Continued from Part 2
Andrew was busy sautéing the vegetables and trying to wrap his tongue around the Italian sentence that would tell a store clerk that he wanted to buy a hat when the sound of the door opening interrupted his happy time. With a sigh, he poured the slightly too crunchy vegetables into a bowl, shut off the CD, and wiped his hands on the towel. His generally happy expression became a little more strained.
Buffy’s moods were unpredictable these days. The mission was getting to her and the constant danger inherent in her position was piling more pressure on top of the stress of not fighting evil like the true superhero she was.
To make up for it Andrew did the little things, like cooking and cleaning, so Buffy’s life was at least a little easier. Another reason why he did these things for her was because he felt owed her so much. She gave him a second chance in Sunnydale and set him on the path of righteousness. She invited him to help her with her mission in Rome and took him into her confidence as she rooted out vital information about the enemy by any means necessary.
Her payment for such kindhearted generosity was the genuine worry she carried for his and Dawn’s safety. He thought that with Dawn safely tucked away in Israel she’d allow herself to relax just a little. It hadn’t worked out that way. Dawn must’ve been offering sisterly emotional support when he wasn’t around because Dawn’s loss was keenly felt.
Andrew tried to fill that role, of course, but Buffy wasn’t much of a confider or a talker. He reasoned that this was probably a habit she had to constantly reinforce with herself so she wouldn’t begin confiding in the wrong person. He was as aware as she was that a slip of the tongue was all it would take to get Buffy killed.
“Andrew? Come on out. There’s someone here to see you.” Buffy’s voice was painfully bright, a sure sign that Buffy’s stress had reached high-blood pressure levels that would kill a mere mortal.
Andrew began as he left the kitchen, “I’m about to sauté the chicken breasts and—” His voice cut off in mid-sentence as he saw none other than Alexander Harris standing behind Buffy. He looked like he’s just stepped out of Indiana Jones Monthly with the beat-up clothes the bespoke of endless jungle battles with the bad guys, the fuzzy beard growth and shaggy hair that told tales of a life constantly on the go, and the rakish eye patch that gave him a dangerous aura of romantic mystery.
Forget Indiana Jones. Xander Harris was the very twin of Basil St. John—that great adventurer, paramour, and inventor of the black orchid serum—from Brenda Starr.
“Hey,” the man himself said as he shuffled from foot to foot next to a rugged rucksack on the floor next to him. If Andrew didn’t know any better, he’d think that Xander was actually nervous to see him again.
“Xander! How good to see you! What a surprise!” Andrew cried. He was about to swoop in for a manly man hug with a fellow Watcher and future bright light of the Council, but the body odor of the hard-traveling man helped him quash the instinct before he could make a fool of himself. He settled for very manly man handshake instead, making sure to keep his wrist straight and his grip firm.
Xander’s grin seemed almost genuine. “Got some strength in the hands these days.”
Andrew tried not to preen under the compliment, but he couldn’t help it. “Well, I’ve been taking etiquette lessons, you know, so I can make a better impression on the wonderful guests we always invite to our soirees. Buffy is a very important Roman socialite and—”
“He knows, Andrew,” Buffy said as she flopped on the couch.
“Oh. Unh, okay.” Andrew wilted. “Actually, I’ve been reading up on demon etiquette in Italy and a firm handshake makes them think twice about eating you on the spot.”
Xander’s one eye blinked, although Andrew couldn’t tell if it was a blink or a wink on account of the eye patch over cruelly empty left eye socket. “I think I missed that class in Demon 101 back in Sunnydale,” he joked. Andrew could hear the frazzled edge around his words.
Buffy began to giggle. “Or maybe handshakes get cancelled out when you kiss them, Xand.”
A shadow passed across Xander’s face so quickly that Andrew wasn’t sure he had even seen it. “Maybe I slept through that class in Demon 101, too. I mean, this is insane. Willow used to let me cheat off her math homework. You’d think she’d let me cheat off her for Demon 101.”
“Maybe she didn’t let you do it because you were always skipping class.” Buffy was still giggling. The rough sound was enough to get Andrew to tear his eyes away from Anya’s beloved so he could watch Buffy in case she spiraled into one of her irregularities.
Xander eased himself into one of the apartment’s more uncomfortable chairs. “I remember now. It clashed with woodshop. Guess I chose the wrong class to go to.”
“Depends on who you talk to.” Buffy was wiping her eyes and just barely bringing her giggle under control. “I know I was really grateful you took woodshop whenever a demon busted up my house.”
“Ahhhh, that old window,” Xander sounded like he was joking by rote now, “all that work to keep it glass-like and for what? So it could shatter into a zillion pieces when Sunnydale turned into a crater.”
“Still was appreciated by me,” Buffy said warmly.
Andrew let out a breath. Buffy wasn’t heading for one of her little funks where she’d lock herself in her room for a day while she cried. Not that she ever confided in Andrew about what was bothering her whenever she did. The only reason why Andrew knew she cried was because he heard her—okay, overheard her—while listening at her bedroom door. But he had to keep informed about her moods or else it would go higgedly-piggedly.
Maybe a familiar face would help lift her spirits a little bit and help ease off some the pressure. A friend from the old days was maybe just the thing she needed.
“So, what brings you to our humble Roman abode?” Andrew asked Xander.
Xander, who had been slumping in the chair in a way that Andrew just didn’t like, immediately sat up straight. His smile was as strained as Buffy’s giggling. “To deliver the Ethiopian Thorn. Oh, and a change of scenery. Thought I’d remind myself what it’s like to eat food I actually recognized. So, did you like the fish?”
Andrew was caught by surprise by the last question. “The fish? What fish?”
Xander slumped back into his chair. “The one I sent you?” he prompted.
“Oh! That fish!” Andrew brightened.
“That fish,” Xander wearily repeated.
Andrew bit his lip and tried not to look guilty.
Xander just kept staring at him as he waited for an answer.
“Fish is dead,” Andrew shamefacedly admitted. “I forgot to feed it and the water ph was all wrong and—”
“It’s okay,” Xander waved a hand, as if dismissing what Andrew saying. Andrew inwardly cringed as he realized that Xander didn’t seem in the least big surprised. “I guess Giles and Buff have been keeping you busy.”
“Oh, yes!” Andrew brightened again. “The training is nonstop and my life is very, very hectic what with Buffy’s secret mission.”
Buffy suddenly sat up. Her almost-relaxed expression was gone. “Speaking of which, you did tell Kennedy about the sitch?”
“Was I supposed to?” Andrew asked.
Buffy jumped to her feet and began to pace. “I told you to do it.”
“No,” Andrew said slowly. “You didn’t. You didn’t even tell me she was coming.”
“I left a note.” Buffy’s voice climbed upwards as she dove for the kitchen. “I’ll show you.”
Andrew cringed. Oh, oh. And in front of Xander, too. He’s going to see that something’s wrong with Buffy and blame me for not taking care of her like he would’ve taken care of her.
The sinking feeling in his stomach that he got when he found out that Buffy forgot to tell him that Kennedy was coming a week earlier than expected picked up where it left off and was now dragging his digestive tract down to his shoes.
This was sickeningly familiar territory. Ever since Angel and Spike went down fighting in L.A., Buffy’s paranoia that their cover was very close to being blown had started affecting her in a thousand little ways. One of those ways was that she’d forget things. The big problem was that Buffy would insist that she hadn’t forgotten, no matter how hard Andrew tried to convince her otherwise. He finally learned to back off and take the blame on himself, because he really didn’t want to do something that would get him sent back to England as a failure and possibly jeopardize Buffy.
So far, Andrew had been able to keep on top of whatever Buffy forgot, mostly because it was usually little things and never really anything important. However, it was kind of important that he knew Kennedy was coming. It was definitely important that he knew it was okay to tell her everything.
He wouldn’t be able to cover this up, not with Xander sitting right there. He looked to his fellow Watcher and adventurer and was disturbed to see that the other man was taking it in stride.
“I wrote you a note!” Buffy burst back into the living room from the kitchen. “I know I left it right on the kitchen table!”
“Maybe a breeze blew it off the table?” Xander offered from his slumped position in the chair.
“I put the bowl of oranges right on top of it so it wouldn’t go anywhere.” Buffy began scrubbing her hands together. “Andrew, I totally left you a note and told you to tell Kennedy. Are you sure you didn’t see it?”
Andrew snuck a glance at Xander. He still wasn’t reacting. Then again, he looked like he was ready to drop, so maybe the Xander-radar was pinging but he was too tired to realize that Buffy was stressed out. Once Xander got some hot food in him, took a shower, and got some sleep, he’d notice and then he’d act. In the meantime, it was up to him to smooth things over.
“Pretty sure. But I did kind of throw the groceries on the table when I came in because Kennedy was talking to me and I was a little distracted because I was thinking of ways not to tell her about what we were doing,” Andrew said in a rush. “I’ll check for the note later.”
Buffy snapped to full-command mode, just as she always did when Andrew solved one of her little irregularities for her. “Well, I’m here now, so I’ll just talk to Kennedy myself. I take it she’s in there?” she indicated Andrew’s closed bedroom door with a jerk of her head.
“Yeah,” Andrew shuffled.
Buffy frowned. “But that’s your room. Didn’t you tell her to use Dawn’s?”
“She just kind of walked in it before I could say anything.” Buffy’s face darkened like it always did when something was the way it shouldn’t be, so Andrew dove in to stave off an explosion. “It’s okay. She’s a guest and Xander’s a guest so he can have Dawn’s room. I can take the couch.”
Xander snored from his chair.
Buffy blinked at the interruption, like she’d forgotten that Xander was even there. “The couch?” she asked quietly. “But you live here. You shouldn’t have to—”
“Xander needs a bed like now-ish. And Kennedy is probably in the middle of a Slayer-sized sleep. She, unh, was a little crabby and she looked worn out, so your talk can wait until dinner. Besides, she’ll listen to you more anyway.” Andrew shuffled. “I mean, I did lie to her when she came in so she might not believe me if I changed my story.”
Buffy’s relieved smile lit up the room. “Good plan. I’ll get sleeping not-so-beauty to wake up and take a shower at least. We’ll wake Kennedy when dinner’s ready. And Andrew, we’re going to be talking sleeping arrangements, too. You’re not getting stuck on the couch for a couple days.”
“Xander’s not staying?” Andrew asked. “But he just got here.”
Buffy’s face went very still. “He has to go on to England to meet with Giles. He’s only staying here for two days, three tops.”
“Reporting on his adventures, of course.” Andrew resisted the urge to cross the room and gently push the hair off the Xander’s sleeping face.
“Something like that.”
Andrew’s eyebrows crunched low over his head. He didn’t like the way Buffy said that. The thought finally clicked in his brain. Xander wasn’t supposed to be here. Buffy was supposed to pick up her thing-y and bring it back, but they weren’t supposed to have a guest. If Buffy had known Xander was coming, Andrew knew that he would’ve heard about it long before now.
Xander, he realized, must have brought bad news from Africa, the kind of news that was too dangerous to trust to messengers or even electronic communications. Maybe he managed to find out critical information about Wolfram & Hart itself, information that might even spell their doom. It would explain so much, especially Xander’s ragged condition. He probably came to Rome under the guise of delivering the Thorn thing when his real mission was to give Buffy a vital secret message that could save the world from destruction.
Buffy ghosted up to Andrew, grabbed his arm, and drew him into the kitchen. “Andrew? I need you to do me a favor,” she said in a conspiratorial voice.
Andrew’s nerve endings zinged with the desire to help. Buffy was going to entrust him with Xander’s safety; maybe even charge him with the task of bodyguard so Xander could safely make his way to Giles and deliver the news. He was up for the task. He could do this. He was ready. He’d do it for Buffy. He’d do it for Xander. He’d do it in the memory of Anya. Everything could count on him and how well he conducted himself.
Pregnant with the moment, Andrew solemnly nodded.
“I need you to keep your eyes open for the next week or so,” Buffy said in hushed tone. “If you see anything wiggy or something that doesn’t seem right, tell me. It’s very, very important you do this. Our lives could depend on it.”
Andrew resisted the urge to snap a salute and just barely managed to stifle his grin. “Yes, ma’am. You can count on me.”
“Andrew, this isn’t a game.” Buffy’s fingernails dug into his arm, as if to underline the urgency of his little side mission.
“I know, I know. Ow.” Andrew winced. “See weird. Tell about weird.”
“Tell me about weird and only me,” Buffy stressed.
“Okay, okay. Ow. Ow. Ow. Bruises.”
Buffy looked down at where she was squeezing Andrew’s bicep. She did a little double take before snatching her hand away. When she looked up at him again, she was back in bubbly Buffy land. “I’ll go wake Xand up for that shower while you finish with dinner. Once he smells a little less ripe, I’ll wake Kennedy.”
“Okay,” Andrew snapped a nod. “Tell Xander he can use my shaving kit. I’ve got plenty of refills for the razor.”
The people watching was not working out like Kennedy planned.
There were a thousand outdoor cafés in this section of Rome, although it seemed like they all catered to the tourist trade more than the locals. She had to walk a few blocks before finding something the looked a little more legit.
Kennedy couldn’t stand places that pretended to be the genuine article when they really catered to the tourists. She picked up the dislike in Rio after dealing too often with the poseurs convinced they were getting the real deal when all they were getting was some pastiche they could use to burnish their postcards back home. Willow never really understood her insistence that they go for the real thing. Her ex argued that the tourist places were a great way to find out what was happening in other parts of the world and to get unfiltered news from home.
Tourists, Willow had pointed out, tended to be more relaxed and open about sharing information. They got even more expansive when they realized they were talking to an expatriate temporarily living abroad who was willing to give them tips on the local hotspots. Willow could rhapsodize for hours about how such meetings brought out the best in human nature. To her, enjoying the local culture didn’t hold a candle to rubbing elbows with the bourgeoisie with their fish-belly white legs poking out from under their shorts and securely fastened fanny packs.
Frankly, Kennedy couldn’t care less about what was happening in the great world beyond her backyard and preferred going native. She’d take the genuine article over the fake any day of the week.
Upon finding what looked like a for-real Italian café, she plopped in a chair, and ordered a genuine espresso from a server who, to Kennedy’s disappointment, spoke perfect English. While she hating dealing with people who steadfastly refused to speak any English at all, an Italian accent just heavy enough to sound foreign, but light enough for her to understand, was a requirement for her to truly enjoy her discovery.
She was tempted to cancel her order and continue her search for an honest-to-god foreign café where the servers spoke with the requisite accent, but she decided to stay. The last thing she needed was to get hopelessly lost in Rome, especially since the early evening was bringing the throngs out into the streets.
Minor disappointment in her chosen café aside, Kennedy found herself relaxing into the party vibe. Friday nights in Rome were obviously a hopping time and she was soon wondering about the location of the closest dance club. She could dance away Willow and heartbreak and maybe even pick up a piece of hot Italian ass to take her home for the night.
Her pleasant contemplation of executing such a plan over the weekend soon shattered as she spotted someone—no, something—that looked like a demon walking down the sidewalk with a hot blonde on each arm. He didn’t appear obviously demonic at first glance, but there were some features on his face and the way he swaggered that made Kennedy do a double take.
She glanced around, wondering if anyone had noticed that the tall, dark stranger was something other than human. She wasn’t exactly surprised that no one even spared the guy so much as a questioning look.
Normals! Kennedy silently cursed as her hands clenched under the table and she stared into her espresso.
When she looked up again, her suspect had disappeared into the increasingly dense crowd. She forced her shoulders to relax, even as she continued her silent rant against idiotic blindness of the average human being. Chasing after the demon through the crowd would only cause comment. All she could do was wait and hope he passed her again.
Soon, however, she spotted another demon, and another, and another. She was willing to bet there were even vampires sprinkled among the crowd, blending seamlessly with the fashionable, beautiful people parading the streets.
Kennedy’s face scrunched angrily. The demons of Rome clearly had no compunctions about being seen in public. They weren’t looking over their shoulders, nor did they betray the slightest worry that any wrongdoing would be punished by a Slay.
There was only one explanation for it.
Buffy was doing jack shit. Not only was she partying her life away, she wasn’t doing her job even a little. Meanwhile, everyone else was continuing the good fight in every corner of the globe and getting not one bit of thanks for it. Buffy, on the other hand, continued to be viewed as savior of all that was good and holy. Nobody but nobody was allowed to diss Buffy or even question her abdication of her duty.
To make matters worse, Kennedy knew that if she called and informed the Council that their precious Buffy was a fraud, her complaints would fall on deaf ears. She’d be the bad guy for blowing the whistle and Buffy would continue to skate on her reputation.
It simply wasn’t fair.
Right. That’s going to change, Kennedy furiously thought. Time for you to get off your high horse, bitch. If you don’t like it, tough.
Kennedy finished her espresso and grimly watched the crowd in search of a target.