"Thinking back, that was the one time that I was wrong," he mused as he looked at his young student. The older man was a teacher, and it showed on his face that he had the experience. His hat was carefully covering his eyes, his beard was a bit more sparse each year that went past. His shoulder-length black hair had a few white spots in it, just enough to show up as highlights for now. His tense body was wiry but not as firm as in his youth. To say it plainly, he was getting older. "I still was young and dumb. Even after all I had done, I was still young and stupid enough to believe that I had the right to pass on what I had learned." He looked around the small cell.
"Whatever," his apprentice sighed. "How much longer do you think?" He ran a careless hand through his just longer than shoulder-length platinum silver hair. No dye could give you that shade, you had to be born with it or earn it. His body was tensed and ready to jump, like a slinky some kid was moving back and forth. His face was mostly emotionless, especially his eyes, and his lips were pressed together in annoyance. This was not where they had planned to be.
"That would depend on whether or not he checked his mail yet and where in the world he might be," the older man said, sitting down on his bunk. He slowly lay down, some of his old injuries still ached now and then and it was damp in there. "It's only been a day. We've probably got some more time."
"Wonderful." The young guy leaned over the edge of his bunk, looking down at his mentor. His hair didn't move, he had stuck it in place before they had gotten caught and it was behaving for the moment. "How did I talk you into this one?"
"One last hurrah before I retired for good?" he reminded the kid.
"Oh, yeah." He sighed and lay back down himself. "It wouldn't be so bad if there was something to do in here." It had been funny, the guard had told him that they couldn't even give him a word search and a pencil because they were so dangerous they might hurt the guards with them.
"That's why a good imagination is so important, kid."
"I know. Unfortunately, the only thing my imagination is good for this month seems to be tits. I doubt you want to hear me babbling about them."
"No, not really, but it would be like old times," the man admitted wryly. "I heard enough of that when I was your age. And older," he admitted. "My boss never went a day without waking me up in the middle of the fricken' night."
The younger guy snickered. "I've seen his picture and I'm not really that impressed. How did he manage to get so much?"
"Ah, the anti-drug," the young man quipped.
"Nap, kid. It'll kill time."
"True. Hadn't thought of that. Okay, I'll sleep, you watch for the torturing bastards and we'll switch in a few hours." He closed his eyes and got comfortable. "Could they make these beds any more lumpy?"
"Feel lucky, they've got mattresses. Some of the places we've seen have only had the floor or concrete slabs and there'd be ten or fifteen of us in this single cell."
"Hmm. Opportunity but usually not enough I guess."
"Some of us aren't like that."
"And I still curse you every day for that fact," the young guy reminded him.
"Yeah, well, blame me for being straight."
"I blame your old boss, he obviously corrupted you at a young age."
The older guy laughed. "Nice one. I'll tell him you said that if and when he shows up."
"If he doesn't, can I just go all animal and kill them the next time they come in?"
"Sure. Die faster and leave me here," he said with mock-bitterness. "Then who'd I have to talk to?"
"The walls? Or hey, at your age, you've got a more handy imagination. You've done enough so you don't only think about tits anymore."
"That takes mental strength and will power. We could work on that while we wait."
"Teach me how to scale a wall; it'll come in more handy in the future."
"We'll see. It's not really your strong suit."
"I know," the young guy agreed. "That's why I need to work on it."
"Do more pushups, it'll help your arms. Or I knew someone who rented apartments with enclosed lofts so she could do pull-ups off the railings," he offered. The younger guy groaned. "I know, it's hard work and you hate working out."
"Not that. Can't you hear the whistling? The boring guy's back." His hearing was a little better than average thanks to the same reason he had white hair. It was no trouble for him to hear the annoying tune down the corridor.
"Yay." A dry chuckle. "Just the sort of fun you need to spark your imagination in a different direction." He waved when the annoyance appeared at the bars. "Morning," he said cheerfully. "You sound like you're having as much fun as we are."
The inspector glared at him. "You're being a bastard, but I know you'll talk soon."
"No, not likely," the young guy noted. "Not that I know that much, but still."
"I told you to study," the older guy reminded him.
"Stop that!" the inspector yelled. That was more irritating than the teacher and his former boss sniping at each other.
"Watch your blood pressure, old man. You don't want to have a heart attack and the only people to save you be on this side of the bars."
"Didn't you say he did that once?" the young guy hissed.
"Yeah, but he hates it when I remind of that fact." He grinned again. "It's too bad I was forced to give up smoking."
"I'd have to kill you if you lit up in here. There's no ventilation and I'm still not into the whole 'lung cancer' thing."
"If you say so."
The inspector growled. "You'll have to talk eventually, you're not getting out otherwise. At least not until the trial." His eyes narrowed. "Don't hope for rescue either. Your former boss and running partners are in their own sort of trouble. One's in the middle of a hurricane and the other's on his honeymoon."
"Hey, I've got friends too," the young guy complained. He sat up. "Not going to say anything about them?"
"I don't know you well enough to say if your friends are trouble and coming to get into more. What little I know about you leads me to believe that they're just as scummy as you are."
The young guy laughed. "Nice try. Unfortunately, life pushed me this way; my friends are nice people who would probably kill me." The inspector shrugged and wandered away again.
"You ever going to tell me about them?"
"Not here," the young guy snorted. "Some night when we're both a little too drunk ask me again."
"Sure. Is it that bad?"
"More odd. There's things in my past I can't really tell anyone because they'll make fun of me or other stuff. Living the odd life is not fun, really."
"Odd?" The old guy got off his bunk and stood up, looking at his apprentice. "Define odd."
"You know how you were so upset about that urn that sucked souls?" The old guy nodded. That had been a problematic caper. "I've seen worse on that spectrum, including something that could do that and was walking around." The guy raised an eyebrow. "Really. If we ever get out of here, I'll take you back to my house and I'll tell you." He grinned. "But only if you agree to listen without saying anything about it later."
"Fine," the old guy agreed. He heard a small sound outside their cell and walked over to the plastic window, looking down. "Hmm. Laundry day."
"We should send our stuff out," the young guy noted.
"I doubt you want to wear prison uniforms."
"No, not really," the younger guy admitted. "I think I look nifty in my present outfit. I'd like to change sometime soon, but not enough to lose it."
"Give it a few days. We'll be out of here by then." He turned and leaned against the wall, staring at the hallway. "I really hate these places."
"Ditto. And can I say that my imagination wasn't sparked by him at all?"
The old guy snorted. "Of course not. Why would you want to think about him that way?"
"Eww." He looked over at his mentor. "That is one sickening mental image. Now I need a brainwash."
"And a wax," the old guy said with a grin. "It'll make it more slick. Make it run faster."
"This was not my fault," the young guy said patiently. "I'm not the one with the international bounty on his head who sneezed at the wrong moment in the wrong restaurant. Why were we eating at the same place as the Cop of the Year banquet anyway?"
"Yeah, yeah. Whine again and I'll feed you to one of my partner's fish. They should like you, you're small and you smell like their food."
"I do not smell like ground up fish," he protested. "I haven't touched any fish-smelling things in weeks thanks to this job." He settled on his back again, wiggling until the spring was out of his spine. "Remind me to find a willing hooker after we're free, okay?"
"Sure, kid." The old guy shook his head. The younger generation didn't have any self control. He had gone years without.
"Don't even think about lecturing me about self control," the young guy said without looking. "When you were my age, you couldn't have gone without for years. You were older when you did that."
"I was busy in my youth, no time for dames."
"Yay. I'm not."
"You need more caffeine."
"Yes, I do," the young guy agreed. "Yo, can we get some coffee!" he shouted.
"Shut up!" a guard yelled back.
"If you don't get me caffeine, my ADHD will kick in with the annoying tendencies!" he shouted back.
"Don't piss them off, they'll bring in cattle prods," the old guy warned.
"Let them try," the young guy said bitterly. "I'm not getting hit with one of those ever again."
"Another story I haven't heard."
"It's related. You'll get pissed and then I'll have to get really drunk to get away from your ranting."
"Fine." The guard came in with trays of their lunch. "Did you get his caffeine?" The guard snorted. "He's going to hit withdrawal soon. I'd hate to have to kill him for singing all night."
"We can always drug him," the guard reminded him. He shoved the trays through the hole then backed away, watching as they were taken to the bunks. "You be quiet," he told the younger guy. He got a wicked cackle in return. "Try then. You're already an annoyance to most of us."
"Hey, I could be doing my amazing slut act," the young guy noted, grinning up at the ceiling. "I've been told I drove a few sexual demons to beg." The guard shuddered as he walked away.
"Succubus or incubus?"
"Both. Being bi is like that," the young guy said smartly. He looked at the tray, then winced, handing it off. "No thanks. I have no desire to see it coming back up." The old guy looked at him. "Food allergy?"
"Oh, yeah." He handed his over instead. "Here, try that. It's bean free." He sat down to eat the chili. It was decent enough, even though it had come from a can.
The young guy ate the salad without complaining. He didn't like salad, thought they were evil and should be exterminated, but he would tolerate it this time. He had to keep his strength up. At least until they got out of here.
The old guy heard a familiar noise outside and looked outside again, nodding at the person out there. He held up two fingers then went to wake up his student. "Get up," he said roughly. The young guy rolled over and flipped off his bed, landing on his feet. Ah, the flexibility of youth. "Get ready."
"Later. Unless they come through the door. And no killing the guards!"
"Fine. Take my fun," the young guy sighed. "Arm and leg injuries only." He leaned against the bunks, eyes closed so he could center himself. As soon as the door opened, the guards would be his. It was his job as an apprentice to protect the older, more knowledgeable teacher. The fire alarm went off and the young guy hummed. "Nice. Not real original but workable. Will it shut down anything?"
"That's not them." Their rescuers wouldn't have pulled the alarm. The old guy walked out and looked down the hall. There was a real fire a few cells down. "Damn."
"Hey, confusion is good if it doesn't lock us down," the young guy reminded him. People went running past, opening the other cell. "Self-flambee?"
"Looks like it," the old guy agreed, stepping back as a guard walked past their cell. "Any survivors?"
"No." He sneered at them. "Want a lighter to do the same thing?"
"No thanks. If I wanted to burn up, I'd have let the guy with the fireproof padding and the flame thrower a few years back do it," the younger guy quipped. "I'm not that much into barbeques."
The guard sneered, lifting his chin. "You're a little punk who's going to get what he deserves."
"Missing your own misspent youth?" the young guy quipped, coming over to face him down. "What's the matter, did you wanna be like me and couldn't hack it?" The guard lunged and the younger guy caught him by the throat. "So what's it gonna be?" he sneered, seeing the fear in the guy's eyes. "You gonna run away or just piss yourself?"
"Let him go," the older guy said patiently. The younger guy let him go and stepped back. "Sit!"
"I'm still not your dog," the young guy noted as he sat on the lower bunk.
"Then quit acting like one." He looked at the guard. "We warned you he needed caffeine. This is light withdrawal. It gets worse," he said happily. "Soon he'll start to sing and be even more violent."
"Yeah. I'm thinking an off-key rendition of Rod Stewart," the young guy noted. The guard gave him a look. "What? It's not like I can sing on-key," he noted happily. The guard walked off, still rubbing his throat. "I can't kill just him?"
"No," the old guy said patiently. He looked at him. "Why are you so blood thirsty? There's an art to wounding them so they can't follow you."
"Yeah, but when your first kill is at fourteen and it's your best friend, it's reasonable to be this way. Even if the kill was necessary at the time," the young guy pointed out. The old guy looked at him and he shrugged, walking over to start on his life history. It'd kill time and let him forget he was shaking with withdrawal from the caffeine.
When the rescue party got there that night, he found the two guys napping on each other's shoulders, heads pressed together as they slept on the bottom bunk. "That's a switch," the former boss noted as he opened the door. "Boys?" he called softly.
The younger guy woke up and looked at him, then nudged his boss. "They're here."
"Huh?" He woke up and then nodded. "Morning. Took you long enough."
"Yeah, well, things were going funny after that one guy burnt himself," he noted. He handed them their things, including their weapons. "Come on, let's go. The gas will wear off soon."
"Hey, the old guy was here too," the younger guy noted as he followed. "He didn't look too happy with us. Can we stop and get a coke?"
"Please get him something," the mentor noted. "Before he annoys us to death."
"Hey!" He gave his teacher a light shove. "Meanie."
"Kid, relax. It'll be a few minutes and then you can hit a machine."
"Cool." The guy moved ahead, looking out the door before opening it. "No SWAT, I'm impressed," he said as he followed them.
"How did you get hooked up with him again?"
"He saved my fricken' life 'cause you were busy," the mentor reminded him.
"Oh, yeah." He got in to drive. "The rest of the crew said hi and to not bring you to where they're honeymooning, they'll be leaving in a few days to join us." He looked at the young guy, who was in the back seat. "Does he always hold his gun?"
"He's paranoid." He looked back. "Put it away," he ordered.
"You mean I can't shoot the old guy in the window?"
"No, leave him alone." The teacher turned back around. "Drive."
"Going." He waved and smiled at the man in the window, then headed off into the early morning. There was nearly a chase, but for some reason the cops got confused. There were a lot of red four door sedans on the streets for morning rush. As soon as they got a good distance away, they started looking for a good hideout.
"Turn left on the next main road," the young guy said with a yawn. "There's a small town that way but there's almost nothing left in it. It was evacuated a few years back after an apocalypse."
"You know this how?"
"I helped fight the apocalypse."
"Oh. Okay." The two from the older generation looked at each other then back at him. "When?"
"Everyone said it was an earthquake, one that didn't do any damage anywhere else," the young guy said tiredly. "The rest of us saw the town slowly be swallowed. Turn left. Now." The car turned. "Now go about sixty more miles. This is the back road, there's nothing between here and there." He closed his eyes. "Wake me when we find somewhere."
"Sure, kid." He looked at his old friend. "According to him, things like that urn walk around there."
"Did. Past tense," the young guy said. "With the hole closed it's inactive."
"Hmm." The driver looked back at him. "Who are you again?"
"Batman?" he suggested lightly, grinning without opening his eyes.
"Sorry." He opened his eyes and sat up. "It depends on who you ask. If you ask my friends, I'm dead. If you ask people who used to know me, they'll tell you I'm not the person I used to be. If you ask my teacher, Jigen swears I'm an asshole when I'm in silk but the rest of the time I'm fine." He grinned again. "Technically I'm a Harris by birth but not by gifts."
"Harris? Pretty common name."
"Look it up later. Hey, take this road. There's an old house up on the hill. It's not really haunted, just looks that way."
"Played in it as a kid?"
"No, we helped send the thing living in it away," the young guy told him. "It's been a few years but he wouldn't want to come back. She's dead and there's nothing else here for him to do."
"What else is in the town?"
"The last time I was here, a few houses were left standing. There was a push to tear them down but no one's done anything about them. Mostly it's a testament to earthquake standards. Unless there's a geology group in again to study the supposed fault."
"What was it if it wasn't a fault?" Jigen, the mentor, asked.
"A nifty portal to hell. It looks a lot different than I thought but I was assured it was only a waiting room." The car stopped and both men looked at him. He grinned and shrugged. "I worked with a Slayer back then."
"Shit," the driver noted, looking at his best friend. "You didn't tell me that."
"I haven't heard the whole story myself yet." He looked at his student. "The reason you're so good with heart shots…."
"Are the vampires I practiced on," he agreed. "Like my best friend who was my first kill." The adults groaned. "What? It beats working on paper targets at a range."
"Yeah, it does. Okay, are you sure the house is empty?"
"Who'd want to move out here?"
"Have you physically seen it recently?"
"Not for about a year. It was up for sale, but nothing was biting. I've kept track of the property battles with the state through the news and a friend who's working on making the state pay them for the damage since it wants to buy the town and demolish it for a new camping area."
"Let's hit the town," the driver decided, heading that way again. "How much farther?"
"Maybe another hour, depending on speed. I used to get from LA to town in three hours and I did go a little fast."
"Are there any cops out here?"
"Not unless there's a geology camp from UCLA studying the area. Then they're up there as security. They do a monthly fly over with a copter to check for pot growing but nothing else. Hey, can we hide by the beach? I haven't body surfed in years."
"We'll see." The old guys shared another look. "You're gonna tell us everything later," the driver ordered.
"Sure. Or you could read my novel. I've been working on it now for years so I could get it outside my head. Not that it'll ever see the light of day, but it's a nice way of getting it out."
"Where is it?"
"In my safety deposit box in LA. There's a courier place that has access. And no, it's not in my name." He looked behind them. "Hey, is that a cop car?" he asked.
"No." The driver sped up, taking the next turn in the road sharply. "Any other surprises?"
"Change places with me," the young guy ordered. He unbuckled and hopped out as soon as the car stopped, letting him get into the back. As soon as he slid in, and the old guy got into the back, he took off again, going much faster. He remembered this road fondly. He had made out on this road many times. He had also driven it a lot to get to the closest source of porn and comics. He turned down a side road, heading up the back road toward the ocean. "This one comes out on the other side of the town. If there's a geology group, it'll be there, but we'll still be okay. They'll be at the main crater and we can pretend we're viewing where we once lived. They give the former residents tolerant looks." After a while he turned on the radio and flipped the station to an oldies station, then grinned and slowed down. "Okay, there's a bus. There's a group. If anyone asks, we lived near Main, off Elm. That puts the house in the second circle of destruction. It's also on this side of town. It was a friend's house but it'll do for now." He slowly drove behind the bus, then turned down a semi-paved street. "They were supposed to keep this up," he muttered as he continued on his way. "We're going to have a look from the heights. That way you guys can pick out a good place to hide from the cabins back there and I can watch for cops."
"Fine," Jigen agreed. "You're still going to tell us everything."
"Sure." He waved a hand at the guard as they passed. The next one stopped them. "Hey, Xander Harris," he said with a goofy grin. "Just touring the old home place." The guard checked his name on a clipboard in the shack. "We copacetic?" the guard nodded. "Cool. I plan on camping around here. I've been having nightmares and my therapist said I needed to be here to deal with them." He gave a head-nod at his mentor.
"Fine, Mr. Harris. Have a nice day," he said with a smile. "I hope you get over your problems."
"After living here? I hope so too." He drove on, parking in a gravel lot. "Okay, in front of us is a wooden platform, it's about six hundred feet on the other side of the two trees. Behind you are visitor cabins. They're free for residents to stay in. They're basic but they've got running water and stuff; it was part of the deal the state made as a partial repayment to the residents because they refused to help us at all. They decided we had some sort of warning since we were on buses." He turned off the engine and handed Jigen the keys. "For you. I'll be on the platform." He climbed out and headed that way, letting the old guys talk behind his back openly. He walked onto the platform, looking at the remains of the town. They really had wrecked it when the hellmouth had exploded. It was a shame but it had needed to be done. Even if it wasn't their fault. He heard footsteps and turned, finding his boss' old friend standing behind him. "Hey." He pointed a hand out in front of him. "I grew up down there."
"What happened? It looks like a big bomb went off."
"Nah, the nifty portal to hell imploded and started to suck," Xander said quietly. "We barely made it out alive." He shrugged. "All part of my wacky former life." He looked at him. "You're letting the boss pick the cabin?"
"He's already found one. They're all empty."
"Cool. Let's hope none of my friends show up before we leave. Willow will not be pleased with me." He shrugged and grinned again. "Life sucks sometimes and then you move on."
"Sometimes by force."
"Yeah, having to run for your life does force you to move on." He grimaced. "At least I didn't get eaten when they decided I was worthless again."
"Ah, he never told you." Xander looked at him. "Look in my eyes."
"One's off colored," Lupin told him. "One's glass?" The young guy nodded. "Wow. Why?"
"The same reason that the town's flattened, a minion of the reason actually. He decided I needed to see differently so he popped it with his thumb." He started back toward the cabins. "Come on, if we're lucky someone nice left soup or something. If not, the nearest grocery store's a good drive away."
"You haven't been back here?"
"Nope, not until now. I tried but I couldn't make it back into the town. I only made it to that non-haunted house." Xander continued walking. "I can repress with the best of them, old guy. Really. It saves your sanity after a while." He walked past the car, heading for the open door. "Any luck on food?"
"Not much. One can of soup and some instant rice."
Xander sighed as he flopped down onto the couch. "That does suck. The nearest grocery place is almost sixteen miles away. The next town over. There's a packette on the edge of the town, where the closest gas station is as well."
Jigen sighed. "That's a long way away."
"The car's got half a tank, if we head that way when we leave, it'll be easier. We can hit the interstate and head back to LA if we need to, or north if we need to. The east-west interchange is about seventy miles or so past that exit."
"Good to know," Lupin noted as he walked in. "How far away is the nearest grocery store?"
"About sixteen miles. Or about twenty minutes if the light hits you wrong on the way over. The last time I was here, about five years ago, they were building the Super Wal-mart just beyond the on-ramp to the interstate. The grocery store was closer to the mall. Speaking of, I could use some new clothes and so could you, Jigen."
"Sure, if we don't get chased."
"First," Xander said, leaning closer. "No one knows I'm me. You didn't even know what my last name was before now. My fingerprints were changed about three years ago by a bit of radiation from a demon so even if they were on file somewhere it's not going to come up as me. Secondly, if no one knows who I am, then they definitely wouldn't expect us to come this way or be staying up here. The only people who come this way are geology graduate students and mourning relatives. A film crew came up once and then disappeared so the town doesn't allow tourists." Lupin opened his mouth. "Seriously. I figured they became snacks of something that was hiding here. Even the odd things don't come here anymore. Third, this place is safer for me than LA is. Here has no enemies, no cops, nothing." He leaned back again. He played with a loose strand of his hair. "LA has people who want to see me finish dying. Cleveland had people who might kill me if they see me because of the same incident that got my fingerprints changed. And no, I'm not telling you about that yet. I might love you, dude, but not that much."
"How long can we stay here?"
"The guards will give us a few weeks before they start giving us dirty looks. I'd think three days should be enough to plan our next move. Or to make plans to move." He shrugged. "If not, then I'll leave and head to England. There's someone over there I want to finish having a discussion with," he said coolly.
"What did he do to you?" Lupin asked, sounding hesitant.
"He's the reason my fingerprints changed; why my friends consider me already dead or needing to finish dying. He decided I was the perfect sacrifice to stop the world ending. Without telling me that. The man was like a brother to me. He kissed me and then called the demon to take me." He stretched out, putting his feet on the coffeetable. "That's all you need to know. Anything else and you could identify him."
"Fine," Lupin said quickly, glancing at Jigen.
"It's not like he'd save him."
"The guy is usually a hero. This was a case of that was the only option he saw. No one listened to me or the other person who knew there was another way. She officially died a few months later because they sent her away too. When I came back, they flinched away from me and made sure I knew I wasn't wanted. One of them came after me to hunt me down and kill me. To end the taint she told me. All the while crying pitifully about how bad things were going to be for her for doing that. I found you while I was running from her."
Jigen nodded. "Fine. I can see why you don't want to share it with me. We can head to England. You're still not ready to be out alone."
"I know," Xander sighed. "I'm not ready for a lot of stuff. I seem to have that problem a lot before I jump or get pushed into something." He looked at Lupin, raising an eyebrow and smirking at him. "You look like you'll have nightmares if you don't get a drink."
"Possibly." He looked at Jigen. "Want to take him and get food while I look around?"
"Sure. Come on, kid. We'll find food and liquor."
"Cool. I could use some scotch myself." He patted himself down, then frowned and walked out to the car, picking up his wallet from the back seat. "What name did I give them?"
"I think you gave them Lavelle Snyder this time." Jigen let him drive. He knew the place and it would be easier than Xander's problem giving directions. "Why?"
Xander sat in the seat, flipping through his cards. "Ah, here we go. Something I haven't used yet. I've got to remember not to." He stood up and looked back at the cabin. "Did you need anything else?"
"No," floated out through an open window.
"Okay then." Xander got in and started the car, pulling out and down to the guard shack. "Don't lock the gates," he warned. "We're going for food."
"A new chain store just opened this side of the Wal-mart," the guard told him. "You've got about two hours before we leave." Xander nodded and pulled down the road. "Poor kid. So young to have lost everything."
Xander walked Jigen through the grocery store, finding the food he'd want. Even if he had to cook, he was eating real food.
"Go easy on the perishables," Jigen warned.
Xander looked at him. "There's a microwave. That's for breakfast."
"You need to eat real food."
"No, I need to eat things that I don't have to concentrate on cooking. If you want real food in the mornings, you can cook for yourself. That should get me through three days or so." He added some soda. "Okay, what did you need still?"
"Just a few things, the practical things."
"Oh, yeah." Xander led the way into the toilet paper aisle. "You know the old guy, he that picky?"
"Get Charmin, he'll be happier with it." A few packs flew into the cart. Jigen looked at Xander, who was grinning. "Since when can you move stuff without your hands?"
"Um, not always and not always successfully, but for about three years now. Since about two days before you met me." He gave the candy aisle a loving look but his mentor shook his head. "Fine. Ice cream?"
"Nope. Nothing too frozen." He walked the boy to the liquor aisle, watching as he pulled down the jug of Canadian Mist and a smaller pint of something else. "Get my usual too. Lupe drinks it." The fifth was put into the cart along with a few picnic glasses. "That's just wrong, kid."
"Hey, it works. Ooh, we'll need trash bags probably." He jogged over and got them, then came back with them and a block of cheese and some crackers. "Sorry, couldn't help it. Let's go." He led the way to the register, letting him do the unloading while he ran the card. They got everything into the car and Xander looked at his boss. "Mall today or tomorrow?"
"Do you really have to go?"
"We left the luggage in LA. We've been wearing the same clothes for four days."
"Good point. Fine. We can go to the mall for a few minutes. Can we get everything together?"
"Nearly." Xander started the car and headed down the road, landing them at the mall. "My suitcase was empty anyway because of the blood issue last month." He led the way in through a side entrance, right to his favorite shop. Surprisingly enough, it was still here. "Hey," he said, nodding at the cashier. She probably wouldn't remember him so it would be fine. The necessities of good hygiene were easily picked up and new clothes were added to the bill. Xander made a quick spin through Radio Shack, picking out the necessities, then they went back to the car and back to the cabin. He was even nice enough to help carry everything in. "I'm making steak with port sauce, anyone got any arguments?" he announced once everything was up.
"He eats well," Lupin told Jigen, looking at the computer gear. "You could have used mine."
"All our stuff's back in LA," Xander told him. "You got a problem with dinner?"
"No. Half the time we ate rice."
"I've done that. My stomach gets upset." He shrugged and grinned. "It's the wonderful world of food allergies." He took the meat he wanted to use out of the refrigerator, starting with it. It was a simple and fast dish. "Besides, I need to eat well or else I'll start to get sick again," he reminded himself quietly. He felt the arm slide around his neck. "Don't squeeze."
"Sure." Jigen gave him a gentle hug. "You okay?"
"Yeah. This town will cause nightmares but I'll live. Toss me outside if I get too noisy in my sleep." He grimaced, fixing the mistake he had just caused. "The sauce is going to be a little thin," he warned.
"That's fine. We could go back to Japan if you wanted."
"No thanks. I feel awkward around such formal customs." He grimaced again. "I'm not the most socially ept person. I think I'll take a short vacation then head to England to do that guy, then I'll figure it out from there."
"Of course you will. I'm going to be there with you." Xander looked at him. "Like I said, you're not ready to be on your own yet." He let him go and smirked. "You make real food and we'll be over here hooking all this stuff up."
"Let me. I'll do it while I take first watch tonight. It's not like I can sleep before two in the morning anyway." He went back to braising his meat. "You can open veggies if you want."
"Thanks." Jigen looked at Lupin, who was giving him a look. He gave a subtle head shake. Some days he was a counselor, some days he was a teacher, and some days he was a father figure. This kid was more work than anyone he'd ever known but he was worth it most of the time. "I think we need to get the whole group together. He could use some time with the other one."
"His wife will shit," Lupin reminded him.
"Yay. She'd better get used to us. I'm spending my vacation at his house." Xander snickered. "One day it'll be your house. I'll be there to tempt the future little Lavelle's into crime."
"No little Lavelles," Xander said firmly. "Not possible." He took a deep breath, stopping the commemorative butter dish from moving without any physical help.
"I think you're right," Lupin agreed. He watched the boy cook, then looked at the piles of stuff. "He needed clothes?"
"Last month we were doing something and got caught in a hostage situation as hostages. Someone there bled all over most of his stuff. It needed replaced."
"Fine," Lupin agreed calmly. He heard a car and looked outside. "We've got company and it's a little redhead."
"I'm not here, you've never met me, and I'm not leaving the cabin until we all leave," Xander said shortly. He walked over and drew the curtains once he made sure she wasn't looking in their direction. "That's Willow," he told Jigen. He went back to the stove, adding the vegetables to a pot so they could warm up. A little flour was added to the sauce to thicken it and he smiled. "There, done," he announced, searching for plates.
"We can eat out of the pans, we've done it before," Lupin noted. He watched the young woman walk back and forth from her car. "Friend of yours?"
"Yeah. Wants to kill me." He shrugged. "Seems to be a common theme among them."
"Why is she here?" Jigen asked.
Xander came over and looked at the date on his watch. "Because the official commemoration is tomorrow night. She always comes up to pray over the town. I forgot that, sorry." He brought the pans and forks over, letting them have one each. He heard the knock and headed into the bathroom.
Jigen got up and answered the door. "Yeah?"
She looked at him. "You're not one of us," she noted.
He smirked. "I'm here with another of you. He's explaining things to me. I'm his counselor."
"Oh. Then who's...." She shook her head. "Sorry, never mind. I'm nosy. Have a good night. It should be safe up here. There are no animals in the woods anymore." She went back to her cabin, thinking about it. The guard had mentioned Xander was here. They were obviously protecting him. She felt a calm touch her soul and decided this was not the time. After the yearly prayer for the lost souls. Then she could deal with him. She had been chasing him around now and then, had heard he had been in LA and was in trouble, so she had figured he would run this way. She had been right but not today or tomorrow. She'd have to warn Wesley that Xander was still dangerous. One of the guys had a gun.
Xander looked out across the flat area, watching the sky as it lightened. He could sleep tomorrow. Nights were too familiar for him these days. He felt a hand touch his back and looked back. "Hey," he said, getting out of Lupin's way. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Wondering why you were lurking in the doorway."
"It's nice out tonight," Xander said quietly. "It's nice to see the place being peaceful." He shifted his weight. "Besides, this way Willow can't try to kill us all."
"She didn't seem that dangerous."
"She is. Trust me, she's more than dangerous. Especially to those around me."
"He'll hunt you down if you leave him to protect him," Lupin pointed out. Xander nodded. "Are you going to run?"
"No. It's a thought but I'd give him some warning." He turned away from the sight, looking at the older man. "I've had shit in my life since day one. Then Buffy came and it got worse. I did things I never imagined doing, had things done to me that I can't even think about these days. I dated women who killed people because they had to so they could survive. I dated a demon once. Former supposedly but she never got out of the mindset. Through it all I was a good guy until that one incident three years ago when I came back." He swallowed hard. "And now I have to face her down, can't harm her for it, and move on."
"Remembering won't make it go away."
"True, but it reminds me why I look in the mirror and see someone different. Otherwise, I get really confused. It's pitiful but I can't help it anymore," he said bitterly. He walked over to the couch and laid down, getting comfortable. "Night, Lupin."
"Good night." He stared out at the sky. He wished someone would explain this to him but they wouldn't. There was something deeper going on and it was wrenching to watch it play out. Jigen had hinted that the boy was more than he let on but this was something beyond what his friend knew. He knew it, he felt it like he could feel a safe's combination. If only for the reason that good guys don't go bad without a reason. He glanced at the body on the couch then shook his head. He pulled out his laptop and hooked into his home database via satellite uplink. Then he searched. He had the boy's name. It was common but not that common. The town itself had something and so did LA. Very little was found, but some interesting patterns looked to be developing. He felt someone look over his shoulder and saw the boy standing there. "Sorry, I wanted to know."
Xander wrote out something and pulled a key off the chain he wore. "Go there, read the book. Don't tell him. He'll only be disappointed in me." He looked outside. "I should probably go so she doesn't cast a fire spell and destroy the cabin with us in it."
"She can?" Xander nodded. "You're sure?"
"I've seen her do it to things in the past. To her, I'm now a thing. Thereby she has a clear conscience." He looked around the cabin, then over at Willow's. "She won't act on the memorial day. That means we've got a day." He walked over and grabbed some hot pockets out of the freezer, putting them into the microwave. "Want some?"
"No thanks. I prefer real food."
"When I'm tired it's better if I don't cook," Xander told him. "I tend to burn things and set stoves on fire." As soon as they were done, he pulled them out and leaned against the counter to eat. "I should join her probably."
"You can if you want."
"No. I don't want. I should but I don't want. Oh, if you get too close to her while she's praying you might get flashback from her imaging. She always replays the last few days so she can remember and grieve." He stuffed his mouth again, handing over the one he hadn't eaten when Jigen joined them. "Morning."
"Morning. Did you get any sleep?"
"Fuck no," Xander told him. "Willow's not above striking while we sleep. She won't do it today but tomorrow's fair game." He looked in the fridge and freezer, then nodded. "Everything that will spoil can be fixed today and taken with us if we need to." He went back to the couch and laid back down, relaxing again.
"Go nap on the bed, kid," Jigen ordered. Xander shook his head.
"That's traditionally his spot," Lupin told him.
"It'll hurt his back," Xander told him. "I don't want to be trapped if she starts shit."
"Fine." Lupin looked at Jigen, who shrugged. Neither of them understood this. They'd seen strange stuff but this was out of their league. It looked like the propensity for dealing with the strange and dangerous had successfully been passed on if nothing else had been learned from them. "How was Pops?"
"Gray haired, bitter, and wrinkled," Xander answered.
"Bitter that we weren't saying anything. He thought you were in the middle of a hurricane."
"I was but I heard it was coming so I left. I don't want to go through another one of those," Lupin offered dryly, smiling at his friend. "Do you think Goemon'll mind if we show up with the kid in tow?"
"Probably. We still need to get our stuff from LA."
"I wrote an email to the hotel, telling them to please pack our things and release our room," Xander told him. "They're sending them to the Cairo address."
"Thanks, kid. That's handy."
"Hey, I didn't figure they had confiscated anything. They didn't know what names we were in under."
"Why Cairo?" Lupin asked.
"Xander set it up."
"I figured I'd end up there," Xander admitted with a small sigh. "It's the home of the strange shit I seem to draw to me these days. I thought it might be easier. Plus, who would believe we'd come out of an Arabic country?"
"Good point," Jigen agreed. "Sleep. It'll be a tough day." Xander nodded, rolling onto his side and letting himself drift off. He waited until he heard the first snore then looked at his best friend. "He'll wake up eventually. Then we'll make plans," he said in a normal tone.
"Hopefully. I'd hate to have to fight in these woods. What happened? Did you see the crater?"
Jigen shook his head so Lupin took him out to look at the remains of the town. "He told me he grew up down there," he pointed in the same direction Xander had.
"Was that atomic?" Jigen asked, looking around the rippled ground. "What the hell?"
"Literally," Willow said from behind them. She had her arms crossed. "Now, why are you two really here? I can have you thrown out if I say you weren't residents."
"We're here with a resident," Lupin told her. "Next time, try listening."
She snorted. "Yeah, because Xander's still here."
Jigen shrugged. "He's in the woods."
"Oh." Her face fell. "He stayed?" They shook their heads. "But you said...." She grimaced. "It doesn't matter. Today is the memorial and I have things to do. Excuse me." She moved away from them, going to her usual place. Her backpack came off and things were pulled out. "I don't care if you stay while I do this. I'll be concentrating too hard to care."
The old guys watched her, then the geology students digging around in the remains. Then her again when a picture started to form in front of her. They walked over to get a better look, wincing at what they saw. The boy in the vision wasn't the same one napping on the couch. This one was cracking jokes. The woman was crying but they ignored her. He had said it was her fault partially and she seemed to agree. When the hellmouth opened, they both flinched but continued to watch. They made it all the way through the implosion and the run for safety. Then they walked back to the cabin, not caring that most of the day had gone by. Xander was on the floor but still asleep. "How?" Lupin asked. That was well beyond his capabilities; he could accept that failing in himself, he was not a warrior or a soldier.
"That was just the worst," Jigen told him. "He told me some of it while we waited on you. Most of it in code. I wonder which vampire that one was."
"Was he blond or dark haired?" Xander mumbled.
"Spike." He lifted his head. "Willow let you see?" They nodded. "Now you know what happened to the town. My own story's a bit more twisted both before and after that. That was the worst to date, but then again we were used to bad things happening and us winning." He stood up and stretched. "Anyone need the bathroom, I'm going to shower."
"Go for it," Jigen told him, watching as he walked away. "Xander, I want him to look at the hole in your shoulder."
"It's healed already," Xander called back.
"Yeah, sure it has," Jigen said, grimacing. There had been blood on his shirt in the same spot as the graze had been.
"So," Lupin said, thinking. "That was ...worse than anything we've ever had to face," he admitted. Jigen nodded. "What do we do with this information?"
"Protect the kid. She's off somehow."
"I agree," Lupin said quietly, looking outside. There was a motorcycle pulling up the road. He whistled when he saw the woman getting off the bike. "Wow. Wonder who she is."
Jigen looked out then shook his head. "Xander has a picture of her but he doesn't say who she is when I ask." He walked back to the bathroom and tapped on the door. "Xander, the woman from that picture you won't explain just pulled up." He groaned through the door. "Should we hide?"
"No. Dawn's fine. She's a lot like me." He opened the door and walked out, wearing a towel and one around his shoulders. He looked out the door, noticing she was heading for Willow. "I should probably stop her from killing Wills, but I don't think I could."
"Let me," Lupin told him, heading out to talk the girl down before they got the cops up there. He stopped her before she could walk onto the platform. "Would you come talk with me?" he asked. "Xander said so."
She smirked at him. "I saw him in the doorway. I have to do this first. It's time. She's earned it." She got free. "Then we'll chat. Don't worry about it." She walked up to the crying woman and pulled a case out of her back pocket. She opened the quiet zipper and pulled out something, sticking it brutally in the woman's back. "There, now I'm done." She walked back to him and waved a hand. "Come on, before he panics. Again." She led the way to the cabin, smirking at Jigen. "You're his new boss. You must be good, Xander likes you a lot from his postcards."
Jigen nodded. "Thanks. And you are?"
"Dawn. I'm the one who supports him." She looked at Lupin. Then at Jigen again. "I'm like Fujiko for you guys to him. The sparring partner and comrade when it suits me. Without the backstabbing."
"How did you know?" Lupin asked.
"Easy, your pictures' on the tv all day and night. Just yours. With a rundown of your group. Apparently they think you caused that one guy to go insane and hurt himself."
"Quite possibly," Jigen agreed, smirking at Lupin. "Pops?"
"Probably," Lupin agreed. Xander came out of the bathroom already dressed. "You're bleeding."
Xander stopped and looked at Dawn, then slowly hugged her. "Hey."
"Hey." She pulled back to look at him. "She's unconscious. She's also pregnant with a future Slayer."
"Huh." He smirked. "Good. Hopefully the kid will be better than some of them."
"Including my sister." She stepped closer and gave him a real hug. "I've missed you, Xan. We'll be okay now."
"We won't be okay while they're alive," Xander reminded her quietly. He pulled back, looking down at her leather outfit. It was navy blue, form fitting, and basically a two-piece catsuit. "I see you've gotten better."
"Yeah, it's amazing what happens when you get decent medical care because people make you miscarry." She smirked at him. "Where are you heading after this?"
"Cool. Can I come?"
"This is single person revenge, Dawnie. Not for a pair."
"Let her go," Jigen told him. Both young people looked at him. "Seriously. I want to see if you two can work together. Xander, you'll never make it alone. Even if she's only there part of the time, she'll still need to train to work with you."
"Yeah, because we haven't fought beside each other since I was sixteen," Dawn told him dryly. "Welcome to my town. I was created here and made human." Jigen looked stunned. "Trust me, I've got Xan's back whenever he needs it. I was on my way to break you guys out myself but your buddy got there first." She looked at Xander again. His eyes were dead. "Fine, I'll stay," she sighed. He patted the back of her head. "If you'll let me look at your shoulder. He's right, it's bleeding."
"It happens sometimes," he admitted with a small shrug.
"Good, then it won't hurt when I look at it or heal it again," she said firmly. "Strip, danger-boy. Now."
"Yes, Dawn," he said, sitting down at the table so she could look at his shoulders.
Lupin looked at the scarring, frowning. "What caused that?"
"Bastinado," Dawn said simply. "Small whip, used repeatedly for weeks on end."
Xander looked up at her. "That was my lower back, Dawn, the scars were tanned off. That was the flaying thing."
"Oh, that thing. Sorry." She shrugged as she looked at the old guys again. "Sorry. It was something that wanted to remove the skin from his back. My sister was not happy that he survived since he was now supposedly tainted by what she had let happen."
"How is Buffy?"
"Dying in a loveless marriage to a twat who drinks too much. He shares the job with her but he hates it. He's like an edgy Riley."
"It's a duty, not a privilege."
"Yeah," she agreed, picking up the liquor to pour over the wound. He hissed. "Still clean. Good job." She laid a hand over the wet skin, it helped increase the contact between their two dry skins, and concentrated. Slowly the wound healed, making him relax. "I can remove it all, Xan, all you have to do is ask," she reminded him gently.
"No, not yet," he told her. She nodded, removing her hand so she could lick it clean. "Thanks, Dawn." He turned and pulled her into his lap to hold. "You're nice."
"You need to finish sleeping," she told him. They burst out in giggles. It was an old play argument between them.
Jigen cleared his throat. "We're going to Japan first, then we'll go to England, Xander. Dawn, you're coming as well unless you've got something pressing."
"There are things that we know which can help you travel around and do your chosen work," Lupin agreed. If Jigen had decided these were their heirs, then he'd turn over what he knew to them. "He'll still be alive in a year."
"Considering he was made immortal in the deal to save the world, yeah, he will," Xander agreed. "I'll have to find him again. The Watchers like to hide him now and then."
"Well," Dawn admitted. "A lot of them blew up recently." She looked at Lupin. "Did you really rob the Smithsonian?"
"Only to get them better funding," he admitted with a smile. "It worked. Do you guys steal stuff?"
"Now and then," Xander admitted. "I've been learning but I seem to suck at it."
"I do all the time," Dawn said, holding out her hand. "Dawn Isabelle Summers," she introduced. Lupin smiled because he *knew* that name. "Xander's my best friend, first crush, and the only person who saw me as a human being, no matter how I started out."
"We met your sister once," Jigen admitted. "That's how we know about some of this stuff."
"Yeah, she mentioned a guy with a hat and one who stared at her tits. Should I take the jacket off so you can see them better?" she asked Lupin.
He laughed. "Sorry. It's genetic."
"Ehh, they're nice but I've seen nicer," Xander teased. He heard something outside. "Okay, I don't know who that could be."
Dawn looked out there, then sighed. "That's Gunn's son. He's been following me around begging. Him and Wes's son." Xander frowned at her. "What? I lost them in LA. They must have figured out I'd go after Willow." She opened the door. "Fuckwads, leave," she called. They got out of the truck and looked at her. "I mean it."
"Yay," the dark-skinned man said, moving toward her. "You know I'm gonna protect you."
She snorted. "You're a little kid, David. Go home. Your dad will hate you if you do things like I do."
"He kicked me out last night anyway," he admitted, giving her a careful hug. You were always careful with Dawn. "How are you?"
"Fine. Rosenburg's now pregnant with a future Slayer. Let's see how she likes her repentance the second time around." She looked over the guy's shoulder at the other man. "Morning."
"Can I help kill my father?" he asked in a stiff British accent.
Dawn pulled back and looked him over. "Why? Did he give you away too?" The boy swallowed and turned pale. "What did he do, Marcus?" The boy whimpered and she grabbed him, pulling him closer. "Xander! Wesley struck again, his own son!" she shouted. Xander came out and grabbed the boy, helping him onto the ground. "Let me check him for spells," she noted, kneeling beside him. She saw a small face in the cabin beside theirs and glared. The little girl went back to her reading and homework. "Okay. I don't know what this is. He's possessed," she said after she checked him over.
"Holy water. Sea salt. I've got the spell memorized," Xander offered.
"Deal," David agreed. "We came stocked. There's no way I'm gonna go out like my dad with only a stake every night." He nodded at the two older guys. "Dawn's the only one who could help him."
"Wonderful," Dawn agreed. "What is that?" She laid a hand over Marcus' forehead, pushing the dark hair out of the way. "Stupid Cordy tendencies," she muttered. She started to say something over and over, letting Xander handle the other stuff. She suddenly looked up. "Why would he had put a demonic warrior in him?"
"The world needs a knight," Xander reminded her. "The main three have died or passed on."
"I forgot," Dawn admitted, looking down again. "Even if I clear him, he'll have memories, David. What did he want?"
"To be freer. He said it's a useful person in there but that's all he knew." He shifted nervously, glancing again at the old guys. "What do they know?"
"Nothing much," Xander admitted. "The one with hat is my mentor, the other was his boss and is his best friend. He came to rescue us from the LA county jail." He handed over the vial of holy water he had found in the truck. "Try to merge them, like we did with mine."
Dawn nodded and started to chant in a different key. The words were similar but they had a lilt to them now, something musical underlying it. The man on the ground groaned but Xander held him down by leaning on his chest. Dawn drew on his forehead with the holy water, making Marcus groan again. Suddenly, Marcus lurched up and screamed. Then he panted and laid back down, looking at Dawn. "You okay?" she asked gently, stroking his forehead again.
"Fine," he agreed. "I feared you couldn't free me." He looked at Xander. "I'm coming with you when you're free from your training."
"I've got a nice house waiting for all of us," Lupin ordered. "We'll figure that out there. How long do we have before that redhead wakes?"
"Maybe a few hours," Dawn told her. "She'll be out of it for the rest of the day." She stood up, dusting off her knees. "Why should we follow you?"
"Because my teacher trusts him, and I trust Jigen," Xander told her. "You don't have to come if you don't want to." He touched Marcus' face. "You need to go. He knows people who can tell you how to get it together again." Marcus smiled and nodded. "Good boy. David, this is an irreversible step," he warned. He stood up and helped Marcus stand up.
"Xander, you're bleeding again," Jigen noted.
"Every time we do magic around him it happens," Dawn told him, shrugging at his shocked look. "Magic was used to torture him. His body reacts to it differently now. He can use it without any consequences but he won't train."
"I don't want the curse," Xander told her. He helped Marcus into the cabin, sitting him on the couch. "You rest."
"Got anything to drink?" David asked.
"Look in the fridge. I bought soda," Xander told him. He looked at Dawn, seeing the tiredness in her eyes as well. "Sit. Now," he ordered. She sat, curling up against Marcus' side. David shared a glass of soda with her, leaning against her other side. "Guys, this isn't a game. Dawn and I play in the leagues that you guys can't understand yet. There are things that you have no idea about."
"Xander, I know you killed Cordy," Marcus told him. "She deserved it. She had the vision and didn't tell anyone. It may have allowed her spirit to ascend but we know you got her body."
"I always figured it was turn-around for what I did to Angelus," Xander told him.
"No, he needed that," Dawn said firmly. "I've talked to the Powers myself and they said it was his due at that time. He had broken their laws and slipped off the bandwagon of redemption. He hadn't needed to go and stalk everyone or help bring the Judge to that mall. They said he deserved what he got, you were the instrument of their wills to make him get back on the right track."
Xander hung his head. "Thank you, Dawn."
"Welcome. After all, you're my buddy, Xander." She reached over and pinched him. "Go clean that thing off. I'll heal it later."
"That's fine, it doesn't hurt this time." He shifted some. "David, your father is one of the last white knights left on the planet. If you follow us anywhere he'll have to hunt you some day. Even if you don't get turned, he'll feel it's his duty to hunt you and stop you."
"Maybe but it's my choice. I've seen what he hunts and I don't want to go that route. Besides, you've said yourself, I'm a natural thief. I'm good at scaling walls and all that stuff."
"True," Xander admitted. He looked at the older adults for help. How could he discourage them?
"They're coming and then they can make their own choices," Lupin told him. "They're adults."
"David's only seventeen," Xander corrected.
"Oh, speaking of seventeen," Dawn said, getting up and walking out to her bike. She came back and handed over a metal box. "I stopped in LA and got that for you. Willow had been checking on how to get it free from you so it couldn't get out."
Xander took the key off the table, opening the lockbox. He slumped. "Thanks, Dawn."
"You're welcome." She shoved the boys apart and sat down again, demurely crossing her legs. "When do we leave, boss?" she asked Lupin. "I figure I can learn something off you if you're offering. I've been self-taught so far."
"We'll leave tonight," Lupin told her. "Jigen, call the airport and make reservations. Dawn, your bike?"
"I'll pay to have it shipped," she told him. "I'm not leaving it. It's the last reminder I carry of my life physically."
He nodded, understanding that. "Fine. Jigen, Japan or France?"
"I'd rather go to France. It's warmer there right now," Jigen offered. He picked up Lupin's cellphone and called the number in his phonebook. "Hey, it's Jigen. Lupin said we need picked up near Sunnydale."
"LA has the nearest airport."
"There's a private airstrip fifty miles up the road," Dawn told him. "They fly crop dusters for the forest service and offer flying lessons. I was thinking it'd be handy to know how."
"It would and I know someone who can teach you," Lupin promised. She reminded him of a young Fujiko, only less slutty. More dangerous, but using her body less as a weapon. "Did anyone need to pack anything?" They all shook their heads. "How long, Jigen?"
"Six hours. He'll meet us at Fairfax Field in six hours with the private plane." He looked at Dawn. "That means your bike can go."
"Thanks." She stood up, handing off the glass of soda. "I hate to impose, but food?"
"We've got us-age food and real people food," Xander offered. "I can cook the real people food." He looked outside. "Did she actually bring her daughter?"
"She's been doing it on her own for four years," Dawn reminded him. "The girl can cook."
"Still," Xander said grimly. He looked at the freezer, then sighed and pulled out a pizza, sticking it into the oven. "I can't let a kid starve all day because her mother's a bitch." He stood there glaring at it, arms crossed over his chest.
Dawn came over and moved him out of the way, looking inside the freezer. "Hey, hot pockets." The boys rushed over to grab them, stuffing them into the microwave together. Xander pulled out a clean pan and started on real food for the adults, knowing they wouldn't want to eat fast food. When the pizza was done, Xander pulled it out and cut it into slices, then placed it onto the cardboard it had come on. He walked out, heading next door. He knocked gently, smiling at the little girl. "Your mother's going to be over there for a while, Tara," he said quietly. "This way you don't get burned from the stove."
"I can cook," she defended.
"Yeah, it's something you shouldn't be able to do at your age," he told her, giving her a pat on the head. "Tell your mommy I said to live well and long, because I never want to see her again. You, you're precious enough to love for eternity." She grinned at him. "You behave and stay inside today, read a lot of fun books instead of the serious stuff. If you get scared, we'll be here for a few more hours."
"Yes, Uncle Xander," she told him. He looked surprised. "I asked my mother why she cried over your photo. She told me she had done bad stuff with you in her youth."
"No, sweetheart, when we were young we were both good guys. When it's your turn, you'll understand." He gave her cheek a caress. "You behave. I'll check up on you when I can." He walked away before he broke down and cried. Dawn had made all of Willow's pregnancies potential slayers but only this one had been born so far and she was too nice to do the duty. He walked in and looked at Dawn, who sighed. "She won't last."
"She will," she told him. "Giles is taking her next month. He's already filing custody papers against Willow." She lifted her chin. "She'll last if she's called. This new one is someone's, no one's sure whose." Xander nodded. "She'll be fine, Xan. I promise. Even if I have to make it so."
"Fine. Thank you, Dawn."
"Hey, I like Little Tara. She is like her namesake. She had no business in this crap, but she is her mother's punishment. So said the Powers." Xander slumped but he understood it. "Sit and eat, Xan. You look tired."
"I'm fine," he promised.
"Hey, Lupin, you've got a voicemail," Jigen called, holding up the phone.
Lupin took his phone, dialing the access code to his inbox. He smiled at the message, then hit a memory dial, walking outside to get away from the kids. "We're heading to France. Join us," he ordered. "Jigen's apprentice just got helpers." He smirked. "Actually, I think you'd be a lot of help. We had to unpossess one earlier. He had a demonic warrior put into him. He's presently giving his hands an amazed look as they chop things precisely and quickly." He laughed. "I don't know. No, you'll like the female too. Very strong. Thief. Dawn Summers." He burst out in giggles. "No, I'm not kidding. Really? I'd never heard the first name." He looked in the house. "I'll tell her. Thanks." He hung up as he walked back inside. "Dawn, where did you put the samurai sword you stole a few years back?"
"It's back at my place," she admitted. "Why? The appraiser said it was old but not too special. Not at all like the guy's katana." She licked something off her thumb. "Did he want it back?"
"Yes, he did. He'll be meeting us in France."
She sighed and stood up. "Guys, come help me pack my goodies," she ordered. She slit her thumb with the knife she took off Marcus, then let it drip in a small circle on the floor. A portal opened, stunning the older men.
"Showoff," Xander said fondly, grinning at her. "You've got ten minutes if you want real people food." The boys ran through once the portal was open, helping her by going through her underwear drawer.
"She stole that from him?" Jigen asked. Lupin grinned and nodded. "Wonderful. I'll let her hand it back."
"He asked us to take charge of it. It is his great-however-many-times grandfather's secondary weapon."
"Fine," Jigen sighed, shaking his head. He tipped his hat down over his eyes. "Xander, what sort of real food?"
"Beef with bell peppers. And we still need plates," he called loudly enough for Dawn to hear him. David came back with plates, dropping them onto the table. Then he went back for Dawn's three trunks. They came back and were set out of the way.
Dawn brought a large wooden chest and the short sword. "Here. A host's gift from all of us," she told him, holding them both out to him.
Lupin took the box, looking inside. Then he looked at Dawn. "That was you?" She grinned and nodded, laying the sword on the table so she could help Xander. Lupin handed the box to Jigen. "Here, hold this." He pulled the sword to look at it. "Still in pristine condition."
"I only chopped a brick with it," Dawn told him, not looking at him. "It's been out of the sheath four times now, including you."
"Thank you." He carefully put it back inside, then attached it to his belt. Goemon would be very happy to get this back. He had been angsting over it for over a year. Though it had been what had brought him and Fujiko closer together. They still made him stop and shake his head. How did those two stand each other?
"They found a mutual like of him beating her ass," Jigen reminded his boss, not having to ask why he was shaking his head. He patted the box. "The Met job?" Lupin nodded. "Good job, Dawn."
"Thanks. I've got four standard entrances I use in there, and a fifth for variety's sake. You'd think they'd get better security sometime," she said softly. Xander nudged her. "You, keep your elbows to yourself. I'm not sleeping with you again." His mouth fell open. "You don't remember?"
"I remember waking up in the hospital, you acrobatic little bat!" he retorted, throwing a piece of bell pepper at her head. "Nasty tease!"
She cackled. "Why, thank you," she said proudly. "Just think, Buffy taught me everything I know about teasing men."
Xander snickered. "You should write and tell her that some day."
"I did, I told her when we ran into each other last time. Her face fell and she gave me that 'mom' look again, then she sighed and stomped off. She thinks I've let our mom down."
"Why? Joyce would be disappointed that you're stealing for a living, but she'd be proud that you managed to do it without any man's help most of the time. Joyce was a lot more hip than most people gave her credit for. Her like for the nasty blond vampire proves it."
"I forgot she used to lust after the blond skank. Like mother like natural daughter?" she suggested. Xander giggled so hard he had to lean against her side. David pinched her leather-clad ass. "You, stop it," she said, slugging him and knocking him out. "No one touches my ass without my direct permission. Never again," she warned his unconscious body.
"Don't worry, we'll fix that for him too," Lupin agreed, sitting down to watch the kids cater to them. "Xander, noodles?"
"I forgot to get any. We've got pasta."
"Not really the same but I guess we can deal," Lupin admitted. Dawn put them on to cook. "Thanks." He smiled at them. The next generation was in odd, but very good hands.
Lupin looked at his house and sighed in pleasure. His favorite bed was in there. No more lumpy beds. He opened the door. "In you go," he ordered, letting them go inside. "We're back, come meet the new students," he shouted. Someone upstairs groaned and another one squealed. "Stop that" he shouted. "I don't need to hear that!"
"We're not doing that, you pervert!" Fujiko yelled, coming down the stairs. "Students?"
"Students. Jigen's apprentice picked up his crew. They're interesting. Let's see." He looked at the kids. "We've got one Miss Dawn Isabelle Summers. She very nicely gave us the stuff she heisted from the Met as a hosting gift. We have one Mr. David Gunn. His dad's a fighter and he shares those traits, but he's also a very physical guy who climbs anything and everything for fun. He's so disgusted with the side of good that he begged to come with Xander. We have one Marcus Wyndam-Pryce, who was recently possessed by a demonic warrior spirit. It's still partially in there, only joined with him now. He's been amazing himself all day. Earlier he was juggling Dawn's daggers. Then we have one Xander Lavelle Harris. Jigen's apprentice and dead shot." Xander bowed. "This is Fujiko. She's to us what Dawn appears to be to you."
"Only a little less friendly," Jigen noted as he walked in. "Dawn, did you have to pack everything?"
"Yeah," she agreed. "If I hadn't then Angel was going to break in and steal everything, he said so on my machine. Only one of those is clothes. The rest is stuff I haven't gotten around to fencing yet." She smiled at Fujiko, holding out a hand. "You're nearly notorious. I look forward to learning something from you."
"You took something off my husband," she noted.
"It's on my belt," Lupin assured her. "Where is he?"
"Calming down. He was having a little tantrum earlier," she admitted.
"Woman," Goemon bellowed.
"And he's handcuffed to the bed," she admitted.
Lupin sighed and waved Dawn over. "Come on, you can give it back to him." He put his arm around her shoulders. "We'll have to see if your clothes are appropriate to down times."
"Why, I dress like this all the time," she told him. "It covers the scars and the former bite marks."
"Fujiko used to wear horribly teasing shirts back in the day."
"That was before gravity took effect?" Xander asked her. Jigen snorted, heading into the study to get out of the crossfire.
Fujiko glared at him. "Don't pick up your teacher's bad habits. I like him."
Xander grinned. "Don't worry about it. If you don't like me then I'll have to go find my stalker and have her convince you that you like me."
"Xander, do not bring Anya here," Jigen yelled from the study. "No demonic whores."
"I can banish her," Marcus offered. "It'd keep her from coming back for at least another six months."
"I haven't seen her in nearly a year," Xander admitted. "I told her I wanted Angel babbling in fear for my thirtieth birthday."
"You don't look thirty," Fujiko told him.
"Yeah, well, let's just say that I spent almost a year not aging and I'm *nearly* thirty," he told her. "If you hear the nightmares, you'll know why." He followed his master, giving him a look. "Will I want to hurt her?"
"Probably, but we promised not to kill her before her time was up," he noted, handing over a drink. "Here, you look like you need it. Crown Royal."
"Thanks." Xander slugged back the drink then shivered. "Okay, I'm better now." He put the glass down. "Do I have to wash it?"
"No. The housekeeper does that." He patted the boy on the back. "I've got a range downstairs, we'll work on your injuring and precision work while we're here. By the time I'm done with you, you'll be able to shoot tires during a high speed chase or out the window and kill the driver." He nearly had it already but not quite.
"Cool," Xander agreed with a grin. "Can we go out and practice on the real streets? Maybe tease some cops?"
"Not until I'm sure you can do the job, kid," Jigen assured him, giving him a pat on the shoulder. The door to the study opened and he turned the boy around. "That's Goemon. He's the other third of the crew. Did you meet everyone else?"
"Dawn introduced me." He bowed to Xander, who looked really nervous. "I don't bite."
"Yeah, but I'm not good with manners," Xander admitted. He shook the guy's hand. "I didn't exactly grow up in a socially capable and climbing family."
"Then let Lupin teach you. He has impeccable manners when he wants to," Goemon told him. Xander nodded. "How are your skills?"
"With which weapon?" he asked. "With a crossbow, a gun, or a rifle of any sort I'm excellent. With a sword I'm okay enough but I'm in the hack and slash class right now. I tried to learn in my youth but my friends weren't exactly supporting of that idea. They said it wasn't my place in the group. With bolos and other more archaic weapons I'm pretty good. I learned staff a long time ago to help Buffy practice. I don't brawl very well either but I try. Baseball bats are still one of my favorite weapons for street brawls."
Goemon nodded. "Good. Marcus will need someone in his own class to practice with while I supervise. That would be fine with you?" he asked Jigen.
Jigen shrugged. "I leave that up to him. I only help him with the shooting stuff."
"And keep me calm and centered, plus help temper my naughtier instincts and all that good stuff," Xander reminded him. "Oh, um, fair warning, do not grab Dawn. Ever. She reacts badly to that. Even when you grab her arm and she's expecting it she'll react badly and try to knock your head off. She might even succeed one of these days. She nearly killed me once and she got David earlier."
Goemon nodded. "I'll be cautious with her for now. At least until we get used to each other. She is a very good thief."
"And then some," Jigen told him. "You should see the host's gifts she gave us. The Met job."
Goemon looked impressed. "Good. I'm sure she and Fujiko will bond over shopping for naughty clothes."
Xander snorted. "No, Dawn's a leather girl. Cleavage is better hinted at for her than shown." He smiled as Dawn joined them. "Hey. Having fun already?"
"His wife just suggested I lower my zipper," she said.
Xander shook his head. "Only if you can cover that bite mark and the knife scar."
"I showed her, she gave me this destroyed look. So I showed her my favorite outfit. She's impressed again. I manage seductive without being trashy." She smiled at Goemon. "Can you teach me how to use the sword I have in my stuff? I'm used to short swords and this one is longer. Lupin said to ask you. Also, I'm a third-dan black belt in Judo."
He nodded. "Interesting. We'll work that out tomorrow. Tonight you should rest. The time difference must be stressing your body."
"Yeah, because we get to bed before ten," she said with a grin. "Xander and I both grew up doing patrols most of the night then going to school the next morning. Sleep is one of those nice things you get once or twice a month."
"I get about four hours a day," Xander corrected. "Usually not until two in the morning." He checked his watch. "Which isn't for another three hours." He looked at Jigen. "Are you tired?"
"Not yet. Let's go work on the range. Dawn, do you shoot?"
"Yeah," she agreed. "Not really great, but I can shoot. I'd appreciate someone figuring out what I'm doing wrong. Buffy said it was the switch from crossbow to guns when we had to switch during that mass invasion of undead." She followed them out.
Goemon raised an eyebrow. "Undead?" He walked out, finding Lupin instructing his housekeeper. "Undead?"
"Remember Buffy?" The samurai nodded. "That's Dawn's big sister. Xander's former friend. Marcus' godmother. She turned on all of them over the years."
"Ah." Goemon nodded. "I understand. They're down in the range. I'll be instructing them in the morning. At a decent hour," he promised at the frown from his friend. "They're not ready for hard training yet."
"I think you'll find they've been training for years," Lupin told him. "It's getting so I don't know what was combat training and what isn't." He looked toward the range as Dawn squealed. "Either David nailed her again or she just fixed the problem she was complaining about earlier. Everything all right?" he called.
"Fine," Xander called back. "David's unconscious again. She nailed Jigen too by accident because he didn't move fast enough. She's in the corner."
Lupin sighed as he headed that way. Jigen was shaking his head and Dawn was handcuffed in the corner. "What happened?" he asked patiently.
"He didn't get out of the way fast enough," Xander said with a shrug. "David knows better but he's a persistent shit most of the time."
"That seems familiar," Goemon said dryly. Lupin smirked at him. "Yes, of you." He helped Jigen up. "Are you all right?"
"Fine. She hits really hard for a girl. Like a pro boxer."
"I hang out with tough chicks," Dawn said miserably. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right, kid. Next time, I'll duck faster. You swing really wide." He helped her up and uncuffed her, handing her the gun. "At the target, not at David. No matter how tempting it is." He looked at his comrades. "It fricken' us the next generation, with slight differences."
Lupin laughed. "The future of crime is in good hands then. By the time we all have real heirs, these guys will be able to help teach them."
Goemon laughed. "True. Dawn, adjust your stance, your back is too tight."
"Sorry, I'm used to hand-to-hand and crossbows. Using a gun isn't exactly the slayer way." She relaxed by force of habit and tried it again.
Jigen nodded. "I can fix that. Your aim is off. It's all in how you're looking down the barrel." He looked at the other men. "What else is going on tomorrow?"
"I'll be evaluating them later in the morning," Goemon announced. "Have them all there at ten." Jigen nodded. "Then Lupin can have them for whatever he wants."
"I want to do some physical testing with them. See who has the skills to break and enter. Also the skills to pull off a plan."
"Xander plans," Dawn told him. "I even go to him for plans. He does battle plans best though." She shot another shot and pouted. "I'll never get this."
"Of course you will," Xander promised, giving her a grin. "It's not hard. I'm gonna shoot now, fair warning," he warned. His boss got jumpy if he didn't warn him sometimes. He squeezed off the clip accurately, taking out the center three inches of the heart. There was no paper left in that area.
Lupin looked at Jigen. "Now I know why you picked him."
"Yeah, 'cause I ran in, saved his life, then helped him up and took him with me," Xander said dryly. "He didn't tell me I was being taken on as a student until a week later when he wouldn't let me leave."
"I thought you were auditioning."
Goemon shook his head. "He was running for his life. It is in his voice." Xander nodded, reloading the gun and hitting the paper target in the head.
"In the arm or the legs," Jigen ordered. "Wounding but not killing. Nothing near an artery."
Xander sighed and reloaded, doing another one in the main wounding areas. He missed one shot completely and got one graze beyond that.
"Nice job, Xan," Dawn praised. "You so kick ass at this art."
"Yeah, I've had practice," Xander said happily. He looked at his boss. "Okay, so what am I doing wrong?"
"You're fighting your mind. Sometimes a wound is better than a kill," Goemon instructed. "Killing is a waste of skill. Wounding with clear intent is much more skillful. Right now, you are at the top of the lower level. To reach your mentor's level, you'll have to learn the right mental attitude." He looked at Dawn. "You, relax." He walked out, going to find his new apprentice.
Jigen nudged Xander. "He says shit like that to irritate us," he shared.
Lupin laughed. "Sometimes I think so," he agreed. He walked closer to Dawn, correcting her stance for her. "Now try it," he said gently, steadying her arm. She fired and it was better. "Is that comfortable?"
"No, this whole two-handed thing sucks. I feel like I'm squeezing my chest."
"You are," Jigen told her. "Try it one-handed. You need to practice that too, Xander."
"Yes, sir," Xander said obediently. They fired off shots with each hand, missing less this time but it still wasn't perfect. Xander waved his wrist. "That makes me ache."
"There are exercises for that," Lupin promised. He patted Dawn on the back, making her moan. "Good job. You okay?"
"Fine, just sore." She smiled at him. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." He let himself out, leaving them to Jigen. He would check the girl's back for the gash he could feel through her leather. He would also be finding her a lighter weapon, that would help her wrist strain more than exercises would.
Jigen pulled her collar back, looking down her back. "What did that?"
"Vampire last night. I'm fine," she said firmly.
He swatted her across the back of the head. "You are to take care of yourself. If that gets infected you can't do what you love anymore. Didn't anyone in your group take care of you two?"
"No," they said in unison.
Xander looked at Dawn. "Didn't Willow used to bandage us after Buffy was taken care of?"
"Sometimes," Dawn admitted. "Hardly ever in my case. I think your bandaging stopped after graduation."
"Yeah, I did bandage my own ribs and the graze to my stomach that night," he agreed, looking at Jigen. "You mean people are supposed to take care of that stuff for you? I've been putting on my own Band-Aids since I knew what the box was for."
"Mom did mine but Buffy never really did," Dawn admitted. "She's changed since the town imploded. Before that I wasn't allowed to patrol." Xander nodded. "And he bandaged me or Tara did when I messed up and got hurt before the apocalypse."
Jigen groaned. "Okay, first lesson. Your crew is like your family. You have to trust them to get your back, bandage the bad wounds, and to help take care of each other. That means your back, Xander's back, Marcus' problems. All of it."
"We're stronger, it's been ingrained and trained into us that we take care of the weaker members," Xander told him.
"Yes, but everyone has a weakness," Jigen pointed out. "That means that sometimes someone else has to be the stronger one and take care of you two." They nodded, that made sense. "Good. Now, Dawn, I'd like to fix that thing on your back for you. You can fix Xander's again if you're fine to do it. Then we'll check the other guys over." Xander opened his mouth. "Tough. She's seen the worst that your skin has right now."
"No, she hasn't," Dawn told him. "He's got scars I will never see on his thighs. Even when I slept with him that once, right before my first theft, I didn't get to see his thighs. The demon that had him did some really f-ed up things to his body. Don't push Xander to show them off to anyone. He'll run away."
"I haven't run in months," Xander told her.
"Really? Congrats. It's a milestone." She gave him a hug. "Okay, enough mush, let's work some more on this. My wrist is already numb."
"We'll set you both on the exercises. The only thing that cures that is practice," Jigen assured her, patting her on the uninjured side of her back. "Let's hit your rooms so you can clean up before you go to bed." The kids nodded, putting their weapons back in their holsters. "Dawn, what are you using?"
"A standard, cheap nine mil. Xan?"
"Same thing," he admitted.
"Fine. We get that ammo in bulk. I wanted to make sure we would have enough because you both need work in here." He led them up the stairs, finding the rooms with their names taped on the doors. "In you go." He left them there, going to join his family in the study. "The future of crime is in very strong hands, but they're so hurt," he said as he walked in.
"Of course they are," Lupin agreed. "Did you get her to let you look at her back?" Jigen nodded. "Good. I think we should get a professional in here to check them all over. Just in case."
"It might be handy but what would we say about Xander's scars? Dawn said he's got ones that were worse than the things on his back."
Lupin shuddered. "I don't even want to think about that. We'll think of something, I always do." He lifted his glass. "A toast, to the students who are keeping our ways alive."
They all lifted their glasses. "To the students," they agreed, taking long drinks. They'd probably need it to deal with the kids in the morning. At least until they settled down.
"Hey, Lupin, soda," Jigen reminded him. "You don't want to see Xander in withdrawal. He gets violent."
"I'll have the housekeeper get some," he agreed. The kids were neat, if odd. "Why don't we all retire. We'll probably want naps tomorrow if we don't." They agreed and broke up, Lupin taking Xander's book up the stairs to read. The boy had forgotten he had it, but he had agreed he could read it. Then maybe he could figure the boy out. The Gods knew he was an odd little thing, all soft and mushy inside and tough outside. He was like a chocolate M&M, only slightly melted and then refrozen. Halfway through the first chapter, he sat up, staring at the page. Yeah, that explained a lot, he decided. He would keep his promise, but it didn't mean Jigen couldn't accidentally find the book. Someone knocked on his door and he got up, opening it to find Dawn. "Did you need something?"
"Someone who's not Xander and who's not jailbait?" she asked with a small, seductive grin. "Just the once? I don't play for keeps, only for stress relief. I work better with people I've slept with, it helps me build trust faster."
Lupin smiled and let her into his room. He could accept those terms and he could pump her for information as well.
To part 2
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