NC-17, angst warning.


Lupin looked at his gathered people, well most of them anyway.  "We have a small problem with the next job," he announced.  "I was challenged, but I have to bring a female."

Goemon looked at him.  "Fujiko won't agree," he reminded him.

"That's okay because she wouldn't fit it anyway.  It has to be someone young, pretty, and hot.  She's not exactly fitting those descriptions most of the time these days."

"Should we call back Dawn?" Marcus suggested.

"We could, but then Pops will throw fits," Jigen reminded him.  "Bix?"

"Is a possibility but I've never seen her outside of a kimono and I'm not sure she can handle this one," he admitted.  "It will be dangerous.  The guy challenged me and said I could only bring *a* date to the game.  Therefore I can't really do a lot with you guys this time unless one of you is coming with me."

"Then I guess it's putting Xander back into the choker," Marcus sighed.

Lupin shook his head.  "He's gone.  He heard about it and ran, leaving a note that said if we even came near him with that thing that we were going to die horribly and he'd then take over my empire, run it properly, and give it all to the kids in ten years.  He's still having panic attacks about that thing and we can't."

"Which means one of us has to do it," Jigen said flatly.

"We can teach whichever of you does it easily enough," Lupin promised.  "Xander said he'd come back and help for that, but he's not going to do the female job anymore.  He said he'd rather go to hell and fix things down there by sleeping his way to the top."  They all winced.  "I'll let you three decide how you want to do this.  Jigen can tell you it doesn't hurt."

"No, it'll only fuck with your head, man," Jigen said bitterly.  "I nominate Marcus or Goemon.  I make an ugly dame and I'd have to shave."

"The choker takes care of all that," Marcus admitted.  "Xander said that he had gotten to the point where he could imagine himself without needing to shave his legs or armpits after a bit.  Not his privates, because those he couldn't do exactly, but everything else he could have made so he didn't need to shave them."  He looked at the older men.  "I have no idea if I could make a decent woman or not.  All the women I know are stuffy outside of Dawn, Fred, and Fujiko.  Fred's a geeky little darling and you know the other two aren't exactly the ideal version of femininity.  Master Goemon?"

"I refuse to be emasculated in such a manner," he said firmly, his voice nearly a hiss.  "Must we do this job?"

"I was challenged and it's got a very nice payoff," Lupin admitted.  "He's got six perfectly exact emeralds on a necklace.  Down to the most exacting measurement exact."

"Which is impossible," Marcus noted.

Lupin nodded, handing over the picture.  "It is.  Even more impossible is that they look like they're in the rough state.  People all around the world want to own this necklace and he only allows his former girlfriend to wear it, and she only got it twice.  It was his engagement gift to her and then she dumped him without taking it with her."

"Stupid of her," Jigen muttered.  "I still make an ugly woman, Lupin."

"The choker is ever-changing," Marcus offered.  "It can make you whatever you want to be.  You could be a supermodel or you could be Kathy Rigby."

Lupin gave him a funny look.  "She's not the sex symbol I would have picked, but all right," he said, shaking his head.  "Always had a thing for Peter Pan, Marcus?"

"Well, yes," he said with a blush.  "I loved that play."  He cleared his throat.  "Anyway, I'm not sure I could make the sort of woman you would want.  I know I'm a stuffy git, I have no delusions about my nature, and I'm not the best actor.  I'm sorry, Lupin, but I don't think I can play that part."

"I refuse as well," Goemon said, standing up.

"Me too," Jigen agreed.

Lupin sighed and pushed them both back into their seats.  "Then the only fair way to do this is to try it on each of you for a few minutes, see who does best in the thing, then train you for this job."  The two older men glared at him. "It's not emasculating.  You'll still have your dick, it'll simply be hidden from view."

"What about Bix?" Marcus asked.

Bix walked in wearing one of Sylvia's dresses.  "Xander called, told me to get into his purple suitcase, pull out this dress, and come down here in it," she said, looking confused.  "I have no idea why."

Goemon looked at her, then sighed.  "She is not built to the ideal?"

"No, he likes big breasted innocent women," Lupin admitted.  "Thanks, Bix.  We're having a problem with an upcoming job and Xander refuses to put on the choker again."

She scowled at him.  "As he should," she agreed firmly.  "It is not right to keep torturing him that way when you know he has issues about his identity and how you only respected him while he was your willing sex slave."  She headed back to Xander's room to change back into her usual kimono, then went back to the nursery.  "Never let them talk you into such things," she told Fred gently, patting him on the back so he'd sleep again.

"We didn't respect him as a guy?" Jigen asked.

"No, the vision showed that Sylvia got a lot more respect than Lavelle did," Marcus sighed, shaking his head.  "Fine, we should all try it on to be fair.  I'll even go first."

"At least Goemon has the hair for it and he won't have to shave off any trademark beards," Jigen complained.

"Neither will you.  You didn't when you tried it on that once," Lupin promised.  "I'll take it right back off," he vowed, putting it around Marcus' neck, thinking about the image they needed.  She was cute, in a librarian sort of way.   He took it off and looked at Jigen, who groaned and tipped his head forward.  He turned out all right, but his chin was a bit pointed and his hair was fairly fluffy.  He looked at Goemon, who glared at him and fingered his sword. "It's only fair, big guy," he pleaded.  "If it's not you, it's Jigen."  Goemon grumbled but let it be put on him, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to look.  Lupin looked at him.  He was a bigger version of Bix, without the tits he had imagined.  "Okay then."  He took it off and put the choker back in its box. "Jigen, looks like it's you, buddy," he said miserably.

"You could bribe a woman who you work with," Marcus offered. "One of your other contacts perhaps?"

Lupin shook his head.  "I wouldn't trust them at my back in such a situation.   This'll be me and him with you two waiting at the hotel for us and listening.  Jigen, even if things go bad, he doesn't torture his female victims but he insists that anyone he tries has one with them so he has someone to look at.  Not that you're the best at it, but I'll plead for Xander to come back and help you in the range, the same way you did in that other timelilne."

"I can do it," Jigen told him.

"Yes, but there's things you'll need to know," Lupin pointed out.  "It's got to be confusing and he can help."

"He ran, he's not gonna come back this soon, Lupin," he said coolly.

"Xander will be back, he'll make sure that the choker can't go around his neck," Marcus corrected bitterly.  "He really had such problems?"

"He said he did," Lupin agreed, glaring at the doorway.   "Otherwise this wouldn't be an issue."

"Sylvia is a bit more worldly than you'd need from what you've said," Goemon pointed out.  "Xander cannot play innocent any longer."

"Xander is a better actor than you give him credit for," Fujiko said from the doorway.  "Ishi let me out so I could come talk to you, Lupin.  Can we?"

"In a minute, Fujiko. Jigen, if I had another way, I'd use it.  We'll work on it tonight?"  He groaned, then sighed and nodded, looking down.  "I promise, not even a picture of you," Lupin vowed.  He made Jigen look up at him. "I won't even hit on you if you don't want me to.  You can be a grande dame of the old school and everything."

"Fine," he said coolly.  "Then I never have to do it again, right?"

"Never again," Lupin promised.  "We'll get Xander some mental help about that later."  He led Fujiko to his office and locked them inside.  "What?"

"Do you know what you've done to my reputation?" she asked bitterly.  "You've ruined it totally!  I won't ever be able to pull another job!  I'm not only going to have stretch marks, I'll be fat!  Horribly fat!  I won't be able to fit into a bikini, none of my usual outfits will fit, and everyone will know how Goemon and I broke apart!  How dare you let him do that to me!"  She pulled out a dagger and rushed him but he was able to push the knife aside and grab her to pull against his chest.  "Let me go!  Help!  Let me go!"

Goemon kicked open the door, then caught the knife Lupin tossed him.  "I see."  He nodded.  "Shall I put her back?"

"No.  Not yet.  We need to have her examined to see if your son can be born soon," Lupin said bitterly, pushing her into a chair.  "Watch her for a few minutes."  He grabbed his phone and called one of their neighbors, who was a doctor.  "Hey, it's Lupin.  Can you make a housecall soon?  No, Goemon's wife is about eight months along and she just tried to knife me.  Yeah, that sort of psychotic.  We had to lock her in a room before, but this is getting worse and we're worried about her with the kids around.  Please.  Yeah, that'll be fine.  Thanks."  He hung up.  "He'll be up after dinner sometime."  He stared at Fujiko.  "First, the weight will come off.  The stretch marks can be faded and eliminated if you go to the right people, even if they have to remove them.  Secondly, we're not telling anyone anything about this, Fujiko.  You've embarrassed Goemon horribly."  Her mouth opened.  "Shut it!" he snapped.  She whimpered but shut her mouth.  "Thank you.  This will not affect you because we're not telling anyone to embarrass *him*.  You turning psychotic looks bad on *him*, not the other way around.  The only ones who know how bad you've been are your children, our children, and the rest of us.  So unless you've pissed off Jigen or Xander that badly, no one else knows and probably no one cares.  You haven't pulled a non-group job in a while anyway and everyone thinks you've retired to raise the next generation of crime.  Don't believe me, ask the bulletin boards."  He pointed at his computer.  "Right now."

She slowly got up and slid around him to log on under her own name, typing in that she wanted a reputation check before she did a new job on her own.  A few people congratulated her on already having the baby but the rest ignored her when her current 'status' was given.  She started to sniffle, then wailed and got up, running back up to her room.  "I hate you all, I wish you had never been born!" she screamed as she slammed her door and locked it again.

On the other side of the property in an old tree house, Xander looked up.  "If one of you wish demons takes and uses that, I'd have to take apart hell once it was fixed," he growled.  "I mean it too. There will be nothing to keep me from taking over and ruling it all."

Below him a higher court demon who looked like a young boy looked up at him.  "You sure about that, Lavelle?"

Xander looked down at him.  "Has anyone ever pointed out that the highest of high demons being children was a freakish thing worthy of many mental shudders of revulsion for what you've done to and with adults?"

He smirked at him.  "Feel lucky I had you in my scary, bigger form."

Xander ignored that jibe for the obvious ploy it was.  "What?  Not going to grant that?"

"Hell no, the world would have ended when Glory took over, thereby pushing us out."  He cleared his throat.  "Got an offer for you, man.  Simple thing.  There are people in my realm that are not really supposed to be there.  Guys and gals who have had to kill on the job and things."

Xander shifted to lay on his stomach.  "Soldiers, cops, guys like that?"

The demon nodded.  "Exactly.  Strict rules, but protecting yourself and doing your job isn't covered so they're mine.  You know how that works since you're damned even if you become a warrior priest for the light."  Xander nodded, he knew that.  "So, I don't want to argue with you.  I also don't want you to challenge me for mastery over all of hell.  That would get messy and I'd lose at least half my forces even if I won."  Xander nodded again, giving him a smug look.  "So, instead, I want to give you a chance to help those unwanted souls.  You get something like that Crossroads Bar place.  You and your guys," he said quickly when Xander opened his mouth.  "I know you'll want them anyway, it's not even a bargaining point for me.  Your whole family when they make it down there with you.  You can run the bar, put up with them, have a limited number of vetoes on who's allowed and who isn't.  You can have all the powers you want limited to that area.  You don't challenge me to mastery.  You don't destroy the realm when you come down.  As a matter of fact, you get to hide in there and get whatever you want."

"I get to watch the kids who are back here.  I also want a cable link, tvs in each room and two in the bar, a big ass library, and stuff for the people to do.  It was boring at the Crossroads, I can't imagine staying there forever.  I get up to eight vetoes a century and they carry over if I don't use them.  You get everyone else's permission."

The master of hell considered it.  "Reasonable.  Marcus and you would get to keep your magic anyway.  If anything happened, it'd be your own section of hell, in line with your formal title."  Xander raised an eyebrow.  "We'd negotiate with you about the unbaptised children, but we've got someone else who's over them who's pretty good at it," he assured him.

"Is this a necessity at this time?"

"Oh, hell no," he scoffed. "I want you nowhere near my realm yet, Xander.  Expect to live to a ripe old age and see the grandchildren if I have a say in the matter.  That's okay with you as a preliminary agreement?"

"Sure, if you get the others to agree," he agreed.  "It beats suffering."

"It does," the demon agreed.  "I'll ask them soon.  It's definitely not a consideration soon, but I'd rather have the time to make the space in case the Fates have other ideas.  Thank you for being reasonable."

"Don't worry, if you don't keep your end, I'll be walking naked through the next formal revel and worship ceremony."  He grinned at him.  "I always wanted to do that, ever since my third day down there."

"Agreed," he said, backing away.  "I'll go talk to the others.  What about the chick?"

"Bix?  She's probably a pure soul."

"Not really."

"Then she can come with us."

"And the other?"

"Fujiko?"  The demon nodded.  "Have not a clue, man, ask Lupin."  He shrugged. "Not my thing and not my woman."

"Good point.  I thank you for being so reasonable."   He disappeared up to the house, landing in the playroom.  He smirked at Arsene, one of his greatest rebirths ever.  "Hey, babe."

"Out, foul demon!" Bix shouted, swatting at him.  "Begone!"

Goemon came running in, grabbing the extra child to glare at him.  "What are you doing in here!"

He swallowed.  "I came to make a deal so you don't have to be tortured for eternity, man.  I don't want to face Lavelle either and I don't want him to have to plan on how to take over my realm.  Put me down and give me to Lupin so we can all discuss it?"  He saw the thought going through Goemon's head.  "Toss me through the window and I'll have to come back as a nightmare.  It's a fair deal.  I don't want Lavelle in my realm at all.  Ever.  It won't endanger your souls, it won't hurt you in the least, and it'll keep him out of my hair."  He looked back at Lupin.  "Promise, man, I'm not gonna hurt the children, I'm not gonna taint you any.  You're already mine even if you confess because you've killed."  Ishi moaned.  "There's a way around you being one of mine and working for me, young man," he promised.  "I want you guys to run a new section and I'm willing to negotiate.  Lavelle said I had to bring it to you."

"He told you to appear in the nursery?  I sincerely doubt it," Bix spat.

"Well, no, not in the play area.  Just that I had to bring it to you.  I homed in on a rebirth."  He gave Lupin another look.  "All I'm asking is that you hear me out.  I'm not looking for souls today and I don't want to taint the kids."

"Take him to the office," Lupin ordered, getting out of the way.  "Good job, Bix."  He gave her a hug.  "Very good work.  Kids, are you all right?"  They nodded.  "Good, then check on the kids."  He tipped Ishi's face up.  "It's no different than a cop having to do the same thing, you protected them, Ishi," he said quietly.  He nodded and gave him a stronger look.  "We'll figure it out and tell you guys later."  He pulled Bix with him, gathering Fujiko at the same time.  The adults all had to hear this.  "Fine, we're here, give," he ordered once the door was closed.

"Lavelle knows he can take over my realm."

"You're the devil?" Fujiko asked.  "You look like a six-year-old."

"The higher the demon, the younger we look," he admitted.  "I came in my natural form."  He cleared his throat.  "As I was saying, Lavelle could easily take over my realm, all joking aside.  I'd hate that, you'd hate that, we'd all lose in that incidence.  In fact, it's people like Ishi who made me come up with the idea.  Him and Lavelle's friend Ray."

"You don't call him by his given name?" Bix asked.

"I don't have that right," the lord of hell pointed out gently.  "I'm just as responsible for his torture as the one who had him.  I joined in, I freely admit I made the worst mistake in my life with that boy."

"And my father," Marcus spat.

"No, I didn't quite do the same thing with him.  That's why he doesn't have silver hair."  He cleared his throat.  "Anyway, we're in a small quandary and I think your group can solve it for us.  People who have to kill to protect themselves or because it's their jobs are still my domain.  There is no confession and cleansing from Murder.  That's not really fair to them, but I can't change that rule," he pointed out at Marcus' opening mouth.  "That's the way the pact was made.  Most of them I don't want to torture.  It's not really their fault, you know.  So, instead of Lavelle taking over and making himself Lord over all Souls, I wanted him to take over a section of his own.  Run something like the Crossroads Bar for them.  He'll keep all his magic.  When I brought this idea to him, he requested a way to check on the children, and I have no problem with that, and any children that come my way will be going with you.  He also requested a library, cable, tvs, and things for the people to do.  He did say that you had to make your own decisions on this matter.  I did tell him I didn't think this was a current consideration but I need some time to set it up if it's acceptable."  He looked at Bix, then sighed.  "You had to kill to protect yourself," he said bitterly.  She nodded stiffly.  "That does technically make you one of mine by the pact.  I can't change that, Bix."

"I know."  She put her hands together to keep them from moving.  "Is that the offer?"

"Yes.  To run a place like that for those who have had to kill on the job.  There'll be no paperwork, nothing like that.  Just being a barkeeper for eternity with your family, and being able to watch your families."  He gave them all a look.  "He ordered me not to do anything without coming to you about this.  It solves all our problems and I don't want him to become a problem I have to take out and force to become a demon.  I can.  One of the marks on his body would have made him one if it hadn't been interrupted.  It wouldn't be that hard to finish it."

"He'd be an incubus," Fujiko snorted.

"Fujiko, he's a consort.  He's a Prince in Hell.  If he wanted to, he could take over whole sections of hell and rule it and no one could complain about it.  He can control my troops and lead them into battle if necessary.   The demon who had him was a younger Fallen One.   He has the same status as any of us who actually fell."  Mouths all over the room gaped.  "Now you see my problems?"  They all nodded.  "That's why I want to keep him out of any conflicts.  You'd have your own section.  You wouldn't be allowed out of it.  I'm willing to bend over backwards to keep him out of my hair and I'm even willing to let some of the training incubi and succuba to come in to help entertain.  Not an issue," he promised earnestly, pushing his luck at the moment.  "The deal is this.  Someplace like the Crossroads Bar.  So many vetoes a century and he wanted them to carry over if not used.  You keep your powers.  You get to watch the kids all you want and any family that becomes mine goes to you automatically unless you send them away.   Cable, library, tvs, sexual demons, not an issue.   You don't come out of your section unless it's an emergency and no one answers a summons."

"Angel," Marcus spluttered.

"The Powers have their own section for their warriors and chosen, but they don't realize that they're in hell.  They still kill and the pact said that they're damned if they do."  He looked at them again.  "The only ones we're not sure about is Fujiko and Bix.  Bix, you could go work with the elementals or with the unbaptized if you wanted.  Or you could move back and forth if you wanted.  Fujiko, I have no idea what to do with you.  If they don't want you around, then I can find something else for you to do so Lavelle doesn't get an attack of conscience and come for you."   He looked at Lupin again.  "I'm not bullshitting you and I'm not jacking you off.  My only concern is that Lavelle doesn't start the next reformation holy war among the angels and us.  Then everyone loses.  Think about it and then tell Marcus' father to call me back."

Everyone woke up from the shared dream and blinked a few times, then screamed almost as one, "LAVELLE!"

Xander walked in the back door of the house.  "That's why I told him he had to come to you guys."  He grabbed some soda and left again, running into the woods before Goemon could find him.

Lupin came out of his office, looking at Jigen, Goemon, and Marcus.  "Did you just get that?"  They nodded.  "He's that scared of him?"

Marcus swallowed.  "Yes," he admitted.  "I peeked in Xander's Chronicle.   It was a lower level Fallen One who took him and the reason he has white hair is because that particular demon whispered all sorts of secrets in his ear as he hurt him," he said quietly, glancing around.  "Including his true name."

Lupin blinked a few times.  "I'm no theologian, but isn't that dangerous?"

"They never expected him to leave," Jigen said, suddenly getting it.

"Most don't," Marcus admitted, looking at him.  "Almost none taken do, and Xander was truly nearly turned into a demon.  I saw the scar where he cut that glyph off his body with a hot knife.  I asked, he told me because he was drunk."  Lupin and Jigen both shuddered and Goemon continued to glare at the kitchen.  "It is a charming offer and it would give us something to do other than being tortured."

"He did not make the choice for us," Goemon offered.

"He couldn't have," Marcus assured him.

"He offered it so we won't be paying for what we've done," Jigen pointed out.  That was incredibly sweet of Lavelle.

"Why now?" Lupin asked dryly.  The phone rang so he answered it.  "Yeah?"  He listened to the calm voice giving him an exact reason.  "Thanks for that, Xan.  Wanna come home now?  Fine."  He hung up.  "Apparently one of the minor section leaders is starting a revolt because of what Xander could do, citing the irresponsible behavior of their boss in relation to his tainting."  He ran his hands through his hair.  "Anyone want a drink?  I know I do," he said as he headed for his personal stash of good liquor.

"Give me one too," Jigen agreed, following.

Goemon nodded.  "Me as well."  He tugged on Marcus' arm.  "Will he keep his word?"

"He seemed quite sincere about not facing Xander across a battlefield," Marcus pointed out as he followed.  "I'll take a small one as well please, Lupin."  A large rock glass full to the brim was handed over.  "Very well then, I'll have a larger one."  He sat down to sip it.  He suddenly grabbed his cellphone and called Xander's backup phone, getting him.  "There's a real threat of war?"  He listened to the information Xander had gotten.  "How do you know?"  He raised an eyebrow and took a drink.  "What were you doing with them?"  He smirked.  "Ah.  Very well then.  That's why he came here.  It does explain it.  Do you believe it?"  He laughed.  "True, we don't want you to become an incubus, Xander.  If your source was that strong, then I believe it as well.  Let me think."

He hung up and found everyone staring at him.  He closed his flip phone and put it back into his pocket.  "Xander was at one of his houses of ill repute the other night and a succubus came up to him with the information.  She had marks on her back from ill treatment and wanted to have him release her.  She offered the information in payment," he told them.  "So he released her so she could be reborn.  We're expecting her as a presidential daughter in the US any week now."  He took a bigger sip.  "It seems that the hosts of hell are in a blind panic and some of them are capitalizing on this. They're moving to up their status in the ranks, even though one who isn't a Fallen One can't be made one or take their positions because of the innate power they hold."  He took another drink and Goemon took it from him so he frowned at him. "I wasn't stalling, I was ordering my thoughts."  He took it back and took another drink.  "They seem to be truly scared of what Xander could do after he dies, or if he goes down there right before he dies, thereby giving him a physical form around his soul to protect it further."  He took a long drink, then looked at Lupin.  "From what he can tell, it's a serious offer."

Lupin sighed and drained his glass, pouring himself another one and one for Jigen since he was holding up his glass.  He handed Goemon the saki bottle instead of refilling him already.  "And the bad would be?"

"Well, we'd never have to wonder about what our afterlife would be like," Marcus noted.  "It might make us less wary while doing jobs."

"Whoever got there first would be pretty bored," Jigen offered.  "Which kid was he staring at upstairs when Bix found him in the vision?"

Goemon looked at Lupin.  "Arsene."  He looked at Jigen.  "Then my son."

"But Arsene hasn't killed," Lupin noted.  He took a large gulp.  "Has she?"

"The other timeline had them in that kidnaping thing and Ishi said that Lotus knocked a few out," Marcus said calmly.  "It's entirely possible that she helped those that Lotus knocked out."  He drained his drink and got up to get another one.  "Either that or she's a rare rebirth."  He filled his glass again and went back to sit down.  "In which case he would have a reason to look upon her because she was a soul sent around for a second time."

"I've always thought she was like my grandfather," Lupin sighed, draining his second drink.  He poured himself a third and topped off Jigen's.  "Or my dad's returned maybe."

"Maybe," Jigen agreed, frowning a bit.  "It would explain why she was so good."

"She's a rebirth," Marcus sighed.  "She's got to be.  There's no way she could have caused that sort of damage during the kidnaping."  He gulped his drink, then frowned at the windows. "Where is he hiding?"

"Probably in the tree house," Lupin offered.  "I built it when I was ten to hide from lima beans."  He blinked a few times then sighed and finished off his third drink in one long gulp.  "I'm gonna sleep on this for a bit."

"As am I," Marcus admitted.   "It beats the alternative."

"It does," Goemon agreed bitterly, "but some of us believe in reincarnation."

"Then hey, it'll give you a place to go between lives," Lupin said with a shrug. "You're family, you could probably be watched from afar."

Marcus let out a bitter laugh.  "I've often wondered if my possession by the demonic warrior tainted me enough to make it a moot point."  His phone rang so he dug it out, frowning at the information coming across.  "Well."  He hung up.  "Xander said his taint was so bad that even if he became a warrior monk he couldn't make it out of hell."  He put his phone back up then stood up, heading up to his room. "I'm going to take a nap.  We'll work on the female thing later."  He put his glass down before he headed up the stairs, making sure it was as empty as he could suck it.  He knew his taint wasn't anywhere near Xander's, so maybe he should think about becoming a warrior monk in his free time. Or even instead of being a thief.  He laid down and closed his eyes, deciding a nap would help him think best.

Goemon finished his drink and his next one came directly out of the bottle. "I do not like the timing."

"Neither do we, Goemon," Lupin reminded him.  He stood up, shaking a bit.  He wasn't ready for such heavy thoughts, he wasn't near old enough yet. "I say we shelve these thoughts until really late tonight when we can't sleep.  Any objections?"  No one said anything.  "Good, then I think I'll join Marcus in the passed out state."  He went to lie down with his bottle.   He picked up the phone, calling Xander's cellphone.  "Come back?" he asked miserably.  "I hate these thoughts."  He smiled and let himself be talked out of it by Xander's bedtime story.  "You'd be really good at that job, Xan," he whispered.  "You're very caring and the guys and girls would love to have you."  He sniffled.  "I wouldn't have much to do."  Xander told him exactly what he'd be doing and he grinned. "I like that idea I guess.  I'll consider it some other time."  He hung up and let himself pass out, dreaming of the fairytale Xander had just created for him.

Downstairs Jigen looked at Goemon.  "It's better than paying for all the people we've killed," he offered.

"Yes, it is," Goemon agreed.  "But I still want to live a better life next time."

"With your luck, you'd be someone's pet cat," Jigen taunted.

"I'm not the one who likes to take naps in the sun all day," Goemon countered.  "Or who is so fussy in his grooming."

Jigen snorted. "I don't think Lupin would make a good cat, man."

"Me either," Goemon agreed, smirking at him.  "Shall we?"

"Beats the alternative and then we can ask to forget about it."

Goemon nodded.  "I can agree with that.  It doesn't answer my questions however."

The demon appeared, frowning at him.  "You had to make this difficult, didn't you.  Yes, you would be reincarnated, but the list is really long right now.  You'd have to be born into another life where you'd have the opportunity to find Buddhism again, young man.  There's very few of those slots open these days with the rampant virus of Christianity into China.  This wouldn't negate that any however."

Goemon nodded.  "Our children would be coming?  We could visit those who did not earn their places?"

"Yes, you could," he agreed.  "Though the pact says no special powers.  Even those of that group in Greece are going to be there someplace."  Goemon grunted at that.  "Agreed?" he asked hopefully.

"I want to see the full contract."

"Of course.  I'm having them drawn up now.  You know how lawyers are, they work by the hour."  He looked at Jigen.  "No torture, no pain, no nothing but a lifetime swapping stories and getting drunk in a corner of hell that everyone will ignore."

"Better than the alternative," Jigen agreed.  "I still want to see a contract too."

"Deal," he agreed, "and I'll have it for you when you die, all you have to do is negotiate.  I don't want to fuck with Lavelle and sending my personal love slave to him when she got suicidal was a good opening move in this complicated dance.  I wish I had known then how many of the demons wanted my ass on a pole."  He looked at them. "Forget you ever saw me, gentlemen.  We won't be meeting again until you die."  He disappeared, going to do the same meeting with Marcus and then Lupin.  He saved the worst for last, going to see Bix.  "Well?"

"I don't like you," she sniffled.

"I know that.  You'd be with them even if you didn't agree to help them," he offered.  She looked at him.  "As I told the big lug downstairs, reincarnation spots are limited and getting smaller.  The list is literally miles long at this point and monks and nuns get first call."

She nodded.  "Then I would not mind either way," she admitted. "But I would rather be served than serve."

"Agreeable.  Forget you ever saw me, Bix."  He disappeared and the knowledge went with him.  He'd leave Fujiko for a bit, let her think.  He heard his name being called by Ishi and went back to look at him.  "Yes?"

"You're not going to hurt me, right?"

The demon smiled and shook his head.  "No, son, I'm looking to make a special place for people like you that's run by Lavelle.  That way you wouldn't have to be hurt."

Ishi nodded. "Thank you.  The mother?"

"Has to make her own decision and I'll be coming to talk to her tonight.  Forget I was ever here, kiddo, really."  He erased the knowledge and left, going to check on Fujiko, who was still crying.  He went back to manage the problems, telling the lawyers to mark them as special sorts for their contracts.  That way they wouldn't worry themselves into dying too soon.  He did start a rumor that Xander was going to be heading a new section, a necessary one, and that he was getting special perks.  It would take the wind out of most of the angry sails down there.


Jigen backed away from Lupin when he brought out the choker again.  "Come on, can't we force Xander into it?"

"Then she'll have to have kids to take it off her," Xander said from the couch in the corner.  Lupin had ordered him to come back and promised that he'd never try to put it on him without his permission, on penalty of being castrated.  "Do we really want me to go through that *again*?"

"No," Jigen admitted.  "You do it so much better though."

"And I had doubts about my gender, my sanity, and whether or not you only liked me because I had nice tits," Xander retorted.  "I started to forget how to be male, Jigen.  I'm a guy, I like having guy parts, and I like getting respect as a guy, which I never seemed to get except from my network.  Which I don't have anymore."

"Fine," Jigen groaned, taking the necklace from Lupin's fingers.  "What image?" he asked bitterly.

Lupin looked at him.  "Let's try for a brunette.  Ah, big breasts, something I would like usually.  He'll expect her to be someone I would go for."

Jigen shuddered and put it on himself, hitching the first clasp.  Then he took a big breath and pushed the last one together.  He winced as the change happened, then looked down at himself.  "I'm gonna tip over," he complained, starting to take it off.

"No, you're good," Xander told him, coming to walk around him.  "Very good posture.  We can work around shooting issues with those. They're modest actually.  Smaller than Sylvia's and Melody's."

"You really see them as individual people?" Lupin asked.  Xander nodded, continuing his scrutiny.  "Well, you've been here, what first?"

"Balance lessons," Xander said with a grimace.  "Your center of gravity is lower, your walk is going to be different, and that'll help with his shooting.  Plus we'll need to find him a hat."  Jigen gave him a grateful look.  "Plenty of women wear hats, Jigen, it won't look odd and it'll help you."  He gave him a hug.  "Don't worry, we'll work on you. You'll be comfy in two weeks since you don't have to do the fight training."  He headed back up to his room to get his diary from when he had changed, bringing it back down to the gym since Goemon was working with Jigen in there. "Here, it'll help some, believe me.  I wish I had something to look toward for answers."  Jigen gave him a grateful look.  "Remember, just a few weeks and you can take it off again.  We won't even push you to break you in," he promised with a grin.

"Not pretty enough anyway," he grumbled.

"Yeah, you are.  You're not model-pretty, but you are pretty," Xander assured him, looking him over.  "Roll your shoulders back, Jigen.  And come up with a name."

Jigen did as ordered, at least half of it.  "I can't get this."

"Fine, then let's do this my way," Xander said, helping her off the balance beam.  "Come on, let's get a room for the weekend.  Lupin can wait."  Jigen gave him an odd look.  "Trust me, it's easier without everyone and their brother staring at you, plus you'll need to do some shopping."  He walked him past Lupin.  "We'll be back."  He took his car, heading into Paris proper.  They were set up in a nice suite and Xander flopped down onto the couch.  "All right.  Practice walking in here, then we'll move to shoes.  You shouldn't need heels, and if you do, it'll make more sense to have chunky ones with your weak ankles."  Jigen nodded, practicing for now.  "Shoes off, dear.  Practice in your bare feet."  She kicked off her shoes and worked on it, getting into the rhythm of the swing she'd need to stay balanced. " Good.  Now let's try doing a more sultry one.  Slow it down a bit."  She slowed down, moving more smoothly.  "Now do it without watching your feet," he prompted with a grin.

"I'm staring at the tits, Xander.  I can't get past them."

"Yeah, I had that same feeling.  Wait until you try to shoot around them."  He got up and moved to pull her into his arms, startling her.  "Balance.  Work on it while we move."  He moved him around the room, dancing slowly.  Jigen smoothly followed along, finding his center of balance after a few minutes.  "See, a method to my madness does appear.  Tonight after dinner is shopping online for styles, then we'll pick out just enough clothes for the next two weeks."  He dipped her, making her squeal.  "Good job. That's a natural girl noise."  He got her back into it, making her smile at him.  "What?  I had a very good teacher for this part."  He let her go, spinning her off.  "Now go rest and read.  We'll do the shaving stuff tonight."  Jigen nodded, heading into her room.  Xander laid down on the couch again, getting comfortable in case she had any questions.  "I really should take this challenge too," he muttered, considering it.  He was probably prepared for anything Lupin had ever done in the past, but Xander was a new person and the same things wouldn't work on him.  If he could find an illusion strong enough he could go as Lupin and thereby save him.

"Don't even think about it," Jigen said from her doorway.  "I mean it, Xan."

"Sure, Jigen.  Just making contingency plans.  I'm gonna be nearby."  He grinned at her.  "Not tired?"

"Wondering how I'm supposed to shave the back of my legs."

"Two main ways.  Sitting on the toilet and doing them, or lying in a bath and raising them part of the way and doing it blind and by feel.  Your choice."

"What about that Nair stuff?"

"Burns sometimes, but you can do that," he agreed, hopping up.  "Let me get some for you tonight if you want.  For right now, go take a bath, get used to your body.  Play with it, learn its responses and how it likes to react to being teased.  You know that guy will hit on you."

Jigen nodded, going to do that.  It was a reasonable assumption since he always asked his victims to bring a woman with him.  It wouldn't do for him to get flustered when he got hard...or whatever women did.


Xander walked Jigen back inside, past the waiting Lupin.  "We are back.  We are heading down to the range after she changes.  She'll need to do laundry before she leaves."  He let Jigen's hand go, stepping back.  "Show them."  Jigen strolled past them, making Lupin's mouth drop.  "Different means of training."  He grinned.  "Now we're on to the more technical matters.  Go change into a t-shirt and pants, we'll be on the range."  He headed that way, taking off his t-shirt to run around bare-chested, just in case something else was around.  The housekeeper gave him a small leer and he smirked at her.  "Thanks, babe.  Got any steak?  Jigen's little sister could use one."

"Of course.  I'm making them for dinner," she assured him, going to pull them from the freezer.  "His sister?"

"Yeah.  We needed a woman and Jigen's sister agreed to come fill in while he went to take a short break."  Jigen joined him.  "This is Jigen's little sister, Jerry."  She waved.  "We're going to the range to make sure she's competent."  He led her off, locking them inside and taking down the camera so he could turn it toward the wall.  "There, now we won't have a nosy Lupin.  You did for me, now I do for you."  He handed over Jigen's usual gun.  "Much easier than mine was."

"It is," Jigen agreed, shifting his stance.  He remembered doing this for Xander so it only took him a few minutes to get used to firing around the breasts.  "This isn't so bad."

"You're three cup sizes smaller than I am, Jigen.  Of course not, they're not as much in the way," Xander said dryly.  "Seeing why I'm refusing now?"

"Yeah, I do," he sighed, turning to look at him.  "I'm sorry, Xander."

"It's all right, Jigen.  I didn't mind then.  I do now.  We'll work it out."  He gave him a hug then turned him back around.  "Back to work.  You wouldn't let me get mushy like that in here."

When Lupin came in an hour later, he was amazed.  Jigen was having a much easier time than Xander had.  "Wow.  What about the hat issue?"

"We've already got that solved," Xander offered.  "She's found a few that worked quite well and were exactly like her other hat."  He waved a hand.  "I am wonderful and will be watching of course."  He smirked and walked off.

Lupin looked at Jigen.  "What did he do differently?"

"I remembered teaching him this stuff," Jigen admitted.  "So it was like parroting the moves."  He went back to his targets.  He had to be perfect again before they went.


Lupin got out of his car and walked around to hand Jigen out, smirking at her. "Ready?"

"Hell no."

"Well, here we go anyway," he noted, walking her up to the front door of the old castle.  He used the knocker on the old wooden door, then stepped back as the butler answered.  "I'm Lupin the Third. I'm expected."  The butler let them inside and they were shown into a small sitting room to wait on their hosts.


Back in his hotel room, Xander was listening as the gas flowed out and knocked them out, then he sighed in defeat, shaking his head.  "Fuck."  He listened as the person lifted them up and took them to a locked room, he could hear the lock engage in the quiet room.  The noises were loud in there so it must not be very muffled.  Not a lot of fabric or wood.  That meant it was probably a stone room.  He listened as the voice came over the loudspeaker, telling Lupin what his trial would be.  How he would be allowed one last night with his woman of choice and then he would be hunted.  If he won and killed everyone he could loot the castle and take the necklace. If not, then he was dead and his remains would be dropped in the Seine River in Paris to be found by Zenigata.

Xander stood up and looked down at himself, then groaned and shook his head.  "Not a choice," he muttered.  He looked at the velvet case on the bed, then at the extra bag he had thought he might need.  He heard the man say that Lupin's choice was an odd one, she didn't seem like his type, and then Lupin's smart remark that he had wanted to bring two, and could he bring his usual girl.  The man laughed and said to call her, he could have her when she got there.  That settled it, he grabbed the choker that had come across the realms and put it on, then went to shave and put on something pretty and useful, hiding her usual compliment of weapons on her.  By the time she was done looking like Dawn, kinda, it was dark and her motorcycle ride was a cool one.  The leather outfit did nothing for her figure, but it was cute and her figure didn't really need the help anyway.  He pulled up next to Lupin's car and brought the keys and his purse, boldly buckling his gun onto his waist and around his thigh, an old gunslinger's holster.  He walked up and the door opened, the butler looking shocked.  "Lupin called for me, sweetheart.  Show me to where my man is so I can help him."

"Women are not allowed on the course."

She laughed and disabled him, then kicked the door shut.  "Bet me."  She strolled on, finding the office easily enough.  It had the biggest, shiniest doors in the place.  She walked inside.  "Lupin called for me."

"Women aren't allowed on our course."

She pulled her gun and wounded him.  "Yay.  Where he goes, I go.  Probable death or not.  You can have Jerry.  Now, where is he?"

"He's expecting you to die for him."

She leaned down.  "I've killed for him before, do you want to be the next one?"  He gulped and shook his head.  "Then let's get this over with, okay?  You're messing up my 'me' time tonight.  I had planned on a long bubble bath."  He nodded and stood up, holding his arm as he led her up the stairs.  "By the way, those are low gunpowder bullets.  Less cleaning needed," she said with a smirk as she walked inside.  "Honey, I'm back."  She glared at him.  "I warned you this was a trap, did you listen, no!  I should throw a massive hissy and demand a really impressive gift for saving your ass again."  She sat down, crossing her legs daintily.  "How long do we have before we run through them tomorrow?  Jerry, honey, take a nap.  I have no doubt you're going to be tied to a big door tomorrow."  Jigen swallowed and laid down, curling up under the blankets.

"Honey, I'm sorry," Lupin said quietly, glancing around.

She waved a hand.  "Not the first time.  Don't worry, I am better."  She stood up and walked over to kiss him, making him moan. "I'm still not sleeping with you, Lupin the Third," she hissed, nipping him on the tip of the nose.  "Never again in this body."  She walked over to look out the lone window, staring at the woods.   They had walls around them.  There were guards on top of it.  They were halfway to the middle of nowhere, no one would hear any gunshots.  He checked his weapons stashed around his body, then nodded, turning to him.  "Got extra bullets?"  He shook his head so she rolled her eyes and tossed over a box from her purse.  "There."

"He said to only bring one clip."

"Well he didn't tell me not to bring you extra," she said dryly.  She suddenly smirked at him.  "You know I'm gonna have you in that thing eventually, right?"  Lupin swallowed and sat on the end of the bed, staring at her.  "It's the only way you'll ever understand, Lupin."  She crossed her arms as the door opened and another butler walked in with a rolling tray.  "Food?  Drugged?"  He shook his head.  "Then we'll let poor Jerry taste it for us."  He backed away.  "What?"

"We expected you to be having sex by now," he noted. "The food is to encourage that."

"I only have sex to celebrate a victory," Xander said with a cold smirk.  "Otherwise it's a waste of a good opportunity to scream."  He swallowed and backed away as she strolled closer.  "Besides, food and sex don't really mix in my book," she said in her best 'come hither' voice.  "It masks the natural scent of my lovers.  Why would I want to do that?"  She gave him a little smirk and he ran out of the room, locking them in again.  She lifted the lid, sniffing it.  "Something is off with the oysters.  They don't smell like the sea."

"They could be old," Lupin offered as he came over. "Thanks, Xan," he whispered.

Xander kissed him then grinned. "This is where I belong, my man."  He picked up a piece of chocolate, licking it then grimacing.  "Eww.  That is not how chocolate is supposed to taste."  He put it back down.  "How about some non-drugged food?  Huh?"  She went back to sit down again. "You should probably rest, Lupin.  It's gonna be a long morning."  He nodded, curling up on top of the blankets next to Jigen's sleeping form.  Xander let himself go into a light doze, all he ever allowed himself outside of a warded, locked, room with a guardian nearby.  That's why he threw the knife at the man who entered to get the tray.  "Sorry."  He got up and pulled it out.  "Hmm, my aim was off.  Have to work on that tomorrow."  He drug him into the hall and then the cart, going down to fix his own meal.  The first butler gave him a horrified look.  "I hate drugged food."

"Women such as you are not supposed to exist!" he said angrily, pointing at her.  "You are no woman!"

She undid her top, showing him her breasts.  "Don't they look real?"  He blanched and whimpered. "I'm a fucking woman, thank you very much," she said bitterly.  "Some of us are just better than the little mice that men like you want our women to be.  I can guarantee you that the first man who tries to control my life dies by my hand as I remove his testicles piece by tiny piece."  He backed away and she turned, backhanding the man behind her.  "None of that.  I don't play grabass with anyone but Lupin and Jigen."  She went to the fridge and made some sandwiches, taking it and the iced tea upstairs.  "Thanks for this, guys.  Next time, don't use drugs.  It's not usually necessary."  He kicked the door shut and locked it again for them so they didn't have to come up and bother them.  She set things out on the table against the wall, then hit herself on the head.  "Hey, send some glasses," she told the camera. "I forgot them.  The kids and I only drink out of bottles these days."  The butler brought up a tray with glasses.  "Thanks, man."

"You have children?"

"I'm the mother of Arsene Lupin the Fourth," she said smugly.  "Of course I do."  He gave her a long look. "Yes, this body has given birth."  She ran a hand over her stomach. "It's amazing what jogging will do for one's body.  Huh?"  He handed over the glasses and backed out.  "Thanks, give us an hour before we have to go down there.  We all take forever in the showers."  He nodded, locking them in again.  She pushed her hairpin back in her hair then sniffed the glasses, taking a careful lick of one.  Hmm, didn't taste like it was clean.  She took them into the bathroom to clean them again, taking the opportunity to go to the bathroom as well.  She knew there were probably drugs in here too.  It'd be stupid to let them walk out to the course.  Fortunately she had a high tolerance anymore.  She came back out, getting some iced tea for herself and sitting down to stare outside some more.  This was worrying her.


Xander took off her blindfold when the whistle blew, then ducked an arrow being shot at her.  She growled and lunged for the stupid human, letting it all go again.  Lupin had her back and he was more than ready to take on some other threats.

Lupin pushed down the urge to hurt her, but let it go.  "Xan, back down.  Guard me.  I have to solve this."

She looked at him.  "There's fifty-six people out here that I counted filing out earlier.  You want to do what?"

He grimaced. "It's my challenge."

"He fired an arrow at me!  I'm gonna kick their asses!"  Lupin took a step back. "Fine, honey, you stay here.  Let me do this."  She rolled her eyes and walked over a body.

"Now I know why you hate doing this stuff.  You're tougher than Lavelle here," he said dryly, glaring at her back.

She turned to face him, then crossed her arms over her chest.  "What a shock!  Do you know what female hitters have to go through just to get a damn job?"  He slowly shook his head.  "Feel fucking lucky.  Even your daughter's going to have to put up with sexual harassment, having to prove she's more than a set of breasts and a twat, and then having to probably kill at least one boss for trying to slip up on her payments because she's a little woman who can't possibly know anything about money matters.  Don't believe me, go find another one and ask them.  I *earned* every bit of respect I've ever gotten, Lupin.  I earned it without you, without Jigen, and without anyone else's help.  If I'm a flaming bitch, then it was necessary 'cause some of us didn't sleep our way to the top."  His mouth fell open and he stared at her.  "Got me here? That's why I hate doing this shit.  But at least I get respect this way from people other than my own."  She strolled off.  "Which way back to the fucking castle?"

"Behind us," Lupin said, clearing his throat.  "I had no idea, Xan.  I'm sorry."  She walked past him and he caught her arm, looking in her eyes.  "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because it would ruin what little respect I got from you and Jigen," she spat.  "I'm not your sex toy.  No matter how much I like it, I'm not and that's what I became."  She got free.  "I'm a fucking gunman and thief in my own right, Lupin, and I deserve my respect.  Even from you.  I had to out myself and do better than you ever had to get any from you.  That was the meaning of the crying jag in London that time."  She pulled her gun and hit the person coming toward them in the side, making them howl.  "Good."  She looked at him again, then flipped her hair back.  "It's amazing what I had to do to be considered a partner and an equal."  She walked off, heading up to take care of more of the idiots bothering her this morning.

Lupin stared at her back.  "Okay, so I was wrong."  He followed her, shooting a few she was only wounding.  "You really don't want to kill them?"

"Wounding shows more skill.  I only want to kill the fucker who's pulling this crap."

Lupin jogged to catch up again, stopping her. "You had my respect long before then, Xander.  You had it for being able to do this shit so well in addition to the impossible things we had expected of you.  You do more than Jigen and Goemon skill wise.  You do more than I do in a monetary way.  You hold the house together, help us all, and make things go smoother.  You had our respect, even if we never showed you."  She relaxed. "Now, let's go get the other one and celebrate.  Even if you won't wear that for me."  He grinned. "Good?"

"Excellent idea.  Wound or kill?"

"Either's fine with me as long as they can't come back later."  He let her go, stepping back.  "You're a wonderful thief.  I couldn't do that tower job like you did.  Hell, I couldn't do the Imperial job you did a few days ago either," he said with a grin.  "I've had my people watching you again.  One of them saw you changing it out.  What's my cut this time?"

"Twenty percent of the worth.  I was having someone make sure it was the real one so I had a matched set.  I'll cut you a check later."  They each fired at a target coming out of the woods, taking them out.  "Castle?"

"Castle," he agreed.  He grinned and kissed her.  "I missed the tits, Xan, but I loved the rest of you no matter what."  He pinched her on the ass as he jogged past her.  "Did you take that from Dawn?"

"Yeah," she agreed.  "I thought since she wasn't using it anymore," she admitted with a grin, heading after him.  "Remind me again why I liked heels?"

"Because they made your legs look wonderful," he reminded her.

"Oh, yeah."  She shrugged and kept up, taking the rear guard position as they went through the woods.  There was a line at the gate, a firing squad pointing at Jigen's bound body.  "Turkey shoot?"

"Fish shoot," he corrected, taking out the leader while Xander did her neat little teleport thing to get Jigen out of harm's way by knocking her down.  Then they got the group as they ran.  Lupin came over to help undo Jigen, handing her Xander's spare gun and the hat he found on the ground.  "Here we go.  Any other plans?"

"These shoes let out a small dot of C-4 each time I hit a switch with my toes.  Enough to set off a squib-like explosion.  There are a few of them in the castle."

"Cool."  Lupin grinned at her.  "After you, my dear lady.  Jigen, take rear guard."

"Fine.  Can I get out of this stupid dress now?"

"Did you remember to wear anything underneath?"

"He took the bike shorts."

Xander looked back at her.  "If you want, I'll let you have my catsuit.  I've got spandex on underneath."  Jigen gave him a horrified look.  "It's not a dress."

"It's nearly as bad!"

"You can have the spandex I have underneath then.  It's the cotton-lycra stuff I wear for workouts."

"Maybe once we've stormed the castle," she grumbled, heading after them.  "I am never putting this thing on again," he complained.

"Fine," Lupin agreed.  "I agree, Xander does it better."

"True," Xander agreed, grinning back at Jigen.  "Now you see part of the point?"  Jigen nodded hard.  "Good girl."  He grinned and set off the switch to make the C-4 dots explode, making the door fall inward.  "Eww, I made it too strong.  I'm guessing the door to the office was blown off too.  Oops, sorry, Lupin."

"Not an issue, Xan."  They walked inside, taking out whatever came at them.  "This is why you respect women, stupid humans," he called.  "Women are the more dangerous sex!"

"Damn right," Xander agreed, taking out the butler she had hit last night.  Then the boss came down the hallway with a sword and she handed Jigen her gun, pulling her katana off her back.  She faced off with him but he sneered. "Hey, I took lessons from Goemon too."

"Yes, but my challenge was for your mate, young lady.  Let him."

"Fine."  She handed over the sword with a shrug, then stepped out of the way.  "After you, honey, but save me his balls so I can cut those off."

"Sure, if I leave him living that long," Lupin agreed, heading to face off with him while the others got any remaining guards who came up to bother them.  It had been a long time since Goemon had taught him anything but his grip was good and comfortable.  The man lunged and he blocked, then parried, then did a blind thrust to test him.  The guy was much better.

"Dear, whip his ass and I might give you a blowjob without the top on tonight," Xander offered.  Jigen looked at her.  "I'm not letting anyone closer than that, thank you.  Janus likes me a bit too much and he wants another kid."

"Oh, hell no!" Jigen said firmly.  "Get me out of this thing."  Xander gave him a look so he sighed and took it off, becoming his usual self.  The man with them gave him a horrified look and dropped his sword, then backed away.

"Okay, that's a yield, I get him now to avenge all the women he's raped and then killed as soon as their escorts were dead."  She picked up the sword and tossed it to him, taking the one Lupin handed off.  "Now, asshole.  You've earned an asskicking from a woman for all the women you've hurt.  Lupin, go get the office, dear."

"Sure."  He tugged on Jigen's arm, getting him out of the way as their gracious host faced off against Xander.

"Are you like him?  I noticed the necklaces look the same," he said.

Xander shrugged.  "On occasion."  She took her first move and he winced but blocked it, then Xander went on to kick his ass properly, giving him a lot of painful little cuts until she opened his throat.  Then as he laid there gasping, she cut off his more delicate parts.  "There, now that's a proper ending for someone who rapes women."  She wiped off her sword and went to find Jigen and Lupin.  "Man, Jigen, you really need to shave your legs."  She took off her choker and shook out her hair, pulling down the hairpins to hand one to Lupin since he was patting himself down for a pick. "Try that."  Lupin gave him a funny look.  "Useful, huh?"

"Very."  He picked the lock on the desk drawer.  He could see the metal wires running through the glass front of the drawer and the necklace behind them.  He also heard a click and grabbed it, then ran with them outside, the necklace clutched in his hand as the castle started to explode around them.  He dove into his car, pulling out his keys and starting it, pulling out after Xander.  The debris still hit them, and a piece knocked Jigen out, but they would be fine.  He stopped at the bottom of the private driveway to look back, then relaxed.  Xander pulled up beside him.  "You okay?"

"Fine."  She pulled her gun, pointing it at him. "Good thing he's such a negative personality, huh?"

Lupin looked at him, then snickered.  "Xander, possession?  Can't you have the hyena eat him?"  The man's eyes went wide and he grabbed his head as a growl sounded in his ears.  Then Xander shook his head and picked up his gun, putting it away.  "You normal?"

"Sure, why?  The soldier wanted some target practice.  He's pissed at me and the hyena thinks I don't hunt enough for my pack.  Home?"

"Sure.  You don't have to blow me that way you know."  He leaned up, getting a kiss from him.  "Thanks, babe."

"Welcome."  He kicked his bike into life, roaring off.  "See you at home!"

"Thanks," he called after him, heading off after him.  "He looks really good in that outfit as a guy."  He headed after the bike, stopping to get Goemon and Marcus from town.   Marcus was talking with Bix and one of the kids, but he sounded quite happy.   "Weren't listening?"

"No, not really," Marcus admitted. "Master had the headphones."

Goemon looked at Lupin in the rearview mirror.  "It was quite enlightening.  I'll be confiscating the chokers again as soon as we get home."

"Leave one," Lupin ordered.  "Take the one Jigen's got on.  Did we bring him any clothes?"

"In the trunk," Goemon reminded him.  "Someone on the bulletin board wanted you to say whether or not you had survived."

"Only because Xan was with us," Jigen complained, opening his eyes.  "I do have clothes?"

"In the trunk.  Xander packed them."

"Pull over, let me change," Jigen ordered.  Lupin did so with a smirk, but he didn't care.  He wanted man clothes again.  He handed off the choker with a grunt of annoyance, then stripped off behind the car and grabbed his bag.  He found his suit and nothing else.  "Damn it, he forgot the boxers again."

"I believe there was a reason for that," Marcus said happily once his phone was back in his pocket.  "He said you'd want the obvious reminder of being a man again.  That's why he picked out the softest pants he could."

"Oh."  Jigen put them on, then his shirt, tie, jacket, and hat.  His shoes were in the trunk by themselves so he put them on too.  He closed the trunk after stuffing the dress in there, then got back into his usual seat.  He shifted as soon as the car took off, understanding now.  These pants were rubbing him with the silk they were made of.  He definitely felt like  a man now.


Lupin pounced Xander, kissing him hard.  "You are fucking amazing, Xander."  He kissed him again, then moved down to play with the hard throat. "You amaze me each and every time you do something like this.   I couldn't hope to do what you do."

"You're laying it on a bit thick," he moaned, letting his lover take control of his pleasure this time.  He wasn't so frantic with need tonight so maybe it would only go once.  He felt his clothes being removed but his blindfold was keeping him unaware of nearly everything else. "Convention this weekend," he groaned, arching up into the teasing hands.  "Dick tease."

"I am not," Lupin said with a smirk for him.  He continued to stroke Xander, knowing that this was going to make him come faster.  That meant that Lupin could wear him out tonight.  He had finally figured out what would wear his man out!   Well, besides a viagra high and there being two of them and a few toys.  One day he was going to beat Anya for doing this to him.  He had a sudden thought and looked up.  "You won't be getting him back, Anya," he hissed.  "Release him."  Xander went limp and he smirked, going back to pleasing him.  "Back among the normally sexed?"

"Hmm.  What did she do?"

"She turned you into a damn incubus to get you back."  He kissed him again, making his lover moan into his mouth. "Like it?"

"A lot."  He shifted his legs apart so his lover could get whatever he wanted.  Now that the need wasn't quite so frantic, he could get used to this.  Lupin chuckled as he moved down to play with his stomach and lower, making Xander wiggle.  "Arsene!"

Lupin smirked up at him.  "I like how you're the only one who uses my name and it's always in a moan."  He played with the hard cock, gently stroking it for now, making Xander swear and move his hips up as far as he could.  "Trust me?"

"Most of the time."

"Not all the time?" he asked with a hint of fake pout.

"Nope, sorry, I don't even trust myself all the time."  Xander rubbed his head until the blindfold moved.  "Sorry, babe."

"Not an issue, I wouldn't trust either if I were you."  He kissed him and put the blindfold back down.  "Naughty."

"Why are you still dressed?"

"Because I'm nowhere near ready to take you past this stage," he admitted, leaning down to kiss him again.  "Let me play, Xander, I need to play this time."

"Gotcha.  Go ahead and play.  I make a wonderful playground."

"Yes, you do," Lupin went back to his playing, barely able to feel the scars that Xander hid under whatever illusion he kept on himself.  "Can you take that off?"  Xander shook his head.  "No?"

"Nope, sorry, they're disgusting to look at."

"I'm not."

"I am."

"Yeah, but you're blindfolded."  Xander sighed and released one of his hands, taking off the small charm that hid all his scars.  Then he put his hand back into the soft cuff, letting Lupin hitch him back up.  "Thank you, Xan."  He looked over the hard body, tracing a few of them with a gentle fingertip.  "They're not any worse than ritual tattoos.  I know Goemon has one of those somewhere that he covers up carefully each morning."  He kissed one on Xander's chest, over his heart.  "Hmm, smell musky.  I should gather your sweat and bottle it."  He licked over a few more, making Xander shiver.  "Sorry, bothering you?  I could feel them before but I haven't gotten a good look at them.  They're not as disgusting as I remembered."  Xander worked his blindfold free again to look at him.  "They're not."

Xander looked down at himself, raising a thigh to look at the marks on it.  "What the hell!  That's not what's supposed to be on there!"  It changed, becoming the normal one.  "Gee, thanks!  Really, didn't need one for sexual frenzy."

"Hate ta tell ya, Xan, but that one's on the back of your shoulder," Lupin said, moving him to trace it back that one.  "There."

"Oh."  He grimaced and then shrugged.  "Explains a few things.  Can you please quit teasing?  I know you earned a reward, but really."

Lupin smirked and put the blindfold back into place. "Let me play or I'm gonna pout, Xander."

"Fine, but can you play a bit harder?  Please?"

"Where's the fun in that?"  He worked over his lover's body, making sure he touched each and every single mark, even the few that made Xander hiss in remembrance.  Then he turned the touches and tracings into a gentle rub, playing with his warm skin, watching as it moved back into place after his hands moved on.  Xander shivered under his hands so he moved on, back to his teasing touches.  He found a new mark in his pubic hair and traced it, making Xander come off the bed with a shout.  "Sorry, won't touch that again."

"No, not an old one," he panted. "New!  Damn it!"

"Shh, let me look," Lupin pleaded.  "What did it feel like?"

"Like a warm tongue just went up my spine.  Trace that for me?"

"Anything."  He parted the hair and traced what he could, finding a dot at the end, that's what set Xander off.  "Hmm.  Recognize it?"

"No, but can you help me shave tomorrow so I can figure that one out?"

"Sure, my pleasure," he agreed with a grin.  A shaved Xander was a horny Xander.  "Jigen said you did just the right thing, making him walk around with a hardon for hours yesterday."

"I know I always needed something like that the first few times.  Can you maybe, kinda, move again?"  Lupin chuckled and licked across the head of the hard cock, tasting the flavor getting ready to explode.  "Can you do more of that?"

"Xander, I wanna play."

"Arsene, if you play much more, I'm gonna blow on your face and then I'll be tired."

"Hmm."  He stripped himself and laid on top of his lover, kissing him hard.  "If I asked, would you join with me again?" he whispered, tracing his finger over top of a scar again, making Xander shiver.  "Please?"

"You know my body is open for your pleasure."

"Not that way, Xander.  I meant the other way.  Like in a permanent and meaningful manner."

"Oh.  That."  He sighed and worked the blindfold off again, looking at him.  "Are you sure?  You didn't seem so sure last time."

Lupin kissed him. "I was a dumbass last time, now I know what to expect so I know what I did wrong.  It'll be fine this time.  I won't ignore you.  You won't get to play with the kitsune again because I'm ignoring you.  You'll be mine, all mine."  He grinned.  "Without the possessive overtones except where people leer at you and want your ass."

"Jigen?" Xander panted, liking what the hands were doing now.  A brush from a hairy thigh added to his pleasure, making him let out a soft moan.

"I could admit him if he wanted.  I'm certainly not going to keep him from you if he wanted and you wanted.  I know you two are close.  I'll even let you go tease Ethan now and then to get stuff off him, like that potion."

"He'd do it anyway," Xander whined.  The hand and thigh came back and he was starting to have that floating feeling again.  "I know he would.  It's just a tease between us anymore."

"I know, but I'd let you figure out whatever you wanted with him, as long as you told me."

"You're not brainless, it's not fair."

"Just think about it, Xander.  You don't have to answer right now," Lupin promised, kissing him again.  He put the blindfold back down and moved to straddle the firm, younger body.  "Leave that blindfold in place, young man, or else we might have to play a game later where I get to put you over my knee and spank you in a fun and sexual way."

"No thanks."

"Hmm.  Not even for pleasure?"

"That's not something I'd feel pleasure from, Arsene."

"Okay, just suggesting," he agreed quickly.  "Sorry."

"It's okay, but can you go back to making me mindless again?"

"Of course."  Lupin kissed him, using every skill he had to take Xander's mind back to the place he wanted it to go.  This is why he loved Xander, he was willing to be there for him through nearly anything, even when they had minor fights.  He moved backwards to taste him again, and Xander came from just that, proving that he adored him.  Lupin cleaned him up and got him onto his side, working on him while he continued to tease the tighter body.  "I wish he'd hurry up.  I want to be your age again and I want you to take some too."

"But ...."

"No buts.  I want you to take some too, Xander.  You deserve it just as much as we did.  This time you're taking the potion too."  He used two fingers to spread the lube inside his willing victim's body, making him shiver and press back against him.  "Nearly there, hold on," he soothed, like he would to the kids when they were waking up from a nightmare.  "Just hold on, I'm nearly in there."  He switched up to three fingers, then gave it up and worked his way inside slowly.  Xander never minded if he wasn't stretched fully, as long as he was gentle with him.  He finally buried himself completely inside him and let out a moan of his own while he pulled his boyfriend closer.  "There, I like that."

"Me too, more?" Xander pleaded.  "Please, more.  Please, Arsene."

"Shh, of course I'm doing more," he soothed, pulling out to stroke back inside.  Xander was vibrating under his fingers and he liked him like that.  He had missed this part of their sex life, where Xander was the desperate one instead of him.  He really liked his lovers to be more desperate than he was, it made it more fun for him when he did things like pause and make them come back down.  Xander let out a swear and wiggled but he had him held tightly against his body and the younger man couldn't move.  "Calm down, let it happen," he soothed, stroking his stomach.  His fingers found their way down to that mark again, making Xander let out a 'fuck' and arch back against him.  Lupin let him as he played with it again, then Xander went limp and he went back to stroking him.  "Want me to move on?"

"I'm going to blow you most of the way and leave you like that in a magical cock ring," Xander threatened.

"Now, now, that's not nice.  I'm gonna give you what you want.  You're going to have it," he promised, starting to move slowly again, deep, slowly, firm thrusts that were driving Xander insane.  He was trying hard to make him speed up but Lupin had other ideas.  "Calm down or I'm going to stop again."  Xander let him do it and he was happy about that.  "Now, trust me, I'm going to give you all the pleasure you want.  You know that, right?"  Xander whimpered.  "Out loud, Xan?"

"Yes, you will this time."

"Good boy."  He worked him a bit faster, playing with his cock again too.  Xander let out a moan and came quietly this time, and Lupin licked a few beads of sweat off the tanned shoulder.  "Can I go on or are you still floating?"

"There's more?"

"Of course, there's always more," Lupin promised, starting again, making sure he varied things this time.  A few shallow, then a long and hard one all the way inside, then a few of the more rocking ones once he was buried in him again.  Xander was going insane under his hands, and he let him, giving him everything he had this time.  He deserved it and he wanted Xander to know that he would always take good care of him.  He finally felt him get off a third time, even though nothing further came out, and came himself, buried inside him as far as he could go.  He licked the tanned, slumped shoulder then let Xander go and took off his blindfold, kissing him at the same time.  "See, I like doing that."

"Me too," Xander agreed tiredly, pulling him down on top of him.  "Rest.  Not even I can get up now."

"Hmm.  I'll have to remember that."  He snuggled in, comfortable on the flat chest.

"Daddy, did you call for me?" his daughter called from the doorway.

"Arsene Lupin the Fourth, I'm going to paddle you in the morning," Xander called.  "You know we're not."

"Ooops."  She ran off, going back to her bed to hide.

"I'm going to break her of that habit yet," he said as firmly as he could.  Lupin chuckled against his neck and he yawned.  "Thanks, babe.  I loved that."

"You're welcome, Xander.  Sleep.  I'll blow you in the morning if I'm up first."  Xander nodded, curling up on his side to get as close as possible.  Lupin stroked his back, smiling as his lover fell asleep.  "I was serious and I'll get your answer tomorrow, love.  You'll take it back and I'll be your favorite playground again."  He yawned and closed his eyes, drifting off to join him in good dreams.

Jigen walked into the nursery and picked Arsene up, looking into her eyes.  "Stop that now, before your parents have to throw a fit," he warned quietly.  "It's not funny, cute, or amusing anymore."  She nodded timidly.  "Thank you."  He tucked her back in then went back to his own room.  Lupin had asked for them to spend the night alone tonight and he had granted it.  He and Xander needed to spend some time alone since Jigen still wasn't sure he could be fully with them again.  He had figured out some things while he had been in the tub.  Being a woman for a few days made it more permissible for him to explore the more submissive sides of his personality, but it also reminded him that being taken didn't necessarily mean being submissive.  Xander had ridden Lupin into a near-coma more nights than not recently.  He often took the dominant role in bed, even in female form.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to let them have him again.  That one morning Xander had used his fingers wasn't too bad.


The next morning Xander blatantly took Arsene out of the dining room and into 'his' room in the house, the room where he worked on his nefarious schemes and did his playing, the range.  He locked them in and frowned down at her.  "Arsene, I'm very disappointed in you," he started.  She sighed and hung her head.  "Not only was that a very wrong thing to do last night, but it did not make us happy.  The only good thing I could see was that you waited until we were done to try and interrupt.  Now, we are going to have a talk about your mouth and its problems, young lady, or you are going to find yourself grounded to this house magically for the next year.  No conventions, no thefts, no trips, nothing.  Do you understand me?"  She gave him a hurt look and he snorted.  "I'm not buying it, Arsene, it was a calculated move last night. You're not hurt.  You're annoying."  She broke out into tears.  "That's about how we feel sometimes too," he assured her.  She clung to him, crying on him.  "Are you not getting enough attention?  Are we ignoring you? Is that why you're doing this?"

She shook her head. "No.  I don't want more babies and I'm the first."

He patted her on the head. "Dear, you're still the fourth.  You were the third born."  He picked her up to hold her.  "I'm not planning on adding any more kids to the house, Arsene, but I also can't allow this behavior to go on.  There's a time and a place to be annoying, and it's not when your father and I are spending some very rare free time together."  She pulled back to look at him.  "Do you think we don't have things to do all day?"  She shook her head.  "Well, we do.  Half the time I'm not reading for fun, I'm reading to improve my skills.  The same as your father manages a world-wide network of spies, thieves, assassins, and others.  Including a dentist, which reminds me that I need to have someone check you guys over soon."  He made a mental note and got back to it.  "Even your Uncle Jigen has things to do all day, Arsene, and we need time without the kids.  You guys are trying all our patiences this week.  Every last one of you have done it on purpose too.  If this is about not wanting to add more kids to the household, then assure the others that we don't want it either.  I don't need more kids, I've got ten of you and another coming."

"Didn't you want us, Mommy?" she asked quietly.

"Sweetheart, am I in female form?"  She shook her head.  "Then you can call me daddy, like you do the other two."

"Sorry, daddy.  It's just that you've always been the mommy.   You do the mommy things, even when you're a daddy.  Besides, if we called out 'daddy' and all three of you turned, how would you know which one we wanted?"

"You attach a first name to that," he said dryly.  "I'm still not the mother, Arsene.  I'm a guy, I'm staying a guy no matter how many times I turned into a girl before."

"You didn't like being a girl?" she asked.

"Arsene, that's something you won't understand until you're much older," he sighed.  "When you're a teenager, I'll let you try on the choker for a few days so you can understand how mind ripping the experience is.  Your daddy Jigen is still working through his and he only spent three weeks in the thing."  She nodded, putting her head down again.  "Now, we will not see a repeat of this last week's performances again, will we?"  She shook her head.  "At all?"  She shook her head again.  "And nothing similar is coming, correct?"

"No, mo...daddy. We have been pains in the ass.  We're sorry that we do so much to bother you."

"Sweetheart, you're not really bothering me, but you're making it impossible for me to calm down each day.  You take away what little free time I have to myself by doing things like calling out last night."  She nodded, clutching him harder.  "I suppose that you can count the fact that you chose the exact moment to implement your plan was good, you had excellent timing, but it still sucked that you did it to us.  You're supposed to irritate the cops and your marks, not your parents.  We'll get enough of that when you're a teenager for no other reason than you'll be a teenager."  She giggled weakly.  "Do you understand?  I don't mind the normal stuff, the nightmares and the feedings, I do mind what you did last night and how Melissa and Sierra have been trying so hard to keep our attention.  It's not necessary, sweetie.  We adore you guys and nothing is going to change that, even if we do have to spend more time with Goemon's baby than with you for a few weeks, it doesn't mean we're tossing you over for the new baby."

"I understand, I know new babies take a lot of work, but we wanted to make sure that you wanted us."

"If we hadn't wanted you, you'd have been sent to a boarding school before we got back here, Arsene," he said dryly.  "Trust me, you would have.  If only because it would have helped your social skills so you knew how to do things around normal people."  She gave him another squeeze.  "Now, are we gonna have to have this talk ever again?"  She shook her head.  "You're sure?"

"I'm sure, daddy.  I'm sorry we've been beasts this last few weeks."

"That's fine, Arsene, but I won't accept it happening again.  For any reason."  She nodded and he kissed the top of her head.  "Come on, I wanted some breakfast and you need to finish yours before you start your lessons for the day."

"Will they like us at school, daddy?" she asked pitifully.

"See, that's one of the things you'll be learning, how to get along with normal people and how to make friends.  You guys pretty muchly had to be friends since you were raised together, but this way you'll have a whole school full of people who've never met you, don't know much about you, and who you work your charm on.  If they like you or not is up to you, daughter."

"Yes, daddy.  I'm gonna try really hard."

"Good. That would be a nice change."  He set her down and swatted her gently.  "Come on, let's eat."

"Yes, daddy."  She took his hand and walked back inside with him, taking her place to eat.  "Daddy, can I help you manage your empire today?" she asked, looking at her father.

"Why should I reward your behavior last night?"

"Because daddy said I was never going to do it again," she assured him.  "He told me how bad it was."

Lupin looked at Xander, who nodded.  "We did come to an understanding about her grounded state for the next year, magically, if she ever did it again.  Plus, I explained it to her."

"Good.  Then if it ever happens again, she can spend six weeks out in the guest house without any contact with anyone up here."  Xander scowled at him.  "Except for meals," he noted.  Xander shook his head subtly.  "And from us," he added to ease the look.

"Yes, daddy."

"Thank you," Lupin agreed.  "I guess you can help me in the office today.  Melissa can as well if she wants.  Ishi can help Jigen or Xander since his own father's tied up this morning and Marcus isn't back from housesitting yet.  Lotus, you can work on your basic skills, then do the drills for the others this time."  She beamed at him.  "Then everyone has to do another three lessons in each book."  They groaned.  "Hey, it's a pain but we have things we have to do too."

"Remind me to find them a dentist to look them over," Xander said casually.  Jigen gave him an odd look.  "They haven't been yet and I'm worried about braces and things.  It's better to stop it at this age than it is to have to do braces in ten more."

"I guess it would be," Jigen agreed.  "We can let Bix do that."

"No, they're our kids, we can do that," Xander said firmly.  Jigen and Lupin both stared at him in shock.  "Arsene, tell them what you told me."


"Why you still call me the mommy."

"Because you do all the mommy things," Ishi told them all, shrugging.  "He always has.  Even as a guy he still does the mommy things.  He takes us to all our appointments, he takes care of us when we're sick, he makes sure we eat.  All that mothering stuff."

"I'd still rather be called the father, Ishi," Xander said calmly.  "I'm not going to be female for a very long time and I've noticed I'm getting funny looks because of that name. For some reason, everyone seems to expect me to suddenly break out in femme behavior and I'm not.  You're ruining my rep, guys."

"Sorry," they said, looking at each other.

"Is daddy still okay?" Savannah asked.

"Sure, it's a great name, love.  I love that one.  I wear it proudly."  She grinned at him. "Can we agree on that?"

"What about us?" Ishi asked.

"Well...." he sighed.  "I have not a clue, Ishi, man.  You guys have an excellent father but he'd probably be upset if you started to call me 'dad' too.   So I'll leave that with you."  Ishi nodded, giving him a sideways look and Xander switched to Russian, which Ishi was forcing himself to learn.  "Hey, outside is something different.  Training is not in here," he said quietly.  Ishi nodded, stronger this time, and dug into his breakfast.  Xander looked at Lupin, then at Jigen.  "Problems?"

"No," Lupin admitted. "Not a one. I had no idea it bothered you or I would have talked to them about it sooner."  He winced when he heard the crash upstairs.  "Sounds like Fujiko's throwing a fit again."

"Isn't the baby ready to come?" Lotus asked the room at large.  Ishi looked at her. "I'm sorry, brother, but I can't take that anymore.  She's driving me insane and I can't stand this!  She's hurting father and I won't have it!"  She tossed down her fork and stomped off.
Everyone looked at Xander and he stared back.  "That's for her father to talk to her about and I'll be chatting with Goemon later," he told them all.  They went back to eating, not looking at him.  It wasn't like he could explain someone else's emotions to her.  It was about her father and her father should field that one.  He finally got up and went to find Goemon, having a quiet word with him in the nursery.  "Lotus is very upset with her mother," he said, standing next to him while he changed Kenji's diaper.  "She wanted to know if it wasn't nearly time so they could send her away so she'd quit hurting you."

"What did you tell her?"

"I'm leaving that up to you.  It's your emotions and your relationship.  It's got to come from you."  Goemon gave him a look.  "I'm not her mother, Goemon."

"True, you are not," he agreed calmly, knowing what Xander was saying.  "Where is she?"

"In her room I think.  If not she's in mine."  He left him there, taking Kenji downstairs.  "He's went to talk to Lotus, he'll be down shortly."  He sat the baby on his lap, letting him wave and babble at the others.  Alex was in the carrier beside Lupin's chair so they didn't have to double-up on child care first thing in the morning.  "Look who's up," he cooed, straightening the baby's hair.  "Yes, we were messy for the daddy this morning but we're a happy baby now."

"Yeah, we are," Jigen agreed.  "Want me to take him?"

"Sure, if you want."  Xander carefully handed him down to Ishi, who gave him a kiss then handed him to Jigen.  "Thanks, babe."

"Welcome, Xan."  Jigen let the baby gum on some of his scrambled eggs, even letting him grab them off the plate if he wanted.  He waited until Xander had gone again to look at Lupin.  "You know, sometimes I think it's a similar job to raise them all," he said quietly.

Lupin looked at him, then nodded. "It is.  I'm just happy we got that far."  He shrugged and held out his hands.  "Want me to take him so he doesn't slobber on all your breakfast?"

"No, I'm good with him," Jigen admitted.  He looked at the kids staring at them.  "There will be no more children in this house after this last one," he said firmly. "If one of you girls decides to have some when you're an adult, then that's on you.  We'll be grandparents."   He ate another bite of breakfast, leaving it at that.

Lupin smirked at him.  "So transparent," he hissed.

"Bite me."

"Later.  During the nap time," he promised with a smug smirk.

"Only if you're napping too," Jigen quipped.  "Remember, I only let Xander do that."

"Hmm.  We'll have to make him nap with us then," Lupin agreed.

The kids shared a look and decided they didn't need to decode that one.  They didn't want to know.


Bix looked at the outfit that had appeared on her bed sometime during the day, then at the child napping on top of it.  "Ishi?" she called quietly, not wanting to startle him.  "You're napping on my bed why?" she asked with a grin when he woke up.

"I'm escaping the father.  He's not feeling well and he has a headache.  I only sat down," he complained as he sat up and got off the outfit.  "I'm sorry.  Xander said to wear that to the convention this weekend."  He yawned again.  "I have no idea what this is."

"It's the newest growth spurt," she assured him, giving him a gentle hug.  "It'll stop soon, Ishi.  Thank you for watching that for me," she said with a grin, giving him a little shove.  "Go play.  You're only eleven."

"Yes, Bix," he sighed, but he was grinning wickedly as he ran to pounce the girls.

She opened the bag and gasped, pulling out the kimono inside.  "Oh, my," she breathed.  It was a perfect one, it suited her quite well.  She carefully put it back into the bag and hung it in her closet.  "I'll have to thank him for letting me wear that later," she reminded herself, sitting down to take down her hair.  One of the babies had pulled her bun halfway down and it needed to be put back up.  The wispy strands were bothering her.

"At least the person taking my place is cute," Fujiko said bitterly from the doorway.

Bix looked at her, standing up.  "I'm not taking your place.  Goemon is my cousin, Fujiko."

She snorted.  "Yeah, because that'll just make you better for him," she said coldly.  "How long did you watch and wait for someone like him to come along?"

Bix rolled her eyes.  "Fujiko, even if I might like someone *like* him, I'd never date another warrior.  I was nearly married off to one and I never want that.  I don't want someone who's going to be leaving and fighting each and every day.  That is not the relationship that I want.  That's about three strikes against your husband in my book.  He's my cousin, he's a warrior, and he leaves for long periods of time.  I'd never put up with that.  I will let him help me find a decent boyfriend, that's what family does for each other, but I will not be taking him from you.  Your mouth has done all that for you."  She closed the door and sat down again to finish pulling down her hair.  "Stupid woman," she muttered.  "Doesn't have a clue."

Interestingly enough, Fujiko was muttering about the same thing as she snuck down the back stairs.  Unfortunately she ran into Xander first, wincing when she saw him lounging against the bottom of the stairs.  "Move, now, Lavelle.  Lupin said I could get out and wander around the house."

He looked her over.  "Maybe he did, but that didn't mean that you could go bother Bix or the kids without an adult's supervision," he said calmly.  "I want you away from my children, Fujiko.  Far, far away from my children."  He got out of her way.  "The cook is making dinner right now."  He walked around her, heading up to his room to look around.  He found a few things missing and went to talk to the girls first, finding them doing their gem evaluation lessons from them.  "Having fun?"

"We were gonna bring 'em back in about an hour, daddy," Arsene said as she studied the facets of the ruby in her fingers through the eyeglass she was wearing.  "Sorry."

"Not an issue.  Next time, tell me that you broke into my room."  He went to find Lupin, finding Goemon in there with him.  "Fujiko's up and wandering."  Lupin sighed.  "She went and accused Bix of wanting Goemon again.  She told her off quite well.  Goemon, do you want to go to the convention with us this weekend?"

"I would," he agreed calmly, looking at him.  "Did you stick her back in her room?"

"Nope.  I told her to go into the kitchen, that the cook was doing dinner.  I did tell her I didn't want her around my kids but I think that's preserving their sanity at the moment."  He leaned against the doorframe.  "Do we have anything coming up?"

"Nope," Lupin said with a small smirk.  "The convention is a go this weekend, if you think you can handle most of them with just you, Bix, and Goemon."

"You're not coming?" he asked, looking a bit hurt.

"Well, I was going to, but Murami wanted to meet with me early Saturday so I might not have all day with you.  She didn't say what was wrong."

"Fine," he sighed, going up to check his uniform again.  He was going to get out that grease stain yet.  Even if he had to magic it out.  Someone knocked on his door.  "Yeah?"  Goemon walked in.  "Mad at me?"

"No, proud that you didn't carry her back to her room," he admitted as he shut the door.  "Xander, is Ishi bothering you?"

"No!"  He looked at him.  "No, the kids don't bother me, Goemon.  We all know that I love the kids.  Ishi and I are great buddies.  Why?"

"Because Lupin knew what you told him this morning and he was worried that my son may be imposing or growing an unusual attachment for you," he admitted quietly, coming in to sit on the edge of his bed.  "Are you...."  He sighed.  "I know you are not, but I did have to ask."

Xander looked stunned, then burst out laughing.  "What the hell are you thinking?" he laughed.  "Ishi and me?  He's a little kid, Goemon.  I only like guys who can keep up with me, and he's not ever going to be one of those.  I've been giving him tips on how to pick good women to fantasize over.  He doesn't even like men!" he said, still shocked.  "What gave you that idea?"

"We had all noticed that my son has an attachment to you," he pointed out, looking in the dark eyes.  "I did not think that you were like that.  I knew you were not," he said when the natural eye darkened.  "I knew you would never harm the children, Xander, but I do not want my son hurt because you are the one he looks to."

"Oh, yeah," he said sarcastically.  "Because I'm the guy he comes to with issues other than girls, Goemon.  Get a fucking grip!  I'm not replacing you, no one can," he said impatiently.  "You're his dad, he loves you, but he feels he has things going on that you wouldn't ever understand.  You're like a god to the kid, man, of course he isn't going to come to you about women!"  He turned and stomped off to fume in private.  How dare they think such things!  About him!  He wasn't like that and he respected Goemon's bond with his kids.  After all the times he had backed Goemon up and had told Lupin and Jigen to butt out and let him handle things, and they do this to him!  "That's it," he growled, glaring back at the house.  "They can fucking well do without me for a bit."  He pulled out his phone and called his daughter.  "'Liss, it's daddy.  I'm going to duck out for a few days.  Have Bix bring you to the convention and I'll meet you there, sweetness.  You guys behave and cause your other fathers a lot of hell.  Okay?"  He hung up and sent the phone to Marcus, then disappeared into the ether.  The only thing he did go back to get was his wallet.  He needed a few things out of it.  Then he disappeared again, heading for a house no one knew he had, not even Murami.  Well, Arsene and Melissa might have found it, but none of the adults knew.  He stalked up to his personal gym and tossed his things in the corner, deciding a good bout with his heavy bag was the only thing he could do that wouldn't hurt him too much, yet would still allow his anger to be vented.


Lupin looked at the empty spot at the table.  "Where did Xander go?" he asked calmly.  This was so like him and he was going to skin him alive for leaving like that.

Melissa coughed. "Daddy said he was going to duck out for a few days.  That Bix was to take us to the convention and he'd probably see us there, even though we might not really see him.  He sounded really upset and I don't know why, daddy."  She looked at her natural father, then blinked when he went pale.  "Did you guys fight again?"

"No," Goemon moaned.  "No, this was my fault," he admitted.

Ishi gave him a long look.  "You mean you make mistakes?" he asked coldly.  His father glared at him.  "I heard what you said, father.  I was looking for one of the kittens in the hidden portal.  That was so wrong even criminals wouldn't allow it in their midst.  He was right to leave before he vented and one of us had to hear him do so."  He looked at Lupin again.  "Then again, I believe more than one person had a hand in their discussion today.  Let me make myself clear.  Xander is my second mentor.  Uncle Marcus is great, but he doesn't work with me.  He doesn't understand me that much, and he certainly doesn't make practice fun when I'm tired and ready to give up.  That is all he is to me.  As is proper with a mentor, he gives me advice when I need it or ask.  If you had other ideas, then perhaps some of the popular anti-psychotics would do you well."  He stood up and stomped off.

Lotus looked at Sierra.  "Did my brother just throw a fit?"  Sierra nodded grimly.  "Ishi?"  He slammed a door.  "All right then.  What did we do to piss off Uncle Xander this time?" she asked her father.  "He is the only one who seems to help with our lessons outside of Auntie Bix and Uncle Marcus.  I need him to grade my math homework so I can take my test and move on."

"It's nothing," Goemon assured his daughter, patting her on the head.  "A misunderstanding."

"A misunderstanding that made daddy run isn't a misunderstanding, it's a reason to beg and plead for forgiveness," Savannah reminded him calmly.  "Leaving, yes; leaving like he did, that is much more serious.  We'll be lucky to get him back sometime in the near future.  Then who'll teach us things?"

"We don't?" Jigen asked his little girl.

She stared at him, then sighed and shook her head.  "Dad, it's kinda obvious that you can't connect with me because I don't want to be a thief.  Even though I can be a very good one, I'm apparently not the sort of child you ever wanted.  You've all made that very apparent to me and Sierra."

"Sierra and I," Lotus corrected bitterly.

"Fine, whatever," Sierra agreed, taking over.  "It's been pretty clear to us that you don't know what to do with us.  There for a while we thought the whole school idea was to get us around normal children so we wouldn't be such a burden on your lives.  It's a bad thing, but the only one who gives a damn about us are our siblings and Daddy Xander. You and Daddy Lupin both look at us like we're freaks of nature.  Goemon has no idea what to do with us, even though our lives are in more danger than anyone else's here.  It's gotten to the point where Savannah and I were going to ask to go to school earlier than the others."  She stood up and stomped off to cry in peace.

"Shit!" Lotus sighed, getting up to comfort her but Arsene waved her off and went instead.  "She's got enough problems without this right now," she announced.  "It's tough not being wanted."  She glared at her father.  "I've had that same feeling, father.  Just because I'm female doesn't mean I can't kick ass.  It's also not an issue that I'm a strong empath.  It happens and I may have to kill someone to protect myself some day.  I'd like to survive to see my own grandchildren."  She headed off to find the others, knowing that they needed her to calm them down.  Arsene had been scowling at her father.

"When did we become the bad guys?" Jigen asked Lupin.

"I thought I was trying," Lupin said miserably.  "Savannah, we try really hard not to ignore you two."

"You do a sucky job of it," she said bitterly.  "Just because I'm going to be a good guy doesn't mean I don't need to know how to defend myself.  I'll need it more because all those *nice* people you all play with will want me more to make an example of me because they think I'm going to be weak.  Don't believe me?  Ask your list, dad.  They said so when Arsene asked a few nights back."  She looked at her sister.  "I'm not hungry.  Come up when it's storytime and I'll pick out the book."

"Sure," Melissa agreed, sharing a look with her.  Her sister nodded and gave her a hug before walking out.  She cleared her throat in the stunned silence.  "Arsene and I were chatting with a few thieves we've been working with," she announced.  "He was a bit drunk, he hates coming to anyone for help, but he needed it to get his ass out of the hole he had dug and partially filled in with quicksand.  He was drunk enough that when Arsene typed in that she had to check on Savannah's nightmare he warned her to watch out for them.  He said that everyone has decided that those two are going to be the ones that people are going to try to prove themselves against you, dad."

She stared at her father, then at Goemon.  "Them, and Lotus, because they're all seen as being weaker and having no training.  Even though it's not true.  Arsene felt honor bound to remind him that Daddy Xander was training us, just so we wouldn't be targets.  He told us that there were already two calls out for their bodies.  Not their heads, their bodies."  Lupin got up and went to get sick.  She stared at her father again.  "By not training them and making sure people knew that they weren't going to be thieves, they're seen as the perfect targets.  Fortunately we told Uncle Ray about this and he and Daddy got together to talk about it recently.  They've come up with the training that we'll need and he's starting it.  Then he put around that anyone who touched *his* kids, all of us including the newest one, would be dying horribly by his hand and it would make Geneva look pitiful."  She swallowed.  "Uncle Ray suggested we start school to protect us.  He said that there were plenty of people who wanted us dead to give you back your former lives.  Daddy Xander had to be stopped from going off on them."

"How do you know this?" Goemon asked.

"Easy, I bugged him."  She shrugged. "I've had a bug on Uncle Ray now for months.  That's why Arsene's driver was found out as soon as he showed up.  We knew he was a police plant.  That's why we taunted him so very pleasingly.  That's why he went back to his boss and broke out in tears," she said proudly.  "It's amazing but there are plenty of times when those two think that you want them to be helpless and possibly to be taken by someone else."  She wiped her mouth and stood up.  "May I be excused?"

"No," Jigen told her.  "Sit."  She stared at him.  "Daughter, sit.  We had no idea about this. You both should have brought this to us."

"Would it have mattered?" she asked bitterly.  He recoiled.  "You never let us do things with our twins.  I may not understand her, but she is my twin.  I enjoy doing things with my twin.  The same as Arsene does enjoy doing things with her twin."

Arsene stuck her head in.  "Daddy said he went to bed."  She walked in at the hurt looks.  "Wrong father, Uncle Jigen.  The missing one.  He was a bit drunk and called his phone, which Uncle Marcus has."  She looked at her partner.  "I'm tired of this fight. I loathe fighting emotionally."

"Me too," she promised, giving her a hug.  "We'll go do the story tonight so Ishi doesn't have to hold in the swearing."

"He went to do a few dozen katas in the gym once he got Lotus to quit crying.  She doesn't want to die either, and he assured her she'd be protected, the same as we promised the others."

"Good."  Melissa walked out with her, leaving the adults there.  "I think that went well, considering."

"The speech was good," she agreed.  She went into the room where Lotus and the other two were curled up watching cartoons.  "Can we hop in the middle?"

"Sure," Sierra agreed, shifting to make room for her twin.  Savannah made room for her twin and together they pulled Lotus in to cuddle.

"Me!" Kenji yelled, using his walker to come in.  "Me memememe!"

"Yes, you, love," Lotus said with a smile.  She took him out of his walker and let him curl up against her stomach, it's where he liked to rest the most.  "We'll watch cartoons then you can walk that horrid contraption around some more."

Jigen walked in and flipped off the tv, making Kenji scowl.  "You can have it back in a moment, little guy."  He sat down looking at the girls.  "We never wanted that for you, for any of you.  We had a lot of hopes that you'd be normal kids.  We didn't want you in the family business until you were teenagers.  We certainly didn't want you to have a bounty on your heads at the age of eight."  Sierra sniffled.  "It won't happen.  It won't because we won't let it."  He looked at Arsene.  "How long did it take you to write that one?"

"We found out two days ago and we've all just calmed down enough, then *someone* had the bright idea that Daddy Xander was some sort of child molester after Ishi and said so to his face."  The other kids winced, shaking their heads, all but Kenji, who was chewing on her ear.  "Thanks, little man.  Behave, okay?"  He gave her a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss then went back to hugging his big sister.  "We decide we had to air this since this has been the month for the bad things to come to light.  It's not fair to our father and it's not fair to Daddy Lupin either."

"You guys really consider Xander to be your true parent?" Goemon asked from the doorway.

"You were there, Uncle Goemon.  How many times did daddy hand us off when we did something mystifying, like wake up?" Melissa said bitterly.  She glared at her father.  "I'm going to agree, a year at a boarding school is going to be a good idea and it will probably protect us more."

"I never handed you off," Jigen said, staring her down.  "I had no intention of ever handing you off.  Any of you.  I was there as much as I could be.  I can't teleport."

"No, you can't.  You also can't stand us teething, shitting, or being normal children," Lotus reminded him.  "At least I had two parents."  She frowned at her own father.  "I'm still not in a forgiving mood for you putting me in so much danger, father.  Since you can't seem to train a girl, I've taken the liberty of asking Uncles Ethan and Ripper to help me."

"No!" he said firmly.  "You will not learn chaos magic."

"Then fucking well teach me!" she yelled.  "Before I die before I hit puberty!"

"Enough!" Lupin said as he walked in.  "Lotus, please don't swear.  I know you're upset.  I'm upset and I know you're scared."  He sat down, pulling her into his lap to hold.  "We never wanted to put you kids in danger."

"Then why didn't you train us?" Sierra demanded.  "We might be good guys, but I will need it.  Do I have to pull an Arsene to get you to love me?"  She burst out in tears and her twin hugged her.

"Shh.  He loves you, he just doesn't understand you," she soothed, glaring at her father.  "See what you've done?"

Lupin put Lotus into Jigen's lap then grabbed his daughter to hold.  "I do love you, good guy tendencies and all," he assured her, holding her as tightly as he could.  "I don't want anything to happen to you.  The only reason we haven't been teaching you things is because we didn't think you'd be interested."

"That and telling you some things would break thieves' honor," Jigen told them calmly, looking at his own daughters.  "We never meant to ignore you.  We never wanted to hurt you.  Now I know why you and Lotus sound like walking encyclopedias."

"Did you actually wonder?" Savannah asked.   Her father nodded.  "Did it impress you?"

"No, you scared me.  I wanted to have little girls and somewhere I fucked up," Jigen told her, being honest.  "I have no idea where.  I know I wasn't going to teach you more than marksmanship because I didn't think you'd need or want it."

"Even I need it," Lotus said tiredly.  "People are going to come for me too because you've already set the precedent that the three of us are weaker and not the true heirs.  A few people want to test themselves against Ishi and they want to see whether or not my father gives me away in some political marriage or if I get kidnaped and killed because I can't get myself free."  She got out of his lap and stood up, looking at her father.  "Either train me or send me to someone to live and train with them.  Even the Kitsune if you can arrange it. It'd be kinder than waiting to see who you're going to marry me off to or who's going to come for me."

"Neither will happen," he said, picking her up to hold her.  "I did not believe you would need it," he reminded her.  "I have been working you up to your brother's level."

"Father, there will be people of your own skill that are going to come for me."

"I know, which is why you're getting sword lessons as soon as you hit your next growth spurt," he assured her, giving her another squeeze. "We did not mean to hurt any of you.  You are not weaker for not wanting to join a life of crime.  Nor are you weaker for being girls, wanting a future in law enforcement, or for not being the genius that Arsene is."

"I'm only doing it to prove myself invincible," she informed them all.  "That way they know that the others will always stick up for those three and the younger kids."

Lupin shook his head, pulling her closer to hold her.  "It's not necessary.  I will kill anyone who comes near you kids as painfully as possible.  No matter which one is tried, they're going to die horribly.  How could you doubt that?"

"Easy.  You don't teach us things," Sierra reminded him.  "We're not supposed to have to worry about this, daddy.  We're still kids.  I've tried everything to get your attention."

"No," Arsene warned.

"Oh, quit!" Sierra said, giving her a shove.   "It wasn't your fault!"

"No, it wasn't, but if you had come to me, I would have helped you at least plan something," she reminded her.  "Instead you got arrested and Daddy had to come for you."

"Excuse me, arrested?" Lupin asked, looking shocked.  He looked down at his good little girl.  "Why were you arrested?  And when?"

"I was trying to be the daughter you wanted, not some little girl who was going to be given away in marriage to some thief you wanted to get on the good side of," she said coldly.  "Unfortunately, I got caught.  Uncle Ray was called since it was one of us and he called Daddy.  Daddy came down and fixed it and they talked then."

"I found out because someone on the thieves' bulletin board put out a notice, that's when the shit started to hit the fan," Arsene told them.

Lupin swallowed.  "Sierra, honey, I love you just the way you are.  Nothing would make me happier than to go to your Academy graduation.  I don't want you in my life if that's not what you want."  She burst out in tears.  "Hey!  Not like that.  I meant being a thief.  Shhh."  He hugged her as hard as he could, looking at Arsene.  "I wanted to know first, before you told the others and Xander," he reminded her.  "Things like this need to be dealt with by the adults, not you guys.  You're not old enough for that yet."

"Whine, father," she said bitterly.  "We called Daddy because he wasn't going to yell and throw fits."

"I wouldn't have at the station, and I wanted to know this!" Lupin said angrily.  "How long has this been going on?"

Lotus looked at him, then shrugged.  "Who knows?  Since it was pointed out that daddy was having a baby?"

"I'm going to kill someone for *daring* to come near you girls," Lupin growled, glaring at the doorway.  "Xander didn't tell me either, I will get him for that."  He looked at the three in danger. "Did you three want to change your names to something safer?  It's a weak hiding spot but it might give us some warning."

"No!" Sierra said, getting away from him, incidentally kicking him on the thigh and stomach.  "No, you're not sending me away!"

"I was going to suggest that you take Xander's last name," Lupin said, rubbing his new sore spots.  "I'm not giving you up.  Not to some wannabe idiot and certainly not to Xander.  If you had run to me, I would have stopped this before now.  I wish you kids had so we could worry about you, that's what parents are for!"

"Too late," Arsene said dryly.  "Daddy Xander got some information from Uncle Ray and he ran off to deal with them a few weeks ago.  You're missing some of your contacts, dad."  She looked at Goemon, who still looked stunned.  "We had to become better to get any sort of attention and love from you guys.  We'd love to have been normal kids.  Lotus does suck up an impressive amount of information.  Melissa does a lot of planning because we've had to.  Lotus does a lot of magic because she's been learning how to protect us.  That's why we've been so good."

"Then it won't have to happen any longer," Lupin promised, making a silent vow to kill them all.  No one touched his kids!  "Why didn't Xander tell me?"

"Because you haven't said a word to him that wasn't during a job or in the bedroom?" Melissa suggested.  She looked over as Bix joined them.  "We're telling them about the people who want us."

"Hmm."  She joined them, patting Lotus on the head.  "I had wondered why Ishi was trying to kill a tree with his fists."  She hugged Sierra.  "I'm impressed.  You nearly did get that vase."  She gave her a small smile.  "Lupin, there's a few people who have wanted to talk to you tonight.  I just answered the phone again for Marcus.  He wanted to know why Xander was calling him while he was drunk.  Apparently he can't leave Ethan's minions or else they drink all the liquor and try to paint the house pink and lavender." Jigen shuddered.  "Exactly.  Marcus said that Xander's phone call suddenly cut out and he doesn't know why.  He did say that the problem with the people trying to hurt the children was almost solved."

"He didn't come to me?" Lupin asked, looking hurt.

"You were busy and he was proving his worth," she said quietly, staring into his eyes.  "As you knew he was going to if you had thought about it."  Lupin slumped and cuddled his daughter harder.  "He said it's taken care of except for a few higher people and he doesn't have the clout to go near them and he doesn't want to go to Iran right now."  Lupin's eyes narrowed.   "He also said you couldn't go right this moment either. He said it's very dangerous and if you tried then it could well leave the kids orphans.  The warlords who wanted them for their child brides are in the middle of a war."  Jigen shuddered. "He said he sent a messenger to them to point out that his children were sacred and not going to them unless they wanted to.  He said he got an assurance that they're too young for him anyway.  Apparently he wanted all three of them so they could be kept together."

"He can kiss my ass," Lotus said grimly.

"Daughter, I know you are under great stress, but do not swear," Goemon reprimanded gently.  "That is one habit I do not want you to pick up from the others.  Their abilities, yes, their mouths, no."  He made her look at him.  "You should have told us immediately.  We need to know such things to protect you.  I will protect you no matter what you turn out to be.  Even if you turn out to be one of those dangerous, psychotic serial killers, I will still love you and protect you.  I would have to find somewhere safe to let you live, but I would protect you," he said at her skeptical look.  "If you had come to us when these feelings first developed then we would have made allowances and trained you as the others have been.  We were remiss in not seeing it."

"We gave you clues," Arsene spat.

"Apparently adults are dense," Jigen told her, grabbing her to hold.  "Sometimes we need a blunt sign."

"Fine.  I want to be a normal girl for a few years," Arsene said, looking at her father.

"I'd like nothing better than for you to be a little girl instead of my grandfather," he assured her.  "We want you girls to do things like beg for toys instead of weapons.  I want to take you girls shopping and whine about the current 'cute' fashions being much too old for you instead of trying to figure out how to get you body armor for your birthdays.  It would please me more than anything for you girls to become normal girls forever more if that's what you wanted.  I don't want you to think I'm ever going to use you. You're not marriage pawns.  You're not a reason for the world to quake in fear.  You're children, and I want you to be children."

"Me too," Jigen agreed.

"Me as well," Goemon added.  "I only wanted to have children, not warriors in training, Lotus.  I had unreasonable expectations with you both."

"Father, we love that you spend time with us every day to teach us," she protested.  "We love you for wanting to teach us and trying to teach us everything you know.  I don't want to giggle over the current 'hot' band.  I don't want to coo over dresses.  Dresses are boring.  I've been like this forever, long before you tried to teach me how to block a hit."  He nodded, understanding what she was saying.  "Ishi and I want to continue our training, dad.  We'll kidnap you if we have to."

"You will not," he promised, setting her down.  "I will train you all to defend yourselves and you two will still get your extra lessons if that's what you want."  She nodded.  "Then it will be so.  Let me retrieve your brother before something worse happens."  He headed for the garden, knowing by the sound where his son was hitting something.  He walked out and stopped him before he kicked it again.  The tree's trunk was already showing a great deal of damage.  "Son."  His son turned to glare at him.  "I love you.  I want you to be a happy and normal child, but I am not abandoning any of you.  Not Lotus, not the others. You should have told us."

"The Mother saw."

Goemon considered that statement, knowing who he was talking about instinctively.  It did seem that his son was understood by Xander more.  "Xander has always been...."  His son burst out laughing.  "Your actual mother?"  He nodded.  "When did she note that?"

"In her diary a few months back."

"Ah."  He shook his head, leaning against the tree.  "I had no idea, but she is looking in from the outside so I suppose she would be able to see it better than I."  He pulled his son closer to hold him again.  "I wish I had realized.  I do not want to treat you differently.  I want to treat you the same and I want all of you children to be happy, normal children who feel no pressure to follow in our footsteps. "

Ishi pulled back.  "If you drop me as a student, I'll take another and prove you wrong," he said bitterly, turning around but his father caught him and pulled him back against him.  "Let go."

"Son, shut up and listen.  I am not going to remove myself from your training unless you want me to," he said calmly.  "All I want is for you to be happy, and if your training makes you that way then I'm going to continue.  I do not want you to feel that you can't come to us for things like this.  I want to know when you're having problems, when you're in trouble, and when you have odd thoughts about not being loved.  We do love you.  Each and every one of you, even the next one."  He let his son pull back if he wanted to.  "Now then.  I need to know more about these people who would hurt you."

"Ask Uncle Xander.  He knows."

"He is still not back yet," he reminded the young man.

Ishi scowled at his father, looking every bit like a miniature him.  "Father, you hurt him so badly he may never come back," he pointed out.  "You accused him of improper conduct with his own children.  Would you come back?"  Goemon shook his head silently.  "What gave you that idea?"

"You and he seemed to share so many secrets and I wanted to make sure it was not how it looked," he defended.

Ishi rolled his eyes, silently asking for patience.  He shifted his weight and crossed his arms over his chest.  "Father, you're an idiot.  Uncle Xander would sooner kill himself than ever have an improper thought about us children, or any children.  He's not like that.  He's proven that time and again.  Uncle Xander has been the one stability we could always count on.  He didn't know that we were in danger until Uncle Ray told him and then he lost his temper greatly and disappeared, coming back bloody and with ripped clothes a few hours later to bring Sierra home.  There is still a roll-call going on among those on the bulletin board Arsene and her father use for their illicit business."

Goemon sighed and nodded.  "I still wanted to know, son.  When *you* found out, not when Xander did.  He may have thought it was handled, but it may not be and I want to be the one to protect you.  You are still young and should not have to deal with these matters.  That's what an adult and a parent is for.   Your sister reminded us that you've had two, even though one of them wasn't biological.  Why did you not come to us?"

"What would you do?  Go out and get killed by fighting with them?  Then where would we be?"


"No, Father, we knew it would happen.  Uncle Jigen would not be coming back.  Uncle Lupin had the greatest chance of dying as well.  You would have been maimed too bad to ever fight again.  Lotus read the cards with Dawn's help.  Now they're different."  He looked at the house, then at his father.  "They're mostly gone.  The danger is less to you."

"It is still our job to protect you," Goemon calmly reminded him.

"So we can be orphans?" he asked bitterly.  Goemon glared at him.  "I'm not going to let that happen to those girls, father, even if I have to prevent it myself.  Not you, not Lotus, not anyone is going to make those girls orphans while I still live."


"You all would have died, Father," Ishi said slowly and clearly.  "Even if you had lived, you wouldn't be the man you are now."

His father grabbed him by the arms and shook him.  "It is a noble sentiment, but that is my choice, son.  I am the father.  It is *my* duty and my privilege to protect you all, not yours.  Not Xander's, Bix's, or even Marcus' duty, *mine*."

"And it's ours to make sure that you don't die when someone else can do it equally as well and not die!" Ishi shouted.  Goemon flinched.  "I'm not becoming an orphan either, father.  I love my baby brothers, but I don't want to be their father!"

Goemon grabbed and shook his son twice.  "That is not your job, son. Yours is to make sure that the future goes on!  Not to protect me when I'm able to do it for myself!  I am the parent and it is my job to protect you. Until I'm old and decrepit, it will remain *my* job to do that.  You are not the parent, act like the son!"  His son sniffled so he pulled him closer again, holding him tightly.  "I appreciate the thought, but it is not necessary.  The cards do not always show the absolute future, only a possible path.  In this case, we will finish hunting down these imbeciles until they understand and know that you are sacred to us."

"That's why they want us, dad," he sighed, relaxing against him.  His father squeezed him.  "Dad, you're really strong and I'd like to have those ribs for a few more years," he complained.  Goemon chuckled and let him go a little bit.  "Maybe a few more inches of air?"

"No.  I am not going to leave you alone.  You are my son and I love you for being so stubborn, but I will not allow it."  He let him go and ruffled his hair.  "Come, let us talk more reasonably.  The other two parents are probably done crying by now."

"The girls really laid into them, didn't they?" he said miserably.  Goemon nodded.  "Oh, man," he groaned.  "That's counterproductive.  They'll never let us out of the house."

"Your uncle has said that Bix is taking you to the convention with me and he will meet you there."  He walked his son inside, seeing Lupin making sundaes for the girls.  "May we have some as well?"

"Sure.  Pull up a chair or a stool," he said, glancing at Ishi.  "Feel better?"

"Yes.  You?"

"Much.  Next time, tell us, kid.  Even if we're in danger from it, we want to know so we can protect you guys and send someone else to do it for us."

"We promised we would," Arsene told him.  "Should I get the iodine or the alcohol?" she asked, looking at his hands.

"A bowl of warm, soapy water and some gauze should do for now," Goemon told her, giving her a hug as she moved past him.  "You are very helpful," he told her.

"He'll still need to clean that and help his sister heal the tree," Melissa reminded him.

"It should be fine and the tree will heal on its own," Goemon told her.  Everyone stared at him.  "Ishi did not do that much damage, just to some of the bark."

"I was getting tired," Ishi admitted as he sat down, letting Arsene put his hands into the soapy water and help clean them.  "Maybe you should be a nurse," he joked.

"I do a good job," she agreed, carefully cleaning the scrapes and skinned spots.  Ishi hissed.  "Next time don't pick on the poor trees, there aren't enough of them as is."  She let that hand out and worked on the other one, letting his sister wrap his hands for him.

"Not too tight or I won't be able to have ice cream," Ishi protested.

"You can't until you promise to let us be the adults anyway," Jigen told him.

Ishi looked at him, then at his father, who gave him a long look, making him sigh.  "Fine, you are adults and we are mere children," he agreed.

"Mere my ass," Lupin snorted.  "Mere children wouldn't have been able to pull what you three have."  He handed over a bowl of ice cream, helping Lotus with the last bandage.  "There."

"Where's Daddy?" Melissa asked, digging into her bowl of treat.

"Apparently he's drinking himself into a dreamless sleep," Jigen said honestly.

"Oh.  Then why did he hang up on Uncle Marcus suddenly?" Arsene asked.

Lupin shrugged.  "I don't know.  I can go ask but it might not get us anywhere."

"I'll come with you when you do that," Arsene told him.  He gave her a long look.  "What?  I have friends out there and I have to tell them that I can't meet them in Paris this Saturday after sneaking out of the Convention."

"You're not dragging me out of there," Ishi told her.

"Fine," she agreed, rolling her eyes.  "You fandom boys and your things can have fun.  I'm going to have some fun and then I was going to go pull one over on the ICPO by taking their present treasure."

"Oh, no," Lupin said, patting her on the head.  "There will be none of that, young lady.  That is much too dangerous and many of those people can shoot you.  You're not going anywhere near the cops until you're an adult."  He sat down next to her.  "I mean it, guys, even if it's something bad enough to kill us, I need to know to protect you guys and send someone else to do the family's dirty work."

"We did, we sent Uncle Xander," Lotus told him.

"Yeah, but he could have used the backup," Jigen reminded her.  "From now on, anything that you want Xander to do for you becomes a whole group project.  Got it?"  They all nodded, sighing in defeat.  "Thank you.  If you guys are really good, we won't make you spend your allowance at the convention."

"You were going to be that mean to us, Daddy?" Sierra asked.  Lupin nodded.

"We would have stolen it from the safe anyway," Arsene reminded her.  "Why did you go for that horrible, ugly vase anyway, sis?"

"It had some challenge but it looked pretty easy," she admitted.  "Uncle Ray asked me why I had endangered my future as a cop, so I told him why.  He told me I was dumb and read me the riot act."

"You know, I never understood that saying," Lotus admitted.

"Riot acts were something that had to be screamed as you arrested them probably," Jigen told her, patting her on the back. "We're going to behave, right?  No more magic without telling us.  No more doomsday prophecies without telling us.  No more letting the others get into danger without telling us.  Right?"  She gave him a patient look, exactly like her mother used to give Lupin, and nodded.  "Good girl."  He looked at Lupin.  "We should probably find Xan."

"He'll come home," Lupin pointed out.  The kids all groaned.  "What?" he asked, looking disturbed.  "He won't?"

"My father accused him of being inappropriate with me," Ishi noted. "I'm sure he's crying in his drink right now."

"I'd suggest a lot of begging and presents," Arsene told Goemon.

"What gave you that idea?" Lotus asked.  "Uncle Xander considers us more important than his honor and life."

Goemon looked at Lupin.  "Someone noted that you children, especially Ishi, were spending a lot of time with him, seeming to keep a dark secret, and holding undue influence over your lives.  Plus, he is always touching Ishi."

Everyone under the age of twelve and over the age of two groaned.  "You idiots!" Arsene shouted.  "You drove him off and we'll never get him back now!  Then what will you do?"

"Daughter, watch your mouth," Lupin warned.  She gave him a hurt look.  "I am not an idiot."

"Well you must be.  You threw away the person who was pulling jobs for you, Uncle Lupin.  You threw away the one person who gave a damn about you no matter how dumb you've been in the past, no matter how many times you cheated on him, and no matter how bad you treated him.  Gods!  Kids, we've got to find him."

"Daddy still had a few secret places," Melissa said thoughtfully.  "I suppose we can ask. Someone must have seen him since he hasn't got the choker or his illusion necklace anymore."  She ate another bite of ice cream, licking off her spoon when her father took her bowl.  "I'm guessing he's got a secret hiding place for when we get to be too much.  I have no idea where though. Did he bring his laptop?"

"He walked out with whatever was on his body," Ishi told him.

"He came back once but it was a quick thing, like he was grabbing his wallet," Lotus told him.

"Oh."  Ishi sighed.  "Well, he'll have to be there Saturday.  He wanted to introduce Bix to his buddies and to show us around our first convention so we could appreciate what he does."  He stirred his topping into his ice cream before taking another bite.  "It's Thursday, he'll have to be there."

"We'll put out a call and check the convention," Lupin assured him.  "I'll be dropping you guys off before going to meet with Murami.  Then I'll join you guys again.  You will behave for Bix and Goemon or else," he warned.  "There will be no trips to the mall until the holidays."  They pouted and nodded, eating their ice cream.  "Lotus, Ishi, I guess you're going to have to go to Marcus until Xander quits pouting and we can convince him that we weren't really concerned about that.  That okay with you?"

"I can teach them myself," Goemon protested.

"Yes, but Uncle Marcus does the meditation lectures much better, daddy," Lotus said, giving him a small grin.  "It's much more about focus.  Ishi does it very well."

"Hmm."  He looked at his son.  "Trying magic for yourself?"  His son shuddered.  "Thank you.  Then I will allow that.  Meditation is often hard for some of us."  He reached over to tap the back of his son's bandaged hand.  "Perhaps we should talk about your anger later, son."

"Father, you tried to rip my family apart. Of course I got angry."

"Fine.  I can agree with that," he promised.  "If it happens again I want you to come to me directly.  That sort of anger is going to get you killed and I would hate that."

"Gee, Goemon, mushy much?" Jigen teased.

"Shut up," Arsene said, frowning at him.  "Someone needs to be mushy at Ishi so he'll know what to do with a girl when he finally catches one and makes her beg and plead for his attention."

"Do not tell your father to shut up," Lupin said firmly.  "Or else you'll be staying here by yourself Saturday."  She slumped and nodded, giving Jigen a 'sorry' look.  "Thank you.  Now that we have that settled, I'm going to talk to my contacts online.  Arsene, you're grounded from the office for two days."  He stood up and headed that way.

"Laptop?" Sierra asked.

"In my room," Melissa noted. "Working wonderfully as always, even after the baby pulled it down on his head."  She ate another bite, then drank the melted ice cream off the bottom of the bowl.  "May I have some more please?"

"Nope, sorry.  One bowl maximum tonight," Jigen told her.  "Tomorrow."  They nodded.  "After this, everyone goes upstairs and bathes, then we'll do bedtimes."  They nodded again, trooping up as soon as they were done.  Savannah was nice enough to help them put the bowls into the dishwasher, but she had to scurry upstairs as well.  Jigen threw rock/paper/scissors with Goemon for the honor of first story, and lost, so he went to check on Lupin.  "Anything?"

"Not a damn thing," Lupin admitted.  "Not a thing doing a 'net search for his name.  Not a newspaper article with his name in it.  Nothing."  He looked up.  "I was hoping it was somewhere like the supply closets."  Jigen nodded, looking calm.  "I have no idea where he went but my daughter may be right.  We may have lost him."

"Lupin, all his stuff's here, he'll be back," Jigen pointed out.

"He can probably pack it by magic and transport it somewhere," Lupin complained.  "Bedtime already?" Jigen nodded so he followed him out and up the stairs.  Behind him, his computer's screen went blank as a simple message was typed onto it, then left that way.

He's mine now, I warned you.

The screensaver came up and blocked it, leaving it with them all night.

One of the cats that wasn't really theirs came in around two am and laid down on the keyboard and mouse, stopping the screensaver and ending the program that had been running.  She purred and licked her front paw, using it to clean her ears.  That was much better.  Her lord and master would be happier with her.


That Saturday, Ishi found a few of the people he had been introduced to, smiling and waving them closer.  "Morning."

"Morning, Ishi."  He grinned at the other kids.  "I see Xander made good on his threat.  Where is he?" Jerry asked.

"You mean he's not here?" Ishi asked.  Jerry and the other guys shook their heads.  "Not even in a clever disguise?  Maybe as his mouse persona?"

"No, not at all," Paul told him as he joined them.  "Hey, kids.  I'm Paul."

Ishi giggled and pulled Bix closer.  "This is Bix.  The woman that Uncle Xander wanted to introduce you guys too.  Arsene," he said without having to look.

"I was only looking, I'd never steal from here," she defended.  "I'm in my good-guy persona."  She straightened out her dress.  "Hi.  Do you know where our Uncle is?  He kinda left the house crying and went to get drunk."

"Xander?" Jerry asked, looking concerned.  He looked around, then whistled and pointed at a very furry man.  "Teddy!"  He came jogging over.  "Xander left his house and disappeared."

"Yeah, well, I'd assume he can do that with how good he is," Teddy admitted.  He grinned at the kids.  "Hi, guys.  Don't worry, Xander's really good at hiding."

"He left in tears," Ishi told him.

"Ishi, perhaps he wouldn't want them to know," Bix said gently.

"They're his best friends, they want to win him in a poker game," Ishi said with a grin for her.  "Teddy, this is Bix, the one Uncle Xander was telling you about.  You boys play nicely with her, she's a distant cousin and very gentle.  I'd hate to have to duel with anyone who upset her."  He gave her a push toward the men, then looked at Teddy and Jerry.  "Nowhere?  Nothing?"

"I haven't heard a thing," Teddy admitted.  "I'll call around. There's another convention in a few days.  Oh, there's Ray.  RAY!"  A man dressed as Spike looked up and smirked, strolling over there.  "Ishi and the kids can't find Xander.  Have you heard about him?"

"Just that he disappeared and went to get drunk.  Marcus called me last night at home to see if I knew where he was.  He has his phone and Xander hasn't called since that time he got cut off."

"Cut off?" Teddy asked.  "Didn't he say he had a satellite phone?"  Ray nodded.  "Then how did that happen?"

"Marcus wasn't sure but he can't trace him and he says Xander shouldn't be able to hide from him.  I've put it around that Lavelle's gone missing, but none of the ICPO's guys have seen or heard from him either.  Ishi, kids, don't worry, we're looking for him too.  A pissed Xander is one who can destroy the world."

Ishi went up on his tiptoes, whispering in his ear.  "That's why he left."

"Fuck," Ray said simply, pulling out his phone.  "Let me call Zenigata.  Maybe he's got more of an idea or Dawn might.  Since he's at home and all."  He stepped away to make the call, getting out of the stream of traffic.  "Lotus, that is not a booth you're allowed at," he ordered.  "Your father would have fits."  He heard the tired voice on the other side and whispered what Ishi had told him.  "All BS of course."

"Of course it was.  I was concerned about the training he was giving my son," Goemon said as he appeared behind him.  Ray jumped, then scowled at him.  "I do that look much better."

"Probably true," Ray agreed. "Isn't it a false accusation?"  Goemon nodded with a slight slump to his shoulders.  "Who in the hell told you that?"

"He was worried about how Uncle Xander seemed to be my confidant and jumped miles to the right," Ishi told him, taking the phone.  "Uncle Zenny, we can't find him either.  Have you heard *anything*?  We can't even figure out what city he's in."  He listened to the voice try to chew him a new one.  "Just stop, dude.  He's so upset he hung up on Uncle Marcus.  He gave Uncle Marcus his phone.  He left *everything* at the house."  He listened to the restating that they didn't know a thing.  "Fine.  When you do, we need to know first.  I'm giving Ray *my* cell's number."

Goemon took the phone.  "I accused him falsely," he admitted.  "He was quite emotional when he left.  It may not be possible to approach him.  Yes, it is I," he sighed.  "Thank you."  He rattled off a number.  "To my phone."  He handed Ray his again.  "Bix, we will meet you by the food stalls in a few minutes," he ordered, herding the children with him while they all kept an eye out for Xander. This was not good.

Ray groaned and held his head while he listened.  "No, Goemon found out he was mentoring Ishi and jumped light years out of synch with reality.  Yeah, him.  No, he was taking care of the kids, like usual.  I'm guessing the wife is driving everyone insane.  No, they're all here.  Thanks, boss."  He hung up and shrugged at Teddy's interested look.  "We have not even gotten a *hint* of Xander's whereabouts.  Zenigata did say he'd be calling them instead of trying to get him ourselves.  If he's that upset he might kill us all."  He shook his head and patted Bix on the back as he walked past her, dropping a small bug on her robe.  "I'm gonna shadow the kids in case someone gets a bright idea that Ishi can't stop.  Have fun, guys."  He trotted off to find the kids.  Seven kids in here was asking for trouble, them being thieves only made it doubly worse.  Or more.

Bix smiled shyly, blushing bright red.  "Hello."

One of the guys offered her his arm.  "We should get you a place to sit down away from the grubby fingers of the children. That kimono is very pretty and suits you wonderfully."  She blushed brighter and he grinned.  "It's true, it does."  The other guys with him nodded and made agreeing noises.  "So, you're Ishi's cousin?"

"Distant one," she admitted shyly.  "I'm from the other side of the family."

"Ah."  Paul smiled at her and plucked the bug off her back.  "Ray is quite obvious at times.  Where did you find that?  I know Xander knows some of the best people."

"I think it was his.  It was left on my bed," she told him.

"Hmm.  Ray?"  Ray's head popped up.  "Xander gave her his kimono."

"That was before the fight," she offered.

"We'll find him, Bix, even if I do have to pull a lot of overtime and a lot of frequent flier miles."  He looked at them.  "She is Goemon's distant cousin, guys.  Let's play nicely.  She's barely legal."

"Xander told us," Teddy agreed.  "Some of us are married and chaperoning.  Go find the kids."

"I was trying to," Ray complained, heading off to do that again.  All the good stuff would be gone from the stalls if he had to shadow them around, but he could live with that he guessed.


Lupin walked into Murami's apartment, giving her a kiss on the cheek.  "Have you turned into a cop?" he teased lightly.

"No. You?"  He laughed and gave her a real hug.  "Thanks.  I needed to talk to you about Arsene.  She sounded so defeated, like school was the only option she could see to keep them all safe."  She led him to the sitting area, letting him pick his seat so she could sit across from him.  "There is an educational fund available, Lupin.  Do you think you're going to need it?"

"We had been discussing a year of school away from us to help them deal with other people," he admitted. "I know what was wrong and we've fixed it, but we still think a year of school would help them.  They've never had to deal with kids who don't like them or anything like that."

"It does sound like a good idea," she agreed.  She curled up on her love seat, pulling her feet up beside her.  "Lupin, I'm also worried about Xander.  He sent me a letter saying the kids could have access to his money if necessary."

"He's missing," Lupin groaned, leaning forward to hold his head.  "Can I see it?"  She nodded at the letter on the table between them so he picked it up to read it.  "That's not his handwriting, Murami."

"I noticed that first thing," she admitted.  "Where did he go?"

"We have no idea.  Does he have any houses that you haven't told us about?"  She shook her head.  "None?"

"Not a one that I know about," she admitted.  "Then again, I don't know everything he does as an emergency procedure.  In case someone tries to get to me or something, or so he said."

"It's a wise move," Lupin agreed, putting the letter into his jacket pocket.  "Want to get dressed and come with us to the fandom convention?  The kids are all there except the youngest few, who are with Jigen and the cats."

"You mean those things that Xander goes to?" she asked hesitantly.  He nodded, grinning at her.  "Since when did you go to those things?"

"Since he made me or else he was going to leave me.  I foolishly thought he was addicted until I met a few of his friends."

She smirked at him.  "I bet.  Where did the kimono he had me pull out of storage go?"

"Bix.  He's fixing her up with his friends."  He pulled out his phone and called Ishi's.  "Is your uncle there?"  He sat up straight, rigid with tension.  "No?  Xander *never* misses a convention or a time to play with you guys.  Hell, he promised you guys and he's not there?"  He groaned.  "Yeah, thank Ray for me.  Yeah, I'm with Murami.  Thanks, Ishi."  He hung up and looked at her, forcing himself to relax.  "He's not there."

"He's not?"  Lupin shook his head.  "What did you guys do to him this time?"

"Goemon thought he was having odd thoughts about Ishi because Xan was mentoring him so closely."  She glared at him.  "Hey, it was a worry at times.  Xander hadn't been in bed with us for two days."

"So you *assume* he's hitting on Ishi in some sort of Greek Mentor/boy relationship?"  Lupin made a whimpering sound.  "You'll be lucky to ever get him back, even if he didn't plan this.  Even if he was kidnaped and you manage to rescue him, he'll never come back, Lupin.  You just destroyed his whole world."

"He will," Lupin assured her casually.   "We have the kids."

"Arsene, listen to yourself," she ordered quietly.  He flinched at the use of his real name.  "Think about the man you're talking about.  He went to the kitsune when you ignored him for too long, yes?"  Lupin sighed and nodded.  "Now you've accused him of a heinous action against a child he considers his, and he left you.  Things are looking like he planned things so he'd never be coming back.  I'd be surprised if he didn't contact the kids sometime, but I doubt he's *ever* going to come back to you after that."

"Goemon asked."

She moaned, putting a hand on her forehead.  "I'll try to track him and talk to him.  He's got to know that Goemon was in shock from something Fujiko had done.  Damn you!"  She stood up, staring down at him.  "There isn't enough jewels in the world to get him back this time, Lupin.  He's gonna stay away without a very good reason.  He may haunt you now and then but he won't be coming back."

"Haunt us?"

"Shadow you.  Take on tasks for you. That sort of thing?" she suggested with a wave of her hand.  "You know, protecting the kids from afar?"

"Yeah, I know," he admitted bitterly.  "He tried to take a challenge from me recently."

"Well, yeah.  Look at who you're talking about, Arsene."

"Can you please quit calling me that?" he whined.  "He only got to call me that in bed."

"Okay, so you've managed to mess up the only good thing in your life twice," Murami said, moving to her computer.  She pulled up a screen and typed in her codes to check on Xander's records.   She grimaced and checked the other cards.  "He hasn't used a credit card I have authority on for over a month."  She looked at him, seeing the miserable man for what he was now.  "Go find him, Lupin, before he dies from this."

"No one's heard from him," he admitted.  "All we can do is hope that he'll try for the kids."  He stood up and came over to look at the screen.  "When did he go there?"

"Apparently last month," she said dryly, frowning up at him.  "You're quickly losing any chance, Lupin.  Can't one of your people find him?"  He shook his head. "Not at all?"

"Not a single sign of our loon," he said bitterly.  "It's like he's dropped off the face of the earth.  Dawn can't track him.  Marcus can't track him.  He cut a phone call with Marcus abruptly.  He's not at the convention.  He's breaking a promise to the kids."

"Have you thought that he might have been snatched?" she asked patiently.

"I have, but then again no one's said anything about it."

"Well, if they have what they want, why would it matter?" she asked.  "They wouldn't tell the people who might rescue him."

"I'm trying," he defended.  "It's not easy to find Xander under normal circumstances.  We taught him very well."

"I think he had that skill before you ever met him," Rupert said from behind him, making Lupin spin around and pull his gun and Murami back away.  "Put it away, Lupin.  You won't win."  He glared at him.  "What did you do to the boy?"

"Nothing!"  Rupert glared at him.  "You know where he is," he accused.

"No, I know where he's not, which is with you.  Ethan said you're trying to track him.  He can't either by the way.  We got back and found Marcus unconscious on top of his scrying pool."  He looked at Murami.  "I'm Rupert Giles," he said, shaking her hand when it was shakily offered.  "Former Watcher and Xander's former mentor."

"The man who helped screw him up worse," she added.

"That was a pity and a mistake," he agreed bitterly.  He looked at Lupin.  "What *exactly* happened."

"He left.  Lotus said he came back for a few minutes and we found his wallet missing, but then he left again."

"And you did what to precipitate this?"

"Goemon expressed discomfort at his level of mentoring," Murami told him.

"Oh, dear Lord Below!" Ripper moaned.  "How bloody stupid are you people?  We told you Xander was fragile.  Ethan made sure you knew that about him.  You helped him recover from his last kidnaping and from the worst injuries ever seen among humans.   Yet you still think he could do *that*?"

"If I had a way to go back and fix it, I would," Lupin promised.  "I can't find him so I can't apologize.  If you've got a *helpful* suggestion then I'm open to them," Lupin said angrily.  "I don't need to be told how bad I was!"

"Enough!" Murami roared.  "Go fight somewhere else!  Lupin, I'll tell you if I find him.  Out!"

"Yes, ma'am," Ripper said dryly, grabbing Lupin and dragging him outside.  "Ethan sent me to tell you he's not on his own.  He may have contacted an old friend, or he may have hooked up with someone he once loved, but he's not alone.  He's also not normal," he said at the crestfallen expression.  "Ethan said he's not normal, whatever that means."

"That means that maybe he didn't do it himself?" Dawn asked as she strolled up to them.  "Lupin, he's not alone, and I can't tell who the person with him is.  It's not Marcus' father.  It's not anyone from the LA group.  It's someone I know but not, kinda.  I can't figure out who it is."

"Who does it feel like?" Giles asked.

"Willow and Tara when they did things together."

Rupert sighed.  "Well, that's interesting but they're both dead, Dawn."

"I know, which is why I can't identify them," she said with a small shrug.  She looked at Lupin.  "Xander tried to call me once but I was kinda busy and I didn't much make it past 'hello' before my man attacked that spot on my neck again. When I came back to my senses I couldn't trace him."

"So is he kidnaped or just hooking up with someone more appreciative?" Lupin asked, sounding miserable.

"You big git!  He's your man!"  She swatted him.  "Stupid fucking plonker of a human!"  She shook her head, walking away.  "The kitsune won't answer me."

"He'll fucking well answer me," Lupin muttered.  "Thank you, Rupert.  Have fun in England and tell Ethan I owe him."  He headed for his car and the park.  Once he was there, he walked out into the trees.  He knew there was a kitsune portal around here.  They liked to watch the couples neck in the park at night.  He found it finally but of course it was closed.  He pulled out the silver knife that Xander had given him and stabbed it in the middle of the portal.  "Let me the fuck in," he hissed.  He withdrew the dagger and the portal opened, letting out three guards.  "Xander's missing.  Do you have him?"

"The Envoy is not among us," the one in the middle said, and upon closer inspection he had more decorations on his uniform.  "We do not support such actions among your kind, and you are hereby notified that you are not allowed in our realm again for such threatening actions.  This is why we do not associate with the likes of you," he sneered.

"Your Envoy has been kidnaped we think," Lupin told him.  "Since none of the magic workers down here can find him, and they think he's with a dead witch, don't you think that your Lord should know?"

"If he wants to know of it, he already does," the guard said coldly.   The portal opened and a young fox came out.  "What are you doing out of the castle?" he demanded.

"Oh, shut up," he said in flawless surfer, only with a tinge of British accent.  He looked at Lupin.  "Yes, Xander was taken.  No, we can't find him.  Yes, my father is quite pissed at you.  Doubly so since he found out *why* Xander left."

"I was a stupid asshole, I admit it," Lupin said desperately.  "Is he even on this plane?  In this time?"

"Yeah, to both," the younger one told him.  "That's all we can tell.  He's in a shielded place and we can't get much more than he's presently safe and not himself, and not alone."

"Dawn said the magic felt like Willow's and Tara's together," Lupin offered.

"Hmm.  Never having felt them, I can't be sure of that.  I'm supposing she should know," he admitted.  "Then again, aren't they dead?"  Lupin nodded.  "Interesting.  Oh, well.  Guards, back inside.  I can handle him."  He waited until they were alone.  "Father said I should beat you bloody and mentally impaired for life.   Do you actually have a good reason for accusing him of doing something so wrong?"

"We were looking at the actions and not the reasons.  I never thought he was.  Goemon jumped to that conclusion when I brought it to his attention that his son had a very tight and close relationship with Xander, that they were acting secretive and things like that.  I thought maybe they were working on a job together and he might want to go help them, or maybe it was a surprise present for someone's birthday, something like that.  It was Goemon who jumped to that conclusion."

"Yes, but did you stop him?" the young fox asked calmly.  Lupin shook his head, looking down.  "Then I pity you.  I doubt you're getting him back anytime soon."

"Hey, I want to make this right," he said before the fox spirit could disappear.  "I want to apologize, I want to fix this, and I want to give Goemon the chance to apologize.  All I want to do is to find him so we can apologize and then he can leave if he wants to."

"If we could find him, I might tell Lotus, but we can't," the fox reminded him.  "If we find him first, I'll be sure to pass along that message.  For right now, expect a wait."  He disappeared and the portal sealed itself against anyone finding it.

Lupin sighed and trudged back to his car, getting in to go to the convention.  Maybe it would cheer him up.  He walked in and the woman smiled at him but he shook his head.  "We can't find him."

"Of course not.  If the ICPO can't, then I'm sure you can't," she agreed.  She handed him his badge.  "Here you go.  The kids are in the commissary getting a snack with Bix and her new beaus."   She gave him a small smile.  "If you do find him, tell him we need to know if he's still coming to the one in two months.  If not, we could give his room away."

"If I can't find him, I'll be coming with Ishi," Lupin told her.  "That okay?"

"Yeah, that's fine," she agreed, watching him walk away.  He was not a happy thief.  Maybe the happier people could help him cheer up a bit.  Xander always came back.  He was like an alley cat that you fed in that regard.


Lupin walked up to where Bix and the kids were sitting.  "Did you bury Goemon?"

She smiled up at him and gave him a small hug.  "Not yet.  He's moping by following Ray around as he talks to Sierra.  Did we find out anything?"

"He's not back in time, he's on this plane, and whoever has him has him hidden from everyone.  Dawn said it felt like a few of his former friends, but they're dead."

"As his former associate has proven, death is not permanent," a voice said from behind him.  Lupin turned to look at the owner of the Buffy comic collection that Xander had written his company about.  "How many times did she die?"

"The Master, Glory, and I think one other by now," Lupin admitted.  "Why?"

"Because Jonas was here and looking for you, Lupin," he said calmly.  "He said to tell you that things weren't always what they seem.  He's by the usual booth in the other room.  Go find him."  Lupin nodded and headed off.  "So, Bix," he said with a grin.  "Are you having fun?"

"Quite a lot.  I can see what Xander got out of anime, but this sort of energy is intoxicating."

"Yup, that's why we do these things," he agreed with a grin.  "Have you been asked out to the dance tonight?"  She blushed and shook her head.  "Then let me be the first to request a dance, my dear one.  You should be danced with by every available man that Xander trusts not to hurt you.  Of course, the kids are going to have to be watched by someone else, but you deserve a night off, or more probably."  She chuckled and gave his hand a squeeze.  "Then I'll see you tonight?"

"Yes," she agreed.  "They can handle the children tonight and I can take the train back tomorrow."

"I'll be staying over tonight as well," Ishi told him.  "As an appropriate and family chaperone."

"You're going home, I don't need a chaperone.  I'm quite well aware of my place in this world," she said firmly, glaring at him.  He ducked his head, but continued to stare at her.  "I mean it, Goemon the Fourteenth."

"Yes, Bix," he sighed.  "You should still be chaperoned."

"It's a dance with a few hundred people.  No one would dare hurt her with us there," the comic fan assured him.  "You know us better than that, Ishi.  Xander would never have suggested we meet her if we weren't trustworthy."

"Fine," he agreed, glaring at him.  "She will be on the first morning train or else I will sic my father on you."

"Agreeable," he agreed with a smile.  He kissed the back of Bix's hand.  "I'll see you in a few hours, Bix.  I look forward to our dance."  He jogged off, heading back to his station.

She sighed, smiling at his back.  "They are very nice men," she offered.  Ishi coughed and she glared at him. "I am quite able to chaperone myself, Ishi.  I do not need you acting like Xander."

"Fine.  As long as you know that modern men are creatures of lust who often don't take no for an answer."

She laughed.  "You are so full of it!  I'm your cousin, Ishi, not the family's pet.  I'm also your nanny.  You do as I say or I will get your parents to punish you horribly."  Goemon and Ray both coughed.  She looked at him.  "I have been invited to the dance tonight.  I'll be back tomorrow by train."

Goemon paused, then looked at her.  "Should we have a discussion about modern men?"

She rolled her eyes.  "You antique thing you," she said bitterly.  "I'm well aware of what men are like, thank you.  I was nearly married off to a warrior in my day."  She walked away.  "I'll see you tomorrow, have fun panicking tonight," she called with a wave of her hand.  She stopped back at the front desk because Teddy was there.  "I've been asked to the dance tonight.  Are there any dress code rules?"

Misty, who manned the registration desk, looked at her outfit.  "No, you look wonderful in that.  Xander has wonderful taste in kimonos."  She grinned at her.  "He's also got a room reserved already.  I doubt anyone's going to be using it so I'll make sure you get the keys.  Remember, the guys Xander knows aren't bad guys, but the others can sometimes be mean and cruel.  Especially if they think you're not very worldly or a bit shy."  Bix nodded calmly.  "Then go and have fun.  Stay inside the hotel because the police always work hard around us.  They think that watching anime means you do drugs.  They really don't understand but we had a problem with one of the schoolgirls being arrested because her skirt was too short and they thought she was selling her services."  Bix's mouth opened in an 'oh' position.  "So be careful and make sure you're safe before you go upstairs.  Most of the guys around here are pretty nice but a few are sleezy little slimy brats."

"I'll take that under advisement," Bix agreed.  "Thank you, Misty."

"You're welcome, Bix.  Welcome to the family," she said with a grin.  "If you see Xander, tell him I need to know about the con in two months time.  Lupin said he'd take over his reservation but I wanted him to know that."

"If we can find him before then," she sighed sadly.  "We have no idea where he is."

"Hopefully you can find him," Teddy said, giving her a pat on the arm.  "Does Ishi's father know he has a big crush on you?"

"Oh, yes, and they've been working on it.  He just told me he'd be chaperoning me tonight," she said dryly. She looked behind her, noticing Ishi was staring.  "That kid is going to need to have his head adjusted soon."  She looked at Teddy again.  "He really isn't usually that jealous."

"Hmm, but young men are often odd at that age," he agreed. "I had a crush on a gym teacher for some reason."  He shrugged and waved.  "I'm going to head off.  Why don't you get her settled in for the night?"

"Sure," Misty agreed, putting up her 'I'll be right back' sign and taking her to the desk.  "This is Xander's nanny and she's staying over tonight.  Is his card on record?"

"It is," she agreed, typing in to find the reservation.  "He reserved a suite this time, and had a few things shipped.  He's not here?" she asked Misty.

"No, he's not.  We're not sure where he is.  Not even Interpol knows right now," Misty admitted.  "I'd better get back before someone sneaks in.  Thanks, love."  She hurried back to her seat to intercept the kids trying to sneak in.  "Reservations are required for this part of the convention, boys," she said as she walked up behind them.  "Got one already or do you need one now?"

Bix took the keycard and slid it into the pocket inside her sleeve. "Thank you.   Is this outfit really appropriate for the dance tonight?"

She looked her over. "The shoes might hurt your feet after a while, but you look darling," she assured her.  "I never look that cute in anything."  She grinned and leaned closer.  "If you wanted something more Western, there is a nice set of shops around the corner and halfway up the next block," she shared.  "I'm sure you can get an allowance from Lupin."  She grinned over Bix's shoulder.  "Can't she?  She's staying for the dance."

"So Ishi complained," he agreed dryly, pulling out his wallet.  "I'll want it back and don't use the black card unless you have to, Bix."  He walked away, going to gather the kids and take them around some more.  Before they got bored and had to awe someone.

Bix looked inside and squeaked then tucked it inside her sleeve as well.  "I think I'll head upstairs to hide that."  She hurried to the elevator, then turned and waved with a smile before disappearing.

"She's such a nice girl.  No wonder Xander said to help her," the desk clerk said with a smile in Misty's direction.  "Lupin handed her his wallet," she mouthed.  Misty giggled.  "I'm sure she'll figure it out well enough," she said with a smirk.


Lupin walked into the house, stopping when he heard the silence.  "Jigen?"  He heard a baby screaming and sighed, heading up to grab the baby.  He walked past Fujiko's room and found her door open, so he hurried up a bit, finding her in the nursery placating a fussy Alex.  "What happened?"

"Jigen's crashed on his bed after taking a shot," she said bitterly.  She handed the baby over.  "There, yours.  She looks more like you anyway."  She walked off.

He looked at her back.  "If you would want to change your mind, you'd have to work it out with your husband," he said quietly, knowing she heard because her back stiffened.  "We'd probably welcome you back after a bit."  He settled into the rocking chair with the teething infant, letting her rest against his chest.  "How are you today, loved one?  Where are Fred and Sarah?"

Goemon walked in with Fred.  "He was trying to eat the television.  Sarah is downstairs as well.  Who was helping her?"

"Fujiko.  Check on Kenji?  He's being really quiet."

"Of course."  He moved to check on the baby, finding him peacefully sleeping.  "It appears he'll have no problems sleeping most of the time."  He looked at Lupin.  "I am sorry."

"Goemon, we all jumped to a conclusion," he admitted.  "The only problem is that we can't correct it.  Dawn thought she might know the magical signature but it belonged to Willow and Jonas said her grave hadn't been disturbed. We'll find him and apologize."

"Yes, we will," Goemon agreed. "It was my fault."

"Goemon, it was all our faults.  We all thought something funny was going on, you're the one who made that jump.  I thought he was being naughty.  I have no idea what Jigen thought."  He shrugged delicately.  "We'll figure it out once we find him.  There is no way I'm letting this go until we've apologized to him."

"Thank you, Lupin."  Goemon sat down with the little boy, watching as he fell asleep on him. "I feel I've harmed them permanently.  He won't know Xander's careful and gentle love," he said quietly.

"He will, he's had it this far and he'll have it for longer," Lupin said firmly.  "Thinking like that defeats the purpose of finding him."

"Of course you're right," he agreed calmly.  But inside he was worried about such things.  His own children were better off because of Xander.  Everyone else's children were better off because of Xander. Now the youngest ones would miss out on that.  Lupin kicked him and he looked up.  "They won't be the same."

"No, this new one and Ishi won't be the same," he agreed.  "But they'll each be their own child."

Goemon nodded.  "Thank you, Lupin."  He settled in to gently cuddle the little boy until he fell asleep again.  Then he carefully laid him down for a nap and took Alex to put her down as well.  Then they stared at the children, making sure they'd be fine.

The End, for now.

To Part 33
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