"Rachel, I've just e-mailed you a hard copy of more plans we'll need. Can you add them to your list?"
Opening the message, Rachel noted the requested basement plans of the client's building, both current and dating back two hundred years to cross reference all modifications. "Shouldn't be a problem. I'll call the records office and find out when they'll be ready to pick up."
Rachel had found that turning up in person helped to put a face to her voice on the end of the phone and gave her a chance to flirt with the spotty clerk who manned the desk. He was sweet and clueless, yet a kind word and a flash of cleavage had the lad bending over backwards to help her. There were times when the predictability of male hormones had its advantages.
Picking up the phone, Rachel speed dialled the Records Office and was deep in conversation with young Colin when the office door opened. A tall man with an unruly mop of dark hair and one eye that seemed a bit slow looked around the door. He grinned to see Dawn, who squealed in happiness and threw herself into his arms in a rib-cracking hug.
"Xander! What are you doing here? I didn't know you were in the country." Dawn babbled in excitement at seeing her old friend after so long. She couldn't wait to catch up on everything with him, and was bursting with questions to ask and things to tell him. But Rachel didn't need to put up with an excited boss whose personal life had interrupted the day, so Dawn grabbed Xander by the arm and yanked him back towards the door. She called over her shoulder on the way out. "Ray, I'll be out for a while. But if the man with the Halthorp Chronicles calls, put him through to my cell."
Rachel waved in acknowledgement, dislodging the phone from where she'd wedged it between her ear and shoulder. She fumbled the handset back into position and resumed extracting above and beyond the call of duty assistance from the civil service.
Dawn led Xander out of the office and down the ornate stairs. He was surprised when, instead of walking out the front door, she continued around to a less impressive flight of stairs that descended into the basement.
"Where are we going?" Xander could only guess that there was parking under the building.
Unlocking a door labelled Building Supervisor, Dawn turned back to Xander with a smile. "Home." The tiny supply closet was full of the equipment you'd expect a caretaker to require in the course of his duties. Dawn ignored the mops, brooms and cans, placing her palm on the rear wall. A door opened into a neat apartment.
Following Dawn inside, Xander turned to look at the door he'd closed behind him. He expected it to have vanished into the wall, but it still looked like a door. He shook his head and Dawn headed into the kitchen to make coffee. Clattering about in the kitchen, Dawn filled Xander in on who was where and what they'd been up to of late. Some of the news he'd heard from Giles already, but without the commentary and fascinating side notes that Dawn provided. Xander took the opportunity to wander around the apartment while Dawn explained the comedy of errors surrounding the latest reunion of Buffy and Angel.
There were heavy curtains on the high windows that would have looked out on to an exciting view of the feet of passing pedestrians. The drapes blocked most of the noise from the busy street and their pale colour made them less obvious. A large, dark cabinet housing audio-visual equipment dominated the dark red wall at the far end of the room, a leather sofa and armchairs clustered around the unit. Bookshelves lined the wall opposite the windows, filled with an eclectic mix of pulp novels, reference texts, classical literature and books on magic and demonology.
"Sorry." Walking out of the kitchen past the small dining table, Dawn handed Xander a mug of coffee and settled herself on one of the armchairs. She tucked her feet under her and wrapping both hands around her mug, blowing on the surface of the coffee to cool it down.
"I was looking at your books. It makes for interesting reading." Xander took a seat on the end of the sofa nearest Dawn.
Lifting one shoulder up in a shrug, Dawn's face lit up in the joy only a book lover could understand. "What can I say? All the books I've ever wanted and most of them are tax deductible. Admittedly, some of the more unusual items call for some creative accounting, but it is definitely a perk of the job." Dawn shot Xander a questioning look. "You didn't tell me what brought you to London?"
He'd been out of the loop for so long, Xander wondered where to start. "Well, I just got back from delivering a group of shiny new Slayers to the Watchers." And he was more than happy to see the back of them. "Giles told me that you'd started up a business, so I thought I'd drop by."
"Now that you've caught up on the gossip, why don't you tell me what Africa was like?" Dawn sipped her coffee.
Stretching his legs out and settling back into his chair, Xander stared at the dark red wall. It was the colour of dried blood. "It was hot and dry, but there were some places where I thought I would freeze to death. I saw country like nothing else I've ever seen, beautiful, friendly people and more examples of mankind at its worst than I'd care to recall."
It had been difficult travelling through Zimbabwe, Nigeria was even worse. Civil wars and corrupt governments make it tough getting around on your own. With a gaggle of teenaged girls in tow it was almost impossible.
On one memorable occasion he'd had to sneak everyone out of the hotel in the middle of the night to avoid a lynching. Then there was the constant fending off of parties trying to either buy the Slayers or sell him more girls. He'd ended up buying five of the younger girls he'd been offered when he'd seen their mothers trying to sell them to a brothel owner. Giles had not been pleased with the unexpected additions, but agreed the girls had a better chance at life with the Watchers.
"On top of the geographic, political and economic problems, I had the added joy of chaperoning teenaged, hormone bombs with superpowers. You can't believe how happy I was to hand them over to Giles." Xander shuddered. It wasn't that long ago that being surrounded by women would have been his dream come true, but the reality had turned out to be more horror movie and comedy of errors than sexual fantasy. There were some dreams that just shouldn't be so cruelly shattered.
Dawn laughed at the image of the girls running rings around Xander. It seemed that some things never changed.
He tried to look wounded, but his pouty lip just made Dawn laugh even harder. Laughter was something Xander had missed in Africa, the stress of watching out for the girls had made him feel he'd never laugh again. Leaning forward, he gave Dawn an inquiring look. "So what is it you do exactly? Giles wasn't too clear."
Putting her empty mug on the floor by her chair, Dawn grinned. "We offer a security service to corporate clients in the Greater London area."
Xander raised an eyebrow at the business-speak. "I'm guessing this is not a run of the mill rent-a-cop operation."
Dawn's eyes twinkled in amusement. "We specialise in the more unusual forms of security work."
"Ah..." Xander understood where she was coming from and grinned mischievously. "The Ghostbusters."
"Well, yes." Dawn gave a self-depreciating shrug. "But without the uniforms, backpacks and demon dimensions opening in major appliances. Usually. We did have a family of small demons living in a toaster oven last week, but that was odd even for us." The easiest solution had been to replace the client's toaster, which would have been the end of it if Rachel hadn't thought the mini demons were adorable. She'd brought the toaster back to the office and it was starting to resemble the kitchen from Men in Black. Who knew that Retjull demons got tetchy when deprived of caffeine? That certainly wasn't in the texts.
Xander leaned his elbow on the back of the sofa and laced his fingers together. "Don't you have problems with the suits trying to weasel out of paying?"
Uncurling her legs and sitting forward, Dawn shook her head. "We keep most of the non-human details from the client and if they complain we can always put the beastie back." They rarely had complaints about their service and those they did weren't so much objecting as worried about their reputation. Declán had proven invaluable for soothing corporate egos and extracting payment from the most tight-fisted and recalcitrant of customers.
"Smooth." Xander was impressed. It came as a surprise to find the little girl he'd known was rubbing elbows with some of the movers and shakers of the business world. "How did all this start?"
"We came to London on holiday, did a friend a favour and pretty much fell into the business." Dawn held up her hands to show she was as surprised as anyone. She hadn't expected to start a business, let alone be involved in such a thriving one.
Tilting his head, Xander frowned in confusion. "So you know your offsider upstairs from Rome?"
"No," Dawn laughed. "Rachel is Declán's girlfriend, she's our non-monster researcher. Anything you could ever want to know about a building, its history, its peculiarities, Rachel can ferret it out. You ought to see what dirt she can dig up when we point her at a company or individual. And that's just the least of her researching skills."
"Then who's Declán?" Xander was still trying to figure out who was who.
"He's the brother of the friend we helped. He handles the suits so we don't kill them." Dawn didn't know what she would do without him, but she suspected a homicide charge would have been involved by now. Their clients may pay well for their talents, but they were nightmarish to deal with, displaying all the common sense of a bag of peanuts.
Xander was still missing something. "So who's the we?"
"Me and Spike. Surely Giles mentioned that?" Dawn was surprised, she thought he'd known.
"Spike's dead, Dawn." Xander took Dawn's hands in his and spoke very slowly and clearly.
Pulling her hands back, Dawn looked at Xander as if he was mad, much like one of her clients. "That's what happens when you're a vampire."
"He died at Sunnydale. You were there."
"I got better."
Xander spun around in shock when he heard the familiar voice. Spike leaned in the doorway wearing nothing more than jeans and a crooked smile. The little wheels in Xander's head turned slowly, clunking into place as he assembled the facts before him. Spike was alive, well as alive as he'd even known him, unless there was something else he hadn't been told. Dawn came from Rome to London with Spike. They ran a business together. Spike walked out of what he assumed was Dawn's bedroom, half-dressed. It was probably quite unlikely that Spike hanging around Dawn's bedroom for the ambience. Xander got to his feet and looked from Spike to Dawn, his brain struggling to form words and the only conclusion he could imagine was threatening to shut down all neural synapses.
"No. You can't date Spike. He's a monster." Xander was almost foaming at the mouth, the thought of Spike and Dawn together was not a happy one for him.
Dawn stood, almost nose to nose with Xander. "Don't even presume to think you have the right to interfere in my life." Her voice was quiet, but carried the threat behind her words.
"I'll damn well butt in when I see you throwing your life away with this..." He jerked his thumb angrily in Spike's direction, but didn't have a chance to finish his rant when Dawn struck him. Xander's head snapped back and he had to step backwards to keep his balance. Putting his fingers to his mouth, Xander saw a trickle of blood. It seemed that Dawn didn't go in for making her point with a slap, she'd developed a fine right hook since they'd last met.
Glaring at Xander as if he was something she'd stepped in, Dawn stopped him from speaking with a raised finger. "I am a grown woman, with a mind of my own. You ran around lusting after Buffy and interfering in her life and you treated Anya appallingly. I know what Spike is, and I know what he's done in the past and I don't care. I love him as he is, Spike is my partner in business and in bed. Deal with it or get out."
Xander opened his mouth to argue but stopped at the look of fury and determination on Dawn's face and dropped his gaze. For once in his life he thought it best not to force the issue.
It had given Spike a vicarious thrill to see his spitfire of a girl hit Xander just when he was about to wring the insolent pup's neck. There were few better ways to start the day than seeing Dawn in full flight. "Now, are you going to keep behaving like an arse or — and I know this will be a stretch, Harris — are you going to behave like a gentleman?"
"It lacks conviction, but I'll take that as an apology." Dawn's voice was still cold. "Now if you'll excuse us we have to get back to work."
Xander found himself ushered out of the building in a brisk and professional manner. As he stood looking up at the building he wondered at the change he'd seen in Dawn and why nobody ever told him anything important.
Walking away, Xander had to admit that, when he wasn't evoking her wrath, Dawn looked happy. He made a mental note to call her tomorrow to apologise formally, hoping that flowers would help ease his path. He also planned to have a serious word to Giles about the importance of keeping up to date on the latest gossip. He seemed to have made a career out of blundering in with his foot firmly in his mouth, it might be time he took the effort to learn the playing field before taking part in the game.
bashipforever's Not Fade Away Ficathon master list — lyrics: miserable by lit — well I love the things that we should fear, and i'm not afraid of being here and character: xander
Part of the London!verse and the Wolf&Declán!verse
Many thanks to the luscious moonbeamsfanfic for volunteering as beta.
Runner Up of the Round Three Lie To Me Wish It Were Real Award