Xander looked at one of the rifle team a few days later.  She was sobbing.  He was trained in how to deal with crying women.  He put an arm around her shoulders, staring at her.  "C'mon, we'll talk."

"I don't need to."

"Yeah, that's why you're crying," he said, walking her off.  "The girls who were my only friends for *years* trained me in how to be an effective listener and problem fixer."

She looked at him.  "I'm just screwed, Xander."


"No. I haven't had sex yet.  My boyfriend's an asshole."

"Yeah, some of us are."  He smiled.  They sat in an alcove so she could tell him why he was an asshole.  It turned out to be a 'he's ready and she's not' situation.  Xander offered to threaten him for her.  She shook her head at that offer.  He gave her good advice.  Including that she should kick his butt if he pressured her.  He also got into his bag and held up a few condoms.

He reminded her to use them after he had tucked them into her bag.  Then he advised duct tape to have a girl talk with him.  He wasn't used it girls yet so they might need that.  Xander spotted him and pointed.  She pouted and nodded.  So he went to get the senior idiot.  He walked him back.  "You two need to talk," Xander said bluntly, staring at him.

"You went to a guy for advice?" he asked her.

"I was raised by girls.  I have very few guy friends.  It's only been in the last few years that I've had guy friends.  I actually understand women."

"Can you figure out what's wrong with her?"

"Nerves.  The fact that you can't do something romantic....."


"Yeah.  See, girls like mushy stuff.  A nice dinner or picnic.  Making them comfy, being sweet.  That stuff.  And it still probably won't happen on the first one.  Women like that stuff.  Even the tough ones on the rifle team."

"I would like a picnic for our first month anniversary," she offered quietly, looking at him.  "Maybe a walk in the snow?  A snowball fight?  And then we can not go farther than I'm ready for?"

He stared at her.  "Most girls...."

Xander smacked him on the head.  "No, they don't.  Most girls don't give out before the twentieth or so date.  If they put out sooner, it's either a really good snow job, they wanted to get rid of that supposed stigma and chose someone to do that, or they didn't really plan on it and it happened.  Remember, this one will shoot you and if she can't do it, we can."

"Yes, Harris," he said, looking down.  He glanced at his girlfriend.  "I could like picnics.  Girls really are a lot of work."

"We're worth it," she assured him smugly.

"Yes, you all are," Xander assured her with a grin.  "Any man that doesn't see that needs his ass kicked.  Or needs to go gay because gay men are a bit less work."  She giggled and hugged him then walked her boyfriend off to make a date.

Xander sat down on the alcove again, watching them.  "He's so in it for the panty points," he muttered.

Jon sat next to him.  "Heading off a problem?"

"Some.  I was being an understanding guy friend."  He looked at him.  "I also handed over some of my condoms in case."

"We could all use some of those around here.  The nurse can't hand any out.  Even if she does keep a convenient box in her bathroom."  He stood up.  "Class time."

"Yay."  They went to their next classes.  Xander would add some more condoms to his locker later.  Then he'd need to refill his emergency kit.  The chemistry teacher glared so he paid more attention to what he was complaining about.  Xander raised his hand.  "Did I miss a lot when you went over a whole new class of stuff?"

He looked at the board then at him.  "Apparently since this was last month."  Xander flipped through his notes, looking confused.  He came to look.  "That topic," he said with a point.  Xander still looked confused.  He looked over the notes.  "Did I not go over lava?"  Everyone shook their heads.  "My fault, sorry."  He stepped back to go back over that section.  Some looked like they remembered but Xander still looked confused.  That look was very annoying.  "Harris?"

"Then what makes obsidian?  I know it's when lava hits water."

"That's geology."

"So is lava."  The teacher stared at him.  "It has the gasses and stuff but it's still geology, right?"

"It's a crossover topic, like food chemicals are."

"Okay.  So what makes obsidian?  And can it be made some other way?"

"I don't think you can get that level of quick cooling to make obsidian any other way.  Too cold and it would fracture it.  Isn't obsidian mostly see-through?"  Xander pulled his dagger off his ankle, holding it out properly.  "No, I see it's not."  He took it to look over.  "I know it comes in various colors and some veining."  He handed it back and Xander put it back in the holster.  "That's very pretty work."

Xander smiled.  "Thank you.  It was made by someone who does Wicca altar weapons."

The teacher went back to his podium.  "I'd say that you need sudden immersion to create the glossy look but too cold would make it weakly bonded.  Otherwise we'd see it from volcanos in colder climates.  As for the chemicals that go into the lava that get merged by the sudden immersion," he said, looking in a book he had as reference.  He put it up on the board.  Xander grinned and made more notes.  It was an interesting question.  One he hadn't gotten before.  And that was a beautiful piece of work.


It was the holidays.  Everyone was promising to show up sometime in the next few days for at least a day.  All the rooms in the house had clean sheets, the pillows had been washed.  The bathrooms had been thoroughly cleaned for a change.  There was food, real and snack food, in the new cabinets.  There were extra storage containers for the freezer in hopes of leftovers.  There were people screaming outside the patio area.  Of course.  Xander opened the porch door.

"It's cold," Sam complained.

Xander gave him a dirty look and looked out there.  He spotted a neighbor glaring outside.  "The kids in the snow or someone else screaming?" he asked her.

"I think it was someone else, Xander."  They heard a scream again and Xander pulled on his shoes.  "We do have police officers," she said.

"Call them," Xander ordered.  He grabbed his jacket and headed out.  He had his knife on him and that was all he really needed for most things.  He spotted a mother with her kids and pointed.  She nodded, taking them into the club house area.  The next scream pinpointed the problem for him.  He spotted the man screaming at some woman, gun to the head of another woman.  Xander nodded at them and walked up behind them.  "Dude," he said, making him jump and turn to look at him.  "What are you doing?  It's three days before Christmas.  Some kids just saw you."

"Who the hell are you?" he demanded.

"I live here."  He stared at him.  "What are you doing?"  He heard sirens.

"This whore was with my girlfriend!"

Xander stared at him.  "Real men don't need to threaten that way.  Unless she was armed?"  Police officers were pulling in, he could hear them.  "Why don't you drop your gun?  That way you can just scream at them.  Remember, guns cause problems that send you to prison for life."  The man pointed the gun at him.  Xander stared back.  "Don't even.  You're not man enough to pull it, dude.  I've seen the sort that could and you're not."  The man was sweating.  Xander's free hand was motioning at the cops behind his back.   "Just put it down."

"My girlfriend shouldn't be a whore!" he shouted.

"Agreed, totally agreed.  But it could've been your Christmas present."  The man sneered and pointed the gun at him again.  One of the officers got him down.  Xander kicked the gun out of the way and moved the hostage.  "Are you all right?" he asked calmly, letting her cry on him.  "It's all right.  Did he hurt you?  Do you need the ER?"

"No," she sniffled.  "I'm not like that!  We were talking, nothing else!   We weren't having naked time or anything!"

"To an overly jealous mind, even having coffee might be enough.  That's his mental defect.  Part of his warped personality.  You were just in the wrong spot."  She nodded, sniffling some more.  "It'll be okay."  He let one of the officers have her.  "Hi, guys."

"Sir, were you part of this?" one officer asked.

"No, I was just here.  I live in the next building to the east."  He pointed.  "We heard screaming.  I came to make sure that no one was bleeding in the snow."

"Sir, you should leave those to the professionals," one said firmly.  "He could have shot you."

Xander looked at him.  "He had his safety on."  The officer gave him a horrified look.  "I'm not stupid, I'm just helpful."  He shrugged.  "Ladies, let me know if you need some help," he told the apartment holder, who nodded, giving him a hug.  "We have cocoa if you need some," he said quietly, getting a faint smile.  He went back home, running into Ryan and Speed.  "Hi, guys."

Ryan smacked him on the shoulder.  "Don't do dangerous, stupid stuff, Xander.  We'd have to spend the holidays beside your hospital bed."  The officers looked over.  Ryan held up his badge, getting a nod.  They walked him inside.   "Do we have things we still need to pick up?" Ryan asked.

"I need to get Alexx a card.  We got cookies and I forgot her," Xander said.

"We can do that later," Speed promised, giving him and Sam a hug.  Speed checked things over and they settled in to catch up and relax.  They all tensed when someone outside started to scream but Xander grinned.  "Kids," Speed said, smiling and shaking his head.

Danny and Don got there an hour later and they settled in too with some cocoa and coffee.  They all got comfy until the next group got there.  Jensen dove in to tickle Xander, making him shriek and wiggle.  Cougar shook his head but got the door since he was making more coffee.  Abby and Tony bounced in, her holding onto his sleeve.

"Cougar!" she squealed, hugging him.  "I haven't seen you in forever."  She pinched him and dove in to tackle/hug the others.

Tony smiled.  "Thank you for getting me off the ship, Xander."

"Welcome.  There's a tiny bit of room if you want to squeeze in or some pillows left."  They came over to sit down and it was good.  They were still missing David, who couldn't get time off, Jon and John, and Rodney, and Faith.  He didn't expect any of them to really show up.  So when they got Jon he was happy.  "Guys, this is Jon O'Neill.  He's a new pack member.  He's in high school with us and just as weird."

Tony shook his hand.  "Any relation to the general?  I'm NCIS and he's stomped up there a few times to swear at my boss."

"He's my uncle."

"Daniel sent you a really long letter," Jensen said.  "It's in my bag."  Jon grinned.  "Egypt was almost fun."  Jon snickered.  "We needed the rest break anyway."

"I know that feeling," Tony agreed.  "I hate being on the ship."

Xander gave him a cuddle.  "It'll go better soon."

"I know it will."  He patted him.  "You're awfully cuddly.  Are you getting sick again?"

"No."  He grinned.  "I haven't seen you in months."

"Good point."  He let Abby plop herself in Xander's lap to cuddle him and it was better.  They caught up, got to know Jon, told him about the missing members.  It was soothing in a lot of ways.


The next day, while everyone was nagging about the kitchen and the state of the bathrooms, Sam slipped off on a trip he had planned.  Xander didn't need the extra guidance that he did.  He had gotten some when he was starting his training and couldn't really connect with the way Sam was thinking because Sam's thinking wasn't animal spirit based at times.

Things Xander took for granted about the natural world Sam couldn't.  There was an older shaman up the road and he had set up an appointment.  He had also brought the spear in case it helped.  His journal as well.  Plus Xander's journal in case he wanted to see it.  There had to be some differences in training between Native American and African shaman.  He parked and got out, nodding at the old man staring at him.  "Mr. Tailfeather?"

"Yes.  Mr. Winchester?"

"Yes, sir."   He walked over and shook his hand.  "I brought my journal."

"Who told you that you were, son?"

"One who trained with some of the African shaman."  He stared at him.  "I have his journal and mine, plus his specially made spear with me if it'll help any."

"I'd like to see that."  Sam got them and followed him back to his little house.  Sam sat down, letting him look over the spear.  "The other one made this himself?"

"With the help of the second shaman he trained under.  He passed it onto me when he got here."

"You sound like he's not native?"

"To this plane.  The higher powers switched him over," he sighed.  "He was older when he trained and deeper in grief, plus a lot had happened.  He's having some trouble keeping up with his meditation schedule himself."  He handed over the journals.  "His is on top."

The older man sat down to read them, nodding at some things.  "That's not actually the same sort of shaman.  There's shaman and then there's spirit shaman.  He's one of those."  He looked at Sam.   "What the neo-pagans would call a medium?"

"Definitely," he sighed, smiling some.  That explained some things.  "His first possession was a spirit animal."

"That was explained and why the shaman had him train.  I'd do the same but we do have slightly different methods.  That one may have tilted him more toward their ways.  I'd like to meet him."

"We're only in Colorado Springs.  I can bring him down after the holidays, sir."

He smiled.  "Got some family in?"

"Friends.  Pack basically."

"Yeah, one like him would gather a pack."  He went back to reading, nodding at some points.  It was how he'd have expected things to go but the boy still probably needed some guidance.  He got into Sam's.  "You're a more traditional sort, Sam.  A Medicine Man instead of a spirit talker or a even a Shadow Shaman.  Which yours will probably be when he dies."

"Would it matter that Xander's part of a prophecy about Chaos Children?"

The older man stared at him.  "Beloved of Coyote?"  Sam nodded.  "That might tip him that way.  You?"

"Slightly but not as bad.  I'm the backup to his level of chaos hurricane."

"Yeah, they can seem like the eye of a hurricane of chaos."  He went back to reading then went to get Sam some coffee to calm him down.  He was nervous and bouncy.  The spear got handed back as well and it glowed in Sam's hands.  That was interesting.  He went over what Sam knew how to do.  What he knew instinctively and what he knew from teaching.  Teaching things weren't always taught right when you're from a different method.

Sam was struggling with a few things and that's why as he discovered.  He talked Sam through the next few exercises he needed to do, and one that the boy hadn't had to do because Xander was already more in touch with the spirit realm of guides.  Sam looked so grateful.  They exchanged numbers and addresses and he promised to bring Xander down to meet him in January.  Then Sam left since it was nearly dark and Mr. Tailfeather had to cook dinner.  He smiled when his niece walked in.  "He's a good boy."

"He's white."

"He's a spirit hunter who got tapped with the gifts.  He's about a tenth of the way through the training."

She nodded.  "It's tough when you have that dual calling."

"Even tougher, he's being tutored by a spirit shaman who is falling down on his own gifts at the moment.  Something is blocking him from remembering."  He sipped his coffee.  "We'll see if you two can work together."  She smiled and helped him fix dinner.


Sam got back and looked at Xander.  They still had a full house.  "Spirit shaman?"

Xander blinked at him.  "Ones who naturally see and touch the spirits.  It's like the difference between research oriented priests and actively preaching ones.  Why?"

"Because you are and I'm not."

"Which is why you didn't get some of the same things I did," he sighed.  "I was wondering if I was doing it wrong."

"No.  He said I'm doing pretty good and he wants to meet you too."



"Cool."  He smiled and gave him a hug.  "We'll do whatever we have to do so you get to keep learning, Sam."

"You need it too, Xander."

"I know.  I don't know why I keep falling out of practice."

Sam stared at him then pulled on some of the shaggy hair, getting a sigh of displeasure.  "I'm pretty sure that's why.  It's like a dual image when I pictured you during one earlier.  You've still got the old things hanging around."

"I probably always will.  There's no way I can forget those years."

"No, but I think something's still tying you to there," he said more quietly.

"I'll work on it tonight."  Sam grinned.  "After we've all snuggled in for the night.  By the way, fixed the bad smell in the bedroom.  The CSPD came to get her dead body and we febreezed the hell out of the apartment."


"Boyfriend.  Suicide because he was an ass."

"Sorry for her then."

"Me too."  He gave him a bop on the shoulder and a grin.  "Jon's demanding we do things."

"What sort of things?"

"I think he was thinking about buying candy by the ton and sending a tiny bit to John and Rodney," Tony joked with a grin.  "Good trip, Sam?"

"Very good trip.  It helped a lot and I went over the next few exercises.  Oh, I left the spear in the car."  He went to get it and came back being followed by an officer.  "Guys?"

Xander looked at him.  "He was showing it to a local shaman," Xander said.  "I made it in Africa."  The officer stared at him.  "It's not illegal to have a spear in the car to go show it off."

"No it's not.  It is however a longer than street legal weapon."

"Carrying it from the car is illegal?" Xander asked, looking at the CSI.  "It is?"

"Not usually.  You're not brandishing it or planning on using it, right?" Ryan asked.

"No," Xander said.

"Sir, I don't know where you're from," the officer said.  He trailed off when badges appeared.  "Oh, I see."

Tony grinned.  "It was only being carried upstairs.  Not like Sam stopped to stab the squirrel that tried to get in earlier."

"If I wanted squirrel to cook I'd probably set a trap," Sam agreed.

"Hunter?" the officer asked, looking amused.

"Yes, sir."  He smiled.  "My whole family hunts."

"I see.  Make sure that thing doesn't come outside without it being covered, all right?"

"Yes, sir, I can do that."  He left.

Xander waited until he was gone then looked at Sam.  "Think it was the native markings or the sharp, pointy tip?"

"I'm hoping it was about the tip."  Sam went to put it back in the closet and petted it before coming back out.  "We're going to make gift packs for the pack that aren't here?"  They nodded and grouped up to buy the stuff to do that.  Xander remembered to get Alexx a card.   Everyone else had a lot of fun.  The best candy spot was inside a tiny strip mall and it had mimes for a kid's entertainment party.  They had a lot of fun taunting the guy back.


Xander went back onto the spirit world that night instead of sleeping.  Tony was curled up against his chest and Danny was against his back but that was fine.  Yeah, he could see the split.  His other half was staring at him, looking upset.  "You could've appeared and told me," he offered quietly.

"Dean needs us."

"We can do that."  He merged with his older self, going to that realm.

"Dean, you cannot," Castiel was complaining.  "It is against the Lord's laws."

"I don't care!" Dean shouted back, sounding a bit hysterical.  "I'm not going on like this forever."

Xander looked around the desolate area.  There wasn't any life he could feel.  No spirits other than theirs.  He didn't even feel like he was in a real world it was so dead.  He stared at Dean.  "Hey."  Dean stared at him, looking pathetically grateful.  He moved forward to hug his buddy.  "I'm here, what's going on?"

"I've been here for six months, Xander," Dean said, staring at him.  "I can't.  Not any more."

Xander stared at Castiel.  "It is against the Lord's laws," he said bluntly.  "He'll go back to hell and none of us want that."

Xander considered it.  "So your God wants to punish him for trying to save people and for winning the earlier one?"  Castiel moaned, shaking his head.  "It sure seems like it, Cas."  He looked at Dean, seeing the craziness starting.  Dean didn't do all alone very well.  Cas probably wasn't there often enough to keep it together.

"I can't be the last person alive," he said quietly.

"I couldn't either.  It's a harsh thing that they're asking of you," Xander said calmly.  He noticed he was missing his leg and eye.  So this was really real.  He knew his duty.  He had promised.  He kissed Dean on the forehead then the lips.  "My pack," he whispered.  Dean shivered.  "The younger you is less fun."  He stared at him then sighed.  "You are my pack and my responsibility, Dean.  You always have been since we met."  He stabbed him quickly, making sure it was an instant kill shot.

"What are you doing!" Castiel demanded.

"Releasing him from a torture worse than hell," Xander shot back coldly, staring at him.  Castiel moaned, kneeling to put Dean's head in his lap.  "He's at peace, Castiel.  He can also ascend."  Castiel stared up at him.  Xander stared down at him.  "I promised my pack if they got into that bad of a situation or were going feral I would handle it.  It's my job as the alpha.  No matter how much it sucks ass."

"The Lord cannot complain," he said quietly, kissing Dean on the forehead.  He stood up and Xander said a prayer over him before lighting him on fire.  Dean's shade floated out.  Castiel stared at him then lost his own body, leading him home.

Xander looked around, watching to make sure the body fully was cremated.  It was his duty to his pack.  Even if it would give him nightmares.  When the fire went out he looked around then down at himself.  The old body was still there.  All the scars, the damage, the pains, the aches, the mental damage.  And so was the younger one underneath it.  Maybe it was a gift meant to be a bit kind.  He looked around. "I can feel you."  The Elder appeared, staring at him.  "You could've told me," he told her.

"He could have done that himself."

"Then he would've broken the last law."

"True.  Humanity will be restarted here.  We have all agreed it was not time."

Xander nodded.  "I hope it goes better this time."  He looked around, they were in Sunnydale's remains.  Dean had chosen the place on purpose.  The first life he had taken was here and the last life he would take on this world was here.  Something inside him broke and he let it go.  He looked at his body, stepping out of the old one.  It fell, then turned to dust.  He checked, his eye was back, but bleeding again.  His leg was still there, though it was a bit numb.  "I don't need the reminders I lost them," he told her since she was staring.  "I remember it very well and why."

"Doing a job you were not meant to do."

"Then the world would've been lost by the time I was ten."  He stared at her.  "I am a Chaos Child."  She nodded she knew that.  "The last one."

"There will be others in your new world."

"No.  There won't be.  That prophecy won't be broken."  She gaped.  He shrugged.  "It can't be broken actually.  If it is then humanity may be lost.  It says twenty generations of lost children before the next one appears to herald the age of peace finally coming.  They'll be born of a former slayer's line and that of a chaos child.  Since the last three are all infertile...."  He stared at her.  "I don't know how you'll manage that."

"Others have had children."

Xander shook his head.  "Slayers don't.  And no, most of them haven't."  He shrugged.  Whistler appeared looking pissed as hell.  Xander stared at him for a moment then hauled off to hit him.  "If you had told me, I would've been here soon so he wasn't tortured again."

"You aren't supposed to be able to hit him," She said.

"Yeah, tell that to some other shaman."  She gaped, staring at him.  He stared back.  "Actually, the Protector Chaos Childe is supposed to be John, not me.  I'm the lost one."  He smiled.  "Sorry."  He looked at Whistler.  "Anything else you were too chicken shit to do yourself?"

"Rosenburg still has a link," he said quietly.

"Dawn still has a link," Xander corrected.  "She's an elemental power.  She might have a connection until she's sent into another realm to wake up there.  Because there's only one Key in the universes yet she's woken up a few times in different realities."

"How do you know?" the Goddess asked.

Xander smiled.  "Research."  He looked down at Whistler then up.  "Dawn, let it go, sweetheart.  You're coming to my realm in a few years."  He heard the sob and closed his eyes.  The wrenching pain of being sent over was worse than his death but it had to happen.  He calmed himself, making himself unstiffen.  He wiggled his way free to go to the bathroom.  Right now, he hated himself a little bit.  He really did.  He turned and found Castiel there, staring at him.  "What?" he asked quietly.

Castiel smiled.  "He's happy."

"Good.  He deserves it for all the shit you guys put him through."

"I know.  I could not, Xander."

"Then you should've told me, Cas.  I would've been there sooner."

"I know.  That was my arrogance that something else may happen so you would not have to."

Xander shook his head.  "Dean's too strong for that," he said quietly.

"I know."  He hugged him and the boy let him.  "He said thank you and he forgives you."  Xander blinked a few times, nodding at that message.  Then Castiel was gone.

Sam knocked then walked in.  "What happened?"

"I got called home for a few minutes to handle the last person standing issue."

Sam stared at him.  "He'd thank you," he said quietly.  Xander nodded.  Sam hugged him and it was better.  This is why he was second in the pack to Xander most of the time.

Dean walked in.  "Aw, geeze, can't you guys go get huggy in the kitchen or something."  Xander looked at him.  Dean stared back.  "Yeah, I knew it would."  Xander hit him, hard.  "Ow!  Bitch."  He rubbed the new bruise.  "I did an extra imprint, Xander.  I knew, but I was hoping like hell something else was going to happen.  Some sickness, a remaining vampire, hell even a cockroach biting me."  Xander shook his head, hugging him.

"It won't happen here.  I'd never go rabid or do anything else that would make you take me out," Dean whispered.  Xander nodded, giving him a tighter squeeze.  "Hey, need to breathe."  Xander didn't let go.  Dean let him because he knew Xander was in emotional pain.  Sam hugged him from behind and it was better.  They got him calmed down and back down among the pack.  Tony had taken over Xander's old spot so Dean had to give up some of his bed to him and Sam.  It'd help.


John spent Christmas Eve thinking and staring at the three remaining ropes for shape changing.  He really needed to ask some questions and had no one to ask them to.  He wasn't sure if he bit someone would they change?  Was there a difference if he put the necklace on someone instead of them putting them on.  He sighed mentally and felt a nudge at his mind.  "Yes, Cordelia?"

She appeared.  "That wasn't me.  That was someone who wanted to think at you."

"Another ascended?"

"No."  She smiled and knocked him out.  "Pretty dreams, sweetie."  She disappeared.

John appeared on a filmy plane, looking around.  "Very movie graphic dream sequency," he decided, thinking about changing it.  Now he had a nice couch, a fluffy carpet underneath it, and some real coffee, the good stuff he never really wanted to afford on earth.  He sighed as he sipped.  It was a good enough dream he guessed.  The old women from the temple appeared and he stood up.  "Ladies."

"John," the one on the left said, smiling at him.  "Good, you do still wear it."

He touched it then looked at her.  "Yes, I am.  Can I ask some questions?"

"That is why we're here," the one in the middle said.  John thought up a comfortable couch for them and they sat down with a smile.  "Very soft, thank you.  Our usual chairs need new cushions."

"What's the difference between me putting it on someone and someone else putting it on?"

"If you put it on them, they are a member of the pack until you take it back," the one on the left said with a smile.

"If I bite them will they change like our fairytales say?"

They looked at each other.  "That would take an extraordinary event, a very particular soul," the one in the middle said.

"And a spirit who walks like a man," the one on the right finished.

John considered that and thought up a picture of Xander, including what his senses told him.  "That one?"

They stared then nodded.  "He would be but he'd have to be a reborn soul.  Plus it would be at his agreement.  If you just bit him for fun it probably wouldn't happen unless he hoped really hard."

John nodded.  "Would being sent from one plane to another count?"


"Would being dead on that first one count?"

"Yes," they sighed.

"That means the Lost Chaos Childe is that one," the one on the right told the others.  "Which would make you the Protector."  John nodded.  Xander had sent him copies of both of those prophecies.  "Interesting."

John banished the mental image and got comfortable again.  "Are there other necklaces or can you tell me how to make new ones?"

"There's others on our sister planets," the one on the left admitted with a smile.  "They're willing to let you come try to free them.  A few will take someone who is ..."

"Different," the one on the right admitted.  "Some of them are for more water based creatures.  Some are for those that fly."

"Xander has mermaid DNA.  If someone else who had that showed up would that work?"  They all nodded.  "Because I have someone who decided to stick themselves with it to see if it was helpful.  I nearly killed her stupid ass."

"It must be the same sort of soul you are and you'd probably have to be with them," the one on the left said.  She stood up.

John made coffee for them, smiling as he handed over the cups.  They smiled and sat down to teach him how to use those necklaces and how to make more.  It was a good, long talk.  Even Rodney trying to interrupt him to wake him up didn't get much of an effect.  John shifted his physical body into his canine form and they kept talking.  When they went back, he woke himself up to make a lot of notes, then collapse again.  He now needed a nap.  He went back to dog form when Rodney came back.


John finally got back from the other ten worlds and had two left to visit.  He had a case of the little necklaces, in different colors for different changes.  He flopped down in his desk chair.  "I managed to keep my pants this time," he joked when Rodney, Evan Lorne, and Ronon stared at him.  Teyla hated this topic.  It freaked her out basically.

"It's good, the gate guards were getting a bit too used to you being naked, sir," Evan said.

John shook his head.  "They apparently needed a thrill.  We have two more."

"Which version?" Ronon asked.

"Water based."  He sighed.  "I was warned I should bring someone with something fishy in their veins."

"Keller," Evan said, grimacing.

"Not my idea either.  Do we have any left?"

"Yes," Evan said.  "There's two vials of blood left.  Why?"

"I'd need someone I could count on as a pack member up here."

They looked at each other.  "We'd have to be detoxed later, sir," Evan said.  "NID or Area 51 would want us otherwise."

"I'm aware of what I'm asking," John assured him.  He smiled.  "I'll leave it up to the pack we have up here."

"You could get the source of that blood taint up here," Ronon said.

"No he can't.  The generals won't allow it," Rodney assured him.  "They don't like to hear about Xander doing anything."

Ronon looked at him then at John.  "The same one?"


"Why?" Evan asked.  "And how did he meet him?"

"After the funeral we spent a night with the kids," John said.

"How young?"

"Nearly seventeen," Rodney said.  "Speaking of, the rest of the pack showed up for the holidays."

"I heard.  I sent a video message."  He smiled.  "I do miss having everyone together.  That usually took an apocalypse."

"You got an email back from them," Rodney said, staring at him.

John got into it, reading it quickly, frowning.  "What the hell happened?" he muttered.  He looked at other messages he had gotten.  Dean's explained it and said that Xander was back on even footing emotionally.  Plus how Sam's training was going.  "That explains a lot," John decided, erasing them both.  He sighed, looking at them.  "Xander had a problem he had to handle, it made him emo for a few hours, and then they celebrated Christmas.  He was ... it was his first real present in years."

"So he's better?" Rodney asked.  John nodded, smiling slightly.  "We didn't celebrate it before?"

"We sent cards.  The girls usually didn't.  I think the last time he got something, Helena gave it to him for his birthday."

"His former friends didn't?" Rodney asked.

"I can't swear they knew when his birthday was," John told him.  "Even though Willow all but raised him for a few years when they were younger."  He shifted.  "But for now, he's got one coming from me too.  The boys need that touch of normal family stuff right now."

"So these last two sets?" Rodney asked.

"We need to do it in the next week," John said.  They all nodded.  "Which means figuring out who's going with me."

"They'd need to be comfortable with the water stuff," Evan said.  "Keller's been trying hard to ignore the ocean.  I don't think we managed to detox it fully."

John nodded.  "I might bring her but they said it had to be someone like me and someone I'd want in my pack."

"I nearly turned her over my knee when we found her all black and slimy," Evan admitted.  "She didn't warn us.  Didn't make any notes, nothing."

"I remember.  I nearly did paddle her," John sighed.  "I would've looked the other way if you or Rodney had done it."  Ronon smirked at him.  "I do know that she has less taint than Xander still carries.  The Mountain had been doing something with a shield that vibrated the wrong way and broke down red blood cells.  They had to detox him more because he grew gills."  Rodney shuddered, sitting down.   "They had to fix the anemia and detox him at the same time.  Doctor Lam took two days to get those gills gone.  Thankfully O'Neill had enough sense to check in and see what was wrong with him while carrying some of Xander's blood.  Then they called Jack to sit with him."

"That's bad," Rodney said.  "How much less did she make it?"  John shook his head.   "No overall reduction?"

"No.  She said that his liver and bone marrow is still putting it out."  Evan whimpered, shaking his head.  "But he's also had it for years.  I did tell her about Keller's thing.  She sent back a long swear to me and her."

"Good!" Rodney said.  "Hopefully no one else gets that stupid.  Carson wouldn't have done that."

"Carson would probably find a way to weed that out of Xander more," John agreed.  "Unfortunately it's not like we can wake him up."

"I know.  Which does suck," Rodney sighed.  He looked out there, seeing Keller listening.  "Mermen don't have better hearing?" he joked.

"No."  She walked in.  "I can help you get the other ones, John."

He stared at her.  "The wise women said that it'd have to be someone like me, Doctor Keller.  Someone with a soul like mine.   Someone I'd trust perfectly with my pack.  I still want to paddle you for endangering everyone on this mission by injecting yourself with foreign DNA."

"I know I was stupid, but I can help."

He stared at her.  "We'll see."  She sighed, glaring at him.  "You may be back with Doctor Lam.  Landry is thinking about changing you two out for a while."  She nodded, leaving again.

"Doctor Lam can't always handle the stresses we'd have," Rodney said quietly.  "I miss Janet so hard right now."

"Me too from what I've heard."  He sighed, rubbing his eyes.  "Let me sleep on it and we'll see if we have what we need tomorrow."  They nodded.  John took the new box back to his room to put into his safe.  No one was touching them without his authority.  Especially not Woolsey, who was freaking out about it.  John looked around his room.  It was messier than it should be.  He changed to canine form, sniffing around.  He changed back.  He put the box into the safe, checking the others.  They were all safe.  It was closed and reset to his DNA then he went to yell at Woolsey.  He had no right or reason to be trying for the changing bands.


Xander smiled and shook Mr. Tailfeather's hand.  "Sir."

"Mr. Harris."

"Call me Xander please."

"I can do that."  He let them into his house.  "How many shaman did you train with?"

"Six total.  Four with some serious training.  The other two helped guide me on something and one did my protection marks."  He sat down.  "I was only in Africa for nine months and then a few minor trips to handle issues so I didn't have time to get more training.  They said most of it was instinctive and I could guide myself through most of it.  I've thought about going back to them but the ones here won't remember me."

"I can see that point.  Sam told me about all that."  He sat down, looking at them.  "Are you going on guided trips?"

"Yes.  A lot of the more guided meditations into the spirit realm.  That's what they told me I should do and there I'd meet former shaman who could guide me further."  He shifted.  "I think one realized.  He told me he'd see me when we died."

Mr. Tailfeather nodded.  "There's a lot that you have to learn on your own but sometimes you need someone to guide you."

"I'd welcome it," Xander agreed with a grin.  "I know I'm missing something.  For some reason I keep hearing something strange.  Something like a cry."

"Most spirit shaman talk to the guides easiest.  Some of them can even inhabit the spirit of one."  He stared at him.

"I'm comfortable with my mermaid taint.  I'm comfortable with the hyena that possessed me once.  I'm not sure I could fly.  Or be a bug."

He nodded.  "Talking to the lesser sized guides can be humbling.  You learn much from Spider and Ant."

"He's beloved by Coyote, as I am," Sam sighed, looking at him.  "I've talked to him a few times."

Xander nodded.  "Yes, I have too.  He was quite amused."  He shook his head.  "Though I think mine was Loki."

"Possibly," Sam admitted.

Mr. Tailfeather looked at them.  "You two don't hold to one pantheon of thought?"

"I grew up with a strong Wicca," Xander said.  "I've seen her do amazing things that even fully trained, ancient Shaman would gape in awe at."

"That's reasonable.  Many of us stick to our own religion of thought."

"I've never decided which theory of higher being fits me best," Xander admitted.  "I've pissed off a few of them over the years by making prophecies work right and things."

Mr. Tailfeather smiled.  "That's good to know."

"I've talked with other higher beings too," Sam agreed quietly.  "Including an angel who was trying to stop some of the others from an apocalypse."

Mr. Tailfeather nodded.  "I saw."  He smiled.  "We can work on it, boys.  How long can you spare today?"

They looked at each other.  "Xander has an english test Monday afternoon," Sam said.

"Good.  It's late Friday, we'll have time."  He led them out back to his sweat lodge/sauna to walk them through the more traditional things.  By Monday morning they had a good feel of where they were headed next.  Mr. Tailfeather stopped Xander before he could get into the car, staring at him.  "You need to touch the others.  You need to get more comfortable with all the guides, Xander," he said quietly.  "Not just those that swim or those that run."

Xander nodded.  "I'll work on that."

"Good boy."  He patted him on the neck.  "Get your protections reinked.  A few are fading and you have a cut line."

"That one's so they could test my blood," he said, looking at his arm.  "The one on my back was an injury."

"I saw.  Get it fixed."  Xander nodded, sliding in so Sam could drive them off.  Mr. Tailfeather smiled and waved.  His niece walked over.  "For not training in our ways they do have a good feel for it."  One of the elders of his tribe gave him a dirty look.  "The shorter one trained with some in Africa.  The other needs the focus."  He smiled, walking his niece off.  "Next time I'll have you meditating with them to see if you can find them on the spirit realm."

"Cool.  Can they guide me to the spirit guides?" she asked.

"I hope so.  The one is a spirit walker in all but living."  He patted her on the back.   "You'll get to that same point, niece."  She grinned.  They went to clean up the mess, though the boys had helped put things back together in the house.  He could like teaching those two boys.


Xander was concentrating, walking the spirit plane.  He had talked to the other Guides he ran into.  They were all telling him to go this way this time so he went.  He ran into a wall of water.  He touched it, feeling his spirit change.  He floated over, walking through the barrier.  Then he was swimming.

He wasn't black and slimy but he was naked and his gills were working.  It felt very freeing.  He found John stunned and looked.  He had a blue stripe of ribbon from his chest into the darkness of the water.  Xander wove a protection around John and swam after the ribbon.  He found John with two older men who were glaring.  He floated into view.

"There he is.  I knew you had one who could help you," the older man said.

John looked then at him.  "We share a pack."  He stared at Xander.  "How?"  Xander shrugged, swimming closer.  "Gills, cute."

"They grew.  I'm kinda glad."  He bowed at the older men.  "The spirit guides said I should come help my pack mate?"

They stared at him.  "Which of you is the true alpha?" one asked.

Xander raised a hand.  "I center the pack."

"He's the matriarch of the pack but we don't have a chosen male head.  So we let him fuss over us," John said.  "If we were together more often we'd figure out a co-head with him."

Xander shrugged.  "It works for us most of the time."

The old men looked at each other then at them.  "One of you must be the pack alpha."

"Even his mate is his beta," the other agreed.

"We're not that sort of pack," Xander said.

"All packs are," the second one said.

Xander shook his head.  "A full pack would mostly be together.  Ours is too spread.  We hardly ever get together outside of problems.  During those times, we each have our areas and we work together."

"So it is a pack that is made of separate hunters," the first said.  They both nodded.  "Yet still there has to be an alpha, someone in charge who can pull the others together."

"In some things that's Xander.  In others that's me.  It works for us," John said.

"Are you going to admit him to your pack?" they asked John.

John nodded.  "Yes.  If I need him to help, he'll do it for me."

"Then you are his alpha?" one asked.

Xander shrugged.  "We have mutual respect.  We're like separate animals who work together."

"How are you in that form?" one asked him.

"One once gave me their DNA when someone interfered."

"What is your natural form?"  Xander pointed at John.  "The animal one?"

"I was possessed by a hyena spirit."  They looked confused so he projected, which was a neat thing he had learned to do recently with Wolf.

"Ah, I see.  And that is why your pack is not fully a pack but a hunting pack," one said.

"Sometimes," John agreed.  "We do come together for comfort and friendship."  Xander touched him and he projected the image of the weyr system.  They smiled at that.  "That seems to fit us better."

"It does.  Still, one must lead over everyone else," the one on the left said.

Xander and John shared a look.  "I usually listen to him but I'm very much in charge of a lot of things."

Xander nodded.  "We do tend to share a lot.  Sometimes Tony does some of the plans when you're not there."

"True.  We do all kind of hover around him."

"Then he is your mate?" one asked.

Xander shook his head.  "No.  I need a mate, but he's not mine.  He doesn't even like to cuddle me."

"I like women," John assured them.  "A lot.  Some day I'll find one to mate with permanently.  I hope."

"Not all mates are about touching," the one in the lead noted.  He smiled.  "You care for him?"

"A lot.  He's a good friend."  Xander nodded he agreed.

"That is not what we meant.  You are both dense and the protections on you will only last an hour, boys."

"I wove more," Xander admitted quietly, staring at them.

"If you cannot figure this out, you will have to do it the traditional way."

"That's going to take longer," Xander noted.  "John's an excellent fighter and I'm not bad."  John swatted him on the head.  "Ow!"

"You've stopped cults of people who want to end the world all by yourself.  Quit putting yourself down."  He looked at them.  "We do not like to fight between us.  It will bother the others.  For now, this suits us."

"But the alpha must order his beta to find these," the lead wise man said with a smile.

John looked at Xander.  "In this, I'll follow your lead.  You've had more experience."

"How are you doing that?"

"I'm on the spirit plane.  A spirit shaman can take over a form in a limited way."  The wise men stared at him.  He smiled.  "Yes, me."

"We can tell," they told him.  "You need practice."

"I am.  That's what I'm doing right now.  The ones on the spirit plane told me John needed help."

"Good."  He looked at John.  "You should make your pack tighter."

"They're on Earth."

"That is a problem, yes."  He waved.  "Send him."

"Xander, there's three silver ropes through the maze," he said quietly.  "Please."

Xander looked at him.  "I want to learn."

"Of course."  Xander nodded and swam off.  The maze was dry but he was all right.  He could walk and run too.  He found the maze easy enough.  Something was telling him how to get through it.  He followed the feeling and found himself staring at a huge, damp hole.  Xander shuddered.  He concentrated and backed up a few steps, jumping over it.

"You need to enter it," a male voice called.

Xander looked up.  "I'm from a hellmouth, a thin spot between realms.  If I do, that will destroy it."  A beam came down.

"You are correct.  Go down the stairs then."  Xander nodded, turning and going down the stairs.  At the bottom was a dank cave with a slight glow from the stuff growing on the walls.  He ran a hand over one and it lit up.  Xander stared at the large statue, then bowed.  "Lord Poseidon, the original Aquaman."  He didn't move, sensing something was wrong.  He looked behind him.  The tunnel was closed.  Charming!  He still didn't move closer and found something very wrong with the floor.  He stared and probed magically.  It lit up brightly.

"Shit," he muttered.  He looked, there was no way around it.  He stepped into the glow and it burned.  It burned so bad.  He wanted to scream and wouldn't.  He would not let it out.  He breathed and centered himself then lashed out at the pain, like he had taught himself.  It ended and he let himself pant for a minute.  He swallowed and stood up straighter, staring at the statue, who seemed to be staring at him.  "My pack mate sent me, Lord Poseidon."  He stepped closer.

The tunnel collapsed and he sighed.  "I don't want to damage your areas."  He read the small plaque and stared at him.  "Lord Priapus is one of my personal deities," he joked.  "That's why I draw the worst women to me."  He ran a hand over the statue's stomach and thigh.  "You are finely carved."  The statue warmed and Xander stared at him.  "My tastes do not run toward statues, Lord Poseidon.  I'm sorry."

He backed off.  "You have a mate.  I will not break that, no matter what your instructions say to do."  That felt right.  The statue went cooler and seemed to shrink.  Out of the crotch opening came a long strand of something.  Xander gathered it and the chains came apart in his hand.  "I thank you, Lord Poseidon.  It will help us protect all our people."  He bowed and kissed his foot then left through the doorway behind the statue.

He ran into a second statue and bowed.  "Lady Hecate."  She glowed and another beam hit him.  He let it, even though it hurt just as much as the last one.  "M'lady, I'm a bit used to pain," he said quietly.  "Must we?"  He shut it off the same way.  This one came back and it hurt worse.  "No.  I'm not fully yours, M'Lady Hecate. I'm not Willow.  I can only dabble in your areas.  I've always honored you."  He ended it again and it snapped back, even more painful.

He could hear John telling him to quit fighting.  But if he didn't he'd die here.  John snapped and told him if he didn't quit fighting he'd die anyway.  Xander concentrated and the beam strengthened.  He stepped out of it and the beam tried to catch him but he shook his head.  "I'm not yours, Goddess Hecate, even though I honor your ways."  He kissed her statue's foot and stared at her.  "I'm sorry."  He walked around her.  The path was blocked so he stared at her.  He let go of his hold on his magic.

The beam came down again but this time the pain was so intense he wanted to cry.  It quit eventually but by then he was in pain all over.  "If this is how the crucio feels, I don't want to meet them."  The statue seemed to laugh and he stared at her.  He let out some of his hellmouth taint and the statue moaned.  "I do honor you, Goddess Hecate.  I'm sorry I'm not yours.  It'd be much easier."  She let him go and he found himself back in the temple.  He handed the chains to John.  "I'm sorry I disappoint her so."  He faded back to his body.  He seriously needed something for the pain.

John looked at the older men.  "Did that have to happen?  You hurt him."

"That was him fighting against his destiny."

"Xander's a Chaos Childe.  We don't respect destiny unless it's one we change it to.  Xander has made sure the world has went on numerous times, even when ordered not to."

They stared at him.  "That is his job, but yours is to teach him how to submit when necessary."

John shook his head.  "He learned that early on.  That's why he doesn't trust anyone."  They gasped.  "He'll never trust anyone that fully, even if he does find a true mate."  He bowed and left.  He got shoved back through the gateway and the last chain fell but it came floating out to him.  "Thank you."

"Fix that one.  It may be important," a male voice said.

"I will when I'm near him next time.  I'm not on the same planet.  Thank you though."  He bowed and the gate shut.  John calmed himself then handed them to Rodney.  "The other one?"

"Called.  How did Xander....."

"Spirit realm travel.  They called him."  He looked at his teammate and best friend.  "Are they mad?"

"No.  They accepted him as a Strong One, whatever that means, and that he's more than worthy.  Though he should probably find a mate."

"I'd love it if Xander found a real mate.  We'd all love it if Xander found a real mate."  He sighed.  "How did they call?"  Rodney held up the red chains.  "Air?"

"Yes.  How did he get on whatever a spirit realm is?"

"He's a shaman.  One attuned to spirits.  If he had been born somewhere like the tribes he studied with, he might see the dead as clearly as he does the living.  Some of them look the same to some of the shaman from what he said.  When's the next email run?"


"Thank you."  He took the chains and the other set to the safe in his room.  They'd test them later.  After he rested and wrote Xander an email saying he was sorry.  Even though he knew he didn't do anything wrong, he hadn't wanted Xander to go through anything that bad.


Sam came home from his part-time job and found Xander on the couch with a few heating pads.  He stared at him.  "Fight?"

"Spirit realm travel and a pissed off Goddess," he hissed.

Sam came over to check him over.  "What happened?"  Xander shook his head.  "You need anything?  I can get us some more advil or something."

"I'm fine.  Thank you.  I just ache."

Sam lifted Xander's head and sat down, letting him curl up around his heat.  "Anything else happen?"

"Not really."  He yawned.  "Thanks, Sam."

"Welcome, Xander."  He petted over Xander's hair until he fell asleep.  This was a bad thing and he needed to talk to their tutor.  Something was seriously wrong with that trip.


Xander felt himself pulled back to the spirit guide realm and went with it.  He flopped down once he was there, curling up around his knees.  Wolf was staring at him, head tipped to the side.  "I ache," he told him.

The wolf changed to a not him.  "Why?"

"You told me to help John and I did."

"That should not cause pain."

"There was a beam that was dedicated to Hecate that didn't like me very much.  Especially when I fought to get free of it."

Wolf nodded at that.  "That makes more sense.  Fighting the Higher Ups always brings pain."

Xander stared at him.  "Sometimes you have to.  Otherwise the world would end."

Wolf stared at him.  "Not always."

Xander shrugged then winced.  "Often enough in my life."

"You need to break those thoughts."

"There will still be battles I must help in."

Wolf nodded.  "You're not a warrior, Xander."

Xander smirked.  "Yes I am.  I may walk this path but I am still a warrior.  I listen when the Higher Ups speak to see if things need to be changed.  Half of the higher ups think that we're still riding horses."

Wolf snorted.  "True.  Many are not in touch with modern lives."  He moved closer, touching him.  He winced.  "That is pain."

"Yes it is.  I'm handling it."

Wolf stared at him.  "You can lean on others."

Xander shook his head.  "I do when I need to.  Right now, I need another heating pad."

"You are dense."

"Yup," Xander agreed then grinned.  "Often."  Wolf sighed, staring at him.  Xander stared back.  "I know I could ask Sam since he's home.  I don't need to."

"Sometimes even the best swords get bent.  Before they break."

"I've done both," Xander admitted more quietly and less happily.  "I'll probably have to go through that again."

"Not if you trust."  Wolf looked behind him as a Coyote walked over.  "Coyote."

That one changed into a not Xander as well.  "Wolf.  Xander."  He nodded.  Xander bowed back slightly.  "You do trust.  I know you trust.  You do not trust that deeply."

"That's because I know better.  If I plan to do things myself, no one else can not do them when they're needed.  That's something an alpha must take on."

"Yes, they must," Wolf agreed.  "Still, you can delegate."

Xander looked at him.  "If my pack was around...."

"True," Coyote agreed with a smile.  "You ache?"

"Muchly.  I'll live though."

"She is not one to argue with."

Xander stared for a moment then leaned forward and showed him his memory of the cliff-top fight with Willow.  Coyote gasped.  "I know very well when to argue and when not to argue," he pointed out.  "I'm pretty damn good at it, Coyote.  I'm not hers and the purpose of that beam was to hurt and possibly injure me.  I'm not going to stand there stupidly and let them do it like someone would slaughter a cow."

"No, you should not," Wolf agreed.  He read the same memory and winced.  "Then yes, you probably fought on instinct."

Xander shook his head.  "If it wasn't meant to harm me it wouldn't have hurt.  The other one hurt for a different reason and in a different way."

"Yes, it did."  They moved closer, reading what had happened.  Wolf glared at Coyote.  "I believe someone already influenced you."

Xander looked at him. "I am a child born of chaos."

"Yes, you were," Coyote said, smiling at him.  "You must relax and let the pack take some of the responsibility."

"I would if they were there.  Sam gets plenty of responsibility."

"If there were a battle soon," Wolf said.

"There's one in under five months," Xander said.  "I fully expect Sam to be with me, Dean as well, any of the pack that can get there.  I know I'm not doing it myself.  I trust them to help me."

"But not to soothe you?" Wolf asked.

Xander looked at him.  "I'm presently laying on Sam's thigh while he pets me."

"That is a good start."

Xander gave him a dirty look.  "Neither of us are into gay sex, Wolf."  Coyote cackled.  "If the pack wants to snuggle, we wouldn't care, but none of us are going to be the pack blow job doll."

"What is a blow job doll?" Wolf asked.  Xander shot him a picture of one and the spirit guide actually blushed and ducked his head.  "I see."

"Castiel said the same damn thing when Dean showed him," Xander quipped.  He looked at Coyote.  "I'm trying."

"I know.  You do try very well.  The pack will have to bond some day though."

"We never did before."

"Things were different there.  You had more handling things than you do here."

Xander nodded.  "Which is why I swore when some of my weapons went to Pegasus."

"You are more than your weapons," Wolf reminded him.

"I know.  My brain and muscles are just as much of one.  They serve me just as often as a gun or a sword or a stake, but sometimes you need weapons."

"Yes, you do," Wolf agreed with a sigh.  "Perhaps if you learned to trust yourself more you would trust the pack more."

"I trust myself.  I know my limits and I push them a lot.  Or I never would have made it out of the hospital after I lost my leg."  He rubbed where the old leg would've ended.  "I managed to get myself out of that and go back to helping."

"You did," Coyote agreed.  "I was proud."  Xander nodded, smiling a tiny bit.  "Still, Wolf is right.  You are not full of trust.  Not of yourself, not of others."

"You expect certain things, trust them to happen and be the way they should be.  You trust people to act in certain ways.  You do not trust them to step outside those things unless it suits them," Wolf said.

"Isn't that human nature?" Xander countered.

"Not all of human nature."

"Most human's nature," Xander said.

Coyote nodded.  "We do see that but among those who are close, you should have absolute trust."

Xander shook his head.  "No you shouldn't, because then you become a weakling to them.  They can run you over."

"If they're good, why would they?" Wolf asked.

"For the same reason an alpha will scent mark," Xander said simply.  Wolf stared, mouth slightly open.  "Yes, some relationships do have more than one alpha.  We all know my pack has a few.  If I suddenly started to give everything to them, things would change.  I definitely would not have the trust I have now because I know that something would make them assert the alpha nature over me.  Which would then screw me up plentifully.  Which would mean they'd start to see me the same way the girls did."

Wolf shook his head.  "Those who care for you won't."

"It's not like I'm going to have a soul mate, Wolf.  It might be nice but I'm not meant for one.  Am I?" he asked Coyote, who shook his head.

"No, especially when you do not trust."

"Would you trust?  Just fully trust?"

Coyote considered it.  "No."  Wolf stared at him.  "Because that would mean giving up my inner self to another who could then change it or ruin it."  Xander nodded, relaxing again.

Wolf sighed.  "That is the problem there.  A true mate...."

"Is one in a million," Xander said quietly.  He looked at Wolf.  "Unless you've got a fucking destined one you're lucky if you find someone decent.  Even if they are destined you'll still have fights and arguments.  They'll say stuff they don't mean to during them.  You'll do the same.  I'd love to have a mate but unless they were bound with my soul, there's no way it could be fully trusted.  I can take this sort of pain, not that sort."

Coyote nodded.  "That may never heal."

"Then I hope any future mate is very understanding."

Wolf sighed, shaking his head.  "You must get over that."

"How?" Xander asked.  Wolf stared at him.  "Seriously, how?"

Wolf leaned closer.  "You can learn."

"The fact that I trust anyone even a tiny bit means that I have learned, Wolf."

"Read him better," Coyote agreed.  "The Dark has been around him for much too long.  He has fought his way out partially but it will never fully be gone."

Wolf sighed but read his current student deeper, shaking his head.  "That is not good."  Xander shrugged.  "You do not care?"

"I've healed what I could.  I realize I have a second chance to heal more, but right now, I'm more concerned with surviving."

"I agree, you should be," Wolf said.  He read him again then nodded.  "You will heal some."

"I'm working on it along with my self defense lessons and all the other stuff."

"You take on too much," Coyote warned.

Xander looked at him.  "Let me not go to school anymore then."

"That is not a good idea.  You learn much there, including patience," Wolf sighed.

"I know, it's not my strong suit."  He shifted and winced.  "Sorry."

"Why do you apologize for being in pain?" Coyote asked.

Xander shrugged then winced again.  "Seems like the thing to do?"  He woke up suddenly, gasping and choking.  The person overtop of him didn't like that all that much.  Especially when his first instinct was to beat the shit out of them.

"Xander!" Sam shouted.  "Blood hunters!"

Xander growled and let himself go.  The idiots weren't going to be happy chunks.  Sam got free of the one holding him and kicked him around then called the cops.  They got there pretty fast and found Xander ripping at someone's throat with his teeth.  "Harris!" one shouted.

"Don't!" Sam ordered.  "He went feral.  He was meditating when they woke him out of it suddenly."  He moved closer.  "Xander?"  Xander looked up, staring at him, licking at the blood on his lips.  "Eww, don't do that.  C'mon.  Police are here.  Can they finish destroying them?"  He helped Xander up, taking him to the bathroom to clean him up and calm him down.

Xander came out a few minutes later, looking at the littered debris of former people then at the officer.  "Sorry, I was meditating.  I was being lectured by a spirit guide that I should trust people more actually," he said dryly.

"You're one of those new age sorts?" the officer asked.

"Yup.  Have been for years.  Have friends who are Wicca and all that."

"Interesting."  He looked then at him.  "We'll have to close things down for a few hours while we pick up the ...bodies."

Xander pointed at his bed.  "I ache like fuck.  Can I sleep?"

"Can you do it at a hotel?"

"No.  I don't trust anyone here in my apartment, even you guys.  I have some really ancient stuff and some important stuff, like the shaman's spear I got in Africa.  Sorry.  I can be out of the way."

"Fine.  It's probably safer anyway.  You can hang out in the bedroom and only in there."  Xander nodded, letting him check it over before closing himself in there and laying down.  Sam was in the doorway.  "What else do you guys have?"

"Our rifles for the school rifle team.  Some money.  We know you guys won't but the ME's people we don't know or trust yet."

"You shouldn't have to see them, kid."

Sam shrugged.  "Xander only dates dangerous women," he sighed.  "Is this going to be a long thing?"

"Hopefully not.  We do have a crime scene cleanup team."

"Will they do the bathroom?" Sam asked.

"Wish they would.  I'd hire them for my wife, kid."  He smiled.  "Make sure he's fine.  I promise we won't touch stuff."  Sam pointed at something so he looked.  "Is that a grenade?"

"Yeah, he pulled it out when he kicked in the door."  Sam looked at it but Xander came out and taped in the pin then went back to bed.  "Xander's really good with weapons."

"I don't need to know," the officer decided, smiling at Sam, who grinned back.  A detective knocked then walked in.  "Sir, this is one of the residents.  The other is napping off some muscle strain after these ...beings decided to wake him from a meditation.  When I got here, the one in the bedroom had his teeth on someone's neck."  He pointed.  "They got him calmed down and now he's resting."

The detective looked then at the kid.  "You live here, kid?"

"Yes, sir.  Xander rents it.  He's emancipated.  I'm staying with him so I can go to a good high school.  He's in bed if you needed to talk to him."

"He knows not to bite, right?  That blood is dangerous?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then why did he?"

"Because they brought him out of a meditative state and he went feral," Sam said honestly.  "Xander's been attacked before and he's vicious in his own defense.  Him waking that way made sure of it.  I only got that one," he said with a point.

The Detective looked then at him.  "Martial Arts?"

"Yes, sir, and rifle club actually.  Plus I'm on for long distance runs."  He smiled.

"You're awfully calm after an attack."

Sam shrugged.  "Xander's dated a few assassins and things.  It's not the first."  The detective gaped.

The officer coughed.  "The officers in my unit were warned that someone had a death threat on them," he said quietly.  "Due to blood contamination?"  Sam nodded quickly.  "So this really wasn't his first."

"Oh, that's him?"

"No, that's Xander.  I'm just his roomie," Sam said with a shrug.  "Though you guys have arrested two of his last ten dates.  Very nice women who were just a bit deadly.  Then again, I'm also a hunter and so is Xander.  So yeah, that's a mess and I'm hoping the insurance will pay to replace the carpet."  He took pictures of them.  "I know a hacker in the Army, he's the one who warned us about the current threat," he said when they gave him funny looks.

"I'm telling him so he can tell us who they were."  He got back a message from Clay.  "Sorry to interrupt when you're busy," he typed back.  "But they attacked us and Xander killed them."  Clay sent back a note saying Jensen would figure that out later.  Sam sent back a nice 'thank you' and that they were fine.  "My cousin, who is Army, will figure out who they used to be later, Detective.  I'll make sure you guys hear that information if he doesn't tell you directly."

"Sure, that could help.  Do they know terrorists?"

"Classified," Sam said with a grin.

"Ah!"  The officer nodded quickly.  "We've seen some of those, kid.  Sure, let us know."  The detective nodded too.  The ME's people got there to pick up the parts and whole bodies.  The apartment manager showed up.  "Ma'am, this is an active scene," the officer noted.

"What happened, Sam?"

He shrugged.  "They busted in here and tried to take Xander."

"You said he dated evil women," she said dryly.

"No, I think this is more why Tony's extra protective," he admitted.  "But maybe.  I don't know."  He shrugged.  "Cousin Clay is looking up who they were."

"Where is Xander?" she asked.  He pointed in the bedroom.  "Upset?  I'd guess he should be."

"He was in a lot of muscle pain earlier and they woke him up," Sam said.  "Which is never a good idea."

"Oh," she said, nodding quickly.  "I'm guessing that trip to Africa taught him that."  Sam nodded.  "That's fine.  Will they have to vacate for a while, officers?"

"No, ma'am," the detective said.  "Not as far as we can tell."  She nodded and left them alone.

Xander opened the door to look at them. "If so, we'll figure it out."  Sam nodded that was true.  "Do I need to replace the carpet?"

"No, sir, probably not," the officer said.  "The clean up team's pretty good."

"Cool.  Thanks."  He shut the door and went back to bed.   "Ow!"

"You good?" Sam called.

"I'm fine.  The bed is pokey."  Sam rolled his eyes and let it go.

"You two are *real* unique," the detective said.

"No, just him," Sam mouthed.  He glanced at the doorway then at them.  "Need me here or on the porch?"

"Porch," the ME's people ordered.  Sam moved out that way by going outside and walking around to climb over the porch railing.  He opened the door to get some heat but otherwise he could handle this he guessed.  They got the bodies cleaned up and taken to the local morgue.  The detective got a coherent statement from Sam.  Xander was snoring and had been asleep anyway.  They put some extra guards near the compound in case.  They had a talk with the FBI when they heard and showed up.  They had the notes from Clay about who they used to be.  Not the ones after Xander originally.  And not after his blood for the diseases.  Which meant it was a strange problem.


Clay showed up two days later, looking at Sam.  "You have rotten timing."

Sam snorted.  "Like it was my idea to have them bust in?"

"No," he admitted.  "You still have rotten timing.  Where's Xander?"

"Off doing Xander things he wouldn't tell me about," he sighed.  "I wasn't real ... happy after that and Xander was in pain because of something happening on the spirit realm that he wouldn't tell me about so we're fighting."  He sipped his coffee.  "I can make some more."

"I'm good.  I've got to fly back in a bit."  He looked at him.  "You need to fix that shit."

"Winchesters don't really do feelings and touchy-feely talks, Clay."

"I don't care.  Neither do I, but I know how to apologize."  He stared at him.  Sam huffed but nodded, looking down.  "Anyway, they were a blood hunting cult.  Wanted to sacrifice him on some sort of pagan altar, it'd bring back a higher demon," he said dryly.  "The FBI was not amused.  They think they got all of them."

"Probably not.  Black Thorn or otherwise?"

"Probably not but main Wolfram and Hart is more possible.  Jensen's tracking them backward.  How did they die?"


"Is he okay with that?"

"He won't talk to me.  I have no clue."

"Want me to talk to him?"

"That might require finding him," Sam pointed out.  "I haven't since last night.  I think he went clubbing."

"You two should keep better track of each other.  It's not safe."

"He won't let me."

"Why not?" Clay asked.  "You two are pretty tight."

"Because that would require him to fully trust us.  Xander's...  With his past he trusts himself.  He trusts us slightly.  Mostly not to kill him and things.  He trusts us to a certain level but beyond that he's probably not going to trust us.  That's what he and Wolf and Coyote were talking about on the spirit plane before they rudely woke him up."

"You trust your team closer."

"Not always," Sam corrected.

"If you don't, you get dead."

Sam stared at him.  "Hunting isn't exactly a team activity, Clay.  It's most often a solo problem.  We're very much maybe a pair or a trio if we run into each other or that's our thing but Xander hunted with the girls and then alone.  Often.   He's like fucking Wolverine at times but he has most of his memories.  Or maybe Gambit."

"I recognize those names thanks to Jensen," Clay said dryly.  He looked back as the door opened.  "Xander."  He walked over to him.  "They weren't after the bio problems.  They were a sacrificial cult."

"Yay," he said flatly.  "Any other happy news?"

Clay stared at him.  "You want to talk?"

"No."  He shrugged.  "Not the first ones."

"They're the first ones this time and right now your mind and body aren't as used to combat."  Xander shrugged again.  "That's not much of an answer, kid."

"I'm not a kid."

"Well, technically you are for another two years."  He gave him a dirty look so Clay smirked.  "I consider Jensen the same damn way for the same reasons."

"I always bounced."

"Some people do.  It makes them seem younger and less harmful."

Xander shrugged again.  "I'm fine.  Sam's turned into a nagging girlfriend suddenly and I'm still fine."

"I am not," Sam complained.  He walked over.  "Coyote told me."

Xander stared at him then huffed.  "No, this has nothing to do with that.  This has to do with your bad damn joke with the officers."  Sam flinched.  "I'm not whiny, thank you."  He started to walk off but Clay caught him and walked off with him to talk to him.  Xander didn't want a father figure so apparently he had an uncle sort.  Which he eventually unloaded on since he really seemed to want to know.  Because things were *wrong* and in a very bad way.

He didn't know how to fix it and he was tired of the supernatural nagging going on too.  Clay listened and gave him some decent advice, which helped.  It calmed the kid down at least and things were getting better.  Though if Clay ever had a spirit guide, he hoped his didn't nag or offer supposedly wise advice that unsettled you more.  Or maybe he drove his off when he was younger and more wild.  Who knows.


Evan Lorne landed and changed back to human, taking off the necklace to hand back.  He was grinning.  "That's one hell of a trip."

John grinned.  "Yeah, it was when I tried it too."  He put it back into the box.  "Anything beyond the usual?"

"Thermals are screwed up a bit.  I'm guessing we're getting a storm soon."  He shifted.  "Each time I shift I feel more and more connected to it," he said quietly.

"That's the pack trying to form."  John scratched his arm where Rodney had bitten him last night.  Not hard but it had left a good mark.  "They said if I put them on you, it'd make you officially a member of the pack."  Evan nodded.  "And it's a bond.  That's why it felt different when I put it on you and took it off you instead of when you do it to yourself."

"I get that," Evan said with a grin.  "Can I be part of the pack?"

"Yeah, I think you are."

"Can I stay a bird?  I know it's not real tactical all the time but it's damn... it's right, Colonel."

"I know."  John put the rope on Evan's neck.  He had only marked Ronon and Rodney this way.  "I feel the same way when I'm flying."  Evan grinned at him.  "Don't let it get soap scum.  It's a bitch to clean when you can't take it off."

"I'll do my best, sir."  They walked off together to get some coffee and then head to do paperwork.  Woolsey was complaining, again about the testing going on.  Evan gave him a dirty look.  "Are you saying it's not tactically a sound thing to have on our side?" Evan demanded.  "Because I can scout easier now and the wraith don't pay attention to birds."

"Or any animal since they can't feed on them," Ronon agreed.  "I can see many tactical advantages for fights and scouting."  Woolsey huffed and stomped off.

"He reminds me of a few teenage girls I saw at the mall last time I was on earth," Evan said quietly, but John snickered, swatting him on the arm before heading into the office.  Evan followed to do his own paperwork.  Ronon shook his head, going back to sharpening his knives.  They'd have a mission within a week and he needed to be ready for whatever nearly impossible thing happened, which could only happen to them.  He did hope it was a kidnaping by priestesses again.  He needed to get laid.


Sam finally had enough of the plotting, silent Xander and pounced him during martial arts.

"Sam, this isn't that sort of art," the instructor said dryly.

"Having a roommate fight," he called back, getting up and hauling Xander with him.  "What did I do now?"

Xander stared at him.  "What?"

"Xander, you've acted like I'm in the doghouse for the last month," he said bluntly.  "Like I'm the husband and I'm bad at it or something.  Want to talk to me?"

"I have no idea..." he started.

"Fine, we'll do this *my* way," Sam said, taking a swing at him.  It worked with Dean.  Xander and Dean were a lot alike.  And hey, it worked some with Xander, who growled and swung back.  After a good ten minutes of trading hits and blocks, Sam finally pinned Xander down and stared down at him.  "Are you ready to vent now?"

"I still don't know what you're talking about," Xander said, shifting and tossing Sam off him then rolling to his feet.  Sam got to his and they went back to beating at each other.

Jon walked out and sighed.  "Just fuck and get it over with," he complained.  Xander snorted.  Jon got between them, staring at Sam then at Xander.  "I swear to God I'm going to dose you both with E and then let you screw it out of each other.  Whatever is going on, stop it."  He looked at Xander again.  "You, I don't know what he did, but I'm sure he's really sorry now.  Can you please quit treating him like he's infected with Xander-specific fungus?"

"I'm not!"

"You are," Jon assured him.  "Really, you are."  He stared at the guard coming over.  "They're having a bitchy girl fight.  Do you mind?"

"You guys can't fight on school grounds.  It's a rule and you can be expelled for it," the guard said dryly.

Sam kissed Xander, staring at him then glared at the guard.  "Go.  Away."  He backed off and turned, heading off quickly.  He looked at Xander.  "I'm sorry for whatever in the hell I did that pissed you off or made you lose faith in me as a pack member, whatever it was, Xander."

"I do trust you," he complained back.

"Oh, not this again!" Sam complained.  He stared at him.  "While they're all knowing, they don't have to live normal people lives.  I'd never expect full trust from anyone and don't want it."


"If this is about that bad joke, I was trying to calm down the officers, who were a bit freaked out that we weren't."  He stared at him.  "Better?"

Xander glared.  "No."

"Fine, whatever.  I'm about to agree with Jon."

"No, don't touch," he said, backing away, shoving Sam off him.  "I still fucking ache."

"What the hell did you do?" Sam complained.  "It's been a month, Xander.  Whatever happened on the spirit plane shouldn't still be hurting you."  He moved closer again.  "Bruises?  Heated spots?"

"No.  Just...aching."

"Has anything helped?" Jon asked calmly.  "The herbal stuff or anything?"  Xander shook his head.  "Wanna tell us what happened?"

"Ask John, he had to watch it," he sighed.  He walked off.  "I'm going home."

"I'm coming," Sam said, following him.  "Let me drive, Xander.  Would a massage help?  I know it can help when your muscles are knotted."  Xander shook his head.  "You're too sensitive for that?"

"And for sex.  Which really sucks since I saw Sascha sneaking around earlier."

"Maybe that'll help."

"Yeah, maybe, but still, no touching."

"Fine, I can do that.  I know something that I want to try.  See if it helps."  Xander nodded, letting Sam drive.  That was proof positive that Xander didn't feel good and he was pouty about it.  Him not already being on top of Sascha was proof something had to be done.  Jensen had found her number for him so Sam called and chatted while Xander had a shower.   She said she understood about the being sore in the muscles for some reason and she'd expect him to pounce tomorrow.

Sam had laughed and promised he'd be hiding at the mall all day tomorrow if she wanted to sneak in instead.  She said she'd show up sometime and hung up.  Sam hung up and fixed what he needed to.  Xander came out and went straight to the couch.  Sam brought out the herbal tea and a cookie he had made the night before.  Xander gave him a weak smile.  Sam went back to fixing up the stuff for the pain.  Xander got that mug of tea too and made faces at it but oh well.  It hopefully would work.  If not, maybe he'd dabble a bit in the magic books.

Somehow, his father heard because he sent a text message telling him to ignore any and all magical things going on.  Sam sent one back to see if it was happening here or if it was something he needed to know about.  John didn't send back a response.  "Great," he muttered.  He found the book he wanted and sat down next to Xander.  Who stared then at him.  Sam smiled back.  "Healing spells?"

"You don't do magic."

"I can do minor, ritually magic that anyone can do."

"I'm not sure it'd work.  It was some sort of ancient beam by a statue to Hecate."

Sam got up to get a different book because that sounded familiar.  He read that section then handed it over.  "You survived, she approves."

"Then I shouldn't ache."

"That one ached for over a year."  Xander grimaced.  "But he did find a way to help with it."  Sam took the tea to add to it and handed it back.  Xander drank it and let Sam do whatever he felt he had to.  There was no way things could keep going on this way.  Though, Sam had no idea how Xander had managed martial arts practice aching like this.

He silently hoped he'd never turn into Xander.

Because that would mean he was out of every bit of luck and family he had.

He went to hug him again.  Xander needed more cuddles to feel better.


Xander went to see their mentor and sighed as he was let in and sat down.  "First, the headache powder Sam told you about," he said, handing over a packet.  "I usually pour half a packet into something and drink it right after the vision.  It keeps my stomach from revenge for the sudden onset headache."  Mr. Tailfeather looked at it and put it aside.  "Second, what if I run into Old Ones and their method of approval hurt like shit?" he asked quietly.  "It's been over a month."

"Where did you do that?"

"Someone, and all the spirit guides pushed me that way, told me to go help a pack member who isn't really around here."

"You ran into an Old One there?"

"Something of hers.  A beam to be exact."  He handed over the journal entry.  It didn't have anything on what John did.  Mr. Tailfeather scowled at him.  "It was important to do and *all* the spirit guides I ran into said to go help him."

"Oh, dear."  He sighed, rereading it.  "You've been sore?"

"Like muscle level sore without bruising, yeah.  Sam found a few accounts of the same thing and some of them were sore for up to a year.  Unfortunately I need to be in a battle in three months."  He sighed.  "I'm barely making it through a class day, Mr. Tailfeather.  Any touch hurts like hell."

"I understand that sort of pain.  I got hit by a truck when I was younger."

"This is worse than broken ribs pain.  This is there's little ice shards inside each fiber of muscle and whenever it's moved or pressed on they press back.  We've tried the headache tea powder in tea form, which does make it stronger.  We've tried everything we can think of."

"Can you beg her?"

Xander shook his head.  "I'm not really one of hers.  I have a tiny gift but that's about it."

"That's reasonable I suppose."  He looked things over and sighed.  "Have you tried to sweat it out?"

"I went to a sauna but a half hour didn't seem to do much good and they wouldn't let me stay in any longer.  The pool afterward I nearly screamed about."  He let out a bitter snort.  "I can't lean on Sam during movies.  Someone tried to tell me if I hadn't fought I wouldn't be in such pain, but I'd be dead so they're kinda right I guess."

The older man looked at him.  "Let's go to the sweat lodge, Xander."  Xander nodded, heading that way taking off his shirt.  "You two never have the simple problems."

"Nope," Xander sighed, looking at him.  "There's days I'd really like that to be true but it's apparently not for us to have simple lives that make one content."

"No, probably not.  True warriors don't.  Which makes it odd that you're so split."

"I have to be.  They like me a lot."  Mr. Tailfeather smirked, helping him get things set up.  Xander settled in wearing only his boxer shorts and let the meditation and sweating begin.  Though he did not seek any of the spirit guides.

Mr. Tailfeather went to find one on his own trip.  He found Rabbit, who was waiting.  "He must learn to bend to the will of those who know better sometimes," he was told.

"Perhaps but then he'd be dead.  Or did he read that wrong?"

"Poseidon touching him would not."

"After him was Hecate's beam thing."

"Oh."  Rabbit looked around then wiggled her nose.  "I do not know, Elder.  I will ask."  She looked behind her as something trotted out of a shadow.  "That is not Coyote yet is."

The elder shaman nodded politely.  "Coyote.  Xander has said that you and he talk much."

"I do, Elder."  He changed into a not-Xander.  "I adore Xander.  He is truly one of mine."

"He's still in pain and worries about a battle."

"As he should."

"Can we cure the pain?"

"You're doing good.  She did not like the taints in him.  There is nothing that will remove both of those so she'll relent when the battle tears down one of hers."  He stared at him.  "Tell Xander that Tara will be there."

He looked toward the sweat lodge then back at him.  "He's in there."

"I can feel.  He is very centered.  Very grounded."  He winced.  "Not really happy but I expect that with the amount of anger that one carries at times.  Him swearing at her won't help him any, but I suppose she's amused."  He smirked.  "It will ease."

"He'll die in that battle," Rabbit said.

Not-Coyote looked down.  "No he won't.  Other higher ups have a plan."

Xander appeared with a sigh.  "First, Loki, no, they can't.  I'm not going to be used by any higher up.  Ya'all fucked up my life too many times," he said bluntly, making the chaos god laugh.  "Secondly, no, they don't.  The vision said that it's been stopped.  I also talked to Hecate about her priestess who was going to die if I can't protect her.  She said I'd handle it.  When I pointed out I could barely move she said it would make me stronger.  So I showed her why I was strong and she's now sobbing over what her chosen *there* did."

"You're still sore," Rabbit pointed out.

Xander smiled at her.  "I know.  That's leached to the hellmouth taint, which I can't fully get rid of.  So I'll leach out what I can and then deal with it."  He looked at Loki again.  "If they come I'll pretend to be Dawn."  Loki gaped.  Xander stared back.  "That was her reason for attaching to the hellmouth taint.  Aren't you glad I generally like you?"

"Quite," he admitted.  He looked at the confused older man.  "Where Xander grew up, there was a rift.  An open spot between universes and dimensions."  Xander nodded.  "It attracted evil."

"Which is why I never get anything but bad girls," Xander told him.  "I know very well that I'm tainted by it but I do tend to push down on that because it'd be a bad thing if I lost it and let it go.  The same as any training I have is."

"That is a higher skill," he admitted.

Xander nodded.  "I learned that one first and then had to learn the simple things.  Otherwise I'd have been a snack."  He looked at Loki.  "I can't fight in the battle this way.  She knows that.  She also knows that she might want to get Tara out of the way."

"True."  He stared at him then smirked.  "Is that a plea for help?"

Xander snorted.  "I don't beg.  I've been broken and I don't beg, Loki."

"I did not see that incident."  He touched Xander's hair and winced.  "Damn it!" he shouted.  Rabbit jumped.  "Not you.  There's a higher up who meddled and created this mess."

Xander nodded.  "There's been a few," he said dryly.  "Right, Cordelia?"  She faded in and nodded.  "Got any advice?  And can you maybe go prompt Tara to hide?"

"I can drive a really mean clue bus," she said happily.  "Including tooting at you because you're a passenger."

Xander shrugged and winced.  "I can't weed out all the hellmouth taint, Cordy."

"No, no one could.  You're lessening it, which we appreciate.  When they weeded out that anemia problem, it got stronger and no one realized."  Xander nodded he had realized that.  "Also, the pack still can't have a non-head."

"First, they're not here all the time.  Second, I am the pack alpha."  She snorted.  He glared.  "I can walk through you and suck you in," he offered.  She blanched, backing away shaking her head.  "You sure?"

"Yup, very sure."  She smirked.  "Your pack isn't tight, Xander.  What made them so tight last time?"

He shrugged.  "The battle in Alvarez, Mexico?"

"And afterward."

Xander actually blushed.  "That was stress relief."

"Still helped."

"Hey, go drive the clue bus past the others," he said dryly.  He shrugged and winced.  He took a deep breath, feeling Loki and Rabbit touching him.  "I'll handle it."

"Sometimes, you're too stubborn," she said.  "If you *ask* she might help."

"I did ask.  She said I could do it anyway.  I'd learn."

She looked up then at him.  "She's not the only one."

"Which a, leaves me in debt to them.  And b, that'll mean that something horrible will happen and they'll want me to do something I wouldn't normally."

"Well, yeah."  She sighed.  "The Goddess seriously wants you to have kids."

"I'm still infertile due to the taint."

The female Higher Up appeared, staring at him.  "How can you be infertile?"

"I got tainted with mermaid essence."  She scowled and read him then walked off muttering.  "I seem to make a lot of you do that," Xander said dryly.  "Got any words of wisdom over the pain thing?  Before something bad happens?  Like Tara dies?"

She looked at him.  "You will protect my chosen."

"Of course.  I loved Tara like a sister," he said bluntly.  "I'd never want to see her hurt."

She nodded and smiled.  "The pain will ease as you sweat out some of the hellmouth taint, Xander.  It will get better."

"It's been 2 months."

"It will get better," she said more firmly.  He walked over and laid a hand on her wrist, making her wince.  "I'll do what I can.  Drink some water?"

"I will."

"Thank you."  She looked at Loki.  "I hate working on the same side as you."  She disappeared.

Xander shrugged at his former buddy.  "I do make odd companions now and then."  Loki swatted him.  "Ow!  Shit!"  He rubbed that spot and moaned.

Loki smirked.  "I could make it more difficult."

Xander looked at him.  "How?"

"The others are all picking up their own skills."

"I noticed I'm stagnating like a pond at high school," he said dryly.  "No one wants to teach me."

"So change from a weyr to GI Joe," he said dryly.

"If we're GI Joe of the supernatural world, then who's Destro?"

"You know, I'm not totally sure.  Let me get back to you on that."  He shook his head as he disappeared.

Rabbit giggled.  "It is not often someone makes him that way," she said.  Then she disappeared.

Xander blinked at Mr. Tailfeather handed him some water a few minutes later.  "Sorry to drag you into that soap opera," he said quietly, taking it to drink.

"All higher ups love drama.  That's why they created teenagers, Xander."  Xander snickered, nodding.  "Maybe that will help you pick up better girls?"

"Why?  Bad girls have more fun sex."  He took a drink, letting the older man walk off snickering.   Xander drank it all and the other two bottles.  He really needed to sweat.  And consider the talents of his pack.  He seriously needed to learn things they weren't telling him because he was *normal* again.  The real Coyote didn't like that plan but Wolf said it was wise to learn new skills.  Suggested he spend some time learning by merging with the animal spirits around him.  He could do that lightly and not harm either of them.  Xander concentrated on that while his taint sweated out.  The pain was easing slightly.


Miko walked up to John holding her head, and swatted him as hard as she could on the arm.

"Ow," he complained, rubbing it.  "What was that for?  And did you have another one?"

She stared at him.  "Why do you think him normal as well?  You're not a fashionable blonde girl."  He gaped then walked off muttering.  She sighed, and the headache eased now that she had passed on that message from the badly dressed Irish demon in the hat.  He had apparently stolen it from the original owner and it was now a reward.


Sam looked at his email when the message saying he had one popped up.  It was from John so he scanned it.  It was him swearing at Xander so he marked it as unread and put his phone back in his pocket.  Jon looked over at him.  "John said hi."

"I take it that wasn't a happy email?" he guessed.

"No.  John just realized that he was turning into a girl."  Jon snickered.  "Anyway, Xander's still sweating probably."  He sipped his milk.  It was all he could eat of lunch and he hadn't packed one.  There was *nothing* he could eat today.  "I'm hoping he'll be done in time to travel with us."

"As long as he gets there before the competition," Jon said quietly.

"I know and so does he."

Jorge sat down, glaring at him.  "Where is he?"

"A sweat lodge and he knows.  I know he knows."

"He'd better be on the plane."

"He can travel...."

"No, he can't.  It's against school rules."  Sam called out there.  Xander only had two hours.  "Is everything packed?"

"Yeah, I packed for him," he said dryly.  "Jon's going to stay at our place while we're gone since he didn't qualify for it this year."

"Fine.  However you three work that out is fine with me."  He looked at Sam's plate.  "Nerves?"

"Disgusting," Sam countered.  "I wouldn't eat that if I was fucking starving."  Jon snorted but nodded, still eating.  "You may have been able to MRE's but I can't.  Not that bad of one."  He belched and got more milk, coming back.  "Anyway, are we the only school in this state going?"

"One of the military academies is sending a few individual," Jorge said with a grin.  "Try to eat something?"

"I'll buy in the airport if I have to.  Even at their prices."

"Fine.  Whatever."  He tried a bite and tossed down his fork.  "I say we tempt the driver into going through Mickey D's," he decided.  He went to check the team's gear.  There was a rifle missing but Xander had that at home.  He went to tell Sam that.  Who had to sneak off to get it and their bags.  Jorge shook his head but went to his next class.  Sam handed it over between classes and a sandwich, getting a smile.  "Harris?"

"Haven't heard back," Sam sighed.  He went to his class and it was boring so he dropped into a meditative state.  He found Xander on the spirit plane and poked him.  "School rules say you have to travel with us and we're going in an hour."

"Shit," Xander muttered, dropping himself out and getting up.  He drank the bottles of water on his way to the living room.  "Have to go with the school, not later," he said.  He hugged the older man.  "Thank you."  He looked at the person pissing him off.  "What?  He's teaching me what I didn't learn in Africa."  He stared at him.  The man backed up.  "Mother fucker, I'd leave my teacher alone if he said to.  I am not the bitch to fuck with."  He let the hyena come forward and the idiot ran.  He put her back and smiled at him.  "I'll be back in a few days if you need me to beat the fuck outta them."

"I can probably make him go away that long."  Xander grinned and grabbed his clothes to put on and head out.  "Take a shower," he called after him.

"I can't.  I have to meet them at the airport in an hour."

"You'll never make it," he muttered.  He cleaned up the small mess.  The boys really were nice to teach and highly over protective.  He went to talk to his step-brother now that Xander had made him quit being an idiot.  "He'd probably apologize if he knew."

"You're teaching two white boys?" he demanded.

"That one learned in Africa but he wasn't there long enough to finish his studies.  The other has the touch.  It's my duty to train those with the touch, even if they aren't the traditional sort."

One of the elderly women looked over with a smile.  "They are very polite, nice young boys.  That one that just zipped off will have problems though."

"He has to leave for a school rifle team match out of state."  She cackled.  "He's about split but working on it.  The other is a very good student.  He tries a bit too hard but he's fine."

"Good.  It's nice when the old ways filter out."

"In Sam they stuck.  In Xander they got incorporated because he knows *all* the Old Ones are real."  He smiled.  "They're still decent enough boys."  He looked at his step-brother.  "Are you done freaking out?"

"He glowed."

"I know.  He was possessed by a primal spirit."  His step-brother moaned, shaking his head.  "Exactly.  Which is why I'm guiding the rest of his training."  He walked off.  "I'll make some tea."

"Thank you."  He followed.  The ones who had told him this news would be upset.  He couldn't talk his brother out of this teaching and the two students, if they were truly gifted, needed to be taught.  It was the way they lived.


Sam spotted Xander, handing him the soda he had been sipping at.  "Hi."

"Hi."  He looked at Jorge.  "I was going to show up later."

"School rules, kid.  If you had we wouldn't be able to let you shoot."

"Damn."  He gulped the soda and tossed out the bottle.  "Thanks, Sam."

"Lunch was beyond disgusting.  Get some water too."  Xander nodded, going to the nearest restaurant to do that.  He grinned at his teammates, who were all snickering.  "He was in a sweat lodge."

"The same sickness as earlier this year?" Jorge asked.

"Similar reason but it's causing him a lot of muscle pain."

"I noticed he couldn't be touched without flinching," their female member said.  Xander was walking back and nodded.  "Are you better?"

"Slightly.  I'm slowly getting rid of the stuff that did it."

"Was it the people who busted in?" Jorge asked.  "That rumor went rabid around the school."

"Should've seen the mess," Sam snorted.  Xander bopped him on the arm.  "It was."

"It was.  Thankfully I nicely replaced the ugly carpet for them."  He sat down to eat and wait on the plane to start boarding.  The others got comfortable too.  "Our gear?"

"Locked in a special case," Jorge promised.  "Sam's got your bag."  Xander took it with a grin.  "Yours since you've got that threat?"

Xander grinned.  "Shipped?"  He ate a bite.  He saw Agent Fielders stomping his way and looked over.  "Problems, Uncle Bob?"  He ate another bite.

He stared at him.  "You're going to DC."

"Tony's on a ship," he said dryly.


"I'm going to be surrounded by the team.  Sam and I can handle most everything."

"Who there knows?"

"Tony's people.  Abby.  I have her number."

"Even better.  I want you to lay low.  Win the sucker because our state hasn't won in years, but lay very low."  Xander nodded.  "No handling something unless it directly attacks you."  He looked him over.  "Why didn't they catch that?"  Xander shifted away.  "How did I catch that?"

"Help," Sam said, plucking the thing out of his pocket and handing it over.

"I forgot I carry that thing.  Pack them."  Xander subtly took off his overshirt and packed all but his ankle holster.  That he couldn't get off too subtly.  "Thank you."  He patted him on the head.  "Behave."  He spotted one of the security guards and went to distract him.  He hadn't seen the weapons.  He was paying attention to the group of kids traveling alone.  He assured them they were the school rifle team going to the national competition, not a cult.  The guards relaxed and let them board.  The airlines didn't need to know about magic that could block scans and at higher levels, pat downs.


to part 7

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