Trust as a four letter word
Xander took a deep breath and looked around the airport. Blair's long hair should be easy enough to spot, or at least that's what he'd thought before stepping off the plan in Cascade and discovering at least half of the guys had long hair. Okay, that was a slight exaggeration, but by that much, Xander thought as a guy who looked a lot like Fabio flipped his hair and hitched his bag up onto his shoulder. Xander shifted his own duffle bag higher on his shoulder as he walked off the ramp and into the waiting crowd. Xander detoured around a happily chatting Asian family as he searched the edges of the crowd.
It was funny how every airport in the world looked just the same... the same light colored walls, the same big windows overlooking the planes as they crept over the grey asphalt. Xander looked up to see a display of Native American headdresses and decorated spears behind bulletproof glass. Yep, there was the obligatory cultural display put up just to prove that this building wasn't interchangeable with the one in Zimbabwe with the shield collection or the one in Phoenix with the Indian pottery collection.
"Xander?" a voice asked from behind him, and he turned around to find the bluest eyes surrounded by a mane of brown and red curls. Blair.
"Blair?" he asked just to be on the safe side.
"Oh man, I'm so totally stoked to meet you. Jim was half convinced this was some sort of practical joke." Blair gestured toward a second man, and Xander turned to smile a hello to Jim. His expression just sort of froze in place as he found himself looking at the scariest guy he'd ever seen. The expression was pretty much like Spike's 'one second away from killing something' face with a bit of Angel's jaw-twitching 'I think you're an idiot but I'm not going to say it' face thrown in on the side. Oh yeah, someone was not feelin' the love.
"Nice to meet you," Xander finally choked out as he held out a hand. Jim took the hand and ice blue eyes searched him for a second, stopping at the duffle bag before that gaze returned to the crowd. Something from Xander's soldier memories screamed about threat assessments and covert ops, and Xander found himself taking a step to the side to get closer to Blair.
"So, are we ready to get out of here?" Jim suddenly asked.
"Um, yeah. This is all I brought since I don't really trust the airlines with luggage. One time when I was flying to Africa they sent this tribal god carving thing I was supposed to use as a way to prove I wasn't some nutcase because it had this big truth mojo, and they mixed up the bags and sent the thing to Denmark and there I was in this village trying to convince them that I was interested in their young girls because of the whole slayer thing rather than the whole creepy pedophilia thing." Xander groaned to himself as he realized that pedophilia might not be a good topic of discussion around cops.
"Tribal carving? Cool. What tribe?" Blair asked as though Xander hadn't been babbling.
"Um, not sure. Might have been demonic," Xander said. He didn't miss the twitch in Jim's shoulders as the man walked ahead of them.
"Demonic tribes? Oh man, that is so cool. I wonder how Dr. Stoddard would react to a demonic fetish," Blair mused without missing a beat.
"Fet—" Xander choked.
"An objects, something with magical or spiritual energies," Blair defined the word, and Xander just nodded mutely. Funny, Xander had expected more freakage, something more like Jim whose back kept going stiffer until the man could give Angel a run for his money in the stick up his butt department. But Blair seemed strangely okay with it. Xander didn't answer since he really had no idea what to say. Anymore his words seemed to either come all at once or not at all.
"Wait here," Jim said brusquely as they reached the curb. Xander thought he was talking to both of them until Jim's hand reached for Blair's back, herding the shorter man away as Xander stood on the sidewalk wondering whether either of them were going to come back. He had a feeling that if it were up to Jim, the two of them would drive off and leave Xander standing in the grey Cascade morning trying to book a flight back to England. Not that Xander necessarily would head back right now. Time away from the demon slaying and time away from Spike suddenly seemed like a good idea.
Xander shifted his bag to his opposite shoulder as people around him hailed taxis and disappeared into the traffic. When an old blue pickup pulled up to the curb, Xander ignored it until the door opened and Blair leaned out.
"Come on, if we make Jim late for work, we'll never hear the end of it," Blair called, and Xander tossed his bag into the back before climbing in the cab.
The ride to their apartment was uncomfortable with Jim's jaw twitching in very Angel-like ways, Blair filling awkward silences with descriptions of the historical significance of nearly every building they passed and Xander watching them in uncharacteristic silence. He didn't know what to say, especially since there wasn't a good reason for him being here. Sure, Willow had a reason for wanting him out of HQ, but these two were just the saps he got dumped on. Even if Jim was a Sentinel, it's not like there was some big huge need for information on Sentinels.
"I left some paperwork in the loft," Jim said in clipped syllables as he parked the truck in front of a bakery.
"You've got time, man. Simon isn't expecting you 'til ten."
"I know, Sandburg," Jim practically growled. Xander had already gotten out and had his bag half out of the bed of the truck, and even though the words weren't aimed at him, he still flinched at the growl.
"Ignore Jim. He's just perpetually cranky," Blair offered as he got out the passenger side and slammed the door. Blair didn't miss the way Jim waited at the hood of the truck and then dropped a hand onto Blair's shoulder as they headed to a door next to the bakery. Xander wondered whether those two were doing it or if his own recently discovered interest in the same sex was just making him look at the world through gay-colored glasses.
"Yeah, no problem. Spent years living with the perpetually cranky myself, only in my case it was the perpetually cranky and occasionally murderous in the blood sucking demon kinda way," Xander answered, his nervousness making words tumble out, "But then at least Spike never shaved his legs with my razor the way Dawn does every time she forgets to put razors on her shopping list." Xander followed the pair up the stairs and neither one answered. Okay, Blair might have, only Jim was pushing the man up the stairs ahead of him.
Jim stopped on the first landing, only a half a story up. "Sandburg, we're out of that organic cleaner you keep under the sink. Unless you want me to use Comet…"
"Oh man, that stuff leaves welts on your skin."
"And it leaves the sink actually clean."
"The organic orange cleaner works just as well."
"If you scrub twice as long," Jim countered. "But do me a favor and run down to the store for some while I get my paperwork together. You know, this would be a lot simpler if that car of yours wasn't always breaking down."
"Hey, she's a classic." Blair protested.
"She's a piece of junk," Jim said with a snort. Xander watched as Blair gaze went from him to Jim and then back to him. Xander knew that Blair knew that it was a set-up, but Xander didn't protest despite a pretty good feeling about what was about to happen. Hell, he'd given a few intimidation speeches in his day, so he got it. Blair had believed Willow's story about Hellmouths and demons and watchers, and Jim… not so much.
"I'll be right back," Blair finally said. "You wanna ride along?" Blair offered.
"Nah, I think I'll stick around and let the Neanderthal intimidate me," Xander shrugged. Blair opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it with an audible snap. Jim's jaw just tightened until Xander could see the muscle bulging.
"Oh man, do not let him scare you. His bark is much worse than his bite," Blair finally said as Jim started up the stairs with heavy footsteps that suggested that Xander had just broken some sort of unwritten rule.
"Yeah, I've dealt with that sort a lot," Xander said as he looked up the stairs. "It's probably just better to let him get it out of his system." He said the words, but he wasn't sure he entirely believed them as he considered being alone with Jim in an apartment. The man was big. And dangerous. And definitely set off the old Hellmouth radar in a vague creepy feeling up the backbone kinda way. And he clearly didn't like Xander.
"I'll be back as quick as I can," Blair promised as he dashed down the stairs and out the door. Xander wondered for a moment if it would be too cowardly to just sit on the steps and wait for Blair to get back, but then again, he had to face Jim sometime. With a sigh he switched his bag from his left shoulder to his right before heading up the stairs. He only hoped that Jim was waiting in the hall because he couldn’t remember the apartment number.