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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Hard Man". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Follow up to "A Walk On the Hellmouth". Xander continues to try and make his way in the world. A simple missing persons case leads to more trouble than it's worth, however, and more dangers than anyone should face in one lifetime.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Fantasy > Author: Simon GreenthegoodfightFR18748,4657158,26216 Mar 1018 Mar 10No

Chapter 7

A/N: Thanks to Shieldage and WilliamStarr for the reviews. It's nice to see someone giving me a shove to keep it going. Also, thanks to Shieldage for pointing out some mistakes I've made (Which I'm sure will be in this chapter despite going over it several times). Well, hope you guys enjoy it and thanks again.

Chapter 7

“You’re kidding me.” Xander said looking out the car at their destination. “I mean, seriously, you have to be kidding me, right?”

“I’m telling you, this is the place. Look at the paper again if you don’t believe me,” Angel retorted.

Not bothering to double check, Xander continued staring at the place in front of them. He had seen many places that people hid in or used as protection, most of them were evil of some flavor or another and there were a few things they all had in common. Security was generally high through either magical or mechanical means. Generally there were some sort of imposing features to the place. Either it was a large intimidating building or a long, dark, creepy pathway leading to the building typically littered with landmines. If anything, the area surrounding the place should be devoid of other buildings. How else were you supposed to know that that the place was powerful? But no, this place had none of that. The closest thing it had to a sentry was the little garden gnome standing guard in the middle of a flower bed.

The address had brought them to a quant, but large, two story home not too far from Buffy’s house. They had drove past it three times thinking that maybe they had the wrong place or that perhaps it was under some kind of veil but neither he or Angel could feel any magic coming off the house in front of them. Not many places that were involved in dangerous and shady dealings, demonic or otherwise, had a two car garage in the back or an honest to goodness white picket fence. It was starting to creep him out a bit actually.

Xander had debated using his gift to get a better look at the place but had quickly decided better of it. He wanted to avoid using his gift for a little bit if he could. It’s not that he was getting careless with it or anything, but he was using it more and more lately and with the way this case was going he didn’t want to give anything the chance to attack him while his shields were down. Besides, if the Harrowing was in town, it would be better not to draw any attention to himself. If the situation called for it, he would open up his third eye in a second but for now it was best to keep its use to a minimum.

“Any idea who owns the place?” Xander asked.

“Not a clue,” Angel replied. “I just knew the address from walking Buffy home a few times. Didn’t think it would be so…”

“Normal?” Xander supplied. “Yeah, it’s bugging me too.”

“Could be a front. Some of the best ways to hide is right out in the open.”

“Could be,” Xander agreed. “Or it could be a trap.”

“Or maybe it’s just some innocent family’s home, someone who really has nothing to do with this and just got their address added to the list by accident.” When neither of them said anything for a while, Angel looked to him asking, “So what do you want to do with this?”

Mulling it over in his head, Xander sighed before getting out of the car. That was all the answer Angel needed and he soon followed Xander up the walkway to the front door. Nothing tried to jump out of the well manicured lawn to bite them, which was a plus, but it was still hard to shake that uneasy feeling. With every step they took the feeling got worse and it was only by sheer professionalism that neither of them started looking around them to try and spot any signs of danger. Besides, if you start doing that it only makes you look vulnerable and weak, an easy target. The last thing that Xander or Angel wanted to look like was a target, easy or otherwise.

Standing at the front door, Xander began studying it for a moment. It looked like wood, it had the same grain as wood, but something told him that it was off some way. Nothing came to mind about what it could be, but again, something was wrong about it.

“It’s metal,” Angel said leaning forward. “I can smell the polish on the other side from here. The doors made out of steel.”

“Well, at least someone has the right idea about Sunnydale home security,” Xander remarked. “Kind of lends to the idea of trap, huh? Anything else that super nose can tell me?”

Angel gave another sniff before scrunching his nose up. “There is something else, I can’t tell what though. It’s too faint.”

Testing the doorknob, Xander found that the door was unlocked. “So much for security. Again I say, ‘trap’.”

Pushing the door open all the way with his a hard shove of his toe, Xander looked inside the hallway but found nothing that wouldn’t normally be there. A coat rack stood right inside the doorway and a staircase lead up to the second floor a little bit down the hall. The floor was hard wood and looked as if it had been professionally polished recently. There weren’t any pictures or anything else decorating the red walls. That wasn’t that unusual. Some people didn’t like messing up what they thought was a clean and orderly home with things like that, though it was slightly suspicious.

Music was playing somewhere in the back of the house. It was a soft jazz number, heavy on the bass. Other than that, Xander wasn’t able to make out any more of it but a quick glance at Angel let him know that he was familiar with it. It was a little odd to see the vampire tapping on the doorframe along with the song. Shaking his head, Xander stepped into the house with a scowl on his face. If anyone was watching he didn’t want them to think that he was hesitant. It would show weakness which would only make things worse when they started asking questions. They would try to play them, something that would only make him and Angel annoyed and lead to more violence.

“You smell that?” Angel asked from the doorway. “Smells like…incense.”

Taking a whiff of the air, Xander noticed it too. Like the music, it was faint but there. It was a sweet, heavy scent that might have made him a bit dizzy if it was any stronger. “I smell it, too. It seems a bit…”

“Cheap,” Angel finished for him. Furrowing his brow, he took a tentative step forward. The threshold didn’t stop him and he walked into the house. “Funny thing about places like this,” Angel said loudly. “They tend not to have anything in the way of a barrier to vampires.”

“That’s what the three inch steel door was for. Now both of you keep your hands where I can see them,” a crisp, cold voice called back.

Turning, Xander and Angel found a tall woman dressed in what might have, at one point anyway, been a very sharp business suit. The dark grey skirt been shortened to fall an inch or so above the knees with a slit along its side, showing off a strong pair of pale legs. The matching jacket was closed, but with the figure it was showing, both men doubted that there was much on underneath it. The whole get up had her looking like someone’s naughty librarian dream come true. What really sold it was her dark hair done up in a tight bun and the thin framed glasses perched on her nose. All of this would normally take precedence when taking in an attractive woman. However, the only thing Xander and Angel concentrated on was the crossbow she had pointed between the two of them.

She didn’t smile or show any emotion except to raise a single eyebrow. “There are ways to go about making proper appointments, which I might add, are most definitely needed in your case, vampire. There are…precautions to take.”

“We aren’t here to cause any trouble,” Angel said carefully, hands up and in plain sight. “See? We aren’t hurting anyone, we just wanted to talk. That’s all.”

“Obviously you aren’t hurting anyone. If you had tried I’d be busy sweeping you into the dust bin.”

“Like the man said,” Xander said loudly. “We only want to talk.”

Her eyes trained on Xander but to her credit, the crossbow never left the halfway point between the two men. “You seem to think that I care what you came here for.”

Getting annoyed, Xander gave the woman a look. “Look, if we wanted to hurt you we would have by now.”

“I’d love to see you try.”

“Xander,” Angel warned. “This won’t get us anywhere. Now, why don’t we all take a step back, breathe.” Moving faster than Xander could follow, Angel grabbed the crossbow, turning it on the woman. “And let’s calm down, alright?”

The woman looked shocked at his speed but quickly recovered. She raised her hands, palms up, slightly. “If you’re here to hurt any of the girls, you’ll be sorely disappointed.”

“We aren’t here for them,” Xander said annoyed. “We told you, we want answers.”

“We aren’t in the business of giving answers,” she told them.

“I’m sure you can make an exception. After all, we are being very friendly.” Xander gave her a nasty smile, pleased to see that her cool exterior cracked a little again. He was ready to follow it up with another threat but was interrupted by the crackle of static followed by another woman’s voice.

“Janice, it’s alright. Send the gentleman in to see me.” Another crackle of static and the voice cut out, leaving Xander and Angel confused.

The woman who confronted them, Janice apparently, walked between them and over to the far wall. It wasn’t until she had stopped in front of a wood panel did Xander notice the intercom. He was glad he hadn’t said his own thoughts out loud since he had originally thought it was somebody speaking either telepathically or through some other means. Too many years in the Nightside had him thinking of zebra’s when he should be thinking horses.

Pressing one of the buttons, Janice said, “Of course, ma’am. I’ll show them in.” Turning back to Angel and Xander she said, “This way.” She walked past them once again and into the other room, turning and walking out of their sight.

Xander and Angel looked at each other but remained silent. There were a lot of questions that were suddenly popping up. Why would information about Abigail bring them to a brothel? Furthermore, when the hell did Sunnydale get a brothel to begin with? Xander was also trying to figure out something that wasn’t making a whole lot of sense. What were the odds that out of all the towns in the whole of the dimensions that Abigail would find herself in both the Nightside and, if this place panned out, Sunnydale? Coincidences were not a part of his life, not anymore, and this stank of them. Still, if they wanted answers to any of those questions, they would have to see where this led.

Following Janice, and trying not to notice how her hips moved, Xander went first followed by Angel who still had the crossbow. Even though Xander didn’t really feel the need for a gun or anything of the sort, it made him feel a bit better that someone who was with him had a real weapon. Not that Angel needed any really. The vampire could easily have ripped the woman’s throat out or done something else equally as nasty to her, not that he would though. One of Angel’s greatest strength was also his biggest weakness. The vampire had the best self control that Xander had ever seen but it’s what kept him from being as strong as he could be. That self control held him back and if he wasn’t careful, it might end up killing him. Then again, if he lost that self control a lot of other people could end up dead.

Janice led them into a small room in the back of the house. Unlike the rest of the place which was decorated in dark reds, greens and browns with soft lighting and faux elegance, this room was the epitome of business. It wasn’t very large but the way that it was set up made it seem as if it was larger than it actually was. The walls were bare white with nothing on them except for one large cross on each wall which had to have been there for security reasons. Xander doubted that anyone who ran a brothel was likely to be overly religious, not in Sunnydale anyway. There was a desk at the far end of the room with two comfortable but practical looking chairs in front of it. A woman who couldn’t have been younger than fifty sat behind the desk typing away at the keys of a laptop. On a filing cabinet next to her sat a fairly large television that showed an image of the front door. Xander mentally kicked himself for missing the camera.

Janice had stopped in the middle of the room and calmly waited for the woman behind the desk to look up. Angel stood behind her never really raising the crossbow or pointing it at anyone, but it was in position to be brought up quickly should he need it. Unlike them, Xander wasn’t much in the mood to wait around to be noticed.

Looking at the television, Xander opened up his gift a tiny bit, just small enough to do what he needed, and found the different camera channels. The screen switched from the camera outside to one inside one of the bedrooms. There wasn’t any volume so the Madam of the House didn’t realize what had happened. Janice and Angel, on the other hand, saw exactly what was playing.

“Is it just me or is anyone else surprised at how flexible the Sanitation Commissioner is?” Xander asked loudly tilting his head sideways. “Then again, I can’t imagine that it’s very pleasant.”

The Madam’s head snapped up. She glared at Xander while switching off the television. She recovered quickly from her shock, putting on what looked to be a warm smile. To Xander, it just looked fake and tired.

“You gentleman will have to forgive me, business you know,” she said by way of explanation.

Xander took a moment to study her. She was middle aged with a body that spoke of comfortable living. She wasn’t over weight but she had a plump build that stuck out in a place like this. Her blouse was black with a dark colored silk scarf hung around her neck. Her hair was dyed red but unlike some woman, it didn’t make her look sultry just old. He resisted the urge to tell her this since it would probably lead to more problems.

“Well, let’s not waste any time then,” Xander said not bothering with false pretenses.

The Madam chuckled lightly. “Right to the point, hmm? Men do have such little patience for foreplay. Now, what can I do for you? I’m sure that we can arrange…something to fit both of your needs.”

“Cute, but we’re looking for answers.”

“Ah, yes, answers. The one thing I’m afraid I can’t give you.”

“You don’t even know what the question is,” Angel said. “It always makes me a little suspicious when someone says they can’t help you when they don’t know what the question is.”

“It doesn’t matter what the question is, I’m not in the business of giving answers,” she said turning to Angel. “My clientele expects a certain level of anonymity.”

“I’m sure the video cameras in the rooms help with that,” Xander replied. “Besides, we don’t care about who uses this place.”

Leaning back, the Madam’s smile never wavered. “My girls expect the same thing. I’m sure you can understand. There are so many…dangerous characters out there, no telling who might be looking for them.”

“Dangerous characters, huh?” Xander didn’t bother with threats not that he couldn’t have thought of a few colorful ones. The woman sitting in front of him was probably used to men bearing down on her demanding any number of things. It wouldn’t work on her, she had risen above it. Same would be true for hitting her since Xander doubted that the woman had never been hit in her life. You don’t become the head of a brothel without moving up from the ground floor.

Slowly, Xander started moving around. “I can see you’re a hard woman to negotiate with. Probably have some pretty powerful people backing you, people you think protect you, keep you out of harms reach. I have to wonder though. Does that same protection extend to your employees?”

Xander saw the calm and cocky attitude of the Madam melt away. Xander met her gaze, unwaveringly, letting the woman’s own mind fill in the blanks. People’s imaginations were always better at coming up with worse things than anything they were told. The only time Xander looked away was to give an obvious sideways glance to Janice who had become rigid. He wasn’t sure if it was the thought of being hurt or of hurting any of the women who worked here and frankly he didn’t care as long as it worked.

Xander sensed Angel tensing behind him. He was used to violence being a vampire but he still seemed surprised when Xander would use it as a means to an end. Fighting demons or when defending himself, Angel didn’t blink an eye at the things Xander would do. But the cold demeanor and simple statements that Xander used when threatening people didn’t sit well with Angel. It wasn’t that he was any stranger to it. He had done worse in his time than simply talk. It hit too close to home for comfort for the vampire. It reminded him of what his kind could and would do given the opportunity, the same desires he struggled with at times. It also didn’t help that Angel never knew if Xander was bluffing or not but to be fair, neither did Xander.

Something in his voice or in his look must have passed along how serious he was, or how serious he might be. It was one thing to threaten her, that she could have dealt with. But threaten the people she was bound to be protective of, and that changed things.

Clearing her throat, the Madam sat forward, her smile gone. “What exactly do you want Mr…?”

“Harris,” Xander told her and was a little surprised when her eyes went wide.

“Harris? Xander Harris?” she asked. Her voice shook a bit but she did her best to hide it. “So, what can I do for you and your friend, Mr. Harris?”

Xander smiled what he hoped was a polite way. “We’re looking for a girl. We were told that she was here.” It was a lie but there was no reason to tell her that.

The Madam looked as if she wanted to argue with Xander again but stopped herself. “The girls that work here have done so for a long time. There’s been no one new here for quite awhile.”

“She went by Abigail,” Xander said ignoring her. “Brown hair, curly, British. Sound familiar?”

Thinking for a moment, the Madam said, “Abigail? Are you sure that’s what her name is? She told us her name was Lora.”

“Lora?” Janice asked.

“Yes, Janice. Lora knew the rules when she came here. She knows that everyone’s safety is priority.” The Madam slumped a bit in her chair. “I won’t allow you to hurt her. Talk to her, but that’s all, is that understood?”

Xander nodded his head. “I’m looking for answers. I’m not looking to take anyone anywhere they don’t want to go. I’m not some errand boy, lady.”

Grabbing a piece of paper and a pen, she jotted down a quick note, folded it, and held it out to Janice. “Give this to Lora, dear.” Seeing Xander’s suspicious look, she added, “Just something to let her know what’s going on. Lora had no appointments till later on this evening you see. I don’t want her to get the wrong idea about what’s happening.”

Xander and Angel started for the door, following Janice out of the office when the Madam stopped them. “Not you, vampire. I know the kind of man Harris is, but I don’t care for your kind here. Without proper precautions, there is no way you’re being invited into any of their rooms.”

“I don’t need an invitation,” Angel told her. “Place like this, I can come in anytime I want. Day, night, whenever I like.”

Standing up, the Madam leveled Angel with a hard look. “That may be so for the building, but the girls pay room and board here. Their rooms are their living spaces, giving them a small, but convenient, threshold.”

Angel flashed the woman a smile that reached his eyes. There was no joy in it, but Xander was fairly certain he say the glimmer of excitement in the other man’s eyes. It was a smile that reminded everyone in the room that while Angel may look normal, he wasn’t. He was a predator, a monster in human skin. The grin sent a chill down both Janice’s and the Madam’s spines but both stood their ground. Xander frowned slightly, but wasn’t fazed by it, only worried.

Was Xander becoming a bad influence on Angel? The man kept the demon inside of him on a tight leash twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But the chain on that leash wasn’t all that strong sometimes and Xander sometimes worried that delving into the darker aspects of this town sometimes weakened it a little. But, what worried Xander even more was the fact that he recognized that smile. He’d seen it on John sometimes and, more recently, on himself.

“Angel, it’s fine,” Xander told him. “Stay down here. Watch in case she tries anything. I’m sure she’ll love the company.”

Hearing Xander speak snapped Angel out of it. He didn’t respond, but his face became slack, his eyes shifting back and force. Angel nodded in acknowledgement and Xander returned it. He was glad to see the Madam was a little paler as she realized she was now alone with the vampire without her bodyguard, not that the woman could offer much resistance if Angel wanted to hurt anyone. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is for a plan to come together.

Janice hesitated for a moment as if waiting for some signal to stay or go ahead. If there was one, Xander didn’t see it but Janice started forward again, leading him through the rooms and up the staircase. He didn’t bother with idle conversation. Janice wasn’t just hired help or one of the workers here. She protected the people here, or at least tried to and with places such as this, that meant something. Like the Madam, she couldn’t be bullied or tricked into giving up information and unlike the Madam, threatening the women here had only served to anger Janice even while she was frightened. Besides, he needed the time to think, not to try and work the girl over.

If this Lora person really was Abigail, which he was having serious doubts about, then he had to figure out what he was going to do about it. He meant it when he said he wouldn’t take her against her will. He would talk to her, find out what had happened, if she was OK and give her some options. If she decided to see Giles then he would help with that. But if for whatever reason she didn’t feel like it then he would leave and let Giles know that she was safe and alive. The older man wouldn’t like it but he didn’t give a damn. Of course, that all was assuming that Lora was actually Abigail. Again, there were too many things that weren’t adding up but for the moment he didn’t have much choice except to go with it and see where it led.

Janice led him to a room towards the back of the second floor. The rest of the rooms were closed off and the only sounds being made was from their feet walking on the hard wood floor. He guessed that the rooms had either really good sound proofing built in or some kind of spell that did the same thing. It was kind of needed, he imagined. After all, who wanted someone else’s screams of pain or joy to overshadow their own?

Stopping, Janice pressed a button on an intercom next to the door. “Lora, its Janice. You have a…visitor.”

A crackle of static and then a soft, tired voice came through. “I thought I was clear for the evening?”

“You are,” Janice told her holding down on the button. “This isn’t that kind of visitor. He says he knows you from before.”

There was silence for a moment before the intercom crackled again. “Are you sure?”

“He’s very…adamant about it,” Janice told her, adding, “I have this for you.” Taking the note, she slipped it through the crack under the door. That meant that it was definitely some kind of sound proof charm then.

It took a few more moments of silence before they heard anything else but finally the door unlocked and opened half an inch. When nothing else happened, Xander looked expectantly at Janice.

“Hurt her, and you won’t leave here alive no matter who you are,” she told him before turning and walking back down the hall.

Shaking his head at her amateurish posturing, Xander couldn’t help but smile. She was probably good at keeping out the usual riff raff that tried to come in here and start trouble, but she wasn’t anywhere capable of taking on anyone who meant business.

Pushing the door open, Xander didn’t step inside till he could get a good look of what he’d be walking into. The room was average size with most of the space being taken up by a queen size bed. A brown leather chair sat in the corner of the room but other than that there didn’t seem to be any other furnishings. The décor was like the rest of the house, all dark colors and stained moldings. The lighting was about the same if not slightly dimmer, casting shadows all over the room.

Standing next to the chair was a young woman wearing a long, simple white dress. It was hard to see her face clearly from the way the shadows were falling, but she looked as if she could be young enough to fit the bill. Her hair fell in soft curls around her face which only helped obscure her features. Without any picture to work off of, Xander was using Giles description and a rough estimate of how she would look after all these years to figure out if this was Abigail or not. He had a few key questions and test that he would use to check but physically, it was only his best guess.

Stepping inside, Xander gave the woman, Lora, another look then quickly glanced around. Other than a nightstand with a few picture frames on it and a brush, there wasn’t anything of interest in the room.

“I don’t know you,” Lora said quietly.

Xander noticed the slight cultured British accent in her voice, Northern London from the sound of it, something that helped to add to the circumstantial evidence.

“No,” Xander replied softly. “But I know someone who might know you. That all depends though.”

“Depends on what?” Lora shifted slightly, moving a little further back.

“On if you are who I think you are.” Xander walked further into the room but made sure to keep his distance. No need to frighten her or to put himself within arm’s reach in case she attacked him. “See, the girl I’m looking for hasn’t been seen for a while and there’s very little evidence saying you’re her.”

“So why do you think it’s me then? It could be anyone. What’s so special about me?”

Smiling, Xander said, “Well, that remains to be seen. Can you tell me where you were born, where you lived before coming to work here?”

“Shut the door,” she told him. When he gave her a look she added, “You want me to tell you about myself, something that I don’t share with just anybody Mr…?”


“So, if you want me to answer any questions, Mr. Harris, I’d prefer it if I don’t share those answers with the rest of the house.”

Weighing his options, Xander took the calculated risk of being in a sound proof room with the young woman or not getting any answers. Without turning around, he shut the door and felt the silencing charm spring up instantly, the room becoming deathly silent. “OK, now start talking. Your boss already gave the OK to talk to you so let’s not make this any harder than it has to be.”

Stepping out of the shadows just enough to see her, Lora smiled. “And what exactly do you want to know, hmm?”

“Like I said,” Xander replied slightly annoyed. “Where were you before you started working here?”

Tracing her fingers along the back of the chair, she replied, “Oh, I’ve been around, traveled a bit here and there. Why do you want to know?”

“Because I’m looking for a girl and that’s not an answer.”

“And neither is that. Most men are looking for a girl. A lot of them find me.”

He was starting to get even more annoyed with her but refused to let it show. The moment she saw that she was getting to him, he wouldn’t have anything to work with. “I’m looking for a specific girl, went missing some years back. Happen to ring any bells?”

Shaking her head, Lora said, “Lot’s of girls go missing. Was she important to this person, the one who asked you to find her?”

“You could say that,” Xander said carefully not wanting to give anything away. Ignoring her for a moment, he started moving around the room towards the nightstand to make it look as if he wasn’t too concerned. “But something tells me you’re not going to be very forth coming with information, are you?”

“I never said you wouldn’t have to work for it,” she said with a grin. “The question is how much is it worth to you?”

“You’re looking for money?” Xander asked.

“I don’t recall saying anything about money.”

“What do you want then?” Xander eyed her suspiciously for a moment, his subconscious working out something that the rest of his brain hadn’t figured out yet.

Walking towards him, Lora continued smiling. “Well, what are you offering?”

“The chance to be reunited with someone who wants to see you again,” Xander told her plainly.

“Provided I am this girl you’re looking for,” she said.

Stepping back, Xander kept his eyes on Lora, watching her as she moved forward. His brain was screaming at him that something wasn’t right but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out what it was. The way she moved and talked said that she was putting on the heavy come hither but there was something else, something he felt at the edge of his senses told him there was more. If his instincts told him to be wary then he was listening to them. They had kept him from being killed a countless number of times which went for double after having them honed along with John’s.

Taking a defensive posture, Xander leveled a hard glare at the woman which did a good job of stopping her in her tracks. “What are you playing at?”

“You came to me, remember? Why would I possibly play at anything?”

“Maybe because you don’t want your brother Jonathan to find you? Maybe because you’re afraid of what might happen when he does?”

Lora frowned, looking away. “Jonathan always was one to not let things go. What lie did he tell you this time?”

Keeping his face blank, Xander replied, “Oh, the story doesn’t matter. I’m sure you’ve heard them all.”

“He’ll say anything to find me. I thought I could hide out here, be protected. I should have known he would have found me sooner or later.” Lora shivered a little, wrapping her arms around herself. “You’re going to make me go back there, aren’t you?”

“Well, that all depends.” Xander reached into his coat pocket trying to find something. It didn’t take long and he made sure to hold it firmly in his hand. “Who the hell is Jonathan?”

Lora dropped her arms, her shoulders slumping slightly. “Damn it,” she muttered. “I fell for the name.”

“To be fair most people couldn’t have kept up the accent as long as you have.”

“Oh, the accent’s real, dear. I never was able to shake it, not even after all the years I’ve been here.” Lora turned around, her face no longer human and instead the demonic visage of a vampire. “You’d think eighty-three years across the pond would be enough, don’t you?”

“It suits you.” Xander did his best not to show his worry. He expected something, but not this, though that probably meant he was just getting sloppy, something that would have to change.

“To be fair, you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell anyway. I can do a pretty wicked Texan,” she said, changing her voice at the end to a perfect southern twang.

“It’s good,” he admitted nodding his head.

Without preamble, Xander flung his fist out. He had been hoping to get close enough to Lora’s face but he hadn’t been expecting the vampires speed. He had barely made his move before she grabbed his wrist, twisted, and started squeezing.

“Thanks for noticing,” she said smiling, her fangs gleaming. Squeezing harder, Lora forced his hand open, spilling the fine black powder on the floor. Sniffing slightly, she laughed a little. “Pepper? You were attacking me with pepper?”

“You’d be amazed at what you can do with a few well used condiments,” Xander said through the pain.

Grabbing his other shoulder, Lora threw him across the room and into the wall. “How’s that working out for you?”

Pulling himself to his feet, Xander grinned despite the pain. “Usual goes a bit better but then again I haven’t really been at the top of my game lately.”

Stalking towards him, Lora shook her head. “Your cute, I’ll give you that. Too bad about having to kill you, though, I might have given you a freebee. But, rules are rules.”

“Yeah, too bad.”

This time Xander was ready for her speed. It didn’t make him move any faster or react any quicker, but it helped him time his attacks better. He only connected with her a handful of times though and if it wasn’t for the fact that she was toying with him, he would have been dead. But he was expecting her to play with him for a bit, to drag it out as long as she could. After all, she was a vampire who seemed to have a cushy gig here. It probably meant that she didn’t get a whole lot of chances to let her inner demon out in which case he’d bet that she was itching for something like this.

One more time, Xander got thrown across the room. This time he was fortunate enough to hit the bed, bounce off and crash into the nightstand. Staring up at the ceiling he tried to get up but the room was spinning just a bit too much for him at the moment to do anything of the sort. He heard Lora chuckling as she came around the bed. He would have rolled his eyes at the dramatics but that would have just made his head spin more. One thing that was universal, no matter where you happened to be, was that people who thought they had the situation well under control couldn’t help but gloat when they had you down. The evil laugh was just one way of doing that.

Reaching behind him, Xander was happy that he had been thrown into the nightstand. His weight had broken a leg off making it a perfect stake. Gripping it in his left hand, he had enough time to bring it up before Lora was on him again. He lunged as fast as he could but the vampire was still quicker than him, grabbing the other end of the stake before it could pierce her chest. He struggled for a bit, pushing harder but even with both hands he doubted he would have been able to get it to into her, let alone using only the one.

“My, you are the clever one, aren’t you,” Lora said playfully.

“You’ve got no idea,” Xander said with a smile. His free lashed out, striking Lora right between the eyes. Even though she howled in pain, Xander didn’t let up. He followed up with two more punches, one to the nose and the other to her check, knocking her off of him. Unfortunately the stake went with her.

Lora was still conscious, but she was too busy clutching her smoking face and whimpering in pain to get up at the moment allowing Xander a moment to breath. He would have like to lay there for a bit, get his bearings or maybe just close his eyes but he didn’t have that luxury. Suppressing a groan, Xander lifted himself up to his feet. The weight of the twice blessed brass knuckles he had slipped on his right hand felt good, though hitting Lora with them hurt his fist more than he would have liked. Still, she was hurt more so that helped him better about it. Seeing Lora try to stand up out of the corner of his eye, Xander went over and slammed his fist in the back of her skull dropping her soundly to the floor.

Hands on his knees, Xander tried to catch his breath. The whole fight had taken a few minutes but those minutes can feel like an eternity. His back was killing him and his hand was throbbing. All in all it wasn’t that bad, but he’d still have preferred it if he had gotten through this without having to get banged up. It was a lot to ask for, he knew, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t hope. Before he righted himself, the light played across the broken glass from the picture frames on the floor, catching his eye. Before he even realized what he was doing, he had picked it up one of the broken frames.

It was picture of a group of five women, one of them being Lora. They were all standing in the front of the house, smiling seductively at the camera. Three of the other women he didn’t recognize from a hole in the wall. They were all pretty enough, sure, and not at all human. The fifth girl, however, was very recognizable. He had tried finding her for some time now, but without anything to go on and not knowing who to ask, he hadn’t been able to come up with any information on her. Now she was standing in frame, smiling at him. She didn’t look any younger than when he had seen her in Ethan’s shop that day holding a bundle of costumes. Even after all of the years he had been inside of John’s head, he always remembered her face.

Getting up, Xander stormed over to Lora’s prone form. “Get up,” he snarled. “Get up!” He kicked her hard in the stomach eliciting a groan from the vampire. Grabbing her hair, Xander lifted her head up. Her face was marred with blisters from where he had hit her with the brass knuckles, but they were already healing. “Who’s the girl? The Asian one in this picture, who is she?”

“Who?” Lora asked groggily.

“The girl in the picture,” he snarled. “Who the hell is she? How do you know her?”

Lora’s face had reverted back to its human form and when she cringed away from him, she seemed innocent, fearful. Xander didn’t care though, he knew real innocence and she hadn’t had anything like that in decades. She cried out in pain as Xander pulled her to her feet by her hair, but he didn’t pay it any attention.

Pressing the brass knuckles against the exposed top of her chest, Xander asked, “Tell me what I want to know, and the pain stops. Don’t, and I start getting creative with where I put this thing next.”

She didn’t scream like he had expected, but sucked in air through gritted teeth to ease some of the pain. “You’re dead,” she told him. “Even if you kill me, there’s no way you’re making it out of here alive. Madam said the Mayor wanted you dead, it doesn’t matter what you do now.”

“Good, then it won’t matter what you tell me.” Xander pressed down harder with the blessed weapon, grinning wickedly as the smoke rose up from her burning skin. “The Mayor can wait. Who’s the girl?”

Mouth open wide in a soundless scream, Lora glanced at the photo. “Tiffani! The girl…the girl’s name is Tiffani!”

“Where is she?”

“Fuck!” Lora writhed in pain. “Not here! She left months ago. None of us have had any contact with her. Once you leave, you’re gone for good. That’s how it goes!”

“What is she?” Xander asked angrily. “Vampire? Demon? Something else?”

“Human!” Lora cried out. “She was as vanilla as you can get.”

Letting up on the pressure, Xander pushed Lora back onto the bed. She collapsed in a heap, taking in big shuddering breathes to ease the pain. He wasn’t going to be getting anything else from her. He had been involved with enough interrogations to know when someone was telling the truth under duress and when they were just telling you what you wanted to hear. Lora was telling him the truth which meant that he now had a name to the girl that had caused all of this. But why here? It couldn’t have happened by chance, could it? Again, the questions where pilling up with no answers in sight.

Taking the photo, Xander slipped it into his coat pocket and tossed the frame onto the floor. Leaving Lora to whimper uselessly, Xander left the room and was greeted by…nothing. He had been expecting some kind of noise but there was nothing but silence. The room itself had been quiet, made to be so by some sort spell or another, but this kind of silence was different, it was heavier. He kept his senses on high alert as he made his way down the hall and down the stairs. Nothing jumped out at him, which would normally be good, but his time it only served to make him even more wary.

Nothing accosted him when he walked into the Madam’s office and there was a good reason for that. The Madam was dead, slumped forward in her chair with her neck twisted in an unnatural angle. Angel stood with his back to the doorway, breathing heavy and holding Janice off the floor and against the wall, one hand around her throat. She was still alive judging by the color her face was turning and the lame attempts to pry him off of her. Being very careful not to make any sudden moves, Xander stood in the doorway and assessed the situation.

“Angel,” Xander said calmly. “We need to leave. It wasn’t her.”

“I know,” Angel growled.

Xanders gaze fell on the dead body of the Madam before he said, “I can see. Something I need to know?”

Slamming Janice into the wall, Angel let her drop to the floor where she started coughing, taking in as much air as she could. “She let it slip after you two left. After that we had…words. She’d been in contact with the Mayor since we got here.”

“I know. Turned out Lora was a vampire ready to drain me. I’m guessing the note was instructions on what to do with me. She told me about the Mayor, though. I think I’m going to have to show my displeasure with his Honor, soon and violently.”

Angel hadn’t turned away from Janice. He stood over her, shaking from keeping himself under control. When he spoke, it was as if he hadn’t heard anything that Xander had told him. “She came back,” he said referring to Janice, “Starting attacking me right away.”

“That’s nice. Maybe we can talk about it after we get the hell out of here. Lora isn’t going to stay down for long and if any of the other girls in this place are like her, we’re going to start having problems.”

Angel snapped out of it and looked back at Xander as if noticing him for the first time. “Right, let’s go,” he said. He gave Janice and the dead body of the Madam one more look and left the room, walking past Xander and towards the front door.

Xander looked around as well. His worries about Angel looked as if they might be justified. It wasn’t that he was particularly upset over the Madam being dead. She had tried to kill him after all. Janice was hardly an innocent in all of this either, but she didn’t deserve to die and if Xander hadn’t came in when he did, he didn’t want to think about what might have happened to her. But if Janice had come in and started to attack Angel, where was her weapon? There wasn’t a stake on the ground or any other conventional weapon either. Not to mention, why did Angel snap the Madam’s neck? There wasn’t a struggle on her part. Hell, she hadn’t even left her chair.

Frowning, Xander turned and followed Angel out of the house. The vampire was sitting in the driver seat of his car with his eyes staring off into the distance when Xander made it outside. His face was pensive, as if he had a heavy weight on his mind. Considering what had happened inside, it wasn’t any surprise. Xander didn’t say anything as he got into the passenger seat. He would have been content to let the silence go on but Angel wasn’t going anywhere.

“When I said we needed to leave, I meant the area, not just the house. Last time I checked, vampires can still walk outside,” Xander said easily.

Wordlessly, Angel started up the car and pulled out into the street. They didn’t have any specific direction at the moment, but they needed to put distance between themselves and the brothel. After several minutes and a few random turns, Xander figured they needed a place to work out their next move. Xander told Angel of this and only got a short nod in return. When it was obvious that he wasn’t going to be getting help on Angel’s part, Xander picked the one place he felt they might be able to relax for a moment, Willie’s Place. Angel didn’t even bother responding this time but turned towards Willie’s at the next intersection.

They pulled up to Willie’s a short time later. Xander was wrapped up in his own head trying to work out the million and one questions and problems that were piling up that he didn’t notice Angel had stopped till he felt his hand on his shoulder. Shooting him a questioning look, Xander stopped from asking him anything once he saw the look on Angel’s face.

When Angel spoke, it was barely above a whisper. “You smell that?”

“Smell what?”

Taking a few more sniffs of the air, Angel furrowed his brow. “Cordite…and blood.”

‘Damn it,’ Xander thought. ‘This night just keeps getting better and better.’

Walking up to the bar’s door, Xander and Angel tried to make out any sounds but when they reached the door, all they heard was movement, the scraping of chairs on floors and a few cries of pain. Without any way to see inside, there was no way to know what was going on.

Xander was tired, hurting and wanted nothing to do with what was going on inside. But, whatever was happening he sure as hell knew that Willie was in the middle of it. Even if Willie wasn’t responsible, it was his bar which meant that he’d probably end up being dragged into it and despite what some people may believe, he was a decent man in his own right. More than that, Willie had become a friend of his. He had looked out for him and stuck his neck out for him when he had no reason to. In Xander’s mind, that was all the reason he needed to go in there. Nodding once to Angel, Xander pulled the door open and walked in like he owned the place.

Three things happened. One, Xander stopped short causing Angel to knock into him. Second, all eyes in the bar turned to him, which gave him a perfect audience. Because lastly, every coherent thought in his head disappeared and he barely even registered that he was speaking until it was too late. “Oh Christ, it’s her. Run.”

The End?

You have reached the end of "Agents of Grey" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 18 Mar 10.

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