A/N Well, here it is at last. Writer’s block; an OFC who popped up from nowhere and, despite my efforts, couldn’t get rid of; as well the fact that I never originally planned for the boys to find out about the supernatural; this has been a battle and ended up heavier than my previous stuff, leading to the epic delay! My apologies :)
Massive thanks, as ever, to RevDorothyL for the beta. All remaining mistakes are mine.
Disclaimer: BtVs & The Magnificient Seven TV show not mine. Thanks to MOG for starting the ATF AU.
Xander sipped at the substandard coffee he’d been forced to buy from the only place left open in the bus station. A year ago he would have been perfectly happy with what he was drinking but, between Vin and Ezra, he had been initiated into the full range of wonders of the caffeinated beverage. From the morning ‘strong enough stand your spoon in’ brew to the sublime caramel flavoured grounds that Ezra had imported.
He sighed at the thought of Ezra. After the somewhat disastrous poker evening, Xander had returned the stunned man to his apartment, before leaving to try and find supplies and someone to look after the kittens. Planning to sit his father down the next morning and have a long talk, he’d been dismayed to discover that Ezra had been whisked off to a top secret assignment with another agency.
Part of him was thankful that the subject of his past had at last been irrevocably broached while the other part had barely held off from staking the annoying blond vampire.
Spike had finally left the day before, having extended his stay for as long as he could. It was a strange world where he could consider a vampire to be a friend, he mused. His hatred of all things ‘unnatural’ had been so strong in the beginning-- his guiding principle-- but those walls had been broken down slowly. By Anya. By Dawn. And of course Spike’s sacrifices for Buffy, for Dawn, and in the end for human existence, whether he meant it that way or not. The events here in Denver had been the final straw: Spike was his friend, and he was proud of that. It didn’t matter where you were from, or what you’d done in your past. What mattered was where you stood when it counted: side by side, brothers. He guessed he had his father’s friends to thank for that final revelation.
Xander checked the Arrivals board again, noting that, despite the fact that the bus from Cleveland was 30 minutes late already, it was still showing as on-time. He debated going over to the bored-looking clerk in the ticket office, but was pretty sure this time he’d end up resorting to violence. Some people simply weren’t suited to customer relations. Next time he’d have to bring Chris: who needed words when a glare would do? Xander smiled to himself as the image of wielding Chris like Medusa’s head popped into his mind, except instead of people turning to stone they collapsed into gibbering heaps.
The sound of a bus arriving pulled him out of his reverie and he was relieved to find it to be the one he was waiting for. He moved into a position where those disembarking wouldn’t have to look too hard to find him. There hadn’t seemed any point in bringing a sign; he doubted there’d be any other dark haired, one-eyed men in the terminal.
Xander spotted his new charge instantly as she came into view. He was glad that he’d placed himself far enough away that he wouldn’t be immediately noticed; it gave him a vital few seconds to school his features. The young slayer’s body language was a clash of fear and defeat, but despite the obvious pain she was in, still screamed predator. He’d noticed on his last visit to Cleveland that all of the Slayers, whether they were the potentials who had been battle-tested in Sunnydale or one of the newly called, had not only the natural grace that Buffy and Faith had always shown but also an instinctive awareness of their surroundings. It just went to show how stupid demon-kind was that they fell for the ‘poor helpless me’ routine nearly every time.
Xander saw her straighten as she recognised him, and he was impressed at how well she covered her feelings. Nowhere near Ezra’s level of talent, but pretty good all the same. He nodded in acknowledgement and waited while she got her luggage.
Giving her a warm smile as she approached, Xander called out his greeting. “Hi, you must be Abby. I’m Xander.” He received a firm handshake from the girl but nothing in reply.
“If I offer to take your bags are you going to hit me?” Xander bit back a smile at the startled look on the girl’s face but was pleased to receive a small smile in return. “I’m going to take that as a ‘no.’” Reaching down he picked up her bag, mock-groaning at the weight. While it was heavier than you’d expect a small girl to be able to carry, fortunately it wasn’t too bad.
“Come on, my car is just over here. Now it may look like a bit of a heap but I can assure you the ole girl has heart. Probably about the only thing keeping her running is love and duct tape, but it’s the kind of ride that comes along once in a lifetime. I call her Betsy, and rule one for your visit is no dissing Betsy in her earshot, ‘kay?” Xander turned to cock an eyebrow in question.
He received a nod in reply and so he carried on. “Rule two: you need anything, you ask. I’m a guy, not a mind reader, and therefore pretty useless at all the usual hospitality stuff. I’m not going to bite your head off if you got a problem or need help, or even if you just need a bit of space. Just tell me.” They came to a halt next to the car, and this time Xander turned to her fully to get his answer.
“Yes, sir.” The reply was really quiet, but Xander was glad to have finally got something out of her. Putting her luggage into the trunk, he climbed in, pleased to see she had not waited for any instructions from him to get in herself.
“Rule three: my name is Xander. Very important, that one. In non-emergency situations you may refer to me as ‘O Mighty One’. Keeps me sweet and you in high-calorie snacks.” Xander grinned at the small giggle that one produced.
“Rule four: if you eat the last Twinkie, tell me so I can go get more. The breaking of this rule would be right up there with a level three apocalypse… Maybe we should write that one down. Actually, let’s extend that to ‘eat the last of anything.’ Snack food is king in my home… Rule five is don’t tell Nathan.”
“Excellent question, young Padawan. Questions are good -- in fact, make that rule six: no question is a stupid question, ask away.” Xander felt he was on a roll here. “Nathan is one of my Dad’s friends, bit of a health nut. Comes up with the most disgusting ‘remedies’ you can imagine -- I suspect it may be his way of giving us extra motivation not to get sick or injured. But he’s a good guy, even though he has this crazy notion that Twinkies don’t count as real food. Right, where were we up to?”
“Rule six,” Abby offered softly.
“Good memory there; we’ll have to be relying on you for that, because I’m losing track here already.” Xander frowned. “Okay, rule seven is: the number for any particular rule is whatever I deem it to be at the time.” He was pleased to see that got an actual smile out of the young girl.
Xander spotted a 7-Eleven ahead and glanced at his passenger. “You want to stop for anything, or do you just want to risk my cupboards? Any allergies or anything I should know about?”
“No, sir.” Abby seemed to shrink at Xander’s frown.
“Uh-uh. Rule, er, three? I’m calling a Rule seven there, too.” Xander smiled.
“No, Xander.” Abby returned the smile. “I’m kinda tired. Could we just go to where I’m staying, please?”
“No problem.” Xander fell quiet as they headed into Purgatorio. He frowned as he took in the look of his neighbourhood. He really didn’t notice how rough the area he’d chosen as home was, but now driving along and imagining what it must look like to someone else, he began to see why Ezra was always so concerned.
“Nearly there, Abby. I’m afraid I don’t live in the nicest part of town, but the apartment’s clean and nobody really bothers me. It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Xander caught a quick look of disbelief before Abby fixed a more neutral expression on her face. Xander sighed; well, at least having Ezra as a father gave him a bit of head start in deciphering a ‘poker face’.
Pulling up in front of his building, Xander was a little surprised to find her apparently reluctant to leave the car before he’d finished unloading her bags. Once he’d moved around to her side of the vehicle she exited and placed her self at his side. Xander was left pondering her behaviour as they headed up to his place.
Xander had shown Abby his spare room and she had turned down the offer of food before she settled in for the night. He was concerned -- she had a slayer metabolism, after all. However, if she wasn’t eating properly it went some way to explaining how listless she was. No one had ever seen a fat slayer, but Abby seemed a little on the thin side even for a slayer. Satisfied that his guest was asleep, he left a note on the table instructing her to help herself to anything in the kitchen and telling her if she needed him he was on the roof.
Taking the phone with him up to the rooftop, Xander figured he was safely out of earshot of the young slayer. He loved the roof. As far as he was aware, none of the other tenants came up here, and as his place was usually an open house it gave him somewhere to escape to when he wanted privacy.
“Hey, Will. She’s arrived, safe and sound.” Xander automatically kept his voice low.
“Thank you again for this, Xander.” Willow was relieved her friend had agreed to help out. They’d done all they could for the young slayer but nothing seemed to be working. “What do you think?”
“She’s only just arrived, Willow,” Xander paused before continuing. “But, yeah, I can see why you guys were worried. Did you notice a problem with her eating?”
“Andrew raised his concerns but you know they have pretty much free range here. She avoided company, mealtimes included, but we figured she was just helping herself and eating alone.” Xander could hear guilt in Willow’s voice.
“Makes sense. I don’t think it’s a major issue, Wills. Any idea what her favourite foods are? I’m not going to push it yet, but if I have what she likes on hand….” Xander knew that the best way to help ease his friend’s mind was to offer solutions.
“I’ll ask Andrew and let you know. Are you sure you don’t want any more details about what happened, Xander?” Willow asked.
“No, I think it’s going to be better for her to tell me on her own. Did you do as I asked?”
“Yeah, we told her that you knew that she’d accidentally killed someone, that the police had ruled it as death by misadventure and that it was up to her to tell you as much or as little as she wanted.” Willow had been uncomfortable with Xander’s decision but he had put his foot down. If they wanted his help, it was going to be on his terms. “How did she seem to you?”
“Subdued. She was so bright and bubbly when I saw her in Cleveland.” Xander paused as he thought back over his interaction with the girl over the past hour or so.
“Oh my god,” Xander’s heart broke as he put together her earlier behaviour. “She was using me,” He heard a startled intake of breath from the other end. “Sorry, that didn’t come out right. She wouldn’t get out of the car until I was next to her. I think she’s expecting me to make sure she doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“Oh, poor Abby. Hang on a minute, Xan.” Willow had a muffled conversation with someone else in the room. “We think you have a point: whenever she left the school she was always accompanied by one of the older slayers.”
“Are you sure I’m the best person for this?” Xander sighed.
“You’ve figured more out in an hour than we have over the past week, Xander. Anyway, it was Faith’s idea.” Willow told him matter-of-factly.
“Faith didn’t have any luck, then?” He would have thought that Faith would have been the best person to handle this.
“Sort of. While she did connect with her after a while, I believe that Abby started to feel guilty that she was getting support but Faith hadn’t. It wasn’t doing either of them any good. That’s why I sent her to you,” Willow explained.
“I’m really scared of screwing this up, Willow.” Xander whispered softly.
“I have faith in you, Xander. It sounds like you’ve got her interacting, which is more than most people have around here. I honestly believe you’re the best thing for her. I can’t thank you enough for doing this.” Willow tried to sound as positive as possible, knowing her friend needed to hear her unconditional belief in him.
“Don’t thank me yet.” Xander was afraid of getting their hopes up; they’d placed a huge responsibility in his hands.
“Positive mental attitude, Xander. A Scooby never gives up.” Xander smiled as he could practically hear the ‘resolve face’ in her voice.
“I’m still a Scooby, then?” Xander knew that they had pretty much accepted his need to leave and not join them in Cleveland, but there was still a part of him that felt guilty for abandoning the ‘good fight’.
“Of course you are.” There was no mistaking the shock in Willow’s voice that he might have thought otherwise. “Once a Scooby, always a Scooby.”
“Unless you turn evil.” Xander added what he felt was an important caveat.
“Unless you turn evil.” Willow laughed.
“Thanks, Willow. I’ll keep in touch, but we’re going to take this slow.” Xander wanted to make it clear he wasn’t going to be giving them daily updates or anything. That wasn’t going to help anyone.
“Alright, Xander. Call me in a couple of days. It doesn’t have to be anything about Abby, though. We don’t talk enough anymore. I miss my Xander friend.” Willow replied.
“Miss you too, Wills. I’ll call soon. Bye.” Xander finished with a smile.
Xander shut the phone with a snap. He took a deep breath and looked out over the neighbourhood. It might not be pretty, but it was home.