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Playing Cupid

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This story is No. 20 in the series "Oh, The Places He Goes!". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Xander stays in Chicago a little while longer and for a very good reason.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Xander-CenteredphoukaFR15117,722123213,72619 Feb 0719 Feb 07Yes
Standard Disclaimer: Dawn Summers, Xander Harris, and all other characters, settings, and details are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. All other characters, settings, and minutiae are the properties of their creators, production companies, and distributors. No infringement is intended, and no profit will be made.

Not-the-Author Note: I did not write this. My younger brother did. Man makes at least $20K more a year than me, but he can't be bothered to get his own account on this site. No, he just likes to lob snark at me until I post his writings. At any rate, this is the twentieth installment in the series “Oh, The Places He Goes!” The French was translated by a very helpful friend who claims she doesn't actually know a word of the language. If this is the case, please ignore all remarks about hovercrafts and exploding nipples.

Playing Cupid

Monday



Dawn Summers sat to the back of the room listening to Dr. Claire Allen moderating the Single Group discussion. Off to the side, Trevor Hale added occasional comments. A couple of members were arguing back and forth, when an exchange caught her attention.



“C'mon, that was just a childhood crush. If you spent even five minutes with the girl today, you'd be over it. Right, Dr. Allen?”



“Laurence brings up a good point,” Claire Allen said. “Crushes, especially childhood or adolescent crushes are usually built up around an idealized image of the recipient. If you actually get to know the person, the crush would probably vanish.”



“Not always,” Dawn muttered.



Claire looked at that. “Did you have something to add, Dawn.”



“Oh, uh.... No, I was just... it's not important,” Dawn, said, flustered at being singled out.



Claire smiled in a gentle manner. “We'd love to hear your view. You've been kind of quiet the last few meetings, and it's important to be involved.”



“Oh, okay. It's just that you said when you get to know the crush, the feelings vanish. But that doesn't always happen.”



“What's been your experience?” Claire asked.



“I've had crushes over the years. And you're right about some of them. There were a couple of guys I was seriously crushing on, but discovered later that they weren't very nice people. But there was this one guy...”



Trevor perked up at this. “Well, don't just leave us hanging. Who's your dream date?”



“When I was growing up, right after my parents divorced, my mom moved me and my sister to a new town. I wasn't very good at making friends, but my sister Buffy was. And by the end of the first day, she had a couple of new friends hanging around with her.



“One of them was a guy that was into her. Now my sister has always been the pretty one, the popular one, the special one that everybody pays attention to.”



“Wait,” Mike interrupted. “Your sister is the pretty one? I thought you were hot, but I have got to see this sister.”



“Wow, thanks, Mike. I've never been complimented and dismissed so thoroughly in just one comment before,” Dawn sniped.



“Hey, Dawn, come by my place if you're feeling ignored. I got a hottub we can soak in. And I promise to never mention your sister,” Nick offered.



“Aw, that's sweet, Nick. I'd rather cut off and eat my own feet, but I appreciate the offer.”



“Let's give Dawn a chance to speak,” Claire asked.



“So, she always had guys hanging around trying to get her attention. But this guy was different. He actually noticed me and talked to me like I was a real person, instead of just Buffy's annoying little sister. And when I got to the point when I started noticing boys, he was the boy I noticed.”



“Anyway, I grew up. The guy stopped going after Buffy and found himself a girlfriend and later fiance. But he still was in my life and was there for me and Buffy when we needed a friend. Like after my mom died.



“The thing is, that every time my crush fades away and I stop thinking about him like that, he does something wonderful for me. Like noticing when I'm feeling ignored and telling me I'm extraordinary. Or giving me a call on Mother's Day to see how I'm holding up. Then, bam! It's like I'm a kid again, writing his name on my book cover.”



“Honey, take my advice,” Priscilla told her. “Track this guy down, show up in your skimpiest lingerie then give him the most mind blowing sex he or any man has ever had.”



Trevor smiled at this. “All right, Priscilla. Now you're finally talking some sense.”



Claire sighed. “That's a bit... unorthodox.”



“He called her extraordinary. If a man ever called me that I would jump him right then and there,” Priscilla explained.



“You're extraordinary,” Nick quickly said.



“If a man ever said it as something other than a transparent attempt to get into my pants, I would do it.”



“Well, I'm out then.”



A couple of hours later, Dawn and Claire walked into Taggerty's Bar and Grill, continuing their conversation. As they talked, Dawn saw Trevor at the bar taking an order from a dark haired man. She and Claire took a seat down the bar.



“So this childhood crush guy you keep thinking about, what's his name?” Claire asked.



Dawn looked up at Claire. The man at the bar had his back to her. As she began to answer he turned. “His name is.... XANDER?”



Xander Harris turned around and saw the familiar face before him. “Hey, Dawn. Funny running into you here.”



“OMIGOD! I can't believe it. When did you get here? I didn't even know you were in Chicago.”



Claire looked at Xander, then back to Dawn. “This is the guy?”



Dawn nodded.



“I'm the guy?” Xander asked. “What's that mean?”



Trevor popped up behind Xander. “He's the guy? What guy? I'm still the man, right?”



“Dawn was talking about you earlier today,” Claire said.



“Oh! That guy,” Trevor said. His eyes sparkled as she looked from Dawn to Xander.



“Ooookay... and how does that make me the guy?” Xander asked, still confused.



“I might have mentioned you earlier today,” Dawn said, her face beginning to blush.



“She told us how you called her when she was feeling down on Mother's Day,” Claire supplied.



Dawn flashed a thankful smile to Claire for this comment.



“Oh, that. Yeah, glad I could help with that,” Xander said. “So do you hang out at this place often?”



“Yeah,” Dawn answered. “This is Dr. Claire Allen. She runs the singles group I go to. And this is Trevor Hale. He tends bar here and helps with the group.”



“I wouldn't say help,” Claire added.



“I do much more than help,” Trevor said. “I advise.”



“More like annoy.”



“I inspire.”



“You irritate.”



“I provider color to their gray souls and lift up their spirits to the possibility of true love.”



“You intrude into the meetings and spout unrealistic expectations about their personal relationships.”



“Are they always like this?” Xander whispered to Dawn.



“They've barely gotten started,” she answered with a grin. “Do you want to maybe grab a bite to eat?”



“I would love to grab a bite to eat.”



“Great. There's this burger place down the street. They have the best onion rings in Chicago,” Dawn told him.



“Sounds good, I'll... uh, could you hold on for just one minute?”



“Sure.”



Xander jogged over to the small figure by the bar he had spotted moments before.



“Hey, Gobo. You okay, buddy?” he asked.



“Yes sir, Mr. Xander. You were so excited when you spotted this place, I wanted to see it too.”



“That's fine. Look, I ran into an old friend here and I wanted to grab some lunch with her. Will you be okay on your own for awhile?”



“I'll be fine, Mr. Xander,” Gobo said. “This will give me a chance to explore the city.”



“You have the cell phone I gave you?” Xander asked. Gobo pulled the bulky item from the fanny pack he carried. “Great. Stay out of trouble. And if you need any help or anything weird happens, call me.”



Gobo watched Xander return to Dawn. The Fraggle climbed up a barstool and began studying the various liquor bottles behind the bar.



“I'm going to have to see an ID before I serve you,” Trevor said.



“Oh, I'm just looking. I don't want any silly creature drinks. They make me dizzy,” Gobo told him. “Do you have any radishes?”



“Let me check with the kitchen.”



“So what brings you to Chicago?” Dawn asked as Xander sat down with their drinks.



“I got in a couple of days ago. Giles had an emergency situation he wanted me to deal with. Faith was here also. I'm sorry you missed her, but she had to head back right when we finished.”



As Xander spoke, he held out his right hand. Dawn took it and they began to thumb wrestle.



“That's okay. We haven't been that close. I'm just glad I ran into you. So, how long are you going to be in town?”



“Well, my next stop is San Francisco,” Xander said. He pinned Dawn's thumb down, winning the match. He grinned and saw her grinning back. “So I'll be heading out.... um. Actually, I was just talking to Giles, and he needs me to set a few things up before I leave. So I'll be in town for another couple of weeks. We'll have plenty of time to hang out together.”



“Cool!” Dawn exclaimed. “I am so looking forward to it. You sure the mission in San Francisco can wait?”



“It's not a mission,” he answered. “Robin is opening up a branch there. I'm hoping to be part of it. A sort of Scooby Gang version two point oh.”



“So you'll be there permanently? I didn't know you wanted to settle down in one spot.”



“Yeah. I'm really looking forward to it. I'll get to work in a team again, I won't constantly be on the road. And there's...” Xander paused.



“What? Come on, you can tell me. What's out in San Francisco that has you so excited?” Dawn asked with smile.



“There's this girl named Phoebe Halliwell. She's actually a witch, and the team will be working with her and her sisters. I was out there a while back and we really hit it off. So, I'm hoping once I get there that maybe we can pick things up where we left them. I'm kind of nervous since this is the first girl I've been interested in since Anya died.”



The smile froze on Dawn's face. “Oh.... Yeah, great. Well you should be excited. I.... You deserve to be happy. And if she's good enough for you, then lucky her.”



“Thanks. You know, there's also going to be a branch in Chicago opening up. You should give some thought to being part of the team.”



Dawn shrugged. “I haven't actually been asked to help out by anyone. I mean I did some work for Giles back in London, but that was just to help out when he was shorthanded. Since I came out here, I don't hear anything from them.”



“What? That's ridiculous!” Xander said. “If I were heading up a branch, you'd be the first person I'd call.”



“Yeah, right.”



“No, I'm serious. You're smart, you've been picking up languages left and right, you're a kick ass researcher, you're brave, and I know I can trust you. There's no one else I'd want covering my back.”



“You really mean that.”



“Yeah, I do. All you have to do is give Giles a call and I'm sure he'll save a spot on the team for you.”



“Who's going to be heading up the branch?” Dawn asked.



“I heard that it'll probably be Willow in charge with Kennedy as her second in command,” he answered.



“Oh,” Dawn's face fell. “I... uh. I don't know if I would be comfortable working with her.”



“Why not?”



“She said some things to me after Tara died. I mean, I know she was hurting and hopped up on black magic, but maybe some part of her meant it. We used to real close, but after her magic crack addiction thing, I guess I haven't felt safe around her.”



“That's too bad. Maybe you should try talking things over with her. You shouldn't hold a grudge so much that a friendship ends...” Xander trailed off as he caught Dawn's disbelieving look.



He sighed. “Yes, even I'm surprised that I'm not choking on my own hypocrisy at this point. So what did she say that upset you?”



“She said that since I was made from the Key, that I didn't belong here. And that everyone would be happier if I went back. Then she threatened to do just that.”



“Jesus,” Xander muttered. “I know she said and did some whacked out things, but... I'm sorry.”



“The worst part is that sometimes I think she might be right.”



“What? No! Dawn, that's...”



“Think about it,” Dawn said. “The only reason I'm walking around is because some monks were trying to keep a green ball of energy away from a Hell god. Before that are a bunch of false memories. Would anyone really miss them?”



Xander cupped Dawn's hand with his own. “The only reason I'm walking around is because two drunks thought the rhythm method was an effective form of birth control. It doesn't matter how you got here. All that matters is what you do once you're here. And speaking from a purely personal point of view, I wouldn't give up a single memory of you. They're too important to me.”



Dawn gripped Xander's hand. “Thanks. That's.... That's nice to hear.”



Xander looked up from the table. “I think our order's up. I'll go get it.”



Dawn watched as Xander walked away. A small smile grew on her face. After a few seconds, she frowned and muttered to herself.



“Dammit, he did it again.”



Dawn opened the door to her apartment and led Xander inside.



“You sure you're cool with me crashing here tonight?” he asked. “I can always get a hotel room.”



Dawn shook her head. “Don't be ridiculous, Xander. You're always welcome here.”



“You say that now, but you haven't met Gobo yet.”



“Who's Gobo?”



“He's.... a traveling companion. It's kind of hard to explain. Right now he's exploring the city, but I'll introduce you to him whenever he gets back.”



Dawn began to rummage through her closet. As she searched, she called out to Xander.



“You want to put a movie on? The DVD's are on the shelf by the TV. We can order pizza to snack on.”



Xander began looking through her movie collection. “Awful lot of chick flicks here.”



“Well, I am a chick, so that would follow.”



“True. Hey! You have Looney Tunes here! We've got to watch these. I haven't seen any since Anya made me throw out all my old tapes of them.”



Dawn raised an eyebrow. “Anya made you pitch your cartoons?”



“Yeah. The Bugs Bunny ones at least. She said she didn't want that filth in my place.”



“God, it sounds like she thought it was porn or something.”



“No, she just hated anything with talking rabbits in them. And she liked porn. A lot. Always wanted to watch it with me. Except she liked gay porn mainly. Anytime a woman showed up, she'd pause it and ask if I thought the actress was prettier than her,” Xander sighed. “Anya actually managed to ruin porn for me.”



“Well you can watch it with me anytime,” Dawn assured him. “The cartoons, I mean. Not the porn.”



Tuesday



Xander stands by the jeep, looking through the back.



“So, what's the holdup, 'Boss'?” Rona asks.



Xander glances up at her. “I'm looking for my binoculars. And could you try not to sound so disdainful when you call me that? Or maybe just call me Xander?”



“Whatever, 'Boss'.”



Xander shakes his head, then looks to Sam Zabuto.



“Why do you want the binoculars, Alexander?” Sam asks.



“We still don't know these guys very well,” Xander explains. “They call this meeting in the middle of nowhere. Now call me paranoid, but I'd like to know we're not walking into a trap before we actually walk in.”



Sam nods. “Caution is warranted in this circumstance. What are you most concerned with?”



Xander stands up as he grasps the binoculars. He walks forward and begins looking through them.



“The building itself looks pretty straight forward. A couple of clear entries and exits. If trouble starts we shouldn't have any problem getting out. But outside the building we could be vulnerable.”



Xander scans the roadside as he talks to Sam.



“Spot anything?” Sam asks.



“Nothing so far,” Xander pauses as he glances towards Rona. “Sam, could you help me out with Rona? I don't think she's thrilled to be working with me. Any pointers?”



“She is distrustful. Is there any reason for that?”



“I dunno. I guess. She wasn't too happy in Sunnydale. I don't think any of us made a good impression on her.”



“All I can say is to do as you would normally do. Trust has to be earned. Eventually she will see that she can trust your abilities and leadership.”



“Eventually? Couldn't I just buy her a pony? That would....” Xander trails off as he spots a flash of light in the distance.



He turns to the others. “Did you guys see that? Hey, Rona. Can you come up here and see if -”



Xander see a red dot of light pass over Rona's torso. He sprints forward and pushes her to the ground as a soft pop, followed by a loud crack hits his ears. He tries to sit up, but stumbles to the ground.



Xander notices a splash of red on the ground. “Rona? Were you hit? I think...”



He sees Rona staring wide eyed at him. He looks down as sees a red blotch on his shirt slowly blossom.



“Oh.”



Xander lies down on the ground as he listens to the distant voices in the background.



“Sam! Get the jeep started!”



“Press down on the wound. You must stop the blood loss.”



“Xander? Boss? Listen to me. Stay awake. We're going to get you to the hospital, but you have to stay awake. STAY AWAKE!”




Xander awoke from the dream. He lay completely still, trying to gather his bearings.



What? Where am I?//



He opened his eye and took in his surroundings.



Right. Chicago. It was just a dream, a memory. They got me to the hospital in time, and I was okay. I left Africa months ago, and I'm visiting....



At that point, Xander became aware of the weight pressing on his left side. He turned his head and saw Dawn lying on the couch. Her sleeping form was resting by him, using him as a pillow.



Right. We were watching TV late into the night. I guess we both fell asleep on the couch. I better move her to the bedroom.



Xander moved, trying to sit up. Dawn shivered and shifted, now resting her head on his shoulder.



“I wanna ride the pony.” She muttered.



Xander stopped his moving and studied her face.



She looks so peaceful.



As Dawn shivered again, Xander glanced around and saw a blanket lying on the table by the couch. He grabbed it and covered Dawn's sleeping form.



It would be a shame to wake her up. I'll just sleep in a little while longer.



Xander closed his eye and put his head down.



I'll just lie here until she wakes up. She needs her rest.



Xander adjusted his head and smelled Dawn's hair.



Yep. She needs her sleep. And I'm just letting her rest. Nothing else going on here.



A few hours later Xander awoke to the smell of breakfast cooking. He got up and saw Dawn moving around in the kitchen.



“Hey there, sleepyhead. I hope the couch wasn't too uncomfortable for you. I'll make up for it by fixing you breakfast.”



“No, it was... restful. Best night's sleep I've had in a long time. Nice change of pace from all the hotel rooms I've been in. And you don't have to fix me any... Are you making omelette's?”



Dawn grinned. “Yup. So what are your plans for today?”



“Well, according to Giles, I need to begin all the groundwork for setting up... a little more ham in there. Setting up the branch here in Chicago. So I have to start going through the real estate ads and find a... don't forget the onion and bell pepper. And throw in some of the shredded cheese. So I have to find a place we can use as a headquarters. I also have to start making local contacts here. Do you have classes?”



“Yeah. I'll be done around three this afternoon,” Dawn answered, handing the plate to Xander.



“You want to meet up at Taggerty's around four then?” Xander asked, taking a bite. “Dear god, this is delicious.”



“Thank you. And I'll be there at four on the dot. It's a date... ish meeting. Between two friends. So, what contact are you trying to make today?”



“I need to see a cop.”



“Kowalski! You got a visitor!”



Ray Kowalski looked up from his desk, then sighed as he caught sight of the man approaching him.



“No. Forget it.”



“What?” Xander asked. “I haven't even said anything.”



“Just whatever it is you came here for, forget it. I don't want to hear about vampires, or Bigfoot, or WMD's in Iraq, or whatever fairy tale myth you're selling.”



“Oh come on! You haven't even heard my pitch yet.”



Ray shook his head. “No.”



“I need a contact on the police force. That way when anything involving the supernatural happens, you can give my group a heads up.”



“No.”



“And if you come into anything weird you can ask us for help or advice.”



“Look, Harris. I'm a police detective. That means when people do bad things, I investigate, gather evidence, and arrest suspects. I don't go telling other people so they can do my job for me. I don't go crying for help. And I don't need people from outside my police department to do my job.”



Xander stared at Ray for a moment.



“Dude, don't you work with a Mountie?”



“That's.... He.... It's complicated.”



“Look, just hear me out,” Xander asked. “Now I played straight with you this past week in helping you deal with the rogue Slayer, right?”



“You came in, had your Fed buddy pull some strings and took over the case,” Ray said.



“Oh, come on. At the end of the day, you got your arrest without anyone getting hurt. Can you at least admit to that?”



Ray sighed. “I suppose I can admit that you might have been some help in subduing the girl. And you didn't try to take credit for the arrest.”



“Thank you,” Xander said. “Now will you be willing to work with my organization?”



“Oh, hell no.”



“Why not?”



“BECAUSE YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT....” Ray began yelling, then stopped as he looked around the station. He continued in a quieter voice, “Because you're talking about vampires.”



“I thought we already covered this.”



“No, we covered the fact that there was something strange about that girl we arrested. You claimed she's some vampire hunter. I think you're full of crap.”



“Okay...” Xander paused in thought. “You accept the fact that there are superstrong hot chicks running around because you've seen Faith and the rogue Slayer in person.”



Ray nodded.



“So, you'll have to see a vampire face to face before you'll believe me.”



“Fine,” Ray said in exasperation. “You show me an actual vampire, then I'll take you seriously.”



“Okay.”



Xander got up and left the station.



As he entered Taggerty's, Xander glanced around for Dawn. A quick glance at his watch showed him to be fifteen minutes early. He took a seat at the bar with a clear view of the entrance and began thinking about his encounter earlier that day.



“Club soda, right?”



Xander looked up and saw the bartender addressing him.



“Uh, yeah. Club soda. Trevor, right?”



“Trevor Hale, my friend. You mind me asking you a personal question?”



“Go ahead.”



“How'd you lose the eye?”



“Oedipus complex. I already killed my dad and slept with my mom, so I figured I'd go for the hat trick. But I wussed out halfway through.”



Trevor chuckled. “Poor old Oedi. I tried to warn him that older women can be trouble, but he wasn't listening. Although in his defense, she was a total MILF.”



“Right. You knew Oedipus.”



Trevor nodded. “Although I'm not taking the blame for that one. It was totally my mom's fault.”



“And who's your mom?” Xander asked.



“Venus, or Aphrodite if you want to be formal. I just call her mom.”



Xander stared at Trevor. “... right. So that would make you... Eros?”



“Please. That's what mom calls me when she's angry at me. My friends call me Cupid. Of course while I'm down here I go by Trevor.”



Xander looked around the bar, then turned back to Trevor. “If Dawn is pranking me, it's awfully obscure. Okay, I'll bite. If you're Cupid, why are you working in a bar calling yourself Trevor?”



Trevor grimaced. “It's a long story. You wouldn't be interested.”



“Oh no,” Xander said. “I just spent the morning talking to someone who didn't believe a word I said. I'd like a chance to be on the other side. Do go on.”



“As the god of love, it was my duty to make you mortals fall in love and live happily ever after.”



“If that's your job, you're not very good at it.”



“Yeah, Grandpa thought so too. So he sent me down to Earth as a mortal, stripped of my powers. I can't go home until I get a hundred couples to experience true lifelong love.”



“Sounds like you're going to be stuck down here for a long time then. Sucks to be you.”



Trevor nodded. “That's why I'm working overtime to hook people up. Speaking of which, how's your love life? Need a hand in anything?”



“Me?” Xander asked. “No, I'm fine.”



“Really? When's the last time you were with a woman?”



Xander sighed.



“Or a man?” Trevor asked. “I'm not judging here, only trying to help.”



“Last person I was with was my ex-fiance. It was a few years ago.”



“Years? Okay, you need help right now. I'm making you my number one priority. Let's see, I know an exotic dancer that sometimes comes in. Do you like girls who are flexible? What am I saying? Everyone likes flexible girls. I can get her over here and she can release whatever tension you've got built up. We can work from there.”



Xander shook his head. “I'm not looking for a one night stand. That's not what I'm into.”



“So... what are you into? Cheerleaders? Bad girls?”



Xander shuddered. “No, bad experiences with that type.



“Okay, nice girls, then. The girl next door. Someone you respect, can be friends with...” Trevor trailed off.



“Besides, there's a girl in San Francisco I'm going to see,” Xander said.



“Really? So tell me about it.”



“Well, I met her a few months ago, and we hit it off. But nothing came of it.”



“Why not?” Trevor asked.



“I thought we might be able to work together, but that fell through. If we tried anything, it wouldn't have worked out.”



Trevor raised an eyebrow. “You passed it up because of job conditions?”



Xander shook his head. “No, it would have been a train wreck. But the circumstances kind of resolved themselves, so I'm going out there once I get my current job finished.”



Trevor paused, formulating his next statement. “So, with this girl out in Cali you want to hook up with, you're staying here because...?”



“Oh, this is kind of a big deal for my boss,” Xander said.



“Big deal, but if you weren't available, no one else could do it?” Trevor asked.



“I don't know. But on the plus side, I get to spend time with Dawn. So it's worth staying out here.”



Trevor nodded. “She is special, isn't she?”



“You got it,” Xander agreed.



“Nice girl. Respectable, the kind you can be friends with.”



“Well, she is my friend. And yes, I respect her.”



“Yeah. And you're also putting off hooking up with the San Francisco honey to spend time with her,” Trevor pointed out.



“Yes...” Xander cautiously agreed. “What of it?”



“Nothing. I just find that interesting.”



Before Xander could respond, Dawn walked into the bar and spotted them.



“Hey, Xander!” she greeted. “How was your day?”



“Could have gone better,” he answered, getting up from the bar and walking with her to a table.



“What happened?”



“I met with the cop, Ray Kowalski. Problem is I have to provide definitive proof that vampires exist before he'll even consider helping the Council.”



“That's not exactly unreasonable of him,” Dawn pointed out.



“Yeah, but I have to track down a vamp. Then I have to get me, the cop, and his friend close enough to the vamp to prove everything to them. And I have to do all that without getting me or them hurt.”



“That could be tricky.”



“I know,” Xander agreed. “I suppose I could find a newbie rising from the grave. But even he'd be dangerous. The times I've had to go hunting on my own, I always use a long distance weapon and never go after more than one. Even then I have to retreat pretty often. I doubt the cop would sit by while I show up armed with a sniper rifle and night vision goggles to shoot someone from a distance, even if he is rising from a grave.”



“Maybe if you -”



“That's if I find a rising vamp. I suppose I can research the obituaries and I might get lucky. Then we could show up before he rises. When the vamp comes out of the ground, he'd be pretty vulnerable. I could shoot him then to disable him. And newbies are usually in game face when they rise, so that would help.”



“You could just -”



“That all depends on finding a rising vamp. This isn't Sunnydale, so that's a problem. The other option is to go where the prime vamp hunting grounds are, but that's a lot more dangerous.”



“Xander!” Dawn yelled.



“Huh? Sorry. What were you saying?”



“I know of a place. It's a demon bar,” she explained. “All sorts show up there, including vampires. But it's also considered neutral ground. There's even a spell that prevents any violence from happening on the premises. You can take the cop there and get all the proof you need.”



“That's... that's a really good idea. Do you have the address?”



“Yep,” Dawn answered. She pulled out a pen and scrap of paper and quickly jotted down the address.



Xander grinned as he took the paper. “This is great. You are amazing.”



He leaned over and kissed Dawn on the forehead.



“Glad to be of help.”



“I hate to run out on you, but I'd really like to get over there. Do you mind?”



Dawn shook her head. As Xander got up from the table and headed for the door, Dawn called out.



“Xander? There's something I need to tell you about the owner of the club.”



“What is it?”



“He use to be out in Los Angeles, as part of Angel's crew. He was there when Cordy died.”



Xander's face grew grim. He nodded. “Thanks for the warning.”



As Xander Harris, Ray Kowalski, and RCMP Benton Fraser entered Caritas II, they looked around in awe.



“Holy shit,” Ray muttered. “Vampires are real.”



“My lord,” Fraser muttered. “Not just vampires. There all all kinds of demonic creatures here.”



“Jesus Christ,” Xander muttered. “They're singing karaoke.”



The three men made their way to an empty table and sat down. None of them spoke as they took in the scene surrounding them. Ray kept turning back and forth, watching every passing figure. Fraser kept a calm steady gaze on the front stage. After a few moments they turned towards the quiet humming.



“Dance your cares away,

worries for another day,

let the music play,

down at....”




Xander trailed off as he saw the two men staring at him.



“Sorry. That song's been stuck in my head all week.”



“Welcome to the Caritas, gentlemen. Allow me to introduce myself,” the elegantly dressed, green skinned, horned demon sat down at their table. “I am your Host.”



“I thought you went by Lorne,” Xander said.



Lorne paused before answering, taking a moment to study Xander.



“That's when I'm off the clock, and only with my friends. In the club, I'm simply the Host,” Lorne turned to Ray and Fraser. “But enough about me. What about you two? It's not often we get uninitiated humans here. And just what is a Canadian Mountie doing on this side of the border?”



“I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father, and for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture I've remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate,” Fraser explained.



“So, all these people are demons?” Ray asked.



“I prefer to call them a wide ranging clientèle from all walks of life. But for the sake of clarity, yes, excepting you three and one or two others, all the people in this establishment are demons.”



“Why are they singing karaoke?”



“Because it's a fun time for all,” Lorne answered with a smile. “And I read them when they sing.”



“Whoah. What do you mean read?”



“When people sing, they expose themselves, spiritually. I can read that, get a sense of who they are and where they're going and advise them accordingly.”



Fraser frowned at this. “So you can provide answers to their questions?”



“In a way.”



Fraser thought about this. “And if there were a spirit of a family member -”



“So did you see what was going to happen to Cordy?” Xander interrupted. “Give her a heads up? Let her avoid the whole mess and maybe make it so she'd live to see her twenty-fifth birthday? Or was that just too much of a hassle?”



Lorne turned back to Xander. “You're the high school boyfriend.”



“Yeah,” he nodded. “So did you?”



“No, I didn't read her. I try not to do that to my friends,” Lorne answered.



“You ever think that maybe you should have?” Xander asked.



“Every hour of every day. I'm not sure what it would change though. Cordelia was a very strong minded person, and I don't know anyone who could make her do anything she didn't want to do.”



“Yeah,” Xander said, his voice softening. “She could be stubborn.”



Lorne placed his hand on Xander's shoulder. “She went peacefully, in the end. She was in a coma and just slipped away one afternoon.”



Xander looked up, his eye glistening. “And before the coma? Was that peaceful?”



He shook his head. “Before that.... Cordelia deserved better than what she got. But what you deserve and what you get are often very different things.”



“Yeah. I know.”



Lorne looked up to the stage. “Do you want to get up and sing a little? The stage is free. And the experience can be quite liberating. It could be just what you need.”



“Not in this lifetime, Kermit,” Xander rose from the table. “Sorry, guys. I need a few minutes of fresh air. You two ask Greeny here anything you want. I'll back in a little bit.”



As Xander walked away, Ray and Fraser faced Lorne.



“So.... Do you have horns anywhere else?”




Xander paused by the bar as he took a couple of deep breaths.



C'mon. You've got a job to do. Get the cop and Mountie caught up and you can leave. Just didn't realize what coming here would stir up.



“What can I get for... kid? Hey, look at you! You made it out!”



Xander stopped as he heard the familiar voice.



“Willy? Willy the Snitch?”



“Hey! I'll have you know my snitching days are over. I'm respectable now. Got a good thing going here.”



“Of course you got out of Sunnydale. Don't know why I thought otherwise,” he turned to face Willy.



“Geez, kid,” Willy said, catching sight of the eyepatch. “Looks like you've had a few rough patches.”



“You could say that,” Xander paused. “Aren't you going to ask how I lost the eye?”



“You were rolling with the Slayer on the Hellmouth. I doubt it was from running with scissors.”



Xander allowed himself a smile at that. “So how did you wind up working here?”



“Oh, I saw the writing on the wall clear enough. I got myself the hell out of Dodge. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get insurance coverage after all the damage my place took over the years. So when Sunnydale went belly up, I was broke. I came to Chicago, cause I figured with the demon population someone could make some money serving drinks to them. Didn't have much luck until the boss over there came to town. He hired me and I've never been happier.”



“You're happier working for someone else than owning your own place?”



“Hell, yeah! Let someone else worry about all the bills and keeping the peace. Speaking of which, he's got some mojo working where people can't attack anyone in here. I haven't been beaten up since I started working here. Plus I get dental.”



“Glad to see you landed on your feet,” Xander said, with surprising sincerity.



“Thanks. Let me get you a round on me. What's your poison?”



Xander sighed. “That's a tough one. Do you have any idea how good a Scotch would taste right now?”



“Rough day?” Willy asked.



“Rough couple of years,” Xander replied. “But I don't plan on making it any rougher. I'll take a Coke.”



“Coming right up. HEY, DENNIS! I NEED A COKE OVER HERE!”



Xander winced at the shouting. “Who's Dennis?'



“Friend of the boss. Came out here from Los Angeles with him. He used to room with one of the boss's friends. Actually, I think it was your old friend from Sunnydale, Cordelia.”



A Coke can floated down the bar and settled in front of Xander.



“A ghost that roomed with Cordy? I wonder if she ever talked about me.”



As Xander popped open the can, the soda exploded out of the can, drenching him.



“Yep. She talked about me.”




Dennis sat back, laughing as he watched Cordelia's ex-boyfriend try to dry himself off.



“Pulling pranks on the living? Seems a bit unfair.”



Dennis turned and saw the older man, dressed in a Mountie's uniform standing before him.



“He dated a friend of mine. Cheated on her and broke her heart. Thought I'd give him a little payback. I'm Dennis.”



“Bob Fraser,” the spirit said, introducing himself.



“So what brings you to Caritas, Bob?”



“I came with my boy over there. I always have to look after him. You can't imagine the trouble he gets himself in. It's been like that ever since I died.”



“How'd you die?”



Bob Fraser sighed. “Shot in the back. The shooter was hired by a man I considered a coworker and friend.”



“Bummer. My mom didn't like the girl I was going to marry, so she walled me up in her apartment.”



“Shocking. You can't trust anyone these days.”




After Xander cleaned himself up as best he could, he made his way back to the table.



“So you guys seen enough?” he asked.



Ray nodded. “I can't believe these things have been living in this city, and I never knew about them.”



“Don't beat yourself up. Most demons can blend in pretty well. And a surprising amount never cause any trouble, they just try to get by in life like everyone else. It's the vampires and other nasties you have to be careful of.”



“I had heard rumors,” Fraser said. “I always just considered it to be local folklore. But this place is amazing.”



“Aw, great. Now that you got him started, he'll want to know everything about them,” Ray said. “Fraser, I am not coming back here with you. One visit is enough.”



“But, Ray. If we're going to be assisting Mr. Harris, we should learn everything we can about the demon life in the city.”



“I never said I'd be assisting him,” Ray protested.



“That's because you thought I was bullshitting you,” Xander pointed out. “You got your proof. Now will you work with my group?”



Ray looked from Fraser to Xander back to Fraser. “Aw, man. You've got that look again.”



“What look?” Fraser asked.



“The look you get right before I agree to do whatever dumbass thing you're about to talk me into.”



“So you agree that you're going to agree to what you won't agree to?”



Ray shook his head. “This is why I can't argue with you. You twist my words around until even I don't know what the hell I'm saying.”



“Well, it's easy enough as long as you pay close attention.”



Xander sighed and turned away from the two friends arguing. He found himself face to face with Lorne.



“Don't worry about them. The Mountie will talk his friend into helping you. You're going to be seeing a lot of those two.”



Xander shook his head. “Willow will be stuck with them, not me. I'm heading out to San Francisco once I get everything here set up. We probably won't see each other again. So I'm sorry for being a dick about Cordy.”



“Apology accepted. But I think I'll be seeing you again.”



“I don't think so. I'll send you a postcard from Frisco,” Xander turned to leave.



“Hundred bucks says I see you in this club again,” Lorne challenged.



Xander stopped and turned back. “You're on. When I get settled out there, I'll tell you where you can send my money to.”



It was a little after midnight when the knocking on her door woke Dawn up. She grumbled under her breath as she threw on a robe, walking to the door.



“Hold on. I'm coming.”



She paused before unlocking the door, glancing to make sure the baseball bat was within reach. Looking through the peephole, she gasped and opened the door.



“Xander! What happened? Co...” Dawn stopped and stepped back, opening the the door all the way. Xander limped inside.



“Thanks, Dawn. I'm sorry to drop in so late, but your place was close and I didn't know where else to go.”



She looked him over, noting the bruises and cuts on his face. As Xander began filling her in, she pulled out the first aid box.



“So, just as I'm leaving that club you told me about, I pass a couple of vamps talking about how they're tired of pig's blood and want to go on the hunt. I figure I can handle them if I do it stealthily enough.”



Xander sat down on the couch as Dawn began dabbing a wet cloth over his cuts.



“And as one of the vamps goes into an alley way, I do my pretending to be drunk act and stumble up to the other guy. He didn't even see the stake until it was in his chest. But just as he turns to dust, the first vamp returns and he brought three friends.”



“How bad was it?” Dawn asked.



Xander shrugged. “They were playing, mostly. Shoving me around, kicking and hitting me. Why do vampires do that? Instead of just killing someone straight away, they have to rough them up first. It's kind of an asshole move.”



“I guess common courtesy doesn't come with their bloodlust,” Dawn said. “How'd you get away?”



“There were only four of them. I marshaled up my strength and fought back, wiping the floor with them.”



Dawn raised her eyebrow in skepticism.



“Fine. I started sobbing like a little girl and begging for my life. Then while they were laughing, I pulled out the .45 I carry and shot them in the knees.”



“Then you staked them?”



“Well, eventually.”



“Xander,” she said in a warning tone. “You know better than to drag a fight out.”



“I might have kicked them around a little. And taunted them. Just a bit.”



Dawn glared at him.



“They made fun of me! They were calling me sissy and other terms that I won't repeat in polite company,” Xander said.



“Oh, well in that case, fuck 'em.”



Xander chuckled, then winced as Dawn applied peroxide to his cuts.



“These don't look too bad. I doubt you'll need stitches.”



“Thanks. I just knew I was bleeding and your place was closer than any hospital so – HEY! WHAT ARE YOU....”



Xander batted Dawn's hand away from his eyepatch.



“You have a cut there. I need to move the eyepatch to check it,” she explained.



“I don't want you doing that.”



“Xander, if I don't clean it up, it could get infected.”



“No. Look, I can get a doctor to look at it later.”



“Don't worry about it. I can just check it -”



“No!”



Dawn sighed. “Stop being such a baby. I'll clean this up and -”



“I don't want you to see me like that,” Xander pleaded. “I just... Buffy and Willow saw me at the hospital like that. Since then, every time they looked at me I saw the pity and horror on their faces. I don't.... I can't handle you looking at me like that.”



Dawn gently stroked the side of Xander's face, then flicked his ear.



“OW!”



“Xander, shut up and listen to me. I've seen Buffy come home at nights with some of the worst injuries possible. I learned a long time ago to see past the blood and wounds. I hate the fact that you were hurt, but nothing will ever make me look at you differently.”



Xander listened with his head bowed. He raised his left hand and pulled off his eyepatch. Dawn put a hand beneath his chin and lifted his head up.



“Doesn't look bad. There'll be some bruising on this side of your face, but it should clear up after a few days. Let me clean it up, then we'll be finished.”



Xander sat in silence as Dawn tended him. When she finished, he put the eyepatch back on.



“Dawn, I... thanks. Thank you. You have no idea how much this means to me.”



She smiled at him. “Well, I'm not letting you go out and try to find a hotel this late. So looks like you're stuck with the couch again.”



“I'll get the extra sheets. I know where they are.”



“Great. Now I'm heading to bed. I'll see you in the morning.”



Dawn walked into her bedroom. Once the door was firmly shut, she sat on the bed and dabbed her eyes as she broke down and cried.



Wednesday



The following day, Dawn was leaving her last class of the afternoon when she saw Xander standing outside the classroom.



“Hey there, pretty lady. You free tonight?”



She smiled as he offered his arm. She took it and walked down the hallway with him.



“Well, I'll have to check my social calender,” she answered. “But I believe I can shuffle a few things around. What did you have in mind?”



“I wanted to thank you for putting up with me last night. Actually I wanted to thank you for everything you've helped my with since I've been in town. So I am taking you out to dinner tonight.”



“You haven't taken me out to dinner since back when you were babysitting me. So is it pizza or burgers?”



Xander smiled. “My palate has a bit more range than that. But it's going to be a surprise.”



“Oooo, possible Chinese buffet. Lead on.”




The maitre d' approached Xander and Dawn.



“Bonjour Monseur et madmoselle, diserez-vous un table?” he asked.



“Oui,” Xander answered. “Un table pour deux, dans pas fumir, sil vous plait”



The maitre d' nodded. “Ici- la, monsieur.”



He led them to a table and seated them. “Votre garcon etre allez dans un moment.”



“Merci,” Dawn said. She turned to Xander. “Ambria? I'm impressed. I haven't had decent French food since I was in Paris. Is Giles cool with you going out to the pricey restaurants?”



“Please, I spent two years in Africa sleeping in tents and eating caned goods, while Buffy and Willow were living in four star hotels. Giles hasn't rejected an expense report of mine yet. No matter how many questionable pay per view movie charges there are.”



The waiter approached their table. “May I get you something to drink while you look over the menu?”



“I'll have a club soda,” Xander answered.



“And for the lady?”



“I'll have a glass of Chardon... uh, make it a club soda,” she said.



Xander looked up. “You can order what you want, Dawn.”



“I know. I just thought since you stopped drinking it would be rude to... you know. Flaunt it in front of you.”



“I appreciate the thought, but I see people drinking all the time. I can't let that change anything. And I'd hate for you to not get the full enjoyment of your meal.”



“I'll have a Chardonnay,” Dawn told the waiter. She turned back to Xander. “Thanks.”



“No problem. You can... wait a second, you're nineteen. I don't think it's legal for you to order alcohol.”



“Kind of late for that,” Dawn said. She quickly changed the subject, “Now when did you pick up French? I thought I was the language nut.”



Xander shrugged. “I picked some up when I was in Africa. It's used more than English over there, so I had to learn enough to get around. I memorized the important phrases and kept a phrase book with me for the other stuff.”



“What were the important phrases?” she asked.



“'Est-ce que cette l'eau d'avez-moi malade?'”



“Always a valid question,” Dawn observed.



“Let's see.... Oh, also 'Ou est la femme dangeruse et fort que combates les creatureux mauvais sur la nuite?' I used that one a lot.”



“I wouldn't have phrased it quite like that, but you get the point across.”



Xander smiled. “And of course, 'Pas dans le visage!' Good for fighting demons and training slayers.”



Dawn laughed. “Tu seyante une linguiste formidable”



Xander paused. “I am... or have been made into a... linguist?”



“Oui,” Dawn said. “Vous avez du talant pour cache. Mais vous avez toujours allez enchapper a une peril quand avez besouin d'arrive.”



“Wait, slow down,” Xander asked. “I must say... you make impressions.... with secret talents.... when needs happen? I know I'm missing a lot here.”



Dawn looked at Xander with a sad smile. “J'ai oblie que jois de la presence de quelqu'un qvec vous. Quand les memes temps que j'avez avec tu, j'emprove nous sommes les personnes sulement dans la chambe.”



Xander shook his head. “Wait a second. You're going too fast.”



The waiter came by and served their drinks.



“Je savais qui tu-as depart de ville quand tu termines a la tache, mais je s'amuser touts cettes secondes que j'avez avec tu, et je fais croires je suis la raison seulement tu restes,” Dawn finished.



“Yeah, I got like none of that. Maybe if you write it down.”



“That's okay. I just said, this is a nice restaurant and I'm glad you brought me here.”



Xander nodded. “I don't get many excuses to enjoy a meal at a really nice place. So how about a toast? To catching up with old friends.”



They lifted their glasses and took a drink.



“So what's your agenda for the next few days?” Dawn asked.



“I started looking around for somewhere to set up the branch headquarters. So I'll be going around town checking out properties. And tomorrow I need to stop by a doctor's office so I can finally get this off,” Xander said, pointing to the cast on his wrist.



“I distinctly remember telling you not to get hurt anymore. So what's up with the broken arm?”



“Technically you told me not to get sick anymore. This happened when I was injured. They're completely different things,” he explained.



“And how did you get injured, anyway?”



“I was helping out some local police track down a missing girl when we ran into...” Xander trailed off.



“What? Who did you run into?”



“Um... don't freak out, but it was Caleb.”



Dawn paled. “WHAT? I thought he was dead.”



“Yeah, he uh... he got better.”



“Was the girl hurt? Is Caleb still around? What happened?” she asked.



“We found the girl in time. She's okay. And we stopped Caleb. I worked out some issues with him,” he said.



“He's not still around, is he?”



“He won't hurt anyone ever again. I made sure of that.”



“Did he suffer?”



Xander nodded. “Yeah. He still is. A lot.”



“Good,” Dawn said. “It sounds like you've been up to a lot since you came back from Africa. Fill me in on it.”



Dawn's face was red from laughter. “Xander! When did you become such a klepto?”



“Klepto? Where do you get that?”



“Well first off, there's the million dollar sword.”



“Which I found abandoned in an alley. That's clearly a case of Finders, Keepers.”



She shook her head. “And all the weapons and Humvee from the air force base?”



“I had proper authorization from the CO. It's not my fault he didn't clarify things,” Xander pointed out.



“What about the shopping cart?”



“That was... it... the manager charged me for supplies after I helped stop the attack on the store!”



“So you stole a shopping cart to teach him a lesson?” Dawn asked.



“Well, when you put it like that, it makes me look stupid. But at the time it made perfect sense.”



“Just keep telling yourself that.”



“It could have been worse,” Xander said. “At least it wasn't a leather jacket.”



Dawn glared him. “Oh, you did not just go there.”



“Oh, I think I just did.” he teased.



Dawn tossed a bread roll at his head. “Before you start bringing up all the dumb things I did, remember I know all the dumb things you've done.”



“Okay, truce then,” he said. “And you may want to lay off the wine. When the food starts flying, that's a sign that you've had too much to drink.”



“Xander, please. I lived in Italy and traveled all through Europe. I can handle my wine intake.”



Xander half carried, half dragged Dawn through the hallway to her apartment. As he rummaged through her purse for the keys, she began singing in an off key voice.



“Fly me to the moon,

Let me play among the stars,

Let me know what spring is like,

On Jupiter and Mars.”




“Oh yeah,” Xander muttered. “You sure can hold your wine.”



“Are we home already?” she asked. “That was quick. I'm still hungry. Why am I still hungry?”



“Well, you only had soup and salad for dinner. And you said you didn't have lunch because you were studying. And you also threw up in the cab five minutes ago.”



“I want pancakes. Let's go get some pancakes.”



“How about we hold off on the food until morning to make sure you'll keep it down,” Xander said. He pulled Dawn up as he opened the door, bringing her face to face with him. “Maybe an Altoid.”



As the door opened, Xander bustled Dawn into the apartment. He guided her to the bedroom and laid her on the bed.



“This isn't the IHOP.”



“Nope,” Xander said. “You're going to sleep this one off. I'll give you a call tomorrow, okay. Now I have to go to check into a hotel.”



“No, don't leave,” Dawn mumbled.



Xander stopped at the door. “I need to get some sleep.”



“You can stay here. I like having you around. I don't want you to leave.”



He allowed himself a small smile. “I like hanging around. I missed you.”



“I miss you too.” she said, now half asleep.



“Tell you what, I'll take the couch again tonight. Tomorrow, if you're not sick of me yet, I'll forget about the hotel and just stay here while I'm in town.”



“Not sick of you. Stay here.”



“You got it,” Xander said.



He gently took of her jacket, followed by her shoes and socks. Dawn was already snoring as he draped the blanket over her. He hung the jacket up in the closet then left the room, closing the door. He stopped and gazed at her sleeping form, then shut the door.



Thursday



Dawn awoke with a splitting headache. She looked around and noticed a glass of water, two pills and a note on the nightstand. She picked up the note and read.



Dawn,



First, take the Alka Seltzer and water right now. Trust me, you'll feel better once you do.



Dawn smiled, dropped the pills in the water, then quickly drained the glass. She picked the note up again.



Sorry I had to leave early, but I got an appointment and had to take off. I'll meet you at Taggerty's after I finish up my errands and your classes are over.



You should be starving right now, so I left coffee and donuts on the kitchen counter. Dig in.



You have my cell phone number, so call me if you want to change plans. I'll see you tonight.



Xander




Dawn folded the note and placed it in her desk drawer. She shuffled to the kitchen and spotted the coffee and donuts. Picking up the coffee, she sipped it while opening the donut box.



“Mocha frappuccino and raspberry jelly, my favorite. He remembered.”



The doctor came into the examining room holding the X-rays.



“It looks like your wrist is healed up, so we won't have to put another cast on.”



“Thank god,” Xander said. “The itching was driving me crazy.”



Xander sighed as he scratched his wrist. The doctor glanced at his wrist.



“The skin can dry out and become irritated, so I'll prescribe you an an ointment. It should clear up in a couple of days now that the cast is off.”



“Great. Say, doc? I was wondering if I could talk to you about something.”



The doctor glanced up as he scribbled out a prescription. “What's that?”



“I want to hire you as the consulting doctor for my company. We're opening up a branch and we could use your services,” Xander said.



The doctor glanced up. “There are plenty of doctors in Chicago. I prefer private practice to a staff position.”



“Well the services wouldn't be full time, so you wouldn't have to abandon your practice. And frankly, I don't want another doctor. I want you.”



“Why is that?”



“Because I was told that Peter Benton was the best trauma surgeon in Chicago and probably Illinois.”



Dr. Peter Benton put down his pen. “And who told you that?”



“John Carter. I met him out in Africa. He helped out my organization there.”



“Carter, huh? How's he doing? Does he still like partying? He sure would knock back the drinks, among other things.”



Xander's smile froze, and slowly fell. “Sorry, my mistake. Must be a different John Carter. The one I knew wouldn't touch alcohol. Or any drug, really. He wouldn't even take aspirin. I think there was a history there but we didn't talk about it. Although he did describe you pretty much to a T.”



“How's that?” Peter asked.



“Tightly wound, abrasive bordering on rude, highly driven, and overall the doctor you want taking care of you when you're fighting for your life. And your patients will definitely be doing that.”



Peter stared at Xander. “Look, I'm sure you feel that you need the best services, but I can't change my entire practice for that.”



“Yeah, you can't just do that on my asking,” Xander nodded, then pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. “Hey, My Favorite Martian? How you doing man? It's Xander. Listen, I need your help. I'm talking to Peter Benton, and I need to convince him to work with my group.... Uh huh, yeah.”



Xander handed the phone over to Peter.



“Hello, Carter? What is so important that I... uh huh.... uh huh.... WHAT? VAMPIRES? Carter, are you sure you're not on anything?”



Xander took the phone back. “Hey, Carter. Funny thing, I hadn't gotten to the whole vampire aspect yet. I was going to work my way up to it, so you kinda screwed me there. No, I'll take care of it.”



As Xander hung up, Peter stared at him. “Vampires.”



“Yes, vampires are real. My group fights them, we get injured on a regular basis, which is why I want you to work with us,” Xander said.



“You either lying or insane. Either way, you can't really expect my to go along with this,” Peter said.



“Carter vouched for me,” Xander pointed out. “Look, what will it take for you to believe me?”



Peter threw up his hands. “I don't know. Some kind of proof? For all I know Carter is just playing a prank on me. I'm a rational man. For me to put any belief in what you're saying, I'd have to personally see overwhelming evidence about the existence of the supernatural before I would ever agree to working with you.”



Xander's eye widened in excitement. “I can! I can get that for you. Or I can take you to it.”



“You expect me to go with you?” Peter asked.



“Carter backs me up. Will that at least get you to come with me? And if you're not satisfied, I will never bother you again. I promise.”



Peter sighed. “I'm going to regret this, but I suppose I can make one trip with you. And that's only because of what Carter said. But when nothing comes of it, you never come around here again.”



“Deal,” Xander said. “This is great, I know just the place. We just have to show up and.... DAMMIT!”



“What? Is there a problem? The place you want to go isn't available?”



“No, it's just that I have to stop by an ATM first. This is going to cost me a hundred bucks.”



Lorne was watching the singer on stage, when a hand slapped down a wad of bills on the table. Lorne turned and saw Xander Harris standing there with another newcomer.



“You haven't left yet? I thought you would be in California by now.”



“Don't gloat,” Xander said. “It's unbecoming. This is Dr. Peter Benton. I'm hoping he'll work with the Watcher's Council. Peter, this is a club full of demons. Enjoy.”



“Doctor?” Lorne asked. “It's an honor. We don't get many healers in here.”



Peter looked closely at Lorne. He gingerly reached out and touched Lorne's right horn.



“My god,” he murmured, then pulled his hand back. “I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude.”



“No problem. Sit down and let me get you a drink.”



Peter looked around the room in amazement. “This place is unbelievable.”



“Well, thank you. I do try to make the club a unique experience. Why don't you just soak up the atmosphere while you wait for the drink.”



Lorne walked up to the bar to where Xander was standing.



“Willy, a shot of bourbon to the handsome doctor at table three,” he ordered. Turning to Xander he spoke, “You seem to be dragging in the newbies.”



“What can I say? People keep saying you can't get a decent Singapore Sling in Chicago. I'm trying to show them otherwise.”



“We are trying to keep a low profile for this place. Last thing we need is for someone off the street to freak out and start a riot,” Lorne explained. “That's why I'd rather only people in the know coming by.”



Xander shrugged. “I was going to tell them about the demon world anyway. This way seemed the easiest and safest for all. Besides, I heard the only hard rule for this place was no violence. And I haven't broken that one.”



“No,” Lorne admitted.



Hours later, Peter Benton had enough to drink to get up on the stage and begin singing. Xander and Lorne watched him.



“Huh, wouldn't have pegged him for the type,” Xander said.



“Normally, he's not. But he sees it as a challenge to overcome. After all the others that have gotten up to sing, he didn't want to think he couldn't do it.”



“I wonder if I can use that logic to get him to take the job.”



“Don't worry about that,” Lorne said. “He'll take the job.”



Xander glanced at Lorne. “You reading him right now?”



“Don't worry, I already filled him in on the club. Your doctor up there is a very moral man. He's just found out about an entire world that was hidden to him. A world filled with dangers that spill over into the everyday life and hurt innocent people. He also has a son he constantly worries about. So if your group is putting their lives in danger and getting injured to protect people like his son, then he'll do all he can to help.”



Xander nodded. “Good to know.”



“You haven't asked yet,” Lorne said.



“Asked what?”



“How things went in LA. How they ended.”



Xander shrugged. “I read the Council's report.”



Lorne shook his head. “The Council.... I don't put too much stock in your Council.”



“I think that was mutual. There wasn't much trust for your group either.”



Lorne grimaced. “Yeah, well I watched a good friend have her soul torn apart because your Council decided they couldn't be bothered to help.”



“I don't think it was that simple -” Xander started.



“Simple? We called. Hell, we begged. But the people in charge over there felt they couldn't trust us enough to lift a finger.”



“Why should we have?” Xander asked.



“WHAT?”



“I'm not trying to start a fight, but consider what was going on. Last we heard Wolfram and Hart were working day and night concocting elaborate schemes to corrupt Angel, true?”



“Yes, but what does that -”



“So when they walk up to your door and present a deal that is way too good to be true, how long did you guys think about it before accepting?” Xander asked.



“A little under a day,” Lorne admitted.



“So now the vampire that has a history of going evil at really inconvenient times has now taken a job working in the heart of an organization determined to make him go evil,” Xander explained. “And it's not like you were communicating with us. When Spike returned, we didn't hear one peep about it. Then when Dana showed up, if we hadn't already sent Andrew out there, can you honestly say you would have told us about her?”



Lorne shook his head. “It was all happening too fast. Besides, it was your group that snatched her away when we were trying to help her.”



“No, you were trying to let the Wolfram and Hart people have her. Can you honestly say she would have been safer there? That everyone in the company would be looking out for her?”



Lorne was silent.



“And from what I heard, Angel managed to take out a few good guys in his plan to bring down the firm. That's not even counting the casualties inside your group.”



“Okay, I get it already. You made your point. It was a dangerous place to be, and you had no reason to risk your own people,” Lorne said. “Even I was sick of it at the end. I just had to walk away from that life.”



“But on the bright side, you came here and met me. And we got to have such entertaining repartee.”



Lorne chuckled. “Well, that makes it all worth it. I don't know how I lived without it.”



“Don't get too attached,” Xander said. “I'll leave and be just a fond memory.”



“You don't think you'll be back?”



“Sorry, this was a one time deal.”



“Double or nothing I see you in here again,” Lorne bet.



Xander once again entered Taggerty's early for his meeting with Dawn. He walked up and sat down at the bar.



“Club soda for the lovelorn man,” Trevor said, placing the drink in front of Xander. “So how goes it?”



“Better,” Xander answered. “Made some progress. One step closer to being done on this assignment.”



“And why is that a good thing?” Trevor asked. “Once you're done, you'll be leaving town.”



Xander looked at Trevor. “I thought you wanted to fix me up? The sooner I get done, the sooner I head out, get settled, and see about starting something with Phoebe in San Fran.”



Trevor shook his head. “Waiting for work assignments to be completed? Thinking about maybe catching up with some girl, if it's convenient? Doesn't exactly sound like true love to me.”



Xander sighed. “So what? My plans don't meet your criteria?”



“Let me ask you something. What is it about this Phoebe that makes you want to be with her?”



“I... We're in the same line of work. We -”



“Same line of work? That's the top of your list?” Trevor asked. “Seriously, you need to reprioritize what you want in a woman.”



“Jesus. Just once I'd like to start a relationship and not constantly be given grief over it. Her being in the same line of work simplifies things for me. There aren't going to be any nasty surprises popping up, there won't be any evasions or lies. I can actually be completely open and honest if I'm with her. Do you know how rare that is?”



“So there's no one else in your life you can be open and honest with?”



“Well... I -”



“Do me a favor, close your eye,” Trevor said.



“Why?”



“Because if you do this and still want Phoebe, then I'll quit bugging you.”



“Fine,” Xander said, closing his eye.



“Now imagine yourself having just the worst possible day. I mean total crap. Your breakfast is cold, you spilled your drink on your pants. You get stuck in traffic, with the air conditioning broken on the hottest day of the year. Are you visualizing it?”



“Yes.”



“Good. You go to lunch and you're stuck in line because the person in front of you has apparently never ordered food before. The guy beside you decides you're the perfect person to discuss his right wing politics with.”



“Is this going someplace?” Xander asked.



“Patience. Now at work, you get stuck with the most annoying coworker possible, but your boss doesn't care. Then it's back home through the traffic again.”



“You do have a point to all this, I hope.”



“Almost there,” Trevor said. “Now when you get home, you open the door, and there she is. Suddenly all the worries and frustration melt away when you see her. She's the best part of your day, the part that makes all the rest worthwhile.”



Trevor saw Xander had a small smile on his face.



“Now, be honest here. Is the woman you're imagining Phoebe?”



Xander frowned. “That's... Look that's a nice parlor game, but it doesn't prove anything.”



“I think we both know what it proved. But the fact is that the woman of your dreams is... Dawn! How you doing?”



Dawn sat down at the bar. “I'm just swell now that I'm with my two favorite guys in the world. What have you been up to?”



“Nothing, just passing the time with your friend Xander,” Trevor answered.



“Dawn, great to see you,” Xander said, smiling. He saw Trevor looking at him, and quickly dropped the smile. “I mean, yeah, you're here now. Which is fine.”



“I'm going to have to take him off your hands now, Trevor. I'll see you later.”



“Enjoy yourself,” Trevor said.



“We will.”



“I'm sure it'll be the best part of your day.”



Xander and Dawn sat on the couch in her apartment, watching DVDs and eating Chinese take-out.



“So, what's the deal with that Trevor guy? He says he's Cupid?” Xander asked.



“Trevor? He's a trip. At first, I thought he was only hanging around the singles group to score with desperate women. But he honestly only wants to help people hook up.”



“Okay, interesting habit. But he says he's Cupid. Is there the slightest chance that's possible?”



Dawn shrugged. “He's pretty well versed in his mythology. And he's fluent in Greek, Latin, and French. After living on the Hellmouth, I wouldn't rule anything out, no matter how weird.”



“Anya never mentioned love gods running around. And if they did, I'm sure they would have caused her a lot of business.”



“So he's either a former god stuck in human form, or a human he thinks he's a former god stuck in human form. Either way, he's harmless. Why are you asking? Do you want to recruit him for the new branch? Maybe the official matchmaker of the Watcher's Council?” Dawn joked.



“Well, he couldn't make any worse matches than the ones we made ourselves. But no, I'm just curious,” Xander answered. “Although now that you mentioned it, I was wondering if you could help set up a meeting for me with Claire.”



“Dr. Allen? You want to hire a therapist for the branch?” she asked.



“Well, considering everything...”



“Yeah. Therapist. Kind of wish Buffy had one when she needed it. And Willow.”



“And Giles,” Xander added. “And, let's be honest, me.”



“And me, too,” Dawn agreed. “Why don't you come with me tomorrow and you can talk to her.”



Friday



“I'm sorry, but I really can't accept,” Dr. Claire Allen told Xander.



“But I haven't told you everything yet. You see, the group you'd be helping aren't just any -”



“I'm sure that your organization has a dire need for trained counselors, but I'm afraid my schedule is already overbooked. Between my private practice, the research for my book, and my university staff position, I really can't take on any other duties.”



“I get that you're busy. But my organization is getting setup and will be opening in less than a month. It's vital that we get a trained therapist.”



“Does it have to be me?” Claire asked.



Xander stopped. “Uh... well. I mean Dawn talks about you so much, I figured you'd be the logical person to ask.”



“Tell you what,” Claire offered. “Normally, I'd just send you on your way, but Dawn is an extremely smart girl and she vouches for you. What I can do is recommend someone for that position and give you an introduction.”



“Uh, sure. That sounds fine.”



“Great. Now let me think,” Claire began going through a rolodex on her desk. “Dr. Hartley would be good. But he retired last year. Dr. Heightmeyer has been on some U. N. taskforce. Let me see...”



Xander peered over her shoulder as she went through the names.



“Libby! She's perfect. She.... oh, never mind.”



“What? Why not Libby?” Xander asked.



“She.... She was on vacation in Australia. Her return flight never made it to LA. It must have crashed, and everyone on it has been presumed dead,” Claire explained.



“Oh.”



“Let's see... Oh! This is a possibility. He just moved to Chicago, and I know he's trying to build up a private practice.”



Xander glanced at the name. “Hey, I've heard of that guy.”



“Have you? I know he had a radio show before he moved. Maybe you heard it.”



“No, I met a friend of his. I'd like to meet this guy.”



A little over an hour later, Xander arrived at the office. He entered and introduced himself.



“Dr. Crane? I'm Xander Harris.”



Frasier Crane looked up at the new arrival. “Xander, come in. And please call me Frasier. Now Dr. Allen didn't say much over the phone, but it sounded important.”



“Yeah. The organization I work for is going to be opening a branch in Chicago. Now it deals with a lot of high stress situations, and I wanted to have a psychiatrist perform regular counseling sessions,” Xander explained. “Dr. Allen mentioned that you were new to the city and were building up your practice. I also talked to someone recently who had high regard for you.”



“Who was that?” Frasier asked.



“Sam Malone.”



“Sam? That's great. I haven't seen him in years. How's the old dog doing?”



“He's good,” Xander replied.



“Did you spend much time with him?”



Xander shook his head. “No, I was only in town one night. I wound up talking to him. Spent pretty much the whole night at the bar with him. He mentioned you then.”



“Ah,” Frasier said. His eyes studied Xander for a moment, before he spoke. “So what kind of work does your organization do?”



“We....” Xander stopped and thought, formulating an answer. “You're probably a very rational, scientific person right? You wouldn't believe fantastic claims without some evidence first.”



“Well, yes,” Frasier answered. “My entire profession is helping people through examination. I help them go through their emotional and mental processes, review their personal history. I can't just jump to immediate conclusions without support. What does this have to do with your organization?”



“That will require a field trip to explain. Grab your coat. And do you know where the nearest ATM is?”



Lorne smiled as he saw Xander enter the club with another visitor. Xander spotted him, walked over, and handing a wad off cash to him.



“Don't. Just don't,” Xander said, wearily.



“Oh, my star and garters,” the visitor muttered as he looked around the club in amazement.



“Lorne, this is Dr. Crane. He's a psychiatrist. Dr. Crane, this is Lorne. He's an anagogic demon who owns and runs this nightclub.”



“Um, hello,” Frasier said. “Anagogic?”



“I can read people's auras when they sing. They come here, get up on stage and perform. Afterwards, I talk to them,” Lorne explained.



“Giving them guidance about their lives. It's so simple.”



“You buy all this?” Xander asked.



“There's a green skinned, horned demon two feet from me,” Frasier said. “All around the room, there's an astounding variety of creatures.”



“I gotta say, you're taking to this a lot quicker than I expected, Doc.”



“I like to think of myself as open to new situations,” Frasier turned to Lorne. “Do you mind if I went around, talking to the... patrons of this establishment?”



“Go right ahead,” Lorne said.



Hey baby, I hear the blues a'calling

Tossed salad and scrambled eggs.

And maybe I seem a bit confused,

Well, maybe, but I got you pegged.




Xander turned away from the stage, shaking his head.



“Don't like the song?” Lorne asked.



“I just don't get how someone can jump up on stage and lay themselves bare to be examined by a demon,” Xander said.



“Don't knock it 'til you try it.”



“Yeah, I don't think so.”



“Well,” Lorne said. “Would you like to make a small wager on -”



“No. Forget it. No more bets. No bets about me singing. No bets about me coming back to this place. I'm done. I've learned my lesson. Don't make wagers with psychics. Which, I don't know how you pulled off. I never sang on stage.”



Lorne smiled. “You don't have to be on stage for me to read you. It could be right when you walk in. And it doesn't have to be loud. Sometimes all it takes is humming a song that's been stuck in your head all week for me to get a reading.”



Xander sighed. “Son of a bitch. This is why I don't like psychics. They go nosing around and then I'm out two hundred bucks, or I retroactively get my eye gouged out. Or worst of all, they just drop these cryptic little hints about what's coming up, so I spend the next few weeks looking over my shoulder and jumping at shadows. I'm sick of it. I don't want to hear anything else about what you saw.”



“You sure?” Lorne asked.



“Positive. Now what do you get off the Doc? Is he going to join up?”



“Well, I would tell you, but I'd hate to drop some cryptic hint and make you jump at shadows.”



Frasier came off stage and approached Lorne and Xander.



“Reminds me of my old days in the Oxford men's choir.”



“Great,” Xander said. “You ready to head out?”



Frasier nodded, and they made their way to the door.



“Oh, Xander?” Lorne asked.



“Don't,” Xander said. “No bets. No hints. I'm walking out the door.”



“Okay. But when you get to Niagara Falls, could you pick me up a souvenir?”




Frasier watched Xander mutter as they drove back to his office.



“He just couldn't resist. Probably just said that to screw with me. Of course, he might have figured I'd ignore it, so he named a place he did see.”



“Are you all right?” Frasier asked.



“Yeah, sorry about that. So you got the gist of the job then?”



Frasier nodded. “Yes. It's incredible to think that there are people risking their lives every day against a danger most people don't even know exists.”



“I know. And you haven't even seen the really bad demons yet. The ones in the club there are pretty peaceful, so we don't tangle with them. But the vampires and other nasties.... It can get pretty rough,” Xander said.



“I can imagine. It must be very stressful. And people can react so differently to stress. There's depression, paranoia, alienation, recklessness.”



“Yeah, I've seen those.”



“Also anger control issues, power control issues... alcoholism.”



Xander saw Frasier studying him as he uttered the last word.



“What are you saying, Doc?” Xander asked.



“I noticed you ordered club soda at the bar back there.”



“Yeah, so?”



“And I know Sam Malone. When he spends all night with a person, it's usually a women he's flirting with. There's only one exception to that. When he's trying to help someone with the same problem he's got,” Frasier said.



Xander concentrated on driving the car.



“Look, I'm going to help your group. I believe regular counseling sessions would be beneficial. But I'll only do it as long as everyone takes them. The people in charge, as well as the Slayers.”



“Couldn't agree more, Doc.”



“So you don't have a problem talking to me?” Frasier asked.



“I'm not going to be in the city. I'm just setting everything up. Sorry. After that, I'm going out to San Francisco.”



“Ah. Well, if you ever want to talk, I'm listening,” Frasier offered. “You know I almost moved to San Francisco. I changed my mind at the last minute and came to Chicago instead.”



“Really?”



“Oh, yes. I had a great job lined up. I was packed up, even bought the plane ticket.”



“What made you change?” Xander asked.



“The best reason possible. A woman. Her name is Charlotte. We began dating, but she had to come out here. I decided to take a chance to be with her”



“Huh. Seems like a pretty big risk. I don't know if I could do that.”



“Looking back on it, I don't know how I couldn't,” Frasier said. “I look forward to working with your group.”



Saturday



Xander sat at the bar in Taggerty's, waiting for Dawn to arrive.



“Club soda?”



“Thanks, Trevor,” Xander said, accepting the drink.



“So, who you waiting for?” Trevor asked.



“Dawn. She's offered up her Saturday to help me go looking at real estate.”



Trevor nodded. “She must really like you to do that. You're lucky you have a girl in your life like that.”



“Look, Trevor,” Xander said. “I get what you're trying to do. So you can stop dropping hints about it.”



Trevor looked at Xander in complete innocence. “Trying to do? What are you talking about?”



“I know you're trying to set me up with Dawn. But I've already told you that I'm heading out to San Francisco soon, and once I'm out there, I'll look up Phoebe Halliwell.”



“You don't think Dawn's good enough for you?”



Xander laughed. “Dawn is.... Dawn is funny, smart, brave.... she's braver than you'll ever know. I've watched her grow up from a cute little kid to a beautiful woman. And whoever she chooses to spend her life with will never know how he's the luckiest person in the world. If I wind up with someone who has even half her qualities, then I'll consider myself the second luckiest person in the world.”



“So, if you think she's so great, why don't you ask her out? Go on a date? Kiss her? Anything?” Trevor asked.



Xander rubbed his eye. “In high school, there were these two girls I was friends with. And at the time, I couldn't imagine ever not being friends with them. But over the years, even though we could survive all the external pressures, we wound up slowly growing apart. I told the first girl I had feelings for her, but she never felt that way about me. And I think that tainted every argument between us from then on. Any advice I gave her was taken with the suspicion that I was only working out of jealousy. And I remembered every thoughtless action I received from her, wondering how she could treat me like that while lavishing such love on people who caused her and others nothing but pain.



“The other girl was my closest friend from childhood. I guess I always knew on some unconscious level that she wanted me, but I never admitted it. When we finally acted on our feelings, it lasted a few weeks before we both figured out we wanted to be with other people. And after that we never had the same closeness. We just slowly drifted apart. I sensed it, and kept trying be a part of her life. But year after year, I would try harder and harder and get less and less back. Then we had a fight that a few years before might have taken us a day to get over. But instead I haven't spoken to her in over two years.



“So those two people I thought I would friends forever with, I haven't spoken to in years. The difficulties that friends can just shrug off, can be crippling when romantic feelings are involved. A bad joke from a friend becomes a cutting remark from someone you love. A thoughtless action becomes a stinging reminder of how little respect that person holds for you.



“Right now, I'm friends with Dawn. She's pretty much the only one of my old group I'm still close friends with. You have no idea how important that is in my life. I won't risk it for anything. And I am just too damn tired of having the relationships with people I care about just crumble apart. So Dawn is my friend, and I'm going to keep it that way.”



Xander straightened up and drank from his glass. Trevor watched him closely.



“So, Dawn is so important to you that to protect your friendship, you'll deny any deeper feelings and move halfway across the country from her. That means that you'll see her... what, twice a year at best?”



“I'm done talking about this.”



Xander got up and moved to a table a few feet from the door. Minutes later, Dawn entered.



“Okay, how much do you love me?” Dawn asked.



“What? I... uh -”



“Because I have just found the perfect location for you.”



“Huh? What are you talking about?” Xander asked.



“You were talking about how you were having trouble finding a place to set up the branch headquarters. Well, I've been going on line looking for real estate properties, and I think I found the place for you. I even set up a meeting with the Realtor. But we have to leave now.”



“This place is perfect,” Xander said.



“It used to be a fire station. But it was closed down a couple of years ago when there were budget cuts,” Dawn explained.



“It's great. There's living quarters upstairs. Kitchens, bathrooms. There's wide open spaces for training. Storage area for equipment. Plus it's located in Central Chicago. There's no downside.”



“All of which I took into account when looking for a place. And the city's eager to dump the property, so you can get a great deal on the price.”



Xander smiled at Dawn. “You found this. You are so amazing.”



Dawn blushed at the compliment. “I'm just trying to help.”



“Well, you did more than just help. You managed to find exactly what we needed. I thought we were going to spend the entire day at rundown places, instead we got it on the first try. Let me talk to the Realtor about the paperwork, then we can enjoy the rest of the day,” Xander headed towards the other room, stopped and turned back to Dawn. “Hey, let's do something fun when we're done here. Think of what you want to do today.”



Dawn smiled to herself as she watched him leave the room to talk to the Realtor.



“Dear god, I think this place is bigger than Sunnydale,” Xander said.



“Navy Pier is about 10 football fields long,” Dawn informed him. “I've been wanting to go down it, but I never had anyone to go with.”



“Well, it's a good thing I showed up. I'd hate for you to miss out on all the shopping.”



“We can shop after the Ferris Wheel. C'mon,” she said, grabbing Xander's hand and pulling him along.



“I can't remember the last time I actually just had a day off for fun. I'm not sure if I remember how it's done.”



“It'll come back to you. Just give it a moment.”



“Got it. So which stores did you want to hit first. I warn you that I can only carry so much.”



“Xander, don't worry. I'm not going to make you blow the Council's money.”



“The Council's not paying for this. It's all on me.”



“Then I'm definitely not splurging. I can't make you spend whatever savings you have on me.”



Xander shook his head. “It's really not a problem. After Sunnydale, I've been pretty well off. Anya left everything to me and... I'm sorry. You don't want to hear me talk about her.”



“That's okay. Go ahead,” Dawn said.



“No. I know most people didn't like her. So I won't bore you.”



“I want to hear you talk about her.”



“Why?” Xander asked.



“Because you smile when you reminisce. And I miss seeing you do that,” Dawn explained.



“In that case, Anya was actually pretty loaded when she died. I always knew she was a whiz with money, but I had no idea. She kept bank accounts scattered across the country and none of them were in local Sunnydale banks. It's funny, because when we were engaged she never told me she was worth so much. She must have been hiding it from me,” Xander said, then gave a small laugh. “Either that, or after we broke up, she robbed a bank.”



Dawn laughed along with Xander. “That's... wasn't there a bank robbery that last year in -”



“FRIED TWINKIES!” Xander yelled, as he spotted the food kiosk. “We have got to try these.”



“Two hot dogs!” Xander yelled at the vendor.



“No more. Please, I'm begging you.”



“Dawn, normally I would let you bow out, but we're at Wrigley Field. We have to try the hot dogs here,” Xander told her.



As the hot dogs were passed over to them, they settled back to watch the game. As the inning ended and the Cubs took the field, Dawn turned to Xander.



“All right, top five favorite moments. Let's hear them.”



“Moments... like of my life?” Xander asked.



“Yeah. Like one of mine would be the night Mom came out of surgery. She had gotten a clean bill of health. The whole gang was at the hospital and everybody was so happy. Buffy and Riley spent the night at home, so you and Anya took me in and we went to see that hockey movie with the monkey. I think that was the last time everyone I cared about was right there.”



“I don't know. I can't think about that time without knowing how Riley would be taking off right afterwards, and how your Mom...” Xander trailed off. “Okay, right after graduation. There was this brief moment just after we blew up the school with the mayor in it. We just stood around and realized high school was over and we survived. But it ended and the ambulances arrived and I saw how many students hadn't made it through the fight.”



“I got one. The end of the last summer in Sunnydale. Buffy was actually spending time with me and even training me. You were practically living at the house, helping out with everything. And we didn't have vengeance demon Anya, black eyed Willow, or bathroom rapist Spike to worry about. It was just us three,” Dawn said.



“That was a nice time,” Xander agreed. “All right, Senior year, the first day Buffy was back. We survived Angelus and the summer without a Slayer. Things were finally getting back to normal. Your turn.”



“Oh. Um... the Halloween engagement party we threw for you and Anya. Buffy seemed like she was settling in. Giles had just come back. I had a date lined up with someone I did not yet know was a vampire.”



“Ignorance is bliss. Until it bites you in the ass.”



“But I did enjoy that bliss. You're up,” Dawn prompted him.



“The night... actually the morning after the Sisterhood of Jhe attacked.”



“Oh, god. Was that the night you slept with Faith?”



“Yeah, but that's not the reason. The gang was preparing for the fight with the She-Demons, but they were keeping me locked out of it. So I wound up spending the night running around dealing with a zombie gang. By the end of the night, I stared down the leader of the gang and disabled a homemade bomb in the school basement. Then the next morning, I ran into Cordelia. She started ripping into me, but I just smiled and walked on by. It really pissed her off, 'cause she couldn't figure out why I wasn't paying attention to her.”



“Wow,” Dawn said. “I never knew that.”



“I never told anyone before. You're the first person to hear about it.”



“Wow. Um.... okay after I thought I was a potential Slayer and...” Dawn trailed off as she glanced at Xander. She saw a slow smile break out on his face, so she continued. “And you told me how difficult it was to be a normal person when everyone around you was special. Then you called me extraordinary. I just... it meant a lot to me to hear you say that.”



“I do have my moments,” Xander closed his eye in the memory. “All right, my next one is the night I came back from the hospital.”



“You mean when we had the huge fight with Buffy and kicked her out of the house?” Dawn asked.



“I think she threw herself out at that point. But before that happened, just as I got inside I got this flying tackle hug from you. In the hospital only Buffy and Willow were there. Buffy couldn't get out fast enough. And Willow was on the verge of breaking down, so she wasn't much help. But when I got back and the first thing that happened was you hugging me. That was the first time I actually thought things would be all right.” Xander took a bite from his hot dog, followed by a sip of his soda.

“Okay, how many does that make? Is it five?”



“That's four a piece. One left for each of us. What's rounding out your list.”



“Honestly?” Xander asked. “I think today is cracking the top five for me.”



“Yeah,” Dawn agreed. “Me too.”



Sunday



Dawn sat inside Taggerty's Bar and Grill, recounting in detail her activities the prior night to Trevor and Claire.


“Then after the game, we went to Millennium Park. At first we tried to ice skate, but Xander wasn't, well he sucked at it. Kept falling down. After he got tired of all the six year olds laughing and skating in circles around him, we went and walked through the gardens. We decided to rename all the flowers after whatever body part they most resembled. Turns out there are lot of flowers that are phallic shaped.”



“Sounds like a night to remember,” Claire observed.



“It was, hands down, the best day I've had in Chicago. I mean I never went to these places just on my own.”



“I'm sure the company wasn't too shabby either,” Trevor added.



“That might have been a factor,” she said. “Oh, and although he had a meeting this morning, Xander called and said he wanted to meet me here. So tonight could be even better.”



“Sounds like you're really into this guy.”



“Xander? No we're just.... Okay, yes. I'm really into him. I admit it. I swear, I feel just like I did growing up. It's like that stupid crush never left. I mean some things are different. Xander didn't ruffle my hair at the end of the night then go off to have sex with his girlfriend.”



“Bit of a mixed message with that one.”



“I know. I was convinced that all it would take was one kiss and he'd be so overcome with passion we would have mad passionate love right there. But that never happened,” Dawn lamented. “Of course, I was thirteen then, so it's probably best he didn't.”



“You're not thirteen anymore, though,” Trevor pointed out.



“Yeah, and Xander's finally twigged to that. I caught him checking out my cleavage last night at one point. I mean he pretended he didn't but I could tell.”



“So what are you doing about that?” Claire asked.



“I'm wearing a wonder bra today,” Dawn answered. She pushed her chest out. “Is it working?”



“Very nice, but try putting your hands behind your back. It looks more natural. And try to sway,” Trevor advised. “Looks like he's here.”



Dawn turned and spotted Xander coming in. He glanced around anxiously before spotting her.



“Dawn, great.”



“Hey, Xander. Glad you to see you. So what's on the agenda for today? Because I was thinking we could go down the Magnificent Mile today. We could get a nice Sunday brunch then -”



“Yeah, I wanted to talk to you,” Xander interrupted. “I wanted to say how great this past week has been.”



Dawn nodded as she listened. She glanced at Trevor and saw him pushing his chest out and nodding to her. She clasped her hands behind her back and began gently swaying.



“I mean you've been such a huge help to me. With the help finding the building, then telling me about Caritas,” Xander's eye glanced down. He quickly looked backup, but his gaze slowly fell back down. “'Cause I got to take all the people there... to prove to them about.... like demons... and stuff...” He shook his head as his face flushed with heat.



“Did you want to grab a table?” Dawn asked.



“God, yes,” Xander answered.



As they sat down, Xander kept his head up, never lowering his gaze below Dawn's chin. “As I was saying, you've done so much. Giving me a place to crash, so I wouldn't be stuck in yet another hotel room, cleaning me up after I was roughed up.”



“I couldn't just ignore you.”



“Actually, yeah you could have. But you didn't. And just hanging out with you has been so great. This past week has been phenomenal.”



Dawn beamed. “It's been pretty cool for me too.”



“Glad to hear it,” Xander said. “I just wanted to let you know that and say goodbye before I left.”



“Goodbye?” Shock flashed across her face. “I thought you said you would be out here for at least a couple of weeks.”



“Well, I finished everything I needed to. I got the contacts set up. And this morning I met with the Realtor and signed all the papers to buy the place we saw yesterday. Hell, if you hadn't helped me out, it would have taken a lot longer.”



“So, you're leaving?” Dawn's voice cracked.



“Yeah. I already talked to Robin and Faith, so they're waiting for me. I just... I had to say goodbye. This has been... I'll never forget this past week.”



Xander leaned in and hugged Dawn. She sat rigid for a second before hugging him tightly in return.



“You're really going.”



“Yeah, I am,” Xander said.



“Of course you are. You told me that when you got here. So, it was fun hanging with you. Say hi to the gang out there.”



“Sure,” Xander mumbled. “Hey, I'll give you a call once I get out there. Sound good?”



Dawn nodded and turned away. With her back to him, she wiped a tear from her eye.



“So, I guess that's it. I'll.... I'm glad you were here.... It was... I'm just glad to have spent time with you.”



Xander turned and headed out the door. As the door closed after him, Dawn sat down at the bar. The tears began rolling down her cheek.



“Oh, Dawn. Are you okay?” Claire asked.



“Yeah,” Dawn sniffled. “I mean, I don't know what I was expecting. I knew he would be leaving as soon as he did his work. Stupid to think otherwise. I'm so stupid.”



“Hey, you're not stupid,” Trevor said. “He's the stupid one. If he can't see how great you are then he's not worth the effort.”



“He's not stupid, but thank you for saying that,” she said, wiping her eyes.



Xander got in his Humvee and stared blankly out the front window.



“Mr. Xander? Are we leaving now?”



Xander turned to his passenger, the small Fraggle named Gobo. “Yeah, I just... give me a moment. Then we'll head on out.”



Xander rested his forehead on the steering wheel, taking deep breaths. After a minute he sat back up.



“I'm sorry,” Gobo said.



Xander glanced at him. “What are you sorry about?”



“For whatever bad thing happened to you.”



“Uh, what.... No bad thing happened to me, Gobo.”



“Are you sure?” Gobo asked. “You look so sad. And silly creatures only look sad when something bad happens to them. I learned that from my careful study of them.”



Xander chuckled. “Well, you're the expert. But I'm not sad because something bad happened. I...there's....”



“Why are you sad, Mr. Xander?”



“When people... sometimes you have to....” Xander trailed off. He took a deep breath. “I'm sad because I haven't said what I need to say.”




Trevor placed the drink before Dawn, as Claire talked to her.



“Maybe you should take a couple days rest,” she advised. “You've been showing Xander around town all week on top of going to class. You could use a day or two off.”



“I don't want to stay home. If I do that, I'll just lie in bed feeling like crap.”



“Then we could do something. I could use a nice brunch today. What do you say? My treat,” Claire offered.



“I'm not very hungry.”



Trevor stood before Dawn. “The important thing is to not let this knock you down. Just remember, the best medicine is... walking right back in towards you.”



Dawn turned and saw Xander coming back into Taggerty's. He strode over to her.



“Dawn, I... have you been crying? I... never mind. I have to ask you something,” he said.



“What? Aren't you supposed to be on the road?”



Xander took a deep breath. “What if I didn't go to San Francisco? What if I stayed here in Chicago? I could ask for a staff position in the new branch.”



“Then... then you would wind up working for Willow. And Kennedy. And last I checked, you weren't on speaking terms with them,” Dawn said.



“So, I suck it up and make peace with them. I'll apologize, I'll grovel, I'll beg if I have to. Hell, right now I would take a job as Principal Snyder's personal ass wiper if it meant I could stay in Chicago.”



“Why... why is staying so important to you?”



“Because until this past week I've been wandering around feeling emotionally dead for so long. But I realized something.”



“What did you realize?”



“How much I need you in my life. I love telling you about my day over a meal. I love being able to talk about whatever's bugging me and knowing you're really listening. I love going to sleep knowing I'm going to spend time with you the next day. I love waking up in the morning and you're the first person I see. I love....” Xander paused, building up his nerve. “I love you. Dawn Summer, I love you.”



Dawn stood, barely breathing, absorbing what he just said.



“I know this is out of the blue,” Xander continued. “But I had to tell you. And I know that you'll need time to take this all in. I won't push you, but please just -”



Dawn launched herself at Xander, pulling him into a deep kiss. He froze, then began kissing her back. His hand came up and cupped her face.



Claire and Trevor smiled as they watched the two. Claire turned to Trevor. “I think we should give them a little privacy.”



“I just never get tired of seeing this moment,” Trevor said, before returning to the bar.



Claire walked away, not noticing the small figure climb up onto one of the bar stools. Trevor glanced and saw the figure sitting before him.



“Mr. Trevor, is Mr. Xander going to be happy now?” Gobo asked.



“He's going to be fine,” Trevor answered.



“I said what told me to. Did that help?”



“It sure did, little dude. You were great. And I've got some fresh radishes for you as a reward.”



Trevor placed a plate of sliced radishes before Gobo. The Fraggle quickly began devouring them as Trevor looked back at Xander and Dawn. “Damn, I'm good.”



The End.

The End

You have reached the end of "Playing Cupid". This story is complete.

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