Deja Blues

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: Life's just as much a pain the second time around. Play it again, Xan.

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

The next morning Xander was actually able to sleep to eight o'clock and wake up normally, with no half naked interruptions looking for clothes.

That was a good thing.

The screams at eight oh five, was not.

Xander groaned slightly and shifted in bed, counting to ten before getting up. By seven there was a second screech and he sighed as he finished his count and got up.

The clothes were still the same, he hadn't felt much like buying a new wardrobe yesterday and the fact was the clothes weren't that bad. He still didn't love how they looked, but no one bothered him about it, and they *were* comfortable. Which meant that he wasn't really dressing all that differently then he had in highschool beforehand, not to his mind at any rate.

<Comfort rules.> He thought dryly as he finished buttoning up his dress pants, just in time for his door to burst open.

"Hello Faith." He said resignedly without turning around.

"You better get a handle on that witch!" Faith fumed.

That caused Xander to blink. There *was* only one witch in the house to his knowledge, and the idea of anyone having to get a 'handle' on Tara was absurd. He turned around... and almost choked.

Faith was standing in front of him wearing a school girl outfit out of the cheesiest anime he'd ever sat through with Jessie during his misspent childhood. Knee high socks, skirt cut just above the knee, white blouse with a buttoned up sweater, and honest to god *pony tails*.

As Xander started changing colors from holding his breath in an attempt not to laugh, Faith was turning various shades of crimson as she got progressively more and more pissed. "You laugh and I'll make sure you wake up some morning missing vital parts of your anatomy."

Considering how often Faith tried to use those parts of his anatomy, Xander wasn't really worried, but the threat still woke him up. He took a breath and nodded, silently getting himself under control. "Ok... Tell me what happened."

Faith scowled at him, taking a breath of her own before speaking. "I got up this morning and started getting dressed..."

Catching Xander's look she scowled again and snapped, "Tank top, Leather pants, and combat boots for your information."

Xander nodded slowly, "Right... Ok, go on."

"So I finished up and headed for the kitchen," Faith said, taking a breath. "When I sit down at the table I look up and everyone is staring at me..."

Xander blinked.

"Wait... You're telling me that you *changed* between the bedroom and the kitchen and didn't know it??"

"Bingo." Faith snarled, "And if you don't tell the witch to back off, I'll start cutting on her. I swear to god!"

"Calm down, Faith." Xander frowned, "I can't imagine Tara coming up with something like this. It's just not her style... well... maybe it IS her style, but she doesn't have the initiative to pull this off..."

"Yeah sure. And painting that angel on the side of your plane was just an accident." Faith said sourly.

Xander hesitated, then nodded. "Point. Still..."

Xander frowned, "I want to have a look around your room..."

"Go ahead." Faith snapped, "I'm borrowing some of your clothes."

Xander shook his head and headed out as Faith headed for his closet. This was getting ridiculous, whatever it was. And expensive, Xander frowned again, remembering the slips from the day before.

No, this wouldn't do.

He went into Faith's room and looked around carefully. <Now let's see... It can't just be someone swapping clothes... Faith would NEVER have put those on knowingly... So it has to be magic.>

He let his eyes shift, looking past the mundane and into the metaphysical for a moment. <Yep. Magic. Now... Whose?>

He walked around the room, opening Faith's closet and looking over her clothing. None of the clothes were unchanged, and it wasn't a mere illusion spell either. That meant it was way beyond tara's skill, and pretty much beyond the skill of anyone he knew to be nearby at the moment.

<What's worse...> Xander pondered, <No witch with this level of power should be playing practical jokes with...>

A shiver ran up his back and Xander reacted before thinking, spinning around and grabbing for the presence he felt behind him.

The yell of shock brought Faith to the door of Xander's room just in time to see the door to her own explode in a shower of splinters as Xander came flying through it. He hit the floor about ten feet further along, rolling in a desperate attempt to control the motion, and slammed into the door of Mikki's room hard enough to rip the catch from the frame and land well into the room.

"Xander!" Faith yelled in shock, running to where Xander was groaning and crawling out of the room.

"Oh god that hurt." Xander groaned, halfway out the door of Mikki's room as people began running up the stairs from below.

"What happened!?" Jack Styles asked, his pistol drawn as he looked around.

"I don't know!" Faith said, looking back to her room. "Xander went in to check out my room and the next thing I know, he's pulling a superman across the house!"

Jack turned toward the destroyed door and started forward, only to be stopped by Xander.

"Wait!" Xander gasped out, trying to get his breath as he staggered to his feet with Faith's help. "Back off. I'll handle it."

Jack looked back at him like he was nuts, "You just got knocked across twenty feet, kid..."

"Misunderstanding." Xander said painfully.

"Misunderstanding my ass!"

No one else but Xander heard that voice, but Xander certainly did and he glared at the source. "I told you not to sneak up on me!"

"You should learn to keep your hands to yourself." Aphrodite sniffed. "I *am* a married woman."

"I wasn't trying to feel you up! I was defending myself!"

"Who are you talking to??" Faith asked in confusion.

"I think he hit his head harder then we thought." Jack responded.

Xander ignored them, pointing his finger at thin air and glaring. "YOU!"

They both jumped.

"It was you who screwed with our clothes!" Xander scowled. "Put them back!"

Faith looked between Xander and the empty space, half angry and half worried. <He's gone nuts... He's talking to the wall... but... what if he isn't?>

"I told you that I was going to give you a makeover." Aphrodite sniffed, straightening her pink lingerie from where Xander had, inadvertently, messed it.

"Fine!" Xander snapped, "Then just give Faith her clothes back! She's got nothing to do with this."

"Come on, Kid." Jack said, pulling on his arm, "No school for you today... We'll just get you into bed and I'll go fetch an icepack..."

"Get your hands off me!" Xander snapped, his anger boiling over onto Styles. "I'm not crazy!"

"Of course you aren't..." Jack said as comfortingly as he could manage.

Xander shook himself free from Jack's grip and walked across the hall, glaring at Aprodite. "My room. Now."

The Goddess sniffed, "Men. Always trying to get me in their bedrooms."

"Don't you start!" Xander snapped as he stalked past her, into his room, and slammed the door.

A moment later, after Aphrodite had appeared in his room amidst her trademark golden glow, Xander's voice could be heard throughout the entire house.

"What kind of idiocy are you up to!?"


"Are you out of your mind!? You can't do THAT!"

Jack and Faith looked at each other, confused and starting to get really worried.

"I don't CARE!! Put her clothing back the way it was! DO you have ANY idea how much it costs to replace *leather*??"

"W... what's g-going on?" Tara asked, almost fearfully as she reached the top of the stairs and stared at Xander's door along with Faith and Jacks.

"Xander's... Uh... talking." Faith said.

"He's gone totally coo-coo." Jack muttered.

"Are you CALLING me a Pervert!?!?" Xander's voice screamed from his room, causing everyone to look at each other with serious worry.

"Some one has to go in there." Faith said.

"Uh uh, not me, Sister." Jack said. "When a guy starts talking to walls about clothes and they start calling him a pervert, it's out of MY league."

"Fine." Faith said, "I'll do it."

She steeled herself and almost reached his door when it was flung open and Xander stormed out, still looking furious.

"Xan?" Faith tried hesitantly.

"You're clothing should be back." Xander said, stalking past her.

"Uh... ok." Faith said, humoring him. "Whatever you say..."

"Go check!" He snapped, waving an arm in the direction of her room. "God I need a drink. I'm leaving for school in twenty minutes. Be there, or be left behind."

Chapter 2

By ten to nine Xander had pulled the Trans-am into the lot at Sunnydale high, with Faith dressed more in keeping with her preferences and a very quiet Tara almost cowering in the backseat.

He sighed, he really didn't like it when Tara acted scared of him. It didn't feel right in the least.

"Come on, Boytoy." Faith spoke up again as they walked toward the school. "Give. Who was messing with my clothes? I owe them some payback!"

Xander groaned silently, Between Faith digging at him and Tara cowering from him, this was turning out to be a really lousy day.

"Faith," He said, turning to look at her. The Dark Slayer was dressed in her traditional leather hip huggers, serving notice once more that her hips were starting to show a lot more to 'hug'... Xander shuddered as that thought crept in. <Not now!> "Trust me.... You don't want to know. You don't need to know... and you're better off not knowing."

Faith pursed her lips in annoyance at him, then grabbed Tara and strode off with the shy blonde in tow. Xander let out a shuddering sigh, shook his head, and headed for home room.

"You're what!?"

Xander winced under the three separate blasts he got from Willow, Buffy, and Jessie.

"I'm going to LA after school today. I'll be gone for a few days." He said again, rolling his eyes.

"But... but you have school!"

"A few days... Bro, you're not running again are you?"

"How come he gets to go to L.A?"

Xander sighed, looking over to Wesley who looked almost as stricken as he was. It was stupid really, it was just a simple trip afterall. He sighed, still it seemed that he might owe Jessie and Willow, at least, an explanation. "I have a deal with Principal Flutey..."

"Hey, Jocks get a lot of slack," Jessie said, "But even they have to come to school."

"Not that deal." Xander shook his head, "When I enrolled I made sure that the Principal knew that I would have frequent absences from class. He insisted that I have a tutor, which I agreed to... and I do have a fully accredited tutor actually, who will be along with me to make sure I don't slip in the grades."

Everyone exchanged glances, slightly worried as they noted the smirk on his face. "Who?"

"You don't know him." Xander grinned, "His name is Merl."

"Alright..." Jessie said slowly, "Why do you have to go to LA?"

"I need to pick up a car."

"Another one??" Jessie rolled his eyes, "Geez Bro, isn't the Trans-am enough?"

Xander shrugged, grinning. "I guess I'm just a gear head."

"What?" Wesley looked up from the book he'd retreated to, confused. "A what?"

"Nothing, Wesley." Buffy shook her head, reaching over and patting him lightly on the arm. "Go back to your book. We'll let you know if anything important happens."

"Now see here!" Wesley sputtered, "You don't have to be so patronizing! I am the adult in the room you know."

Xander laughed under his breath. <Right. I'm pretty sure that *I* have two years on you, Wes old boy.>

Then he blinked and frowned, <Did I just THINK the words 'old boy'?? GILES!!!>

"Bro...? Bro??"

"Huh?" Xander looked up, "What?"

"You were a million miles away for a second there... you ok?" Jessie asked.

"Huh? Yeah... Sure." Xander shook his head, "Yeah. I'm fine. Just have to make a note to annoy someone later."


"You didn't say why you were going to be gone so long." Willow ventured softly, eyeing him from across the table.

Xander hesitated, "Well... I need to make sure the car is clean before I come back to Sunnydale."

"Dude," Jonathan frowned, "A carwash only takes fifteen minutes."

"I don't think he meant that kind of clean, Jono." Jessie said dryly.

"Then what kind..." Willow trailed off. "Oh."

"Right." Xander said, wishing that he hadn't told them about the CIA deal. It was giving Jessie ideas, and he was starting to think that Jonathon thought he was some kind of superspy. It was a pain in the ass. "That'll take a day or two anyway. After that, well I'll probably visit with a friend of two and get some work done. Besides..."

Xander grimaced, "I have to talk to a friend about his Sister."

The rest of the morning went fairly quietly, pretty much as Xander remembered. Other then a few random vampires, patrol should be quiet for a while if things followed suit. Chances were that they wouldn't follow suit but, even so, Xander wasn't worried.

Sixty vampires would have to be a major blow to the Master's forces, and he would be quiet until he had some time to rebuild. Darla's escape could be costly though, for more reasons then one, but there was little Xander could do about that.

Even if something did happen, Giles and the others were well enough equipped to handle anything foreseeable and a good chunk of things that might blind side them.

That still left one thing to start handling before it got out of hand.

Xander smirked to himself as he watched Cordelia march down the halls with Harmony and Aura in tow.

<This is gonna be fun.>

"So I say," Cordelia spoke blithely as she walked, her hands waving in illustration, "Puh-lease. If I wanted grease with my food I'd have ordered fries."

Harmony and Aura laughed in appreciation, as did one other person.

No one noticed her laugh though, and the group just kept on moving.

"I knew a guy like that once..." Marcie Ross tried to break in, moving along with the group.

"I, like, so know guys just like that." Aura said, not glancing toward the blonde following them.

Cordelia nodded, not looking back. "There should be a law you know... three showers a day for some people."

"Yeah. That's so true..." Marcie said, eagerly rushing alongside.

"Were, like, talking here. Do you mind?" Harmony pushed past her, roughly shunting Marcie to one side as she continued speaking to Cordy, "You're SO right about that."

The three were laughing as they moved down the hall, leaving the blonde in there wake. Right up until a loud and wet smack echoed through the hall and Cordelia shrieked.

"Something hit me!!" She yelled, startled, grabbing for her neck. "Ewwwww!"

Her hand came away, globbed with a rather large spitball which she quickly shook loose. "Gross!"

The group gathered around her as she looked up, glaring daggers down the hall. "Alright! Who did THAT!? Come on! Fess up! It's time to DIE!"

Kids looked at each other nervously, then quickly at the ground as Queen C and her horde rampaged down the hall. "I'll find out who did this if it's the last thing I..."


Harmony shrieked, jumping as she felt the wet smack on her neck. "Ewwww!!!"

Harmony half turned and raced for the bathroom as laughter started to bubble. Aura raced after her friend, leaving Cordelia out in the open. "Come back here! Cowards!"

Cordy let out a little scream, then headed after them with only a parting glare of daggers at everyone in the hall.

Behind them, smiling tightly to himself, Xander emerged from the shadow of a locker and enjoyed the sight of the three girls running. <That was so much more fun then it had any right to be.>

"I saw you!"

He grinned, winking at Marcie as she approached. "I know."

"Why'd you do it??" Marcie asked as the movement of the kids around them returned to normal.

Xander shrugged theatrically, gaging her reactions. She actually seemed annoyed at him, he had thought that she'd consider it funny. <Too bad. It was still worth it.> "I felt like it."

"You're like some kind of child." Marcie scowled at him.

Xander bowed to her, "And most happy to be one. Today at least."

He straightened out, still smirking. "So, Miss Ross... You caught me in my dastardly deed. What are *you* going to do?"

Marcie glanced back toward the bathroom, hesitating. "I... I..."

"Cordelia would certainly notice you if you told her you saw who did that." Xander said suggestively, "You do want someone to notice you... right?"

She looked stricken for a moment, gazing helplessly between Xander and the girl's bathroom. "I... You knew my name."

The look of awe and surprise on her face as she turned back to him actually *hurt* and Xander felt the smirk fade from his face as he nodded. "Yeah... Yeah, Marcie. I know your name."

"I did sign your yearbook..." Xander said, a little defensively.

"No you didn't." Marcie said, actually smiling at him, albeit a little confusedly. "You weren't here last year... remember?"

Xander opened his mouth, blinked, then quickly nodded. "Well, you have to admit that's an even better defence."

Marcie laughed suddenly, nodding. "You have a point. Still... I don't know, it's been tough."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. Well, highschool is like that. A friend of mine once told me, the point is to survive it. Once you're through... that's the worst behind you."

Marcie shrugged, "Maybe you're right. Sometime I just feel like I'm... I don't know..."

"Invisible?" Xander asked.

"Yeah. That."

"Everybody feels like that sometime." Xander said with feeling. "Nobody knows how to deal with it when it happens... Why were you following Cordy around?"

"I... I just want... I just wanted her to notice me. To be..."


"Yeah. That." Marcie repeated.

Xander nodded, then sighed. "Maybe you should aim for a group that actually knows the meaning of the word."


"You don't actually think that Harmony cares for Cordelia do you?" Xander asked, "I mean... come on. That girl is just interested in being at the top of the food chain here in SunnyD. She'd knife Cordy in the back in a heartbeat if she thought she could get away with it."

Marcie blinked, "What? No... They're always together and... Cordy seems to... I mean..."

"Don't fool yourself." Xander said, "Cordelia knows exactly what she's doing and how far her 'friends' can be trusted. Why do you think she's on top?"

Marcie shook her head, "I don't believe you."

Xander shrugged, "Well... nothing I can say to convince you then. But I suggest you watch them a little closer sometime. Then decide if you really want to be part of that group..."

"And if I don't?"

"Aim higher." Xander grinned, "You can't aim any lower afterall."

Xander looked up as the lunch room began to fill up, "You know... I got some friends I'd like you to meet."

Chapter 3

The rest of the afternoon was as quiet as the morning, even more so with Xander having no reason to lace spitballs at the popular kids. Well... No reason other then an intense burning desire to do so.

Five spitballs, three pissed off football players, and a bell ring later, Xander drove Faith and Tara home and quickly packed up for his trip to LA.

"You're really not gonna tell me who was messin with my clothes, are you?"

"Not while you're in this mood, Faith." Xander shook his head, "Besides. You wouldn't believe me."

Faith planted her hands on her hips and glared at him, "After all that we've been through together, you think that there's ANYTHING out there that I wouldn't believe?? Fuck you, X."

"Fine!" Xander said in exasperation as he slipped his shoulder holsters on and spun around. "It was Aphrodite. Happy??"

Faith stared at him, "As in, Hercules? As in the TV show? As in the Goddess of love?"


"Fuck you." Faith snapped, throwing an empty box at him. "Don't fucking patronize me, X!"

Xander just shook his head and walked out of the basement, heading for the driveway. "Just trust me, Faith. Ok?"

"Right." Faith scowled as she watched him go. "Aphrodite. Like a Greek Goddess would drop by here to mess with my clothes."

The black Trans-am made LA before sundown, travelling at almost four times the posted limits along the freeway. In fact, they had attracted the interest of no less then four cops, until a combination of KARR jamming their RADAR and radio frequencies and the fact that they couldn't have caught up to the black blur if their cruisers had rocket engines gave each of them the hint to back off.

For once it wasn't even the AI that was driving at such speeds, however, because Xander's feet were glued to the floor and his sense of time was under the familiar distortion. The AI, for it's part, was thoroughly occupied by analyzing the odds of destruction against the flow of traffic it was buzzing through.

Five times in the two hour trip KARR considered 'suggesting' that Xander turn control over to him or at least slowed down to speeds that were more in keeping with human reflexes, and five times the AI refused to make that step.

If Xander could take this, so could he.

The skyline of the big city grew with a rapidity that would have been shocking if Xander had cared to look, but he didn't so it didn't. Instead he found himself right in the center of the city before he slipped out of his fugue state, finally experiencing something akin to peace of mind.

He'd deal with Aphrodite later. At least for now there was little enough she could do to really got to him. The clothes bit was pretty bad, but as far as he was concerned if that was her best shot she was welcome to fire away.

Not that he was going to let Hercules off that easily. Xander smiled slightly to himself as he checked the time on the list.

<Train won't be in until two or three am...> Xander thought. <I may as well see how my *dear* friend Herc is doing."

Hercules was getting his ass kicked.

Which, on it's own, wouldn't have bothered Kevin Sorbo in the slightest...

Except for the maniacal laughter that suddenly broke through the sound.

"Cut!!" The director yelled, looking around furiously. "Who did that!?"

Kevin looked over, groaning slightly as he recognized the source of the laughter. "Xander, what the hell are you doing here??"

"He's ruining my shot!!"

"It's alright, James," Herc said, waving the irrate director off. "Take five and we'll start fresh."

The director rolled his eyes, "Fine. Take five!!"

"Alright, what's so damned funny??"

Xander grinned at the demi-god. "After the week I've had it does my soul good to see someone pound on you... even if it is just an act."

"Alright..." Herc sighed, "I'll bite. What did I do now?"

"Not a damned thing." Xander said. "But since I can't take out my frustrations on your *sister*, you'll do."

"Oh hell." Herc sat down and slid a folding chair over to Xander. "What did she do this time?"

"She's playing fashion police with mine and Faith's clothes." Xander scowled. "Now I'm telling you Kev, keep her out of my business. I'm sure she's a nice sister and all that, but she's got no business in my wardrobe."

Herc looked over Xander's clothes and smiled, "Looks like she managed an improvement."

"Ha ha." Xander said sarcastically. "Real funny, you jerk. As a point of fact, I don't much mind her messing with my stuff. As long as she leaves my armor alone, I can be pretty much assured of her taste in male clothes... Fact is, Men's styles are pretty constant, barring a few screwy bits in the seventies. But her idea of *women's* fashions are likely to get me KILLED by a pissed off SLAYER."

"I don't want to know." Hercules said, shaking his head while trying to hide a smile.

"Neither did I." Xander said disgustedly. "But I still had Faith break into my room at eight am, angry enough to rip Tara apart."

"Tara??" Hercules laughed in disbelief.

"Only witch in the household." Xander shrugged, "And your sister changed Faith's clothes while she was *wearing* them."

"Alright, alright..." Hercules conceded, grinning. "I'll try to have a few words with her."

"Thank you." Xander shook his head, "I always thought the series exaggerated your family problems... but this..."

Hercules shrugged, "Could be worse. You could have drawn Ares attention."

"Don't even joke about that." Xander warned, "I don't need a meddler messing in my fights."

"Don't I know it." Hercules grinned, glancing over his shoulder. "I've got to get this scene wrapped up... you mind keeping the laughter down this time?"

"Sure." Xander grinned, "I'll enjoy myself quietly."

Hercules glared at him as he got up and headed back.

"Alright people, let's get this shot set up..." The Director said, glancing at Xander with distaste.

Xander just grinned as he leaned back and watched the actors setup the new scene. <Ah, the simple pleasures of life.>

"Hey... Xander right?"

Xander glanced up to see the in costume 'king of thieves' approach from behind him. "Yeah, Nice to see you again, Jason."

The friendly guy grinned, "Back for another match with the big guy?"

"Nah. Just needed to talk to him about a family matter."

Jason frowned, "I didn't know you guys where family..."

"We're not." Xander grinned, "But I know some of his family."

"Oh." Jason looked lost, but didn't let it bother him. Instead he just grinned warmly, "Well I've got to get into character..."

Xander nodded, smiling as the actor turned back to his girlfriend and kissed her.

"I'll see you in a bit, Alex." He grinned as she smiled up at him and pressed closer. "Cut that out... I've got a job to do..."

She smirked slightly, then turned away.

For about the two seconds it took him to spin her back and pull her even closer. "Have I told you how much it turns me on that you're a bikini waxer?"

<Bikini waxer??> Xander fought to keep from grinning, at least until he caught a look at Alex's sudden flushed look of guilt. <What the?>

"I'll see you quick." Jason promised her, then reluctantly broke away and headed to the set.

Alex pulled up the folding chair that Hercules had just left minutes later and flipped it around as she straddled it and relaxed into a casual lean against it's back.

Xander's eyes kept flickering over to her as he frowned to himself. Something about this one was off. He just couldn't quite figure out what it was.

"So..." He said lamely, "Bikini waxer is it?"

Alex looked sideways at the young man, Xander she remembered for herself. She was about to make some snide comment about it being a living when something in his eyes caught her attention. Whatever he was up to it wasn't the come on it sounded like, he was eyeing her like... like...

Her narrow eyes widened. He was eyeing her just like she was now eyeing HIM.

Quickly she forced her face back to a neutral expression and shrugged, "It's a living."

"I'll bet." Xander said noncommitally. That tore it. The flash in her eyes was enough to tell him that she was more then she appeared. His eyes flickered over her body quickly, this time not out of admiration, but in search of weapons.

<Unarmed...> He frowned, <Unless she's got something packed away in places I so don't want to know about right now.>

Beside him, the object of his attention was doing precisely the same thing herself. <He's packing. Two pistols at least... extra clips in his jacket pocket... Who the hell is this guy??>

Chapter 4

Xander's pupils contracted as he considered the woman sitting beside him. The Asian beauty was a fighter, of that he was certain. What's more he could tell that she knew it in a way that few people, even fighters, ever did. She sat in a manner that was vaguely familiar to him, other then the state of readiness that was common to anyone who lived on the edge. No, there was something else about her. Something... intimate.

He shook his head slightly, pushing the thought aside. Whatever it was, he'd figure it out or he wouldn't. She wasn't an obvious threat, not to him at least. He made a mental note to mention it to Herc though, the big guy had his share of enemies that may well still be living.

For the moment though, she was a non-threat, even if she'd just become a permanent ficture on his RADAR.

Xander smiled at her, then turned most of his attention back to the fight scene that was underway. Most.

Alex watched him assess her, then apparently decide that she wasn't a threat. He relaxed visibly after a moment, and she knew that either he had accepted her presence or he was one lethally dangerous opponent.

Only the very best people could appear to relax like that while maintaining a constant readiness.

Alex smiled tightly, the amusement barely touching her lips and eyes. If he was that good, then fine.

So was she.

From the corner of his eye Xander noticed that she'd apparently came to the same decision about him. Not an immediate threat, but maintain alertness. She was good too. Damned good. She looked *almost* relaxed, only a slight tension in her legs betraying her stance.

Frankly, Xander even had to admit privately that he wouldn't have noticed that if he hadn't peeked at her aura.

<Damn. Now I'm intrigued...> Her grinned internally as he considered the puzzle she presented. <Who is this woman??>

The man and woman sat side by side for the next forty-five minutes, each purposely ignoring the other, while simultaneously committing every detail of the other to memory.

Finally, the shooting was over for the time being, and they were joined by Hercules and Jason.

"Alex..." Jason smiled in his easygoing manner, completely at odds with the high strung character he played on the screen, and leaned down to kiss his girlfriend.

Hercules and Xander glanced at the two, smiling for a moment, until Xander turned to Herc. "I'll settle for a handshake myself."

"Smart ass." Herc growled as the two lovers broke apart, looking embarrassed.

"Always." Xander got up grinning.

"What brings you to town anyway?" Herc asked.

Xander shrugged, "Jack shipped my car back from Virginia, I'm picking it from the train this morning."

Herc nodded, "Need a second driver?"

Xander smirked, "I think I've got it covered."

The two laughed as Herc nodded. "Yeah, I guess you do."

"You had a car shipped from Virginia??" Jason looked at him oddly.

Xander grinned, "Yeah. It's a tricked out Charger... Damned if I'm letting it rot in a parking garage."

The actor nodded with a smile, "Don't blame you. I've got my eye on a beauty of a car myself... I want to get a..."

"Honey," Alex interrupted, she got enough car talk from Dylan and Natalie. She more then knew her way around anything with a motor, but there was such a thing as overkill. "Don't we have a..."

Whatever she was about to say was interrupted when her pager went off.

Jason sighed, looking disappointed. "Charlie?"

"I'm sorry." She looked truly contrite and really very sorry as she quickly kissed him and started to turn away.

"One of these days you're going to have to tell me about him, Alex Munday." He said, trying to sound serious and failing pitifully for a trained actor.

She just winked and smiled at him, blowing him a kiss before turning to run off.

"Munday?" Xander said outloud. "Doesn't sound very Asian..."

"Huh?" Jason looked back, "Oh... Alex is adopted..."

Xander nodded, "Ah."

As Jason walked off, Xander reached out and laid a hand on Hercules' shoulder. "Do you know anything much about her?"

"Alex?" Herc shrugged, "No. Why?"

"I don't know. Maybe nothing... she's a trained fighter, Herc." Xander said, still frowning. "Well trained I'd bet."

"You sure?" Herc looked after the departing Asian woman, "I thought she was just Jason's girl."

"Maybe she is Jason's girl..." Xander said thoughtfully as he fished his earpiece from his pocket and sliped it over his ear. "But she's not 'just' anything. KARR, you listening in?"

"Affirmative." The throaty rumble of the AI came back.

"Woman coming out. Asian... she'll be in the parking lot in about thirty seconds... Scan and do a database search on her. All networks."


"Not being a little paranoid maybe?" Herc asked with a grin.

Xander shrugged. "Maybe... maybe not. I've got enough people who really are out to get me that I could debate the point."

"That's true enough." Hercules smirked. "You do know how to make friends and influence people."

Xander grinned, "It's a gift. But I doubt that she's after me... if she's after anyone here, it'd be you."

"Moi?" Herc tried to look shocked by Xander's suggestion, and failed even worse then Jason had earlier with Alex.

"You." Xander said seriously. "God knows you have enough enemies of your own."

Hercules nodded thoughtfully, "You have a point. Still, I've known her since we hired Jason... She's never shown any overt interest in me..."

Xander just looked at Herc pointedly.

"Which," Hercules conceded, "Could just mean that she's just that good at what she does."

"Right." Xander said, "Anyway... KARR and Merlin should be able to hit every system on the networks before she gets out of the parking..."

Before he finished his sentence, Merlin's voice was in his ear. "Long before. The young lady in question is getting into her car as we speak."

"What did you find?" Xander asked, holding a hand up to silence Hercules' question.

Herc just nodded and fished his own earpiece from a pocket and slipped it on. A moment later he was linked to the conversation himself.

"Alexandra Munday, adopted by the Connecticut Mundays from an orphanage in mainland China in 1969. Won the Olympic Gold medal for gymnastics at age thirteen. Earned her doctoral PHD in applied engineering at eighteen. Qualified as a mission specialist for NASA at age twenty three. Employment records vanish shortly after that. No records on her for the past four years."

Xander looked at Herc and they both sighed.

"Not good." Herc said, acknowledging the mystery as something potentially serious finally.

"Maybe." Xander said, sounding unconvinced. Other then that maddening familiarity he sensed in her, her aura was clean. "Maybe not. KARR... follow her."

"Affirmative." The AI rumbled, already shifting into drive as it tinted it's windows and pulled out of the lot.

Xander looked over at Hercules and smiled lopsidedly, "So... you up to giving me a lift to pick up my car afterall?"

Herc grinned, "Sure. When?"

Xander checked his watch and tilted his head, "We've got a few hours."

Hercules shrugged, "Caritas?"

"Caritas." Xander grinned.

"Scotch." Xander smirked to the bartender, "Not scottish."

"Uh Yessir." The demon nodded quickly, "I remember. And you, Mr Sorbo?"

"Usual." Herc said absently, glancing around the bar. "Quiet night tonight."

"It'll pick up later..." The guy said hesitantly.

"Where's Lorne?" Xander asked.

"In the back checking the stock. You want me to get him?"

"No, that's all right." Hercules said as they pushed away from the bar and moved across the club. "Thanks."

"No problem, Sirs."

Xander and Hercules cut a path through the club with little effort, many of the lower level demons and vampires unconsciously shying away from the power that both men exuded as a natural matter of course. The grabbed an empty booth in the corner that gave them a view of the club with some protection to their backs.

"Interesting mix today." Xander said softly.

Hercules nodded, "Yeah... Mostly civil species... No troublemakers."

"Which begs the question..." Xander said.

"Where are the troublemakers?" Hercules nodded. "I know."

"Maybe Lorne will have an idea..."

"Maybe." Herc didn't sound convinced so the two of them just sat back and sipped their drinks as they watched and wondered.

Chapter 5


"Go ahead Merlin." Xander touched his earpiece, signaling Hercules to activate his out.

"KARR has reported back."

Xander and Herc exchanged glances over the table, both taking long sips of their drinks. "Go on."

"Miss Munday was seen entering the Townsend Security Agency." Merlin said calmly, though he had a hint of something in his voice that neither man could pinpoint. "I'm afraid that I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit this, but once we linked her to the Townsend Agency I was able to bring up her employment records. They were rather cleverly misfiled with the IRS under another woman of the same name."

Another sip, another glance exchanged.

"Professional." Hercules said, a hint of respect in his tone.

Xander nodded, "Hidden in the open... Nice."

"Be that as it may," Merlin broke in, "I refined my search parameters and located two other young women also employed by the Agency. Dylan Sanders and Natalie Cook. Miss Cook has a rather remarkable record dating back to her teen years... Miss Sanders' history is curiously... generic."

"Generic?" Xander asked curiously. "What do you mean?"

"It seems to be a fabrication." Merlin supplied. "Standard issue for Witness relocation programs. I'm cracking their database now... Ahh.... That's more to my expectations."

"What is it?" Hercules asked curiously.

"Miss Sanders apparently testified against the Irish Mafia. Prior to that she was something of a delinquent, I'm certain that you can empathize with that Commander..."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Can the editorials. Who are these women?"

"I believe that their working title is... Angels." Merlin said, a trace of humor in his voice.

Hercules grinned, looking at Xander. "That's original."

"At least I didn't volunteer for the nickname." Xander said sourly. "What kind of jobs does this Agency do?"

"Primarily high risk, high return cases with an eye to protecting people who have been targeted by powerful criminals of various levels."

"They're good guys?" Hercules asked, leaning back.

"So it would appear." Merlin replied.

Xander nodded, "Alright. That's enough for me, for now at least. Did KARR see anything else of interest?"


"Ok... Have him meet us at the train yard." Xander decided. "I think we can safely leave these... Angels... to their own devices."

"Hello Angels."

"Hello Charlie!!" The three girls shouted gleefully in tandem.

"Hey Charlie." A balding man smiled slightly as he leaned comfortingly against the desk the speaker phone was resting on.

"Hello Bosley." The voice said pleasantly before continuing, "Angels, meet Dana Tasker..."

A huge flat screen monitor came to life, showing a young girl with scraggly black hair and tears streaming down her cheeks in a freeze motion.

"Who is she, Charlie?"

"She's the goddaughter of an old friend of mine..." The voice said calmly, but with an undercurrent of emotion. "She disappeared last year from a safe house belonging to a government agency. As the daughter of two of their best agents, my friend has been very concerned by her disappearance, particularly that she may be used to compromise the agents."

Natalie Cook stood up and approached the tear stricken face on the screen silently, her hand reaching out to brush the screen. "What happened to her in this picture?"

The screen suddenly came to life, moving from the stricken face to a swarthy man who was ranting into the camera about America and how he would rain nuclear fire down on a major city each week until his demands were met.

"My God." Alex breathed. "She was there when that lunatic...?"

"Keep watching Angels."

The screen played on, showing the man stop his ranting when a voice from off camera asked him a question. What key? The man turned around, pointing to the nuclear device and stopped in shock as he saw the missing arming key. He looked around, furious, for the culprit until his eyes fell on the young girl.

The three Angels' eyes widened as she froze just for an instant as he yelled for her to stop, then turned and bolted.

"Wow." Natalie smiled.

"Way to go, girl." Dylan grinned.

Alex didn't say anything, her attention remaining focused on the scene as the screen shifted to another camera that showed an exterior shot from a helicopter as the man chased the girl out onto the roof and finally onto a huge crane.

The scene continued as the terrorist screamed, his voice actually being picked up by the directional mics, demanding that she come back and give him the key. The microphones also picked up her screamed response.

"She's very brave." Alex said finally.

"She's a great deal more then that Angels." Charlie said as the screen paused again. "When this event was brought to my attention I investigated Miss Tasker briefly... When I was done, I added her to the list of girls I keep an eye on. I think that she could have been an Angel, Angels."

The three girls looked at each other, an instant flash of communication flashing between them. They were each very different people, with widely varied skills and talents, personalities and background... The one thread that they all shared was that they were Angels.

That meant something, and it had meant something for over thirty years. Dozens of predecessors, decades of history, hundreds of lives saved and touched. The Angels had a proud history, one that each of the three young women who currently held the title were more then merely proud to share.

And this girl had been slated to be one of them.

"Where do we start, Charlie?" They asked together, their voices deadly earnest. Angels never let one of their own down.

"There is very little information available, Angels." Charlie said quietly. "The people responsible for this have managed to stay effectively under the screens of some of the best intelligence agencies in this hemisphere, it won't be a walk in the park."

"That's alright, Charlie." Alex said softly. "We'll find her."

"Yeah." Dylan and Natalie said together.

"Alright Angels." Charlie said warmly, "I leave it to you then. Bosley has access to all pertinent information that we have. Good luck and good hunting, Angels."

"Thanks, Charlie!"

The train yard was pretty dark when Xander and Hercules arrived in Herc's convertible. Ahead of them, the Charger was parked in the largely empty lot, delivered exactly on time and in apparently perfect condition.

"You think that Ryan kept his word?" Hercules asked after a moment of staring.

Xander nodded, "Yeah. I think so."

"You are going to have the car swept, right?"

"Yeah." Xander grinned, "I trust Jack, but I'm not that stupid. Even good men can be tempted."

Hercules nodded, "Too true."

Xander got out of the car, firmly closing the door behind him and walking toward the parked Charger. As he went he scanned the buildings around him, looking for any sign of watchers in their darkened windows.

Everything seemed good as he stepped up beside the car and looked it over. Xander frowned, noticing a series of smudges on the hood of the car. He sighed and buffed them out with the sleeve of his shirt, then opened the door and dropped heavily into the drivers seat.

A tiny noise caused him to turn around and look behind him, then turn the other way and check out the door, but there was nothing to see so he pulled the door shut and slid his keys into the ignition and twisted it forward.

The throaty rumble of the engine rewarded him and he waited a moment before shifting the car into gear. Just a few more seconds and he was accelerating smoothly out of the lot, his eyes sweeping around him. As he pulled out onto the road he saw Hercules wait a moment, then pull out to follow him.

A little further up the road a black shape slid smoothly in behind them, creating a small convoy that drove through the LA night toward Kevin's home.

"KARR, any sign of pursuit?" He asked into his comm.

"Negative." The AI rumbled.

"Alright, let's take a few twists... then head for home."

The next morning, after breakfast, Xander and Hercules took a few minutes to look over the Charger in daylight but didn't find anything so Xander grabbed his cell and called Andy.

"Hey, Andy." Xander greeted the Immortal. "How's it going?"

"Good enough kid. Business is brisk as always."

"Too bad." Xander said seriously.

"Yeah. The world is going to hell in a handbasket." Andy returned.

"Well, that's why we have a job I guess. You have that scanner team I asked for?"

"I got it, kid. Full sweep... if your car is hot, they'll find it."

"Good. Thanks... Hey, Andy..."

"Yeah Kid?"

"Figured I'd let you know, I'm calling Terry for some more supplies today."

"Kid, he's gonna want more intel then we've been giving him. The guy is fed up... I can't blame his either."

"Yeah. I got that." Xander confirmed. "I'll handle it."

"Go fer it then." Andy said, "And good luck."

"Thanks. I'll talk later."

"Cya kid."

Xander hung up the phone and stood in the driveway, thinking. Finally he flipped the phone open again and dialed another number.

"Powell Surplus..."

"Terry. Xander."

"I already told you, Kid. You're cut off until you and Andy come clean!" Terry growled instantly.

"Relax. That's what this is about. We need you to start up production on your armor again... and I'm willing to lay down the situation in order to get you to do it. Sunnydale California. Next week. In or out?"

There was a brief pause, then the grudging voice came back. "In."

"See you then. I'll have Andy forward you the address. Adios, Terry."

"I'll see you, kid."

Chapter 6

"That's odd."

"What is it, Alex?" Natalie asked, looking over at her friend.

"This... Trilby fellow mentions contact with a young man named Xander..." Alex hemmed to herself.


She shook her head, "It's probably nothing..."

"Come on, Alex..." Dylan smiled, "You're not fooling anyone with that line. Spill."

"It's just that I just met a guy named Xander a few weeks ago... I was talking to him yesterday in fact..." Alex said, thinking quietly.

"Well..." Natalie shrugged, "There have to be a few guys named that..."

"Yeah... Yeah, you're right..."

Dylan rolled her eyes and grabbed Alex by the shoulders and shook her. The Asian's hair flew as the redhead shook her back and forth.

"AAAAAaaaaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaAAAAA!" Alex cried out as her head flopped back and forth, until she finally slapped Dylan's hands away. "What was that for??"

"I said spill." The red head grinned, "and you're still holding back."

Alex rolled her eyes and shrugged, "It's just that..."

"Yeah??" Natalie and Dylan grinned, leaning closer.


"Come on, is he hot or something?" Dylan asked, grinning.

"It's not like that. I was with Jason..." Alex protested, "But he was packing."

"Packing? Packing what?" Natalie asked, frowning.

"If you mean socks in his pants, boy am I sick of that trick." Dylan said in disgust.

Alex slapped her on the shoulder, "No you idiot. Packing, as in guns. He was wearing a pair of pistols under his jacket."

"Oooohhhhhh..." The two girls looked at each other and then back at Alex. "You don't really think...??"

Alex shrugged, shaking her heads. "It's insane... I mean... what are the odds?"

"Million to one." Natalie supplied.

"Billion to one." Dylan corrected.

The three looked at each in silence for a long moment until Dylan finally broke the quiet, "So... How do we go about following this guy?"


Xander nodded, "Yeah, Andy's team just went over it with a fine tooth comb. Looks like I owe Jack a contact number."

"I'm sure the CIA would love to get a hold of you." Herc grinned.

"Yep." Xander shrugged, "That's what I get for being so darned good at my job."

Hercules rolled his eyes, "Right. So, you coming to the filming this afternoon?"

"Yeah, why not." Xander answered, then suddenly stopped and glared at Hercules. "Wait a minute..."

"Too late." Herc grinned as Xander groaned.

"That's him?" Dylan asked as they watched Kevin Sorbo going head to head with a young man for the cameras.

Alex nodded.

"Wow. That's pretty impressive." Natalie said as they watched the young man flip end for end over the muscle man, land on his feet, and send the bigger man careening with a reverse kick.

"More impressive then you know." Alex nodded to either side, "Neither of them use stunt doubles, or the wires."

Dylan blinked in surprise as 'Hercules' hit the young man with enough force to send him flying over ten feet in the air and slamming into a wall. "No wires?"

"No wires."

"Shit." Dylan said succinctly.

"Yeah, that pretty much covers it." Alex said.

"So... how are we doing this?"

Alex shrugged, nudging Dylan. "What do you think Dylan?"

"About what?"

"About him."

Dylan just shrugged.

Natalie and Alex exchanged glance and spoke in unison. "It's not him."

"Huh? What are you two talking about?" Dylan looked confused.

"If he were the bad guy you'd be all over him already." Alex grinned at her.

"Oh very funny." Dylan shook her head. "How come I had to get stuck with the only two Angels who think they're stand ups?"

"Just lucky." Alex grinned, the frowned seriously. "Ok... Well, he gets Dylan's vote of confidence... Nat?"

"I'll give him a spin." The short cropped blonde grinned wide, "If Dylan's not interested in him he can't be all bad."

"Cut that out!"

The other two ignored Dylan's complaining protest and Natalie frowned at him. "How old do you think he is?"

Alex shrugged, "Hard to tell. He's got one of those faces... He'll probably look mostly the same for the next twenty years. The way he and Kevin pal around I'd say that they're pretty close in age though... It's too familiar for a big age difference."

"Ok, now Kevin... He's hot." Dylan grinned.

"Oh great. Jason's going to kill me." Alex sighed.

"Huh? Why?"

"Because now I have to bust his boss."

"I said cut that out!"

"Come on," Natalie nodded to where the scene was being wrapped, "Introduce us."

Every alarm bell in Xander's head went off at once when he spotted Alex leading two friends in his direction. The way the walked, the way they looked, and the way they looked at HIM were all bad news in a big way. "Kev..."

"What? I... Uh oh." Hercules said as he looked around and spotted the approaching trio. "This must be Alex's partners."

"You think?" Xander asked sarcastically. "A better question is why are they aiming straight for us."

"Don't get paranoid." Hercules replied quickly, "Maybe they just want autographs..."

"Even if they do, it's a perfect cover to use as an in, Kev." Xander hissed as they get closer.

"True. Watch for come ons... If they make a move on you we know somethings up."

"Hey." Xander glared at the demi-god, "What about you?"

"If they don't make a move on me, we know something's up." Herc grinned.

"Arrogant, condescending, Greek, ass-," Xander began but was cut off quickly.

"Here they come," Hercules said through a smile, "Play nice."

Then he raised his voice and greeted the trio as they came closer, "Ladies... what can we do for you?"

"Hi Kevin," Alex smiled at the big man, practically batting her eyelids at him. "This is Dylan, and Natalie... I hope you don't mind but I promised my friends that I could get your autograph for them?"

Xander kept a straight face, but had a hard time of it as he heard the thick flattery ooze out of her voice. It sounded just like Faith when she was after something she knew no one thought she should have.

"Oh, yes," The red head squealed gleefully, "We just love your show!"

The blond giggled and batted her blue eyes at Hercules, then glanced over at Xander with a hot stare.

<That's it. We're the marks.> Xander thought to himself, <There's no way three women as well trained and educated as these three are going to be acting like this without an ulterior motive.>

He caught a glimpse from Hercules and saw that the big guy had figured it out too. <Thank god for intel. We probably would have fallen for this if Merlin hadn't given us the backgrounds on these three.>

That only left one thing to figure out. What were they after, and who had set them on his trail?

The worst of it, to Xander's mind, was that the maddening familiarity was evident on all three of them. And he STILL couldn't pin it down.

"It would be my pleasure, ladies..." Hercules smiled and produced a pen from somewhere on his rough leather costume."

The blonde, the one called Natalie, wasn't paying a lot of attention to what he was saying. Instead she was draped across Xander's shoulder and arm and giggling in his ear. Normally, this kind of action would do absolutely nothing for Xander, but knowing her background and the fact that she was *playing* him... or trying too, suddenly refocused his attentions on the woman.

He shivered where she ran her hands across his back and shoulders and tried very hard not to glare at Hercules for the glint of amusement in the big man's eyes.

"That was so incredible... you're a really great fighter," She cooed in his ear, "Where did you learn all that stuff?"

Xander felt a smile play at his lips. He was going to have to play this one out until he found out what they were after. Or at least until he had to go back to school, taking these three to Sunnydale was out of the question. Still... <It's going to be one very *interesting* weekend.>

"My trainer is a very strict teacher." He responded truthfully without giving any details.

The girls exchanged glances and communication as they determined to step up the play. At the very least, it was going to be an interesting weekend.

Chapter 7

"So, ladies..." Hercules smiled widely, taking in the three 'angels' with the comment, "Jason, Xander, and I were thinking about taking the rest of the afternoon off for some time at the beach... Interested in joining us?"

"You bet." Natalie smiled widely as the other two nodded.

"Great..." Herc said, still smiling. "I don't think anyone here owns a bus, so we'll have to split up and take separate cars..."

"Well, I have my ride." Alex said smugly as Jason wrapped one arm around her.

"I'll ride with Xander." Natalie said, practically giggling.

<You know, if I didn't know this woman's background I'd almost want to slap her.> Xander thought as he watched the blond do her best to emulate a vapid air head. He smiled tolerantly through the thought, <But since Merlin already filled me in on how many degrees she has... I hate to admit it, but the act is turning me on.>

He laughed silently, nodding his assent to the suggestion.

"Well, I guess that leaves me and the big guy here." Dylan grabbed Herc's arm, wrapping both of her arms around it as she mentally upped her estimation of the actor's strength. <Whoa. I've never felt muscles this solid before...>

"Well I guess that's that." Herc said as they walked out of the studio. As he passed Xander he leaned in close and whispered in a low voice, "Be careful."

Xander just smiled and nodded, his eyes serious for a moment to let the demi-god know that he was taking the situation as seriously as he possibly could. <Which, I have to admit, is harder then it should be... I never knew a smart woman could act like such a ditz... gives a guy some hope for Harmony... NAH.>

"What's so funny?" Natalie asked, noting the wide smile that had suddenly erupted on Xander's face as they walked through the lot.

Xander just grinned wider, shaking his head. "Nothing. Just thinking about someone I know."

"Should I be jealous?" She fluttered her eyelashes theatrically at him, sending a shiver up his spine even though he knew it was an act.

<Damn she's forward.> Xander thought. <Gorgeous girl, tight clothes, and aggressive as a Slayer... Hard combination for any guy to resist. These three have got to be utterly lethal in the field... Christ, nobody I know would take them seriously until it was WAY too late.>

Outloud he just forced an almost leer to his face, "Trust me, she's got nothing on you."

Natalie smirked inwardly, <God, guys are SO easy.>

Outloud she just giggled and leaned against him.

Xander stopped beside the gleaming black Transam and nodded, "We're here."

"This is yours?" Natalie appraised the car mentally in a flash, <1982 Trans-am, showroom finish, some aftermarket work... Top speed just over a hundred miles an hour... can do the quarter mile in sixteen seconds. Classic.>

"Sometimes I think I belong to it." Xander said with a half way grin.

Out loud she just put an awed look on her face, "Oh Wow... It's great!"

Xander opened the door for her, and she looked up at him through her eyelashes as she sat down and he closed the door firmly. He chuckled softly, fishing his ear bud from his pocket as he took his time to walk around the car. <Girl doesn't miss a trick.>

"Merlin." He said, fitting the ear piece into his left ear.

"I'm here, Commander."

"I want everything you can get on the Townsend Security Agency."

"Pardon? Why, if I may ask?"

Xander smiled slightly, "Because they've just targeted me or Herc in their investigation. I'll be listening, Merl, but I'm driving with the blond, Natalie... so I won't be talking."

"Affirmative Commander."

Xander just smiled through the window as he opened the door and slid into the drivers seat of the Trans-am.

"Oh wow, it looks so... like, futuristic!"

Xander grimaced. <Ok. That was really cute the first few times, but the novelty is gonna wear off really soon if she doesn't stop acting like Harmony.>

Outwardly he smiled, "I had some work done."

<I can tell.> Natalie thought, frowning. There were a lot of things in the car that were really not supposed to be there, and even more that she honestly couldn't identify. Inwardly she corrected her earlier assessment. <This baby's been reworked so much that the cockpit is unrecognizable. Who knows what it's packing under the hood.>

She was suddenly slammed back into the padded seat as the car's tires bit into the asphalt and the trans-am accelerated out of the parking lot like a rocket sled on rails. <Holy! I didn't even hear the engine start up!!>

"Show off." Hercules smirked as he accelerated smoothly out of the parking lot behind Xander in his Convertible Mustang.

"He's just trying to impress Nat," Dylan smirked slightly. Natalie was doing her job perfectly.

"Nah." Herc shook his head, "He usually drives a lot faster."

Dylan couldn't help but flash a look of surprised shock across the car at the famous actor she was driving with. Her eyes found the speedometer, quickly noting that they were already thirty over the limit and still accelerating and the Trans-am was pulling away easily as it wove through traffic. <O-k. Damn, maybe I should have taken the suspect this time... he's starting to sound like fun.>

"You're losing them!"

Jason shot Alex a look of exasperation as he prepared to turn the silver Mercedes convertible into traffic. "Alex, they're both driving like lunatics!"

"Let me drive!" Alex growled, leaning across the seat.

"Wha!? Wait! Hey... ow, oooohhhh a little to the left honey..."

Alex shot him a dirty look as she climbed over him and Jason slid into the passenger seat. "Buckle up."

"Wha.......T!!!!????" Jason yelped in fear as his showroom perfect '85 Mercedes ripped out into the traffic lane, cutting off a semi trailer, and raced after the red mustang.

"So," Natalie spoke calmly, remarkably so as they wove through traffic with contempt for the traffic laws. "What do you do, Xander?"

"Highschool." Xander said without thinking, as he focused on the road.

Before he could bite back the word and curse himself, Natalie blinked in confusion. "You teach highschool?"

"Teach..." Xander jumped on the word, smiling over at her. "That's right."

"That's so cool!" Natalie said, a hint of her intelligence gleaming in her eyes. "I always wanted to be a teacher!"

"That's true." Merlin's voice echoed in Xander's ear. "Her files indicates that she holds a Bachelors degree in education."

Xander half shook his head, <And here she is acting like a teeny bopper to get my guard down. Worse. It WORKED. Ok Xander, keep thinking... She's dangerous. She's smart. She's a fucking threat. Do NOT underestimate this woman.>

"So, what is it like?" She asked, "What are the kids like? What do you teach? Do you like it?"

Xander quickly realized that her act was dropping, though she probably hadn't noticed it. To be fair though, it wasn't much of a slip, certainly nothing anybody would notice if they didn't have inside information on her, and if they did she was in trouble anyway. He took a breath and began to mentally formulate his thoughts.

"Well... it can be tough." He said with a smile, "Kids can be a pain most of the time, but you never know... sometimes they surprise you."

<Yeah,> He thought about Cordelia and he thought about Jonathon, and he thought about Marcie. <Sometimes they really do surprise you.>

"As for what I teach," Xander took a breath, "I teach languages and world history, and I find it... very rewarding."

As Natalie Wood continued to talk enthusiastically, Xander felt himself start to sweat. <Oh lord am I in deep now. Elan, please please PLEASE help me keep this straight.>

<Oh SHUT UP!!> HE snarled mentally a moment later as the peal of laughter echoed through his head.

Silence decended quickly.




<Come on, Elan! Talk to me!> He begged. <I need help!>

<Then don't tell me to shut up.> Elanthielle smirked mentally, enjoying Xander's discomfiture.

<What am I going to do??>

<You ARE a man, Alexander. Lying to women shouldn't be so difficult for you.>

<Not helping, Elan.> Xander snarled.

She just shrugged mentally.


Xander wrenched himself back to the present, real world. "Huh?"

"You were a million miles away." Natalie spoke, a hint of actual concern showing on her face. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." He smiled slightly at her, then noted that the beach was just ahead. "We're here."

Natalie looked up in surprise and blinked. "Oh wow... That was fast."

<Too fast.> She frowned internally, <I didn't get any time to get any information out of him.>

Her face set, Natalie Cook determined that she would get whatever she had to out of Xander. Whatever it took.

Xander smiled at her, getting out of the car, and walked around to open the door for her. She reverted back to her act, blinked up at him as she looked through her eyelashes and giggled her thanks for his act of 'chivalry'.

The two were waiting for the others when Merlin spoke into Xander's ear.

"I am unable to break the Townsend network." Merlin said softly. "They are using a double blind network with advanced firewalls... In order to get anything out of them we'll need someone to penetrate the interior of the offices and plant a transceiver."

<Oh great.> Xander sighed, thinking fast. He glanced around and found his salvation. "Natalie..."

"Yes, Xander?"

"I have to go to the mens room. I'll be right back, ok?"

"Of course." She smiled brightly at him, "Hurry back."

"No worries." Xander replied, smiling himself.

Chapter 8

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Student Dormitory


"Dade Murphy?"

"This is he." Dade replied calmly, frowning as he detected something slightly off about the voice.

"Xander Harris asked me to contact you."

Dade paled slightly, then got a hold of himself. "Go on."

Xander was smiling slightly as he returned from the men's room to see that the gang had all assembled, "So... What are we doing?"

Everyone just sort of glanced around, shrugging.

"Swimming?" Xander suggested, shrugging.

"No suits." Hercules responded, a sentiment that was echoed by the group.

Xander grinned, pulling a credit card from a pocket and holding it up between two fingers. Hercules sighed, pulling one of his own and holding it up to match. Jason shook his head and rolled his eyes, but faster then you could say 'skimpy swim wear' his own card appeared in his hand.

"Now this is my kind of date." Dylan grinned unabashedly as her friends laughed around them.

M.I.T Dorm

"What the hell are you doing??" Kate Libby asked as she entered her dorm room to see her boyfriend tossing what few of his belongings he kept there into an overnight bag.

"I got a call from someone."


"He was calling for Xander."

"No." Kate said quickly, "Whatever it is, NO."

"Kate, come on. We all agreed to work for him," Dade smiled at her, trying to work his way out of the ire he saw in her eyes. "It's important."

"Dade... No."

"I have to go." Dade said, zipping up his bag. "There's a plane waiting for me at the airport."

"At least tell me what the job is." Kate sighed.

"There's a P.I. firm in L.A. that's investigating Xander or a friend of his." Dade explained, "Apparently they're using a double blind network server and need someone to get on the inside and see what they're after."

Kate Libby growled, "I don't like this Dade."

"Xander pays me good money as a retainer... I can't really turn him down on the first job can I?" Dade smiled, not bothering to fill her in on the fact that the caller had made it clear that this was a volunteer only assignment.

"I'm coming with you."

"No you're not." Dade said firmly, "you've got classes. Hey, you got into *M.I.T.*, you can't just blow that off Kate. I'll handle it."

"Dammit, Dade. I don't like this."

"I'll be fine." Dade said, reaching out and pulling her close, "Hey... It'll be fine. And have I told you how proud I am of you?"


"Always." He grinned, then winked at her as he hefted his bag, "I'll call you when I land."

"You better."


"Mr Giles, This is Merlin."

"What's wrong, Merlin?"

"Commander Harris requires some... backup in LA."

Giles groaned, "What has he got into now?"

When the AI spoke, Giles could have sworn that he heard a hint of amusement in the AI's voice, "Oh he's being... tortured as we speak."

"Shiiiiiiit!!!!" Xander screamed as he went headfirst into the heaving ocean for the eighth time.

After he'd managed to struggle his way back to the surface he tread water for a moment, looking around until he spotted Natalie floating a short distance away with his AWOL board in tow. "That was really quite good."

Xander would have believed her a lot easier if she wasn't trying to keep from laughing while she spoke. He shook his head and broke into a slow and easy crawl that took him to her side. He heaved himself up onto the board and shook his head, "I don't know how you talked me into this."

"Oh come on." She grinned widely at him, the smile seeming to light up the whole world around him. "You're having a great time. Admit it."

"Right." Xander said with a crooked grin, "I love looking like an idiot in front of a lady."

"No, seriously..." Natalie tried to stop laughing, and mostly succeeded. "You're doing great. I've never seen a beginner do as well in waves like this..."

Xander shrugged. She was probably telling the truth he supposed. Balance was a keystone to his life, so he usually managed to stay upright on the board long enough for his inexperience to get him into a no win situation with the waves. It might actually *look* good to an observer. To Xander, it felt like being beat to crap by a giant fist that he could see coming but not avoid. "I still don't know how you got me out here."

Natalie giggled, nodding toward the beach, "It could be worse... you could be with Dylan."

Xander glanced in to where Hercules was looked embarrassed even from way out here as his 'date' draped herself over him suggestively. "You may have a point there, still...."

"Come on!" Natalie suddenly flopped down on her board and turned it around in the water. "Let's catch the next set! When it's big like this I just love to ride it hard and long!"

Xander's head caught up with that last statement about thirty seconds late and he fell off the board, dunking himself yet again. When he came up, gasping for air he hung on to the board and stared after the bikini clad blond for a long moment. <Did she just say what I think she said??>

<Get your mind back on the job, Alexander.> Elan advised. <She's trying to distract you.>

Xander watched the ripple of muscles under Natalie's skin as she paddled away, <Reality check, Elan... She's succeeding.>

<Get a hold of yourself.> Elan said, her tone smirking. <Or rather, *don't*. She's getting away from you afterall.>

<Great.> Xander rolled his eyes as he heaved himself back up on the board and started to paddle after the blond. <She's bad enough Elan, don't you start with the double speak too.>

<Are we making it hard on you?> Elan grinned at him as Xander groaned and smacked his head against the board.

<Cut that OUT.> Xander muttered, <These girls are a bad influence on you, Elan.>

<Just reawakening some fond memories, Alexander.> She smirked mentally, <Some... VERY fond memories.>

"Do me a favor..." Xander muttered as he started paddling after Nat, "Don't share."

"Ouch." Jason winced, watching the waves for a moment as he saw Xander wipe out again.

"He'll live." Alex smirked, "Besides, shouldn't you be focusing on something a little... closer?"

He smiled smoothly, turning to the beautiful Asian woman beside him, his eyes theatrically roving along her bikini clad body until they reached her eyes, "Oh... And did you have something special in mind?"

"Oh, I think we can find something together." She smirked at him, laying back.

Jason moved quickly to cover her body with his, pulling a towel over them as his lips found hers.

"Jason!" She yelped in surprise as his hands vanished under the towel.

He grinned at her, slipping into character, "Call me Auto, baby."

Her laughter pealed down the beach as she looped her hands around his neck and pulled him down again.

"Come on, Kevin..." Dylan pulled on his arm, "let's go for a walk."

"No, I don't think so." Hercules smiled easily, not budging an inch as the woman tugged. "We should stay with the group for now."

"You know, for an actor, you're a stick in the mud." She pouted.

Hercules smiled slightly, "I tell you what... I've got tickets to a big bash tonight at the Aftershock. How about we gather everyone up and make some plans to go?"

Dylan smiled slyly at him, glancing toward Alex and Jason, "Oh I'd love to, but I think that those two already have their evening planned and..."

She looked out to where Xander just got pummeled by another wave, "I doubt that your friend out there is going to be able to *move* tonight, let alone dance."

Herc looked out to the waves and smiled, "Oh, you'd be surprised."

Xander ran his hand though his hair to shake the majority of the water off and watched with appreciation as Natalie shook her head from side to side until her blond hair was plastered along the back of her neck. Then she brought up her right arm and slowly pressed the loose hair from her face and forehead before turning to look back at him with another beaming smile.

"Have fun?" She asked with that same innocently endearing smile.

<Damn this girl's smile should be registered as a lethal weapon.> Xander thought, smiling himself. "Yeah. I did... For someone who looks and feels like a drowned rat."

"Great!" She said, hefting her board and making her way up the beach.

Xander sighed, letting out a long breath as he followed... from far enough behind her that he could think. And watch. Mostly think of course.

<Yeah. Right.>

<Oh shut up Elan.>

Chapter 9

"De hadde rett. Han sliter pistoler." Natalie said softly to Alex as she and Xander slipped past.

Xander smiled softly to himself, but didn't say anything as he listened for Alex's response. He wasn't exactly fluent in Norwegian, but he was in Atlantean and, as Kida had shown him, knowing the root base of all terran languages made interpreting and speaking the others a breeze. Combined with Elan to fill in the rough spots, and they may as well be speaking english.

"Hva gjør De tror? Er han en mistenkt?" Alex asked, her face betraying nothing of the meaning behind her words.

Natalie frowned, considering her response. "Han er hyggelig. Jeg tror ikke at han stjeler noen."

Xander frowned, looking away as the two girls continued to speak, oblivious to the fact that he could understand them. <Kidnap someone? Me??>

Alex sighed, "Samtykke. Bosley og jeg starter sjekke andre muligheter."

"Og meg?" Natalie asked.

"Dra til dansen i kveld. Akkurat i tilfelle." Alex replied.

"Samtykke." Nat agreed cheerfully.

Alex gave her a sour look, rolling her eyes, but didn't respond.

Jason, looking between them with an odd look on his face. "Hey... what was that?"

"Oh nothing." Alex smiled as his hand looked around her waist, "But I have bad news, Jason..."


"I have to work tonight." She said apologetically. "Something came up."

"Charlie." Jason frowned, but without rancor. "You know, one of these days I'm going to have to meet this Charlie."

"You and me both." Alex smiled at him wistfully.


"Never mind." she patted his shoulder affectionately, "I'll tell you about it sometime."

"Uh... Alright."

Natalie turned to Xander, "Are you sure you're up to the dance tonight? You did take a few... ummm... hits?"

Xander smiled, easily stretching and flexing. "No problem."

Natalie flicked her hair back behind her ears and smiled happily at him as Dylan came up and whispered in her ear, "If he can take that torture all day and still dance tonight I say take him home, ride him hard, and put him away wet. He's a keeper."

"Dylan!" Natalie squealed with a scandalized look as she shoved her friend away.

Dylan just smirked at her and shrugged, "What?"

"Slut." Natalie hissed through a smile.

"Bitch." Dylan grinned back.

"Are they always like this?" Xander asked Alex.

She nodded tolerantly, "Yeah."

"Must be fun to work with." Xander snickered as he turned toward KARR.

Alex paused, then frowned as she watched him walk away.

"What's up?" Natalie asked as she and Dylan flanked their friend.

Alex's eyes narrowed, "I never told him we work together... Did either of you?"

Both girls glanced at each other and frowned.

"Umm... No."

The Angels stared at the backs of the men who had walked on, not noticing their 'dates' stares.

"Alright," Alex looked around the offices. "What have we found out?"

The angels were back at Townsend security, having split with the guys with plans to meet later at the Aftershock.

"Well, He's in good shape... funny... seems like a nice guy." Natalie said smiling, then she frowned. "He does carry pistols... but that's not so unusual... is it?"

"No." Alex conceded. "But he knew we worked together."

Dylan shrugged, "He might have just assumed..."

Alex nodded, "Yeah. Did you get anything on his guy, Bosley?"

Bosley looked up, frowning. "He's a ghost. No record for Xander Harris in the police databases, and that's really odd considering that he's carrying guns. He should have some background hits at least."

Alex nodded, "I'll check some of the intelligence networks tonight. Bosley, could you shadow Nat tonight?"

"What? Hey!" Natalie objected.

"Just to be safe." Alex said, "He *could* be dangerous."

"Fine." the blond grumped, slumping in the soft couch.

Dylan grinned, shaking a finger at Bosley, "You just make sure you know when the look away Bos. No one likes a Voyeur... except an exhibitionist."

Natalie reached out to the side and shoved Dylan off the couch, causing the red head to land hard on her ass. "Ow!"

Alex rolled her eyes, "Cut that out. We have work to do."

"Yeah." Dylan muttered, getting off the ground and rubbing her bruised backside. "And a dance to get ready for. Bitch."

"Slut." Natalie responded instantly out the side of her mouth.

Alex spared a glare for the two of them, but didn't say anything as she walked over to a refrigerator that was recessed into the wall. She dug something out, then spun around quickly with a beaming smile. "Who wants to try some of my new cookies? I baked them last night."

Dylan and Natalie exchanged stricken looks, their argument forgotten as they both looked for a way out of the room before their partner made it to the couch.

"Uh... you know... We really need to go..." Dylan stammered desperately.

"Pick out our outfits for tonight!" Natalie finished brightly.

"Right! What she said!" Dylan jumped up, following close behind the blond as they made a beeline for the door.

"But... but... they're fresh!!" Alex called out after them. As the door closed she sighed, then slowly turned around. "Oh Bosley...."

Bosley looked back and forth, then quickly grabbed up a sheaf of papers. "Well look at all the work to do..."

"They're after me."

"You sure."

Xander nodded to the Demi-God's question, "Yeah. Natalie told Alex that I didn't seem the type to kidnap someone."

Hercules raised an eyebrow, "They think you kidnapped someone? Who?"

"Damned if I know." Xander sighed, grabbing at the overnight bag he'd packed and the two warriors walked up the drive to Herc's mansion. "Must be someone important though. These girls are dangerous."

"What makes you say that?" Hercules asked curiously.

"Because they are too damned good at the bimbo act. If they fight half as good as they manage that... They're probably better then a Slayer." Xander smirked.

"Dylan seems a bit.. Aggressive." Hercules shook his head. "Tonight is going to be scary."

Xander laughed, "Just go with it, Herc. Remember, it's not like you're playing her... you're just defending yourself from her game."

Hercules looked at Xander sourly, "Thanks for the advice. What about Natalie? Is she the same?"

Xander paused, considering. "No. I don't think so... But it's hard to tell."

"Huh?" Hercules paused to look back at Xander in confusion. "How hard can it be?"

"Nat... talks a good game." Xander said finally, "And she's not afraid of using her body to screw with my head... and she's DAMN good at it. But I don't think that's really her. She's not that aggressive."

"You lucked out." Herc said sourly, "This Dylan girl is worse then Xena."

"Wake up and smell the nineties."

"Bloody american teenagers." Giles muttered, ignoring the fact that the object of his discontent wasn't a teenager, technically, anymore. "Can't go anywhere without getting into trouble."

<In fairness, Rupert Giles, I don't believe that the trait is inherent to Americans in general. It appears to be directly related to Mr Harris.>

Giles smirked slightly, tossing a suit into his travel bag and nodding feverishly at thin air. "Agreed. Sometimes I think that the Hellmouth is just a decoy and Xander is the real dimensional trouble spot."

The elven voice chuckled softly into his head as Giles finished packing and head for the door of his apartment. "Ah well, at least I'll be able to pick up some books in Los Angeles. I've been meaning to do so for a week now."


Dade Murphy sighed and leaned back in the comfortable chair and looked around the interior of the Lear. When he'd been told there was a plane waiting, he thought that meant a commercial flight or something, not a charter.

Especially not a charter like this.

The jet was luxuriously appointed, leather and satin interior, and best of all it had a state of the art communication package. Which was something that Dade was making use of at the moment.

"Crash, my man, where are you?"

"Somewhere over... I don't know, some state or another." Dade grinned.

"Pardon?" Cereal asked in confusion.

"I'm on a Lear Jet, man. A real LEAR."

"Coolio. How come??"

"Xander called. Has a job in L.A."

"Wicked. Hey... how come we didn't get the call?"

"Guess he wants the best." Dade grinned.

"Yeah. right." Cereal said, "And why isn't Kate the one calling me then?"

"Ouch man, that really hurts you know."

"Truth does that Man."

Dade rolled his eyes, "Speaking of Kate, I'd better call her... I'll be in touch."

"Right-oh. Be careful man."


Authors Note:

I don't speak Norwegian. I don't know the grammer or the words. So that bits where they speak the language are to be considered... ROUGH.

Chapter 10

Xander and KARR pulled up outside the address he'd been given to meet the girls and found them both to be on time and waiting patiently. <If I had any doubts that they were playing me this would settle them. Women on time AND patient? Ha!>

<I would be wary of such jokes were I you, Alexander.> Elan muttered darkly. <For I am one female that you cannot hope to outrun.>

"True." Xander muttered as he slipped out of the car and smiled over the roof at Dylan and Natalie. "But you have some payback coming for the Aphrodite situation."

Elan glowered darkly in the background, but let the subject drop. For the moment.

"Natalie," Xander greeted the blond, then smiled at the red head. "Dylan. Good to see you both."

"Hello Xander." Both girls said sweetly in unison.

Xander blinked, fighting back a grimace. There was such a thing as TOO cute. For him at least. Still, he walked around the car and opened the door for them, letting Dylan into the back seat and seating Natalie snugly in the front before walking back around. <It's a good thing that KARR is the strong silent type. Heh...>

He dropped into the drivers seat and noticed Dylan leaning over between the seats and staring at the cockpit of the car in shock. "Wow. This thing is really tricked out... What do all the buttons do?"

Xander half smiled, "You like cars?"

"Hell yeah." She grinned, her head bobbing slightly as she emphasized the statement. "This car should be a classic... Not something out of a sci-fi show."

Xander shrugged, "It was built by some people who... didn't know what they had. But they did believe in making it... unique."

"I'll say." Dylan grinned, then frowned. "Hey what's that buttong there... Turbo Boost...?"

"AH!" Xander caught her hand lightly and pulled it back, "Let's not touch ok?"

"Sure... what is it though," She asked, looking a little hurt. "Nitrous?"

"Something like that." Xander said, pulling out and into traffic.

"How fast does this car go?"

Xander glanced to one side in time to see Natalie roll her eyes at her friend's constant questions, so he just smiled and shrugged. "You know, I've never ran it to the hilt. Control starts to become an issue at two hundred and thirty or so, and there's never been a reason to risk it."

Dylan blinked and looked over at Natalie who's eyes were wide. A slow look of desire, almost lust, appeared on Dylan's face as a smile grew on her lips. "Can I drive?"

Xander laughed, "I don't think that would be a good idea."

"What? Don't think I can handle it?" Dylan asked challengingly.

"Any other car?" Xander shrugged, "I'm sure you could. This one? Not so much."

Dylan looked indignant, "Hey. I can drive."

<Well well.> Xander thought, <This one is easier to bait into breaking her act. She's got something to prove. Interesting.>

"Like I said, any other car... I'd believe you." Xander replied, "Heck if you want I've got a classic Hemi-Charger you can take for a spin. But KARR? Nope, this one you only drive if it lets you."

"Cute name. Car. You think that up yourself?" Dylan asked with a slight smirk and a note of challenge that earned her a smack in the shoulder from Natalie.

Xander just shrugged it off, "Nope. Not me."

"I don't see what's so special about this thing then." Dylan shrugged, "Just some gadgets to learn... the rest is just a car."

A moment later, Xander regretted that KARR was the strong silent type. KITT would have voiced an objection and probably insulted Dylan's parentage in some manner. KARR merely activated the auto-roof and Xander spotted the ejection lights come on.

"KARR." Xander snapped quickly. "Behave."

The two girls looked at him like he was crazy but the auto-roof slid shut, reluctantly, and Xander watched the PSI rating of the rear seat drop off.

Dylan just looked over at Natalie and crossed her eyes as she mouthed a single word, <Loco.>

After arriving at the club and leaving KARR parked in the lot, Xander and the girls made their way around to the front entrance and located Hercules easily enough by the huge crowd the man had drawn.

"Xander! Girls," He waved, "Over here."

A moment later the foursome was making their way past the line and into the club after only the most cursory inspection of their tickets. Generally speaking, a movie star, two babes, and a guy in tailored clothes would be passed double time anyway. Them having tickets made it a no brainer for the bouncers.

Inside they were treated to, or assaulted by, the music that originated from a live band on a center stage. The huge dance floor circled the stage in a large U shape and was packed to the proverbial rafters with dancers already.

"This way!" Herc yelled over the music as he pointed to a private table that had a felt rope circling it with signs marking it as 'reserved VIP'.

"Cool!" Dylan yelled back as they made their way to the table.

About halfway there, Natalie spun around on Xander, startling him. "I love this song!! Come on!!"

"Huh!?" Xander got out before she grabbed his arm and yanked him bodily through the crowd and onto the dance floor. "Whoaaaaa!"

Natalie Cook loved to dance. Any kind, every kind, any time, all the time.

She'd always loved it, even as a child, and always took every chance she could even when she'd been a horrible klutz. It had never endeared her to boys, but on the dance floor any consideration of that sort just flew from her mind.

So when the music hit her in the Aftershock club, she slipped into a familiar pattern and welcomed it's embrace without thinking twice. She grabbed Xander's arm and pulled him to the floor and immediately started to twist and gyrate to the rhythm.

Xander started to move with the music as he gave in to the inevitable. Dancing wasn't new to him, after all. Phoebe, Paige, Faith, and even Cordelia had all pounded the desirability of a man who could dance into his head long ago.

But he stopped in shock as Natalie literally threw herself into the music with an abandon that he'd never seen. Even Faith, as wild and completely as she did everything, was never quite like this. Natalie just closed her eyes and went wherever the music took her, and quickly cut a swathe from the crowd as people shared Xander's reaction to the blond menace that had appeared in their midst.

It didn't take Xander long to realize that most of them were looking on with a mixture of surprise, shock, and derision as her dancing obviously belonged to some odd genre that took in all the hackneyed cliched moves of the past three decades.

It didn't stop her from doing what she wanted though, and Xander wondered if this was part of the act. Another aspect of the bimbo act that was supposed to make him think that she was simple minded and an easy lay.

"Ohhhh..." Dylan muttered shaking her head as she watched one of her best friends take to the dance floor yet again.

She'd tried to talk to Natalie about using a little restraint, as funy as the thought of her telling anyone to use restraint was, but the blond just loved to dance too much for that. Once the music started, Natalie was lost to the world.

"What?" Hercules looked over at her, having somehow heard her voice over the racket.

Dylan shook her head, then nodded toward the floor. "Nat's dancing..."

"So?" Herc asked, then turned to the floor and his eyes widened. "Oh."

"Yeah. That." Dylan grimaced, her face filled with concern for her friend.

Natalie didn't take rejection easily, and while she was impervious to anything while on the dance floor, she could be devastated like anyone else when she came down from it.

"Oh Nat." Dylan said softly, watching as Xander pulled back slightly in surprise at his date's enthusiasm.

Xander was about to write it off as another part of her act, just another attempt to make him think she was a fool, an act that he was getting quite sick of actually, and then something stopped him.

Her face.

She was completely subsumed in the music, and the joy of it was written so plainly across her face that he knew she wasn't acting.

He looked around the floor again, noting that most were still staring at her in annoyance and derision and he made a descision.

<Fuck it.> He grinned and joined his date on the floor, doing his best to match her moves with his own.

Dylan's eyes widened in shock as her mouth dropped open to a wide mouthed grin. "Holy shit! He's dancing with her!"

Hercules watched the odd couple move on the floor, noting that the crowd had been forced to accept them. Where they might be annoyed with one person, two made it somewhat less odd and more acceptable it seemed. He just smiled, "What? You though that Xander would turn his back on her?"

"It wouldn't be the first time." Dylan said, still watching the floor in delighted glee.

"Xan's not like that." Herc responded. "He could no more turn his back on her then he could choose to have a heart attack out there."

Natalie opened her eyes slightly, expecting Xander to be watching her like all the guys did, and then felt herself start with the shock of seeing him right in the middle of the floor doing his best to match every move she made.

He wasn't great at it either, but he was smiling at her as they moved and he didn't leave her for one instant of the music and she quickly felt a rush that she rarely felt. Dancing with a partner was a thousand times better then being alone, and for Natalie it was like a drug.

She laughed with the rush of it and stepped up the pace as the hard rock rhythm continued unabated.

Chapter 11

A few hours later, ears still ringing from the music, the four of them hit the clear air of the streets in a good mood. Natalie and Dylan were laughing with exhilaration, both looking more then a little fatigued as they led the two men out into the night.

"Oh god! That was fun!" Natalie beamed, her smile doing it's level best to illuminate the night around them.

Dylan grinned, nodding. "You know, I don't think I can name the last time I danced with one guy all night... I usually wear them out."

She and Natalie broke down in giggles while Xander and Hercules watched them with bemused expressions on their faces.

"Happy not to disappoint." Hercules said after a moment.

Xander chuckled, glancing across at his friend. <When it takes a demi-god to keep up with you, you KNOW you have a problem.>

"Disappoint?" Dylan grinned, turning on him. "Oh you are definitely a keeper. Well... possibly anyway. Still one more test to pass first."

Herc's mouth opened a bit and he suddenly acquired a deer in the headlights look as he tried to determine the best reaction to that. Before he was done, though, Dylan had broke out in gales of laughter again.

"If I wasn't over two thousand years old and experienced with women," Hercules hissed in an aside to Xander, "I'd be taking this very personally."

Xander shrugged, "If it was me she was laughing at, *I* would be taking it very personally."

"Thanks for the support." Herc muttered dryly.

Xander just shrugged, "Hey. You left me alone with your sister, remember? As I recall women trouble are 'above and beyond'. Sound familiar?"

Hercules winced, "Ouch."

"Bingo. Live with it." Xander grinned, "I have to give Natalie a lift home."

Herc swivelled, staring at Xander. "You're leaving me alone with..."

"Come on, Kevin!" Dylan grabbed his arm. "There's a rocking club across town I want to check out... and since you don't seem worn out yet..."

Xander lifted one hand and fluttered his fingers to Hercules as the demi-god was pulled toward his car. "Have fun. Ta ta."

Xander caught up to Dylan as the blond recovered from the shared laughter and offered her his arm, "Shall I give you a lift home?"

She straightened up, quickly composing herself and smiling at him as she hooked his arm in hers. "By all means, kind Sir."

The two of them walked to the parked KARR arm in arm, and Xander opened the door for Natalie. After he'd walked around and gotten into the drivers seat, he glanced over. "Where too?"

She considered briefly, hesitating for just a moment before giving him a new address.

Xander nodded and pulled out of the lot, easing the black sports car into traffic as they smoothly cut a path through the Los Angeles night.

A short while later, Xander and Natalie stood outside an apartment building in a nice neighborhood. He looked up at the impressive building, then around them as they stood there in the rapidly cooling air that blew in off the ocean. "Nice place."

"Thanks." She smiled, glancing down as if suddenly turning shy on him.

It was such a twist from her actions earlier that Xander found it twice as endearing and he smiled at her. "I had a good time..."

"Oh," She looked up, eyes bright. "So did I! Really... It was great."

"I'm glad." Xander smiled, "Look, I..."

"Would you like to come up?" She blurted, then almost instantly looked shocked at her own suggestion.

That shock decided it for Xander, though he liked to think he'd have refused anyway. But when he saw her sudden shock and reticence return he knew two things. First, that it wasn't a planned move to get information out of him. And Second, that she really didn't want him to come up, no matter what she said.

So he shook his head and smiled slightly. "No... I don't think that would be a good idea."

She managed, somehow, to look both relieved and disappointed at the same time. "Oh."

"But I'd like to see you again, if that's alright?"

She beamed again, "Sure! Uh, when?"

"I have to leave town tomorrow night..." Xander said, feeling guilty as he realized that he was now playing her. "Maybe we could do something tomorrow?"

"Sure... Did you uh... have anything in mind?"

Xander shrugged, "I don't know... maybe we'll play by ear. I could call you?"

She hesitated again, then nodded and told him her number.

Xander committed it to memory and half turned to leave before turning back to see that she hadn't moved. He almost hated himself for his next move, knowing that there were too many secrets between them to do something like this, but he did it anyway.

He leaned in and kissed her.

<Ohmygod... He's kissing me!> Natalie thought through the emotions as she closed her eyes and reveled in the sensations of his lips against hers. <Oh please don't let him be the bad guy.>

As he drew back she leaned forward, keeping contact for a precious second longer. After his lips were gone from hers she opened her eyes finally to watch him smile again at her and walk backwards away from her.

She held back a giggle as he almost fell over the hood of his car, just catching his balance in time, and stumbled around the front of the sports car before finally sliding into the drivers seat. As the car pulled away she giggled a little out loud before spinning around with her hands out and then heading for the door to her building.

The next morning, Xander was awakened to the sound of food cooking and he tumbled himself out of bed and grabbed some clothes. Still shaking the sleep from his eyes he made his way out to the kitchen, "Hey Herc, what did you...."

He stopped.

He blinked.

He rubbed his eyes.

"Hi." Dylan said cheerily, waving a fork full of pancakes at him.

"Holy s..." Xander managed to cut himself off before going any further, then turned to stare at a rapidly reddening Hercules.

"Uh... Morning, Xan."

Later, after Dylan had excused herself to go meet with her friend, Xander just stared across the table at Hercules for a long time.

Finally it was the demi-god who broke the silence, "Look. Nothing happened..."

"Right." Xander said slowly, munching on his breakfast.

"I'm serious!" Herc protested, clearing Dylan's plates. "We just club hopped all night and I offered to make her breakfast."

"Sure you did." Xander said, stifling a grin by appearing to chew thoughtfully.

"Dammit, Xander!"

"What?" Xander asked, doing his best to imitate Dawn's 'innocence defined' look.

"So..." Alex let the word stretch out as she looked between her two friend. "How'd it go?"

Dylan looked incredibly smug, so Alex assumed that she got her way with Kevin, which probably didn't bode well for the actor in her opinion. Natalie, on the other hand, looked equally smug, but Alex couldn't understand. Surely Alex didn't...

"He danced with me." Natalie grinned.

Alex's eyes widened and she looked over at Dylan who just nodded, "Oh yeah."

Alex would never tell Natalie this, because she knew that to Natalie it wasn't the same big thing it was to them, but both she and Dylan had often tried to think of ways to get Nat to tone down her dancing. Just a little. But they both decided that it simply wasn't possible. It would be like chaining up the wind.

"And then he kissed me." Natalie kept grinning, dropping another bomb on them.

"What!?" Dylan looked aside in shock.

Alex stared as well. THAT was news. And it also made things harder on her, considering what little she'd been able to locate on the young man. "Uh... Natalie..."

"What?" Nat looked up, hearing the reluctance in her friends voice. "What is it?"

"It's about Xander..." Alex said hesitantly.

Dade Murphy walked down the concourse, glancing around as he tried to find his lift. He'd been told that he'd be met by...

Ah. There was a man holding up a sign with his name. And looking rather uncomfortable about it too.

"I'm Dade Murphy." He said as he stepped up to the older man.

"Ah, pleased to meet you, Mr Murphy." The man said, crumpling the sign up and jamming it in his pocket before extending a hand to shake. "I'm Rupert Giles... Did Xander explain the situation?"

Dade nodded as they started to walk, "Yeah. We've got to get a network hack into place so we can yank some data about this PI firm that's doggin Xan."

Giles blinked. "Ummm... right."

"I know where I come in," Dade said, "I should be able to hack the network once we get inside... but How do I get inside?"

"That," Giles smiled, "Is where *I* come in."

"So he's an agent." Natalie sighed, looking at the information.

Alex nodded reluctantly. "I'm sorry Nat."

Natalie shook her head, "It's ok... not your fault. Who does he work for?"

"I don't know." Alex frowned, "There's nothing but whispers about him. More like... I don't know, echoes then anything solid. It's like someone hit every intelligence network and yanked his identity. Whoever he works for is well connected."

"Doesn't mean he's a bad guy..." Natalie said hopefully. "Right?"

Alex and Dylan exchanged glances. This wasn't good.

Chapter 12

"Take the Charger." Xander grinned.

"What?" Hercules asked, puzzled.

"For your date." Xander kept grinning until Hercules felt an urge to knock the smirk off the younger man's face.

"It's not a date!"


Herc held his tongue and counted to ten silently before speaking, "Look. You said it yourself. We need to draw the girls away from their offices, that's all this is. It's not a date. I don't lie to women I'm dating."

Xander shrugged, "When was the last time you told a woman that you were really Hercules?"

Herc glared at him, the demi-God's hands clenching and unclenching spastically. "Out!"

Xander smirked and ducked out the door, but first fished his keys from his pocket and tossed them underhand to the demi-god. "Take the Charger! Trust me, Dylan will love it!"

Then he was gone.

Hercules stared after him for a long moment, shaking his head in annoyance. "I really hate Americans."

He sighed and glanced down at the keys in his hand, tossing them onto the table as he headed out the door.

Two minutes later he snuck back into his own home and snatched the Charger keys from the table top.

"God I hate smug Americans." He griped to no one.

"Ok, we have a game plan?" Alex looked over the other two Angels sternly.


"Uh huh."

"Good. Nat?"

"I *pump* Xander for information." The blond smirked, dodging a playful slap from her red headed companion.

"Save the act for the mark." Alex frowned, wondering again if this was a good idea. Natalie was retreating into her persona, something that was normally a good thing. It would keep her from getting caught if her mark turned out to be their target. This time, though, it may be dangerous.

<She might do something she'll regret.> Alex sighed. <It would have been easier if Dylan had liked this guy. She wouldn't be tangled up in her emotions.>

She shook her head, "Dylan?"

"I do the same for Hercules... uh, I mean Kevin." Dylan smirked.

Alex rolled her eyes but nodded, "Right. Now, Jason called me too. He said that Kevin, Xander, and himself were inviting us all out to dinner later... so I'll meet you guys at the restaurant. Ok?"

"Ok!" Dylan yelled, sounding like she was responding to a drill instructor.

Then both she and Natalie snapped off sloppy salutes as they pivoted on their heels and marched out. Alex slumped slightly, groaning. "Smart ass!"


Giles looked up, frowning. "Pardon?"

Dade nodded to the two girls that were leaving the office they were watching. "Those two. Nice."

Giles nodded absently after glancing at the young women. "Indeed. It figures."

"Excuse me?"

"I've found that if Xander can possibly get himself into trouble he will." Giles explained, "And further, said trouble will invariably involve beautiful women capable of taking his head off without provocation."

"Well... if someone has to take your head off..." Dade shrugged, and grinned, "you could do worse then to lose it to someone like those two."

"Perhaps." Giles smirked lightly, "But you assume I mean the head on his *shoulders*."

Dade winced, looking over at the older man. "Damn man. That's just wrong."

Giles shrugged, the icy humor just touching his eyes as they watched the two women jump into two separate cars and vanish. "That leaves one more inside at least."

"One shouldn't be a problem." Dade suggested.

"One would mostly not be a problem if we weren't trying to remain undetected." Giles sighed, but then eyed the building again. "Still. I should be able to get us past any people inside... Have you examined the information we have on the electronic security?"

Dade nodded, "Yeah. I've got it scoped."

"I'll presume that is a good thing." Giles said after a moment. "Fine. Let us prepare."

Natalie Cook finished dressing, casually checking herself out in the mirror as she shifted the top slightly off center to reveal more of her right shoulder. The blond smiled at the image of herself that looked back, liking the person she saw.

Even so, she was of three minds about the situation she was mired in now.

Three minds, three opinions, and all of them were at counter purposes.

Her smile vanished slowly as unwanted and dangerous thoughts entered her mind. Unwanted because she didn't want to face what they evoked, and dangerous because any thought that distracted her from her act could get her killed.

<He won't hurt me.>

She blinked away the voice, that inner sense that told her she could trust Xander. Normally she listened to it, but now wasn't the time.

<He likes me. I know it.> That was her first mind, the one that liked the fact that Xander had danced with her and not taken her up on the invitation to her apartment.

<That's not true!> She closed her eyes as the second voice and mind interjected, arguing with herself, trying desperately to get all the distractions worked out before Xander arrived. She had to be at the top of her game if his background was what it appeared to be. <He likes the bubble head that he met yesterday, NOT me. If he knew me then he'd run off like every other guy who finds out.>

The voice didn't have an answer for that, simply because she knew she was right. Men didn't like dealing with women who were stronger then they were, smarter, better educated, or even worse, able to kick their ass. And, while she didn't like to admit it to anyone, especially prospective dating material, she was usually all of those things with most men she met.

In fact, she rarely met a man who was her match in any one of those, let alone all of them. And usually, when she did, she was slapping the cuffs on him and calling the cops.

<Where did all the good guys go?> She thought wistfully as she dropped the belt of her pants to more closely cradle her left hip and expose her tight midriff.

At that point the second of the trio spoke up, it's tone sarcastically bouncing around her mind. <What good ones?>

She hated that voice, she refused to listen to that voice. Or rather she wished she could listen to that voice. Unfortunately that voice was her professional self turning her to business and she had to listen if she wanted to live. Even when it was full of shit.

<It's almost time. He'll be here soon.>

She sighed, and let the first voice come to the front. It was the voice of her character, the airhead that didn't threaten anyone, and couldn't if it tried. It wasn't in charge, but it was the loudest of the voices for now. In the background the other two quietly directed it with the usual effectiveness she always managed and she looked back in the mirror.

After a long moment of appraising herself, she smiled again.

She still liked what she saw.

Anything else was just a bonus.

"Hey, Kevin!" Dylan grinned, leaning over to look down into the black and red car. "Nice wheels."

"Thanks." Hercules smiled, getting out. Then he frowned, a little puzzled, "Xander loaned it to me... said you'd like it."

Dylan suddenly smiled widely, and wickedly, causing Herc to worry. He knew that look, even if he didn't know this girl. And that look boded no good.

She quickly made her way around the car and pressed up against the big man, making him uncomfortable to step away from her and, incidently, the car. "I'm driving. Get in."

"What?" Herc blinked in surprise as she slid in and closed the door. "Wait a second... I told you, this is a loaner..."

"Hey," She grinned, "No problem. Xander said yesterday that he had a Charger I could drive anytime I wanted. Nice of him to send it along with you."

Herc groaned, slumping as he moved around the car and got in. "Yeah. Nice."

Dylan whooped as she floored the accelerator and the old car leapt into motion and roared out into traffic.

Hercules held onto the dash, paling as he watched other cars whip by. <Xander! I'm going to get you for this!!>

"Hi..." Natalie said, suddenly looking a little shy as she watched Xander approach.

"Hey." He returned, smiling as he looked straight into her eyes. "You look great."

"How can you tell?" She asked coquettishly, "You haven't looked at my clothes... you've just stared at my eyes."

Xander shrugged, "That's all I need to see."

<Damn he's smooth.> She thought as he offered her his arm. <Oh PLEASE don't let him be the bad guy.>

"Are you ready yet?" Giles asked, exasperated.

Dade looked up, frowning. "Don't rush me. This stuff is what is going to do the job."

Giles rolled his eyes, biting back a comment about 'infernal technology'.

"Alright. Got it all ready." Dade said after another moment.

"Good." Giles looked across the street to the Townsend Security Agency. "Let's move."

The two men nodded at each other once, then crossed the street, moving purposefully toward their target.

Chapter 13

"Move softly." Giles ordered sternly as he and Dade made there way through the ground floor foyer.

"Why aren't they looking at us?" Dade asked in a voice as low as the older man's, somewhat puzzled by the fact that they had just literally had to move to one side to avoid a collision with a small group leaving the building.

"Just a little touch of somebody else's problem." Giles grinned.


"Illiterate yanks." Giles grumbled, shoving Dade into a stairwell. "Come on. The Townsend offices are on the top floor."

"So," Xander glanced over to where Natalie was sitting beside him. "What would you like to do?"

She flashed a smile at him and shrugged, "I don't know. It's early, you decide."

Xander rolled his eyes, but smiled. "Oh sure, dump it all on me."

"That's the idea." She grinned.

He smiled, shaking his head, and laughed ruefully. "I walked right into that. Alright... How about we drive around and play it by ear for the morning?"

"Suits me."

Xander nodded and leaned back, thinking for a moment. Finally he smiled and took the next right, heading out of the city.

"Where are we going?" Natalie asked after a moment, guessing from the look on Xander's face that he'd decided on a course of action.

"I thought we might work up an appetite... and there's something I haven't done in a long time that I feel like trying."

"Oh?" Natalie half smiled. <This should be good. What could an Agent have in mind to work up an appetite?>

Giles and Dade made their way up the stairwell quickly, at least until they hit the last floor. Dade cursed softly and jerked back, "Camera."

Giles frowned, risking a glance. "Did it see you?"

"No, it was turned the other way."

"Good." Giles sighed, eyeing the camera at the top of the flight of stairs and guessed that it was covering both the stairs and the access to the roof. He reached out his hand, brushing the wall, and slowly worked his way back down the stairs. <Now where are you...?>

"Dude. What are you doing?" Dade hissed, following uncertainly.

Giles smiled slightly, "Mind your affairs, Mr Murphy. I'll be just a moment."

Dade watched, puzzled as Giles stopped along one stretch of wall and smiled. He saw Giles splay his fingers wide and close his eyes, and then the older man's eyes snapped open. "Let's move."

"The camera??"

"Is suffering from an inopportune power surge." Giles smirked, "Let's hurry before someone comes to investigate."

Dade allowed himself to be physically manhandled up the stares, still eyeing the camera with trepidation. "But... but... but..."

Giles rolled his eyes and shoved the boy through the door at the top and into the Townsend office floor.

Alex Munday sighed, still pouring over the data she had accumulated with Bosley's help the night before. This Xander guy was a serious ghost. Nobody lived this clean of records, in fact nobody should be *able* to live this clean of records.

He was obviously a man of means, and she even managed to get his legitimate holdings on her computer, or rather she was able to tell that he had them and paid his taxes promptly and correctly each year. What she was unable to tell was precisely where they were. In fact, the computer seemed instructed to give anyone who thought to ask one of the most complicated run-arounds she'd ever seen.

An investigation of his tax records led her to his real estate holdings, but those were secured under a holding corporation and required specific tax record numbers to release them, so she went back to the IRS files and located the files but was denied the record numbers because she couldn't input a zip code or address for the land.

She was about to throw one of her muffins through the window in frustration when Bosley came rushing through the room with a frown on his normally jovial face.

"What is it, Boz?" She asked curiously, causing him to pause in midstep and look back.

"Nothing Angel," He smiled as he shrugged, "Just the camera in the stairwell just went black."

Alex frowned, the hairs on the back of her head standing up on end. "That's odd..."

"Yeah, I know. I'm going to go check it out."

"I'll come with you." Alex said, now that she wasn't focusing on the reams of data she suddenly felt odd. It was probably her imagination, but she'd feel better with the break anyhow.

"I don't think that necessary, Alex..." Bosley smiled at her, winking, "I can handle a broken camera."

"I know you can, Boz." Alex smiled in return, "But these papers are driving me up the wall, so I need the break."

"Far be it for me to decline the company of a beautiful young woman." Bosley bowed with a flourish, and somehow managed to knock his head on the door frame. "Ow!"

Alex suppressed a giggle and got to her feet, following Bosley out of the office and down the hall.

"THIS is what you had in mind?"

Xander grinned at the delighted smile on Natalie's face. Judging from her reaction she had expected something a lot different. He just nodded and finished lacing up his inline skates. "Yeah. I used to do a lot of skate boarding and even got into the inline craze for about a month. I was a touch of a klutz though and nearly broke my neck on both of them, and you know what? I haven't been on either since."

Natalie winced, but nodded. "I know how you feel. I used to LOVE roller skating! I haven't done it in *ages* either, but that's cause I surf real waves now."

Xander chuckled, "Yeah, well I decided to try something where if I wipe out it's my own damn fault and not the forces of nature trying to kill me."

She smiled, finishing up her own laces and they stood together, pulling each other up hand in hand as they looked along the board walk that ran along the public beach. "Come on, I'll race ya!"

Xander's eyes widened in shock as he gave him a shove and took off down the road. "Hey! No fair!"

He caught his balance and, laughing, took off after her.

"Well... it's fried." Bosley announced after eyeing it briefly.

Alex frowned, looking closer as Bosley lifted the camera casing. She knew it was true, she'd smelled the acrid scent of burning rubber and circuits even before he'd opened the case. "Yeah... What caused it though?"

"Power surge I guess." Bosley said, but he frowned.

"No. This whole building has power scrubbers." Alex shook her head, but then cocked her head slightly and corrected herself. "Still... maybe we've got a short in one of those."

"Could be. Could be." Bosley said, suddenly his normal cheerful self.

Alex didn't join him in his cheer right away, but then smiled at him. "I'm sure that's what it is. Why don't you call and get someone to check the system?"

"You got it, Alex." Bosley said, before heading off.

Alex Munday frowned. That answer made sense, it covered all the facts, and it was absolutely wrong. She could feel it, the hairs on the back of her neck still hadn't gone down and she trusted her instincts.

The beautiful Asian woman made her way back into the offices, hand lightly brushing the wall as she moved down the hall.

"We have to get over two more offices." Dade whispered softly.

"What??" Giles hissed back, angrily. "You said you could patch in from here!"

"I know what I said," Dade snapped defensively. "But there's a physical firewall somewhere in the line, I can't get into the router from here."

Giles groaned, pinching his nose. "What?"

"We have to get over two more offices."

"Right." Giles sighed, "Why didn't you say so the first time."

Dade turned to snap at the older man, only to catch the glint of humor in the man's face and he had to force back a chuckle. "Cute."

Giles smirked, "Come on."

Alex stopped by a closed door, looking at the wooden surface for a long moment.

She hadn't heard anything, she hadn't seen anything. But something was wrong here. The worst of it was that she didn't have a clue what it was.

But it was here, she decided.


This door.


She moved closer slowly, then planted her hand on the door and pushed.

They had just reached the door when it started to open and Giles moved so fast that Dade almost missed the motion itself.

Chapter 14

Alex stepped into the room and looked around, eyes narrowing at the very innocence of the scene. The office was empty, no sign of anything out of the ordinary at all. She frowned, then half turned to leave when she heard a rattle.

She turned quickly toward the noise, stepping clear of the door as she located the source.

<Damn.> She sighed, chastising herself. <It's just an open window.>

She walked over to the window, trying to shake the insistent feeling that something was seriously wrong. Still, the feeling just wouldn't leave her so with each step she slowed until she was barely at a snail's pace upon reaching the open window and the rattling blinds.

Still nothing out of the ordinary.

<Damnit Alex! Get a hold of yourself!> She rebuked herself tightly. <If you're going to be this jumpy bite the bullet and ask Charlie for a vacation!>

She shook herself violently, throwing off the feeling, and slammed the window shut a little more energetically then it really needed. She threw the lock and shook her head once more before storming out of the office.

"Bloody hell that was close." Giles cursed to himself.

"G... g... g... gg... g..."

"What?" Giles glanced back at the pallor stricken computer hacker beside him. "Speak up, boy."

"G... gg... gg... gr... ground." Dade managed to get out, looking down.

Giles glanced down, then back at Dade. "What about it? Are you afraid of heights?"

Dade glared at Giles in a sudden, shocked, outrage and started to move. Giles grabbed him in an iron grasp, holding him steady and preventing him from stepping off the golden disk of light that was preventing them from falling to their deaths.

"Stay on the disc, Mr Murphy." Giles said sternly. "Unless *you* are capable of keeping yourself in the air."

Dade's mouth and jaw worke for a moment, but no more sound came out.

"I thought not." Giles said, turning back to the window. "Drat. That woman locked it."

He sighed, considering his options. Breaking the window was out of the question, and while he might be able to unlock it, it would be best not to try while he was keeping a sizable portion of his concentration on keeping himself and Mr Murphy aloft. Alone, he probably would have taken the chance without any worry, with an obvious magical illiterate beside him it wasn't a chance he cared to take.

Besides, the woman was still there, and Giles had no clue how she'd picked up on their position. He was certain he'd masked their sounds.

"Oh damn it all." Giles shook his head and waved a hand.

Dade grabbed on to him for dear life as they began to descend to the streets below, and Giles let out a long suffering sigh. "I assure you, Mr Murphy... you aren't going to fall."

For Dade the scene was just too surreal. They were floating on a shimmering golden disc that seemed to be composed of nothing more the light, dropping down to a crowded LA street, and there wasn't a single damned person who even bothered to look at them!

As they stopped about a half foot off the ground, Giles stepped down and shook his head. "This won't do. This won't do at all."

Dade watched him start to walk off, then suddenly his stomach lurched into his throat and his legs were jarred by a six inch fall as the disc vanished into a dissipitating mist and he hit the cement below. "Ow!"

Giles ignored him, pulling a cell phone from his pocket as he talked to himself in annoyance.

"I give I give!" Xander said as his phone rang in his pocket. He bent over, making a big show of gasping for breath he didn't need nearly as badly as he pretended and fished his phone from his pocket. "Yo."

Natalie laughed, circling around him on momentum as she splayed her skates and just went round and round.

"We almost got caught." Xander heard as Giles spoke. "The oriental... Alex? She came close."

"I understand." Xander smiled at Natalie. "I'm having lunch with Natalie and her friends in an hour... Can it wait?"

"Yes. Certainly. We'll move then."

"Perfect." Xander said, "Good hearing from you."

"Have a nice *lunch*." Giles said sarcastically into the phone.

"I intend to." Xander grinned, then flipped the phone shut.

Natalie was looking at him curiously, "Important?"

"Nah. Just a friend who called to complain." Xander smiled, straightening up. "I think we've got time for another few minutes before we meet the others... Race ya!"

Xander took off like a shot, leaving a wide eyed Natalie behind. She took off after him a moment later, eyes narrowing. "Oh no you don't."

Hercules rocked side to side as the black car skidded to a stop, and the demi-god reached up and braced himself against the roof before glancing over at the driver.

"You know, Dylan, this IS Xander's car and..."

He was slammed back into the seat as the rear tires screamed against the pavement until they bit in and the car roared off again.

"Yeah! Fricken cool isn't it!?" Dylan grinned.

Hercules looked at his watch, "You know... I think we should think about calling the others for lunch?"

Dylan half frowned, half pouted, and looked at her own watch before nodding. "Damn. You're right."

She flipped him her phone before turning her attention back to the road and grinning. "Give 'em a call!"

Hercules groaned as the car leapt forward again, weaving through traffic like the other cars were standing still. Dylan's whoop of laughter was ringing in his ear as she through her left arm up and threw the window, flipping off some guy who's shook his fist at her.

<Zeus preserve me, this mortal is insane.>

Xander phone rang while he was lounging against the armored shell that belonged to KARR and he smiled as he made a show of lazily drawing it from his pocket while Natalie skated belatedly up to him.

"No fair!" She grinned at him.

Xander held a finger up to his lips, smirking at her. "Hello?"

Natalie watched he talked, shaking her head.

"Heya, Kev. What's up? Oh yeah? Tell that she'll owe me a new set of tires if she keeps it up." Xander grinned, muffling the phone as he glanced over to Nat. "Dylan's driving... A hemi-charger... heh, what do you think the studio would think if they knew Hercules was raring around town like that?"

Natalie bit back a giggle as she considered the situation, forgetting her 'outrage' with Xander.

"Lunch? Yeah... cool. What?" Xander frowned, "Hang on... I'll ask her."

He looked over again, "What do you want to eat? The last thing that Kevin is thinking about right now is food."

"I'll bet." Natalie grinned. Dylan was a scary driver, and she tended to opt for the more extreme edges of the occupation. That was something Natalie could understand of course, but Natalie was a little simpler. She just liked to go fast. As she pondered the question she bit her lower lip lightly, "Ummm.... I could go for some Chinese?"

"Chinese?" Xander spoke into the receiver, then nodded a moment later. "Alright. Sounds good. You want to call Jason? Ok, Cool. Cya there."

Xander flipped the phone shut and grinned. "I think that Kevin would have accepted pretty much anything in order to get out of that car."

Natalie grinned and laughed, "I'm not surprised."

Xander pushed off the car, just in time to catch a hard smack across his ass. "Ow!" He yelped, turning to glare at her, "What was that for??"

Natalie shrugged and rolled around to the other side of the car, "For cheating."

"Fine." Xander countered, "Next time you pull a repeat of earlier I'll chalk you up for a spanking too."

"Sounds like fun." She grinned wide and winked at him before getting into the car.

Xander groaned, slumping against the roof of the Trans-Am. "What is it with me and these women?? Can't I find a nice normal girl?"

<In you're line of work?> Elan snorted, <Surely you just. A nice normal girl would run screaming two seconds after you dust three vamps on your first date.>

"Point." Xander conceded, rolling his eyes as he popped the door and dropped into the car.

"What?" Natalie asked curiously.

"Nothing." Xander shrugged, "Just talking to myself."

"Oh." Natalie said, making a show of putting a few more inches between them as she put an exaggerated look of caution on her face. "I see."

Xander smirked at her, "Real cute."

"Thanks. I'm told I do 'cute' well." She grinned back at him before shifting back into her seat. "So, where are we going anyway?"

"A restaurant in China Town, Kevin knows it I guess..." Xander shrugged, "Something about Chan's..."

Natalie giggled, "Do you have any idea how many 'Chans' restaurants there are in China Town?"

Xander shrugged, "We'll find it."

"That's it." Giles said with a tone of relief. "She's leaving."

"That still leaves at least the guy on the top floor."

Giles nodded, "Indeed. Let's not underestimate anyone this time. Shall we?"

"Right. And might I add, let's keep out feet on something a little more SOLID then a floating disc!?" Dade countered.

Giles snorted, "An American with his feet planted firmly on the ground. Who'd have guessed it?"

"I told you we'd find it."

Natalie nodded, noting where Kevin and Dylan were both standing outside. "I stand corrected."

Xander grinned as she got out, leaned forward. "Thanks Pal."

The quiet AI didn't say much, but Xander felt the engine rev slightly before shutting down. He just nodded and smiled as he got out and joined the others. "Hey guys, so where's Jason and Alex?"

"Delayed." Hercules replied. "They'll be here shortly... Let's grab a table, ok?"

Xander nodded and the four of them went inside. They paused in front of a huge mirror and waited to be seated, something that took remarkably little time, and were shortly looking over they menu's. Xander glanced up, "Hey Kev... What kind of food do they have here?"

Kevin looked at him oddly. "Huh? Read the menu?"

"Not that. I mean is it American Chinese, or the real deal?" Xander asked, "It matters you know. There's some stuff that I wouldn't willingly eat in both styles of cooking."

"Hong Kong style Cantonese." Natalie said idly, not looking up.

"Ah, thanks." Xander said quickly before turning his head back down to the menu.

Dylan glanced over at Hercules. "Did you get any of that?"

"Why ask me?" The Demi-God shrugged, "I'm just an actor."

Chapter 15

Alex and Jason entered the restaurant just as the waiter delivered the first course, and the couple smiled and greeted the others pleasantly as they sat down.

"Hope you don't mind." Hercules smiled as Jason held out Alex's chair for her before sitting down himself. "But we ordered for you."

"No prob." Jason smiled widely, "I'll eat anything."

"I believe it." Dylan whispered to Nat, "I once saw him eat something Alex cooked."

Nat stifled a giggle, jamming her elbow into Dylan's ribs as she tried to keep a straight face.

"Ow!" Dylan rubbed her side as she shot a dirty look at her blonde companion.

The three guys exchanged glances, risking the slightest of smiles, before going back to their food.

"You know," Alex eyed her food critically for a moment, "I believe that this is a mainland dish. I thought you said it was Hong Kong cuisine, Natalie..."

Natalie leaned over and glanced at the food, then shrugged. "Sorry. Must have slipped past me. Looks good though."

Alex shrugged and sighed as she picked up her chopsticks and delicately slipped a morsel of fish and rice into her mouth. After chewing for a moment she nodded, "You're right. It is."

By that point everyone was digging in with varying degrees of success. Xander and the Angel's wielded their chopsticks like they'd been born with them but, while Hercules was fairly competent with the wooden implements, Jason Gibbons was hopeless."

"Here, honey," Alex was quick to react as she moved her chair over to where he was trying to impale a piece of chicken on the end of the stick. She took the sticks from his hand and held them in hers deftly, scooping up the piece of food and delivering it with equal ease to his mouth.

"Mmm..." He smiled at her as he chewed, "That's good."

"Would you like to try some the sweet and sour pork?" Alex smiled, "It's quite good."

"I think I could live with that." Jason smiled.

"Disgusting." Dylan said under her breath, just loud enough that Hercules and Natalie could hear her on either side. "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Be nice." Natalie hissed under her breath as she tried to decide if she agreed with the assessment or not. Jason was a good guy, and she loved it that Alex had found him, but once in a while *she* wanted to be the one feeding the cute guy with... No. Check that. She *didn't* want anything quite THAT much, still it was a moment that the couple shared, and she did envy them that.

Natalie glanced over to where Xander was expertly manipulating the chopsticks and actually started to sigh before catching herself again.

Xander caught the glance and looked up at her, puzzled. "You ok, Nat?"

She smiled, "Yeah. I'm good."

"Cool... For a second there you looked like..." Xander trailed off, his gaze shifting to the background where he could see the door to the restaurant and two new arrivals in particular. "Hell."

"Excuse me!?"

Xander's eyes flicked to Herc, "Check out who just walked in, Kev."

Hercules half turned and closed his eyes, "Hell."

"Who?" Dyaln twisted in her seat, looking to where the people in question had just vanished from sight. "Who was it?"

"What do you think, Xan?"

Xander's lips twitched and he looked at his plate. It wasn't any of his business. It was probably nothing at all. He just wanted dinner and to enjoy the company he was keeping.

"Hell." He said again, sighing as he stood up. "I'd better go check it out. Knowing those two there'll be a bomb in the joint or something."

Hercules snickered but waved Xander on, "You do that. I'll finish eating."

Natalie started to get up, but Xander smiled and shook his head as he gently stopped her, "I'm kidding... It's just a couple friends that I'd rather know we were here. They're LAPD and tend to cause a lot of havoc on the job."

Hercules snorted. That was putting things mildly, he'd had a look at their records when Xander did. Those two were certifiable menaces to polite society.

<These two are certifiable menaces to polite society.> Benny Chan groaned to himself as he watched Riggs and Murtaugh barrled through his maitre-d.

"Uncle Benny!" Riggs grinned in his way as he circled the room and looked over the occupants. "Howya doin? Hope this is a bad time."

"Y-yeah," Murtaugh grinned in response, taking a more direct path and focusing on Benny rather then the others. "We'd hate not to be not disturbing you."

"I'm sorry, Sir... I couldn't stop them."

Benny waved the distraught man away. Palace guard wouldn't have kept these two out.

"Hey, Benny, I want you to meet Detective..." Riggs snapped his fingers a couple times, looking like he was searching for a name. "Buckles."

The young black man with them started to respond, but then gave it up. He didn't know if Riggs was riding him or just playing the jerk for all it was worth, but it wasn't worth the time to correct him. "Yeah. Right, whatever you say."

"SO, Uncle Benny... Sell heroin, buy any cops, kill anyone lately? Hey, how's the front, oh uh, I mean the restaurant." Riggs grinned, not even looking at the man to whom he was speaking as his attention was fixated on another Asian man who was calmly watching the events.

"I get food. Drink." The Maitre D said helplessly as he backed out.

Uncle Benny smiled at the two LAPD offices, "No MSG now, stay, have a bite. I give you police discount."

"Yeah, right." Roger scowled, "Don't hold your breath... On second thought, hold your breath."

"Come on, Rog." Riggs grinned, looking over. "Maybe we should have a little lunch. You know, maybe some flied lice?"

Benny snorted, "Flied Lice? It's Fried Rice, you plick."

Xander was about halfway to the front of the restaurant when the Maitre D almost run him over, not even seeing him as the poor man seemed completely agitated about something. On the way in he had been almost excruciatingly polite.

Xander grinned, <Well... at least I know I wasn't wrong.>

He shook his head and kept move to the front through the crowded restaurant.

"Some dead Chinese?" Benny shrugged, "Billion more where they come from."

"Yeah, well they shot at me and Rog too." Riggs turned his focus back to Benny for a moment. "And we don't take too kindly to that."

"To bad they miss." Benny retorted then he shrugged, "But I still know nothing about it."

Riggs had turned his attention back to the stoic man, "Who are you? Huh? Oh you don't look too happy..."

"He speaks no english." Benny spoke up.

"Oh, so you don't understand me?" Riggs grinned, "So you don't know what scumbag means huh? How about Eat Shit? Oh, I think you know what I'm saying... oh yeah."

Tension slowly climbed as the two men glared at each other. One through a smile as false as the fifth ace in a deck, the other through an implacable calm that seemed to armor him.

Butters moved to back Riggs up, but Roger stopped him and spoke warningly to his partner. "H-hey, Riggs... come on. Insurance? Remember?"

Uncle Benny took the chance to end the tension, "If you have nothing on me, get out."

"Alright, we're going..." Murtaugh nodded. "Just so you know we're still around, Benny."

"And I'm after your ass now too." Butters promised as he started to move away.

Riggs hesitated, still itching to do something about the calm look on the mans face, but finally he moved away. "I'll see you later."

The man just stared implacably at him.

Riggs turned and headed for huge picture glass mirror.

"Door is this way!"

"No," Riggs half turned, not slowing as he drew his pistol. "I think I'll take this way."

"No door!"

"No, it'll be fine, look, see?" Riggs whipped his pistol butt into the glass and shattered it at a blow. "See? Told you so."

As Riggs stepped gleefully out through the window, Benny groaned and fell back into his chair.

The sound of shattered glass stopped Xander as he reached for the door knob and he paused for a moment, shaking his head and gently letting it thump against the door.

<I knew it. I fucking knew it.> He moaned internally. <Please. No gunfights. Not now.>

He pushed himself straight and moved around to where he could see Riggs and Murtaugh step out over the broken glass, followed by a young black man. He started toward them just as a soft voice entered the fray, speaking in Mandarin.

"<In Hong Kong, You would already be dead.>"

Riggs half turned back as the man spoke, ready to challenge him to say it in a language Riggs could understand, but Roger prevented him.

"Insurance, Riggs. Insurance. Remember??"

Riggs sighed, letting himself be pulled away, until he heard another voice speak up.

"This isn't Hong Kong, Shit Head. And around here, threatening a police officer isn't the brightest pass time."

Murtaugh looked over and groaned in recognition. "Oh hell. Not you."

Xander smirked at him, "You know, I was saying the same damn thing just a few minutes ago. I come here for a nice peaceful dinner with a date, and what do I get? Smashed glass, death threats in Mandarin, and the LAPD's answer to Laurel and Hardy..."

Xander paused, glancing at the young black man. "Or is it the stooges now?"

"Yeah, I'm Curly, He's Moe." Riggs cracked, "Nyuk nyuk. Hey, you speak Mandarin?"

"Doesn't everyone?" Xander smirked back, his eyes not leaving the tall man who was staring back at him with eyes so dark they felt that pits. "Who's Prince Charming?"

"Him?" Riggs looked over his shoulder at the man and shook his head. "I don't know."

"Dangerous man, Riggs." Xander said calmly, "And he doesn't like you."

"He just doesn't know me." Riggs grinned in response.

"Yeah. If he knew you like I did, he'd hate your guts outright." Xander said, following the cops as they moved out of the restaurant. "What the hell are you guys doing? Other then screwing up my date that is?"

"Who the fuck is this guy?" Butters spoke up, pointing at Xander.

"Who am I? Who are you?" Xander countered.

Riggs turned around, walking backwards as he grinned at the two of them. <Oh this is too good... Let's see, how can I make it better. I know! I'll just..."

"H-hey Riggs!" Roger snapped, pointing out the window, "Isn't that the guy who shot at us??"

Riggs spun around, recognizing the man instantly. He drew his Berretta in a flash as the man stared up at him and turned to run. In moments the three cops were racing out the doorway after two men who were running for their lives.

Xander just watched them go. He wasn't a cop, and if those two couldn't catch a couple perps on foot then they were getting to old for this shit.

He turned back to the restaurant, shaking his head as he walked past the shattered glass. He stopped dead when he realized that the stoic man was gone without a trace. <Now where the hell?>

Chapter 16

"Where the hell did he go?" Xander paused, glancing over his shoulder. He hesitated, looking back, and then into the restaurant where he could see that Natalie and her friends were already halfway to him.

He smirked as he saw that Hercules hadn't moved, and was still enjoying his meal, and Xander nodded to himself. <I'm not cop. Riggs and Murtaugh can handle themselves.>

"Xander, what happened??"

"The LAPD." Xander half smiled, hooking an arm around Natalie as he walked her past her two friends and to their table.

Alex and Dylan looked between them and where people were already starting to clean up the broken glass.

Xander held Natalie's chair out for her as he took a seat and caught Hercules smile as the Demi-God glanced up at him and quirked a grin. Xander just shook his head and sat down himself, lifting his chopsticks and nodding around the table.

The three Angels looked between each other, obviously wanting to ask something, but finally just turned back to their own food with a reluctant and faked gusto.

Jason, on the other hand, looked around. "Uh... What was that about?"

Xander and Hercules both started laughing as they shared a glance and a thought. <Trust the actor to be the one person at the table to ask the question the three spies were dying to know.>

"What?" Jason looked confused. "What'd I say?"

"We're in."

"Again." Dade said dryly, drawing an irritated glare from his 'partner'. "You think we won't get thrown out the window this time?"

Giles' lips twitched as he wanted to snap something back, but instead he just shook his head and made his way in through the stairwell door. "Come on."

Dade smirked and followed behind him as he glanced up at the disabled camera and frowned in puzzlement. <How the hell did he do that?>

Then he thought about the mysterious golden disk and decided that he probably didn't want to know.

"What the...??"

Bosley frowned, leaning forward and tapped the monitor with his fingers. "That's the same one as earlier..."

He shook his head and got up, frowning. <Maybe there is a surge problem in the building... I'll have to call the electricians and the security team...>

"In the meantime..." He grabbed a pistol and slipped it into his belt, carefully tugging his loose shirt down over it so no one would be able to tell it was there. Next he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door to his office. "There are procedures to follow."

"This office."

"This office?"

"This office."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes, I'm certain."

"Well the last time you were wrong..."

"I'm not wrong this time."

"If you're certain."

"Of course I'm certain!"

"Ok. This office?"

Dade growled, clenching his fist into an irritated ball. "Yes. This office."

"If you're certain..." Giles said, keeping a straight face.

"Yes I'm sure already!"

Giles smirked slightly, but then glanced up, "Get in there... someone's coming."

Dade stumbled through the door as Giles' shoved him in.

Bosley came to a stop on his way to the malfunctioning camera, glancing sideways at the door he was passing. <That's odd...>

He blinked and tried to run his mind back a few moments. <Did that door just close as I walked by?>

He made his way to the door slowly, reaching down and testing the door knob.


He pursed his lips, then started back toward the camera.

<Weird.> He shook his head, whistling loudly as he moved down the hall.

Giles breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the whistling fade away. "He's moving on."


"Is this the right office?" Giles asked, moving over.

"Don't you start that again." Dade snapped, glaring at the brit.

Giles was about to say something when the door suddenly slammed open and a balding man jumped in and screamed, "Gotcha!"

Dade and Giles stared at him, petrified into utter immobility.

"Gotcha!" Bosley screamed, looking around the office as he finished shouting.

He slumped.


"Damn." He shook his head. "I thought I had something this time..."

He half turned to leave, letting the door close slightly behind him before he suddenly jumped back with an expectant look on his face. When no threat's materialized he looked dissapointed and shrugged before he locked the door and headed back toward the camera.

"Holy fuck." Dade whispered as his heart hammered in his ears.

Giles slowly and deliberately took his hand away from his heart and forced it down onto the desk with his other hand. When he was calmly composed as much as he could possibly be, despite the fact that his heart was still hammering like an automatic weapon.

"Well..." He said slowly, licking his dry lips. "At least the aversion spell worked, even in these close quarters."

Dade glared at him, "You mean you didn't know if it would!?"

Giles shrugged, "First time. Sorry."

"I hate you." Dade said coldly before turning back to his work.

Riggs looked over at his partner and then back at the dumpster he'd just crawled out of. "Roger... This shit is getting real."

"Yeah, yeah. Real what is the question."

Riggs half laughed, glancing over to where Butters was still cursing out his 'collar' as the chinese man left the area with the black man screaming 'don't run' at him as he did. "I can't believe I lost him, Rog... I shouldn't have lost him."

"Hey, hey... You're damn right you shouldn't have."

Riggs looked up, annoyed. "What are you talking about? Where were you?? Huh?"

"Where was I? Where was I?" Roger asked defensively.

"That's what I asked!"

"Hey, hey... This isn't about me!"

Riggs laughed, leaning over as he panted for breath. "Yeah. Right."

Roger slumped against the dumpster, shaking his head. "What do we do now, Riggs?"

"I don't know, Rog." Riggs shook his head, thinking.

"I gotta go home." Roger said, looking at his watch. "Trish is expecting me for supper."

"Oh great. I almost go splat and you're heading for Trish's food." Riggs grinned, "At least my life is safer then yours."

Roger shook his head, getting up and reaching down to offer Riggs a hand where the other man was sitting. "Come on. I'll drop you off at home."

"Thanks." Riggs said, climbing to his feet as they headed back to where they'd parked. Butters quickly caught up behind them as they moved. "Hey, you know Harris talked Madarin?"

Roger shrugged, "No. But it surprises you?"

Riggs laughed, "No. After the last time we saw him I'm not surprised by anything much anymore."

"Heh, yeah... Me niether." Roger chuckled.

"Hey? Who the fuck is this asshole you guys are talking about anyway?"

Chapter 17

"Hey, I had a great time."

"Me too." Natalie grinned across at him from the passenger seat of the car. "I mean, it was great... Well, except the part with the broken mirror..."

Xander half snorted, "Yeah well, seven years of bad luck for that cop means pretty much nothng on the stack of karma he's already got weighing in against him."

Natalie rolled her eyes as the low rumble of the car subsided to a stillness that had to be felt and not heard. She looked over to the side and saw the doorman to her apartment building tip his hat at her so she smiled and waved before turning back to Xander.

For a moment the silence carried between them and she tried to think of what else to say, not usually a problem for her, but couldn't find anything. Finally it was Xander who broke the silence, shifting uncomfortably as he spoke. "You know... Nat... Like I said, I really had a good time and I was wondering..."

"Yeah?" Her smile lit up the car as she beamed unconsciously at him.

"Well... I have to leave tonight... work, you know..." Xander said, shifting, cursing himself for the insanity of what he was going to ask. "But I was wondering if maybe I could see you again?"

"I'd love that!" She kept beaming, until suddenly she frowned. "But I don't know when I'll be free."

"Next weekend?" Xander asked, hopefully.

She shook her head, "I don't know... I'm sort of on a job now and..."

"I understand." Xander said, and he did.

Giles had contacted him earlier, during their lunch actually, and informed him that the mission had been a success. That's what made this move absolutely insane.

He should be getting as far away from this girl as he could before she could use him to find Faith, but he just couldn't quite bring himself to do it.

"How about if you give me your number?" She asked brightly, almost causing Xander to groan. He'd walked right into that.

Of course, it didn't matter much. With Merlin to run interference he could give him phone number to the Secret Service and still remain about as anonymous as he chose. So he smiled cheerfully and gave her his cell number, confident that no one would be tracing it. And even if they did, the phone wasn't registered to any address that would lead them to him.

She took the scribbled number from him, smiling as she tucked it away and looked back at him expectantly.

"Well..." Xander looked out. The diner had lasted almost two hours of relaxed conversation, and he and Natalie had joined the others for another couple hours along the beach, mostly making like tourists as they kept the three girls out of the office as long as possible. Eventually Alex had had to get back, but Herc, Dylan, Nat, and Xander had hung on until the sun started to dip down. That meant that, while there was still plenty of light, the shadows in the city were starting to get long and Xander knew that he was going to have to head home soon enough.

He searched for something to say, but couldn't find anything appropriate, so instead he hesitantly leaned across the seat. Natalie leaned toward him, her eyes wide at first but soon lidded half shut as their faces came close to touching.

Xander took a deep a breath and closed the distance.

When his lips met hers it felt as wonderful and electric as it always did, but at the same time as incredibly unique as Natalie herself. He tilted his head slightly to the left as he felt her move to the right, and pressed closer still until their lips were mashed tightly against their teeth.

The sensations turned seconds into hours, such that when they finally parted they were as breathless as they'd been earlier while skating. Xander could see the thin layer of perspiration gleam across Natalie's flushed cheeks, and could feel the warmth in his own as he half shook his head and breathed out, a long breath through a tight smile. "Wow."

Natalie smiled, looking down for a second, before looking back. "Wow yourself."

"Yeah... well..." Xander shook his head and sat straighter in the car for a second. "I'll walk you to your door."

She smiled again, that same thousand watt smile that could blind any man and a good number of women for a hundred miles around, and he had to grin back as he got out of the car and walked around to her door to let her out.

Taking her hand, he gently pulled her from the car and closed the door behind her as he started to walk her up the long cement walk to the front door of her building.

About halfway there, she paused, causing him to pause as well. "Xander..."


"Do you want to come up?" This time she meant it, he could tell. Probably for nothing more then a little more time together, but she meant the offer and hoped he'd accept.

He did.

Giles glanced over at his erstwhile 'partner' and nodded. "You did a good job, Mr Murphy."

Dade looked over at the older man, "I'd say the same... but frankly I don't know what the HELL you did... and I sure don't know if you did it right or not."

Giles laughed, "The same could be said for myself. Computers were never my forte, I like things slightly more traditional."

"Yeah." Dade nodded as he watched traffic go by. "I can tell. It's *which* traditions that scare me."

"And most people, Mr Murphy." Giles said after a moment, then paused before adding with a slightly grudging tone. "You handled yourself well for the first time you were involved with magic."

Dade shrugged, "Well... I've known about Vampire's for a while now..."

"Indeed. That does make such things somewhat more palatable."


Giles just rolled his eyes and smirked.

Dade let it go. He didn't know what else to do, so he let it go. After a moment he turned back though, "What's going to happen now?"


"I mean about those PI's?" Dade asked. "They're looking for Faith."

"We'll keep an eye on them," Giles said after a moment. "They've been hired by friends of Faith's family, and aren't trying to hurt her so we'll probably just try to stay a few steps ahead of them."

"And if you can't?"

"Then we'll do what we must." Giles said with a sigh. "We'll do what we must, Mr Murphy."

"Nice place you have here." Xander said, smiling as he spoke the expected words from rote.

"Thanks." She beamed back at him, "I'm looking for a nice house though... I want a yard."

Xander smiled again, not able to do anything else as her heard the wistful 'awww' tone in her voice as she said that last. "I hope you find a nice one."

"I will." She said with certainty. "I have friends who know some people... I'll get something really nice. Take a seat on the couch, I'm going to make some tea... would you like some?"

"I'm glad." Xander said, referring to her comment about the house as he took the offered seat on the couch, "And yes. I'd love some..."

"Any type in particular?" She asked, poking her head out from behind a cupboard door.

Xander smiled to himself, making a mental bet as he spoke. "Do you have any herbal teas?"

"You drink *herbal* teas?"

<Bingo.> He chortled to himself at the delighted sound of her voice. "Yes, actually."

"Oh wow! I mean, it's not wow, but it is... you know?"

"No..." Xander feigned confusion. "What is?"

"Well you know... most men don't drink herbal teas..." She said as she reappeared with a tray that contained steaming water and some hand labeled jars.

"I'm not most men." He smiled, glancing over the selection of herbal mixes. For a brief moment he wondered if she might try to drug or poison him. He didn't think so, but there was only one way to find out.

He reached for a familiar herbal mix, opened the jar, and sniffed carefully before placing some of the mix into his cup to steep. As the mixture of Burdock, dandelion, Juniper, and peppers began to waft upward he glanced up to see Natalie looking at him curiously and smiled, "I drink a similar mix often... It's perfect for isolating toxins from the body and promoting good health.

She smiled again, shaking her head in wonder, "I *know*! And doesn't the taste just give you shivers??"

Xander shivered alright, and yeah it was from the taste, but he honestly grimaced. "Actually I never acquired a taste for them."

She looked puzzled, "Then why drink them?"

He shrugged guiltily, "Because I have a weakness for sweets and these kind of help me purge the worst of the toxins."

Natalie's laughter peeled through the apartment as she fell back into the couch beside him and laughed.

Xander smirked, taking another bitter sip and glanced down at her. "You know, it's not *that* funny."

"Yes it is." She sobbed out between laughs.

Xander looked up at the ceiling, shaking his head before setting his tea down very carefully and looking evenly at her. "If you really want to laugh, I'm sure I could find you a reason."

The glint in his eye calmed out her laughter for a moment as she looked up from where she was slouched on the couch. "You wouldn't dare."

Xander leaned down until his lips were centimeters from her ear and then he smiled, his breath sending a shiver through Natalie. "Wanna bet?"

That was all it took as Natalie twisted fast in an attempt to get clear, but Xander was quick as his hands flashed up along her sides. The tips of his fingers dug in just enough to give the nerve endings that first shuddering hit of sensation, and then were gone on to the next target as she began to writhe and laugh again.

"Xander! Stop! Stop!" She shrieked, the words coming out through the uncontrollable giggles as she kept trying to roll away, but found herself unable to without putting a lot more into it then she really felt.

Xander, for his part, was laughing almost as hard as memories of good times past flashed through his mind. He remembered Buffy, Willow, and even Dawn screaming similar things back when they'd been a family. And as he remembered that he suddenly stopped, his face becoming serious as he thought about what he'd lost.

Natalie sensed the change immediately and know that it went deeper then just the cessation of tickling. She looked up at him knowing, somehow, what she'd see. From where she was, splayed out on the couch, more then half on the floor, she reached up and gently touched his face. "Xander? What is it?"

Xander smiled down at her, not one of happiness, but a genuine smile directed at her nonetheless and Natalie felt her stomach knot up a little as he leaned down.

"You remind me of good times I'd almost forgot, Nat." He whispered just as his lips found the bridge of her nose. He kissed her deftly, then smiled with all his humor and happiness back in his face and eyes. "Thanks."

"Mmmm...." She said, holding in a giggle as his lips brushed her nose. She reached up and hooked his neck, pulling herself up to a sitting position and looked into his eyes. "Any time."

"Can I get that in writing?" Xander asked in between kisses, his voice humorous.

"Oh shut up and keep kissing." She groaned.

"Yes Ma'am."

Chapter 18

It was almost an hour later when the door closed behind him with a soft click and Xander paused at the threshold to Natalie's apartment, shaking his head.


He swallowed, breathing in and out slowly as he tried to cool himself down.

<That woman could have burned me alive.> He thought, thinking about the almost innocent heat that had practically radiated off every move Natalie made.

It was unparalleled in Xander's experience. Of that he was certain.

Faith exuded pure sex, a sultry heat that was unmatched by anyone else, it was true. And Paige had this playful seductive side that was hers and hers alone.

In fact, when he considered it, every woman he'd known had that impenetrable quality that belonged to them and them alone. From Cordelia's soft arrogance, to Phoebe's 'living large and in charge' attitude, they were each uniquely themselves.

But Natalie was...

Xander honestly didn't know what Natalie was. He was half way back to KARR when it first hit him. She was practically a schizophrenic.

She had this experienced heat in her every word and gesture, that just sucked the air out of his lungs with ease. But, her eyes were innocent. Her touch the same. She clung to him almost hesitantly, as if she wasn't certain what to do, and that was almost deadly.

Xander closed his eyes as he walked the last few feet to KARR and the drivers door opened. "Hey pal, you ever feel a need for a cigarette even though you didn't actually do anything?"

KARR was unimpressed.

"Fuck I need a cold shower."

"Oh wow." Natalie swallowed, closing the door and leaning against it even as the lock clicked shut.

She slid down the door to the floor and shook her head, repeating her earlier statement. "Oh wow."

There was just something about Xander that took her breath away, and damned if she could quite place it. He had this calm confidence that seemed unaffected by almost anything she could do to disrupt it, and boy Natalie Cook had *tried* to disrupt it.

Innuendos, come ons, damn near flashing him... none of them worked. He just smiled and kept on going as if she were just any other person in the world.


But then when he'd kissed her the night before. And she'd kissed him. And she'd forgotten to try to blow his socks off and when he'd stepped back he'd almost killed himself by falling over the hood of his car.

She giggled. It was so perfect, just the reaction she'd been trying to get all day, but had failed at. And then, when she'd stopped trying and let the *real* Natalie slip out for a second, he'd fallen. Hard.

She groaned.

He wasn't the only one.

Tonight had been the same. She'd tried all the shots, all the techniques, everything she could pull out of the 'bimbo bag' and he just blew them all off like they were nothing.

God she loved that in a guy.

Natalie fished her cell phone from her pocket and hit a speed dial button. "Alex? Is Dylan there? Hey guys! Yeah... he just left... Ok, I'll be here. See you in a few."

"Hey G-man." Xander spoke as he drove, letting the conference electronics built into KARR's circuits handle the cellular connection. "How's it going?"

"I dropped Mr Murphy off at the airport and saw that he boarded the plane. Really, Xander, was a charter *Lear* necessary?"

Xander chuckled, "Maybe not, but the truth is that there weren't any flights I could book him on that would arrive in time... So I had Merlin charter the Lear."

"Well, that's all very well and good," Giles said dryly, "But the return trip could as easily have been handled by a regular airline."

"Yeah, but I figured that I may as well give Dade something to talk about to his pals." Xander snickered, then straightened his face. "Hey... what are you doing now?"

"Preparing to head back to Sunnydale." Giles said, "Unlike you, I can't sleep through class tomorrow... I have a business to purchase."

"Har de har." Xander said dryly, turning the trans-am toward the freeway. "You sure about the Magic Box?"

"Quite." Giles said, "As logical as it seems, I don't feel the need to surround myself with such things on a full time basis."

"Alright." Xander nodded, "Well... Good luck."

"I assure you that I have little need of it." Giles replied, a smirk in his voice. "Still... Thank you."

"I'll see you in SunnyD."


Natalie counted down less then three minutes before her front door burst open and her two best friends came running in, only to make a feeble attempt to slow down and look unconcerned. She hid a smile over that for all of three seconds before grinning at them.

They grinned back and all pretense left the building as the three of them piled onto the sofa, tucking their knees up as Dylan started the questions.


"So..." Natalie let it drag out before smiling again, "I asked him to come up... and he did."

"Well duh." Dylan rolled her eyes, "Of course he did. He's a man."

"He said no yesterday." She smiled tightly at the redhead.

Dylan and Alex both stared at her with widening eyes and Alex blurted, "You asked him up to your apartment on the first date??"

Dylan crowed, throwing her head back. "Yes! Way to go Nat!"

Natalie half shrugged, "He said no."

"Damn. Is this guy human?" Dyan grinned, "Ok, so you asked him up tonight and he came up... then what?"

"We had some tea..." Natalie said, shrugging.

"Tea?" Dylan blinked. "You had TEA?? Damn, Nat, I keep telling you... go for the booze!"

"Dylan!" Natalie blurted, scandalized. "I like tea."

"Fine, fine," Alex leaned forward, "you like tea... does he??"

"No." Natalie grinned, then started giggling as her friends looked at her in confusion.

"No?? Then why'd he drink it?" Dylan asked, puzzled.

"Because he likes candy!" Natalie roared with laughter and left the other two completely lost in the backwash.

"I didn't get that," Dylan shrugged, looking at Alex. "Did you get that?"

"I didn't get that." Alex shook her head.

The two looked back to Natalie and blurted, "We don't get that," But she only laughed harder.

"He drugged her." Dylan said, "He came up here, drugged her tea with laughing gas or something, and then had his way with her."

That brought Natalie back to herself quickly as she protested between gasps for air, "He did not! He was a perfect gentleman."

"Too bad." Dylan grinned unrepentantly. "You need someone to have his way with you."

"Dylan!" Natalie said again, exasperated as she flung a pillow across the room, catching her partner solidly in the face.

Dylan's head rocked back, the pillow flipping end for end over her as her hair splayed all over, then she straightened again and stared at Natalie in shock. Slowly a grin passed over her face, "Oh, you're gonna pay for that..."

In a few moments pillows, cushions, and the occasional stuffed animal were flying all over the apartment.

<God I need that cold shower.> Xander griped as he sped along the road to Sunnydale. He shuddered to think of dealing with Faith tonight, she was going to test his resolve sorely without even knowing it.

On the road up ahead his sharp eyes spotted something approaching quickly and Xander reacted on a sudden urge. He tapped the breaks, slowing the car to a reasonable speed, then turned off road before KARR could demand to know what he was doing.

As the AI began to complain about the treatment, Xander tapped out a command into the console and braced himself. A second later a light came on, Xander tapped another button, and the Trans-am took to the air and crashed through a yellow sign that read :

"Welcome to Sunnydale."

"Damn, I've wanted to do that for a long time." Xander said as he turned the car back onto the road and increased speed again. "Sorry about that, KARR. I'll owe you a freebie upgrade."

The AI grumbled to itself, but didn't object further.

Behind them, receding in the distance, was a large yellow sign with a car sized hole through the very center of it's surface. No words were visible.

The three Angels were splayed around the center of the disheveled room, sweating and laughing as they finally gave up the war due to exhaustion.

"So..." Dylan panted as she rolled over onto her back, lolling her head around so she could see where Natalie was laying against an overturned footstool. "Perfect gentleman, huh? You mean he didn't try *anything*?"

Natalie looked back at her through hooded eyes and smiled.

Dylan perked up, forgetting about being tired. "He did!? Come on, Nat! Spill!"

Natalie grinned wider.

Alex pulled her legs under her and leaned back against the couch as she eyed her blond friend. <That girl is too pleased with herself.>

"Come on... First base?" Dylan grinned.

Natalie grinned wider, but shook her head.

"You didn't."

Natalie nodded, grinning even more.

Dylan looked at her in mock disgust. "You let him get to second?"

"Who said anything about him?" Natalie grinned as she whipped another pillow across the room and nailed a shocked Dylan between the eyes again.

Xander let himself into the mansion, looking around tiredly. <thank god. No one's here.>

He made a beeline for his room, locking the door behind him as he headed for the shower and shed his clothes along the way.

<I can't keep this up.> He groaned to himself. <This dating crap is for the birds.>

<You do attract the most *interesting* women.> Elanthielle cracked.

"Don't remind me." Xander spun the cold water all the way over and jumped as the water hit him.

Elanthielle laughed as the freezing water hit him and he forced himself to stay under the spray. <If only she could see the effect she really had on you.>

Xander spun the hot all the way on, flipping the cold off and letting that stream sear him for a moment before flipping it back to the cold again.

"Ok, ok, seriously..." Alex said, tears streaming down her cheeks as she came up for a breath from her laughter. "Seriously... do we have anything on this guy? Do you think he's the guy we're looking for?"

The laughter calmed down as Natalie looked serious and even Dylan frowned.

"I don't know." Natalie frowned, "I just don't know."

"A whole weekend, and nothing." Alex sighed. "Girls... we're losing our touch."

Natalie smiled, "Oh, I don't know..."

"She knows something." Dylan said quickly, looking over at Natalie. "What do you know?"

She fished a piece of paper out of her pocket. "I got his phone number..."

"Yes!" Dylan grinned, "Way to go, Nat!"

Natalie grinned, reaching over and they slapped each other's hands and spoke together. "Yes!"

Alex rolled her eyes, but smiled just the same. "I'm glad your happy. Tomorrow we explain to Charlie why we haven't made any progress on the case."

That brought the mood down quick.


Chapter 19

Morning brought a sense of peace to Xander as, for the first time he could remember, he woke up without any screaming in the distance.

<Hey...> He thought, his eyes opening wide. <No one's screaming... Oh shit. Why isn't anyone screaming?>

His covers went one way as Xander went the other and he grabbed for his clothes.

"Hey, pass the milk will you?" Faith asked as she reached across the table for the syrup.

"Here ya go." Jack Styles said, sliding the milk across to her as he grabbed a think slice of toast and dropped a knife full of butter on it. "Mik... Use your fork."

Mikki glowered up at him, but reluctantly grabbed the fork while muttering to herself.

Somewhere around then Xander hit the kitchen like a whirlwind, coming to a skidding stop in the doorway as he looked wildly around the kitchen. His pants were done up, but his shirt was still only partially buttoned and his hair had a wild sort of look to it that matched his eyes.

"Kid? You ok?"

"What's up, Xan?" Faith asked, looking at him in confusion.

"Xander!" Mikki shouted, gleefully, as she abandoned her food and darted across the room towards him.

Xander caught her easily and looked down fondly, "Heya, Mik. How was the weekend? You go running?"

She nodded as Xander slowly made his way across the kitchen and sat her back down before he took a seat himself. "Went through trees all night...."

Xander glanced over at her for a moment, just barely biting back a sharp comment about being out at night before he remembered that any vampire who took on to Mikki would be biting off more then they could chew. Literally.

Still, there were some demons out there that would hunt a lync.

"Be careful, Mikki." He said finally, lightening his tone a little. "Sunnydale has a lot of nasty types that might not like you."

"No one see me." She said with the confidence of youth and the arrogance of her breed.

<Cats.> Elanthielle muttered in disgust.

<I was just thinking the same thing... only the word I used was 'women.'> Xander smirked as Elan bristled.

<Take care, Alexander,> Elan muttered, <Else I may instruct you most thoroughly on the subject.>

"Just the same," Xander allowed himself a slight smile. "Take care... For me, ok?"

She scowled, but finally nodded before turning her attention back to her food.

Xander turned his attention to the table as well, just in time to catch Faith still staring at him. "What?"

"That's my question, boytoy." Faith said archly. "What's the idea of rushing in here like that?"

Xander shrugged, hiding his embarrassment. "Nothing. Nothing."

Faith kept scowling, but gave up. "Alright."

"Hey, Jack... How's the research coming?" Xander asked, turning over to Jack Styles. "Getting up to date yet?"

Jack shrugged, nodding a bit. "Yeah... But I still can't believe that this electricity thing caught on."

Xander snickered slightly, shaking his head. "I'm afraid it did though, Jack."

"Yeah." Styles muttered sourly. "Emily would never let me live it down."

The ex-Colonial spy turned a little somber at that point, but quickly shook it off. Outwardly at least. After a moment he looked up, "Hey... What's this Baseball deal anyway? I mean, it looks like townball... but what the hell is a Strike?"

Xander paused, a piece of orange about two inches from his mouth as he looked over in confusion. Slowly a thought came to him and he locked onto it, following the thought to a memory. "Shit."

"Pardon?" Jack looked even more confused. "I thought that shit was..."

"No. Not that." Xander held up his hand, "Sorry. You just reminded me of something. So, what's bothering you about 'Baseball'?"

Jack shrugged, "I still can't figure out this three strikes thing... And from what I can tell some of these guys throw the ball at over ninety miles per hour... Now, I'm not really up on how fast that is... But wouldn't that hurt like hell when they soak the runner?"

"Soak the runner?" Faith looked up, "What the hell is that?"

Jack looked around, still confused. "To put the runner out, you hit him with the ball... right?"

Xander sighed, <This is gonna take a while.>

After extricating themselves from the baseball discussion, with some difficulty, Xander drove Mikki to school and then he, Tara, and Faith just made it to their own classes before the first bell.

They were met in the parking lot by Jesse, Buffy, Willow, and Jonothan.

"I thought you were getting another car." Jessie observed as he glanced at the Trans-am.

Xander paused in midstep and looked back, then slapped his forehead as he groaned in pain. "Fuck!"

Willow blanched and took a half step back as he cursed, and the others looked puzzled.

"What was that for?" Buffy asked.

"I forgot the car in LA." Xander cursed under his breath again. "Damn it! I can't believe I did that."

Bufy stared at him for a moment, "But... didn't you go to LA specifically to get the car?"

Xander nodded glumly.

"And you *forgot* it?" She asked incredulously. "How does that happen?"

"I got... distracted, alright??" Xander said defensively as Faith started snickering. "And you cut that out."

Faith just kept snickering as her laughter built to a crescendo. Finally she managed to gasp out, "Let me guess, Brunette?"

"Blond." Xander said without thinking, then he groaned again. "Shit."

Faith just laughed harder and Xander started to purposely trudge toward the school, the rest of the gang moving quickly to keep up with him.

"What was this one?" Faith asked, still laughing. "'Nother Slayer maybe? Witch? Immortal? Demon?"

"Leave me alone Faith." Xander growled as the rest looked at him in confusion.

"Uh... Bro?" Jessie asked slowly. "What's she talking about?"

"Nothing." He gritted out. "Don't you have a class now Faith?"

She shrugged and smirked at him.

"NOW." He growled.

She kept laughing as she nodded and broke away with Tara. "Sure. Hey... I'll talk to you guys later."

Xander groaned as Faith strutted off. He headed resolutely for class as the others moved along behind him, shooting odd looks at him the entire way.

The morning classes progressed quickly, and Xander took his first spare of the day to visit the library on his own.

"May I help... Oh. It's you." Wesley eyed him with a certain degree of trepidation. "Why are you here? Are their any more rules you wish to shatter? Or perhaps you have some other myth or legend tucked away in your pocket to drop on me."

"Relax. I'm just here to talk for a minute." Xander said, smirking lightly. "How are you at magic?"

Wesley looked a little puzzled, but shrugged. "I'm mildly talented... But my strengths lie mostly in ritual..."

Xander nodded, "Thought so."

"May I ask why you asked that?" Wesley asked, almost hesitantly.

Xander quirked a smile. "No reason."

Wesley was about to counter with something as Buffy and Willow barreled into the library, talking and laughing to themselves as they looked down at a paper.

"You should try out!" Willow said. "You really should."

"I don't know," Buffy said, her voice a little wistful. "It's been so long."

"But you'd be so good at it!"

"Maybe." Xander could see Buffy waver as she let Willow talk her into something that she actually wanted to do anyway. He smiled slightly and shook his head softly.

"What, dare I ask, are you two talking about?"

"Cheerleader tryouts!" Willow beamed brightly as she held up the paper. "Buffy would be a shoe in!"

Wesley looked aghast. "You can not be serious!"

"Why not!?" Buffy asked defensively.

"You... You... You're the Slayer." Wesley said, as if that answered everything.

"SO?" Buffy bristled instantly. "Aren't I allowed a life too?"

"But... But..." Wesley could tell that he was losing the argument, but had no idea how or why.

"Wes..." Xander half smiled. "Give it up man. She'll do what she wants to."

Buffy smiled triumphantly.

Wesley turned a stricken look on Xander, "But she's the Slayer!"

"So she is." Xander nodded, "And a Slayer should be flexible and in good shape, right?"

"Well... yes... but... but... but..."

Xander just kept grinning as the Watcher floundered. <This is fun.>

"So there." Buffy said triumphantly as she turned on her heal and started out the door.

<now.> Xander thought to himself as he spoke just loud enough for his voice to carry. "I mean... It's not like being a Cheerleader is *that* much more work to do..."

Buffy almost missed a step on her way out, and Xander smiled.

<That was cruel.> Elan said, laughing lightly.

Xander just kept smirking. <I know.>

Wesley looked over at him, still with that pained expression on his face. "What just happened here?"

Xander laughed, "You tried to go head to head with a Slayer. Congratulations, you survived. Next time, I'd try a more subtle tack. Slayer's don't respond well to the head on method."

Wesley slumped into a chair, "You think I should try reverse psychology?"

Xander snorted, "Right. Try telling Buffy to go ahead and do something she already wants to do... Good plan. Reverse Psychology only works on children and morons.... and not too many children, now that I think of it. I said subtle, not transparent."

Wesley groaned softly as he stared at the door, "What have I gotten myself into?"

"Welcome to the Hellmouth, Mr Wyndham Price." Xander grinned as he flicked a piece of dirt off his shirt. "Don't worry... a little while longer and it'll feel just like home."

<Poor guy.> Xander grinned at the stricken look on the Watcher's face as he turned to leave.

"W...wait! Where are you going?"

"Are you kidding?" Xander grinned, half turning around. "Buffy and Cordelia in cheerleader outfits is not something I intend to miss. Besides, someone has to put the fire out."

"Fire? What fire?"

Chapter 20

"So how'd the Brit take it?" Jessie asked as he tried not to appear to be doing what he was doing.

"Fine." Buffy glowered at him, "And stop looking up my skirt."

"I'm not, I swear! I'm tying my shoe..."

"Right." Buffy shook her head and moved several feet away from Jessie.

Jessie finally managed to tie that stubborn lace as he got up, smiling a little goofily as Buffy shook her head and rolled her eyes.

Willow glared at her friend, but didn't say anything as she looked out over the gymnasium. Her eyes widened and she smiled in surprise as she recognized one of the girls in uniform. "Amy! Hi!"

"Amy?" Jessie looked around, not seeing her. "Where?"

Suddenly a slim blond waved and walked over and Jessie goggled. "Amy??"

"Hi... Willow." She said, smiling.

"My God, Amy you look great!" Willow beamed, "You lost a lot of weight."

"I'll say." Jessie blinked as he nudged Jonathan and whispered to the other boy. "Damn."

"Huh? What?" Jonathon looked over, blinking in confusion.

Jessie rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything else as he glanced in the direction Jonothan was watching and saw Joy lift her clipboard and call up the next girl for tryouts. "Jon, she's two years older then you and the head of the squad. Get over it already."

"Amber Grove!" Joy called out, nodding briskly to the girl who stepped forward then turned back to the group. "Please, everyone who's not auditioning, off the mats."

"Well, I had to if I want to try out for the team." Amy replied directly to Willow, not hearing, or not appearing to hear Jessie's comments.

Willow nodded, then gestured to Buffy. "Oh, have you met Buffy?"

"Hi." Amy said, cooly noting Buffy's uniform.

"Hi." Buffy smiled back, just a little uncertainly.

Amy sighed and looked back over the action as Amber Grove went through her routine. "Oh, how I hate this, let me count the ways."

Amber did a series of back flips, landing solidly and well, her back arcing as she extended her hands to either side and then moved into a series of perfectly executed cartwheels.

"She's trained with Benson." Amy said, glancing over at Buffy. "He's one of the best coaches money can buy."

"They have cheerleading coaches?" Buffy said, purposely sounding like an airhead. She'd had a coach in LA for two years, she knew how to spot a well coached girl as well as anyone. <Still. No need to tell anyone that I'm not serious about this... Willow seems almost as happy as Mom that I'm trying out.>

"Oh yes." Amy said, oblivious to Buffy's inner thoughts. "I train with my Mom three hours a day."

Buffy winced, this time it wasn't an act. "That kind of quality time with my mother would probably lead to Matricide."

"Oh, I know it's hokey... But she's really great." Amy said, warming to the subject.

A short distance away from them they heard Cordelia Chase let out an annoyed sounding noise as she crossed her arms across her uniform and scowled at Amber as she performed.

Amy and Buffy looked over for a moment, and then back just as two things happened at the same time.

The first was Jonathon speaking in a surprised voice, "What's Xander doing with a fire extinguisher?"

That was enough to draw puzzled looks from the entire group, but in a short second that was forgotten as Willow blurted out, "Oh my God! She's on fire!"

The Coach, annoyed, glared at Willow without looking at the mats. "That's enough of the hyperbole!"

On the mats however, Amber Grove was indeed on fire. Smoke was pouring from her hands as he panicked and tried to slap out the tiny embers of flames she could feel burning her skin. A moment later her hands erupted into real flames as her hurried patting fed the heat more oxygen and they ignited.

Girls screamed and the coach stared in open mouthed shock as this happened in front of them and only two people moved to do anything.

The first was Buffy Summers, who immediately grabbed a banner hanging along the wall, ripped it down, and ran toward the cheerleader. Before she even hit the mats, though, Xander Harris hosed Amber down with the fire extinguisher he was carrying and calmly tossed it aside as soon as he saw the flames her out.

"Hey," He smiled softly at her as he gently pulled up her wrists. "You'll be fine... let me see your hands, ok?"

The shaken girl didn't say anything as he checked her out and applied a burn creme to her hands with that same soft smile. When he was done he just smiled a little wider, "You know, when boys say that a girl is smoking hot, they don't expect her to try it for real."

Amber actually giggled a little through the pain of her hands and Xander lifted her up as the group crowded in. Xander looked around and nodded at Buffy as he saw her holding the banner in her hands, staring at him in shock. "Good thinking, Buff."

It could have been sarcastic, given what he'd just done, but his voice held no hint of that and his smile was clear, almost grateful, so Buffy just nodded as her hands dropped to her sides.

"Are you alright??" The Coach finally found her voice, blurting the question out to Amber as he looked at the job Xander had done on her hands.

"I... I think so." She said, shaken, as she looked at her hands. They were an angry red, but not so much worse then a really bad sunburn, and she shivered at the through of how bad they could have been.

The Coach looked over at Xander, frowning as she looked at the burn kit in the boys hands and the extinguisher on the floor. "I don't have a clue how you happened to be walking by with that... and... Damn it, why were you walking by with those??"

"Coach Henley asked me to double check the first aid kit and the extinguisher in the Gym, Ma'am." Xander replied honestly.

"He did." The Coach blinked. "Ummm... Ok... I'll... I'll have to thank him for that."

Xander smiled, "I think I might too, Ma'am."

"Uh... right." She shook the confusion off, quickly bundling Amber Grove up and hustling her out of the gym and to the nurse's office.

There was a stunned silence before Joy Lee stepped forward, "Alright... show's over... Next up... Cordelia Chase."

"And then he just pulled a first aid kit out of his pocket and spread this creme over her hands..."

Wesley frowned, "And this was a bad thing?"

"No." Buffy glared at the british man for a moment, "You're missing the point here."

"And the point was?"

"How did he know that he would need those things??"

"That," Xander said from the door as he walked in on the conversation. "Is for me to know, and you to lose sleep over."

"Xander!" Buffy flushed, then glared. "Don't you know how to knock??"

"In a public library?" Xander asked with half a smile.

"Uh... well... I..."

Xander just smiled and winked at her, "You're cute when you stammer, you know that?"

Buffy flamed bright red and glared at him with pure malevolent rage.

Xander looked over at Wesley, "Oh, hey... That bit in the Gym? Witch playing games. We're going to handle her right after school while the Cheerleaders are practicing. You in?"

"What do you mean, handle?" Wesley asked hesitantly.


"You... You're going to k...?"

Xander shook his head, "Not quite *that* permanent, Wes. Not unless we screw up in a big way."

"I... I see. I'm in, as it were."

"Cool." Xander said, turning around, then he glanced back to Buffy and smiled again. "Oh. Hey, just so you know..."

"What?" She gritted out, fists clenched tightly into balls.

"You're even cuter when your pissed." Xander said, then he turned around and walked calmly out the door while whistling cheerfully to himself.

As the door closed he winced slightly as he heard a scream of inarticulate rage and the sound of something wooden being turned into sawdust.

<You are an insane human being.> Elan told him bluntly.

<I know.> He thought back, still whistling cheerfully as he calmly made his way down the hall.

Chapter 21

"I'm going to kill him."

Jessie spun on his heel as he entered the room, calmly walking right back out the door as he heard that proclamation. A few seconds later he poked his head in again, "Psst... Willow... Psst."

Willow looked up, frowning at him, "What??"

"Is she talkin bout me?"

"I'm talking about Xander!" Buffy growled out, tossing a book across the room.

"Could you PLEASE stop throwing my books?" Wesley pleaded as he ran after the latest victim of his Slayer's wrath.

"Oh, Ok." Jessie grinned cheerfully as he reentered the room, "You do know that I haven't seen him, and am not really close to him anymore... Right?"

"Way to stick with your pals, man." Jonathon rolled his eyes as he shoved Jessie out of the way and moved into the library.

"Hey, when a guy is dumb enough to get a girl killing mad at him, he don't get no help from me."

"I'll remember that." Jon grinned, palming an apple from his lunch bag. "Next time you try to look up Cordelia's skirt, or down Harmony's blouse."

Jessie grinned, "At least I'll go out with a smile on my face."

Willow scowled at him, but was more interested in finding out what exactly Xander did that was apparently murder-worthy. "Buffy...? Ah... uh... well... What did he do?"

"What did who do?" Faith asked, shouldering the door open as she carried a huge armload of books and an extra-large collapsible cooler into the library.

"Xander." Jessie answered. "Buffy's gonna kill him."

"Ha!" Faith snorted, dropping her books and enormous lunch onto the table. "Been tried, he always squirms loose."

"Not this time." Buffy ground out, "Not until I've broken every bone in his body. THEN He can squirm anywhere he wants to."

"Damn, B." Faith grinned as she hauled out a bottle of cola and opened it up, "What did X do this time?"

"I believe that he called her 'cute'." Wesley said, only to find himself suddenly sprayed with cola as Faith did a spit take and her amusement died out. "I say! Haven't I asked you children not to bring food in here!?"

"CUTE!?" Faith growled out. "I *hate* it when he does that."

"Oh boy." Jessie started edging for the door.

"Where are you going?" Jon asked, puzzled.

"Are you kidding me??" Jessie hissed back, "One angry girl, two sane ones, and three guys is good odds. Two pissed off girls, and only three guys?? Not a chance in hell. I'm getting the hell out of here before they start taking practice shots."

Jonathan glanced back to where he now noticed that Willow was starting to look angry too, and just nodded as he bolted for the door with Jessie.

"Where are you going?? Hey! Get back here and act like men! Wimps! At least Wesle..." Faith snapped in their direction, just in time to hear a click behind her. She spun around, only to find that Wesley had ducked out the back way. "Wus!"

Xander was working out in the gym when Jessie and Jonathon staggered in, out of breath. He frowned at them. "You know, for two guys who have been doing martial arts under Master Lee for a year, I expected better conditioning."

"Just..." Jessie panted, "Sprinted... All the way... from the... library."

"Huh? Why?"

"Girls... Kill... you." Jon managed to get out.

Xander blinked, then sighed. "Which ones?"

"Buffy, Faith, and Willow, bro."

"Faith? Buffy I get... Willow I can almost understand... But how they hell did Faith get involved?" Xander looked puzzled.

"Something about the word 'cute'." Jonathon said, puzzled as he sat on the floor.

Xander groaned, "Figures. I need to rent that girl a Gigalo or something. It'd save me a lot of headaches."

"What!?" Jon blinked, looking up.

Jessie raised a hand, "Well... You know, if they pay is good I'd volunteer... If the pay is good."

Xander laughed out loud, shaking his head. "She'd break you in half and lose the pieces, Jes. I'll let her know you offered though."

"Don't do me no favors." Jessie said sourly.

"I won't." Xander grinned, "I'll use it to distract her some time when she's pissed off with me."


Jonathon looked over, frowning at Jessie. "Hey, didn't you tell me earlier that if Xander was stupid enough to piss off... mmmmphhh!"

"Shut up!" Jessie snapped, covering Jon's mouth with his hand and forcing a smile at Xander. "He's delirious... doesn't know what he's saying..."

"Uh huh." Xander said, shaking his head as he smiled and turned back to the heavy bag. "That all?"

"Is that all!?" Jessie stared at him, "Are you kidding me!? You've got three of them out for your blood! Are you nuts? Skip class today! Get the hell out of dodge!"

"Jes... What's the worst that could happen?" Xander asked, as he half laughed.

"Let's lock him in the girls bathroom."

"Naw. Xan can pick locks like a pro." Faith shook her head, "He'd be out before anyone saw him. Trust me, I've seen him get out of handcuffs so fast it ain't funny."

"How about we all pretend to come on to him in public and then snub him?"

"Ha! Xan would love that." Faith smirked. "Trust me, you ain't never gonna embarrass Xander thinking like that."

"Fine." Buffy countered, "I'll just pound him into paste."

"Right. Like I've said, been tried." Faith smirked, "By me. Twice. He's too good, he'd take you for a ride, B, and you'd never know what hit ya."

"I'm the Slayer." Buffy said with a profound satisfaction.

"Yeah, so what? Xander's a human that *scares* demons." Faith laughed. "They RUN when they hear he's in town... Trust me, he ain't gonna be panicking about you."

Buffy scowled at her, "He can't be THAT good."

"Right. You keep on believing that, blondy." Faith said under her breath, then she smiled. "Oh... Have I got an idea for you... Come on, listen up..."

Willow and Buffy leaned in as Faith outlined her plan.

<You do realize that they are coming after you, right?>

<Of course they are.> Xander returned as he finished showering and grabbed a towel from where it was hanging over the stall door. <I can take whatever they dish out.>

<I'm sure you can, but why on Earth would you want to??> Elan asked with a mildly humorous tone.

Xander shrugged, "Keeps life interesting."

<You need a little more boredom in your life, Alexander. Not three girls looking for payback.>

"Yeah, probably." Xander grinned as he stepped out into the locker room and popped his locker.

"Huh. They moved faster then I thought." He said dryly, noting that the only article of clothing left in his locker was a pair of women's panties.

<Is that all you have to say?> Elanthielle snickered in amusement.

"Not a whole lot more to say is there." Xander sighed, looking around the locker room. He walked over to another locker at random and noticed that the lock on it was open. He sighed and flipped it open.

Another pair of panties.

He looked idly along the line of lockers and began to feel the slightest tremor of worry. <How MANY girls could they *possibly* have gotten to go along on something like this??>

He flipped open another locker.


"Not good." he said finally, considering the situation. "They must have every girl in school waiting outside the door."

<You WERE warned.>

"Yeah yeah." Xander back tracked through the locker room, more out of curiosity then anything else, and quickly found that the door to the gym was solidly blocked.

He made his way back out and sighed as he shook his head, "Ok, maybe I should have been just a *little* more concerned."

<Truly?> Elan asked sarcastically. <I have no idea what makes you think that.>

"Alright..." Xander frowned, "I could try to get out through the airducts... But Faith will have thought of that... No, that would be too humiliating. She'd probably wind up peeling me out of them in front of everyone."

He looked back, "And there's no way in hell I'm putting on womens panties. I'd fucking flash them before I..."

<Alexander, don't do any of those things... The best way to handle this is simple...>

He paused, listening. Finally he just smiled.

"The bell is gonna ring soon." Buffy said, suddenly nervous.

"Shh." Faith hissed. "I'm listening."

"For what? He's trapped..." Willow said, burning an incredibly bright red, the same color she'd had going for the last twenty minutes.

"Xander? Hell no. If I know Boytoy he's gonna make a break for it... and we'll have to be real good to catch..." Faith trailed off as the door to the locker room opened and Xander calmly walked out with nothing more then the towel he'd dried off with to cover him.

As the cheers and the catcalls from the assembled girls roared through the hallway he just calmly walked through the crowd and strait to Faith, Buffy, and Willow.

Suddenly, they were as much part of the scene as he was, and niether Buffy nor Willow thought much of that turn.

"Cell." Xander said, extending a hand.

"Pardon?" Faith asked, a big smirk on her face.

"Cell phone." Xander said, as if that was his only concern. "I need to call Giles so we can handle the Witch, remember?"

"Oh... Right." Faith winced. <Damn it! He's not playing fair!!>

She handed the phone over, and Xander accepted it graciously as he waved to the girls who were crowded all around. "Thanks for coming out, girls... Hope you do the same for the team at the next match."

Then he calmly walked down the hall as everyone stared at him, some in shock, and some just laughing to kill themselves.

"What is the meaning of this!?"

Xander glanced over in time to see Principal Flutey staring at him in shock, so he stopped by the man and looked at him and shrugged. "Sorry, Sir. I seem to have misplaced my clothes... Would it be acceptable if I took some time to get a new wardrobe?"

"Uh... uh... uh..." Flutey stammered, staring at the practically naked teenage boy in his hallway until he finally nodded. "Uh... Yes... Yes... By all means."

"Thank you Sir." Xander smiled and walked out of the school, waving and smiling as the catcalls and jeers showered down on him.

"Oh wow." Harmony Kendall smiled a little as she watched the departing form. "That's soo..."

She swallowed as she caught the arc look from Cordelia, "Uh... soo uncool. So humiliating... so not very hot at all..."

Cordy shook her head and rolled her eyes as she turned her back on the blond and headed for her first class of the afternoon. Not that she'd admit it to her 'friends', but that show had been a high point of the day... probably the school year.

<Who'd ever have guessed that Xander Harris would Buff up?> She snorted to herself. <Not me, that's for damn sure. I wonder what he did to those three to piss them off so bad anyway?>

A moment later she shrugged it off. It was most certainly going to be a memory to treasure... for a few nights at least, but she didn't need to know the sordid details to enjoy it.

Besides, those three were hopeless. They'd had him in their clutches, a perfect sting, and they let him turn it on them. Cordelia stifled a smile, oh he certainly took the brunt of it, but he'd also deflated their enjoyment by taking it in stride. And then he even managed to say something to make the Brunette flinch.

Harris wasn't the dork anymore.

Who'd have ever thought it?

Chapter 22

"What the hell happened to you, Kid?"

"Don't ask." Xander said tiredly as he walked in the front door and headed for the stairs.

Jack Styles watched as the near naked boy walked past, "Thank god. I was afraid he was going to tell me for a second there."

Xander just kept walking as he took the stairs two at a time, hit his room at a jog, and ditched the towel even as the door was still closing behind him. Dressing didn't take too long, but he didn't head right out when he was done. Instead he made a quick call on his cell.


"Xander." Came the response.

"You ready?"

"Indeed. And you?"

"Yeah, I got the package over the weekend. Jack dropped it in the fridge like he was told." Xander replied. "We're set. Wes is in."

"Oh goody."

"Come on, G." Xander said sighed, "He's not so bad."

"No," The response was grudging. "He's not. But he irritates me."

"And his presence alone is an insult." Xander added. "Right?"

"There is that."

"Well save the hostility for Travers." Xander said tightly. "And meet us outside the school at final bell."


"See you then." Xander said.

"Good bye, Xander."

Xander's return to school was slightly quieter then his departure, but not noticeably so as his class erupted into catcalls and hooting as he entered. Xander forced the blood away from his face, grinned, and took a bow as the laughter swelled, enjoying the irritation in Buffy's face as he did.

"Alright, alright..." The teacher growled, trying to reassert control that he'd never really had as Xander took his seat. "That's enough of that. The events of the day notwithstanding, I doubt they'll help you with your final exams."

"Not unless streaking is a qualifier."

The class roared again as the dryly sarcastic comment came from where Larry and his football cronies were sitting in the back.

"That's enough!" The teacher snapped, wiping the moisture from his forehead. "Now... back to the subject at hand people?"

Xander just smiled, opened his books, and thought about the retribution that he knew was soon to come.

Final bell signaled the end of class and Xander met with Wesley at the front door as the young englishman tried to look inconspicuous, dressed in his tweeds, and carrying a paper bag full of weapons.

Xander smiled, using one finger to bend the bag over slightly, and shook his head. "I doubt you'll be needing those."

"What about the witch??"

"She's in cheerleading practice." Xander grinned, "We'll deal with her after."

"Cheerleading practice?? Are you joking? What on earth would a practicing witch care about... about... bouncing her pompoms???"

"You don't know much about women, do you, Wes?" Xander smirked.

"Oh, and you do?" The voice came from behind them as Xander and Wesley made their way to the parking lot.

Xander turned around, surprised, but only mildly so. "Hey Buff. Thought you had practice."

"You're going after a Witch." Buffy said, "I'm the Slayer. It's my duty, remember?"

"We're not going to slay her Buff. Besides, I thought you wanted a life?" Xander said, his tone mildly mocking as he smiled at her.

The Blond Slayer gritted her teeth, glaring at him, and grew even more irritated as he just smiled back. "I do. This is part of it."

Xander nodded, smiling as he glanced toward Wesley. "I told you, Wes. She's got her priorities right."

Buffy blinked in surprise when she heard that.

Wesley nodded. "Indeed."

"Well..." Xander corrected dryly after a moment. "Almost right."

This time she blushed as he looked at her pointedly, but he didn't say anything else, he just nodded toward the lot and nodded his head. "Come on, Buff."

The met Giles in the lot and split up into the two cars, Wesley going with Giles, under protest from both british men, but Xander decided it was more politic then expecting Wes to accept Buffy going with Giles.

"Nice car." Buffy said, looking around the interior of the Trans-am for the first time.

Xander didn't respond as he steered through the traffic, heading toward his destination.

"I said, nice car."

"He heard you." Xander replied with a small smile.



"Uh huh." Buffy shifted in the seat, looking at Xander as if he were completely nuts.

"Hey, don't get on my case if he doesn't speak up. KARR is the strong silent type." Xander grinned, "Isn't that right KARR?"

KARR didn't know how to respond to that so he didn't.

Xander shrugged, "See?"

"Yeah." Buffy said dryly, "You're nuts."

Xander chuckled, "Straightforward as always, Buff."

"So... Where are we going, anyway?"

"You remember Amy, from earlier?"

Buffy frowned, considering. "Oh Yeah. She wasn't really friendly... She faked it well though."

"That wasn't Amy."


Xander smiled as he gave her the quick version, counting down the seconds as he turned down the road that Amy lived on.

"Hello?" The woman who answered the door flinched as she recognized Xander.

"Miss Madison?" Xander smiled, "We're friends of Amy's."

"She's not here."

"Yes, she is." Xander said, smiling as he pushed past her and into the house.

"Hey... you can't just... I mean..." She stammered out as the four people just barged into her home.

"Relax, Amy." Xander said, dropping a toolkit to a table. "We're here to help."

"Amy... I'm not... I... I'm not Amy. I'm her..."

Xander just looked over at her with a steady gaze until she fell back into a chair.

"How did you find out?" She asked miserably.

"You're mother is sloppy with her magic." Giles said, gazing around the house. "She's left remnants of it all over the house."

"Anything dangerous, G-man?" Xander asked as he popped the toolbox open.

"Not in the short term." Giles said, frowning slightly. "But I think we should cleanse the house when we're done."

"Alright. Put it on the list."

"I say... What are you talking about?" Wesley ventured finally, looking around almost fearfully.

"Magic affects the environment, Mr Wyndham Pryce. Just as any other manipulation of energies." Giles replied, "Even though magic is not measurable by science, it's effects are... In this case Mrs Madison has inadvertently altered the structure of several materials... and they've become slightly... active."

"Active??" Wesley flinched.

"Radioactive." Xander stated, pulling a small vial from his kit and handing it to Amy. "Here, drink this."

"What?" She blinked, looking at the fluid with trepidation. "Why?"

"It won't hurt you," Xander assured her. "It's just a power stripping potion that I had brewed up by a specialist. It'll keep your mother from attacking us once we've reversed the possession."

"R... radioactive??" Wesley stammered.

"Oh relax." Giles muttered, "It's only some altered wood... It happens all the time around magic users... Particularly sloppy ones."

Wesley sighed in relief.

"Of course, for it's mass, altered wood is actually more dangerous then plutonium..." Giles said with a slight grin.

Wesley whimpered.

Amy looked around worriedly.

"Relax." Xander grinned, talking softly as he closed her hands around the vial. "Giles is just messing with Wesley. There's more radiation in a smoke detector."

She smiled wanly at him, then looked at the vial again. "I... I don't know about this."

"Please. I promise, it won't hurt you."

She swallowed once, still looking at the vial, then nodded. "Ok..."

Xander smiled as she swallowed the fluid, then he turned to Giles. "Alright. Get ready."

"Very good." Giles nodded as he withdrew a small leather bound book from his pocket and leafed through it. "Pryce... do come over here and make yourself useful."

Wesley stiffened, but merely clenched his jaw as he stalked over.

"Those two are really weird." Amy muttered, looking over at them.

"They're british." Xander grinned, "How do you feel?"

"O-ok..." She said, "What's next?"

"We wait for your Mom." Xander said seriously. "And cross our fingers."

Chapter 23

Amy Madison or, rather, Catherine Madison, arrived home after practice in a foul mood.

"Three hours a day. Three FREAKING hours!" She muttered as she closed the door behind her. "And still I can't get this stupid body to do what I want! How much more work can I do? Why am I such a klutz??"

"No." She continued as she turned around, growing even more anrgy. "It's not me. It's this body. It's your fault, Amy! You're body is hopeless!"

"Actually," An unfamiliar voice cut in dryly. "It's not the body. It's the nerves. You're mind isn't properly aligned to them, makes fine motor movement a precarious proposition at best."

Catherine spun toward the dry voice that held a noticiable british accent, eyes wide with shock. "Who are you?? Where's A... my mother?"

"Amy is fine, Ms Madison." Another voice, this one belonging to a young man, said from the other side of her, causing her to whip around again. "As for who we are... call us concerned citizens. You tried to seriously injure that girl today, to say nothing of what you're doing to your own daughter."

She recognized this one, and had to search her mind for his name. "X... Xander... What are you talking about?"

He smiled slightly, shaking his head. "Don't try to bluff us, Catherine. We're deeper into the supernatural then you could ever hope to be. We know what you've done."

She backed away from the serious faced teenager as he was joined by the blond Willow had introduced to her earlier. "Buffy isn't it? What's going on? What did you guys do to my mother?"

Buffy didn't say anything as she folded her hands over her chest and shook her head.

"Where is my mother??" Catherine demanded again, keeping up the act to the end.

"I'm right here, mom." Amy said as she appeared from the kitchen, looking tired and unwilling to pretend anymore. "They really know... I didn't even have to tell them. They just showed up."

"Who are you people!?" Catherine suddenly snarled, anger coming through as she finally accepted that the act was blown.

"Concerned citizens." Giles repeated Xander's earlier comment. "Like the man said."

"In Sunnydale?" Her voice was filled with Disdain.

Xander and Giles moth laughed slightly, "Put like that it does seem odd, doesn't it?"

"Could we get on with this?" Wesley said, stepping forward. "This triviality is pointless."

Xander shrugged, "Sure. Catherine Madison... We'll get you one shot to return to your own body and surrender your daughters body to it's rightful owner."

"Get. Out. Of. My. House." She snarled in slow steady breaths, gathering her power as surreptitiously as possible.

She wasn't nearly subtle enough.

"Giles." Was all that Xander said.

"Right." Giles stepped forward, hands clenched into fists as an eldritch glow encased them.

Catherine Madison turned on him, her spell already coming to her lips as he brought her hands out.

A spell that she never had a chance to utter.

Without speaking so much as a word, Giles flung his right hand out with fingers splayed, and Catherine was picked bodily off the ground and slammed back into a wall. Hard.

The plaster cracked as she created an indent in the wall, and a creak of wood under pressure was heard throughout the room.

"Giles!" Xander snapped, "Gently. That's not her body you're throwing around."

"Right." Giles said tersely as he approached the pinned woman.

She strained against the field, but couldn't manage to move as she watched the older man walk up to her with his right hand held firmly up between them. She struggled helplessly as he reached up with his left and laid it for a moment on her chest, between her breasts, and suddenly she felt a reverse pressure and the world went black.

As her eyes closed, Giles dropped his right hand, and the young blond body went with it. She hit the floor hard, tipped to one side, and thudded down solidly.

Xander winced, "Goddamn it, Giles."

Giles shrugged, "Sorry."

Then he turned around and walked back toward Amy. The girl in a woman's body whimpered slightly and fell back as he approached, holding a ball of energy in his left hand.

"Hold still." He ordered, reaching out for her with his right hand.

Her back hit the wall and she had nowhere left to go when his hand reached out and touched her chest, and she felt the same sucking pressure that had hit her mother just moments earlier. And then her world went black as well.

Giles stood there, his faced bathed in the reflected glow of the energy he held in his hands, then he calmly reached down and slid the ball in his right hand into the body of Catherine Madison. Then he walked across the room and did the same to Amy.

"That's it?" Xander asked as he watched Amy's chest rise and fall in deep breaths.

"That," Giles nodded. "Is it. It was really just a matter of setting the natural balance back in order. It's much more difficult to enforce a soul switch then to break one."

Xander nodded, "Alright..."

He walked over to Amy and plucked her up. "Clear the couch. She's gonna have a wicked headache when she wakes up."

"What about her?" Giles asked, glancing over to the unconscious form of Catherine Madison.

"Stick her in the chair." Xander shrugged. "She's got more to worry about then a stiff neck. Wesley?"

"What?!... uh..." Wesley spun toward Xander from where he'd been rooted in place. "I mean... What?"

"You and Giles search the house." Xander ordered. "Anything magical... take it. Books, charms, potions, components... anything."

"Oh... uh... right." Wesley nodded, shooting distrustful looks at Giles as he backed from the room.

"Will you two be alright?" Giles asked, glancing at Buffy.

"We'll be fine." Xander said, "Go on."

"Alright." Giles said as he left.

As the room cleared, Xander looked up at Buffy and sighed. "Alright. Out with it. I can tell you have something to say."

"Who are you?" Buffy asked after a moment. "You... He..."

She shook her head, staring at him for a long moment. "Who the hell are you, Xander Harris?"

Xander just shrugged. "I'm exactly who I say I am. And you just said the answer. I'm Xander Harris. One and only."

"That's not an answer." She said bitterly.

"Yes, yes it is. It's just not the answer you want." Xander sighed as he brushed some of Amy's hair aside and winced at the ugly bruise that was forming.

Buffy leaned forward, looking down, and winced as well. "He really hurt her."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. Yeah he did."

"Did he have to?"

Xander shrugged, "Maybe. Yeah, probably. Restraining a witch isn't easy... You have to practically knock them out to be certain they can't retaliate... it's impossible to know if they can cast by word, gesture, or even thought alone."


Xander frowned, looking at the bruises, and wondering if maybe Giles had gone a little overboard. Unfortunately, what he'd told Buffy was true. There was no way to know, not even for Giles, the precise level of force required to subdue a witch.

He sighed, "better to err on the side of caution. There's nothing here that Amy won't recover from."

"If you say so." Buffy said, not sounding at all like she meant it.

Xander wished he could blame her. There were times that he really didn't like his job.

Catherine Madison awoke slowly, consciousness coming to her in tiny slips of time that slipped through the fog she was in. She opened her eyes slowly and found herself staring at the boy and girl who had been present earlier, Xander and Buffy she remembered, as they leaned over her daughter.

Her daughter.

Catherine's eyes flared. Her daughter's body. It was over there.

<Then...> She quickly confirmed it. She was back in her own body now. She smiled nastily, forcing herself to move quickly. In her own body she was a much more powerful witch.

A spell came to her lips, and she lifted her hand, "Ignious!"

Nothing happened.

The girl had jumped in surprise when she shouted, but the Boy didn't even look up.

"We stripped your powers, Catherine." He said, sounding bored. "It's permanent, in case you're wondering."

She stared at her hands for a moment, trying to summon her energies, but she couldn't feel them anymore. Her connection was gone.

It took a few seconds to sink in, but when it did, she saw red.

As she screamed in rage and rushed the two, the last thing Catherine Madison saw before the world went black was the blond's, Buffy's, small fist coming straight for her.

"Was that really necessary?" Xander asked with a slight smile as Catherine Madison fell back into the chair, unconscious again.

Buffy shrugged, "Hey, I had to do something."


Amy moaned at that point, moving slightly, and they both turned their attention back to her.

"Amy... Amy..." Xander whispered, "Come on... wake up."

Her eyes fluttered and opened, and she looked up. "Xander?"

"Yeah, Amy... How are you?"


"I know." Xander nodded. "But it's only bruises. You'll heal."

She winced, nodding, and looked down. She blinked, "Huh."

"What?" Buffy asked, puzzled by her expression.

"I lost weight." She replied.

Xander snort, chuckling softly as he shook his head. <Women.>

Chapter 24

Alan Madison frowned as the knock on the door grew louder. He glanced at the wall clock as he passed and blicked.

<It's after midnight. Who the hell would be out there now?> He shook his head and went to the door, checking through the peephole. A second later he threw the door open, "Amy! What happened? What are you doing out after dark!?"

"Hi daddy." She said, looking down for a moment.

"Mr Madison." A young man said in greeting, and Alan Madison did a double take. "Xander Harris? I thought you vanished last year."

Xander smiled slightly. "I did."

Alan swallowed suddenly, stepping back from the door as he blanched what and stared at Amy with a stricken look. "Oh Amy..."

"Relax." Xander smiled and stepped in side. "We're both breathing."

Amy nodded and stepped in, only to be engulfed suddenly by her father's embrace. "God! Don't scare me like that! You know we told you not to be out after dark!"

"I'm sorry, daddy." She said softly.

"And I as well." Xander said, "We had to... handle some other things before we could come to you. It took longer then I expected."

"What happened? My God..." Alan stared in shock, noticing the bruises on Amy's neck and head. "Who did this to you??"

Amy hesitated for a moment before going with the prepared statement, rather then the unvarnished truth. "Mom."

"She what!?" Alan's voice rose in anger.

"She... she went a little crazy dad." Amy said hesitantly. "With her... books."

Mr Madison cursed viciously at that, "I always hated her books. What did she do to you Amy?"

Amy was silent, almost not breathing.

"Later, Mr Madison." Xander said quietly from behind her. "When she's ready."

Alan Madison nodded, "What happened to my ex-wife?"

"She's been... handled." Xander said softly as he turned around and left.

"What did he mean by that?" Mr Madison turned to his daughter. "Amy?"

Amy just shook her head and turned away until her father reached out and hugged her close again.

Xander stepped out of the house and walked down the drive to the black car that was parked by the gateway. He nodded once to the passenger and then walked around to the drivers side. The door opened for him and he slid in, falling heavily into the seat.

"You know, I always hate that part."

"What?" Buffy asked, puzzled.

"When they ask questions." Xander said, as he punched up some information on KARR's computer display and shook his head. "Ok, pal... Take us back to Buffy's."

When the car took off without Xander touching the wheel, Buffy's eyes widened in shock. "Xander! What??"

"I told you, Buff..." Xander smiled wanly. "KARR can hear us."

"But... but..." She swallowed. "KARR?"

Xander was silent. Someone else... wasn't.

"Yes, Miss Summers?" The deep rumbling voice said.

"Oh. My. God."

Xander blinked slightly. "I think he likes you. As much as KARR likes anyone... At least he hasn't tried to pitch you out yet."

"Pitch me...???"

"Long story." Xander said, looking to the road. "We'll be back at your place in a few moments."

"Buffy Summers!" Joyce growled even as the door opened. Buffy hadn't even had a chance to grab the doorknob. "You had BETTER have a good explanation for being out this late..."

"Mom... I..." Buffy looked stricken.

"She was helping me with a friend from school." Xander said from behind her.


"We just found out that a friend was having some trouble at home." Xander said softly. "Her mom... Well, her mom had a breakdown. She turned violent. We spent most of the evening with Amy because we couldn't get a hold of her dad... We just dropped her off with her father."

"My God..." Joyce looked almost sick. "Is the girl alright?"

"Yeah. Yeah, Amy's tough. She'll make it." Xander smiled a bit. "Anyway, if you want to check, you can call her father. Alan Madison. I think he's in the book, but I can get you the number...?"

"No... no... That's ok..." Joyce said, ushering Buffy inside. "In the future, young lady, you WILL call me if you're going to be late."

"I'm sorry, mom." Buffy said quietly, shooting a thankful glance at Xander. "I didn't think..."

"We were all a little distracted, Ma'am." Xander said.

"Yes... Yes, I'm sure you were." Joyce said, swallowing. "That poor girl."

"Yeah... well... I have to get going." Xander said, backing away. "School tomorrow."

"Indeed." Joyce spared a small glare for Buffy, then a smile for Xander, "Thank you for seeing her home."

"Least I could do. Amy needed someone around, and she helped a lot." Xander shrugged and smiled.

"What happened to her mother?"

Xander paused, hesitating, before turning back to Miss Summer.

Catherine Madison screamed in fury as she pounded on the locked door. "Let me out!! I don't belong here! It was MY body! I deserved it!! Let me out!!"

Outside a man in a white labcoat shuddered and turned away from the door. "Man do we get all kinds."

"Don't let it get to you, Paul." Another man said as they walked down the hall. "This job will eat you alive if you let it."

"Yeah..." The first man shuddered as he walked down the long hall, wailing screaming coming from some doors, unearthly silence from others. "Man this place gives me the creeps."

The End


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