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Rain, Fire, Robots, and Other Reasons to Stay Away from Cleveland

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It wasn't like meeting his new boss was the first time Gunn had thought this was going to turn out to be a big mistake. It'd been a mistake when that Slayer had slipped him an e-mail address when she was visiting him in the hospital, it'd been a mistake when he'd gone to the library in Tacoma and sent the e-mail, it'd been a mistake when he'd picked up the plane ticket, and it was a mistake now. 

It was just the first time someone else told him it was a mistake. "I'm not going to pretend to be happy about this," Harris said, even before Gunn had a chance to tell him he didn't have any luggage except the backpack slung over his shoulder. He'd left L.A. in kind of a hurry, and shopping hadn't been a high priority since then. 

"Thought you guys had 're-evaluated the situation,'" Gunn said. Harris shrugged, turning and walking toward the exit to the parking lot. "Leah said that was how come you sent that team of Slayers to help us out in L.A." Leah had been the one who'd given Gunn the e-mail address. Gunn had appreciated the hospital visit; he'd appreciated it even more when she'd taken the head off that demon the Senior Partners had sent after him while he was still too weak to stand up. 

Even though everything he'd ever heard from Wes about the Council had left Gunn with a definite feeling that this was not the place for him, he'd decided to give it a shot. He didn't know what the hell else he was going to do with his life. 

"You know she's only seventeen, right?" Harris said suspiciously, and Gunn thought he'd worked out why Harris didn't like him.

"In two years, maybe," he said, chuckling. "But she's a good kid. Saved my life a couple of times."

Harris relaxed a little bit, but not all that much, and Gunn went on, "So if we're not the bad guys any more, what's your problem?" 

"You worked for Angel," he said. Gunn wasn't always in tune with the nuances of what people were saying, but he got that one, loud and clear. Not "Wolfram & Hart," but Angel. 

"Worked," Gunn repeated. "Past tense. I work here, now." And it was definitely looking like a mistake. It sounded good on paper--teaching mostly-trained Slayers how to not get themselves killed doing stupid shit. Keeping out of the way of the Senior Partners. Yeah, it sounded good, until he got here.

"That's what I'm not pretending to be happy about," Harris said, unlocking the door of a nondescript sedan. "You want to work here? You're going to have to get used to that." 

Gunn thought about pointing out that Angel hadn't even made it out of that last fight in L.A., but decided logic and his new boss were not exactly the best of friends. 

It wasn't like he'd never worked for anyone like that before. 


***




"There's nothing in those books that's going to tell us how to deal with robots!" Harris bitched, as Gunn tried to hold the flashlight steady so Dawn could see to read. It had been nice having a research department, even a part-time, when-she-wasn't-in-class research department, until he realized that all of a sudden, they were getting problems that needed a research department. 

Problems that had him stuck with Harris and Dawn in a basement the Slayers couldn't get to, because there was a barrier of fairly Slayer-proof metal sonsofbitches blocking the way. "They're not robots," Gunn pointed out. "They're golems."

Harris turned around to scowl at Gunn. "They're metal."

Gunn nodded. 

"They're walking around." 

"Yeah." 

"Robots."

"Golems," Gunn argued. He'd been helping Dawn out when she'd figured it out. "They're running off magic, not batteries." 

"Aren't golems made out of dirt?" Harris asked. And, well, since that was the only thing Gunn had known about them before this afternoon, he looked down at Dawn to let her answer that one. 

"If we leave aside the Jewish mythology," Dawn began. 

"Good plan," Gunn said, at the same time that Harris said, "Can we?"

She glared at both of them until they shut up. "Then a golem is just some kind of humanoid figure animated by magic. Those things definitely qualify." 

"Golem. Magic robots. Does it matter?" Harris demanded; Gunn was forced to admit that he had a point. 

Admit to himself, at least. He tried not to admit that Xander Harris was right about anything if he could help it. Harris returned the favor; after two months, he still hadn't changed his mind about Gunn's untrustworthiness. Gunn had worked for Angel, and Angel had joined forces with Wolfram & Hart, in addition to all the other reasons that yeah, Gunn could definitely see somebody not trusting Angel for. 

Out loud, Gunn didn't say anything about Harris being right; he said, "Means Dawn might be able to find a way we can kill them." Axes and flamethrowers and crossbows hadn't stopped them, so Dawn and her books were their last shot. 

"Dawn has," she said, scribbling some words on a piece of paper. "I think this is a counterspell. I just need to get close enough to--" 

"I'll go," Harris volunteered immediately. All right, the man had nerve, Gunn would admit that. Even to his face. 

"I'm going," Dawn said. 

"No way," Harris said, and Gunn chimed in with, "Hell, no."

"You two really have to stop doing that," Dawn said. "And don't argue with me. This spell? Not so much with the margin of error. Pronounce a word wrong, and we're doomed."

Gunn thought, for a minute, about the dozen seven-foot-tall metal guys waiting outside. He looked at Dawn. "I've got a good memory," he said. He always had, but even more so now; the Senior Partners had apparently thought it was important for an attorney. "Teach me."

Damned if Harris didn't look at him with something faintly like respect. 


***



"So, fire kills these things?" Gunn yelled, as he ducked a flailing demon-tentacle. At least, no matter what the thing looked like, "tentacle" was his story, and he was sticking to it. "Anything else?"

That was definitely a didn't-you-know-that look from Harris, which made it harder for Gunn to be sorry that another one of the demon's tentacles smacked him across the chest and knocked him to the floor. 

"The short answer? No," Harris said, getting to his feet and pushing his dripping-wet hair out of his face. 

"Then what the fuck are we supposed to do in the rain?" Gunn yelled back, aiming the flamethrower at the demon again. Its hide sizzled as the flames hit it, but then the rain doused the fire before did any real damage. 

Harris didn't answer, which Gunn supposed was as good an answer as any: they were completely fucked. There were only two Slayers getting field experience right now, and they were going after this demon's mates; Harris had figured he, Gunn, and two flamethrowers would be a match for the third. 

That was before it started to rain. They hadn't managed to do more than piss the demon off, and they had to get through it before they could wipe out the nest it was guarding. Or give Cleveland up to the tentacle demons, which was starting to sound like an option to Gunn. He was getting sick of this weather. 

But even Ohio didn't deserve that if there was a chance it could be avoided, and looking past the demon, further down the alley, Gunn saw their chance. "Drive it that way," he called to Harris, pointing down the alley toward the warehouse at the end of it. 

"The idea is to get it away from the nest," Harris shouted back. At least Skeknar demons were too stupid to understand English. 

Gunn pointed again, at the metal awning overhanging the stairs leading up to the loading dock. "Get it under there," he said. "Maybe it'll burn."

Harris shrugged, but he raised his flamethrower again, and the two of them drove the Skeknar further down. Gunn could see just when the plan started making more sense to Harris; there was a little nod, a quiet "Huh," that Gunn wouldn't have heard if they hadn't been standing shoulder-to-shoulder. 

The demon scuttled back rapidly, trying to keep between them and the nest; once it was out of the rain, he and Harris concentrated their fire, both hitting the same area of its torso until, with a loud shriek, it burst into flame. They kept their flamethrowers on it until it was only a charred lump of something that smelled like backyard barbecues in Hell. 

It wasn't until they were inside the warehouse, Harris hacking at the Skeknar eggs and Gunn setting them on fire once the shells were cracked, that Harris said, "That was good thinking back there." 

"Just doing my job," Gunn pointed out, resisting the urge to add, "Same as always." 

***


Well, this was new. 

Not bad; a man had to eat, especially after a night spent convincing wet-behind-the-ears Slayers that super-strength didn't make up for having no common sense at all. And not surprising: if two people were heading for the same Denny's, they might as well sit in the same booth. And if Xander Harris was sitting anywhere for too long, he was going to start talking. 

But it was new, because he and Harris had not shared much in the way of small-talk over the past six months. 

This talk was definitely small: a few comments about the night's work, and then a discussion of the merits of the All-American Slam versus the Moons Over My Hammy (the chief disadvantage, they both agreed, was that it had a stupid-ass name), followed by a brief silence when their waitress brought their coffee and they both spent a few minutes getting seriously caffeinated. But it was conversation, and that was weird enough all by itself. 

And not bad, because once Harris forgot for five minutes that he'd decided Gunn was one of the bad guys, they actually got along pretty well. They'd seen a lot of the same movies, watched the same crap on TV--killed a lot of the same demons, for that matter.

"You're not what I expected," Gunn said after a while, when he'd made a dent in his basket of fries and Harris had pretty well demolished his omelet. 

"You expected something?" 

Gunn shrugged. "You're a Watcher. I've met Watchers. Well, Wesley. And a robot pretending to be his dad. And what's-his-name, goofy guy who hung on Spike a lot." 

"Andrew," Harris said immediately. "And what, we're all identical?"

"Also," Gunn said, because it'd been long enough now that the memories didn't hurt, "you're a lot less patient than I figured anybody who dated Cordelia Chase would have to be." 

That caught Harris by surprise; he spluttered for a moment, until he managed to swallow his hash browns, and finally set his fork down. "You knew Cordy."

"Oh, yeah. She decided she was going to save me from myself. Damn near drove me crazy in the process."

"That's Cordelia," Harris said, his demeanor thawing out a little more. "Did she ever tell you about the time when...."

Stories about Cordelia turned into stories about things they'd had to kill, narrow escapes they'd had--Gunn tried not to be impressed that Harris had met Dracula, but hell, if you were going to fight vampires, that was the one to fight--until the waitress told them she was going off-shift and they realized they'd spent half the night there. 

Harris had actually seemed friendly; Gunn wasn't sure if it was because they'd both known Cordelia, or because Gunn had just decided the hell with it, he was going to treat Harris like they actually got along and see what happened. 

Whatever it was, when he stopped calling him "Harris" and switched to "Xander," he didn't get a complaint. 



***



"They tried to set me on fire," Xander said, brushing hopelessly at the charred remnants of his jacket. 

"They tried to set us on fire," Gunn corrected him. Just because Xander's jacket had been the one to make the tragic sacrifice to put the fire out didn't mean Xander had been the only target. Besides, Gunn had been listening to that all the way back here, and he was getting sick of hearing about it. It wasn't the first time they'd nearly gotten killed. It wasn't the first time that week

But this time, it was bugging Xander for some reason, and he was not letting it go. "And yet," he said, "I'm the only one who seems to care." 

"You're also the only one with keys," Gunn said, "and I don't want to stand on the porch all night." He'd left his keys on his desk when he went out to spar with Maggie; the last time he hadn't, he'd had a bruise shaped like his keychain for ten days. 

"I don't think I've ever been set on fire before," Xander mused, fumbling in his pocket for his house keys. 

"You weren't set on fire tonight. Nobody got set on fire except some vampires."

"And my jacket." 

"And your jacket," Gunn repeated. "Did you get hit on the head or something? You're acting kind of weird." 

"We almost got killed," Xander pointed out. 

"This is new?"

"No," he admitted. "But I'm officially sick of it. You know, I used to have a job where nobody tried to kill me. Some days, I miss that. Today is one of them." 

"Can you miss it when we get inside?"

Xander turned around again, leaning back against the wall and looking at Gunn. "Don't tell me there aren't days you hate this job." 

"Well, my boss can be a dick," Gunn said, grinning. "And yeah, fine, near-death experiences and demon slime are nowhere near fun." He shrugged. "It has its good points."

"Saving the world, you mean?" Xander shook his head. "How much of that have we been doing lately?"

"Not what I meant." Things had started coming clear when Xander had asked him if he hated the job: why he'd stuck around, why Xander had gotten under his skin so easily, why this might not have been a mistake. 

"So, what did you mean?" Xander asked, and from the way he was looking at Gunn, Gunn thought there'd probably been a similar thought process going on in Xander's brain. 

When Gunn leaned in to kiss him, Xander's hands clutched at his shirt, kissing him back enthusiastically enough that Gunn knew he hadn't been wrong about that. "Does that answer your question?"

"You just kissed me."

Gunn rolled his eyes. "I noticed that, yeah."

"Was that so I wouldn't talk about getting set on fire any more?"

"It's so you'll unlock the door so we can get inside and do it again," Gunn said, and for once, Xander didn't argue with him.