"He was absent again today," Willow worried aloud.
"He's probably just got the flu or something. If you're that worried you could always call his house and check on him," Buffy suggested.
"No, I can't. He thinks we're old friends who drifted apart, that means I can't even say hi to him, much less call his house."
"I'm sure he's fine, Willow. If it'll put your mind at ease, I'll call his house tomorrow if he fails to show up. I'll just say I'm from the school so he won't connect the call to you," Giles suggested.
"Who we talking about?" Faith asked, as she came in from patrolling with Wesley while the Scoobies had been hitting the books to find a reference to some blue scaled thing that had been eating local fishermen.
"Xander," Oz said, not taking his eyes off the demonic tome he was studying.
"The dweeb hasn't been to school all week. He probably caught a cold and is milking it to get out of spirit week," Cordy said as she painted her nails.
"Nah, he split town last week," Faith said absently, as she grabbed a chair and started looking for a book that was written in a language she could understand. She was honestly surprised by the sudden explosion her news created.
"What do you mean he split town?!" Willow finally managed to yell, startling the others into silence.
"I mean he caught a bus into LA and said he wasn't planning on coming back," Faith said, wondering what their problem was.
"But he wouldn't just leave his friends like that," Willow protested.
"What friends?" Faith asked, clearly confused.
"Us," Buffy took over for the deathly pale Willow. "Me, Willow, Oz," she started to say Cordy and abruptly switched to Giles.
"Since when are you his friends? Because I don't think he got the memo. I know I didn't," Faith said.
"What?" Buffy asked shocked.
"Alexander only knows about you guys by rumor and the couple of weeks of personal interaction while he was around," Faith said slowly like she was talking to a group of five year olds. "Which means he knows you don't like him or want him around."
"Since when?!" Buffy demanded.
"Since any time you've seen him you told him to go away or gave him the cold shoulder. Hell, you guys regularly insult him when his name comes up."
"We do not!" Buffy protested.
"Cordy still has a mad on for Xander, so I can get where she's coming from," Faith said with a nod to Cordelia who was glaring at her bottle of nail polish like it had just killed her dog, but not saying anything. "But you and Willow always go on about how you're glad he's not here or how he'd screw things up. So, where exactly did the idea that he's your friend come from?"
"Those are in jokes based on comments he's made," Buffy protested.
"We've been friends since kindergarten, and Buffy's been our friend since she got here," Willow stated.
"You were friends with Xander, Alexander doesn't know you at all and likely never will."
"How do you mean?" Giles said calmly.
"Well, Alexander said the Doc told him that if his memory was going to come back it would probably happen within the first week or so and that being around familiar and comforting sights would help bring it back. That's why he was sent home after only a couple of days, they'd hoped being home would trigger some memories, but from what he said about his parents I'm guessing abusive drunks ain't exactly something he's fond of. They probably hoped being at school with his friends would work if his home didn't, but he didn't find any friends here and Snyder insured he wouldn't think of this place fondly."
"He cheated in all his classes and got caught, I don't know why – he never used to be like that," Willow protested.
"No he didn't," Giles said. "I was there when they quizzed him orally, trying to trip him up. He read, retained, and regurgitated the lessons pretty easily, to use his own words."
"See, now you're insulting his intelligence," Faith explained. "Why would I think you were friends?"
"But he was never that smart before," Willow protested. "I always had to help him with his homework and we just wanted to keep him safe."
Faith shrugged. "I guess he was hiding his brains for some reason then, or had a different reason for wanting you to help with his homework, because it wasn't lack of brains. As for keeping him safe, I still don't have a clue how this was supposed to do that. From the way you all talk I thought you just wanted to ditch some deadwood."
"We were keeping him safe by keeping him uninformed in the Slaying," Buffy said firmly. "He was always getting in the way and getting hurt."
Faith scratched her head. "I guess he got hurt a lot before I got here. I don't get how this was going to make him safe though. I mean, how is not knowing about vampires going to improve his lifespan on the Hellmouth?"
"Oops," Oz said in his usual deadpan tone, keeping Faith from telling if he was being sarcastic or serious.
"I … I didn't think of that," Buffy admitted. "I didn't think he'd forget them too."
Faith nodded. "Well you don't have to worry about that, I saw two vamps chase him into an alley on the way to the bus station, so he knows about them at least."
"What happened?" Wesley quickly asked, wanting to avoid the girls yelling.
"Don't know. Both vamps were down and out by the time I got there. Alexander laid them out, rolled them for cash then staked them. He gave me the small one's jacket and I walked him to the bus station. We talked a bit before he split, he hadn't even broken a sweat dealing with them."
"Suddenly Xander's smarter and a great fighter?" Buffy asked suspiciously. "Sounds like he got possessed again, we'll have to catch him and drive whatever is controlling him out!"
Faith rolled her eyes. "I didn't get any vibe off him, he's clean and since he plans on getting a Fake ID so he can get a job its kinda a moot point. You ain't gonna find him, and he isn't likely to want to remember this place or anything in it. So you can forget his memories and him coming back on their own."
Faith couldn't tell what Oz thought and Giles looked a little sad in comparison to Wesley, who clearly didn't care, Cordelia looked pissed but Buffy and Willow looked like they were about to break down in tears. "Hey, he ain't dead. You wanted him safe and now he's off the Hellmouth completely."
The girls began to sniffle and Faith wondered what she'd said that set them off. "He's got to be safer in LA than on the Hellmouth rolling vamps for cash."
Buffy and Willow had stopped sniffling and Faith thought she'd gotten them calmed down. "He'll get a nice normal job, and live a nice normal life. He's a smart guy. It's not like he's someone who's driven to go running around saving perfect strangers like a Slayer."
The girls broke down in tears.
"What? Oh come on, what's the odds he'll even find damsels in distress or someone in trouble?!"
Giles went to his office and brought out a bottle of Scotch, which he then began drinking directly from.
"What the hell?!" Faith yelled, "Do you guys hate him, or love him or what? One moment you talk like he's this retarded family dog that should be put down, and next it's like he's suddenly fricken Lassie!"
Giles sipped his scotch. "Don't look at me, my opinion was ignored in the matter."
Wesley frowned. "He was annoying, but useful, and I have no idea what the drama is about. My opinion on the matter wasn't requested."
"I knew I should have hopped on the bus with him. Sane people are scarcer than hen's teeth around here. Are you sure those two aren't possessed, because that love/hate thing doesn't seem normal."
"They were mostly jokes copied from Xander himself," Giles explained. "None of them were meant to be taken seriously."
'I wonder how serious Xander was when he said them. Did people really think he was an idiot or was it that he thought himself one and convinced others to think the same?' "Fuck this, I'm going to go kill something and get drunk. Anyone want to come along?"
"I'm in," Cordelia said, grabbing a short sword.
* * *
A week earlier:
Alexander settled into the back row of the bus. Even before he remembered vampires existed he'd always liked having a wall at his back. It was nice to know he was just an amnesiac and not a paranoid amnesiac, because apparently at least part of the world was out to get him, well him and everyone else with a pulse anyway.
Giggling to the right of him drew his attention to a couple of girls who couldn't have been more than fifteen wearing makeup and making a poor attempt to look older. One of them sniffed the air and froze, her eyes darting toward him nervously as she nudged her friend to be quiet.
As the two girls stared at him in fear after the other one had sniffed the air as well, he began to wonder if there was something with his cologne.
'What?' he silently mouthed at them.
'Hunter,' one mouthed back silently.
He tried responding but it was obvious that none of them were trained lip readers and one word answers weren't convincing anyone. Finally he reached into his backpack and pulled out a notepad and pen.
The girls had tensed up when he reached into his pack, but quickly calmed down when they noticed him writing.
Alexander and the girls passed the notepad and pen back and forth quite a bit.
iI'm not any kind of hunter./i Xander printed.
iThen why do you smell like blood and death and vampires?/i she wrote back.
iI was jumped by a vamp in an alley./i
iYou smell like more than one vamp./i
iThe one that jumped me was jumped by another vamp for invading his turf./i
iSeriously?/i She looked a bit dubiously at him.
iYeah, I had two vamps fighting over who got to eat me./i He nodded at her.
iSo, what happened?/i
iI knocked out the vamp that was winning with a makeshift hammer, then I mugged and staked them./i
iYou mugged the vamps?!/i The girls stared at him.
iThey were going to EAT me, besides its better than letting their valuables dust with them. So how can you smell blood and death on me?/i
iWe're not fully human./i one wrote nervously.
iAh! Teenage succubus./i he wrote, nodding at them knowingly, trying to keep from grinning.
The girl's blushes made their squeals of outrage a little less believable.
The girls crossed the aisle and slipped into the seats to either side of him. "We're not succubi!" the one on the right stated firmly, glancing around before looking him dead in the eye and shifting.
If she expected to shock him, she failed miserably.
Alexander took in her new look almost casually; there was a light blue tracing of scales along her temples, under her chin, and along the edge of her nose. Her hair was thicker, almost quill like in texture and her green eyes took on a jewel like quality as her pupils elongated like a cat's. She got a tad bit curvier as well, making her look older.
He leaned forward. "And how is making yourself look even better supposed to make me think you aren't a succubus?" he teased.
She quickly changed back, blushing brightly while the other girl spoke up, "Normally guys who aren't from the clans tend to freak out when they see us like that."
He shrugged. "Well, I'd like to think I'm both smarter and better looking than the average guy..."
The two girls giggled once more, any lingering tension between the three broken.
* * *
Cordelia's sword sheared through the vampire's neck, effortlessly turning it into a pillar of ash that crumpled in an ethereal wind, covering the table and booth in a fine layer of dust.
The vampire on the other side of the booth gulped and spoke quickly, "Here's twenty bucks, my friend was just sired yesterday, so please don't think his comments reflect my own opinions. Use the twenty to get drinks from the bar while I clean the booth for you."
Faith followed Cordelia to the bar with a bit more respect for her than she had before. Cordelia had shown a side of herself that Faith hadn't known existed. The cheer babe had wielded the sword like she was born to it, maiming and then slaughtering every vamp that had gotten within a few feet of her.
"Jack. Two Liter. Bottle. Bucket of Ice and two glasses," she ordered from Willy. "See to it."
Willy didn't even try to argue.
"So, what's got your panties in a bunch?" Faith asked, showing exactly as much tact as she felt the situation warranted.
Cordelia Chase, a woman who described tact as a form of lying, appreciated her approach to the matter. "I'm pissed that Xander's gone, and I'm pissed that I didn't get to know Alexander when I had the chance."
"I thought you hated him, I couldn't see why – but I figured you had your reasons."
"You know he cheated on me right?"
The vampire that had cleaned the booth for them delivered their order, for which Cordelia tipped him fifty, and then vanished as quickly as possible.
Faith mixed up their drinks while Cordy sat deep in thought, sipping her drink absently when it was handed to her as she puzzled out her own motivations. For a woman who knew her own mind as well as she did, it didn't take her long to figure it out.
"Because I'm a spoiled bitch in some ways, and a little girl who believes in fairy tales in others." She took a deep breath. "Let me tell you about Xander Harris; he once went up to Angel with a crossbow and a cross forcing him to lead Xander to the Master's cave, with every hope of finding the Master at home. Now, I'm sure there are more than a few people who'd risk their lives to save the world, but how many are prepared to sacrifice their own just to give a friend a slightly better shot at surviving?"
"How come I never heard any stories like that about him?" Faith asked.
"Because to find out things like that, you have to get him to lower his guard and he never lowers it around people he cares for. Personally, I blame his parents for that. I'm pretty sure Angel has seen more of Xander than Willow has. Now, as for me, he loved me, so I had to get him plastered – and considering his fears of becoming an alcoholic that took some doing."
"How did you do it?" Faith asked curiously.
"Easy, I mixed up a couple of pitchers of long island iced tea and challenged him to a game of strip poker." Cordelia smirked.
Faith grinned, happy to find that Cordelia wasn't so very different from her in some ways, as she could easily see herself using that strategy.
"Xander had quite a few stories that he had never told anyone about, and others that he had either downplayed or left out his own part in events. Xander thrived on being underestimated and overlooked. It let him do things that people in the spotlight could never do. How a boy in neon fashion disasters he called shirts could be overlooked time and time again is beyond me. He never sought recognition for risking his life for others, because as far as he was concerned anyone would react the same way and considering the people he hung around with, that's not too far from the truth for them. Despite all the evidence to the contrary he never quit believing that about humanity in general though. Anyway, he only sought recognition as a friend and as a man, never realizing that hiding half of anything he ever did, undercut any respect he might have earned. Maybe it's the Hellmouth's fault, and all the times he put himself down actually affected the minds of the people around him, maybe even his own, like the way Marcy became invisible because she felt invisible so often."
Cordy sipped her drink, unaware or simply not caring that everyone in the bar was listening to them.
"I wasn't really all that pissed about Xander cheating on me, it was who he was cheating on me with – but I'll get back to that in a minute. Xander risked his life to save mine, and not just once but many times; and that was before we were dating. He didn't do it because I was Cordelia Chase rich girl, he did it because I was Cordelia Chase, pain in his ass."
"Xander risked his life to save the life of a girl who was nothing more than a thorn in his side. Yeah, there are plenty of people who will risk their lives to save perfect strangers, though usually they get paid for that. We call them firefighters and police officers, but how many do you know who would save the life of someone that you could easily describe as an enemy when their own lives would be improved by their absence? Damn few, that's who!"
Cordelia refilled her drink.
"Xander Harris was like some fairy tale knight to me, but I didn't see it until it was too late. I broke up with him the first time because I was stupid – but hey, I'm a teenage girl here! I'm expected to make mistakes. Of course doing it on Valentine's Day in front of everyone may have been pushing it."
Half the bar groaned and nearly everyone present winced.
"Yeah, well he got revenge on me in a way that was truly epic. He got a witch to cast a love spell on me so he could dump me the way I dumped him. It didn't work out the way he wanted, instead every single female in town fell in love with him."
Cordelia laughed, and was surprised at how little pain and how much genuine humor there was in the act.
"Damn, he must have made out like John Holmes that day," Faith said, impressed.
"Nah, once again his damn nobility raised its head and he avoided doing anything with anyone. Now the reason I dumped him was because I was being shallow, and the reason I took him back was just as shallow. I took him back because now, everyone wanted him. That meant I could have my prince charming without having to grow as a person."
"That's pretty twisted right there," Faith pointed out.
"Yeah, well I'm not old enough to be wise yet. So give me a break." Cordelia grinned as she took another drink.
"We all gotta grow up sometime," Faith said quietly, neither of them noticing Willow and Buffy sit down at the bar.
"So, where was I? Oh yeah, so I took him back for equally shallow reasons as I dumped him. Because no way was I ready to admit I loved him. Sure I was helping fight demons part time, just so I could spend time with him and so he would be proud of me – but that didn't mean I was becoming a better person. Only, it did. Xander Harris made me want to be a better person."
"Well, you are still a White Hat and he's not around to see it. So, I'd say you're above average as a person." Faith grinned.
"Yeah, at least there's that. I don't like the person I was, but she would have accepted him back after that thing with Willow. Hell, I would accept him back if I could get over him not being perfect."
"Perfect?" Faith asked, confused. "How did you figure he was perfect?"
"Well in comparison to all the other guys I've met he rates pretty high. He wanted me for me, and was willing to kill or die to protect me. Really, what more can you ask for?"
"Yeah, a bit hard to top that," Faith agreed.
"But he wasn't perfect; he was afraid of becoming his father, had a poor self image, and was in some ways a typical hormonal teenage male. I held him up to a ridiculously high standard of behavior for his age. I would say sex, but let's face it – we girls aren't exactly able to throw stones, we just hide it better."
Faith nodded. "That's why I just get what I want and split, less pain all around that way."
"Yeah, my more shallow self wouldn't have blinked at Xander and Willow. Especially in the one last kiss before dying situation, but the little girl who believed in fairy tales took it hard. He cheated on me with a girl who started a club dedicated to hating me and did her best to break us up."
"Ouch." Faith winced.
"Yep, and the girl who owes so much to him he should be able to go ass to mouth on her daily for the better part of a year without complaint betrayed him once again."
"Wait, what?" Faith asked confused.
"Do you know why Xander has so few male friends?"
"Because if they didn't like Willow, they were gone – and since boys stay in the girls have cooties stage for so long, that really cuts down on the number of friends you have. Ever wonder how Slacker Harris managed to both appear stupid and take all the advance placement classes that Willow does?"
"He kept his scores down low enough to look like he's barely getting by and having Willow help him with his homework, but he always scores well enough to pass without comment. Did you know that despite the fact that he spent most of his nights helping Buffy that his grades didn't change?"
"No." Faith was beginning to feel like a broken record. Who knew there was so much going on behind the scenes?
"Yep. I don't know if it was even a conscious action on his part. He simply does the best that he can to make Willow happy and she spits on that loyalty by trying to break me and him up when she was dating someone else, and by choosing Oz over him and refusing to take her share of the blame for what happened."
"Ok, but ass to mouth?" Faith asked confused.
"I'm rich, which means I know the value of everything he's done for her in comparison to what she's done for him. It leaves her owing him heavily. I'm using the sex value scale because that applies best to relationships."
Faith chuckled. "What do the rest of us owe him?"
"Well let's see, Buffy and him have saved each other a lot but she's way ahead on points. So he owes her about 27 hours of going down on her in half hour increments. While she owes him three vanilla sex acts to be named later, but not involving losing her virginity. See, some of the stuff is so one of a kind action that it doesn't fit the chart. I think you owe him a hand job or he owes you some finger work... Giles and him are about even. Oz owes him three weekends with his girlfriend and two shots at an attractive female relative. Angel owes him so much that I don't want to mention the amount, trust me you don't want to go there. Of course, that depends on where Angel's soul actually was at some points. I owe him, well let's just say I owe him a bit more than he owes Buffy, but I was paying it off every chance I could." Cordelia chuckled.
"So my problem was that he wasn't perfect and he chose Willow over me, who immediately stabbed him in the back and cut him from her life completely. If she had been better for him than I was, I wouldn't be so pissed at him, but he threw me over for someone who proved she wasn't worth it."
"Ouch." Faith winced again, sipping her drink.
"Yeah, Xander has a huge blind spot when it comes to those he cares for because of his low self esteem, and Alexander would have been a huge Catch 22 now that I think of it. He shed all the things that were holding him back and making him undervalue himself, but if I'd been with him they all would have come back. So, he would have been the perfect guy for me, provided I wasn't with him."
"There are other fish in the sea," Faith offered.
"Yeah," Cordelia said brightly. "Did you know Xander was almost turned into a fish when he went undercover for Buffy on the swim team?"
"Yeah, they stopped it in time, but he only needed to come up for air once every fifteen minutes – and that was while in the hot tub." Cordelia laughed.
"He was one of a kind, and I'm sad that he's gone, but I'm glad that he left," She said slowly before raising her glass for a toast. "Xander's dead, long live Alexander – may you find the success in life that your former incarnation missed."
* * *
A week ago:
"So, introductions?" Xander suggested.
"To pronounce our true names would require gargling with rocks and having your tongue split," the girl on the left said.
At Xander's raised eyebrow the two giggled. "Ok, so I stole that out of a book I was reading."
"So, what are your names?" Xander asked.
"Can't say," the girl on the right answered. "Part of the spell that's helping hide us requires us not talking about our old names, and we haven't picked new ones yet."
"Yeah, nothing seems to fit," the other girl complained.
He mentally decided to just refer to them as just Righty and Lefty for now.
"Well I'm...." Alexander began only to be shushed by the two.
"From the looks of things, I'm guessing you're on the run as well," Righty guessed.
"More like seeking early parole. I mean, in about six months or so I could legally leave, but six months in that place felt like a life sentence." Alexander sighed.
"Well don't mention your old name, ditch anything that has it, and think up a new one," Lefty suggested.
"Part of the spell?" Xander guessed.
"That and common sense," Lefty agreed. "You'll get further with common sense and magic than with magic alone."
Xander smiled. "So, what are you two escaping?"
The girls looked at each other, silently communicating something, before Righty answered, "If we're going to talk about that we have to hug you first."
"Huh, are you sure you're not succubi?" Alexander teased once more.
The two blushed. "Nope," Righty promised. "But our demonic heritage means we can see if you're a good person by hugging you."
"See, if we get caught we're dead," Lefty said seriously. "And they might be able to track our family down through us. Thus the paranoia."
Alexander nodded. "I suppose that makes as much sense as anything, sure."
The two looked around before shifting into their more mature demonic forms, shyly wrapping their arms around him for a moment and then relaxing.
"You feel like a good guy, but like your past is a huge blank, like someone cast a spell to hide you," Righty said, before reverting to her human form.
Lefty nodded, green scales and blue eyes reverting as well.
"In my case that's because I came down with a bad case of amnesia. One blow to the head, and suddenly my old life doesn't fit. So I decided to get a new one," Xander explained.
"In our case the clan seers saw that the Scourge would find us, so the clan had to scatter to the winds," Righty replied.
"What's the Scourge?"
"It's like a demonic version of the Nazis. They hate humanity and any race that isn't pure enough for them. So, being from a clan that happily coexists with humanity and mixes with them freely..." Lefty trailed off.
"Means we aren't exactly on their Christmas card list," Righty finished.
Lefty yawned and leaned against Alexander. "The life the clan set us up with isn't anything we'd have chosen for ourselves."
Righty yawned as well and mimicked her. "You got that right, it sucks but it'll help the ones with little ones get to safety."
Alexander found himself yawning and wrapped an arm around each girl; they were soft, warm, and smelled of honeysuckle and violets. He drifted off to sleep, thinking he'd had worse times.
Thanks to LA traffic it was almost dawn before they reached the bus depot.
The three had awoke about ten minutes before, but hadn't moved from their group snuggle. The future was looming in front of them, largely unknown, but definitely containing a certain amount of suck that none of them were looking forward to.
"I guess this is it," Righty said sadly, before giving Alexander a kiss on the cheek and retrieving her bag.
Lefty nodded and tried to copy her, but chickened out at the last second and hugged him tightly instead.
"Is it really that bad?" he asked, hoping it wasn't any of the myriad horrible fates he was imagining.
"The clan had to scatter and fast. The best way to get us protection and some ready cash to help the families with small children was..." Lefty's voice trailed off.
"In about a year and a half we'll be full adults and easily able to leave, but until then, it's going to be hell," Righty said sadly.
Alexander stepped off the bus behind them and found his worst fears confirmed, albeit in a rather unusual manner. If the situation hadn't been so grim he would have laughed. A vampire dressed in a purple suit and carrying a pimp cane was waiting for the girls and Alexander could see several bodyguards, pretending to be normal people, scattered about the area.
'They're being sold into prostitution to Huggy Bear,' he thought incredulously, as his eyes darted around, counting out the half dozen guards and the weapons they carried.
'I can't let this happen,' he thought to himself. But a small corner of his mind rebelled, 'I can let this happen, there is nothing I can't do!'
* * *
A former balance demon named Whistler watched as the three stepped off the bus.
'A little memory loss, and boom! A whole new ball game,' he thought with a small hint of satisfaction and awe.
He'd never have thought of the small alterations that had led to this on his own, but he'd risked his entire existence and pleaded for a different future... And he'd been answered.
Angel was no longer his concern, although he'd been assured he was being handled as well. No, Whistler's new charge was one Alexander LaVelle Harris.
He watched the boy's actions with pride; showing mercy, caring for others, not backing down from what he knew was right.
Whistler smiled as Alexander stepped off the bus, the habits and instincts of the forgotten soldier allowing Alexander to assess the situation accurately.
He could feel Alexander's determination to save the two girls he'd just met and almost started humming hail to the chief, then he felt something he'd never imagined, Alexander was rebelling against the thought of saving the two girls.
Whistler was stunned, he was shocked, he was horrified! As a balance demon he'd been responsible for a great number pivotal events – and he always bet on Xander jumping one way – every single time and he'd always been right, but Alexander....
A shiver of fear went through him, as he worried that by wiping Xander's memory he had made fundamental changes to his character and apparently ones that weren't for the better.
The temptation to nudge his charge was so strong that he had to clench his fists to keep from interfering. He'd sworn that he would do nothing but follow his instructions and even though he knew he could break that pledge with no consequences – he wouldn't. He'd let things play out, sticking to the plan as he'd promised.
Alexander nodded to himself as his eyes hardened. He was capable of doing nothing, but he didn't want to. He wanted to save those two. The odds were heavily against him, but the memory of Faith's voice telling him he could echoed in the back of his mind and he smiled. 'I can save those two, I choose to save those two!'
Smiling almost cheerfully, Xander started forward; the stake that Faith had insisted he carry up his right sleeve. Sure he may die in the next few minutes, but he was doing what he chose to do and that made all the difference.
"Yo! Huggy Bear!" Alexander called out, freezing both girls in their place with identical looks of horrified disbelief as the vampiric pimp spun around angrily and stalked toward him in an absolute fury.
Alexander walked forward calmly, the stake slipping from his sleeve to his hand like he'd done it hundreds of times before. He was calm, he had a hastily concocted plan, he was … falling?
As Alexander had stepped forward, his right toe had gotten caught on the raised curb - making him instinctively throw out his arms to catch himself.
Alexander's left hand came down on the mass of gold chains the pimp wore, knocking him back. The pimp's cane dropped from his hand and the large floppy purple hat flew up from the impact.
Alexander's right hand slid the stake home almost by accident, dusting the stake along with the pimp and leaving him with a fist full of gold and no means of support. Falling forward his right hand snagged the cane and used it to stop himself from falling on his face as the large floppy purple hat floated down to settle on his head.
While LA may not have Sunnydale's enforced denial system, the locals had a finely developed danger sense and had vanished into the woodwork before the dust hit the ground.
He rose casually, and acted like everything that had happened had been planned and not just him using up his quota of luck for the year.
The pimp's guards all froze. The boss had been taken down so smoothly that if they'd blinked they would have missed it, but the man had drawn their attention so they wouldn't, hadn't he?
Unsure of what to do, their eyes flicked involuntarily to the second in command as who stood frozen as the man approached him with a friendly smile.
"Eric." Alexander smiled, because he was quite happy that he wasn't dead yet. "I can call you Eric, right?"
"Yes, sir," the vamp quickly spat out, wondering how he knew his name.
"I believe thieves are the lowest form of life don't you?" Alexander said, imitating the Mayor of Sunnydale as best he could – since he figured it was best to be polite and the Mayor had been so charming on TV.
Eric nodded rapidly.
"I'm glad we agree, your former boss tried to take something that belonged to me. So I had to be firm with him, but you look like an honest man."
"Excellent." Alexander took off the hat, and dropped the gold chains in it, presenting them and the cane to the startled vamp. "I believe these are yours. I can hardly lecture anyone on morals if I break them myself after all." Alexander beamed, pleased at how well everything was going.
Eric slowly began to smile as he saw how things were moving. He was the boss now, and his friend was just retrieving some property – and Eric was going to help him because he sure as hell didn't want this man as an enemy. Quite frankly, anyone who made Eric the boss was a friend in his book.
"Girls." Alexander waved and the two girls quickly hurried over to him.
Eric put on the hat and slipped the necklaces into his pocket. "What should we do with the cash which was to be sent once the girls arrived, sir?" he asked carefully, not wanting to offend his new friend.
"You were promised two girls for that money, free and clear I believe. Since no one matching that description arrived, you can hardly be expected to throw good money after bad. Sadly, collecting any money already spent would be problematic as the entire clan seems to be missing," Alexander explained solemnly.
"All of them?!" one of the guards blurted out.
"From the most venerable elder to the youngest babe," he assured them with a smile. "I of course had nothing to do with it."
"Of course not, sir," Eric said. "I'll just write it off as a bad loan and consider the matter closed."
"It's so nice to deal with reasonable men. Well it was nice meeting with you all... But I have business elsewhere that I really shouldn't put off any longer. So – toodles," Alexander finished cheerfully.
Singing the Brady Bunch theme as if he hadn't a care in the world, Alexander lead the girls off.
The vampires visibly relaxed as the three vanished around the corner.
"That was a close one," Eric said, wiping his forehead and receiving a chorus of nods from almost all the others.
"Err... What am I missing?" a vampire who seemed to have a dress sense that was still current asked.
"You didn't catch the way he dusted Huggy?" one of the more experienced vamps asked.
"Oh no, I caught that just fine. No way in hell would I want to go hand to hand with him, but we got guns," the FNG (fanged new guy) pointed out.
"Boss, you want to handle this?" the amused guard asked.
The boss (formerly known as Eric) grinned. "Sure, he made sure we all saw how easy he took down Huggy – and he even made a show of it, saving his chains and cane for me, while letting the hat settle on his head. I haven't seen anything like that outside the movies. You'll also note that he called Huggy – Huggy Bear. The only thing that ever makes him lose his cool. Then walked straight up to me and addressed me by name. The guy showed he was skilled and knowledgeable but that ain't all. The most important fact is what isn't here, not what is."
FNG frowned, trying to work it out. He took a deep breath after a moment to voice his frustration at not being able to figure it out when it hit him.
Everyone grinned as they saw FNG freeze up.
"Yep, not a whiff of fear. He was polite; showed respect, let me know he wasn't moving in on our business, he just wanted what was his, but he had no fear of us at all. He probably could have crushed us at will."
"He could have been crazy," FNG offered lamely.
"The powerful are often nuts, all the more reason to be polite and let em pass," Eric remarked. "Besides that guy reminded me of the Mayor of Sunnydale, and that's one guy you don't want to fuck with."
* * *
"How did you know his name was Eric?" Righty asked, green eyes gleaming.
Xander paused thoughtfully. "He looked like an Eric. Well, that and he had a necklace with his name on it."
"How did you know he was the one in charge once Huggy Bear was down?" Lefty asked.
"I spotted the guards glancing at him for approval when I got off the bus, meaning he was in charge of them."
"How did you pull all this off so easily?" Righty demanded.
Xander stopped; adjusted the bag slung on his back and posed with his hands on his hips, eyes locking into the distance and flexing his muscles, which made him look like some sort of action hero.
The girls were impressed and waited with bated breath.
"Dumb luck, I tripped on the curb," Alexander said proudly, relaxing and turning from square jawed hero to grinning madman in half a second.
"Dumb luck?" Lefty said numbly.
"But you could have been killed," Righty complained. "I mean he was a master vampire, and he had guards armed with guns. You said you weren't any kind of hunter!"
"Yep, but sometimes you have to do dangerous things so you can continue to look at yourself in the mirror. If I let you two go through that without trying to help, there would be no living with myself. Besides, I need roommates. I'm told the rent in LA is ridiculous."
"But... but... You hardly know us," Lefty stuttered.
"I know enough," he said firmly. "You have special ways of determining who is a good person, I have not so special ways. I know you were willing to let yourself to be sold to a pimp, so that the children you babysat would be safe. Do I really need to know anything else?"
"How did you know we babysat them?" Righty asked.
"Because if your people are anything like mine, and since we get along so well I'm guessing that they are, then you guys were stuck babysitting the munchkins to make some spending cash."
"Wow, you're good," Righty said admiringly.
"You should become a private eye," Lefty said with a smile. "I could answer phones and type up your case files, I could be your girl Friday."
"And I could be your girl the rest of the week!" Righty said aloud before blushing brightly.
"You'd have to split the time evenly, and Sunday would be my private day so I could sleep and watch sports while scratching myself in rude areas," Alexander joked, trying to save her from the embarrassment.
"Deal!" Lefty said, startling them both.
The three laughed and started walking again.
"So, where are we going?" Righty asked brightly.
"No idea," Alexander replied in the same tone.
"We need a plan," Lefty said thoughtfully.
"I was thinking Fake ID's first, and then looking for a semi decent rat hole to call home. That would take care of the basics and give us time to look for work," he said.
"Actually, I may have a better idea," Lefty said and found herself with the other two's undivided attention. "I was talking to one of my Aunties who assured me that the seers wouldn't have told the clan to sell us to a pimp in LA without a very good reason and she told me of some people who could help us in the area."
"Hey!" Righty said suddenly. "Do you think they saw us being rescued by..." She scratched her head thoughtfully. "Jack?"
He grinned. Jack seemed fitting since he'd named his parents the Duke and Duchess of Daniels to Faith.
"Anyway," Righty said brightly, glad to have a name for their rescuer. "If the seers saw that Jack would rescue us, maybe that's why they sent us here and not because they're holding a grudge."
"Grudge?" the newly christened Jack asked curiously.
"A prank involving the seer's yearly retreat to the hot springs, a massive amount of instant jello mix and a herd of goats," Lefty explained.
"I still say that if they could really see the future, they should have seen it coming!" Righty exclaimed. "I mean, they kept giving out warnings about Chaos Demons, making our moms nuts, which meant we got saddled with a six pm curfew all year!"
"What do Chaos Demons look like?" Jack asked curiously.
"Kinda like goats covered in lime jello, sprawled on top of pissed off seers," Lefty said thoughtfully as Righty froze.
"You mean..." Jack asked, beginning to snicker.
"I think so," Lefty admitted.
"So they sent us, knowing we'd be saved by Jack," Righty said, quickly changing the subject.
"I'm not sure if I like the idea of the future being fixed, makes me feel like a hamster in a wheel. I think I'm getting somewhere, but in the end it's all been decided by someone else," Jack said thoughtfully.
"You and me both," Righty agreed.
Lefty shook her head. "The seers see a possible future, but nothing is actually decided. It's not like flipping forward in a book to read the end. It's more like listening to a bunch of comic book fans talk about coming story arcs. Like Jean Grey finding out Scott had a baby with her evil clone. The fans guessed about seventy percent of the plot."
Lefty blushed when she saw the way the two were looking at her. "Ok, so I like comics."
"Dear, your father and I aren't mad at you, just confused." Righty said in a motherly voice, quoting something that made Lefty blush. "And while we don't understand you fully, we won't stand in the way of your happiness, but just so we understand each other, you're paying for your own comic covers if you get my drift."
Jack had been about to join in, trying his best to sound like Ward Cleaver, but the look on Lefty's face spoke of embarrassment and a touch of accusation – like Righty was partly to blame for Lefty getting an embarrassing sex speech like that from her parents. 'Well, only one thing to do.'
Jack put his hand on Righty's shoulder and faced her solemnly. "I was hoping for grandkids, but I suppose you two can adopt and while you weren't what I was looking for in a son in law, I'd just like to say – welcome to the family."
"That's almost exactly what he said to me!" Righty burst out.
"My dad said that?" Lefty turned bright red. "So that's why you couldn't look my parents in the eye for a week!"
Jack grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. "That sounds like an interesting story."
"My older brother accidentally left a porno tape in the VCR," Righty explained.
Lefty nodded. "We got into an argument over something being possible."
"There was a banana involved..."
"Is this story as interesting as I think it is?"
"Probably not, just embarrassing really," Righty admitted.
"Really, really embarrassing," Lefty added.
"Then I won't ask any more about it," Jack said seriously.
"Thanks," the girls chorused.
"Instead, I'll just pretend the story in my head is what really happened," he finished with a grin.
"Jack!" the two called out, blushing and smacking him on the shoulders.
Lefty decided to keep on moving before Righty brought up even more embarrassing incidents. "The first place I was told to go is a bar called Caritas."
AN: Same writer and the typist (who insured you actually got to read it) as always!