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Alexander Stall

The Host of this mental fun-fest.

0 · 965 views · located in Present Day

a character in “The Other Kind of Roommate”, as played by Tartra


Height: 5'11"
Weight: 184
Age: 23
Ethnicity: Latino
Eye Colour: Brown
Hair Colour: Brown
Body Shape: Well-built, lean
Occupation: N/A; typically steals for money


Bitter, nervous, cautious and non-confrontational, Alex is the one person least equipped to handle his forced friend.

Likes: Sleep, staying alive, personal space, keeping a low profile
Dislikes: Anything Xander does and attracting unnecessary attention


Wearing: Red shirt, blue jeans, white sneakers
Carrying (on an average basis): Wallet, pocket knife (never used)
Ability: Causes seizures
Skills: Long-distance runner, practised escape artist, skilled at staying off the radar


Alex is part one of Alexander. He's the original, so to speak. He's the guy who was born with the body, who should have the actual control, but that's been up for debate. He has one specific power: overloading other people's mind, almost always lethally, but he isn't interested in exploiting it anymore. While he might've had fun with the ability once-upon-a-life and still makes use of it from time to time (gotta pay the bills somehow), they've lost their novelty since developing an alter-ego/psychotic guardian angel and attracting the attention of a group called the Agents. He's decided to hide his power by not using them and, for the most part, he's gotten away with it. He's been able to live in one place for the last two months, but he's been counting down the days until he's forced to leave again. He has a bet going with himself (his actual self, not the crazy guy) whether that'll be because the Agents show up to dissect him or because his other half broke his chain and went wild.

Simply put, he's a nice guy who got saddled with the worst possible roommate, and that roommate isn't going anywhere until the day he dies.

So begins...

Alexander Stall's Story


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#, as written by Tartra
"Just shut up..."

Definitely. Xander was definitely going to listen if Alex asked for the seventh time. But at least he'd stopped trying to kill him. He'd worn himself out, what with all the exhausting ass-kicking taking its toll. But that only went so far. His voice was still going strong, the little bastard. He'd screamed for twelve hours, fourteen minutes and six or seven seconds - not that Alex had been counting or anything - and he still had enough breath to bitch at him for another three. Days, that was. Xander bitched for days. And for what? Coffee?

It's not just fucking coffee, you asshole. It's Starbucks. Alex's mistake. Again. The only fucking thing I ever ask you for, you cheap son of a bitch.

He'd seriously considered just handing himself in. Sure, the Agents had already more or less explained that getting the guy out would involve a saw, a drill, a chisel, his left temple and a grave, but it was starting to sound pretty good given the alternative.

I swear to God, the first chance I get, I'm grabbing a knife and stabbing you in the throat. You owe me.

Yeah, Alex owed him a coffee and a soul. They were in the mail, or something.

You think I won't wait? I can wait, you bastard - I can wait all fucking night.

Of course he could. Xander didn't sleep. Yet another surprise Alex had stumbled on.

I want my latte!

"Shut up," Alex said again.

The screaming started. At least the neighbours couldn't hear that.

His place was a mess. It usually was, but now it was dangerous to walk around. Glass was everywhere. Alex had told himself he should've never bought that mirror. Now there were shards of it stuck under his skin from when Xander had thrown his fist against it. He would've taken them out by now, except that his 'friend' was watching. Halfway through picking it out with tweezers, his hand would magically spasm, and then he'd have a field day trying to stitch his finger back on instead of just slapping a band-aid on it. That was fine. It barely hurt now. He was just worried about the mess.

The table? Smashed in two. Alex had landed on it with his hip. The chairs? Shattered. He'd been thrown against them, taking the blow with the exact center of his gut. The desk was gone, the shelves had cracked, the dresser was busted... He'd be picking splinters out of his clothes for weeks, if he was given that kind of privilege. Sometimes, it was easier to take a few pricks than try to dodge any of Xander's attacks.

You got lucky.

Alex agreed. There was a certain threshold of control Xander couldn't cross, and he'd made it halfway there simply trying to get back to Starbucks. That'd kept him from doing any permanent damage. It hadn't stopped him completely. Alex had overpowered him - it was his body anyway - it's shared - and, for some reason, he'd thought that was a good thing. He should've drawn it out, made sure the guy was too tired to take control of his arm and start beating him with it. He felt bruises along the side of his jaw. They were the least of his worries. His toe might've been broken.

Don't forget the bottles. There's bottles fuckin' everywhere.

If Alex drank, Xander went away. Or something. He shut up, at least. It was practically the only time he'd get any sleep, but he had to fight for that, too. Whatever it was that happened, Xander hated it. He'd struggle almost as fiercely as he did for his coffee if it meant getting away from any form of alcohol that could've been around. Naturally, he'd been getting better at it. Alex hadn't had a drop in days. It also meant he hadn't slept in days.

You wanna sleep?

Caffeine would keep him awake.

One thing, Xander spat. One fucking thing is all I'm asking for.

His jaw really did hurt. He must look terrible by now.

"Shut up, Xander."

He got up. His feet responded. That was a relief. That meant he didn't have to stab himself on the bottles that'd been smashed just to make his life more difficult. He hunched over what was left of the mirror, over the one piece that hadn't exploded when it'd been ripped from the wall and slammed to the ground. It worked, mostly. He had to keep turning his head if he wanted to see another part of it, but it worked. He counted that as a point for his side.

Alex's face was mostly intact. His head was roughly oval and the punches had been at the side of it, so for the most part, he looked alive. There were circles under his eyes, though. His skin should've been darker, more olive. That probably had to do with the fact that he hadn't gone out since the Starbucks incident. He could barely remember what the sun looked like.

It's yellow, it's round -

"It's a figure of speech."

It's bullshit, is what it is.

Brown eyes, brown hair, cut short and kind'f choppy. He'd done it himself. He didn't trust Xander around barbers. Around anyone, frankly, but especially not people with shit that went snip-snip. It was fine. It was acceptable. He'd learned not to be picky about a lot of things anymore, especially not about how he looked. So long as he didn't come off as deranged, half-starved or completely insane, he was great. Plus, he was in good shape. Xander wanted to make sure whatever punch he threw hit hard, so Alex was on a very strict work-out schedule that, to this day, he'd never missed out on. That was the only thing Xander was good for, keeping him alive.

I'm taking this body once you're fuckin' out.

That meant Xander had to keep him away from the Agents. At a very early age, Alex had learned to run. As equally early, he'd found out about his special talent. Aside from the crazy demon in his head, he meant.

Someone's coming. About the noise. I'll scream.

"I'll make you coffee."

I don't want it.

"Just shut up. Please? For once."

Bitch, let's see you make me.

Alex's arms twitched again. Xander was still too tired. He could feel the little guy get even angrier and sink deeper into the back of his mind - or wherever he was - and sulk. Good. That was something that'd keep him quiet. He'd need the silence to come up with another excuse for why the sounds of the apocalypse had been streaming out of his apartment for the last hour and a half.

"Xander, I'm serious."

Xander didn't say anything.

The third and final thing Alex had learned when he was young: no answer was almost as horrible as getting one.

Fantastic. Just... fantastic.


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Yeah. That about summed it up.


Alex felt his mouth twitching. Xander, stop.

I'm sorry, I can't hear when you say it in your head. Wanna talk a little louder and share it with the class?

Alex ignored him. He'd pay for it later. Right now, it was time to focus.

"Ah... No. No, it's fine. Everything's fine. I was just - uh..."


"Yeah. I mean - I was renovating."

Like a fag.

"Parents... coming... stopping by... You know how it is," Alex said. "Gotta keep the place clean, right?"

I bought it, at least.

Had he seen this girl - woman, sorry - before? Just about everyone in this building had come by to scream at him at one point or another. Their faces blurred together after a while and he couldn't guess at anyone's name on this floor. She could've moved in yesterday or been here for years. Well - if it was years, that wouldn't make much of a difference. He'd only been in this room for two months, and he was lucky if he got to stay another week. Paying extra on his rent (minus the deposits, which were gone by now) was only going to take him so far. He'd started looking for a new place. He'd put in a few offers, too. Based on their proximity to Starbucks, he'd done a pretty good job of narrowing his choices down. It was a tie between two a few blocks apart.


Stop it.

Should he say something else? It wasn't like he'd been expecting her to vanish, but she wasn't moving yet. Not that he'd given her time to reply. People didn't go away half a second after a lame-ass answer, especially not when they were freaked enough to want to call the cops. So, what? More explanation? Yeah, that'd work. 'Hi, thanks for coming over to make sure I wasn't getting killed. Sorry for making so much noise, but I'll be sure to keep it down the next time my psychopathic brain-buddy decides to beat the shit out'f me. No, don't call the cops and don't call the nuthouse. I'm great. I'm golden. Go away.'

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaa -

Alex knew what Xander was trying to do. Seriously, stop it.


Great. He wanted to negotiate. Well, at least this meant he wasn't in such a pissy mood anymore. Maybe Alex'd get the mirror chips out of his hand after all. But he wanted to do it now? Right now?

Xander sensed the panic. He very smoothly replied, Fuck yes.

He'd been putting up with this for years. He knew almost everything there was to know about what Xander could or couldn't do. The only thing he had never been sure of was whether the guy could read Alex's thoughts or not. Emotions, definitely. If Alex started thinking about how much his toe hurt -

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Or if he started thinking about how long it'd been since he'd seen the sky -

Holy shit, man. The sun's not that great. Stop crying about it.

Or if he remembered how long it'd been since he'd had a civil conversation -


He didn't know. Maybe Xander could hear his thoughts or maybe it really was only feelings he picked up on. The fact of the matter was that, when Alex needed to directly, clearly communicate with the guy, the only thing he'd ever respond to were spoken words.

"I'll be right back," Alex said. Then he pulled his head back into his room and closed the door.

No, he wasn't being creepy. It was all his head. His crazy, crowded head.

So - that's a 'yes' to Starbucks?

"Are you gonna shut the fuck up?"

Oooh. That's gonna cost you a Swiss Chalet.

"Swiss Chalet is garbage," Alex muttered. "I'm not -"


"Just shut up," Alex hissed. "Five minutes - five tiny minutes - is all I need."

Two minutes.

"Just keep it together until she's gone," Alex said. "You think you can manage that?"

Don't get that shitty chicken sauce. Get the gravy. Mmm, gravy.

There was not going to be any Swiss Chalet.


"Let's call it a 'maybe'," Alex mumbled. He opened the door again, casually smiling, which he already knew had come out as a wince. "Hi. I'm fine. I'll keep it down. Is that it?"


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"Yeah." She'd already turned away. "I'll remember that."


She was leaving. Unbelievable. Alex didn't have to fight her.

You'd've lost, pussy.

Problem solved. Crisis averted. Okay. Wow. This was the first time in a long time he'd thought 'fantastic' and actually meant it. Now if he could fix up his apartment, maybe glue his face back together - her voice had changed completely when she'd taken a good look at him - then figure out what he was going to do about this mess...

Crags' is gonna kill you. Xander started gloating. I can't feel pain.

'Renovating' or not, this place looked like a bomb had gone off. He was up shit's creek if anyone came in here, let alone the man who'd already expressed his severe disinterest in putting up with anymore complaints.

We wouldn't have that problem if you'd let me split his head in two.

That was enough of that. If nothing else, Alex was getting some sleep.

"He's hurting me!"

His eyes popped open. He immediately jumped back and threw himself against the door, slamming it shut.

"You're an asshole," he spat when he was inside. "You're an incredible asshole and I can't believe -"

You gettin' take-out again tonight? I'm off Chinese for a little while. Swiss Chalet?

"You're out of your mind!"

That's the plan, Xander said. Once I get rid of you, anyway.

"This is my body and I am not going to tell you again," Alex snapped. "Shut up, stop taking over, and - I am not joking - I'll run outside and drown myself in vodka if you don't... just..."

Behave myself?

First she wanted to call the cops. Then she wanted to call the landlord. Now it sounded like she was going to be keeping an eye on him - or ear or whatever - and what had just come out of his mouth, with a special thanks to Xander, you're welcome, was about as high on the worst possible things that could've been said on any list anywhere.

Rrrrrrrrrrr -

"If you get me killed, you die, too! You ever think of that, genius?"

You don't know that for sure, Xander sang. But then, at once, the voice in his head grew serious. Well - as serious as it got, anyway. You think she's an Agent?

"Of course not," Alex said. "She's just pissed that you attacked me over coffee."

So, about dinner...

"... Well..." He wasn't paranoid. He knew what an Agent was like. They were meaner. Fiercer. They didn't check up on people and then walk away. "You don't... think...?"

Gettin' hungry.

"If you can't feel pain, you can't feel hunger. Is she an Agent or not?"

He hated depending on the guy, but Xander was much more perceptive than he'd ever be. The last few times he'd run into them, he'd thought they were cops or detectives or private eyes or something. He'd recognized them and he was proud of that, but the threat of who they were hadn't dawned on him until Xander took over and attacked. He'd saved Alex's life twice that way. It was stuff like that that made Alex think he wasn't hated as much as a certain someone insisted.

Are you being sentimental again?

"Just tell me what you think."


No. He would've been edgier if she was. Alex was safe. There was no reason for him to panic.


Oh - for fuck's sake, Xander!

AH, HA, HA, HA, HA, HA! Let's get Italian.


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#, as written by Tartra
Alex finally admitted it: he was paranoid. For the next several hours, he'd been quietly pulling the remains of his room into order again, dragging everything that was broken, which was all of it, into a pile that he'd let Xander throw out the window. He'd moved the dumpster under the window for that specific reason. He'd also moved onto one of the higher floors for it, too. If he was perfectly honest with himself, he'd realize he got as much a kick out of throwing giant hunks of table, dresser, shelf and whatever else that'd been destroyed out the window to explode as it hit the ground as Xander did, but that'd mean pointing out a common interest between them. No thank you. It was needlessly destructive anyway, and someone could get hurt.


So Alex stopped dragging things around - quietly, which was another concept the other guy couldn't grasp - and went back over to his bed, where he'd left the box of pizza they'd eventually agreed on. Half pepperoni, half Hawaiian, as usual. As he picked up the nasty fruit-covered slice, he felt his mouth start reaching for it. Good. Let Xander have it. So long as he didn't have to taste it, Alex didn't care.

Back to being paranoid.

He'd done everything in his power to stay silent since that woman'd left. He -


Anyway, he'd kept every answer he said out loud short, frank, and under his breath. For a while, he'd almost considered duct taping his mouth, but he thought better of it at the last second, especially when Xander started getting giddy.

Should've done it. Should still do it. More.

Xander could talk and chew. It was one more piece of evidence that this was not his body.

What's-her-face. What'd'ya think?

Alex couldn't talk and chew. This was his body and his mouth was full. The most he could manage was a bland, "Huh."




Paranoid again. Very, very paranoid.

"Whuh -" He started choking. Xander was delighted to punch him in the chest. "Thanks. I guess."


"Hold on," Alex whispered. "She's 'interesting'?"

Sure. More.

"You've never said that before."


"Can you make up your mind? Should I worried about her or not? I'm being hunted, Xander. I need to know when there's something wrong."

Put food in my face or I'll kick your ass again. Fair enough. Alex ended up taking another bite of the... ugh... pineapple. She's interesting. Yeah, he got that. Let's go talk to her.



Xander's sudden silence immediately began gnawing at him. He tried holding off for a minute, failed miserably, then asked as softly as he possibly good, "Alright, fine. Why do you want to talk to her?"

She's hot.

"Right, well, that's not good enough."

Is for me.

And before Alex could get another word out, Xander took over completely, restraining himself just long enough to finish his slice, jam another in his mouth, pick up the half-empty pizza box and run out the door. And, of course, he left it wide open, because apparently he couldn't wait to get Alex kicked out on his ass -

You wouldn't have this problem if you'd just gotten me a latte.

Alex started fighting back. He forced himself to feel his fingers, forced them to do what he - and only he - told them, but the only thing that got him was another slap on the side of his throat.

Trust me, Xander said, less than reassuringly. She digs us anyway. You hear her bangin' on the walls earlier?

"Banging on the walls after you screamed 'rape'? Nice job, by the way," Alex said.

He was in front of her door, now. He was in front of the door with a crazy guy in his head and a pizza box in his hand. He couldn't stress enough what a bad situation this was. And then Xander started knocking.

"She's not answering."

Yeah - probably 'cause she's not the Flash. Give her more than a second to figure out I'm here.

"You're - you - you wanna talk to her? You? With your mouth - with my mouth?" This had never once been a good thing. "What... What're you even gonna say?"

"I'm gonna give her pizza," Xander said with Alex's voice. "Bitches love pizza."

"'Bitches' do not like pizza," Alex spat. "And don't say that -"

"Shhhhhh. Relax."

Despite himself, he did. For a moment. Then he panicked again and demanded, "You're really doing this because you think she's hot? This is really necessary?"

"Maybe I'm just making friends with my neighbours."

"You don't make friends -"

"Yeah, and whose fault is that?" Alex could feel himself frowning. "Just stay out of this. 'You think you can manage that?'"

... He didn't really have a choice.

"Big smile, bitch-boy," Xander said. "We've gotta make a good impression."


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#, as written by Tartra
Ha, ha. That's cute.

Yeah. She'd make a great neighbour. He'd be sure -

"I'm on break," Xander said, practically glowing. "Plus, I felt like there was something more important I needed to do than fix my justifiably smashed apartment."

"Smashed because I'm renovating it," Alex added.

No, no, no, no, no. I told you specifically that we were gonna talk to her and you said no. Keep your trap shut before I break it in two.

What was he going for? What was playing at now? There was no way Xander was actually interested in this girl - well, not no way, because she was pretty - smokin' hot - but Alex feared for her life if he was. And if he wasn't, that was even worse, because it meant he'd got the scent of something and wasn't sharing. If Xander would just let him into his head - don't try to be witty, 'cause I can tell when you're trying and it's fucking annoying - then maybe Alex could reasonably or rationally or convincingly explain that not everyone needed to die and maybe, if there really was a threat, all they had to do was leave.

Pshht. Fuck that.

So he was trying to kill her? Something was wrong? Was she -

Calm down, pennywhistle. How the hell was that an insult? I got this. Just be nice.

Of course. Because it was Alex who had that problem with people.

"Anyway, I was thinking about earlier, about how noisy I was this morning... Well - most mornings," Xander said, "and I realized I haven't been an easy person to live beside." He stopped, winced, then gave a small shrug. "I don't normally do this. Hell - I'm yelled at all the time and I never care, but I felt like today was... too much. It was a stupid argument, I should've gotten my latte and this would've all been avoided, and it wasn't fair that I made you put up with the very, very frequent mistakes of my roommate."

HO. LEE. SHIT. Xander! Dammit! He didn't live with anyone, remember?

Not for long, anyway.

"My roommate -"

"- left a little while ago," Xander cut in. "He's pissy about something - yet again - so now was the only chance I've had to come over here. Believe me. I've killing myself realizing how bad I've been. All because of a latte. One simple latte that could've easily been picked up."

Okay, that was enough.

"In fact, I came down here to bring you a peace-offering." Xander somehow drew attention to the box without moving an inch. "But you know what? That's not good enough. I can't honestly believe a simple slice of - do you like Hawaiian? Stupid question, everyone does. Anyway, I think I can do a little more than that."


"Tomorrow morning, let's head over to Starbucks -"


"- it's not a date. I'm not trying to flirt with you or make you uncomfortable -"

He was making Alex uncomfortable!

"I swear to you, I'll remove my roommate's ass from his body if he decides to try something stupid - like... I don't know, somehow keep me from showing up, but I'm right beside you so feel free to come over and make sure he's not messing around." Xander smiled again, less brilliantly, more sincerely. "I'd honoured if you'd join me at Starbucks."

Oh. OH. Do you see that? Do you see what that is? It's a silver platter, you son of a bitch, and I am handing her to you on it. Don't fuck this up. This is impossible to fuck up, but I know you'll try.

Xander let go of his control. He must've been tired. That'd been happening more and more lately. Not that he was complaining, but Alex had to make sure he wasn't hoarding energy for one last, violent grab for complete ownership. ... And now Alex was standing stupidly in the hallway with a box of pizza and a blank look on his face.

"Uh..." Smooth. "Shut up. I mean - yeah! Yeah, so - uh... Just... tell me what you're - uh... you know - your schedule? Just - uh... Well, you know where I am! I'll be there... tomorrow..."

Let's bounce! Feed me!

"Uh..." Alex's hand started digging at the box. "... Bye."


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"I can't believe that worked."

I told you.

He couldn't believe she was still... alive.

I'm a nice guy.

Alex slowly walked back to his apartment, leaving the pizza box open long enough for Xander to grab what was left. The guy seemed much happier and much more complacent. Yes to coffee? Sharing pizza? If he didn't know any better, he'd think there'd been a connection.

Whoa there, cowboy.

"I was kidding. I don't think you're even capable of seeing other people as 'persons'."


Alex stopped walking before he walked through the door. He knew what was happening. Xander was still excited, but it was on a completely different level than before.

An Agent. It had to be.

Go. It's fine. I got this.

This was where Xander shined. There was a loose balance between them now, a sharing of control and a bond of trust that would never, ever exist between them at any other time. It was too much effort for his 'roommate' to take over completely, so a very light steering would be enough until he was forced to break off his chain. And Alex was more than happy to let him. He didn't have the reflexes to take on an Agent.

Shit. Shit. The second he'd left the door open -

I was inviting them.


They've been on our ass all week. Figured I'd let 'em in so we could talk.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh-god-oh-god-oh-god.

Shut up.

Xander still had to time to shove the last bit of his food in his mouth, before brazenly striding inside and slamming the door shut. He tossed the box to one corner and brushed his hands on Alex's pants. Then he quickly scanned the room, looking for something Alex knew he'd never pick up on first.

Oh yeah. He's still here.


Rookie mistake.


Xander didn't answer. He attacked. It wasn't until he saw his fingers wrap around a throat that he admit there really was someone else in this apartment. They weren't invisible, they weren't cloaked, they'd simply been standing there and that had been enough to hide from plain sight. They were like ghosts. Horrible ghosts, ones with guns. The worst kind.

Oh boy. They're prepared.

Agents almost always wore masks of some kind. Simple ones, just enough to keep themselves mysterious. They had to blend in, after all. But this guy... His entire head was covered. It was like some steel wool ski mask with plastic, oval eye holes. Xander moved too fast for the Agent to react. That was the rookie mistake. Everyone new to Alex's 'case' always underestimated what he could do. They would watch him for months, studying his habits, making note of his work-outs and his otherwise unimpressive lifestyles. He got the feeling some of them didn't believe what Xander could do. That made Alex feel a little better. It was as if the playing field was leveled.

It took all of two seconds for Xander to hurl the Agent to the ground. When he was down there, Xander grabbed the stupid mask and ripped it off his face. Alex hated this part. The Agent immediately began sobbing. If he didn't believe the rumours surrounding Alex's powers, he sure as hell guessed what was coming now.

He wanted to close his eyes. The whole point was to keep them open.

The dryness began. It burned. He wanted to blink and clear them again, but Xander kept them focused. The Agent kept sobbing and flailing his head around, trying to keep from making contact. Xander punched him in the throat, then grabbed the Agent's chin and held it still. For one solitary fraction of a second, their eyes locked. They stared into the depths of each other's soul and a bridge was formed between them. A second was all it needed. The Agent was foaming and convulsing an instant later.

Xander smiled, then stood up.

"You're... you're not killing him?"

Not that he wanted the Agent to die, but if anyone needed to be permanently stamped out, it was one of them.

Just a seizure. That alright with you?

"But... why?"

Hope what's-her-face - damn, didn't get her name - doesn't mind the noise again. Do we have rope? Or a chain or something?

He knew they did. Xander started walking in that the direction, then passed the buck onto Alex because he, once more, was tired.

"Are you trying to keep him here? As bait?" That'd happened before. "Didn't you learn anything last time?"

That I'm incredibly awesome and can take down twelve guys in six minutes? Yeah, I got that. It wasn't a subtle lesson. He shrugged. I'll kill him eventually, Xander said, like he was talking about doing the recycling. But not yet. I've got some questions I wanna ask him.

"You're gonna interrogate him?" That was worse than killing him!

Yeah. Problem?


I'll keep it quiet. Your little girlfriend won't hear a thing.

"As far as I'm concerned, she's your girlfriend, and we're not playing host to someone else -"

Thought you wanted another roommate.

"Not an Agent!"

Shhh! She's probably sleeping by now.

Alex steadied himself. He took in three deep breaths, grabbed the rope from under the sink, then turned back and walked towards the Agent. The man was barely breathing. His eyes had rolled back into his head and his tongue had fallen out, raking against his teeth.

Awww. They're so cute when they're frothing. Tie him to the chair, will ya?

"Which one?"

The one I didn't smash against your skull.

Fair enough. Alex lifted the man up and dragged him onto the chair, not bothering to be careful as he juggled him and the wobbly, slightly splintered thing in his arms. With an ease more practised than he was comfortable with, Alex tied the man up around the feet, the thighs, the chest, and then the wrists. He wasn't getting out of that.

We're gonna have to wait for him to wake up.

"Will he?"


"I'm going to bed," Alex muttered. "Scream if you hear him moving."

Will do.

And with that, Alex crawled under his covers, closing the door on another fucked up day.

At least he was getting a latte tomorrow. He kind of liked those.


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He'd been asleep for the entire night. He'd been tired. Even if Xander had tried to get him up, his basic needs has won out in the end. But now he was awake. He sat up slowly, wondering if he'd slept his full eight hours or if something else had caught his attention. He decided on the second one, then turned to check on their guest.

The Agent was still there. That surprised him. He'd never seen one in the daylight so closely before. They were people after all. Huh.

Get up, get dressed. Let's get started.

Right. Alex kicked off his blankets and started getting ready. Bathroom break, brush teeth, floss teeth - Xander's thing - and then wash his face: the four major steps of any morning routine. When he was done that, he crossed to the other side of the room to fumble with his dresser. After a few minutes of fighting it, he wrenched one of the drawers open. Blue shirt today. Laundry tomorrow, he supposed. Breakfast was after he finished getting dressed.

Alex looked over at the agent as he absently pulled his shirt on. "Think we should make him something?"

What - like... food?

"Maybe," he said. "I don't think we should starve him."

Yeah. Don't want him bein' uncomfortable.

He made the Agent breakfast. He had to get rid of the eggs anyway. They were almost expired because he never used them. Xander just liked the look of them in the fridge.

He's breathing, right?

Like he cared. He wanted to get close enough to hit the guy some more. Alex could see perfectly well from where he was that, yes, the Agent was still alive. But he kept Xander happy and took the long way around the pile of broken furniture to get close enough to reach out and slap the intruder in the face.

"Wake up," Xander said.

The Agent muttered something.

"Think they've started looking for him?"

They sent him here to die.

"You think?"

Come on, man. They send their best forces after us on a daily basis. Why the hell would they start dripping shit on us now after I've kicked their ass so many times? He must've been scouting or something.

"So they found us," Alex said.

Don't worry about it.

"Well, since you asked so nicely..."

Two eggs for Alex, two eggs for the Agent, and half a pack of bacon for Xander because he didn't know what cholesterol was. After choking down his food and somehow managing not to burn himself with the stupid oil, he heard a voice from behind him, weakly calling out.

"I didn't think you existed," the Agent said. "I thought this was some... hazing."

"Yeah, well, you fucked it up anyway," Xander said. "You like bacon? I'm making bacon."

"I like bacon," the Agent said.

"Alex will make you some bacon. Hey - let's bring some over to that other chick. If there's any left, I mean."

Right. Her. The coffee thing. He was tempted to try to play sick somehow. If Xander started screaming, all the better. He'd wince until she left. But knowing that the Agents knew where he was... He wasn't surprised. More like he was annoyed. Getting out of this place for a while, making sure there was only one of them, was probably a good idea.

"Are you... gonna kill me?"

"Probably," Xander said, barely waiting for the meat to cook before he threw it on a plate with the Agent's eggs. He brought it to the man and sat down on a stable pile of debris, then lazily shoveled his half of the food into his mouth. "Probably later, though. I've got a date first."

"You said it wasn't a date," Alex muttered.

"You're so lost with the basics of the female mind," Xander said. Then, to their new friend, "We've got this neighbour we apparently pissed off last night."


"You nosy bastard," Xander said. "That's none of your damn business. I'm gonna eat your bacon now. You deserve this." He hacked down the rest of it. "You can have the shitty eggs, though. They're runny. Again."

"You're..." The Agent looked woozy. He was blinking a lot and his eyes were half-lidded. He took his time testing the rope wrapped around him. Xander kept close watch over that, likely assuming Alex couldn't manage that, either. When the man was satisfied he was trapped, he went back to asking, "You're gonna leave me here? Unattended?"

"Hey, don't worry," Xander said. "I'll be back in a few hours. Then we can have a nice chat."

"I guess..." This was awkward. Alex didn't know what to say. "Are - uh... eggs going to be enough?"

"It's more than I could've asked for," the Agent said. He frowned at them. "There's two of you."

"Look at that," Xander said. "He's not a rookie after all." He got up again, carrying the plate back to the kitchen.

"You didn't give me the eggs," the Agent noted.

"Yeah. Changed my mind about that. You'll be fine. Want water?" Xander got him water. "Drink up!"

More than a little ran down his face. Before the Agent could even ask to have it wiped off, however, Xander looked at Alex's watch and headed off to the door.

"Wait -" Xander stopped. "There's no point in killing me. They're on their way here now. They have tracers."

Alex tensed.

"So you think you're useful?" Xander snorted. "Buddy, if I was afraid of your colleagues, I'd be living in a cave, not the center of a city. Sit tight. I'll be back for you soon."

She better be awake.

If she wasn't, his stomping down the hall and his pounding on her door would change that.


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"No renovating. I promise."

Xander was completely relaxed. Alex couldn't figure it out. There was an Agent tied up in his apartment with more Agents on the way, and some crazy mask he could only assume had been designed specifically to counter his abilities. Yet the guy was brushing all of it off, swapping jokes, like a jokey joke-maker. He walked in, completely carefree, giving the woman a friendly smile and nod of his head as he passed her.

"This is nice," Xander said, heading towards the loveseat. "Much better than my place, even before the construction."

He'd have to re-buy every stick of furniture he had.

Why's your jaw all... 'clicky'?

"It locks a little," Alex muttered. "That's your handiwork."

Oh, right. You should get that fixed.

"I tried. You said it'd give me more reason to shut my stupid face."

Hasn't worked. Might as well fix it.

Those eggs had been terrible. Maybe they'd expired after all. The bacon had been the only good part of what he'd eaten this morning. He hated when Xander was right.

"If you wanted, I thought maybe... well - if you haven't had breakfast yet, we could always pick something up," Alex said. "Just something small. You've probably already eaten - I mean, I have, but it was... bad. So if you've got room left..."

Should he offer to pay? Maybe he should pay.

Maybe you should ask her name, dipshit.

... Oh yeah.

"What's your name?" That came out blunt. He'd practically blurted it out. "Uh... I should've asked that before I said anything else. I'm Alex. Alexander, technically, but I'm stuck with the first half."

That's a nice TV. We should get that TV. And this couch.


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Everybody loves bacon.

He sounded really proud of himself.

Alex gave her a smile when he passed her, too. It wasn't as... well - charming as Xander's, big surprise, but he thought it was friendly and that was all that mattered. He was happy to be out in the hall first. Even though he'd closed it and locked it, he was sure he'd turn and discover his door had been kicked open or something. That'd be an easy way to discover the mess, though. Not so easy explaining why, out of every room in this building, someone went after his. He'd have to go through a hundred hoops explaining why he had better stuff to steal than anyone else.

Oh, I disagree.


"Whatever you took, put it back," Alex mumbled.


It was like living with a child, if that child was emotionally unbalanced, cartoonishly narcissistic, and leaning heavily on psychopathic tendencies.

"Put it back," Alex hissed. "What was it? When did you take anything?"

Should've been watching.

"Xander -"

Just some paper. Found a little notepad 'tucked away' and I stole a sheet or two.

"So you didn't just steal something," Alex snapped. "You're vandalizing, too."

Maybe I needed some paper. Y'know, to take notes on all the 'spooky Agent activities'.

What spooky activities?

Alex heard thumping coming from his room.

Damn. He's escaping.

His throat almost closed up. Either he was escaping or he was in the middle of being rescued. Neither of those options were good.

Oh well. At least we know they've got anti-seizure masks.

"So Gwen," Xander said, before Alex could get another word out. "I can't figure out why someone like you would be living in a place like this. We're - I'm only here because it's cheap. Your place's is loaded up like a palace. What's the story on that?"

More thumping. These damn walls were too thin. No wonder everyone was screaming at them all the time.

"But - uh... Let's walk and talk," Alex said. "Like... now. Ish. The - uh... My roommate's noisy in the morning. He -"

"Can someone hear me?"

I'm gonna break that guy's face, Xander said. I can't believe I gave him water, the ungrateful prick.

"Yeah, let's go now. He's always like that," Alex said. "He jokes. A lot. Inappropriately. Uh... so... ignore him."

Thump, thump, thump.


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"He and I have a..." Xander bobbed his head to one side, then the other, before coming up with, "strained relationship. I didn't ask to live with him. I was actually - for obvious reasons, like the ones you just heard - trying to get him to move out, but the bastard won't go 'cause the place's in mommy and daddy's name."

"Which makes sense," Alex added, "because if he owns it, it's a little dumb to think he'd be the one to move. That's why I've been trying to find somewhere else to live. Far, far away from my roommate."

"My roommate's a jerk," Xander said, very pleasantly speaking for both of them.

And a giant douche.

Xander was still speaking for both of them.

It didn't take long for them to reach the lobby. The apartment building was squat and there was no one else around. They made it down in record time, and by the time they had, Alex was feeling a lot better about his day. He loosened up and tried to be less stiff, which in his opinion was perfect timing, because she looked really freaked out by what'd been happening up there. Not just the Agent rattling around - gagging him would've been smart, but Xander 'didn't believe in those' - but the whole... inner/outer monologue thing. He'd either been getting too comfortable around her or he'd been by himself for too long to remember not to be so careless. In either case, he had to keep his voice down when he was talking to Xander.

Or don't talk to me. I like that one.

"As far as having a place to come back to tonight," Alex said, "I think I'll find a motel. I've got some people who like to check in on me every now and then and they... lately..."

It was another one.

Unbelievable. There were two.

Keep walking.

The Agents were standing formally beside the apartment door - on the inside, rather than out where they belonged. They might've turned to look at him the second he'd come down, but they were wearing sunglasses. He couldn't tell what they were looking at, but both their heads turned as he drew closer. He couldn't help puffing himself up a bit, taking in a deep breath and then making sure he was between them and Gwen. He went further than that, too, and kept her as out of sight as he could.

Hell - he talked to himself in the middle of the hallway. It wasn't like she didn't already know he was creepy.

"I may have to take you up on the 'long nap'," Xander chirped. "A whole several classes? That's impressive." He grinned. "I'll have to hire you as my bodyguard one of these days."

They're the same as the mask.


The glasses. Their glasses. They're too shiny. It's the same as the eyes in that mask our buddy was wearing.


Can't be a field test. These guys look professional. They must've already known the mask worked before they sent the rookie out.

"What are they doing here?" He was smart enough to keep the last few words of that quiet. "It's broad daylight. They can't attack."

Hasn't stopped 'em before.

"It hasn't stopped you before," Alex said, softly. "I'm walking with an innocent civilian. They won't try anything."

And if they do? 'Cause they will.

"Then I'll take care of it."


"Hey - they're my powers. Just because you're the one using them all the time doesn't mean I didn't spend a few years without you practising with them. Alone."

You let me know how it pays off.

"I -"

Coffee. And pay attention to the lady. You're fuckin' weird.

Alex turned and smiled at Gwen again, hoping she'd pick up on the apology buried in there. Then, finally reaching the building's entrance, he opened the door and waited carefully for her to go first. Xander took the opportunity to beam and wave at the Agents. One started to wave back. The other very slowly lowered the first's arm.

Ah, crap. It's that one again.

"The waving one?"

You think I'm psycho. You passed out the last three times I fought him.

"How'd that go?"

He's alive, isn't he? Xander sounded bitter. Whatever.

"Careful in the room, guys," he shouted at the Agents. "I'm renovating. Wouldn't want you two getting hurt.


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"Believe me, you don't have to know where I am to get me to come for coffee. I guarantee I'll find you like I'm possessed," Alex said.

You idiot. Learn the damn game.

What game?

"But if I do decide to hide in the mountains, you'll be the first to know which cave."

Oh. They were flirting.

Yeah, stupid.

Alex took a moment to appreciate the outside. He never minded being cooped up while he was actually in there, but the minute he felt a breeze across his face, an enormous weight lifted off of him. He was back in the real world with real and normal people. It wasn't so early that the sidewalks were bare, but he felt like a lot of people were sleeping in today. They were missing out. The weather was fantastic.

"I can't remember the last time I walked around like this," he said.

You haven't walked anywhere. If you had, you'd be at Starbucks by now.

About that.

"I don't know how much time you have on you," Alex said, "but if you're not in a rush, we can go to some other place for coffee -"


"It's a little farther than Starbucks -"

You son of a bitch.

"- but I like the feel of it more. It's... ambient, I guess. And it smells better. And it's got better food, which is always a plus," he finished.

Don't go to sleep tonight. In fact, don't ever go to sleep again.

"And we can always swing by Starbucks on the way back."

Too. Fucking. Late.

Alex was just trying to be nice. ... No, he wasn't explaining himself. Starbucks sucked. It was too noisy. He wanted to go somewhere he could hear himself think. Himself think, not the addict pounding at his ears.

"It's up to you. It's not much more expensive, but it's a little more of a sit-down place. We can talk. But Starbucks is fine -"


La, la, la, he wasn't listening. He was waiting for Gwen's answer.


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Tell her -

"Coffee is practically the only thing that gives me peace of mind," Alex admitted. "I don't really like the taste. I don't like the jitters I get afterwards. But if it means I get to shut off a whole half of my brain - even for an hour - then I'll live with it."

Awwww. You're breakin' my heart. Now tell her -

"I mean - it's fine. And you're fine - uh... You should be okay for the place. It's nothing too special, just nicer," Alex said. "Look at me: jeans and a t-shirt. You've got nothing to worry about."

I feel like I should be crying about how horrible you are. This is pathetic on an entirely new level.

To be completely sure she didn't overhear - he was trying to be quiet, but it seemed as though she had sharper ears than what he was used to, and the last thing he needed to do was scare her off by snapping at Xander - he rubbed a hand over his mouth and muttered into his palm, "I'm doing it on purpose."

Great! That makes me feel better.

"We don't know who she is. So far, this is just coffee. I don't want her getting too close when there's Agents around. They could be watching us and -"

"Gwen, would you excuse me for a moment?" Xander smiled again, but it was tighter than before. "I have to kick my ass for being retarded and neglecting your lovely company. Don't worry - it'll only take a second. I've had a lot of practise."

"What -"

But Xander marched off before Alex could fight back, leaving the poor girl standing there as he walked ahead and turned quickly into an alley they would've passed.

Okay. I'm gonna spell this out for you.

"If I say 'no', the answer's 'no', you idiot. You're not as strong as you think you are," Alex said. "I'm not letting you put someone else in danger just because you're feeling frisky."

'Frisky'? Did you actually just say 'frisky'? Oh God. I was kidding about you being retarded - mostly - but I think I figured out why it sucks being stuck with you.

"Listen," Alex told him. "I'll negotiate. Find out who she is, make sure she's not someone we should be concerned about, promise me she's not going end up dead, then... maybe... whatever you want to do -"

That's it? After all the bitching, that's what you want out'f me? Holy fuck, man. Try to keep up.

"You were trying to make sure she was safe? That's funny," Alex said. "The whole time I was talking to her, I kept feeling my eyes getting pulled to her ass."

I was multi-tasking!

"Bullshit," Alex snapped. "Gwen's nice - whatever - but that's only piling on the reasons for why -"

Spare me.

That meant they had a deal.

"Okay," Alex said. "Good. I'm glad we had this talk. Can we go back to Gwen now and try to think up some way to keep her from running off in terror?"

Sure thing, friend. Just a sec. And then Alex's fist flew into his face. There we go.

"Did you break my nose?"


"Am I bleeding?"

... No?

"I hate you so much," Alex muttered, giving his soon-to-be-prominent-bruise a gentle pat, making sure everything was intact, and then casually, calmly, returning to the woman he'd left in the dust. "I'm really, really sorry about that. I know I've been acting beyond weird..."

He had nothing to finish that. Xander stayed perfectly quiet, enjoying himself for an agonizing length of time, before swooping in to rescue him with, "I'm an actor. I'm nothing special yet, but I'm hoping to get this great part I'm gonna audition for. I'm trying out the method acting thing. You like it?"

I might actually lose the will to have sex with her if she believes that, Xander said.

"Then why didn't you tell her something she would believe?"

I dunno. Too much work? I mean - come on, you randomly walked off to punch yourself in the face. What the hell kind of story am I supposed to have for that?

Hated him. Loathed him. So very, very much.


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((((((By Tartra! :D ))))))

You're cockblocking me again.

He wasn't going to stare. He was not going to stare.

He stared. The second she wasn't looking, of course, which mostly involved him kind of walking around to her other side - eyes up, Xander - and half-pointing the way to the coffee shop.

Okay. So she wasn't playing around anymore. She obviously knew something was happening -

It's called 'common sense'. Look into it.

He just had to figure out how to play this.

"Yeah," he said, quietly. Then, louder, more confidently, more like me, he tacked on, "Let's go. I need coffee."

Get some caramel on there, get some chocolate sauce -

Please, he didn't need diabetes on top of everything else.

'Everything else' and what? You've got nothing going on. The chick damn near ripped her shirt off and you haven't said shit about it yet. I should be -

"I noticed you had a pencil on you table," Alex said, beginning to walk down the street. "What's that about? Are you an artist or something?"

Here's a better question, one that's actually to the point.

"A single artist? Someone independent and on her own? I get the feeling you're not swimming through a pile of men, which is great, because I don't like competition."

There. That should be clear enough.

Xander had clearly made up his mind about Gwen. Alex still wasn't so sure. He knew he hadn't given her a lot of time to talk about herself, but he couldn't be blamed for being distracted. Maybe the guy was right. Maybe he was neglecting her company. As horribly blunt as his roommate was - Alex had always felt the best way to a woman's heart was through etiquette and gratitude, not that he was trying to get into her heart, but he recognized the possibility... well, he hoped he recognized the possibility, otherwise he was as crazy as everyone said he was - she was responding. And she was answering questions like she was interested in him.

Or in Xander. Right. The showboat.

I sense... jealousy. I feel it's been well-placed.

He had his hands pushed into his pockets and idly fumbled with the two sheets of paper - or maybe one sheet folded up - that Xander had picked out of her room. It was a completely invasion of her privacy, but somehow or another, Alex knew she'd wind up laughing and joking about it with his other half, and even though this was his body, he'd be left out. It'd happened before, it'd happen again. Every single person he talked to, he wound up as the third wheel half a minute later.

The fuck're you talking about? You're gone the second I get the chance. No back-seating for you.

But he could be interesting. She could respond to him, too. Seriously - he doubted she could tell them apart anyway, and anything he said that came out wrong, Xander would wind up fixing for him. He might as well take the chance. Who was she going to tell? Who'd believe her?

"You know, you can ask me things," he said.

So much for being paranoid.

"I like art," he went on. "If you're an artist, you could always show me... stuff."

Wow. I think you made me swoon with that one.

Shut up. He was trying his best.


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HA! I love it, Xander said. Even when you try to spark a little interest, it still comes back to me. Why? Because I'm fantastic.

Alex wasn't backing down from this. He'd been filled with a new kind of courage when she got close to him, the heat of her arm through his and the feel of her body against him shocking him into a response. He couldn't help himself. He liked the attention. Compelled by something entirely different, he blurted out, "Xander. His name's - well, I - uh... I call him that."

... What did you just say?

"He - yes, he... talks to me. A lot," Alex rambled. "It's not really his fault I don't get women - not that I'm trying to 'get' women or anything - but for everyone else, yeah. I mean - yeah, he's the reason I don't talk to anyone -"

... Are you... Are you actually telling her?

"She asked me!" Shit. He hadn't kept that quiet.

So you fucking come up with something else! What happened to 'oh, Xander, make sure she's not an Agent'? You fucking told her the one thing every Agent's looking for!

"So she is an Agent?" Dammit. Dammit! He was panicking now. He tried getting out of this, tried shaking her off for a moment, but then felt his arm steady itself as Xander took over, bringing them two of them closer together as they walked as off-handedly as humanly possible.

"That's what you were looking for, right?" Xander's words through his mouth. He'd never been so grateful. How the hell could he've been so stupid? "Crazy Alex? Look - I get that I'm kind of weird and everything, but I'm not insane."

His voice was getting gravelly. It sounded like he was angry. But if he really was pissed at her for asking, Xander would've taken off by now. Or - more likely - given her a seizure and then laughed. He was sticking around. He kept her arm curled around his, but Alex's body wasn't relaxed anymore. The closest he could imagine it being for her was walking with a brick wall. Then, suddenly, he untensed. He smiled and chuckled and gave Gwen yet another of his apparently heart-warming expressions -

If I ever find a way to kill you, I'll take it. Right now? It's self-defence.

He'd never heard Xander so serious.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, trying to get the emotion across.

Whatever, Xander said. Just... pull yourself together. Calm down, fucking think about what you say, and don't let this happen again.

He was being patient, understanding and accepting of his apology.

... Holy shit. Had Xander been scared?

"So. Romance books." Alex felt his smile growing brighter. "Novels, I mean. Anything I'd've read?"

There was zero mention of his love life. He wasn't letting her know anything else. Inwardly, Alex panicked again. He let the guy take over, which nearly eliminated Xander's struggle to sustain control. The weight of what he'd just done was dawning on him. If she'd come here for... for intel or something... But it wasn't his fault. Not completely. How was he supposed to know she was still suspicious? Xander had been playing around, practically screaming who he was -

It's one thing to act like a psycho who's got a voice in his head telling him what to do, he spat. It's something else to fucking cop to it.

For once, Alex wouldn't blame him if Xander punched him in the face. Hell, he might give himself a good crack.


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His arm felt cold now that she'd let go. It spread throughout his body until he felt like he was freezing. He opened his mouth, tried to explain, realized he couldn't tell her anything, then closed it again.

Well, this sucked. He felt horrible and he didn't know why. Alex shouldn't have told her in the first place and he sure as hell shouldn't feel guilty for trying to backpedal on his mistake - one of the few times Xander had a legitimate reason to fight him - but he wanted to make amends somehow. It was hard enough having one person who hated him constantly in his ear. The last thing he needed was his neighbour hating him, too.

"I never said you were stupid," he settled on at last. "I know you realized there was something going on. You're just..." How the hell did he sort this out? "It's not something you're supposed to be involved in. And yes, I know how stupid that sounds. This wasn't my idea - any of it. He wanted to see you, he dragged me over last night. He thought you were interesting or... maybe he was bored, I don't know. I never know. But when you think about it, this is his fault for starting it in the first place. I was only trying to sleep, which I barely managed yesterday because a damn Agent broke -"

OH. MY. GOD. Just stop. Just stop talking.

"Okay - he's flipping out again -"

Flipping out and unhooking from his chain. Alex was suddenly choked down as Xander made a wild, furious snatch for control. Suddenly, he was stepping away from her, narrowing his eyes, curling the corner of his lip and flexing the tips of his fingers.

"I cannot believe I'm stuck in here with you," Xander snarled. He immediately started pacing, probably trying to figure out the best way to break his leg. "It's like you're actively trying to get a drill jammed in my head, you ungrateful son of a bitch. And after all I've gone through trying to keep your stupid ass from getting killed."

After he what?

"Oh, I'm sorry, I must've missed that. I was busy getting -" He looked completely insane right now. Alex took a breath, stopped his body from pacing, then turned back to Gwen and told her, "I am really, really sorry you're seeing this. At all. He shouldn't be talking like this -"

"She 'wants' the other half," Xander snapped. "She 'wants' the 'whole conversation'." He started pacing again. "Your shit freaked out yet, honey? 'Cause - believe me, it only gets worse from here." Very roughly, he shoved a hand through his hair. "You know, I'm thinking I should walk into traffic. Nothing fancy, nothing lethal. Not a truck or anything. Maybe a minivan. Just something to get a nice crunch goin'."

"Could you stop acting like a psycho in the middle of the street?" Alex looked around carefully. There were a few faces in the distance. Mostly they were alone, but when Xander yelled, the ground shook. This was why he spent so much money throwing lattes down his throat. "Gwen, I'm just gonna go. Okay? You're messing with something a little worse than you're assuming -"

"I'm a fuckin' superhero. She's got nothing to be afraid of," Xander fumed. "And the only place you're taking me is Starbucks, so let's go before I break your other toe."

So it was actually broken?

It's obviously broken, you retard! God, it's like I'm being punished!

With that, Xander rippled with the full force of his frustration - only frustration, which was a minor miracle, because someone would be dead by now if he was angry and there weren't a whole lot people around to take it out on - and then sank into his corner of Alex's mind, sulking and swearing before shutting himself away entirely. He wasn't gone. He was probably watching them like a hawk, but for once, he didn't want to say anything.

For now.

"... So... He's really upset," Alex mumbled. "Uh... I'm gonna go to Starbucks."


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She'd said 'please'.

Xander was gone. Everything was silent. This was what it was going to be like when Alex got his body back. He wanted to say he liked it - and he did, mostly - but it was too quiet now. His ears were ringing. And his face hurt. And his hand hurt. And his toe hurt. He considered stopping by the hospital at some point, but for now, he had to finish this.

So what was he going to do? This was his decision. What did he think of Gwen? Did he trust her?


He had no idea. This wasn't his 'thing'. He knew she was trying to have him trust her. She was trying to get information out of him. That wasn't happening if he had her marked for an Agent or some other kind of threat, maybe one he couldn't see coming. The faint pinch of paranoia bit at him again. The hairs on the back on his neck twitched. But otherwise, he felt great around her. He remembered the last time he'd spent this much time talking to someone. It'd be wonderful. It'd reminded him that, yes, he was still a part of society. And to do that again, with someone like her... Okay, it hadn't only been Xander who'd been looking at her. His eyes had dropped once or twice, too. Or four.

"Alright." He'd decided. "Alright. You can buy me coffee." He took a breath. He thought about it. Then, for shits and giggles, he added, "It'll cheer him up."

Was that all he wanted to say? It seemed like he was going through with this. Even if it was for today, even if it was only for the morning or the hour, he'd be pulling her into his world. In that case, he had to prepare her for the two most obvious mistakes he could: walking into her trap, or dragging her into his.

"I'm not trying to scare you," he said, but he got the feeling that he absolutely was. "Xander's... well - 'emotional' never sounds like the right word, but you saw how he is. He attracts attention. There's a lot of attention I don't want, but there's some that stands out." Another breath, bigger this time. He ran both his hands through his hair, ruffling it, bothering the cuts on his hands - which still had some slivers of glass in them that he'd been ignoring - and doing nothing to help him relax. "There's some people after me. They're dangerous, definitely, but I've never had a problem taking care of them. I don't think anything's going to happen -" But he'd seen three in the past six hours. "- so you shouldn't have anything to worry about. Still, in case something does turn up, you might have to run."

This was where Xander would step in, laughing at him for being so over-dramatic. Hell, he'd probably ask her if she wanted to be bait for a little while, to see if he could get enough of them together to beat his 'top score'. But he still wasn't saying anything. Either that was a fantastic sign or horrific.

"I can handle myself. And I can protect you, if I have to," he said. He tried smiling too, trying to at least return the small one she'd given him. "And if I really, really have to, I can try forcing Xander to step in." Nothing. Not even a skeptical snort. Alex was a little unnerved. "You know... when he comes back."

For the third time, he sucked in some air. Finally, he felt better.

"So that's that. You can come with me, you can buy him coffee, we can... talk..." Not a word from his friend. "We'll see what happens. But it's up to you."

He shrugged.

"I guess I trust you then," he finished. "If Xander likes you, that's good enough for me. And I'm happy that you haven't run away yet." He laughed quietly. "That's a new record. Congrats."


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I'm not a drama queen, Xander muttered. It was practically a pout.

Alex immediately felt a wave of relief wash over him. He hadn't been abandoned after all, and even if the guy did immediately return his mind-cave - which he did - it was reassuring to hear his voice again. In small doses, though. That made a huge difference.

Time to answer.

"I'm more of a traveler of sorts," he said. "A transporter, I guess. I'm the one who has to walk around. And I do. I walk everywhere. It's kind of weird thinking there's something you can call home. We avoid that." He stumbled over the word 'we'. "I don't know how you put up with it, coming back and not recognizing anything. Having everything change that fast is too much for me. You're braver than I am."

It was less funny, more disturbing.

"But I guess you want more of an answer than that."

They'd be coming to the coffee shop soon. He wasn't sure how free he'd be to talk in there, so whatever he was going to tell her, he had to tell her now.

"Xander, did you get that?" He brought himself up short and looked back at Gwen. "Uh... Sorry. It's just... I'm used to sort of 'talking' to him in my head." Sure. Talking. Close enough. Xander didn't say anything anyway. He took that to mean he didn't care what Alex told her anymore. As far as his roommate was concerned, he'd already spilled the biggest bean in the bag.

"So - um," he slowly began again, "it's not much of a job. I've got some talents, I guess you could say. One in particular, and it's not exactly a bridge into the noble side of life. But it pays. I'm not a big spender, but I'm always on the lookout for a very specific set of stuff whenever I move somewhere. Yeah, the coffee... Well, I saw four great places before this one, about a twenty minute drive from the closest Starbucks." He brushed back the bit of hair hanging over his ear. She did it better than he did. He admired that. "This thing? This little scar? That was his 'persuasion' for why we should take the smaller one that was closer." Alex shrugged. "Whatever shuts him up."

That was the first part of it. That was his side of what he did for a living, other than baby-sit. He might as well spit out the rest, seeing as how she'd probably get it out of him later. He grinned to himself. He didn't think he was that desperate for conversation, so it had to be Gwen bringing it out of him. This was new. This was nice.

"He," Alex said, "is a little more hands on with his work. He's got the same talent as me, but he uses it more aggressively. Surprise, surprise." He tried not to roll his eyes. "It pays better, but I'd really like to have him retire. Maybe I can get him to write a book. Hey - maybe you can give him some pointers. I wouldn't mind seeing that. Romance novels... Are you working on one now?"

Xander was on the move again. Alex's hand was back inside his pocket, poking at the papers. Great. Now he definitely couldn't read them. She'd probably sue him for copyright-stealing or something.


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"Him? Oh... I don't know," Alex said. "Something only he'd like, probably, if I could get him to sit down for it. That'd be a weird day."

He cocked his head and puffed out a laugh at her description. She hadn't struck him as that kind of writer. Love, he could wrap his head around, but he had to ask about the other one.

"How do you go from a romance novelist to 'psychological thrillers'? With... occult stuff?" That was a big switch. "Did you get bored halfway through? I mean - it sounds good. If it's gonna be a hit, I should read it so I can say I liked it before everyone else did, but I guess I'm used to stuff that relates to me a little more."

"Y'know, wink, wink," Xander said.

"Heh. Yeah. I'm one to talk."

"Sure. That's what I meant. Hey - you know what's down this corner? Starbucks. We should go," Xander told them. "We should go right now."

"Starbucks is behind us now," Alex reminded, "and we're almost there anyway."

"You mean almost at 'Roasters'?"

He rolled his eyes. "It's a stupid name. That doesn't mean it's not any good." He turned to Gwen and said, "It's one of those 'artsy' places. The front of it's kind of odd, but it's nice inside."

"Awwww! Jus' wike Awex."

"Shut up, Xander."

"Sure. Agent, by the way. But I'll be quiet, since you don't want me around."

That wasn't funny. That was the exact opposite of funny. He couldn't joke about things like that. Alex, as a reflex, muted his breath and stepped lightly. He did it whenever he couldn't see what was supposedly around him. He'd told Gwen a lot already, but he couldn't help trying to hide his agitation as looked around, unused to finding things in broad daylight and trying to remember where they'd be likely to hide.

"Uh..." Might as well ask her. "I don't know if you saw them, but in the lobby, before we went outside, there were two people in there with sunglasses. ... Do you see anyone else like that around?"

My hero.

"If there's something here, you have to tell me," Alex whispered, annoyed and anxious that he had to explain this to him.

Xander was messing around. He had to be. One Agent in the middle of the night? That was practically a weekly thing. Two in the lobby? Very unusual, mostly because Agents worked alone. He'd never seen a pair of them before, and not so soon that he could them a trio. But four? Five? Seven? What?

I told you to go to Starbucks, Xander drawled. Shades and suits? 'Cept for that one prick who just won't die, that's about as 'Roasters' as you can get.

So... it was an ambush?

Shit. It was an ambush.

I know. Awesome, right? Not in the slightest. Relax. You're with someone else. They probably don't know you're you, he said. You broke the biggest pattern they've got pinned you to. See? Being sad and lonely has its benefits. Try not to fuck her, though. They'll know it's me.

"I'm still going for coffee," he said. "That's a pattern. They have to recognize that."

But it's not Starbucks, which sucks 'cause you'd've been alright there. His voice soured. You see what happens when you don't keep your mouth shut? This shit. This is what you get for tryin' to be in control. Enjoy.

And then he was gone. He'd be gone long enough for Alex to mostly get killed, just so it'd 'even the odds' for when he joined the fight and won. That wasn't happening this time.

"We're going to need to get there faster," Alex said. "Don't worry. It's - uh... It's not time to run yet."



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"Excuse me, lady, but this is not for a 'cup of Joe'. I don't know what swill you're drinking, but I -"

"Xander, shut up. You're supposed to be ignoring me. It's fine." It sucked talking to two people at once, especially when he couldn't see one of them and was so used to talking to the air, he forgot he had to make eye contact when there were eyes to connect with.

Hey now, let's not get distracted. But if you wanna turn your head a little -

"I was talking to Gwen. I was telling her it was okay. There's nothing to worry about." Then, finally remembering to turn to her, he repeated, "It's fine. Everything's safe." So far. "Nothing I can't handle."


"You turn."

Can't. I'm tired. Hit my limit.

Those words hit him like his fist had slammed into his gut. And he knew what that felt like, so it was an easy comparison to make. Keeping a calm, collected face for the rest of the world to see - even if no one else bought, it still made things seem better - he carefully and levelly asked, "What do you mean you're 'tired'?"

I've been talking all day. That last sentence? The one where I was about to explain the difference between ground shit and the glory that is a latte, the juice of the gods made for mortal man? That's it for a while. I'm sleepy.

"Except for the part of you that's ready to fight."

About that... Perking up, Xander added, Coffee would help.

"Are you just making this up so you can get your damn fix? I told you we'd stop at your stupid Starbucks on the way back!"

And I told you to turn. There was a feeble twitch of Alex's eyes, guiding him to an alley that came just before the last building on the block. Across the street was Roasters. It was impossible for Xander to want to turn back now, not when practically inches kept him away from his 'liquid gold' - Coffee's brown, genius. It's bronze. Or copper. It depends on what kind you get. Sometimes -

"I know what you drink," he snapped. "What's down there?"

One guy.

"Only one?"

From what I can see.

Good. Only one. He'd taken one on before. He'd be great. Giving his arms a shake and exhaling, he said boldly, "I have to -" He turned his head to face her. "I have to take care of something. In the alley. Back there." They were walking past it now. "Wait for me at the corner. I'll be right back."

I'm psyched for this.

"And - uh... don't... follow me. This'll take two seconds. Two."

Go, go, go, go, go.

So Alex stepped away from her, giving her a sturdy look to make sure she knew to stay away - she could handle herself for a minute and he didn't see anyone else around her, not that Xander felt like filling him in if he hadn't - and then walked briskly to the alley's mouth, trying not to break into anything faster than a very light jog.

"You know, you're not making this 'let's get coffee tomorrow morning' thing very easy," he said. "You should've picked a better day."

Are you crazy? This is perfect! We grab a few guys, kick a little ass, snap a neck or two -

"I don't know how to snap a neck and you're too tired to try."

Yeah, I know you can't snap one. I was there.

That'd been one of the most traumatic nights he'd lived through, next to the first time he-but-not-really-he had punched himself in the face. Which Xander had decided to do before introducing himself. He'd thought it was hysterical.

"Shut up and tell me where he is. I shouldn't be doing this for you," Alex said. "The one thing you're good for and you wasted your energy talking about coffee."

Fuck you, man! It's not a waste if -

"Where is he?" Alex couldn't see anyone. The alley was bare. A dumpster to one side, cardboard boxes to the other, and then nothing but dirt as far as he could tell. Maybe they were hiding in plain sight again.


Or maybe they were behind him - holy shit - where the hell did he come from - the same spot Xander had thrown his fist at before was pummeled again. Stunned, he stepped deeper into the alley and landed close enough to the dumpster to lean on it.

Here's an idea: when he hits you, don't get hit.

"Why don't you do this, then?"

M'sleepy. You'll be fine.

This wasn't an Agent! This was some... bar bum, or something. He smelled awful and his ragged coat slapped against Alex's face as ninja-hobo dropped him to the ground with a swipe to the back of his knees. Alex fell hard as the shock of the blow traveled up his legs. This was unbelievable. The exact same body, the exact same strength, and Xander would dance around this guy like he was on crack. Why the hell couldn't he?

How many times do I have to call you a bitch before you understand what I'm talking about? Alex took another shot to his thigh. Ah, ha. The ol' charliehorse. That's gonna be fun to limp around with.

He was glad Xander took the time to fight him so often, otherwise this would be a lot worse than it was.

I think she's waiting for you. Y'wanna wrap it up?

Yes. Yes, he did.

The ragged man with the ruffled beard and the wild eyes and the gaunt face had Alex kneeling on the ground with one hand pressed against the dumpster to keep his weak balance. The hobo lifted up his foot, preparing for a final kick to what he could guess was going to be Alex's knee, but the idiot didn't know what he was up against. His eyes burned. Both of their eyes burned. That bridge was formed as they locked onto each other, and with a push, Alex forced his enemy's mind into a frenzy. That'd be enough to knock him unconscious, which -

More force. More power. In less than a second, Xander had upped the dose and killed him. It was sad that Alex was so used to this kind of thing that his main concern was whether or not his jeans had ripped.

"An Agent, huh?" He got up, made sure he could walk, then took a practise step forward. "Yeah. He really looks the part."

Mike something. Ex-Agent. Formerly a part of our case, Xander said, very matter-of-factly. I guess this explains why we're getting rushed. He must've found us and called in the troops.

"'Formerly'?" He frowned. "He retired to become a bum?"

He got kicked out for 'bad behaviour', mostly 'cause he snapped with jealousy. If things turned out the way he wanted, it'd be him in here. He paused. I think he thinks you're me. I'm insulted.

... Wait - he'd never heard about this.

"You never actually explained how you appeared," Alex said. "I just... woke up with you."

Yup. Look for a wallet, will ya? Dude owes me a mocha.

"I'm not robbing the dead," Alex said. "I'm going to back to Gwen. And you're gonna tell me what -"

S'cool. I'll check.

And then Alex was hunched over the body, rifling through its pockets.

"Great. So now you have energy."

One second, one second... Awesome. Spare change. Hey - thirty bucks! Maybe I'll pay for you.


Hell no. This means 'two for Xander'. Back to the hot chick, please. And keep looking around. I wasn't kidding about the other Agents. Current ones, I mean, not psychos like Mike. Or Joseph. Or Benoit, for that matter. Damn - a lot of people hate me.

"Hate you? Poppycock."

Ha, ha, ha... Cock.

Six years. For six years, he'd been lugging this guy around. Now he wanted to almost-explain himself? Did Gwen just naturally have this effect on people or was it 'everyone say everything' day?

Whatever. He walked out of the alley, determined to pick this up later, after he finished brush the dirt off his knees and checking up her. At least if anyone came across Mr. Ex-Agent - which he felt much less guilty for disposing of than if he'd been a real homeless man - they'd have no choice but to chalk it up to natural causes. A perk, he guessed, of frying minds.

Thirty free bucks. Good golly, I wonder what I'm gonna buy.


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He'd been out of breath when he emerged from the alley and his mind was slow to process things. This was unreal. Yes, he'd been in fights before and, no, this wasn't the first time he'd used his powers - or had Xander piggyback on them - but the context of everything... An ex-Agent? That Xander knew? Big surprise, but he didn't exactly socialize with the super-secret assassin's guild or whatever the hell they were, so how Xander knew someone they - or Alex, at least - had never met before was an uncomfortable mystery.

Seriously. He'd felt better when he thought he was crazy. Now the voice in his head had some kind of life...?

He took things in one at a time, only because he wasn't familiar with the massive rush of adrenaline in him. The first task he set out to do was make sure a group of whoevers weren't crowded around, waiting for him. The second was to check on Gwen. He'd been lying a little when he assured himself - and her - he could handle it. The minute he stepped away from her, which he realized might've been the best decision he'd made all day, his palms had started sweating. It'd stopped. They were normal again. He didn't have to worry about someone doing anything to her. As he saw her light up in what he really, really hoped was relief, he felt his muscles relax and the pain in his leg - Xander was right about the limp, damn him - soften.

And then she got mad at him.

Well - not mad exactly. More like a 'furious concern'. He walked up to her, sheepish because he'd kept her waiting but delighted she'd stuck it out, but when she scolded him, he couldn't help but flinch. He half-expected her to slap him for running off. Thanks, Xander! It was great being completely unsocialized. He was happy that he didn't have to worry for very long, though, because the tension dissolved and she was telling him she was glad he wasn't dead. The feeling was very, very mutual.

It was a casual concern, he told himself. It could've been anybody and he would've been relieved. Not that he'd ever been relieved before. This was the first time -

Smell that?


That's blood.

The hobo wouldn't bleed if - Gwen was bleeding. He immediately started to freak out.

"You're okay. You're fine," he said, the second she put her hands in her purse. "You're okay, it's all okay -"

Who the fuck are you trying to convince?

He didn't have napkins. He didn't have tissues or sweaters or -

"Paper," he said suddenly. "I have paper!" And he pulled out the two sheets from his pocket. He felt Xander quickly crumple it in his hands. Good thinking. Always is. It might've been right out of her notebook, but she didn't know it'd been snatched out and she probably wouldn't recognize it. She was busy with other things.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he said, giving the paper to her. He had to stop himself from trying to do it for her. For one thing, she needed something better than this, and for another, he didn't want to make things worse. "Xander, did you do -"

Don't gimmie that shit. You know how my powers work. Single target only, he replied.

So this probably wasn't his fault. Probably. But it sure as hell didn't come out of nowhere. Had she hit her head? Had someone attacked her, except really quickly and in a way that she couldn't have realized until she started bleeding?

Once again, the coffee shop can - and will - save us.

Yeah! Of course! They'd have something there. A first aid kit. Or maybe that was too much. Whatever - he needed to get her over there.

It's a nosebleed. She's not melting.

Xander didn't get it. He couldn't get it. He wasn't out here with her. With Alex, even though he didn't understand either it, he knew he had to help her. That was his new mission.

"Don't worry about me. Don't worry about the alley or that crazy guy," he said. "Let's get you to Roasters."

So - uh... I'll just keep watch.

Yeah. Do that.