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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 GreenthegoodfightFR18748,4657158,26416 Mar 1018 Mar 10No

Chapter One

A/N: The sequal to "A Walk on the Hellmouth". Been trying to update it for a while but been having problems on the site for some reason. Well, here it is, folks. Let me know what you think. Good, bad, squishy. Hope you enjoy. Spoilers for the Nightside series up to "Hell to Pay" and Buffy, well, let's go with all of the seasons just to be safe. I own nothing.

Chapter 1

L.A. was the furthest that he had traveled so far, physically anyway, and he wasn't seeing the appeal of it. It was all too bright, too fake and, well, too clean in a sense. If it was dirtier and more dangerous then he wouldn't have a problem with it. Well, no, that's a lie. He still would have a problem but he could at least pretend a bit better. As it was, he was barely tolerating it. Still, this is where the case had taken him and he wasn't about to not go just because the city got on his nerves. Demons, monsters and other such sordid creatures of the night hadn't kept him from doing what he said he would, so this wouldn't kill him. Besides, this was just the drop off point. The real work had been back home in Sunnydale, which didn't make a whole lot of sense when he thought about it. If these people were willing to pay so much money for this particular item then why couldn't they spend a little bit more and just pick it up back in Sunnydale.

That was lawyers for you.

The meeting place at least had him feeling comfortable. It was a demon bar of sorts. Well, actually it was a demon karaoke bar. It was supposed to be neutral ground of sorts and from what he had heard, it was strictly enforced. How, he had no idea and didn't want to find out by example. The owner was some green skin demon who could read your aura or some such thing if you sang. The Host, as he was called, was easy going and it didn't seem like he would hurt a fly even if he could. He had been stopped by him when he first came in and told in no uncertain terms that the deal was not allowed to take place within the bar itself. He didn't know how the Host knew about the deal but he didn't want to step on any toes if he could help it. Xander told him that he would make sure to take it outside when the time came. The Host had lingered there for a moment, giving Xander the impression that he was being looked on more than just a surface level. It was unnerving to say the least.

Finally, shaking his head and looking a bit dizzy, the demon/bar owner had walked off leaving Xander to sit around and listen to some really bad renditions of equally bad songs but nursing rather good drinks. He made sure not to drink anything too strong since this was sometimes the most dangerous part of the job, but a few drinks weren't going to mess with his head any. Apparently he had inherited his family's tolerance of the stuff and, when he was honest with himself, maybe he also had the taste for it. Then again, he wasn't addicted to it or anything. Unless of course he just didn't know about it yet. Oh well, another line on his long list of things to think about.

It was still strange to think that only six months ago things had been so different. Things had been normal, well, relatively normal. Go to school, fight vampires with his friends, go to the Bronze, fight demons with his friends, get turned down for dates and avert the apocalypse with his friends. Oh, and one more thing, actual have friends. Then, on one not so chilly Halloween night, Ethan Rayne, chaos mage and general wanna-be-fuck-everything-up guy, walked into town and turned everyone into costumes he had sold them. Somehow he had ended up dressing up as someone who actually existed and things had just gone downhill from there.

The man he had dressed up as, John Taylor, was not the most normal person on the face of the planet. It's kind of hard to be when you're the son of the biblical myth Lilith and the only reason for her giving birth to you was to destroy everything and recreate it in her image. Since the world was still turning, it hadn't turned out that way obviously, but it's still enough to mess with a person's mind. So, naturally, that wasn't allowed to be all that John had dealt with. No, that would have made things too easy.

John lived in a place called the Nightside. It was a hidden city within the city of London. It was a place where monsters, Gods, Powers and Dominations walked freely through the streets. A place that heaven and hell stayed out of, unless you count that pesky Angel War, but really, no one cares about that anymore. You could get anything you wanted in the Nightside, anything, and all it would cost you is your soul or at least part of it if not someone else's. It was a place where the really wild things lived. All in all, not the nicest place to live. John not only lived there, he thrived. He belonged there.

That was who Xander had turned into that fateful night and, by a series of events, he had lived through it. Not just for one night, but for thirty full years. It wasn't enough that he got John's memories but he had lived through John's life, in real time no less. Every horrible experience, bone crushing defeat and violent and necessary deed, he had experienced it as if it was his own. Needless to say, it caused some issues between him and his former friends. He was the same just...different. He wasn't as naive as Buffy and Willow were. He had seen the truly evil beings that lived in this world and things like vampires and pesky little demons, while scary at times, just didn't hold the same punch as they did. It probably spoke volumes considering that his favorite hangout in Sunnydale was the local demon bar known as Willie's. To be fair, it was also where he picked up most of his cases.

That's right, cases. Since it was about the only thing that he felt he could do, Xander had taken a lead from the man who he had shared a brain with and had become a private detective specializing in finding things. How was it possible some may ask? Well, that part was easy. John Taylor had a gift left to him by his mother. He could find anything. Literally. People, objects, power, hidden magics, and a few things that were not so easy to define. It could all be found by him if he knew the right question to ask and opened up his third eye, what he had dubbed his private eye. And now, by some sort of twist of fate that made no sense, Xander could as well. It was about the only good thing to come along with the nightmares that he had endured while trapped inside the mind of John Taylor.

After some pretty bad choices on his part, Xander had separated from his friends, dropped out of school, and was doing what he could to help fight against the tide of evil in his own personal way. Admittedly it was a bit hard to do that considering that it was generally those sorts of people and not people that hired him. That was one of the many things that he had learned. The world was a whole lot of gray with slim bits of black and white and even those where hard to peg down. One person's hero was another's villain and vice versa and most of the time they never thought of themselves as either. He did his best to walk the line he had drawn for himself but when you struggled to get by, that line could get real damn thin sometimes. So, he took cases where he could and from who or what hired him. He still needed to eat and it also gave him a beat on what was happening on the Hellmouth. If he got a wind of something that was too bad to be ignored then he stepped in or made sure that those that needed to know, did.

"I take that you didn't have any problems then?" A silky voice asked behind him.

Silently cursing himself for getting caught up in his own thoughts and letting the woman sneak up on him, Xander replied, "If it was anything that I couldn't take care of, would I be sitting here?"

Truth be told, the object that Xander was carrying had been painfully easy to find and get his hands on, but he wasn't about to let his client know that. The only thing that had been tricky was some sort of spell or curse that had been placed on it but he had taken care of that in short work. All he had to do was find how it was tied to the object and it was easy enough to pull it away, which was simple when he just had to "look" at it the right way. It was unnerving how easy it had been and had him slightly on edge. After all, Wolfram and Hart where known for backstabbing and cut throat acts, in both the figurative and literal sense, and Lilah Morgan was as ice cold as they came.

Lilah had sought him out, working through a go between at first till Xander insisted on meeting her before taking the case. Never take a case unless you know exactly who you're working for was key to staying alive. Also, if you looked the client in the eyes it helped to let them know that you weren't one to be trifled with and bad things would happen to them if they didn't pay up. After all, being alive was all fine and well but making rent and being able to eat were also important.

"My employers just want to make sure that nothing will lead back to them. You can understand why we would wish to remain anonymous in this matter," Lilah told him, taking a seat across from him.

Nodding, Xander certainly did understand. The thing he was carrying would probably start a war between about three different clans of demons in this bar alone if his information was right. "Listen, no one knows about this except me and you and your people. After we settle up, it'll just be you and your people, got it?"

"That's one of the reasons that we decided to hire you, Mr. Harris. Your dedication to privacy is what sets you apart from some of the other people in your line of work. Normally we wouldn't use such a new player're making quite the name for yourself," Lilah gave him a cold, seductive smile. One that would have sent shivers run down the spine of most men and not a few women. Xander had seen better. "So much so that you've caught the attention of the senior partners of the firm. They've been talking about offering you a permanent position with our organization."

Now that set off the warning bells in Xander's head. He was being offered a job with these people after working only one case for them? Even without what he knew about them, that was scary and completely unheard of unless they had been watching him for some time. But he did know about them. The place was corrupt. A cesspool of black magic, negative energy, and lawyers. They had a finger in just about anything evil that was out there and that included being the law firm that handled Mr. Cheerful, a.k.a the Mayor of Sunnydale. If they worked with him then there wasn't any way in hell that he would be working for them in anything other than his own personal freelance way and even then only if he felt like it. He worked for who he wanted to and took cases that he wanted. He wasn't anyone's lapdog and he didn't sell himself to anyone. His services, maybe, but not who he was.

"Lilah," Xander started, making sure to call the woman by her first name, "We had an arrangement. I got what you're looking for and you had better have my money. As for your offer, keep it. I work for me. If your bosses have a problem with that, tell them 'tough', got it?"

The bit of force he had put into his voice didn't seem to phase Lilah in the slightest. Her smile, if at all possible, became colder. Sharper. It was slightly impressive since as far as Xander knew, Lilah was completely human. Then again, she did work for an evil law firm so she was bound to have seen some pretty horrible things. It was respectable in its own way.

"Mr. Harris, I'm sure you can understand what kind of opportunity this is. The Senior Partners rarely make suggestions for employment. They've taken an interest in you," Lilah explained, leaning over the table giving Xander a view that would have distracted him not a year ago. Now, he just appreciated it for what it was and tried his hardest not to stare. His libido was still that of a seventeen year old after all.

Smirking, letting her know that he had taken the bait, Xander looked back at her eyes. "I have to admit, it's a tempting offer. I can definitely see the perks of the job, as they were. But, let's see. You've tried the straight approach, then flattering and now flirtation. Have I missed anything or are we done here?"

The smile disappeared instantly as Lilah sat back. Her face was hard, and there wasn't even the smallest amount of amusement on her face. "Alright, Harris, if that's how you want to play it, that's fine by me. I told them that this would be a waste of time but I tried which is all I had to do. Hand over the relic and you get to leave here in one piece. See, the one thing you did miss was the three heavily armed personal training guns on you at this very moment. I don't care what people say about you but you can't beat three of our men. Not all at the same time."

"No violence, remember? Wasn't that the whole reason you chose this place?" Xander asked, his eyes never leaving hers. He had noticed two of the men watching them. They had been in place before Lilah had ever arrived. The third, to their credit, he hadn't made out and still didn't know where he was. Damn.

Caritas was known for being a safe place, though. Violence was not only strongly discouraged but physically impossible. At least that's what he had been told before he came here. Obviously, Lilah and her people at Wolfram and Hart had either found a way around it or knew something that he didn't. Either way, it wasn't a good thing for him.

"I'm willing to bet that every single bullet finds its way right through that white coat of yours and straight through your heart, spell or no spell. I don't even know why they wanted me to waste my time on a little upstart like you," Lilah told him.

'Spell? That's interesting,' Xander thought while staring at the lawyer before him. Slowly, so as to not raise any suspicion by anyone, especially Lilah, he started raising his gift searching for the spell that she had mentioned. The magic flared up almost instantly before him, it's intricate and complex web laid out before him. Along with about a hundred other things that where well hidden but he ignored them as best he could. After all, they ignored him so it was only fair.

"What about my payment?" Xander asked, buying himself time to work out the source of the spell that seemed to stop violence in the bar. It wasn't hard to pull it apart if he knew where it all came together and that took a little bit of time if he wanted to do it slowly and carefully.

"Payment?" Lilah snorted. "You really do think you're something, don't you?"

Grinning, Xander replied, "Lady, I know I'm something. The question is do you know what I am? You say that you came to me because of what you heard and I'm betting that you've heard a lot. In that case then you know that I'm not the kind of person you want to stiff."

"Well, Mr. Harris," Lilah smirked, "I don't really give a damn about what they say about you. Some kid from the Hellmouth who no one saw coming may surprise some people but not me. You got Wilkins going nuts but honestly? Who really gives a damn? What I do know is that as long as you're in Sunnydale, we can't officially touch you. But wouldn't you know it, you're not in Sunnydale anymore. So, as for payment, I'll let you walk your ass out of here in one piece. Sounds fair?"

Xander finally found what he was looking for and grinned nastily at Lilah. "Last chance, Lilah. I'd hate for something to happen to you on the way out of here."

Matching his grin, Lilah said, "One little wave of my hand and you'll be learning how to breath with several new holes in your lungs. Now hand it over before I forget if fixing my hair is the sign to leave or to shoot you to death."

Reaching into his inside coat pocket, Xander removed a small velvet bag that contained the item in question. It wasn't much to look at. A small bone, roughly the size of his index finger, blackened by age and fire. It was a lot heavier than it should be but then again it wasn't a normal bone, human or otherwise. With a flick of his wrist, the bag landed on the table with a dull thud.

"There. That's what you're looking for anyway." Spotting the Host watching the exchange with a very unhappy look on his face, Xander wanted to get this done fast. "You never planned on paying me, did you?"

"My, you are the quick one, aren't you?" Lilah collected the bag and put it into her own pocket. "My job was to either bring you in or collect the artifact. How I did the last part wasn't specified."

"Try to stiff me, Lilah, and it's going to lead to a lot of problems for you."

Faking a shiver, Lilah stood up. "It never ceases to amaze me with people like you. You think this is the first time I've been threatened? Hell, you're not even that good at it. Word to the young and new at this. Learn who the winning team is. The offer stands when you wise up."

Watching as Lilah started to walk away and towards the exit, Xander stood up drawing a few looks from the people and demons around him. "Well, if that's everything then I guess you'll just be on your way then. I mean, if I were you I don't think I would want to stick around for long either. Carrying a Thul pointing bone is like walking around with a target on your head."

All noise in the bar stopped as everyone's attention became fixed on Xander and Lilah. The only sound was from the squeal of the sound system as the demon on stage dropped the mike too close to the speaker. The Thul pointing bone, a demon version of an Aboriginal pointing bone was a pretty serious artifact. That only made it damn interesting but it was more than some mystical doo-dad. It was a holy grail of sorts to many of the more religious demonic clans out there. Wars had been fought over the mere mention of where one may be. What it could actually do had been debated since its creation, a subject that was also greatly discussed. All that anyone knew is that demons had been killing over this thing for as long as anyone could remember. Throwing their lives away, falling back to their most basic and primal instincts in order to get their hands on it. It wasn't the most powerful object on its own but the faith and blood that had been spilled in its name had changed it. Not by much, but enough that it was sought after with fervor and savage determination.

Out of the corner of his eye, Xander watched as the Host tried to make his way to the front of the bar to defuse the situation. By now, Xander had already found the exact point where the no violence spell was tied into the place. It was a simple little thing, elegant in its construction and powerful too boot. It was almost too easy to pull apart once he knew where to look though. Nothing this powerful could stand on its own for long. The Host probably had somebody or even several someone's reinforcing it every so often. Good for him. It shows that he was at least trying to keep his place from getting destroyed. Not that it was going to do him much good in a few moments, but still.

"Last chance, Lilah," Xander said just loud enough for her, and those with enhanced ear drums, to hear. "You can still walk away from this as long as you get me the money. Or you could just hand over the pointing bone. I'm sure I can find someone who'd be willing to pay."

As the well dressed lawyer turned around, the three armed men appeared next to her, training their guns on some of the closer demons, dismissing Xander as a threat for the time being. She didn't say anything, choosing to watch Xander and wait to see his next move. It had probably worked for her in the past, Xander mused. After all, to her he was just some kid who had a reputation that wasn't fully known yet and, in her mind, probably exaggerated.

He had made a name for himself back in Sunnydale and it had spilled over a bit it seemed but not to the point where they had any idea of what he could really do. It was something that both worked for and against him. A reputation could do a lot for a person, as John had often mused. It kept the flies off. If you had a really good reputation, or bad depending on your point of view, then it could not only keep people away but it could be used as a weapon that could beat even the best gun and magic slingers around. Not having a reputation though, meant that they didn't know what he could do and that meant he could surprise them.

Behind him, Xander could not only hear but could feel the demons and creatures growling and advancing slowly. None of them knew that the spell protecting the place was going to be brought down and while they were inching closer to Lilah, they hadn't made a move because of it. Keeping a slight hold on the fabric of the enchantment, Xander took a few steps closer, ignoring the guns that now wavered towards him once in a while.

"I did warn you," Xander told her, raising a hand into the air for dramatic effect.

"No violence, remember? Meaning that the mob back there can't do shit to me," Lilah told him, her lips pulled up in an evil, yet attractive smirk. It didn't hide the fear in her eyes though.

Shrugging, Xander snapped his fingers and, with his mind, pulled on the string tying the spell together. Instantly, a wave of energy extending from all sides was pulled towards the center of the bar and disappeared in a bright light. It took two seconds before everyone besides Xander and the Host knew what had happened. Xander, having been the one to take down the spell, used the momentary distraction to rush Lilah and pull her to the side. The Host, also well aware of what had just happened, took the time to rush the bar and hide behind it.

After those couple of seconds of confusion, both the demons and the gun men started to attack. The first wave of creatures fell to the well placed bullets but they didn't stand a chance under the overwhelming numbers. Once the demons broke the line, the goons where taken care of quickly. After that, it became a free for all. Demon versus demon and the only rule seemed to be that you didn't attack your own kind. After all, this was a holy object and you might need a sacrifice or two from within your own clan. Either way, it provided Xander with the much needed distraction to pull Lilah up the stairs and out of the bar.

She fought him once they were outside but he outweighed her by more than a few pounds and pulled her down the alleyway a safe distance from the entrance in case someone broke through and noticed where they were.

"Christ, will you let go of me already? You're going to wrinkle the jacket." Lilah tried to pull her arm out of his grasp but he held it firmly.

"Sorry, next time I'll let the demon horde rip you apart like a wishbone." Xander twisted her arm a little, making her exhale in pain. "Now, the offer still stands. Money or bone. Lady's choice."

Xander could tell that she was considering telling him off again but whatever she had planned on saying died in her throat when he looked into her eyes. Lilah Morgan may be used to dealing with scum, demons, and evil lawyers but compared to what Xander had seen through John, that was nothing and it showed in his eyes. John Taylor had been called the Hard Man, among many other names, and Xander had "inherited" that trait from him. If he stared hard enough Lilah wouldn't stand a chance.

After a real shiver ran through her body, Lilah's calm and cold exterior reappeared. "The Senior partners are going to hand me my head over this. Probably literally, you know."

"You work for an evil law firm. Am I supposed to feel bad for you?"

"It pays well," Lilah smirked, reaching into her coat with her free hand. "I have to ask,"

she said, holding the bag out to him, "As one professional to another, how did you pull that off? Our people haven't ever been able to make a dent in that enchantment in all the time that it's been in place."

Taking the bag, Xander placed it inside his white trench coat, letting Lilah go. The growls started sounding louder and they both knew that someone or several someone's had managed to win the fight down in the bar. Time was getting short and it was time to make his less then dazzling getaway.

"Don't bother calling me again, Lilah," Xander told her turning away and walking out towards the street, not bothering to wait to see if she responded.

Once he made it out onto the street, Xander picked up the pace, heading down the sidewalk as fast as he could without running. This was always the hardest part for him. Not doing the job itself. Hell, not even making sure he got paid for the job was as bad as this. It was when things went south that he really hated this line of work. He could handle most things that happened. Well, truth be told he would usually wing it like he had back there, which was fine with him. He did that more often than not anyway. Plans where easy to come up with but they also fell apart just as easily. Still, he could do without the shakes he got after every time something like this happened. Damn adrenaline rush.

When he was sure he was a good distance away from the bar, he slowed to merely a fast walk and assumed his usual scowl he had adopted when walking down the street. It kept the wrong sort of people away, for one thing, and it usual got him a lot of space on the sidewalk. In Sunnydale that was never a problem either way but out here in L.A., the sidewalks where crowded and he didn't feel like shoving his way through them.

The deal may have gone bad but he was sure that he could sell the pointing bone and make a profit from it. Once he got back into town he'd have Willie put the word out, for the usual percentage of course, and be done with it. Willie's place would be the first place he stopped by once he got back into to town then. Having the damn thing on him for longer than necessary was asking for trouble now that the word was out that it had been found and he was sure that some of those demons had gotten a look at him.

Stopping, he looked up at the street signs and silently cursed to himself. Twice this very night, his inner thoughts had kept him from paying attention to his surroundings and he now had no idea where he was. To make matters worse, he couldn't remember where he had parked his car. Well, it wasn't his car, it was Angel's. Not that the vampire would need it at the moment considering what was going on back home, but still.

Sighing, he opened up his inner eye again and found which direction he needed to go in to get back to his car. All he really wanted to do at this point was to get home and fall into his bed. Luckily, L.A. was only a couple hours ride from Sunnydale so he should be home soon enough.

* * *

Five hours later, Xander pulled the car into the parking space with as much force as he could without hitting any of the other cars. What should have been a two hour ride at most had turned into five hours of hell and traffic making for one extremely irritable Xander. He hadn't even bothered going to Willie's once he got into town fearing what he might do if someone decided to pick a fight with him just to try and be a big man. He wouldn't walk away from a fight, not anymore, but he tried not to do anything too permanent, even if it was a demon. Unless of course it was some soulless, evil bastard, then all bets where off.

Something that had become very obvious having spent a lot of his time working within the demonic community was that the majority of them weren't all that bad. Yes, some eat babies, some fed off fear and some killed people for the fun of it, but for the most part they didn't really go in for all of that. If someone was stupid enough to try and take them on, it was one thing but other than that, they tried to make their own way in this world. The ones who did cross the line found out very fast that they didn't have a long life expectancy if they messed with him. His reputation kept most of them well away but those that didn't had themselves wishing they had, usually before they went off to that big fiery pit down below. It wasn't that he had become some kind of big time demon hunter. He just didn't hold back as much when he first started using John's gift. Not only that, but some of the tricks and tactics that he had gained as well came in handy. Nothing like making a pencil appear inside of a vampire's heart to make an impression. It was tricky and he needed a few moments to get himself ready to do it, but damn if it didn't work like a charm.

It was one of the many things that had changed in the past few months. He had become a bit more of a bastard than he had ever thought he could be. People annoyed him more than usual as well as situations. For some reason he couldn't seem to get comfortable anymore. If he had nothing to do and he wasn't working on a case then he was restless and grouchy. Since Sunnydale wasn't the hotbed of work load that the Nightside was, cases weren't exactly pilling up. Oh, there were enough that he could pay any bills he had and make rent but nothing was all that challenging. More than once he found himself thinking about hopping a plane and heading to the Nightside if only for a little while. Of course, right after he thought about it he would immediately get flash backs to the nightmares that were only now starting to let up.

He missed being busy, he missed the excitement that life and death struggles gave him. Both when he was just fighting alongside Buffy and Willow and later while doing his little ride along in John's head. It had taken him a few years while with John to understand that while he was scared to death of the things he went up against, he also craved it a bit. The fight, the adrenalin that coursed through his veins from it. It was why it messed with him that afterwards he was such a wreck. It made no sense to him but then again, he tried to stay away from introspection. At this point, he didn't know what he would find if he looked inside of himself and he didn't want to find out.

The walk from the car to the apartment was uneventful but he still kept his guard up. This was still Sunnydale and reputation or not, something was always lurking in the shadows to come after you if you weren't careful. Letting himself in, Xander shut the door and nearly jumped out of his skin when a light turned itself on in the open living area.

"Angel," Xander said, letting his voice drop all emotion as he looked at the vampire sitting in the chair next to the light switch. His heart was still beating pretty fast which he knew would be hard for Angel to miss but with the way Angel had been acting lately it was best to put up a good hard defense right away. He didn't want him smelling fear on him giving him a reason to pounce.

Angel merely sat still, glaring. The scowl on his face might have intensified but that was all the movement that Xander was able to see. Xander considered himself damn good at staring down his enemies, especially if he pushed it. There was no doubt in his mind that he could make Angel's eyes roll in the back of his head and have him curled up in a ball if he actually put some power into it. But without doing something like that, Angel had him beat hands down. After all, the guy had almost two hundred years of practice. So when he felt his own glare start to break, he let it and dropped the act. Best to start straight out the door then wait for him to make the first move.

"Come on! You didn't really expect me to take the bus to L.A., did you?" Xander threw his hands into the air as he cried out.

"You stole my car! My car that no one even knew I had!" Angel jumped up, letting his calm and cold exterior fall away as well. "How the hell did you even find out about it?"

Shrugging off his coat and hanging it on a hook by the door, Xander said, "You take it for a joy ride at least once a week. You know, for someone who's supposed to be all sneaky and stealthy you might want to consider a car with a quieter engine."

As Xander walked into the kitchenette, Angel followed, clearly not about to let the conversation drop. "You stole my car. My car, Xander. Mine!"

"Well, I hope it was your car," Xander joked. "Who the hell did you even get one of those? I'm not a car guy but even I know that it had to cost a pretty penny."

Mumbling in response, Angel ran a hand through his hair, ignoring the confused look Xander shot him. Some of his anger and annoyance fell away but he wasn't about to let Xander off the hook that easily.

"It doesn't matter how I got the car. The point is that it's my car. If you had just asked me I would have-"

"Completely blown me off about it," Xander cut him off. "You didn't even mention it when I said I had to head to L.A. last time or this time. You know, a guy could start to take offense."

Xander felt Angel staring at the back of his head while he busied himself in the kitchen. He wasn't really looking for anything but if he stopped moving then he would have to face Angel and probably talk to him and get chewed out for taking his car. Granted, he should have asked first but that would have resulted in the idea getting shot down. Really, stealing the thing was his only course of action.

Finally, he heard Angel let out a breath.

"Did you at least fill it up?"

Grinning to himself, Xander nodded. "Most of the way. I didn't want to risk using any of the gas stations this late at night in town. No telling who would work the night shift in those places."

Grabbing two cups from the cupboard, Xander went about making a pot of coffee. Sleep wasn't going to come to him, no matter how hard he tried at the moment and since there were still a few good hours of night time left, Angel wasn't bound to try and sleep either. So for the next few moments, Xander went about making the coffee while Angel went back into the living room to do whatever he had been doing before he scared the hell out of Xander. Knowing him it was probably reading some boring old tome or a wordy book of poetry or something else that he was usually fond of.

Xander had moved in about a month after the whole incident with Spike and Drusilla. Before that he had been sleeping in the back of Willie's Place, for a small charge of course, but it wasn't working out. Willie was fine about it, but there wasn't much in the way of privacy and when someone or something got wind of it, trouble usual came with them. Of course since it was Willie's Place it was hard to tell if he was the cause of the fighting or if it was just a usual night. Again, Willie was OK with it since Xander was not only giving him money but helped to stop some of the fights that broke out if he was there.

After those couple of weeks though Xander wasn't able to take it anymore. Initially he had just asked Angel to help him find a place to crash. Since he was a vampire and all, he thought that he would be able to come up with a good squatting location. It came as a bit of a shock that he had offered up his place till he found an actually apartment that he could afford. Since he wasn't making a ton of cash it was harder than either one of them thought. Xander had since set up in a back room that was only slightly larger than the one back in Willie's place but it kept him out of the main area in case Buffy ever stopped by. They both had agreed that it was best that she didn't know. Angel didn't enjoy keeping it from her but Buffy would have reacted violently had he said anything.

Come to think of it, Buffy hadn't stopped by a whole lot since her birthday. Xander had been in the middle of a case, finding the symbiotic parasite of a Glarknicks demon, and had missed all the festivities. Spike and Drusilla had assembled something called the Judge and where bent on letting it loose to destroy all of humanity, starting with Buffy and the rest of them.

Angel and Buffy had managed to escape their first encounter with the Judge and had tried to make a dash for it back to Angel's place. It came as a surprise to both of them when Angel bounced off the threshold and went crashing back down the ladder and into the sewer. After a few moments of running about, they retreated back to the library where Buffy wanted an explanation. Xander had wished he could have been there to witness the awkwardness of the situation just to have something to laugh at. Although, it was funny to come home and find Angel sitting outside the apartment waiting for Xander to invite him in. Even though it was Angel's apartment, at some point it became Xander's as well and the vampire in Angel needed an invite. Needless to say, Angel had been rather touchy around him and Buffy was suspect of what was going on with him.

Xander was still there and paying rent to Angel despite his refusal to take it. He was stubborn but Xander won out. What amazed him more was that the two of them actual got along pretty well, even with the bickering and good natured teasing. Neither knew if it would have been the case what happened on Halloween hadn't happened. They shared a bond in their separate guilt and self blame for things that couldn't possibly have been their fault. That and both had a better understanding of the underworld and the real world then Buffy and the rest of them. Both of them had seen and done things that none of the others could comprehend and it was best if they didn't. Still, Xander couldn't help but bug the vampire ever chance he got. If anything it livened up the conversations.

"So, how did it go anyway? Any problems?" Angel asked once both where sitting down in the living area.

Blowing out a breath, Xander shook his head but laughed as Angel put down an old leather bound book. "Tons. What made me think taking a job from an evil law firm was a good thing?"

"How bad was it?" Angel asked, leaning forward.

"The car's fine," Xander laughed when he noticed the slightly relieved look on Angel's face. "The worst part is that I didn't get paid. Well, that and I think I might not ever be allowed at Caritas ever again."


"Demon karaoke bar. Don't ask me, I didn't make the place."

"It means Charity," Angel offered. When Xander just looked at him he asked, "So, a fight?"

Looking slightly sheepish, Xander said, "I sort of tore down their security system and started a demon clan fight so I could grab the bone from the lawyer. But in my defense, she wasn't going to pay me. Did try to hit on me though, but it was part of her job. What is it about evil that makes woman so hot anyway?"

Ignoring the question, Angel rubbed his eyes. "You started a clan war and made an enemy out of a law firm that you say represents every form of evil and demon that they can?"

"Huh? Oh, yea. Pretty much." Xander looked thoughtful for a moment before adding, "They where scouting me out. Tried to get me to sign up with them and all that."

The conversation turned a lot more serious at the mention of nearly being recruited. "Wolfram and Hart wanted you to work for them and instead of just turning them down you started a fight between a bunch of demons so you could grab the bone?"

"Pretty much, yea. Oh, don't give me that look. It's about principle. I can't let any of them walk all over me. Not now, not ever. If I do it would be open season on me."

"They're going to retaliate," Angel stated after a pause. "And if they're as bad as everything that you've found out it's going to be messy."

"Yea, I know," Xander said quietly. "I would say that I should get out of town but I have a feeling that they can't really influence anything here. If they could why not come here and talk to me instead of sending an errand boy and then making me head out to L.A.? The only place I know that they can't reach is the Nightside and that...that isn't an option."

"That makes sense," Angel mused.

Shrugging, Xander said, "Don't give me the credit on that one. Lawyer Bitch pretty much told me as much."

"You said that they represent the Mayor, right? If that's the case then he might be the reason they can't touch you. And he isn't allowed to come after you in any kind of official way, either," Angel said, clearly thinking out loud.

Nodding, Xander supplied, "Not that it stopped those vamps last month who just happened to work for Cheerful. I think it must have sent a message though. I haven't been hassled by anything having to do with him since then."

Nodding in agreement, Angel sat back again, taking a sip of his coffee. "So you can't run, staying here may be safest but if you do that then we put everyone at risk. Just because you're not on speaking terms with everyone doesn't mean they won't hit you there if they can."

"What's this 'we' stuff?"

"Don't play dumb with me. If they come after you then they come after me too. Even if they weren't going to hurt anyone else I still wouldn't leave you to fend for yourself."

"I think I liked it better when I just hated you and wanted to push you in front of a sunny window," Xander smirked. "You were a lot less girly."

"Hey! I am not girly," Angel glared.

"Says the man wearing two tons of hair products. How the hell do you even get it to look like that anyway without a mirror? It's not natural."

Grumbling, Angel gave him one last look before taking his coffee and going into the alcove where his bed was set up. He came back a moment later, grabbed the book off the coffee table, and with one last glare, went back to his 'room'.

Despite the messing around with Angel, Xander was starting to get nervous. Wolfram and Hart was a very big threat. Big for him anyway. John had taken down things worse than them but then again, that was John. He wasn't John despite what his thoughts and memories might sometimes say. Hell, despite what some of his actions said too. No, he was still Xander. Sure he had more years of experience more than other people his age, about thirty years more to be exact. He was harder and more cold then anyone that he currently knew that had a soul, and if he was honest, even than some without. But, he wasn't the power that John was even with all of that. He was still frightened of what he could do in a lot of ways. It had been months since he had felt anything try to break through to him when he was using his gift but that didn't mean anything. Add Wolfram and Hart to the picture, and let's not forget Mr. Cheerful, to the mix and things where starting to look a bit intense.

Sighing, he picked himself off the chair and headed into his room to pretend to get some sleep. He'd deal with the assorted mess tomorrow. For tonight, he merely wanted to catch what little shut eye he could and pretend that nothing had changed. That he would wake up tomorrow in his old abusive household, go to his almost literally hellish school and fight an army of demons and assorted creatures later at night with his friends. You know, normal stuff. After all, he could still dream, right?
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