Xander walked into the office dragging a man by his throat. He laid him on the carpet and shrugged. "I told him I wasn't giving up my gun, he didn't believe me. I was being nice, he's only unconscious." The Don stared at him so he sat down. "So, you sent an invasion for my birthday," he said smugly. "Should I be upset, happy, or surprised?"
The Don laughed. "I did not order that, young man. One of my minions did against my wishes."
"Uh-huh, and are they floating yet?" Xander asked. The Don shook his head. "I see." He crossed his legs. "You wanted to speak to me that badly?"
"I would like to do an interview with you. I know you prefer to be by Lupin's side but sometimes you do solo jobs and I have many opportunities that I could use you in. Would you consent to work for me during the down times?"
"On some important things," Xander admitted. "With Lupin's permission."
"You have to ask his permission?"
"I respect him enough to see if it's going to interfere with anything he's got going on," Xander corrected. "Jigen didn't have to take me in and teach me. He could have patted me on the head once he was healed or killed me."
"I heard a little about that. How did you two meet?"
Xander shuddered. "An unhappy moment in my life that became much better when I ran into a warehouse to get away from someone trying to kill me. The person who had him was bragging, I attacked him because he sounded like a bad guy, knocking him down and taking his gun. I shot him and then like the good guy I was, I picked Jigen up and carried him to a local cheap motel I had been heading for." He shrugged. "Nothing less dramatic."
"Do you know who had him?"
"Do I care who had him?" Xander countered coolly. "He was a bad guy, an annoyance who was endangering my life further. My life was already in danger from my friends. My mind was addled at the time from the torture I had just survived. I was barely thinking on the human level. Tending him brought me back fully. He discovered he liked me." He gave him a grin. "Good thing, huh?"
"A very good thing, Lavelle," the Don agreed, nodding at him. "So you respect Lupin and Jigen. What about Goemon?"
"I respect him just as much. He's taught me some incredible things since I've met him. We've had some problems with not fully understanding each other but we've had to work them out when Lupin said I couldn't quit because I failed to protect him," he said honestly. The Don gave him a look. "His orders, his fight, I had to stand by and watch."
"Hmm. The ninja with the nose?" Xander nodded. "I heard about that on the news. That looked like a very bad fight."
"Desperate creatures are desperate to save themselves," Xander pointed out. "We've since talked a lot and worked it out."
"Good. I have heard you younger pair are cross-training. How are you liking it?"
"I like it a lot. Spending time with Goemon has made me learn a lot about what I wasn't understanding in my anime collection before," he said smartly. The Don laughed. "With any luck he'll teach me to do more than hack and slash soon."
"I heard you were better than that," the Don said, smiling at him. "Even from Goemon himself." Xander shifted, looking uncomfortable. "They don't praise you?"
"They do. I'm not up to *my* standards yet."
"Ah. Then you are very hard on yourself. A perfectionist on the job?" Xander nodded. "Good. I like people who have such stringent standards for themselves. They tend not to try to double-cross me." He tossed over a folder. "I believe you know him."
Xander picked it up and looked over Ethan's dossier. He tossed it back and nodded. "Ethan is under my protection. He used to be mine. He's still teaching me things. My life would start going to hell if he died."
"Interesting." He looked at the boy. "He did double-cross a member of my personal family." Xander shrugged. "That doesn't upset you?"
"He's a chaos wizard loyal to Janus. What did you expect?" The Don looked stunned. "Janus is the God of Chaos, but also of alternate paths and beginnings. There's a reason he's got two faces. His purposes are many and varied, but confusion and chaos follows his people everywhere. He's liked me for years," Xander said dryly.
The Don looked at him. "I see." He gave the boy a new appraising look. "Very interesting. I hadn't done that much research into him. You know about that stuff?"
"I grew up in Sunnydale and I helped the Slayer there," he said simply. That should explain it if the guy knew anything. He looked clueless so he chuckled. "Do the research. It's a little past what Ethan does. Or in Ethan's background if you do a check. You'll cross paths with Miss Summers," he said wisely.
"Her. She works with Zenigata?"
"That's her younger sister Dawn," Xander told him. "Buffy's in Cleveland being a blight and big savior of humanity again. Dawn's like my younger sister but I agree, she couldn't have lived the life full time. She didn't want to do the necessary in bad situations. Her thing was breaking and entering to feed her addiction of pretty things. Other fundamental skills in the job weren't really high on her concern list." He nodded slowly. "The Inspector, though, he's fun." He grinned again. "I like Gramps."
"Why do you call him that?"
"Marcus and I are both basically the team, second generation. Since they call him Pops I thought it'd be appropriate." He gave a one-sided shrug and a small smirk. "He hates it. It irritates him to no end."
The Don nodded. "I understand how that is. I have a few people who do something similar to me. Do you think this new task force will be better at catching you?"
"We're only one of their targets. Yes, I think some day they may succeed; I'm not looking for them to do it anytime soon though. They're team members, all cops from tougher places. They're also individualists. I met two of them at the last convention I went to. Interesting men and both shooter quality from what I saw, but still very lone wolf in attitudes." The Don nodded. "That leaves the older of Gramps' three rookies, the one I saved in the quake in Hong Kong, who hates me, and one of his present ones. I think he's staying because he wants Dawn. Dawn won't give us up, she's said so very often. She's got enough money to live comfortably for the rest of her natural life and to leave her nephews something as well if they fire her for refusing."
"I thought they were her kids."
"She gained custody of them, they're her sister's sons."
"Oh. And the little girl you had shipped back to her?"
"A former friend of ours' daughter," he said coolly. "Tara's a sweetheart and very much under my protection, as are the boys. Dawn is very special in my life. The group of people who I'll protect with my life is small but they are in there, as well as Tara's little sister and Faith."
"Ethan's girl?" Xander nodded. "What was she to you?"
"The first to shock me into seeing my own dark side," he offered. "She had a bad spot in there that made me take a long look at myself. Other events made me look at myself harder, but she started the process." The Don gave him a thoughtful look. "She's on a redemption kick and has offered to help me if I suddenly find out I have a conscience, but I'm not foreseeing it."
"You have a conscience?"
"Some. I prefer my targets to be bad guys themselves. I don't ever want to have to hunt the innocent. Murdering an innocent is not in my list of top ten things to do with my life." He shifted, crossing his legs in the other way. "I realize it can happen during a bad scene. I've even accepted it fully. I had that before I ever took up with Jigen. I lived a slightly rough life before then and it happens that people get drawn into bad things."
"Would that be where you learned to fight?" he asked.
Xander smirked. "Didn't do much research on me either?" he suggested lightly. The older man frowned at him. "You have no idea who I was, Don, and being respectful I'd rather keep it that way. I learned to fight to save my own ass and the ass of others in the world. I learned to fight to save my own ass because there are assholes at the gay clubs in the US about every month who try shit. It was usually about every third visit for me." The older man swallowed. "I don't brawl well, but I can ambush and take out the edges very well. I also learned to fight some of the darker elements in the world to save myself and others from a horribly painful death. That's part of my past that Faith shares, the same as Dawn and Buffy do and Ethan tried to guard me from at times. It's the same part of my past that made me so distinctive to look at." He flicked a finger toward his hair. "I deal with the strange and unusual for a reason, Don. That reason is my past," he said gently.
The Don nodded. "You're right. I did some internet searches to see what's said about you. I had someone try to get into Zenigata's home computer but it's apparently not hooked into the internet often."
Xander shook his head. "He doesn't spark me as someone who would be a surfer that way," he agreed. "I think my file from his is still on paper. Cummings said he had glanced at it before he died." The other man's mouth fell open. He had just taken over and apparently no one had told him about that. "Yes, I was involved in that as well."
"I heard you were guarding Fujiko's back. Nice job getting her away from him before he killed her."
"I wanted to move sooner," he sighed. "I couldn't and she wouldn't have let me," he pointed out.
"That was not a criticism, young man. It was a statement of fact." He gave him a satisfied look. "Why should I let you walk out of here? You did hurt my man. You are very odd and very distinctive. You have the potential to bring a lot of attention to us."
"Only if I work for you," Xander pointed out dryly, smirking at him. "I work for Lupin. I work when Lupin wants me to and only for him. Even if I took special cases from you, it would still be at Lupin's discretion. Where is your risk in that?" He glanced at the man on the floor, then back at the Don. "As for him, he should have known better. I'm not known for being without a weapon of some sort. Including the one that's already in my hand," he said, waving the knife he had let down his sleeve. The Don looked stunned and moved his hand away from the gun he had been reaching for. "I was paranoid before Jigen ever saw me," he told him. Then he shrugged and stood up, bowing. "It was interesting meeting you. I wish you a long and prosperous reign. I have a spot I like. Feel free to call me if you've got special cases and send them through either Lupin or Jigen." He walked out, stepping over the body. He walked outside, pulling back on his sunglasses. He handed the guard at the door his knife back with a bright grin. "I took it," he said with a wink. He strolled out whistling, heading into the warm sunlight. He tapped his pin twice to let Lupin know he was out of range. He heard a gunshot and winced. "Ow. Hate to be him right now." He shrugged and went back to the car, getting into the back, his usual spot. "Morning."
"Morning," Jigen told him. "Didn't Lupin tell you not to annoy him?"
"I didn't. I stated my case," Xander defended, taking off his sunglasses. "I was as nice as I ever am. That was polite. I didn't laugh in his face, I didn't make fun of his skin cancer. I didn't even make fun of his really ugly tie." Jigen shook his head, starting the car and taking off. "Everyone else back at the hovel?"
"Yep. We're getting dinner."
"Cool. I could use a soda," Xander admitted with a grin. He laid down, getting comfortable. "Tell me when it's my turn to do anything else."
"Sure, kid," Jigen said tolerantly. "Are you sure you're not pregnant?"
"If I am, you're in deep shit," Xander retorted.
Jigen laughed. "It could be Lupin's."
"Then he'd be in deep shit," Xander agreed. "But hopefully it'd be the heir he needs." He closed his eyes. "I think I impressed him more than pissed him off."
"I'd say so, but that poor guard is dead."
"He was nearly dead before," Xander offered. "Little punk tried to cop a feel too." Jigen snorted, pulling through a drive-thru. He pulled out his wallet and handed it over. "My treat if I've got enough."
Jigen took it and looked at the cash, then back at him. "Yeah, you should. Not even the walking stomach that used to be Fujiko could eat this much food." He pulled up to the microphone, ordering them a decent enough dinner. Not his usual taste sensation but definitely what Lupin had been craving. These pregnancy cravings were going to make them all fat. "Goemon gained another two pounds," he reported.
"It's like he's carrying her," Xander snorted. "Should I offer to rub his stomach for him?"
"I wouldn't offer today, he was sharing her hormone swing earlier," Jigen warned. His phone rang so he handed it back, taking the food from the pretty teen at the window. "Thanks." He took the drink tray and drove off, heading back to their rented house.
Xander answered it, listening to the angry samurai on the other end. "Goemon, pause for a breath," he said with fond tolerance. He got growled at and hung up on. He dialed the cell again, snickering when Goemon growled into it. "Think about it, man. You're not the pregnant one. If she's driving you that insane, then you're going to need a way to wear those hormones out. Yeah, sure, I'll spar with you when we get back," he agreed, ignoring Jigen's wince and hiss. "Not a big. I've got medical insurance." Goemon laughed at that. "Think I'm kidding? I've had it since I was eighteen. It was necessary!" He snickered at the amused sounding noises from the other end. "Sure. Let me get some soda and we'll try to wear those extra pounds off," he promised sarcastically. "Or maybe you should go and cure *her* hormone swing?" He laughed and hung up. "He's feeling better."
"I still don't want to be you the next time he needs to spar," Jigen said, shaking his head. "We'll miss you."
"I'm sure you will. I'll only be bruised." Xander sat up, grabbing the only dark soda in the drink tray. "Mine?" Jigen nodded so he sat back to sip it as they traveled. "Think he'll try something?"
"Probably," Jigen agreed. "He doesn't like Lupin very much. Dolune was a pretty good guy to him so of course his successors aren't. It seems to be the way it goes."
"If something has to happen, is there a clear power holder after him?" Xander asked. Jigen glanced back at him in the mirror. "Just if something had to happen," he said. "I wasn't planning on anything."
"You'd have to ask Lupin. I'm not sure about who's next in line." He turned into their driveway, letting the boy carry the food inside. He followed behind him, still shaking his head. "Did you hear? He asked a very interesting question," he said as he sat across from Lupin and sprawled in the kitchen chair.
"I did. The next guy is worse, a military-sort." He grimaced. "I'd almost rather do him first if something had to happen that way some day." He glanced over as Goemon came out of his room and handed Xander a kendo stick, then he winced. "We'll let you soak in the tub later, Xan."
"Thanks, boss," he said with a cheeky grin. "The basement or the back yard?"
"The back yard. Take off whatever they put on you and the one Lupin used." Xander handed over both bugs, they were on his jacket, and followed him outside in just his pants and shirt. His shoes were toed off because the lawn was very lush and he could use a few minutes in his bare feet. "Ready?" he asked. Xander nodded so he lunged. Xander blocked as he had expected and moved quickly to try and get him on the side. Just as he had expected. Then he gave him a crack across the rear with the stick, not what was expected, making him jump and give him a shocked look.
"What? You asked for a spar," Xander told him impishly. He grinned. "Come on. If you're going to have hormone swings like a woman, you should fight like one." Goemon glared at him and attacked again, getting into it. He'd be bruised but his buddy would feel much better by the time they were done. He even managed to land a killing blow to the samurai's stomach at one point, but weathered three of his own, wincing at the one across his neck. "Ow," he noted, rubbing it. "If you kill me for real, you have to spoil your wife all by yourself."
Goemon backed off, bowing to him. "Thank you, Xander. I do feel more normal now."
"Welcome." He handed over his stick, still rubbing his neck. "No fair." He punched him on the arm. "I didn't go for permanent injury on you." He swallowed. Then he tried coughing.
"I have something in there to make a poultice with," Goemon promised, walking the boy inside. He would have some livid bruises, especially that one. Lupin gave him a look. "I pulled my blow," he said firmly. "Otherwise I could have snapped his neck."
"That's the point," Lupin told him.
"I'm not that hurt," Xander said, hoping to calm him down too. "He needed a good workout. I am one of those. Besides, I probably deserved it for not being more aware of where he was."
"That was an unkind blow on my part. I am sorry," Goemon said as he treated the boy's injuries.
"Eh, you were clouded by hormones," Xander said with a light grin. An ice pack was handed to him and he iced his new bruised ribs. "Thanks." He went to lay down. "Tomorrow isn't my turn again, right?"
"I will not need it," Goemon said firmly. "Marcus." Marcus came up from the basement. "We will work on our control meditation."
"Of course, Master. Did you need to spar again?" he asked.
"No, I just got done," he admitted, moving his sweaty hair off his neck. "Xander is bruised." He walked him outside, needing the fresh air.
"How long before the third one?" Jigen asked.
"Three to five years," Xander croaked.
Lupin came over to look at him. "Nice playacting. You're getting better," he praised. "It would have hurt him if he had thought you had really gotten hurt."
"Old habits die hard," Xander said hoarsely. "I'll live."
Lupin went to get him a second ice pack, shaking his head. "You're braver than I am to weather that temper," he told him, giving him a pat on the head. He went back to the table. "Xander, I'm taking your burger."
"Cool with me. I'll eat later," he agreed. Jigen handed over a bottle of juice and a half- pill. "Thanks," he mouthed, taking them both. The pain pill would help more than anything else. Lupin would only get pissed at Goemon if he knew how much he ached. It was another dumb, yet necessary moment in his life. He closed his eyes, hoping to rest off the pain.
Lupin waited until he heard the snoring, then looked at Jigen. "Half a one?" he asked. Jigen nodded, giving him a look. "He's got it out of his system now."
"He'd better. He damn near broke Xander's fingers out there," Jigen reminded him. Lupin winced. "Maybe we should send her and the baby out of harm's way until the delivery? Send Marcus to birddog her."
"She'll escape him and he'll get mad and yell at her, which will make her cry and make Goemon pissed," Lupin sighed. "Just like last time."
"Hell, send Xander with her for a while," Jigen offered, sitting down again. "Let them go on a shopping spree or something. They'll need a bigger bed for Ishi soon."
"Their home nursery will need to be expanded," Lupin noted. "It's really small right now. It's so small I had to suck in a breath to get past the crib."
"It's a two bedroom house," Jigen reminded him. "I doubt he'll move."
"He might," Lupin said calmly, looking at him. "If we point it out to him. Otherwise their living room will become the nursery. Besides, that one's not defensible if something happens while they're there." He stood up, walking out to talk with Goemon. "Hey," he said, sitting beside him. Goemon grunted at him. "We were just talking about the new one."
"I heard. The house is fine."
"It's not fine. Where is this new one going to sleep?" Goemon opened his eyes and looked at him. "Think about it. It was perfect for just you, or even you two, but for four of you? That other room is really small, and with the new one you might want to think about getting something with some yard space." Goemon nodded, closing his eyes again. "You could tell Fujiko to go look," he suggested. Goemon smirked. "I know, transparent, but she'll want to nest in it and make it just right. Women are like that. Look at how often she's cleaned the bathroom here since we arrived two days ago." Goemon laughed, shaking his head. "Just something to think about. If *I* had to suck in a breath to get into the nursery, then the thing is really tiny. Besides, the baby Goemons will need space to roam. A lawn to put a drunk me onto when I get annoying. Or to put Jigen onto when he gets annoying."
Goemon chuckled. "I will talk with her about it." Lupin nodded and went back inside. "I hate moving," he told himself.
"Let her handle that as well, Master," Marcus suggested. "That way she can arrange things endlessly to suit her hormones until you can go back there and do it for yourself."
He reached over and patted him gently. "You truly do understand the nature of the woman," he praised. He stood up and went inside. It would quit making him worry if she was to of harm's way. He paused to look at Xander's throat, wincing. "Tell him I am sorry for that."
"He took something for it," Lupin promised, giving him a look. "Suggest a nice five bedroom," he suggested. Goemon looked at him. "The seer told Xander you'd have another one sometime," he said with a grin.
Goemon shuddered. "No. No more after this." He headed up the stairs to wake his wife up. She gave him a sleepy glare. "Something was pointed out to me," he said as he laid beside her. He put a hand on her stomach, feeling the baby move. "Lupin cannot fit into our nursery and breathe." She snorted. "We have both said that the nursery is too small," he reminded her. She nodded, putting her head on his chest and closing her eyes again. He stroked her back. "I was just approached about the possibility of getting something bigger, more defensible. With a lawn so the children could experience the joys of playing outside."
"Sounds suburban," she said sleepily.
"I was thinking near my home village," he admitted. "Perhaps more than little lawn?"
"I'm not raising animals. Especially not chickens."
"I understand," he agreed, patting her on the head. "I do not want a farm. A place to train would be nice however." She lifted her head, looking at him. He gave a little nod to the crib in the corner. "A place to train him and her." She nodded slowly. "I would feel better if you went to look at it instead of Jigen and Lupin doing so," he said softly.
"Because I have taste?" she asked dryly. He nodded. "I heard Marcus' crack about moving furniture."
"He is correct, you will," he pointed out gently. "Which will suit me until I can get there." She rolled her eyes and put her head back down. "It would also make me happy if you went to find it."
"You just want me off the job," she accused.
"I would like you safe, but a place to hide would be suit both of our goals," he offered. She grunted in annoyance. "Somewhere to run to after a job is done? A place that is just ours and the children's? Something to leave them if the unthinkable happens?" He stroked her hair again, she was getting tense. "I do not have much taste in architecture either. I am more than happy with our present house, crowded conditions and all. But I fear for our daughter's modesty if she has to share a room with her brother. Or her temper, one of the two." Fujiko chuckled into his chest. "We could have grass and trees."
"Fine, I'll go scout houses," she agreed. She sat up, looking at him. "I'll even take the baby with me." He gave her a gentle smile and a light kiss. "Thanks. Who were you sparring with so I know who to take with me?"
"I did bruise Xander," he admitted sheepishly. "He let me wear out my frustration on him."
"Is he still living?"
"Barely. I caught him very hard across the throat," he admitted. She gave him a kiss this time, keeping him calm. "If you want and Lupin agrees, you can drag him with you. He would know construction. You would know what I want. It would please me to have you work together, plus he could help you move the heavier pieces once you find movers to get us into the new place."
She sighed. "Fine. I'll take Xander and go house shopping. Near Iga?" He nodded. "Deal. No farms?"
"I have no desire to farm either," he promised. "We would not be there all that often." She nodded and curled up on top of him again, letting the baby kick at him. "Thank you, Fujiko."
"Welcome," she said sleepily. "After I finish my nap."
"Of course. I will even tell them to save you a cheeseburger."
"Cheeseburger," she said, getting up to grab one. She snatched the one Lupin was eating, walking away with it. "Thanks." She paused to look at Xander, wincing. "Ow." She shook her head, heading back to bed to cuddle some more. He gave her a patient smile and a long backrub. He was a good husband.
Xander woke up on the plane and looked at the woman next to him, who was holding out a can of soda and a pill. "What's that?" he asked, sitting up.
"Something for the pain you're in," she said quietly. He nodded, taking them. "It's a lighter dose than the other one." She gave him a squeeze on the wrist. "You're helping me look for a new house." He gave her a look. "Inner jacket pocket," she said patiently.
"On your other side, thankfully sleeping again," she said patiently. She saw him check the baby then pull out the letter to read. He snorted and tore it up, stuffing it into the empty can. "Warning you to take good care of me?"
"Warning me to call them if you went into early labor," he retorted. "Your husband doesn't want me to deliver this one." He gave her a grin. Then he gave the stewardess a look. "Can I have another?" he asked, waving the can. She nodded and handed one over, taking the empty one. "Thanks." He gave her a smile and she smiled back, heading off to check on the others. "It also told me that I was not to bully the movers too much, that was your job."
She laughed. "I'll remember that." She gave his wrist another squeeze as the baby kicked, wincing some. He patted her and she calmed down. "How do you guys do that?"
"She's going to be mine to spoil," he told her. "Ishi likes the other guys better, especially Marcus and Lupin, but this one will be just like me, only gentle, kind, and innocent." He looked at her. "So therefore she'll come to me for spoiling more often. The last one you'll have in about four or five years will be just like his father." She gaped at him and he shrugged. "I checked with the seer."
She shook her head. "There are mystics in Japan. I'd rather have her go that route."
"Cool with me. Maybe she'll teach me something," he said with a grin. She gave him another pat and removed his hand, putting it back into his lap. "Sorry."
"It's all right," she promised. "How are we going to hire movers without exposing us?"
"Easy. We ask the local Don if he's got someone," he said patiently.
"He hates me."
"He doesn't know me," he reminded her. "And he likes Goemon." She smiled at him. "See? Easy. Maybe we'll get some of the kids he doesn't want hanging around and show them the evils of physical labor."
She laughed, giving him a hug. "You're very special, Xander, never let anyone tell you differently." He beamed and nodded, sipping his soda.
Lupin looked over as the Don sat down across from him in the park, waving his sandwich. "Want one? We're eating more normally now that the pregnant person is back in Japan."
The Don shuddered. "No, thank you though." He leaned on his elbows. "Lupin, that boy has me worried."
"Why?" He took a bite of his sandwich. "He's a really nice guy until you piss him off."
"No. He expected you to do something like what you tried to do." He smirked and ate another bite. "He doesn't like playing at politics or grandstanding. The acting business is not him. He said he was as polite as he's ever been and I have to agree. That was a happy Lavelle."
"Don't you mean Xander?"
"Not while he's working."
"Oh." He glanced around. "You have control of him?" Lupin nodded, chewing hard. "Are you sure?" Lupin nodded again. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because Xander feels comfortable enough to tell me when he's having bad nightmares about his time in captivity," he said quietly. The man looked stunned. "Stole Pop's file?" He finished off his sandwich and opened his milk, drinking it quickly. The bread had been pretty dry, even with the mayonnaise, and Fujiko had set some bad eating habits recently.
The Don sighed. "I tried. We couldn't. We did get to look and photograph some of it. I don't understand it and I don't like what I don't understand."
Lupin nodded. "I've noticed that about you," he agreed. "Dolune would have loved him, Charlie. He's a cocky kid at times and at others just a little kid. He plays with legos still." The Don shook his head. "He's one of my favorite people. You try him through me."
"I realize that now." He gave him a long look. "My father-in-law never said you were gay. Neither did the person before me."
"I'm not picky," Lupin told him. "I like people for who they are, nothing else." Charlie nodded, he knew that about him. "The same qualities that used to draw me to Fujiko are in the boy, only muted. That's not why I like him though. He's a great guy. If you let yourself like him, you will. Xander's not leaving and I doubt you could kill him. Even if you tried you'd lose a lot of people." Charlie nodded, looking at the table. "Like the boy said, he's mine. Totally mine. If you have something extra, then he's your guy if I say so."
"You act like you've got him collared."
Lupin cackled. "Don't tempt me. I've thought about it but Goemon would frown at me for it." He smirked at him. "Trust me, it's not what you think, Charlie. Now, what did you need to know?"
"Is he going to try for me?"
"He might, if he considers you a threat. He's not here now though." Charlie raised an eyebrow. "Fujiko had to go for a few weeks. He's guarding the most precious things to all of us."
"Goemon lets him, even though he's a scarred soul?"
"He does. He trusts the boy to be honest about what he can do. At least skills wise." He popped his gun wrist, it had been aching all day. "What did you see that you didn't understand?"
"There was shit in there like that Ethan guy." Lupin nodded. "It works?"
"It does," he agreed gently. "The world is a lot bigger than most people think. I've scratched the sides of it before but having Xander means that the things on the other side of the barrier are protected against now. Besides, you've got to love the little anime loving loon. He's likeable. Even Pops and his guys like him." Charlie stared at him. "Seriously." Charlie nodded behind him so he looked that way as some woman was running their way. "I don't know her," he admitted. The guy chasing her had a knife. He stood up and grabbed the girl, putting her behind him. He got the guy with the knife down and disarmed, then tossed the knife away before sitting down again. The woman looked at him. "What?" he asked her. She hurried off, going in a different direction. "Know her?"
"She's one of my guys' little sisters. That was her boyfriend," Charlie admitted. "I'll have to tell him about this." He shrugged and looked at his rival again. "My father-in-law wanted you."
"I didn't want the job and he knew it. I'm happy with my own family life."
"Fine. If that stuff works, why didn't that thing that Ethan gave my aunt work?"
"I guess it depends on what it was," Lupin told him. "Who knows. He's been fucking helpful with us."
"Yeah, speaking of all of you, when are you going to introduce me to that silver-haired woman?"
Lupin smirked at him and stood up. "I'm not. Jigen would get mad and shoot you, then I'd have to deal with the American." He tossed away his trash and strolled off, enjoying the park. Right at this moment, Marcus was emptying the guy's safes for them. It was a nice hit and would remind Charlie not to fuck with them. Xander was not the most dangerous or the most devious, Xander was the most obvious. He was the most devious and dangerous. Lupin smirked to himself, enjoying the hell out of this caper to date. They'd be leaving tonight for Stockholm for him to interview potential mothers.
Xander looked at the house Fujiko liked. "I know I'm not up on traditional homes," he said, "but this isn't very sturdy." She gave him a look. "I like the roominess, but it's pretty flimsy. What happens if you guys have an earthquake?" She slumped a little so he patted her on the back. "I saw another one that I liked better and it's farther out of town." He walked her back to the motorcycle he had rented, taking her up to look at the other house. Not much there, but it had a nice view. It was on solid rock. It was anchored into the rock with steel. It had *real* walls in most of the rooms. With real studs in them instead of wallboarding over nothing. It was what he thought a traditional house should be. Plus, it had some small caves on the property for the kids to play in. He got off, waving at the realtor, letting her walk up onto the porch. "If he wanted, there could be a small workout area on this side of the house," he explained. "Or in the backyard nearer to the stream."
She gave him a look before letting the realtor walk her through it. She had to admit, it was a nice house and it did have a beautiful view. It was more than roomy enough, but it was so distant to the town. She knew Goemon would probably like that but she wanted it to be a little closer to civilization. "How far is it to the nearest market?" she asked the realtor.
"It depends on which one," she admitted. "Iga is below us, but there is one on the other side of the peak." She pointed at the mountain behind them. "The road is a little steeper but there is a nice hospital over there. That village is a little bigger. There is a comparable house like this over there, it overlooks the same sights, but has more ground with it." Fujiko nodded. "Would you like to look at that one?"
"I would," she admitted. "We have one son in addition to this one," she said, patting her stomach. "I don't want him to fall off but my husband would like something like this. He grew up in Iga."
The realtor winked. "I know of your husband, Mrs. Ishikawa. We went to primary school together. You are right, he probably would, but I think he would like the other house better." Fujiko looked at her. "We do know of his exploits. We know he won't bring anything onto our heads."
Fujiko nodded, following her out. She let Xander drive the bike, holding on as they went over the steeper path. The top was a little scary but still a real road. The other house was higher up but the town was a real town. It had an open-air market and everything. She looked at the house they stopped at, smiling at the lines. It was nearly exactly like the other one, but a little bigger. It had more grass. It had a few large trees. "I like this one," she told Xander.
Xander looked at the realtor. "Are there still caves here?"
"There's one," she admitted, giving him a smile. "It's very small, the perfect size for a child to play in." She led them around. "This one is also anchored with steel into the stone. It's fairly newly constructed, only fifty years old, but it does meet up with earthquake standards. The last bad one we had only managed to shake some pictures loose." Fujiko looked impressed. "The floor is all new hardwood. It was replaced recently." She led them through the house, smiling when they stared out one set of windows. Apparently that was going to be the nursery by the way she was rubbing her stomach. Fujiko looked back at her. "Yes?"
"I'll need to take pictures," she said.
Xander nudged her and pulled off his tie clip, handing it over. "Here, send it to Lupin's phone. I got a good few of the view too."
She gave him a hug and dialed her phone, plugging the tie clip into it. She sent the file to Lupin's phone, smirking when he sounded happy too. Xander listened in, giving her a grin and a hug, leading her back to the bike. "I can tell you by tomorrow," she told the realtor.
The woman nodded. "Of course. Whenever you know, call me and we'll do the paperwork. You should be able to move within a few weeks." Fujiko smiled and nearly danced back out to the motorcycle. She smiled and waved at them, already relishing the commission she would get. No one wanted to live so far away from humanity these days. She had despaired of ever selling either of these houses. Plus, the town would get a guardian in case something happened when he was around.
Lupin smiled as he looked at the pictures of the house Xander had obviously liked a lot. He walked outside, setting it to replay. "She found it," he said, stopping Goemon during his kata. He handed over the phone, watching as his face lit up. "It's near Iga I think."
"It's the next valley over," he said, laughing at the cave that Xander had pointed out liberally. "It is very nice." He stopped the video. "How long?"
"We were going to Stockholm after this," Lupin admitted. "We can have him make a better, longer video."
"Please. I would like to see it before she decorates it. It looks wonderful." He handed the phone back. "Thank you. It was a good idea."
"Hey, I try," Lupin said smugly, heading inside to show Jigen the new house. He got a kick out of the cave too. Xander was such a little kid some days.
Fujiko picked up her son, holding him tightly to her chest. "Thank you for babysitting," she told the local overlord's nanny. "We have found the place we could both like." The woman smiled at her and bowed, leaving them alone. She looked at the local Don, giving him a shrug. "It was Lavelle's idea," she admitted.
"I did not mind. It is good to see you happy about something other than my possessions." He nodded his chin at the baby. "That one looks familiar. I heard you had married."
"He is his father's son," she said firmly.
He laughed. "I had no doubt. He frowned at me earlier for kissing my wife." She laughed and sat down. "I have not met this Lavelle yet. This is the second time he has been in my territory and I have not met him yet."
"He's out leaning against the car," she admitted. "I can call him in. I will warn you he's a tad bit...insolent. He's not very polite."
"He's not Japanese," he told her. She shook her head. "I see. What is he?"
"The only decent American I've ever seen," she told him honestly. "He's very good at what he does, and some things he doesn't ever tell us about." That got a small laugh. "Like many Americans, he has no self-esteem about his gifts. He is good though. Even my husband admits it." Ishi started to fuss so she patted him on the back. "He prefers his father," she said dryly.
"His father is a very calm man. I'm sure he is used to that." Someone knocked and walked in, whispering in his ear. "I know of him. He is escorting Fujiko around while she looks at houses." He waved in her direction. "Ask him to come in and have tea with us." The guard nodded and headed out to tell the strange man to come in. Lavelle joined them and he gasped. "You!"
"Me," Xander said, closing the door behind him. He bowed. "Good evening." He sat down, taking Ishi to calm him down again. He looked at the local Don, giving him a small shrug. "I see you've heard from Istanbul?"
"I did," he agreed. He calmed himself. "It is said you were still living." Xander nodded, giving him a smug look. "Do you appreciate your position?"
"All of them. I got called on to deliver a judgement already." Fujiko looked confused so he patted her on the knee. "He's the brother of the local Ethan person here," he shared. "He came with Ethan a few years back and we met then."
"That woman?" he asked, looking at the boy. Xander grinned at him. "I see. An interesting thing. The Deermere choker?" Xander nodded. "Good. I'm glad it's in good hands."
"Thank you. I hope we won't have a problem with each other?"
"Not in the least. Why would we?"
Xander put a hand on Fujiko's moving stomach. "Her."
"The power I was feeling," he said knowledgeably. He smirked at her. "Welcome to my side, Fujiko."
"She will be my daughter," she said firmly. "Her father wanted her trained from a similar school of thought." She swatted Xander's hand. "Stop that." He gave her a hurt look. "Did you know about this?"
"I knew he knew enough to have his doorway warded against the truly demonic," he admitted. "He's had a shrine built into the house somewhere." She looked stunned. "Marcus would be able to tell too." He looked at him, tipping his head to the side. "So, can you help us move stuff too?"
The local Don laughed, nodding. "I can. I have some lower thieves who need some education in manners. This will do as their punishment. Of course, you may hurt them if they do not perform."
Fujiko smiled. "Thank you. Can you tell us where to get her trained?"
"I can do one better. My own wife is of a school your husband would approve of. Let me get her." He rang the bell beside his seat, bringing the nanny back. "Get my wife." She nodded, leaving them and coming back with an older looking woman. "This is Fujiko Ishikawa. Goemon's wife."
"I have been told that the child would be born over here," she said, bowing to Fujiko. "The child would be a delight to guard." She came over and looked at her. "May I?" Fujiko nodded so she touched her stomach gently. "She will not be of my school, but our mirror one." She backed up and bowed. "Your husband would approve. It is ancient magic, but nature."
Xander looked thoughtful. "The Japanese version of Wicca or of the Druidic ways?"
"You know of those?" He nodded. She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Janus?"
"He likes me," he said with a grin. She laughed, shaking her head. "Alexander Harris, known as Lavelle," he said, holding out his hand. She shook it, sensing him. "Her guard temporarily."
"A good one. Very fierce protection is around your aura. I will send a trainer to you," she assured Fujiko. "That way your husband and you may look her over before the birth. That way she can help protect what will be theirs."
"Thank you," Fujiko agreed. "I had no idea what the protocols were for this sort of thing."
"Let him guide you. He is brash but his power is clear to those who know their myths." She bowed to them again. "Shall I get tea? And water for the young man and the infant?"
"Please," Xander agreed, grinning at her. "It's the one thing I can't really appreciate about Japanese culture."
The Don looked at him, smirking. "We have heard about the anime adventures." Xander blushed and he laughed. "Good. I am glad that it is suitable and keeping your boss out of my hair." His wife left them alone to get tea for them. "May I?" Xander glanced at Fujiko then handed the baby over. "You're of a good size," he said, looking in the baby's wide eyes. "Very solid." The baby batted at him and spit. He smiled at him. "Yes, you are definitely your father's son. He has always wanted to spit at me." He handed him back. "If you need us to watch him while you move, call first and we can probably accommodate you."
"Thank you," Fujiko agreed. "I am sorry about the whole vase incident."
"Bah. You are a thief, it is what you do. I would have been surprised if one of you hadn't gone after it." He smiled. "You are too pretty to hate for long. Especially when you carry a child that makes my wife smile at me. Perhaps I can use your condition to encourage her to have another."
"Have her checked first medically," Xander said wisely. The man looked at him. "Seriously."
"I will have her examined tonight, consort. I thank you."
Xander grinned. "All part of the service." He blew a raspberry on Ishi's stomach. "If you're a good boy, Uncle Xander might even build you a treehouse," he promised. "He can do that you know." Ishi squealed in outrage at the treatment his stomach had received. Xander laughed and gave him a hug. "You're a good boy, Ishi." The baby grabbed onto his hair for that indignity and refused to let it go. "Fuji, please teach him about the shiny gold stuff soon," he groaned.
She reached down, unwinding the tiny fingers from the long hair. "I'm trying, Xander. He seems to like silver more though." The wife came in with the tea and Ishi let it go to stare at her some more. "Thank you, son." She took him back, sitting him in her lap. He watched this strange woman make tea, something he liked to watch his father do. She was rather fun to watch.
Lupin looked at the women who had volunteered through the lawyer, then at his lawyer. "All them?"
"All them," he agreed. He handed over files. "It is important that you pick someone compatible with your goals. Otherwise the child may not be as much like you as you think." He nodded. "You can meet with them one at a time. They all know who you are and they have been screened for employment." Lupin nodded again, looking at the first folder, taking her back into the office area. Goemon and Jigen were waiting to help him. They would have to like her too, they'd get to visit the baby too.
Even though this was scaring the hell out of him, it was kinda neat. In an odd and Xanderish way.
Xander cleared his throat and the young punk lifting the precious vase walked more carefully. He was getting a kick out of this. It was kinda fun to scare a whole group of kids into going straight. The local Don had said he could if he wanted to. None of these boys had his favor and very little in skills. The ones carrying in the couch were told where to go by Fujiko, who was lounging on the porch off the living room with the baby. "When are we going shopping for the new stuff?" he called.
"Tomorrow. Once I've got everything settled." Ishi squealed and tried to stand up again. "Good boy," she praised. "Keep doing that and soon you can join us on the run."
He bounced in place, earning a lot of smiles from his human slaves. His mother had to get up and leave him there to yell at one of the smelly people and that was not acceptable to him. The sun was very bright. He got to his knees, looking around the room. His other human slave was farther away, he could tell it was him, he smelled nicer than the moving things. He grunted in annoyance but the slave didn't hear him. He sighed in irritation and decided he would just have to get him himself. He would have to teach him obedience. He slowly shifted forward, coming to the edge of the soft thing he was on. It was a small drop to the floor and he rolled off. He let out a disgusted snort and got back to his knees, crawling over to his slave to chastise him for letting him fall. He saw the shiny thing and the amused look. One of the smelly ones got near him so he babbled and ordered him to move.
"Fuji," Xander called. "Come here," he said, capturing it on the video feature on his phone. "Come on, Ishi, come see the uncle." He held out his hands. "If you do, I'll give you such lovies. I'll even make sure you can have a pet." Ishi gave him a disgusted look and finished his trek. He pulled himself up on the pantsleg, giving the human a glare. "Good boy," he praised, picking him up. Then the silver thing was clicked and some noise happened. He leaned closer to it, squealing when he heard a familiar voice. Where was his father? He needed to be here to make the smelly people leave his house!
Fujiko came out of the back. "What?" she asked patiently. "He was fine out there." Xander let her see the video as it replayed on both ends. She gasped and took her son, holding him tightly. "You precious and adorable little guy," she praised. "You're mobile!"
Xander put the phone up to the baby's ear, letting him babble at his father. "Apparently we weren't there and he was feeling ignored." She laughed and they listened as the baby babbled at the person on the other end.
Goemon smiled at his son. "Very good son," he said. "Yes, that was. Put your mother on." He smirked at Lupin. "How do I save this down over here?" He did as she said, getting the nice message. "Thank you. How is it going?" He laughed. "Good. I'll be out tonight." He hung up and handed the phone over to Lupin, but looked at Jigen. "My son just got disgusted with the humans invading his house and crawled for the first time."
Lupin shifted over so Jigen could see the footage Xander had captured. "He does look pissed," Jigen agreed.
The woman with them sighed in happiness. "He's an adorable baby," she told him. "How old?"
"Five months," he said proudly.
"Wow. Very smart. Is your wife taking care of him?" He nodded. "That's a great thing. Congratulations. My first one did it at seven months but she died a few months later in a car wreck. Cherish these moments," she told him.
He nodded. "I do. I am sorry for your loss." She gave him a brave smile. "What method do you prefer for correction of bad behaviors?" he asked.
"I prefer an escalating scale depending on the type of infarction and how bad it's gotten. The first swear would get a few minutes in a chair, all the way up to a light spanking for swearing at my mother in Church like my ex's son did." The men laughed. "More than most of the people in the other room, I do understand the life you live, gentlemen. As I put in my file, I did some minor stealing in my youth and then I went straight after being caught. I can show a child either side in both a positive and a negative light."
"I would expect my son to follow me into the family business," Lupin told her. "What were you doing when you were caught?"
"Really?" Jigen asked. "Is that hard?"
She shook her head. "Not really. It's really easy if you're a hacker, like me."
"That is a skill we like," Lupin admitted. He looked at the others and they nodded. "We'll be moving you into the possible category." She smiled and stood up, shaking their hands. "If not the mother, and we find an instability, would you feel like being a nanny?" he asked.
"If it went that way, I wouldn't mind in the least, but I will not ever drive another child anywhere unless it's an emergency again." He nodded. "Thank you for understanding."
"I've seen worse incidents," Jigen told her. She nodded and left them alone. "I like her. She was honest."
"One of the best prospects we've seen yet," Lupin agreed. He looked at Goemon, who waved his hand a little. "Not your favorite?"
"My favorite was the blonde from earlier," he admitted. "She was sweet but she had that steel underneath that meant she could control a future genius."
"Good point," Jigen agreed.
"You're being very helpful," Lupin said dryly, giving him a look.
"Think about you as a little boy," Goemon told him. Lupin shuddered. "Now you see my point?"
"I do," Lupin agreed. "I still like her."
"I would make her my second choice," Goemon admitted. "Aren't there more?"
"Three more," Jigen assured him. The other men sighed. This was hard! He pushed the button on the phone. "Amanda Payeral." He let it go, looking in the folder. He handed it over with a quick head shake.
Lupin leaned back, looking comfortable as the woman came in. He didn't like her either. "What do you do for a living?" he asked. She sat down and looked at him, giving him the most witless look to date with a smile. "Ma'am?"
"I'm a nurse," she said finally. "A neonatal nurse. I've always wanted a child of my own. I would take very good care of them. I have all the others in my care."
Goemon looked at her. "We have other children that will be around. How would you handle their interaction?"
She swallowed. "Very carefully. The other children would surely hurt mine. A child is a precious thing and should be protected at all costs. Even from the bad scenes in life."
Lupin smiled at her. "We'll be in touch with our choices next week," he told her. She nodded, walking out. He put that one into the trash can, shaking his head. "Protect them from everything?"
"Think small, asthmatic, and scared of life," Jigen said with a shudder.
"I went to school with a kid like that, but he became a wannabe," Lupin admitted. He picked up the next one. He liked the looks of this one and she was pretty. The other folder wasn't so pretty but she had a higher IQ and a better field for a job. "We have a doctor and an accountant," he announced, handing them over. Both men nodded, switching to look at the other one. "Give me a name."
"Melissa Brighton. British," Goemon told him, handing over his folder. It was his turn to pick.
Lupin called her in and she came in, sitting daintily in the chair. "So, tell me something about yourself," he requested.
She gave them a nervous lick of her lips. "I'm an accountant. I'm unmarried. I have two cats. I'm an avid reader, especially of mysteries. I wanted to be a cop in my youth but I knew I couldn't pass the tests. I'm very realistic about myself."
"How do you feel about us?" Jigen asked. "What we do?"
She licked her lips again. "To be frank, I don't like it. I know you three go after some of the worst of the worst, I've done some reading up on you you see, but I cannot condone the life of crime." She looked at her hands. "I know that the child may end up going that way but I cannot be the one to encourage it. Being realistic, I would have to warn it about the consequences."
"Do you push your boundaries?" Goemon asked gently.
She gave him a smile. "If I didn't, I would be a librarian," she told him with a wry look. "I like my books, but I like numbers more. Even though others have not thought I should, I did push myself toward a field I felt I was suited for. I am not the most physical of person, I know that will disclude me, but my family is very fit. My father runs marathons and he's in his sixties. My brother ran track in his youth until he was injured on a cross- country run. Now he coaches. My mother died a few years back and my sister is a bitch to be frank about it, but my male family members would definitely help me if I needed it. My father is a bobby as well, an inspector in our small town, and he is against this but he told me he'd accept the child no matter what." She lifted her chin a little. "I may not be the most physically fit, or the most intelligent, but I am one of the best mothering sorts. My cats are horribly spoiled and pampered. I'm the sort of pet owner that spends big dosh on the special food and special toys. I own my own home and it's a nice sort of place, if a little dark at the moment. I'm getting a few new windows put in as soon as I get back. I would also not misuse the child's trust fund. I know all the pertinent laws about trusts and the like. I could give you detailed spending reports so you could make sure that I have been using it wisely and not spending it on shoes." She let out a geeky laugh and Lupin smiled at her. "If you would like to talk further, we can do so," she offered. "I'm not really the social sort most of the time."
"I'd like that," he agreed, putting her file into the short stack. "We'll be reinterviewing the possibles within a month. Should we look you up?"
"Please. I only get so much leave and I have to store it up in case it is me," she admitted, blushing a little. "My boss has no idea I'm here. If I do end up being the one, I plan on telling him that I'm carrying out a friend's most fond desire to carry on her line even though she was ill. That it's her child and that I'm going to be the mother of it." She looked at him. "Would that be fine with you?"
"It would," he agreed, giving her a gentle smile. "Thank you." She nodded, shaking their hands then leaving. "I liked her," he admitted.
"She was very sweet," Goemon agreed. "Very honest as well."
Jigen nodded. "Very honest." Lupin looked at him. "I'd put her third right now. I didn't like the blonde as much as he did." Lupin nodded, accepting that and looked at Goemon.
"I'd rank her third as well," he admitted. "The blonde, the last one, then her."
Lupin nodded. "Okay. Let's interview the last one." He pushed the button and the woman strolled in like the world owed her something. He gave her an interested look. "You're a doctor of what?" he asked.
She sat down. "I am a pediatric surgeon. One of the top in my field."
"Doesn't that take a lot of time?" Jigen asked.
She nodded. "Not always, but sometimes. I share a practice with another woman. I'm only on call every other night and every other weekend." They all nodded. "The person who would be watching him would be my twin sister. She's back in the hotel right now in case you wanted to meet with her as well. She's more your sort, she's a government agent and not exactly wholly legal in my opinion. She's done a lot of undercover work."
"Wow," Jigen said, staring at her. "Won't she mind?"
"Not any longer. She's vowed to quit if I become the one. I make more than enough to support us both while she finds something gentler to do."
"What would you do if this turns out to be female?" Lupin asked her.
"I would raise a strong female that I would be proud to call mine, and hopefully you would like to call yours. What would you do?"
He considered it. "I wouldn't mind. I would prefer a boy but I know that even sperm selection isn't foolproof. Do you think that a pregnancy would be a problem in your field?"
"I don't. As I said, I'm not as busy as I used to be. I used to be one of those doctors who pulled an eighty hour week plus my office hours." They winced. "I've had to slow down some since I developed a heart condition. I assure you it won't harm me at all to carry."
Goemon looked at her. "I have a fear that a female child would be turned into some form of modern day Amazon and a male child would be viewed as weaker."
"A strong woman doesn't necessarily mean a man-hater," she said patiently. "I do love men, but I haven't had the time to find one and tie him down," she said with a small smile. "Until I can find one to kidnap and fix, I would prefer doing this."
"What happens if you do get married?" Lupin asked.
She shrugged. "He would have to know and agree, otherwise I wouldn't be with him." She flipped her hair back, giving them a confident look. "Most of the young women you've interviewed have probably already been weeded out. I'm willing to do many things for this child that they aren't. I'm willing to cut my hours back further. My partner and I have been thinking about adding a new partner to the practice. We've also thought about moving to a teaching hospital to take advantage of the students. My condo is very new and already very practical for a child thanks to my younger brother in his youth. He had a small drug problem, that is why my twin went into law enforcement, to help him and others like him. When he died it destroyed her badly. She's since healed and has thought about doing something similar in her own life. She wants to take up knitting and raise sheep for their wool at the moment. She would have no problem being there for a child I would have. Nor would she have much problem with you as she's said before that you helped her boss once before." They nodded. "I also can answer many questions about sibling aggression. It would make more sense to have more than one in case something happened. Also, you'll probably be torn about who you want. I have no problem being one of two or three." That got another nod and appreciative look. "I can answer any question you still have."
"Do you think that punishment is appropriate in young children?" Goemon asked.
She smiled. "How old is yours?"
"Five months, he just crawled for the first time a few minutes ago."
"Right on target in my book," she told him. "Most of the baby books underestimate the development of children. To answer your question, I think gentle reminding and positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement is more important than punishment in the formative years."
"They're not the same?" Jigen asked.
She shook her head. "Not in the least. Positive reinforcement means you give a reward for good behavior. Negative reinforcement means that you take away something bad for good behavior. Something like a chore free night. Punishment means that you punish the bad behavior. The strongest I feel is appropriate is deprivation of a treat for things like tantrums. Taking them from the store and leaving the area. Taking them out of the movie. Things of that nature." They looked really interested in that. "My minor was psychology in my undergrad," she told them. "I think I would be an excellent mother. Even if I wasn't, then my genes are clean and you could try to take the child to raise for yourself. I won't say I won't fight you but I would be open to changing the bad behaviors. I of all people admit that I have some few quirks. I'm very punctual. I like the same breakfast each day. I'm almost ritualistic when I start my day in the office."
Jigen nodded. "Some people are like that. Do you consider those faults?"
She laughed a little. "No, I consider them *quirks*. Faults are things that need changed. Quirks are things that make you an interesting human."
Lupin smirked at her. "I like you. We will be wanting to talk to you again, and probably your sister as well." She nodded, standing up and shaking their hands. "Thank you. Give us a week."
"That's fine. My contact information is in there." She nodded again. "Watch out for him and wooden floors," she advised. "Babies seem to pick up every splinter in the known world. I remove them all the time from new crawlers."
"I will ask someone to make sure they are smooth. Thank you," Goemon told her. She left them alone. "I like her best."
Jigen nodded. "Practical, realistic, human, smart, funny, and pretty."
Lupin smirked. "Good. Now all we have to do is the background check and talk to her sister. Should we implement her plan?"
"It would make sense," Goemon agreed. "I still like the blonde."
"I still like the accountant," Jigen told him. "I really didn't like the blonde. I got a Xena flashback from when Xander handcuffed me and made me watch a marathon on tv with him."
Goemon looked at him. "Xena?"
"TV show," Lupin told him. He shook his head. "I've only seen one or two episodes. Those were funny. I kind of liked Joxer and Ares."
"Then you'd really love the guy who played Strife and the funny ones are very different than her usual 'girl power' message. He's got the DVDs in his room."
"I'll ask him to see them," Lupin agreed. He leaned back. "Why is no one saying anything about the redhead?"
"She seems to be very nice, but I would put her as my second," Goemon offered.
"Me too," Jigen agreed. "I don't like something about her, but she's still a good candidate. There's something hidden."
"Still. That leaves us five candidates," Goemon pointed out. "A very small field."
Lupin grinned. "I like the way you think. Okay, should we go visit Ishi?" They nodded and stood up, following him out with the five folders clutched in his hands. He looked at the lawyer, handing him his check. "I've got the ones I want." He nodded, giving them a smile. "Thank you for your help." He left, going out to the car. "Should we let Fuji, Marcus, and Xander look them over?"
"No," Jigen said, shaking his head. "Fujiko will roast them all."
Goemon shook his head. "Xander will obviously go for the accountant. They are a lot alike. That underlying steel with the touch of innocence."
"Yeah, and the love of cats," Jigen agreed. He put the files into the briefcase. "Where did we send Marcus?"
"Off to research paternity law," Lupin said dryly. "He's adoring the big, stuffy library at Oxford." He started the car, pulling into traffic.
He didn't see the cop standing in the shadows beside the building, smirking and taking notes. Ray was being very sneaky; this new job was really fun.
Xander looked up as the others came in, holding up a hand. "Stop. The stain's wet."
"Why are you staining the floors?" Jigen asked.
"Because Fujiko wanted something lighter and I had to sand it for splinters last night." He went back to his staining. "Walk on the pale parts only." They walked around the path he had left himself, heading back to the sitting area. "How'd it go?"
"Five good candidates," Jigen admitted. He watched as Xander finished up his area and backed down the path. "Will that match?" he asked when he saw the line from the drying stain.
"It will," Xander promised. "And if not, Fuji said she's putting a rug right here." He stood up, tossing his sponge at one lighter spot, blotching it. "There." He took off his coveralls as he walked back to join them, wearing a pair of tight jeans shorts and a t-shirt. "I took out the splinter for him," he promised when he found the father staring at the bandage. "He's fine. She did that." He patted him on the back. "Fuji, the floor should be dry in about ten minutes," he called.
"Good." She came out of the bedroom area, her hair up, paint splotching her face. "I could use some help," she admitted. "I'm too short and the ladder tips."
Lupin took off his jacket and tie, taking the paintbrush from her. "I can do that." He went in to help, Jigen going to help shift some things for her.
Goemon sat down with his son, teasing him. His son let out an outraged scream. "Hush," he ordered gently. His son blinked at him. "Yes, it is me," he agreed. "If you are good, I will get down and play with you later."
"Only if the living room's dry, otherwise you're crawling around the side of the house to get us food," Fujiko said, flopping down beside him. "The head over Tokyo's syndicate knows about the magic stuff," she said quietly. He looked at her. "His wife does it. She's asking someone to come talk to us." He nodded, looking calm everywhere but in his eyes. "She said it would be something you could appreciate. Xander compared it to the Japanese version of Druidic rites. Nature magic."
"I will find time to talk to her," he agreed, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Did the young men moving make a pass at you?" She shook her head. "Then they were fools. You are beautiful even when sweaty and paint covered." She grinned and bent to play with the baby. "When will he be napping?"
She smiled at him. "In about an hour." She led him into the nursery, making him smile at the view. "We liked this one a lot. Xander and I stood here for nearly ten minutes staring out at it. The sun comes up just over the pass."
"It is a gorgeous view," he agreed, moving out onto the small porch. Someone had already added more slats to the railing so no one could fall through it. He tested it, it was very solid. "Xander does good work."
"He does," she agreed, putting an arm through his so she could lean against his arm. "I liked the color in the living room too. What do you think?"
"Pecan isn't natural to the area but it does make it glow," he agreed. "There are a few odd places, but it looks like it could be naturally that way." He pulled her around to hold her. "Do you like it?"
"I do. It's kind of grown on me," she admitted. "Plus, there's a *real* store in the village." He laughed. "There's a small airport so we can exit and enter quickly and quietly. That means I won't be stranded here when our files suddenly show up."
"They have found them but they can't unlock them," he told her, giving her a squeeze. "We interviewed many candidates. We liked five."
"Out of sixty," he shared.
"Hmm. Good enough I guess. Any I'd like? Since I'll have to deal with her when the babies play together."
"I have my favorites. One is very shy. One is a doctor, very fierce. One is a strong and smart blonde. One is a former thief herself, she did identity theft until she was captured. One we're not sure about. She was hiding something and we do not know what." She nodded, looking up at him. "They think you will toss them away out of hand."
"No I won't," she snorted, going in to talk to Lupin about getting some female opinions going. "Hey." She stepped around the paint cans. "How do you do that without getting it all over you?"
"I'm going more slowly than you did," he told her. "What's going on?"
"I want to meet them," she said. He looked down at her. "I do. Murami and I should. You need some female insight and we will have to deal with them too."
He nodded. "Good point. I was going to get the boys to meet them too. They should know us all."
She smiled and hugged his leg. "Thank you. It was a good suggestion." She walked out, going to check on the floor. "Xander, it's nearly dry," she called.
"Not yet," he called. "Give it another ten."
"Fine." she stepped carefully around the wet parts, heading for the kitchen for a drink. Someone knocked on the door so she looked outside, opening it. "What?" she demanded.
Zenigata frowned at her. "How did you do it?" he asked.
"Lock those files up under my mother's name," he demanded, stepping inside. "Then everything but your profiles were taken, and those were changed to be more like my notes." She shrugged. "Lupin!" he snapped.
"Painting," he called.
Goemon came out to look at him. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see how you did that to the ICPO's computers," he said bitterly. "They're blaming Mark."
Xander coughed. "It's not Mark. And he can prove it by the signature file that was included in the update." Zenigata looked at him. "Really. Willow said all hackers use some sort of signature. Trace it." He shrugged, walking around the wet spots. "Wet floor. Watch out." He went out to the porch to work on a spot that still felt weak to him. It creaked and he didn't like that.
Zenigata opened his phone and called his boss. "They said they didn't do it," he announced. "And neither did Mark. One of them said something about hackers and signature files." He smiled. "Really?" He laughed and hung up. "Wolfman?"
"Is not a friend of mine," Xander called. He pried up the board and measured it, going to cut a replacement from the new wood outside. This could be used in the new treehouse he was going to build.
Zenigata looked over as Lupin came out. "Is it one of yours?"
"A hacker called Wolfman."
"No." He frowned. "Jigen, do we know any hackers?"
"A few. Who?"
"He's in Cairo's syndicate. Hi, Pops." He came out, looking at the floor. "Still wet?"
"It is. Xander has disappeared to replace a board," Goemon told him. He shrugged. "I do not know." He helped his wife back across the wet portions, carrying her off to their new bedroom. She had already decorated it. He smiled at her. "I do like this view," he admitted, standing her in front of the window. She laughed, shaking her head. "What?"
"It's the only working bed. Xander said I had to warn you he's slept on top of the sheets beside me most of the time." He raised an eyebrow. "He is cuddly but nothing like that happened."
"I knew it would not. He would not touch what was mine," he said simply. "He may not understand honor but he acts with it most of the time." He pulled her closer, kissing her deeply. "Strip, woman, you need a bath."
"The hot water heater's off," she told him. "Xander's waiting on a replacement pipe. You weren't supposed to be in before tomorrow."
Xander came in the front door and tested the floor, frowning. "Still a little tacky." He moved around the oldest part, only transferring a little bit of the varnish onto his feet. He went out to test the floor. "A little small," he said, frowning at it. He shrugged and centered it, making sure it was right. A filler piece was tossed up to him. "Thanks," he called down. He nodded Zenigata out with him. "What else did they do?"
"They rearranged the files and took out the wants and warrants system," he said bitterly. "We're nearly incapacitated."
"That should come back later," Xander told him calmly, nailing the boards into place. He stood up and stepped on it, no more squeak. "Test that, you're heavier." He stepped on it and it still didn't squeak. "Good enough. She put her table here anyway." He popped open the small can of white paint, squatting down to paint those piece of wood. "Personally, I know something about him. He's not a he." Zenigata groaned. "He's a woman but she's in an Arabic country." The inspector stared at him. "Glaring at me won't help and Myron might know of her too. She was at Paris Con. I met her there." He looked up. "I never asked and I don't know her that well."
"But this isn't the first time someone's done something to gain attention of someone more famous," he noted dryly. "Who is she?"
"The sister of my stalker. I found that out when I did a background check on her." He chuckled. "And it's not mine." He stood up, recapping the paint and handing it over. "If you're staying, you're helping." He raised an eyebrow. "Hey, I'm going to build a treehouse. You'll be doing it soon for Dawn's boys I'm sure. Try that big ash tree. It should be sturdy enough." He grabbed the pole he had put in and slid down it, walking across the lawn. "Hey, Myron," he said with a small grin. "I'm down to my treehouse until we get the pipe shipment. Wanna help?"
Myron shrugged. "Sure, why not." He rolled up his sleeves and went to help him. "You're reading the tape funny," he noted.
"I've got a glass eye, Myron. I can't see out of that side." He marked the spot, then measured it in the other direction. He added another inch of extra in case his eyesight had screwed up again. He seemed to be cutting an inch too short but he could compensate for it. He plugged in the circular saw and turned it on, cutting on the line, or really just his side of it. Still farther up than the original mark so it'd be fine. He used that board to cut the others so they'd match. A stacked floor on top of plywood would be best since the tree had such small branches. As the kids grew, it would be fine. Soon he had enough for the platform and he set out to build it, making Myron help him. "So, how's my enemy doing?"
"He's seething. He's more obsessed than anyone's ever seen. What did you do to him?"
"I winged him, I knocked him out a few hours later, then I saved his life about an hour later," he said quietly. "I think he's pissed about the last. I blew his preconceived notions."
"What are you doing?" Jigen called.
"Waiting on the pipes," Xander called back. "We're building a treehouse." Jigen shook his head and walked back inside. "She can't yell at me if he messes up the floor," he said happily. "It should be dry." Myron laughed. "It should be," he admitted. "I used quick dry varnish because the little guy is so hard to catch sometimes." He shrugged. "He's fast."
Myron nodded. "It's his mother's nature."
Xander laughed. "Don't ever say that to her. She'll slap you." He nailed in the next board over the sheet of plywood he had chosen for the bottom support. As soon as that was done, he used the longer pieces to build stud walls for the small shack. It would be a great treehouse.
"Did you ever have one of these?"
"Fuck no. My father couldn't hang a picture straight."
"Not your fault." He pounded his thumb and sucked on it, then went back to work. He took a deep breath. "I'm intentionally forgetting my past," he told him. "As far as I'm concerned, I have no past before Jigen anymore."
"That's fine. I mean the boss has the file on you and all that, but still I guess it's necessary sometimes." He caught his wrist, looking at the scar on it. "How did you get that?"
"Um...." He looked at it then shrugged. "I don't remember anymore."
Lupin came down to help, grabbing the hammer. "Fujiko said you're keeping her up."
"I'll be done in a few minutes," he promised. He took the hammer back. "Her husband can always get her to nap." He smirked at Lupin. "Boss, this is Myron, he works for Gramps."
"Hi." He waved. "You were Vash." He nodded. "Wonderful." He stroked through Xander's shorter hair. "You cut it."
"No, Ishi burned it," he corrected. "I had to get the burnt ends trimmed."
"How did the baby burn you?"
"He poured caustic drain cleaner on it. Chemical burn. Like I said, he's real fast." He went back to his walls. They were soon finished and he attached them to the floor. Fujiko opened the window. "Give me an hour," he called without looking.
"Fine. When are the pipes coming?"
"Maybe an hour," he admitted. "You can call. I'll come hang the doors in the kitchen in a minute."
"Thank you." She closed the window.
"We'll let someone else raise this into the tree and hitch it to the branches." He looked at Lupin, who laughed. "Make Jigen help you," he suggested. He went back to paneling the walls with the leftover wallboard, then put on a small roof and tar paper. He stepped back, looking at his handiwork, wiping his forehead with his sore wrist. "Okay, that's done."
Lupin steered Xander toward the house. "Come on," he soothed. "Jigen didn't get to see your hair."
"I'm sure he'll be pissed," he sighed. Lupin gave his head a nudge. "Sorry. Fine, he'll be mildly peeved." He walked in and was hugged by Goemon. "What's that for?"
"For putting up with my son, the race car," he said, letting him go. He looked at his hair. "It's shorter."
"Your son," Xander told him. "Drain cleaner. I got chemical burns." He shrugged and popped his neck. "Okay, the treehouse needs to be lifted and lashed to the tree. I put ribbons where it should go." Goemon gave him a delighted look. "It's pretty basic," he warned, heading into the kitchen to deal with the doors Fujiko had wanted hung. They weren't that hard, it was just tricky getting them into the tracks. He finally got them in, jamming his thumb again. He was sucking on it when the pipes got there so he got to hide underneath the house to deal with those too. That's where he was when someone found him two hours later. "What?" he called when he saw the flashlight shining in his direction. "I need the small blowtorch. Can you light it for me?" It was lit and handed over. "Thanks." He soldered the pipes into place, checking the other joints. He soldered a loose one then turned off the blow torch. "Okay, turn on the hot water heater and try it," he yelled. He heard someone moving above him and someone tapped on the floor over his head. "Turn on the hot water heater and try it," he called again.
"Okay," came the muffled reply.
Xander waited, wiggling his sore hands. "Hold it," he yelled. "I need someone to hand me a lighter!" One was tossed to him. "Thanks." He relit the blowtorch, working on a joint that he hadn't touched. It had been leaking. He turned it off and tucked the lighter into his pocket. "Try it again," he called. Someone turned on a tap and the pipes flowed well. He wiggled out, bringing the torch with him. He checked the nozzle, just in case it had been loosened during the wiggling, which it had, then put it into the box again, marking it as used for forty-five minutes. So they'd know how much longer it had on fuel. Then he headed into the house. "Anything else?" he asked the dancing Fujiko.
"No," she said, hugging him. "Oooh, you deserve a nice treat. What do you want?"
"My wrists need some attention," he admitted. He groaned as he stretched his neck again. "I need a shower. I must stink." She laughed, nodding. "Then I'll do that. I don't mind cold for now. At least it'll get out the cobwebs. Which room is mine again?"
"The blue one," she told him, giving him a pat on the back. "The floor only got messed up in about six places and mostly where I was going to put stuff anyway."
"You can claim it was natural wood vagaries," he promised. "Except for the footprint."
"I've got a rug to go there," she said, giving him a pat on the back so he would go shower. He really did smell. "Thanks for the porch too."
"Welcome. There's a small piece but it shouldn't be noticed."
"I didn't," she promised as he walked away, even though she had. Again, something that was going to be covered up and the thing wasn't squeaking anymore. She smiled as she heard someone yell for Xander. "He's showering!" she yelled back.
Lupin came in from outside, waving his sore hand. "That treehouse is really solid, we need more people." She gave him a look. "We can't even lift it with a pulley." Xander came out of his room without a shirt on, coming out to help him with a pat to his arm. "Thanks."
"Sure. I wanted it to be sturdy. I still can't hitch it to the tree."
"We can do that, we can't lift it," Jigen told him. He gave him a look. "Where were you?"
"Under the house fixing the pipes last." He rocked it, letting someone get the edge nearest him. "Roll something in to help brace," he ordered. A board was put under the corners. Lupin got the other side. Then they each took a side and hefted, getting it onto the branches. He maneuvered it into the spot he wanted it, noted by the ribbons. Then he let it go. It creaked a little, but it would do.
"Push it back toward the trunk," Goemon ordered.
"There's a knot in the way," Xander told him.
"Will it harm it?" Xander considered it. "Tilt it?" Xander nodded. "Then it should be fine." They moved it back to where wanted it. The floor was a little tilted so they used the spare boards to brace it level. Xander checked it with a marble he had in his pocket. It still rolled but not that fast. "It will be fine," he assured them. He got underneath to tie it to the tree.
"Shouldn't we be screwing it in or something?" Jigen asked.
"We don't have any drywall screws and it'll be a few years before the kids will use it," Xander promised, leaning against the trunk of the tree. "By then, the woods will have grown into each other." He shook his wrists. "I'm for a shower. Unless we need more help?"
"No, thank you, Xander," Goemon told him, watching his back go. "What else did he do today?" he asked once the boy was inside.
"He was staining the floor," Lupin offered.
"He hung the new doors into the kitchen."
"He said something about a board on the porch," Lupin added. "Plus he was just under the house fixing the pipes. You should have hot water soon. I painted. Jigen?"
"Worked on putting in the faucet in the bathroom," he admitted. "He used to be a carpenter."
"At least he's got the skills," Lupin agreed. "By the way he was shaking his wrists I doubt he's going to be up to doing anything else with them soon." Jigen gave him a look. "He was shaking them earlier too."
Goemon came down from his hitching duties. "That should hold it for now. I'll add more ropes over the next few days." He looked at his house. "It is very big."
"It suits your family," Lupin assured him. Goemon looked at him. "It does."
"Probably," he agreed. "At least no one should be sleeping on the floor tonight." He shrugged. "Let us find out if the hot water is working yet." He walked back up to the house, looking under it. "There seems to be some water gushing. Xander?" His wife came out. "We seem to have a leak back toward the bathroom." She nodded heading to get Xander. He came out in just the jeans shorts - which were unbuttoned just enough to prove he was only wearing the shorts. "I checked to see how well you had done. There's another leak."
Xander swung over the railing and jumped down, looking down in there. "That is back by the nursery. Let's hope we don't have to replace the whole pipe." He crawled under there, looking at the pipe. "It's the toilet line. Give me a wrench and the blowtorch." He patted himself down. "I left the lighter in the bathroom." Goemon crawled underneath there with him. "It's nothing much," he offered, taking the pipe wrench to tighten the non- soldered joint. "Someone turn on this tap," he called. It was turned on and he got a face full of water. "At least it's clean." He tightened that joint again. "Bad news. Turn it off!" he yelled. Someone did. "I can't get that one tighter. We'll need to replace it. Fortunately it's almost a different line. Someone else flush!" he called. He heard the others go off in sequence, then the other taps come on. He found one other leak and shifted over to light it once he had the lighter, warming it to finish sealing it. He blew out the torch then turned it off, handing it off. "Okay, try this one again," he said, tapping it. It turned on and didn't leak. He groaned as he got himself unstuck from the smaller spot. "You might want to build a fence around this area so you don't get wild creatures nesting under here," he noted as they crawled back out. "Fujiko, we'll need to replace that line," he called. "We'll need some new 3 inch pipe, about three feet, including two elbows and a new trap. I'm not sure why they put that on there." He looked at him. "I'm going to shower now."
"Please," Goemon said with a smile. "Thank you." Xander nodded, heading to do that. He sat down on his couch, looking around his new space. It was pleasantly painted and decorated. Sparsely, like he liked. He looked over as she came out of the kitchen, where she had been calling someone. He pulled her next to him. "Do we need to do much else?"
"Washer and dryer," she said. "They're coming tomorrow. Xander said we might need to wire a breaker for it but nothing worse than that and plugging the things in." He relaxed against her. "You rest," she soothed, patting him gently as he nodded and fell asleep. "This is what he used to do," she reminded herself. "I'm not taking advantage of him." Jigen came out and looked at her. "I'm not," she repeated.
"Probably not," he agreed. "How can he stand to take a cold shower?"
"Easy, I'm sure he's had worse." He shrugged and sat down, staring out the window. "You should see it at sunset," she offered. He gave a small nod. "Where's Ishi?"
"Sleeping. I just put him back down." He looked at her. "He okay?"
"Just tired," she assured him.
"Good." Lupin came out to join them and he nearly sighed in relief at not having to act polite anymore. "Should we show her the files now?"
"She demanded that she get to talk to them," Lupin agreed. He found his briefcase and handed them over, watching as she read them. "Most of us generally like the doctor, the blonde, and the librarian."
She looked at each one, reading the profiles carefully. She put one aside, not liking that one at all. The next three were okay she guessed but the accountant stood out. "Her," she said, handing it to him. Jigen looked at her. "The accountant. She's got a nurturing nature. I don't like the former thief. They're not only crafty but I don't like how she's suddenly found herself and turned herself around. You can't guarantee she won't taunt the baby about you guys. The doctor looks really nice, but that's a hard profession. Who's going to watch it?"
"Her twin sister, who's coming off a long stint of undercover work and is now an agent of some sort," Jigen told her. "We were going to talk to her too."
"Her sister is supposed to want to slow down now. She said something about raising sheep for wool so she could knit full-time." Fujiko looked interested. "What about the others?"
"The blonde seems a little fake to me. Yeah, she's big, strong, tough, and physical. Why?" Lupin looked at her. "Women aren't naturally like Xena."
"You're the second one who's mentioned her," Lupin said with a small smile.
"It's true," Jigen agreed. "That's why I didn't like her."
"The last one? I'm sensing something off. It's too clean, too pat. She's *never* done anything bad? Then why is she offering to do this for *you*?" Lupin nodded. "She's probably a groupie and we know they can go psychotic at times." Jigen nodded. "Did Xander ever hear back?"
"I heard him saying something about it earlier to Zenigata while they talking about the hacker," Lupin admitted. "I don't know more than that." He scratched his chin, looking back toward the bedrooms. "This place is very soundproofed."
"He's got the door closed," Jigen said.
"Still. You can't even hear the shower." He kept the two folders out. "Interestingly enough, the doctor suggested we pick more than one and that she wouldn't mind. She expected it."
Fujiko nodded. "It's something a woman would think about. You're doing this for a specific reason. Why have to do it twice?" He grimaced. "I'm not sure she thinks you'll be around."
"But I will be," Lupin pointed out. "I want him to play with Ishi and this new one. I want to see him and play with him and do all that good stuff at least once a month."
"Did you make that clear?" she asked. He nodded. "Then I'd think she's probably been burnt before. Or someone she knew was. She doesn't expect you to be there. I would make her my second choice. Accountant, her, then the other three tied for last place." He nodded. "When can we talk with all five of them face-to-face?"
"I said we'd be talking with them in about a week," he admitted. "Probably traveling to where they were. The accountant only has limited leave. She's already thought up a cover of a sick friend she's doing this for as a condition of her will so the line is carried on. She says she loves mysteries. She almost became a librarian."
"Which means she'll be softer and push the kid gently. The fact that the woman crochets baby hats and booties for premature infants at London hospitals notes that." They looked at her. "It was tucked into her file." She looked at him. "Really. I would go with her first unless I get a really bad feeling during our interview." She heard a thump and winced. "Xander?" she called. No answer. "Okay, someone who can stand up go check on him and Ishi." Jigen and Lupin got up to do that, each one taking one. She patted her stomach. "You, quit moving around, okay? I want to nap today too."
Jigen checked on Xander, finding him asleep in the cold tub of water. He sighed and went to check on the baby. He found Lupin looking at the turned over crib with the baby. "How did that happen?"
"He did it. He was probably rocking it." He shrugged and handed over the baby. "He was giving it the most disgusted look." He set it upright and made sure the wheels weren't going to move, they walked the baby out. "He knocked over his crib. He was giving it the most disgusted look, like it had affronted him."
She laughed as she took her son, looking at him. "Quit trying to escape, son. If you call, we come and get you." He sniffed and stuck his thumb into his mouth. "Maybe we should have named you Emperor."
"He'll have to calm down sometime," Lupin promised, straightening out his hair. "Where was Xander?"
"Working on a case of hypothermia." Lupin groaned. "The water was filthy so I was going to leave him for a few more minutes, then let the water out on him. By then maybe the hot water will be running smoothly."
"Did we relight the hot water heater?" Fujiko asked. Lupin went to check on that, coming back nodding. "Thanks, guys, this means a lot to us."
"I know. We'll make you help us someday," he promised with a grin. He went to let the water out on Xander, pulling him up to make him shower this time. There should be some warm water at least. He stripped himself one-handed and climbed in behind him, turning on the water with a foot. He winced at the chill of the water, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. He got the boy semi-cleaned and then out, dried off, and put into a pair of pajama bottoms. Then he carried him out to the sitting area, putting him into a chair. "He's better now," he reported.
Jigen chuckled, shaking his head. "You're not."
"I'm going to fix myself now." He went back to his room to clean himself up, putting on a set of pajamas of his own. He came out, looking at the sleeping boy who was tilted to the side. Then he shrugged and heaved him up, sitting underneath him. "There, we're better now." Fujiko laughed and pointed at her son was slapping the glass doors while babbling at the sunset. "That is something that we need to take a picture of."
Jigen found a camera on a shelf and checked it. "We've got a little bit of film," he admitted. He took a picture of the baby, making him give him an outraged look. He took a picture of that as well. "Ha," he said, smirking at him. The baby crawled over to him, pulling himself up on his pantsleg. "What? You want held?" The baby scolded him, sitting down in the middle of his tirade. "Yeah, yeah, wait until you're older. Your old man's gonna wear that lip outta you," he warned. The baby spit at him and went back to scolding the night for getting dark. He didn't want it to get dark yet! Jigen laughed as he sat down, handing over the camera. "It's only got two left." She set it down, watching her son. "What is his problem?"
"He knows he goes to bed when it gets dark so he hates it," she told him. Her son crawled back, coming over to try and climb up his father. She bent over with a grunt and put him into his father's lap. "Sit there," she told him. He curled up against his father's stomach, giving her a look. "Trust me, I gave birth to you, son."
Lupin laughed. "I don't think he's quite believing you yet," he told her. "He'll learn better soon."
"Hopefully." She gave him a look. "You'd better learn a few manners before your sister comes. Uncle Xander says he's going to spend a lot of time with her, that leaves you the other people around here." She looked around. "Where is Marcus?"
"Oxford," Lupin told her. "Researching to his heart's content."
"I'm sure he's pleased," she said with a big smile. "Who wants to call for take out?"
"How far do we have to drive?" Jigen asked.
"Down the mountain. They're *really* nice though. I called up and ordered what I was craving and they managed it. Without giving me a funny look or anything," she swore.
"Shit, for that, they've got to be great," Jigen agreed. "What do we want and what's their number?"
"The menu is on the wall by the phone in the kitchen," she told him. He got up to get it, coming back with the short menu. "I really liked their vegetable Lo Mein."
Lupin looked at it, checking the hours. "Um, Fujiko, they're closed," he noted. Jigen sighed. "Let me go cook something." She gave him an adoring look. "What would you like?"
"Lo Mein?" she suggested, nearly pleading.
"Add some meat to my portion," he said, giving him a look. He waited until they were mostly alone. "Are you having this one here?"
"Fuck no," she said firmly. "I want drugs and a professional this time. I will not settle for anything less." He smirked at her. "Keep it up, I'm sure Ethan can show you personally somehow. Maybe a nice pain transference spell?" Xander mumbled something and her eyes went wide. "No, Xander," she said firmly. He shifted some, pouting. "No. No magic in the house." He grumbled something and snored again.
Jigen looked at his wrists. "I feel fine," he said, shrugging. "Just tired and limp." He reached over and swatted his student, waking him up. "Remove it," he ordered. Xander gave him a clueless look. "Whatever transference thing you just did, remove it."
"I did?" Xander asked with a yawn. "Sorry." He said something, touching his wrists. Jigen gave him a relieved look. "Sorry." He closed his eyes and put his head back down. "Night."
"You could sleep on a bed," Jigen told him.
"Paint fumes," Xander told him.
Lupin came out of the kitchen, his wrists limp. He swatted at Xander and he took it off for him too. "Thank you. I'll work on those later." He rolled his eyes, going back to the kitchen. Now that he could feel his fingertips again.
Jigen shook his head. "Another interesting Xander adventure?"
"Yup," Fujiko agreed, stroking Goemon's head. He grunted and woke up, looking down at his son. "He's being an emperor again."
"Son," he sighed. "You are not royal." His son frowned at him. "I mean it, you are not royalty. No matter how much your Uncle Lupin tells you that you are, you are not." His son sucked his thumb harder. "Quit giving your mother attitude before she makes your Uncle Jigen raise you." Jigen snorted, shaking his head. The baby snuggled in deeper, making him pat him. "Thank you, son. Behave. We'll play later." His son cooed at him. "Would you like to get down again?" He put the baby down, watching as he crawled into the kitchen. "Incoming," he called.
Jigen laughed. "He is a bit of a bombshell," he agreed. He looked at Xander's hair, frowning. It wasn't flowing over the chair's arm or sticking to his face like it should be. "What happened to that?"
"Chemical burns," Fujiko sighed. "Our son tipped the caustic drain cleaner over his neck and burned it off. I had to treat the burns. We have some creme in my bathroom for his neck."
"I'll get it later," Jigen promised.
"Your bathroom?" Goemon asked. "We have separate bathrooms?"
"Yes. You always complain about how long it takes me to do my hair. You get your own bathroom." He sighed and nodded. "Xander also put up an outdoor shower attached to a cistern out where he thought you might like to work out." He smiled slightly at that. "He thought you'd need it. Since it's my toilet that's not working, I'm borrowing yours." She stood up with a grunt and headed that way, making the baby follow her. "I promise I won't escape, son. The bathroom does not have an extra escape hatch. Though it might be a nice addition to put in some day."
Goemon laughed, shaking his head. "I do not believe I ever did such things."
"Your mother was probably stricter," Jigen pointed out. He looked at Xander's hair again. He had liked that messy mass of silver. At least it was fully silver again. It was shiny and bouncy too. The trim had done him good. He looked outside, noticing the lights on the hills below them. "Other houses?"
"I do not know." He stood up, going out onto the porch to look. He frowned. "I have no idea what that is."
Fujiko came out, patting him on the back. "It's a camp of some sort. I'm not sure who they are. None of the locals would say anything when I asked about it. I have no idea if they're bad or good guys." The baby headbutted her so she picked him up so he could see too. She looked over as Goemon tensed, then jumped the railing.
"Goemon!" Jigen said in frustration. He went to get his pistol then followed him. "What are we doing?"
"I know of them," he admitted. "I wish to see if I am right. I will be fine."
"She'll kill me if you get hurt," he pointed out. He walked behind him, used to his stealth walking. He was making more noise but not by much. They snuck up on the camp, watching as the people divided up food and bowls. He frowned. Were they gypsies? He tried to stop Goemon but he walked out into the firelight anyway. "Damn it," he hissed, taking up a good position to fire from, just in case.
Goemon cleared his throat and they gave him a fearful look. "I live up the hill. I wish to know what you are doing here." One of the children gave him a fearful look so he squatted down next to him. "I am not someone to be afraid of unless you do bad things," he promised. The child gave him a nod and backed away from him. An older man walked up to him and he bowed. "As I said, I have just moved in."
"I've noticed things heading up there," the old man told him, holding out a hand. Goemon shook it. "We are modest farm hands."
"That's fine. Do you need anything?"
"No, we're fine. Thank you." He smiled at him. "We'll be moving in a few weeks."
Jigen came out of the woods, his gun up again. "I didn't know there were migrant farm workers in Japan."
"Not many," he told him. "There is a mushroom farm nearby and we work there a few months out of the year before moving for the rice harvests." Jigen nodded, shaking his hand as well. "Are you two...together?"
Goemon blushed and shook his head. "He is a good friend. My wife and child are up there."
"Good. A happy family then. Thank you for your kind offer."
"If you need anything and we are home, let us know," Goemon said, turning and walking off, making Jigen follow him again. "I did not know that either, I thought they might be a training group of thieves I've heard about," he admitted quietly. He walked back in the front door, meeting Lupin. "We have migrant workers down the hill."
"Cool." He handed over a plate. "The baby tried to follow. He got another splinter." Goemon rolled his eyes, taking his plate to check on his wife and son. He handed Jigen a plate. "Xander's in bed, exhausted."
"It's been a while since he had to pull a full day on a construction site," Jigen said as he sat down to eat. The traditional low table was passed over by them, they liked to eat at Western style ones with chairs. The small family came out to join them, and the baby eagerly sat in his high chair. He got a bowl of mush and stuck his fist into it, sucking it off. "Cute," he told the mother.
"He won't let me shovel it into his mouth," she told him grimly. "He's already an independent little creature." She sat down with the plate her husband had brought her, letting him get another. "Plates are beside the sink," she called. He grunted. "Where's Xander?"
"Napping," Lupin told her. "There's enough for him to have some, and if not he knows how to make a sandwich." She smiled, digging in. The baby grabbed another mouthful, sucking on his fingers. "When did he start doing that? He used to enjoy having you feed him."
"I don't know. All of a sudden, we get here and he hates being fed," she said with a small shrug. "I've been thinking about asking Xander if he was possessed or something."
"It could be normal baby behavior," Goemon reminded her. "If so, it should settle out soon."
She nodded. "True." She ate another bite, watching her son watch her. "Look at him." His father looked at him. "It's like he's staring through me."
"I have a picture of me with the same stare," Goemon promised. "I was about two." He shrugged. "Eat, son." He gave him that same look. "Eat," he repeated.
"Eating makes you grow up big and strong, kid," Jigen told him. He looked at him then licked some more mush off his fingers. "Good." He used his fork to feed him a noodle, making him happy. "Better?" The baby ate another bite so he let him have a noodle. The baby gummed it happily, grinning at him.
"Now I see the problem. He hates the cereal," Lupin said, handing over one of his own noodles. "It's got to taste better than the nasty cereal." The baby grinned at him, slurping his noodle too. "Eat more cereal." The baby banged his fist on his table. "Now," he ordered. The baby stared at him so Lupin went to get a spoon, bringing it back and picking up the cereal that had already been dropped. "Eat, or no more treats."
The baby bent forward, eating that bite. Jigen gave him a piece of cabbage. The baby cooed at that, gumming it hard before flinging it at his father. Lupin fed him another bite of cereal, making him a happy baby, knowing he was going to get a reward. This time the reward didn't come but his father smiled at him. He guessed that was okay. This time. The next time he got another slimy and fun thing to gum. This was a good game! Mommy never played games like this.
"Guys, he'll never eat for me if you guys keep that up," Fujiko complained.
"He will too," Jigen told her, handing over the noodle. "Give him the next one." The baby squealed when she did so, making her smile. "See? He's just playing baby mind games." He ate more of his own food, before the baby got all of it.
"Wonderful, a baby playing mind games. What next?"
"Teething," Goemon sighed sadly. She winced. "Indeed. My mother used to remind me how I had teethed on our family's pig's ear." He shook his head. "She was still alive and apparently very tolerant of me." He handed his son a piece of cabbage, getting another squeal in response. "Eat, son." His son stuck it in his mouth and choked.
"Not like that," Lupin said, retrieving it quickly. He put it aside. "Let's stick with the cereal and then you can have a really good treat at the end. A bottle." The baby ate the last few bites of cereal, pouting slightly. But he did get his bottle and it made him happy, if really messy. He handed him off, wiping off his hands afterwards. "I didn't know kids got that messy."
"Routinely," she told him. "Nearly every meal." She ate a bite of dinner, and he spit out his bottle. "No, you drink now. I eat. Get it right." She ate another bite and he opened his mouth, holding it open. "Are you a baby bird?" She handed him a noddle, watching as he gummed it into a splotch of noddle on his hand, which he sucked off. "Thanks." She retrieved a piece that had went down her bra, handing that over as well. He gave it a funny look before gumming it too. "Yeah, you do that," she told him, eating more. It was her first real food today. She winced as she was kicked. "Quit," she told her stomach. Her son looked at her, cooing. "Not you, your sister." She shifted him, letting his sister kick him. He gave her an outraged look, kicking back at the thing that had hit him. She laughed. "You tell her, son. She can't do that us, huh?" He kicked again, making a lot of high pitched noises.
Goemon cleaned his plate and held out his arms. "May I?" She handed him over, holding her stomach. "Strong kicks?" She nodded. "Do you need some attention?"
"I could use a backrub later," she admitted. "I'm good otherwise." He gave her a look. "Really." She winced and hissed as the baby did it again. "Yo, not you." She pressed on her stomach, trying to eat another bite of food. "Come on, I'm hungry," she complained when it continued to happen. "Xander!" she called pitifully. "She's doing it again!" He stumbled out, sitting beside her chair to lean against her stomach. One of his hands flopped onto her stomach, and she quit. "Thank you." She shoved the food into her mouth as fast as she could. "This is getting ridiculous. This is the second night in a row."
Goemon nodded. "He did say he was going to make this one love him best," he said dryly.
"Try at all," she protested. His quiet 'shh' made her frown at him. "Do you really want to replace that piping tomorrow?" He shook his head. "Then don't!" He woke up more and looked at her. "You don't have to replace the pipes."
"You can't," he reminded her, putting his head back down.
"I could if I knew what I was doing," she protested.
"No blowtorches around the baby. Gives off smoke, smoke bad for them." He stroked big circles, his wrists were too tired and limp to do anything else. She moaned and he stopped. "Sorry."
"No, it felt nice," she told him, giving him a pat on the head. "As soon as humanly possible, I'm going back on the fucking pill," she told her husband. "There will be no third baby." He nodded, giving her an understanding look. "Otherwise I will make good on that promise of yours to get a vasectomy in the middle of the night with your sword." He nodded, still giving her that understanding look. "Xander, can't you make her kick him?"
"No!" Jigen said. "With our luck, he'd make me feel it." Lupin nodded, chewing hard. "He can do it for the labor. When we're far away."
She gave him a look. Then gave her husband one. "I am delivering in a hospital this time, with pain killers and qualified people being there. I don't care if Marcus has to ward the whole fucking town, we're having her in a real hospital. And I don't mean the village one either. They don't believe in pain killers down there or about having helpers."
"You could always go to the States," Jigen offered. "They've got lots of options over there."
"Or Britain," Lupin agreed now that he had swallowed. She looked thoughtful. "Even Paris, but it'd be a pain to get back here from there unless you came to stay at the house for the first month again."
"I don't care as long as I'm not stuck here."
He nodded. "That would be fine."
"Are we doing all this work so we can walk away again?" Jigen asked.
"Not for long," Goemon assured him. "The children will be back shortly. As usual, I shall drift back and forth." He shrugged. "It is necessary for their well-being."
"Plus, it would give you more time to work in the field with Marcus," Fujiko pointed out. "He could use it."
"He could," Lupin agreed. "He did great during his last one." He heard Xander grunt. "Something you wanted to add?"
"He's nervous, shy, and very introverted around new people." He lifted his head tiredly. "I used to think that Goemon was like a big statue in certain settings; Marcus is a blushing and stammering one."
"He's just coming into himself, Xander, give him some time to gain some confidence," Jigen offered. "You stammered too for a bit." Xander nodded, remembering that. He looked at his boss, knowing how Xander had gotten past that. He had created Lavelle. "Maybe Marcus needs something like a dominant personality to use on the job. That's how Xander got past that."
"I'll talk to him again," Lupin assured them. "He'll be fine. He's still young and needs experience, that's all." Xander nodded, putting his head back down. Fujiko let out a relieved sigh and relaxed as well. "This could cause a problem," he said firmly. Fujiko looked at him. "We will need Xander back sometime," he pointed out in a gentler tone. She gave him a look. "Maybe even soon," he added patiently. He nodded at her stomach. She looked down, then groaned, shaking her head.
"We could stay in France until the baby is a month old," Goemon suggested. Jigen looked at him. "Then we have agreed that Fujiko will take some time off and we will switch back and forth as you need us."
"Great," Lupin agreed quickly. "I don't want the kids in danger any more than you do." Plus it meant he wouldn't have to redecorate his house. Much. "I support however you guys work it out as long as you're happy with it." Fujiko gave him another look. "Really. I'm happy if you are. If you're not, then you let me know and I'll help you guys mediate a new arrangement as the kids get older." She sighed and nodded. "You're already a good mother, Fuji, and I want you to be happy."
"Nearly as good as she was at fucking us over," Jigen added for some reason. Then he coughed.
"Was that a compliment?" she teased. He gave her a look so she leaned over, kissing him on the cheek. "Thank you, Jigen. I'll blame the mushiness on Xander." He nodded quickly, smirking at her.
"Whaddididonow?" Xander mumbled.
"Jigen has been infected by your mushiness," she said, stroking through his shorter hair. "He gave me a compliment."
"Mushiness isn't a sexually transmitted disease," he said, lifting his head again. Ishi squeaked at him. "Morning to you too," he agreed, nodding at him. "I'm going to go back to bed. Wake me when the new pipes get here." He stumbled that way, flopping face first onto the bed and falling asleep that way.
Goemon looked like he was going to say something but he refrained for now. He looked at his son, who grinned at him. "Is it not your bedtime?"
"And past," Fujiko agreed. She stood up with a grunt, holding her stomach as her eyes slowly drifted shut. "Ow." She took a deep breath and let the pain go. "Give," she ordered.
"I can do so. I do not get to spend much time with him," he said, giving her a small smile. "Go to bed, Fujiko. I will be in to tend to your back in a moment." She nodded, padding that way. He looked at his friends. "Take no offense," he said softly. "I do not want you to do things to Xander while here, at least not now."
"Not a problem," Lupin agreed quickly. "I understand totally. Things that you tolerate in my house aren't the same in yours. We can hold off our carnal desires until we're headed to interview again."
Goemon gave them a grateful look. "Thank you for understanding." He stood up. "I do not want him to know about such things yet and he does like all three of you."
Lupin chuckled. "I promise, even if I let him curl up with me, I won't do anything,"
"I have no problem with you three sleeping in the same bed, it is the activity that may come from it," he said gently. Lupin and Jigen both nodded. "Thank you." He walked his son back to his nursery, making sure the crib could not tip this time. He struggled to get the railing back up but it did click on one side so that should be good enough. He went to his bedroom, intending to do some pampering of his wife, but found her asleep. So he laid down behind her, stroking her stomach to commune with his offspring. "Good evening, daughter, I am your father."
Jigen waited until the bedroom door was closed. "I didn't know he had a problem with us and sex."
"He doesn't, he has a problem with his son crawling in to watch," Lupin told him. "It wouldn't matter if Xander was female at the moment or not."
"That's something we'll have to watch around the kids," Jigen noted. Lupin gave him a look, then nodded. "Can you imagine his first day of school?" he smirked.
Lupin raised his voice to a higher falsetto. "My name is Goemon Ishikawa the fourteenth. My father is a samurai with a neat sword that can cut anything. My mother used to be an internationally wanted jewel thief. My uncles are really neat too. I've got one that trains with my father to make his warrior spirit stronger and my other two used to work with my mother sometimes. One's an infamous thief and the other's a shooter. Plus I have this aunt who's sometimes an uncle who's really odd sometimes, but he spoils me very well and he can shoot anything!" he finished with a wicked grin. Jigen was laughing and shaking his head. "You don't think so?"
"I do," he agreed. "And Pops will have one ICPO officer's kids in the same school to keep track of him. His father will of course praise him and pat him on the head then report it all back to his boss."
"Maybe we should encourage Fujiko to home school?" Lupin chuckled. "Math problems in carats and cubic feet of a ventilation system?"
"Nature lessons with Xander?" Jigen one-upped.
"Be very, very quiet, we are hunting plant demons," Lupin giggled in his best Elmer Fudd. "With his father," he decided, smirking at him. "Watch the flower grow, son, it will teach you the meaning of life," he said in a dead-on impersonation of Goemon.
Jigen chuckled and shook his head. "Marcus doing formal English lessons. Xander will have to go behind his back to loosen the poor kid up again."
Lupin's laughing got louder. "Now repeat after me. The only Holy object in the universe is tea," he said, impersonating Marcus' accent, he couldn't quite get the voice right. "All civilized peoples drink tea. That is what is wrong with your Uncle Xander."
Jigen swatted at him. "Nah, we'll get Marcus to do sex ed."
"How did Dawn put it?" Lupin said, thinking back. "She said Goemon was one of those who was so sheltered he learned sex ed on the farm from the animals and she hoped for the sake of his first lover that it wasn't from the chickens." Jigen burst out in loud guffaws, shaking his head. "I'm pretty sure Pops blushed beet red. Nearly as bad as when he saw her in her favorite catsuit that one time."
"I still say that is a demented relationship," Jigen told him. Goemon came out to look at them. He gave him an innocent grin. "We were talking about the educational opportunities we could give the kids."
"I heard. They will be schooled in the traditional methods until their affiliations and tendencies are known, then we may or may not add in special classes in other things. Then they shall go to school overseas when they are teenagers to learn about the world." He blushed. "And I learned that from watching the unskilled and untrained youth around me on trips to the village, not from the chickens and goats. No matter what Dawn may believe, I did have playmates of a human nature." He went back to his bedroom.
The two men broke out laughing, leaning on each other.
Xander came out from under the house the next morning, hearing the raised voices. It was irking him and making him lose his concentration. He walked around to the front of the house, nodding at the woman screaming about Goemon not being a fit parent. "Prove it," he said, breaking into her tirade.
"He is an internationally wanted thief!" she shrieked.
"Then present us with warrants," Xander told her calmly. "Present proof that would stand up in court about his fitness." He crossed his arms, looking down at her. That was a nice thing about being in Japan, he was one of the tallest guys around at six-two. She gaped at him. "Otherwise all you are doing is blowing smoke and vitriol around and I, for one, do not need this today."
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"His general contractor," he said blandly.
Her eyes narrowed. "A hired hand?"
"Also his student. It is the role of the student to help the master when they need it. That's why I'm also a part-time nanny." She glared at him. "You can ask around if you want. I'm sure we can provide you with the names of many people who would say he is an excellent parent, as is the mother."
"He's an international thief," she said angrily.
"Then walk inside and prove it by finding something he's stolen," Xander said, waving a hand at the house. "Go right ahead." She glared at him. "If not, then you are bothering a very tired pregnant woman and you are bothering their son."
"I know the others are thieves, what are they doing here?" she demanded. "Such friends are not wholesome for children."
"Do your friends not come for important moments in your children's lives?" he asked firmly. "Such as to celebrate them crawling." He glanced toward the house. "Or walking. Someone capture that with their phone or something." Jigen and Lupin both turned to catch him. "What's wrong, Ishi, crawling not fast enough for you?" he called as the baby toddled out onto the porch.
Goemon went to pick up his son. "Already? Do we not have any chance to rest between milestones?" he teased, tickling him. His son squealed and patted him on the nose. "Thank you, son. Come talk to the nice lady out here." He walked him over. "As you can see, he is a happy and content baby. There is no need of you coming up here to bother us."
She started to open her mouth but Xander held up a finger as Marcus showed up. Marcus got out of his rental car and jogged over, hugging Goemon. "Good trip?"
"Thank God I'm back," he sighed happily. He touched Ishi on the head. "Good morning, Master Ishi. Are you happy this morning?" He held out his hands but the baby wrapped his arms around his father's neck. "I see. I shall hold you later and sing to you. You will like what I found in Britain once I got rid of the stuffy people who wanted me back." He looked at Xander. "Is the water working?"
"Except back in the master suite," Xander agreed. He nodded at the social worker. "She thinks Goemon's an internationally wanted man."
Marcus glared at her, holding out a hand. "Gun."
Xander gave him a look. "What makes you think I'm carrying?" he asked.
"You always are," Goemon told him.
"Not true, I didn't carry a gun during the convention," he pouted. "I had a proper sword and I used it very well." Goemon gave him a look. "Fine, I am packing heat," he admitted with a sigh.
"Gun, Lavelle." He shrugged and handed it over. "I have just dealt with people like you; ones who take children and make them miserable. Leave," he ordered, cocking it.
"Marcus, you need to work on your temper," Goemon said firmly, taking the gun from him. "Go do so." The boy looked at him. "Now," he ordered. Marcus nodded and bowed, heading to do that. "Forgive him, he has just had a transatlantic fight and was obviously nagged by his former relatives." She opened her mouth. "Unless you can present a court order to take my son, you should leave," he warned. "Before I lose my temper as my other student did."
She backed away from him. "I will be back. It's clear that you abuse your students," she said, pointing at the bruise on Xander's neck, much faded but still in evidence.
"I asked him to teach me a move. I was fully aware of what I was getting myself into," Xander said firmly. She snorted. "Let's put it this way, lady." He said something in polite Japanese.
Jigen looked at him. "Eliminating from the body is often hard?" he translated with a touch of amusement. "That's it, I'm taking you both down to the bar tonight to teach you how to swear properly."
"I learned polite, anime Japanese," Xander defended, frowning at him. "I don't know how to say 'tough shit' in Japanese. It's never come up."
"That's why I'm taking both you and Marcus to the bar tonight," Jigen said firmly. He rolled his eyes. "Jesus, kid. That's nearly as embarrassing as Marcus saying 'dirt' when he swears."
Xander shrugged. "I was staying polite. Be thankful." He looked at the woman, bowing to her, eyes narrowing. "You are treading on what little patience I have, woman. Goemon is not the one you have to worry about."
"You carry a weapon?" she asked, tense now.
He nodded. "Everywhere but to take a shit. Even then it doesn't always drop at the door." She wobbled a little. "You are aggravating my sensei and he's the only one around here with control of his emotions, or else you'd already be dead. I'd leave." She made a scoffing sound so he grabbed Goemon's sword, making her run away screaming for her life. "Do not come back!" he called after her. He took a deep breath then handed the sword back hilt first, properly, then went back to fixing his plumbing. He had forgotten the lighter again so he used his gun to start the fire. He tucked the pistol back into his waistband and crawled back under the house to seal his work so Fujiko could have her bathroom back.
"Xander, you too shall be working on your anger issues later," Goemon called as he walked into the house. He knew the boy could hear him under there.
Lupin looked at Jigen. "His accent is much better," he noted, smirking at him. Jigen took off his hat to hit him with it, then went inside to watch the baby for a while. As long as he didn't have to change a diaper, he was just fine with the little guy. Ishi wobbled for a minute, then took off running. "He was slower before," he noted, cracking the father up.
Fujiko came out of the bedroom, holding her son against her chest facing outward. "He runs like Pops is chasing him," she said, handing him to his father. "I'm doing laundry." He nodded, keeping the baby until she got back into the bedroom and closed the door. Then he let him down again.
"You know what comes next," Jigen said, giving him a nudge.
"Climbing," Lupin agreed as he walked in. "What did Xander shoot?"
"He lit the torch," Goemon told him. He pointed at the lighter on the table. His son ran out of the hallway, coming back with his blanket trailing him. Then he ran to stare out the window. There were birds, it must be fascinating to him. "Our general contractor?"
"You'd rather he said your wife's loyal slave?" Jigen asked. Goemon gave him a look.
Ishi looked at the birds, frowning at them. He babbled at them to shut up, he was trying to sneak back into help mommy. They would give him away. One of them sang louder and he pouted at it. Then he babbled louder, waving his arms. His human slave came over the side of the porch, making the irritating things quit making louder noises than him so he went back to trying to find a way in to help his mommy. She was being tormented by the kicking thing that had kicked him! It was not right, he would save her!
Xander came in off the porch and went to turn on that pipe. "Dryer here yet?" he asked.
"Not yet," Goemon said, watching him go. His son was following him. Fujiko squealed as they entered her room without knocking. "Xander, the polite thing is to knock," he called.
"I've seen her naked and I don't want a woman," Xander called back.
Goemon walked in to look at him, scowling. "When?"
"The boat? Jigen's birthday?" he suggested, grinning at him. "When she taught me how to shave myself. At the spa while we were getting massages while you guys were interviewing. You know she's not my type and I don't stare at tits since I get my own sometimes."
"It is not respectful."
Xander looked at him and grinned. "Think who you just said that to," he pointed out. Goemon cracked. "I promise, I've never *looked*, but sometimes seeing her was unavoidable. It's hard to teach someone to shave their pussy without being naked and doing a demonstration." Goemon blushed and he grinned more wickedly. "Speaking of, she might need help with hers. She got waxed at the spa." He listened for gurgling noises, then nodded, walking out, taking the baby with him since his parents were kissing. "You don't need to play with her underwear yet," he said, tossing it back into the bedroom. "Come on, little man. Help your Uncle Jigen do something *really* important, read." He handed over the baby, grinning at him. "Let me check on the pipes, then can we have lunch?" He headed out, jumping over the porch railing. It wasn't that far down. He crawled back under the house, finding only one pipe had a small leak. He quickly lit the torch and fixed it. "There, perfect," he decided. He moved off his tarp, heading back into the house. He had unlit the torch and tossed it away, it was empty. He started to sit down but Lupin kept him from it. "What?"
"You're muddy, go change," he said, giving him a little shove toward his room.
Marcus rushed in. "Master, I had another of those out of body experiences," he called.
Lupin looked at him. "He's presently shagging his wife," he noted. "Can it wait?" Marcus panted, nodding. "Good. Go check the treehouse to make sure it's secure. If not, figure out how to anchor it better." Marcus nodded, heading to do that. "Is my kid going to make this more of a madhouse or less?"
"Less," Jigen said dryly. "They'll sit and play with him more." Ishi got up and went to stroll out onto the deck. He jumped up to stop him from climbing into a chair. He could go over the railing that way. "No, kid. Your father would kill me if you did that." He walked him inside and closed the door, locking it. He and Lupin shared a look.
"Ishi, come see the pretties I have," Lupin said, sitting down. He pulled out a pair of handcuffs he had stolen off Myron yesterday, dangling them. The baby cooed and came over to look at the shiny silver things. He grabbed them and gummed them, wincing at the taste, but kept on. "Those are handcuffs. When you're old enough, I'll teach you how to get out of them. It's a very important skill," he said seriously. Ishi gave him an adoring look for giving him something silver. "You're a good boy," he said, patting him on the head. He looked at Jigen and smirked.
Jigen sat down, pulling out a baby sword, plastic for now. "This is yours," he said. "I found it for you when we came." The baby gave him an adoring look and switched to gumming it. It was silver too. He smirked back. "I told you I knew what to get him." Fujiko screamed in pleasure and they clapped politely, like they would at home.
Marcus came in from outside, giving them a look. "Don't do that to him yet," he sighed, handing over his own present of a silver amulet. "Try that, sweetheart. It should be better for your gums than the sword or the handcuffs." He gave him a pat. "Where is Xander?"
"Probably asleep in the tub," Lupin offered. "He's in the blue bedroom. On this side, rear bedroom," he said. Marcus trotted that way to check on him. "Too much caffeine for the boy," he said dryly. Jigen burst out laughing, shaking his head and swatting him again. Ishi swatted him too. "Hey! Don't I give you nice presents?" he said, picking him up to tickle and play with him.
Goemon came out a while later, looking at his son's new toys. Then he smiled, shaking his head. "Typical." He walked into the kitchen, getting himself something to drink and some grapes for his wife if he could find them. "Do we have any grapes?"
"No," Lupin called.
"I'll go," Jigen promised, getting up so he could take the bike down the mountain to the market. Grapes did sound good.
Lupin held up the baby sword. "From Jigen."
Goemon took it to look at, giving it an experimental swing. "Well balanced," he agreed, handing it back. His son snatched it and gummed it. "Yes, you do that," he agreed. "I will teach you how to use it soon enough." He went back into the bedroom, closing them in again before his son could help them cuddle. "Jigen went to get you some grapes." She gave him a sleepy smile and put her head back down. "You rest." He laid down, sipping his water. Maybe this house was a good idea after all. Even if it was big.
Ishi knew that there was something going on in his house. He could hear someone talking. They weren't talking to him and they should be. His human slaves did not have the right of communication with any other beings but him. He had forbidden it, did they not listen? He wiggled his crib railing. His father had not latched it properly again this evening and it fell on one side enough for him to get free of his containment. He caught his balance easily. This upright thing was rather fun. It let him do so much more than the animal movements he had been doing. He wandered toward the noise. It wasn't his parents. They were making noises but it wasn't the same sort. They were making growling and hissing noises. Perhaps they were part animal? It would suit his nature. He was a fierce beast, his slaves had told him so. He wandered toward the noise, giggling when he found a partially open door. It was coming from in there. He looked up, the soft sleeping space was so high!
Then he looked at the foot of the bed. There was a soft, yet solid thing there that gave some when he stepped on it. It got him closer. He groaned and looked around. Next to him was something higher, but not something he could reach. He made a sound of disgust but none of his slaves appeared to help him. He noticed something was nearby and he stepped onto it. It wiggled so he fell a little, making him let out a wail of protest. No one woke up so he quit. He got onto that thing again, patting it when it wiggled under him. Then the bigger thing was next to him. He walked onto it, it was solid, no more wiggling like him when he was being tickled by his uncle. Now he could see onto the soft sleeping spot. Ah, his human slaves had been put down for a nap. This is where they had disappeared to. He didn't understand, but they kept disappearing until he paid attention to them again when they begged and treated him. He crawled onto the soft place. He couldn't walk on this, he would fall. He sat himself down, sticking his thumb into his mouth to consider them. One of them said something and he leaned closer, but he wasn't talking to him. He scowled. How dare they speak to anything other than him! He growled and scowled when a pair of eyes opened and stared at him. He made more angry noises. His slaves were doing things other than for his benefit. That strange silver thing came up and he heard whirring. Then the beeping happened. He heard a ring in another room, then the eyes closed and the head and hand fell again. He crawled over to the silver thing, he liked it. It made pretty noises and sounded like his parents. He heard his father and babbled at him, patting the pretty thing. It was such a good pretty thing. Much better than his slaves apparently. He glared at them again, and was still doing so when his father came in. He was picked up and squealed in indignation. How dare they manhandle him! He batted at his father, but his father caught his hands and pushed a button on the pretty thing. He tried to get it but his father wasn't relenting. He started to cry, he wanted it!
Goemon looked at his son, noticing the video function was running. He stopped it and looked at it, then at his son. "You are in trouble," he told him, taking him into the bedroom with him and Fujiko. "You must let your uncles sleep," he instructed. "They have worked very hard for your benefit as well as mine." He sat down in lotus in front of the windows, letting his son stare out them as well. "It is time we had a talk, my son. You are very young but you must start to show better manners." His son looked up at him, liking the growly undertones in his voice by the smile on his face. He hung his head, shaking it.
"He's too young," Fujiko said from the bed. "Where was he?"
"He found a way to get onto the trio's bed and was giving them a fierce scowl for daring to sleep while he was present." He tossed over Lupin's phone, still shaking his head when she laughed. "It is not appropriate."
"He's a baby, Goemon. He doesn't understand that word yet. To him, we're here to serve him." She slid off the bed and came over to sit next to him, leaning against his arm. "He's going to have a really bad time soon when this one is born and they're still patient. We can slowly wean him of them. They'll pout at you if you take away their fun," she said with a small smile. He groaned and shook his head. "We'll have to start closing his door. He can't open them yet." He nodded. She yawned and closed her eyes. "He'll need them even more when I have her." She stroked her stomach, earning a kick, which made her grunt. Her son squealed in outrage and reached over to help her. She opened her eyes to look at him. "It's nice that you do love me, son. I'm flattered." She took him to hold, kissing him on the top of his head. "Did you have fun ranting at your uncles?"
Ishi felt something kick his foot so he kicked back, frowning at the lump. He would have to do something about that annoyance.
"No!" Xander yelled, running outside.
"Another nightmare," Goemon sighed, standing up. He hauled his wife up, helping her back into bed. "Get him back to sleep, I'll put him back into his crib when I get back." He walked outside, looking around. "Xander?" he called quietly. He looked up but his own habit of sitting on the roof had not been taken by him. He looked out toward the treehouse, grimacing. "It wouldn't stand his weight. The tree is too small yet." He jumped over the railing, looking under the house. There he was. "Xander," he called quietly, holding out a hand. The boy growled at him. "Fine. Are you all right?"
"Go away," Xander said angrily. "I can't control it! I don't want to hurt anyone!"
"You will not hurt me," he promised, crawling in to retrieve him. Xander batted at him but it was inefficient in this small of a space. He simply pinned him down and looked at him. "What is wrong?" he asked patiently. The boy growled at him again. "I see. Are you awake?"
"Goemon?" Jigen called. "Do you have him?"
"I do. He is growling."
Jigen slid down the pole, coming to rest beside where the opening was. He squatted down, looking at Xander. "Hey." Xander growled at him. "Is this some sort of funny after- possession thing?" Xander whimpered and struggled. "Drag him this way, let me have him," he ordered, taking the boy from Goemon, holding him tightly against his chest. "Xander," he said, talking into his ear. "Xander? Wake up, Xander." He gave Marcus a look as he walked through the wall. "Fujiko said no magic in the house."
Marcus gave him a confused look. "I haven't."
"You just walked through the wall."
Marcus shook his head. "No I didn't. I came down off the porch. I remember sliding down the pole. What are you talking about?" Jigen opened his mouth but Goemon shook his head to let it be this time, that he would deal with it. "Is he having a nightmare? I had one myself just then." He rubbed his eyes. "Xander, did you see the fire?" he asked. Xander growled and tried to lunge at him but Jigen had him held tightly. "Fine. What did you see?" He touched the boy's forehead, staring into his eyes. "Tell me, vocalize it," he instructed, still staring. Xander whimpered. "Tell me, Xander," he repeated.
"Tell me," Jigen agreed. Xander shivered and went limp. He started to cry. "Shh." Jigen got him sitting down, holding him. "What happened?"
"It's happening again," he said, looking at him. "It's all happening again. Everything."
"Everything what?" Marcus asked.
Xander looked at him. "Willow. You. Wesley. Dawn. All of it." He shuddered. Marcus shook his head. "Yes, you!"
"Xander, I could never hope to match Dawn in a magical duel," he pointed out.
"Life is often thought to be a spiral," Goemon said gently. "Certain themes come back time and again. Which one is he, Xander?"
"Both," he said miserably. "All of them."
"He's not precognitive," Jigen pointed out.
"No, but some themes of his dreams have shown to be true," Marcus said, sitting down on the cool ground. "He had a dream about Spike, we ran into him. Spike did try to eat him. That same nightmare, Zenigata found our hideout. Dawn brought him around. We can only hope he doesn't regain the memories I blocked. They were turned, made to be the same. It is possible that Xander could be turned back to the side of good or Zenigata forced onto our side to protect himself or Dawn. It is possible that Xander would have to work with him in such a circumstance."
"What about the one with the choker and the kids?" Jigen asked.
"Part of that was fear and dread. Fear of what could happen while he was locked in the female form. Dread of losing you and Lupin. A longing for his own child and having to make the best that he can of a bad situation." Jigen shrugged. "We may have to wait years to see if he is subjected to such a bad circumstance. If he does, I was not in his nightmare and I will be there if something happened." He looked at Xander again. "I saw a fire. Him with children, trapped together. Not yours," he told Goemon, making him relax. "I have never had any sort of gift for precognitions. It could very well be a deeper fear coming out. All I know was that I was frozen, I could not help and that Xander had to save as many of them by himself as he could. You showed up much later, while he was in the hospital," he told Jigen. "It matches well with my other one, where we were all caught and sent to separate prisons and had to get each other out even though we could not communicate." Jigen shuddered. "Xander ended up in solitary because he had to defend himself against the 'new boy on the block' mentality. Goemon ended up in a psychiatric ward for some reason. You and Lupin were both in maximum security facilities, the sort where you see daylight for an hour a day, and never anyone else. I was deported to Britain and held in theirs."
"For what?" Jigen asked.
Marcus snorted. "We had to help Zenigata to even out the balance again. So Xander used the credit card he snatched yesterday to draw him to an area. It helped him get back together with his mother and kept him away from an assassin. Xander told him such when he came to taunt him. He looked so stunned, so real, because the person had infiltrated his unit and was taking his people away from him, thereby making us his only support network. He went to Goemon through Dawn because she is ever loyal to those she considers hers." He reached down to stroke Xander's forehead, calming him down again. "What did you see, Xander? It is important. I need to know if there is reality to what you see, even the tiniest touch."
Xander looked at him and shook his head. "I can't."
"Goemon, have we stocked any liquor yet?" Jigen asked quietly. He shook his head. "Then I'm taking Xander back to the city to get him calmed down. We'll be in the pad there." Goemon nodded, helping him get Xander up and back into the house. They got the boy dressed and he held him while Jigen got dressed. "Thanks." He grabbed their wallets and weapons, leading the boy away. He wasn't resisting. He took Marcus' keys from his hand, heading out to the little Euro-mobile compact car. He hated them but it would do for now. He got the boy buckled in, noticing he was asleep again. Then he got in to drive. He turned on some music so it played softly, hoping to bring Xander back around but he wasn't budging.
Lupin woke up, looking at the empty bedroom. He frowned and climbed out of the empty bed, heading out to see if his lovers were in the living area. "Fujiko," he said sleepily when he came across her. "What are you making Xander do today?"
"I don't make him do anything!" she said, going back to bed to pout.
He groaned and shook his head. "Fuji, where are they?" he called.
"Ask the man of the house," she said, slamming the door.
"Fine." He walked out onto the porch, leaning on the railing. No one cared that he was in his boxers. Who would see? "Goemon?" he called. He looked back from his kata. "Jigen and Xander?"
"Xander had some traumatic nightmare and Jigen took him to calm him down. He said they would be in the city in the usual place." He walked closer, giving the boxers a look. Lupin gave a little shrug. "All he would say was that the cycle was starting again. He mentioned Willow, Marcus, Wesley, and Dawn." Lupin frowned. "He growled a lot. That is all I know. Thank you for not chastising my son last night."
"It showed ingenuity," Lupin said dryly. "Even if he was rather upset with us."
"He believes we are his willing servants," Goemon said dryly. "I will have to break that attitude yet." He walked away, going back to his exercise with Marcus. "You should tell him your theories." Marcus nodded, running around the house to walk in the front door like a polite person. He smiled as he went back to his exercises. He would have to teach the boy to climb the pole. He groaned when that thought made him stop. He did not think in such patterns, that was Xander. He was being infected by smut.
Marcus tapped on Lupin's door, walking in when he didn't get an answer to wait on him since he was in the shower. He wrote out what he knew on Xander's open laptop, giving him a hard copy to study at his leisure.
Jigen walked Xander into a bar, patting him on the back as he sat him next to him. "Get us something strong," he ordered, putting down a hundred dollar bill. The bartender looked at him, then at Xander. "We're both legal," he said dryly.
"Fine. Whatever." He handed them two beers and two shots from a questionable bottle. He watched as Xander slammed his like a pro then gulped the beer. "Another?" Jigen nodded, doing his own but sipping his beer. He gave them what they would need, then went to talk to a guy further down the bar. "Do you know them?" he asked the young tough.
The guy looked at them, then spit out his beer. "The one with the hat is Jigen. Second to Lupin the Third," he hissed. "The other is Lavelle, his student and the one who was making those boys move furniture." The bartender looked impressed, giving them another look. "They belong here." The bartender nodded and went to wait on someone else. He moved up to sit beside Xander, taking the next barstool brazenly. "You're the one who had some of the younger idiots moving stuff for the pregnant one," he stated with a chin nod. Xander looked at him and nodded. "Why does the Don like her suddenly? He hated her for years."
"She's pregnant. He has a ...soft spot for pregnant women," Xander said dryly, slamming his second shot too. "Pregnant women are often thought of as being special."
"He's stated publicly he hates her," he persisted.
Xander shrugged. "Pregnant women are often seen as more innocent and unable to pull off a heist. Besides, she was happy and had her son with her. He thought the baby had skills he could use some day." Jigen choked. "Sorry. Yeah, he gave him a long look." He sipped his second beer. "Let's leave it at the fact that he's a father himself and he understands pregnant women."
"They're insane, no one *understands* them."
"All of them move in a pattern of behavior," Xander corrected firmly. "They all go through similar problems, you simply have to find out their stimulus and what changes it. With Fujiko, it's first thing in the morning. Never wake the woman up. If she's just up, feed her and she's instantly happier. Until she's eaten, she will kill someone. Knowing this has kept her evenly balanced since we got into town. It's kept her husband alive." The man looked impressed. "Each pregnant woman has a different stimulus that creates the desire for a mood swing, you only have to figure out what it is and then you will figure out how to fix it." He took another sip. "Why? You've got how many girls pregnant at the moment?"
"None," he said happily. "I don't need little brats yet, not until I've found a stable place."
"In the mafia?" Jigen asked. "Is that possible? It wasn't in Chicago's."
The minor thug looked impressed. "You were in one of the American ones?" He nodded. "Wow. Do you think they'd take Asians?"
"Maybe some of the West Coast ones," Jigen offered. "Probably not in New York or Chicago. Philly's got some liberal guys but they've also got the Yakuza trying to muscle in on their trades. It's a mostly black group there. There you get one chance. Then you die."
The young man nodded. "Thank you for the advice, old one." Xander growled. "Sorry, not meant to insult," he said quickly. "Please don't kill me."
"I haven't killed anyone in days," Xander said dryly. "Thanks though." The man nodded and backed off.
"Hey," Jigen said, bringing him back. "I need him to learn how to swear in Japanese. He says some of the oddest things when he's looking for a phrase."
"Anyone new to a language can do that," he pointed out. Xander said something in Japanese, making him laugh. "That was interesting," he agreed. "This is how you say that." He said it, letting Xander repeat it. Then they got a corner table so he could teach him all sorts of useful phrases. The boy was very nice, he paid very good attention. He also corrected some of his accent problems. Americans were odd sounding creatures outside their own little homeland.
Jigen led Xander into the apartment the group rented, letting him have the couch since he was so drunk. He locked the door, including the deadbolt. For some reason Xander had problems with deadbolts when he was drunk. "Give," he ordered, sitting next to him. "What was the nightmare about?"
"You sent me away," he said miserably. "Because of my temper. I walked away until you needed me then I came back and shooted everyone and then left again. I didn't let you capture me."
Jigen gave him a hug. "We're not sending you away, even if you had killed that woman yesterday." Xander gave him a big-eyed look. "I promise. We're not sending you away. Even when we're mad at you for doing stupid shit like handing Marcus your gun yesterday we remember how useful you are and how much you've helped us and we lose our anger." Xander snuggled into his arms. "Feel better?" Xander nodded. "Good. Should we go back?" Xander shook his head. "Want to spend some time with it just being us?" Xander nodded. "Okay," he agreed. "What was the one with the magic?"
"I became Dawn," he said, sitting up again, staring at him. "The whole blood sacrifice to open the worlds to end it. Dawn was Wesley. She went bad, really, really bad. Marcus became Willow, doing the magic addiction thing. I saw it being me that Dawn was cutting and it made me freak."
"Of course it did," he agreed, giving him a pat. "If she tries, Pops is gonna be mourning. Got it?" He nodded, giving him such a trusting look. "Now, I want the truth," he said firmly. "I want to know how good you are with the magic stuff and how good you actually are with the sword." Xander mumbled something. "What?" he asked, not believing what he had heard.
"I've been practicing what I saw on some of the anime stuff. Some of it was really nice and it felt right," he said, giving him a small grin. "It works."
Jigen groaned and shook his head. "You're not supposed to do what you see on a cartoon, Xander. Did no one ever have a talk with you about the difference between cartoons and reality?" Xander gave him a grimace and a nod. "More than once?"
"Yeah," he admitted, starting to grin, "but it worked!"
"Yeah, it did," Jigen admitted. "I want you to show Goemon all of it, kid." Xander nodded. "Good boy. And the magic?"
"I'm able to use what the thing left in me," he said bitterly. "I've always had access to that. I've learned some by watching, some from remembering watching Tara and Willow working. Ethan gave me some minor instruction to help me ward off more possessions. Together with the reading I've done, I'm decent enough in a light sort of way. I've only studied the battle possibilities."
"Which is useful for you and us," Jigen agreed quickly. He could see a major pout brewing and wanted to avoid it. Xander lunged over and gave him a kiss. "What was that for?"
"For not making fun of me for my cartoon addiction." He stood up, wobbling slightly. "Which way to the bathroom?"
"Stairs, right, second door," he said, pointing to the three small stairs. Xander gave them a look like it was flights. "Come on, Xander, I'll lead you to the bathroom before you pass out." He got him into there and left him alone, going to check on the status of his bed. He found little furry balls on it and whined. "What are you!" he demanded. Xander wobbled into his back, undressed already. "Look, we've had a visitor."
Xander cooed, walking over to look at them. "Oh, you're so cute," he cooed, making one of the things give him a pitiful look. "Shit, you've got to be starving. Jigen, I need some formula. Please?" he begged. "They're babies!"
Jigen sighed and went to find a store. He could humor him, Lupin could tell him he couldn't keep them. Whatever they were. He called the house, smirking at the irritated person on the other end. "Where would I go for fuzzy thing formula? Something broke into the apartment and gave birth on my bed, leaving two or three baby things on it to starve to death." He listened to the advice. "Okay. No, Xander's with them," he admitted. "Yeah, him." He smirked at the disgruntled voice. "Give me ten, then I'll tell you." He got into the car and started it, heading for a shopping center. It should have a pet store. If they didn't have it, they could tell him where he needed to be.
Xander looked up as Goemon walked in, smiling and holding up his new friends. "Look."
Goemon came over to look at the small beings. "What are they?"
"Kittens. They were on Jigen's bed. They're very badly malnourished." He fed one of them some more formula with an eyedropper, cooing when it drank it. "Good, Felicia," he praised. "Good girl."
"You've named them?" Goemon said, starting to frown. Xander gave him a pitiful look. Fine, Lupin could tell him no. He was not that mean. "I believe we are supposed to be working out today," he noted. "You were going to show me these new things?"
Xander nodded, putting his new friends safely off to the side and grabbing his broom handle. It was what he had been practicing with so he looked better than he was. Goemon gave him a look. "It's all there was here." Goemon shook his head and took off his sword, breaking the long stick in half. "Thanks." They faced off in the open area, Xander charging for once.
Goemon corrected his stance, and had him do it again. "Better," he agreed. He tested the next move, finding no faults in it, even though it looked odd. The next few were much the same way, but the last one the boy had picked up was really impressive. It was some sort of spinning attack, with the blade going behind your foot. He gave the boy a pat on the shoulder. "Keep that one," he told him. Xander grinned. "Very nice. I will have to learn a counter to that." He heard a pitiful noise and looked toward the bedroom. "Was that Jigen?"
"Yeah. We had cheese for dinner last night," he said with a grin. "His body is not happy with him."
"Ah." Goemon nodded. He had been witness to a similar incident in his youth. He walked over to look at the kittens. "Xander, I do not believe these are the same species."
"They're both kittens," Xander defended. "I know it's hard to keep them and travel, but they needed help. It's my good deed for the year. I'll find them a good home."
Goemon gave him a look. "See that you do. In this area of the city, what became of their mother would probably make you ill."
"Jigen said that and I almost slugged him," he said dryly. "They need me."
"I know they do," he agreed, giving him a pat on the shoulder. "Give them some more formula and then come work with me some more. Did you learn anything else?"
"I've been trying some stuff but I suck at it," Xander admitted. He leaned over the back of the couch to give them some more formula, giving them a small pet as well. "Good Felicity and Granger." He stood back up, heading back to the open area. "I liked the Harry Potter books."
"As did I," he agreed, attacking. Xander blocked and went into one of the moves he couldn't quite get, and he saw why immediately. "You're off-balance. You should be doing that on your blind side," he said quietly. Xander nodded and backed off. "Perhaps I can mutate it for you," he admitted. Xander gave him a quick grin, charging again. Goemon stepped out of his way, catching his blind-side shoulder. "Pause." Xander stopped. "We need to work on your blind side before you go any farther. It is apparent that this is going to be your main weakness with the sword."
"With every weapon," Xander pointed out.
"You have learned to compensate for that with a projectile one."
"I try to stand with that side to Jigen or a wall."
"I had not noticed." He gave it some thought, he did stand with that side to someone he trusted. "Very well. Would you object to trying some sensory tests and some exercises to broaden it?"
"Nope, not in the least," he admitted. "I'm all for compensation. That shit bothers me."
"I know it does, Xander. It is a reminder you cannot forget of that former life," he said gently. Jigen came out of the bathroom. "Did you need something medicinal made?"
"Hell no," Jigen said bitterly. "I've already taken something." He looked at the pair of them. "Something wrong?"
"He was showing me some of his new moves. One of them is quite impressive. Whoever was drawing it was very imaginative." He looked at Xander. "For now, we are going to work on a weakness he has." He pushed the boy down. "Close your eyes. Tell me when you can no longer sense me moving around you." He slowly walked around him, moving into a stealthier movement.
"I can hear you breathing," Xander told him.
"Did it get more sensitive?" Xander nodded. "Good. It means your brain wants you to get past this."
"I wish we had real cybernetics already," Xander said bitterly. "I wouldn't care if it wasn't a real eye, I just want one that can see."
"People are working on it. Perhaps before you retire," Goemon told him. He and Jigen locked gazes. The boy was a big one for working on instinct. He stood behind and just off to the side of his shoulder of his sightless side. He watched Xander shift uncomfortably. "It is time for me to mimic something from a movie," he decided. He headed for the winter clothes closet, taking out two scarves. He tied one around the boy's eyes and one around his ears. He helped him up and knocked their sticks together. Xander got the point, smirking at him as he moved forward to try and find him. It was from Luke's Jedi training and he understood that.
Jigen shook his head. "You two fanboys are insane," he told them, coming down to look at the creatures. He still wasn't sure they were kittens. One looked more like a big rat to him.
Lupin walked into the apartment, looking around. "Guys?" he called.
"Bedroom," Jigen yelled.
Lupin strolled that way, pausing to look at the fuzzy, mewling things on the couch. He shook his head, heading into the bedroom areas. "Why do we have fuzzy things?" The other men pointed at Xander, who was bound to the bed. "Did he need punished?"
"He had a small freakout earlier," Jigen admitted. "He had a nightmare about the new baby turning into Willow." Lupin nodded. "So he'll be fine soon."
"Are those actually kittens?" Goemon asked. "I cannot identify one of them."
Lupin shrugged. "You're asking the wrong person." He went back to the couch, looking at them. They were still crying pitifully so he picked up the eye dropper and fed them some of the formula sitting on the table. They gave him grateful noises. "Sorry, the other human is sleeping." He lifted one up to look at, frowning at it. "You're not a cat," he told it. It made sucking noises at him. "Yeah, you can have some more," he agreed, feeding it some more formula. He put it down and looked at the other one. It was laying in a wet spot and he frowned. The towel was absorbent but really. He picked both animals up, taking them in to bathe them. "Didn't Xander take care of them?" he called.
"He has been but today he's been off," Jigen said, coming to the door. "I've already sprayed the couch once," he said with a small grin. "I know what the nightmares are about now." He walked in at the grunt and closed the door. "Let's see, his old insecurities have come out again. He thought we were going to send him away for nearly doing the social worker. Which could have been a bad situation," he said to ease the frown. "So apparently we sent him away, he learned to appreciate or at least tolerate the lone wolf status. He walked in to save us, then left again before we could stop him."
"That sounds more like a punishment for us," Lupin told him.
"I thought so too. I've had him talking about it. He knows we won't send him away but it hasn't stopped the nightmares. The other one was a little more interesting. He became Dawn during the whole Key fiasco. Dawn became Wesley, Marcus became Willow." Lupin gave him a look and he had to save the not-kitten. He nodded, taking that one to scrub. He held it up to look at. "What are you?"
"I don't know, but it's not a kitten," Lupin assured him. "Can we find a way to make him *realize* it?" Jigen shrugged. "He knows but his subconscious doesn't?"
"He only has these after he does something his mind says is really stupid." Lupin grunted. "In this case, nearly killing her was really dumb."
"It was," Lupin agreed dryly, smirking at him. "She was told to go away by the village's elders. They stood up for Goemon." He washed the other one, making it scream in outrage and it sounded like pain. He picked it up to look at it. "What was that?" He touched it's stomach. "It's got a hard stomach."
"I've promised him to find a vet tomorrow," Jigen told him.
"Let's find one today. Maybe he can yell at Xander." Jigen smirked at him. "Couldn't you stop him?"
"After he found them starving on my bed?"
"Never mind. Not even Satan could have pried them out of his hands probably." He went to find a veterinarian for the beasts. Then he would convince them that Dawn should have them. He would let her take care of them for him. He was sure of it. Hopefully.
Fujiko wandered out of her bedroom, looking around. "We alone again?" she asked. Marcus nodded, not looking away from his book. She walked over and snatched it, tossing it away. "Good. We've got to talk, kid. You've now reached the scary and dependent stage and if you keep it up I'm going to have Lupin kick your ass then send you away permanently." Marcus looked shocked. "You're doing magic without realizing it."
"So does Xander," he defended.
"Xander was tainted and tortured by magic and had it forced through his body. I'm surprised he doesn't explode with it. You weren't." She put her hands on her spreading hips. "You are a normal human with a few good gifts. If you like magic that much, go help Ethan." He gave her the most hurt look. "Seriously," she said firmly. "We're not teaching you so you can use it like this. Choose, Marcus, magic or us." He curled up, looking at her. She sat next to him. "I know it's seductive, but if you make this your life, then make it your life. Not research, not the sword. Most excellent warriors don't have the time to do other things. They don't have time to cross-train, to pick up other skills. None of it. Now, either you're not sleeping, you've found a way around it, or you're slacking in one of the two areas."
"I only study magic in my free time."
She snorted. "Yeah, try another," she told him. He gave her that look again. "You don't have free time, Marcus. You have a busy life with a hectic training schedule." He shook his head. "Now, I'll give you until they bring Xander back to decide. If you do decide to go for magic, none of us will be hurt but I will expect you to do what Dawn has and still be loyal to us."
"I would never betray you!" he said, standing up to glare at her. "The thought has never crossed my mind!"
"Not even for more power?" she asked, getting comfortable. "Not even for a taste of the drug you can't see?"
"I'm not addicted!"
"You are!" she said sternly. "You floated the baby out to you this morning instead of going to get him. You 'created' breakfast," she said, doing the finger quotes. "From where I'm not sure I want to know. We'll have enough problems with the new one without you starting to feen for the shit. Now, you have about a day. If you go for magic, then you will calmly tell Goemon that you are and that you could be back. He'll miss you but he's seen the same signs I have." She stood up with a little struggle. "While it's useful to have, it's not necessary to have."
"You prefer Xander?" he sneered.
"No, I hate the fact that the kid has this power. Yes, it's useful, it's saved my ass, it saved my daughter's life. It's probably saved Ishi. I won't let him do it around either of them unless it's necessary. For him, it's something he can do, not all of his gifts." She walked away, letting him think for now. She felt a touch to her mind and firmed her shields. Xander had shown her this. "I felt that," she called. She sat down to look out the nursery window. Ishi was sleeping for a change, it was peaceful in here.
Marcus sat down to meditate. Was he following down his father's path? Or was he becoming Rosenburg? If he was, he might have to give it up totally. He shuddered at the mere thought and that made him pause. "Oh, damn," he said, holding his head. "I am her. I'm the cause of Xander's nightmares." He looked up. "Dawn, may I come visit?" he called. "It's important." A small portal was created and he hurried through, grabbing her by the arms as she nibbled in the kitchen. "I'm turning into Rosenburg," he told her. She looked at him and nodded. "I'm setting off Xander's nightmares. I'm going to become evil soon."
"No, you realize you have a problem. Like any addict, the problem can be changed," she said firmly. "You are much more than your magic and some day you will be able to use it without supervision." He nodded, resting his head on her shoulder. She gave him a pat on the back. "Fuji, I've got him," she called, closing the portal. She walked him into her working area, sitting him down to talk with him while she nibbled. She hated PMS cravings.
Two weeks later, Lupin knocked on Dawn's door, handing over the small carrying cage. "Otherwise Xander will keep them," he told her, turning and walking away.
"Do you want him back?" she called.
He stopped and looked at her. "That depends on him," he said honestly. "Is he still feening for a new taste?"
"Some," she admitted. "But he's not doing it unconsciously. With some careful monitoring and someone else holding his books, he should be fine. And no, I don't mean Xander. He's about reached his top limit." She leaned against the door frame. "If you want him, I can send him back."
Lupin shrugged. "I'd rather he waited until he was better. He's dangerous."
"He'll always be dangerous and the only thing that can help him right now is a more stringent bout of training his mind." He nodded, accepting that. "So I'm leaving it up to you."
"I don't want to have to babysit," he said honestly. "He's supposed to be an adult. We're really busy. We're on the run. How are we supposed to do that for him?" He walked back to stand beside her. "Is it even possible in the life?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. If it was Xander, would you?"
"If it was Xander, we wouldn't be having this talk," he pointed out. "The boy self- regulates everything to the point of putting himself down. He's done it again recently because he did something dumb." She nodded. "Jigen and he are working alone for a while." She nodded again. "You knew?"
"Of course I knew," she snorted. "I keep an eye on Xander. I always will. Part of that is you. You overwhelm him. You're considerate. You ask his opinions. He thinks you're like some saint or something. It magnifies every single fault he thinks he has, real or imagined. It makes him super-protective. The babies do that as well," she admitted at his grimace. "Xander will always be a fierce protector of innocence. Those kids will be as important to him as these would have been. They'll be just like they were his but someone else is raising them." Lupin groaned. "Goemon knows this though. I'm pretty sure he's seen it." She stood up again. "The fact is, you've got two boys who have no idea what a real, caring, decent parent is like. I had that when I was created. My mother loved me unconditionally. My sister tolerated me. All my created memories were of people who gave a damn. Even Xander." She grimaced. "Then he became the one who needs help and it made him feel weak. He's fighting to regain his strength and you're part of that. As *he* feels he's stronger, he'll quit being so clingy and having the nightmares. Some will always stay. He had a lot of them during the Glory fiasco. He had even more after his eye was popped."
"Dawn?" Zenigata called. "Who are you talking to?"
"No one," she called back. "It's all about how he sees himself and no one can change that. You can't force it, you can't encourage it. Until he can meet his own standards for conduct and suitability, he'll always feel like he's a puppy trailing behind you." She stepped back inside. "That's my wisdom for the day. Call when you want Marcus back." She shut the door, letting him go. She looked inside the cage and cooed. "Hi, sweeties. Boys," she called. "Someone sent you something." She walked into the living room, opening the cage. "Ooh, a kitten and a ferret," she said, petting them both. "Hi, babies. Welcome to your new home." The boys ran in, giving the pets a look of awe. "This was just sent for you. Your godfather found them and nursed them back to health." They came over, trying to grab and pet the creatures.
"No," Zenigata said firmly. "You let them get used to you and to come to you. You do not grab and cart them around like they were books." The boys gave him a nod and let them sniff their hands. "Was it the crook himself or some other crook?"
"Xander found them and nursed them back to health. Lupin dropped them off so Xander couldn't pout and talk his way into keeping the kitten." She gave him a look. "We did talk."
"I heard. You're right. He should have realized that a long time ago."
"Why? Xander's been a model student. He's had to slow him down. He can't understand. You can't until you've witnessed a soul being destroyed." He came over and gave her a hug. "He needs someone patient. Someone who lets him sniff them out, then moves on to let them pet him."
"He's got that in Jigen, but Lupin is overwhelming."
"They're out alone again," she admitted. "I've got another lesson with Marcus. Want to help?"
"That shit scares me," he said blandly.
"It does me too. The only way to control the power is to be stronger than it. You have to have near-perfect focus. You have to be calm. You have to know what the fuck you're doing and Marcus has no clue what he's opened up most of the time." She grimaced. "He does need a teacher. He needs someone to chain his butt to a wall and teach him as a submissive first and then as a student. Goemon had him there for a bit, but he slacked off when he thought Marcus was doing well." She heard the pitiful whining and picked that one up. "What's wrong?" she cooed. The ferret wiggled over, sliding into Zenigata's jacket. "Ooh, it likes you."
"It's a crook too, a natural one," he said, pulling it out to look at it. "You're an odd ferret." It squeaked at him. "Yeah, fine." He stroked it gently then put it down. "Don't get too attached to me, I don't live here."
"You could," she offered. He gave her a look. "I know, you're an old fashioned guy who's getting older by the second waiting for files to be found while your team works on the other bad guys in the world." He grinned and nodded. "You're still going to be too old to move soon and so will I." She pinched him on the tit. "Grumpy. I should make a native aphrodisiac for dinner." She went to find them something to eat, and herself. This was ridiculous. It wasn't like they had sex, so she wasn't pregnant!
Jigen looked at Xander, seeing the much more comfortable young man he had been used to before. "You okay?" he asked, sucking his first real cigarette in a long time. He had made it halfway and he was determined to finish it. Even if he was light headed. Xander put his shot in front of him and sat down to read a comic book. "Kid."
"I'm fine," Xander told him. "I think it's good to get away from the others for a while."
"It is," Jigen agreed. "We'll go back for the birth." Xander grinned at him. "Are you missing your creatures?" Xander nodded, sighing in defeat. "Maybe some day, when you can sit in a house all day."
"Statistically speaking, I won't live that long," he noted.
Jigen snorted. "I'm well past the statistical average age for an assassin. I'm training you to make it past there too."
"Really?" Xander grinned at him. "Think I could buy a condo? Not something really huge or anything, just somewhere mine." He didn't realize he was using the puppy eyes.
"Sure," Jigen agreed, realizing it would help. "Anywhere in particular?"
"Somewhere in Europe. I don't want to be too far away. Just not in everyone's lap."
He nodded. "I have a small one in Geneva. It's not much but it's mine." Xander gave him a delighted look. "We could swing by. I don't share it with anyone."
"I'm not going to break your sacred space. Everyone needs something to call their own for their sanity."
Jigen suddenly got it. The boy was still feeling like a student. He didn't have an area of his own. "I know a nice place," he told him. "In Geneva, but it's across town from my place." Xander put down his comic and turned to look at him. "We can swing by there to let you look on our way to Italy." Xander nodded enthusiastically. "Do you want something you'll have to work on or something that you can move into?" The boy drooled at him and he smirked. "Fine, we'll go look at the nearly condemned buildings first," he promised. "We're not due in Italy for a week." Xander got up and hugged him as hard as he could. "In return, I want you to come whine to me if you're feeling bad again. Deal?" Xander nodded. "Good. I hate those bouts of low self-esteem."
"It only happens when I figure I've been dumb later on," he reminded him. "It's much better."
"Yeah, but they still happen. I'd rather eliminate them." Xander snorted. "Something funny?"
"I've always had some," Xander told him. "It's almost back to the pre-Buffy days levels. I used to have those sort of nightmares all the time."
"How did you deal with them?"
"I slept on the lawn," Xander told him.
"In Sunnydale?" Xander nodded. "At night?" Xander nodded again, picking up his comic book. "After you found out?"
"Once or twice. Our houses were pretty touch-proof. Everyone's scared of Buffy." Jigen groaned and swatted at him. "Sorry, boss, but it does happen."
"Xander, your standards are set at the Mastery level. Your grasp of when you've got a skill is when you're better than any one normal human can do. That's not fair to yourself."
"I consider myself an excellent shooter," Xander defended. "I fully admit I've finally grasped all that skill. I'm probably about as good of a swordsman as I'll ever be. My accounting can still use some work and so can some of my languages because my accent sucks ass. All of those are helpful on the job."
"And the computer programming books I've been seeing recently?"
"Part of my stash," he admitted. "Nothing too hard. I suck at technology. I can't even take good pictures half the time. All the ones in my albums are second and fifth tries." Jigen nodded at that. "See, I am realistic to a degree, but I'm not good enough to call myself capable as anything more than a student in many ways. I will always be Goemon's student. I will always be a sucky lockpick so I'll always need to learn something there. Education should be a lifetime process if you're going to retain it. Only I suck at the book stuff." He shrugged and went back to reading his comic. "What other skills do you think I have?"
"Xander, you're Marcus' equal in the sword." Xander snorted. "You are."
"That's not saying much," Xander pointed out, looking at him. "He was possessed. It's all that demon spirit in him. They're trying to train his body to go with the new instincts. That would be the same as if I trained my body to follow the hyena's instincts. That's not training, that's all instinctual."
"You shoot the same way."
"No, I don't. I had to struggle to get the target a number of times. My instincts and I are at odds over that too many times because of my eye." Jigen nodded, allowing for that. "I still consider myself a good enough gunmen to proclaim myself one, even though I do have that fault."
"But?" he asked.
"But, being with two others makes me fucking nervous." Jigen snickered. "It does. Half of the time I wonder why in the fuck I'm there. Lupin is as good as I am and you're still better with the special stuff. I'm great with a rifle but this job doesn't routinely call for assassinations or long-distance shooting."
Jigen looked at him. "You're with us because you raise the bar. You let us do things we hadn't been able to before. Before, if we pulled a heist and it went wrong, it was me and Lupin shooting our way out and protecting Goemon, the treasure, and usually Fujiko because she was almost always the cause. Now, we can shoot our way out, or have backup. Now, we can protect the vulnerable members better." Xander nodded, admitting that was true. "You can also plan pretty decently. That gives Lupin a sidekick as well, not just Goemon and me. That means that we can go for jobs that are harder. The things that we looked at and said 'maybe some day because we didn't have everything we needed." Xander nodded, okaying that too. "You're much more than a fuckbuddy to us."
"I knew I was to you," Xander told him. Jigen grimaced. "Seriously. Every little once in a while I feel like I'm some extra security guy on Star Trek. The guy in the red shirt who's there to be killed first so the others know when to hide."
"How long have you felt like that?" Jigen asked.
"Since about tenth grade."
"She made you feel that way?"
"She did, Giles did, even Willow did sometimes. They all thought I was helpless because I was the normal guy. I wasn't a Watcher who could use magic. I wasn't Willow, who was using magic and hacking, and I didn't have super powers. Earlier in my life, I used to dream of becoming a rockstar, a guitar player for a major band. Then she came and I realized that my dreams as a really little kid to be like Batman were going to have to come true if I wanted to survive and help. Since I'm not genetically inclined to sit and watch the bad shit happen...." He grinned. "That is one thing I wish I had a better grasp of, technology. It would be nice to be able to do more than surf the 'net and check my email."
Jigen gave him a look. "The only things I ever surf for is porn."
"Yeah, but you're secure in that. No one ever told you that you were slow and couldn't possibly understand something as hard as long division without a calculator." Jigen groaned. "Seriously, they wanted to put me into Special Ed in elementary school because I wasn't catching on. Then it got figured out that I'm a hands-on learner and oh, shit, I can do math and read." He shook his head, going back to his comics. "I'll learn what I want but I'll try to make it useful stuff for the most part."
"Hey, anything is useful. Do you know what we can do with that accounting knowledge of yours?" Xander shook his head. "Think about infiltration. Who gets noticed the most?"
"CEOs and people who brag. Accountants and secretaries are right above the office cleaners on not being noticed," he agreed. "I can do that," he agreed. Jigen smirked at him. "I knew I was good for things besides what my hands can do."
"Of course you are," Jigen agreed. "You take to roles very easily. You took to Lavelle like it was someone you already had inside you."
"It was the hyena," Xander said dryly. "It liked him."
"I'm sure it did," he said patiently. "But think about it. You took to being a Master within hours. You were so natural they couldn't tell the difference. You took to being a carpenter that way. On some of our past jobs you've taken to being the decoy very well. Plus, look how well you took to Sylvia."
"Yeah, I guess," Xander agreed. "Maybe you're right. That would be a unique place for me."
"It is," Jigen agreed. "We already count on you for that. Lupin won't go fully into a new personality. He can play different parts, but you can tell it's Lupin doing it if you know him. I can't see much of Lavelle in Sylvia, or you. At least now that you're not blushing at every third word." Xander grinned at that. "See, you are necessary. I can't act worth a damn. Goemon sure can't. Lupin tries but as soon as someone says something about him he goes off to praise himself. He's got just enough over-confidence to overplay a role. You don't. You're almost like that one show, the one with the guy."
"Pretender?" he asked, frowning. "I'm not that good."
"You are," Jigen said firmly. "And then some. You don't have that nasty habit of saving people from themselves." Xander chuckled, shaking his head. "You don't. Otherwise you'd be working in the system as a social worker or something."
"That would have taken college," Xander pointed out.
"What do you call what you're doing when you read all those textbooks? You're getting more out of them anyway." Xander tipped his head to the side. "You've probably about earned a concentration in a few areas. If you looked at some catalogs, I think you'd see I was right, Xander. The only difference is that you're setting your own pace and doing it to yourself. That and you're not paying a ton for it."
Xander relaxed and looked at him. "Thanks, Jigen."
"You're welcome." He reached over to snatch the comic book, putting it onto the table. "Pack, we'll head to Geneva tonight. Ever since you scared the thief who tried to take you while you were with the girl, Stockholm hasn't been that much fun." He paused while Xander's phone rang. "Go ahead. It's probably Fujiko with another problem."
Xander opened his new phone. "Yeah?" He smiled and nodded. "What's happened?" He listened. "Okay. In the back of the dryer is a hose. A big, silver hose. Is it connected?" He hummed while she went to check. He smirked. "Okay. Have your big, strong guy pull it out and slip the hose back together. He can use duct tape if he must. Yeah, that and to clean the lint filter. See that door on the top? Inside that is a pull screen. Take it out, clean it off, toss away the fluff, then put it back like you found it. Oh, and don't let the baby help. He crawled into the dryer while I was setting it up." He laughed. "Sure thing. No, we're heading to Switzerland. No, I'm having a chocolate fit. You too. Be safe and call at the first pain so we can rush back. Love you too. Pinch Goemon for me and make him blush." He hung up. "The dryer wasn't drying well enough."
Jigen rolled his eyes. "That woman," he said in disgust. "Even I know what a lint filter is." He stood up, grabbing his bags. "You packed?"
"Nearly." He grabbed his comic and put it into his laptop case. That, his other briefcase, and the two bags, plus the gear bag were dragged out by him a few at a time. He did a room sweep, finding the lost pack of cigarettes and lighter. He handed them over and went to check them out.
Jigen looked at his old lighter and lit a second cigarette. He took a deep inhale and felt peace hit his soul once again. "Finally," he said, checking the room. He found a missing book that wasn't theirs but he decided Xander could have it anyway. Sylvia might want it, most women seemed to have a bodice ripper somewhere.
Xander walked up to a house, smiling brightly. "I love it," he said. Jigen groaned. "What?" He turned to look at him. "It's beautiful. Or it will be by the time I'm done with it."
"Xander, it's all but condemned," he pointed out.
"That's easily fixed," Xander promised, looking in the front windows. "We've had vagrants. The wiring is ancient. I'll have to redo all that and a lot of other stuff." He walked around to the back, noticing the overgrown garden. "Well, it's still in poor shape, but I could handle that." He walked back around, finding Jigen sitting on the steps looking at his autoinjector for his smoke allergy. "You okay?"
He looked up. "I have had a whole pack and I'm fine," he said, handing it over. "Keep that for me." He lit another one as he stood up. "It's a big project and you won't get home that often," he pointed out. "Maybe something a little less massive?"
Xander pouted. "But I love it. It's pretty."
"It is, but it's going to take years of constant, hard work to fix it up, Xan. Years which we'll be working thirty weeks out of the year."
"Okay," he sighed. "I'll go with something smaller that needs less lovin'." They continued to stroll along the street, looking at the old houses. Some were really pretty. Some were in good condition. He wanted somewhere to wear his attention and affections out on. Since he couldn't have a cat or a ferret, he needed something to love. At the end of the block was a big house. It was run down. It had faded, peeling paint. He walked up to the front door and knocked but no one answered so he looked inside. "I think the owner died," he said. "There's furniture." He walked back down the path. "The realtor said it was for sale but there's a lot of furniture." He shrugged and moved on. Each one weeded it down a little more. Off a side street he found another one he liked, one that made him feel tingly, like his favorite gun did whenever he put it on. He walked up to it and rang the bell, smiling at the owner. "I heard this one was for sale. Can I look?" he asked in French. She nodded, letting him inside. The house was ancient, but it had known love. It had a lot of wood paneling and some really nasty wallpaper. The upstairs had a beautiful view. The basement could easily be turned into a gun range. The back yard showed that the current owner loved flowers. Not really his thing but it could gradually be replaced with bushes and the like. He looked at her. "How much were you asking?"
"Sixty thousand, land included," she said hoarsely. "I've got to move, son."
"I understand," he agreed. "It needs some love but that's what I want in a house." He pressed on a wall, feeling the solidness of it. He shook her hand. "Let me get my partner's opinion and we'll see in a few days," he told her. She gave him a grateful smile and let him back out. He caught her cat and handed it back. "He's cute. I travel too much to have one." He gave her a sad smile and walked down to find Jigen. He was dialing his phone. "I like it," he admitted. "The gardens are small. There's no privacy fence or hedges."
"You can put those up," he pointed out, handing over the phone. "Murami."
Xander hit the send button and listened to her greeting. "Murami, how would you like to come to Switzerland for a few days?" he said happily. "No, I want somewhere to call my own. I'm looking for a mother's voice and Fujiko would want to decorate." He shared her laugh. "We'll put you up in a really nice hotel room. There's one I *adore* but Jigen thinks it's a multi-year project and one I like a lot, but it needs some special attention." He checked his watch. "Yeah, sure. We'll be waiting to pick you up. Thanks." He hung up. "She said there's a 6 PM flight. She'll be on it."
Jigen patted him on the back. "Save what you can, Xander."
"That house just feels sad, Jigen. People have loved in there and had to give it up. I can't hope to give it that sort of attention. It needs a family."
"Yeah, but you could fix it up and sell it," he pointed out. "Then buy somewhere else that needs it. That way you keep your short attention span fixed." Xander grinned at him. "Already thought of that?" He nodded. "Come on, there's one last place I want you to look at. It's closer to mine than these are." He led the way back to the rental, getting in to drive. He led him back to a converted house. Xander gasped, getting out while the car stopped to walk up and look at it. He smirked. "I knew it." He got out, going to help the boy look at it. It was perfect for him. It needed attention but it wasn't too big. If he wanted to keep it apartments he could, but renovating it wouldn't be too hard. "It's fairly modern," he explained.
Xander looked at him. "It definitely needs some love. What about the gardens?" Jigen shook his head. "None?"
"None. No grass whatsoever." Xander pouted. "You really want a yard?"
"Yeah. I want a place to get a tan and to sit under a tree and read if I want to. I don't really like flowers, but I want some sort of gardenish space."
"I thought you were Californian, not Texan," he teased.
Xander saw something and went jogging up the street, only tripping once. Jigen followed at a slower pace, knowing where he was going. His apartment was next to it. It was a beautiful old house. It didn't need that much work, just updating. Xander frowned when he didn't see a sign.
"It's for sale," he promised. "I know the owners." Xander gave him a look. "Really. I live next door."
Xander sighed. "I don't want to impinge on your free time."
"Xander, we'd see each other nearly every day anyway," he pointed out. Xander gave him a blush. "For that too," he agreed dryly, putting an arm around his shoulders. "Come on, let's book Murami in. We'll talk to her about this one and the other two." He walked him back to the car, intentionally taking him to one of his favorite spots in the city. Xander whimpered, pointing out another derelict. "It's being torn down in two weeks," he said firmly. He drove slower past one house and Xander did exit the car while it was moving this time to go look. Someone was moving in, which made him frown. Xander was chatting with the new owners so it must be good. The guy wrote down something for him and handed it over, then shook Xander's hand. Xander came back with the paper, grinning madly. "What?" he asked.
"They were looking for the same thing," he shared as he got in. "He had two more houses to check. Can we?" Jigen nodded, driving off to check them. One of them turned out to be the old lady's house. The other was a monstrosity. Someone had ripped off the original roof and put on a steel one. A cheap steel one. The porch was painted a gaudy and awful color. The rest of the house looked like it had been a mismatch to begin with. Xander was sighing in happiness though.
"Can I go look?"
"Only if you shoot the American with bad taste who did this." He let him out of the car, watching as he went to look at it. The old man who was in residence gave him a short tour, ending up out the side door. Xander came back with a goofy grin, nodding. Apparently he wanted to work a lot. He got in and Jigen looked at it. "I will not be visiting until you've painted that thing."
"It needs some external work, and the roof needs replaced totally, but the inside is spectacular. All it needs is some sanding and polishing. Plus some minor updating. One room doesn't have any electricity. One's got a single bulb. The guy did archery for a living so the downstairs has a lot of holes in the wood, but it's nice in a lot of ways." He gave it a look. "It probably needs a good four months of work with a crew, but a single person could have it done in a year," he admitted. "Where do we stay in town when we're working?"
"Usually in a hospital. We don't do that much work here. That's more for people who do bank jobs." He shrugged and they went to make reservations for Murami and themselves.
Murami looked at the house Xander really wanted and grimaced. It was in bad shape. "Xander, in your opinion as a foreman of a carpentry crew, how long would this take a normal crew and how many people would that be?"
"A crew of five could get it done in about that many months. Me alone it'll take a year of work," he admitted. She gave him a look. "I do take time off. Plus we won't be doing anything soon."
She sighed and nodded. "True. It's your money but I wish you would get something that needed less work. This could be spectacular when you're done, but you'll never get to enjoy all the work you put into it." His face fell and he began to pout. "I know, that's why you invited me but I'm stepping on your dream. What's this other place like?"
"It's got really ugly wallpaper, needs about the same level of work, without the roof, and it should belong to a family," he told her. "You can feel the love that went into it, Murami. It's not for a single guy to bounce around it. I'd pervert it."
"Then let me do some looking," she said, giving him a knowing look. "What are you looking for?" He pointed at the house they were looking at. "Just like that?" He nodded. "Okay. Give me a day?" He nodded, driving her back to her hotel. She hated to do it but someone had to be practical. Xander would never spend the amount of time he thought at that house. Jigen never spent more than a few weeks a year at his. "Were you looking at it as an investment piece? Something to sell later?"
"I might," Xander agreed. "I do have a short attention span after I'm finished with something."
She made notes to help her. "Jigen said you wanted something with a yard. Do you want a real garden, just a lawn, or something in between?"
"I'd like to have hedges and bushes, not flowers," he explained. "But I'd also like to have somewhere to do my katas and to suntan and all that good stuff. I'd like some privacy as well." She made a note of that. "I'm good to do most carpentry jobs, but I know I couldn't do the roof itself on that one. Not alone, not in the weather this city has." She smiled at him. "I was going to get some local guys for that. Maybe even do some minor charity work." She nodded. "But that house was nearly perfect for me."
"What's wrong with it?"
"It's too damn big," he sighed. "I don't need that much room for myself." He drove her past the other house, pointing it out, smiling at the sold sign. "That was the other." She nodded and made more notes. "I'd love something the size of Goemon's old house really. Something kinda small, but with some lawn. And it has to be in town. I don't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere like Heidi."
"That was Austria," she said blandly, giving him a pinch. "Read the book, Xander, not the Cliff Notes." He chuckled. "Give me a day." He nodded, dropping her off. "Where are you going to be tonight?"
"Dinner. Jigen invited me out."
"Keep your voicemail active," she told him. "I don't want to interrupt." He grinned and went away, leaving her to make some calls. She knew of a spot he hadn't looked and it was a beautiful house that did indeed need some attention. Tacky Eurotrash had decorated it last time. She went to call a realtor she knew, getting an appointment to see him early in the morning.
Murami let Xander into the only house that had met her criteria, though she had a list of six possibles for him if he didn't like this one. It was beautiful outside, but inside.... Someone had tried to turn an ancient house into a modernist showplace. It definitely needed to be scraped clean and redone. But the wiring was sound, the roof was relatively new, and the walls were in good condition under the stark paint. She patted his back when he shuddered. "Someone gutted the poor thing and did this," she said quietly. The owners were in the house somewhere.
"Hopefully they didn't pay a professional?" She gave him a sad nod. "Damn." He shook his head, looking around. His imagination already had some of it replaced, repainted, and the like. He pressed on a wall, frowning. "No studs." He tapped, finding one finally, six feet too far away. He walked into the library and whimpered. His innate sense of justice was screaming at him to fix this poor thing or put it out of her misery. He looked at Murami and she smiled, handing over the form. "How much?"
"Ten thousand less than the other one," she told him. "Which sold yesterday. This is the current 'hot' city to renovate in." She smiled and patted him on the back. "It shouldn't take that long really. You might be able to fix it in the downtime after Fujiko gives birth." She led him through the rest of the house, showing him the recreation room and the converted attic. "The only thing it doesn't have is somewhere for you to practice," she told him. "I couldn't find regulations on that and Jigen knows someone." Xander nodded, looking up at the high ceilings that had been mirrored over. Then he looked at her. "This is why I'm showing you this one," she said quietly.
He nodded. "I'll take the poor thing and fix it pretty again," he said, taking her pen to sign the paperwork. "What do you think? Blues or pale creams?"
"I like a combination," she admitted, leading him back to the car. "Let me drive," she ordered before he could open the passenger's door for him. "I know where the realtor is." He nodded, letting her in to drive, then getting in himself. "It's not necessary to open the door when the woman's driving, Xander."
"It is so," he said firmly. "A real man opens all doors for women, even when they protest."
She chuckled, shaking her head. "You're one of a kind, Xander." She started the car, pulling into the light traffic. "Also, you're four blocks away from a market area. The nearest gunsmith is about two blocks. The nearest grocery store is about three. There's a *huge* bookstore about three more past that." He grinned at that. She paused outside a house, letting him see it. He looked, then shook his head. "You've really decided?"
"I've really decided because that was criminal and I hurt criminals. They're legal targets to me," Xander said firmly. He had her stop, pointing at one old building. "Eventually, I want that." She gave him a look. "I know, it's huge. I said eventually." She smiled and nodded, pulling out again. "Were there four or five bedrooms?"
"Five if you count the attic."
"Hmm." He sat down to plan, liking his ideas but scrapping a few of them as not suiting him really. "Will this realtor know a good contractor? I do better with a list of tasks."
"Probably. If not, he probably knows someone who does. He's big in the whole renovation thing." She pulled into his office, walking Xander inside. "He felt sorry for the poor modernized one," she told him. He smiled and clapped, saying something in German and shaking Xander's hand.
"French?" Xander asked. The man nodded and switched, conversing easily with them. The paperwork was started and he did know a contractor, his brother was one and head over the local guild. That was enough references for Xander so he accepted his card. Anyone that other contractors trusted was good by him. He called the guy and set up an appointment for the next day, then went to find Jigen. He found him on the range he had mentioned. "Can I come do this here with you?" he asked. "My new house won't let me have a range inside."
Jigen smiled. "Found one?" he asked as he loaded a new clip into the automatic he was testing.
"Someone gutted a fifteenth century merchant's house and turned it modern." Jigen dropped his gun, staring at him. "Mirrored ceilings in the hallways. Stark paint in primary colors. Modern." They both shuddered. "My sense of justice wouldn't let me leave it like that. The poor thing needs help." Jigen gave him a pat and picked up the gun again. "Switching?"
"Testing," he said, holding it out. "It's light."
Xander felt it, then squeezed off a shot at the target. "It's also off by about six inches. Who made this?" He looked at the brand name. "Smith and Wesson is usually much better." He handed it back, shaking his head. "Tell them I said it's bad. The recoil feels funny too."
"It's meant for a lefty," he said, firing it that way. It was still off by the sight at the top and it did feel funny. "Definitely not for me."
Xander handed over the new one he had found the other day, his new favorite. "Try her."
Jigen examined it, nodding at the weight. "Russian, I like." He fired off a round, nearly purring at the efficient and easy trigger. It was a good gun. "The Russians couldn't run a country but they make excellent weapons."
"Plus, everything is stock. I can replace from Smith and Wesson stock or from Luger stock. Baretta makes a similar one but I didn't like it as much."
"It is a good gun, Xander. New favorite?"
Xander stroked it. "Yeah," he said with a goofy grin. "My new baby and my new house, things I sorta wanna keep." Jigen laughed and punched him on the arm. "You wanna come by tonight to do a driveby or would you rather wait until I'm done? There are people living in it at the moment."
"I'll wait. Show me at the official unveiling. Take pictures so you can amaze people."
"I'm buying a condo for the group to use," he said dryly. "My house." He grinned. "I'll tell Lupin eventually, when he finds out and asks." Jigen laughed, nodding. "Has he ever asked about yours?"
"Once. I invited him but he's never shown up yet. He will some day."
"The offer stands if you want to come sit in my backyard and do puzzles." He shrugged. "I've got an early meeting with the contractor who's giving me a list. Did you want dinner or a snack?"
"I'm good," Jigen told him, giving him a look. "Go bounce." Xander laughed and jogged off, making him shake his head. "That poor guy. And with the Italian job coming up too." He sighed and did another test fire of the bad gun, marking his opinions down. He included Xander's too. The company would want to know from such a source and it would only boost Xander's self-esteem even more.
Lupin looked up as Murami walked into his office. "What happened?" She was their person to call if someone got too badly injured and was in the hospital.
She sat down across from him. "Xander had a small accident. He's grown attached to something." He moaned. "Nothing with fur, claws, or a beak. Though, with a patch over that one eye he would make a cute pirate," she said with a smile. "He told me I could tell you that he just bought himself a place to hide when you got to be too overwhelming for a shy little man like him." Lupin gave her a look. "His words, not mine." She handed over a slip of paper. "They're heading to Italy. Xander said he'd call you in a few days to make sure you weren't pouting all alone in here." He laughed, shaking his head. "And that he'll be moving *some* of his stuff down there once it was done."
"It needs work?"
"Oh, you could say that," she agreed. "Slimy modernists took a fifteenth century house and made it theirs." He winced. "Exactly. So he felt pity and decided his sense of social justice would not let it stand. Hence, him buying a house. It's actually very nice."
"I'm happy for him. How close is it to Jigen's?"
"About half a city away," she admitted. He smirked at her. "Trust me, boss. The boy needed this. He's like a whole new man right now. That note is from Jigen. I'm going to feed my cats now, so you have a good night."
He nodded, giving her a kiss on the cheek as he walked her out to her car. He waved and looked at the note. "I overwhelm him and make him feel less than useful? Huh?" He went inside to call his friend. "How do I do that?" He listened to the explanation. "Really? No, I hadn't thought of that. He did what!" he demanded. "Even after he knew?" He groaned. "Fine, I'll accept the fact that he's got low...." Jigen said something very important. "So he has incredibly high standards, but he's being realistic. Good to know. Didn't we have that problem with Goemon?" He smiled again. "Sure. Have fun in Italy. Tell him I'll want a tour when it's done. Sure. Have fun." He hung up, walking to get himself a glass of water. This house really did make him feel like he was rattling around. He heard the bell ring and went to answer it, letting Marcus inside. "You didn't have to do that."
"I did. I fucked up what was my spot," he said quietly, looking at the floor. "I understand now." He looked at him and Lupin sighed, shaking his head at the blank eyes. "I'm assured they will come back. This had nothing to do with my magic. Someone tried to raid Dawn's house for the boys and I defended her. Physically. I received a bad blow to the head. They said I would see again, some day. So, yes, I did have to ring the bell, Lupin."
He led the boy to his study, hoping to find something for him to do. He liked the kid, even when he was scared of him.
Xander got the call and winced. "Thanks. Yeah, laters." He hung up. "Our files have been found," he announced. "Our wants and warrants were gone, but we do have six new ones for ourselves at the moment." Jigen grinned, lighting up another cigarette. "I thought you were only doing a pack a day."
"I am." He gave him a pat as he puffed. "Anything else?"
"Gramps is on his way to Tunisia as we speak. He knows we're here."
"Ah, just like the old days," Jigen said wistfully. "Call Lupin, have him book us a flight out. We'll do the job on the way to the airport." Xander nodded, repacking their things while he talked. Jigen looked around, then nodded. "I do like this life." Not being wanted had been a nice vacation but he had missed the spontaneousness of being wanted.
To part 11
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