Choking on the New Toys
Xander had just enough time to look up from his book before the heavy instrument hit him in the head. Then he blacked out, leaving his book on the beach, along with his phone, his gun, and everything else. Later, he would be sure that others found them and he would miss them until he saw them again.
David answered the phone, surly this morning for the most usual reason - Dawn wasn't his yet. "Yeah, what?" he demanded. He burst out in giggles. "You're joking," he said blandly. "No you don't, he was just here. I'd know if you had Lavelle hostage. Get a life, dude, before life gets you. Lavelle will not find this funny and he'll cap you quick." He hung up and walked away, shaking his head. He ran into Goemon first since he was coming in from a practice, and punched him on the arm. "I can't believe someone just tried that prank. Does Lupin know any guys with whiny voices who like to pick on him?"
"What are you talking about?" Fujiko asked as she walked in, wiping her face off. "What prank?" Whiny guys they ran into by the ton. It could be nearly anyone.
David smirked at her. "Someone just called and said they kidnaped Xander." He snorted. "Like they'd get the chance!" He walked off, going to share this prank. It was one that would drive the adults ragged until Xander came back from the beach.
"Lupin!" Fujiko yelled, taking off running for the workroom. He came out, catching her before she ran into the wall. "David just told us he answered a ransom demand for Xander from a whiny person. He thought it was a prank."
Lupin groaned. "Of course he did. He has faith that Xander is unstoppable." He led the way back to the study, ringing a bell to bring the housekeeper. "Get Jigen, now," he demanded. "Tell him we've got problems." She nodded and hurried off. Lupin sat behind his desk, turning on his monitor. The computer recorded all incoming and outgoing calls. He had lost a housekeeper he really liked to her desire for the reward for their heads. "Here it is," he announced. "Unknown number, probably a cellphone. Lasted two minutes." Jigen stormed in, slamming the door behind him. Dawn opened it and hit him then moved closer. "David will not be allowed to answer the phone again," he told them. "He thought the guy on this message was kidding." He started it, then blushed and turned that one off. "Not that one, sorry, mouse slipped." He moved to the right one, not the booty call he had made a few hours before that. They listened to the whiny guy's voice, most of them glaring, none worse than Dawn.
"Where is he, how can I kill him, and how much damage is allowed on this sort of thing?" she demanded. Her arms crossed over her incredibly tiny bikini top and her glare was enough to make the person walking through the door run. "I'm not mad at you, Marc, but David is toast later!" she called after him
Lupin leaned back. "We have to wait for another call. It was a local, toss-away cellphone most likely. We can triangulate from the signals if we're really lucky. If not, then we'll start hunting for him."
"I'll go to the beach," Jigen offered. Lupin nodded so he left. He grabbed David on the way, dragging him with him. "Most people do not believe that ransom calls are jokes," he pointed out as he drug the younger man along. "In the future, do the same." He let him go before getting into the jeep and driving off.
David rubbed the back of his neck. "Ow. How was I supposed to know?" He went back inside and had to hide behind Fujiko when everyone else came out of the office. "I'm sorry, I thought it was a Xander prank," he defended.
"Come out here and let me kick your ass," Dawn shouted, struggling in the arms holding her. "Let me go!" She kicked backwards, making Lupin grunt in pain as her heel met his knee. "I'm going to kill him. We can find someone else to take his fucking place!"
"Calm down!" Goemon shouted. "Getting upset will not solve this. Yes, he was in error, he will be feeling horrible soon enough, especially if something happens to Xander. You harming him will not make it any better or worse."
"Bet me," she snorted. "I'll make him feel worse!" He grabbed her chin, glaring down into her eyes and she shrank back. "Fine, then you kick his ass for me!" She stormed off. She knew where her clothes were, basically, and she needed to find a more appropriate outfit to go rescuing in. A string bikini and a wrap was not suitable unless she was out to be the diversion.
Goemon looked at David. "Real men do not hide behind women. You will go outside and wait on me." David nodded, looking pitiful as he trudged outside.
"Don't kill him, we might need him," Lupin told him, heading to gather weapons and to change clothes. He was only wearing shorts, he needed to be better dressed. He couldn't put on his holster on this outfit. He met Dawn in his closet, giving her a shrug. "Fine, you can have your clothes back, but they're being hidden better as soon as he's back."
"Fine." She pulled the top over her braless chest, tucking it into the denim shorts. "Whatever. As long as he comes back and is healthy and all that good shit. Otherwise I'm going to get to kick David's ass and then some." She took her sneakers with her so he could change too, heading down to sit on the bottom stair until someone gave her a target. She heard the phone ringing and went running for it, grabbing it before anyone else could. "Who are you and do you have him?" she demanded. She took a deep breath. "Sorry, no, we're waiting on something else. Give me a minute." She switched the lines, putting it up to Lupin's bedroom. His informants were good, maybe they could help this time. She waited there, grabbing the phone when it rang again. "Yes?" she demanded. "No, I'm not him, he's presently suffering. Who are you, what do you want, and is he all right? What?" She fumed and pushed the intercom. "He wants someone more calm to take the call," she announced.
Goemon came in to take it from her, putting it onto the speaker. "What is it you want?" he demanded.
"Who are you?" the whiny voice asked.
"If you have to ask, you have not done your homework."
"If you guys keep insulting me, you'll never get him back in one piece." Dawn growled and he coughed. "You should collar that dog, it sounds mean. I'd hate to have to shoot it when we meet to exchange precious bundles."
Lupin walked in. "What do you want and where?" he demanded.
"Ah, a familiar voice."
"Not really. You are?" he said impatiently.
"I am the man who has your student. He is quite pretty with his pale silver hair and translucent skin. His tan needs more work, but it is so suitable to him." He purred into the phone. "What do I want? I want the sacred jade monkey statue. If I get it, you get him. If I don't get it, I keep him and use him as my toy." Something muffled began to sound off. "Shh, precious. I'd never hurt you. I'd only protect you. Wouldn't you like that?"
Dawn snorted. "Fuck little you know," she said bitterly. "Where is this thing?"
The whiny voice laughed. "Don't worry, it's nearby. As are we. Of course, if I see you without it, I'll have to be...mean to the poor thing. He really doesn't deserve it, but I need that statue and you need him. Oh, yes, I forgot. I do know how and what he is and what was done to him basically. I am more than familiar with the legend of Mr. Harris and his consort. I have no intention of doing something similar unless you force me to. He is not really my sort you know." The phone hung up.
"If he knows," Goemon started.
"That means he's got mystical powers of some sort," Dawn finished. "Or he's a magic user. Either that or he's simply demonic and like most demons likes Xander." Lupin looked at her. "Thinking out loud," she told him. "Does anyone know what that statue is?"
"Probably some heathen idol," Goemon pointed out. "We can look it up in the database."
Dawn nodded. "Speaking of, I'm supposed to be checking for emails today from the ICPO people. I'll do that to keep calm while you guys find this thing, or Xander. I'm already calling second shot. I'll let Jigen have the first one." She stomped out, running into the other man in the hallway. "He called again." Jigen looked at her. "He has Xander, wants some funky jade monkey statue, threatened to hurt Xander but said he won't because he knows the legend of what he went through. I'm going to surf the ICPO stuff. Lupin's in the office with Goemon, and I'm still pissed."
Jigen gave her a pat on the arm. "Me too, kid. We'll get him back."
"We'd better, I've already called second shot. You get the first." She continued to stomp all the way up to her room and her laptop. There was a case waiting on them. It would give her something to do. An interesting assassin with an interesting mode of operation.
Jigen walked into the study, putting the items in the bag on the desk. "He was reading on the beach."
"That is what he said he was going to be doing," Goemon pointed out. "Did she tell you?" Jigen nodded. "He will be fine. He was protesting in the background."
"Good. I'll expect him to leave me a little piece to hurt when we find him."
Lupin looked at the items. "Everything's here. Including the transmitter." He looked at the other two. "Find Fujiko, have her start looking up this statue and the related people. I want to know now what we're dealing with." They nodded. "Goemon, leave David living for now. You can torture him later. We might need his skills. Work with Dawn if you have to, or Marcus. Jigen, I want you in here with the phone the whole time. I'm going to be digging on the 'net for this thing." They nodded, going to their assigned spots. Lupin checked on Dawn. "Anything good?"
"They want us to profile some strange assassin who uses a hairpin."
"I know him."
"Her?" He came in and looked at the case file. "Huh. She sure looked like a him. She's mostly harmless. Is for hire against bad husbands and parents. Won't hurt kids. Likes to be paid in gold bullion, and is annoying to be around. There's an assassin's convention next month, she's running the registration." He gave her a pat. "Keep Goemon calm, all right?" She looked up at him and nodded. "We'll find him. The guy won't hurt Xander because he knows it won't get him what he wants. All that will get him is dead."
"So he'll get dead after we get Xander back instead. I can move with that plan," she agreed, smirking at him. "Need my help?"
"No, work on that. I don't feel like running into her again." He left her alone, going to work in his room. Jigen would call him down when the idiot called again.
"You fuckwit," Xander said snidely. "You're going to die horribly for this. I will make *sure* you die horribly for this. Not only will you die horribly, I'll make sure that you're torn into little tiny, fucking pieces and *eaten* then regurged and eaten again!"
The kidnaper sighed. "That's not very nice language."
"Fucking yay! What the hell did you expect from me? Me to be Mary Fucking Sunshine! You *kidnaped* me! I'm on fucking vacation! Things like this aren't supposed to happen on vacation!"
"Stop it or else," he warned mildly, smirking at the boy. "I can gag you again."
"If you do, I can't breathe, and if I can't breathe, you die a more horrible death sooner," Xander vowed. At the very least Dawn would avenge him and make this person pay. Jigen would probably help and so would Lupin but he doubted they'd be able to hold back Dawn.
The man sighed and shook his head. "You leave me no option. I'll have to discomfit you." He walked over a narrow shelf in the cave. "Do not even think about trying to call anything here to help you. This cave is a holy place, it cannot be defiled by anything evil. Even the marks on you are neutralized here because of the nature of the spells and goings- on in here." He opened the wooden box on the shelf and pulled out a six-strand choker of diamonds with one ruby in the center front taking all the space over the adam's apple but the top and bottom rows. He gently bowed to it then brought it over. "I consider you unworthy to wear this but it will definitely make you shut up!" He hitched it around the bound man's neck, then stepped back as the magical aura encompassed him. "As you can tell, this one will change you. You will now suit my vision of what you should be," he said with a devilish smirk. "I can promise that I will not defile you until and unless I am thwarted so I would suggest you stop protesting, tell your friends to cooperate, and leave me alone while I think."
Xander, now female, with red hair, growled. "I will kill you for this!" he, she, shouted. "You are a dead man!" She struggled against the leather cords binding her, but they were only getting tighter. "I will see you eviscerated for this! Holy cave or not, I will defile it with your blood!"
"Now, now," he said gently, still smirking, "if you react in such a manner, I can change you further." He leaned down. "Also, remember this. Only I or an heir can open that choker. And I have no heirs. It is in your best interest to keep me alive."
"I can have someone make a clone of you," Xander snarled, snapping at the man's face. He withdrew before Xander could take off the tip of his nose. "I will kill you," he vowed, his eyes narrowing. "You will die in a horrible fucking manner and I will laugh and piss on your broken, abused, mutilated, and grimy body."
"If you say so, dear. Remember, you are mine to control now."
Xander snorted. "Bet me. No one controls me."
"We'll see," he said, heading to the outer chamber, where he had set up a small office area. He sat down to see if the trail he had laid had been picked up yet. Someone was on his site, the counter had changed.
In the back room, Xander prayed to any listening deity. This was bad. It was very, very bad.
Jigen answered the phone. "Yeah?" He grimaced, pushing the intercom button. "It's the idiot." He put the phone on speaker. "I want proof that he's alive."
"Fine." The whiny voice was joined by a higher one. "Say something."
"Jigen, man, he's doing strange psychological shit to me," Xander's higher pitched voice said angrily. "I'm going to kill him as soon as the fucker unties me."
Lupin walked in, slamming the door against the wall. "Xander?"
"Boss, help. He's got this thing that...." His voice cut off.
"As you can hear," the whiny voice returned, "he is presently fine. He will stay fine. I am making sure he will stay fine. He is unharmed, no matter what he thinks." Xander screeched something in the background. "Though my patience is running out for Mr. Harris. Do you have my statue yet?"
"We only just figured out what it was," Lupin told him. "We need at least a day or two to get it. It's on the other side of the island."
"That's fine. I can promise his safety for three more days, gentlemen."
Dawn walked in and growled. "Yo, idiot. I can't bring stuff across the realmal barriers. It'll cause an explosion or for the realms to stick. Instant trouble. Is there actually one on this plane of existence?"
"Huh?" Jigen asked, giving her a look.
Dawn crossed her arms, staring him down. "The statue he wants was supposedly taken form the local natives and broken in front of them in *this* version of reality. In others, it still exists. While I can go look at it, if I bring it back here one of two things will happen. We'll have a giant sucking explosion that'll make what happened to Sunnydale look like a firecracker or we'll have a point where the two realities stick together and meld. Which means that everyone from both planes will be here. Two or more of each of us, looking at each other, and trying to figure this stuff out."
"Or more?" Lupin asked.
"If I have to go past one alternate universe, then the intervening ones could join into the bubblegum and hair mess. We could have six or seven of us all in the same place, looking at each other, and then going slightly insane. The human mind wasn't meant to look at itself as an alternate being with a different history." She looked at the phone again. "Well?"
"I'm assured it does exist in this time frame, Miss Summers. After all, they still make statues of it. They sell them at those nauseating little tourist traps in some of the villages. So it should still exist."
"And if it doesn't?" she demanded.
"Then I'll be calling back in about six hours. You should be able to feel it magically. It is a holy relic. I can feel one on this island so you should be able to as well."
She snorted. "My gifts don't run that way, buddy. My gifts are much different than yours."
"Then do a spell of seeking and find it," he said patiently. "Otherwise the man who is like your big brother will never again appear to help you." Xander screamed something again. "Oh, shut up," he said angrily. "They don't need to know that yet!" He hung up.
"Dawn," Lupin said impatiently.
"I can't risk the lives of everyone on the fucking planet," she pointed out. "No matter how much I'd like to, I can't. I'd die before I could do that. It's a self-negating switch built into my powers."
"We do not taunt the kidnaper," Jigen told her. "It pisses them off and they hurt Xander."
She blew a piece of hair off her face. "He's fine. I've got a line into him. That's what I've been doing. Fujiko thinks it was destroyed too." Lupin groaned. "Xander's fine, but something is off. I can't tell what," she admitted. "He's still healthy and all that good stuff. Otherwise, he's somewhere on the other side of the island. I won't know an exact location until I can get closer."
Lupin nodded. "Thank you. How close?"
"It's like a guided map. The closer you get to the target, the more detailed it gets. There's something blocking it. Something powerful. Something holy. So we're looking for a shrine, a temple, a something that has power built into the essence of it and was used for something quiet, meditative, and calm."
"There are many shrines," Goemon said from the doorway. "Also a few mystical caves, a Buddhist temple somewhere nearby, and a native shrine to that Monkey God." He walked in, handing over the papers. "That statue does exist, but it is heavily guarded. It is far in the mountains at such a shrine and under constant surveillance."
"Can it be duplicated?" Dawn asked.
Jigen stood up. "Isn't that risky?"
She looked back at him. "That depends on how good he is and what he wants it for. If I can get one of those knock-offs, then charge it by duplicating the signature of the power in the original, then it might work."
"And if not?"
"We'll be facing the asshole as we hand it over?" she suggested.
Jigen nodded. "Maybe. He could do a drop and then pick it up later."
"Yes, but we can be finding Xander by then," she reminded him.
"Can the rest of us use that location?"
"Marcus can. I can teach him."
"Good. Get him up to speed. Then go get the idol. I want you doing something physical right now. If you think you can duplicate it perfectly, then we'll try it and say it was a test." She nodded, heading out to find Marcus. He groaned. "I'm having a moment when I'm thinking bad thoughts."
"It's all right, boss. They're not always like this. Xander inspired this loyalty." He gave him a pat to the back. "Trust me, if it was anyone else, they'd still be coldly logical."
Lupin nodded. "I know. I even understand that, but they're infecting the rest of us."
"I would not have put it past Jigen to have gone off to find the boy even before we rejoined," Goemon pointed out. "He was his apprentice first."
"I can still shoot you," Jigen reminded him.
"Enough," Lupin said tiredly. "We will not fight. That's what this asswipe wants." He looked at his best friends. "We'll get him back. We'll make him pay. We'll fix Xander and make him a happy person again. After that, we'll go back to the house in France and recover from our vacation." They nodded. "Are we going to have more emotional outbursts?"
"Want something to throw?" Jigen asked him.
"Desperately, but I'm not giving in," Lupin said firmly, going to check with Fujiko. Dawn was yelling about needing a map.
Xander looked up, it had been three days. The idiot was still smirking at him. He had changed him each morning to a different woman. He was tired of this. He was going to snap. He was going to do something desperate. His hands could touch each other. He could reach the summoning tattoo. He didn't want to use it but wouldn't that sort of fucking be better than a mental one? He looked at the idiot as he brought in some food, turning his head away from the proffered fork. "No."
"You must eat, if only to keep your strength up for when I let you escape," he said patiently.
"I'm allergic to that," Xander said snidely. "I don't feel like dying because I can't breathe today."
The man frowned. "You have food allergies?" Xander nodded, giving him a disgusted look. "Since when?"
"Since always! Goemon was right, you didn't do much homework, did you? I probably did more homework while I was in school than you've done on this case and that's saying something."
The kidnaper frowned and ate the stew himself. "Fine, I'll eat it. I'll make you something later. Just beans?" Xander nodded. "Fine. I'll not feed you soy either, just in case." He picked up the phone. "Shall we call the most amusing people? Miss Summers really does growl quite nicely."
"Sure, go for it," Xander said, struggling against the hand that was trying to undo the necklace and rehitch it to change him again. "No!" The phone was knocked onto the floor and he heard a voice answer. "No, get away from me! I don't care if this is some holy cave, you're fucking perverting it by doing this to me! I'll have your nuts for this!"
The man tisked, shaking his head. "Such naughty language from such a young lady's mouth," he said, frowning at him. He put down the plate and managed to get the necklace hitched again. "There, I believe they'll like that version of what I've done to you better."
"Take the fucking necklace off me!" Xander demanded. "I don't want to look like this! I'll fucking tip over in a strong wind!"
"Yay. Lupin will admire it and he'll be too busy staring to stop me from escaping." He picked up the phone and listened. "Ah, naughty boy," he said with a smirk. "I'll punish you for that if they're late." Xander spit at him. "Since you've heard, yes, I've done some minor modifications of the boy." He reached over and gagged him when he opened his mouth to start yelling again. "Yes, he's fine. Where is Miss Summers?"
Lupin grimaced. "She's on her way back. She's got the statue. Where do we meet?"
"How about here? That way I don't have to pack and drive. I can't really lift the poor dear all that well."
Lupin looked around the office, noticing he was alone. Everyone else was taking a long nap in preparation for the assault. "Which mystical cave?" The door opened and Jigen walked in, waving the statue. "We've got it. Where and when?" He took down directions, nodding at each step. "Fine. Have him there waiting on us. Or else." He hung up and turned around. "Shut the door." Jigen shut the door, locking it and leaning against it; he knew that look and it had just went to hell. "The man has something that has somehow changed Xander's form." Jigen's mouth started to open. "I don't know, he was shouting something about tipping over in a good wind. Apparently that's the way he'll be escaping, while I'm staring at his new chest."
"I'd stare too if the boy ended up with tits," Jigen noted. He put the statue down before he threw it. "How?"
"I don't know. Dawn!" Lupin shouted. She walked in, through the door and Jigen. "Cute trick," he said dryly. "What things could change someone's sex?"
Dawn sat down, considering it. "A few very major chaos spells. Six or seven artifacts. One chastity belt that's been blessed for a male concubine to hide him. Oh, and there's something that can make you hallucinate that you've changed sex. I heard about it in some club in New York a few years back." She looked at him. "Why?"
"Xander yelled something about being different, noted he had a well-built chest." Lupin crossed his arms, looking at her. "He said something about a necklace."
"That narrows it down to two. Anything else?"
Lupin considered it. "He said something about a holy cave." Dawn smirked. "The directions he gave me were to a temple. The asshole said something about versions. I'm not sure what he meant."
Dawn nodded, smirking at him. "Then it can only be one thing. It's like my illusion band. It will create a new identity for him based on whoever put it on him. The bad is that the idiot has to remove it himself, him or an heir."
"I'm not counting on him having bred," Jigen pointed out. "The good?"
"It won't hurt Xander and shouldn't have any lasting effects as long as he doesn't put it on again. If he does, he'll continue to change. It isn't warping him, but if he uses it he'll change and if he doesn't he'll stay fixed as a male." She stood up. "He can change Xander to whatever he wants him to look like, or in this case her. That means he's probably getting his rocks off looking at her tits himself." Jigen growled. "Not my fault," she reminded him. "I'm just a source of knowledge. If it is, it's a handy fucking thing to have around, but we'll have to get him to remove it."
"That means capturing him and keeping him alive while we torture him," Jigen pointed out. "I can do that."
"Good, we'll work on that. Dawn, is that the original?"
"No, the original is in the jeep. We have to give it back." Lupin nodded, that was fair. "That's a copy, a damn good copy." She tossed her hair back. "Let's go."
"Go find a weapon or six," Lupin said tolerantly, giving her back a smile. He looked at Jigen. "Are you going to make it through this?"
"Sure. I always do. I might need therapy after this, but I'll make it through until we have him back."
"Good. I might join you in therapy. I never expected this level of problems when I agreed to take on students." He sighed. "Why did I do it again?"
"Because otherwise we'd all have to have kids," Jigen pointed out. "Soon."
Lupin nodded. "Oh, yeah, that reason." He shrugged. "They're worth more than the trouble they occasionally cause. This is minor compared to some of the problems we had." He grabbed the statue and walked out after Jigen. He already had his weapon. Dawn could follow them if she wanted in on this one. Goemon was already in the back of the jeep, holding the original statue. "Be gentle with that, we've got to send it back to them."
"I will be," the samurai reminded him. "We should leave."
"Yes, we should," Lupin agreed, starting the engine and going off. That left Fujiko's bike for the rest of them to use. Dawn couldn't go to where she didn't know.
Xander took a deep breath. Something was going wrong. He could feel something was going wrong. Something very bad was going wrong and it wasn't just him. "Yo, buttmuncher," he called. The annoying prat walked in and looked him, giving him a small smirk. "What is that?"
"What is what?"
"That current of agony I'm feeling. What is it?"
The man shrugged. "I don't feel any disturbance. I'll find out though. We don't want anything to go wrong."
"Yeah, sure, whatever. Just remember, you're taking this thing off or I'm taking your head. The little one first of course."
"Of course," he agreed with a smile. "You really are very amusing. For being a white knight, you're full of darkness."
"I have over fifty kills to my name, of humans," Xander told him. The man shrugged, not looking concerned. "Dude, I'm not a white knight anymore. When my friends gifted me, I stopped being one. I'm no more a white knight than my mentors are." The man scoffed and headed back into the other room. "Ethan," he groaned again. He had been calling for the last few days.
Ethan appeared, smiling sadly down at him. "I'm sorry, Xander. I cannot help."
Xander looked shocked. "Huh! What the fuck!"
The wizard came back and fell to his knees. "Janus' High Priest," he said reverently.
Ethan gave him a look. "I will deal with you soon for harming what was once mine," he said coldly. He sat down beside Xander, touching him on the forehead. "I want to help, Xander, but I cannot. It has to be this way this time." Xander gave him a hurt look. "I am protecting more than you," he said bitterly. "If you are not contained for a while longer, I and all the other chaos people could well die. I can't let that happen." He gave him a light kiss on the lips. "I like this new form, but it is not what I would have chosen for you." He stroked over the damp lips. "When you prayed for help, it forced the thing that had you out of hiding. I set Faith on it," he said gently, giving him a small grin. "It was a beautiful fight," he purred. "She was death on high heels and it showed how much she loves you." He kissed him again. "I wish you could have seen it. She avenged every wrong done to you wonderfully, as I knew she would." He leaned back, reminding himself he could not take that last bit of innocence the boy had. "For now, you have to be here. Or somewhere more suitable to your nature really. Boy," he snapped. The wizard crawled over, bowing at his feet. "You will be moving my most precious one tonight. You will be going to a mystic's cave outside of Pamplona, Spain. There you shall wait for Lupin to arrive."
"How will he know, most high one?" he pleaded.
"I will go tell him such as soon as I am done here," Ethan said coldly, kicking him. The man gave him a hurt look. "Xander was mine and you hurt that which not only amuses Janus, but also made me help the light in Janus' name. You are taking the thing that most amuses our Lord and Master and besmirching it. I'd hate to be you now." He gave Xander one last passionate kiss, making the boy groan. "You will be safe while the power evens out. Remember, do not think of me while it has you. Not for the next week or so." He stared into the boy's eyes. "The power will move through you, Xander, making you the most dangerous and wanted creature on the Earth and in Hell. I am protecting you by letting this cretin continue to guard you for me and your present keeper. Until the power fades, he will keep you. You will be saved and this one will not touch you," he said, glaring at the kidnaper. "If you so much as touch his remaining innocence, you will suffer. It has special significance to the Light. It will cause new warriors to be born and the balance will slowly return."
"Huh?" Xander asked.
"Xander, your last remaining innocence is something foretold. We didn't realize it until that twat found it. Even Ripper was disgusted by it. It said nothing about the incident or the demon, only that one who was so corrupted against his will would bring about the birth of new warriors. That the power released from your release would power and mark them. They're all European though and I need you there. Can you hold on for up to another two weeks?"
"Do I have to?"
"You do," Ethan said blandly. Xander sighed and shook his head. "I know. The things the Powers make you do to serve them," he said with a small smirk. "After this, take your filtering little mind and go have fun for a bit longer. Let Summers buy you some leather pants that are tight enough to show off your beautifully uncircumcised cock. Let them spoil you. You really do have to learn to trust someone other than Dawn."
"I trust them," Xander said warmly.
"You trust Dawn and for them to come help. You do not trust them to help because they like you. If you could, you would be fully healed and able to move on. If you do, I'll miss you, but you deserve a mate who likes to pounce you for odd reasons, not because I need worn out or I need to feel the touch of another being to remember my humanity." He dove down, stealing another kiss. "I do adore you so, Xander, but you are not meant for me. Be the angel of the dark for those who deserve it. It is who you are. Do not sleep with Summers again however. Not unless you want her to become more attached to you." He smirked. "Or at least not for another year or so. Let her have time to find someone else too." Xander pouted. "Don't do that." Xander turned up the pout, adding wet eyes.
"Please don't do that." Ethan sat down, leaning down to hold the precious thing. "I would not do this if the fate of the world wasn't in my hands," he reminded him. "Please understand. It's not a fate worse than death. You are still a man, no matter how big your breasts are or how tempting they feel against my chest." He forced himself to pull back, looking down at him. "You are like a drug, Alexander. I do not want to sober up but it is best for you." He stood up and adjusted himself. "I'll be going now. Go to Spain. Protect that which was mine. Suffer later. I'll give you a week's head start once he's free." The kidnaping wizard nodded, bowing to him again. "Good. Go." He disappeared, heading over to where he could feel Lupin lurking. "Small issue," he said as he appeared, startling them. He found a sword at his throat and pushed it away. "Don't do that. Killing the messenger before he delivers the message is a bad thing, it means you'll have to wait longer to find the poor dear." He looked at Jigen. "Unfortunately," he started.
"Oh, damn," Jigen sighed, shaking his head.
"Let him finish," Lupin said coldly. "Unfortunately what, Rayne?"
"Unfortunately, the demon who had him came when he figured out Xander was in distress. Which was something we were counting on happening sometime in the near future. Hence me giving him up." He and Lupin locked eyes. "The boy does draw odd trouble sometimes. Remember that from now on." Jigen started to growl. "Fine, sorry, not that sort usually, just oddness most of the time. Demons like him, he smells good to them." He shrugged and moved closer. "Unfortunately, when Faith killed the demon to avenge his treatment, his power was released. Xander is an incredible power filter. He's also going to be telepathic and empathic for the next week or so. I'm having him moved to a safer location. Otherwise every demon on the face of this plane will be coming here. That cave won't protect him. You can't protect him from them. For now, he's going to the land of bulls. He'll be in a mystical cave there. The thing once housed a seer who saw Christ or some such," he said with a wave of his hand. "Like Mohamed's only Christian. He'll be fine in about a week. This whole choker thing is bothering the shit out of him but he'll live. He's still very pure in that way and the thing will be facing me if he doesn't stay that way." He smirked. "Actually, he'll be facing me unless you kill him for me. Please, make it horrible and last a very long time if you do so. He dared touch what was once mine and I am very possessive," he said suavely. He smirked and Lupin punched him in the mouth. "Ow! You're as bad as bloody Ripper with that." He wiped the blood off, shrugging. "Fine. It is necessary to protect the boy. You can find him, you're that good. Do so. The only thing you'll have to worry about is whether or not that man who stalks you gets to him first. Janus is amused by the boy and likes to throw him little curves like that. He did promise to leave him alone from now on however. He's found a new toy, Dawn's youngest nephew." He smirked and teleported off before he could be hit again.
Goemon looked at the other two. "Should we continue?"
"We'll go to the cave," Lupin said coldly. "I don't like this. They're using him as some sort of toy." He stomped off, finding the cave thanks to the nice signs by the touristry board. It was empty. He stomped back out, looking at his crew. "We're heading to Spain."
"Fine. I'll call for a pickup," Jigen agreed. "Should I wait until we get home so we have time to pack?"
"Yes," Lupin agreed. "He'll be safe. Then I'm going to kill that snotty little bastard who has him and then Rayne." He smiled, thinking fond thoughts of torture on his way back to the jeep. "We'll send the statue off tonight."
"We can do the research on where the cave might be from the plane," Goemon offered. "It will save us time."
Dawn was pacing when they came back, glaring at Lupin. "Rayne was here. I got him in the nuts for you." The three men winced. "He deserved it," she defended. "There are three mystical caves in Spain. Seville has two and Pamplona has one right outside it. All three are blocked off to the pubic, all three are considered holy shrines. I can't enter two of them," she announced. "I'll get really sick, it's like an allergy in my core energy." Lupin nodded. "Fujiko said the plane will be here in about four hours. We'll be taking a copter from here to the airport. She's already arranged all that. The housekeeper has everyone packed but Jigen, he's got laundry being done. What can I do to help?"
"I want to know about this choker," Lupin told her.
She nodded. "All right. Anything else?"
"Anything you can find on those caves," Jigen told her. "Depth, maps, whatever." She nodded. "Which can't you enter?"
"Pamplona and the one in Seville that's been turned into a holy site under a monastery. They're warded against my sort of energy."
"Fine. Good," Lupin decided. "We'll need backup anyway. Rayne said a week." Dawn snorted. "You don't think so?"
"The demon was the third in line for the throne of Hell. If all his power washes through Xander, it could be weeks, not week. As much as three of them. After three or four days it'll level off to a small trickle and he'll be more than safe enough to be around. No matter how much power washes through him, he'll be safe in a few days. The rest will trickle off."
Lupin smirked at her. "Good job. Which would you pick?"
Dawn shrugged. "I don't know the cretin. Rayne told me bulls."
"Bulls. Where do they run the bulls?" Goemon asked.
"I always thought that was Madrid," Dawn admitted. "I've also always thought that was a really cruel and nasty celebration to hold so I haven't really paid attention."
"They run them in Pamplona," Lupin said, considering it. He handed the statue back to Dawn. "Send them back. I doubt he'll want them." She nodded, taking them both to send them both back. Maybe the natives would like the second one too. "Which one?" he asked.
"Seville has the better airport," Jigen pointed out. "If Pops is going to be there, we could track him."
"True. We can start in Seville and move if he's not there. Or we could do the unexpected and start in Pamplona and move back to Seville. It's closer to home." He looked at Goemon, who shrugged. "Fine, don't have a clue."
"Whichever we choose, he would probably go to the other."
"Seville has bad memories, I'd rather check it and move on," Jigen offered.
Lupin nodded. "Done. We'll fly into Seville. We'll send the kids to check the caves there then *we'll* go to Pamplona." Fujiko coughed. "You're going to wait back at the house." She glared at him. "I can make your husband enforce it," he said dryly. "There's too much stuff going on here to risk you." He walked away, going to check his bags. He had stuff hidden all over the house.
Goemon stared her down. "I agree. I do not want you touched by that much magic, or holy caves." She stormed off. "It is better for her anyway," he noted, heading off to stare at the ocean until she calmed down. He wouldn't be getting into their room for a while.
Jigen shook his head. That man was braver than him. Fujiko was in a snit already, pissing her off made it worse. He headed for the laundry, hoping his clothes were nearly done.
Xander groaned as the man was led into the cave and sat against the wall. "What? You needed an audience to see how perverted and sick you are?" he demanded.
"Hey, let her go," Zenigata demanded. He struggled with his handcuffs.
"Wonderful." Xander glared at his captor. "I will make you pay."
"I'm sure you will." He blew a kiss. "Behave, or else."
"Or else what? You'll rape me? I doubt it."
The man shook his head. "All I have to do is commit suicide and you're like that forever."
"Hey, there's always cloning," Xander reminded him. The wizard laughed and walked away. Xander looked at the cop, who was staring at him. "What? Haven't you ever seen a woman tied up before! It's not like I asked for this shit!"
Zenigata blushed, looking away. "No, I wasn't looking at that at all," he admitted. "You look familiar."
"It's the necklace, it changed me for a bit," Xander said bitterly. "After this is over, Gramps, we're gonna have to deal with you too." He struggled but the leather was cutting into his wrists again. "Can't I at least get up and use the facilities?" he shouted.
"No, you can wait."
"If I wet myself, I'm going to add more horrors to your torture!" he shouted.
"Gramps?" Zenigata asked, starting to come out of the doping spell the wizard had put on him. "Only a few people call me that." He looked at the face again, ignoring the rest. "How?" His eyes opened wide. "You are him!" He struggled to his feet, looking down at him. "How did this happen! You're male!"
"No fucking shit," Xander said bitterly. "It's the damn choker. And only *he* can take it off me!" He glared at him. "Quit staring at my breasts!" The inspector quickly looked away. "Oh, I'm so going to torture someone later," he complained. "Even if I have to claim my rightful spot in hell, I'm going to make someone pay!"
"Yeah, I noticed that," Xander said dryly. "Thanks for the bulletin." He felt another surge of power and groaned. "Back up. There's more odd shit coming and it'll get you too." The inspector backed away, looking at him like he was scary. "Like this is my fault?" he demanded. "I didn't ask for this! I was taking a nice vacation to finish my recovery from my last torture session and I was kidnaped. This is not the nice vacation I wanted! I didn't want to stare at my own breasts!"
"Shut up," the wizard yelled. "If I have to charm more people, I'm using your energy."
Xander glared that way, using the energy surge to hurt the man. He had been giving him constant migraines for days. Then he looked at the inspector. "Why are you so obsessed with Lupin?"
"Because he's a crook. A dirty, filthy, murdering crook."
"Okay. Let me rephrase that," Xander said bitterly. "Out of all the crooks in the world, why him? Why not someone like a serial killer? Or someone like Manson, who's just insane. Why Lupin and his crew?"
"Because they do more damage to the spirit. I can't do a thing about the worse people, but I can do something about him."
Xander, who could nominally read minds for now, Ethan had been right about that, nodded. "That's not it." Zenigata glared at him. "The strange power surges I'm having let me read minds," he said dryly, smirking at him. "That's not why you do it." He sent him an image he had pulled from his mind. Very nice licking up the barrel of the gun. He wasn't sure which, he couldn't tell. "Cute. I'm hoping it's not going to transfer to me?" Zenigata glared harder at him. "Thank you for small miracles." He looked up. "You and I will still dance soon, Rayne. This sucks ass!"
The wizard came out, shoving the inspector back to the ground. "He is obsessed. Each obsession has a sexual component. You need to learn to think quieter," he noted, glaring at his charge. He backhanded him, breaking Xander's lip open. "For now, we shall see what we can do about you." He undid the necklace, holding the head still no matter how much the young man fought to bunch up his neck. When he put it back on, he smirked. "There, perfect." He waved his hand and said a simple phrase, putting Xander into a nearly see- through, floor-length nightgown. It was very thin lace with zips of color spaced over it. "There, I like that look."
"Fucking yay," Xander told him. "I'm still not putting out for you. You had a better shot when I was male."
"I don't want you. If the High Priest of Janus likes you that much, you are not meant for us lower worshipers. You are meant to serve at the temple. This will inflame him and make him take you back. He will be pleased with me."
"Ethan hates it when I wear clothes."
"I can do that as well," the wizard warned.
"Never mind." Xander glared as the man walked away. "Can't I at least have a shower?"
"Later, dear." He smirked back at him and Xander made him run into a wall. "Keep it up. I can take away that pleasure too."
"And I can make you want to commit suicide but not be able to do it too," Xander said mock-cheerfully.
The wizard shrugged. "Only you will suffer. You're too big to do your chosen job, but not so outrageous as the last time I made you a redhead. I think I like this look on you. Nearly perfect. You just need some makeup to cover up those horrible scars." He went back into the other room.
Xander blew some of his black hair out of his eyes. "Wonderful. Now I've got the gayest wizard on the planet doing my makeover too."
Zenigata looked at him. "You do look nice like that."
"And I repeat, I can make you want to commit suicide," Xander told him.
"Sorry. I'll stay over here and be quiet. I'm sure your *friends* will be coming soon."
"They'd better. Or else I'm going to have to go postal." Xander glared at the doorway, making the other man shriek as his cock quit working, permanently. At least until he found the single goat in all the world who looked like a long-haired bunny rabbit because that's all he would ever desire for the rest of his life. Xander smirked. "Take that," he muttered.
"I will kill you for that!" the wizard shouted.
"Stand in line," Xander yelled back. "Gramps wants to kill me more than you do!"
"No, I don't," Zenigata pointed out. "I only want you in jail."
Xander lifted his head. "You don't want us shot?" The inspector shook his head. "Damn, you are more obsessed than I thought. I'll have to warn him about you." He put his head back down, remembering all he had been taught about controlling his anger. He needed every lesson, and all the ones he hadn't had yet, but he was making the most of it so far. When the wizard came back, he was set free and dragged into the bathroom under a freezing spell. He couldn't move but he did get cleaned. Roughly but the asshole got every inch of him.
Lupin looked at the cave, then at Jigen and Dawn. She shuddered and moved away. "You gonna live?"
"Yeah. Just bring him out. I'll baby him on the way to the hotel." Her head snapped up. "It's Gramps." She grimaced. "The idiot captured him too. I think Xander's done something to his mind." She shuddered again. "I'm not dealing with him too." She went to wait in the back of the car.
Jigen sighed. "Do you want to swat the boy?"
"No, I think he'll at least make it amusing." They walked in together and found the unconscious inspector snoring into the stone floor. They looked in the other direction and found Xander unconscious and spread out on the bed. His dark hair and very pale skin were highlighted by the silver netting gown he wore. It was see-through and very sensual looking, highlighting all the natural curves of his body. She looked stunning in it and it only made the men madder. "We're here," Lupin announced. The wizard came out of the back. "Take it off him."
"I'll remove it later. I find myself in need of your help to leave the country rather quickly." He walked out and wiggled his fingers. "Only these can remove it from him. Only these can restore that one man's mind to it's original state. Your boy has been showing him the depths of his obsession and it's been very...instructive." Lupin shrugged. "You don't care?"
"I can retrain him in that form," Jigen told him, pulling his gun. "Release him." The wizard sighed and walked over, removing the leather straps. "He's bleeding."
"He keeps fighting, even though he knew I wouldn't hurt him if he quit. Rayne made sure I knew what my fate would be." He looked at Lupin. "If you help me leave Spain for Greece so I can appeal to Janus directly I will gladly release the boy and let him keep the necklace. Something like that would be rather handy for someone like you. I can also free the other two he wears so he can take them off. I can do anything you want if you let me live."
Lupin shrugged. "Blow him up, Jigen. We only need his hands."
"Sure thing, boss," he said, raising his gun.
"You need me living," he said smugly.
"No, we only need Dawn for that," Jigen told him. He cocked the hammer. The man groaned and sank to his knees, curling around the dagger in his stomach.
Marcus walked in, glaring at him as he pulled his next one. "I will see you dead for this," he noted. "You have not only demoted yourself in the eyes of your Lord and Master, but you have defiled that which was sacred. That necklace was meant to protect those who would devote themselves as nuns." The wizard looked at him. "Release the boy." The wizard leaned over, releasing the catch. "Both of them." The necklace was fully removed, turning Xander back into a male. "Thank you." Marcus grabbed the necklace then turned to face Zenigata. "He'll be fine. The roots of all obsessions are in sexual desire. Rayne said his mind was clearer now, he wouldn't be so rampant while he figured himself out." He stormed off, going to kick Rayne's ass now. He was fair game now that they had Xander back. He and Dawn had agreed on that. Kick the wizard was a fun game.
Lupin picked the boy up, weighing him. "He's fine. No lost weight." He carried him out then came in to get Zenigata. "He'll be fine, Xander was mumbling that he fixed him." He looked at the wizard, then at Jigen. "Have fun. Come out when you're done." He left, leaving the inspector outside in the bushes. He was even nice enough to take off the handcuffs. Then he went back to the car and looked at the young man. "Necklace?"
"Marcus' pocket." Dawn looked at him. "He's in good health, only a few rips on his wrist. Leather cords are not kind and Xander doesn't like being tied up." She stroked his arm. "Xander, wake up. It's Dawnie." He groaned and mumbled something, turning in the other direction. She shook her head. "Give him a few. He will want to change."
"We're heading home immediately," Lupin told her. "He can change once we get there." He got out of the way as Jigen came out, letting him see. "She said he's fine."
"He is. He'll stay that way. Necklace?"
"Good. Keep it." He got into the front passenger's seat, looking at Marcus. "Let's go."
"Going," he agreed, moving as soon as Lupin climbed in and shut the door. "Gramps?"
"Bushes. He'll be fine," Lupin told him. Or at least he hoped so. He looked at the boy sleeping on Dawn's lap, taking him so she could shift and buckle up again. She was a big one on seatbelts.
Xander woke up in his own bed, blinking at the familiar ceiling. "Wow. When do I get to kick his ass?"
"Not an available option," Jigen said from beside him. Xander turned his head to look at him. "Welcome back to the land of the awake. You okay?"
"Fine." Xander pulled his hair up. "Why is it still black?"
"You've got two other necklaces on. One's interfering."
Xander searched the back of his neck, finding the clasps. "One hides my tattoos, I knew about that one." He lifted off the unfamiliar one, looking at the small cat's eye in the center. He returned to what he normally looked like. Pale silver hair, pale skin with a hint of tan. Dark brown eyes. Thin body. A few scars but not as many as before. He looked at Jigen, handing that one over. "I'll think about that later." The older man nodded, putting it into his pocket. Xander flipped onto his side. "Am I in trouble?"
"No. Why?" Jigen asked.
"Because I'm a trouble magnet."
"Yeah, your ex said that was his fault." He grinned. "He and Lupin went a few rounds recently. He's just come back actually. Want to see him and Dawn? She's driving the rest of us insane."
Xander reached out, touching him. "I knew you'd come."
"But I thought she'd be leading the charge," he admitted.
Jigen nodded. "You're learning but you're not totally there yet," he admitted. "It took me a while too. "
"Hopefully he doesn't take five or six rescues like it did for you," Lupin said as he walked in, closing and locking the door behind him. "I knocked Dawn out, she'll be up later." He came in and sat on the foot of the bed. "You all right?" Xander nodded. "No funny feelings?"
"Can I say women's bodies are really strange?" Xander asked. They nodded. "They've got itchy stuff and all that nasty crap. I've never had my nipples itch so much in my life, or other parts either. How do they stand that?"
"Some of them shave," Lupin said with a shrug and a grin. "We're keeping the necklace just in case. Marcus did most of the research."
"He's good at that," Xander agreed. He forced himself to sit up, curling his feet closer to his body. "Am I okay?"
"You're fine, Xander." He touched the pale hair. "It came back?"
"There was another one on him," Jigen told him. "He took it off."
"Good. Keep that one too. That's one handy artifact to have in this life." Xander grinned. "No other problems? No Stockholm Syndrome? No desire to suddenly wear panties? Nothing like that?"
"Not in the least," Xander said dryly. "We'll let David be the girl from now on." Both older men laughed at that. "Should I get up and take a shower?"
"If you want, or you could have dinner up here," Jigen told him. "It's only been three days."
"I was asleep for three days?" Lupin nodded. "Why?"
"We've decided you were guarding your virtue too heavily to sleep," Lupin said with a small smirk.
"No, Ethan told him that if he touched me he was going to lose his dick for good. But that's okay, because I made him like bunny rabbits and he'll never bother another woman again," he said with a small smirk of his own. "How's Gramps?"
"Fine. Better actually. He's calmer, like he was ten or fifteen years ago. What did you do to him?"
"I blocked the nasty sexual images from him," Xander told him. "After exposing them, making him shudder when he realized he had thought them himself, I destroyed them with his help. He's back to wanting us in jail instead of wanting us to tie him up while in the jail."
Lupin gave him a gentle hug. "Thank you." He stood up. "Are you coming down?" Xander nodded. "Good. We left you some clothes in the closet." He looked at Jigen before walking out.
Jigen coughed. "We left the dress we found you wearing in there too, kid." He stood up, giving him a gentle hug. "You looked odd as a dame. I'm not going to get used to that."
"If you have to, I'm going to jump off somewhere really high," Xander told him. "I do not want to be a woman. A bottom, but not a woman." Jigen laughed, letting him go to ruffle his hair. "Anything else go wrong because of me?"
"No, Rayne said he released you fully from being the amusement of his little statue. No more being a trouble magnet for you, my boy." He winked and walked out, heading down to have a small drink. It was in relief and he wasn't the only one. "That was much better. He seems normal. He made a joke about sex." Lupin smiled at that. Dawn squealed and went running. "I think he took another amazingly fast shower."
"Either that or she heard he was up and now she's up to jump him in the shower," Lupin noted.
"Does that bother you?"
"No. They're friends. We're friends. It's fine with me," he said. "You?" Jigen looked at him. "Please, it's obvious," he teased.
"It's nothing more than me thinking about him like my own kid. Get over it."
"Fine. You're in denial. We'll see." He sat behind his desk, looking at the messages built up in Dawn's account. "Should we answer some of these?"
"It's a handy cover, we should probably keep it," Jigen agreed.
Lupin opened up the first case that had been sent to them, smirking. "Amateur."
Jigen laughed. "The job should only be done by the professionals and those learning," he agreed.
Two days later, David walked into the sitting room where Xander was napping in the sun, clipping a familiar choker around his neck. Xander woke up as he started to change. "We had a talk. You need to learn how to use this too. It's too damn handy not to use. Sorry." He ran before Xander could get off the couch.
"DAVID!" Xander shouted, climbing to his feet to chase after him. He stopped at the doorway, finding Lupin standing there. "David," he said bitterly.
"Because he decided I need to learn how to use it."
"He has a point," Lupin admitted, "but I wasn't going to force you this way. David!" he yelled, bringing the boy. "Take it off him. That is not a form he'll be using." Xander looked at him. "If you want to, I can do that. It's not that much different and it would help you know how to use your body better, just in case." Xander grimaced and shook his head, turning around and heading back to his couch. Lupin grabbed David by the hair. "That was cruel and is not appropriate," he told him. "Take it off now."
"No." He got free. "Xander has a few gifts and he's got to learn how to use them for the good of the group. Dawn uses her body, he can learn how to use his."
"What makes you think he doesn't already know?" Lupin asked.
"Because he's not knowing how to use this new one. It's too damn handy to pass up the chance. Besides, it'll mean he can slip in and out of places easier. I can change it without removing it totally but I'm not doing it. Not until he can pass himself as a woman convincingly." Goemon came in from the outside, already frowning. "You agree with us, right?"
"I do not. That should be Xander's choice, not yours and not anyone else's."
Xander came back to the door. "David, I'm going to kill you," he noted. "Some day soon I'm going to take off your head and expose your insides. What makes you think I need to learn this?"
"Because it could be the one thing that saves us," David told him. "We're thieves, Xander, and you've just been handed the ultimate disguise. Think about what you could do. You could change to do a job, then change to escape. You could change into one of us to let us escape then lead the cops off until you change. It's too good not to use."
"It's also dangerous. I could get stuck like this," Xander told him. "This and the other one." David's mouth fell open. "I just found out when I woke up. It was hiding some things." He blew his bangs out of his face. "I don't want to be a woman. I don't like being a woman. Women suck. Because of this I may never touch another woman again. I may not even be able to bottom ever again because of this. I don't want to be female, have tits, have an innie sexual system, or any of it. So take it off before I force you to."
"That's the other thing you need trained," David said quickly, jumping on that. "I've gotten a few images off you while you were reading the other night," he admitted. "Only when I touched you."
"I'm taking control lessons," Xander defended. Goemon nodded to agree. "See! Now take it off!" he shouted.
"Calm down," Lupin told him. "He'll take it off you or else."
David sighed and came over, taking it partially off but leaving it on as well. It changed Xander's body, shrinking his chest and flattening his stomach. Then David took off running. "No, I'm not!"
"Spoiled fucking brat!" Xander shouted, running after him. He winced in pain. "Ow. Hurts."
Lupin shook his head, doing the gentlemanly thing. "You go find Jigen. We'll find David." He headed off. It was his house, he had grown up playing in it. There wasn't much of it he didn't know.
Xander stormed down to the range, already pouting. "David," he explained at the curious look. "Stupid fucking brat."
"Well, it's handy, but damn annoying," Jigen told him. "Try." He handed over the gun, watching as Xander tried to aim it two-handed. "You're not going to be able to do that," he offered. "You're squishing yourself."
Xander sighed and did it one-handed, and found he couldn't hit the spot he had planned on hitting. "What!"
"Women have a lower center of gravity. It throws their aim wide," he explained. He patted Xander on the back. "It's only going to get stranger from here." Xander turned to look at him, the gun loose in his hand. Jigen took it from him before he could get shot. "I agree with the underlying principle, but not the execution. It would be handy." Xander groaned, shaking his head as he walked out. "Xander, wait," he called. The boy came back. "I don't support him locking you into this. No one but him and Dawn do. Marcus nearly killed him earlier. I thought it had stopped the shit." He touched the pale hair. "It is a gift, one that could help us all. I think you should learn."
"I don't want to do this ever again."
"What if it saves us?"
Xander sighed. "You had to appeal to the remaining white knight side?" Jigen smirked. "Yeah, yuck it up. Think about it, I'll have to find clothes still and who's going to be sent with me?"
Jigen groaned. Fujiko would demand that right. She could him create an image better than Dawn could. "I'm sorry."
"For all of us," Xander told him. "I'm not wearing one of her frontless shirts."
"So don't. Wear something less trashy," Jigen agreed. "Try it for a day, Xander. Then we can hurt David." Xander groaned and wandered out, looking very upset with the world. "Sorry, kid, but it is for the best." He went back to practicing his targets. That had hurt him. The boy looked like he had been betrayed.
Xander glared across the dinner table, making Dawn and David both wince and look away. "I hate you both," he announced. Lupin gave him a look, they had talked for a long time earlier. "But calmer heads have made me see that we need to keep you around for now. You're going to have to go a *long* way to get back into my good graces and trust. Most people don't travel that far without dying from exhaustion." He took a deep breath so he would stay calm.
"We agreed, Xander would learn this and I'd keep him from killing you two," Lupin told them. "Though I do agree, you both need punished. I should let him have you both for an hour to see how well he can use his present body in a fight. Goemon is the one you have to thank for not allowing that." He looked at Xander. "So, for now, David will change you into a form that is more suited to your frame. It'll probably be the one you'll want to use most often."
"Hopefully I'll have smaller breasts?"
"Hopefully," Lupin agreed. Xander's had grown again earlier for some reason. "Though, it is handy sometimes to have larger set. Fujiko gets out of all sorts of problems with hers."
"She used to," Goemon corrected blandly. "In the morning we will be working to improve your balance and sense of your new body. Once you have one form down the others are mostly the same. There will be some adaptation but not too much I should think." Xander nodded, looking down at his plate. "That means that you will be mine in the mornings and Jigen's in the afternoon until Lupin gets you after dinner." Xander nodded again. "As for the rest of you, Dawn and David, you now have extra lessons and you will help Xander in whatever he does. Whatever he needs will come from you."
"First he'll need some clothes," Fujiko noted. "No matter what form, he'll need a bra; otherwise he'll have more chest pain from their weight."
"Is that like the pain I felt earlier when I tried to chase David?" Xander asked. She nodded, giving him a faint smile. "Fine, but I'm not dressing like a whore. I don't care how good my legs are, I'm not putting on a skirt until I'm damn good and ready and it's not going to be like your blue one." She nodded and shrugged. Jigen gave him a look. "It's so short you can see her panties. I consider that an act of desperation, thank you."
"Fine," Jigen agreed. "We'll go gun shopping tomorrow too." Xander nodded, looking happier. "Your present weapon needs a new firing pin so we'll get you something more durable. Maybe a little more lightweight. It'll help in both forms." Xander shrugged. "Was there anything else you needed to find?"
"Can I look at the artillery?"
"Sure," Jigen said, giving him a small smirk. The boy would be milking that new pout for all it was worth, he was learning already. "Then we'll make sure you have tasteful clothes." He looked at Fujiko, who was giving him a stern look. "Won't work."
"Whatever she chooses should be more for function than form," Lupin soothed. "Workout clothes. We'll have to shop for the other stuff later unless he's able to fit into some of Dawn's things." Xander shook his head. "No?" he asked with a small smile.
"I think leather all the time would be hot. I don't even want to think about the heat stroke I'd get if we had to go back to the desert."
"Fortunately I've got other clothes," Dawn told him. "Fuji and I have been working on the disguise closet since we all got here. It's got some stuff in different sizes to allow for some padding. Something in there might fit you very well." She coughed. "First, you'll want to sit up a little straighter, Xander. That position's going to make your shoulders ache."
He rolled his shoulders back and sat up straighter. "Thank you." He continue to nibble at dinner. "What am I doing tonight?"
"Learning how to braid hair," Lupin told him. "It'll help while you're working. Before you didn't have to do much physical training, you'll need more of that now." Xander looked at him. "It'll be easier to brush out afterward. No knots."
"I can already ponytail it and braid it," Xander offered.
"Yes, but there are many subtle arts to hairstyling," Fujiko told him. "Will dye stick to that mess if necessary?" Xander nodded. "Good. Then we'll work on teaching you how to tease, mouse, and style for now. Curlers would probably go better with your length instead of an iron."
"My hair won't hold curls. I know this because of the girls nights we three used to have in Sunnydale. Buffy would get bored and do all our hair." He smirked at her. "My hair's so straight that even bobbypins might not stay in at this length. I know some wouldn't when it was shorter. I've even had a few larger barrettes fall out when Buffy was getting cute."
"Okay, there are alternatives. Hairpins for one. Sticks. We can teach you a quick way of putting it up. Most every woman with long hair can wind her own hair up and stick it in a bun-like way with a pencil." He shrugged and nodded, eating more. "Did you need him for anything, Lupin?"
"I wanted to talk to him for a while longer," Lupin told him. "There are some basic social graces that are a bit different."
"Yeah, like the fact that we're not supposed to be able to see your thighs," David said dryly. Xander glared at him. "Sorry." He went back to his staring at his plate.
Xander took a calming breath, earning an approving look from the older generation. "I know I have to cross my legs, but I'm wearing pants and they're under the table. It's not an issue at this moment." He ate another bite, glancing at Jigen, who nodded that he was doing fine. This was really hard; all he wanted to do was reach over and slap them senseless. "Do we have any firm word on Zenigata?"
"We do," Lupin admitted, happier. "I had a hacker I know break into the ICPO's therapy files. He's showed up for counseling over his obsession. He's confused but feeling much better now that he's returned to his original desire to arrest us." The older generation clapped. "He did note that the 'woman' who he was being held with had messed with his mind and made him see that he was obsessed and about to go too far. Apparently he's having trouble sleeping again."
Jigen smirked. "Another chase after him while he takes his little pills?"
"Hopefully not," Lupin said with a smile for him. "Though that was fun." Goemon shook his head. "Any other news?"
"We are having a doctor's appointment tomorrow."
"I'll want official confirmation," Lupin told him. "That way we can horde her medical records and move them with us. Xander, would you do me one big favor?" Xander nodded. "I want you in a medic alert bracelet. Your food allergy could spark others." Xander nodded. "Thank you. I don't want to think about the problems of you being mistreated in a hospital after a job gone wrong."
"Sure. Can I pick one up when we go shopping?" Lupin nodded. "Thanks. Am I paying for my new clothes?"
Lupin smirked. "If you let me pick out one thing for your formal unveiling when you graduate, I will."
Xander raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "As long as it's more tasteful than her blue skirt."
"It's too tight now," Fujiko said bitterly.
"You'll lose the weight again," Dawn reminded her. "Give it ten months." Fujiko looked at her. "What?" The other woman looked stunned, then glared at her husband. "No one told her?"
"No one told her," Lupin admitted. He, Jigen, Xander, and Goemon all scurried away before she could stand up.
Xander took his plate with him but he locked himself in the range to practice. He needed it. He found his usual practice piece and loaded it, taking bites between clips. He had to figure this out. He couldn't do it two-handed without causing himself pain and the recoil was hurting his arms more. This was his life, he had to relearn this skill. Someone knocked when he paused to eat another bite and reload so he walked over and let in his mentor. "Hey, I'm trying to figure out what's wrong now."
"Let David change you first. That could help a lot of things," Jigen ordered. "Then I'll work with you." Xander sighed and nodded, heading up to do that. Jigen smirked at the boy's back. It showed promise that this was where he headed. When he came back, Xander was a shapely woman with a medium endowment and more bouncy hair. Her shoulders were a little thinner and her legs were definitely showing the muscles better. Those shorts were cute on her and so was the t-shirt that had become a belly shirt. "Come on, let's try this again." He closed and locked the door so Xander wouldn't have to struggle and be watched. He knew Lupin had a camera but knew he wasn't using it. Yet. He moved behind the young woman, adjusting her stance. "That's easier for most women." Xander nodded so he stepped back, watching critically as Xander fired off a quick clip.
"That feels wrong," Xander told him.
"You could do it one-handed but sometimes you've got to use two," Jigen reminded him.
"Yeah, but I feel like I can't breathe," Xander explained. He adjusted his stance higher, putting his elbows above the apex of his breasts, and that made it easier. He had to adjust the way he sighted down the barrel and his compensation, but he could do that. He tried going lower, and doing it underneath worked as well. "That's still odd," he noted, putting down the gun so he could finish his dinner. "Is that ever going to feel natural?"
"After a few more days, it should," Jigen promised, patting him on the back. "From what I've seen when I've watched women shooting, it also depends on their style of bra. How much give they've got and where the stupid things rest."
"Having four pounds of extra flesh is really throwing off my balance. I nearly ran into a doorway."
"You'll be working on that in the morning," Jigen reminded him. "We've got a balance beam set up somewhere for David and Dawn, I'm sure you'll be on it a few times too." He loaded a lighter weapon, Lupin's practice gun. "Try that. See if it helps."
Xander put back on his ear protectors then put down his fork, firing off a clip at the pulped target. "It's easier," he admitted when he was done. He took off his ear guards. "It's not hurting my shoulders and making me bounce. That's going to slow me between shots."
"Yeah, probably. We'll look for something with an automatic option," Jigen promised, giving him a small smirk. "There's plenty of lightweight weapons on the market these days."
"Could we look at the plastic ones? That way I don't have to give up mine when we're going commercial?"
"Sure. Or we could have Dawn ask for badges," he said smartly.
Xander chuckled. "I like that idea. We could get into a lot of trouble like that." He nudged him. "Should we ditch the kids for a while and go out on our own again?"
"Next year," he decided. "Learn all you can from everyone else then we'll do a few months alone before you go to the kids and I go back to Lupin." Xander grinned and nodded, picking up his fork to scrape his plate. "Go get seconds from the kitchen." Xander beamed and headed out, checking the halls before he padded off. Jigen shook his head. That boy was funny sometimes, but he was still so alive. He reminded him of him, only at a younger age.
Lupin pulled Xander into his study the next afternoon, sitting him in the chair. "I'm going to be teaching you the basic social graces. The basics that you need to be able to pass." Xander nodded, crossing his feet at the ankle. "Try pushing your knees together." Xander looked down and did that. "I know, it feels unnatural. With time and practice it'll feel better." He sat down, pouring the boy some soda. "How was the range?"
"Better with the lighter gun," Xander admitted. "Jigen thinks I can still use a heavier one but I'll need to work my way back up, that my wrists are weaker again. I've been practicing with your gun down there for now. Jigen said you wouldn't mind."
"I don't," Lupin agreed. "You need to learn how to aim again. Having breasts has got to throw that off. I can't even imagine suddenly growing a chest."
"You'd have to gain a lot of weight to get man-tits," Xander reminded him.
Lupin laughed. "True. Hopefully I'll never do that. That's the second thing. Most women don't swear like you do." Xander grimaced. "It's hard, but seeming more cultured and refined than you are will help in more situations than being Dawn."
"I hadn't thought of that," Xander admitted, shifting to his other hip. This new, rounder butt was hard to sit on for some reason. "When were we going to go shopping? There's no bigger t-shirt in my closet and David was staring at my chest earlier."
Lupin looked at them himself. Then he looked at the young man's face. "They're worthy of being stared at, but it's more that you've got peaked nipples and that t-shirt clings. I'll make sure we take you tonight. Tomorrow I want you to try and wear real girl clothes." Xander nodded. "Good boy. Now go shower. You smell like you've got gunpowder all over you."
"I probably do. We went through a box. I'm aiming high for some reason and off to the left." He shrugged as he stood up. "Which exiting is appropriate? Shaking hands? Kiss on the cheek? Punch on the arm?"
Lupin smirked. "That depends on how friendly you are with the person you're sitting with." Xander shrugged and kissed him on the lips then left. "Yes, you'll learn," he said quietly, picking up his water to sip. The boy had promise. He always had. That's why he was pushing this. He reached behind him and hit the phone, pressing the intercom. "Jigen?" He let it go. Jigen came in. "Do we need more bullets?"
"We do," he agreed, sitting down and sprawling out. "The kid'll miss this position."
"If he's wearing pants I don't see the problem with it," Lupin told him. "But don't tell Fuji I said that. She's still really pissed." The front door slammed. "That's Dawn I think. Did you want to go with him to help him shop?" Jigen nodded. "I thought one of us should to keep her from vamping him out. Let him decide, he's got some taste."
"His original wardrobe consisted of loose jeans, t-shirts, and hawaiian shirts," Jigen told him. "Plus ratty sneakers. I'm the reason he has some good taste."
"Then help him more," Lupin told him. "I think he'll go for the silk look."
"For some reason he turns into an asshole when he wears silk. I don't know why," Jigen said as he stood up. "Card?" Lupin pulled out his wallet and checked for a clear card, tossing one over. "Pops?"
"Is in town but I doubt he'll be shopping for women's clothes. Let him have some chocolate too." Jigen nodded, leaving him alone to think. This could add a whole new layer to their plans. There were things they hadn't been able to touch because they only had Fujiko, but now they could do so much more. Dawn was too tough for some things and Fujiko too sharp, but Xander had that softness that would work better in more situations. It was an interesting idea if he could get the kid to go along with it.
Xander looked at the outfit his mentor was pushing on him, then at her. "No." She frowned. "No! No, no short skirt, nothing like it. I'm not wearing it."
Jigen sighed. "If you don't let her get one, then she'll complain for weeks, kid."
"Yay," Xander whined. "I'm not for sale. It makes me look worse than most of the pros I've ever used." Jigen snorted and shook his head.
Fujiko grabbed the boy by the ear. "It does not and keep your voice down."
"Yes, ma'am," he said miserably. "Can't we get something more tasteful? Something softer, smoother? Maybe something like my favorite suit? I can do suits."
"Fine," Fujiko agreed, leading him to the rack of slip dresses. "How about something like this?" she asked as she pulled out a strapless jersey sheath dress. "It's not in the right color but would that work?"
"It could," Xander admitted, touching it. He took it to try on, looking at himself before exiting. He wiggled as he smoothed down the soft fabric. "I like. I like knit more but I could do this."
Fujiko smiled. "Finally!" She went to look for him. She found things in the softer fabrics, bringing them back. "Find something among them and wear out the ones you like best." Xander nodded, heading into the dressing room to do that. She looked at Jigen. "When you dressed him did you have that problem?"
"The boy had a problem with ties," Jigen admitted. "Hated them for months. He got the point that clothing is armor." He looked over as Xander came out in a black knit stretch dress, nodding. It was short but not prostitute-short. It clung to him and made his figure look outstanding. He could easily vamp in that but it would be a more subtle one. "I like that," he admitted. "With that little bit of tan you managed you look good in it."
Xander looked in the mirror, examining himself. "You don't think it's too short?"
"Sometimes short is necessary," Fujiko reminded him. "Dawn can't and I won't be able to for months." She grimaced. "Let's try on another outfit. Put that in the definite pile with the purple outfit from earlier." Xander looked at her. "My choice," she said smugly. Xander sighed and went back into the dressing room, doing as she had ordered. She looked at Jigen.
"If he wears it around the house, I'll have to tell your husband to beat you."
"Yeah, like he's going to do that now," she pointed out bitterly.
He smirked. "Don't worry, we won't make fun of you when you're fat and in pain." Fujiko glared at him, reaching over to hit him. "Bitch."
"Keep it up. Lupin said I had to tolerate you, he didn't say anything about using you for knife practice."
He laughed but did move away. Pregnant women were notorious for mood swings. Xander came out a few minutes later in a better outfit. He nodded, he liked that one better. The sweater combination over the plain skirt looked good on him. "Very upstanding," he noted.
"True," Fujiko agreed. "You could pass for respectable in that." Xander beamed. "We've still got to do shoes, but I think we can work on heels later next week. Try another one, put that one in the 'yes' pile." He nodded, going back in there. He came back a few minutes later and handed over five outfits. "They're very similar."
"Mix and match," Xander reminded her.
"Good point. Let's hit somewhere to get workout clothes. Danskin next."
"Bra next?" Xander suggested. "Panties?"
"Yeah, that's on the way," she agreed, letting him carry the stuff up but paying for it. As soon as they were done there, she drug him to Ann Summers. The lingerie shopping was her favorite part. She needed something to make Goemon sorry for not telling her she was pregnant.
The boy survived it, but lit up once they went weapons shopping. That was his favorite part of the whole trip. Not only did he get a new gun, he got to look at some new toys for his future wish list. "Grenade launcher," he said happily, stroking over the tube.
Jigen looked at him. "They are handy, but I prefer claymores." Xander grinned at him and Fujiko saw something pass between them. She'd have to do something with that later.
Xander walked out to the practice area the next morning, still yawning. This top had a built-in bra so he didn't have to deal with the stupid things yet. He still wasn't sure how to put them on himself. This and the dance pants were much easier for him to deal with. He bowed to Goemon, who was giving him a look. "You said I had form faults," he said with a shrug.
"You use very jerky movements, nothing further. That is acceptable however. I've seen worse on my own wife."
Xander grinned. "Of course you have. I jerk?" The samurai nodded. "Is that because not all of us were born in the land of calm people?"
"Partially," he admitted. "It is also a testament to the status of your training. The more you train the smoother you get." He faced off with the young man. "Start with your warmups." Xander nodded, stretching for him. The boy took orders very well, it was much better than most of his students. Only Marcus showed a flair for the training but Xander was willing to learn new things that would increase his skills. Already his fighting was showing improvement. He had expected less from the young man when they had first met and hadn't done much to improve his form to date. Most people who fought with weapons were afraid to hurt their arms or hands. "Xander, what was your first weapon?" he asked.
"A stake. Well, okay, I did have a few times when I threw rocks at some bullies picking on Willow, but mostly it was a stake first. Why?"
"Most mechanical weapon fighters do not like to risk their hands, that was why I asked. It makes sense. It is like a knife fighter. I shall move your fighting lessons that way." Xander grinned at him and he smirked. "That pleases you?"
"Since I hit worse than most of the girls in the world? Yeah."
"Strength training will help that some, but your arms are not really made for throwing punches. Your shoulders don't like to put the full force behind your arms." He walked around the boy, watching him. "Stretch up to do your back," he ordered. The boy switched, doing so. His back was too tense. He'd hurt it soon if he didn't learn to relax. "What other exercises do you do?"
"I used to swim. Now I run more than anything," Xander told him. "Why?"
"You are a good swimmer?"
"A very good one. I made my school team to help solve a problem." He looked back. "Why?"
"You hold your back strangely. Like someone who rides horses." Xander grinned at him. "I suppose it is similar," he admitted dryly, knowing what the boy was thinking. "You've told me you watched Miss Summer's sister train. Did you help her?"
"Some. She didn't have a dedicated training area until she was in college. Until then it was pads and protection. We practiced in empty classrooms or the library mostly." Goemon nodded. "Why?"
"Wondering." He knew people who would have killed to have gotten this boy to train when he was younger. "You prefer fighting in closed spaces?"
"I prefer to not fight physically since I suck at it, but I prefer not being surrounded and having someone at my back," he admitted. "I also prefer to fight in the open instead of a room or a building. I don't like corners that much." The samurai nodded. "Why?"
"I'm trying to figure out which style to move you toward. A few of them suit not only this body but your usual one. Most of them are for close combat. Not running battles like you've done in the past."
"Yeah, but I'm good at them," Xander said, turning to face him. "I'd rather have a running, hitting, and then hiding battle."
"Ambushing is honorable in the right circumstances. There is one that will suit you. I am not an expert at it but I can get you started. With what I know, we can make it fit you best." Xander nodded. "Are you relaxed?"
"No. You make me fucking nervous," Xander told him.
Goemon nodded. "I know. All good teachers do that. Relax. I will not harm you. Even if you should manage to hit me." He lunged forward, attacking suddenly. Like he thought, the boy backed off and took a side-swing at him instead of going head-on. "Yes, that will suit you very well." He smiled slightly. "Get in the circle and we'll work on the basic forms." Xander shifted back into place, giving him a wary air. "I was testing you."
"You're still a scary man."
"Thank you." He showed him the basic block with a hand. "Now follow me." Xander did it with him, moving up to him doing it against him. "Good. You do learn fast."
"I learn everything except book stuff really fast," Xander said with a small shrug.
"Excellent. It will make the most use of your time with me. Unlike David."
Xander looked at him and grinned. "His dad's the scary bastard. Gunn is a master of long distance put-downs."
"Ah. Perhaps a more street style for him then. Let us move to the next block."
Lupin signed for the package and tipped the delivery driver. The boy had done all right for himself last night but these were things that he wanted to see the boy in. Fortunately he was mostly a standard size. He walked them up to his room, hiding them in his closet. Then he laid down to read until someone came looking for him. It was nearly an hour before someone knocked on his door. "What?"
Dawn came in. "Fujiko's feeling nasty. She just said morning sickness started." Lupin smirked at her. "Should we do anything to help her?"
"Sprite and crackers seems to be what people recommend," he noted. He looked at her. "Will you be able to take over her spot?"
"Sure. I'm not quite as busty but I can be quite the distraction or lure."
"Good. How is Xander doing?"
"Jigen released him from range practice until tonight because Goemon was doing really good with him." She walked in and shut the door, coming to sit beside him. "I think he's finally figured out what Xander's doing wrong when he fights."
"He likes to attack from the side. He's an ambusher." She looked stunned and he smiled. "It was natural with his training. Jigen tends to fight like that unless he has to take something head-on. It's easier and safer when you don't physically fight that well."
"I'm sorry I did that to him but it seems to have helped him so much," she said.
"It probably did, but it still sucked. You're supposed to be his friend, Dawn. You're like his little sister. Instead you acted like your sister and treated him like he's incompetent to make his own decisions. I'm surprised he hasn't tried to kill you yet. He's still very angry over it and it will take a very long time to earn back his trust."
Dawn shook her head, brushing her ponytail back. "I'll never get it back, Lupin. Xander gives one shot and that's it. That's what sucks most. I went with what I thought was best for the group and it got me bitten on the ass. I know better now but even if I told him that he'd never trust me not to do it again." She stood up. "Thanks for listening to me."
"It's what mentors do, Dawn. Remember this lesson. Your crew is your family. You treated him like some cousin who should be locked in the closet and ignored." Dawn nodded, trudging out. "That should have brought down some of the cocky attitude," Lupin muttered as he went back to his book. He was interrupted again quickly but it was Xander. "Come in." Xander came in and sat on the bed with him. "How was practice?"
"Good. Goemon finally figured out what I'm good at." He grinned. "I don't care if she's sorry, I'm going to be mad for a very long time."
"Personally, I don't think I could ever forgive her if it was me," Lupin admitted, giving him a pat to the arm. "Why don't you go shower? We'll have tea."
Lupin smirked at him. "Civilized people have tea."
"Really? I hear the British are slowly fazing that out." He grinned impishly. "So, what was in the packages?"
"Your graduation outfit." He gave him another pat. "Go shower."
"Yes, sir." Xander stood up. "I've got a technical question." Lupin put down his book. "Has this changed me enough for me to have...problems of the female sort?"
"God, I hope not," Lupin told him dryly. Xander cackled and shook his head, walking away. "If you do, warn me so I can hide," he yelled after him. "That is a scary thought," he told himself, shuddering as he tried to get back into his book. There was no use for it. He pulled over his laptop, hacking back into Dawn's email to find something to do that would take over his mind and erase that image. He remembered he had promised Xander a big box of chocolate and ordered some while he was reading the case file. It would be there in two days and he did deserve it. Even if he did destroy part of the house with his excess energy.
Lupin walked around Xander. It had been a week and a half and the boy was doing very well with his lessons. He was acting female for minutes at a time without slipping up but it wasn't natural yet. "Legs," he said softly. Xander shifted, crossing his legs. "Thank you." He sat down across from him. "You've got the basics, but you need to make them part of you." He served him some tea, pushing over the honey without being asked. The boy's sweet tooth had only gotten worse since this had started. At least he would drink tea with it in there but it was still enough honey to make his teeth ache in sympathy. "Xander," he reminded. Xander put his knees together again, grimacing. "I know, it's hard."
"It's unnatural," Xander told him. "My body aches when I cross my legs that way. That's why I relax and it ends."
"So put one leg behind the other and lock your knees together," Lupin suggested. "You'd have to sit a little sideways."
"I have to anyway, this extra padding is throwing me off." He shifted into the suggested position, liking it a bit more. "This is more comfortable. I won't always have to wear a dress, right?"
"No, there will be times when pants will suit you better. Of course, there are times when you won't have a choice." He sipped his own tea, watching the boy as he drank. "How are you handling the heels?"
"I suck at it," he said flatly. "Even the balance beam hasn't helped. I can't get the hang of tiny little points. Even the thicker tiny little points are making my ankles and back ache. How do real women do this?"
"With a lot more practice," Lupin admitted. "Ready for the next level?" Xander shrugged, taking another sip. "Let's call in Jigen to watch you too. From now on, we'll both be correcting the little things."
"I hate being picked at."
"Well, you're better than about sixty percent of the women in the world, but the really classy ones have all this stuff down."
"Yeah, but I've only been like this now for a few weeks total."
"Which is why you're still flubbing things," Lupin agreed. "Trust me, after a few years, you'd have the grace of Sophia Loren. I'd never do that to you," he said when Xander looked stunned.
"That wasn't the point. You think I could do that?"
Lupin smiled as he put down his tea cup. "I do. You've got a bit of grace. Even though you do watch your feet when you walk. On you it looks like you're shy instead of being insecure. Being a grande dame like the old screen idols would suit you. You do have that same sultry nature and the slinky undertones that would make it possible. Besides, you'll never be the sex symbol that Fujiko is. You're not a Playboy model. I'd rather see you being a realistic socialite."
"The Hiltons?" Xander asked with a grin.
"No, I'd rather have you wear decent clothes and not pull publicity stunts like falling down without underwear on." He gave the boy a small smile. "You're doing excellent so far. Short of bringing in someone from a finishing school, you're doing better than I expected." He reached back and tapped the intercom button. "Hey, Jigen, want some tea?"
"Sure, Lupin." He came in a few minutes later, nodding at Xander. "Tea?"
"Tea. Xander's gotten to the point where he needs more fine tuning than anything. I think it's time we all worked on that."
"Okay. Try to sit up a little straighter, kid." Xander sighed and sat up a little more then winced. "Sore from your workout?"
"Yeah, I spent most of it flying very hard at the ground." Xander reached back and rubbed the sore spot on his back. He leaned forward and put down his cup, then got comfortable again. He remembered to push his knees together before he could be told to again. "There, how's that?"
"Better than I expected," Jigen admitted. "Smooth but not totally right." He shrugged as he accepted his cup of tea. "Only a real woman or a woman-watcher would notice." He took a sip then put his cup down. "First thing, you don't look comfortable."
"I can't keep my legs crossed the other way. My legs start to cramp," Xander told him, shifting back to his first position. He groaned and closed his eyes then did it anyway. "I think I'll be taking a long hot bath after this."
"Fine. We'll make sure you make it to dinner," Lupin agreed. He looked over Xander's body, then at Jigen. "Something's not right."
"I know what it is. Cross your legs at the knee, not the ankle. It's more modern but it might be more comfortable." Xander did so and winced again. "No?"
"No, I'm bunching up." He shifted and then shook his head, standing up to smooth down the skirt again. "Sorry, but it's not going to happen I think." He sat down again, curling up in the chair with his legs twined together next to him. "That's more comfortable."
"That's why I had him in the other position," Lupin admitted. "Try crossing them in the other direction. Left over right." Xander shifted again and did that, then had to move so his lower half would quit pressing together uncomfortably. "Maybe pantyhose would help that?"
"I don't think the things that are bunching up would be helped by that," Xander told him dryly. "It's not my thighs, it's what's between them." He went back to crossing his legs at the ankle and canting his weight off to the side slightly. "That's better." He watched as his knees drifted. "I'm going to have to tie them together, aren't I?"
Jigen nodded. "It might help. I hear they do that in the top finishing schools."
Lupin shook his head. "No, it's not a problem. Tomorrow, come down in that outfit Fujiko bought you. The purple one." Xander raised an eyebrow. "So I peeked," he said with a grin. "Sue me."
"I don't think you'd like that," Xander teased, smirking at him. "Why should I put on the ho skirt?"
"Because I want you to wear it without anything under it and come to tea." Xander raised an eyebrow. "You'll feel self-conscious and have more desire to keep your legs crossed."
"Me?" Xander reminded him. "Aren't you confusing me with the eternally celibate Marcus?"
"He's got a point," Jigen agreed, smirking at his boss. "We'd have a few Fatal Attraction moments." Xander shivered. "Cold?"
"Odd thought," he admitted, picking up his cup to sip at the warm tea. He hoped he wasn't blushing. He wasn't prone to it anymore but still. That had been an intense mental image.
Lupin shook his head. "I had forgotten that you weren't exactly against sex."
"Yeah, and I'm really thankful that I'm not feeling my usual neediness."
Lupin nodded. "Me too." He sighed and got comfortable. "We'll figure it out, Xander."
"Maybe I should go for longer skirts," Xander suggested. "Most of what I liked was knee- length or longer. If you want me to look like I have some class, that would be easier than the little power suits that she put me into. I don't see how any woman can stand to be in a skirt all day long that rides up that far when you sit." Jigen looked at him. "It often hits above my panty line," he shared. "Especially that pale grey one."
"Yeah, but you look good in it," Lupin reminded him.
"I know, which is what sucks the most," Xander agreed. He forced his knees back together again. "Sorry." He sipped his tea, hiding his embarrassment.
"We'll figure it out. It's only been a week and a half. Let's work on the balance problems next," Lupin decided. He looked at Jigen. "Have you noticed too many problems in that area?"
"He looks at his feet when he walks. He looks like some shy school girl."
"I am a shy school girl," Xander quipped, grinning at him. "Just ask anyone. Fujiko put me in an anime schoolgirl outfit."
Lupin laughed. "She did," he agreed, nodding. That one skirt was that short. He looked at Jigen, who was looking uncomfortable. "What else do you think he should know?"
"I think we should find someone to give him an intense course of education in social graces," Jigen offered. "He'll have to learn how to dance too. All the kids could use it. We've found how many jobs at functions?" he reminded Lupin when he looked confused.
"True," he agreed. "I think Marcus has those lessons already. That is an idea though. I doubt Dawn could go into something like that and not stand out."
"Good point," Xander agreed. "I can see her in an evening gown but I can't see her not swearing any more than I can me not swearing totally." He shifted again, curling up in the chair. "I'd almost rather that we not have to test that one yet. I'm not that rhythmic. My usual version of dancing is flailing to the bass beat."
"Hmm." Lupin looked at Jigen. "You do that better."
"I do, but I don't think I could teach it."
"True, but you could help them."
"Fine," Jigen agreed. For some reason he was dreading this idea. "When?"
"How is he on the range?"
"Perfect again. Once he learned how to compensate he refound his balance and is hitting exactly again." He stood up. "Come here, Xander." Xander uncurled and stood up, facing him. "Stand up straight."
"You're not, you're slouching," Jigen told him.
"No, I'm just short," Xander reminded him.
"You're the same height I am. I can't stand it when tall women slouch." He pushed the boy's back into a straighter line, earning another wince. "Let's leave this off until we've fixed that," he decided, helping him into the chair.
"I've always slouched a little. My back hurts when I stand perfectly straight."
"It usually makes him look very comfortable with himself instead of slouchy," Lupin offered. "Let's break for today so he can take something for his back. Same time tomorrow, batman." Xander grinned as he stood up, wincing a little more. "Take a hot bath, it'll help that." Xander nodded, leaving them alone. "So?"
"Mostly I think he'll pass for quick things, but he needs more practice with real women. Ones who don't know," Jigen told him. "Only real women can teach him how to act like them."
"True. Murami?" Jigen nodded. "Do you think it's strange he can act high society as a woman and can't pass at all as a guy?"
"Very, but Xander is a little odd. I put that down to his suburban American upbringing." He suddenly let out a chuckle. "Do you know what he said when I asked him how he had learned how to shoot? He said the great American training ground."
"Street gang? Him?"
"Nintendo," Jigen told him.
Lupin laughed. "I guess that is true to a degree. Between that and his slaying I'm sure he had the best training he could."
"Yeah. It seems to work. Maybe we should join the anti-violence people so more kids don't decide that being a shooter is an okay profession? It'll glut the field."
Lupin laughed. "Professional pride would fall if the field glutted, but I'm not sure I can help the restrictive minds that are working on that. Ratings should be enough. Not everyone gets real world reinforcement of their violent streaks."
"And most of the ones who do seem to join a street gang," Jigen agreed, picking up his tea and adding a shot of brandy. Dawn had been his all morning. He deserved it. "She's hopeless."
"I know, but she'll have to learn how to kill a person sometime," Lupin reminded him. "It has to happen sometimes."
"True. That's the harshest teacher. She'll break afterwards."
"Xander staked people. He saw them die over and over before he had to see real blood. Dawn didn't patrol that often and her sister was overprotective."
Lupin looked up as everyone gathered for dinner. "Where's Xander?"
"Up to his chin napping in his tub," Dawn told him. "I tried to wake him up but he wouldn't." She took her usual seat. "He'll get up soon."
"What did he take for his back?" Goemon asked. "I know he asked Fujiko for something."
"He asked me for something for back pain. I gave him half of a loritab." Lupin groaned and stood up. "He should be able to stand that."
"He doesn't take drugs, Fujiko. Never," Jigen told her. He stood up. "Let me." He headed up the stairs, going to let the water out before the boy drowned in his sleep. He found Xander blowing bubbles into the water as he snored. He gave him a little nudge but didn't get a response so he let out the water, getting a sleepy glare. "Get up."
"No." Xander flipped onto his side, using his toes to turn back on the water. Jigen turned it back off and hauled him up. He slapped at the mean person. "No! Wanna sleep!"
"Then do it in the bed, Xander. I don't want you to drown." He roughly toweled the thin body then stuck him into his bed, leaving him there. He walked slowly down to the dining room. "He's in bed now. I dried him off first but he's out of it. He slapped at me."
"How can you grow up in America and not try drugs?" Fujiko asked.
"Easy. We're not exactly on the drug highway," Dawn told her. "Sunnydale had that fifties innocence and purposeful ignorance going on. If Xander took anything he took it on his roadtrip after graduation."
"He said he's tried a line of coke and it took him a week to sleep again," Lupin agreed. "I doubt he's ever taken anything that strong before." He looked up the stairs. "I'll have some saved for him or he can make himself a sandwich if he wakes up later." He dished out the food and handed things off. "Was he fine?"
"He was blowing bubbles but nothing else. He tried to swat me. A very girly swat."
"He does that," Marcus noted. He crossed his hands in front of his plate. "Lupin, I'd like to aid Xander in his social training. I was trained by some of the strictest matrons in Britain. I think I can help some of his constant problems."
"I don't think he needs that sort of structure," Jigen told him. "He needs enforcement and some minor things."
Marcus smiled. "Actually, he needs to learn how to keep his knees together, how not to chew his gum like he's a cow chewing cud, how not to blow bubbles with said gum, how to move without looking at his feet, how to sit properly in a chair, how to sit still, how to make tea, how to fix his hair and makeup, and how to interact with strangers. None of them are things that Xander has ever excelled at. He has never been a still person, nor comfortable around strangers. The tea thing I fear may be beyond him since he loathes the Drink of Gods and Kings, but he should at least know the basics."
"We could teach him the more standard Japanese ways," Fujiko offered. "Tea making and all that would encourage stillness."
"Xander?" Jigen snorted. "Still?"
"He is better but the young one will never be totally without wiggles," Goemon agreed. "Teaching him that could help and would encourage the correct traits but I doubt he'll master a true tea ceremony."
Lupin shrugged. "We'll see. As pointed out earlier, it's only been about two weeks. He's doing fantastic for that amount of time. He can pass by about sixty percent of the women in the world."
"Yeah, but about forty of those are native women," Dawn pointed out. "Not exactly the high society person that you are, Lupin." Lupin looked at her. "You were saying that he had it in him."
"Listening at the door?"
"No, the door was left open and I was heading up to my room," she defended. She heard a crash and winced. "I hope that wasn't wander boy." She started to move but Marcus glared at her. "What? I'm perfectly capable of putting Xander back in bed."
"He's not wandering, that was outside," Lupin announced, getting up to check to security monitors. He was smirking as he came back. "There seems to be a young man here with flowers. Dawn?" She scoffed and shook her head. "Fujiko?"
"Then it's probably not about me. Maybe he's here for Xander." She stood up, heading out to talk to the young man. "Who are you?" she asked, meeting him at the road. He looked stunned. "Answer now or be shot," she said sweetly.
"There is a young woman here, she is the most fine," he said quietly, clearly drunk and Australian. "I wanted to court her," he said with a goofy grin. "May I meet her and hand her these?"
"It depends on which one," she said, leading him up to the front entryway. "Hey," she called. "He's come courting."
Jigen came out. "Of which woman? You, Dawn, or Xan?"
"The one with the hair that shines in the moonlight," he said, then he giggled. "The one who works out at night after all the lights are off. She is stirring and bewitching. It's her I want to meet."
"She's in bed with a backache," Jigen said, taking the flowers. "I'll give them to her when she wakes up. Come back tomorrow." The young man nodded and unsteadily turned and lurched out the door, heading back through the woods. Jigen shook his head, heading to put the flowers in water. By the time he had lost his urge to laugh Fujiko had told everyone. He came back from his errand and looked at the stunned man. "What? She is pretty enough to attract louts."
"True. I was more shocked that Xander comes down and works out after we're asleep."
Dawn glanced at him. "Neither of us get more than four or five hours a night anymore. It's been trained into us from long practice and hours of slaying. I usually read." She gave a little shrug. "I guess it's more fun than looking out the window all night."
"You don't think he reads?" Fujiko asked.
"Xander doesn't like to read," Dawn told her. "It's not a comfy exercise that he does for fun."
"He's slightly dyslexic," Jigen told her. "I wonder what he's practicing at night." He looked at their boss. "No tapes?"
"I haven't taped the grounds at night in months," Lupin admitted, looking bemused. "Maybe I should start."
"You'll embarrass him," Marcus told him. "If he wanted us to know, he'd have told us."
"It does explain why he can eat so much and not gain weight," Dawn offered.
"All young men eat a lot," Jigen told her.
"He's nearly thirty," Fujiko reminded him. "That should have ended when he left his teens."
"I've heard stories about Xander at a ballgame where he closed out one hotdog seller. I thought it was due to his hyperactivity and stuff," David offered.
"For the record, not all young men turn into bottomless spots of void. Some of us were fed a proper diet," Marcus put forth, "but I also thought Xander was simply burning it off with all the fidgeting he does every day. He eats three times what I do but he also does at least twice as much physically." He gave them a shy smile. "I am rather bookish when I'm not learning what my body wants to do. Like Dawn, I find myself more comfortable with sitting in a quiet room with a book all day. If I could have stood what the Watchers stood for, I would have went there instead."
Lupin shrugged. "Xander is who he is. There's a balance, that's what's important in your group."
"Speaking of groups, when are we gonna get to go out and do stuff again?" David asked.
Goemon coughed. "Do you feel you're ready to try a solo job?" David and Dawn both nodded. "As a team. Not as a single thief. Both of you are excellent at working alone, as is Xander. To function togther, you must heal the rifts you've place between yourselves."
"Xander won't forgive us, ever," Dawn told him. "He's not the sort to give second chances." She slumped down, looking over at him. "It's something we felt had to be done, not that we wanted to be done. It can only help us in our future jobs."
"Then you're considering it wrong," Jigen said firmly. "Do I have to repeat that your crew is your family? You're supposed to watch out for them." Lupin put a hand on his arm. "Sorry. The boy was nearly destroyed."
"He was," Lupin agreed. "He's better now and that's what's important." He leaned forward. "Dawn, David, to be truthful I don't think you four could work as a team. I think you three could work as a team, possibly, but not with Xander yet. To be brutally honest, he's got skills none of you have and until you can make up some of that deficiency you're not ready to go into the real world on your own."
"I did fine on my own," Dawn argued.
"On your own," Fujiko told her. "Working as a team is different. Trust me, I did that often enough. Merging your skills as part of a group is like sharing your mind with them. It's more intimate than sleeping with them and less intimate than being telepathic with them. They've got to know what you're going to do at each step, and what you might do if something goes wrong. They have to know every little prick in your mind that might change the plan mid-job and what you'd do if that happened. They have to be able to second-guess you and your methods. Can you do that with either of these two?" Dawn's face fell. "I thought not. Yes, I managed to screw the group royally a few times, usually for a decent enough reason. Usually my life," she admitted. "I also know every move Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon might ever make. Back when we first formed it took us months to find that rapport. And I broke it time and again to leave and come back. When I did, it was easier each time. You'll find that Xander will be the one who leaves and comes back, but he'll do it for a more pure reason. Until you can second guess David's path up a wall and through a maze, you're not ready to go out as a team. You don't trust each other. You don't consider them first and last. You don't look at the minor strengths as well as the greater ones. Personally, I'd put you about mid-range on the scale of thieves presently working. That's just you. I'd put David down at the apprentice level because he's never really had to steal in the field yet. For being able to handle a situation gone wrong, I'd flunk you both and send you back to your mentors if you left right now."
"We can handle anything," Dawn said firmly.
Jigen laughed. "Do you know how many times we've been shot at, Dawn? How many grazes and close calls we've had because someone got a lucky shot while we were running? I've got sixteen scars from grazes. Lupin's got about six. Fujiko's got less and Goemon can usually knock them out of the air with his sword. That's not skill, that's dumb lack of luck. That's also part of knowing them. You have to know who to send first and last. Who can cover the group and who can go first to break the path. You've got one shooter and Marcus." Her face fell. "You're a decent enough shot on the range but you couldn't handle shooting a person yet. Not even to save yourself. You'd break down right then and there and endanger your team."
Marcus nodded. "Besides, I'm nowhere near ready to venture so far from Goemon yet. Not for at least another ten months or so. By then I should understand that little voice in my head. Until then, I can't say what the spirit could make me do. Nor can I say that I would trust the four of us not to kill each other in the field. My skills are not set enough yet to venture out and harm others. Yes, I can throw daggers. That's wonderful but it's a finite weapon. Xander can shoot anyone and everything, but again a finite weapon. I cannot describe what it felt like to watch my dagger puncture that wizard's stomach. Nor can I describe what it felt like later that night when I got sick for hours thinking about it." Dawn shivered. "We are not ready yet. If you're that desperate for activity, why don't you go break into somewhere again?" He ate a bite of meat. "Am I correct in assuming that this will be our last year of full teaching? That from now on, when we're together, it will be like on-the-job training?" Lupin nodded. "Thank you." He looked at his mentor. "Do you think I can learn enough in the ten months?"
"I think I can train your body to follow your instincts by then. You are my main student and I will begin bringing you around to help with Xander. You fight in different ways but you should know each other's methods." Marcus nodded. "As for the other two, they can both fight well enough to brawl but not battle."
Jigen shrugged. "Dawn can shoot but she doesn't do well against the paper humans. Marcus needs range time so he can at least become proficient." Goemon nodded. "Do you have a particular choice for him?"
"I'd say he'd do better with something automatic," Lupin offered. "That way he doesn't have to concentrate. If the sword is going to be his primary weapon then he needs to stick with it and only learn the basics in the others." Jigen nodded, accepting that. "Fujiko, what about the wires and things? I haven't taught anyone about those."
"I taught Xander some," Jigen admitted.
"See, that's unfair. Xander's so fucking far ahead of us, I'm not sure we can catch up," Dawn said.
Jigen looked at her. "I had Xander in intense training for over a year and he came to me partially trained already, girl. He killed someone within minutes to protect me and get me free. Xander's been better trained because he's already had another six years of training, all the way since school." Dawn nodded, putting her head back down. "You have the skills but you're refusing to see the necessities. As long as you're doing that, it's not going to help you much. Suppression fire means that you'll still hit someone. Do you think you're ready to deal with that?"
"I usually ignore the fact that I could have killed someone," Dawn said stiffly. "Whether it's from a gas canister or my gun. I don't want to look at dead bodies. Isn't the whole point that we get in and get out without being seen?"
"It is, but things happen," Lupin reminded her gently. "It isn't just about the job, it's the time before, the planning, the after, and the running. With you at your present skill level you've already got cops chasing after you. Not as bad as Pops, but still cops. There are international warrants for your arrest. Are you going to give up and wait to be saved each time you run into one or are you going to shoot back?" Dawn shuddered, curling in on herself. "As you told David and Marcus, this isn't a game, Dawn. This is a hard life. It's not nice. You can't be a nice little girl who occasionally crawls through heating ducts and steals pretty things. If you're going to be in the life, you're going to have to be totally in the life. Xander's learning extra skills to make up for the group's deficiencies. I'd trust him and Jigen to go out and work alone. I'd trust Xander to go out on his own but I know he'd be miserable."
"You want to keep him," Dawn accused, glaring at him.
"It would help sometimes to have a third shooter," Lupin agreed, "but no. I don't think he'd want to stay with us. We're all older than he is. We don't understand him the way you're supposed to. We don't understand his background, some of his jokes, or his concerns." He put his forearms on the table, leaning on them. "If it comes down to it, I know people who would *love* to hire Xander. People who would look at him like he was the holy grail. Not because Jigen trained him. Not because of his past. Because he was so skilled and has such a wide range of knowledge. His past and his training from Jigen would add more to his reputation. Marcus will one day be the same way. Thanks to his possession, he's already eons ahead of most people who've only been taking martial arts for a year and a bit. Within the next few years I expect him to fully pass Goemon and become the most proficient he can be. Goemon has a limit on his style, the demon warrior doesn't and knew more than one style." Goemon nodded. "You're a thief, and while you do that very well and you plan very well, that isn't all you can do and survive in the field. You've got to be willing to protect yourself and your people. You've got to be able to walk out of the field after shooting someone and make sure your team is still fine and away before you collapse in tears. You've still got a lot to learn. Even Xander has more to learn. He's got limits he hasn't found yet."
Jigen nodded. "Xander's never faced down an extraordinary large force without his weapons. He's never faced down a battalion of people with only a few guns either. I've had a few Alamo situations. You don't know that limit until you're in that situation. I hope he never does run into it. There are few situations that make me want to pray, that is one of them. We're giving you reality. One or two successful jobs does not mean you can rest on your laurels. Not unless you're picked up by an insurance company to test for them. Besides, none of you can work a safe, electronic or the older dial ones. None of you can handle mass traps. None of you are proficient with the detection equipment. It won't be Xander who needs to do that. He's already got enough on his plate."
"I'd vote Dawn," Fujiko offered. "David isn't always the most technical person." David nodded, still looking like reality had just knocked him down and pissed on him. "Each person in a team holds multiple positions. Yes, I do lure and act as bait. I also happen to be a thief of my own skill level. I can do safes, electronic traps, and shoot. I'm not as good as Lupin and it's gotten me into a lot of trouble in the past. For that matter, being a female in the field is an invitation to get hurt to get back at your friends. I've been hurt numerous times by people who wanted Lupin. Both to lure him and not. Right now you've got one who should not go out alone but he could. You've worked alone and done little things. David needs real world experience. Marcus needs more training and to find other things he can do besides fight with a sword and research. Let him handle the money matters. Let him do some of the magic stuff." She suddenly stopped and smiled. "It's a maze year."
Lupin smirked back. "I had forgotten about that." He looked at the other two, who shrugged. "Fine. We'll go through and let the kids go through on their own. Plus Dawn and Xander can go on their own if they want. It will definitely put the word out about them." Dawn looked at him. "Like the convention for assassins, this maze event is for thieves. The test is to get through it alive. We've made it through three times and nearly beat it two more times. I can't get through without Jigen and Goemon. Fujiko?"
"I've gotten through it once by myself but it's tilted against men. The other six times I've run it I've gotten stuck in the center. One of them I ended up in the hospital."
"I made it through once by myself," Jigen admitted. "I didn't do it after then. I thought I was going to die during that whole thing." Lupin nodded. "You can't beat it without us?"
"I have, I know I can't now. It's only gotten harder since my younger days." He stared down Dawn. "When I was your age, I beat it four times, four years running. Then they changed it. The next six years most of the teams who went through didn't live." She swallowed. "We've always made it out with mostly minor injuries. If you want a real test, you'll do that one. You can go in as a group. You can even have Xander if you want. You'll compete against us. We'll go in as a team." His people nodded. "Fujiko won't be too far along and we can ward her."
Dawn nodded. "Fine. And if we want to do individual runs?"
"It's discouraged any more but you can register to do that," Lupin told her. "If you want to, go ahead. You will have to use your gun." She nodded, leaving her chin tilted up. "Then we'll go next month. Jigen, do you want to talk to Xander about that?"
"Sure, Lupin. This'll be fun. I haven't been back since the last time."
"This year's theme is Mystical Convergences," Fujiko told him. "It could add some extra weight to their side since they deal with magic." She glanced at her husband, who shook his head. "You don't want me to go alone?"
"No, I do not. Not this year, Fujiko. You'll be too delicate to go on your own. After the birth." She nodded, accepting that for now. She was fragile. "I will not go alone this year. I have attempted it twice and come out once."
Lupin smirked. "That's fine. Someone find me the registration forms." Fujiko nodded, taking a bite of her salad. "Eat. We'll need it." They dug in, letting him plan his strategy. If Dawn was smart she'd be doing that too. A maze with very hard traps was not something that you went into blind.
Xander woke up in a dark room, his mind was still fuzzy. He sat up, one hand going to his forehead. "Ow," he complained, shaking his head to clear it. "No more good pain killers from Fujiko," he told himself. He climbed out of bed, padding into the bathroom to take a quick shower and get dressed in practice clothes. He couldn't sleep again. He knew he couldn't. He came out and found Jigen sitting on his bed. "Hey, problems? I'm sorry about earlier."
"It's not a problem." He got comfortable. "Come sit. A decision was reached earlier without you." Xander gave him a hesitant look as he came over and sat down. "Not that sort. Every few years there's a special maze for thieves. It usually runs around the same time as the assassin's convention."
"Are we going to that?"
Jigen shrugged. "Technically we could but I don't take work like that. Were you planning on it?"
"No," Xander said, shaking his head. "I don't want to be a hired gun. It's lonely and dangerous from what little I know. I'd rather have a more stable group around me."
"That's fine. If you want there is a shopping day, we can go to that." Xander grinned and nodded, shifting closer. "The maze is happening again this year. Dawn and David thought they were ready to go out on their own." Xander snorted. "So we're going through the maze. Your group, our group, and whoever wants to go alone." Xander opened his mouth and Jigen leaned over, closing his lips with a finger. "I know, it's for thieves. I want you to consider going on your own. There are situations you haven't faced before and I think this maze could give you a safer way of examining them. If I'm right, you'll make it out of there alive and whole. If not, you might get a little injured." Xander nodded. "Dawn wants to go on her own. Lupin and the rest of us agreed, she's going to get hit with reality."
Xander chuckled. "I know I've got stuff I could learn. Lots of stuff. I can't do a lock, I can't do safes. I destroy things and I shoot things." He looked at his hands. "Jigen, can we please finish my education in explosives? I know some."
"Sure. When did you learn that?"
"From the PFC incident."
"Ah." Jigen smirked at him. "Sure, kid. We'll work on that too. It'll give you more technical range." He looked at the boy then shifted even closer so he could talk quieter. "Dawn thinks that your group is ready to go solo. Or that she could go solo without the group."
"But Marcus...." Xander started.
"True, and he told her as much. The rest of us tried to take down the rookie ego problem she's having. It's usual. We've been waiting for it. I want to know if you've got it."
"I know my limits," Xander told him. "I know what I'm good for and at."
"You're better than you think, kid, but not quite as good as me," Jigen reminded him with a small grin. "You okay with that?" Xander nodded. "Still don't believe it, do you?" Xander shook his head. "That's why I want you to go through by yourself. This year's maze is like the year I went through on my own. We can compare problems. It will prove to you how good you are and can be. I'd like to see this problem with your self-esteem disappear."
"I'll have Fujiko steal it," he offered with a small grin.
"I don't think she'll want it. She's feeling confused enough as is." He ruffled the student's hair, making him smile. "What were you going to do?"
"I was going to workout like usual. Why?"
"When did you start that?"
"Um, I don't really remember," Xander lied. Jigen gave him a look, he knew that tone too well. "Fine," he sighed. "Within my first week. This room is bigger than half of my old house and I can't sleep the full night in here."
"We can set you up a room in a closet," Jigen offered.
"No, that's all right." Xander looked at him. "You know what I'm going to miss most about the normal life?" Jigen shook his head. "Having a pet." He stood up and headed out into the night to stretch, then to practice.
Jigen shook his head. "Such a kid," he said, laughing a little. They'd have to find Xander something that he could take with him to talk to. He stood up, going to watch from the study. He'd tell Xander about his admirer tomorrow. He watched the boy go through the katas they had all learned in their first few weeks, going sequentially through them all. Xander was better than he let on, and better than Goemon let on. He'd have to ask him for a real evaluation of the boy's strengths. He left him alone, heading upstairs.
Goemon came in from the back lawn. "Where is Xander?" he asked the dining room in general.
"He was doing all his katas in sequence earlier this morning," Jigen told him. "He's not out there?" Goemon shook his head. "Have you checked his room?"
Marcus walked in and bowed to his teacher. "Are we discussing Xander and his back problem now?" They nodded. "He's in the gym. I'm not moving him. He looks to have knocked himself silly on the balance beam. He's lying face down on the mat."
"I had been working on some minor moves with him. He needed better balance during lunges," Goemon offered, leading the way to check on the boy. He found him groaning and unable to move. "Stay still," he ordered. "From now on, you do not enter this room without someone watching you." Xander weakly pointed at a video camera that had been set up in the corner. Then he passed out again. "I believe he's hurt his back again." He ran his fingers over the tense muscles. "He could be cramping. I don't believe it's spinal."
Jigen stood up and went to rewind the tape, looking at the last few minutes. The boy was graceful when he wasn't being watched. He winced when he saw Xander fall and hit his head on the small beam, falling the few inches to the mats. "He was doing backflips."
"When did he learn those?" Goemon asked.
Jigen looked at him. "You didn't teach him?" The samurai shook his head. "Lupin!" he yelled. Lupin came walking in a few minutes later. "Did you teach Xander how to do backflips?"
"No. Is that why he's unconscious?" He came over to look in the eyepiece of the video camera. "Goemon?"
"Not me," he admitted. "I have been working on his lunges." He stood up. "I believe he is having back spasms. Nothing seems to be broken." He looked over as Fujiko walked in. "Have you been working with the boy?"
She nodded. "He asked me how to do a backflip recently. He thinks it'll come in handy for some reason. I walked him through it and spotted him through the first few. Why?" She looked at the body on the floor. "Is he dead?"
"He is unconscious. He hit his head," Goemon told her. "I think we need to sit down and see what each of us is teaching him. He is soaking up knowledge at an incredible pace."
"He's never been one for books," Marcus said dryly. "His grades prove that." The adults glared at him. "Sorry. True, but probably unsuitable for the occasion," he admitted sheepishly. "Should we try to move him?"
"Dawn!" Lupin yelled. She came jogging in. "Can you check him to make sure nothing's broken so we can move him?" She nodded, kneeling beside Xander to do so. "Has he asked you to teach him anything?"
"He asked me how to pick locks," Dawn admitted absently. "No breaks. A strained neck, a few pulled muscles in his back. He should be fine within a few days." She stood up. "Why?"
"He's asked to be taught a more physical and acrobatic form of combat," Goemon told her. "I was not aware of that."
Dawn nodded. "Xander's like that. As long as learning's fun he'll soak it up if he thinks it's useful. Is that what he did in here?" Jigen nodded. "Then he'll be fine. Give him a few hours." She shrugged and walked out.
"A few hours to heal a strained neck?" Fujiko said, looking confused. "Can she do that?"
"No, but I think I know who'll be pushing him," Lupin said dryly, nodding at the boy. "Okay, let's move him. Who wants what part?"
"Give him here," Jigen told him.
"I doubt it. It will only hurt his back and neck worse," Goemon told him. "I've had similar injuries. I was not right for nearly a month." He steadied the boy's head, letting everyone else get the rest of his body. "Do you believe he will be pushing himself again?"
"I think he's doing so now," Lupin told him, moving to get the feet. "Jigen, get his middle." The gunman nodded, moving in to help.
"What can I do?" Fujiko asked.
"Get the doors," Lupin told her. She nodded, hurrying to do that for them. She liked the boy, even though he did try all her patience. Once she had tucked him in, she looked at her friends. "Why is he doing this?"
Jigen shrugged. "Who knows."
"He could think that he needs to learn these extra things to help his team," Goemon offered. "Or he could think that we will hold Dawn's attitude against him and send him away sooner. He has stepped up his physical training and that is the usual move directly before being sent out of the nest."
"We're not sending him away," Jigen said angrily.
"No, we're not," Lupin agreed. "Try telling him that yet?" Jigen glared at him. "We'll work on him later. For right now, let's go watch that tape and compare notes. We'll take breakfast in the office." They trooped out, leaving Marcus to fuss over Xander.
"You dumb idiot," Marcus said fondly, smiling at him. "I could handle most of that, Xander. You didn't have to fill in for me as well." He kissed him on the forehead. "You rest, I'll be back in a bit. Let me eat something and then I'll come back up. I'll even bring some food and something for your back." He walked out, closing the door behind him. He stopped in at the office. "Goemon, when did he hurt his back the first time? I remember he was in pain last night."
Goemon shrugged. "He never mentioned he was in pain."
"He was hissing and wincing after he got done with you yesterday," Jigen told him.
"Huh." Lupin looked at them. "Goemon, when did you start teaching him harder things?"
"A week ago. Right after he had that near-breakdown in frustration. Why?"
"When did he come to you to learn extra combat things, Fuji?"
"About a week ago, just under I think," she said, thinking back. "About five days ago. The day after he spent eating chocolate."
Jigen coughed. "He came down to do a lot of practice that same night. Will we need to talk to him?" Lupin nodded. "Do you think he wants to leave?"
"No. I think he thinks he's going to be sent away soon," Lupin told him. "He has some sort of phobia of letting you down." Jigen growled. "Talk to him later. Marcus, go eat." Marcus nodded, leaving them alone. "Let's watch the tape." He hit the rewind button on the remote, waiting while it went backwards. Then he hit play at the beginning, letting them all watch what the boy had been doing.
Xander woke up and groaned. This was not a good thing. He could feel the blankets so someone had found him. He remembered slipping. He blinked at the ceiling, then at the faces next to him. "Hey," he said tiredly. "I'm in deep, huh?" Lupin and Jigen both shook their heads. He forced himself to sit up. "I'm not?"
"We're concerned, kid. Why were you doing all that?"
"Because someone needs to," Xander said honestly. "I have to be better because the other kids are going to count on me."
"They need to start counting on their own skills," Lupin told him, reaching over to touch the soft hair he had brushed earlier. "You've already got an impressive stable of skills, Xander. You aren't superman."
"Yeah, but someone still has to know."
Jigen shook his head. "No, you don't. Most of that's unnecessary. We're still teaching people how to pick locks."
"Yeah, I was gonna ask about that too," Xander admitted sheepishly. "Dawn said she couldn't teach me. Please don't be mad?"
"We're not mad," Jigen said softly, moving closer to give him a gentle hug. "I'm not mad. Disappointed in your friends because they allowed you to think that you needed to know this."
"I'm being realistic, Jigen. If something happened, I'm going to be their backup. I've got to be good enough to be able to save them, no matter what."
Lupin shook his head. "Not necessarily. If you call us, we'll come."
Xander looked at him. "Until something happens and you die." Lupin looked shocked. "I've got to think farther ahead. I'm nearly thirty. My skills are already starting to deteriorate. If I don't learn it now I might not have a chance later. The more I can suck up now the better I'll be able to help when it's time."
"I wish the others felt the same way," Jigen told him. He forced Xander to lay back down. "Most of them won't think beyond the end of this year."
"Yeah, but I'm older. Marcus is twenty-two. David is eighteen. Dawn is twenty. They still think they're immortal. I'm the older and wiser member."
"Yes, but that doesn't mean you have to be able to do it all. You're not the entire calvary, Xander." Lupin leaned closer. "Trust me, it's going to be a while before we die. David will probably die before any of us do." Xander opened his mouth. "Listen, kid. This isn't healthy for you to do to yourself. Working yourself too hard now means that you'll ache in your old age."
"I already ache," Xander said miserably. "I'm already aching and miserable most mornings! They're little kids who have *no* idea what it's like to have life threatening injuries that will haunt you for life!"
"True," Jigen agreed, smiling at him. "You can't explain it to them either. They'll never understand until they get one of their own. David could have learned the same thing from his father but his father wasn't there."
"His mother wanted a baby and tricked him. Gunn was there as often as he could be," Xander defended. "Wesley was forced to procreate by the Watchers before he was sent to their school, so the bloodline would continue if he was suddenly killed before he could. Marcus and his sister came from that. Dawn is so special that there may never be another one of her. And they're still kids! They'll go rushing into things like I used to. They'll get hurt time and again before they realize that they need to know things and by then it'll be too late. If something happens during a job, I'm it! You guys won't be there to hold our hands or baby them!"
"No, but we'll still come," Lupin reminded him. "We will come if you need us, Xander. Always. Or you could always run to us."
"That won't help if they're shot during a job and end up dead," Xander pointed out.
"True," Jigen agreed, looking at Lupin. "He's feeling like their parent," he explained.
"He probably does. I do," Lupin agreed. "You do for him and Dawn." Jigen agreed. "Xander, you don't have to do it all on your own." He shifted closer. "I seriously don't think that Dawn and David will stay in the life," he said quietly. "Once they're faced with reality they'll go straight and use the skills for other means. Dawn may break into things to check security systems. That would give her the high she wants and the steady job she likes. I have a very strong gut feeling that David will be hurt and opt to go back and help his father," he explained. "If we get to keep you and Marcus, I'd consider this a well spent two years. Marcus needs us. You need us and you like us." Xander nodded, still looking miserable. "We'll look at things after the maze, all right?" Xander nodded again. "For right now, I want you to stay up here. You need to rest. The pain killers I shot into the back of your neck will wear off in about three hours. The ones in your lower back will wear off in about two."
"Then I'll need to shower and change," Xander pleaded.
"Sure, kid," Jigen agreed. He gave him a little nudge. "You'll be staying so I get a real vacation. Got it?" Xander relaxed and gave him the most trusting look. "It'll be okay. I know it will. You're staying with us until you decide otherwise."
"Besides, if you really want to learn how to work safes and locks, I am the master," Lupin said smugly, smirking at him. "You should have come to me immediately instead of her. Why learn from someone who doesn't know it all?"
"Smug bastard," Xander said with a grin.
"Definitely. The same as you have the right to be," Lupin reminded him. "As soon as you're healed, we'll be seeing exactly what you can really do. Not what you think you can do but what you can really do. When were you going to tell us?"
"When I knew enough to admit I knew something," Xander admitted. "You asked me to tell you what I could do and I was planning on it." He plucked at the bedspread. "I know I don't know enough to claim knowledge."
Jigen frowned at him. "We saw the tape, Harris." Xander flinched. "When did you consider knowing enough?"
"When I could make it all the way across without a pain, a problem, and can do it blindfolded."
"That's an expert level," Lupin instructed. "I want to know when you're at the apprentice level. Got it?" Xander nodded, slower this time. "Anything else you want to admit to?"
"I'm learning Russian, first aid, and Japanese?"
Lupin shook his head. "You need to sleep more." He stood up. "I'll leave you two alone. The forms for the maze still need to be filled out."
Xander lifted his chin. "I want to go through on my own."
Lupin grinned. "Sure. Then we'll go together. I need to know how you work best." Xander nodded. "Either the two of us or we'll go through with Jigen."
"Can you help me with Goemon? I don't understand the guy."
"Think Kendra, trained from birth and happy with his life," Jigen told him. Xander looked thoughtful. "He likes his life." He stood up. "Want help into the shower?"
"As long as the painkillers hold I'll be fine," Xander told him. "I wish I had known that was a loritab last night. I had a lot of problems with them after they had to take the remains of my eye." He forced himself to stand up and walk slowly into the bathroom.
"What did you take that worked best?" Lupin called after him.
"I cut the painkiller as soon as I got out of the hospital. They were too expensive to buy," Xander called back. He heard the groan. "Sorry, boss, but a reality of life was that I was damn poor. My job had just been blown up and there wasn't much a one-eyed carpenter could do for a living. I nearly went back to stripping." He turned on the shower, looking back when the door opened. "What? It was on my roadtrip." He shrugged slowly. "It would have paid the bills."
Lupin blinked a few times. "You did?"
"Once or twice," Xander said with a bright grin. "I hated it but it paid the bills really well. For it being Oxnard, I was surprised at my pay." He pulled off the shirt he was wearing. "Um, being shy now." Lupin smirked as he turned around. "Thanks. This whole breast thing is still throwing me for a loop." He stripped off his pants and underwear, then climbed into the shower. He let out a long sigh. "Oh, nice," he groaned, leaning into the hot water. "Who else saw me?"
"Dawn and Marcus. Marcus found you," Lupin told him, looking at Jigen, who shivered and shook his head. "Any other odd jobs you want to mention?"
"I used to flip a lot of burgers and fill a lot of cones. I did phone sex for six months." Lupin coughed. "Sorry. I used to hang out a lot at the pawn shops looking for good stuff for Anya."
"That's something else I can teach you. Gem evaluation is a good thing to know," Lupin told him. "We can work on that and minor locks while you're resting."
"I'll be fine in a few days."
"You'll stay in that bed until I say otherwise, young man. You've got to learn to trust me." Lupin shut the door, walking over to sit on the bed. "Did you know that?"
"No. I imagine he was good at it. His voice is very soft."
"It's like absinth in whiskey," Lupin agreed. "I can almost imagine those calls coming from him."
"I'm sure you'll get one some day, when we let him out on his own," Jigen teased. Lupin smirked at him. "I can't imagine him stripping."
"Male strippers don't have much dancing. They more move and thrust their hips," Lupin told him, getting comfortable. The boy was still groaning in the hot water. "We need to get his medical records from LA."
"I'm not going into that city again."
"That's fine, we'll call and ask the hospital for them," Lupin said with a shrug. "I'm sure they'll give us an idea of what to give him for bad pain. I wonder if he has any from his glass eye."
"I doubt he'd tell us yet," Jigen pointed out. He stood up, heading to the bathroom door. "Xander?"
"What did you take when they replaced your eye after you got out?"
"Tylenol and whiskey."
"What would you have liked to take?"
"Morphine. Heroin. Something to black my mind and the pain."
"On that same scale, how would you rate the pain you're going to be having?"
"Um, probably about halfway up?' Xander stuck his head out of the shower. "What did he stick me with?"
Jigen looked back and Lupin groaned. "I gave him a local anesthetic."
Jigen looked back at Xander. "He gave you a local."
"Hey, pregnancy drugs. I like those. I could probably do it with some Advil. I've got a high pain tolerance anymore."
"Does your eye still hurt?"
"Sometimes. I'm fine with it. I take some Tylenol and go to bed with a headache." He pulled his head back in. "I'll be out soon."
"Fine." Jigen shut the door and went back to his seat. "He says he takes Tylenol and claims a headache."
"I've seen three of those since we've known him," Lupin said, considering it. "During the trip to the desert he had one but Fihad ...." he trailed off, reaching around his friend to grab the phone. He dialed a number from memory. "This is Arsene Lupin the Third. Is the doctor in?" he asked. He smirked. "Fihad. It's me. I have a technical question. You saw Xander, what do we give him for pain? He's having some in his eye now and then and right now he's under a local for a sprained neck and back. No, he claims he didn't take any pain killers after he got out of the hospital because he couldn't afford it. He took Tylenol and whiskey to kill the pain and memories. He thought he should have morphine at the time." He listened. "Loritabs gave him a fuzzy head and made him nearly drown in the tub last night. Yeah." He made a mental list. "Thanks. Would you please call the Wolfram and Hart offices in LA and get them to forward Xander's medical records to you?" He smirked at Jigen. "Really? Can I have a copy? Because he does have that pesky allergy. Yeah, we're getting him a medic alert bracelet for it. Sure. Thanks."
He hung up, looking at Jigen. "He got Xander's records when he treated him. They include a personal copy of his ones from Sunnydale because the boy requested them before he left the hospital because he said he was going to be leaving the town and he didn't want to risk it on his trip. It's nearly as thick as mine. He's got more than one drug allergy. No opiates. They gave him morphine during surgery and he had some trouble breathing. They prescribed him Demerol and he had a decent reaction to it. His file suggests we stick with the non-narcotics." He paused when he heard the shower stop. "Fihad's sending us a prescription for him." He walked into the bathroom, making Xander blush. "Sorry. I talked to Fihad, he's sending us something for your back and neck. That was a nice job with the hospital in Sunnydale."
"Thanks," Xander said, still blushing. "I thought it might be necessary." He wrapped the towel around him. "Can I get dressed now?"
"Sure. Want help?"
"No, it's still working." He walked out, slowly because his balance was off. "What's he sending me?"
"Atavan. It's about as strong as Demerol." He helped the boy to his bed and went to get him something to sleep in. He smirked at the boxers, holding up a pair. "How about these?"
"Sure." Xander put them on under the towel and accepted an older wife beater tanktop. "Thanks, guys." He climbed back under the covers. "Are you sure I can't go watch tv at least?"
"That's your punishment for not coming to me directly to learn lockpicking," Lupin told him. He gave him a fond pat. "Come on, Jigen. I'll let you get his drugs filled. I'll be back in a while to teach you how to open simple handcuff locks." Xander nodded, grinning at him. They walked out together, giving each other a look. Xander would make an excellent addition to their team. They ran into the other boys at the foot of the stairs. "Xander is awake and not complaining."
"His admirer is in the sitting room," David told him. "He's sober this time. Fujiko said it'd do him good to blush and stammer." He looked up the stairs. "Does he need anything?"
"He's resting then I'm going to work on lockpicking with him," Lupin told him. "Xander wanted to learn. He said he asked Dawn and she refused." He walked into the sitting room, shaking the young man's hand. "You are?"
"Mark Spaniel," he said, smiling at him. "I know you. I've seen your poster."
"The young woman you're inquiring about is under my direct supervision. She's the daughter of a friend. Why did you want to meet her?"
"Hellfires, she's beautiful. She looks smooth as glass from a distance. She looks like the sort of girl guys like me like. I'd like to take her out a few times if your friend wouldn't mind." He grinned as the door opened and that nice woman walked in with tea. "Thanks. So, where is she?"
"She's in bed. She sprained her back early this morning," Lupin said, letting Fujiko serve the tea. She looked at him and he smiled at her, knowing what she was thinking. It would definitely break Xander's shyness to be gushed over. Plus, it would make some people fairly jealous. "I can take you up and introduce you if you want or you could wait for a week and a bit."
Mark fiddled with his cup. "I'm due back at university in a few weeks, sir. I'm an engineering Masters candidate." He took a long drink, then put his cup down. "I'd like to take her to dinner before I had to go back. I was hoping we could start corresponding."
Lupin nodded. "Then let me take you up and introduce you. She's a very special young lady." He stood up, taking the young man with him. He tapped on Xander's door. "Xander?"
"Visitor." He opened the door, startling the young woman. "Xander, this is Mark Spaniel. He's apparently living near enough to admire you from afar."
Mark blushed as he walked in and sat beside her bed in the chair Jigen had been using. He reached over and took her hand, kissing the back of it. "I've been watching you for a few weeks now," he admitted with a little boy's grin. "You're not only talented but deadly beautiful." He glanced at Lupin, then back at Xander. "I guess I know why now. I came over to ask you to dinner when you're better. Do you think you'd like to go? There's a nice place in the local village."
Xander blushed, stammering hard. What did he do in this circumstance? He looked at Lupin, who nodded. "Um, sure?" he squeaked. "It'll be a bit before I'm allowed out of bed."
"That's fine, beautiful. I've got a few weeks before I've got to go back to the U. Can I call on you tomorrow?"
"How about this weekend?" Xander suggested. "I'll be feeling a little better then and maybe we could sit outside and talk." Mark's face lit up. "Thank you for telling me why I've felt like I was being watched." She held out a hand and he kissed the back of it again, caressing the palm before letting it go. Xander blushed again. "I'm sorry I'm such a girly girl. This is the first time this has happened to me."
Mark beamed. "You're a beautiful woman. If more men haven't fallen at your feet yet your protectors are keeping you locked up like only a good thief can keep something he's stolen." He stood up, pushing the chair back. "I'll see you Saturday afternoon?"
"Make it Sunday," Lupin told him. "Saturday it's supposed to rain and the umbrella set out there needs mended." Mark nodded and shook his hand then strode out. Lupin looked at Xander, then shrugged. "You wouldn't believe me when I said you were pretty. What better way to learn how to flirt?" He grinned. "I'll be right back, Xander." He walked out, closing the door behind himself. He ran into Jigen in his office. "You haven't left yet?"
"It hasn't come across yet," Jigen said, glaring at his back. "Did that boy come back?"
"Yup. He'll be back Sunday afternoon. They plan on sitting in the garden and talking. Xander needs to learn how to flirt." He glanced back, Jigen's shaded eyes were narrowed. "He'll be fine. We can have a chaperone. I'll send Goemon with him."
"I'm sure he'll be embarrassed."
"Xander still blushes. Very brightly." He pulled up his lock picking set and found a pair of handcuffs to teach the boy with. "Hurry back." He gave him a pat on the arm as he walked past. Step one was complete. Jigen was deathly jealous of the young, tanned, fit Australian. He tapped again, startling Xander. "Thought he had come back?"
"Yeah. Don't surprise me like that!" He threw a pillow at his boss' head. "That's mean!"
"He showed up last night with flowers and drunk enough for courage." Lupin sat on the end of his bed. "Fujiko ran him off." He held out the tools of the lockpicking trade. "These are your picks," he explained. "Each one has a specific type of tumbler to be used on."
"What am I supposed to do on Sunday?" Xander asked, starting to panic.
"You'll plant your butt in a seat in the garden and make nice with him. If you feel like it, you can try out some gentle flirting without leading him to expect more. I'll have a chaperone with you two, probably Goemon. He does it so well," he said with a smirk. Someone knocked on the door. "Enter!" Goemon walked in, looking at him. "Will you be here Sunday?" The samurai nodded quickly. "Good, I'm having you chaperone Xander and her admirer from next door."
Goemon shook his head. "What? I do not think I heard you correctly."
"Apparently we've got neighbors who think I'm deadly and beautiful," Xander told him, his eyes still wide. "I'm having a chat with him Sunday afternoon."
"I will be there," Goemon agreed. "I will keep this cretin from touching you."
"No. Xander has to learn how to flirt," Lupin told him. "Most normal girls would be able to by now. He'll be perfectly safe in the garden with you watching in case there's a problem." Goemon raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"Would not Jigen be the better one for that duty?"
"No. I don't want the kid shot." Lupin looked at Xander again. "You can cancel if you want."
"I..." He shivered. "I don't know what the hell is going on, but why me?"
Lupin touched the pale hair. "You are beautiful in this form, Xander. It's only natural. It's something that you should cultivate. What else did you need, Goemon?"
"There is a delivery for Xander. Books? I signed for them."
"Thanks. I'm hoping this is the stuff I had sent to Cairo and then to here." He blushed under Lupin's look. "More studying," he admitted. "Latin, more Russian, and Greek."
Lupin chuckled. "Bring them up, Goemon. It'll keep him occupied while he's stuck in bed."
"Yes, Lupin." He walked out, shaking his head. This was a dangerous plan, probably started by his wife. "Fujiko," he said when he found her looking at Xander's books. "Is this your idea?" She smirked at him and handed over the box. "This could hurt Jigen greatly."
"Why? He only thinks of the boy like a child, he's said so often enough." She smirked as she strolled off. "Tell him I said to feel better and to wear the blue dress this Sunday. I'll be up to help him do his hair."
Goemon groaned. This was a bad idea. He could feel the tragedy starting already. He carried the box of books up there, handing them over. "Fujiko suggested he wear the blue dress Sunday." Xander shook his head. "No?"
"No. It dips *really* low in front," Xander told him. "I'd rather wear something a little more concealing for my first date. That way I don't feel like he's staring down my top."
Lupin nodded. "That's wise. Wear the cream one. You look good in it." He held up the flat one. "This is what I call a spade. That's why my grandfather called it." Xander nodded, taking it to look over. He glanced at Goemon, who looked like he was facing a firing squad. "It will be fine. The boy will be going back to school in a few weeks. What safer way to learn how to act like a young woman?"
Goemon groaned, heading out. This was getting worse by the minute. He was going to have to kill Jigen to keep him from killing the young man who would be flirting with his interest. They would not be able to use the house again because of this.
Fujiko gave him a hug. "It'll be fine," she promised. "Every woman needs someone to flirt with her." She let him go and left him alone. She wanted something and wasn't sure what. She walked into the kitchen, finding Dawn refilling the water filter pitcher. "Never get pregnant, it's annoying." She searched the cabinets but nothing was screaming at her to be eaten. "Isn't there anything salty!" she demanded, stamping her foot.
"There's a tin of caviar," Dawn offered, pulling it down. "We've also got some dill potato chips."
"Give them to me." She took them, and a soda, heading out to the garden to read and eat. She didn't have anything to teach right now. It was just right, it was what she had needed. The subtle taste and the salt. "Dill goes really well with caviar," she told herself, looking a little surprised. She had never considered the combination before.
Dawn shuddered as she walked away with her glass of water. She stopped David, shaking her head. "Let Fujiko eat before you bother her. She just had a food craving. She's eating caviar and dill chips." She went to the weight room to do another few reps. She was going to get sick if she had to watch that sort of stuff.
David snuck up the back stairs, going to Xander's room. He knocked politely. "May I learn this too, please?" he asked.
Lupin nodded. "Sure. Where's Fujiko?"
"Dawn said she's eating caviar and dill potato chips," he said with a sickened look. "I'm escaping but I figured I'd need to learn this too." He walked in and sat on the foot of the bed. "Hey, Xan, how's the back?"
"Numb for the minute. Fihad called me in something and Jigen went to get it." He shrugged. "I'll be fine. It's not the worst I've had." He picked up the next one in line. "What's the squiggly one for?"
"For multiple tumblers, so you can turn further ones after you've got one set," Lupin told him. "This is the one that you're making when you use a bobby pin." Xander nodded, looking very serious as he watched Lupin pick the handcuffs. "Like that."
David leaned closer. "Do we have larger mockups?"
"Not at the moment but I can draw them out," Lupin offered. The kid would need this skill if he went back to his father's side. Being a good guy was a dangerous job. They got kidnaped all the time.
Xander tapped on Jigen's door then opened the door at the grunt. "Do you have five minutes to calm me down?" he asked quietly.
"Sure." He shifted over on the bed, letting him lay down next to him. He was under the covers, it was appropriate and wouldn't make the boy blush. "What's wrong?"
"I don't understand that guy earlier," Xander admitted softly, looking down at his hands. Jigen tipped his face up, giving him a bland look. "I don't understand why someone would want to sit and talk with me, someone normal, someone who wasn't in the life and wasn't like this. I mean, he can't possibly understand, so why did he want to try?"
Jigen understood what Lupin was doing now. This wasn't meant to annoy him to no end, it was meant to show Xander that he was wanted for many reasons. The boy didn't understand that he was very pretty as a man and as a woman. "He wanted to because he saw a pretty woman. He wanted to get close to her." Xander snorted. "Seriously. You're a little odd looking because of the silver hair but otherwise you're very beautiful in the traditional sense."
"No I'm not. I'm scarred, I'm overly-muscled for a girl. I'm not pretty in the face or most of the body. Unless he's like Lupin and he only looked at my chest, I don't understand that."
Jigen snickered. "Lupin is a connoisseur of the female chest," he agreed.
"Yeah, but I'm a connoisseur of sex," Xander told him.
Jigen shook his head. "Not really, no. You do it out of necessity, not out of pleasure. He does it out of pleasure. That's why guys like to look at tits." He gave the young man a nudge. "Don't people come up to you when you're a guy and ask you out?" Xander shook his head. "Not at all?"
"No. I can't ever get a date from a club, no matter what sort of line I use. Even the good ones like 'hi, my name is' don't work for me most of the time. It was easier when I was younger."
Jigen sighed. "Xander, people watch you when you walk around."
"I'm loud, brash, and noisy, they're looking at me in disgust."
Jigen shook his head. "No, it's not. Trust me on this, people watch you walk for more than your loud and boisterous nature. They don't even watch you walk because you look dangerous. They watch you walk because you're very handsome, or pretty in this form." Xander slowly shook his head, looking earnest. "Really. They do." Xander shook his head again. "Trust me, okay? They do."
"If you say so," Xander said in his best 'humoring the lunatic' voice. "If they do, why haven't I ever seen one?"
"Because you're dangerous and people like to watch from a distance. They don't think they measure up enough to approach the beautiful people."
"But I'm not!"
"No I'm not!"
"You are," Jigen said firmly. "You are very nice looking. People do watch you walk around." Someone tapped on the door and he groaned. "Come." Goemon walked in. "Why is it that you're nearby when every argument is about to take place?"
"I cannot sleep due to my wife's mood swings," he said bitterly. "I heard an argument, it would greatly take my mind off her if I could help."
"Goemon, tell him I'm not pretty!" Xander demanded. "He needs his eyes checked. Either that or he's picking on me."
Goemon looked at him. "I can not tell that lie, Xander. You are very handsome. You are also very pretty in this form. Your pure essence shines through even though you live this life." Xander gaped at him. "Now I see why Lupin agreed to this date idea." He walked away shaking his head. Adults should not be allowed to destroy children in such ways. It should be criminal and punishable by death. Children should be able to appreciate who they are. He walked into the kitchen and found Marcus putting togther a sandwich. "Can you not sleep either?"
Marcus squeaked and looked at him. "Don't sneak up on me," he pleaded. "I'm taking a break from translating something." He grinned then walked around him.
"Head up and talk to Xander. He cannot see that he is attractive," Goemon ordered.
"Yes, sir." He hurried up the back stairs, finding them in Jigen's room by the noise Xander was giving off. "Xander?"
"Come on in," Jigen said dryly.
Marcus came in, putting down his sandwich. He pulled Xander up and turned him, making him look in the mirror. "If you saw someone like that in a club, what would you think?"
"She's a freak for having the silver hair."
Marcus shook his head, then pinched him hard. "You're an annoying prick, Harris. You are beautiful in this and your usual form. Get used to that fact. It won't be changing until you hurt yourself again." He grabbed his sandwich and walked off again.
Xander slumped. "He's trying to be nice," he noted, coming back so he could sit down again. "Why won't you guys tell me the truth?"
"Xander, I'm going to kill your parents," Jigen told him. "Even as a goofy kid you were cute. Annoying as hell, but cute. As an adult you've done things that have formed you into a block of sculpture that most people want to sleep with." Xander looked confused. "Why do you go with prostitutes? You could get anyone else you wanted."
"Because it's safer if I do it that way. No one gets hurt, no one has any feelings. It's a necessity but I don't want anyone in danger because they're close to me. I figured out when we first started to run together that I couldn't date anyone for real outside the life. They'd never understand, they'd always be in danger, and then I'd end up hurting them when I left too often." Jigen opened his mouth. "I guess I'll settle down some day and start some sort of family. Maybe adopt a few kids since I'm infertile, but some sort of family."
Jigen shook his head. "Xander, you're screwed up so badly I don't think a shrink will help you," he said quietly. Xander looked hurt and he grabbed the boy so he couldn't move. "I promise, it's not necessary. Yes, we do tend to date inside the profession for that reason. There's other reasons not to, including what Lupin went through with Fujiko screwing us over at every turn. You're not thinking right. People want you. If Lupin announced at a club that you were free then a lot of people would line up to get with you." Xander shook his head. "Yes, they would."
"No, they wouldn't. They'd line up to get to him. Or to you. Not to me." He stood up. "I guess you're being nice, but you don't have to do it." He walked back to his room and his Latin textbook. He sulked, it was nice of him but he didn't want that stuff.
Jigen groaned and flopped onto his back, staring at the ceiling. "Shit. I'm going to kill his parents yet for doing that to him." Someone knocked. "What?"
"Is Xander all right?" Dawn asked.
"No. He doesn't understand why people like him."
"Because he's Xander," she said patiently. "That's part of his charm. He'll never understand and it'll only drive women insane because he's clueless." She closed his door, heading down to talk to Xander. She knocked.
"Fine. Don't talk to me."
Xander opened the door. "Dawn, I'm not in the mood tonight. Tomorrow." She nodded, trudging off. He closed the door and went back to his sulking. Why wouldn't anyone give him an honest opinion?
Jigen stomped into breakfast, glaring at Lupin, who only smirked from behind his paper. He snatched it away. "Xander does not understand why people want to talk to him. I'm going to kill his parents."
Lupin took his paper back. "Of course he doesn't. That sort of innocence is the most heady sort." He turned the page. "Pops is getting an award today for that Cairo job a few months back." Jigen growled. "I'll try to work with him later." Xander coughed from the doorway. "Morning, Xander. Come in. Sit and eat." He scanned the rest of the news. "Want to go see Pops get an award?"
"No thanks. I don't feel like I can run yet," Xander admitted, sitting very delicately. "Jigen, I'm sorry I'm upsetting you," he said quietly.
"You're not, this mental block is bothering me." He sat down, looking at the young man. He had done something with his hair this morning, winding it up like Fujiko had shown him. It was wispy around his face and trying to come down. It showed off his neck, which was gleaming slightly in the pale light the room was lit with. He was wearing a light green dress, one that accentuated his form but not anything else. "You should go to Pop's reception, but wear something else," he noted. "We can tease him. It's our favorite game."
"I still can't run today," Xander told him. "I'd be a liability."
"He'd never recognize you," Lupin pointed out. He put aside his paper and looked at Xander. "That is not a dress I would have chosen."
"It has a sweater but I'm warm," Xander offered. "The sweater's black. I'm trying."
Lupin nodded. "You are and you're doing very well, Xander." Marcus walked in. "Pops is getting an award today. We should all go." Marcus nodded, sitting beside Xander and giving him a long look. "He'll be changing later. He won't chase us." He smirked at Xander. "Let me pick out what you're wearing. I like that hairstyle though."
"It'll fall before long, it's already fallen twice," Xander told him.
"There are firmer ways to do that," Lupin told him. He looked at the clock, then out at the garden. "Goemon's not up yet?"
"He's napping in the library." Marcus blinked when everyone looked at him. "I fell asleep in there myself. He was reading in the soft chair in the corner."
"Fujiko must have been on a real rip last night," Jigen noted, pulling over the bowl of eggs. "How should we dress for this?"
"It's a formal reception. Wear something nice. I've got something for Xander in my closet." Xander arched an eyebrow up. "I told you I was going to get you some things." Fujiko walked in yawning. "Morning. Why was your husband sleeping in the library?"
"Bastard," she said bitterly. "I was cold all night."
"That was the reason," Xander told her. She glared at him. "What? I don't think he understands women any better than I do." She nodded, sighing as she stood up to check on him. She woke him by kissing him and sliding into his lap. "That's my good deed for the week," Xander said happily. "I try to do one a week; little things like opening doors." Jigen shook his head but he was smiling. Lupin grinned at him. "I'm still going to be unable to run if we're spotted."
"We'll be fine," Lupin promised. "Most of the biggest movers and shakers will be there today. It'll make him look better for not catching us."
"As long as the other part of his obsession doesn't come back, I'll be happy to taunt him," Xander promised.
"What other part?" Jigen asked.
"All obsessions come with a sexual component," Marcus reminded him. "I suspect Xander found a bit of that while they were being held hostage together and he was telepathic." Xander nodded, blushing again. "Really? Anything interesting?" Xander gave him a look so he grinned. "It'll be fine, Xander."
"Of course it will." Lupin touched Xander's hand. "Show me?" Xander concentrated on a few of them, making him shiver. "Really?" he asked smugly. "I can't tell which one that was."
"I suspected it was yours since he's so focused on you, boss," Xander said, batting his dark lashes at him. Lupin laughed, giving him a pat on the arm. "I'm still sorry I bothered everyone last night."
"Xander, you still haven't seen it?" Marcus demanded. Xander scooted away from him. "Sorry. I'll modulate my tone. You are gorgeous. It's not the body, the hair, your face, it's all of it, dear. Love, if I wasn't so straight I won't bend in a high wind, I'd take you for myself. You are a priceless treasure worth stealing." Xander stood up and walked off.
"He doesn't think he is?" Lupin asked. Jigen shook his head. "At all?" Jigen shook his head again, giving him a look. "Then I'll have to get Pops to fix that." He looked at Marcus. "That was a little heavy."
"Who was lying? He is! Men like Xander are very rare! He's sweet, kind, gentle to those he loves, he's loyal to a fault, he's a wonderful lover from what I've heard through the walls. Who wouldn't want that?"
"According to him, no one," Jigen told him. "That's why I'm going to the Midwest and kill his parents."
Lupin shook his head. "Let me handle this one, boys. It can be fixed." He handed over the bacon. "Eat, it'll be a busy day. Marcus, do you have something slightly formal?"
"Beside my suit collection and my tuxedo?" he asked.
"A nice suit should be fine," Lupin told him. "A tux is too much for the middle of the day." He looked the boy over. "Why don't you wear them?"
"I don't like them. I'm rather comfortable in my normal clothes, why would I want to strangle myself in a suit?"
"I'm having deja-vu," Jigen announced.
Lupin nodded. "Goemon once said that when I asked him why he wore his kimono all the time."
"It looks more comfortable than a suit," Marcus snorted. "I'd still prefer my usual attire of pants and a shirt, but I'm sure he's comfortable. I do not understand the chest binding but I suspect it's something ritualistic or formal." He took the bacon, adding some of it to his plate. "Should someone get Xander so he can eat?"
"No. He'll be fine, he's in the kitchen," Lupin said, glancing at his watch. That locator was very handy sometimes.
Lupin nodded at Fujiko to flank his position. Zenigata was alone in a corner. She walked up to him and leaned on his arm, making him frown at her. Then he did a double-take. "You," he sneered. "What are you doing here?"
"We're here to celebrate your accomplishment," she said happily. She walked him away, taking him to the room Lupin had scanned earlier. She locked them in, smirking as Lupin came in after them. "Sorry." She relocked the door, waving a hand. "Congratulations. We feel responsible for this one." Everyone in the room clapped and Xander blew a noisemaker.
"We're saving you from the politicians before they give you a promotion and make you sit behind a desk," Jigen said, smirking at him from his spot on the couch beside Xander.
Zenigata nearly whimpered. The whole group was here. In the other room were sixty ICPO inspectors and brass. He could yell and get saved, plus credit for capturing them. He opened his mouth but Fujiko covered it with a hand. "Yell and I'll have to have a mood swing on them and kill them all," she hissed. He looked scared. "Yes, the impossible happened without my permission." She glared at her husband, who only looked back.
Zenigata pulled away, looking at them. "You're insane."
"Only sometimes," Dawn admitted. "But we love you, Gramps." She grinned. "Are you happy?"
"I'm very happy but I'm still going to arrest you."
Xander stood up slowly. His dress was a subtle water pattern in dark blue and it hugged his body to his hips before flaring out. "It's my fault. I wanted to come check on you, make sure that you were still all right." She slowly moved closer, laying a hand on his head. "My powers are nearly gone but I can tell that you're much better now." He grinned. "See, I'm not so bad all the time."
"You're still a crook and a murderer."
"Honey, I was a killer long before I joined the life. I dealt with the strange, unusual, and deadly before this." He winced as he moved wrong. "I think it's time for a pain pill."
"Oops," Dawn said quietly. Xander glared at her. "You can have it as soon as we get home. Sorry, Lavelle."
"Fine," he sighed. He started to move but Lupin had his arm around her shoulders. "I wanted to sit."
"In a minute." Lupin looked at Zenigata. "We came to toast you but we could always leave again. That's not a problem, old man. Of course, we're wanting to meet the rookie they're going to stick with you. Better to scare them now and all that." He smirked, earning a frown. "You didn't hear? They're giving you a rookie next week. Fresh from the academy. They're giving him to you so you can train him to catch the younger generation." He nodded back at Dawn. "I would have thought that you would have been introduced tonight."
Zenigata spluttered. "You hacked our system!"
"No, I did," Dawn told him, grinning and getting comfortable. "I know a world-class hacker but she only does it for fun and boredom. Or she did before she died." She looked at Jigen and Goemon. "She did die, right?" They nodded. "Good." She looked at him again, noticing the shocked look. "Ah, you don't know why. She hurt Lavelle very badly. She's part of the reason he has white hair and scars."
"True," Xander agreed, smiling slightly but looking away. This man was very strong. "She deserved what she got for what she did to me. Giving me to that monster was not what best friends do."
Lupin gave him a gentle squeeze. "So, will we be seeing you soon?"
"As soon as I get some help," Zenigata snarled.
"Now, now, don't be like that," Marcus said stiffly. "We're being nice. It's a truce situation."
"Yeah, we like you," Dawn told him. The inspector gave her a look like she was insane. "If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be that good. You make us strive to whole new heights. Hell, we wouldn't have to be half as creative if it wasn't for you." She stood up and walked over a glass of champagne. "Here, yours is getting empty." She took a sip from her own. "We've got a full, unopened bottle if you'd rather have it from there. None of us are the poisoning type but I know you're a tad bit paranoid."
"I'm locked in a room with eight of the most wanted people in the world, wouldn't you be paranoid?" he demanded.
She shrugged. "Not until they tried something. Knowing us the way you do, why would you think we'd hurt you?"
"No, instead you're here to make fun of me."
Xander looked in his eyes. "I don't do that." The Inspector blinked, staring at him. "I don't make fun of others except in the middle of a battle. I find it a useful tactic sometimes, but I'd never make fun of people because I've been there myself too many times." He sipped his drink to keep him from saying anything else. "I'm going to sit down now, my back still aches," he said softly, heading back to the couch.
Zenigata glared at Lupin. "You turned a gentle man into that creature there, are you happy now?"
"He was like this before Jigen ever met him," Lupin said with a shrug. "We haven't done anything but support him." Xander nodded, finishing his drink and starting on another one. "Go easy on those, Xan, they'll knock you out when you get your pain pills."
"What did he do?"
"I fucked my back doing a backflip on a balance beam," Xander said lightly. "I was unconscious for hours."
Jigen nodded. "Worried us to no end. This is his first official outing as a woman."
"He did a good job, I noticed him chatting with people in there," Zenigata admitted, staying against the wall. He thought the man had taken that necklace off him.
"You could sit down," Lupin offered. "I've called a truce for the night."
Lupin smirked. "Fine, be that way. I'm going to sit down. Dress shoes hurt." He sat down on Xander's other side, giving her a gentle stroke to the arm.
"Get a room," Dawn snorted. Goemon swatted her. "Sorry. Some of us don't need to see that. Xander's a cute woman but still."
"She's stunning," Zenigata said, looking at her like she was insane. Sure, Dawn was pretty but it was conventional. That other one was stunning. She glowed like Fujiko. He looked at her. "You're pregnant," he said flatly. She nodded. "You're still in public?"
"Yes, pregnant women can do all sorts of things these days."
"She will not listen to anyone with sense," Goemon told him, glaring at his wife. "Were this the old days, I would have locked her in the house and had her meals delivered to her." Zenigata looked stunned. "You had not heard?"
"I had heard you two got married. It's yours?"
"She is faithful," Goemon told him. "Otherwise she would be dead."
The Inspector nodded, backing further against the wall. "Understood. I'm sure you'll be a very....decent father. Probably very strict. When I put you in jail I'll make sure that the child goes to a decent family who'll make sure the child lives a good life."
Lupin laughed. "If you catch us, Pops." He got up, looking out the peephole of the door. "Looks like we're all alone." He looked at Zenigata again. "We'll let you go soon." He sat down again. Xander was still blushing. "You all right?"
"Yeah. I'm still getting flustered with people telling me nice lies," Xander told him, looking at the inspector. "It's not necessary."
Zenigata came over. "Do you actually think I lie like one of you?" Xander shook his head. "Then believe what I say, young lady. You are not as homely as you think. You are actually quite stunning now that you're not wearing that indecent thing he kept putting you in." Jigen growled. He swallowed and slowly backed away. "I see." He looked at Lupin. "Why did you kidnap me?"
"To toast you. Like I said," Lupin said smugly. He felt Xander's nudge and looked at him, giving him a gentle kiss to the forehead. "You behave. We'll go home soon." Xander nodded, settling back into the couch. "Knees," he said gently. Xander crossed her legs, looking much more comfortably with it now. "Thank you, good job." He looked at Zenigata again. "You don't have to drink the champagne but we are. It's all from the same bottle." He sipped his glass. "To him," he announced, lifting his glass.
"To the inspector," Xander seconded first.
"To the inspector," the rest agreed, saluting him then drinking.
Lupin grinned at Xander. "You make a wonderful second in command," he praised. Xander beamed, making Lupin smile. "Behave or I'll make you practice tomorrow."
"I should. It's the only way to get moving again. Besides, it'll make me wear out the anxiety before the date."
"Date!" Zenigata demanded. "You're making her date? Do you have no humanity? She's got to be messed up! She was a man recently!"
"We're working on getting me out of this thing," Xander admitted quietly. "It'll be gone soon."
Zenigata glared at Lupin. "You're more evil than I thought. Do you often go up to pure little creatures and offer them drugs as well?"
"No, just candy to nuns," Lupin said smugly. He nodded Fujiko to look out the door. "So, what are you going to do when we hide Fujiko? Will we have to pull something stunning to get you after us?"
Zenigata glared at him. "I'd never hurt a pregnant woman. I hear solitary is good for them."
Xander cackled. "That's a good one, Gramps. I'm sure we'll get along just fine when it's us against you."
Dawn nodded. "I hope your apprentice is like you. I like you. You don't try to over-think things. You learn about your targets, I like that in a gamesman. It makes the game better."
"This is a game to you?" he demanded. She nodded. "And the lives you ruin?"
"I only steal from those who have things that carry insurance," Dawn informed him. "If they don't then the museums do. Beyond that, I do not kill." The Inspector looked stunned, his mouth open as he looked at her. "I've seen enough death and destruction in my life."
"Your sister, she called in the complaint in Cleveland," he said flatly. She nodded. "Her friend that died, the hacker?" Dawn nodded again. He looked at Jigen. "Yours to avenge his treatment?"
"A necessity. She had been judged and found guilty," Goemon told him. "We were the instruments of justice. Anyone who can give someone like Lavelle to such a monster and keep him there when he pleads and begs does not deserve to live."
"You're not God," Zenigata reminded him hotly.
"No, but it was one of them who said she had to go. They're the ones who punished her." Dawn stood up, walking over and pressing something against his head. "If you're going to come after me, you're going to have learn all new skills, Gramps. You or your apprentice." He gaped, his eyes showing rage. "Now do you understand?" He nodded, closing his mouth and sipping his champagne. He started to feel dizzy. "It's a mild sedative," she soothed, stroking his arm. "You'll be out for maybe an hour. Then you'll get up and remember you saw us and chased us away once everyone was gone," she whispered. His eyes fluttered and she caught the glass as he fell to the floor. "He's out."
"Good job, Dawn," Lupin told her, getting up to help move him onto the couch. "What was that thing?"
"Limited knowledge. The fact that magic does work and exist. That some of us play with the worst of the forces in the universe. I figured we'd be running into a demon soon and he'd have to deal. I'd rather have him deal now than get eaten then."
Lupin nodded. "Understandable. Next time warn me." She nodded, looking out the door before leaving. She'd go start the car. Fujiko looked at him before following. Lupin looked at Marcus. "Can you soften that? The sedative shouldn't have worked that fast."
"I'll try," he admitted, moving to touch the older man's head.
"His mind is like a safe," Xander told him. "Once he's got a fact, he'll latch onto it until it pops right into the light as being right. For him, it's like a big 3-D crossword puzzle. The clues are what we give him." Jigen stood up and helped him up. "Thanks. Hopefully the pain killers are before the stairs. These shoes are killing me." He gave Lupin a kiss on the cheek. "That was sweet. What did you bribe him with?"
"Nothing," Jigen told him. "You heard him, he doesn't lie. He was shocked that you thought you weren't. Take a long look in the mirror tonight while you're doing your hair again. You'll understand it." He walked him out with David and Marcus behind them. Goemon came out after them.
Lupin patted Zenigata on the head. "Happy nap, Pops." He walked out, running into a housekeeper. "Inspector Zenigata developed a small headache," he told her. "He's napping in that room." He pointed it out then gave her a hundred Franc note. "Give him an hour or so before you wake him, all right?" She nodded, speaking rapidly as she went to check on him then went back to cleaning. He chuckled as he stole another flute of champagne. All objectives had been achieved.
Xander wandered back into Jigen's room that night, giving him a look. "He doesn't lie?" he asked as he sat down. Jigen didn't look up from his crossword, he shook his head. Xander got between them. "Then why can't I see that?"
Jigen pushed his head out of the way. "Because you got put down and made fun of too many times." He gave him a gentle pat on the head. "What did you do to your hair this time?" He looked that way. "Hairspray?"
"Don't let her do that again. Crunchy hair is not attractive." He gave him another pat. "Six letter word for dog."
"Collie?" Xander suggested. Jigen shook his head. "Borzoi." Jigen looked at him so he shrugged. "I watch dog shows sometimes. They're on late."
"It fits. We'll see." He gave him a little nudge. "Go panic somewhere else." Xander pouted at him. "I'm not going to save you from the date tomorrow. I can't. You could call and tell the guy you're not feeling well but I doubt it'd work. He'd come over and serenade you while you were trying to sleep or something."
Xander leaned against his shoulder. "My life doesn't suck?"
"It does sometimes or you wouldn't have a sore back and could run away." He grinned down at him and Xander grinned back. "Go figure out what you're wearing."
"Lupin's already figured that out for me. It's cute, sweet, and very feminine without being trashy. For such a guy, he has good taste in women's clothes."
Jigen started to laugh, shaking his head. "You're bad."
"He does." He snuggled in again. "I'm going to flop and blush all afternoon."
Jigen nodded. "Probably. It's a learning experience. The next time you'll do it less."
"Yeah, I'm sure I will, but I'm tired of not being myself."
"We planned for this to last two weeks to a month. You're in that range." He gave him a short squeeze. "Go talk to Lupin. Maybe he'll let you free sooner." Xander nodded, giving him a real hug before leaving. Jigen watched his back, shaking his head. "Poor kid. Soon I'm sure." He picked back up his crossword, dropping it when he heard the scream. He grabbed his gun, walking out into the hall.
Xander came out of his own room, frowning. "Wasn't me," he noted. He had his own weapon ready. "You go that way." He nodded then headed toward the younger generation's rooms. He listened at each one, hearing the general 'what was that' going on in there. He had to pass by Goemon and Fujiko's room but didn't hear anything in there. He tapped gently on the door, waiting until someone answered. "Did you scream?" he asked her. She shook her head. "Stay up here. I'm not sure what that was." He jogged down the stairs, heading to check the main rooms. Most of them were empty, he ran into Lupin checking some of them. "Jigen's upstairs. I got my side of the hall and Goemon's room. Fujiko was in there alone. Dawn, David, and Marcus were going 'what the fuck' so I'm pretty sure it wasn't them." The thing screamed again. "What is that!" he demanded, looking up. It was coming from above them. "Any insane relatives?"
"No." He led the way up the stairs and to the third floor rooms no one used anymore. They were storage now. He pointed for Xander to do one side while he got the other, each checking the small rooms. He came to the last room on his side and turned around, looking at Xander's side. The boy wasn't out of his yet. The doors were all open so he went to the last door. He found him bending over something. "What's that?"
"A little kid, she's not breathing," he said between breaths.
Lupin ran for a phone, hoping someone was going to come out here without reporting it. They couldn't get the kid to the hospital fast enough. He ran past Jigen. "Third floor. Help Xan." He found a phone and called for some help. This was beyond his reach.
Jigen ran into the room, finding Xander still doing CPR. "She's not up yet?"
"Not yet." He handed it over, stepping back because he was dizzy. "Ooh, no air." He blinked a few times, then looked out the window. "Banshee," he said, pointing.
"Here? This ain't Ireland," he called. The thing was watching them. Xander moved back to help, doing the chest compressions while he breathed for her. "This sucks," he said as he inhaled for the next one.
"True." Someone else came running. "Dawn, help!" he yelled, knowing it was her.
"Off," she ordered, lighting up her hand. She shocked the baby good, making it scream and thrash. Then she fell to her knees, holding it tightly. "Shh, little one. It'll be okay," she soothed, glaring at the banshee. It backed off, continuing to watch. "Who are you?" The little girl continued to sob. "Shh, it's all right." Lupin came back with one of their neighbors, a doctor who knew them and what they were. "I've got her restarted," she said, letting the doctor have her. "They did CPR for nearly five or six minutes."
"What was the screaming?" Lupin asked. Jigen pointed at the thing outside the window. He frowned at it then at the little girl. "Is she Irish?"
The doctor looked out, then grimaced. "No, it's been wandering about recently. We had hopes that you would kill it."
"Done," Xander agreed. "Dawn, I need some holy water. I'll also need a box. We'll suck the thing into it and trap it for now." She nodded, hurrying to do it for him. He stood up, opening the window. His gun went into his waistband and he pulled his pocketknife, slitting a small cut on his wrist. "Here, come get this," he called, pushing forward his usual sense of innate trouble. The banshee floated closer, sniffing him. "Yes, I know, I've been to your realm and back. I wish I had seen you when I died both times." She floated closer, touching the side of his face, crying for him. "Yeah, I know." A box was handed to him and he dripped the blood into it. "Here we go, precious, into here so we can send you home." He settled it underneath her, slowly raising it around her. She jumped and he closed it fast, taking the holy water to anoint the lock. He sealed it with his blood over top, then more holy water. He climbed back inside, handing off the box. Lupin grabbed his wrist. "It's not a fatal one. I'm fine." He put some pressure on it while he looked at the box. "It needs to go home."
"We'll mail it to someone I know in an abbey," Lupin promised, leading him away. "How did she get in here?"
"You were complaining about the security system going haywire," Jigen reminded him as he followed. The doctor had taken the little girl already. She would be fine with him. They went into Lupin's bathroom, he had the best first aid kit. Xander's arm was quickly bandaged and taped down. "That was dumb."
"No, it was necessary. Very few things draw a banshee to an area. One of them is death."
"Twice," Xander agreed. "I've also brought people back to life before." He shrugged. "Like most things demonic, it liked me." Lupin grimaced. "I'm fine. I knew what I was doing. The woman was drawn by the death in my blood. That's why she was crying. As soon as she's released back at home she'll be fine." He walked off, going to put his gun away and lay down. He was a little lightheaded now. All in a day's work.
Jigen waited until the outer door had closed. "This is why his friends kept him," he said. "He's done the same thing around me before."
"It's a handy bit of knowledge but he could have died." Lupin leaned against the sink. "He's still a white knight at heart."
"Yeah, but now he's fighting the bad guys with us. It suits him, Lupin."
"I'm not going to send him away. Shit, I'd never do that. We need him and I like him. He's the only person I know who draws more trouble than I do." Jigen nodded. "What was that?"
"A routine occurrence from his past life." Jigen walked away, leaving his boss confused.
Xander sat down at the table in the garden, looking over at their chaperone. His 'date' wasn't there yet but he wanted to appear comfortable before he got there. The thick bandage from the night before was thinner now, more gauze than anything. His dress was a nice sundress with a sweater over it. Lupin said it brought out his eyes. His hair was pulled back into a french braid. He had even let Fujiko paint his nails for him. He had even agreed to wear pantyhose, it was the full kit today. He smiled and held up a hand as his 'date' came out through the house. "Good afternoon."
"I see you're feeling better. How is your back?" he asked, smiling and sitting across from her. He took her hand, stroking the back of it with his thumb. "What happened to your wrist?"
"We had a break-in last night on the third floor and I slipped on some broken glass," Xander explained. "It's nothing, barely more than a scratch but my guardian is really fierce about protecting me. He thinks I'm a trouble magnet." Goemon snorted and continued cleaning his sword. Not an overt threat, more of a statement.
Mark glanced at him. "Is that a real katana, sir?"
"It is. It has been passed down through my family for generations." He stood up, bringing it over to show it off. "Do not touch, it is very sharp," he ordered when a hand reached out to the blade.
Xander looked at the handle. "You've got a loose thread." Goemon looked at, scowling at the errant thing. "Want help reweaving it later?"
"No, I can do so. It's not any trouble." He went back to his own seat, glancing at them now and again.
Xander mentally sighed. What to say next? "So, you're in college?" he asked, searching for a workable topic. Otherwise this was going to be a *long* afternoon.
"I'm a Master's candidate at home. I'm doing engineering, particularly computer engineering, specializing in design."
Xander knew a bit about that. "Wow. I had a friend who was a hacker way back when." Mark grimaced so cutely! "She never did anything with it. We broke into city hall to look up building's owners of nuisances so we could report them. Things like that."
"Wow. A hacker with a conscience?"
"More like a good little girl just starting to go bad back then."
"What happened to her?"
"She died earlier this year," Xander admitted. "Her bad habits finally caught up with her." Goemon gave him a look. "She was WillowTree if I remember right." Mark grinned. "You heard of her?" He nodded. "That was my buddy Wills."
"Wow. It is a small world. I did my senior project on something of hers. It had to do with her virus that was putting mainframes onto the internet without the companies knowing."
"I remember that one," Xander agreed. "She only did it once or twice."
"Someone did it to the ICPO a few months back. My instructor was quite upset with them. It was his server design and it was supposed to be unhackable. He had even looked at my project while he had been designing it. Where did she die?"
"Hmm. That's where they said the ICPO was done from. Maybe she did it right before she died?" Xander shrugged. "You don't know?"
"I wasn't there," he admitted. "She and I hadn't talked in a few years because of her bad habits."
"No, using others."
"Ah. Sometimes that happens." Mark went quiet for a minute, trying to find a topic. "How about you, are you in college?"
Xander giggled. "I'm too old for that. I'm doing an untraditional bit of learning right now. I'm learning Japanese, Russian, and Latin from the books, plus accounting, tax laws, and fighting from Goemon."
"Wow. Why? I mean, if you're not in college and all."
"I thought it might come in handy. My dad is a businessman and I wanted to follow him but he had this thing against girls doing the business. So I'm proving him wrong. Since he's not getting a son-in-law anytime soon." Mark grinned at that. "What part of Australia are you from?"
"I'm from the capital, Canberra. It's about the only inland city, most of the others are on the ocean."
"I love the ocean," Xander said, smiling. "Do you surf?"
"Not really. I do okay body surfing but I'm not hot on a board. You?"
"I body surf too. I grew up in Southern California, a little town outside of LA." His smile got brighter. "Wow. How do you feel about Americans?"
"I like 'em," he admitted with a shy grin. "Most of 'em are all right. Some of the tourists are pricks but otherwise they're nice enough I guess. You're definitely not representative of the ones I've met so far. I ran into one American ICPO investigator who was a nasty little slut last year. Couldn't keep her lips shut for anything." He gave another shy grin. "She got sent home though, pretty damn quick at that. You know, most people hear I'm Aussie and ask if I raise sheep."
"They raise sheep down there?"
Mark laughed, nodding. "It's one of our bigger exports."
"I always thought tourism 'cause that's all I ever see. That big rock and the ocean and come see the natives because they are durable and hearty, plus pretty neat I guess." Mark nodded, grinning fully now. "Is Canberra near the big rock thingie?"
"Ayer's rock? Not really. That's about on the other side of the country from us. That's in the Northern Territories, on the other side of the desert from us. Most of the center of the country is the desert and not many people can stand it. If you want to see the rock, go to Alice Springs."
"Wow. I didn't think Australia was that big. My geography teacher said it was the same size as Idaho."
Mark chuckled and shook his head. "A bit bigger if I've been given a fair size of Idaho and most of your other states. Now Texas maybe, but definitely bigger than the smaller states. You really didn't learn much about us, did you?" Xander grinned and shook his head. "Didn't do any research?"
"I've been stuck in bed for the last few days. I had to beg to get my Russian text."
"Poor thing." He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, earning a glare from the samurai watching them. "He really is a fierce guard dog, huh?"
"He's a sweetie most of the time, unless I'm doing something wrong during practice," Xander assured him. "Then he can get a bit drill sargentish. But I usually deserve it." Mark smiled at that. "How have you been watching me at practice?"
"Ah, the good question. I climbed out on the roof to get away from my keepers for a break. They're my aunt's friends and had me doing some minor design work for their job. They've also got five kids of their own, who all have at least two giggly friends and about fifteen chihuahuas. It was in defense of my sanity. I didn't mean to look but I saw this glinting thing and it caught my attention. I'm a bit of a magpie that way, I like shiny things. I saw you practicing with a silver staff and your hair was glowin' about as good as the staff was. You were like some fierce amazon and I've always admired strength in girls." He gave her another shy smile. "Why are you takin' self defense that hard?"
"My dad's worth millions," Xander told him with a small shrug. "The reason I'm here is because they saved me from some very bad things. They know I needed help and I was in their way at the time so it was handy to keep me for a while and then my dad forgot me," she sighed, looking away. A total lie, hopefully Jigen wasn't listening. "My dad made some sort of deal for them to keep me for a bit. It seems Mr. Goemon is one of the best trainers there is and he understands not wanting to feel weak and helpless, like a *girl*." She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, he was eating this up. He looked so upset for her. "So I'm here for another few weeks then I get to go home. Where I will promptly toss my father into a closet and not let him out until he buys me something really nice to make up for inconveniencing these nice men and finds me a trainer to deal with there."
Mark grinned. "I know you'll be aces, princess. Girls like you should know some self defense. It'll save them from leches. There's a lot of those in the wide world." He pulled her hand up and kissed the back of it, earning a growl. "Sorry, didn't mean to cross a line. Is this like prison, I can't touch her?" he asked with a shit-eating grin.
Goemon looked at him. "If it were, you would have already lost that hand and your lips."
"Good point," he agreed, giving her a look. "Are you well enough to stroll?"
Xander shook her head. "Not yet. I've just had my pain medicine and I'm still a little woozy. In a little while we can walk around. Don't expect me to be able to tell you about the gardens, but they're very pretty. I'm in them each morning."
"And some nights," Mark reminded her with a grin. "I caught you a few days back in the middle of the night. I seem to have found a sudden liking of roofs." Xander giggled, grinning at him. "You do look magnificent when you're working out. Surely you've had some other training."
"An all girl's prep school. You wouldn't *believe* some of the bitches we get in there." He was basing it on Cordelia's friends from high school - a whole school full of them must be like Purgatory. He burst out laughing. "You think I'm kidding but some of those social princesses are as tough as some drug lords. Believe me, I stayed well clear of the big bullies. I liked my nice, quiet spot of doom in the middle of nowhere, thank you." Mark 'ooohed' and kissed her again, earning a hand on his shoulder and a forceful shove back into his chair. Xander looked at him, earning a scowl. "Sorry."
"Behave. There are worse schools. You could have gone to one in the middle of the ghetto," Goemon reminded him. This one lied very well.
"Very true," Xander agreed. "Fortunately, small town girl, we didn't have any gangs. Official ones, but everyone kept saying we had some. Something about a PCP gang or something." She shrugged. "That's why my daddy sent me to private school. He was worried I'd take up with the wrong sort of boy and he didn't believe in divorce."
Mark beamed at her. "I can understand that. Divorce is hard on a soul. My Ma did it and I still don't like her decision to this day. But she was an adult and so was I so I had to let it go sometime." He shifted closer. "I promise, I won't kiss her again."
"See that you do not." He went back to his seat, sharpening his blade now.
"Is he for real?" he hissed.
"Yes. I've seen him cut stones with that thing."
"Ooh. Fun." Mark stood up. "Come on, let's stroll now. I'll hold you up and all that stuff. Aroma therapy is supposed to be helpful for things like that. Don't you Californians all go for that?"
"I like it for relaxing and meditation, some memory work but not for much else. I'm a bigger believer in the healing hands techniques." Mark gave him an interested look. "Massage, pressure point therapy, things like that."
"Sounds like fun. Is it hard to learn?"
"No, but I'm nowhere near an expert; I can only work on my own leg cramps when I run." Xander strolled with him around the garden, pointing out his favorite spots to sit and read when he had time to read outside. "I really like hiding behind the big blue and red rose bush. It's got a wonderful nook on the other side that's just right for a single person to curl up with a pillow and a book." She stroked his arm, learning this art slowly. He smiled at her. "What are you going to do once you graduate?"
"I planned on working for the ICPO. They desperately need good people. The hours aren't hard and it's a pretty easy job. Most of the guys don't even know how to email and those that do complain because they don't know how this system works."
"I'm only used to web-based," Xander admitted. "I think it's safer, less risk of viruses and those nasty things."
"Your friend teach you that?" Xander nodded. "Good on her. It is safer. As long as you're not using Outlook or something like that. Then it can get nasty because the messages are saved down anyway." He gave her arm a squeeze. "You doing okay? There's a bench ahead."
"I'm fine. I think I can make it to the pond." He looked inquisitive so she led him that way. "This is my favorite calm place in the whole garden. It makes just enough noise to break the silence but not enough to be annoying or white noise. Plus, the fishes like me." She sat down on the bank, curling her legs up. "See." He pointed at a fish that was coming toward them. "He likes me. I feed him a lot of stale bread."
"I bet." He tickled the water with his fingers, sending the fish away. "How long has this been here? I've never seen it."
"I'm not sure. You'd have to ask my guardians." She glanced at him, noticing he was staring at her. No wonder she felt so odd. What was with the tingly sensation all of a sudden? She smiled back and he grinned brighter, leaning over to kiss her. She pulled back and glanced behind them at their chaperone, who was still watching them. This gave Goemon direct line of sight to their position. She wasn't going anywhere with him. Not without an escort. "I heard there was a reception the other day for some inspector. Did you get to go?"
"I didn't. I was supposed to but a computer glitch at the headquarters came up suddenly." He reached over to cup her cheek, stroking it with his thumb. "You are so pretty." The cheek heated up with a very hot blush. "Plus very modest." He sat beside her, properly distanced but nearly touching her knee.
"That's the fault of going to an all-girls school," Xander admitted. "I had some very strict monitors there."
He grinned. "I like that idea even better." He leaned in again, giving her a light kiss. "You're definitely the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. A little odd, but that makes you all the more special to me." A cleared throat heralded their chaperone arriving to stop them. "Sorry, sir, won't happen again."
"The next time it does, I shall throw you over the wall."
"Fine, yes, sir," Mark said respectfully. He grinned at her, getting a shy look back. "He really is protective."
"My dad said that certain things must be kept as they were when I was found. After all, I'm staying with some very sexy and dangerous men. Most of their friends are as well. The only female in the house keeps lecturing me about being a lady and the guys like to treat me like a dressup doll." Mark laughed and Goemon gave him another look. "It's okay though. I really like it here. It's much better for me than Cali was. That place nearly ruined me forever but I've found a new definition of myself here and I like this new me." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Speaking of, would you like some lemonade? I think I made some earlier."
"Sure thing. Let me help you up." He stood up and helped her to her feet, tucking her back under his arm to help her back to the house. He looked at the bookish guy in the kitchen. "Hello. You're not what I expected to be living in an internationally known thief's house."
"Marcus, this is Mark. Marcus is one kick-ass researcher," she told him. "Whenever I get stuck he's very patient with me."
"Well, then you've got to be a nice guy at least," Mark said, holding out a hand.
"I try very hard most days," Marcus said, shaking it. "Where in the Empire are you from?"
"A small town up by Stonehenge. Xan, the lemonade is still in the refrigerator. Want me to pull down some glasses?"
"Please, that way I don't have to stretch." She got free, walking over to grab the pitcher of lemonade. "Get Goemon a glass too," he ordered.
"Sure thing. It is getting warmer outside. Did you need stuff to feed the fish?"
"Maybe later tonight. Most of the little things are nocturnal." She let Mark carry out the tray of glasses while she carried out the pitcher. "Here we are. Thanks, Marcus."
"You're welcome, Xan." He watched from the window, seeing how Xander had found her ground for flirting. That shy stuff worked so much better for girls than guys. He looked behind him when he heard someone coming in. "Hey, Jigen. She's doing what the boss wanted."
"Whatever," he said sourly. "Did they take all the lemonade?" Marcus nodded and handed him a glass from the dishwasher. "Thanks." He walked out, tapping Xander on the back. "Me too."
"Sure." Xander grinned at him as he poured some of the tart liquid for him too. "Are you two switching out?"
"Nah, I'm tired of being on the range." He walked inside, going back to the security monitors. This boy needed to be watched closer. Lupin was enjoying this much too much.
"We've got a weapons range in the house. I've been doing much better in there too recently."
"Wow, you really are accomplished," Mark said, taking a new look at her. "A little thing like you shoots guns?"
"Barely," she said innocently. "It's another important part of my self defense plan. My bodyguards carry them and I want to be able to use them in case I need to and they die or get really hurt." She blinked again. "If I had been able to, I wouldn't have been kidnaped."
"Wow. You're really complex. Next you'll tell me you like watching Nickelodeon."
"No, I'm more into anime," Xander admitted with a grin. "Some of it's amazing. That's why I'm learning Japanese; so I don't have to worry about subtitles, dubbing, and all that stuff. It'll just be me and the art."
"Double wow." He grinned at her. "Maybe you're too smart for me."
Xander chuckled lightly, taking a sip of her drink. "You'd never know that by looking at my grades." She licked her lips off to catch a stray drop of moisture. Lipstick, yuck! Couldn't they flavor that stuff? Fortunately, the lemonade killed the aftertaste so he took another drink. "I did better with this than I thought. I'm not the most culinary person."
"It is good," Mark agreed, glancing at the chaperone. He was staring again. "Are you going to the charity polo match next week?" he asked between sips.
"Not that I know of. Is polo hard? I've never ridden."
Mark grinned, that was quite a line. Definitely a virgin. "Sometimes you get saddle sore but it's a fun and fast-paced sport. It's all legs and mallets. You get sweaty and dirty but you play because you love the game and the horses. I could take you riding if you wanted." Xander blushed again. Ah, she got that inuendo. Good.
"I'm not sure I'd be allowed. Like I said, I have to go home soon." She blushed harder. God, what a come on. He'd have to remember that line. "I heard horses smell funny. Kind of musty and hairy."
"Well, yeah, but it's a nice smell. Warm and comforting in many ways. The love of horses has almost been bred into the human race since we've ridden them for so long. My Da keeps a few at his ranch. It's not a working ranch, more of a bit of tumbleweeds and a big house. It's nice to go riding around though. There's some pretty country near the edge of the desert. But you'd know that, right? Isn't LA near Death Valley?"
"As a matter of fact, it is. My town was on the edges of it. I could go about an hour away and find nothing but sand." Mark smiled at that. "It was always nice there at night. Very peaceful. You never had to worry about things sneaking up on you."
"Not where I lived. I think the gang of PCP people ran them off whenever they showed up. They could be mean like that. No respect for life at all." Mark nodded, understanding that. "What does your dad do beside ride around looking at the scenery?"
"He's a programmer, like I am. I get it from him. From Mom I seem to get my mouth and my hair." Xander chuckled and shook her head. "I do. It's nearly exactly like hers only I don't have it styled each week into a bouffant." He grinned. "I'd look kind of silly."
"You would," she agreed, smirking at him. She watched him swallow and took another long drink of her lemonade. He shifted, giving out a very soft moan. She finished the glass and put it down. "When were you leaving?"
"The day after the game. I managed to get it pushed back a bit, but not too much longer or else I'll miss my first day. Fortunately I don't have to move into the dorms this time, but I still don't want to miss my first week." He gulped his lemonade, watching her watch him. "Why did you put your hair up?"
"It was getting in my way this morning. I've thought about cutting it a great number of times but my dad gets upset. I think he likes my hair," she shared, leaning closer. He took the prompt, kissing her hard. He even pulled her closer to get her lips. Goemon had to pull him off so he could throw him out. "Wow." Xander sat there, stunned. "Shit." He heard laughter and looked toward the house. "Did I do that? How?"
"By being yourself," Lupin said from the doorway. "Gangs on PCP?"
"That's what Sunnydale called the vampire problem." He poured some more lemonade. "Come sit. I don't understand that at all. I blushed, I was shy, and it turned him on?"
"It did. Shy women are loved the world over because you can get them dirty," Lupin said as he came out to sit with him. "The more innocent, the more rare and precious. The more precious, the more people want it. Remember that." Xander nodded, sipping her drink. "You've never been riding?" Xander shook her head. "Why not?"
"No horses in town and I grew up in lower class splendor."
"Ah. We can fix that if you wanted to try a horse out."
"I hear they're really big, I'd hate to do that for my first time," Xander said. Lupin burst out laughing, shaking his head. "Should I just be myself next time? Mark's got to be in pain by now."
"No, Goemon was gentle when he tossed him out the front door. I think he landed on his head." He smirked as Jigen joined them. "Well. Do you think she passed?"
"I do," he said sourly, taking more of the lemonade for himself. He went back inside.
Xander stood up. "Excuse me." He jogged after him, finding him in the range. "Jigen. Why are you upset?" She locked them in, making him face her. "What? Did I do something really wrong? Did my mouth get in my way? What?"
"It's nothing, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed."
Xander looked at him and got a sudden flash, making her grab her forehead. "Ow. I hate those." She looked up again, grabbing his arm. "No, don't go. You're the only calm one in the house that I don't get bleed-off from." She leaned against his side, forcing herself to calm down. "Better," she said finally, pulling back. She smiled at him. "How long before those end?"
"You don't want that gift?"
"I hate that gift. I know I've got thoughts that are private that I want to stay that way, I figure others have some too." Jigen snorted but he was smirking at him. "Now, what did I do wrong?" He lost the smirk. "What? I'm sorry about the father cracks. It was the only way I could lie convincingly."
"It wasn't that. I knew damn well you were lying through some of it." He gave her a pat on the shoulder, refusing to let his hand move any farther up her body. "I'm tired, it's time for my nap."
"If you're saying you're old, you're not that old."
"I am that old."
"And I'm the Easter Bunny." He looked up. "I'm not going to change into that, right?"
"You'd better not. That's supposed to be a hard job," Jigen joked. He was desperately trying to find his mental footing. He was skidding fast. "Xander, maybe you should go outside to accept your criticisms?"
"Why? I want to hear yours first. Yours mean more to me." Jigen nervously licked his lips. "Oh, God, you're jealous? Of Mr. Brains?" He backed away, shaking his head. "That wasn't me, Jigen. We both know that." She crossed her arms, getting in his way. "We both know that wasn't me. I don't want that to be me most of the time either. I'd rather be myself." Jigen gave him a look. "No, I'm not moving. We'll be talking now. Then I'll move. Unless you're going to wing me and then move my heavy ass."
"You're not heavy, kid."
"And again with the kid." Xander rolled her eyes. "I'm nearly thirty, Jigen."
"I went past that mark a long time ago. You are a kid to me."
"I'm a kid to many people if only because I like legos." Jigen looked confused. "See, not who you thought I was, huh?" She turned and stormed out, going to lock herself in her room. She also put a chair underneath the doorknob so none of the people who could pick locks could come in until she was ready to see them. She took off everything and went to sulk in the bathtub. Water always made her feel better. Maybe she'd go swim in the pond later. She heard someone knocking but ignored them. The doorknob rattled, so it was someone who could pick locks. Then it got kicked in. Xander reached over and slammed the bathroom door in whoever's face. He didn't want to deal with people yet. He closed the curtain around the bathtub as well, a clear sign that he didn't want to be bothered. It opened and Jigen glared down at him. "Out."
"No. You wanted to talk."
"Yeah, and you didn't," Xander reminded him. "Therefore I gave up." He slid down some more. "Don't make me hide somewhere less obvious."
"Fine. Be a brat."
"I am not a fucking brat!" Xander said, standing up so he could glare at him. "I've never been a fucking brat! I never had the time or the inclination to be a fucking brat! Nor did I have the influence to be a brat. I dated a brat, or two. I nearly married one of them. I know what brats are and I am not one. So you'd better take that back before I hit you."
Jigen looked at him. "You, hit me?"
"Yes, me, hit you." He gave him a shove, getting out of the water. "You deserve it for that comment. I did what you fucking well wanted me to do, knowing full well that something would go ass-backwards. Now that it has, I'm not being blamed for this. I did what you wanted me to do." He poked him on the chest. "Turning me back into a girl was not my idea. I've been against it all along." Another poke. Jigen captured his finger and squeezed. "Break it, I can get you while you sleep. That's the beauty of never sleeping." Jigen backed away from him. "I will not be blamed for doing what I was told to do. If you want to blame someone, then go down the fucking hall, down the damn stairs and outside. You can take your jealous ass out of my room anytime now before I leave it." Jigen took another step back. Xander slammed the bathroom door in his face and got back into his bath, closing the curtains again. "I hate men." He groaned. "Never mind, I only hate some men." He got out again, going out to his closet. There was no one around. He put on his favorite outfit and shoes, then snuck out the window. All that training was really paying off. It wasn't that far from the house to town and he had his purse on him. He could easily go dancing somewhere in Paris until he cooled down.
Jigen stomped outside. "Why am I to blame for this?"
Lupin groaned. "Because you're a jealous asshole," he pointed out. "Did you two have a fight?" Jigen nodded, starting to pace. "Quit. You'll only want to smoke again and you know you can't." He stood up. "Let me talk to him. He'll listen to reason." Jigen snorted. "He will"
"He won't. He slammed a door in my face. Me! He listens to me. And now we've broken it totally. Thanks a lot, Lupin." He walked off.
"Jigen, wait," Lupin called, walking over to stop him. He turned him around. "Xander's confused. He's miserable right now. I realize that. I was going to force David to let him free tonight. Go upstairs and bring him down to my office. Removing the choker should get him free of most of the confusing and contradicting emotions."
"You mean like your grand plan to have someone who flirts around here?" he asked bitterly. "Couldn't you just teach him in bed?"
"This wasn't for me. This was for himself. It's for his future skills." Jigen glared at him and walked off, heading for the pond. "Fine, I'll get him. I'll lock you two in a closet later," he called after him. He walked into the house, going up to Xander's room. He would be easier to find. He found the door kicked in. The bathroom door was open. Wet footprints led to the closet and the window was open. "Shit!" He hurried down the stairs. "Jigen, he ran!" he shouted. Jigen came running, meeting him at the car. "Which way would he go?"
"Town. He'll catch a train somewhere." He got in, looking down the driveway. "He can't have gotten too far."
"He's an angry woman, he could be in town by now." He took off down the driveway, heading down the main road toward town. If they didn't find him by then, he'd leave Jigen at the train station and take the other road himself. Which they had to do and they still couldn't find Xander. By the time they got home it was after dark and Jigen was beyond livid. Lupin was regretting being born. Things were quickly going to hell today. "Let's call the guys next door, maybe he headed over there."
"Yeah, to test out his riding skills."
"If you'd get off your bony ass and do something, maybe this wouldn't have had to happen."
"He's my student! He's your sex toy."
Lupin glared at him. "He is not a toy. Nor will he ever be a toy," he said stiffly. "And do not use that tone of voice with me."
Fujiko came out of the office. "He's already in Paris. He's used his credit card to buy a train ticket." She looked at them. "You're both idiots. Now get over it." She walked away, leaving them staring after her.
"It was your plan too," Jigen called after her.
"Because I knew you'd finally figure it out, Jigen. Do the world a favor, get laid soon!"
"Yay. Try another one. That was too well used," she called back. She walked up the stairs, slamming her door.
"We were hoping you'd finally accept the kid. He's the only one who's made you happy in years. We know he's not going to turn on you."
"Yeah, well, he did, didn't he. Great plan." He walked away, heading for the kitchen.
Lupin sighed and went in to run a check on Xander's credit card. He had checked into a hotel. It was one in the middle of the club district. So he was going to burn off some energy for the night. Hopefully he'd be safe while he did it. There wasn't any way for them to protect him all the way out there. "Shit, he's like my own kid," he complained as he sat down, giving the computer a glare. "This was a bad idea. I'll admit it to him when we go wake him up in the morning. Xander doesn't drink heavily but tonight I'm betting he'll make an exception." He took a deep breath, thinking hard. "If we leave at dawn, we can wake him up around ten. He should still be there." Someone tapped on the door. "It had better be good."
Dawn walked a letter in and handed it over. "Xander sent it. It's notoriously thin." She glared at him. "What happened?"
"Dawn, leave. Go to your room and stay there." She gave him a look. "I mean it."
"Fine. Remember, Xander only gives one chance usually. The last one he gave a second one too was Willow when he saved her fucking life." She walked off, leaving him with the probable missive of doom.
Lupin opened it with his thumbnail, reading the short message. "At least he'll be back sometime," he said bitterly, putting it onto the desk. He went up to check the boy's room, finding his weapon. "That was really dumb. He's too well known to be without something." He took it with him, going to present it to the teacher. "It was under his pillow," he said when Jigen glared in his direction. He handed it over. "He sent a letter, he'll be back sometime this week."
"No, he won't. Xander won't trust us ever again."
"He'll have to come back. We've got his stuff and David's here. His letter said he'd be back."
"That's something you taught him yourself, Lupin. To leave a false trail." Lupin slumped, shaking his head. "I doubt he's coming back. If he does, he'll try to sneak in to get stuff. Or he'll walk in, go up to his room, pack and leave again."
"Then we'd better go find him. He's in Paris, with Pops on the prowl for him, without a weapon in the city where the assassin's convention is going to be this year. They're already getting there."
"And he's too well known," Marcus agreed from the doorway. "Where is Xander?"
"Paris, somewhere. Why?"
"Dawn's sister is on the phone and she's presently crying." He handed over the cordless so Lupin could take it in the hall. "When do we leave?" he asked Jigen. Jigen looked at him. "You can't even get into the clubs that Xander would head to. He's got that small self- destructive urge which would mean he's probably in a vampire club right now." Jigen groaned. "So let's go and we'll see if we can find him before he gets turned. I don't want to stake him." Lupin hung up and they looked at him. "Well?"
"They wanted Xander back to help with an apocalypse," he said bitterly.
"Knowing him, he'd rush back to help them," Marcus agreed. "He has in the past." Jigen nodded. "What are they facing?"
"Something big and eating. She didn't say more than that. Get David and Dawn, send them to Cleveland to help her. I said I'd send them and see if Xander wanted to go." Marcus nodded, jogging off. "He's right. It's the only way to make sure he comes back. If we go find him, we can get him to come back without too much fight. He'll feel he owes us that much."
"I don't want to be owed."
"Neither do I, Jigen," Lupin said coldly. "Let's go."
"Fine. I'm drivin'."
"Fine." They walked out together, getting Goemon so they wouldn't fight in the car. He could smack them both silly if it got out of hand.
"You are both jealous. It is pitiful," Goemon told them. He climbed into the back. "Had you been paying attention to the boy, you would have seen that he wanted free of this a few days back."
"He said so and I sent him to talk to Lupin," Jigen told him. The car leapt at his command, going fast down the driveway. "I figured he could force David to undo it."
"That was the night of the banshee and we never talked," Lupin told him. Jigen nodded. "Damn it. It didn't just slip his mind."
"He probably thought other things were more important. He sees himself as a weapon. Something to be used. Something to be ordered. Not something to be respected. He does not see himself as a gun, or even a bladed weapon. He may simply see himself as a stake. Formed for one purpose and then destroyed when the purpose is done with." Jigen shuddered. "Perhaps it would be better if he left."
"No, it wouldn't," Lupin said firmly. "I don't see him as a weapon and especially not a lesser weapon."
"It is not how you see him. It is the reflection he sees when he looks in the mirror. The same as he once said he got confused first thing in the morning when he saw someone who was clearly not him in the mirror, now we have further confused him."
"Before he took a night and considered it then he was fine," Jigen told him.
"After a fundamental change?"
"I don't know," Jigen sighed. "I don't have a clue anymore."
"Neither does he. You've went from being the one who saved him, to one who has taught him and carved his body into what you wanted it to be, to one he desired, and once he found a balance against that desire, to one he could call friend. Now you are confused and it is not helping him any."
"I fucking well know that, Goemon!"
"Then act like it," he said coldly. "The boy should be returned to his natural state as soon as possible."
"We just had to send David to Cleveland to help with an apocalypse," Lupin told him.
"That may be your key then. The boy will honor his friends when they cry for help." Lupin looked back at him. "How hard would it be?"
"It'd be dumb," Lupin told him. "He isn't skilled enough to break us out of jail."
"We do not know that," Goemon reminded him. "We have no idea what that boy can and cannot do."
Jigen sighed. "True, but there's other considerations. If we're caught, then the house becomes unsafe. That leaves Fujiko and Marcus there alone without a way to escape."
"Not necessarily. Who said anything about jail?" Goemon told him. Lupin looked back at him again. "There are many things that could trap us. Including him thinking that we would go to help our students."
"How would he hear of it?" Lupin asked.
"A message at his hotel?"
"That would work," Lupin agreed. "He'll be checking in again sometime." He glanced at Jigen. "He had a point, Xander can and will lay a false trail. He's a hurt being right now."
"A hunted animal often goes to ground to hide, but it always has to come up for food and water," Goemon reminded him. "He has a means of communication?" Lupin shook his head. "Nothing?"
"He took whatever was in his purse," Lupin told him. He looked at his watch but the hairband that had the locator was back at the house. He looked back at Goemon. "He left the house without a weapon."
"Then he has not learned the lessons he thinks he has."
"He was angry. Even you've done stupid shit in anger, Goemon," Jigen reminded him coldly.
"I have, and then I learned my lessons better. He needs better care." Jigen glared back at him in the mirror. "Pay attention to the road."
"Yes, sensei," Jigen said snidely. "Got any other wise words?"
"Yes, I do." He smirked at them. "I believe I know where the boy may be." The car stopped and both men looked at him. "What does Xander do when he's upset?"
"He eats chocolate and sulks in a bathtub," Lupin told him.
"Water. City pool?" Jigen asked. Goemon shook his head. "You're not sure?"
"Xander is angry, he'll want to wear out that aggression at a distance from people. Water probably. Chocolate definitely. He knows a grand total of seven stores in Paris, three hotels, and two chocolate makers. Where would he head first?"
"If he checked into the hotel he charged on his card, he'd have to go looking for water. It's got a tiny tub in the rooms," Lupin told him. "Pull off the side of the road, Jigen. Ten minutes won't make much difference and I don't want to be hit today." The car was pulled off the side of the road and turned off again. "Okay, so if he's not staying there, then he doesn't know many places. He does know how to use a phone book. Jigen, what other names does he routinely use?"
"Lavelle mostly. Lavelle something. He might have used Xander since no one knows it's him." He put his head on the steering wheel. "How many hotels in Paris have good pools? Or even pools at all?"
"Fifteen I think," Lupin admitted. "Only one that he knows about." He laid his head back on the headrest. "This really does suck."
"It does," Goemon agreed. "Let us hope he has become rational already. What was he wearing?"
"I didn't look in his closet," Lupin admitted. He pulled out his phone, calling the house. "It's us. What's missing from Xander's closet? Yes, now, Fujiko. You can bring your sandwich with you." He closed his eyes, covering them. "Why did I think passing on our skills would be good for the world?"
Jigen glared at him. "Don't try to blame that one on me."
"Enough. You sound like children again." He took the phone, listening to his wife chew. "Is the baby hungry again?" She said something smart but he let it go. She was looking in the closet. "He got out of his bath and put something on, then climbed out a window." He nodded, hanging up. "He's wearing either the green dress no one liked or the black one she said he liked on first sight and begged to buy. His black pumps were also missing, she said they were the ones that buckled."
"All right. So he's dressed up. He could have dyed his hair by now, but not his clothes. What would he be doing first?"
"Either going for chocolate, going to the water, or doing something stupid," Jigen told him. "Take your pick."
"Have you ever seen the boy that mad?" Goemon asked gently. Jigen nodded. "What did he do then?"
"He got pissed and passed out. It took him nearly a fifth by himself to do it, but he managed it in about an hour." Lupin winced. "Does he know where the liquor store is?"
"If he can find a cab, he can find it," Goemon reminded him. "Let us focus on the possible courses of action. Then we can figure out which one he might have went to first. Do you remember the name of the hotel?" Lupin nodded. "Call it." He leaned back. "Perhaps they could aid us somehow."
Lupin dialed information. "I need to be connected with the Hyatt in Paris. Yes, that one." He covered his eyes again, he was getting a throbbing headache. "Hello. My daughter just ran away during an argument. No, she's over eighteen. I wanted to see if she was there so I could come talk to her. I don't know. She's got a few names she'll answer to. Try Alexandra Harris?" He uncovered his eyes, sitting up. "She is?" He nodded at Jigen. "Black dress? Fit body, longer hair?" He nodded, happier now. "No, that's fine. Yes, she's over age, I simply wanted to come talk to her on neutral territory. Thank you. No, I'll be there in about an hour and a half. Thank you again." He hung up. "We need to go there, she's in the bar." Jigen started the car and pulled back onto the road, zipping off. "Thank you, Goemon."
"I live to make you see clearly," he said dryly. "When we get back, the boy will be mine to work on his temper until David comes back."
"Sure," Jigen agreed. "If he comes back."
"When. Saying if defeats the purpose of this trip."
"I don't make decisions for the kid."
"Not any more," Lupin told him. "I swear it. The boy is able to make his own decisions. He can handle most anything we throw his way. He's a full grown man who happens to have a few last touches of childhood delight and I'm going to let him know that I fucking well appreciate having him around."
"According to Dawn, he performed as a buffer in his last group as well," Goemon said quietly. "He will be coming with us?"
"From now on, as long as he wants to," Lupin agreed. "Him and Marcus. I doubt we'll be getting David back. Dawn we might get back for a while unless Pops is following her." He looked back. "What's your take on that situation?"
"He finds her intriguing I believe. She is an unknown to him. She has challenged his preconceived notions. Either he loathes her for that, he wants to know more because he is intrigued, or a combination of both of those. I would bet on the last."
Lupin nodded. "I was thinking the same thing. She said she doesn't kill and that confused him. So did Xander but I think he was more outraged for him than by him. Dawn stood up to him and outraged him personally by putting that thing on his head."
"She does need to learn control," Goemon said sadly. "I will miss beating it into her head." Jigen nodded. "Will David be going back with his father? I know he was writing him again."
"He was?" Jigen asked.
"A few short emails." Goemon held on as they turned a corner too sharply. "Please do not get us killed. I would appreciate my sword going to my son."
"Is it a son?" Lupin asked, grinning back at him.
"We cannot know for another two months at least." He relaxed again, Jigen had slowed down since they had encountered traffic. "It is days like today when I wish we could teleport like they did on that show."
"That would be nice," Lupin agreed, understanding that comment. Jigen glanced at him. "Xander's made him watch Star Trek with him."
"Only some of them, but it was the early days of television," Goemon reminded him dryly. Jigen snorted and shook his head, changing lanes. "I still do not wish to die today from an accident."
"I'm bein' careful. Shut up and quit nagging."
Xander looked up as another person came up to sit beside him on the empty stool. This would make number ten he had driven off. "Yes?" he asked impatiently.
"Scotch, single cube," the man beside him ordered in a familiar voice.
Xander looked at him, already far on the path to drunken stupor. "Oh, gee, you made it," he said bitterly. "Why?"
"I think that's your favorite question," Jigen said fondly, giving him a little smile. "Table?" Xander shook his head. "I'd appreciate the privacy. Let's take this to a table so we can fight without help." Xander continued to look at him. "Please."
"I think that's the first time I've heard that word out of your mouth."
"Am I usually that bad?"
Xander shook his head. "Not usually." He waved for another drink and the bartender looked at him. "I've got a room here already." It was handed to him and his card was charged for another one. Jigen put down enough money for both, then took both drinks with him. Xander glared at his back, stumbling after him. "Stupid fucking heels. Damn girl shoes." He sat across from him. "That was mean."
"No, mean was making me worry. You didn't take a weapon, Xander." Xander shrugged. "The convention is being held here next month. They're already starting to gather and you're well known enough to have garnered interest. Lupin looked, you've already got a bounty on your head." Xander shrugged again. "You don't care?"
"Why do you care?"
"Because I do care." Xander snorted, sipping his drink. Jigen took it from him, taking that hand to hold instead, then both of them when the free one swatted at him. "I do care," he repeated once he had his flagging attention. "We were wrong to force you to go through with this. We agreed on that. As soon as we can get David and your neck together, we'll have him take the thing off you."
"You didn't bring him? I figured you'd want to keep the stupid thing."
"We want you, not it." Xander snorted again, trying to pull his hands away. "Xander, please," he said quietly. "I wanted to apologize. You're right, I was jealous."
"No. Surprisingly not." He stood up. "Let's go somewhere we can yell and scream." He downed both drinks, heading out to the elevators. He tapped the man with the paper, making Lupin look up at him. "You might as well get into it with us too."
"No, I'll wait until you're sober to apologize. That way you can't forget. We're in the sultan's suite, Jigen." He nodded, taking Xander up to his room. Lupin went back to his reading and watching the assassin who had been watching Xander. Very interesting.
Xander let Jigen into his room. "'Scuse the mess, I threw a hissy."
"I've seen worse from you." Jigen locked the door, including the flip latch at the top of the frame. He walked in and sat in the chair, looking at Xander. "Go ahead."
Xander looked confused. "You're not going to yell?"
"I might. Only because you didn't leave a note about leaving. You didn't take a weapon. I thought for sure you wanted to die." Xander shook his head, sitting on the bed. "Are you sure?" Xander nodded, blinking at him. "Then I will remind you tomorrow that your weapons go with you wherever you go. Otherwise you were right to bitch me out."
Xander looked really confused now. "You were worried?"
"I was worried sick. Lupin and I nearly got into a brawl over you, but you're an adult with the right to choose who you want to be around. No one's keeping you in slavery."
"You're letting me go?" Xander asked, starting to sniffle.
"No, we're saying you can take a vacation but you damn well better come back, Xander." Xander looked up at him again. "Come here." Xander shook his head. "I was going to wipe off the mascara. You're giving yourself black eyes." Xander came closer, letting him clean off the mascara tracks. "I'm sorry I convinced you to go through with this."
"It was good for me but I hate it," he said softly, looking down at him. Jigen pulled him down into his lap, startling him. "You hate me."
"I never said I hated you."
"You act like it. You act like I'm trash now."
Jigen shook his head. "I don't mean to, Xander. You're a lot stronger than most people I know. Most people would have gone insane being trapped in that body." Xander sniffled again. "Don't do that," he complained. "I can't take a crying woman."
"I'm not a woman."
"I know, Xander. Even though you look like one, you're not a woman." He got him standing up and helped him into the bathroom to clean his face off. That was much better. He led Xander back to the bedroom and laid her down on the bed, taking off the shoes for her. "There, how's that?"
"Nice. But you still don't like me like that."
"You'd be surprised," Jigen said bitterly, sitting beside him. Xander scooted closer slowly, giving him a chance to move. "Come on. As long as you're not hitting me I don't care. We've talked curled together before."
"It was all those rooms with the single bed," Xander said with a grin. "That and you're always warm." He put his head on the offered shoulder. "I'm sorry I ran. I was so angry."
"I know you were. My own moment of bitchiness didn't help any." He stroked the soft hair. "You took it down."
"It itched. I still think I look funny with this much hair."
"A little but it is distinctive."
"Like your hat?"
"Definitely like my hat." He gave him another pet. "Are you calmer now?" Xander nodded. "Sober enough to talk?"
"I have been. I've only had five. Six," he corrected. "I drank yours."
"True, you did." He lifted Xander's chin up. "Xander, we're both very sorry. Lupin and I had a good fight with each other over you."
"Because we were angry with each other over how we seem to have been treating you," he said patiently. "Do you like him that much?"
Xander shrugged. "We're buddies who occasionally sleep together. Nothing more. He listens but he doesn't really understand. You can't really understand until you've lived my life, like how you told me I was romanticizing yours and I would until I lived it for a month." Jigen nodded, remembering that. "Until you've faced down something that sucks souls, you can't really know what it's like to fear being eaten."
"Speaking of, Buffy called for you." Xander lifted his head again, frowning. "That's why we didn't bring David."
"Fine." He put his head down again. "What is she angsting about?"
"Something big that eats others. That's all she said. Dawn started to cry, we sent her and David to them."
"Then we should probably stop them at the airport and make him take this off. If Buffy called for me, then she's already called LA for help and his dad will be there. He'll either run away or go back with him."
"We're going to make sure he takes that thing off you. I miss you being yourself." Xander grinned, picking at a button on his shirt. "Are we okay again?"
"I guess." Xander looked up. "What about your crush thing?"
"Crush thing?" Jigen asked, looking amused. "Use the Queen's English, Xan."
"All right," he said, adopting Marcus' accent. "I have noticed that your jealous state seems to revolve around my nether regions while I am stuck in this form. Being that that is the case, what do you have planned in an action and consequence sense on that matter?"
Jigen snickered, shaking his head. "I'm still ignoring it. You need someone who can be there all the time, not someone who can't go near you when you're male."
"Good point," Xander agreed. He sat up, looking at him. "It still sucks for you. I remember that state very well." Jigen gave him a tolerant look so Xander moved his hat back. "There, that's easier for us to talk. What are you planning?"
"I'm planning on ignoring it forever."
"You can't do that. It'll make your head go funny again and we'll end up yelling at each other again." Jigen shook his head. "It will. It's been three weeks and we've already yelled at each other because of the job. If I'm going to be doing this more often then you're going to get hit worse."
"Good point," Jigen agreed, pulling him closer again. "I don't know, I haven't thought about it. Like I said, I know you're a man. It's not my thing."
"Good point," Xander sighed, resting on his shoulder again. "What's the boss doing?"
"Probably planning on taking out that assassin who was watching you in the bar."
"Hmm. Interesting." Xander slid his body over Jigen's, laying on top of him. "I still say that you suck sometimes."
"I do sometimes," Jigen agreed. "I'm human."
"Which is a nice change in my life, you gotta admit," Xander said with an impish grin. He looked around. "Any cameras?"
"Not that I know of." Jigen found himself kissed. "What did you do that for?"
"Because I've been denying myself that urge for almost two years," Xander reminded him. "At least this way I can do that." Jigen looked stunned. "See, I can plan things. I didn't plan it very well, but I can plan things," he admitted dryly. "I've wanted to do that for so long, since you looked at me and saw more than a hurt little boy with a few basic skills. This has been my opportunity."
"Our second day trapped in that motel?"
"Pretty muchly, yeah," Xander admitted. "You were hurt and I was being myself by taking care of you. Then you actually asked me what I was doing." He grinned. "You asked me who I was. You asked my opinion. That's the thing that got me I think." He shrugged. "I'm shallow that way. You were more than handsome enough and you wanted to talk to me, not at me. That's all I needed."
"That's not shallow, that's where most people set their bottom limit to date someone else." He touched the pale hair. "You were almost married?"
"I nearly married Anya. I walked away the night before the ceremony because something had shown me what our lives would have been like. I looked really bad. I had a beer gut. I was miserable. I was basically my father."
"Did you wake up screaming in horror?"
"Nearly." Xander grinned self-consciously. "I ended up leaving her at the altar. It didn't exactly make her a happy little former vengeance demon. It gave her back her powers, but we were really awkward until she gave them up again. She blamed me for making her have a conscience and think about her job; she couldn't do it anymore. She continued to blame me until she died and was allowed to ascend to a higher position in the hierarchy. Now she gets to annoy people all the time and she's having fun again." She laid back down again. "She died, Cordy ascended to a higher plane. Buffy's a bitch. Willow's dead. Ampata's locked up again. Everyone I've ever loved seems to have moved on."
"Incan mummy girl. I thought you read the book."
"I did, but I didn't remember the name." He gave him a little pinch. "Wasn't she the one who kissed you and made you age?"
"Yeah, I saved Buffy from being taken by her. She loved me enough to give it up for me." He sighed. "I hate my former life."
Jigen laughed. "What about now?"
"Now, I like my life. I'm doing some good things, in a bad way but they're still good things. We take the annoying and really bad criminals off the stage and make them sorry. I like doing that." He looked up. "I like this life."
"Good. We're expecting you to come back to it, Xan."
"Really. Lupin and I agreed, you get to make your own decisions from now on. We'll treat you like the adult you are, even though you do play with legos in your room at night." Xander grinned and yawned. "Tired?"
"Still a little drunk. But you're worth it."
"I'm worth being drunk over?" Xander nodded. "Thanks, I think."
Xander laughed. "You're welcome. You know what?" Jigen shook his head. "There's one person I miss from Sunnydale. I miss the way things were, but you can't go back. Buffy went through her needy stage and then decided she didn't need me. Willow went evil and tried to end the world, then came back and went supposedly good again. The only person I miss is Oz. Oz was the essence of cool. He'd be like, 'you shoot people. Okay'." He grinned, playing with the button again. "He'd ask if it paid well, if I was happy, then shrug it off because I wouldn't be hurting him. I miss him."
"He sounds nice. Where is he now, do you know?" Xander shook his head. "Not at all?"
"Not at all. Oz left to go back to Tibet to learn how to control his inner wolf. I guess it was really hard to get gigs with the band when you wolf out three days a month." He looked up, seeing the shocked look. "Yes, they exist too."
"I figured they did, there are too many legends for them not to if vampires do." Jigen shook his head. "Ever hear the of the Beatles?"
"The Beatles or the Beagles?"
"They were one of those crappy cover band bands in Sunnydale," he said dryly. "Played up and down the coast. They played a lot of dances." He sat up again, looking down at his mentor. "Yeah, I've heard of them. I've got most of their music back in my room. Why?"
"Listen to 'Places I Remember' when we get back. It'll make you feel better." He stroked the bare arm. "You're chilly."
"A little but I'm good."
"Yes, you are, Xander."
"Good? Me?" Xander snorted. "Better than average but I'm still not a good yet. Maybe a C-plus right now."
Jigen shook his head. "Your skills are better than that, kid. You're a B at least." That got an embarrassed giggle and blush. "Those were real?"
"Yes! I'm easily embarrassed by people who tell me stuff like that to be nice." He pinched him. "So quit."
"I wasn't doing it to be nice, Xander, it's the truth. You've got the skills and the ability to use them without needing much thought. You're better than probably eighty percent of the people who are going to be coming in for the convention next month." Xander grimaced. "I'm not saying that to be nice. You can ask Goemon if you don't believe me."
"The last I heard, I was still in the bottom of the top pack."
"You've learned how to wound since then and you've figured out how and when to do so. That got you past that obstacle. You're nearly as good as me." Xander blushed again. "Now I know why Lupin wanted you to do this job instead of me. You blush an awful lot, kid."
Xander pinched him again. "Don't call me that. I feel like you're my dad." He pouted, flopping down onto his back so he could stare at the ceiling. "I'm not that good yet. I need a lot more practice in the field."
Jigen rolled over, pinning Xander down. "You are. I don't say things to be nice. You know that." He could see he wasn't getting through. "Do we have to get Pops to say it for you to believe me? He called you more dangerous than me the other day at a press conference. Fujiko taped it if you want to watch it when we get home." Xander looked at him, giving him this look of awe and wonderment, like he had just told him the secret to making pizza. It was still Xander's favorite food and he considered a good pizza maker the right hand to God. "Really, he did. He said you're more dangerous than I am. He thinks you're more reckless, which I do agree with, but he said you're more dangerous."
"Wow." Xander shook his head. "I'll have to send him nice flowers for that. Or something. Maybe some liquor filled chocolates. I'm sure we make him drink."
"We make Goemon drink so I wouldn't be surprised," Jigen agreed dryly. Xander giggled. "So you're at least a B. Got it?" Xander nodded, still looking at him like he was God, or a great pizza maker. He leaned down and kissed him gently, not expecting to be submitted to. The boy went limp under him and started to make mewling noises. "That's not what I expected to happen."
Xander tipped his chin up. "Please?"
Jigen's self control, something that Lupin teased him about and other criminals saw as something special dissipated. No one had ever *begged* him before to simply touch them. He gave him another kiss, letting his hand move up the limp arm. Xander was like putty in his hands, she was going to do whatever he said. He pulled back, looking down at him. "What are you doing?"
"This is me, Jigen. I'm a very confirmed bottom and slightly slutty. I like being on my back. It's my favorite position, quickly followed by being on my stomach." Jigen groaned and shook his head so Xander lunged up, locking lips with him again. Jigen moaned and lowered himself onto her. Xander moaned and broke the kiss to pant and lift his chin again. "Please?"
Jigen licked down it, then did a small test bite. Xander arched up into him, starting to make nonsense noises. "You are submissive."
"Only in bed," Xander panted. "Damn pantyhose," he said, trying to wiggle out of them. "Should have listened, went with stockings."
Jigen pulled back, sitting up so he could help her out of them. They had been very tight and damp. He tossed them over his shoulder, going back to his kissing. Xander was making a lot of noise so he silenced him with a real kiss again, quickly going back to the tempting neck. He bit down harder, intending to leave a small mark, and Xander came off the bed, shivering underneath him. "Wow." Jigen moved lower, sliding the strapless dress out of his way. The tender breasts were exposed with a few deft finger movements underneath Xander's back. One nearly hit him in the face so he played with that one first.
Xander moaned, arching that part up. "I did not expect this to feel so good," he complained. "I didn't want to like that."
"Shh," Jigen told him. Xander pulled a pillow over his face but he removed it for him. "No suffocation. I don't play breathing games."
"Okay, no suffocation. Remember I get noisy."
"This is a hotel, it's not like we'll be embarrassing the samurai." He moved to the other side, teasing and playing with the tight nipple. The boy had nice big nipples, making a tempting target. He bit down on that one, earning another groan and push up into his mouth. He moved a hand down under the bunched-up skirt, teasing the soft flesh there. Xander lifted up, pulling the dress off over her head. Then it was tossed aside. Jigen saw the pale flesh, barely tanned but very fit. He had seen it earlier but he had tried not to pay any attention to it. The stomach was calling for him, so he went down to play with it. Xander was very ticklish.
Xander arched up, swatting at the hand teasing him. "No tickling. I can't retaliate. It's not fair." He pulled Jigen back up, kissing him while his hands worked on the buttons of his shirt and his tie. He finally got them off and pushed them off the thin arms, exposing the chest. Jigen let him play, moaning when he hit anything remotely good to play with. He pushed him onto his back, working on the stubborn belt. When he finally got it undone, he pulled it free and tossed it onto the headboard. "In case you want it," he said with a cheeky grin, undoing the pants.
"You like to be tied down?"
"I like to be held down," Xander corrected. "But I'm willing to branch out for you." The zipper got stuck for a moment so he had to tug really hard on it. Finally it was free and so was his objective. "I like this part," he said with an impish look, staring up as he went down on him. Jigen shouted, holding his head down. He let himself play, he really liked this art.
"Shit, Xan!" Jigen said hotly, taking him from his plaything. "No more or I won't have enough energy left to do this." He put the boy underneath him again, kissing back down his body.
"Oooh, lower?" Xander pleaded.
"I don't usually do that, Xander."
"Please! Just so I know?"
"Fine. For a minute." He went down below, moving the light purple panties out of his way. They were sopping and Xander did taste good. She was definitely a woman down here. He got involved, feeling around as he licked gently. Xander stiffened above him, starting to chant his name. "Hush," he warned, sliding a finger inside.
"Please, please, pleaseohpleaseohplease!" Xander pleaded. "Just a little more!" Jigen gave him what he wanted, sending him over. "Yes!" He panted and wiggled, urging him to do more with whatever body part he wanted.
Jigen looked up at him. "I've never had someone so responsive, especially not a virgin."
"So different," Xander panted. "Feels great, but still different. Liking it though. Please, more." He clawed at the tense shoulders, urging him to play to his heart's content. His clit was found by a thumb and he lost his mind. This was the point of being a woman, he got it now. "I get it now," he shouted. "This is why the choker came to me!"
Jigen growled, moving up to kiss him. "It came to you because you draw trouble."
"Like me," he agreed dryly. He continued to play a finger in and out of the tight body. The hymen was intact so he stopped to tease it, making Xander close her eyes and whimper. "Are you ready?"
"Fuck yes! Don't make me pounce you!"
Jigen laughed, slowly sliding into her tight heat, breaching the thin barrier. Xander keened but pulled him tighter with his heels and hands, latching onto his mouth again. "Gotta breathe, Xan," he said when he pulled back. He tried to give her some time to adjust but she was rabid. She was wiggling and doing it herself. He pulled back and thrust in harder than he had intended, the heels kicking at his rear was making it hard for him to have control. "Stop wiggling!" He pulled the girl's arms up over her head, holding them there with one hand. She arched her bottom half up, urging him to do more. Her eyes were closed. "Look at me."
Xander opened her eyes, panting up at him. "Please?" she whispered. "Just one more? Just a little more!"
Jigen moved, slower this time. She was going to be insane by the time he was done. It was a heady experience to have someone want you that much. He slowly got harder and faster, but it wasn't enough for her. Xander wanted more now. She wiggled free and knocked him onto his back, taking control of the action. He steadied her waist, letting her do whatever she wanted for now. She wasn't exactly rhythmic, but she felt so close. He could feel her muscles contracting around him. She suddenly pulled off and went down on him again, wiggling her rear near his head. He growled and took it over, licking and teasing her. She deserved it for making him wait. Not that her mouth wasn't great, but he wanted more than that now. She pulled off to shriek, going limp across his stomach. "More?" he teased, thrusting two fingers into her while his thumb stroked her hard clit.
"I taste damn good," Xander said, grinning at him. She moved away from his fingers, kissing him again. Then she carefully laid on her back and spread herself out, arms above her head, hands on the headboard. Jigen groaned, moving over top of her again. "I'm yours. Make me yours," she begged.
Jigen pushed back into her. "No more teasing?"
"Fuck teasing, I want more dick." He looked stunned. "Honey, this can't even *compare* to what I've felt before. You're making me get closer just because you're laying there. There are no words to describe what I'm feeling, how I'm throbbing around you."
He shut her up with a hard kiss. "Quiet, wench."
"Yes, wench, I like that one," she agreed, starting to babble as soon as he pulled back to push back in again. It was making her ache, that slow, steady movement. Sex as a man had nothing on this. He arched up but his hips were pushed back down. One hand on them held them down while Jigen sought his own pleasure. She could feel another one coming and started to babble pleading noises and words, making him growl again. "Please!" she shouted, arching up even though he was trying to hold her down. "Just a little more! One last one!"
"Shit, woman, I'm not near finished yet." Xander gave him that same adoring and worshipful look. He started to move harder, making her babble faster. He slowed down for a minute and the pleading only got more incoherent. "If all women were like you, I'd never go without."
"Whenever you want," Xander assured him. "I'm not giving this up!" She wailed, coming against his body. His hair was just scratchy enough to tease her clit and it was throbbing in time with it. "More! Moremore, more now!"
"For a sub, you're demanding," he teased, but he was going to give her what she wanted. Before he lost his own mind. He could feel his own orgasm sneaking up on him and sped up a little more, hoping to get one last good scream out of her before he came. Her muscles were shivering and he could feel her starting back up the scale. Bad timing but maybe.... He tilted his hips up, making her wail. "G-spot," he taunted. He could feel her humping her clit against his pubic mound and it was only getting him hotter. He was not giving this up when they got home! Fuck, he'd share her for this! He roared as he came, making her scream and wail, giving a few desperate pushes. He used his thumb to send her crashing into unconsciousness. He laid there, panting hard, trying to catch his breath. "Now I know why men die in bed," he complained, flopping onto his back so she could breathe when she woke up. He nudged Xander, waking her. "You all right?"
"Is this heaven?" she asked wearily. "If it is, can I get some sunglasses, I can't see anything for the sparkly light." She passed out again.
Jigen looked at her, rolling his head to do so. "That's a compliment. I did you until you were blind?" His answer a soft sigh of contentment. He lifted up, looking down at her. "You're out again?" He checked her pulse, hard and fast but acceptable. It was slowing down. He kissed her, making her wake up again. "Morning."
She stretched, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Damn, you're good," she said in amazement. "I'll keep this damn thing on if I have to." She blinked a few times. "I've got a big bright spot in my vision. I think I had a stroke."
Jigen laughed. "No, you didn't have a stroke. Probably." He pulled her closer, letting her rest against him. "You cuddle. I know you like that."
"I do like cuddling but I like that clit and g-whatever thing better," she said tiredly. "Hey, I think I'm sober now." Jigen laughed, giving her a squeeze. "It's a good thing I can't get pregnant."
"You sure about that?"
"Lupin said I couldn't."
"Yeah, well, he's been known to be wrong. We'll be getting you the morning after pill tomorrow, just in case." Xander gave him a tired smile. "You nap, wench." She laughed, resting her head on his chest. Jigen laid there, amazed still. "That was the best I've ever had," he mused. She nuzzled him with her nose and he shifted a little, letting her go slightly so she could flip over if she wanted to but he could also drag something over top of them. He wasn't moving until the morning.
Xander woke up with a gentle ache and a throbbing head. Both were quickly soothed by a kiss before he could even open his eyes. "Morning, Jigen," she said softly. "Food?"
"We'll get you some food soon. Can you open your eyes?" Xander shook her head. "You wanna try? Before I have to get Goemon in here to defend your honor?"
"With as much sex as he's had since being married, he can't complain about what I've gotten," Xander said tiredly, flipping onto her side, one arm snagging his neck and forcing him with him. "Cuddle. I'll wake up later." She yawned in his ear, falling back into a gentle doze.
Jigen shook his head. "You'll be fine," he promised. A gentle snore assaulted his ear and he chuckled, picking up the phone from the bedside table. He called the front desk. "I need connected to the sultan's suite." The line went through and Lupin answered. "It's me. Any new news?" He listened. "Do we have to go?" He smirked. "I guess that's one way to catch David." Xander snored again, switching to his throat for nuzzling. "Quit that." He moved away from her but she grabbed him and held him still, moving down to play with his chest. "What? No, we're good. No, she's sleeping. Yeah, again." He smirked. "I'm not telling you that."
Xander grabbed the phone. "Go away, we don't want any." He tossed it aside, going back to his nap.
Jigen waited until he heard the first snore then kicked the phone back so he could grab it again. "Like I said, asleep," he said more quietly. He heard the stunned silence. "What?" Lupin said something about being right down and hung up before he could protest. "Shit." He hung the phone up. "Xan, Lupin's on his way down."
"Unless you're willing to share, I'm staying this way." He looked up at him, blinking his crusted eyelashes. "Eww, mascara is more nasty than lipstick, I was right."
Jigen shook his head. "What do you want, Xander?"
"I..." She slumped and shrugged. "I'm letting you two work that out." She slid out of the bed and went into the bathroom. "Do I have any clothes?"
"Only what you were wearing." Jigen got up and managed to find most of his clothes. His belt was under the bed but he wasn't able to get it yet. He tidied up the small mess of thrown newspapers and scratch pad paper, tossing it all out. When the door was knocked on, he answered it. "Hey." He let him inside, taking the cup of coffee from him. "Thanks." He took a careful sip while he checked the hall. "No Goemon?"
"He went to look at baby furniture," Lupin said, sitting on the end of the bed. "Xander?"
"Bathroom hiding," he said, locking the door again. "Xander?" She opened the door. "Take a shower, we'll figure out clothes in a minute." She nodded, pulling her head back in. "She won't tell me what she wants." He sat in the chair, looking at his best friend. "I still won't be able to do anything while she's a guy."
Lupin smirked at him. "Whereas I don't have that problem," he agreed. "But she's a bit more innocent than I'd like as a woman." Xander came out and grabbed her dress but Lupin grabbed her first, sitting her beside him on the bed. "What do you want, Xander? We've decided to start asking you the important questions." Xander blushed and tried to cover herself up. "Interesting bite pattern," he said, touching a mark. She swatted at him. "Sorry." He glanced at Jigen, who was not looking happy. "Xander, do you know what you want?"
Xander sighed and shook her head. "I don't know. I like what I have. I like what I had. I don't know." She went into the bathroom to get dressed. Minus the pantyhose and panties.
Lupin looked at Jigen. "I'll leave it up to you. You're the one who nearly destroyed everything you've ever had to get her."
Jigen sipped his coffee. "I did, didn't I?" he asked calmly. That fight with Lupin could have made him leave the group for good. "We can share," he decided.
"We can share," Lupin agreed. "If she'll allow it. Xander?" She came out, giving him a look. "Do you want us to choose?"
"I don't want to hurt the group," Xander pleaded. "I never meant for that to happen." She turned, struggling with the door, but Lupin stopped her, turning her around and bringing her back to the bed, sitting her on his lap. "I don't want to do this to the group!"
"You're not," Jigen assured him. "We were thinking about ways of making sure that didn't happen." Xander stopped struggling and gave him a hopeful look. "Honestly, wench, I won't ever touch a man, not even you. I'm not built that way." Xander nodded and slumped. "On the other hand, I'm also insanely jealous at the moment. Let her go." Lupin handed her over, taking the coffee in exchange for the girl. "Thank you." He stroked Xander's thigh, making her shiver. "It's up to you."
"You're talking about sharing me, aren't you?" Xander asked. "Or am I still really confused?"
"That was the option we liked," Lupin agreed with a smirk. "I seem to get some very good ideas when I sleep with you." She blushed. "On the other hand, you're way to innocent for me as a female. Your blushing proves that you are. I like my women dangerous. You're too...."
"Sweet," Jigen supplied. "Very sweet. Very soft." Xander blushed brighter, giggling nervously. He realized what his fingers were doing and how far up her skirt they were so he stopped them. "Sorry. I think I need time to get used to it." He looked at Lupin. "Speaking of, we need to get her a pill pack."
"She shouldn't be fertile."
"I'm not taking that chance with her life."
"Fine. We'll stop at a pharmacy on our way to the airport. Pops is going after Dawn, Xander, and she's panicking."
"Dawn's panicking? Why?"
"The soul-eating lawyer was defending Buffy from a charge against her, but his fee of a soul per day wasn't sitting well with her once she found out. Buffy's in the hospital. The LA group is there. She and David are facing this down with Angel and she's presently trying to keep from killing people while trying to kill the beast, keep David sane and there, and take care of her nephews because Buffy's husband is missing in action," Lupin told him. "You can go babysit Fujiko if you want, or you can go with us."
Xander shook his head. "I should go. Things like that tend to leave me alone. At the very least it'll help the kids. They're innocent, they don't deserve this life."
"That's what we planned on." Lupin checked his watch. "That leaves us two hours to get to the airport and board. You can eat in the car?" Xander nodded. "That's fine, let's go."
"I need to do some minor shopping first," Xander pointed out, crossing her legs. "I don't think I want to go through the airport and the flight without panties." Lupin gave him a smug look. "They were kinda stiff this morning."
"I bet." Lupin stood up and patted himself down. "That's fine. Let's do that now." He handed over the rest of the coffee. "In my bag I've got your passport and a spare jacket." He helped her up. "If we can, we'll get David to fix it as soon as we get there." He looked around the room, grabbing her purse and shoes, while Jigen got down to retrieve his belt. "Kinky," he said, grinning at Xander, making her blush again.
"She offered but I didn't need it," Jigen said smugly. He did a check of the room himself, following them out the door and down to the car where the bellhop was waiting with Lupin's emergency bag. "When did you get his passport?"
"It's in the glove compartment. I found it the other day." He got in to drive. "Are you going to be particular?"
"No, I just want something to stop the breeze," Xander said as she got into the back and buckled in. "Picky is Fuji and her thong obsession."
"With some of the outfits she used to wear, it was all you could wear under them," Lupin said with a smirk. "I like that dress on you." He took off, heading into the city proper to *his* favorite store. Fujiko had her spots and he had his. Within minutes of the stop, Xander was reoutfited in a full new outfit. Now she looked like a high class businesswoman. They hurried out to the car, letting Jigen run in for the morning after packet and a soda for the bouncing gunwoman. She was his responsibility.
Xander stepped off the loading ramp and looked around the terminal. The sunglasses she wore were very dark but she wasn't going to remove them yet. She walked over to the seating area, but none of their crew was there. So he headed to the car rental place. She smiled as she stepped up. "I made reservations on the flight over. Harris?" she said softly. The clerk checked the computer and nodded, handing over the forms. "Hmm. License number." She dug in her purse, accepting it when one was handed over her shoulder. His real California one. He looked back, coming face to face with Zenigata. "Morning."
"Evening," he said bitterly, "but I suppose in your line of work it's about the same." Lupin coughed behind him and he got out of the way. "Come to save Dawn?"
"Very." Xander let Lupin fill it out. He had his license on him. She looked him over, then smirked. "Feeling like your old self again, Gramps?"
"Yes, I do, but I also can't do anything about it. My boss is in the middle of that mess." Xander nodded and he drug him off to the side. "Why are you so calm!" he demanded.
Xander removed her sunglasses. "Because I've been here and worse before. Me panicking won't help any." Marcus joined them and took his arm. "We'll handle it while you guard the little kids. Then we'll leave and you can go back to your old ways." She let Marcus walk her off, shaking her head. "This is getting more and more complicated by the minute," he complained, letting Lupin put him into the back of the Benz. "This is nicer than the usual rental."
"I hate sitting in American traffic without a good car around me," Lupin told him, getting in to drive. "Where to first?"
"Where are they planning from?"
"Go to the museum Dawn liked so much and hang a right three intersections before you hit the block it's on. Go left about seven blocks, then I'll take over."
Lupin nodded, waiting while Jigen put the single bag into the trunk, then got in. As soon as they were on the interstate, he glanced back. "What are we dealing with?"
"I don't know yet. Soul eating isn't uncommon. Being a lawyer is, but that's odd for all demons, not just soul eating ones. I wonder if Angel's had a problem with it." He stared out the window, thinking about it. "Most of the soul eaters have a body weakness and can be killed by silver," Xander said finally. "With about five exceptions. One's an iron, one's a water for some reason, and the other two are killed by bashing their heads in."
"That leaves one," Marcus reminded him. "Which would be a single being and higher in the hierarchy. It's about fifteen feet tall so I'm sure we can rule it out unless we've got notice that it's been seen."
Xander nodded. "I've met him. You rip his balls off and he disappears. That's where his keys are." He crossed his legs in the other direction. "We'll need guns. The nearest gun shop is on the way. They do deal in the supernatural so they might have silver bullets. Otherwise we'll have to make some. Jigen, did you bring yours?" Jigen nodded. "How do you sneak it past?"
"I had Marcus put an 'ignore' charm on it when we first met," he said smugly, turning around. "What are you looking for?"
"Handgun, automatic. We'll need a wider spread if it's most of them. The delicate spot is at least a hand's-width across and the more we can hit of it the better we'll be. It's not like an allergy, where one will kill it." He tapped Lupin on the shoulder. "Take this exit." Lupin did so, heading down the ramp. "Go left." Lupin did so, leaving him to think about it. "I'll stick with a handgun and one rifle if we have to. I doubt we'll need a sniper this time." Jigen nodded. "Marcus?"
"I can chant with the best of them, but I don't think magic will be as helpful this time unless we're going for containment. Mr. Giles is still there and more knowledgeable than I am about such matters. He learned directly from Mr. Rayne, Janus' High Priest himself."
"He was?" Lupin asked.
Xander nodded. "Yeah, he is. He and Giles were fiery sort of lovers. He sparked Giles' bad side." He leaned his head back. "We'll need a contained area to deal with it. Its lair would be fine but I'm not going to count on that. Warehouses seem to be the norm for demons because it's dark and there's some space to get away, yet they're still protected." He tapped Lupin again. "Go right." Lupin turned onto that street. "Go to the bright red sign, it's the pawn shop." Once they got there, they got out, heading inside. "Morning," he told the guy behind the counter, smirking when the half-demon swallowed. "Summers called us. What is it and what do you have?"
"I've got tons and it's an average soul eater with a brain fetish." He pushed a button, letting them into the back room. "Pick, high one," he said, backing away from him.
"Wow, this is like scene in MIB," Marcus said, looking around at all the shiny weapons. "Do you have any silver bullets handy?" He nodded. "What caliber?"
"I've got it in forty-five/three-fifty-seven and in nine mil. I've got a very limited supply of it in shotgun shells. Mostly pellet style." Xander nodded, testing a gun. "That one's really heavy for women," he offered.
Xander smirked at him. "I'm not always a woman, and don't worry about it. I'm more skilled than I thought." He glanced and grinned at Jigen.
"Good job," Lupin told him, patting Jigen on the back. "You got him to accept that fact."
"I'll tickle you later," Xander warned, picking his two favorite and getting out of the way. "These and bullets. A standard soul eater?" The half-demon nodded, adding up the cost on a calculator. "Don't cheat me. I'll get pissed and kill you too." The half-demon looked at him, noticing his eyes. "Harris," he said quietly. The demon swallowed and suddenly the number was cut in half. "We're leaving after this, going back to Europe. You'll be safe with so many Slayers here."
The half-demon nodded. "I know. We usually are. Summers is a kicker but she's also a bad shot."
Xander nodded. "She is. She's never seen the need for more than a crossbow." She leaned on the counter, watching as Lupin found one he wanted temporarily. "Hey, Marcus, I'll need you to charm these too."
"Sure thing, Xander." He picked up a crossbow, looking at it. "It's automatic? I didn't know they made such as these."
"They do, and they sell spare magazines too," the half-demon told him. "Usually the Watchers buy them."
"My father was unfortunately one of those," Marcus told him, giving him a look. "I decided against it. I'm much happier this way." He looked at Lupin. "Did Goemon go back home?"
"No. He'll be in later tonight. He had to get his passport and figured that out after we called you." He handed over his. "Plus standard ammunition for all of them." The half- demon nodded, putting boxes onto the counter, along with a large suitcase. "Thank you." He let Xander load them up, paying the man instead. Jigen got some extra bullets, he was fine with his own weapon. Marcus got an extra two boxes of bolts, that baby was going home with him apparently. They headed out to the car, taking the parking ticket off and dropping it onto the ground. Xander got in to drive, making Lupin sit in the back. "Are you sure you know where you're going?"
"Of course I do. I cased it our first night in town, boss." Xander checked, everyone was in and the trunk was closed. He took off, heading to a nearby parking garage about four blocks away. Then he got out and pulled out the gun case, heading off at a slow walk. Everyone else followed him. He walked into the front door of the shop, giving the staring people a look. "Yes, the choker does change gender," he said firmly, walking down the stairs, more confident in his heels now. "Why? Miss me all of a sudden?" Dawn came over, hugging him. "Thanks, babe. David!" he yelled. David came out of the back room. "We've got to do something about this choker. Tonight. I miss my penis and I shoot better as a man." David nodded, looking away from Lupin. "Fine, whatever." He put the weapon case on the table, looking at Giles. "You yelped for assistance?" he said bitterly.
"Xander," he breathed. Xander nodded. "You're here? Actually here?"
"Of course he is," Marcus snapped. "No thanks to you." He moved to open the case, taking out his weapon. "Where is the soul eater and what type exactly?"
Lupin stood next to Jigen, watching the younger two deal with it. Dawn looked morose. David was hedging away from a man with darker skin than he had. He nudged him, nodding at the unfamiliar people. "Who are they?"
Jigen pointed at each one of them. "That's Angel. That's David's father, Gunn," he said, nodding at David. "The woman must be Fred, Xander didn't say much about her when we ran into them in LA, he liked her more than everyone else. Where's Cordelia? You couldn't get her back?" he asked Angel when he came over.
"You again?" he asked dryly. "Why did he bring you?"
"Because the boy is mine, Angel. Leave him be before we have to go a few rounds."
Xander shot at Angel, wounding him in the arm. "Leave Jigen alone," he said coldly. "Leave Lupin alone and leave Goemon alone when he gets here. Or else the next one's going to be silver and into your stomach so you die a fucking horrible death, like you deserve." He turned back to look at Giles again. "Well?"
"He's nearby. We haven't been able to pinpoint him yet. He comes in each night about ten. He'll be back tomorrow." He lifted his chin. "Are you staying?"
"Hell no," Xander snorted. "Why would I want to stay with people who don't like me when I've found people who appreciate me, like me, and find me neat, cute, and funny? For that matter, why would I want to leave my life for this one? One where I not only matter, but I happen to do a lot more every week." He leaned closer. "Giles, you'd be surprised. They let me read the books in the big house and all of it. They encouraged me when they found out I was learning Japanese and Russian. They also encourage me to learn new skills. Not only am I taking private martial arts lessons with a *master*, I'm taking it with a samurai. I'm skilled enough that I'm being encouraged to learn more so I'm more useful in the group. That beats the fuck out of what I had with you." He stood up straight again. "Hey, boss. What time is it?"
Lupin looked at his watch. "About dinner back at home. That makes it nearly three here? I think."
"Two," Marcus told him. The door opened and he smiled at the inspector. "Good morning, Gramps. Came back?"
"I have to help. That thing has my boss now."
"Then we'll go," Xander told him. "Do you know where it is?" Zenigata nodded. "If he took the person with him, there's a good chance it'll keep him alive. Tell us where so we can get it."
"H...he took one of the younger girls to eat tonight," Giles stuttered. "He wan...wanted to talk to him. Not kill him."
"Even better." Xander walked over to Zenigata, his heels loud in the quiet shop. "Where is it?"
"It's somewhere beneath this block. I chased it to it's entrance but I couldn't get past it. It tried to gas me."
"Did the gas come out of it's mouth?" Xander asked. Zenigata shook his head. "It's butt?" The inspector nodded, looking embarrassed so he stared him in the eyes. "Calm down. The more information we have the better chance we have of beating it. Was it green or brown gas?"
"Green. Smelled like it came from where it did. Now I know why Mark likes you."
"Mark never saw this side of me, he saw the gentle and nice side of me. This is a battle, it's different. Work and pleasure are two different things." The inspector blushed and backed away from him. "I have no desire for Mark, inspector. Remember that. You can tell him that later, but try to let him down easy. I know how hard crushes can be." He walked back to the table, slapping a clip into his second weapon and stuffing a few more into his pockets and down his bra. "Where was the entrance?"
"Behind the shop, down the street. There's a small construction site on the other side of the parking garage to the North. There's a hole in the lower level. It's down there."
Xander nodded. "Fine. We can do that." He looked at the older set. "Stay here," he decided. "It's probably a tight cave, it'll get messy. You can work on things with Dawn and David. Keep them here. Angel, if you *have* to come, you may." He headed for the back door, but Gunn grabbed him. He glared at him. "Let go," he said without any visible emotion.
"You act like you're so hot."
"Gunn, I'm an assassin. I do this for a living these days. I've got nearly a hundred kills to my name, not counting demons over the course of my life. I am hot." He got his arm free. "Make it up with your son. He's confused. He'll also be removing this choker, even if I have to hunt his ass down and force him to." He glared at David, who blushed and nodded. "Good. Wait on me." He walked away, heading out the back door. He heard Marcus coming with him. "Go back in there and steal Giles' books, Marcus. I can do this one."
"Not a chance," Jigen told him, jogging to catch up to him. "We don't go in solo unless there's a problem."
"It's a demon. There's every chance it'll either try to eat me or bow to me." He grinned. "And whichever it does will be wrong, of course." He moved down the alley, sweeping the area visually, his main gun loose in his hand. "I'm hoping it doesn't have minions." Jigen handed over a silencer, making Xander smile. "Thanks. Normals are so odd about gunshots sometimes," he quipped. He screwed it on, continuing down to the parking garage.
Giles rounded on the inspector. "He's a what?" he demanded.
Lupin chuckled, moving closer. Xander had left him the sacred duty to annoy the people who had hurt him. "He is. He's a damn good one too. Jigen said he had natural talent long before they met. Something about having to do this to save himself or something I believe." Giles glared at him. "You know, Ethan didn't say a thing about you the last time he came to help Xander. I wonder why." Giles blanched. "Dawn, are you coming back with us or later?"
"Later," she said, looking him in the eyes. "My nephews need me right now."
"Fine. If you can't make it back within a week or so, I'll have your room packed up and put into storage." She nodded, accepting that. "David?"
"I don't know, Lupin. I want to, but there's stuff I need to do. Dawn reminded me of that." He moved away from his father's heated glaring. "I want to, but things may go horribly wrong with my free will."
"That's fine. You didn't have that much stuff at the house. I'll mail it to you if you can't come back. Should I have Goemon tape his lectures on impulse control? I know he likes giving them." His cell rang. "Speak of the devil, he always know when you talk about him." He answered it. "Yeah?" He listened, frowning heavily. "Is she all right?" He relaxed. "Good. No, I'd never take you away from that. That's a sacred duty, Goemon, I want you to stay there. We've got it. We'll be back in time for the maze." He hung up, looking at the younger generation. "That was Goemon, Fujiko's having some cramping. The doctor gave her a light sedative and put her to bed."
"Cramping is painful," Dawn agreed. "Buffy had those with her first." She looked up at him, looking miserable. "I still want to run it."
"Alone or with your group?"
She shrugged. "They're not my group, Lupin. I realize what you were beating me in the head about." She glanced at David, who scowled at her. "I want to go solo."
"I'll tell the registration person. We've decided to keep Xander and Marcus anyway and to help David if he comes back." David shrugged when he glanced in his direction. "And if not, then most of his training is applicable to the fighting his father does."
"It is," David agreed. "Not only has my fighting gotten better, but so has my temper, my strength, and my ability to climb walls and sneak into places. I had been following Dawn's 'no casualty' rule but I'm not sure if I can do it after all." He looked at Lupin. "She's all right, right?"
"She's fine. The doctor said it was normal; pregnancy is supposed to be painful sometimes." Zenigata glared harder at him. "Hey, talk to her husband, it's not mine. I was always very careful when she was mine." He sat down at the table, taking his own gun to load, slapping the clip into it. "So, Dawn," he said casually. "Any ideas of what you'll be doing if you stay?"
"Hard time," Zenigata told him.
Dawn scowled at him. "Shut it, Gramps." She looked at Lupin. "Xander had a pretty decent idea a few months back. There are insurance companies who pay people like me not to steal stuff. It'll give me the kick of breaking and entering without the drama and the potential to kill people." Zenigata looked at her. "Yes, me, Gramps. I don't kill people. I don't even like killing demons. That's Xander."
"I thought his name was Lavelle."
"That's his use name," Dawn said coldly. "We used to be his family."
"You probably still are to the greater degree," Lupin reassured. "So, Pops, how are you gonna catch us when there's six of us? You haven't been able to catch more than one of us at a time for years."
"Two," Zenigata reminded him. "I caught Jigen and Lavelle."
"Lavelle was a young guy at the beginning of his training," Lupin reminded him, gently smirking at him. "Shortly after you lost them, you lost us all." Zenigata growled, tensing up to lunge at him. "Ah-ah. Lavelle is presently saving your boss. I'd be more thankful before you end up in Mexico again." Dawn snorted. "Or somewhere less hospitable."
"Hmph." Zenigata relaxed again, watching Lupin's every move. "When is she due? So I know when to look for signs of the Anti-Christ?"
"She's just over three months along," Lupin shared with a bright grin. "She's just started having food cravings and morning sickness."
"Yeah, the whole caviar and dill potato chip thing was really gross," David agreed.
His father looked at him like he was an alien. "You eat caviar?"
"Sometimes. It's kinda salty. I never understood what the big thing was. It's fish eggs. If it was human eggs I could see it, but fish eggs at that price?"
"The first thing you learn in the business is that people attach worth to odd things, David," Lupin told him. "Otherwise we wouldn't have a job." David nodded, understanding that. Lupin swung his gun lazily in his hand for show. "Dawn, who has the kiddies?"
"They're sleeping in the back room," Gunn said coldly. "You're not going to see them."
"I saw them during our last trip to the city. One was at the museum the same time we were and the other was at the airport with his mother. By the way, you might want to suggest that Buffy get the older one's hair cut. He's looking a little like a girl with how curly it is." Gunn glared worse.
Angel walked over, looking at him. "Why weren't you there when they killed Willow?"
"Because Xander and I were in Turkey at the time, planning how to get a golden mask away from someone who was misusing it. You'd be surprised at how good the man is. Not only is he an excellent planner, he's got skills out the ass. He's got so many skills that we're having to hunt for things to teach him outside of his martial arts training. He's fully Jigen's level now, if not more well-rounded since he started taking accounting and language classes. He's doing really well in Japanese, if with a strange accent." He grinned at Zenigata again. "He was very impressed when you said he was more dangerous than Jigen. It's what made him realize it was true. Before then he thought we were being nice."
Zenigata frowned. "The boy needs to kill whoever picked on him that way. Figuratively speaking of course." He noticed most of the people in the room went suddenly pale at that. "Them? They did that to him?" Lupin nodded. "Then why did he come back?"
"That's a Xander for you," Dawn said smartly. "Hell, Buffy didn't even try to help him when we finally got him free of the horrible torture Marcus' father imposed on him. She sent Willow to kill him. That's how he met Jigen." She got comfortable. "Lupin, are you sure it's all right if I do it this way?" she asked quietly.
He smiled. "We've noticed for a while now that you really don't have what it takes to live the life, Dawn. Our whole group is also one who upholds community standards. Mediocre people who have problems with the job shouldn't be in the job. It gluts the market, takes down professional pride, and makes the rest of us look bad. If all you can do is open fire on a crowd then you shouldn't call yourself an assassin and if you can't break into a private home you shouldn't call yourself a thief." She nodded. "You have enough skills to do the job at the mid-level, but you'll never be great and you'll hate yourself the first time something goes wrong and someone dies by your hand. You don't belong in it. David's the same way. He's in it for the thrill factor. Go bungee jumping instead." She laughed at that. "Hey, I've done that, jumped off a moving train into a river without the cord. It's fun," he offered.
David snorted. "I still think I could be great."
"David, if this was a job, you'd have to kill everyone in the room who wasn't on our side when they tried to stop you. Could you do that?" The young man went very quiet so he looked at him. "Yes, all of them. Zenigata, the vampire, your father, all of them." David shook his head as he ran to get sick. "Good answer." He looked toward the door. "What is taking them so long?" He was running out of ways to be annoying in a normal way, he'd have to get creative soon.
Xander found the hole, frowning at it. "This thing is only four feet tall?" He shook his head, looking around. There was a larger hole in the wall, but he wasn't sure which it was. "Okay, we wanna play a game?"
Jigen looked at both holes. "Sure, why not. Is one an air hole maybe?"
"Possibly, or the construction crew did it." Xander put her gun up and pulled down her hair, taking the stick. She got down on her knees, looking back at him. "Give me your flashlight," she ordered, using her hairband to tie it to the hairstick. She shined it down in the smaller hole. "Yeah, we end." He handed the flashlight back then put back up his hair. "Come on. Let's go for the big hole." She pulled her main gun and headed to the hole in the wall, glancing inside. The flashlight shined around the walls in front of her. "That probably won't work. This thing has phosphorescent slime. We'll be able to see." She moved inside, gun ready in front of her but down. She peeked around the next turn, wincing at the smell. "Eww. Demon butt. Like I haven't smelled this enough already." She took a deep breath and moved further in. This wasn't that much of a challenge. Yet. They moved further in, taking out the minor demons as they popped out to check and see what was coming. Xander was keeping a running count in his head. He had to use his backup gun once because it didn't have silver bullets in it. He was down nine shots of the silver in a thirteen clip and had three more spare clips, plus another two for the other one. He walked into the antechamber and frowned. "This is not good," he warned. He glanced back but Jigen wasn't there. He had just felt him there. He aimed up the tunnel, starting to walk back that way. Jigen came out, waving him off. "You okay?"
"Fine. What's going on?"
"This is the sitting room of doom. Where is this thing?" He scanned the walls. "There should be a door here."
"There was another turn back there."
"True. Let's try that." He led the way back, he had the most experience, he got point. His game, his rules. They found the other turn and walked down it, finding the bedroom area. The commissioner was laying on a pile of furs, looking like he had just went a round with a succubus. "Eww." He got the man freed, letting Jigen deal with him.
"You're under arrest," the man slurred.
"Save it for now, old guy. Arrest us once we're in the open air." He looked over, noticing Xander was checking the chambers off this one. "Where is it?"
"Behind you," the man giggled.
Xander swung around, clipping the thing in the shoulder as it came into the room. "Move," he suggested lightly. "Extract him, leave me here." Jigen gave him a look. "Go!" Jigen got the guy moving, taking the tunnel they had walked up out. "Come on, stinky ass, let's play." The demon growled and lunged, and Xander got him between the eyes, an annoyance shot. "Want more?" He was giving Jigen time to run. There should only be one thing that might be alive back in the tunnels and he could get it. "Come on." The demon bellowed and the commissioner yelled. "Aw, did you take a consort?" he asked condescendingly. "Poor thing, and I just stole it from you. I guess I did learn my lesson from the best thief in the world." He put his gun up and pulled the knife he had stolen from the shop. "Like this one." The demon lunged again, bellowing in anger and pain. Xander sliced it across the arm, ducking out of the way. He got it in the back as it moved past, mostly annoyance but painful. The demon turned, panting and glaring at him. "Yes, I'm mean, I'm bad, put whatever other adjectives or adverbs that you want in that sentence. Come on, stinky." The demon's eyes narrowed and Xander pulled his gun, firing at the thing coming in through the doorway, getting the human. He put his gun aside as the demon rushed him, getting it in the soft spot this time. His hand sunk in to the wrist, but the silver was burning. He could feel it heating up. He let it go, pulling his hand back to shake the slime off it. "Eww, can't you die cleanly?" The demon fell forward and Xander had to dart to grab his gun off the floor before it got slimed too. Guns did not work as well after they had been slimed, he knew that for a fact. He walked over to look at the human, snorting. "Hey, babe," he said, helping Faith up off the floor. "Why you here?"
"B needed help. You?"
"She sent a panicked call to Dawn, David, and I."
"Gunn's son." He shrugged. "All yours. There's a pretty silver hunting knife in there somewhere." Faith grinned, going to kill that thing for fun. "Need me to stay?"
"Nah, go for it. I'll see you back at the shop. That Jigen guy is hot." She looked at him. "Plus, I gotta say it, this new look is smokin', Xander. You enjoying it from the bottom up?"
He smirked at her. "I always have, Faith. I like being on the bottom. You taught me that." He blew a kiss. "Behave and be good. I'll see you back there. We'll go natch at Buffy together tomorrow." He walked out, vigilant even though he was still shaking the slime off his hand. "This stuff will never come out of the jacket," he complained as he walked up the alley. A cop car pulled up near him, lights already going. "What?" he demanded.
"Drop the gun, ma'am," the officer said firmly.
Xander looked at her. "Dude, I just took down something that tried to eat people. It's down there," he said, pointing at the parking garage he had just passed. He'd cover for Faith. "That nice woman helped me get my precious puppy away from it, but she's run off. Have you seen my collie?"
"Ma'am, please put down the gun."
Xander sighed. "You're not leaving me a choice, officer."
"That's the whole point behind the order."
Xander lifted the gun and blew the lights. The cop scrambled underneath his car. "Thank you. I've still got a big, bright spot in my vision from sex last night." She walked on, taking the path through the alley like she had on the way up. Lupin met her at the door. "This jacket needs some serious pretreatment."
"We'll burn it," Lupin said with a smile. "I heard a cop?"
"Yeah, he's pouting because I didn't kill him, I only killed his light. I'm still seeing afterimages of that big ball of light I woke up to last night." Jigen looked at him. "What? I told you I had a stroke!" He took off the jacket and wandered in. "Faith said hi. She's ripping it apart." She sat down, crossing her legs delicately. "Any other new business?" Everyone shook their heads. "Then I now declare this meeting adjourned." He looked around. "No Gramps?"
"He took his boss to be checked over," Jigen told him, holding out a hand. "Come on. It's nearly dawn. We'll watch the sunrise from the park."
"Cool. I like seeing sunrise from *this* side." She took his hand, waving at everyone. "Bye. We'll be leaving soon. David?" David looked at him, looking guilty. "Today, noon. Pick up for a small trip to fix this problem for now." David nodded, looking embarrassed. "Good boy." He walked out with Jigen, letting Lupin follow behind. "Did we leave anything?"
"Marcus," Lupin told him. "He's ass cheek deep in the library upstairs. I told him where we'd be staying so he can sneak out a window." He got in to drive. "You all right, Xander? No other problems?"
"No, just the funky eye light," Xander assured him happily. "It happened after orgasm ten or eleven." Jigen coughed, shaking his head. "Sorry."
"She's like that?" Lupin whined.
"And more. She said sex like that is better than sex as a man."
"No fighting or I'm buying sex toys," Xander warned. "They're applicable to either form and make nice humming noises while they work." The older men laughed, leaving him alone while they headed for their hotel. Xander got to check them in. "Hola!" he said in his worst Texan accent. The Hispanic woman behind the counter gave him an annoyed look. "I think we made a reservation under ..." He looked back toward the door. "Pookie, which name did you put it under?" she called loudly.
Lupin coughed. "Jigen's."
"Under Jigen." He looked at her again, seeing the stunned look. "What? You don't like that name?"
"Isn't that the name of a wanted felon, ma'am?" she asked as she typed.
"Not this time. He's a sweetie, he's a pet groomer." She grinned. "We're gettin' married and all so I can move his pet groomin' stuff into my salon. This town is just so *quaint* and *cultured*! Almost foreign. I *had* to have it done here!"
"I'll be sure to pass on your comments to the mayor," she told him, handing over the form for her to sign. Once it was signed, she took it back and handed over the plastic key cards. "There you are, room 1256. Do you need help with your bags?"
"Nah, we packed it all inta two. I don't need much room." She headed for the elevator, taking the men with her. She nodded happily at the person coming off the elevator in running shorts. "Mornin'," she said. "Pretty day today you think?"
"I hope so," the man agreed, hurrying on before that strange woman could talk to him again.
Xander got on and pushed the button, leaning against the wall. Then he grinned. "I always hate it when strangers come up and talk to me," he explained.
Lupin laughed. "That's a cover story I've never used before," he told him.
Xander shrugged. "What else would they expect in this tiny, little, wannabe Eurotrash town?"
"It's quaint," Jigen defended.
"I'm tired of quaint. Real cities are like LA, New York, and Paris. Big, sprawling, high, expensive, diverse, and noisy. Cleveland is not many of those." They got off the elevator, heading for their room. "Is it a double or am I sleeping in the tub?"
"You're sleeping in the tub," Lupin said dryly, patting her on the back. "Noon?"
"Even I've got to sleep, boss."
"Good point." He let them into the room, waving a hand at the double beds. "You can sleep in whichever you want." He deposited the cases on the dresser and went to freshen up. "The shower's tiny," he called.
"Of course it is," Xander said dryly. "Why would a hotel room want to be comfortable?" He sat down, taking off his shoes. Then he found himself in Jigen's arms, blinking up at him. "Huh?"
"Maybe you really did have a stroke."
"Yeah, but what a way to go," Xander told him, allowing himself to be sat up. Lupin came out of the bathroom. "Don't mind me, I'm a little dizzy apparently."
Jigen took off Xander's shoes, then looked at her arm. "Was that slime poisonous?" Xander shrugged. "Call Marcus and ask him. She's acting funny."
"Xander, you will take better care of yourself or we'll be forced to bring you back to life so we can kill you ourselves," Lupin ordered. "That is an order. Tell me what's wrong," he ordered more gently.
"I'm a little dizzy and I feel kinda woozy. Nothing else." She heaved herself up onto the bed, holding her head. "This is really not a fun trip."
"Did you eat anything yesterday?" Jigen asked.
"Oh, God, not food." Xander turned green. "I don't think those pills agreed with me."
"That's possible," Lupin agreed. Together they got her stripped and into the bed. Then he looked at Jigen. "Eleven?"
"Or so," he said smugly. "She's damn hot. Likes to be called a wench too." He laid down on top of the covers. "I guess I'll have to wait for a repeat."
"With how loud he is, I'd appreciate that," Lupin told him. He called Marcus' phone. "Was the slime poisonous?" He listened. "Okay, thank you for that. Yes, I'll tell him. How do we treat it?" He smirked. "He got estrogen earlier, just in case. Why?" He laughed. "That's also good to know. Thank you." He hung up. "Doctor Marcus said that the only thing that the slime would react negatively to was female hormones. Faith came in feeling a little dizzy too." He sat down on his bed, watching them. "She'll come back to this again. Probably pretty soon. She seems to be more comfortable in it."
"Now. We'll have to change her tomorrow." He stroked Xander's chin. "She is so soft in this form."
"All women are soft." Jigen looked at him. "All the ones I've slept with were," he offered. "If you had gotten out more in your youth, you'd know that."
"I slept with real women, not tramps."
"Yeah, sure you did. When?"
"Whenever I wanted to, Lupin," he said smugly. "When you don't have to worry about only being with the best, there's a lot more women in the world. Real women are interesting, you'll figure that out some day." The two men looked at each other and laughed. "What do you think, this and black hair?"
"Sounds good to me." Lupin kicked off his shoes and laid down. "Dye or not?"
"I'm torn. I'd rather we didn't." He stroked the silver hair. "I like this look on him."
"It's starting to get a wave in the bottom."
"I'm sure he'll like that better. Hey, remember that assassin in Morocco? Maybe Xander will grow hair like that." Lupin shook his head. "No?"
"I don't think he needs waist-length hair. Let's stick with the present length for a while." He put his arms behind his head. "We should sleep. Eleven comes really early when you don't fall asleep until six."
"Night, Jigen. Night, Xander." Xander moaned and flailed in his direction, making both men chuckle again. She was so cute!
Xander walked into the clothing store, touching the shirts that Jigen liked to see him in, but giving one shirt a longing look. Lupin tapped him on the shoulder. "Get whatever you want, dear."
Xander looked back at him. "Really?" Lupin nodded so Xander walked over, taking the blue, gray, and black print shirt off to the changing room to try it on. The saleswoman looked at him funny. "I'm buying it for my brother," she explained. "We're exactly alike only he doesn't have the chest I do." The saleswoman handed over the number card and let her into a changing room. She tried on the shirt, it did look good on her. "I like this one," he decided. He walked out, finding a pair of black pants in his size that he liked the feel of too. Shoes, underwear, a watch, and a t-shirt were added to the pile. "These," she said happily. Jigen looked at the shirt, then at him. "What?"
"I thought you gave those up."
"I thought it was the group uniform, but the dear one said I could get whatever I wanted."
"Good point," Lupin agreed. "You should have clothes for work and some for play. And some for other playing," he said with a small smirk as he paid for it. "Hospital first, then David? We can bring him with us. His father's upsetting him again."
"Sure, I don't care, but Buffy won't recognize me."
"Then you can change in the car," Lupin said, steering her out. He looked at Jigen and winked. "Go ahead and get into the back, change into the other clothes." Jigen glared at him. "David can take that off on the way over and then you can keep it for her."
"We left the pictures back in the room," Xander pointed out.
"We left many things back in the room, Xan, we'll get them while you chat with Buffy." Lupin got in to sit in the passenger's seat, but Jigen pushed him over. "This way you could peek back in the mirror," he offered.
Jigen looked at him. "We'd have a wreck." He slid into the passenger's seat, turning to watch Xander once his door was closed and they were on their way. "Go ahead. No one will care." Xander blushed but she did as ordered. She took off her shirt, then her bra, letting it all hang out. Then the skirt and panties were wiggled off, her legs pointing toward Jigen. "Give me one last kiss?"
Xander leaned forward, kissing him with all she had. "I'll be back like this within weeks," she promised with a purr of contentment. One of the long-fingered hands had slipped over the seat and was teasing her. "Please?" she begged. "Just a little touch?" She shifted forward, giving him a better angle. "Please, Jigen." He groaned, kissing her again. "I'll do *anything*," she said, heaving her chest dramatically. He noticed they had parked and Lupin was getting out. "Where are we?"
"Parking garage," Lupin told him. "Ten minutes, kids." He got out to smoke a cigarette, it was only decent after all. The sounds coming out of the car was incredibly arousing and Lupin was feeling it too. He'd have to do something about that soon. He pulled out a second cigarette to smoke to give them a few extra minutes and give his hands something to do. He didn't want to expose himself publically in a downtown parking garage in Cleveland. Finally he heard mutual groans and screams and stamped out that one, tapping on the window before getting back in. He found Jigen back in the front seat, dressed and immaculate, and Xander putting on a t-shirt in the back. Still no pants. "We done?" They nodded. "Good. Xander, I still want you like that at least one day a week to work with Goemon. The moves will transfer over but it can only help." He leaned back, stealing his own kiss. "You two are so hot."
"Thanks." She pulled on the underwear and then the pants, sitting cross-legged in the seat. She looked at Jigen, who nodded. "Later, Lupin?"
"Shit yes." He started the car, pulling out and paying the nice tollkeeper. It was worth the two bucks, and more. Jigen was relaxed and smiling again!
Buffy woke up, moaning as she held her head. "What happened?"
"Nothing much. You got hit on the head with a big lead pipe, Buffy," Xander said softly, one leg swinging over the arm of the chair. "I remember that headache, it was great and confounding."
"Xan?" she whispered, looking at him. "You're here? Am I dead?" she demanded, forcing herself to sit up. "Are you my punishment?"
"Well, I may be your punishment when you go again but I'm not this time," Xander assured her. "Let's say that we got a mayday and we came." He stood up. "It's handled."
"Handled, what's handled?" Buffy asked, grabbing his arm. She looked into his eyes. "What's handled mean?"
"It means the thing that got you is no longer a problem and that you're going to be fine. Dawn's back to look after her nephews for awhile while she makes some choices. Have a Smokey the Bear-Cop moment, Buff, only you can prevent her from following me into the life I'm happy with." He gave her a kiss on top of the head. "I'll leave now. You get better and be safe."
"You're not staying? Why don't you come back?" she pleaded.
"Because you can never go back. I like my new life, Buffy. My boss and friends appreciate me."
"For what?" she asked. Then she covered her mouth.
He nodded. "They don't have to ask that. That's why they're my friends." He walked out, heading down to the car. "I'm done. Let's go home."
Lupin looked back from his paper. "You sure? That wasn't a great goodbye."
"It was more than she deserved. Let's go or I'm driving."
"Okay." He put down his paper, waking Jigen from his nap. "To the airport we are heading. Pop's speech to the city was very rousing. He called us the biggest threat on the face of the earth to sanity and decency." He put the car into gear and backed out of the parking spot. "He still thinks you're a woman. Call Marcus, Jigen."
Jigen picked up the carphone, dialing the shop. "Marcus," he demanded tiredly. The phone was handed over. "We're going. You following now or later?" He smirked. "Have her do that. It'll save us energy." He hung up. "Head back to the shop. Dawn's doing a nifty thing to get us back to Paris. The maze starts today." Lupin groaned. "Come on, let's go. Xander and I are both scheduled to go through it."
"I thought you wanted me to go through alone," Xander said, looking confused.
"You are, then we're going through it together, then the team. Got it?" Xander nodded. "Good. Come on, Lupin."
"I'm waiting for the woman in the wheelchair to move," he pointed out, pointing at her. As soon as she was out of his way, he sped past her, heading back to the shop. They parked the car and got out, grabbing the bags from the back. Lupin walked in and tossed the keys to David. "Return it for us no later than tomorrow." He nodded at Dawn, who was wearing a shirt she had left back at the house. "You're sure?" She nodded. "Then I wish you luck and prosperity." She pulled him to the side to whisper in his ear. He smirked. "You were getting ripped off, princess. I can do that however. I'll email later this week."
"Hey, I thought I was the princess," Xander complained. Giles gave him a double take. "Yes, the necklace is now off me, I am me again. I'll be having some hot man lovin' later tonight and then I'll probably put on the necklace to celebrate any and all accomplishments I may have over the next week." Giles shook his head, frowning at him. "Were you as shocked as Wes when the demon said I was a flawed sacrifice?" he taunted. "Yes, Xander had man lovin' way back before the Initiative fiasco. He had a lot of man lovin' in those days, when he was young and pretty and people offered to pay him for it. He also had some woman lovin' of the same sort and it was about as good. Now that Xander's had it as the woman, he knows what he was missing. You wouldn't *believe* what happens after the tenth orgasm." He walked through the portal, heading up to give Fujiko the necklace he had stolen while they were shopping. "For you, my dear," he said, presenting it with a flourish. "I hope you feel good enough to join us." He kissed her on the cheek. "Come on, Goemon, we've portalled back and I've got the maze today. Did Dawn take her bike?"
"No, she said you can have it," Fujiko said with a grin. "Have fun." She twiddled her fingers as he whooped and headed down to break out the bad machine. "He's so cute, like a wild version of Lupin."
Goemon laughed. "He is unique, but you are correct. He is rather cute and fun." Lupin came in to present his wife with gifts as well. "From both of you?"
"No, just from me. Jigen hasn't had time to pick up any crayons and draw her another picture." He grinned. "Xander?"
"Dawn left Xander her bike," Fujiko told him. "I think he headed off to do the maze by himself."
"It's his scheduled time tonight so I'm not surprised. Hopefully he remembered a weapon this time."
Jigen came in with a drawn picture of a person with 'x's for eyes and a round stomach. "Here. Feel better soon." He looked around. "Xan?"
"Dawn left him her motorcycle," Goemon said tolerantly. Jigen and his wife would never get along.
"I was wondering why he was dancing down to the weapon's range." He shrugged and walked out, listening as the bike roared off into the early evening. "He's gonna be late."
"I called ahead," Lupin called, heading for his own room. He needed to grab his plans for the maze. That way the rest of them would have time to get dressed. "We're leaving in an hour," he shouted before closing his door. Everyone went running to pack a bag.
Xander walked up to the register, giving him a polite nod. "Morning."
"Use or actual?"
"Either is fine."
"Lavelle." The man blinked at him. "Use. I'm going through by myself, with my teacher, and with my group. Lupin said so."
"Okay." He looked in that folder, finding it. "I see you are registered. You're late." Xander shrugged. "Arrogance will get you killed in there."
"I was in Cleveland this morning killing a soul eater. I'm lucky I made it here now." The man looked at him. "What?" he asked patiently.
"This maze has supernatural elements. What sort of experience do you have with such?"
"Before Sunnydale exploded or after?" The man gaped. He held out his hand with a grin. "Xander Harris. I worked beside Buffy Summers until she fucked me over and then Jigen trained me." The man carefully shook it. "Demonic isn't a problem, but they might react to me funny. I promise not to use any of my stunning tattoos."
"Thank you. That's appreciated." He made a note on the boy's registration form, noticing that under 'paranormal experience' a new word was written, 'expert', and checked. He looked at him. "What's your main focus?"
"Well, let's see." He canted his weight off to the side while he considered it. "I was dating demons, got possessed by a soldier, a hyena, and a littler known possession by something that liked to bake for a few days. I fought the Initiative with them. I was coated with chemicals to turn me into a mermaid. I dated a number of demons. Vampires like me a lot." He looked at him. "I can't remember anything else off the top of my head. Oh, besides the fact that I was given to a higher demon as a sacrifice against my will. That's why I'll be keeping my shirt on."
The register looked impressed. "Good. Lupin deals with strange stuff. You'll obviously be an asset to them." Xander grinned. "Take your position. You're allowed whatever you can carry." Xander held up his gun. "That's permissible. Take this," he said, handing over a whistle. "If you give up or are dying, blow it and we'll come get you. We've already had two deaths today. Both were near the doors." Xander shrugged and put it around his neck. "Do you have all the spares you'll need?"
"I do," Xander agreed. "I've got comfy shoes, comfy clothes, my hair's back, my sunglasses are in my back pocket if I run long. I've got six spare clips in my pockets and a pocket that's filled with extra bullets. I've also got a roll of lifesavers and a roll of gum in case I need it. Can I bring a soda in with me?" The register shrugged so he went to the nearest machine and grabbed two, tucking one under his arm as he gulped it. It was soon dead and he popped the other can open, taking a sip. "Whenever you're ready. I'll send the can out by shooting it over the walls." The man led him to the doorway, leaving him there. The door slid open and Xander took two deep breaths before walking inside. His hand was chilled by the can, that was how he was keeping himself calm. "I can do this. Jigen said I'm better than nearly everyone," he reminded himself as he walked. A sound made him pull his gun but it was an innocent vine creature writhing on the ground. He poured some coke on it, making it shriek and wither. "Take that," he said happily, finishing the can off. Then he shot it back over the front wall, heading off into the maze. This wasn't his sort of puzzle but he could deal with it. Lupin had told him the secret to finding your way in a maze.
Lupin walked into Xander's room two days after they got back from the exercises, giving him a look. The place had some more items in it now, including two large steamer trunks at the foot of the bed and signs on the closet doors. "Xander's clothes and Lavelle's clothes," he read. Xander came out of his bathroom. "You could wear your own clothes on the job part of the time," he offered. He sat on the bed, watching the boy towel dry his hair. Xander had taken his prize money for a second place finish as a duo, a first place and only surviving single entrant, and their first place group finish and had turned it into a massive shopping spree, including getting his bike tuned up and buying a lot of 'Xander' clothes. Plus some 'Sylvia' clothes and some more 'Lavelle' clothes. The boy had come back with the Benz's trunk full of clothes bags. It had made even Fujiko give him a look like he was insane.
Xander walked over and opened the 'Xander' side of the closet, showing off the print shirts. "I don't think it fits in with the corporate image around here. I'll wear them off duty." He touched the new solitaire in his left ear, twisting it to make sure it was free of hair and wasn't sticking. "How the new job looking?" He flopped down beside him and turned on the cd player at a low volume.
"It's looking good," Lupin admitted, giving him a pat on the back. "The only problem we'll have is getting the old guy's attention. He's a ballroom dancing freak."
"Is that hard to learn?"
"No, not really. Jigen and I both know some and so does Marcus apparently. He was brushing up Jigen's skills earlier. Want to turn back into Sylvia and come learn?" Xander shrugged and stood up, stripping off before putting the choker on himself. He only put it on himself. They were letting him decide when and where to wear it. Then Lupin walked over to the wardrobe, pulling a face when he saw it. "Xander, I thought you bought new clothes."
"I did, but they're in the wash. I always try to wash stuff that I buy, just in case the person who tried it on before me had some funky skin disease." He looked in there and groaned. "The infamous purple outfit. I guess it'll have to do." He pulled out the short shirt and crop top, putting them on. Then he pulled his hair back into a low ponytail and found a pair of high heels. "Okay, let's go." She walked down the stairs, ignoring Marcus' startled look. Jigen was waiting on them in the formal sitting room, and also gave him a look. "Everything else is in the wash," he said with a small shrug, making the tits bounce. "Shall we dance?"
Jigen smirked. "You can't dance in that."
"It's either this or I'm wearing a Xander shirt. You know how tight those things are on this chest."
Jigen shivered, then took her into his arms, moving her into position. "It's a stiff upper body form," he warned. "There are specific movements."
"In that outfit, you should learn the Tango first," Lupin offered as he walked in so he could start the music. Jigen gave him a look.
"I'll be learning the dance of love later, thank you," Xander said patiently. He let Jigen lead, feeling the stiff movements as they moved. "Okay. White people invented this, right?" Both older men nodded. "Got it, stiff, rich, white guy dancing." Jigen laughed but he was right.
"Exactly," Lupin agreed. "We'll be using that to make them less rich and even more stiff."
"Gee, that's almost as bad as Mark's riding comment," Xander quipped. Jigen growled softly. "Like I wanted him to touch me that way. He's an engineer, they only love their plans and their toys. I've got a *real* man and I'm very thankful that he strokes me like he does his gun." Jigen winked at him and they moved on. "Ooh," he shouted, rubbing his pinched butt. "Lupin!"
"Sorry, I couldn't resist. I was having a Fujiko flashback," he smirked.
"My wench, get your own," Jigen told him.
"I have one, I have the more complicated wench who likes to blow me."
"She likes to blow in both forms," Xander said, breaking up the friendly argument. "Jigen has the wench who goes on her back and begs to be held down. Lupin has the wench who goes onto his stomach and begs to be ridden hard." The older guys laughed. "Come on, if I've got to learn this, we need to get to work. I'm not the world's best dancer."
"Do it well enough and I'll put you in the necklace for a week and send you off to the Carribean," Lupin offered. Jigen firmed his stance and started being serious. "I'll only pack the tiniest of all bikinis, Xander." She grinned and winked at Jigen, who shook his head.
"No, we're not going to a nude resort, wench."
"Shoot. I wanted to try that." She looked down at her feet and her head was pushed back up. "Yes, dear." They stared in a new pattern and Xander giggled, recognizing it from many cheesy movies. "Ooh, the Lambada."
"The Tango, wench. Get it right."
Xander paid attention, going with him. He found out his hips could move independently of the rest of his body and it was good.
To part 5
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