Year Zero

Endangered Eagles

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me.

Summary: Sometimes, it's better to avoid owing anybody anything. Especially if your debtor is the head of the CIA.

Warning: Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating: PG-13 to PG-16; for mild cursing, violence, and demonic horror content... in other words a bit more grown up then the series... but only cause I don't have to suck up to censors.


Dec 02, 1995

Xander sat back in the stiff seat of the converted school buss and stared out the window at the passing farmland, focusing on not becoming nauseous. He hated driving in buses, one of the reasons he took up skateboarding as a kid, they made him sick to his stomach on a good day.

Today wasn't a good day.

He was, luckily in his opinion, wearing his own clothes, but that was it. His guns were gone, his daggers, his credit cards, basically everything except the solid weight of the Celtic Cross he wore was missing. Greer had promised that his equipment would be delivered after he arrived, but for the moment the only weapons Xander had were those that were part of him.

Hands, feet, elbows, knees, and, of course, the omni-present presence of Elanthielle at the back of his mind.

Of course, Xander had to admit, that for the moment that made him the most dangerous person in the area. Even the two armed police officers on the bus with him didn't look that they were much of a threat, given that they were pushing fifty and needed to drop a few dozen pounds apiece.

<I'm going to get Greer for this.> Xander growled to himself, his face setting as he remembered the conversation they had.

Two Days Earlier

Greer had been waiting for him as he stepped off the plane, along with a man that Xander had recognized.

<Jack Ryan...> Xander had to remind himself not to call the man 'Mr President' as he shook his hand.

"Mr Harris," Ryan greeted him, "I understand you habitually carry weapons?"

"Usually." Xander nodded, "But I had to check them before I got on the plane. They'll be coming through with my luggage."

Ryan nodded, "Let's go pick them up then."


The four of them walked over to the luggage claim and waited for the baggage to come through. As it did, Xander grabbed his small suitcase and the small case that Andy had given him to put his weapons in.

"Which one contains the weapons?"

Xander held up the small metallic case. Ryan lifted it out of his hands and turned to leave.

"Hey! Wait a second!"

"Relax, boy." Greer rumbled. "You'll get them back, but you can't carry them on you for the first leg of this."

"Oh? Why's that?"


<Juvenile delinquent.> Xander thought disgustedly. <Greer needs to check that sense of humor along with the cough when he finally gets to the hospital.>

The bus was filled with kids who looked a lot like Xander, embarrassingly enough. Leather jackets, scruffy long hair, and a certain hardened look in the eyes was present in a lot of the other guys. Even the girls on board didn't look much better. Mostly everyone, especially the cops, looked like they wanted to be somewhere else.

Xander's thoughts were jarred as the bus hit a heavy bump and he was sent off the seat for an instant, almost biting his tongue.

"Hey." A girl dropped into the seat beside him and grinned at him. "What are you in for?"

Xander looked her over for a moment before answering.

She had short cropped blond hair and the type of smile he'd usually associate with something he'd see on either Faith or Amanda's face. He smiled involuntarily at the thought.

"Well?" She pressed, "You gonna talk or just stare."

"Sorry." He said softly, "You remind me of someone I know."

"Gee," She said sarcastically, "I'm touched. So, how bout it?"


"What are you in for?"

Xander shrugged. "Nothin."

"Right." She smiled, "So's everyone else in here."

Xander just shrugged again, remembering Greer's briefing.

Two Days Earlier

"This is your cover." Greer said, handing Xander a sheaf of papers.

Xander glanced through it briefly, frowning. "You want me to pretend to be a delinquent??"

"Shouldn't be much of a stretch from what I can tell." Greer grinned at him.

Xander groaned, shaking his head. "Never trust the CIA."

"Good. You're learning."

"What's up anyway? Why am I doing this?"

Greer sighed, frowning heavily. "That's a good question, Harris... one that I'm not certain I want to answer. Have you ever heard of The Order of Teraka?"

Xander nodded instantly. "Assassins Guild, over three thousand years old at best guess. Their roots stretch back further then the so called Hashashin of the middle east, though they don't tend to advertise the fact."

Greer blinked in surprise. "Then you know more then I do already..."

Xander shrugged, "The Terakans work alone, but they won't *be* alone."


"The Terakan Tribunal will send the bounty offer to every Terakan in the area... if it's high enough then the area will be swarming with them shortly. They don't quit until the target is dead, or the contract canceled." Xander said calmly, though he was suddenly wishing devoutly for his weapons. "I take it you want a target saved from the Terakans?"

Greer nodded slowly, but kept frowning. "If what you say is true then this is more serious then I thought it was. Maybe I should get someone else..."

Xander shook his head, "That's alright. I don't mind taking out a few Terakans. But you have to find out who laid down the contract... we need to rip it out at the source. In the meantime I'll work on keeping your people alive."

Greer nodded reluctantly, "I'll have some backup standing by, and I'll put some of my people on the contract end of it."

Xander nodded, "Thanks. So, who are the targets?"

Greer handed him a couple more files, "An old friend of mine and his young protege. They recently prevented an international incident and have come under the gun by some high level members of the cabinet that thought they should have kept their noses out of it.


The blond waved a hand in front of his face. "Hel-lo... Earth to the weird guy..."

Xander blinked and shook his head, "Sorry. Lost in thought."

"Ri-ght." The girl smirked at him.

Xander shrugged, turning to look back out the window. After a moment he looked back, "So what are you doing here?"

She shrugged, "It's better then Juvie. They offered me this, or... well, you know."

Xander nodded.

"So anyway, what do you think of the deal anyway? Huh? Sounds pretty dumb to me..."

Xander shrugged, "Guess it depends on what you want to get out of it."

"Yeah. Right." She didn't sound convinced. Finally she just stuck her hand out to Xander, "Anyway, my name's Sandra."

Xander took her hand, "Xander."

"Weird name." She grinned at him. "Fits you."

"Thanks." Xander said dryly.

"That's a really wicked coat..." She grinned at him, "I'm surprised someone didn't steal it off you..."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "No one steals anything from me."

"Oh yeah? How you plan to stop anyone?" She grinned at him.

Xander just smiled a little bit, then shrugged.

"Real tough guy." Sandra grinned.

Xander chuckled slightly. "When I have to be."

They were prevented from more conversation by the sudden feel of the bus slowing down. Xander glanced out to see their destination approach.

"That must be the place." Sandra said, looking out.

Xander nodded as the bus pulled to a stop and the cop in the front got up.

"Alright you pieces of crap," The cop growled out, "Single file, and you cause any crap and I'll run your butts back to where you belong."

The kids on the bus grumbled and got up slowly, in a disorganized fashion, and filed off the bus. The cop growled at all of them in turn as he roughly pushed them along.

Off the bus, Xander and the rest found themselves standing on a tarmac, looking up at a large aircraft hanger. Two men stepped out in flight suits, followed by a group of kids not much older then the group Xander had arrived with.

The younger of the two, a white man who looked to be in his mid to late twenties nodded at the group and glanced down at a clipboard.

"Alright Officer." He said, looking at the cop. "You can go now."

The cop shook his head, grumbling as he walked off. "Fine. Serves you right if this bunch slit your throats in your sleep."

The guy smiled and shook his head, then abruptly bellowed. "Atten-Hut!"

Xander involuntarily snapped to attention before he could stop himself, but thankfully the action went unnoticed as the rest of the group looked around in confusion.

"For your information," The man said loudly, "That means Shut up and pay attention!"

The group piped down and he nodded.

"My name is Doug Masters. I'll be your chief flight instructor here. Behind me you'll see your junior instructors and Charles Sinclair, the Commandant of The Iron Eagle Flight School."

Xander looked around, his eyes flitting while his head remained ramrod straight. It bugged him, but for some reason this place was really yanking his military chain.

"Raymond Cruze." Doug Masters said, dropped a file on his desk as he looked at a young man on the far end of the group. "Multiple computer crimes, including breaking into the First National Bank and... programming their ATM's to insult clients and steal bank cards... cute."

Masters moved on. "Sandra Levin... Gang member, ran with the Turks... resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, says here that you kicked him in the..."

"He had it coming."

Masters nodded, "Right. For your information, a simple fist to the jaw will suffice around here."

The group chuckled and giggled nervously as Masters moved on.

"Harrison, Alex." Masters frowned as he read the paper. "Twenty eight counts of grand theft auto... Suspected of running drugs for the Mendosa family... never proven. Finally arrested on drunk and disorderly... resisted arrest, though not as... effectively as Miss Levin, thankfully. I'm sure that Rudy will be interested in your take on modern ignition systems."

Xander raised his eyebrows, and a young kid standing behind Masters waved and smiled slightly. Xander shrugged.

Doug moved on to the rest of the kids who had come in with Xander, rattling off information and finally returning to his desk. "Whatever you've done. Forget about it. It doesn't matter here."

The kids shifted, looking at each other oddly.

"If you pass through our course and receive the recommendations of myself, Sinclair, and the junior instructor assigned to you, your records will be purged."

A low murmur sounded among the group.

"That's right." Doug repeated, "Purged. You get a clean slate. On the other hand, screw up here, and you're going back... and you won't be getting out until you turn eighteen. Got that?"

Everyone nodded.

"Good." Doug nodded to the junior instructors behind him. "Go on, show them their bunks."

The instructors nodded and immediately made their way to their assigned person. A tough looking girl walked over to Xander and growled. "Up."

Xander shrugged and got up.

"Name's Wheeler." She said, "Give me any shit and I'll run you back to county in a second. Come with me."

Xander hid a smile and followed her.

She led him into a barracks type deal and pointed out a bed to him. "That's your bunk. Check it out, get comfortable, I'll be back in ten."

As she walked out, Xander sat down on the bunk. It wasn't up to his current standards, but he'd slept on worse in the past. He let his feet kick under the bed and they impacted on something with a thunk.

He glanced around, but none of the rest of the guys who had been led in were paying him any attention so he looked under.

His weapons case was already waiting for him under the bunk, causing Xander to shake his head and smile slightly. Greer was good as his word.

<Weapons, check.> Xander thought to himself, <Now I just need a target.>

He sighed and settled back onto his bed, just in time to get hit in the face by a blue pair of overalls.

"Put it on." Wheeler said simply. "That's your uniform for the next little while."

Xander looked at the blue flight suit and sighed, "Fine."

He shrugged out of his coat and let it hit the bed as he stripped off his shirt and started on his pants.

"What the hell are you doing!?" Wheeler asked in shock.

"Getting changed." Xander said, dropping his pants. As far as he was concerned, if she didn't like the view she could leave. Between Faith and, recently, Amanda he wasn't worried about modesty.

After she got over the surprise, Wheeler refused to react further. She just stood there and waited for Xander to finish changing. The rest of the room, on the other hand, reacted to varying degrees.

Xander ignored them all, quickly zipping the flight suit up, then tossing his coat back on over top of it and challenging Wheeler to say anything about it.

She shrugged and nodded to the door. "Come on. We've got an hour before supper and I want to go up."

"Up?" Xander raised an eyebrow. "You don't waste much time."

She stopped, poking a finger into his chest. "Look, I'm here to fly. Chappy says that if I want to do that in his planes then I've got to do the job that goes with it. So you sit in the plane, don't touch anything, and enjoy the ride."

Xander smirked at her, but refrained from making the obvious comment. He didn't think she'd take it near as well as Amanda would. "Let's go."

"This is Eagle Three requesting clearance for takeoff..."Wheeler droned into the mic, sounding bored.

Xander heard the response come back, "You're getting started early, don't you think Wheeler? You even give your guy a chance to unpack?"

"Unpack what? He showed up with the clothes on hi8s back and that was it." Wheeler returned, "Now can I get on with my familiarization flight?"

"Clearance granted, Eagle Three." The voice came back, sighing. "Don't scare this one into running away, ok?"

"No promises."

Wheeler pushed the throttle forward and the yellow plane leapt forward at the command, accelerating fast down the runway until Wheeler pulled back on the stick and it lifted off the tarmac with an easy motion.

Retired Brigadier General Charles 'Chappy' Sinclair shook his head and grinned as he watched the yellow aircraft lift off through the window of the 'tower'.

"Wheeler take her kid up already?" Doug asked as he came it.

Chappy grinned and nodded, "She's almost as bad as you were at that age. She takes any excuse to fly."

Doug shrugged, smiling lightly. "She also has my habit of stealing aircraft... it's a good thing we don't keep fully armed F-16's around here..."

Chappy laughed, "You can say that again."

Doug walked over to the door and looked out, searching the skies for the yellow plane. "You think she'll scare her guy?"

"She's gonna try for damned sure." Chappy grinned, "But the kid looks tough."

Doug grinned, "Those are the ones who break first."

"True, true." Chappy grinned, then sighed as he looked over his paperwork. "This stuff never ends."

Doug shrugged, still smiling. "Well, I'm going to check on the others. I'll let you get back to your work."

"Right." Chappy grimaced, "Get out of here then. Go on! Get!"

Doug flipped the retired General a sloppy salute, spun on his heal, and went out the door.

"Wise ass." Chappy growled, barely keeping his smile concealed.

"Yeee hawww!" Wheeler whooped in joy as she flipped the T6 upside down, pulling the old plane through a tight barrel role.

Xander frowned, sticking his hand out to steady himself.

"You ok up there?" Wheeler shouted.

Xander glanced over his shoulder, keeping his face impassive. "Oh yeah. I'm fine."

Wheeler frowned at him, "Well... let's bring it up a couple notches then shall we?"

He shrugged, looking bored. "Sure."

His stomach lurched as he flipped the plane back upright and pulled it back into a climb, but Xander kept his face stoic as he watched the sky slide past his face and the ground start to come around again as Wheeler completed the loop.

The plane's engine whined into high as the trainer began to dive, the ground spinning crazily as it rushed up. Xander casually laid a hand on the instrument panel to keep himself in his seat.

"Don't touch anything!"

"I'm not." He replied into his mic, "Just keeping myself from sliding in the seat... I need to get the restraints adjusted better."

"Oh." Wheeler replied, sounding mildly put off by his bland return.

She pulled the plane out of the dive and leveled out, skimming a few tree tops as the plane pulled itself back into the sky. "You ever fly before??"

Xander smiled, "A bit."

Wheeler grimaced. <Well that explains why he's so calm. A bit. Right.>

She sighed and turned the plane around, heading back for the airfield. "I'm heading back."

Xander nodded. "K."

She smiled lightly. "You want to take shot at it?"

Xander looked at the stick in front of him uncertainly. It was a far cry from the computer interface control of the Goa'uld vessel. He sighed, then nodded. "Sure."

"Ok." She said, releasing the stick and grinning. "Control is yours!"

Xander reached out, grabbed the stick, and fought it briefly as he tried to keep the plane from rocking too much.

<Relax, Alexander.> Elanthielle's voice echoed in his mind. <Do not fight it... go with the flow of the plane.>

Xander tried to relax, letting the stick pull him a little as he got the feel for the motion, then he pulled it back slowly.

The yellow T6 Trainer responded slowly, coming back under control as Xander managed to get the plane level.

Wheeler shook her head and frowned. <This isn't as much fun as I thought it'd be.>

After a moment she shouted to him, "OK! I'll take it now."

Xander shrugged and released control back to Wheeler. "No prob."

That Night

The lights went out about an hour after sunset on the orders of Sinclair, leaving Xander to lay in his bed and stare at the ceiling for another hour before he silently rolled clear and stood up.

He smirked to himself as he gently nudged the weapon case with his foot to ensure that it was still there. When he had gotten back he had instantly noted that the lock was covered in light scratches that certainly weren't present on the brand new case before.

It was just as well, he figured, that he had asked Andy to weld the case shut to keep prying eyes out of it. When he had need of it, the unsheathed Katana inside would make short work of the steel welds.

For now, he didn't bother with it. Tonight was a scout, just to get the lay of the land. If he was ever going to be caught by the instructors, the odds were that it would be tonight. He didn't want to be found armed to the teeth.

Getting out of the barracks was child's play, since such things were rarely designed to keep people in. He jimmied the lock on the window with a set of titanium picks Amanda had given him three day's earlier, and slipped out into the cool night with less then a whisper of noise.

The air was crisp, as fitted an early December day, but it wasn't overly cold. Xander flitted across the old airfield, moving from building to building while hiding in the shadows as much by will as by the grace of his black coat. He came to a stop by a lit window, hooking his hands into the eave of the old building and rolling himself up and onto the roof. He laid flat against the black tar of the roof, listening to the conversation inside.

"I'm telling you, my guy was *this* close to upchucking over my cockpit!" One guy was laughing, "And I didn't even do any of the combat stuff... I don't know how any of these jokers are going to hold up there end in the combat competition."

"Please." Another voice interrupted, another guy. "Like you were any better on your first flight."

"I was so!"

"Was not."

"Was too!"

"Would you both shut up!!"

Xander smiled. He recognized that voice, and if either of them had any sense they would keep pissing Wheeler off.

"How about your guy, huh, Wheeler?" Said the younger of the two voices, "You manage to scare him off yet?"

<Ooops.> Xander grinned. Apparently that one didn't have any sense.

"What are you trying to imply!?" Wheeler's voice snarled.

There was a loud snort, "Hey, we know the rules as well as you do, Wheeler. When we do the combat run we got to use our newbie as our wingman... unless we don't *have* a newbie."

Wheeler shrugged. "So?"

There were some good natured catcalls and groans, but nothing that mattered much to Xander so he slid away from the window and made his way silently across the roof.

Doug Masters shivered as he shut the office door behind him and pulled his coat tighter to his body. It wasn't that cold, but Doug had grown up in warmer climes and didn't much appreciate the chill.

He started across the path toward his small bunk house, having finally managed to finish up his initial reports on the new group for Chappy to send off to his friend, the Governor. Paperwork sucked, but at least he got to fly when he wanted and it was better then crop dusting. Of course, what he really missed, was the jets.

He'd beeing flying Jets since he and Chappy had stolen a pair of '16's to rescue Doug's father. Doug smiled at the memory, then dropped his smile as he remember going down in soviet airspace. He'd spent more years in the gulag then he wanted to remember, more years then he'd ever wanted to know were possible. He'd survived, true, but he had never been about surviving. Doug Masters had always been about *living*. And he hadn't lived.

He wasn't angry with Chappy anymore, that was true, but the anger was still there. Just under the surface it was nipping at him whenever he closed his eyes, taking away a lot of the power he used to have. He missed that too. He missed being young, being invincible. Being an Iron Eagle, a mythic creature who could not be killed.

His smile returned. He recognized that fire in a lot of the kids he worked with now. They were an eerie reflection of his old crew, his team. What he'd told Chappy earlier was true, it was a damn good thing that they didn't have armed fighters lying around, because this bunch would find a way to steal them.

Halfway to his small home, Doug stopped and turned around.

<What was that?> His eyes peered into the darkness, but didn't see anything. He continued looking for a moment, then shrugged and continued on his way.

Xander frowned as he watched Doug Masters step out of the office. It wasn't the Instructor that made him frown though. It was the shadow that detached itself from the building and began to follow the young man.

The fact that it WAS a shadow made Xander a very concerned person, especially since his eyesight was in light gathering mode at the moment and the entire base looked like it was bathed in a brilliant white light. That meant magic. And *that* meant Terakan.

Xander sprinted across the rooftop, using the energy transfer skills he'd learned from the Kani'Maro fighting style to keep his footfalls from making any sound as he ran. From the lining of his coat he pulled the single weapon he'd been able to smuggle through the police checks, and then leapt from the rooftops.

Had either Master's or the shadowy form looked up, they would have seen a dark form eclipse the stars and, for an instant in time, blot out the circle of the moon. Luckily, neither did.

The Terakan Assassin followed a safe distance behind his prey, waiting to take the young man out in the privacy of the youths own home where it would have time to do it's deed and vanish before the body was discovered.

He was cloaking itself in the darkness borrowed from the shadows, using a simple spell his mentor had taught him years before. So long as no direct light were to fall on him, the spell would prevent anyone from seeing him as anything more then a single shadow among hundreds of others.

He smiled nastily, baring his teeth as he considered the bounty of his current prey. He was lucky to be the first on site. Soon there would be others, but by then the money would be his. And it wasn't a cheap bounty either. Someone was quite annoyed with the young man and his older mentor.

The Terkan paused in mid stride, some inner sense warning him of danger, but he couldn't place the cause. He frowned and began to move again, only to feel a sudden rushing pain in his back and lungs. He tried to scream, but there was no air in his lungs to carry it, so he reacted instinctively.

He tried to spin around, even as the weight bore him to the ground, but was face first in the cold hard ground before he could move. He tried to gasp in pain as he felt one of his shoulders pop under the stress, but all he managed to do was draw in a mouth full of dirt and grass.

Adrenaline raged through him, blanketing the pain, and he roared silently as he spun around and dislodged his attacker. He rolled to his knees, drawing in a long breath of sweat air, and preparing a spell to annihilate his foe. Before he could speak the words he caught a glint of steel flash around his face and head, and a sudden pressure tightened around his throat, once again cutting off his breath.

He felt himself pulled off his feet as he clawed at his throat, but the biting steel was unrelenting and he felt the first trickles of blood run down his neck.

From behind and below him he heard a rasping whisper just before the blackness swallowed him.

"I'm canceling your contract, Assassin. Permanently."

Xander breathed a little heavily as he relaxed his grip on the garrote wire and let the assassins body slump to the ground. His past experience with the Terakan's was enough to tell him that letting this one live would be a fatal mistake.

Perhaps a mistake he might have considered had it been his fate at stake, but since the fatality he was referring too was someone else's, it wasn't an option.

He grimaced as he cleaned the garrote wire on the dead assassin's clothes, fighting the clenching of his gut as he looked at the body.

He'd had to kill before, and Xander knew that he would have to kill again, but it didn't sit well with him despite his growing control over his stomach. This, in particular, gnawed at him because he hadn't given this enemy a chance to fight back. Killing in cold blood was a disturbing escalation in his mind.

As he dragged the body away, Xander sighed. It had been necessary. The Assassin was obviously a mage, and to allow a mage to speak during a fight was to risk death.

A short while later Xander returned, his fingernails caked with dirt and blood, but his hands were relatively clean. He silently made his way back to the bunkhouse, ghosting through the shadows in a way that was not completely dissimilar from the Terakan he had killed.

He slid up to the barracks and was crossing by the front door when a voice startled him.

"Well well, you know I usually have to stop people from running away. This is the first time I've caught one of you breaking back in."

Xander groaned silently. <I had to get cocky.>

He turned to see Charles Sinclair leaning against the side of the building with a perplexed look on his face. The retired Air Force General pushed himself off the wall and walked calmly over to Xander.

"You know, I pegged you for a runner the minute I saw your record. Damned if I know how you got out passed me though." Sinclair grinned, shaking his head. "What I want to know is why you came back?"

"Didn't leave." Xander replied noncommitaly.

"Excuse me?"

"I said, I didn't leave."

"What was this then?" Sinclair smirked sarcastically. "A midnight stroll?"

"Something like that." Xander replied.

"Sell me another one."

Xander finally decided to go with the truth, a partial truth at least. "I like to check out a new place carefully when I move in."

Sinclair snorted. "That mean that you've 'moved in' here?"

Xander shrugged. "I guess."

Sinclair was quiet for a bit, then grinned. "Good. Anyone who can fly with Wheeler and not get airsick has potential. I like potential."

Xander just shrugged again, not certain how to take that.

Sinclair nodded, "Go on, get to bed."

Xander nodded, heading for the door.

Sinclair stopped him, shaking his head. "Uh uh. The way you got out."

Xander sighed and chuckled, then nodded and walked around the building to the window he had opened, and crawled in through it. Behind him he could hear the retired general mumbling to himself.

"Great. A pint sized Houdini... Now I have to weld the windows shut..."

Dec 9th

Xander looked up from his seat in the front of the ugly yellow T-6 trainer and snapped out, "He's coming in from your four o'clock high!"

Wheeler cursed, banking the plane to her right as she tried to close the distance before the other plane could get her in it's sights. The tactic worked, forcing Rudy's plane to flash by over her as she pulled her plane back over in an attempt to line up her own gunsights.

"Damn it!" She cursed out a moment later as Rudy pulled his plane into a climbing back that kept him out of her sights.

"Don't look now," Xander muttered, "But that's Doug coming in on your six high."

She spun around in her seat. "Jesus!"

She banked the trainer hard as the first barrage of paintballs whistled past, avoiding them as much by luck as skill, but was caught by Master's second burst.

"Shit." She said, grimacing as he shook her head for a moment before reaching down and pulling the lever that released the smoke.

The yellow T6 started spewing thick smoke as Wheeler leveled the flight out and cut back on the throttle. Wheeler and Xander looked out to their right as Doug Master's plane came up beside them and waggled it's wings at them. They could see Doug grinning as he flashed them a mock salute.

"Yeah, yeah, yuk it up crop duster." Wheeler muttered into the radio mic. "I'll get you one of these days."

Doug's smirking voice came back. "Wheeler, you can't even take the airforce brats yet. What makes you think you can handle me?"

"Don't flatter yourself." Wheeler returned. "You're the only one who's 'handling' you."

Xander thought he could actually hear the thunk of Doug's jaw hitting the seat, but the man's voice was admirably cool when he finally responded. "Let's head back to base, Eagle Three."

She was grinning when she answered, "Yeah sure. I roger that, Eagle Lead."

Xander shook his head, <I thought me and Amanda were bad.>

The two T6 trainers were flying high over the farmland as they headed back to the airfield, their pilots and passenger busy admiring the scenery, when Doug's plane suddenly bucked and started spitting out black smoke.

In the cockpit, Doug frowned as he checked the gauges. <What the hell?>

He flipped a couple switches, then tried to peer through the thick smoke pouring from his engine. Growled, and flipped the engine cutoff.

As the engine noise died he growled and grabbed his radio. "Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is Eagle Lead, I've experienced some sort of engine problem... seems to be a fire, I've had to cut the power."

Almost instantly, Chappy's voice was on the line. "Doug? Can you glide her in?"

"Yeah, I think..." Doug suddenly frowned as he yanked hard on the stick. "Shit! What now!?"

"Doug? Eagle Lead?"

"Controls are gone, Chappy." He said into the mic, "Give me a minute."

He ran his hands along the instruments, looking for what was causing the problem, then reached blindly down along the stick but couldn't find anything wrong. <What the hell is going on?>

He growled, sitting up straight, and kicked at the stick to try and jar it loose. Nothing. He finally grabbed the mic again. "Negative. Controls are completely jammed."

"Alright, Doug..." Chappy shook his head, "The plane is insured... Hit the silk."

Doug craned his head and looked around. He didn't want to leave the plane to crash into any place populated. Luckily there was nothing but farmland as far as he could see, with no houses anywhere nearby. He shook his head and grabbed the mic again. "Affirmitive, Chappy. I'm bailing out."

Xander grabbed the mic, thumbing the channel open. "Doug! Wait! Check your chute first!"


"Kid! Get off this channel!" Chappy's voice came through. "This is an emergency!"

"Check your chute, Masters!" Xander snapped, his voice unconsciously dipping into the Military persona and gathering a tone of command.

In his plane, Doug Masters frowned. He reached for the canopy handle to pull it back, then paused. Finally he moved around in the small cockpit, twisting and straining until he managed to pull his chute out to look at it.

After a moment he let out a low curse.


Doug spun around and sat back down, staring out at the rapidly dipping horizon. "Fuck."

He grabbed the mic, "Jesus, Chappy, my chute's been slashed! It's worthless!"

There was a silence over the line, then Chappy came back online. "You sure!?"

"Of course I'm sure!" Doug snapped back. "You think I'd say something like that if I wasn't!?"

"Alright, alright, Let me think, Doug..."

"I don't have *time* Chappy!"

"Try to free the controls again, Doug..." Chappy urged.

Doug growled, slamming the stick hard, but it refused to give. "No good."

"Alright... try..."

Xander's voice came back over the line. "Doug, listen closely... unstrap your chute and get ready to jump."

"Are you nuts!?"

Wheeler stared in shock at Xander, unknowingly echoing Doug's sentiments. "Are you nuts?"

Xander just closed his eyes and smiled, but didn't answer the question. "Just bring us in beside Doug's plane... and hurry, time's running out."

Wheeler looked over and saw the other T6 take a dip and just did what her passenger said. "What are you going to do?"

Xander didn't look up from where he was twisted around, checking his own chute. Luckily, his was good. "Just play a little game of follow the leader."

Satisfied, he turned back around and grabbed for the canopy handle. "Keep up close!"

Wheeler nodded, staring wide eyed as he stood up and into the rush of wind and screamed into his mic. "Get ready Doug!"

Doug Masters stared at the other plane, shaking his head. "This is completely insane!"

"What is? Doug?" Chappy's voice came over the radio. "What's going on!?"

"I'll tell you about it later, Chappy." Doug said, ripping his mic off as he pulled open the canopy and exposed himself to the rush of wind. He took a deep breath before standing up, staring at the rapidly rising horizon. <I'm out of my fucking mind.>

He stood up, waving over to the other plane.

He saw the figure in the other plane wave back and again Doug shook his head. <Jesus. I don't even know if he can jump...>

In the end though, he didn't have any options. The engine was dead and wouldn't restart, his altitude was starting to decay, and the controls were unresponsive. Doug Masters wasn't in the Navy, and never bought the crap about the Captain going down with the ship. If he was going to die, it may as well be after he flew one last time.

He looked over and nodded, waving again to the figure. He caught the signal as he climbed out of his cockpit and saw Xander do the same.

<On three.> He thought as he watched Xander pump his arm three times.

<One.> He hung onto the wing, trying not to think about the end of the long fall that was awaiting him.

<Two> Doug tensed.

<Three.> He let go, the rush of wind pulling him clear of the wing and away from the stricken aircraft.

He instantly flipped around, orientating himself belly down, and spread his limbs wide to catch as much air as he could.

As the wind rushed past him he craned his head around, looking for any sign of Xander, but didn't see a single thing. <Oh shit.>

When he saw Doug let go, Xander waited a heartbeat and then let go himself.

<This is one hell of a way to do my first actual jump!!> He screamed mentally to himself as he flipped under the passing tail of the T6 and instantly righted himself.

He was relying heavily on the combined instincts of the Soldierboy persona and Elanthielle's memories concerning jump tactics. Luckily the Soldier, god bless his soul, had been HALO qualified.

Xander spread eagled quickly and looked around quickly to gain his bearings. He'd amped his senses up to the first level before letting go, but now focused on increasing their accuity a second time as he searched the skies for Doug.

His eyes glowed a light silver as he drew in Elan's power to make the task easier, and he easily spotted the plunging form of Masters. The rush of wind receded to a low roar as his mind filtered it out, and he found his target. Doug had a short lead on him, so Xander closed up his form slightly and leaned forward.

He sped up, falling faster as the wind drug less at him, and quickly caught up to the falling instructor. He spread eagled again as he approached, but still intercepted Doug's position with considerable force.

"UGH!" Doug yelled out as he felt a weight smack into his back. He tried to stay limp and not struggle, knowing that there should be only one other falling thing in the sky right now besides him and his plane.

"Heya Dougie..." He heard Xander yell over the racket, "Need a lift?"

"Shut up and pull the damn chord!"

Xander chuckled, "Just a second..."

Doug felt rather then heard the sound of clips snapping onto his harness and breathed a sigh of releif.

"Alright," Xander said, "Get ready."

Doug tensed involuntarily as he heard a snap above him that was followed by a sudden crack as his downward motion was suddenly slowed.

Wheeler winced as she watched the Yellow T6 drop more and more into a nosedive that ended abruptly in some farmers field, a flash of light marking it's impact as the old plane plowed into the ground.

"Wheeler!? Eagle Three? Respond."

She shook, tapping her mic. "This is Eagle Three."

"What the hell is happening up there!?" Chappy's voice was urgently concerned, after all, a General doesn't panic.

"Doug jumped." Her voice was flat, a little dead.

"Without a chute!?"

"Xander jumped after him." Now there was a certain amount of awe in it.


"Are they ok?"

Wheeler banked the plan around, taking it out and up a bit as she searched the skies. "I'm not sure."

"Where they go down!?"

Wheeler relayed the position, then her eyes widened. "I see a chute, Chappy! I see a chute!"

"We're on out way."

Xander twisted his neck around, looking down at the rapidlt approaching ground. He growled, trying desperately to tap a little bit more energy from Elan, but failing as a shock of pain ran through him. <Ahhh! Shit! That fucking hurt!>

His breath hitched, and Doug noticed. "Hey!? Are you alright?"

"I've been better." Xander muttered through clenched teeth, "Get ready to hit."

Doug looked down, "This is gonna hurt isn't it?"

"Not as much as it would have if you'd jumped with your chute." Xander said, teeth still gritting.

Doug snorted. "You have a point."

"Legs up, man. Arms crossed." Xander ordered, then added quickly. "Fingers too."

Xander didn't try to tap Elan again, instead opting to send a manual kick to his adrenal gland. He felt a sudden rush of well being as the resulting adrenaline and endorphin rush hit him, and turned his focus to the ground.

They hit hard and fast, slamming into the ground with all the grace of a sack of potatoes. Xander absorbed most of the energy in his legs, but his right knee buckled and he quickly rolled to the side, kicking off with his left into a shoulder roll that sent them sprawling across the farmer's field.

The came to a halt in a furrow of plowed dirt, arms and legs tangled, and their breathing was heavy and labored.

"Well... we're alive." Doug announced. "At least I am. You?"

Xander groaned, "Yeah. I'm pretty sure that being dead doesn't hurt this much."


"Say, Doug? I can call you Doug now right?"

Masters laughed. "Yeah, you can call me Doug."

"Well... Doug?"


"Get off me." Xander said, "You're a nice guy and all... but your not my type."

Doug let out a strangled laugh as Xander unclipped the harness, then rolled clear. "You ok?"

Xander shrugged, wincing as the pain filtered through the endorphin rush he was currently experiencing. He laughed weakly, "I think I broke a rib..."

Doug rolled to his feet, looking back with concern. "Are you sure?"

Xander's eyes rolled back into his head for a second as Doug scrambled over him, and cast about for a moment wondering what to do. A moment later Xander's eyes came back and focused on Doug, "Nope. I lucked out. Just cracked two ribs and bruised four others. But I think you'd better help me move."

"No, I think we should keep you still until help arrives."

Xander shook his head, "No. Two things... First, I'm laying on a very sharp rock, and two help is already here."

Doug looked up in surprise to see an old Military jeep roar across the field with Chappy at the wheel. "How did you...?"

Before he could finish asking, Xander was pushing himself off the ground. "Hey.. Come on, you're hurt... stay still!"

Xander shook his head, "No time. Come on."

Xander pushed away from Doug and started limping to where Chappy was skidding the jeep to a stop. Doug caught up with him and grabbed him under the arm and helped him the rest of the way.

"What the hell happened!?" Chappy Sinclair growled as he looked over to where the wreckage of Doug's plane was billowing with smoke.

"You're asking me!?" Doug growled, "My plane goes to hell and someone's played ginsu with my chute! Trust me Chappy, I want to know the answer to that myself."

Chappy looked at Xander with concern. "You ok, kid?"

Xander nodded, but Doug shook his head. "He says he cracked a couple ribs."

Xander shook Masters off and crawled into the back of the jeep. "I'll live. Let's move."

Doug jumped into the passenger seat and looked at Chappy, who looked back.

"Why's he giving orders?" Chappy asked.

Doug shrugged, "How should I know. Let's move."

Charles Sinclair sighed. He missed the days when the stars on his shoulder made damn sure that snot nosed kids didn't yell at him.

There was a group gathered at the strip as Wheeler brought her plane down for a landing and taxied it in. She cut the engine and pushed herself out of the cockpit quickly, hopping to the ground and running up to them. "Are they ok!?"

Rudy stepped forward, shaking his head. "We don't know yet... Chappy's not back yet."

"What happened?"

Wheeler turned to the voice, not recognizing it. She frowned, trying to recall the name of the student, then gave up. "Doug's plane had mechanical trouble... he had to jump, but his chute was damaged."

"What!? Is he ok?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?" The girl looked perplexed. "Wouldn't jumping with a bad chute sorta... well... mean, you know? Splat?"

Wheeler flipped the straps of her own chute off her shoulders and unlipped the straps from her thighs. "Not if someone with a good chute jumps out after you."

Even the Eagles that had been in the air when it went down goggled. Most of them hadn't been tuned to the same frequency as Doug and Wheeler had been using at the time. "What!?"

"Xander jumped after him." Wheeler said, shaking her head. "That kid is loco."

"No wonder he said no one steals from him." The girl muttered.

"Hey! Here comes Chappy's jeep!"

The group rushed over to where the jeep was pulling up in front of the hanger, crowding around the three figures getting out.

"Alright, alright! Back off!" Chappy growled, "Give us some room here!"

"Are you guys alright?" Wheeler rushed up.

Doug nodded, stealing a sidelong glance at Xander. "Yeah... I'm good."

Wheeler turned on Xander, "How about you?"

Xander shrugged, hopping out of the jeep. "Bruised ribs, maybe a couple cracks. Nothing I can handle... or haven't had to handle before. I'll live."

"You'll see a doctor." Chappy growled. "Then we'll see if you'll live. That was an incredibly stupid stunt."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Brains only get you so far, Mr Sinclair... There comes a time when you've got to think with other parts of your anatomy."

Chappy grunted, but grinned at the same time. "Something tells me that you're used to thinking with that piece of your... anatomy."

Xander grinned, then pushed away and headed for the barracks.

"Hey, where do you think you're going?"

"To get something from my bunk." Xander said.

"Not without me you ain't." Chappy muttered.

Xander nodded, then turned to Doug. "You'd better come along too."

"Huh? Me? What for?"

Chappy silenced the question with a piercing stare, and Doug nodded.

Chappy turne back to his assembled junior instructors. "Ok, that's enough excitement for the day. Get your students together and review safety procedures and teach them how to check their chutes."

That last comment was spoken with a sharp glance at Doug, who winced and rubbed the back of his head ruefully.

In the barracks, Xander reached under his bed and pulled out the bushed aluminum case, then turned back to Chappy. "We should do this in your office."

"Do what?"

"You'll see." Xander smiled slightly.

Chappy frowned, glaring at Xander, but nodded and stepped aside, motioning Xander to the door.

"Alright kid," Chappy muttered as he sat down behind his desk. "Start talking."

Xander shrugged, slapping the case onto the desk.

"What's in the box, kid?" Doug asked.

Xander smiled, laying a hand over the case and sending a silent command.

Both Doug and Chappy jumped when a slim blade sliced out of the case in the blink of an eye and then vanished just as quickly. Xander didn't react at all, he just flipped the case open and started pulling stuff out.

"Holy..." Chappy straightened up fast as he saw the weapons come into view. "There ain't no guns allowed here!"

Xander just shrugged, flipped his assault harness on and strapping the silenced FiveSevens in. "Hey, I've already taken out one assassin, and saved Doug here from a second. I'm not walking around this place unarmed anymore."


"What are you talking about, boy?"

Xander shrugged, "Does the name Jim Greer mean anything to you Mr Sinclair?"

Chappy fell back in his chair, falling silent. "You know Jim?"

Xander nodded, "He say's hi."

"Jim Greer sent *you*??" Chappy asked, unbelieving. "You have got to be kidding me."

"I owed him a favor, and he needed someone who could fit in here without standing out like a sore thumb."

"Oh, you did a real good job of that." Doug said sarcastically.

Xander glared at him, "Sorry. Next time I'll let you jump with the slashed chute."

"I don't get it." Chappy said, "Who's trying to kill Doug?"

"Not just Doug." Xander said, "You too. Something about you guys interfering with a bio-warfare attempt?"

Doug and Chappy looked at each other, faces dropping. "Cuba." They said together.

"Whatever," Xander said. "Apparently you didn't get all the powers behind the scenes. Someone put a hefty bounty on you with a very nasty group."


"I doubt you know them." Xander replied, "They're a very old order called the Order of Teraka."

Blank looks was all that he received for that bit of information, so Xander sighed. "They're an assassins guild that have a long history. They don't give up."

"So where are they?" Doug demanded, "Let's take the fight to them."

"Doesn't work that way." Xander said calmly. "The Terakan's don't group together that way. We'd never find them all."

"So what are we supposed to do?" Chappy asked.

"Wait. Fight. Kill." Xander replied.

"You're out of your fucking mind!" Doug raged. "I'm not waiting here like a sitting duck!"

"You don't have a choice." Xander said flatly. "Until Greer finds out who set the bounty, there's nothing we can do."

"And when he finds out?"

Xander cranked a round into the Desert Eagle, checking the action before slipping it into his hip holster. "Then we 'encourage' them to rescind the contract."

"Come on, Wheeler..." Rudy wheedled. "Spill already... you must know more..."

"I told you both," Wheeler growled, "I don't know no more. Doug had a problem. He had to jump, Xander jumped and saved him. That's it, end of story!"

"Right." Rudy muttered, "Why was his chute screwed up?"

"I don't know!" Wheeler muttered, "Maybe he grabbed one that had been stored wrong."

"Doug?" Rudy looked skeptical. "Right."

"How should I know!? You were up there too, Rudy."

Rudy frowned, but stopped asking questions.

"Did Jim tell you anything else?"

Xander shrugged, "Not really. Just that the Terakan's were on the job."

Xander fished his cellphone out of the case and flipped it open. He hit speed dial and put the small device to his ear. "Yes, Mr Greer's office please. Alexander Harrison. That's correct."

A moment passed. Then Xander frowned. "Mr Ryan? Alright... Jack. What's up? Where's Greer?"

A long silence passed. "Shit."

"What?" Chappy asked, leaning in.

Xander shook his head, frowning. "Have you found anything about the contractor?"

"Ok... ok... Just work fast, ok?" Xander said. "My cover here is pretty close to blown. Sinclair and Masters know about me now and the kids are sure to be talking about me for days. Long story, Mr Ryan... Ok... Yeah, give him my best. Thanks."

Xander hung up, still frowning.

"What?" Chappy asked, growling.

"James Greer is in the hospital." Xander sighed. "Cancer."

Chappy blinked, his frown melting away to a shocked look. "Shit."

Xander took a seat, thinking fast. "Damn it. His cough..."


"He's been coughing for over a month... He said it was a cold..." Xander explained. "He kept putting off the visit to the hospital."

Doug leaned in, "So we can't confirm your story. Convenient."

Xander brushed him off, "Jack is going to setup a call. Jim was expecting this to happen sooner or later. He'll get a hold of you, Mr Sinclair, sometime today."

Chappy nodded. "Chappy."


"Call me Chappy." He said, "You saved Doug's life. That's good enough for me... for now anyway."

Xander nodded, "Alright. Chappy."

"I don't suppose Alex is your real name?" The older man grinned suddenly, his teeth gleaming white against his dark lips.

Xander chuckled. "Alexander actually. But everyone does call me Xander."

"Xander." Chappy nodded. "So what now?"

Xander shrugged. "We keep going on as normal."

"Are you sure that's wise?" Chappy asked, concerned. "We should get the kids out of here."

"It's too late for that." Xander said, "The Terakan's would recognize that as an attempt to keep them safe. That would tell them that the kids matter to you."

Chappy growled. "They matter."

"I'm not saying they don't." Xander replied earnestly. "But trust me. If you send them away, the Terakans will go after them, use them against you."

"And they won't if they stay here?" Doug asked, unbelieving.

"Of course they will." Xander said flatly. "But here, we can protect them."

Chappy grimaced, falling back in his chair. "So what do you suggest?"

"First thing is to figure out who sabotaged your plane and chute." Xander said, turning to Doug. "That's not exactly Terakan standard moves from my experience... of course, I've only seen one in actions before and heard about a few others... so who knows?"

"What are you thinking?" Chappy leaned forward again.

Xander shrugged, "Probably someone who's already on the inside. One of the new students, maybe one of your junior instructors."

"No way!" Doug said in disgust.

Chappy shook his head, "I know these kids. They don't have it in them."

Xander shrugged, "Trust me, the Terakan's are resourceful. Infiltrating your group wouldn't be beyond their scope... but I'll admit that it's unlikely for different reasons then you think."

"What do you mean?"

"Any Terakan Assassin powerful and skilled enough to slip into your group wouldn't have to bother with subterfuge. They'd simply kill you and leave without caring about who saw it happen." Xander said, "So if we have an infiltrator, they'll be in the new group."

The barracks was abuzz with the chatter of the kids, who had finally been returned to their own devices.

"You guys hear what they were talking about?"

"Yeah... he actually jumped..."

"Without a chute!"

"Man... I get airsick just taxiing the damn plane... I can't imagine falling that far..."

"Without a chute!"


"And Xander jumped after him..."

"Man, how cool would that be?"

General laughter echoed around the room.

"Shit man, that musta been like something out of a movie, y'know? Mid-air rescue! Way cool."

"Yeah... But..."


"Where'd he learn something like that?"


"Dunno. Maybe he jumped before?"

"Didn't his file say something about drug smuggling?"

"I heard they use chutes for that sometimes..."

"Well... maybe that's it?"

"Yeah... gotta be."

"Still... pretty damn cool."


Dec 14th

"Ok, ease out the throttle and get ready to pull back on the stick."

Xander nodded, pushing the throttle forward as he felt the plane jump underneath them. The runway began flashing past, faster and faster, and he grinned as he felt the tension build. The end of the runway loomed ahead of them within seconds.

"Great!" Doug Masters shouted out, "Go for it!"

Xander was a split second ahead of the command, pulling back on the stick and feeling his stomach lurch as the plane leapt into the air.

"Beautiful!" Doug shouted, grinning as the ground fell away. "Gonna love to see how you handle the landing though!"

Xander grimaced, keeping his attention on the task at hand. "Hell, I'm surprised you volunteered to fly again!"

Doug shrugged from the rear seat, "I was born to fly, Kid. If one of them takes me out, I want it to be when I'm in my element."

Xander nodded without speaking. He understood the sentiment. If anyone took him out of play, he wanted to go down swinging.

"Alright!" Doug shouted over the motor, "Let's go into a nice long back and circle back over the field..."

Xander nodded, turning the plane smoothly around and heading back to the air field.

Charles 'Chappy' Sinclair growled and frowned as he watched the yellow trainer come around. <This isn't a good idea.>

"Hey, Chappy!" Wheeler called as she walked up, "Who's up in the T6?"

"Doug and Xander."

"What!?" Wheeler frowned, "Xander's my rookie."

Chappy shrugged, "Doug wanted to show him some tricks..."

Wheeler snorted, "Right. Doug just wanted to fly again... I suppose that's my plane he's got?"

"No." Chappy shook his head, "He took mine up."

"Oooo..." Wheeler mock whistled, "Brave man, letting Doug in your baby."

Chappy grinned. "Xander's flying."

Wheeler's eyes widened. "Shit. Are you nuts? That kid is crazier then Doug!"

Wordlessly, Chappy pointed up to where the old T6 was pulling out of a barrel roll.

"Whooooo!" Doug crowed as the plane leveled out, "Nice moves kid... but don't get complicated. Just do another orbit of the field and then get us on an approach vector."

Xander grinned and nodded. "Spoilsport."

"We can hotdog later." Doug grinned, "First I want to make sure you know how to land this puppy."

Xander nodded. "Alright. Bringing us back around... Nice and easy."

Doug grinned, "Well... you don't have to be *that* nice and easy."

Xander laughed, "You got it."

The engine whined as he pulled back on the stick and nosed her up into a tight climb.

"Man, I love this shit!" Doug yelled out as the yellow plane rolled over, upside down, and continued the motion until it was right side up and heading the other way.

Chappy growled as the plane flipped over and came back around toward the strip. "Me and Doug are going to have to have a chat about restraint."

Wheeler laughed. "We are talking about Doug Masters, right? The guy who took on an Air Force top gun and won after not touching the controls of a fighter for over a *decade*?"

Chappy chuckled a bit, "Yeah, I guess it is a little farfetched, huh?"

"Try in the realms of science fiction." Wheeler declared.

Chappy shook his head and grinned as he turned back to the plane that was coming down.

He was noting to himself that the nose was a bit high, and that he would have to mention that to Xander and Doug, but the nose came down a bit and he smiled. Doug was a pretty decent teacher, though he was a much better fighter jock.

Chappy took a couple steps toward the runway when a scream from the barracks caught his attention. He frowned and turned in time to see a bright flash of light erupt from inside the barracks and another sequence of screams start up.

<The kids!> He thought, his eyes widening. He broke into an instant run and headed for the barracks, his hands reaching around behind his back to gently pat the comforting weight of his old .45 service piece.

Wheeler spun around, her face a little shocked. "What the hell?"

When no answer was forthcoming she broke into a sprint to catch up to Chappy as he bolted for the barracks.

The wheels screeched as the plane touched down, wisps of smoke flying from them.

"Nice landing." Doug shouted over the noise.

"Thanks." Xander yelled back, still focusing on the runway, "But it wasn't all me."


Xander chuckled, "I've got a cheat sheet up here!"

"Right!" Doug laughed, turning his attention back to the surroundings. He suddenly frowned, "Hey... what's going on?"

"What do you mean!?"

Doug frowned, "Check it out... Chappy and Wheeler are running for the Barracks like the devil himself was chasing them."

Xander winced involuntarily at that expression. In his world you never knew when it might come true. Still, he looked over to where Doug was mentioning and quickly frowned himself. "We'd better check it out."

Doug nodded. "Right."

Chappy broke in through the door to the barracks at a dead run, his hand still tucked behind his back as a swell of screams and yelling broke over him again. He skidded to a halt, staring in shock at a figure in robes that was standing in the middle of the room.

The figure stood in the center of a green and black lightshow that was growing like some evil web through the barracks. Tendrils of green and black mist and light were reaching out all over the place, and where they touched one of the kids they screamed in agony.

The robed figure turned toward Chappy and the retired general shivered as the shadowy face smiled.

"Ahh.... General Sinclair." He said in a raspy voice. "I've been expecting you... but your... students have been most entertaining in the meanwhile."

Chappy drew his pistol, bringing it up in a two handed grip and quickly drew a bead on the man's chest. "I don't know what the hell you think you're doing, but cut it out!"

The robed figure smiled again, shrugging. "Certainly."

The lightshow vanished, fading away into nothing as the figure stepped toward Chappy. "That was merely to gather your attention afterall."

"Yeah well, you've got it scumbag." Chappy snarled. "Now I suggest you hope to hell you know what to do with it."

"Oh, I know very well what to do with it." The figure smiled again, sending another shiver up Chappy's spine. "But first... Where is Captain Masters?"

"Go to hell." Chappy said, "I've got the gun. You answer the questions. Who hired you!?"

The figure rolled his eyes, sounding bored as he spoke. "Please."

He lifted his hand and a bolt of blue energy blasted the door behind Chappy, rendering it to splinters. Chappy flinched, firing off a pair of shots in response. The bullets impacted hard on some invisible force that stood between them, and flattened in mid air.

There were some screams of fear and shock as the rapid exchange of fire occured, but then the room grew silent.

"As you can see..." The figure said, "Your weapon is quite worthless."

Chappy paled, blood running from his face. "How the hell?"

"Hell indeed." The figure smiled mysteriously. "Now answer my question. Where is Captain Masters?"

"Go to hell." Chappy repeated, triggering another trio of useless shots that flattened on the shield.

"You first." The figure extended his hand, causing the black and green tendrils to again grow out, this time at Chappy.

He tried to dodge them, but the found him anyway, and Chappy screamed in pain as he felt a searing agony run through his body. It held him for a long moment, then abruptly halted and Chappy fell to the ground.

He felt Wheeler drop to her knees at his side, "Chappy!? Are you ok!?"

He weakly pushed her away, "Get... get away... run..."

"Oh, it's too late for that." The figure grinned as it slid closer. "Where is Captain Masters?"

Chappy glared up at him, "Go... to... hell."

"Tsk tsk tsk." The robed man clucked, again extending his hand, but this time at Wheeler.

Wheelers scream pierced the air as the black and green energy engulfed her, causing everyone to wince as the normally gruff girl shrieked in pain.

"Stop..." Chappy pushed himself up, "Stop... it..."

"Tell me where Captain Masters is." The figure repeated, this time angrily.

"Don't... tell... him... SHIT... SIR." Wheeler managed to growl out through clenched teeth as she marshaled all her defiance.

Chappy looked undecided as another burst of pain ripped a scream from her throat.

"Alright!" He screamed out, "Alright! I'll tell you! Just let her be!"

"Certainly." The figure said, dropping it's hold on Wheeler. "So... Where is Captain Masters?"

Chappy was about to speak when a voice cut the air. "He's otherwise occupied for the moment... I don't suppose I'll do?"

Chappy, and everyone else turned to see Xander step into the building, his hands empty at his sides his movements supremely confident. What really caught them all, even the robed figure, by surprise was his eyes though.

They glowed a brilliant, gleaming, silver.

Xander glared at the figure, noting Wheeler out of the corner of his eye as she slumped to the ground. "You'd better pray that you didn't hurt anyone in here permanently."

The figure sneered. "It'll take more then glowing eyes to scare me, child."

Xander calmly walked over and gently rolled Wheeler over onto her back, his eyes flaring slightly as he examined her. After a moment he turned back to the Mage. "Count yourself lucky. Soul Drain spell?"

The mage's face flickered in surprise. "You know the arts."

Xander shook his head, "No. Just *of* them. If you had continued that for much longer you'd have killed her."

The mage shrugged, "I'll kill you too child, if someone doesn't tell me the whereabouts of Captain Masters."

Xander straightened up, "I think you'll have a much harder time trying to drain *my* soul."

"Is that supposed to be a challenge?" The Mage Assassin asked with a hint of humor in his voice.

"No." Xander replied. "A fact."

The mage looked bored, extending a hand toward Xander, "Tell me what I want to know."

"Make me."

"As you wish."

The mage silently cast his spell, winding the green/black tendrils out toward Xander, who immediately tensed and lifted his hands as if he were holding a staff in them. The mage's eyes widened as a staff did appear in a silver flash, just in time to catch the mystical attack on it's gleaming surface. He grimaced and focused more power into the attack.

"Gnnnnnnk..." Xander grunted, sliding back a step as the physical force of the spell worked on him. He nodded once to the Mage and bit out a response through clenched teeth. "Nice spell."

"I thank you." The mage responded coldly, "I have worked quite hard on it."

"It shows." Xander replied, tensing. "But it's not good enough, Terakan."

"You know who I work for?"

Xander's muscles stood out on his neck as he slowly took a step forward. He nodded. "Oh yes. I've encountered your kind before, Assassin."

The mage growled and increased the power he was directing to the spell. "Then you know that we won't quit."

"Funny thing." Xander said through clenched teeth, taking another step toward the Mage. "I'm not known for backing off myself."

The Mage growled, lifting his left hand and adding a second tendril to the first. "Who are you!?"

Xander grinned, though it looked anything but humorous as he was jarred back by the increase in power. "No one in particular."

"It... has... been... my... experience..." The Mage snarled out as he focused more power, "That those who claim to be no one, are normally anything but."

Xander chuckled as he fought to regain his balance. He slowly straightened up again, then took one single plodding step after another as he forced his way close to the Mage. The tendons on his neck popped out as he walked, and everything in the large room ceased to exist except for him, the mage, and the tendrils that connected them.

Throughout the room, forgotten by the two battle opponents, the students of the Iron Eagle flight school, their instructors, and Commandant, found themselves staring in shock at the battle of will and power that was raging in their midst.

"Holy shit! Will you look at that!"

"I'd rather not! Get your fucking head down, you twit!"

"All of you, shut up and get down!"

Everyone hit the deck as Chappy roared at them from where he had crawled to Wheeler.

Students crawled under their beds, and the beds of neighbors, watching the fight with wide eyes.

"Man, what the hell are these guys!?"

"Don't ask. They might tell you."

Xander came to a halt a few steps from the mage, his face flickering with the reflected light of the spell.

"Impressive." The mage snarled, suddenly relinquishing the spell. "But I have other weapons at my disposal."

Xander's eyes flickered around the room, and he smiled slowly. "I have only one thing to say to that."

The mage's eyes narrowed. "What?"

"Fire in the hole!" Xander grinned.

The mage looked confused for a moment, his eyes catching a glimpse of General Sinclair suddenly diving over the young girl and covering her with his body while screaming, "Get down! Everyone get down!"

Then a buzz broke through his concentration, a noise he hadn't noticed before due to his focus on the spell. He frowned and looked around for the source just as Xander dove for the ground.


Doug turned the plane around, spinning it on it's axis and aiming it at the Barracks building.

"Surprise." He snarled, his finger jamming down in the plane's firing stud.

The Mage caught a glimpse of yellow through the windows before a roar erupted that assaulted his ears and the glass shattered.

The plane's guns, reloaded with .50 caliber BMG rounds, ripped through the flimsy building effortlessly and sprayed the entire length of the barracks in a single long burst.

Surprised by the attack, and his shield spell having been dropped in favor of fighting Xander, the Mage was caught by a full second's worth of the burst. He was thrown back against the far wall, his body jerking spasmodically as the .50 caliber bullets ripped through him as if he were nothing.

His eyes widened in shock and surprise as he hit the wall, then slid slowly down. He coughed up some blood, his eyes focusing somehow on the grim face of the pilot in the plane that had just killed him. As the world went dark he recognized the face as one of his targets.


Then he slumped to one side, his strength, and life, gone.

As the roar faded into an echo, Xander shook his head clear and spoke. "Clear."

Then he got up and pulled a small earpiece from his ear and let it hang off his collar. "Everyone ok?"

Chappy looked up, "Good here. The kids?"

Xander looked around, "Speak up if you or the person next to you is hurt!"

There was a moment of mumbling, then quiet voices ventured forward.

"Ok here... I guess."

"Yeah. Here too."

"What the fuck just happened?"

"Who the hell was that!?"

Xander shook his head, turning back to Chappy. "Everyone looks to be alright."

Chappy nodded weakly, then coughed. "Good."

Xander frowned and walked over to him, "How are feeling? Really."

Chappy shook his head, "I'll live. Chest is tight... a little hard to breath."

Xander growled, shaking his head. "Damn it."


"Nothing." Xander replied, too quickly. "Just relax."

Chappy chuckled, then broke into a coughing fit. "That is the last thing you should tell someone if you really want them to relax."

Xander smiled in return, "Just lay back and try to breath. I'm going to check on Wheeler."

Chappy nodded and slumped back.

Xander moved over, smiling down at Wheeler. "How you doing?"

She looked around, her head not moving as her eyes flitted around. "Not bad I guess... better then a few minutes ago..."

"Can you breath?"

She nodded.

Xander ran his hand over her head for an instant, then laid it across her heart. After a moment he nodded, "You'll be fine."

"What about Chappy?" She asked, her eyes filled with concern.

"I'll worry about Chappy." He smiled down at her, "You rest a bit and try to keep the rabble in here under control."

She chuckled weakly, her eyes flicking to the door as Doug walked in.


Chappy coughed, then waved Doug over. "Here..."

Doug ran over, "Jesus, Chappy... are you ok?"

Xander nudged him, "Come on. Help me get him over to one of the bunks."

Doug did as he asked, looking at his old friend with concern as he helped Xander carry him to a bunk. "Is he gonna be alright?"

Xander looked grim, but tried to cover it. "Sure. Just going to check him out... that's all."

Chappy grabbed him by the lapel of his coat, and actually grinned up at him. "You're a rotten liar."

Xander chuckled slightly, "Look... I think you'll be ok... but I really do have to check you out."

Chappy nodded. "Ok."

Xander frowned as he looked over Sinclair as the older man labored to breath.

Doug looked over, his face concerned. "What the hell's wrong with him?"

Xander grimaced, "Energy flow is screwed up."


Xander shook his head, motioning Doug to silence. His eyes began to glow again as he pulled a small fraction of Elan's power into himself in order to facilitate what he was about to do.

"What the fuck..." Doug whispered, his voice trailing off as he stared at the sudden glow.

Xander suddenly clapped his hands together, causing an echoing sound to reverberate through the large room and a flash of light caused everyone in the room to blink.

Low murmurs of shock sounded around the room, but Xander ignored them as the slowly ran his hands just above Sinclair's body.

"Come on..." He growled, his eyes still shimmering with a silver light. "Come on...."

Doug's hand snapped out and grabbed him by the arm, "What the hell are you doing!?"

Xander shook him off, and continued his sweeping motions. "It's something the Chinese call 'Chi therapy'. I'm trying to reconstruct the pathways that carry energy through his body."

Doug looked at him as if he were insane, "What the fuck have you been smoking!? Get away from him!"

Xander ignored him, continuing to run his hands along just a few inches above Chappy's chest.

Doug grabbed him by the shoulder, growling. "I said, get away from him!"

Xander spun around, deftly knocking Doug's hand loose and then twisting it into a painful nerve grip. His eyes flashed again as he stared into Doug's eyes and growled, "I'm was sent here to keep you both alive. If you don't back up and let me do my job, I'm going to have to explain to Greer why I put you into intensive care."

Doug hissed in pain, as his arm fell limply to his side and Xander turned back to Chappy. He frowned, looking over the older man and shaking his head. "Come on, Chappy... I can't do this on my own... you've got to help too."

Xander began the sweeping motions again, trying to clear the paths that his enhanced vision was showing to him. The snarls in the man's aura were painfully obvious to anyone with the eyes to see them, and Xander was beginning to worry about his charge's welfare.

The black man opened his eyes weakly, flashing his teeth slightly. "He didn't mean to be so... pigheaded you know..."

Xander's face broke into a slight smile, "I know. He's worried about you."

"Chappy!" Doug cried out, dropping to the man's side. "How are you feeling?"

"Like shit." Chappy said, but then grinned. "How do you think I feel?"

Doug chuckled lightly.

Xander breathed a sigh of relief, he could already see the improvements in the retried General's aura just from the brief exchange with Doug. He quickly moved to capitalize on them and swept as much of them out of the older man's aura as he could.

After a long moment he sighed and slumped, falling back onto the Bunk beside them and breathing deeply.

Chappy turned his head to look over at him, "So what's the prognosis, Doctor?"

Xander smiled weakly, "You'll live to make stupid jokes again."

Chappy snorted, wincing in pain. "I'll have you know that my jokes aren't stupid."

Xander shook his head, "Chappy... if I think your jokes are stupid, trust me... they redefine the genre."

"Smart ass." Chappy growled, but smiled weakly as he laid his head back down.

"Hey guys... tell me you saw what I think I saw... tell me I'm not nuts."

"Depends. Did you see a guy pulling an Emperor moment from Return of the Jedi?"


"Yeah. I thought so."

"What the hell was all that?"

"Don't ask me... does anyone here have a clue?"

The speakers looked around at the gathered students, who all shrugged and looked lost.


"So... Who do you think Xander really is?"

"He said he was sent here right? Who gets sent to protect a couple flight school instructors?"

"Hey, Chappy was a General in the Air Force, remember?"

"Ok... true... but still..."


Helpless shrugs were repeated through the room.



"CIA. It's the only thing that makes sense. They deal with all the black bag assassination shit right? Didn't they used to have a term for it? Extreme Prejudice?"

"Right. Why would the CIA be interested in a couple flight school instructors."

The students looked around at the question, and some of the frowned as they caught guilty looks on the faces of their junior instructors.



"You guys know something."

"Hey. He said, nothing. Back off."

"Fine. Don't tell us, we'll just sit around here and wait to get knocked off for something we didn't have anything to do with."

The students grouped together, shooting distrustful glances at the instructors as the instructors shared a series of worried looks between themselves and the sleeping form of Chappy Sinclair.

"What the hell was that shit!?" Doug demanded, grabbing Xander by the shoulder again.

Xander smiled, shaking his head softly. "You're a stubborn SOB, Masters. Most people would think twice about grabbing me a second time so soon."

"You didn't answer the question."

"That *shit* saved Chappy's life." Xander replied, turning to look at Doug. "So just count your blessings and forget it happened."

"Right." Doug snorted, "Like that's going to happen. What the hell happened to your eyes!?"

"Side effect." Xander said, "Just a little control problem I have."

"That doesn't tell me squat."

"It wasn't meant to." Xander said, "Look. Chappy and Wheeler were attacked by an assassin who specialized in causing... neural disruptions to their bodies. Wheeler was strong enough to take it, but Chappy was older or got a stronger dose... he was badly affected, I fixed it. End of story."

"Not by a long shot." Doug growled, "I want to know how you did all that!?"

Xander grinned, "Magic."

"Don't give me that." Doug snapped instantly, looking frustrated. "Don't pawn me off with some snake oil excuse. I want the truth."

Xander shook his head, looking up at the clear blue sky. "You can't handle the truth."

Doug smirked, "Your Jack Nicholson needs a lot of work."

Xander laughed, "I guess it probably does. I haven't had as much time to work on it as I used to. Look, you want the basics?"

Doug nodded.

"You ever watch those old Kung Fu movies? You know, the ones where this old blind guy can heal any injury with a potion and sees more then his students?"

Doug shrugged, "Sure. So?"

"The Chinese have a lot of beliefs that go back a long way, you know?" Xander said thoughtfully. "Even older then the pyramids... A lot of traditions have survived thousands of years in their culture."

"What's your point?"

"One of the things that they believe is in the existence of 'Chi'." Xander said, "In our terms you can probably compare it to a Christian soul, though it would be better to compare it to the energy created by the Soul."

"Oh come on." Doug muttered in disgust.

"They believe that the Chi is the life force of a human being..." Xander continued, "And that you can learn to channel your Chi, to focus it. That's the basis of most martial arts. Did you know that Karate teaches you to focus your Chi energy to the extremities of your body during a strike, in order to enhance the blow?"

Doug looked confused. "What the hell does this have to do with anything!?"

"I'm getting to that." Xander replied, "In some martial arts you even learn to draw more power from your inner energy and force it outwards... you funnel it through your organs to where you need the power to be and learn to focus it at that single, vital, point."

Xander paused, but this time only received a confused look from Doug.

"What most martial arts don't get into, is what happens when the flow of energy is disrupted." Xander said, "what happens when the flow is stopped."

"What are you talking about?"

Xander smiled, "I'm talking about what the Assassin did to Chappy. He stole a portion of this energy from Chappy, and by doing so he ripped holes in the pathways that carried the energy through Chappy's body. It was something like a psychic hemorrhage... Chappy was psychically bleeding to death."

Doug was silent for a long moment, before finally growling, "If you think I'm gonna buy that piece of shit, you've got another..."

There was a sound of a phone ringing that cut Doug off. Xander drew his cell from his pocket and flipped it open. "Hello?"


"Mr Ryan... ok... Jack. How's Mr Greer? Ok... What's up then? You did? Are you certain? Good. No... No... We just had another attempt here. No, everyone lived except the assassin... he almost got General Sinclair though... no, he'll be fine. Ok. Ok. Thanks. I'll meet you."

Xander flipped the phone shut and looked at Doug. "We have our name."

"Who is it!?"

The kids looked up from their gossiping to see Xander stride back into the room, his coat open as he flipped it off and tossed it to Joey, the kid he bunked next too.

"Hold this."

Joey caught it reflexively, gasping in surprise as the sudden wight pushed him back onto his bad.

Xander ignored it, reaching under his own bunk and pulled out his silver case.

"Jesus! This thing must weight twenty pounds!"

"Thirty." Xander said, calmly flipping open the case.

Those close enough gasped in surprise as Xander pulled out a gleaming pistol that seemed very large in his hand. He calmly slid it into a holster on his hip and for the first time they saw the guns he was already wearing and everyone took a step back.

"Man, who the hell are you!?"

Xander quirked a grin, glancing over at Joey who had blurted out the question. "Just a guy paying back a favor."

"Musta been some favor."

Xander grinned, pulling out two silver daggers and slipped them into his black leather Engineer's boots. "You don't welsh on a debt to the CIA."

"I knew it!" A girl, Katy, crowed behind him. "I told you guys, I told you!"

Xander smiled but reached back down and pulled out a sheathed Katana.

"So..." A rasping voice came from one side and Xander turned to see Chappy forcing himself to a sitting position. "What now?"

"I have a name." Xander said, "So I'm going to go and convince him to rescind the contract."

"Who...?" Chappy asked.

"Congressman Stillmore." Xander replied, lifting his coat off Joey and flipping it over his shoulders.

"That son of a bitch." Chappy muttered. "I should have known."

Doug looked over, "You know this guy?"

"He tried to nuke a lot of innocent people a short time after you... were captured, Doug." Chappy replied, "It doesn't surprise me that he would be behind the bio attack on Cuba."

Xander shrugged, "Anyway. I'll have a chat with him and make him see reason."

Chappy shook his head, swinging his feet off the bed. "I'm coming with you."

"No!" Wheeler tried to push him back, "Chappy, you're hurt."

"I'll live." Chappy said, pushing her hand aside and getting up. "This bastard tried to have me and mine killed. I'm going."

Xander looked at him, then nodded briefly. "Alright. We're flying out to Washington as soon as we can get a plane ready."

"I'm coming too!" Doug said.

Xander rolled his eyes, then reconsidered and nodded. "Yeah. You'd better. I don't want to leave you here unprotected."

Doug bristled slightly but didn't comment.

Xander frowned, "This changes things. We'll need two planes... or a three seater."

"Two planes." Chappy said, "We'll bring one of the trainers and I'll break out my private plane."

"Private plane?"

Chappy smiled.

Xander shook his head and walked toward the door, "Let's get a move on."

"Not so fast."

Xander froze. Something the cold tone at his back telling him that things had just gotten worse once again. He hesitated a moment, "Sandra?"

"Turn around."

He did, keeping his hands visible.

Sandra was facing him, holding a knife to Wheeler's throat while she kept the long blade of a Katana against Chappy's chest.

<Where the hell did she hide those?> Xander had time to think before she spoke.

"Who are you, Xander?" She asked coldly.

"I already told you that." Xander replied, "I didn't need to lie."

She sneered at him, "Right. Just some poor juvinile with a troubled past. Sell me another one."

"Where's your ring, Sandra?" Xander asked. "I don't see you Terakan ring."

She smirked at him, her eyes glinting. "We don't all wear them on our fingers, Xander."

"Where else would..." Xander's face scrunched up, "Oh."

She rolled her eyes, "I wear mine on a chain around my neck you pervert."

Xander smiled coldly, his hand flickering as two gold rings appeared between his fingers. "Good... cause I wouldn't want to cut it off whatever other part of your anatomy you might use."

Her eyes widened. "How did..."

"What?" Xander asked with the same half smile, "This?"

His hands flickered again and the two rings vanished. "I'm full of surprises."

"Aren't you though." She said, her eyes cold. "You killed my teacher, didn't you?"

"The Shadow Mage?" Xander asked.

She nodded.

"I did."

She growled, "Contract be damned. I'll kill you first."

She struck out with her elbow and knocked Wheeler unconscious, throwing the other girl aside. Then she spun around and nailed Chappy with the hilt of her sword before charging Xander.

Xander didn't move, he just watched her come in.

As she brought her razor sharp blade down in a stroke that was meant to cleave him in two. At the last instant, a second blade rose into the air between them and caught the attack on the flat of its gleaming surface, catching Sandra by surprise.

"What in the name of..." She whispered in shock.

Xander calmly reached out and grabbed the hilt of the gleaming blade as it floated there between them, "It's name is Kagi'Maro... and *he* doesn't like Assassins much... they bring back bad memories."

She recovered fast, pulling back and then slashing out with a stroke at his side.

Xander let Maro guide his defense, again catching her blade on the flat of his own.

She instantly reversed the stroke and spun around, her sword cleaving the air on a path to Xander's neck. He blocked again on the flat, then was instantly forced to block another strike as she let her blade dip down and flash toward his legs.

The two swords flashed through the air, time and time again, her weapon striking sparks against his as she struck out with split second blows in an attempt to breach Xander's defense. One final time she swung the blade in a powerful stroke, screaming in rage as he again caught the blow on the flat of his blade. Her muscles flexed and his bulged as she forced her weight against him, trying to push her blade to his throat.

"WHO ARE YOU!?" She screamed in his face, tears of rage running from her eyes.

"I told you already." He responded, suddenly forcing her back with a powerful push that sent her stumbling back several feet. "My name is Xander."

She stopped, panting hard as she held her weapon up. "Where did you learn to use the sword? I've never seen anyone catch every shot on the flat of their blade before."

Xander shrugged, "I had no choice really..."


"You see..." He said, lunging forward and striking out, his blade slicing the air cleanly in a figure eight pattern. "If I had caught your blade on the edge... this would have happened."

She blinked, uncertain what he meant, then her eyes widened in shock as her weapon collapsed into three pieces. In her hands she held the hilt and about a foot of blade, the rest of it fell to the ground in two separate chucks that clattered on the floor.


"Stand down, Sandra." Xander ordered. "You're bested."

She shook her head, "A Terakan does not quit until the target is DEAD!"

With that last scream she abruptly spun and lunged toward Chappy and Doug, the small chunk of blade upraised as she charged.

Time seemed to flicker for Xander as he lunged to intercept her, throwing himself between her and her targets as he struck out instinctively with Maro. He felt a biting pain in his shoulder as her blade sliced through his armored coat, and a warm flood of liquid rushed across his hands as Maro sliced deep into Sandra's stomach.

He hit the ground in a painful slide, coming to a stop on his back as he looked at the shock on Sandra's face. She stood there for a moment, then staggered toward Chappy and Doug again, but finally fell several feet short of her targets as blood flowed from her abdomen onto the floor of the barracks.

As her body hit the floor, so did Xander head as he let it drop back.

"Shit." He moaned, looking at the ceiling.

There was a long silence, then everyone began talking at once.


"Shut up!"

"Jesus, did you see that!?"

"Oh god, I'm gonna be sick."

"Everyone shut up!"

The last command was from Doug who rushed over to Xander, "Are you alright!?"

Xander pushed himself up, "I'll live."

He looked at his shoulder, feeling the blood run under the black coat. "Fuck. A hundred thousand dollar piece of armor that can stop a fifty caliber round, and a broken sword sliced through it like tissue paper."

"Are you hurt?" Doug pressed, ignoring his complaints.

Xander nodded grimly. "Yeah. But I'll be ok by the time we hit Washington."

"What!? We can't go now...!"

"Yes. We can." Xander replied, "We still have to get this contract lifted... or she won't be the last Assassin we have to kill here."

Doug looked grimly to where Sandra Levin was laying on the floor, blood still flowing from her wound though her eyes had long since gone vacant.

"All right. Let's get ready."

Dec 16th
Washington DC

Congressman Stillmore, formerly United States Air force General Stillmore, stepped out of his limo and walked up to his small DC mansion. He stepped in, past the two body guards standing at the door, without bothering to aknowledge their presence. He walked straight for his home office and laid his briefcase on the desk.

He had to get certain papers into his home safe before anything else.

"Hello Stillmore."

He froze for an instant, his face paling as he looked up in surprise. "I know that voice."

"You should. You've tried to kill me enough times, you little weasel."

He forced a smile and turned around, "Chappy! It's good to see you!"

The black man didn't smile in return, nor did either of the two figures that stood beside him. Chappy merely growled low in his throat, "You sicced some second rate assassins on me, Stillmore."

"I... I don't know what your talking about."

Chappy held up a sheaf of papers, "I'm talking about Cuba!"

Stillmore stole a quick glance toward his safe, and was shocked to see the door ripped half off it's hinges.

"I'm talking about trying to kill me, AND my kids!" Chappy roared, taking a step forward.

Stillmore fell back to his desk, his finger rapidly hitting the panic button installed there.

"I wouldn't bother." Said the youngest man present, as he walked up to the Congressman. "I pulled the plug on your security staff when I walked in here."

Stillmore shook his head, "Not possible. I saw my bodyguards at the door!"

The figure smiled, "You'd think so, wouldn't you? But from what Chappy told me about you, I didn't think you'd be the type to pay any attention to the people on your detail. So I asked a couple friends to... uh... stand in for them. You're quite alone here, Mr Stillmore. So... let's get down to business then?"

Stillmore looked around, desperately for a moment, "What... what do you want?"

"Rescind the contract on Chappy and Doug." The figure said. "Call them up and tell them that you're not paying for it."

"But... I already did!" Stillmore said, "The money is in the hands of an escrow agent... I can't get it back!"

The figure shrugged, "Then cancel the contract and tell them to keep the money."

"Are you insane!?" Stillmore snapped, "That's ten million dollars we're talking about!"

"Ten million?" Chappy snorted with amusement. "I'm flattered Stillmore. I didn't know you cared so much."

Stillmore glared at Chappy, "You and your goddamned interfering ways, Sinclair! We'd OWN Cuba by now if it wasn't for you! Have you no patriotism!?"

Chappy growled, lunging forward and grabbing the congressman by his jacket. "Patriotism? Listen to me you little piece of dirt, I defend this country *from* the likes of you! There is a reason why we swear to defend from ALL enemies, foreign AND domestic!"

Stillmore gurgled for a bit until the younger man pulled Chappy off him and pushed him back into his chair. He picked up a phone and handed it to Stillmore. "Take this. Call your contact, and cancel the contract."

"What are you going to do?" Stillmore demanded, regaining some of his bluster. "Kill me? Then they'll NEVER stop!"

"What I'll do, is come back here if any harm EVER comes to Chappy or Doug, and take it out of your hide for the rest of your misbegotten life!" The figure growled, "I've already killed three of the Terakan's who tried to collect on this bounty, so if you think I'm going to cut *you* any slack, you'd better think again."

"Y... you killed three Terakans?"

"Two actually." The young man smiled, "The third met his end when he tangled with a spray of fifty caliber bullets. He lost, in case your interested. Make the call."

Stillmore accepted the receiver and reluctantly started dialing.

Chappy, Doug, and Xander walked out of the white mansion a few minutes later.

"We're just going to leave him there!?" Doug demanded.

Xander smiled, nodding to one of the men in suits that was waiting outside. "Hey Jack. Here you go."

The man accepted the file folder Xander handed him, "It go alright?"

Xander nodded. "He rescinded the contract and forfeited the bounty. You know what to do with this?"

Jack Ryan flipped through the files and nodded, "Yeah. I know just what to do with this."

He lifted a small radio from his pocket and thumbed open a channel. "Alright Captain, he's all yours."

From various hiding places around the compound, men in SWAT gear appeared and stormed the house. Jack watched it all happen, then turned back to Xander. "Jim told me to tell you that this evens the score between you."

Xander nodded, smiling. "I guess I shouldn't tell him that I'd have taken this job for free, huh?"

Jack smiled back, "I'd keep that between us if I were you."

Xander nodded, then sobered. "How is he?"

"Not good." Jack sighed, "They have him in Chemo now..."

Xander shook his head, "Damn. You think I could get by to see him while I'm here?"

Jack nodded, "I'll arrange it."

"I want to see him too." Chappy said, "It's been a while."

Jack smiled, "He was hoping you'd say that. If you'd follow me to my car?"

"Lead the way." Chappy said, motioning to the road.

They walked to the car, the sounds of shouting and struggling coming from the mansion behind them.

Walter Reed Medical Center
Washington DC

"Hello Chappy."

Chappy frowned for a second before forcing a smile and nodding at his old friend, "Hi Jim. How are you doing?"

Jim Greer laughed, then starting coughing. "Not so good."

"You look good."

"Liar." Greer grinned. "I look like hell."

Chappy took a seat and looked at his old friend.

Jim Greer looked pale, a shadow of his former self. He was having trouble breathing, and wasn't moving without pain. Chappy nodded, "Yeah. You do."

Greer smiled, then looked up at Xander. "So. You finish the job?"

Xander nodded, "Yes Sir. The contract has been rescinded, the contractor has been taken into custody by local police."

"Oh?" Greer looked over at Jack.

Jack nodded, "Congressman Stillmore has been charged with conspiracy to commit treason, conspiracy to contract a murder, conspiracy to coverup evidence of military corruption, and I have several other charges pending while the FBI looks over the documents Mr Harris delivered to me."

"Good. Good." Greer nodded, then started coughing again. He rasped along for a moment before gathering his control and shaking his head. "Jesus. I feel like shit."

He looked up to the gathered people and looked again at Xander. "You're off the hook then kid, favor repaid."

Xander nodded. "It was a pleasure, Mr Greer."

Greer rasped out a short laugh, "Right. Anyway, thanks."


Greer smiled wide, "Don't say something like that unless you mean it, son."

Xander just shrugged and smiled.

Chappy looked in, "What did you do for him to earn a favor like this, Jim?"

Xander spoke up, "He smoothed out a problem I had with the police."

Greer chuckled, "I kept the cops from locking him up for saving their lives."


Greer grinned, "The New York Police can be very ungrateful when a snot nosed civie saves the lives of two of their officers in a huge firefight. Especially when he vanishes into the wind as soon as its over."

Chappy laughed, "Why does that not surprise me?"

"He do good, Chappy?" Greer asked, smiling slightly at Xander.

Chappy nodded, "He did good, Jim. He did good in ways that I don't understand... hell, I probably don't want to know. But, yeah... he did good."

Greer was about to say something else, but a Nurse came in and intterupted.

"Excuse me, Mr Greer? It's time."

Greer nodded, then turned back. "I have another round of Chemo to do..."

Everyone nodded, and Chappy leaned forward and clapped his shoulder. "I'll be in town for a couple days, Jim... I'll be back a couple times to see you."

After that Jim was led out by the nurse and the assembled men turned and walked out of the hospital.

"So, what are you doing now, kid?" Chappy asked Xander as they stepped outside into the sunlight that was reflecting off the light sprinkle of snow that covered the ground.

Xander looked around, "I have some that I need to check on, and some family friends to see... then I'm heading home for the holidays."

As he watched the sights of Washington flash by Xander's eyes glazed as he was caught up in an internal conversation.

<So... There is nothing we can do?>

<I do not believe so, Alexander. Not with what we have available to us. Prior to the reset we would have had many options. Now? No. There is nothing.>

<You're certain that Leo can't...>

<Cancer is not an external attack, Alexander.> Elanthielle replied, <It is the very body turning on itself. A whitelighter cannot heal such things.>

Xander sighed, <And me?>

<Your skill with such things is limited, Alexander.> Elan said, <It would be analogous to asking a medic to perform brain surgery. It is beyond you.>

Xander shook his head and spoke alive. "Damn."

"What's that, kid?"

Xander looked up, surprised. "Nothing. Just talking to myself."

"Whatever." The Cabbie muttered, slowing the cab. "We're here now."

Xander looked out and nodded. "Good."

Xander paid off the cabby and looked up at the Federal building for a long moment. He looked like hell at the moment and there was no way in hell he'd get through security as things stood.

"Mr Harris?"

Not unless he'd called ahead. Xander smiled and walked up to the young woman, "That's me."

"Mr Brognola is expecting you."

"Lead the way."

The young woman looked him over, frowning. His hair was a mess, long enough that it reached his shoulders in the back and obscured his eyes in the front. His coat, as nicely designed as it was, looked just as bad now since the left arm was hanging off his shoulder. And he himself was in dire need of a shower and, surprisingly, a shave.

He'd actually picked up a noticeable growth on his chin and face, though it was still thin and wispy by anyone's standards.

She finally nodded and turned toward the building, leading him in.

He smiled as he watched her back. She was a pretty woman, petite, with a mousy kind of look.

As the walked into the federal building several guards looked up, concerned. She waved them off, leading Xander down a side hallway as the eyes of the guards followed Xander every step.

They came to a large office and she led him through the first room and knocked on the inner door.

"Come in."

She stepped aside and motioned Xander in, "My Brognola will see you now."

"Thanks." He smiled at her, then muffled a slight chuckle as she shivered. <I guess I really need to clean up.>

He walked into the office and nodded cooly to the Head Fed. "Hiya."

Hal looked up at him, "Mr Harris. What brings you to Washington?"

"A favor for a friend." Xander replied, "Private matter."

Hal nodded, "How have you been?"

Xander shrugged, "Ups and downs, you know?"

Hal disgustedly lifted a stack of papers, "How would I know? Wonderland keeps me flooded with this crap everyday. I rarely get to live anymore."

Xander smiled lightly, taking a seat and leaning forward, "How are the Osaka's?"

Hal nodded slowly, smiling for the first time. "They're both fine. Both in school, and doing quite well now... They had a rocky time at first, but we made sure they had the best therapists available."

Xander nodded, "Do you think I could see them? Unless you think it would hurt..."

Hal smiled again, "I think it can be arranged. Their grandparents have asked me about you a few times. They want to meet both you and... Mike."

Xander chuckled, "You mean Mack?"

Hal's eyes widened, "How did you..."

Xander grinned, shrugging. "No worries, I'm not planning on exposing anything. Besides, considering how many times he's died and been ressurected, I don't think it would make such a big splash anyway."

Hal frowned grimly, "Even so... I'd rather it didn't come out."

"Hey." Xander said seriously, "Mack and I fought side by side. I don't turn on people who fight with me."

Hal nodded slowly, "Alright. Anyway, if you still want too I can set up a meating with the Osaka family."

Xander smiled. "I do. I have a promise to keep."

"I know kid." Hal nodded, "Naomi and Joseph have mentioned it on occasion. You have a place in town?"

Xander shook his head, "No. I was going to get a room after I was done here."

Hal nodded, "Ok, how about a contact number?"

"That I have," Xander said as he handed a small card over to Brognola.

"Alright." Hal nodded, taking the card. "I'll call you when it's set up."


"No problem, kid."

The two men shook hands, then Xander got up and walked out.

After getting a hotel room, Xander laid down for a few minutes, then made a descision. He got up and grabbed the phone, dialing a quick number.

Terry Powell picked up the phone on the third ring, "Terry."

"Hey man." Came a voice he couldn't quite place. "You and I have to have a chat about warning a guy about the limitations of the equipment he's buying."

"Who is this?"

"Gee, I'm hurt. I drop over two hundred grand on a guy, I usually expect to be remembered."

Something clicked in Terry's mind, "Kid? Harris?"

"Yeah. Me. You could have told me that swords would cut through the armor I bought like a knife through butter."

"Swords?" Terry asked incredulously. "Where the hell do you find a sword in a fight now a days?"

There was a long silence on the line.

"Terry, trust me... in my line of work, swords are a real danger."

Terry listened carefully to the tone of voice and nodded. The kid didn't sound angry, more like he was screwing with him. "What happened?"

"Got my shoulder sliced up, no big. But the arm of the jacket is hanging by a thread. Any problem with just having it sewn back up?"

Terry shrugged unconsciously. "No. No problem. Just have it done right if you want it to hold under pressure."

"Good. Say, you know that white elephant of yours, Ter?"

"Yeah, what about it?"

"How does it compare to my coat?"

Terry thought about it, "Same basic material... but a more advanced formula. Lighter weight, stronger... It can take a hacking slash from a blade, unlike your coat, but a smooth slice will still split the material open. Why?"

"Does it come in black?"

Dec 18th

Xander stood alongside Hal Brognola outside a small baby blue house in the suburbs. He actually felt pretty nervous as he walked up.

He'd sewn up his jacket himself, and after a shower and a trim from the Hotel's hair stylist, he was looking a fair deal better. Instead of looking like a convict, he now only looked like a parents worst nightmare.

Hal knocked on the front door and they waited for a moment.

The door opened and an old Japanese lady looked out, recognizing Hal, and smiled widely. "Mr Brognola... How good to see you again."

Her eyes fell to Xander and widened. "Is this him??"

Hal nodded.

Xander stiffened as he found himself embraced by the old woman almost instantly, her eyes sheaning up with tears. "Thank you. Thank the gods for you..."

"Uh... ummm..." Xander stammered. "Wha...?"

He found himself pulled inside, "Come in! Come in!"

Inside, the house looked nothing like the outside. It was done in the tan and light wood colors of a traditional Japanese home, complete with the rice paper screens and the lack of any noticeable western furniture.

Hal immediately slipped his shoes off, as did Xander.

The old lady smiled at him almost maternally, causing Xander to feel even more self conscious. "You did that quickly... Mr Brognola took three visits to remember."

Xander half smiled and bowed slightly, speaking in almost passable japanese as he did. "I have a... friend who knows quite a lot about many cultures."

The woman smiled even wider, "Your friend has taught you very well."

"I will be certain to pass your compliments to her." Xander smiled, returning to english.

"What was that?" Hal asked, confused.

The old lady smiled, "Your young friend is quite knowledgeable..."

Hal looked confused, but didn't comment.

"Please, follow me... My husband is this way..."

Xander paused, "Naomi and Joseph?"

She paused, looking back, "My husband wishes to see your first."

Xander nodded, "Lead the way."

Hajime Osaka looked up from his meditations as his wife led two men into his small Dojo. One man and a child, he corrected himself a moment later as he studied them. He rose to his feet in a fluid motion that belied the years his body showed and stepped forward to greet them.

"Mr Brognola." He nodded, "It is good to see you again."

"Hello Mr Osaka." Hal nodded, remembering this time not to extend his hand.

The older man turned and looked at Xander, "And who is this?"

Xander immediately bowed, his back bending just enough to convey respect. "I am Alexander Harris, Mr Osaka."

Hajime blinked in mild surprise, though his face didn't change. The fact that this was the boy that saved his grandchildren was actually out shadowed by the fact that the child apparently knew some of his customs. He returned the bow, his face still as stern as before. "Then my family is in your debt."

Xander shook his head, smiling. "No. I did what any man would have done."

"Of that, I am not so certain."

Xander smiled a little more, "I choose to doubt that."

"An... optimist then?"

Xander chuckled openly for an instant, then tried to straighten his face. "You're not the first to say that."

Beside him Hal Brogola chuckled slightly himself, remembering a very similar conversation he had once had with the boy standing next to him.

Hajime frowned suddenly, stepping back and looking at Xander closer. "You carry weapons."

Xander nodded, surprised that the old man could notice under the heavy coat he wore. "I always do. It comes with the lifestyle I choose to lead."

"Samurai." Hajime said without question in his voice.

Xander shook his head, "I serve no master. Perhaps Ronin would be accurate."

Hakime peered at Xander for a long moment and shook his head. "No. Ronin you are not."

Xander shrugged, "I serve a cause."

"Ah, But who dictates the cause?"

"I do."

"That is a dangerous path to walk, young one." Hajime replied, "We all must serve a master, as must all masters also serve. That is the way of the world, the way to prevent those with power from using it unchecked."

Xander nodded, "You may have a point, Sir. But I answer to no one, no one answers to me. I am alone."

"No one travels alone." Hajime said, gently testing the waters.

Xander shrugged, "Sometimes others walk alongside me for a time, but they all leave in one way or another. My path is not for most people."

"No one's path is truly for anyone else." Hajime replied, then turned to his wife. "Please, fetch Joseph and Naomi."

Xander smiled slightly as he noted the almost imperceptible tone of distaste in the man's voice. "You don't like those names."

Hajime sighed, "I tried to tell my son that they should have traditional Japanese names, but he believed in the new world and the new ways. Though no one will tell me what happened to him, I firmly believe that this is what killed him."

Xander glanced sharply at Hal who shrugged, his face impassive. "You didn't tell them?"

"It's classified." Hal said, sighing. "I'm barely cleared to know what I found out from you. The rest of it is still locked up the yang with red tape."

Hajime leaned in, "You know what happened?"

Xander nodded, "Yes. But I don't believe that the knowledge will do you any good, Sir."

"It would be a weight off my soul to know."

Xander sighed, frowning at Hal. "I can tell you this much. Your son was involved in a research project to create a weapon... He succeeded, but not in the way he had hoped."

Hajime frowned.

"Instead of a..." Xander hesitated, "Instead of creating a tool that could be used with precision, he created a nightmare that would rival an atomic weapon."

The old Japanese man paled at that. "My son.. Did he?"

"He shut the research down." Hal said, "That much we know for sure. He immediately shut the research down."

"Thank the gods."

Xander nodded, "However, others continued the work secretly... until someone sold out their country and their soul to the Yakuza."

"Dogs." Hajime snarled.

"They took your son's family to learn what he knew..." Xander said, sighing. "And that is what killed him."

Hajime sate back down on a light tan mat, legs crossed, and closed his eyes. After a moment he looked up, "I thank you for telling me."

"You deserved to know." Xander replied.

They fell silent for a long moment before a door slid back open and Hajime's wife entered with Joseph and Naomi in tow.

"Hi guys." Xander said, smiling at them.

Both of their eyes lit up when they recognized him and Joseph instantly ran across the room and grabbed him.

"Hey kid." Xander said, his voice a little less gruff then he'd like to have sounded as he ruffled Joseph's hair.

"You came!" Naomi said, sounding shocked.

Xander frowned, "I said I would."

Joseph pulled back as his grandfather frowned and cleared his throat. "She thought you lied."

"Oh really." Xander cocked his head, looking at Naomi intently.

The young Asian girl flushed slightly and shifted under the scrutiny. Xander noted that she looked a lot better then the last time he'd seen her, physically at least. Of course, it didn't take much, given that the last time he had seen her she was still in the clutches of a particularly nasty withdrawal despite the help he had given her.

Her form was good, she wasn't starving herself, but Xander instantly noted the heavy bags under her eyes. <She hasn't been sleeping.>

She shifted again, then spoke softly. "I'm sorry."

He shook his head clear, forcing his pensive frown away and bringing out an old familiar persona. He smiled, a little lopsidedly, "Don't worry about it. No one else thinks I'm reliable either..."

She sank into herself and leaned back into her grandmother.

<Damn it.> He cursed himself, <What the hell is wrong with her?>

Elanthielle's voice slid into the forefront of his mind. <She is suffering from the trauma of the event, Alexander. You're memories refer to the condition as 'Shell Shock'.>

Xander sighed, then frowned again as he walked up to Naomi. He stopped a few feet from her and then dropped to his knees on the mat, spreading his legs and relaxing into a comfortable position with one hand on each thigh.

"Naomi." He started seriously, "I promised you that I would come, right?"

She nodded, her eyes still vacant and faraway.

"Do you want me to leave?" He asked, still looking up at the young girl. "If my being here hurts you, I'll go."

"No! You don't have to..." Joseph started to defend him.

Xander held up a hand, silencing the young boy, never breaking eye contact with Naomi.

After a long time she shook her head, "No... you can stay..."

Xander nodded, smiling. "Thank you."

Naomi stepped away from her grandmother and offered her hand to Xander, Xander took it and she helped him to his feet. "No... Thank you..."

Xander smiled and nodded at her, letting a silence ride through the room for a moment. Then he abruptly decided that it had last long enough, "So... what's for supper? I think I was promised a meal."

The mood shattered in an instant as Naomi, Joseph, and their grandmother laughed out loud. Even Hal and Hajime nodded and smiled ever so slightly.

"Please..." The old woman nodded to another room, "I've prepared a Gohan in your honor."

Xander nodded and the group filed into the dining area.

The all sat down around the low table, Hal actually creaking as he tried to bend himself into a crosslegged position without actually disjointing anything.

As the food was passed around Xander looked up, accepting a bowl of rice before speaking. "Itadakimasu."

Hal and the two youngest blinked and looked at him in confusion, while the other two looked at Xander in surprised pleasure.

"What was that?" Joseph asked.

Xander favored him an arced glance before sending a questioning look to Hajime.

"My son did not feel it was necessary to educate his children in the ways of the 'old world'."

Xander nodded, smiling and shaking his head slightly, and turned back to Joseph. "Itadakimasu is a way of saying thanks for the food you are about to receive, Joeseph... Something like saying Grace for a christian, you know about that don't you?"

Joseph nodded.

Hajime snorted, looking disgusted.

Xander tried to keep a straight face as he spoke, "I'm sure that your grandparents have tried to tell you a lot about Japanese culture, right?"

Joseph shrugged, then nodded. "I guess."

"You don't think it's important?"

Joseph looked around the room, suddenly and acutely aware that his grandparents were staring at him intently. "I... well, none of my friends are Japanese..."

Xander nodded, "Did you know that Japanese culture has roots thousands of years back? That when it comes to some areas of art and technology they surpassed anything ever designed anywhere else on the planet?"

Joseph blinked, then shook his head.

"They even knew some things about the world that modern culture has yet to rediscover." Xander said, "Don't take the past for granted, Joseph... Technology has it's place, but there are places that a Nintendo won't fill."

There was a long silence, until Hajime broke the quiet. "I have never thought that I would see a Gaijin teach one of my line about Japanese culture."

Xander looked up, seriously. "Sometimes it takes an outsider to make a person understand."

After the meal Xander talked with Joseph and Naomi for a while before going back to where Hajime and Hal were talking quietly in the small Dojo.

"She's holding up well," Xander said, "all things considered."

Hajime nodded stiffly, but didn't speak.

Hal frowned, "I've seen worse."

Then he paused, considering that, and frowned. "God damn. It feels... sickening to be able to say that truthfully."

Xander nodded, "I know what you mean."

Hal looked up quickly, his eyes snapping to those of the young man in front of him. He stared at Xander for a long moment before shaking his head again. "That doesn't make me feel any better. You're hardly any older then Naomi."

"I had to grow up quick." Xander replied, taking a seat on the mat with the other two. "Life in my home town is... rough on the initiated."

"What do you mean?" Hajime asked quietly.

Xander quirked a small grin, "Well... let's just say that my home town see's more then it's fair share of murder and mayhem. But most people don't see it... Thing is, once you're involved... you never get out."

"Organized crime?" Hal asked immediately, thinking of Mack.

Xander shook his head, "No. Something a little... darker."

Hal went to speak again, but Xander shook his head. "Don't ask, Mr Brognola... I'm not willing to get into it right now. I told Mack about it, if he want's then he can let you in on it... But before you ask him... trust me when I say that you'll sleep better if you don't know."

Hal fell silent, considering the young man's words for all of two seconds before filing a mental note to ask Mack what the hell Xander was talking about.

"This is why you carry weapons?" Hajime asked.

Xander nodded, "I learned a long time ago that forearmed beats being forewarned any day of the week."

Hal chuckled softly at that, the phrasing reminded him of some of his people.

Hajime frowned, "What do you carry?"

Xander looked over at him seriously for a moment, "Why do you want to know?"

Hajime was silent, staring at Xander intently.

Xander met his gaze for a long moment, waiting for the older man to speak.

"I wish to know." Hajime said finally, "Nothing more."

Xander smiled slightly, nodded. He considered for a moment, then conceded the request. "Right now I'm traveling light. Two custom machine pistols, a Desert Eagle, two silver daggers, a Katana, and... something private."

"Traveling light!?" Hal blurted in shock. Not that he hadn't heard of people carrying that much ordinance and more, but coming from a slip of a child it threw him for a loop.

Xander smiled, "I usually like to keep access to heavier stuff, but I flew into town so I couldn't bring most of my stuff along."

Hal's eyes narrowed, "Why are you in DC?"

"Private matter." Xander replied evenly.

Hal shifted, not certain he liked that, but didn't think that he'd get a better answer.

"You carry a Katana?" Hajime spoke slowly.

Xander nodded, "For a few months now."

"May I see it?"

Xander hesitated, then nodded and reached under his coat. He slipped the sheathed weapon out and handed it to Hajime.

The old Japanese man lifted the ancient weapon and looked at it oddly. "I have never seen this design before."

"It's very old." Xander said, "Older then you can guess."

Hajime grasped the hilt and tried to slide the blade from the scabbard. He frowned as he couldn't get it to budge. He applied more force, until his arms were straining, but the weapon wouldn't move.

"It is stuck."

Xander shook his head, "No. It just doesn't wish to come out."

Hajime looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"

Xander took a breath, then spoke in Japanese. "Spirit of the blade."

Hal frowned, "What? What was that?"

Hajime presented the sword to Xander, cradled in his open palms. He looked at Xander intently, "You can draw the weapon?"

Xander nodded, "For now."

"And later?"

Xander sighed, "I hope it will choose to go to someone worthy."

Hajime nodded slowly.

"What are you talking about?" Hal looked confused. "Choose to go to someone? It's a sword..."

Hajime spoke slowly, his eyes faraway. "There are legends of ancient times... times long past... and the living blades of the Samurai... the weapons that thought and felt as men."

"Stories." Hal said dismissivly.

"Lot's of things are stories." Xander said, smiling. "Did you know that there are thousands, maybe millions of people, who believe that there never was a man named Mack Bolan? Before that, millions of people would have sworn that the Mafia was equally fictional. Stories are the way people rationalize what they don't want to believe."

Hal shook his head, "That's different..."

"It always is." Hajime smiled slightly.

Xander shook his own slightly in wonder, "You surprise me, Sir. Few people would believe me this easily."

"I did no say I believed you." Hajime smiled, "But I do believe that it is possible."

Xander nodded, smiling. "That's good enough."

"So. Where are you going next?" Hajime asked.

"Home." Xander said simply, "But first I have one last person to contact here in DC."

"Who?" Hal asked.

Xander smiled, "I'm not sure you have clearance to know that."


Xander laughed, but refused to explain.

Hal growled, but didn't press. He checked his watch, "I'm going to have to go..."

Xander nodded, "I want to speak with Naomi and Joseph... then I'll go with you."


Xander looked around his room and nodded. The visit with the Osaka's had gone well, and he'd promised them that he would stop in the next time he was in the city. For now though, he had another matter to manage.

He picked up the phone and quickly dialed a number kindly dredged from his memory by Elan.

"Micro Consulting, how may I help you?"

Xander smiled into the phone, "Harry Tasker's office please."

"I'm sorry, but Mr Tasker is on vacation at the moment."

"Then could I please speak with his superior..." Xander said, "Mr Trilby?"

There was a long pause on the end of the line. "There's no one here by that name sir."

Xander smiled, "I see. Well, please inform Mr Trilby that I'd like to speak to him about Dana Tasker."

Another long pause. "I'm araid that I don't know anyone by that name, Sir."

"Sure you don't." Xander said, then dropped the receiver to the bed and walked out of the room.

Behind him the phone chirped quietly, "Sir? Sir?"

"Trace that call!" Spencer Trilby cursed as he glared over the room of technicians.

"Got it sir!" A young man stood up, "It's a hotel downtown!"

"Let's move!"

"Sir?" An agent stopped as Trilby got up, "You're not coming?"

"Dana Tasker is MY God Daughter, Agent." The man snarled, "I'll be damned if I pass up any shot at finding her."

The agent gulped and backed off. "Yessir."

"Move it people!" Trilby snapped, grabbing an old shoulder holster from the back of his chair and looping it over his head.

Xander watched as the team dressed as SWAT officers raided his hotel. He smiled as they pushed passed the shocked people in the lobby and vanished out of his sight. He could mentally fill in what was happening inside.

He could see them burst into his room, and find nothing. Not even prints. Xander hadn't had time to touch much, and he'd wiped everything he had touched clean, then called for maid service. But, of course, that would come later. First they'd find the phone, still lying on the bed, and they'd cordon the room off.



He watched an unmarked sedan pull up and two men get out. One of them walked around and opened the back door to reveal a stern looking figure with an eyepath.

<Hello, Mr Trilby.>

Spencer Trilby strode across the lobby of the hotel with his two Bodyguards in tow, veering directly toward the elevator as he listened to the reports of the upstairs team.

He growled under his breath as he heard them report no contact with the caller. "Bastard's already gone."

He walked straight into the elevator as the doors opened, snapping an order over his shoulder. "Come on, let's move."

When there wasn't a response, Trilby turned around and snapped at his body guards. "Hey! What the hell are you being paid to..."

He trailed off, seeing his two men lying on the ground and a slim figure dressed in black walking up to him. "Who the hell are you!?"

The figure pushed him into the elevator and then closed the doors and pressed the button for the roof. "Sorry about this, Spence."

Trilby snarled, "The name's Trilby to you, punk."

The figure chuckled a little, the sound muffled by the black balaclave he wore. "Sure it is Spence. I want to talk to you about Dana."

"Where is she!?" Spencer Trilby demanded instantly, "If you've hurt her, I'll rip you limb from limb!"

The figure sighed and shook his head, "Damn it. So she hasn't contacted you? Jesus, Faith. I thought you'd be smart enough to get a hold your family at least."

"Huh?" Trilby looked confused, "Who's Faith?"

"Dana's street name."

"My *goddaughter* is living on the streets!?" Trilby snarled, "God dammit, when I get my hands on those two yahoos I'm gonna bury them so deep in the bowels of this planet they'll think they discovered hell!"

The figure chuckled, the paused. "What two yahoos?"

Trilby glared at the figure as the elevator droned up. "You don't know? She's been seen with a couple guys... both way to old for her."

The figure nodded slowly, "Yeah... yeah. The two brothers. I met some people who knew them a couple months back..."

"Who are they!?" Trilby demanded, stepping up fast and grabbing the figure.

He found himself pushed back instantly, but not so hard as to harm him.

"Back off! If I knew I'd probably tell you, Spence." The figure said sternly. "Fai... Dana means a lot to me, I've been on her trail for months now. But she's damned good at staying under the radar and she isn't leaving a money trail for my hackers to follow."

"Under the RADAR!?" Spencer growled, "Do you have any idea the waves she's made in New York!?"

"Of course I do, but if it was enough to track her by you'd have found her already wouldn't you?"

Spencer fell silent.

"Or did you?" The figure suddenly leaned forward, "You did find her. What happened!?"

"None of yer damned business." Trilby snarled.

The figure was silent. "You sent a team out. It's the only thing you could do..."

Spencer didn't say anything, his eyes flickered to the lights that displayed the floor.

The figure stepped closer, "Dammit. If you hurt her..."

Spencer's eye snapped back down to the figure, "She's my goddaughter! I would never hurt her!"

The figure stepped back, nodding. "Alright. I'll accept that. Are you still looking for her?"

Spencer didn't say anything for a long moment, then nodded. "Of course."

"Ok." The figure looked up at the numbers briefly, "This is my stop."

Trilby stared in surprise as the figure jumped up and crawled out through a hatch in the roof. For a brief second the head poked back in, "I'll find her, Spence. I'll bring her home to you... You just make sure that her parents are here to greet her. You hear me!?"

Then the figure was gone.

The door chimed, opening up on a dozen armed men aiming MP-5's into the elevator.

"He's gone! Get this building locked down!" Spencer Trilby ordered, grabbing a cigar out of his pocket. He snarled as he bit off the end and spit it out. He clamped the cigar between his teeth and cupped the end as he brought his lighter up to the end.

<Who the fuck was that!?>

Xander slid down the wires of the elevator shaft, using friction to keep his descent steady. He came to a stop on the second floor and pried open the doors. The hall was empty as he slipped through, and he quickly double timed his way down to the second floor lobby as he stuffed the balaclava and gloves into his pocket, and then ran across the overpass that connected to the building across the street.

From there losing himself in the crowd was easy, his style of dress wasn't overly outstanding in Washington at this time of year, so by the time the area had been cordoned off, Xander was already gone.

Dec 19th

"How may I help you?"

"I'd like a first class ticket to San Francisco."

"You're name, Sir?"

"Alexander Ford."


Valid XHTML 1.1! Valid CSS!