Given as a challenge by BigBucks at one point back in history.

The Life.

The tall, dark-haired man sat the teenager down and looked at him.  "I know you want to come with me, but it's not happening, son," he said quietly.  "This time, I can't take you.  These people are bad.  They will kill you.  They're going to try to kill me because I wouldn't take their job.  I want you to stay with your aunt and uncle and protect them.  Do you understand?" he asked calmly.

"They're assholes," the thirteen-year-old boy noted.  "They don't like me.  They hate me, dad."

"I know, but it'll only be for a few years."  He gave him a smile and a hair ruffle.  "I don't want you to follow me into the life, son.  Become your own man and find happiness."

"Fuck happiness," Xander snorted.  "You're my father!"

"Son," his father sighed.

"Fine, I'll stay with the assholes," he sighed, looking at his feet.  "Can I whack 'em if they start shit again?"

"No, son," he said patiently.  "And that attitude is exactly why I don't want you to follow me into the life, son.  You're already too close to going bad.  I won't allow it."

"Yes, daddy," Xander sighed, looking at him again.  "Do I *have* to?"

"I'll have some money put aside for you where they won't find it.  If something happens to me and I don't come back from this one, then it'll be yours when you reach sixteen, provided you're still in school."  He had to add that last bit, his son and school did not get along.  "Got it?"  Xander nodded.  "Okay, then let's get you packed up again and on your way."

"Can I have some new clothes first?" he asked. "Mine are all tight and gross.  I want a new surfer shirt."

"Sure," his father agreed tolerantly.  He had a bit of time before he had to leave in the opposite direction.  He gave his son a hug and stood up with him, taking him out to the old car.  "Let's get you some real clothes since you're going to be going to a real school."

"Ick, uniforms," Xander sighed.

"Not in Sunnydale," his father corrected with a smile.  "Trust me, there's no uniforms there."

*** Three Years Later ***

Xander Harris looked around the remains of the Bronze, shaking badly.  Now he understood why his father had wanted him out of the life.  He slipped off before anyone could see him, using all the stealth skills his father had ever taught him to make it outside.  He looked up.  "Dad," he whispered.  "You never told me I'd have to fight for my life if I *left* the life."  He looked back inside, then made the harder decision.  He was going to have to break his promise to his father.  It was the only way.  That one little girl didn't stand a chance and he did have skills she could use.  He had kept up with his practice, and had gained a few new skills from watching his best friend Willow.  And hey, he was nearly an expert at breaking and exiting now thanks to his aunt and uncle.  He looked up again.  "Dad?  Any last words of wisdom?"

"Don't get dead," a man said from behind him.

Xander spun and looked at him.  "And you are?"

"The person your father sent to look over you before your birthday."  He pulled the young man back to his car, letting him lean against it.  "I'm Michael."

"Okay, and who are you besides that?"

"As I said, your father ordered me to look you over right before your sixteenth birthday.  He thought you might have gotten into worse trouble.  He heard about your aunt's stunts."  Xander sighed.  "He did love you, Xander, but it was for the best."

"Hey, this town is just as good as learning from Dark Charlie's kids," Xander told him.  "Do you know about the shit here?"  Michael nodded.  "So?"

"Do you want to help her or just join the life?"

"I need to help her.  She's a little girl," Xander said angrily.  "She's a little girl with a *librarian* for help, for Gods' sake!"

"That's fine," Michael said calmly.  He pulled a cigarette case out of his pocket and offered Xander one but he shook his head.  "At least you haven't picked up all his bad habits."

"Nope, not yet.  Though I'm not sure I won't be starting if this shit continues full time," he said tiredly.  He leaned his head against the roof of the car.  "How did he die?"

"He was shot during a fight with some of Charlie's guys," Michael admitted.  "Charlie never forgave him for not taking that job for him."  He lit his cigarette and took a deep drag.  "What have you learned?"

"Besides the fine art of exiting a building quickly through the nearest window?  Some minor hacking lessons?"  Xander lifted his head and looked at him.  "I've kept up my skills.  I've also learned how to pick locks and other handy things."  Michael nodded, giving him a look.  "You're serious?"  Michael nodded again.  "Then I want my father's weapon."

"I can't get it," Michael told him. "Charlie has it mounted in his safe."  He took one last puff and put the cigarette onto the ground, smashing it.  "He doesn't want you in the life either.  He agreed to spare your life if your father met him."

"Fucking yay," Xander said bitterly.  "Charlie wasn't right to order my father to whack his own brother.  Or his brother's kids.  Or even me." Michael looked impressed.  "Yeah, I mastered eavesdropping a *long* time ago," Xander admitted dryly.  "Can I snuff him?"

"Won't do anyone any good.  The chowderhead is taking over."  He grinned and used his keychain remote to open the trunk.  "If you're serious about helping her, I've got stuff for you."  He walked the boy back, removing the blanket from the cases in the trunk.  "Do you have a safe place?"

"Nowhere I'd want to store important things," Xander admitted.  "I was going to use some of dad's money to set something up."

"Hmm."  Michael handed him the keys.  "Use this for now.  I've paid for a parking spot in the long-term u-store it place up the road."  He patted Xander on the back.  "It's not his personal weapon but it's a good substitute until you can get Marc to hand it back."

"Marc and I are gonna have a fight anyway," Xander said bitterly.  "Him and his 'note of sympathy'."  Michael looked at the boy.  "His 'oops, sorry, had to happen'."

"Ah."  Michael nodded.  "Yeah, he's still like that."  He glanced around. "They'll be out soon."  He looked the boy over.  "I'll authorize your money on your birthday.  Take it to get some quieter clothes, a range membership, and a safe place.  I'll be back in a year to see how far you've come.  If you're still good, then I'll authorize everything else he left."  Xander looked at him.  "I'll try to get his weapon from Marc."

"Thank you."  Xander hugged him.  "Be safe, Michael.  This town isn't."  He got into the car and drove away, heading down to park it in the storage place so he could look at the stuff in the cases.  He found a few tricks of the trade.  A custom loading kit.  A few nines.  An old-school magnum.  A new vest, his had been getting tight and he was very glad to see the new, lightweight version that could be camouflaged under loose shirts.  Night vision goggles, ammo, and spare clips were the bits and pieces of the first case.  The second had a bit more in it, a few more guns and a quick-loading crossbow.  That one already had filled clips.  He'd have to find a supplier for the bolts since he only had three clips worth.  Or figure out how to make his own.  Underneath the egg-crate foam covering was a small open space.  He found money, two passports, including his, and a cellphone.  He smiled as he took what he'd need, including a gun, and headed back to his temporary home.  The storage place had locks for sale so he put two of the best ones he could on the door, paying the rent for another month out of the cash he had found.  He carefully made his way home, considering what he'd need.  Michael had been right, he probably did need real practice.


Xander wandered out of his shower and found his uncle looking at the vest he had laid out on his bed.  "It was a birthday present from one of my father's friends," he said quietly, startling the man.  His uncle stood up.  "Did you need something?"

"You've got a certified letter."  He looked the boy over, seeing the scars, old and newer.  "If you're taking up his life, I don't want you here.  You're a danger to us."

"I'm not taking up his life.  I may later, but for right now, I'm doing something good with my skills," Xander admitted.  His uncle frowned.  "Do you realize the amount of shit that goes on around here?"  His uncle nodded.  "I'm helping control the bad population."

His uncle sighed.  "I thought you were doing something like that. You've had too much ash on your clothes for it to be anything but cigarettes."

"I can't inhale," Xander allowed.  "Sorry."  He grinned.  "Who's the letter from?"

"Chicago."  He handed it over.

Xander looked at the address and sighed.  "Marc and Charlie."  He opened it, frowning at the missive.  "I've got to head there this summer.  I've got until July to claim my father's last possessions."  He looked at his uncle.  "I'm not going to bring anything on your head."

"Good.  See that you don't.  I won't protect you."  He walked out, heading down to reassure his wife.

Xander slipped on a t-shirt, then his armor, then a shirt over that and an overshirt to cover up the rest of bulk of the vest.  He used his hidden holster to put the small twenty-two on, then grabbed his bookbag and headed for another day of hell at school.  He met up with Buffy and Giles in the library.  "Hi," he said cheerfully.

"Good morning," Giles said, smiling at him.  "How are you feeling?"

"Decent enough."  He leaned on the counter.  "I know it's a bit ahead, but I've got to take a small trip this summer back to the homeland.  Is that gonna be a problem?"

"It shouldn't be.  Buffy will be gone for a bit herself," he admitted.

"Cool.  I'm going in early or mid-July."

"That's fine," Giles assured him.  "You're not from here?"

"No, I've been here for years, but there's something I have to do back in the place we used to live.  Someone left me something and I'm just now inheriting it."

"I hope it's something good," Giles said with a smile.  He gave him a pat on the arm.  "Did you do your homework?"

"Well, no," he admitted, leaving out the reason for that.  He had practiced his breaking and entering skills last night into several crypts and solved a few future problems for Buffy.  "I figure I can get some of it off Willow."

"Me too," Buffy admitted with a grin, hugging him.  "You're still really tense."

"Yeah, I had a lack of sleepage last night," he admitted, grinning at her.  Willow walked in.  "There's my favorite girl."

Willow looked at them, noticing their grins.  "Fine, I'll help you do things before school starts," she told them.

*** A Few Months Later, Post-Hyena ***

Xander looked up at his ceiling.  "That sucked," he told himself.  "But now I know what a hunting mood is like."  He picked up his squishy ball to do his hand exercises.  His wrists had been hurting since he switched to a heavier crossbow and he needed to strengthen them.  He switched hands after a few minutes.  "Huh.  I wonder if that's how Dad felt when he went on the prowl."  Someone knocked on his door.  "Enter."

Willow walked in and shut it behind her.  "I came to check on you," she said sheepishly.  "Did you know they're drunk?"

"They're usually drunk near check time," Xander reminded her, grinning at her.  "You okay?"

"Just fine," she promised, coming over to lay next to him, curling up on his shoulder.  "Are you really okay?"

"I'm fine, Wills."  He stroked her back, making her relax.  "Don't worry about it.  I don't remember a thing," he lied.  His father had been right, it was too easy for him to slip into this life.  Lying, stealing, and killing things came very easily to him.  "How is Buffy handling being thought of as breakfast?"

"She's not too happy but she knows it wasn't you," she said softly.  "Xander, why do you wear body armor to school?"

He chuckled.  "I wondered how long it was gonna take someone to ask that question."  He reached into his bedside stand and pulled out a picture, handing it to her.  "That's my actual father, Willow."  She took it to look at, then looked up at him.  "Yeah, him."

"Wasn't he on an America's Most Wanted or something?" she asked, handing it back.

He snorted.  "No, my father was never that dumb."  He rested it against his lamp.  "Dad was a shooter."

She sat up, looking at him.  "Your father was a ganster?"  He nodded.  "Like from New York?"

"From Chicago, and he was one of the better hitters in the city," he admitted.  He sat up, facing her, still using his squeezy ball.  "I'm definitely his son."

"That's why you took so well to patrolling," she said flatly.  He nodded.  "Wh...what about the rest?"  She swallowed.  "Is that protection?"

"Mostly," he lied with a faint smile.  "My dad's best friend ever, and last boss, ordered him to hit me, and then the boss' own brother and his family.  My dad said no.  My dad managed to make it two years after saying no, but they did eventually face him."  He reached over to shift some of her hair off his face.   "One of the reasons I wear it is because the guy's son is a bastard.  A right bastard actually."  She nodded slowly.  "I'm not so sure he'll honor my father's deal to save my life.  Of course, if I ever see him in town, he's gonna die," he allowed.  "On the spot, but I'm only giving him what he deserves for what they did to my dad."  She nodded again, looking miserable.  "That's why I'll never fall for you, Willow."

She sniffled.  "'Cause you won't put me in danger?"

"Yeah, because I won't put you in danger," he agreed, being honest.  He did love her, but not enough.  "That's also why I've got to go retrieve something this summer from the bastard."

"You swear a lot," she said, frowning at him.

He laughed.  "Dad tried so hard to break me of it, but the bastard's son taught me everything I know.  I was his playmate and we shared private lessons together."

"Then why aren't you better in school?" she asked.

"Because some of us weren't meant for book learning."  He looked at his clock, then at her.  "Let me put on some stuff and I'll walk you home?"

"My parents aren't home tonight," she said bitterly.

"Hey, cool.  Then we can swing by the new hideout and you can see my shiny birthday presents.  Someone got me an assassin's crossbow," he said with a grin.

"You're doing patrols on your own, aren't you?" she asked quietly.  He nodded, losing his grin.  "How long?"

"Michael, an old friend of my father's, showed up after the Harvest at the Bronze.  He was sent to look me over."  She slumped.  "I'd never hurt you, Willow.  Not even in an altered state."  She looked him in the eyes.  "I'd never hurt you.  You are one of my weaknesses."  She nodded, relaxing again.  "Now, let's get you home.  I'm not patrolling tonight."  She nodded so he stood up and slid back into his vest, covering it like usual, and bringing his favorite gun with him.  "This is my baby," he told her, showing it off before putting it in his waistband.  "I'll teach you how to use it soon."

She shook her head.  "No thanks."  She stood up and gave him a hug.  "I don't want to know that much, Xander."

He kissed her on the forehead.  "That's fine, I respect that.  But you will allow me to teach you how to use a crossbow, young lady.  Your aim sucks."

"Yes, Xander," she said with a small grin.  "We're still okay, right?"

"We're just fine," he agreed, leading her out of his room and outside.  He knew his aunt and uncle had been listening.  They usually did.  He only had a few things in his room that he wanted.  He could always sneak back in and grab them if they started something and they knew it so his stuff would be safe.   He escorted her via the safehouse, showing it off to her.  It was a nice loft-style apartment.  Fully his now with some careful paperwork trails leading back to Chicago and someone older there who didn't exist.  Courtesy of Michael.  He didn't show her his weapons room, but he did show her everything else.  His game system was great and he enjoyed the hell out of it when he was relaxing.  Or when he was doing simulated target practice.  She was really impressed with the stock of Hostess products and his ice cream freezer, so he let her have some, then took her home.

There was time enough to gauge what she was going to do.  She wouldn't narc on him but she would bear careful watching from now on.

*** That Summer ***

Xander got off the train and looked around, then hefted his bag closer and headed for the exit.  It was time to do this.  He saw a few people watching him from behind his sunglasses.  He had trimmed his hair short and was wearing very un-Xanderish clothing.  It was a weak disguise but then again he wasn't really trying.  He was in town for one reason and one reason only.  He walked out and hailed a taxi, getting into the back with his bag.  "Hyatt?" he said, handing over a ten.  The cab sped off, taking him to his predetermined hotel.  He got out and went inside, smiling at the clerk.  "Hi."  He put his debit card on the counter, watching as she ran it.  He had a room at another place in case he needed to move, and another gear bag waiting on him there, but this was the nicer place and he wanted to stay in a nice place.  She handed him the forms to sign, watching as he did so, then handed him a card key.  "Any messages?"

She checked the cubbys behind her and found one.  "Here you go, sir," she said with a smile.  "Are you looking at the area colleges?"

"No, visiting an old family friend," he said with a grin of his own.  "I'm getting my inheritance."  He headed for the elevator, reading the short message on the quick five-floor ride.  Then he put it into his pocket and stepped off, hand on his gun, heading to his room.  He used the card key, then glanced around before pulling his revolver.  He walked inside, sweeping the small room carefully.  When he figured out it was clear, he sat down and flipped on MTV.  Hey, he was a teenager.


Xander looked up as someone sat across from him at McDonald's the next morning. "I'm not buying you breakfast," he told the young man.  The guy was a year older than him, hard and wired body looking very tense.  He knew the guy, he had grown up with him.  "Still being Marc's flunky?" he asked the little brother.

"No.  Dad's," he said with a grin as he glanced around.  "Xander, this is a really bad idea."

"I only want what's mine.  If your father gives it, fine.  If Marc gives it, fine.  Then we don't got trouble," Xander told him, slipping into his old speech patterns easily.  "If they don't, that's when trouble begins."  He grinned.  "You'd like my town.  I get to do this for fun now."  Steve swallowed.  "I'm not a kid, Steve, but I want what was my father's.  And everything else he left in town.  Then I'm heading back to my part of the world.  If your dad's being a fair man, he'll give it to me because my father made him promise to do so.  If Marc interferes, then I'm sorry to say you'll be heading the family in a few years when your father finally dies of lung cancer.  Got me here?"  Steve nodded.  "I'll be there tonight."


"I got sent a message that we're meeting tonight."

"No, that was Marc.  Dad said I'm to bring you over as soon as you've eaten," Steve told him.  He glanced around.  "You know the rules?"

"I've only got the one on me," he agreed quietly, quickly stuffing the rest of his Big Mac into his mouth and finishing his soda.  He wiped his fingers then stood up to get rid of the tray.  Then he followed his friend to his car.  "Geez, I can't wait until I can drive the Benz," he whined.

"Benz?  You gotta Benz?" Steve asked.

"One of dad's friends left it to me," he said with a grin. "It's handy but Cali's laws are stiff about underage driving and I can't get into driver's ed until next year because of my grades."  He stroked the leather of the Caddy's interior.  "This is really nice."

"Yeah, dad promised me whatever I wanted.  I liked this run of Caddy and he thought it was a good year too, if a bit of an odd choice."  Steve started the car and they pulled out onto the street.  "Shit," he said, looking in the mirrors.  "Stupid cops."

Xander looked back then lifted his glasses and grinned and waved.  "Hey," he happily.  He grinned at Steve.  "I'm wondering if he's thinking it's old home week or if they know there's a meeting?"

"Fuck if I know," Steve snorted.  "With that one and his partner, anything's possible.  Maybe they sniffed it out or something.  The one guy's a bloodhound in disguise."

Xander snickered.  "I'm living in a town where the cops don't even come out after dark."

"Damn, I thought you were in suburbia or something," Steve whined.  "I didn't know you were in Compton!"

"I'm not.  I'm living in a suburban hell," Xander told him. "The closest distraction is the next town over.  Oh, but we've got strange out the ass," he shared.  Steve glanced at him as they turned the corner and Xander glanced back.  "Still there."  He settled himself again.  "You wouldn't believe it if I told you, Stevey.  Really.  I've had to use a crossbow."

"Wow.  Your dad was never a freak for old weapons."

"Neither was I until last year, it's just safer."  They pulled through a high stone gate, no one was going to stop them.  "I see your mother won the argument," he noted as they pulled up in front of the house.

"Yeah, late last year.  Marc agreed, this one had a better room for him."  He shrugged as he turned off the engine.  "You'll live?"

"Of course I will," Xander said with a cocky grin.  He pushed his sunglasses back into place then got out, heading inside.  The guards patted him down.  "It's my usual one, and only one," he told them.  They found his spare clip and he shrugged.  "I was gonna go fire at the trains after this for old time's sake."  They grinned, they had caught the boys doing that many times.  They kept the clip though.  One of them led him into the study after a quick knock.  Xander strolled in.  "Morning, Uncle Charlie.  Is this gonna be quick or not?  I wanted ta go shoppin'," he said as he took the seat pointed at by the old man behind the desk.

"Things have gotten back to us that are disturbing, Alexander."

Xander took off his sunglasses, looking at him. "You've heard stuff from Sunnydale?"

"Only that you're very good and obviously wanting to follow in your father's footsteps."

Xander snickered.  "Not really.  I've *had* to follow in my father's footsteps but I don't think he'd mind, considering the guy was already dead and all."  His godfather looked confused. "Uncle Charlie, you've studied odd shit.  Ever hear of a Hellmouth or a Slayer?"

Charlie sighed.  "Oh, damn."  Xander nodded.  "You know a Slayer?"

"I know a Slayer and a Watcher," Xander told him.  "I also live on the hellmouth.  It's self protection."  He crossed his hands on his stomach, then his feet at the ankles.  "That's the only thing I'm doing.  I'm only sixteen after all."

"Good."  He nodded.  "What did you want of your dad's stuff?"

"All of it."

Charlie looked amused.  "You won't even leave me a memento?"

Xander shook his head.  "Nope.  Not even his gun," he said firmly.  Charlie's eyes hardened and Xander glared at him.  "It is mine by birthright, Uncle Charlie.  Dad would have wanted me to have it.  Even if I don't join the life."

"See, he told me you could have it only if you joined the life."

"Yay."  Xander crossed his feet in the other direction.  "You know, I've had to get good since I found out what was going on out there.  I've also had to learn how to break and enter, or break and exit from my uncle's house, and how to survive in warzone conditions.  My father would be proud of me for what I'm doing, and I'm doing the same job only with the unliving.  If you want a picture of him with it, fine.  If you want a picture of him without it, fine.  You can have copies made or get me a copy made of whichever photos you want.  You're not keeping his revolver.  Over your son's dead body."  He stood up and drew, pointing the gun at the doorway that was slowly creeping open.  "Come in," he said dryly.  Marc, the other son, walked in and looked startled.  "Sorry, reflexes from survival."  He put it away and looked at him.  "You had something to add?"

"No."  Marc looked at his father, who waved him inside.  "I wanted ta see you, Xan."  He looked the other boy over.  "You look good."

"I'm living in hell, Marc, and your little note was not only insulting, but a good reason for a punch in the nose.  It ended any feelings I might have had for you.  Steve's very safe."

Marc grinned.  "What makes you think you can get out of here with only one clip?"

Xander reached into his pocket and pulled out his squishy ball, holding it up.  Then he pulled off his sunglasses and took off his necklace, putting the necklace into the ball and clicking on a button.  A little timer popped up.  "Gee, I don't know," he noted.

"Enough," Charlie said bitterly.  "Sit, Xander.  Marc, that was an insulting note and he has every right to hate you for it.  You don't treat friends, and especially friends of the family, that way."

"Yes, father," Marc said, glaring at Xander.  "They let you in with it?"

"I don't think they recognized it," Xander admitted, undoing his handiwork.  He put his sunglasses back on top of his head.  "Now then.  My dad's stuff, Uncle Charlie?  Then I'm gone after a day of shopping for real clothes."

Charlie smiled.  "You're exactly like your father.  He'd be proud."

"I'd like to think so," Xander agreed.  "How much is there?"

"Most of a U-Haul.  We cleaned and stored the old apartment too."  Xander grinned at that.  "I still can't give you the gun until you're eighteen or you take it from me."

Xander nodded.  "Fine.  Do you want me to attempt to take it from you now or when I'm eighteen?"  Charlie laughed.  "I'm not kidding," Xander said coolly.  Charlie stopped and both of them looked at him.  "Like I said, I'm in the life, but not the same way.  For me, it's a survival thing and I'd rather have it."

"Would you think about doing odd stuff for the people in LA?"

"No."  Xander stood up, leaning down to get in his uncle's face.  "My father didn't want me in the life, Uncle Charlie.  He made that very clear to me.  The only way I'm going to take up the gun against *people* is if I have to.  And even then, dad said it best.  It's going to be too easy for me to slip into it," he said calmly.  "I've already hunted and it's a great feeling."  Charlie swallowed.  "Gun and stuff?  Please?"

"You've got balls," Marc noted.

"Yeah, and you used ta lick 'em," Xander retorted coldly.  His uncle gasped.  "Yes, Xander is bi," he reminded him. "Has been most of his life.  Will probably always be.  Even though his father warned and despaired over it enough to give him a hooker for his thirteenth birthday," he reminded them.  "Another really good reason why Xander is not taking up the life in an official capacity.  Maybe for hire, but not with a family," he said with a grin for his uncle.  "Now then.  Stuff and gun?  So I can go shoot at the trains once or twice, then I can go shopping, then I can head home."

"Fine.  Marc, open the safe."

"No."  Xander looked at him so he sneered.  "What?  Pretty boy wants it that badly, let him open it."

Xander walked over to where the safe was and blew on his fingers, laying his ear against the wall.  Charlie still had the old sort and he could hear the clicks.  He smiled as he got it on the second try and took out his father's gun and, for some reason, Xander's own baby book.  He held it up to the shocked men. "My baby pictures?"

"Your father asked me to keep 'em safe," Charlie said with a shrug.  "When did you learn that?"

"Last year sometime," Xander said with a shrug.  "The *librarian* I work with keeps his bolts behind in the library."

"Your librarian keeps weapons?" Marc asked.

Xander nodded.  "Yeah.  Doesn't yours?"  He looked at Charlie. "U-Haul?"

"I'll have it driven back for ya.  Sunnydale, right?"  Xander nodded.  "Any special place or time?"

"Yeah, tell 'em not to enter the town after dark.  It's way too damn dangerous.  Have 'em call the house or the school library and leave a message for me."  He waved his baby book.  "Do I need anything else before I go shoot at the trains?"

"Your father left me a letter for you," Charlie admitted, opening his desk drawer and pulling it out.  He handed it over.  "I should have given it to you earlier."

Xander sat down to read it, smiling at the wise advice to calm down and not show his ass.  He looked at his uncle.  "Yeah, you probably should have," he said, grinning and letting him see it.  "Thank you, Uncle Charlie.  I hope you feel better.  The next time you see me, you'll be watching your own funeral. I'll come back to pay my respects then leave again."  He looked at Marc as he stood up.  "You probably won't see me."  He nodded at him.  "How is Gwen?"

"Guenevere is stuck on a new artist type," Charlie said with a wave of his hand.  "He's about as fruity as you are so I'm not liking the guy too much."  He looked at Xander.  "You were my first choice for her."

Xander shrugged.  "I don't think she'd like my life.  It's really dangerous.  Hell, the hyenas alone cause me no end of problems."  He grinned and slid his sunglasses back down.  "Happy life, Uncle Charlie.  Kiss the wife and Gwen for me."  He walked out, taking his real prizes back to his hotel.  Once he was back there and checked out, he went to his backup place to gather the other bag, then went to shoot at the cargo trains.  That's where the detectives found him.  "Hey," he said between paintball shots.  "I missed this."

"Kid," the detective said, moving closer.  "You're living a dangerous game."

Xander lowered the gun and turned to look at him.  "First," he said calmly, "I'm not taking my father's spot on the home team.  Charlie and I agree on that.  Second, even if I wanted to, I'm bi.  Most families won't accept that and I don't want to work for a family anyway.  Third, most of my life right now is about survival.  That's why my aim's gotten better, detective.  Fourth, unless I'm forced, I'm not going to be taking up the life at all.  If I'm forced, then I'll take up enough to take on select jobs so I'm not screwed like my father was.  Ones where I can set limits.  Fifth, I'm leaving again tomorrow and I won't be back until Charlie's funeral."

The detective smirked at him. "You're a smart-mouthed brat, kid."

"Yeah, well, what else did you expect?" he snorted, then he grinned and gave the older man a hug.  "Great to see you again too.  I found my baby pictures."

The detective laughed, shaking his head and pushing his sunglasses back into place.  "You're an odd kid, kiddo.  Why else were you in town?"

"To get my father's gun."

"Ah."  The detective swatted him across the back of the head.  "That was dangerous."

"It's mine by birthright," Xander reminded him.  Then he grinned.  "Charlie had it mounted on walnut."

The detective groaned and shook his head.  "Bad taste.  I'd have gone for maple.  It'd make the grip look better."  He nodded at the paintgun.  "That's still illegal."

"But not really dangerous.  It's my own blend.  Washable.  Has a garlic base," he shared, handing it over.  "Try it out?"

The detective looked at him.  "Garlic?"

Xander shrugged.  "It's a necessity in my life. He stuck me somewhere with half the town like that Pat guy a few years back.  That's how I'm staying in practice."

The detective handed it back.  "Stick with that, kid.  Really.  It's safer."

"I know.  Dad was right, I've got it in me and it's *way* too easy to do sometimes."  He grinned again, then wiggled his eyebrows.  "You gonna follow me while I go smut shoppin' too?"

"No," the detective told him.  "Someone else will be tailing you the rest of the day.  Speaking of, if it's Charlie's guys, Marc sent them."  He turned and walked away.  "Learn how to write letters," he called over his shoulder.

"Love you too, unc."  He went back to shooting at the cargo trains, grinning because he was still really good at this.  These moved much faster than vampires did.


Xander was standing on the platform when he saw the enforcers coming his way. He blew another bubble of his bubblegum but his hand was on his weapon.  "Morning," he said cordially.  "Here for a pickup or a delivery?"

The one on the left looked at him.  "More of a stain problem," he said.

"Yeah, I've had some of those.  Do you know how hard it is to take blood out of jeans when they've been soaked in them?"  The guy on the right winced.  "Sorry to be so graphic, but it's my life, ya know?"  His train was called.  "Laters, dudes.  I'm back to sunny Cali.  Come see my hellhole sometime, I'm sure we can make you feel better about leaving here living today."  He walked away.  Someone fired a shot to his left and he looked, but his danger sense hadn't ticked so it wasn't at him.  No one was injured, just a lot of running.  He got onto the train, letting the conductor show him back to his sleeper car, looking out at the enforcers.  This had been an easier trip than he had thought.


A few weeks later, Xander picked up his truck and took it to his apartment, getting the guys to unload it for him.  They were brash enough to want to go out after dark and he couldn't convince them otherwise, so he followed them, picking off the vampires when they first appeared.  One of them surprised him.  "Ah."  He smirked at the dead person.  "It's a Spike, guys.  He's a brit."  They turned and ran back to the van, Spike was still vamped out.  "Welcome to Sunnydale, I'm part of the welcoming committee.  Would you like to turn and run away now or later?"

Spike looked this boy over, smirking at him as he went back to human.  "You're just a human," he noted.

"I am," Xander agreed, putting his gun away.  "I'm also very good at what I do.  Practice does make perfect."  Spike raised that scarred eyebrow of his and Xander smirked.  "What?  Confusing you?  Confusing am I, but strong am I," he said in his best Yoda.

"You're touched in the head," Spike snorted.

"Either that or I'm just really annoying.  Your pick," Xander told him.  Then he grinned again.  "Smoking or non?"

"Smoking," Spike said, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it as an afterthought.  "Who are you?"

Xander bowed.  "Harris."

"Hmm."  Spike looked him over.  "You're trained.  Where?"

"Old-school.  Chicago style."

Spike snorted.  "Can't beat New York."

"New York's grimy.  The wind in Chicago blows it cleaner," Xander quipped happily.  "Wouldn't want to go with the *really* old school.  They wouldn't like me in the least.  I wasn't taught proper deference."

Spike laughed.  "You're an interesting bit'a fun, boy."

"Yeah, well, I try," Xander shared.  "Are you going to walk away or do I draw again?"

"I'll go, for now.  We'll meet again."

"Oh, you can count on me and my buddies coming to a theater near you soon enough," Xander agreed happily.  "Ta-ta and all that Brit stuff."

Spike laughed.  "Only on the telly."

"Hey, I'm not from there, to me that's all you guys are, cute television shows shown on PBS after cartoons."  Spike burst out in loud laughter.  "Anything else?"

"Nah, go have fun, boy.  I'll kill you the next time we meet.  Entertainment from you lot is rare.  Can't ever seem to find good ones."

"Yeah, like help, good comedians are hard to find.  You first."

"On three?" Spike suggested.

"Deal."  They silently counted, then turned and walked in opposite directions, Xander with his hand on his gun.  He went back to his apartment, finding the enforcers huddled down in the back of the truck.  "Guys, it's safer again," he called, pounding on the side.   The back door slammed shut.  "Okay, be that way.  I'll be back at ten in the morning," he told them.  There was a package on the front seat with his name on it so he took it upstairs with him.  He smirked when he saw the pictures and the note that they were the copies, Charlie had the originals.  "Cool."  He'd have to go frame shopping tomorrow after patrol.


Xander and Willow met up with Buffy on the bridge, surprising each other.  It was nice to be among friends again.  Xander told them some falsehood about how he had a boring trip back east to pick up some things, mostly pictures, but left out most of it for their safety.  Buffy told them all about shopping in LA on her dad's credit card.  Willow told her how quiet things had been, leaving out the fact that Xander was the reason it was so quiet.  Xander carefully rebuilt his 'goofy teenager' act as they talked and walked around.  He didn't want them to know what he was really like.  It might burst their happy bubbles.

*** After Parent-Teacher Night ***

Xander stood outside his uncle's house, smoking his second cigarette of his life.  The stupid thing kept going out so he was trying to relight it when someone held up a lit match.  "Thanks."  He sucked in and then sighed.  He looked at the holdee, then grinned.  "Hey," he said, smirking at the dark-haired vampiress.  "You're Spike's Dru, right?"  She nodded.  "Let me guess, he bitched and whined about me and Buffy?"

"Mostly about you," she said, moving closer to sniff him.  "Those are bad for you."

"So is school, most of the food I eat, and the air in the state of New Jersey, it hasn't stopped me from imbibing all of them."

She laughed.  "You are special, kitten.  So very special."  She started to reach out but a clearing throat stopped her.

"Hey, now," Spike said as he walked up behind her, taking her hand away.  "You again?"

Xander shrugged.  "I told you me and my friends would be seeing you again."  He took another puff.  "How do you keep these things lit?"

"You tamp them before you open them," Spike said with a smirk of his own.  "New to it?"

"Just to this.  It's a better nerve tonic than the bottles I can find inside."  He let it fall to the ground and then ground it out with the toe of his sneaker.  He looked at Spike again.  "So, leaving so soon?"

Spike snorted. "Hardly."  He walked Druscilla away.  "Don't worry, we'll be meeting again."

"May the Force be with you," Xander called after him.  "Cause you're gonna need it, Buffy went that way," he said happily.  He went inside, looking at his aunt, who was sober for a chance.  "Yeah?"

"Friends of yours?"

"No, walking undead persons who annoy the shit out of me, but got a prank played on them earlier."  She looked confused.  "The blond and I met in a cemetery a few months back," he admitted, leaning against the back of the chair next to him.  His uncle drunkenly swatted at him.  "He decided I amused him and I decided he wasn't worth fighting.  We walked away.  Tonight, someone used me as bait to lure him into a trap, and the next time we meet I'll have to stake his ass."  She opened her mouth.  "Vampires, aunt.  Undead things that eat people.  I'm protecting people.  They still can't get in the house unless you invite them."

She nodded.  "Fine.  I don't want you or your weapons here."

"Cool," Xander agreed, shrugging.  "Give me twenty to pack."  He headed up to his room, packing his meager belongings.  The last was his favorite picture of his father and his backup weapon.  They went into his jacket pockets and then he carried his bag out and down the stairs. "I'm gone."  He waved.  "I've still got my cell if you need me."  He walked into the night, whistling a happy tune.  No more drunken people!  No more snooping!  "Yes, Cinemax Porn!" he said happily, heading for his apartment.  He nearly did a quick run through a cemetery but didn't because he could hear fighting in there and Buffy's voice complaining about her nails.  "Happy hunting," he called softly as he continued on.  He pulled his keys out and opened the door to his apartment building, pulling his gun to look at the person behind him.  "Oh, hey, Wills."  He put it away and let her inside, not saying the words just in case.  He closed and locked the door, then led her up the stairs to his actual apartment.  It was nice, there were two in the building and his neighbors had died a few weeks ago.  He let her inside, then followed, putting his bag on the table.  "What's up?"

"Why won't you tell Buffy?" she asked.

"Because it'd piss her off," Xander said simply.  "I've learned that there are things that shouldn't be told to people.  Sort of like looking at Harmony and telling her she looks fat in that pink outfit she had on yesterday."  Willow's face cracked, making her shake her head.  "Really, you didn't think so?"  He grabbed them sodas from the fridge, remembering to lock the door and reset the alarm before sitting down.  "What possible benefit will it give her, Willow? I've got her back when she needs it, but she doesn't need to know."

Willow popped open her soda and took a long sip of the foam.  "Xander, I'm worried about you.  You like this life too much."

He snorted.  "No, I don't.  Though I have heard this argument in the past.  You're right, it's easy but I don't like it.  Not enough to do this for money unless I'm forced to."

"You're that good?" she asked flatly, putting the can down to look at him.  He nodded.  "Then why are you still here?"

"Dad made me promise to finish high school."  He took a long drink, curling up on his side of the couch.  "I'm sorry if it bugs you, Willow, but I am what I am.  I'm good at what I do.  What I do is hunting.  Right now I'm hunting creatures and I have no intention of hunting humans.  Even if I do, you're safe and so is Buffy."

She relaxed, nodding.  "Thank you.  What about the new stuff?  You went back to the homeland for pictures?"

"Yeah," he said quietly.  She didn't need to know how close it had been.  His Godfather could have had him shot, but he knew Xander didn't want to join the family business and had cut him some slack.  Xander knew and understood that.  That's why Charlie was safe from him and he would only wound Marc unless he had to kill him.  "Why are you worried, Willow?"

"You're different, Xander.  Since you turned sixteen.  Since you came back from your trip.  All of it, you're really different and I don't know why."

"No, I'm about the same, only now I've had a bit more to hide. I didn't even have a weapon in town until after the Harvest.  My dad foolishly thought I'd be safe here."

She slumped, her wrists hanging between her knees.  "So it's been patrolling that's done it?"

He shook his head.  "Not totally.  I've also become privy to other things in the past few months," he admitted, taking another long drink.  "I've had to do some growing up and some thinking.  Nothing major and dangerous.  If my father hadn't opted to leave the family life, I'd have been doing this by now in Chicago as my father's apprentice, or I would have been sent somewhere to train as a high-priced bodyguard for a higher member of the family.  Since he decided he couldn't follow that one order, and he died because of it, it freed me to make a few other career choices.  I could do this for a living.  I could become a very good bodyguard.  I could even become a cop, though I don't see much chance of that happening."  She let out a pitiful laugh.  "Doing this as a life's work is not my first choice, Willow, and you know that.  This is not what I consider a productive lifestyle.   Profitable if I did it right, but not productive.  I'd almost rather volunteer to build houses.  Then I'd understand better how to break and enter."

"You can do that?" she squeaked.  Xander grinned and nodded.  "Oh."  She blinked then looked at her soda again.  "What else can you do?" she asked quietly.

"I've watched you hack enough times to know a little about it, enough to recognize who is and isn't when and if I need to hire one some day.  Thanks to Giles and his amazing weapons cage, I've learned how to work a rotary dial safe."  She squeaked.  "Yeah, I'm the one who spilled the bolts.  I thought I had gotten them all but I'm sorry he yelled at you about that."

"That's okay, he decided it must have been Angel."  She looked at him.  "I'm not sure if I should keep your secret or not, Xander.  Buffy needs you."

"And she's got me," he reminded her.  "Letting her know exactly who I am and what I can do could get her into some major trouble.  If the vampires are amused by you instead of afraid of you, they won't take the fight seriously.  If Buffy's afraid of me, she'll lose faster. Then it'll be us and whoever they send next."  Willow nodded so he shifted across the plaid couch to touch her cheek.  "I'm protecting her, Willow.  I'm not denying her my skills. Hell, I've made it a lot easier on her since she came.  I'm leaving Spike to her, but I'm not stopping at anyone or anything else.  She knows she only has to ask."

"How would she know what to ask for?" Willow countered.  "She doesn't know that you carry explosives and a detonator with you."

"True," he admitted with a grin, "but if she asks for help, I'll figure out how best to help her. Good enough?  That'll keep her and you out of trouble and yet still leave you open to my help."

She nodded.  "I guess it'll have to be."

He kissed her on the cheek.  "Thanks.  How did you know about my simtex ball and detonator necklace?"

"I saw you making your new one the other night," she said dryly.  "It was kinda obvious, Xander."  She stood up.  "Are you living here now?"  He nodded.  "Fine."  She glanced around then back at him.  "Xander, I've decided that I don't really want to know more."

"Wonderful," he agreed, nodding to show he supported her.  "I can understand that and you don't know the half of it anyway," he pointed out gently.  "I'm protecting you just as much as I do her."

"Thank you.  Keep that rule in place."  She gave him a quick hug then took her Coke to go.

Xander relaxed, looking at the door.  "Don't worry, you don't even know a tenth of it," Xander muttered, finishing his own soda so he could unpack and clean his weapons.  It was time for the weekly polishing and cleaning.

*** Ethan's Halloween Surprise ***

Xander paced around the shadows in his uniform, the back of his mind wondering if this was at all real, while the front of his mind was integrating all his knowledge into this body.  As a Private, First Class, he didn't have all the knowledge he should, but what he did have was interesting.  Hmm, heavy weapons. This was the first time he had been actively assaulted by magic and wondered briefly if he had any gifts in that area, but decided it would take time away from the rest of his training.  He looked over as Ethan got up off the floor and Giles hit him again, smirking at the brutal efficiency of that punch.  Someone used to brawl.  He waited until everyone else was gone to step forward, startling the bloody shopkeeper.  "Hey," he said with a nod.  "I've got questions.  You've got answers.  I'll give you a day's headstart."

Ethan looked the boy over, seeing how comfortable he was with the supposedly fake weapon in his hand.  Then he looked in the boy's eyes, seeing the lack of amusement there.  "What?" he asked carefully.  "I usually charge a high fee for teaching anyone anything."

"Okay, there's a good place to start.  Do I need to learn this?"

Ethan smirked at him.  "You know nothing."

"Actually, I know a little, I'm seeing whether or not I should do in-depth research," Xander admitted.  "So, spill.  Can you see if I'm gifted in that area or not."

Ethan looked at the boy, turning on his gift to see auras.  He shook his head.  "Not really.  You've got a very minor gift if anything."  He went back to his regular vision.  "My turn.  Who are you?"

"Alexander Harris."

"I've heard that name before," Ethan noted.  Xander nodded.  "From where?"

"Probably my dad yelling it across half of Chicago," he said dryly.  "Is there a way to protect me from this shit in the future?  I've already been possessed once and I don't need this in my life."

Ethan smirked.  "That would raise the question of fees, my boy."

Xander moved closer.  "An extra day be enough?"

Ethan swallowed and nodded.  "It would," he agreed, his mouth very dry.  This one would kill him for Ripper.  He knew it now.  That's where he knew the face and last name from.  He had mistakenly run afoul of someone working for a wanna-be in Chicago with that same last name.  "I met your father," he hissed.

"So did I, whata shock," Xander said with a bright grin.  "He died a few years back.  Now I'm stuck here."  He patted the very real weapon in his hands.  "What can I say, such a little girl needs some help now and then."  He saw Ethan swallow.  "Next question.  Can I repel this shit?  Make it all go away around me."

Ethan shook his head.  "Not in the least.  I can ward you so it doesn't work on you, or at least won't work right on you.  I can tell you what to find so you can see if there's anything around you. I can't make it go away completely."  He stood up, going to grab a book, noticing the boy was following him visually.  "Come into the back."

"Sure, I trust you enough for that."  Xander followed him, looking around the back room, then he sneezed.  "Okay, now I'm glad I don't have to do this stuff all the time."

"Me as well.  Your mental focus needs work," Ethan told him, sitting in front of him.  "Sit.  Take off your shirt, I'll have to draw on you."  Xander took off his shirt, unconsciously flexing his muscles.  "Have you thought about formalized training?"

"I have," Xander admitted, sitting down facing the older man.  "I haven't thought much about it yet.  Most of them you have to prove you're worth it by getting a sponsor to send you."  He took a deep breath as something tickled his back.  "What was that?"

"Small imp.  It's my helper," Ethan told him, starting to mix some herbs together.  "The marks will be plain to any who can see magical energy, but not to regular sight," he instructed.  "You cannot shower until they're all absorbed."

"How long?"

"Two days, possibly three.  Do your hair in the sink if you must," he instructed.  "Next question?"

"You said something about my mental focus.  How'd you know?"

Ethan paused to look at him. "You're a teenage boy, Alexander, all of them have problems with their focus unless they've been trained from birth.  I pity you when you have your first adult growth spurt."


Ethan smiled at that.  "I know.  They are horrible.  Why haven't you had Ripper do this?" he asked as he went back to crushing things.

"Partially because I don't want him to know this creeps me out.  Partially because I'm not too sure he'd do it," Xander admitted.  "You seem like a self-interested guy who knows the score in the world.  I'm one of those myself for the most part."  Ethan again paused to look at him.  "Like you said, trained from birth."

"Good point," Ethan finished mixing.  "How do you know I won't mess this up and poison you?"

"Easy.  Then I've left a letter in my apartment, which Rosenburg can find," he admitted.  "In it is everything I know so she can use it to get you, and anyone else who's bothered me."

"I understand," Ethan agreed, starting the painting process. The boy giggled.  "You'll have to hold still."

"Sorry, I'm ticklish."

"It's good you're something," Ethan assured him.

"Oh, I'm good at many things," Xander told him quietly, staring in his eyes.  The older man swallowed and Xander grinned. "Including that," he agreed.  "It's just been a long time."

"Long time?" Ethan squeaked, forcing himself to continue drawing.

"Almost four years," Xander admitted, trying not to bite his lip so he wouldn't wiggle.  "That tickles too."

"It will continue to," Ethan assured him.  "Are you suggesting that as an alternate method of payment, young man?"

Xander grinned.  "Me?  You want me?"

"Well, you are young and comely."

"Hmm, yeah, and you're not too bad for someone your age."  Ethan gave him a look.  "Sorry, it had to be said."  He grinned and leaned forward.  "If that's what you want, then it'll have to cover the other protection and detection stuff too."

Ethan nodded, closing his eyes briefly, then opening them and getting back to work.  "Sit still.  I can make this sink in faster.  I'll leave you my own set of protection and detection devices."

"Thanks," Xander said with a goofy grin.  "So, do I measure up and all that?"

"I'm surprised Ripper hasn't tossed you onto the couch in his office and had his merry way with you," Ethan admitted dryly.  "He always did have a taste for the pretty ones."  The boy blushed.  "You are rather attractive," he pointed out.  "Ripper would normally have done anything to have gotten in your pants."

"I think he sees me as a little kid," Xander shared.  "He doesn't like to talk to me like I know what I'm about either."  He looked down at his pants.  "Is that what military life really is like?"

Ethan shrugged.  "The spell drew on your ideas of what living your costume's life would be like.  It's probably somewhat close but not totally accurate."  He started on the next notation, picking up a small feather to do this one with.  "This will tickle worse," he warned, drawing the first line.  Xander wiggled and laughed, so he knocked the boy onto his back and held him down while he drew.


Xander walked into school the Monday after Halloween feeling much better now.  It was like the fog in his mind had lifted.  And not only because of the sex stuff either.  The Principal scowled at him so he gave him a jaunty wave and a smile to irritate him more.  "Good morning," he said happily.  "Isn't it a wonderful day?"

"Are you on drugs?" Principal Snyder demanded.  Xander shook his head.  "You sure?"

"Very," he agreed in his most chipper tone of voice.  "Actually, I haven't had my drug of choice yet this morning, no caffeine."  Snyder backed away from him, looking scared.  That was a scary thought.  He had heard rumors.  "Don't worry, I've got *hours* like this before I start to become *unreasonable*.  You have a *nice* day, Principal Snyder."

"Harris, you have a message in the office," he sneered.  "I was waiting on you and your little friends."

"Cool, thanks."  Xander headed to the office, taking the message for him.  He read the short message, then headed for the nearest payphone.  His calling card was anonymous and no one could really say anything.  It was an International one headquartered in Mexico.  He dialed the number on it, listening to the other voice answer.  "You wanted to parlay/" he asked quietly.  He sighed and shook his head.  "I don't know.  Why?"  He listened to the details, then shuddered.  This would mean he couldn't turn back.  This would be the last step into the life and he could never escape.  "Why me?"  He nodded.  "True, I do know him."  He smirked.  "How hard?  As in a level of difficulty?"  His smirk got bigger.  "Fine, I'll fly out tonight?"  He nodded and hung up.  The money would be useful and he was able to set his own limits.  Who had given them his number and name he would get around to finding out later. He snuck out of the school, heading back to his safe house with a stop at the drugstore.


Xander walked into the bar and looked at his target.  There was something definitely off about him.  Then again, the families didn't want to start a real war, that's why they had hired outside the family structure to do this.  He had his orders if something was odd, and he would follow them.  He grinned.  "So, *Armando*, come here often?" he asked as he brazenly sat across from him.

Ray looked at him, then shook his head.  "You look odd as a blond.  Why are you here, kid?"

"You.  Someone wanted me to become my father," he said quietly.  The undercover detective nodded, sipping his drink.  "I believe that your time's about up.  They hired outside the families."

"And your orders would be?"

"To call if something funny was going on," Xander admitted dryly, grinning at him.  "I do follow honorable combat laws."

Ray leaned closer.  "You have no idea what you've stepped into.  I thought you were staying out of it."

Xander grimaced.  "I'm covering someone's hospital bills.  Future ones.  And no, not mine."  He put his elbows on the table and leaned closer.  "Trust me, this was a hard decision, but I am following my own guidelines.  I chose, and I'm still choosing."  The detective sighed.  "Now, I can call right now while you head for home, or we can do something else."  He grinned.  "I liked you when I was younger.  You were cool to two young punks playing games."

"You're still a young punk playing games.  These guys will force you to carry it out."

Xander shook his head.  "I doubt it.  One of them said that something funny was going on.  I was called in because I'm from there, know *you*, and am not involved."

"Oh."  The detective looked around, noticing the hitters in the bar's crowd.  "Then you've got problems too."

Xander shook his head, patting his stomach.  It thumped dully.  "Not half as much as you do.  Need anything from the bar?"

"No, kid.  Thanks."  He looked Xander in the eyes.  "No more.  Never again."

"Unless I have to," Xander allowed.  "This really is not my cup of tea."  One of the people was drawing a weapon, and then he noticed the barman noticing and pulling his own.  "Crap.  Fish shoot."  He stood up and started to sing loudly, getting the bartender's attention. He nodded at him to leave.  The guy took the hint and a lot of people gave him irritated looks.  "Hey, you guys can always go somewhere more calm," Xander shouted, sounding drunk.  "I'm twenty-one today!  I wanna play party games!"  Most of the non- involved patrons groaned and a good number left.  Some in the back corners were giving him amused looks.  Xander looked at one of the hitters, someone he vaguely remembered being at some meeting or another his father had drug him one back in the day.  "You wanna play with me?" he asked, grinning fiercely.  He had been told he looked exactly like his father when he did that.  The man's eyes went wide and he looked behind him.  "Oh, hey.  Town grandfather."  He bowed and nodded.  "Hey, how ya doin'?" he asked.

"You are?" the old man asked.

"Asked to come in and examine a situation," Xander said calmly and quietly, seeming almost deferential.  One did not make it to this man's age in the mob without being deadly and ready to kill.  "Xander Harris."  The man smiled and put out a hand, letting him shake it.  "Not officially employable, but still somewhat around."

"I understand.  I heard of your father."

Xander beamed.  "I didn't know he had a rep outside of Chicago."  He looked at the detective.  "So, Armando, were you gonna show me around the strip or not?  As a favor to dad and all?"

"You know my man?"

"Dad knew him.  I looked him up," Xander explained, blatantly lying.

"Hmm.  I heard you were sent out here to see if this was an old friend of yours."

"Which he isn't," Xander told him.  "In which case I'm supposed to be calling my employers and telling them so for further instructions."  He coughed and cleared his throat.  "There are still civilians here, sir," he noted.

"I know, boy.  This is my bar and most of them are related somehow."  He smiled at him.  "How did you know the good detective?"

"Oh, he used to catch Marc and me all the time.  Shooting at the cargo trains.  Playing hooky.  Shooting at cans in the alleys.  He even stopped Marc from shooting some homeless guy once."  He shrugged.  "He's the only straight mentor I've ever had.  That's why I came."  The detective looked at him.

"That's good to know, son.  Are you joining the family business?"

Xander shook his head.  "Not the family part, sir.  My lifestyle isn't exactly...wanted by most families."  That got a wise nod.  "Besides, I'd rather freelance.  The money's better even if it is more risky.  I want to travel for a while before I settle down and coming in with a good record means I'll get a better job, maybe even as a personal assistant or second in command to someone in the middle management.  If I decide to go that way."

The old man smiled.  "Well thought out, young man.  Armando.  You may have the night off to show the boy around.  Then I'd like you to go back to Chicago to deal with that situation we discussed earlier."

"Yes, sir," the detective said, standing up.  "Come on, kid.  I'll tell you horror stories about your dad so you stay out of it.  All bs of course," he said with a grin.  "Just the good rumors."

"Would that be like the one that said he broke the bank at a small upstate casino one night and spent it all in a brothel?" Xander asked as they walked away.  He turned and bowed again.  "Have a pleasant night, father.  Peace be with you and all that."  He skipped to catch up.  "I still have to make a call."

"Good point.  Use the payphone."  He pointed at one, leading the way over while Xander dug the number out of his pocket.  "You're still using paper?"

"It's edible.  Or burnable."  Xander pulled out his calling card and dialed the number, smiling when he got a direct link to the voice on the other end.  "It's Xander.  Yeah.  No, really," he said, looking at Ray.  "Orders?"  He snorted.  "You sure?  Thanks."  He hung up.  "Have fun in Chicago, my man."  He nodded his chin at the doorway.  "Come on, I wanna see a real hooker again.  I miss them."

The detective sighed and shook his head as he let the boy lead the way.  "You can't take the rural life, can you?"

"Fuck no," Xander told him, grinning at him.  "Can you?"

"No," he admitted with a smile of his own.  "Who wants to be so bored?"

"Exactly."  Xander sighed in happiness.  "Transvestite hookers," he said happily.  "I've missed the sight of you guys."  He jogged over and hugged one.  "Thank you for being here.  I've missed diversity in life."  He walked away, grinning goofily.

The detective shook his head.  "He moved from Chicago to rural Cali."

"Oh, that poor thing," the hooker said, shaking her head.  "How does he survive?"

"Lots of chocolate from what I hear," Ray admitted, heading after the boy.  It looked like his assignment was over.  Well, after one more thing.  He'd have to find a way to be found.


Xander walked off the plane a few days later, smiling at the smog.  "Yeah, home again," he noted.  He walked to the courier station.  "Xander Harris?"  An envelope was found for him and handed over.  "Thanks.  Which way out?"  The courier pointed so he headed that way.  He opened the envelope, counting the money.  Not bad for not having to do anything.  He saw the message in the back and grinned.  "Sure thing, you remember me," he told himself, heading out into the dark of the night. It was amazing, there was only one vampire in the whole airport and Xander managed to be found by him in the bathroom.  "Hey," he said, nodding as he peed.  The vampire looked around, then vamped out so Xander staked him backhanded, and went back to peeing. "Ah.  Too many cokes on the short flight.  Now for a ride home."  He finished up and washed his hands, making sure his cash was still in his carryon.

*** That Whole Angelus Thing ***

Xander walked into the library the night after everything had gone to hell in town.  Buffy was still crying.  He gave her a pat as he walked past her.  "It'll be okay.  We can fight him," he reminded her.  He could tell she wouldn't be able to but he could. He looked at Giles, who looked him over, then gave a meaningful look toward his office.  "I'm gonna get some coffee, anyone want any?"  The girls shook their heads so Xander looked at Giles.  "Where are you keeping it now, Giles?"

"I'll show you."  He led the way into his office, closing the door.  "I saw your look at her.  Why were you giving her such an intense look?  She had no idea."

"Gee, Giles, it wasn't in the books at all," Xander said snidely.  "And the look I gave her wasn't about that.  It was realizing she wasn't going to be able to fulfill her primary mission this time.  She's an emotional wreck.  That shouldn't be brought into a fight situation.  Especially not a fight for your life."

"How would you know?" he scoffed.

Xander grinned, then canted his weight off to one side, crossing his arms.  "Because I do.  You'd be surprised at what I know.  You have no idea what Willow and I do outside of this room."  Giles looked stunned.  "You don't.  You aren't noticing Willow's magical practices and you're not really watching me.  You have no idea what's on your side."

"I can see that *someone* warded you," Giles told him.

Xander nodded.  "I asked him to.  It was to help prevent another possession."  He looked behind him then sat on the only clear spot on the couch.  "Why?  Jealous?"

"Xander, he is dangerous," he snapped.

"So are you when you lose your temper.  So am I," Xander pointed out.  "I paid him for putting the wards on me and he said he can't do anything else.  Since I had hold of his dick at the time, I doubt he was lying to me about it."  Giles looked shocked.  "Yes, Xander is bi," he sighed.  "Have you not noticed this?  Willow has.  Buffy may have. Even Cordelia's noticed this fact, Rupert."  He stood up again.  "Coffee?  Or should I hit the machine in the lobby?"

Willow tapped then opened the door.  "Buffy said she's not up to this tonight," she said quietly. "I'm taking her home."

"Have fun and be safe," Xander told her, giving her a wink.

"Before you go, Willow," Giles said quickly.  "May I have a word with you?"  She walked in and shut the door behind her.  "Is what Xander said true?  Are you playing with magic?"

She blushed.  "Only a little.  I can float a pencil," she said proudly.  "It's still hard work but I'm going pretty well so far.  Did you wanna see?" she asked happily.  She floated one off his desk, turning it in mid air, then making it stake the cupholder.  "Neat, huh?" she asked with a bright grin.  She looked at Xander.  "Where did you go?"

"Vegas.  I had to check on an old friend," he explained.

"Oh.  Okay."  She grinned. "Your hair's not quite the same shade."

"That's because the bleach was really strong," he told her.  She giggled and hugged him.  "Take the Buffy-monster home and feed her chocolate and other secret woman things to make her feel better."  Willow nodded and left.  "See?" he asked, looking at Giles again, regaining his calm persona.

"Since it seems you were right, what do you do in your off time?" Giles asked.

Xander shrugged. "I guess that depends on the day of the week.  I've got a pretty hectic schedule outside of this room.  I've got range practice, Tai Chi every other day, weapons cleaning and practice.  I also happen to go to the Bronze frequently and am often found alone."  He shrugged.  "Now is not the time to be divided.  You've got an unhealthy slayer who can't do her job.  But if you do need me, have Wills call."  He opened the door and walked out, heading back to his apartment.  He could feel the vampires around him and smirked.  "I can feel you," he called quietly. "And me, all alone, with only a silver spike that's been dipped and washed in holy water."  Most of the feelings left, and he turned to face the one still there. "Druscilla," he said, surprised.  "Why are you following me home?"

She stepped closer.  "Daddy loves you," she told him, taking a long sniff.  "You smell like the bad man."  She smiled at him.  "I can change that.  Make you a pretty princess with Miss Edith.  You could join us, become Daddy's kitten, or even Spike's."

Xander shook his head.  "No thanks.  Not interested.  I've already got too many appointments with death.  I can't really free my calendar for that one."

She giggled.  "You are a funny kitten," she said, moving closer, seeming to sway.  "Your whiskers are twitching.  Daddy will rule the world some day," she told him, sounding very sure of the fact.  "My Spikey will be with us, but not at our side.  You could be in his place, in my arms, being my doll."

Xander waited until she got close enough to kiss, then laid one on her.  "Like I said, not into being a princess for Angelus."  He smirked at her shocked look.  "I've got my own appointments with death.  Tell him I said that.  That and he should really leave town.  Things are going to get nasty.  Even if I have to make them that way."

She started to hum and weave around.  "I can see you.  The stars say you shall take him.  Naughty you, killing a soul."

"Dru, what do you think I do every night on patrol?" he asked dryly, grabbing her and shaking her hard.  "Stop it."  She stopped, moaning in pain as she looked at him.  "I kinda like you.  You're a loony bitch and you remind me of what little I remember about my mother. For that reason alone, I'll let you live.  This time.   Next time, we'll battle.  And when I shove a pretty stake in your unbeating heart, I won't think too much about it. Do you understand me?"  She moaned and smirked, leaning in to kiss him again.  He stepped back, letting her go.  "No thanks.  I'm really more for something male right now."

"Really?" Angelus said as he walked out of the shadows.  "Me perhaps?"

Xander pulled his silver stake and extended it, turning it into a baton.  "If you want me, come get me, deadboy.  We both know we'll be facing each other eventually."

"Big words from the geek," Angelus sneered.

Xander snorted.  "Yay, and?  I got my fashion sense directly from my father.  He liked the loud colors.  It made him feel nicer about killing people."  Angelus looked confused so Xander laughed.  "You mean the people I used to live with?  They're my aunt and uncle.  Not my parents.  My parents are dead and buried in Chicago."  He bowed, a showy gesture.  "I am Alexander Harris.  You can bow now."

Angelus laughed.  "You're a funny kid, *boy*, but you're nothing special."

Xander chuckled, making Druscilla shiver.  "Ask her, if she's a real seer then she should be able to see the real me."  He looked at her.  "Tell him, precious."

"Miss Edith does not like him," Druscilla agreed, clutching her father's arm.  "She hates him.  He smells like the bad man.  He hunts her and makes her ache as each and every one of her friends go poof by his hands.  His hands are bloody ash and all the skies will weep if he comes after us."

Angelus looked down at her.  "Really?" he asked, then he looked at Xander again.  "You have a gift?"

"No, I'm just exceptionally well trained."  He smirked. "As someone once told me, trained from birth.  Or by the circumstances of my birth."

"Xander?" Buffy's voice called out.  "Is that you?"

"Yeah, Buffy, it's me," he called back, staring Angelus down.  "Are you here?" he asked.  "She'll want to know."

"This isn't over.  We'll be talking again."

"You mean you'll be pissing your pants and I'll be laughing?" Xander corrected with an evil grin.  He put away his spike.  "Okay, I can accept that proposition.  Ask Spike if you don't believe Druscilla.  Later, Precious.  My duty awaits."  He jogged to catch up to Buffy, giving her a strong hug.  "I thought you were gonna go all 'girly' with Willow?"

"I was, but then I decided a good slay is what I need."  She leaned against his side.  "Does it get easier?"

"I don't know.  I've never had more than a quick thing," Xander admitted.  "From what I understand, you'll remember it always but the pain gets less."

"I don't wanna remember," she pouted.  She let him walk with her, one arm around her shoulders.  "Who were you talking to?"

"Dru popped up and went all freaky on me, saying my hands were bloody ash and all that.  She ran when you called."

"I guess that's a good thing.  I don't want you hurt and you really can't fight."

"No, I can't fight at all," he agreed, looking over her head at the shadows he could feel following them.  "Hey, Buffster, let's Bronze for a while?" he suggested. "Maybe you'll find someone cute enough to crush on for the night."

"Maybe," she agreed.  She followed him, ignoring the cramps that told her vampires were near.  There were always vampires near.  That's why she lived on her Midol.  "Love is a foul thing and should be taken out with a good slay," she announced.

He grinned.  "If I see any of the little winged cupid-guys, I'll stake them.  We'll make a collection like people do butterflies."  That got a smile from her, what he had been going for.  He tamped on the urge to kiss her.  She didn't need it and he didn't need to endanger her or live with the consequences.

The next night, Buffy found Xander in the local 7-11 buying illegal stuff and leaned against his back to look at what it was.  "You drink?" she asked, making him tense up.  "Sorry.  Thought I was Wills?"

"Yeah," he admitted, turning to look at her.

She looked in his eyes, then sighed.  "Why are you bummed?"

"Let's put it this way.  You don't mention Ampata or love spells, I won't mention Oz, and neither Willow nor I will mention Angel or the wicked near-stepfather."

"Ah, one of those," the clerk said, giving them a knowing look.  "Boone's Farm is on sale."

"That might not be such a bad idea.  For being such a cheap wine, it's not the worst I've ever had.  I think that one was German."

"Germans make wine?" Buffy asked, looking a little confused.  "When did you get German wine?"

"A long time ago," he sighed, putting money on the counter.  "Okay, go pick a flavor.  Personally, I like the Sangria or the apple.  Wills won't care.  So get whatever you want while I get my usual."  He looked at the guy and rolled his eyes, heading back to the pint liquor section to reach over the counter and get what he usually got.  Once a year he celebrated his father and the time was coming closer.  Tonight however, the whole group could use some lightening and forgetting.  He got a pint of rum for Willow.  She loved mixed drinks, especially when she didn't know he added the alcohol.   He added more money to the counter, smiling at Buffy's choices.  "You decided to go with mine?"

"I figure you know what you're talking about," she admitted.  "What does Sangria mean?"

"Blood," the cashier told her.  "It's named for the color."

"Okay then.  How very appropriate."  She looked at Xander.  "Why?"

"I do it in memory," he said gently, brushing her cheek with the back of his knuckles.  "Tonight, we're gonna forget for a while, then we'll wake up in the morning and feel like crap to start a new day."  She nodded, getting on that bandwagon.  She obviously hadn't been sleeping well and her cheeks were starting to sink in so she hadn't been eating either.  "Hey, Julio, give the poor woman some food too," he ordered, laying down even more money, his usual bribe.  The man went and got Buffy some hotdogs from the grill, the ones that weren't charred and hadn't been there all day, handing them over with a smile.

"Thanks," Buffy said gently, blushing a little.  She took her bag and watched as Xander took the rest of the stuff.  "That's really that expensive?"

"No, but I usually pay a small bribe," he admitted.  He put things into the back of his uncle's car and let her climb in.  "Let me call Wills, we'll see where we're going to do this tonight."

"Her parents are finally home again," Buffy told him.  She slumped down as a cop drove past.  They still weren't fond of her.

Xander called Willow's house, getting her mother.  "Hi, Mrs. Rosenburg.  Is Willow still up?  No, we were gonna have a whine fest about the crap in our lives.  Yeah, it's test time," he lied with a grin.  "Our usual.  Cocoa and the nasty, horrible books, along with a lot of chips and stuff.  No, Buffy's gonna be with us."  He looked at her and smirked.  "Sure.  I'll do that.  No, I was gonna give us somewhere neutral tonight.  I was thinking motel room, that way we could do crazy kid stuff and no one would care.  No, no sex, I promise," he assured her.  "Really, I'm not into the girls that way.  Trust me.  Even Willow knows that I'm not like that."

Buffy took the phone from his hand, putting it up against her ear.  "Hi, Willow's mom, this is Buffy.  Yeah, her.  Please can Willow come out and make us forget about tests?"  She grinned.  "Thanks.  Yeah, we'll be right by to pick her up.  Laters."  She hung up. "Never say anything to a parent that could get them up in arms," she reminded him.

"Hey, my biological dad was cool," he said quietly, getting in and starting the car.  He pulled down the street, heading to Willow's house.  She jogged out to meet them, her backpack filled with something hard.  "In you get, you can rest beside Buffy's stuff."  She hopped into the back, buckling herself in.  "Tell her about my natural dad, Wills.  Which motel de'sleaze did you want to hit tonight?"

"I don't care, pick one," she said.  "Xander's biological father was kinda cool," she explained.  "He had The Talk with Xan by having a prostitute come in and talk to him."

"Wow," Buffy said, looking at her best male friend.  "That is wacky but still very cool."  Xander beamed, keeping his eyes on the road.  "Still not used to you being all drivey all of a sudden," she noted.

"Yeah, I'm still getting used to it to."  He neglected to mention that he had been driving getaway cars for a few years before he moved to Sunnydale; it was only the open spaces that bothered him.  He was used to having hard targets around him to hit if necessary.  Out here all he could hit were animals, trees, and demons.  He pulled into one of the two hotel's parking lots, turning off the car and heading inside.  "Hey.  I need a room for the night.  We're studying."

The man looked outside, then at Xander. "Studying? That's a new one," he said with a leer for the pretty redhead.  "Is she for real?"

"Wills?  Yeah, sure is," he agreed, signing in under his dad's name.  He handed back the pen and fifty bucks, then went out to grab the girls and their stuff.  "Willow, you did remember we don't really have tests, right?" Xander asked when he saw how stuffed her backpack was.

"I did.  I brought brownies," she said as she pulled the pan out of her backpack and set it the foot of the bed.  "I also brought whipped cream in a can and some nuts in case one of us needed the protein.  What did you get, Buffy?"

"I got to pick out the wine," Buffy said proudly.  "And Xander got me hotdogs."

"That's because your stomach will rebel worse if you haven't eaten anything recently," Xander warned.  "Eat at least one now.  You'll thank me tomorrow."

Willow nodded.  "You will," she agreed.  "We did this last year and it was gross the next morning."

Xander's cellphone rang and he answered it.  "Xander's house o'lovin.  General slut in charge speaking."  He laughed.  "Really?  Not tonight.  Yeah, because it's an anniversary and I'm not remembering."  His smile faded.  "You're sure?  Yeah, thanks, Michael."  He hung up.  "I've got to go back to Chicago in a few days," he noted.  "For a funeral.  One of the few people I respect was just found unconscious in his study.  He's had lung cancer for years."

"Go," Willow said, giving him a smile.  "We can do this next week."

Xander shook his head. "I'll fly out tomorrow.  The pain while I'm on the plane will make it more memorable."  He kissed his girls on the side of the head, then dug out the rum and sodas, mixing Willow's very lightly.  He checked the door to make sure it was locked, then took his first drink.  He remembered he was wearing a gun and sighed.  "Hey, Buffy, why don't you check out the amenities?" he suggested.  "So we can all find them in the morning."  She nodded, getting up to scope out the bathroom.  He slid his gun under the pillow, giving Willow a look.  She frowned.  "I've still got the clip on me.  It's unloaded but one," he said quietly.  She nodded and he leaned back in his original spot when Buffy came back.  "Is it clean?"

"No," she said, looking sickened.  "Not enough.  It will definitely turn our stomachs worse if we have to use it to pray."

"Thankfully, I don't do that usually," Xander admitted, pouring his own drink.  He handed his first one to Buffy, letting her have the fun.  "Eat."

"Fine," she sighed, sitting down to eat one of the hotdogs and a few of the brownies.

Within a half-hour, they were well on their way to drunk.  "Xander," Willow said, looking at him and giving him cow eyes. "You should tell Buffy about why you wear body armor."

He shook his head.  "She doesn't need to know."

"You wear armor?" Buffy asked.  "Like suit of?"

Xander stripped off to his body armor.  "Just this," he said happily.  "Not even full riot gear."

"Wow."  She ran her finger along the plates.  "No wonder you look so hot."

Xander chuckled as he stripped the armor off, showing her his real chest for the first time.  "I don't think I need it for that purpose, Buff."

She gaped, then looked at him.  "When did you get hot?  You're not supposed to be a hottie, you're supposed to be a Xander!"

"Xanders can be hotties," Willow reminded her.  "I saw it years ago."  She waved a hand around, giggling as it hit Buffy's hair and messed it up.  "That's much better."

"Willow," Buffy complained, trying to straighten out her dry hair.  "That's not nice.  I should do it to you."

"Hey, no cat fights," Xander warned.  "Or I'll have to tell you about Larry and his amazing powers of observation."

"Eww," Willow told him.

"Why?" Buffy asked, looking confused.

"During the whole 'hunting for Oz' thing, Larry came out to Xander," Willow told her.

Buffy shrugged.  "So?  He's much nicer now."  She belched and reached for another brownie.  "What's that got to do with Xander?"

"Xander's a little bit light in his own shoes," Willow told her.  "Only halfway."

Buffy choked on her bite of brownie.  "You're gay?"

"Bi," he corrected.  "And proud of it."

"Then why do you only date evil women?" Buffy demanded.  "Damn it, if you dated men we wouldn't have this problem!"  She swatted at him.  "As long as you don't want my guy or Willow's guy."

"No, I don't think I could put up with Oz's silence issues," Xander said thoughtfully.  "And vampires are nasty, Buffy.  I want a *warm* body, thank you."

"Did you do any of the guys while you were on the swim team?" Buffy asked.  Xander splutters on his spit.  "Come on, we share stuff with you," she whined.

"Buffy, do you even know what male sex looks like?" he asked.  She quickly shook her head.  He turned to the television and grabbed the remote off the table, ripping it from the velcro.  He flipped to the pay-per-view and found one of the gay males.  "This one's crappy but it's informative enough for right now."  He selected it and soon the movie popped up, making Willow squeak and grab a pillow to hide her face in.

Buffy looked at the dark spot on the bed.  "What's that?"

"Mine," Xander said, taking it before she could grab it.  "Not a toy."

"You're still hung up on that whole soldier thing," Buffy accused.  "May I please see it?  Please?  Pretty please?"

Xander glared at her.  "Guns are not toys," he said in his best 'father' impersonation.  She pouted.  "Tough.  No touching the gun."  He tucked it back into his holster and snapped it shut.  "And no, I'm not, thank you.  I wear it for the same reason I wear the vest.  Watch the porn."

Buffy looked at the screen, then blushed bright red and stole the pillow from Willow.  "Eww."

Xander chuckled.  "Actually, that's not that bad."  Both girls gave him a look like they couldn't believe it had come out of his mouth.  "What?  It's not.  It's no worse than going down on a woman."

"How would you know?" Buffy asked.

"Been there, done that," Xander said simply, sipping his drink.

"When?" Willow demanded.

"Long before I ever got here, honey.  The pro didn't *teach* me, she *showed* me."  Both girls looked stricken.  "What?  We all knew Xander was a little love monkey."

"A dangerous love money," Buffy said, shoving him off the bed.  Then she giggled.  "Sorry.  Sometimes I still forget."

"That's okay," he noted, sucking the spilled alcohol off his shirt.  "Watch the movie, ladies."  They stared at it in fascinated horror.  How could people do that?  Willow gave the lone het section the same look though so Xander was satisfied that he educated them to the realities of sexual pleasure.  At least enough to let them know what to do with a guy if they ever got one between their thighs.

"Do people actually do that?" Buffy asked.  Xander nodded.  She turned green, running for the bathroom.

Xander looked at Willow.  "Think she'll pass out?"

"Nah," Willow said, shaking her head.  "Not yet.  Super healing powers and all."  She hit Xander on the arm.  "Why didn't you tell me you knew about girls?"

"You never asked," he reminded her.  "You wanted to see me as some pure little knight you could fantasize about."

"Yeah, I guess I do," she sighed.  She looked at his lap, then at his eyes.  "Didn't you like it?"

"It sucks ass on the porno scale," he scoffed.  "There's stuff that's *much* better, just not available here."

Buffy stumbled out of the bathroom and collapsed on top of the brownies.

"You know, if I was being truly myself, I'd suggest I lick that off for you," he told her body.

Willow cackled and leaned against his side, shaking her head.  "You're a bad man, Xander."

"I know," he said with the most pleased grin.  "And getting worse every day."  He gave her a short kiss, then pushed her over.  "Go to sleep, Wills.  You've got class tomorrow."  She nodded, closing her eyes to humor him.  Long association had let Xander know when she had enough and was going to pass out. He smirked at her sleeping body and made himself a new drink, holding it up.  "For you, dad.  Because you deserve it if they're not serving it wherever you are.  Be proud of me, at least a little," he whispered, then he downed it with a grimace.  "Eww."  He took a long swig of the wine to clear the taste, then laid down between the women to sleep.  It was nice.


Giles looked up as the girls walked into the library, both of them holding their heads.  "Ladies," he said, looking very stern.  "What did you do?"

"All nighter," Willow said quietly, sitting down carefully.  She looked at Buffy. "Do you remember anything?"  Buffy groaned and shook her head.  "Got any tylenol, Giles?"

"No, I do not," he said loudly, slamming a book down.  It was a time-honored tradition, his father had done it to him and Ethan.  The girls moaned and put their heads down.  "Next time, say no."

"We were helping Xander forget and celebrate an anniversary," Buffy told the table.

Giles walked over and lifted her head up.  "Repeat that please?"

"Anniversary," Willow said, barely turning her head to the side.  The furniture polish was going to make her get sick again.  "His dad.  He does it every year.  I joined him last year and this year we brought Buffy so she could spend a night without angst."

Giles tilted Willow's head up as well.  "What do you know about Xander's past?"  He had been unable to find anything about it.  This one obviously knew more.

Buffy felt that climbing feeling and rushed for the nearest trash can.  Willow looked at Giles, only a little green.  "I know a lot," she admitted. "But I can't tell."

"I have in my office one new, unopened bottle of ibuprofen," he said, looking into her eyes.  "If you tell me, it's yours."

Willow shook her head.  "I don't think I could keep it down, Giles.  Besides, it's a big secret."  She looked at Buffy.  "You can't tell either.  Xander would get pissed."

"Unless he's going to shoot me, I don't care.  If he would, I'd gladly squeal."

"I've got something for that," Giles offered.

Willow glared at his back.  "You can ask him yourself when he comes back from his godfather's funeral."  Giles blanched.  "And no, he's not like that movie," she said as firmly as she could manage.  Someone outside laughed loudly and she winced again.  "We're protecting Xander because he protects us, Giles.  Give it up already."   She put her head back down and let herself drift off to sleep.  It was much nicer in the dark.

Giles looked at Buffy and found her asleep, clutching the trash can.  He came over and lifted her up, putting her in the book cage.  He then added Willow and shut the door, locking them in.  It was a plausible excuse if anyone asked, he could say he was looking for the keys. The mystery of Xander would wait until later.  He had some less savory contacts he wanted to try.  Including Ethan.  It was obvious who had put the protections on Xander's body.


Xander came off the plane with his darkest sunglasses on.  He still winced at the weak sunlight coming through the windows.  He stopped to frown at a Mountie, then shook his head and walked on.  That was odd but he was probably passing through on a connecting flight.  He knew the funeral was today, his online paper had said so.  First though, he needed to do a bit of shopping.


Xander walked up to the casket, laying a hand on it and saying a silent prayer before laying his black carnation on top of it.  "Go in peace, unc," he whispered, stepping back.  He felt someone move closer to him and glared at them but he was still wearing his sunglasses so it wasn't that effective.

"Velvet?" Marc hissed.  "Could you have screamed more loudly about being gay?"

"You'd rather I wore silk?" Xander hissed back.  "I look more like a fairy in silk.  Besides, it's only my shirt, dumbass.  Now move over."  He shifted himself when Marc wouldn't move, he would not disrespect the funeral that was about to begin.  Even though he didn't believe in any of the stuff the priest was saying, he still listened intently.  It was much different than his mother's funeral.  He felt his phone go off and reached into his pocket to turn it off, all without disturbing people like the woman behind his godfather's daughter.  She turned to glare at them.  As soon as the body was lowered, he walked over to the family, taking off his sunglasses for the first time that day.  He figured his bloodshot eyes wouldn't be too out of place with all the sobbing everyone had done.  "I'm sorry," he told his godmother, kissing her on the cheek.  His voice was pitched so no one but the person he was speaking to could hear him. "If you ever need me for any reason, call me.  I may not be family, but I am there for you."  She gave him a sad smile.  "What?"

"Stay," she whispered.

He nodded as he moved down to her daughter.  "Gwen, I'm so sorry."  She started to cry again so he pulled her up, holding her tightly.  A few of the new bodyguards moved closer but her mother waved them off.  "If you need me, I'm on the next flight out," he whispered in her ear.  "Whenever, no matter what I'm doing, princess."

She pulled back.  "Daddy heard."  He groaned.  "Why?"

He wiped her tear with his thumbs, giving her a sad smile.  "They gave me the opportunity to save someone, Gwen, and I took it.  That's why I went.  That's the only reason I went."  He gave her a sad smile.  "I'll never be family.  Even if I do go into the same profession, I'm going to stay freelance.  Maybe I'll start a nice business, you can come run it for me?"  She gave him a little laugh.  "I mean it.  If you need me, I'm there as soon as I can be.  Even if I have to go through your big brothers to help you."  She nodded and he sat her back down, shaking Steve's hand.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome.  I know it's not the same but it needed to be done.  Dad collapsed because he heard *who* you went to save and started to think about how long that may have lasted."  He glared at his brother, then smiled at Xander again.  "Are you staying?"

"I promised my father I'd finish high school out there," he sighed.  "I've still got another year to go.  After that, I'm probably not going to go near any snow for a while.  Like I told Gwen, if you need me, I'm there for you, Steve."  Steve nodded and he moved on, heading over to wait by the limo for his godmother.  The rest of the family filed past and gave their sincerities, leaving without looking at him.  When she came over, he opened the door for her, letting her inside, followed by Gwen and Steve.  Then he climbed in since she had given a tug to his lapel.  "Yes, godmother.  Did you need something from me?"

"Alexander, he did understand.  He knew how you felt about Ray.  It was about Ray."  She patted her daughter's hand.  "He left you a long letter in his desk.  I want you to come back to the house to get it."  He nodded, taking his sunglasses off.  She gave him a sad smile.  "I thought it appropriate that he went on the same day as your father," she said gently.

He nodded.  "Thank you.  I wish I had been able to attend his funeral as well."

"I can show you his grave later," Gwen offered.

"You need to be resting right now," Xander told her.  "I'll see it the next time I have to come in.  Today is not the day for that."  She nodded, understanding that he didn't want the emotional overload.  "Whatever I can do, auntie, I'm there," he repeated.

"I know.  I agree, you should finish school.  Even though you still obviously stink at it."  He gave her a pathetic look.  "I know you, Alexander.  Remember, shooting is physics, the same as billiards is.  Physics is actually math, only now you've got the right formulas for the circumstances memorized.  Math isn't really that hard.  All it is is a funny numbering system."  He relaxed.  "Steve's had much the same problems in his college courses."  She looked out the window as the limo drove off.  "When are you leaving again?  Marc said you weren't going to stay long."

"I'm booked out tonight. I don't want to get into it with your son, auntie.  I'd hate to make you a grieving mother as well."  She nodded, knowing her son had been at fault.  "I will always honor you, Steve, and Gwen."  He left off his 'your other son can take a flying fuck' comment; there would be a more appropriate time to use it.  As soon as they got to the house, Xander stepped out and held the door for the women, letting Steve get it for himself.  He only did the chivalrous stuff for the girls, men can get their own doors.  He followed his aunt into his uncle's study, noticing the curtains were drawn.  He pointed at them and she shook her head.  "'Kay, I won't light the place up."  She gave him a look.  "He hated to have them closed," he said with a slight grin.

"True, but this way no one can even think about taking a photo from the fence."  She sat down behind the desk and turned on a lamp, then picked up the keys laying on the blotter.  "All I know is that there's a letter in a big envelope."  Someone opened the door and she looked at them.  "Who are you and what are you doing in my home?" she demanded, standing up.

The man walked over and shoved her.

Xander drew his gun on the man, sneering at him.  "Leave my godmother alone, asshole.  I'm not the most tightly wound right now."

"Xander, no," she said calmly, touching him on the back.  "I have no idea who you are, but you do not belong in here."

"I have a warrant," he sneered, looking at the young man.  "Put it away."

"Present it or leave," Xander sneered back.  "To me, you're an intruder."  He took the keys and walked over.  "Which drawer, auntie?"

"The middle one, Xander, in the special holder."  Xander looked at her and she smiled.  "Yes, that one.  The one he used to keep the candy in."  Xander nodded and opened the drawer, after batting the idiot in the head with his gun.  He found the envelope, pulling his and Gwen's out.  "She's got one too."

"I know."  His aunt took it, and the others he handed her.  "I have not seen a warrant yet and you have no reason to arrest my husband since he's dead."  The agent glared at her but had to stop when he felt the warm muzzle against his temple.  "Leave or present the warrant."

"Guys," Xander yelled.  "He shoved her."  A few of the guards walked in, one of them giving him a look.  "What?  I squish bugs every fucking day.  He's just a bigger one," he said, glaring at the agent again.  "He said he's got a warrant?"

"No, he's from the family we take orders from," Steve said calmly.  "Let him go, Xander."

Xander put his gun away.  "If you say so.  Let him shove her or Gwen again and I'm taking his head off.  New York, Sicilian, or otherwise."  The man stood up and Xander sneered at him.  "Yay, you're bigger.  I've killed plenty of creatures.  You'd only bleed more."  The man's eyes started to change.  Xander put the envelope inside his jacket.  "I am Alexander Harris.  This is my godmother, and my adoptive family, minus one person.  If you bother her again, I will be expecting a call and I will hunt your ass down.  Do we understand each other?"

The man laughed.  "You're a brash kid."  Xander's gun was back in his hands before he could blink and his knee had a sudden, incredibly painful pain.  "You're dead."

"Yay.  You've got to get past most of my demons first."  He grabbed the guy by the hair, then walked him out, forcing him to limp.  He saw the limo's door was open for him and the driver was looking for him.  "I'll send you back later."  He shoved the man inside and slammed the door as soon as he was inside.  "What you did was not only disrespectful to my godfather's memory, but also to my father's.  We'll be having a discussion with your direct bosses.  I need to take him to O'Hannigans."  The driver nodded and put up the barrier.  "Let's see how the old world likes your manners, asshole."  He laid his gun on his knee, glaring at the man as the driver moved on.  The man winced, holding onto his thigh to stop the bleeding.  "Ooh, did it hurt?" he sneered.  "Good.  You deserve to have no head for shoving her on the day her husband was buried."

The car stopped and the door was opened.  Xander grabbed the man by the hair and pulled him out of the vehicle.  He was in too much pain to fight.  He noticed they were at the back entrance so he kicked at the door.  The little window opened and Xander pointed at the idiot.  "He shoved my godmother on the day her husband was buried and disrespected her house.  I want to talk to *his* boss about his attitude problems."  The door opened and Xander drug him inside, going up the stairs when one of the enforcers pointed.  The guy was whimpering now, leaving a large trail of blood.  He knocked politely with his gun, then dragged the idiot inside.  "This man disrespected Charlie's widow.  My godmother.  He pretended to be a federal agent and shoved her from behind her husband's desk while she was handing out letters Charlie had written."  He shoved the man to his knees and moved his gun to his left hand.  "I'd expect better from one of yours."

The man behind the dealer's seat at the poker table stood up.  "And who are you?"

"Alexander Harris.  Son of Franklin Harris.  Godson of Dark Charlie and Imagene."  The man nodded.  "As I said, he not only showed great disrespect to her, but also to me.  Now, you can have him if you want, but if *ever* goes near her again and disrespects her that way I'm coming back."  He reholstered his weapon and glared at the older man.  "I do not make threats.  In my town, shit happens and I handle it.  That's all I wanted. That's all I still want.  Now this happens in front of me directly after the funeral," he ranted.

Someone behind him coughed and Xander turned, nodding at the older man standing there.  "Problems?"

"He shoved Charlie's wife right after the funeral."

"She was behind his desk."

Xander kicked him in the ribs.  "It's her house!  Bought with her money!  If she wants to sit behind his fucking desk then she can!  It'd be a hell of a lot better than Marc sitting there!"  He kicked him again then took a deep breath.  "I'm sorry to have to disrespect your neutral place, but it was better than leaving him outside to bleed to death.  My father always taught me that reporting such incidences when they happen in such honorable and well-mannered families was the best thing to do."  He nodded again.  "If you'll excuse me, I've got a flight to catch."

"You'll stay," the old man at the door told him.

"I still have a flight to catch later.  I promised my father I'd at least try while I was in school."

"You're not an adult?"

"One more year," Xander said quietly.  He relaxed his stance.  "I'm in Sunnydale."  The old man winced.  "What?"

The man nodded.  "Some of the triads have been looking at your town as a connector between two of their bases," he admitted.

Xander groaned, looking up.  "Why me?  Was it the sending Angelus to hell thing?  I mean, if it was, tell me and I'll help bring his skanky butt back."  There wasn't any answer so he looked at the old man again.  "Thank you.  I'll take that to heart when I get back.  Though, I'm not sure if they want to deal with the strangeness in our town."

The old man shrugged.  "Sometimes it is necessary.  Someone bandage him, he's messing up my floors."

"Yeah, sorry about that.  Aunt Imagene kept me from opening his head in the study."  He grinned, his standard goofy grin.  "Not that he didn't deserve it."

"True, but still.  You are not part of the family."

"No, I'm her godson.  I adore Imagene and I had very strong feelings for Charlie, even though he made sure my father would die before I got this old.  I have strong hatred for Marc, but Gwen and Steve are ever in my affections.  I will never join a family though.  It is not what I want to do with my life.  I get enough fighting without that."

"Sunnydale."  The old man used a finger to tap his lips.  "What else have we heard about that place?  Boys?"

"Strange stuff.  Lots of homicides," one of them told him.

"Lots of missing people."

Xander looked back at him.  "Believe it or not, it's one of the few places where stuff like Charlie studied in his off times happens."  He pulled his silver stake out and waved it.  "I use this more often than I do a gun these days."

The head guy took it to look at, smiling at it.  "Very nice.  Yours?"

"Internet actually," Xander said, accepting it back.  "It hurts the undead."

"Undead?" one of the guys laughed.  None of the others did.  "Come on, guys!"

"No, he's right, there is undead.  One of the heads of the Dragon Triad is undead," the head told him.  He looked at the young man in front of him.  "You protect there?"

"Myself and a few friends.  I'm their enforcer, I do what has to be done, even the nasty stuff sometimes."

"Interesting."  He comes in and walks around the boy.  "Velvet?"

"I look even more gay in silk," he defended.  The old guy looked at him.  "Yeah, I'm a little bit gay and a little bit not.  Dad knew, he used to despair of me ever finding a real da...job."  He remembered early lessons.  One did not swear in front of New York Cappos.  Ever. They killed people for it. "Sorry," he said with a little shrug.  "Dad let me grow up with Marc and we were both little beasts and street urchins most of the time."

"I've said that word myself a few times," the old man admitted. "Usually I wait for moments of the most impact."  He nodded. "You'll do."


"For future references and work."

"If I'm going to do the job for real instead of just the thing I do in town, then I'm only going freelance.  I won't kill kids, I don't want to kill women unless they're bad, and I've got an unfortunate moral code."

The old man laughed.  "Good.  Too many freelance assassins take any job coming their way.  They're in it for the money."

"Hey, I like money, but I know myself.  I'm already too close to going there and I don't want that.  My father would have killed me if he had seen me earlier when I lost my temper on your guy."  The old man nodded.  So he stretched his sore shoulder. "Sorry, slept the sleep of the deeply drunk between my two best friends last night in a cheap motel."

"Did they enjoy it?"

"I'd never touch them.   One's still pure and the other's had...unfortunate choices in love."

"Ah, yes, Miss Summers and Miss Rosenburg," the old man noted.  "Interesting friends."

"Very, but I help them."  He grinned and looked at the old man's watch.  "I really do need to leave.  I can give you my cell number or you could come out if you wanted.  Not to take over, but if you wanted to visit more."

"I'll have you flown back later," the old man said, taking his arm and leading him away.  "I want to talk to you about your choice of careers.  You could do a lot within a family, a real family, and most of us wouldn't care who you sleep with.  Most of the time."

Xander let himself be led into another room.  "I still haven't decided if that's the way I want to go full time.  Dad wanted me out of the life because he knew I'm dangerous.  Someday soon I'm going to have to make that decision I know, but not until after graduation."

"Agreeable.  Still, to the proper family, you could be quite an asset."

Xander grinned. "I want to travel, godfather.  I want to see the world, and do things, and see people, and go to ancient holy sites.  I want to do it while I'm young."

"Then freelance would be for the best," he agreed, smiling at the young man.  "When you're ready to settle down?"

"Then I'd like to settle into a more prestigious position.  I'm not just a hitter.  I'm learning how to crack safes and how to break and enter.  I'm learning some limited martial arts because it helped with the growth spurts.  I'm even willing to take college classes in money to get up to speed on that."

"You are ambitious."

"No, I only really want a safe middle-management position," Xander assured him.  "I don't want what you have.  It's stressful.  As a freelance, I might have to start my own company, but that's going to be more a front anyway."  The old man nodded.  "See, I know I've already partially made my choice.  I'm a shooter, I get that.  I like it.  I don't get off on it like some guys, but I do like it because it feels *right* somehow.  Like it's part of my blood and it makes the rest of it sing its tune.  But I'm more than that.  If that's all I do, that's all people will see of me and I'll have to keep doing it forever.  Since I have a short attention span...." he trailed off with a grin.

"One never could have guessed that," the old man said with a small smile.

"I know, I'm four hours into a hangover and lacking any caffeine.  I was gonna have the driver hit a starbucks on the way to the airport so I didn't spook the security guys."

"How are you getting your gun back?"

"Easy, I mail it."  He grinned.  "I mail it as a specialty collection piece, fully unloaded and quick-cleaned.  They get to touch it, sniff it, grope it a bit, then they put it in a nice box and I get it two days later at home.  This time, I somehow managed to shield it on the way in.  No one scanned my bag.  I had forgotten I had it on until I was at the airport and I didn't have one already here."

"Good plans," the old man praised.  "You definitely think more than your father."

"Yeah, that's why he made me promise to finish high school at the least.  His will even said I had to take the SATs."  The old man laughed.  "My dad was a pain, but he was my pain," he said quietly.  "I miss the old guy.  Now I'm constantly around huffy people who think really oddly.  They don't get my jokes, they don't really like me most of the time.  It's like I'm a mascot while they're looking and someone else when they're not.  I've even thought about getting a spandex bodysuit as a uniform."

The old man burst out laughing.  "I can see you in one," he admitted.  "I like you, Alexander."

"Xander," he corrected.

"Xander then," he agreed with a smile.  "If I have something in your area, would you take it?"

"As long as I didn't have to hit a kid or a gentle woman," he agreed.  "Sorry, I find that too squeamish for my tastes.  I don't think I could do it and I'd rather be honest up front."

"Agreeable.  A wise man knows his limits.  Honesty is always appreciated.  Too many young men come up and brag to me about how they did this or that."  He waved a hand around.  "Fucking idiots have no idea that most of the time I know what they've done."

Xander nodded.  "You look like you know nearly all."  He stood up, stretching and popping his neck.  "Sorry."

"Ehh, if I had slept between two beautiful women, even passed out, I'd be sore too.  That one blonde one looks like she'd give good backrubs."

"Oh, she does, but I'm not worthy of them recently," he admitted dryly, sitting back down.  "Did you need anything?"

"I'm the host, young man," he reminded him.

"Yeah, but you're also a godfather and I am a lesser being."

The old man shook his head.  "I only stand on that during formal interviews.  As I said, I like you.  You remind me of a few brash young men I've met in my time.  They were always the best, but they burnt out too quickly.  I hope we keep you longer."

"I hope to be kept longer," Xander assured him.  "I'm usually very careful.  I wear armor nearly every day.  I didn't today out of respect, but I still don't feel right going unarmed.  Marc and I have had too many arguments over things for me to be comfortable."

"I understand.  He is another brash one, but he does not think beyond the next gratification.  If it were you, who would you pick?"

"Personally, I'd pick Gwen.  She's a fierce young woman when it suits her.  She's also the deadliest of the trio.  Steve's nice and good, but he's *good*.  Making the hard decisions would kill him someday soon.  He's also due to get married soon.  I sent them a wedding present recently."

The old man nodded. "True.  What about the seconds?"

"I've mostly been out of the loop for five years, godfather.  My personal favorite was Guido.  He's tough, but smart, even though he doesn't like to show it.  I didn't see him today though."

"No, unfortunately he died a few months back.  He was protecting a family and someone was dirty."  He leaned on his desk, looking down at the young man. "Anyone else?"

"Someone smart.  Someone with a touch of a sense of humor.  Chicago doesn't need the dour influence that I've heard some of the old line Sicilian families can bring to New York. Chicago needs someone who's willing to deal with the gangs, pretend to be an upstanding citizen, and protect their people.  Charlie had two of the three, but no one ever thought he was all that upstanding.   The most perfect thing I could see would be to promote Steve's personal second.  Huey what's-his-name. If Gwen hasn't found anyone, he would make a good choice for her.  I caught them looking at each other the last time I was in.  There seems to be some sort of possibility there between them.  Also, he's got some good financial skills.  He was helping Steve in Econ class the last time I saw him.  He knows the life, she knows the life. Together they would make one formidable team from what I've seen."

"Very interesting.  Do you not think some will get upset if I promoted him so fast?"

"No.  I think some will see it as a betrayal of Charlie's family.  I think others who know Marc will think it's a great idea.  Even his mother doesn't favor him in certain matters.  Marc is very bloodthirsty and I'm afraid for my beloved home city.  I don't want to come back to everyone's funeral because some jealous person turned it into a blood bath."  He tipped his head to the left.  "Also, with the Triads making progress in the US, you'll need someone who can deal with them on their own level.  You need a good negotiator, not Rambo and not Al Pacino."  The old man snickered at that.  "Seriously.  Charlie kept the peace since he took over for the most part. Everyone knew where the limit to their leashes was with him.  He strictly enforced it.  To be truthful, if that guy had tried it at someone else's funeral and he had seen it, he'd have blown his head off no matter who was standing there."

"I realize that."  He stood up.  "All right.  I think you do have some points.  You're right, the town has been at peace.  There doesn't need to be a new turf war.  I'll look at the eligible candidates while we wait for Marc to hang himself."  He held a hand out and Xander jumped up, shaking it and kissing the back of his hand.  "Not necessary, but I thank you, young man.  Do you have anything you wish to ask?"

Xander stepped back to a respectful distance.  "Is there anyone I should be notifying about the Triad's movements?"

The old man shook his head.  "Most of them would be happy to be rid of them."

"I guess, but I don't want to have to make my first official human kill be the start of a turf war either," Xander said softly.  The old man closed his eyes and nodded.  "Vampires, demons, assorted nasty things don't bleed like humans have been my speciality to date."

"You'll always remember it, but you'll do what you have to do so your friends and town are protected.  I have no doubt of that, Xander.  Where am I sending you?  Back to Sunnydale?"  Xander nodded, biting his lip. "Did you need to go somewhere else?"

"No.  I just remembered my comics were supposed to come today and the mailman always bends them," he admitted sheepishly.

The old man laughed again.  "You are definitely not the usual sort I see in interviews, Xander.  Keep true to yourself.  Your father would adore that."  He picked up the phone, listening as the voice on the other end answered quickly.  "Young Xander needs to go back to Sunnydale."

"I could head to LA if that's easier.  I didn't drive down but there's a nice rental place in town where I can drop any car off."

"Would you rather?"

"Not really.  I'm getting my ammo shipment tonight."

The old man nodded.  "That's fine, we'll send you directly to Sunnydale.  Keep the place in one piece so I can come visit it some day."  Xander saluted him.  "Good boy."


Xander walked up to Giles, pushing him into the office.  "We've got a small problem and I was warned about it before I was sent back," he said quietly, pulling the shade.


"Did you know that the Yakuza has one entire clan made up of demons and humans?"  Giles shook his head, frowning.  "They do.  They're moving operations here so they have a mid-point on their routes.  There's a hint that if they can't come in but don't show too much resistance others may try if they fall."

"Oh, dear."

"Yeah, oh, shit basically sums it up," Xander agreed.  "We can't really fight this one.  Yakuza are like hydras.  You cut off a head, two more appear and then they fight each other.  That would be worse than any harvest-like time we could ever get hit with."  He sat down.  "Since you're nominally in charge, I need orders, Giles."

"'re not saying you're going to deal with this!" he said, looking shocked.

Xander glanced out the door, then back at him.  "Giles, my family has been like this for generations."

"You *are* mafia," he said, scowling.

"Actually, we're support staff.  I'm a hitter.  My dad was a hitter.  I'm also Buffy's enforcer.  Do you want to make the rules or her?"

"I'd rather I did," he admitted dryly.  "Her ideas seem to be rather one-sided sometimes."

"True," Xander agreed, getting comfortable.   "In that case, you've got a large family of humans and demons coming into this town to take over.  The most likely place *I* would set up were I them, using what little I know about them, would be to set up in a nice place behind the counter.  Run a legit place then do otherwise.  Otherwise, they'll be in the warehouse district."

"I see."  Giles sat behind his desk.  "How bad could this get?"

"Very.  The Triads don't care about body counts.  In some ways, they're worse than the Russian families.  They're ruthless and they don't protect their home base."  Giles looked at him so Xander leaned forward.  "Were this an old-line family, or even one of the more modern ones, the general populace would be protected.  Maybe not the businesses or the criminally stupid, but in general the property would be.  Because this is them, they won't care about the general population, they're only there to be fodder for their products and to play with."  Giles winced.  "Lay it on the line, I need to know orders, Giles.  Otherwise, I'll make my own."

"Xander, are you saying you can ...destroy or drive them off?" he asked carefully.

Xander nodded.  "Yeah, I can."  He leaned back again, one arm going across the back of the couch.  "It wouldn't be the first time I've had to drive things off."  Giles opened his mouth.  "I'm not telling you," he said firmly.

"Fine.  Thank you for whatever you've done."  He stood up.  "We've got more problems than that however.  We've got a new slayer coming in with her Watcher."  Xander looked up at him.  "Faith, she was activated when Kendra died."

"Okay, and should I be concerned?"

"I've tried to find some things out but I haven't had much luck yet," Giles admitted.  "Does...does Willow know?" Xander shrugged.  "Some or all?"

"Some.  Enough to know she can run to me but not enough to endanger her."  He stood up, getting in the older man's face.  "I'm not a danger, nor am I family.  I've made my choice, if I go into the life full time, I'll be going freelance," he said quietly.  "With ethical considerations."  Giles opened his mouth.  "Believe it or not."  He walked out, heading over to lean down and whisper in Willow's ear.  "We need to find the new heavy hitters in town," he told her quietly.  "Something's coming and I need warned."  She looked at him and he nodded.  "We're in a convenient spot near the drug highway."

"We are?" she asked.

"We are," he said, standing up again.  "Buffy, there's some big trouble coming, and I don't think you'll want to handle most of it."  She looked at him, looking really confused.  "Did you know the demonic world had its own version of the mafia?"

"It does?" Willow asked.

Xander nodded.  "It does."  He sat down.  "Someone's scoping the town out."

"Can we kill them?" Buffy asked.

"Only if you want to start a precedent," he offered.  She shrugged.  "Then you tell me and I'll look it over for you.  I do have a bit of experience with that," he admitted with a grin.

She leaned over, looking in his eyes.  "From where?"

"From before."

"Oh."  She shrugged.  "Okay."  She leaned back again.  "Did Giles tell you, we're getting the new girl."

"Yeah, I heard.  Any idea when?"  She shook her head.  "Okay.  Can I get a map of the town, Willow?"  She printed one out and handed it over, not watching as he marked good spots to hold a small war and hide a bag of weapons.


Xander looked up as the doors finally opened, admitting the people they'd been expecting for a few days.  "Hey," he said, nodding.  "Buffy!  Willow, Giles!  They're here!" he shouted.  He stood up and held out a hand.  "Xander Harris.  Buffy's helper."

"She's got helpers?" the female watcher asked.

Xander nodded.  "A few of us."  He looked over as Buffy and Willow came in through the same front doors.  "This is Faith."  He nodded behind her.  "That's Buffy and Willow."

"Hey," Faith said, grinning at them.  "Which one?"  Buffy raised her hand.  "Cool."  They shook hands.

Xander took his map from Willow, frowning at her.  "You don't need to know."

"Maybe I should," she said quietly.  He shook his head.  "Xander, if it's going to get bad, I will need to know."

"Hey, we've got enough problems without worrying about that yet," Buffy pointed out.  "Wanna go patrol, learn the town while the Watchers snipe at each other?" Buffy asked.

Faith shrugged.  "Sure."  She looked at her Watcher.  "You stay and be stuffy."  She followed Buffy out.  "Is it major smack down around here or not too bad?"

"Right now, we're in a small lull.  We're waiting for the next horrible thing to happen."

"Cool.  Good job, B."

Buffy grinned.  "Thanks.  I try, you know."

Giles walked in, looking down the hall.  "I take it that was Faith?"  His other two children nodded.  "Fine, I'll introduce myself later."  He smiled at the other Watcher.  "Sit, please."  He looked at Xander.  "You left a message on my machine?  Something about reminding you to go to practice?"

"Yeah, I'm not feeling up to it today," Xander admitted with a sigh.  He tucked the map into his pocket, then waved.  "I'm off to practice.  Willow, you do not need to know.  It's dangerous and I'm not doing that to you."  He looked at Giles.  "I'm handling it.  Tell me if they find anything.  Wills has my cell number.  Great to meet you too," he said, smiling at the other Watcher.  He jogged out, heading out to his car.  When he got in, he checked the back seat, then the mirrors.  It was an obvious lump but he'd play along for now.  As soon as he started off, he heard something moving.  "Unless you're deadly, I'd quit until I park," he warned.

"I'm not," the blanket said.

Xander parked suddenly and turned, lifting the blanket.  "Gwen?"  She sat up, straightening out her hair.  "How did you get out here and why are you in my car?"

She grinned. "Surprise?"

"Fine.  Let's go to my place so you can at least tell your mother you're fine."  She grimaced.  "I won't make you tell her you're here, but she's got to be going apeshit over this."  He started driving again, heading as quickly as he dared to his house.  He got her inside, making sure no one was watching them.  As soon as they were safely locked in, he picked up the phone and called her house.  "Get me Imagene," he ordered.  "Yeah, I've got her and she's safe.  No, it's not a kidnaping, asshole.  Get her mother.  Now."  He sighed while the phone was handed to someone else.  "Steve, it's me.  She's with me.  She called me to find her."  He looked at her.  "I don't know.  Did she leave with the black eye?"  He grimaced.  "Cool by me.  No, she's fine.  Don't worry about it, Steve.  Yeah, I can protect her.  Good job.  Thanks."  He hung up.  "Your mother's in bed with a sick headache, Steve's running the family stuff while Marc runs the family."  He sat her down, looking at her eye for her.  "Who did it?"

"Marc.  I didn't want to marry who he wanted."

"That's an ancient and dumb ass practice," he agreed.  He sat beside her, looking her over.  "Why did you come here?  You know I can't marry you."  She laughed, shaking her head.  "So give, is this just an escape?"

She nodded.  "Pretty muchly," she admitted, looking at her hands.  "I couldn't stand it there anymore."  She looked at him.  "I...I want to hire you to hit Marc," she said suddenly.

He blinked a few times.  "While I consider him a legal target, have you thought about what everyone else will say?"

She shrugged.  "I'll be free.  Who cares?"

He groaned and shook his head.  "Gwen, there are larger concerns here.  Trust me, even I don't know them all and I've been watching them happen for years."  He scooted closer.  "If I were to hit Marc, then who would take over?  Would the other families respect it or would they come after both of us?  Do they support and/or like Marc? Would the people up the chain, the founding families, like that decision?  Would you end up in jail for hiring me?  Would your mother or brother call vengeance down on my head for it?  And that's just off the top of my head."

"I don't know what to do, Xan.  I'm going to kill him if someone else doesn't."

He pulled her closer, holding her tightly.  "It's all right, Gwen.  We'll figure something out together.  Promise me something.  While you're here, don't go outside after dark."


"Because I don't want you killed," he said quietly.  "People around here die all the time."  She nodded, snuggling into his chest.  "You rest, sweetie, I don't have to go to the range tonight."  He picked up the phone and hit a memory dial.  "Hey, it's Xander, I can't come in tonight.  I have a friend who needs me.  Go ahead and give up my spot for the night."  He smiled.  "Thanks, Dave."  He hung up, using that hand to stroke over her hair and back.


Willow looked up as someone tapped on her front door, heading over to open it.  Two men in very serious suits were standing there, making her blink at them. "Yes?"

"Do you know where Alexander lives?" the man on the left asked calmly.

Willow nodded.  "Yeah.  Why?"  She leaned against the door.  The men walked in, prompting her to close the door.  "Is this about the life he won't tell me much about?"

The man who had been on the right smiled and nodded.  "Definitely.  My sister ran to him for comfort.  I need to check on her."

Willow's eyes narrowed.  "I'm not supposed to talk to you."

"I'm Steve," he said with a small grin.  "I'm the good brother.  Marc is presently spinning on the morgue table back in Chicago.  Please?"

"I can call him."

"I'd rather not warn him," the guard noted.  "There's no telling what he's done to her, boss."

Steve snorted.  "Xander and my sister?  He'd die first.  She's always been like a big sister to him.  Besides, she's a bit too pure for his tastes."  He looked at Willow.  "Please?  All we ask is that you take us there.  I won't harm him."

Willow nodded.  "Sure.  Let me call someone to tell her I'm going to be late."  She picked up the phone, dialing Buffy's cellphone.  "It's me.  Someone needs to find Xander so I'm taking them to his place.  No, not them," Willow told her.  "It's the guy he spoke fondly of a few times."  She grinned. "Sure, I'll meet you there," she agreed, then she hung up.  "Okay.  Jacket," she said, grabbing it.  "Stake."  She patted herself to make sure she had it.  "Keys, cash, bandaids," she said as she gathered the rest of her things and stuffed them into her pocket.  "Okay, ready."  She walked out with them, turning and locking the door.  "Are we walking or driving?"

"Which would be safer?" the guard asked.

Willow shrugged.  "In this town?  Either is dumb at night but you've got hours left before that.  We should probably drive."  She paused as her mother pulled into the driveway.  "Hey, Mom.  They need to find Xander and came to me.  I'm gonna take them then go meet Buffy."  She headed down to their car, letting them put her into the backseat.

Willow's mother watched the expensive car drive away, eyes narrowed.  "What are you into now?" she muttered.  She walked in to search her daughter's room for drugs.  People who wore suits like that around young women sold things to gullible young women like her daughter.

Willow let them into Xander's apartment building, leading the way up the stairs once she made sure the building's door was locked.  She started to knock but the guard stopped her, shaking his head.  "You really think he's doing something?"

"No, I want a picture," Steve said with a smile.  He nodded at the door and readied his camera.  She unlocked it and then got out of the way.  Steve strolled in, smirking and taking a few pictures.  "Xander, I'm shocked," he said loudly.  Xander glared at him, his gun pointed at him.  "Naughty you."

"She's still dressed and so am I!" he defended, getting out from under his friend's sister.  He put his gun away, grimacing at Willow.  "No call?"

"No," she said with a grin.  "Sorry.  They said they wanted to catch you doing something naughty.  I'm off to meet Buffy at the mall, laters."  She skipped back down the stairs, making sure the door was locked again.  Xander was a bear about that.

Xander looked at Steve.  "Is your mom okay?"

"Marc's dead.  She's still got a headache."  He shrugged.  "Did you know she's got an admirer?"  Xander shook his head.  "Does she?"

"She never said.  I checked her eye then sat down and held her while she calmed down.  She had crawled into the backseat of my car and was hiding in lurk for me."  Steve snickered.  "Really!"  He looked at the princess again, then at Steve.  "Who?  Anyone good?"

"Decent enough.  Fairly tough but old fashioned in a few ways she won't appreciate."

"Can I threaten him?"

"Nah.  He appreciates those who protect her."  He walked over, touching his sister on the shoulder.  "Good morning," he said with a smile. "It's safe."

She sat up, covering her mouth as she yawned.  "What's going on?  How long was I asleep?"

Steve showed her the digital image.  "Both of you."  She glared at him.  "Marc's gone.  Did you know Guido's brother adores your very essence?"  She slowly shook her head.  "He does.  He capped Marc because he had hit you."  He gently stroked the remaining bruise on her cheek.  "He got very pissed about this and why Marc hit you."  She slumped, looking at him.  "Mom agreed by the way.  Marc was an idiot."  He heard Xander's quiet 'amen' and looked back at him.  "Besides the fact that he was a flaming asshole at times," he agreed dryly.  He looked at her again.  "Xander, give us a few, okay?"

"Sure, I'm gonna go shower."  He headed that way after grabbing some clothes.  He pulled the guard in with him.  "It's family negotiations," he said quietly.  "It's best you stay out of the way too."  He turned away and stripped before turning on the shower and climbing in.  "Relax, dude.  I don't jump the unwilling."

The guard leaned against the edge of the sink.  "If you say so."  He watched the door.  "Do you know this guy?"

"Barely.  I met him once or twice I think," Xander admitted.  "You might ask Detective Vecchio.  I know he knows him, he introduced us."  Xander worked shampoo into his hair.  "Ray's pretty solid."

"I heard he used to see Irene Z," the guard admitted.  "Too bad her brother capped her."

"When!" Xander demanded, sticking his head out of the shower.  "When did that happen?"

"A few years back," he said with a small shrug.  "The detective took him down for it."

"Good!  Frankie was always nice to my dad and me, but still! Irene was a sweetheart.  If I had been around her age, I woulda made a play for her."

"I'll tell the detective you said that," the guard said dryly.  Xander looked at him and he grinned.  "Yeah, so?  You gonna narc?"

"Fuck no."  Xander went back to his shower. "I figure you know the score."  He rinsed his hair, starting on his back now.  "Hurt them physically and you're mine of course, but I understand."

The guard snorted.  "Thank you.  I have no intention of harming her."  He straightened up as the door opened.  "Sir," he said.  "We were just talking about the good detective."

"I'll have to write Ray," Xander agreed.

"Hurry up.  Her new friend just showed up."

Xander hit the rest of the high spots with his back brush, then climbed out, drying off as fast as he could.  "Good?"

"Decent," Steve admitted.  "Not what I'd want for her.  I'd rather she had someone outside the life."

Xander nodded.  "I agree, but if that's who she likes and he's acceptable, what can we say?" he noted.  He pulled on his pants and a shirt, not caring about underwear.  He followed Steve out, nodding at the new person in his living room.  "Hey."

"Ah.  The family friend," he said, holding out a hand.  "We've met in the past."

"We have," Xander agreed, shaking it.  "And as a pseudo big brother, I get to threaten you now," he pointed out with a grin.

"Good job.  I'm scared of you."

Xander's grin got brighter.  "Good."

Steve coughed.  "Stop it, boys."  They looked at him and he gave them a look.  "I mean it."

"I'd never think about doing anything in front of your sister," Xander reminded him.  "She's gentle and should be allowed to stay that way."  He looked at the new man, who nodded that he agreed.  "Good.  Can I suggest we go somewhere for breakfast?  Cause I don't cook."

Gwen groaned and shook her head.  "You don't offer your usual visitors breakfast?"

"I don't bring people back here," he snorted.  "I have no need of someone permanent like that."

Steve nudged the new guy and showed him the picture. He looked at Xander. "He was dressed."

"I noticed," the guy agreed.  "Thankfully."

"Greg, Xander's mostly gay," she told him.

"Hey, I am bi, but you're like my fucking sister," Xander told her.  She smacked him for swearing.  "Ow!  See!"

The new guy smirked.  "Good.  You probably need it."  He looked around.  "Is there somewhere not poisonous to eat around here?"


"That'll do," he noted, following Xander out the door.  He climbed into his car with Xander, letting Gwen do the careful thing and sit with her brother.  "You like her?"

"Not that way, man.  I'm not like that."

"Thankfully.  Do I have to threaten you to treat her better?"

"I treat her very well.  We're used to each other.  She's five years older than I am and we used ta play together. She was there when my mom died and held me that whole week.  She is my sister, even though we're not in the same family."

"Are you family?"

"No.  Freelance."  The man glanced at him.  "I'm not hiding what I am, and I never will.  There're way too many traditionalists to ever put up with my flaming asshole personality."

"Good point," he admitted.  "I heard you talked with one of the Dons in for the funeral.  What did that guy do?"

"He shoved Imagene.  She had been getting a letter for me out of Charlie's desk and he shoved her.  Then he had the gall to sneer at her."

"Hmm.  It was good that you kept your temper."

"She kept my temper.  Auntie wouldn't let me kill him."  He shifted to look at the other man.  "Next right."  The other guy nodded.  "You will protect her?"

"I'm gonna do my best.  It's not like she doesn't know the score."

"Yeah, but knowing and *knowing* are two different things," Xander reminded him.

"True.  I don't want her to *know*.  I agree, it'd kill her like it would Steve."

"It's funny, when the Don asked me my opinion on who should take over, I told him your brother and Gwen should get together."

He laughed.  "He told me. You had good reasons.  Obviously not up on the family's standards of conduct, but good, strong reasons.   The fact that you think about more than just the family means you should never join one."

"I know," Xander agreed.  "Hell, I'd have to join that pink mafia in Hollywood anyway," he quipped.  "I can't see some of the old Dons taking on someone who's bi."

"No, neither can I.  They'd shove it back in your face and use it as a stick and a carrot," the guy agreed.  "You really want to freelance?"

"Not really, but it's a job option," Xander pointed out.  "I've found I have this damnable ethical code recently.  It's getting in my way for some things.  Hence me protecting this town instead of moving on and branching out.  Opportunities have arisen but I've turned them down because of my age."

"Hmm."  The guy pulled into the parking lot, then turned off engine and looked at him.  "If I had to rely on you to protect the family, could you?"  Xander nodded.  "Even against someone like one of the New York Dons?"

Xander shrugged.  "I'm a good guard and a good hitter.  They're my family, man.  I'd die for Imagene.  She knows that."

The other guy nodded.  "I'll keep that in mind.  I've heard strange stuff happens around here and I know you deal with it.  Thank you for protecting her."

"You're welcome.  It's not a problem," he assured him quietly.  "I'd never let Gwen go to an asshole."  They shook hands again.  "Invite me to the wedding so I can make her blush."

The guy laughed.  "I'll do that."  They got out as soon as the other car pulled in and parked.  "Let's go eat," he said, taking Gwen's arm like a gentleman to lead her inside. She got the inside seat next to him. That way she'd be protected.  He noticed Steve was smiling and grinned back.  "Something as precious as this one should be kept under careful guard so no one gets any ideas."

"Me?" Gwen asked.

He smiled at her, making her blush.  "Not only are you precious, you are special and wonderful.  You are all the woman I've ever wanted.  Since I first saw you in school, at that dance when we were in Junior High, and you were such a geeky little thing."  Her blush got darker.

"Didn't we pick on her about that outfit?" Xander asked Steve, who nodded, smirking at his sister.

"Fine, I like him," she admitted. "Happier now?"

"Yes," Steve and Xander said in unison.  Xander did his brief group scanning around the room, stopping when he saw two Asian demons.  "Already?" he muttered.  Steve looked at him and he nodded in that direction.  "Steve, I need you to find me something that I can wear to the wedding that doesn't scream 'I do guys' or 'I'm a hitter'.  Please?"

"Sure, Xander, anything for you," he said, kicking the guard and nodding in that direction.  "How long?" he asked quietly.

"New to town," Xander said.  "Very new.  Pissing me off sort of new, but I'll handle that later."  He looked at them.  "You're not staying, right?"

"Not unless you need me," Steve offered.  Xander shook his head.  "You sure?"

"Definite.  We were warned and have made plans."  He looked at the waitress as she came over, grinning at her.  "I want the big stack and eggs," he told her.

She patted him on the head.  "The manager told me to never give you a big stack again because the way you act when you're hyper."

"Fine," he sighed amid laughter by his compatriots.  "How about the short stack and three egg one then?  With toast?"  She nodded, writing it down for him.

"I'm impressed.  You must come here often," Steve noted, looking at his menu.

"After the long nights, it's nice to regroup and munch," Xander told him.

"Speaking of your friends, Snyder has been calling around to catch all the kids playing hookie."

"My family came all the way here from the Midwest to see me, I'm taking the morning off," he said dryly, smirking at her.  "Snyder can be a buttmonkey, but he won't get to bite me too hard. What's he gonna do, suspend me?"

She laughed and patted him on the shoulder.  "He'll probably try.  In school probably knowing him."

"Hey, then I can always sit there and sleep."

"Xander, don't worry, we can provide you with an excuse," Gwen told him.  "Is this separate checks?"

"However," Xander said with a wave of his hand.  "I'm good on cash.  I remembered my wallet this time."

"Did you ever pay the redhead back?"

"Not yet," he admitted.  "I'll do it tonight before the meeting."

"If they suspend you, you probably can't go to any club meetings," Gwen reminded him.

"It's more a work group," Xander admitted.  The waitress took the rest of their orders and left them alone again.  "So," he said finally, staring at them.  Everyone else laughed.  "Sorry, had to happen," he said with a grin.  The two Japanese men in silk suits walked behind him, making him watch them walk.  One was carrying a gun or was used to carrying a gun.  The other was a briefcase sort.  "Interesting," he said quietly.  He looked at his friends again.  "Now, what can I tell you about this *wonderful* place my father stuck me?"

"Do you still talk to your relatives?" Gwen asked.

"Not hardly," Xander admitted.  "They're paranoid."

She nodded.  "I can see why.  You're a little jumpy, Xan."

"I am not," he defended.  "I've been worse."

"I saw.  It was obvious you were trying hard not to punch Marc during the funeral.  Your fists kept balling up."  He looked confused.  "It might have been unconscious, but you did it."

"Wow."  Xander slowly nodded.  "Okay.  It's good to know that my temper is on many levels and doesn't always give me a warning."  That got some light laughter.  Their breakfasts were brought and the syrup was set far away from him.  "Hey," he whined.

"Go easy on it, Xan.  I don't want to scare Greg with a hyper you," Gwen warned as she handed it over.

"I'll be good," he promised.  He poured a good amount onto his pancakes.  "They look dry," he warned as he handed it back.

"I think we can handle it," Steve noted. "I didn't know you didn't know about Irene or I would have told you, Xander."

"That's cool.  I'll write Ray tonight."  He shrugged.  "It's got to be hard for him.  I had wondered why he hadn't been snatched up yet."  He cut a bite of egg and stuffed it in his mouth.

"I'm sure he'll find someone sometime," Gwen assured him.

"Ray's got women panting but he's refusing to see them," Greg told him. "He'll be okay."

"Hopefully," Xander said between bites.  "Ray used to moon over Irene when he talked about her.  He used her and Frankie to illustrate stories about why we were young and dumb."

"It's your own fault, you two used to shoot at the cargo trains a few blocks away from his house," Steve pointed out.

"Yeah, well, it was the neighborhood," Xander said with a grin.  "And who said *I* picked the spot?  I liked the higher area up the street by a few blocks.  If you made it past the dog in the junkyard, you got a nice spot to overlook and get it."

"Didn't Ray catch you firing at the trains again?" Steve's bodyguard asked.

"Firing washable paintball pellets," Xander agreed with a smile.  "It's almost a ritual for us to meet there."  Steve snickered.  "Really."

"Yeah, because you've never done anything else there, Xan."

"Hey, I never said he didn't catch me doing other stuff," Xander reminded him.  "I still wonder if that's what happened to Marc.  Did someone pick on him about it?"

Steve shrugged.  "Who knows.  Marc turned seventeen and dad gave him a little bit of control, and he went wild with it."  He looked at his sister.  "You gonna be okay with everything?"

"Just fine," she agreed.  "It's too bad he couldn't fix himself, but I don't miss him that much."  She looked at Xander.  "I miss you more.  You used to lighten up the house when things got too dark."

"Yeah, I perform the same function in my present group of friends," he noted.  She smiled at him.  "Steve, how did you get in?"


"Willow?  Really?" Xander asked, putting down his fork to look at him.  "How did you know who Willow was?"

Steve pulled out his wallet and handed over a picture.  "I stole it from your wallet.  I haven't had one of you since you were twelve."

"I was cute back then," Xander reminded him.  "Now I'm geeky and too thin."  He looked at the picture, it was the three of them.  Buffy's first year.  He handed it back.  "The other's Buffy."

"Really?" Gwen asked, stealing the picture to look at.  "Wow. She's kind of pretty. If you like thin and tough."  She let Greg see it.  "Willow is the redhead."

"Hmm."  He smirked at Xander.  "Yours?"

"Willow's one of those pure little people that I'd like to stay that way," Xander told him.  "Buffy's the one we help around town."

"Is she like you?" Greg asked.

Xander snorted and shook his head.  "Not in the least.  Hers is more a...necessity and a destiny.   A duty you might say."  He grinned.  "Don't worry about it, it'll only give you headaches for months on end."

Gwen nodded.  "Yeah, most of daddy's strange stuff did do that," she agreed.  Steve nodded his support of that idea.

Xander smirked at them.  "It's a good thing it was me then, huh?"

They nodded.  Let him deal with the strange stuff, they had other things to worry about.


Xander came in from his scouting mission, putting the photos he had taken on the table in front of Giles.  "What and how?" he asked.  He took his usual seat and got comfortable.

"Did your friends already leave?" Willow asked.  She subtly leaned against Oz's side.

"Yeah, they had to go home for their brother's funeral.  I'll be going back for her wedding."  Xander looked at Giles.  "Seriously.  Two were at Denny's this morning."

Giles picked up the pictures, shaking his head at the demons. "I'm not the most competent and knowledgeable about the Asian demons," he admitted.  "Let me get the classifications manual."  He stood up, walking into his office to find it.  He came out and found the group silently staring at Faith as she walked in.  "Good afternoon," he said cheerfully.

"Yeah, and all that good stuff," Buffy agreed.

"Faith, you and Buffy need to patrol tonight," Xander told her.  "I saw a lot of movement today in Shady Rest."  The Slayers looked at him and he shrugged.  "I did."

"You're not going out alone, Xander.  I forbid it," Giles said firmly as he came back.  "We can figure out that complication at some other point."  He sat down, flipping to the first demon.  The pictures matched so he began to read.  "Iron kills, but water will rejuvenate it."

Xander took out some paper and made notes.  "What number is the picture?"

Giles checked the back.  "Three."  He looked at Xander.  "You're taking notes?"

"Hell yeah."

"Fine."  He went back to lecturing from the book.

"What is going on?" Faith asked.

"There are some new demons in town," Buffy told her.  "Asian ones, Giles?"  He nodded, looking at them.  She looked at Faith again.  "We're trying to figure out a way to deal with them."

"Challenge them to come out and do a double combat," Faith said simply.

Xander grinned.  "That's a great idea, Faith," he agreed.  "Between the two of you, you could take on all of the demons easily while Wills and I got the humans who brought them stuffed into uncomfortably tied-up positions."

Oz looked at Xander, then shook his head.  "No, not Willow."

"Fine," Xander agreed.

Oz stood up and walked over, taking Xander's arm and leading him into the office.  "Give," he demanded after shutting the door.

"Demonic Yakuza."

Oz groaned and then looked at him.  "Fine.  You'll need help."

"Probably," Xander admitted.  "I can do it but it'll be a stretch and it'll last longer."  He leaned against the wall.  "I'm not taking the slaygals with me on that part of the job.  They'll have enough to worry about."

Oz nodded.  "Fine.  Can we go tonight?"  Xander shook his head.  "Tomorrow I turn."

"I know," Xander said calmly.  "I'll leave Cordelia here with you if Willow comes. That should solve most everything."  Oz relaxed so Xander pointed.  "They'll start wondering."

"True."  He let Xander out of the office.  "I'll still need sat tomorrow night," he noted.

"I'm suggesting we call in the backups for that and let Cordy Ozsit," Xander told everyone as he retook his seat. "Willow, you can opt out and do it instead."

"No," Giles said firmly.

"Giles, don't argue," Xander said calmly.  "It'll be fine."  The older man looked at him.  "I can handle that."

"Fine.  Let's finish this part," Faith said impatiently. "When are we going?"

"Tomorrow night," Xander told her.  "That'll give us time to make preparations."  The doors slammed open and Xander glared that way.  "Look, it's the principal."

"Where were you today, Harris?" he sneered.  "I have pictures of you at Dennys."

"Then you have pictures of me with what little of my family remains at Dennys," Xander told him.  "They were in for some family news.  My near-brother just died yesterday and Gwen was in to hide from him because he had gone unreasonable.  The guy with the dark hair who's built like he plays football is her fiancé.  They announced it at breakfast."

"Near family isn't good enough," he sneered.

Xander stood up, getting into his face.  "These were the people who stuck up for me when my father died, Snyder.  I'm not going to let you insult them," he growled.

"Xander, sit!" Willow ordered.

Buffy looked at her.  "Wrong male for that, Wills."

"I'm not housebroken," Oz noted dryly.

Snyder stared into the boy's eyes and shivered.  He slowly backed away.  "Fine, they were your *family*," he sneered, covering up his fear.  "Are they gone?"

"Yeah.  Far gone.  I sent them out of town right before sunset."  He sat down again.  "Now, if you'll excuse us, we're setting study schedules for the SATs.  Since my father's will said I had to take them."  Snyder sneered but Xander started to reach behind his back.  The man turned and stormed out.  Snyder had seen his watergun a few months back, he probably thought he had a real weapon on him.  Which he did, but he didn't have to know that.  Xander looked at Giles again.  "Okay.  Next?  And number?"

Giles looked at the next picture.  "This one is number 6."  He looked it up.  "Interesting.  It's a water demon.  Salt water, particularly from marshy deltas where rivers run into the seas.  This one is Chinese instead of Japanese."

"Killed by?" Faith asked.

"Oh, um, sea salt, best done by sea salt from the Dead Sea."  He looked at her.  "You've got to dry it out I'm afraid."

"So, heat, light, salt, baking powder?" Xander suggested.

"It says salt but I suppose those could help somewhat.  At the very least it would make them miserable," Giles agreed. He searched out the next one, giving it a longer read.


Xander watched from his spot as Buffy and Faith issued their challenge.  He was too far away to hear anything.  He checked his intel again.  Only adult males and one female demon.  No kids, and that was usual.  As soon as the demons quit coming, Xander hit the switch, blowing up the house they had been in.  He slid into the shadows and jogged off, heading for his weapon's stash.  He had a few things stashed in some buildings around town.  This one was his main one.  His favorite handguns were in this one.  His assault rifles were in this one.  His dad's old magnum revolver was in this one.  He took what he needed out and put them on, then zipped up the bag and put it on his back like a giant backpack.  He headed for his secondary target.  This one was going to be messy.  It was downtown in a store.  It was after hours, but it was still downtown.  Not a block away from the police station.  He couldn't blow this one up, but he did have a few sticks of dynamite just in case.

He walked up to the store and looked up.  Then he glanced around before jumping up to grab the decorative balcony.  As usual, no one was out in this part of town.  He pulled himself up, heading into the rooms above the shop.  This one was a big bedroom.  There was a woman resting on the bed; Xander pulled out a gas canister and sprayed some in her face, making sure she'd stay asleep.  Then he snuck out and down the hall, heading to the room with all the noise.  Behind him, someone made a disgruntled sound.  He winced and backtracked, looking in the old-style key hole.  "Fuck," he hissed.  He looked at the other room.  Not in clear line of sight.  If he snuck down there, these guys would be behind him.  If he got rid of them, the others would hear.  He had silencers but not on all the guns.  He pulled his favorite glock and slowly eased the door open, finding everyone staring at the door.  "Hey," he said with a smile.  "Remember this, Sunnydale is protected."  Then he opened fire, shooting each one, ignoring the blood spatter until later.  He turned and ran down the stairs, heading to kill the rest of them.  He got all but one, that one dove out of the way and hid inside the open safe.  He ran out through the store, startling the people standing in it, heading for his next and last target.  He heard people chasing him and ducked into an empty building.  He watched as they went past him.  The sound of a lighter behind him made him look at the vampire.  "Hey, can I bum one?" he asked.  The vampire handed one over then lit it for him.  "Thanks.  This is going to be one kick-ass stressful night."

He checked the street then left his safe spot, heading in the opposite direction.  There was a shortcut to his last target.  It would take him close to a cemetery, but he could handle it.  He already had his silver spike in hand.  He felt something grab the bag on his back and turned, beating the shit out of the vampire with the baton version of the stake.  He noticed his spare clips were falling out of the rip the vampire had caused, so he took it off and stuffed what he could into his pockets.  It meant he had to abandon his second assault rifle, but he could do that for now.  He found a nice hiding spot within the cemetery and stuffed the remains of the bag in there.  Hopefully he'd be able to come back for it.  By now, they would have warned the remaining members and he'd have a fight on his hands.  He took a deep breath, then took off running again, going faster now.

Right before he got within sight of his target, he stopped and let his breathing return to normal.  It was not a good thing to pass out from lack of air during a fire fight when you were the only one firing on your side.  He took a steadying breath and pushed the vision of blood spurting out of his mind.  A flash of a bear flying out of the explosion made him wince.  "No, there weren't any kids there," he whispered, reassuring himself.  He knew there wasn't. It wasn't the way the Yakuza worked.  There couldn't have been any kids in there.  Not even demonic ones.  Mafia types left the kids at home when they fought or pushed into new territory.  You kept them safe so there was someone to get revenge for you.  He carefully stepped closer, looking around the building.  The guards were out with dogs and flashlights.  Xander could hear someone in the woods with him.  He pressed himself against the tree, pulling his handgun and shooting the person who had been trying to sneak up on him in the lower stomach.  Then he looked back at the house.  It hadn't been silenced. A rookie mistake.  "Fuck," he decided.  He slid the pistol back into his waistband and pulled out the assault rifle, opening fire on the group with the dogs.  Most of them went down with only a few shots in his direction.  He heard more people running and turned, getting the patrol group as well.  One or two managed to make it to cover.  He ran out of ammo and tossed that one, heading toward the house.  He heard a battle yell and turned, capping one guy in the chest.  That one got up again.  "Oh, you're one of those," he said bitterly.  He pulled his silver stake and plunged the blunt end against his chest, setting off the electrical charge.  The demon writhed and shook while he fried.

Xander let him go and turned back toward the house, heading into the fray.  This had to be done or they'd stay here for eternity and make everyone's life a living hell.  It was worth the risk.  The flash of the teddy bear came back but he ruthlessly pushed it aside.  He'd feel bad about it later when he let himself remember the sprays of blood.   He took out the rest of the visible guards, then had to change clips.  He ducked behind the mailbox while he did that, then moved in closer.  There were more people inside the house.  One of the windows was broken and a rifle was shoved out.  Xander pulled out the only stick of dynamite he had taken and lit it with his lighter, then tossed it into the open door.  It came out again but not far enough.  Xander ducked as it went off, blowing up a good portion of the front of the house.  He dropped his spent clip then realized he was out for that gun.  He dropped it, fully intending to pick it up again later.  He pulled out his last automatic handgun, and realized he had one clip with this one.  He took them down with the brutal efficiency he had been practicing now for years, running out when the new group came out of the woods.  He put in his last clip and got most of them.  He ran for the woods off to the side.  There was a clearing about a mile away.  He hid on the other side of it, pulling out his father's revolver.  "I miss you, dad," he said as he touched the barrel.  "Got any wise advice other than 'it's your own fault, dumbass'?"  The gun didn't answer him and he would have been really upset if it had.  "Okay.  Six bullets," he said as the demons came in.  "Seven demons."  He glanced around, hearing sirens.  "Fuck me," he decided.  He looked them over, remembering his notes.  "You grow.  You're killed by steel, steel, iron, water, salt, and what the hell were you?" he muttered, looking at the last one.  He hadn't seen it before.  It was unearthly beautiful.  It was male.  He was so fucked.  He took aim and shot at the ones who could be killed by bullets first, taking them out.  The one with the salt still fell when shot in the head.  The one that grew only had one soft spot on its whole body and it had it protected.  It was down to that one and the beautiful one.  He growled and moved position, taking out the one that grew to three times it's resting size.  It was a hard shot, worse than most he had done before, but he couldn't let his slayers or his town down.

He tucked the gun back into the special holster then walked out with his spike, extending it.  "Come on," he told it.  "You're next."  It growled at him and lunged.  Xander realized it had claws.  Sharp claws.  He batted at them and blocked the hands, getting in a hard strike to the stomach area. He had to finish this, no matter how bad it got.  The demon came at him again, emitting a high keening noise before Xander got it with a nice baseball bat swing to the jaw with the extended spike.  The demon went down and Xander hit it a few more times.  The salt demon stood up and he took it on, doing his best.  He was getting beat up pretty badly but he would live.  He had in the past.  Marc had beaten him bloody and nearly dead once or twice.  He could live through this too.  The demon went down with the lone vial of holy water he had on him.  He fell to his knees, panting.  The flashes started again and he threw up.  There wasn't much there to bring up, but it all came up.  He forced himself to get up once he was done, heading to retrieve his lost weapons.  He was stumbling badly, his eye was swollen shut.  His ribs hurt like he had at least one broken.  He was holding that spot while he stumbled back to the house.  He saw the sirens coming up the old road and quickly grabbed what he could find of his stuff, heading back down his path.  It was the only viable exit strategy.  His bag was gone but there wasn't much in there that was useable.  He went to the library, falling down onto Giles' couch.  He batted at Willow's hands.  "Willow, there was a bear," he admitted.

She gently stroked his face.  "It'll be okay," she promised.  "Let me check."  He looked at her with his good eye and she gave him a sad smile.  "You stay in here and I'll take you home soon."  He nodded, swallowing.  She helped him up and handed him the trash can before he could get sick again.  She could tell.  She walked out and called Cordelia.  "It's an emergency, I need you to Oz sit.  We had a major battle and it's bad."  She hung up, waiting impatiently.  Cordelia finally walked in.  "Good, thanks.  Stay out of the office."  She jogged off, going to where the radio had said a house blew up.   She saw the fire department.  She saw the cops.  She couldn't get close enough to look at the bear.  She'd have to have Buffy or Faith break into the police station and get it for her.  She turned and started back to the school, running into Spike on the way.  "Why are you here?" she asked. He shrugged.  "Leave, Spike.  Things are getting worse."  He opened his mouth and she grabbed him by the hand, spinning him around.  "The demonic mafia came tonight, Spike.  Unless you've got something to help us, leave."  His eyes went wide.  "Leave," she repeated.  "We've got two slayers now and Faith is just as tough as Buffy if not more."  He stepped back, backing away from her.  She pulled up her floating pencil spell, bringing a branch she broke off a nearby tree.  He turned and ran.  She let the branch go and took a deep breath.  Then she went to where Faith and Buffy should be.  She ran into them, both Slayers looked done in.  "Giles."  He looked at her, giving her a grimace.  "Is it done?"

"It's done," he agreed.  "Xander?"

"Bruised, badly.  I'm taking him home.  Cordy's Ozsitting."  She took some of Buffy's weight since she was limping worse. "It'll be okay," she promised.  She would keep Xander's secrets for now.  They got them all back to the library and she walked Xander out the back way, not letting anyone see him.  They were all involved in the slayers' injuries anyway.  She drug Xander into his apartment and into the bathroom, running him a hot bath.  "Xander, I'm gonna have to strip you," she warned.  He swatted at her hands so she glared, hands on hips.  "Mister, you will get your ass in that tub," she said firmly.  She stamped her foot.

Xander gently kissed her forehead.  "Go away, Wills.  I've got it from here and Buffy will need a cheering section.  Thanks."

"You're welcome and I'd better see you in the morning," she told him.  She left him alone.  Seeing him naked would not be right while she was dating Oz.  Oz would get upset.

Xander stripped slowly and carefully.  He found his vest had been hit, explaining his broken rib.  Or at least one of them.  He slid into the steaming water, hissing and groaning the whole way down.  He finally got all the way in and relaxed enough to pass out.


Willow paced in front of the school, staring at the parking lot.  Xander hadn't shown up yet.  He was going to be late if he didn't show up soon.  If he didn't show up soon, she'd have to find a way to sneak out and check on him.  Xander's car finally pulled in and he slowly got out, walking carefully in their direction.  His eye was less swollen shut and he was still guarding his side with his arm.  He wasn't wearing his armor today.  Willow looked him in the eyes.  "It had a plastic tag on the hand," she told him quietly.  He stopped to look at her.  "I hacked the database.  It had a plastic tag on the hand.  They found melted plastic.  They also found a tag in its ear."  He slumped and gave her a gentle hug.  "I'm sorry you had to do that, Xan," she whispered.

"It's okay.  It was for a good reason and I made the right decision."  He let her go and looked over as Buffy joined them.  "You okay?"

"Fine.  You?"

"I've been better," he admitted, walking them inside.  Most everyone was running for their first class.  They headed for the library.  Xander had a cleverly created excuse for the office, which he stopped off to hand in.  Buffy had one of her own and Willow walked them to the library.  She didn't have a class right then.  They walked into the library and took their usual places, sighing in relief about the long trek being over.

Giles came out of his office, looking at them.  "I see you all made it back," he noted.  He came over, tipping Xander's face up to look at his eye, earning a hiss.  "Sorry, are you sore there?"

"Very," he hissed.  "Ow."  Giles let his chin go.  "Thank you."  The door opened and everyone looked at the young man walking in.  "And you are?" Xander asked finally.

"I am Wesley Wyndam-Pryce," he said stiffly.  "The Council sent me."

"Yay," Buffy told him.

"What happened to you all?" he demanded.

"There was a small exploding problem last night," Willow said calmly.  "Nothing unusual."

Wesley looked at Giles, who shrugged.  "It was a bad night but nothing out of the range.  Faith is in class at the moment.  You can meet her later."  He walked into his office and came out with bottles of water and pain killers.  "Here, you all look like you need them."

"It couldn't be that bad," Wesley snorted.

Willow walked over and grabbed Giles' paper, handing it to him.  "Sit down and shut up.  We've all got a headache."   She gave Xander a gentle hug then gave one to Buffy.  "I'm impressed.  Not even Superman creates that sort of damage when he fights the major bad guys and they slam each other into buildings."

Xander smiled at her.  "Thanks.  That's a high compliment."

"I'm sure," Buffy said tiredly.  She leaned forward slowly and put her head on her arms on top of the table, closing her eyes.  "Wake me for History or English, whichever one we have today."

"Okay," Willow agreed chipperly.  Things were back to normal.  She wouldn't tell Buffy about Spike yet.  Surely he ran away last night.

Wesley looked up from reading, giving Giles an incredible look.  "Are you saying they did this?"

"No, we got caught in the crossfire, there was a challenge last night," Xander said tiredly.  He put his head down on the table too, closing his eyes.  "Same for me, Wills."

"Okay," she agreed, giving him a goofy grin.  Then she looked at Wesley.  "They're the ones who brought the Asian demons in," she told him.  The poor guy looked even more stunned.  "What?" she asked innocently.  "Welcome to our Hellmouth.  Did you remember to make a will before crossing the town's barriers?"

Wesley looked at Giles.  "Apparently there was much you didn't see fit to inform the Council of.  I will need your complete cooperation and full field notes."

Giles snorted. "You're not my priority at the moment, you can wait.  For right now, we've got a problem brewing. This one has been handled."  He sipped his tea, looking at Willow.  "Which one do they have today?"

"English but it's after lunch," Willow told her.  The principal walked in, slamming the door like usual.  She stood up.  "They got caught in that fight last night," she said when he started to sneer.  "They have excuses."

"So I noticed.  Unfortunately, a mother and a doctor that doesn't exist don't count," he sneered.

"My doctor's at home," Xander mumbled.  "You want his number?"  He lifted his head and the principal burst out laughing.  Xander slowly stood up, making the little man back up.  "Go away.  Now.  If I felt like doing this school thing, it'd be different."

"In school suspension," he sneered.

"Yay."  He grabbed his bag.  "I can nap in there just as well as I can in there.  I'll get the notes, Wills."  He walked out, heading for the office.  The secretary and vice principal winced when they saw his face.  "I was in the crossfire on the outside edge of the first blast," he told them.  "I'm going to nap since Snyder just gave me in-school."  He walked into the room, nodding at Larry, who winced as well.  "Let me nap or I'm killing someone and turning their body over to the people who like to play with the dead ones."  He sat down in his usual seat and put his head down on his bookbag.  Not the softest, but it would be fine.

*** Two Weeks Before Graduation ***

Xander looked over as someone sat next to him at his table at the Doublemeat Palace.  "Hey," he said, grinning at him.  "You missed one hell of a fight."

Ray Vecchio patted the boy on the back.  "So I heard.  You feel better?"

"They're not here anymore," he reminded him, taking a large bite.  "What brings you my way?"

"I'm chasing someone," Ray admitted.  "He's got a cabin up the coast.  We've already alerted the CHP and now I'm free until they yell for me."  He tipped Xander's face up, looking in his eyes.  "You okay with what happened, kid?"

"No," Xander admitted, putting down his burger and taking a sip from his soda.  "But it was necessary."  He got his chin free and turned to look at him.  "It would have been worse if I hadn't.  That gives me the out I needed."

Ray nodded.  "Good.  At least you realize that."  He grinned.  "I'm surprised you didn't hear Frankie had been arrested.  It made CNN."

"I don't usually watch the news," Xander admitted.  He grinned.  "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Ray assured him, waving a hand.  "Ma thinks you're in trouble.  She reminded me I was coming near you and should probably pop in."

"And I'm glad you did."  He gave him a hug.  "Want to take this back to my place?"

"Sure."  He watched as Xander tossed most of his lunch, keeping the soda.  "That bad?"

"Oh, yeah," Xander agreed, burping.  "But we don't even warrant a Mickey D's.  It's the only place to get fast food."  He shrugged and made a face.  "Even if you do usually need Rolaids afterwards."  Ray held out a roll and Xander broke himself off one.  "Thanks.  Fruit?"

"They taste better than the peppermint ones," he agreed.  They walked back to Xander's place, Ray had parked there and walked to find him.  He made an approving sound when he saw the security the boy had.  "You get many visitors?"

"In this town?  It's better never to invite people across your threshold," Xander admitted, letting him into the apartment.  "Michael found it for me," he said proudly.  "I decorated."

Ray looked at the large tapestry of a Pokemon and then looked at the boy.  "You never could have guessed that."

"Hey, I needed color," Xander said with a grin.  He closed and locked the door again. "New neighbors," he explained.  "Take the tour, please."

Ray walked around, looking in the rooms.  He paused at the weapons room, looking at the boy.  Then he walked in, looking at all the weapons.  He picked up a few random ones to look down the barrels.

Xander leaned in the door.  "I clean each of them every week.  I find it calming," he admitted sheepishly.

Ray put the one in his hands back.  "It looks like you know what you're doing with them," he admitted.  "Have you read the letter Charlie gave you?"

"Not yet," Xander sighed, leaning against the door frame.  "I haven't been emotionally ready yet."

"You might want to.  He left you stuff."

Xander walked in and opened a drawer, pulling out the large envelope.  He slit it open with a knife he pulled off the counter, pulling out the piece of paper and the card.  He read it slowly, making sure it said what he thought it said.  "Why did he have that account?"

"Your dad left it in his care for when you turned eighteen.  That way you wouldn't have to start off taking jobs for the money."  Xander looked at him, frowning.  "Your dad knew it was something that would happen somehow.  Do I need ta ask if you're liking it too much?"

"I don't," Xander told him.  "I'm not one of those who gets hard from it.  I see it as a duty.  That's why I've stayed here so long.  I could have finished high school anywhere."  He looked at the letter again.  "How did you know?"

"Gwen sent me a letter," Ray admitted with a small shrug.  Then he grinned.  "She's one hell of a woman."

"She is," Xander sighed.  "And she's still like my sister."

Ray laughed and batted at him.  "I'd never suggest it, kid.  You need someone who understands you.  You got someone?"

"Not a one," Xander admitted.  "I've got a cover right now, and we make out, but I haven't gotten laid in nearly a year," he whined.  "I'm dating a cheerleader and the head of the popular kids."

Ray cackled.  "Yeah.  That sounds like a good cover."  He looked around the room again.  "You sure you wanna make this choice?"

"I've set firm limits.  I'll go after the bad guys only.  The ones who are hurting others.  The rapists.  The serial killers.  The human rights violators."  He gave him a sad smile.  "Dad was right and so were you.  You can't go back."

"Then I guess you were behind the whole Yakuza hit?"  Xander nodded slowly.  "Poor guy."  Ray pulled him closer, giving him a hug.  "I know it was necessary, Xander.  You did what you had to do to protect those you love."

Xander pulled back.  "At one time I thought I could follow you into a good police force," he admitted.  "I thought I could push all the urges and training into that."  Ray shook his head.  "Not even if I went into Vice or undercover?"

"I know someone who went undercover - as me; it ate him until he ended up running away to find out who he was again.  It's not the life and you wouldn't survive in it," Ray said gently.  Xander nodded, hanging his head.  "Now what, Xander?"

"Now?  I've got a battle coming up," he admitted.  "Someone's going to try and take out our whole graduating class."  Ray winced.  "And the guy's high enough that no one's going to stop him."

"Strange or normal?"

"Strange, and worse."  Xander led Ray out to the living room, sitting down with him and telling him everything that had been going on since he had come here.  He needed to let it go.  He needed Ray to understand.  He needed to justify himself to someone who understood and liked him for being himself.  No one else did anymore.

Ray sat there and listened, his heart breaking for the kid.  How did four or five kids deal with all this without letting it get out?  Weren't their parents paying any attention?  When Xander quit talking, he pulled him closer, giving him the hug he desperately needed.  "It's all right.  You did what you had to do, kid.  That's all and nothing more.  Even if you stay, it'll be fine.  It won't make you happy but you're needed.  If not, then you're comin' back.  Maybe I can hook you up with a cousin or somethin'."  He let the boy pull back, noticing the tears.  "Hey, now.  It's not going to be that bad."

"I'm facing a potentially sixty or seventy-foot demon in two weeks, Ray.  Me.  Me, one little girl, one light duty witch who can't fight and one guy with no training."

"So get others involved."

"They don't know.  Ignorance is bliss is the town's motto.  Even when things happen in front of them they don't seem to remember it."  Ray nodded, giving him an understanding look.  "Most of them won't listen to me anyway."

"You've got some cred with the jocks, start with them," Ray advised.  "They're strong, most of them brawl at least.  If they take up weapons then it's their choice, like it was yours to help your dad with that one job way back when."  Xander nodded, soaking up the wisdom.  "Are you stayin'?"

"I don't know," Xander admitted.  "Am I needed?  Yeah, even if they don't admit it.  Am I wanted?  No."  He snorted.  "Willow and I fucked that to hell."  He wiped off his cheeks.  "Thanks for listening to me."

"Hey, not a big thing," he promised.  "For being eighteen, you're still a little kid, Xander.  You're like one of my nephews who chose a path I don't like, but I can understand it because you'd be miserable otherwise."

"So little miserable versus big miserable?"

Ray nodded.  "Yeah, mostly.  Life is pain, kiddo.  Remember that."  He ruffled the dark hair.  "You comin' home for the wedding?"  Xander nodded.  "Then I'll see you then."

"Don't get dead, Uncle Ray.  I'd hate to have to avenge you and be without you."

Ray grinned.  "That's the cocky kid who took on the Don's grandson."

"He was?"  Ray nodded, smirking at him.  "Oops, but oh well.  Then he really should have had better manners."

Ray laughed.  "True.  The Don sent him to Iowa to look at expansion possibilities out there.  I hear he's miserable," he said with a bright smirk and a wink.  "You'll find your footing.  When you do, write more often."  He flipped the boy on the forehead.  "You don't get dead either.  I don't want the world to end this year.  I'd miss Ma's cooking."

"I miss your Ma's cooking," Xander admitted.  "I can't cook worth a damn."

Ray laughed.  "You'll learn.  Man cannot live by fast food and pizza alone.  It makes your gut go funny.  Or so I've heard over and over from the Mountie."

"I ran into one of those when I came in for the funeral."

"Yeah, he was pickin' up someone," Ray said, rolling his eyes.  "You wanna meet him?  He's really upstanding."

"Then I'd probably give him hives," Xander pointed out, grinning at him.

"Well, yeah.  Make sure I don't have to deal with you, kid.  I mean it."

"I won't, Uncle Ray.  Not only are you and yours safe from me, but I'm not going to do anything in Chicago if I can help it.  I'm thinking about finding a school and getting more training actually.  Oh, speaking of."  He dug out his SAT results and handed them over.  "I don't know how, but I managed it."

"Your father would be proud, kid.  You be easy."  He gave him another affectionate hair ruffle.  "I'd better get back to help watch the cabin.  If you need me, you yell.  Hear?"  Xander nodded, getting up to let him out.  "Good.  You behave.  Do what you have to do and don't let it eat you."  He walked out the building's door and looked around.  "It's dark."

Xander tapped him on the arm and pointed out something down the street.  "That's a demon," he said quietly.  "The human thing with it is probably a vampire."

Ray looked stunned.  The demon was twice his width and about four feet tall.  "Shit.  Keep them here, please," Ray pleaded.  "I don't want to deal with them in my town."

"If you find you have a problem, then you call me," Xander ordered quietly.  "I've got no problems with doing them."

Ray grinned at him.  "Good to know.  You could do that for a living."

"It doesn't pay well and people look at you funny.  At least this way I can say I'm a social reconstructionist."

Ray snickered.  "That's one I hadn't heard before."

"I stole it off one of the New York guys who's a full-fledged assassin.  He said that's what he does."

"Remember, the IRS wants to know what you really do.  Don't become like the old Dons."

"Check, no Capone-like stunts for me," Xander agreed, patting him on the back.  "That's a Buffy," he said, nodding at her.  He waved and she jogged over.  "Buffy, this is Ray, he's like an uncle to me.  He's passing through to catch a bad guy."

"You're a cop?" she asked.

He nodded.  "Usually."  He shook her hand.  "Don't worry, I'm a nice guy.  I used ta catch Xander and his friends shooting at the trains all the time."

"And catch me having sex.  And catch me beating up on Marc.  Or him beating up on me," Xander added for good measure.

"Yeah, one of those I didn't need to see.  Or don't you remember me coming down sick from the first one."

"Hey, it was Marc's idea.  He held me down and I only went along because I decided I liked it."

"Too much information," Buffy told him patiently.  She looked at Ray.  "Are you gonna take Xander back with you?"

"I don't think he'd do too well in the city anymore," Ray admitted.  "He's gotten used to the suburban lifestyle.  Maybe back to Deerfield or somewhere."  Xander shuddered.  "Okay, or somewhere less stiff and uptight."  He grinned and Xander beamed back.  "Be safe, kid.  I wanna come dance at your wedding."

"Ditto," Xander told him, giving him one last hug and back slap.  "You be safe.  Kick the Mountie in the nuts if he endangers you," he whispered.  "Remember, I'm thinking you're gonna be safe.  Even if I have ta make it so."  He pulled back and Ray nodded.  "Love ya, Uncle Ray."

"Mushy brat," he said fondly, getting into his car and starting it, heading out of town.  He could stand what Xander was doing, it was necessary and the boy wasn't going down the wrong path exactly.  Killing the bad things was a good enough job.  Maybe he'd become a bounty hunter some day and solve a lot more problems.  If there had been a decent one, he wouldn't be out here today.

Xander looked at Buffy.  "Need help?"

"No, I've got it.  You okay?  You look kinda red and puffy."

"Yeah.  I finally got around to reading my godfather's predeath letter to me."  He shrugged.  "It happens even to us guys."

"Okay."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "You behave.  We'll have a meeting tomorrow night.  Bring some sodas with you, okay?"  He nodded and she walked off, heading back to her patrol.

Xander sighed once she was out of hearing.  "Just once, I'd like to be commended for doing what I do," he muttered as he walked back inside.  "It'd be a nice change."

*** The Night After Graduation ***

Xander walked into the Bronze, noticing Buffy staring in his direction.  He waved and she nodded him over so he shoved his way that way.  The annual graduation party was in full swing.  "Hey," he said as he sat next to her.  "No one else here yet?"

"Will and Oz are making out in a corner," she said, waving a hand behind her.  "I didn't want to watch."  She looked him in the eyes.  "How did you plan such a good battle?"

He smirked.  "Because I know what I'm doing, Buffy."

"Xander, I want the truth.  Giles said something before letting me out of his car about you knowing more about things than I give you credit for."

"I do," Xander agreed.  "My father was trained to kill things and he did teach me some of it."  She nodded, giving him a small smile.  "I'm going on a road trip then coming back.  Do you think the town will survive?"

Buffy shrugged.  "Hopefully they've given up for the summer.  It's usually calm during the warm months.  I guess the vamps go out and moontan or something."  She sipped her drink.  "Where are you heading?"

"I don't know yet," he admitted.  He really didn't.  All he knew was that he had a meeting in a few days.  "I've got a wedding to go to later this summer, right before I plan on coming back.  Other than that?  Who knows."

She grinned and punched him on the arm, making him wince.  "Send us postcards, Xander."

"Of course."  He grinned back.  "Would I ignore that time-honored tradition?"  She shook her head.

Willow bounced over and hugged them both.  "Hi.  Are we happy we're free?"

"I am," Xander agreed. He had fulfilled all his promises to his father but one.  That one, he couldn't have helped once he found out what was going on.  He worked down his mental list.  His apartment had been packed up and put into storage under Willow's name.  His weapons were packed in cases along with handy documents he might need this summer and were sitting in his trunk with his suitcases.  Everything was set if he wanted to leave tonight.  "I think I'm gonna leave tonight," he admitted.  "I've got an appointment in LA in two days and I'd like to lounge around by a pool until then."

Willow gave him an extra hug.  "You be careful," she warned.  "I don't want to come visit you in jail for mass stupidity or anything.  No drugs, no loose women, nothing like that," she ordered.

"Yes, mom," he said with a grin.  "I promised I'd send postcards.  So don't stress, I'll be back right after you guys start school."  He kissed everyone, shaking Oz's hand instead.  "Have a good party."  He wiggled his eyebrows at Buffy.  "Pick someone to have happies with.  It'll make you feel better."  She swatted him, but was smiling.  "I'll see you lovely ones in a few months."  He walked out, heading to the Benz.  There wasn't any way he was going to take the crap car on this trip.  Image was everything and the Don over LA wanted to see him.  He got behind the wheel, starting the purring engine.  He gave the Bronze one last look, then headed off into the night.


Xander adjusted his tie as he walked into the office. "You wanted to see me?" he asked.

The old man put down his pen and smiled at him.  "Sit, Alexander."  The boy sat and looked attentively at him.  "I wanted to ask you about your plans for the future."

Xander grinned. "I like the good fight, Godfather.  I want to take out the bad guys and only the bad guys.  I'd also like some additional training sometime in the near future.  I think I could benefit from a mentor now and then, plus there's so much I don't know yet."

The old man nodded.  "Good.  That's what I had heard, but I was wondering if you had changed your mind after taking out most of a clan."  Xander shrugged.  "It's a good thing you were careful."

Xander gave him a sheepish look.  "Sunnydale's PD are a bit lax about most things, even things like that.  We've had worse in the town and no investigation ever happened.  I think they stop when they find an odd body and decide it was swamp gas or something."

The old man chuckled.  "So I've heard.  I've been tracking your exploits.  Did you want to guard someone still?"

Xander shrugged.  "I don't know.  For right now, I want to travel.  I want to finish my training.  I want to see the world.  But I've also promised to go back and help with more of the problems this fall because I know they can't deal with most of them without me.  My friends have no idea how much I do behind their backs."

"Including hitting that rapist last week?" he asked.

Xander nodded.  "Yeah, including that stuff.  Willow knows I'm a hunter.  She knows I'm very good at it.  She knew I was the one who took out most of that clan.  She knows I had family back in the families in Chicago.  Buffy doesn't have a clue otherwise.  I've told her that my dad was trained to kill people and that's how I've been so helpful when she asked me the other night."  He scratched the back of his neck.  "I haven't told them enough to endanger them.  I also haven't given them a reason to be scared of me.  They simply don't know how often I do more than Buffy does on patrol."

The old man smiled.  "Good.  Then I've got a deal for you.  I have a few people on my shit list.  You've got the skills and aren't related to us by any bonds.  They're bad guys for the most part." Xander raised an eyebrow.  "I know, you've got ethics.  I appreciate that, it's a prerogative of the young to have a strong sense of morals.  I'll give you three of them, and then I'll find someone to train you within the next few years."

Xander considered it.  There was always a lag in training, there was a waiting list for most of the formal schools and training camps.  Personal teachers were different but harder to find; some of the  good ones killed their students when they got too good.  "All of them are bad?"

"Two dirty cops who have managed to fuck up my life royally and then one other.  One of my own guys who's gone into hiding among the strange and odd people here."  He shrugged.  "It's not because he's gay, like you, but because he managed to steal from me.  I don't have anyone who can track him down there without being conspicuous.   You can do that."

"And the cops?"

"One of them ratted out my son, even though he was taking a lot of bribes.  The other, well, let's just say that it's a community service.  The guy's an annoyance who's hurting women."

Xander lifted his chin.  "Then I'll accept.  Thank you, Godfather."  He stood up, taking the man's hand to kiss.  "I'll do my best in your service in these matters.  Do you have any special means or desires in the matter?"

"No, but make two of them public," he requested.  "In a way that will make it into the papers.  Also, I have some information you'll need before the wedding."  Xander nodded, taking the envelope.  "Thank you, my boy."

"I'm always happy to help with reasonable matters.  My father wouldn't be really happy with me but I think he'd be proud for the most part."

"I agree," the Don agreed.  "He would be.  He probably wanted better for you but he knew you too well."  He stood up and patted Xander on the cheek.  "Go in peace."

"Peace to you too as well," Xander said, bowing to him.  He turned and walked out, loosening his tie.  He retrieved his gun from the front desk, heading into the afternoon sunlight.  As soon as he got back to his hotel, he opened the envelope.  One of the cops had been dirty for years.  He had turned on the hand that fed his children because they thought he should retire.  The other was a full-fledged rapist of teenage girls.  The thief would be easier, he was a vampire.  He'd have to arrange something spectacular for that one and tape it using the special digital filters.  He pulled his brand-new laptop over, turning it on and plugging it into the phone.  Then he dialed out and hacked into the police database.  They had all the information he needed.


Xander checked the hallway, then slowly made his way down it.  He saw the expected scene, then growled.  Ray was under *his* protection.  He took aim and fired, making the attempted assassin die and fall beside where he had Ray kneeling.  "Sorry I took so long," he apologized as he walked in.  He searched the body but there wasn't a key for the handcuffs.  "It'll take me a minute to pick the locks, hold still."  Ray's bloody face looked at him.  "Yes, it's me.  You'd miss the wedding if you died."  Ray snorted and shook his head slowly.  "Hold still.  I'm not the best with picking locks."  He managed one of them within a few minutes and helped Ray stand up.  His gun went back into his back holster, then he led the cop out to his car.  "Come on, let's get you to the hospital."

"Ma," Ray groaned.

"I'll call her personally.  I've been looking forward to some her sauce.  Commercial stuff sucks in comparison."  He grinned at Ray.  "That okay with you?"

"Sure," he agreed, shifting painfully.  "Drive, kid."

"Yes, Uncle Ray."  Xander started the car, heading off into the early evening.  He walked him into the nearest ER, handing him to the nurse.  "I found him on the ground with handcuffs on.  I picked one.  The guy apparently shot himself and left him like that to die.  I'm gonna call his family to come get him once he's done."  The nurse nodded, leading Ray back to a cubicle.  Xander walked out to his car and opened his cellphone, dialing Ray's mother's house.  "Hi, Mrs. Vecchio," he said happily.  She squealed and he shook his head.  "Yeah, I missed ya too, Ma.  Anyway, Ray's in the hospital.  He's fine.  Just banged up.  Yeah," he said, looking up.  "St. Ediths?"  He laughed. "It was closest.  I thought I'd be a good guy and get him pain killers for the swollen jaw and stuff.  Yeah, perfectly fine.  Yup, I'll be up to see him tonight.  We can talk then."  He hung up, smiling at his good deed of the day.  He had a second thought and called Steve. "Have you found me something un- poofy to wear?" he asked when the phone was answered.  He laughed.  "Yes, I'm in town early.  No, Uncle Ray needed me."  He climbed off the hood, getting in to drive.  "I said I'd be back here later tonight during visiting hours if he's admitted.  But you can buy me an early dinner if you want."  He laughed. "I'm sure she thinks she's got it all under control.  Weddings are like that from what I understand.  Yeah, until at least the day after the reception.  That way we can get blintzed together."  He laughed and hung up, heading for that restaurant.  Steve would make sure he ate a *real* meal for the first time this week.  Xander had been traveling hard to get here in time when he heard that the job had been accepted.


Xander's first stop back in Sunnydale was his apartment building.  It was in ruins.  "Hell," he said, scowling at it.  He turned and got back into his car, heading to his aunt and uncle's house.  He knocked on the door, surprised that they were sober.  "Hey.  When did my apartment burn down?"

"Last month," she told him, letting him inside.  "You can have the basement.  Do not do anything obvious."

"Sure, Auntie, thanks."   He kissed her on the cheek and went down to check out what he'd need to get.  None of his good furniture was going to be risked in this place.

The End.