A/N: Thanks to everyone who read and those that shared your thoughts. This is the end for now, though the next part should be put up shortly for anyone interested. Hope you all enjoyed.
The library was starting to feel like her home away from home which, when she thought about it, was really sad. She had a real home, a good home. Her mother cared about her. She wasn't wanting for anything in the way of food or comfort there and she had a nice big comfortable bed to sleep in. All in all, she really should spend more time there but she didn't. It may have seemed nice but her loving and caring mother didn't know her, not really and because of that it made the space feel awkward. She was the Slayer and that made up a large portion of who she was. Up until very recently, she had been the one girl in all the world who did all that killing evil stuff. Then, Kendra had come to town and it turned out that she wasn't alone after all. There was someone else who was like her.
That didn't even last a day. Life, as she was more than well aware of, liked to twist the knife a bit sometimes. After she had finally accepted the fact the Kendra was another Slayer, an active one and not just some potential, she had been taken away. Specifically it had been that Order of Taraka assassin who had done it, the one who had dressed as a cop some two weeks earlier. All it had taken were a few lucky shots and Kendra had died. Brutally and messily.
After it had happened, it had been easy to blame Xander for her death. After all, he had been the one who had pushed his plan on them. Well, more like he snuck it in there without even trying that hard. She was so concerned about Angel that she didn't even notice what he had done till the next day. It was underhanded and so unlike Xander that she wouldn't have thought that he would have been capable of it. Well, Old Xander anyway. This new Xander, the one from after Halloween, she didn't know at all. Even so, after a couple of weeks she couldn't continue to blame him completely for the death of the Kendra.
That wasn't to say that he wasn't to blame partially. It was still him running in there loose and erratic that had helped to get her killed. Not to mention that if what Spike said was true then Xander had helped him decipher the book that started the mess with Angel in the first place. Xander had made these choices of his own free will without anyone twisting his arm to do so. Yea, she understood that he had been through something that none of them had due to the spell but so what? So he had to deal with monsters and other sort of nasty things. Was that any different to what she had to do on a nightly basis? Come on! Some of the things he had said couldn't possibly be true anyway. How could gods walk around like he said they did and how the hell did this Lilith person even exist without anyone knowing about her?
Sighing, Buffy calmed herself down. She was getting worked up and was starting to attack Xander again. At least this time it was in her head and not in front of Willow or Giles. She didn't really think those things about him, well, not completely. It was mostly just frustration and it hurt talking. None of them had seen or heard from Xander in two weeks, going on three now and they were all starting to worry. The last time she had let her emotions speak for her in front of either of them, Willow had almost started to cry while Giles had gone stone faced and went into his office for the better part of an hour before going home.
They had tried looking for him after the first two days of not seeing him. They were all worried, even if they weren't happy with him. Buffy still didn't think that she had overreacted, everything considered. But she would have liked to have the chance to talk to him about it. All of them would have, actually. If they could, they wanted to help him work out whatever was going on with him. That didn't mean he was forgiven or that they would ever be friends again but she didn't want anything to happen to him either.
Willow was practically freaking out every time anyone mentioned Xander's name. She was taking this hard and it was understandable. Both girls had made two different trips to Xander's house looking for him but his father, reeking of alcohol, said that he hadn't been home in a while and good riddance. Of course that had been after five minutes of him leering at both of them and slurring his words to the point of incomprehension. It had taken everything in her not to punch the man, especially after seeing that Willow seemed to be used to his mannerisms. She knew that Xander had a bad home life but she hadn't really thought about what that meant. Willow was a different story but she just seemed to accept it. Maybe it had been the fact that she had seen it since she was little that it never went beyond just comforting Xander but now it was different. Now things had changed and opened both of their eyes. Willow was guilt ridden about not doing more to help Xander back before all of this had happened and blamed herself for Xander's new attitude, at least partially even though it didn't make a whole lot of sense to do so.
Giles was doing what he did best, which was researching. He too was blaming himself for his part in what happened. A lot of his research was focused on trying to find a way to reverse the spell that had infused the memories and abilities of that John Taylor guy into Xander but it wasn't going well. All attempts to track down Ethan Rayne had failed though they did know that he had fled Sunnydale a few days after Halloween looking like hell. What worried Buffy a bit was the fact that Giles seem to think that they should have seen this coming and done more to prevent it. She had even heard him mumbling curses at himself under his breath when he was searching for some kind of an answer. It had been something about listening to himself and blasting the consequences. When she had suggested going to the Nightside to find John Taylor to make him help them he had practically thrown her out of the library. He had blown up at her which he had never done before. It was the only time she had ever seen him act like that and she didn't bring it up again.
The doors to the library opened as Willow came in. Her face was downcast as it always seemed to be nowadays but she still offered her a small smile in greeting. "Hey, Buff. How's your mom holding up?"
"She's better. Still a bit wigged over the whole thing, but she's repressing real well. I should probably start worry about that," Buffy frowned slightly.
A few days earlier, her mom had brought home someone she had been dating. On top of the usual weirdness of the situation, he had turned out to be a robot who wanted to kidnap her and play pretend husband and wife till she died. After the whole mess and being accused of killing what they thought was then her mom's human boyfriend, she sent the thing to the scrap pile and cleared her name. Her mom thought that he had been some psychotic who had wanted to kill her, which while partially true was better than the whole truth.
"At least Thanksgiving helped her keep occupied. I swear that she forgets that it's just the two of us now. If you hadn't come over I'd probably be having turkey sandwiches till Christmas," Buffy said trying to keep the topic slightly light. It didn't have the reaction she had hoped though as Willow's face fell a bit. "Will's, what's wrong? I thought you had a good time that day?"
"What? Oh, yea, I did. It's just…It's almost Christmas time," Willow said sadly.
"You're Jewish. Don't you mean Chanukah time?"
"Yea, but Xander…every year he used to sneak a way for me to watch the Charlie Brown special and…and he'd do the Snoopy dance," Willow didn't get teary eyed this time but looked down at her feet as she sat down.
Buffy could have smacked herself for not seeing how the conversation would have led to this. Hell, Willow and Xander had so much history it was hard to bring up any topic without Willow thinking about something that Xander used to do. It was harder still with the holidays coming up and it was going to be tough for Willow without Xander being around. But, no matter what they did or where they looked the young man just couldn't be found. They were all thinking it but no one wanted to say that something may have happened to him. Willie had told Buffy that he hadn't heard anything about Xander being knocked off and had even suggested that anyone would have to be stupid to even try it. He wouldn't elaborate no matter how much Buffy threatened him and she had started wondered why the guy seemed so defensive with the information about Xander.
"I'm sure that we'll be able to find him before then, Will's. He'll be dancing for you before you know it," Buffy lied.
Willow stared at her before shaking her head. "No, he won't, Buffy. Even if we do find him, I don't even know if he would want to come back or...or if he even could."
"What do you mean?"
"He's…he's not Xander anymore, Buffy. I mean, he's still Xander b-but not our Xander. I don't know who he is anymore. I want to help him, I really do but what can we really do?" Willow asked.
"I don't know, Willow. We talk to him, I guess. Get him to stop doing whatever it is he's doing. Get him to go back, well, not home but somewhere," Buffy stopped for a second and looked at her friend concerned. "Do you really think he had been spending all those nights sleeping in alleys?"
Willow didn't answer. She looked as if she might start crying but with a few shuddering breathes, she calmed herself down. It was just as well since at that moment Giles came out of his office holding, of all things, a few slips of paper printing paper.
"Ah, good, you're both here," the Watcher said walking over to the table they were at. "I had just gotten off the phone with a friend of mine in London trying to track down any information on the Nightside and John Taylor. It took me some time to convince him that I wasn't planning on going there and even then he was reluctant to speak to me about the blasted place."
"You really think that knowing more about this place that we might be able to help Xander? You don't want us to talk to that John guy but knowing about him is going to do something?" Buffy asked slightly irked at all the research without anything to do with it.
Leafing through the pages in his hand, looking for the right ones, Giles sighed as if tired of explaining the same thing over and over again. "Buffy, I've told you time and again that you are not allowed to try to find Mr. Taylor for any point or purpose. The Council has been adamant about leaving the Nightside alone and in this case I'd have to agree. If even a quarter of what we have found out is true the place would be far too dangerous. But the more we know about it the better equipped we'll be to understand what Xander has been through.
"As it turns out, my friend Finnis had a cousin who went to the Nightside every so often. He was the black sheep of the family, as it were. Into...well, things that are better left unsaid. The last time he went there he barely made it out alive and he had completely lost his mind. Finnis said that after a few months in an asylum he was finally able to speak coherently and even managed to draw a few pictures of what had made him loose his mind. Apparently, this was also something that Taylor had gone up against and walked away from which should give us some starting off point. The thing he saw, the thing that had driven him mad went by many names. Two of them being the Lamentation and The Saint of Suffering. I've never heard of the thing myself except for maybe a handful of passages and even then it was never really spoken of. I had Finnis send me a copy of his cousins drawing over the, uh, faxing machine."
"Wow, Giles using technology. This really must be important," Buffy said and was glad to see that it at least got a small smile from Willow.
Rolling his eyes, Giles found what he was looking for and furrowed his brow. Continuing to stare at the sheet in front of him, Giles seemed to grow pale before Buffy's eyes and then muttered. "Oh…oh my."
Seeing the concern on the man's face, Buffy and Willow exchanged a look. "What's the deal? How bad can it be?"
Still not looking away from the page in front of him, Giles narrowed his eyes slightly before answering. "I-I-I know what it is he saw now. I-it didn't go under the, uh, name that Finnis said. Not when..."
Starting to worry, Buffy stood up ready to take a look at what had startled Giles so much. When she reached for it however, Giles moved further away, his eyes still not leaving the paper. Without so much as another word, Giles dropped the rest of the papers to the floor and started to tear the one with the picture on it into shreds to the shock of his Slayer and her friend.
"Giles, what's going on? What's got you so wigged?" Buffy asked.
"That's enough for today, I think," Giles said, his voice steady but ready to crack. He held the torn pieces in his hand gingerly as if afraid they might somehow reform and hurt him if he wasn't careful.
"Alright, you're starting to freak me out here. What's the deal here, Giles?"
"I said go home!" he snapped causing both girls to jump slightly. Not waiting for either one to say another word, he turned and went back into his office, shutting the door tight.
Exchanging a look, Buffy and Willow frowned but didn't say anything. Silently, both not wanting to make too much noise, they collected their belongings and headed for the door. Before leaving, they chanced a look through the window and saw Giles sitting in his chair, glasses in his hand staring at the object on his desk. From what they could make out it was a small urn holding the shredded paper. Giles had set the corners of it on fire and it was eating it up hungrily. Whatever it was about this thing that had Giles so freaked wasn't a joke. Not just that, but it had a connection to the Nightside and John Taylor in which case it had something to do with Xander. For the umpteenth time that day alone, Buffy cursed Ethan Rayne and his damn spell.
Breathing in the night air, Xander felt himself relax a bit. He needed a walk to clear his head and while the slightly cool air wasn't exactly a substitute for the Nightside's rain slicked city streets, the full moon hanging in the sky was nice. Sure, it wasn't nearly as large as the one in the Nightside but that was just fine with him. At the howl of a wolf in the distance, he suppressed a shudder thinking that the sound may have been pushing things a bit though. He didn't know if Sunnydale had any werewolves but he couldn't see why not. The town was full of things that none of them had even thought about before so why not werewolves? Either way, it was time to head back. He had an appointment to keep.
It was a couple of days till December and he hadn't talked to Buffy, Willow or Giles since the night outside the church. He had spied on them a bit, just to see how they where, but had made sure that they didn't see him. Buffy still seemed pretty pissed about things from what he could tell. He couldn't blame her really, though that did little to make him feel better. It hurt him to see how much it was affecting Willow but it was for the best. He wasn't a part of them, he couldn't be anymore.
Seeing Kendra's body had been the wake-up call he needed. It was sad and he still blamed himself but he used it. He took it inside of himself and forged it into determination to do better. To do what was needed, to do what no one else could. Make the hard choices, as John would say. He didn't doubt that his friends, or ex-friends rather, wouldn't do what they could to help people but he didn't think they had it in them to do some of the harder things in life. To walk that fine line that didn't have any clear cut choices. Well, maybe Giles but that was about it. He couldn't put his finger on it but Xander could sense something underneath the Watcher's calm tweed clad appearance.
Quickening his pace to both make it to his appointment and to get off the streets, Xander put his hands in his coat pockets and stared dead ahead. The alleyways and streets were no longer safe for him after dark. The vampires that Spike had told to lay off and watch over him hadn't taken it kindly that he had nearly done away with Spike and where gunning for him, some with less gusto then others. After all, when the Order of Taraka backs away and you nearly turn a master vampire into a eunuch people get hesitant about confronting you.
It had been while Xander was doing an actual bit of detective work a week after everything went down that he heard about the Order and Spike. He had been tracking down any lead on the Order of Taraka to make sure they had either left town or to see what they were planning next for Buffy that he had found their contact person in Sunnydale. The Order was claiming that since they had been contracted to kill the Slayer that the murder of Kendra qualified that they had finished the job. The contract had never stipulated the name of the Slayer involved since at the time no one had known about the other one. It was a loophole but it was the only way for them to save face and pull out without any more damage. This had apparently turned into Xander running them out of town and he wasn't about to correct anybody.
The bleached blonde had survived, more or less intake, along with Drusilla but both where laying low and licking their wounds. No one that was talking had any beat on the two of them but their minions were roaming the streets. If they hadn't left town yet then it was just a matter of time before they struck back at either him or Buffy or both probably. Something else to worry about.
Adding these two little events to the night with the Mayor and Xander was earning himself quite the reputation. It was enough to keep the flies off him for the moment and that was enough for him.
Luckily he didn't hit anything unfriendly on the way to Willie's place. He nodded to the bartender as he walked in and took a look around. The little guy nodded back and continued filling glasses.
The place wasn't packed but it was busy enough to keep Willie going and the noise level up enough that you couldn't eavesdrop easily. None of the other patrons bothered him as he waited at the end of the bar for Willie. Fact of the matter is he had started spending so much time here that if they weren't wary of him enough to stay away, they had started to see him as a regular of sorts and let it go at that.
After about five minutes, Willie came over with a dishrag slung over his shoulder and an easy smile on his face. "I don't know what the hell has the demons jumping tonight but I'll take it, ya know kid? Things have been picking up steadily but nothing like this."
"Must be the promise of all those bar snacks you keep going on about," Xander joked.
"Hey, mock me if you want but I have it from a very reliable source that most demons go nuts for anything deep fried. No idea why and between you and me, I don't want to know, OK? As long as they don't ask for anything to crazy and it gets them in here, I'm all for it," Willie grabbed a few glasses from under the bar and started filling them. Some with liqueur and others with things Xander would rather not think about. "Tonight's the night you got that whole talk going down, right?"
Sighing, Xander nodded his head. "Yea. Couldn't really put it off forever. Besides, might learn something valuable. If nothing else, at least pass on something helpful to them."
"Angel's good people, kid. He won't do you wrong. A bit hard when it comes to getting information at times, but he won't screw you over."
Raising an eyebrow, Xander said, "Is this your version of a glowing endorsement? Ideas of good and bad, Willie? Here I thought you were just some morally ambagious booze slinger."
For some reason this seemed to stop Willie in his fluid movements. He looked down at the half poured glass for a moment, his eyes somewhere else though. "Morally ambiguous, huh? If only it were that simple."
Xander was caught off guard by the other man's sudden shift in mood. Willie and him had talked a lot over the past couple of weeks actually but they never got on the topic of the man himself. Now that he thought about it, the only reason Xander even knew that Willie was from New York from the stories he would tell about growing up and the man’s accent. He wanted to ask him what he was talking about but thought better of it. If he wanted to tell him something he would, simple as that.
Nodding his head to the both furthest in the back, Xander said, "I'll be back there, Willie. When Angel get's here, let me know."
"Yea, sure thing, kid," the bartender nodded, still lost in thought.
Xander didn't have to wait long before Angel showed up. Not more than five minutes later, the vampire walked into the bar and Xander watched as Willie directed him over to where he was sitting. Both men nodded by way of greeting then sat there in awkward silence.
Angel had been the one to make contact with Xander about meeting to talk to begin with, leaving a message with Willie for him about the day and time. By that logic, Xander didn't think that it was up to him to start off the conversation. Never mind the fact that he was more than a little out of place at the moment. It had been his fault that Spike had almost sucked him dry in order to get Drusilla up to full strength and while Angel had mentioned about not holding him responsible, it made Xander tense none the less.
After a few minutes of looking around at everything other then the person in front of them, Angel finally spoke up. "So, you seem to be alright."
"Yea, nothing to really complain about," Xander lied.
Fixing him with a look, Angel stopped his own fidgeting and got down to business. "They're concerned."
"Who is?" Xander played dumb. He didn't have a real reason to, he just felt like being difficult. Call it childish if you want but it still made Xander smile to bug Angel.
"You know who. Buffy may still be angry but I can hear it in her voice. She's worried about you. Worried about what's happened to you. She's not the only one."
The humor that had been in his eyes died and he became somber. "Yea, I know. I've seen them. But you know as well as I do that I can't go back to them. Let's say that for some strange reason that Buffy and the rest of them could forgive me for what happened. What then? What happens the next time something goes down where either they can't bring themselves to do something that might make sense but is too hard for them to do or I go and do things my way? Buffy lives by different rules then I do now. She can't do the things I can do and she shouldn't have to."
"And Willow? What about her? You don't think that she needs to see that you’re alright?"
Looking up, Xander glared at the man across the table from him. "Don't."
"Don't what? Tell you something that you should already know?" Angel said, returning the look with one of his own.
"You know how much it hurts to drag myself away from them, Willow most of all. She's family to me."
"Then why do it?"
The anger was still there but this time it was directed at himself. Looking down again, breaking eye contact, Xander said softly, "Because if I don't, she'll get hurt. They all will. That's not some vague comment but a fact. I'm a target and anyone who's close to me will be collateral."
Angel didn't say anything but Xander could feel his eyes on him. He wasn't trying to be mean, he was trying to understand. Trying to help. It didn't feel like it and part of him, a large part of him, resented the fact that he was even offering it. There wasn't any help for him at this point short of going back in time and stopping all of this from happening but that wasn't going to happen. Well, it could, knowing this town. But he wasn't going to be the one to start down that road. Having gone back in time already he knew the mess it got you in. Besides, he somehow doubted that Father Time would allow him to do it.
"What happened, Xander?" Angel asked quietly. "I got most of it from Buffy and Giles, you know that, but I want to hear it from you. Not about the Nightside, about you. What happened to you that night?"
Xander wanted to tell him. Hell, he wanted to tell anyone who would listen really. The thoughts had been bouncing around in his own head for so long he was ready to pop. But when he tried his throat started to close up on him. Angel wasn't going to let him get away with glazing over details like Buffy and the rest of them. The man simply wasn't interested in what the Nightside was like. He knew enough about it already to know that he wanted nothing to do with it. No. He wanted something else. He wanted to know about what happened to him. He wanted to hear about the nightmares that haunted him even when he was awake. The pain that he had experienced firsthand, pain that wasn't his to begin with. It was this reason that Xander's voice wouldn't obey him and the reason why he stood up and walked away without saying anything.
Returning a minute later, the dark haired youth placed a glass in front of Angel, sat down and put a bottle down between them. "I need a drink."
Without a word, the two fill their glasses and take a few sips. Then, after almost five minutes of nothing but the sound of glasses hitting the table top, Xander begins to speak. He tells Angel everything, or as much of it as he can. He tells him about how he experienced all of John's life, moment to moment, year by year and lived inside of the man's head the whole time. How he had been gone for thirty years and how he had seen and felt things that he knew he was never meant to. How he couldn't close his eyes at night without seeing the horrors that John had gone up against in his life.
He goes in depth about the war with Lilith and everything that led up to it. The trips through time, the lives destroyed, being chased down by Hern the Hunter and running for his life. All of it poured out of him like a dam that was finally opened. The only times he would stop was when the memory was especially painful. Lilith herself was one such thing but there were others. Some of these where things that John wasn't all that bothered with but shook Xander to the core. The Lord of Thorns, The Lamentation, The Harrowing, Merlin. Somehow, they all seemed to have seen him while he was inside of John spoke to him in words and in not words.
By the time he was done, almost the entire bottle had been consumed and his hands hadn't stopped shaking. He would have reached for the bottle again had he thought he wouldn't spill it all over the table. Angel, who had remained silent except for one or two questions, sat with a hard to read expression on his face. Maybe it wasn't that hard to read and maybe Xander had just had one drink too many.
"You didn't tell them," Angel finally said.
"I tried, man. I really did. They didn't get it though," Xander replied almost pleadingly. "When I spoke to them about the Nightside Buffy and Willow pretty much brushed it aside. They didn't understand what I was talking about."
Shaking his head, Angel leaned forward. "I meant about you, about what you went through, Xander. What you saw and felt, it's enough to drive most people insane and you’re not as far off as you'd like to think."
"They wouldn't get," he muttered. "How could they? If they didn't understand about the place itself how could they even begin to understand about what I went through? Buffy's first reaction was to ask how to get to the Nightside! Probably to kill anything that moved, or at least try to till she got herself killed, or worse."
Angel didn't have a response to that seeing how it was true. When Buffy had spoken to Angel about the whole thing she had hinted about wanting to go there and give the whole place a good run through. It had been anger talking but no one would doubt her actual desire to do so. No, Angel understood what Xander was telling him. There wasn't any way that they would understand him or accept him for who he was now.
"So, what now? You plan on following in John's lead and take up being a private eye? Sort of, I dunno, a little lame if you ask me," Angel said weakly, looking at the bottom of his glass.
Xander gave him an annoyed look before answering. "I'll have you know that there's a lot more to it than just lameness, Dead, um...guy."
"Dead Guy?" Angel said with a chuckle. "I think I'd rather have you call me Dead Boy. At least that rolled off the tongue a bit better."
"Can't. There's already a Dead Boy and if I keep calling you that everything will get really confusing," Xander stopped and went wide eyed. A giggle escaped his mouth which he promptly. It did nothing to hide the laughter but at least kept it somewhat quiet.
"OK, what's so funny?" Angel asked after Xander failed to calm himself down three times.
Inhaling deeply a few times to catch his breath, Xander tried to reply but started laughing again. His face was red at this point and he hit the table a few times as a fresh wave of laughter escaped him. Clearly he was drunk but even so, it was just too damn funny for Xander to not laugh.
Finally, he calmed down enough to be able to speak. "I'm sorry. But, come on! Out of all the people in all the worlds for me to get turned into it had to be someone who also had some guy named Dead Boy? How the hell would I be able to keep a straight face if you two ever met?"
Angel watched as the young man fell into another fit of laughter. It had to have been the alcohol because unless he was missing something, it just wasn't that funny. Maybe it was just him finally letting go some of the tension, the manic laughter could be a release of sorts before he snapped. Angel could understand it. There had been times when he himself had nearly lost it and would have down some truly terrible things had it not been for one moment of release of at least some of the stress. There were also times when that relief never came but those where incidents that he tried not to think about with varying degrees of success.
Xander looked down at his own glass smiling faintly. "Do you know why John became a private eye? I mean, it’s the one job where he's pretty much going to be good at it. And he is, really. Come on! The guy could find a needle in a haystack in less time than it would take to boil an egg. Finding lost objects and people is normally a cake walk. But he did it for two reasons mostly. One, he wanted to get paid. Plain and simple. A guy needs to be able to get a roof over his head and a few meals every once in a while. But John never made any real money, not for a while anyway and that brings us to reason number two.
"He has morals and a deep need to help people. He grew up in a place where looking out for the little guy usual got you crushed, eaten and flayed and generally not in that order. Those morals and desire to not screw people over who didn't deserve it kept him poor and not even close to scrapping by for too many years to count. Do you know how bad rats taste? No matter how much salt you put on them you still taste rat."
Angel nodded in agreement. "I spent a good number of years in an alley. Rats were pretty much my steady diet back then."
"Oh," Xander said, clearly not expecting that answer. "Well, then you also know how easy it would have been for you to just reach out and take what you wanted, what you needed. You also know just how hard it is at the same time. Sure, your curse helps with that but still."
The vampire didn't respond but sent a short glare Xander's way. The curse was a sore spot with him and while the young man hadn't meant it as such, it still stung a bit.
Seemingly not to notice, Xander went on. "I agree with him, Angel. People and things that aren't people need someone to help them too. Not just in a saving their lives from the brink of death. Buffy's good at keeping the monster's back but she can't help them out from the more forward thinking monsters out there. You think that Buffy could do anything about it when someone like Mayor puts something in motion? It's not her place to do so anyway, but maybe I can."
"And get paid at the same time too, huh?"
"I'm not stupid," Xander smirked. "There's also going to be plenty of things out there that would be willing to pay for my kind of help even if they aren't in desperate need."
Angel sighed, filled both of their glasses, and took a drink. "You think you can do it? Can you handle it when you make a mistake and someone gets hurt because of it? Take work from the wrong person and end up doing more harm than good? There's a lot of gray out there, Xander, and it's hard enough when you think everything is black and white."
"Yea, I know. I've got more than enough reminders about that," Xander replied sadly. "There's, uh, one more thing. Something that I spoke to the gang about back when we were all on speaking terms. Something here knows about me."
"Well, yea," Angel looked confused. "Everyone's been talking about you and everything that's gone on."
"No," Xander shook his head. "Not that. Something's been watching me when I use my gift. It...It's been making me nervous. I haven't been using it as much as I could because of it. Whatever's been keeping its eyes on me is big and bad and ready to rip me open the second I let my guard down."
"Any ideas on what it is? Something from the Nightside homing in on Taylor's gift maybe?" Angel asked looking concerned.
Shrugging, Xander took another sip of his drink. "Maybe, I don't know anything for sure except that it's bad. I've felt Heaven and Hell both rip into John's head and this thing comes close to how it felt. But it makes me hesitant about using it. The gift I mean. But if I don't then...then things like what happened to Kendra happen."
There were no easy answers to these problems and both men knew it. The simple fact was that Xander needed to vent, needed to say it to someone and Angel understood better than anyone else. All that Xander could do at this point was move forward and do what he thought was best.
After the silence that fell between them, Angel leaned back. "If you need anything you just need to ask. I can't promise that I'll be able to help but I can try. But, I have just one question. Something that's been bothering me for some reason."
"Sure, but I get to ask you a question first," Xander said then continued when Angel nodded in agreement. "Why help me? I mean, we aren't exactly friends and if Buffy finds out that your even talking to me I wouldn't doubt sharp wooden objects being hurled at you on impulse alone. You don't owe me anything so...why do it?"
Xander was genuinely confused on this point. He didn't think that Angel would purposely do anything to hurt him, not anymore. But to help? That was just crazy talk. However this was the second time that the vampire had offered his assistance to him and it had him curious.
"Because you need it," Angel stated. "Besides, I've been where you are. The nightmares don't go away. They just get a little harder to hear sometimes."
"Us monsters have to stick together, huh?" Xander smirked, realizing how true that statement was in both John's and his life now.
"Something like that," Angel chuckled despite the seriousness of the mood. "Now it's my turn. What the hell made you go as John Taylor? How the hell did you even know who he was to begin with?"
Wincing, Xander shrugged. "Honestly? I had no idea who he was or even who I was going as. Trust me, if I had any idea who he was do you really think I would have dressed as him even with not knowing what was going to happen?"
"So you dressed up as someone you didn't know because you, what? Liked the coat?"
Shaking his head, Xander smiled. "I was originally going to go as a soldier. I mean, I was going for cheap and easy and getting some two dollar toy gun was the best I could come up with."
"And that Ethan guy made you a better deal?" Angel asked, thinking he was beginning to catch on.
"Ethan? Hell no. He was too busy showing Buffy that frilly dress get up. No, he had some girl working for him. Said that she wouldn't let me go as some two bit grunt when I could go as a king in waiting. At the time I had no idea what she was talking about but what did I care? Some pretty girl was talking to me, you know?"
"You remember what she looked like?"
Nodding his head, Xander said, "Oh yea. Pretty much burned it into my mind after I woke up that night so that way if I ever see her I can personally give her a piece of my mind. She was maybe 5'6", long black hair, looked Chinese or Japanese or something like that. She had this real commanding air about her too," Xander stopped and looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know, I think I may actually want to kill her a little."
Snorting slightly, Angel hid his smirk. "She give you a name?"
"Nope. No name tag either. I, uh, checked for one...a few times," Xander said and took a drink to hid his blush.
"I'll see if I can come up with anything," Angel told him.
"Why? You think I haven't already tried?" Xander said. "No one knows anything about her and in order to find Ethan and ask him I'd have to use my gift. I'd rather not at the moment unless I have to."
Nodding in understanding, Angel sat in thought. It was a lot to take in and definitely made things a bit more then complicated. He didn't like how things where heading but he couldn't do anything about it. He would talk to Buffy when she calmed down enough but even that wouldn't really do much considering that Xander himself felt that he wasn't suited to be around them anymore.
Someone coming over and standing next to the table got the attention of Angel and Xander. It was a blue skinned demon dressed in normal everyday clothes marking him as one of the more progressive ones. He seemed nervous and kept darting his eyes between Xander and Angel.
"I know you?" Xander said none to nicely causing the demon to flinch slightly and Angel to give him a look. The vampire hadn't thought that he could make his voice sound that way.
"Ah, no. It's...I saw you. Before, a few weeks ago. With the vampires," the demon said.
Thinking for a moment, Xander snapped his fingers. "Yea, that's right. I remember seeing you at the bar. So, what do you want?"
"Well, um, they say that you can do things. Find things," the nervous looking demon said. "And that you're for hire."
Raising an eyebrow, Xander looked over and Angel, nodding. Taking the hint, Angel stood up and readied himself to leave.
"We'll talk later. Just remember what I said," Angel told him. Then, with one last look at the demon, he turned and left.
Motioning to the now empty seat, Xander got himself into what he thought was the proper listening position. The demon was looking very skitterish and kept glancing over his shoulder. It took the guy awhile to get comfortable and Xander couldn't help but smile to himself. Here he was, sitting in a demon bar with what was to be his first real client. Sure, his friends had abandoned him, the only people that he was talking to at this point was Willie and Angel and he had more things gunning for him then where comfortable to think about. And yet, for some reason, he was comfortable with it. He could deal with what was coming because, really, what choice did he really have?
Shaking his head slightly, Xander gave the demon in front of him what he hoped was a comforting and reassuring smile.
"OK, two questions first off. What seems to be the problem?"
The blue skinned demon waited for a moment before saying, "Um, that's only one question."
With a smile and a wink, Xander leaned back. "The second one's even more important. Can you afford me?"