He was too much a soldier still. Which, good when it came to fighting and following orders, not so good when he expected people to have his back in non-combat situations. Not so good when Gunn - he'd learned his name since the first meeting - came up to him, tilted his head, grinned in a way he didn't like at all, and asked where is your protector now, pretty boy?

    Look who's talking, was his instinctive response. One that his brain luckily told him was a very bad idea before he opened his mouth and let the sentence come out. He pushed his way past Gunn, determined to get to his quarters, where he could pretend that the world made sense the way it used to.

    "Not so hot without someone covering your arse, eh, soldier boy?"

    And he stopped. The Director wouldn't like it if. But was he supposed to just take it? Probably. He started walking again.

    "What I keep sayin', what's the military good for? Only turning out wimps and cowards anyway. Don't know why the Director wanted a soldier boy in here. 'Specially one who lets other people fight his fights for him."

    He swallowed. Gunn was pushing. For what, he didn't know, but he was definitelly pushing. If he didn't react, would he get worse? Would he shut up? He looked around the cantina for a hint. Mostly people were minding their own business, but here and there he saw people watching him and Gunn with interest. He met the stare of a curly haired man about his own age. The other man grinned slowly, nodded his head slightly, then bent his head to talk to the man sitting beside him.

    Feeling like the other man had some how decided for him, Riley turned around and faced Gunn again. "You have a problem with soldiers?"

    "Yes. Yes, have." Gunn looked delighted. "You want to make something of it?"

    Riley took a step towards the man who seemed determined to make an enemy of him. Before anybody could do anything else, a low, compelling voice sounded from the left.

    "Don't be an idiot."

    Both he and Gunn looked in that direction and spotted Xander, dressed all in black, standing with his back leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, neck slightly bent.

    "I can handle...," Riley started, annoyed. He wasn't some helpless six year old who needed his big brother to fend off the big, bad bully of the playground.

    Xander ignored him and fixed a stare in Gunn's direction. "Quit the turf-war attitude. I don't like it, Angel," he pronounced 'Angel' as thought the word tasted bad. "Doesn't like it and the Director could very well kick you back down to trainee."

    Gunn's lips formed a thin, white line.

    "Riley, with me. Now." Xander pushed himself away from the wall and started walking towards one of the exits to the left. Riley spared one last glare at Gunn, then hurried to catch up with his Pointer. Xander seemed to sense when Riley was within earshot. "Rule number one: Don't let words get to you. Rule two: If they do, for Christ's sake, don't be so obvious about it. Dawn could have told you Gunn was succeeding with his childish games this time."


    "No." Xander stopped and looked seriously up at him. "Do you want to survive here?"

    Riley hesitated, then nodded and looked at the floor. "Yes, sir."

    That seemed to satisfy him. "Good." Xander started walking again. "Then listen to what I say and do what I say and don't waste fucking time arguing about it or spend days pondering about it. Just fucking do it."

    "Sir, yes, sir!"

    Xander rubbed the bridge of his nose and looked tired. "And don't call me 'sir'. You're not in the bloody army now."

    "No, I'm in bloody hell," Riley muttered under his breath, though obviously not enough under his breath because Xander turned his head slightly in his direction and there was a bonafied grin on his face.

    "That's what I'm saying."

    And Riley spent the next meters working hard at keeping his face expressionless, when what he really wanted to do, was let his jaw drop open and stare at Xander, who looked so very different when he grinned. Who looked so damned beautiful when he grinned...