Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]gmail.com>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me. FYI, I do not watch the series any more... I don't like the series, and never have liked it overly. I do like the potential of the series, and the potential inherent in the Character of Xander Harris... I started watching the series in S6, and stopped before the end of S7, and this fic should in no way be taken as a compliment to the skills of the people at ME... I only started watching the series because of the skills of the writers at the BX_Fanfic Yahoogroup... Unfortunately, even their skill was not sufficient to keep me watching. So, no, I don't own the characters... and as far as I'm concerned ME can keep them.

Other Characters and settings are generally only taken because I DO like them... so if yer not ME, and your stuff is in here, then Kudos on the good work. :) (Though if you work on Charmed, watch out... You're treading WAAAY to close to the hack level of ME lately.)

For the readers... Yes, the above was a rant. But it was also all true. (The facts anyway, if not the opinions.)

Summary: After the end of one year, and before the start of the next... Xander's been on Vacation for a while, but you know THAT can't last.

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.

The beat down on him as Xander laid back on the gently rolling deck of the PT-579. The August sun had a nearly physical force, but he welcomed the heat and the sheer quiet as he and the 579 just drifted in the South Pacific currents.

He hadn't even turned the engine on for three days, letting the soft winds and ocean currents push him where they would.

He smiled slightly as he basked in the quiet. Convincing Maria to let him take 'her' boat out for a few weeks hadn't been easy, but he had a sneaking thought that Giles had convinced the feisty woman. The two of them seemed to have gotten close during the crisis, though Xander wasn't certain how close, nor did he really want to be certain he supposed.

<Grow up.> Elan taunted him. <It's not all about your love life.>

<What love life?> Xander returned petulantly.

<Get over it already.> Elan chided him, <I'm inside your head, remember? I know you aren't feeling that bad.>

Xander chuckled softly, but became serious again. "Is it me? Do I drive them away?"


He rolled her eyes, "Thanks a lot."

Elan laughed lightly into his mind before talking again. <You've been quite fortunate in your loves, Alexander. Had you fallen for someone who expected you to be a 'normal' person, you would have suffered far more.>

"Spare me." Xander groaned, rolling over and laying on his front as the sun beamed down on his back. "

<It's unfortunately true, Alexander.> Elan said softly. <Had you tried to settle down and get married, have children perhaps... things would likely have gotten very... ugly.>

Xander nodded, "I guess so."

<I know so.> Elan said sternly, with an undercurrent of emotion that Xander rarely felt from her. Pain. <There are few women on this planet who could deal with your chosen vocation, Alexander. You've been blessed by knowing a disproportionate number of them. A Warriors life is rarely peaceful, Alexander, either during the battle or after it.>

Xander half smiled to himself, turning over again and looking out over the endless ocean. "This feels peaceful enough."

<For so long as it lasts.> Elan said, <But this wasn't what I meant, Alexander.>

Xander sighed and got up. "Yeah. I know."

He walked to the bridge and grabbed his wristwatch from where it was hanging off the throttle control. He clipped it back over his wrist and checked it. "Almost noon... Hey, it's the fourth already. Time flies."

Elan didn't have a response, So Xander just smiled again and walked to the edge of the deck and looked overboard. The ocean rolled softly under the boat, the surprisingly strong current sweeping them along to the west with an inexorable force. Xander picked up a line, one end securely fastened to the deck, and wrapped an anklet around his leg.

That done, he dove overboard and swam out a short distance.

Almost immediately the current began to sweep him along faster then the 579 and Xander relaxed into a slow and easy crawl that countered it.

He paced the 579 as they two of them traveled the pacific, not stopping until his legs and arms began to feel leaden. Then he changed his pace and returned to the boat, hauling himself aboard.

His Kata was next, the flowing movements of the Atlantean style melting into each other as he pushed himself despite the screams of his muscles. He was nearly finished with the routine, all of it done without any inner boost whatsoever, when the 579's on board computer chimed.

Xander grabbed a towel on his way belowdecks and he was mopping his face when Merlin's image snapped into focus on the screen. "Hey Merl. What's up?"

Merlin didn't change his expression at all, though Xander had to admit that the AI rarely did. "I'm tracking a military transport that will shortly cross over your current position."

Xander frowned, "How come?"

Merlin shrugged, "The pilot isn't relying on his instruments, so the effort required to divert him around you would be unwarranted."

Xander nodded, knowing that Merlin's skill in manipulating the Geo-positioning satellites and even the Earth's magnetic field normally allowed him to detour ships and planes around any point the AI chose. One of the reasons why Avalon was so damned hard to find. "They're not interested in me, then?"

Merlin shook his head, "No. I've been tracking their route... and I believe that the opposite may well prove to be true."


"It's a British military transport," Merlin said, "The English still have certain propriateary claims on the islands in the region, you recall."

Xander didn't, but that was ok. "So?"

"When I extrapolated their course, I found that they are heading for a small island to the south east of you." Merlin said, holding up his hand to stop Xander from asking 'so?' again. "Upon turning a NRO satellite on the island, I found that there is some conflict going on there. Most likely a small revolution or something... such things are common there."

"What's that got to do with me?" Xander asked. "I don't want to get hooked up in any local entanglements..."

Merlin shrugged, "I also located this."

A new image flashed onto the screen and Xander stiffened. "You've got to be shitting me."

This time, Merlin DID change his expression. To one of sincere distaste. "I assure you, I am not."

Xander shook his head, looking at the screen and frowning. "Why wasn't that in our records?"

Merlin shook his head, "I don't know. It wasn't built prior to the Fall... this much I am certain. It is likely a post Fall redoubt."

Xander nodded, "You think that's what the Brits are after?"

"Likely." Merlin nodded, "It's highly unlikely that they would sent a SAS team for a revolution in this part of the world. Much of their 'claims' in this area are more traditional then anything."

"Wonder what made them look for it in the first place?"

"I believe that it is a safe bet that most every government with knowledge of what happened this spring is now searching for Avalon. It is perhaps inevitable that they locate some other positions."

Xander's face tensed, "Understood. Merlin, I want better recon if you can get it... don't attract too much attention though."

"Of course not." The Avatar looked offended. "The NRO has no idea that I've hijacked their 'bird', as you say. I shall ensure that it stays that way."

"Good." Xander said as he powered up the engines and turned the boat around and headed her south east. "Say... how are you going to explain what happened when they want to use that bird and it's out of fuel for changing it's orbit."

Merlin shrugged, "I had planned on sending you up to refuel it long before that occured."

Xander groaned, "Don't do me any favors."

"I won't."

The Hercules C. Mk 5 (C-130J) of the Royal Air Force droned through the humid pacific air, the hardened professionals on board checking their equipment for one last check.

"Target coming up." The pilot's voice echoed from the cockpit.


"What a bleedin op this is." One of the men complained, slapping the bolt on his MP5 as he finished clearing the weapon. "I hate the jungle."

"Hey, look at it this way..." Another smiled, "We hit the target, roast the pig, and spend a week on the beach with some local ladies."

"Sounds like a right nice recipe." Another man laughed, "But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, shall we?"

"Drop Zone in three!"

The Team immediately sprang to their feet, "Hey... anyone know the name of this place?"

The answer came from a slim form to the back, "You don't really want to know."

"Drop! Drop!"

The big hatch at the back of the plane lowered on it's hydraulics and the hold of the big plane was filled with gusting winds.

"Go! Go! Go!" The Jumpmaster ordered, slapping the team on the backs as they rushed past and out of the plane.

When the last person had gone, he fitted his glasses and grinned. "Cor, but I love this!"

Then he threw himself clear from the plane and spread out to catch the air as the big plane rumbled on without him or his team.

Xander watched through the magnification of the 579's cameras as the team jumped from the plane. "Well... they're in a hurry aren't they. Couldn't even wait for the plane to land..."

<Take this seriously, Alexander.> Elan cautioned him, <We have no clue what might be in the redoubt.>

Xander nodded, "Yeah. I know. Our ETA is ten minutes... can't do any better then that."

Elan didn't respond, so Xander spent a few moments looking over the charts he had. "What a completely wacked name for an island."

He looked up to see the land approaching from the distance. There was an old, ancient even, wharf and the ruins of old buildings were visible along the shoreline. Most of them were old stone work, and it was obvious that they'd been there for a while. In fact, it looked like the place was fairly busy once upon a time.

"What's the story on this place, Merlin?" Xander asked as he watched the shoreline grow.

"It was abandoned after the Napoleanic Wars. The British laid claim to it, but for some reason the island gained a reputation as being haunted. No one would settle there, and soon even the local population had abandoned it."

"Great." Xander muttered, shaking his head. "A British SAS team, Jungle Guerrillas, a Kine redoubt... and no ghosts."

He snorted slightly, "Pau'lau pau'lau... the island so nice, they named it twice. What a crock."

Lieutenant Conroy of her Majesty's Special Air Service touched down solidly, but rolled with the motion easily and came up in a smooth motion that brought his drifting chute under control. To one side he saw two more men pulling their own silk in.

"Conny." A voice hissed from his side, and he glanced over.

"Yes Sir?"

"Watch your back, Conny." Lieutenant Colonel Jefferson ordered, nodding behind him.

Conroy half turned just in time to see another man coming down almost on top of him. He ducked and rolled, "Jesus Richard!"

"Sorry Conny." Sergeant Richard Samms said as he flexed his knees on landing. "Crosswind."

Conroy nodded, letting his eyes rove the group to be sure that the whole team had made the drop. A few seconds later he'd made the sweep and contented himself that even the newbie the locos in charge of this op had ordered along had made the zone. "Go grab Jenks and Leary before they get blown into the pacific."

Richard nodded, quickly double timing his way over to the two Corporals who were struggling to cut their drags in the tough wind. They'd have gotten it in a few seconds anyway, but Richard quickly brought the wayward chutes under control and nodded to the two men.

The nodded back, then quickly went about stripping down their lines and wrapping their chutes. Samms nodded as they took the chutes from him and then he turned back to his own work. He unlimbered his SA80 assault rifle and started to sweep the LZ. He could hear the two corporals do the same as they finished bagging their chutes and brought their MP-5s to bear.

"We clear?"

The soft call came from the Lt Colonel as he walked softly back to check on the perimeter.

"Clear." Samms called equally softly.

It seemed unlikely that any of the guerrillas would be nearby, that was one of the reasons this LZ had been chosen. The problem was that the time press had forced a daylight incursion on the group, and they all felt uncovered by it.

Well, Jefferson conceded, almost all of them.

The newest addition assigned to the group seemed to be remarkably comfortable with herself. Jefferson suppressed a shiver at that thought, but the chauvinist in him screamed that this was no place for a woman.

"Are you alright?" He asked politely as he approached her.

"I'm fine." She responded, doffing her jump helmet and working a kink out of her neck as her long braided black hair fell loose.

Jefferson hesitated, not really knowing what to say, but she finished her field pack quickly without further comment and soon had her own MP5 out and was carefully scouring her section of the field. The Lt Colonel shrugged and moved on. The Brigadier back at HQ seemed to think she had what it took to run with a SAS team, and a half bird Colonel didn't argue with a One Star.

Not if he wanted to stay a half bird colonel at least.

"Take the Helm, Merlin."

"I have the Helm." Merlin responded, taking control of the 579 by remote.

Not for the first time, Xander was grateful that part of the retrofitting he and Terry had setup was a computer controlled system. It made life a lot easier once Merlin had shown himself.

Xander jogged out to the deck, watching as the end of the old harbor approached. The water here was deep, probably chosen for larger ships once upon a time, but now the place seemed dead. As the jutting end of the old stone worked harbor came closer, Xander leapt across the narrow gap and landed on the old dock.

"I'm clear." He said into the comlink he wore on his jaw.

"Confirmed." Merlin responded.

The 579 reversed engines instantly, backing away and pivoting around swiftly. The powerful little boat rumbled across the water as Merlin guided it out of sight.

Xander checked his equipment quickly, then looked up at the island in front of him. After a moment he smiled, "Damn. I actually missed this."

After a moment he frowned, shaking his head.

"How sad is that?"

Jefferson moved quietly, checking his bearings often as the team moved. They had three hours to reach the rendezvous point, and if their info was reliable it could easily turn into a very frightening three hours.

"Samms." He called softly, attracting the Sergeant's attention, "Put the bird on point with Leary."

The Sergeant gave him a sharp look, but nodded finally and moved forward to catch up with the 'Lady'. "Hey Croft."

"Yes, Sergeant?" The young woman responded instantly.

"Take point with Leary. Don't cock this up." He said sternly.

She nodded briskly and moved ahead, using the same calm and guided steps all of them used. Samms had to admit, she was good. He just wished that she'd go home and be good at something else. He sighed, returning to his own vigilance as the team pushed on. He had more important things to do then worry about some bird with more connections then brains.

Xander followed the old road as he moved through the old town. It looked almost tragic, like something had cut a busy place down in it's prime, but he did his best to ignore it. The energy signature that seemed to indicate a Kine Redoubt was almost two miles away, and he had to reach it before the SAS team did.

Lord only knew what could be in something like that. What a post fall knight might feel was important enough to build a redoubt to store. Xander shivered. The last thing the world needed was one of the old Atlantean doomsday weapons loose and hunting. One was more then enough.

Which, he had to admit, was something that he and Merlin had yet to figure a way to shut down or destroy.

Xander sighed, shouldering his pack, and stepped off the road. The stone road ended just ahead, and Xander decided to take his chance in the jungle, rather then risk discovering a mine field the hard way.

"In the Jungle." He whispered, "Proceeding to the redoubt."

"Confirmed." Merlin's voice returned to him. "You're leaving visual now. Switching to infrared."

Xander nodded once, then started to double time his way through the trees, moving as quietly as a shadow as he tapped his and Elan's energy to alter the energy transfers around him.

"This it?" Leary asked softly, waiting while Croft checked her readings.

She nodded and moment later. "We're here."

"Right then." Leary smiled, waving his hand back and calling the others up.

The other members of the SAS team emerged from the foliage like wraiths, there weapons not *quite* aiming at the figures they could see emerging from the other side of the small clearing.

Jefferson moved forward, taking point as he let his AR-15 hang on it's strapping. Behind him he knew his team was spreading out. He paused, glancing back. "Croft. With me."

"Yes Sir."

He moved on, letting her jog slightly to catch up. When she was a half step behind him, he felt her slow down to match his pace. Against his will he was impressed, "Your brief said that you talk the language."

"Yes Sir." She returned calmly.

"Good." He said, "You speak for me then, Lady."

Lara Croft nodded, acknowledging the command, but wasn't able to hide the grimace that crossed ehr face at his use of her title. She's begged, bullied, and bought her way into the military and finally the SAS because she wanted away from such trappings.

<Bully up and do the job.> She thought to herself as one of the heavily armed Guerrillas stepped forward and looked between her and the Colonel.

//You the English Commando?

Lara nodded. //Yes. The Phoenix rises with the sun.

The guerrilla's mouth twitched, but he nodded. //And dies with the moon.

"It's them, Sir." Lara confirmed.

Colonel Jefferson nodded, "Tell them that we're ready."

Lara did, and there was brief exchange. Finally she turned back, "They want payment now."

Jefferson shook his head, "On arrival. As agreed."

Lara nodded, and relayed the message.

The Guerrilla's argued amongst themselves, finally the leader stepped forward again. //Half now. Stays with those who remain here. Rest on arrival.

Lara frowned, //Why are you changing the deal??

The leader looked at the ground for a moment, //The Jungle isn't safe today. Our families must have something if we don't come back.

Lara turned to Jefferson and explained the situation. "Sir, I believe that they're serious."

The Colonel hesitated, but finally nodded. "Alright. Jenks."

The Corporal stepped up to them and dropped a heavy case on the ground in front of the colonel. At a nod from his CO the young man turned it around and opened the case.

"As agreed." The Colonel said, "Medical supplies and gold bullion so you can purchase... supplies."

The Guerrilla leader nodded, motioning one of his men forward. //Come. I'll lead you personally.

Lara nodded, "He says he'll take us himself."

"Good. Let's move out." Jefferson ordered.

Xander figured he was almost halfway to his destination when the chill hit him.

It wasn't actual cold, not in the midst of the steamy jungle. But it was a familiar sensation that sent a shiver down his back. He paused, sniffing at the air unconsciously as he tried to place it.

He circled slowly, moving around his position in widening circles as he tried to place it, and then suddenly he stopped. His eyes closed, Xander just listened.

After a long moment he opened his eyes and looked to the south.

Through the trees he saw a flock of birds suddenly take to the air, and behind that cacaphony, Xander heard a frighteningly familiar sound.

He swallowed, tapping his jaw induction mic. "Merlin..."

"Yes Commander?"

"I need that Recon, ASAP." Xander said, "And..."


"Don't contact me. I'll contact you." Xander replied, cutting the connection. He glanced around the area, paying special attention to the trees, and flattened his back against a particularly tall and large trunk.

"Let's see..." He whispered to himself, accessing the control system for the molecular processors in his Knight issue black suit. Two moments later, the suit had shifted it's internal configuration slightly, effectively blocking all body heat.

The hunter watched the movement below, eyeing the motion of the humans as they made their way through the thick jungle.

The group he had been following had joined up with five others, all armed. That was fine with the hunter, the more the better. He paused on a limb, watching the procession below from behind the safety of his shift field and growled slightly.

It was anticipation, he decided. That was the feeling he felt, there was going to be a worthy trophy this time.

It was just odd, the hunter decided, that this group of humans were headed directly for his landing position. His ship had penetrated the planet's atmosphere undetected, that was certain. So it was impossible that they be looking for his ship.


"How much farther?"

Lara glanced back for a second before moving up to walk beside the Guerrilla. //Are we near?//

The man nodded, //Yes. Not far now.//

"He says that we're close, Sir." Lara responded, falling back.

Jefferson nodded, showing neither relief nor annoyance as he filed the information away. He glanced at the escorts they had picked up, frowning slightly. "Do they look nervous to you, Croft?"

Lara nodded slowly, she'd been noting the same thing herself for quite some time.

"Ask." Jefferson ordered.

"Yes Sir." Lara said, then moved forward again. //The men seem... on edge.

The Guerrilla leader half smiled at her tact, but replied flatly. //They are terrified. There is a beast in the jungle.

//Do you not hunt it then?

The man laughed bitterly. //It is the beast that hunts us. Pray it is not hungry today.

Lara nodded, uncertain whether to take him seriously or not.


"He says that there is a beast in the jungle." She told the Colonel. "One that hunts men."

Jefferson had been around too long to take that kind of comment as off handedly as he might once have. He slipped back, matching pace with Samms. "Sergeant... Have the men increase their vigilance."

"Yes Sir." The Sergeant nodded, starting to feel the same worry that was infecting the locals. He moved back to relay the word.

Xander doubled his pace again as he wove his way through the jungle. He was starting to worry that maybe he was in deeper trouble then he had thought at first.

Several times he half reached for his Com but stopped just as quickly as he remembered just what a Yautja mask could handle.

But, just the same, he didn't know for sure it was a Yautja...

<Yes you do, Alexander. You are quite certain.> Elan scolded him slightly. <I am not, but you... you are very certain. Trust your instincts.>

Xander nodded, <Thanks, Elan.>

He braced himself with a few deep breaths, frowning as he looked around. "I can't let a Yautja rip through those soldiers..."

Xander glanced around, listening through the woods, then headed off in the only direction he could.

Into the mouth of the beast.

The hunter watched, almost idly, as the first of the group passed under him. The thermal heat of the human's form stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding vegetation, and even the weapon in his hand was almost invisible.

The hunter shifted his weight as the ma passed, then moved his eyes downfield slightly.


A tri-beam laser reached out from his mask, and the Hunter dropped his stealth field.

A moment later a plasma bolt roared across the jungle.

A huge flock of birds flashed into the air ahead of him, and Xander's hypertuned senses easily picked out the familiar hissing roar of a plasma caster in action.

<Damn!> He cursed, redoubling his speed until he was all but flying over the jungle floor.

The leaves and vines under him never felt the weight of his step as Xander flashed by without leaving a trace.

The first scream came from behind them, causing Lara, Jefferson, and the Guerrilla leader to dive to the ground and scrambled to cover as the gunfire broke out.

The Guerrilla's were firing into the trees, their shots wildly chopping through the trees as they burned through the clips in their weapons. It took only seconds, then an eerie silence descended.

"What the hell was that!?" Jefferson demanded in a low voice as he scoured the area around them.

Lara waited a moment before responded, "He says it's the beast Sir."

Jefferson swallowed. "Hell. Looks like the mission debrief missed a couple details."

"You think?" Lara asked sarcastically.

Jefferson waved his hand, signaling Samms in closer.

"Yes Sir?" The Sergeant asked as he slid to a halt behind the log that Jefferson and Lara had taken cover behind.

"Who got hit??"

"On of the Guerrilla's, Sir. Whatever it was, it blew his shoulder apart... bad mess, Colonel." Samms grimaced.

"Did anyone see anything?" Jefferson asked as the three of them scoped the trees around them.

"Not a bloody thing."


"What's that!?" Lara gasped out.

"What? Where?"

"It's up in the trees..." She hissed. "Just a blur..."

"You're seeing things, Croft." Jefferson reproached her. "Keep your eyes on the ground level. Whatever did that is out there somewhere."

"Yes, Sir." Lara muttered, lowering her aim, but her eyes kept sneaking up.

The hunter was disappointed. None of the return fire had even come close.

He supposed that was merely a sign of his prowess, but sometimes it seemed that the better one became the less honor their was in the hunt. The hunter growled lightly as it sprang from the limb it had been using and landed on another over thirty feet away.

It looked down, below it was a grouping of prey.

It's snarl rolled softly out of it's throat, then it stepped off the branch and dropped into the center of the prey.


The scream was cut off suddenly as Lara, Jefferson, and Samms spun around to see the flailing body of the Guerrilla leader writhing in the air behind them, held up by a massive creature.

The three of them turned as one and opened fire with their weapons.

Two MP5's and Samms SA80 roared into the jungle, but the thing had already leapt straight up into the trees above.

"Bloody hell!" Samms cursed, stepping forward as he emptied his weapon into the tree above him.

Jefferson swallowed, dropping his empty clip and instinctively replacing it. He racked the bolt and quickly climbed to his feet. "Everyone! Watch the damn treetops!"

That was the cue for half the guerrillas to open fire into the trees, chopping the leaves and vines to shreds.

"Hold your fire!" Jefferson ordered his own men, scanning the treetops as he did. "Wait until you see the damnable thing!"

He was still holding his rifle up when a fiery bolt flashed from the trees almost a hundred meters away and blew his arm off at the elbow. The MP5 opened fire as it struck the ground, the reflex action of his severed hand causing his fingers to tighten on the trigger.

"Get down!" Lara yelled, hitting him in a flying tackle as a second bolt flashed through where he had been standing.

The two of them hit the ground rolling, not stopping until they were behind a tree with some shelter from the shooters last position.

That was when the pain hit.

"Here." Lara muttered as she shoved a tightly wound piece of cloth at the colonel. "Bite this."

She stuffed the cloth in his mouth, ignoring the groans of pain that were coming from him as she unlimbered a first aid kit from her pack. They didn't really design the personal kits with this type of injury in mind, so Lara just grabbed a half dozen of the guaze packages and ripped them open with her teeth.

While the colonel held the pain in, she grabbed his arm and jammed the wadded gauze over the wound. He let out a high pitched hiss of pain, like a whistling through a tunnel, but she just gritted her own teeth and ignored it.

Next she emptied the canvas kit on the ground and wrapped it over the stump of Jefferson's arm, again eliciting that unholy hiss of pain from the man as he struggled to keep quiet. She grabbed his good arm and forced him to grab tightly over the stump. "Hold it there. Tight!"

He nodded, his face already pale from loss of blood and shock.

Lara stripped off her pistol belt and quickly went to wrapping it around his arm to staunch the flow. Not the best solution, she knew, but the only one available to her at the moment. He held back a strangled sob of pain as she cinched the belt tight. "Sorry."

Eyes red, cheeks streaked with tears from the pain, Jefferson just shook his head because he was unable to speak.

Only then did Lara grab the plastic wrapped needle from the upended contents of her kit and rip it open. "This will help."

She pulled the protective plastic off the hypodermic with her teeth and slapped the bare skin on his arm with her free hand. The needle was half way to his arm with it's numbing payload of morphine when Jefferson's free arm came up and stopped her.

He shook his head, spitting out the cloth from his teeth. "No..."


He let go of her arm and dragged his Browning Hi-Power from it's holster. "Rack it."

She hesitated for only a second before reaching down and racking the slide.

He nodded, "Thanks."

Lara just nodded, pulling her own MP-5 back up from where it was hanging on it's sling. Jefferson forced himself back up against the tree, sitting almost straight as he stuck his head out around the trunk. His was pale and white, but his voice was steady when he spoke. "You see it?"

Lara just shook her head. "No Sir."

Xander burst out into the clearing almost before he realized it was coming. His entry was so fast and silent that for several seconds he went unnoticed, but that couldn't last.

His passage caught the peripheral vision of Jenks and Leary as he practically stumbled over the two SAS men.

"He's here!" Jenks screamed in surprise, attracting the attention of the entire field at a shot.

He and his partner rose like wraiths, their weapons leveling on Xander even as the youth skidded to a stop, as much surprised as they were.

<Shit!> Xander cursed his foolish headlong rush for about a third of a second.

Then he dropped back, planting one hand on the ground as his feet kicked up.

The two SAS men started to open fire, only to have their weapons kicked clear from their hands in a lightning move that they never saw coming.

Xander's arm flexed, then snapped straight and he rose back to his feet like he'd been pulled up by a rope. His Five Sevens cleared leather almost as he reached his feet, and for a brief instant he stared at the SAS men over the cold sights of his modified pistols.

Then a flash of movement caused him to look past them.

"Get down!" He snapped out, shouldering between them and knocking them to the ground.

The flicker of motion was a long distance away, but Xander opened fire with his two pistols well beyond extreme range.

And down at the other end of that hellish shooting gallery, so did his target.

Xander's eyes tracked the plasma bolt as it left the hunters nest, tracing a line in the air as it flashed straight and true. He kept firing, unloading his clips on semi auto as fast as he could pull the triggers.

As the bolt loomed in his vision, Xander just leaned his torso to one side, pivoting as he watched the plasma bolt flash past him and vanish into the trees behind him. Then he snapped straight again and emptied the rest of his clips.

The hunter held position calmly as the projectiles from the unusual human ripped into the jungle around him. At this range, weapons such as the human used were of little danger, even in the hands of a master.

What was evident, however, was that these weapons *were* in the hands of a master.

A random shot ricocheted off his mask, tunneling through the jungle on a new course, and galvanized the hunter into action. It would not do to risk himself on a one in a billion kill shot.

Not now, not when he finally had a worthy trophy to earn.

That decision made, the hunter dropped from his position and vanished back into the jungle.

"Who..." Jefferson winced, taking a breath. "Who the hell is that?"

"I have no idea." Lara muttered, her eyes flitting from the new comer to the target in the distance that he was exchanging fire with.

As his clips emptied, Xander held his position, his eyes boring into the jungle in search of the Yautja.

Around him he could feel the uncomfortable silence echoing through the clearing.

He ignored it, hitting the clip release and letting the empty clips hit the jungle floor. Xander pulled two replacements from his load and slid them home with one hand. Only then did he look to the people in the field with him. "Get up. We have to move."

"Who the bleedin hell do you think you are?" One of the men snapped, picking himself off the ground and retrieving his weapon.

The SAS man didn't *quite* aim at Xander, so Xander ignored him for the moment and put his guns away. "Who's in charge here?"

There was a quiet moment, then Xander noted movement from a little further ahead. He nodded and walked towards it, conscious of the guns tracking him as he moved. He winced as he saw the man walk unsteadily towards him, helped by a slimmer form by his side, blood stains all over his clothes and a battle dressing covering up the stump of his left arm. "I am."

Xander focused on him, nodding his acknowledgment. "Gather your men into a tighter group. The Hunter will be back soon."

"Are you insane?" one of the men in black snapped, coming up behind them. "That thing could get us all at once like that!"

Xander nodded, "Yeah, but that's the point. He's not looking for a massacre..."

"Bloody well could have fooled me!"

Xander ignored the comment, "He's a trophy hunter. He wants to take us out one by one... Using explosive on a group won't get him any honor with his clan."

The men looked disturbed as they exchanged glances.

"You're..." The leader said painfully, "That this thing is just doing this for... trophys?"

Xander nodded, "Yep. It's a big part of his culture... Everyone hunts, best trophy brings honor... if you can't hunt, your left to die."

"This is bloody well insane." One of the men snapped.

"How do you know this?" A cool voice with a familiar lilt spoke, causing Xander to do a double take as he reevaluated the figure helping the SAS man.

"Lara?" He asked in shock.

"Do I know you?" She asked cooly.

Xander shook his head, "Uh... No... no. But I know a bit about you."

"Oh? And how is that?"

Xander steeled himself, "Mutual friend. You're 'uncle', Rupert Giles."

Lara's gaze cooly appraised him, her mind working hard as she starting adding that to the equation that had been forming here. "You know Rupe?"

Xander snorted, "No one calls him that, Lara. I've been known to drive him nuts with other names though... But I think that the name you're looking for is Ripper."

Lara nodded, then turned to Jefferson as she helped him stand. "I think we should listen to him."

"Fine." The Colonel said, keeping his head up, "You've got three minutes."

Xander nodded, "He's a hunter, Sir. He's not interested in any other objective. This is just a big game safari to him."

"Bloody wonderful." One of the SAS men muttered.

"It get's worse." Xander said calmly. "He's not going to be taken alive..."

"You got that right."

"If it looks like we've got him and he can't get away, he's going to activate his suicide bomb." Xander continued, undetered.

"What kind of a bomb?" Another SAS man stepped forward.

"Nuclear." Xander replied to the hissed intake of air from the group. "It's activated from a control panel on his left arm... If he sets it, we'll have only minutes to get at *least* a half mile away, or under some very solid cover."

"This shit just keeps getting better."

"Shut up, Jenks."

The Colonel looked at Xander as steadily as he could, "We've got to get this sonuvabitch."

Xander hesitated, "Easier said then done. He kills a bit harder then a human, has a cloaking field that hides him real well. His chest is heavily armored, if you get a shot at him go for the abdomen... Adult Yautja gear doesn't go in for heavy armor. Watch for laser targeting... he'll paint a target from a hundred yards out and then drop a plasma bolt down your throat."

"Real sportsman like. Great."

Xander looked around, his eyes flitting to the trees as he kept watch. "He is. If your unarmed, he'll *probably* let you go about your business. If you meet him with a knife, he'll match it. Use a gun? He'll use his Caster."

"So... we drop our guns and we can walk out?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah. You probably can."

"Shit, Colonel... Sounds good to me."

"Are you forgetting the mission, Jenks?" Samms snapped before the colonel could say anything.

Xander looked between them, "Look. Jenks, is right. Drop all your weapons, and you can walk out of here unharmed. Stay... and I can't guarantee your safety."

"We're SAS, *Kid*." Sergeant Samms took a half step toward Xander, raising his finger. "We don't run out on a mission."

The Hunter prowled slowly, paralleling the course of the prey group as he moved from tree to tree. Three times he had tried to close, only to be forced back by fire that was far too precise to be accidental. Somehow, the prey could follow him.

The Hunter growled lightly, tapping commands on his bracer control.

His hunting mask scanned through the frequencies being broadcast, but didn't find anything on the regular frequencies used by the humans.

The hunter was about to return to the hunt when his computer reporter something very interesting indeed.

"Merlin, give me an update." Xander spoke softly, not hiding his voice but not advertising it either.

"The Yautja is tracking four hundred yards southwest of your position, following you from a distance." Merlin responded.

Xander cursed. "Damn."

"What?" Lara asked quietly, now used to Xander talking to himself.

"It's still with us." Xander sighed. "We won't be able to hold it off much longer. Soon it'll come in hard and fast."

"After a trophy." Lara said remarkably calmly.

Xander nodded. "After a head."

"How are you tracking it?" Lara asked.

"Hijacked a US Recon Sat." Xander shrugged. "They don't know it's missing."

Lara's eyes widened, "What?"

Xander smiled at her, shrugging. "It's what I do."

"And what," She practically purred, "Else do you do, pray tell?"

"Hang with me a while longer and you'll find out." Xander promised with a smile.

Lara smirked lightly back at him, but shrugged off the comment. After a moment she became serious though, "Why are you telling me this?"

"I trust Giles with my life, Lara." Xander said confidently. "Anyone he calls family, I'll trust with very nearly anything."

Lara appeared uncomfortable with that, and Xander picked up on it easily. "What is it?"

"Nothing." She looked away.

Xander nodded slowly, "If you say so."

"I do."

The two of them paused then, looking back on the group that was following them. Lara looked immediately to Leary, who had been relegated to helping Jefferson. "How is he?"

"In Shock." The SAS man said simply. "We've got to get him to an extraction point soon or he'll die."

Samms approached from the flank, looking around the group. "We've got about another mile to go, then we can split off. Two of you can take the Colonel to the primary evac point. The rest of use can move on to complete the mission."

The SAS men nodded, accepting the order.

"What's your mission?" Xander asked.

"Need to know." Samms snapped instantly. "We don't know you, so you don't need to know anything."

Xander half smirked, but acquiesced. "The way I see it, there are really only two targets worth note in this area of the world. The first is the Yautja's ship, but I can't imagine you being sent after that without better..."

Samms and the other two SAS men exchanged almost guilty glances and Xander's eyes widened.

"Holy shit." He said in shock, "You've got to be shitting me! Who in the name of hell would send you guys after a Yautja ship as undermanned as you are??"

The men's faces hardened. "There's no way one of these... whatever it is, is going to stop us."

Xander rubbed the side of his nose in frustration. "When we get out of this, I'm going to get Gman and the two of us are going to go to England and kick the ass of whatever dumb ass fucker didn't think it was necessary to tell you what happened to the last Special Forces group to take on 'just' one Yautja."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Samms demanded.

"You ever hear of a unit led by a guy named Dutch?" Xander asked calmly.

The men shook their heads, but the Colonel, who had been listening, looked up in surprise. "Dutch?"

Xander nodded. "You know him?"

"Knew him." The Colonel corrected. "He's dead. He and his entire team were wiped out by some counter revolutionaries in South America."

Xander snorted. "'Fraid not."

The Colonel's face paled, "One of these things?"

"One." Xander confirmed. "Just one."

The Colonel cursed, his face tightening. "I'm going to kill him."

"Colonel?" Samms asked in confusion.

"That bloody ass, Brigman." Jefferson growled out. "He must have known... He had to have known."

"What are you talking about?"

Xander answered for him, "Someone wants that ship, Sarge. But they've underestimated the opposition. If they'd told any halfway competent planner the whole story, then you'd have a flight of Harriers and a Carrier group backing you up on this one."

"Son of a bitch." Jenks cursed.

"Alright, cut that out!" Samms snapped. "Fuck it. We've got a mission to accomplish, and if that means we take this fucker out first... then so be it."

Xander shook his head and was about to speak again, when Merlin's voice cut into his head. "Commander, he's moving in fast from the South."

"South! Bogey on the move!" Xander snapped, pulling Lara to one side with him and pushing her against the north side of a nearby tree.

"Hey!" She started to protest, but he was already drawing his guns and moving away.

"Stay quiet and stay put!" He snapped over his shoulder. "Same goes for all of you. Hide your body heat, or he'll lock you up and blow you away."

"What about you??" Samms demanded as he moved to cover.

"This suit I'm wearing ain't just for looks." Xander said back before he faded into the trees.

The hunter moved swiftly through the trees, growling softly with exertion as he leapt from tree branch to tree branch. Soon the prey was in range, and he watched them carefully as he circled their position.

Below he counted the heat sources, moving from one to the other as he looked for the one that wasn't. The skilled hunter knew how to hide from heat, but the others didn't.

This presented a serious dilemma to the hunter. One frequency from his mask would likely reveal his quarry, but it may just as easily hide the others from his sight. The hunter soon saw, however, that he didn't have a choice.

There was no sign of the smaller heat signal that had been the target earlier.

And that meant that the prey was playing hunter.

The hunter growled in appreciation, and used a single talon to shift his mask frequency to a wider aperture.

Xander was moving silently through the trees, his eyes searching out any sign of the Yautja. It was frustrating, because his ability to 'see' auras was of depressingly little value at the moment. All living things had auras, and right now he was entirely surrounded by life.

Reluctantly he shifted his eyesight back down to 'merely' being enhanced in the normal frequencies.

The hunter was out there, somewhere, looking for him as he searched for it.

Xander smoothly scaled a tree, perching on one of the strong middle limbs and watching over the jungle that surrounded the group he was protecting.

"Where are you?" He whispered softly.

"Where are you?"

The words echoed and reverberated, mangled by the Yautja's mask receptors. He tried to pinpoint the sound, but couldn't make out the direction.

"WheRe aRE You? wHERe ArE yOu? WhEre ARE you?"

The sounds played back over and over, the computer analyzing the frequency of noise as the Yautja moved to another vantage point and looked over the field that housed his earlier prey.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

The Hunter was an old one, and wily in the ways of the hunt. Some creatures strove to protect others in their herd, perhaps this one was the same.

It was a risk, but the hunter was decided. He tapped a command with one of his tusks, and the Plasma Caster whirred out of it's housing, moving to track his laser as the tri-beam jumped out and found a target.

"Where the hell did he go?" Jenks asked tightly, scanning the trees as he clenched his weapon tightly.

"Just keep your eyes open and your mouth shut." Samms ordered. "That thing is out there somewhere... whether we get it or the kid does don't matter much to me. But someone has to get it."

Lara shivered, feeling a chill run down her spine, and spun around. A whisp of mist blown by the wind revealed a line of red tracing it's way down and she glanced down, eyes widening as she saw the triagle of light on her breast. "Oh hell."

Lara threw herself to the side as a flash of light erupted from the treeline above them.

Xander was already moving before the plasma bolt had travelled a third of it's path. He didn't look back to see it's target, there was nothing he could do for them. But it had revealed the presence of his foe.

The branch was halfway around the clearing from where he was, and three tiers higher up so Xander had his work cut out for him.

He raced from tree to tree, his own movements not quite a graceful as those of his foe, but even faster then the bigger creature was capable. When he was close enough he snagged a branch and halted his motion, his free hand digging for the Desert Eagle.

The plasma bolt had done it's job. The hunter caught a flicker of motion through the limbs, and while he couldn't quite find his target precisely enough to tag him with the laser, the hunter knew that he was there.

He dropped down one branch, catching an overhang on his way and then swung out to another tree.

Then the hunter froze, letting his shift field accommodate itself to the background more perfectly.

<Shit!> Xander cursed, his eyes searching for the Yautja as he tracked with the Desert Eagle.

The damned thing had moved too fast for him to get a shot off, and now he'd lost it again.


"Ahhh shit!" Lara Croft cursed in a very unladylike manner as she wrapped her hand around the scorched furrow the Plasma bolt had dug in her jacket and flesh.

She'd barely evaded the bolt, putting a fallen log between herself and the laser. The log had served it's purpose, but only in part, as the bolt had ripped through the rotting wood and singed her arm badly.

She rolled over onto her back and drug herself under the log until she could see where the laser had come from. She dragged her MP5 up, cradling it in her undamaged arm, and searched for the target.

<Where are you, you son of a bitch?> Lara thought grimly to herself as she heard the others around her firing into the trees.

A low growl of appreciation echoed through the jungle as the Hunter spotted his prey. He hung from a branch by one taloned grip, and activated his tri-laser with a single tusk.

As the crimson tracer flashed out, the hunter didn't watched the reading flash back over his mask. The prey was human, despite his low heat profile, but something was preventing the laser from getting a better reading.

The Hunter shrugged mentally and fired off three blasts from his Caster.

The tight fabric of his blacksuit buzzed an instant warning directly to Xander nerves as the light from the Yautja's laser sent a signal through it's material. Xander instantly pivoted, neatly avoiding the first Plasma bolt that shattered the tree trunk behind him.

He stepped back off the branch, dropping in freefall as he aimed back down the line of fire.

The second plasma bolt destroyed the branch he had been on just as Xander squeezed the trigger on the Desert Eagle and sent the first .44 magnum reply back down range.

The hunter growled in frustrated glee as he watched the first plasma bolt miss and his target dropped from it's perch. As the second bolt destroyed the prey's perch, his growl turned to a shocked howl as the branch he was holding suddenly shattered in his hand and he fell toward the jungle floor.

Lara's eyes caught the muzzle flash as the echoing boom of a powerful firearm roared through the jungle, but her eyes quickly went back to the task of tracing the path of the firey projectiles she knew came from the hunter.

An unearthy howl echoed through the jungle and suddenly the jungle itself seemed to fall silent.

Long seconds passed before anyone spoke.

"What in the bleedin hell is going on out there?"

"A duel." Lara said softly a second later. "A duel."

Xander hit the ground, executing a neat three point landing as he kept the barrel of the Eagle aimed in the general direction of his foe. It took all his skill in Elan's energy transfer techniques to soften his landing to one that wouldn't cripple him.

In the distance he heard a howl, and wondered if his single shot had reached it's target, but then decided it didn't matter. It would take a billion to one shot for a single pistol round to take down a Yautja, and if he had injured it then the stakes had just gone up a few notches.

He straightened back up and ducked behind a tree as he tried to get his bearings again.

What a trophy this one was going to be.

The Hunter salivated with the thought of presenting the skull of this human to his clan, along with the tale of the hunt and the captured data his mask was gathering of the battle. He was an old hunter, a skilled one, who had already gathered much honor but this, this would be a crowning touch to his collection.

He gathered himself as he bounded back up from the ground where he had landed and began to circle away from the prey.

Skill would be the deciding factor in this bout, he was certain of that. His strengths versus his opponents weaknesses, and he knew now how to exploit one of his opponents weaknesses.

This prey may be skilled but, unlike a true hunter, he was concerned with the welfare of those who must take care of themselves. He protected the weak like a herd animal, and that could be used against him.

Xander moved swiftly but silently through the jungle, his ears and eyes telling him that this match wasn't over just yet. Not even this round.

The jungle around him was deathly quiet, the animals hunkered down or long gone as they sensed the presence of a predator in the area. He could feel it himself, residual instincts of the Hyena bubbling up again as they had the last time he'd encountered a Yautja. There was something primal about these creatures that drew out the fear that resided in the very depths of a human soul.

Xander moved from tree to tree as he tried to gain another hint of his opponents location, eyes flitting from tree to tree in search of the distortion he knew would give the Yautja away.

The SAS men tightened up as they felt the oppressive silence fall on the jungle, the very lack of sound screaming at them as they searched for a target.

"Where is *he*?" Jenks asked nervously, his hands sweating as he gripped his weapon tightly and searched for something to shoot, ANYTHING to shoot.

"Shut up." Samms replied, his voice just as tense but his tone and movements better controlled.

He understood the fear in the younger man, but now wasn't the time to let it reign. His Squad was used to being the ones who were unseen, ghosts in the night. It was unnerving to have that turned on them, to be caught in the center of something that seemed almost surreal.

Jenks nodded, sweat beading on his face that had nothing to do with the heat but he nodded and shut up.

There was another long silence, puncuated by the absolute still quality of the jungle around them.

Then a roaring whine puncuated the air, and Samms felt a tight pressure in his chest. He looked down, his eyes widening as he saw light shining through the shadow he cast on the ground. He tried to speak, but only a gurgle came out, and then the tough SAS man went down to his knees as he turned around, still looking for the thing that killed him.

"Sergeant!!" Jenks and Leary reached him in a flash, kneeling where he fell.

Jenks scanned the treeling with his weapon, while Leary checked the body. "He's dead."


"Get back under cover!" Jefferson ordered, his voice weak but the command ringing in the military ears.

The two of them retreated back to cover, still scanning the trees for the Hunter.

Xander winced, feeling guilt and pain as he watched the man fall. He knew now that the Yautja was drawing him out, trying to force him to reveal his position.

The problem was, it was working.

"Merlin... Where is he?" Xander ventured, finally breaking the self imposed silence.

"I'm sorry Commander. I know where he fired from, but he's moving again and there are not factors in the area for me to calculate vectors."

Xander cursed quietly, not really understanding what Merlin was saying other then that he couldn't pinpoint the Yautja.

And then, of course, the Yautja pinpointed him.

This time the hunter didn't use the laser designator. Somehow the prey could sense that, and the old hunter wasn't one to give up his advantage knowingly.

The Plasma Caster whirred slightly as it targeted manually, then the hunter started firing off shots in rapid fire.

The first shot was just barely wide, giving Xander his one chance as he started moving. The plasma bolts were coming out of the mists, peppering his position with a constant barrage of shots.

Xander ran, the fiery sparks and explosions following him as he pushed himself to the limit. As the shots got closer and closer, Xander threw himself through the air and rolled behind an old moss covered boulder.

Three blasts roared off the rock as the Yautja kept firing, but the granite held and Xander's heart started to slow slightly as he breathed deeply.

<Too fucking close!>

He tensed, then pushed himself up and jumped up and over the boulder, his eyes searching for the Hunter.

The first plasma bolt gave him a position to aim at, and Xander dove to one side, twisting as he fired. Plasma and bullets crossed paths in the humid jungle air, each striving to end the death match before the other.

Lara and the SAS team waited as the sound of gunfire died down, for long minutes the oppressive silence remained, but then the sound of birds and local wildlife slowly returned.

Jenks swallowed, "Cor. Is it over?"

Lara shook her head, "I don't know."

Finally there was movement in the tree line, and the team shifted their weapons to cover it.

"Hold your fire!" Lara called, recognizing the form.

Xander Harris wearily walked into the clearing, a yellowish green liquid staining his left hand and his big Desert Eagle in his right. His face was grim as he looked them over, "Come on. We've got to get moving before he comes back."

There was a second of silence before anyone spoke.

"What the hell is that on your hand??"

Xander glanced down and shrugged, "I wounded him. Now he's pissed... and I don't like his new tactic."

"What do you mean?" Lara asked.

"He's using you to draw me out." Xander said tensely, then he noticed Samms body for the first time and winced. "Oh hell."

"He got the Sarge." Jenks said quietly.

Xander shook his head, looking up at the sky through the jungle canopy. "How far to your closest extraction point?"

"A quarter mile perhaps." Lara said cooly.

"Ditch your weapons," Xander ordered, scooping up the Sergeants fallen SA-80. He checked the bullpup weapon and retrieved the spare clips for it from the man's web gear. "You go for the extraction sight. I'll lead him off in another direction."

Colonel Jefferson spoke up, his voice wavering and his face pale and clammy. "What makes you think he'll go after you?"

Xander snarled slightly as he cleared the SA80's breech, then racked the bolt and loaded another 5.56NATO round into it. "He wants my head. He'll follow me."

Jefferson tried to take stock of the situation through his foggy mind. Even without the murkiness of morphine in his system, the blood loss was enough to severely impair his thoughts. He was down one man, plus he himself was at considerably less then fighting trim.

That left him two men, and the Croft woman. Not the best situation, especially considering that he'd lost his Sergeant and second in command. Intentional or not, the damned thing had all but decapitated his team.

Two men, no, two corporals and a woman. He finally shook his head and gave in, "Drop your weapons."

Janks obeyed without question, instantly tossing his gear down and pulling his pistol from it's place.

"Knives too." Xander said, "Or he'll just challenge you to one on one... and you don't want to face off against an eight foot Yautja with three foot gauntlet blades."

Jenks' knife followed suit.

"Sir, I don't like this." Leary shook his head, "I mean, disarming ourselves?? Come on, Colonel..."

Jefferson hesitated uncharacteristically before replying, "I understand Leary... but do it. The mission is scrubbed, we can't accomplish it with our current losses."

"Sir..." Leary tried again.

"I said drop them!" Jefferson snapped, then closed his eyes against the wave of vertigo that accompanied the exertion. Then he went on more calmly, "Just do it, Leary..."

The SAS Corporal swallowed and nodded, then started ditching his own weapons.

Jefferson turned to Xander, though weak his eyes were piercing. "You better be right."

Xander nodded, slinging the SA80 and looking around. He finally pointed in a direction about thirty degrees off from the direction of the extraction point. "I'm going that way."

"Why?" Jefferson asked.

"Because I have a mission of my own to complete while I'm here." Xander said calmly. "The Yautja's just a bit of bad luck for me."

"Some luck you have." Jenks snorted.

"That's my life." Xander shrugged, "Last time I ran into one of these things it took me almost four months to get home. And I don't mean by walking."

"What's your mission?" Lara asked softly, looking at Xander through narrowed eyes.

"None of your business." Xander said flatly while smiling at her. "But it has nothing to do with the Yautja space ship. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be on board one of those again."

Lara noted Xander's shudder with interest, her sharp mind considering the impact if his words.

Xander turned to the SAS men, "Leary, go cut some branches to make a stretcher..."

Xander paused, looking at Jefferson. "Make that two."

Leary nodded and picked up the machete he'd tossed down.

"What happened out there?" Lara asked.

Xander shrugged, "We shot at each other. He missed, I didn't. By the time I tracked around to his position, he was gone... but he's wounded, so that'll give us time while he patches himself up."

Lara raised one elegant eyebrow, "Patches himself up?"

As if on cue a hideous scream suddenly echoed through the jungle all around them, causing the military men to jump and reach for weapons they'd cast down. Xander just glanced up and nodded, "That would be him patching himself up now. If you can help it, I'd advise against using a Yautja medical kit."

The normally controlled woman shuddered as the echos of the scream died down. "I'll remember that."

Xander nodded then looked back around. "He's going to be on the move again soon. Leary! Step it up."

Xander checked the Colonel out briefly, frowning as he saw the unfocused shift in his eyes. He slowly shook his head, "You're looking pretty bad, Sir."

Jefferson swallowed, his throat and mouth dry, and Xander quickly grabbed his canteen and tilted it to the man's lips. "Here, drink."

After the Colonel had swallowed some of the water he nodded his thanks, "Either way, this is my last mission. I guess it doesn't matter how I look."

Xander nodded slowly, "You'll make it out. You don't have far to go..."

"Brigman better pray I don't." Jefferson promised in between breaths. "I don't need two hands to wring his scrawny neck."

Xander smiled, "I'll check in on you later then... see if you want a... hand."

Jefferson stared at him for a second, his eyes widening in surprise. Then the Colonel started to laugh painfully, "That's a sick joke, kid."

Xander shrugged, rolling his eyes slightly. "It's what I do. Probably why I keep losing girlfriends."

The Hunter clutched at it's side where the human's bullet had ripped a hole through the lightly padded armor. It could feel the chunk of metal in it's body as it moved, but the sensation was lessening now as the application over the would sealed it tightly and prevented much 'rolling'.

The Prey was better then he had hoped, and this hunt was just beginning.

The Hunter sighed in satisfaction, enjoying the sensation of challenge once again. To be young again, when every hunt felt like this.

Rigging up makeshift stretchers from branches and the soldiers combat webbing took only minutes, and then the group was ready to move out.

"Go straight to the evac point," Xander said sternly. "Don't fuck around in the jungle. The Colonel needs help in a bad way."

"What about you?" Lara asked.

"I'll survive." Xander said cooly. "I'm good at that."

"Oh, I'm ever so reassured." the british lady said sarcastically.

Xander chuckled, "I've got a job to do. The Yautja is in my way... I'll handle him. Go on, get out of here."

The Soldiers nodded and started moving, but Lara Croft stayed behind for a while before nodding and following them. Xander watched them go for a minute, then looked off in his direction. "Merlin... Give me a heading and distance to the redoubt."

The Hunter arrived at the previous sight of contact and paused, examining the trail. The majority of the group had gone off in one direction, but a single human had left in another.

There was little doubt in the Hunter's mind which one the single human was, but briefly he paused and considered. The split would cost the hunter a tactical advantage which, no doubt, the human fully intended.

But that was a minor concern.

The hunt was never supposed to be safe.

When, a moment later, a strong signal came from that same direction the Hunter growled his appreciation and took off in pursuit of the Prey.

"Go on to the evac point. I'm going back."

"Are you daft, lady?" Jenks snapped at her as Lara turned around.

Lara fixed him with a piercing stare, "Just do it, Soldier. I was sent here on my own mission... I aim to complete it."

"Fine. Suit yerself." The SAS commando muttered, "Go and get yerself killed."

"Don't be stupid, Croft." Leary said earnestly. "There's no way we can get that ship now."

Lara looked at him evenly. "I wasn't sent here after the ship."

Then she took off.

The two SAS men looked at each other, "What the hell do we do?"

"Go on." Leary said tiredly. "The Colonel needs medivac in the worst way."

"He's on the move, Commander." Merlin announced. "Coming this direction."

Xander nodded, "Of course he is. His mask picked up our communications."

"Indeed." Merlin confirmed, "That would seem likely."

Xander kept moving until he found the place Merlin had informed him was ahead. It was a chasm, bridged by an ancient looking rope bridge. Xander figured it would do. He walked across it, his heart in his throat as the old thing creaked and swayed, but the bridge held. Xander supposed it must have been kept up to some extent by the guerrillas.

On the other side the young Knight calmly found himself a boulder along the side of the chasm and hunkered down behind it. He pulled out the SA80 and checked the weapon one more time before settling in for the wait.

The jungle floor passed beneath the hunter like a racing road as he advanced along the trail left by his prey in leaps and bounds. The spore was growing stronger with every passing moment, and the hunter knew that as formidable as the prey was, it wasn't nearly as fast as a Yautja.

The wind rushed by, the dull roar like an angry voice urging him on, so the Hunter redoubled his speed, only to come to a jarring halt as the jungle ended.

The hunter started to cross the open area, but something deep in it's psyche screamed, telling it to be wary of the Prey that had claws of it's own. So the Yautja proceeded slowly, looking both ways as it continued forward.

As it reached the line created by the shadow of the jungle against the lowering sun it paused again, it's arm coming up and it's talons clenching into an angry fist as it felt it's instincts and experiences shrieking to be heard.

It growled low in it's throat, suddenly reversing course and fading back into the trees.

<NO!> Xander screamed internally, his finger coming off the trigger of the SA-80. <I almost HAD him!>

He seethed internally, wondering if he should hold his place or move out again. The Yautja had sensed the trap, that much was obvious, so he shook his head and decided to pack it in. The hunter wasn't going to cross this way, and that meant that Xander's ambush could be turned around on him in short order if he didn't keep up his pace.

Xander was in the process of packing it up when a flight of birds erupted into the sky from about three hundred yards further along the ravine.

<So much for the choke point.> Xander cursed mentally, but quickly took off again.

<Alone again. Thank God.> Lara Croft thought to herself as she shucked the Black combat fatigues and revealed the twin pistols she had refused to toss away earlier.

She quickly checked the military GPS receiver she was carrying and orientated herself.

<Only a half mile away. I'll be there in no time.> She half smiled, then grew serious. <Assuming I can keep that bloody hunter off my tail.>

The Tomb Raider started through the jungle at a light jog, easily weaving through the thick jungle and making good time as she mentally figured her route.

<The rope bridge is about a quarter mile that way...> Lara considered, not slowing her pace as she glanced in the direction she was considering. <But I think I know another way, if the satellite maps are still accurate.>

Xander figured he was about two hundred yards out from the redoubt, but he didn't want to check it with Merlin just yet, not while the Yautja was undoubtedly monitoring him.

He was moving fast, but just the same his pace was limited by the need to constantly watch his back as he moved. Each step was accompanied by an anticipatory chill as Xander's mind began to question his second by second survival.

Was the shiver he just felt a signal from his fatigues sensors?

Sweat beaded on his forehead, but he ignored it and kept moving.

The sound of the first plasma caster drove one single thought through Xander's beleagured mind.

<Thank God! It's about time.>

Then he screamed in pain and shock as he was blown clear of his feet and forward into the jungle growth by the force of the plasma explosion.

Got him.

The Hunter rushed forward, intent on ending the ongoing duel while he held the upperhand.

The jungle growth rushed past like the wind as the hunter leapt from the heights of the tall trees and landed solidly next to his fallen prey, legs flexing to absorb the landing. He slowly approached the body, growling in appreciation of the moment.

Mere feet from his prey, the hunter suddenly paused as his mask's auditory sensors picked up a faint sound.

Bu-bum. Bu-bum. Bu-bum

The sound was so faint that the hunter almost missed it, then wasted several seconds trying to identify it.

His face dropped in surprise as he recognized it.


As he thought that one word, his Prey's eyes opened and the fight was one again.

Xander played possum, more to regain his breath then out of any concept of strategy. Inwardly he focused himself, listening to the approach of the hefty Yautja. He felt the eerie sensation of slowing as his perception of time became skewed.

When the plodding footsteps stopped, he waited for a second, then opened his eyes and stared straight at the more then seven foot tall hunter, his eyes locking with the dirty mask. A silent battle of wills was suddenly in force, one that may have lasted only seconds but was no less fierce for the speed.

When it was broken Xander's hands flashed for his Five Sevens as the Yautja suddenly lunged closer, drawing his pike and activating the ancient looking weapon.

The little machine pistols roared.

The Hunter screamed a battle cry.

And the entire universe seemed to collapse into one small clearing in the south pacific jungle as two opponents faced each other, neither giving quarter, and neither asking it.

The sudden twin roar of gunfire and an inhuman scream that seemed to clear the jungle of all wildlife for a mile around brought Lara's head around.

<God. That couldn't have been more the fifty yards away.> She thought, looking over her shoulder in the direction of her objecting, the odd emplacement the British overflight of the area had spotted when he had been dispatched to locate the hunter's ship.

She hesitated only briefly, her decision made before she really considered it, and then the daughter of Lord Henshingly Croft turned from her mission and ran toward the sounds of battle.

The Yautja roared, luminescent green blood spurting from multiple holes in it's abdomen, and completed it's lunge.

The razor bladed pike sliced through Xander's Kine blacksuit and drew blood as it dug into his side and then buried itself in the ground. Xander kept twisting, and rolled away while ignoring the pain.

He made it halfway to his knees before the Pike came back around at him and nearly took his head off. He evaded by ducking and rolling again, going for distance as he looked to regain his poise for just a moment.

A moment was all he asked.

A moment the hunter wasn't willing to give him.

The Yautja roared again, pressing the attack with a series of lightning blows aimed at Xander's head chest and abdomen.

Xander stumbled back, scrabbling to stay off his back as he tried to climb to his feet and simultaneously avoid the sweeps of the pike. His back hit a tree, which turned very rapidly into both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because he finally had the leverage to gain his way to his feet.

A curse because the Pike was still coming for him, and he didn't have anywhere to fall back.

"Shit!" He cursed, ducking as the heavy blade bit deep into the tree, barely missing his head as he dodged to the side.

The Yautja growled, kicking him hard in the guts as he ripped the Pike from the tree. Xander was flung, kicking out with his legs to both soften the hunter's blow and to throw himself clear.

He hit the ground rolling, about ten feet away from the hunter, and came up fast with his guns tracking the big creature.

The hunter snarled, lunging forward to strike before the humans weapons could track successfully. His pike was aimed dead on, and no matter how it turned out he was certain that he would get the prey this time.

Then a hammerblow struck his mask from the side and deflected the big hunter.

When the heavy roar of another set of guns opened up, Xander paused for just a second, his eyes flicking to the muzzle flashes of the H&K USP pistols as they lit up Lara's grimly determined face.

Xander's eyes flicked back, his Five Sevens tracking the motion of the Yautja as he saw the sparks flash off it's mask and armored chest. "Lower! Aim lower!"

He started to squeeze of his remaining rounds, but the Yautja had vanished into the mist filled air of the humid jungle.

"Shit." He said disgustedly, climbing to his feet and shaking his head.

"You're welcome." Lara said sarcastically as she came up beside him.

Xander smiled wearily. "Sorry. And thanks. But I hate this cat and mouse shit... I'm more of a decisive action guy myself."

"I see." She half smiled, then frowned as she saw blood through the split in his suit. "Are you alright?"

Xander felt along his side, wincing, but nodded. "Yeah. Superficial."

"You need to bandage that..."

Xander shook his head, "No time. He'll be back."

"He has to fix himself up..."

"No." Xander swallowed. "Not this time. He'll be back fast."

Lara looked around, "Are you sure?"

"Oh yeah." Xander nodded, changing his clips. "He's pissed off now."

"Well," She smiled, changing her own clips. "Nice to know I still have the touch."

Xander chuckled, nodding down the path he had been following earlier. "Come on. This way."

They were a few feet down the path when they heard a branch snap behind them. The two turned around, shoulder to shoulder with guns covering the path behind them.

"Animal?" Lara asked tensely.

Xander shook his head, "Not likely."

"Right." Lara glanced over her shoulder, then smiled. "Why is it I think we're after the same thing up here?"

"There!" Xander said, then opened fire as a blur passed across the path. As Lara joined in he shouted above the noise, "Probably because we are. Care to bet on who gets it?"

She grinned back as they started marching backwards, laying down withering fire as the Yautja tried to approach. "What makes you think you stand a chance?"

Xander matched her grin, "I think the fact that I can read Atlantean without having to sound out the words gives me an edge."

She looked at him in shock for a minute, but before she could respond he fire off the rest of his clips and half turned. "Run!"

They both broke and ran full tilt down the path and away from the Yautja.

The Prey was in flight, moving faster then the hunter could safely pursue. To move at his best speed would put him right in the apex of their firing arc, and that was not a pleasing scenario.

The hunter could feel the grinding wounds in it's abdomen now, the sticky warmth of it's lost blood was already spreading along it's abdomen and upper leg. Even so, the injuries were minor, requiring little more then field treatment to heal completely.

The hunter growled, watching the prey flee, and pulled a disk from a scabbard on it's side. Lights illuminated as it's taloned claws filled the custom cut grip.

Xander and Lara were beating it for the redoubt, both sprinting while firing the occasional salvo back the direction they had come from, when the whine hit the air.

Xander faltered a half step, looking over his shoulder as the whine intensified, and then he paled.

"Smart Disk!" He screamed, spinning and hitting Lara in a flying tackle that drove them both to the ground.

The hit the dirt together, rolling along the ground for a dozen yards as they clutched at each other. They finally rolled to a halt, Xander stopping the roll with a slap of his palm at a point when he was on top.

Lara glared up at him, "What the hell do you think you're..."

"Shhh." Xander hissed, cursing a second later. "Fuck! I lost my Five Sevens!"

Lara started to talk again, but Xander kept her pinned down as he drew the Desert Eagle from his hip.

The whine returned again, buzzing back from ahead of them, and Xander tracked it's source for an instant and fired. The Eagle roared, and the .44 magnum slug struck it's target an instant later.

The flying disk took the strike on edge, and flipped out of control, whirring an erratic pattern and slamming into a thick tree, where it whined for some time and fell dead.

"Up!" Xander moved, pushing himself off Lara and hauling her up. "Run!"

"What was that??" Lara demanded as they sprinted again.

"Smart disk." Xander panted out, "Wielded by an experienced hand, it would have taken both our heads."

Lara glanced back, eyes widening. "How did...?"

"I've seen one in action a couple times..." Xander said as his arms and legs pumped. "But my hunting partner would never let me touch one..."

"What? Why not?"

Xander glanced to one side, eyes wide with shock at the question. "They don't let children handle those."

Lara risked a wide eyed glance at Xander, but quickly focused forward as they broke out of the jungle. "There!"

"The redoubt." Xander said as he poured on a last burst of energy and the two of them raced for the shelter of the unknown from the very well known.

He shot the disk.

The hunter growled out an appreciative laughter. This prey was magnificent. What a trophy this one would make.

The hunter vowed silently that a mere skull would not suffice this time.

It landed on the ground where the prey had rolled, pausing to look over the tracks.


The hunter kneeled, pausing in the pursuit to retrieve two small weapons from the ground. The Prey's weapons. It growled in appreciation, dropping the guns into a pouch and then glanced back.

It would return for the disk later, for now the hunt was on.

Lara beat Xander into the redoubt by several seconds as he paused to cover the path behind them, eyes searching for the blur that would betray the Yautja's position. For some reason it didn't seem to be right behind them, so Xander turned and ducked into the cave that marked the entrance to the Redoubt.

It loomed above them, a moderately massive pyramid of metal that gleamed in the setting sun.

Immediately inside, Xander almost ran into Lara, who was looking around with interest.

"Watch your step." She told him quietly.

"Right now I think I'll watch our asses." He muttered, looking over his shoulder to the exit.

"Watch your own." Lara said pointedly. "I don't display mine for your benefit."

Xander shrugged, speaking from habit of talking to Faith and Amanda. "Really? Those tight shorts for the Hunter back there? I'm not certain he'll appreciate it, but hey... if that's your turn on..."

Lara glared back at him archly, but for some reason Xander didn't feel any bite from her gaze, instead she seemed amused and perhaps mildly impressed.

He walked along with her, still looking over his shoulder for the Yautja, when she grabbed at him.

"Wait! Don't step there!" She snapped.

But it was too late.

Xander's foot sank two inches into the floor, and an audible click echoed through the cavern. His heart sunk as he froze in place, "Oh shit."

"Indeed." She said, sounding remarkably like Giles when he was pissed off with Xander. "Don't move, if you please?"

"I please." Xander said, pale as he froze.

Lara kneeled down, pulling a maglight from her boot. "I think it's triggered by the release of weight..."

An audible rumble started in the distance.

"Or maybe not." She said flippantly as she stood up and grabbed Xander by the black suit and pulled him along. "Come on!"

They ran again, and behind them they heard a rumble turn into a grinding sound that ended with an enormous smash as a cloud of dust and debris engulfed them. When it cleared, Lara and Xander emerged, coughing and waving the dust from their faces.

"Shit." Xander muttered, looking back.

Lara nodded, sighing. "It would appear, that we need a new way out."

Behind them a solid slab of stone had descended and effectively sealed the cave entrance.

Xander sighed, brushed out his black suit, then smiled at Lara. "Well... at least now I can stop watching our ass."

Lara shook her head and turned away.

Xander's eyes ran down her back and focused on her shorts and he smirked. "Well... I'll stop watching my ass anyway."

The Yautja stopped in befuddled shock as the slab of rock slid from the roof of the cavern and sealed the passage.

For long seconds it stared, wondering if this had been planned or if some God was angry with him and determined that he would lose this prey. The hunter howled in frustrated anger, stalking back out and examining the structure from the outside.

It growled. The structure was constructed. That implied a plan, and most likely an alternate means of egress.


The hunt would continue.

A hunter must be patient. Especially when the prey was very nearly as cunning as the hunter himself.

He would find a way inside. Or would find the prey when they exited.

"I think I see light up ahead," Lara said as they made their way through the tunnel.

The rough hewn walls quickly gave way to smooth carved walls as they walked, and Xander moved forward to stride side by side with Lara.

"I know." He nodded as they walked.

The silence continued for a minute, then Xander spoke again. "What brought you here, Lady Croft?"

Lara scowled mildly at him, "Call me Lara. And It was chance, I believe."

"You believe?" Xander asked, confused.

"I wasn't told everything." She admitted, smiling slightly as she considered that fact. "They, for example, failed to mention the hunter back there... But they did mention tracking a ship, and said that they had located this pyramid when they did a fly over in a Tornado."

"The Yautja led them to the redoubt." Xander shook his head, "I guess I have another reason to kill him."

"You seem to take this rather personally."

"He's trying to claim my skull as a trophy, Lara." Xander said sarcastically. "It's very personal to me. Besides, I can't lt him get away with killing Samms, or any of the humans he's taken."

"Point." She conceded. "But it seems more then just that."

Xander nodded, "I hunted with one of them for a while..."

Lara took a half step from him, eyes widening.

"Oh, not humans." Xander replied, "Actually the prey was worse then anything I've ever sceen... worse then the Yautja back there even."

Lara noted the shudder as he spoke and frowned in curiosity. "What was it?"

Xander shook his head, "Pray you never find out."

Lara was about to respond, but suddenly they found themselves in the light of a large cavern. "Oh my..."

Her whisper was lost in the expanse of the room, because it wasn't a mere cavern, and she and Xander stood and stared for a long moment. "Whoa."

Lara smiled, then walked along the walls. "There's writing here."

Xander turned and looked, "Let me read it."

"I can do it." Lara said, mildly amused. "It's french."


"No... This is all wrong..." Xander muttered, shaking his head as he and Lara finished their first circuit of the room.

Stone panels were missing from the walls, all over the place, and where they were intact someone had scratched french notes over them.

"What do you mean?" Lara asked, knowing that someone had obviously raided this place long before, but wondering what specifics he knew.

"This french is no more then two hundred years old." Xander said, frustrated, "The notes suggest that whoever had been doing this raided the place for it's artifacts..."

Lara shrugged, "So? That's what we were going to do, wasn't it?"

Xander shot her a dirty look. "What's wrong is that the redoubt is still active. Something doesn't add up. Damn it! I wish they hadn't taken the original panels!"

Lara shrugged, as they mad their way away from the walls.

A circle of nine pillars encompassed the center of the room, and the two of them circled it slowly.

As they approached the pillars, something caught Xander's eyes and his hand flashed out and caught Lara across the chest. "Hold on."

Lara Croft looked down, noting the position of his hand. "Kindly remove your hand from my breast, if you please?"

Xander's hand dropped instantly, but when he spoke he wasn't embarrassed, he was too focused. "Something's wrong."

Lara turned her focus to the pillars and the area of the room further in, and frowned. "I don't... The dust!"

Xander frowned, "what... Oh. Shit. Yeah, I see it."

A beam of light was cutting through a section of the room and into the center of the pillar, illuminating some dust that was hanging suspended in the air.

"It's not moving." Xander said softly.

"Precisely." Lara said quietly, looking around for some indication of what was going on.

Xander knelt down, plucking a small shard of rock from the floor and tossed it underhand between the pillars. It hit a barrier as it passed, slowing like he had thrown it into a pool of water until it finally came to a halt, hanging in mid air. "Stasis field."


"Stasis field." Xander replied, "The redoubt must have been holding perishables. But if they got the stuff out... why leave the field on?"

Lara shrugged, "Let' turn it off and find out."

"Right." Xander frowned, looking around. "The power should be hardlined into it... Stasis setups don't usually have control panels... They use a simpler system..."

"Such as?" Lara asked archly.

Xander paused by one of the pillars, "Usually a system like this can only be turned off by interrupting the power line directly..."

"Does this actually help us at all?" Lara asked, hands on her hips.

"Actually..." Xander flipped up a hidden panel and yanked a crystal out of the pillar. "It does."

The was a sudden hissing sound, and the area inside the pillar circle suddenly turned into a white foggy mist, like someone had thrown a switch. The mist curled out towards them, circling and flowing around their feet as Lara and Xander stepped back.

"That's cold." Lara said observationally.

"Basic physics... If you stop all motion, even molecular, you create cold by default." Xander shrugged. "Give it a second to dissipate."

"Why not?" Lara shrugged, calmly stepping back to warmer air.

The hiss of air stopped after a second, and the two erstwhile explorers watched the rolling mists for a moment until a new sound reached their ears.


And cursing.

Lara and Xander loked at each other, confused, as a new voice came through loud and clear.

"Awright! I'm coming to get ya you little runt! Where are you!?"

Before either of them could say anything, the 'statue' rushed out of the mist, looking wildly around as he wielded his sword and pistol. When he spotted them, he paused and spoke almost conversationally. "Hi there, did either of you see a little guy out here? About yay tall..."

He put his hand at about shin height.

"... going by the name Napolean?"

Lara and Xander shook their heads.

"Damn!" He cursed, looking around and frowned. "Now where did the little runt go..."

Xander stared at the figure, then looked at Lara. Then back to the figure and his mouth opened. Before he spoke, he turned slowly back to Lara and then finally whispered. "Is he wearing silk underpants on his head?"

Lara just shrugged helplessly, shaking her head.

Xander raised a hand, one finger up questioningly. "Ah... Excuse me?"

The man in the black cape and mask turned back to them, "Yes? Well? What is it? I'm busy here... I've got to find that runt and make sure that word got out about his attack on Waterloo..."

Xander hesitated, but finally managed to get the question out. "Umm... Well, you see... I was just wondering..."

"Yes?" The man prompted.

"Are you wearing *underwear* on your head?" Xander finally blurted.

The man's hand rocketed to his head, and patted around for a bit. "Damn! Where's my hat!? You can't tell when I where the hat..."

He started looking around the ground for his hat, but couldn't find it. "Crap. How am I supposed to be a dashing hero with a hat?"

Xander looked at Lara, stunned. "Who IS this guy?"

Lara blinked, then shrugged. "Obviously he's an american... just look at the way he acts."

"Hey!" Xander snapped. "Not funny."

Suddenly the man stopped, frowning at the two of them oddly. "Hey... Your British."

Lara blinked, "That you so very much for informing me."

"Yep." The man nodded. "British alright."

Then he turned to Xander, "And you... your American."

"No shit."

He nodded. "Yep. American alright. What are you two doing here?"

Lara and Xander looked at each other, then shrugged. "Ummm... Exploring?"

The man shook his head, "Oh great. Why is it that every 'explorer' is a drunk that couldn't read a map or compass to save their lives? It's lewis and Clarke all over agin. Look, you two... Paulau Paulau has *already* been discovered. Try the next island over."

By this point, Lara and Xander had had enough.

"Who the hell are you!?" Xander snapped finally.

"Me? I'm the Daring Dragoon!" The man struck a pose.

"More like the flaming crossdresser." Xander said under his breath.

"What was that!?" The man spun back around.

"Nothing." Xander replied.

"Damn right." The man snapped.

Lara decided to try, "Pardon me... Who are you?"

"Didn't we just cover this?" The man snapped, "I'm the Daring Dragoon!"

Lara nodded, "That's what I thought you said."

She leaned over to Xander, "The Dragoon was a local folk hero back before the revolutionaries run everyone out of here... Nothing in my research indicates that he was an American though."

"Thank god. American's have a bad enough time living down our politicians." Xander said sarcastically. "If word got out that some of us acted like this, we'd be a laughing stock."

"Too late for that." Lara replied.

"Hey!" Both the man and Xander snapped, outraged.

Xander spun on the man, "You... don't help! I'd rather emigrate to England then have you backing me up right now."

"Ouch." The man sighed mockingly. "That hurts. Now who the HELL are you two!?"

"Lara Croft." Lara responded after a moment.

"Xander Harris." Xander said afterwards.

"Ah. Nobodies." Jack nodded, then looked around. "Now where the hell did that Runt get too?"

"Ahh..." Lara ventured. "This... Runt?"

"You know? The Diminutive Dictator? The Rolling Runt?" The man said, finally sighing. "Napoleon?"

"Right... About him..." Lara said calmly. "You mean THE Napoleon... right?"

"No, I mean on of the many impersonators." The man said sarcastically. "Who the hell would want to pretend to be three inches tall?"

Xander suddenly rubbed his nose. "Lara... Are you thinking what I wish I wasn't thinking?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Well would you stop thinking and start talking!?" The man snapped. "Look. You're British and American, right? Napoleon is going to attack Waterloo! We have to get the word out... I don't know if Emilia made it or not!"

"I think it's safe to say that Emilia, whoever she is, made it." Xander sighed softly. "You see..."

"Wait a moment..." Lara broke in, "Did you say Emilia? Emilia Rothschild?"

The man nodded, "Well yeah. She was supposed to get word out about the Runt's attack..."

Xander turned to Lara, "That name mean anything to you?"

Lara nodded, "Emilia Rothschild was one of the greatest heros of the Napoleonic Wars... She delivered the vital information on Napoleon's battle plans in time for the battle of Waterloo. After that, though, she just faded from the scene... There were rumors about expeditions mounted over the years to find someone... but that's all."

"Whoa... whoa." The man muttered, "What are you talking about?? Years? Napoleonic Wars? Someone named some wars after that runt?"

"Sir..." Lara said softly, "I'm afraid that you've been here for some time..."

"Some time? How long a time?"

"What year do you think it is?"

The man frowned, "1803."

Lara and Xander exchanged glances, wincing. "I'm afraid that it's 1996."

It had taken the better part of an hour, but Lara and Xander had finally managed to convince the man of their words.

He didn't take it so well.

He slumped against a pillar, then sank to the ground and sighed deeply as he took off the black mask he had over his head and eyes. "I guess this just does look stupid now."

Under the mask he was a fairly normal looking man, black hair and goatee, lively humorous eyes. He looked up at them, "I'm Jack Styles... But I suppose you've heard of me, huh?"

Xander and Lara looked at each other, then shrugged. "Sorry."

Jack's eyes widened, then he just slumped again. "Figures. It's not like I ever did anything... Just saved the whole *country* during the revolution! I knew I should have let George talk me into signing that damned Constitution... Jack, he said, you *have* to sign it! You practically WROTE it! He said... But did I listen? Noooooo!"

Lara and Xander exchanged glances again as the man railed on.

"No, I had to go and be 'smart'!" He said bitterly. "How can I be a superspy if everyone knows my name, I asked! What good could I do the country then?? Never figured on being this well kept a secret!"

He sighed and got up, bouncing back remarkably fast. "Ah well. I'm back now, so... Xander is it?"

Xander nodded.

"What does the good old U.S of A need now in the way of a superspy?" He grinned, "I suppose there's still work to do?"

"Well... yeah, but..."

"Good! I'll get started again. Find the President, we'll have a few drinks in a good tavern and I'll figure out where ol Jack can fit in." Jack grinned, forcing his old humor back. "Now then... let's be going, shall we? And I don't suppose you could direct me to Washington from here?"

"Well sure, but..."

"Great! So... Who is the President nowadays anyway?" Jack asked, brushing himself off and stripping the cloak away.

"Whitmore, actually... but I don't know how long that'll be."

"Huh? Why's that? Election coming up?"

"No. Actually His opposition managed to get a swing vote to have him impeached." Xander sighed, his lips turning bitterly. "They have the entire Whitmore administration in court right now."

"He deserves I suppose." Jack said calmly, "Ok, well not problem. How long can that take? A few days and a quick election and we'll have a new president..."

"Try six to ten months." Xander snapped, his face twisting to the surprise of both Jack and Lara, and his fist coming up. "And if you ever say anything bad about Whitmore I'll deck you personally. The only reason you're still standing is that you have no way of knowing what kind of man he is."

"He's being impeached! That sais a lot for the guy right there." Jack responded, his tone taking the challenge.

Xander's fist put him down on his ass about a third of a second later.

"Ow!" He muttered from the ground, "What the hell are you doing??"

Lara quickly stepped between them as Jack regained his feet and looked to come in swinging. "Both of you, cut it out!"

Xander seethed for a moment, but then abruptly calmed down. "Sorry. It's... a touchy point with me. Whitmore deserves to be remembered as a hero... He shouldn't be sacrificed as a Martyr to the alter of the entire world."

"What *are* you talking about?" Lara asked, confused.

"Never mind." Xander got out. He grudgingly stepped up to Jack. "Again. I'm sorry."

Jack rubbed his chin wincingly, "Damn. Politics have gotten even touchy over the years."

"It's got nothing to do with politics." Xander said calmly. "It's about personal loyalty and gratitude."

The hunter came to a halt in it's search for another way in, finally deciding to pursue a different course.

The situation was intolerable, but apparently had no immediate way to solve it.

There was no obvious way into the pyramid, and no way through the barrier that had fallen. What had appeared to be mere stone at first glance had proven to harbor an armored block under it's surface.


The Yautja, however, had scouted the area and knew that there was only one way out of the *area*. And that was the way they had entered it.

The area was a sunken plateau, cunningly disguised by the surrounding jungle, but with only one way in or out.

The hunter growled lightly, determined that it would wait out it's prey.

"And so I got locked in this place..." Jack sighed. "I'm just glad that Emilia made it out..."

"That's quite a story, Mr Styles." Lara said.

"Call me Jack, Lara." Jack grinned or, more accurately, leered at her. "So what's your story?"

Xander snorted. "We're being hunted by an eight foot tall monster who wants to hang our bleached skulls in his den."

"Ah. People after my own heart." Jack grinned, then hastilly back pedaled as they both glared at him. "You I mean, not the monster... I just mean that you seem to attract trouble."

"That's true enough." Xander scowled, looking around the room.

"Hey, what are you lookin for?" Jack asked.

"There should be a doorway around here..." Xander said, "Access to the Redoubt's command center..."

"No way." Jack shook his head, "The runt had his goons looking through this place for almost two decades... This is all they ever found."

Xander ignored him and kept looking.

"Do you happen to know what the french managed to secure from this room?" Lara asked.

"Nope. Sorry. A couple really big things though," Jack frowned. "That's how we got onto them... They had to bring them to the harbor to load them aboard ship."

"I wonder..." Lara frowned, then shrugged as she gave it up. "Pity. I should very much have liked to seen this place before they tampered with it."

Jack just shrugged and looked over to Xander, "Hey kid, just give it up... I'm telling you there's nothing..."

"Got it." Xander announced with a grin as a section of wall fell away from him and slid to the side to reveal a stone stair case.

"How'd you do that!?" Jack demanded, as Xander vanished inside. He looked over to Lara, "Hey... How'd he do that?"

Lara didn't answer right away as she quickly made her way to the stairwell, but as she stepped into the stairwell she glanced back. "I don't know... But I aim to find out."

Jack stared after them, but finally shrugged and ran after them.

Xander stepped out into the so called command area of the redoubt and frowned.

"What a load of junk." He sighed, shaking his head.


He looked back to see Lara step up behind him. "Nothing. The place must have been put together in a hurry. They've used non-standard gear... looks like nothing of any value here either. It must have just been a storage facility."

"You know far too much about this for research, Mr Harris." Lara said cooly.

"Call me Xander." Xander replied. "Mr Harris makes me feel..."

"Old?" She asked, jokingly.

"Like an asshole." Xander said, his lips twisted but he almost instantly recanted. "No... Not quite that bad, but just call me Xander. Ok?"

"Ok..." She said, watching him intently for a moment. "Xander."

He smiled slightly at her, then turned back to the room as Jack Styles came puffing up the stairs.

"Jeezz... there's a lot of stairs in this place..." He muttered, "Why a pyramid, anyway? Why not something easier to get around in... you know, like a really flat box? I like boxes."

Lara spared him a disbelieving glance, but didn't speak. Xander spoke, but didn't bother to look up from what he was doing. "Stone and Metal pyramids are connected to the earth. They don't require elaborate power systems to run basic systems like the stasis field... They charge their systems directly from crossed ley lines."

"Excuse me?" Jack blinked, shaking his head.

Lara frowned, "You're talking about Geomancy... that's a joke..."

"Sure it is. Now." Xander said, "No one today knows how to locate a true ley line. The people who do go looking for them get lost in refracted energies..."

"If you know all this, why don't you prove it to the world?" Lara asked, half smiling.

"Because I'm like President Whitmore." Xander replied. "I don't need public recognition for the things I do. Besides, why should I bother? People get along well enough for now on their own."

"Power systems like this would help a lot of people." Lara countered.

"And hurt a lot more." Xander replied, shrugging. "Economy is based on oil. The wrong application at the wrong time could bring a lot of countries to their knees... Why deck someone when they're *just* now getting to their feet? Humanity will learn to stand on it's own... People respect things better when they've earned them."

"Interesting attitude." Lara muttered.

"What the hell are you guys talking about?" Jack asked in confusion.

Lara blinked, then apologized. "Sorry. We were just talking about power generation... Electricity in fact..."

Jack instantly brought his hands up, backing away. "Oooh no! You aren't getting me near that! Emilia almost killed me with that stupid invention of hers! I smelled like a tree fried by lightning for TWO weeks!"

"Relax." Xander smiled despite himself. "We've got that particular beast under control."

Jack frowned, shaking his head. "Sure. Right. I'll believe it when I see it."

Then he frowned, "Hey... What are you looking for anyway?"

"The inventory of this place... and then a way out." Xander said as he continued his search.


"What?" Lara leaned forward, looking over Xander's shoulder at the incomprehensible gibberish he was flipping through in a book he'd found.

"Huh? Oh... Nothing..." Xander muttered, "It's just that the runt... ah... I mean *Napoleon*..."

He shot a glower at Jack, who didn't notice.

"... must have pulled a couple mobile sensor units out of here." Xander shook his head, "I'm glad that's all it was... but still, those would have been useful."

"Why?" Lara asked, confused.

"Well, for one I'd like to have one online and networked to catch that Damned Yautja while he was in orbit. He must have come in through one of the rather large holes in our orbital net." Xander muttered. "I wonder what the french did with them?"

"I haven't the slightest idea." Lara shrugged. "I don't see how it really matters either. Is there a way out listed?"

"What? Oh..." Xander looked up, shaking his head to clear it. "Yeah... sure. No problem."

"Then perhaps we should be going?" She prompted.

Xander sighed, "Yeah. Yeah, let's... ummmm..."


"How many clips do you have left?" Xander asked, hesitant.

Lara checked her supplies and sighed. "Only the two in my guns."

"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of." Xander checked his own clip. "I'm down to seven rounds for my Eagle. I've got clips for my Five Sevens, but I dropped those on the way in. Hey, Jack!"


"Let me see that pistol of yours?"

Styles blinked, pulling his black powder pistol from his belt and reluctantly handing it over.

Xander shook his head an instant after checking it out. "No good. This thing won't even factor in the fight."

"Fight? What fight?" Jack asked, reclaiming his pistol with a proprietary air.

"The hunter we mentioned." Lara responded. "I'm afraid that we'll have to fight out way past him to get to an evac point."

"How tough can he be?" Jack shrugged.

"He's eight feet tall, has enough muscles to make Popeye jealous, and has a weapon that makes a ship fired *cannon* look like a peashooter," Xander snapped, "Got it?"

"Uhh sure... except... well... who's Popeye?"

Xander groaned, "Come on. Let's move."

The hunter looked up as an unnatural grating sound echoed faintly through the jungle. It called up the sound on it's computer system and began to examine it carefully.

It took only seconds to confirm it's original belief.

The sound wasn't natural in origin. It's vibrations were too regular, and the direction fit too perfectly. It came from the pyramid.

The hunter growled softly to itself as it settled down to wait.

It wouldn't be long now.

"Shit." Xander cursed softly.

"What?" Jack asked, beginning to feel jumpy as he fed off th nervousness the other two were putting out.

"My guns are gone. I dropped them here."

"Are you certain?" Lara asked softly.

Xander nodded, pointing at the ground. "Here's where we rolled under the disc. The Yautja landed here... and he picked my guns up."

"Why would he do that?" Lara asked after examining the imprints the two weapons had made in the dirt.

"Trophies." Xander sighed. "They'll look real nice displayed on either side of my skull."

Jack looked at him as if he were nuts, "Wait a second.. You're *serious*!? I thought that as a saying! You know, I'll have your head! And all that rubbish!"

"Keep your voice down." Xander snapped, "And no. It's not a saying. This thing will rip your head off, clean the skin from the bone, and use it to brag to his friends about his latest safari."

"Jesus." Jack muttered, looking around. "I thought the runt was sick."

"Let's move." Xander said finally.

"What about your guns?" Jack asked.

"I think I'll get a chance to get them back." Xander said grimly. "Like it or not."

The hunter was pleased.

It was a rare hunt that provided as much as this one did.

Exceptional prey, fantastic reversals of the hunt, and now the prey was walking straight into his clutches.

And the very best thing was that they weren't doing it because they had made a mistake. They were doing it because they had been maneuvered into a position where they simply had no option but to knowingly walk right into his range.


The hunter growled softly, enjoying the sheer depth of the situation as he primed his plasma caster and waited.

And watched.

As they moved on, the sounds of the jungle began to drop off and soon Xander's eyes were flitting around rapidly as he tried to find the hunter before it found them.

The lack of birds in the jungle was a dead give away of the Yautja's presence, and Xander tensed more with every step they took toward the chasm that was their only way out of the area.

"It's out there, isn't it?" Lara asked softly.

Xander nodded. "It's watching us even now. I can feel it."

Jack looked around jumpily. "I don't see anything..."

"You won't." Xander said, "Not until it's too late."

Jack sneered, "That's a great attitude you got there."

"He's telling the truth." Lara said quietly, "I've seen this thing in action... or rather, NOT seen it in action."

All of them had their guns out, for what good three clips and a single round from a black powder pistol was going to manage. And they moved as quickly as they could while maintaining some semblance of a lookout.

They had just come into sight of the old rope bridge when the attack came.

The first shot must have been some honor induced warning, as it missed all three of them by enough that even it's concussion was nothing. The shot itself, though, was enough to wake all three of them all the way up.

Styles cursed in shock, freezing for the space of an instant while he registered the event, then dove for cover.

Xander and Lara both pivoted in the direction of the shot, eyes searching for the telltale blur, their guns tracking upward.

The Eagle roared first, further startling Jack who was still trying to find the source of the Plasma bolt. Then Lara's twin pistols opened up as well.

They ceased fire after a couple rounds apiece, their guns coming down.

"You see him?" Xander asked worriedly.

"No." Lara said. "He moved just after I fired."

Xander nodded. "Shit."

"What the hell was that!?" Styles asked from where he was crouched, his pistol still searching.

"The hunter." Xander said flately.

"Oh." Jacks muttered, "That's helpful."

Xander snorted, looking around slowly. He froze when he spotted a glint of red in his peripheral vision and spun, seeing the three prong tracer centered on Lara's chest. His hand flashed out in a single handed open palm strike that blew her off her feet as he heard the pop-hiss of the plasma bolt being launched.

Lara's face was shocked as she was catapulted back from where she had been, her eyes watching the plasma bolt roar into the ground near where Xander was standing and the concussion of it blowing him into the air.

She reached out in shock, then her eyes widened in shock again as she slammed into a tree and felt a sudden pressure in her belly.

She reached down to her side, her hand feeling sticky and wet. "Oh hell," She muttered when her hand came away red and bloody.

The hunter landed solidly, growling in appreciation as it dropped the shift field and approached the warm target first. The prey was against a tree, and wounded.

The hunter growled again, this time in annoyance. It had wanted to take them all himself, but he was fairly certain that this wasn't his doing. Still, a trophy was a trophy. It reached the figure, extending it's talons to grasp the Prey's head and deliver the coup.

There was a roar, and hammer blowstruck it's mask, twisting the armored surface around and disorientating the Yautja for a precious second.

"Ahhhhh!" Jack screamed, casting aside his pistol as he raised his saber and charged the beast.

It was HUGE. Xander hadn't been kidding, he saw now, but backing down wasn't his style... no matter what he sometimes pretended. His saber came down fast, aiming to cleave the beast's neck, but was blocked when the creature lifted an armored gauntlet and deflected the blade with ease.

He pulled back to strike again, but a backhanded blow threw him back a dozen yards like he was nothing. From his dizzied vision, Jack Styles struggled to get to his feet as the Yautja turned back to the bleeding body of Lara Croft.

Then four incredibly loud reports echoed through the jungle, and Jack saw sparks rip off the creature's back. It stopped and turned around, growling.

Xander Harris, bleeding and apparently broken, was nonetheless standing tall as blood ran down his face and neck. In one hand he had the gleaming pistol he'd been using, and in the other he held a seven foot staff of a silvery metal.

<Where the hell was he hiding THAT?> Jack managed to think before Xander moved.

Xander tossed the gun aside, smiling grimly, his teeth coated red with blood. Then he growled something out, sounding completely feral to Jack as he watched the odd confrontation.

The hunter froze as he heard the words of his own tongue spoken from the mouth of Prey.

"You want Trophy? Come get trophy." He growled challengingly.

The hunter hesitated an instant, activating his tri-laser instinctively. The Plasma caster swivelled to track his target.

"Honor..." The prey said calmly, that single word bringing the hunter back to himself.

Honor indeed. He had to face the prey with an equitable weapon, or sacrifice the honor of the trophy. He disengaged the caster and tri-laser, then drew his pike and extended it in challenge.

"Who are you, Human?" The Yautja asked in his grumbling language. "And how came you to learn The Tongue?"

The prey just bared his bloodied teeth, snarling low in it's throat. Then it whirled the staff in an easy motion that belied the apparent injuries it had suffered, finally cradling the silver staff behind it's back as it extended it's free hand in a martial pose.

"Who are you?" The Yautja repeated, shifting it's stance to defend as it hefted the Pike.

"Someone who dislikes hunters for trophies, Yautja." The prey snarled.

The Yautja laughed, a rough gurgling growl. "You are hunter as well as prey. You then hate yourself?"

"I'm no hunter." The Prey said, almost sernely. "I'm soldier. Warrior. Knight. I fight to protect, my Honor is unsullied by personal advancement."

The yautja growled suddenly, how DARE this prey attack HIS honor?, "I'll hang your skull on my harness, human."

Xander smiled again, baring his bloodied teeth and shifted to English. "Come on then, *hunter*. You want my skull... You just got to get through my staff to get it."

The Yautja growled in anger and charged, his pike lowered to skewer Xander.

Xander's hand flashed from behind his back as he stepped forward to meet the attack, Elan flashing through the air in a horizontal parry that deflected the pike past Xander's torso. Xander pivoted on his left foot, his right coming up in a fast round kick that exploded into the Yautja's chest plate.

The force of the blow actually staggered the Yautja, but didn't push him back even slightly, and he unleahed a powerful backhand that caught Xander hard across the side of the head and blew him back.

Xander hit the ground rolling, coming back to his feet as the ringing in his ears started to fade.

<I was really hoping it wouldn't come to this.> He groaned internally as he shifted his stance and spun Elan slowly in his hands, swapping the ancient battle staff from left hand to right and then rolling it into a cradled grip behind his back again. "Come on, Big tall and ugly. We've got a dance date."

The Yautja growled, no longer caring where Xander learned it's language. It just wanted it's trophy.

A single bound brought it a half dozen yards in an flash, the massive pike coming down in an overhead strike with all the creature's power.

Xander grunted as metal sparked against metal, Elan held over his head to ward the blow, and was driven to his knee by the force. He griited his teeth, snarling under his breath. "Nice one. Try this."

From his kneeling position, his other leg flashed out and smashed into the Yautja's knee joint, twisting it badly. The creature roared in pain and fell back, leaving Xander time to regain his feet.

This time, Xander went on the offensive, whirling his staff over his head as he stepped forward and spun around. The whistling end of the seven foot tall staff clanged off the hunter's mask, dislodging it at a stroke and revealing the aliens true face beneath.

The Yautja recovered quickly as Xander snapped back around to strike again, and caught the staff in a taloned hand, then roared in Xander's face from mere inches away.

"Grab a breath mint," Xander snapped, "you ugly mutherfucker."

The Yautja roared again, then ripped Elan from Xander's grip and flung the staff away.

"Holy..." Jack muttered as the mask came loose from the hunter's face and he saw what was underneath. "Jesus. I've seen ugly before, but this rewrites the category."

He winced as the thing roared in Xander's face and then ripped the kid's weapon from him, throwing it casually over his shoulder.

Jack didn't no what the hell was going on, but he figured that anything was better then fists against that thing. So he made a run for the staff.

It was just a few feet from him when he dove, and it vanished.

<What the!?> He had time to think before he plowed into the ground.

<Elan!> Xander called, ducking back as the cool heft of Elan fitted into his hand. Then he stepped forward to meet the Yautja's charge. The moment of surprise gave him the edge, as he reversed his grip and slammed the end of the ancient battlestaff up in a sweeping arc that caught the hunter under what passed for it's chin.

As the Yautja fell back, roaring in pain and shock, Xander moved to capitalize on the moment by sweeping Elan around in an overhead arc to gather speed, and slammed the silver weapon solidly into the Yautja's head. That blow finally through it's balance off and spun it to the ground in a solid heap.

As the hunter landed, Xander strode forward and drew Elan upwards to slam her down into the Yautja.

Unfortunately the hunter recovered in time to deflect the blow to one side, causing the ancient weapon to bite deep into the dirt. Then the hunter spun off the ground, kicking Xander twice across the head and chest, and sending the young Knight flying back across the small clearing.

The hunter growled as he regained his feet and saw Xander doing much the same across the clearing.

The two of them slowly circled each other, looking for an opening as they simultaneously took stock of their own situations.

<He's too strong and fast.> Xander thought, unconsciously correcting a twisted ligament in his shoulder with a mental nudge. <You'd think that after taking on a Goddess this would be a piece of cake.>

<Be carefuly of preconceptions, Alexander> Elan cautioned him softly. <Glorificus was powerful true... but that was all she had. This hunter is very nearly as strong, if not as fast, and has much skill to add to his strength.>

Xander nodded slowly, never taking his eyes of his foe. <I noticed.>

<He will die considerably easier, however,> She went on, <His mortality is the equal of yours.>

Xander snorted, <I don't know if that's a good thing or not.>

<Nor do I.>

Xander chuckled painfully, sending out a tendril of a request to his weapon and friend. A moment later he felt her response as the fiery power began to run through his nerves and muscles. <I guess I cheat.>

Elan laughed softly, <If you ever find yourself in a fair fight, Alexander... You surely are a poor tactician indeed.>

Xander smiled crookedly, his lips parting to reveal white teeth that just as quickly became blood red from his split lip. "Let's do this."

<Formidable. Dangerous.> The hunter thought, taking a hit from the auxiliary breathing until mounted on his armor.

He roared at his foe as they sized each other up slowly, his four tusks widening as he snarled across the clearing. He gripped his pike, planting the butt in the ground as he stretched out his muscles and glared across the range.

An imperceptible tensing warned him that his foe was preparing to move, so the hunter readied himself, and then moved in a flash to meet the attack as it came.

Pike clashed with Staff, sparks flashing across the air and ground, as the two met in the center of the field. Neither combatant was willing to concede an inch of ground as they fought and filled the air with the sound of metal on metal and labored grunts of pain and exultion.

Xander ducked low under a swing of the Pike, spinning fast and kicking out at the Yautja's feet. The hunter jumped lightly over the kick, reversing it's grip on the pike, and slammed the bladed weapon downward.

A casual flick of the staff deflected the pike to one side as Xander powered back up into a jump that lifted him three feet off the ground, then his right foot flashed out in a kick that drove the Yautja's head back hard.

As he came down into a landing, the moderately stunned Yautja executed a perfect reversal and hooked his feet with the pike and pulled. Xander flipped back, planting a foot in the armor of the hunter and kicked off. The force of the kick was enough for him to flip back and land on his feet in a low squat as the Yautja took another swipe at his head.

Xander planted the end of his staff in the ground and powered his way up, lashing out with both feet in a powerful kick that jarred the hunter back two steps. As he landed, Xander whipped Elan up in an over head stroke that brought the two inch thick weapon crashing down on his opponent.

The Yautja parried with an angled sweep of his pike, and his taloned hand flashing out and grasping Xander by the throat.

Xander gasped as his air was cut off, his feet dangling off th ground as the hunter lifted him. The world started to go black as he felt his air being cut from his mind. As his focus went, so too went the addition of Elan's power that had given him his speed and strength. He gasped out, struggling against the grip as he slammed his hands into the unyielding arm to no avail.

Lights were popping in Xander's skull as his eyesight went dark, and the hunter felt his strength wane. The grumbling laughter was echoing in his ears as Xander's head went limp from the lack of air. As his mind began to shut down, Xander's eyes flashed open one last time, a silver gleam fading in his pupils, and his hand stopped banging at his foe and reached out almost of it's own volition to tap a pattern from memory.

The Yautja dropped Xander like a hot wire when the countdown for his suicide charge came online and started beeping down. As he swiftly moved to turn it off, a blinding smash caught him across the head and he went down hard.

As the Yautja went down, Xander came up snarling. He hooked Elan into the hunter's legs, braced himself, and twisted hard. A roar went up as a sickening crack announced the broken bones in the creatures legs. The hunter was still scrabbling at his bracer control when Xander flipped Elan around in one hand and slammed the weapon through the computer control, and down through the hunter's arm.

As the hunter screamed, Xander kneeled down and looked in it's face as he growled out in the creature's language. "I CHEAT."

Then he grabbed up the hunter's satchel, glancing in to see his pistols safely secured. "Mine." He snarled, holding the bag up as the staggered Yautja just stared. He started to turn away, but then reconsidered and plucked the smart disc from the hunter's gear and grinned ferrally. "My Trophy."

Then he was up and moving, quickly spotting Styles. "We've got to move. Help me with Lara!"

"You can't move her!" Jack snapped, "She'll bleed to death!"

"If she stays here she'll FRY!" Xander said, pulling Lara off the impaling branch and throwing the pained woman over his shoudler.


"Run!" Xander ordered, his tone not to be questioned.

They ran until they reached the bridge, then Xander pushed Jack aside as he tried to step on it. "No. Jump."

"What? Are you nutSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!?" He screamed out as Xander shoved him over the chasm and into the river below.

Xander spared a single glance backward, then jumped himself as he clutched Lara's bleeding body next to his own.

The hunter stared at the ruined control panel, knowing even as he did that the countdown was moving inexorably on. He roared out in defiance as his power supply went critical and a fireball roared through the jungle.

Xander hit the water hard, the white water rushing over his head as he struggled to hold on to Lara as the current hauled them along.

The struck bottom, rolling along the river floor until Xander managed to plant his feet and kick up. Then it took what seemed like forever to make it back to the surface, but finally he broke into the air and gasped for breath.

As he struggled to stay afloat, Xander pulled Lara up by the back of her t-shirt, cradling her in the crook of his arm as they rushed downstream with the current.

"Hey! Hey!"

Xander turned around, seeing Jack Styles rushing along with them as he paddled and fought to stay afloat.

"What the hell was the big idea!?" Jack yelled, splashing water at Xander. "Nobody pushes me off a cliff! Well... nobody but Emilia, but that's another story..."

Xander looked over his shoulder, noting the huge plume of smoke and flame that was already forming into a giant mushroom. "Look back there."

Jack turned around, floating on his back as he looked behind them. His eyes widened, shock setting in almost instantly. "What the hell?"

"It's called a mushroom cloud." Xander said, pulling Lara closer and trying to staunch the bleeding from her wound. "It happens when you get pretty much any explosion... but you only see it when the bomb is BIG."

While Jack was still staring behind them, Xander tapped his com. "Merlin? Tell me you monitored this... we need a pickup."

"Confirmed. The 579 is moving to intercept. Look downstream."

Xander turned around again and sighed in relief. The big military boat was cruising just past the next set of white water rapids. All they had to do was stay afloat to reach it.

Jack and Xander pulled Lara aboard the 579, gasping and gagging out the water themselves as they did. They were water logged, like drowned rats, but they were alive.

"Merlin..." Xander breathed out. "Get us out of here."

The big boat's engines roared to life as Xander motioned Jack to help him and they half carried, half dragged Lara Croft below decks.

"Back here." Xander gasped, motioning to a room in the aft. "Captain's Quarters... sort of."

It was a big room, for being on board ship, with a double bed and enough room to walk around it. They quickly laid her out on the bed and Xander grabbed a pillow from the head and forced it under her wound, whle jamming another on top. "Here. Hold this tight. You understand?"

"Sure. Sure." Jack nodded, a little pale. He was no stranger to the wounded, but it always shook him when a woman was hurt.

Xander left him and ran forward, quickly cramming himself into a small equipment room. *After* he passed the four levels of security on it. He picked up a small device from a shelf and looked at it with misgivings, but made his way back to the aft room.

Jack looked up as he slipped the device over his hand, "Hey... what the hell is that?"

"Don't ask." Xander muttered, getting closer. "Ok. I'll take over."

Jack hesitated, but finally backed off as he figured that if Xander had wanted to hurt her, he'd have done it already.

Xander swallowed, hoping he knew what he was doing.

<I haven't tried to heal anything more then some minor cuts and bruises...> He thought to himself, looking at the ugly would that puckered on her flesh.

<You have little choice, Alexander.> Elan said quietly. <Paige is unable to orb at long ranges, and even if she could she requires very precise information on your location... much like Leo. You aren't his charge, afterall.>

Xander nodded, sighing. "I know."

"You know? You know what?" Jack asked, watching him with a little worry in his eyes.

"Nothing." Xander shook his head. "Nothing at all."

Then he turned back, noting how pale Lara was and focused. It took only a few seconds before a white glow appeared from the device.

"Holy..." Jack whispered, eyes wide.

Xander ignored him, and focused on the ribbon device as he fueled it from himself and then applied that energy to Lara. It took long minutes, and he was sweating by the time he was done, but by the end of it the ugly wound was gone and the skin was smooth again.

Xander slumped back, breathing heavily.

Jack Styles slowly got up, then walked over to inspect the job. He whistled low, patting Xander on the shoulder. "Wow. I guess Emilia was right about inventions... we've come a long way in two hundred years."

Xander got up, shaking his head. "Not us. Not quite this far."

"Huh?" Jack frowned.

"Nothing." Xander said, pulling a heavy blanket over Lara. "Come on. I've got to check in."

"Check in?" Jack asked, "With who? We're in the south Pacific..."

"Just come on."

Xander swiveled in the command bolster, nodding at the screen. "That's right, Merlin. Two advanced mobile sensor units. Fifteen arc coverage at least... Track back through the french records... see if they have anything listed."

"Of course, Commander." Merlin nodded.

Xander paused, then frowned. "Better check the German records too..."

"And the Russians." Merlin smiled. "I'll track the possible records based on all available vectors."

"Good. Thanks." Xander said, "Where's the nearest doctor, Merlin?"

"The Navy has a destroyer picket about twenty three miles to your north west." Merlin offered.

"That'll do." Xander replied. "Give me a course, and then call up Andy will you?"

"Of course, Commander." Merlin smiled.

A moment later a new course heading appeared on the screen and Xander engaged the autopilot system. Just a few moments after that, the screen flickered again to show Andy's grizzled face.

"Hey kid, what can I do for you?" The gunsmith asked, looking down at his computer screen with slight distaste for the technology.

"Hey man," Xander smiled up at him as he double checked the course heading against reef charts. "Look, I'm going to need a new custom Desert Eagle..."

"What!?" Andy snapped. "What the hell happened to the last one?"

"Would you believe that it just got nuked?" Xander smiled wryly.

Andy stared at him in shock, blinked twice, then settled down in front of his computer. "Talk, kid."

Xander snorted lightly, but nodded.

Later, as he signed off from Andy, Xander swivelled around to see Jack Styles staring in shock.


"What the hell is that!?" Jack pointed at the big screen.

"Oh." Xander blinked, "Sorry. Look, I swear I'll explain all this to you as soon as I have time. Right now I just don't have much of that... so just trust me, ok?"

"Trust you?" Jack blinked. "Trust you?? Kid, I'm so screwed up right now that I don't know what DATE it is. Why should I trust you??"

Xander shrugged, "because you don't really have any other options."

Jack stared at him in shock as he brushed past and headed aft, pausing only to call over his shoulder. "Don't touch anything."

Xander slipped into the aft cabin, then walked softly to Lara's bed. He sat down beside her, quickly checking her breathing and heart. Her eyes opened slowly and he smiled down at her. "Hey."

"We make it?"

"We made." Xander nodded, smiling. "I'm taking us to a doctor to check you out... how ya feeling?"

"Tired." Lara said, then frowned. "But ok..."

"Good." Xander said, then frowned as Lara struggled to get up. "Don't move. Just rest."

She ignored him, pushing back the blanket he'd drawn over her, and examined her side in disbelief. "I... I know that I was hurt..."

"Yeah." Xander didn't bother to deny it. "Come on, since you want to get up anyway let me help you out of those wet clothes."

She smirked at him, "Right. That desperate for a look?"

For once he didn't rise to the bait. "You need rest. And you've already soaked the blanket and sheets. I promise I won't stare."

She hesitated, but then shrugged and nodded her assent. Xander helped her strip down to her underwear, then he stripped the bed and grabbed replacement blankets from under it. A few minutes later she was between the sheets instead of on them, and Xander was replacing the blankets over her.

He straightened up to leave, but her hand snagged him. "Hey..."

He looked back, "yeah?"

"Thanks." She smiled, then it turned into a decided smirk. "And I caught you looking."

Xander snorted with laughter and shook his head, "You're impossible."

"That's what my family says."

"Is she going to be ok?"

The Navy doctor nodded and straightened up, "She'll be fine, Mr Harrison. She seems to have lost a lot of blood... but it's very strange... I can't find any wounds to account for it."

"Odd." Lara said dryly.

"Yes... well," The doctor started packing away his kit. "Lady Croft seems to be in good health. A few days taking it easy, plenty of liquids... you know, the usual."

Xander smiled, shaking the doctors hand. "Thanks very much for the help."

"Not at all." The doctor smiled, "That's what we're here for."

The two men started out of the cabin, and Lara started to get up. Xander pinned her with a glare. "Rest."

He could have sworn that she actually *pouted* as she settled back.

The doctor chuckled, "Troublesome patient?"

"One of the worst I've ever known." Xander grinned.

"One of?"

"Oh, I'm at least as bad myself." Xander said, leading the way out on deck.

On the deck of the 579 Xander found Jack Styles staring at the Navy destroyer that was floating just a few dozen yards off while the ship's captain and a couple of it's crewmembers. Xander greeted them, smiling as he shook the captain's hand.

"Thanks again for the loan of your doctor, Captain." Xander said.

"Not a problem. We live to serve." The Captain smiled in return. "How is the patient?"

"Your doctor assures me that she'll recover with a few days rest." Xander said.

"Ah, that is good news," The Captain of the Navy Destroyer glanced past Xander to where Jack was staring and frowned lightly. "Strange man you've got there... He just keep staring at my ship."

Xander chuckled, "He's led a... sheltered life. He's never seen a ship like yours."

The Captain nodded, "I understand. Come to think of it she gets the same looks in a lot of ports... Guess I'm just not used to seeing it at sea."

The group laughed lightly as Xander walked with them to their launch, short a walk as it was. As the Captain boarded the small boat, he looked back up at Xander and winked. "Do me a favor?"


"Give Captain Sanchez the Navy's best."

Xander laughed slightly, and nodded. "I'll be sure that Maria gets the message."

The Captain touched the brim of his hat and the small launch slid away.

Xander watched them go then walked over to Jack where the revolutionary spy was leaning on a .50 caliber turret and still staring at the American Destroyer. "Hey."

Jack was quiet for a while, then finally spoke. "You know... I didn't really believe it until now. I really was in there almost two hundred years, wasn't I?"

"Yep." Xander said, "I'm sorry."

Jack shook his head, still staring at the destroyer. "That's some ship."

"That's a small one." Xander smiled. "You should see a Carrier."

Jack frowned, "Carrier? What's that?"

"A floating city." Xander grinned. "I'll show you one when we pass through Pearl."


"A harbor on the way back to the states." Xander replied, "The main navy base on this side of the world."

"Ah." Jack nodded. "This is going to take some getting used to."

"It's a big world out there." Xander smiled, "You'll get the hang of it though... we'll have to get you some citizenship papers... work out a false background... well, I know some people who can do the paperwork."

Jack looked over, sighing. "I guess going to the president and getting my old job back isn't an option, huh?"

"Well... I could pull some strings with the CIA, if you like..." Xander offered, "But they're mostly into electronic intelligence right now... I don't think they have any openings for guys in cloaks and masks."

"Har de har har." Jack said sarcastically. "I'll have you know that I was only wearing that because it suited my purpose to imitate the legend of the Dragoon. It got the people on my side and against the french... not that getting them to hate the french actually took any work on my part."

Xander shook his head, chuckling softly.

Jack glanced toward the hatch that led below decks. "Hey... about you and Lara..."

Xander raised an eyebrow, "What about me and Lara?"

"Are you two... you know?" Jack grinned.

Xander groaned, "Hardly. We just met... well, technically anyway."

"So I've got a chance then?" Jack leered.

"A chance to get shot the ass." Xander said in mock disgust as he walked away.

"Hey, as long as she does the shooting, I'll risk it!" Jack called out as Xander vanished below decks. Then the revolutionary spy sighed and smiled sadly, turning his gaze back the the big American Destroyer as it powered up it's engines and began to steam away. " No sails. Damn. Who'd have thought Emilia would be right about that Steam engine thing?"

Lara was fully dressed by the time the soft knock rapped on her door. "Come in."

Xander stepped in and instantly frowned.

"Don't you give me that look." She admonished him. "I'm quite fine, and furthermore I get enough coddling at home."

Xander shrugged, "Fine. But if you feel weak at any time, you lay DOWN."

"Yes mother." She said as she twisted her lips sarcastically.

Xander rolled his eyes, "Giles would have my head on a platter if something happened to you while I was around."

She smirked at him as she brushed past to leave the cabin, "Well I suppose you'll just have to watch me very carefully to see that I don't get into any... trouble. Shall we begin with a tour of your ship?"

Xander rolled his eyes, but resignedly gave a half bow as he extended his arm to the door.

"Anyway, I was planning to take another week before heading back home, but I guess we'll head for Pearl now... Lady Croft," Xander tipped his head to Lara as she rolled her eyes at his use of the title, "You can get a flight home from there?"

"Of course."

"Ok." Xander nodded. "It'll take... oh four or five days at a moderate cruise. I've got food and water aboard to last a full crew at least two weeks... so we're good to go."

"Great!" Jack slapped his hands together, his earlier sober attitude completely missing. "So, Lara... What are you doing tonight?"

Lara rolled her eyes and groaned.

Later, Xander was in the command room, looking over some sattelite imagery that Merlin had shot over to him, when Lara came in. He glanced up, nodding at her as she walked over, "Where's Jack?"

She smiled crookedly at him and shrugged, "I showed him how to change the channels on the telly in his cabin. From the exclamation I heard as I was sneaking out, I believe he located the Playboy channel."

"Figures." Xander snorted softly.

"What are you going to do about him?" Lara asked curiously.

Xander shrugged, "Get him some citizenship papers... see about getting him on his feet. You know, he didn't do too badly against the Yautja... I mean, at least he didn't freak out."

"Yes," She smiled, leaning over his shoulder and looking at the files he was checking, "Coming from someone who knows Uncle Rupert, I can see why that would impress you. What are you looking at?"

"See that scorch mark there?" Xander asked.

She nodded, "yes... That's on Pulau Pulau, isn't i?"

"Yep. And it wasn't there before the big boom." Xander sighed, "Our Yautja friend was part of a hunting party... looks like they've left... for now."

"I see." Lara frowned. "I suppose her Majesty's representatives won't be pleased with the loss of the ship..."

"Probably not." Xander allowed, "but it's better this way. They really were biting off more then they could chew."

The British Tomb Raider shrugged, "Perhaps."

The she straightened away from Xander and he let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"But it's not my concern any how." She said, smiling cockily down at him. "I'll stay with my... Photojournalism."

Xander snickered, covering his face as he shook from *near* silent laughter.

Lara just let him laugh as she watched him with mild amusement. "Did I say something funny?"

"Oh no..." Xander smiled, "I was just thinking that I really should get back to my *library* duties... you just reminded me of it, that's all."

She stared at him for a long moment, her lips twitching as she tried to keep from smiling, but eventually she caved and laughed softly. The image of Xander in a library, perhaps wearing one of Ruperts tweed suits, was just too funny. "Alright, Touche."

Xander smirked up at her, "Don't mind if I do."

"Very funny." She returned, stepping back just out of arms reach. "But I think I'll retire now... I'll see you in the morning."

Xander nodded, watching her as she walked out.

Lara paused at the door, glancing back over the shoulder. "At the very least."

Then she slipped out.

Xander frowned, <Huh? What'd she mean by that?>

Jack and Xander were eating breakfast the next morning when Lara emerged from her cabin.

"Hey," Xander smiled, "Have some bacon and eggs here if you're hungry."

"Thanks." She said cooly, "but no thanks. I'll get something later."

Then she headed up on deck and Xander went back to eating.

"Brrr..." Jack said.


"Man, what did you do last night?" Jack looked at him curiously. "The room temperature dropped ten degrees when she came in here."

Xander frowned, "I didn't do anything..."

"Sure." Jack nodded knowingly, "Let me guess... started putting the moves on her while she was talking?"

"Huh? What? No!"

Jack frowned, "'accidentally' brushed up behind her in the hall?"


Jack stopped and thought about it for a while, then grinned. "I know, you asked her what color her underwear was?"

Xander got away from the table, "What is with you, man? I didn't do any of that!"

Jack frowned again, "Then why is she pissed off with you?"

"She's not!"

"Look, kid," Jack grinned, "I *know* when a woman is pissed off. Trust me, I'm experienced with it. And that gal is majorly pissed. And since I'm pretty sure she isn't ticked at me..."

"I'm telling you, she's not pissed off with me." Xander grumbled, then pushed away from the table.

"Yeah. Right." Jack muttered as Xander left the small dining area.

"Told you so." Jack grinned at Xander.

Xander groaned. It was two days later, Hawaii was in sight, and Xander was incredibly grateful for it. "What did I do!?"

Jack shrugged, "Don't look at me, Pal. If I could figure out what got girls mad at me, I'd be a happy man."

"I didn't DO anything!" Xander complained, "I know I didn't!"

"If I had a dollar for every time I said that." Jack shook his head.

"You're NOT helping!" Xander snarled.

"Hey, whoa!" Jack held up his hands, "Let's not take it out on the poor guy from the past. It's not my fault."

Xander groaned, sinking into a chair. "You're right, Sorry."

"No problem." Jack commiserated. "Been there, man."

Xander wiped his face, "God I can't wait to get into Hawaii..."

"You and me both." Jack grinned, "I caught this thing on the... telly? Last night... The Hawaiian Tropics Swimsuit Edition... Damn."

"First," Xander held up a hand, "Only british people call it a 'telly'. It's a TV. Second, can we not talk about women right now?"

"Sorry. But I only have two tracks. Love, and work." Jack grinned, "And this Hawaii place doesn't sound like a working town."

Xander groaned. "What did I do?"

"Holy Shhhh-oot." Jack corrected himself as he noticed Lara Croft join him and Xander on the 579's open bridge.

"That's the Enterprise." Xander told him, pointing out a massively imposing ship that they were passing. "That's an aircraft carrier."

Styles was still trying to wrap his mind around the concept of aircraft, let alone the need to have 'carriers' for them. "All of these ships are Military?"

"Just the grey ones." Xander cracked, almost losing his smile as he noticed Lara for the first time. She, for once, didn't seem angry or annoyed with him, but it bugged him that she seemed to be focusing on Jack instead.

"You mean just the big ones." Jack said, his voice still in shock.

"Not quite." Lara tapped him on the shoulder, pointing to a huge white ship in the distance.

"Whoa." Jack muttered.

"That's a cruise ship." Lara said, smiling at his wonder. It was amusing to see the world through new eyes.

"We're here." Xander said, steering the 579 into it's berth. They'd prearranged a secure berth for her and were met by a pair of men who quickly tied them off.

"Thanks, guys." Xander said, powering down the PT boat.

"No problem, Sir." One of them smiled at Lara, "Ma'am."

She smiled back, extending her hand and letting him pull her up to the dock. "Thanks."

"My pleasure, Ma'am."

Lara just smiled and reached down as Jack handed up her small bag that contained, among other things, her pistols. "I'm booked on a flight out of here in a few hours... I'll see you again, Mr Styles."

"I hope so, Lara." Jack quipped back.

She laughed lightly and kissed him on the cheek. "By."

Then she turned to Xander and nodded, "Goodbye, Xander."

"Bye." Xander said, by this time easily detecting the coolness in her voice.

Then Lady Lara Croft turned and walked away.

Which left Xander to throw his hands, "What did I do!?"

Lara Croft only paused in a half step, smiled slightly over her shoulder, a smile that Xander didn't enjoy at all, an then continued on her way.

Xander groaned, slumping as Jack patted him on the back. "What did I do?"

Jack shook his head, "No idea, Xander. No idea..."

Then the revolutionary spy suddenly slapped him on the back, "Come on! I know just the thing to bring you out of this funk!"

"What?" Xander asked, not really wanting to know.

"Let's find that those girls who like to play on the beach all day..." jack grinned, "I saw this one that seems like a really nice girl... I hope she's there today."

Xander looked over at him and shook his head, "Jack... Let's talk about this thing we like to call Playboy TV."

Nightfall found Xander sitting at an open bar on a very active beach. He sighed and sipped lightly at his Scotch, no rocks, and kept rerunning the events of the past few days in his mind. <I MUST have done something... Was it when I helped her get undressed? No... No I don't think so... Damn! This is killing me! What did I do!?>


The soft voice brought Xander up as he noticed a blond in a bikini who had slipped beside him without his noticing. "Hey."

"You ok?" She asked, looking a little too chipper for Xander's taste at the moment.

"I'll live." He said as he grinned wanly at her.

She smiled in return, then nodded down the beach a little. "I saw you and that guy show up together... He your father or something?"

Xander glanced in that direction to see Jack meandering confidently down the beach with a bikini clad beauty on each arm. "No... nononono... Nothing like that."

She shrugged, "You should get out and have fun like your friend... Come on, this is Hawaii! Party a bit!"

Xander shook his head, "I don't think so."

She slid off her stool, gently tugging at his arm. "Come on, it's a beach party... let's dance..."

Xander looked at her, and admitted to himself that she was very pretty, but something felt missing. He didn't know her, but just the same he didn't really get any vibes from the girl. He sighed and shook his head, "Sorry... I'm just not good company tonight."

She pouted, but took off.

Xander sighed, suddenly frowning. <Now what am I doing?>

He set the scotch down and got off the stool, shaking himself as he tried to pinpoint the source of his foul mood. It wasn't hard, mind you, but it also didn't make any sense. Finally he just put it all down to frustration. <What the FUCK did I do!?>

By this point, Elanthielle had had enough. She had also decided that he'd stewed more then long enough.

<You are an insufferably STUPID man, that's all.>

<HEY!> Xander snapped mentally, then immediately quieted. <What are you talking about?>

Elan gave a mental shake and curled her metaphysical lips in disgust. <You've been altogether too spoiled by Faith and Paige. THAT is what I'm talking about.>

"Huh?" Xander blurted outloud, ignoring the looks he was getting from the bar. "What are you talking about?"

"I ain't talking about nothing buddy," the bartender said, looking around. "I just asked you if you were done with your drink?"

Xander looked at him, confused for a moment, but then shook his head. "No I think I'm going to need another."

The bartender nodded and left.

<Now, what the hell are you talking about!?>

Elan growled, <I have a good mind to leave you in your misery, you....>

Xander winced and took a sip of his scotch while Elan was cursing his parentage in Atlantean. <You done?>

She growled at him, but didn't continue.

<Good. So what the fuck did I DO!?>

<Alexander,> She said with mock patience, <When a woman invites you to her room... it's not a good idea to IGNORE her.>

"What!?" Xander did a spit take, gathering glances from around the bar. <When did this happen!?>


Xander groaned, lowering his head to his hands. <Ok... Take me through this slowly, from the beginning.>



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