Note: Happens before the epilogue in part 23.
All Better Now.
Xander groaned and held her stomach as she climbed off the couch from her nap. She was now about five months along and the weight was getting to her. She waddled into the kitchen, grabbing a sandwich off the cutting board. "Thanks, Ishi." She kissed him on the ear. "Never, ever, make a woman have children. Only let her if she knows what to expect." She headed into the back yard of the school, going to find a comfortable place to sit in the sun and nap. She needed a lot of naps these days, and while it was bothering her to do nothing all day, she knew it'd be over with eventually. Her men had offered to have themselves fixed and she believed them. Otherwise she would fix them and they knew this. She sat with a grunt of annoyance and dropped herself into a proper meditative position, as close as she could get with her gravid and expanded body. She closed her eyes, knowing she'd never make it fully down before something happened. Like another nap. She was woken up by someone lifting her. "I can walk," she complained, swatting at Goemon as he picked her up to carry her inside.
"No, you can't." He put her back into bed and tucked her into it. "There. Stay." He went to do his own meditation, passing by Lupin on the way outside. "I put her back into bed."
"We saw you carrying her again," Jigen admitted from the kitchen table. He was working on Sierra's Spanish with her. "She napping in the sun again?"
"Like the family's cat," Goemon agreed, going out to take that same spot. It was still warm from Xander's hind end and he enjoyed warm meditation cushions. It made him feel more connected to the rest of them.
Lupin shook his head. "I'm wondering where that habit is written in the samurai's code." He sat down, working with Ishi on his history. He was doing world history now and having problems keeping things chronological so they were doing a timeline.
Someone coughed from the doorway from the living room. "Hello?" she asked quietly. Everyone looked at her. "I was told to come here and interview for the position of nanny." She dropped her bag and bowed properly. "I am Bix."
"Bix?" Lupin asked.
"It's nickname. My actual one is long and tongue twisting," she admitted with a small smile. She moved forward to shake his hand. "It is nice to meet you, Mr. Lupin. Thank you for giving me this chance." She bowed to Ishi. "I have watched your children for the last few days. In my bag I have a few books for all of you."
"Where did you come from?" Sierra asked. She looked her over. "You look like you came out of Feudal Japan."
"Nearly," she admitted. "My people believe the older ways are the best. I'm from a hidden enclave up in the mountains." She smiled and bowed to Goemon as he came back in. "I was sent to be the new nanny if you so approved, great samurai. My name is Bix. I would be glad to answer any questions about my training and other charges."
"The kitsune sent you?" he asked dryly.
She smirked. "I did serve the Lord High Kitsune's second spouse as a maid and nanny, but he did not ask me. I volunteered. The Lady Xander was quite fascinating when she was among us. Plus, my family comes from an enclave of traditionalists in the mountains. They thought I would be more respectable."
Goemon shrugged. "Then we can talk." He led her outside to talk to her. His sons and daughter would need very specific types of attention and training.
Jigen looked at Lupin. "*Lady* Xander?"
The Kitsune Lord appeared with a trunk and dropped it. "She is demonic royalty," he noted dryly. "Where might she be?"
"In bed. Goemon carried her in there after she tried to nap in the sun," Lupin told him. He gave him a look. "You okay?" The regularly smooth and soft fur was now in disarray and sticking up in odd places.
"Just fine. The politics have gotten a bit fierce recently, nothing further. I do trust Bix with my own kits. She's quite good, very traditional. She can even cook from what I understand. Try her, if you don't like her send her back and we'll look some more." He waved his tails and left.
"Demonic royalty," Jigen said, looking at Lupin again. "You mentioned that once."
"The thing that had her was a prince, she was considered his consort of some sort or another," he admitted. "I suppose that makes her a Princess."
Bix walked back in. "We are speaking of the Lady Xander?" They nodded. "Then your suppositions are correct. Though the Kitsune do not allow any to claim any higher rank than they have within their courts, she is a Lady to our way of thinking. As a full envoy herself, plus as what she is and what she has done. My former Mistress was quite impressed when Xander found a thieves' store-cavern in the desert and shared it with her spouse. He presented some as a birthing gift to her youngest female kit." She patted Ishi on the head. "Your father wanted you in on this discussion."
"Sure," he agreed, walking back out with her. "You're not a kitsune?"
"No, I'm not. I was raised among them. They stole me when I was very young because I was very pretty and innocent, but very maternal and nurturing. I have been tainted toward their ways by that, and shared blood with one to make myself a partial one, but I am not naturally a kitsune." She let Goemon see his son. "Here he is."
"Son, she was sent to be the nanny and I know you wanted to speak to her first."
Ishi looked at her, then shrugged. "I don't have any questions right now, but I'll probably be nosy later."
She smiled and nodded. "I understand. I do want you to know that I am not here to take the Lady Xander's place in your life, nor your mother's. I am here to help your father care for you and the other children. Plus to occasionally pick on the Lady Xander when she gets too serious," she admitted shyly. "That is fine with you?"
Ishi nodded. "It's good that you know you can't replace them." He looked at his father. "Am I due for more chores tonight?"
"No." He frowned as his son went back inside. "He is not usually so rude."
"He is grieving, it is normal," she said, helping him back up from his sitting position. "I have been there myself when my parents died. It will soon scab over and be a step removed from the pain." Goemon gave her a long look. "My mother died when I was the age of the second youngest son in the family. My father died a few years earlier. I hid my grief by being an exceptionally conscientious nanny. My charges often claimed that I was quite clingy." He nodded, holding in a smile. "So I do understand. If I can help them, I will. If not, then I am here for whatever your family needs."
He nodded. "I thank you. The other parents will want to talk to you also."
Lupin came to the door. "Xander said he likes her."
"She did?" Bix asked, bouncing a little. "She really did? I thought she didn't know me that well."
"Xander watches people very closely," Lupin admitted, letting her back inside the house. "Watch out for Melissa. She's having a baby Midol moment."
Bix snorted. "She is a young woman. There are many confusing things to being that age." She went to find the children, smiling at them. "Hello."
Arsene looked her over, then sighed. "You're the new aunt?"
"I'm the nanny," she corrected. "Nothing further need come of that."
Melissa gave her an evil look. "Are you a thief?"
"No, but I was working for the kitsune before this. I have seen and helped many thieves after their battles and nights of fun." She walked in and sat between the girls. "I have no problems with thieves, or the daughters who will go straight. I am here to take some of the stress off Lady Xander while she is ill and to let the great Goemon rest and grieve a bit easier. As such, I have brought books with me for you all, some in each field I can help you learn further. I have also brought some special pictures of great treasures throughout the world." Arsene perked up at that. "I would much like it if we could get along, girls, but I won't fight you if you cannot accept me."
Melissa looked at the bed, then at her. "We'll wait until Lotus meets you."
Bix chuckled. "Mistress Lotus and I have already met. We met last week when she called out for the kitsune to give her back her aunt." They gaped at her. "I was sent as a messenger to tell her to be a bit more patient. She was quite upset that we had stolen the precious thing."
"Wow," Arsene said, shifting closer. "What do you know about jewels?"
"Not as much as I would like. I have seen many and can usually tell a good fake from the real thing. The kitsune court is very political and very much a continuous game to be on top of the others. The same as some social circles are down here. I can teach you how to fit into such places both anonymously and in plain view. If you would like."
"If Lotus says you're a good person," Melissa noted.
Savanna came in sucking her thumb and playing with her hair. "Mommy said she's a wonderful nanny. She took care of baby kitsune and made them stunning people, even an assassin." Both future thieves looked impressed. "She and Ishi are talking."
"That is more than acceptable," Bix said, smiling at her. "Is that comforting?"
"No, it's how I think best," she admitted. "I'm studying for a math test." She let her thumb go but continued to play with her hair. "I don't know what else to do and my hands need something to do."
"I could teach you how to crochet," Bix offered. "That takes both hands, can be quite stunning, and yet very useful to make afghans." Savanna nodded and smiled at her. "Then let me retrieve my bag. I have some yarn and a hook inside." She went to get them, bringing them back. "Ah, here we are. This book was sent for Master Ishi, and these for you two," she said, handing over their picture books and a new manual on locks and alarms. "That was recently translated into English for you both. That has never really been done before." She found her yarn and hook, handing them to Savanna. "Let me hand this to Ishi and I'll be right back." She got up to do that, coming back to sit behind Savanna. "Now watch my hands," she instructed quietly, moving through the first few steps. Savanna's hands came up to help hers and she let her do it. Savanna grinned as a chain formed beyond her hand. "Now turn it around thusly," she instructed, taking it back to do the first one. Savanna took it to try, having to undo a few tries but eventually she got it. "Now, if you don't skip any, it'll stay flat. If you do skip then it will start to curl. Depending on your pattern, you can do either." She stroked over the soft hair. "The finer threads can even be used to make lace. I'm not that good."
"Wow," Melissa said, watching her sister. "That's how afghans are made?" Bix nodded. "I bet that takes forever."
"If I do nothing else, I can make a baby blanket in about two days," Bix admitted. "That's with my usual pattern for my former charge's nursery. Just doing it this way, I can probably do it in about a day." Savanna sped up. "Slowly, dear. You'll want your first one to just be rows."
Savanna nodded and shifted away to keep working. "I can study doing this," she admitted, taking it and the yarn back to her room.
Lupin came to the door. "You crochet?"
She beamed at him. "It's a good way to worry."
"I bet," he agreed. "Lotus, it's nearly dinner, don't you want to wake up?"
"Fine. We'll save you something." Lotus rolled onto her side to glare at him. "Hey, you're usually the hungry one. Have you been listening?" She nodded. "Good. Then you can talk to Bix here and then come eat once you've cleaned up and gotten ungrumpy."
Bix crawled over and attacked her, tickling her until she screamed and swatted at her. "You're not grumpy, are you, Mistress Lotus?"
"Yes!" She scowled, but her eyes were full of mischief. "I'll have to get you back for that."
"I suppose such a wonderful future witch as yourself would," she agreed. "However, you must study before then." Lotus pouted. "If you do not push your lip out, I will give you the other book the kitsune translated, just for you." Lotus lost her pout and accepted the book. "Here you are. On magical tree keeping. So one can keep an Ancestor's Tree or a Holy Tree."
"Wow," Lotus said, opening the front cover. She frowned at the words. "They're very big words."
"Then you'll just have to learn them, won't you?" Bix asked, smirking at her.
Lotus nodded, straightening up. "I will." She climbed out of bed, going to wash her hands and face, her book tucked inside her shirt.
Lupin smirked at her. "Good job. What sort of book did she have for you two?"
"Great treasures," Arsene said, holding it up. "We should go move some of them," she suggested, snuggling up to him when he walked in to squat beside her.
"Some of those are very protected," Bix said gently, smiling at her. "Some of them are even so heavily guarded that your father and great-grandfather never tried for them." She noticed the girl drooling. "If you wish, I'm sure your father could help you make a great many plans."
"Wow. The Tower of London," Lupin said with a bit of his own drool. "The secret cavern. My grandfather got caught in there," he told Arsene. "He said that it was nearly impossible."
Bix coughed and pulled something out of her bag. "Not for those who know their ways around the security systems." She took her bag and went to put it with her trunk. She smiled at Jigen. "I left them with the book of great treasures that I was instructed to bring."
Jigen snickered. "I'm sure we'll get those three back soon. What sort of book did you give Lotus."
"You know how some people keep spirit trees?" He nodded. "I gave her a book on tending and creating one of those." Goemon glanced at her. "It has quite big words."
Goemon nodded. "Excellent. She needs to practice her vocabulary and reading. It is a harmless bit of magic as well."
"Yes, though you should perhaps talk to the young lady about her chatting with tree nymphs?" she suggested. "When she called out to the kitsune to give the Lady Xander back, we found her waiting by chatting with a tree nymph about pollution and purity of air and water."
Goemon shuddered. "I will watch that." He paused and looked at her, giving her a long look. "She called out to them and you came?"
"I was sent," she admitted.
Lotus came out. "She was sent with the message because I threatened to braid any tail hair I saw because they had the Auntie Xander and wouldn't give her back," she said firmly, taking her usual spot. She pulled out her book. "Come see, daddy." She let him hold it.
He looked inside, then smiled at Bix. Whoever had translated had used the largest words possible on purpose instead of easier words. "Quite interesting words." He handed it back and patted his daughter on the head. "I'm sure you'll get to read it soon."
"Thank you, daddy."
Ishi came out of the back and scowled at her. "What did you do, steal a book?" He sat down and frowned at Jigen. "Aunt Xander is napping again."
"The new little guy needs a lot of energy," Jigen reminded him. "If she's napping, she's not in trouble."
"Too true," Goemon agreed dryly.
Lupin came out dangling the pretty necklace. "Look what the kitsune sent as a challenge," he said happily, handing it over. "Out of the British crown jewels."
Jigen whistled. "It's ugly." He handed it back. "Why did they steal ugly things?"
"To eradicate bad tastes," Bix told him, smirking at him. "The kitsune who does that has a habit of stealing ugly things and destroying them until they're their base components."
Lupin pulled her closer, putting an arm around her shoulders. "Tell me more, Bix," he said sweetly.
She patted his cheek. "He said he'd come down if you could find his name and call for him," she said with a smile.
"Does the mommy know him?" Lotus asked. Jigen looked at her and she paled. "Sorry," she said quietly.
"We don't mind if you call Xander that," Goemon offered. "If you want, you may. I will not force it onto either you or your brother." He looked at Ishi. "She can continue to be your aunt if you want. I have no thoughts of Xander taking your mother's place."
"You'd better not, we'll have to hurt you to make you forget them," Jigen told him, frowning at him. Goemon gave him a frown back.
"Really, we would," Lupin agreed.
Bix ducked underneath him and went to take care of the crying infant. "Let me, Lady Xander," she soothed, taking the baby from her. "You go back to your rest. I am more than qualified to change diapers and it's a nicety not to have to dodge a tail as well." Xander let out a weak laugh and laid back down, covering back up. "Thank you, Lady Xander."
"Cut the royalty shit," she ordered tiredly.
"Of course, Xander. You rest." She kissed her on the forehead. "You obviously need it." She changed the wet diaper and carried the little one out. "Here we are, just a bit wet."
"You're here for her too, huh?" Jigen asked.
"Eventually, if I stay that long," Bix admitted, giving him a look. "There are many dances done in the political courts, such as the one she'll be serving in, but for right now the only thing I must teach her is not to eat plants and not to swallow things that she gets into under sinks."
"She's not really crawling," Lupin said, taking her to hold. "Hey, Sarah."
"She'll probably be a bit late with that," Goemon offered, bringing over a plate of biscuits. His son took one and he smacked his hand. "You can wait."
Goemon went to gather the rest of dinner. "Food," Jigen yelled, bringing the other kids running. Savanna was crocheting and her sister was giving her a dirty look. "No crafts or books at the table," he ordered. Savanna sighed and put it aside. Lotus carefully put her book down next to her planted herbs. Ishi sat up straighter and grabbed his biscuit again, this time getting to keep it. "Is Xander nappin' again?" he asked.
"She is," Bix said quietly, bowing her head. She looked up after a moment. "Thank you for that courtesy. Children, did you not want to eat?" They grabbed things and handed them off through the adults, piling their plates high. They needed the food more than the adults did. One empty plate was made for Xander then everything else was stolen by the kids.
"Gee, hungry?" Lupin asked.
Sierra gave him a serious look. "We're going to have a growth spurt again soon, Daddy. We should go shopping soon."
"I'm sure you should, but we'll wait until you start to outgrow stuff," he told her, looking very firm on the subject. Arsene pouted at him. "What?" he whined.
"I wanted a pretty outfit for when the baby was born so we could go visit," she said pathetically. All an act as her eyes showed.
"If you've grown by then, you can have one," Jigen told her. "If not, then you can wear your blue one that you've never worn." She sighed and nodded, looking down at her plate. "Thank you."
"Auntie Fujiko taught us all about pretty clothes," Melissa reminded him.
"Yes, she did have whole closets full of many pretty outfits," Goemon agreed. "Nearly enough to fill a storage building."
"Whenever you're ready, we'll help you go through them and decide what to send to some shelter or somewhere," Lupin said quietly, looking at Goemon, who nodded.
"Why would we do that?" Ishi asked.
"Because some people aren't as fortunate as your mother, they can't steal from the places she did and they certainly can't shop like she did. We'll give them to those people so they can have them. It's call charity and it shows that you like your fellow beings enough to want them not to suffer," Lupin instructed.
"I think Xander was intending a dose of reality at a homeless shelter for that lesson," Jigen admitted.
"She was what?" Goemon asked.
"One with kids," Jigen admitted. "Helping out during a lunch or something. She does give some of her yearly income to charity."
"Hmm," Lupin agreed until his mouth was empty. "I heard about her donation to the Shriners that kept a hospital open. Plus to the Denver Children's Burn Center, wasn't it?" Jigen nodded. He looked at the kids. "Your mother, or aunt, thinks it's very important that you learn you're not as unfortunate as you think you are. Therefore, she will be instructing you on matters pertaining to other human beings."
"Is that why she takes our old toys and gives them to kids who don't have any?" Melissa asked. Jigen smiled and patted her on the head. "I just wondered, she accidentally got my bear last year but she showed me the kid who it went to needed it more."
Arsene sat up straighter and nodded. "She did. She had us helping at that children's thing a few months back too." The other kids but Ishi nodded. He scowled at them. "She didn't think you could go, it was mostly for girls and she didn't want to upset you by making you hang around hundreds of them."
Ishi shuddered. "I'm around enough girls, that would have been horrible." Sierra pinched him and they frowned at each other. "I am."
"You're not. There are boys around. Feel lucky, your mommy thought about sending you to spend all the time with us when Lotus was born."
Lupin gave her a long look. "How would you know that? You weren't born yet?"
"Auntie Fujiko noted it when she was drunk last year," she admitted, looking ashamed. "I eavesdropped, daddy. I'm sorry."
"No, it's okay," Lupin promised, tipping her chin up with his fork since he couldn't reach her. "It's okay. You can talk about her. If we can't talk about her then we can't remember her." Ishi burst out in tears and headed for his room. Lupin started to get up but he heard a shuffling noise and glanced back to find Xander going for him. "Let me," he called.
"Stay," she ordered, closing the door firmly behind her. She pulled Ishi into her arms. "She loved you, little guy. She loved you and Lotus a whole lot." He shook his head. "Yes, she did," she said patiently. "Your mom realized that she wasn't always the best mother in the world to you, so she sent you to us to ease the corners she had walked you into. " Ishi backed away from her. "You never realized that we spent the first week talking about her so you'd figure it out?" He shook his head and looked miserable. She sat down with a sigh. "You see, Ishi, some people are meant to be parents. People like your dad. They've got nurturing instincts so deep they're like a never-ending well. Your Uncle Jigen has some of that too, when he's not hiding it," she said with a faint smile. "Some people want with every fiber of their being to be parents. I'm like that and your mother had a bit less of that. She wanted to be a parent eventually, and when you came along as a surprise it wasn't such a bad one for her. Your father carried her through most of her pregnancy with you, even more than he does to me now." Ishi gave a little grin at that. "He's wanted you since the first day, both as a continuation of the line, but also as a baby. He knew he'd make one kick-ass father and he does. He cares so much for you guys that it's blinding and an inspiration for the rest of us. I've looked at him a number of times with the girls." Ishi came closer and hugged her again. "Thanks, little man. See, your mother knew she'd have to have kids someday by marrying your dad. She wasn't really ready for it but she thought it might be okay. She didn't really understand what a full-time job a kid is, but she knew she'd have to be a mother and expected Goemon to be able to pick up some of the slack."
"He did," Ishi said.
"He did," Xander agreed, stroking her cheek against his head. "But then Lotus came really quickly and it kinda...scared your mother. There was already one baby that *needed* her. I don't think your mother's even had a pet before to care for. With you she got a big pet needing her attention and affection. It changed her a lot. It also scared the shit out of her sometimes. Those times, you saw a lot more of us. Your Uncle Lupin was always pretty good at reading your mom. He got some super 'mom reading' power from his grandfather." Ishi chuckled and gave her a squeeze. "And since I'd always wanted to have kids, I adopted you guys as my might-as-well-be kids. Goemon never seemed to mind and your mom was always really happy to let someone else change the diapers and get up in the middle of the night." Ishi laughed harder. "So you saw a lot more of us than was probably normal, but we think of you like ours." She made Ishi looked up at her. "We'll never be your mom. I'll never take her place and Bix won't even try. Now, she and your dad are a lot alike and I personally think he'd like her some day, once he's not grieving, but that's for a later problem. For now, I don't want you think that we're pushing her aside. We're not. We're trying to remember her as she was, not as some fairytale mother. Like all humans, she had her faults. She would have gone after Dawn for me for what she and Zenigata tried to do with that social worker. She nearly killed your dad a few times for being so polite and nice to her. She was always used to big, bragging guys like your Uncle Lupin," she shared.
Ishi wiped his cheeks off. "I want to miss her more," he admitted.
"Of course you miss her, Ishi. Even if it doesn't seem like enough, it is. If she can feel anything she knows that you guys miss her. She knows that Goemon feels guilty about leaving her alone like she wanted. She knows that your Uncle Marcus is drowning himself in a bottle for the same reason. She knows that your other uncles are eating themselves up inside for not checking the boards and trying to go help her. Not that they knew about the contract out for her, but if they had they would have been there. The same as I would have been."
"But you're tired and sick," he said miserably.
"Yeah, and?" She tweaked his nose, making him grin a bit. "Even tired and sick I'm a match to most any thief in the world, Goemon Ishikawa the Fourteenth. You forget, I do a lot of things on my own." She created a small chocolate and handed it to him. "Including stealing stuff all the way from Geneva," she admitted with a grin.
He nibbled it. "I knew you weren't her hiding to protect Uncle Lupin from missing you. For a few days, I thought you might be her pretending to be you."
"I know, Ishi. The same as I know that it was important for you to think that. The hope you carry is a great and wondrous thing for any child to have, but in this case I don't think it'll happen. Those of us who are left will have to fill in for her as best we can. Sure, I can do many things she could, but I can't burn rice like she could." Ishi chuckled again and leaned against her side, which was just the wrong thing to do since the baby chose that moment to kick strongly. "Ooh."
"Auntie!" He stepped back and helped her lean back. "You stay there, let me get Father." He opened up the door and ran out to the dining room. "The baby hurt her again," he said, pulling on his father's arms. "Come on."
"I'm coming," he agreed, coming to help Xander back into bed. He gently prodded her stomach, familiar with normal baby feelings after much practice. "I believe he wanted to have the last word, nothing more sinister. We can have him looked over tomorrow if you want."
She took a deep breath, then nodded. "Please. I ache."
"I know you do, Xander. We will have you seen as soon as humanly possible." He tucked her in, letting his son help, then led him back to the table. "The baby kicked her wrong and it made her ache."
"A few good hours of massage should help most of that," Bix said, nodding at the men. "My mistress often had such problems bearing kits. When the body is tired it makes it worse but it can be compensated for."
"Foot, back, or stomach?" Jigen asked.
"Her lower back particularly. You'll want her to stay relaxed. The more upset and uptight she is, the worse it'll become." Jigen nodded and went in to soothe her. Lupin coughed. "I'm sorry if I overstepped myself, I simply relied on past experience."
"No, that was helpful," Lupin admitted.
"I promised we would call her a human doctor soon," Goemon offered.
Lupin nodded. "Good. Let's do that soon. I want an ultrasound as soon as possible. She seems too tired to me."
Lotus snorted. "Woman was not meant to have babies every few months, Uncle. It's not good for them. They start to feel like a cookie cutter or something that makes license plates."
"A wise saying from your mother I have no doubt," Lupin said, grinning at her. "It was an accident, Lotus. We didn't want Xander to have another one."
"You did promise to make sure it couldn't happen again," Goemon reminded him gently.
"We promised we would go when Xander could come with us," Lupin defended. "We will, as soon as she's steady enough to go out on her own power for a few days."
"As long as you don't hurt her again," Arsene said, glaring at her father for *daring* to make her auntie hurt that much. "I'm never having babies because they hurt you so bad."
"Not all mothers have those sort of problems," Bix reminded her gently. "Some have no problems at all and happily carry many children. There's a woman in Arkansas who just had her fifteenth a few years back, and came out saying she wanted more." Goemon gave her an incredulous look. "It was in the news," she vowed, holding up a hand. "I copied it just in case, so I wouldn't ever forget that lesson."
"Fifteen kids?" Melissa asked, looking disgusted. "Why?"
"Because they wanted a large family," Lupin told her, sipping his iced tea. "Hopefully her husband has money?"
"He's a former state senator and a contractor if I remember right."
"Good." He put down his glass, then shuddered. "Even if she wanted, we'd be drawing the line with this one. I don't care whose son he is, there will be no more unless Goemon wants another one sometime."
"I find three to be a good number," Goemon admitted.
"Daddy, what happens if you remarry?" Ishi asked.
Goemon blinked at him for a few moments, then sighed. "Son, no one can tell about such things, but it is not something that I have planned for my future. Not that I planned on marrying your mother, but it seemed right. If it happens, it does." He noticed Bix relaxing. "You have some wisdom on that subject?" he asked.
"Just that my mistress said you were too caring to be left alone by women for long," she noted. "She did tell me I was to guard you against them so they couldn't kidnap you for their own purposes."
Lupin snickered. "Husband-hungry women hunting poor Goemon. I can just see the whole pack dressed like Elmer Fudd."
Goemon swatted at him. "I know it's nearly impossible, but try to behave." He looked at Bix. "I can assure you, you won't have to protect me from them. I am quite good at driving away women."
She smiled. "If you say so, but I'm under strict orders to hurt any who attempt to take you away from your children."
"As you wish," he noted, trying hard not to smirk at her. "Why did your mistress advise you so?"
"Because my mistress was one of the top matchmakers up there before she left in disgrace." She cleared her throat. "Her mother had her convinced that only having female kits was a disgrace to her husband and had her drawn away after much agonizing convincing. Her husband fought hard for her but her mother's ties were stronger."
"Bitch," Lotus said.
Bix looked at her. "While quite an appropriate term for the woman, I doubt you are supposed to be using that word."
"No, she's not," Goemon agreed. "Behave as well."
"Yes, daddy." She leaned against his arm and yawned. "I think I'm ready for another nap."
"Your brother slept most of the time while he was growing as well," he soothed, stroking her hair. "You'll find much more time awake once you finish this growth spurt." She nodded and closed her eyes.
Ishi snatched her plate and emptied it onto his, earning a head shake from his father. "I'm hungry," he defended.
"I'm sure you are," he agreed.
Xander looked at the guy doing the ultrasound for him, then grimaced. "Why does it look the baby has two heads?"
The man chuckled. "It's an echo, nothing more, ma'am." He moved the wand and pressed another button. "There, that's a better view." Xander nodded. "Should I print that one?"
"Please. Can we tell gender? I'm pretty sure I'm having a boy but I can't be sure yet."
The man moved the wand a few more times, then smiled. "I'd say, unless the cord is in the way, that you're not." He highlighted a section on the screen. "That's not boy parts."
Xander grimaced, then looked up, sending a shaft of mental hatred at Janus and the Powers. "Okay, so we're having a girl. Just one girl, right? I've had twins the other two times."
"I can't see a second one." He checked but nothing happened. He put up the wand and took the printed pictures, handing them to her while he wiped her stomach off. "There you are. Clean." He helped her sit up. "Who are we sending the results too?"
"I'm picking a new OB today," she admitted. "Do you have any recommendations?"
He nodded, smiling. "There is one, he's quite good. He's local, upstairs actually, and he's very gentle with his patients. He cheerleads quite effectively during deliveries."
"How is he on having a strange relationship?"
"I have no idea. I don't think he's ever really dealt with that," he admitted. "You might ask. You can set up an appointment to interview." He steadied her as she stood up. "There you are. Did you have any more questions?"
"Up the hall, right before the desk." Xander nodded, giving him a hand-squeeze before waddling that way. "Poor thing," he sighed. He shook his head and pulled out the disinfecting wipes to clean off the table after he ripped off the shielding paper.
Xander walked out of the hospital two hours later, much happier with everything but one thing. He noticed that it was unnaturally dark so he looked up, seeing the clouds covering the area, then beside him at a darker than average shadow. "Ethan," he said dryly, waddling that way. "You needed something?"
Ethan pulled her closer and hugged her, patting her on the stomach once he was done. "This one is male, the new white knight, but it will not totally and always be male, the same as you're not."
"She's getting my choker?"
"She's getting my copy of your choker, Xander. I find that I don't really like being female that often and it bothers my demon." He smirked at him. "Janus pouted at me until I came to explain this to you." He looked up, the clouds were starting to shift. "I must go. Kisses and hugs to the little beasts. We'll be seeing you soon in person, I know we will be. Lovies and all that, dear one." He smirked and disappeared as a shaft of sunlight penetrated the cloud cover and his extra shadow.
Xander snorted, heading down to where she could catch a cab. She found Lupin waiting and grinned at him. "Done with the meetings?"
"No, but I skipped out," he said happily. "Jigen can look at the guy and tell him he's an idiot." He opened the door, letting her slide into the front seat. "Good news?"
"The baby looks fine, it's a girl, Ethan's gifting her with his copy of my choker so she can be a boy on occasion. Janus was definitely sure this one was going to take over my former white knight spot. Plus, I picked out an OB. I explained to him about having two of you, having had two sets of twins, this one being an accident. He was very understanding. He checked me over quickly and said that my stomach was tense because of stress, nothing further. That it should calm down. He said to keep taking my vitamins and that I don't strictly have to be on bed rest." Lupin grinned at that. "But he did recognize me as Sylvia, mostly because I told him so, and he said that I was not to do anything that would jar my body too badly. I have another appointment in a month."
"Excellent," Lupin agreed, taking the card to put into his wallet. "Let's rescue Jigen before he has to shoot his way out." He started the car, heading off to rescue Jigen from the meeting of doom. He noticed Xander changed fully to Sylvia. "Going in?"
"Yuppers. I can get him free faster." He noticed the woman in the next car staring and smiled and waved at her, making her look startled and change lanes. "I hate people like that." Lupin chuckled as he patted her on the thigh. "My new OB also said he does vasectomies."
"Then we'll go during your next appointment to talk to the man and have ours done," he agreed happily. "I hadn't looked forward to finding a good urologist who wouldn't try to hurt us."
"I checked with the former Don's wife, she went to him. He's really nice. He likes you by the way, thinks you're cute."
"As Mary Poppins," Xander agreed dryly. They stopped in front of a small house and he got out with a groan of protest. "Be right back with Jigen." She waddled that way, boldly walking in. The guards started, staring at her in shock. "You're keeping my husband and I have new pictures of the baby from the ultrasound. Where might Jigen be?"
"That one," he said respectfully, pointing. "Do you need escorted?"
"We will need to confiscate weapons," the other told him.
She gave him a look. "I trained under Goemon too. I am a weapon." She walked that way, smiling at the other guard when he walked out of the room. "Hi, here for the hubby." She walked past him, forcing him to move. She smiled at the guy behind the desk, waving. "Morning." She handed over the pictures. "Ethan's gifting her with that special choker he made for himself."
"Her?" Jigen asked, smiling up at her. She nodded. "Well." He patted her stomach. "Mine?"
"There's no way to tell unless we do an amnio and I really don't want the long needle in my stomach. But, my new OB does also like you guys. The old Don's wife went to him with her last one." Jigen smirked at him. "He's also agreed that he can do fixing things. He likes Lupin."
"Who are you?" the man behind the desk asked bitterly.
She looked at him. "Sylvia."
"Oh." His eyes went wide. "You're pregnant?"
"Did you think I was fat?" she demanded. He nodded and she glared at him. "I am *not* fat, thank you very much. I'm nearly six months pregnant on the heels of having a set of fucking twins!" He flinched and nodded, holding out his candy dish. "I only accept treats from Jigen and Lupin," she said firmly, looking down at Jigen. "Lupin's waiting. Are you nearly done? I could use some pampering."
"Nearly," he agreed, standing up. "We are done, right?"
"Go," he agreed, waving a hand. "I see you really are no threat to us after all," he added smugly, smirking at Sylvia. Until she pulled a dagger and threw it, pinning his tie to the desk.
She walked over slowly, staring down at him, her hands on her hips. "I will let you know this now. Others already know this and have decided it's in their best interest not to get any ideas about our family. The children are mine. Goemon's, mine, Lupin's. They're all like mine. I protect them at the expense of other's lives. I have no compunction about killing people who come after my children or my mates. Got it?" He nodded, looking amused. "Good." She smiled. "Remember this. Jigen's the nice one. I came in a bit...damaged due to some torture. Jigen and Lupin helped me refind myself." She turned and took Jigen's hand. "Sorry, standard warning and all," she said happily. "Keep the dagger, I've got others." She walked him out, letting him get into the back even though she moved that way. "I gave the standard warning about thinking about hurting our kids."
"Good," Lupin agreed as he drove off. "How did it go?"
"He's amused. He thinks we're really retired and so old-school we can't deal with the current world."
"Hmm. I'm sure he'll find out different. I heard some gossip at the lab. Kenji's back." Lupin shuddered and Jigen groaned. "One of the nurses' husbands was a victim of his. He was released for some reason." She got comfortable. "She blatantly said that since Lupin the Third was in town, that it might get solved." Lupin snorted. "So I looked at her and I said I'd pass that on, that I was your daughter's nanny. She got me all sorts of magazines."
"Good job," Jigen agreed. "Kenji's not the person to screw with."
"Let him come near me or the kids," she reminded him. "Someone will have to go."
"Agreed," Lupin admitted. "I don't want you taking on Kenji though, Xan. He's dangerous. He's a snake of the highest order."
"Yawn. And Dolores wasn't?"
Lupin pulled off to the side of the street, looking at him in shock. "That was you?"
"That was me," he agreed brightly. "I told her not to touch what was mine."
"You do know that the Europeans want whoever did her in?"
"Her uncle knew it was me. He knew it was me at the funeral," Xander protested. "I told him exactly what happened and all about her little love drug." Lupin's mouth fell open so Xander shrugged. "Sorry. He thought I was quite restrained in only breaking her neck. That's why he called off that bounty. Because defending what is mine is more than acceptable."
"Apparently so," Lupin agreed, looking stunned. He swallowed. "Wow. What else have you done that we didn't hear about?"
"Probably lots of things," Xander said with a small shrug. "I'm not always that open about things. Can we get me some ice cream?"
Jigen smirked and patted him on the back. "Sure. You can have some ice cream. Lupin?"
"Yeah, that's fine. Then we'll do some minor shopping for you too," he agreed, checking the traffic before pulling onto the street again. Xander groaned and grabbed his arm. "Pain?"
"Park!" she demanded. He parked and a car went past, running the red light in their former lane. "I don't know what it is, but that's the second one," she announced. "Bad accident. I'd have miscarried."
Jigen looked stunned. "You've had another of those?"
"I saw the social worker being shot by a sniper and the court trial after that," she admitted softly. "I would have died after that."
Lupin shivered. "Okay. We can handle that too." He suddenly lunged over, hugging Xander. "Thank you." Xander patted him on the back. "Still want some ice cream?" Xander nodded, hugging him back. "Then we'll go do that," he promised, pulling back. "You okay?"
"I have a headache."
"There's some tylenol in the glove box," Jigen offered, moving to work on her shoulders around the headrest. "You relax. We'll handle it."
"Thanks." She relaxed, letting him spoil her. "It's too bad we can't get gellato."
"There's one place but it might be closed," Lupin offered. "Or we can pick up the stuff and make some back at the house."
"Please?" she begged, eyes closed. "I want some lemon gellato."
"Of course, Xander," Lupin said, smiling at her pleased and happy voice. He hadn't heard that one in a while. "Should we have dinner out?"
"If you want. Bix is cooking tonight."
"Then we'll have dinner out tomorrow night," Jigen offered. Lupin parked in front of an ice cream shop and they all trooped inside to get something for their woman. She was amazing and getting more so every day.
Goemon looked up as the messenger walked up to where he was working on weeding around the house, standing up and dusting off. "Yes?" The envelope was held out so he took it. "Nothing to sign for?"
"No, Goemon. Have a nice day. The Don of Osaka says so."
Goemon looked at the envelope, feeling around it. "A bomb, how charming," he said dryly, tossing it aside. "Tell him I said I'd see him soon." The messenger's eyes went wide as someone came around the house. "Inside, son."
"Why?" Ishi looked at the messenger, waving when the man kept staring. "Are you a pervert?"
"No," he said, his voice high and squeaky. "Not in the least." He turned and ran off, calling his boss from the car. "There are children here!" he shouted. "Goemon called the one that came out his son!" He listened. "I do not hurt children. I'm sorry, but pass this one on." He hung up and rested his head on the steering wheel until a warm muzzle brushed his hair around. Then he started, feeling it press against the base of his skull. "Who are you?"
"Sylvia," she purred in his ear. "You just threatened the man watching my children as well. I really do not appreciate that."
"I'd never hurt a child," he said quickly. "I didn't know that there were children."
"And yet, asking around would have told you that we had children," she noted casually. "In which case, you're perpetually dumb and over confident as well. Who sent you?"
"The Don over Osaka."
"Hmm. Isn't his brother over Yokohama?" The guy nodded. "Interesting. Only him?" He nodded again. "Any idea if this is a contagious disease?"
"Not that I know of. The man hates Goemon, that's all I know. Please don't kill me."
"I won't," she promised. "Though I am going to leave you as a present. You'll live, simply remember to change jobs." She shot the tranq dart into his neck then got out of the back of the car, moving up to push him over and take the wheel. "I believe it's time we had a discussion with the man. Should he meet me or Lavelle do you think?" he asked the unconscious body. Of course, there was no answer.
Lupin looked around the yard, then at Goemon. "What happened?"
"I threw a rock at the letter bomb," he admitted, looking at the damage. "Lotus is quite peeved at me."
"I bet." Lupin nodded, looking around again. "Who?"
"The new Don in Osaka."
"Hmm. Good. Where is the wife? We sent her ahead and noticed the car outside the gates." Goemon gave him a horrified look. "Oh, no. Jigen!" Jigen came to the doorway. "Xander's taking on this annoyance for Goemon."
"He did threaten the children," Goemon pointed out.
"She's in the mood to be merciful," Jigen offered.
Lupin gave him a stunned look. "So? She's taking him on alone."
"As she's done before," Jigen pointed out dryly. "Car?"
"I moved it into the driveway," Lupin told him. "Come on."
"Coming, boss," Jigen said tolerantly, giving Goemon a look. "We'll be back by tomorrow." He went down, letting Lupin drive since he was so hyper. "How long ago did this all happen?"
"I don't know. We had to do the groceries and that took an hour."
"Just don't crash us and the car," Jigen said patiently. Lupin took the mountain corner like a pro, speeding up as they went down the hill for a bit.
Lupin jumped out of the car when he saw Xander strolling up the street - dirty, nasty, ripped shirt and dirt smudged face giving away that something had happened. "Are you okay?" he asked, grabbing her to hold.
Xander pulled back, grinning at him. "Just fine, Lupin. He was having a dinner party for his daughter's sixteenth birthday party. The Don was not happy to meet me but he did get the point." She looked down at her top, then at him. "I think I need clean clothes."
"You look like you set a fire," Jigen said, looking worried.
"Um, not really. His daughter did. She's like those people in Cairo that I told you about. I called them and they're on their way up to get her." She grinned at him. "Can we get me some soda on the way back to Goemon's?"
"Sure," Lupin agreed, helping her into the back seat. "You rest back there, Xan, we'll drive us all back." He looked up the street. "What burned?"
"Their library. She threw an awesome fit when she found out her father had conducted business like this on her special day." She yawned. "Soda?"
"Going," Lupin agreed, turning the car around and heading out of the suburbs. They had managed to catch a train down and bring the car on it. The next one going back to Tokyo would be in another two hours so they had plenty of time. He glanced at Jigen, who shrugged. "Hey, Xan?" He got a sleepy mumble. "Is he going to be a problem?"
"No, she set fire to him first," she admitted. "He set the library on fire." She curled up on the seat, getting comfortable on the jacket that had been under the seat. "I'm using your red jacket for a pillow."
"That's fine," Lupin agreed softly, speeding up. He didn't want any part of this. Jigen grunted as he lit his cigarette, then handed it over and lit another for himself. "Thanks, man."
"Welcome." Jigen puffed away, glancing back now and then to check on Xander and the happy smile she was wearing while she napped. "This was scary and odd."
"It was, another Xander moment," Lupin agreed quietly. Behind him, Xander beamed on, liking her happy dreams.
Goemon looked up as someone appeared on the lawn, looking at the cloaked figure. "You are?" he demanded calmly.
"Not here for you, Goemon Ishikawa the Thirteenth," he said, pushing his hood back to expose a thin face with a pointed chin and nose. "Where would our helper be?"
"Which one would that be?" Goemon asked.
"She," he said firmly. "You may speak with her husbands if you wish."
"That would be fine. I needed a better account of last night's problems." He waved at the house. "If I may? I have no problem and bear no ill-will to the children of the family."
"Then that is fine," he agreed, leading the way inside. "Jigen, where is Lupin?"
"Tucking Xander back in. She wandered again," he said, looking up from his game of solitaire. "Who's that?"
"I'm from the group that Xander occasionally helps," he introduced. "My name is Paul." Jigen nodded in greeting. "Is he not all right?"
"He's presently pregnant," Jigen told him. "He's also presently trying to sleep and sleepwalking."
"Pregnant? Xander?" Paul asked, looking confused. "Goemon said he was a she.... I'm afraid I don't understand."
Lupin came out. "All tucked in again. Who're you?"
"He's Paul, he's part of a group that Xander occasionally helps," Jigen introduced. "He's confused as to why Xander is female and pregnant."
Lupin looked at him. "Janus."
"Oh. I wasn't aware that he was praying to him now."
Lupin smirked. "You're from Cairo, right?" The man looked stunned and nodded. "He told us a bit about you a few years back since we knew something about that stuff. Presently, it's nap time. Can you wait or come back?"
"If I may ask," he said delicately, "how is he pregnant?"
"Oh, that choker thing turns him female and then the payback for the torture is from Janus and the Powers," Lupin said smugly, sitting down and taking Jigen's cards to finish his game for him. "Go nap with her."
"Sure." He got up, heading into the bedroom to try to keep Xander in there and asleep for a bit longer.
Paul took Jigen's seat, looking at him. "How did you hear of us?"
"I'd heard rumors, nothing very concrete, but one of you did try to work for us once," Lupin said simply, then he shrugged one-sidedly. "It happens that we're very good."
"It happens that you're more than that," he said firmly. "The Europeans are looking for you to solve their current problems by taking control of the present fighting."
"They can blow me," Lupin said tolerantly, nearly singing it. "I don't want that sort of stress."
"I don't doubt it, no one else does either," Paul agreed with a small smirk. "This was retribution?"
"No, it was more compensation," Lupin admitted.
"This time has nearly been retribution," Goemon noted. "Lupin, I was checking my email earlier and your mail is now defaulting to mine."
"I'll check it in a minute," he said, gathering up the cards once he hit a deadend. He looked at the young man. "I don't know much, but how is the girl?"
"Fine now that she realizes we're not going to pamper her like her father and mother did," he said dryly. "She's now learning how to control that nasty temper of hers before she burns up others. Her inheritance has been frozen for the moment until the local police can explain the fire."
"He set himself on fire after figuring out his plan to blow up Goemon wasn't going to work."
"That's about how we explained it too, though we simply opened his files for them with her help. They were quite impressed and Yokohama's is also falling quickly. Strangely enough, Xander keeps being mentioned as someone to consolidate operations." Lupin dropped the cards, looking at him. "That's why we needed to talk to him."
"Jigen, wake her up," Lupin called. "They want her to consolidate Japan and Europe." Jigen came to the door, looking stunned. "Yeah. Europe's moving toward war and this destroyed three of the more powerful people in Japan. People keep talking about her."
"Oh, hell no," Jigen said, shuddering. "All of them under one banner? Ours?"
"All of them under one banner, hers," Lupin corrected.
"You would be her chief advisors," Goemon pointed out. "As I would."
"Are you here to talk to him about that?" Lupin demanded.
"No," Paul said with a small smile. "More to warn him and to offer our support if necessary. We do want him to run some negotiations, with us backing him of course. All of you have fairly long reputations and strengths that none like to act against."
"We can run a negotiation," Lupin agreed. "Where and when?"
"Vegas, two weeks?"
"Xander's not allowed to fly," Goemon told him.
"Tokyo's not exactly neutral territory," Paul pointed out.
"No, but our other hideout locally is," Lupin offered. "It's small, how many people?"
"It's got six bedrooms."
"Five main groups, plus a few others."
"Have them rent trailers," Jigen offered, going to wake Xander up. "Hey," he said softly, shaking her gently. She swatted at him. "One of your buddies from Cairo needs to see you. They want you to run negotiations to settle down the Euro syndicates and locally." Xander gave him a confused frown, eyes still closed. "Come on, Paul needs to see you."
"Paul?" She got out of bed and padded out, squealing and hugging him. "About time you came to see me!"
"Xander!" He looked her over, then shook his head. "Why didn't you tell us about this!"
"Oh, fuck off, Paul," she said with a frown. "What's going on now?"
"Europe's Dark Syndicate just lost their Don two days ago. It's presently semi-open warfare. Most people would consolidate under your bosses but they don't want that."
"It would hamper us a bit," Xander agreed dryly. "What else?"
"Last night got rid of Yokohama's, Osaka's, and Kyoto's Dons. They're running around in panic trying to stop the hemorrhage of losses."
"They would allow you to run a negotiation."
"As you, as Sylvia, as whoever," Lupin agreed. "We can back you up for that."
"The problem becomes where to hold it," Paul told him.
Xander beamed, leaning down to whisper in his ear. "There. Enough room for everyone."
"They said you couldn't travel."
"I can't travel and stay. I'd have to be back in two weeks for my next appointment." She shrugged. "That good with you?"
"Fine with me, Xander. Thank you." He stood up and hugged him, pulling back to look down at the ball of stomach. "You kicked me," he said in outrage.
"She likes to do that," Jigen said dryly. "Where?"
"Geneva. I bought an older apartment building and had it renovated," she admitted. "As a fallback spot of last resort."
"That's fine," Lupin agreed, smiling at her. "Good job, Xander. That good, Paul?" He nodded. "Then we'll go there in a few days. Can you spread the word? How much room do we have, Xan?"
"Maybe enough for fifty if we're being generous."
"So, thirty would be fine?" Paul asked. "Seven groups?"
"There's six apartments and a large meeting room," Xander told him. "Unless someone wants to sleep in the basement or get a hotel room."
"That can be arranged," Paul agreed. "Thank you, Xander. How long before you can get there?"
"Four days? I still have to be back in two weeks."
"Fine," Paul agreed. "If it's not fully worked out, then we can deal with the Asian ones after that. Would you allow us to support you?"
"As opposed to who? Marcus? Marcus works wonderfully as a second-in-command for the group. We can run the negotiations and Lupin and Jigen can worry about the formal stuff while Goemon comes along to keep me from going all mood-swingy on everyone." Goemon snorted. "You can."
"Of course I can," he agreed. "We can leave within two days."
"Bless you, Goemon. You and your kin to however many generations you run." He bowed. "I'll spread the word immediately." He disappeared, leaving like Marcus and Ethan did.
"Wow," Jigen said, looking at Lupin. "How many of these people do we know?"
"We're considered elder statesmen," Lupin pointed out smugly. "The young kids have been raised with horror stories of us."
Jigen snickered. "Good. It'll make it go faster. I'm going to this appointment."
"We both are," Lupin said firmly. "That way we know everything as it happens." Jigen shrugged. "Good. Let's pack the kids later tonight, we'll leave tomorrow. Goemon?"
"That would be fine. Most everything in the house is non-perishable."
"There's a food pantry the next town over," Xander suggested, giving him a hopeful grin.
"I can see them benefitting," Goemon agreed. "Ishi can help me with that." Xander beamed and hugged him. "Go back to your nap."
"Sorry, I'm really wide awake now," she said happily. "Jigen, Lupin, can I have a few rubs?"
"Rubs?" Jigen asked, looking her over. "Where?"
She stepped up to him and patted him on the crotch. "How about here?" she asked, smirking at him. He nodded, swallowing hard. "Thank you. I'll meet you in there." Lupin snickered and beat Jigen in there.
Goemon shook his head once the door was shut, taking an inventory of what was in the cabinets and what probably shouldn't stay here while they were gone.
To Part 25
To Main Index