A Meeting of the Minds.
Xander looked up as her drink was brought by the waiter, giving him a slight smile that made him sweat. He backed away quickly and headed off to get nearer to the usual tourists. She glanced at her lovers, grinning at them for their frowns. "What?" she asked innocently.
"Nothing," Lupin said smugly. "Just watching you work. You do it very well."
"Thank you." She sipped her fruity cocktail. "Lupin, when will the rain end? It's been raining now for fifty-one days and I'm about to figure out the dimensions we'd need for an ark."
"It's not that bad," Jigen pointed out.
"It is so. All the sewers on the island are backed up and we had to evacuate the house before we got washed away," Xander reminded him. "I can think of more pleasurable ways to spend a vacation than in the middle of a flood. Besides, even the cable around here sucks sometimes." She took another drink. "Do we have *anything* on deck?"
"No, not really," Lupin admitted, checking his computer's calendar. He had uploaded everything from the other timeline into its calendar so they could see if anything could be mimicked. He did find a note. "It looks like we'll be getting my nephew soon, but otherwise no real jobs." He looked at her and shrugged. "It's not the season for big hauls."
"Then we've got to do something," she sighed. "Otherwise I'm going to find Goemon and bug him for a weekend or so."
"Hey, if you want to," Jigen reminded her. "He's probably pouting over his older kids being gone."
"The last I heard he was drinking and gambling with the kids," Lupin admitted, typing something into his laptop so he could check on Goemon from afar. The people on the bulletin board snorted but they sent back that he was still in the same place, and that something very bad was probably happening.
Xander stood up and stretched. "I'm going to bug Goemon. Have fun with the rain, guys." She strolled off, casting a locating charm on Goemon. She knew the place so she appeared in the bathroom before smoothing out her skirt and strolling out, like the place belonged to her. Which it did, but Lupin and everyone didn't need to know that. She found Goemon by the sound of the roar of anger, heading back that way. "You yelled?" she purred smoothly. The man on the other side of the table sneered at her, holding a familiar sword against his chest. "How did you get that?" she asked calmly.
"It's mine, I won it," he sneered.
"I doubt it," she said, shifting her weight some. "If that is true, then you'll let me win it off you, correct?" He shook his head and started to move so she let herself react. She broke the table and then walked through the wreckage. He was backing up against the wall, looking scared now. "Just a few games," she said smugly. "Yes?"
"I'm not losing it," he said, starting to pant. "It's mine now. You can't have it."
"Honey, if you don't let me play for it, then you'll be facing his son the Fourteenth. Do you *really* want to do that?" He slowly shook his head. "Then the only fair and reasonable thing would be to let me win it back."
"Who're you?" he asked suspiciously. He looked her over. "You look like an ordinary chick."
She pinned him to the wall by his throat. "Repeat after me," she said smoothly. "Women's lib. I am not a chick. Do you see feathers or yellow anywhere on me?" she asked, staring into his eyes. "I'm a Goddess, get it right," she hissed. He swallowed under her hand, barely, and nodded quickly. "Then let's play, little boy. What's your game of choice?"
"Stud," he gasped once he got free. "I'm still not giving it up." He rubbed his throat with a gentle hand. "I know you, you're Lupin's girl. They said y you've tamed him."
She snickered, then burst out laughing. "Really? That's such a lie. Actually, I'm the mother to Lupin the Fourth," she said smugly. "She'd be here but we have her in school so she sees what the rest of the world is like." She smiled at him. "Let's find us a table, little man."
"She's a myth," he sneered.
"I hope not with as many of her diapers as I changed," she countered dryly. Goemon snorted. "Yeah, I changed most of your kids diapers too, Goemon. Sit!" He sat, staring at her. "Good boy." She looked at the dirty, repulsive human in front of her. "You really are a tiny little dickhead, aren't you?" she asked.
"I'm not little and I bet I can do more for you than he can," he sneered.
She backhanded him. "Really? You think so do you?" she asked coolly. "I can just take that sword from you and kill you."
"You're not trained enough for that, girly," he sneered.
She chuckled, smirking at him. "Little boy, I trained under Jigen. Do you really think so?"
"How did you train?"
"My hellmouth trained me."
"You know Lavelle?" he asked suspiciously.
"Yeah, I'm supposing that's why he sends me presents on my birthdays," she said impatiently. She grabbed him by the throat again and pushed him at a table. "Now, imbecile. Before I have to get...upset." A bouncer looked in and she smiled. "There's no problem. He cheated and Goemon's sword was taken. He's graciously allowed me to win it back so I don't have to murder him outside." The bouncer's eyebrows went up and she smiled. "I'm Leslie." He shuddered and left.
"Leslie?" Goemon asked dryly. "A new identity again?"
"No, just the name that I own a few things under," she said smoothly. "Cards?" A new deck was handed to her by someone. She broke them open and shuffled, getting a feel for it. She dealt him then dealt herself, then put the cards in the center of the table. "Let's start small," she suggested, pulling a wad of bills out of her bra and putting them onto the table. He blinked a few times when the money didn't even make a dent in her appearance, but he did put down a few hundreds. They picked up their cards and Xander won that hand after a few minutes. He dealt and she won the next one easily as well. She dealt the next one and something was telling her not to ask for the sword so she didn't, and she kept her bets minimal. She lost that one and it made him feel better about himself. The next one he dealt and she could tell he was cheating. It was fairly obvious. Fortunately he was stacking the deck like four people were playing. She got around that and gave him a smug look. "Sword?" she suggested finally. He glared at her but put it onto the table. She laid down her cards gently and smiled at him. "Ready?"
"Fine," he agreed happily, turning over his cards. He had two pair, high level cards.
She flipped over hers, a full house. He gaped and she took the sword, standing up with it and leaving the cash there. "I suggest you take the rest of the pot and leave the country," she said grimly. "I saw you cheating. That's not very wise." She grabbed Goemon's arm, making him wince, and walked him out. The bouncers all got out of her way and one of them opened the door for her. "Thanks, guys." She waved the sword, waiting until they got outside to turn on Goemon and glare at him. "Where are the kids?"
"They're with Bix," he admitted quietly. "May I have it back?"
"Once you're sober," she snorted. "Home, now, Goemon." He looked stunned. "If you're going to act like Arsene, I'm going to treat you like the daughter. Now, find however you got here and let's go." He started to open his mouth and she stepped closer, her thumb on the joint between sword and scabbard. "Open it again, Goemon, and I'm using it on you," she hissed. "Home, now. We do not fight in public." He nodded, hanging his head as he led her to the cab stand. She opened one's door and shoved him inside. "Hotel Palacio."
"Where?" the driver asked.
"Just fucking drive," she ordered. "You know exactly where it is."
"Fine," he agreed, starting the car. "They don't usually take your sort there."
"Fuckwad, you have no idea who I am. Do not start with me." She glared at Goemon when he coughed. "You either."
"Yes, Xander," he said quietly, staring at his sword. "It was stupid, but he wouldn't let me go."
"Goemon, you know how many ways of killing idiots like him?" she asked. "You're drunk, you got sloppy, and you're moping. What would your kids do if they lost you?"
"Go to you," he reminded her honestly.
She took a deep breath before she killed him. "I'm not their parent, Goemon. I'm the others' parent. Get over it already!" He flinched and nodded, looking at his lap again. He glared at the back of the cabdriver's head. "You missed the turnoff."
"I didn't, lady."
"Honey, the name is Sylvia. I'm Lavelle's sister." The cab turned around and went the proper way. "Thank you," she said icily. The driver got out and let them out. She drug Goemon inside, pissed that she wasn't recognized yet. The woman behind the counter opened her mouth so she pulled out her unlimited credit card and slapped it on the counter. "He needs a room."
"Of course, ma'am," she agreed immediately. You didn't piss off people with those cards. "If I may ask, is that your husband?"
"My brother," she admitted. The woman nodded quickly and went back to typing. The card wasn't stolen, the records for the card said she had full authorization to use them. So she ran it and it went through. She pulled out a key, a brass key, and handed it over to the woman with a smile. "Welcome to the Palace. Please enjoy your stay. Room service will be closing in an hour and a few minutes. Would you like a wakeup?"
"No, that's fine," Xander said, calming down again. He took the key, his card, and Goemon upstairs to pour him into a bed. She didn't notice the clerk slumping in relief or anything else until she had pushed Goemon onto a sofa and called to order him a light snack and coffee. Once it was there, she signed for it and let him have it, sitting across from him. "Eat, Goemon."
"I'm not a child," he said firmly.
"Then quit acting like it," she snapped. "Do you really want your son to have to kill to get this sword back?" He flinched and ate some of the croissants she had ordered him. "Good." She stood up, starting to pace. "I don't know what it is with you guys, but you're acting like children. You and Lupin both. Even Jigen's been doing a bit of acting pouty and surly. Again, I don't know why, but quit it." She glared at the still man. "If you want to act like Kenji, then be with Kenji, Goemon. If you want to retire, hand Ishi your sword and finish his training. If not, do you think you can quit pouting for a while?" He roared and jumped up to hit her. He got one good blow in and she sneered at him. "Ooh, so big and tough. Never taught me that one? Well, let's see what the student can do to the master," she snorted, laying into him. She had worked hard to make her body work the way she wanted it to. And it showed. By the time she was done with him he was face- down on the floor, nearly in tears from the pain, and she was choking him with his sword. "Goemon, can you hear me?" she asked calmly, barely out of breath. He nodded briskly. "Good. Never, ever try me again." She stood up, tossing the sword aside. "This appears to be academic, but I used to like you a lot more." He flipped over and got to his feet, staring her down. "It won't work, Goemon. I'm not going to be intimidated by you. You're drunk, you're sloppy, and you're about to break your own code of honor. "
She ran her hands through her hair. "I worked damn hard to get a reputation I liked and could be admired for, Goemon. I'm not just the mother figure in the group, I'm much more than that. Apparently that fact has been allowed to slip by the wayside again. So therefore I'm going to save my sanity and your life. I'm going to leave. I got this room for the night. Sleep it off and either join the guys or go relieve Bix. She's not their mother either." She turned and left, popping away to another house she owned. She changed clothes and found her motorcycle, heading off with it. It was time Sylvia's reputation was refreshed. She realized no one would remember Lavelle by the time she changed back, but her present persona needed that same respect. Lupin and Jigen may only see her breasts, but she was much more than that. Even if she had to prove it again and again, she would. She had as Lavelle and she would as Sylvia. She got onto the highway and sped up, going a bit faster than she was supposed to, but it felt good.
Back at the hotel, Goemon picked up the phone to call Jigen's cell. "What did you do to piss off your wife this time?" he asked quietly. "No, she helped me, yelled at me, then left in a huff. Yes, you may want to start looking for her now." He hung up and took his sword to lay down with it. He wouldn't be letting it out of his sight. He wasn't sure how that idiot had gotten it from him in the first place but it would not be happening again.
Jigen hung up and frowned at Lupin. "I'm having flashbacks to Orlando."
"We haven't cheated on her and the kids are in school," Lupin said, looking up from his chatting, eyes already wide. "What happened?" He typed something into the window, getting a concise report of what had went on at the club and where she had taken Goemon. "Oh, hell. He lost his sword?"
"I'm betting the guy cheated," Jigen pointed out firmly. Goemon wasn't like that. "He said she left in a huff."
"I've already put out a 'where is she' message," Lupin admitted as he typed that in. The usual 'who, Fujiko' message came back so he shot back a quick description of Sylvia, including her name. One helpful soul mentioned seeing her on a bike on the interstate in Britain but that she had gotten off after a few minutes and headed for Dover, which meant she was probably headed back to Europe itself. He typed in a request to keep an eye out for her for him, that it was his girl and that she was in a bad mood. Someone laughed and asked what he did to his women to make them that way. He growled and shot back a snarky remark about it being the women, not him, then logged off. "She was last seen in Dover." He looked around. "Is the airport open yet?" Jigen shook his head. "Not at all?"
"Not in the least. It's flooded too," Jigen reminded him. "Not even helicopter service, boss. So what do we do about her? Send Marcus?"
"I doubt he's in any position to chase after her for us," Lupin said dryly. He took Jigen's phone to call Goemon back, blessing the person who had first invented *69. "Goemon, can you leave where you are? Because we're flooded in. Yeah, we're still there. We didn't hear about it until after it had already closed. I would, but there's not a boat on the whole island."
"Unless we want to row," Jigen added smartly.
"Jigen said he's willing to row, but that would get tiring and he might whine," Lupin told Goemon, kicking at Jigen for that suggestion. "Last we heard Dover. Which means she's probably taking the ferry. What do you mean she hates you?" he snorted. "She's always considered you her best friend." He listened to the repeat of the fight and groaned, holding his head. "She did what?" He sighed and hung up. "She kicked his ass."
"He taught her too," Jigen said proudly, smirking at him. "You know there had to be a lecture in there about stupidity as well." Lupin nodded, leaning back in his lounge chair. "She all right?"
"Just pissed," he admitted. "I have no idea where she's going. She could have gone to the US without going through Dover, or to the rest of Europe without it too. She hates boats!"
"Maybe she's checking on someone in Dover," Jigen offered.
"She doesn't know anyone in Dover!" he said frantically, sitting up. He called Lavelle's phone but it wasn't with her apparently. He got her voice mail and it said she was taking a vacation. "Fuck!" He hung up and leaned back in his chair again. "She's got it on voice mail. She'd never do that to the kids."
"Then the smart thing would be ta ask the kids," Kowalski said as he strolled up to them.
"Does this mean the airport's open?" Jigen asked. "Xander just flounced off again."
He shrugged. "No, not really. I've been here," he said with a grin. "Just waiting for the perfect moment. Stand up and turn around, hands behind you." They looked stunned for a moment, then burst out laughing. "Think I'm kidding? It's me or Mr. Wrestler over there," he said, pointing at a man who looked like a sumo wrestler of the highest weight class. "Now, Lupin. Jigen, reach for your gun and die," he warned. "He may not look like it but he is a crack shot."
Lupin got up and started to move so Ray gassed him, letting him fall to the ground.
"Hey!" Jigen protested, starting to get up.
Ray shrugged and got him too. "Pity, but whine. Next time, keep your protectors." He got them both cuffed and let his cohort pick them up to carry them to the car. The jail was nicely flooded and they had a cell just waiting on these two. They'd have just enough room to breathe at the top, as long as they floated. Or as long as the criminals in the cell with them didn't get them. The two murderers were not happy to still be in that cell. He whistled a happy tune as he strolled behind them, Lupin's laptop and Jigen's phone tucked under his arm. "Man, the boss is gonna kiss my ass for this one," he said happily. He used Jigen's phone to call him since he had him on speed-dial anyway. "Yo, boss, it's me. Yeah, it's Jigen's phone," he said proudly. "No, just them. Xan left in a huff." He snickered. "Dover from what they were complaining about. Sure thing, boss man. Going into a flooded cell as soon as we get to the station." He hung up and nearly skipped the rest of the way to the car. The gas would hold them that long.
Xander dialed his daughter upon notice going out over the news stations. "Arsene, it's Mommy," she said happily.
"Mommy, where are you? You sound so clear. Are you close by? Can we go out for dinner? The food here sucks monkey butts," her daughter's voice came over the speaker. She sounded a little breathless, but happy. "What's going on?"
"Well, I called to check on you. I also called to see if you wanted to spring yourself to rescue your father. Your Uncle Ray caught him in Bali while they were flooded and he's in a flooding cell at the moment."
"I take it there was a fight?" Arsene asked shrewdly, now panting.
"What are you doing? You sound like you're having phone sex and I'm not the one you want to do that to," she pointed out dryly.
"Running and hiding from Ishi actually. I just shaved him bald for busting up a plan of mine to get a teacher. Can I cap a teacher who believes that Martians are the reason Russian won the Cold War?"
"Dear, the US won the Cold War. Russia fell apart. If he asks how you know, tell him your stepmother is American and it's not Martians, it's demons. You can even tell him about Sunnydale if you want," she said fondly.
"Cool. Maybe we'll get a few days off while he has his heart attack or something." The panting stopped and a door slammed. "There, I'm safer now. What happened, mom?"
"How are things otherwise?"
"They're okay. How much longer do I have to stay in this funhouse of a school? I love fucking with the teacher's heads and all but still. I learned a lot more from traveling all the time. The geography teacher started to tell us about Constantinople, you know that city that Istanbul was before it became Istanbul? Well, Melissa pulled out pictures. Teacher was *mucho* not impressed with her. Called her a know-it-all who got everything out of National Geographic. So she pulled up the pictures with us in them and the teacher stomped out to cry. Melissa had to tell her that she was offering pictures so the kids who had poor imaginations could see it too." She sighed. "Our science teacher is into lasers. You'd probably like him, he's trying to perfect a halogen laser of some sort or another to cut stones."
"I funded some of his research," Xander admitted. "How's it going?"
"He gave us a practical demonstration using this crummy industrial-grade, lab created diamond. He was going on and on about it how it would be more spectacular if he had a real diamond so I gave him my pendant. He nearly drooled on me, mom. So, what was the fight about?"
"The usual," she sighed. "I'm the mother figure. I take care of you guys, I play wife to them. I like the time off, but we haven't done anything in ages. So I go see Goemon, and get there just as the guy who won his sword in a poker game is trying to leave. Don't tell Ishi that," she said quickly. "I fixed it and him, then I stomped off. Your father's probably going to hand me a bottle of Midol the next time he sees me."
"Then be ready to hand back Geritol and Viagra," Arsene snorted. "It'd serve him right. You're not their sex slave, mom. You're a stunning thief and assassin in your own right. Now, how can I help get him free?"
"Well, I can't get there. The airport's totally flooded," she admitted. "And you're probably closer than I am at the moment. I'm back in Europe, but I'm in Italy, nearly on the ocean," she lied. She was in Paris, but her daughter obviously needed some excitement if the school was that bad. "I'll try to get you kids into a better school," she offered.
"That might be nice, yeah," Arsene said dryly. "They wanted Melissa to be a cheerleader for the soccer team, mom."
"Eww, my poor baby," she moaned.
"She and Lotus discouraged them before Lotus could shoot them to put them out of Melissa's misery. They took Sierra and Savannah instead. Said they're more perky," she finished snidely. "Can we go to St. Lascivious?"
"That sounds like a school for hookers, daughter," she laughed.
"Actually, it's supposed to be a great school for thieves and assassins. Lots of them send their kids there. I'm here with one of the local second's sons and he said he nearly got sent there but they wanted to guard us a bit more. I left you that message on your cell."
"Which I either left with Goemon or on my bed in London," she admitted with a small sigh. "I think it's in London. Do you have caller id?" Arsene grunted. "Then mark this as your new number for me and pass it to the kids only. I'm in the middle of a job so I can renew my scary rep with the other families. Otherwise I would go rescue your father and uncle, then walk away again for a bit until I finish being happy."
"Don't worry 'bout it, mom, I've got it covered. Dad doesn't know this, but I used the proceeds of one heist to buy a boat. It's on the US's coast right now so it won't be much of a problem to get over there in a timely manner." The sound of her shifting was loud in the quiet apartment. "Where are you really, mom? You hate Italy."
"I'm in Paris," she sighed. "Eating bon-bons and expecting a call for a job."
"The ice cream or the coconut?"
"Ice cream at the moment, I had Jordan Almonds with the other kind for lunch," she admitted with a grin. "You always were good, Arsene. You'll make the Top Ten Most Wanted list before you're twenty, all of you will. I know you will."
"Aww, mom!" she sighed. "Don't embarrass me. I'm at number thirty-five at the moment and you know a rep like that takes time to build. Or in your case rebuild. You leave Dad and Uncle Jigen to me, mom. You go out and piss off a Sicilian for me. 'Kay?"
"Great idea," she agreed happily. "Anything I should bring you?"
"How about a diamond so I can get my pendant back," she suggested dryly.
"I'll mail him one tomorrow," she promised. "Have fun with your trip and give my love to your fathers. They seem much more reasonable when they're in a different country and not pawing at my breasts. On second thought, don't tell them that part, Arsene. It'll only upset your father and he'll have a hissy."
"Sure, mom," she agreed, but you could tell she was grinning. "You be safe and I'll give your hugs and wet, smacking, embarrassing kisses to the others. Laters. Gotta go plan this with 'Lis." She hung up and ran out of her closet, running into the nice guy who was helping her now and then. "Hey, Peter. Is your dad at home?" she asked as she joined him on his stroll to the dining room.
"He should be, why?"
"Because I'm going to need a good captain for my boat. Dad's in a flooded cell in Bali and Mom's back on this continent. She offered me the chance to save him instead of her doing it," she said proudly. "Can you dial him? I won't ask for his personal number or anything," she offered, holding out the phone.
He dialed and smiled at the woman who answered. "Hey, Mom, it's Peter. No, not a bad thing. I haven't been kicked out."
"Tell her my mom said she'd try to get us into that special school next year."
"Arsene, Lupin the Fourth, said that her mom was going to put pressure onto her dad to get her into the academy next year. No, she needs to talk to Dad. Apparently her father's been captured and he's in a flooded cell in Bali. Hey, Melissa," he called, catching sight of her. "Come get in on this."
"Mom called. Our dads have been captured and we're actually a bit closer than she is," she told her.
"Bali. I was thinking the boat with a borrowed crew. Doable?"
"Very," she agreed. "Who did it?"
"Uncle Ray. The nice one from the conventions, not the other one."
She snorted. "Will that man never learn," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "Let me make the reservations." She trotted off, going to her room for her laptop.
Arsene took the held out phone. "Thanks, Peter. You're a great guy. Wanna come with us to Bali?" She listened to the tired voice on the other side of the line. "I'm sorry to wake you, sir. Yes, it is. No, dad and Uncle Jigen f-ed up badly and were captured. They're in a flooding cell and mom's not as close as we are so she offered us the chance. Nope, all I need is a crew to do my boat. It's on the US's west coast, in Oregon, but if you can get them to bring it down further it'd be faster since Dad's in Bali. Yeah, the flooding caught them off guard and Uncle Ray got 'em over there. Please? Since I'll someday have to do jobs around him, it'd be very educational," she said, grinning at Peter, who burst out laughing.
"Fine, I'll only bring him back a hula girl or something," she agreed with a big grin. "Yeah, I'll have Melissa send it and we'll be leaving soon. Thanks, man, owe you tons. No, Mom's on a job, though at the moment she's eating bon bons while she plans. I just got off the phone with her. No, her cell's stuck in one of the hideouts. She forgot it, that's the other reason she called. Thanks. Love you, man. No, I promise I won't hit on Peter unless he looks like he wants it when we're both older," she promised. "You too. Have a happy nap." She hung up and hugged him. "From your dad, who said I cannot hit on you, charm you, or bring you with me, but that a present would be just fine," she promised. She heard a cough and saw a teacher staring at them. "Hey. I've got to check on my dads. Mom's back on the continent but she can't get free at the moment, she's in the middle of a job, but the dads were in Bali, where it's horribly flooded. She said she saw on the news where the house was washing away. So, the older kids and I are leaving tonight and we'll be back in a week to a week-and-a-half."
"We'd need permission, young lady," she said firmly.
Arsene checked her phone log, then dialed the number. "Here, talk to my mom," she ordered. "Melissa's doing plane tickets and I'm going to gather the family boat." She grinned at Peter. "So, what should I bring you back if I have the time?"
"A hula girl would be nice," he agreed. "Should I tell Ishi and Lotus?"
"Yeah, I'll be taking them as a matter of habit," she agreed. "Lotus was learning field medicine and Ishi's one handy guy to have around." He nodded and strolled off, heading in to eat and tell the others what was going on.
The teacher hung up after having a quiet conversation and handed the phone back. "Very well. She said she can't possibly get a ride there to check on them so you may go. I'll have the forms filled out in the office, Miss Lupin."
"Thanks, teach," she agreed with a bright grin. "I'd better go eat. It'll be a long night of packing and planning on getting to the boat." She jogged into the dining hall and sat next to Lotus, who gave her a long look. "She didn't mention your dad or the kids by name," she offered.
"I ducked out to check, he's in Japan moping. What did she say to him?" she hissed. Arsene whispered in her ear and Lotus moaned, holding her forehead. "No wonder. Never mind. We won't bother my dad or the kids. Auntie Bix is now on vacation so he's got all the kids and he can't find her."
"That's fine," she agreed. "If we have to, we can take the boat that way and have lunch or something."
"How big is your family yacht?" another girl asked her.
"A bit smaller than the QE2," she said proudly. "I bought a used cruise ship. It's in good condition, is quite roomy, and fairly useful as both a cover and as a base for criminal activities." The girl looked stunned. "It needs some updating and some redecorating but I figure it'll be a long-term project and the ship's nowhere near ready to be retired yet. Just last week I got estimates on how much it would cost to totally redecorate and make the suites bigger. It'll only be a few million."
"Wow, and I thought my father's boat was braggable," she said in awe. "Your dad let you buy that big of a ship?"
"Well, no, my dad doesn't know I have it," she admitted with a wicked grin. "But what he doesn't know won't hurt him most of the time." Lotus pinched her. "Sorry, Lotus."
"Let the girl steal one giant ruby on a weekend off and she brags and brags and brags," Lotus said dryly.
"Hey, I did it without help, that counts for a lot," Arsene defended. "Even daddy didn't want to go after it because it was so heavily guarded."
"I don't want to know," the other girl said quickly. "That way I can't be forced to testify against you, ladies."
"Good point. We'll get onto this on the boat," Arsene agreed, taking the potatoes when they were passed down. "Thanks, dears." She loved to irritate the cheerleaders who sat up the table from them. "Si, Sa, you guys coming with?"
"Nope," Savannah called back. "I've got a chem test and I *have* to do good. Kick my father in the knee for me though."
"Sure thing, little one." She smirked at her. "I am older," she said smugly.
"No you're not," Lotus snorted. "She's older by about four hours. Besides, Ishi and I are older than all of you." She leaned closer. "Amanda was vowing vengeance on you for his hair earlier, be careful. She can be quite mean and creative, plus he'd die if you hurt her back."
"I wouldn't worry," she said with a wink. "She knew why I did it."
"Lupin!" Amanda shouted as she walked in. "I want to talk to you!"
She looked over and grinned. "You'll hate me more soon. I've got to take Ishi to Bali to check on the house and the 'rents who were stuck over there." Amanda pouted at her. "Sorry, kiddo, but it's an emergency. I'm sure he'll come back happy and relaxed, then you can help him by rubbing stuff into his scalp." The nearby girls tittered and Amanda blushed. "Sorry, didn't mean to get *you*," she offered with a grin.
"But he'll miss the convention," she complained.
"Nope, we'll be back the week before," she promised. "Winds and airlines willing."
"Fine." She took her usual seat next to Arsene. "Is it bad?"
"Very. Mom said she saw the house wash away on the news," she offered. "Melissa's and my father are both still stranded over there." She patted her on the hand. "I'll make sure he comes back in one piece and hopefully not limping this time." Amanda nodded, looking a bit more pleased about that. She winked at her. "Besides, think about all those nice things that Lotus could give you to help his hair grow that you'd need to massage onto his scalp." Amanda echoed the wicked smirk and they both looked at Lotus, who had her mouth full but nodded.
The next evening, Arsene and the crew walked onto the ship, nodding politely at the captain. "Is everything ready?" she asked briskly as she walked.
"Yes, ma'am," he said respectfully. He had been briefed and he had briefed the crew. "Bali, correct?"
"Yuppers. Then we'll be taking the launch inland to get my dad and uncle back, then we'll skip back to the ship and we'll come back here, where I'll give you guys paychecks, airfare home, and any additional expenses," she offered. He nodded, following her inside the ship. "I'm still in the presidential suite?"
"Yes, ma'am, and I had all the girls clean the ship very well for you."
"Thanks, man, get under way as soon as we're ready. We need to get moving."
"Yes, ma'am," he said respectfully. He veered, heading up to the bridge to check on things one last time. He usually did fishing trawlers, nothing this size. Or this powerful. This ship had good engines on it. Maybe this would lead to a full time position. He was very tired of fish and fishing. As soon as the gangplank was up and the rails closed, he ordered the ship to back out of berth. It was so smooth, he didn't even feel the engines.
Xander looked at the man across from her. He was staring at her tits, but she wasn't going to hit him for it, yet. "You called me here for a job, not to stare at me," she noted. He moved his eyes lower. "What did you need stolen?"
"An emerald from a local museum," he said, wincing when she crossed her legs. That took all his fun away. He looked at her face again. "Why should I hire you above all the others?"
"Because I'm better than the others," she said smoothly. "Or haven't you checked my references?"
"Oh, I have," he admitted, getting comfortable. "No one seems to know where you came from. Who are you?"
"Hmm, a hint of mystery. You're not Oriental."
"Oriental is a type of rug," she said blandly. "If you don't want to hire me, that's fine," she said as she stood up. "I don't need your little emerald. I've already got it." She pulled it out with a smirk and flashed it a bit. "See? It'll be much more profitable if I sell it to someone else." He gaped at her. "As I said, I can do it because I'm better. This is a reputation builder, not for the money." She put it back into her pocket and turned away. "Since you don't want me, I'll leave you to moan now."
"No, wait," he ordered, sitting up again. "Why did you already steal it?"
She turned back to look at him. "Because I could. It was there, it was pretty, and it looked lonely. I was thinking it'd be a great pendant on a necklace. What do you think?"
"I don't think a fence would buy it off you," he said smugly. "They know I'm looking to steal it."
She let out a warm sounding chuckle. "I've never done a fence wrong. They know me quite well. They'd probably sell it back to you." She smirked at him. "Either way I win."
"Are you related to Lavelle?" he demanded, standing up.
"Why, yes, I am," she said smugly. "Do you know my brother?" He gaped and whimpered, sitting down again. "For that matter, I'm Lupin the Fourth's mother, dear. I don't *need* to do this. I'm bored and you're an easy way out of boredom. Your choice of course." She walked closer to the desk, leaning over. "Just don't tell Fujiko. She gets a bit...hot about me now and then. Throws fits in public and I like her kids too much to make them see that." He swallowed so she stood up again. "Your call. Going. Going."
"Fifty percent of the worth," he offered quickly. He wanted that emerald. His wife wanted it and she was his world. She appeared to be considering it. "It's a better offer than any fence would give you and it'll save me money too. I can easily vouch for you being as good, if not better, than Lavelle is. You've only got one recommendation on your side at the moment."
She pulled it out then tossed it over. "Cash or bearer bonds."
"Cash, American," he promised, going to his safe to pull it out. It was a lot cheaper than he had expected to pay. He laid the stacks of cash on the desk. "Half the value of the most recent appraisal." She silently counted it then put it into her purse. "I heard Lupin the Fourth was a myth," he said gently, smirking at her.
"Nope, not even close." She gave him a smug look. "She and her ferret, Lupin the Fifth, are on their way to rescue her father since I'm here. Check the bulletin boards, she likes to lurk on her father's. Besides, it'll do you good, sweetie. You would have expected me if you had been." She tipped her chin down slightly in a parting nod. "A pleasure doing business and all that stuff. If you need me, put out a shout for me." She turned and left, walking out slowly and calmly. That man hated Lavelle with every fiber of his being. He had put out a hit on him a few months back because he was gay and powerful. He was scared of him. Of her? Well, apparently he wasn't quite as monogamous as he claimed. To her he was just another link in the chain of her reputation. She checked her car before getting into it, then headed for the airport. He wasn't that sneaky, but he was that mean. He might try to hurt her, but that would give her the excuse she needed to blow his ass up. Unfortunately she made it onto the plane without incident so she'd have to unwind by having sex, one way or another.
Arsene walked up to the guard at the entrance to the cell block. "I'm here on a court- ordered psychiatric consult."
He looked down at her. "Nice try, kid."
"I'm not a child, I'm a prodigy," she corrected stiffly, handing over the paperwork. "We're getting his brain when he dies so we need to pick it before hand. If you don't let me in, I'll have to get Interpol to intercede and that'll only be a mess." She adjusted her glasses then patted her hair to make sure it was in place.
"Funny, it's the Interpol guy who said no one gets in there," he said, handing them back. They looked real enough to him. "He threw a real fit about no one going in there unless they had a badge."
She sighed and pulled out her faked FBI credentials. "How's this? I work with them as a profiler." Which was a great show, she had learned all her psychology stuff from it.
"I guess," he sighed. "They're in a really wet cell though, and you're still kinda small."
"Not an issue," she promised. "I went to college on a diving scholarship." She walked past him, heading for where she could hear Jigen complaining. "Oh, shut up," she snapped, startling the others in the cell. "Special Agent Cook, boys, back your unhappy, sloppy asses from the thieves and against the back wall." They sneered at her so she pulled out a cattle prod. "You're in water, this is electric. Got the point?" They backed off quickly, not wanting electrocuted. She noticed two other heads bobbing her way and smirked at him. "Well, if it isn't Lupin the Third and his buddy Jigen," she said dryly. "All alone? Is Sylvia eating bon bons and tired of your shit?"
"If she is, can I spank her until she pleads for mercy?" Jigen asked bitterly.
"Sure, anything you want, babe. You know that. Now, let's get down to the real business at hand. Some serious mental probing of your anal retentive ways." Jigen gave her a horrified look. "What? Did you expect something else? Perhaps like an Ishi movement?" Their eyes widened as the roof fell in behind them and a ladder came down. "Guards, the murderers are trying to escape. They pushed Lupin and Jigen under the water," she shouted, running back toward him. "The ceiling caved."
He grimaced and put out the call, then led her back to safety. "You should wait here."
She gave him a horrified look. "I want a fucking drink! They were threatening me!" She stomped off. "I'll be in my hotel."
"How did you get here?" he called after her.
"I rowed!" she said dryly, smirking at him. "A yacht. I borrowed it from a friend and put it in the marina." She shrugged. "It's the only way." He nodded, grimacing again. "I hope you catch them. I'm going to be safely hiding. One of them said he likes to fuck things my size into bleeding comas." He shuddered and she made her escape then. She trotted past Ray on her way out and kept going, muttering to herself.
Ray stopped, looked back at her, then opened his mouth before running inside. "Open the cell," he ordered as he ran. "That was Lupin the Fourth!" The guard gave him a horrified look. "I told you no one without a real badge!" he said, hitting him. "Damn it! They're escaping!"
"She said they were pushed under the water."
"She's Lupin's daughter, of course she did!" he shouted, heading out to check the grounds and follow them if possible.
"Inspector, I'm heading to the marina," one of the officers yelled. "Coming?"
"Yeah," he said, running for his car to get in and go with him. That was the only way off this island at the moment. She had to have come by boat.
Arsene stepped out of the cab she had waiting on her, tipping him generously. "Go hide for the day, man. You never saw me," she ordered, pulling down her hair. He nodded and sped off. She ran for the launch, getting stopped by a couple of white, older, desperate looking people. "What?" she asked impatiently.
"You have a boat, can we hitch a ride to the nearest port?" the wife asked. "We only want to go that far and we'll help all we can. We don't know a thing about boats but we can't stay. Our kitten, Muffy, is at the vet's and she hates it."
"Ask my father," she ordered, leading the way. "Dad?"
He looked up, blinking at the people. "I thought you had a ferret as a pet," he said dryly.
"We only need a ride to the next port we can catch a flight from," the husband pleaded.
Lupin looked at his daughter. "Do you have room on the boat?"
"Yeah, of course I do." She shrugged. "I leave that in your hands. I left Melissa back there, Uncle Jigen. She and Lotus both." She climbed in. "If you're coming, come right now," she ordered. They ran for their bags and came back to climb in with them. "Go, Ishi."
"Ishi, what happened to your hair?" Jigen asked, wringing out his hat. He got a growl in response so he left it at that. "How are we getting home?"
"The boat," Arsene said, pointing at it as they rounded a curve on the shore. Both fathers gaped. "I thought it was cute and practical," she informed them. "Plus we have hot water and clothes for you both, dads."
"Oh, are you gay? I think that's a wonderful lifestyle," the wife told Lupin.
Lupin started to open his mouth but settled for shaking his head. "No, they're in a trio with my mom," Arsene told her with a bright grin. "She was a bit busy though and couldn't come this time. Next time though." They pulled up alongside the ship and climbed up the ladder, letting the elderly couple in front of them. "Guys, show them to a stateroom on the 'E' deck. It'll be safer and Melissa's greeting squeal won't be heard. They're being dropped at the next port with a working airport."
"It'll only take us two and a half days to get back to the US," one of the crew noted.
"Sure, why not. Go ahead and settle in. It's a private ship," she assured them, leading her fathers on. "Come on, you'll want to get warm and dry. We've got Goemon on speed dial for you."
"Goemon?" the husband gasped. "You're thieves?"
Arsene smirked at him. "I'm Lupin the Fourth. Don't worry, I'm a thief, not a pirate." He nodded and followed his wife quickly. "Oh, well, that was my good deed for the year," she noted, dragging them to their suite. "Get underway as soon as Lotus is onboard," she ordered.
"Yes, ma'am," the crew agreed.
"Where did Lotus go?" Lupin asked.
"Presents. I promised to try to sneak a hula girl back to the school for Peter. Dad, did you know how bad that school was? Can't we *please* go to St. Lascivious?"
"It's a reform school," Lupin told her, patting her on the head. He headed for one shower, Jigen headed for the other one he could hear started. "Do we have robes or anything?"
"Full outfits in the closets," Melissa offered. "The showers should be running hot."
"Bless you, daughter. Someday give me grandkids," Jigen said before closing the door.
Lupin the Fourth sat down and put her feet up, looking at Ishi. "Any word from Lotus?"
"Yeah, she's on her way back," he admitted. "The launch got taken back. No hula girl so she found him a statue." He saluted her with his bottle of soda. "Another brilliant, yet mindless adventure for the next generation of the gang."
"Oh, I don't know," Lupin said as she emptied her pockets onto the table, making the others gape in awe. "I stopped to do some shopping too. She was frightfully nice," she added in her best Brit accent. "Quite a gentle soul. My anklet was on her dog's neck. Speaking of, where is the Fifth?"
"In my dad's bedroom," Melissa told her dryly. "He'll be screaming any minute now." They waited until he had, then grinned at Lotus when she came in. "Get it all?" She looked outside and noticed the boat was moving. "Good timing."
"Thanks, I had to slip past Uncle Ray. He was hopping around and nearly having a coronary." She flopped down, handing over the shopping bags. "Any of that ours?"
"Split up the two necklaces, I don't like them," Arsene said with a negligent wave of her hand. She looked inside the bags, smirking at the puzzle books, the deck of cards, and magazines. "Good job." She pulled out her magazine, Scientific American, and settled in to read it. "Hey, it's got something in here on DNA, remind me to show Savannah."
"Sure," Ishi said, handing over a soda as first Lupin came out and then Jigen with a wet ferret. "Arsene, I think you'll have to blow dry him again."
She accepted the towel and her baby, patting him dry while she read the article. "Bag has things to do if you're bored. Food's in the dining hall, which is one floor down and halfway to the other end of the ship. Mom was in Italy but you never know where she went. She said she was doing a job. Plus she was eating bon bons while she was sitting on a porch."
"What did we do this time?" Jigen sighed as he sat down.
"You treated her like she was the wife, not a fellow thief," Arsene said patiently. "I'm going to get a tape recorder to remind you of this daily, Unc. You might wanna call Goemon. He's a bit bitter and feeling ancient. His knees creaked this morning." She turned the page, then went back to drying her familiar. "He's also feeling like the world's stepparent again."
"Thank you for the timely save, daughter," Lupin said, kissing the top of her head. "What's your mother's new number?"
"Not a clue, she called me," Arsene told him, being half honest. Her father took the magazine and hit her on the head with it. "Hey! Grumpy asshole, get laid sometime." Her baby squeaked as she shifted to get it back, then settled in with a heated glare for the grandfather as he went back to being dried off.
"That's it, I'm taking the cable linkups from the houses," Lupin decided.
"Gee, dad, then I'd have to find some other way to entertain myself and so would mom when she comes back. Gee, how would I do that?" she mused. "I'm not quite old enough to have sex yet. I could train extra hard I guess, like Ishi and mom do. Or I guess I could take up reading and writing my porn instead of watching it." She glared at him. "Then again, I could always start to annoy the fuck out of you guys again," she said suggestively.
"That's why someone smart made year-round schools," Jigen reminded her.
"Let me guess, one of those supposedly good, Godly people thought those up?" Melissa asked.
"Nah, let's talk about Military school," Lupin said smugly. "I know of a few that are year- round and have an automatic enlistment at the end." He glared at his daughter.
"Then who would show up to do the timely rescues?" she asked smugly.
"Your mother," the older generation said in unison, while the other kids mimicked them.
"Only if she talks to you guys again," Ishi pointed out. "Since she's out pulling jobs right now, I'd say that chance is relatively slim." The older men both stared at him. "It was rather obvious. She didn't get into this life to be the sex slave of the Emperor of Crime. Or the princess to his prince." He sipped his soda. "Arsene, how's he doing on the male thing?"
"I got the feeling that she's resigned to never getting out of the choker," she admitted. "It's like this is some punishment for her being good at what she's chosen to do."
"She always put that on of her own free will," Lupin said firmly.
"Yeah, but she put it on for *you*," Arsene reminded him. "Not because he really wanted to be female. For that matter, she's been saying things about how she knows Lavelle won't have a rep left by the time she's out of it, that's why she's rebuilding hers."
"Lavelle isn't unknown," Jigen protested.
"In our line of work, reputations often come with a 'best if used by date', yes?" Ishi asked. Lupin groaned but he nodded. "Isn't that date something like nine or ten months? The earliest she can get out of that is a year."
"So of course she's rebuilding her reputation. The only thing they knew of her before was that she was Lupin's new lady," Melissa finished from behind her book. "Now she's got her own name, people recognize her, and she's proven herself wonderfully by not killing a few people who deserved it for the way they looked at her. Oh, Arsene, you asked her to piss off a Sicilian for you. She has. She was called to a job but she refused to walk into the church earlier. Pissed him off to no end, even when she told him she didn't do churches. She would do restaurants, theaters, parking garages, parks, etc, but not churches. He asked why she hated the church, so she told him how they were more evil than most of the demons she knew, and told him why." She sipped her soda. "Did you know my grandparents were cultists?"
"No, but it makes perfect fucking sense," Jigen said bitterly. "What's she trying to do now?"
"They wanted her to whack someone in the head for daring to have thoughts of not being a nun. A friend was having his daughter buy his way into a better afterlife. So mom went to talk to the girl and told her exactly what was going on. She agreed to go in as a novitiate but now that she knows what's going on she'll be able to hide better when she comes out." She finished her soda and put it aside. "Toss me another, Ishi, not literally?"
"Sure," he agreed, bringing one over to her. "Better?"
"Much. I've got a craving for sweets today for some reason."
Arsene noticed both men looked horrified. "We're not old enough for that reason yet," she said. Lotus hung up the phone and walked back over to join them. "How's your dad?"
"Tired of being a father," she admitted as she sat down. "He said if Xander got this every day then he wanted to bow at her feet because she's got to be a Goddess to have put up with all of us. Kenji learned a word today, no. And he means it each and every time he scowls it at his father."
"We were all like that," Ishi said placidly. "Can't we go faster?"
"Sweetie, we're on a cruise ship, not on a race boat," Arsene reminded him. "It's not that long before we get back and you can grope Amanda."
"I haven't *groped* her," he defended, scowling at her. "I've only hugged her a few times."
"A few *dozen* times," Lotus corrected, smirking at him. "And pray tell, why were you in the girls' dorms recently?"
"Because you were having nightmares," he snapped back. "She lives in a different dorm."
"That's probably the only thing that kept you from being expelled," Arsene reminded him. "Hey, Dad, can't I please cap a teacher?"
"No," he said patiently. "You can only make them want to retire, daughter. Why?"
"Because he was insistent that you don't exist, that Russia won the Cold War with the help of Martians, and that ferrets are mythical beings, like seahorses."
"Seahorses are real," Lotus assured her.
"I know that. I saw them at the aquarium the same as you did." She gave Lotus a nudge with her foot. "Behave."
"I'm not the one who usually needs that advice," Lotus said dryly. "I'm not the one who broke into the Headmistress' closet and had the kids dye her clothes so they were bright pink."
"She needed happier clothes," Arsene defended. "Besides, she didn't like my hairbow." She looked at her father again. "Just the one? I can handle everything else."
Jigen snickered. "You're so bad, Arsene. What else have you done?"
She smirked at him. "Oh, you'd be pissed if you knew," she promised. She smirked at her father. "It seems that the headmistress and the gym coach are going at it." She sipped her soda and petted her ferret. "We mined their favorite trysting spot with cameras and broadcast them *all* over the school on the educational tvs. It happens that a few of the other teachers have taped it for their own amusement. She tried to blame it on Melissa, but Melissa had a rock-solid alibi, science class. The only kids who didn't are the nerd patrol and their study hall is at that same moment and she wouldn't *dream* of one of them doing it."
"She did her 'wanna be scary' stomping in front of her desk like a drill sergeant while glaring at us thing," Lotus finished. "We never did cave and they broke up. Which is kinda nice because they made one ugly couple."
"Are we talking Dursley ugly, Simpsons ugly, or inbred clan members ugly?" the elder Lupin asked.
"The first and the third together," she assured him. "He looks like that too. Inbred, fat - and we're not talking biological condition or medical condition, we're talking never was muscle fat, like seven tons of ho-hos fat -, and she's that toothpick, sourpuss that you met and left us in the care of. Did you know that she's got fantasies of killing us already?" Arsene asked smugly. "She told her shrink that."
"How did you find that out?" Jigen asked.
"Easy, I broke into his office after he tried to mentally retard my growth through therapy. He thought I should want to be a society wife," she snorted, patting her baby's head. "I told him that it would be a waste of my natural gifts and brilliance, plus that he had the wrong sister."
"He wasn't impressed with any of us," Lotus reminded her. "He's simply found whole new reasons to persecute women." She got comfortable and stole the ferret to help dry him off. "There, this way you get all the attention, Fifth." It burrowed into her lap and got comfortable under the towel and the gentle fingers.
"I still say he had a problem with his mother," Melissa offered. "I mean it's pretty clear cut. He's petrified that some woman will take his place as head dick of the school, what little status he's been able to earn through his long career of failures. He tries to repress women back into Victorian roles that were a fairytale then. He preaches morality to the girls who are good and tries to bang the older girls who aren't, then blackmails them to keep them quiet. If this were the US, I'd say he'd be a televangelist, but we're still in France."
"How very Freudian of you, daughter," Jigen noted, giving her an odd look.
"If you remove Freud from his timeline and bring him forward into women's lib, he does explain some things. Penis envy isn't about wanting the organ, it's about wanting what having the organ automatically entitles you to. Including better salaries, better jobs, and better hauls from fences if you want to think about it. Oedipus isn't exactly correct I think, but then again I've never been in love with my mother that way. Or you, dad, sorry."
"Not a problem," he agreed. "It'd make me ill if you had been."
"I still think it's a matter of reference. If you believe that saying 'I love you' can only mean carnal love, even if it's between siblings or child and parent, then that's all you realize," Lotus pointed out. "That's why you can cross Freud with Symbolic Interactionism and get some really good points going."
"Yes, but Symbolic Interaction fails in some modern regards as well," Melissa pointed out. "With the way we've standardized so much of the world, there's not much left to personally define. Take the color blue. Most kids think it's crayola blue. Their parents held up a blue crayon and said blue until it was pounded into the kid's head. At least ours pointed at the sky, the water, and all sorts of things and told us that they were all blue. SI people don't think about the standardization. They don't realize that most people want it black or white because gray makes them uneasy. "
"It's the sheep mentality," Arsene agreed. "You're still making my head hurt. Plus, some of us can take part in both worlds. I like crayola blue."
"Whereas I like the color of surf at midnight," Lotus agreed. "She's right, some people do stride the defining gulf. They're probably the mid-level and upper level managers. The true leaders are those who see gray in all it's many shades, and the good ones see the shades that don't relate to their worldview. Take all of the world leaders and look at their present views of the African cultures. Most of them see poor people who are either there to be exploited, or there to be poor and pitiful. Then there are the very rare few who see them as dynamic cultures who can do everything that they need to if they've not been screwed out of their resources and there's no invading army of Westerners there to tell them how to do things their way. That mono-view of the world is what's the real problem in the world today. Live and let live, and help them live only if they need and want it."
"Exactly. Culture isn't political, it's social. The political should only come when necessary, for when great changes are needed. Like with Civil Rights," Melissa agreed.
"You're forgetting, dears. We feed on those people with single-vision eyesight and narrow worldviews," Arsene put in. "It's those sort who make themselves targets by their consumption of stuff they shouldn't have. Why did that guy in Japan have all those African masks when he's not African, doesn't like Africans or Africa, and thought that the only purpose to them was to be exotic? To be a showman, to show how much he thought he knew of the world. And when one of them turned out to be someone's tribal totem, well, he paid for it with his life." Her father held up a finger. "Yokohama newspaper, dad." She looked at her sisters again. "The sad fact is that those supposed sharks are the ones that we feed off of. We don't feed off the masses, or those who can see some of it. We feed off those who have the mono-vision down to an artform and make it look hip and popular, or we feed off those who think they know it all and love to flaunt it. Mostly we do it because they have ungodly taste in artifacts that they chose to steal from others or in the status symbols that they use to prove their worth to the world. I'm sorry, if your only worth to the world is to drive around in a Dodge Viper, a corvette, or a ferarri, have hair plugs, and a fake tan so you can pick up pretty young women, then what are you doing for the rest of your life? It's like beauty queens and prom queens. If that's your only ambition in life, to win a pageant that says you're prettier than the other girls, then what do you do after that's gone?"
"Do *you* feel like we just stepped into some odd criminal's classroom on ethics?" Lupin asked Jigen. Jigen considered it, then nodded. "Girls, way too deep here. You're kids, act like kids."
"Sure, dad," Arsene said, smirking at Melissa before letting out a girlish, ear-piercing squeal. "Did you *see* what Bryon had in gym class? He was nearly *hanging out* of his shorts!" she said excitedly.
"Sorry, sis, I saw and had it offered to me," Melissa said smugly. "He likes brains."
Lotus snorted. "He likes to break in virgins," she corrected. "He's been through half the school. I'm surprised if it wasn't about to fall off with the amount of exercise that thing gets."
"Never mind, please go back to the other one before I have nightmares," Jigen ordered. "Melissa, you have my permission to kick his ass."
"Too late," Ishi said smugly, smirking at him. Everyone stared at him. "He tried for Amanda. I hear the choir teacher was impressed that someone in the school was a soprano. He offered me the chance to do it again before the next recital if we could get him on pitch."
"I'm thinking those neat weights I found in that catalog would ensure it," Arsene offered. "Say, fifteen pounds?"
"Daughter, no torture," Lupin said firmly. "We raised you better than that. At the very least Xander and Goemon have," he admitted when she looked at him.
"Mom pierced a guy with a set the other day," Melissa told him. "He tried to hit on her and forgot to look up the word 'no'. From what I hear, Gramps was wincing and crossing his legs during the whole interview. Even the judge decided he had been punished enough." She went back to her reading. "Ar, have you done the history homework?"
"Nope, I can't figure out how to work the Martians into Watergate," she admitted. She noticed her father was giving her an odd look. "He said they were. He said the last president to resist them was Kennedy because his faith was so strong."
"I'm still looking for some excellent manips," Ishi noted. "Ones of the bros on Mars, through the eyes of a rover." Everyone stared at him. "Biker Mice From Mars? The big, hairy things that Mom goes as sometimes?"
"Sorry, Ishi, but he said the Roswell Grays had to be Martian. 'Why would anyone come all the way from Alpha Centauri to anal probe anyone' was his exact reason."
Lupin shook his head. "I think I need a drink now. Jigen?"
"Beer me," he ordered.
"Daddy, are you having one of those American manly man moments?" Melissa asked. "You never drink beer."
"You girls probably didn't order wine."
"There's six bottles in the second minibar, which is under the window seat," Arsene said, going back to her article. "There's also a magnum of champagne for us since we pulled off our first solo rescue mission. Plus I sent Auntie Dawn decadent chocolates guaranteed to make her fatter. That way Uncle Zenny wouldn't get any while she lazed around in the bathtub." She turned the page, going back into the detailed description. "Man, this mitochondrial DNA is really hard to catch."
"You'll have to use plastic cups unless you can find some hidden glassware in the kitchen," Ishi informed them. "The crew has a keg for after-hours in the dining hall."
"I was nice enough to order them Miller or Budweiser, one of those skunk-piss German imitation beers," Melissa noted. "They're working guys so I didn't think they'd go for microbrews or the good, strong German beers that are guaranteed to clean your kidneys and bladder."
"They sure cleared up my last UTI," Ishi agreed.
"Does your dad know you drink?" Jigen asked.
"No, but it was Mom who gave it to me," he said smugly. "Better than any antibiotics or cranberry juice."
"It had better be. She gave you some of the strongest rotgut stuff she could find. Like dockworkers turn away from that stuff for being too strong rotgut," Lotus explained at the helpless looks on Lupin and Jigen's faces.
"I wondered why we kept a bottle of that around," Lupin said, looking at Jigen. "That stuff's worse than mixing Mad Dog 20/20 and lighter fluid, which we did to create one hell of a bonfire once and I got drunk off the fumes."
"It's okay, dad, we know that you've experiment with drugs and alcohol in your life," Arsene assured him. "That's why I'm gonna come ask you what things are like. Do you think I'll like pot or acid more?"
"Find out and watch my foot go up your ass, Arsene," Jigen said firmly.
"You know, I never did acid," Lupin admitted. "I tried pot a few times. It was kinda nice but I was always hungry for *days*. Coke didn't do much for me, I'm already too hyper for my own good. I bounced a lot more from what others told me. 'Shrooms were kinda fun in a foggy, fuzzy, 'the world's a pastel umbrella' sort of way." His daughter gave him a look. "Ask your mother. She got exposed to acid and pot in her youth. Someone baked some acid brownies."
"How?" Melissa asked. "It'd wear out the chemicals in the cooking process."
"They sprayed it afterwards," Lupin told her, getting comfortable. "How's the food?"
"Soup," Ishi told him. "Stew, chili. I brought you fussy people some light cheese and bread from the launching. I also brought a box of Nutty Buddies and a few twinkies."
"I added fritos, triscuits, and dip," Melissa offered.
"I brought veggies and dip," Lotus added.
Arsene looked at them. "I brought microwave pizzas. I can't live without pizza for very long. There's also some deli ham but I didn't bring sandwich bread so you'll have to eat fussy people sandwiches like they do at parties."
"Hey, suits me," Jigen agreed, getting up to get them something to eat. They hadn't eaten in a day or two.
"Did you remember to change the tape, Arsene?" Lotus asked.
"Yup, sure did. I even got the x-ray filter onto the camera too. I'm sure Peter will like the x-ray pictures of the hula girls. No clothes is kinda neat to watch, just like in the airports."
"When did you guys have time to be tourists?" Jigen asked, turning to glare at her. "You left us in there longer?"
"We got in late last night, did a few sweeps of the area, reconned the jail, then went to watch hula girls and eat dinner while we planned. Then we spent a quiet night back here and came for you after we all woke up." She smirked at him. "Did you expect us to not scout and walk in blind?"
"No," he agreed bitterly. "You still could have found a way out sooner."
"Uncle Ray was sleeping outside your cell last night. We had to distract him by Ishi appearing while he was scouting breakfast. So he followed genius boy over there until he got lost, then Ishi rejoined me."
"Good enough," Lupin agreed. "It's what we'd do too, as long as someone wasn't going to die right then."
"Speaking of, I want someone to look at that scrape on your back," Jigen ordered.
"Sorry, only Lotus onboard with medical skills," Arsene sighed. "Can it wait two days?"
"Yes, daughter, it can," Lupin assured her. "It's just wet and damp. I put some neosporin on it and it should be fine."
"Let me look at it, uncle." He moved his shirt, letting her see the bad scrape up his back. "I've got some mask for our skin that could be useful. I'll pull it out later, before bed. Then you can cover it and sleep like that."
"Thanks, Lotus, you're a peach," Jigen said with a grin. "You wanna go ta medical school?"
"No thanks," she said dryly. "Why suffer through all that pressure?"
"Good point," Arsene agreed happily. "Otherwise we'd have to bug her all the time anyway."
Lupin and Jigen shared a look. Then they smirked at each other. Their kids were pretty neat, for being kids.
Xander looked over as someone approached her table, giving them a long look. "What?" she asked finally.
"Wanted to talk to you," Vecchio admitted as he sat down. "Fujiko's still listening for news and it's not getting back to her."
"Good." He grinned at her. "Having fun?"
"Yeah. It's about time I proved that I'm more than their love slave."
"Which you seem to do really well. We can't prove it was you on anything that you've done. Even when we've followed you around." She smirked at him. "Don't be that happy. Lupin landed last night. Zenigata flew over to catch them coming back. They left the ship and headed for the airport. Arsene paid the crew in cash so they could get home or stay, either one."
"That's my girl," she said proudly.
"Fine, you're proud of her. She was damn dangerous, Xander. That cell was really flooded. The guys couldn't touch the floor anymore. Plus she let out the murderers."
"That's why Lotus stayed behind," she said wisely. "She made sure they got caught again." He looked stunned. "I did teach the kids most everything I know and I'm a good planner, Ray. I can't play chess, but I'm damn good at battle plans."
"Fine, if you're not worried," he agreed lightly. "Still, we've got to talk about this Fujiko thing."
"Sure." She sipped her wine, smiling at him. "You know, I could use a good second in command." His mouth opened and he whimpered. "Really."
"You'd do better with the other one," Benny said as he joined them. "Xander."
"Sylvia," she corrected.
"Fine." He sat down, looking at her. "She's called for your extermination because you're standing in her way."
She smirked at him. "She has no idea."
"Probably not," Ray agreed. "That's why we're here. We thought you might like to... help."
"Ooh," she moaned, shivering. "I'm very helpful." She pulled something out of her purse and pushed it over to him with a wink. "Some piccies." She stood up. "I've already ordered dinner, eat. You both look tired." She strolled out, heading out to her car. She'd have to call her kids later tonight to warn them about Fujiko getting ready to act. Not that she wasn't going to show her hand well before she was ready, but they've been busy and she didn't want the kids not to know these things. She walked into her apartment and paused when she saw who was reading on her couch. "Breaking and entering is so beneath you, Lupin," she said, closing the door. "Having a good time reading fashion magazines?"
"Not really," he admitted, looking at her. "But I figured this was the only way to get to see you. You're a busy woman."
"Yes, I am." She sat across from him, crossing her legs demurely. "Do you blame me?"
"Nope." He grinned at her. "Then again, I've been listening to some of your reputation and I believe that there's a better spot for you. You see, I seem to be without one of my gunmen and the person who was my secondary planner. We usually do four to six jobs a year, travel extensively, and travel is paid for," he offered.
"And for that pleasure I do what?"
"You work with the team, Xander. Speaking of, where is my tithe?"
"What tithe?" she snorted. "I'm not working for you right now. I'm working on my own. You said I didn't have to."
"Yes, but you used my name to restart your rep," he said smugly.
"No, I used Lavelle's at one point when someone asked me if we were related, and one other person knows that I'm Arsene's mother," she corrected firmly. "Nothing else about you."
"They both lead back to me."
"They lead back to God too, doesn't mean I claimed him. I did get asked if Jigen trained me. I did send him a small tithe for that job." She crossed her legs in the other direction, curling up in her chair. "Sorry, Lupin, but I built my own rep. The Don in Paris gave me a reference when I asked and that was all I needed. I pulled a few lower level jobs and moved up from there. As of this moment, no one even associates me with you, except for those who know that I'm Arsene's mother."
He grimaced, staring at her. "Why have you been eating pop tarts?" She looked confused. "You've done about six million in jobs recently and you're living on pop tarts and pasta. That's poor times food, not for when things are doing well."
"Usually I'm too tired to cook, or I eat out," she pointed out.
"Bull. You haven't been seen in a restaurant except for tonight. Speaking of, Vecchio now?"
"Fujiko's moving against me."
"Oh." He scowled for a moment, then relaxed again. "The offer is only good for a short time, Sylvia, but I do demand obedience to the corporate structure." He stood up. "We're heading for Beijing next. You could join us."
She stood up and went to her desk, pulling out something and handing it over. "If you're going after that, it's not there anymore," she said smugly, heading into her bedroom to change. This apartment wasn't so bad. She left the door open on purpose. "Now, if you're really interested in hiring me, I come with high maintenance things," she offered. "I want a twenty percent cut, I get to do solo jobs when we're not doing things, and I get some respect as a thief in my own right."
Lupin looked up from the book he had planned on stealing next month, then leaned back to look in the bedroom. "Twenty? There's four of us already."
"There's three of you. You, Jigen, and Goemon. Marcus earns ten percent."
"He earns fifteen."
"Since you left," he said bitterly. He got up, walking into the bedroom. "If you don't take it up, we'll have to do something about your stuff."
"I packed most of it," she assured him, sliding into her lounging pajamas before turning to look at him. "Sorry, bras still bother me." She lounged on the bed. "I'm a thief and a damn good hitter, Lupin. I'm as good as Jigen, the occasional insecurity and all." He nodded. "Now, why would I want to do something that keeps me from doing the job I chose?"
"I'm not offering you your old job as my girl," he said dryly. "I figure you're having a women's lib moment and you'll come back."
She slid off the bed and walked him over to the other closet, opening it. Then she pulled out the trunk in there and handed him the keys from the top shelf. "It's not a women's lib moment, Lupin. It's proof that I'm worthy of my title and being part of the world." She lounged again, watching as he opened it. He gaped at the contents, then at her, picking up the silk kimono that was lying on top. "It wasn't that hard," she noted. "I'm damn good, Lupin. I like being good at things. I'm a kick ass parent, but I am more than that. Now, if you want me to hire onto the team, I will."
"You know that they've put out a manhunt for this alone?"
She nodded. "It's being sent back tomorrow. I did it to prove I could."
He closed the trunk, turning to look at her. "Fine, you're good. You're more than worthy of being on the team. You deserve your own share of the cut instead of a share of my cut. You're not a student and you're not only my girl. Happier now?"
"Quite. What else did you have planned this year? Because if you don't have a target, I might," she offered. "It was going to be another proof job."
He sat on the edge of her bed, staring at her. "Those sort of jobs get you attention. You need to stay out of limelight."
"Lupin, they couldn't prove I did it before," she pointed out dryly. "Ray admitted as much earlier. Now, if you don't want me to, I won't go hit the Vatican's collections." He nodded, staying calm. "Then let's work out the details. I deserve a full cut. At least ten percent of the cut."
"You do," he agreed. "Jigen may not like having his portion cut down."
"Jigen won't be minding that much," she pointed out. "With me there, that gives him more time to relax and be a dad at times and lets us go for harder and more worthy jobs. Or even more fun jobs for the hell of it. I've wanted to go to the comic museum for years now and find a certain issue, but it's not exactly done."
"No, your friends would kill you," he agreed, sliding back to get comfortable staring at her. "You're not the same, Xander, and I miss you."
"No, Lupin, you miss that soft little princess you created. To do the job, I have to be like this sometimes. I'm still her, but in matters of business it's different." He slumped and nodded. "You wanted me to be this way knowing that it was possible that I couldn't get out of this thing for years on end. I've accepted that fate. I may never be male again. Even if Janus finishes with his expansion project, he may never let me go. I cause way too much chaos in this form for him to not enjoy me like this. That means I've got to take care of my own future."
"We'll be there," he pointed out bitterly.
"Yeah, because you're immortal?" she asked coolly. He shook his head. "This is my reputation, Lupin. I want the same respect for my gifts. I worked damn hard to get this good this fast. I liked the respect I had before."
"Even if we died, you'd have the family fortunes until the kids were adult," he offered. "They'd make sure you were taken care of."
"Arsene, with our lives, they may not live to adulthood. I may not live to see them get that far and you're about as likely as I am to go by then." He shuddered. "I want the respect I had before. I had it as Lavelle, and a good rep. Then I took some time off to be soft and nice, so that started to fade. I worked on getting it back and did really good. I had a good rep when I changed. I had a rep that most crooks would kill for. I was near the top of the heap of soloists and one of your people. I got as far up as I really wanted to go and sat there. No one ever dared to threaten me. No one ever really wanted to face me down. I actually got to the point where my rep was good enough that it talked people out of trying me, and by extension you. I want that back again and it's ten times harder for a woman to reach that spot. I've already been asked what I'm going to be doing for the summer vacations."
"You'll be with us," he said firmly. "The kids can go on training stuff under our watchful gaze and you can run some of those. I agree, you're damn good." He stared in her eyes, noticing the one was dilated. "What happened to your good eye?"
"Hmm? Oh, I had some special wine earlier. I'm guessing someone tried to drug me but I'm a bit more immune from it. Otherwise I'd probably be sucking you off right now."
"No, I wouldn't let you do that," he assured her, shifting so his legs were crossed and he was leaning on his knees. "Xander, I want you to come back as a full member of the team. Marcus still needs training. For that matter, you've got things you could still learn."
"So do you."
"True," he agreed. "I know not to put you into a situation where you need to pick locks. Lavelle's spot it still yours if you want it. I can't promise that the guys will like it much. I didn't talk it over with him. Jigen feels like you betrayed him somehow and Goemon said to tell you he's not your child."
"He got what he deserved from me," she said firmly. Lupin gave her a long look. "He attacked me first! I do have the right to protect myself."
"You do," he agreed. "Then again, the lecturing about his stupidity while drunk wasn't that great."
"I didn't lecture him," she said bitterly. "If I had, he probably would have deserved it, but I didn't. But hey, if he doesn't like the fact that I was watching out for him I'll just win it back next time and hold it until Ishi's ready."
"He said he's a big boy, Xander."
"He is, who was being cheated in my place. It was correct for me to step in and help him. If he doesn't like how I did it, then I'm sorry. Tough, but I'm sorry."
Lupin nodded. "That's fine, you two can fight about that later on. He also said it's not fair that you left him with the kids."
"Some of them are his," she pointed out dryly. "I didn't think it was fair that you guys kept knocking me up either. I love our kids, but I'm not the world's mother. That's why we got a nanny." She shifted. "If he's that bothered, I'll be there to pick them up in another week and take them with me. I'm sure I can convince Bix to stay with me."
"You're not taking my son," Lupin said firmly.
"My son, Lupin. I'm giving you an out since you're tired of being a father."
"I'm not," he defended, shifting to kneel in front of her. "I didn't plan on being this much of a father either," he reminded her. "They were not my idea."
"They weren't mine either," she pointed out dryly, giving him a long look. "That's fine. If I don't come back, we'll work out custody arrangements so you still have time to go do jobs and so do I."
"You're coming back," he said firmly.
"I'm not causing dissension. If Jigen and Goemon don't agree then I won't come back."
"They want you back, just not this cold bitch you become sometimes," he assured her.
"Lupin, I have to be this way sometimes. It's the way the job gets done. I'm not a housewife or a mistress." He looked hurt. "I was being turned into one. There and here. Why do you think I had to work so hard to restart my rep, without using your rep as a base?" She got to her knees. "Think about it, Lupin. Think really hard. Remember being my age and having to build your own."
"I had my grandfather's and father's reps to build from," he admitted.
"I gave you a platform," he reminded her. "You could have built it as my second gunman and from there. Lavelle did."
"Lavelle didn't, Lupin. Ask around. His started with the maze and moved on from there. The fact that he was with you was an added bonus on top of his skills, his ways, and his proficiencies. Now I'm nearly as good as I was, maybe a bit off balance now and then, but I am nearly as good. I can't get anywhere near his because I've got internal sexual organs. Crime is a boys club and the party resents women. The fact that I'm rated high enough for someone to tell you things without you having to ask means that I'm working on a good rep at the moment. Maybe I'll even reach my former spot."
"No one's told me anything," he snorted. She slumped and he realized it was the wrong thing to say. "I didn't ask either, Xander. I know what you can and can't do. I'm very realistic about what your skill levels are. Even when you hide things from us."
"Would you have told you if you were me? Making myself look like an eager puppy would have pissed you off and gotten me dead."
"I wouldn't do that to you."
"No, you would have been overconfident about my skills and sent me into something that I might think I could handle, which I couldn't. Like in Cairo."
She rolled her eyes. "You really haven't looked, have you?" She got up and grabbed her laptop, handing it over. "Log on and read, Lupin. I'm going to make myself some pop tarts."
"I brought you McDonalds," he offered as he logged into the bulletin boards under his name and asked a question about her. Someone asked if he was going to let her take her brother's place, and if so would he not offer it to her. Apparently they thought she was easier to get around and kill this way. He shuddered and typed in that she already had the spot, she was simply adding to her reputation so she could quit explaining who she was at times. One of the Dons thoughtfully forwarded a resume and a few more offered to take her if he didn't want her. That she was a damn good hitter and thief. That she was administrative quality, which meant she would be running things under their guidance. Paris' Don popped up with a file to be forwarded and he read it first. He knew she was using him as a first reference. The resume was really interesting but the recommendations were enlightening.
She was a tough woman on the outside, but they all thought she was hurting and emotionally fragile. He glanced toward the kitchen, then went back to reading. It was a lot more extensive than he thought. They paid attention since the moment she had shown up. She had been right to prove herself to the world at large. She wasn't being looked on as his girl, or his wife, but as a useful and wanted part of the team. One person thoughtfully extended the list of warrants for him. He typed in a general thank you and accepted the advice to treat her gently because she was upset with the world at large. He logged off and went out to join her. "Sorry about the chicken, but I remember you ate a lot of it before." She shrugged. "They were helpful. Your resume is extensive. Your skills list is long. You're at the level where someone wants to offer you an administrative position in their organization." She snorted. "Then again, your warrants are also about as long as your skill list, which makes you dangerous for most organizations," he said calmly.
"That's fine," she agreed, standing up. "I'm thinking the interview's over." She walked past him, heading for her bedroom and closing the door. "I'll pack the rest of my stuff tomorrow or you can have Marcus do it."
"Xander," he said, standing up.
"Go away, Lupin, you made yourself clear."
"No!" He started to touch the doorknob but something made him pull back. "You electrified it?" he called. She didn't answer. "Xander! Open the damn door!"
"If I'm too dangerous for you to be around, then you shouldn't be here," she called back. "We'll have joint custody."
"You're not taking my son!" he shouted, pounding on the door. "He's my son."
She opened the door, staring at him. "He's my son, Lupin," she said quietly. "Mine. I gave birth to him. You're not on his birth certificate because you decided not to be." He looked stunned. "If you want partial custody, you can have partial custody. I doubt you want to have the kids year-round though. It'd get in the way of your swinging lifestyle. I'll be up to pack things tomorrow and I'll be finding a real house within the next few weeks, at which time I'll take the infants from Goemon since they seem to be too much for him to handle as well." She shut the door.
"I paid for that stuff, Xander."
"You didn't. I used my allowance and the hauls I did solo to buy all my comics, Lupin. Get it right. I'll be nice, I won't ask for anything else."
He stomped out, heading to get really drunk and yell at Jigen. It always helped him when he could yell at Jigen.
Arsene sat up in her bed panting, gasping for breath. "Oh, no," she hissed, climbing out and heading to her father's bedside. She poked him until he glared at her. "You are not going to let my mother get away. You're not going to piss her off. You're not going to share custody of us. If I have to, I'll take her as my trusted advisor, but you're not dumping my mother that way."
Lupin sat up in the bed, looking at his little girl. She was wearing a tank-top and one of his sets of boxers. "I hope you washed those first."
"Nasty asshole! Listen!" She swatted at him. "I just got a head's up from Janus! He doesn't want her to be that fucking miserable either!"
"You're not naturally her daughter," Jigen pointed out as he walked in, carrying Melissa. "Lotus got one too and nearly knocked Melissa out when she came to help," he explained.
"Present," she mumbled. "What's going on?"
"Janus just showed me what was going to happen." She glared at her father again. "Someone oh so brilliantly decided to approach mom about taking Lavelle's spot on the team, offering her a job. Which was probably fine, then he pointed out how many warrants she has and how extensive her resume is. She left. You guys got divorced."
"We're not married here yet," Lupin said tiredly. "You can't be divorced without a marriage."
His daughter slugged him this time. "I'm not splitting custody between you two," she hissed at his shocked look. "Mom will die of a broken heart. You'll get sloppy and die on the job. Which means that we'll be raised by Uncle Goemon and I'd rather be an orphan, thank you." Both fathers looked stunned. "Hello, he's not exactly who I need to train me, people. Not that he likes to train girls anyway. I refuse to become his little polite doll until he marries me off. He's like that, you've got to realize that by now." She glared at her father again. "You need to handle mom very gently, father. She isn't going to conventions. She's not been going in costume even when she does pop in to buy stuff, and she's not met up with her buddies since she left. Uncle Goemon did deserve getting his ass kicked by her. He started it. He got drunk and stupid. It's got to be an adult thing because I don't think Ishi will ever do something that stupid," she spat.
"Now, you're going to listen to me. Auntie Fujiko is planning something against mother. She wants Ray to hit her. Ray's got enough information to arrest them both. He's tracking her with the Mountie and his wolf. Mom's been building her rep like you wouldn't believe, *without* your help or using you as a stepstool. She's told *one* person that she was my mother and two people know she's Lavelle's sister. She's built everything else by herself. Sure, she's done proof jobs, she had to. She's even done a few really dumb proof jobs, like with the silk kimono from the Emperor's private museum. She's also going to be sending it back. She did it to prove she could, not because she wanted it. Your only part in this is to get her back before you all die and the world suddenly goes back to the war of good against evil. Without you guys being the hidden players on evil's side, the good guys can't win." Jigen swallowed. "Mom more so than you two, but it still happens. You have two choices. You can all die miserable and alone. Or you can work it out with mom. She's not your whore, she's not your girl, she's not your dame, she's your fucking partner and start treating her like it. I treat Ishi better than you guys treat mom and she's more skilled than he is. If you don't believe me, let's log onto the bulletin boards."
"Calm down," Lupin said quietly. "There's no reason to get hysterical."
"Janus just gave me a fucking vision, Father! I'm not the one he picks for this shit! He didn't figure it'd get through mom's stubborn streak!" She stomped her foot. "We're going to log on now and let the people tell us, or do a real check on her. She's in fucking danger and you're in danger of losing us for most of the year. She'll put us into a *real* school." He shuddered. "Exactly. It may be the assassin's academy in Italy, but it'll be a real school." She grabbed the phone and dialed her mother's apartment, getting a sleepy answer. "Mom, you've got to send away that kimono now. Uncle Ray's on your ass with his pet Mountie and the wolf." She listened to the sleepy complaint. "Mom, Janus just gave me a vision of things to come. Send the kimono away now! Right now!" she said, sounding a touch hysterical. "They're on your tail." Her mother spoke calmly to her but agreed. "Good. Then meet dad for dinner when they get back. No, I don't care where you are, mom. Trust me, he's a miserable prick and he's got a cold from the cell. Hey, I agreed with you swatting Uncle G after he hit you. You have the right to kick his ass and make him plead for mercy. I would have kept the sword." She grinned. "Fine, just do it right now. Leave as well if possible." She hung up. "They're going to break into her apartment in a few minutes. Father, bulletin boards. Melissa, why don't you go back to sleep."
"Sure, Ar." She snuggled in against her father's chest. "Janus must really like her. Usually only the ones he likes most get visions of what he's seen."
Arsene grabbed her father's wrist and drug him with her out to the sitting area, turning on her computer and logging into the bulletin boards. Someone immediately greeted her and told her what her mother was doing. She sent out a message about Vecchio and the Mountie, making sure everyone around her were warned. They would either turn her away or help her get away. She looked at her father, then typed in a private chat offer to someone already online. A new window popped as he answered, sounding happy. "There, talk to the man." She gave him a shove and went to get a soda for herself and a drink for her father. He might need it.
Lupin sat down to chat with him, his sleepy mind still running slowly. The information he got was amazing. Xander, in both forms, was better known than he realized. People were wondering why she was still listed as his student. He took the soda from his daughter's hand, taking a long gulp. He typed in some questions, getting clarification. "Okay, fine," he decided, looking at his daughter once he was done. "She's better than I had assumed." Arsene snorted as she sipped her drink. "Give me that!" He switched with her. "You're too young to drink. You'll end up a dwarf." He scowled at her. "How long has this been going on?"
"Since Uncle Jigen had her in training alone," she noted. "I asked. He had some nights where he told her to go do something and she did. And then some usually. She learned how to work alone and she's not used to being part of an integrated team. Slaying was like a strike team. Limited autonomy and a lot of alone time in between battles for him to perfect being alone and fighting alone. The only thing running in your favor is that he hates being alone. He hates being around a lot of silence. Quiet yes, but silence and lack of people will eventually drive him insane. Sorta like how his penis may never come back." Lupin shuddered. "Exactly. Just because she didn't really have a choice doesn't mean that she wanted to be female forever more. She's having the same problems as before. Now she knows that you don't respect her skills because you never let her do anything."
"It's a vacation."
"She's not used to those, father. A few weeks off between jobs, but not a straight year." He slumped, nodding. "Now, you've got one chance. Janus said approaching her like it was a job interview was the wrong thing. Take her to dinner and do the asking there. She wanted a twenty percent cut in the vision. She wanted to be an equal member of the team."
"I thought she was," Jigen said from the doorway.
"Nope. The vision showed her as still feeling like a student."
"The Don said she's still thought of as our student too," Lupin admitted, looking at Jigen. "She all right?"
"Yeah. I'm being cuddled," he said with a light shrug. "It's not so bad on occasion."
"Mom said if you break up, she'll split custody with you guys," Arsene said, sipping her soda. She looked at her father. "Take the woman to dinner. She's been living off pop tarts, eggos, and pasta."
"With all that she's recently done?" Jigen asked. "Did she gamble it away?"
"Mom?" she snorted.
"Good point," Lupin admitted. "I'm betting she poured the money into a project or something," Lupin suggested. "Fine, we'll have dinner with her. I'll be bringing news of a few possible jobs."
"She did Beijing," Arsene told him. He gaped at her and she nodded. "At least she had in the vision." She finished her soda and took his drink to finish it. "Thanks, I needed that. I've got a headache. Janus has a really strong mind." She got up and went back to bed. She had given them a lot of clues. They were smart enough to figure it out from there.
Lupin leaned back, looking at Jigen. "Should we graduate her formally? It'd mean a smaller cut for each of us."
"Yeah, but we'd be able to do more jobs, especially if she tithed to the group like Goemon and I do," Jigen offered. He dialed Goemon's house, handing over the phone. "Here, add him into this discussion."
Lupin sighed when he heard the drunken slurring. "Goemon, are you drunk?" The phone was hung up. "Fine. He said he was dishonorable because he couldn't keep his wife."
"Then I believe it's time for a family meeting," Lotus said from her doorway. "Ishi?" He came out already dressed. "You knew?"
"I knew what Mom didn't want me to know," he admitted. "Someone else told me and Auntie Dawn sent me a smug email. Remind me to cap her ass when she's given birth." He took hold of her hand. "We'll meet you back on shore." They disappeared together.
"She's getting really good at that magic stuff," Jigen said in awe. "I can almost see her as the next Rosenberg."
"Then let's hope we can make sure she's got a better ending to her story," Lupin said, getting up to make himself another drink. "Want one?"
"Nope. I'm gonna put her back into bed and go back to mine."
"I could use a cuddle," Lupin offered.
Jigen gave him a look. "Fine, but no sex," he said, putting his daughter back into her bed. He tucked her in and kissed her on the forehead, then went to curl up beside Lupin and let him cling to him. "Feel better?" he asked once Lupin was settled in.
"Yeah. I never realized I was keeping her from working."
"It's more like you're tired so you're not doing anything, which means we don't do anything," Jigen said gently. "I was starting to wonder if we were going on vacation again for real."
"No," Lupin assured him. "I just needed a few months off." He looked up at him. "You're pissed too?"
"No," he assured him gently. "Then again I'm used to your dry spells now and then."
"That's the thing, I'm not dry," Lupin said bitterly. "I just needed to recover from being a dad for a while."
"The kids can continue in school," Jigen said quietly. "It'll be good for them."
"The assassins academy is a good idea," Lupin agreed. "It'll be focused on their futures. I'm worried about Savannah going there though."
"They've got a good education and she's good enough to qualify if she wanted to," Jigen reminded him. "She's the second-best shot in the kids. Right after Ishi. Arsene and Sierra are behind her and Melissa sucks ass at shooting," he said dryly.
"She's not motivated. When it comes down to it, she'll be brilliant," Lupin promised. He played with some of the hair on Jigen's stomach. Jigen swatted him. "Sorry." He sat up, looking at him. "The Academy would help the good kids too with their calling. Lotus couldn't study magic though."
"Yes she can. There's two people there who use it," Jigen told him. "I checked about putting Melissa in there. The new head is really enthusiastic about having them."
"Arsene's instincts would get her killed," Lupin pointed out bitterly. "She'd pronounce herself Empress and take over."
"She's already proven herself, unlike a lot of the others in there," Jigen pointed out. "They'd relax around her eventually. Plus, she'd be near the old families and under their direct watch. She'd have to learn manners sometime."
Lupin grinned at that. "Maybe," he agreed. "We'll discuss that as a group once the kids are in for the holidays." He laid down again and got comfortable. "You're not quite as soft as Xander."
"That's because I'm a guy."
"Even as a guy, Xander's got these nice pads of muscles on his chest," he sighed. "I miss him."
"Me too," Jigen promised, patting him on the back. "Ten more months."
"Yeah, ten more months, at the least," Lupin said bitterly. "Then we confiscate the choker." He let out a small chuckle. "The report said that the family that runs the academy might approach her to marry into them so she could teach at the academy."
"She'd love it," Jigen said with a grin.
"I'd hope not."
"Not the marriage, but the teaching. She loves to teach the kids. Do you think Goemon would actually force Arsene into an arranged marriage?"
"Yup," he said tiredly. "He'd think he was protecting her but it'd get him killed. She would shoot him and then take over my empire. I know my baby girl."
"Your baby girl is with Goemon right now," Jigen reminded him. "Alex is learning how to be a good guy from him. Anything else of note?"
"One of the slayers asked Xan if she was one of them. She burst out laughing and said she had trained with a few of them. She was off fighting vampires again since the girls weren't around. My daughter was quite impressed with her style and hung out with her all day."
"She's kinda a neat brat, for being a society chick," Jigen admitted. Lupin chuckled and gave him a squeeze. "Thanks, man."
"Welcome, Jigen, and thanks for playing pillow." He closed his eyes. "Tomorrow. We'll land tomorrow. We'll have to get tickets back to France."
"My baby's good at that," Jigen assured him. "We'll go back together and I'll drop the kids off while you go to woo Xander into coming back."
Xander came back from her emergency mailing trip, finding Ray K and Ray Vecchio in her apartment. "Hi. Warrant?"
"I came to read some of the comics," Ray K said with a grin for him. "I had no idea you had this many with you all the time."
"I cleaned out my room at Lupin's," she said with a shrug. She sat down across from them. "No warrant?"
"We already did the search and couldn't find what we were looking for," Ray Vecchio admitted bitterly. "What did you do with the kimono?"
"I sent it back when it was given to me," she said. "The kid who took it got scared." Ray K snorted. "I did, and you can't prove differently."
"It's true, we can't," Vecchio agreed, sitting across from her. "Fujiko's gonna make a play for you."
"Whine. Fujiko needs her head shrunk again. You can tell her she's destroyed Goemon by being a selfish bitch. He's drinking much too often."
"We heard about the sword thing," Ray K said absently. "Who drew this one?"
"The guy who subbed in for Spiderman a few years back," she said happily. "Isn't that a great storyline?"
"It is," Ray K agreed, carefully sliding it into the bag. "I've got to look this up the next convention." He put it carefully onto the table. "Okay, down to business. We can't prove it was you. We can't prove anything was you." She relaxed. "That doesn't mean you don't have warrants."
"You can't prove I'm me," she pointed out.
"That necklace is removable somehow," Vecchio assured her. "Even if we have to cut it off."
She touched it and sent a quick thought/prayer to Janus, who assured her he was right. "Fine, it is. I'm still not gonna let you cut if off me. I'll end up being both forever more and I'd hate that more."
"Which is why we're here," Vecchio said smugly. "We want Fujiko. I can't get enough on her. Plus if you could help Zenny out, I'm sure he'd leave you alone too," he offered lightly.
"One, I wouldn't help Zenigata catch the group or the kids," she said, shifting some so she could cross her legs. "He knows better than to even suggest it. I'm one of those loyal people."
"I told him you wouldn't, but he suggested we offer, instead of you, you know, putting you into a prison and letting you be the new party favor," Ray K said with a small shrug when she glared at him. "You're not untouchable."
"Ray, you have no idea what I can do," she pointed out dryly.
"I know you can disappear, change genders, do some limited magic. You can probably erase minds now and then, but we're stronger than your spells. Plus, Dawn made sure you couldn't touch us."
"Dawn's magic is on the blink with her pregnancy and she can't handle demonic magic," Xander said dryly. "Guys, I'm counted as a prince of hell after what they did to me and who did it. I could call up something to eat you right now and they'd thank me." They looked stunned. "Even if I were stuck in a prison, I'd get a few days rest, kick the highest ass on the cellblock, then run it while I planned my escape, and executed it. Then I'd have to go after the people who put me into that position," she pointed out.
"Even Gotti went down," Ray Vecchio noted.
"Yeah, and that's because he got sloppy. I cover my ass and my bases. I know which of you guys lurks on Lupin's boards. I also know which of you is going to fall on his ass if I tell them. Lupin's got thousands of people all over the world. It won't even have to be someone local. It could be during a case. It could be the next time you go grocery shopping. Now, having said that, I don't have a problem with you guys. You guys take out the stupid people and make sure only the best stay in the field. I have great respect for cops who do their job as well as you guys do. I have some respect for Gramps for that reason too. He's got determination that's even stronger than mine to survive. I have no problem with you guys. Lupin has no problem with you guys or you'd have been dead already. Ray being my friend wouldn't have saved him."
Ray K shuddered. "We realize that. That's why we're here instead of doing this in a cellblock."
"Which I appreciate," she agreed with a grin for him. "Go back to the other bedroom, the blue box marked 'anime' has a title I think you'd like. It's about a third of the way down." She grinned. "Get it before you go, dear." She looked at Vecchio again. "You three working together about make up Interpol's best team. You guys are fantastic. We like you guys chasing us because it makes our reps better." Vecchio grimaced so she gave him a gentle smile. "It's like protesting that an album is filled with dirty lyrics and pushing the media to have it banned. It sells more copies. Hey, I wouldn't have quite as good of a rep at the moment if it weren't for you guys. As for Fujiko, I'm going to help you with her. She's an annoyance and the only way to see her get help, and to help Goemon, is to help you guys. He might disagree, but he'll eventually get her back. As a matter of fact, I've got something planned in Chicago coming up soon. If you want, we can do it on your home turf. If not, should I say hi to your mom for you?" Vecchio glared and let out a small growl. "Ray said that you cooked really well and she must have taught you, and I always liked meeting people who cook really well. They make me happy to be alive," she said with a grin.
"Gee, thanks, Kowalski."
"You do," Ray K defended. "I let him have a bite of the stuff you sent me to the convention with last time, mostly because he stole it. He was ready to bow at your feet for it."
"I was. It's much better than I can do," Xander admitted. "I can make pop tarts, pizza, burgers, pasta, and that's about it. Lupin cooks but he always makes really fancy stuff. If I want to just eat steak, it's always a big steak with good sauce to go over it, along with veggies and wine."
"Instead sometimes you simply want a beer, a steak, and a bottle of A-1 along with your fries," Ray K finished. Xander nodded. "It's understandable. Thanks for the sports bar rec by the way. It's a nice place."
"I know. That's where I go when I start to forget I'm American. I mean, Jigen's a tough guy and he drinks wine. I'm wondering when I'm going to be assimilated." Vecchio gave him an odd look. "Seriously!"
"Fine, so you're an ordinary guy who has this habit of stealing things and shooting people," Vecchio agreed. "We're still going to try to capture you."
"Hey, go for it. Like I said, I don't mind. You guys are great cops. We respect cops like you guys. I even respect Byron; even though he's been slacking off recently."
"He's been sick," Ray K told her.
"I'm sorry, tell him I hope he gets better soon. I miss shooting paintballs at you guys." Ray Vecchio looked confused. "Sorry."
"Other timeline," Ray K told him quietly. He glanced around. "No crooks?"
"Nope. They're on their way back this way. At which time I'm gonna be running away again. I'm tired of being the girlfriend and mother."
"So don't be, but you're not as smart as you think," Vecchio noted.
"I am so, I always underestimate my intelligence," Xander said dryly, smirking at him. "Ask anyone." Vecchio gave him a long look and Ray K nodded. "See, I'm not the most well-adjusted person. My parents were cultists. They told me I was suffering because God had a purpose for me. It turns out that I suffered so I was strong enough to kick the world's ass when necessary. Not because of God, but because the other side needed to have theirs kicked. And I did it all in the company of people who didn't really want me there, who thought I was useless, and discounted what I was bringing to the group besides coffee and donuts. That used to piss Gunn off to no end, that I could say things like that and mean them. Then he was told how true it was by Willow. He tried to defend me to her once, and realized he was striking a brick wall. Then Wesley saw a use for me."
"I'd still like ta kill 'im," Ray K muttered, shifting some. "At least Jigen started out seeing you how you were."
"So did Buffy," she pointed out grimly. "I'm having a bout of deja vu."
"Switch sides back, we'd give you Dawn's spot and treat you better," Vecchio offered. "I could even cook for you now and then so you don't starve."
"Even if I wanted to, Ray, I couldn't. I'm into this life. It suits me. I had violent urges before and I let them out on the demons in Sunnydale. Here I get to let it out on people who deserve it just as much, the human demons."
Vecchio suddenly got it. He saw Xander for who he/she was. "You consider this like a permanent undercover assignment," he said in awe. "You still think you're a good guy."
"No, I know I'm a good guy," Xander corrected gently. "It's just a different battlefield. You guys are like holy knights, you go by the writ and the rule. I go by a different book for a different cause and we'll eventually meet at the same place. It's just that I take on people you can't. I used to be one of you. I might have even joined a department, but I couldn't see my other job going to someone who gave enough of a damn so I had to stay. Then the job ate me and I had to change some. Everything used to be a lot less colorful in my life, now everything's got shades and shadows. I walk in them so you don't have to. Because they would eat you like they did me. Like they started to eat Dawn." She shrugged. "Think about it. Do you really want to do what I do, Ray?"
He shook his head. "No, not in the least." He had respect for this person across from him. He glanced at his partner and realized that he had it all along, that he had understood this. He looked at Xander again. "Now what?"
"Now, I've got something for you," she admitted, standing up. "I was going to give it to Lupin, but I think you'll be more expedient and I don't want to deal with him today." She grabbed the envelope off her desk and handed it over. "She was trying to put these out online but someone stopped her for you. Since Goemon never goes online and his son knows that they're not real, you should be fine in that regard. However, it is clear that it's not your body. The identifying marks should help you figure out who, and to stop her better."
Ray K leaned forward to see the manipulated pictures. It was Ray Vecchio's head on a really pale white guy's body. He was snuggled up in bed with Fujiko. He frowned, taking the best picture to look at. "That's Vicious!" he said, looking at Xander, who nodded. "Who is he?"
She smiled. "Look him up. He's in the database." She winked at him. Then she stood up. "Now, you guys need to go comb the database Dawn helped you create. I need to finish my nap. Arsene woke me up with a frantic phone call." They groaned and she grinned. "Nightmares."
"She is a nightmare," Vecchio noted as he stood up. "We will be watching."
She kissed him on the cheek, wiping off her lip print. "Good. I like being watched," she said with a wicked grin. "You always do better when you think you're being watched." They walked out together, looking at the photos. She locked the door and started to pack, then went to get the video for Ray, handing it over when he knocked on the door. "Have fun." She closed and locked the door again, going back to her packing. She didn't want to be in Paris when Lupin came back through. She wasn't ready to face him yet. She heard a noise and squeaked, jumping as she spun around. Damn it! "Lupin," she said, appearing calm.
"Ah, my precious second gunman," he said with a small grin. "Our daughter reminded me I needed to take you out to eat while we discussed the future heists since you don't appear to be able to cook when you're alone. Get changed." She gave him a stunned look. "Unless you want me to dress you?"
"No. Where are we going?" she asked automatically, heading for her closet. She worried what was going on. Her body was obeying him without her permission.
"Just to dinner to chat and plan," he assured her. "Pick something you like. Nothing too high class." He looked around the room. "Were you headed out for a job?"
"There was one I was thinking about auditioning for." She pulled down a pants outfit and held it up. "Good enough?"
"If you like it," he agreed, lounging on the end of the bed. He turned away as she changed, even though he could see her face in the mirror. She looked really shocked. "Nearly ready? Did you give Vecchio those pictures?"
"Yeah. I didn't think Goemon would want to see them."
"Someone thoughtfully showed him them and I think that's why he started to drink. Jigen is talking him out of his suicidal rage at the moment. He thinks he's dishonorable because he lost her." She squeaked so he looked at her. "Really."
"Fuck. That's not his problem! That was hers!"
"Yeah, but he sees it as the man's fault," he pointed out gently. "It's a cultural thing for him, Xan." He pulled her closer to do up the buttons on her outfit. "I kinda like you in this." He didn't do more than give her a quick kiss before leading her out of the apartment. "Keys?"
"No." She went back inside to grab a purse, her wallet, and keys, calming her body down as she rejoined him. "Where are we headed?"
"Somewhere quiet," he said with a small shrug. "Like I said, I need your help planning." He looked her over. "No gun?"
"No," she moaned, hitting herself on the head. "I haven't needed one all week."
"That's fine. I've got mine," he promised. He led her out to her rental car and got in to drive, of course. "Name somewhere quiet."
"How about the bistro up the street? We do a lot of planning in there. It's a college kid hangout. It's about six blocks up."
"Fine," he agreed, heading that way. It wasn't that far, but he liked her taste in rental cars. He parked outside and got out to lead her inside. The waitress looked at Xander, who grinned at her, but she was still so stiff. "Just us," he assured her.
"Fine." She led them to a back booth. It was quiet, out of the way, and a little dark. Apparently she thought they needed the privacy. "Anything on the menu, Syl?"
"Maybe the mashed potatoes and the ham," she offered lightly. "Soda."
"Sure. For you, sir?"
"That doesn't sound so bad," he agreed, handing over his menu. "Water." She nodded, leaving them alone. He looked at Xander. "I didn't realize it had been so long since we had done anything. Even Jigen was asking if I was all right or if we were going back to semi-retired status." She got that shocked look again and he grinned. "So we sat down and talked last night. With you officially graduated from our teaching and with Marcus so close we figured out that we could do a lot harder things and manage to still earn about the same amount."
"I've graduated?" she asked, still sounding shocked.
He smiled and nodded. "Except for the lockpicking and computer stuff, there's not much more we could teach you. Marcus has longer, or else he'll only be a specialist with a sword."
"Marcus does okay with a gun," she defended. "He doesn't plan but he's definitely soldier material."
"Have you been talking to the old families?" he asked with a tolerant grin. "So, we talked once we got Goemon sober again. How would a fifteen percent share of the cut be? Your own, off the total, not from mine or Jigen's cuts." He held up a finger at her opening mouth. "In return, you'd have to do a bit more in the group. Jigen's knees are still bothering him. That means I'd need you to take point more often, and possibly even the charming jobs. At least until the choker is off you and hidden. Then you could take a few months and get used to being a guy again. We'd expect you to be in on all heists we pull and tithe the group ten percent of what you did on your own during our down times." Xander nodded slowly, like she wanted him to go on. "In return, you'd be an official part of the group. No more student status. No more being a lesser member. We'd expect you to take on the responsibility that you do now and then all the time."
"I'd be your go-to guy?"
"That too," Lupin agreed with a grin. The waitress brought their lunches and drinks, then winked at him and disappeared again. "We'd also listen to target suggestions from you more often, but you'd have to be able to justify them as more than 'it'll be fun, come on, guys," he said, mimicking Xander's male voice. "You'd be our right hands. Mine and Jigen's both. Technically Jigen has more field experience so I'd leave him the better and the harder targets, but you'd be getting the rest of them. I do have to remind you not to give too much away to the cops."
"Well, I did send that CSI in Miami something on why they had the wrong person," she admitted quietly, glancing around. "Stuff on the commercially available low-residue bullets and the special soap that's been developed, without telling her that we use a special additive for ours or about the lesser known brand."
"I can accept that," Lupin agreed. "They'd probably find out soon anyway." She relaxed some and he patted her on the hand. "Of course, if you wanted to continue to be the wife and girlfriend, you have that spot as well. That one only pays in presents and headaches from us," he admitted, "but it seems to be worthwhile most of the time. You know how we operate most of the year." She nodded. "Was that a yes?" he teased, stroking the back of her hand.
"As long as I don't only become the wife and mistress again," she said dryly.
"Not an issue, Xan. We love you enough to put you into danger and worry for your life too. We're sorry you got so bored on our vacation. We didn't mean for it to happen that way. We were going to Singapore to deal with that technology fair. Then you could have went to the anime festival in Japan."
"I can still go," she offered.
"We," he corrected gently. She beamed at him. "I like this crazy world you dragged me into. It's fun and stress relieving. It's like I can bleed all that into the atmosphere and everyone else will be immune from it. I want to continue to go to the cons with you." He took her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I leave this up to you totally, Xan, but I want you to come back and be a real member of the team. Jigen will even promise to not pounce you as soon as you walk into the door."
"I'll have to bring everything back," she admitted quietly, looking down at her lunch.
"Just bring the clothes. We'll move the rest of the anime and comics back to the storehouse. Murami found a better one for you, I checked." He tipped her chin up with their joined hands. "I don't mind your collecting unless it gets out of hand," he said with a grin. "I like it when you're happy. I especially like it when you're happy with me."
"I am mostly happy with you," she offered.
"Good. I like that most of all. Now, eat. Then we've got to plan the stupid wedding. Jigen said if I didn't, he would and we'd be doing it naked with the kids in attendance. Speaking of kids, have you looked at the assassin's academy? It's got a good school attached and the kids could take specialist classes."
"I thought that was for older kids."
"Nope. They do all the way down to eight-year-olds." He grinned at her. "It'll be helpful for the good kids too because it'll give them a better idea of who they'll be chasing."
"Sure. We can look it over," she said. Her head was spinning with ideas. "I just sent some things away."
"I intercepted it," he said with a wink. "I did finish sending on the kimono though. A bit risky but as a proof job it kicked ass, Xan. That was a really hard job to pull as proof." He kissed the back of the hand he held. "Now, let's eat. Potatoes never taste as good when they're cold." He winked. "Then we'll go back and finish packing your clothes, take the rest of everything to the new storehouse, and get ready to pull a job before the next convention." He gave her hand another squeeze. "Can I also suggest that your kimonos move there too? Not that I don't think you're cute when you wear them, but they weigh a ton to move."
She nodded. "I can accept that."
"Thanks, Xander. Besides, it'll give you room to collect more comics, anime, and kimonos."
She let out a soft laugh and dug into lunch. "To think, I thought you were going to come back and demand things."
"No, our daughter screamed and ranted at me when Janus called her," he said dryly. She dropped her fork and he shrugged. "So I went to ask some questions. She had some good points and your rep is actually a bit better than Lavelle's because he always had that weirdness thing that some people didn't like."
"I didn't say me, I said some people. People like a few of the people we're going to be hitting this year," he promised with a small smirk. "How dare they say bad things about you." He blew another kiss. "Eat so you can jump me if you want."
"I'm, um, having my cycle."
"I figured as much when I heard you were buying chocolate pop tarts. Pop tarts?"
"I don't like to cook for myself. Besides, it's nutritious."
"No it's not. It's got additives to give it those few vitamins and minerals it has inside it." He patted her hand as he let it go. "Should I plan on straightening out your diet before or after your stomach complains?"
"I'm fine, Lupin. I lived on worse."
"Yeah, but you can't do more than survive on it. Should I take you out tonight for dinner or just get you another burger?"
"You heard," she said flatly.
"Well, yeah," he agreed with a grin. "It's interesting and something I hadn't thought of. Jigen isn't one of those macho American guys that you see gulping beer and belching. I'm not sure he ever was, he's always drank wine around me." He shrugged. "I don't mind but I do understand that sometimes you've got to go back to what you know. It's lucky you didn't have to start a sports bar to make it to one."
"Yeah, I guess," she agreed. "Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Why would I mind you not being totally the refined little thing I tried to turn you into? You have the right to not like caviar, Xander." She shuddered. "I get it, they're fish eggs. Fish eggs are nasty thoughts to some people. The same as uncooked salmon is to others." He smirked at her. "Just let me try it on the kids for a bit and you can corrupt them back to the simpler things in life. Things like thick steaks. They need to know both sides of the fence and I'm sure Ishi's not going to be the most refined little boy in the world. For that matter, I think Arsene's going to be doing her best impersonation of you when you first tasted caviar when she does. That's who they are, and I accept that. The same as I accept you not wanting to shave ever again," he admitted with a grin. "Though I will protest if you come to bed looking like a bear." He leaned closer. "Now, give me a kiss and then eat." She gave him a light kiss and grinned back. "Better?" She nodded. "Good, then eat so you can help me stop Jigen from his version of a hippie wedding party with sex games at the end."
"I thought that was your ideal," she teased lightly.
"No, I want something tasteful. I want to see you in a stunning dress, which I can see more of you than anyone else, and I want us to have a small dinner party afterward. Like our other one, Xander, only not on Goemon's lawn."
"Sure. Who'd give me away?"
"You're definitely not free, I'd have to steal you," Lupin leered, winking at her.
"Considering you trained me to please you," she teased back, then she blushed.
"I don't care if you slept with someone else, as long as you were safe and you're not pregnant."
"No, I didn't. I had to stop someone who didn't think I could utter the word 'no' in his presence."
"Arsene told me about the ball weights the guy ended up with." He scratched his shoulder. "I don't mind you defending yourself either, Xander. I love you enough to let you tease me by looking like a prim school marm at times."
"In those long skirts," he agreed. He suddenly grinned. "Though it is nice to be able to grope you without anyone realizing it, especially when you're on my lap." She swatted him. "Do you mind?"
"Why would I mind? Have you met my libido yet, Lupin?"
"Well, yeah, and I kinda miss it," he sighed. "I've been snuggling up to Jigen each and every night, but he won't pounce me like you do." He leaned closer. "I think Jigen likes to bottom a little bit better than he likes to top me," he shared quietly. Then he leaned back and took a bite of his lunch. "Instant?"
"It's decent," she assured him, eating a bite of her own. "Tasted better warm, but it's good."
"It's not good, Xan. Instant potatoes can never be the same as the real ones that you mash." He kissed her again. "Let's blow this place and go back to talk? Or cuddle, your choice," he offered quickly when she looked at him. "I'd pounce you again but you might find a new needle and do me next."
"Who said I used a needle on him?" she asked archly. "All I found was a nail and my shoe." She smirked at him. "Eat the ham."
He looked at the square piece of meat, then at her. "Spam?" he asked hopefully. She gave him a long look. "Fine." He dug into his lunch, knowing he'd need the food. He certainly missed his kids' version of lunch. "Do you want to head back tonight or should we stay in town and have a real dinner?"
"That depends, what did you make Jigen do?"
"He's taking the kids back, moving everything to your storehouses, and then he's going back to start the grill," he admitted.
"Then we'll cuddle later, Lupin."
"Yes, dear." He smirked at her. "See, I do know that phrase outside of the bedroom."
"Good, then we'll make sure you remember it in the bedroom." He moaned and reached over for another kiss, which she only gave him a light one of. "Later," she assured him. "Eat, Lupin."
"Eating," he agreed happily. "So, where would you like to hit next? Cairo looks promising. Tunisia. I heard you'd been to Beijing already." She nodded. "Still got it?" She smirked and nodded. "Or we could go to Japan and rescue Goemon and the kids."
"Let's do that next, and we can do something over there," she offered. "That way we can do the anime thing. Do you have any targets that way?"
"A few," he said with a grin. He noticed the waitress coming back with Ray K. "They're persistent."
"They are cops," she sighed. She looked at Ray. "Probs?"
"That's mean," he said, handing back the DVD. "How did you make them do that?"
"Oh, crap, I remember those," Lupin said happily. "They didn't disappear in the move?" Xander shook her head with a grin. "Cool!" He took it to read the back, trying to figure out which one it was. "Where are the rest?"
"I've got to sit down and catalog my DVD's," she admitted.
He licked off his fingers and pulled his phone, calling Jigen. "Leave her DVDs, her anime specifically. Our adventures were brought over." He hung up again. "He said that'd be fine." He handed it back to Ray. "It's really cool."
"Zenny about had another coronary," Ray said grimly. "He said I'm not allowed to bring any more like this around him. So can I make a copy for myself?"
"Sure," Xander agreed with a grin. "I've got the whole series somewhere."
"Thanks, Xan, you're the best supplier. I'll get 'em from you at the next con?"
"We're going to the one in Japan if we're not on a job," she said proudly. He moaned. "You could follow us."
"Yeah, but I can't speak Japanese," Ray whined.
"So learn, you can follow us next year," Lupin suggested. Ray glared at him then walked away with the video.
"What's with him?" the waitress asked.
"His boss is being unfair," Xander said with a grin. "He doesn't like anime but Ray does. We're convention buddies."
"Oh." She pinched him on the cheek. "Behave, Sylvia." She took their plates and brought out slices of pie with a wink. "You could always use the sweets."
"Well, yeah," she agreed happily, digging into the pie. "Thanks. Bring the check?"
"Sure." She walked off swaying her hips.
Lupin looked, then shook himself and dug into his pie. "Hey, this is very good."
"It is, and it was frozen earlier," she admitted with a grin. She winked and they hurried so she could go pack.
Xander walked into Goemon's house, smiling at the toddlers beating on his limp body. "Won't he play with you?" she cooed, picking up Kenji to hold. "Is he being mean to the babies?" Fred beamed at her and beat on his uncle some more. "Goemon?"
He looked up, looking miserable. "Are you here to finish me off?"
"No, I'm here to take the kids and to dry you out, man. Guys, the daddies are behind me. Go watch for them." She kissed Kenji on the cheek and put him down, kneeling in front of Goemon so Sarah could crawl into her lap and Alex could hug her. The only non-crawling baby cooed from the couch, waving his hands at her. "Hey, Yu. Hi Sarah, Hi Alex." They giggled as they hugged her. "Good babies." She patted them on the head. "Go watch for the daddies." They ran that way, toddling to the door she had shut and made sure was shut. She glanced back, then looked at Goemon again. "What is wrong with you?"
"I dishonor my family name."
"You married her, she went bad," she said with a shrug. "She's a thief, not Bix. It happens, big guy."
"I still dishonored my family. I nearly lost the family treasure." He looked at where his sword was resting. "I should give it to my son and quietly commit suicide." His head rocked from where she slapped him. "Ow." He frowned at her. "What was that for?"
"For being a dumbass." She stood up and hauled him up. "Stand there." He did, but he was slumped. "Has not any other ancestor of yours ever been cheated?" He nodded slowly, staring at her. "Do you honestly think you lost your sword fairly?" He nodded. "Why?"
"Because I suck at card games."
"Then swear off them and never play again. It is dishonorable to leave your children in the care of people would could not possibly love them as much as you do on purpose." He slumped more, nodding. "Which is worse, Goemon, a near miss or that?"
"That," he whispered. "Which is why I have not done so."
"At the house. She said she would not take them from me with this attitude in place."
"Good girl," she muttered. Then she hit him again. "You idiot!" He flinched and nodded. "Pack, now!" He flinched again. "Now!" she roared. He trudged that way and she went to watch and make sure he packed. "I'm going to kill that thing you married yet. Make you a widow so you can find a decent wife to beat you night and day."
"I think you're being a bit hard on him," Jigen said as he came in. "Where's Fred?"
"He was waiting at the door."
"Oh." He went to search for him and found Lupin had him. "There he is. Goemon's still in a funk."
She came to the door. "He's decided he's dishonorable for losing a card game and the guy scamming him out of his sword. Bix wouldn't take the kids so he couldn't do the honorable thing." Goemon dropped his bag behind her and then left. She followed, catching him before he could go out the window. She sat on his back. "Did you bet the sword?" He shook his head. "Then how was this a legal thing he could ask for?"
"It was not," he admitted. "Still, I should not have been that drunk or that foolish."
"Then learn from your mistakes. I'm guessing this is why most of your family is dead, they decided to die instead of learning from their mistakes." She got down next to his ear. "I am going to get someone to put you on medicine that will make you act like Arsene," she hissed. "If you even think about harming yourself, I'll be taking the sword, not Ishi." He looked back at her and she nodded. "Do we have a clear understanding?"
"You would not give it to him?"
"Nope. Not unless he took it from me." His mouth opened to protest. "Unless he could prove he was strong enough to take it from me, it shouldn't be his anyway."
He shuddered. "You are correct," he admitted. "I was foolish, but that needs to be passed on."
"And since he can't bring two of them to school with him," she completed, "you're stuck this way until next summer at the earliest."
"Fine," he agreed. "Would...would you get off my back?" he asked nicely enough.
"Why? Giving you flashbacks to being married?" she joked. He nodded so she climbed off and hauled him up. "There. Now let's go." He nodded and followed her out of the house, taking the children to hitch them into the car. He had to retrieve his sword and his bag, and one lost pacifier, but his house was easily shut up again. "Sword?"
"I will wield it until my son takes it," he noted. "When he is old enough."
"Good," she praised, grinning at him. "We'll see what we can do about getting you out of being married." He looked at her and she stared back. "It may be the only way, Goemon. She's just recently put a hit out on me."
"Oh. I'm sorry, Xander."
"Me too." She patted him on the shoulder. "We'll work it out, Goemon. I'm not losing you to someone who took your sword even though you didn't bet it. Nor am I losing you to something so stupid as a drinking problem. Remember, I know people who sell really happy drugs that'll make you bounce and sing Care Bear and Barney songs." He shuddered. "We can easily keep you supplied in them."
"If you force one of those on him, we may have to punish you," Lupin said dryly. "That would be horrible!"
"But it'd work."
"It would," Lupin agreed. "I have no doubt that would cure his problems. It'd make the rest of us mental, but he'd be fine." She beamed at him. "Fine. Be that way then," he sighed. He turned the corner. "Okay, we are conventioning. That means you have to come with us, Goemon. Bix is waiting for us in the suite." He nodded. "Good boy. Xan, I brought your warrior princess outfit, and the school girl outfit. I'm not sure what else you wanted."
"I'm not sure this one is open to costumes," she admitted. "I'll check when we check in."
Lupin's world brightened again. "Thanks, babe. If not, can you wear the warrior princess getup for me?"
"Sure," she agreed happily. "Jigen, you up for that?"
"I saw your picture in it. I wanked off to it twice already. The real thing will be better I'm sure."
Goemon shuddered. "Eww."
"We listened to you and her have sex, you can listen to us play fight about things," Jigen reminded him. Yu yawned and he grinned at him. "Hey. Tired?" The baby pulled up his thumb to suck and slowly fell asleep as they got into the parking garage. "He's not going to be a happy camper," Jigen said quietly.
"Of course not," Lupin agreed. "But he'll have Bix and Mom again soon." He got out and left them there to check in, and check into the convention. The hotel was faster since there wasn't a line. Once he got to the front desk, he cleared his throat. "Harris, four adults?" The man behind the desk found the packet and handed it over. "She wanted to know if costumes were allowed and encouraged?"
"Costumes are not allowed," he said, making a few people pout. "This is not that sort of convention. I am sorry," he noted.
He took the money for the fees and Lupin went back to his car. "Costumes aren't allowed, but we're checked in. C'mon." They nodded, hiking the bags, the kids, and themselves to the elevators. Bix squealed when she saw the babies, hugging each of them. "Thanks, Bix."
"Xander, I brought one of your prettier kimonos," she promised. "That way you can go in costume." She winked and took Yu to put him down for a nap. "There, all settled," she said quietly, going back to play with the others. The adults had already disappeared and she laughed, hugging Fred. "Did they run out of here?" she cooed. He patted her face and slobbered on her. "Thank you, Fred." She sat down to play 'catch' with the babies using a beach ball. They loved chasing after it and squealed loudly as they ran into and tripped over each other.
Xander ran into the person who was watching her for Fujiko, giving him a come-hither smile and a wink. "Looking for me?"
"Yes, Honey, I am," he said smugly, taking her arm to lead her away. "I've got a message for you."
"Oooh, from who?" she asked, playing like a ditz for now. "Is it a good one or am I gonna cry? Because I get so blotchy and nasty when I cry. I look really horrible."
"No, it's not one that'll make you cry," he promised. He could kill her quickly. He started to pull the syringe out but she turned and elbowed him in the nose, breaking it and shoving the pieces into his brain. That's the last thing he saw, the dry skin on her elbow.
She cleared her throat. "Help! He was trying to kidnap me and I think I hurt him too much while I was defending myself." One of the guards came jogging toward her. "He had a needle and he threatened me," she said, starting to sniffle. "He said he was going to kill me. I struggled and I think I got him with my shoulder or something in the nose." She wrung her hands and shifted back and forth. "Is he okay? I didn't mean to hurt him, just to get away from him."
"Come this way, ma'am," he said quietly, leading her to the security office while he called the coroner and the cops. "He was trying to kidnap you?" he asked. She nodded. "Why?"
"He said someone hired him to snatch me." She swallowed and her lip started to tremble. "I'm Lupin the Third's girlfriend. I'm the mother of Lupin the Fourth." He looked stunned, then patted her on the shoulder. "He said I'd be safe!" she said, starting to cry a bit.
"Shh. I've seen him and I'll get him for you," he promised, leaving her there to find one of the Lupin party. He had no idea why they were there. There wasn't anything in the city for them to steal and no notes had appeared. He ran into Goemon first and tapped him on the shoulder. "I have a young woman who is part of your party. Someone just tried to kidnap her and she had to react." Goemon went pale and followed him back, holding Xander as hard as he could. "I'll leave you to it. Stay in the hotel, ma'am, and warn your boyfriend." She nodded, letting Goemon take her away. He went to lead the cops to the body so they could get it settled faster. "Who was she?" he asked the cop.
"The one he tried to snatch. Said she was Lupin's girlfriend."
"That would be Sylvia. She's Lavelle's sister. No one's sure how much she's trained or if she's more than a good gunwoman." He looked at him. "What happened?"
"She said he tried to kidnap her and she reacted to get away from him. He has a syringe somewhere on him. She thought her shoulder had gotten him in the nose."
"It's possible." The cop searched him, coming up with his wallet, the syringe, and the original vial which still had some left. "He's sloppy." He stood up, bagging the things. "I'm going to call Interpol. Anything to do with Lupin we give to them anymore. Guys, bag him and take him away. There's a convention in progress. Where is Lupin?"
"I gave her to Goemon." The guard led the way back into the convention, and they found Jigen. "There's one of them," he said, pointing him out.
"That's good enough. Thank you." He walked that way, clearing his throat when he got closer. "We've got to talk about the guy who just tried to snatch Lupin's girl. Where are the others?"
"Lupin's in the viewing in room A and Goemon is with Sylvia in the shopping area," he said, looking slightly confused. "Who would try something that stupid?"
"That's what I want to find out. Can you get Lupin?"
"Yeah. Go to the bar and get a table, man." He headed that way, looking really worried. Why had Xander called in the cops? He found Goemon and Xander first, tugging on her sleeve. "Cops?"
"He had a syringe with poison," she told him simply, in English so no one around them would understand.
"Fine. Let me get Lupin. You go wait in the bar with the detective." She nodded, leading Goemon that way. He trusted her this far. He snuck into the room, whispering in the guard's ear, then found him by the cackle he had just let out during the gun battle. "Gee, another Gundam," he hissed as he walked. He squatted down beside Lupin's row, tugging on the arm of the person next to him. "Tap Lupin for me," he whispered. She gave him a look then poked Lupin on the arm, pointing at him. "Someone just tried to snatch Xan."
"Coming." He got up and they walked out together, not getting in anyone's way. He led the way to the bar when Jigen corrected his path, walking in and looking her over. "Are you all right?"
"I got him in the nose apparently," she admitted. "I was trying to get free, he had a syringe."
The detective coughed. "Last I heard your brother was a lethal weapon, ma'am."
"I'm not that old," she warned.
"Fine, sorry, Miss." He grimaced. "Your name is Sylvia?" She nodded. "Then why get us involved?"
She held up the baggie with the syringe. "See that?" He nodded. "The person who sent him gave him that. Interpol wants her. I don't want her on my ass and I don't want that in this area with all these kids around. If that spilled, it could kill someone by soaking through their skin." The cop shuddered. "Therefore I'm letting those people who have experience with dangerous substances handle it. Do you blame me?"
"No," he agreed. "Did you intend to kill him?"
"Knock him out," she admitted. "I did elbow strike him in the nose but I meant to knock him out."
"That's fine, ma'... Miss."
"Sylvia is fine," she said lightly. She took his pad and wrote down something. "Call the task force, give Vecchio only this message. If you absolutely can't get him, give it to the Mountie." He looked stunned. "Seriously."
"Give it yourself," Ray K said bitterly.
She looked at him then handed over the bag. "One of Fujiko's treats."
He looked at it, then at Benny. "Isn't that a poison?"
"A very lethal and fast acting one," Benny agreed. "It's able to be absorbed through the skin. If injected, a few drops are enough to kill even when put into a muscle mass. You'd find that the muscles it was injected into would be eaten some as well. It's nearly instantaneous and fairly painless. He was going for mercy."
"He got my elbow a bit too hard," Xander admitted. "I can't fight in this kimono."
"Most kimonos aren't made for fighting in," the cop pointed out, looking a bit stunned. "They let you have green hair in Interpol?"
"We were going to a convention and I always go in costume," he said with a grin. "That's why I get to track these lunatics." He looked at Xander. "You wanted us to handle it?"
"I can't imagine hiding a body in here and I don't want that poison around the kids, Ray."
"Good point," he agreed happily. "How did you hit him too hard?"
"Sometimes she's a bit stronger than she appears," Jigen offered. "She got me in the ribs earlier and it was like getting punched by Goemon instead of being poked." He rubbed his side. "We're not sure why but she's having problems controlling some muscle movements now and then."
"Fine," Ray agreed. "I can accept that. You were getting away from him?" She nodded. "Decent enough. We'll handle it, give us the notes? We'll be here."
"That's fine, sir," he agreed, handing over the notes he had. "Please come down tonight for the Coroner's report." He ran away, leaving it to them.
"Muscle issues?" Ray K snorted once they were alone. Xander nodded. "Really?"
"Really. It's where I deaged we think," Xander explained. "I'm not supposed to be in this body and my other body was better trained. At this age, I was barely building muscles when I tried. Remind me to bring my picture of me on the swim team to the next convention." Lupin pulled a copy out of his wallet. "You carry *that* one around?"
"Yup," he said smugly. "To remind me how far you've come since then."
"Wow, and I thought I was scrawny," Ray K laughed.
"Sorry." He handed it back. "Did you have these problems then?" She nodded. "Really?"
"More like uncontrollable twitches at the time. My body wanted to move and it wasn't working right. I had some massive injuries most of that time from the fighting. I was bruised for months on end."
"Fine," Benny agreed. "Stay here for the convention."
"Fine," she agreed, standing up and moving past him. "I'm going to change into something I can control better. This one's still really stiff." She went to change into a less formal kimono, coming back down in it. This one she could fight in and Lupin smirked at her for her choice. "I like it."
"I like you in it," he promised, kissing her gently. "Come on. I wanna shop with you. That new Gundam's pretty funny. They've got the guys shooting around corners and things," he said as he led her away.
Jigen looked at Goemon. "Does that mean we're on guard duty?"
Goemon shook his head. "It means we can roam on our own." They went their separate ways to find their own version of fun for a while.
Ray K watched, then decided to follow Xander and Lupin around. If this was from Fujiko, there'd be another attempt. He managed to get into the room as the fire alarm went off, swearing as people rushed around him. He saw someone take a swing at Lupin and decided to be the hero. He was a cop, it was part of the job description. Xander was struggling with the guys but not winning. Apparently she hadn't been lying. He kicked one in the kidneys, and got another one in the throat, then the other two took off running. He pulled his gun but Xander was faster and got them in the knees. "Now you do that?"
"The kids are mostly gone," she panted, rubbing her throat. "Lupin?" He moaned so she helped him sit up, checking him over. "Are you okay?" she asked, looking worried.
"I'm going to kill my former girlfriend," he complained as she helped him up. "They alive?"
"Barely. I got them in the knees."
Ray waved the cops in and pointed at the people. "They pulled it and tried another snatch." He looked at the duo. "Leave. Now. You're a danger to the others."
"Fine. We're heading back to Paris," Xander noted. "Tell the other one we want to see him soon. I will stop this before it hurts someone else." Ray nodded so she led Lupin out, taking him upstairs to pack and leave. Bix headed back to the house while they went directly back to Paris. It was time she and Fujiko had a discussion.
To Part 40