Year Zero


Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

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

Summary: A Surprise call diverts Xander to a new destination, and a new track to the future.

Warning : Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating : R. For mature themes, sexual content, and all the other fun stuff that rarely makes network TV.

Feedback, It's the coin of the realm.

Authors Note :

To anyone not entirely certain what is going on, I reccomend renting Clear and Present Danger and enjoying a little Harrison Ford action... It'll explain the details I'm leaving out.

As a note to Clancy fans who seen to be annoyed that I'm using the movies instead of the books... sorry, but as far as I'm concerned the movies were at least as good as the books... even the much hated Clear and Present Danger, and *even* the recently despised Sum of All Fears.

Let's get one thing straight... Clancy's books are GREAT... but they would SUCK as movies. His jumps around too much and doesn't keep his focus on any one thing long enough to make for an effective movie.

That said, I go into ANY movie expecting things to be different from the books... and IF they aren't different I almost always walk out after 2-4 hours of BOREDOM, swearing to god that I'll never watch the flick again.

Movies and Books almost always stand alone, even though viewers and readers unfairly try to make them stand together.

Feb 04, 1996

The Charger rumbled to a stop as Xander put the emergency brake on and looked out of the large white building in front of him. He hesitated and looked over to where Tara was sitting in her usual unobtrusive mode. "Can you look after Mikki while I do this?"

Tara nodded.

Xander took a deep breath and fished some money out of his pocket, handing it over to Tara. "Go... go have some fun, ok?"

"Ok..." She said quietly.

Xander turned and looked over his shoulder, forcing a slight smile as he looked at the nervous little girl in the back seat. "Hey, Mikki... you be good for Tara... k?"

"K..." She whispered. "You going long?"

He shook his head, "Be back before you know it, kiddo."

She nodded, her brown eyes boring into him as he sighed and opened the door. "Tara... I'll be back soon, so stay close. I think there's a shopping center just up the block. K?"

Tara nodded.

"Ok... I'll see you."

Then he left and walked up to the federal building.

"May I help you?"

Xander looked around the pristine lobby, nodding to the secretary. "I'm here to see Jack Ryan."

"Do you have an appointment?"

Xander nodded soberly. "Yeah. My name is Xander Harris."

"Mr Harris..." The secretary got up and walked around the desk, "I was advised of your arrival. You'll need this."

She pinned a visitors badge to his chest and nodded to a long hallway. "If you'll follow me?"

Xander nodded and she led him down the hall to a large room filled with computers and people pouring diligently over them. Some of them looked up, but just shrugged when the saw his escort and visitors badge. The secretary led him to an office further in. She knocked on the door, "Mr Ryan?"

"Yes Evelyn?"

"Mr Harris to see you."

"Let him in, Thanks."

She nodded and Xander walked into the room. "Hello Mr Ryan."

"Please... Jack." Ryan smiled sadly as he stood up and walked around the desk to shake hands with Xander.

"What's going on?" Xander asked, "Anything new?"

Jack shook his head, "No... They don't expect him to last out the week."

Xander sighed heavily.

"I'm sorry that you came up here for this," Jack said heavily, "I know you two weren't close... but he did speak well of you."

"No." Xander said, "It's fine. I'm not one of his friends, but that's going to be my loss I'm certain. I'm glad you called... I wasn't doing anything that I couldn't put off a while."

Jack nodded, "He'll be glad to see you again. Greer felt a little guilty about shanghaiing you into that job."

Xander smiled, shaking his head. "He has nothing to feel guilty for. Favor paid for favor owed. Besides, I'd have taken the Terakans on free of charge if anyone had asked."

"Well, he wanted to see you before..." Jack shrugged.

Xander sighed, nodding.

"We'll go out when I finish up my paperwork, ok?"

Xander nodded again. "Sure."

About thirty minutes later Xander and Jack walked out of the CIA building and over to the custom Charger. Xander frowned as he saw that Tara and Mikki were waiting for him. He sighed, "I thought I told you two to have fun?"

"Sorry..." Tara whispered.

Xander shook his head, not able to put on even a mock grin. "It's ok Tara. Tara, Mikki... this is Jack Ryan."

"Pleased to meet you." Jack said, smiling.

Mikki shivered back from him and Tara just looked at her feet.

Jack looked over at Xander for an instant, and Xander shot him back a look that clearly said 'long story, tell you later.' Jack nodded, promising himself that he would indeed get the story. "You want to follow me over to the hospital?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah... We'll be right behind you."

"Ok, I'll get my car and come around." Jack said, then walked off.

Tara looked after the man as he left, then back to Xander. "H-hospital?"

Xander walked into the private room alone, Jack had remained outside with the girls in the waiting room. He paused at the door and shivered at the change in the man he had met only six months earlier. He hesitantly tapped on the door frame, "Mr Greer?"

Jim Greer opened his eyes and looked at him, then broke into a weak smile. "Come on, Harris, come on in."

Xander nodded and walked over, taking a chair and sitting down at the man's bedside. "Jack said you wanted to talk to me."

Greer nodded, caughing lightly. "I... wanted to apologize."

"For what?"

"I shouldn't have sent you against those assassins." Greer said, "It wasn't the right thing to do."

Xander shook his head, smiling. "I'd have done that anyway if I'd found out about it, Mr Greer. You didn't force me into anything. A favor paid for a favor owed... That's how the game works."

Jim nodded slowly, "It's a lousy game, kid."

Then he abruptly started coughing again, causing Xander to get up.

"No... No... I'm fine..."

"No you're not." Xander said, his eyes glittering with the first hints of a silver light. "Lay back."

"What?" Jim frowned as he saw the silver gleam in Xander's eyes. "Oh damn. Now I'm halucinating..."

"No." Xander smiled, gently passing his hands over the man's slumped form, "No... you're not."

"Wha...?" Jim Greer frowned as he realized his cough was fading away and the constant pain was gone. "What did you do?"

Xander didn't reply right away. He slowly ran his hands through the older man's aura and swept away the ugly red and black energies that were accumulating throughout it. Finally he fell back, slumping hard into his seat. "Not much, I'm afraid."

Jim Greer sat up, looking down at himself in wonder. "Not much? I feel... healthy."

Xander looked up, sweating fiercely. "Illusion... Mr Greer... Jim... I'm sorry, I just don't have the skill to heal you."

"Illusion?" Jim Greer looked confused.

"I pushed the poisons out of your system... but they were just causing the symptoms..." Xander said, wiping his face clean. "I can't do anything about the source."

Greer looked at his arms, eyes wide. "How long?"

Xander hesitated, not wanting to answer.

"How long?" Greer persisted.

"Until the end." Xander replied heavily. "I can't change that though..."

Greer suddenly smiled widely, as if he ad been given a priceless gift. "No sickness?"

"No. You'll just go to sleep sometime soon and not wake up." Xander said, "I'm sorry..."

Jim Greer laughed, a deep booming sound that echoed through the room and down the hallway. "I can go home. I can die at *home*."

Suddenly he turned serious again, "How... how did you?"

Xander smiled weakly, "Mystic monks of the orient stuff... Not the new age crap though, the real old stuff."

"I never thought I'd believe in that shit." Greer muttered with a grin as he took a deep breath.

Xander didn't return the grin as he watched Greer just enjoy the ability to breath again. He felt a well of guilt rise up in him for not being able to do more. It seemed cruel, suddenly, to do this much and no more. To give the man a tantalizing taste of health, only to know that he would still be struck down on schedule.

"Where did you learn...?" Greer paused, then shook his head. "No... It doesn't matter. I've got things to do."

With that pronouncement he flung the blankets aside and climbed out of the hospital bed and started looking around the room.

"Damn nurses..." He muttered, "Now where did they put my suit?"

Jack Ryan rose to his feet in shock as he saw James Greer come walking calmly out of the hospital room, dressed and looking like he was ready for a solid days work.

"Jim..." He said in shock.

That was when he saw Xander.

Xander had gone into the room a little somber, but walking easily and calmly, and now he came out walking slowly and stiffly as if he was determined to stay on his feet despite the best attempts of the floor to invite him down for a visit.

Jack took a half step toward the young man, then blinked as he realized that the two girls were already at his side. Tara and Mikki both lending their strength to his.

"Jim..." He looked around, repeating, "What happened?"

"Don't ask me." Jim Greer said, looking a little concerned for Xander himself. "He came in... we talked... he did something, now I feel great."

Xander looked up at him, "I warned you... It's not a cure."

"I know, I know. But I *feel* great." Greer insisted, then turned back to Jack. "And now I'm checking out of this mausoleum and I'm going to enjoy my last days."

"Last days... Jim... what?"

James Greer clapped a hand on either side of Jack Ryan's shoulders and just smiled at the man, "Jack, Jack, Jack... When you're given a miracle... don't ask too many questions."

Then he turned and left the hospital.

Jack spun around, looking wildly around the room. "What the hell is going on!?"

Xander shook his head, slumping into a seat. "I know a few healing tricks... that's all."

"You... you healed him?"

"No." Xander said quietly. "I just... cut him off from the pain. I... I'm not skilled enough to heal him. I don't know anyone who is."

Jack reeled under the information, trying to make sense of it. He finally sat down, "Then he is still...?"

"Dying." Xander nodded. "Yes. He is."


Xander shrugged, "Now... Tomorrow... Next week? Could be anytime... He'll get tired some time soon... and he'll go an lay down... and he'll close his eyes..."

Xander trailed off and Jack finished for him. "And they won't open again. Is that what you're telling me?"

Xander nodded.


"Cleansing." Tara blurted out, then instantly looked down at the ground as if fearing a reprimand.

Xander smiled, gently patting her shoulder. "Exactly right, Tare."

"Cleansing?" Jack asked. "What's that?"

"Purging the bad energy that's being built up by the cancer." Xander replied, "Just pushing it out of the body..."

"How long does that last?"

"A few weeks usually... but in Jim's case he doesn't have that long..." Xander said slowly, "He'll be... gone... before it has a chance to accumulate again."

"Oh." Jack suddenly looked around, "He just walked out of here without checking out!"

Xander shrugged, still weak. "I don't think he cares, Jack."

"Probably not..." Jack Ryan got up, frowning. "But I have to go find him... I have to..."

Xander nodded, "Go on. We'll be ok..."

Jack started out of the room, then paused and looked back. "I was going to invite you to dinner tonight, if you like?"

Xander smiled, nodding. "I'd like that... you guys?"

Tara nodded shyly, and Mikki just sort of shrugged.

"Well good." Jack smiled slightly, handing Xander a card. "That's my home address and number... Around six?"

"Six is good. Now you better track him down, Jack..." Xander smiled weakly. "Before he gives someone a heart attack."

Jack nodded, smiling despite himself, then paused as he noticed the sweat bead on Xander's forehead. "Are you ok?"

"I'm a fighter, Jack... Not a healer. I'll live, it just took a lot out of me." Xander replied, "Go on."

Jack Ryan nodded and left in pursuit of his mentor.

Jack Ryan caught up to Jim Greer in the parking garage, where the big black man was looking very frustrated.

"Jim?" Jack approached slowly.

Greer turned around, looking chagrined. "Hi Jack... Would you believe I forgot they took my car back to my place?"

Jack chuckled lightly, pulling out his keys and hitting the security. The car chirped once and he nodded, "We'll use mine."

"Thanks, Jack." Greer grinned, chuckling slightly as they walked over to the car.

They got into the car and Jack started it up, then looked over at his mentor. "So... Jim..."

"None of that, Jack." Greer growled through a small smile.

"None of what?"

"No pity for me." Greer had a fair idea what had kept Jack from catching him sooner. "I have a chance to live out my last days... alive. And I'm going to take it."

Jack nodded, "Alright. Where too?"

"T... that was a very nice thing to do..." Tara said hesitantly to Xander.

Xander shook his head, "Maybe. It seems selfish though."


"To give him a taste of health again... cause I didn't want to see him like that?" Xander sighed, getting up slowly. "I don't know... I... I hope I haven't caused more pain in the long term."

Tara was silent as she helped him up. Between her and Mikki they helped Xander as he walked slowly out of the hospital. He paused at the front desk and smiled.

"W... what is it?"

"Just imagining the havoc when they realize they lost a terminal patient." Xander said smiling slightly. Then he looked sad again and shrugged, "Come on... let's go."

Kathy Ryan looked up as she heard someone coming in, smiling when she recognized her husband. "Jack, you're early... how was your..."

She trailed off in shock as she saw who was walking in behind her husband. "Jim?"

"Hello Kathy." Jim Greer smiled widely, white teeth flashing.

"Jim!" She moved across the room, quickly hugging the big man. "My god... how? You..."

He chuckled softly, "A miracle, or close enough to it for my taste."

"Kath..." Jack said, slowly, "Do you have enough for Jim as well as our guests?"

Kathy broke away from Jim, her eyes still wide as she tried to understand what was happening. "Umm... Yeah... I mean, of course... Jim is always welcome for supper."

"Good." Jack looked at his watch, "I told our guests that we'd eat at Six so they should be here shortly."

Kathy nodded, still looking at Greer until she heard a stray sizzle behind her and turned in surprise. "Oh damn. The onions are burning..."

Greer chuckled appreciatively as she ran back to the stove.

Jack shrugged, "She's a great Doctor... but sometimes I think maybe I should take up cooking."

"I heard that!" Kathy snapped, her eyes glittering as she looked back.

"I've seen your cooking, Jack." Greer grinned, "I'll take Kathy at her worst any day of the week, and you know it."

"Traitor." Jack said, smiling mildly as he took a seat and motioned for Jim to do the same.

Greer sat down and smiled widely, shrugging. "Hey. I tell it like it is. You know that, Jack. Besides, I remember when Kathy started taking all those Gourmet cooking lessons... Every time I came over here she'd be serving some weird french 'cusine'... You have no idea how often I thanked God when she switched back to meat and potatoes."

Jack laughed, remembering Jim's aversion to the experimental recipes and 'homework' from Kathy's course. He laughed, "Dammit Jim... I missed this..."

Abruptly the mood downshifted fast and hard, leaving a sudden chill to run through the room. Kathy noticed it instantly and looked around, confused. "Jack...?"

"It's alright, Kathy." Greer said, still smiling. "Jack's just getting used to my condition."

"Condition?" Kathy was confused. "Jim... How are you walking? I saw your chart... you shouldn't be..."

"I don't know. You can ask your dinner guest," Greer said, shrugging. "He's the one who did it."

"What? Did what?"

The two men shrugged.

"Did someone use an experimental drug on you??" Kathy asked, eyes flashing.

"Actually," Greer smiled over his hand, "I think it was some... new age treatment."


"Don't ask me, Kathy... I'm not a doctor." Greer shrugged, willing his laughter to subside.

"Oh? And who exactly is this 'Doctor?!'"

A low rumble came from outside, sputtering to a stop.

"Hmmm... I think that's him now."

Xander lead Mikki and Tara up to the door, ringing the bell.

Jack Ryan answered the door, smiling widely about something. "Come on in, Xander."

Xander nodded back and smiled, "Thanks."

They walked into the room and the first thing Xander noticed was an attractive lady glaring at him as she tapped her feet on the floor.

Xander paused, looking back over his shoulder then at his feet. "Did I track something into the house?"

"No..." Jack said, chuckling.

"Then why is she staring at me like I just killed her dog??" Xander asked, starting to shift nervously.

Jack smirked silently as he watched Cathy stalk her 'prey'. Any other time he'd probably try to deflect her, but this was one time that he wanted to know the exact same things she did.

"Are you the so called 'Doctor' that's been trying experimental treatments on Jim!?"

Xander backed up, bumping into the door as the woman stalked toward him. He brought his hands up, his eyes wide with shock, "Doctor? Who said I was a doctor?"

Cathy's eyes flared even higher and she actually seemed to growl as she took another step.

Before she could take a third, Mikki stepped between them and showed the older woman what a *growl* really was.

Cathy Ryan fell back a step as she watched the eyes of the little girl *change* from deep brown to a tawny yellow. Her attention was completely diverted to the little girl as the child's stance seemed to become feral. Cathy's breath hitched and she fell back another step in shock as a tingle of fear ran up her back.

"Mikki!" Xander's voice was laced with shock, but contained an order that couldn't be questioned.

The little girl looked back at him, her tawny eyes still catlike as her expression questioned him.

He met her gaze, careful to show neither fear nor anger, and just shook his head.

She seemed to shrink in on herself, her eyes and manner shifting back to that of a little girl who was now extremely ashamed of herself. Xander swallowed and walked up to her, hugging the little girl as he whispered. "It's ok, Mikki... You didn't do anything wrong..."

Then he looked up, glaring at Jack and Jim. "Alright, whose idea was this little ambush anyway?"

Cathy watched in shock as the young man held the little girl, slowly comforting her as he glared at Jack and Jim.

"Come on." He said, "I know one of you must have put her up to this... she couldn't have gotten that idea in her head on her own... one of you had to feed her enough to get her pissed off."

Jim Greer looked abashed, not really understanding what had happened, but knowing that it had gone way past anything he'd intended. "I guess that would be me. I'm sorry, kid... I didn't know..."

Xander nodded, his expression softening. "It's ok... No harm, no foul I guess..."

Jack had moved over to his wife and was holding her as he swallowed and spoke, "I let it happen... I should have put a stop to it..."

Xander nodded, separating himself from Mikki and dropping down to look her in the eyes. "You ok, Mik?"

She nodded.

"What was that about?" Xander asked, looking at the girl intently. "You've never done that before..."

Mikki was silent for a moment, then whispered something that even Xander almost missed.

Xander's eyes widened, his face dissolving into shock as he looked at the little girl. He reached out, pulling her into another hug as he whispered back. "Aww Mik... I don't need to be protected, but thanks for the thought..."

For several long minutes the entire group stood there. Jack held Cathy as they watched the scene, uncertain what had just happened or what it really meant. James Greer similarly wondered what was going on as he looked on. Tara stood back, her face a mask of conflicting emotions as she watched as well.

The silence was broken by a cry from the next room, "MOM! Jack Jr is making faces at me!"

The appearance of Sally Ryan caused the entire group to look at her incredulously for a long moment as she stared back. She rapidly checked herself, even looking in a mirror. "What? What is everyone looking at? What!?"

Later, during dinner, Xander and Tara sat and talked with the Ryans and Jim Greer as they watched Mikki and Sally sit in the next room, playing.

"Is... is she... safe?" Cathy Ryan felt guilty just asking that question, but as she watched the two girls play in the living room she felt pangs of fear for her own little girl.

Xander nodded, "Yeah. She's just had a rough time... I guess she's looking to me as a... I don't know... savior maybe... she took your anger as an overt threat."

"What happened to her?" Jack asked quietly, also watching the two girls play. Sally was as boisterous as ever, but Mikki was very quiet.

Xander glanced aside to Tara who nodded softly. "I saved her from a lynch mob of sorts out in New Mexico about three weeks ago. They were in the process of beating her to death when I walked in."

"What!?" Cathy Ryan's face became a mask of outraged fury.

"They were going to kill her for the same thing you just saw." Xander sighed, "She's not the same as most people... she scared them..."

Cathy's fists clenched tight, bunching up the lace table cloth, and Jack put an arm around her comfortingly.

"Calm down... it's alright, honey..."

"No, Jack." Cathy growled, "It's *not*."

Jack looked over to Xander, "Is this what that favor you asked about was for?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah. The mob had access to some specialized ammunition that I recognized."

"How?" Greer asked quietly.

"How what?"

"How did you recognize it?"

"I carry the same type." Xander replied truthfully.

"Ok. That would bring me to why?"

Xander shrugged, "That's a long story. And not one that should be told over dinner."

Greer looked at him evenly, "I don't have much time left to hear it do I?"

Xander smiled softly, sadly. "I wouldn't worry about that... You'll be filled in on the whole story soon enough."

"What is that supposed to me?" Cathy Ryan asked looking between the two.

"I think..." Greer said softly, "It means that I'll find out everything when I die."

Xander nodded.

Cathy looked between then in shock, "What... How... Greer, you look better... don't talk like that."

"It's all..." Greer smiled at Xander, "An illusion."


"Jim's case is terminal." Xander said, sighing. "Nothing anyone can do... not now. I just helped push the symptoms away so he could get out of bed until the time came."

"*What* exactly did you do?"

Xander shook his head, "I don't suppose you've ever heard of Chi Therapy?"

Cathy nodded instantly, "Of course. It's common practice in China... we had an exchange several months ago with a Chinese group that had a doctor who was trained in the area."

Xander blinked. He wasn't expecting that response.

Greer blinked. He certainly wasn't expecting that response.

Jack shrugged. Nothing his wife did surprised him anymore.

Cathy just continued, "There is still some debate in the hospital about his techniques... It's hard to argue against them, his patients all recovered faster then others with the same conditions... most doctors at the hospital think that it was mostly psychological."

Xander shook his head, smiling slightly. <Never *ever* underestimate a woman.> "It is... in fact it's completely psychological... or Spiritual if you don't mind using the older term for it."

"Are you trained in it?" Cathy asked, professional interest sparking in her face.

"More or less." Xander said, shrugging. "My skills lean more toward patching someone up then actual healing. The techniques I use are more intended for field use in battlefield conditions... get a man back on his feet so he can get to competent help."

"And you applied these to Jim?"

Xander nodded, "Relieving the symptoms was relatively simple in practice... Though I wouldn't want to try it again any time soon... It's just a matter of drawing out the accumulated poisons that permeate his Chi."


"Chi is what the Chinese call soul or spirit," Cathy said off handedly to Jack, taking a bite of her supper.

"Not entirely." Xander replied, "It's actually more accurate to say that Chi is the energy generated by the soul."

Cathy's eyes widened, "So that's what he was trying to explain... damn. I wish our translator had been better at Mandarin."

"It's not an easy language." Xander shrugged, "inflections can change the meaning of a word, or an entire phrase. To describe the difference between Chi and the Soul in Mandarin would be quite involved."

"You speak Mandarin??" Greer asked, eyes gleaming.

"Something like that." Xander replied, "My accent is atrocious, in fact I probably couldn't make myself understood in that language... but I can understand it."

"Who trained you in Chi Therapy?" Cathy asked, still interested primarily in the medical technique.

Xander hesitated, "That's kind of an involved story... I guess you could say that she is my Sensei... Mentor... occasional pain in the ass."

The group chuckled mildly, not noticing the wince Xander suddenly made as he held his head.

"So how far are you in your studies?" Cathy asked, "You know, there is a position at Hopkins for alternative medicines..."

Xander choked, "Sorry but did you just ask if I wanted to be a doctor?"

"Well... if you're trained in Chi Therapy there are many patients who would be interested in adding that to their therapy programs..." Cathy stated matter of factly. "A lot of the old methods are coming under scrutiny again... and even the science diehards have to admit that the psychological effect can be extremely beneficial."

Xander managed to chuckled slightly though he still had water in his lungs. "Sorry Mrs Ryan, but I'm not a healer. I usually break bones, not mend them."

"That's a shame." She told him flatly. "There is no shortage of bone breakers in the world already... Healers though, we always need."

Xander nodded, "I agree with you... the problem is, too many of the bone breakers are the other side of the line, Doctor."

Cathy Ryan frowned in response, but James Greer and Jack Ryan nodded in understanding.

That evening Xander found him and his little group adjoining rooms at a decent hotel. After they got some sleep Xander figured a relaxing day was in order so they stayed in. Mikki watched Tv, while Tara read her mothers books.

It was evening when Xander decided that he should see to some other business.

"Hey, Tare?"

"Yes?" Tara asked softly after opening her door.

"I want to check on some old friends while I'm in town... can you keep an eye on Mikki?"

Tara nodded, "X...xander?"


"Be careful."

Xander smiled, "You better watch out... you're starting to know me too well."

Tara flushed slightly, looking at her feet again.


"What?" She asked softly.

"Don't look away..." Xander lifted her face up until he could see her eyes. "No one here is going to rip into you for speaking your mind, Tara... and if someone does, you have my permission to rip right back."

"E-e-e-even if it's you?" Tara asked with a smile.

"Especially if it's me." Xander smirked, "In the past I've hung out with women who were Slayers, Witches, Thieves, Cops, and Spies... Trust me, I can take whatever you can dish out."

Tara didn't have a reply so Xander flipped his coat over his shoulder and winked, then turned and walked off. "See ya later... Tiger."

Tara looked up in surprise, her eyes widening as Xander stepped out of sight. "T-t-t-tiger?"

A short while later Xander strode up the path of the house, knocking lightly on the door.

"Yes...?" The door opened slightly, then opened all the way. "Alexander?"

Xander smiled, "Hi, Mrs Osaka... I... I was just back in town..."

"Come in... come in..." She beamed at him.

Xander grimaced, looking up at the moon above him. "Please. Don't invite anyone in after dark... it's not a good habit."

She looked confused, but shrugged and still stepped aside and motioned him in.

Xander nodded to her and walked in, immediately removing his shoes when he stepped in the door. "How are Naomi and Joseph?"

She smiled, "They are both well. Mr Brognola found a very good doctor for Naomi... The first one wasn't a... specialist?"

Xander nodded. Hal had mentioned to him that he had finally gotten Naomi a specialist in rape counseling, grief management, and drug addictions. Xander remembered shivering at the thought that there was enough demand for someone that specialized.

Mrs Osaka didn't notice Xander's moment of introspection, and continued to talk. "They aren't home right now, but I am certain that Mr Osaka would be pleased to see you."

Xander smiled, nodding. "I would be pleased to speak with him again as well."

Hajime Osaka looked up a Xander entered the room, nodding once to the young man. "It is good to see you again."

"And you, Mr Osaka." Xander half bowed before taking a place opposite the older man. "How have you been?"

"Well." Hajime replied with a small smile, "And you?"

"Much the same."

Hajime smiled a little wider, "Now that the formalities are dispensed with, why don't you ask what you really want to know?"

Xander chuckled, "You see through me."

"No. I am used to Americans and their behavior." Hajime smiled, "It is... unnerving to see one act patient and follow the niceties."

Xander smiled, "I was hoping you might tell me how Naomi and Joseph have been doing?"

"They are bother better." Hajime said, "But I am worried about Joseph."

Xander frowned. The last time he had been here it seemed that Naomi was the one to be concerned about. "What happened?"

"Nothing." Hajime said, "That is what concerns me. One of the more troubling qualities of our family is that the men of my line tend to keep emotions inside. It can be a problem."

"You think Joseph is doing that?"

Hajime nodded, "Naomi has progressed well... we had many nights of great screaming in this household, but when it was over we were cleaner for it."

Xander nodded.

"But lately, Joseph has become increasingly angry... violent." Hajime sighed as he admitted, "I do not know what to do."

Xander didn't say anything for a long while. What was there to say? The simple fact that Mr Osaka was even willing to speak to him about the subject spoke volumes. "I... I wish I knew what to tell you."

Hajime sighed and shook his head, "I do not think that there is anything to tell. I can only hope that he grows out of it."

"Maybe he feels like he has lost control?" Xander said softly.

"Hai." Hajime nodded, accepting the suggestion. "That is possible."

"He may not even know what he's feeling..." Xander suggested, "At least not enough to identify in his own mind."

Hajime nodded again.

"And what we cannot identify..." Xander let the sentence hang.

"We cannot defeat." Hajime finished, then he nodded and smiled. "Good council for one so young."

Xander smiled, "I have an... old soul in me."

Hajime frowned at him, confused by the choice of words, but Xander just chuckled as he rose to his feet. "Apart from that, how are their lives now?"

Hajime rose up too, "As happy as we can make them... without isolating them from reality. Come, I feel like a walk."

Xander nodded and followed the man as he led him out to the garden in the back. "I do not believe we showed you this on your last visit?"

"No..." Xander looked around the carefully lit garden, the place perfectly trimmed and glittering from the lights reflecting off the Coy pond. "I would have remembered."

Hajime nodded, "It was my error to omit it then."

Xander smiled, "It is a beautiful place, Sir."

"Thank you." Hajime said softly, his voice tinged with pride. "When I retired I devoted many hours to building it. It was the first thing I created with my two hands in many years."

Xander nodded, "You have a masters touch."

"No." Hajime smiled, "Merely an enthusiastic amateur."

"A talented one then." Xander said, smiling inwardly as he played the game with Elan's promptings. After the short tour he began to make his excuses.

"I wish I could stay longer, but I have business in town and must be leaving."

"Ah," Hajime nodded and began leading him to the door. "My apologies for taking up your time with such trivialities."

Xander shook his head, "Life is trivial, Sir. What we do with it, is not."

Hajime Osaka smiled and nodded as they arrived to the door. "It has been my pleasure to speak with you again, Alexander."

"And mine to visit you."

"You should return soon, when the children are here."

Xander put his boots back on, nodding. "As soon as I am able. Though, I can't say when that will be."

Hajime nodded, "They will be sorry they missed you."

"I'm sure they will get by well enough anyway." Xander grinned, then he bowed slightly. "Until the next time."

Hajime bowed back, "Until then."

And then Xander was gone.

Xander drove the Charger to an old address, one that he knew from memory, but had never visited. He pulled the car to a stop outside the classic home and was surprised to find that the lights were on.

He frowned, <Are they back?>

He got out of the car, shrugging under his coat as he gathered up a little courage and walked up to the door. He rang the bell and waited.

"Hello?" The gruff voice came as the door opened.

Xander looked up at the imposing form of Harry Tasker and then looked around, confused. "Sorry... is this 3211 Maple Road?"

"No." Harry said, shaking his head. "This is Pine road."

"Ah. Sorry. My bad."

"No problem." Harry said.

Xander nodded, "Well... I'll be going then."

"Right." Harry started to close the door.

Just as the door started to shut Xander looked up and saw the light reflected in the big man's eyes and shuddered. There was a haunted quality to them that sent a shiver right up Xander's spine.

<Dammit Faith. Why aren't you HOME??>

He turned and walked down the drive and back to his car.

Xander was just throwing his things onto the bed of his room when his cell rang. He flipped it open, "Hello..."

He blinked, then swallowed as the voice on the other side spoke.



"Yeah." Jack Ryan said, his voice thick with emotion. "Jim... Jim passed away this evening..."

Xander fell back onto the bed and stared blankly at the door as her listened to Jack speak.

"Kid? Alexander? You there?"

"Yeah, Jack. I'm here." Xander said, keeping his voice level. "What... I..."

"Jim..." Jack paused, "I think that Jim would have liked it if you came to the funeral."

Xander nodded, forgetting he was on the phone, then shook his head and spoke. "Yeah... I mean, Yes. I'd be honored."

"Good." Jack said, "I'll make the arrangements."


"I'll talk to you later, Alex... Xander."

"Ok... Oh... jack?"


"Thanks for calling me."

"X... Xander?"

Tara hesitantly pushed the door to the room open a hairline crack and peered in, something that was a move of monumental bravery for her. "X-X-Xander?"

There was a long moment of silence, something that worried Tara since she knew Xander was back and hadn't known him to ignore anyone in the past. She opened the door, then stood on the threshold and waited for him to yell at her for bothering him. When the yell did come she looked in.

Xander was sitting on his bed, looking pensively at the wall.

"Xander?" Tara got real brave and stepped hesitantly into the room, "A-a-are you ok?"

Xander nodded slowly, the first evidence that he was aware of her presence. "Yeah, Tare. I'm fine."

Tara could hear something in his voice was wasn't quite right and she took another hesitant step, "W-w-what is it?"

Xander took a breath and stood up, this time he was the one who wouldn't meet her eyes. "Jim Greer passed away this evening."


Oh. Tara had a way of condensing a ton of information in a single 'Oh'. Xander smiled sadly, looking at her as he shook his head, somewhat in awe of Willow for a moment. <That girl has a way of attracting people who manage to communicate an awful lot without saying much.>

"His funeral is in a few days." Xander said finally, "Full military honors. I'm going to stay in town to attend."


Xander walked over to her, "Tara, I haven't really pressed you on this... but do you know yet what you want to do? I mean... traveling with me can't be what you want to do."

Tara swallowed, not responding as she suddenly looked all around the room, even the dust suddenly more interesting then meeting Xander's eyes. "I d-d-don't know."

Xander nodded, "Well... think about it. My life is pretty dangerous, Tare... People die around me."

Tara suddenly looked at him, "M-m-mr Greer died of cancer... there was n-n-nothing you could do."

"I know," Xander admitted, "But that doesn't mean the next person to die won't be because of me. I live a violent life, Tara. I hunt demons, sometimes... sometimes I even hunt men."

"A-a-and if I wanted to join you?"

Xander's head snapped around, piercing Tara with a hard gaze. "You don't." He said flatly.

Then, before she could respond, he continued. "And even if you did... Tara, you haven't done more then read your mothers journals since we left Darynville. You refused any help I could offer with Magic... You haven't even cast a cleansing spell on any of the places we stayed. Tara, even if you wanted to travel with me... I can't have a defenseless witch at my back."

Xander's heart almost broke as she meekly nodded and vanished from the room so quickly it may as well have been magic.

He shook his head, closed the door, and looked to the ceiling. "Dammit, do I have to hurt everyone around me!?"

For the next two days Xander was relatively busy as he prepared for the upcoming funeral. Everything from tailoring sessions to have an appropriate suit cut for him, to a session with a barber to clean up his appearance and get rid of the dark fuzz he'd been accumulating on his face.

So it was that, cleaned up and on his way to pick up his new suit, Xander was stopped just before starting his car by the ringing on his phone.

"Harris." He said into the small flip phone as he leaned back in the seat and looked idly out at the street.

"Xander. It's Jack."

"Hey, Jack. I was just going to pick up my suit."

"About that," Jack's voice sounded tense. "You'll have to go to the funeral without me."

"What? Why? You going to be late?"

"I'm not going."

Xander came straight up in his seat, blinking furiously. "What? Jack... come on, I know Jim's death has hit you hard but..."

"Believe me," Jack Ryan growled out, "If it were just that then the devil himself couldn't keep me away. But something... work related has come up. I have to go out of town."

"What?" Xander snapped into the phone. From what he had seen nothing should have been enough to pull Ryan away from this funeral. "Why?"

"I can't tell you that."

Xander was silent for a moment.


"I'm here, Jack. Where are you?"

"At my office." Jack replied. "Why?"

"I'm coming over."

"No!" Jack said, then hesitated. "I'm packing up my things and then I'm going home to get some things... I'm catching a plane tonight."


"No, Look Xander... You're a good kid, but this is my business... my responsibility."

"Work related?"


Xander frowned, "Then it's bigger then you, Jack. Tell me one thing, is it dangerous?"

Xander heard the hesitation on the other end. "No."

"For a spy, you suck at lying." Xander said flatly. "Look, Jim has me on the lists as an independent, right?"

"Yeah, So?"

"So call me in, Jack." Xander said, "I'll come with you."

"Kid, I can't ask you too..."

"Dammit Jack, put me on the payroll if it makes you feel better, but I'm coming." Xander snapped with a finality in his voice. "Unless you want to test *my* contacts and see if I can't follow you no matter what you say."

There was a long silence, then finally. "Dulles. Tonight, I'm catching the red eye to Bogota. Leaves around three am."

"I'll be there." Xander said, "Don't try to sneak out on me, Jack. Your profile is way to high for you to skip under even my radar... and if I have to track you down I'll tell Cathy what you're up to."

Jack actually chuckled over the phone. "You play dirty."

"I play to win." Xander returned, "I'll see you at the plane, Jack. Oh, and Jack?"


"I'll need to bring along some tools of the trade."

Jack hesitated, "Ok. I'll have the tags ready to clear then under a diplomatic pouch."

Xander blinked. "Classy. Thanks."

"Alright. Bye."

Xander burst back into his room and started rifling through his things fast.


He looked back to see Mikki and Tara staring at him, "I have to go out of town."

"What? B-but the funeral?"

"Jim would understand." Xander said, sliding out the travel case for his weapons and snapping it open. He stripped off his guns and loaded them into the case quickly. "I'll leave you guys a couple cards and maybe Mrs Ryan can look in on you from..."


Xander turned around to see Mikki staring at him, the feral look in her eyes. "Mikki..."

"No. I'm coming."

"Mikki, you're twelve years old..." Xander said.

The twelve year old growled, shifting completely to her beastial form and snarling at him. Xander gulped, but refused to be cowed. "Mikki. Shift back. NOW. This is a hotel in downtown Washington... Jaguar's are NOT covered under the rental."

The little girl reluctant shifted back, now standing nude between him and Tara, but still glared at him. "I'm not going to be killed by the things that kill you. I'm coming."

Xander growled, only to have the young Were-beast growl right back.

Finally it was Xander who relented. "Jack isn't going to like this."

Tara looked at him, "I'm coming too."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Oh come on! What is this? Xander's a pushover day? Tara, you are NOT coming."

"I... a-am."

"Tara, bullets WILL kill you." Xander said, "And I already told you. I won't have a non-casting witch at my ba-"

Xander jumped and yelped as a small fireball scorched the ground at his feet. He stared down at the burnt carpet, then back at Tara. "I can't believe you did that! Do you know what that's going to cost??"

Tara, for once, didn't flinch. "If you go. I go."

Xander groaned. "God dammit. Why is it that every woman around me is crazier then I am??"

Mikki smirked up at him, "You must bring out the nuts."

Xander glared at her, "Not funny, young lady."

He sighed, looking over his things. Then a thought struck him, "Ah dammit. I've got to call Andy and tell him that I won't make the funeral."

Andrezj Konzaki lifted the phone receiver on the third ring, "Yeah?"

After a moment he nodded, "Hey, Kid. How's it in LA? What? Damn... No, No. I understand. I wish to hell I could go myself... but I've got some friends who would know me. Hey kid, I got a message here for ya... Some chick named Dana tried to get ahold of you through those jokers in Boston..."

"Kid? Kid? You there?"

Xander looked up at the ceiling and muttered a curse that caused Tara to flush.

"Dammit all, does *everything* have to hit at the same damned time!?" He shook his head, putting the phone back to his ear. "Yeah, Andy. I'm here. Give me her contact info."

He quickly jotted down the number, then told Andy good bye and dazedly hung up on the armorer.

"X-Xander? What is it?"

Xander shook his head, "It's nothing bad, Tara. I just heard from a friend that I've been looking for... well for a while now."

"That's good... right?" Tara asked uncertainly.

"It's complicated right now, that's all. I have to call her... you two better pack." Xander said, sighing as he started thumbing the number into his cell.

In a cheap hotel room, halfway across the country, a cell phone rang.

Two rings.

Three rings.


"Will someone get that!?" An annoyed voice screamed from the shower. "I need my shower to be happy, and you guys do NOT want a pissed off Slayer on your hands!"

Connor McManus dove for the pair of pants that held the cell phone and dug it out quickly, flipping it open. He grinned at his brother and winked as he spoke. "Faith's pants. She's not in 'em right now."

His face lost it's grin when the voice on the other end responded. "So what else is new?"

"Who is this?" He growled into the phone.

"Just hand the phone over to the cute brunette chick." The voice said, "I don't have time to chat up her flavor de jour."

Connor growled into the phone, "Now listen 'ere you little..."

"What is it Connor?" Murphy McManus asked, pushing in close to his brother so he could listen in to the phone.

"Oh, there's two of you." The voice said tiredly, "That means that you're either the brothers or Faith is feeling really frisky tonight."

The two brothers flushed.

"Look, could you pass the phone to the Brunette? She's gotta be hard to miss... Last time I checked, Faith without her pants on was a riveting sight." The voice asked, sounding annoyed and impatient. "So just give her the phone so you two can go back to whatever show she has you putting on for her..."

"Now listen 'ere you..." Connor tried again.

Faith stuck her head out the door, "Well!? Who is it?"

"Wrong number!" Connor called, turning to one side to hide the phone. He be damned before he let this pervert talk to his Sis.

Faith frowned, shaking her head, and popped back into the bathroom.

"Wrong number!?" The voice growled over the phone, then sighed and spoke with distaste. "Look. Just tell her that... Boytoy.... is on the phone."

"BOYTOY!?" Both brothers blurted out in shock.

Faith's head shot back out of the shower, "Boytoy!?"

In another second she came out of the shower, dripping wet and naked as the day she was born. As she charged the brothers she wrapped a towel around herself and snarled at them, "Give me my phone!"

Murphy rolled clear, leaving his brother to face the wrath of their Sis.

"Come on, Sis!" Connor shouted out, "I was just..."

Faith grabbed the phone from him, tucking the towel under her arm and then putting the phone up to her ear.

"Sis!?" Xander's voice came over the line.

"You two... OUT! NOW!" Faith snapped at the brothers as she smirked into the phone. "Don't call me that, Boytoy... That's just too kinky, even for me."

"Damn it Faith, why aren't you in Washington with your parents!?" Xander instantly snapped.

"I'm in Georgia, and don't you snap at me, Harris!" She growled right back, "I should ask you why you aren't in Sunnydale with Red!?"

"Because I'm in Washington looking for YOU!" Xander snapped. "I saw your dad a couple days ago, Faith... what the hell are you doing!?"

Faith fell silent for a long moment. "I'm chasing Kakistos."

Xander blinked, then sat down. "Jesus. Faith... Tell me you have backup on this."

"Connor and Murphy are here..."

"I mean *real* backup, Faith." Xander said sternly. "Not a couple newbie vamp hunters. Unless these guys are a lot more then I was told by Sharpe..."

"I have a guy named Robert too..." Faith said defensively. "He used to be a Watcher."

Xander groaned, "That does NOT make me feel better, Faith."

"He's ok, Boytoy." Faith said with a grin, "A lot like Jeeves, ya know?"

"Alright... fine..." Xander relented, "But Damn it, Faith... Kakistos is one nasty vamp."

"I know." Faith said, her voice firm. "But I can handle it, so unless you want to join me?"

To anyone else her voice would have sounded cocky and arrogant. But Xander could hear the almost plaintive request behind the cockiness. He sighed. "I can't. I'm booked on a Redeye to Bogota."

"What!?" It was Faith's turn to snap, "What the hell are you going to Bogota for!?"

"To help a friend." Xander returned. "Damn it..."

"No... You go. I'll get by, X." Faith said, causing Xander to wince at the rather clinical nickname. "I always do."

"Not so fast, Faith." Xander said, "You have a pen?"

"Huh? Why?"

"Just get one."

He heard her scramble for a pen, then come back a moment later. "Ok. What is it?"

"First thing," Xander said, "How are you for weapons?"

"Stakes, swords, a couple twelve guages..."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Call Andy, get a supply of thermite and silver ammo. And for god's sake, get some pistols and SMG's, Faith..."

"I tried. He wouldn't sell to me without better references then Sharpe." Faith smirked, "I don't think he trusts them."

"I'll clear it." Xander said, "Next... get ready to jot down some numbers..."

Xander gave Faith a list of everyone he knew, including contact numbers and locations. Then he continued, "And in California you can Call on Paige Mathews..."

"Whose the chick?"

"She's a lost Halliwell Sister." Xander said impatiently.

"Another charmed one? What's she like?"

"Like Phoebe... only wilder." Xander said before thinking, instantly cursing his tongue.

"Well well, has loverboy bagged another of the Wicked Wiccan Sisters?" Faith taunted him over the phone.

"I don't have time for this, Faith." Xander growled.

"Tough." Faith grinned, "So... Another notch in your belt, huh?"

"I don't rank people that way Faith. And you know it."

"Your loss. She any good?" Faith grinned, "I mean... you know, compared to Phoebe?"

"Faith..." Xander growled. "We don't have time for this. Her number is 510-555-3459... She's new, but she's got Leo watching her back and power to spare."

"Check." Faith said, muttering something under her breath about Xander holding back on her. "I think I'll give her a call... just to chat."


"Jeeeze, relax boytoy." Faith grinned, "If she's half as fun as Phoebe you shouldn't keep the wealth to yourself..."

Xander, by this point, was banging his head against the wall. "Faith... please... focus?"

"Alright... anything else?"

"Yeah." Xander gave her another number, "Call that number and ask for Kevin. Don't call him unless you need him, Faith... He's a busy man... but if you need him, tell him that I told you to call... He'll do you a favor... if only to get me back on the set later."


"Never mind."

"Right..." Faith said uncertainly, "So... You really can't make it?"

Xander shook his head, "God I wish I could, Faith. But I've committed myself to another mission."

Faith sighed, "I understand... I wish I could join you. Some time on the beach in South America sounds like fun."

Xander thought about Jack's voice over the phone and shook his head, "I doubt it'll be a beach tour, Faith."

"I know. You take care of that butt, Boytoy." Faith said, humor coming back into her voice. "I want it to be in good shape when we meet up again."

"Faith!" Xander groaned into the phone.

"Gotcha, Boytoy." She smirked, "I'll catch ya on the flip."

"Not if I see you coming."

Faith laughed, said goodbye, and hung up.

Xander sighed, snapping the phone shut, and got up. He grabbed his coat and looked at his watch for a moment. He nodded, then walked over to Tara's door and knocked.


"I'm going out for a while. Be packed and ready to move by midnight."


Xander sighed as he looked up at the house for only the seconds time in his life.

<Damn you Faith. You should be doing this yourself.> He thought as he knocked on the door.

It was late but there was still a light on, and a moment after he knocked the hall light flicked on as well.


"Mr Tasker... Would you mind if I came in?" Xander asked, "It's about Dana."

The door flew open and the walking mountain that was Harry Tasker came out onto the doorstep, his eyes flashing their whites as he grabbed Xander by the collar. "What do you know about Dana!?"

Xander let the grip pass, not retaliating. He'd expected a greeting along these lines, "She's a friend of mine. I got a call from her through a contact tonight... First time I spoke to her in several months... I thought you'd like to know that she's ok."

Tasker dropped his grip and Xander straightened his coat.

"Where's my daughter?"

"I'm not really sure." Xander replied, "Look... standing out here like this is going draw some stares... you mind if I come in?"

Harry Tasker stepped back, nodding his head inside.

Xander nodded back and walked in.

"Harry, who was at the..." Helen Tasker paused as she tightened her robe and stared at Xander. "Who are you?"

"Name's Xander, Ma'am." Xander nodded once.

"He say's he knows Dana." Harry growled, shutting the door.

Helen's eyes widened, "You know Dana? Where is she? Where is my little girl??"

Xander shook his head, "I'm sorry. I don't know exactly. I've been trying to track her for months... Tonight was the first time I talked to her in all that time... all I know for certain is that she's alive and well."

Helen collapsed onto the stairs, "Oh thank god."

"Who has my daughter!?" Harry turned Xander around by the shoulder.

Xander chuckled dryly. "No one *has* her. She's flying solo... well, not quite. She's got a pair of brothers and another guy along for the ride... but she's calling the shots."


"Faith... Dana..." Xander sighed, "Look, she's fine... she's looking to buy a ton of trouble, but she can handle herself and I've given her all the help I can... so I'm not too worried..."

Xander shook his head and took a breath, "Dammit. I know this isn't the way to do this... But I just wanted to let you know that she's ok."

Harry grabbed him again, "Give me her number! She must have given it to you!"

Xander winced as he hit the wall, but still didn't fight back. "Yes. She gave it to me. But Dana KNOWS you. She knows your resources, and what you can do to find her. If you call her, she'll ditch her phone and then *I* will lose my only contact with her. I can't risk that."

"TELL ME!" Harry roared, pulling Xander forward and slamming him back.

Xander brought his hands up fast, striking the pressure points in Harry's arms with a series of blinding moves that left the big guy's arms numb and limp. "I *can't*!"

Harry fell back in surprise, then growled and struck out at Xander with a heavy haymaker.

Xander ducked under it, rolling clear and coming to his feet behind the big man. "Listen to me! I can't tell you! If I do then she might stop talking to me! I won't betray my friends!"

Harry turned around, roaring in fury as he brought his fist up for another strike.

"Harry!" Helen Tasker threw herself on Harry's arm, weighing it down and slowing him just enough. "Stop this! This won't help!"

Xander stood his ground watching as the big man slumped slightly, almost sighing as he just sunk in on himself. Xander swallowed as he watched the man come to the edge of tears, whether rage of sorrow, Xander couldn't tell. "I'm sorry." Xander whispered.

"Why won't our daughter come home? Why won't she talk to us?" Helen asked, distraught.

Xander shook his head. "She feels that she has a job to finish. Something she needs to do... and she knows that if you guys get involved, you'll keep her from it. When it's done... she'll be back."

"What kind of job?"

Xander sighed. This wasn't going to be easy. He looked at Harry, "It's personal for Dana. That's all I can say."

"Why you..." Harry started forward, but Helen stopped him.

"How do you know so much about us?" Helen asked, "How do you know we'd trace her call."

Xander smiled, "Why don't you give Spence my regards... tell him I'm sorry about the elevator incident."

"That was you?" Helen asked.

Xander nodded, then checked his watch. "Look... I have to go..."

"You're not going anywhere!" Harry snapped, reaching for him.

Xander dodged past the outstretched arms and calmly opened the door. He sighed, then tossed them a card. "Here. My number. Don't try to trace it, please... if you do I'll just have to get another phone."

With that he tossed the card to Helen and then slipped out the door and vanished into the night.

Harry flung the door open wide and rushed out, only to look around at nothing bu the night air. "Damn it! Where did he go!?"

"Harry..." Helen said softly, "Come inside... you'll catch cold."

Xander watched from the shadows as Harry Tasker hugged his wife and they both went back inside. He shook his head, feeling sick to his stomach. <Damn it, Faith. If you let Kakistos kill you, I'll make sure that Metatron makes heaven a living hell for you.>

With that last thought he slipped back and jogged silently to where he parked his Charger.

Jack Ryan looked up as he saw Xander approach through the crowd at the airport. His eyes widened as he saw the two girls in two.

"Are you insane?" He grabbed Xander by the arm, hissing, "You can't bring a child on a CIA mission..."

"You want to tell her that?" Xander retorted.

Jack glanced involuntarily at the little girl and fell back in shock as he saw the tawny yellow cat eyes glaring back. "What the hell?"

"I'll explain later." Xander said, handing him a silver case. "Here. Check this while I pick up our tickets. You have yours yet?"

Jack took the case, nodding and looking confused as Xander brushed past him. "They can't come!"

Xander sighed, "Trust me when I say that I already tried that angle. They... proved more determined then I was."

"Right." Mikki glared up at Jack, causing him to jump back, but when he looked down her eyes were merely a deep brown. For a long moment Jack thought that he had been seeing things.

He looked around, frustrated. "Alright. Fine. But they stay in the hotel. This is too damned dangerous."

Xander walked back over, "If you can make them stay, more power to you. Just to warn you though, Tara almost fried my toes when I tried that angle."

"What?" Jack looked over to the blond girl who was staring at her feet.

"Just don't push her." Xander said dryly. "The Tiger over there has a nasty bite."

Jack let himself be led to the gate, a little dazed by the sudden turns of fortune. "I can't believe this..."

"Tell me about." Xander commiserated. "No matter where I turn I get ordered around by women..."

"That I believe."

Xander snorted, "I know. I've met your wife."

Jack shot him a dirty look as they crossed over the metal detector. The alarm went off and the security guard ushered Xander aside.

"Please empty your pockets, Sir..."

Xander flipped his cross off his neck and handed it to the guard, "Probably this."

The guard motioned him back through the alarm and he passed without trouble so the guard handed the cross back and waved the next person through. Xander walked up beside Jack and they continued down the corridor to the plane. "So, tell me what happened? Why Bogota?"

Jack shook his head, breathing out a long breath, then hissed over to Xander. "Some... elements in the CIA have seen fit to cut off American soldiers in Columbia. They cut their satellite comms and left them in the jungle to die. I won't let that happen."

Xander nodded, "Ok. Tell me what you can on the plane... we'll pull this off."

Langley, Virginia - CIA HQ

The voice came over the speaker phone quite clearly, and it was pissed.

"Where is my Satellite!? My boys are out in the jungle without support!"

"I'm sorry Mr Clark. There's nothing I can do, the op has been canceled."

The voice sighed, "Alright... Just give me the signal back for an hour... I just need to get them out."

"I'm afraid you don't understand. When I say canceled, I mean canceled. " Ritter said, "I can't turn it back on."

"Goddamn it, Cutter! My men are out there without support!" The voice was seriously ticked, and growing madder.

"I'm sorry, Clark. There's nothing I can do..." Ritter paused for effect. "Jack Ryan himself signed the order."

"Ryan..." Clark seethed. "That steam pressed prick. I'll *kill* him."

There was a meaningful pause in the room as the two men present looked at each other. The second man stepped forward. "Mr Clark, This is James Cutter, Deputy Director of Operations. I can personally assure you that if something untoward should happen to Mr Ryan, then Reciprocity will be green lighted."

There was a long silence.

"I understand."

Bogota, Columbia - Airport

"I'll get the luggage." Xander said as they stepped into the airport. "Be right back."

Jack nodded, sighing as he looked around at the airport. "We'll be over by the door."

Jack walked to the door as Xander went back to the luggage claim. As he approached the door his eyes widened as he recognized the man standing there.

He blinked and smiled hesitantly. "Clark... I was looking..."

He stopped as Clark stepped forward and jammed a pistol into his ribs. "Just be nice and quiet."

Ryan stared into the cold blue eyes of the man who was holding the pistol under his arm and shivered. "What is..."

"I said, shut up!" Clark hissed.

Xander walked back to the door, frowning as he saw a familiar face next to Ryan. He remembered the man from England, but this time something in his posture and movements were setting off alarm bells across the board.

<Something's up.> He thought as he approached, noting that the man hadn't seemed to have noticed Mikki ir Tara. He was expecting Jack to be alone.

Xander put on a grin as he walked up to Jack Ryan, forcing a tone of youthful exuberance into his voice. A tone he hadn't used himself in almost two years.

"Hey dad," He said, looking at Jack. "Who's your friend?"

Clark couldn't believe his ears. He glared at Jack, "You brought your *kids* here on vacation after what you did!?"

Xander stepped up to Jack's side, still putting on the confused kid act. "Well Dad?"

"This is... uh..." Jack swallowed, "Mr Clark... He's a *friend* of Mr Greer's..."

Xander processed this, standing down slightly, and looked to Mr Clark. "I'm sorry about Mr Greer..."

"What?" Clark looked between the 'kid' and Jack. "What about Jim?"

"Jim... uh... died a couple days ago."

"Damn." Clark looked down for a moment, then back up. "But that doesn't change anything. You... and your 'family'... in the car. Now."

Xander watched as Mr Clark went about setting up a satellite phone, the big pistol never leaving his hand. Clark had dropped all pretense once they were in the car and away from the airport, though he had exercised a lot of restraint when introduced to the girls. Xander still found the 'lost' look on the man's face to be amusing.

He'd cuffed the four of them to chairs in what was obviously his base of operations, and was now making a call.

Xander listened quietly, holding the unlatched cuffs so they looked like he was still restrained. It had taken him three seconds longer then his record to defeat the cuffs, and he was just as Glad that Amanda wasn't around to tease him about it.

Mikki looked pissed off, but he'd ordered her to stand down with a simple glance. Tara, on the other hand, looked almost comfortable with the situation. As if she'd come to expect such treatment. And THAT sent shivers up Xander's back.

He shook the thought off and turned his attention back to Clark.

"Is it done?" A voice came over the speaker of the phone as Clark held a gun on the gagged form of Jack Ryan.

Clark nodded, "It's done. Now give me back my Satellite."

There was a pause, then the phone went offline.

Clark growled, ripping the gag off Jack's mouth and snapped, "What the hell are you doing in Bogota?"

Xander stood up silently, and drifted across the room like a ghost behind Clark's back. He had reached the table where his weapons case was stashed a few seconds later.

Clark felt an itch climb the back of his neck and suddenly spun around to see Ryan's son standing calmly at the table behind him, unsnapping a metal case.

"We came down here to get your men out." Xander said calmly. "If you don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you untied Mr Ryan... He can't do his job tied to that chair."

Clark brought his .45 to bear on Xander, glaring at the 'boy'. "Who the hell are you!?"

"Sam as you." Xander shrugged, pulling his pistols out of the case. "An independent operative that occasionally does some work for the CIA."

"Hey, hey! Hey! Put those down!" Clark waved his gun lightly at Xander.

"We're here to help." Jack Ryan said.

"Who is we!?" Clark asked sarcastically. "You and three kids?"

Xander shucked off his coat and slipped the pistol harness over his shoulders. "I'm older then I look."

"Oh well stupid me." Clark muttered, "And those two?"

Xander looked over at them, "They aren't."

"So you brought a couple children on a black op?" Clark shook his head, glaring at Jack. "What the hell has the CIA come too?? The KGB had better morals!"

Xander glanced over at the two girls. "What are you two waiting for?"

Tara looked up hesitantly, "Y... you're not going to uncuff us?"

"If you can't get out of those, you don't have any business being here." Xander replied, "And I'll be leaving you here until the job is done."

Mikki snarled instantly, her eyes shifting, and her hands slimming into lightly furred paws. The cuffs slid off and clattered to the floor and she stood up, glaring at Xander and Clark.

"Whoa! Whoa! What the hell was that!?"

"Tara?" Xander looked at her pointedly.

"I... I... can't..."

Clark felt bad about the girl and took a step to unlock her cuffs. Xander stopped him with an arm across the chest. "Leave her. She has to learn what she's getting herself into."


"Tara..." Xander ignored Clark. "What do you know about handcuffs?"

"The... they're metal..." She answered hesitantly. "A-a-and mechanical..."

"Right..." Xander smiled approvingly. "So what can you do?"

She clenched her eyes shut for a moment, then whispered two words. "Aciere Frigita..."

Xander smiled widely. "Perfect."

She nodded, then jerked her hands apart. The cuffs shattered into millions of fragments that rained down across the floor as she got up.

"What the hell!?"

Xander ignored Clark again and walked up to Tara as she was about to rub her wrists. "Don't. Let me see..."

She let him lift her wrists up to his eyes.

"Mild frostbite." He admonished, "You should have insulated your wrists first, Tara."


"Don't rub them, it'll cause tissue damage." Xander said, "I'll show you how to accelerate healing later... for now..."

He turned around, looking at Clark. "You have a burn kit here?"

Clark, not taking his eyes off the blond, nodded. "Yeah... in the medkit under the table..."

"Thanks." Xander said, retrieving the kit while the confused Clark looked over at Jack Ryan.

"What?" Jack asked.

"Well, aren't you going to pull some trick to get out of the cuffs?" Clark asked sarcastically.

Jack glared at him, "Just unlock me already."

Some time later, with Clark still looking at the group with some suspicion, he, Jack, and Xander poured over a map.

"This is where the next rendezvous is." He said, pointing out a spot on the map.

"How do we get there?" Jack asked.

Clark and Xander spoke at the same time, "Chopper."

"Do we have a chopper?"

Clark smiled at Jack. "That's where I'm hoping you come in."

Jack nodded, "Alright... I'll see what I can do."

Clark looked at the two girls, "What about them?"

Xander sighed, "They're coming. They've earned the chance. Besides, in the jungle... I want Mikki on our side."

"Huh? What's so special about her?" Clark asked, frowning.

"Let's just say that instincts will serve us well, Right Mik?"

The little girl smiled such a feral grin that it sent a chill up even the spine of John Clark.

Clark swallowed, wondering if he'd simply gone insane and was hallucinating the whole thing. <They say that stress is cumulative... maybe I finally burned out?>

Jack Ryan frowned, looking over the old Huey chopper and shaking his head. It looked like it probably served in Nam, but it was the best he'd found. He quickly located the owner. "I want to rent the chopper."

The man looked up, "It's not for rent. You can buy it if you like."

"How much?" Jack asked, curious.

"Three million American dollars."

Jack laughed lightly, "Look, I only need it for a day."

"Three million American Dollars." The man shrugged.

Jack sighed, "Look can I take it for a test flight?"

The man nodded, "Just leave a damage deposit."

Jack reached for his wallet, "How much?"

"Three million american dollars."

Jack Ryan sighed, pulled out his wallet, and shook his head. "Will you take a company check?"

The man looked up to tell the man to go fuck himself, but the American had already shoved a card into his hand. He looked at it.

Central Intelligence Agency.

John Clark nodded as he checked out the chopper. "Ok. That'll do."

He shoved his pilot along and forced the quasi-sober man into the pilot's seat, then proceeded to start loading equipment into the back seat. Beside him, the kid was doing the same with smooth economical motion that felt familiar to the Ex-SEAL. Clark still didn't like the idea of taking what seemed to be three children into the Columbian jungle, but he had to admit that each of them had a certain something under the surface that belied their apparent fragility.

When Jack Ryan, however, tried to get on the chopper Clark instantly stopped him. "You're not getting on my chopper."

"*My* Chopper." Ryan said, shoving a receipt in Clark's face.

Clark grabbed it and looked at it, stunned. <The crazy SOB actually *bought* this piece of junk.> "Fine. Get aboard."

Clark shook his head, muttering under his breath. "What the hell am I doing? Feels like I'm running a jungle tour to kiddies and paper pushers."

Xander hung loosely out the open door of the Huey, watching the ravine race by underneath them. He amped his eyesight up as high as he could, scouring the ground ahead and below. On the other side he knew that Clark was scanning through the powerful binoculars they had brought along.

"Hey!" Jack tapped him on the shoulder.

"What?" Xander glanced back, noticing that Jack was offering a candy bar. He took it, nodding his thanks, casually ripping the wrapper off and taking a bite of the bar as he scanned the ground ahead.

"Blech!" He spit the bar out. "God, that's horrible!"

<Alexander...> Elan's voice echoed in his mind, <You might want to tone down the enhancement of your eyes when eating...>

<Huh? Why?>

<Where do you think your mind gains the extra processing power?>

Xander grimaced, looking at the candy bar. Then he sighed and took a bite of the bar and chewed through the taste as he scanned the ground ahead. <No time.>

<As you will.>


"Where?" Clark shouted back.

"About three quarters of a klick ahead!" Xander shouted, "In an eddy pool on the left!"

Clark frowned, leaning further out of the chopper and focusing his binoculars to where the kid said. "Well I'll be damned... Alright! Put us down over there!"

The pilot looked over his shoulder, "You're the boss!"

The Chopper hovered low over the eddy pool and Xander dropped out, landing in the water up to his knees. He quickly moved across to the body he'd spotted and pulled the man to the rocky shore, flipping him over onto his back.

Beside him John Clark landed a few seconds later and knelt down by the body. He shook his head, cursing. "It's one of mine alright."

Xander felt a shiver tun up his spine and he looked around nervously.

Clark caught the look and nodded, "You feel it, huh?"

"What is it?"

"We're being watched."

Xander shivered despite the heat and nodded, "What do you want to do?"

"Hope it's one of ours and not with the drug lords." Clark said simply.

"Oh that makes me feel really good." Xander muttered sarcastically, thumbing his radio. "Hey Mik, how do you feel about a little run in the jungle?"

Clark moved to speak, but was startled into crouching for cover when he heard a loud snarl from a great cat above his head, rising over even the sound of the rotor blades. He rolled for cover and went for his gun as the black Jaguar landed a short distance away, then turned back to look at them curiously.

"Holy shit!" He cursed, lifting his M-4 from where it was hanging on his web gear.

"Don't! Xander snapped, holding his hand up. Then he knelt down as the wild cat padded softly up to him. He lifted his radio off his head and tied it around the cat's neck, hushing it as the beast voiced it's annoyance. "Cut that out. You'll need to talk with us... if he's one of ours we don't want him hurt..."

The cat growled lightly, but seemed to acquiesce.

Xander smiled, "Good girl. Now track along the ravine... chances are whoever it is left a scent trail nearbye..."

As the cat turned and padded off, Xander called out. "And Mik?"

The cat glanced back.

"Don't get shot."

The cat gave him a look of supreme condescension, then turned and ran into the jungle.

Clark looked after the cat with wide eyes, not believing what he'd just seen. As he was about to speak, a metal canteen from the chopper nearly took his head off, making him jump again. Clark picked up the canteen and sniffed it. He thumbed his radio and glared up at the chopper. "What the hell do you think you're doing!? You almost took my head off!"

His pilot's voice came back a few seconds later, sounding stunned. "Oh my dear sweet lord in heaven, I swear that I'll never touch another drop as long as I live..."

Clark looked up, sighing. "You'd better set her down over on the rocks... before you crash our only way out of here!"

Jack Ryan shivered as he watched the Jaguar vanish into the trees. "Oh Jesus... Jesus, jesus, jesus..."

Tara smiled hesitantly at him, "If he's up there, I think h-h-h-he's probably heard you by now..."

Jack fixed her with a wide eyed stare, "Who are you people!?"

Tara shrugged, "M-m-maybe you should ask Xander that."

Jack nodded slowly. "Yeah. Ask Xander... sure..."

The big chopper slowly came in for a landing and Jack watched as Xander and Clark jogged up to her. Xander looked at the pile of kid-sized clothes on the floor of the chopper and shrugged, "This could get really awkward when she gets a little older."

Jack's mouth worked for a while but no sound came out.

"Jesus Christ, Ryan!" Clark cursed him out, "What the fuck are you guys in the Agency doing now anyway!?"

Jack just shook his head, raising his hands in an awkward defense.

Mikki ran through the jungle foliage with an easy loping pace, remembering days from her past when she ran through her home forests along with her parents and siblings. True, the Mexican jungle was a little different then here, mostly the smells, but it was still the same.

She spotted a tiny opening in the jungle mesh and dove carefree through it, only to snag the radio she had on a branch. She snarled, shaking the branch free and started moving a little more carefully as she thought dismal thoughts about modern technology and it's place in the jungle.

Irritated she shook herself, clearing the dust from her pelt as she glared back at the offending branch. Finally she turned and started jogging up the scent trail she'd already found.

Someone had passed through here not very long ago.

Domingo Chavez moved silently through the jungle growth, careful to shield his rifle from the sun. He didn't want a stray glint off his scope marking his position. From where he had been it was hard to tell exactly who was in the chopper, the only thing he knew for certain was that whoever it was wasn't using approved channels to make contact, so the odds of them being friendly wasn't nearly as good as Ding would have liked.

He jogged softly along an old trail that was fairly overgrown, trying to get to a rock outcropping he'd scouted two days earlier. From there he'd be able to get a clear shot at the newcomers.

Mikki paused, listening ahead. There was a sound that she almost... no, she lost it. The were-jaguar growled low in her throat, wondering if she had imagined it. She shook her head, trying to shift the radio to a more comfortably position as the little device set shivers along her muscled pelt.

She tried to shake it around a little more, then took off after the scent.

Ding reached the outcropping, sliding easily down to his belly as he let the barrel of the big rifle poke over the edge and he set his eyes against the scope. As he was tracking along the ravine a shiver suddenly went down his spine and he flipped over to his back automatically.

Right there, dead in the sights of his rifle was a black Jaguar watching him curiously.

"Nice kitty..." He said, his mouth suddenly going dry as he flicked the safety off the rifle.

As the ominous click echoed through the air the cat suddenly arced it's back and snarled hatefully at him. Sweat instantly beaded on his forehead as Ding let his finger slide down to the trigger.

As his digit brushed the small lever the cat suddenly leapt to the side and vanished from sight.

Ding lay on his back, looking up at the sky and whispering a short prayer. "Madre de dios..."

He looked warily around, shaking his head, then slid back into position. As he looked back into the scope another sound sent a cold chill through him.

It was a throaty cough practically right on top of him. Ding slowly turned around, rolling onto his back, and looked up.

All he saw was a blur as a heavy form slammed into his chest and sat there like a huge lead weight. Ding's eyes had clenched instinctively for an instant, and when he opened them he saw the black cat staring back at him with huge unblinking eyes.

Ding tried to reach slowly for his pistol, but a throaty snarl and a heavy paw on the weapon soon changed his mind. The same reaction was forthcoming when he made a move for his knife, and Ding finally just lay back and started praying.

Ding was committing his soul to God when the cat scratched at something on it's shoulder and a radio slipped off it's head and landed on Ding's chest. Then the cat coughed again and nudged the radio to Ding with it's nose.

Ding, his eyes wide, took the small earpiece from the radio and fitted it to his ear. "Ummm..." He cleared his throat. "Hello?"


The voice over the radio was clearly not that of Mikki, in any incarnation, and it caused Clark and Xander to blink.

"You recognize him?" Xander asked, looking over at Clark.

Clark nodded, thinking hard. He thumbed his mike open, "Present yourself Soldier."

There was a brief pause, then the voice came back. "Domingo Chavez, Sir. Ninja Hu-ah."

Clark frowned. The exuberence and cockiness that was usually in the young soldier's voice was utterly gone. "Give me a Sitrep."

"Sir. I'm laying on my back with one big mutherfuckin cat sitting on my chest, Sir."

Clark's eyes widened, and he noted to himself that given the circumstances the kid's voice was damned calm and controlled.

Xander looked at Clark and grinned, "He one of ours?"

Clark nodded.

Xander thumbed his own radio. "Chavez, tell the cat that Xander says to stand down."

Clark looked at him, "You really think he'll buy that?"

Xander grinned, "Right about now I'm pretty sure he'd take out a mortgage on the brooklyn bridge if someone said that'd get Mikki off his chest."

Clark just stared at him.

Xander cracked a grin, "What? You thought I'd bring a *normal* twelve year old into the jungle with me? I'm crazy as they come, Clark, but I sure as hell didn't save her from a mob just to get her killed down here."

Ding looked up at the cat, who was still staring down at him with it's huge eyes.

"Umm.... Xander says to stand down?" He said hesitantly.

The big cat cought again, a deep throaty sound, but didn't move.

Ding was about to thumb the transceiver again when his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open at the site of the big cat *changing*. A few seconds later he had a very light and VERY naked child sitting on his chest, looking down at him and giggling.

"What the F-" Ding just caught himself before cursing in front of the little girl.

Jack, Clark, and Xander walked up the ravine in the direction Mikki had gone until they caught site of movement ahead.

Domingo Chavez emerged from the jungle holding the hand of a giggling little girl who was practically hopping along beside him. Xander frowned at the humor and happiness shown in the little girl, not understanding it after what he'd seen of her for the past while.

<It is her beast form, Xander.> Elan responded to his unvoiced question, <She is a true blood... they are as much beast as man... too much time in one form or the other and they lose their way. She needed the freedom.>

Xander nodded, moving forward with the bundle of clothes for Mikki. He smiled at her and kneeled down as he came up to her. "Have fun?"

She nodded while he fitted her t-shirt over her head. "I'm glad... You look very nice when you smile, Mik."

She actually got shy on him for a second while letting him get the shirt over her head, barely acknowledging his comment.

Beside him Ding was staring down at him and Mikki with wide eyes and utter shock on his face.

John Clark paid a hand on his shoulder, "I know how you feel."

Ding looked up, his eyes alighting on Clark's face, and the shock vanished in an instant as he grabbed Clark by the shirt. "You left us out here to DIE! You sunuva BITCH! You let us die out here!"

The two grappled around for a bit while the others stared at them ins surprise. It was Jack Ryan who was the first to jump in and rip the two warriors apart. "It wasn't his FAULT!"

Ding glared up at him from where he had fallen to the ground, "Oh Yeah!? Then who's fault was it, SIR!?"


There was a long silence.

The Jack turned away, his face a mask of grief. "It was my fault, Soldier."

The ride back in the chopper was a quiet one.

The Pilot was still muttering a vow about never drinking again, while Jack, Clark, and Chavez sat with an almost eerie tension growing between them. Tara was as quiet as she always was, while Mikki seemed to be growing more and more nervous as the tension on the big chopper grew.

Xander was silent for another reason. He was thinking about the three filled body bags in the back of the chopper and remembering the deaths he had seen and caused in the past... and future.

So, after a long and teeth grinding flight, the 'skyline' of Bogota was once again in site. By this point Clark and Chavez had finally worked out some sort of silent agreement and were again talking.

"Most of the guys were taken after the ambush." Chavez said, pointing to a point on the map. "They hit them here, while I was scouting ahead."

Ryan looked at the map, then produced another. "I don't know where they'd be taken... but I know who will."

Clark and Chavez looked up at him with an odd look. "Who?"

Ryan smiled a little nervously, "The guy who took them."

"How the hell are you going to get anything out of Escobedo??"

"I know something about his chief man that he desperately needs to know."

Ernesto Escobedo looked up as one of his men burst into the room, "There is an American at the doors."

Escobedo shrugged, "So?"

"He gave me this card." The man handed a card to Escobedo.

Ernesto looked at the card, his eyes widening. After a moment he nodded and spoke slowly, "Show Mr Ryan in... search him... but be polite."

"Yes Sir."

"So Mr Ryan... What brings you to Bogota?"

Jack Ryan smiled politely at the man who stood for everything he detested and shrugged, "A bookkeeping error, actually."

"Oh? Sounds rather dull."

"Not when the error is of this magnitude." Ryan said easily, "It seems that one of your business partners misplaced a sizable sum of money."

"Oh? I must speak with my accounting department then."

Ryan smiled thinly, "Yes... That would be a good idea."

"How much are we talking about?" Ernesto asked with careful casualness.

<Got you you bastard.> Ryan thought as he shrugged, looking bored. "Six hundred million... and change."

"Six hundred million?" Ernesto asked, still looking calm. "I really MUST talk to bookkeeping."

"And Change." Ryan added, smiling ironically.

"Are you ah... offering to help with the collection?"

"No." Ryan shook his head, "I'm here to help you with another matter. But first I must inquire as to the state of the men you recently..."

"Rescued from the jungle?" Ernesto smiled.

Ryan shrugged, "If you wish."

"They are well... but who knows how long that will last..." Ernesto shrugged, "The jungle is such a harsh environment... and medical care is quite expensive here..."

"If I could have the tape recorder your men took from me?" Ryan asked. "I think I might have something to offer you... in exchange for letting me take the burden of those poor rescuees off your hands."

Ernesto motioned to one of his men who produced the small micro-cassette recorder.

"Press the play button." Ryan said.

Ernesto handed the player to Ryan, "Why don't you?"

Ryan shrugged and hit play, letting the voice ont he tape play out. As it ran through Ernesto grew madder and madder, his face reddening as he heard his most trusted man plotting to kill him to appease elements of the US Government.

Felix Cortez stepped into the home offices of his boss, Ernesto Escobeda, more curious then anything. "Ernesto? Why is it you have called me?"

Escobeda was calmly standing off to one side, casually toying with a baseball bat that he normally kept in the corner. "I have someone here I'd like you to meet..."

Cortez glanced over to where a man was looking out the window. As he turned, Felix hissed in shock as he recognized the man. "Ernesto... You can not believe anything this man has to say... he works for the..."

"CIA." Jack Ryan smiled, "Yes. I told him already."

"He told me that... and so much more." Ernesto said, taking a practice swing of the metal bat. "Have you had any words with your contacts in America recently?"

"Nothing particularly..." Cortez cut off as his voice came to him from the small tape player, promising to overthrow Escobedo and take over his business. Cortez lifted his hands, "I can explain, Ernesto..."

Ernesto snarled, suddenly swinging the bat viciously and connecting with Cortez's chest. "Explain to God you traitorous bastard!"

Jack Ryan flinched at the sudden brutal act, but stayed close to the window.

Cortez dodged the next shit, waving his hands and snapping out an order. "Stop him!"

Around them the 'loyal' guards of Escobedo snapped to action, all but three of them aiming their guns at Escobedo himself.

Jack Ryan tensed suddenly as the first shots went off, and suddenlt the room was filled with flying bullets.

Domingo Chavez watched the sudden burst of motion through the scope of his rifle, watching as one of the Tango's aimed his weapon at Ryan.

"That's a no no." Ding whispered, smiling as he stroked the trigger and felt the rifle buck against his shoulder.


Chavez didn't look away from the suite as he responded, "One Tango down. At least six more active and hostile to our man."

"Take them as you get a shot." Clark ordered calmly.

Ding nodded, "A-ffirmitive."

Clark turned back and thumbed his radio, "Mobile to Hawk, Mobile to Hawk, come in Hawk..."

Back at the chopper the pilot was stairing at his last bottle of whisky, shaking his head. "I couldn't have seen what I saw... It musta been the drink... right? Right? Right!?"

"Mobile to Hawk," The radio crackled, "Mobile to Hawk, come in Hawk..."

The pilot jerked upright, tossing away the bottle with a tired throw, and pulled on the headset. "Mobile, this is Hawk... talk to me."

Xander twitched as he watched the events unfold across the distance that separated him from fighting. He hated being on the outside of this one, but there hadn't been any alternative from the start. Jack would have had an even harder time getting in if he had shown up with anyone else.

When the shooting started he started as well.

"Here." He tossed his coat to Clark, "Hold onto that. It's worth more the Jack makes in a year."

Clark barely caught the coat, then stared in shock as Xander bolted for the edge of the roof. "Kid! What the hell are you doing!?"

Xander didn't answer as he took a run at the end of the roof he was standing on, jumping with all the strength he could muster between his own force and Elan's added power. The alley was narrow, so clearing that wasn't particularly hard, but when he landed the wall surrounding the Drug Lord's Bogota compound wasn't the sturdiest construction he'd ever seen.

The flimsy section gave way as he rolled across it, barely lasting long enough for Xander to come to a spider-crawl past it's broken edges. As the wood dropped down into the area below, Xander grinned widely. <Damn that was nuts.>

<Damn that was nuts!> Clark thought as he watched Xander scuttle along the roof of the compound, skimming over sections of board and concrete that were falling apart from misuse and under maintenance.

Clark hit his radio, "Chavez, be advised, we have a friendly inbound to Ryan's position."

Chavez glanced across the compound with his free eye, never taken the other off the rifle's scope. "A-Firmative. Have him noted... doesn't look anything like the hostiles. Will avoid."

After that he calmly shifted aim and let another 7.62Nato round burn across the way and drill into a man who was trying to shoot Ryan in the back.

When the first shot cracked through the window, Ryan froze in place long enough to be certain he wasn't going to jump into Ding's line of fire, then he dove for the fallen man and grabbed his weapon.

"Stay away from the windows!" Cortez ordered in the awkward silence that followed.

With the gun in hand Ryan scrambled across the room, diving across the expensive coffee table and grabbing at the small radio the drug baron's men had taken from him. As he scrambled to his feet he heard the crack of another rifle shot quickly follow the shattering of glass and turned around just in time to see another man go down to Chavez' rifle.

"Good kid." He muttered, shaking his head in wonder at the crap he seemed able to get himself into, then ran for the door.

"Get HIM!" Felix Cortez cursed, waving his men out of the room after Ryan. After they had gone he growled down at the unconscious body of his former 'boss'. "You stupid old man."

A lone pistol shot rang through the room a moment later, and Cortez made his way out of the room while being careful to stay clear of the windows.

Ryan ran through the corridors, fitting the radio to his ear as he did. As soon as it was in place he thumbed the transceiver, "They're in the compound! Escobedo took them here! They're in the compound!"

He didn't wait for the acknowledgment, instead opting to eject the clip from his weapon and check the load, muttering to himself as he did. "MP-5... Full clip... Thirty five rounds... probably seventy five soldiers... Jesus Jack you do know how to step in it, don't you?"

With that established he slapped the clip back into the weapon and ran down the hall, more to evade his pursuers then with any real direction in mind.

He stumbled down a stone stairway, and stumbled right into a cartel gunmen. Ryan's MP-5 stuttered a short burst, causing the man to fall back and roll down the stairs. As the echo of the shots faded he heard yelling come from up ahead, and took off toward the source, hoping it was the right way.

"Where is he!?" Clark snapped into the radio.

"No contact." Chavez just repeated. "No contact."

"Dammit." Clark cursed, looking around, "Where the hell is that chopper??"

Ryan stumbled into the makeshift dungeon, looking around wildly as he waved the machine gun around. The soldiers behind the bars fell back a couple steps, uncertain what to make of the guy in the suit with the gun.

"Americans?" Ryan snapped once.

The recognized the tone instantly, hearing the military snap under the man's apparently soft exterior and responded accordingly. "Yes Sir!"

"Stand back." Ryan said, checking the lock on the door. He leveled the MP-5 and calmly blew the lock off. As it fell to the ground he pulled the door open and looked at them, "Is this everyone!?"

They ran out, one of them stopping to pick up a guards weapon, and nodded. "Yes Sir."

"Alright, let's get a move." Ryan said, "Get up to the roof, we have a Huey coming in."

The soldiers nodded, the armed man taking point as Ryan took drag. The group started shuffling up the stairs.

The eerie 'whup whup' of the Huey came softly at first, seemingly from every direction at once, but grew into a thunderous roar as the drab green monster rose up fro behind a building and circled over the compound.

Clark waved it in, "Over here! Over here!"

The chopper slowed and dropped enough for him to dive aboard, and then took off again, moving over to pick up Chavez.

The Hispanic commando was already on the move when the ugly bird came to his neck of the woods. He threw his rifle ahead of him, letting Clark catch the weapon, and dove into the chopper fast.

With those two aboard they circled back around and passed low over the compound, drawing some fire.

"Do you see them!?" Clark screamed from where he was hanging out one side of the helicopter.

"Not yet!"

"Alright! Cleanse the area!" Clark ordered.

Chavez pulled up a weapon and nodded, letting his legs hang out of the chopper as he opened up on a guard tower that was taking pot-shots at them. On the other side he could hear Clark do the same.

In the chopper, Tara and Mikki sat wide eyed as they listened to the bursts of automatic fire. The others had tried to convince them to stand down for this leg of the mission, but both girls had stubbornly refused. Mikki was shuddering over the scent of the chopper and cordite that was assaulting her senses, but Tara was breathing in pants, terrified by the entire situation.

For the moment she just clung to the seat she was on, and wished that she had taken the advice of the others.

"Here they come!" Clark shouted, grinning as he saw the first of his men come out onto the roof. "Go, GO, GO!"

The pilot nodded, banking the hefty bird into a tight turn and bringing it down near the rescued soldiers. One by one they threw themselves into the bird, scrambling for cover as the weapons fire continued to erupt around them.

Jack was the last one out, screaming, "Go! Go! Go!"

The men all listened, save the single armed soldier who was covering them. Jack's weapon soon joined his in the cacophony of weapons fire, giving the others a better chance of getting to the chopper.

After the rest were on board, Jack and the Soldier looked at each other. "Ready?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah. Let's go."

They both tensed, then jumped up and started to run for the chopper, but out of the corner of his eye Jack saw a figure rise from the side with a big gun. He tackled the soldier, "Get down!"

The both tumbled to the roof, rolling just ahead of the puffs of dust and debris caused by the Cartel machine gun. As they skidded to a stop they both saw a figure in black appear from nowhere and open up with a pair of pistols. The Cartel gunner went down hard, and Jack saw Xander wave him on as he started running toward them.

"Go! Go!" Jack cursed, dragging the soldier to his feet as the two of them staggered toward the chopper with Xander bringing up the rear at a full run.

Over the sound of the chopper and the gunfire, they all heard an enraged scream and glanced back.

Felix Cortez was standing behind the three of them, a big assault rifle in his hands.

Time seemed to slow as he screamed in rage and the rifle began to buck in his hands.

Xander's mind filled in the path of the bullets as they flashed past him, but he couldn't move nearly fast enough to do anything. And he wasn't the target.

Jack's eyes widened as he heard the soldier next to him yell, "Get down, Sir!" And dive into him to knock him out of the way.

As he went down he heard the meaty slaps of bullets striking flesh and felt the body of the soldier go limp as they hit the ground.

Xander fired a few shots back, but missed Cortez, only driving the man back. He cursed and ran forward, grabbing the soldier off Ryan. Between the two of them he and Jack half drug the wounded man to the chopper.

Just as they threw the man on board and Xander had helped shove Ryan into the chopper when they heard another cry of warning as Tara screamed and pointed behind them. Xander glanced back, still a few feet from the 'safety' of the chopper, and saw the Cortez lift his weapon again.

Xander glanced back, seeing the terror in Tara's face as he heard the pops open up behind him. "Protect them!"

Tara couldn't hear his voice over the racket around her, but she could tell what he was saying just the same. Protect them.

Time just stopped for her as she felt the presence of so many others around her. Others who were now threatened. She felt something in her snap, then meld into something hard. She lifted her hands, and her eyes suddenly acquired a golden hue.

"Alimenta Airus Firma!" She screamed out.

Around her the soldiers flinched back the stream of bullets slammed into a shimmering barrier that had suddenly erected itself between them and death.

"What the hell?"

"Holy shit."

"My God..."

"Bruja..." Ding Chavez whispered, his voice tinged with half fear and half awe.

Tara shuddered herself with every single impact on the field, sweat pouring from her pores and blood from her nose as the pressure was one. Abruptly she let out a scream of pain and the field fell, letting the last three rounds from the clip through.

Tara felt a sudden pressure erupt across her body as she just knelt there in shock, then began to pitch forward out of the chopper.

Xander screamed as he dove forward, watching plumes of blood erupt across Tara's torso. He tackled her down and back into the bird. As he rolled clear of her body he heard Jack, Ding, and Clark curse as they opened fire.

Xander looked back in time to see Cortez slam back into the cement wall behind him, blood pouring from dozens of wounds. He shook his head, tears running down his cheeks, then turned his attention back to Tara.

"Tara! Tara! Hold on, do you hear me!? Hold ON!" He screamed at her bloody and motionless form as her felt the chopper surge up from and away.

Tara looked up, her vision hazed as she tried to hear the words that were coming to her as if from a long distance away.

"Tara! Stay awake! Do you hear me!? Stay awake!"

She recognized Xander's voice, and tried to speak. "X...x...xander... I'm... sorry..."

There was a noise she couldn't identify, then Xander spoke again, still from the long distance. "She's apologizing... She thinks she failed... Tara! Listen to me! You did it! No one else got hurt! You did it! Now stay awake for me! Don't fall asleep!"

Tara rolled her head to one side, trying to find Xander but her eyes couldn't lock onto anything. "Tired..."

"I don't care!" Xander snapped, "Stay with me, Tara! Stay with me..."

His voice faded out as her eyesight went black.

"No!" Xander snapped in shock as Tara's eyes glazed and her breath stopped coming. "NO!"

Xander's eyes suddenly blazed with a silver light that shone through the chopper, startling all the occupants of the big bird. He brought his hands up, placing one over her heart and the other along her side, then sent a surge of power through his own nerves and into hers.

Tara's body leapt off the deck of the chopper, her back arcing, and her eyes suddenly focused as she came back.

As soon as he saw her chest rise and fall again, Xander shifted his motions and began sweeping his hands across her body. He paid special attention to the wounds, tightening and rebinding the loose strings of energy that were around the damaged areas.

"Jesus Christ... the bleeding's stopping..."

Xander ignored the comments around him and kept his focus on the work at hand. He looked up and grabbed one of the soldiers, pulling him in. "Help me!"


"Roll her over... *gently*." Xander snapped, "I need to check her back..."

The man nodded, gently pulling Tara up and on to her side as the girl moaned on pain. Xander quickly cut away the blood soaked shirt and examined the aura that covered the area. After a moment he cursed. "Lay her back down. SLOWLY."

The man did, "What is it?"

"Two went clean through... nothing major hit..." Xander sighed, "The last one is still in there... close to her lung. We don't move her again until we land. Get her some blankets!"

The men around her immediately tore through the interior of the chopper and pulled out the emergency kit, finding thick woolen blankets in the area. They wrapped them around Tara while Xander turned to where Jack was leaning over the man they had tossed aboard. "Jack...?"

Jack shook his head, closing the man's eyes. "He's gone. Unless you can resurrect the dead, there's nothing you can do."

Xander nodded, crouching down beside Jack and the fallen soldier. "You ok?"

"No." Jack said flatly. "I'm not ok. Are *you* ok?"

"No." Xander whispered. "No, I'm not."

Clark looked back from the co-pilot's seat and yelled, "We're ten minutes out from the field, I've got paramedics on the road now! How are our patients!?"

Jack got up and stumbled back, "Tara's still hanging in there... but..."

Jack paused to look at the dogtags in his hand, "Zimmer... Zimmer didn't make it."

"Damn." Clark said, his voice quiet. "Ok. Medics for one."

Ryan nodded, "She gets the best care, right Clark?"

Clark nodded. "No worries there. Bogata has some damned fine doctors, Jack... And if they aren't up to the job, I have some contacts in Rio that make most of the Docs in the states look like hacks. She gets the best."

Ryan nodded, slumping back into a seat in the back of the chopper as he watched Xander talking calmly and continuously to Tara as they flew toward the landing field.

As soon as they kissed dirt the paramedic Clark had called came out transferred Tara over to their van. Xander and Clark joined them while Jack stayed to organize the rest of the troops and their 'travel plans'.

As soon as they hit the hospital and Xander saw Tara into the OR, Xander headed straight for a pay phone.

He picked up the receiver and started to tap in Paige's number when a voice from behind him sent a chill through him.

"I wouldn't bother."

He turned around, recognizing the man instantly. "Metatron?"

Metatron nodded, brushing some lint off his suit. "Shall we walk and talk?"

"Not now, Tara's hurt!" Xander hissed. "I need to get Leo down here."

Metatron shook his head, "Sorry. The Elders have already ordered him not to come... or rather, the order is waiting for you to make the request."

"What? Why!?" Xander demanded.

"Simply put? She's none of their concern... and you haven't exactly been ingratiating yourself to the Elders, have you?" Metatron shrugged.

"You can overrule them..."

"I could." Metatron said, "and I might if she was going to die. But you stabilized her well enough that she'll probably make it."


Metatron shrugged, "There are always variables, Alexander. But you did a half decent patch job... She should make it."

"Great." Xander looked around, pissed. "Then why the hell did you come by here anyway!?"

"I didn't want you to call Leo." Metatron shrugged, "I know, and you know, that he would probably disobey orders to help someone... That's what makes him a good whitelighter. But Paige and the Charmed ones need him on active duty."

Xander hesitated, looking at the phone as he tried to calculate risks and benifits.

Metatron shook his head, "Don't do it."

Xander sighed, slumping in place. "She'll live?"

"Probably. Maybe even almost certainly." Metatron said.

Xander sunk into a chair, "God, I really screwed up this time."

Metatron nodded. "You could say that."

"I should never have let her come along."

"You could say that too."

"She should have been better equipped... trained..."

"Well..." Metatron took a seat beside Xander, "That's a given."

"You're not helping here!" Xander snapped.

"Sorry." Metatron shrugged, "Was I supposed to?"

Xander clenched his hands into fists, the bones and tendons cracking as he did.

"The way *I* see it," Metatron said without looking at Xander, "Is that you have three choices..."

"Oh? What are they?" Xander asked sarcastically.

"You can continue the way you have been... haphazard, chaotic, without form or function..." Metatron said condescendingly, "And eventually get yourself killed... but not before you get a lot of others just as dead."

Xander's faced darkened, but he didn't speak.

"Or two," Metataron said, "You could lone wolf it... You still die... You still don't accomplish anything... but you probably won't get too many others killed in the process."

"And three?"

"Three... Is a much harder route." Metatron said, "Option three means standing up, growing up, and taking charge. People already look to you as a leader, you know... a lot of them. Maybe it's time to become what they expect and need you to become?"

Xander shook his head, "I'm not leader."

"That is true." Metatron said simply. Then he simply vanished as his last words echoed through the room. "But you could be..."

Xander was still sitting there later when Clark came out, a look of satisfaction on his face.


"She'll live." Clark said, breathing in relief. "I'm arranging a tranfer to a hospital in Rio as soon as she's well. The facilities there are among the best on the planet, and she'll be safe from any retaliation in case her involvement in the op leaks out."

"I'm going."

Clark nodded, "I've already booked seats for you and Mikki."

Xander got up, "Thanks."

Clark shook his head, extending his hand. "No need. You and your people came through..."

Xander shook the man's hand, neither man speaking.



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