This story was supposed to be a one-shot, but got such a great response on fanfiction.net that I ended up expanding it into a 'round the world Journey that touches bases with just about everyone in the Buffy/Angel universe. It's set just before my "Four Friends" stories.
Many, many thanks to kazzy_cee for the special "Xander's Job" icons she made for this story! Thanks also to my original story beta, Ainon -- Xander's biggest fan.
Xander Harris was having a really, really good day.
He looked around at the bustling activity in the fifteenth floor of a Chicago high-rise, directly above the new headquarters of the Watcher’s Council, and reflected on how well his life was going. Now that the purchase of this floor was complete, and the permit process finished, Xander was running a renovation project that would finally relieve their overcrowding. After all, the floor below had been designed as an emergency backup for the now destroyed London headquarters -- not as a base for not only the watchers and staff, but several dozen slayers.
Faith sauntered by the table on which Xander had laid out the renovation plans. Although she’d balanced a stack of drywall over her head, she still managed to turn and grin at him. “You look happy, boss.”
“Well, I’m standing here and everyone else is doing the work, so -- there you go.”
She winked, showing she wasn’t fooled at all, and went on. Even Faith wasn’t throwing him for a loop, not today.
Smiling, Xander examined the blueprints again. Everything was on schedule. The slayers would still share dorms, but they’d be four to one room instead of a half dozen to a smaller room. They’d have a much better kitchen facility, a classroom -- after all, most of the slayers still needed schooling, whether they liked the idea or not -- and lots more closet space. Best of all, each room would have its own bathroom -- and hadn’t Xander pulled out some hairs getting the plumbing figured out.
Best of all, each watcher would have his own room. Not closets converted into rooms, but actual rooms, with closets of their own. And Xander, by official declaration of the Council, was a full fledged watcher.
Xander chose to ignore the fact that Giles was the only member of the Council at the moment, and that Xander, Robin Wood and Richard Philips made up the entire roster of regular watchers. Why look a gift horse in the mouth?
“Xander!” Buffybot walked by, carrying a load of aluminum wall studs. “Isn’t this great? It’s like -- birth! Only without the mess.”
“It sure is, Bottie. Great, I mean.” He shook his head, still a bit amazed that the dismembered robot could be functional again even after a magical repair job. Not that he was complaining, considering Bottie had been working nonstop since early that morning. When everyone else stopped for lunch, she’d cheerfully kept hauling material around, her whistling echoing around the vast empty space. When had Bottie learned to whistle, anyway?
Thanks in part to her, the wall frames were mostly up, a forest of aluminum studs that had begun to reveal how the rooms would be laid out. Xander had been taken aback at first, when he realized Chicago’s high-rise building ordinance wouldn’t allow him the wooden materials he was most familiar with, but he’d found himself just as adept with noncombustible materials.
So now there he was, large and in charge, doing what he knew best -- and, he confessed, loved best. The slayers, no doubt anxious to get into larger quarters, had thrown themselves into the work, and although mostly untrained were certainly one of the most eager and hard working crews he’d ever supervised. Robin was supervising distribution of tools and materials. Richard, although recovering from an illness, was managing the necessary red tape and paperwork, while young watcher-in-training Jason got food, drinks, and other supplies to the workers -- something of a challenge, considering how quickly several dozen slayers worked up an appetite.
And they all -- every one of them, including the occasional contractor Xander called in for specialized work -- deferred to one Mr. Alexander Harris, the Head Guy in Charge. Too bad Giles was out of town, because Xander surely would have told him to do something. Maybe hang toward the back and avoid danger, or research the history of ceiling tiles.
Nah. Giles would enjoy the researching too much.
It took a moment for Xander to realize the buzz of noise had started to die down. The girls tended to be even louder than the average construction crew, and he’d quickly learned to tune out the constant conversation, laughter, and tool work. Now they began to quiet, and just as Xander became aware of it he overheard Vi murmur, “If that’s what an electrician looks like, hook me up.”
An instant later something crashed to the ground, and Xander looked up to see Faith, barely visible through the labyrinth of studs, had dropped her load. Not far away Bottie was frozen in place, still holding a stack of studs.
Dana had been standing close to the robot, holding a stud while Kara secured it. She glanced behind her, then spun around with a panicked squeak, while Kara struggled to keep the material in place. “Xander --!”
But Xander had already seen the object of their attention, sweeping down a soon-to-be hallway in that all too familiar smooth, dangerous manner. The dark haired man’s black coat swept out behind him, making it seem like some scene out of a Matrix movie. Some of the slayers swooned; those who knew him, or who sensed what he was, just stared.
He stopped in front of the table, taking Xander in with a gaze that was piercing, but strangely sad. “Harris.”
Rooted to the spot, Xander managed to blurt out, “Slayers!”
In an instant, they were ringed by girls. Xander winced at the sound of wooden forms being torn to pieces for makeshift weapons, but it occurred to him that he should have ignored the codes and went with all wooden partitions, for just such a situation. “So, Angel ... or is it Angelus? Which side are you playing this week?”
Angel glanced around at their tense audience. “Nothing’s changed.”
“Good enough for me.” Xander grabbed up a wooden T square and brandished it before him.
“Hey! Wait a minute!” Faith shouldered her way through the line, stopping beside Xander. “Don’t go off halfcocked.”
“Fine, I’ll go off all-cocked.” He gestured with his improvised weapon. “Not only is he in charge of just any evil organization, he’s in charge of an evil law firm. You just can’t get more evil than that, unless you’re a politician.”
But from his right, beside Bottie, he heard Dana's faint voice. “Angel was good. He tried to help me.”
Angel glanced that way, and for the first time since the vampire arrived, Xander saw a flicker of expression on his face. “Buffy --? Buffybot ... I heard about ...” He shook himself. “Dana. How are you?”
“Better.” Dana’s hands were clasped together, and she looked ready to flee. “I have bad days.” Bottie put her arm around the dark haired slayer.
“I’m glad you’re ... up.”
“Wait a minute,” Xander interrupted. “I’m sorry, Dana, but you don’t know --”
“If Dana says Angel’s good,” Bottie insisted, with a determined glare, “Then Angel’s good.”
“What?” How could Xander point out how ridiculous that statement was without insulting Dana? She still wasn't Miss Stability.
“Hear him out,” Faith said. “He has to be here for a reason.”
“It won’t hurt to listen,” Robin added.
What was going on? Didn’t they know Alexander Harris was in charge? Or were they only willing to listen to him when construction was the only challenge they faced? He waved the T square, seething at the thought that Angel could just walk in and turn everyone’s heads. “We don’t even know how he got here! The elevator alarm didn’t go off, the stairs are monitored --”
“Helicopter,” Angel supplied. “I didn’t get down to the fourteenth floor, so the monitors didn’t go off.”
Xander stared at him. No one had ever thought about invaders coming from above? “It’s the middle of the afternoon.”
“Very good,” Angel snapped, but the flash of temper immediately vanished again. “Window tinting. Very good window tinting on the helicopter, supplied by the afore mentioned evil law firm. Which we’re trying to make changes with, by the way.”
“Before it changes you?” Robin asked, with more than a hint of irony.
“Wait a minute.” Xander held up a hand, realized he still held the T square, and -- feeling a bit foolish about needing to defend himself in a room full of slayers -- dropped it. “Let’s get to the important stuff. How did you find us?”
Angel shrugged. “Spike found out you were in Chicago when he and your team went after those demon eggs in Cleveland.”
A half dozen voices shouted simultaneously, “Spike?!”
Xander picked up the T square again. “Spike’s dead. Spike’s supposed to be dead. Buffy told me Spike was dead.”
“He burned in the Hellmouth,” Faith added, sounding considerably less hysterical.
Xander overheard Buffybot whisper to Dana, “Spike had me created, so I suppose he’s my father. Although considering what he did to me afterward --”
Before Xander could scream at her to stop, Dana interrupted. “I cut his hands off in L.A. It was wrong. He tried to help me.”
The room became totally silent. Slowly, Xander turned toward Dana, trying not to shake as he felt his face redden. “Dana. You knew Spike was alive?”
She looked confused. “Didn’t you?”
Then that meant every slayer who went on the mission to retrieve Dana ... Xander’s gaze landed on Chantel, the first slayer he saw who’d gone to Los Angeles. Blushing, she looked away.
Okay. Cleveland ... demon egg ... that would have to be the eggs used to cure Dana. Who went on that --? “Robin!”
Behind the line of slayers, the top of a bald head froze in the act of sneaking away.
“Kara -- you too. And Andrew! Andrew must have been the first to know. I’m going to go to Italy and pound his skinny ass. All of you knew Spike was alive?”
The crowd parted, revealing an abashed Robin. Across the room, Faith glared at him. “You didn’t tell me?”
“I ... um ...”
“We thought,” Kara interjected, “That it would be less painful if people didn’t know.”
“Buffy,” Robin clarified. “It seemed the fewer people who knew, the less likely that she would find out.”
The watchers should have known, Xander thought bitterly. He should have known. “So now it’s Angel and Spike, together again? And you’re still going to tell me Wolfram and Hart isn’t evil.”
“Wolfram and Hart is evil,” Angel told him. “But we’re not. Not even Spike, although he’s still a pain in the ass. We’re working to change things.”
“You think sneaking into watcher’s headquarters is going to prove that?”
Angel heaved a sigh. “You’re still alive, aren’t you? If I wanted to take you out, I could have brought in a strike team before you even knew what hit you. Now, would you forget Wolfram and Hart? I’m here for a much more important reason.”
Xander felt a pain in his hand, and realized the T square was cutting into his palm. He forced open his fist, letting it clatter again to the table. “What reason?”
Angel hesitated, looking around. “I need to speak to the original members of the Scooby gang.”
Ha! Like he’d give Mr. Hair Gel the satisfaction of knowing where the others were. “Buffy’s indisposed.”
“In Italy, I know. But the rest of you --”
Ah, jeez. “Giles and Willow are on the east coast. Of this continent, I mean. You want to talk to somebody, I’m in charge.” Xander glared around, but no one disputed him.
“Fine. But we need to talk alone.”
“I don’t think so.” This from Richard, who had an arm wrapped around a wall stud to stay upright. Xander realized he should have told the older man to stay in bed until he was fully recovered, but there were more urgent matters to attend to now.
“This is all of us,” Xander told the vampire. “We’re the Scooby gang, now. We’re family. There’s nothing you can say to me that they shouldn’t hear.” Even as he spoke, Xander realized there'd been many times when the gang had kept secrets from one or more of them, for one reason or another. Often good reasons. But he just couldn’t give an inch when it came to Tall and Broody, who it seemed had kept showing Xander up since the day Buffy came to Sunnydale and turned everyone’s life upside down.
“This is private business,” Angel protested. “Personal business, about something the rest of them haven’t dealt with. And it’s bad news.”
“Bad news?” Shoving the table aside, Xander shoved a finger in Angel’s face, his anger clouding the memory of those times the vampire had bested him. “You want to talk about bad news? This morning my life was going better than it ever has. Now you come prancing in with that long coat and that hair, and all of the sudden I’m not in charge anymore, and Spike’s alive, and people are hiding things from me, and everything’s right back in the pits again.”
“No. I don’t know who I can trust, or who would take orders from me for anything besides driving a screw in, or what my place even is anymore. There’s nothing you can say to embarrass me any more than you already have, and there’s nothing you can say to make me feel worse. Now, if you’ve got something to tell me, say it right now.”
Xander stared at him, blinking once. Then his legs gave out.
He sat down hard on the concrete floor, but a moment later strong hands lifted him into a chair. Faith, of all people, held him close, and he stared at her in confusion for a moment before the tears started flowing.
People died. In his world, people died all the time. Anya, of course. Jenny, Jessie, Tara, Joyce ... Buffy, twice. The list was endless. They’d already known Cordelia was in a coma -- why did this effect him so? But the tears flowed. For her, for him, for everything lost.
Most of the slayers stood in an awkward circle, while Faith kept her arms around him and a few -- Vi, Rona, others who had been with them in Sunnydale -- hurried forward to put comforting hands on his arms and shoulders. Dana looked away, resting her head on the robot’s shoulder. Richard shuffled forward to touch his daughter, Kara, protectively on the arm. Robin started tapping shoulders, sending the others silently, one by one, toward the stairway. Few here had known Cordelia, but Xander’s reaction was explanation enough.
When Xander could see again, his eye sought out Angel. The vampire still stood, rooted to the spot, and Xander half expected to see sadistic triumph in his eyes. Instead, there was sorrow. “How --”
“She never came out of the coma.” Angel’s voice shook for a moment, then strengthened. “I got a phone call. She’d just ... passed on. I was going to call, but it seemed too ... impersonal.”
Xander nodded, his grief fading into an awful numbness. “There was no ...”
“No pain. She didn’t suffer.”
It took a moment more for Xander to catch his breath. “She’s on some heavenly Rodeo Drive. Shopping.”
Angel nodded. “New shoes. A purse.”
“Color coordinated.” The room was mostly empty, now. Xander felt a headache, centered behind the patch where his eye used to be. “I wonder if that’s what Heaven was, to her. A chance to be shallow again.”
“Maybe. She stopped being shallow here on Earth. You’d have been proud of her.”
As if suddenly realizing what she was doing, Faith extricated herself from Xander, but stayed kneeling by his side. “I’ll get ahold of the others,” she murmured
“I can do it,” Angel offered. “I can take the copter, tell them in person.”
“No.” Standing unsteadily, Xander wiped his face with the sleeve of his work shirt. “I’ll do it. It’s my job.”
Someone he didn’t bother to identify started to protest, but Xander shook his head. “No. I’m in charge.” That’s what it meant. To deal with the good days, but also the bad. To do what had to be done. At that thought, he looked to Angel. “Your helicopter ...”
“Fueled and ready. I’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
Xander nodded, not bothered at having to ask for the help. Sometimes the boss had to do unpleasant things. “Spread the word to keep quiet about Spike. They’ll have enough to deal with.”
The others murmured agreement, and watched silently as Xander left to change into better clothes. He needed to look his best -- it was part of the deal, part of life. Just like bad days were.
And this was a really bad day.