The Mask

Lupin looked out at the sand dune in front of them, then at the boy standing behind him.  "You still okay?"

"I'm fine.  I grew up next to the desert," Xander reminded him.  "Death Valley has nothing on this but still."  He walked up to the rise of the dune, looking at the compound below them.  "Which one first?"

"Try the thermal imaging first," Lupin told him.  "It'll probably be useless but we can filter out the desert later."  He set up his own camera, watching to make sure no one was watching them.  "We did remember to put in all new discs, right?"

"I did," Xander said, grinning at him.  "You?"

"I'm pretty sure I did," Lupin admitted, turning to take a few pictures of this place.  His was an x-ray camera.  A nifty new spygear thing he had funded.  It had paid off very well for him.  "Interesting.  There's an extra tunnel."  He took another picture of the tunnel, then glanced back at the compound.  "How many more?"

"Two," Xander said, setting up the second one.  "I suck at the techno stuff.  This should be Dawn."

"The more you know, the more useful you are on jobs," Lupin reminded him.  He glanced behind him, there was a jeep coming up behind them.  "We've got company."

Xander glanced back there then pulled something out of his pocket, exploding a small packet of tacks onto the sand.  "Watch out when we turn around.  I laid out the tacks."  He went back to setting up, letting Lupin get the third one.  The people behind them let out a sudden explosion as a tire popped and then there was the sound of a crash.  He got out of the way, letting him take the pictures he wanted.  "Get one of the turret too.  I swear there's a gun up there."

"All right," Lupin agreed, taking that picture as well.  He took the last camera, using it quickly.  Then they got everything packed up and back to their jeep.  The other guys were turned over in the sand.  Xander darted them before climbing in.  "You're violent today."

"I have a headache.  I'm not used to the sun anymore," Xander said with a shrug.  He checked on their gear, climbing back while the jeep was moving to retie a strap that was blowing around.  He popped back into his seat, looking at his boss.  "Sorry, but I don't really understand the techno stuff," he reminded him.

"That's okay.  I would have had to do it all by myself if it had been Jigen or Goemon.  They would have handed me stuff.  At least you got it set up on tripods for me."  He reached over and patted the young man.  "How many more treatments?"

"Just the one while you're picking up Dawn.  Remind her about the whole 'head scarf' thing too.  I doubt she'll like it but it is necessary."

"Yeah, I had forgotten.  Fujiko once walked through Morocco in a red leather two-piece outfit that showed the majority of her skin without one.  We're lucky she wasn't arrested or kidnaped."  He turned onto the main road, speeding up further.  "That's this afternoon, right?"  Xander nodded.  "Good.  Meet us back at the hotel."

"Yes, sir," Xander said happily.  He was feeling much better these days.  "I wonder how Dawn's heist went."

"I'm sure she got what she wanted," Lupin said with a small smirk.  She was too good to get caught most of the time.  "It was some pretty stuff."  He turned into the bazaar, letting Xander get out with their stuff.  That went into their hotel room then Xander hiked to the clinic for another treatment.  While Lupin drove off, heading to the airport to pick up Dawn.


Xander bowed to the receptionist.  "I'm here for my last treatment," he requested respectfully.  He had seen her take out some punk wanting drugs the week before, he respected her abilities.

"The doctor is not in today," she told him.  "He had an emergency summons."  He slumped.  "He left you a message."  She handed the folded paper over, watching as he read it then wrote out the hotel name for him.  "Thank you."  She taped it down and put it into her desk drawer.  "I wish you peace and health," she said.

"May Allah grant you the same and less strife than I've had," he agreed, grinning at her.

She laughed. "Continue and you will soon sound like a native."

"Good."  He walked out, heading back to the hotel.  He walked up to the receptionist there.  "I am expecting an old friend looking for me.  If someone comes for me by the name Xander, please let him up," he requested.  The young man nodded.  "He is a doctor if it matters."

"The one in the bazaar?"  Xander nodded.  "I know of him, I will tell the night shift person if he is late."

"Thank you.  Are the other rooms we've rented ready?"  He nodded.  "Thank you.  One of our party is coming in today and the rest in two days."  He bowed and headed up to their room so he could take a sponge bath.  It was really hot here.  Hotter than he'd ever felt in Death Valley.  He was really starting to hate sand.


Lupin looked at the gate, smirking as Dawn came off in disguise, with a scarf already over her hair.  He waved at her and she nodded, walking toward him.  A guard stopped her and she pointed at him, leading him over.  "Problems?" he asked, kissing her on the cheek.

"He thinks I'm local.  I can't travel without permission of my husband if I am," she said sweetly.

"We are here to study the language," Lupin said in flawless Arabic.  "She is my graduate assistant."  The guard sighed and walked off, going to bother the people getting on the plane.  "Luggage?"

Dawn squealed and went back to pick it up, bringing the three bags back.  "Sorry, I was a little distracted.  This wig itches," she complained quietly.  He laughed but helped her store everything.  "No Xan?"

"He's supposed to be at the doctor's.  If not, he's back in the room resting from the heat."  He got in to drive, glancing at her.  "Buckle up.  The road is very rough."  She did so.  "He reminded me to remind you about the head scarf issue."

"I was reminded on the plane by a steward."  She took off the wig, stuffing it into her purse then put back on the scarf.  "There, how's that?"

"Looks more like a veil but fine," he agreed.  "We'll have to get you some authentic clothes since this is your first time in.  The all-covering outfit comes in handy sometimes."  He pulled onto the main road, taking her back to the hotel.  "I've put you in the room with us.  The desk clerk thinks you're my daughter-in-law and that Xander is your husband.  Try not to irritate him in public."

"Sure, Lupin."  She twirled the end of one of her curls around her index finger.  "I not only pulled it off, I got a lot of pretty stuff, which Fujiko got very jealous of.  I mailed most of it to my safety deposit box before I went back but she *really* wants the blue diamond I found.  I have that on me, just in case."

He chuckled.  "Of course she does.  Fujiko *loves* diamonds."  He pulled into the bazaar, parking behind their hotel.  "Ready?"  She nodded, getting out to grab two of her bags, following him respectfully inside.  He nodded at the receptionist.  "This is my daughter-in- law," he announced.  The desk clerk nodded at her and handed over an extra key.  "Thank you.  My son?"

"Is upstairs.  The doctor is busy and should be by later."

"Good.  Thank you."  He tipped the man and headed up to their room, letting her go inside first.  "We're back!"  He locked the door, putting her bag down so she could figure out where to put it.  "Dawn, you pack more than anyone I know," he told her as he headed for the illegal liquor stash they had imported.  He could use a drink while he relaxed.

"Hey, I could always keep your portion," she said dryly, hands on her hips.  She grimaced, tapping her foot.  "One's my working stash, my herbs and books, plus my gear bag.  One's my clothes.  One's your cut of the last job."

He grinned at her.  "Buy a bigger suitcase."

"I don't want my working stuff anywhere near most of my clothes, they might contaminate each other."  She flopped down on the couch.  "Xander, why haven't you come out and kissed your wife yet?"  Her answer was silence.  "Uh-huh."  She stood up and headed to the bathroom, tapping on the door before opening it.  "He's not here?"

Lupin shrugged.  "He should be.  The receptionist said he was back already because the doctor wasn't in."  He stood up and checked all the rooms, finding Xander laying on the floor beside one of the beds with a letter on his back and a new wound on his side.  "Whoever did it again," he said, getting out of her way.

Dawn took the note, taking it with her as she created a portal with her blood.  "What the fuck do you think you're doing!" she demanded, waving it.  "How dare you touch him!"  The demon looked at her and laughed.  Dawn glared at him.  "Our deal still stands, asswipe.  If you touch him, you are in default of it.  That means you are hereby a legal target."  She raised a hand, created a bright light.  "Your choice." The demon mumbled something and Dawn found herself back in the room.

"It's healed," Lupin told her.  He got shoved out of the way.  "Hey!"

"Tough."  She knelt beside him, laying a hand over the former wound.  She healed it herself, the demon had only healed the first few layers of the skin.  "I will kill her," she growled.

"Later," Lupin reminded her.  "She's not here."

"No, she's not," Dawn agreed, calming down.  She took a few deep breaths, then shook her head.  "I can't do this yet."  He handed over his phone. "What's this for?"

"Call Goemon.  He's the master of self-control."  Dawn gave him a 'get real' look.  "He does understand, Dawn.  He's felt that same rage at other beings.  You'll have to let it add up until you can get back to her again."

"Yeah, maybe I will," Dawn admitted, looking at the phone.  "Giles won't allow me in the shop, Willow's never invited me to her home.  I don't know what their places look like."  She looked at Xander's bare back then at their boss again.  "If I knew somewhere that intimately, I would go and then come back really quickly."

"Call Goemon, let him talk you down for now.  A good plan is always better than rushing in hot and emotional," he reminded her, sounding calm and yet very wise, like he had been there in the past.  Which he had, a few times.

She slumped then nodded.  "Yes, Lupin."  She went out to the couch, calling the matching cellphone.  "It's me," she said softly.  "Can you please put Goemon on?  Because Lupin is right, I need emotional control right now.  Before I destroy half the city looking for Willow."  She gave a heartless chuckle.  "Of course I'd save you guys.  Maybe not anyone else, but definitely you guys."  The person on the other end changed.  "Hey, Goemon.  I need to calm down and I can't.  No, Willow found a way around my deal to keep Xander free.  He got taken momentarily.  The demon's going to be dying soon but I want to destroy the city you're in so I'm sure to get Willow."  She looked down at her lap.  "I know it's wrong, but it's an emotion.  Rage is like that."  She took a deep breath.  "Yes, sir.  I'll try."  She smiled at the wise comment from the other end.  "Yes, Goemon.  I'll do my best."  She hung up and got onto the floor, getting comfortable.  She had to release it for now.  She could bring it back later.

Lupin got Xander onto the bed, looking him over.  "I will kill her," he muttered.  "If I can beat Jigen to her."  He covered the young man, making sure nothing else was bleeding, then went to check on Dawn.  She was still there, it would be fine.  For now.


Goemon hung up and looked at the person who had answered the phone.  "Do not share that information.  I will tell them myself," he told David, who nodded, shivering at the sudden feeling going up his back.  "It will be fine.  If not, we will make it so."  He stood up, heading out to the balcony.  This room was much nicer.  "Jigen, a word," he said, closing the door.  The other man looked at him, sucking on the candy cane.   "The redheaded witch found a way around Dawn's deal."

"Is he all right?"

"Dawn is in a full rage.  She said he was there.  Whether or not he is injured may be up to interpretation."  He handed over the phone.  "Lupin is with them."

"And we're here with the witch," Jigen reminded him.  He looked at the phone.  "Should I butt in?"

"Do you feel the same rage?"

"Every minute I look at the scars and remember what I read and what he's told me," the older man admitted, looking at the street again.  He flipped open the phone and hit the memory dial.  "Is he fine?"  He relaxed a little.  "You're sure?  You checked him everywhere?"  He gave a disgusted snort.  "No, I didn't expect you to.  Yeah, well," he said finally.  "Sure.  Should I do something to give Dawn a placement?"  He laughed.  "Fine.  Take my fun."  He hung up.  "We're leaving her alone until Lupin and Dawn come back in a few months.  Until then, we're adding to the tally."

Goemon nodded.  "I agree with that.  She has much to answer for, but more should be found out about her."

"I think we can do that," Jigen reminded him, looking over his shoulder.  He pointed at Marcus, then waved him outside with them.  "We need to start a real tally for this Willow person.  Give, kid."

Marcus sighed and closed the door.  "Where should I start?  Back in high school when Giles said she stole books?  When she and Xander kissed a few times and it destroyed him because everyone blamed him?"

"Why would they blame him?  She was involved from the way you said that," Goemon pointed out.

"Because she was supposedly some sweet and nice little girl who never did anything wrong and babbled when she got nervous," Marcus said bitterly.  "So they blamed Xander."  He groaned and stretched.  "Then she got more into the magic stuff.  It got worse and worse.  She was using it for everything.  I know she did a memory spell against her girlfriend at the time.  I know she nearly killed everyone on the planet about six years ago," he admitted.

"Would that be a night where it felt like there was an earthquake of the soul?" Goemon asked.  Marcus nodded.

"What was she doing?" Jigen asked.

"She was in pain; her girlfriend, Tara, had just been killed.  She was so in love with the pure witch.  Tara was a sweetheart. If you look at her daughter, you see that same gentle and nurturing spirit."  He sighed, shaking his head.  "But even Tara got fed up with her and told her to quit or else.  She left.  They were working it out and had just gotten back together when she was killed.  Willow went insane.  A year earlier she had released Buffy from Heaven and brought her back to life.  She tried the same thing with Tara and was denied.  By then, her magic addiction was so bad that she went and sucked a lot of dark magic, killed someone by magically flaying him of all his skin at once, then pulled up a hellgod's temple to destroy the world."

He scratched his eyebrow.  "Xander stopped her."  Jigen's mouth fell open and he lost his candycane.  "And they still didn't see what he was doing.  Dawn saw, she encouraged Willow to get help.  Everyone else was just nervous around her.  Xander back then, according to what I've heard, was wonderfully forgiving.  He was a goofy, fun guy who was *there* when you needed him, no matter what you needed.  Then the apocalypse happened.  He lost his eye.  They entered hell's waiting area.  Saved the day for the sixth or seventh time.  They evacuated to LA.  Willow went with Buffy when she came here.  Xander stayed in LA to help them because Willow said something before she left about him not being needed there.  They had all the potentials.  Then my father, the person who created me and then left me with the Watchers, ran into a problem too big to be researched.  Instead of breaking down the problem, he found a spell that would allow him to make a major plea."  He swallowed.  "Dawn had come back for a safety thing.  Buffy was handling another big demon and wanted her out of the way.  Dawn found out what he was doing and tried to stop my father.  Willow came when Wesley called and helped him gift Xander.  And then you know the rest," he said sadly.

"So she was responsible?" Goemon asked.

"Partially.  She was the heft behind the calling.  She didn't even ask why.  Her thing has always been 'hey, neat, we can play'," he said mock-cheerfully, trying to imitate her.  "My father told her it was necessary to save the world and she didn't even check to see if there was another way.  She cried after the fact."

"Why did he try to help her?" Jigen asked.  "If she turned on him that way, I would have dumped the bitch."

"So would I, but they grew up together," Marcus said sadly.  "They had known each other all through school.  Xander has always been blind to her.  Even today, if she needed it, he might still go running to help her if it was bad enough."  He shrugged.  "It sucks but it is."

"It does," Goemon agreed, arms crossed and a scowl already on his face.  He looked at Jigen.  "Has the woman not learned self control from all this?"

Marcus snorted. "No!  Willow, learn self control?  That's nearly laughable.  That would be like Buffy appreciating people who are helping her.  But there is one who will help you in their little group if you tell her you're helping Xander."  Both older men looked at him.  "Faith.  The other senior slayer."  Goemon raised an eyebrow.  "Think Dawn, only formerly bad. A very tough street bitch from the old school and from the Northeast.  Faith regrets Xander.  She not only used him but she tried to kill him once right after she went bad.  Last I heard, she had written him a letter saying she could help him regain his white light tendencies."

Jigen snorted.  "Yeah, because he needs to go back to *them*."

"She never said to return, she said she would help him refind his center and his white knight lifestyle.  She knows what their side lost in him.  Xander is one hell of a fighter in a fight.  He will literally jump into the middle of a situation without a weapon and expect to win. That man has my eternal respect even if he turns into Chuck Manson because he managed to survive on the hellmouth for nineteen years with only a broken arm, some minor cuts and bruises, and a very damaged ego."

"She was the only one he could count on," Jigen stated.  Marcus nodded.  "What about that Buffy creature?"

"She came in during their tenth grade.  She was there to do her duty and he helped.  He jumped in first thing.  His first kill was his best friend because he had been vamped.  He was saving a woman he hated at the time."  He turned and walked back inside so he could find the sundae he had hidden in the back of the mini-fridge.  He needed ice cream, it would help with the depressed feelings.

Jigen looked at Goemon.  "You want me to handle this?"

"No.  I want us to handle it.  As a group.  Perhaps her confession will help him heal some."  He shut the door again.  "No wonder the boy will not trust."

"The boy's parents weren't any better, Goemon.  His parents were dirtbags too."

"Then she was his only support with that other friend.  The damage goes deep.  He trusts you."

"He does," Jigen agreed, knowing he had the boy's absolute trust.  Lupin nearly had it, and may have it since they'd spent the last week together.  "Do we do this now or later?"

"I do not know.  I do know that we do not tell my wife.  The woman will go insane and want to blow things up."

"So do I," Jigen pointed out.

"There are infants involved.  We must be wary of hurting those who do not need punished."  He went inside to meditate and release the incredible anger he felt.  That explained Xander to him, and now he knew why the boy was so skittish of him.  He must seem very strange to him and Dawn.  "Marcus, was Dawn there for most of that?" he asked quietly.

"Dawn appeared the year before Buffy died the second time," he said between bites of his sundae.  "They gave her memories from the time.  She saw the worst of it first hand."  He looked over the back of the couch.  "That's why she'll defend Xander to the death."

Goemon nodded.  "It is understandable."  When one only had one single friend, one did not let them go for anything.  It was a survival instinct.  He wondered briefly if Lupin had seen it yet but then remembered the children trusted him more.  They trusted Jigen because Xander did.  Dawn had accepted him solely on that reference.  Jigen vouched for them and Lupin was making his way into their confidence.  They would give him hints and let him work it out for himself.  Himself, they would be wary of for a very long time until they could figure him out.  He was not something they had run into before probably.  Someone with a duty, yes, someone with a calling, no.  Fujiko would probably never be fully accepted and unwatched.  She would have to make her own way in that matter.  He let the questions flow through his mind and leave again.  He needed to be calm.  It was the better way to think.


Lupin sat up as Dawn came out of her meditation.  "You okay now?" he asked quietly.  She nodded, not looking at him.  "Dawn?"  She looked at him.  "Tell me," he encouraged.  "We only want to help you and Xander.  If we can make any of this easier, we will."

She curled her knees up and put her arms around them.  "I doubt you can," she told him.  "Willow was one of Xander's two lifelines.  The other he had to kill to save Cordelia.  She turned on him time and again and he kept coming back."

Lupin nodded, shifting closer.  "What can I do to help both of you?"  She shrugged, putting her chin on her knees.  He sat next to her, pulling her into his arms to hold her.  He hadn't seen this side of the girl before.  "It's all right," he promised.  "We like Xander for who he is and what he can do.  We appreciate him the same way we do you."  She looked at him, grimacing.  "Really.  We do like you both.  You're both very special people.  We like having you around.  We like teaching you."

"You're mad because of this?" she asked.

He nodded.  "Yeah.  What did you expect?"

"Buffy laughed," she told him.

"Then she needs her ass killed."

"Again?  Do you honestly think Willow won't bring her back this time too?"

Lupin snorted.  "Who said she wouldn't be joining her?" he asked dryly.

She pulled back, looking at him.  "You want to hurt both of them for us?"  He nodded.  "Why?"

He sighed.  "You don't understand this and it's their fault, I know it is.  People who care for you like you're their family want to hurt those who hurt you.  Spousal abusers are often taken out by fathers and brothers.  This is just a worse version of this.  Jigen is like Xander's father now.  He's like my little brother, the same way you're like my little sister."  He pinched her on the nose.  "I'd be surprised if Goemon wasn't still meditating to get rid of the anger."

"But...."  She shook her head.  "He only tolerates us."

"No, he likes you guys.  If he didn't, he would have left a while ago.  Trust me, the man likes to leave situations instead of fight.  Unless he gets to pull his sword, battles are different from personal fights."

"Not in our world," she told him.  She wiped her cheeks off.  "You can't possibly understand."

"I do understand some of it.  I was gifted with Xander's book."  She opened her mouth.  "He let me read it, Dawn.  Jigen's read it too.  It's now locked in our safe.  If Xander asked, we'd destroy it."  She relaxed back into his arms again.  "Plus, I've done some checking on both of you.  You're both so very different from who I'm used to working with.  I didn't want to make any mistakes."  He stroked her back slowly.  "I know things about all four of you that no one else thinks about.  I know how big Xander was when he was born.  I know about his school record.  I know very well about his disciplinary record.  I know something of what went on.  He titled the thing correctly, 'that which screwed me up' was a brilliant title."  She nodded.  "I want to remind you that you can talk to me.  Or us.  I wouldn't actually go to Fujiko about any of this, but I'm here and Jigen's had a bad past of his own.  Goemon was an orphan to his sensei most of his life.  We know what it's like to be alone."

She nodded, putting her chin back down.  "You know I'm The Key.  The Monks who had been protecting me foresaw their own deaths and sent me to Buffy, making me from her," she said quietly, letting it all go.  He would understand.


Jigen answered the phone.  "Yeah?"  He smirked.  "Really.  Thanks.  Yeah, have her wait in the bar."  He hung up and looked at Goemon.  "Faith's here."  He raised an eyebrow and looked at the younger boys.

"Wasn't us," David told him, turning the page on his magazine.  "Faith works in mysterious ways.  The Powers like her."  He turned the page past the tampon ad.  "Have fun. Don't let her grab you."

"Gee, thanks.  What does she look like?" Jigen asked.

"Dawn, only as a street bitch," David told him.  "Dark hair, leather jacket, jeans."

"Thank you."  Goemon joined him going out the door and down the stairs.  They walked into the bar together, finding the young woman quickly.  She had dressed up.  She was in a pantsuit.  "Faith?" he asked.  She nodded, leading them to a table.  "Why are you here?"

"Because Willow just fucked Xander over again and I thought someone should check on him."  She glanced around, then got comfortable.  "Some of us saw that Xander could've gone this way long ago.  B never saw it.  Willow never saw it.  Wesley did but he ignored it.  Angel doesn't want to know.  There's bad history between them for a few reasons."  She waved the waitress over.  "Can I have a cherry coke?"  The waitress nodded.  "Get whatever you want.  First round's on me."  She put a twenty on the table.

Jigen smirked at her.  "Don't worry, I can get ours and yours.  We make more money."

"Probably true," Faith agreed.  The twenty disappeared.

"Sake," Goemon requested.

"Scotch, single cube," Jigen ordered.

Faith smirked at the waitress.  "You gotta love people who know what they want."  The woman walked off and Faith shifted until she was facing them again.  "So, you're training Xander and Dawn.  I've done research on you guys.  You guys know the score and have balls.  You also seem to care of the kids or else they wouldn't be with you.  I like that in protectors.  Because Xander will need one some day soon.  When he finally lets it all go, there's going to be a storm."  Their drinks were brought back and she paused.  When the waitress was gone, she looked at Goemon again.  "You look like the guy who tried to teach me martial arts so I know you're in control.  Can you handle someone who's lost *everything*?"  He nodded, staying silent.  "Good.  You've got two of them on your hands.  Marcus and Xander.  David's found his spot and he's happy from what little I've seen of him.  Marcus is still wandering around wondering why he's capable of doing more than translating things.  Xander is a warrior and always will be.  Only now he's an injured one who's seen three too many battles and the war isn't over yet."

"You want him out of the life?"

"No, I want him healed so he can go back to the life he wants.  Which is with you guys," she admitted.  "Xander is Mr. Stubborn when he wants to be."  She took a sip of her coke.  "Not to be crass, but the demon enjoyed his fighting back while it lasted.  Oh, he's got something coming if he tries again.  Giles suddenly felt guilt and called Ethan to do something about the situation.  So if the dark-haired guy who radiates chaos shows up, it's him."  She took another sip, looking at Jigen.  "Is he any good?"  He nodded.  "Good.  I love Xander.  I didn't know what I had before I tossed him aside.  If I had, I would have clung to him.  He would have been able to heal me.  If he ever needs the favor returned, I'll do my damndest.  I can't guarantee I'll make it all the way.  That boy's sucked up darkness from day one.  He never broke when he was depressed.  He didn't break when he was captured and used twice.  He didn't break when his best friends turned on him.  He didn't even break while the demon had him.  His spirit broke but he didn't.  The boy has nothing and now it's going to hit him.  Now that he feels safe."  She took another sip, staring at Jigen.

"I've got his back," he told her.

"Good.  Otherwise I'll take you out myself.  He doesn't need more people who'll turn on him.  The same as he doesn't need someone who'll 'dad' him all the time to get over it.  The key to Xander is patience.  And occasionally a good pair of handcuffs," she admitted with a grin.  "Otherwise he'll fidget until you want to smack him around."

"Feeding his caffeine habit helps that," Goemon noted, sipping his sake.

"Yeah, but it'll eventually get out of hand.  Xander's not quite a junkie for the stuff, but close enough.  I've heard he's went through two two-liters in a day while under stress.  Since then apparently he's learned how to handle stress and put it off until later."

Goemon nodded.  "He has.  You know more than you let on."

She snickered.  "Way to state the obvious.  Yeah, I know a lot more than I was there for personally.  Who do you think helped Dawn find the way to free Xander?"

Jigen sipped his drink.  "Xander's told us some of this on his own."

"Good.  Then he trusts you enough to test the water. Whatever you do, do not look at the boy with pity.  He'll walk out and leave.  He did it to me once.  That's when Willow tried to hunt him down and kill him.  Someone so very nicely suggested I should have that honor since he was now tainted."

Jigen shook his head.  "He's not."

"No, he's not.  He has been hurt but he's not fully tainted.  The thing that had him would never do that to one of us. It's against the rules to harm us like that.  Kill us, turn us, maim us, but we can't be tainted that way. Otherwise, he'd be the grandson-in-law of Satan right now."  Jigen choked.  "Now you see the point.  Xander has on him things that can and will destroy anything like that.  The thing carved them onto his skin with its nails as a method of climbing the social ladder of hell."

"I've seen a few," Goemon said quietly, glancing around.  "You are very bland about it."

"I've learned to control my temper," Faith told him dryly.  "It had to happen sometime.  Prison does that to people.  Otherwise you die in solitary."  Jigen nodded.  "Xander is going to push his boundaries soon.  Not this week, not even with the most recent injury.  He'll sulk, he'll have nightmares, but he'll repress for a little longer.  Take him somewhere neutral.  Somewhere he's never heard of, never been, never wanted to be, and force him to take a vacation.  By the end, he'll have let it go."  She stood up.  "Thank you for your time, Gentlemen.  I wish you the best of luck and happy hunting.  I've got the kids.  Me and Ethan."  She nodded at them and then walked off.

Jigen sighed and slumped down.  "Where would that be?"


"It's a good place to have a breakdown," Jigen admitted. "Most of Russia is too."

"He's never been near the snow before.  He said as much when we had some at the house."  He finished his drink.  "What do we do with this information?"

"We share it with Lupin.  He'll be worried about him if she was right and he was injured again.  We should do that now."

"We probably should," Goemon agreed, ordering another drink.  "Did you trust her information?"

"Yeah.  Her eyes were very upset.  She wanted to reach over and grab us to shake us."  Goemon shook his head.  "The grief over missing him was real enough."

"Good.  He probably deserves better."

"No, he definitely deserves better," Jigen corrected.  "She's on a repentance kick and hasn't accepted her actions yet."  He finished his drink and accepted his next one.  "Thanks."  He put down money, including a tip.  "Keep it."  The waitress smiled and left them alone.  "So?"

"I believe she has his best interests at heart but she never knew him that well.  She did get some of it right.  It is a slightly warped side of the puzzle."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."  He gulped his drink then called Istanbul.  "It's us.  We just met with someone very interesting.  Faith."  He laughed.  "He asked Dawn and she squealed."

"Good.  It is good to hear her happy again.  She must have been sulking."  He sipped his own wine, thinking about it.  No, the children would not understand him.  Not for a very long time, but they were slowly working to trust him.

Jigen nudged him.  "We still like you," he noted.  Goemon looked at him.  "It was kinda obvious, Goemon."  He listened to the squealing again.  "No, she gave us instructions on the care of your buddy.  How is he?"  He smirked.  "No, she said she and someone named Ethan have the kids."


Dawn gave off her most evil smirk.  "Good.  She and Ethan can do a lot better job than the evil bitches that were their mothers.  What else did she say?"  She laughed and shook her head.  "Fine."  She handed off the phone.  "I was ordered to cover my delicate ears."  She shifted away from him, watching him talk.

"So?" Lupin asked.  He smirked.  "Really?  Yeah, I know those names."  He laughed.  "Excellent. What did she suggest?"  He listened, nodding at each point.  "Agreeable.  Home or not?"  He shuddered.  "I don't think that'll help him.  We'll retire to the house after this.  I think being somewhere comforting will help more than anonymity.  Yeah, I'm sure.  Trust me, I do know the boy.  Of course.  If not, then I'll let you take him to Bali for the weekend?"  He laughed. "Fine.  Yeah, another day and then you're all here.  Have a good night."  He hung up.  "Do you think Xander will be fine for this job?"

"Yeah.  I think he'll be perfectly fine," Dawn told him.  "Why?"

"Faith suggested he'll need to break down soon."  He carefully put the phone aside.

"He might but I doubt it," she told him.  "He's got the will of iron.  If he breaks, we might need drugs to help him."

"Everyone has to break sometime.  Even the most forgiving person has limits, Dawn.  Even you."  She nodded, she knew hers.  "Even him."

"If he does, I'd let him do it in his own time," she told him.  "Do not force it.  Let him come to you.  Xander trusts you."

"The rest of you take your cues from him," Lupin reminded her.

"We do, all but Marcus.  He's clinging to Goemon because he can figure out what that spirit wants him to do."  She shrugged.  "I like you guys, more than enough to stay around and start to trust you.  For the most part.  To be truthful, I don't trust people fully anymore."

"I don't blame either of you for that," Lupin told her.  He shifted closer and gave her another hug.  "It'll be fine.  After this, we're heading back to the house.  We had planned for a short vacation somewhere warm but we can hold it off."

"No, go somewhere warm with all of us," Dawn told him.  "Xander doesn't cling to many things, he clings to people and ideals."

"Then maybe we'll be going to Bali after all," he said with a wicked grin.  "Bikinis all the time?"

"I'm sure it'll do a lot for you guys, but it won't do a thing for me," Dawn said dryly, grinning back.  "You guys can leer all day I'm sure."

"Even at you," he said, tweaking her ear.  "Xander, you up?" he called, hearing him moving around.

Xander opened the door.  "Who was that on the phone?"

"Faith went and jumped Jigen," Dawn told him, giving him a look.  "You okay?"

"Fine.  What did she jump him about?" Xander asked, leaning in the door frame.

"About how to take care of you," Lupin admitted.  "She thought you might like a vacation after this.  I was thinking either the house in France or in Bali."

Xander shrugged.  "I'm fine."

"She said you'd say that," Dawn told him.

"I was thinking some time off the training," Lupin told him.  "For everyone except Marcus, but the rest of us could take a break."  Xander shrugged.  "You don't care?"

"I'm good."  He came out, sitting on the couch.  "I'm not going to snap," he said calmly.  "I'm fine."

Lupin touched the bare leg.  "You're not, Xander.  I can tell it from your eyes."  The boy grimaced.  "Really.  Besides, I was in the middle of a vacation before Jigen called me to rescue you two.  I'd like to go back to the bikini watching."

"Bikinis?" Xander asked.

"Bali," Lupin told him, grinning brightly.  "Near the beach.  At the very least Dawn will be wearing one.  We'll take all her other clothes and hide them."  Xander grinned, nodding that he liked that idea.  "Plus, if you do manage to snap and blow, it'll be far away from others.  That way we can deal with it and help you through it.  No matter what, we're going to be here."

"Words and actions, Lupin.  I already knew that," Xander told him.  "And I'm still fine."  He stood up.  "When is the doctor getting here?"

"Not a clue," Dawn told him.  "Why didn't you go see him?"

"He had an emergency client," Xander said with a little grimace.  "Otherwise I'd have had my last treatment."  He looked down at his bare stomach.  "What do you think?"

"I like.  I missed the abs of doom," Dawn told him, giving him a small leer of her own.  "You used to come in from the site in either the world's most sweated on white t-shirt or no shirt and I used to sit and wait for you to come home."

"Yeah, I remember," he admitted with a grin of his own.  "Those were nice days."

"They mostly were," she agreed. "I could have used some changes.  Willow for one.  Oh!"  She stood up, grabbing his arm.  "Faith, when she jumped the bosses, said she has the kids and she took them to *Ethan*," she said with a devilish smirk.

He burst out in laughs, hugging her.  "Good.  They deserve it and he'll protect the little ones.  If not, she will.  What about Tara?" he asked, pulling back.

"I don't know."  She looked up.  "ETHAN!" she shouted.  He appeared, looking very confused.  "Little Tara?"

"She's going to the Watchers already but the one who has her is not training her," he said with a small smirk, crossing his arms to look at Xander.  "Come here, boy."  Xander gave him a look.  "You're missing a mark."

"What mark?  He put everything known to demonkind on my skin."  He moved closer, putting Dawn behind him.

Ethan drew on the boy's stomach with his fingertip.  "There should be one here. It would release the others to life."  He looked into Xander's eyes.  "You will be fine," he said quietly.  Xander nodded.  "I mean it."  He reached up and touched the boy's cheek.  "I know you will be fine.  He will be dying soon.  Faith has said so."  Xander tipped his head to the side, resting his cheek against Ethan's palm.  "Ripper is helping her because he was hurt by what happened.  He claims he did not know what they were planning.  That he helped Faith get information back to Dawn."  He looked at Dawn, who shrugged.  So he looked at Xander again.  "If that is true, then you'll leave him to me."

"I'd never take out Giles," Xander told him.  "He's not earned that sort of rage."

"Good."  Ethan gave him a light kiss.  "I am here if you need anything, Xander.  Dawn, you do need to finish learning your healing spells."

"We've got a healer helping him now," Lupin said, staring the other man down.  He was poaching his territory.  A very dangerous thing to do.  "You are?"

"Ethan Rayne."  He bowed and smirked.  "Lupin the Third.  An honor.  You've saved me a lot of problems by finding things that were vexing me so I could buy them.  I thank you.  That Egyptian mask would have been something that would have caused me no end of problems.  And this one by default because Ripper would have taken it from me."  He smirked at Xander again.  "You are free," he whispered, making something on his forehead.  "I free you from all keepers, my boy.  That and I gift you with what you need to heal."  He kissed him on the lips and backed away.  "Do not be afraid to use his skills.  You are their rightful master, even if they do make you ill to consider.  He deserves worse than you could ever do.  Worse than even I could do."  Xander relaxed, slumping back into Dawn's arms.  "Did you need anything, Summers?"

"A new book," she admitted.  "And some powdered horn."

He chuckled.  "I'll have a local distributor find you tomorrow.  Wear dark blue."  She nodded.  "Anything else?"

"What did you do to him?" Lupin asked.

"I protected the boy since we first met, when he became mine.  Until the town was destroyed he was protected by me. I admired his strength.  He was incorruptible.  Immaculate, beyond reproach, and unsullied by pain. What pain he had at that time was nothing like what he's seen since and even then he didn't let it mar him any.  So I took him and I protected him from it all."

"You slept with him and protected your possession," Lupin corrected.

Ethan smirked.  "A bit.  It was more than that.  There were powerful forces at work in that town during that time, young man.  Nothing at all like what is going on in other places.  The chaos of it called out to myself and those like me.  My mark on the boy saved the town many incursions by people like me.  It left him vulnerable in a few ways but not that vulnerable to most things.  Then Miss Rosenburg started to deal in things best left to those already turned from the light.  From the first, she tried to eat at my protections.  It did not work.  Xander was protected from her, even when she tried to end the world," he said calmly.  He could feel the person on the other side of the door.  It was a healer, a pure spirit.  He could hear this.

"I protected the boy even though she attacked him while he was stopping her.  Numerous times she attacked him and I took the brunt of the pain.  That is the nature of my protection for him."  He looked at Xander again, seeing the shocked look, and it made him happy.  "It kept you pure, Xander.  It was necessary.  You were the most good thing I had ever seen.  You balanced my own life by existing.  And then that twat did what he did.  I nearly went insane. *I* helped Faith find the spell that got sent to Dawn.  She did it out of her love for you.  She did it knowing what might happen and it was her choice.  If you berate yourself for that fact, it will weaken the bond of love between you.  She will never be yours, but she does love you."  Xander sat down on the couch, staring at him.  Ethan crossed his arms, looking at the boy.  "I took some of the pain of what you went through because we were still tied together.  When you got free, I got truly drunk on joy and healed a child's wing of a hospital in your name.  When they drove you off, I lost my temper and nearly destroyed Los Angeles.   All because of that twat and the vampire Buffy."  Dawn smirked at him for that pronouncement.

"Then you found safety and happiness.  I felt it happen.  You made a connection and found someone who would treat you correctly and guide you on your new path.  It makes me very happy that you've made your choice and you're comfortable with it.  Never hesitate to call me if you need me, but you are no longer mine.  You are his."  Xander shook his head. "Yes, you are, even if he doesn't sleep with you."  He glanced at Lupin, then back at the boy.  It was enough of a clue.  "For now, the healer is waiting to finish what little he can do.  I'll aid him all I can, as will Dawn.  You two are already bound in many ways."  He leaned down, kissing Xander again.  "Sleep," he whispered.  Xander collapsed, falling asleep.  Ethan looked at Lupin.  "Treat him well or face me, and I can bring things that you have never even had nightmares about to play with you.  You will not like your fate if you ever harm the boy."  He looked at Dawn and gave her a light kiss on the cheek.  "Leave your sister to me as well.  She did not know about this incident but she will be suffering for it.  Willow will be suffering most greatly.  I believe your people still there are going to have a talk with her, with the apprentice I've told to help them."  He held out a hand and Lupin shook it, sealing the agreement: Lupin would take care of Xander for him and Ethan would stay out of their way.  "If you ever need me, have one of them call.  If they can't, then we'll have to meet in England.  I don't often leave these days.  With that said, I was doing dishes."  He smirked and disappeared.

"That was Ethan," Dawn told him.  "I never knew that."  She looked at the sleeping Xander, then went to open the door.  "Hey, it is you," she said happily, letting him inside.  "Come on.  He's napping.  Ethan knocked him out."

"Of course he did.  This last bit of healing will be painful.  Ethan has helped all along by cleaning Xander's powers for him."  He picked the boy up, taking him back to the bedroom.  "Miss Summers?"  She followed, going to help him.

Lupin sat down, calling the other cellphone.  "Fujiko, give me Jigen.  I don't care."  So what if he was drunk?  "We just had the most interesting visitor.  Apparently you and Goemon had a plan to go after Rosenburg?"  He smirked.  "Expect help from an apprentice of Ethan Rayne's.  Yes, him.  No, he was our interesting visitor."  He looked toward the bedroom.  "No, he released the boy into our care.  He had been protecting him as much as he could.  Xander is stunned to say the least."  He smirked.  "Oh, I don't know.  Xander liked the idea of a real vacation and only Marcus doing any training."  He laughed.  "Sure.  I was thinking Bali.  It should be the end of the rainy season and the start of the tourist times," he pointed out.  "Yeah, that's fine with me.  Sure.  Did you want to wait for a day?"  He looked at the date on his watch.  "That's fine.  No, Fihad is in with him for his last treatment now.  Dawn's helping him and Ethan's been doing something to help clean him.  Yeah, he was a nice guy.  Surprisingly nice.  It was like a father giving his daughter over for the prom."  He laughed at the disgruntled comment.  "He thought you should take care of him, but he did tell Xander you probably wouldn't sleep with him."  He hung up on the string of invectives.  "My, what a mouth he has on him," he said with some amusement.  He got up to go watch, he didn't want to leave Xander alone through this.


Jigen and Goemon walked into the magic shop, looking at the redhead weeping on the center table.  "Rosenburg," he said coldly.  She looked up, wiping her eyes.  She stood up, glaring at them.  "We were sent to talk with you about your recent act against someone."  Everyone but one older guy behind the counter hurried out of the way.  "What gives you the right?"

"It balances out!" she said angrily.

"It does not," Goemon said, his hand already on his sword.  "It does not balance out.  Not in the least.  That is why you will pay punishment for eternity."  She sneered at him. He stepped closer.  "Not only has someone made sure that your children shall be slayers, but also their children and theirs afterwards if any should come from them."  She looked hurt.

Jigen flicked his hat back a little.  "Summers said so," he told her.

"Summers?  Buffy?"

"Dawn," he said flatly.

She snorted.  Then she was caught in a net from behind.  "Let go!"

"No.  My master said to come take you out," the woman sneered, glaring at her.  Willow looked at her, then gasped.  "Yes, Willow.  Me.  You sent me away thinking I couldn't do anything.  Ethan said I can, and now I do.  Great things.  We protect Xander.  Never touch him again."

The old man behind the counter spoke up.  "T...this is about X..Xander?" he asked.  Jigen looked at him and nodded.  "Is he all right?"

"He's fine, no thanks to you.  A real healer has taken care of his injuries."

"They had persisted this long," Goemon told him.  He looked at Rosenburg, fighting down his rage.  This corrupt...thing in front of him deserved no mercy but was the most foul thing he could ever dishonor his blade with.  "What shall we do with you?"

"Easy." Jigen pulled his gun and shot her in the shoulder, next to her neck.  "That.  Then we'll let her bleed to death, like she deserves.  It's not even a thousandth of what Xander went through but now he's safe.  Forever."  He turned and walked out, plucking Goemon's sleeve to make him go with him.  Before he could add more bullets to her body, because he was going to do so soon if he had to keep looking at her.

"Hopefully you will see the errors of your ways and repent before you are allowed to die," Goemon told her, turning and following his friend out to the car.

The witch was not so kind.  She tightened the net and sent a pulse of pain through it, making the other witch yell and writhe in pain.  "Good.  I hope you suffer."  She lifted her head.  "It is done!" she pronounced.  A portal opened and a blue skinned being walked out, leading a light being by the hand.  "It will corrupt her, Elder, please do not do that to her."

"She has requested this duty," the oracle told her.  She took the girl with her, sending her back to her master.

The spirit looked down at the bound witch.  "Oh, Willow," she sighed softly.

Willow started to weep.  "Tara," she pleaded.


Xander woke up from his treatment feeling very good.  It was the best he had felt in years.  He looked down at his body, finding most of the scars gone. His thighs were still scarred but not that badly. He could feel a few on his back where they rubbed against the sheet but most of his skin was perfectly smooth.  The tattoos were still there but that was fine with him.  He sat up, touching the scars on his thighs tenderly.  He could feel the skin!  He climbed out of bed and walked out into the main room.  "I can feel my thighs!" he said happily.

"Good," Jigen told him.

"That bikini brief is way worse than the loincloth," Dawn noted, going back to her hand.  She and Jigen were playing poker.  "Put on some clothes, Xander."

He walked over and hugged her.  "Thank you, Dawn."

"Hey, it's what buddies do," she said, grinning at him.  He whispered in her ear then went to find some clothes.  She laid down two cards.  "Two."  Jigen dealt her two new cards. She laughed and smirked at him.

Xander got dressed in clothes he hadn't been able to wear because they had shrunk.  He came out in the tighter pants, still smiling.  "When did you guys get here?"

"Late last night," Goemon told him.  "We were next door but we decided you should wake up soon."  He handed over a soda.  "You probably need that," he said dryly, getting out of the boy's way on the path to the bathroom.

"Thanks, love you too, man."  He drank it on his way to use the facilities.

"Hey, Xander," Dawn called. "Since those are nearly skin-tight should I plan on making good on my promise to buy you your first pair of leather pants?" she called.

"We're not in London and I doubt we could get any here," Xander called through the door.

Lupin came out of his room, dressed completely.  "I take it he's up?"  Everyone nodded.  "Good.  Then maybe we can get back to work.  Xander, hurry up."

"Coming, boss," he called.  He came out waving his hands.  "Sorry, we're out of towels."  He wiped his hands on the back of Fujiko's shirt.  She shrieked and tried to hit him but he smirked and swatted back, getting into a slap fight with her.

"You nasty thing," she said angrily.  "That's just sick!  Jigen, call off your dog!"

"Down, boy," Jigen ordered, smirking at him.  He had wanted to do that once.  Xander smirked and came over to deal for them.

Lupin shook his head.  The boy being playful was a good thing.  "Okay.  Are we done?"  Fujiko glared at him, flouncing out to put on a different shirt.  "Xander," he said, giving the boy a tolerant look.

"What?  She deserved it.  She looked!"  He gathered the spent cards and redealt, including himself this time.  "What are we doing about this mask thingy, boss?"

"That's the problem," Lupin admitted.  He waited until Fujiko came back in one of her nearly frontless tops, then sighed.  It was going to be one of those days.  "We've got a small problem. The fortress is just that, a fortress."

"What about that extra tunnel?" Xander asked.

"It's blocked in three spots," Lupin admitted.  "On the other side is the cavern where the water pipe ends.  There's an underground lake that they're getting water from.  It's freshwater and it refills itself from the local watertable."  He sat down, letting Xander deal him in too.  "If we go in that way, we'll have to go through that tunnel, go up the other, which is straight up without any handholds.  That would include a ninety-foot dive as well to make it into the water pipe and getting past the pumps."

"Isn't there an entrance to the cavern?" Dawn asked.

"There is.  It's nearly seven feet thick and pure steel.  Even Goemon can't cut through it in one swipe.  On the other side is the guard's barracks."  She grimaced and tossed down most of her hand, getting redealt from Xander.  Then she kicked him and glared at him.  He gave her an innocent look.

"No dealing from the bottom of the deck," Jigen ordered.

"I'm not," Xander defended.  "Is there any way we can get him and the mask out?  Or even just him and all his people and have him leave the mask behind with a light guard?" Xander asked.

"Possibly.  Three, Xander."  He discarded and accepted the other three.  He looked at the young man, noticing the innocent look he was giving.  "It's a good thing we're not playing for money."

"I watched his hand, he was dealing from the top of the deck," Jigen told him, putting down his hand.  "I'm out."  This was going to be an amusing match.  Dawn did the same with a big sigh.

Lupin and Xander locked eyes then he laid down his hand.  Xander laid down his, making Lupin groan. "How?"

"I played with drunks for most of my life," Xander told him.  "It's all in the shuffle."

Lupin laughed.  "I'll have to remember not to let you deal the next time."  He took the cards to shuffle this time, dealing to the four of them.  "I don't know if we can get him out of there.  He's not due to come out anytime soon.  He comes out a few times a year for some limited travel, the occasional award or meeting.  The local Don of the underworld has met with him a few times."  He shrugged.  "Ideas?"

"Isn't he a demon?" Dawn asked, putting down her cards.  This was her worst hand yet.  The guys obviously didn't want to play with her.  She leaned back to watch them.  "Can we get his cooperation?  The mask poses a threat to his position."

"We might be able to," Lupin agreed.  "I can't get a meeting yet."

Xander looked at him.  "Is he demonic?" Lupin agreed.  "Then let me."  He laid down his discard, looking at his boss.  "Four," he said smoothly.

Lupin swallowed and dealt to him, watching as the boy smirked as he rearranged his cards. "You're bluffing."

"Am I?"  Xander looked at him.  "This week's allowance on that?"

Lupin smirked and put down fifty on the table.  Xander did the same. Lupin took his discard.  Jigen opted out even though he had a good hand going.  "Lay 'em flat," he ordered.  Xander spread out his hand.  Lupin looked at the boy in shock.  "I didn't deal you that!"

"Prove it," Xander said smugly, taking the cash off the table.  "Thanks, boss.  I wanted to go shopping for a new knife in the bazaar later."  He tucked it into his pocket.

"Xander, it's not nice to cheat the boss," Dawn reminded him patiently.

"Prove it," he told her, smirking at her then at Lupin again.  "He could only know what he dealt me if he was stacking the deck."

Lupin put his hand down, shaking his head.  "Fine.  Do you have a card game you don't win?"

"Go fish," Xander said, standing up.  "Where is this Don?  When are his usual visiting hours?"

"Later tonight and he's in the center of the bazaar," Lupin told him.  "I'm going with you."

"Um, nope," Xander said, shaking his head.  "It'll look bad. You either, Dawn.  I'll be back later.  I know, no jewels on the knife.  I just want a scimitar."  He walked out, taking his jacket off the rack beside the door.

"I take it he has a plan?" David asked.

"Xander's mind is a strange place but he is a good planner," Dawn reminded him.  "Besides, he's got some credibility and power among the local demons."  She sat up again, looking at Lupin. "Teach me that," she told him.  "Xander won't."

He smirked at her. "Jigen does it better."  She shrieked and stood up, swatting at him, making him smirk at her too.  "We'll teach you that on vacation.  After this, we're all going to Bali for a vacation.  Unless Goemon and Fujiko wanted to go back to Japan for some privacy.  The house in Bali is pretty open."

Dawn looked at Fujiko.  "He's threatened to take away all my clothes unless they're bikinis."

"He's done it to me in the past," Fujiko admitted.  "What is the boy's plan?"

Lupin smiled at her.  "Don't worry, he'll be fine.  He's royalty to them."


Xander walked into the antechamber, nodding at the guard.  "Now," he said, pointing at the doors.  "I will speak with him alone."  His hair was loose and his jacket was unbuttoned.  His shirt was untucked and he looked fairly dangerous.  The demon looked at him and shook his head.  Xander took off his jacket, showing the least powerful of his 'encouragement' markings.  "Now."  The demon whimpered and got out of his way, pushing the door open for him.  Xander walked in, his jacket over his shoulder.  "Morning," he said softly.

The local Don looked down at him from his raised chair, looking confused.  "I do not know you."

"Yes you do," Xander told him, showing him the back of his hand.  The demon shifted uncomfortably.  "We need to talk.  One of your locals is irritating me to no end and I think he's doing it to you too."

"I have no locals who should have run into you, Sire," he said, looking away from the boy's white hair.  What had been done to this human?  "Who are you, by what name shall I call you?" he asked.

"You may call me Lavelle," Xander told him, calling a chair over and sitting down, getting comfortable.  "As for the local, he is an idiot.  Leave us," he ordered.  All the other demons left the chamber.  "Thank you."  The doors all closed, leaving them alone.  "The local who is bothering me is using a powerful artifact on the mundanes.  They have been shown the power numerous times if they're part of his household.  That is dangerous, isn't it?"

The Don looked down at him again, shifting again.  "I know of him.  You want the one who wears the mask?"  Xander nodded.  "What do you plan to do with him?"  Xander shrugged.  "Do you only want the mask?"

"I'd accept only getting the mask.  I don't particularly want my life jeopardized by him doing things like this.  Do you want to deal with a hunt? You're in a pretty fundamentalist area."

"I realize that.  I have always laid low."  He considered it.  "What would I get in consideration?"

"What would you like?"

"Your promise not to harm me and the knowledge of how you could."

"If I showed you, it would hurt you," Xander told him.

"I will accept that risk."

Xander stood up, working the buttons on his shirt.  "That's fine."  He turned around and let the shirt fall below his shoulderblades.  "You should recognize that.  That marking will cause pain and agony among you.  A mental throbbing from what I understand."  The demon moaned so he turned around, rolling up his left sleeve.  "This one causes a more physical pain I'm told," he said, showing off that mark.  He lifted the bottom hem on his left side and pushed down his waistband.  "I'm told if you see this one fully you will die a painful death instantly," he told him.  The demon shuddered and turned away from him.  Xander redid the buttons on his shirt then sat down.  "I am covered."  The demon looked at him.  "Now you know."

"I do know.  You are him?"  Xander nodded.  "And you survived?"

"And I am still living."  He leaned forward.  "All we want is a chance to take it from him.  My present teacher wants that mask eliminated from the general public.  I happen to agree because it's dangerous.  Do you have a problem with that?"

The demon licked his lips.  With the boy's hair falling around his face that way, he looked very tasty.  "I do not.  Actually, I do not like his current usages of the artifact."  He leaned closer.  "Who is your current instructor?"

"I may not divulge that to you," Xander told him.  "If I did, you would try to curry favor with him."

"Ah.  You are of Lupin the third's new brood.  Yes?"  Xander gave a one-sided shrug.  "Then you are their new marksman."

"I am," Xander told him, leaning back again, crossing his legs.  He knew it was tempting the demon but a lust-filled mind was not a clear one.  "What of it?"

"I would like to meet with your teacher, he has knowledge of something that I would like to have knowledge of."

"I'll see what I can arrange.  In return, you invite the man with the golden mask here for tea or something and ask him to bring the mask so you can examine it."

The demon chortled.  "I have done so other times, it will not even sound strange."  He licked his lips again. "You are quite young."

"And very uninterested in you," Xander assured him.  "Shall I call my partner?"


"Dawn Summers."

The demon's eyes went wide.  "She is here?"  Xander nodded.  "Then I will do so upon the promise of trying to set up a meeting between myself and your teacher.  She may come if she wishes.  I have no desire to go against her.  She is infamous and deadly."

Xander smirked.  "That's what I like best about her."  He pulled out the phone he had swiped from the inn's room, dialing the other one.  The expected person answered.  "It's Lavelle," he said quietly.  "We've reached a small snag in the negotiations.  He wants to meet with the boss."  He hummed while the phone was handed over people.  "Hey.  He said you have knowledge of something he wants."  He looked at the demon.  "What did you want knowledge of?"

"The Mask of Infinity."

Xander put the phone back up to his ear.  "Did you hear that?  No, Mask of Infinity.  Isn't that a silver mask that grants immortality?" he asked the demon, some sparkle of memory lighting up in his head.

"Yes, I want it for my daughter," he admitted.

Xander listened, then shrugged. "I'll tell him."  He hung up. "Lupin said he might be able to help you find the pieces but it broke years ago and part of it was melted down by the Nazi's.  You know how they were."

The demon groaned. "I remember, they took it from us."  He sighed. "I had hopes.  Thank you.  I will summon him in three days.  How do I tell you when he agrees to come?"

"We're in the bazaar, at the old inn by the food stalls."  He stood up.  "Send me a message there.  It is a human establishment, but I believe you have humans on your payroll."  He smiled.  "Have a vampire turn her.  I hear it's not that bad."

The demon smirked.  "That is an idea," he agreed.  "Thank you.  May I do you any other services, Sire Xander?"

"I was hoping to buy one of those cute little curved daggers.  Do you know where they sell them?"

The demon snapped his fingers and someone came running.  He told it something and she backed out, coming back with a velvet box.  "Take one of my personal ones.  It will mark you as safe to all who do not know you on sight."  He handed it over reverently.  "Are you living the life now?"

"I plan on it," Xander told him.  "I am an excellent marksman after all."  He grinned and bowed.  "Thank you for your help.  I look forward to leaving you in peace once this is done."  He grabbed his jacket and walked out into the twilight.

The demon sighed in relief.  "Get me a scribe," he ordered his daughter.  "I need to write this one down."  She nodded and did so, also bringing him some opium for his headache.  "Ah, my child, thank you," he sighed, patting her on the head.  "We will get you fixed soon.  You have lost so much weight."  He told the scribe the tale while he smoked the small pipe.


Xander walked into the room, handing over the paper wrapped packages he had bought a few minutes earlier.  "I got dinner while I was gone."  He closed and locked the door, looking at everyone.  "What?"

"You got dinner and a knife?"

"The knife was a gift," Xander said with a grin.  "He'll be inviting Mr. Masked Man to tea in three days, he'll send us a message about when he accepts to come."  Lupin smiled at him.  "Now all we need is a plan for routes and how to get it off him.  It supposedly sticks to the skin and only the person who put it on can take it off."  He sat down, opening the box.  "It's a subtle mark, I like that in a weapon," he said happily, pulling the dagger to show it off.  "Neat, huh?" he asked with a bright grin.

"Very," Jigen asked, holding out his hand.  Xander handed it to him so he looked at it.  "What's the mark for?"

"So none of his boys touch me or anyone with me while we're in the bazaar.  It's his turf.  He only knew me by reputation."  He took it back and held it out to Lupin.  "Want to see?"

Lupin took it, testing the heft.  "It's heavy but well balanced," he said, handing it back.  "Very nice, Xander.  Thank you."  The boy blushed and he smirked at him.  "What else did you do?"

"I felt the bug, didn't you listen?" he asked dryly, putting the knife back into the box then putting it aside.  "Food," he suggested.  "Before Dawn eats someone.  I can hear her stomach rumbling."  He looked at Lupin.  "Basically, I showed him why I'm dangerous, which is the problem with a few of the magical markings carved onto my body.  Which did not disappear with the healing."

"The doctor said it wouldn't," Dawn told him.

"Then I sat there and was my cute self.  He got a little warm."  Lupin snickered, shaking his head.  "What?" he asked innocently.

"You seem like you're in a lighter mood," Fujiko noted as she handed out the food.

"There's no Buffy or Willow here.  Of course I am."

She looked at him.  "You've been a sour person almost as long as I've known you, kid.  Did the healing fix some of that?"

"Probably," he agreed.  "I'm no longer disgusted to look at my body. I don't have any more oozing sores on my thighs.  I don't have any more open whip cuts on my back."  Goemon put down his meat.  "Sorry.  I'll quit."  He looked at her.  "I'm much more even now.  This is the real me.  Get used to it.  The other me was the angry me."

Dawn nodded.  "Really angry him.  I'd hate to see him get really, really angry but that was him in a bad mood."  She opened her packet of food.  "Do I want to know?"

"It's food, eat," Lupin told her.  He looked at Xander.  "That was still dangerous."

Xander shook his head and smirked, bending his head down to open his package and pick out the peppers, handing them to David.  "If he had touched me, he would have been in for retribution.  Even though I was freed, I'm still considered the virtual property of what's- his-name the demon prince of the whatever section.  I can't pronounce it," he noted.  "It's like marriage without the love, lust, or necessity of being on the same plane.  It's also like that because no demon could ever touch me but I'm free to have as many humans as I want."  He looked out through his hair again, eventually moving it out of the way when all he got was silence.  "Didn't consider that?" he asked quietly.  Lupin shook his head.  "Yeah, his scent marks me.  I can't wash it off.  Trust me, I tried numerous times.  I even tried with a wire grill brush."  Dawn nodded at that, she had taken it from him.  "It didn't work.  It was explained to me that it meant no other demon would *ever* touch me against my will.  Most of them would see me as an odd consort to the thing.  Even if I didn't like it.  The humans were considered beneath their notice so I can find a true mate and have them but it had better not be with another demonic entity.  Which is kinda beyond sickening for me anyway," he offered.

"Species polygamy," Dawn agreed.  "It happens with the higher beings.  They can usually take one of each species.  Since humans are a separate species, they're allowed one of them too."  She nibbled on the meat.  "This does not taste like chicken, no matter who says it does."

"It's goat," Jigen told her.  "Eat.  You'll want it later and Xander or David will eat it if you don't."  She nodded, eating more of it.  "Does that mean that you're officially looking?"

"I'm considering looking," Xander corrected, giving him a smile. "It'd have to be someone really special to keep my attention.  They'd have to understand about my ADHD and all that good stuff, plus understand the job."  He shrugged.  "So I'm considering.  I can't be celibate.  My body won't allow that, I'll go insane within a few months."

"Oh yeah, remind me to place that restriction on you later," Dawn told him.  "It'll work for the next few months."

"Yes, Dawnie," he agreed, rolling his eyes. "You do a very good impersonation of your mother.  Are you going to hand me a condom next?"

She shook her head, giving him a smug look.  "Hopefully you packed some since you can't get them locally."

"What about women?" Goemon asked.  "You've said often enough that you are bisexual."

Xander grinned wickedly at him.  "See, there's another 'but' to that rule.  Demons consider women to be a whole 'nother species entirely.  Except in a few species women don't count."  Fujiko's mouth fell open.  "Since you guys are so confusing, you're considered a different species. So technically, I can have both if I find both that I want.  Or I could play the field, or I could find someone who's willing to put up with my excessive libido and wear me out so much that I don't miss tits."  Dawn blushed.  "Sorry, dear, did I embarrass you?" he teased.

"You're odd," Fujiko told him.

"It's more like 'Free at last, free at last, thank God I'm free at last,'" Xander admitted.  "There is nothing keeping me from finding someone who *likes* me.  Since I'd never touch a demon willingly, hey, really free.  Able to look and be picky."  Lupin coughed.  "Sorry, want some water?"

"I've got some.  Why don't you eat before you make more than Marcus and Dawn blush?" he suggested lightly.  Like him.  Damn, the boy was open.

Marcus started to say something but he stuttered too much to get anything out and excused himself to go to the bathroom.

"It's not going to be you, Marc, don't worry about it," Xander called after him.  He looked at Dawn.  "Do you get the feeling that someone's listening at the door?"  She nodded.  "Then why haven't you fixed it?"

"Because it's Gramps and he's alone," she told him, wiggling her fingers at the door, watching as it opened. "Come on in, you can have Marc's dinner.  I doubt he's going to be out anytime soon."

Zenigata glared at her.  "Who are you to be so impudent to me?"

"Dawn Isabelle Summers.  Direct apprentice to him," she said, tipping her head at Lupin before eating another bite.  "Also the person who got you the raise."  She grinned while the others laughed.  "Also the person who's going to hit you on the head and make you forget why you were going to Sicily."

"Sicily?  Won't he get into trouble with any remaining families?" Xander suggested.

"Hmm.  Mexico?"

"Mexico was a fun job," Jigen noted.  "He might like to remember that."

"I don't," Lupin groaned. "I've never had a more upset stomach."  Xander looked at him.  "After the job it was Cinco de Mayo.  We got a little drunk to help them celebrate."

Zenigata growled and pulled out a pair of handcuffs.  "I've got you now!  You can't get away from me."  He grabbed his shoulder and grunted in pain.

Xander put away his gun, noticing his mentor had been drawing.  "Sorry, did you want that?" he asked.

"No, nice job.  Tranq darts still?"

"I haven't reloaded yet," Xander admitted.  He stood up and walked over, nudging him with his foot.  "Okay, he's out, Dawn."

"Cool."  She licked her fingers as she stood up and walked over, closing the door as she walked past it.  No one needed to see her doing magic in this place.  They might try to burn her at the stake or something.  "Did you know the Monks had a branch in Mexico?"  Xander shook his head, looking interested.  "They did."  She took his knife and opened her thumb, creating a small portal to the empty monastery.  Then she chucked the inspector through.  The portal closed while she went back to her seat.  "He's on this plane," she announced.  "He'll be fine.  There's no one near there for *miles*.  By the time he walks to the nearest village and realizes they don't have phones, cars, or radios, it'll be at least a week from now."  She licked off her thumb, noticing David was staring at her. "What?" she defended.

"Nice work," he told her.  "I thought you didn't use it."

"I don't use it much," she corrected.  "To stay on this plane of existence I have to know where I'm going intimately.  I have to know every spare inch of it.  Otherwise, there could be one close enough and I'd never realize.  That's why I didn't use it to come after you that time."  He nodded.  "Better?"  He nodded, smiling at her again.  "Good.  Eat.  Before I eat it for you.  I'm hungry enough to not want to know what animal this was."  She picked up the next dripping piece of meat and nibbled on it. "Marcus, I'm going to eat your dinner if you don't come out," she called.

He came out of the bathroom, looking outwardly composed.  Except for the bulge he was sporting.  "I'm sorry I ran that way," he said as he sat down again.  "I cannot excuse my actions."  He ducked his head and ate.

Dawn snorted.  "Not a big, Marc.  Plenty of people want in Xan's panties.  There are even some who have wanted to pay for him and keep him.  You're not alone there.  It is an amazing thing."  He blushed again but didn't answer.

"You two are very blunt on that subject," Goemon noted. "Some of us are more delicate."

"Sorry," Xander said with a small shrug. "Living our lives is kinda like free-falling.  If you don't say it you don't usually get the chance again.  Why hold things back when you could die tomorrow?"

"It's a corollary to the 'there is no such thing as a coincidence' law and a brother to 'if you meet an old friend you haven't seen in a year, they're going to try and kill you' law," Dawn told him.  "We learned that from Faith."

"Yes, we met her," Goemon noted, looking at her.  "Please, try to modulate your innuendos near myself and Marcus.  He is a very delicate young man."  Dawn nodded, giving him a small grin. "Thank you.  Now eat.  You said you were hungry."

Someone knocked on the door and Dawn grabbed the illusion necklace, putting it on and hitching it.  Lupin got up and answered the door, making sure Fujiko was covered as well.  "Yes?" he asked the proprietor.  He accepted the message.  "Thank you."  He closed and relocked the door, coming back to hand the message to Xander.  "Already?"

Xander opened it, frowning at the language.  "Marc, translation?" he asked, handing it over.

"He's coming for lunch in four days with the mask on," he read.  "He does not take the main path."  He looked at Xander.  "Our target?" Xander nodded so he looked at Lupin.  "Does that give us enough information?"

"That leaves six roads," Lupin noted, considering the bazaar.  "We'll look at the map tonight."  He picked up some of his food, eating quickly.  "Dawn, as a future reference, we eat with our right hands only.  The other is considered unclean because you use it for bodily purposes."  She blushed and switched hands.  "In case we eat in the open."  She nodded.  David was also blushing and eating with his right hand.

"In a country where water is precious, you don't get to wash your hands every time," Xander told him.  David nodded, eating quicker.

"We would appreciate it if you continued that habit anyway," Fujiko told him.

"Every time?" Xander asked.  She glared at him and he grinned. "What?" he asked innocently.

"I will get you for that water stunt earlier."

He beamed.  "Fine.  Come practice with us some day soon and we'll see."  She groaned and shook her head.

"It would help you stay in practice," Goemon told her, patting her on the hand.  He looked at Dawn.  "I believe the work you did on her arm went very well.  Thank you."  She beamed and nodded.  "Should we retire for the night?"

"Go for it," Lupin agreed, watching them go.  "What did you do, Dawn?"

"He asked me to see if she was using anything artificial in her body," she said sweetly.  "So I told him."

"Artificial?" Lupin asked.

Jigen groaned.  "She was on the pill."  Lupin jumped up and went to talk to the samurai.  He had to know that was a bad idea.  Jigen tapped her on the arm and shook his head.  "No.  Pregnancy is worse than PMS.  We have enough problems with that."

"I'm going on the shot," Dawn defended.

He patted her gently.  "That's good, but still.  We don't want to deal with her that way.  No matter what Goemon wants, not yet."

"Sure.  I only told him if she was. I didn't mess with its effectiveness rate or anything," she promised.  "He didn't ask me to."

Xander smirked at her.  "Was she?"  Dawn shook her head and Jigen groaned.  "Nothing artificial?"

"Nothing except some over-the-counter pain killers.  I'm guessing they're using some sort of barrier method."

Lupin came back from his begging.  That whole 'I'll have to produce an heir sometime' argument wasn't cutting it with him.  "Dawn, no more."

She nodded.  "Fine.  She was only on an NSAID anyway," she said with a light shrug.

He sighed as he sat down, putting his head down.  "I don't think we could handle that."  Xander thoughtfully rubbed his back for him.  "Thanks.  Dawn, tell me personally if she ever does get knocked up so I can take her out of rotation."

"Sure, boss.  I can tell as soon as her body starts the usual changes.  Within days."

"Thank you."  He sat up, giving Xander a small grin.  "Thanks to you as well."

"Not a big.  I'm told I'm very comforting."  He went back to his dinner, reaching over to pilfer some of Dawn's.  She smacked his hand but let him have it.  "Eat faster."

"Fine."  She grabbed her food and ate faster.

Xander reached over and took off the illusion necklace, returning her to her usual catsuit and heels instead of the all-covering robe and head scarf.

"If she does, I'm hiding until the baby's weaned," Jigen told Lupin.

Lupin looked at him.  "We'll hide together.  I know some great caves that have a really nice water supply and hunting."  He heard Xander's quiet snickering.  "Or we'll go back to Sunnydale and hide in the cabins.  She'll never find us there."

Xander fell out of his seat, rolling around laughing.

"Hmm.  And I thought a preggy Buffy was bad," Dawn said, stealing Xander's rice to eat.  He didn't complain, he hated rice.


Later that night, Lupin came out and found Xander playing solitaire at the small table.  "Bored?"

"Can't sleep," Xander admitted, dealing a new hand.  He looked up at him.  "Sometimes I get that way.  It's like I'm vibrating at too high a rate of speed and I can't shut things down."

Lupin nodded, he had been that way in the past.  "Most people need cocaine for that."

"I tried a line once, it made it worse but I still got to sleep after a week."  He grinned, playing a card and flipping the one beneath it.  "Why aren't you sleeping?"

"My mind's running in circles.  There's too many roads."

"There's eight of us.  Put David and Marcus with people and block off one," Xander suggested.  "A minor accident that collapses a stall roof around the right time and blocks the road.  Either that or we watch for him and stop him."  He looked up, seeing the pleased look.  "Need more help?"

"That would work.  David isn't that sure a shot yet.  He's an excellent thief but he doesn't have the weapon skills at all.  Marcus still needs to find his perfect weapon."

"Marcus needs his own sword.  The demonic spirit warrior would use one."  He played another card and flipped the bottom one.  "We should suggest that he go on the hunt for one."

"True.  I'll talk to him tomorrow during his practice."  He played a set he could see that Xander was ignoring, helping him.  "Why else can't you sleep?"

"Dawn's spell is making me jumpy.  I don't like being jumpy.  It'll take a while for my body to get used to it I guess."  He shrugged.  "It's gotten used to all sorts of things.  It'll figure out that it likes this one as well."  He looked through his hand, every third card getting turned over.  "I hate this version of solitaire, I never win."

"Why aren't you firing up your laptop?" Lupin asked, taking a card to help him.  That moved another of the base set and freed up a new card, which didn't help anything at all.

"My battery's charging," Xander said lightly, grinning at him.  "So, are you just jumpy or too tired to move and can't stop thinking?"

"The second.  I need something wear me out.  Usually I'd go bother Goemon and have him spar with me but I think he's probably a little busy."

"No, she quit screaming a while ago," Xander quipped.  Lupin shook his head.  "What? I know what a gag is and it's many uses.  I'm surprised you didn't hear Marcus getting up too."

"I did.  Did he finally go back to bed?"

Xander nodded, finally finding a card he needed and playing it.  It freed up another card he didn't need.  "I hate this version."

Lupin laughed and took the extras stack from his hand, putting them down.  "It's pitiful, I can't usually win that one even when I do every card anymore."  Xander grinned at him.  "You are a big tease," he said dryly.

"I am.  I happen to like being me, most others do too."

"Oh, I do.  This new, happier you is wonderful.  Dawn is so serious sometimes that it's ...."

"Boring?  Tiring?  Draining? Yeah, I know.  She has fun sometimes but not always."  He shrugged.  "Jigen didn't tell you I pranked him our first six months?"

"No, he didn't mention that," Lupin said, leaning back so he could watch the younger man.  "What did you do?"

"Let's see.  One night he was so wiped he slept *really* deeply.  So I took his gun and coated the barrel with washable acrylic bubblegum pink paint.  I put it back once it was dry so he couldn't tell.  He didn't know until he pulled it on someone the next morning."  Lupin smirked at that.  "He gave me the dirtiest look and I simply grinned and shrugged.  I think that was when he started to sleep with it under his pillow.  The next night, I snuck in a small garden snake and let it into his bed, making him shriek and flail around.  I wore handcuffs to bed that night."  Lupin shook his head.  "Then there was the night," Xander sighed, sounding happy, "that I pranked him so bad it wasn't funny.  We had just had the crappiest of all weeks.  Like right before LA crappy week."  That got a small nod.  "So I took him to a bar I had picked out of the local entertainment paper.  The gay entertainment paper.  It was affectionately billed 'the most flamboyant place on earth'.  He nearly refused to go in but it was late and most of the rest of them were closing down, the liquor store was already closed, and the nearest open bar was over a mile away and we'd have to wait for a cab.  So I talked him into going in there.  I bought him a few rounds.  Then I had the best drag queen in the place come over to hit on him."  Lupin snickered, shaking his head.  "Really.  This one was so good that it was really hard to tell.  She was on hormones and stuff so her adam's apple was tiny.  She had real breasts.  She swayed just right when you looked at her.  She had this sweet, smoky, honey coated voice while she was singing or speaking.  I paid her to come over and drink with us.  And she hit on him like you wouldn't believe.  I got myself home that night."

Lupin winced.  "He could have killed you for that."

"He came in about an hour later and handcuffed me to the bed again and warned me to never leave him alone like that again.  Apparently he wasn't ready to go all the way at that moment.  She did invite us both to lunch the next day but he turned it down and made us leave before we could hit our target."  He gave a little shrug.  "I didn't mean to make him that uncomfortable, but he said he wasn't angry about it."

"Yeah, he's forgiving of some pranks.  I'm surprised he didn't dump you for painting his gun."

"Well, it was his second one," Xander admitted with a small smirk.  "I knew better than to touch the one he caressed while he cleaned."  Lupin nodded, that was a wise thing.  "Then again, it did look very nice the night he got drunk and put a condom on it himself.  A purple one."  Lupin broke, laughing hard.  "What?" he asked innocently.  "He was a little too toasty.  That was two days before we got found and arrested.  We were having the crappiest of all months.  Things would not go right for us.  He kept muttering about calling you for a visit anyway.  Something about you breaking the dry spell."

"Yeah, I seem to be able to do that for him." Lupin shook his head, reaching over to pat Xander on the hand.  "I once set him up with the world's worst drag queen.  She had a beard.  She came up and sang to him at the bar."  Xander laughed.  "The wonderful thing was, she was a female.  He glared at me for weeks.  We were still early on in our partnership then.  He said I was too playful."

"Yeah, he said the same thing about me too," Xander admitted.  He flicked some of his hair back over his shoulder.  "Not only did he say that I was too playful, but that I reminded him of you on a rip.  Or at least he muttered about it.  For his last birthday, I had a siren come in and sing to him.  I purposefully left him there too."  He smirked.  "The poor thing, all scales and pale blue skin. Everyone thought it was a really great surprise, but the whole restaurant broke out into an orgy.  He had to sneak out so he wouldn't be grabbed." Lupin started to laugh again.  "I'm already planning his next one."

"I was thinking about taking him somewhere and having a native come up and say he was the perfect virgin sacrifice and try to kidnap him, but I figured he'd try to shoot him."

"Nah.  He'd never pass for virginal."  Xander considered it, leaning his elbows on the table.  "I know."  He leaned closer, lowering his voice.  "How about we invite him to a party, a sex toy party, which someone else is holding?"  Xander wiggled his eyebrows.  "They do make a vibrator in the form of a revolver."

Lupin laughed and shook his head.  "He'd spank us."

"Really?"  Xander's eyes brightened.  "That might be fun."

"I thought you were over him."

"I am, but it still might be fun.  He hasn't chased me around a room in months."

Lupin laughed.  "You're the one who took his crossword from him.  You knew better."

"I wanted to do something," Xander defended.  "He was just sitting there ignoring me.  It was my sacred duty to annoy him into paying attention to me and helping wear out my excess energy."  He shifted, leaning a little more on his elbows.  "So, what should we do for Fujiko's birthday?  A positive test strip?"

"She'd kill us, I don't prank that woman unless I'm really wanting something," Lupin told him.  "Besides, Goemon would be really happy about that and then get pissed at us too."

"Not if we let him in on it beforehand.  Besides, I have the feeling it'll happen before her next birthday."

"Why didn't you tell me about yours?"

"I don't celebrate mine," Xander told him.  "I haven't in years, no one has.  Since ninth grade."

"Not even your friends?"

"One was gone during that time and the other was deep in a hacking project.  She got me a card in tenth and eleventh grades."

"What about your senior year?"

Xander sighed.  "I tried to celebrate it on my own.  My birthday's during a school holiday but we were in the middle of apocalypse number two and a half.  For my birthday I took down some zombies trying to blow up the school, got dissed by my friends, and got molested by a slayer, Faith.  It was over in milliseconds."  He shrugged.  "So I lost my virginity for it, and I learned that sometimes being on my own is better, but otherwise I spent my eighteenth alone."

"That's horrible.  That's one of those birthdays where you should have had a big party."

"Yeah, well, I threw one for myself on my twenty-first.  I went to the only bar in Sunnydale and bought everyone a round.  They sang."  He grinned sadly.  "It happens sometimes."  He pushed his hair back again, putting it behind his ear this time.  "I should get this mess cut."

"Why?  It looks good on you," Lupin told him.  "What did you want for your birthday?"

"This year?  To get away from Buffy and Willow without having to kill them."

"Well, you got that wish," Lupin pointed out.  "Nothing else?"  Xander shook his head.  He was going to start feeling sorry for the boy soon.  "What about next year?"

"Next year?"  Xander considered it.  "I'd like to be on a beach next year for my birthday.  Surfing.  I can only body surf but it's been so long since I've done it that I'd like to take a vacation next year for my birthday. Is that enough advance warning?"

"Sure."  Lupin smirked.  "Either that or we'll just pull a job and be there with you while you turn thirty."

"Actually, I think I'd rather spend that apocalyptic birthday alone.  It'll make me feel better to pass into middle age without making others miserable."  He gathered up the cards and dealt another round of solitaire.  "Do you know that Dawn doesn't count that one year?"

"You didn't exactly spend it here, you don't have to count it," Lupin offered.  "I wouldn't."

"Yeah, but it changed me too much for me to conveniently forget so I have to count it."  He glanced up.  "Pick a happier topic."

"Sure."  He grinned, considering it.  "We've got to find something for Fujiko to do around here or she'll bug Dawn some more about her clothes."

"Most of the merchants are small guys.  Nothing big or special in the jewelry department.  For that she'd have to go to Saudi."  He played his first card, freeing up a space. "You can play the full deck, not just every three?"

"It's a different variation."  He considered it.  "It's too close to when we've got to do this otherwise I would suggest it. We'll need her."

"If Goemon will let her get into danger," Xander pointed out.  "He hasn't had to face that yet."

"Hmm.  Good point.  I'll talk to him tomorrow, make sure he'll be fine with it.  He does have some old-fashioned notions."

"Gee, you think?" Xander teased.

Lupin looked at him.  "I should tickle you for that.  That dry tone is just too bad for you, kid."

Xander smirked. "I'm not that young.  Besides, I've earned the right to my dry tone.  I've had to play straightman way too long to others."

"Which would you rather have?"

Xander looked at him, then blinked once while he thought about it.  "I like men.  I like to be held by people who are stronger than I am."  He shrugged.  "I'm a bit kinky that way.  I like stronger lovers."

"There's nothing wrong with that.  Not that you're weak."

"No, but I've got sucky upper body strength," Xander reminded him.  "That is why I am not the man to send to scale the building to let everyone in."

"Oh, I know that very well.  I've been watching you to figure out where your weaknesses are."

Xander grinned and licked his lips.  "Chocolate."  He played another card, smirking in happiness because he got another he needed when he flipped it over.  "Ah-ha!"

"Would you actually sleep with someone for chocolate?"

"I'd fucking bear kids for Willy Wonka," Xander told him.  "The movie guy had that strength but he also had just the touch of geek that draws me."

Lupin mentally smirked. This was going better than he could have hoped for.

"Of course, he'd have to wrestle me in the vat of chocolate.  Then promise to lick it off."  He played another card, grinning when it was looking like this one was going to go his way for once.  "Either that or roll me in chocolate and cover me in nerds.  Then he could lick me clean."  He glanced up, the other man was nearly drooling.  "Of course, my favorite memory was finding another fandom bitch at a convention during my year away from hell after graduation.  We made like rabid weasels in the bathroom during the costume party.  He was the cutest little elf.  Not quite thin enough to pull it off, but fairly cute enough.  He was blond, but I dealt."  Lupin lunged over, lip locking him.  Xander moaned and dropped his extras stack, moving around the small table to stand him up.  "All you had to do was ask, Lupin," he pointed out with a sexy little grin as he started to work on the dress shirt's buttons.

"Now.  My room."

"Yes, sir.  Fair warning, I'm noisier than she is."  Lupin turned him around and gave him a little push, making Xander very warm.  He turned once they were inside and the door was closed.  "Anything special in mind?"

"You."  He came over, stealing his lips again.  The younger man moaned beneath him, arching up to get better contact between their bodies.  Xander was just shorter than he was, enough that it made it interesting.  "You are a bottom, right?" he panted between kisses.  Xander nodded, finishing his quick work on half the buttons on his own shirt.  Then he got the sleeves undone, then his pants.  He shimmied and the whole stack of clothes slid off his hips. Lupin pulled back.  "That's a neat trick."

"Let me show you how it's done."  He half unbuttoned the shirt and pushed it off the thin shoulders, then undid the belt.  "Now shimmy."   The other man found himself in his boxers.  "I see someone needs my special touch of naughty boxers for the holidays."  He moved closer, grabbing the lips to kiss again.

Lupin pulled back, shaking his head.  "I think the mistletoe ones you gave Jigen were more than enough."

"And unfortunately he left them at home or you'd be able to steal them," Xander said smugly, moving down to the thin neck.  "Or don't you like that?"

Lupin moaned, holding the boy's head in place.  "More than you think."

"I think I can feel."  He shifted down, playing with the peaked nipples.  "Tasty."

"Oooh, more."  He arched up into the talented teeth.  "Keep it up and I'll steal you a ten- pound box of Swiss chocolates on the way through," he pleaded.

"Make it two and I'll give you whatever you want."

Lupin growled and pushed the boy onto the bed, looking down at him.  "Greedy.  We'll have to save some for Dawn."  Xander pounced him, knocking him into the wall, kissing him hard and getting in a good grope.  Then he went further down on him, sucking him in like he was famished and it was cordon bleu.  "Oh, God."  Lupin squeezed his eyes shut.  "Too long.  If you keep that up, we can't do anything else."

"Bet me," Xander said, pulling back to lick and look up at him.  "There's no way I'm passing this up."  He stood up and stripped off his tiny bikinis then laid himself out pleasingly on the bed.  "Well?"

Lupin smirked as he came over to play with his new toy.  This would definitely cure boredom and his mind running too hard.  Someone knocked on the door.  "Go away," he shouted.

"Guys," Jigen complained.

"Go away," Xander called.

"Fine.  He still works better when he's frustrated."

"I don't," Xander snapped.  Lupin laughed, licking up his back.  "Ooooh!" he squealed, arching up into it.

"Shit, more fricken' noisy people," Jigen complained, walking away.

"And proud of it," Xander said smugly.

Lupin laughed again, going back to his teasing.  Xander shifted underneath him, getting more demanding.  "Don't believe in foreplay?"

"After play is more my thing.  I cuddle."

"Good."  Lupin grabbed the lube from his bag laying beside the bed and a condom, then put them to good use.  The boy moaned such pretty noises when he slid inside.  It was too much.  He started to give him a long, hard ride from the start.  He batted away the hand trying to help himself.  "No, from me or afterwards."

"Not fair," Xander groaned, pushing back against him.  "I need it."

"I know, and I'll give it to you, Xander.  Come on."  He started working harder, sweating onto the pale back.  Xander whimpered and started to wiggle underneath him.  He spanked him, earning a howl and a beautiful arch of the tight back.  "Come on," he encouraged.  "You can do it."

"I can't," Xander moaned, but his wrists were being held on the bed.  "Please?"

"Oooh, beg," Lupin pleaded.  "I like that."

"Please, Lupin.  Please!  Just a little more!  Please, just one touch!  Arsene!  Please!" he shouted.

Lupin came, groaning into the damp skin.  No one ever called his first name anymore, it was incredibly hot to him.  Xander was still writhing underneath him so he turned him over, seeing the reason why he couldn't come.  "A cockring?"  Xander whimpered.  "Dawn's spell," he groaned, releasing it.  Xander whimpered and went limp, letting him stroke him.  "Come for me, Xander.  I know you want it.  You can do it."  Xander came with a loud scream, arching up into his hand.  "Wow, you are loud," he said, happy with that.  The boy went limp, smiling happily up at him.  "Better?"

"For now."  He pulled him down, kissing him, holding him tightly.  "In a few hours expect to be jumped again."

Lupin groaned, letting himself be cuddled.  It had been a while since anyone had slept on top of his arm and across his chest.  He had missed it.  The boy was soon asleep, snoring into his chest. Lupin stared up at the ceiling as he drifted off, stroking the limp and sticky back.  "Wow.  I'll have to do that again."

Jigen walked in.  "Not until after the job.  You do better when you're frustrated," he reminded him, handing over a bottle of water.  "Asshole."

"Thanks."  He grinned.  "Did you mind?"

"Not in the least.  As long as he doesn't keep me up."  He walked out, slamming the door.  He sat down, playing the game of solitaire laid out.  It wasn't like he could sleep through all that noise.

Lupin smirked as he drank the water, he was thirsty.  Jigen took such good care of him.


Fujiko looked over as Xander came out of Lupin's room, looking confused.  She looked at Jigen, who glared back.  "Okay then."  She smirked as Dawn came out.  "Have a good night?" she asked.

"After I quit hearing people jacking off in the bathroom," she said dryly, heading that way.  She beat Xander in because he was giving the doorknob a confused look because it wasn't working when he touched it.

Lupin came out of his room, smirking at the morning confusion the boy was showing.  "How is everyone today?"  Fujiko gave him a smug look.  He smirked right back.  "Xander, clothes?  If Goemon can't run around in a loincloth, you can't wear less than that."

"Huh?" he asked, looking at him.

"Clothes, kid," Jigen reminded him.

Xander pointed.  "Shower!"

"Dawn, let him have a shower so he can get dressed," Jigen yelled.  "I don't need to see that much of him."

"You've probably seen more," Lupin quipped, sitting down to dish up his own breakfast.  "Hurry up, Dawn, or go hungry."  She came out and grabbed her plate, letting Xander have the bathroom.  "Thank you."

She kissed him on the cheek.  "Remember, a belt, a pillow, a t-shirt or other interesting pieces of clothes can become a gag in an emergency.  It's a good thing to remember."  She sat down, ignoring the looks at her pajamas.  "What?" she asked finally.

David smirked at her.  "Did I keep you up?"

"Hell yes.  Learn to muffle yourself."

"That's why I don't sleep next to the bathroom," Jigen told her.

Goemon came in, giving Lupin a look.  "Good morning."

"If I didn't know better, that was a question," Fujiko noted, grinning at him.

"I can see the moods that they're in," Goemon reminded her.  He sat down to pick out his own breakfast, looking around.  "Xander?"

"Showering, supposedly," Dawn told him.  "I think it's one of those morning when the simplest mechanical things are going to defeat him."  She got up and walked over, heading into the bathroom.  "The dials turn," she said as she turned one for him.  Then she went back to her breakfast, leaving the door open.  Lupin looked at her.  "What?" she asked innocently.  "He's cute in his morning confusion."  Xander yelled.  "Ooops, I think I turned on the cold water," she said innocently, then she cackled.  "That should cure that."

Jigen looked at her.  "That was mean," he said, but he was grinning at her.  "Did we remember coffee?"  The pot was handed to him.  "Thank you."  Xander padded out, fully wet.  "Did you actually shower?"  The boy nodded as he walked, his towel barely on his hips trudged back to his room.  "Anyone want to contest that?"

"Xander learned the art of the two minute shower while we were in Sunnydale," Dawn told him.  She ate a bite of sausage.  "At the end, we were living in a single house with the main group and all the potentials."  Jigen looked at her.  "Buffy, Willow, me, Tara, Xander, Giles, Spike, and sixteen teenage girls, then Faith and Angel's crew came up to help."  Lupin shuddered.  "So the three second shower was about all he got after work."  She finished that link and reached for another one.  Then she looked at Fujiko, and suddenly smirked at Goemon.  "Have a good night?" she asked.

"Definitely."  He looked at her, one eyebrow going up.  She gave him a slight nod.  He stood up and grabbed her, taking her back to their room.  Where he shoved her against the wall and had his merry way with her like she had never experienced before.

Dawn looked at Lupin and nodded.  He groaned.  "Not my doing, remember that."  She ate a bite of egg as Xander came out.  "Morning.  More awake?"

"Coffee," Xander groaned, giving her head a kiss.  "You need to shower."  He accepted the cup someone poured, gulping it.  "Ow, hot."  He continued to gulp, sitting down and putting his head on the table, falling back to sleep quickly.

Lupin kept his smirk to himself.  Damn, he was good!  Fujiko yelled in pleasure and he started to clap, being followed by the rest of the young people.

"Do I need to hide now?" Jigen asked.

"We'll send her somewhere safe," Lupin promised, winking at him.  "Goemon won't want to risk his first born." Jigen choked.  "What?" he asked.

"Send her to Saudi now," Dawn suggested.

"I'll let him send her out of harm's way," Lupin told her, giving her a smile.  "Practicing your spying?"

"You were talking in the main room and I was reading," she told him, looking at Xander.  "Hand me the sausage being infected by his hair."  It was handed to her by David.  "Thanks.  For some reason I'm in a meat mood today."  She shrugged and ate more of it.

Marcus looked at her.  "Should we escort you to the feminine hygiene section of the bazaar?" he asked sweetly.

She looked at the date on Lupin's watch, craning her neck to do so.  "Not for another two weeks."  She leaned back again.  "Don't worry about it, Marcus, I'd never make you help me shop for tampons.  You'd stutter too much."  He grinned and went back to eating.  "Xander on the other hand....  He'd blush very well."

Jigen nodded.  "He probably would."

Dawn looked at him.  "When is your birthday anyway?"

Jigen groaned and swatted at Lupin.  "No.  Do not follow his lead in that.  I don't need anything this year."

Lupin laughed.  "We'll plan you a nice, subtle, calm party, Jigen.  Something tasteful."  He ate a bite of food, nudging Xander under the table.  The boy lifted his head and gave him a bleary look.  "Eat.  It'll make you feel better."

"I feel fine, I'm just fuzzy headed," Xander said, rubbing his eyes.  "It's hopefully going to go away soon."  The coffeepot was handed to him. "Thanks."  He poured it right into his mouth.  The cups were really small.  Who cared that his tongue was blistering?  Dawn eventually took it from him and put it down, handing him the rest of her plate.  "Thanks, Dawnie."  He was feeling more human again, it was nice.


The plans were made and everyone was in their positions.  They could see each other across the rooftops.  Goemon looked out at the light traffic of cars.  The man would be coming by car, he was too self important to come on foot, by donkey, or camel.  He spotted a car that wasn't one of the rare taxis and pointed it out.  Xander relayed it to the others who were farther away. There were only a few streets it could be taking coming in from that direction.  The others were on the other side of the bazaar, looking from that direction.  The car was coming his way so he jumped down, stopping the car dead.  He put his sword back, walking around and opening the back door.  It wasn't going anywhere with the engine cut in half.  The man got out, already having a gun drawn.  He dropped it when he felt the muzzle against the back of his head.  "Give us the mask," Goemon ordered.

"Never," the man sneered.

"Now," Xander ordered.

"You can't take it," he sneered.  "It's mine and only I can take it off."

Goemon growled and sliced the thing off his face, barely creasing the skin.  "There is always an out for such clauses," he announced, looking at the man holding his face on the ground.

Xander picked up the pieces, testing them.  "You broke the spells."

"NO!" the man shouted, trying to get up.

Xander tossed over the pieces and his gun, taking on the man with his bare hands.  He wanted sex and hadn't been able to have it for two days!  The man was a bleeding mass on the ground by the time he stopped.  "Now I feel better," he smirked, getting down.  He tapped the swollen, broken, and bleeding face, making the man look at him.  "Do not mess with things you do not understand.  It brings others like me to you."  He took his gun back and wiped his hands off on his pants as they strolled away.  "Are we gonna melt the stupid thing down or did the boss want it like that?" he asked.

"I have no idea," Goemon noted, giving him a small smirk.  "Very nice work."

"It was all frustration," Xander said dryly. "Unlike the boss, I am a sexual creature and I enjoy having my excess energy worn out that way."

Goemon laughed.  "I have found an appreciation of the same thing," he noted.  "The birth of my future child has roused me like never before."

"Want my handcuffs?" Xander asked.  "I've got a very nice set in my bag.  It'd keep her out of trouble.  Jigen said they were comfortable after the night I nailed him with them."  Goemon looked at him.  "He was pacing and I couldn't sleep so I hitched him to the bed," Xander said with a shrug. "It worked, I got to sleep.  Besides, it'd keep her from coming over to bug us in between rounds.  That whole 'pleading for mercy' act is getting boring.  She needs new lines."  He nudged the blushing man.  "I suspect it's normal.  Don't be shy about it.  Do it in front of us for all the younger group cares."  He grinned wickedly.  "That'll definitely keep her from bragging."

"She brags?" Goemon demanded when they ran into Jigen and Lupin.  Both of whom nodded.  "Hmm.  Perhaps I should help her learn the meaning of the word discretion."

"Then I'd buy her a gag," Xander told him, giving him a pat on the back.  "We know anyway."  Goemon blushed brighter and shook his head.  "What?" he asked when Jigen glared at him.

"You had to tell him about that?"

"It's not like I molested you, I only handcuffed you to the bed so I could sleep!" Xander defended.  "If you had quit pacing, it wouldn't have been necessary."  He looked at Lupin.  "Weren't we taking Dawn to get clothes?"

"I think she's picked up what she wanted," he said, putting his arm around the boy's shoulders, turning to walk back to the inn with him.  "Where were we going next?"

"You promised me bikinis," Xander reminded him.  "You said we were going to have a real vacation while Marcus trained."  They ran into Goemon looking in a weapons stall and Xander got free, heading over to look as well.  He liked weapons.  The man behind the table looked at him.  "Got anything longer?" he asked.

"They are illegal."

"I collect swords.  They come in handy."

"I do have one," he admitted, leading them into the back.  He uncovered an old, rusty piece of metal with a worn handle.  "It is supposed to be from the crusades."

"Hmm."  Xander touched it then shook his head.  "Pretty but it needs a lot of work."

"It does.  Was it buried in water?" Goemon asked.  The salesman nodded.  He tested the edge, it was still sharp.  "Interesting."

"Vulcan," Xander teased, shooting a grin at him.


"I'll show you later," Xander told him, giving him a pat on the arm.  "Hey, boss, is Marcus around?"

"Just about," Jigen called back.

Marcus jogged back to join them, but headed to a wicker trunk off to the side.  He opened it, gasping at the fine metal in there.  He hesitated to touch it, but pulled it out and held it up.  "I want this one," he said reverently.

Xander looked at it, then frowned and shook his head.  "It'll taint you, Marc."

"Okay, then the thing inside me wants it."  He glared at Xander.  "You can't possibly understand."

Goemon came over, looking at the sword.  "It will do for now.  We will take both.  Pay the man," he told Marcus.  "You can clean the other up for practice."  He walked out, rejoining his group.  "He found something that spoke to him."

"Good."  Lupin looked over as Xander walked the boy out.  "Is it going to be okay?"

"Fine.  The one sword is slightly tainted.  I'm guessing the person who used to own it was a medium and died holding it."  He shrugged.  "We'll deal.  He's less open to possession than I am."  He walked behind Marc, guarding him on the way back to finish packing.  They were leaving that night.  Xander did stop to pick up some steel wool and some sand paper for metal.  The boy would be needing it soon.  A lot of it.  If not something like a Dremel to get off the rust.


Xander looked out at the beach, then smirked at his boss.  "This is the best vacation I've ever had," he said happily.  He sipped his water, looking at the bikini clad women frolicking in the water.  "It's like watching nymphs."

"That's why this is my favorite beach," Lupin agreed smugly.  He adjusted his sunglasses, looking at one hot blonde coming across the sand.  He whistled softly, earning a chuckle from Dawn, who was on his other side.  "You don't think she's pretty?"

"I think they're fake.  Either that or she's had them tightened so they stand up without help," Dawn told him.  "Tits that big sag because gravity is all-encompassing once you're over a c-cup."  She went back to reading her magazine.  "Can we go to the nude beach tomorrow?"

"Sure," Lupin agreed.  "If you agree to get us a chaperone."

Dawn chuckled.  "Xander, talk Jigen into it."

"Sure, Dawn.  I can do the impossible," Xander agreed dryly, lowering his sunglasses to look at one woman who was bending over.  He nudged the boss, pointing her out.  They both got a good, long look.  This was a vacation!

The End.

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