California Dreams

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me. If their proper owners had the slightest concept of how valuable their characters really were... I wouldn't have to write this stuff.

Summary: Dispose of one problem on the Hellmouth, and you get two more.

Warning : Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating : PG-13. For mature themes and all the other fun stuff that rarely makes network TV.

Feedback, It's the coin of the realm.

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Chapter 1

"Hey X!"

Xander glanced over his shoulder, pausing in midstep on his way into his office. "What's up, Faith?"

"You seen G anywhere lately?"

Xander shrugged, "I think he headed up to San Fran for a mystics convention."

Faith looked at him oddly. "You shitting me?"

Xander shrugged, "Fraid not. Giles' has his own life... Hell, last I checked he was even old enough to drink."

Faith glowered at him, "Don't remind me."

"What are you looking for him for?"

Faith just shrugged, "I dunno. Just curious I guess."

Xander raised an eyebrow.

"Alright, alright..." She threw up her hands, "I was planning on getting him back for that stunt he pulled last week."

"Faith, I really don't think he meant anything by it." Xander said, a smile playing at his lips.

"I got covered in demon gunk!"

"This coming from the girl who beat a Terakan with a pair of axes until his blood covered half the downstairs hall??"

"Hey! At least I got to kill something that time!"

"Slayers." Xander rolled his eyes, stopping as Jack Styles started down the stairs and leaned over the banister.

"Hey Xan! We're gonna be late!"

Xander checked his watch, then blinked. "Oh shit, you're right... Alright, I'll be outside in five minutes."

"I'll have the Charger ready."

Xander groaned. "Jack... about you driving..."

"Hey, YOU wrecked your car, I'm not letting drive mine." The colonial spy grinned.

"Whose CAR??" Xander growled.

"Can't hear ya!" Styles yelled from halfway out the door.

Faith, somewhat nonplused by the exchange, spoke up. "Late for what?"

Xander grabbed a couple things from his office then ran out the door. "Little league game."

Faith blinked as the door slammed shut, then shook her head. "Little league? What the hell is up with those two and *little league* games?"

"I... I... don't know." Tara admitted as she stuck her head in from the next room. "B... but they never miss a game."

Faith shook her head.


Cordelia Chase slammed the door shut behind her, unable to quite escape the odd sensations of dread that had followed her all day.

Whatever it was it had been getting worse over the past couple days, as if something was getting closer and closer on her tail.

Something bad.

She didn't know how else to explain it, and her connection with Maro wasn't helping in the slightest. All she got off of him was the occasional hint of bafflement.

Whatever was going on, he didn't know what it was either.

She breathed deeply as she turned off the lights and closed the curtains of her room, sitting on the bed crosslegged.

<This isn't how my life is supposed to go!> She wailed internally, shaking.

She still had flasehes back to that night, but now the emotional shoring that Maro provided made those memories feel more and more distance. What ever this new thing was, though, Maro wasn't able to help.

At least not yet.

Cordy looked at her watch tiredly.

<I suppose I have to see Xander about it.>

"Ok, so tell me again... Why aren't they allowed to dust the hitter anymore?"

Xander sighed, "Look... sports really isn't my thing, but I think it has to do with broken BONES. So for the last time, Jack, stop asking me about it."

Jack nodded, looking back over the game.

After a moment he spoke up again, "I'm just saying, the game would be a lot better if they could take the runner out with a good throw."

"Jack... these are KIDS." Xander set down his drink and looked over at the other man in exasperation. "I can't see their parents wanting to have the paramedics on hand for every game."

"I'm just saying is all..."

"Well stop it, I'm watching the game."

Jack looked down at the field, the back at Xander. "But they haven't *done* anything since I started speaking... I think the coach is asleep."

"He's not asleep. He's moving around... see?"

"Well he's not *coaching* is he?? Or is that what all the yelling is about?" Jack asked.

Xander sighed, "I never said he was a GOOD Coach."

"Apparently not."

"Can we just watch the game?"

"Yeah yeah."

Later, the game over, and the local team having lost in extra innings, Xander and Jack made their way quietly through the crowd, moving closer to the dugout as they did after every game.

"You think it'll happen today?" Jack asked softly.

"Could be. The game fits." Xander said as they both hopped the fence and moved in toward the dugout.

"Hope so. I can't believe that this became our national sport..." Jack shook his head.

Xander rolled his eyes, but motioned the colonial spy forward.

"How could you MISS a pitch like that!?"

Billy Palmer flinched as the Coach screamed at him, trying not to cry as he watched the man flail around in his rage.

The Coach had sent the rest of the team out before launching into his furious rant, and now Billy was facing the man alone as he ranted and raved through the locker room.

"That was an EASY Pitch you worthless little brat!" The Coach glowered, grabbing up a bat and swinging it until the air whistled. "How am I supposed to win with a little piece of shit like you!?"

Billy cringed back as the coach swung the bat closer.

"All you had to do was HIT the BALL!" The Coach screamed, striding closer and hefting the bat. "Just... LIKE... THIS!!"

Billy cried out this time, knowing that the bat was going to hit him, only to hear it smack against something fleshy without feeling any pain. He slowly opened his eyes, then stared in shock as he saw another man holding the bat solidly in one hand as the Coach tried to yank it away.

"Where I come from," The man said softly, "We don't hit kids with a townball bat."

"Who the fuck are you!?" The Coach glared, eyes flitting around the room.

"He's Jack."

Billy looked over to see another man... or maybe just a kid, leaning easily back against a locker with his foot propped up on a bench.

"I'm Xander." The younger guy said calmly. "And we've got a problem with child abuse."

The gathered parents jumped in shock as the doors to the locker room crashed open and the coach of their kids team came flying out. He hit the ground in a tumbling roll that looked like it hurt... a lot... and came to a jarring stop against the fence that surrounded the field.

They all looked up, startled as three figures came out, two of them angry as hell and the third, Billy Palmer, shaking like a leaf.

"If we EVER see you within fifty FEET of a kid again," The older of the two, a man with a mustache and goatee, growled. "We'll make you wish you were never *spawned*."

"Daddy!" Billy broke into a run and leapt into his father arms.

"Billy... what happened??"

"C... Coach was going to hit me with a Bat!!"

The Little League Coach looked around as the Parents eyes fell on him and he slowly started to inch backwards.

"It's not like that!" He said desperately. "I was just trying to scare him!"

Growls of rage echoed through the assembled parents, not all of it from the fathers, as their shocked looks turned to anger.

Chapter 2

Jack and Xander were grinning ear to ear as they drove up the driveway the Charger skidding to a stop as Jack twisted the wheel and hit the brakes.

"Did you see the look on his face when the guys picked up those baseball bats?" Jack asked as Xander popped open the door and hopped out. "I thought we were going to have step in and save *him* for a minute there."

Xander laughed, patting the roof of the car as Jack popped up and grinned at him over it. "Yeah. And you've got to admit, watching someone pounding on the window of a cop car and demanding to be arrested was worth sitting through the ball game."

Jack laughed, nodding. "Especially when the cops wouldn't open the door!"

Xander shrugged, frowning as he glanced back into the car. "I think one of them had a son on the team."

"Serves the bastard right." Jack grinned, then paused as Xander popped back up and glared at him. "What?"

"What are you doing?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean why the hell are you sitting on the door like that?" Xander demanded.

Jack shrugged, "I thought this was how you were supposed to get out of a car like this... It's how they did it in that show..."

"What show!?" Xander's blood ran cold.

"Dukes of something." Jack shrugged.

Xander groaned. "Who told you about the Dukes of Hazzard??"

"I was talking with KARR a couple weeks ago and I asked him what he was doing..." Jack shrugged. "He said you told him to watch the show, so he figured that since he has some time now..."

Xander banged his head against the car roof. "I can't believe I got in the car with you after you watched the Dukes drive."

"What? I thought they were considered good drivers??" Jack called out as Xander shoved off from the car and headed for the house. "I mean they keep getting away from that funny looking sheriff!!"

Xander didn't answer as he headed for the house, noting that Cordelia's Vette was parked there. <I wonder what she's here for? We don't have a session today...>

He went inside, glancing around. "Cor? You around here?"

"In here, Boytoy." Faith called.

Xander walked around and into the living room and noted that Cordelia didn't look too good. He frowned, looking between the gathered girls. "What's going on?"

"W... we're h-hoping you can tell us." Tara told him.


Cordelia looked up, a little pale, but seemingly calm, and started to talk.

A short while later, all Xander could do was shrug. "I'm sorry, Cor. I don't know what would cause that. Do you still feel it?"

Cordelia shrugged, looking a lot better then she had, and finally shook her head. "N... no. It's gone."

Xander frowned, "hmmmm..."

"What? What does that mean!?" She demanded.

Xander shrugged, "It means hmmmm.... I'm thinking."

"That means he's chatting with the *real* brains of his operation." Faith mock whispered.

Tara giggled a little, Faith smirked, Cordelia didn't really get it despite everything she had been told, and Elan... well, Elan laughed her spiritual ass off right in Xander's proverbial ear.

He winced, scowling internally, "Yuk it up while you can, I'll remember the joke for the next time you want me to do something for you."

<Oh do relax, Alexander,> Elan said, still snickering. <It is merely in... good fun.>

"How come when I laugh at something I'm an uncultured boor, and when you laugh at something it's in 'good fun'?" Xander rolled his eyes, then noticed Faith, Cordy, and Tara staring at him. "What??"

"Are you talking to..." Cordelia sort of half waved.

Xander sighed, realizing that he had spoken outloud. He finally nodded, "Yes. I am. And she's a pain in the ass."

Faith snickered.

"Just like many *other* women I know." Xander scowled openly at Faith.

Faith scowled back, but Xander ignored her and turned back to Cordy.

"Ok... you don't feel it now... Maybe it's the school?" Xander asked. "You might be picking up on the Hellmouth..."

"Hey yeah!" Faith snapped her fingers. "The Hellmouth is wicked bad karma. Throws my Vamp sensor out of wack everytime. Maybe it's playing with you now that you're jacked in to the whole night stalker thing?"

Cordy shuddered, but shook her head. "No... It felt pretty bad at home too..."

Xander sighed, frowning. "Well... you don't live that far from us... so it's probably not position. How about people? Maro's an Empath... you could be picking up on his emotions... he might be reacting to the people around you?"

Faith snorted, "Given the sheep you hang with, it's no wonder you're freaking."

Cordy shook her head, "I don't think so... I mean... My friends weren't at home, and besides... Maro doesn't seem to think it's that either."

"You sure? I thought you two weren't going all that great on the whole talking thing?" Faith asked.

"I get flashes..." Cordy admitted.

"Hot flashes?" Faith smirked.

Xander and Cordy ignored her.

"Just like... sometimes I'll get a feeling from him and know what he means." Cordelia said. "It's not real steady or anything though."

Xander nodded. "Alright... Well, we'll figure it out. Since it's not bothering you now, why don't you crash and relax with us? We'll gets some junk food, put on a movie..."

Cordelia nodded slowly. "That... sounds nice."

Later, while the dusk was falling, Xander watched as Cordelia drove away, worry etching on his face.

"What's up, Boytoy?" Faith asked, coming up behind him. "You look like someone shot your cat?"

Xander smirked as he heard Mikki hiss at Faith from somewhere behind him, and just shook his head. "I don't know. I'm just worried about Cor."

"Queen C?" Faith shook her head. "She's tough. She'll be cool."

"Tough... yeah. Tough enough is the question."

"What's eatin you, X. Other then Nat?" Faith grinned.

Xander ignored the innuendo. "Cordy's been bonded with a sword that wasn't in the most stable state of mind when I picked him up. She's untrained, far too young, and is susceptible to god alone knows what kind of side effects. I'm worried about her."

"Hey." faith said, voice serious. "We're all worried, Xan. But until we pin it down, there's nothing to do. We'll figure it out."

"I hope so." Xander said softly, shaking his head. "God I hope so."

Cordelia drove back to her place, parking the Vette in beside her mother's Mercedes, and just sat there, leaning against the wheel, and shivered as she felt the sensation grow again. It had been flashing back ever since she left Xander's place, and it was once again back full time.

"Cordelia!" Her mother called, waving a hand as she came out into the garage. "Oh, Cordelia! There's someone here that you simply *must*meet... A young man from the Berman's in LA... Such a well raised young man..."

She groaned.

<Maybe THIS is the doom I feel coming?>

Unfortunately, Cordy was pretty certain that this had little to do with it.

As bad as her mother was, Cordy didn't think that the woman would could ever cause this kind of feelings in her.

At least, she hoped not.

"Hey Buff." Xander nodded as Buffy and Wesley arrived at his place. "You guys ready for Friday night patrol?"

"Always." Buffy said, shrugging.

"Do I detect a certain lack of enthusiam?" Xander smirked.

"Most girls stay out late on Friday to go on a date." Buffy scowled. "Me? I get to kill things."

"Yeah... aren't we lucky?" Xander grinned. "Come on, let's suit up."

Buffy rolled her eyes, "I hate that armor."

"But you wear it anyway." Xander said, smiling. "And why is that?"

"Because you won't teach me how to shoot, or do that healing stuff, if I don't." Buffy scowled at him, but finally rolled her eyes and smiled a little. "Besides... I'll admit that it saved my butt from that Whatsit demon last week."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. Though I have to admit, exploding demons ARE a rarity..."

"Thank God." Wesley muttered as they headed downstairs.

"Here Wes, a gift." Xander said, tossing a package to the British man.

"What's this?" Wesley asked as he opened the plastic case and looked in, his eyes widening.

"A FiveSeven with enough demon killer ammo to keep you going for a while." Xander said. "You did get your permit in the mail, right?"

"Oh... umm, yes... well, about that..." Wesley frowned. "I don't remember applying for one?"

Xander grinned, "You passed McQueen's safety course, so we arranged for you to get a permit. Frankly, if you can appease McQueen... you're good to go."

"Hey! What about me!?"

Chapter 3

The morning sun woke her up before anything else, and for a moment when she opened her eyes to the warmth, Cordelia felt completely at ease. The weight had lifted and she was able to slowly wake up and finally get up and get dressed.

She'd just had time to begin to feel that whatever it was had just been her imagination, then it hammered back again like a ten pound mall.

She actually staggered a bit under the sudden pressure of it, her hands flailing out as she grabbed at her nightstand for balance and gasped for breath.

A panic set in shortly after, whatever the feeling was just continued to hammer at her as she grabbed for clothing and then staggered out of her room, hitting the far wall, and slid along in toward the front door.

"Cordelia, honey!" She heard her mother call. "Breakfast will be prepared shortly... Tell Jaime what you want..."

"I... I'm going out!" She called, restraining as gasp. "I'll be back later!"

Then she closed the door and stumbled to her car.

The skid of rubber on gravel woke Xander, his tuned senses picking the odd noise out of the normal Saturday morning racket that should be heard around the house. He opened his eyes, his body tensing, and frowned.

<Someone's in a hurry.>

<It's Cordelia.> Elan replied almost instantly.

Xander nodded, jerking upright in bed. He could feel Maro's presence now too, and the old soul was agitated. Xander tossed the blankets to one side and jack knifed out of bed, stretching his muscles before his feet even hit the ground.

"Well," He said, grabbing a t-shirt. "Let's see what's wrong, then."

Cordelia rushed inside, the panic attack driving her to forget to knock for the first time since she had started coming to Xander's with any regularity. She was gasping for air and holding onto the walls as she stumbled inside, falling almost literally into Xander as he descended the stairs five at a time.

His arms wrapped around her instantly, and she could hear him as if from a distance.

"Cor... Cor! It's alright... You're ok... what happened?"

She tried to speak, but couldn't. Her breath was shallow and she shook her head as she could feel tears welling in her eyes.

"Cordy... Deep breaths. Like we practiced... Fill your lungs completely... then Exhale. Don't think about anything but the air... nothing exists except for air." Xander's voice said from far away as she felt herself being lifted up and carried.

She obeyed, filling her lungs slowly with one single breath, then emptying them.

The second part was harder, but at first she just focused on the way it burned her nose, the air as it passed. Then the way she felt the burn in her lungs before she took each breath.


Absence of Air.


Absence of Air.

In and out, she breathed, and slowly her heart rate receded and with it the panic.

After an interminably long time, Cordelia opened her eyes and looked up into four sets of concerned eyes staring back.

"Damn, C." Faith told her, let out a breath of her own. "You scared us there. You alright?"

"I... I think so." Cordy nodded, blinking back the sheen that had formed in her eyes. "I... I think so."

"What happened?" Xander asked softly.

"I don't know." She shook her head. "It was... it was just... This weight came down on me from nowhere... and suddenly I felt... like I was being suffocated... drowning... I don't know... I couldn't move, it was dark and small and..."

"C... claustrophobic?" Tara asked softly.

Cordy stared at her, the nodded. "Yes... that's it."

Xander sighed, nodding. "Ok. Panic attack then. You don't know what caused it?"

Cordelia shook her head.

"D... do you still feel... like that?"

Cordelia paused, searching for the source of her sudden fear, then shook her head as her eyes widened. "N... No."

Xander frowned. "So... something here is protecting you maybe... The Wards?"

Tara blinked, the shrugged. "M.. Maybe. I don't know. They aren't real strong..."

"Block smell." Mikki said simply.

"What?" Xander glanced back.

"Bad smell in town." The young Were said calmly, shrugging as if it were no big deal. "Not here."

"That's called car fumes, Kit." Faith smirked.

"I'm not so sure." Xander said, thinking. "She might mean the Hellmouth."

"Kit can *smell* the hellmouth??" Faith asked skeptically.

"Not like that... She's a Were-Cat, remember? She equates anything she can't quite pin down to a scent." Xander said thoughtfully. "The way humans talk about ghosts flitting by in the corner of their eyes... It's just how the mind interprets information from unused sources."

"Right. Over my head." Faith shrugged. "So you think that She's really picking up the Hellmouth? Bummer for you, C."

Cordelia shuddered. "How do I make it stop?"

Xander sighed, "I don't know if you can... certainly we can't do anything until we know *why* you're feeling it... assuming that's what's happening."

He knelt down in front of Cordy, looking up at her seriously. "It might be that the best we can do is train you to handle the feeling..."

"I don't WANT to handle it!" She snapped, jumping up and almost bowling Xander over. "This is almost as bad as the nightmares!"

Xander caught himself smoothly and rose to his feet in a single motion. "Cor... I told you when you Maro chose you... There's no easy cure for what happened to you and there could be side effects. I also promised you that we'd all help. And we will. Now calm down..."

"What am I going to do!?" She growled, pacing the living room. "I'm not supposed to be carrying a sword around! I'm supposed to be homecoming queen!"

"You can't do both?" Faith asked with a smirk.

Cordy glared at her, but turned back on Xander. "This isn't my life! This isn't ME! I want my life back!"

Xander shook his head, "I can't give you that."

"We lost sixteen of our brethren on this contract... However we are not done." A man in dark robes said softly. "Should it take sixteen HUNDRED we will fulfill our contract. The Order does not tolerate failure."

"I did not Fail."

"And yet the target lives. Explain this."

"I was drugged, Master. When I awoke the battle was almost over... I could not have taken him then, it was more important to return with the information."

"You mean run for your life." The robed man sneered.

"Master I..."

"Enough!" The man growled, waving his hand.

There was a single swoosh of air, and the penitent assassin fell to the ground. His head landed a short few seconds later.

"We made the mistake of sending mid level assassins after this Seraphim, thinking that his reputation was as overblown as it appeared." The robed man said again. "We will not do that again. Nor will we again attempt a direct assault on him... You five are the Terakan's finest."

Five figures slid from the shadows.

"Take him. Anyway you wish. The contract will go, in it's entirety, to the one who brings down this 'Angel' from the heavens." The robed man sneered.

The five smiled softly, nodding as they glanced at each other.

The full contract meant that their personal bounty had more then doubled.

"Do not fail and return to me alive." The robed man glared. "Or I will deal with you the same way I dealt with him."

The five nodded and melted back into the shadows like wraiths.

After a long silence, a new voice spoke up softly.

"What if he is as formidable as the rumors say?"

"Then I go to the Hellmouth myself." The man in the robe replied.

"Master... you haven't taken a contract in over a thousand years...."

"I haven't been required too."

"First form!" Xander snapped, striding forward with the wooden practice sword in hand, slashing downward.

Ahead of him Cordelia, Faith, and Tara followed suit.

"Defense! Downward slash!" Xander ordered, dropping back to absorb the energy of the blocked slash with his flexed leg as he brought the sword up in a horizontal block.

"Parry! Reverse slash!" He called, letting his sword drop as he watched the form of the three girls. "Freeze!"

The each held in place, frozen as Xander stepped forward. He walked passed them in line, checking their form, then corrected both Cordy and Tara slightly, tipping a nod to Faith.

"Alright. That's enough... We'll take a break and do sparring after lunch."

Chapter 4

After a hastily, and rather messily, devised lunch, Xander and his 'students' were joined by the rest of the New Scoobies when Willow, Jessie, Jon, and Buffy arrived on schedule.

"Hey guys." Xander smiled at them, "We're going to do some basic Kata's, and then some sparring once everyone is warmed up. K?"

They all nodded.

"Alright, Faith..." Xander nodded to the younger Slayer, "You want to lead the others through a basic Kata while I work with Cordy?"

"You got it, boytoy." Faith smirked, "You mind if I rough B up some?"

"As if." The Blond Slayer snarked from the side.

"Don't kill each other." Xander glared at them both, "And for God's sakes, Faith... No bruises Joyce will see."

"No prob." Faith cracked her knuckles, grinning.

Xander rolled his eyes, turning back to Cordy, then smiled slightly and glanced back at Buffy and Faith. "Of course, Buffy doesn't have to worry about you... after all, we don't have anyone to explain the bruises to here... So I guess you get a handicap, F."

Faith turned and glared at Xander. "No fair!"

"That's life." Xander smirked, leading Cordelia off to the far end of the large gym.

"Alright, you've got the basic Kata down." Xander told her after a half hour, "You've picked it up quick too."

Cordelia shrugged, some of her old cockiness coming back the longer she spent away from the rest of the town. "Hey, it's tons easier then learning a new cheer."

Xander rolled his eyes, shaking his head. "Cute. But don't confuse a Kata with knowing how to fight. They aren't the same thing."

"Huh? But I thought..."

"The moves are less then one percent of a fight." Xander cut her off. "Just because you know how to do a crescent kick, just because you CAN do one, doesn't mean that you'll know when to do it, or will be *able* to do one in a real fight."

Xander shifted, stepping in front of her, arms down by his sides and legs spread just slightly apart. "Hit me."


"Hit me."

Cordelia swallowed, watching his eyes, wondering if it was a trick.

"HIT ME." He said firmly.

Cordelia took a breath, balled up her fist, and swung.

Xander didn't even move. The fist hit his chin with a glancing blow, and just skidded off.


"Kick me." Xander told her, "The Crescent kick you just perfected."

She held her hand, staring at him with wide eyes. "Xander I..."

"Don't worry about me. Just do it." He told her, still standing there with an almost serene expression on his face.

Cordelia hesitated, but nodded and brought her hands up as she fell back into the Kata stance. After a long moment she sucked in a long breath and moved.

Her kick started with textbook precision, just as she'd learned, but as she approached the final snap she faltered and lost her balance. Her foot swept just past Xander's face as she fell, the air of it's passing kicking up his bangs, and yet he still didn't move.

Cordy hit the ground on her ass, yelping in pain.

Xander moved again, stepping over to her and squatting beside her as she rubbed the bruise forming on her backside. "Fighting is about commitment. You can know every move, have every belt, be *perfect* in every style... but if you don't have the commitment to see each blow through, then a street brawler who does is going to out match you in every single fight."

She winced, slowly getting up.

"And Cordy?" Xander said softly.

She looked at him expectantly.

"Vampires? They *always* follow through." He said grimly.

Cordelia swallowed, nodding slowly.

"Alright, pads." He said abruptly, grabbing some hand pads and holding them up. "First form!"

On the other side of the Gym, what had been a group training session had quickly deteriorated into a Slayer vs Slayer sparring match.

"You think you can take me, B?" Faith smirked as they circled each other. "I've been fighting a lot longer then you think, and I've been taught by the best."

"I'm a Slayer. I am the best." Buffy replied.

Faith grinned, having to remind herself that Buffy really didn't know all that much about her past. "Come on then. Prove it."

Buffy snarled, then moved.

Her attack was lightning fast, flashing in from straight ahead as she drove a snap kick straight at Faith's stomach.

Faith's riposte was simple.

She simply wasn't there when the blow landed.

There was a loud crack and a yelp from Buffy when the open back of her hand smacked across the back of Buffy's head. The blonde Slayer skidded to a stop, spinning in a flash and snapped a perfect crescent kick in response.

Faith saw it coming, but almost got caught just the same as she went limp the way Xander had taught her. She landed on one hand, bracing herself on the flexed limb, and kicked out twice with each leg.

The blows were light by Slayer standards, because of the lack of leverage used, but came in fast and hard enough that Buffy was only able to block the first three before the fourth caught her in he stomach and she fell back a step.

"Nice move." Buffy admitted, rubbing the ridge of her hand along where the blow had landed.

"That's one of X's favs." Faith shrugged, "Fastest way to get out of the path of a blow is simply to drop. Less you got a wall or something to kick off, a course."

"You done talking?" Buffy asked with a smirk, mentally filing the information away nonetheless. "Or you want to bore me to death?"

"Come on, B." Faith dropped into a classic karate stance. "Let's dance."

"Crescent kick!" Xander ordered as Cordelia hooked the pad with a strong left and fell back, sweat glistening off her skin.

This time there was nothing to fault in her form as the kick came up and connected with the pads perfectly, snapping his arm away with the force.

Xander spun with it, sweeping back around as she completed her spin, and smashed the pad right into her sternum just as she saw it coming and sucked in a breath of surprise. The impact exploded the air from her lungs and Cordelia hit the floor hard, gasping for air like a fish out of water as Xander stood over her cooly.

Several long moments passed before she could draw even a partial breath, and several more before she was breathing even close to normally. When she could, she glared up at Xander. "What the hell was that!?"

"Stand up." He ordered.

She glared at him mutinously, but felt a strong wash of agreement coming from the presence inside her, the presence she had come to recognize as the soul of her blade. So Cordelia Chase climbed back to her feet and Xander stood away from her.

"Breath out." He said.


"Breath out." Xander ordered, "And hold it."

Scowling, she did as he order and pushed all the air from her lungs and held it.

Her eyes snapped wide as Xander suddenly spun again and nailed her right in the exact same spot again. Cordy fell back a step, waiting for the pain and the burning of her lungs, but was surprised when nothing more then a mild sting came from her stomach.

She slowly took a breath, looking down at where he'd hit her.

"If you see a blow coming, expel the air first... while you have control." He told her, "That way you can't be put out of a fight while you're trying to get your breath back."

She looked up at him and nodded slowly.

"Breathing... It's life." Xander told her, "Know when to breath in, and when to breath out... In a fight, which breath you take can literally save your life."

She nodded again, firmer this time.

"Second Form."

Faith fell back, barely evading the flurry of blows, and was startled by the sheer speed Buffy was managing to exert. She was fast, Faith knew, but Buffy seemed to be something else. Even faster, maybe stronger.

<Because she's the active Slayer?> Faith wondered.

The moment of distraction cost her as Buffy jumped up and caught her with a spinning kick to the jaw that drove the dark Slayer off her feet.

She hit the floor rolling, and came up with a grin on her face.

"Nice one, B." She nodded, wiping her hand across the back of her mouth.

It stung, but there was no blood. Faith had kept her jaw closed when not actively talking during the fight, which tended to keep her from biting her tongue or cutting her lip or cheek open. "Here's one I learned from Kevin Sorbo."

Before anyone could say anything Faith had lunged in, breaking through Buffy's defense by simply accepting the blows she had to take to get in close enough, and let loose with a heavy handed punch to Buffy's chest.

The blow lifted the blond Slayer right off the ground and threw her back about fifteen feet, where she landed in a skid that lasted another seven. For a moment Buffy just lay there on the ground, then she slowly sat up and looked at Faith.

"You know Kevin Sorbo?"

Chapter 5

Later that night, most of the guests still hanging around, Xander settled down in his office for the prerequisite paperwork required to run something the size of Avalon once it has been activated.

Luckily, he wasn't using the piece of junk computer he'd been forced to buy several months earlier.

The new system had been rushed to him as soon as one had been activated and run through a basic sanitation process. It consisted of a flat piece of clear plastic that had been precut to fit his desk, the powerful system's processors were imbedded in the material on a nano-molecular level and consisted of an array of optical processors tandem linked to share the load of whatever task he was working on.

Like all Atlantean equipment, it also tapped a considerable portion of the mystic side of the equation to accomplish it's task. Which, overall, resulted in a system that broke several laws of physics, but at least did it with style.

The holographic display and interface was intuitive, especially with Elan's memories and reflexes leaking over into his muscles, so Xander found that he could manipulate it with considerable ease.

Which was a good thing, frankly, because there were a LOT of things to do on it.

"Personnel request... granted. Funding request... granted..." Xander sighed, reading through the information stolidly. "Research funding request..."

He frowned, looking at the form again. It was the same as the nearly informal requests he normally got from Avalon, so he had to double check the sheet.


Xander hummed a little and tapped the hologram with one finger, hooking the floating window, and then slid his hand to the center of his desk and tapped it again. The image stabilized there and he flipped back through the request.

"Merlin, could you patch me through to General Grey..." He said after a while.

The patch went through silently, and Xander glanced up to see the General turn to face him.

"Yes, Commander?"

"I'm looking over the research request from Armat, General... Have you and McQueen taken a look at it?"

"On second, Sir." Grey replied formally, causing Xander to half smile.

The General was a man of habit, and he didn't like an informal atmosphere when conducting business.

"Oh yes... Something to do with Nanotech." Grey frowned, shaking his head. "Don't follow the details, but the intended outcome is interesting."

"Maybe." Xander shrugged, "What does McQueen think?"

"He suggested that while it might be interesting, he wants to make sure that we adjust out training regimen to keep our troopers from relying on it." Grey replied.

"Good plan." Xander nodded, "I'll ok the research... cut them a funding budget of five million from my personal accounts."

"Yes, Commander." Merlin interposed, correctly deducing that the comment was aimed at him.

"Smart bullets." Xander shrugged, looking at the General. "Could be handy."

"As long as nobody relies too heavily on the damn things." The General shrugged, "I'll take any edge I can get, but I hate it when someone forgets to pack the batteries and no one knows how to add without a calculator, if you get my drift."

Xander nodded, laughing. "Put McQueen on the training regimen. Low priority, but just have him thinking about it."

"Yes Sir." The General nodded.

"I'll see you later, General..." Xander said, moving to sign off, then he paused. "Oh... I'm thinking about making a trip out to Armat at the start of this week. Would you care to join me?"


"I haven't been out there since Andy and Terry helped me do a clean sweep of their management." Xander said, "I want to see how things are coming."

Grey nodded, "Alright... I think I'd like to have a look at the Pulse Rifle production myself."

Xander nodded back, "Invite McQueen."

"Yes Sir."

"I'll see you later, General."

"As you say, Sir." Grey nodded, then vanished from the holographic display.

Xander smiled, rolling his eyes as he looked at the research request.

<Heat seeking bullets... What next?> He shrugged, flicking the sheet back into the filing section of the display and turning to the next one. <Too bad they won't do fuck all against vampires...>

He paused, then frowned. "Merlin?"

"Yes Commander?"

"The Armat research... Are you familiar with the concept?"

"Yes Commander."

"Will it work?"

"I'm uncertain." Merlin replied, "In theory, infrared receivers can be built at a nano-molecular level. It's ambitious of them to want to attempt it while modern computer processors are just beginning to reach that level. However, the projectiles won't require much computer power for what they're suggesting."

Xander nodded, "Can it work in reverse?"


"Can the bullets be designed to avoid hot targets?" Xander clarified.

"Certainly." Merlin replied instantly, "Assuming the original mechanism works, of course. Making such a change would simply require reversing the guidance system."

Xander nodded, smiling slightly. "Double their funding."

"Yes Commander."

Xander was turning back to something else, when Merlin went on.

"May I make a suggestion?"

"Always." Xander looked up, surprised.

"Perhaps we could leak a slight advancement in processor design through one of your smaller technology firms..." Merlin suggested, "If Armat scientists had access to a sufficiently powerful nano-molecular processor, they could implement their design much more efficiently."

Xander considered it, then shrugged slightly. "What have you got?"

Merlin smiled slightly, "Well I do have complete files on all processors from Intel and AMD through to the end of the millenium... However, I believe that my older files may be more appropriate..."

"No magic." Xander glared mildly at Merlin. "I'm not willing to drop a technology on the planet that 99 percent of the *scientists* are unable to understand."

"Of course." Merlin replied calmly. "Actually, this isn't Atlantean science. It's rudimentary technology of the Ancients. As you know, they didn't use any mystical enhancements to their technology."

"Yeah," Xander grinned, "They broke the laws of physics the hard way."

"Indeed." Merlin replied dryly. "However I believe that one of their children's toys might be applicable here."

<Why does this frighten me?> Xander asked himself silently. Out loud he just sighed, "Toy?"

"It's a rudimentary puzzle capable of reforming itself on a molecular level." Merlin replied, "The basic technology would allow for computer processors to be pre-designed, then formed through a similar method."

Xander frowned, "I don't want anything that is too far out there, Merlin... Dropping aliens tech on the world will get the SGC, the NID, and god alone knows how many foreign groups looking closer at my assets then I'd like."

"Agreed." Merlin responded, "However, this technology is based largely in crystalline growth, much like the Atlanteans construction methods... though far more limited, of course."

"Of course." Xander smirked. "Alright, acid test... Can it be done with modern technology?"


Xander blinked in surprise. "It can?"

"It merely requires the proper application of a magnetic field during crystal growth." Merlin reponded.

Xander nodded slowly, not understanding anything past the word 'yes'.

"Alright. Do it." He said after a moment, then paused. "Have a holding company made up in your name to hold patent rights on this, Merlin."

There was a brief pause.

"My name, Sir?"

Xander nodded, "I just want to make sure that Avalon's well funded in the future, Merlin. Let's start building some real money for the Knighthood."

"As you say Sir."

Xander was about to say something else, when an aggravated yell startled him.

"One sec." He growled, getting up.

He headed out to the source of the yell and found Faith snarling at Jack.

"Damn it, Styles!" She growled, "Clean the damn dishes when you're done! I can't find a bowel to save my life!"

Jack rolled his eyes, "Hey. Who cooked supper, huh? You do them."

Faith took half a step toward him, but was cut off by Tara who quickly got between them.

"C... come on... It's alright..." The blond Witch said after a moment, "I... I'll do them, ok?"

Faith growled at Jack, then glanced at Tara and shrugged. "No skin off my nose."

With that the conflict quickly broke up, leaving Xander rubbing his nose in annoyance. He went back to his office, sighing. "That's getting to be ridiculous."

Merlin was silent for a moment, then spoke up. "That is happening often?"

"Too often." Xander sighed, "Tara is just to damned soft hearted."

He chuckled, shaking his head. "Sometimes I wonder if Faith and Jack have a deal going or what..."

"I... See." Merlin replied thoughtfully. "Well, if there is nothing else, Commander?"

"Huh?" Xander glanced up, "No, that's fine. Just, could you get me a charter to Lousville, and make sure that Grey and McQueen have their schedules clear?"

"Yes Commander." Merlin replied, "Would you prefer a Lear of a Gulfstream?"

Xander chuckled, "Whichever is available is fine... Hell, why don't you see if we can get some bids on something appropriate along those lines? Maybe we can save a few bucks, cause it's looking like I'm definitely going to be jetsetting..."

"Of course, Commander."

Chapter 6

On Monday morning Cordelia arrived at school, skin crawling with every step she took. There was just something in the air, something she couldn't quite pin down, no matter how hard she tried, but it was there just the same.

It was maddening, that was the only word for it. Utterly maddening.

Every step she took was like pushing through some viscous darkness that she couldn't quite see, couldn't quite feel. Like it was there but not there.


She looked up, forcing a smile as Harmony appeared from the crowd, moving along toward her. "Hey Harm, I love the outfit."

The blond smiled, turning a single full turn with a proud look on her face. "Do you? I picked it up last week... it was SO expensive, but you know what you always say..."

"We're worth it." Both girls said together, then laughed.

For a moment, Cordelia's smile and laughter was genuine, and she reveled in it. Then she leaned over slightly and laid a hand on Harmony's shoulder and her humor shriveled up as she felt a sudden flash of cold darkness rush through her.

Cordelia gasped, falling back from her friend, and Harmony stopped laughing instantly.

"Cordy? Are you ok?"

"I... I..." She leaned against the wall, forcing herself to breath normally, then nodded finally. "Yeah. I think so."

"Wow, what was that?" The blond asked.

"I... I don't know." Cordy forced a smile, pushing herself off the wall. "Just a weird feeling, you know?"

"I *so* know what you're talking about!" Harmony gushed.

"You do?"

"Duh. Remember last week when that creepazoid Jonathon was checking me out!?" Harmony asked, "I so felt like... dirty."

Cordelia blinked, her mind wandering back to the incident in point. As she recalled, Jonathon had eyes for Joy Lee and no one else. And since Joy wasn't exactly beating him off with a stick, Cordelia doubted that Harmony was anywhere on his lists at the moment.

Still, Cordy had been having too many rough patches lately to bring that up, so she nodded and agreed. "Totally."

Harmony beamed, "Come on, let's go to class. Aura got here already, I saw her going in..."

Cordy nodded, flinching almost imperceptibly as Harmony laid a hand on her shoulder, but when the cold didn't come back she just moved alongside the blond and headed into the school.

"This just sucks." Faith grumbled, crossing her arms over her breasts as she practically threw herself into the chair and glared daggers at the teacher who was setting up the lecture.

"What?" Tara asked, leaning slightly in her direction.

"Boytoy gets to run off to Kentucky and we get stuck here at school." The brunette muttered.

"I like school." Tara said, looking genuinely puzzled by Faith's attitude.

"You would." Faith muttered, "Apple polisher."

Tara shot a shocked look at Faith, just as the teach stood up and looked over the class.

"If everyone would please open their books to page eighty nine..."


"Not now."

"Come on..."

"What do you want, Jessie?" Willow hissed, eyes staying on the teacher as if they were glued to him even as her head turned to face her friend.

"Where's Xan?"

She rolled her eyes, "Weren't you listening?"

"To what?"


"Um... no?"

Willow groaned, lowering her head to the desk for a moment.

"Well despite Miss Rosenberg's feelings on the subject, the Emancipation Proclamation is considered one of the turning points in Western civilization." The teacher said archly, glaring at Willow.

Willow turned bright red as the class laughed softly at the teachers comment, nearly matching her hair for a moment, and glared over at Jessie, who was sitting quietly like an Angel, she could practically see his halo as he held his head high and mocked an innocent whistle. Willow growled, her grip tightening on her pencil until Jessie happened to glance over at her.

Then she snapped the pencil between her hands and bared her teeth at him.

Jessie paled, his eyes snapping straight forward again.

Willow's blush faded as she smiled now, turning her attention back to the front of the class.

These work out sessions with Master Lee were really paying off.


Willow turned, eyes widening as Jessie nudged her again a moment later.

"So where's Xan anyway??"

Oh that was it.

She glared over at him as he tried to look innocent again, but failed miserably this time since no teacher was there to see it, and leaned over, growling in a low voice for only him to hear. "Unless you want Cordelia and her *Hens* to learn about your teddy bear collection, shut up and pay attention."

He paled again, this time turning a ghastly white.

"You wouldn't."

Willow just smiled at him again, teeth showing. This time she snapped one half of the broken pencil with her thumb.

Jessie shut up.

At lunch Faith and Tara joined up with Buffy, Willow, Jono, and Jessie as they settled in to eat their cafeteria lunches. Faith and Tara settled in with the brown bagged lunches, both of them glancing distrustfully at the cafeteria trays before opening their own.

"You guys have a problem with the food here?" Jessie asked, the only one of the group who noticed the look.

"Eh." Faith shrugged, "I'm just remembering a story X told me once."

"Oh yeah?" Jessie leaned forward, "What's that?"

"Something about a disgruntled cafeteria worker and rat poison." Faith said bluntly, taking a bite of her roast beef sandwich.

The other four paused in mid-bite, then looked down at their food for a moment.

"She's kidding guys." Jessie said, grinning.

Faith arced an eyebrow at him, then shrugged and took another bite of her sandwich.

"You are kidding."

No response.

"Oh come on!" Jessie exclaimed, "You've got to be kidding!"

Faith still didn't say anything.

"She is kidding, right?" Buffy asked, looking at Tara.

Tara sort of shrugged, then shook her head.

"Oh great." Buffy sighed, shoving her tray away. "Now I've got to get Mom to make sandwiches every day."

"Forget that." Jessie muttered, spooning food from his tray into his mouth and talking through it all. "I don't believe a word of it. Xan's always kidding around about stuff like that."

"Your funeral." Faith told him, retrieving a second sandwich from her bag and tossing it to Buffy. "Here, B. I can deal on half rats t'ill schools out."

"Rats??" Buffy asked, looking at the sandwich like it was a bomb.

"Rations." Faith rolled her eyes, "Comes from hanging round military types all the time. It's roast beef, B. Eat."

Buffy opened the wax paper slowly, then sniffed at the white bread and meat. Finally she shrugged and nodded, then took a bite.

Willow and Jonathon, meanwhile, had started to pick at their food again, while shooting occasionally distrustful glances at both it and Faith.

"So where IS Xan anyway?" Jessie asked.

Willow hit him between the eyes with a frosted cupcake.

Charter Lear, Winging East over the Rockies

"So, how are things on Avalon, General?" Xander asked casually as he settled back in his seat and took a sip of water.

"Not bad, training is improving, but I'm looking forward to when we can activate the Cadre teams." Grey told him as the older man sipped at a cup of coffee.

Xander nodded, glancing over at McQueen, "Well Major, what do you think of that?"

"We'll be ready when we're needed, Sir."

Grey snorted, and Xander smiled privately. He'd been privy, of course, to the training files and knew that wasn't exactly true. The Cadre was filled with competent people, some of them ultra so in fact, however they weren't yet forged into proper teams.

Xander knew that they'd have to find them a few 'soft' missions to blood them a little before they'd make that final adjustment, but he wanted them as close as possible before that happened.

"So anyway," Xander smiled, changing the subject before McQueen could get defensive. "General, have you had a chance to look at the production figures for the next quarter? The Pulse Rifle line seems to be firming up..."

Chapter 7

"Hey Weasel." Faith said, flopping into a seat and flipping her legs up over the table. "What's the hap?"

"I wish you would stop insulting me like that." Wesley muttered, simultaneously reaching over and sweeping her legs off the table. "And this is a library, not your living room. Kindly keep your boots off my tables."

"Geez Wussly, who died and left you a pair?" Faith smirked at him.

"Hey, leave my watcher alone." Buffy growled, tossing her books to one side as she came in. "It's not his fault that he's british."

"Ha!" Faith laughed, "You talk like all Brits are wimps... Let me tell you, I've got a couple SAS dudes that I'd love to introduce ya too."

Wesley rubbed his face in irritation. "Really now. I am right here, you know..."

"And that don't even count ol Ripper." Faith grinned, using Giles' new again nickname. "Trust me, you don't want to see the bad side of that Brit."

"Uh huh." Buffy said, dropping into a seat across from Faith and propping her feet up on the table. "I'll believe it when I see it."

Faith just smirked, but then paused and glared at Wesley. "Hey! How come you aren't dropping her feet to the floor?"

"She at least knows how to clean her boots before she comes in." Wesley informed her flatly.

"Jeez Cordy!" Aura complained, "You've been spazzing out all day!"

Cordelia gritted her teeth, barely containing the urge to slap the airhead silly as she fought the overpowering urge to vomit. When Aura had come up behind her a few moments earlier, she'd been feeling a lot better until she said...

Said something. Cordy couldn't remember.

Now this.

She leaned against the wall of the hallway, feeling herself turning green from illness, and finally couldn't handle it anymore. She shoved off the wall and bolted for the bathroom, leaving her annoyed friend behind.

In the bathroom she lunged into the stall, feeling her stomach churn, but could only moan as nothing actually came up. She heaved again and again, her guts cramping from the pain but left her stomach and the sensation remained as strong as always.

And then it started to subside again and Cordelia began to breath easier, taking in deep breaths of air as she tried to calm her stomach.

"Hey... Are you ok?"

She looked up, surprised that there had been anyone there, and saw a blond that she coulnd't quite place looking at her with what appeared to be genuine concern.

"I... I'm just not feeling great." Cordy managed to say with surprising strength to her voice.

That was true enough, though something of an understatement. Still, she was feeling better now and her strength was coming back.

"I... if you say so." The blond told her. "Look, are you sure you don't need some help? You look really green."

Cordy bit back a sarcastic response, mostly because she probably DID look really green at the moment, and she couldn't hear any snideness in the girl's voice. "No... really, I'm ok. Thanks though...?"

The blond smiled, almost sadly, and shook her head. "My name's Marcie."

"Thanks, Marcie." Cordelia told her, mentally repeating the name a half dozen times so she'd remember it.

"Hey, it's no big." Marcie told her, "I was feeling pretty bad myself a while ago... Someone helped me out, so I figured maybe I could pass on the favor."

Cordy nodded, a little weakly but stronger now. "Well, thanks. But I'm feeling a lot better."

Marcie nodded, tilting her head. "You look better too. The green is going away, your getting some of your skin tone back."

Cordelia quickly checked herself in the mirror. She sighed when she saw herself, "Oh God, I look like... so sallow."

"It's not too bad." Marcie said, coming up behind her. "A little blush should hide it, but you really should get home and get some rest."

"No!" Cordy snapped quickly, startling the other girl. "No... I... I'm feeling better, really."

Marcie nodded, stepping back. "Well... alright. I've got to go... got some friends I'm meeting with in Study hall."

"Yeah. Ok." Cordy nodded, glancing back as the girl opened the door. "Hey..."


"Maybe I'll see you around."

Marcie half smiled, then frowned. "I don't know... maybe."


"Goodbye, Cordelia."

Cordy watched the door close and sighed, leaning hard against the counter as she started to sob under the tension she was feeling.

Jessie, Jonathon, and Willow were laughing at something as they came into the library and paused at the odd scene before them.

Faith was glaring at Wesley while the Librarian dutifully pretended that she didn't exist, and all the while Buffy looked smugly between the two of them with her feet comfortably up on the table.

"Ookay." Jessie said out loud, attracting the attention of the three. "What's up?"

"Nothing." Buffy smirked, leaning back in her chair and making the motions of yawning.

"Right." Faith lunged across the table, shoving the blond Slayer's feet.

Buffy yelped as her chair, already on two legs, fell back. She rolled with the motion, and actually managed to land on her feet while preventing the chair from hitting the ground.

"Hey!" She glared at Faith, who looked disappointed in Buffy's agility.

"Damn it, B. Can't you just go splat like anyone else?" Faith complained.

"So sorry I didn't crack my head open for your amusement." Buffy replied sarcastically.

"Ah, you're the Slayer. You'd more likely crack the floor then the other way around." Faith grumbled, "I know."

"Yeah, right." Buffy flipped the chair around and sat back down in it, leaving it solidly on the floor this time. She looked up to Willow, nodding to the red head. "What's up?"

"Huh? Oh. Nothing much. Just figured that maybe there was some stuff here we could help with..." Willow shrugged.

"Speak for yourself." Jessie muttered under his breath.

Jonathon frowned, leaning over, "You're not here to help?"

"Hell no." Jessie hissed back.

"Then how come you're here?" Jon whispered.

Jessie rolled his eyes, "Did you see Buffy's legs when she flipped? I mean, yeow."

He'd thought that he'd pitched his voice low enough not to be overheard, but the sudden double glare from Buffy *and* Faith told him different.

"Oh really!?" Buffy growled, getting up.

"Uh... Ummm..." Jessie scrambled to his feet, backing toward the door. "That came out... uh... wrong?"

"So you're saying that her legs weren't hot?" Faith smirked, crossing her arms under her breasts.

"Right. Wrong! Wait!" Jessie spun on his heels and bolted.

Willow stared after him, totally confused, while Jonathon stayed frozen in place as he looked between Buffy and Faith a little nervously. As the door slammed shut behind Jessie, the two girls bust out laughing and he finally relaxed.

Cordelia hit the lockers as Jessie barreled right into her, hitting her shoulder hard enough to spin her into the wall. "Hey!"

"Sorry! Sorry!" The harried teen told her, briefly holding her shoulders to keep her on her feet as he shot a glance back at the library. "Gotta go!"

"Hey!" She yelled again as he ripped off at full speed.

"The nerve..." She muttered, shaking her head as she looked after the fleeing boy. "And what the hell is he running from anyway?"

She shook her head and pushed the door to the library open, walking in to look around.

Buffy and Faith were laughing to kill themselves, over what she didn't know. Willow looked like, well like Willow really. And Jonathon was just watching them, looking a little more befuddled then usual.

She sighed.

<And these people are the ones I need to help me??>

At least there was usually one of them who knew what he was talking about.

"Hey." She said, "Is Xander around?"

Chartered Lear, Approaching Kentucky

"I feel like such a tool." Xander muttered as he finished tying his tie and adjusted the suit in the mirror.

"You look fine." General Grey grunted behind him.

"Yeah right." Xander muttered, over his shoulder. "Like you'd know. When was the last time you wore anything other then a Uniform? Forty years?"

"Forty six." Grey muttered, "Until today."

Xander half turned to see Grey in a similar tailored suit, and grimaced. "Sorry, General."

"Doesn't matter." Grey said, glancing over at McQueen with some envy.

The Major didn't have to worry about monkey suits, since he was 'merely' a consultant on this trip, so he was wearing a comfortable looking outfit that nonetheless looked like it had been pressed just minutes earlier.

<Add some medals and he'd probably pass for dress parade.> Xander thought sourly, but only turned to check his incredibly expensive suit once more.

Chapter 8


Everyone in the room flinched involuntarily as Cordelia screeched, even herself. She winced and took a few deep breaths before speaking again. "Why is he in Kentucky?"

Faith shrugged, eyeing the cheerleader curiously. "Something about a company he bought out..."

"Xander owns a company?" Willow blinked.

"Well duh." Faith rolled her eyes, "What do you think he's been doing flying all around the country the last year?"

"If we listen to him, nothing much." Buffy muttered dryly.

Faith snickered, she couldn't help it. "B... if Xan saves the world, he'll still saying he wasn't doing much that day. Anyway, he found this weapons firm in Kentucky that was going bellyup... You remember the rifle he showed us? The M41?"

"Ummm..." Buffy shrugged, "Which one was that?"

"The one that blew up the target."

"Ohhhh That one." Buffy nodded.

Faith rolled her eyes. "Alright, the company that developed it was going bankrupt. Xander liked the rifle, so he bought the company."

"That seems a tad extreme." Wesley muttered, eyeing Faith oddly.

Faith shrugged, "Xander's a 'tad' extreme if you ask me."

"I suppose." Wesley replied.

"Anyway, that's where he is." Faith said, turning back to Cordelia. "What's up?"

"Umm... Nothing. I'm fine. I... I've got to get to class." Cordelia said quickly, turning around to leave.

Faith groaned as Cordelia left the room and pushed herself off the library table. "I'll check in with you guys later."

As Faith left the room, Buffy, Jonathon, and Willow exchanged glances.

"What's that all about?"

"C! Hey C!" Faith yelled jogging to catch up. "Come on, wait up!"

"Are you *insane*?" Cordelia glared at Faith like she was a particularly loathsome *insect* that had attached itself to her clothing.

"Don't you get high and mighty with me, Cheerbabe." Faith growled. "Now why don't you tell me what's up?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh for..." Faith growled, looking around the hall.

No one in sight. She grabbed Cordelia by the blouse and yanked the cheerleader into the janitors closet.

"Hey!" Cordy screeched. "What is your damage!?"

"Shut up." Faith snapped, fumbling around until she found the light switch and slipped it on. "Alright, spill it babe, or I'll..."

"You'll *what*!?" Cordelia crossed her arms and glared challengingly at the smaller girl.

"I'll..." Faith paused, trying to figure out exactly *what* she would do. She could beat Cordy into a pulp, true enough, but that would hardly get the stubborn girl talking about what was wrong. She needed something different.

Then a stray memory of conversations with Xander clicked and she grinned, "I'll make it look like we're *necking* in here."

Cordy's eyes widened, her jaw dropping in pure shock.

"You wouldn't." She said flatly a second later.

"Try me." Faith smirked, "I'm just a 'slut bomb', remember? Besides, a little girl girl ain't something I'm all that opposed to anyway. Lord knows I can't find any guys worth my time. Maybe a rep change is what I need."

Cordelia stared at Faith for a long moment, trying to determine if the girl was serious. She couldn't tell, and that scared her because she knew that there was no way she was getting out of here without Faith's permission. The slight girl held a ton of power in her small frame. And if she was serious...

Cordy swallowed, no way could she let THAT happen to her reputation.

It took a long moment, but she finally looked down at the floor and started to speak softly.

"I don't know what's wrong." She looked up quickly, locking eyes with Faith, and spoke earnestly. "Really. It's just these... feelings."

"What kind?"

Cordy shook her head, "I don't know... it's like... Around Harmony earlier, when she touched me... it was like... cold. Bleak. Then when I brushed up against Aura I felt so bad I wanted to throw up... like this sudden wave of... of..."

"Of what?" Faith asked, her voice soft now. She'd shown Cordy the stick, as Xander would say, now it was time to use the carrot. "Describe it."

"My stomach twisted up... I wanted to throw up so bad but I couldn't..." Cordy said, closing her eyes. "I can't describe it any better then that... I just... *had* to empty my stomach. But nothing would come out."

"Whoa." Faith said, taking a deep breath. "Anything else?"

"The pressure... the... whatever it is, is still there." Cordelia said after a moment.

"Alright..." Faith nodded, "Any relief then? How do you feel now?"

Cordelia paused, blinking. "Not so bad. Not great, but... a little better. I feel like... I don't know, a little impatient but not panicked anymore."

"Impatient?" Faith asked, puzzled. "That's weird. Doesn't sound like the other effects you're talking about."

"Well what do you know about this shit!?" Cordelia snapped, then her eyes widened and she clapped a hand over her mouth. "I didn't mean to say that."

"What? Shit?"

Cordy nodded.

Faith rolled her eyes, "I've heard worse, Cheer babe. Focus, ok? We haven't got all day. Classes will change in a little while, and we really should be out of here before then."

Cordelia nodded.

"Anyway, I don't know as much as Xan... that's for sure," Faith said, "But I've seen my share of weirdness too. Now this pressure you feel, it happened since you and Maro got together, right?"

Cordelia nodded, leaning heavily against the wall.

"Alright... But you're not having the dreams and panic attacks like before?"

Cordelia paused, thinking about it. Finally she shook her head. "No... I... when I have a dream like that, I think that he... protects me."

"Right." Faith nodded, "Ok, so this stuff is new, and it's getting passed Maro somehow. He can't protect you, at least not fully. Maybe he's actually keeping the worst of it off you though."

"Oh God." Cordy almost wretched at that thought. "I hope not."

"Hey, buck up." Faith said, a little roughly, and slapped Cordy's shoulder. "You'll get through this. You're a tough bitch, and you've got good help."

"Gee thanks." Cordy said dryly, shooting Faith an annoyed look.

Faith just blew it off and peered at the cheerleader for a long moment, frowning. She just didn't have the information she needed for this, hell even Xander didn't know what was going on with the Cheerleader, so how was she supposed to help anyway? Suddenly she just felt like hitting something.

"Ahh!" Cordelia snapped out, smashing a fist into the wall.

Faith jumped, "What the hell was that?"

"I'm sorry." Cordelia sighed, "I just... I just felt so frustrated that I had to hit something."

Faith jaw dropped, her eyes widening, and she fell back a step.

"Oh. Shit."

"Mr Harrison?"

Xander nodded as he stepped out of the limo, looking up at the large and impressive building for the second time.

"I'm Grace Dupres Right this way sir." The young woman said, extending a hand toward the main entrance. "We put together a presentation to show you the changes we've made and..."

Xander lifted a hand, "We'll see the Floor."

"Uh... Yes sir." The woman nodded. "This way then."

The woman led Xander, Grey, and McQueen into the large reception area of Armat Industries. Much to the shock and surprise of the assembled welcoming committee to the left, she cast them an apologetic look, and led Xander and his group to the right.

There was something of a mad scramble as the assembled executives and presenters moved to follow, especially since from the ones who had survived Xander's last visit. None of them wanted to be the subject of quite such a massive round of layoffs.

Xander ignored them as the woman guided him to the assembly floor for the M41. He was willing to grant that they had a right to be nervous about his visit, considering the last time, but he didn't have time for ceremony, and any presentation they gave him would be little more then blowing smoke up his ass. Especially since he had better access to the numbers then they did.

"As you can see we've cut the size of the line by one third," Grace told him, "The other third is being retuned to manufacture the specialized ammunition and weapons according to the mandate you gave us."

Xander nodded, ignoring the curiosity in the woman's voice. If she had to wonder, then she wasn't one of the employees that were 'in the know' so to speak. Time would tell if they would bother to correct that gap in her education, but now was not the time.

"How are the new Pulse Rifles shaping up?" McQueen asked softly, yet firmly from behind him.

"We're using the new A1 variant modified by Mr Andrews," Grace replied, using Andy's cover name for this particular operation. "All testing has so far proven it to be a superior model."

McQueen grunted, but nodded and fell silent.

"And the sales side?" Xander asked quietly.

"We've actually gotten a request from a Marine Force Recon training camp for a sample case." Grace replied, sounding uncertain about it. "Considering what happened the last time though..."

"Send them the samples." Grey said instantly.

"Excuse me?" She blinked, looking between Xander and Grey.

"You heard the man." Xander smiled, "If they want a sample case, we'll send them one."

"Uh... Yes Sir."

Chapter 9

"Wuss!" Faith growled, hauling a protesting Cordelia along behind her. "I need you to make yerself useful!"

Wesley groaned, shaking his head as he counted silently to ten in his head. Finally he looked up and smiled at Faith with a sort of glassy fake smile that one normally reserved for the infirm or insane. "Yes, Faith? And how might I do that?"

"You know... Look stuff up in your books n shit." She waved a hand at him.

"Oh yes, I'll get started right away." He picked up a random book, then opened his eyes wide and exclaimed. "By Jove! Did you know that the Earth is round??"

Faith stared at him for a moment, and he sighed and set the book down.

"Perhaps a little direction might aid in the 'looking stuff up'?" He suggested, having decided that sarcasm was wasted on Americans.

"One sec..." Faith asked, glancing at Cordy. "How do you feel now?"



"On the one hand I want to pound him," She said, waving at Wesley, "Into a bloody paste... And on the other I kinda want to kick *you*out of the library so hard you bounce."

Faith crossed her arms and glared at Wes, "Oh you do, do you??"

"Hey now, what are you glaring at me for??" Wesley asked, getting a little nervous. "She said that, not me!"

"Yeah, but you're thinking it, aren't you?" Faith snarled.

"No!" Wesley shook his head.

Faith crossed the distance between them in a flash and had Wesley off the floor before anyone else could blink. "Truth!"

"I wasn't!" He protested, gurgling slightly as he tried to find the ground with his feet, "Well... not specifically."

Faith dropped him, then leaned in. "Oh yeah? Then *what* specifically?"

"Well..." Wesley started to hedge, until Faith grabbed him again. "I was thinking more along the lines of dropping you down a dank hole and leaving you there is you must know."

Faith snorted, giving Wes a shove so that he fell into the chair behind him. "Figures. But *I* was thinking pretty much the exact thing that Cheerbabe said."

"Oh lovely." Wesley muttered, "So now we have *two* homicidal teenage girls."

"Ok," Cordelia growled, "I think I'm pretty much focused on the bloody paste idea now."

"Hey!" Faith lunged across the room, grabbing Jonathon by the lapel.

He squeaked as she hauled him to her feet and practically threw him at Cordelia.

"H... hey!" He protested, shaking like a leaf as he looked at Faith.

She glared at him, then walked toward Cordy.

"S... stay away from me!" Cordelia instantly said, falling back a couple steps before getting a hold of herself and staring around in shock. "T... that wasn't me!"

"No." Faith muttered, twisting her lips. "It was Jonboy here."

"Me?" Jon yelped.

Buffy looked around, blinking. "What the hell is going on here?"

"Ar... are you saying that Cordelia is telepathic?" Willow spoke up, her voice soft as she stared at Cordy with undisguised fear.

Cordelia sneered back at her, "Oh look, the mouse speaks."

"Hey!" Buffy snapped, coming to her feet. "Lay off!"

Cordy shivered, taking a step away from Buffy, then rallied and managed to hold her place. She put a hand over her head and shuddered, "Jesus... I can't take this!"

Faith intercepted her as she made a beeline for the door. "Whoa.... calm down, girl. We gotta get this straightened out, and Wussely there is the best thing we've got right now, what with G and Xan out of town."

Wesley, this time, completely missed the backhanded compliment as he focused on what Willow had said. "Is she telepathic? I've heard of cases where contact with certain demons..."

"No." Faith shook her head, "Leastways, I don't think so. She's feeling... feelings."

"An empath?" Willow looked up. "Really??"

"If that's what it's called..." Faith shrugged, feigning ignorance. She knew the word well enough from talking with Xan about Maro, which was what made it all click for her in the janitor's closet.

"It is." Wesley said briskly, moving quickly to the rare books locker/armory and unlocking the heavy cage. "Now let's see... Demon blood and it's impacts?"

"No." Faith said, "Least ways... I don't think so."

"No?" Wesley frowned, "Well that cuts down on most of the sources... Let's see... Here's a tome on trance meditation and it's effects... I believe that Empathy can be induced that way...."

"What about shutting it off?" Faith asked.

"What? Oh no..." Wesley shook his head as he pulled another book and checked it's binding before replacing it. "No no no, Empathy isn't a natural state. People learn to turn it ON, not off."

"That's not the situation here." Faith growled.

Wesley glancing at Cordelia and frowned, "Oh. Yes. Well... hmmmm Give me a few minutes."

Cordelia shivered and finally gave up, collapsing against Faith. The dark slayer caught her easily and half carried and half dragged her to the closest chair.

"I... is she alright?" Willow asked quietly.

"I'm fine!" Cordy snapped, glaring at Willow suddenly, "And you don't fool ME with that fake concern! Not for one damned second!"

Willow gasped, eyes wide, and fell back quickly, pushing her chair back and away from Cordelia.

"Hey!" Buffy snapped, her momentary concern wiped away by Cordelia's attitude. "She was just..."

"Acting the innocent little willow..." Cordy mocked, glaring openly at the redhead. "If you're going to hate me, Hate Me. Don't pretend to give a damn."

"Ignore Red, Cheerbabe." Faith advised her, laying a hand on Cordy's shoulder. "Not like you exactly treated her super nice for the past few years anyway."

"Yeah!" Willow snapped, openly glaring at Cordy now.

"Whatever." Cordelia shrugged, "I never said anything behind your back that I wasn't willing to say to your face, though."

"Is there *anything* you wouldn't say to her face?" Faith asked mildly.

Cordelia paused, thinking about that. "Well no. Not really."

Faith snickered.

"H... Hey! That's not funny!" Willow objected.

Buffy snickered, hiding her mouth behind her hand.

"Buffy?? Not you too!"

"I'm... s.... sorry.... Willow..." Buffy gasped out, laughing openly now. "But yeah, it's a little funny..."

Willow fell back in her chair, falling silent and pouting.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, "Oh and now on with the pity train... Like I've got any time to feel sorry for you... *I'm* the one who's in trouble here!"

Faith looked between the two girls and hummed a little. <This shit is getting deep. Queen C is really getting into this now that she knows what's going on... I wish Xan were here... He'd just ask the babe in the bikini and we'd all get back to normal in a few hours.>

Cordelia glanced at Faith a second later, frowning.

"What?" Faith asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Nothing." Cordelia replied quickly, looking away.

Meanwhile, Jonathon was looking on with undisguised awe. The feeling was one that Cordy felt familiar with and she basked in it for a little while until she recognized the source of it and realized what exactly the awe was all about.

"It's so not a good thing." She snapped suddenly, glaring at Jonathon.

"W... what?" He squeaked.

"You can stop thinking that it's... whatever you think it is." She growled. "It *sucks*. I spend most of my time barely able to move around because of this crap..."

"Hmmm..." Wesley said, flipping to a different page.

"Hey, at least we know now." Faith told her. "Must have something to do with Maro."

"Maro?" Wesley looked up, "Who's Maro?"

"Sword." Faith waved one hand, "Go back to your books."

"Oh yes." Wesley muttered, flipping another couple pages. "Let's see... Side effects of mystical objects..."

Cordelia stared at him for a moment, but Faith just shrugged. "Ignore him, he'll come up for air when he finds something."

Cordy shuddered, shaking her head. "I can't deal with this."

"Ah buck up." Faith admonished her. "You think you got it rough? Trust me, girl, you ain't seen nothing. Least you ain't like... B."

"Me?" Buffy blinked.

"Her?" Cordy frowned.

"Yeah. Her." Faith muttered, <and me. Not that I'm complaining none.> "She's got super powers and all... But she also attracts demons like a magnet. It's got it's downsides, you know?"

Cordelia shuddered, thinking about the blond Vampiress.

"We live and we deal." Faith told her. "S'all we can do."

"Right." Cordy muttered darkly.

"Oh, I say!" Wesley exclaimed, "I think I may have found something!"

Everyone stared at him for a long moment. Then a longer moment. Then several moments.

Finally, Faith blew. "Well!? Spill, Wussley!"

Chapter 10

"So far so good." Xander said, loosening the silk tie as he stepped over to the wall size windows that covered the south face of the fourth floor conference room they were in.

Grey nodded, "Agreed. Production is coming along nicely, and it looks like the plans to step up production are well in hand as well."

Xander nodded, "Considering our need for the M41, that's a god send at this point."

Grey nodded, but didn't add anything to that train of thought. "I am a little concerned about the world marketplace, though."

Xander half smiled, glancing back. "Getting into the civilian mentality there, General?"

Grey grimaced, "Jesus, I hope not."

The two chuckled lightly, but Grey became serious a moment later. "Seriously though, I was talking with some of the workers earlier and some of them are worried."

"Worried?" Xander turned back, frowning. "About what?"

Grey looked a little puzzled, "I'm not sure exactly. The market seems strong, but three other factories in this area have recently packed it in. There's about eight hundred people out of work here now."

"Armament producers?" Xander frowned.

Grey nodded, "One by Colt, another by Fabrique Nationale, and a third independent called ADV Luminal Technologies... I think that they're a company that's working on a laser based missile defense system."

Xander frowned, then shrugged and walked over to the phone. "Let's ask someone local then."

He pressed a button on the phone and let it buzz through.

"Yes Mr Harrison?"

"Could you send Grace in please?" Xander asked the secretary, nodding to Grey and McQueen.

"Of course Mr Harrison."

McQueen and Grey took seats on either side of Xander as the door opened to admit a rather nervous looking Miss Dupres. Xander waved her to the other end of the table, nodding at the same time. "Relax, Grace. We just have some questions about the local situation."

Grace took her seat with a calm demeanor, "Yes Sir?"

"I understand that some of the floor workers are concerned about their jobs?" Xander asked calmly.

Grace frowned slightly, but just sighed. "That's just rumors because of the other factories that closed."

"Why exactly did the other companies close?" General Grey asked seriously.

Grace reluctantly shook her head, "We don't know for certain at the moment. Three different companies closing plants this close together has to be connected, but we haven't seen any market conditions that might cause it. There are some rumors, but nothing more then that... and some of them are pretty wild."

Xander nodded, "Very well. You can inform the workers that this plant isn't closing anytime soon. They have my word on that."

"Yes Sir. The union rep will be glad to hear it." Grace nodded.

Xander half smiled, "I didn't sink all the investments I have into this place just to lose it now."

"Meditation??" Cordy looked skeptical.

"Well I'm afraid that I don't exactly have a magic wand to wave to make this all go away." Wesley muttered, "You said that it wasn't caused by interaction with demon blood, so there isn't a flat out cure."

Cordelia groaned.

"Let me see that." Faith grabbed the book out of Wesley's hands, flipping it around so she could read it.

"I say! Could you please *ask* next time?"

"I did ask." Faith told him, not looking up.

"*Before* taking it!"

"Yeesh. No pleasing some people." She mumbled, trying to sound out the words of the latin script she was reading.

Wesley watched her for a moment, then raised an eyebrow. "You read latin?"

"Not when someone is talking to me..." Faith sounded irate. After a moment she sighed and looked up, "Sorry. I know it some, but this is beyond me. What's it say exactly?"

Wesley took the book back, actually making something of an effort not to preen too much as he lay a finger down on the page. "This describes a method to 'shut off' empathic and telepathic centers... A monk on a pilgrimage to the East brought it back in 972AD."

Faith frowned, looking at the words. It seemed like it might help, "How hard is it to do?"

Wesley shrugged unhappily, "It doesn't say, but as it requires a rather deep level of self actualisation... probably quite difficult."

"Oh great." Cordy muttered, "And this helps me how?"

Faith shot her a dirty look, "Hey, we just got started researching here... and I'd say that Wes managed pretty well considering. We'll keep looking, but if this is what we've got, then you'll have to make do. Some shit don't come easy. What do you expect?"

"Expect!? I expect to be head cheerleader next year! I expect to win homecoming queen when I'm a senior! I expect to be NORMAL." Cordelia snapped.

Faith just shook her head, gazing evenly at Cordelia.

Xander leaned back, considering what Grace had told them, then frowned. "Well, there has to be a connection."

"Agreed." Grey nodded.

McQueen just shrugged with a half nod.

Xander sighed, "Alright, well when you have an asset use it."

He picked up the phone, tapping a single number at random to open a connection, and lifted to receiver to his ear. "Merlin."

Circuits shifted, opening and closing, and the word was intercepted by a sophisticated search algorithm, then shunted aside for further analysis. When the voice code came up as belonging to Xander Harris a few microns later, Merlin was alerted and he shunted the signal to his primary systems.

"Yes Commander?" He said, less then a second later.

"Merlin, I've been informed that three armament related companies in the local area here have gone belly up recently," Xander said frowning. "The General and I are a little concerned over the cause. Namely, they fact that no one here seems to be aware of the cause."

"One moment, Commander." Merlin said, immediately access the bankruptcy filings for Louisville. He found one for a firm called ADV Luminal Tech, but no others. Checking into the industry news, however, yielded the closing of plants partially owned by Colt and FN.

Merlin called up the plant financial records and noted that the majority owner of each plant was a multinational company, not the armament firms themselves. He cross-referenced that with the bankruptcy filing and noted the same majority partner.

<Interesting.> Merlin thought, then added a new search parameter and quickly sifted the deluge of information that came flooding back.

In real time, he was answering the question almost before Xander finished asking it.

"Each of those plants were owned primarily by a multinational corporation known as Group W." Merlin told Xander evenly. "Recently the company has pulled it's interests in weapons manufacturing, as well as other areas considered to be detrimental to society as a whole."

"Huh?" Xander blinked, frowning.

"The new Chairman of the board is what you might call a Social reformer." Merlin replied, "He is strongly against weapons manufacture, and is shifting his companies stance to one intended to encourage social, economic, and ecological improvement in the areas it operates in."

"Huh." Xander repeated, shrugging. "Alright. Is it working?"

"The company is still largely in upheaval at the moment, however he has had some success to this point." Merlin replied.

"Well..." Xander frowned, "Doesn't do much for the local social and financial situation, now does it?"

"Presumably not, though Group W *is* extending it's manufacture of more peaceable items into the area to help take up the slack. Since they were the primary owners of the Colt and FN plants, the companies in question elected to close the factories rather then shoulder the added burden."

Xander nodded, "Alright, thanks Merlin."

"One more thing, Commander..."

"What's that?"

"The Chairman, one Largo Winch, is attending a Charity benefit in New York in two days... and the patents from ADV Luminal Technologies could be of assistance to our operations."

Xander frowned, taking a breath, then nodded. "Alright, thanks for the information, Merlin. We'll talk later."

"As you wish, Commander."

Xander hung up the phone and looked at Grey and McQueen. "You guys up for a trip to the big apple?"

"Oh shit." Faith muttered as a bell rung. "I've got class."

"We're free this period." Buffy said, holding up a book. "We'll keep at it."

Faith nodded, "Alright, I'll grab Tara and get her in on this too. We'll have to keep hitting the books after school, you know?"

Buffy sighed, but nodded. "Yeah."

Cordelia looked around the room, mouth a little open in surprise. She wasn't feeling any opposition to them putting in extra hours, even a LOT of extra hours, to help her. It felt... weird.

"Be glad when X get's back." Faith sighed, "He probably knows a bit more about this then we'll find in the books."

"I fail to see how." Wesley muttered.

"No shit." Faith grinned, "Don't worry about it, Wuss. X just has an 'insider' whispering in his ear is all."

Wesley rolled his eyes, but looked at her in exasperation afterwards. "Must you call me that?"

"No." Faith said, heading out.

She paused at the door, and tossed him a grin over her shoulder. "But I *like* calling you that."

Wesley groaned as the girl left.

Chapter 11

Jessie sighed as he trudged toward the library.

He was supposed to be playing Nintendo, or sports, or something.

Anything but heading to the library to read more Books.

<There's supposed to be a law against too many books.> He thought to himself, then frowned. <I think. Yeah, there should be anyway.>

He sighed, and admitted to himself that he didn't have anywhere else to be.

Every single person he counted as a friend was either out of town, or in the library. So unless he wanted to be bored to death alone, he was going to have to be bored to death with his friends.

<Some choice.>

Briefly he wondered what the big emergency study fest was anyway. Jonathon hadn't exactly been open with the details in class, he just kinda clammed up everytime someone came within earshot. Then the teacher had to go and keep Jessie behind for a brief chat about his 'antics', anyway it was about Cordelia.

So that was an upside at least, Cordy was going to be there.

Yeah, things were looking up already.

Jessie forced a smile as he opened the door to the library and headed in.

Only to stop dead in the middle of the room as he stared at the backside of Cordelia Chase as the girl leaned over the table to look at something.

<Oh yeah...> Jessie thought as he stared, <God I've love to bend *her* over a table... then I'd sl..."

His thoughts were cut off as Cordy stiffened bolt upright and spun on her heal, then growled as she rushed in his direction.

Jessie had exactly the amount of time to wonder where she was going, and to smile at her and say, "Hi Cordy, how's..."

Then he saw her fist, felt a sudden blinding pain, and everything went black.

Xander yanked off the tie as he took a seat in the lear and leaned back. "Couple hours to New York, and we've got three suites in the Waldorf. God I need some sleep... This jetting around crap gets annoying."

Grey grunted but didn't say anything.

Jetting around in a Lear beat the hell out of the Canvas seats in a C130 like he spent most of his career doing. Even so, it wasn't quite a match for Air Force One, and any kind of constant travel wore on a man after a while.

"I think I'll look up Rollie in New York." Xander mused, "General, why don't you take the Lear and visit Mr Whitmore?"

Grey nodded, "I might at that. Thanks."

"No problem," Xander smiled, then glanced at McQueen. "And you? You have anyone you want to see?"

McQueen sat stiffly as he considered the question, but that was his normal stance. Finally he shook his head slowly, "No. No one."

Xander nodded soberly, "Well consider yourself on leave, Major."

"Yes Sir."

"Oh My God! She killed Jessie!!" Willow squeaked as Jessie hit the ground with a solid thud.

Faith, who had been staring in shock at the sudden burst of violence, shook herself awake at that. "I think she just knocked him out."

Buffy practically tackled Cordy as the girl moved to start kicking the downed boy. "Whoa! Hang on there, wonder girl!"

Faith rushed over to Jessie's side and winced as she looked at his eye. "Gonna have a shiner fer sure. Damn, Cheerbabe really clocked him one."

"Why'd you hit Jessie!?" Willow yelled, actually trying to get at Cordelia as Jonathon of all people held her back. "Let me go! She hit Jessie!"

Cordelia was mostly incoherent as Buffy held her tightly against the rare book cage, muttering threats about rusty knives and body parts. Buffy was impressed for one part, but was just as glad that Jessie wasn't awake to hear it.

Faith, on the other hand, was laughing to kill herself.

"What are you laughing at!?" Willow snarled.

Faith held up a hand, trying to control herself, but she kept on laughing.

"What's so funny!?"

"I dare say that young Jessie had a most... inopportune thought concerning Cordelia." Wesley muttered, taking a deep breath as he made a note to avoid annoying the cheerleader in the future. "Though I have to say that she may have overreacted just slightly."

Faith was rolling on the ground, howling with laughter.

Willow gaped between Faith, Wesley, and Jessie's prone body as the words clicked in and she remembered Jessie's, rather unhealthy in her opinion, fixation on Cordelia. She stopped struggling against Jonathon and slowly shook her head, "Oh god, I need to sit down."

Jon nodded eagerly and helped her to the table, pulling a seat out for her as she sat down, then he looked back at Jessie. "Is he ok?"

Faith nodded as she tried desperately to get her breath back, failing miserably.

"Calm down, Cordy!" Buffy growled. "Come on... calm down. Breath... in... out..."

The Slayer breathed along with the Cheerleader, and slowly Cordelia calmed down. As she came back to herself she looked more then a little horrified at either what she'd done, or what she'd been *planning* to do.

"I'm alright now." Cordelia said. "I'm ok."

Buffy slowly let her go, staying tense for a moment, but finally nodded and stepped back. She looked over her shoulder at the prone body, "Do I want to know?"

Cordelia shuddered and shook her head.

"Alright then," Wesley shook his head, "I have a first aid kit in my office... Jonathon would you be so kind as to take my key and go to the cafeteria and fetch some ice? I believe that our young friend may have some use for it in a moment."

"Yeah." Jon agreed, taking the keys from Wesley and heading out. He glanced down at the rapidly reddening bruise around Jessie's right eyes and shook his head, "Damn."

Faith managed to get her breath back and glanced over at Cordelia with undisguised amusement. "God DAMN, C *that* was FINE."

"Hey!" Willow objected.

"Oh it'll do him good." Faith grinned, "He's just been begging for a beatdown since I got here in the Dale. I'm only shocked that Queen C beat me to it."

"He didn't DO anything!" Willow snapped.

Cordy glared openly at the unconscious boy, "And he never will if he comes near me again."

Faith cracked up again, snickering uncontrollably as she staggered for the table. "Oh come on, C.... He's a teenage guy! He's supposed to be pervin a little."

Cordelia snarled.

"Whoa, k, fine..." Faith laughed, holding up her hands. "Whatever you say, C. Oh god, I can't wait to tell X about this!"

Wesley shook his head as he exited his office with a vial in his hand and knelt by the unconscious boy. He opened the vial, waving the smelling salts under Jessie's nose. For a moment nothing happened, then his nose crinkled, and then Jessie suddenly sneezed and jerked up from the ground.

"Wha... what happened?" He muttered, peering around through his one good and one swollen eye. "Wha hit me??"

"Cordelia did." Wesley informed him, capping the smelling salts.

"Why? Wha'd I do?" Jessie slurred out.

"I do not believe it was so much what you DID as what you felt like *doing*." Wes said dryly, getting up.


"I believe that I would refrain from thinking too much about Cordelia in the future, were I you."


Faith grinned, "Stop pervin at the girl or she'll kill you, Jes. If you're lucky. I'm gonna call X and see if he has any ideas... yeah... that's it."

Jessie just looked even more confused as Faith plucked a cell from her pocket and moved away to the corner with a shit eating grin on her face.

"Jessie..." Willow went to him, shooting a dark look at Cordelia. "Come on, I'll explain."

"Good... someone explain... cause I don't feel so good..." He muttered, touching his eye with his fingers. "Ow!"

Jonathon came back then with a towel wrapped around some ice. "Here, this will help."

Jessie took the ice, then stared at it, uncomprehending.

"Put it on your eye." Willow told him, gently guiding his hand up to his eye.

"I don't get it..." Jessie muttered, "Why'd she hit me??"

Willow sighed. This was going to be a long afternoon.

Xander's phone chimed once and he plucked it up, "hello?"

"Faith? What's up... She's what?? Oh hell." He said, face falling. "I'd hoped it wasn't that... no, no... it's not through Maro. Maro could block it if it was. How bad is she?"

Xander stiffened, coming upright and startling the other two in the plane.

"She what!?"

McQueen and Grey exchanged glances, puzzled.

"My god... You're kidding, right?" Xander practically whispered. "Is he ok?"

After a moment he relaxed, "Thank God... Do you know why?"

Xander froze for a second, then to the amazement of the other two he started to chuckle. "Oh God. I wish I'd been there..."

Chapter 12

"You mean I can't *think* around Cordy anymore!?" Jessie yelped, tossing a glance over toward the Cheerleader.

Cordelia growled and hefted her fist.

"No, you just can't *feel* anything." Willow said patiently.

Jessie's face crumbled a bit and he stole another glance at Cordy, "That's inhuman! Mean, how can I look at that a..."

Crack! Willow snapped a kick to his shins.

"Ow!" Jessie screamed, jumping up and down on one leg. "What the hell was that for??"

"You want her to black your other eye??" Willow growled, "Now sit down, and read this."

Jessie took the book she shoved into his hands and groaned as he noted that it weighed more then any two of his textbooks. "This is way too much like school for me."

"Read!" She ordered, taking a seat beside him.

Jessie groaned and started to read. The material was drier then algebra and about as interesting, so after a few moments his mind started wandering a bit. He thought about how weird it was that Cordelia could feel people's feelings, then shortly thereafter he started wondering what it would be like to feeling feelings like then.

Then he just started wondering what he would be like to feel Cordelia.

It was at that point that Cordy growled audibly, and Willow smacked him across the back of the head.

"Ow! What the hell!?" He yelped, holding his 'injured' head and looking around.

Willow and Cordy both glared at him and he looked sheepish. "Oh. That... uh... right."

Faith watched the byplay with amusement, surprised that Willow was participating in the situation the way she was, but she supposed that it kept Jessie from more serious injury.

"You know, C," She said softly, leaning in. "He ain't that bad."

Cordy shot her an irate glare, but it softened a bit as Faith matched it evenly. A bit, but not much. "You don't understand..."

"So explain it." Faith shrugged.

"It's... really really personal." Cordelia whispered.

Faith raised an eyebrow, "Well yeah, but it's just thinking... I mean..."

"No!" Cordy hissed, "It's not... it's..."

Cordelia trailed off.

Faith eyed her with even more interest now, "How's that?"

Cordelia closed her eyes, an almost groan almost whimper coming from her lungs. "I *felt* him."

"Well yeah. I got that..."

"No." Cordelia shook her head, "I mean like really *felt* him... or what he wanted to... do."

Faith's eyes widened and she choked, "Wait... you mean like *really*really?"

Cordy nodded.

"Wicked." Faith grinned.

"It's NOT!" Cordy yelled, then flushed as everyone looked at them. She quieted down, looking like she'd just walked into the boys locker room stark naked.

"Hey, I've been looking for a good lay for a year now," Faith muttered, "So you're not getting no sympathy from me. Frankly I wouldn't mind catching a few stray thoughts like that... I could really do with a nice hard cock between my legs."

Cordy went even redder and shuddered, but still managed to glare at Faith. "Number one, some of us aren't total *skanks*..."

Faith just grinned and shrugged.

"And number two... it wasn't between my legs he was interested in." Cordy said, flushing even more.

Faith raised an eyebrow again, "No? Then what? He want you on your knees maybe? The Head Cheerleader all submissive and stuff while she sucks..."

"No!" Cordy hissed again, "And stop saying stuff like that!"

Faith frowned, "Well that only leaves...."

She trailed off, looking at Cordelia sharply.

Cordy nodded, looking at the table, her face a mask of disgust and embarrassment, maybe even shame.

"Guys." Faith muttered darkly. "Always trying to skip steps..."

Cordy shot her another dark look, "It's not funny. It *hurt*."

Faith snickered, holding up her hands when Cordy growled again. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry... But it's just kinda funny from this side of things, C. Course... I wonder why it hurt?"


Faith looked puzzled, frowning. "I mean... you were just feeling him, right?"

"I dunno... I guess." Cordelia muttered, sounding almost defensive. "What does it matter?"

"Well, if it's his fantasy, how come it hurt you?" Faith muttered, then shot a dark look at Jessie. "Less, of course, he thought the idea of you squealing a bit would be hot."

Cordy stared blankly at Faith for a second, then her hackles came up visibly as she and Faith both glared over at Jessie.


"Ow!" Jessie yelped. "Damn it, Willow! I wasn't thinking about her! I swear!"

The Lear was settling into it's descent pattern over New York while Xander talked over the secure communications suite to Merlin.

"Are there any other reports of this happening with Maro's hosts?"

"No, Commander." Merlin replied, his figure floating over the portable computer that Xander always carried with him now. "However the human host often adapts in different ways to a bonding, especially among the lesser rune weapons that have lesser degrees of control over their situation."

"So that's why Elan and I never encountered anything like this." Xander mused.

"Most likely correct." Merlin conceded. "Elanthielle is one of the Five, perhaps the most potent mystic weapon to exist in all the recorded explorations of the Atlanteans. Her control over her own abilities, and over her affect on yours, is nearly complete."

Xander nodded, falliing silent as Elan chipped in fro her side.

<This is true, Alexander. One of the first things I did was prevent any such complications when I joined with you.>

<Why?> Xander frowned, <I can see where it could be useful... at least once it was controlled.>

<There are some skills that are simply NOT taught to anyone who has not yet met their first centennial.> Elan replied adamantly. <Empathy, and it's extension Telempathy, are among those skills. Telekinesis, Telepathy, Pyrokinesis, and most other Psionic skills are among those. It's far too dangerous to leave in the hands of someone who has not yet been... weathered.>

Xander sighed, templing his hands as he leaned back in the seat and looked at Merlin again. The Avatar was still waiting patiently, his experience with the Kine allowing him to tell when an inner conversation was going on.

"Are there any methods to block this?" He asked.

"Some, however they are considered to be quite risky." Merlin replied. "Natural empaths are rare, and when one is activated I'm afraid that they almost always lose their sanity in short order. In the case of Miss Chase, it's possible, however, that with Maro to center her she may not slip that far. However, I do not believe that there is any easy solution."

Xander nodded seriously, "Alright... I'll need all the information you can gather on treatments, training, and even technological solutions if any... along with risk assessments... Take your time, I'll be too busy for a couple days, but I'll want to review them on the way back to Sunnydale."

"Yes Commander." Merlin replied, then vanished.

Xander shook his head and sighed. "Never an easy time."

"How bad off is the girl?"

Xander glanced back at Grey, shrugging. "Depends on how deeply her talent has been activated. If she's just getting surface hits, then we're probably ok. If her mind is being overloaded by the input and she's unable to separate reality from fantasy... well, we could have a problem."

Grey grunted, but nodded. "Useful ability if she can control it."

Xander nodded, unable to quite avoid that thought himself.

An Empath would be a near perfect security agent within the Knights, able to literally feel out any trouble long before it began. An Empath bonded with a Rune Weapon could be damned near unstoppable.

Of course, that had it's downsides as well.

Training Cordelia Chase had just taken a far more important place in his list of priorities.

<It's not fair!> Jessie grumbled, keeping his head deep in the book.

<I can't help what I think... or feel... or whatever...>

<It's just that Cordy is so HOT and...>


"Ow! Damn it Willow!" Jessie cursed, batting Willow's hand away. "Cut that out!"

"Well you stop thinking about Cordy." The redhead muttered darkly.

"I can't help it!" He snapped, "What else am I supposed to think about!? Hell, we're researching stuff to help her!"

"I don't think that she'd be looking that angry if you were 'helping' her." Willow pointed.

Jessie looked up and gulped.

Cordelia looked like she was going to KILL him.

He paled a bit, then stuck his head in the book again.

A few minutes later he was snapped back from it by a smack hitting the back of his head.

"Ow! Willow! I wasn't thinking of her!"

"I know." Faith grinned nastily, "But I felt like smacking you."

Jessie groaned.

Chapter 13

The rooms were comfortable, as always, so Xander just tossed his bag on the bed and walked over to the desk. There was a large mirror mounted on the wall there so he sat down and pulled his Eagle and two FiveseveNs and set them each off to one side.

Selecting the Eagle first, Xander stripped the gun with smooth precision, clearing the matt black slide with a single motion, then carefully examining the action before slipping the slide back on and reassembling the weapon.

The FiveseveNs were next, each of the modified machine pistols undergoing the same quick check before Xander reloaded all three pistols and stood up again. He fitted the machine pistols into the shoulder holster, then slid the big hand canon into his hip holster.

Finally, he turned back to the door and grabbed his long coat as he walked out, flipping the heavy armored duster over his shoulders as he walked out.

Grey had taken the Lear back to DC, taking McQueen with him, so Xander was alone in the big apple. He figured he'd check out some friends from the last time, so the guns were probably overkill, but by the same token, he wasn't leaving them behind.

Faith and Cordelia walked out of the school alone, Buffy and the others having stayed behind to prepare for the night's patrol with Wesley.

"Look..." Cordy swallowed, sighing. "Thanks for... you know... everything."

Faith shrugged as they stepped out into the parking lot. "No big. You do the same for someone else someday... Xander did for me, after all."

"You?" Cordelia looked at her sharply.

"Helped me out when I was in a bad place." Faith said.

"Oh." Cordy nodded, hearing the finality in her voice.

"Look, are you alright at home?" Faith asked suddenly, "I mean... you know, with this?"

Cordelia scowled suddenly, hating the reminder of how things felt at home lately. "Yeah. I'll get by."

"That ain't what I asked." Faith said, scowling right back. "Alright, look... Come back home with me... tell your mom that you're sleeping over."


"You heard me." Faith said, "Look... I can't guarantee what you'll pick up from any of us, but we've been cool so far, right?"

"Other then Jessie?" Cordy scowled, but her ire was blunted by a wry kind of grin.

"Yeah, other then that." Faith snickered. "And as far as he goes... You had to know that he wanted to bed you over a desk and..."

"Stop!" Cordy clapped her hands over her ears.

When she dropped her hands, Faith was smirking wide.

"Just don't talk about that, ok?" Cordelia shuddered, "And no, actually I never really thought much past the 'he wants to...'"

"Fuck?" Faith asked with a smirk. "Shag? Ball? Screw?"

"Just stop that!" Cordelia groaned, "But yeah, basically. I sure as hell never got into details about it either."

"Too bad." Faith smirked, "You might have enjoyed it."

"That's NOT funny."

"Oh? So why are you laughing?" Faith asked, her face remarkably straight faced.

Cordelia suddenly realized that she WAS laughing and clamped down hard on herself, searching inside to see if it was HER who was laughing, or Faith whom she was channeling. Finally she decided it was Faith and glowered at the girl, "Cut that out!"

"What? Makin ya laugh?" Faith smirked. "Jeez, since when has that been a crime?"

"Since I want to be pissed off!"

Faith smirked, then Cordy smiled just slightly, and then Faith chuckled softly, and finally they both burst out laughing together. Several moments passed, both girls holding each other up as they laughed, before they finally started to calm down.

"Ah fuck, that's fun." Faith said, panting a little for air. "Look, you want to stay over? I mean, sure Jack might give you a couple heebie jeebies, but..."

"Jack!?" Cordy blinked, "But... he's OLD. Ewwww..."

Faith snorted, "Jack's Jack. And as far as that goes, he ain't hard on the eyes, so don't knock it till ya knock *him*."

"Perverted much?"

"Damn right." Faith grinned. "You?"

Cordy looked like she was going to retort, then just shivered suddenly and looked cold. Faith glanced up and saw a bunch of the football team coming they way.

"Oh shit," She muttered, shoving Cordy along to her car. "Come on, let's go."

Cordelia didn't protest as she was pushed into the drivers seat, and fumbled for the keys.

"Hey Cordy!" One of the linebackers called out, raising his hand as the Vette's engine roared to life.

Cordelia felt awash of sudden emotions, obviously not coming from within herself, and shifted into reverse as her foot slammed down. The tires squealed as they bit into the asphalt and the cheery red vette spun around and rocketed out of the lot.

"Cut! And that's a wrap! Call it a day people, good jobs!"

The crew broke up as Rollie Tyler started packing up his toys.

"Blue," He said, looking up. "Where's my mini-cam?"

The spider like robot shifted, turning around several degrees before stopping, pointing, and emitting a series of yipping sounds. Rollie looked in that direction and noted the camera where it was perched on a piece of scenario.

"Thanks, Blue." He smiled as he walked around the work bench to retrieve the piece of technology.

"You know, I could maybe get you access to a real AI anytime you wanted to trade up from that kids toy." A voice said from behind him.

Rollie didn't look back, he just shook his head and smiled. "Bluey's Family."

"Ah well," Xander Harris grinned, "I know how that goes. I've got more then a couple retarded members of my family that I wouldn't trade up either."

Rollie laughed, turning around. "Long time, Xan. How's the demon hunting biz?"

Xander shrugged, "Booming. How's the demon *making* Biz?"

"Booming." Rollie laughed in return, coming back over and tossing the mini-cam into his tool case. He and Xander laughed together, clasping hands briefly as Angie stepped out of the big black van.

"Oh look. It's back." She said with a wry look as Xander tossed her a smirk.

"Nice to see you again too, Ange." Xander grinned. "How's it going?"

"Slowly." She replied, finally giving him a half smile and nod as she went back about her work. "So, uh, how are the kids?"

"They're doing ok." Xander told her. "Nikon, Cereal, and Phreak are soaking up technology that you only get to dream about, and torturing Joey about it... He swears that he's signing up as soon as his mom lets him out of the house for more then a couple hours."

"What about Dade and Kate?" Angie asked, trying not to sound to concerned.

"Kate's mostly still in school, she wants her degree from MIT before making any decisions." Xander told her... "Dade, well..."

"Well what?" Angie asked, leaving what she was doing and scowling at Xander suspiciously.

Xander half chuckled, "Dade come to me a few months ago and begged for something a little more challenging... So I gave it to him."

"What's that mean?" Rollie asked, confused.

Xander grinned, "Well... Just imagine how miserable Angie here would be if you dropped her off in a Special Forces training center and told her that the only way she was getting back to her computers was if she passed with honors."

Rollie choked, "You didn't!"

Xander grinned.

"He did." Angie shook her head.

Once away from the school, Cordelia let up on the gas and slumped a little in the seat. They drove a ways, no real destination in mind, until Faith spoke up softly.

"Make a right here."

Cordy did, not thinking about it, and found herself on the road that would take her up to Xander's place.

"I... I don't know about this." She said after a moment.

"Hey, you said it yourself, the shit is heavy at home, right?" Faith asked.

"Yeah." She admitted.

"Well then you're staying with us." Faith said simply. "Least t'ill X gets back and we see what he has to say about it. K?"

Cordelia sighed. Her parents wouldn't mind, assuming they noticed, which wasn't as unlikely as she'd like. Her mother might even like it, especially if she thought her daughter was getting 'in' with a millionaire.

<If only she knew.> Cordy suddenly felt an urge to laugh, and scowled suspiciously at Faith for a moment before deciding that it wasn't coming from the other girl.

"Alright," Cordy finally nodded. "For tonight anyway... If you're sure..."

"Oh please." Faith grinned, "Bout the only one you have to worry about is the Kit, and I think that you earned yourself a little bit of leeway when ya hacked that demon to pieces in the living room. The Kit's a simple girl... lot like me really."

"Oh Gag." Cordy rolled her eyes as she turned into the drive. "Save me."

"What do ya think I'm trying to do?" Faith asked with a smirk.

Cordelia Chase glared at Faith then, but the dark Slayer just laughed the glare off and Cordy found, irritably, that it was damnably hard to stay mad at someone when you could *feel* that they were just messing around with you and honestly didn't mean any harm.

<Great. There goes my Ice Queen reputation.> Cordelia grumbled to herself. <Pretty soon I'm gonna be some good two shoes like Willow if this keeps up.>

Cordelia paused then and shuddered. <Oh, GAG!>

Chapter 14

"Here ya go, Mate." Rollie grinned as he sent a bottle of beer on an arcing course across the room.

Xander snagged the bottle from the air without much more then a glance at it, and twisted the cap of with the remains of it's own inertia and a flick of his thumb. As the cap spun through the air, he drew the bottle up and took a long pull from the thin neck and looked at the huge gator beast sitting in the middle of the workshop.

"You like it?" Rollie asked, as Xander's bottlecap struck a wastebasket slightly off angle and ricocheted around the lip a few times before going in. "Made it up for Croc Down Unda Three."

"They're making a third one to that?" Xander asked, with an odd half smile. He didn't remember a third sequel come out.

"Yeah, got some funding a few months ago." Rollie grinned, dropping back into an odd looking chair and setting his feet up on a partial torso that he was currently using as a footstool.

"Cool." Xander shrugged. If nothing else it might give him a reason to turn the TV on a little earlier then scheduled, well other then for that new Xena show.

"Based on an old friend of mine, you know."

"Huh?" Xander glanced over.

"Croc Down Unda." Rollie said, with a painful kind of smile. "And you have no idea how much Mik hates those movies. He and I were brought up by the tribes and all, so when someone managed to licence his story from Wally he got them to give me the FX work."

"Wally?" Xander took a seat on a chair that was perched under a huge hairy monster, and pulled a little piglike monster from where Rollie had nudged it over to him. In a moment he was leaning back beside Rollie, both of them watching the huge gator style beast.

"Friend o his." Rollie grinned, "likes to write checks that Mic has to cash."

Xander chuckled, "Some friend."

"Ah, Wally's good people, just not too bright." Rollie shrugged, grinning suddenly. "Check this out. Bluey!"

The little robot barked sharply.

"Run program Croc One."

The robot backed up a little, twisting it's head around to look at the croc, and a red light flickered on it's head. The thirty foot monster of a gator or croc or whatever suddenly growled to life, it's back arcing as it's jaws opened and it rose up about ten feet. Then it's jaws came together with a crashing sound, and it dropped backdown, shaking from side to side as it destroyed whatever it was eating.

As the sounds died down and the beast fell still, Xander grinned and shook his head. "God damn that's cool."

"Well I thank you, mate." Rollie grinned, extending his bottle over in Xander's direction.

Xander matched the motion and the two bottles clinked before both men pulled them back for another sip.

Faith half kicked the door to the upstairs room open and nodded to Cordy. "Here. Your place, long as you need."

Cordelia shook her head, "I don't think..."

"Hey, long as you need." Faith repeated. "Look, Xan's fuckin rich, k? That lotto bullshit is just that, bullshit. He's got WAY more then you win in any lotto. Me? I've got enough of my own now too, thanks to some friends and our habit of taken what the dead demons don't need no more. I ain't in X's league, but I could buy a nice place around here, no trouble. You know Tara?"

Cordy nodded, finding it a little hard to forget the girl she'd knocked silly for trying to help her.

"Blondy's making good cash too, working with X. She'd do it free, but X has her on a weekly pay thing, plus money to a trust for when she's eighteen." Faith told her, "No one here is hurtin for money. Hell, even Jack's got some deal going on the side now... though I couldn't tell you what the fuck it is. We ain't hardship cases here, so a room ain't gonna make any of us flinch. K?"

Cordelia grimaced, "I guess I am a hardship case."

Faith shrugged, "You want to think of it that way, then yeah."

Cordelia's eyes flashed.

"But not the way you're thinking." Faith smirked. "Look, you got hit with some shit you couldn't control. Not 'didn't'... Couldn't. Shit happens. You gotta deal now, we can help. Only a real loser don't take help when they need it."

Cordelia flinched and, while she didn't notice it, so did Faith.

"Hey Rollie!" A booming voice rang out over the chuckles.

Rollie grinned, "Hey Leo! In here!"

Detective Leo McCarthy stepped over one of Rollie's more mobile projects, turning around full circle as he watched the little thing trundle off to some corner or another. He turned back around, walking over to where he had heard Rollie yell from and could now see a hand waving a bottle of beer in the air.

"Hey Rollie, I need a..." Leo paused, coming around the corner. "Ah hell, not you."

"Gee, and howdy doo to you too, Leo." Xander grinned at him from where he was lounging in *Leo's* chair. "Oh, by the way, thanks for the report you wrote up... The cops in LA used it to track me down when I headed back there."

"Leo!" Rollie blurted, "You didn't!"

"I had to write a report, Rollie!" Leo objected, "And I didn't put anything like a picture or whatever in it..."

Xander chuckled, "Seriously, it was no problem anyway. By the time they figured out who I was, they also figured out that they were over their heads... Stubborn ass cops wouldn't back off, but at least they got turned around to the real badguy."

"Yeah, funny thing about cops." Leo muttered, grabbing a beer and straddling a stool. "We actually like to take down the bad guys if someone gives us enough information to decide."

Xander smirked, but just took a sip.

"So what brings you back to my town, kid?" Leo asked finally, "Short visit I hope?"

"Should be." Xander smiled, "I got a party to go to tomorrow night... upscale business thing, you wouldn't know about it."

"Smartass." the NYPD cop growled.

"Anyway, this guy Winch..."

"Winch?" Rollie leaned forward, eyes widening slightly. "Largo Winch? Group W 'Winch'?"

"That's the guy." Xander nodded.

"You're running in high circles." Leo muttered, shaking his head. "Course the last time you were hanging out with Kevin Sorbo, so why that surprises me I have no idea."

"Winch is a few levels higher then any actor." Rollie muttered. "The guy is a certified billionaire of the 'multiple' type. And he just inherited it all a few months ago when Nerio Winch threw himself out of his apartment."

"They investigate Largo?" Xander asked.

Rollie shook his head, "No. It was Suicide. Nerio had cancer... terminal. Kinda shook up the business world though... we had a few investors get a little antsy for a couple weeks after Largo took over. Group W has so much swing in the market that if he'd screwed up spectacularly, he could have brought a couple hundred companies down with him."

"Fuck." Xander shook his head. "No pressure there."

Rollie smirked, "Not at all, mate. Anyway, he didn't screw up. He's made some controversial decisions, but they mostly panned out... Group W stock firmed up pretty fast, and it's climbing again now."

Xander nodded, filing the information away. It wasn't anything he couldn't have gotten through Merlin, but it had a little more impact coming from someone who's lively hood had been affected, if only slightly, by the events. Winch was starting to sound like an interesting guy.

"So you're in town to go to a rich folks party." Leo said flatly. "Should I be worried about who's gonna rob this one?"

Xander held his hands up, laughing. "Hey... I had NOTHING to do with those guys and you know it."

"Yeah, right."

Faith watched as Cordelia pushed through the basic Kata that Xander had taught her, noting a few things that Xander hadn't ever gotten around to showing herself. Not that she was jealous, or anything, but it was interesting to watch the technically perfect flow of motion.

Technically perfect, but flawed nonetheless.

"Yer too stiff."

Cordelia stopped abruptly, jerking around in surprise to see Faith behind her. "When did you come in!?"

"Five minutes ago." Faith said, stepping forward, and moving around the other girl. "You're too stiff. You need to flow when you use that style, girl."

"I'm going the best I can."

"Doubt it." Faith smirked, "If you were, you'd have known I was standing there. X says that when you use that style it's all about the flow... everything flows, he says."

"Like that makes ANY sense."

Faith shrugged. "Maybe not... But what I think it means is that... there's a kind of power in things that don't... stop."

"What??" Cordelia stared at her.

"Look, when you were doing your moves, you would do one move... then another... then another... right?"

"Yeah?" Cordy blinked, "So?"

"X doesn't do it like that. X does one move that never stops... it just changes." Faith told her. "He doesn't stop, he just lets one more flow into the next. You finish one move, then do the next."

"So what..." Cordy said defensively.

"When you stop... you stop the energy too... stop the power." Faith tried to explain, not really knowing for herself if she was getting it right. "What you want to do is pull the power from one move into the next one... like... like... like this."

Faith fell back, then shifted into a martial stance. She moved forward suddenly, her arms arcing around in circular motions as she pivoted at the waist and brought her right foot up into a crescent kick. As the kick came down, she moved with the fall of her foot and lashed out with two powerful spinning ridgehands, and finally followed through with a flying spin kick that was powered by the energy and motion she'd stored into her movement.

As she came down she let the arc change and dropped into a pivot as her kick reversed direction and turned into a sweep, Faith's hair brushing the mats as her body went with the motion.

She finally just slid to a stop, letting the power bleed off naturally as he foot slid against the floor. Then she snapped her head up, flipping the hair from her eyes and looked up from her four point crouch to where Cordelia was staring.

"Kinda like that."

Chapter 15

The morning sun woke Cordelia up, leaving her feeling lost for a moment as she realized that she wasn't in her own bed. The feeling passed as the memories came crashing back and she groaned and closed her eyes again.

A few moment passed before she opened them again, and sighed.

At the least, she wasn't feeling the same oppressive weight that had dogged her for the past few weeks. It wasn't pleasant, what she felt now, but it wasn't unbearable anymore either.

That was when it clicked in, and her eyes widened in realization.

Since she had realized what was going on, the feeling of oppressiveness had faded, but the sensations she felt were getting sharper all the time.

As she thought that, Cordelia was assaulted by a wave of frustration from nearby and groaned softly as she sank down into the bed again. She didn't know where it was coming from, but it was overpowering.

She squeezed her legs together then, biting into her pillow as she felt herself actually dampen from the feeling. She moaned softly, unable to help herself, as he hand went down between her legs.

<Oh God!> She groaned, rolling over, unable to hold still as she kept rubbing. <What's happening to me!?>

She got her knees under her, lifting her ass into the air as her hand kept moving back and forth, then around in little circles. She couldn't stop now, the feeling hitting her so hard it was blinding, and just buried her head in the pillow as she came the first time.

The sensation didn't stop then, though, it kept building, and Cordelia kept rubbing herself as she moaned into the pillow.

Faith sighed as she finished herself off and climbed out of bed.

<This kiddy shit is getting me down.> She thought as she made her way to the closet and grabbed a few clothes from it.

She habitually slept in the nude, so the slim girl held up a couple outfits in front of her flushed and sweating body, pausing after a moment and smiling.

<Not bad.> She thought, turning side on so she could examine her breasts in the mirror. <Almost there...>

They were certainly shaping up, she noted appreciatively. Maybe she'd have a shot at a half decent lay without feeling to fucking dirty, just maybe.

<Too bad X is involved again.> She shrugged, flipping the pants and blouse over her shoulder and heading the for bathroom. <Least with him, no strings was no strings.>

She smirked suddenly, <Could give Jessie a whirl... Maybe he'd cut C a break. Ha!>

Chuckling to herself, the physically young girl tossed the clothing onto a closed hamper and flipped on the shower.

<Thank GOD that's over.> Cordelia lay, limbs splayed out across the bed, bare ass pointing at the ceiling, as she tried to summon the strength to move.

<That was just SO wrong.> She thought, her mind viciously clamping down on the part of her that had enjoyed the experience.

She knew that she had tapped into someone else, though she didn't know who.


Cordy grimaced.

Like HELL she didn't know who.

<Who else?> She sighed, rolling over and groaning as she pulled herself off the bed.

"Must shower." She mumbled, staggering toward the bathroom.

If this empathy thing got any worse, she was going to be a complete basket case. No doubt about it.

The sun was high in the sky when Xander opened his eyes.

He'd technically woken up some time earlier, but had taken the down time to slip back into the Dream Time for a workout.

He through the covers off himself and climbed out of bed, stretching slowly as he let out a long, low breath that purged his system.

He glanced at the clock and nodded to himself, <Time for a shower, shave, and some food. The party doesn't start for a few hours.>

The highscale affair, invite only, was starting at four o'clock for an early supper and was expected to go for several hours at one of Group W's Hotels. Merlin had already arranged for his invite, and had even complimented the Group W electronic security division. Apparently it had taken almost three seconds to decrypt their network security.

Which was impressive as hell, given that Merlin could be inside the CIA's systems in under two.

Xander showered, and grabbed a fresh set of clothes then kitted himself out before leaving the room.

"Hey C." Faith said cheerfully as Cordelia semi-staggered into the kitchen and glared at her.

Faith stopped just as she bit into a piece of toast, eyes darting around the room.

"Whut?" She mumbled, tearing the toast with a flick of her hand and offering half to Cordy, "What some?"

"I do not." Cordelia glared at her.

"Jeez, C." Faith muttered, shaking her head. "What's bit your butt?"

"Oh I don't know... You always do that when you wake up?" Cordelia's eyes flashed.

Faith froze for a moment, then shrugged. "Yeah. Feel that did you?"

"You could say that."

"Sorry." Faith shrugged, grabbing an apple and tossing it at Cordy. "Here. Eat."

"Sorry!?" Cordy caught the apple reflexively. "Sorry!? That's it!? Sorry!?"

"Fuck, C..." Faith chewed on her food as she shrugged, "What you want from me? Least I'm not pissed off about you listening in."

"Listening...!?" Cordelia's eyes widened, "Now you listen in to this, you little tramp....!"

"Hey." Faith's head snapped up, glaring, "What I do in my room... That's my business. You think you wouldn't get the same anywhere else? Try it. Maybe you'd get a kick out of what mommy and daddy do after hours, huh?"

Cordelia shuddered. "Oh Ick!"

"That's life, C." Faith smirked, "Besides... Just out of curiosity...?"

"What?" Cordelia asked cautiously.

"Was it good for you?" Faith asked with a smirk.

Xander grabbed a hotdog from a vendor as he walked through the park, mostly just ambling as he looked around.

The last time he'd been in New York he hadn't really seen much of anything, besides the Statue of Liberty and some of the local 'color'. So he took his time now, walking along as the sun beat down around him.

There was still snow in a lot of the state, from what he could tell from the news and such, but New York was already pushing up past the 'warm' point on the thermometer and reaching toward 'sweltering'. The park was green, and there were some early flowers blossoming, and overall it was a nice day for a walk.

And even then, he had to stop and shiver as a chill passed over him, like a shadow over his soul.

<What the hell?> Xander paused, half turning.

He looked around him, eyes snapping from side to side as he tried to locate the source of the feeling, but he saw nothing but other walkers, some vendors, and the maintenance people.

After a moment the chill passed, and the warmth returned, so Xander began to move again. He moved in the other direction, though, backtracking on a hunch, and walked a little faster then normal.

A few moments later he was rewarded by the chill once more.

<What the hell is that, Elan?>

<I am... uncertain.> She said softly, her own senses extended through his. <It must be mobile... a person?>

<Nothing human.> Xander half muttered.

<Do not assume so. It could very easily be a human leaking energy like you do when you tap my power.> Elan corrected him. <It does not feel demonic.>

<Just fucking cold.> Xander shivered.

<That is psychological.> She told him, <Accept it and it will go away.>

<Yeah right.> Xander muttered, but followed her directions anyway.

A moment later the chill bled off again, but he could still feel the power.

<Better.> Elan told him, <Do you see any likely persons?>

<Too many out here.> Xander shook his head. <Could be anyone.>

<They must be roughly paralleling your current path,> Elanthielle corrected. <Likely they will be confident as well... this is a potent power.>

<Yeah, but they're leaking it at an atrocious rate.> Xander replied.

<Agreed, however you are little better.>

Xander had to concede the point, but quickly came back with a counter. <Yeah, but most of the time you and I have zero blink on the old mystical RADAR... So is this person amping for a fight?>

<I think not.> Elan said thoughtfully, <I believe that whatever force is backing this power is not so controlled as I... it's more... feral.>


Xander shook his head as he moved through the crowds, eyes darting around as he tried to find the source of the general power leak. There were dozens of people moving in the same directions as him, men, women, children. Some in biker leathers, some in business suits, nothing that he could pin down.

Not a damned thing.

<Great.> Xander repeated. <This is *just* what I needed today.>

Chapter 16

The street looked different under the enhanced vision, the crowds pulsating as they walked and talked and *lived* along the way through the lives.

Each human that moved around him was like a unique pulse of life and light, but Xander wasn't looking for that. He wanted the source of power he'd been feeling, but whatever it was, for all it's alien feel, it didn't seem to stand out substantially from normal humans.

He narrowed his eyes as he came to the edge of the park, stepping to a curb and looking around carefully.

It was close, he could feel the buzz around him growing stronger.

"I'm telling you, Pez, you're scaring me." An asian man was saying as Xander's eyes alighted on a couple that was moving along the street toward him.

"Relax." A woman replied, a cocky smile on her lips and faint amusement in her eyes. "I've got it covered."

<It's her.> Xander and Elan thought at the same time, Xander's eyes locking onto the woman solidly.

She wasn't precisely what he would call beautiful, though Xander had to admit that his standards of such were rather inflated all things considered, but the woman was without a doubt one of the most *striking* he had ever seen. Her features were sharp, just a little too sharp for conventional mores probably, and her face had a hard edge to it that reminded Xander of Faith when her shields snapped into place.

The woman noticed him almost immediately, her own gaze snapping up to look at him.

"You got a problem, Buddy?" She asked aggressively.

"No problem..." Xander shook his head, "You just remind me of someone."

"Right..." She nodded skeptically, turning to keep an eye on Xander as she moved past.

Her friend, grabbed her shoulder and straightened her out. "You see, Sarah? That's what I'm talking about. That kid didn't say anything to you..."

"Sorry..." She shrugged, straightening out her leather jacket. "Sorry, Sorry Danny. I'm just on edge lately."

"Don't I know it." The Asian man smiled. "Look, let's get back to the station. We'll grab a coffee and some danish on the way?"

"I've love to but... uh..." The Sarah nodded her head over one shoulder, "I've got someone I need to see. I'll catch you later, ok?"

"Ok." The man nodded, "Just take it easy, ok Pez?"

"You got it, Danny." the woman smiled.

Xander watched as the two parted company, the woman jaywalking across the busy avenue and heading down a street as the Asian made his way over to a parked car and climbed in. Xander ignored the man, he was more interested in the power he was feeling off the woman.

As the woman vanished from sight, around a corner, Xander sprinted across the street, easily evading the traffic with moves fast enough that few of the cars even had time to slow down before he was past them. He paused at the corner, feeling the power gradually fade a bit, then slipped around.

She was walking along about a half block ahead of him, so Xander started after her. He walked slowly, letting her move up on him until she was just at the edge of the range he could feel her power leakage, then he sped up a bit.

School felt strange to Cordy as she tentatively stepped through the doors.

She HATE the fact that she was feeling to frightened, so damned timid.

It wasn't her, but the press of emotions around her were like a constant barrage of attacks, making her jumpy as she moved slowly through the hall.


Cordelia looked up just as Harmony swooped in on her, all smiles. "We were just talking about you..."

Cordelia closed her eyes, assaulted by a sudden sensation of sickly satisfaction that felt somehow wrong to her.

"... did you really give that low bred *skank* a lift yesterday?" Harmony went on, "Like, my god Cordelia, I wouldn't let her scum up my seats..."

"Considering the stuff you and the football team leave on the seats, I wouldn't worry bout what I might leave behind blondy." Faith snarled as she pushed between them , giving Harmony more strength to the shove then she really had too, and kept moving.

Harmony stared, wide eyed at Faith's strutting back. "She can't say that!"

"Looks like she did." Cordelia said wryly, getting her air back as Harmony's attention was distracted. "I've got to get to Class, Harm."

"Huh? Oh, yeah... but..." Harmony glared after Faith, then looked back to where Cordelia was walking away. Then she realized that she'd missed her chance to cut Queen C down a few pegs.

"Damn it!" The blond stomped her feet and hurried off after Cordelia.

"" Xander said softly into his foldcomm. "Intel."

"Is a primarily web based clearing house devoted to antiquities and oddities from human... and occasionally demonic... culture." Merlin's voice responded a scant instant later. "The owner and proprietor is one Gabriel Bowman. Twenty years of age, reportedly brilliant however his schooling records don't entirely agree. He founded the company four years ago and has trafficked in a disturbing number of authentic artifacts since then."

"Great," Xander snorted, shaking his head.

He waited, just down the block from where the woman had vanished, and sighed. "Fine. Merlin, run me a city wide search... two names, Sarah and 'Pez'. Woman, mid to late twenties, dark hair... cross reference with"

"Working." Merlin took the time to state.

The search took over a minute this time, and Xander was wondering what was taking so long when Merlin spoke up again.

"One potential match found." Merlin replied after a moment.


"Sarah Pezzini. NYPD, career officer, family tradition. Has a reputation for being reckless, but effective. I am unable to find any direct connection to, however."

Xander frowned, "Service photo?"

"Of course."

"Send it."

A moment later Xander was staring at a hologram of the woman he was following. "It's her. She's connected to talismaniac somehow."

"Very well, I've updated my files." Merlin replied, "Though there is one potential connection which previously existed. Detective Pezzini was involved in a case at the museum a short time ago, many artifacts were stored there, and the record indicates that she made inquiries about one of them."

"Which one?"

"Unknown. The responses were the same... No such artifact was at the exhibit."

"Figures." Xander smirked, then stiffened as the woman emerged from the store. He faded back as she walked toward him, and let her pass.

He followed her with his eyes from the safety of the shadows, but decided against following her any further. Instead he emerged from the alley and walked toward the building that apparently housed

The teacher was droning on at the board as Cordelia tried to stifle a moan.

She'd been fighting off the assaulting emotions all morning, but they were getting worse as the teacher's droning became less and less interesting.

Somewhere in the class, someone was watching her.

She could feel that now.

It was one of the guys, she hoped it wasn't Jessie, and didn't think it was cause Willow had frog marched the boy to his seat with a determined look on her face, sparing Cordelia only a brief glance.

The eyes on her moved, down her back she thought, but it was hard to tell suddenly as the world seemed to spin. Cordy's snapped open wide as she felt hands on her head, pulling her down, down against something. She tried to fight it, but couldn't control herself as she felt her mouth open and was suddenly filled up by whatever it was.

It was warm and stiff and Cordy's eyes bulged as she felt it push against the back of her mouth.

She gagged, slamming her hands down on the desk, and bolted upright.

"Miss Chase!" The teacher glared at her.

Cordelia stumbled out of her chair, running for the door with desperate motions, slamming into the teachers desk and sending papers flying as she pushed through the door and into the hall where she collapsed to the ground and gagged.

"Miss Chase... Cordelia?" The teacher came out behind her, quietly closing the door. "Are you alright?"

Cordelia felt the concern, tempered though it was by irritation, and nodded desperately as her eyes watered. "I... I'm just not feeling good today."

"I'll write you a note. I want you to see the nurse right away."

She nodded weakly, slowly picking herself up off the ground.

"Can I help you?"

"You Bowman?"

Gabriel eyed the young man who had came into his little shop, uncertain what to make of him. Gabe rarely met with clients, his work was mostly done over computers, and this kid was too young to be a client anyway.

"Yeah... Who are you?"

"Harrison." Xander said, slapping a card into the other man's hand.

Gabe looked down at it.

Alexander Harrison, Renaissance Technologies Inc.

"Can I help you, Mr Harrison?" Gabe asked politely, wondering what was going on.

"Oh... maybe." Xander nodded, looking around. "Nice collection you have here. Very... eclectic."

"Yes, well my clients have eclectic tastes."

Xander half smiled, "I'm sure they do. Why don't you tell me about what you do."

Gabe eyed him for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Alright... Well, I locate, procure, and act as a middle man in the search for rare antiquities...."

Chapter 17

The young man had interesting taste.

Gabe watched as Alexander Harrison moved slowly through the room, pausing in front of some things, ignoring others. He wasn't certain, but Harrison seemed to have a sixth sense for the more interesting artifacts, stopping much longer in front of ones rumored to have curses or mystical powers.

After a long period if silence, during which Gabe watched his every move, Xander looked up. "Very impressive collection. Possibly the fifth best I've personally seen, though not in the top ten that I know of, of course."

"Private collectors have deep pockets." Gabriel replied, shrugging. "I don't even try to match them. I'm in business, catering to those with money is what I do."

Xander nodded, fingers gently running a Pre-Summarian War God Idol. "That's true enough. My own 'collection' of such things is limited, though I do have a controlling interest in one of the most... unique collections on the planet."

"I see." Gabe nodded slowly, "And you're interested in selling?"

Xander looked up sharply, "no. No, however I will open an account... two actually. Corporate and Personal, just in case you come across anything... interesting."

"Very well, I can do that." Gabe slid a computer keyboard and twisted a flatscreen monitor around to where he could see it. "I'll need some information, of course."

Xander nodded and supplied Bowman with the information he wanted, then stepped back. "I'll be looking forward to future dealings, Mr Bowman."

"So will I, Mr Harrison." Gabriel said with an odd quirk to his smile.

"Good day then."

"Don't look at me!"

Faith heard the snarled order as she pushed her way into the library, and spotted Wesley almost instantly duck his head into a book. She moved in a little further before seeing Cordelia, where the formerly ultra confident girl was curled in a chair in the corner.

"Shit, C!" She started forward in surprise, "What the fuck!?"

Cordelia glared openly at her, and she slid to a stop.

"Don't look at me." Cordelia muttered, looking away herself.

Faith stopped, staring in shock as she took in Cordelia's appearance. The Cheerleader was pale now, shivering. Her skin had a sheen of sweat that pasted her locks to her scalp, and her eyes were darting around in a near panic.

"Jesus." Faith whispered.

"She's been here since third period." Wesley said softly then, taking care not to look at Cordelia as he approached Faith. "I'm not certain what happened, but it doesn't take much imagination to figure out the general story."

"Yeah... yeah..." Faith nodded, staring at Cordelia. "I get you, Wes. You find anything?"

"Nothing more then what we already have."

"Alright," Faith clapped a hand on Wesley's shoulder. "Thanks. I'll handle this... keep looking, ok?"

Wesley nodded, his expression more then a little grateful as Faith moved towards Cordelia. He went back to his books as the younger girl took Cordy's arm and pulled her out of the chair like a rag doll. "Alright, come on, C."

Cordelia let herself be guided, mostly carried, from the library and through the halls. There were a few people there now, but not many, and those that got too close backed off fast at a snarl from Faith. Faith carried Cordelia outside and into the parking lot, depositing her in the passenger side of the Vette, then took the girl's keys and jumped the door on the driver's side.

A few seconds later, the vette roared out of the lot.

Xander checked the time, noting that the party would be starting in a little under an hour.

He'd returned to his hotel room, satisfied for the moment in what he'd learned. Whatever was the source of the leaking power that surrounded Detective Pezzini, it didn't appear to be of immediate threat. Her record as a cop, while not exemplary, was that of a good cop who didn't always follow procedures.

Xander smirked, he wasn't one to hold that against someone.

As long as she did her job and didn't come up on his RADAR as a threat, he wasn't going to worry too much about the power he'd felt. Though, if he had a chance, Xander made a note to check in on her in the future.

In the meantime, Merlin had flagged the good detective's name, and could do a better job of monitoring her then he could anyway.

So Xander finished buttoning up his black silk shirt and reached for his guns.

The FiveseveN's, with three clips apiece, fitted under his arms and hugged snugly against his body as he fastened down the straps. Xander checked how they hung in the mirror, knowing that if they were out of place, the excellent tailoring of his very expensive suit would be wasted.

Satisfied, he slid two daggers into the straps where they hung down his back, the pommels hanging just in reach if he needed them.

Eight more clips followed, mounted perpendicular to his spine in two ranks of four, just as he'd learned from Lady Croft so long ago. It wasn't the automatic dispenser that she preferred, but he had had his clothes tailored to hide the immobile system.

He glanced at his Desert Eagle, the black frame of the heavy pistol resting on the desk a few feet away, and walked over to it, picking the hefty weapon up.

His military web holster wasn't going to be an option for the night, so he slid the big .44 into a black leather one with a clip and slid the big weapon into the small of his back, just under the hanging ammunition.

A glance in the mirror brought a twisted smile to Xander's face, but he just swept the tailored jacket over his shoulders and let it settle into place.

It hung low enough to cover his Eagle in back, and the tailored hang of the material swung easily over his FiveseveN's, so Xander nodded and smiled as he checked himself out in the mirror.

<Not bad.> Elan said into his mind, voice tinged with amusement.

<Thanks.> Xander replied, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Now... I do believe that we have a party to attend, MiLady."


"Back!" Faith ordered, hand sweeping Jack out of the way as she half carried Cordelia inside. "In fact, out!"


"Out... take a couple hours on the town, ok Jack? She needs the space." Faith told him.

"Uh... Alright, ok. I'm gone." Jack Styles replied, nodding, eyes flicking briefly to look at Cordelia with concern.

Faith nodded, shooting him a look of gratitude as the colonial vanished.

"Come on, C." Faith grunted, "Let's get you to bed."

She mostly carried Cordelia up the stairs, though she wasn't sure of Cordy was actually weak, or if she was just too far gone to care. Once upstairs, she deposited the physically older girl into the bed and retreated to another room.

She grabbed her Fold Comm there, and slapped it to her Jaw.

"Yo, Merl."

Merlin's voice came back with the electronic equivalent of a long suffering sigh. "Yes, Miss Tasker?"

"I've got a shitload of problem here. You got anything new on this empathy deal?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Damn." Faith swore.

"What has occurred?"

"C is in bad shape... Don't know what happened, but she's really out of it. Almost as bad as when she was attacked by Darla."

Merlin was silent a moment, "Perhaps that isn't such a bad analogy."


"Miss Chase... tell me, is she popular?" Merlin asked.


"Answer the question please."

"Well, hell yeah. So?"

"And I'm assuming attractive?"


"From the Commander's descriptions of the girl, I assume that she normally flaunts this attractiveness?"

Faith shrugged, "Shit yeah. So what? I do too. If you got it..."

"Yes, perhaps, however you are not an Empath... Particularly not as high functioning one as Miss Chase appears to be." Merlin replied, "Out of all the males in the school... How many are likely to fantasize about her in particular?"

"Fuck," Faith shrugged off hand, "Damn near all of..... Oh.... shit."



Xander handed the hastily forged card over, not worrying about it. His invitation was legit, even if the card was, so the numbers would check out. Well, as legit as far as anyone could tell.

He passed through the doorman, smiled politely at the hostess who offered him a drink, and moved further into the room with the champagne in hand. It was a high class gathering, that much was certain, even he recognized some of the face in the room and most of them dwarfed his own modest assets by several times, at least.

Finding Largo Winch was his primary concern for the moment, though, not hobnobbing with the New York elite.

"We've got another one."

Joy sighed, closing her eyes. "Where is he?"

"Just passing the bar now," The Russian accepted voice said in her ear. "He's packing at least three guns, and quite an impressive amount of ammunition."


"That's correct. Alexander Harrison. He does have all the permits for his weapons, by the way."

Joy nodded, flicking her hand to security. "Alright, we'll just keep an eye on him. Thanks."

"No problem."

Chapter 18

<Security is good.> Xander mused as he picked up a chunk of cheese from a platter and chewed thoughtfully on the snack.

There were five of them watching him at the moment, plus a beautiful woman in a rather slinky dress. Xander nodded politely to her as he passed, smiling as she glared at him.

"Joy Arden." Merlin spoke into his ear, watching the proceedings through the computer Xadner now carried. "Ex-CIA, currently under contract with Mr Winch as part of his security staff. Officially, she is his primary bodyguard."

"Miss Arden," Xander smiled, "So nice to meet you. I was hoping to have a word with Mr Winch some time tonight, if it were possible?"

The woman looked startled for a moment, staring for just a second, but her mind clicked into gear with remarkable alacrity.

"I'm sure it could be arranged, Mr Harrison." Joy replied, unable to quite resist a little name dropping retaliation, then went on to one up the insolent bastard. "However, we don't normally meet with armed gentlemen."

Xander just smiled, "With a bodyguard of your stature, I doubt your boss has anything to worry about."

Her eyes flashed briefly, but Xander just smiled and moved on. "I'll be around, Miss Arden. Give Mr Winch my best, and inform him that I'm truly impressed with his soiree."

Joy watched him walk off, and hissed in annoyance as she gently pressed the ear bud to her ear. "Who is this guy, Karensky?"

"As I've said," Georgy Karensky replied over the radio, "Alexander Harrison. CEO and sole shareholder of Renaissance Technologies Incorporated. He's worth a few hundred million or so, has his fingers in a lot of pies... Mostly technology firms."

"A few hundred million is small fry at this party... He's not acting like small fry." Joy replied.

"Well, there is something off about him."

"Off how?"

"A year ago he just... appeared." Karensky replied, "No real record of how he made his money, though judging from the security flags I'm reading in his record, it was probably government money. He's listed as a trusted asset of the CIA, and has had dealings with the NYPD, LAPD, and the Justice Department. All files are sealed."

"Great." Joy muttered, "An armed spook in a billionaires bash."

"Are you talking about Mr Harrison, or yourself?"

"Shut up Karensky."

"No Ian, I simply can't agree."

Xander turned as a pair of men walked past him, accidently brushing up against the speaker. "Terribly sorry."

"No problem, Son." The man told him, smiling as he deftly flicked an imaginary piece of dust from his suit jacket. "No harm no foul."

Xander nodded and smiled, then turned to the other man and stiffened slightly. The second man, the one named Ian, was looking at him like he was an insect. Xander automatically began to dislike the man without ever having exchanged a word.

"Really, David... As we were discussing..."

The first man, David, rolled his eyes. "You never change, Ian. Don't be rude, introduce yourself."

Then he turned back to Xander and nodded his head as he extended his hand, "I'm David Xanatos."

"Xanatos Industries?" Xander tilted his head, taking the hand. "Pleased to meet you. Alexander Harrison."

Xanatos paused for a second, then looked at Xander with interest. "Renaissance Technologies, right?"

"That's right." Xander half smiled, curious as to how he'd appeared on this man's RADAR. Xanatos' net worth was calculated in multiples of multiples of Xander's own.

"You snaked Armat from under me, young man." Xanatos grinned, "I was expecting to pick up the assets for a steal in open bidding. With the scandal, I didn't think anyone else would be willing to pay the extra it would cost to go direct to the source."

Xander shrugged, "I had spoken with Major TC McQueen and was impressed."

"The Marine who was courtmartialed..." David nodded, "What happened to him?"

"He works in my security division now." Xander replied evenly.

Xanatos smiled, "Good, good. Now, before I'm as rude as my friend here, this is Ian Nottingham. CEO of Vorschlag Industries."

"Good evening," Xander said politely, extending a hand.

Nottingham's hands remained clasped in front of him as he glared at Xander. "Trevor Mitchell was a friend of mine."

Xander froze for a moment, thinking hard on where he'd heard that name before. Finally it clicked, "Ah, Mr Mitchell. Yes, we did take over his business interests a while ago."

"I don't suppose you know where he might be?" Nottingham asked pointedly.

"Oh, I'm afraid not." Xander shook his head, "Mr Mitchell apparently retired to the deep south. I'm afraid that I've never met the man personally."

"Come now, Ian," David Xanatos smiled, "You and I both know that Trevor Mitchell was a bottom feeder. Franlky, I'm just as glad that he decided to bow out of the game..."

Ian Nottingham was about to reply, but was interrupted when a sman with sandy hair and a sharp, hook nose appeared at the side of the group.

"Mr Harrison? Joy informed me that you wanted a word?"

"Ah, Mr Winch." Xander smiled, taking the offered hand. "Yes, actually. I wanted to ask if you'd received my proposal concerning your companies patents from ADV Luminal Technologies."

Largo Winch nodded, "Yes, however I have to regretfully reject your offer."

"Is it not enough?"

"It's more then generous, Mr Harrison." Largo told him, "But I'm not interested in aiding in weapons production. Group W can make it's way in a more responsible manner then that."

"Ah." Xander nodded, "Well, if you say no then it's no I suppose."

Largo nodded, and half started to turn as Xander spoke again.

"I've extended an offer to Fabrique Nationale to pick up the slack you dropped in Kentucky, by the way. The plant will be reopening in a few weeks."

Largo turned back, unperturbed. "That is your right, Mr Harrison. I simply don't believe in weapons manufacture. The world would be a better place without them."

"Only if we all set them down together." Xander retorted with a smile.

"Perhaps. But someone has to start."

Xander shrugged, "You may have a point, Mr Winch. But it won't be me... nor, apparently, you."

Largo looked at him sharply, then noted the other man's glance to where the faintest bulge in his tailored coat betrayed the presence of his Berretta. Largo shrugged, "When people are trying to kill you, you take precautions."

"I believe," David Xanatos said with amusement dancing in his eyes, "That was Mr Harrison's point."

Largo scowled slightly, but didn't lose his composure until he finally smiled and shrugged. "Touche, as they say. However, I'm afraid that it doesn't change my position."

Xander shrugged and was about to respond when a commotion at the door caught his attention.

Fifteen heavily armed men slammed one of the security men ahead of them, throwing the hapless man over the wet bar and out of sight.

In the shocked silence that followed, one of them, their leader presumably, fired a clip into the ceiling on full auto and glared around him.

"Everyone does as we say, and you don't get hurt."

A few shocked people screamed, some fainted.

Xander, David, Ian, and Largo just stared at the group for a long moment until all but Ian spoke together.

"Oh you MUST be kidding."

"Simon, Karensky, we've got trouble..."

"I see them, Joy." Simon Ovrannaz spoke into his radio as he hunched down behind a sculpture and pulled his Berretta.

"I've got them on cameras." Karensky's voice came over the radios. "Fifteen of them... armed with machine pistols and carbines. Be careful."

"Gee, ya think?" Joy muttered in annoyance, standing out in the open as she gauged her chances.

She didn't have much in the way of options, but that didn't worry the ex agent. Out in the open, dressed in the sheer style she was, she was nothing to the gunmen, just another potential hostage, some rich man's arm candy.

Her only problem for the moment was that her primary, her boss, was standing almost fifteen feet away.

If they started firing in that direction, it would take her almost a full second to get between Largo and the bullets.

Far too long.

In the meantime, though, she could only wait. Wait for the chance to use the Walther automatic strapped to her inner thigh.

Sooner or later, the chance always came.

"This shit keeps happening to me." Xander shook his head in wonder. "I have GOT to be cursed."

"We are all cursed, Mr Harrison." Ian Nottingham told him, "In one way or another."

"Ignore Ian," David Xanatos advised him. "He gets like this a lot. I think he has girl problems."

Ian shot Xanatos a dirty look, but didn't comment.

"Join the club." Xander muttered, rolling his eyes. "Well now, how do we handle this, do you suppose?"

"Depends on what they want." David shrugged. "If it's just money, I say we pay them. Picking them off later will be childs play."

"Agreed." The other two said.

Xander just nodded. That was fine with him. And if they wanted...

"Winch! Where is Largo Winch!?"

Chapter 19

"Damn it." Largo muttered.

"I suppose it was too much to hope that they would be interested in money." David Xanatos said mildly.

Xander just grinned.

"What are you smirking at?" Largo growled.

"Sorry," Xander held up his hands, "I'm just happy that they're not after me for once."

Something that sounded suspiciously like a strangled snort came out of David Xanatos' throat. Largo gave him a dirty look, then sighed. "I suppose I should let them know where I am before they do something stupid."

"Somehow I doubt your bodyguard will approve." David told him quietly, glancing over to where Joy Arden was glaring openly in Largo's direction, as if reading his mind.

"Luckily, she works for me, not the other way around." Largo said, taking a step forward. "I'm Largo Winch."

"Get him and bring him over here!" The lead gunman snarled, waving his MP5.

Two men rushed forward, grabbing Largo by the arms and jerked him across the room.

Xander watched them haul the man off and frowned as Largo was ushered out of the room by five of the men, leaving ten watching the guests. He eyed the room in a glance, then frowned.

"They've got all the security guys," He said, "Except for Joy and the guy crouching behind the statue in the back."

"That's Simon." Xanatos replied, "Group W security Chief. He's actually better then he seems at the moment."

"He would have to be." Ian said stonily.

David smiled, then sighed. "I suppose we'll have to do something, Ian."

"Agreed. We can't have rabble like this believe that they can actually get away with something of this nature." Nottingham replied.

"Of course not." Xanatos smiled, "Next time they might interrupt one of *our* parties."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Nice to see you guys have your priorities in order."

"Remain here." Ian told him, "We will deal with this."

Xander half smiled, "Oh, I think I'll tag along. I could use the pointers, you know?"

"More the merrier." David replied with a smirk, his left hand deftly unbuttoning the lower buttons of his jacket.

"That still leaves us two to one odds." Xander said, "And I'm not sure about you guys, but taking ten of them out before they get a chance to hose down the crowd might be a little tricky."

"Well, there is that." David nodded in agreement, "Suggestions?"

"As a matter of fact..." Xander slid a hand under his jacket, drawing out his Field Comp.

The small device was a cylinder not much bigger then one of the M41's 20mm grenades, it's outer coating a glazed obsidian black that held no relief for controls or any apparent form of input or display. Xander palmed the small device easily, then let it go against his leg. It slid down his pants, to where he hooked it with his toes and let it fall to the ground with a tiny 'clink'.

"Merlin," Xander replied, "I need a ten count, then a distraction."

"Yes Commander." The voice came back, "Beginning ten count... now."

Xander kicked the cylinder away from him.

As it rolled across the floor, angling toward a clear spot in the room, David Xanatos leaned in. "What is that? Grenade?"

Xander shook his head, smiling. "Wait for it. Seven seconds."

Behind him, Ian didn't noticeably change, but the man tensed inside as he prepared to move. David slid one hand under his coat, grasping the pistol grip he found there.

And Xander caught the eye of Joy Arden, who was looking increasingly frustrated, and flashed her a silent hand signal.

Move in five seconds.

Fifteen feet away the ex-CIA agent's eyes widened, and she reacted automatically according to training, rather then think about it. "Simon, we're moving on three."

"What!?" Simon Ovrannaz, ex-thief, hissed. "Are you crazy? We can't..."



"One!" Joy Arden hissed fiercely as everything went to hell.

"Freeze! Police!" A voice screamed in the room, startling everyone into a crouch save those who had been expecting it, or something.

The gunmen turned in the direction of the yell, eyes widening in shock as they saw an entire SWAT team standing by the windows, guns raised. They didn't take time to realize that the windows were intact, or that the team wasn't actually moving, they just turned as one and raised their weapons to fire.

In that moment, five others in the room moved.

Xander was first, having expected the form, more or less, that the distraction would take. His FiveseveN's slid from their holsters like they had been greased, and he quickly tracked them onto the first of the gunmen. His heart hammered in his ears for that second of action, then fell silent as he amped his senses and moved voluntarily into that combat zone that was so familiar to veterans.

He saw the flash from the barrel of his pistols as the first shot ripped out, but the roar never reached him as his mind automatically blanked out his own sounds so that it could focus on those created by others. His eyes flickered from the front sight of one pistol to the front sight of the other in rapid fire motion as he centered the pistols on one target after another, squeezing the triggers in rapid succession.

A whine entered his mind, coming from just behind and to the right, where David Xanatos had stood and a stray flicker of attention went back to it's source, though he couldn't turn to see it. The whine rose, then vanished, and then was followed by a sharp crack and Xander knew that it was weapons fire, though he didn't know what kind.

Across the room, Simon Ovrannaz rose from behind the sculpture, turning first on instinct toward the 'police', but his gun was already tracking back to the gunmen as he watched the scene unfold. It was incredible, he decided, the entire world moving in slow motion around him as he pivoted back to target the nearest gunman.

The younger man, Mr Harrison part of his mind filled in, was already firing, two guns blazing like some hero from a bad movie. David Xanatos had a large pistol out and had slid back to back with Harrison as he targeted bad guys on the other side. The third man, Ian something, had simply vanished.

<Where did he go?> Simon blinked, then his pistol fell on his first target and he fired.

In another section of the room, Joy Arden had fallen into a crouch, her hands hiking her long dress up as she pulled the Walther from her thigh and lifted it to a crouched shooting position, only to find that...

The battle was over.

Xander slowly circled the room to the left, Xanatos doing the same to the right, until they both had checked the entire 360 degree turn. Only then did they lower their weapons somewhat.

"Well," David smiled, "That was invigorating."

Xander half smiled, passing his left hand pistol over to his right hand and holding both of them together as he hit the clip release and let both clips fall into his jacket pocket.

"Yeah. Wasn't it?" He asked, drawing two more clips and slid them home with a click.

Somehow, across the room, Ian Nottingham was standing over three bodies whose heads were turned at unnatural angles while he poured himself a glass of brandy. Xander eyed the man briefly, and made a note not to unnecessarily annoy either Ian Nottingham, or Vorshlag Industries.

Beside him, David Xanatos was returning his pistol to his jacket.

"Nice pistol." Xander said, having caught a brief glance of it.

"Prototype EM gun." David half smiled, "My companies don't share Mr Winch's thought's on weapons research. That was an... interesting distraction, by the way."

"Prototype field computer." Xander returned the half smile, walking over to where the cylinder had stopped.

David eyed it with interest when Xander picked it up. "Where's the keyboard?"

"Wherever I want it to be." Xander returned with a smile. "Holographic interface."

Which was simplifying matters quite a lot, Xander thought, given that the small device actually have no less the five distinct interface methods, and the holographic was the most basic level.

"Impressive." David said with a nod.

"Indeed." Ian said, arriving with a glass of brandy in hand. "I wasn't aware of any research programs quite that advanced."

Xander smiled, "Then I suppose my security people are to be complimented."

Xanatos laughed appreciatively, and even Ian smiled slightly, just as Joy Arden and Simon Ovrannaz walked up.

"Are you alright?" Joy asked the three of them.

"Certainly." David replied with an offhand gesture.

"Very well, thank you for your aid, but if you'd please remain here my team will handle the rest of..." Simon started to say, but was cut off back a sharks smile from David.

"Oh, I don't think so, Mr Ovrannaz."

"Mr Xanatos, I can't guarantee your safety..." Simon started.

"Mr Ovrannaz," David Xanatos said sternly, "The majority of your security team has been eliminated or incapacitated and you still have five armed men holding Mr Winch hostage. You need all the help you can get just now."


"Besides," David Xanatos smiled as he once more drew his pistol, "We can't let some two bit gunmen shoot Largo..."

"Indeed." Ian Nottingham said in agreement, "They mind send the wrong impression."

"Wrong impression!?"

"We can't have people thinking that they can just go out and shoot a billionaire, now can we?" David smiled, looking disturbingly like a human shark. "

Simon stared at them in shock for a moment, mouth agape.

"Well, I'm not a billionaire," Xander mock sighed, then slyly smiled. "But I suppose I should tag along anyway... For future security, you understand."

David's laugh boomed, and even Ian smiled a little.

"That's the right attitude." Xanatos said, clapping Xander on the back.


Chapter 20

"What's this all about?" Largo asked, glancing over his shoulder.

"Shut up!" The gunman growled, slamming the butt of the MP5 between Largo's shoulders.

The billionaire caught himself as he stumbled forward, regaining his balance as quickly as the blow had robbed him of it, and continued along the hall.

"If this is about money, we can come to some arrangement..."

"Not everything is about money, Winch." One of the gunmen growled.

Largo's eyes flicked back, "Then maybe you could explain this to me? I'd hate to die without knowing why..."

"You'll find out soon enough." The leader growled, showing him again. "Is this your computer center?"

Largo nodded, glancing at the doors. "This is the location of the central servers for Group W... I don't know why you wanted to come here, we could have gotten any information you wanted from my office terminal."

"Not any information." The leader growled, shoving Winch down into a chair. "Stay put. Greg! Get onto it."

"You got it." Another man said, shouldering his weapon as he went forward to one of the server farms and located an access terminal.

Largo watched them work, eyeing the proficiency with witch the man entered information into the computer, his eyes then shifting to watch one of the hidden cameras as his hand gently rapped the butt of his Berretta.

"Largo is in the server room." Georgy Karensky said over the radio, "All five men are in there with them... One of them is trying to access Group W files."

"Can you tell which ones?" Joy Arden asked, hand clasped over her ear as she and the others paused around a corner down the hall from the room in question.

"Not from here." Karensky said, sounding confused. "Odd... I can't even tell if they've accessed the system through my computers..."

"Alright," Simon said, cutting him off. "I'm guessing that's important any everything, but we'll save it for later. For now we have to get Largo out of there."

"Right." Karensky replied, shaking his head. "Ok... Three guards are by the door. One is next to Largo, he's halfway into the room and sitting down. The last is working on the computer on the far side of the room... his weapon is slung over his shoulder."

"Alright," Simon nodded, looking around. "Joy and I will go first. We'll take out the guards by the door..."

"No." Ian shook his head. "I will handle the three guards."

"Mr Nottingham," Joy Arden growled, "Don't be a fool."

Ian glowered at her darkly, "I'm not. I, however, and better trained and equipped mentally then any of you for this task. If I am to be part of this, I will choose my own role."

"I'm in agreement with Mr Nottingham." Xander spoke up quietly.

"What?!" Everyone looked at him like he was insane.

"Mr Nottingham is obviously Special Forces trained." Xander said, eyeing the dark man carefully. "The way he moves, the way he eliminated those three earlier. Further, Mr... Ovrannas is it?"

Simon nodded tensely.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, but he's in better shape then either of you." Xander said flatly. "He also, no offense intended to you, Mr Nottingham, has no real investment in saving your boss."

Ian just shrugged.

"So he and I," Xander said, "Will remove the closest guards. Mr Xanatos, Mr Ovrannaz, and Ms Arden will then proceed through the break and eliminate any remaining gunmen before they can make a move against Mr Winch. Ms Arden, I suggest that you eliminate the gunmen close to your boss while Simon here covers the one at the server."

The others eyed him for a moment, then David Xanatos spoke dryly. "Do this often, do we?"

"Nah. Normally I just firebomb the room." Xander replied with a half smile. "Hostages aren't often a concern."

"Remind me not to underestimate you in the future." David replied with a matching half smile. "If I ever go gunning for your company, I'll have to remember to make sure I bring enough assets."

"You do that." Xander smiled, "But for now, let's move."

Four of them nodded, but Simon Ovrannaz was still looking around, a little stunned. "Hey now wait a minute...!"

But it was too late, so the ex-thief groaned and chased off after them.

"I think I've found it, Boss." the one at the computer said, looking over his shoulder.

The man near Largo looked up, "Are you sure?"

"It's heavily encrypted, I'm running the decrypt now... It'll take a few minutes." The man told him, "But it looks right."

"Good. We'll be out of here in a few minutes." The lead gunmen said with a half smile, tossing a notebook he'd been looking at to a desk.

"What happens when you leave?" Largo asked stiffly.

The gunman shrugged, "depends on how fast your security responds."

"That's hardly comforting."

Ian and Xander arrived near the frosted glass doors that led to the server room first, eyeing the vague shadows they could see moving within.

"I count two." Ian Nottingham said softly.

Xander just nodded, "One of us has to cross over."

"Agreed. Wait here." Ian said softly, pulling back.

"Wait!" Xander hissed, "They'll see your..."

He turned around, only Ian was already gone.

<Whoa.> Xander blinked, <How'd he do that?>

<He did nothing.> Elan said with a half smile. <Look across the hall.>

Xander looked over, and blinked again. Ian Nottingham was standing against the wall a few meters away, across the doors and in position. He shook his head, <Damn. This guy is scary.>

<It was nothing you yourself have not done, Alexander.> Elan told him simply. <I simply have not schooled you on counter tactics yet. I believe we shall schedule that lesson soon.>

<Very soon, thank you.> Xander griped, but nodded when Ian flashed him a subtle hand sign.

They both edged toward the doors, hugging tightly to the white walls as they eyed the frosted glass with peripheral vision and subtly tensed as the shadows moved ever so slightly closer.

Xander didn't know which of them moved first, or if there was an actual signal, instead they seemed to move together as one in a way that Xander had rarely, if ever, felt before. Ian Nottingham and he both pivoted out at the same moment, hands reaching toward the security glass.

He didn't even know why they had apparently decided on the same motion, probably his FiveseveN's would have breeched the glass, but it didn't even occur to him to risk it. Targeting through glass refraction was chancy, and he didn't take that chance.

Instead, Xander reached one hand out to the glass as his amped his sense and summoned an internal balance to his mind. He reached out until his fingers just grazed the glass, tracing an imaginary line down it until he found the point he was seeking, then Xander just lunged forward.

Across from him, Ian Nottingham stood right in front of the glass, squarely facing it, and took a deep breath as he brought both his hands up to his chest and brought them in. Then, just as Xander lunged, he exhaled and drove both hands forward.

Security glass that could stop small arms fire crumbled under their strike, and on the other side two gunmen were suddenly grabbed by the throats and yanked forcibly out into the hallway.

Ian's man hand time to yelp before his neck was twisted and he crumpled to the ground, but Xander's direct grip on his opponents throat denied him even that as Xander rapped him once across the temple and pivoted to throw him down the hall.

Even as the two gunmen hit the ground, David Xanatos appeared from behind Xander, firing one shot as Joy Arden and Simon Ovrannaz ran by him. The third gunman by the door fell from that shot as the two Group W security agents burst through the shattered glass, guns raised high.

"Freeze!" Simon Ovrannaz yelled as Joy's gun barked once.

The man next to Largo went down, a bullet entering his frontal lob and turning his brain to pulp, as Simon rushed past, vaulting a computer table and slamming his pistol into the back of the computer operators head. "Don't move!"

The computer operator stopped trying to bring his weapon up then, and slowly laid his hands out on either side. "I give up!"

Simon stripped him of the MP5, throwing the weapon clear, and quickly patted him down before looking over his shoulder. "Largo! You ok?"

"I'm fine, Simon." Largo Winch said, rising to his feet. "The guests at the party?"

"Are all fine." David Xanatos said, smiling easily. "And I have to say, Largo... You do throw an exiting get together."

"Yeah yeah," Largo muttered, shaking his head as he surveyed the damage. "Let's have the next one at your place, though, shall we?"

At the far end of the room, Ian Nottingham and Xander Harris stood back against the far wall and just... watched each other.

Sometime later, after the police had come and gone, the three billionaires and Xander were seated in the plush penthouse suite that was Largo's New York home, glasses of hudred year old scotch in one hand, and illegal cigars in the other.

"Not much of a smoker?" Xanatos smiled at Xander after a slight choking fit.

"Not hardly." Xander said with a weak grin, "But I figured... when in rome..."

Xanatos grinned, "A fine cigar is like anything else in this world, Alexander... It's to be savored. Don't try sucking the whole thing into your lungs... just taste it."

Largo smiled at them, and lifted a glass. "I'd like to issue my thanks... For saving my guests... and me."

David shrugged, smirking. "Oh we weren't concerned about saving you, Largo."

"Oh?" Largo asked with a curious look. "Then why?"

"Like I told Mr Ovrannaz," Xanatos replied with a smile, "I can't very well let people think they can get away with shooting a billionaire... After all, they might come after me next."

Largo Winch snorted, shaking his head. "Some times, David, I think you enjoy the money and power just a little too much."

"There's no such thing as too much of a good thing, Largo." David replied evenly, no hint of a smile. "Nerio knew that quite well. You'll learn it too... if you live long enough of course."

"Well then," Largo lifted his glass, "Here's to a learning experience."

Chapter 21

Almost two days later, Xander was yawning as he made his way up the walkway to Sunnydale High School, his overnight bag slung over his shoulder as he'd hopped a cab straight from the airport. The New York trip hadn't turned out as profitable as he'd hoped one the one hand, given that even after helping save Largo's life, the billionaire remained fastly stuck to his proverbial guns on the armaments issue.

Overall that didn't really matter much, though the patents would have been a valuable stepping stone to introducing some basic Atlantean and Ancients technology without any gaping holes in the research papers.

For the moment, though, Merlin was dedicating a few CPU cycles to finding another route, but neither he nor Xander were overly concerned about it. Sooner of later the technology would roll out, in one form or another, and at that point licensing it would become possible.

Xander walked straight to his locker, and quickly stuffed his bag inside before heading to his first class.

When he stepped in the door, a palpable wave of tension almost floored him, and he froze in place.

The teacher wasn't even looking at him, though he'd opened the door, and Xander found himself staring at the students.

There was something off about them, something Xander couldn't quite place.

He looked around, eyes seeking familiar faces, and quickly alit on where Willow was sitting. He frowned, she wasn't next to Buffy. Buffy was one place over, and Jonathon was between them, but one seat back. Directly between them was...

Xander stared, struck dumb.

Cordelia Chase was sitting in the center of them, looking profoundly miserable, and dressed in what appeared to be *Willow's* clothes.

<Holy Fuck.> Xander managed to stagger out mentally, the shock starting to fade just as Elan snapped back in.

<Alexander, quickly! As we discussed!>

<Right.> Xander reached deep down, then flicked an imaginary switch.

As he did that, Cordelia looked up, startled by something, and Xander started moving forward. He handed a note to the teacher, then moved back to where Willow was sitting.

"Hey Wills, let me in here, k?" He whispered.

"What?" She looked back, uncertain. "I don't know if that's a good..."

"I've got it covered." He said simply.

"A... alright." Willow nodded, moving aside.

Xander took her seat at Cordelia's right hand, then looked aside at her. "Been tough, huh?"

Cordelia looked mildly ill, but just nodded.

"Alright, hang tough. We'll get you through this." Xander whispered as the teacher began to talk. "Just hang tough."

"Have you seen her today?" Harmony was saying. "She's looking like SUCH a loser."

"Oh, I know!" Aura replied, "Total freak out. You know, they're saying that she's seeing a doctor now... you know, the head kind?"

"No!" Harmony mock gasped, having started that rumor herself. "Some people just can't handle the pressure of being popular I guess."

"It's SO true." Aura nodded.

Behind them, they didn't notice a scowl from a blond haired girl who paused where she was then turned back and walked a short distance away.

"Imagine it though, Cordelia Chase... A *loser*... It's just SO sad..." Harmony said with fake sympathy.

"Oh I agree... In fact we should..."


Harmony shrieked, leaping straight up as her hand flashed to her neck and came away gooey with spit and paper. "EWWWW!"

Aura snapped around, "Who did that!?"


Aura screamed, hands clawing at her face as an impressively sized spitball caught her just under the cheek. She wiped it away, glaring around her in search of the culprits face, but saw no one she considered a possible spitballer.

"Oh Gross! I have to wash!" Harmony was screaming, pulling at her as she ran for the bathroom.

Aura almost reluctantly let herself get dragged away, eyes still looking over her shoulder until they vanished into the bathroom.

Behind them, a nondescript face that both girls had overlooked watched their retreat with thinly disguised amusement.

"Sometimes it's good to be invisible." She mused, then smiled openly. "And he was right... That IS fun."

Xander watched, partly in amusement, partly in pride, as the New Scoobies formed up ranks around Cordelia when the bell rank. Together they had marched in what was practically a military formation, taking Cordy from one class to another, with even Jessie keeping everyone well away from the aflicted girl.

<Of course, Willow makes sure that Jessie is well out in front where he can't even *look* at Cordy.> Xander half snickered, before the seriousness of the situation hit him again.

He was impressed, of course, with what Faith and the others had set up, but it wasn't a feasible solution. Cordelia was rapidly retreating into herself, running from the world with each passing day. Her new dress style was a blatantly open proof of that.

The logic behind it was undeniable, of course. Dressing like Willow, in Cordy's eyes, was one way to be sure that no one was attracted to her. Or at least cut way down on the lustful thoughts.

It was probably even effective, in some weird way, Xander figured. Certainly, most people who saw her would be far too busy wondering what the hell had happened to Cordy to think about anything else.

It was, however, not healthy.

Willow dressing like Willow wasn't healthy, not really. It was a sign of retreat from the world in both girls cases, a defense against criticism in Willow's case, and a defense against personal contact in Cordy's. Willow, Xander knew, would grow out of it. Hers was a matter of teenage insecurity, and she would, and WAS, growing in confidence.

Cordelia, however, would not. She was already confident, and this was a sign of an erosion of her personality.

And, It wasn't going to work, not in the long run.

So Xander found himself sitting with Cordelia, in the corner of the library, trying to come up with the right way to say what he had to say.

Cordy, as usual, beat him to it.

"I can't feel you." She said, looking at him in wonder.

Xander nodded, "I know."


"I turned off my... emotional transmitters." Xander said after a moment. "It's not hard once you know how... You aren't really digging into other people's privacy, you know. Everything you feel, is something that they are throwing out at you... I can be pretty quiet when I have to be."

Cordy nodded, eyes flickering to where Jessie and the others were sitting. She shuddered slightly, then looked back at Xander.

"He still giving you trouble?"

"Only sometimes." Cordelia whispered. "He... He sort of thinks about it because he's trying not to."

Xander half smiled, then nodded. "Yeah. I remember how that can be."

"You do?" She blinked.

Xander leaned in, cupping her chin. "Cor... You're not the first to have something like this happen... We can fix this... I promise."

"I... I don't know how long I can keep this up." Cordelia admitted, the words sounding like they had been torn from her with brute force.

"You're Cordelia Chase." Xander told her with a grim smile, "You can take anything anyone else can and look good doing it."

There was a brief smile in her face, but it faltered quickly, and she looked down at the floor again.

<Oh damn, it's hard to see her like this.> Xander swallowed, his stomach curling up.

<We will help her, Alexander.> Elan told him softly. <Perhaps you should communicate that to her.>

<She's not ready to believe anything I tell her.> Xander thought back sadly.

<Not that you tell her, no.>

Xander's eyes widened, but he slowly nodded.


He closed his eyes again, reaching inside deeply, and flicked that imaginary switch again.

Cordelia jolted like she'd been shot, head snapping up and her eyes locking with his.

"Wha...?" She stared, like a deer in headlights, unable to move away.

"Cor... I promise you," Xander told her intently, at the same time focusing his will on projecting his determination and confidence, "You *will* get through this."

Cordelia stared at him, unable to quite manage to fight off the buffeting emotions that swept over her. Like earlier, she was losing control to someone elses emotions, falling in the sweep of a wave not of her making.

Only this wave wasn't drowning her under, it was pushing and pulling her up. Forcing her head up as she felt the confidence, determination, and sincere trust in her strength.

A strength that Cordelia didn't... *hadn't* believed she had.

But it was impossible to deny the force that swept over her, impossible to say that it was wrong. All she could do was look at Xander, eyes widening in wonder.

And then, slowly, Cordelia nodded back.

"O... Ok." She said. "Where do we start?"

The End


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