information he had copied down. "For the boss. Like I said, if I had known, I'd have called you as well."
"No, don't worry about it, he'll tell me when he comes in. Okay, we'll go over to Justin's site with you and another guy since he's had three quit recently. We're waiting on him. I hope you've got a thermos with you."
"Two bottles of water should do me until morning break and I can get some at the store across the street." That got a nod. "I've got the cooler in my car."
"Good man." The other guy came off the elevator. "Sean. We're going to Justin's site. He's had three quit."
"I thought this one had priority."
"It does, but he's had three guys quit and Xander's got to fix the bricks."
"Which means I'll need something to cut the mud," Xander pointed out. "Doing it by hammer could crack some and make it take longer."
"We've got a keyhole saw you can use," he promised, leading them back down to the parking lot and to the other site. He walked in and looked at the bricks, moaning. Not only were they wrong but sloppy. He took pictures and handed Xander the keyhole saw, watching as he got down to work. He led Sean to the other foreman, handing him over. "Be gentle with my guys. Xander's working on the bricks."
"I've got the diagram," he offered, going to hand it over. He sighed at how far back he had to cut. "Sorry, kid."
"Not an issue, Bob." He looked up. "I have to leave by four on Thursday. I'm flying home for a few funerals."
"I'm sorry to hear that but I'll make sure of it, Xander." He walked back to Thomas. "Funerals?"
"Two of his buddies had something heavy fall on them and kill them," he offered quietly. "He's flying out Thursday night." That got a nod and the note was put onto the clipboard. "Thanks. Harris has some water in his cooler. I gave him the keyhole saw. Where is Justin?"
"No clue. He's not here yet."
"Wonderful. I'm telling the boss. I've had enough." Bob nodded and they shook hands then he went back.
Xander looked over. "Kyle, come help!" He came jogging over. "Start scraping the old mud off with a chisel, man. I'll cut 'em free then get to work on the pattern again." He put a brick on top of the pattern sheet, getting back to work.
"I'm sorry, Xander."
"I'm pretty sure this wasn't your idea," he noted dryly, looking at him. "Or at least I heard it wasn't. I used to crew lead," he offered quietly. That got a knowing nod. Xander freed another brick and handed it over, going to free the next one.
Xander limped into the apartment and flopped down face first onto the couch. "I hate bricks."
Dawn lifted his head. "You what?"
"Hate bricks. Someone mislaid half a wall." She made an 'eww' noise. "Exactly. I spent all day on my knees in the open sun. Do we have any aloe gel for my neck?" She let him go so she could get it, settling in next to him so she could rub it in for him. "You're a saint."
"That's because I got detention. I snapped at a teacher."
"Grief or reasonable reasons?"
"Grief. I just snapped and went off. The teacher said she understood when I quit crying so she gave me detention tomorrow and Thursday. I told her I had to pick you up by four. She said she'd let me go in enough time for that and if I had to I could make it up on Tuesday." She added more gel to his arms and then stretched to reach his lower back. "Did you go shirtless?"
"Only for an hour when I was so soaked I was starting to chafe. I figured I could dry out during that hour. Sun's way too bright."
"I noticed it seems to hover around downtown." She peeked under his collar. "You're burned all over. Off with it." He sat up with a moan and took off his t-shirt, dropping the damp, nasty thing onto the floor. "Eww." He shrugged and laid down again, letting her get back to work on his back. "We need to find the laundromat."
"I know. I'm too tired to. I'll find it Sunday. Or don't you have clothes for tomorrow?"
"No, I do. You don't. You're out of t-shirts." Xander moaned. "Wal-mart?"
"Wal-mart," he agreed, sitting up again. He went to find a button-up shirt, pulling it on very gently but following her out to the car.
"When can I get my license?"
"Sixteen. That is the law, Dawn." He slid in to drive, letting her get in, then he headed off. They needed some minor groceries as well.
Xander looked at his watch Thursday and started to clean up, heading over to where Bob and Justin were. "Guys, time."
"We leave at five, Harris," Justin sneered.
"I've got an excuse to go at four since I'm flying out for two funerals this weekend. The boss and Bob already know." He looked at Bob, who nodded. "Thanks. I'm done with my section and I left Kyle in charge of it again. It's nearly done. Just another full row and that one section once they put in the ironwork." That got a nod from Bob. "Thanks, man." He walked out, finding Dawn pulling into the parking lot in a cab. She paid and got out, slinging her backpack into the back seat. "Bad day?"
"Long week." She slid in and he got in, wincing and hissing. "Again?"
"Just my neck. I can't protect it no matter what I do and how much sunscreen I put on." He started the car and backed out. "Call Thomas, just to make sure he remembers I had to leave early today."
"Sure." She dialed. "Hi, Thomas, this is Dawn. Yeah, that Dawn. No, we're leaving from the other site right now. No, Xander's got a bad sunburn on his neck. Yeah, well, on his knees doing brickwork can be like that I guess. No, Xander?"
"Kyle's in charge," he called loudly as he drove off. "Turn on the AC?" She did that. "Thanks. We're nearly done with the brickwork, all but a row he should be able to do tonight and the area around the iron section. We've got that ready, all he's got to do is have someone help him slide it into place once he's slapped mud in the right spots. The end bricks were already applied for that and the plastic spacer can easily come out once the other mud dries. So probably first thing in the morning. Kyle should be able to finish it."
Dawn listened. "He wanted to know if you had any problems getting free?"
"Justin sneered, but Bob agreed with what I told him."
"Heard that?" she asked. She beamed and nodded. "I will. Thank you, Thomas." She hung up. "We're all set. I made sure the bags were in the trunk when we left, including an extra outfit for you so you could change and toss that extra nasty t-shirt out since it only cost three bucks"
"Thank you. I love you, little sister."
She giggled and patted him on the thigh. "Remember that when I start dating."
"Sure will." He pulled onto the highway, heading for the interstate, watching the cop cars go past. "Please don't let them shut down the airport," he sighed.
She turned on the radio, listening for an update. "Nope, car chase headed this way."
"Wonderful." As soon as he heard the sirens coming back he got out of the way and off the shoulder, just in case. A car whizzed past them, then six patrol cars, then two more a second later, then a hummer. "Huh. I heard about those." He checked, then carefully got back onto the highway. Another patrol car whizzed past. "If we get hit, I'm going to be really pissed."
She smiled. "Me too. I don't want to die yet." He nodded at that sentiment, getting them to the airport. Once there, he let her out and popped the trunk, taking the spare t-shirt to change into once he had locked everything down and off. He pocketed the keys and tossed the old t-shirt into the trunk, then closed it, taking her arm to walk her inside. Their tickets were waiting on them and it was all good. He checked his carry-on, seeing the girls' clothes. "Dawn?"
She looked then changed bags with him, giving him a classic eye roll and head shake. "That was mine, duffus."
"Sorry." He looked and nodded. "Good. Let's hope the plane has AC."
"They usually do," she promised. "Plus I've already called Cordy and had her buy you a tube of aloe gel for your back and neck." She made him turn to look at it, hissing a bit. "Ow. That's blistering, Xander."
"I put a damp towel over it earlier and it didn't help." He gave her a miserable look. "Let's hope I don't have to go back there Monday." She nodded. "Wanna bet he'll try to fire me?"
"Nope, I figure he's already tried." The security guard came toward them. "Huh. Xander?" He looked up. "Problems, officer?"
"Someone mentioned he was ill, ma'am?"
"I work construction and I've been laying bricks," he offered, turning to let him see the back of his neck. "No matter what I did, I kept getting burned." The officer hissed. "That's what she was talking about."
"All right, sir, thank you for clearing that up. There's a small tube of lidocaine available at the newstands." Xander checked the timetable, then handed Dawn his wallet. "You be safe, sir, and have that checked. That's dangerous. You could get sun poisoning."
"Thank you." The guard smiled and walked off. Xander slumped down and thought about touching his neck but even the thought hurt. She came back and slimed his neck good with the stuff that made sure he wouldn't feel it making him sigh in relief.
"It's got aloe in it too," she teased, handing him back his wallet. He smiled at her, a goofy, fun guy smile. "I realized when I was looking at the labels that I was turning into my mother."
"Tara said all women have that moment. Hers horrified her." Dawn giggled. "You could do worse than to turn into your mother, princess. She was a good woman, even though she did have cocoa way too many times with Spike." She hugged him and he patted her on the back. "It gets easier," he promised quietly. "With some time the pain eases and we move on." She nodded, letting him go when their flight was called. "You want aisle or window?"
"Aisle. I don't want to be cooped up today. Plus you can nap on me," she teased.
"You're much softer than any airline pillow," he agreed, handing over their tickets. The stewardess smiled and handed them back the stubs, letting them onto the gangway.
Xander looked up as they walked out of the baggage claim, finding Cordy waiting on them. "Hey," he said, giving her a gentle hug. "Not around the neck," he ordered when her arms moved. She pulled back and made him turn around, hissing at the sight of his neck. "Laying bricks outside all day." He shrugged and winced, then looked around. "Dawn?" She waved from where she was reading. "There we are. Are you picking us up in our rental or are e taking your car up?"
"We're taking my car up," she promised, going to steal Dawn. "I've got that one at home, Dawn." She gave her a sad smile and a hug. "It's all right. Tara's shown some promise toward waking up." She took their arms and walked outside, making them wince at the heat. "Last bellow of the day from the sun." She led them to her car and got them inside, then got in to drive. "Angel's being grumpy, just ignore him tonight, Xander."
"Sure, I can do that again. I did around her funeral too," he said quietly, getting comfortable. Cordy started the car and pulled out of the parking area, letting him get the parking fee since it was only two bucks. She smiled and took off onto the interstate, heading downtown. "Anything *good* going on?"
"Fred and Gunn are dating."
"That's always promising. Dating makes the bad things look less bad," Dawn agreed. "How's Wes?"
"He's got the translation crankies." She looked at Dawn in the mirror. "I'm sure Giles had that a few times." Xander sighed and nodded. "Good. We're hoping it's for next weekend."
"If it's not, I'm not going out with you," Xander said firmly. Cordy gave him a shocked look. "Dawn needs me to still be living and whole, Cordy. I can't do that if I get killed."
"Point," she agreed after a moment's thought. "If that's your decision, we'll stick by it. I realize why you left Sunnydale, Xander."
"It got too dangerous and there were too many ghosts," he told her. She frowned at him and he nodded. "Eyes on the road, Cordy." She looked back and pulled off the road, facing him. "Seriously. It was getting too dangerous. There were always issues and attacks at the house. Dawn wasn't safe. Plus there were too many ghosts for both of us. Staying in the house just made it worse for her."
"See, we thought you got depressed and left," she told him. He shook his head. "No?"
"No, I took Dawn away for her own safety after another assault on the house. The same as I told Willow I couldn't take it anymore and that I was taking her somewhere safer. She wasn't safe there and I know her mother and sister don't want her back with them already. This way she's got the chance of a very good, long life that has nothing to do with vampires and demons."
"I can get that," she decided, smiling back at Dawn. "Are you keeping him out of trouble?"
"I try but he's usually too tired to do anything naughty. They've been doing two sites in his company and he got fill-in this last week with bricks." Xander shuddered, then yelped. She handed over the tube. "Get his neck again?"
"Sure." She made Xander turn around, hissing at the sight of the burns. "Xander, that's bad."
"I know." He took off his shirt, letting her see the full burn. "The sun's right over the city down there. I've been doing a brick wall and even with a t-shirt I've been getting burned once it gets too wet."
"You're cooking," she told him, spreading on the cool gel. "This feels nice." She looked at the ingredients. "I've got some more of this at home." She finished up on his neck, making him sigh in relief. "Tonight I'm having Wes's doctor friend come look at you." He nodded. "You're not going to argue?"
"Too tired to fight." He looked back at her. Then at Cordy. "She's becoming a really good cook."
"That's always a good thing. Better than I am probably. Fred's a good cook so maybe they can talk food tonight." She smiled at Dawn. "Fred's a bit...odd, but it's all good."
"So you wrote me." She smiled. "Let's head back so he can rest. He needs to rest in a bed since we've only got a one-bedroom." Cordelia nodded and took off again, taking them to the hotel. "It's amazing, the cost of housing down there. I thought LA was bad when I looked online but it's got nothing on Miami."
"New York is worse," Cordy admitted. "My mother's family used to have a condo out there. Really crappy little place with a rat problem in the building. Basically a big studio. It went for nearly three mil when the IRS sold it." Xander moaned. "Yeah, exactly. Not even in the fashionable part of town." He moaned again. She knew that sound so she pulled over and let him out so he could get sick. "No lunch?" she asked Dawn.
"His current sub-boss is a dick. Didn't want to let him leave an hour early so we could fly out," she offered, leaning forward. "Xander, did you eat lunch?" He shook his head and spit a few times. Dawn handed over her bottle of water so he could rinse his mouth. "That's just bad, Cordy. He did that last night when he came in. I thought for sure it was the sun."
"It can be." She called the hotel. "Wes, Cordy. I know you've got a doctor friend. Can she come look at Xander's back? No, he's been laying bricks outside for the last week and he's got such a bad sunburn plus he's puking up his toenails. Thanks. No, about halfway there. We're letting him get it all out now." She smiled. " Thank you." She hung up. "When you're done, he'll have her waiting on us." He nodded, coming back drinking the rest. "Is it the sun?" He nodded again, closing his eyes as he slunk down in the seat. "Buckle up." He did that and she locked the doors, getting back onto the road. She sped up, going normal Cordelia driving speed. He moaned. "Do not get sick."
"I'm not. Just feeling the breeze in my ears."
She snorted. "I'm sure, Xander." She took the right exit and headed for the Hyperion. By the time they got there, the sun was starting to come down a little bit and the heat was easing off into the humidity of the evening. She pulled into her usual parking spot and got out, letting Dawn out. Dawn got their bags while Cordy got Xander inside.
"Dear Lord," Wesley said, looking at him. "What on earth?"
"Bricks, all day, for the last four days," Dawn said bitterly. She dropped their bags and hugged Angel. "Hey, broody."
"Hi, Dawn." He patted her on the back and sniffed Xander. "He smells like he was cooking."
"I think he was. He was using sunscreen and wearing a shirt but he got really sweaty and burned through it."
"It's not unheard of," Wesley admitted. "How often was he changing clothes?"
"During lunch," Xander said weakly. "Can I sit?" Everyone nodded, letting him sit. "Thanks. I'll be fine. It's exhaustion."
"Yeah," Cordy snorted. "Fred! Xander's got the *worst* sunburn ever seen! Angel thinks he's cooking!" She came out with cool compresses. "Thanks, dear. You remember hearing about Dawnie?" She pointed at her. Fred squealed and hugged her.
"Wow, it's like family," she teased, hugging her back. "I wish it had been under better circumstances."
"Me too, Dawn. It sucks to meet new friends over a funeral." The younger woman nodded and let herself be walked around to the couches. She sat beside Xander, letting him curl up against her side. "Awww."
"Someone's got to watch out for him," Cordy noted dryly. Xander gave her a one-eyed glare, the other being closed. "Don't you even." She looked back as Gunn walked in with a pretty young woman. "Oh, good. He's been laying bricks all week. He got burned through his shirt and he changed it once a day."
She looked at the back in question and hissed. "Where are you working? The sun?"
"Yeah, that is close," she agreed. She took the tube of stuff from Cordelia's hand, looking it over. "This isn't bad for being over the counter. I've got some better stuff and he might need an antibiotic if those bust wrong." She looked at the clearly protective one. "Sister?"
"Adopted, he's my guardian."
"Good." She wrote down some information and handed it over. "That's some of the best stuff. Let's work on getting him into a cool shower for now, then let him have simple, cooling foods tonight. I doubt he'll want anything heavy or hot."
"We've got soup," Fred offered.
"Soup's good," Xander assured her with a weak grin. "Sorry to be such a bother, guys."
"No, it's nice not to have to decide if stitching something will make it worse," the doctor assured him. "Young lady, take him up to a shower."
"I can do that," Cordy promised, helping him up there. "We can get the prescriptions filled in a few, Dawnie."
"Thank you." She smiled at the doctor. "He was using sunscreen and a shirt. How does he prevent that?"
"He can't work outside for the next month. He's got to have time to heal." Dawn dug out her phone and handed it over, letting her have the number. "His boss?" That got a nod. "Then I'll call and see why they weren't allowing him any shady rest breaks." She patted her on the cheek. "Are you all right?"
"The last few of my original family died," she said quietly.
"I heard about Willow and Giles, child. I'm sorry. You have my condolences." Dawn nodded and she went into the office to use the phone.
Dawn looked at the gathered people. "He's sorry he brought an issue with us."
"No, it's better to have some normal problems instead of an attack," Angel assured her, patting her on the head. "Really bad sunburns are better than demons any day, Dawn."
She nodded at that. "They are. By the way, he's not hunting ever again unless he's got to protect us."
He nodded. "I understand his reasoning. You need a stable influence." He gave her a grim smile. "Come on, we can show you to your rooms."
"It'll be nice for him to have a real bed instead of a couch. Housing prices down there are atrocious." She grabbed their bags and followed Fred up the stairs.
Wesley went into the office. "Were they breaking labor laws?" he asked quietly.
"Even if he was using his fifteen each four for sunscreen application it was still too long in the sun down there," she admitted. She looked up at him. "I talked to the boss at that number, who said Xander's going back to his job as soon as he gets back. He should start peeling by Sunday. So watch for scratching. He shouldn't have anything else that damages his skin." He nodded at that. "Are they okay down there?"
"Xander is an admirable quandary. Almost an enigma. He's very gentle with those who need it, victims and the like, but during a fight he will take out whatever is necessary, even if it is three times his size and he's already hurt." She nodded at that. "This won't lay him down for long. Would a healing spell help?"
"Probably not much. All you could do is the same thing the shower and the gels are doing. I do want him on that antibiotic." He nodded at that, giving her a gentle smile. "Less time in the sun is the best thing I can recommend. His boss agreed that would be all right so I'm
sure it will be." She stood up, handing him back her phone. "Thank you for bringing me a normal case, Wes."
He smiled. "I'd bring you sniffles but we never get any."
"Pity." She winked and gathered everything, heading out to her car and home.
Down in Miami, Thomas hung up and looked at his boss. "Harris is so badly burned they called in a favor to get him seen as soon as he stumbled off the plane. His little sister was furious."
"How bad is it?"
"The doctor said he's got severe sun poisoning. We're talking full out burns with blisters in some spots. Said someone there thought he smelled like he was cooking. She said he was using sunscreen and a t-shirt, he told her he changed it on lunch when he got too wet."
"Hell. He was probably using his break to apply more sunscreen in the shade too. He be able to come back Monday?"
"She said he's not to have any sun exposure on his back or neck for the next month. At all. She also said we're to investigate why they don't get shade breaks."
"I give my guys ten minutes an hour," he assured him.
"Well, I'm guessing Justin wasn't or it wasn't enough for the kid. She said he told her he burned through his shirt when it got wet."
"Bricking...." Thomas gave him a look. "He was facing the street?"
"Justin had all them doing that. We need to do a wellness check, I doubt he's the only one. He said that metal work can be put in once the other bricks settle and cure."
"We can go help with that tomorrow," he agreed. "He have a problem leaving?"
"Bob said he could go when Justin sneered. Bob called to tell me."
"What is wrong with my son-in-law?"
"He's an asshole," Thomas said plainly. "A bigoted, slime sucking, asshole licking asshole."
"Gee, just be gentle," he snorted, walking off to call a few of the guys on that shift. He came back. "Is he going to file for comp?"
"Nope. She said he shouldn't have to."
"Good," he sighed, smiling at that as he went back to his errand. "Document it Monday, Thomas."
"Yes, boss." He made a note to do that then shook his head sadly. He liked Harris. He hoped this wouldn't bench him.
Xander came back to work that Monday, looking at his boss, then at the other guys. "Am I late?"
"Just about ten minutes, but I heard about the wreck on your route in," Thomas offered. "Let's see the back." Xander grimaced but turned and took off his shirt, earning a whistle. "Fuck, kid."
Xander looked back at him. "Yeah, my feelings when I started to puke Thursday night. Sorry about the calls."
"No, this I wanted to know. Let me take pictures." He got the pictures the boss wanted. "Hey, boss?" He came out of the office. "Traffic finally broke behind that wreck. I saw the other two pulling in."
"Good to know." He looked at Xander's back and neck, then shook his head. "Sunbreaks?"
He sighed and nodded. "You were supposed to get one every hour."
"No, I took one every hour to put on more sunscreen and rewet the towel I had over my neck. I didn't get offered one."
"He wrote you took unauthorized breaks, Harris," Thomas assured him dryly. "Okay, we need you out of the sun, right?"
"As long as I'm not in direct and I don't have to reach *too* much, I'm fine to work."
"Good. Let's put you on the flooring crew then. Got kneepads?" Xander slowly shook his head. "We've got extra. C'mon." Xander nodded, following him. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. The doc out there gave me some antibiotics and some cream stuff. I'll be fine as long as I don't split the skin on my back too badly."
"Sure. I can appreciate that. It's gotta itch."
"Oh, it so does," he moaned, "but I'm under orders not to scratch and Dawnie will be checking when I get home. By the way, if we can prevent her finding Justin, it's a good idea."
"We can," Thomas assured him, patting him on the back of the head at the last second, remembering not to touch his back. "What color shirt were you wearing?"
"I started out with dark grey and it didn't seem to matter. I wore a white one Thursday. It was the last one I had clean and I admit it was thinner. But it was the only one left."
"I understand, kid. Been there, done that. Just never to that extent." He whistled, getting a lot of looks. "Perry?" He grinned at him. "You get Xander today. He's not to split the skin on his back."
"Kyle said he got burned really badly all last week."
"Yeah, the doctor said I've got sun poisoning. I've got blisters."
"Ow," Perry hissed, giving him a sympathetic look. "You're not taking today off too?"
"I was out of town for funerals, not to heal. Just a side effect," Xander assured him. "Knee pads?" Some were tossed over. "Any pattern?"
"Every fourth one every other row is green," Perry told him.
"Simpler than that wall then."
"I saw that wall when we put the metal insert in. Nice work, kid." Xander grinned at that and knelt on his knee pads, taking the first tile. "Sticky - peel, stick, roll from the center out, then heat seal. We'll do that later." Xander nodded, laying the first one. Then he checked the rows around him and counted. "Yup, you get a green one next."
"Why is the green row wobbly?"
"Because they wanted us to start with a full tile and let the pattern lay itself," he admitted with a grin. "Good question, the rest of the guys thought it was mislaid." He winked. "How was traffic?"
"I was four back from the wreck," he sighed, shaking his head. "But the very nice crime scene guys did get the traffic slightly moving. They had one lane open after the body was drug off. Then they cleared that row and let the rest of the rows shift over so we could go too."
"Nice of them," he agreed, watching Xander work. "More pressure, kid." Xander added more pressure, getting a nod. "Good. The better contact now the easier it'll heat seal later."
"Are we going over it with a full floor roller?" he asked quietly, adding as much pressure as he could.
"We are, it's not here yet." He got back to work on his own section.
Xander counted then shook his head at the green one. "Not that one." Perry gave him an odd look so Xander laid down the next three tiles, making him moan and sigh. "It happens. That the only spot?"
"No. One other row I went ahead and did. Okay, I'm going to come back and work with you instead of working ahead, just in case." That got a smile and a nod. "You're good."
"I've done this before," he admitted. "My old boss blackmailed me."
"I heard the rumors. Why?"
"I was in a gay club."
"That's it?" Xander nodded. "Why was he there?"
"Because he's a predator," Xander said grimly. "I found out later he picked up a crossdressing guy and turned him trannie with the drugs to make him less bulky. He was dressing to let it go."
"I've heard that happens. Not that I understand that life," he admitted. "My sister's a drag king."
Xander grinned slightly. "They've got to have it so much easier than the guys do. They quit shaving and strap down their chests. Guys have to tuck and cover their stuff plus shave, plus find the clothes, plus try not to look bulky and big in theirs."
"I hadn't thought about it that way. I know she works with some of the drag queens on the same circuit." He shrugged. "I'll ask her if that's true. You know some?"
"Yeah, another case of doing it to let go instead of being a trannie," he admitted quietly. "I helped him shop now and then. There's some really nice speciality shops in LA for both sides."
"Huh. I wonder if we do."
He looked at him. "She can walk into any suit shop and probably get one. A guy my size walking into a dress shop and asking to be fitted would probably get maced."
"True," he agreed, grinning at him. "Online?"
"I'm told there are some." He laid the next tile and knelt on his last one to add more pressure. "This one's off-size," he said quietly, turning it around to make sure.
"They're all non-standard. Makes it more natural looking than industrial." Xander nodded, taking the protective backing off that one and laying it down. "How bad is your back?" Xander lifted up the bottom of his shirt, earning another hiss. "I'd be on pain killers."
"I've got a pretty good tolerance anymore," Xander offered, getting back to work. He paused to take a drink then put his bottle of water back in the holder and went back to rolling that one. "I started to peel Saturday night. Itched like hell, man."
Perry laughed. "I bet. You're still peeling."
"Yeah, but if I scratch my little sister will swat the hell out of me later. She's already vowed to do it and tape oven mitts on my hands if I scratch or peel myself. She likes to peel it." He shrugged. "She's a bit weird now and then."
"She's a teenage girl. They're all like that. So, I hear she's adopted?"
"Her sister left her to me," he agreed quietly. "She knew I'd take good care of Dawnie and make sure she had a good chance at life. She also knows I'm the one she can't get much past, but I'm a bit permissible. We had ice cream for dinner Sunday night."
"They were close friends?"
"My best friend since the first day of school and my mentor. Her girlfriend is still in the hospital and we're hoping she wakes up," he admitted. "I so hope she wakes up."
"Something big and heavy fell on them. She died instantly. He died at the hospital. Tara wasn't as badly hit so she's still in a coma." He looked at him. "I've given the nurses my numbers and told them to call if there's any change. At the very least I can send Dawn back and let her stay with the friends we stayed with Thursday night for a few days."
That got a nod. "Sounds like you've been here before."
"Her mom died and then her sister a few weeks later," he admitted quietly. "That's when we moved." He heard a cough and looked back, smiling slightly at the Lieutenant. "Hi. Are we in the way?"
"No, just checking on the work, Xander." He walked around them, looking at the pattern. "Nice work so far, but one's loose," he offered, tapping it.
"They're not heat sealed yet, Lieutenant. That's the last step," Perry assured him.
"That's fine then," he assured him with another small smile. "Anything else going on?"
"The walls," he offered, pointing at some. "The rest of the sheetrock is going up today. The rest of the windows are coming later this week. The wiring got done and inspected last Friday." Xander looked at him. "It was fine." Xander nodded, getting back to work. "We hope to have the floors done tomorrow."
"Thank you." He smiled again and walked off, going to find the bosses. "How is it going?"
"Two days behind schedule but I think we can make it up now that Justin's crew is on clean up," Thomas offered. "Those guys should love the chance to get inside on a job." Horatio nodded at that. "Harris had been working there last week."
"I saw that one day on my way home." Thomas opened his mouth. "It was about six or so. His boss was standing over him."
"I see," Thomas said dryly. "Harris?" Xander looked back under his arm. "What day did you go home late?"
"Every day but Thursday, boss. He said it was a rush and we were over a week behind. I'll appreciate the hours since I had to miss Friday."
Thomas moaned and shook his head. "I'll check on that, kid." He looked at the boss again, shrugging some. "He got badly sunburned too."
"I'm not surprised. When I saw him Wednesday he was soaking wet." He grimaced. "He all right?"
"Fine. He wouldn't be here if he didn't think he could pull a full day." That got a nod and an understanding smirk. "Need to look at the plans?"
"No, I trust you that we'll be on schedule. We're tired of working out of the other building."
"Of course, sir. I understand. I hate working out of any new office for at least the first week." That got a small smirk.
"Boss!" Perry yelled.
"What!" He walked over there, finding Xander groaning and holding his shoulder. "Harris?"
"I stretched too far. I'm fine." He straightened up and rolled his shoulder back, wincing some. "I'll be fine, I just have to remember to shift instead of stretch." He moved to where he needed to go, doing that tile. "I'm fine!" he snapped. "I'm a big boy and I'm fine," he ordered more calmly. "I don't shirk."
"Stand up, kid," Thomas said. He hauled him up, looking at the back of his shirt. "You're bleeding." Xander sighed and shook his head. "Off." He took it off with a wince and a hiss at the sticking spot. Horatio hissed at that. "I want you to go home and bring me an excuse from the ER saying when you can come back."
Xander looked at him. "I'm fine to be here, the other doc said I could as long as I stayed out of the sun and I didn't stretch. I'm good to work, boss, even if I am terribly slow today. Can I get back to it?"
"No one ever babies you, do they?" Thomas asked, giving him a tolerant look.
"No. No one would've. Sorry." He shrugged and got back to work. "I'm fine, really."
"You're clearly injured, Xander," Horatio said quietly.
Xander looked back at him. "I've had worse and went to work, Lieutenant. It's just a really nasty sunburn. I'll be fine, just slow. I simply have to remember to move and not stretch."
Thomas looked down at him. "You're a stubborn bastard."
"Yeah, and?" Xander asked, grinning at him. "I put that on my resume you know." That got a laugh and he got back to work sticking down that tile. "I'm fine, guys, thank you for the consideration but I'll be all right, just slow today."
"What's going on?" the boss called as he came over. He turned green at the sight of Xander's back. "At least bandage that, kid."
"I stretched when I should've moved, boss. Once it's drier I'll put back on my shirt."
He looked at the lieutenant. "Can I borrow your handcuffs?" They were handed over. He grabbed the kid and hauled him up and into the office, handcuffing him over his desk so he could get some bandages to put over them. "Not waterproof, right?"
"No, no water or stickiness please." He went limp. "I'm fine, boss. Really. I've had worse."
"I can see the scars. They stand out very well on your back. Who beat you?"
Xander looked back at him. "I don't know you that well."
"Fine. Are they gone?"
"No, my parents are still living. A few of them are their's and the rest are gone."
"Good." He got to work on the cream he had been handed by the young lady in his custody. "Dawn brought you lunch by the way." He finished spreading it on and then taped down gauze pads, getting a few hisses. He finally got done and let the lieutenant unlock him, wiping off his hands. "Put on your shirt and go back to work, Harris. I don't expect anyone to suffer for the job."
"This isn't anything. I've had worse on a day I had to do roofing." He walked back out there, going back to work, wondering why everyone was fussing.
The lieutenant looked at him. "He's a very strong young man."
"Yeah, and that doesn't come from nice tea parties with pretty girls," the boss reminded him.
Thomas leaned in. "He snapped at me."
"Of course he did," Horatio agreed, smirking some. "He doesn't understand why anyone's fussing over him."
"Huh. What about his sister?"
"Dawn? She gave me the medicine and bandages," he admitted, putting them on top of his desk. "She said to check it after lunch." That got a nod. "Not to let him do it. He misses spots."
"That's fine. One of our guys here has EMT training. I'll let him do it." He shrugged. "He cleared to work?"
"That doctor say anything?"
"Then he's fine doing the floor. Let him do whatever he thinks he can. Because you don't get scars like his from girls' nails either." That got a knowing nod and Thomas walked off to watch over him. "Sorry you had to see that."
"Stubborn people I understand. I work with a whole department full of them." That got a snicker and a waved hand. "I do. I've seen others who would've come in, even with worse injuries. I hope whichever boss let him do that is in trouble?"
"Very much so," he promised. "How late did he work on Wednesday?"
"I was going home just after seven. You might ask Dawn when he got home."
"I'll do that for lunch since she's off today. Thank you, lieutenant." That got a nod and he left. He went to call Dawn and find that out. She was very knowledgeable about what he did after she got out of school.
Xander walked in and carefully sat down, looking at her. "Nark."
"Well, yeah," she said with a fond smile, kissing him on the cheek. "Fully when there's something wrong." She stroked through his hair. "Shirt off, baby. Let me check."
"Dawn, I'm not your baby. That'll be the eventual guy you'll marry."
"Take it off anyway." He sighed and took it off, letting her see where his skin had split. She swatted him for it, making him grunt in pain. "Brat." She got to work cleaning off his back and then got a cool towel. "On your stomach."
"Yes, boss." He laid down, letting her lay the cool towel over his back. "Thank you."
"Welcome." She went into the kitchen, dragging out a plate for him. "Do not complain that I ordered. I was starved and we're out of food again." She put the plate down next to his hand and then patted him on the back of the head. "I'm going to my room. You can rant to thin air if you need to rant." Someone tapped on the door so she walked over to look out the spy hole. She opened the door, leaving the chain on. "Yes?"
"I need to see Harris," he ground out.
"I'm sorry, he's resting. Can I pass on a message?" She screamed when he kicked in the door.
Xander stood up, letting the towel fall. "Get out, Justin." He looked at the gun in his hand. "That won't save you."
"You little fairy," he sneered. "You got my ass fired!"
"If you're doing shit to get fired, then you deserve it," he snapped back. "What did you expect me to do, not pass out in pain?" The gun was raised. Xander dove and came up under it, grabbing his wrist and breaking it over his knee. That got a scream. Justin fell to the floor. He kicked the gun out of the way. "Dawn, call someone," he ordered quietly. "Please." She nodded, grabbing the phone and dialing 911. He looked down at him, then turned around. "See, and that's four days post burn." He turned back around. "If you got fired for it, then it was your own stupidity. I know *damn* well I never treated my crew like that." A cop came to the door, his gun already drawn. "His weapon's on the floor," he said calmly. "I broke his wrist and he dropped it." He pointed at it. "He got fired today."
The officer frowned but came in. "You are, sir?"
"Harris. This is my apartment with my younger sister," he said, nodding at Dawn. "I subbed in on his crew for a few days last week and he got fired because of some things that happened to me." He let the cop see his back, getting a wince. "He broke in the door on my sister and came in with the gun."
"All right," he agreed, bagging the gun. "Is everyone all right?"
"My back stings," he admitted, looking at Dawn. He pulled her closer, holding her. "Isolated incident," he assured her quietly. She nodded, hiding her face in his chest. "Can you just remove him?" Xander asked quietly. "She's still grieving for most of her family. He scared her."
"Of course, sir." He looked at the guy's wrist, then at him. "What did you use to break it?"
"Two hands and my knee." He shrugged. "I saw it on a movie once."
"Oh, all right." He got Justin up and into cuffs as best as he could, taking him and the gun down to his car. Then he came back to make a report while his partner watched the intruder.
Xander walked into work the next morning, getting a long stare. "He broke into my house with a gun and scared the hell outta Dawn. Not like I wasn't going to break his wrist." He looked at the floors, then at Thomas. "Floors?" That got a nod so he went to find Perry and his knee pads. "Hey, I'm back."
"Again. How's your back?"
"It stings. Kinda badly. But I'll be fine. Work will ease it." He got down and got to work on the next tile.
"HARRIS!" the boss yelled. "Office, now!"
"Yes, sir." He got up and headed that way. "I'm fine."
"You had him arrested?"
"He broke into my house with a gun and scared the hell outta Dawn. Yeah. I wasn't about to be shot."
Thomas leaned in. "Who got shot?"
"Justin broke into my apartment last night with a gun. I broke his wrist to remove the gun from his hand and had him arrested. I wasn't about to let him shoot me."
"Is... Dawn all right?"
Xander nodded, smiling at his boss. "Yeah, I broke her fear later on with a Monty Python movie. Shrubs get her every time." He beamed. "She's fine now. Probably telling it at school today." He shrugged and hissed. "Sorry, getting feeling back today. Anything else? The floor stills needs laid." They both slowly shook their heads so he went back to work. "Sorry, they wanted to know about the thing with Justin last night," he explained, kneeling and getting back to work on the tile he had been rolling.
"I'll roll, you lay," Perry ordered. Xander nodded, shifting positions carefully to do that.
"Hey, Harris, any military service in your background?" someone yelled.
"No. Why?" Well, not really and it's not like he could tell them about prior possessions and things.
"Never mind." That guy walked off shaking his head.
A few hours later, they were interrupted as they moved into one of the labs by a polite cough. Xander looked back and nodded at the guy standing there, getting a small smile. "Let me guess, he pressed charges?"
"No, we consider that self defense, Mr. Harris. But I do need to ask you a few questions."
Xander checked his watch. "In about a half hour?"
"That's fine. I can wait that long," he agreed, retreating back to the office. "Can I see his background?" he asked politely. The boss gave him an odd look. "The boss asked."
"Why?" Thomas asked from behind the desk, staring him down. "He's a nice guy."
"I'm sure he is, but some questions exist about how he broke the intruder's wrist." Thomas snorted and opened the door, pointing at one guy and getting him in there. "You are?"
"Felipe. Glass crew. Something wrong, Thomas?"
"He wants to know how Xander broke Justin's wrist when he broke in on him."
"Oh." He looked at him. "You ever been down to the bad parts of town where even the shadows aren't deep enough?"
"Twice and I nearly scared myself to death." He tipped his head. "He works with that?"
"No, he used to hunt that."
"Oh." He frowned. "All right," he decided was the appropriate response. "So the commando complaint the intruder gave about him? About him needing to register his skills as lethal weapons?"
"I doubt it," Felipe said. "He's retired." He looked out the door. "Hey, Harris, can I tell him about graduation?"
"I wish you wouldn't," floated back. "I don't need the scary looks I get."
"Gee, I wonder why," he said dryly, closing the door. "He didn't say no." He walked over to the computer, getting a nod of permission from Thomas so he typed in an address and pulled up a webpage. "You can't find it on google," he offered with a gentle smile. "That was a dossier put up by the military. My mother did things with that area. That's how I know." He got out of the way so he could read.
Xander leaned in. "Don't spread that shit around, Felipe. Please?" he begged. "I'm retired. Dawn needs me to be stable and I'm tired of my old life."
Felipe looked at him. "Someone should know in case something comes up."
"Even if it were the end of the world, Dawn needs me more, man." He stared him down. "She's my reward for living so long, making sure she makes it to a good life."
"Even if her life would be cut short?" the cop asked.
"Then I'd talk to her and see if she wanted to help me. She's lost everyone but me to that shit. It's not fair to her or right that she loses me too." He looked at Felipe again. "Please."
"I understand but sometimes other duties call."
"Yeah, and I know the group who handles it in LA. I can always call." That got a smirk. "Unless she'd want it, no. I can't. I swore to her I'd quit so she'd be safe and have a stable home without having to worry about that stuff. Please?"
"Fine," Felipe agreed. "I won't come to you about that stuff, but if something happens or we need advice."
"Call Dawn." He nodded, grinning at the cop. Who just looked at him. "Retired," he said slowly and clearly. "Forever more. Period. End of sentence." He walked off, going back to work. The boss gave him a bored look. "The cops wanted to know how I broke his wrist."
"Not quite." He shrugged and went back into the lab, going to help. "I thought I cut it so the other side was the right size."
"You did. I'm fitting the remaining bit into this corner so we don't waste it." Xander nodded, coming over to help with the full tiles. "Thought I was screwing up?"
"No, thought I had. I don't want to screw up. I don't like being a screw up. I was one of those for way too long."
Perry looked at him. "I doubt that."
"I don't. They said so."
"Who's they?" the cop said from the doorway.
"The girls in that file I wish you'd forget."
"Fat chance," he snorted. "Nearly lunch?"
"Nearly," he sighed, getting back to work. The whistle rang and he groaned, getting up and heading to find his lunch and his car. They could talk in there. That way no one would overhear. "Okay, you wanted what?" he asked, unwrapping his sandwich. "Like pastrami? Dawn made a teenager sandwich."
"No thanks, I ate on the way over." Xander shrugged and plucked out what he didn't want mashed with the rest and took a bite. "That file said you had commando memories?" Xander nodded as he chewed. "How?"
"Possession. Stupid bastard named Ethan Rayne having great fun." He ate another bite and chewed.
"How did he do that?" he asked cautiously.
"It was his idea of a trick or treat prank." He ate another bite and chewed more quickly at the incredulous look. "He's a chaos sorcerer. He does things like that for shits and giggles. By the way, I got that look so much worse from the FBI when they showed up." He ate another bite.
"Why did they show up?" he asked, looking a bit more amused now.
"The high school." He finished his sandwich and ate the bits he had taken out. "They wanted to know why it was blown up," he noted at the continued silence. He looked at him. "It was attacked and I led the defense. I got to sit with them for two whole days."
"Uh-huh." He started to take notes. "Are you under doctor's care?"
Xander snickered. "Only for my back."
"What's wrong with your back?"
"Sun poisoning from last week laying bricks at the other site."
"I'm sorry." He shifted some to look at him better.
"Me too, I'm starting to get feeling back in my back and neck. Stings like a bitch at the moment. Anything else you wanted to know?"
"What did you do to him?"
"Dawn tried to waylay him at the door with the chain on. He kicked it in. I came off the couch, where I was doing a cool compress to my back. He pulled a gun and said I was the reason he got fired. Which is partially true, they found out because of me that he was violating a lot of union rules. He pointed the gun at me, I ducked, rolled, came up under it. I grabbed his wrist and broke it over my knee, which made him fall down from the pain and drop the gun. She called it in. I told the cop responding that I broke his wrist."
"Do you not like officers?"
"Sunnydale's were the essence of non-effective and bothersome. They came after my friend when she killed a robot but didn't do anything about anything else. Except for speeding tickets."
"Oh." He nodded slowly and took down that as well. "So you don't like me?"
Xander looked him over, then grinned. "I don't know you well enough to tell you that, detective. Are you asking me on a date so I can find out?" He blushed and shook his head. "Pity. You're cute." He shrugged and finished his bottle of water from that morning. "Anything else? I'd like to have my boss spread some more of that numbing stuff on my back to see if it helps."
"No, go ahead. Thank you, Mr. Harris."
"Please, forget I have a past," he ordered quietly. "I don't do that anymore." He got out and locked his car once the officer did, heading over to where his boss was sitting. "Can I have someone spread that nice, numbing stuff on me after lunch?"
"Sure, kid. Starting to hurt?"
"Sting. It's stinging pretty badly. I'm starting to get feeling back."
"That might be a good thing," he offered. Xander shook his head quickly, getting some laughs. "How's the peeling going?"
"A lot. Dawn's having tons of fun peeling me nightly." Thomas grinned at that. "She's weird that way. Payday's when?"
"Thursday," the boss offered. "Why?"
"I've got to pay Dawn back for some of the moving expenses. We took it out of her trust from the sale of her former home. It's time for me to start paying it back."
That got a smile. "You're a good father, Harris," Thomas offered quietly. "She being wild?"
"No, she's not yet. She'll get to that point after a few more months." That got another nod. "By the way, I'm still retired. I'm staying retired." He yelped as someone patted him on the shoulder. "Ow!" He gave them a pouty look. "I don't walk up and hurt you!"
"Sorry, Harris. How's the back?"
"Painful!" He got given a long look. "Very painful. I'm starting to get feeling back in it again."
"How bad was it?" Xander pulled up the bottom of his shirt to let him see. "Ow. Very ow. I'd still be in bed with that." He walked off shaking his head.
The boss looked and nodded. "Just barely pink now. Much nicer than yesterday."
"I got a lot of cold compresses last night on the order of the fierce bitch I'm maintaining," he joked dryly, giving them a look. "Dawn threw a fit on me for not letting her handle him and letting the compress fall. She's the scary one in the family." That got a lot of chuckles. "You'd be surprised, guys. Dawn being upset is a bad thing. Remember that if she shows up and starts to yell. Just run for cover." He looked at his boss. "If they keep harping on it, I'll take her somewhere safer," he noted quietly. That got a nod. "I'd hate to do it."
"I know. It shouldn't keep happening, Harris. You done?"
"I need more water." He got up and went to get some from the vending machines they were allowed to use, smiling at the woman in there. "Sorry, grabbing a drink. They said we could."
"Not like I mind," she assured him, smiling at him. "That guy you helped is doing all right?"
"He hasn't come back yet that I've seen but I guess so." He shrugged and winced. "Sorry, sunburn." He grinned and disappeared again. He went up to the office since the boss was in there, taking off his shirt at his odd look. "I had to get more water."
"I understand that. You used the vending machines?"
"Thomas said we could."
"We can, most guys don't want to intrude on their domain."
Xander thought about shrugging but he remembered how much it hurt. "I snuck in and only got tolerant looks from the ME lady." He turned. "Please?"
"Sure, kid. Move closer." He put on a pair of gloves and uncapped the tube, working it into his skin. "You're still peeling."
"At least I'm not still blistering. I did that into Friday morning, even after a cooling shower." He nodded politely at the guy coming in. "Numbing stuff. I'll be out of the way in a few minutes."
"No, stay," the lieutenant said, closing the door. Xander sighed and hung his head, shaking it. "You confused him, Xander."
"Not my fault. I'm confused and I was there," he complained.
"Point," he admitted, coming over to look. "It looks better today."
"Dawn became a fierce amazon last night and made me soak it with cool compresses."
"It looks like it helped." He looked at him. "You're truly retired?" He nodded, giving him a steady look back. "Why?"
"Because she needs me more than the world needs a mediocre fighter who trips over his feet and could easily get killed by himself," he said quietly. "She needs me to be a stable base to let her finish growing up. If it's a world ending emergency again I'll see if she'll let me help and possibly help with me since she's a witch."
"That's not nice," his boss chided.
Xander looked at him. "As in wiccan, makes things floaty witch, boss." He blinked a few times and Xander looked at the boss again, shrugging a bit now that he was numb again. "If she gives me permission. I have to live for her. She's my reward for surviving. She's also my duty."
"I see. So if something does come up...."
"You can come to me for information. If I don't have it, I can put you in touch with someone who would, and who probably knows someone locally to help now and then. Even if I get frustrated at the stupidity of those who took my place, I'm still not going back to it, Lieutenant. I'm sorry but she's more important and I have to remember that."
"I understand, Xander." He smiled at him. "I wish most people had your sense of family."
"Well, in my case it's a made family. Not like my own was worth saving." He grimaced. "I've got to get back to work before I'm late again. I got stuck behind that wreck this morning."
"I was working that. I thought I saw your car." Xander nodded, grinning and heading out. He looked at the boss. "Was he in trouble?"
"No, he wasn't the only one and one of the guys was in front of her. He told us that there was a major wreck on the causeway in." Horatio nodded at that. "He in the clear about Justin?"
"We consider that self defense," he assured him. "The only problem that occurred was when your former employee claimed he should've registered his skills he gained when he was a commando as a lethal weapon. Since we can prove that's not true, we don't have any problems. Now, that won't discount the reason his file was blocked coming after him. I got an interesting call from a Federal Agent who bothers me now and then about watching out for someone to come for him."
"Should they I'm leaving," Xander called from outside the office. "Boss, we need more tiles, where are they? Perry doesn't know."
"On their way in, Harris. Go roll the whole floor."
"Yes, boss." He went to tell him that. "He said they're being delivered, to roll the whole floor."
"Sure." He went to grab the roller and weights. He let the kid run it while he checked the tiles since it would require bending over a lot. "Back up and do that section again. It's still loose." Xander backed it up and leaned more heavily, adding his own weight.
Dawn walked up to the guard for the lab site, smiling slightly. "Is Xander Harris still here? I need to see him desperately before I commit homicide. That way I have his permission." The guard blinked. "Now," she ordered more firmly. "Right now. He's my big brother."
"He called you a fierce amazon earlier," he admitted. He radioed the boss. "Harris's sister is here, boss." The boss came out. "She said she was."
"Hi, Dawn Summers," she said, shaking the boss's hand. "I need Xander so I can get permission to commit homicide. Messy, brutal, makes me laugh afterward homicide."
"He's working in the showers," he offered, walking her that way. "Watch out, the floor's not sealed yet, miss."
"Dawn, please." She looked up at him. "I'm not that fragile."
"With what he's said about you, I'm sure you're not."
"He called me a fierce bitch, didn't he?"
He smiled and nodded. "Yup. But only about taking care of him."
She snorted and flicked a hand back to shift her hair off her face. "The boy needs it. He doesn't take good care of himself. Xander!" she snapped. He flinched and looked at her. "Riley's in town. Do I have permission to cut him into bait chunks and then piss on them for flavoring?"
"Not without help," he said blandly. "Why is he in town?"
"I don't know. I heard his call on the machine." She called the house and input the code, letting him listen. She stared at him when he hung up, watching him think for the two- point-three seconds it took him. "So?"
"We'll hear him out. Either he's got news on Tara, or something about the wills," he said quietly, looking at her. She grimaced. "Then you can give him a five minute head start." She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Where is he?"
"Lurking outside my school when I got off so probably around here somewhere. I figured I'd lead him here if he was following me instead of to the house. It's safer that way."
"I agree. What time is it?" She showed him her watch. "Okay, go sit outside in the grass and read something. If anyone approaches you, tell them you're waiting on me. If he, Sam, or his unit come up to you, tell them they're waiting on me and tell them when I get off. Just make sure you're in the shade so you don't get burned, okay?" She nodded, heading out. He hissed. "She's not in a good mood," he said dryly, getting back to work. "I almost pity Riley."
"Who is this Riley guy?" the boss asked.
"Her sister's ex, who was a commando and in the same line of work we were. He was part of the group that was blocking my files." He gave him a look. "It'll be fine. He'll be polite or else I'll be killing him and letting her dance on his steaming body." He shrugged and got back to work, only hissing a bit at the pain. He didn't like this pain stuff.
"You think he'd try something here?"
"He's usually smarter than that. This is still a police station, boss. There's people around all the time and she will beat the shit out of him while screaming for help. It'll be fine."
"If you're sure."
"I am or this time I get to take them down myself." He focused on what he was doing. The faster he got done, the faster the work day would end.
Xander flopped down beside Dawn, looking at the man sitting across from her. "So, you're in Miami now. Why?"
"We want you to join us."
Xander pointed at Dawn. "She's my sister now."
"I understand," Riley admitted. "We'd keep her safe." Xander and Dawn both stared him down, making him shudder. "She'd be on a base, totally safe, totally out of danger." She glared harder and he inched backwards. "Are you sure her sister wouldn't want that?"
"I'm sure her sister would expect me to keep her safe, healthy, and happy. Dawn's not going into the military. I refuse to let her. Also, her sister would expect me to be there for her when she needed me, not taking off ten months out of the year to hunt things in South America. Nor does she need to see me injured or killed. She needs me there with her, guiding her, and making sure she becomes a woman her mother would be proud of. Besides, I'd kill you in your sleep," Xander pointed out dryly.
Riley nodded and stood up. "I understand your decision but I do have orders."
Xander stood up and faced him down. "This is a police station but I won't hesitate to kick your ass. You're not tougher than what we fought." Riley backed off again, looking concerned. "Leave Miami. Tonight. You're getting your head start. If you come near Dawnie or me again, I will have your ass ground into paste for fun." He turned and ran. Xander turned and helped her back. "My back's starting to get feeling in it but the numbing stuff is still working. Your book?" She bent to pick it up and he glared at the cop checking her out. "She's fourteen, eyes left!" he snapped. The cop walked off. He put an arm around her and walked her off. "So, you think what we did with the Chinese vampires or the regular?"
"I think staking him would be fairly obvious and your boss's contractors might get mad," she pointed out dryly. "But I'm all for calling something to have him eaten." She gave him a look. "Can I?"
"Do you want to follow Willow's path?" She shook her head quickly. "Then there's your answer. Congratulations, an adult decision," he offered happily. She smiled back and got into the car so he could drive them home.
"Harris!" someone called. Xander turned to look at the guy standing there. "We need to talk."
"No, Graham, you need to get out of my face before I smash it into the pavement. You and yours come near myself and Dawn under penalty of death. I'm protecting her with my life if necessary."
"We need you."
"So? Get Angel." He got into the car and headed back to the apartment. He got there and found the manager out front. He got out and looked at him. "What?"
"Who are the people up there?"
"Not a clue." He looked at Dawn. "Watch her for me please. I'm going to see and someone threatened her earlier." That got a nod and Xander headed up there, looking at the very bare apartment. He checked the closets and his *other* clothes had been left. He packed them into a plastic garbage bag and carried them down to the car, handing them to Dawn. Then he called the cops. "Hi, someone apparently came and stole everything in our apartment but some clothes. No, the manager wasn't sure why they were here either. Please. That would be more than acceptable. 383 Crest, apartment 23d. Thank you. We'll be outside by our car." He looked at the manager once he had hung up. "They stole it. I have no idea what the hell is going on. All I know is that her sister's ex is military and came up to threaten to steal us both to join his mental unit." That got a knowing nod. "Talking about demons and hunting them for the UN."
"Ah, one of those. Yeah, could've been military," he agreed. Two cop cars pulled in and officers got out, hands on their guns. "He's the victim, boys. Relax."
"Sir, we were told the young woman in his possession was a kidnaping victim from California?"
Dawn got out and handed over something she carried with her. "That is my mother's and sister's will, his permission to move and treat me. The person doing this is my sister's ex. He's military and whacked in the head. Keeps talking about demons and fighting them for the UN. He came up to us earlier at his job site. He was stalking me and I ran to my guardian to see what we were going to. Since he's working at the crime lab site, we decided I should wait outside since it'd be safe enough until he got done. By then Riley was there with me. Xander told him to stick it and he threatened him. Wanted to move Xander onto his demon hunting team and me onto a military base against my sister's wishes. They broke up because he was cheating on her and becoming unstable."
"And a bastard, let's not forget that," Xander said dryly. "They left some clothes and that's it. Even if he is active military that's theft, right?" They nodded, looking over the paperwork then handing it back. The cops relaxed. "Thank you for your cooperation. I'd hate to have to find him and kill him tonight. Not that I won't, but I'd hate to have to."
"Calm down, Xander. He's got guns. You don't." He looked at her and she shivered. "Please." He nodded, calming himself. She looked at the officers. "I'll let the manager take you up there."
"That's fine, miss." One stayed with them to take a report about the earlier confrontations while the other went upstairs. The detective from earlier pulled up and got out of a hummer, walking up to them. "Detective, this is Mr. Harris. He says that Miss Summer's sister's former boyfriend did break into their apartment."
"Stole everything but some women's clothes," Xander agreed dryly, looking at him. "He wanted me to join his mental demon hunting unit for the UN."
Ryan Wolfe nodded once. "Okay. Let's go look at the apartment."
"The manager's up there and they're military. Dawn goes with me."
"I know this officer, he won't hurt her. He'll watch her." The officer nodded. "Come on." Xander walked him up there. Once they were in the elevator he looked at him. "Who?"
"Riley Finn and his people. Another one named Graham, never knew his last name or if that was his last name, came up to us as well to say we were going. I'm going to kill them. Military or not." They got out on his floor and he walked him inside. "I gathered the clothes that were in the closet. They're in the garbage bag down there. I didn't think anyone needed to stare at them."
Ryan looked at him, then pulled him aside. "Yours or hers?" he asked quietly. Xander glared. "I've seen and understand, Harris. Not judging, just asking." He nodded. "That's fine. Understandable really. Whose room was that?"
"Hers. I slept on the couch."
"That's fine. Go back down there, let me look around. Write down all the names you can think of that were associated with that group." Xander nodded, going to do that. He looked at the manager. "Did you let them in?"
"They had boxes, looked like they were delivering stuff. That's what they said they were doing, delivering some of Dawn's stuff from storage in California. They're a very nice family. Fairly quiet except when his former coworker broke in to shoot him for getting him fired. I'm guessing it was for a good reason?"
"The guy had him hurt by ignoring union and labor laws," Ryan admitted. "He got fired for it. Mr. Harris's back is a mess." The manager nodded at that. "Did they only need a key?"
"Yes, sir. That's what we usually rely on. This has been a pretty quiet building. Only six or seven thefts in the last four years or so."
"That's fine. A lot of landlords only use deadbolts." He smiled. "How many were there?"
"Four, five, one supervising. Four carrying boxes. I went back inside when they said they'd lock up. Nice looking guys and one guy had on an Army t-shirt. I guess they could've been military by the way they stood upright and were kinda tense and checking around and all."
"Like checking their surroundings, scanning?" Ryan asked. He nodded. "Okay. Can you give me a description or is there video surveillance?"
"There is and I can get it for you."
"Please. Bring it up to me here in case I have any other questions." He nodded, going to do that. Ryan looked around, finding some powder on the floor. He heard the quiet tap and looked over. "Miss Summers."
"I came to check for anything else since we're probably going to a hotel tonight." He walked her inside, watching as she looked around. She looked at the powder, taking a fingerful to sniff. "Hmm. Interesting." She looked at him. "The moving fairies are playing with the wrong magic this time." She walked into the bathroom. "They even took the old bar of soap that was here when we moved in," she said with disgust. "But hey, they cleaned the bathroom for me." She came out, going to check the fridge. She found a note in there and whistled, pointing. "Note." He came over to get it out so she could read it. She snorted and smirked. "They're so fucked," she muttered. He gave her an odd look. She looked back. "You know?"
"I do. I was told earlier. Why?"
"The blonde he helped was my sister," she said quietly. "Commonly referred to as The Slayer." She turned and walked out, heading down there. "Xander, they left a note in the fridge. Oh, and they cleaned the bathroom and even took that old bar of soap."
"Nice of them. And?"
"Magic," she said quietly. He glared at her. "Not my doing."
"Can we undo?"
"I'm not sure. They did say that nowhere was safe from them and that you'd come to them eventually."
"I'm so making a stand," he muttered. She hugged him. "I know."
"No, we, big brother. We." She looked over as the nice lieutenant drove up and parked. "You too?"
"Me as well," he agreed. "What happened?"
Xander looked at him. "Buffy's ex, Riley Finn, showed up at the station earlier."
"We noticed Miss Summers being stalked and her coming to see you to talk about a homicide."
"His," she agreed. "He stalked me at school." He grimaced at that. "Xander said to wait on him at the station, it'd be safer. Riley showed up and we talked about Buffy, then he said he wanted Xander on his mental demon hunting squad for the UN."
"I see. And your answer was?"
"Blow it out your ass only put more gently," Xander said dryly. "Mostly citing that Dawn needed me. Then we come home and find our place mostly bare. With an apparent note in the fridge she just found with your detective from earlier."
"Hmm. All right. Stay here. Don't do anything unless they come up to you."
"Can I kill them if they do?" Dawn asked sweetly.
"No, and I'll try to get your things back, Dawn."
"That's good considering they told the officers I was kidnaped."
He nodded once at that. "You proved differently?"
"I'm still carrying around a copy of both wills and his medical authorization to treat me."
"Good. Excellent. Stay here." He walked inside and went upstairs. "Mr. Wolfe?"
"Horatio, this is messed up," he said, handing over the bagged note. "She claims magic."
"She's a wiccan from what I've heard." He looked the note over, then nodded once. "What can we do about this beyond calling in some federal help?"
"I don't know but I'm about to kick their asses for the kid. This is wrong. Very wrong. She's lost too much as is." He pointed at the dust. "I took multiple samples. That's how she said they moved it. I'm waiting on the tape from the manager."
"That's fine, Ryan. Finish up and I'll get that." Ryan nodded, going back to his fingerprinting. Horatio went down to the manager's office, finding him dubbing the tape. "We could have done that for you."
"Nah, easier if I do. Owner hates it when we don't do it on our own."
"Who owns this building?"
"Some old guy in Oregon. He's got a few around the city. These are his standing orders." It quit taping and he checked the copy then handed over the original. "That's yours."
"Thank you." He bagged it and closed it, taking it out to Ryan's hummer. He found the officer down and Dawn standing next to the car with a bloody knife, and no Xander. "What happened?"
"They tried to snatch Xander. Your officer is fine, it's from a choke hold." She stared at him. "Xander's in pursuit and he's a bit pissed." She pointed the direction. "He'll be back within four minutes. I've got a tracer on him." Horatio stared at her. "Seriously." She handed over the knife properly. "One of them dropped it. Xander stuck him with it when he lunged at me to stab me." She stared him down. Then Xander came back dragging someone. "Did you open your back?"
"Yeah," he admitted, dropping him at the lieutenant's feet. "Yours. The other guy got taken by the guy in the baby blue jeep without a top on it. Georgia plates. He lunged at her and I turned his attack back on him after blocking it and kicking him in the stomach. It went into his solar plexus. He's going to need major medical."
Horatio put the call out for assistance and noted that, then called his people to check the hospitals and to come get this one idiot. He groaned and Xander came over to glare at him, getting a whimper. "Back down, Xander. Let me," he ordered quietly. Ryan came jogging out. "Bag this. He tried to stick Miss Summers and Mr. Harris kindly used it on its former owner, who is now in the wind."
"Sure." He bagged it and marked it on the sheet, then put them all into his hummer. He looked at the guy, then at Xander. "Your back okay?"
"Stings like a bitch," he admitted. He looked at Dawn. "You good?"
"I'm just pissed," she reminded him. "I've been fine. I'm going to kill the Initiative assholes. There's nothing on this plane or any other that could stop me at this moment."
"Don't make me do a seance and let your mother take me over," Xander warned. She slumped and nodded. "Thank you. We'll let them handle it and handle our own defense."
"We can do that," Ryan noted patiently. Xander pointed at the officer on the ground. He was starting to come around, groaning a bit and shifting. "What happened to him?"
"Choke hold. I was facing the other direction and they got him then advanced on Dawn as I turned. No idea which one it was." He looked at Horatio. "I'm with her. I'm all for destruction and mayhem."
"These are the same people who blocked your background check?" Xander nodded. "Are you sure?"
"Riley was one of their unit heads."
"List of names?" Ryan asked. Xander handed it over. "Thank you." He looked at Horatio, then back at the kids. "Safe house, boss?"
"Station first. Then a safe house. Have someone drive their car, Ryan. I'll take my hummer with them." That got a nod. "Let the other officer here drive back with you once he wakes up." He got them into the hummer, heading back. "How many other groups are out to get you two?" he asked as he drove.
"Only them. The others are all gone," Dawn said quietly. "Buffy and Xander made sure of it."
"If this gets too bad, you're going to visit Fred," Xander said firmly. "Just so you're safer."
"Back in Hell-A?"
"Yes," he said patiently. "They can protect you, even with the evil law firm after them and half of hell's minions as well. Don't argue."
"Can't you send me to visit Faith in prison or something?" He gave her a look. She gave him a sheepish one back. "I know, don't give you ideas." She slumped down in her seat. "We're sorry we're such a bother, lieutenant."
"You're not, Miss Summers, but people like that annoy me. It is never wise to annoy me that way." She giggled and hugged his arm. He smiled at her. "Let us handle this for you. You doing it would cause more problems."
"Actually, me doing it would cause missing people without an explanation. Xander doing it would cause bodies. That would cause you more problems."
"Either way would still cause problems." He backed out, heading back to the station. On the way he pulled over to look at them. "All right, I want to know the truth." Dawn handed over what she had been working on. He looked it over then at Xander. "You did what?"
"Protected ourselves mostly. Rescued a friend when they took him. Took in the vampire they chipped."
"I see." He went back to reading then nodded once. "They want you now why?"
"This is their idea of recruitment," Dawn told him. "We've said no. Hence the problems."
"The military can be arrogant but I do have contacts I can call. For now, you two will be in my office."
"Your office wasn't quite finished earlier," Xander admitted. "We're still working on the last glass panel and the finishing touches."
"I meant my present one but thank you for that update," he said, smirking at him. "It'll be fine."
"Are we sure?"
"I am." He turned around and started the hummer again, going to the station they were using until theirs was finished. He parked and got them inside and upstairs, nodding at the other officers. "Frank."
"Horatio, there's a Fed in there," he called after him.
"Good, they can explain why they're trying to kidnap civilians." He walked into his office, smirking at the man standing in there. "Agent Smith."
"Lieutenant Caine." He looked at the two young people. "I'm not here about them."
"Unfortunately they're here because a covert government group is trying to take them." He sat down behind his computer and found the address he needed, sending a message to the person in Washington he knew. He looked at Xander. "Sit for now. Give them a few minutes to spread the word." Xander nodded and made Dawn sit down but she huffed and pushed him onto the couch and pulled his shirt off him so she could look at his back, making the federal agent hiss and look away. "He got very bad sunburns," Horatio offered, standing up. "Shall we talk?"
"Please. Will they be okay?"
Xander looked at him. "Let them break in here. It'll be easier to clean up the bodies," he said dryly. "I'm tired of playing with them."
"Hush, Xander, this is pain talking," Dawn soothed. "Lieutenant, can I get some wet paper towels?"
"Of course. This way." He let her go that way while he and the other agent went to talk about his reason for being in Miami. They watched Dawn go back in there and Horatio shook his head. "They're from Sunnydale," he said quietly.
"I feel sorry for them. Their former town has now been declared off limits and a disaster area after most of them died for an unknown reason. When did they leave?"
"A little over a month ago."
"It was just starting to get bad then by the CDC timeline." Horatio gave him an amused look. "You know what it was?"
"They're here because a military covert ops group was trying to take over their town for experimentation. They called themselves the Initiative?"
"I've heard rumors. Got any names?" Horatio handed over the list. "Let me guess, they're after them?"
"Came and moved them without their consent and tried to kidnap them." Frank Tripp came over. "Frank, check on Dawn, make sure she doesn't need more help with Xander's back please?"
"Sure. He looks familiar."
"He's one of the construction workers working on our new lab."
"Oh." He headed that way, smiling when Dawn opened the door. "Hi, I'm Detective Tripp. Horatio sent me to see if you needed more help with his back?"
"No, I've got the bleeding stopped and the cracks will be fine once I get some aloe gel later tonight," she promised, smiling at him. "We're okay. Thank you, Detective."
"Welcome." He nodded. "I can get Alexx." Xander moaned. He looked at him. "I still know you from somewhere."
"I took control of the glass stabbed guy from her," Xander said weakly. "I had a very bad sunburn that was cooking me," he said, looking over at him. "Defending us earlier broke open some of it."
"Wow. Want her?"
"No, I'm good. I'm not dead yet so I'll heal."
"She might have some aloe gel," he offered.
"Then I wouldn't mind asking to borrow some," Dawn decided. Xander moaned again. "You, hush!" He held his head. She smiled at Frank again, seeing the amused look. "I'm his adopted little sister and I am a mighty bitch. I learned it from my actual one before she died. Can you ask her if I can borrow some aloe gel?"
"Of course." He grinned. "You're how old?"
"Fourteen," she sighed, shaking her head. "He's horribly overprotective." Xander nodded at that, giving her back a look. "For a very good reason," she admitted, rolling her eyes. He laughed and walked off. "Thank you, Detective." She shut the door and came back to look at his back. "We really do need to goop some of the cracks to soften them so they don't rip more." She kissed him on the forehead. "Mommy would be fussing."
"She probably would've tied me to the couch long before now," he agreed, looking at her. "So, where would you like to move?"
"Somewhere we both have bedrooms?" She went to look at the paper laying on the table. "Are we sure I can't whip up a spell to knock their heads together?"
"Nope. That would be wrong. Using it for self-interest is wrong."
"Yes, Xander." She got back to looking. She looked at the date then the one on her watch. "This one's a few days old but it has some reasonable houses."
He looked at her. "I haven't been working long enough down here to qualify for a mortgage and yours is for *college*, Dawn. Nothing else." She nodded. "But if you find one I can do with only having worked for a little over a month, let me know."
"Sure." She went back to looking. The detective came back with an attractive but slightly older African-American woman, who was not looking happy. "Hi. I'm Dawn, this is Xander."
"Oh, I've met him before."
He looked at her. "I had sunburn so bad they thought I was cooking they day they got it stopped," he said blandly. "I'm down to the point where I feel it now." She hissed and he turned, letting her see. "It split earlier. Dawn wanted to borrow some goop to put around the cracks."
Frank turned his head away. "I'd be in the hospital."
"I've had worse," Xander admitted quietly.
"I can see the scars. No wonder you knew how to handle that in the field." She sat behind him and looked over his back, removing some of the peeling skin so it was clear for her. "Are you scraping the skin off nightly?"
"I let her peel it. She likes to do it," Xander admitted.
"You're doing good so far. How many days did it take to get that bad?"
"Most of a week. He was even wearing shirts," Dawn told her. "It got burned through it when he got too wet while laying bricks."
Frank shuddered. "I heard something about it when he came back from a weekend off for medical."
"Funeral," Dawn corrected. "Two of the last three of our group were buried that weekend after an accident."
He nodded. "I'm sorry."
"Thank you," she said quietly, looking at Xander's back again. "I was planning on aloe gelling the new cracks so they'd soften and not split more." Horatio walked in and shut the door. "I asked to borrow some goop."
"I'd be asking for pain killers," Horatio assured her.
"Why? I haven't yet," Xander said with a small shrug. That earned him a swat. "Sorry."
Alexx finished peeling him and then shook the bottle she pulled out of her pocket. "This has some mild lidocaine in it." He nodded and got comfortable. She spread a thin layer, watching his skin soak it up. "When was your last cream dosage?"
"Noon. I was about due for one."
"That's fine." She spread on some more on the areas that soaked it up and around the cracks. "There, that should help. Need bandaging?"
"I'll put my t-shirt on over it," Xander said, shooting her a grin. "I changed after work. Thank you, ma'am."
"You're welcome, Xander." She stood up and handed Dawn the bottle. "Every few hours. The skin's starting to heal and dry out now." She nodded. "Good job, kids, and you're handling it okay. I agree with Frank, I'd have asked for pain killers." She left, going to make a note for Horatio's records.
Horatio smiled at Dawn since she was looking at the real estate section. "There are some minorly expensive places in different parts of the city, depending on how far you're willing to drive."
"If someone would let me get my license as soon as I can, that'd be farther out," Dawn agreed dryly, looking over at him. "Has the military tried to storm the station yet?"
"One did come to inquire but the desk sergeant said he didn't know who you were. That you were suspects." He looked at Xander's back. "That is definitely better than the first time I saw it."
Frank looked at him. "How bad was it?"
"He worked eight hour plus days in the sun, Frank. He burned through his very sweaty clothes. The Monday I saw him, he was very, very red and brittle looking."
"Ow." He looked at Xander again. "You went to work that way?"
"I had to. I've only been working for a little over a month," Xander said, putting back on his shirt slowly and carefully. Then he sat up. "Food and rent aren't paid out of thin air and the money she got from selling her former home is for her schooling."
"No matter how much I offer," Dawn finished dryly.
"Why did you sell your former house?" Frank asked.
"My mother died and then my sister died two weeks later," Dawn said honestly. "The town was going to hell."
"The agent that was in here said that Sunnydale's been declared a disaster area and there's very few survivors," Horatio said quietly.
"Then the people we went to see during the funeral will handle it," Dawn said firmly.
"I told him about the operation group that was working there. Hinted that they would have information on what happened since it was the CDC that closed it," Horatio offered quietly.
"That's fine. Most of the town ignored what was going on," Xander said pragmatically. "Those in the know left. I couldn't hold it by myself." He swallowed. "It was the right choice to leave so Dawn would be safe." She looked at him. "It was."
"It was," she agreed quietly. He nodded and relaxed again. She looked at him. "Did someone want to talk to us about that stuff?"
"Not as of this moment but I don't think they knew that anyone left either. You might expect it in the next few months." Dawn nodded at that. "As for the other problem, we'll finish taking formal statements and then we'll put you somewhere safe for the night."
"She's allowed to skip school but I'm still going to work tomorrow," Xander said firmly. "We'll need it and she can do real estate searches if she can have a paper."
"You can't be serious," Frank said dryly.
"I'm working on the new lab project. It's still got a lot of officers there. I'd like to see someone kidnap me from there. Especially since I can fight. Dawn is more vulnerable. She needs the protection. I need to have something to do and I'll be safer."
"It's still dangerous," Frank said.
"I don't have anyone here to indulge in apocalypse sex with. Not like I can do anything but wait and that'll drive me nuts, Detective. Worry about Dawn. I'll be surrounded by my construction crew and all the officers still stationed at that unit. I'll have plenty of protection."
He sighed and walked off shaking his head. Horatio looked at him. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. They'll need me to finish on time."
"Very well. We can honor that condition. For now, let's take statements. We'll let the officer watching over her tomorrow help her figure out whether or not anything she finds is reasonable and safe."
"Sure," Dawn agreed. "I don't want to live in the ghetto. My mother would be so pissed if I did." Horatio cracked a smile and nodded, coming over to work on their statements.
Xander walked into their new house the next night and looked around, nodding. "Okay, I like this. Did we get the deposit from the other place?"
"We did," Dawn agreed. "We forfeited this month's rent." He looked at her. "He said he couldn't do it but he understood why we were leaving so suddenly. I suggested he could pro-rate it but he said the owner wouldn't let him." Xander shrugged, then winced. "You've got your own room," she noted, pointing that way. "We've got Ryan as a minder tonight."
"That's fine." He headed that way, going to see the minimal clothes he still had hanging in there and he had a bed. "It was furnished?"
"No," she said. "But it was cheap." He came out glaring. "Stow it!" she snapped. "This is for my comfort and yours. She wouldn't care, Xander. If you absolutely must pay back my trust, I'll let you. Now pipe down and go shower." He sighed and went to do that. She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. "Save me from stubborn men, Goddess?" she pleaded quietly. "Just for the night? I'm being good and nice." She went to her room, which had more things since she had stuff in the trunk of the car where she had been going to do laundry after school. "We've also got a washer and dryer here," she called into the bathroom. "Plus I went grocery shopping."
"You spent how much?"
"Another grand total." She walked in and shut the door, hearing his moan. "That's not that much for two beds, the washer and dryer, the food, and a few new pieces of clothes for both of us."
"No, it's not. I can make that up easily."
"Good." She smiled. "How much are you making?"
"Not a great lot," he said dryly.
"Really? Because I remember you were making like fifteen an hour in Sunnydale."
"Cost of living, I'm making less down here."
"Oh. Well, this place is three-quarters of the other place's rent so the security deposit we had to put down covered the deposit here and the first month's rent. Plus the extra hundred I kicked in." She swallowed. "We will have to pay water but he said the last person had four kids here and theirs was only about fifty a month."
"That's fine, Dawn. I'm sure it's reasonable. The lesser rent will make up for the extra bills." She smiled at that. "Did you get them all switched over?"
"All but the trash. We don't have to pay that if we don't want to. One of our neighbors has a dumpster and we don't use that much trash."
"That's not nice."
"No it's not but that's more expensive than the sewer bill."
"We'll see." She nodded. "You got me clothes?"
"Two outfits. Plus there were two in the wash that I had in the back of the car."
"Sure. Get me something to put on?"
"Okay." She walked out and squeaked, finding two guys there. "Hi. You are?"
"This is Eric, he's going to help me tonight."
"Okay." She went into Xander's room and came back with clothes for him, putting them on the sink. "Ryan and Eric are here."
"I'll be out in a few. Get me some water or something?"
"Sure. I made tea." She went to get him a glass while he dressed. "Was it a bad day?"
"No a day of trim work," Xander said as he came out rubbing his hair with a towel. "Hi. I'm Xander, I'm supposing you've met Dawn," he offered, shaking Eric's hand.
"Eric Delko, I work under Horatio."
"That's fine. I can almost trust Ryan not to bring someone poisonous into the house." He shrugged. "He seems like a nice guy." He headed into the kitchen to get his dinner and drink, leaning against a counter. "No more dipping into your trust," he ordered quietly.
"It was necessary."
"It was for now. I'm still paying it back, and you're not to do it again, Dawn. Not unless I can't get another job for a few months. I've started saving too." She nodded at that. "Thank you for being reasonable." He ate another bite. "Speaking of, got paid today. It's in my pants pocket."
"I saw that. That's why I wondered. The overtime wasn't on there?"
He shook his head. "That's coming separately. They had to figure out what I actually worked by the site's records." He ate another bite. "Union dues bite."
"Yeah but it's what's protecting you," she pointed out. "They're at least fair and you can get another job quickly, Xander."
"Point." He finished up and turned to do the dishes. "Are you set for school tomorrow?"
"I called the school and we've got tomorrow off as an in-service day," she offered. Xander gave her a look. She huffed. "Fine, I told them someone had tried to kidnap us and why, basically. They said to stay away until it was solved so I couldn't endanger any other students."
"Sure," he agreed quietly. "You're to sit down tonight and tomorrow with your books so you're not behind." She nodded, going to do that. He finished his dishes and put them in the strainer, then walked out, smiling at them. "It's going to be a pretty quiet night unless they come back. I've got to be on-site at seven so I'm going to bed."
"Alexx said to make sure you're putting the stuff on your back," Ryan ordered. Xander sighed and nodded, going to let Dawn do that, making Eric grin at that. "He got so badly burned. Even Frank was wincing in sympathy."
"He burned through his sweaty clothes while he was laying a brick wall all week," Dawn said as she walked between her bedroom and the bathroom. She came back with the bottle of goop she had bought earlier and got to work on his back, then he went to his room and set the alarm. She came out and looked at them. "Arrange the antenna if you want, guys. I haven't gotten to beg him for cable yet."
"No," Xander called. "It's a luxury."
"We should be able to afford it."
"Fine," she sighed, shaking her head. "How about internet?"
"Thanks." She went back to her room shaking her head, making the guys laugh. She came out and looked at his paycheck. "You make how much?" she demanded.
He came out and looked at her. "About two grand a month," he admitted. "Now, add the bills up. Remember we're still saving some in case we hit a slow period." She pouted. "Do the math." She sat down to do that, hissing at the end. "How short are we going to be?" he sighed.
"About twenty bucks if we pay for trash." She looked at him. "Sorry, Xander."
"We'll figure that out, Dawn. Maybe I can pull more hours at work." He came over to look. "That's not three-quarters of what we used to pay."
"Yes it is. I saw the lease."
"No, we were paying a grand a month there. Where's the lease here?" She went to get it out of the drawer and show it to him. "Oh." He sat down to rework it. "That's the rent, that other is the remaining security deposit," he said quietly. She nodded and he refigured the budget. "Still not a lot of room."
"I can go to a cheaper plan for my cell," she offered. "Or get a job."
"We'll talk about that when you're seventeen." She nodded. "For right now, I've got it." She sighed and nodded. "Do you bus to school or am I still driving you?"
"I can do either. The city busses can get me there. It's on the same line even." Xander nodded at that. "You know, I could not go to a private school."
"The public ones weren't that good," he reminded her.
"It'd still save us two hundred a month, Xan." He looked at her. "It's practical. I can study well enough there."
"Going to a better school means you get into a better college," Ryan told her. "In the long run, private school is more practical if you want a bright and great future." She sighed at that and shook her head. "You can study anywhere but they always seem to give preference to the private school kids."
"But if she goes to a state school it'll be cheaper and just as good at the undergrad level," Eric reminded him patiently. "It's the upper levels where the college's name matters. At the undergrad level it's the grades that matter." He looked at Xander. "There's a fairly decent public high school but it's across the city."
"Which is about where I work," he agreed. He looked at Dawn. "Get the name and look into it tomorrow. Give me information." She smiled and nodded. "If you do transfer I'll think about cable." She nodded and hugged him, going to work with him. "Thanks, guys."
"It's hard living in this city on a single paycheck. Even one that good. Now, you will get plenty of overtime once the next hurricane happens."
Xander smirked. "She's still learning how real world finances work." He leaned back and stretched. "When did the landlord want the rest of the deposit?"
"Next month. She told him it was a move because you guys had been broken into and she had nearly been taken by her sister's former boyfriend. He would like to talk to you personally tomorrow."
"Sure." He nodded. "Tomorrow's Saturday, right?" Ryan nodded. "Then I get off at noon." He stood up and stretched again. "I'm going back to bed. Feel free to do paperwork or whatever." He headed into his room with a small smile. It might work out as long as the new landlord wasn't an asshole.
Xander came home at noon the next day and found all their stuff back. "Wow. Someone works fast. Did the moving fairies show up with Dawn's help or without?"
"No, they gassed us all and brought it back," Ryan admitted from his spot at the table. He grinned. "Dawn's doing laundry, that's the little room off the back. There's a note for you." He held it up. Xander took it and read it over, smiling. "They're very sorry?"
"They are and the people responsible are now missing chunks at the very least." He heard a knock and went to answer it. "Hi. You are?"
"Your landlord, son. I'm assuming you're Xander?" He nodded and let him inside. "They found the rest of your stuff?"
"Yeah, the people Lieutenant Caine found and wrote sent it back to us." He smiled. "I'm Xander. Come on in since we have a couch again." That got a smile and they sat down. He took the application and filled it out. "So, I'm guessing you met Dawnie."
"I did. What happened to her family, son?"
"Her mother had a brain tumor and then her sister died in an accident two weeks later." He looked at him. "The ex who took the stuff was special ops and kinda weird. Talked about vampires a lot." That got a single nod. He shrugged and got back to filling it out, then handed it back. "How much do I still owe on the deposit?"
"Another six hundred. Then rent's due on the first."
"I get paid every two weeks. So the one closest to the first I'll pay you out of if I can't manage to put it into the checking account."
"That'd be fine." He stood up and accepted the other check. "It good?"
"Payday was yesterday. I put it in this morning. So by the time your bank sends it over it will be."
"Even better." He smiled. "Did she tell you about the neighbor's dumpster?"
"She did but I'm thinking they might not appreciate us using it."
"They don't but you can sneak it in at night and they won't know. It'll save you about thirty bucks a month." That got a nod. "You should be fine." He checked the sheet and nodded. "Construction's a good job. You like it?"
"I do," Xander agreed. "I used to be a crew lead in our former town. When her family died she needed to get away and it was going to hell so I took her and left. Fortunately she was left to me. Dawn's like my little sister. The cops'll only have to come back when her boyfriends turn out to be dirtbags." The landlord laughed at that. "I'm usually pretty quiet and good. Dawn might get noisy with her music now and then. Just let me know and I'll talk to her about it."
"Sure. Thanks, Xander. So, yesterday was payday so the next one is just after the first?"
"Fourth I think," he admitted, counting in his head. "Yeah, the fourth sounds about right." He looked at him. Then he shrugged. "It'll wobble back and forth depending on the month but I'll always get it around the first."
"That's fine, son. You get everything switched over?"
"Dawn said she did."
"I did," she complained as she came out. "The only thing I didn't do was the trash. I had them put into my name." Xander gave her a look. "What?" She shrugged. "They wanted social security numbers and stuff and it'd be fraud if I signed up in your name."
"Point. We'll make sure they're paid on time." He looked at him again. "Thank you for being so understanding."
"Eehh, bad exes and break-ins happen, even to nice folk. Don't disappoint me." He walked out, heading out to his car.
Xander flopped down again. "I'll get them switched into my name within the month, Dawn."
"Sure." She snuggled into his side. "It's all back, even the pictures, plus a few extras Riley must've put in."
"Good. He alive?"
"There is another set of problems," Ryan offered. "The CDC want to talk to you about your former town. They called Horatio. They'll be down tonight."
"I've got tomorrow off," Xander agreed dryly. That got a smile. "We finish the lab in two weeks."
"Good. We're tired of borrowing space." That got a smile. "We are." He stood up. "I thought I'd stay until you got back."
"That's fine. Thank you, Ryan." He shook his hand with a smile. "Thank you for protecting the little sister and helping her."
"Not a problem, Xander. I like you guys, you're neat." He grinned and walked out, going to report to Horatio that Xander was back and it was settled.
Xander looked at Dawn. "What did Angel say happened?"
"The hellmouth opened and something came out a few inches. It drove the vampires into a frenzy to bulk up so they could defend themselves. They ate most of the town. The rest was some sort of radiation from what he heard." She snuggled in again. "I went online to look at the public school. It's not *too* bad. They've got good classes. It's got security, like guards and dogs and shit, but it's got good classes."
"As long as we can afford it, you're going to the better school," he ordered quietly.
"That is technically part of my education."
Dawn pulled back to look at him. "Xander, you said it's for my education."
"No, I said it's for college."
"It's helping me get to college and it's a legitimate educational expense. I've got sixty-five grand after the withdrawals we had to make, Xander. It's not going to bankrupt me to pay for two year's of school. We've only dug into the first year's projected interest. I'll be fine for school. Though I will go locally to wherever we are at the time." Xander nodded at that decision. "I'm thinking maybe business stuff?"
"Whatever you want," he reminded her gently, pulling her back for a cuddle. "Today was evaluation day. I got good marks."
"Excellents across the board?"
"Nope. But good marks." She smiled at that. "The union rep said it was a good score too. He said the boss grades harder and everyone around there realizes it."
"So, maybe you'll go back up to shift supe?" she suggested, playing with his stomach.
"There's no openings and it's by seniority, Dawn. I'm way far down on the list for that. I'll make crew lead first. That one maybe within two years." She looked up. "They don't have the death and firing rate we had in Sunnydale. They hire and keep good people."
"Oh." She pouted. "I guess that's okay but you were happy as a shift supe."
"I was but I'll get back there again," he reminded her, stroking her back. "With my stuff from Sunnydale tanked by the boss there, I'm on shaky ground anyway. I need months and months of good evaluations here to even be looked at for a lead position."
"Oh." Someone tapped on the door and she got up to answer it, smiling at their landlord. "Problems?"
"No. I came to give you a receipt." He handed it over. "I forgot. Serious discussions?"
"My schooling and the former town going to hell."
"I understand. Have a better day, kids." He walked off, heading off again.
She looked at the receipt then at him. "Didn't you give him six hundred?" He nodded. She handed it over. "It says five."
"Huh." He put it aside. His checkbook had duplicate checks and he'd get the statements back as well. They could take it up when he went to pay the next month's rent. He pulled her back into his side again. "We'll be fine. I'll straighten that out once I've got the check back and all that." She nodded and got comfortable.
Xander smiled as the ribbon was cut to open the new lab by Horatio, clapping politely when they walked back inside. It was a good job. He looked at his boss, who raised an eyebrow. He grinned and got a shrug. He shifted closer. "Where Monday, boss?"
"Later, Harris." Xander nodded and slid back into the background. He made small talk with the others, expecting most of his guys to shift off and hide. They did but he found Xander waiting on him outside. He walked out. "Xander," he said, sighing a bit mentally.
"Don't tell me I lost my job because of the funeral."
"No," he said quickly, shaking his head. "No, not in the least. No, you're still very employed. Have you had employers who've done that?" He nodded. "They can't."
"They have and it wasn't worth it to fight for it," he admitted. "So, where Monday?"
"We've got a week between jobs usually. Though I do have the overtime check for you."
"Thanks. We had to move. Did I give you the new addy?" That got a nod. "Oh, good." He smiled and took the overtime check, glancing at it. "Thanks, boss." He put it into his pocket and looked at him. "So, where?"
"We'll be moving to a building revamp downtown. Will that be out of the way for you?"
"Not really. I drive."
"The reason I'm asking is that we've also contracted to help build a few habitat houses for charity. The company will pay for you to work but they need construction experience and it's closer to where you live. Plus I'd get to see how you lead."
Xander considered it. "I wouldn't mind the chance but I know that it's going to be at least a year before I'm considered for a crew lead position. You keep your guys."
"True." He smiled. "I hire for quality. Your choice. You would be working with Steve and I know his crew bugged you last time."
"It was the gay bashing."
"I've talked to him about that. That'll give you three months out there."
"I'll take it, boss. I loved lead position. I know that they're not going to be professionals working so I'll go easier on them than I did my old crew."
"Good." He smiled. "The guys I talked to on your old crew as references said you were a slavedriver nearer to deadline."
"I let very little slacking off happen at any time, but I always came in on time if possible."
"Which is reasonable. I like that. Go ahead and lead those. Come to the office Wednesday and I'll get you the address and crew names. You'll probably want to make sure they've got water there."
"I've got a cooler and ice is cheap."
"Even better," he agreed happily, clapping him on the back. "Watch out for the sun."
"Oh, I so am," he agreed. "If I have to I'm getting one of those Chinese peasant hats that'll cover most of my shoulders too." That got another laugh. "I don't ever want another sunburn." Dawn pulled in and hopped out, running over. "What happened?"
"Some agents came to the door to talk about the old houses and stuff. They need to see you tonight."
"I'm on my way home," he promised. "Go pay the cab." She went to do that and he looked at his boss. "What time Wednesday?"
"Afternoon is fine, Xander. You're a good worker and you did good with some of the newbies this job." He smiled and got into his car.
Xander got into his and headed home once Dawn was inside. "What sort of agents?"
"Not a clue. Scared the hell out of me."
"Sure." He headed back to the house, frowning. He did stop at the bank to deposit the check but that was done through the drive-thru. By the time they got home, the agents had made themselves comfy and made coffee. He walked in and frowned at them. "You're not dressed like MIB or the FBI."
"It's an oddity that you can recognize them by sight," one of them joked. "FEMA, sir."
"Oh. Okay. Dawn, they're the hurricane and earthquake relief feds." She nodded and relaxed. "Sorry, you scared her."
"I was wondering why?" the one on the couch asked.
"Her sister dated someone who worked in the Initiative. They tried to kidnap us to join them."
"Oh. Okay. Then you do know what happened?"
"We've gotten a report," he admitted. "I left to make sure Dawn would be safe."
"That's fine. How do we seal that thing?"
"Bury it. That's all you can do. Ask Angel, he's a PI in LA. He'll know or he'll know who to talk to." They wrote that down. "So, what else did we need?"
"Well, there is the matter of the residences in town, sir."
"Her mother's house was sold before we left."
"I know that, but there is your parent's residence, Mr. Harris." The one on the couch stood up. "We're buying the land so no one else can use it."
"Plant trees, we could use more trees," Dawn offered.
"We plan on fencing it off like we did Love Canal," he admitted, looking at Xander. "There's a preliminary offer in place." He pulled out some forms and handed them over. "We can have the check to you within six weeks if you'd agree."
Xander looked it over. "With the condition it was in?"
"Even with that sort of condition. That's the standard offer by square foot."
Xander read it all over then pulled out a pen, signing his name and handing it back. "Did my parents survive?" They shook their heads. "Oh, well. Anything else we can do for you two today?" he asked with a small smile. They shook their heads. "Then I thank you. I hope you have an easier time finding relatives. Most of us only lived there."
"We're finding that out, sir. Would you happen to know anything about these families?" the first one asked, handing over a list. Xander sat at the table with him. "We know a few of them have other relatives but we're not sure where without an intense genealogy search."
Xander looked at the names. "This one," he said, pointing at one. "They said they were moving to New Mexico for business reasons. A few went to Mexico." He made notes next to the names. He tapped one. "His parents left but I'm not sure where they went," he sighed. "I almost wish I did. If you find them, tell them I'm here if they want to write?" He handed it back after looking at the second page. "Summers is Dawn." He crossed that name out and Xander's. "What about my Uncle Rory?"
"Does he have any children?"
"He had one ball explode due to a bacterial thing he picked up while wading in a river in Vietnam according to him," he told him. "He's been drunk since then." That got knowing looks. "No one in town went near him."
"Okay, we'll check his dependent's records with the Pentagon and then get back in touch with you. Here?"
"That'd be fine. Next time Dawn won't be scared."
"Sorry," she offered.
"With your past, I'm not surprised we scared you, ma'am," the second one offered, smiling at her. "Thank you for indulging us. We'll let you have the rest of the day off." They left.
Xander looked at Dawn. "Depending on what this house is worth, if we like Miami, I might put an offer down for it." She squealed and hugged him. "That would give us both some stability and it's a good investment," he agreed, patting her on the back. "Oooh. I've got next week off." She let him go and looked at him. "I do. We're between jobs now and I start work with a habitat crew the week after. Our boss is donating some experienced crew people to work with them so he'll pay us for it." She beamed at that. The phone rang and he sighed, getting it. "Harris." He smiled. "Hi, Ryan. No, I'm good. What happened?" He laughed. "Someone already cracked one of the panels?" He nodded. "Figures. No, I was not part of the glass crew but I can call the boss. Sure." He hung up and called his boss. "Boss, it's Xander. One of the CSI guys who guarded us just called. Someone's already cracked one of the glass panels. No one knew who to call so he called me and I'm calling you." He grinned. "Have fun with that. Remember, I didn't work glass crew." That got a laugh. "Yeah, if you need me." He hung up and leaned back, looking at her. "We deserve takeout."
"We do," she agreed, going to get the menus.
Ryan walked up to where Xander was working, coughing to get his attention.
"Guys, keep going, you're doing good. Shift it left so it's even and resting on *all* the beams." They looked and shifted it over, leaving a gap. "That's why I said not to nail the other one." They shifted that one and the eave situation was fixed. "Good job! When you've got it anchored, go ahead and take a short break!" They nodded and got to work anchoring it. He came down and looked at Ryan. "Sorry."
"That's okay. You're doing an amazing job. Two of the other ones aren't doing very much."
"I only run this one," he said dryly. "I started out with all three but then the boss saw some sense." That got a smile. "They've got union guys on injury leave." He grinned. "So, what's up? More damage?"
"No, thankfully after that one glass panel broke we were pretty delicate with them. No more slamming the doors." Xander chuckled at that. "No, I, um, came to see if you'd like to go out tonight. Or...or this weekend," he offered, stuttering slightly.
Xander shrugged. "Okay. Where?"
Ryan moved closer. "I remember what I saw, Xander." Xander blushed and looked around. "I'm good with that." He saw the swallow. "Would you go out with me this weekend? I know a really safe bar and it's a nice place. A bit odd but really nice. I've been there with my past girlfriends."
Xander started to sweat. "Um, that's... that's mostly stress."
Ryan touched his hand. "I know. Please?" Xander swallowed and shrugged. Ryan smiled. "Great. Any day better for you?"
"Friday's a good night or Saturday."
"Thanks. Say, eight? Friday?"
"Works for me," he agreed, smiling at him. "Sorry, I haven't dated a whole lot."
"I understand. It's all good. I'll come pick you up and everything." Xander nodded at that. "Great." He beamed. "Have a good shift. Does it have eaves?"
"Yeah but you put those on later." That got a smile and he left. Xander went to get a drink and then draw out how they were to put on eaves while the rest of the crew took a drink break. That got some nods by the time they got back to it. The rest of the panels were anchored more securely and the eaves were put on. "Good job," Xander called, smiling at them. And at the fact he now had his first date in Miami. With a very nice guy. One with a good job who wouldn't be a money hoover and probably wasn't a danger to him and others. It was a unique experience. He called Dawn. "I'm going out Friday with Ryan," he said quietly. "As the other me. Yeah. Thanks." He hung up and let her handle what he was wearing. She was his clothing advisor and had always been his clothing advisor. It was good to have girlfriends.