More Than a Calling

Author: Bastard Snow <mamille5[at]>

Rating: A soft 'R', because 'fuck' is such a fun word.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these people, Buffy or otherwise.

Summary: Xander left Sunnydale after "The Freshman" on good terms with everyone. Sunnydale has now just fallen into the Earth, and the Sunnydale crew heads to Los Angeles to mooch off of Angel's hotel.

Author's Notes: Okay, here's the thing. Everything in Seasons 4-7 actually happened, just without Xander there (with the exception of some specific ones). How did this happen? Who knows? It's a mystery. But it did. Also, thanks as always to Drake for beta-reading this thing, and for constantly annoying me. "Write on that one, write on that one," blah, blah, blah. Fucking whiner. Oh, see, there it is again!

Feedback: Yes, please.

Dedication: To whoever the hell it was who thought up this crossover whenever the hell they thought it up. I'd go back in the archives and find out, but I'm really lazy. Anyway. Story time.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

"They're running!"

"How the hell did they get out up there?"

"Who cares, just follow them!"

And like that, four police officers shot off towards the fire escape of the multi-story bank. As the bottom three floors of an eight story building, the bank's roof provided easy access to the surrounding buildings. The pursuing officers were falling behind. The bank robbers sprinted across the roof, leapt off the side and landed roughly on the next building over.

"Shit!" yelled one of the officers, reaching the roof as the last of the criminals flew off of it. "They jumped!"

"Let's go!" yelled another, hopping up to the roof and sprinting across. The others followed him determinedly, only hesitating as he leapt across the gap to the next roof, still in hot pursuit of the crooks. The last of the policemen landed poorly and wrenched his knee. He dropped prone onto the rooftop, but as one of the others came back for him, the injured officer waved him off. With a nod, the man turned around and sprinted after his colleagues.

The bank robbers had leapt to yet another roof, and were gaining ground on all but one of the cops. That one – he actually seemed to be gaining on them. Overhead, a helicopter swung into action, following the chase from the sky. Above that, another helicopter bearing the letters KTLA followed the chase as well, broadcasting it for all who cared to see.


"Oh, thank God," Angel said as a group of weary travelers entered the lobby of the hotel he used as his offices. The group was lead by Buffy Summers, Slayer, and one of two women who had ever held his heart. Angel jumped up from his seat and embraced the young woman, a gesture done more from relief than any romantic reasons.

A line of young women followed her inside, including her best friend Willow Rosenberg, her sister Dawn, her mentor Rupert Giles, and the pain in her ass that was Andrew Wells.

"How is everyone?" Angel asked.

"Wiped," said Dawn. "And very happy you've got a hotel."

"Oh, yeah," Angel said looking around at the girls. "Is this all of them? Where's Faith?"

"No, it's most of them," Buffy said. "We've got a few in the hospital. Including Faith, who is there not for herself, but for Robin."

"Robin?" Angel asked.

"Her new… something or other."

"I see," Angel said. He turned around. "Wes, Fred, can you hand out room numbers for these girls?"

"Certainly," Wesley said from behind the desk. He grabbed a bunch of keys from under the desk and began handing them out to the girls.

"Hey," Willow said, drawing Angel's attention. "Where's Cordy?"


Two more of the officers had fallen back, leaving just one to continue the chase. The helicopter overhead was blasting its loudspeaker, telling the bank robbers to stop, lay down their weapons and give up.

It wasn't working.

As the criminals started to veer off to the left, the officer pulled up short, whipped out his pistol and fired two rounds. The bullets ricocheted off of a small wall in front of the crooks. They quickly headed back the other way, leaping again to another roof. The officer holstered his pistol and took the chase up again, quickly gaining on the crooks, who were swiftly losing their energy.


The newly-activated slayers were dropping their bags off in their rooms – what bags they were able to cram onto the lone school bus that made it out of Sunnydale. This entailed placing the bags in the rooms, testing out the beds, using the bathrooms and dealing with various other feminine needs. The Scooby Gang, used to getting ready on the run, spent significantly less time in their rooms. After a while, the whole group met back down in the lobby to solidify plans.

"I want to go home," said one girl.

"We're going to take care of all of that," Buffy assured them. "First, we need to make sure we've accounted for everybody, and get contact information for everybody who wants to go home. We also need to solidify plans for those who don't want to go home, and are of legal age to make that decision."

"What if our guardianship was turned over to the council?"

"In that case," Giles said, stepping up, "it will technically be my decision, however I assure you that your wishes will be taken heavily into consideration. It is my intention that anybody wishing to go home does so, whether or not the council has legal rights to you."

As the young slayers continued to ask questions, Willow, Dawn, Andrew and Faith, who had arrived from the hospital minutes earlier, were talking to the staff of Angel Investigations about Cordelia and the events of the past year. Charles Gunn came down from his own room in the hotel where he had been watching television. Out of view of the Sunnydalers, he handed Wesley a pistol. The British man surreptitiously glanced at it and, realizing the meaning of Gunn's gesture, slipped it under his shirt and into his waistband.

"Hey, does anybody hear that sound?" Faith asked, looking up.

"What sound?" Gunn asked. "I don't hear anything."

"No, she's right," said Willow. "I hear it too."

"Hey," Dawn said. "You know who I miss? Who I haven't seen in months?"

Angel smiled at the girl and, having caught the exchange between Wesley and Gunn, wandered casually towards the weapons cabinet.


The bank robbers found a ladder on top of the roof of their current building, and laid it across to the next roof. Quickly and nimbly, they made their way across, hitting the other roof as the only officer still in pursuit landed on the building they had just left. Smiling to themselves, they pulled the ladder over to their side, leaving no way across the gap. They stood there for a moment, catching their breath and watching the officer behind them.

He wasn't slowing down.

The three men looked at each other, looked back at the officer, who was now accelerating, and turned around. They saw a door and, upon testing the knob, found it open. The three men dashed inside just as the police officer took flight from the previous building. The door slammed shut just as he hit the ground, rolling on the roof and popping back up to his feet.

He ran across the roof and followed the men through the door. Once inside, he stopped for a moment to catch his breath, spoke into his radio, then descended the stairs at a leisurely pace.


Angel looked over to Wesley and Gunn. He tapped his ear twice, indicating that he had heard something.

"Okay, that's definitely a helicopter," Dawn said. "And it's really close and really low."

"You wanna go outside and see it?" Willow asked.

"No," Gunn said, pulling the gun out from behind his back. "Y'all are stayin' right here."

Wesley whipped his gun out as well, as Angel opened the weapons cabinet and pulled out his favorite axe. Gunn and Wesley jumped over the counter, drawing the attention of the whole lobby.

"What the hell is going on here?" Faith asked.

Angel walked over to the wall under the balcony and leaned up against it. Above him, three men wearing masks appeared. Seeing their salvation before them in the form of hostages, they took heart from the pursuing officer and leapt over the railing, hitting the floor rolling. The first two popped up to their feet and promptly backed away from the sight in front of them – two angry looking men brandishing semi-automatic pistols directly at their heads.

The third rolled up and, assessing the situation, reached for his own weapon. He found his arm caught behind him in a vice-like grip.

"On your knees!" Angel yelled, releasing his grip on the man and dropping into his native Irish brogue.

"You men are evil," Angel said, as all three fell to the floor.

Wesley and Gunn each chambered a round into their barrels, fear entering the eyes of the criminals. Angel strode to the front of the trio, twirling the double-headed axe in his hands. The new Slayers and all of the Scoobies watched in confusion at what they saw.

"And as evil men," Angel said, snarling, "you must be punished." He nodded to the men beside him, and all three began to chant in Irish accents. Some better than others.

"And shepherds we shall be, for thee my Lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand, that our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. We shall flow a river forth to thee, and teeming with souls shall it ever be."

"In nomine patri," said Gunn

"Et fili," said Wesley.

Angel released his demonic visage, and each of the criminals before them gasped.

"Et spritu sancti," he said.

As one, the three men stepped forward. As Angel thrust the butt of his axe onto the head of the middle man, Gunn and Wesley each bludgeoned the others with the stock of their guns. The three men fell unconscious to the floor.

The lobby erupted into confusion as Slayers and Scoobies alike questioned what had just happened. They were quickly silenced by the sound of slow, almost sarcastic clapping echoing throughout the lobby. Almost as one, they looked up to the second floor balcony and saw a man dressed in a policeman's uniform.

"I bet you think you're pretty special don't you?" he said, addressing specifically the three armed men in the middle of the confusion.

Around the crowd, various smiles broke out, but Angel, Gunn and Wesley stood there, stone faced. As the owners of the smiles saw this, the smiles vanished.

"Well I have news for you," the man said. "If I were to describe any of you, 'special' is not the word I would use."

He planted his hand firmly on the railing and vaulted over the side, landing behind the unconscious criminals. He walked straight up to Angel.

"No," he said, scowling. "Special wouldn't even enter my mind."

A goofy grin broke out on his face.

"You guys kick ass," he said, laughing. Wes, Gunn and Angel stepped forward and exchanged familiar greetings with him.

"Damn, Xander," Gunn said, as the pair exchanged an overly complex handshake. "You sure know how to make an entrance."

Chapter 2

The lobby of the Hyperion Hotel was swarming with police officers, all of whom were taking statements from the all female 'gymnastics team' that was staying there. All of their stories said the same thing: three masked men had come into the hotel brandishing firearms, and were subdued by some of the people who worked there.

Yes, they knew it wasn't a real hotel, but one of their instructors was good friends with the owner, and they thought staying somewhere this nice for free was a pretty good deal. No, they said, they didn't know the men in question, but thought the whole thing was really cool, and a little scary.

There was nothing like reinforcing stereotypes to make a story seem more believable.

Once the statements were all taken and the bad guys were transported to jail, the lobby quieted down a lot.

The Scoobies looked around the lobby, but Xander was nowhere to be seen. He had apparently slipped out in all the confusion with barely more than a 'hello' to any of them. Buffy glanced out a window and saw Xander leaning up against a squad car, talking to some of his colleagues. She frowned and followed him outside. Only one person saw her leave.

"Hey," she said, walking up behind Xander.

Xander looked over his shoulder and smiled. He turned back to the other officers, said something that made them laugh, then kicked off of the car and walked Buffy over to a quiet area.

"Do you do that often?" she asked, after exchanging the hug required between two such friends who hadn't seen each other in months.

"Every once in a while," he said, smiling at her.

"Xander, where did you learn to do that stuff?"

"I'm a cop, Buffy," he said. "Badge, gun, protect and serve, all that. It's what we do. You knew that when I left... what was it, four years ago?"

"Cops in Sunnydale don't do that," she mumbled.

Xander laughed. "Well, cops in Sunnydale are inept," he said.

"Harris!" one of the other cops yelled.

"Yeah?" Xander yelled back.

"Code Three at a possible four-five-nine, six blocks," the man yelled.

"I gotta go, Buff," Xander said, moving towards the other officer. "Duty calls."

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"Officer needs assistance at a possible burglary. I'll see ya later, Buff."

"Xander, wait, we need to talk."

"Okay," he said, "but right now I have a job to do."

"Xander, don't just walk away!" she called, walking after him. "What you just did was very dangerous!"

Xander stopped and turned around. "I know," he said. "But it's what I do. You gotta understand that, right? Look, I'll come back later tonight, but I really have to go right now."

Buffy stepped forward and grabbed his wrist. "Xander, wait. You realize that you're endangering lives, right?"

Xander looked at her cock-eyed. "Tell me you're joking," he said.

"No, I'm serious! There's a –"

"Harris!" the cop yelled again.

"Look, you can't just –"

"Buff, I don't have time for this right now. I really have to go." Xander slipped his wrist free from her softened grip. He grabbed Buffy by her head and planted a sloppy kiss on her forehead. "I'll talk to you later," he said, before running off to the waiting squad car. It pealed out as soon as the door was shut, leaving Buffy standing in the street, alone. Or so she thought.

"Always gets me when they do that," Gunn said from where he stood behind her.

Buffy whipped around, surprised he was able to sneak up on her.

"I'm quieter than I have any right to be, considering my size," he said. "I love when the cops pull out like that. When the sirens leave… it leaves a street quiet. Peaceful."

Buffy nodded.

"Your boy knows his job," Gunn said, looking down at the petite young woman whose size hid her true strength. "Don't question his judgment about it. People won't like that."

With that, Gunn turned around and walked back into the hotel.

Buffy stood there. She had just been told off, albeit lightly, by two people. One she had long considered a friend, and one she barely knew. That hadn't happened to her in a long time. She wasn't sure how to react.


That night, after his shift was over, Xander Harris returned to the Hyperion Hotel, intent on meeting up with his oldest friends and enjoying a night of reminiscing.

"All hail, the king of the castle has returned!" he called as he strode into the lobby.

"My castle, Xander," Angel said from behind the front desk, without looking up from some paperwork. "I'm king."

"You keep believing that, buddy. Wait till I get the health inspector in here."

Angel looked up and smiled. "Nice work today," he said. "And you left my upstairs windows intact. For once."

"Well, I figured you guys were getting the hang of stopping my collars for me. I saw no reason to catch up to them by diving through glass. Plus, do you know what the department charges to repair our uniforms? It's ridiculous."

"Hey, man," Gunn said, coming down the stairs. He and Xander again exchanged a convoluted and overly complex handshake. "Beer?"

"Oh yeah," Xander said. "Hey, where is everyone?"

"Fred and Wes took some of them to dinner," Angel said. "Using my money, of course."

"The company's money, actually," Lorne said. "Babyface, heard you put on quite a show, sorry I missed it."

"Hey, Adama," Xander said. "I wouldn't have caught those guys nearly as easy if not for these two and Wes."

"Xander!" came a squeal from the door. Dawn rushed in and jumped on the man she'd had a crush on since she was a little girl.

"Dawnie!" he said, embracing her. He backed away from her to get a good look. "When did you get so gorgeous?"

Dawn blushed. "Quit it," she said.

Xander smiled at her. "I mean it, Dawn. You're gonna break some hearts. Probably already have. Have you? I bet you have."

"No," she said. "I haven't broken any hearts. Boys don't like me like that."

"Ah, what the hell do they know, anyway?" he asked. Dawn gave him a peck on the cheek and went to find the bathroom.

"Heya, X," said Faith from the doorway where she stood next to a black man with a shaved head. "Wicked show you treated us to."

"Thank you, Faith," he said. "It's not everyday that happens, you guys showed up at the right time."

"This is Robin Wood," she said. "Demon hunter, former principal, current boytoy."

"Nice to meet you," Xander said, standing and shaking the man's hand. Robin nodded back to him. Xander turned back to Faith. "How was Sunnydale?"

"Usual. Worse, now."

"Yeah, I heard. What caused it to drop into the ground like that?"

"Spike," she said. "And some magical bauble Fang here dropped off."

"Spike, huh?" he said. "Well, I guess you just never know."

Soon, a steady stream of young girls was flowing into the hotel. Xander sat down, his jaw agape at the age of some of them. He shook his head and took a sip of his beer.

"Young, ain't they," Gunn said.

"Very," Xander said.

"They're all slayers, too. Made moving in easier."

"Slayers?" Xander asked. "All of them?"

Gunn nodded. "Blondie had your little witch friend do a spell that activated them. I got the story after you put on your little hero act."

"Man," Xander said. "We couldn't keep two slayers in line, now they wanna try, what, 25?"

"More than that, actually," Angel said, having overheard the conversation. "A few hundred at least. The spell activated potential slayers around the world. Wolfram and Hart is going to be spending serious money trying to find them all."

"Hundreds," Xander said, disbelievingly.

"If not thousands," said Angel.

"What were they fighting that they needed that many slayers?"

"The First," Angel said.

"You mean that incorporeal thing that claimed it brought you back from hell?"

"That's the one. Well, that and a couple thousand Turok-han. They're like vampires, only tougher. Usually. But Buffy has this axe-thing, although for some reason she keeps calling it a scythe…"

"Axe thing?" Xander asked.

"I don't know, it's in her room," said Angel.

"And this was the only way to win?"

"From what they say."

"Are these Turok-han thingies still allergic to fire?


Xander shook his head. "Couldn't they just have used napalm?"

"Xander!" Willow yelled as she ran towards him from the entrance, where she left standing a young brown-haired girl.

"Hey, Wills," he said, rising to his feet and wrapping his friend in a bear hug. "How are you?"

"I'm good," she said, swiping some over-long hair from his eyes. "I missed you."

"Missed you too," he said. The brown-haired girl walked up closer to them. "Who's this?"

"Oh, right! Xander, I want you to meet Kennedy. Kennedy, this is Xander. He's been my best friend since pretty much always. Xander, this is Kennedy, my girlfriend."

Xander smiled and extended his hand. "Nice to meet you," he said with a smile.

Kennedy took his hand and shook it, smiling back. "So you're Xander," she said. "Man, I would hate to be you right now."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Why is that?"

"Buffy's been angry all afternoon, ever since you chased those guys through here. She's gonna rip you a new one."

Xander rolled his eyes. "I can handle Buffy," he said, confidently.

"I don't know, Xander," Willow said. "She's pretty mad. You did kinda blow her off."

"I have a job to do," he said. "The Buffster's just gonna have to deal with it."

"And deal with it she will," Buffy said, having caught the end of what Xander said.

"Hey, Buff," he said.

"Xander. Can we talk?"

"Sure," he said.

"Somewhere private?"

"Sure, if it's a private conversation. If it's about this afternoon, though, I'd just as soon stay here in the open."

Buffy shot a disapproving look at him, but gave in.

"Okay. What were you thinking today?"

"Well, it was something along the lines of 'catch the bad guys.' A concept you're familiar with, if I recall correctly."

"You put their lives in danger."

"They put their own lives in danger, I tried to stop them from doing that to others," he said.

"You can't just do that, Xander!" she yelled. A crowd was starting to gather, both in the lobby, and at the banister on the second level.

"Actually, I can," Xander said, growing angry. "It's in my job description, literally. Police officer. To protect and serve the people of Los Angeles, with deadly force when absolutely necessary. I do the exact same thing you do, only in the day, and sanctioned by the government. And I get paid for it."

Buffy glared at him. "I do not endanger human lives," she said.

"I know. But then, you don't deal with human criminals much, do you? We do the same job in different worlds, Buffy. You need to grow up and learn that not all humans are nice, and not everybody with a soul is good."

"I don't get you," she said. "What's with your attitude?"

"MY attitude?" he asked. "That's a laugh. You're the one who blows into town and, right off, decides I need a lecture. Where do you get off? You're not my boss, and you have no right to criticize my actions. I am a police officer, and a damn good one. If I never endangered human life, I would be out of a job. It is not up to you to decide what is right for everybody in the world. And it is not your right to come in here and lecture me after I haven't heard one word from you in months."

Buffy paused. "I was busy," she said. "Fighting the First."

"So were Willow and Dawn," he said. "But they managed to call me anyway."

"The door swings both ways, Xan," she said. "You could have called too."

"I did," he almost-snarled. "Spike picked up and told me to sod off."

A cough came from the doorway, and Buffy and Xander backed away from each other, leaving a zone of discomfort between them. Everyone looked at the newcomers.

"Can I help you?" Angel asked of the two men who had just walked into the hotel.

The taller of the two, a smooth looking black man, nodded. "If Alexander Harris is here, you can."

"I'm Harris," Xander said.

"I figured you would be, from that display I just saw. I'm Hondo, this is Jim Street," he said, indicating the young man next to him.

Xander nodded. "I've heard of you. What do you want with me?"

"We were interested in your performance today. It was… magnificently done."

"I guess it was," Xander said.

"I hear you also had to drop a guy holding up a liquor store, after your little televised chase."

"I didn't drop him, I clipped his shoulder with a bullet and he passed out," Xander said.

"You did WHAT?" Buffy yelled. "Oh, you are so gonna—"

"Not now," Xander snapped.

"Is there a problem with your girlfriend?" asked Street.

Xander let out a short, harsh bark of a laugh. "She's not my girlfriend. Never has been. There is no problem."

"Well, anyway," Hondo said, "I'm here with an offer for you. Got a minute?"

"Sure," Xander said. He walked up to the two men, and they stepped outside. Street paused just inside the door, and turned back and looked at Faith.

"Do I know you?" he asked.

"Nope, never seen ya," said Faith.

"Weird, your face looks so familiar." Street shook his head and walked outside.

"You know who we are, I assume you know what we do," Hondo said.

"I'm aware, yes."

"Well, as it happens, we have an opening on our team. We want you."

Xander was surprised. "You're kidding," he said.

"Do I look like I'm trying to be funny?" Hondo asked.

"Sorry," Xander said. "Why me?"

"You did great on your tests," Hondo said.

"Yeah, and I was rejected, too," Xander replied.

"We saw what we saw today," Street said. "And we've checked your record. You're Grade A material."

"More than that, you'll piss off Fuller," Hondo said.

Xander snorted. "I do that anyway. Why do you think I'm not already with a team? You think he wants his uniforms chasing people across rooftops?"

"About that," Hondo said. "How is it you know exactly how to get so quickly from one roof to the next? The other officers said you guys started out pretty far behind."

Xander grinned. "I know my way around."

"That's it?" Street asked.

"For now."

"So, answer a question, hotshot," Hondo said. "You're pretty young, how'd you become a cop?"

Xander shrugged. "Few years ago, I graduate high school. Decided to do the Kerouac thing, you know, On the Road? Anyway, car broke down in L.A. and I'm washing dishes to get money to get it fixed. Guy comes in to rob the place, I kinda just take him out. Turns out there was an officer in the house that night. She convinced me to check out the academy. One not-at-all teary 'finally he's gone' from my parents, a few hugs and, this time, tears from my friends, and here I am." He shrugged.

"That's it?" Hondo asked.

"Well, no, I mean I sat around for another month or so weighing my options, and I still needed money to fix my car. See, back where I'm from, I was kind of involved in this community outreach sorta thing, but they had been pushing me out, a little. I figured, why let that continue? I'll walk out on my own terms, and still on good terms with all of them, I'll get a respectable job helping people out, and do things my way."

Both Hondo and Street nodded.

"Alright, so here's the offer," Hondo said. "You get a minute pay raise, which I know you can use. Everyone in this department can. In return, you work the hardest you've ever worked in your life, and prepare everyday. Then, you work shitty hours and put your life on the line more than you ever have before."

Xander smirked to himself when Hondo said that.

"And, you get to work with the best team in the state, possibly the country."

"Yours," Xander said.

"Mine," confirmed Hondo.

Xander leaned against the wall of the Hyperion. "Okay, sure," he said. "When do I start?"

Hondo handed him a slip of paper. "Report to that address at 7 am. Your training starts then."

Xander nodded. "Okay. I'll be there."

"Good," Hondo said, and started walking away. "One last thing. You're not a vegetarian, are you?"

Xander laughed. "No, I definitely am not."

"Good," said Hondo.

"Oh, and Harris?" Street said.


The man smiled. "Welcome to SWAT."

Chapter 3

"Where does he get off, talking to me like that?" Buffy asked the air as she paced around the lobby of the Hyperion. "And then just blowing me off? How could he do that?"

"What?" Gunn nearly yelled. "You're not serious."

"Did I ask you your opinion?" Buffy said.

"No, but you're gettin' it anyway," said Gunn. "Xander used to talk about you like you were God's gift. You were Buffy, this great girl who stole his heart, but never kept it. You were his hero. I think he even told you that once. You shoulda heard him and Angel go on and on about the wonderful Buffy. But if you're the same girl he talked about, you've changed a lot, and for the worse."

"I don't think you can—"

"I wasn't finished!" Gunn yelled, slamming his drink down on the counter, cracking the bottle. Everybody, even Angel, was surprised by the force in his voice. Buffy backed down a little. "Xander is a good friend of mine, and more than that, he's a good man. He's not perfect, none of us are, but he does the best he can. Does he endanger human lives? You better believe it. But it's not as cut and dry as that.

"What he does helps stop innocent people from getting hurt. It helps put criminals off the street, and makes this city safer. Not from demons, or some big evil, but from people who want to hurt others. He may not have mystical powers, or be able to move things with his mind, but doing what he does, he damn sure makes life in LA just a little bit better. So take a step back. Figure out what the hell you think is so important that you're willing to publicly berate and humiliate a man you used to call a friend for doing his best to help people."

Buffy started to talk very quietly but forcefully. "Human life is not something that can just be—"

"Humans be damned!" Gunn said. "If you spent any time at all on the streets, you would know just how much someone like him is needed. You think demons and vamps are bad? Try running every night from pimps, gang bangers and rapists who'd just as soon slit your throat as look at you. People got souls, yeah, but a soul doesn't make people good. It gives 'em the option. They have to take it."

"I did spend time on the streets," Buffy said. "Five years ago, I lived here in LA, and saw the worst people have to offer."

"Well obviously it didn't sink in," Gunn said. "Either that, or you're the densest person I've ever met."

Gunn stalked off in anger, slamming doors behind him as he went. The lobby was silent. With impeccable timing, Xander chose that moment to enter.

"Hey guys," he said, glancing around at the timid faces around the lobby. "Where's Gunn?"

Buffy snorted, and walked off, also slamming doors as she went.

"I'm thinking I missed something," Xander said.

"Gunn took it upon himself to chew out Buffy for being what he felt was rather… obstinate," said Wesley.

"She was being a bitch," Dawn said.

"Dawn!" scolded Willow.

"Well, she was," Faith said. "Girl needs to learn some perspective. Some of the people I met in prison were worse than most vamps. Well. Some vamps. A few, anyway…"

"Speaking of," Xander said. "I should really be arresting you and taking you back to prison."

The room grew silent.

"Oh," he said. "I'm not going to do it, I was just mentioning that I should. And you should probably lay low. Staying here is fine, but Street sort of recognized you. Just a warning."

"Thanks," Faith said, brow creased in concern.

"Actually," said Angel, "we're going to be working on getting her clemency. You wouldn't believe the amount of influence Wolfram and Hart has."

Xander looked at him pointedly.

"Okay, well, I guess YOU would. But most other people…. Anyway, you're not gonna say anything?"

Xander shook his head, then sighed. "I guess I better go do some damage control."

"Slipping into old roles, huh?" Angel asked.

Xander shrugged. "Once a comfortador, always a comfortador. Where's her room?"

"308," Dawn said.

"Thanks. If I die, make sure Gunn gets the battle-axe on my wall," he said with a smile, then headed upstairs.

He knocked on Buffy's door.

"What?" came the answer.

Xander shook his head and walked in.

"What do you want?" she asked.

"What's up with you?" he asked bluntly.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"No? Okay, good. Then you're not going psycho on me. Buff, I've been a cop for four years. What's bugging you about it now?"

"I never really thought about it before," she said. "But you're putting people in danger. Including yourself."

He sighed, and sat down on her bed. "So… what? You don't think there should be police officers? Just let everyone fend for themselves?"

"No," she said. "Police are a good thing."

"Okay… hypocrite much? So, what, you like cops, but not me as a cop, is that it?"

"I… I don't know," she said.

"Well think about it," he said. "What you said was wrong, Buffy. You know as well as any of us that human beings are capable of evil. Or do I need to remind you how Tara died?"

Buffy winced at that. Xander stood back up.

"My job is just to try to keep things like that from happening, and when they do happen, my job is to catch the people who do them. I put their lives in danger in search of the greater good. I don't know where your belief about a soul equaling somebody being good came from, but I can tell you without hesitation that you are wrong. So think about why you don't like me being a cop, and then try to come to terms with it. Because I'm not going to be quitting any time soon, and I would hate to lose your friendship because of my job."

She looked up at him, her eyes showing no signs of giving in. He walked to the door, and opened it, then paused.

"But," he said softly, "I will, if I have to."

Xander left her room, and headed upstairs to Gunn's.

He walked in without knocking.

"Hey," he said. Gunn was bouncing a tennis ball off his wall.

"Little blonde girl's got some messed up ideas, man," Gunn said.

"Yeah," Xander said. "I hear you defended me down there."

"Just said what needed saying."

"Still, standing up to a slayer is never a fun thing to do. I should know."

"And?" Gunn said.

"And… thanks. For saying whatever it was you said. I get the feeling that people haven't stood up to Buffy in way too long. Either that or she changed into an uber-bitch while I wasn't looking."

"Sure she wasn't always?" Gunn asked.

Xander laughed. "There were times..." he said. "But overall, no. Buffy was one of my best friends in high school. She saved my life more times than I can count, and I owe her for that. She wasn't always kind, and didn't always make the best decisions, but she was rarely as irrational as she's been since she showed up here."

"Tryin' to make me like her?"

"No," Xander said. "You know I wouldn't do that. And I just told her not to make me pick between her and my job, cuz she'd lose. I just came here to thank a friend."

Gunn looked up at him, nodded, and they yet again exchanged their overly-complicated handshake, after which Xander left the room.

"Okay, I'm going home," he said when he again reached the lobby. "I gotta be up way early tomorrow. I got training for SWAT."

"Is that what they were here for?" Wesley asked.

"Yep. I get a little more money and a lot more work, and I have to go through more training. But, it'll be worth it."

"Congrats, man," Faith said.

Xander nodded his thanks as he yawned.

"I'll be back around in a few days," he said. "How long are you guys staying?"

"Until we get things figured out," Willow said. "There's another Hellmouth in Cleveland that needs looking after, and we have Slayers to find and train, and funding to work out, and figure out who needs to go where and how we're going to do all of this and I think we'll probably be here at least a few weeks and maybe more because we really don't know where our funding is going to come from and I still have to research the scythe and everything but generally we'll be here for a while."

Xander laughed, and grabbed Willow into a rough hug. "I missed that, you crazy redhead. Okay, I'm out. Goodnight, folks."

"Xander!" Dawn yelled, stopping him at the door.


She ran up to him and gave him a big hug. "I missed you."

"Missed you too, Dawnie," he said. He kissed her on the top of her head, then walked out and drove home.


"Harris, you're here early," Hondo said the next morning.

"Traffic was lighter than I expected," he said.

Hondo smiled. That was the second time he'd heard that.

"And call me Xander, if you would."

"I'll call you Xander when you pass my test."

"Fair enough. What's up first?"

"Firing range," Hondo said. "Gotta test your accuracy."


"This is incredible," Hondo said, looking at the target. "You're one of the best shots I've ever seen."

Xander shrugged. "I grew up on video games."

Hondo shook his head. "This might challenge Street," he said. "We'll have to check. But first, the sniper range."

Hondo folded up the target and led Xander to the long-range target zone, where Street and David 'Deke' Kay were waiting for him. After a quick introduction, Hondo handed Xander a rifle.

Xander checked his gun out, and adjusted a few settings, and took aim.

"You have thirty seconds to study the board," Hondo said, indicating a few planks of wood up on top of a large hill that had playing cards stapled to it. When time was up he gave Xander further instructions. "I want the best hand you can find. You have five shots and ten seconds, and Street and Deke will be taking their best shots, too. Timing starts as soon as you fire."

Xander nodded, lined up his first shot and squeezed the trigger five times in quick succession, almost in unison with Deke and Street. Hondo looked through his binoculars and saw holes appear in fifteen playing cards that were up the side of a mountain from them.

"What'd you get?" he asked of his two best snipers.

"Man, I didn't get shit," Deke said. "He took some of my cards. I got a four, two sixes, an eight and a queen."

"Street?" Hondo asked.

"Two pair. Nines and jacks, plus a king."

Hondo brought his binoculars up to his face and looked at the cards. "Damn," he said. "Aces and eights, full house. Very nice, Harris. Now, let's go see if you actually did beat Street on the range."

The group went back inside and checked Xander's target sheet against the one hanging under the sign that said 'Best Single Clip.'

"Nope," Street said. "I still got the record."

"What can I say?" Xander said, smiling at the man. "I was a little tired."

Xander spent the next week and a half running through tests and drills, some alone, some with the other members of Hondo's team. Whole passed the tests with room to spare, and the whole team was tested again on the tenth day. They pulled the plane run, as the others had in their first certification, and finished it in three minutes and eighteen seconds, just shy of the course record that had been set by Hondo's earlier team. Only this time they didn't lose anybody.

After the test, Xander went back to the Hyperion. Much of the group was in the lobby, going over papers or just talking. Buffy was nowhere to be seen. Xander snuck up behind Willow.

"Guess who!" he said, covering her eyes with his hands.

"Xander," she said.

"Yeah… but guess again," he said.

"Xander," she said again.

"Ah, you've found me out," he said, smiling "What's going on around here?"

"Slayer finding and budget crunching," she said.

"Wow. Am I ever glad I didn't stick around for that."

"Ah, but you're here now," she said.

"Yes, but leaving again. I'm wiped from the tests," he said. "We passed our qualification today. As of tomorrow morning, I am officially a member of SWAT."

"Xander, that's great!" Willow said, giving him a hug.

"Thanks," he said.

"What's all the commotion?" Gunn asked, coming into the lobby.

"Xander made SWAT," Willow said, her grin a mile wide.

"All right, I knew you could do it, bro," Gunn said.

"Yes, I do believe congratulations are in order," said Giles.

"Giles!" Xander said, noticing the watcher for the first time and pulling the older man into a friendly hug. "I missed you the other day. How's it going?"

"I'm doing as well as can be expected, I suppose," Giles said. "A little worn around the edges, but over all not bad."

"Great," Xander said, smiling.

"Xander?" came a voice from the balcony. A few people looked up and saw Buffy standing there. "Can I talk to you?"

Xander smiled at Willow, then made his way up the stairs. He and Buffy ducked into a room to talk.

"Okay," she said. "I've been thinking about what you said, and I don't know why I reacted like I did. I do know that I don't like you being a cop, but I also know that police are necessary. And I don't know how to reconcile the two."

"Okay," Xander said.

"But, I also don't want to lose your friendship," she said. "And I don't know how to do both, because the thought of you out there, taking shots at people, getting shot at sometimes, it just, it makes me want to barf or something. But, you've never not been my friend."

Xander said nothing.

"So," she said. "I don't know where we stand."

"Well," Xander said. "I appreciate your honesty. And I don't know what to tell you, except that I also don't want to lose your friendship, either. I like you, Buff, but you can't go around yelling at people because of what you think is right. I'm not one of your troops."

"I know that, Xander," she said.


"But I don't want you to be a cop."

"You don't have a choice on that one."

"I know."

Xander sighed. "Look," he said. "Can you, for now, put aside your hatred of my job? So that, at the least, we can be in the same room and not get into a screaming match?"

"I can try," she said. "If you don't bring up work-related subjects."

"I'll do my best," he said.

"Friends?" she asked.

Xander smiled. "Friends."

They walked out of the room.

"So," Xander asked when they got back downstairs. "What's the plan shaping up to be?"

"Well, we have decided we need a presence on the Hellmouth in Cleveland," Giles said. "And, with the help of Wolfram and Hart, we have seized much of the assets of the Watcher's council, so that will make things much easier. Buffy and I, along with many of the new slayers, will relocate there. We will start a school, of sorts, to train new watchers and slayers."

"Sounds like a plan," Xander said. "Who else is going?"

"I am," Willow said. "Kennedy and I are both going."

"City of Angels for me," said Faith. "We figure, keep me as close to the cutthroat lawyers as possible. Also, I can help Angel out with stuff."

"I, unfortunately, will be accompanying the slayers to Cleveland," said Wood.

"Unfortunately?" Xander asked.

"Mr. Giles has convinced me that my skills and knowledge would be useful as a Watcher, and trainer of Watchers. Unfortunately, that means leaving Faith behind to tend for herself. I will, however, be making fairly regular visits."

"Don't go gettin' too up on yourself," Faith said, smiling. "Just cuz you're hot and good in bed don't mean you own my ass."

Xander laughed.

"I'm staying, too," Dawn said. "School's good here, LA's a better environment than Cleveland… but what isn't, really?"

Xander looked at Buffy. "Don't want her on the Hellmouth?"

"Not a chance," Buffy said.

Xander nodded. "I get that. You realize she's going to wrap Angel around her finger until he lets her help."

"Yeah, but the deciding factor is that here, she won't have to deal with a bunch of PMS'ing slayers," Buffy said.

"Ooh, good call Dawnie," he said.

Dawn just grinned at him.

"Wes, you going to Cleveland too? Training Watchers in your future?"

"No," he said. "I shall be staying here. Angel still needs somebody who can translate demon languages and interpret prophecies."

Xander nodded. "Okay. How long are the rest of you staying?"

"Another couple of weeks," Giles said. "Robin and I shall be flying out to Cleveland in a day or two to find an appropriate property, and probably have some work done on it."

Xander nodded. "Two weeks. Well, I'll just have to make the most of the time I've got."

"Yes," Willow said, smiling at her friend. "We all will."

Chapter 4

"I really hate this."

"Why, Captain Fuller," Hondo said, patronizingly. "Surely you should be happy. Now that we're back as a certified team, the city will be better protected."

"Right," Fuller muttered. "The day you people are making the city safer, and not more dangerous, I'm pretty sure will be the day I turn in my badge."

"That a promise, sir?" Hondo asked, hope evident on his face.

Fuller glared at the man as Hondo's SWAT team filed into conference room.

"Gentleman," Fuller said, when they came to attention.

Chris Sanchez coughed.

"And lady," Fuller said, shaking his head. "Let's make this quick. You know him, he's now officially the youngest current member of SWAT in the LAPD. Xander Harris."

Xander raised his hand and the group applauded. Fuller waved Xander forward, and the young man stepped out of line and approached both Fuller and Hondo. Fuller handed Xander a SWAT pin, and shook his hand.

"You fuck this up and you'll be working traffic until your hair turns gray," he said.

Xander merely smiled at him and nodded, then turned to Hondo, who also shook his hand. Hondo nodded at him, and Xander stepped back into line.

"Okay," Fuller said. "You're a certified SWAT team again. I've got my eye on you, though. Mess up, and your asses will be mine so fast you won't know where they went."

"Thank you, sir," Xander said, completely straight faced. "Always good to know our CO is looking out for us."

Fuller glared at Xander. He picked up a folder from the table and handed it to Hondo.

"Certification papers," he said. "You file it."

With that, Fuller walked out of the room. The SWAT team released the laughs they had been holding in.

"I was right," Street said, looking at Xander. "You do piss him off."

"Come on kids," said Hondo, approaching his team. "I'll drop these off, and meet you."

"Where we going?" Xander asked.

"My dad's restaurant," said Deke. "Trust me. You'll love it."


"To Sanchez!" Deke yelled, as the rest of the group raised their glasses. Deke was an extremely muscular black man, outspoken, but with an underlying intelligence. "The prettiest mama in SWAT."

"Sanchez!" the others chanted, then took long drinks from their glasses.

"I'm the only mama in SWAT," said Chris Sanchez, an attractive, petite Hispanic woman who Xander realized had more strength than her small frame would lead one to believe. But then, he knew a lot of girls like that.

"Does that not prove me right?" Deke asked, smiling.

Sanchez punched him in the arm.

Xander stood up and raised his glass. "To Hondo," he said, nodding to his sergeant, and grinning. "For knowing talent when he saw it, plastered across a TV screen."

"Hondo!" the others yelled as the older man stood and bowed.

Jim Street stood up next. "To Harris, the new guy," he said, as the rest of them raised their glasses, and Xander tipped his head in thanks. "The man who starts out in SWAT knowing he's just not as good as me."

"Harris!" the others said, as Sanchez threw a peanut at Street, which he nimbly dodged.

"And please, call me Xander," said the toastee.

Then Boxer, a man of average height and muscular build with a scar on his neck where he had been shot, took his turn. "To fallen friends," he said, softly. "For the happiness they brought to our lives when they were here."

"Fallen friends," the others said. They then drank from their glasses in somber silence. Each had a story, each had lost people who then came to mind.

"Okay," Hondo said, standing up after a few moments' reflection. "Tonight we're celebrating, and tomorrow we're a squad again, and officially on duty. So I want you all to go home, and get some sleep. It might be the only chance you get for a while."

Everybody groaned, then checked their watches, or the clock on the wall, and gave in.

They walked out, sharing small talk, and headed for their cars. Xander noticed that just before heading off to his car, Street took Sanchez's hand for a second, then walked away with a smile.

Xander hopped in his truck, a 2002 Dodge Dakota he was still paying off, and would be for the next few years. He drove home to his apartment, a small one-bedroom deal with a living room/kitchen and a full bath. He walked in, dropped his badge on the table next to his door, reached down to his ankle and pulled his backup gun from the holster and pointed it into the corner.

"You better speak up or I start putting air holes in you," he said.

"No!" came the voice. "It's just me."

Xander visibly deflated. "Dawn?" he asked, surprised. "What are you doing here?"

"I couldn't stay there," she said, moving into the light. Her eyes were red from crying. "Buffy was just being…"

"Shh, Dawn," he said, embracing her.

"Sit down," he said, leading her to the couch. "Tell me what happened."

"I went out," Dawn said. "With Andrew. I told Angel and Gunn where we were going, and they okayed it."

"Who's Andrew?" he asked.

"Oh, he's one of the guys who was with us. He's kind of… reforming from being evil light, or something. And he's a big geek, but not really a bad guy. Anyway, we were just going to Starbucks, a block or two down from the hotel. Not like a romantic thing, we just wanted to get away from all the slayers."

"Okay," Xander said.

"So, we get back and Buffy just goes psycho. 'Where were you?' 'Why didn't you tell me where you went?' 'What were you thinking, taking him? He's no protection. You could have been hurt!'" Dawn screamed in frustration. "She's so controlling!"

"She's just worried about you Dawnie," he said. "It can be aggravating, trust me, I know, but—"

"No, Xander," she said. "It's more than that. She can't handle anything or anybody she knows not being under her thumb. And she thinks she's always right, just because she's the Slayer. God, she can be so annoying!"

"So, you what, ran out and came here?" he asked.

Dawn nodded. "Packed a bag first."

"Does anybody know you're here?"

She shook her head. Xander sighed.

"How'd you get in, anyway? How'd you know where I live, for that matter?"

"Giles had your address and phone number in his address book. A-and… I picked the lock," she said. "Spike showed me how."

"Man am I ever gonna miss that guy."

Dawn laughed. "Would you rather your neighbors see a seventeen year old girl napping against your door?"

"Well, that's a good point, I suppose," he said. "Okay. You're welcome to stay here for the night, but I'm going to call the hotel and let them know you're okay. I'll take you back by in the morning, and you can try to work this stuff out."

Dawn nodded. "Do you have… a pillow or something, for the couch?" She asked.

"Yeah," he said. "But you're taking my bed."

"No, Xander I –"

"Ah, ah," he said. "No arguing. My place, my rules. Take the bed."

Dawn gave in, and went into his bedroom, shutting the door to change.

"And brush your teeth!" he yelled in after her.

Xander sighed, then picked up the phone and dialed.

"Angel Investigations, how can we help you?" answered a feminine voice with a slight southern drawl.

"No longer helping the hopeless, eh Fred?"

"Oh, hi Xander," she said. "What's up?"

"I hear you guys have a missing teenager," he said.

"How'd you know that?"

"She's here, with me," he said.

"Oh, thank God," Fred sighed. "We were all so worried!"

"Well, you can all rest easy. Dawn's pretty upset, though. She's going to stay here tonight, and I'll bring her back in the morning, okay?"

"I'll be sure to tell everyone," Fred said.

"Where you there when it happened?" Xander asked.

"I… um, yes, I was," said Fred.

"And Buffy seemed to you…"

"She was.. a bit on the irrational side, I think." That was as close as she normally came to insulting people.

Xander sighed heavily. "Okay," he said. "I'll see you in the morning then."

"Bye, Xander."

Xander hung up and shook his head, then walked to his bedroom door and knocked.

"Come in," Dawn called. She was lying on his bed wearing pajama pants and a too-small tank top, reading a book.

"Hey, Dawn-Patrol," he said, sitting on the bed next to her. "I need to ask you something."

"Only if you stop calling me Dawn-Patrol," she said. "I'm not ten anymore."

"Deal," Xander said. "It's about Buffy. When did she start becoming…"

"Such a bitch?" Dawn asked.

"Well, I wouldn't have put it quite like that. But okay, yeah."

"She really started trying to control everything around the time Giles showed up with the potentials. She just… started giving orders at all times, and we just started following them. And nobody stood up to her, and she was often right, so she just kept on giving orders. And she never looked back, never admitted she was ever wrong. She told off Giles, she stopped listening to anybody but herself, and on occasion Spike. And she's never come down from that. She's still acting like a general, like she needs to control everything."

Xander frowned, and leaned back on the bed.

"She really told off Giles?" he asked. Dawn nodded. He shook his head. "She really has changed, hasn't she?" Dawn nodded again, and rested her head against Xander's shoulder.

"I love my sister," Dawn said. "It's getting really hard to keep liking her, though."

"Okay," Xander said. "I need to sleep, I have work in the morning. You get to sleep when you're tired, okay?"

"Okay," Dawn said. "And Xander?" she asked as he reached his bedroom door.

"Yeah, Dawnie?"

"Thanks for letting me stay here."

Xander smiled at her. "My door is always open for you," he said. "Goodnight."


"Now remember," Xander said to Dawn the next morning. "Don't yell, don't scream, just stay calm and try to talk it out rationally."

"And if Buffy starts yelling?" she asked.

"Keep your cool. If she can't see reason, then there's nothing you can do, and so there's no reason getting worked up over it. Okay?"

"Okay," she said, as they pulled up outside the Hyperion. She started to go for the door handle.

"Oh, one more thing," he said, reaching into the pocket on the front of his shirt. Dawn pulled back from the door. He held a key out to her.

"What's this?" she asked.

"A key to my apartment," he said. "For next time, or for whenever. You're going to be in LA, and I want you to feel free to drop by whenever. And not have to pick my lock."

Dawn smiled, then leaned over and gave him a big hug. "Thank you, Xander," she said softly.

"I've also made a mental note to take all the negotiation courses the department offers. Might come in handy here," he said.

Dawn chuckled lightly.

"Okay, you ready to go face the beast?" Xander asked.

"I'm ready," Dawn said. Together, Xander and Dawn made their way into the Hyperion.

"Morning, Xander," Fred said as they entered the lobby. "Hi Dawn, how are you?"

Dawn shrugged.

Angel walked in and exchanged greetings with both of them.

"How's it look?" Xander asked.

"She's pretty mad," said Angel. "Giles and I managed to calm her down last night and convinced her not to break down your door and drag Dawn out of there by her hair. More than that, I can't really say."

"Okay," Xander said. "Where is she now?"

"In the courtyard in back, running through some exercises. I'd join you but…"

"Not really interested in improving your tan?" Xander asked.

"It's not tops on my to-do list, no."

"Dawn, why don't you go put your stuff in your room, while I talk to your sister?"

Dawn nodded and headed up the stairs, while Xander went out back.

He opened the door and saw Buffy sitting on a bench.

"Mornin' Buffy," Xander said, cheerfully. "Delivery from Harris Industries. One younger sister, as ordered."

Buffy looked up at him, her eyes red.

"Buff?" he asked.

"She hates me, doesn't she?" Buffy asked, casting her eyes at the ground.

"Dawn? No, she doesn't hate you. She's not happy with you, but she doesn't hate you." He paused. "Yet. Buffy, what changed? You were never this demanding, never this insane. What happened to the girl I fell in love with all those years ago?"

"You… you don't love me?" she asked.

Xander laughed, and sat down next to her. "Buffy, I don't think it's possible for me not to love you, but I haven't been *in* love with you for a while now. That's all."

Buffy thought for a second. "You were in love with me? I mean… I knew you had feelings, but…"

"Oh yeah," he said. "Big time. I was convinced that one day you'd see me as more than just your Xander-shaped friend, and I'd sweep you off your feet, and we'd have this incredible romance, and live happily ever after. I used to daydream about ways I could win your heart."

She frowned and furrowed her brow. "I didn't know your feelings were so strong… I… I didn't mean to –"

"It's okay, Buff," he said. "I know you didn't purposely hurt my feelings, except maybe the once. You couldn't help that you didn't see me the way I wanted you to. It's okay. But listen, there's more that we need to talk about."

"Oh?" she asked.

"I've been talking to some people, and they're pretty much all saying the same thing."

"Which is?"

"That you're being controlling, irrational and unreasonable, that you never admit when you're wrong and you treat everyone, even your own sister, like she's a soldier in your army. Why did you snap at her like that, Buffy?"

"She shouldn't have gone out."

"She told Angel and Gunn where she was. They know the area, and she just went to Starbucks."

"I know that, don't you think I know that!?"

"Well, I don't know, Buffy. You used to let Dawn go to school by herself, now that she's older and can take care of herself better, she can't go get coffee? How does that make sense?"

"You just don't get it," she said.

"That's right, I don't," he said. "But I want you to explain it to me, because pretty much nobody else gets it either."

"When she takes off like that, it is so irresponsible."

"She wanted to go get coffee, Buff, not shoot up some heroin, or move to Des Moines. I don't get where the freak out is coming from."

Buffy mumbled something.

"Normal ears, Buff," he said. "What'd you say?"

"I said, that I can't protect her," she said. "When she goes out on her own, I can't make sure she's okay."

"Oh," Xander said.

"See? Now you get it, right?"



"Buffy… there are a lot of things in this world that can hurt people, not all of them are physical. Dawn can pretty much take care of herself. She may not have preternatural strength, or magical witchy powers, but she knows her stuff. She's a smart, careful, and beautiful young woman who you've done an amazing job of raising since Joyce died. But she's seventeen. She's growing up, and she needs freedom. She doesn't need you to hold her hand every time she crosses the street."

"I know that, I know she's growing up, but…"

Xander waited, while Buffy worked out what she wanted to say.

"But I need to protect her," Buffy said, finally, a tear falling down her cheek. "Xander, there are so many people out there, who can't take care of themselves, and who can't fight, and who don't know what's really out there, how am I supposed to –"

"You're not," he said, interrupting her. "Buff, one thing I've learned in this job is that you can't save everybody You can't stop people from doing stupid things, and taking stupid risks, and making bad decisions. You've got to let people be people, and help them where you can. You may have superpowers, but you're not God. Dawn is growing up, and she can't rely on big sis every time something comes up. And you can't keep putting her under your thumb, or she'll never know any life except this, and she'll be miserable, Buff."

"I don't want her to be miserable," Buffy said.

"Dawn told me last year that you told her you wanted to show her the world. Let her go, Buff. Let her find the world on her own. Don't stop worrying, don't ever stop caring about her, but you have to back off on the tyrant thing, because she's never going to grow if you do that. You can't do everything."

"How come you know all this?"

"I've lost people," he said. "People who, if maybe I'd reacted a second earlier, or driven just a bit faster, maybe I could have saved. It gets to you, and if you can't deal, you can pretty much go two ways. You can question your every decision, or you can try to control everything. I was questioning myself so bad after a guy I was chasing killed this woman. But, of all people, Angel talked to me, and told me that it's okay, it's right, even, to feel bad about it, but that if I want to stay in this line of work, I can't let it affect my performance for long, or else the next time, I'll lose more people."

"I think… I think I don't want you to be a policeman, because I can't protect you."

"A good reason, Buff. But how did you react when your mom wanted you to give up slaying?"

"But that's different," she protested. "I was destined to be this warrior, I have these skills. You were supposed to be the normal one, the one who could get out and have a normal life. And you were, for so long, you were. I would think 'I miss Xander, but it's okay, because he's not here, he's safe. If maybe I get lonely, I can just call him, and he'll talk to me, just like he always does, and cheer me up…' But then I got here, and you're not safe. The first thing I see is you running across rooftops chasing some violent criminals… and I didn't want you to do that. It's too much like what I do. What if something happened to you? What would I do then?"

Xander sighed. "The thing you're missing, Buff… my being a cop isn't about you. It's about me. It's about me doing something with my life, and helping people. Buffy, you haven't been my protector for a long time. I get that you want to protect me, I really do, but I'm good at my job. I know what I'm doing. And people need me to keep doing it."

"But, there's so many others," she said. "Why do you have to—"

"For the same reason you're going to Cleveland," he said. "There are a lot of other Slayers out there now, Buffy. But you're not about to give it up, are you?"

"It's not the same."

"It *is* the same. I may not be on the forefront of the big battles against evil," Xander said, "but I make a difference. And it feels good, Buffy. God, does it feel good. I have something I'm good at, something where I'm respected and, okay, the money sucks, but it's enough. And I help people, I really do. Do you get that?"

Buffy nodded.

"Then why do you want to take that away from me?"

She looked up at him, with no answer. His beeper went off.

"Crap," he said, standing to leave. "Duty calls. I have to go. Give Dawn and Willow my love. I'll be back later."

"Xander!" He stopped in his tracks. "Don't go," she said, when he turned.

Xander looked at her with more disappointment in his eyes than she had ever seen, then walked off without another word.

Chapter 5

"What do we have?" Street asked as he strapped on his body armor.

"Bank, again," said Hondo. "Doesn't anybody ever try anything else?"

"Getting bored?"

"Hell yes, I'm getting bored. I want something new, Goddammit!"

Xander smiled as he checked his weapon.

"What are you smiling at, Harris?" Sanchez asked.

"I'm okay with banks," Xander said. "I like predictability. Makes it easier to win."

"Well, check out this cocky bitch," Deke said.

"Yeah, Hondo," Boxer said. "He likes to predict, let him make the plans."

"All right. Harris, you up to that?"

Xander smiled. "Sure," he said.

Hondo put the blue prints down in front of him.

"We got two entrances," he said, pointing to the blueprints. "Front door and the ventilation shaft in the roof. What do you think?"

Xander looked at the schematics. "This is the First National, over on Wilcox?"

"Yeah," Street said.

Xander nodded. "There's another entrance," he said, tapping the blueprints. "From the sewer up into the count room, here."

"Yeah?" Hondo asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Count room's big enough for two. They'll have the front door covered, and we can't assume they don't know about the vent. The sewer entrance isn't on the blueprints, they won't know about it."

"Well how the hell do you know about it?" Deke asked.

Xander grinned. "I don't know," he said, his eyes flashing wide, seemingly insane. "It's a mystery."

"Okay, Harris," Hondo said. "This thing comes off okay, and you get called by your first name when I can remember. You and Deke take the sewer, Street you and Sanchez on the roof. Boxer, I want you with me, we'll hold at the corner of the building, here. Everybody wait for my signal, got it?"

They nodded.

"All right," he said. "Let's go."

Boxer jumped into the driver's seat of the SWAT van and drove off. Five minutes later, they arrived on the site. Xander and Deke made their way into the sewers as Sanchez and Street got up on the roof.

"So how was it you knew about this? You rob banks or something?" Deke asked of Xander.

"Nope, I just know my way around," Xander said. "Here." He pointed up. There was a grate at the top of the sewer.

"That?" Deke asked. "No ladder?"

"I said it was an entrance," Xander said. "I never said it was easy. Boost me up."

Deke crouched and boosted Xander up to the grate. Very carefully, Xander slid a mirror that resembled one found in a dentist's tools up through the grate and looked around the room.

"It's clear," he said, dropping to the floor.

Deke spoke into his radio. "Hondo, this is Deke. Count room is clear."

"Copy, Deke. Hold until further notice."

"Seriously, man," Deke said. "How did you know about this?"

"I hang around with a vampire with a soul who gets around by the sewers during the day. He showed me this, and a lot of other things."

"Man, I'm not playin'. How'd you know?"

Xander just shook his head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he said. It was technically true. Deke hadn't believed him.

"But you will tell me sometime?"

"Sure," said Xander.

"Deke, Harris," said Hondo over the radio. "Negotiations are going bad. Get in position in the count room."

"Copy, getting into position," Deke said. "You first or me?"

Xander looked up at the grate. "The question is, who will have the easier time pulling the other up?"

"Right," Deke said. "I'll go first."

Xander boosted Deke, who then pulled himself up, reached down and lifted Xander up as well.

"Hondo, this is Deke and Harris," said Deke into his radio. "We're in position."

"Wait for my signal," Hondo said.

Xander cracked the door of the count room and saw two men with AK-74's standing in the bank, but a potted plant next to the door blocked his view to the left. He shut the door and pulled back.

"Hondo, I see two men, but my view is obstructed to one side. Do we have a solid count on the number of men?"

"We have a count of three," Hondo said. "Be careful in there."

"Never anything but, Boss," Deke said.

"Okay, we're go on three," Hondo said.

Xander and Deke made a final check on their weapons.

"One," Hondo said.

Xander cracked the door again.

"Two," said Hondo.

Xander pulled his gun up and lined up on one of the bank robbers.


Xander swung the door open and fired two rounds into the man closest to him. He then rolled out into the room as Deke followed behind him. Street dropped in from the ventilation shaft and subdued the other man Xander had seen.

A string of bullets shot out from behind Xander and Deke, and all three SWAT members hit the floor. As the flow of bullets stopped, Sanchez dropped out of the ceiling, gun drawn, and let fly a couple of quick bursts from her gun. The man dropped.

Back on their feet, the entire team swept systematically through the rest of the bank, checking doors, under desks and all the time watching the hostages, and the criminals. They found no other suspects in the building.

"Street, clear," Jim said.

"Deke, clear."

"Harris, clear."

"Sanchez, clear."

Two paramedics rushed in ahead of Hondo, and checked on the two men who had been shot.

"Good work, boys," Hondo said, drawing a quick glare from Chris. "And girl, sorry. That was a very smooth operation, Xander. Well done."

"Just doing my job," Xander said as he clicked the safety into place on his gun.

"Boys and girls, we beat the bad guys," Hondo said. The SWAT team walked out of the building and back to the van, where they unloaded their gear and drove back to the station.

"So is that it?" Xander asked. "One thing and we're done?"

"Sure," Street said. "Until the next thing comes up."

"Well, what are you guys doing now?" he asked.

"Man, I'm going home," Deke said. "I need a shower and a nap. That sewer stank."

"We can tell, Deke," Hondo said.

The others laughed.

"I have to check on my daughter," Sanchez said.

"Wife," said Boxer.

"I have some administrative details to take care of," said Hondo, a sound of distaste in his voice.

Street shrugged. "I got nothin' man," he said.

Xander checked his watch. It was a little after noon.

"You wanna grab some lunch?" he asked Street.

"Sure," said Street.

"You two have a nice date now," Deke said in a falsetto tone. Street turned and flipped him the bird. "Hey, Harris, don't forget. You owe me a story about the sewer that doesn't involve a vampire with a soul."

Xander smiled at Deke, but did not reply. He noticed, however, that while Boxer, Street and Sanchez were all chuckling, Hondo looked up when he said that and regarded Xander curiously. Something to file away, Xander thought.

Street and Xander hopped into Xander's truck.

"Where do you want to go?" Xander asked.

"No, no, you're the rookie, you choose."

Xander smiled, grabbed his cell phone and dialed.

"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless," answered a British voice.

"Wes, hey, it's Xander."

"Oh, hello. Everything went well, I assume?"

"Came out fine," Xander said. "Hey, it's about lunch time, I don't suppose Angel's got the kitchen open, does he?"

"We're currently housing almost thirty girls with appetites to rival yours. The kitchen has been open since they arrived. Why?"

"Thought I'd drop by."

"Well, Buffy has gone out for the time being, so that should be relatively safe."

"Oh, good," Xander said. "One less thing. Be there in a few."

"On the off chance you're bringing visitors, you should be warned that Lorne is about at the moment. I think the play we're using this week is a stage version of Star Trek: The Next Generation."

"Got it," Xander said, laughing. "And thanks, I hadn't thought of that."

"Of course," Wesley said.

Xander hung up and smiled. "You're gonna love this place," he said. "The guy's a great cook."

"What do they serve?"

"Mostly dead animal," Xander said. "Nothing fancy, but all of it greasy."

"My kind of food," Street said.

Ten minutes of small talk later, Xander pulled up outside the Hyperion.

"This is the same hotel we found you at," Street said.

"I have friends here, it's a good place."

Street looked at the building again.

"You know, I didn't notice it at night, but this is the same place you chased those other bank robbers to," he said.

"Drove them to, actually. A few well placed bullets to guide their path."

Street looked at him appraisingly. "You put your friends in danger?"

Xander grinned. "They were never in danger."

The men headed inside the hotel.

"Ah, Xander, nice to see you again," Wesley said.

"Hey, Wes," Xander said. "This is Jim Street, one of the guys on SWAT with me."

"Jim Street," he said, extending his hand.

"Wesley Wyndham-Pryce," said Wes. "A pleasure."

"You run this hotel?" Street asked.

"Oh, we're not actually a hotel, despite all appearances to the contrary."

"What are you, then?"

"A private detective agency. We got a great deal on the property."


Xander looked up to see Willow on the balcony.

"Hey, Wills," Xander said as Willow came down the stairs.

"Who's this?" Willow asked.

"Willow Rosenberg, this is Jim Street, SWAT member. Jim Street, this is Willow Rosenberg, my best friend since forever."

"Nice to meet you, Willow," Jim said, flashing his best smile. "Xander never mentioned he had such attractive friends."

"Oh… uhh… okay," Willow said as Xander chuckled. "Xander, what did you say to Buffy this morning?"

"I told her the truth," he said. "Why?"

"She was just really quiet today, like something was bothering her."

"Well it should have been," he said. "She needs to realize that she can't control everything, or she's gonna… lose everything."

"I know, and I agree that she needs to, you know, calm down, but couldn't you go a little easy on her?"

"You mean like she did with Dawn?"

"Okay, well, that's a really good point, but –"

"Will, I want to talk about this, but can we not air all the dirty laundry my first day on the new job, in front of my teammate?"

"Oh, okay. You'll be around later though?"

"I will."

"Okay. Nice to meet you, Mr. Street," she said.

Xander and Jim headed towards the kitchen.

"Girls don't usually just blow me off like that, when I use that smile," Street said, frowning.

"Trust me, Jim, you have no chance with Willow."

"Why? She out of my league?"

"No," Xander said, laughing. "She's not even playing the same game."


"That was quite possibly the best burger I've had in… well, ever," Street said when they emerged from the kitchen.

"I told you, Angel's a great cook."

"Why does a guy like that have a name like Angel? Seems too… manly for a name like that."

"Oh," Xander said. "It's a nickname he's had for a long time."

"Hey, Xander."

"Dawn, hey. How'd it go this morning?"

"Didn't happen. Whatever you said really defused her, and she just kind of apologized and left."

"Weird," Xander said.

"Who's your friend?" Dawn asked.

"Jim Street," Jim said, holding out his hand. "I work with Xander."

"Dawn Summers," Dawn said. "I take advantage of Xander's ability to talk sense into my pigheaded sister."

Jim laughed, and again flashed his smile. Xander saw it this time, and held his arm up to Street's chest and looked him straight in the eye.

"No," he said forcefully as Dawn headed off to the kitchen. "She's seventeen, and just, no."

Jim raised his hands in surrender.

"There are a lot of girls here," Jim said, having noticed all the teenagers in the kitchen as well. "Are there any I can hit on?"

Xander smiled. "Sure," he said. "But you're better off sticking with Sanchez."

"Oh, we're not—" Jim started.

"Yeah," Xander said. "I know. Stick with Sanchez."

At that point, Dawn came back.

"Oh yeah," she said, giving Xander a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks again for letting me use your bed last night."

Dawn skipped back to the kitchen.

Street raised his eyebrows at Xander, a smirk on his face.

Xander groaned. "I suppose that even if I tell you, truthfully, that I slept on the couch, it won't do me any good?"

"Not a chance," Street said. "That one's just too good to pass up."


"And so, right after he warns me off this seventeen year old, she kisses him very sweetly and says 'Thanks for letting me use your bed last night.'" The last bit was said in falsetto.

Everyone laughed. Xander turned red, but took his knocks in stride.

"Hey," Xander said. "I'm not the guy who tried to pick up a lesbian."

Deke spewed out the beer he was sipping and went into a coughing fit, forcing Hondo to smack him on the back.

Xander's cell phone rang.

"Hello?" he said.

"Xander, it's me," said Angel.

"Oh hey. What's up?" Xander asked, getting up from the group and walking to a secluded section of the bar.

"I need to run some plates."

"And your people at the firm can't do it?" he asked.

"They could," Angel said. "But I'm not quite comfortable with that yet."

"All right," Xander said, pulling a pen from his pocket and grabbing a spare napkin. "What's the numbers?"

Angel read off a string of numbers that Xander copied down.

"Okay," Xander said. "When do you need that by?"

"Tonight would be good, but tomorrow morning if that's not possible."

"All right," Xander said. "I'll call you back."

Xander slipped the napkin into his pocket.

"What's that?" Hondo asked, appearing as if from nowhere.

"Favor," Xander said, surprising Hondo by not being startled in the least.

"This have something to do with vampires?"

Xander chuckled with practiced ease. "Who really believes in vampires? They're a myth."

"Yeah," Hondo said. "That's what I hear."

"That's what I hear, too," Xander said.

"I also hear you hail from Sunnydale, the town that no-longer-is."

"Yep," Xander said. "You pull that from my file? Cuz it's kind of common knowledge, if anybody cares."

"You know I've heard stories," Hondo said. "I keep my ear to the ground, and I have friends all over the department. I hear things."

"Such as?"

"Rumor has it that the rain of fire thing, the sun blocked out? That was stopped by a vampire with a soul."

"Interesting, if wildly inaccurate," Xander said. "I mean come on, there has to be a more logical explanation than that."

"I don't know," Hondo said. "I mean, rains of fire are pretty fucked up. Why not vampires?"

Xander did his best to look unconvinced.

"What do you know about Detective Kate Lockley?"

Xander's expression broke. "She left the force a while back, after her father died under mysterious circumstances," he said. "Why?"

"Well, I heard that she was working with a private investigator. Purely off the books, of course. Heard his name was Angel."

"So?" Xander said. "We know the same guy. I actually met Kate through Angel. It doesn't mean he's a vampire."

"She got interested in some weird stuff. Occult things, like demons, vampires, witches, that sort of stuff. My friend down in that precinct said it all started soon after she began to work with Angel."

"Hondo," Xander said. "If you got a question, just ask it, man. Tell me you know something, or tell me you want to know something. I'm no good with subtle."

Hondo didn't say anything for a minute. Then his expression changed as he seemingly came to a decision. He pulled the collar of his shirt down and exposed more of his neck. Xander could very clearly see two puncture wounds.

Xander sighed and sat down. "When?" he asked.

"About six years ago," Hondo said. "I was close to my apartment, so I punched it and ran away, so I was okay. You?"

"I've never been bitten," Xander said. "One of my best friends was turned, though. I staked him myself."

"You staked him?" Hondo asked.

"Vampires can be killed a few ways. Sunlight, wood to the heart, having their head cut off, and fire. Vampires are stronger and faster than humans, but they also tend to be dumber. Does the rest of the team know?"

"Not a clue," Hondo said. "So is it true?"

"Which part?"

"Did a vampire with a soul show you the entrance to the bank?"

"Yep. Roofs too. You'd be surprised how far you can go above the street."

"And is this the same guy who got Lockley interested in that stuff?"

"In a roundabout way, yes."

"And Lockley's dad?"

"Was killed by vampires."

"Damn," Hondo said. "But this Angel, guy. He's on our side?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "As long as he never achieves perfect happiness, he's a good guy."

"Perfect happiness?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "It's a gypsy curse thing. He can lose his soul."

"What happens then?"

"We die. Or he goes to hell. And by the way, when he unblocked the sun? Didn't have his soul, he was just in a pissy mood."

"Oh. But he has his soul now?"

"Yeah, but don't get the wrong idea," Xander said. "He can still be a nasty son-of-a-bitch. Just happens he isn't right now."

"Okay. Good. So, all these demons and vampires and stuff, and just a few humans and one souled vampire fighting them. It's amazing they don't kill more people."

Xander let out a snort. "First off," he said. "They kill a lot more people than you think."

"And second?" Hondo asked.

Xander grinned. "There's more than just a souled vampire fighting them."

Having said that, Xander started off back to the table.

"Like what?" Hondo asked. Xander kept walking.

"I said, like what!" Hondo yelled.

Xander sat at the table, propped his feet up and grinned.

Chapter 6

"Morning, folks," Xander said the next day when he arrived at the Hyperion.

"Man, don't you have a job or something?" Gunn asked.

"Sure," he said. "But they give me time off to bug you. Willow around?"

Gunn nodded and pointed to Angel's office.

Xander entered the office to find Willow, Dawn, Angel, Faith and Giles talking in fairly hushed tones.

"Hey, guys. What's going on?"

"Xander, good, I was hoping you would show up," Giles said.

"Oh?" he asked, tossing a file to Angel, who nodded his thanks.

"We ah, appear to be missing a slayer."

"Yeah?" he asked. "Who?"

"Buffy," said Willow. "Xander, what did you say to her?"

Xander regarded his oldest friend. "You think it was something I said that caused her to leave?" he asked.

"Well, after you left yesterday, she was just kind of walking around in a stupor," Willow said. Angel and Giles were nodding, Faith was leaning against the wall and Dawn was sitting in a chair, her arms crossed, and not looking at anybody.

"And nobody thinks that maybe, after battling the First, almost dying, losing… Spike… and all that other stuff, she maybe just wanted some time alone? She's a slayer. I think she can take care of herself for one night in LA. She did it for a few months, remember?"

"Xander, we're not blaming you," Giles said. "And we know she can take care of herself, we're merely trying to ascertain why she seemed so upset before she left."

"I just told her what I thought," Xander said. "That she needs to calm down, let other people do things, not try to keep Dawn so much under her thumb. And before you say it, I know, I haven't been around to see everything that went on in Sunnydale, but if even half of what Dawnie told me is true, then she's being unreasonable."

"Xander," Giles said, carefully choosing his words, "Buffy… is in a delicate place right now. She has just lost her hometown, and is certainly in no condition to be lectured."

Xander tilted his head sideways. "And Dawn didn't just lose her hometown? It's okay for Buffy to berate her in front of everybody, to humiliate her, but it's not okay for me to have a quiet word with Buffy in private? And it's also okay for Buffy to try to force me to quit my job?"

"She what?" Angel asked.

"She doesn't want me to be a cop," he said simply. "Told me not to go yesterday when my pager went off."

"Xander, I'm sure she didn't mean—" Willow started.

"Yeah, she did, Will. She told me outright she doesn't want me in my job."

"B's got problems," Faith said, speaking up for the first time. "We all knew that. Doesn't excuse the way she treats people."

"We're not saying it excuses it. I think we all know that Buffy has had, and is having problems," Giles said. "We are merely trying to determine the best way of dealing with it, while trying not to step on too many people's feelings."

Angel sighed. "She still thinks she's alone."

"Pardon?" Giles asked.

"She still thinks she's alone," he repeated. "She hasn't accepted the fact that there are now a lot of other people who can help with the fight. She let all of you guys in, but it wasn't enough. She still felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She hasn't realized that there are twenty-five other girls in this hotel that are just as strong as she is. She doesn't know that there are lots of other people to help her hold the world up."

"How do you—" Giles started.

"I know what it's like to be alone," Angel said.

Nobody responded for a minute.

"Well," Xander said, checking his watch. "I'm glad I came over for the depress-a-thon, but we're running through some exercises in about half an hour. I'll keep an eye out for Buffy, and I'll drop by again later."

Xander's exit precipitated a mass exodus from Angel's office.

"When do you and Robin leave?" Xander asked Giles.

"Our flight is in a few hours," Giles said.

Xander nodded. "And you come back…"

"A few days at the most," Giles said.

Xander stuck his hand out and Giles took it.

"I really did not mean to sound like I was blaming you," Giles said.

"I know, Giles," Xander said. "It's okay."

A quick pat on the back and Xander left the hotel.

"Xander!" Dawn called, chasing him outside.

"Yeah, Dawn?" he asked.

Dawn caught up to him looking a little worried. "I just… um. It's not your fault, that Buffy's not here."

Xander smiled softly. "I know. It's not yours either."

"No, I know, but, you know, if maybe I hadn't run off or something, then she might—"

"Dawn," he said. "Your sister is fine. She can take care of herself. Nothing that you did caused her to run off. I'm sure she'll be back in no time, okay?"

"I know. I just… if anything happened to her…"

"It won't," Xander said. He pulled Dawn to him and gave her a hug. "I promise."

Dawn nodded, and Xander kissed the top of her head.

"I have to go now, but I'll be back later, okay?"

"Okay," Dawn said.

Xander hopped into his truck, and Dawn appeared at his window.

"Xander?" she said.

"Yeah, Dawnie?"

"I love you."

Xander smiled warmly at the young girl. "I love you, too, Dawn. Bye."


"Something's been bugging me."

Xander looked up from the table where he was cleaning his gun. "And that would be?"

Jim Street sat down across from Xander, his arms folded on the table. "What's with all those girls there?"

"What's with all what girls where?" Xander asked.

"At the hotel, your friend's place. If it's a PI's joint, and not a hotel, why are there all those girls there?"

Hondo, who was talking to Boxer in the corner, held up his hand to quiet Boxer, so he could hear Xander's reply.

"It's a favor for an old girlfriend," Xander said, his eyes flicking up to meet Hondo's. "They're all from Sunnydale."

"Sunnydale?" Jim asked. "The town that collapsed?"

"That's the one."

"How many of them do you know?"

Xander leaned back. "Well, of the girls who are visiting, I know four of them fairly well."

"Because of Angel?"

"No," Xander said. "I went to high school with two of them. Another one is the younger sister of one of those, and the last…" Xander smiled, and let out a short chuckle. "Well, Faith is just in a category by herself."

Jim snapped his fingers. "Faith! That's where I know that girl from."

A quick look of horror shot across Xander's face.

Street jumped up and went over to a board plastered with wanted posters. He searched around for a minute, then ripped one down, and slammed it on the table.

"Her," he said. "She's the girl I recognized the other day."

"Jim, I don't know any—"

"Why haven't you brought her in?" he asked. "She's a fugitive, I know you know that. You're too good a cop not to."

Xander rubbed his face. "She's not anything like –"

"Hondo!" Street yelled. The entire team came over to see what the commotion was.

"Yeah?" Hondo asked.

"He's been harboring a fugitive."

"Yeah, but only in the literal sense," Xander said. "Look, she's not a threat."

"She broke out of prison and put two guards in the hospital," Street said, having quickly re-read the sheet. "That's not dangerous?"

Xander groaned. "Hondo, you know what we were talking about last night?"

"I'm not likely to forget something like that, now, am I?"

"She's one of the other things," he said. "One who fights."

"Hondo," Street said. "She's a fugitive."

"Yeah," Hondo said. "She is. Harris, we're going to go have a little chat with your friends."

Xander's shoulders sagged.

"All of us," Hondo said.

"All right. But I need to make one thing clear," Xander said.

"What?" Street asked. "That you're harboring other criminals, too?"

"No," Xander said. "I am telling you, not asking you, not suggesting, telling. She is not going back to prison."

"Well, we'll just see about that, then, won't we?" Street said.

"All right, now calm down," Hondo said.

"Also," Xander said. "They're going to have to be told. And shown."

"Well, I think your friend Angel can take care of that, can't he?" Hondo said.


"She wouldn't run," Xander said to Street as the team sped through the streets of LA. "I just think that it's a volatile situation, and I should be allowed to give my friends some warning."

"Maybe she wouldn't run, but I'm not willing to take that chance." He held Xander's cell phone up. "And you can have this back when we get there. And how do you know she wouldn't run?"

Xander chuckled. "Because she wouldn't have to."

Street was unsure of what he meant by that. Jim pulled his car up outside of the Hyperion Hotel, and was followed quickly by Hondo's and Deke's. All six SWAT members got out and walked towards the entrance. Street tossed Xander his phone.

"Thanks," Xander muttered.

They walked into the hotel, and the other team members immediately spread out to cover the entire area. The girls in the lobby were a little confused.

"Xander?" Fred asked. "What's going on?"

Xander sighed. "Are Angel and Faith here?"

"Yeah," she said. "Faith's in her room, I think, and Angel's in the office."

"Call Faith down, please" he said. "I need to talk to Angel for a second." He turned to the team. "You guys stay here one second. Trust me, okay?"

Everyone except Hondo looked skeptical. Xander knocked on the door to Angel's office.

"Xander," he said. "Didn't expect you back this early."

"Yeah," Xander said. "We have a kind of a situation. Could you come out here?"

The two men walked back into the lobby. Angel immediately recognized the stance of the men and woman in his lobby.

"Xander, what the hell is going on?" Angel asked.

"They know who Faith is."

Angel turned to him and growled.

"I didn't tell them!" Xander protested. "I said her name, and Jim remembered the poster. They're cops, and she's a fugitive. What was I supposed to do?"

"Xander?" Faith called down from the balcony. "What's going on here?"

"Faith, could you come down here a minute?" he asked.

She considered the others standing in the lobby.

"It'll be okay, Faith," he said. "Just come down for a minute."

She looked to Angel, who nodded, and walked down the stairs.

Xander and Angel met Faith halfway. Xander took her hand and looked her directly in the eyes. "Trust me," he said. "They're not going to take you back. We won't let them."

Faith nodded at him, then glanced at the girls in the room. They all stood up, making Xander's teammates a little nervous.

Xander turned around. "Okay," he said. "This is Faith. She escaped from prison with the help of an associate of Angel's. She helped out with some stuff around here, then went to Sunnydale, and helped out with some stuff there. She is now back, and will be staying in LA. And she won't be going to prison again. Ever."

"Now, look," Street said. "I understand that she's your friend, but she's a fugitive, and it is our job to take her in."

"I agree," Xander said. "That's our job. But I wouldn't advise trying it."

"Why not?" Deke asked.

"Yeah," Sanchez said. "These little girls going to do something about it?"

"Yes," Xander said, his voice completely serious and calm.

"Okay, okay," Hondo said. "Let's drop all the testosterone, even you, Sanchez, and calm down. And Street, I'd take my hand off my weapon if I were you."

Street maintained eye contact with Xander, not moving his hand. "Why?" he asked.

Hondo tapped him on the shoulder and pointed up to the balcony. Street looked up and saw three girls with crossbows, one of which was obviously pointed in Street's direction.

"Because you might lose it."

Street moved his hand. The girl aiming the crossbow at him smiled and nodded her head, but kept the crossbow trained on him.

"Okay," Xander said. "Let's everybody just calm down." He turned around. "Put the weapons down. They're not taking Faith."

The girls paused, then complied.

"Okay," Xander said. "Now, I'm going to tell you guys a story that you're not going to believe. And then I'm going to prove it to you. Please. Sit down."

Hondo was the first to sit, and the rest took their cue from him.

"Okay," Xander said. "It's too bad Giles left, he loves doing this."

Angel cleared his throat.

"Oh, all right," Xander said. He then had a quick thought. "Hey, one of you go get Willow, would you?" As a girl ran off, he turned to his teammates. Gunn walked in the room from Angel's office, an odd grin on his face.

"What?" Xander asked.

"Nothin'," Gunn said. "I just love to see the newbies hear it for the first time, that's all."

Xander chuckled, and began.

"The world did not begin as you have been told. At first, there were the demons. They ruled this world, and it was a dangerous and vile place. Demons were the ultimate rulers here. And then came the age of man.

"People, humans, came about, and fought back the demon forces. They banished the most powerful of them using magic, and warriors of such strength as you have never seen.. In time, the humans won, and this planet became theirs. Ours. In time, the magic, the power, was all but lost. Only a few wielded it, and the most noble of these used it to protect the world from the few demons that were left. Of those, the most common demon is the vampire."

"Vampires?" Deke asked. "Please tell me you're joking. Man, the last guy turned on us, and you're insane. Hondo, your SWAT teams are cursed."

"No," Willow said from the balcony. "But they can be."

Xander smiled at his friend. "Guys, this is Willow. I've known Willow since pre-school. And she's a witch."

Willow waved shyly as she walked down the stairs.

"A witch," Sanchez said. "As in abracadabra and hocus pocus shit?"

Willow smiled. "Well, most of the incantations are actually in Latin, but yeah, like that."

They were intrigued. "Well can you show us some stuff?" Deke asked.

"Well, I don't really like to, you know, mess around with it or do magic for no reason, because I kind of had an addiction problem last year, but… something small couldn't really hurt, I guess." Willow looked around for something to levitate.

The other SWAT members looked to Hondo, who seemed to be listening with interest.

"Hondo, you can't really be seriously considering this," Street said. "This is a group of lunatics."

"Xander," Hondo said. "You're losing 'em, man."

Xander sighed. "Okay. Here's the part where I prove it. Jim, could you come up here a second?"

Street looked to Hondo, who nodded to him.

Street stood up and walked over to the group. Xander shook his head. "Angel," he said, waving a hand at Street.

Angel vamped out and in a split second had Street by the throat. The rest of the team, excluding Hondo, jumped out of their seats and pulled their weapons. A moment later, all of the previously-standing SWAT members were on the ground as Slayers about the room took them down and wrested their guns away from them.

"Now *this* is why Faith isn't going back to prison," Xander said. "In a fair fight, and I'm talking hand to hand here, any one of these girls could defeat all of you, without breaking a sweat. They fight the demons. They fight the vampires. They are stronger than anybody you have ever met. And they will all, to a woman, protect Faith."

Street looked into Angel's yellow eyes, knowing real fear for the first time in his life. Angel shook his head and rid himself of his vampire features, releasing Street's neck.

"Sorry," Angel said. "Had to be a little rough. For the effect. You understand."

Street, who was rubbing his neck and breathing hard, choked out a question. "Wha… what are you?" he asked.

"I'm a vampire," Angel said, smiling. "Nice to meet you."

The Slayers were helping the SWAT members up and returning their weapons to them. "If you're a vampire," Sanchez said, "And they fight vampires, why aren't they killing you?"

"I'm a good vampire. I know," he said holding his hands up. "Sounds ludicrous, and it is. But about a hundred years ago a tribe of gypsy's blah blah and now I have my soul."

"Blah blah?" Gunn asked. "Man that's no way of telling people how you killed their favorite daughter and were cursed to suffer torment until the time when you save the world from the apocalypse and regain your humanity."

"I know," Angel said. "But I just get so tired of explaining that."

"Anyway," Xander said. "Faith is the second most experienced Slayer in the world."

"Slayer?" Boxer asked.

Xander groaned.

"The Slayer," came a British voice from the balcony, "is a warrior for good."

Xander grinned at Willow, who was at that point levitating a pen she found. Nobody was paying any attention, though, so she stopped, and looked at Wesley.

"One is born into each generation. She is the one girl in all the world, with the strength and skill to defeat the vampires, demons, and forces of evil, and stop the swell of their numbers."

Willow and Xander applauded. "Very Gilesish, Wes," Willow said, forcing her face into a look of seriousness.

"Thank you," Wesley said, performing a mock bow. "I do try."

"Englishman up there said one girl," Hondo said. "But you talk like there's a lot of them."

"Well, there are, now," Angel said. "For thousands of years, there was only one Slayer, ever. Then, about six years ago, a second one was called. That was pretty much Xander's fault."

"Hey!" Xander yelled. Then he remembered that it was a good thing. "Oh. Yeah. That was me."

"Harris broke a tradition that was thousands of years old?" Street asked. "How?"

"By saving my life."

Everyone turned to see the petite blonde woman standing in the doorway. "Having a party, Xand?" she asked. She strolled towards him. "Forgot to invite me?"

"Hi, Buffy," he said, calmly. "Have a nice walk?"

"It was educational," she said, standing next to him. "But let's talk about the here and now. What's going on?"

"The guys here found out about Faith, and I felt the need to educate them as to why she would, in fact, not be going back to prison."

"Despite your job," she said.

"Despite my job."

"I see," she said, a small amount of hurt working its way into her voice. "Are they convinced?"

"I'm not really sure. It might help if somebody did something more… Slayerly," Xander said. "Like when you bent that guy Cain's rifle. That was fun."

"Do you have anything for me to bend?" Buffy asked.

Xander thought for a second, then pulled a combat knife out of his boot and handed it to Buffy, who flipped it around and held it in both her hands. She smiled coyly at the SWAT team, then snapped it in half.

"Dammit!" She said, frowning. Xander leaned over.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She showed him her hand. "I broke a nail."

Sanchez rolled her eyes.

"We need to talk," Buffy whispered to Xander. He nodded very slightly, then turned around.

"Okay, so. Who's convinced?"

Nobody raised their hands.

"Tough crowd, man," Gunn said.

"Oh!" Willow said. "I know! Hold on!"

Everyone watched her run up the stairs and off to one side. A minute later, she came back.

"Okay," she said. "So… this is near Hollywood, so you're probably going to think he's an actor, but he's not, okay?"

Willow walked away from the wall, waved her hands, and Lorne came out. Andrew and Dawn followed as well, having decided to see what was going on.

"Holy shit!" Deke yelled. "What the hell is that thing?"

"That *thing*" Angel said, "happens to be a very good friend of mine."

"Lady and gentlemen of SWAT," Xander said, "allow me to introduce to you Krevlornswath of the Deathwok clan. He's an anagogic demon from the hell dimension Pylea, where humans are called cows and music does not exist."

"Thank you, kids," Lorne said, placing his hand on his chest. "I just love the welcome. Really, it warms my heart."

"Lorne, that isn't where your heart is," Gunn said.

Lorne glared at the young man, then obliged and patted himself on his left butt cheek. "Happy?" Lorne asked.

Sanchez stared at him, then approached him slowly. A Slayer moved to intercept her, but Angel held up his hand to stop the girl. Sanchez walked up to Lorne, and inspected his face closely. She touched his cheeks, his horns and his hair. She then turned back, and walked to Angel. She looked in his eyes, then nodded.

"I believe you," she said to Xander. "I don't know how these things happen, and I don't know why. But I believe that there are vampires, and demons, and people who fight them. And if your girly-friend here fights them, then she doesn't belong in prison."

"Who you callin' girly?" Faith asked indignantly.

"Faith," Angel said, warningly.

"Sorry," she said.

"So?" Xander asked. "What do the rest of you think?"

"That's some weird shit, man," Deke said, shaking his head. "But… I guess I'll give you the benefit of the doubt."

"A girl who can't be more than fifteen just dropped me without breaking a sweat," Boxer said. "I don't know if I believe you, but with girls like that around, I'm not volunteering for any mission to bring one of them in."

Everyone looked at Street, who in turn looked to Hondo.

"Oh, I've been behind him since before we got here," Hondo said. "I just wanted to see how well he could handle things."

The attention turned back to Street again, who looked at Xander.

"I don't like it," Street said. "We're basically saying that some people are above the law, that they are better than the rest of us, and I don't agree. But I recognize that there are things out there that need defending against. It uh… it actually explains some things."

Xander nodded.

"But if I think for one second that there's something fishy going on here, I won't hesitate to bring her in as well as you," Street said. "Do we understand each other?"

"You won't get her," Xander said.

"Him either," said Buffy, stepping up next to her friend.

"You may be able to stop me from arresting her, but I can take him, I guarantee it."

"That may be so," Buffy said. "But if you do, we'll break him out and hide him somewhere you'll never find him. I guarantee it." She stepped up into Street's face to show her seriousness. "Do we understand each other?"

"Buff," Xander said. "Thank you, but please don't antagonize him any more than necessary. Our lives depend on trusting each other. I think you know how important trust is in that kind of situation."

Buffy stared at Street for a second or two more, then backed off.

"Look, guys," Xander said. "I know that we have a job to do. It's to protect people. But the world is safer with these people out here, doing what they do. They aren't above the law, but they do have… special circumstances. They're more… just to the left of the law," he said, holding his hands in front of him and shifting them left.

Everyone, even Street, chuckled at that.

"Okay," Hondo said. "I think we've all had enough stress for the day, unless a call comes in. Why don't you guys take the rest of the day off, and we'll meet up tomorrow for some training."

"You need a ride back to get your truck?" Deke asked.

"Nah, Angel will take me later," Xander said.

"I will?" Angel asked.

"Did you look at the folder I gave you?" Xander asked.

"Yeah, why?"

"My truck's about five blocks from there."

"Oh," Angel said. "I'll give you a ride later."

Deke nodded. "Okay man. Keep up with the scary shit."

Xander nodded and his teammates left. Xander's shoulders sagged as Angel turned on him.

"What the hell was that?" Angel demanded. "I thought we had an understanding."

"We did. We do," Xander said. "I can't control Street, and he recognized her. I did my best to convince him that it wasn't her, which, granted, wasn't very good, but he wouldn't believe me, so I thought it best just show them why Faith shouldn't be in prison. Besides, Hondo already knew about vampires."

"How?" Angel asked.

"He got bit about six years ago. Fought it off and ducked into his house."

"How did you come by this information?" Wesley asked.

"We took some bank robbers yesterday, over at First National on Wilcox. You remember that one, Angel?" Angel nodded. "Anyway, I told them about the grate in the count room you showed me, and Deke asked where I learned about it from. I told him a vampire with a soul told me. You know, cuz he wouldn't believe me."

"But he did," Angel said.

"No," Xander said. "But Hondo overheard, and he believed me. He's kind of had a… taste for the occult happenings around here since he got bit. He'd heard rumors about you. About what happened to Kate, and her dad. Kind of put two and two together, and boom. Belief. Then when Street figured out who Faith was, I figured the easiest way to keep her out of prison was to show them what goes bump in the night."

"And this Honcho guy was aware the whole time?" Buffy asked.

Xander nodded. "Hondo. And yeah. As soon as I told him that Faith was a warrior for the good side, he was behind her."

Everyone seemed fairly satisfied.

"Can we talk?" Buffy asked.

"Sure," he said. "Let me get some water, and I'll meet you outside, okay?"

Buffy nodded and headed off. Xander went to the kitchen, but was stopped on his way by Faith.

"Xander," she said. "I just wanna… um… thanks. For sticking up for me."

Xander smiled. "You're welcome, Faith. You've earned it."

Faith smiled weakly at him, then let him pass.

Chapter 7

"So where'd you go?" Xander asked once he joined Buffy in the garden.

"Around. You know, places."

"Ah, the ever elusive 'places,'" Xander said, sitting next to her on the bench. "You know, you scared people, just taking off like that."

"Why?" Buffy asked. "It's not like anyone here has any great love for me. I mean… you weren't willing to give up your job for me, but Faith, who, you know, tried to kill you…"

"That's entirely different, Buffy."

"How is that different?"

Xander sighed. "Look, Faith has earned a second chance. You believe that?"

Buffy nodded.

"So do I. I believe that enough to give up my job for it, if necessary."

"So why won't –"

"Because it's about doing what's right. Keeping my job is the right thing to do, but keeping Faith out of prison is more important. Satisfying what appears to be your… I don't know…"

"Irrational urges?"

"Something like that. It's just not the same thing, Buff."

Buffy sighed. "I still don't see why anybody cared when I was gone."

"Buff… people will always care when you're gone. Always. We love you, all of us… but, you piss us off, sometimes. I mean, but who hasn't done that?"

Buffy smiled softly at that.

"So what did you find out on your spirit quest?" Xander asked.

Buffy chuckled. "Well," she said. "I found out that the streets of L.A. are a bit skuzzier now than they were the last time I stayed here. I found out that I don't know my way around, and I found out that you really can sit in Denny's all night, just drinking coffee."

Xander laughed. "That one, I knew."

Buffy shuddered. "I also saw some things. I saw two kids, they couldn't have been more than fifteen, asking for money, and they had tracks all the way up their arms. I saw a couple of guys beating up this other guy for what looked like no reason at all. I saw a guy holding up a liquor store."

"Okay," Xander said, frowning.

"I realized," she said, "that people, everyday people, need help, and not just from the forces of darkness, but also from everyday things. Robbery, murder… all of it. I don't want you to be the one to do that, Xander." He sighed and opened his mouth to speak.

"No," she said, holding up a hand to stop him. "Let me finish. I don't want you to be the one to do that. You could get hurt, or killed, or something, and I couldn't stand that." She took a deep breath. "But, I also know that that won't stop you from doing what you do. I mean, death would, but my not wanting you to won't. And the truth is, when I think about it, I can't think of anybody better for the job."

Xander raised an eyebrow at that.

"I mean it," she said. "You are a good man, Xander Harris, and as much as it kills me to see you out there risking yourself everyday… I know that if I were ever in a bank when it got robbed, you're the first person I'd want making sure I was safe."

Xander smiled genuinely at his friend, and she scooted over on the bench and wrapped him in a big hug.

"I love you, Xander. You know that, right?"

Xander stroked her hair. "I know, Buff. I love you, too."

Buffy pulled back from the hug, her eyes wet.

"Just one thing," she said.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Try not to kill anybody. I mean, really, try."

Xander smiled at her. "In four years, I haven't killed anybody. It's really not that hard."

"Yeah," she said. "But you're in SWAT now. Don't they, like, specialize in killing people? And, congratulations, by the way."

"Thank you," Xander said. "And, while I wouldn't say we specialize in killing people, we do what's necessary, and are trained for it. I always try not to kill people, but my first priority will always be to the innocents."

Buffy nodded. "You understand, this is still going to be hard. I don't want you to do this. I mean, I *really* don't want you to do this."

"I understand," he said. "But at least you leave in a couple weeks, and then can stop bugging me about it."

"Xander!" she yelled, smacking his arm.

"Ow!" he said. "Slayer strength, Buff, watch it!"

"Well don't be so happy about me leaving, you jerk!"

Xander grinned. "I'm just happy that when you're gone, I can finally take a shot at Dawn," he said.

"You touch my sister and you die," Buffy said, leveling a warning finger at him.

"He can touch me if he wants to!" yelled a voice from a couple stories up.

"Dawn!" they yelled in unison, turning their heads skyward.

"I'm just saying…" she yelled back, before ducking her head inside.

"When did she get so vocal?" Xander asked.

Buffy shook her head.

Xander stood there grinning.

"No," Buffy said.

Xander just grinned wider.

"I said no."

Xander's grin got even wider somehow.

"That's it," Buffy said.

Xander took off into the hotel, Buffy right on his heels. Seeing possible salvation, Xander hid behind Faith.

"What the hell are you doing, X?" she asked.

"Hiding from Buffy?" he asked, deftly keeping the formerly rogue slayer between him and Buffy.

"You know you're bigger than me?" she asked.

"Uh… yup," he said, dodging Buffy's lunge again.

Faith rolled her eyes, shook her head and stood there.

Xander suddenly found himself lifted off the ground by his collar, then turned in the air to see Angel holding him up. Angel was smiling.

"You wouldn't," Xander said.

Angel's eyes flicked over to Buffy. "I really think I would," he said. With that, Angel held Xander out, and Buffy tackled him like a dummy, dropping him to the ground and tickling him. Willow stood next to Gunn.

"They attracted to each other?" Gunn asked.

"No," Willow said, fairly sure of herself. "Just a couple of old friends getting to know each other again."

"That why Angel's not all mopey right now?" Gunn asked.

"Probably, yeah," Willow said

"Good, I hate that," Gunn said. "He always forgets to pay me when he mopes."


And everything was fine. For about two days, until the next time Xander got called away while Buffy was around. They had a quick shouting match before he stormed out.

The next couple of weeks passed fairly uneventfully. Xander and the SWAT team continued to bust up bank robberies, hostage crises and general bad goings on. The 'unexplained death' rate in downtown LA dropped drastically during this time, and for a while, people felt safer.

Giles and Wood managed to find a couple of buildings in Cleveland that could be converted for their uses, and purchased them with the Watcher's Council funds that Wolfram & Hart had liberated. Wesley suggested that the group might benefit from moving into the offices of said law firm, but Angel was still uncomfortable with it, and postponed.

Buffy continued to snap at people, albeit less frequently, and Dawn spent two more nights at Xander's apartment. He always returned her the next morning, but let her and Buffy sort it out for themselves. He felt he'd done and said what he could. And then, too soon for some, it was time for people to leave.

"So it's goodbye again," Xander said at the airport, when the Scoobies and remaining potentials were on their way to Cleveland.

It being daytime, Angel had said his goodbye's at the hotel, assuring Buffy that he had, in fact, arranged for the Axe/Scythe to be shipped to Cleveland. The potentials had already boarded, and standing at the gate were Giles, Willow, Buffy and Wood, ready to depart, Faith, Dawn and Xander seeing them off.

Willow sniffled a little. "You're going to keep in touch, right?" she asked, looking at all three of them.

"Of course, Willow," he said. "You couldn't stop me from it."

"Me either," Dawn said, hugging the redheaded Wicca.

"You'll be in touch?" Wood asked of Faith.

"I'll get around to it," she said with a smirk.

Xander stepped up and shook Wood's hand. "I don't know you very well," he said. "But take care of my girls."

Wood nodded solemnly. "And you take care of mine." Xander smiled.

Giles and Dawn hugged, as did Xander and Willow. Dawn hugged her sister, and, to everyone's surprise, so did Faith. Xander and Giles shook hands, and exchanged a manly pat-on-the-back hug.

Xander and Buffy regarded each other.

"Well," Xander said. "I guess you're going then."

"Yeah," she said. "I am."

They stood there, and the others walked away, talking amongst themselves.

Xander sighed. "Why is it weird, now?" he asked. "We've always been able to talk before, why not now?"

"No common ground," she said. "I don't like what you do, you're not willing to give it up. It's an impasse."

"But we've disagreed before. This feels more…" he wouldn't say the word.

She would. "Final."

Xander dropped his head and nodded.

"I don't want it to be," she said, her eyes tearing up a little. "Whether you were with me or not, I always relied on your strength, Xander. There were times, I was so scared, and I would remember what you said to me, that night in the Bronze, right before you left. You kept me going through some rough times."

"With one little speech?" he asked.

Buffy chuckled. "There was nothing little about it, Xan," she said. "When I was sad, depressed, lonely… I would think about what you said… and none of it seemed quite so bad. You were… you were my heart, the strength I drew on for the longest time. I don't want to have to keep doing this if I think that… that you wouldn't want me to draw on that."

"Buff… Buffy. I don't really know what to say. You were my hero. But something's changed. You've changed, and I… I don't know, really, who you are anymore. My Buffy wouldn't be so blatantly hypocritical. My Buffy would care about her sister, but wouldn't keep her from living. My Buffy wouldn't… act, like you've been acting. She wouldn't…" his voice trailed off.

Buffy was now crying openly. "I don't want to lose you, Xander."

Seeing a Summers woman crying had been Xander's biggest weakness for years, and it was beyond his power not to hold her.

"You're not losing me, Buffy," he said, soothingly, as he wrapped her small form in his arms.

"Then why does it feel like it?"

Xander shook his head. "Because something is changing. We're not kids, we haven't been for a long time. Take some time, Buffy. Get away from the slaying. I know, you can't immediately, you have… responsibilities. But talk to Giles. When things are set up, when things are going good, take some time off. Go somewhere. Get to know yourself again, because this you… the one who treats her friends and family like soldiers… she's not the real you, Buff."

"I… don't like the way people react to me."

"They react to how you treat them. You don't respect people, so they don't respect you."

She looked up into his eyes, hers still wet.

"I'm sorry," he said softly. "But it's true."

Buffy sighed and rested her head against his chest, then nodded.

"I'm going to try," she said. "I'm going to try to find the old me again."

Xander kissed the top of her head. "I think you'll like her," he said. "I sure do."

A tentative cough brought them out of their closeness.

"It's time," Giles said softly.

Buffy nodded, and gave one last hug to Dawn as Xander gave one to Willow, and Faith to Wood. Giles got a final handshake from Xander, then the group boarded the plane, and left.

"Are you and my sister okay?" Dawn asked, when they started walking back to Xander's parked truck.

Xander thought for a moment, stifling the automatic reassurance he wanted to give the younger Summers.

"No," he said gently. "But, I don't think that's going to be a permanent thing."

They walked in silence.

"Are you and me okay?" Dawn asked.

Xander smiled down at the girl. "Always."

They stepped out of the airport, shielding their eyes from the suddenly bright light. They stopped and looked around. Faith turned to them and smirked.

"Shotgun!" she yelled, before taking off for Xander's truck.

Dawn and Xander rolled their eyes and strolled through the parking lot.

Chapter 8

Two weeks later

"This isn't working," Faith said.

Xander looked up from his television, startled.

"Um… hi," he said, motioning to the couch. "What isn't? And… how did you get in here?"

"I stole Dawn's key."

"Ah. So what's not working?"

"This… thing. Living at the hotel. It doesn't fit me. I need space."

Xander arched an eyebrow. "You don't have enough space at a hotel that houses like seven people, so you come to my ratty one-bedroom apartment?"

Faith looked around, her eyebrows creased. "It's not that ratty."

"Okay… um… still a lot smaller than a hotel."

Faith shook her head. "I didn't mean actual space, I meant space from Angel."

Xander looked surprised. "I thought you guys were good buds."

"We are. I mean, Angel's great, and he's helped me through a lot… but goddamn, I can take a break from the redemption for an hour."

"Overbearing?" Xander asked.

"He's like a fucking mother. Got a beer?"

Xander pointed to his fridge.


Faith grabbed a drink from Xander's fridge and joined him on the couch, where he turned to face her.

"So… what, then?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I just had to split, you know? Get out for a bit."

"So you came here," he said.

"Yeah… well, I don't really know anybody else in the city. I just… I had to get out of that fucking hotel."

"Oh," Xander said, looking around the apartment for a minute. "Well… I don't have a LOT of room here, but I guess we could figure out, um…"

Faith looked at him, surprised. "Oh," she said. "Oh, I just… for like a few hours."

"OhthankGod," Xander said, the sentence coming as a sigh of relief.

Faith looked at him with a hint of pain on her face.

"Not," Xander rushed out, "that it would be bad having you around. I just… um… space."

"It's cool, X. I get it. I wouldn't want a murderer living with me either." Faith stood and put her beer down on the end table by the couch. "Thanks for the drink."

Faith started walking to the door.

"Faith, wait," Xander said. "I'm sorry, I just… I'm a dick, okay?"

Faith stood in front of the door.


Faith stood there, then slowly turned around and walked back to the couch.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I was just kind of… I don't know. I'm sorry. You're welcome here as long as you like."

"Thanks," she said.

They sat in silence, looking at, but not really watching, the TV.

"When did you and Angel become such good buds?"

Xander laughed. "We're not really 'good' buds… but we have a healthy respect for each other, and a good working relationship, you know and we get along…" he paused, "huh. I guess we *are* friends. I never really thought about it." He shook his head. "I think once we both got away from Buffy, we kind of realized we had a lot in common."

"You got over the vamp thing?" Faith asked.

Xander shrugged. "No… I still hate vampires. I will never not hate vampires, but… I don't know, I guess I got to know Angel in a setting other than me constantly being afraid of what he'd do to Buffy, and he's not a bad guy."

Faith nodded. "He never gave up on me."

"He's not the only one."

Faith looked at Xander, confusion evident in her eyes.

Xander sighed. "Faith, I may not have come to visit you… well, ever, after you turned yourself in to Detective Lockley. But I never gave up on you. I always thought you had it in you to be a great person."

Faith sat there, surprised. Xander was making an intense study of his hands. "Surprise, huh?" he said.

Faith's eyebrows creased. "How come you never—"

"I was scared," Xander said. Faith turned her head away, ashamed.

"Not of what you might do," he said. "Angel told me you were really trying in there, really making progress, and I believed him. I was scared of what you might say. Or think. The last time I tried…"

"Xander," she said, turning back to him, "I am so incredibly sorry. You reached out to me, and… and I tried to kill you. And I would have, if not for Angel. I can't ever make that up to you… attempted murder isn't really something that goes away, but if I could, I would. In any way."

Xander turned and looked at her, then smiled softly before looking back down at his hands. "The part where you tried to kill me wasn't the worst," he said. "People, things, tried to kill me all the time back in high school. It was when you assumed I was just there for another… roll."

Faith, too, began to study her hands.

"I thought that… that you had seen something. In me. You know, that was special. Buffy even told me, but I was too stubborn to listen. I thought…. But, I was wrong."

"Yeah," Faith said. "You were. But, so was I. Just because I didn't see it doesn't mean it wasn't there."

"Um… huh?"

Faith sighed. "Xander, you're a pretty okay guy, you know? And just cuz some slut back a few years ago didn't see somethin' special in ya doesn't mean shit. I mean, you stood up for me when that guy wanted to take me in, and you've helped Angel and them a hell of a lot, you're a respected cop with a… not too shabby apartment. And hell, the Brat's got a crush on you a mile wide."

Xander laughed. "Oh, god," he said. "That's just what I need, an underage girlfriend whose big sister will rip my throat out, and that's only if Giles doesn't beat me to a bloody pulp first. And anyway, I never thought of you as a slut."

"Why not?" she asked. "Shoe fits, and all that."

"Maybe," Xander said. "Like you said, we don't always see things as they are. I never saw you as a slut, Faith. To me, you were just a girl with some problems who didn't know how to deal with them."

"You really can delude yourself sometimes."

"I pride myself on it, actually."

Faith laughed. "So that's why you were there? To help me deal?"

"Believe it or not, Faith, my life hasn't always been lived in the luxurious splendor you see before you. I had family problems, dealing with the Slaying wasn't always the easiest thing. Which is not to say my problems were on a level with yours, or even that I would have understood what you were going through, but… sometimes, to be a friend, you don't need to say anything. Sometimes you just need to listen."

Faith looked at him. "Is that what we are?" she said after a minute. "Are we friends?"

"If that's what you want," he said.

Faith let out a wry chuckle. "You'd be the only person with a heartbeat in this time zone who actually likes me."

"Hey, my mom always said I was special. Actually, that's a lie, but you get the idea."

"You're not worried about what your friends will think?" she asked.

"Faith, I don't know if you've noticed, but Buffy and I aren't exactly on the best terms right now. And Willow? Well, trust me, being your friend isn't nearly enough to break that bond. Hell, I dated Cordelia."

"Queen C never held a knife to her throat."

"Yeah, okay, that's a good point. Look, Willow doesn't like you. She holds a grudge. I get that, I can't even say I entirely disagree with it, but I'm not Willow. I dropped my grudge against you a long time ago."

Faith turned up her beer and downed the rest of it, the shook her head. "Friends with a Scooby. No fuckin' way I'd have believed that."

"Friends with Faith," Xander said. "And not even afraid for my life."


Xander just grinned and turned back to the TV.


"Faith, hi," Angel said when she and Xander walked into the Hyperion later that night. "I was worried."

"Slayer, here, bub. Can take care of myself."

"I know that, I just –"

"It's nice you care, though," Faith said.

Angel smiled at her.

"How's the lawyer-life treating you, Deadboy?" Xander asked, waving to Gunn, Fred and Wesley as they came down from upstairs.

"That depends. How's the cop life treating you, Stripperboy?"

Everybody came to a dead stop.

Xander sighed. "I should never have told you that."

"You were drunk, it's not my fault."

"Wait a second, what?" Faith asked. "You were a stripper?"

Xander groaned. "I really hate you, Angel."

"It's because of my charm, isn't it?"

"Something like that."

"I gotta hear this story," Gunn said.

"No," Xander said. "None of you have to hear this story."

"What story?" Dawn asked, coming in from the kitchen.

Xander checked his watch. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"

Dawn rolled her eyes. "I'm seventeen, not twelve, and it's not like I have school. What story?"

"Xan bein' a stripper," Faith said.

Dawn's jaw dropped. She walked over, took a seat on a couch, crossed her legs and looked on expectantly.

"Dammit," Xander said. "Now I'll never get away."

"Angel, I believe you were about to enlighten us," Wes said.

"Well, I don't have the full story," said Angel. "There are parts he wouldn't even talk about drunk. But it's like this. The summer after graduation, Xander was going to go on a road trip across the country. He got to LA before his car died, and he needed money to get a new one.

"So he gets a job working the kitchen at this strip club, and everything was going fine until one night when one of the male strippers called in sick. He won't tell me what happened next."

"Despite his years of questioning," Xander said, doing his best to ignore the highly amused faces on his friends.

"But I haven't told you the best part," Angel said. "The strip club? It was in West Hollywood."

Gunn, Faith and Dawn burst out laughing, while Wesley and Fred did their best to keep their composure, and Angel stood by, arms crossed and looking very smug.

"I swear, one day I'm going to find your most embarrassing secret and tell everyone. You are going to die of embarrassment," Xander said. "I give you my word as a Sicilian."

"You're not a Sicilian," Dawn said.

"No, but I can pretend!" said Xander.

"That's okay, man," Gunn said, clapping his friend on the back. "We've all had rough times in our lives, where we had to do things we didn't want to, just to get by."

"Thank you, Gunn," Xander said.

Gunn smirked. "I ain't never worked at no gay strip club though."

"All right," Xander said. "Keep up the gay jokes, just wait until I talk to Willow, she'll curse you all."

"If she's not too busy laughing at your ass," Faith said.

"You all are hopeless," Xander said.

The phone rang, and Wesley headed over to answer it.

"Does anybody else know about this, Xander?" Dawn asked.

"I uh… might have let it slip to Buffy," he said. Faith and Dawn broke out laughing at this again, and Angel's smile just got bigger.

"Angel," Wesley said, tearing a sheet of paper off of a pad as he hung up the phone. "We're on."

"You guys need help?" Xander asked.

Wesley looked down at the piece of paper. "It might be best if Los Angeles did not have an official representative at this particular juncture," he said.

Xander looked at him for a second. "You couldn't just say 'No thanks'?"

Wesley smiled at him. "No, thank you."

Xander nodded, then watched as the AI crew geared up. "I'm gonna eat you out of house and home while you're gone!" he yelled as they left the hotel.

"Tell me something I don't know," Angel muttered.


Xander checked his watch, then the clock on the wall, then his watch again.

"They should be back by now," he said.

"Would you chill? They can handle themselves," Faith said.

"I know," he said. "But it's been hours."

Faith rolled her eyes. "Look, just sit down, and –"

The sound of tires screeching interrupted her. The two stood and waited. And waited. Then sat. And waited. Then the door opened, and Angel, Gunn, Fred and Wes strode in, followed by a young man in a suit and a woman holding lots of forms.

"I told you," Angel said. "Go away. I don't want you here."

"Sir, I don't understand. You have to fill out the requisite forms before we can properly log—"

"Listen!" he yelled. "I don't care about your forms, I don't care about your logs. I do my job, you leave me alone, I'll deal with Wolfram & Hart when I get around to it, understand?"

"But, sir, we can't—"

Xander smirked. "Is there a problem here?" he asked, approaching the two newcomers.

"Oh… Officer Harris… no, I was just informing Mr. Angel that—"

"I believe Mr. Angel asked you to leave, did he not?"

"Yes, but you see he hasn't—"

"And you are aware that this is his private property?"

"Well, yes, but I work—"

"So, he has asked you to leave his private property, and you refuse. That sounds to me suspiciously like trespassing," Xander said.

"But, I work for Mr. Angel," the man pleaded.

"And if you worked for Microsoft, would you follow Bill Gates home and annoy him, and tell him he had to do things?"

"Well, no, but…"

"Come on," Xander said, taking the man by the arm. "Let's go, before 'Mr. Angel' decides to press charges."

The man wrested his arm from Xander's hands. "I can see myself out, thank you," he said, motioning for the woman to follow him. "Mr. Angel, I will bring you these forms at the office," he said, before turning on his heel and walking out of the room.

"Thank you," Angel said to Xander, as he collapsed on one of the couches in the lobby. "And now I really am glad I don't go to the office."

"I still think we should look into transferring our operations," Wesley said.

"Not now, Wes, okay? Just… not now. I'm still wiped from dealing with just the one lawyer."

"Nothing like the law to put fear into some lawyers," Xander said. "Who was that guy?"

Angel shook his head. "He's been following us since before the fight was even over. Wanted me to stop, just so I could fill out his forms for termination of clientele assets. What the hell does that even mean?"

"Those demons worked for one of Wolfram & Hart's clients," Wesley said. "Did you know we had an assault team backing us up?"

"You guys have an assault team?" Xander asked. "And you didn't make me head of security? I'm offended!"

"No you're not," Gunn said.

Xander shrugged. "I can play at it, though."

"Anyway," Angel said, "we just found out about the assault team tonight. The leader seems kind of…"

"Evil?" Fred asked.

"That's a good word for it, yeah," Angel said. "Besides, Xander, I'm sure the job only pays about ten times what you're making."

"Well, then I'm really glad you didn't ask me," Xander said sarcastically. "Since everybody knows how much I hate money."

"You'd be working for Wolfram & Hart," Angel pointed out.

"Point taken," Xander said, checking his watch again. "I should head out then."

The group waved to him tiredly. Xander left the hotel and hopped in his truck.

"Xan!" came a yell. He turned to see Faith approaching his truck.

"Yeah, Faith?"

"Thanks… for the friend thing earlier."

Xander smiled. "My pleasure."

Faith backed away from the truck, and watched as Xander drove off.

In the cab, Xander shook his head. "How come they always have a reason to come out to my truck?" he pondered.


The next few weeks flew by for all involved. The annual summer lull that Xander remembered from Sunnydale seemed to apply for the SWAT teams as well, and that was a change from more normal police activity. Although certainly less frequent than it was during his first couple of weeks, Xander was still pulled out about once a week for emergencies, in addition to the rigorous schedule of constant training the SWAT team put itself through.

Xander, Faith and Dawn spent a lot of time together, mostly watching movies and staying up late solving the problems of the world. Faith got more involved in the demonic side of things with Angel's gang, and Buffy flew out to get Dawn registered for school. She and Xander even managed to not yell at each other while she was in town, and actually shared a nice evening together. Buffy left with a good feeling that, while certainly there was still work to be done to repair their friendship, if they did work at it, she and Xander might someday be good friends again.


"It is too damn early," Xander muttered, putting his coffee down for a moment to check his helmet.

"Late night?" Deke asked as he strapped on his body armor.

"Uber-late," Xander said.

"Was it demons?" Deke whispered.

Xander chuckled. "Yeah, Deke, it was. Angel, Faith and the gang had some business to take care of so I watched over the hotel for a bit."

"You?" Deke asked. "What about all those little girls?"

Xander shook his head as he yawned. "They left like a month ago for Cleveland. Or their homes."

"Why the hell would that many people willingly go to Cleveland?"

Xander shrugged. "Hellmouth," he said, strapping his armor on.

That brought Deke up short. "A what now?"

"Oh, we didn't cover that? Yeah, back in Sunnydale we had a Hellmouth, which is just what it sounds like. So, anyway, they closed that one, but there's another in Cleveland. It shouldn't pose as much trouble, though. Scoobs patrolled the Sunnydale Hellmouth for six and a half years with just the one, or occasionally two, Slayers. Now there's a lot more, so it shouldn't be a problem."

Deke looked at him for a minute. "How does this shit not weird you out?"

Xander shrugged as he sipped his coffee. "Used to it."

Deke shook his head. "So why didn't you go all demon hunter last night?"

"Well, they're pretty wary of asking for my help, for a couple reasons. First, I'm a cop. If somebody saw me out fighting demons, it would raise a lot of unnecessary questions. Second, they all really know how to handle themselves. I mean, I do too, but… well, they prefer not to involve me unless it's really big. Not because I'm that, you know, vital, just because there are legality issues. Easier for everyone if I'm sidelined most of the time."

"How well can you handle yourself?" Street asked, walking up to the two men.

Xander shrugged. "Well enough, I suppose. A single vamp isn't really a problem for me at all, anymore, as long as I have a handy stake."

"You said vamps are stronger and faster than humans, though, right?" Deke asked.

"Sure," Xander said, sipping his coffee again as Sanchez and Boxer walked up to the group. "But they're also usually pretty damn stupid."

"You fight hand to hand?" Street asked.

"Well, guns don't kill them."

"Think you could take me?" Deke asked.

Xander nodded matter-of-factly. "Yeah."

Deke flexed his right arm. "With all this goin' on? Boy you're deluding yourself."

Xander grinned. "Tell you what. You train with one of the most vicious vampires the world has ever seen for the next four years, and then we'll see if you can take me."

"All right, all right, all right, kids," Hondo said, coming up. "Enough with the fairy tales. We got ourselves a situation."

"What's the what, Sarge?" Xander asked.

"What's the *what*?" Hondo said, incredulously. "Christ, you are a native, aren't you?"

"Born and bred," Xander said, grinning.

"Okay, boys and girls, we got ourselves a real live hostage crisis. Eight men have taken control of an airplane that just came in from uh…" Hondo checked his papers. "Tibet, via Tokyo. They're demanding fuel, clearance for take-off, and say they're gonna start killing people if they don't get what they want."

"Who are they?" Street asked.

"Montanans," Hondo said. "They think they're being held in the US against their will, and have refused to apply for passports. Why the fuck they didn't just walk into Canada is anybody's guess at this point, but it's our problem now."

"Bastards couldn't have held up SeaTac?" Sanchez asked.

"I guess they wanted more frequent flyer miles," Street said. "Weapons?"

"We're not certain," said Hondo. "We've seen two guys, both of them have AR-15's. Other than that, we're in the dark."

"Explosives?" Deke asked.

"No clue, but a safe bet. Probably homemade and not too stable."

Xander chuckled. Everybody looked at him.

"Sorry," he said. "Memory. It's a cake thing."

This got him even weirder looks. He shook his head. "Some other time."

"Okay," Hondo said. "We're moving out, look over the layout en route."

The group hopped in the van, Hondo behind the wheel.

"Okay," Street said. "It's fairly standard, as far as airplanes go. Unfortunately we don't have an elevator entrance, so we're going to have the normal entry points. There's a former Army Ranger on board, so if something starts to go down, we have to assume he'll try to step in. We need to make sure that doesn't happen, he could get himself, or us, or innocents, killed."

The group listened intently as Street mapped out the plan.


Fear on the plane was so thick you could smell it.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God, we're gonna die, we're gonna die. I know it, we're gonna die," cried the young girl in seat 18E.

"We're not going to die, just stay calm," said the man next to her. "Trust me. Help is on the way." The young man flagged down one of the Montanans.

"What the hell do you want?" the man asked, gruffly.

"I don't want any trouble," he said. "And I'm no hero, but this little girl is very scared, and I was wondering if somebody could get her a glass of water."

The man with the imposing gun curled his lip in a snarl, then grunted.

"I'll have a stewardess bring her something."

"Thank you," said the young man. He sniffed the air for a second, before turning back to the little girl. "I need you to do me a favor, okay?"

The girl nodded.

"I need you to close your eyes and plug your ears, okay? Everything is going to be fine."

The girl nodded again, then hugged her knees to her chest and did as the young man asked.

Ten seconds later, the screaming started. Five people suddenly appeared in the cabin, from various directions, all wielding machine guns. The firing erupted. Three of the Montanans went down in the first four seconds, quickly followed by two more. Another two were quickly eliminated as the five people swept through the plane.

As they walked through the plane, the young man slipped from his seat, working his way towards the back slowly and quietly. The passengers, huddling in their seats, took no notice of him, and he threatened nobody.

"That's seven," one of the armed people whispered. "Where's the last?"

Creeping ever farther back, the young man felt his muscles begin to stretch and strain painfully. He paused, tensed, and leaped. A man, six and a half feet high, slammed out of one of the bathrooms and was immediately sorry he did.

Drawn by the noise, two of the armed men rushed toward the back of the plane. Both stood there slack-jawed, albeit for different reasons.

"Plane is clear," the first said into his radio.

Removing his helmet, the other knelt down.

"Don't touch it, man. Looks like it has rabies or some shit."

"Nope," said the second. "Find me a blanket, huh? By the way, how'd we miss this bathroom?"

"No idea. Talk to Street," said the first, turning to go find a blanket.

The second man turned back to the form that was crouching on the floor. "So," he said, scratching the form behind its ears. "Tibet, huh?"


Chapter 9

"You wanna tell me just what the fuck happened in there?" Hondo yelled. "Why the hell is there a body ripped to shit? And why is there a big ass dog in my van that you won't let anybody see?"

"There is a perfectly legitimate explanation," Xander said. "The dog's not a dog. He's a werewolf."

"It was nine o'clock in the goddamn morning," Hondo said. "Werewolves only change on the full moon, and they're vicious killers when they do. I've done my research."

"That's true, Hondo," Xander said. "Except for this one. And actually, werewolves change on the full moon and the nights before and after it."

"That's still not 9 a.m. a *week* after the full moon," Hondo said.

Xander sighed. "He learned to control his change," said Xander. "He thought he was a danger to his friends, and the girl he loved, so he learned to control it. For her. But it turned out she just brought it out in him. But, I guess, he's gotten better since then."

The others were staring at him. Xander knocked on the side of the van, and a young man with bright red hair, wearing a shirt two sizes too big and a pair of shorts that barely held on to him.

"Hey," he said. "Thanks for the duds."

Most of the SWAT team gaped at him.

"Oz," Xander said. "Thanks for the help."

The guitarist looked up at Xander. "SWAT?"



Hondo looked at Xander, who smiled.

"Daniel Osbourne, meet the best SWAT team in the country. Guys… this is Oz."

Oz looked around at them. "Hey."

"All right, I give up," Deke said to Xander. "Does crazy shit like this always happen around you?"

"Pretty much, yeah. Oz, we're having a little trouble with an explanation. Wanna help?"

Oz's expression didn't change.

"He gonna respond?" Sanchez asked.

"Oh, that's his thinking face," Xander said.

"It… looks just like his other face," said Boxer, pointing at him.

"Yeah," Xander said. "He's like that."

"Well," Oz said, ignoring the talking that had gone on around him. "Wild animal's out."

"Enclosed area. And, you know, plane," Xander said, nodding.

"Elevator mauling?" Oz asked.

Xander snapped his fingers. "Perfect." Xander turned back to the team. "He tripped over… a seatbelt or something, or on a wet spot, fell into the open food elevator, which then was activated, and it scraped up his body."

They looked at him incredulously. "Well do you have a better story?" he asked. "I'm doin' my best here, and Oz probably saved somebody's life today, probably one of ours."

Street shook his head. "Do you know every supernatural freak in the world?"

"Well, first off, Oz isn't a freak. He's a victim of infantile cousin teething. Second, no, I don't. Just most of the ones in California. It so happens we went to high school together."

"Whatever," Hondo said. "We'll go with your story for now, if something better comes up…" he shook his head. "I swear to God, Harris, you're going to be the death of me. All right, all of you, get out of my sight. I have to go figure out why the hell we were provided incorrect blueprints of the goddamn plane."

Deke shook his head. "Xander, man, you live a fucked up life."

"Don't I know it," said Xander.

"Hey," Sanchez said. "He's not a fugitive too, is he?"

Xander rolled his eyes and flipped her the bird.

"Fugitive?" Oz asked.

"Faith," Xander said. "She broke out to help Angel with LA's magical disappearing sun, went to Sunnydale to help stop the First, and nobody's really intent on taking her back to prison."

Oz and Xander walked out of the station together.

"You need to get your stuff from LAX?" Xander asked.

Oz nodded. "Could help."

"So, you can control yourself while in wolf-form, now, huh?"

"Yeah," Oz said. "For a year or so, now."

"That's cool," Xander said as they climbed into his truck. More of a literal climb for the shorter man. "How long you in town for?"

"Don't really know yet," Oz said.

"Hear about Sunnydale?"

Oz nodded. "Scoobs?"

"Anya and Spike."

"Damn," Oz said. "Everyone else? Willow?"

Xander smiled as he pulled out of the parking lot "They're in Cleveland," he said. "New Hellmouth, and tons of Slayers. Willow's helping Giles set up a new Council, cuz the old one got blowed up."

Oz nodded. "She and Tara…?"

Xander blinked. "Shit," he said, with a heavy sigh. "Last year. Tara was killed. Shot by this guy who was trying to kill Buffy."

Oz said nothing, just stared out the front of the truck.

"And he is now…" Oz prompted.

"Dead," Xander said. "Willow… Oz, she turned dark. Killed Warren - the guy who shot Tara? Then tried to end the world."

Oz looked at him. "You were there," he said. "Stopped her."

"Yeah," he said. "I was on suspension. How…"

"Got a feeling," Oz said.

Xander accepted that at face value. "Got a place to stay?"

"Lotsa hotels here," Oz said.

Xander smiled. "I know a good one. Cheap, too."

Oz nodded. "Thanks," he said.

"Just gotta make one quick stop at a hardware store first," Xander said.

Oz nodded, and they continued the ride in silence.


"Hello, hello, hello," Xander said, walking into the Hyperion with Oz.

"Good afternoon, Xander," Wesley said, not looking up from his text.

"Wesley, it's rude to ignore your guests," Xander taunted.

"Since when are you a guest?" Wesley replied. "You're here often enough you no longer count."

"You cut me to the quick, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. But it's not me I was talking about."

Wesley looked up. "Oz," he said, coming around the desk. "How nice to see you. I had no idea you were in town."

Oz looked up at Xander.

"Oh, right," Xander said. "Last you two met, Wes was still a prat with a huge pole up his ass. He's better now."

Wes rolled his eyes. "Yes, thank you for that glowing recommendation, Xander," he said. "How long do you intend to stay in town?"

"Xander!" Dawn yelled, virtually throwing herself down the stairs and latching onto Xander.

"Whoa, whoa, it's a Dawn-rocket," he said, catching the near-flying girl and spinning her around. "What's with all the enthusiasm?"

"I haven't seen you in like a week!" she said. "Oh, and hi Oz!"

"Hey," Oz said.

"Dawn, it's been three days," said the Xander half of what had be come a XanderDawn.

"I know, but I never ever saw you the past four years except like every couple months. I like seeing you more," said the Dawn half.

"Well, I gotta say, I like being seen," he said with a smile. Xander turned to Wes, with the girl still attached to his side. "You guys got a room open?"

"Certainly," Wes said. "Oz, would you like second, third, fourth or sixth floor? The fifth is currently under renovation, and thus, is unusable."

"Um… second?" Oz said.

"Excellent," said Wesley. "Current rooms taken on the second floor are 207 and 219. Any others are open to you. In lieu of keys, we have removed the locks from all rooms not in constant use. Our porter and concierge have just quit, and thus we will be unable to transport your luggage for you."

Oz shot a look at the XanderDawn. "Just pick a room," Xander said. "It's not a hotel, it's a detective agency."

"Well, what else would it be?" Oz asked.

"I see you have a new growth, Xan," Faith said, walking out of the gym in back. "Wolfy. Hi."

"Faith. Hear you renewed your membership."

"Something like that," she said.

"Well. Welcome."

"Thanks," Faith said, unsure of how to react.

Oz looked around. "Isn't anyone ever surprised to see me?"

Receiving a few shrugs, Oz let it go, and took his bag from the XanderDawn. "I'll take a room now?"

Xander nodded, and Oz walked up to the second level.

"Dawn," Faith said, "you planning on lettin' the X-man move?"

"He can walk," Dawn said, not removing her arms from around him.

"What do you say?" Xander asked. "You girls up for a movie tonight?"

"Every time you try to take us to a movie, you get called away to go shoot people," Dawn said.

"Yeah, but that won't happen tonight," Xander said.

"How do ya know?" asked Faith.

"Hondo said we have the night off, cuz of our thing earlier today."

"Oh," Faith said. "Well, I can't anyway. Robin's coming back to town for a couple days tonight."

"Ah ha," Xander said. "So it's time for a few rounds of hide the salami."

"Xander!" Wesley said.

"What? I'm not wrong," said Xander.

"He's really not," Faith said with a smirk.

"Oh well," Xander said. "What do you say Dawn? Movie?"

"Uh… lemmethinkyeahokaysurewhattime?"

"Whenever," Xander said with a chuckle. "Your choice. Movie, time, place, whatever. I've made my quota of decisions for the month."

"Okay," Dawn said, detaching herself from Xander's side. The young woman bounded up the stairs to get ready.

"Jesus, that girl gets attached," Xander said, sitting on one of the couches.

"Well, that's because she's in luuurrrvvv," Faith teased, plopping down on the couch next to him.

"Here," he said, pulling a key from his pocket.

"What's this?" she asked.

"For you. I gave one to Dawn when she got here, I'm giving one to you now. It's a key to my apartment. I want you to feel free to visit anytime."

"Oh," Faith said, looking at the key. "Oh… wow. Uh. Thanks."

"Yeah, well don't read too much into it," Xander said with a lopsided grin. "I keep a lot of spare keys with friends because I lock myself out more than you'd believe. This just means I get to call you to open my door for me at 3 am. I mean, I have a key over the door across the hall, but that gets taken sometimes."

"Oh, wow, thanks," Faith said sarcastically. "That's a real honor."

Xander yawned. "Ah. Sorry. What time's Robin supposed to get in?"

"His flight leaves in about an hour," Faith said.

"Xander!" Dawn yelled from the second floor balcony. "How about that pirate movie?"

"Whatever you want, Dawn," Xander said.

Dawn squealed in excitement. "Orlando Bloom is *so* hot!" She ran back to her room.

Xander shook his head. "I'm so lucky most perps don't have that much energy. I'd never catch 'em."

Oz came back downstairs to join the former Sunnydalers. "Plans?" he asked.

"What do you think, Oz? Pirate movie?"

"I'm game. I've heard good things about it," he said.

"You heard good things about a pirate movie when you were in Tibet?"

"Internet," Oz said. "It's everywhere."

Dawn came barreling back down the stairs. "Okay," she said. "Dinner, then movie at 8:15, and ice cream or coffee afterwards."

"So says Dawn, so shall it be done," Xander said, standing up off the couch. "Okay, I'm gonna go crash back at my place, I got woken up early today."

Xander said his goodbyes and left the Hyperion.

Chapter 10

"Okay, you guys ready?" Xander asked that night when he returned to the Hyperion.

"Sure," Oz said. Dawn just smiled and looped her arm through Xander's, causing Oz to chuckle. The trio turned and headed out of the hotel.

"Hey!" came a shout from behind them. "Got room for one more?"

Xander turned to see Faith jogging to catch up. "Sure," he said, choosing to ignore the fact that Robin was nowhere to be seen.

The group climbed into Xander's truck, Dawn claiming the front passenger seat, leaving Faith and Oz in the back.

"Sleep well?" Oz asked as they pulled out into traffic.

"Oh God yes," Xander said. "Oh, it was so sweet… my pillow was so cool, and soft and…" Xander sighed. "I need a life."

"Wanna join mine?" Dawn asked.

Xander turned his head to look at the young woman next to him, who was beaming her best smile up at him. Xander smiled back at her. "Dawnie, some day you're gonna make a guy really happy, and I'm going to be there to intimidate him into treating you right, and to arrest him if he doesn't."

"But that guy won't be you," she said, sullen.

Xander looked at Dawn for a moment, then pulled to the side of the road. He turned to the back seat. "Guys can you give us a minute?"

After Oz and Faith got out of the truck, Xander turned back to the young woman seated next to him. "Dawn, I love you more than anything."

"But not like that," she said, her eyes damp. "I get it. It's Buffy, isn't it?"

"Buffy has absolutely nothing to do with it, Dawn," he said, taking her hand in his. "It's just… listen, do you know how much Willow has meant to me throughout my life?"

Dawn nodded. "That's how important to me you are, okay? You're like Willow was. I don't want to know what my life would be like if you weren't here. Dawn, you are one the most extraordinary young women I have ever known, and I've known some special ones."

"So how come -"

"I don't know, Dawn," he said. "I don't know how this whole thing works, the… attraction and stuff. And I know you have feelings for me, and you have no idea how much it means that you think of me like that. And I'm sorry that I can't return the feeling, sweetie, because I do love you, so much. And you are going to make some guy so happy one of these days, and I promise you I'm going to be there every step of the way."

Dawn wiped her eyes. "You mean it?"

"I really do," he said, pulling Dawn into a hug. "You're gonna do great things, Dawn, and I'm gonna be there, cheering you on."

Dawn smiled up at him, her eyes still glistening. "If you ever change your mind…"

"You will know it instantly, I promise. I'll be as open about it as you are. You deserve that much."

Dawn nodded and wiped at her eyes again.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"No," she said, looking out the front of the truck. "I'm all hungry and we're not making any progress toward the food."

"Okay," Xander said, smiling. "Now where are those two miscreants?" Xander honked his horn and leaned out his window. "Come on, you two, you're holding up the line!"

This drew looks from people in other cars who were stopped at a red light. Xander smiled at them, grabbed his badge from his ashtray and held it up for them to see. They immediately turned away, gripping the steering wheel tightly.

"Let's get goin'" Faith said. "I'm hungry enough I could eat a uh… well, I'm trying to think of something other than a horse, but I'm coming up all demons. So, something not as gross and I'm your girl."

Xander smiled and pulled out into traffic.


"Hey, kiddo," Faith said, having followed Dawn into the Ladies Room once they reached the restaurant. "You okay?"

Dawn smiled as she touched up her make-up. "Yeah," she said. "I'm okay."

"You got it pretty bad for the X-man, huh?"

Dawn nodded. "You could say that, yeah."

"How come him?" Faith asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I ain't judging or anything. Just wondering where the attraction comes from."

Dawn sighed. "I don't know. I mean, he's definitely a total babe. And that uniform…"

"Right with ya there," Faith said with a chuckle. "But, I mean, there's gotta be more to it."

"Definitely," Dawn said, turning around to face the older woman. "A big part of it is the way he treats me. He never talks down to me, and he doesn't tell me I'm too young to know stuff, or that I wouldn't understand something."

Faith nodded as Dawn continued. "And I mean, tonight is a perfect example. He sat there in the car and basically said that I had no chance with him, but he was up front. He didn't coddle me, or try to tell me I didn't know what I was feeling. But he was still gentle, and respectful."

Dawn sighed.

"I get-" Faith started.

"And also," Dawn said, cutting Faith off, "he stands up to my sister. That counts for a lot."

"You like a guy who disagrees with B?" Faith asked.

"Not like that. I mean, if he thinks she's wrong, he'll tell her. He always has. He doesn't put up with her bullshit like everyone else does. Doesn't just follow her around like a little puppy, like Spike did, even though Buffy could kick his ass six ways from Sunday. You gotta respect that."

Faith nodded, opened her mouth to speak, but paused to see if Dawn was going to continue. "I know what you mean," she said. "Plus, he's got some pretty good judgment."

Dawn's face darkened. "What, because he rejected me? I should have -"

"No," Faith said, taking her turn to interrupt this time. "Because he said you're gonna be a heartbreaker, kiddo."

"Oh," Dawn said, blushing slightly. "I uh… thanks. Oh, hey, how come you're not with Robin?"

"He couldn't make it," Faith said, her face suddenly expressionless. "Come on, let's go join the boys."


"Oh man! Did you see the part where he-"

"Yes, we all saw that part."

"But, then when he -"

"Yeah, we all saw that part, too."

"And then he -"

"Xander!" Faith snapped. "We all saw the damn movie, okay? Did you not notice the three people in the seats next to you? We were there!"

"Sorry," Xander said, looking down into his ice cream with a quick wink to Dawn. "It's just… good movie."

"Besides," Faith said with a smirk. "The best part was definitely when they took the little ship."

"Oh man," Dawn said, pushing her ice cream away from her. "I think I'm gonna be sick."

"You all right?" Xander asked.

"Yeah," Dawn said, holding her stomach. "I think this doesn't go to well with my dinner… and the popcorn… and the candy. I'll be back in few minutes."

Dawn got up and left the table.

"The lessons of youth," Oz said. "Mixing foods can be dangerous."

Xander turned to Faith. "How come Robin's not here?" he asked.

"Couldn't come," Faith said, her face shutting down.

"Do you wanna -"

Faith's eyes flicked for a moment to Oz.

"Oh, look," Oz said, standing up and looking for an excuse to make himself scarce. "There's a… newspaper…" Oz walked away.

"What, now you learned to fetch?" Xander called after him, eliciting a chuckle from Faith, whom he then turned to. "So, what's up?"

Faith shook her head. "He just said he had a lot of things to do, and couldn't make it," she said.

"Well, that sounds… legit," Xander said.

"Yeah, but… I don't know, I guess I'm just being stupid."

"No, what is it?" Xander asked.

"It's just… he called like two hours after his flight was supposed to have left. And, I dunno, maybe it just slipped his mind."

Xander frowned, not wanting to pass judgment on a man he barely knew.

"What?" Faith asked.

Xander hesitated, choosing his words carefully. "That's… very inconsiderate," he said.

"Yeah, but he's busy," Faith said.

"I just…" Xander started. "It doesn't take that long to pick up a phone."

"I don't know," Faith said. "Whatever. Fuck him, I ain't that attached."

"Yeah you are," Xander said.

"Fuck you, no I'm not," Faith insisted.

"Yes, you are," Xander said.

Faith opened her mouth to deny again, but Xander cut her off.

"Look, I'm not saying you want to marry the guy or anything, but there's obviously something there, otherwise you wouldn't be wigged about it."

"I am not wigged," Faith insisted. "And I'm not attached! I'm Faith. Use 'em and lose 'em right?"

"Yeah, you're Faith, but you're not the same Faith. You've changed."

"Not that much," she said.

"Yes, that much," said Xander.

"Why would you say that?" Faith asked. "Why would you think I'm even remotely attached-"

"Because you are, Faith," Xander said. "And denying it isn't going to make it any less true. Because you need to deal with things. Cuz not dealing didn't work out so well last time."

"I know, Xander," she snapped. "Look just drop it. I'll deal with it in my own way, okay?"

"Just make sure you deal with it," Xander said, drawing a glare from Faith. "I'm only saying that because-"

"You don't trust me."

"No!" Xander insisted, looking Faith straight in her eyes. "If I didn't trust you, I wouldn't let you anywhere near Dawn. I'm saying this because I care, and I don't want to see you hurt."

Faith's expression softened a little, and Dawn chose that moment to return to the table, holding her stomach.

"Hey guys," Dawn moaned. "Can we cut this short? I'm not feeling so hot. Where's Oz?"

"Oz took himself for a walk," Xander said, pulling his eyes away from Faith's and glancing up at Dawn, who looked pale. "And yeah, we can go."

Xander and Faith got up from the table and took Dawn outside, where they found Oz sitting on a bench on the street.

"Ready to go?" Xander asked Oz.

"Sure," he said.

"Shotgun!" Dawn yelled, sprinting for Xander's truck despite her apparent illness.

"I used to be that young," Oz said.

Xander laughed. "We all did."

"Hey," Faith said to Xander. "You really think you could keep me away from Dawn, if you didn't trust me?"

Xander smiled. "I've learned a thing or two," he said.

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

Without warning, Xander lashed out at Faith with his left hand. She knocked his arm away then grabbed him by his shirt with both hands and slammed him against the wall, albeit more gently than she would have an actual threat.

"Not fast enough," she said cockily. Looking at his smile, she assumed it meant he knew she meant him no harm. She was wrong.

"Plenty fast, actually," Oz said, nodding down between their bodies.

Faith looked between them and saw Xander holding his finger mere inches away from her stomach. Faith looked at Oz, then at Xander, not yet having let go of Xander's shirt. "Your finger?" she asked. "What, you're going to poke me in the stomach?"

"He pulled his finger from behind him," Oz said.

"So?" Faith asked.

Xander's smile was so confident that it scared Faith for a moment. "At other times, when I'm not with a Slayer I trust," he said, "back there is where I keep my gun."

Faith looked down at his finger again, which was still pointed at her stomach. She looked back into his eyes and released his shirt, backing up a few steps, a new respect springing to life for the man she was still just really getting to know.

"Bang," Xander said with a smile. As they walked back to Xander's truck, Faith lagged behind a little so neither Oz nor Xander saw her shudder.

Chapter 11

"Yeah?" Xander answered his cell phone while driving back to his apartment.

[Harris, where you at, man?]

"Hey, Deke," Xander said. "I'm headed home. What's going on?"

[We're all meetin' up, down at the bar. You game?]

"Yeah, sure," Xander said.

[Half hour?]

"I'll see you guys there," Xander said.

Xander turned his truck around and headed for their normal bar, and arrived fifteen minutes later, beating the rest of the team. He approached the bar and ordered a beer.

"You look like you've had a long day."

Xander turned to see an attractive brunette woman with deep brown eyes and a healthy tan.

"I have had a very long day," he said, smiling at her. "But it seems to have gotten better just recently. I'm Xander."


"Would you like something to drink?" Xander asked.

"Sure," she said. "Gin and tonic."

Xander signaled for the bartender and placed the order before turning back to her.

"So what are you doing in a dive like this?" Xander asked her, leaning back against the bar and taking a sip of his beer.

"Oh, I come here for the ambiance," she said with a smile. "Actually, I'm meeting my brother here in a few minutes. He's been trying to convince me to get back with my ex, who's a friend of his. But, you know, he was just way too into his job and… well, he's not going to change."

"I know what you mean," Xander said. "The last girl I dated was… well, a long time ago, actually, but you know. I have friends who have had the same problem."

"How long?" Lara asked.

"Oh, no," Xander said. "That'll just make me seem even more pathetic than hanging around in a bar, alone, at 23, at this time of night already has."

"I was here alone, too, you know," she said, smiling coyly.

"Ah, but you were here for a reason, thus making you not pathetic."

"Well, you could be here with me," Lara said. "And then we could be not pathetic together." She flashed him a brilliant smile.

"This wouldn't just be your way of avoiding your brother and your ex, would it?"

"Hmm… maybe. But would that be so bad?"

Xander feigned pondering it.

"Oh come on," she said. "I can leave a note for him, tell him I had to go, and we can go somewhere way more fun. Please?"

"Ah, what the hell," Xander said.

"Okay," Lara said. "Let me just leave a note, and then I'll meet you outside?"

"Sure," Xander said, smiling. He walked outside and called Deke.

"Hey, it's me. I'm not gonna be able to make it after all," he said

[Ah, man, you crashin' out on us?]

"Hell yeah," Xander said. "I met this girl -"

[Say no more,] Deke said. [And good luck.]

"Thanks," Xander said before hanging up. A minute later, Lara joined him outside.

"So where can I take you?"

"I don't know," she said. "Know any good all night diners?"

Xander pondered for a second. "Well, IHOP never closes."

"IHOP it is," Lara said.

Xander smiled and led her to his truck and opened the door for her, helping her up into the cab before circling and climbing in himself. They headed off.


Xander rolled over in bed and looked at the brunette head of hair next to him.

'Wow,' he thought, rubbing his hands over his face as he sat up. 'That was intense.'

As he sat up, Xander noticed the distinct lack of a quilt on his bed. And that the sheets were all on one side. And that Lara had absolutely nothing covering her shapely ass.

He might not have noticed things in that order.

Xander got out of bed, slipped on some boxer shorts and padded out to his kitchen area. He started some coffee brewing and opened his fridge to see if he had anything he could use to cook breakfast. He was surprised to find he had half a dozen eggs that Dawn had picked up for him, and a small package of bacon as well.

Xander pulled out a pan and started cooking.

"Morning," Lara said, coming out of his bedroom wearing his robe.

"Hey," Xander said, smiling at her. "Bacon? Eggs?"

"I'd love some," Lara said, sitting down at his small table.

Xander and Lara continued talking and flirting while Xander cooked up breakfast, then poured a cup of coffee for both himself and Lara.

"How do you like your coffee?" he asked.

"Cream and sugar, please," she said, smiling at him.

Xander fixed her coffee, then started to take it over to her, not noticing he had left a drawer open. He smacked his shin into the drawer and fell to the ground with a yell, dropping and smashing both coffee cups.

"Ahh, dammit," he said. He was then surprised when his door was slammed open and Faith, glistening with sweat and wearing jogging shorts and sports bra, rushed in.

"Are you okay?" Faith got out before seeing Lara sitting at the table. "Oh. Uh. Hey. I uh… heard something break…"

"Oh," Lara said, looking at the attractive young brunette who had felt comfortable bursting into Xander's apartment unannounced early in the morning. "Oh," she said. "Um, oh."

Xander stood up.

"Hey, Faith," he said. "I'm fine, yeah. Oh, and uh, Lara, this is Faith. Faith, Lara."

"Hi," Lara said, smiling falsely at the other young woman.

"Hey," Faith said, one eyebrow raised.

"Uh, Faith is an old friend from back in high school," Xander said, noting the uncomfortable feeling in the room. "She got into LA a little while ago and is staying with a mutual friend of ours. What brings you by this morning, Faith?"

"Oh, I was out for my run, and some, uh… big hairy guy smacked into me, knocked me down pretty hard, scraped my knee to some shit. It was like two blocks from here, so I thought… clean it out and stuff."

"Sure," Xander said, nodding at her. "First aid kit's in the bathroom."

"Thanks," Faith said, before making her way through Xander's bedroom and into his bathroom.

Lara looked at him accusingly.

"What?" he asked.

She shook her head in disappointment. "I know I've only known you since yesterday, but I thought you weren't like other guys," Lara said.

"What? What do you mean?"

"Oh come on," she said. "A girl who looks like that has a key to your apartment and is comfortable just showing up whenever? Tell me there's nothing going on."

"There's nothing going on," Xander said, sincerely. "Faith is a friend. Yes, she has a key to my apartment, but so do most of my friends in town."

"And just how many of these 'friends' are guys?" she asked, accusingly.

"Three," Xander said, as he pointed to a picture on his wall of the whole Angel Investigations crew. "Them, over there."

Lara looked over at the picture. "And I suppose both of those girls have keys as well?"

"Fred, that's the really thin one, she doesn't. And Cordy did… does, I suppose, but uh…"

"What?" Lara asked, harshly. "You messed around on her and she hasn't talked to you in a while?"

"No," Faith said, from behind Lara, scowling at her. "Queen C's in a coma, has been for a couple months. Real nice attitude, by the way. Thanks for the clean-up, Xan. I'll catch you later." Faith stormed out of Xander's apartment, slamming the door behind her.

Lara sat there with her mouth open, in shock. She turned to Xander, who was quietly cleaning up the coffee with some paper towels.

"Xander, I am so -"

"No," he said, softly. "There's no way you could have known."

"Was she -"

"She was a very good friend," Xander said.

"I'm sorry. I just assumed -"

"I know," he said. "It's okay."

"No, it's not. Xander, I should have -"

"Listen, let's just forget the whole thing, okay?" he said, smiling at her has he tossed the paper towels in the trash. "I myself have had significantly worse reactions to… things. Let's just not worry about it, and move on, okay?"

"Sure," Lara said, smiling at him. She pushed away from the table. "I'm gonna take a shower."

"Sure," Xander said. "There's towels in the cupboard."

"Thanks," Lara said, walking back towards the bedroom.

"No problem," Xander said.

Lara paused at his bedroom door, considered for a moment, then turned back.

"Xander?" she asked.


"Scrub my back?"

Xander looked up at her and smiled, softly. "Some other time," he said.

Lara smiled at him and nodded, before heading off to shower. Once Xander heard the shower running, he slammed his fist into the kitchen counter, releasing a good deal of anger. He took a deep, calming breath, and then finished cleaning up the mess.


Lara felt bad about what she had said, she really did.

But not bad enough to stop from snooping. After turning on the water and finding a towel, Lara started looking through Xander's cabinets. She found the normal supply of Advil, Excedrin, various other over-the-counter medicines, and all the other normal bathroom supplies of a bachelor in his early twenties. And she found the most well stocked first aid kit she had ever seen in her entire life.

Upon opening a small bag under the sink, she found it to be stocked with holy water, a few crosses, and some sharpened pieces of wood.

'Who are you, Xander Harris?' she thought.

Having completed her snooping, Lara disrobed and got in the shower.


"Hey," Lara said once she was clean, dry and dressed and had come out of the bathroom. She saw Xander was fully dressed.

"Uh huh," Xander said into the telephone by his bed. He held up a finger to tell her to wait. "Okay, yeah, I can be there in fifteen to twenty. Right. Bye."

Xander hung up and turned to Lara. "Hi," he said. "Sorry, I'm gonna have to run. Duty calls."

"Duty?" Lara asked.

Xander smiled and pointed to the badge clipped to his belt.

"You gotta be kidding me," she said. "You're a cop?"

"Yeah," he said. "That bug you?"

"No, I guess not. My last boyfriend - the one who was too into his job - he was a cop, too. I'm sure you're not of the same mindset, though. He was… a different kind of cop."

"In LA?" Xander asked as he took his gun out of his nightstand drawer and holstered it. "Maybe I know him."

"I doubt it," Lara said. "He spends most of his time with his SWAT buddies. It's kind of annoying, he was just way too into his job."

Xander froze. "SWAT buddies?"

"Yeah. He and Michael are on the same unit or whatever."


"My brother, Michael Boxer. He's really over-protective of me."

Xander winced. "Your brother, Michael Boxer," he said. He thought for a moment. "Oh. So… your ex is Jim Street."

"How did you know that?" Lara asked.

"Well, unless Sanchez switched teams since she had a kid, or Deke was cheating - which I don't believe - pretty much the only other option is Street."

"How -"

Xander stuck his hand out. "Xander Harris," he said. "Newest member of Hondo Harrelson's SWAT team."

Lara looked at him in disbelief. "Oh, Christ."

Chapter 12

"Hey guys!" Xander said as he approached the SWAT truck. "How's things? How's it shakin'?"

Xander received a round of quiet nods as greetings.

"So, what's goin' on? What's happening?"

"Man, you a chatty bitch today," Deke said. "You got lucky last night, didn't you?"

"Heh," Xander said. "So, what's the sitch?"

Deke leaned around the truck and pointed. "Bus," he said. "Hostages and a demand for… I don't know. Vegetarian food or something, I think the guy's a vegan."

"Oh," Xander said. "I was wondering why the bus was there. What's with the car, though?"

"Crashed when the bus stopped in the middle of the intersection."

"Ohh," Xander said before turning to his other teammates. "Jim, Boxer, Sanchez, nice to see you guys. Hondo around?"

"He's up front in the truck," Boxer said.

"You all right?" Sanchez asked him. "You're lookin' a little jumpy."

"Fine," Xander said. "I just need to talk to Hondo. In private." He pointed. "Now."

"Everything all right?" Boxer asked.

"Fine!" Xander called as he ran off.

With no further explanation, Xander high-tailed it to the front of the truck and knocked on the door. It swung open and Hondo looked out. "Not now," he said. "We're planning things."

"Um… okay," Xander said nervously.

"You all right?" Hondo asked.

"Uh, yeah! Great! Just… need to talk to you when you get a chance."

"Can't it wait until after?" Hondo asked.

"Do you want me this jittery during whatever it is we're going to do?"

Hondo looked at him for a minute, taking in the nervous tics, the fake grin plastered on his face, all things that were so opposite his normal cool, collected calmness.

"All right," Hondo said, then turned to the other occupant of the truck, said something, then hopped down. "What's up?"

Xander walked around the front of the truck with Hondo, then glanced on both sides to see that none of his teammates were close.

"Okay, so, you know Boxer?" Xander asked.

"Yeah, what about him?"

"You know he has a sister?"

"Sure," Hondo said. "Lara. He's real protective of her. In fact, him and Street got into a fight about her on the first day we got together, cuz she had just broken up with him."

Xander grimaced.

"Why?" Hondo asked.

"Well, the thing is," Xander started, "I was supposed to meet the guys at the bar last night, right? But I got there about fifteen minutes early, and I start talking to this girl, and we hit it off, and we go somewhere else… and, well… it seems I might have slept with Boxer's sister."

"You did WHAT?" Hondo yelled.

Xander held his hands out to quiet his boss down. "I didn't know until this morning," Xander said.

Hondo took a deep breath. "Okay. Are you serious about her?"

Xander shrugged. "I don't know… maybe. She seems nice, although a little quick to jump to conclusions. And lash out."

"Conclusions about what?" Hondo asked.

"Well," Xander said. "Faith might have dropped in this morning. Wearing short-shorts and a sports bra. And using her own key."

"And the lashing out?" Hondo asked.

"She uh… insulted a good friend of mine who's in a coma."

Hondo blinked.

"I mean, she didn't *know* she was in a coma… just kind of assumed she's an ex who I cheated on. Which, I guess, is technically correct… but that was a long time ago."

Hondo blinked again.

"Okay," he said after a minute. "Do you have any plans with her?"

"Uh… she has my phone number."

"My real question," Hondo said after thinking for a moment, "is why the hell you're coming to me with this. Shouldn't you just talk to him?"

"Well," Xander said, "Lara said he's way over protective, and I thought maybe you would have an idea on, you know, the best way to approach the subject. I mean, I don't think I should just kind of walk up and say 'Hey, Mike, I slept with your sister. Let's go shoot -" "You did WHAT?" yelled a voice from behind him.

Xander froze.


"I'm gonna kill that fucking kid," Boxer grunted, pulling the binoculars up to his eyes.

"Calm down, man," Deke said as he adjusted the focus on the scope attached to his rifle. "It's not like he knew."

"It doesn't matter," Boxer said. "He should have known. He should have found out and-"

"Exactly how?" Deke asked. "Come on man, the guy finds a girl, a girl he likes. Girl comes on to him, they go out, they talk, one thing leads to another… it's not like he was settin' out to mess with you."

"Yeah?" Boxer asked. "How do you know that. You've seen the people he hangs around. What they are, what they do. Maybe he was -"

{Boxer} Hondo said over the radio. {Deke, you guys in position?}

"Yeah, boss," Boxer said. "We're all set up here."

{Good}Hondo said. {And Boxer, don't let it get to you. Deal later. You can duke it out or whatever, but not until we're done here. Focus.}

"I read you," Boxer said.

{Good. I'll call back when we're ready for something.}

"See, now that wasn't too hard," Deke said, lining his sight up on Xander's head as Xander crept towards the bus, alone. "Besides, you're not the one who has to deliver the phone."

Boxer laughed. "Yeah," he said as he watched Xander toss the telephone unit into the bus while three of the men in the bus trained their guns on him.

"Got it in on the first toss," Deke said. "Pretty smooth."

"I never said he's a bad cop," Boxer muttered. "Just that he's a bastard."

"Actually, I think his parents were married," said Deke.

"Maybe," Boxer said, as he watched Xander stroll calmly back to Hondo's position at the front of the SWAT truck. "Look at that. He's all cool and collected, like nothing bugs him. Literal bastard or not, I'm keeping my eye on him."


"Jesus Christ," Xander said, when he got back to the truck. He wiped an inordinate amount of sweat from his brow and bent over, panting like he had just run a marathon.

"Fun, huh?" Hondo asked.

"Fun?" Xander asked incredulously. "Man, did you see those guys? One of them was swinging his gun back and forth the whole time, and the other two, I could see their hands shaking from thirty feet away! If I had been shot, it was gonna be by accident!"

"Uh huh," Hondo said. "So what did you learn while you were up there?"

"Don't sleep with Boxer's sister?"

Hondo laughed. "No, really, what'd you see?"

Xander sighed and leaned up against the truck. "Well, there's five of them, but we knew that. They have AK-47's, but we knew that, too. The ones up front didn't have any spare ammo clips that I could see, but that's not saying much because they're wearing those big-ass trenchcoats - which are not leather, by the way."


"And, the guy in the back on the left is in charge," Xander said.

"How can you tell?" Hondo asked.

Xander shrugged. "The others are afraid of him. He yells, and they jump, then do what he says."

"Okay," Hondo said. "Good to know. Anything else?"

"Yeah, if we shoot anybody, we need to be *really* careful."

"We're always careful," Hondo said.

"Yeah," Xander said as he pointed to the undercarriage of the bus. "But we don't usually have to shoot our guns around open streams of gasoline."

Hondo lifted his binoculars to his eyes and looked under the bus, where he saw a small stream of liquid falling.

"Shiiiiit," he said. "That goddamn car must have ruptured the gas tank."

"What are these guys after, exactly?" Xander asked.

"That's not our territory," Hondo said. "We have negotiators for that. We're here to enforce whatever happens. I want you to pick up a rifle and go set up on the building to the left of Street and Sanchez. Contact me when you're in position."

"Got it," Xander said, heading for the back of the truck.

"And Harris," Hondo called.


"Did you do anything wrong?"

"What?" Xander asked.

"Last night, with Lara. Did you do anything wrong?"

Xander looked at Hondo, and shook his head.

"So why are you so scared of what Boxer will do? He's got a temper, yeah, but are you gonna let him being angry upset whatever there may or may not be between you and her?"

Xander cocked his head to one side. "No," Xander said.

"Then what the hell is there to talk about?" Hondo asked.

Xander nodded at him once.

"And nice spot on the gas. Now get going."

Xander tossed Hondo a lazy salute and trotted off to his sniper position

Chapter 13

"That was a big waste of time," Boxer said when the team had returned to the precinct not having fired a shot. "I could have been sleeping."

"Hey, we did our job, and we didn't have to shoot anybody," Deke said. "I call that a good day's work."

"Yeah," said Xander. "I always like not shooting people."

"Shut up," Boxer growled at him. "You can't just go -"

"Can't just what?" Xander asked, Hondo's words having had a great effect on him. "Make my own decisions? Live my own life? Or maybe this isn't about me? Maybe it's about you not having control over your sister's life?"

"Guys," Deke said, standing up. "You don't need to -"

"Fuck, you Harris!" Boxer yelled. "You bratty little bitch. You think you're some hot shit? You don't know me, you don't know anything. So just stay the hell away from me, and my sister."

"Hey, I'm not the one who did any approaching last night. In fact, she specifically asked me to get out of there so she could get away from *you*," Xander replied.

"All right, that's it," Boxer said, stripping his vest off and throwing it to the ground. "Come on, let's go."

"You don't want to fight me, man," Xander said.

"You make your decisions, I make mine," said Boxer. "Let's go."

Xander rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to fight you."

"Then you're gonna get your ass kicked. I said let's go!"

Deke and Sanchez rolled their eyes as Hondo and Street looked on with interest.

Xander shook his head and took off his protective vest and tossed it to Deke.

"You don't want to do this," Xander said.

Boxer moved at him suddenly, coming in with a haymaker meant for Xander's head. Xander nimbly dodged to one side, the punch missing by almost a foot. Boxer snarled and came at him faster, with a series of lefts and rights, all of which Xander either blocked or dodged, and continued to do so for three or four minutes.

"Quit that dancing shit and fight me!" Boxer yelled after a bit.

Xander sighed as he blocked another punch. "Fine," he said.

Xander quickly stepped up and inside Boxer's defenses, feinting first with his left, then with his right, before finally letting loose a solid punch with his right that dropped Boxer rather soundly to the floor, his lip split and his nose bloody.

"Can we stop now?" Xander asked, holding his hand out to help Boxer up. Boxer snarled at him, got to his feet on his own and stalked off to the locker room. Xander shook his head and started to take off the rest of his gear, as did the rest of the group, with Sanchez heading into the locker room to change in relative privacy.

"Hey," Deke said upon approaching Xander.

"Hey," Xander said, quietly.

"Those were some nice moves," Deke said. "You weren't kidding when you said you're a good fighter."

"Nah," Xander said. "Really not my style to brag."

"Listen, about Boxer," Deke started.

"I don't want to hear it," said Xander. "I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't want to fight him, but he was insistent."

"I know," Deke said. "But check it, Boxer's gone through a lot lately."

"That doesn't give him -"

"Man, just shut up and listen for a second," Deke said. "Look, he's got a temper, we all know that. But him and TJ were tight, you know?"

"TJ," Xander said. "That's the guy who -"

"That's the guy who had your spot first," Street said as he approached the pair. "He and Boxer were close."

"I don't see what that has to do with me."

"Look," Deke said. "When TJ went bad, Boxer took it hard. He got shot, and his friend betrayed him, then shot himself when it didn't work. Boxer took that hard, too. Thought maybe TJ could have had some redemption or something."

"I think you're a little familiar with that concept," Street said pointedly.

"I still don't -"

"You took TJ's spot, man," Deke said.

"Boxer has wanted me to get back with Lara for a while now, because he trusts me, even though it didn't work out last time, and it wouldn't work out this time," Street said.

"Then you come in, grab his friend's spot and take on his sister… all we're sayin' is, Boxer's got some issues. You're a convenient target. It doesn't necessarily mean it's personal."

"So, what, you think I should apologize?" Xander asked.

"Nah, that'd just piss him off more," Deke said. "Just ride it out. Don't let him get to you, and it'll defuse him."

"And don't bring up his sister too much," Street said. "And if you fuck up with her, he'll kill you."

"Gosh, I feel so comforted," Xander said. He shook his head and sighed. "All right, I'll just kind of steer clear of him as much as I can for a while."

"That's all we're askin'," Deke said.

"And in that spirit," Xander said, picking up all his gear and shoving it into Street's arms, "I'll leave from here and hit my own shower."

"But I-" Street started.

"Thanks, guys, I'll see you later!" Xander yelled as he jogged off towards his truck.

"Well," Street said as he shook his head and started off towards the locker room, "I walked right into that one."

Hondo approached the two men. "Get that all sorted out?" he asked.

"Much as we could," Deke said.

"Good. Jim, what'd you think of his fighting?"

"Truthfully?" Street said. "I wouldn't want to fight him. I don't know if he'd beat me, but he'd give me a good run for my money. He took Boxer down with one hit, and Mike's no sap."

"Dude wasn't even sweatin', or breathin' hard, either," Deke said. "Boy's got mad skills."

"Yeah, I do know how to pick 'em, don't I?" Hondo said.

"Hell, you picked us," said Street.

Hondo laughed and shook his head. "Go on, get changed and get the hell out of here."


"Oh, man, you smell like ass," Gunn said to Xander when Xander showed up at the Hyperion. "How'd the thing go?"

"It was good," said Xander. "Nobody died, we didn't blow up the bus by lighting fire to the gas leak, the hostages are safe and relatively unharmed - physically anyway - and I'm free for a while."

"Excellent," Gunn said, slapping him on the back. "Well Angel's about to start cookin' up some burgers, you want?"

"Oh god yes," Xander said. "Dead cow sounds great right about now."

"I hear that," Faith said, hopping off the bottom step of the stairs. "Angel makes the best cow. Hey Xan."

"Hey," Xander said.

"Sorry about this morning," she said. "I didn't know -"

"Don't worry about it," Xander said. "Lara was out of line. Not your fault."

"Was still some fucked up stuff she said."

"Yeah, it was. How's your knee? And was that really a 'hairy guy'?"

"Knee's good. And no, it was a demon."

"Who's Lara?" Gunn asked.

"X-man's latest conquest," Faith smirked.

"How come I never heard about her?" Gunn asked.

"Uh… I might have met her last night," Xander said, his cheeks growing a little red.

"Damn man," Faith said. "I knew you were fast -"


"But I didn't think you were that fast," she finished.

"That was uncalled for," Xander said. "And that's not even a fair judge. I was unprepared, and inexperienced."

"Wait, what?" Gunn asked.

"For her sake, I hope you've gotten better," Faith teased. "Cuz I gotta say, Xan, you may have gotten the deed done, but there was definite room for improvement."

"Wait, are you saying that you two-"

"It was my first time!" Xander said.

"Your first time was with Faith?" Gunn asked.

"That was your first?" Faith asked, her eyes wide. "Oh, shit."

"What was whose first?" Angel asked as the trio walked into the kitchen to the smell of bovine flesh being seared over an open flame.

"Faith was Xander's first," Gunn said.

"Yeah, and?" Angel asked.

"You knew that?" Gunn asked.

"Sure," said Angel. "There's not a lot Faith hasn't told me."

"Shit, even I didn't know it was his first time," said Faith.

"Truthfully, neither did I," said Angel. "I just assumed."

"And doesn't that just do wonders for my ego…" Xander said.

"Ah, you know what they say," Faith said. "It's okay to lose your virginity, you can just take someone else's."

All three men looked at her oddly.

"Who says that?" Xander asked.

"I never heard that one," Gunn said.

"I've been alive ten times longer than you, and I've never heard that," Angel said.

Faith shrugged. "Maybe I picked that up inside…"

"So, he was bad was he?" Gunn asked with a grin.

"I want to thank you all for giving me legal reason to shoot each and every one of you," Xander said. "Making fun of a man's first sexual encounter is a felony."

"Can't take me in, remember?" Faith asked. "Got a deal."

"Yeah, and bullets won't do much against me," Angel said.

"Yeah," Gunn said. "And I uh…"

They all looked at him expectantly.

"I'm too pretty to die?" he tried.

"Can we just eat our food and not talk about my sex life?" Xander asked.

"What got you on the topic anyway?" Angel asked as he laid burgers out on toasted buns for them.

"Homeboy got lucky last night," Gunn said.

"I don't know if 'lucky' is the word," Xander muttered.

"That bad?" Faith asked.

"No, that part was fine. Great, even. It's the uh… unexpected ramifications that weren't too great."

"Man, I said I was sorry for just burstin' in -"

"Not that," Xander said. "Lara is Street's ex-girlfriend."

"That had to suck," Gunn said.

"It wasn't so bad, actually. Jim was all cool about it, like 'we were never gonna work anyway' and whatever. The bad part was that she's also Boxer's little sister."

"Boxer?" Faith asked.

"SWAT guy, square face," Angel said.

"Right," Faith replied.

"Yeah. So Boxer's real overprotective, and he might have heard me talking to Hondo about it, and we might have gotten in a fight."

"Fight like in yelling?" Angel asked.

"Fight like in fists connecting with faces," Xander said.

"Yours or his?" Gunn asked.

"My fist, his face. Then he kinda walked off in a huff. But he started it."

"That's mature," Angel muttered.

"What, you would have just let him hit you?" Xander asked. "I figure it's none of his business who I sleep with."

"That's an interesting spot in a conversation to walk in on."

"Morning, Oz," Angel said.

"'Morning'?" Xander asked. "You're just getting up now? You slacker."

"Says the man we once had to forcefully drag out of bed at 2 pm to get him to the library," Oz said.

"Ah, but that was years ago," Xander said. "Now when I get dragged out of bed at 2 pm, I bust heads."

"You never once busted a head when that happened," Gunn said.

"Yeah well if you didn't always send Cordelia…" Xander trailed off, then looked up at Angel. "Sorry. I didn't mean to -"

"It's okay," Angel said, looking down at the stove. "We should talk about her. Even if she were dead, which she isn't."

"But, I know that you were -"

"All the more reason," Angel said, looking up at him and smiling. "Cordy would like nothing better than to know we were talking about her."

"She always did love the spotlight," Gunn said, a nostalgic smile on her face.

"You remember that cat outfit she wore?" Oz asked.

"Oh, do I ever," Xander said. "Soldiers notice things like that."

"Cat suit?" Gunn asked.

"Yeah," Xander said. "As you could imagine, it was… wow."

"I can imagine," Gunn said. "I am imagining… wow."

Faith rolled her eyes. "Man, I expect this from these three," she said to Oz, indicating Xander, Gunn and Angel, "but I thought you were above that type of thing."

"Well, while I will say that my standards of visual stimulation vary greatly from those of my peers in most respects, there are certain things that are universally appreciated," Oz said.

"Means he likes boobs," Xander said.

"I got that, X, thanks," Faith said.

"No problem," Xander said.

"Hey, what are you doing tonight?" Gunn started as Xander's cell phone rang to the tune of the theme from Zelda.

"One second," Xander said as he opened his phone. "Hello?"

Xander's expression brightened and he turned in his chair and stood. "Lara, hi," he said as he walked out of the cafeteria.

"I guess now we know what he's doing tonight," Faith said with a smirk.

"Man's got his priorities," Gunn said as he took a bite of his burger. "You do something different to these today?"

"Garlic salt," Angel said. "Gives it a little extra… something."

"It's good," Faith said.

"Thanks," said Angel.

"Any of you heading to the mall?" Faith asked. "I got some stuff I need to buy."

"I've got phone duty," Gunn said.

"Wes took my car," said Angel. "He, Dawn and Fred went to get some books up in San Francisco."

"Why did Dawn go?" Gunn asked.

Angel shrugged. "Hasn't been to San Francisco. Also, she was kind of a Watcher Junior back in Sunnydale this past year, and I guess Wes thought she might want to help or something. And I think she was kind of bored."

"Why don't you get Xander to take you?" Oz asked of Faith.

"Xander hates the mall," Gunn said. "He'll never go."

"Yeah," Angel said. "That's basically an impossibility."

"Yeah?" Faith said. "Well nobody ever said I don't like a challenge."

"It's not worth it," Gunn said. "You're wasting your time."

"Wanna put some money on that?" Faith asked.

Gunn looked at her. "Sure, I'll take your money."

"Can I get some of that?" Angel asked.

"Sure," Faith said. "Ten bucks says I get a ride to the mall from Xander."

"Done," Angel and Gunn said immediately, before sharing a knowing smile.

"Okay!" Xander said, strutting back into the cafeteria. "X-man's got an honest-to-god date tonight."

"She wasn't angry you hit her brother?" Oz asked

"She wasn't happy about it," Xander said. "But she said he's been way too overbearing recently, and could we maybe meet for dinner tonight. I, in my infinite wisdom, said sure."

"What's this girl like, anyway?" Gunn asked.

"Well, she's tall," Xander said.

"She's not that tall," said Faith.

"She's like 5'9". Compared to the girls I usually hang out with? She's tall. Shorty."

"Hey," Faith said. "I ain't short."

"Shorter than Willow," Xander said.

"Taller than B."

Gunn snorted. "So's a lawn gnome."

"I'm taller than Buffy," Oz said. "And I am not a tall person."

"Man, all y'all are short," said Gunn.

"Says the giant," Faith put in. She turned to Xander. "What are you doing the rest of the day?"

"I got nothing planned until tonight," he said, pausing before he bit into his burger. "Wait. Why?"

"Well, Fang here's got me on salary now," Faith said.

"Uh huh…"

"And I could use a ride to the mall."

"No," Xander said as emphatically as he could.

"Oh come on," Faith said, pressing herself up against him as Gunn, Angel and Oz stood back and watched. "Please?"

"No," Xander said. "I hate the mall. Not a chance."

"Aww, come on," Faith said, pouting her lips. "For me?"

"No," Xander said, taking a bite of his burger. "Not gonna happen."

"Please?" she asked, breaking out the puppy dog eyes.

"No," Xander said, shaking his head. "Whatever you try, it's not going to work."

Faith leaned in even closer to him, pressing her breasts firmly against his body. "Please?"


She batted her eyelashes. "Please?"


She continued to look at him.


The looking was still happening.


Chapter 14

"Why the hell am I holding your bags?" Xander asked grumpily, shifting the bags from Wet Seal, H&M and a few other choice stores in his hands. "You're all super-powered."

"Because you're that nice of a guy, and I have to try things on."

"Why did I even agree to come here again?"

"Because," Faith said, pointing at their next destination. "I have to try things on."

"Uh uh," Xander said. "No way am I going in there."

"What's wrong, loverboy?" Faith asked. "Don't wanna watch me try on a teddy?"

"I may not be in an *actual* relationship with Lara or anything," Xander said, "but I feel fairly certain that this would not be the best way to even try to start anything. 'So what did you do this afternoon?' 'Oh, nothing. Just went to the mall with that girl you assumed I was sleeping with and watched her try on lingerie. But there's nothing going on. I swear.' At which point I pick myself up off the floor and wait for the red mark from where she slapped me to go away, and wait for the little red dot from Boxer's laser sight to show up somewhere around my forehead."

"Yeah. And anyway, Robin would be kinda pissed."

"Which is a much better reason than my eventual death," Xander said sarcastically. "Are things any better with him?"

"Yeah," Faith said as they strolled towards the Victoria's Secret. "He called and apologized and everything, and he's supposed to be flyin' out in a couple days. The Hellmouth stuff was, like, real Hellmouth stuff. Demons flyin' everywhere and a couple kiddy Slayers got hurt, so he *really* hadn't had time to call."

"That does explain a lot," Xander said.

"Yeah," Faith said. "He was real apologetic and promised he'd make it up to me."

Xander nodded, stopped outside the Victoria's Secret and pointed across the hall to the music store. "I'll be there."

"I might be a while," Faith said, with a smirk. "They got lots of slutty stuff to choose from."


"You went to the mall without me?!?"

"Uh, now, Dawn, it wasn't like I-"

"I mean, what, are you totally insensitive?"

"Well, first off, I didn't know-"

"I'm going to have school coming up soon, I *so* could have used some new outfits. And shoes. And maybe a purse or two. I can't believe -"

"Back off, Pip," Faith said. "My fault. I dragged him."

"And made me your pack horse," Xander said, finally dropping a bunch of bags on the floor of the Hyperion's lobby. "I think you can get this… stuff… up to your room from here."

"Sure thing," Faith said as she gathered the bags and headed up to her room. "Thanks, X."

"Well, when are you going to take me to the mall?" Dawn asked, her arms crossed firmly over her chest.

Xander flopped down on one of the couches in the lobby. "I don't know," he said, realizing that he couldn't very well take Faith and refuse to take Dawn. "I'm kinda wiped from this trip. Ask me again later. Hey, someone toss me a water would you?"

"You see that?" Angel asked Lorne. "Do you think it's something about Sunnydale girls that makes him do things he doesn't want to?"

"Who knows, Sugar Pie?" Lorne responded as he threw a bottle of water from the small refrigerator behind the desk at Xander. "Cordy could do it too, so maybe you're right."

"Stop calling me pastries," Angel muttered.

"Or maybe," Xander said as he caught the bottle, "I just like them better than you."

Dawn stuck her tongue out at Angel and Lorne, an action Lorne returned in kind, forcing Dawn into a fit of giggling.

"Is Gunn still here?" Xander asked, still lying down.

"I think he's upstairs," Angel said. "Why?"

"Cologne, for tonight. I wanna borrow some."

"Tryin' to make an impression?" Angel asked.

"Something like that."

"What's tonight?" Dawn asked cheerily.

"Oh, uh, I kind of have a dinner thing," Xander said.

"Oh? Who with?" Dawn asked, still smiling.

"This woman that I met last night."

Dawn frowned. "Where did you go last night?"

"A bar, I was meeting the rest of my team."

"Oh," Dawn said. "Is she nice?"

"Seems it," Xander said.

Dawn nodded. "Okay."

"Is that… I mean, are you…"

"It's fine," she said. "Well, not fine, but… I mean, just remember your promise."

"Of course," Xander said. "Hey, who's going on your emergency contact form?"

"What?" asked Dawn.

"For school. You said you have school soon. Who's on the form?"

"Oh. Uh, we haven't… I don't know. Angel?"

"Yeah, well, we hadn't really, you know... figured that out yet," Angel said, frowning. "You want it?"

Xander sat up and rolled his neck. "I'd love it, but my schedule's unreliable."

"What do you think, Dawn?" Angel asked.

"How about Lorne?" she asked, drawing a laugh from all involved.

"I think our local Adama isn't quite cut out for the LA public school system."

"They're just still prejudiced against green-skinned, red-horned demons," Lorne said, taking a sip of his drink.

"Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of your wardrobe," Xander said. "But yeah, that too."

"Who's Adama?" Dawn asked.

"No!" Angel and Lorne shouted.

Xander grinned. "You're very lucky I don't have a lot of time right now," Xander said. "Otherwise you'd get the full lecture. Suffice to say, Adama was on the series Battlestar Galactica, played by actor Lorne Green."

"Oh," Dawn said, looking at Lorne. "Oh. Got it."

Xander shook his head. "Anyway, you should probably call Buffy on this one," Xander said. "Legal guardian and everything."

"I'll call her later," Angel said.

Xander got up and went to steal Gunn's cologne, then headed home and prepared for his date with Lara.


Xander was relatively happy. The date was nowhere near as awkward as it could have been. It was still very awkward, but considering that she had insulted a comatose friend of his that morning, and he had later gotten into a fight with her brother, well… it wasn't that bad.

"Listen," Lara said after about five solid minutes of awkward silence at the restaurant. "About today. This morning, I mean. I'm… I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have made assumptions. It was… it was wrong, and… well, I just am…"

"Sorry," Xander said, smiling.

Lara nodded, and smiled back.

"It's okay," Xander said. "I mean, no. It's not okay… but I forgive you, or whatever the appropriate thing is. And for the record, I didn't want to fight your brother. I think he's a good cop, I just… the guys tell me that he thinks I'm intruding because of everything that happened with T.J."

"Mike can be… a little overbearing," Lara said.

"I don't hold that against him," Xander said. "Big brothers are supposed to look out for their sisters."

"You a big brother?" Lara asked.

Xander shook his head and looked down at his plate. "No, I'm an only child. Although, I was a kind of a big brother for my friend Willow… until the whole kissing thing, that would just be disturbing. Although now, I'm taking care - sort of - of my other friend's younger sister. Although she has a crush on me, so that's also a little disturbing."

Xander looked up. "I'm an only child, and it's always been that way," he said, smiling.

Lara laughed.

Dinner went much more smoothly from there on out.


After the meal and a hearty dessert, Xander paid the bill and led Lara out to his truck. As they reached his truck, there was a loud disturbance from an alleyway. Xander turned at the noise.

"What was that?" Lara asked.

"I don't know," Xander said, frowning. He opened the passenger door to his truck and pulled out his gun from the glove compartment and tucked it into his waistband, while slipping a stake into his jacket pocket. "Get inside," he said to Lara, handing her the keys. "Lock the door. Don't open it for anyone but me. If a person with a disfigured face comes out of that alley, I want you to leave. Got it?"

"A disfigured face?" Lara asked.

"Gang initiation," Xander said. Lara nodded and slid across to the driver's seat.

"Hey," Lara called, before Xander shut the door.


"Be careful," she said, smiling softly at him. Xander smiled back, then closed the door and jogged towards the alley. Lara noticed the glove compartment was still open, and went to shut it, but something caught her eye. She moved some papers out of the way, and saw what looked like two bottles of holy water, a cross and a sharpened stick. "What the hell?" she asked herself, remembering the small bag in his bathroom. She closed the door to the glove compartment and waited for Xander to return.

Xander approached the alley, listening intently. As he heard the sounds of a fight coming from the alley, he slid his gun into the back of his jeans and gripped the stake that was in his jacket pocket.

Xander entered the alley and saw Angel fighting off four different vampires. Utilizing surprise, Xander rushed the one closest to him, impaling its heart on his stake and dusting it. Xander turned to the next one, which had by then reacted to his presence, and ducked a haymaker leveled at him. He grabbed its arm and flung it into the brick wall.

Angel turned and, the odds having become much better, grabbed the nearest vampire and threw it into the last remaining one. He shoved his stake through both of their hearts at the same time, but lost his handle on it, and it dusted with them. He looked up and saw Xander blocking punches from the last vampire. Angel watched in interest as Xander slowly worked his way inside the vampire's defenses. As the vampire reached out with both arms to grapple him, Xander grabbed both its arms, twisted them and head butted the vampire straight in the nose, staggering it back towards the wall. Taking advantage of its momentary stunning, Xander slammed the stake home, turning the vamp to dust.

They both heard footsteps and turned to engage, but relaxed when they saw Gunn and Wesley run into the alley.

"Nice timing, guys," Angel said.

"You tend," Wesley panted, "to run… a bit faster… than us…. Hello, Xander. You know, Angel, if we were integrated with the firm, we would have people who could -"

"Not now, Wes," Angel said.

"Man," Xander said, "you people still know how to ruin a good evening, you know that?"

"You still on your date?" Gunn asked, shouldering his hubcap-turned-axe.

"Just finished dinner," Xander said.

"So the fun's just startin' ain't it?" Gunn asked.

Xander rolled his eyes. "Who were these guys?"

"Don't know," Angel said. "Caught them feeding on a couple of girls down near MacArthur Park. Chased 'em here. Thanks, by the way."

Xander nodded. "Well, I'm going back to my date. You guys have fun."

"Hey, uh, can I borrow your stake?" Angel asked. "I kind of lost mine."

Xander tossed the vampire his stake and walked off, his three friends trailing behind him.

"Oh, I talked to Buffy," Angel said. "She said… um…"

"Oh come on, spit it out," Xander said, waving his arm behind him towards his truck. "I've got a girl waiting."

"She wants you to be the emergency contact guy," Angel said. Xander's face registered shock. "She trusts you to do what's best for Dawn, and thinks Dawn would have the easiest time talking to you about… stuff."

"Oh," Xander said, still frozen from surprise. "You mean despite -"

"Yeah," Angel said. "She said the problems between you and her shouldn't have any effect on what's best for Dawn."

Xander coughed, and shook his head to clear it. "Okay. Sure, yeah. Well, I'm sure I can work around any unreliable schedule problems."

"Tell him the rest," Wesley said.

"Right," Angel said. "She wants you to call her with your answer and also to talk about possibly, uh… maybe making you Dawn's co-guardian, so there's somebody in town who can, you know… sign things, make arrangements for… other things. You know. That kind of stuff."

Xander stared at Angel. For longer than he should have.

"Xander?" Wesley asked, waving his hand in front of Xander's face. "Hello?"

"I think you broke him," Gunn said.

"Well, you're the one who said to tell him," Angel said, poking Xander in the shoulder. "Hey, you in there?"

Xander's body suddenly shook, causing Wes and Angel to take a step back. Xander started laughing. "That was funny," Xander said, as the others laughed nervously, while exchanging expressions of bewilderment. "You had me going there for a minute, Deadboy. That's a good one. Me, in charge of a seventeen year old. Ha!" Xander started to walk off, still chuckling. "I'll drop by in the morning about the emergency contact thing."

"No," Angel said, "It wasn't -"

"Let it go, man," Gunn said, dropping his axe back into his hands. "Give him the night, talk to him in the morning."

Xander walked back to his truck, wavering back and forth between being amused and terrified. As he approached, Lara unlocked the doors and slid back to the passenger side.

"Everything all right?" she asked.

"Oh fine," Xander said with a chuckle. "Just some friends pulling a prank on me."

"They do that often?" Lara asked.

"Once in a while, you know. It happens," Xander said. He smiled. "Especially when they know I'm excited about a girl."

Lara blushed a little. "You scraped your knuckles," she said, looking at his hand as it gripped the steering wheel.

"Huh?" Xander asked, then looked to his hand. "Oh, yeah. I slipped on some trash and instead of opening my hand to the wall, it ended up being more of a punch. I'll be fine."

"Well, I thought I saw some water in here," Lara said, reaching for the glove compartment.

"No!" Xander said, a little too emphatically. "It's all right. No big."

"What was that bit at the end there?" Lara asked, noting Xander's reluctance to open the glove compartment with her in the cab.

"Oh, a friend of ours, her sister is staying in LA for a while, for school. She wants me to be the emergency contact number for the school. You know for, uh…"


"Right. Those. Anyway, we're gonna work out the details in the morning, get Dawn registered for school, that kind of thing."

"Ah," Lara said.

Xander turned to her and smiled. "You ready to get out of here?"

"Sure," Lara said, returning the smile.

Xander put the truck in gear and made his way out of the parking lot, making sure to honk at the three men as they passed. He drove back to Lara's apartment, and walked her to the front step of the building.

"So, do you want to come up?" Lara asked, playing with the top button on Xander's shirt.

Xander smiled. "I would like to," he said.

"But…" she prompted.

"But I really do have to get up in the morning and deal with that stuff. And you never know when Hondo might call."

"What about your beeper?" Lara asked. "I know you have one of those."

"Yeah," Xander said. "I do, but the truth is I probably wouldn't be the best company right now."

"Why not?"

"Well, the guys also told me some other, more personal stuff, that I kind of need to deal with. If I were to come up… well, my mind would be other places. Wouldn't be good for either of us."

Lara sighed. "All right. But, promise me you'll call?"

"I will. I promise," Xander said, before giving Lara a kiss goodnight and heading back to his apartment.

Chapter 15

Xander got home, took a shower to relax himself, and looked at his clock. Reluctantly, he decided it was still early enough to call, so he picked up the phone and dialed.

[Hello?] answered a cheery voice on the other end.

"Hi, I'm looking for the Cleveland Institute of Demon Slaying. Is this the right number?"

[Xander! It's so good to hear from you. How are you?]

"I'm good, Will," he said. "How are things on your end?"

[Pretty good] said Willow. [The kids have pretty much recovered from the demon attack. I don't think we realized how big a magnet for evil thingies a house full of Slayers would be.]

"Yeah, Faith told me some of the girls got injured," Xander said, able to picture the redheaded witch's nose wrinkle at the mention of the younger slayer. "And don't be like that, Will. She's on a good path."

[What? I didn't do anything.]

"Uh huh. Sure."

[Okay fine, Mr. Pushy-pants. I'm still not entirely comfortable with her being in such close proximity to you and Dawnie.]

"Well, she's been fine," Xander said. "And I'm in an 'innocent until proven guilty' mood."

[Xander, she was proven guilty. Remember? Trial? Prison? Confession? That whole thing?]

"Right. Uh… well, then how about I'm giving her a second chance?"

Willow sighed. [Fine. But if she kills you, I get to say I told you so.]

"And I'm sure my corpse will be sufficiently embarrassed." Xander coughed to clear his throat. "Hey, uh, I talked to Angel earlier."

[Uh huh?]

"Have you, you know, talked to Buffy recently about… well, about the uh… about Dawn?"

[Noooo] Willow said. [I think she's been talking to Giles about Dawn some, though. Why?]

"Well, Angel said something about Buffy uh… wanting to make me Dawn's co-guardian."

There was an expectant silence. [And…] Willow said, eventually.

"And? AND?!? Willow, I'm not cut out to be anybody's guardian."

[Okay, first? Dawn barely needs any guardianship anyway. She's pretty grown up on her own. And second, Xander, yes you are. You're all responsible and stuff.]

"I'm not responsible. Do you know how often I lock myself out of my apartment?"

[Xander, it's not the same thing] Willow protested. [Dawnie is way more important to you than getting into your apartment, I know you wouldn't screw up something like that. And anyway, I bet you have somewhere pretty close that has a key, don't you?]

"I… how did you know that?"

[Xander, you're not stupid. You learn from your mistakes.]

Xander sighed.

[Look, just don't write it off, okay? Give it some thought?]

"I know," he said. "Actually, I called to talk to Buffy about this."

[Oh] Willow said. [Well, she's not exactly here.]


[Date, actually.]

"Ah," Xander said. "How's she doing?"

[Actually, she's doing a lot better] said Willow. [She's, you know, relaxed. Doesn't snap at people, er… much. There was like a week there where she kind of didn't come out of her room much, and some of the girls said they thought they heard crying, and I went to check on her but she said she was okay, but then she still didn't really interact for a few days, but she hasn't really been after people since that, and I think maybe she had a catharsis or something because she's pretty relaxed now and I think she's going to be okay.]

There was dead silence on the line for a moment.



"That was by far the most adorable phone babble…"

[Oh, shut up.]

Xander laughed. "Well, could you have her call me tomorrow?"

[Yeah, of course] Willow said.

"Okay. I'm gonna hit the hay. G'nite Will."

[Night, Xan.]


"Okay," Xander said. "And that's all they need?"

"Yeah," Angel said, looking over the form once more. "Jeez, I thought they'd at least need a signature or something. Xander Harris, you are now the emergency contact for Dawn Summers. That was easier than it had any right to be."

"Don't jinx us now," Xander said, checking his watch.

"What did Buffy say?" Angel asked.

"Haven't talked to her, yet," said Xander, shaking his head.

"You really should call," Angel said.

"Oh, I did. She was out o… uh. Out." Xander shifted uncomfortably.

Angel raised an eyebrow but let the unsaid comment remain that way.

"Anyway, she's supposed to call me today," Xander said. "I figure then I can talk some sense into her head."

"Sense?" Faith asked, walking into Angel's office. "In Buffy? Hey, I got a bridge I want to sell you."

Both Angel and Xander suppressed laughs and turned to the Slayer.

"What's up?" Angel asked.

"Nothin'," Faith said. "Saw a couple of my guys in here, figured I'd say hey."

"Your guys, huh?" Xander asked.

Faith shrugged, and smiled. "So what are you trying to talk sense into Buffy about?" he asked.

"Yeah," Angel said. "I wasn't entirely clear on that either."

"Oh come on," Xander said. "Buffy… Dawn… wanting me to be co-guardian… any of this familiar to you?"

"Yeah," Angel said. "But what kind of sense does Buffy need to be talked into?"

Faith looked on with interest.

"Oh come on!" Xander said. "I'm not cut out to be anybody's guardian."

"Why is that, exactly?" Angel asked.

Xander was slack jawed. "You're not serious," he said.

"Don't I look serious?"

"With hair like that it's a toss up," Xander said.

Angel glared.

"Okay, fine," Xander said. "I didn't go to college. My father was what passes for the town drunk, and my mom wasn't a whole lot better. I barely finished high school, and, hell, the only reason I even made it that far was because a little red-headed girl took a liking to me, and shared her bag lunch with me."

Angel and Faith continued to look at him, expectantly. He looked right back.

"Well?" Angel asked after a few more seconds of silence.

"Well, what?" Xander asked.

"Is that all?" Faith asked.

"Is that all? Isn't that enough?"

"No," they said together.

Xander looked at them as if they were crazy.

"Xander," Angel said, "you're not your father. I never met the man, but… if half of what you and Cordy have said is true, it is obvious that you're not like him. At all. You're a police officer. You protect people everyday. You're in a position of responsibility, and you handle it well. You're smarter than you give yourself credit for. And most importantly, you show more love for the people you consider family - which, I might point out, already includes Dawn - than anybody I have ever met."

"Yeah," Faith added. "Shit, if I had kids, I'd feel great about leavin' 'em with you."

Xander looked at Faith, sincerely touched by her words. "You mean that?" he asked.

"Hell yeah, X," she said. "You're one of the best guys I know. Which, granted, ain't sayin' a lot, but still, ya know?"

"Yeah," Xander said. He sat back in his chair. "That's maybe the nicest thing anyone ever said to me."

"Well, Jesus, Xander," Angel said. "Faith trusts her hypothetical kids with you. Buffy is trusting her *sister* with you. Her *real* sister with you. And you guys aren't even getting along right now. Don't you think that says something?"

Xander frowned. "Huh."

"Oz!" Angel yelled.

Xander and Faith turned to see the black-haired musician stop, back up and walk to the door. "Yeah?" Oz asked.

"You trust your kids with Xander?"

Oz raised an eyebrow. "Don't have any kids."

"If you did?" Angel asked.

"Yeah, sure. Why?"

"No reason," Angel said. "Headed somewhere?"

Oz pointed outside. "Devon's in town. Pickin' me up in a few, we're gonna hang."

The trio in Angel's office waved to Oz, who waved back and resumed his trot out of the hotel.

"And you cheated with his girlfriend," Angel pointed out after he was sure Oz was out of hearing range.

"Ah, see! There's another reason," Xander said. "I cheat."

Angel rolled his eyes. "You were seventeen. You can't pick out every mistake in your life and say 'see, that's why I'm not good enough.'"

"Past earnings are no indication of future success," Faith said.

They looked at her.

"I was watching TV, stock commercials are everywhere," she defended.

"Anyway," Angle continued, "nobody expects you to be perfect, or even to be like a surrogate father for Dawn. I'm sure that what Buffy wants is more of a big brother thing… just for you to be there when Dawn needs you."

"Not like you wouldn't do that anyway," said Faith.

"Yeah but -"

"Tell you what," Faith said. "Ask Dawn what she thinks. It's her life, she should have a say. See if she wants you as her guardian. I mean, she's old enough, right?"

Xander blinked. Angel picked up his phone and dialed Dawn's room.

"Hey, could you come down to my office for a minute? No, it's nothing bad. Great, thanks."

Angel smiled. "She's on her way down," he said.

"I got that much," said Xander. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat waiting for the young girl - scratch that, the young woman, to decide if she trusted Xander enough.

"Hey, chill," Faith said, leaning forward and patting Xander on the back.

The trio sat there in Angel's office, silent.

"What's up?" Dawn said when she popped into the office. "You guys look like somebody died. Oh, god, did somebody die?"

"No, everyone's fine," Angel said with a reassuring smile.

"Okay. So what's going on?"

"Have a seat," Xander said, as he himself stood.

"I'll stand, thanks," said Dawn, crossing her arms over her chest. "Somebody wanna fill me in?"

"Okay," Angel said. "Well, we've set up Xander as your emergency contact for school, uh, which was what Buffy wanted."

"Okay…" Dawn said. "Is that it?"

Angel looked pointedly at Xander.

"See, it's like this," Xander said. "Your sister thought it would be easier for you if you had somebody in town who could, you know, sign things… because you're not old enough yet, technically. You know, like, a legal guardian."

"Right," Dawn said. "So basically, she doesn't want to have to deal with me anymore."

"No, Dawn," Angel said. "That didn't come into the conversation at any time."

"And it's a valid point," Faith said. "If my watcher hadn't emancipated me from my mom back in Southie, I would have been given over to the state. You know, if they coulda found me."

"And held you," Xander said.

"That too," Faith said. "Anyway, my life coulda been… well, it kinda was hell. What I mean is, if I had been, you know, vaguely normal? Woulda sucked not having a guardian cuz uh… field trips and… help me out here."

"Anyway, the point is, it really does benefit you to have a legal guardian in town," Angel said.

"So, what?" Dawn asked. "Is Buffy coming back?"

"No," said Angel. "She thinks you're pretty much old enough to make most decisions on your own, but she wanted somebody in town, in case of emergency. The three of us have been discussing it, and we were wondering who, given the choice, you would want as your guardian."

"Xander," Dawn said immediately.

Angel and Faith smiled.

"Why?" Xander asked, his face serious.

"Well, along with you being emergency contact, that means I get the hottie in uniform to come pick me up at school when I get in fights."

"*When?*" Xander asked sternly. "Dawn…"

"Also," said Dawn continuing, "I trust you. You'll do what's in my best interest most of the time, but still let me, you know, do my own thing. Make mistakes and whatever. You'll help me without suffocating me."

Angel looked pointedly at Xander again.

"I'm still going to talk to Buffy about this," Xander said.

"What?" Dawn asked.

"Big sis also chose Boy Toy," Faith said. "He's been a little… what's the word?"

"Lacking confidence," Angel said.

"Really?" Dawn asked. "Aren't you and Buffy not getting along?"

"Yeah," Angel said. "But she said that's not going to stop her from doing what's best for you, and she thinks that means making Xander co-guardian."

"She… said that?" Dawn asked, hope clearly evident in her eyes.

"Pretty much verbatim," Angel said. "Only… with 'I' instead of 'she.' And 'me' instead of 'her.' And 'Dawn' -"

"We get it, geez," Xander said. "Anyway. We just wanted to run that by you. And we all really do want what's best for you, including your sister."

Dawn smiled at him and nodded.

"Okay," Xander said, looking at his watch. "I've got to -" His beeper went off. "Uh. Probably go shoot some people. I'll see you guys later."

Chapter 16

"I just don't like the guy, Lara," said Boxer.

"Well, that's really not my problem, is it?" Lara asked, her arms crossed over her chest. "I like him. That's the point. You are not in charge of my life."

"Dammit, Lara, there's… there's things about him you don't know."

"Oh, well, that's a real surprise, isn't it Michael? I've been on two dates with him, how could I possibly not know everything there is to know?"

"I don't just mean small stuff. Big. Harris is into some weird shit."

"Not so weird it keeps him off SWAT," Lara pointed out.

"Actually it kind of helps him with that," Boxer muttered. "And he hit me!"

"Yeah?" she asked. "And what did you do to deserve that?"

"Nothing! I tell you, he's a creep."

Lara sighed. "Michael, you are my brother. I love you. But you have to let go. I'm old enough to make my own decisions AND," she said, preempting his interruption, "I'm old enough to make my own mistakes. Maybe I'm wrong, but my gut tells me he's not a mistake. Either way, it's my decision, not yours."

Boxer's beeper went off. He stood there, silent, looking at his sister.

"Don't you have to get that?" she asked.

"Just… promise me one thing. If you're out with him at night, and he gets spooked, and tells you to do something… do it. Without question, without hesitating, do it."

Lara looked at her brother, confused.

"I thought you don't like him."

"I don't. But promise me. It's important. He can protect you."

"I don't need-"

"Please," Boxer said, genuine concern in his voice, and his eyes.

Lara sighed. "I promise."

Boxer kissed his sister on the cheek and made for the door.

"Be careful," she called after him.

He turned around, smiled at her and left.


"What do we have?" Street asked, strapping on the last of his body armor.

Hondo rolled his eyes and pointed to the roof of an abandoned building just down the street from where the SWAT van was parked.

Street looked up and saw a man on the roof with two guns, body armor, and a hostage.

"Ah, Christ," Street said as the rest of the team showed up.

"That's not the worst of it," Hondo said, handing binoculars to his top man. Jim took the binoculars, refocused them and looked at the man on the roof.

"Oh, Christ," he said again.

"What?" Sanchez asked. "He famous?"

"No," Street said. "He's wired to blow."

"Shit," said the entire team.

"There are at least a dozen more in the building, with more hostages than they know what to do with."

"Squatters," Xander said.

"Right," Hondo said, standing up off the bumper of the truck. He walked the team over to a squad car and laid out blue prints on the hood. "This is what we have to work with. Unless anybody knows any secret entrances."

They all looked at Xander, who shook his head.

"Sorry," he said. "There's a sewer runs right up next to it, but the nearest entrance is in the alley by the building. No direct access, except water pipes."

"You scary, you know that?" Deke said, looking at him.

Xander shrugged.

"Three story building, that many people, they'll have at least one person on each floor," Boxer said. "We go in anywhere and they're killin' hostages."

"Agreed," Street said. He looked at the other buildings on the street.

"How big a time frame are we talking here?" Xander asked.

"There's no way to tell at this point," Hondo said. "Negotiator's still working."

Xander nodded and looked at his watch.

"Why?" Deke asked.

Xander looked up at the sun. "Just, if it gets late enough, I have an idea."

They all looked at him.

"Well," he said, shifting nervously under their gazes. "I know a guy who might be able to help."

"Who?" Hondo asked.

Xander looked at him. "Angel."

"You're kidding, right?" Boxer asked.

"No, I'm completely serious. He's good at this kind of thing."

Hondo crossed his arms. "What could he do that we can't?"

"Sneak up on them. Catch them by surprise."

"How could he do that?" Sanchez asked. "What is he, Batman?"

"No," Xander said. He lifted the binoculars to his eyes, and took a couple of steps forward. "But, you know that disappearing act Batman always pulls?"

"Yeah," Deke said.

"Well, they had to get the idea somewhere."

Xander felt the intense stares of the entire team on his back. He turned around.



Media helicopters were circling the building, their spotlights shining down on the roof, and the various police cars surrounding the building. The gunman on the roof hadn't left, and the group holding the building - a group of Spanish terrorists intent on gaining the release of some of their 'brothers' from American and Spanish prisons - had refused to budge on any of their demands, though they had released one hostage; a little girl.

Suddenly, the cameras spotted a commotion in front of the building, and almost as one, the spotlights swiveled off of the building towards the street. A young black man wearing a bandana wrapped around his head, dressed like a thug, was waving a gun around in front of the building and yelling things at the cops.

The cameras, and a great number of Los Angelino's, watched as three officers swarmed the man to bring him down. And they watched further as the young hooligan knocked one of them on his ass with a hard right cross. The other officers subdued him, cuffed him, and dragged him off to a squad car, but not without difficulty. More than once the young man broke free of their grasp and started running around. He seemed less intent on escaping than on making the LAPD look foolish.

He was succeeding. Finally, a few minutes later, after three more officers joined the fray, the guy was subdued and placed in the back of a squad car. The cameras and spotlights stayed on him for a maybe a minute more, trying to zoom in and get a better look at his face, as the talking heads behind the anchor desks speculated as to what he was doing, why he was there, and how he broke through the police line.

Slowly, the cameras and spotlights began to swivel back to their previous shots, watching the roof. Only something was different. The only person on the roof was the woman who had been used as a human shield and hostage by the terrorists. She was walking around confused. Befuddled reporters fell silent. A few minutes later, the front door of the building opened, and the police all trained their guns on it. After a moment, tired, crying and confused hostages started streaming out.

Confused officers started taking statements, and other, equally confused officers went inside. There, they found an entire SWAT team standing behind thirteen unconscious Spanish terrorists, all the worse for wear. Confusion remained.

Chapter 17

The spotlights swiveled.

"Go," Xander said to his teammates. Angel had already moved. Having steeled their nerves, the team ran to the edge of the building and leapt, landing more or less intact on the roof of the three-story building holding the terrorists.

Xander and Sanchez, the only two who ended up on their feet, headed straight for the door down from the roof. Getting the door open, Xander held her back as Angel stalked past them and down the stairs, his coat billowing behind him. Deke was dragging the terrorist across the roof.

Xander followed Angel down to the next level. He snuck around a few corners silently using night vision goggles to see in the darkness. Finding the door to the stairs, he opened it and waited. Angel swept past him a minute later.

"Third floor clear," Xander said into his radio before following Angel downstairs. The rest of the team was busy finding unconscious terrorists and handcuffing them.

Xander pulled out a stick of gum and waited by the door to the second floor stairs. Deke joined him after a moment.

"Get all the guys up there?" Xander asked.

"Nah," he said. "I just gotta see this.

Xander nodded and put a finger up to his lips. "Follow quietly."

Another minute later, Angel showed up at that door.

"How many?" he asked.

"Thirteen, counting roof boy," Xander said.

Angel nodded. "Two more."

Deke raised an eyebrow at Xander, but it went unnoticed as it was covered by his goggles. They followed to the next floor.

"Second floor clear," Xander announced into his radio.

"Jesus," came the response. Xander couldn't figure out who said it.

Deke followed Angel as he walked onto the first floor. Angel paused, sniffed the air, and turned left. He walked down the corridor and, as Deke watched, pulled a knife seemingly out of the air and stuck it into a door as he passed. Deke was sure he was making no sounds at all. He was sure that if he hadn't seen him in the goggles, he wouldn't have known he was there. Angel paused outside the door to what had once been somebody's office.

Angel turned to Deke, put his finger to his lips, and smiled. Deke shivered. Angel flung the door open and walked inside. Deke looked in the doorway and watched as two surprised men grabbed for the guns they had rested on a desk. Angel walked calmly up to the first one and kicked him in the head, knocking him out.

As the second brought his rifle up, Angel grabbed it by the barrel and yanked towards him. The terrorist was pulled with it, coming upon Angel quickly. As Deke watched, the vampire flipped the stock of the gun up into the terrorists' face, breaking his nose, then head butted the man, rendering him unconscious.

"Vicious, ain't he?" Xander asked.

Deke yelled out and jumped, startled by his partner's sudden appearance behind him.

Angel came out of the room. "We're done."

Xander nodded. "First floor clear," he said into his radio.

"Jesus!" came the reply. Xander was pretty sure that was Hondo.

"Where are my hostages?" Xander asked.

"Look for my knives," Angel growled. "I want those back."

"Sure thing," Xander said. "Thanks for the help. I'll call you later."

Angel nodded once and swept off.

"Where's he going?" Deke asked.

"I don't know," Xander said, watching his friend disappear into the darkness. "Probably knows some way out of here I don't. Five minutes. Not bad. I hope Gunn's had fun."

Deke nodded and noticed a concerned look on Xander's face.

"What's up?"

"Not sure," Xander said. "I think he's in a bad mood."

"Yeah?" Deke asked. "You'd be able to tell?"

"It's probably nothing," Xander said. "Come on. Let's find some knives."


They sat across the hall way from Fuller's office, smiling to themselves and still decked out in all their gear. They could hear Fuller's muted voice from within. He was yelling at Hondo, who was dealing with Fuller as calmly as he could.

Which, all things considered, was not very calmly at all.

The door thudded and glass cracked when a pencil holder slammed against it. Seconds later, Hondo stalked out of the room, and the team stood up and followed when he walked. Hondo led them to the locker room.

"GET THE HELL OUT!" he yelled to everyone else there. The room quickly cleared. "Here's the deal. Fuller's been looking for a reason to get us off active duty, and apparently we just gave it to him."

They all looked confused.

"What the hell, Hondo?" Deke asked. "Did we or did we not just save the asses of all those hostages?"

"Technically, no," Street said. "That Angel guy did. But I get what you're saying. Hondo?"

"We didn't inform our superiors of our plan, and we acted without the official go-ahead. We're all on suspension," Hondo said. "Effective immediately until a review of the case can be completed."

"What about -" Xander started.

"It's paid suspension," Hondo said.

"Uh, great, but what about Gunn? He put his ass on the line for us."

Hondo nodded. "He's going to be released, I managed to pull that out of Fuller. Told him I'd fight him on that one all the way to the commissioner, and the DA if I needed to."

The entire team nodded.

"So, that's it, kids. We're inactive as of now. I'll need your guns, just the issued ones, not your back-ups, and your badges. After that, clean up and get out, we'll all be contacted when we're back on the job."

Muttering various curse words and obscenities, the now-dispirited SWAT team went around the locker room taking off their equipment and taking Fuller's name in vain.

"Aren't you supposed to do that behind some closed door?" Xander asked of Sanchez as she took her shirt off.

Sanchez shrugged. "You guys get to save my ass, might as well get to check it out, too," she said.

Xander laughed as he pulled off his shirt as well.

"What the hell's that?" Sanchez asked, seeing Xander's scarred torso.

Xander looked down. "Which one?" he asked.

Sanchez pointed to a particularly nasty scar on the left of his chest.

"Ah, of course. Had to pick that one," he said. "I fell down the stairs and cut myself with my own broadsword."

"With your own…"

"Broadsword," Xander said, nodding.

"Uh huh. And that one?"


"That one?"

"Bar fight in a demon bar… it was a big… oh jeez… well, it looked like a big green pig with claws instead of hoofs. That actually went through," he said, turning around to show her the matching scar on the other side.

"Jesus. You take a beating."

"Yup," he said with a shrug. "Part of the job."

Sanchez shook her head as she slipped a clean shirt on. "You're all right."

"Thanks," Xander said, smiling.

"Well, keep in touch, huh? We're not active, but still…"

"Of course," Xander said. "We'll get together."

Sanchez nodded, grabbed her duffel bag and headed off.

"You did good today," Hondo said from behind Xander.

"Thanks," Xander said. "I, too, consider getting my whole team suspended a good day's work."

"That's not your fault. We did our job, Fuller's just a prick," said Hondo.

"You'll find no argument here."

"Listen, one of the uniforms who booked our terrorists said something. A few of the terrorist guys, the ones in charge, were yelling about some voodoo priest influencing them. Said the guy wanted them to test the warrior, or some shit. He thought it was funny at the time, but knowin' what I know about you…"

"Don't know anything about it," Xander said. "But I'll have Angel and his people check it out."

Hondo nodded and stood there, leaning against the lockers.

"Something else?" Xander asked.

"Yeah. Being inactive doesn't sit too good with me, and I don't just mean not on duty. I can't sit around. I was wondering… any way I could get in on what you're doing?"

Xander pulled his shirt on and shot Hondo an appraising glance. "You mean the thing where I kill demons?"

"Yeah, that," he said.

"Yeah, well, maybe. I'd have to teach you a few things first. And I'll have to run it by Angel and them… it's kinda their thing, you know."

"Well, in any event, can you teach me some of those moves you got?" Hondo asked.

Xander laughed. "Sure," he said. "That's no problem. I'll probably take a day off, but I'll call you."

"Good," Hondo said. "And I mean it. Using Angel was a great idea. Any advantage you can get."

"Thanks," Xander said.

"Well, I'll see ya," Hondo said.

"Yeah, see you around," said Xander.

Xander grabbed a few things from his locker and stuffed them in his duffel bag. Zipping it up, Xander headed for the parking lot. And found the entire SWAT team, including Boxer, standing there waiting by his truck.

"What's up, guys?" he asked.

Everybody looked at Deke.

"We want in," he said.

Xander rolled his eyes as he tossed his duffel bag in the back of his truck. He leaned back against the truck. "You all want to do this?" he asked.

"Hey, that was some kickass stuff your friend pulled in there tonight. Any edge we can get will be good," Street said.

"Plus," said Sanchez, "it's not like we took this job for the money."

"That's fer damn sure," Boxer said.

Xander turned to him and cocked his head to one side.

"Look, I don't like you," the other man said. "But you're a good cop, and probably about the only place I can get some action 'til we're back on."

Xander nodded.

"And if you hurt her, I'll shoot you."

Deke rolled his eyes, but Xander just nodded, knowing the protective feeling well.

"Okay, fine," Xander said. "I can't guarantee we'll see any big action, but at the very least there's some physical stuff we can work on. Be at the Hyperion at 2 pm tomorrow, ready to work. Okay?"

The group nodded.

"Oh, and Chris?"

"Yeah?" Sanchez asked.

"You can bring your daughter. Gunn and Fred are great with kids. And I'm sure Dawn will love her."

"Great," Sanchez said, smiling.

Xander nodded and left. He wanted to check on Angel.

Chapter 18

"Hey man," Gunn said as Xander entered the hotel.

"Hey, Gunn," Xander said, exchanging their handshake yet again. "Thanks for your help earlier. We really couldn't have done that without you."

"Yo, for a minute there, I thought they were gonna keep me locked up."

Xander shrugged. "For a minute, they were, but Hondo had enough pull to get you out. And now, we're all out," he said, dropping his bag and Angel's daggers on the check-in counter.

"What do you mean?" Gunn asked.

"We've been suspended, all of us," Xander said. "For acting outside of the chain of command."

"That's bullshit," Gunn said.

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "I mean, there's a chain for a reason. I know that, we all do. But come on, we got the thing pulled off, and nobody got hurt but the bad guys."

"Here," Angel said, tossing Xander a small piece of folded up paper as he walked out of his office. "That's for you."

"What is it?" Xander asked, unfolding the paper.

"It was at the building," Angel said. "I took it because it would raise questions you don't want asked."

Xander unfolded the paper and read the message aloud. "A.L.H., your time is coming. Wow. That's cryptic. Is this -"

"Blood," Angel said. "That's how I found it."

"Hondo said something about the terrorists claiming they were influenced by a voodoo priest, although I'm fairly sure they meant shaman. Said that he, the priest, wanted to test the warrior. Any bells?"

"Nothing comes to mind," Angel said. "I'll ask Wes to look into it."

"Thanks," Xander said. "And again, for the help tonight. You did a great job."

"And you kept my name out of it," Angel said.

"Yeah, absolutely," Xander said. "Don't worry, we took credit for all your work."

"Well, good," Angel said. "Did I hear right? You said you got suspended?"

"All of us," Xander said. "So, I'm free to help around here."

"Good," Angel said.

"Uh, the other thing, though," Xander said. "The rest of my team wants in as well."

"They what?" Gunn and Angel asked together.

"They want to help out," Xander said.

"Xander, there is no way -"

"Look, they can handle it," Xander said, interrupting Angel. "They're cops because they want to make a difference. Well, copping went away for now, so what else are they going to do? Sit on their asses and wait for the review? That could take weeks."

"Not everyone can handle it," Angel said.

"I know that," he said. "And I'm not saying we should get all apocalyptic on them, but what could it hurt for them to have a little training, to be able to protect and serve better. Right? And if they can't handle it, I'll deal with it. I'm not asking for them to be coddled. Just involved."

"Bro's got a point," Gunn said. "And it never hurts to have a few more people we can trust."

"Fine. But minimal involvement." Angel said. "You know, it's just like you people to team up." He shook his head and walked back to his office.

"'You people'?" Gunn asked. He'd been called 'you people' before, and didn't care for it.

"I think he meant humans," Xander said, frowning.

Gunn sighed. "You wanna do the usual?" he asked, holding his fist out for a round of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

"Nah, I got this one," Xander said.

Xander walked into Angel's office and sat in a chair across from the vampire. Angel didn't acknowledge his presence, and Xander, for his part, seemed content to just sit there. Finally, Angel gave in.

"What?" he asked, abruptly.

"Oh, I'm just wondering what crawled up your ass," Xander said. "You were in a bad mood earlier, you're in a bad mood now. What's up?"

"Go away, Harris," Angel said.

"Oh, so it's Harris now, is it? Good, I was worried you were getting too used to being nice to people. Can't have that, gotta be a brooding son-of-a-bitch."

Angel glared.

"Hey, don't pull that crap on me," Xander said. "I've known you longer than every single other person in this city, and hated you almost half that time. You stopped scaring me a long time ago, pal. Now what. Is. Up?"

"It's not your problem," Angel said. "Just leave it alone."

"Actually, you're wrong. It is my problem. Everything that affects you affects someone I care about, and that makes it my problem. So whatever it is, either spit it out or get the hell over it. I won't have you treating Dawn like you did everyone else a couple years ago. Got me?"

Angel looked down at his desk and began writing something again.

Xander rolled his eyes and got up to leave.

"She's dating someone," Angel said.

"Who?" Xander asked, turning around again. "Dawn?"

"No. Her."

Xander understood. There were only two people that 'her' would ever refer to, and one of them was in no condition to be dating anybody.

"I know," Xander said.

Angel's head shot up, angry. "You know? You knew?"

"Will told me she was on a date last night."

"And you didn't say anything? To me?" the vampire asked, rising from his chair.

"It's none of my business," Xander said. "And it's none of yours, either."

"How can you say it's none-"

"Because I know the girl, Angel, Christ! This guy isn't 'the guy', you know that as well as I do. This is some good looking guy who makes her feel better about herself. She's still reeling from Sunnydale, from everyone turning on her like they did, from Spike dying, though God alone knows why. She needs someone who can help her feel good about her, not someone who needs, or even expects her to be strong. Everything in her life has fallen apart, and all the people she relied on, she's not sure of anymore."

"And because of you," Angel said, softly.

"You're damn right because of me!" Xander said. "You think I haven't stayed up some nights wishing I could just take it all back? That me and Buffy could be best friends again, that I don't miss her? Well I do, okay? It's not easy on anybody, least of all her. So just back off all the brooding right now, because she needs time to… cook, or whatever it was she said to you. You'll get your chance, or not, that's up to her. But either way, now is not the time."

"How do you know?" Angel asked. "How do you know this guy isn't 'the one,' that he's just there to make her feel better?"

"Because he's doing the same thing."

They both turned and saw Faith at the door. "I heard arguing... couldn't stop droppin' some eaves."

"What do you mean he's doing the same thing?" Angel asked. Xander turned to Faith, interested in her answer.

"Well," she started. "It's… like you said. I think. You've kinda lost one of your best friends. Red's farther away than she's ever been, and your hometown dropped into the Earth, with you not there to be a part of it. Been worried about Dawn since before the whole guardian thing came up, and even with the SWAT upgrade, you're none too sure of yourself. Lara likes you. She's a pretty one, that's easy enough to see. She ain't the one, though. I don't know who it is, but it ain't her."

"She's not?" Xander asked.

Faith shook her head. "You were single for, what, two years? Three?"

"I've had dates here and there," Xander said. "But uh. Yeah."

"And then, you and B have a big bust-up, and all of a sudden you pick up a chick in a bar and get it on in one night?" She shrugged. "Just doesn't fit, to my view."

Angel and Xander stood, silent. Faith frowned, her face thoughtful.

"I just realized I have to make a phone call," she said. Faith turned and left them. Angel and Xander collapsed into their chairs.

Angel started laughing, quietly at first, but it grew louder and heartier quickly. He was soon joined by Xander.

"We're pathetic," Angel said, still laughing.

"I know," Xander replied, wiping tears from his eyes. "Oh, god. That's just…"

Angel shook his head, a genuine smile gracing his features.

"Um. I have to go," Xander said, still smiling. "Your daggers are on the counter. People will be here at two, tomorrow."

"Yeah," Angel said. "I'll set up the basement."

Xander nodded and waved, still chuckling at himself. He got home and called Lara, to set up a dinner date for the next night. He called Buffy. She was out again, but he asked Willow to tell her yes, of course he would be Dawn's co-guardian. Xander went to bed that night feeling better than he had in weeks.


"That's not safe," Xander said. He had walked into the Hyperion a few minutes after two and saw Dawn playing with Sanchez's daughter, Eliza, while Sanchez and Boxer talked.

"What, is she not responsible?" Sanchez asked, very serious.

"No, it's not that at all. Dawn's one of the most responsible kids I know. You just might not get your daughter back, is all. Dawn might want to keep her. Willow was here, you wouldn't stand a chance."

Sanchez breathed a sigh of relief.


Xander turned and saw Deke and Street walk into the hotel, both carrying gym bags, both wearing shirts that showed off their muscles. Dawn looked up from Eliza and stared for a minute, then caught her self, subtly wiped her mouth, and went back to playing with the little girl.

"Hey, guys," Xander said.

"So, we about ready?" Boxer asked.

"Yeah, just need to wait for Hondo…"

"And that's pretty much the nickel tour," Xander heard Angel say as he saw the vampire and Hondo coming down from the second floor.

"Or, he's here before everyone," Xander said.

"I am impressed with this place," Hondo said, looking around again.

"Hey," Xander said, walking up to the pair with a smile.

"Harris, this place is nice."

"Yeah, I know," Xander said. "We about ready?"

"Sure," Angel said, with a wicked grin.

Xander's face immediately fell. "What?" he asked.

"I changed my mind from last night. None of this minimalist crap."

Xander looked the vampire right in the eyes. "Deep end?"

"Went on a recruiting trip last night," Angel said, smirking.

"Wow. Uh, okay. Downstairs then?"

Angel nodded.

"All right guys, let's go," Xander called out. The team grabbed their gear and followed Angel to the basement.

"Dawn," Xander said, walking over to where she was playing with Eliza. The young woman looked up at him. "You gonna be okay up here?"

"Xander, this is the cutest little girl I have ever seen. I want one," Dawn said, an adorable pout gracing her features.

Xander shivered involuntarily. "Don't ever let your sister hear you say that," he said. Xander knelt down, kissed Dawn on the forehead and went downstairs to join his team, and found them all stretching as Angel stood to one side, watching. Xander dropped his bag and did a quick stretch on his own.

"Hey," Deke said, as he was stretching out his legs. "How come your friend ain't stretching? We gonna work out aren't we?"

"Sure," Xander said. "But trust me. He'll be fine."

"Actually, I'm not training with you guys," Angel said. He shoved off of the wall, walked across the room and opened a door. A moment later, a vampire struggled its way through the door, a collar around its neck and Faith holding a chain leash.

The team scrambled away from the door.

"You got him?" Angel asked.

"No problem," said Faith. "Guy's got nothin' on a croc."

Xander smiled dopily remembering Faith's stories, but was shaken out of it as Angel launched a staggering punch at the vampire, dropping it to the floor.

"Stay," he said. "Got me?"

The vampire growled in response, but stayed on the floor.

"Here's the training for today," Angel said. He stuck a thumb out at the vampire. "He tries to kill you. You try to kill him right back. He's faster and stronger than anyone you've ever met, excepting me and Faith."

"We're just supposed to kill this guy?" Deke asked. "Ain't that murder?"

"Self defense," Xander said. "Trust me, if you don't kill him, he'll kill you. Isn't that right, Sparky?"

The vampire merely growled at him.

"Jesus, Angel, this guy's not even vocal. What, did you get a feral one?"

"No, just a stupid one," Faith said. "Who likes to growl."

"Well, what are we supposed to kill him with?" Street asked.

Angel smiled and walked over to a table. He pulled a blanket off and revealed -

"You're kidding," Boxer said. "Sticks?"

Angel shrugged. "Right tool for the job," he said. "Now, once we release this guy, me, Faith and Xander are going to be upstairs. You're going to kill him, and you're not going to come up until you have. Everyone grab a stake."

"Why am I not with them?" Xander asked as the rest of his team

"Because you could kill this guy yourself," Angel said.

"That new?" Xander asked.

"Two days," Angel said, holding up the requisite number of fingers to indicate the same. "Dawn could probably kill him."

"That little girl?" Deke asked.

"Yeah," Angel said. "Vampires, young ones, aren't that hard to kill, but you have to know how. Dawn's got a lot more experience than you. She'd have a tough time of it though."

"Harris, and a little girl can kill this guy, and we can't?" Hondo asked.

"Xander could beat any one of you in hand-to-hand combat, probably without breaking a sweat," Angel said.

"Even me?" Street asked.

Angel raised an eyebrow. Xander leaned over towards him and muttered something about the Navy SEAL's. Angel nodded.

"Yes," Angel said. "But he might sweat it some."

"I'd like to see that someday," Street said.

"Maybe you will," Angel said. "But not today. Everybody ready?"

The team nodded.

"Faith?" Angel said.

Faith walked up to the captive vampire. "You know what I am?" she asked.

The vampire nodded.

"Move before I'm out of the room, I'll come back and kill you myself," she said. "And I'll make it slow."

The beast's eyes widened, and Faith unhooked the chain from its collar.

"Collar, too," Angel said. "He's got enough weapons."

Faith nodded, removed the pin from the iron collar, then took the collar itself from the vampire's neck.

"Remember," she said. "Move, and you get me."

"One last question," Hondo said. Faith put her foot on the vampire's chest. "You said that Xander could beat all of us. So how good are you guys?"

Angel smiled. "I could kill Xander with a bit of effort. He's pretty good, one of the better fighters I've ever worked with. A fight between us would last two minutes, maybe a little more. Maybe three, if Xander got lucky."

"And her?" Deke asked, inclining his head toward Faith.

"We're not really sure how strong a Slayer can get," Xander said. "But it's a safe bet she could kill me with one punch."

Deke, Street, Sanchez and Boxer all let out long, low whistles.

"All right. Xander, Faith upstairs. Gentlemen. Lady. Good luck."

Angel, Xander and Faith marched up the stairs, all eyes following them. As soon as the door shut, the SWAT team looked to the vampire.

He grinned.