For the Better

Author: Enterprise1701_d <enterprise1701_d[at]>

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossover by Enterprise1701_d

Yes, this will be a crossover… but I’m not telling with who or what. I’ll let you know at the end of the fic. :)

So, yeah, I’m an evil bastard. Heheh. :) I’m also telling you there will be a relationship in this fic, between Xander and someone else. But, once again, I’m not telling. Most people hate these spoilers, anyway.

Time-line: Buffy is in season 2, right after Halloween.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Xander moved through the thick and misty jungle, his body moving from the cover of one tree to the next, his weapon moving in conjunction to cover as much area as possible. He heard gunfire, followed by screams of wounded men.

He winced, and ducked to cover himself, flat on his stomach, weapon ready to fire, waiting.

That was the hardest. The waiting. Waiting for an invisible enemy to shoot that one bullet that would change your life. Wait for the inevitability.

Xander was scared to death.

The gunfire sounded closer now, and Xander made a decision. He jumped up, and started running. Running for his life.

The gunfire chased him, inspiring more adrenaline-induced speed from his exhausted legs.

Xander emerged in a clearing, the gunfire hot on his trail. He looked over his shoulder to see if he could distinguish any of the shapes following him from the thick dark-green of the jungle. Of course, he couldn't. His head turned to look forward again, yet immediately, it seemed to explode.

"Got him," he heard someone say in what Xander thought was Vietnamese. He opened his eyes, blinking furiously against the pain caused by the knock of the rifle against his head. Finally, his blurry vision focused, and a dozen Vietcong soldiers were bent over him, obviously taunting him in their native language. He only understood a couple of words. They dragged him uptight, their strong hands gripping at his fatigues, dragging his half-unconscious body along the ground to their camp.

All the while, they taunted him. He may not have understood the words, but he sure understood the tone. He had heard it plenty of times before. They knifed through him.

As they re-emerged from the deep forest, the Vietcong soldiers tied him to a post, and left him to stand there in the burning Vietnamese sun. Xander's lips were dry. His throat felt like a desert.

A bulky officer approached him, and Xander's voice sounded like cardboard when he asked for something to drink. The officer slammed a bulky fist in Xander's stomach. He would have bent forward, if not for the fact that he had been tied securely to the post.

"Shut up, you American pig!" the man shouted in broken English. "Me ask question here. Who you?"

Xander refused to answer. The man hit him again. And again. "You not want to help friends?" the man resumed as he slammed into Xander again. "Friends hurt, and you not help. You not good friend?"

Xander groaned, looked up through the only eye that was still open. And stared into the face of a vampire. Night had fallen, and he was held against a tree by the monster in front of him. Behind the vampire, he could see Buffy, on the floor, being beaten by a dozen vampires.

"You're a useless guy, aren't you?" the vampire taunted. "Look at you! Look at her! She's dying, and you can't do anything to help her!"

Xander tried to move. He really did. But his body had no effect against a vampire who was four times stronger and five times faster than him. The vampire hit him again. "Stop hitting yourself," the vampire said.

Xander groaned, sinking to the ground. He found that he could do so, unrestrained by the vampire. A stinging pain crashed over his back, electing the first cry from the boy as he sunk to all fours. He looked up to see the broomstick come down again.

"You useless brat! Parasite! Loser! Deadbeat!" a drunken voice rasped out as the broom crashed into his shoulder. "You're a disappointment!" the voice added as Xander fell sideways, his left arm giving up under the blinding pain in his shoulder.

"Dad…" the boy whispered.

"I should charge you RENT!" the man growled, the broomstick coming down again.


Xander bolted upright in his bed, drenched in sweat. "What a nightmare," he grunted, rubbing a non-existing wound on his left shoulder. Casting a look at the clock, he knew it was futile to try and get some more sleep before he had to get ready. He flopped back, his hands under his head, staring at the ceiling. He could feel his t-shirt and his boxers stick to his body. His fear-sweat was like glue.

Taking deep breaths, Xander finally managed to get his raging heart to settle. He remained, laying there, his mind too shocked to think, for the next half hour until the alarm finally went off. Shaking his head and letting out a sad breath, Xander forced himself out of his bed. He shut off the alarm, grabbed something from his closet, and went to the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, Xander emerged, dressed in a red-blue Hawaiian shirt over a pair of blue jeans. The moment his foot hit the first step of the stairs, his instincts warned him that something was off. He took it as a leftover from his nightmare, shook the feeling off, and walked downstairs. Seeing no-one in the kitchen, Xander grabbed a couple of sandwiches. Once again, the nagging doubt of his instincts popped up. Instead of putting something on the bread, Xander decided to eat underway to school, and prepared to make a getaway form the house of his nightmares.

Xander turned to leave the kitchen. A big man with a beer-gut and a face that hadn't seen a razor in weeks entered. Immediately, Xander knew what was wrong.

His father was drunk again.

Only, this time, he was drunk in the morning.

"Can't ya say morning to yer dear old dad, son?" his father grumbled, advancing on the teenaged boy. Xander swallowed, his brain noting the smell of cheap whiskey on his father's breath.

"Morning dad…" Xander said, but apparently, it was not fast enough to his father's liking. Before Xander knew what had happened, He was looking in a whole different direction, and his cheek stung like a whole nest of bees. Xander's hand automatically went up, caressing the cheek his father had just hit.

"Ya c'n take me food and live in me house but some respect is too much, huh, you son of a whore?" the man shouted, slapping Xander a second time. The boy grunted out in pain, again, and ducked under his father's next swing. "Have to get to school, dad," Xander shouted as he ran down the hall and out the front door, grabbing his book bag under way. He was glad that his father hadn't hidden it, like he sometimes did… and Xander hoped furiously that the man would be out cold by the time school was out later.


"Xander! What happened?" Buffy shouted the moment she saw him. Willow was by his side in a second, backing up Buffy's sentiments.

"Eh… a vamp," Xander lied. "You see… my dad… yesterday; he wanted something from the store after dark, so he sent me. I managed to get from under the vamp, though."

"A VAMPIRE?" Buffy hissed angrily. "What did it look like? I am so going to tear into it when I find it!"

Xander forced a smile to his face. "Thanks, Buff. Appreciate it."

"What did it look like?" Buffy asked, already going over her list of 'Giles-not-approved-because-they-hurt-too-much' attacks.

Xander rubbed the back of his neck. "Let's see. It was dark, so I didn't see much of its face. But it was about this high, this wide, could hit like a freight train and ran the hundred meters in no time," he answered, hands making the necessary movements to give a general idea.

Buffy sighed. "I'll do my best," the Slayer promised. "Tonight, after dark, I am going to tear through this town." She placed a hand on Xander's shoulder. "Don't worry, Xan. I'll get him for ya."

Outwardly, Xander was smiling. How could he not with Buffy touching him? But inwardly, his soul screamed in pain. It's my father! Help me! Please… help me… Xander forced it down. This wasn't anything Buffy needed to concern herself with… she had problems enough of her own.

The rest of the day wasn't any better for Xander. His mind constantly slipped back to the nightmare he had gotten that night. Teacher after teacher caught him. By the end of the day, Xander felt sick. Sick, emotionally and physically. His usually vibrant brown eyes stood dark and empty. He walked home with about half a lifetime's worth of detention. He knew that he'd be in even bigger trouble tomorrow. After all, he had left the school while he technically had to be in the detention hall. And he had skipped out on a Scooby meeting with his friends.

Xander just couldn't care. All he wanted was to fall in his bed, and sleep the rest of this horrible day away.

It can't get any worse than this… Detention, extra assignments, skipped detention, have no intention of doing homework or assignments, skipped Scooby meeting, and, oh, yeah, let's not forget that dad keeps hitting me. I hope the deadbeat drunk's in his bed by now.

Xander pushed open the door. The moment he did so, a plate hit his head. Followed by a cup of some kind, and a second plate. Xander had lived all his life on the Hellmouth. He had been out with Buffy after dark. As such, Xander had progressed. The first plate had struck, breaking into four pieces as it hit him. Xander had immediately dropped to the floor so that the cup and the second plate went right out the door.

Xander managed to get up on his feet, yet kept low. He snuck against the wall to the kitchen, where a couple empty bottles on the table told Xander more than he had ever wanted to know. Xander flipped around. He wanted to run to his room, lock it, and disappear.

No such luck.

As he spun, he came face to face with his father… who was literally swaying form left to right, holding a half-empty bottle of cheap whiskey. The bottle had been closed, and he was holding it by the neck, as if he was going to hit Xander with it.

Xander's eyes went wide. The bottle came down. Xander dodged to one side. The bottle slipped from the drunk's hands, and shattered on the floor.

Xander and his father both stared at the amber liquid that flowed on the white-tiled floor. Xander was thinking of only one thing. This can't be good. Xander's father, on the other hand, was just staring in shock at the floor that now held his precious alcohol.

"Ye stupid brat!" the man slurred, taking a swing at the boy. Xander, however, as standing just a little further than the drunk's mind could calculate, so his swing met only empty air. The man staggered, lost his balance, slipped on the alcohol-laden floor, and was soon staring at the nasty brown ceiling. Xander gave him no time to recover. He bolted from the kitchen, up the stairs, and to his room.

He locked the door, and fell flat on his back on top of the bed. Only now did he feel something wet on his forehead. He swiped at it. Blood.

That plate hit harder than I thought. Xander fell out of bed, and stumbled to his only dresser. He dredged a first aid kit form under the cover of his clothes. Looking into a hand-held mirror, Xander applied rubbing alcohol to his wound, causing him to wince at the pain before he put a band-aid over the wound.

I'm lucky… the cut's not that big. It'll be a scar, though… Xander stared at himself in that small hand-held mirror for a long time. You're in it for a lifetime, pal. He thought to his mirror image. Your friends don't care enough to see what's really happening. Your father and mother love the bottle more than you. Your school thinks of their stupid, boring lectures before you. Snyder is the principal from hell. You're on your own…always have been… your entire life.

Xander took a breath, and with a fit of rage, threw the mirror against the far wall. "Damnit!" he growled. "Why is it always me??"

There was a rattle of his door. "Open the door, bastard!" his father's drunken voice slurred through the door as a meaty fist started pounding it. Xander had no delusions about it holding out for long.

The story of my life, the boy thought miserably. A second thump against the door seemed to cut through his very soul. I've got to get out of here! Xander's mind shouted, and he grabbed his backpack, and turned it upside down to empty it of school-related materials. He grabbed a couple of sweaters from his dresser, and threw a concerned look at the door, where the pounding had increased significantly. He grabbed as many t-shirts as he could, grabbed his raincoat, and stuffed it all in his pack.

When the door finally broke down, the room was empty.

Xander looked up at his bedroom window, where he could hear his father cursing and yelling. Swallowing against the fear he felt rising, Xander turned, and ran. As he ran, he fingered a small metal container in his jeans pocket. All 52 dollars and 16 cents of my life savings, he thought as his legs continued to thump on the pavement.

He ran to just about the only safe house he could think of, the house of his best friend since childhood, Willow. As he ran, his shattered mind realized something. The one thing Xander had never thought he would realize. They can't help me… why would they? They've never been able to help me…I need to get away. I can't…I just can't take this anymore… With those words in his mind, Xander turned, and ran.


Night had fallen over the City of Angels, and along one of the darkened streets a solitary figure dragged his feet. Xander had his hands deep in his pockets, his head bent toward the ground, his eyes sad. He had paid too much for the bus ticket, yet his shattered mind hadn't, and still hadn't, realized that fact. He didn't want to pay for a sleazy motel. He probably wouldn't be able to sleep anyway. Instead, he opted to keep walking. He had no idea whereto, and it no longer mattered.

As his mind sunk deeper into the swamps, to the point where almost nothing of the outside world registered anymore, something happened. A scream. A scream by a female throat. Xander's head lifted, his eyes scanning the vicinity. He heard nothing. His dull brown eyes narrowed as his ears focused. He had heard that scream, hadn't he?

Xander sighed, his shoulders sagged, and his head bent once more. He was starting to lose his mind. Not only had he lost his home, his parents, and his friends, now he was losing his sanity as well. Xander felt miserable. His feet started walking again, out of their own accord. He wanted nothing better than to die, right here.

He passed an ally. Or rather, he started to pass it, as his progress was halted when a big man fell right in front of his feet. Xander halted, and stared at the man, his eyes looking but not seeing, his mind unable to register what was happening.

The man turned around, looking up at the boy. Something snapped within Xander as he jumped back three paces, face twisted in shock and horror. The man was a vampire.

Xander dropped his pack as the vampire rushed him. Moments earlier he had wanted to die. Now, with the vampire rushing him, Xander's survival instincts seemed to take over. Honed by years of living on the Hellmouth, Xander's instincts were more powerful than most. He ducked under the horizontal swipe the vampire took at him. The vampire growled, and tried to grab him.

Xander twisted out of the way, and actually managed to presence of mind to jam his knee in the vampire's unprotected side. The vampire overbalanced, and stumbled against the side of the building. Xander dove for his pack, threw it open, and started rummaging through it. He found what he was looking for.

The vampire recovered, and grinned evilly as he saw the boy standing over an open backpack. He rushed the boy's unprotected back, fangs fully extended. Just as he jumped, the boy turned around, holding something sharp in his direction.

The vampire growled as he felt the sharp object penetrate his heart.

Xander stared at the settling dust, and his stake. Why did I bring this? He asked himself. I am no Slayer… Giles and Buffy keep telling me that. I'm the nothing… Willow's the smart one, Buffy's the strong one, and Giles the wise one. I'm just good for pizza or donut duty. Gunshots penetrated the fog around Xander's mind, and he shook his head to clear his vision.

He rushed back to the ally, to see two young women, shooting bullet after bullet at a trio of nastily grinning vampires.

Xander looked at the scene, unable to comprehend. The first woman was about 20, had blonde hair, and her stance screamed 'aristocracy'. She appeared, in every sense of the word, a Lady. The second one was about his age, about 16, had dark brown hair that seemed black in the night's lighting, and her eyes were a reddish-brown, a taint he had never seen in eyes before. The girl's stance appeared brutal and efficient. The first one was only deadly. The second one was beyond that.

Xander was transfixed.

Until the vampires decided that the game was no longer fun, and they rushed the two women. Xander saw the girl drop her gun, do a rush of her own, and tear into the vampires. Broken bones sounded in Xander's ears. Xander knew that, no matter how good these two women were, they were no match for vampires. They had no idea how to kill them.

Xander grabbed a firm hold of his stake, rushed into the fight, and roughly stabbed it through the back of the nearest vampire. The demon howled, and turned to dust. The two others, seeing their comrade die, discontinued their engagement to the two girls, and charged Xander, the only one to pose a threat. Xander was still staring blankly at the dust settling around his feet. This was more than he had ever dusted in a single night. Two vampires. And he wasn't even on the Hellmouth.

As he stood there, he heard a scream from the brown-haired girl, causing him to look up. At that time, the two vampires were on top of him. Xander was catapulted against a wall, head-first, and his vision blurred and his legs turned to mush. At the same time he started to sag, the nearest vampire grabbed him, and tilted his head. Xander closed his eyes. This was the end. He knew it.

A throbbing pain stabbed into his neck, radiating through his entire body instantly. He vaguely hard a female scream. His mind ignored it. He could feel his blood draining in a symphony of pain and pleasure. An image flashed before his eyes. Him and Willow in kindergarten. Him and Willow. Him and Buffy. His father and mother, before they got to the bottle.

Buffy, rejecting his feelings for her. Willow, not seeing the bottomless pain in his soul. His father, beating him. His mother, ignoring it happening. Xander felt a rage sweep over him. The jungle. Death around him, accompanying the cries and moans of the wounded, mutilated, men. Xander growled.

He raised his foot backward, right in between the legs of the vampire draining him. The vampire groaned, backed away slowly. Xander turned around, a feral look on his face. He screamed, slamming his hand in the vampire's face, a hit that broke the nose of his opponent. The vampire growled, and stumbled back a few paces. Xander ran forward, and threw his leg up, this time placing a solid kick in the vampire's family jewels.

The two girls winced at the sickening sound, followed by the terrible whine of the vampire. The second vampire, recovered from the shock by now, rushed Xander, who dodged, and rolled over the ground, away from the vampire's grip. As he rolled, Xander's hand instinctively grabbed the stake he had dropped earlier. As he came out of the roll, Xander threw it. The second vampire dusted.

The first vampire was still on the floor, curled into a fetal position. Xander walked towards him, scowling. "You vicious <kick> mother-fucking <kick> sadistic <KICK> son of a BITCH <KICK-KICK>" Each kick only served to increase the wail of the vampire. Xander hefted his stake, and planted it. The vampire dusted.

Xander breathed deeply, both to replenish his energy and to fight the sudden wave of dizziness that overcame him. He made a grab for the wall, which seemed to dance away from him. Xander fell.

"What the…?" he whispered, his voice slurring. He blinked, trying desperately to focus on something, anything, that could serve as a focal point. A concerned, sad-looking face appeared in his swimming field of vision. It was the brunette girl.

"Are you alright?" she asked, her voice slightly accented.

"I'm fine," he slurred in reply, trying to sit up straight. After he managed so, he felt the dizziness overcome him again, and he would have hit the ground once more if the girl hadn't supported him, and lowered him gently to the ground.

"You don't look fine," the girl stated. Xander grunted something under his breath. "You hit that wall pretty hard when that…thing… threw you into it. You're bleeding." He felt her press something to his forehead. It stung a little, but Xander bit it down.

"Vampire," Xander whispered.

"Sorry?" the girl asked, red-brown eyes wide open in confusion.

"Those were…vampires…" Xander replied tiredly. "Don't die… unless you…stake them…or chop off…their heads."

The girl stared in silence at the boy, then looked over her shoulder to where the dust was scattering in the wind now. She looked at her companion, who was string in equal shock at the girl, before shrugging, and chuckling slightly.

"Where do you live?" the girl asked Xander, turning back to face him.

He managed a shrug. "Just… arrived. Don't have anywhere to go," he whispered the latter sadly. The girl looked sadly at him.

"You've lost a lot of blood," she whispered. "Maybe we should get you to a hospital," she added, now that she saw the full extent of his condition.

Xander shook his head, fighting down the rising bile. "No insurance," he whispered. "No hospital… they'll find me…" The red-brown eyes opened again, and the girl looked over her shoulder at her companion.

"Mireille…" the brunette whispered.

Mireille, the blonde woman of 20, let out an angered sigh, and closed her eyes as she turned her head away angrily. "You're really into this picking up strays thing, Kirika," she said. After a few seconds, she added somewhat testily, "Just for tonight. You can fix him up, if you want, but after that, he has got to go."

"Thank you," Kirika whispered to her companion, helping Xander to his feet, his taller body leaning on her narrow yet powerful frame. Mireille sighed, went to the other side, and put Xander's second arm over her own shoulders.

"We'll take you with us," Mireille told Xander in a slightly more accented English than her companion. "But only for tonight, and only because you saved us from these… vampires."

"Thank you…" Xander slurred, wishing desperately that he could remember some of the French he took in school, so he could thank her in her own language.


Kirika watched Xander as he slept on the couch, her head bent slightly, her red-brown eyes almost fully closed, the eternal sad look etched on her features. Suddenly, a hand held up a cup of coffee in front of her nose.

"It's not as good as the tea you make, but it'll get the job done," Mireille said gently as Kirika took the cup, and gave her companion a grateful look.

"Thank you," the girl answered, blowing gently in the hot liquid and resuming her pensive stare at Xander.

"How is he?" the blonde woman asked.

"He's asleep," Kirika answered. "I dressed his wounds, and he's finally resting…" The girl switched her look from the boy to her companion for over a year now. "Mireille… those wounds he got tonight… they weren't his only ones."

Mireille sat down in a second chair, and looked at the girl, prodding her to continue.

"I found… cuts… and bruises…" Kirika closed her eyes, and turned her head away against the negative emotions that welled up. "I know the type… Mireille… he's been hit."

"He's been in fights?" Mireille asked, voice rising involuntarily as her mind pictured the young man in a fist fight. "That's hard to believe, Kirika."

"You don't understand, Mireille," the girl said sadly, getting up from the chair, and sitting down on the couch, next to Xander. She checked the bandage on his head. "I know the wounds… the type of wounds… because Althena used to inflict the same ones on me and Chloe."

"What are you saying?" the blonde woman asked.

"Mireille! He comes from an abusive environment!" the girl grunted out, voice climbing. Immediately, she blushed at the rise in her tone, and looked back at Xander, making sure he was still asleep.

Mireille was silent as she looked from her companion to the boy. It was true, she had a cold personality. She held no emotions for her fellow human beings. Indeed, it took her quite a while to develop those feelings for Kirika. But it was one thing not to feel one way or the other. But this… no. Mireille looked at the boy, who had risked his life, literally, for them yesterday. How anyone could hurt him was beyond her.

"Kirika… do you think that is what he meant when he said 'they'll find me', when you suggested the hospital?"

Kirika nodded. "I think he ran away… he meant it when he said he had nowhere to go." The girl sighed sadly, got up, and walked to one of the windows. "I know… I felt it…the same way when Soldats took my memory, and I woke up with nothing but the name 'noir' and my gun… no home… no friends… nowhere to go… I was lucky to be able to piece together enough to find you, Mireille."

Mireille snorted dryly. "You found me, and practically blackmailed me into helping you." She got up, throwing one last look at Xander. "You're going to stay with him tonight?"

Kirika was still looking out the window when she nodded. "He might need something… it's the least I can do."

"Good night, then," Mireille wished her smaller companion before disappearing in her suite, leaving Kirika behind.

The brunette girl looked over her shoulder to the couch where Xander slept. She sighed, and returned to the scenery outside the window. She knew that, with the brightly lit room and no covers, she was an open target. One she had taken herself many times. But, at this time, Kirika didn't care. Her thoughts were elsewhere.

Her childhood, raised as 'Noir' by a woman named Althena. Kirika thought of the things she did… had to do… for the woman who was her adoptive mother. Trained to kill from the tender age of three. First confirmed kill at age four… Mireille's parents… for disobeying Soldats…Kirika shook off the memories. I grew up without emotions. I was the Black Hand of Noir. And then… then they took my memories, dumped me in the real world, and I had to take care of myself. I found Mireille… and my heart.

She sat down in her earlier chair, watching Xander. "I learned how to care, Stranger," Kirika whispered. "And I learned that not all targets are good targets." Like Chloe…I killed the girl I grew up with to protect Mireille…

Kirika pulled up her legs into the chair, and settled in. When she saw Xander twitch, and a moan escape his lips, she looked up concerned. Seeing that he was having a nightmare of some sort, she did about the only thing she could do… she sat down next to him in the couch, and debated whether or not to wake him. The dream subsided when she grabbed his hand. Relieved that his nightmare ended without her having to wake him, Kirika returned to her chair.


Xander's head was pounding, and he let out a small moan when he cranked open one eye. He blinked against the sunlight streaming in through the windows, before his vision cleared. As Xander was getting his bearings, he felt rather than saw someone sit down on the narrow piece of couch next to him.

"Are you alright?" a gentle voice asked. The sad tone in it immediately sent Xander into full 'Xander' mode… the same thing he used with Buffy and Willow to help their sad moods lift.

He cracked a smile, even though it pulled on his head wound and made him wince immediately afterwards. "Yeah, I'm just fine," he said light-heartedly. "Takes more than a brick wall to keep me down, you know?"

The girl smiled weakly, but the sadness etched in her eyes didn't lift. "You don't have to pretend…" she whispered, gingerly removing the dress on his wound, causing him to wince as she did so.

"Pretend what?" Xander asked as the girl started to redress his wound.

"That you're okay," she answered. "I don't know where you're from… or how you got here… and I don't care. But you don't have to pretend to be strong. Your wound must hurt. I've had similar… they hurt really bad. I hope you don't have a… a… concussion?"

Xander smiled slightly. "Hard head," he answered, tapping his fist against his skull, and wincing as he obviously tapped the wrong spot. He groaned. The girl smiled slightly at his antics.

She pushed him down gently. "Lay still… I have to apply this bandage," the girl said sincerely, a neutrality entered her features as she concentrated. It was a type of concentration Xander had only seen on Giles' face, a type that indicated that nothing mattered but the immediate task.

After she finished with the dress on his wound, he held out his hand. "By the way, we haven't been properly introduced. I'm Xander."

Kirika smiled, taking his offered hand in her own, surprising him slightly with the strength in her grip. He was used to Buffy's Slayer strength, so it didn't show. "I'm Kirika," she replied, blushing slightly as Xander took her hand, and brought it to his lips, kissing it lightly.

"Always pleased to meet a beautiful lady," he answered, causing her to look away. He cursed himself. Damnit, Xan! Smooth!

The girl got up, the easy mood they had built since Xander's awakening gone. She sat down in her chair again, taking the large cup from a nearby table. She drank from it.

"Is that coffee?" Xander asked tentatively, not wanting to upset his hostess any more than he already had.

"Tea," she answered levelly. "Would you like some?" she asked, the timbre in her voice changing again. It was obvious that the girl was willing to put the awkwardness behind them, and Xander wholeheartedly agreed.

"Sure," he answered, not really feeling much for the beverage, but willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

As the girl got up and walked to the small kitchen, she said, "Mireille says that I make really good tea. I hope you'll like it."

"I'm sure I will," Xander answered, smiling as the girl disappeared.

About ten minutes later, Kirika returned with two big, steaming mugs of hot tea. As he sat up to accept his mug, the covers had slid away, revealing his naked upper torso, and he had jumped to cover himself.

"Uh…did you…" he stammered, looking from the covers at Kirika, and back at the covers.

"There were blood stains on your clothes," Kirika apologized. "Mireille is having them cleaned. We didn't look through your pack, so we didn't know if you brought any spare clothes."

"Right… well… I did…" Xander stammered.

"Don't worry," Kirika answered, setting his mug down on a table so he could reach it easily. "I only looked for other wounds… I didn't look through anything… other…"

Xander blushed. "That's…good to know…" he grunted, looking everywhere but at Kirika.

"Maybe I should get your pack," the girl whispered, jumping up and disappearing really fast. Xander stared at her retreating back. He swore he had never seen anyone move so fast… and that included Buffy. He didn't have long to contemplate, however, as Kirika returned within seconds, carrying his pack. Xander dug out a pink Hawaiian shirt and a pair of black jeans. He started to fidget under the covers, while Kirika sat down and took her mug.

"Eh…maybe you could… you know?" Xander begged, indicating with his head what he would like her to do.

"Could…what?" Kirika asked, looking directly at him.

"Eh…leave me while I change?" Xander asked hopefully.

Kirika smiled smugly. "Why? I mean…I've seen you already…"

Xander groaned, and decided to just get it over with. He dropped the covers, and managed to get into his clothes without too much trouble. He was grateful Kirika didn't stare, instead dividing her attention between him and the cup of tea, casting concerned looks at him every time he let out a small groan when yet another sore muscle came into play.

He sat down, and took the tea. He had to agree, Kirika's tea was a lot better than that camel piss that Giles called 'tea'.

Ten minutes later Xander was telling Kirika all he knew about vampires. He was just about to break into the subject of the Slayer when the door to the suite was opened and closed angrily.

"C'est pas été une partie de bonheur pour trouver des croissants dans ce pays de sauvages," Mireille grunted as she entered the room. It's not easy to find croissants in this country of barbarians.

"Je sais," Kirika answered. I know.

At the sight of Xander sipping tea, Mireille's eyes narrowed slightly. "Kirika, can we have a word?" she asked in French. The girl let out a sigh, nodded, and got up. Xander watched the two women leave the room.

"How is he?" Mireille asked the moment they were alone.

"He'll be fine," Kirika replied in her usual precise manner. "Physically."

Mireille's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?" she asked rather short.

Kirika shrugged. "He's hurting inside," the brunette replied. Looking away, at the closed door to the living room, she added, "I really wish you'd allow me to help him."

Mireille chuckled amusedly. "You know that's not possible, Kirika. Tonight, we have to scout for the job tomorrow night. We can't run the risk of him finding out. Besides, who says he's not from Soldats? Even though we dealt them a big blow, they're not destroyed. He could be an agent." The blonde beauty shook her head. "No, he can't stay."

"But he saved our lives!" Kirika protested, surprising herself along with Mireille. Normally, she never protested. "We owe him, Mireille!"

"We owe him nothing!" Mireille grunted. "For all we know, those…vampires could be brought in by him. Besides, I don't think I buy the whole vampire deal. It's just too strange. It's got to be some trick."

"Mireille, we fought them! I felt their strength! No human could have such strength! Mireille… we talked. He told me about these things. They're even worse than we can imagine…"

"It's a clever trick, Kirika!" the blonde woman grunted angrily. "And my mind is made up! He does not stay!"

"Can we at least give him breakfast?" Kirika asked, eyeing the bag her companion had deposited on the kitchen counter.

Mireille squinted, glancing sideways at the same bag. "Fine. But then he goes, got it?"

Kirika looked sadly at the ground, and nodded her head.

"You really shouldn't bother on my account," Xander said in English as he pushed open the door.

"Xander? Tu parles le Français?" Kirika asked, shocked.

"Huh? Sorry, I don't speak French," Xander answered, unwittingly answering her question. "But I understood the tone… you guys were fighting about me, weren't you? Well, don't bother… I'll be fine… I'll always be fine," he said, plastering a smile on his face. Xander turned to leave, and said, "Thanks for the fix, Kirika. It was good meeting you." Xander took two steps. And then he faltered, a sudden wave of dizziness and nausea overcoming his drive to keep going. His head pounded, and Xander actually thought he could see his vision dimming.

Before darkness claimed him.

When he woke up, he was on the couch again, and the drapes had been closed to submerge the living room in a twilight. Xander's head pounded, and he was glad for the gloomy atmosphere. He lifted hand to his head, and felt a fresh bandage.

"Oh, God…" Xander groaned. He tried to sit up, but he had hardly lifted his head off the pillow when a new wave of dizziness overcame him.

"I think you really do have a concussion," Kirika said with a concerned tone in her voice as she appeared from somewhere.

"Damn," Xander groaned in answer. "So… what's the verdict, Doc?"

"Doc?" Kirika asked, not understanding.

Xander cracked a weak smile. "I asked whether or not I would live, doctor."

Kirika smiled slightly, and sat down next to him, allowing him to see her easier. "We should get you to a hospital, Xander."

"No… no hospital. They'll find me…"

"Your parents?" Kirika asked gently.

Xander stared at her in blind shock for at least ten seconds. "How did you…?"

Kirika's eternal sadness increased slightly. "I know… what it's like," she answered calmly, and Xander failed to understand how her voice could have its normal timbre, totally contrary to the sadness on her face.

"I'm sorry," Xander whispered, feeling sleepy all of a sudden. "For what it's worth… I'm sorry you had to live through a hell like mine…"

Kirika smiled gently at him, the sadness in her eyes not leaving. She brushed some of his hair away from his forehead. "Get some more sleep," she urged. "You'll need it…" Xander never heard her last words, darkness claiming him in its embrace once more.

"What do we do now?" Mireille asked, stepping out of the kitchen, and stopping at the couch to look down at the patient. Kirika stood up form her position on the couch, and sat down in her chair again. She looked plaintively at Mireille.

"Don't look at me like that, Kirika," the 20-year-old woman grunted. "This isn't some street cat you picked up. And a concussion requires a lot of treatment… you know he'll need help with pretty much everything for the next few days. And with the job tomorrow evening…"

"I'll do it," Kirika said. "I'll take care of him."

Mireille sighed, and sat down next to the girl. "Kirika… I know you feel you owe him… but we can't run the risk. I warned you before. Remember Milosh?" The same time the words left her mouth, Mireille knew she had gone too far. The wince on Kirika's face deepened that knowledge. Immediately, she turned to the younger girl. "I'm sorry Kirika… that was low."

Kirika shook her head. "You're right," the girl whispered. "He got killed because we became friends…" she hung her head, her deep-brown locks hiding most of her features. Mireille knew her friend better than that by now, though… after what they went through, how could she not?

"I'm sorry, Kirika…"

The girl shook her head. "Even though it hurts… I still remember the time we spent together with fondness. And that… that makes it worthwhile."

Mireille stared with open mouth at her companion. "When did you become so deep?" she asked, now smiling slightly.

"When the faces were no longer nameless," the girl whispered in reply. She raised her hands, and looked sadly at them. "Yuri…Chloe…I killed them."

"I thought you didn't feel regret?" Mireille asked.

Kirika shook her head, and dropped her hands again. "I don't." She turned to look at Mireille. "But Xander needs our help. He saved our lives."

Mireille sighed. "This will give problems, Kirika. Do you think he'll stay once he finds out who we are? Or worse, what if he's killed?"

"I don't care," Kirika whispered, effectively shutting up Mireille. Both settled for watching the sleeping boy on the couch.


That evening, the starlight found two girls, dressed fully in black, sneaking around in a lush garden somewhere in the Beverly Hills region. Quick like ghosts and fluidly like water, the two forms moved through the shadows. Finally, they reached the huge mansion, erected out of white stone. Consisting out of two stories, the mansion was as big as any they had ever seen.

As if by some silent agreement, Kirika went one way, and Mireille the other. Quietly, they circled the house, to meet at the other side. Kirika looked up, to a balcony. Mireille nodded, went down to one knee, and linked her hands together. Kirika took the step, and aided by Mireille's boost, she lifted herself up on the balcony above them. As soon as she was comfortably over the balustrade, Kirika dropped flat on her stomach, put both her arms through the pillars of the balustrade, and waited for Mireille.

The blonde woman took a jump, clasping firmly around her companion's wrists, after which the brunette lifted her larger companion up to the point where she could grip the balustrade and lift herself higher.

Finally, both women were up on the large balcony, which contained multiple French doors. Most of those doors showed no light, all save for one, at the very end. Sprinting silently as ghosts, both women raced to the lit doorway, only to frame it, one girl on each side.

Both peeked from behind the corners, throwing one eye on the scene inside. What they saw made their eyes grow wide.

The room they looked into was large, richly decorated, and well lit. Looking at the side of the scene, the girls had a good view of everything that happened without being seen themselves. Both Kirika and Mireille held their breaths, listening in on the conversation through the double-glass doors.

The man who was speaking was a short Japanese man of slightly above middle age. His hair was starting to gray on the sides, yet his voice still hadn't lost its strength as he yelled at the large Caucasian man who was staring at the ground. The larger man was nodding silently, obviously terribly distressed. His posture oozed it.

Finally, the Japanese man yelled at the three men who had remained silent so far. "Nobody keeps back money from the Yakuza! Show him, and dump his carcass somewhere where people are bound to notice!"

The three bodyguard-types threw themselves at the Caucasian man, and both Kirika and Mireille were sure that they were going to rip him apart. They didn't expect them to change into vampires and do it literally.


"This is going to be a hard mission," Mireille grunted as the duo walked along LA's darkened streets. "Those vampires make this a very dangerous mission."

"How can someone employ vampires?" Kirika asked silently. "And how will we get to him? We can't stab them, we can't kill them…"

"We'll have to avoid them," Mireille said. "Maybe get him while he's alone?"

Kirika sighed, and looked at the pavement as it slid by her walking feet. "Maybe we should ask Xander for help."

Mireille snorted. "Xander? How could he help? He's passed out on our couch, remember? He's got a concussion. At least a week of rest, and then slowly ease him back into life. There's no way we can postpone this. It has to be done tomorrow."

"Who knows how many vampires he has?" Kirika asked. "We only saw three. It's safe to assume he has more. We need to know how to detect them. How to kill them. Tactics. Strategy. We need plans, Mireille. And Xander has experience."

Mireille sighed. "And then what? We ask him how to take care of vampires. What if he asks why we want to know? What then? We tell him we're Noir, the best in the business? Tell him we take any job that pays our fee?"

"Any job that involves crime," Kirika added.

Mireille snorted again. "Every job involves crime. One mob boss wants to kill another. Same thing with the Yakuza. The mob wants the Yakuza. The Yakuza wants the mob. Interpol wants a drug lord. We take any job that pays our fee, Kirika."

"We need Xander's help," Kirika whispered, actually hugging herself. "Mireille…" the young girl looked plaintively at her companion. "I've seen…done…some of the worst things a human can do… but these things… they scare me."

Mireille actually stopped. "WHAT?"

Kirika looked sadly at the ground. "I can't kill them… I'm scared of what I can't kill," the girl whispered. "And what they can do… what Xander told me they do… they're not human."

"Like what?" Mireille asked, colder than she intended. Kirika's eyes narrowed slightly, her face growing sadder still.

"They drink blood… they torture for fun…drive people insane… they do the worst things anyone can do…" Kirika looked up. "They are four times stronger and five times faster than an ordinary human. They can't be killed… unless you chop off their heads, or throw a stake through their hearts."

"Then you do know how to kill them," Mireille said with a small smile. "See? There's nothing to worry about."

"We have no stakes. And I left my sword in Paris," Kirika added the last part sarcastically, looking up darkly at Mireille, causing the aristocrat to look abashed at her younger companion.


"I am going to talk to Xander," Kirika said, not taking her friend's bait. "We will see after that." As she started to walk, she felt an iron grip on her wrist.

"Kirika…" Mireille tried again.

"He can help, Mireille," the girl said darkly. "I know he can," she added sadly.

"Fine. But don't come crying to me when he goes insane on us."

Kirika didn't answer that, and together, the two women walked to their hotel suite, where Xander was still fast asleep.

Well, he was, until the girls pushed open the door, and closed it a little loudly.

"Hey," he welcomed them, still feeling his head throb.

"Xander," Kirika said, sitting down next to him on the couch. "Xander, we need your help."

"That sounded ominous," he said jokingly, smiling slightly. When neither Kirika's nor Mireille's faces changed, he lost his smile. "What can I do for you?" he asked, his voice losing its joking tone.

"Vampires," Kirika answered. "How do we kill them? You've got experience… we need you to tell us any ways you know to either get rid of a vampire, or how to kill it."

Xander's eyes went wide. "You're not…going to do what I think you're going to do, are you?" Silence was his answer. "It's not as easy as you think, you know," he added, head dropping back on the pillow so he was now looking straight up at the ceiling. It was white… he liked this a whole lot more than the brown specked ceiling in his parent's house.

"It is easy," Mireille interrupted his thoughts. "You tell us how to kill the vampires. And we don't throw you out right now."

"Mireille!" Kirika shouted.

Xander sighed sadly. "If I leave, you're still going to go after them, aren't you?"

"Yep," Mireille said with a smile.

"Fine…" the boy whispered, closing his eyes. He forced a breath deep into his lungs. "First, a vampire is a demon inhabiting a human body. When the soul has departed, the demon sets up shop. When you destroy the demon, the host body disintegrates into ashes. There are several ways a vampire is created, but the most common is through a bite. The vampire drains your blood. You drink the vampire's blood. You become a vampire. Simple.

"Now, a vampire requires blood to live. Any kind will do, but the vicious bastards prefer human blood over cow, pig, sheep, or other blood. They claim it tastes better. Anyway, they can smell it a mile away, and a hungry vampire will go after that smell like a bloodhound. And believe me; the vamp will catch up to you. Four times your strength and five times your speed and all that. You know… demon stuff.

"Weaknesses… holy symbols like crosses, stars of David, and so forth repel vampires. Hits too close to home for the demons. It will also force a vampire to reveal its vampiric face. So, when in doubt, shove a cross in a person's face. If they don't vamp out, they're not a vampire. Second, a vampire reacts to holy water. It's like acid, making a vampire's skin steam and bubble. That's also a way to find out whether or not a person is human or not.

"Ways to kill them… sunlight, stake through the heart, decapitation. I guess if you dropped one in a barrel of holy water it would do the trick too. I wouldn't know. Holy water doesn't come in barrels. Oh, another weakness is blessed objects. If you've got something blessed by a priest, works like a charm.

"And before I forget… a vampire can't enter a residence unless invited. So never invite someone in. you can motion, but never actually say 'Come in.'. Those words can kill you."

"I see," Mireille said. "Thank you."

"If you're really going hunting… get a couple of water pistols and fill them with holy water… and get a couple of bags of pig's blood from the butcher. You can throw a vial of blood to distract vampires. The nose, remember? And the pistols can repel vampires just as well as crosses."

"And stakes?" Kirika asked.

"A sharp stick," Xander replied. "Pull a branch from a tree, sharpen one end. A vampire's not picky… wood is wood. Pointy end goes in the heart." With those words, he sunk into his couch again, his eyes closing painfully against the throbbing pain that permeated his head. Xander lapsed back into the blissful darkness of sleep. He was unaware of most of what went on for the next hours. While Xander slept, Kirika and Mireille were in the kitchen, the door closed, plans spread out on the kitchen table. The two were planning their 'job' for tomorrow.

"Tomorrow, I'll go to the park, and see if I can't pick us up some branches," Mireille said. "Once we get back to Paris, we'll see to getting some wooden knives made… now that we know these things exist, there's no reason not to be prepared."

Kirika nodded in agreement. "Yeah," she answered dully. For the umpteenth time, her red-brown eyes went to the kitchen door.

"Kirika…" Mireille grunted. "We can't keep him. Tomorrow we take the hit… you know we have to move fast after that. The day after tomorrow at the very latest, we're back in Paris."

Kirika sighed. "Even after all the help he gave?" she asked slowly, focusing her sad eyes on her blonde companion.

"Help? What help?" Mireille asked, sounding exasperated.

Kirika's eyes narrowed. "He saved our lives. And he told us the best ways to destroy vampires. He told us diversionary tactics, weaknesses, and testing methods. Even without knowing what we're about to do… he practically planned the mission for us. Test, divert, weakness."

Mireille gasped as sudden realization came over her. "How… you're right, Kirika… I didn't notice. How did he do that?"

Kirika shrugged sadly, looking once more at the door. "He must have a lot of experience…" she whispered, her voice trailing off. She closed her eyes. "Experience fighting vampires… I wonder how long he has been doing this, at the risk of his own life…"

"Come now, aren't you reading too much into this? Sure, the information was helpful, but it's not like he gave us a sure-way ticket to victory," Mireille said callously. He probably just got lucky."

Kirika drew in a sharp breath, and stood up. Her eyes were dangerously narrow. "Mireille… that is NOT information you come across easily. Those are tactics, designed through experience. In combat."

Mireille looked past her friend, to the door after which Xander slept. "So… how long has he been doing this, according to you?" she asked flatly.

"A long time," the brunette whispered, sitting down again. "Too long. He's running… whatever happened… it was too much for him."

"Doesn't matter," Mireille grunted. "We still can't keep him. What would you do? Take him with us? Show him Paris? No-one knows about Noir's secret residence, and I want to keep it that way. We're not taking him with us, and that's final!"

Xander awoke barely during the next day, just enough to get some food into him. He awoke finally when he heard urgent whispers coming from his two hostesses. Xander sat up, ignoring the slight floating motion of the room, just as the front door fell closed. "They're going to…" Xander grunted, getting out of the sofa, almost falling down again as the room's swimming motion became worse. Clenching his teeth, Xander poised his mind against the dizziness and the nausea. They didn't know what they were getting themselves into. He needed to help them.

He grabbed his backpack, still located next to the couch, slung it over one shoulder, and stepped to the front door of the suite. Once outside, Xander rested his back against the heavy wood, trying to catch his thoughts, breath, and equilibrium. Gritting his teeth so hard it was audible, Xander forced himself to run. The pounding in his head had settled into a dull throb, the waves of adrenaline forcing a clamp on the pain and dizziness. They helped him. He was not about to abandon them to something they didn't know how to handle.

Xander bit back a curse when Buffy's image floated in front of his mind's eye. What about her? You left her… why not leave them as well? Xander shook his head against the unwanted thought. No. Buffy's the Slayer. She made it more than clear. She doesn't need me. Wills prefers her company over mine. They don't need me. They don't want me.

Xander made it outside, just in time to catch a glimpse of the two women disappearing around a corner. Xander raced after them. Neither do they, the voice continued. They don't want you either. Xander grunted as he forced his weakened body to cross a street in pursuit of the two girls. She does! Xander answered his inner voice, thinking of Kirika, how her voice had sounded while defending him.

He was just in time to see them disappear into a taxi. Xander cursed loudly. DAMN! He hailed a second cab, and instructed it to follow the one the girls were in. When the first taxi stopped, Xander instructed his taxi to stop a little further down the road. He spent some of his last money on the cab before setting off in pursuit of the two mysterious girls.

What's with them? He asked silently. Taking a cab to the rich part of LA? Where are they going? He crept after them, biting down another wave of nausea. Now that the first adrenaline had settled, his concussion made its presence known once again, and Xander was forced to stop and lean against a wall to gather his bearings. Finally, the attack subsided, and Xander was forced to run, hoping that he hadn't lost them. He didn't find them after the first corner. Nor the second. At the third corner, he saw a glimpse of blonde hair disappear, and Xander raced after it.

He was just in time to see them pull dark caps over their head, hiding their hair color, and disappearing over a hedge. Xander drew a breath, took a stake from one of the pouches of his backpack, and slipped it into his belt. He jumped the hedge, and groaned as the landing sent a jar of pain through his head.

He blinked almost continuously as he followed the girls to the large mansion, his head feeling worse and worse by the moment. There was only so much he could force his body through. He knew he was running on empty. He also knew he couldn't leave them. Something inside of him propelled him on, forcing him to draw strengths from hidden reserves. His teeth were bared as he gritted them to keep up to the two girls.

How do they do this? his tired mind asked. They behave like professionals… how do they know to sneak around like this? Just who are they? His tired mind flashed him an image of Kirika tearing into a vampire, breaking bones in moves that would have killed any ordinary human within seconds. Only… vampires didn't die from things like broken bones.

Finally, the two seemed to enter the house. Xander followed.


Kirika and Mireille had entered the house unnoticed. They made their way through the darkened mansion, coming to the target's bedroom. They knew where it was. The blueprints had made sure of that, and last night's scouting mission had confirmed it. They slipped into the bedroom, both drawing their guns. Kirika drew her Beretta M1934 Commercial, as Mireille brought her Walther P99 to bear. Both screwed on silencers.

Without hesitation, they brought up the guns, and fired at the figure in the large bed, obscured by the darkness and the covers. At the same moment, all the lights flashed on, and an even dozen vampires flew into the room, surrounding the duo.

They heard a chuckling voice. 'Target' walked into the room. "I never once imagined that the infamous 'Noir' was composed of two girls," he chuckled, causing Mireille to tense dangerously. Kirika, as always when on a mission, remained totally cold and impassive. "As you can see, I am well equipped… and I have my sources to warn me of danger. Such as Noir being sent after me."

"Most targets do," Mireille whispered dangerously. "They all said that same thing… and they all died."

The Japanese man laughed heartily. Slowly, he composed himself. "Kill them," he ordered flatly, causing a dozen vampires to run towards their targets. Both immediately dropped their guns, and raised improvised stakes in their right hands. In their left, they suddenly held crosses, repelling the vampires.

Back-to-back, the girls were unable to do more than watch the circling predators. "This is a stalemate," Mireille grunted. Kirika tensed, her mind calculating her break-out assault. She was going to destroy these fiends, one way or the other. Her eyes were narrow. Her posture had changed. She was becoming Noir.

Grabbing the stake in a reversed hold, the brunette charged. At the same time, she heard a hissing sound, followed by screams and the smell of burning flesh. Kirika ignored the signs. Screaming vampires is good.

She reached the first vampire, who was staring in shock at something behind her. Kirika planted her stake into the creature's heart, and found it disintegrating into dust. Landing through the dust cloud in a crouch, the girl smiled, holding up her weapon. Her face totally devoid of emotion, her technique silent as the shadow, Kirika charged the remaining vampires, her eyes scanning for the target after the one she engaged, swiping her stake left and right.

Snarling, the remaining fiends recomposed and charged. Only seven of them remained after Kirika's first assault, and two of those had taken a load of the holy water that had torn into their ranks earlier.

"Mireille… take the shot," Kirika said on her flat tone, and she awaited the vampires' charge. Mireille didn't think twice, dove for her gun, and rolled, her gun sweeping the room. The target was slowly edging his way to the door he had entered through. The blonde assassin wasn't prone to missing moving targets while moving herself. She wasn't about to miss this time. Four nine millimeter 'parabellum' bullets tore through his torso. Two exploded into his head. Only then did the man sink to his knees, before falling sideways, unseeing eyes staring at her.

At the same time, Kirika had simply stood there, awaiting the charge of seven vampires. The girl rolled Mireille's dropped stake onto her foot, kicked it up, and caught it, putting her cross back in her pocket in the same motion. Wielding two stakes, Kirika stood erect, calmly awaiting the arrival of her targets.

The seven vampires were still predators, unable to share. Pushing and shoving, the mass of demons rushed the seemingly helpless girl. The moment they got into her range, Kirika charged forward. She planted her two stakes. Two vampires dusted. She dodged under the horizontal swipe one vampire took at her with his fist. While she was down, she put her stake through his foot, causing the creature to scream as his foot was pinned to the floor. Jumping up, the girl used her left stake to dispose of the vampire charging next to his howling companion. Using the force of the hit on the dusting vampire, Kirika changed her motion, rotating back the way she had come.

The young assassin landed in a crouch, pulled her stake, causing another scream from the vampire, and swiping his legs from under him. The 90-kilogram vampire hit the floor with all the grace and force of a ton of bricks. Jumping over him, she pushed her stake into his heart in mid-flight. However, the moment it took the vampire to dust was enough to wrest the stake from her hand in mid-flight. With liquid grace, she shifted her stake form her left hand into her right. Being ambidextrous had its advantages, and Kirika pulled her earlier cross from her left pocket.

She stood up. Only three of the seven vampires remained, among which were the two who had been dosed with holy water earlier. Slowly, she walked toward them. The moment the three fiends looked at each other, Kirika got her wish, and she charged with the speed of lightning and the force of thunder. She exploded into the nearest vampire's chest, pushing her stake in, and using the force of the hit to catapulting her into a circular motion toward the second one. She pushed the stake into its chest, and was about to withdraw it when the last vampire suddenly made a move she hadn't expected.

The last vampire was a turned martial arts instructor. A vampire who knew karate was a deadly foe, and Kirika found that out the hard way when her rotational motion was interrupted by a high-kick to her midsection. Four times human strength exploded into her ribcage, pushing the ejecting the girl against the wall behind her. With an 'oomph' she hit the ground. Kirika pushed herself up, and saw Mireille start to circle the demon on the other side.

It was at the time that Kirika noticed that something else was moving in the room.


Xander had followed the two girls silently throughout the house, still unable to understand what it was they were looking for. He thought they would go after vampires… he hadn't expected them to come to Beverly Hills out of all places, and burglarize a mansion. Not that they weren't good at it, no… Xander had seen them take out a multi-million dollar security system in no time.

So, he followed, the throbbing and pulsing in his head requiring more and more effort to ignore. Right now, it was a chore to breathe, and keep to his feet, let alone sneak after two girls who obviously knew what they were doing.

They had reached their destination, obviously… Xander could see them drawing guns before entering a certain room. He wanted to call out to them, warn them that bullets had no effect on vampires… but his voice refused service. He drew a second breath, feeling his vocal cords opening up again, and he was about to call. But then, their cover would be blown… they would lose the advantage of surprise.

They screwed on silencers, taking aim at something. Xander's mind revolted. That's not a vampire! The moment the guns discharged, the room was bathed in light, and a dozen vampires surrounded the girls. Real vampires. Xander knew it. So did Kirika and Mireille, obviously, as they dropped their guns and raised stakes. Xander listed flabbergasted to the speech of the one human, a Japanese man. Xander pulled a small bottle of holy water from his pack. It was a glass bottle, one he had selected so it could break easily on impact with a hard surface. Like a vampire's body. He opened the cap.

Noir? Targets? What is going on here? And what is this guy doing, using vampires for bodyguards? He could see the indecision of the girls as they were thinking over their options. Then, he could see something inside Kirika. The girl was planning something… the moment she moved, Xander saw his chance. He hefted his bottle, and threw it towards the nearest vampires. The bottle wasn't thrown very hard. It didn't break, yet the rotating motion Xander had given it caused the contents to be thrown over a wide area. He could see four vampires steaming and screaming as the holy water burned their skin.

Confusion reigned, and Xander leaned heavily against a wall, out of sight, just listening. His eyes were closed. He could hear the puffs as the vampires started falling. And then he heard the popping sound of a silenced Walther, and the falling of a human body. Xander's eyes were forced open, and as if guided by some inner strength he had no idea he possessed, he walked into the room.

He surveyed the scene. One last vampire was being circled by two combat-ready women. Mireille looked calm, except for a hint of murderousness in her eyes. Kirika scared him, however. Her eyes were dangerously narrow, yet for the rest, not a hint of emotion could be read from her posture. She was neutral, in every sense of the word.

The vampire in the middle of the two girls was standing in a Karate-pose. Xander didn't know martial arts, yet he did know enough from movies to recognize a dangerous stance when he saw one. He could see that the creature was distracted, looking at Kirika, while glancing at Mireille every now and then. Xander had entered from the door, coming in behind the creature's back.

He hefted the stake he had jammed into his belt. "Hey shitface."

The vampire startled, jumped up and around, spinning in mid-air to face Xander. The moment his feet touched the ground, the creature's face contorted into surprise, then pain, before falling into dust.


Kirika and Mireille stared at Xander as he looked at the settling ashes of the last vampire. Slowly, he looked up. "What is this…" he asking, closing his eyes, and taking a breath. "Noir?" he asked, voice wavering. When he looked up at them, his eyes radiated the pain he was trying to control.

"Xander!" Kirika grunted out when she noticed his skin paling, sweat forming over his face. When he stumbled, she was with him in a second. The assassin of mere seconds ago was replaced with the girl that had helped him, nursed him, for the last day. She supported him, settling him down on the floor. "We'll talk about that… when we get to the room," she whispered, ignoring Mireille's pointed look. When Kirika had helped Xander to his feet, and they were shuffling out the door, Mireille couldn't help but look worriedly after the duo.

"Stupid boy…" she whispered.

By the time they got back to the suite, Xander had to be carried. While Kirika tugged him in, Mireille settled for a nearby chair, one hand in front of her mouth, her posture hunched forward, looking worriedly at the boy who had helped them out… again. Inwardly, she was berating herself for not finding out they were being chased, immediately followed by herself kicking herself for not knowing who had helped them out until he had walked into the room.

A distraction which had no doubt saved them quite a bit of trouble. Mireille remembered the way the last vampire acted. The blonde's blue eyes drifted to Kirika's smaller form, hunched over Xander, putting a cold compress to their rescuer's forehead. Mireille had seen the brunette do things that looked impossible… but tonight, for one of the few times since she had met the younger girl, Kirika had seemed scared.

With vividness, she remembered Kirika's exclamation. I fear that which I can not kill.

Kirika fell into the chair next to the blonde.

"We should take him to a hospital," Mireille whispered to her beaten-looking companion.

"He didn't want to be taken," Kirika answered dully. Her usually toneless voice was even flatter than normal, and it sent shivers down Mireille's spine. In the time they had known each other, Mireille and Kirika had gone through hell and beyond, and nothing had ever fazed the younger girl. And now… in these two days they had known Xander… Kirika seemed totally and utterly beaten.

"What do you want, Kirika? We need to run… the Yakuza will trace us."

Kirika shrugged. "So?"

"I know it's nothing new, but…"

"We were traced by Soldats. We fought Yakuza, the mafia, Intocabile… the poison woman. I do not fear them," the brunette grunted coldly, her finger sliding over the comforting firmness of the Beretta.

Mireille sighed. "I'll pack our clothes," she announced while getting up. Kirika immediately threw her companion an angry look, and opened her mouth to start her protest. "We'll take him with us… for now, we'll just change hotels. I'll make arrangements, and rent a car. Too bad it'll increase us being traceable, but for the moment, it'll have to do."

Kirika looked at her friend's retreating back. "Mireille." The taller woman stopped. "Thank you," Kirika whispered, looking away, down at Xander's body. Mireille just smiled, and disappeared in the bedroom.

"Who are you, Xander Harris?" Kirika whispered. "How were you able to follow us, where so many have failed? In your condition?" the girl sighed, slid from her chair onto her knees next to the couch. She put her hands over his. "It must have been horrible," the girl said, remaining that way until long after Mireille had returned, and reclaimed her seat.


Xander winced, and held his throbbing head as the small car shot over a bump, somewhere in the center of Paris.

"We're nearly there," Kirika said comfortingly from the backseat. Mireille remained quiet, and deftly took another turn, causing Xander to wince again. He didn't blame the blonde… everyone in Paris seemed to drive like this. Like they were possessed. For someone who had grown up in a small town in sunny California, and whose only big-city experience was the relative easiness of an American city, Paris seemed like a maze of small roads and smaller road, over-populated with people who ran through each other like hyper-energetic ants.

The boy closed his eyes, and not for the first time wished he were back in his comfortable first-class seat on the airplane. He grunted as his head suddenly snapped forward when Mireille pushed on the brakes, cussing loudly in Parisian French, shaking her fist at the driver in front of her. A big male pushed his head through the side window, and shouted back at the little blue car they were in.

Mireille rolled down her window, put out her arm, and made the universal 'fuck-you' sign. The man turned red, and Xander was sure the direct descendant of the mountain gorillas was going to step out of the car and cause them serious bodily harm. Instead, he retracted his head when Mireille thumped the horn, shifted into first, and kicked on the accelerator.

The Gorilla's car accelerated away just in time to avoid a collision.

"Asshole," Mireille grunted in her trademarked French-accented English. Xander looked at her, before looking at Kirika for confirmation. The brunette shrugged.

Guess it's an everyday occurrence, Xander thought. He held his head and winced when the little car shot around yet another bend. Doesn't this country know the meaning of 'straight'? he asked himself.

Finally, five minutes later, Mireille threw the car into an empty parking spot. Xander took his backpack, and followed the two girls up the stairs of the building they had stopped in front of.

Two minutes later, Xander approached a door on the top level, still following his two hostesses. He emerged into a spacious penthouse, the large center room arranged around a pool table, around which chairs had been arranged. Off to the left stood a living room arrangement. In front, behind the snooker table, Xander could see a set of French Doors leading to a small, yet tastefully arranged balcony. When he stepped further into the room, he could see a bathroom and a kitchen off to his right.

Next to the door was a small stairway leading to a raised platform separated with a small wall that was a spacious bedroom. Xander immediately felt comfortable, and out of place at the same time. This was the room of the women Kirika and Mireille, not the duo Noir… which he still didn't know anything about, but knew enough tat it was something that daylight didn't tolerate.

That, and the room seemed to be laid out for two… in true western European fashion, Xander didn't see a guest room. Xander felt like an intruder, and suddenly regretted taking the girls up on their offer to come with them to Paris. It had sounded like a good idea at the time, but now that he saw their home, he didn't feel so sure anymore.

Mireille put her laptop down on the snooker table, and immediately connected it. The machine started downloading emails.

"We've got some closet space over here," Kirika said as her older companion started clicking on emails. She led him to the raised platform, where Xander deposited his backpack in an empty closet shoved against the far wall.

"Thanks," he said again, after he closed the door to what he now realized would be his closet. He winced when his throbbing head picked up again. He started to grow dizzy again, and Kirika helpfully guided him to the salon, where he sunk into the large three-seat couch, automatically moving to lay down. The throbbing lessened now that he closed his eyes, and allowed himself to relax. It had been a long flight… one had wasn't sure he had been ready for. His concussion was healing nicely, but the flight seemed to have worsened it again.

"Now…" he whispered, knowing well that Kirika had taken one of the single couched nearby. "What is Noir?" There. He had finally asked it. Too late, he knew it, but the last week had been so terrible on his constitution he just hadn't had the energy to bring up the subject again. A subject the two girls had seemed more than willing to let rest.

He could hear Kirika sigh. "Noir… Noir is hard to explain. Xander…"

Xander sighed. "Start from the top… I've heard some strange things. I can keep an open mind. Hellmouth-boy, remember?" he asked with a chuckle that turned into a pained wince.

"Noir is…are…the best in the 'business'. We take the 'jobs' no-one else wants… or can."

"What business?" Xander asked, looking at her with a pained expression in his eyes. "Please don't use difficult words… my scrambled brain isn't up to it."

Kirika sighed. Quietly, very quietly, she continued, "we're killers…assassins…for hire."

Xander had immediately forgotten all about the pain. The next moment, he was sitting upright. Another instant later, he was standing on his feet, backing away from the girl who was looking hurtfully up at him as he stared at her with an expression of mixed pain, shock, anger, and revulsion. "You…you… what?" he stammered.

"We're assassins, Xander… we kill…for money…" Xander's legs gave, and he sunk to the floor.

When Kirika got up with a concerned look, he managed to bark, "Stay away!"

"We would never hurt you, Xander!" the girl whispered forcefully.

"How would I know?" the boy grunted, backing away until he had reach the corner and couldn't back away any further. "If someone paid you, would you kill me, too? Killing is wrong! Destroying demons and vampires is one thing, but human beings??"

Kirika sighed, sinking into her couch once again. "We're picky, Xander… we don't take just any job… we take those jobs involving crime. Mob bosses, Yakuza leaders, other assassins, drug barons, big criminals… people who are as bad as the demons you hunt."

"Says who?" Xander grunted, vision dimming as his concussion acted up again under the stress. "Who gave you the right to be judge, jury, and executioner?"

"Those people remain out the hands of the law," Kirika said. "They would never be punished for their crimes… so we do it."

"And get paid for it," Xander said flatly.

"So are prison wardens who execute the death sentence in your country," Kirika answered. "Xander… I won't justify what we do. We're assassins. We kill. That's what we do… but know that we only take those jobs that we're sure of…" She looked at him. "How is it different from what you do?" she asked. "When a demon or vampire kills a human, you would hunt it, right?"

"Of course," Xander replied.

"How about a human? If a human killed another human, and the police were helpless, wouldn't you like to see justice happen?"

"A human has a soul! A human can redeem himself!" Xander replied forcibly. "It's not up to me to dispense justice!"

"How about if that human was responsible for dozens of deaths? Hundreds? Or, what if it wasn't murder, but torture? I've seen what drugs can do to a person, Xander. We're not going after innocents… we go after people who have blood on their hands. Liters of it. Their souls, if they still have them, are black as coal and will go straight to hell. We're only helping them along."

Xander's mouth opened. It closed. He seemed to consider something, opened it again, and closed it again when another thought struck his head. "Damn…" he whispered, rubbing his temples. When he opened his eyes once again, he found Kirika sitting next to him, her hand on his shoulder.

"Come, Xander," she whispered calmly. "You need some more rest."

Meekly, he let himself be guided to the couch, where he promptly fell into, sinking into blissful sleep. Kirika sat down in the single couch opposite the couch Xander occupied.

"I tried to warn you that he would go berserk," the blonde whispered as she sat down in the couch next to Kirika's. "We should have held this conversation in Los Angeles."

"I know… but he's accepted it now," Kirika said, causing Mireille to look at her companion.

"How…?" she whispered.

"I saw it… in his heart, and in his mind… he realized it," Kirika said. "He knows… realizes… that humanity has monsters just as bad as the demons he hunts at night."

"What are you saying, Kirika? You're not suggesting what I think you're suggesting, are you?"


Xander was standing in the gloomy atmosphere of the Paris Sewer System, pointing the Walther P99 he could borrow from Mireille at the wall that was hidden in the shadows. His arms ached, even as he held the gun in both hands, trying to aim straight. He swallowed with a dry mouth; his system long since adapted to the continuous putrid smell in the sewer. How did I get involved in this? Xander asked himself again as he closed one eye, and took aim along his outstretched arms and over the gun's sight.

How did I let them convince me? Why? Xander asked as his finger twitched on the trigger. The gun bucked in his hands, and Xander let out a groan as the recoil traveled through his exhausted arms. I'm not a murderer… I shouldn't be doing this. Why did I let them convince me to teach me? The gun bucked again, and Xander shifted his stance slightly, spreading his legs wider apart to increase his balance.

You had this conversation with them already! Sometimes it's necessary! Xander groaned against the small inner voice that tried to reason with him. Xander squeezed another round form the gun. You need to be prepared for anything… you never know, the voice finished.

Xander wiped some sweat off his forehead, and retook his stance. How did they talk me into this? Xander groaned silently as he brought his leaden arms up, retaking his double-handed hold on the gun.

Behind him, Mireille and Kirika were looking at the shooter. They were standing far enough away to hold a conversation without Xander overhearing them.

"He's good," Mireille whispered.

Kirika simply nodded, a vague amused expression on her face.

"You knew this, didn't you?" Mireille asked curtly.

Kirika shrugged. "I had a feeling… but I didn't have a feeling about this," she added the latter shortly after, her eyes widening slightly.

Mireille looked at the boy, and glanced at the far wall, eyes wide open to capture as much light as possible in the shadows of the sewers.

Xander, meanwhile, was really tired. He could barely keep his eyes open, and his arms were blocks of sheer pain. Yet as he squinted his eyes to make out the faint circles painted on the wall, his finger twitched. Growling, he emptied the semi-automatic gun's clip into the wall.

"The more tired he is, the better he gets," Mireille whispered as she walked towards the boy with Kirika at her side. He dropped the gun into Mireille's hands as she stood next to him.

"Very good," Mireille praised in French. For five seconds, Xander just stared at her, his mind blown to bits after hours of gun drills and countless rounds pumped into the wall. Then, his mind connected the dots. From now on, only French, he remembered. They only speak French to me… and I'd better respond in kind, or I'll end up doing punishment drills.

"Merci," Xander answered in heavily accented French. Thank you. 

"You're getting better every time," Kirika said from his other side. "Today, you actually managed to put most of your shots inside the outer circle." Xander glanced at the wall, squinting to make out the two circles drawn on it, creating an improvised bull's eye.

"J'essaye mon best," Xander grunted out. I try my best.

"And you're improving because of it," Mireille said. "Come, Xander. It's time for a shower, and then we'll have dinner."

Xander simply nodded, allowing the two to guide him away through the maze that was the Paris sewers. Smart of them to use the sewers… no-one will hear them practicing in here. As he saw daylight for the first time in hours, Xander winced in pain. Dinner… his mind grunted. Food is good. Then he froze. "Mireille…"


"You give me lesson, in etiquette, yes?" he asked in horrible French. But, no matter how bad it was… Xander had to admit he had picked up enough to express himself, even though his 'classes' had started less than two days ago. No better way to learn a language then being forced to speak one.

"Of course, Xander," Mireille said with a smirk. "You never know when it comes in handy to act like a gentleman."

"But that not me!" Xander protested, his French clipping due to his emotional state. "I are hungry… you not let go for once?"

Mireille let out her breath. "We're not going to have this conversation, Xander. Remember, you agreed to let us teach you. It's all up to you… you can still walk out if you want to."

"But me alone then," the boy whispered. "In country I not speak language of."

Mireille smiled slightly. "I know you'd see it my way."

Xander groaned. "Yes. I see it your way," he echoed.


Kirika shot a worried glance at Xander as she walked past his couch on her way to the kitchen. The boy was twitching and moaning in his sleep again, caught in the grips of some horrible nightmare. The brunette sadly shook her head, and disappeared into the kitchen. Five minutes later, the smell of Kirika's tea woke up Xander, who dragged himself over to the kitchen.

"Morning," he grunted as he pushed open the door.

"Morning," Kirika greeted in her usual flat voice. "Tea?" she offered, taking a cup and extending it to him. Xander grabbed it as if it were his last line to sanity.

"I need some," he grunted as the girl filled the cup. "Thanks, Kirika."

She shot him a small smile. "No problem," she answered as he sipped the tea and let out a contented moan.

"Oh, yeah, I so needed that."

"The nightmare again?" Kirika asked sadly as she continued preparing breakfast.

"Yeah," Xander grunted, looking at his tea, suddenly having lost all appetite in it.

"You can talk about it, if you want to," Kirika offered, half-way expecting his response. It had been the same answer he had given her for the last week, ever since he had been well enough to train.

"Not really," Xander answered levelly, doing his best to keep his voice from trembling. Somehow Xander wanted to be as emotionally strong as his two teachers.

Kirika just looked sadly at him as he stared into his cup of tea. Finally, she looked away and continued breakfast. "Could you go tell Mireille that breakfast is ready?" Kirika finally asked after the silence had dragged on and on.

"Sure," Xander answered, draining his now cold tea in a single drink and disappearing through the door, already preparing himself for another day of grueling training he knew was to come.


"Two months already," Mireille said to her younger companion as they watched Xander do pull-ups from a thick tree branch. They were in a deserted area of a relatively unknown park in Paris, and Xander was hanging from the branch, his arms flexing as he pulled himself up along with the weights attached to his legs. Both females were dressed in thick winter coats, and Mireille constantly blew into her gloved hands. Kirika seemed unaffected by the winter weather, the cold wind, or the snow on the ground.

"It's incredible," Kirika said in her usual quiet and soft voice. "Xander's progress… he can shoot perfectly. He can strip, clean, repair, and assemble guns. His physical condition has improved tremendously… but the mystery remains."

Mireille nodded as Xander's ragged breath counted twenty-five. "That strange body of his… it grows stronger and faster the more exhausted he gets," she said, rubbing her hands, and stomping her booted feet on the ground.

The brunette dipped her head in response to Mireille's statement. "He needs a push in the right direction… he can become someone incredible. But Paris is limited." She looked at the blonde. "He needs experience."

Mireille snorted. "Good luck trying to get him to go along on a mission. First, I don't think he'll go for it, and second, I'm not so sure I'll go for it either. It's suicide trying to take an inexperienced boy with us on the types of missions we do."

Kirika sighed, and nodded. Xander fell from the branch, panting. Dressed only in a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt, sweat glistened on his exposed face and arms. He started putting on a sweater.

"Ten laps today," Mireille told the boy, who mindlessly snapped a salute, and jogged off in a certain direction. "And running, no jogging!" Mireille yelled after him. The rhythm changed, and Xander ran from view.

"And what's with the salutes?" Mireille grunted.

Kirika shrugged in response. "He doesn't want to tell," she whispered, looking from the direction Xander had disappeared in, shifting to her companion. "Mireille… I want to give Xander some experience."

Mireille snapped to Kirika, her face surprised. "How?" she asked, shocked.

"The Mansion… it still exists… and now that I remember…remember what Althena did…"

Mireille grabbed the girl by her arms and shook her. "Are you insane?" the aristocrat demanded. "That place still gives you nightmares! And now you want to take Xander there? Have you lost your mind?"

Kirika shook her head, breaking from the grip. "Xander… I know Xander can handle it. And it needs to be done."

Mireille snorted. "For what? Xander's never going to be an assassin. He leaves the room every time we bring it up. He's accepted what we are, but he has problems with it being in his face. There is no way he'll agree to come with you for training in the… whatever it is those assholes trained you in."

Kirika looked at the ground. "The arts of assassination… martial arts, weaponry, poisons, medicine, first aid, meditation… Xander will agree." The girl looked up. "He will agree once he learns that it is useful in his fight against vampires and demons. I think not even a vampire will be much of a threat with a knife jammed in its eyes, its neck snapped, it kneecaps shattered, its…"

"I get the point," Mireille grunted. "Fine. Suggest it to him, if you have to… but I'm not going with you. After last time I was there, I know that one visit was more than enough for me."

Kirika sighed sadly, and looked at the tree Xander had been using as gym apparatus. "It was my home for all those years," she whispered sadly. "Althena was my mother…" she shook her head, putting a plastic smile on her face as she turned to Mireille. "It will be good to see it used for something positive. Teaching Xander to fight the underworld… it feels right to me."

Mireille sighed once more. "He still has to agree," she said with a chuckle. "But, as I said, I won't be joining you. If you want to do this, I won't stop you, but I won't be coming."

"Thank you, Mireille," Kirika said, her smiling less forced with her companion's permission.


Xander refused to show his exhaustion as he walked next to Kirika along a deserted mountain road. To the best of his knowledge, they were somewhere on the Austrian-Italian border, way up in the mountains. With a half-jealous look, Xander's eyes shifted to Kirika, who effortlessly trekked further up the track with her backpack firmly on her shoulders.

While he was fingering the straps of his pack where they dug into his shoulders, going to considerable effort not to pant too much in the thinning air. They rounded a corner, and Xander forgot all about exhaustion, thin air, and the difference in physical condition between himself and Kirika.

They had entered a small village. A village to which Xander hadn't read a name plate, nor any references to. And, it was completely deserted. As the duo walked through the deserted town in total silence, Xander's eyes scanned from left to right, while Kirika just stared sadly at the ground moving beneath her feet. Suddenly, Xander jumped a couple of paces back.

"Is…that…?" he asked, motioning silently to something further along the road. Kirika's eyes grew sadder still, and the girl gave a quiet nod. Again in silence, the duo continued to walk, Xander feeling a growing apprehension rise within the pit of his stomach. The thing on the road grew larger, the shape roughly human. They passed the corpse in total silence, Xander's body shaking with emotions over what he saw. He wished they had the time to stop.

When they crossed into the town square, Xander stopped. Kirika or no Kirika, Xander couldn't hold out much longer as he dropped his pack, bent over, and vomited.

Kirika stared with sad eyes at the decomposing bodies in the town square. Finally, Xander's stomach was empty and the dry-heaving soon stopped. He righted himself, and stared in revulsion at the scene of carnage. "What…happened?" he asked, voice choking.

Kirika was silent for a few moments, and Xander practically thought she hadn't heard him when she finally answered, "Soldats."

"Soldats?" Xander asked.

Kirika nodded once. "We need to go…" she said, looking at the setting sun. "It's still a couple of hours to the mansion… and we need to be there before nightfall."

"But…" Xander started, motioning for the bodies.

"Soldats," Kirika repeated again, a colder edge to her voice. "We need to go Xander."

Xander swallowed, and nodded. He only knew Kirika's sweet, quiet, shy attitude and soft voice. To hear her tone contain a cold edge, to hear her speak with a cold, decisive manner was truly frightening for Xander, stunning him into silence and compliance. As they trekked further, Xander's mind had to force itself to keep going, his thoughts flashing to the nightmares of the Vietnam veteran he now had. It was the same senseless slaughter, the same waste of life, and it filled Xander's heart with revulsion.

He hadn't noticed that they had left the town until Kirika stopped them near a dozen bodies, scattered on and next to the road, shielded under some trees. Solemnly, Kirika bent her head, and Xander actually thought she was praying when he heard the soft words, "You once saved my life… thank you…" with those quiet words, Kirika looked up and resumed her walk, Xander following behind, his mind filled with puzzles. Puzzles he desperately wanted to ask answers to, answers he knew he had no right to have. As long as he kept his own secrets, he wasn't entitled to theirs.

"We're there," Kirika stated after an unidentifiable amount of time. Xander blinked; eyes focusing on the real world once more. He looked out over a straight earthen path, leading through a large vineyard to the ruin of what was without a doubt once a spacious mansion at the end of the path. Drawing in a breath of mountain air, Xander glanced around, taking in the secluded plateau in between the mountains. It was below the snowline, towering mountains framing the plateau like large granite guardians. The place was beautiful.

Only now did he realize that Kirika had already resumed her walk, and Xander jogged after her to catch up. As he neared, Xander could see ancient Roman columns rising to the sky, the roof they once supported long since gone. The mansion itself was nothing more than a ruin… built somewhere a long time ago, Xander figured. History was never his strong suit.

Kirika turned, and walked along the ruins, with Xander following her, staring in unbridled curiosity at the ruins. For the most part, it looked as if the ground floor was still intact… with only a minor interruption here and there. It even looked as if some of the second floor had survived as well. Finally, they entered the ruins through a non-descript door.

As the door slammed shut behind him, a stark darkness descended upon them, and Xander could faintly see Kirika reach out in a practiced manner, grabbed something from a second something that was nearby, but out of the reach of Xander's eyes. He saw her flick a lighter out of her pocket, and with a single motion of her hand, light the three candles in the three-sponged candlestick. She's done this before, Xander noted sarcastically, seeing her light three candles in one continuous motion.

The yellow-burning candles cast eerie shadows as they walk, and more than once Xander jumped away from one wall or another as they walked. Kirika descended a flight of ancient stairs, deeper into the bowels of Mother Earth. Xander followed, all his instincts on edge. Whatever this was, it was not a good place. Years of fighting vampires had instilled strong instincts of the supernatural, and this place sent them all ballistic.

They entered a cavernous hall, supported by columns similar to the ones he had seen outside. The room looked like the center hall of a cathedral, yet Kirika paid no attention to it. Xander followed, still gaping at this entire place. When he had first seen the ruins, he had never suspected that the real building was under the ground. Finally, they came to an elaborate set of metal double doors. Kirika halted in front of them, giving Xander a good chance to study the carvings on the doors. On each door, a woman was depicted, facing each other, kneeling to one knee, holding up swords in a ritualistic manner. Behind them, carved over the joining of the metal, a third woman was depicted, holding one hand over her heart, looking down at the kneeling figures in some saintly fashion.

"Xander… this is your last chance," the girl said, having resumed her normal mode of speech. "Say so, and we'll go back upstairs, have a good rest, and return tomorrow… but if you chose to stay, there's no going back."

Xander swallowed; something in her words set his instincts on edge. He squared his shoulders. "No. No, I chose to stay. I'm tired of being a nobody… I want to be able to contribute."

Kirika looked at him, her eyes filled with an odd mixture of pain, sadness, and pity, before she nodded. "Then this will be your first night. Enter this chapel, and spend the night here. It will give you insight into who and what you are, your motives, strengths, weaknesses, desires, and wishes."

Xander nodded, and reached for the doors of the chapel, already doubting his ability to push those huge things open. Kirika intercepted his arm. "It isn't pretty… actually… it's quite painful," she warned him, a strange sense of compassion in her oddly colored red eyes. "I can only leave you the words Althena left me… Accept. Do no fight, or it will drive you insane."

Xander took a breath, steeled himself, and smiled. "Thanks," he said, reaching for the doors, and throwing them open. They actually moved quite easily. Resolutely, he strode inside, refusing to look behind him where he could feel Kirika's gaze burning in his back. Only when he heard the door fall into the lock, and the subsequent locking of said lock, did Xander look up from the marble-tiled floor.

He was in a small chapel, able to hold fifty, maybe a hundred people, tops. At the front stood the white marble altar, complete with white cloth, gold cup and gold scale for the hosts. Xander's gaze traveled further, to the intricate marble carved far wall, depicting a scene from the Passion, or so Xander thought. His knowledge on the Christian faith not extending far past 'crosses repel vampires'.

Up his eyes traveled, to a colored window. Immediately, it grabbed Xander's attention, and held it there. Xander knew he should be expecting a scene from some Saint or other. Instead, he saw a glass version of the carvings on the door. Only, because of light shining through them, the entire scene seemed more alive to Xander. He briefly wondered on how light came through that window, since they were deep under ground, yet he soon dismissed it as his thoughts dwindled, focusing solely on the scene on the window.

He stared at it until the sun had long since set, and he couldn't avert his gaze until the first beams of moonlight penetrated through the vividly colored glass, casting red, blue, and green shadow throughout the chapel.

"This is crazy," Xander whispered, sitting down on the front row. "It's just a church." He looked around to the beautifully decorated Catholic chapel. "A nice church, but still a church."

Out of nowhere, music played, sounding like a dozen male voices singing Gregorian hymns to the sound of a growling organ. Xander jumped up. "Who's there?"

Xander stared around him for a good thirty seconds during which no answer came, yet the music continued. "Kirika, this isn't funny!" Again, there was no change in the music or the performance of the Gregorian singers. Xander smiled slightly. "I come from a demon-infested, vampire-loaded town built on top of the Hellmouth. You don't scare me with some music, Kirika," he whispered to himself. "Let's see… where are your speakers?"

He walked to the altar, and looked down the center lane of the small chapel, getting his bearings straight on the layout. Still smiling slightly, Xander walked slowly through the church, examining every nook and cranny, revealing exactly nothing. No speakers, no wires, no nothing. Xander didn't even find any indication that the room even had electricity.

Then he remembered Kirika lighting candles on their way in, and a creepy feeling wormed its way up Xander's spine. The feeling of danger he had felt before entering the chapel returned, and Xander sat down on the front row again, the music continuing incessantly.

"It's just a church. I've been in churches before. I've heard music before. Nothing to be scared of," Xander said, unconsciously pulling up his legs and throwing his arms around them. "I grew up in Vamp Central. Some music doesn't scare me. It doesn't. It doesn't scare me."

The song seemed to approach, as if the singers were slowly coming toward him. Xander's head snapped up, and he jumped away from the bench, staring down the aisle. What he saw made his heart jump, do a summersault in mid-flight, and land in a perfect grade-A dismount. Half a dozen men in pitch black frocks were striding down the aisle toward him.

Xander froze on the spot when he saw thee hoods of the frocks were empty. Incessantly approaching, the ghost-monks didn't seem to take notice of him as they sang and shuffled toward the altar. Xander continued to stare as the ghostly music resounded in his ears, driving deep within him, touching, probing… confusing. The lead monk had nearly reached Xander by now, and the boy was sure he could reach out and touch the apparition.

Xander's body refused to move as the monks' song seemed to paralyze his very thought processes, and Xander's heart stopped when the lead monk reached him. Instead of stopping, the ghostly figure kept right on walking… through Xander's body. The moment the human boy and the ghost from beyond touched, Xander screamed.


Kirika had watched the door for a few moments, before turning and walking away. Her path illuminated by the three dancing candles, the brunette walked solemnly away from where Xander had now been locked in. I hope you survive, Xander… that is the most dangerous part of the training. You must accept who you are before you can push yourself to your very limits. She closed her eyes and drew a breath before continuing. It's also one of the most painful things you'll ever experience. I know. 

With those thoughts, she walked up the stairs, leaving Xander to the underground church. Once she reached the ground level, Kirika made her way through the maze of the ruined mansion, to where her room was… or rather, had been. She opened the heavy oak door, and drew the first breath of the familiar air from her room: the scent of the wooden beams of the roof, the smell of her bed, her closet, and of the ancient stone. But above all, the permeating smell of death that hung like a thick fog throughout the entire building.

Kirika sighed a little sadly as she made her way to her closet. From it, she took a thick and heavy dark green robe. Shedding her clothes, the girl dressed in the green robe she had once received from the villagers. First I make my round… then I'll return to Xander, the girl's mind whispered as she turned and closed the massive door behind her.

Kirika left the ruins of the main mansion, and disappeared into its gardens. Taking a small mountain path, she soon reached a second plateau, hidden from the main one that held the mansion. The small path led to a wide road framed with ancient Roman columns and remains of what used to be supported by them. Kirika sighed, closed her eyes, and drew in a fresh breath of clean and untainted mountain air.

Finally, the girl opened her eyes. She walked slowly to the end of the gallery, emerging into the remains of a circular roman temple. In the exact center, on a huge slab of stone lay a body, just as badly decomposed as the bodies in the village. Kirika stood silent, sad dark-red eyes resting on the peaceful-looking deceased form.

"I'm back…" she whispered to the corpse. "I'm sorry… Chloe." With those sad words, Kirika left the circular enclosure through a different path than the one she had first taken to get there. The girl wandered through a maze of ancient stonework walls, eyes automatically locking onto small holes in the walls.

I fought Mireille… to the death… the girl's eyes grew suspiciously moist. How far they managed to drive me. I was actually ready to take the vows as Noir. She halted, and looked at the starry skies. Thank you, Mireille… For everything. She looked straight ahead. This is all in the past, and now someone depends on me as I used to depend on Mireille. She may not understand, but I do… Xander needs my help, and I will do the best job I can. Resolutely, she started walking through the maze. The walk became a trot, then a jog, which evolved into a run. Running as only she could, Kirika flashed through the maze and emerged next to the mansion.

Barely bothering to take a candle-stick near the entrance, the girl ran through total darkness until she reached the metal doors of Xander's confinement. She sat the candle stick down, the unlit white candles her only companions as she stood fully erect, watching the doors. "I am here, Xander. You have nothing to fear."

The girl heard a blood-curling scream from inside the chapel. "It's begun," she whispered. "Good luck, Xander. Only the strong survive… and something tells me that you're stronger than most."

Meanwhile, inside the chapel, Xander felt as if he were being eaten alive, and in some way, he was. When the psychic manifestation touched him, a part of himself that Xander had always kept contained, opened. Memory upon memory, pain upon pain, thought upon thought slammed into his mind, and Xander let out a second scream.

The next instant, a falling sensation overcame him, pulling Xander away from reality as he knew it and plunging him into a world of inky darkness. Even though he saw nothing, he was still aware… aware of motion, of people around him. He knew that there were others… and he knew that this couldn't be good when the hairs at the base of his neck stood up.

The darkness filled with silver-gray fog, and the transition was so fast that Xander had to blink three times before he realized it. The fog cleared as suddenly as it had appeared, and the boy now found himself in a thick jungle. A jungle he knew almost by heart by now… the jungle from his nightmares.

"You really are worthless, aren't you?" a figure asked, emerging from the thick brush, stepping toward him with a dark look on his face. "No worries… I'll show you how to be strong."

"Oh god…" Xander whispered as he recognized the figure.

The man he was facing was no-one but himself… dressed in combat fatigues.

Kirika remained outside those large double doors for hours, listening to the screams, wincing at the occasional scream that was worse than the others, hoping for the sanity of her friend. Finally, the crying, pleading, begging and screaming diminished before slowly dying out. Kirika remained there, waiting for those few extra minutes to be sure that things were over.

The girl drew a breath, and pushed open the doors. Her heart stopped when she saw a lone figure, curled into a fetal position in front of the altar. Xander wasn't moving.

Holding her breath, she hurled herself across the length of the chapel, skidding down on her knees to a stop next to him. She let out a breath of relief when she saw him breathing calmly.

"Asleep…" she whispered, sitting upright. "That's a good sign, Xander… have a good night's rest." Kirika stood up, and retrieved the candles. Putting the yellow dancing flames down next to the boy, Kirika shot him a relieved look before disappearing to get some blankets.


Xander pulled one eye open. The small chapel greeted his sleep-blurred vision. Slowly, Xander cranked his second eye open, and forced himself to sit upright. His entire body felt sore. Every muscle protested, every tendon pulled, and even his very joints and bones seemed to ache. Xander let out a low moan. Slowly, the events of the previous night returned to him, yet as painful as they had been previously, now he was able to look at them detachedly.

"That was some night," he groaned. He startled slightly when a smaller yet more powerful form sat down next to him, extending an authentic earthwork mug of steaming hot tea. Xander gratefully accepted the rough cup and drank greedily. The hot liquid seemed like an injection of energy to his worn out body and battered mind.

"You survived, Xander," Kirika whispered evenly, smiling slightly at seeing him drain the tea.

"Does that mean I get what's behind door number 2?" Xander asked with a slight grin as he pulled the mug from his starving lips. Kirika cocked her head, smiling in quiet acceptance.

"It's a good sign… your sense of humor… most people don't survive the night with their sanity," the girl said, standing up. "Come, Xander… it's time to begin your training."

Xander let out another groan as he forced himself to his legs, grabbing the sheets off the ground on his way up. "Could you first show me a shower? I think I'll need a long hot one," he said, shooting her a slight grin.

"We have a shower… but it's not what you're used to," Kirika answered quietly.

"A shower's a shower," Xander answered. "Lead the way, o teacher of mine."

Kirika smiled slightly, then motioned. "This way," she said, leading him through the maze of the ruined mansion. They emerged on an open clearing sporting an authentic medieval well, with the small brickwork circular wall, the heavy wooden buckets and the rope and pulley system to pull the buckets up. She dropped the bucket down into the crystal-clear water, then with precise and practiced movements reeled it up.

"The shower," Kirika said, motioning for the bucket. Xander stared.

"That's your shower?" Xander asked, eyes wide in surprise.

Kirika nodded. "This mansion stems from the medieval times… It is a place forgotten by time. We don't have electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, gas, or anything else. We cook on a simple woodstove, which doubles for heating, and candles are illumination at night."

Xander stared at the bucket. "Great. Oh, well… when in Rome…"

"Here's the soap," Kirika said, extending a cube of what looked like a pale white substance of something that smelled like soap. Xander accepted it.

"I'll go make some breakfast… then I'll show you around and we can begin our training," Kirika said, turning to leave. "I'll be back in about ten minutes. In case you want to hide again." With those words, she was gone.

Xander smiled sarcastically. "Nothing wrong with a good sense of modesty," he grunted as he started to disrobe. "I know she has none, but does she really have to rub it in that much?"

Later that day, after a breakfast of some meats and vegetables Xander didn't recognize, and a grand tour which took about three hours, Xander and Kirika entered a small non-descript room.

"Jesus!" Xander cursed, slamming his hand before his mouth and nose. "What is this place?"

"Many a life ended here…" Kirika whispered sadly. "This place reeks of death even worse than the rest of the mansion. Don't worry… we won't be spending any time here. I don't intend to train you for ever."

"Hey! I should be insulted by that, shouldn't I?" Xander protested.

"It's a simple necessity…" Kirika replied evenly. "It took me 12 years to be where I am now. I don't intend to give you more than the basics, which accounts to about a month… Mireille has done an equitable job in training you. Endurance, shooting, so forth… I intend to merely be teaching you how to survive psychologically and physically, and how to use your environment to its fullest. Mireille is good… very good… but she is limited to her gun. You, as someone who will be going up against opponents of unimaginable power, will need to learn how to use the environment. Sometimes, a gun isn't enough…"

"Like with vampires," Xander said.

"Exactly," Kirika answered. "But think beyond stakes… sometimes, disabling before you can win can be the only way. What if you stabbed your stake through the vampire's eye? Or a silver knife through its knee? A kick to the genitals?"

"Hey, I can do that," Xander said.

"Yes… everyone can do that. But can you fight?" Kirika asked. "If it came down to it, can you fight with a stake in your hand? Can you draw a knife and have a knife fight with it?"

Xander shrugged. "A vampire is dumb… they rely on their strength and speed to win."

Kirika drew a knife from somewhere, and engaged him. Before Xander knew what had happened, he was flat on his back, her knife at his throat, her body sitting on top of his chest, her legs pinning his arms to his sides. "If I can do it, then how easy wouldn't it be for a vampire to do the same? And, contrary to me, a vampire doesn't pull its punches."

"Hey… that's not fair!" Xander grunted. "I just told you that a vampire doesn't use knives!"

"But what if one did? At the house of the Yakuza that employed vampires, there was a martial arts master who had been turned. He was quite a challenging opponent," Kirika returned calmly, remaining in her position with her knife at Xander's throat. He was about ready to piss his pants from fear.

"A one in a million…" he whispered, before asking fearfully, "could you… remove that thing from my neck, please?"

"The difference between a good warrior and a great warrior is being prepared for that on in a million chance," the brunette assassin whispered, sitting up, before standing. "Now do you understand?"

Xander sat up from the ground, looking up at his young teacher. "I…I understand. I never thought I'd say this, but I actually get that."

Kirika nodded in satisfaction, and extended her hand. Xander grabbed it, and once again amazed himself at the strength with which she pulled him to his feet. "Are you ready for your first lesson?" she asked.

Xander shrugged, and grinned. "Sure. Bring it on!" Then, he grimaced, rubbed his sore butt where it had collided violently with the ground, and said, "I just hope that it doesn't hurt that much…"

Kirika shook her head in quiet amusement. It was hard not to be amused by someone like Xander. "The first lesson… and one of the hardest to learn… is the fear of death."

"Huh?" Xander asked stupidly.

"You'll need to get rid of it," Kirika said. "Fighting without a fear of death will keep you from being nervous about dying… as such; you'll be able to keep a level head when balancing on the tightrope of demise. Don't get me wrong… fear of death is different from desire to live. The desire to live will keep you alive. The fear of death will only slow you down."

Xander's chin must have scraped over the ground, or so he thought. "Eh… I don't think I get that."

"No-one does… at first," Kirika answered. "Xander, why do you fear death?"

"Eh… because I don't want it to happen to me soon?" he asked.

"And why is that?"

"I don't know!" Xander shouted. "Why does someone fear death?"

"Exactly," Kirika answered. "Ignorance. You fear that which you don't know… tell me, why do suicide-bombers strap bombs to their bodies, and detonate themselves without hesitation?"

Xander simply shrugged.

"Because they have convinced themselves that they know the afterlife," Kirika answered for him. "Either through religion, or through the notion 'this is for the greater good', they have convinced themselves that whatever happens afterward, is better. That is why such people are tremendously dangerous… they hold no fear of death. They hold the psychological advantage. What you must do is hold that same advantage. You must have a desire to keep on living, but not hold a fear to end it right here and now should the necessity arise."

"Great… but that still doesn't tell me how we're going to get rid of it. Unless you're planning on dumping some religious brainwashing in my head?" Xander asked the latter with a cheerfully smiling tone to his voice.

"There are techniques," Kirika started, turning away from him to look at the sun. She took a breath. "That's why I first had you go through the church… that experience has unlocked your subconscious potential. Now all we have to do is drill into it that death is not something to be afraid of… and there may come a time when you need to use these same techniques to drill into your subconscious that your life means nothing, that you will use your life in exchange for your goals." She turned back to him. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The technique is a sort of meditation technique. Follow me, Xander."

"Sure," he whispered, following the girl into the bowels of the mansion. Soon, they emerged into a small and empty room. Kirika put the three-pronged chandelier down in the middle, and sat down at one side. She motioned for Xander to take the place on the other side. As he did so, she blew out the left and right candles, leaving only the middle one to cast its dancing shadow through the room.

"Look into the flame," she instructed. "You will see three parts: the golden flaming upper part, the blue middle part, and a spot of absolute darkness… stare into the dark center part, and envision that emptiness is your mind, and just let things come as they come. What you'll see will come from your subconscious mind. Don't try to force the images, don't try to understand or reason about them. Clear your mind and just let the images and thoughts form on their own."

Xander stared; not really believing anything would come but willing to go along with it anyway. After all, it obviously meant a lot to Kirika, so why shouldn't he try and see? Stranger things had happened then staring into a flame and seeing your subconscious. Like ghost monks who show you the real you. Xander shivered slightly at the memory. Six monks… six different sides to him. It wasn't pretty, like Kirika had warned him.

Xander blinked and refocused on the flame, forcing his mind to clear. He couldn't help but think about last night. It had hurt so much… Xander shook his head to clear the cobwebs. He heard Kirika say something on the background, but it sounded vague and unreal. Instead of breaking his mind on trying to figure out what she was saying, Xander focused on the flame, which seemed to grow with every passing moment.

Clear your mind. Focus on the darkness of the flame. Clear your mind. Focus on the darkness of the flame. Over and over Xander repeated his mantra, until he suddenly felt a falling sensation, and the darkness of the flame was all around him. His entire world, the entire reality around him was nothing but that darkness. And then the visions came.

"You left me, Xander," Buffy's voice cried from somewhere, forcing him to spin around in search of it.

"You left us," a second voice piped in, again from behind him. Willow's voice. Xander spun again, looking from left to right to up and down in this strange place that held no particular direction. Everywhere he looked it was the same all-encompassing darkness.

"To the vampires," Buffy picked up again. "Without you there, who would help me fight the vampires?"

"You didn't need me!" Xander screamed. "All I was to you was the clown who fetched donuts!"

"Your humor kept us going," Willow said sadly from somewhere. Xander had stopped spinning after a terrible vertigo had set in, and now he was just sitting on an invisible floor. "And everyone needs something to eat… we greatly appreciated you doing that."

"And then you left," Buffy grunted. "You left me, and Will, and Giles… what kind of friend are you?"

"I had to leave… I couldn't go on… not with the way they had been treating me," Xander whispered.

"You could have come to us!" Buffy screamed. "Talked to us! Told us what was happening, and we might have been able to help you!"

"You've slept at my house before! My parents wouldn't have objected!" Willow added in, her beautifully smooth voice showing a rise in tone for the first time since Xander had known her. It was not a good experience.

"And then what?" Xander growled, standing upright even though his vertigo still hadn't settled. He looked angrily at the darkness. "I would have become another burden? You, Buff, you claimed you want me around to help with the vampires, yet you never let me go on patrol with you. And you, Will, claim I was a help, yet you're the smart one. You're the hacker and the intelligent one. You do the research, and the computer mojo. I was of no help at all. Admit it. You miss having someone around who makes you laugh. Well, sorry for that, but that's not who I am! I wanted to help. Really help. And I couldn't. So I got off the Sunnydale Express Line to Hell, and decided not to board again until I was good and ready to be that help."

The two voices were quiet.

Kirika looked at Xander, who was staring intently at the flame, lost it seemed in a world of his own worst nightmares. His brown eyes were swimming in moisture, tears streaked down his face and his entire expression was as if he was seeing loved ones die. Then, he shook his head, and looked up, at her.

"Are you alright?" Kirika asked, her voice showing as much concern as she was comfortable expressing.

Xander smiled weakly. "I guess that night did help… I think I've just quieted down some demons of the past…"

"You don't have to tell me," Kirika said. "It's personal. But… it is a good thing to let go of the past. What has happened, has happened. There is no changing it. Feeling the weight of the past will only slow you down. It's a good step you've taken, Xander. Do you want to try again, or do you want to rest for a while?"

Xander looked at the small flame. "I made a promise to myself," he said. "I promised myself to return one day, and to continue my fight against darkness as someone who is actually capable of fighting." He looked at her with a small smile that was growing in sincerity. "I think I'll go in for another round."

Kirika nodded, and set in her own pose once more. She was faintly aware of Xander's mind phasing out again before the darkness encompassed her with the practiced manned of over a decade of training. Tomorrow, her last thoughts were. Tomorrow I'll teach him not to need the flame anymore… and then I'll show him how to program his subconscious. 

After an intense day of deep subconscious meditation, Xander finally called it a day when the sun started to set. Kirika guided him back to the well, and started hauling up buckets of the nice, clean, ice-cold water.

Then, Xander got the shock of his life when she dropped the green robes she was wearing, folded the garment neatly, then removed her underwear, folded them, and dumped a bucket of cold water over her head, after which she started soaping up her body. Xander's mouth was on the floor for a good half a minute before he managed to speak.


She looked over her shoulder at him. "Hm?" she asked, having been thinking about something.

"I…eh…think I'll be next," he grunted, turning and starting to leave.

"Why," she asked, the tone of her voice clearly showing that she really had no idea why he would leave. "There is plenty of water, and I am almost done with the soap."

Xander turned to face her. Big mistake, as Kirika had turned by now and he was greeted by an unimpaired view of her beautiful body. Her beautiful naked body. His every male instinct was fighting his mind over keeping his eyes limited to her face. "Eh…eh… this isn't exactly… how things are done… men and women…bathing together… you know."

Kirika cocked her head slightly. "I don't know," she whispered sadly. "But, if it makes you feel better, you wait until after I'm done." She grabbed the second bucket, and dumped it over her head to wash the soap off. She grabbed a rough towel, and started toweling herself off. Xander's mind had long since forgotten about leaving, and he just stared as the brunette got back in her clothes. "There. Your turn," she said levelly.

He continued to stare at her. "Is something wrong, Xander?" she finally asked when she saw he made no moves to disrobe.

"Eh… aren't you leaving?" he asked.

"Why?" she asked in honest confusion once again. "You saw me wash… you didn't seem to mind that much."

Xander swallowed. "Maybe I should wash tomorrow," he muttered, starting to turn to the mansion. He felt an iron hand on his shoulder.

"You're not coming to dinner unless you're washed, Xander. Personal hygiene is very important," the girl admonished. Xander let out a groan, and, totally defeated, disrobed and washed as quickly as he could, intensely aware of the young brunette following his every move.


Xander ran through the maze of walls, his gun at the ready, sweeping left and right. He closed his eyes, and took a breath. His mind entered the place of darkness easily now. "The far end," he whispered into his subconscious. "Take me there, and avoid Kirika." He re-opened his eyes, and squinted slightly. His grip on the gun tightened. He looked to his right, jumped up from where he had squatted, and made a run for it.

His instincts were hyper-active, and Xander could feel the beginnings of a headache coming up. He always had a major headache after exercises like these… it came with the territory of having your senses and your instincts go into overdrive. The human mind wasn't built to handle this much data for extended periods of time.

Xander dodged to the left, just in time to feel a bullet strike the ground on the position he had just vacated. He lifted his gun, spun around, and rolled over the ground, firing bullets in the direction he had just come from. As usual, he saw nothing. She is so fast! Xander jumped up, and dove into an opening on his right, emerging in yet another long corridor. Xander took a turn left and started running again.

Bullets bit into the wall on his left, and Xander dove to the wall on the right. She's on the wall! He readied his gun, preparing to take a shot. He dove forward, and rolled on his back to aim for Kirika. He found nothing but empty air.

The young warrior jumped up, and bit off a curse as he started running again. He dove into an opening on his left. He heard something behind him, and Xander spun around, instinctively flattening his back again the wall to minimize the size of the target he formed. He saw nothing. Xander stepped away from the wall, now facing the direction he had heard something from.

Immediately, he felt something behind him. He started to spin around, only to feel a cold metallic object bite into his neck. Xander groaned, rolled over the floor, and looked with blurring vision up at Kirika, who was pointing her Beretta at him. A bullet struck the floor on the right and on the left of his head. "Twenty-five seconds. You're improving," Kirika said, putting her gun in its holster and extending her hand to help Xander up.

"I still haven't made it, though," the boy whispered miserably.

"It's unlikely you ever will," Kirika answered. "Twelve years of experience will do that to you…"

Xander just sighed sadly, and put the spare Beretta in the holster on his hip. Kirika looked at him as he sadly kicked up the dirt on their way back to the mansion.

"I know it hurts you, Xander… but that is how things are," the girl whispered. "I have not had a normal upbringing… I would trade all my advantages to grow up like any normal person. Yet, I can not, so I must use what I have been given, and hope something good comes from it."

Xander nodded absentmindedly, and the duo walked in silence until they had reached the well. Xander helped Kirika haul up the buckets of water. Soon, they had disrobed and were washing themselves. After a good three and a half weeks, Xander no longer had any problems with bathing together with Kirika.

After the bath, they went to the small kitchen, where, under the light of flickering candles, they cleaned their guns before starting dinner. Xander had learned to appreciate the strange medieval way of cooking Kirika used while in the mansion, and now he was actually looking forward to it. After dinner, they retreated to their rooms.

Yet Xander couldn't find sleep. After hours of fruitlessly trying to sleep, Xander was sitting upright in his bed, with legs crossed. He closed his eyes, and willed himself to enter the meditation trance.

"I want to win. If only for once, I want to win," he told his subconscious. The darkness thickened slightly, something it did not often do. Usually it meant that he was demanding something that was just that little bit too much. Yet, this time, the darkness continued to thicken, to the point where Xander was afraid he wouldn't be able to breathe anymore.

Two figures emerged from the darkness, which not started morphing into something else entirely. Xander found himself in a clearing in a jungle somewhere, along with his two new companions.

One was the Xander in the military fatigues he had met as the first figure during his night in the chapel. The second figure was also him, yet a him with amber eyes which were constantly scanning the vicinity.

"We have created a balance," the military Xander said.

"Must not upset," the amber-eyed Xander added coldly. "You don't want that to happen, don't you pretty boy?"

Xander Prime scowled. "You two. I should have known. And to what do I own this ambiguous pleasure of seeing you two again? Even though I see you every night in my nightmares," he grunted the last at military-Xander.

"You demanded it," Military-Xander said. "So here we are. You want to beat someone who clearly isn't normal. So, you'll need to upset the balance we built that night."

Xander grunted something.

Amber-eyed Xander nodded. "That's what I thought. You're a pansy. Scared to death of possession." He shrugged, and smiled evilly. "Fine. Then not. See ya later, pussy." With those words, he vanished.

"You've made the right choice, Xander. Things like these shouldn't be messed with unless the situation requires it. We've got a balance that works out. No need to upset it unless the world is coming to and end." He grinned at his own words, and vanished.

Xander opened his eyes in the real world. "Damn," he grunted. "I must be the only guy who gets scolded at by his own subconscious." He scowled slightly as he sunk back under the covers. This time, sleep came easy… and so did his nightmares.

The next morning was a usual one. He got up, washed himself, and dressed in the pair of ripped black jeans and the ripped black t-shirt he had brought, over three weeks ago. With all the training, his clothes had taken a turn for the worse… yet Xander didn't want to change his work-out outfit out of fear he'd rip those clothes too.

He appeared in the kitchen to see both his gun and Kirika's fully stripped and laid out on the table. "As usual," he said as he entered. "You're up way before me. Morning Kirika."

"Morning, Xander," the brunette replied, motioning for the table. "Two guns, fully stripped. Assemble them, please… and please don't mess up the parts to which gun."

Xander knew better then to state the obvious, namely that they were two identical weapons. He knew better. He gave her a wan smile as he sat down, and started slapping parts together. He liked these early morning challenges Kirika prepared for him… after all, it was something he loved doing. No matter how much it hurt physically, he knew deep down that it was the right thing to do.

"Well done," Kirika praised him as she took her gun, and let the hammer strike the empty chamber a couple of times to test the action. "You didn't miss the subtle differences between your training weapon and mine."

Xander dipped his head gratefully. If there was on thing he liked more than the challenges, it was the praise. It was the first time in his life that anyone had praised him after he had done something. Not for the first time Xander wished that his stay at this mansion with Kirika would never end.

"We'll be leaving tomorrow," Kirika dropped the bombshell. "Today will be the finishing of the training, so you'll be able to train yourself from now on… and we really should be getting back to Paris."

Xander sighed sadly. "I understand," he whispered. "I guess it doesn't do to beg to stay here, right?"

Kirika smiled slightly. "I have enjoyed my time here with you as well, Xander. But the real world doesn't wait… there comes a time when we must rejoin the reality."

Xander was silent; there were some times where any response was the wrong one.

Chapter 2

It really does look like Sunnydale's Vamp Central, Xander thought while sharpening one of his stakes at the pool table. He had spread out a sheet of plastic to protect the felt from the pieces of wood coming from the sharpening. I spent three hours at the cemeteries, and could only find three bloodsuckers. And they were easy ones, too… Xander looked at his stake, and pricked the tip into his thumb. Awch! Okay… this one's sharp enough. He grimaced as he put the stake with two others on his right. He grabbed the last stake on his left, and started to work on it.

He sighed as his eyes went over the point of the stake. He put it down with the sharpened ones, and turned his seat to stare out the window, over the sleeping city. Or rather, his gaze went over the sleeping street to the house across from theirs. He was looking but not seeing. His hand automatically went to the glass of wine that was standing a little away from his work area so he wouldn't accidentally knock it over.

He sipped the dark liquid, and reminisced. It was one of those days. One of those days when you just can't escape the dark thoughts. Xander's mind traveled through space and time, to when his life turned into a nightmare. First his parents and their drink… and then the vampires. Jessie, his childhood friend. Jessie being turned. Jessie being killed… by Xander, even if it was an accident.

A tear escaped his eye without him knowing. He took another sip. Then changed his mind and drained half the glass. The alcohol fell to his stomach, settling into a pleasant warmth. "Mon Dieu, J'aime la France," Xander whispered, looking at the half-full glass of wine. He emptied it. "Want some more, Kirika?" he asked, standing up.

Kirika looked up from her book for the first time since picking it up, and her gaze settled on his stricken face. She saw him trying to hide the pain deep within his soul as he usually did, and she saw his attempts fail miserably. She looked at her half-full glass. "Just a little, thank you," she replied. He turned to the kitchen and returned just a little later with a corked bottle of wine. He pulled the cork, filled his glass, and replenished Kirika's.

Xander picked up his glass after putting the bottle down… not back in the kitchen, but on the pool table. Kirika saw him stare sadly into his wine, before bringing the glass to his lips and taking another sip. She could see pain flicker across his dark brown eyes, and his veiled attempts to hide the pain from her, yet, at the same time, unable to hide them any longer.

"Can you tell me about it?" Kirika asked, not really believing he would take her up on the offer. They had known each other for three months now, and ever since that first meeting, Xander had refused to disclose anything about his past.

Xander let out a dry chuckle as he stared into his wine. He took another slop drink, and continued to stare out the window. Kirika returned to the tome she was reading, having accepted the fact that Xander wasn't going to talk today either. For a moment, the brunette was glad that her blonde friend was out of town on an errand for their next job. Mireille probably would have sensed his vulnerability and tried to pry information out of the boy.

Xander sat silent for five minutes, almost unmoving, just staring out the window with his glass of wine cradled in his hands. "I was born in Sunnydale," he whispered, looking down at his wine, and taking another sip, as if to drink himself some courage. "To two wonderful parents. I grew up there, and I had two friends who were as close as siblings to me. Jessie and Willow are… were… their names."

Kirika looked up from her book the moment he started telling. She looked sadly when Xander corrected his tenses. "Everything went right. Kindergarten, school… until my dad discovered the bottle," Xander said bitterly, swigging from his wine. "He became abusive. Mostly verbal. Then my mom couldn't take it anymore, and she started drinking too. Then things got worse. Dad became abusive physically as well. I became an expert at dodging, a skill that came in handy later on."

Kirika looked sadly at him, and for the first time noticed the same thing in him that she noticed about herself when she looked in the mirror. Xander looked older than he really was. "But, I managed. After all, I had two great friends who would do anything for me. I started sleeping over at their house as much as I could… and then the next thing happened. I met her." Xander stopped telling, and looked at his glass, lost in his thoughts.

"Her?" Kirika asked gently.

Xander nodded. "Buffy. Buffy Summers. She's something called the Slayer. Mystical Chosen One to fight the darkness in general and vampires in particular. Possesses the strength, skill, and speed to go up against vampires one-on-one. And believe me, she does it well. Anyway, I met her. We met her. Will, Jess, and I… we welcomed her into our little band of social outcasts as school. Even though she wasn't an outcast, she still chose to hang with us." He looked up at Kirika. "I can't tell you how good that made us feel that this popular person chose to hang with us rather than with the school social elite." Xander took another sip of wine.

"Then I overheard her with her Watcher. Those guys are supposed to do research for and help train a Slayer, by the way. Anyway, I overheard her talking, and figured something wasn't right. We found out Buffy was the Slayer, and got involved with the fight." Xander emptied the bottom of wine in his glass, and replenished it. "Then, things got out of control. Jess got turned. I staked him," Xander said darkly, angrily swallowing half a glass of wine. "Even if it was an accident, I staked him." Xander stared at the floor. "He was my brother, and I staked him… Some guy bumped into him from behind, driving him on my stake… but it was my stake. I killed him…" Xander sobbed, barely managing to get his glass on the pool table. "Oh, God, I killed him," the boy sobbed, crying into his hands.

Kirika stood up, and without saying a word, guided him to the couch, where they sat down. They moment they were seated, Xander turned to her. "I killed him, Kirika! I killed the boy who was my brother in everything but blood simply because he had been turned!"

The brunette looked sadly at him. She knew exactly how he felt, and as such knew that no words she could utter would make it better. All she could do was offer her support, and a listening ear. She shuffled closer to him, and put one arm around his shoulders as he sat hunched forward, sobbing. He turned to her, falling onto her shoulder. Kirika soon held him as he cried on her shoulder, letting out stress that had been building for a long time. He probably never had the time to grieve… poor boy, she thought as she held the crying boy.

Finally, he righted himself, and rubbed the tears out of his red and puffy eyes. "You never had a time to grieve, did you?" she asked, her voice sounding more like a statement than a question.

"Not really," Xander whispered sadly. "I'm sorry for… you know…"

Kirika merely shook her head in reply. Xander smiled a little gratefully as he sunk back in the couch, looking up at the ceiling. "I never had much chance to grieve… Buffy's new world consumed it all… Turns out Sunnydale is built on top of something called the 'Hellmouth', one of the largest portals in the world… but this one happens to lead straight into hell. So, vampires are really attracted to it. The supernatural soon was everything we were… Me, Buffy, and Willow. First, there was a witch who was out to get cheerleaders. One girl spontaneously combusted, and so forth. Then, there was a new teacher who turned out to be some kind of human-sized Praying Mantis who went after me. And then… then things really went insane." Xander stood up, and walked to the pool table, collecting the two left-behind glasses of wine. He handed Kirika hers, then took a drink from his.

"On a school trip to the zoo… I was possessed, along with a group of others boys from my class. We were possessed by the spirit of the Hyena. Immediately, we became as strong and as fast as any vampire, and did all kinds of nasty stuff." Xander's face wrinkled. "We ate the school mascot… a pig named Herbert. Buffy noticed by then that something wasn't right with me… so she and I fought. She finally decked me, and locked me in a steel cage. Meanwhile, the others who had been possessed… were called in to see the principal. They ate him."

Kirika's eyes went wide as only reaction. "Yeah. They ate him," the boy confirmed. "Anyway, the pack was looking for me, while I was still locked in that steel cage with Willow. I broke free of the cage, found my pack, and then Buffy lured us back to the zoo where the spell was undone… but I retained something. The Hyena is still part of me, somewhere…"

"When you're exhausted, or in pain…" Kirika whispered.

"Exactly," Xander answered with a nod. "Things didn't get any easier after that… a demon in the Internet tried to kill Willow, at a talent show there's a demon trying to harvest human organs. Turns out there's a student who's doing the harvesting, for a demon. A demon screws with people's nightmares, making them reality; a student who's perpetually ignored turned invisible and decided to go on a rampage, Buffy had to fight a vampire known as the Master, and a prophecy claimed that she would die during that fight. She did die, but I managed to resuscitate her. Things went from bad to worse after the school holidays when someone tried to build a girl from body-parts and then bring it to life. Only thing is, he wasn't very nice about it and went after living people to get their parts."

Kirika's eyes widened again. No wonder he's so pained inside…

"A vampire attacked the school, an old Incan mummy who was revived started draining people's life force, and then an old friend of Buffy's Watcher decided to pay us a visit last Halloween. He turned everyone into the costume they were wearing… unfortunately, I had to pick a GI Joe uniform, and was turned into a Vietnam Veteran. Still have the nightmares to prove it… and they've been adapting to include the vampires and demons I know about. So, not only do I have intensely vivid nightmares of being chased through the Vietnam Jungle with Charlie on my heels, but I have the dreams with vampires and demons slaughtering my friends as well. That's when I ran… the combo was just too much. No sleep, drunk parents who had nothing better to do then to hit me, and friends who have problems of their own… so I ran… right into you in LA." By the time he was finished, Xander was crying uncontrollably, hunched forward.

Kirika put her arm around his shoulders once again. This time, Xander remained in his position, and Kirika merely remained there, offering her silent support as Xander wept, crying for the pain of a stolen childhood, the deaths of classmates, and the suffering of a war unknown… a war without victories or glorious battles, only with casualties.

Finally, Xander's sobs seemed to subside, and Kirika righted herself. "I'll be right back," she whispered sadly, her voice asking his permission to leave him for a short while. Xander merely nodded.

When Kirika returned with two steaming hot mugs of tea, Xander had retaken his seat by the pool table so he could watch out the window. Kirika sat down in the chair she had vacated, and held out one mug to Xander.

"Thank you," Xander croaked, accepting the mug, and blowing in it. "For everything… for not judging… for listening…" he looked at her, tears brimming his eyes once more. "I think it's the first time anyone took the effort to really listen…" Fresh tears fell when Xander realized the truth of that statement. Kirika merely looked sadly at him.

"I'm always here," she finally replied. Xander gave her a small yet grateful smile, and returned to his window, cradling the hot mug. Kirika remained at the pool table, attempting to take up her copy of 'War and Peace' once again, but not finding the mood for it. She kept glancing at Xander and the same page in the book over and over.

Finally, she stood up and silently closed her book, returning it to the small cabinet where she and Mireille kept their books. She sat down in the couch again, holding her half-drunk mug of tea. "I don't remember my mother or my father," she whispered, staring at the brown liquid in her mug. "My earliest memories were of Althena… Always training me, stating the prophecies and legacies of Noir and Soldats over and over."

She sighed, and drank a little of her tea. She felt the couch shift slightly as Xander sat down next to her. "You don't have to do this…"

Kirika looked at her mug. "I do," she whispered. "I want you to know… you're not alone who has done things… horrible things… and has to live with the darkness that exists."

Xander put his mug down on the table, and turned to her. "I know I'm not alone, Kirika. I told you because I wanted to tell you. Tell me because you want to tell me, not because of some warped sense of honor or of guilt or whatever."

"That's why I'll tell you," the brunette said sadly. "Because you aren't pushing me." She emptied her tea, and stared at the bottom of her empty cup. "I was four… when Althena gave me a gun and my first assignment. A couple had broken their promise to Soldats. I had to kill them."

Xander's eyes went wide at that statement. "I had no love for them before, but now I'm starting to really hate them. Send a four-year-old girl to kill someone? Just who are those guys?"

Kirika played with her cup. "Soldats… Soldats was created during the Dark Ages, a thousand years ago. They saw themselves as the saviors of humanity. During those times, it really was a dark age, of violence, of murder, brutality, overlords threatening, pillaging, raping, and murdering innocent people. Soldats was created to protect the innocent people from those evil people. They had assassins in their service. Two girls. Noir. From there the legacy stems… Noir were the best. The meaning was lost, but the name remained, throughout history assassins have called themselves Noir without knowing the history of the word."

Xander shook his head. "Soldats were the good guys?"

Kirika shrugged. "Yes… back then, they were. But, a thousand years changed the organization. They were there when the mafia was formed. Their power and their fortunes grew. And they no longer cared about protecting people, only themselves. Althena wanted to create a new Noir, to facilitate what she called the 'Grand Retour', the Great Return. She wanted Soldats to be what it used to be and chose the mansion as her base of operations. Unfortunately, she was still very much a part of Soldats, and as such, needed to carry out the orders she had been given. That's why she sent me after that Sicilian couple.

"I killed them when I was only four years old…" Kirika whispered sadly. "All I got from it was a silver watch. It was a musical watch that played a merry tune when you opened it to look at the time." She sighed, and looked at her hands. "I was a child… I didn't know what I was doing was wrong. For years I trained at the mansion, growing stronger, better, faster… sometimes I was in the companionship of a girl named Chloe. She was to be the second hand of Noir, but she was being trained elsewhere for the most part. Our reunions were always short, yet deep… we were sisters."

Kirika took a deep breath, and looked at Xander. "Then they took my memories, and sent me into the real world. That's where my name comes from… Yumura Kirika was the name they gave my school-going persona. I woke up one day without memories, but with a gun, the music watch, a school uniform and a student-ID. The watch gave me flash-backs… that's how I recalled 'Noir'… and how I knew how to contact Mireille. I knew the watch was connected to her somehow. Thanks to it, I managed to team up with her. But only until we figured out the truth."

"And that's what we did," Kirika continued. "We went on a pilgrimage to the past to figure out what had happened to me. Meanwhile, we were manipulated by Soldats, which neither of us knew at the time, into killing many different people. One of those people was a man named Yuri. He was ex-KGB, and responsible for the destruction of a Siberian tribe of people. When we found him, Yuri was an elderly man with failing health who was living in a small shack on the streets of St-Petersburg." Kirika looked directly in Xander's eyes so he could see her sincerity. "He was handing out food to those even less fortunate than he was, using what little money he managed to beg and plead together. He gave away everything he had… and in the end, I was the one to pull the trigger."

She looked at the floor, her hand shaking. "It was the first time I realized that killing people was wrong. That man had done horrible things while in the KGB, yet tried to make up for them by living as a pauper and giving away his last cent to feed those who were even less fortunate than he was. And in the end… when I was standing over him with my gun drawn… he did one last act of compassion."

Xander placed one hand on the shoulder of the shaking girl. She didn't seem to notice. "I… I saw it in his eyes. He forgave me even when I pulled the trigger."

Xander didn't know what to think. One part of him was horrified by the killing, one part of him said that the guy deserved it, and a third part just plain felt bad for Kirika. "I'm sorry, Kirika," he whispered, squeezing her shoulder gently.

"Soldats went further… they started by taking out a contract on us. We destroyed the assassins who came after us. Soldats then rescinded the contract. Then, the strangest thing happens. While out after a corrupt judge, we run into a girl who claims her name is Chloe, the True Noir. She seemed to know all about us, yet refused to give anything else.

"Next we came across an old contract concerning Soldats, yet in exchange for it; we had to go after an extremely powerful family of the mafia, in fact, with ties leading to Sicily. Which means that the mafia's top assassin, a woman named Intoccabile, the Untouchable, was sent after us in revenge. First thing she did was kill her uncle to assume all power within the New York family. She then came after us."

Xander drew in a sharp breath. Kirika went on undisturbed, or so it seemed. Inside, she was ready to explode as all the stress of those moments came back. "Intoccabile knew Mireille from before her parents were killed… She had been terrified ever since. Intoccabile literally had no fear of anything. She was cold as ice. No emotion whatsoever. It took Mireille all her willpower to overcome her psychological disadvantage. But she managed. Intoccabile was no more… yet before she died; she gave us the contract, which led us to know that Soldats were present at the birth of the mafia."

"God…" Xander whispered.

"Back in Paris, I befriended a painter… a man of the arts named Milosh. He became my teacher in painting… Mireille warned me not to get involved. Having friend is dangerous in our business… and it turns out that she was right. Milosh got caught in a spray of bullets meant for me… that night; me and Mireille went to the assassins and destroyed them all." Kirika looked at Xander with eyes boiling with fury. "It was then that I learned that killing is not always the answer. Unavoidable at times, but not always the best solution."

Xander squeezed her shoulder again, and Kirika's fury at her friend's death fell. It was probably her only friend outside… Xander realized, wishing that he knew how to comfort her. He knew she must be dying inside, yet he had no idea how to help her. Just as helplessly as Kirika had listened to his story, Xander now listened to hers.

"Things started to escalate when Mireille's uncle returned to Paris. She was overjoyed… but it soon turned out he was part of Soldats and wanted me dead. He confirmed her worst fears… Mireille's parents had been part of Soldats, too. That's how they became so rich and powerful… but her fears alleviate when she hears that her father had stood up to Soldats, which is why they were killed. Mireille refuses to hand me over, and she's forced to kill her uncle."

Xander swallowed in a dry throat. Poor Mireille… no wonder she doesn't trust me. She probably doesn't trust anyone anymore. I wouldn't either, if my only living relative betrayed me and I had to kill him.

"Then, Soldats contacts us, and gives us a job in Taiwan. We take it, purposely falling for their trap, just to find out more about them. However, there are problems there between Soldats and the Taiwan Syndicate, the local Yakuza, so to speak. They send Shao Li, the Heartless Assassin after us. Born with two thousand years of poisonous experience behind her, Shao Li was one of the strongest challenges poised to us. After Shao Li captures Mireille and uses her to draw me out, and Chloe and I free her, Chloe kills Shao Li."

Kirika stood up. "I'll bring some more tea," she whispered, leaving in a sad mood, leaving Xander behind to stare at her. Five minutes later, they were once again sipping from full mugs of steaming tea.

"Things grow worse… Althena comes under heavier opposition from Soldats, yet is relentless in fulfilling the prophecies. She sent a group called the 'Knights of Paris' after us. This place gets trashed… when we return, we're attacked. We managed to stave them off, with the help from Chloe, who seemed to be waiting for us… After we kill the Knights, she gives me 'the Last Guidance', and shoots me, returning my memories. Memories such as me killing Mireille's parents."

Xander gasped. He had suspected something like this, but to actually hear it being confirmed was another matter. "I run… stumble across more Soldats… kill them… attracting the attention of Mireille, saving her from another Soldats goon… and reminding her about the promise she made when we first met. She'd kill me when we found out the truth… yet she couldn't do it, and told me that she'd kill me next time… I was shattered… didn't know… what to do… where to go… so I followed my instincts. I fell unconscious somewhere… and woke up in a small village. Tristan and his wife Margaret had helped me… gave me some clothes to wear… some food to eat… and I wandered the village… everyone seemed to be happy there… it was one of those last forgotten villages, where everyone seemed happy without too much modern comfort."

Xander nodded slightly, a dark feeling in the pit of his stomach rising to his throat.

"When I returned… men in suits were there. They wanted me. They were opposed to Althena's Grand Retour. I killed them when they threatened Tristan… Tristan and Margaret led me outside, to confirm what I thought. The entire village was Soldats. Margaret led me out of the village… when I looked behind us; I could see the villagers dying to uphold Althena's beliefs… then Margaret jumped in front of a bullet for me. That was when I stopped caring. I had just witnessed the death of an entire village for no other crime than helping me. I fell into the black hole that had been building since Milosh's death. I massacred the Soldats soldiers who had attacked the village. All of them. I killed them all without a hint of pity or a scrap of mercy. I wanted them dead, and I would make them dead. Only then did I continue to go back to the mansion."

"Chloe and I prepared for the ceremony to become Noir when Mireille showed up… At that point, I had stopped caring… I was so far gone that I couldn't think straight. I attacked Mireille, went after her, trying to kill her… at the last possible moment, Mireille dropped the watch from her parents. The tune it played brought me back to my senses. As I broke down, Chloe appeared, and prepared to kill Mireille. At the last possible moment, I shot Chloe's knife to pieces, preventing her from killing Mireille, to which Chloe gets mad and comes after me… and since I refused to fight back, Chloe threw herself on Mireille… and I'm forced to kill her… I killed Chloe… who was like a sister to me…"

Xander hugged her. Broken, Kirika lets herself be pulled into Xander's embrace. "Mireille and I… we go after Althena… I wasn't going to run anymore. It was time to end it… to end it once and for all… we load our guns, tend our wounds, and enter the manor. Althena had gone insane… she tried to shoot Mireille… I took the lethal one to my side… after which Althena herself is killed… I was fully prepared to join her, right there and then… but Mireille managed to convince me to let her help me. After that, we returned to Paris…" she broke down then, crying in Xander's embrace as he cradled her protectively.

The next morning, when Mireille returned from her information gathering, all she wanted was to shed her clothes and get a couple of hours worth of sleep. She never needed more than four hours of sleep, and she wouldn't need more now. She yawned as she turned to walk to the raised semi-secluded platform where the large double bed was when she noticed that the couch was empty.

"Strange… Xander's never up this early," the blonde whispered to herself. Frowning at the oddity, she walked to the platform. What she saw there made her stop, gape in surprise, which quickly replaced itself with a smile. There, in the large double bed, lay the missing American teenager, resting comfortable on his side, actually looking peaceful. Mireille had never seen him sleep peacefully… the boy seemed to have perpetual nightmares.

Spooned against his back was Kirika, her arms around Xander's midsection, her hands locked together, holding him tightly in place while Xander's hands were put gently on top of hers. Kirika too, seemed different. She had lost the eternal sadness that had been a constant veil on her face, and was now actually smiling in her sleep.

Mireille shook her head and chuckled slightly. "Looks like I'll be making some coffee," the woman whispered as she turned to the kitchen, still shaking her head. She noticed the empty bottle of wine for the first time, and grasped it en route. "Now I know how they ended up in the same bed without removing their clothes," she decided as the kitchen door closed behind her.

At the same time, Xander let out a grunt. Ever since training with Kirika at the mansion, his senses seemed so much more acute. "Wha?" he grunted intelligently. "Mireille?"

Kirika grunted, pulled on him. Xander's eyes opened fully, and for the first time he realized in what for position he was. "Kirika?"

"Yes?" she asked, voice sounding fully awake even though her eyes were still closed.

"Eh… can I get up?" he asked sheepishly, squeezing her hands gently. Kirika let go of him. "Thanks," he whispered, sitting upright, and turning so he could look at the brunette, whose eyes had only now opened and looked back at him. "A-about last night… I… eh… I…" He took a breath, and looked at the wall. "Thank you… for listening. For being there…"

Kirika sat up right next to him. "Thank you for listening as well," the brunette answered. "I never realized how much I needed to talk…"

"And Mireille?" Xander asked, turning to the girl.

"And Buffy? And Willow?" Kirika rebutted. Xander sighed, and nodded.

"Point taken," he admitted silently. At that moment, they heard a tinkering of a china cup on a china dish in the kitchen. "We'd better get up… before Mireille gets any funny ideas."

Kirika smiled slightly, and got up. Xander looked after her for a few second, admiring how beautiful she was when she smiled, then jumped up after her.

"Looks like you two got to know each other pretty well last night," Mireille commented the moment they entered the kitchen. Xander swallowed, and stared at the floor, blushing like there was no tomorrow. Kirika, on the other hand, just walked to the cabinet on Mireille's direct left, and grabbed two sets of china, after which she placed them on the table for herself and Xander. "We talked, nothing more," the girl said, sitting down.

Xander just nodded, sitting down on Kirika's right, still unable to look Mireille in the eyes, a fact she found very amusing as her continuous smile revealed.

"Well then… talked about what?" Mireille asked, voice velvety soft.

"That's private," Kirika replied coldly, more coldly than Xander had ever heard her talk to Mireille. He stared at her, understanding finally just how vigorously the brunette was willing to protect that which she found personal, and just how much she trusted him to reveal those secrets to him.

"I see," Mireille replied levelly, smile fading slightly but not disappearing totally. "I can't say I'm surprised…" she shifted her gaze to Xander. "And you, Xander? What did you talk about last night?"

Having that intense blue-eyed stare drilling into his very soul was not an enjoyable experience for Xander. But he would not… could not… let Kirika down. "Just… stuff," he defended.

"What kind of stuff?" Mireille asked, smiling sweetly.

"Mireille," Kirika said, tone dropping dangerously. "Privacy."

"Fine. Be that way. See if I care," Mireille grunted, getting up and grabbing the percolated coffee. Sitting back down, she poured them all cups. She grabbed her cup, and put it to her lips. Kirika and Xander did the same. To Xander, the tense atmosphere was all around him like a thick smog, constricting his breath. He hated himself for coming in between two good friends.

Only when he looked, really looked at the two females did he notice something. Comfort.

Both were entirely comfortable, and Xander finally began to relax when he figured out that this was probably not the first time that they had 'fought' like this.

"Well," Mireille said after they finished their coffee. "We're going to put your etiquette training through its paces, Xander. We're going to the most exclusive country club in Paris… and since it appears you and Kirika had a nice long chat in French yesterday, I'm assuming that you've mastered it adequately. Tomorrow, we start with Russian."

Xander gulped, and stared at her. "Russian?" he asked.

"Yes. Russian. And as soon as you've finished that, we'll find you some other language to train in," the blonde said with an easy smile. "After all, an assassin is a member of planet earth. He or she needs to talk a multitude of languages, and be at home in many different cultures. Starting tomorrow, you'll talk nothing but Russian and hear nothing but Russian from either of us."

Xander sighed. "Oh, well. I can only gain from it, I guess."

Kirika smiled slightly. Mireille nodded in satisfaction. "Now, let's get ourselves ready. You'll need some clothes."

"Clothes? What's wrong with what I have?" Xander asked, voice rising.

"Nothing. You just don't have clothes for a country club. First thing that we'll be getting you is a decent business suit. Then we'll see what else you need," Mireille said, eyes glancing over his rapidly filling body, giving Xander the creepy feeling she could look right through his t-shirt and sweat pants. He sighed deeply, unable to believe he was hearing this.

"A suit!?" he demanded.

"Yes," Mireille said with a smile. "Something Armani should do fine… just ideal for this sort of occasion."

"I thought the whole point of a club was to relax? Why would businessmen be wearing suits to a relaxing club?" Xander demanded.

"We want you to make a good first impression," Mireille returned casually. Xander moaned, dropping his head to the table. Female logic, there's no beating it, his poor mind decided. He glanced sideways at Kirika, who gave him an encouraging look. Xander felt better almost immediately, that single look seemingly filling him with enough energy to last through days of shopping with Mireille.

Or so he thought. It would not take long for Xander to realize that Mireille was a billion times worse than anyone Xander had ever known could ever be. And he knew Buffy, former cheerleading and spring dance queen from Hemery High in Los Angeles, as well as Cordelia Chase, current Queen of Fashion in Sunnydale High.


Xander sat down in the bar stool, looking over his shoulder to the table where Mireille had engaged some big shot or other in a very animated discussion involving the inner workings of the stock market. Kirika, as usual, just remained quiet, her shy attitude belying the sharp mind that was probably picking the conversation apart.

"A glass of red wine, please," he ordered.

"Are you 18?" the bartender asked, looking a little suspiciously at the teenager. Xander could curse inwardly. Just because Kirika and Mireille had no problems with him diving into the wine cellar didn't mean the rest of France joined that opinion. Already, his social engineering courses were kicking in, and Xander found himself analyzing possible lies he could use to get his drink.

He was just about to make up a story about having forgotten his wallet when someone sat down next to him, and said, "Give my young friend here his drink, and give me a double whiskey."

Xander turned to look at his benefactor, and immediately gave him the once-over while smiling friendly. The man was about early to mid-fifties, slightly balding, with gray hair still predominant on his head. He was also wearing a pair of golden (GOLDEN!) glasses, and was dressed in a suit that probably cost the same as five of the Armani suits Xander was wearing.

"Of course, sir," the bartender whispered, humbled by the appearance. The drinks arrive almost instantly, and Xander took his glass.

"Thank you, Mister…"

The man took his cue, laughed, grabbed his whiskey, and said, "Mestrot. Bertrand Mestrot. You looked like you could use a drink."

"I did. Thanks. It seems that my companions have found a delight in discussing the inner working of the stock market," Xander replied, forcing himself to use his etiquette classes. "I'm Xander Harris, by the way. Pleased to meet you."

Bertrand's face grinned at the younger boy. "Boring, isn't it?"

"Excuse me?" Xander managed.

"Stocks. So boring. Say, I've never seen you here before. New?" Bertrand asked amicably, turning so his back was facing the bar and he had an uninterrupted view of the entire bar, and the lavish gardens that lay behind the huge glass doors.

Xander nodded. "My companions introduced me."

Bertrand continued to smile. "And let me guess… all afternoon, they've been discussing stocks?"

"Started out as business investments, went to accounting tricks to skip taxes, and somehow ended up at the stock market," Xander summed. "Somehow, I thought businessmen would like to discuss anything but business at a country club."

"Not likely," Bertrand answered him with a laugh, pounding Xander on the shoulder. "Come, Xander. Finish your drink. I'm going to show you the real pleasures of a country club." Xander obediently finished his red wine, after which Bertrand slammed down his whiskey. The teenager followed the older man as they left the cafeteria. Just as they left, Xander caught a glimpse of Mireille and Kirika's eyes following him. He gave them a small sign to indicate he was okay before leaving their sights.

"So, you're from America, right?" Bertrand struck up a conversation.

"There's no hiding my accent, is there?" Xander asked with a smile, electing a delightful laugh from Bertrand. Xander couldn't help but smile. Bertrand Mestrot seemed to like to laugh all the time. "I was born in California," the teen elaborated. "Came here on an exchange program. The people I've been staying with have helped me a lot."

"Except for the accent, your French is pretty good," Bertrand said. "I'm a vrai Parisien, a true Parisian. Brought my company up from scratch. Nothing interesting. Come, Xander. I'm sure you'll enjoy this. You like the girls, non?"

"Eh…" Xander whispered. "Eh?" he added a second time when Bertrand dragged him through a door.

"You haven't lived until you've had a deep tissue massage," the older man said in his omnipresent joyful mood. "Mestrot and guest. Put it on my account," Bertrand said to the receptionist sitting at a marble desk in the first room. They never halted as Bertrand dragged Xander right through to the second area, which appeared to be some kind of waiting room.

"Won't be long now," Bertrand said, conspiringly. "These girls do wonders…"

At that moment, the door opposite the end they had entered through opened, and two beautiful pearls from Asia entered. "Monsieur Bertrand!" the girls said, smiling widely. Bertrand got up, and extended his hands, grabbing one hand of each girl, kissing each.

"This is my new friend, Xander," Bertrand introduced. "Xander, meet Kim and Ly. They've got golden hands."

"Enchanté, Mesdemoiselles," Xander greeted them, also kissing their hands. The girls smiled, and Xander thanked Mireille's etiquette courses. Not long after, Xander and his new friend were laying face-down on a couple of massage tables. Both men let out groans of contentment as the two Asian beauties tore into stressed-out muscles.


"I wonder where Xander is," Mireille grunted, looking at her watch.

"He left with Monsieur Bertrand," Kirika reminder her friend. "He might be gone for a while."

Mireille snorted. "Really, that Bertrand… sometimes, I wonder what he's thinking. He acts like a seventeen-year-old."

At that moment, Kirika's eyes opened slightly further, and a small smile appeared on her features. "Which may be why Xander and him get along so well," she said causing Mireille to look over her shoulder at the duo that had just entered the cafeteria. Both were laughing and chatting amicably. Xander with a glass of red wine and Bertrand with a glass of whiskey.

The two men sat down at the table of Mireille and Kirika. "Sorry I'm a little late," Xander apologized. "But Bertrand has been showing me around. And I've got to say, this country club is growing on me."

"Was it the massage, the sauna, the pool, or the bar that did it?" Bertrand asked with a mischievous smirk.

"Well… hard to choose between different levels of perfection, is it?" the teen asked with a chuckle. Bertrand laughed.

"My thoughts exactly. Xander, my boy, I've had a wonderful afternoon. We have got to do it again some time. How long will you be in France? You never said when your exchange program ends."

"As long as my hosts put up with me, I think," Xander said. Bertrand laughed.

"In that case, let's meet again. Next week? Let's say… nine?"

Xander looked at Mireille, who shrugged. "Gladly," Xander answered his friend, extending his hand.

"It's a deal," Bertrand grinned in response, grabbing Xander's hand in a firm clasp, and shaking it forcefully. He stood up, the rest of the people at the table following his example. He kissed the hands of Kirika and Mireille, bid his goodbyes, and left.

"We should get going too," Mireille grunted, causing the threesome to make for the car.

As they were walking, Xander reminisced. "Great guy… he knows all the fun spots. I like him."

"Some people say he's got the mind of the average seventeen-year-old," Mireille grunted a little more coldly than she intended.

Xander thoughts that over for a few seconds before answering, "That's probably why I like him. I *AM* a seventeen-year-old."

Mireille grunted. Kirika smiled. Xander sunk back in his thoughts of a fun afternoon.


Xander pushed his hands as deep in the pockets of the trench coat as he could, pulling in his head at the same time. The Moscow weather was terrible, with snow and ice falling from the skies and a biting wind that wanted nothing more than to burn right through your skin and eat your bones. Xander stomped his feet on the snowy pavement as his cold fingers searched for the night key to the hotel. Finally, the metal seemed to slip into its slot, and Xander pushed open the door. Heat slammed into his face, almost, almost making his stagger back out in the cold and windy muscovite night.

Xander rubbed his frozen hands as he fell flat on his bed a few minutes later. Kirika and Mireille were still 'out'. Xander groaned. He wished he had more endurance against the cold… he hadn't wanted to return until after they got back. Well after they got back … the last thing Xander wanted was to see them washing off blood, and watch them clean their guns. Xander's stomach turned at the thought of what they were doing out there, in the cold and darkness of the Russian night.

He glanced at the window, where snow was falling in ever-increasing quantities. He thought back at the planning they had been doing, the quiet conversations he had done his very best to avoid. Over the past three days, ever since his arrival, Xander had spent almost as much of his time inside as outside. He was building up endurance against the cold… it just wasn't enough for this dreadful night filled with snow and biting cold winds.

Xander sighed, and rolled over, pointing his back at the window. The hotel was the most comfortable one they had been able to find in Moscow, and even though it wasn't exactly cheap, the price was far better than Xander would have expected. The boy sighed again when his eyes fell on the digital clock on his nightstand.

"Twelve minutes past midnight. They're probably inside by now…" he whispered, slipping out of the bed. He rubbed his hands. They still felt frozen. He felt numb emotionally as well as physically, and he quietly slipped into the bathroom, where he let the bath fill with nice, hot, steaming water. While he disrobed, the teen stared at the white bathtub, artfully built into the floor, now filling with nice, transparent, clean, and hot water. Xander sunk into it, and breathed out a sigh of relief as the heat drove out the numbness out of his body.

The numbness of his emotions remains, however. Xander wanted to smile, yet found that he couldn't. Something inside of his was protesting. This wasn't right. Xander thought it was the whole 'job' thing. They were out killing someone. It wasn't right. They shouldn't be doing this… even though Xander had heard of the monstrosities this mob boss had done, it still didn't feel as 'right'. There were human laws. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't, but there were laws.

Xander shook his head, and closed his eyes, sinking deeper into the hot water, to realizing he had forgotten to add soap to it. It was just that… a tub of hot water, the heat making his face red and sweaty. Xander didn't notice. He had become used to extremes. How long had he been with Mireille and Kirika now? About six months… he had first met them in November, about a week after the whole Halloween deal that shook his up so badly. Xander shivered, despite the heat, when he thought of the nearly continuous nightmares. Mid January he had left for the Mansion with Kirika… where he had spent the three most glorious months of his life. Sure, he was more dead than alive most of the time, but still, it had been the best time he had ever had. It was now the end of April. The weather in Moscow should have cleared up by now. But it hadn't. And Xander resented it for that.

He slowly got up from the tub, and slipped into a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. He crawled into bed with the remote to the TV, and started clicking through channels. His Russian had developed to the point where he could now hope to get the gist of it. He could feel his eyes starting to droop, the emotional numbness in his heart settling along with his fading body rhythms. Xander sunk into a peaceful slumber.

Suddenly, the door was roughly thrown open, and a fury with blonde hair and ice-blue eyes stormed into the room, grabbing for her suit case, and roughly throwing it open. Xander startled awake, jumped, rolled, and landed in a crouch, scanning for danger. His instincts had been well-honed… he was ready within two seconds of being awake.

"Mireille? Where's Kirika?" he demanded when the situation sunk in.

"She was injured. I need more ammo," the Parisian snarled, going through her case for more clips and spare bullets. She started ramming ammo into her spent magazines.

It was as if someone had punched him full power in the stomach. Xander gasped for breath as he fell on his bed. He could feel himself growing sick. Pale as a sheet and sweating profusely, Xander tried to come to terms with the development. Kirika…

Xander screwed his eyes shut. Kirika… his mind whimpered. He heard her fighting Mireille. He heard her defending him. Her teachings, which had done him so much good in controlling his possessions. Kirika. The only one who had ever held full and unconditional confidence in him. His hands balled into fists. She was there for you! She nursed you back to health when you were injured! Are you just going to let her be!? Xander heard a voice shout in his head. The Voice of the Soldier. Xander's eyes opened. "No," he whispered. Mireille glanced briefly at him, continuing her preparations for her return. "NO!" he shouted, causing her to finally take a good look at him.

Xander's eyes were filled with a fury he had never felt before. The feeling of wrongness within him had vanished. He knew now what it had meant. The mission itself was wrong… and he was going to right it.

"God-damned mother-fucking son of a bitch!" he snarled in sheer anger, fury, and… in plain English. Mireille looked up at his as he jumped over his bed, grabbed Kirika's suitcase, threw it on her bed, and threw it open. Mireille started to protest when she saw him go through Kirika's things.

"Damned, where is it?" the boy snarled. "Come on, Kirika… I know you have one somewhere…" Finally, his hand touched something metal. "Yes!" he cried in victory when he lifted a spare Beretta out of Kirika's suitcase. Letting it drop to the bed, Xander then fished some spare ammo from the case. He loaded the gun, then ran full speed to the bathroom.

By the time Mireille had loaded her spent magazines, Xander re-emerged from the bathroom, fully dressed in black. He grabbed the gun, slammed the clips into his pockets, and went to the door of their luxury suite.

"What are you doing?" Mireille snarled when she left and Xander followed her.

"Going with you," Xander grunted as the duo slipped into the rental car. Xander ignored the bullet holes. "I am not losing her. I lost too many friends to this god-forsaken world already. I am NOT losing another."


Xander turned to the woman, and for the first time, she could appreciate Xander's look. She had seen a lot of angry looks in her profession, and she didn't scare easy. But what she saw in this teenager's eyes was impressive. She nodded tersely, jerked the key to start the car, and drove off.

Xander closed his eyes, and breathed rhythmically. There may come a time when you need to use these same techniques to drill into your subconscious that your life means nothing, that you will use your life in exchange for your goals, he could hear Kirika say before his mind's ear. Xander focused deeper. "I will free her. I will free her." Over and over again he repeated his mantra. I will free her.

He felt himself fall into the familiar darkness of his own subconscious. Fear overwhelmed him. Fear of what he was about to do. The jungle materialized, as did the two familiar figures.

"I need your help," Xander opened, ruthlessly shoving his fear out of the way.

He felt the car come to a stop, and Xander mechanically opened his eyes. They were flat. Cold as ice. As dead as the Russian night around him. Xander grabbed tighter on Kirika's spare Beretta. He had confidence in the weapon… he knew Kirika kept all her guns in top shape. He stepped out of the car.

Mireille also got out of the car, and started running in a certain direction. Xander followed her, seemingly not running at all, yet still perfectly capable of matching her speed. In her own state of mind, she failed to notice the fluidity and ruthlessness that waved off his movements.

She and Xander knelt behind some bushes next to a path leading to a huge mansion. The blonde motioned that this was the place. Xander nodded, for the first time since long, he felt peacefully calm. He jumped up, started running toward the front door, ignoring Mireille's startled yelp as he did so. As he ran, something shifted within him.

It was as if the world had suddenly dropped into focus, and Xander darted to the right, causing a bullet to hit the grit on his left. Without looking, he aimed, and pulled the trigger. The Beretta bucked in his hand. A man screamed. Immediately after, Xander dropped to his left, rolled, came up in a crouch, and aimed, shooting the man hiding behind a huge statue of a lion. Xander drew air into his nose. He felt there were more of them out there.

No time, Xander grunted to himself, jumping up and running to the door, planting his back to it. He fingered the unfamiliar shape of the Beretta, tracking any movement he could see in the front yard as Mireille sprinted toward him.


"Later," the boy whispered darkly, glancing sideways at the front door. He took two steps back, intending on splintering the door with a single well-placed kick. Instead, he darted sideways when he felt a bullet wiz past his back, the sound of the gunshot following it a tenth of a second later. Xander bared his teeth as he landed on one knee, aimed, and pulled the trigger. The man on the top of the roof screamed, and fell to the ground. Without sparing a glance, Xander grabbed the high-powered rifle in his left hand, putting the smoking Beretta in his pocket. His right hand flew into firing position on the rifle.

Mireille meanwhile had opened the door, and stormed inside, gun sweeping from left to right, ready to take on any and all bodyguards the gang lord might have left. She and Kirika had cleaned house reasonably well in their initial assault, but there was no telling how many guards the man had left. She felt rather than heard Xander fall into step behind her, covering her as she darted forward, and she in turn covered him. Somehow, it was not as hard as she would have thought, working with the boy.

"We'll need to cover every floor," the blonde whispered to her companion when they reached the huge staircase leading upstairs. "I don't know where they're holding her."

Xander closed his eyes, and sniffed the air. He shook his head. "This way," he whispered, disappearing to the left of the staircase, through a door leading to a staircase disappearing into the ground. Mireille stood at indecision for a few moments, before following Xander. Whatever the outcome, there was something about this Xander. Something that unnerved her, something telling her to keep him in close sight.

At the bottom of the stairs, Xander halted her. "Two guards outside her door. Two men inside the room." He grew pale. "I am going to rip out his throat," he growled, actually baring his teeth. Mireille shuddered when she noticed the growing length of his canines and the faint amber glow of his chocolate brown eyes. Growling, he jumped up, throwing the rifle in the direction of the first guard. At the same time, he drew the Beretta with his free hand, and fired at the second guard.

The first guard instinctively dove out of the way of the heavy weapon sailing toward him. The moment he recomposed, he felt a bullet enter his brain. Darkness overcame him.


Kirika blocked the burning pain in her left arm. The bullet had passed clean through, making her limb quite painful but not in total danger. She knew enough about wounds to know that, with proper care, all she'd have left was a scar. She had plenty of scars like these. She jerked the chains tying her to the bed with her right arm. The chains rattled, but didn't budge a millimeter.

She let out her breath, trying to compose herself. She noted her position, and didn't like it one bit. Her arms were tied together to the bar at the head of the bed, while her feet were tied wide apart to the posts at the end of the bed. Kirika knew that this meant she was in an extremely vulnerable position… for a woman. She swallowed.

Two huge men entered the room, and Kirika looked t them, her eyes as deadly as she could make them. For just a moment, both men halted, stared, and actually widened their eyes. Then, their minds overcame their instincts and they realized she was tied to the bed with heavy chains. She wasn't going to go anywhere.

"Who are you?" the first man barked.

Kirika remained silent.

"Who are you working for?" the second man shouted, advancing on her.

"Tell us!" the first man screamed, slapping her across the face, causing her head to snap from right to left with the force. She glared at him, sucking a little on the small wound her teeth had cut into her cheek. She spit the blood at him.

"I'll enjoy breaking you, bitch," the man growled, wiping the blood off his face. He grabbed her hair, and roughly pulled her head up by it. He crushed his lips onto hers. "And I'll make you scream as every slut deserves!"

Kirika felt nauseated by his breath, reeking of cheap vodka and third-rate borsht. She could feel herself getting sick even contemplating this man being her first. She let out a groan, and struggled against him. Her powerful body managed to strength to jerk her head away from him.

At that moment, there was a growl from the outside, almost as if there was a lion loose in the hallways. Both men looked at each other and cautiously went to the door, guns drawn. Gunshots followed, after which everything was quiet. Man #1 flanked the door on the right while #2 held the left side. For a few moments, everything was quiet.

Then, the door was roughly thrown open, hitting man #1 full in the face. #2 surged forward, turning to aim for whoever was coming through. As he shot forward, his aim shifted to compensate for the movement of the man. #2 fell before he realized what had happened. #1 slammed the door shut behind Xander, holding his broken nose with his other hand.

"You," Xander stated flatly, pointing the gun at him. "You I have grievances with."

The man glanced at the body of his dead comrade. "Him I couldn't care less about," Xander stated flatly, seeing the beginnings of fear reach his opponent's eyes. Suddenly, the bear of a man rushed him. Xander sidestepped, slamming the butt of his Beretta in the man's neck as he flew past. The bear landed in a heap on the floor. Xander shot one leg.

"Seems that my aim is off," he grunted coldly. "That should have been your knee instead of your shin."

At that point, Mireille threw the door open once more, immediately scanning the room. All she saw was Xander, aiming at a man with a gunshot wound in his leg. "Does he have the keys?" the blonde asked.

Xander glanced at the keys dangling from #1's belt, and pulled the trigger. The bullet cleanly penetrated #1's brain. Xander calmly reached down, grabbed the keychain, and walked to the bed. He started to unlock Kirika's chains.

"Are you alright?" he asked dully, his voice flat, sounding dead-tired.

"Yeah," Kirika answered, slowly getting out of the bed, holding her shot left arm.

"Good," Xander whispered, sinking into the black hole.

Mireille and Kirika both stared at Xander, who literally tipped over. The change was so sudden neither of the girls could react. One moment he was perfectly fine, although acting a little 'off', the next he was on the floor, sinking deeper and deeper into a coma.

Kirika blinked, understanding immediately what had happened. She rolled out of the bed, landing with a hard thump next to the fallen boy. "Mireille… please give me some time," the brunette whispered, ignoring the pain that stabbed through her arm with the sudden movements.

"We still need to find Andrei," the blonde replied, even as she moved to cover the door.

"Xander? Xander can you hear me?" Kirika whispered, bending over the pale boy. He really looked sick now, and Kirika's heart clenched. She slapped him.

"Alexander Harris, you will open your eyes!" she barked, startling Mireille with the cold intensity of it. She had never heard Kirika speak like that before. It didn't appear to affect Xander, however.

"He's slipping… so fast," the brunette whispered miserably. "Xander, listen to me, please!" she begged, voice louder as she grabbed his shoulders and shook him. She winced as the movement sent jolts of electricity along her beaten nerves. "You are strong enough to get through this! Your goals have been reached! The object of your mission was met!" Xander took a deep breath… and didn't let it out.

"Oh, no…" Kirika whispered. She took a breath herself, and slowly let it out. "Xander, listen to my voice, just my voice, and only my voice. It is your world now. Nothing exists outside my voice. Listen to it. Let it guide you to the surface. Xander Harris, that is who you are. Do not lose yourself to the overwhelming darkness. You must fight it. Let me voice be your guide through the battle, let it show you the way back to the surface through the maze that is the darkness." On and on, the girl droned, her voice level and even, hypnotizing.

"Xander Harris, hear me speak your name. Listen to my voice. Come back, Xander." Xander let out the breath he had been holding, and his features seemed to relax. He coughed. Kirika smiled. "You're almost there, Xander. Reach out; you can touch the surface. Come back to the light, Xander." Somehow, she managed to keep her voice on the hypnotizing tone, even though she was looking overjoyed. Mireille, at the door, smiled as well.

Xander coughed again, before letting out a moan, and fluttering his eyes. "Ow…" he grunted in obvious pain. "What's the number of that truck?"

"You foolish, foolish boy," Kirika whispered. "You nearly died."

"That wouldn't have been good," Xander grunted, sitting up; wincing in pain as he did so.

"Break it up you two! We still have a job to do, and I think they're amassing some kind of army outside!" Mireille grunted urgently. She looked over her shoulder. "But before we go, let me just remind you that we're going to have a nice, long chat tonight. I want to know exactly what happened."

Xander groaned, and nodded. He swayed a little on his legs when he stood up, yet managed to hobble along quite nicely, supported on Kirika's good shoulder.

"Here we go," Mireille said, throwing open the door, and starting to fire. Kirika had taken the spare gun from the floor where Xander had dropped it, and wielded it with frightening precision, even after being shot and with a teenager hanging from the shoulder attached to her shooting arm. Xander, meanwhile, did his best to mimic Kirika's movements, as to minimize the amount of inconvenience he placed on her.

"Get them! It's only three of them, and two of them are injured!" a voice barked form around the corner, where the staircase to the ground floor was located. Mireille's eyes tensed as she waited for three long counts, to see if anything were to appear form around the corner.

Two men appeared, cautiously peeking around the wall. Two bullets immediately finished that, and Mireille broke out in a dead-run, flashing around the corner to surprise whatever men still remained. Her two companions only saw her smile slightly before pulling the trigger. A growl came from the target before a heavy thump indicated the demise of life.

Kirika and Xander rounded the corner, to see what Mireille had been smiling about. "Andrei," Kirika whispered. "We got him."

Mireille nodded tensely. "We need to get out of here. Now."


It was a scruffy group that stumbled into the hotel room that night. Mireille immediately grabbed the first aid kit, preparing to dress Kirika's nasty looking bullet wound. Xander had just opened his mouth to ask Kirika how she was feeling when the brunette turned to him, her eyes blazing. Without any warning, she slapped him.

"Why did you do that? Do you have any idea how close you came to dying tonight?" she shouted at him. Mireille stopped what she was doing, staring at the brunette.


Xander interrupted her, answering Kirika's shouted question. "There may come a time when you need to use these same techniques to drill into your subconscious that your life means nothing, that you will use your life in exchange for your goals," he quoted her teachings.

"WHY?" she asked, voice climbing. "Why would you sacrifice your life for me? And why did you use that technique without putting in a return clause? Does your own life mean that little to you that you wanted to die?"

"Because there was something important enough to do it for," Xander whispered in reply as Mireille guided Kirika to a chair, and started to dress the brunette's wounds. "Because I didn't want to lose you."

Kirika sagged in the chair as Mireille continued to apply different solutions to the wound. "You could have just gone with her, Xander… it was foolish to go this deep."

Xander sagged, sitting down on the bed. "I just couldn't… couldn't face losing you," he finally admitted. Mireille's rhythm interrupted for just a few fractions, at the same time as Kirika fully tensed up. "You helped me… were there when I needed you…" He looked up, staring at the table where Mireille was focusing on Kirika's wounds. "I did it because I love you, Kirika! And I would do it again, in a heartbeat! I know how close I came to dying out there, but I just don't care!"

Kirika stiffened, slowly getting up from the table, backing away. She turned around. "No… no… you can't…"

Xander too, stood up from his bed. "And why not? Why wouldn't I be able to love you? You're a great person, you're beautiful, and you cared enough to help me when I needed it and nobody else cared enough to spare even a minute of their time for me."

"Because," Kirika just whispered, throwing her arms around herself as she stared sadly at the window. "Because… I'm just a weapon."

Xander stood there, looking at the girl for close to five seconds. Mireille stared from one to the other, helplessly watching and hoping that things would turn out right. She hated every moment of it… Mireille hated feeling helpless. And after an emotionally draining evening, she had about as much as she could have.

Finally, Xander slipped closer to her, gently holding her shoulder to make sure he didn't catch her wound by accident, and turned her to face him. "No… no, you're not," he urged her. She averted her face, looking at the ground. "Who I love is Kirika the person… and yes, that includes Kirika the assassin. But you know who is also in there?" he demanded angrily, putting a finger under her chin so she was forced to look at him, "that sweet and caring person who stood up to her only friend to save a person she had never met before. The person who cared enough about a lonely, helpless, and seriously injured person to nurse him back to health. Kirika… yes, you're an assassin. But you're also sweet, and caring, and giving."

She bent her head, looking at the floor between them. "I–I don't know any of this," she whispered. "I'm a weapon… I always have been… it's all I know…"

Xander lifted her face once again, and looked into the deep saddened red pits that were her eyes. "It's all they taught you… but you taught yourself, and you know it," the boy whispered. "Kirika… I love you."

She swallowed, seeing the vulnerability in those chocolate brown eyes of his. "Xander… Xander, I–I…" her voice trailed off as she lost herself in his eyes. "Xander… oh, Xander…" she sagged forward, into his embrace. He gladly closed his arms around her. For a moment, he felt the indecision in her entire body, before her arms lifted, closing around his midsection. "I love you, too," she whispered.

Xander lifted his head, and looked at her, tears brimming his eyes and a wide smile on his face. She looked up at him, smiling as well. He leaned in. She instinctively pushed herself to the tips of her toes.

Their lips met.


Xander drifted in the comfort zone between awake and sleep, letting out a small groan as his hand reached around, searching for the woman he knew should be there. He cranked one eye open, scowling slightly when his search came up empty.

"Kiri…" he whispered, looking around the bed, finding himself alone. Not for the first time he appreciated the stealth with which his girlfriend could move. Girlfriend… Xander's mind mulled over at the thought. It has such a nice ring… girlfriend. Grinning goofily, he slipped out of bed, throwing on a neon-pink bathrobe that hung nearby. He shook his head. "I've got to buy myself a robe… Mireille's things really deter from my manhood," he grunted to himself as he jumped down the small stairs leading to the lower-level living room. Following his nose, Xander emerged in the kitchen soon.

"Good morning," he greeted the two women cheerfully, bending over to kiss Kirika before she slipped him a nice cup of tea. "Ahh…" he sighed contented as he sniffed the strong tea.

"Before you get too relaxed, come with me," Mireille said coolly. Xander gulped. That tone of voice boded nothing well. He glanced at Kirika, who stared at the floor. Okay, now I'm really scared, he thought as he dejectedly followed Mireille into the living room. She motioned for a chair standing around the pool table.

"Wait," she ordered. The single word caused Xander to fall into the chair. He carefully put his cup of tea down on the pool table, scared that the rattling of china might give away his burgeoning fear. Mireille and Kirika disappeared.

"Okay… what did I do?" Xander whispered, going over the recent events in his mind, culminating into his 'escapade' in Russia only four days ago. He smiled goofily as he went over the results. Kirika… Then, the present situation came back to his mind, and Xander's nerves returned.

"Close your eyes," Mireille ordered from the top level. Xander gulped, closed his eyes, and notified the girls. A few moments later, he heard them shift around him. The he felt them stand still, flanking him.

"You can open your eyes now," Mireille said, tone softer. Xander opened his eyes, staring at two gift-wrapped objects standing in front of him on the pool table.

"Happy birthday, Xander," both girls said at the same time, smiling widely at the boy's open-mouthed stare, shifting form the boxes to the girls, and back to the boxes.

"I–I…" Xander stammered. "I forgot…"

"That's just like you, to forget your own birthday," Mireille said with a smile in her voice. Kirika just smiled lovingly at him from her side.

"Come on, open them!" the brunette urged as Xander just kept staring in total shock at the gifts.

"It's been a while since I got a gift…" Xander whispered, carefully reaching out for the larger of the two boxes, as if he were afraid it was going to vanish on him. He put it down gently right in front of him, and carefully started to open the tape used. After prying loose the tape, Xander carefully unwrapped the hardwood box. Something irked him about the sigil on the lid. It was an ornate O, straight-sided, with a P attached to the right of it; the straight side of the O and the leg of the P were one and the same. He knew it from somewhere, but the reference escaped him at the moment.

Carefully, he opened the small lock and pushed open the lid. Xander's jaw hit the floor. Inside the box lay the most beautiful handgun Xander had ever seen. Carefully, he let his fingers trail over the smooth golden finish, savoring the smoothness of the metal. Carefully, he picked the gun out of its compartment, closely examining some Japanese Kanji signs engraved into the cherry-wooden handle.

"A Titanium Gold-plated Desert Eagle…" he whispered, getting a feeling for the gun. "And if I'm not mistaking, this is a .50 AE, isn't it?"

Kirika nodded. "You do insist on going after vampires… we thought you could use the fire power. Its name is Magan. Demon Gun. That's what's inscribed into the handle, by the way."

Xander was too shocked for words, and just kept staring at the gun from each and every angle. Finally, his eyes fell on the same ornate symbol, grafted into the base of the handle. This time, his brain made the connection.

"Olivia Person?" he asked, shocked. "This is an Olivia Person?! But she has a six month waiting list!"

"Being accepted as the best gunsmith in the world will do that," Mireille grinned mischievously. "But, as Noir, we're entitled to priority." The blonde assassin shrugged. "As one professional to another, we understand each other."

Xander shook his head, and boxed the gun. Also inside the hardwood box were a cleaning kit, and compartments for the gun's separate components. Obviously, it was meant for when the gun was to be transported in its broken-down state. There were also slots reserved for three magazines. Xander's eyes, however, were drawn to the other objects in the case. As a replacement for the standard 6" barrel, there was the extended 10" version, very much suited for the huge silver scope that was cased just next to it. Yet another add-on was the small gold-colored laser targeting system that attached to the trigger guard. Completely built up, the weapon was one of the most impressive pieces of ordinance around.

Finally, Xander closed the box, and reached carefully for the second, smaller, gift. After unwrapping it as carefully as the first one, he found a second box from the same tropical hardwood, also laid in with the ornate Olivia Person sigil. He took a breath, and opened it. Inside were two rows of four magazines, each sporting a unique edge around the base. On the bottom was an Olivia Person sigil.

"That's your ammo. Kirika provided us with as much information as she could," Mireille explained, causing Xander to smile at the girl, and draw her in a sideways hug. "From left to right: green bands indicate vampire ammo. Hollow Points filled with Holy Water and garlic extract. Blue bands for lower class demons, Hollow Points with mercury filling. Red bands for stronger demons, hollow points with liquid explosive centers. Black bands are Full Metal Jacket armor piercing explosive-tipped bullets for ripping apart higher demons, blowing holes in walls, or taking down tanks. Of course, all bullets are made of a unique silver/titanium alloy, and hold extra powder for just that little extra kick."

"Damn," Xander grunted as he gingerly picked up one of the green-banded vampire-killing magazines, finding that a second one was hidden underneath it. He did a quick count, finding four magazines for each type. He put the magazine back, and closed the lid.

Before Mireille knew what had happened, Xander had drawn her in for a strong hug. "Thank you," he whispered. "It's… it's been a long time since anyone did something this nice for me. Thank you."

Mireille smiled, hugging him back as she did so. "You're welcome, Xander. You're very much welcome."

Xander released her, and turned to Kirika. Hugging her, and kissing her enthusiastically on the lips. "Thank you," he whispered. "It's so insufficient, but thank you."

"A thank you is never insufficient, Xander," Kirika whispered in reply. "Besides… you saved my life… it should be me who thanks you."

"That reminds me," Mireille suddenly said from behind him. Xander curiously released the hold he had on Kirika as he heard he rummage through the inner pocket of her coat. "Here," she said, extending a small book to Xander.

"What's this?" he asked, accepting the book, and opening it. He found it contained backing information for one of the aliases Mireille had established for him. He gasped. "One million, nine hundred and fifty thousand dollars?" he drooled, eyes open wide, jaw sliding on the ground

"Your cut for the Moscow job," Mireille answered him. "After all, you did help us get the target."

Xander just stared at the book. "You're kidding…"

Mireille shook her head. "Asking price for that mission was six million. After expenses, that leaves us with 5,850,000. Split three ways even, that's one million, nine hundred fifty thousand for each."

"But…" he stammered, his hands shaking as he held the small bank book. "This… I…"

"You helped us, you're entitled to an even cut," Mireille said calmly. "Remember that, Xander. There is such a thing as loyalty and honor. You help us out, and you're entitled to a piece of the action."

Xander suddenly didn't feel so good as he stared at the numbers in the bank book. Suddenly, his vision blurred, the numbers seemed to dance… mocking him for his weakness, scolding him for his actions, calling him a murderer… the word reverberated through Xander's mind. Murderer… Murderer… Murderer

He swallowed. "I can't… accept this…" he whispered. "I killed… killed someone… it's not right…"

"Would you rather have not shot those people? Would you have preferred to do nothing?" Mireille asked, voice suddenly dropping cold. Xander's mouth opened, staring at the book again.


"When you hunt vampires, do you feel bad about them?" Kirika suddenly asked. "Do you mourn the death of a demon?"

"Of course not!" Xander protested heavily.

"Then don't feel bad about those men," the brunette whispered, putting her hands on top of Xander's, still holding on to the small book. Gently, she pushed it to him. "Instead… see this is your payment for a job well done. You rid the world of one more piece of evil, saving countless of people who would otherwise have been hurt by those men."

Xander swallowed again, then closed his eyes. If I only hadn't lost it… if only I hadn't done that… he whispered to himself. And then what? A tiny voice deep inside of him asked. Mireille would have gone back by herself, at great personal risk! She could have been hurt trying to save Kirika! Or worse! Kirika could have been killed! Or BOTH of them could have been killed! Is THAT what you want? Xander's face twitched. "No," he whispered. "No, that's not what I want." He opened his eyes, and stared at the book. Silently, he pulled it from Kirika's grasp, both women staring at him, misunderstanding his words. Silently, he put the book in his backpack.

Only then did he turn to face the two assassins. "From now on," the boy said, deadly calm, "I want to be in on it. Whenever you find some piece of scum like the last guy, I'll be in on it!"

Mireille stared at him, not really understanding how he could change his mind so quickly. Kirika just beamed at him, glad that he finally accepted that part of him… the same part she was afraid he wouldn't have understood in herself. She slipped into his arms. "Welcome to the team," she said lovingly, reaching upward to kiss him on the lips, kissing his last doubts away.


Xander leaned on the balustrade of their London hotel, drawing in a breath of London air. It tasted pale. Xander sighed, shoulders drooping slightly as he watched the busy people on the streets below scurry about. His eyes casually took in the scene, slowly drifting form left to right.

"Tomorrow, we do the job," he heard Mireille say as she came up to his back. "Today, we just settle in and do some preparations… we need to scout out the place, do a final weapons check, and have a good night's rest."

Xander merely nodded, remaining silent. When he heard Mireille start to turn and leave, he broke his own silence. "It's my first… my first real job, I mean… What if I screw up?"

Mireille let out a dry snort of amusement. "I wouldn't worry about that… this is just a small job, no real danger." She turned to Xander, studying his drooping posture. "Don't worry, Xander… this is an ideal job for you to work yourself in. We'll continue increasing the difficulty when we thing you're ready."

Xander sighed and nodded, returning to his own silence. Mireille took her cue, and left. In the hallway, she crossed Kirika, just about to enter the room she was to share with Xander. "He's worrying too much… try and calm him down," Mireille spoke to her friend. Kirika looked her usual sad self, and simply nodded as she slipped past the blonde assassin like a ghost.

Inside, she saw Xander leaning on the balustrade, watching the people below. Quietly, she slid over to him, before slipping her arms around his waist. "Everything will be alright, Xander."

She felt him stiffen, and responded solely by increasing the strength in her grip slightly. "I still worry. That's just who I am… Worrying Xander," the boy replied sadly. "What if I screw up? What if I'm not right for this? I know this guy is scum of the earth, but still…"

"I know, Xander," Kirika whispered, slipping away from his back, so he could turn around and look at her. "I grew up with this… I can't really imagine what you must be feeling right now… although I have begun to understand since I met Mireille." The petite brunette turned to lean on the balustrade Xander had vacated moments earlier, and watched the traffic and the scurrying people. She turned her head to look at Xander, her usual sad expression softened slightly. "You know what the target has done… you have read our information."

Xander nodded. "Alexander Thompson, wanted for three accounts of first degree murder, an account of rape, and an account of assault and battery with permanent disability as result."

"That woman will never walk again, Xander… because this monster exists. It is alright to feel apprehensive about this… but know that what you are doing is the right thing," the brunette whispered.

The boy sighed deeply. "And that we found him…"

"We are Noir," Kirika replied, smiling slightly. "What the police can't, we can. That's why we were hired."

Xander smiled slightly at that, and joined Kirika at the balustrade. He leaned softly against her. "Thank you, Mon Coeur."

"De rien, chérie. De rien," the girl replied, leaning into the embrace.

That evening, Xander and Kirika were walking through the nightly London streets. Quietly the couple made their rounds of the graveyards. As Xander had begun to suspect, they found very little evidence of vampires.

"Three vampires," Xander grunted. "In Sunnydale, that would have been a dozen, at least… I am beginning to see why the Slayer was stationed there."

Kirika remained her usual impassive self as she walked next to Xander to the last graveyard, which was approaching quietly.

"The last one. Think we'll find anything here?" Xander whispered as he fingered the stake in his belt. Kirika shrugged, better understanding than Xander the need for silence. As the couple slipped inside, Xander caught a glimpse of movement, right before he heard subdued talking. He felt Kirika at his side, registering the same thing.

The couple slipped closer, finding two large men walking through the graveyard, on their way to the exit. Remaining behind the nightly duo, Xander and Kirika trailed the two suspected vampires.

"I wish I were Buffy," Xander whispered extremely quietly. "So I could sense whether they're vampires or not…"

Kirika dipped her head once, her eyes continuing to follow the two men as they left the graveyard and purposely made their way through the London streets, avoiding populated areas and sticking through the small alleys. Suddenly, the two turned to a larger road, one Kirika and Xander hadn't been expecting. Both hunters' eyes opened wider as the two suspected vampires crossed a large courtyard and disappeared into the towering hulk of a medieval building.

"Where are they going?" Xander whispered quietly as he slipped behind Kirika after the two.

"The Tower of London… fitting," Kirika sub-vocalized back as she continued the trail of the men, still not sure whether or not they were vampires. Suddenly, the two men vanished as they rounded a corner.

"What the…?" Xander grunted, jumping up toward the offending corner in question, Kirika covering him as she sprinted right behind him. As the duo rounded the corner, light, smoke, and sound suddenly filled the room.

Xander relaxed, shaking his head quietly. He put his stake back in his belt. Kirika looked strangely at him. "It's a bar," Xander explained. "W've got one of these in Sunnydale… it's a place where vampires and demons come for a quiet drink without bothering humans, so we generally leave them be… and they're a good place for information."

"Fitting," Kirika replied, slipping onto a barstool next to Xander. "Under the Tower of London."

"What's with this Tower? It's just another building," Xander grunted. The bartender, an amber-skinned demon with deep black glowing eyes, approached them, his appearance vaguely resembling suspicion.

"New here?" he asked with a Cockney accent.

"Just passing through, not looking for any trouble," Xander replied, trying to pass himself off as calm.

The demon-bartender chuckled. "What'll it be, kid?"

"Red wine," Xander said. Kirika nodded, indicating she'd have the same. The bartender shook his head, and trotted off in pursuit of the drink in question, muttering under his breath something that resembled 'damn humans with their exotic orders'.

"So, what's with the Tower?" Xander asked.

"The Tower of London was a political prison," Kirika explained. "People who opposed the King used to be imprisoned here for life… or awaiting execution."

"Oh," Xander replied, looking up to the ancient stone ceiling of the room. "I think I can see the irony here."

"Here," the bartender interrupted, putting two glasses down, and filling them with something that was supposed to be red wine. Xander warily eyed the bartender, and sipped his drink, halfway expecting it to be blood rather than wine.

It was wine.

"Thanks," Xander grunted at the demon, which trotted off to his next costumer, shaking his head.

"It never seizes to amaze me how little you know of these things," Kirika said, as if their conversation had never been interrupted.

"Blame years of American public education," Xander replied calmly as he sipped his drink. "This isn't half bad," he added, commenting on the wine.

Kirika smiled softly, knowing very well that he was changing the subject. Or trying to. "Who would have though a demon bar would have good wine," she replied. "And maybe I should ask Mireille to help you with some information… sometimes having historical references can help you out in this job."

"Like what?" Xander asked.

Kirika shrugged, and opened her mouth to answer.

"Fresh meat…" a voice drawled from behind the duo, interrupting Kirika before she could start her reply. Both hunters turned around, to stare at a black-skinned demon, with fiery red glowing eyes. He was laughing with exposed razor-sharp canines. The breath of the creature stunk like rotten fish, immediately lifting the couple's appetite in the wine.

"Hey, no fighting in the bar!" the bartender shouted. "You know the rules, Franky!" The black-skinned demon growled as Xander and Kirika glanced at each other. Franky?

"Out-side, Hu-maan!" the demon growled, grabbing Xander's shoulder. A quick glance convinced the hunters that help shouldn't be expected from the other patrons. Everyone was sharply watching the exchange.

Xander grabbed the demon's paw with both hands, and lifted it away from his shoulder. "Fine. Outside."

'Franky' growled his satisfaction, motioning for Xander to go first. "You lose Hu-maan… and Franky win… with pretty girl."

Xander swallowed as he halted, feeling a fireball explode into his stomach as his emotions raged. His fists balled, and Xander could feel the two spirits inhabiting his body fighting for dominance. He swallowed again, forcing the fire-hot feeling down with it. "For that, I shall kill you, demon," the teenager growled.

'Franky' burst out in rolling laughter, followed by the rest of the patrons. His face coldly neutral, Xander preceded Franky, Kirika, and the patrons to the large cobbled square in front of the Tower.

The moment he set foot on the square, Xander felt like a steam-train had struck him in the back. Letting out a scream of pain and fury, Xander was blasted clean off his feet, landing a couple of meters further in a roll, the cobbled doing nothing to soften the impact. Xander could feel his skin shaving off before he rolled back to his feet, standing up straight.

"I was going to play nice, asshole," Xander grunted as he turned to the demon, flipping up his large raincoat as he did so, his right hand going for the back of his belt.

"Oppo-sed to what Hu-maan?"

Xander's face twitched slightly as his right arm blurred into sight, holding the Magan out and pointed at the demon. Before anyone could react, the powerful .50 weapon barked fire in the darkness of the London night. Franky let out a scream when the vampire-killing silver-tipped holy-water filled round tore into his torso. Xander emptied his clip, watching in satisfaction as the demon sunk to his knees.

Calmly, he opened his coat, took a clip of low-level demon killers, slapped it into his golden weapon, and racked the slide to chamber a round. When eh didn't hear a thump, Xander looked up from his weapon. Franky was still on his knees, staring at a couple of bloody spots on his torso. Xander smiled evilly. Taking his weapon into a two-handed grip, he stared down the barrel.

"Demon," the young hunter said. Franky looked up.

"I am going to kill you now." Franky grinned in his demonic way, and forced himself to his legs, charging right at Xander the moment he regained his footing. It was only a couple of meters, and the demon's speed surprised Xander totally. He dodged sideways, running in an attempt to keep away from the demonic trunk-like arms, attached to a 200-kilo demon with faster speed that Xander thought possible.

Finally, Xander saw an opening, and fired the Magan. The demon killer round spewed out its mercury filling, ripping a hole the size of a dollar coin into the demon's belly, sending black blood spewing onto the ancient cobbles that had once witnessed the beheading of prominent political criminals.

Franky let out a keening moan, and Xander could hear the collected demons hold their breaths as the powerful demon sunk to his knees, staring in utmost confusion at Xander as he tried in vain to stop the bleeding from the hole, totally unaware that the filling had blown a larger hole out his back.

"You threatened someone I care about," the young hunter stated coldly. "That is one mistake I can not tolerate."

Franky opened his mouth, obviously trying to respond, yet failing to do so. He fell sideways, glowing eyes diminishing before dying out completely.

The demons stared at Xander in fear and respect as the young warrior put his gun back where it had come from. He walked to Kirika, and as they started to re-enter the Tower, the bartender shook from his stupor. "Okay, boys! You know what to do!" he shouted.

The patrons grunted, taking the corpse, seemingly without effort, and throwing it in the Thames. Two minutes later, the bar was deathly silent as Xander and Kirika sipped their wine.

"You're going ta have ta say som'ting, kid," the bartender drawled. "They're afraid ta death of ya."

Xander grunted, looking over his shoulder at the patrons scattered over the far back seats and tables, as far away from him as they could. "As I said… we're not looking for trouble. Leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone. But don't start any trouble… or we'll end it."

The patrons still eyes his suspiciously. Xander sighed. "Give them all something to drink, put it on my bill," he grunted to the bartender. As the demon bartender took orders, the patrons seemed to relax slightly, and when the drinks arrived, a roar rose up.

"You're alright for a human, human!" one of the demons roared.

"What do they call you, anyway?" a second demon asked after the roar died down.

Xander turned around on his stool, smiling slightly. "Xander. My name's Xander."

"Xander," the demon repeated. "Xander, the man with the golden gun."

Xander groaned. A third demon plopped down on the stool on the other side of Xander. "Ya did alright out there, Kid. It's about time someone took care of Franky… he got into too much trouble for his own good… or for ours. Joe, another one, will ya?"

Joe, the demon bartender, refilled the demon's glass with something neither human wanted to ponder too much. "Nice meeting ya, Kid," the demon said, slapping back his glass, and leaving the bar.


Xander woke up with the feeling of sunshine playing on his face. Unable to resist, he smiled at the feeling of warmth as he crossed from sleep to awake. Stretching lazily, he let out a contented groan before opening his eyes and scanning the room. As he had come to expect, Kirika was already up. Slowly, he stepped out of bed and put on a black bathrobe with red borders he had bought just after the successful completion of the job in London.

"Kirika? Mireille?" the boy asked as he stepped through the living room to the kitchen. He heard no response, and frowned slightly as he pushed open the door leading to the kitchen. The place was deserted, and Xander almost missed the porcelain teapot sitting on the table. A porcelain cup was standing right now to it, inviting him to pour it full of the tea.

Xander smiled at the thoughtful gesture. He poured himself a cup of the tea, while silently thanking Kirika, and counting his blessings to have found someone like her. Taking his cup with him, Xander walked back into the living room, sitting down behind Mireille's laptop. He put the cup down next to it on the pool table before opening up the device, and starting to type away at the small keyboard.

Within minutes, Xander had reached a level buried deep within the Internet, protected by codes, ciphers, and authentication requests. All of them, he knew how to enter. Mireille had been adamant, and Xander had seen no other choice but to learn. He grinned to himself when the screen he was looking for popped up.

Noir745-XA> Triple X, you there?

XXX> I am here.

Noir745-XA> What's the good word today?

XXX> The weather is cool and shadowy.

Noir745-XA> Save for LA and SF.

XXX> Where it's hot and humid. It's you.

Noir745-XA> And it's you, too. What's today's addy?

XXX> Usual access. Follow instructions.

Noir745-XA> Okay.

The modified chat-screen turned black as the laptop suddenly bleeped. However, Xander wasn't worried as the screen soon returned, having changed to a wholly different lay-out: a black background with a simply 12pt purple text. Xander started reading it, scanning the file for any useful information. When Mireille and Kirika returned from their shopping, they found Xander looking at a video file.

"Downloading something interesting?" Mireille asked, casting a glance at the screen.

"Surveillance footage," Xander answered calmly, frowning slightly at the screen.

"Oh?" Mireille asked. "Are you having a job without us?"

Xander chuckled at that, shaking his head. "This is Sunnydale… I couldn't just leave it. I've asked someone to keep an eye on it."

"Taking care of your friends, even when you're not there, chéri?" Kirika asked as she quietly shuffled to his other side, three sets of eyes now locked on the video.

Xander simply shrugged in response. "That's Willow," he identified a redhead as she waked down the picture. "And that's Buffy."

"The Slayer, right?" Mireille asked as he identified Buffy. Xander simply nodded in answer. The video stopped a mere minute later, and Xander disconnected from the secured server.

Noir745-XA> Payment is underway. See you next time.

XXX> Pleasure doing business with you.

The laptop's screen went black for a second as the secured private network tunnel through the internet disengaged. Xander turned to Kirika. "Thanks for leaving the tea… I swear, I don't know what I've done to earn someone who takes care of me as well as you do."

Kirika saw through the easy smile to the sadness that was in his eyes… he meant those words more than he realized himself. She smiled gently, kissing him on the lips. "You are who you are, just as I am who I am," she philosophized. "That's enough."

Xander smiled, chocolate eyes twinkling. She got up form his lap, pulling him to his feet. "Come, Chéri…"

Xander, curious, allowed himself to be pulled to his feet by the small brunette's ever-surprising strength. He followed her to the elevated bedroom plateau, where she had dropped the bags she and Mireille had brought home with them.

"Put this on," the girl instructed, handing him a bag. Xander curiously looked into it.

"Is this…" he asked, voice trailing off.

"A gi," Kirika replied. "In London, while you were fighting the demon, I realized something… put it on, and I will tell you."

Xander shrugged; curious as to what she had up her sleeve this time. He disrobed fully before pulling on the gi, no longer ashamed to show himself naked in front of her. She had begun to rub off on her.

"I noticed you were running more than you were fighting, avoiding the confrontation because of the demon's larger strength and mass. If his speed had been just a bit greater, you might have been in serious trouble."

"Tell me about it," Xander grunted as he pulled the jacket closed over his naked upper body. "He nearly tore me in half!"

"I am going to teach you the arts of Aikido," Kirika said. "It is a martial art that teaches how to use the force, speed, and strength of your opponent against him. It is an excellent art when faced with demon twice your size and ten times your strength. The stronger your opponent, the more damage you will do by using his own strength."

Xander smiled. "Cool."

"Then let's go," Kirika said, smiling as she hopped down the stairs to the lower-level living room. Xander stared after her, a little unaccustomed to the level of enthusiasm she was putting out. As his eyes followed her, her came to the realization something wasn't right in the living room. Where did all the furniture go to? As he descended the small flight, he knew where it had all gone: Mireille had pushed them aside to create an open space large enough to train in.

Xander shook his head, grinning widely at the realization of just how well these two were played into each other. "First, I'll teach you the basics, building on your already existing knowledge of martial arts."

The boy smiled. "Cool. Let's go!" he said, grinning widely.

Kirika turned to face him, in what had every appearance of being a comfortable pose. "Attack me," she said on that peculiar tone of hers.

Xander felt just a little apprehensive. He knew from experience that attacking Kirika was a very hurtful exercise in pain management. He dropped into a Karate pose, and took deep, calming breaths. His body and heart centered.


"What?" he asked, still not giving any signs of moving.

"Attack me," Kirika repeated, not wavering from her straight-and-comfortable pose. "How can I teach you if you don't-"

In her mid-speech, Xander lurched forward, striking at her chest while at the same time preparing to aim a spin-kick to her face if she intercepted. The young hunter had every hope that she would block him.

Instead, she seemed to fluidly move in the opposite direction he had thought she would move. She grabbed his wrist in his mid-swing, and catapulted him further forward as she changed her movement in a fluidly rotation movement. Instead of releasing him, she held onto his wrist, and jerked it as his feet left the ground. The world inverted for Xander, who landed on the ground like a sack of potatoes.

"Oomph!" the boy breathed as he landed flat on the ground. I just KNEW it! 

Kirika stood still, watching her student. Mireille had taken seat in a chair placed along the wall, a faint smile on her meticulously red-colored lips. He's not getting up. Smart move, the blonde approved, hr smile growing slightly. I never grow tired of seeing Kirika move… it's like ballet, the assassin appended, watching in curiosity as her brunette friend remained in her position, looking at Xander.

"That hurt," he grunted as he slowly rolled onto his hands and knees, before going to his feet, back facing her. "I just knew you were going to do that…"

"Attack me," Kirika said once more, head cocked slightly. "It is the only way you can learn… feel what it does, Xander. The movement is that of air and water… fluid, not earth."

Xander swallowed calmly, and closed his eyes and he turned around. Mireille looked on in confusion, not really understanding what Kirika was saying. Xander, on the other hand, comprehended completely.

He charged, this time going directly with his leg for her side. Don't go for the head… head-kicks are too slow. Go for the side. It's easier, closer by, and thus more stable a stance. Going for the head with your feet shows a lack of confidence in your opponent's abilities, Xander heard Kirika instruct him in his mind.

Kirika dipped down to her side, arm extending to catch his leg. Xander changed the movement, going higher than he had originally intended, trying to go over Kirika's in-reaching grip. The brunette reached up, grabbing his ankle, and once again the rotation movement she had displayed. Xander saw the wall approach. He bounced off it, using both hands to absorb the impact, his leg snapping out of the girl's grip with the impact.

He threw a back-handed hit at her head, which she ducked under, extended her leg, and swept his feet down from under him. He hit the floor again.

Twenty minutes later, Mireille winced as she saw the boy hit the ground once more. But, instead of staying down, he immediately sprang to his feet, and charged at Kirika. Mireille's blue eyes opened wide, before she smiled. Kirika… I hope you know what you're doing. Pushing Xander into that state where he learns incredibly fast is one thing… doing it while teaching him martial arts is another entirely! 

Kirika dodged, grabbed the boy's wrist, and took her shot at throwing him to the floor. Instead of hitting it on his back, Xander landed on his feet, using her own movement against her to snap his wrist out of her hand. Immediately, he leapt up, aiming a full 360-degree tornado kick at her head. Kirika dodged sideways to increase the length of Xander's swing, buying her time. Solidly bracing herself, her two hands grabbed his spinning outstretched leg. Dodging low, Kirika added momentum to the swing, spinning around her axis before brining her hands down.

Xander hit the ground, immediately spinning up from where he hit the floor. He was breathing deeply, angrily. He swallowed angrily, swiping some blood away from his nose.

"Move like air, strike like water," Kirika spoke for the first time in over fifteen minutes.

"Move like air, strike like water," Xander repeated. "Move like air, strike like water…" he charged at her. She moved to intercept. He changed at the last moment, avoiding her grip, dodging under it and striking at her unprotected side.

What? Mireille grunted at the same time she saw Xander go for Kirika's open side.

Kirika actually smiled as she jumped back, for the first time landing in a combat pose. "Well done, Xa-" she said, breaking off when Xander charged at her anew, making her dodge a strike before she grabbed him, and launched him against the wall. Xander made a sickening sound, before sliding down it.


"You're learning well, Mon Coeur," the girl whispered gently as she helped him up. "Come… enough training for a while. Let's see about that bruise on your wrist and your split lip…"

Xander gingerly touched his upper lip. "Hitting a wall full force does that to you, Chérie," he grunted.

"Sorry about that…" the brunette apologized.

"I was in that zone again," Xander grunted. "Don't worry about it…"

"It was my fault for pushing too hard," Kirika said, gently guiding Xander into a chair and picking up the first aid kit that Mireille had meticulously placed there before the training session had begun. The young brunette took out the bottle of antiseptic and dapped at Xander's lip. After doing so, she closed the kit again.

"Now that you know the strength of Aikido, we should start with the forms," Kirika told Xander, taking his hands and pulling him to his feet.

By the time night fell, Mireille was watching with open mouth. Not having been there in the mansion, she had never witnessed a training session between the two, and the display certainly drove home that she never was going to end up in the same ring with either of them. For hours, Kirika drilled Xander in the various forms, alternating theoretical katas with hands-on practice fights.

How Xander was still on his feet by the end of the day would be anybody's guess. His eyes were half-open slits, his entire body was shaking like a leaf and his breath was deep and ragged. Sweat mixed with blood to create ugly brownish-red streaks as it poured over his skin.

"It was a good lesson," Kirika then said, bowing. Xander took a couple of deep breaths and relaxed his stance. He bowed as well, before stumbling to a chair, and falling into it.

"I'm out of shape," Xander complained, coughing a couple of times, and swiping at his split lip. "Where's the time I could take this training sessions on a daily basis?"

Kirika smiled gently at him as she sunk to the floor next to the chair, holding the first aid kit. "We'll keep it up until you're good enough, Mon Coeur."

Xander nodded tiredly, before letting his head bob sideways. He didn't feel Kirika remove his shirt and pants before dressing his wounds and finally putting him to bed.

"Ten and a half hours of that, and he was still standing. I don't know how he did it… some of that stuff looked lethal enough to be outlawed," Mireille grunted at her younger companion.

"I have trained him well… both his body and mind are capable of going very deep," the brunette replied as she went through the motions to make some relaxing herbal tea. "Xander's body, as far as I can tell, has always had these great depths, able to go through great pain… the possessions merely brought it out to the surface, enabling his mind to use that potential." Kirika closed her eyes at this point. "It's not fair…"

Mireille waited patiently for Kirika to finish the tea. When the duo had taken seat at the pool table, Mireille finally asked, "What isn't?"

Kirika swallowed slightly, before looking up. "He's so much like me… I had my childhood stolen… by Noir… was brought up to fight, to kill, not to have any emotions. I was trained as a weapon…" she took a breath. "Xander grew up with two abusive parents, abused physically and emotionally for years on end without relenting. And then his world turned upside down when he found out about vampires… and as soon as things start to grow better, he's done this to!" The brunette's fiercely angry red-glowing eyes burned toward Mireille. "He's possessed not once, but twice. Turned first into a vicious monster, and then into a cold fighting machine. His childhood was ripped away from him by abusive parents, vampires, magic, and evil sorcerers!" Balling her fist, Kirika went on on a more subdued tone, one that most certainly did not belie the truth of her statement. "If I ever come across the people who did this, I will kill them."

Mireille took a sip of her tea, before letting out a chuckle. "If you still have the chance," the blonde answered with a slightly cold edge to her voice. An edge Kirika knew well.


"You don't honestly think you're the only one who would protect the boy, would you?" Mireille answered with a smile, before finishing off her tea, standing up, and disappearing into the bathroom to change for bed.

"Thank you…" Kirika whispered to the closed door, before quietly making her way to the bedroom she shared with Xander.


"Oh, yeah, that's the spot!" Xander grunted under the artful manipulations of Mei, the talented masseuse at the country club. Next to him, Bertrand Mestrot was undergoing a similar treatment by Mei's equally talented colleague Aoi.

"What have you been doing, Xander?" Bertrand asked with a worried tone. "You didn't get into a fight, did you?"

Xander chuckled slightly. "No… it's my girlfriend."

"Kirika? But I thought you two were getting along so well!" Bertrand exclaimed. "And just what did she do? A small slip of a girl like her…"

"Don't ever underestimate Kirika," Xander grunted to his friend. "That 'small slip of a girl' holds at least half a dozen black belts… and that's by my count. She doesn't know herself. She grew up in them. And that's just the point… she's been teaching me the martial arts. The hard way… but I'm learning."

Bertrand eyed his younger friend. "If you say so…"

"I grew up with abusive parents, Bertrand… I know what it's like to be abused… what Kirika's doing is teaching me," the boy said on a sad tone, cursing himself for letting the truth slip."

"Your spine is out of alignment," Mei said gently. "I must right it, Monsieur Alexandre."

"Sure, go ahead," Xander grunted. "Right now, I'll need every edge I can get."

Mei nodded, and clambered onto the massage table with Xander. Crossing one arm across his chest she lifting his backward, arching his back. Slowly, she felt his spine with her right hand, before making a fist and pushing it on a certain spot before pulling hard with her left arm. Xander let out a loud groan before the process was repeated two more times.

"That looked painful," Bertrand commented.

"It feels great now," Xander answered calmly, letting out a breath. "I feel better than I've felt in quite a while, actually. Thanks, Mei. That really does feel great!"

"Your spine was slightly malformed, Monsieur Alexandre… I have righted it, and now your chi can flow freely once more," the oriental masseuse said.

Xander knew better than to give a typical western answer. In his short life, he had seen and done things that would be far stranger than accepting that there were currents of life energy going through one's body.

Bertrand chuckled. That kind of reaction, Xander thought silently. "Well, who am I to question the reason when it works," the boy replied diplomatically. "Perhaps you should have Aoi-san do the same to you, Bertrand… I can recommend it!"

The older man lifted an eyebrow at his young companion, as if to say 'you're kidding me, right?' Xander looked back with all the innocence of a newly-born angel. Bertrand grunted something unintelligible.

"Fine… if it'll make you happy. Aoi-san, how about it?" he asked his masseuse.

Aoi's hands slid down his spine, feeling the left and right sides. "It is slightly out of alignment… if Monsieur wishes it, I can rectify it," the woman replied gently.

"Fine, fine… do it," the man grunted.

Three sharp tugs and an equal amount of groans later, Bertrand released a pained breath. "That really was as painful as it looked… and it really does feel great."

"Just as I said," Xander said with a knowing look on his face. "Sometimes, you need to hurt before you'll heal…"

Bertrand could only stare at his friend for uttering those words of wisdom.

It was now the beginning of August. Xander and Kirika were returning to the luxurious loft after having spent a very nice couple of hours at one of Paris' many parks, having a picnic. He was carrying the now empty picnic basket. She was displaying her rare smile, reserved only for him.

"It feels good, to be able to do that," Xander said, his voice indicating the state of relaxation he was in. Ever since participating in missions himself, his voice had taken on a slightly colder tint… a tint that had totally vanished at the moment.

Kirika nodded, her smile widening slightly. "We should do this more often… I like picnics."

Xander smiled as well, putting his free arm around her shoulders as they entered the building. "We'll have a picnic whenever we can," he promised. The brunette girl smiled in appreciation. Xander felt a warm feeling envelop his heart at the sight, thoughts darkening momentarily when he realized that this was probably Kirika's first ever picnic… he shook it off.

By the time he and Kirika entered the loft, his smile was genuine once again. They found Mireille hunched over the laptop, and immediately, both knew what was coming. Mireille always sat up prim and proper… to find her sitting with that small hunch in her back, staring intently at the tiny screen could only mean one thing.

"Mireille?" Kirika asked. The blonde looked up.

"Good you're there," the elder assassin said with that silken-deadly voice of hers. "I want you two to take a look at something interesting."

Xander and Kirika exchanged barely a glance before they went over to the laptop, strangely curious about what could have piqued Mireille's interest like this. They hunched over the blonde's shoulders.

"As usual, the client remains anonymous," Mireille said as the two others scanned the contents of the screen. "But the job itself sounds really interesting."

"A Japanese businessman at the top of a bunch of ultra-hardcore Yakuza members," Xander read. "Sounds like a standard job to me…"

Kirika's eyes narrowed. "Something isn't right. It doesn't feel right."

"You have it too, huh?" Mireille asked, her slim fingers racing the keyboard. "I found it strange, too. This is what I found out…" a new dossier filled the screen.

Xander whistled. Kirika's eyes went wide open. "He's buying lots and lots of companies… and using the profits to build himself a private army. The Yakuza are merely the beginning," Xander grunted, sinking to his knees next to Mireille's chair. "What the FUCK is going on? This looks like a frigging fifties B-movie script! Guy gets rich, buys army, wants to take over the world."

"We don't know the last," Mireille said. "But whatever he wants that army for; we can be assured it won't be for the advancement of world peace."

"So we're agreed, then? We're taking the job?" Mireille asked. Xander and Kirika nodded simultaneously.

"Good. Then I'm going to track down out client, and accept," the blonde said, starting to tap the keyboard. Xander watched in interest as his teacher hacked through the world's toughest security systems.

"MI6? As in British Intelligence MI6?" Xander asked as Mireille confirmed the job… directly to the chief of operation's private, not to mention top-secret, e-mail account.

"As I said, we work for everyone who gets us a cool job," the blonde said with a devilish grin. Xander smiled widely, shaking his head as he went off to the kitchen, where Kirika was making tea… and he was in desperate need of some. He knew that the next week would be hell on his constitution… it didn't seem to get any easier going on these jobs, no matter how many of them he did. Deep inside, Xander hoped that it would never change. Killing people should never be easy.


Xander walked calmly through the late night cemetery, hands buried deep in the pockets of his long black coat, senses on 'ultra-high', eyes shifting from left to right, trying to identify vampires. It was his first night in Japan, and the shift in time zones kept the boy from sleeping. Instead of remaining awake in bed, and possibly waking up Kirika, Xander had decided to go on a late night patrol, trying to clear his mind.

So far, he had yet to find any vampires. That didn't mean they weren't there, though, so Xander kept his guard up, that special little corner of his subconscious that housed the abilities instilled by magical possessions. Xander leaned against a headstone as he gazed up at the stars for a moment.

Things had progressed far for him since he had left Sunnydale, the river that was his life taking on horrid rapids when he had gone to the mansion with Kirika. And intensely painful voyage of self-discovery that was for the seventeen-year-old boy… a voyage he had thanked God for he had not to take alone. She had been with him every step of the way, supporting him, helping him, showing him that he was not alone in this.

Xander swallowed. The things he had learned at that mansion still haunted him. The painful truths and realities he had come to face had practically destroyed him. Only through the grace of God and through the relentless support of Kirika had he survived. Xander blinked, slipping into the subconscious meditation mode he had learned, and told his subconscious to boost his senses once more.

Eyes shifting once again, and with ears peaked, Xander made his way through the cemetery, almost resigning in the fact that he wasn't to meet any vampires this evening. And with it went every hope of fighting himself into exhaustion. One thing he no longer had problems with was beating the crap out of some vampires. Suddenly, his body froze in mid-stride and Xander's head shifted from left to right, trying to pinpoint the disturbance. It wasn't really his senses that warned him… it was more like instinct. A deep and dark instinct, one that Xander had come to associate with the Hyena. It was something that disturbed him, and he had tried to suppress it as much as possible.

His nose twitched as he breathed in. Something wasn't right. Closing his eyes, Xander scanned with his hearing alone. He heard shuffling. Rather far away, too… he heard a startled yelp, coming from what appeared to be a male throat. Xander's eyes shot open. Now that he had a target, he homed in on it like a cruise missile with a horrible attitude problem. He vaulted over two headstones, landed on the hard ground and pushed of in a direct line for the next stone. Placing one had on top of the white marble, Xander pushed himself up, making a full flip in mid air as he landed in a crouch not far from the disturbance.

Shoving of, Xander rotated and placed his back against the rock face, right hand instinctively reaching for the stake on his belt. Now I know why I didn't detect them… they're in a cave. Drawing the stake, Xander closed his eyes and let his reactions take over. He jumped into the cave, sparse illumination provided by a couple of falling torches. He saw three vampires, all male and of Japanese origin, attacking a woman of Hispanic origin and a Caucasian man. The woman appeared to be fighting the vampires, while the man clung to a package of papers like his life depended on it, pushed against the wall trying not to be in his companion's way.

Xander growled as he charged into the cave, drawing the attention of the fighters. Running straight into the group, stake ready, Xander was prepared for it when the vampire nearest him turned to him and executed a charge of his own. Without dropping a beat, Xander fell to his free left hand, pushing off the ground and sweeping the vampire's legs from under him. As the medium-built vampire hit the ground, Xander was already on top of him and planted his take into the undead creature's heart.

Xander was already on his feet before the vampire had fully changed to dust. The two remaining vampires glanced at each other, and charged the immediate threat, leaving the Hispanic woman to stare in confusion at the change in her opponents. Xander ducked to his right, evading a swing by the left vampire, propping his elbow against the wall and using his arm to reverse his trajectory. The left vampire's swing had missed by the time Xander re-appeared in front of his face.

The vampire hit the ground soon after as Xander's heavy combat boot hit the vampire's groan. At the same time, Xander kept on pressing his back against the left wall to avoid being grabbed by the right vampire. Jumping over the groaning form on the floor, Xander clocked the vampire across the face with a reverse punch from his left hand. As the vampire's face was turned, Xander pushed his stake into the vampire's shoulder, making the beast scream. He withdrew the stake and pushed into the heart. The second vampire turned to dust.

Suddenly, the Jaws of Life clenched around his torso, and Xander growled in pain as the third vampire had regained his footing and clamped his arms around Xander. The hunter was forced to drop his stake as his hands clawed uselessly at the vicegrip of the undead beast.

Think, Harris! Xander shouted to himself, forcing to swallow his panic and ignore the desperate plea for air from his lungs. Biting his tongue between his teeth, Xander forced himself back to the present through the blackness of the fog that threatened to overwhelm him. Snarling like a beast, Xander pushed off with his legs, using his opponent's grip against him as Xander's two legs came high off the ground before crashing down in the vampire's feet. Xander heard the viciously snapping bones as his two heavy heels dug deep into the exposed appendages.

The vampire released him, and Xander fell to the ground, taking deep long-full deep breaths of tainted cavernous air as if it were the cleanest mountain air. The vampire groaned, and clambered to his broken feet, falling toward Xander in an obvious attempt to finish the job. His eyes still foggy and his brain clouded over, Xander reacted on sheer instinct as he grabbed Magan, in one motion switching off the safety and clocking the gun to semi-auto. Without thinking, he emptied an entire clip of vampire killers into the undead beast, all of them hitting home before it had a chance to dust.

The heavy weapon clattered to the ground as Xander's strength gave way in deep gulping breaths of air. Rolling over, the hunter forced himself to his hands and knees, coughing up blood. The vampire's grip had done more damage than Xander had originally thought it had. Suddenly, he heard a voice say something, and a hand was placed under his armpit.

Still in combat mode, Xander reacted instinctively by putting distance between himself and the unknown person, grabbing Magan off the ground as he encountered it, pointing the deadly weapon at the person. Blinking ferociously, Xander tried to clear his mind. The Hispanic woman was staring at him incredulously while the young man was hiding behind his companion's back.

"That weapon isn't going to help you… it's empty," the woman said with a small smile.

Xander groaned, reached into his pocket, and withdrew a second clip. Slowly, he reloaded the weapon before stuffing the empty clip into his caot and putting the weapon into the holster on his back. "Sorry… he got me harder than I liked," Xander groaned.

The woman smiled wider, before stepping up to him and offering him a helping hand. Xander gratefully accepted. "By the way, I'm Sidney Fox; this is my assistant, Nigel Bailey."

"I'm Xander… Xander Harris," Xander groaned as he wobbled slightly. Sidney caught him.

"Woa! Looks like that thing really did get you good. What were they, by the way? You seemed to know them pretty well, seeing how you took them down," Sidney said as she supported Xander.

"Vampires… they're vampires…" he stood up, nodding his thanks to Sidney, making her look at him as he seemed pretty much fine now. "And you don't seem surprised. Most people I save are ready to go see a shrink for the rest of their lives."

"We're Relic Hunters," Sidney explained. "We've come across our share of the strange and unusual…"

"No kidding," Nigel brought in, British accent thick through stress.

Xander chuckled. "It's good to speak English again… it's been a while," he said wistfully. "Relic Hunters, huh?" he then piped up. "Is that what you were doing in a cemetery, in the middle of the night?"

"Well, officially, we're not allowed to examine these grounds…" Sidney whispered.

"I see," Xander said with an easy smile. "In that case, I feel it my obligation to accompany you… I wouldn't want anything to happen to you now that I've saved you."

Nigel just stared at him, back to Sidney, and back to Xander, seeming a bundle of nerves. Sidney just smiled easily. "In that case, let's get going," the woman said, motioning for the interior of the cave.

"So, what are we looking for?" Xander asked a minute or two later as the small group carefully made their way deeper into the cave.

"There's a legend stemming back 1500 years," Sidney said quietly, shining her torch on the walls every now and then, as if looking for something. "A legend concerning one man and his weapon."

"The Lightning Blade," Nigel picked up. "It is said that this man united Japan for the first time under a single command, basing his nation solely on his strength, supporting by a weapon that's said to come from the heavens. It served as a blueprint for the first developed katanas… the weapon was said to be made up of pure lightning, with the ability to cut anything without a hint of trouble. The only thing was… this man, whose name has been lost, was the only one who could use the weapon for some reason; the legends aren't clear as to why. As such, it was buried with him as he died."

"And that's what we're going after? Japan's answer to Excalibur?" Xander asked with a raised eyebrow. He received no answer as Sidney suddenly froze, her torch pointing at a certain spot on the wall. Xander saw some kind of kanji-signs, but he was unable to decipher them.

"Death shall move on swift wings to he who enters this grave," Sidney read. Xander chuckled, unable to contain himself.

"Sorry," he said sheepishly after his two companions fixed him with a glare. "You've got to admit, that doesn't sound like much of a curse."

Sidney shrugged. "Whatever the case, we'd better be careful. It's possible they built traps."

Xander nodded slightly, able to relate to the better safe than sorry attitude. The threesome shuffled further, deeper into the cave. Nigel made a horrid jump soon after as Sidney's torch rested on a headless skeleton. Xander had to admit, seeing the remains did little to ease the tension he felt in the pit of his stomach. His Hyena instincts were begging for attention; urging him to run like the wind. Something was amiss, and it was amiss greatly. Xander took a breath and forced the feeling down. Fear would keep him sharp.

As the trio shuffled past their unfortunate predecessor, something flickered beyond the edge of Xander's vision. His instincts took over, and he dropped to the ground, grabbing Sidney and Nigel with him as he did so. They hit the hard rock bottom mere tenths of a second before a HUGE axe flashed through the air, where their necks had been mere moments earlier.

"Anyone can curse like this," Xander grunted as he got up into a crawling position, Sidney and Nigel following him. "What's the fun in cursing someone if you're not using magic?" he debated with himself, half-loud, causing Nigel and Sidney to exchange strange glances.

"Cursed shall be the soul of the person who disturbs His eternal rest," Sidney read a minute later. Xander and Nigel exchanged glances at the obvious capitalized reference.

"I may not be a historian, but weren't it the Egyptians who protected their dead with curses?" Xander finally asked.

"This is indeed highly unusual," Nigel whispered.

"If this goes on, this guy will end up being a mummy," Xander grunted. Nigel and Sidney glared at him. "What?" he defended.

"The Japanese didn't know how to make mummies," both answered at him at the same time.

As the trio moved on, Xander couldn't help but whisper, "They didn't protect their dead either." Silently, he moved further forward, taking the point position without being asked, or without offering. The disturbing feeling within was increasing steadily. His skin was tingling, and that was never a good sign. Suddenly, something snapped within the boy, and he darted a couple of steps back; just in time to avoid an arrow flying from the wall. He dove forward, avoiding a second arrow, and drawing Magan in the same motion. He pushed up, jumping over a third arrow.

All hell broke loose the moment he touched the ground, as Arrows came flying from all over the place. Xander closed his eyes, forcing himself to calm down and operate on his instincts rather than his other senses. He jumped up, shooting a couple of arrow-launching holes behind him. He landed in a widespread stance, and dodged under an arrow coming from his side. He aimed and shot an arrow flying to his back. He squeezed the trigger a second time, firing through the fireball that was the shot arrow and taking out the launcher behind it.

Sweeping over the ground, Xander held a deadly dance with the arrows. Less than a minute later, Xander filled a new clip into his gun, holstering it on the back of his belt. "Clear," he said. "Interesting challenge… I can hardly wait for the next one," he said sarcastically.

Sidney and Nigel kept glancing at Xander as they proceeded, totally unsure of what to make of the earlier display. Not half an hour ago, he was on the floor, down by a vampire, and now he was dodging arrows as if born to it.

"Is it my imagination, or shouldn't that guy be on the floor? Seeing how that vampire tackled him earlier," Nigel finally voiced both of their concerns.

"I heal fast," Xander replied from ahead. "Or rather, my wounds close fast. Thanks to my unusual lifestyle," he grunted. More like thanks to an animalistic possession with a species that is a notoriously fast healer. He snorted silently. Just about the only good thing to come from it… too bad I can't use it at full power… Xander shuddered at the memory of being possessed, of the things he had done under the Hyena Spirit's influence.

They emerged into a chamber of sort, Sidney's torch casting ghostly shadows across its rocky walls. In the middle of the room, illuminated by a single beam of moon light, stood a huge stone coffin.

"Sid, come look at this," Nigel whispered as he bent over the coffin, swiping a millennium and a half of dust away, uncovering what were once golden lettering carved into the stone.

"Here rests He who should not be disturbed. May curses befall anyone who disturbs the Eternal Slumber," Sidney read. She and Nigel exchanged a glance, and pushed on the heavy coffin's lid. Xander sighed, pitching in a hand. The lid made a dull thud as it hit the ground.

"Told ya this guy would be a mummy," Xander said with a devilish grin as the trio gazed upon the mummified remains of a huge 2 meter tall man, bony fingers clenched around a silvery tube of ornate design.

"This is the discovery of the century… a real mummy in the middle of Japan," Sidney muttered, carefully reaching for the tube, trying to disentangle it from the boney fingers.

With a horrid snap, the tube came clear, and Xander barely had time to note it looked like a sword handle before a horrible groaning noise made the whole cave shake on its foundations. The moonbeam shifted, illuminating a section of wall that had remained untouched until now.

Death shall befall those who disturb His Eternal Rest.

The entire wall then fell away, the stray moonbeam fading into the darkness until the low rumbling noise increased.

"You have got to be shitting me," Xander grunted as a huge boulder came rolling down the slope. The trio ran. "Can this get any more cliché? A beheading axe, a wall of arrows, and now a rolling boulder?"

"This wasn't a cliché 1500 years ago," Sidney shouted in response. "And cliché or not, they're still very much capable of killing us!"

Xander looked over his shoulder to the rolling stone. "Good point," he conceded, redoubling his efforts, activating just a bit more of the Hyena within him. He didn't dare use more… last time it had nearly cost him his life. As his speed increased, he grabbed Sidney and Nigel and lifted them effortlessly from the ground, dragging them with him on the mad dash away from the boulder.

As they ran, the sword-handle dislodged from Sidney's belt, thanks to the unusual position in which Xander carried them, the silvery metal clattering against the ground.

"Leave it!" Sidney yelled as Xander brusquely halted and deposited them on the ground.

"Run!" Xander shouted as he dove for the handle. "I am not leaving here empty-handed!" he grabbed the handle and forced himself to his legs, just in time to see the boulder practically upon him. Panic welled up when something deep within him stirred. The handle in his hand moved.

It moved!? Xander's startled mind found time to note as his adrenaline slowed down his perception of time. He clenched harder on the handle when a searing pain and glorious ecstasy overtook him. Screaming like a madman, he noted the poisonous green beam of energy shooting fro the handle, extending to about the length of a decent sword.

Still howling, Xander extended the energy weapon toward the rock, startling as the boulder melted where the weapon touched. Seemingly on their own accord, his arm moved, swiping at the rock in strange and unfamiliar geometrical patterns. Ten seconds later, the beam disengaged from its own accord, and Xander stared at a small puddle of hardened lava at his feet.

"You have got to be shitting me," the young hunter growled as he pocketed the item, and made his way outside to rejoin his two companions. "I am so going to pay a visit to George Lucas about this," he said darkly to himself as he emerged from the cave.

"I will take that," a cultured voice said, causing Xander to look up, staring directly into the barrels of fifty M16 rifles, held by stone-cold looking men. Sidney and Nigel were restrained; mouths taped shut, stared in pure disbelief at him, not believing he just walked out of that cave without injuries.

Xander groaned. "Oh cut me a fucking BREAK!" he snarled as he recognized the man who had spoken. This was the target of Noir… before him stood the man known as Aoshi Kinamura… the man who was buying himself an army.


Forcing himself to calmness, the teenager surveyed the scene. Fifty-two men armed with M-16s. His eyes flicked from left to right. Once. Twenty-two of them are pointing their weapons, safeties off, at me. Twenty-five are standing back, in reserve, weapons shoulders, yet loaded. Five are guarding Sidney and Nigel. Two captives, tied like hands and feet, unable to move. One evil overlord. Options?

Xander swallowed, locking his eyes with Aoshi, knowing it to be an insulting stance to take in Japanese customs. Option #1: draw Magan, and flow like the wind. Scenes flashed before Xander's mental eye. Result; death of Sidney and Nigel, and possible death of Self. Xander cocked his head. Option #2: go for Sidney and Nigel, and try to get them away. Would entail a direct dash for the armed men, and results are death of Sidney, Nigel, and quite possibly, Self. Option #3… Bluff. Use that fancy Light Saber to scare the bejeezes out of them. Option #4: surrender…

Xander's fingers curled around the handle in his pocket. You'd better work… he whispered, grabbing the weapon and releasing it from his pocket. "This?" he asked in response to Aoshi's earlier order. "This is what you want?"

"Exactly, boy," Aoshi answered with a smile.

Xander answered the smile with a cold smirk of his own as his second hand joined his first on the hilt. Please work, he prayed again as his hands locked into place. Xander squeezed the tube. Nothing happened, and the teenager brought the weapon up to his eye-level, where he stared directly into the top, as if looking for the blockage. He saw nothing.


"That weapon won't work for you, boy!" Aoshi snarled. "It takes a very special kind of person to make it work, and even then, it requires extensive training!"

Xander snarled, dropping the silver tube. "Good choice," Aoshi said, signaling a couple of his men to scurry forward to fetch the handle. There's too many of them…damnit! His arms quivered as his fists clenched painfully. He wanted to do something. Desperately, he wanted to do something… anything… to get them out of here. But the numerical superiority and tactical position were both against him.


Sidney, Nigel, and Xander were pushed head-first into a well-lit cubic cell. Xander had kept his eyes out the entire time, but bound in a similar way to Sidney and Nigel, he had been unable to act upon any openings he might have seen.

"Ow, ow, ow," Nigel whined as he tried to worm his way into an upright position. Xander merely scowled, while Sidney remained more or less neutral. Immediately, both Xander and Sidney started wriggling, trying to free themselves of the thick ropes binding their wrists and feet together.

"Here, let me help," a cultured British voice suddenly said as a friendly face filled Xander's field of vision. The man looked to be in his mid to late thirties, with a friendly beard that seemed to scream 'trust me' at the boy. Xander immediately felt weary, but that soon lifted as the man untied first Sidney and then Xander.

"Thank you, mister…?" Xander asked.

"Bond. James Bond," the man answered, shaking Xander's offered hand. "Run into the wrong person?"

"Didn't we all?" Xander replied with a smirk. "Me and my two companions were going through an old cave, looking for an ancient artifact, when this guy shows up, shoves an M-16 under our nose, and demands the artifact."

James' smile lost its splendor, his entire face seeming to harden. "This artifact… wouldn't happen to be the Sword of Lightning?"

"Lightning Blade, actually," Xander answered. "Why? Heard of it?"

"This is worse than I thought," the man growled as he made his way for the massive steel door. "We need to get out of here," he whispered as his hands went over the door's seal, as if trying to feel his way into opening it.

Sidney joined him immediately, searching for a locking mechanism, or keyhole, or anything else of the sort that might help them get out of their cage. "So, how did you get involved in this?" Sidney asked James, trying to make conversation as they searched for a way out. "And how did you know about the Lightning Blade?"

"I'm an expert in ancient languages. Aoshi brought me here to translate some documents in ancient Japanese… I had just broken the code that was worked in the document when Aoshi had me thrown in here," the man explained. "No vents, I already checked," he added when he saw Sidney glance up.

"When do they come to give us some food?" she suddenly asked. "Maybe we could…"

"I haven't been here for that long, but I haven't received anything yet," James answered, way too calm for Sidney's liking. "And judging from Aoshi's forces, when they do open that door, it won't be a single person."

Xander had settled in a lotus position, and he had heard everything. His body, however, remained in the deep meditation-trance as he tried to regain some strength in his body. The vampire, the traps, and the use of the Light Saber had severely depleted his reserves, and the boy needed a recharge before he could attempt anything. Finally, he let his attention wander, allowing his mind the chance to rest as well. Putting himself down this deep had advantages and disadvantages, though.

The all-encompassing darkness made for no nightmares, and an accelerated sleep cycle. The downside was that he was totally cut off from reality. He might be subjected to the most horrid of tortures without him ever knowing it. He could simply be killed without ever being able to lift a finger. Finally, he drifted back to the surface.

"It's been four hours, and that guy hasn't budged," he heard Nigel whisper. "He takes a breath every once in a while, and that's it."

James bent over, and gently put his fingers on Xander's jugular. His eyes opened in surprise, a big show of emotion for the classy Englishman. He glanced at his watch. "His heart… it's beating twenty-five times a minute. Interesting."

Xander chose to remain in meditation as his body told him that there was still some damage here and there, and slowly he drifted a little deeper. His thoughts became incoherently sluggish as his breath and heartbeat relaxed once again.

"We've got to do something!" Sidney yelled. "It's been over ten hours, yet there's no sign of life from outside! For all we know, they're trying to starve us to death!"

James, leaning against the door, sighed. He turned, and started fondling his watch. A thin red laser beam lashed out, striking at the steel plating.

"What is that?" Nigel demanded as he saw the red beam starting to cut the steel of the door.

"My watch has a built-in laser scalpel," James replied calmly, one hand steadily pressing on the watch's sides, until the beam spluttered and died out five minutes later. There was a gash visible, but the door was still firmly attached to the walls. There was no budging it, and the small seam of outside light only served to add to the desperation of the captives.

Well, all of the captives, safe one.

Xander's mind drifted deep into meditation once more, finally decided that something needed to be done. Especially now that his body was as good as he could get it without extended rest. He appeared in a rectangular room holding a rectangular table. At it were seated six people, and Xander Prime sat down at the head, making the entire assembly seven in number.

"We all know why I called you here," Xander Prime opened up. "What do we do?"

"You could let ME handle it," Hyena Xander answered. "I broke the cage at Sunnydale High, and we're a lot stronger now. What's one door?"

"And you'll take over permanently?" Xander Prime demanded sarcastically.

"He-he-he's right. We can't take that chance," an overly emotional Xander whispered, shying away as the other's attention focused on it.

"We do need to get out of here, though," A seemingly normal Xander said. "Or we'll never see Kirika again… or Mireille, or Buffy, or Willow, or-"

"We get the point, Love," Soldier-Xander grunted. "If Hyena guarantees no take-over, I'll vote for using him."

"We've got two for Hyena, Emotion's with me; Love wants to do something, anything, as long as it gets us out of here. What do you two think?" Xander Prime asked the two remaining Xanders.

"Logic dictates that we should wait and see how the situation develops. If there appears to be no solution evident, then Hyena, although untrustworthy, should be allowed a chance," the fifth Xander spoke, calmly composed.

The last Xander sighed. "We should have simply wiped them all out, then we wouldn't have been in this mess. Right now, I'll saw, let Hyena-boy do the job, and worry about collateral damage later. And did everyone forget? That ass has taken Magan. No-one touches Magan!"

"King Cold over there has a point," Hyena snarled. "You should let me get out, and at least retrieve Magan, and maybe even that Fire Stick Thingy we found in the cave. It's intriguing!"

"No!" Emotion shouted, immediately cringing under the attention. "I-I-I mean… what ab-about Sidney? And Magan… it's a lovely gun… but-but… we can't go around hurting people for it! It's bad enough we used it to kill!" Emotion buried his face in his hands, shaking.

"Kirika gave us that gun!" Love snarled. "I don't know about you, but that was a priceless gift, and we've only ever used it to kill vampires and demons!"

"Lover Boy is right," Hyena grunted. "Let me do it!"

Xander Prime grunted. "Okay… show of hands for Hyena's release? Just to blast the door and take it from there?"

"Only if the ass agrees not to take over," Soldier growled at Hyena, who bared his teeth.

"Fine!" Hyena snarled. "I won't take over!"

"Show of hands? Hyena, just past the door?" Xander Prime asked. Soldier, Hyena, Intelligence, Love, and Cold raised their hands. Emotions shook his head vigorously, as if unable to believe that they were actually going through with this. Xander Prime sighed, and nodded.

"Show of hands, Hyena, until we've retrieved Magan?" Xander Prime then asked. Only Hyena, Cold, and Love lifted their hands. Soldier and Emotion were obviously against the idea, while Intelligence was merely waiting for the others to make up their mind.

"You'll get us through the door," Xander told Hyena, standing up, causing the others to stand up as well. "Through the door, and not a bit further, got it!?"

Hyena smirked, and mock-bowed. "As you wish, Oh Fateful Ruler," he drawled.

"Eh…guys…" Nigel grunted when he saw movement in the body that had remained perfectly still for hours and hours. He started frantically tapping Sidney's shoulder. "Is…that… normal?" Sidney and James looked. Xander's eyes had opened, and an animalistic smirk had spread on his features. His canines had grown to the point where they were now well visible in the toothy snarl the by was displaying.

And his eyes were glowing a bright amber.

Snarling, Hyena threw himself toward the heavy steel door, moving in mid-run in what appeared to be a martial arts pattern of some sort. Using Kirika's teaching to the full of his abilities, hyena maximized the force of the impact against the steel door, traveling the last meter in full un-powered flight.

Xander and door exploded into the hallway behind, the door hitting the wall and Xander hitting the cold, hard floor, screaming in pain rather than rage this time.

"God-damned mother-fucking son of a bitch! That's the last time I'm trying something like that!" the teenaged assassin snarled as he wrested himself to his legs.

"Xa… Xander?" Sidney whispered, catching up to him. "Where are you going?"

"I am going to put a stop to this, and I'm getting my birthday gift back!" Xander snarled.

"Just what did you do!?" Sidney demanded, before turning to James, and saying, "That doesn't mean that we're not going to have a talk about that laser-watch of yours!"

The foursome slowly made their way through the maze of intersecting hallways, letting James take the role of guiding them, as he was the only one with intimate knowledge of the base. The entire time, Xander remained at the full rear.

Finally, they had emerged with what looked like a loading dock of some kind, and James made them crouch down behind some crates. Xander swallowed; screwing his eyes shut as he did so.

I won't let you! Xander screamed inwardly, at the silky amber smoothness of the Hyena spirit. I shall remain in control, and you will keep your promise! 

You will do as he says, boy! The Soldier's voice whipped at the Hyena. Xander was grateful for the military's presence; otherwise it was highly doubtful if he would still be in full control.

Finally, the feeling of possession seemed to ebb slightly, and Xander reopened his eyes. I swear, he grows stronger every time I use him… I'll have to be very careful. Last thing I want is to be possessed. Again… Xander swallowed. He remembered the last time he had been possessed by the Hyena. It wasn't pretty… eating Herbert, the pig that was school mascot, was only one of the things… eating him raw was another.

Xander carefully looked over the crates, immediately wishing he hadn't. At the sight of the man in the white business suit, Xander's nerves felt like steel, and a raw fire growled in the pit of his stomach, demanding satisfaction.

Aoshi… Xander, Hyena, and Soldier growled at the same time.

"Stay down!" James whispered, pulling on Xander's vest in an attempt to get the boy to crouch out of sight again. To his utter surprise, the boy remained where he was, not budging a millimeter under James' warning pull.

"James…" Sidney whispered, dragging the man's attention away from Xander's semi-revealing posture. She motioned for the boy's right hand, and James focused on a tightly clenched fist, a small stream of blood dripping from where his fingernails had dug into the skin. The fist was shaking, quivering as if in great pain.

Finally, they focused on the boy's face, and startled as conflicting emotions fought for dominance over his features; there was an almost animalistic rage, a cold murderous look, and an almost panicking expression; all of them fighting for dominance.

Xander swallowed deeply; harshly, the sound of the gulp eerily loud in the enforced silence of the four escapees. The three others glanced toward the bay, finding the source of Xander's anger standing in the middle of the cavernous room, talking to a couple of his support people. A flash of gold drew their attention to his pocket.

Magan! "Magan…" the teenager whispered. That was a birthday gift! From Mireille and Kirika! Let me get it! Hyena snarled; his presence strangely strong in Xander's consciousness. No… Xander grunted in reply. We will wait! There are too many people! We'll wait! Hyena growled in reply.

Xander closed his eyes, forcing his body to relax. Finally, his dominance over his mind was reaffirmed, and Xander slowly knelt down behind the crates. His eyes remained closed, yet his mind remained fully active. Taking one last breath, the boy opened his eyes.

"Not now," he whispered in answer at the staring question marks. "After we get out of here," he added as the looks didn't quit disappear.

There was a shouted order from behind them, followed by what appeared to be gunshots. Immediately, Xander's half-closed yes opened fully, and it seemed as if liquid fire was pumping through his veins as he vaulted up, leaping over the crates and landing on the other side. As the trio scrambled to look over the crates, they hears grunts and shots; this time close by.

When they made it, all they saw was Xander, sitting on one knee, holding two guns, smoke rising from the barrels. Next to him lay two dead bodies, guards he had killed to obtain the weapons from. With his bare hands, judging by the strange angle of their necks.

James' eyes went wide at the sight of half a dozen more guards lying dead, scattered around the cavern. The remaining people, and Aoshi, had disappeared through the other hallway leading into the loading bay. The huge loading doors had remained closed.

"Let's get out of here!" Sidney said, scrambling for the loading doors, Nigel close behind her.

"You go," Xander whispered as he stood up, burying his revulsion for the killings deep inside himself. It never gets easier… and I hope that it never will, the boy thought silently as he started walking to the hallway.

"Yeah… Hey! Wait! What do you mean you go!?" Nigel protested.

"I told you… I'm getting my birthday gift back. One way or the other," the young warriors spoke as he coldly grabbed an M-16 off the ground. James seemed to have no problems with it as he grabbed a discarded colt handgun off the ground and marched into step behind the boy. Nigel shook his head at Sidney's look, then rolled his eyes in protest as the Relic Hunter set off after the warrior and his companion. Sighing deeply, he joined the group.

"One of these days, you need to learn to get out of these situations as soon as you can," Nigel protested.

"That man still has the relic," Sidney grunted in reply. "Come on, Nigel!"

They encountered a huge steel door; jarred open from it usually locked state. Xander readied the M-16 as James fingered the Colt. The two men nodded, before bursting into the room, tracking targets wherever they could.

The element of surprise was total as the two men burst into the control room; the six guards present were incapacitated almost immediately. This room appeared to be some kind of control room. Some chairs were knocked over, coffee cups had been spilt. Obviously, the room had been abandoned in quite a hurry.

Xander sniffed the air anxiously, slamming down on the headache that was exploding in his head and mind as he started enhancing his senses. He wasn't tapping into the Hyena… yet. Dropping his empty rifle, the boy grabbed a fresh one off the ground before marching out of one of the doors. James cocked his head, and merely followed. Sidney and Nigel exchanged glances, yet followed Xander's lead nonetheless.

As they were about to round a corner, Xander suddenly jerked his arms horizontally, and pressed against the wall, making the other three follow his example. Cautiously, Xander peeked from around the wall.

Aoshi looked around like a frightened animal while holding out Magan and the silver sword-handle for one of his underlings. Xander focused. The ever-present gunshots seemed to close in. Suddenly, red warning lights started flashing and sirens were blaring. All of this, he ignored as his eyes 'zoomed in' on the lips of the two men.

Put these in the safe! Aoshi said to his underling.

At once, sir! The man replied, snapping at attention and running off. Directly in their direction. Xander's head disappeared behind the wall again, and an evil smile spread on his features. Sidney and Nigel look at him, while James merely waited. The first man who rounded the corner ran straight into Xander's waiting hands.

The teenaged assassin felt Kirika drill termination sequences into him. He reached out on automatic, grabbing the man by the collar while at the same time planting his feet wide apart. Using the running man's momentum, to which he added his own strength; Xander used his spread feet as rotation point. The man's head connected to the wall with a sickening crunch.

Before he hit the ground, Xander had caught him, grabbing his neck in a vicious-looking hold. The neck snapped at the same time as the rest of his body hit the concrete floor.

Almost reverently, the boy took Magan, and checked its clip. Still loaded with the demon killers, he decided. Slowly, his hands went over the rest of the man's body. One by one, he withdrew the silver sword-handle and the two golden spare clips he had been carrying.

"Now can we get out of here!?" Nigel demanded.

Xander looked up at him, looking almost normal now. He was still pale, and sweat and blood was coated on his figure, but the animalistic drive that had been there earlier was gone. "Sure," the boy said, actually smiling. "Fastest way is that way," he said, pointing in the same direction Aoshi had disappeared in.

"Unless you've been here before, how can you know that?" Sidney demanded.

Xander smiled. "Bad Guys will always leave their underlings to do the dirty work…and they always run in the fastest and safest way out."

"Excellent piece of deduction, Xander," James complimented the boy. "Let's go, then?" he added, motioning in the direction. Xander dipped his head, and took the lead once more.

Not thirty seconds later, they emerged into what appeared to be a room the size of the earlier loading bay… only this one didn't have the loading pads, and appeared to be stacked with computer equipment along the sides, but with an open cavernous center. Ventilation purposes, Xander decided, putting some of Mireille's technology lessons to good use.

On the other side, a group of men appeared to be on the retreat; walking backward and firing in the direction of the hallway they were backing out of. Their backs were pointed directly at Xander and his group.

As the two dozen men entered the computer cavern, they started spreading out in an attempt to gain a tactical advantage.

Xander was transfixed as he stared at the odd display, something deep within him stirring. Hyena…

Smoke filled the hallway. "They're dead!" one man shouted, still not noticing the small band hiding behind their backs. "No-one could have survived that!"

"Do you really think so?" a French-accented voice asked as two flashes appeared from the smoke, dropping two of the men instantly.

The guards had obviously not received decent training as they feel into disarray, panicking and turning to run toward the small band of runaways. Xander coldly opened fire with the M-16, inwardly screaming at each body that hit the ground. About a dozen men remained, standing in the middle of the room, staring at both Xander and the mist of the hallways.

The smoke cleared, revealing two silhouettes.

"Kirika…" Xander whispered as the smallest silhouette became visible from the smoke.

"Xander…" Kirika whispered as she caught his eyes from across the room.

Neither could hear the other. Nor could they read each other's lips. What they couldn't convey normally, their souls brought across. His chocolate eyes reached her Bordeaux ones. Across distance and enemies, eye-contact was established.

The guards, driven to the center, decided to make one last stand. Dropping to their knees, they propped up their M-16s, and opened fire. Mireille ducked. So did James, Sidney, and Nigel.

Xander and Kirika just looked at each other as bullets flew through the room. They started running toward each other.

She wanted to get to him.

He wanted to get to her.

Without thinking, their bodies reacted, dodging bullets and reacting by sheer instinct. On one side the guards found a possessed madman as the Hyena spirit within Xander snarled and came to the surface.

On the other side, they found Death in Silence as Kirika, deadliest assassin, Noir, rained down destruction.

As Xander dodged, and his last sidearm clicked on empty, he snarled. Something in his pocket shook.

"It moved!?" he snarled out loud, doing so unwittingly as his right hand grabbed the silver handle. As he drew it out, a beam of bright blue energy shot out. Kirika jumped back from her opponent, staring at Xander as he waved the blue-bladed weapon around.

Green last time… now it's blue, Xander had time to think before his mind exploded in images so powerful they were literally burning along his neural connections. His entire brain felt as if it were burning from the inside out. Unseeing eyes flashed across the battlefield as unhearing ears focused.

Every sense he had become overloaded by the blast of the sword. Xander screamed the scream of the damned as his feet shoved of on their own accord, and his entire body moved without being told to.

"KIRIKA!!!!" Her name lay as a war-cry on his lips as he charged forward, directly toward her. Xander reached the first man in his mad dash, his arms and hands moving still on their own accord. The Light Saber flashed up vertically, splitting the man in half. Cleanly.

Xander dove round the still falling corpse, taking off the legs of the second man at the knees. As the man fell down screaming, Xander came up and beheaded him. The third man aimed his M-16, but never had time to fire it as the Light Saber cut through the metal as if their hot butter. The blade returned, stabbing through the man's heart.

No. 4 attempted to sneak up on the crazed teen, but Xander somehow detected his presence, reversing the Saber and stabbing the man in a reversed stab next to his own body. The heat and energy of the Saber penetrated through Xander's clothes, making him feel the devastating power contained in it.

Kirika raised her gun, picking off those men not directly in between herself and Xander. She held absolute confidence in Xander as he was now… she knew how he felt as her name came across his lips as a cry of war.

Finally, they were face to face.

The Saber stopped on its own accord.

The handle clattered to the ground as Xander's fingers lost all strength. As a puppet whose strings had been cut, he tumbled forward, directly into her embrace, where she held him.

"Whatever that is… it's dangerous," the girl whispered.

"Once this… is over… I'm going to… talk to someone…" Xander panted, forcing his head to look up from her shoulder, so he could meet her eyes. "Kirika…"

She smiled at him. "It's okay."

Xander closed his eyes, tapping into his reserves, forcing himself to his legs. He could crash later. "Aoshi…"

"He got away," James said from behind them, just the tiniest amounts of shock coming through in the man's cultured British voice. "But I have a pretty good idea where he went."

"Then by all means, lead the way," Xander said, smiling as he motioned. Sometimes, he even astonished himself with his rate of regeneration… even if it's only a self-induced lie to his body. Kirika had taught him just how many IOU's he could take on his body. "By the way, James, Sidney, Nigel, meet Kirika and Mireille," he introduced as the entire group started moving. The various people merely nodded to each other in their mad dash after James.

They emerged into a garage not fifteen seconds later, just in time to see the garage door slam shut. "He left my car," James said as he opened the door to an Aston Martin DB7 Vantage. He jumped behind the wheel, ready to pursue, when the passenger door was ripped open and Mireille and Kirika jumped into the back seat. Xander dumped himself into the front seat.

"This is personal," he grunted to the man, who shrugged, and surprised his passengers by opening a panel in his armrest, and tapping a key. A missile shot from the front grille, taking out the recently closed garage door.

"You're not just an expert in ancient languages, are you?" Xander asked with what he hoped was a reasonably flat voice.

"Just like you're not just a teenager?" James answered.

"Point taken," Xander said with a grin as the enormously powerful car accelerated away. Xander saw James push on another button in his armrest compartment, and the navigation system changed into a radar layout. A red dot blinked, the radar image superimposed over a road map of the vicinity.

Xander kept silent, exchanging a glance with his two female companions on the back seat. Mireille was looking just about as shocked as he himself felt, while Kirika merely took everything in stride.

The teenager grabbed onto his armrest as James threw the car around an impossible corner at an impossible speed. "Jesus, man! What do you have in this car!?" Xander screamed as he held on for dear life.

"I had a few extras installed," James replied neutrally, actually looking as if he were enjoying himself. He glanced at the radar-navigation system. "I'm glad I had the foresight to attach a tracker to his car before I was captured."

James took a fast left, followed immediately by an even faster right, putting them on one of the larger highways, about half a kilometer behind Aoshi, if the radar tracker was right. It was then that the three passengers got the scare of a lifetime. James actually said 'hang on'.

Barely had they grabbed an armrest, or James opened a protective cap on one of his buttons, and pushed it. It was as if the car fell to the ground, its suspension lowering to an almost impossible level. A dull roar came from the back, before G-forces literally fused Xander to his chair. Gasping for breath like a fish out of water, he saw the road and the surroundings flash by, James masterfully waving through the Japanese traffic as if born to it. The man didn't seem affected by the high G's at all.

Finally, he released the button and the car decelerated back to something vaguely resembling 'normal' as James put it right behind a dark-purple Lamborghini Diablo.

"FUCK!!!" Xander screamed as he finally got some air into his lungs.

"Rocket booster," James said casually as he fumbled with his radio after pressing a couple of keys. Targeting crosshairs appeared on his windshield, attempting to track the waving purple Diablo, Aoshi doing his very best to shake them off.

"He's driving a faster car!" Xander screamed, immediately regretting his outburst as the rocket part came back to his mind. "Under normal conditions, I mean…" the teen attempted to save face. James grinned, forcing his Vantage behind the Diablo as it waved through traffic, which was thankfully very light at this time of day.

As the crosshairs waved from left to right on the windshield HUD, giving Xander headaches just from trying to keep up, James did his best to stay behind the Italian sports car Aoshi drove. Xander had been right about the car's performance, and Aoshi little by little pulled away. James grabbed for one of the keys in his armrest, causing the three passengers once more to dive for the armrests, clinging to them as if their lives depended on it.

James merely shook his head, and pressed the Nitrous release, triggering a burst of speed of shorter duration and of less severity than the rocket booster. Once more, the Aston Martin caught up to the Diablo, the targeting computer finally getting a lock. With a gleam in his eyes, James pressed the trigger. To Xander's surprise, machine guns started spewing death and destruction at the Diablo, making Swiss cheese out of the boot, scattering purple pieces of bodywork around, ripping the back tires to shreds, and throwing up pieces of road surface.

The Diablo, completely loosing its grip without rear tires, skidded to the left, which Aoshi overcompensated to the right, making the car go crosswise, literally catapulting it into the air. It flipped three times before it once more touched ground, the bodywork scattering on impact, yet doing nothing to make it slow down. The car flipped over a couple more times before finally slowing to a stop… on what was supposed to be its roof. As the passengers of the Aston Martin raced toward it, the car exploded.

"Mission accomplished," Mireille whispered quietly.

"I think we'd better get out of here," Xander said, looking worriedly at the sky, where the sound of an approaching helicopter was audible. "Unless we want the cops involved?" he asked, fixing a look on James. The man smiled slightly, never seeming fazed.

Instead of answering, James took his cell. "M? Double-o Seven. I have apprehended Aoshi… yes sir… you can pick him up in the middle of Highway North out of Tokyo. Oh, and M? Do bring a vacuum cleaner. He's rather combusted at the moment."

"007!!" They heard shouted from the phone, after which James smiled, closed the phone, and switched it off.

"Okay, so just who are you?" Xander grunted as they were in the Aston Martin, driving back to Aoshi's base for Nigel and Sidney.

"You have your secrets, and I have mine," James answered fluidly. "Shall we cross over equally?"

"Fine," Xander grunted with a deep sigh after sharing a penetrating look with Mireille and Kirika. "It's like this…"


"So let me get this straight," Nigel grunted, rubbing his forehead at the dinner table a couple of hours later. They were seated in a secluded section of a luxurious restaurant, not far from the stylish hotel where James had arranged rooms for himself, as well as Sidney and Nigel. Rooms which were located down the same hall where Kirika, Mireille, and Xander had originally had their base of operations. "You are a demon hunter?" he asked, pointing at Xander.

"Yep," the teenager replied with a grin, taking a sip from the sake he had in front of him. The clear rice-wine made a pleasant burning sensation down his throat on its way down.

"And you two are assassins for hire, taking out the guys the crime laws can't touch?" he went on, pointing to Kirika and Mireille. The blonde remained stoic, while Kirika nodded once.

"Yes," the brunette said quietly.

"And you… you are a secret agent working for Britain's MI6?" he finished, looking at James.

"Yes," the gentleman answered.

"How come this always happens to us, Sid? Can't we ever meet any normal people?" Nigel whined to his female companion, who simply grinned, and seemed to enjoy the strange company.

"By the way, I think this is yours," Xander said, extending the sword handle to Sidney over the dinner table. "Too bad… I really wanted to find out what makes it tick."

"Keep it," Sidney answered instantly. "After all, you are the one who can make it work."

"Cool!" Xander exclaimed, pocketing the device before anyone could object.

"Sidney!!" Nigel grunted. "That is a priceless artifact! You can't just give it away!"

"Somehow, I think that it's best to let Xander have it… if we kept it, it'd disappear in some cabinet, locked away. If Xander has it, at least it'll do some good in the world."

"All I can say is 'thank you', Dr. Fox. I swear, it won't go to waste," Xander cut in, effectively silencing Nigel's further comments. "And I know just the guy to help me figure that out."

"Really? Who?" Sidney asked, suddenly interested.

"Let's say that I have a pretty good idea," Xander replied secretly. "James… a question. How difficult would it be to have someone transported into the US? Without raising too many flags? I think they're still looking for me back home…"

"I think that can be easily arranged," James answered calmly. "What do you have in mind, Xander?"

Xander smiled. "You see…"


The next morning, Xander awoke to the warm feeling of Kirika, snuggled close to him. Tightening his hold he had on the girl, Xander closed his eyes, and wished to go back to sleep. For close to ten minutes, he stayed that way, basking in the warmth of having someone this close to him. Finally, he admitted defeat, and slowly disentangled himself from Kirika and made his way to the bathroom.

Five minutes later, Kirika joined him under the shower. Laughter accompanied the sudden flooding of the bathroom as the couple played under the hot streaming water. It took half an hour for them to finally get dressed and make their way out of the room.

They emerged into the red-carpeted lavishly decorated hallway of the posh hotel, at the exact same time the door next to their suite opened, and James and Mireille exited from her room. Kirika merely smiled slightly, while Xander fixed the duo with a knowing look.

James remained calm, not seeming to mind one bit. Mireille blushed slightly, made no comments, and merely regained her composure. Not a word was spoken before they hit the breakfast table.

Xander opened his mouth.

"No comment," Mireille cut in.

Xander closed his mouth. He opened it again. "I wasn't going to," he defended weakly.

Kirika smiled, offering no comment of her own except for a barely suppressed chuckle.

"Gee… how nice to have a supportive girlfriend," Xander said with obvious sarcasm and a smile to the brunette, who smiled wider. Finally, she snuggled close to his side, and Xander wrapped one arm around her shoulders.

"You all seem to be in a good mood," Sidney said with a faint smile as she joined the group.

"The job's over, the contract's finished, what's not to like?" Xander asked with a broad smile. "Finally some time to relax…"

"Not for very long, if you want to catch that plane to the States," James said with an easy sounding voice. "It leaves in…" he glanced at his watch, "about four hours."

"Cool," Xander said, still smiling.


George Lucas sat up with a start in his bed. Something had scared him out of his sleep.

"Hello, Mr. Lucas… I highly doubt you know me, but I think you know my… companion," Xander said, stepping out of the shadow and into the moonlight as he drew the handle of the Light Saber, holding it out to shine in the moonlight.

George rubbed the sleep form his eyes, staring at the handle. "That… now that I didn't suspect," the man grunted.

"I don't suppose you know how this got here?" Xander asked.

"That, my boy… that is a long story. But first, why don't you say how you got in here, and why security isn't holding you down right now?"

Xander smiled easily. "I work with the best," he answered calmly. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Alexander LaVelle… and this is my companion, Kirika," he introduced, making an arm-motion for the girl who remained in the shadows. It sent creeps up George's spine to see the silhouette remaining in the shadows.

"Now… how did this get here?" the boy asked the man, holding out the Light Saber. "Because last time I checked, this isn't standard equipment."

George Lucas sighed, getting up from the bed, his eyes drilling into Xander's. "Tell me… since you look like you're pretty sure that what you're holding is the real deal, did you activate it?"

"Twice. Scared the crap out of me each time," Xander replied calmly, not knowing where he found to the emotional strength to be level with a man such as Lucas in front of him.

The man's face betrayed the shock that rippled through him. "TWICE?"

"Why?" Xander asked, frowning in confusion.

"My dear boy… it took decades to learn to activate it even once, and most never managed more than that! That you, without training, managed to activate it not once but twice is simply… impossible."

Xander shook his head. "I can't do it on command, or I'd prove it to you."

George started chuckling, which soon evolved into a full fledged laughter. Only when he noticed Xander's slowly emerging anger did he manage to contain himself. There was something about the boy… something that set George's teeth on edge. "I'd guess not!" the man said, still sniggering. "Listen, how about I tell you what that is, what it really is, and you decide for yourself afterward?"

Xander dipped his head. "Sure."

"Fine, then… follow me," George said, leading them out of the bedroom.

Five minutes of hallways later, the trio emerged into a lavish living room, where George opened a safe. Inside of it was a second safe, followed by a third. Finally, after opening the fourth safe, the man took out a metallic rectangular box, about the size of a jewelry box. He placed it on the living room table, and indicated to Xander and Kirika to sit down. He took the seat opposite them, fingering the box.

"What you have… and what this is… are the last vestiges of an ancient civilization," George said. "Thirteen million years ago, in a galaxy approximately one hundred million light-years away, existed a civilization. The Republic. But, their galaxy was about to collide with a second galaxy, and they knew that it was highly doubtful that their civilization would survive.

"In crash tempo, they started pouring their resources into developing something… anything to help their civilization survive. They developed what they called, the ark. One hundred Arks were built, equipped with a semi-sentient piloting system, and loaded with equipment resembling their society. Also on each Ark was a database containing the Republican Library, containing every bit of data and knowledge of the Republic's scientists. Each Ark was then programmed with a different part of the sky, and sent on their way.

"As the Arks were never stopped or halted, I can only surmise that the Republic didn't make it… but I digress. One of those Arks entered the Milky Way Galaxy, its sensors tracking a small planet called Earth, where compatible life existed. However, the Navigator of the ship made a fatal mistake in its descent, and the ship disintegrated upon reentry. Most of the Ark and its precious cargo were destroyed.

"Thirty years ago, I found this small box at a yard sale. No-one ever knew what it was, having passed from hand to hand and from owner to owner through the centuries. I bought it, finding it intriguing… and I managed to find the knowledge it contained. However, the database, too, was damaged… it managed to imprint upon me the knowledge of the Republic, its society, its people, and its structure, as well as certain key events. Most of the scientific background was too degraded to be useful. Upon what it conveyed, I built the movies you know so well… and until an hour ago, I thought this to be the sole survivor of Ark 436."

"So… this is thirteen million years old?" Xander asked, voice in awe as he looked at the silver cylindrically shaped handle. "Cool!"

"Cool!?" George and Kirika asked at the same time.

"Yeah! Cool!" Xander exclaimed, grinning broadly. "Think about it! It survived a huge journey, crashed on our planet, and it still works! Those guys sure knew how to build something sturdy!"

George shook his head. "The Jedi Light Saber was the most potent weapon of the Republic. The database should have contained a full schematic… unfortunately, the only non-degraded knowledge it held featured a couple of external drawings, and a small movie clip. The background on it was detailed, though. The Light Saber is what was called a 'Soul Weapon', basically a catalyst for the soul, drawing upon the metaphysical power of the soul.

"Under normal practice, a Padawan would have to train for a decade before he or she first manages to activate the Light Saber. Being able to focus the Soul into the Saber takes tremendous control over the emotions. A Padawan would be trained in what we would call meditation and would worship Inner Peace. Only then, at the zenith of these two abilities, would a Padawan be able to activate the weapon.

"Now, from what I understood, this first experience was most often disastrous for the concentration of the Padawan, and it was not uncommon to take two or three years before a Padawan was able to activate a Saber a second time. From there on, it usually went smoothly. A Jedi Master would be able to train a Padawan after twenty years of experience with the Saber."

"Wow," Xander whispered. "I can see your point about that impossible thing now…" he looked up and grinned. "I've always been a special kinda guy, I guess." Kirika smiled and shook her head affectionately. "What I don't understand, though… if these guys were all so 'inner peace' and all… why did they fight?"

George shook his head. "They didn't… well, normally, anyway. They were like the Shaolin Monks. They only fought when no other choice existed. And, as I said, the Light Saber was the most potent weapon of the Republic. That part of the database was degraded, so I don't know why. All I know is this quote, which miraculously survived in tact:

The Light Saber in the hands of the Jedi Master is a force of nature: neutral, calm, yet utterly destructive and totally unstoppable. When faced with this force, one should make haste to prepare for the Afterlife, as there is no stopping, nor halting, the Jedi."

"Wow," Xander breathed after a ten second silence. "That… like…"

Kirika put her hand on his leg. "I know… the Saber… it brings out the full force of the Soul. What I saw when it activated last… the Force of Nature. I can't describe it better."

"Kirika…" Xander whispered.

"It is glorious," the brunette whispered, looking at him, ignoring George Lucas' stunned look for a moment. "What I saw, when you used that weapon… it was glorious. It was the culmination of your power and training. I saw you… felt you… use who and what you are and what you know to its fullest."

"Wow," Xander said again, grinning like a fool. "I guess I'll have to work on getting this thing to work, then," he added, still grinning and looking at the deactivated Light Saber.

They didn't keep George Lucas much longer after that. Now that the mast important parts had been said, the two teenagers decided it was best o head back to Paris… after all, Xander was still being looked for in the U.S., and that fact set both their instincts reeling. During his stay with Kirika, Xander had developed the same almost pathological paranoia when it came to law enforcement.

After a long journey back to France, the duo finally fell into bed, both exhausted, and Xander even more than Kirika. He still hadn't been able to replenish the energy he had expended in the clash with Aoshi… certainly not since he had been forced to fool his body into thinking it had slept eight hours, and had healed.

The next morning, Kirika woke him early. "We need to do some more training," the brunette urged him on as he protested his lack of sleep. "If you're planning on using the Light Saber, you'll need to learn how to use a sword, Chéri."

Xander sighed as he got out of bed, and patted after the brunette to the living room. Which, now he paid attention to it, seemed to be laid out permanently as training area. "We'll start with an unfair advantage while you get used to the sword," Kirika said, extending a sword. "I will be unarmed during those stages."

Xander took the heavy weapon from her, and stared at it for a few seconds. On the blade, intricate designs seemed to be etched, and the entire thing seemed to have the 'ancient' feel, look, and smell to it.

"That is one of the Blades of Noir, used during the ceremony," Kirika said. "That weapon is 1000 years old; yet still as sharp as the day it was created."

Xander practically dropped it. "What…but…old…?" he asked, stuttering in French for the first time since long.

Kirika just dipped her head. "Try and cut me while I try to disarm you… it will provide you with the knowledge on how to handle a sword."

Xander held on to the sword as if it were his last life-line, and took a very slow swing at his girlfriend. Almost looking annoyed at him, she planted her hands in her sides.

"Take a real swing, Xander. And don't worry about breaking it. That weapon has survived enough battles for me to know it won't break so easily."

And so they began…


James Bond awoke to curious sounds coming from the living room. After having been invited to stay at the Paris apartment until Xander and Kirika had returned, the secret agent had settled into Mireille's room, a fact which the blonde didn't seem to mind. Certainly not judging from the peaceful look on her face as she was sleeping next to him, the man noted.

Curious to the origin of the sound, he crept out of bed and slowly made his way to the living room. What he saw there fully opened his eyes, a look of surprise etching on his face for the first time since long.

Xander, panting and sweating, took a swing at Kirika with such force that there was no doubt that the petite girl would be cut in halt if it hit. Instead of connecting, the girl ducked under the swing, and rushed forward, trying to reach Xander's hands clasping on the sword's hilt. Having expected it, the man reached up, putting his grip out of Kirika's reach, and reversing for a devastating blow from above.

Kirika rolled to the right, kicking out to Xander's side, causing him to jump away. The fight went on, in practically total silence as the two warriors circled around each other, testing, trying,… fighting. Finally, Kirika got within reach, and landed a devastating combo of punches against Xander's chest, causing him to lose the grip on his sword, and catapulting him backward.

James was about to rush forward when he saw the boy got up with an almost deadly glare in his eyes. The teen grabbed the sword from the floor in mid-charge without losing speed. Kirika calmly awaited him, actually smiling. This was the point where she had been waiting for: the point where Xander would evolve at tremendous speeds.

James watched in stunned silence as the boy literally seemed to get better with each swing he took from the large weapon, up to the point where Kirika reached and grabbed for her own weapon and charged in once again.

"Incredible, isn't it?" Mireille asked, suddenly appearing behind him. He hadn't even heard her… to himself, he claimed that he had been too engrossed in the spectacle to notice her. In reality… Mireille was Noir. She could sneak up upon just about anybody.

"Indeed it is," he agreed with her. "But I still don't understand how this is possible…"

"Those aren't my secrets to tell," Mireille replied, quickly turning to the scene in the living room, where Xander dropped had his sword, and was now on his ass, staring up at Kirika holding a sword to his neck. His breathing was quick and shallow, and a shiny layer of sweat glistened on his skin. His clothes were drenched in sweat.

"Good," they heard Kirika say, helping him up and kissing him. "You did well, Cheri."

"Thank you, Mon Coeur," the boy replied, panting, as he fell into a seat. "That…certainly was… exhausting."

"You haven't fully recovered yet," Kirika whispered as she sat down next to him. Instantly, she looked at the ground. "I'm sorry…"

"No," Xander interrupted. "No, you're not."

Kirika looked at him, not understanding.

"If I want to get good, this is what I need," he grunted through his panting, trying to get his breath under control. "I need to be pushed hard and long… and I can't do it myself. I'm too lazy… I need someone like you to push me." He snuggled to her. "Thank you for pushing me, Ma Chérie," he whispered.

"You're welcome, My Love," the girl replied, hugging him as he sags into the embrace. "We both need a shower," she notes levelly, immediately after.

Xander sighed. "Just give me five more minutes…" he begged.

"We should do it now, Xander… Mireille won't appreciate us dirtying these designer fauteuils."

"Slave-driver," Xander accused with a chuckle.

"And you love me for it," Kirika answered with a smug grin as she helped him to his feet. They nodded a good morning to Mireille and James as they passed them on the way to the shower.


Xander and Kirika stood a little bit back as Mireille hugged James goodbye. "Back to London for me. Me doesn't wait," the man said as he stepped back, shaking Xander's hand, before hugging Kirika. A small smile decorated Xander's face as the hug didn't seem to have James' expected result on Kirika. As the spy turned to walk to his car, he noticed Xander's eyes fix themselves on the Aston Martin, filling up with melancholy.

James turned, and started walking to the car. One didn't become successful in James' line of business without developing a sixth sense and James' told him the look on Xander's face. A small smile decorated James' lips. Halfway down the small path leading up to the apartment building, the spy turned and threw his car keys to Xander.

"After all, you did save my life in that cave," the man said.

Xander stared at the keys, to James, to the Aston Martin, and back to the keys. "This…that… you're… joking, right? Because if you are, it ain't funny… you know how much I like cars… and after finding out what that particular car can do…"

James shook his head. "I'm not joking. Keep it… I'll just tell M and Q that I wrecked it. Again."

"You're… not joking?" Xander asked, his mind incapable of wrapping itself around the ignition keys in his hand.

"Not in the least," the man assured.

"Cool!" Xander screamed, flashing down the path, grabbing James in mid-flight, spinning him around as he hugged the older man, screaming "Thank you!" over and over. After completing a full spin, Xander detached, his feet leaving the ground on his dash down the path to the powerful automobile. Faster than James had though possible, the boy had deactivated the security system, opened the front door, and fallen behind the steering wheel.

The spy had a kind of stunned look on his face after being spun around by the screaming youth. He opened the passenger door, and put his head inside to talk to Xander. Mireille and Kirika were there at practically the same time.

"There are two conditions, though…" James said to the widely grinning Xander.

"Anything, man! Anything!" Xander promised, before realizing that it was not a good thing to say something like that… not to a spy, anyway.

"First… you and the car come to London. After all, I will be needing to teach you how to drive a car like this. Not to mention explain how all the gadgets work," James said. Xander relaxed slightly, then shifted his glance to the car, then to Kirika.

"I…" he whispered, still looking at the brunette, who was nodding encouragingly at Xander.

"Kirika can come too," James said with an easy smile. "You three can make a holiday out of it."

"Cool!" Xander screamed, enthusiasm back to full force. "Not only a car like this, but free driving lessons from the master himself! This must be my lucky day!!" Immediately upon that, he sobered once again. "Eh… what the second condition?"

"A lift to the airport. I've got a flight to catch," James said with a smile. Xander grinned widely as he turned the key and pressed the starter button, making the powerful modified engine roar into life.

It was mid-august by the time the trio returned to Paris. Letting Mireille take care of the emails waiting for Noir, Xander and Kirika decide to relax in one of Paris' many parks. An hour later, they were sitting on a small bench, located under the overhanging branches of a large tree.

"I really missed this place," Xander whispered, turning to look at the huge trunk located directly behind the bench. His fingers trailed an engraving. Next to him, Kirika gave an affirmative nod.

"I know, Mon Coeur," she whispered, settling against his side. "But I am still worried."

Xander nodded. "I know. So am I… but I think the Light Saber will come when it's ready, Chérie."

"It's not normal… it should have activated by now," the brunette whispered sadly.

"That's why I am not going to depend on it. I still have Magan, and I have yet to meet a demon capable of taking the highest level demon killers. They can take out a tank if needed." With a grin, he added, "And they're good for showing up James Bond, too."

Kirika chuckled slightly. "His face was priceless when you showed his precious Q that his armor could be penetrated by a handgun bullet."

Xander chuckled along with her. "I wouldn't worry too much… The Saber will come when it wants to. You heard George… the weapon is practically sentient in its requirements for operation."

Kirika sighed sadly, once more leaning into, Xander's side. He put a protective arm around her shoulders, and brought her in for a kiss, brining a smile to her beautiful face. Happy at seeing her smile replace her usual sad demeanor, Xander's insides lit up. They spent an hour that seemed to flash by in seconds under that tree before finally deciding to return to the loft and see what came out of Mireille's emails.

"Nothing but junk mail this time," the blonde replied when they asked for the information. Xander shrugged while Kirika gave no reaction whatsoever.

"Mind if I check up on Sunnydale?" Xander asked Mireille, who stood up and made an inviting motion to the laptop. Xander smiled, and nodded his thanks even as his fingers started rattling on the small portable's keys.

Within minutes, he had established the encrypted Virtual Private Network tunnel through the internet to the computer of his contact, XXX.

XXX> There you are. I've been waiting for you.

Noir745-XA> Business trip. Why? What's the Big News?

XXX> Last time, I was too late, but they weren't big ones anyway. This time, the commotion was huge… but it'll cost you.

Noir745-XA> What are you talking about, X?

XXX> Fine. I'll say two things: One, Teraka. Two, one million extra.

Noir745-XA> Teraka? What's a Ter-

Kirika halted his typing. Curious, Xander looked at her, and wished he hadn't. All emotion seemed to have drained from her face. In her eyes stood the same cold infliction that Xander knew from past experiences, when Kirika reverted to the 'True Noir' persona. It was a side of his girlfriend he had learned to accept and respect… even if it still scared the living daylights out of him.

Deftly, she turned to portable so she could type.

Noir745-KY> You will tell now. Who. What. How much. Where. And when. Then we will think about paying you, and not tracking you down. Capish?

She had hit 'send' before Xander had managed to break from his shock and stop her. "Kirika! What if he breaks the connection? What's Teraka? Why are they so dangerous?

XXX> You can't touch me over the net…

Noir745-KY> We can and will. We are Noir. Now tell.

Xander stared at the screen, unable to believe the utter coldness that radiated from Kirika's words, even if they were mere letters on a TFT screen.

XXX> Okay! Fine! What I know is that a guy, a real bigshot called The Wizard, just 'The Wizard', nothing else, put out ten million to have Sunnydale cleared of Slayer and allies as soon as possible!

Noir745-KY> Thank you. Payment as usual.

<<<Connection terminated by Noir745-KY>>>


"Mireille… can I use your cellphone?" Kirika asked, voice a deadly quiet, a cold and calculating infliction of death and destruction. The blonde passed her phone, which Kirika started ramming numbers into. She put the phone on speaker, and put in down on the pool table.

"What?" a deadly voice asked.

"This is Noir. The contract in Sunnydale? Cancel it."

"Noir?" the voice asked, chuckling. "That is a good one… and who says we have a contract in Sunnydale? And why would we, the Assassin's Guild, cancel it? We have existed for thousands of years and killed millions. Teraka has never lost a contract!"

Kirika's eyes narrowed further, if that was even possible. "By the contract of Soldats and Teraka, You will heed my call. Or we shall wage the war of old, and destroy your pitiful organization!" she snarled, voice heated and angry, something Xander had never heard her use before.

The voice was actually quiet for a good ten seconds, before answering, a whole let steady. "We can not cancel a contract, and you know it, Black Hand that Protects the Peace of the Newly Born."

Kirika swallowed. "Sunnydale is under our protection, Teraka's Order of Assassins. We can not let this pass… Under the Contract of Allegiance, you are ordered to abort the contract."

"So are you," Teraka answered. "We agreed not to interfere into each other's affairs. You do not have a contract there. Therefore, we are not interfering."

"The contract you serve targets family," Kirika answered coldly. "Refrain."

"We can not," Teraka answered calmly. "However, in spirit of the last thousand years of mutual respect between our two sides, We shall give you two weeks. Starting September First, Teraka's contract goes into full power."

"We will defend our family, Teraka's Order."

"And we will do our best to fulfill the contract, Black Hand. May the best side reap the fruits of the contract."

"Do your best, Teraka. We shall bury you all."

The phone call ended. Kirika hunched forward, and Xander actually thought she was crying, before he touched her shoulder, and she fell against him. "I…I'm sorry, Xander… I was merely able to buy time…"

"What happened, Kirika? Who is this Teraka? And what's with this strange name he called you?" Xander asked gently, supporting her as he brought a glass of water to her lips, letting her drink greedily.

"Teraka is what is sounds… they are a Guild of Assassins, ranging back thousands of years. They are considered the best money can buy… but only if you can't get Noir. Soldats… ancient Soldats… made a contract with them. We wouldn't interfere with one another, the earlier contract taking precedence and the newer contract would be aborted. We have never interfered, and that clause of abortion was never used. Today… today I tried to use it to stop Teraka from going to Sunnydale. All I got was time." She looked at Xander, her eyes looking heartbroken. "You have until the First of September to protect your friends… After that, Teraka will come, and they will keep coming until the money of the guy who took out the contract runs out."

"What do you mean, 'I' ?" Xander asked. "Surely, you're coming with me? You and Mireille? After all, you are Noir… I am just the under-trained, inexperienced trainee…"

Kirika exchanged a glance with Mireille. The blonde dipped her head without Xander noticing. "We'll come as soon as we can, Xander… but we… Mireille and I… we're going to put the pressure down on Teraka. I…Althena… she showed me… where Teraka's Headquarters is. We'll be paying them a visit."

Xander sighed deeply. "And I can't come with you… I need to protect my friends… in Sunnydale… for if Teraka breaks its word…"

"When," Kirika corrected with a sad tone in her voice. "Not openly… but expect one or two of them already there."

Xander nodded. "I understand," he whispered sadly. "But I…I don't want to leave you…"

She put a brave finger against his trembling lips. "This is one of those times we must be brave, have confidence in each other's abilities, and do what we must," the girl whispered, her voice trembling as well.

"Don't worry, Xander. James showed me a couple of extra tricks. There won't be a problem with anything during the trip… paperwork, tickets, shipping of the car and your weapons, everything. I'll set you up with a first class cover for when you get back. All you'll need to do is get yourself a decent house. With the funds you earned from your working with us, you'll be able to afford quite a big place." Mireille focused on the portable's screen, fingers racing the keyboard, trying to camouflage the trembling in her voice and the suspicious moisture in her eyes.


Xander smiled a sad smile at his two teachers… the two people who had become closer than family to him. He picked up his suitcase, threw his old backpack over one shoulder, and turned for the door. As he did so, a pair of strong arms encased his waist, and he could feel Kirika's forehead rest against his back, somewhat in the middle of his shoulders.

"Xander …" he heard her whisper, her voice sadder than he had ever heard it. It was joined by a couple of sobs.

Slowly, Xander sighed, hanging his head as he slowly put his suitcase down, and let the pack slide off his shoulder. He turned around in her embrace, wrapping his arms around her as soon as he could. He lifted her so they were at the same height. "Kirika… I have to go…" he whispered sadly, kissing her. "You could always come with me," he offered once again. "Come with me to Sunnydale, help out my friends. Side by side."

Kirika sadly shook her head as she looked up at him. "We need to do this… Mireille can't take Teraka alone," she sobbed. She threw her head back to him, sobbing against his chest. For the first time since he met her, Kirika cried. Really cried, tears streaming over her cheeks as the hard layer built around her heart over the years finally collapsed.

He held her tightly, his strong arms around her frail-looking body. He looked up at Mireille, finding her staring sadly at them. "Mireille trained my mind and body," he whispered to his girl. "And for that, I can never repay her. But Kirika…" he gently pushed her away so he could look her in the eyes, "you… you not only trained my heart and soul, but healed them at the same time." He grabbed her right hand, putting it over his beating heart. "When I first met you, I was empty… a shell devoid of existence. I was broken, looking for a place to die. And you… you taught me how to live again, gave me a soul, a cause to fight for. You hold my heart, ma chérie, and you always will. Please remember that."

Kirika was crying at his words, feeling the heartbeat under her hand. "I won't forget," she promised. "You hold my heart, too…" Slowly, she leaned forward into his embrace again. "I never want to lose you, Xander. I can't…I can't lose anyone else… I've lost so many… I can't lose you as well," she whispered, desperately not wanting him to leave, yet, at the same time, realizing that his loyalty for his friends was one of the most beautiful qualities he possessed. She knew he had to leave… a fact that made her usual masterful control over her emotions waver. For the first time in a long time, Kirika was fighting for her emotional control.

Xander sighed sadly, his hand reaching up, grabbing hold of the necklace he had cherished since childhood. When they finally separated, Xander lifted the necklace from under his clothing, and slowly slipped it over his head. "I told you what this necklace means to me," he whispered, holding up her right hand. He dropped the item into it, and closed her fingers over it. "And now I want you to hold it, as a bond, Kirika. I promise I will never leave you. Imay be halfway across the globe, but know that my heart is right here, with you, wherever you go," he vowed with conviction, voice and facial expressions straining to remain normal against the turmoil inside. He wanted to stay… to stay here, with her… but his friends needed him. And as much as he wanted to, Xander couldn't abandon them. They had hurt him deeply, but for Xander, that still wasn't a reason to abandon them now that they needed him.

Xander swallowed. He would go, go and protect his friends. And after all of this was cleared up, he would be reunited with Kirika, for there was no doubt in his mindthat they would be reunited. They just had to be.

Kirika stared at her closed hand, before slowly moving it to her heart, holding it there. "I will never let it go," she whispered, looking up at him. "Never," she said with pure conviction. Xander leaned forward, kissing her one final time. Kirika closed her eyes as she let herself drown in that kiss. She was still standing there, with eyes closed and head tilted slightly upward, long after Xander had left the loft.

When she finally had the courage to open her eyes and face the empty loft, Kirika made a promise; a promise to herself, to the necklace that was Xander's last vestige of a long lost childhood, to Xander himself, and to the universe in general.

I will make them pay… pay dearly for this. And after I have, we will be reunited, Mon Coeur… for ever. After this final trial, I will never allow us to be separated ever again.

Chapter 3

Xander had his eyes closed as he relaxed in the plush first class seat of the Boeing 777 taking him to the States. Xander slept… but always there were his keen instincts, casting out his senses of hearing and touch for hostile activity. It was a healing sleep of health, rather than the deep, restful sleep he needed so desperately after the last days of emotional stress.

A tear dripped down his cheek as Xander's sleeping mind conjured up Kirika. Sighing, he rubbed the tear away, the sole sensation having woken him from his extremely light sleep. Sadly, he turned to watch out the window, his mind not registering what his eyes were seeing. Shutting down his conscious thought, Xander allowed his body to drift into the meditative state once more.

Not ten minutes later, something woke him. His instincts had warned him. Something wasn't right… casting his eyes around, trying in vain to locate anything out of the ordinary, the feeling of dread increased within Xander. Swallowing, he forced himself to calmness, trying to locate where the sense came from. He didn't have the wait for long, as the surrounding air gradually became darker and darker, causing the boy to look out.

A crash of lighting, the first of many, just flashed next to the plane, immediately followed by the plane bucking up and down like an angry bull. Xander grabbed hold of the armrests. That's what was wrong… my instincts are those of animals, and animals fear the thunderstorm.

"This is your captain speaking," thee captain spoke over the intercom system. "We have just received word that, due to the storm, the airports of New York and Washington have closed. We are forced to deviate to the airport of Bangor, Maine. I would like to stress at this time that this is not an emergency, and this is no reason for concern."

Xander sighed. "There goes my connecting flight to LA," he muttered darkly. "Oh, well… I'm sure that they can manage a couple of hours without me. They managed for almost a year."

A couple of hours later, Xander stepped off the plane in Bangor. After checking with the information desk, he found himself a connecting flight to LA. Unfortunately, the next flight wasn't until the next day. "Oh well… I'd better go find me a hotel, then," the teenager whispered sadly to himself as he left the airport, carrying his backpack as well as his heavy suitcase. He found a hotel, and disappeared into the bathroom to freshen up before checking in.

Looking at himself in the mirror, Xander straightened out his tie, and rubbed most of the wrinkles out of the gray suit he was wearing. Somehow, Mireille had talked him into wearing the suit, claiming that someone of his stature shouldn't be seen in anything else. He had been forced to admit she was right when he noticed the wear of the other passengers in the first class compartment.

After booking the last available room for the night, and dropping off his luggage, Xander found time for a shower and a change of attire. Dressed in his favorite clothing, consisting out of a black shirt, black jeans, and a black half-long coat to cover the Magan tucked into the small of his back, he left the hotel for a stroll around Bangor. After eating something tasteless or other at the first McDonald's he encountered, Xander continued his walk. He needed it… the restlessness of the flight was still with him, and it had left him too wired to relax.

So engrossed was he in his own thoughts he didn't notice that night was falling until it was completely dark. Almost, he turned to head back to the hotel, yet something compelled him to move on. Something wasn't right… this went beyond a mere flight deviation due to a thunderstorm. Something was wrong, and his instinct, that elusive sixth sense, was going haywire because of it.

A smile came to Xander's lips. Demons… his thoughts whispered. He had recognized the problem. Finally having identified the source of his anxiety, Xander put some more force into his step. Five minutes later, he entered an 'abandoned' warehouse in the industrial area. Experience in all the regions of the world had taught to Xander how to recognize these places.

Planting himself at the bar, Xander ordered a whisky, refraining from saying 'scotch'. It gave too much trouble with demon bartenders, whose hearing was less than fully developed when faced with human tongues… he still winced at the memory of the bartender serving him Scottish blood.

"We don't serve humans," the blue-skinned demon behind the bar grunted gruffly. "Now get out… you're annoying the patrons."

Xander's eyes shifted from the bar to the bartender. "I just spent the last ten hours on a flying cigar flying over the Atlantic, only to find out the airport at my destination is closed and the flight has to be deviated. So, all I want is a drink, right? WRONG! This hellhole of a country won't serve booze to a minor. So, I ay to myself… why not visit the demon bar? They're doing a lot worse than serving liquor to a minor, after all."

The bartender grinned. "Too bad. You're mistaken. Get the fuck out." Even before the last syllable left his lips, the bottle of expensive vintage blood behind him exploded. The bartender looked at the expensive $2500 bottle, usually stored in a special see-through refrigeration case.

"I'm so sorry! Was that the bottle with the authentic virgin nun's blood?" Xander growled, holding up the smoking Magan, his patience fully gone after spending the last 48 hours in constant emotional turmoil. And the botched plane flight hadn't helped much, either.

The bartender's gaze shifted slowly to Magan, even as the rest of the patrons jumped up and away from Xander, staring at the golden weapon. Anxiously, fearful whispers rose form the customers.

"The Golden Gun… Jesus Christ… the Golden Gun…" the bartender whispered, shaking. "Why the fuck didn't you tell me you were the Golden Gun?"

Xander sighed, putting the weapon away. "Listen… I didn't come for trouble. Just give me my whiskey… and perhaps put something on the jukebox you've got over there. I need a place to relax."

"Sure man… whatever you say…" the bartender whispered fearfully, pouring Xander the double whiskey. "Say… did you really off Frantic Franky in London?"

Xander smiled as he sipped his drink, making an appreciative noise. He chuckled. "Yeah… he wanted to eat me and have his way with my girl… couldn't have that. Like now, I wasn't looking for trouble, but I did end it."

Xander's eyes narrowed. "My turn to ask you a question."

"Sure. Shoot," the bartender said, shifting nervously.

"Usually, when I step into a bar, the bartender assumes I'm a vampire, and tries to sell me some blood. And even after they find out I'm human, they're never openly hostile. Yet, here you are, about to slit my throat the moment my foot crosses the threshold, and now you're looking as nervous as a devil in a barrel of holy water," Xander said, keeping his voice even. "You wouldn't be hiding anything, would you?" he asked, sipping his whiskey. Nervous shuffling of chairs behind him told Xander all he needed to know.

"Eh… I have no idea what you're talking about, mate," the bartender grunted.

"U-huh," Xander said with a nod. "And what if I don't believe that?"

"Then that's your problem, not mine," the bartender replied, returning to cleaning up the mess Xander had made with shooting the bottle of nun's blood. The teenager could hear the bartender cursing about 'Two thousand dollars a liter… and that ass just shot it'.

Xander chuckled dryly at that. Solemnly, his hand slipped to Magan, lifting the jacket and shirt to expose the golden weapon. He looked over his shoulder at the assembled patrons, who were eyeing him with fearful looks.

"And you guys? Are you hiding anything?" he asked calmly, taking another sip from his whisky, using his free hand to do.

The demons fearfully shook their heads, trying desperately to avoid looking into Xander's piercing eyes. The bartender took that moment to right himself from behind his bar. In one swoop, Xander turned, jumped to his feet, and drew Magan. Before the bartender knew what had happened, the boy was holding the big gun to his head.

At the same moment, the patrons used the slip in Xander's attention to jump up and bolt. "I think you are hiding something… and whatever it is, it's not something you want me to know about. And so I want to know what it is."

The bartender was shaking like a leaf. "Golden Gun… man…friend…buddy…pal… you…you don't want to shoot old Aldrich, would you? I…I mean… drink's on the house. Whenever you want… drink's on the house!"

The right corner of Xander's mouth quirked upward. "That's mighty nice of you, Al. You don't mind if I call you Al, would you?" the demon shook his head, indicating he wouldn't mind, as Xander continued, "But, you see… there's still the matter of distrust. I want to know what you're hiding, so I can find out if I can trust you."

Aldrich the demon bartender shook in fear. "O…okay… all I know is the name and time. Quest. Tonight at ten…"

"Quest?" Xander asked, frowning as he tried to place the name. "Sounds awfully familiar."

"Quest," Aldrich nodded. "Dr. Benton Quest."

"Of course! The phenomenologist!" Xander said, theatrically smacking his forehead. "Thanks for the info, Al. see ya later," he said, downing his drink, and slapping $100 down on the bar. "For your trouble," he added before turning and leaving.

The first thing Xander did was rent a car, and get some directions. Someone as famous as Dr. Quest wasn't hard to find… like with Hollywood celebrities, it was common knowledge where the man lived.

"Nine fifteen," Xander cursed as he entered his room, tearing through his luggage for the cherry-wood case containing his clips. Flicking open his jacket, Xander loaded an extra green band-attired vampire-killing magazine, two blue bands of lower demon killing rounds, two red bands of high demon killer rounds, and just to be on the safe side, one black band of 'Shut the fuck up' rounds, designed to go through just about anything.

Five minutes after entering, Xander left his room once more, making sure that everything was locked. Not for the first time, he wished he had some magical abilities… he would have loved to put a spell on his door, just to be safe. His instincts had never steered him wrong, and ever since he left Paris, they had gone ballistic.

"Forty minutes to get to Rockport, find myself a decent vantage point, and wait…" Xander grunted, shifting a look to the transport case for Magan he had whisked with him. "And to configure Magan for sniper use," he added, thinking about the 10" barrel and the full night-vision scope.

Thirty minutes later, Xander slammed the car into park as it was still running, the wheels screeching as the transmission lock engaged. Immediately, Xander turned to the passenger seat, flipped open the transport case, and took out Magan. In five minutes, he had stripped the gun, put in the replacement barrel, attached the laser sight and the night vision scope. He reconfigured the laser sight to work in infra-red rather than the normal red dot, so his night vision scope would be able to detect it yet no-one with normal sight would.

Taking a deep breath, Xander closed the lid of the cherry-wooden case, and slipped it into the trunk before taking a good look at the Quest compound. As he had thought, it was huge, and as Xander could imagine, security was top notch. Slowly thinking over his options, Xander came to a few ways of tackling his current problem.

One, he could wait in front of the main gate, and wait until the demon struck before taking advantage of the surprise of the inhabitants by just rushing in.

Two, he could bypass security, take the risk of running out of time, and try and find a good spot to watch everything… and take the added risk of missing the demon.

Three, he could vault the wall, set off security, and hope that his movements would keep him out of Quest's hands long enough for the demon to show up.

Four, he could ring the doorbell, make some excuse, social engineer his way in, and wait for the demon to show up.

Xander glanced at his watch. "Three minutes till deadline," he whispered. "Number four is the least preferable… I'd like to get in, do the job, and get out without them noticing me. Quest has the reputation of being an all-around good guy…" Xander swallowed. "But tactically, it's the best solution…" the teenager shook his head.

"No time," he decided, tapping into his subconscious, and leaping over the wall. Immediately, horns started blaring, and search lights came on. Taking advantage of the slight Hyena-boost, Xander sprinted across the open lawn until he reached the nearby forest. Xander's first thought was to go through there, since it was without arguing the weak point in the Quest security, but time restraints had thwarted that plan.

Squatting behind some tree-cover, Xander nervously fingered the fully built Magan. Too big for the holster, Xander was now forced to carry the heavy weapon with him wherever he went. Closing his eyes, Xander eased his nerves and calmed his mind. He might be here a while… or not, he added sarcastically, when a demon the likes of which Xander had never seen before appeared in the middle of the Quest lawn, materializing in an amber-red sparkling shower of tiny lights blasting up from a pentagram that hadn't been there before.

Magic! Xander cursed, leveling Magan and peering through the night scope. The IR dot adorned the demon's head. Xander squeezed the trigger. The demon roared, feeling the impact of the vampire killing round as the Holy Water stung its amber-brown skin. Slightly.

The demon roared, turned to face Xander's location. The boy snarled as he emptied the clip from his hidden position. The Vamp-rounds tore into the demon's belly, leaving no visible marks save for the little bit of smoke the Holy Water caused.

Ejecting his empty clip, Xander slammed in the low-demon killing rounds. The demon was by now storming toward Xander, leaving the boy no other choice but the jump up and make a run for it… directly toward the demon. The lawn would allow him more ease of movement. Xander was sure that his small teenaged body was more maneuverable than the 2.5 meter tall amber-skinned giant.

Emptying the demon killers into the demon, Xander was forced to admit he made a grave tactical error as the demon caught up to him. His right arm was numb from the recoils of the heavy weapon, and Xander was forced to shift it to his left hand, even as he rolled under the huge demon's haymaking swipe.

Rolling to his feet, Xander spurted away from the demon, meanwhile searching for the clip of red rounds. Finally finding the high demon killing rounds, Xander slapped it into his weapon and racked the slide. He jumped, and flipped around in mid-air, landing in the exact firing position. Kirika had trained him well… although her lessons had been on how to deal with a group of men chasing him; they worked just as well against a single demon. A demon that was worse than an entire group of men.

Xander squeezed the trigger with his left hand. His right-handed nature showed clearly as Xander's shots weren't as centralized as before, but still hit the target dead-on. The demon staggered back slightly as 10 silver-titanium hollow point explosive centered rounds exploded against his chest and abdomen. Xander's eyes went wide. No damage.

"Fuck me!" Xander screamed as he jumped up, ejecting his clip as he did so. He made a run for it again, when his eyes noticed a group of people running out of the house, armed. "Get the fuck away!" Xander screamed, angling toward them, even as he searched for the black-banded Ueber-killers. The leader of the group, a tall white-haired man, stood at indecision for a few moments before his eyes caught the demon. "That thing is invulnerable to bullets!" Xander shouted. The tall man's eyes locked on Magan, and a look of surprise went through his eyes.

"Kids! Back inside!" the man ordered to his three younger companions. Xander took that moment to turn, confident that the newcomers were taking his advice.

"Please work," Xander prayed as his left hand squeezed Magan's trigger. These rounds were the heaviest, the recoil the most ferocious of all the bullets. Every shot traveled along his arm like a battering ram. The rounds exploded against the demon's chest, one bullet actually missing, and tearing into a tree a hundred meters further back, exploding, and actually felling it.

The demon roared in anger, as it certainly could not be pain, for it had nothing to show for Xander's efforts. "DAMMIT!" Xander screamed, seeing no other choice but to go for his one magazine of red rounds, and hoping he'd find a weakness somewhere.

He made a critical mistake in looking into his pocket for his magazine, as a weight that could not be anything but a small truck slammed into him. Xander's lightning reactions took over, and he managed to roll to his feet, both hands pushing against the ground to push him up faster. Xander cursed as his eyes caught the glimpse of the now discarded Magan, behind the incoming demon.

Incoming demon! His inner voice screamed, and Xander rushed away, trying to clear himself. As he turned and ran, he only had the luxury of taking a dozen steps before he had to come to a sudden halt on the edge of a cliff.

Forgotten all about that cliff behind their house, Xander cursed, turning, and staring at the demon. Xander took a breath.

You can not be afraid of death. Fear of death will only slow you down, while the will to live will keep you alive, Kirika's voice counseled. Xander felt an almost ethereal quiet descend over his mind as he charged the demon head-on.

Neither combatant had any weapons now, so the fight was down to hand-to-hand. The demon took a swing at him, and using Kirika's training, Xander side-stepped, grabbed the demon's wrist, and added his own speed to it while twisting. To his utter surprise, throwing a demon and throwing Kirika wasn't all that much different, and the huge giant crashed into the ground.

In his stance, Xander backed away from the demon, staring the giant down as it went back to its feet. Xander's quiet broke when he actually saw the thing smile. "Oh, shit."

"That was a good move. I'll give you one chance… leave, and you will be spared. I'm only here for my sacrifices," the demon spoke in thick, melodically sounding tones.

"The Quests, right?" Xander grunted as the twosome continued to dance around each other.

"They interrupted my sacrifice… so they're taking their place," the demon said.

"Sorry, can't let you do that," Xander replied, angrily, deepening his stance. "I may die here today, but nothing will stop me from taking you with me, demon. Death does not scare me. It hasn't in a long time."

"Again, I offer my respect for you, human. At least honor me with your name."

"Xander, demon," Xander said coldly. "And you?"

"I'd have to rip out your tongue before you could pronounce it," the demon said with a crooked grin. "Just call me demon. I rather like it."

"You're a nutcase, anyone ever tell you that?" Xander said with a grin of his own.

"No more than you are for facing me without suitable weapon, Xander," the demon replied.

"Point taken," Xander answered.

The demon rushed him. Xander rushed right back, dancing out of the way of the direct contact with the demon's huge muscles. Aikido was extremely useful… but even Aikido had its limits. Designed for humans against humans, Xander found its limits quite soon as he found his grip broken by the sheer force of the demon. No human could have hoped to break that hold… yet the demon had calmly ripped it apart like it was paper.

Wincing against the pain in his arms, Xander engaged once more, screaming in pain and frustration. The demon grinned, blocking Xander's strikes without difficulty, then lashing out with a strike of his own. The boy was catapulted back, yet landed on his feet and charged, screaming louder and louder. The demon actually looked surprised at seeing the frail human boy stay on his feet, especially after such a hit.

Blocking two strikes, the demon lashed out with his right hand, striking at Xander's abdomen. The boy was thrown up from the ground, after which the demon slammed him into the ground, striking the boy on the way down.

Xander landed in a crouch, two feet and two hands on the floor, trying to stop his momentum. His strength was wavering. His right eye was closed, a horrible gash above it oozing blood. He couldn't feel his hands, and Xander thought they might be sprained. Not broken… yet. Snarling, Xander got to his feet, and charged.

The demon stayed in its place, waiting Xander out.

In mid-charge, something shook on his belt. "It moved!" Xander snarled, drawing the Light Saber attached to his belt. The blue beam of energy appeared, and Xander could feel his mind exploding in the same agony he had felt those two weeks earlier. It was as if his blood boiled, and his neural pathways were being electrified. Screaming the scream of the damned, Xander jumped up, aiming a full slash at the demon's neck.

The demon raised his hand, blocking the strike. Xander's eyes went wide at the demon's hide stopping the energy blade.

Screaming, he continued the assault as he landed on his feet, by aiming a slash at the demon's unprotected side. Again, the blue Saber struck against hide, sending energy flying as it was stopped by the thick skin. The demon laughed. Xander's closed right eye opened, and a serious tick developed under it.

His eyes glowed amber. His face seemed to de-evolve into something else, contorting into an almost inhuman look. Large canines greeted the demon from Xander's bared teeth.

The demon's eyes opened in surprise, and a smile developed on its lips. Then, the blade's energy pattern seemed to change. The blue became a dark indigo, and Xander jumped up with all the liquid grace of an animal. The demon lifted its hand to stop the blade. To his surprise, the blade went right through his palm, severing the upper part of the demon's palm, four of his fingers completely, and severing the upper part of his thumb.

Xander landed in a crouch, aimed a stab at the demon's belly, going right through it, and appearing out the back. Drawing, Xander got up, to see the demon fall to its knees. "That actually hurt…" the demon croaked, looking up at Xander, before going back to its legs. The wound in his abdomen had healed. His hand had scarred over… the fingers were gone, but the wound had closed.

Xander's anger intensified. "Stay down!!!" the boy snarled, charging in, this time going for the neck. He would carve the demon up like a roast if he had to!

The demon blocked the strike. Or, at least, tried to… the blade went right through the demon's wrist, and his neck. Xander watched as the head fell one way, before the body fell the other way.

He let out a breath. The Saber clicked off. Xander's body and mind gave way, their reserves completely depleted. As he collapsed into a boneless heap, right before his eyes quit, he saw the white-haired man rush toward him, obviously having watched the entire fight. Then… darkness was all there was.


The darkness was his world. No pain, no sensation, no sense… darkness, complete unconsciousness. Xander never knew how deep he was until a jab of pain shot through his body. He moaned as the world returned to him… or rather, as he returned to the world.

His eyes still closed, his moan deepened as Xander brought his right hand up to feel at his pounding head. The wound over his right eye had closed firmly, thanks to his Hyena possession. Slowly, he ventured to open his eyes, squeezing against the bright sunlight.

"Note to self… stay away from amber-skinned demons of over 2 meters," Xander grunted, not realizing he spoke out loud.

"That's good advice, son," a voice stated from nearby, causing Xander's head to flip around, electing another moan as pain shot through his battered body.

"Experience is the best teacher," Xander grunted. "I'm sorry… but I don't think I caught your name in the commotion yesterday."

The white-haired man offered a crooked grin as he sat down in an easier position for Xander. "You, on the other hand, seem to have plenty of names," the man said calmly. "Lavelle Alexandre… or should we just call you Alexander Harris?"

Xander's mind groaned in pain as Xander forced it to work. Finally, it dragged up the requested information. Lavelle Alexandre was the name Mireille had established for him to travel under. "In my business… it pays to remain anonymous," Xander grunted, his eyes by chance dropping on the table next to his bed. It contained his Light Saber, Magan, as well as every clip he dropped. Xander groaned as he thought about the cost of replacing those bullets. Olivia Person gave a good deal on those bullets, but even then, they weren't exactly cheap.

"And what business would that be?" the man questioned, sending alarm signals traveling to Xander's brain. Immediately, the boy got up from his bed.

"I have a plane to catch… thanks for the fixing up, but I have to go," Xander said, not wavering half as bad as the man obviously believed he would be.

"Race, stop interrogating our guest. He has saved our lives," a second man said as he entered the room. This one had brown hair and a friendly looking beard. His eyes stood open and inviting. He turned to Xander. "Thank you for your assistance yesterday… I don't know whether we would have succeeded against a foe of that magnitude."

Xander smiled weakly. "That's my job," he said with a small grin, recognizing the man. "No offense, Dr. Quest… but I have a plane to catch."

"I'm afraid that plane to LA is long gone," the white-haired man called 'Race' said. "You slept for over 36 hours."

"Thirty-six hou…" Xander whispered, the information sinking in. his eyes opened wide, and he dove for the jacket hung over one of the chairs. Immediately, Race jump up as well, but a signal from Dr. Quest stopped the man. Meanwhile, Xander had grabbed his cell phone, and dialed a number from memory. "Come on… please pick up…"


"Kirika! Am I glad to hear you!" Xander started in French.

"Xander? What happened? We didn't hear from you… Mireille practically booked the Concorde to come after you!"

"I'm so sorry, ma chérie… I ran into some problems… or rather, the problems ran into me."

"What happened, mon Coeur?" she asked, voice calm, yet Xander could hear the small tremors beneath it.

"First, there was a storm over Washington… the plane got diverted to Bangor, Maine. I confirmed a transfer flight to LA for the day after… which was yesterday, as I'm told. But… I heard about this demon planning on attacking someone," Xander rattled off, staring out the window.

"What happened?" Kirika asked gently, hearing his tone trail off.

"I don't know," Xander whispered. "I pulled Magan. I shot him. I pumped enough rounds of every imaginable potency into it to make it come out like Swiss Cheese, but it just shrugged them off… nothing I did was strong enough, good enough, potent enough… but I couldn't just quit, and leave these people to be sacrificed… so I engaged in hand-to-hand."

"Hand-to-hand against a demon that can shrug off bullets!?" Kirika asked, her voice rising in volume just enough to convey to Xander that she really didn't like the notion.

"I should not fear death, for it will only slow me down," Xander whispered in reply. "Yes, My Love, I went hand-to-hand… and then, it happened. The Light Saber… it activated again. And it almost wasn't enough… At first, the demon could block the blade, but as things progressed, it was as if the blade drew its strength from me. The angrier I got, the stronger the blade became… but it didn't feel like it was drawing on my emotions, rather it felt as if the thing was feeding on my soul!"


"I don't know how," Xander whispered. "All I know is that it became strong… immensely strong… and that I kicked that demon's ass. And then, I just collapsed and woke up about teen minutes ago. I called you as soon as I found out."

"Are you okay?" Kirika asked, voice tiny and fearful.

"Better than after most of our training sessions. I guess you laying into me has built up my resilience to brutal punishment."

Kirika chuckled. "You're already cracking jokes. You're fine," she determined. Xander heard some arguing on the background.

"What was that?" he asked, curious.

"We're on the plane. I shouldn't be using my cell," Kirika replied, not sounding apologetic about it at all.

"Oh. I guess I'll leave you, then… wouldn't want you or Mireille thrown off the plane in mid-flight."

He heard her gentle smile through the phone. "Okay… take care, Mon Coeur."

"I will, Ma Chérie. I love you…"

"I love you too," he heard her say, this time no doubt beaming a smile. They hung up simultaneously, and Xander closed his phone, only to stare out the window, to the ocean laying just behind the cliff. The cliff at the edge of which he had stood 36 hours earlier, on the brink of death.

"What was all of that about?" Race demanded.

"Someone I care greatly about," Xander replied, voice sounding coldly, turning halfway to glance at Race. "And someone who is more than capable of hopping on the first plane over here, and finding out exactly what happened to me should I disappear. And believe me… she's more dangerous than I could ever be."

"Now, now… no need for hostilities. Xander… would you mind if I called you Xander?" Dr. Quest asked.

Xander shook his head, indicating he wouldn't mind. "Xander… you saved the lives of me and my family. Race may be irritated about your second identity, but I can assure you that I do not feel such grudges. And the least I can do to repay you for your help is to offer you a ride to LA. I have called the airport, and they are prepping my personal jet. Now, I suggested a departure time for tomorrow, giving you a chance to get your bearings back. But, if you insist, I'm sure we can fly out by tonight."

Xander sunk onto the bed. "Actually, tomorrow sounds like a good idea, Dr. Quest. I think I could use a couple of hours more of sleep…" his stomach interrupted with a loud rumbling noise. He looked at it, and chuckled. "Or rather, have a good meal and then catch some more sleep," he corrected himself with a smile.

"Well, in that case, follow me," Dr. Quest said, smiling friendly as he motioned for the door. Xander nodded thankfully, and follow the man to the kitchen. As they walked down a long hallway, just about to descend the stairs to the ground floor, three teenagers were enthusiastically climbing it when they came face to face with Xander, Dr. Quest, and Race.

"Glad to see you're awake!" the teenaged blonde boy greeted Xander. "Great job with that thing. I swear, I've never seen someone move like that!"

Xander grinned slightly. "Lots of hard training and practically growing up in that kind of environment does that to you," he replied levelly.

"Xander, meet my two sons, Jonny and Hadji, and race's daughter Jessie," Dr. Quest introduced, motioning for the blonde boy, then to the brown-skinned boy before finishing for the redheaded girl. All three appeared to be Xander's age, perhaps slightly younger, yet didn't seem overly phased by what had happened. Normally, that would have concerned Xander, but for the moment, his brain wasn't operating at full capacity, so he let it slide.

"Thank you for the rescue the day before yesterday. The demon appeared to be quite powerful. I am unsure as to whether we would have been able to combat it," Hadji said, bowing slightly.

"No sweat… as I explained to Dr. Quest, that's what I do," Xander answered with an easy smile. "Although I have to admit, most demons are a lot easier to kill," he added, rubbing his right shoulder.

"We were just on the way to the kitchen to get Xander some food," Dr. Quest said, starting the entire group back down the stairs.

"What is your job, anyway?" Jessie asked. "I doubt demon hunting pays well."

Xander chuckled. "I hunt," he answered calmly.

"Hunt what?" Jonny asked, suddenly thinking the wrong thing.

Xander chuckled as he shook his head. "Evil," he replied. "Everything that is a threat… and it pays the bills." He closed his eyes after that, straining against the darkness. He could feel the barriers in his mind, normally protecting him against the Hyena's possessive spirit, slowly being rebuilt. Whatever had happened had totally obliterated them.

By now, they had entered the kitchen, and the three teenagers made the excuse of having to work on a special project, leaving Xander and the two adult men in the kitchen. From the growl in Xander's stomach, they would be there a while.


Later that day, after a good meal and a couple of hours worth of sleep, Xander felt reborn. After stripping and cleaning Magan, he retrieved the cherry-wooden case to store it in. He put the empty clips in the big pockets of his jacket, and decided to explore the large mansion Dr. Quest maintained. After roaming for what looked like hours, Xander finally stepped outside, drawing in the salty air of the sea, filling him with energy.

He stood at the edge of the cliff for a while, just staring into nothingness, just… being there, his mind far away, reconstructing walls and shields to try and rebuild his usual power.

Finally, Xander turned, only to notice for the first time that the demon had vanished completely. Probably Dr. Quest took it away. I wonder what he did with it… a 2.5 meter demon doesn't just vanish.

Turning, he walked back to the house, finding it curious that he hadn't seen anyone since waking up earlier. He guessed that race had finally decided to trust him. What the others were doing was just about anybody's guess, and Xander wasn't about to let it concern him.

Wandering back into the house, he drifted upstairs. Walking back to his room, he passed a closed room where he could hear laughter coming from. Xander shrugged, and knocked.

Jonny pushed open the door. "Hey, Xander! Come in!" the enthusiastic boy urged, grabbing his hand and pulling him into the room.

"Eh… I was going to ask where everybody was," the startled teenager said as he let Jonny drag him to where Jessie and Hadji were looking at a computer screen.

"We've been here all afternoon, and Dr. Quest and Dad are in the lab in the lighthouse, trying to figure out that demon you killed," Jessie replied to his question.

"This is what I wanted you to see," Jonny said. "Xander, meet Krista," he finished, motioning to the computer screen.

"Hello, Xander," the computer said.

"Eh…hi… Krista, was it?" Xander replied, not feeling half as shocked as he thought he should be feeling.

"Nice to meet you," the computer greeted him.

"Krista, Xander's the one we told you about, the one who saved all of us," Jonny said to the computer.

"Really?" the computer asked, suddenly sounding more like an inquisitive teenager rather than a computer. "Cool!"

Now Xander felt shocked. "Did I just hear a computer say that me killing a demon is 'cool'?"

"I am not merely a computer," Krista answered, sounding halfway between angry, patronizing, and playfully arrogant.

"Krista is the second generation Artificial Intelligence," Jonny explained. "The first generation was developed by my dad, and she's called IRIS. She's in charge of the computer systems of Quest Enterprises, as well as our home security system."

"And since you developed her, she's got a teenaged vocabulary," Xander finished with a smile, before chuckling. "I like that! It's certainly better than those computers that sound like stuffy British librarians!"

"Thank you," Krista said with such sincerity that it made them laugh; causing the AI to ask what was so funny.

Before anyone could answer, the phone in Jonny's room rang. Shrugging, he picked it up, and listened. "Sure, Dad. We're all here… we'll be down in a minute."

"Dad asks us to go to the lighthouse lab… something to do with that demon Xander killed," Jonny told Jessie and Hadji.

"Hey, would you mind if I stayed here and talked to Krista some more?" Xander asked as the three others stood up to leave.

"Go right ahead," Jonny said. "The more she interacts with people, the better. Oh, and Xander… don't be surprised by anything she does. Krista is capable of making decisions on her own, as well as having rudimentary emotions, which is why she's more advanced than IRIS. Both should grow over time, but are not fully developed at the time. Just a warning."

"Appreciate it," Xander said. "Thanks!" he shouted to where the door fell shut.

"So… Krista. I've got to say, I'm curious about you," Xander started off, not really knowing how to talk to the AI, yet at the same time, he was intrigued by it. Just the way how she had reacted earlier had shown him that this was not just another AI.

"As I am about you, Xander," Krista answered. "I must admit that the life of a 'hunter' as you call yourself sounds terribly dangerous, while the rewards seem minimal."

Xander chuckled, and turned to the window, where night was setting. "I hunt demons, vampires, and other nasty stuff," Xander said. "Yes, it's dangerous… terribly dangerous… but the rewards are like it."


"Well… for one… take the Quests. I saved their lives. Just that look of gratitude is enough. Seeing the look of someone you pulled from mortal danger is one of the best things you can experience."

"That's so cool," Krista said, her voice actually sounding as if the AI was smiling, causing Xander to lift an eyebrow in curiosity. "By the way… I've seen the tapes from IRIS. You're better than any human could ever be. I know, I checked. How did you do that?"

Xander chuckled. "Curious little thing, aren't you?" he asked.

Krista actually chuckled. "Well, Jonny did give me this directive to learn about the world and expand myself. I was wondering how you expanded beyond your hardware."

"Expanded beyond my hardware?" Xander replied dumbly, before chuckling as he caught on. "First time anyone has ever called it that… most are terrified."

"Terrified? Would you hurt me?"


"Then why would I be afraid?" the AI answered smugly. "But that still hasn't answered my question. How did you expand beyond your hardware?"

Xander sighed, and sat down on the bed. "Krista… if I tell you… you have to promise to keep it a secret. It's my secret to tell… and it's a painful one for me."

The monitor flashed. Instead of the Quest OS interface that had been there before, it now displayed the face of a 15-year-old redhead. Almost as if to inspire confidence, the girl's face was entirely sincere. "I promise I, Krista, Second Generation Quest Artificial Intelligence, will not reveal anything you, Alexander Lavelle Harris, tell me this night."

"Good enough for me," Xander said with a smile. "But… before I tell you… could we move this to my room? This is Jonny's room after all…"

"I've been given a trusted link… I can do whatever I want in this house," Krista answered with a small smirk that made Xander smile. "Just turn on your TV."

"You got it, Krista," Xander said, getting up, going to his room, and clicking on the TV.

"So, what do you want to know?" Xander asked when he saw Krista's face appear on the screen.

"How did you expand beyond your hardware?" the AI replied, sounding slightly miffed about having to repeat the same question three times.

"Okay…" Xander said, popping down on his bed and putting both hands behind his head. Staring up at the ceiling, he said, "It all started in my home town. I was born in California, in a small town called Sunnydale… but everyone who knows how the world ticks calls it the Hellmouth."

He had rehearsed his story well, having had experience with first telling it to Kirika, and then giving a slightly less personal story to Mireille. It was that version he told to Krista, giving a clinical report on the Hellmouth, the vampires and demons, the magic, and his possessions. The AI listened without interrupting.

"That's big," she finally said when he stopped. "I never realized the world was this big… I've known there was darkness, but not to this level."

"That's something I wanted to ask you, Krista. How come no-one actually seemed surprised at this huge demon showing up in your back yard?" Xander asked.

"Well, that has everything to do with the things they've witnessed… Let's see… There was a run-in with the ghost of a 17th century female pianist. There was an ancient Soul Vampire who wanted Hadji as her bride; there was a run-in with a group of Yeti in Tibet…"

"I get the point," Xander said with a chuckle. "Normal stuff, right?"

"Not normal, but more like they know how to handle the strange and unusual," Krista replied, chuckling as well. "You are an interesting man, Xander. According to these psychological reports I downloaded off the Internet, someone who has gone through what you went through should be insane. Yet you're not."

"You can thank my parents for that," Xander said coldly, more coldly than he had wanted it to sound.

"Your parents?" Krista asked, surprised.

"Yeah. Those assholes know only one thing… or rather, two things. One is the bottle. The second is how to make life miserable for me. Much as I hate it, it's taught me to survive. Shield myself, learn how to deal with darkness and all the bad things that can happen in life, you know?"

"I… I am sorry to hear that, Xander. I… can not calculate how it would be for Jonny, Jessie, or Hadji to maltreat me…" the AI stammered, obviously straining with programming that wasn't meant to flow in that particular direction.

"I'm sorry too, Krista. I never should have told you that… I wanted to find out more about you, not hurt you," Xander apologized.

The AI shook her head. "I wanted to know. You told me… and now I understand why you wanted this to remain secret. This is personal information. I want you to know I will keep it a secret."

"Thank you, Krista. But that doesn't mean that I don't still feel bad about this… they trusted me with you, and all I did was hurt you."

On the screen, dozens of pages of code strolled by. "I am undamaged," Krista replied after the text stopped scrolling. "I do not understand why you insist on saying that you hurt me."

Xander sighed. "I hurt your feelings, Krista. I told you something you obviously weren't ready to know about, and it hurt." He chuckled. "Besides, now you're sounding like that stuffed British librarian I told you about earlier."

"Oh," Krista replied. "I see… damages can be emotional as well as physical… in that case, I am relatively undamaged. Your history has shown me how the world really works. It might have been painful, but I would like to think it's made me grow as well. And HEY! I resent being compared to a 40-year-old tweed-wearing man from Great Britain!" the AI said in a huff.

Xander chuckled. "I'm glad to see you taking this so well, Krista. And as to Giles: he's actually a pretty cool guy, in his own librarian-British sort of way… just never ever tell him I said that, or I would never live it down!"

"Deal," Krista said with a smile. "On one condition."

Xander sighed. "What condition would that be?" he asked with trepidation.

"I'll give you some directions… I'd like to meet you in person, and perhaps… find out some more about you. Who knows, you might learn something about yourself."

"Meet me in person?" Xander asked, not really understanding. "How?"

"We have an interactive virtual reality world in this house… you would be connected to the system, and data will be fed directly into your brain through a headset containing neural connectors. You will experience this VR world as if it was real, yet your body will be completely at rest, safely in the chair," Krista explained.

Xander jumped out of the bed. "Cool! Show me the way."

"Go into Jonny's room. There's a headset in the cabinet on the right side of the bed, second drawer from the top. Then, come back in here, and I'll link you up."

Xander looked at the TV. "Are you sure… that sounds suspiciously like borrowing without asking."

"He borrowed it from the lab," Krista said with a chuckle. "Besides, you'll put it back after we're done, right?"

"If I wouldn't know any better, I'd say you're having a bad influence on me, Krista," Xander said with a chuckle as he crossed the hallway to Jonny's room, soon returning with the headset.

"Okay, so what do I do?" Xander asked, looking at the headset.

"Attach it to your left temple. I will do the rest."

"Okay," Xander said, feeling a little nervous nonetheless. He attached the device to his left temple.

"Now lie down while I activate the system," Krista instructed. Xander did what she asked.

He heard a voice in his mind rather than through his ears. Questworld log-on: subjects Alexander Lavelle Harris and the AI named Krista. Going hot in 5-4-3-2-1 

The world dissolved into a kaleidoscope of colors as Xander's consciousness left the real world, only to materialize in the virtual reality Krista had created.

The first thing Xander did was look down at his body, which now had a shiny metallic color to it. He was dressed in an all black uniform of some unknown properties. He clenched his hands a couple of times to test their movement, and found them operating in the same way as in the real world. Only then did he look around.

The room he was in was a huge cube of unknown dimensions. Directly in front of him was the form he had seen on the TV and on Jonny's computer screen: Krista. Only now, the redhead had a complete body, rather than the 'floating head' feel she had on the screen. "Cool," he said.

"Neat, huh?" Krista said, almost bouncing up and down with excitement. She made an encompassing motion with her arms. "Xander, welcome to my CPU."

"It's…eh… big. And eh… empty?" Xander said, trying to be tactful, but not really succeeding.

Krista chuckled, though. "Well, it's a virtual representation, silly! I just constructed this to represent the fact that we are within my systems… and thus completely safe. No-one will know we're here, as long as we stay in this room." She grew a little solemn. "Sorry if I can't make it more…entertaining. I don't know how… normally, IRIS handles the creation of the virtual world. I only have the rudimentary Questworld routines. I'm afraid that we'll need to connect to IRIS to use the full version."

"So, what you're telling me is that this is some kind of demo?" Xander asked, with a smile.

"Basically, yeah," Krista replied sadly, looking at the ground. Before he realized, Xander had stepped up to her, and drawn her in for a hug. The Ai's eyes went wide as she felt his strong arms encompass her virtual self.

"Don't feel bad," he told her. "You'll learn. After all, you're an AI… you'll learn fast," he finished, breaking the hug.

"Eh…" Krista stammered. "That…eh… was a hug?"

"You've never been hugged?" Xander asked, voice growing slightly angry.

"As an AI, I don't really have a lot of physical interaction…" Krista whispered. Xander sighed sadly, shaking his head.

"Take it from someone who knows: every living being needs a hug every now and then. Whether they be human, dog, cat, or AI. Everything needs affection every now and then." To punctuate his remark, he hugged her again. This time, she let herself be hugged, actually raising her arms, and putting them around Xander in a mirror of his own actions.

"There… doesn't that feel better?" the boy asked as they broke the hug.

Krista's wide smile gave him all the answer he needed, yet she replied anyway, "Yeah. That feels great!" she replied exuberantly. She looked around the cube. "So… eh… want to go out?"

Xander blinked. "You're asking me out?" he asked, actually too shocked to think straight.

Krista blinked, then burst out laughing. "I meant, want to go out of my CPU and connect to IRIS, silly!" she said, laughing heartily at Xander's shocked look. Slowly, his face dissolved into a big smile, and he started laughing as well.

"You have to admit, that was a question that left quite a bit of room for interpretation," he defended.

"True, true," Krista replied. "So… want to explore Questworld?"

"Sure," Xander answered. Krista slipped her hand into his, and waved her arm. A portal appeared in one of the walls, a shining white-blue vortex in the middle of the black wall. She stepped toward it, dragging the boy with her, and soon they appeared in what appeared to be a virtual representation of the Grand Canyon.

"So this is how it works," Krista whispered, looking around. "Looks like I still have a lot of work ahead of me," she finished, looking lamely at Xander.

"So, what do you want to do? You said a little about getting to know me, and finding out more about myself," Xander said.

"Well, Questworld was designed to be a full virtual reality… your virtual self is identical to your real one… but only in Questworld, you can't get hurt. So, I was thinking that maybe you could show me a couple of moves, and then we could spar a little," Krista suggested. "I am an AI, after all, so I should learn fairly quickly. I don't have a body to drag along."

Xander chuckled. "Come on, we'll start easy. Just try and copy my movements." Standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, he started with showing her a gentle Tai Chi routine. The first time, she just looked at him. The second time, she joined him, copying his moves flawlessly. In perfect synchronicity, the duo flowed through the Tai Cho moves, Xander adding continuously, and Krista copying flawlessly. It wasn't long before he got a big smile on his face, and started with Aikido.

The smile soon vanished, as Krista showed him that, as an AI, she had certain innate advantages in the virtual world.

"That's just not fair!" Xander complained as he crawled up. "There's no limit to what you can do in here!"

"Maybe it's because you keep holding back. You can't hurt me, Xander… the rules won't allow it, remember? No hurting within Questworld."

"Yeah, yeah… but you don't want me cutting loose on you. It's not a pretty sight," Xander grunted.

"Then how can you learn about yourself?" Krista said with a smirk. "Come on, at least go at me with your full strength. Stop holding back. I can take it, I am telling you! I am an AI… I'll always be faster and smarter than you in here."

Xander turned to her. "You asked for it," he said, dropping into an advanced karate pose, before charging her. Kicks and punches filled the air of Questworld, Krista developing a smile on her face as she flew through the motions. This was so much better than the dry data Jonny and the others had been feeding her!

To her surprise, however, Xander didn't level out. His pace kept increasing, as did the power of his blows. A slight scowl appeared on his face as he went after her, putting her newly developed tactical subroutines through their paces.

His fist connected to her face, after which his right leg swept her legs down form under her. She slammed down hard on the simulated rocky ground.

"That was… unexpected," she said, jumping to her legs.

"I just thought of something you said, Krista," Xander said. "I don't have a body to drag along. Well, guess what? Neither have I! This is all just a simulation. A good simulation, but still just that: a simulation! What matters here is the mind… and you are good, but no match for the human mind!"

She smiled. "Care to test that theory?"

He grinned. "Of course."

"My turn," Krista said, going after Xander. Now it was his turn to defend, yet he didn't stick to it, as she had done. Offense and defense became interwoven as Xander accelerated, faster and faster against the Artificial Intelligence. Krista in turn wasn't about to be surprised either, and linked her body directly to her thoughts, increasing her rate of motion exponentially.

Suddenly, Xander took all the blows without a chance of defense, driving him further and further back.

At the same time, in the real world, the entire Quest Clan was staring at the monitors with open mouths. They couldn't remember who first noticed Xander and Krista in the Grand Canyon simulation, but that didn't matter now. The readouts showed the impossible was happening.

"Look at those psycho-neural readings! They're off the scale!" Jonny exclaimed as he poured over the data. "I don't know what that guy is doing to Krista, but whatever it is, it's intense!"

"What says he's doing something to her?" Dr. Quest asked, pointing to one monitor, which displayed the scene currently active in the Questworld simulator. What they saw made their jaws drop… again. Xander and Krista, sparring, hand-to-hand, and it seemed to be even. Unfortunately, about was the correct term of putting it, as arms and legs were blurred to the point of non-recognition.

"Okay, that's it… I'm going in!" Jonny grunted, grabbing a headset, and planting himself in one of the chairs of the Questworld lab, on the ground floor of the lighthouse.

"Questworld, log on… subject Jonny Quest. Going hot!" Hadji said from behind the control panel, activating Jonny's headset.

Once the kaleidoscope had died down, Jonny could see the two combatants not too far away. Suddenly, Xander was blown way backward, out over the Grand Canyon. Jonny winced, and expected the simulation to terminate Xander's connection, as always happened when they 'died' in the simulation environment.

Instead, Xander floated in mid-air to the other side, and pushed off with both feet, catapulting him back toward Krista.

"What is going on here?" Jonny finally asked, stepping up to the duo as they started round 2.

"Xander is teaching me some moves," Krista said with the biggest smile on her face Jonny had ever seen.

"And a fine student she makes, too," Xander said with a huge grin.

"Then you'd better explain why you changed the rules of Questworld. Obviously, you turned off gravity in the Canyon, and told the simulation not to worry about the laws pf physics…" Jonny began, trailing off as he saw the duo look confused at each other.

"Eh…" Xander asked. "Do you know what he's talking about?"

"I think he accused us of cheating," Krista replied, turning to Jonny, and advancing on him. "Jonathon Benton Quest. Are you accusing me of cheating?"

"Eh… Krista… really, it's no big deal. I mean… me and Jessie cheat all the time. It's fun to cheat in Questworld! You can do really outlandish things!"

"We… did not… cheat," Krista said, voice low and growling.

"Come on! That's impossible! It's not possible to move like that in Questworld without cheating! For you perhaps… but certainly not for Xander!" Jonny shouted back.

Suddenly, Xander appeared behind him. "It's all in your mind, Jonny. You think that is air you are breathing? You think that is a body you are feeling? It's all just data in a computer, Jonny… data collected from your mind. Think you can, and you can."

"Woah!" Jonny screamed, jumping back from Xander, continuously advancing to the rear as Xander kept approaching him.

"S…sure man, whatever you say," Jonny whispered, suddenly finding his foot not connecting to anything, tumbling backward into the Grand Canyon. He got the shock when Xander just jumped in after him, matching his pace.

"As I said, it's all just a simulation," Xander said, landing on his two feet, even as Jonny plowed into the ground and his Questworld session disengaged.

"That was mean," Krista accused, appearing next to him.

"Yeah, but it drove the point home," Xander answered with a grin, looking at the place where Jonny had vanished.

"Actually… I think he was driven into the point," she said, looking at the same place. Both laughed for a couple of seconds, before Jonny rematerialized, having reconnected.

"Okay, I got the point," he grunted as the duo continued to laugh.


Xander looked after the plane as it took to the LA sky. He had had a lot of fun with the Quests, but now it was time to move on. Back to work it was for him. The first thing he did was retrieve a car… and then he had to find himself a decent hotel to stay in while finding himself a house. But first… he fished his cell out of his pocket, and called Kirika.

After finding her well in Jakarta, well underway to the Headquarters of the ancient Order of Teraka, and exchanging some pleasantries, they duo disconnected, but not until Xander had promised to call when he had settled in.

Sighing as he took the Aston Martin, Xander first checked into the local Hilton, threw his luggage in his room, and drove off again. He wanted to get reacquainted with California… a place he had left behind nearly ten months ago, vowing to never return, only to find that a vow that he could not keep.

Throwing the car down the freeway direction Sunnydale, Xander put up some mood music, gently relaxing to the 5.1 surround system built into the top-of-the-line luxury car. Too fast for his taste, Xander arrived in his hometown, and he slowly drove through it. The emotions it provoked was like meeting an old relative, one that was achingly familiar, but you wish would have stayed away at the same time.

He stopped at a newsstand he knew wouldn't recognize him, and bought a paper, before slipping back in the Aston Martin. He quickly scanned the paper for any important local news, before closing the paper and keying the engine. He let the motor idle for a couple of seconds as he tried to talk courage into himself. Finally, he took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Keying himself like a high-profile job that required all his assets, Xander buried his emotions. He hated doing that, ever since Kirika had taught him how, but it had saved his skin on multiple occasions, and would serve to do so again.

The car stopped in front of a familiar house, and Xander, picture-perfect of the stone cold professional, stepped out, and resolutely walked to the front door. As he had suspected, his front door key no longer worked. Xander's façade cracked for just a few seconds, long enough for his fist to hit the door.

Even though he had suspected it, the revelation that his parents just didn't care slammed into his guts. "Damnit…"

To his utter surprise, the door was pulled roughly open. "What?" his father demanded.

"Hi, Dad," Xander grunted, burying his emotions again. The man's eyes squinted, as if trying to place the face. Every hope Xander had, was dashed at the precise moment his father opened his, of whiskey-reeking, mouth.

"What'd ya want?"

Xander's eyes filled with tears. No matter what had happened to him, deep inside, he was still that same frightened little boy that left Sunnydale all that time ago. Unlike his father, he still had emotions. "Nothing…" he managed to whisper, grabbing hold of himself, thanks to the intense training Kirika and Mireille had pumped into him.

"Then sod off," the old man growled, making to slam the door shut in Xander's face.

"I just wanted to tell you…" Xander whispered, voice croaking. His father didn't even seem to listen, pushing against the door to close it, even with Xander's booted foot blocking it. "Tell you… that you'd better never come near me again," he stated coldly. "If you do, I will personally kill you." For the very first and what he hoped would be the only time, Xander appreciated the utter cold-bloodedness of the Noir-Assassin. Without a further word, he withdrew his boot, turned, and walked to his car, keying the locks remotely, stepping in, and disappearing.

"The whelp actually developed a spine," the old man grunted drunkenly, staring after the car, before finally closing the door with drunken chuckles coming from his throat.

He switched the radio to the local underground channel, and cranked the volume to maximum. The horrible memories sunk under the influence of the heavy gothic metal music.

After driving around for ages, Xander topped off the car with fuel, and parked somewhere out of the way, again making sure that he was in a spot his friends weren't likely to look. As much as he loved them, he couldn't bear their accusations today. He needed to get his life in order before tackling that problem… so the first thing he did was go through the classifieds, looking for a place to stay.

"Roommate… small apartment… oh! A penthouse!" he circled the penthouse, located in one of the buildings in the upscale part of town. He went further down the list. "Room for rent… medium apartment…" Sunnydale being what it was, there was no shortage of places to stay, and the prices were low. Finally, after three more pages of classifieds, his eyes caught something. "Villa, five bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, sauna, Jacuzzi, Turkish bath, large living room, fully equipped kitchen, integrated entrainment system, computer network, full furniture. Price per agreement?" Xander grinned. "This could be a cool place… and thanks to my 'job', I've got enough money…" he chuckled at the 'job'.

He saw the number, and dialed it on the cell-phone built into the Aston Martin.

"Hello?" a voice answered unsteadily, as if the person owning it was incredibly nervous about something or other.

"Yes, hello… this is Lavelle Alexandre. I just noticed your ad in the paper, and was wondering when it would be alright for me to come by and visit the property?" Xander asked, grateful that he was able to come across smoothly, even with his assumed name.

"Of course! I am always here… you can stop by whenever you please, sir. Today, perhaps?" the man asked, almost begging Xander to drop by. The teenager frowned slightly, smelling something fishy. And this being Sunnydale…

"Sure…" Xander replied, slipping an appropriate amount of doubt into his voice. He glanced at the address, and not for the first time, was glad he had brought Magan with him. "I can be there in five minutes, Mr.… eh… I'm sorry, but I didn't catch your name."

"Simmons. Barry Simmons. Five minutes will be alright, Mr. Alexandre."

Xander winced slightly at the American's pronunciation of the French name, and for the first time, understood why Mireille and Kirika had winced so often when he first started learning the language. An English accent was truly horrible in the French language.

"In five minutes, then, Mr. Simmons," Xander said, before hanging up. Now something really wasn't right. Didn't these people want to clean up the house before a potential buyer visited? What was going on with that place?

Xander stopped the Aston Martin in the driveway, and stepped out; knowing that the three-piece whit suit he was still wearing would mask his youthful appearance. Slamming a cold Noir-style mask on his face, he was sure to pass for someone at least 5 years older.

He spent a couple of seconds admiring the house's exterior, insightful eyes determining the strategic value of the place. He was disturbed to note that the place was built like a fortress of some kind. The driveway ran up to the garage, nested inside of a hill. The house itself was built on the level above the garage, allowing every window in the front a full view of the driveway. And, in case anyone tried to hide by stepping up to the garage itself, Xander noticed security cameras hanging from every imaginable angel and corner.

That meant he had been noticed. Xander smiled slightly, and stepped up the stairs to reach the level of the front door. Again, he noticed security cameras, even the ones hidden in the lavish plant-life that decorated the surrounding grounds. Xander felt more and more uneasy. He rang the doorbell, which didn't produce the chime he had expected. Instead, he heard something of a voice inside, yet couldn't make out what it said.

Fifteen seconds later, the door was opened, and Xander startled slightly at the sound of heavy safe-like hinges. He nodded to the man who opened.

"Mr. Alexandre?" the man asked, seemingly a bundle of nerves.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Simmons," Xander greeted calmly, stepping inside and glancing sideways at the door as he did so. His suspicions were confirmed. The door was twice as thick as any normal front door, and apparently completely made of steel… artfully disguised as wood, but Xander's trained eye could tell the difference. He swallowed slightly. What was this place?

"I'm so grateful you could come, Mr. Alexandre," Barry Simmons said, practically falling on his knees and kissing Xander's feet. "I…I really need to get out of this place!"

What the…? Xander asked silently. "That is not a very good sales talk, Mr. Simmons," he told the man. "Why would you want to get out of this place? And why would you tell a prospective buyer something like that? I could be ripping you off or something…"

"It doesn't matter!" Barry almost cried. "This place… this place is destroying my nerves! Uncle Harrick, the paranoid idiot, built this place using his share of the family fortune. No-one ever knew what he did with it… although there was a good description in the will. Anyway, when he finally kicked the bucket, the place went to me. And I'm going nuts in here! I know nothing of technology, but this place has it built into everything!"

Xander blinked. "I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of security cameras…"

"Uncle Harrick was paranoid! He thought people were after him, chasing him, wanting his secrets or something. So he built this place. Fort Knox, we joked. It's like Fort Knox. Only… it really is! The computer in the basement controls everything! But I don't know anything of technology, so I can't use it properly. So's the TV. It's like this huge projectors you see in cinemas? Only, it's got no sound. You need to turn on this THX thingy, the manual says, only I don't know how to do it. So I'm watching shows without sound. And there's a million things more. Uncle Harrick left plenty of manuals, by the way. Afraid that he might lose his memory or something. Only, they're written for him, by him, so I can't make anything of it… they jump all over the place."

Xander stared as the man went on and on. Jeesh… and I thought Wills was bad… 

"Anyway, the manuals are over here… in case you can make anything out of them, I'm sure you can make me an offer… you seem like a trustworthy guy… but I need to get out of here! This place is driving me mad!"

Xander let himself be led to the library, where he immediately thought Giles would feel aright at home. The place was done entirely in dark wood, with adjustable reading lights next to four comfortable leather reading chairs. A stack of notebooks was lying on one of the reading tables, and Barry motioned to them. "These are the manuals…"

"Thank you," Xander said on a friendly tone, taking the first book, and sitting down. The handwriting was old flowing calligraphy, and Xander found himself liking 'Crazy Uncle Harrick' immediately. Apparently, the man had been aware of what went on in Sunnydale… The first book detailed the inventory of the house, and Xander found out where Barry Simmons had found the info needed for the ad. Although the ad no where near did this place justice.

"Overview," Xander read silently for a few minutes, before his eyes went wide open. His reading sped up, and Xander was soon flipping through the pages. The windows have bulletproof shutters made of lead; with Kevlar coating… the entire place can be put under a heavy lockdown, securing every door into a full 'locked' position. The book went on to detail the placement of the security cameras, and so forth. Also included was an inventory of the house, a well as floor plans.

The basement was mainly empty, apart from the huge central mainframe, and the garage. On the 'ground' floor, was the large living room, complete with projector screen and full THX-certified sound system. Also present were the dining room, the large kitchen, the library, and out back was a Jacuzzi as well as a medium-sized swimming pool, placed in a veranda that could be fully pulled back against the walls in summer, to allow open-air enjoyment.

The second floor contained the bathrooms, the bedrooms, a large linen-cupboard, all built around a central hallway. The hallway itself gave good view of the ground floor's main entry-hallway, as well as a good part of the dining/living room.

The second book Xander picked up detailed the security system and Xander put it back down again. He looked through the other manuals, finding one for each major system: the entertainment system, the mainframe, and so forth. Only thing Xander didn't see were passwords, and if there was one thing he was sure of, then it was that Uncle Harrick had put passwords on just about everything in the mainframe.

I can't believe this place… the computer network goes through the entire house… every room has at least two connectors for a computer, and most even had wireless ports available! And then there's the Internet connection. How in hell did he get a T4 line? Those are reserved for corporations!

Xander let out his breath as he went over another piece of data that had struck his interest. The mainframe is built into a nuclear bomb shelter. Food and drink are available for six people for six months, and a backup generator with enough diesel fuel to keep everything running for those six months.

"This place is a fortress," Xander grunted, looking up at Barry, who was eying him worriedly. "How much do you want for it?" he asked.

"Make me an offer, Mr. Alexandre," Barry grunted. "Just make me an offer, so I can go back to Montana! I don't need this place! Never wanted it, and I just came down here to check it out. Everything you want to pay will be welcome money."

Xander eyed the man. He was a good man, but obviously didn't feel at home in a place like this. He couldn't blame him… if the manuals were right, it could be very difficult to learn to live with a computer that had been programmed to respond to voice commands. Especially voice commands that could have unforeseen consequences, like locking all the doors in the house.

Xander sighed. "I'll try and make it a fair deal, Mr. Simmons," Xander said, thinking over his bank account. "I'll give you two million dollars for it." He thought it was about right… the place was huge, sported lots of technology, but it was built in one of the worst areas in the world.

"DEAL!" Simmons cried. "Keys are on the kitchen table, you've got the manuals, everything's connected, and I'll sign the papers at the notary's office tomorrow. And I am out of here!" the man screamed, grabbing a suitcase Xander had somehow missed as he came in, as raced out the door.

Xander stared after the man as he raced down the stairs. Ten second later, the garage door opened. Three seconds after that, a rusty blue pick-up bellowed smoke as it peeled rubber down the driveway.

"O-kay…" Xander whispered, too shocked for words. Finally, he looked at the ceiling. "Looks like you and I are stuck together, then." He didn't receive an answer, nor did he expect one. First, Xander grabbed the house keys off the kitchen table, and locked the door on his way out. After retrieving his things in LA, he went to the bank and readied a bank draft for two million dollars, on the name of Barry Simmons. Tomorrow would be a very interesting day…

The next day, Xander was busy flying from banks to notaries to the store, buying the little things everyone needs yet forgets to pack when moving. When he finally fell into the comfortable couch in front of the projector screen, clicking through the TV shows, he was totally exhausted.

"Damn. I was supposed to look up Willow, Buffy and the others," he sighed. He sat up straight. "Oh, SHIT! And I was supposed to confirm my entry into Sunnydale High, too!" He let out a deep breath, and fell back into the chair. "Oh, well. I trust Mireille's computer skills… ever since James put her in touch with MI-6, that lady has become one serious cyberbabe. I'm sure everything will be alright for the first day of school tomorrow."

Closing his eyes, Xander rubbed his temples. "That's what you get for having a three day delay trying to save people's lives from some serious high-class demon… this shouldn't have been a problem if not for that damn demon."

Slowly, he got up, dropped his clothes, and slipped into the Jacuzzi. The hot water relaxed his rattled nerves, and Xander slipped into a comfortable half-slumber. "I till can't believe it… the first day of school tomorrow. The first day of school in ten months… and Mireille actually advanced me a year. How did she manage to convince the US educational board that I finished my year in France, anyway?" Not letting it concern him, the teenager slipped deeper into his slumber.

About an hour later, he finally had the courage to drag himself out of the tub, and dry himself off. Not bothering to dress himself, he just picked up his clothes and padded naked to his room. He set the alarm for six in the morning, allowing him to do some light exercises before starting his first day in school, and slipped under the covers. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

His dream was deep, yet dark, and nightmares plagued his subconscious from the moment he dreamt.

It's six in the morning. Good morning! Time to wake up! 

The female voice penetrated the thick fog that hung between Xander's ears, and slowly, with bleary eyes, he sat up straight. "This is nuts… I can't spend five days apart from Kirika without having nightmares again," he grunted out loud as he padded to the bathroom.

You can say that again. You were moaning and twitching all the way through the night, the cheerful female voice replied.

"Huh?" Xander asked, standing stock still. "Who's there? And why didn't my alarm go off, now that I think of it?"

Because I took over your mainframe, silly! How else? The female replied with a laugh.

"Krista?" Xander said, finally placing the voice. "Krista? What are you doing here?"

I finally saw you bought yourself a place… and when I checked it out, I couldn't believe my eyes! You've got some serious hardware here, Xander. Four consecutive firewalls! Took me almost thirty seconds to break.

Xander rubbed his head. "Krista… it's still early… I'm not playing with a full deck of cards right now. Please, give my nightmare-ridden brain a rest, and tell me… slowly… what are you doing here?"

I thought you could use a hand, so I used that very nice T4 line you've got to transfer myself into your mainframe. Nice piece of work, by the way… utilizes one seriously exotic variant of the EBCDIC code… I had to do some work on my kernel before I could port myself to it…

"Krista… You're babbling," Xander grunted. "Tell me, do the Quests know about this?" he asked, rubbing his forehead.

Eh… I…eh…I can write them an email! She replied enthusiastically. In fact, I just sent one…

Xander sighed again. It was one of those mornings. Only realizing he was naked at this particular moment, he yelped and sprinted to the bathroom, throwing on some clothes. "Krista! Why didn't you tell me I was naked?"

I KNOW how the human body looks, Xander!

"You and Kirika will get along just fine," he grunted, walking down the stairs and falling into the couch in front of the projector screen.

I'll take that as a compliment, the AI replied smugly.

Xander shook his head and sighed, before grabbing the remote. The projector warmed up, and within ten seconds, Xander stared at the videophone connection screen. "I don't think you would be so kind as to dial Dr. Quest, Krista?" Xander asked the ceiling.

But…but…I wanna stay! I like it here! And I can be really useful to you! I can make you toast… the toaster in the kitchen ejected two slices of perfectly made toast…Coffee… the coffee percolator gurgled… I can protect your computer, secure your files in all kinds of databases, and protect your house against invaders… the security system triggered, causing all the shutters to roll closed over the windows.

Xander sighed. "Krista… could you please open those shutters? As to staying… I think that's the decision of Jonny, Jessie, and Hadji… not mine."

I…I would've cooked, but I couldn't get to the eggs and bacon in the fridge! The AI's voice sounded as if she was blubbering.

"Oh come on…" Xander grunted. "Krista, please don't cry! I can't stand women crying… I'll do my best! That's all I can promise."

Oh, thank you! Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!

"I said I'd try. They still have to agree," Xander said with a smile at the almost Willow-like exuberance. "Now… could you call them, please?"

Sure! Krista shouted. Within seconds, the videophone screen was replaced by a 'calling' sign.

Dr. Quest picked up, and Xander nodded a greeting to the man. "Good morning, Dr. Quest. I've got some good news and some bad news for you. Which do you want first?"

Dr. Benton Quest looked at Xander's smiling face. "Good morning, Xander. And I think I would prefer the bad news first."

Xander dipped his head. "The bad news is… I think you lost something. The good news is that I found it."

Hey! I am NOT an 'it'! the AI protested from the ceiling.

"Krista? What are you doing over there?" Dr. Quest asked. Before the AI could reply, Jonny's face bumped into the screen with his father's.

"Krista? I've been looking all over for you! Why did you just go? And why did you go to Xander's?" the teenaged boy shouted through the link.

I…I just wanted to help him… I didn't mean any harm…I'm sorry… the miserable AI replied.

Her voice sounded so pitiful that Xander really did feel for her. "She really wants to stay here," he said, taking the load of asking from Krista's electronic shoulders. "I convinced her I'd ask you guys."

"Krista can be quite a handful," Jonny replied, shaking his head. "And she doesn't just run on any computer… in fact, I'm surprised that she found something to run on in your house in the first place."

Xander chuckled. "Oh, I KNOW she can be a handful. But that doesn't bother me… as long as she can stand me, I can stand her. And she really would come in handy… as to computer space, no problems there. I have a mainframe in this house with an exotic EBCIC thingy."

It's a large mainframe with an exotic EBCDIC, Krista butted in. It's got all the processing space and memory room I need. And HEY! I resent being called a 'handful'!

Xander and Jonny chuckled. "Well, I guess she really does want to stay… and it looks like she can, too… but still… she's still someone I created…"

Dr. Quest put his hand on his son's shoulder. "That's the hard part of being a parent, Jonny. One day, your children will find their own way in life. And then you'll have to let them go."

Jonny nodded, tears brimming his eyes. "Take good care of her. Take REALLY good care of her, or I will personally come down there and hurt you. Badly," Jonny said to Xander.

"Believe me man… I will," Xander promised, before looking at the ceiling. "It'll be good to have someone watching the house in this Hellmouth-town of mine… and I'll appreciate the company."

Jonny nodded, apparently satisfied. Jonny… thank you… for everything, Krista said over the link.

"I'll leave you two to talk," Xander said, noticing that somewhere along the way, Dr. Quest had slipped away. "I've got some exercises to do, and school preparations to make. Jonny… thank you for letting her stay. And Krista?"


"Welcome home," he said, closing the door, leaving Krista to say her goodbyes to Jonny.


Xander toweled himself off after the nice, long, hot shower he had taken right after a nice workout that had left him sweating. He missed Kirika's help… she was the only one who could have him go beyond what little he used normally. Well, Kirika, and fighting to the death with demons twice my size and weight, and immune to bullets, he added silently as he walked down the stairs and grabbed his car keys and his bag.

"Is everything okay now, Krista?" Xander asked when he noticed thee conversation in his living room had ended.

Yeah… the AI replied, a little sad. Xander…

"Yes?" the teenager asked, curious when the AI didn't continue.

Thank you.

Xander smiled at the nearest camera. "You're welcome, Krista. Now, I'm off to school… make yourself at home while I'm away, okay?"

I will protect this house as I would my own CPU. The curious tone told Xander that this was as much a vow as the AI was capable of taking. I promise you, Xander. Nothing will enter this house. And if they do, they won't leave. I'll see to that.

Xander chuckled. "You do that," he said with a smile. "See you tonight, Krista. Have fun settling in."

I will, Krista replied, voice smiling in correlation to the face-picture she displayed on the nearest read-out screen. Xander shook his head as he closed the heavy vault-like front door behind him. He had still not gotten used to the screens that dotted the walls in the oddest locations, displaying security information. Or, as Krista seemed to use them, as screens for her electronic avatar.

As he turned the key, the thoughts on Krista, the house, and being back faded as those of school replaced them. School… and the Sunnydale group. That was one meeting he wasn't looking forward to. After disappearing for ten months, he didn't think he'd get a warm reception. Sighing, he eased the Aston Martin off the driveway.

Ten minutes later, cruising at a leisurely 20 kilometers an hour above the limit, Xander pulled up to the Sunnydale High parking lot, and groaned as immediately, every head in range turned to stare at the car. Where in hell did I get the notion that I'd be able to slip in quietly when I use this thing? Xander groaned silently as he killed the engine, and stepped out.

Isn't that Harris? He heard from the crowd somewhere.

Can't be… he vanished ten months ago… came the reply.

Taking a breath, Xander erected himself to his full height, counting on his filled-out body, his new all-black wardrobe, and the mirror shades to protect his identity for just a few minutes longer.

Smiling, he nodded to the female students who had gathered, and stepped up to the school without saying a word. The girls drooled over his expensive designer clothes, his cool attitude, and his car. The male students half-drooled over the car. The other half was pissed at all the attention the girls were paying him.

Okay… Stage One completed. Commence Phase Two, he droned silently as he searched the hallways for Buffy and Willow. Not finding them inside, he proceeded to the courtyard. Finally, he emerged back into the sunlight, and he let his newly acquired skills scan the crowd that was now getting up and proceeding to the front, rumor of the 'sports car and the cool dude' spreading faster than Xander could walk. His eyes scanned, mind on automatic.

A small group didn't seem that interested, remaining seated on a bench, and Xander recognized them. Commence Stage Three, he droned coolly, stepping up to the group, and flicking off his shades as he did so.


Buffy walked into school, ignoring the usual bicker of returning students on the first day of school. Where's the time I used to be among them? She wondered silently. Slaying sure changed me… she walked into the central courtyard, and sat down on the first available bench. Immediately, the bench cleared, as did the immediate surrounding environment. Everyone in Sunnydale High now knew… something wasn't right about the Summers girl, and her friends, and they should thus remain as far away from them as possible.

Sighing, Buffy watched the skies, and the fluffy clouds floating by. Back for another year of school, right mister Cloud? She thought to the one that reminded her oddly of Xander. Xander… I wonder where he is. If he still is, that is…And that sounded SO much like Giles, didn't it?

"Hi, Buff," Buffy heard Willow say as the redhead sat down next to the blonde. Willow's eyes stood dull, showing just how much she was still operating on basic survival. "Any luck?"

Buffy turned to look at her friend. "Nothing… no-one knows anything about Xander," she whispered sadly. "I take it you didn't have any luck either?"

Willow shook her head. "Nothing," she whispered. "He vanished… and he vanished good."

"Well, this is a bright and cheery group on this first day of school," Cordelia said in her eerie cheerleader-like voice. The brunette now sported a scar under her right eye, courtesy of one Teraka Assassin a couple of months ago. "I take it no-one heard anything about Weasel Boy?"

"No," Buffy and Willow replied at the same time, shaking their heads sadly.

"It… it's like he disappeared off the face of the earth," willow said in her usual sad-whispering voice. "No-one has even heard of him in ten months now… no-one even close to his description even showed up in the NCIC, and if something happened to him, and he was found, he should have been entered into it, as 'unknown', and I would have been able to confirm it was him by pulling up the dental records and matching them up…"

"Will…" Buffy gently interrupted the redhead, causing the girl to sigh sadly, her small rant bringing her close to tears again. Xander had been her best friend, her childhood crush, her world… and now he was gone. Without a trace, without a word, he had left her life, and the life of everyone else.

"Hey," Oz said, sitting down, taking one look at the faces, and sighed.

"You know… sometimes, I can't help but think… think that Xander should have been here… how things would have been different…" Buffy whispered.

"Yeah, he would have been on donut duty instead of me," Cordelia sniped, but the small group knew it was more the way the former beauty queen acted than sheer malevolence. There was little the small group didn't know or understand about each other. After all they had been through, that was practically a given.

"Think about all the things he missed," Willow muttered. "The Judge. The Order of Teraka. Angel leaving…"

Buffy nodded sadly. "Another friend we lost… I still can't believe we got the Judge separated again, but losing Angel to him scattering the parts across the world…"

"I can still remember those Terakans," Cordelia said with revulsion. "I mean, how could you forget that bug-guy! That was like so eww!!! I'm telling you, Buff, I was lucky you had that glue in your basement!" She rubbed the scar in quiet remembrance. "But not before he got me really good… I was so lucky that shelf broke."

The small group nodded. "Yeah," Buffy finally whispered, rubbing her shoulder, where a huge star-shaped scar was present underneath the blonde's clothing. "I know how you feel, Cordy… after the Judge got me good, something changed, didn't it?"

"It turned serious," Willow whispered. "We never really thought about it… before… you know… that we could die… even after Jessie…oh, God, Jessie… we never really thought about it…"

The small group suddenly became aware of a change in tone in the conversations taking place around the courtyard. When all the students started making for the entrance, Cordelia sniped at a passer-by, "Hey! What's going on?"

The boy jumped a couple of steps to the side, away from Cordelia. "Some really cool dude just pulled up in a sports car," he wrought out before running off.

Cordelia shook her head. "I can't believe I was ever that shallow," she muttered. "I mean, come on! Drooling over a guy's clothes and his car? He's probably the world's biggest snob."


Xander approached the group, putting his shades in his breast pocket, where the bottom half of the top glass stuck out form its edge. He took a breath. This was not going to be easy.

Finally, he composed himself, forcing himself to appear calm. Yet, inside, his entire body seemed on fire, his intestines were playing tug-o-war with his stomach, and his nerves were registering something that didn't appear right. His swiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his right hand.

Finally, he opened his mouth, and said on a cheerful tone, "Howdy all! Miss me?"

That was not the right thing to say, as the group instantly realized who he was, and decided they were pretty damn mad at him for leaving ten months ago. Buffy was the first to reach him, and he actually saw stars when her fist connected to his nose.

But Xander wasn't the same Xander anymore, and ten months of Kirika's heavy-duty training bubbled to the surface. He stumbled two or three paces back, where any normal person would have been knocked to the ground after being hit by a pissed off Slayer.

"You bastard!" Buffy screamed, actually drawing back to hit him again.

Even though Xander's vision was still swimming, his other senses were still pretty acute, and he knew Buffy was going toward him again. He could have dodged easily, thanks to Kirika's 'fight in total darkness' training. And, in hindsight, it was probably the smarter thing to do. But, Xander being Xander, he just stood there, accepting the inevitable… he needed to regain her friendship, and if letting her pummel him was what it took, so be it.

He fist hit him in the exact same spot, directly on his nose, and Xander was sure he could feel something give way. His swimming vision blacked out completely, and Xander felt his ass kiss concrete… right before the back of his head did.

"Do you have any idea what you put us through!? What you put me through!?" Buffy screamed at the moaning body on the ground. She actually made way to hit him again, if the others hadn't jumped her by now, keeping her from actually killing Xander.

Groaning, he got to his feet. With a totally routine gesture, he took a folded handkerchief from his pocket, unfolded it with a single motion from his hand, and pressed it against his nose.

"I guess I deserved that…" he whispered.

Buffy growled. "You're damn right you did!" she yelled at him.

"Killing him won't help, Buffy," Oz said calmly. Buffy's face twisted a couple of times, before she relented, and calmed down.

"I'm sorry…" Xander whispered, looking at the ground. He felt, rather than heard, someone approach. "Will…" he whispered, looking up at the redhead.

He was expecting a lot of things, but not the slap he received on his cheek. It wasn't particularly strong or fast, but it stung worse than the two punches Buffy had given him… it stung into the depth of his heart. "Will… I'm sorry…" he whispered.

For five tense seconds, Buffy, Cordelia, and Oz stared at the redhead, totally unaccustomed to the red-running furious face of the usually gentle girl. Then, she sighed, and seemed to stare into his soul through his eyes. She fell against his chest, clutching his body close to her. "I'm so glad you're alright," she whispered. "I looked, and I looked… but you were just gone and I thought you might be dead but then I checked the NCIC and there was no description of anyone looking like you being found dead and so I searched more but I couldn't find anything on your name anywhere and when I tried to look for your picture it came up empty…"

"I missed you too, Will," Xander whispered sadly, hugging her right back.

"Why did you leave me? Us? What did we do that drove you away?" Willow asked, finally regaining some strength, looking up at his face, and asking her questions on a tone that actually didn't bode very well.

"I…I…" he whispered, closing his eyes. "It was horrible… my parents…the nightmares…everything… it just became too much… I wanted to kill myself… got my life savings out of the piggy bank, took the Greyhound to LA, and was looking for a hole to die in…"

"Why didn't you come to us!?" Buffy barked.

"Face it, Buff… we were all having our own problems at the time. You had the whole Slayer thing going on, Willow was doing the research thing with Giles, Cordy was still in her airhead ways, and I was left out… donut duty and comic relief," he whispered miserably.

Buffy's mouth opened, as did Willow's. Neither knew what to say. "I'm sorry," Willow whispered, burying her face against his expensive jacket. "I'm so sorry… I should have paid more attention. You were my oldest, bestest friend, and I let you down…" Looking up at him, she screamed, "How could you ever forgive me? I was so horrible!"

Xander hugged her, blinking against the stinging tears. "You're still my friend, Will…no matter what, you have to believe that… I would never…ever… want to lose you as a friend. That's why I left… my problems were all so little compared to yours…"

Willow's eyes opened. "No, they're not!" she protested. "All your folks ever do is put you down! And all the things you told me about when we were younger…"

"Wait a minute! What things?" Buffy asked, stepping up to Xander. She looked at him, and bent her head. "Xander…I…I'm sorry I wasn't a better friend… you always tried to cheer me up… and when my turn came to help you… I didn't see it… I'm sorry, Xander. And I'm sorry I hit you… even though you did deserve it," the blonde added with a pun.

Xander chuckled. "Apology accepted, Buff. And I don't mind the punches."

"So, what happened to you, Dweeb Boy?" Cordelia jumped in, looking him over. "And what are you doing, dressed like the million dollar man?"

Xander chuckled. "Good to see you too, Airhead. As to the outfit, thank my teachers… they took me to Paris, and gave me a couple of lessons in dress-sense. Not that I needed them, but still…"

Willow stepped back, and her gaze as well as Buffy's went over him at the same time. For the first time, they actually saw him. "That really does look good on you," Buffy commented, before stepping up, and hugging him.

"Xander… welcome back," she whispered, before feeling something, and stepping back. "And where did you get all those muscles?"

"Hey…yeah! I forgot to ask!" Willow butted in.

"Well… my teachers were really into the physical activities," Xander explained, chuckling inwardly at the thought of what kind of physical activities.

"And what was that Paris thing?" Cordelia asked. "They took you to Paris? Who are those people?"

Xander nodded. "In LA… when I was looking for a place to crawl up and die… I saw them being attacked by a couple of vampires… I managed to get them… but I got a concussion out of it. One of my teacher nursed me back to health, and together, they decided to take me to Paris. That's why you never heard from me, Will… my teachers are kind people, but really into their privacy, and really good at not getting noticed, or found."

"Wow," the three girls whispered at the same time.

At this point, Oz walked up to Xander, and extended his hand. "Hey."

Xander clasped it. "Yo."

"You're back," Oz said.

"Yep," Xander replied.

"Cool," Oz finished, turning to sit back on the bench. Xander managed to detach himself, and sat down next to the werewolf, leaving the three girls to stare at each other.

"Hey! Don't you have anything else to say to each other?" Cordelia asked angrily. "He was gone for ten months!" she screamed at Oz.

"And now he's back," Oz replied casually.

"Yep," Xander said with a straight face. The two boys looked at each other, simultaneously lifting their right eyebrow.

"HEY! Are you two making fun of me!?" Cordelia screamed.

"Are we?" Xander asked Oz.

"We might," Oz answered.

"She's changed… she never would have noticed it before I left," Xander told Oz.

Oz just shrugged. Xander nodded. Cordelia fumed. The bell for class rang.

"Hmm… let's see… first class," Xander mumbled as he fumbled around in the attaché case that no-one noticed he had been carrying before Buffy hit him. "French! Parfait!" he crowed with a smile on his face.

"Eh… Xander… I believe I speak for everyone who knows you when I say 'HUH'?" Buffy exclaimed.

"Come on, Buffmeister!" Xander chuckled, grabbing the blonde for a sideways hug. "I spent the last ten months in Paris! My French is practically perfect! This class is going to be a breeze!" After those words, he grabbed the sheet, and looked at his other classes. "Let's see… what else do I have… European History, neat! Russian… they teach Russian at Sunnydale High?" Shaking his head, he continued, "Physics. That one might be harder… math. Great! I come halfway around the world to learn math! Geography! Cool! Travelman Xander to the rescue! And… oh! PE! School is going to be so easy!"

Only then did he notice that the others had remained behind, and only Oz was still calmly walking with him. Turning, he shot a confused look at them. "What?"

"Eh… Russian? Geography? Physics? Math? Xander… what happened to you? You used to hate everything about school, and now you're actually getting excited? And who put together your lesson plan? I mean, that is not a normal course load!" Buffy practically screamed. "Where did the study hour go to? You're taking more than a full course load!"

"Eh… I didn't exactly plan it myself… my teachers had to do the mojo thing with the computer, and apparently, they decided on my lesson plan together. Since we traveled around a lot, I picked up a few languages, hence the geography and the languages. And you don't think that I spent ten months doing nothing but goofing off and traveling, did you? Those two teachers of mine made sure that I was kept plenty busy, believe me!" Yeah…with advanced ballistics courses to help me predict sniper shots and the likes…

"We're late," Oz said calmly, interrupting the testy reply Buffy was obviously preparing.

"So we are," Xander said, glancing round the empty hallways. "Shall we?" he asked, turning to Oz.

"Sure," the werewolf said calmly, and the two boys put a sprint in, leaving behind a very confused female group.

"Oh no! We're like so late!" Willow screamed finally, setting in a sprint of herself.


After his classes, Xander had to admit he was feeling rather tired. Going back to school for eight hours straight took more than he had thought it would. But then again… with all the endurance he had built up, it was a breeze to just shake off what school did. He could already feel his energy returning now that the stress of the first day dropped off him as he made his way to the library.

Things weren't going to be pretty… Xander was sure of it. The others had briefed Giles by now, no doubt, and he wasn't exactly looking forward to dodging the G-man's questions. At the same time, the teenager knew it was necessary. Mireille and Kirika deserved their privacy, and the last thing he wanted was to explain how he had become the unofficial third member of the deadliest duo in the world… so deadly even the Order of Teraka trembled before them.

As he made his way to the library from the locker room, sunk deep in thought, Xander wasn't fully aware of his surroundings. If he had been, he would have dodged into the nearest open door… for he was about to meet Principal Snyder.

"Harris!" the small troll-like man barked upon recognizing the teen. "I need to have a word with you!"

"What about, Sir?" Xander asked, actually snapping at attention, managing to keep the sarcasm out of his voice and posture.

"I don't know how you managed to conjure up a fake diploma from a school in Paris, but I want you to know that I don't buy it… even if the PTA board did," the Troll snapped. "I will be keeping a very close eye on you, and woe you and your little band of fiends if you step as much as an inch out of line! I will be on you before you can say 'oh shit', got it?"

Xander lifted an eyebrow. "Perfectly, Sir. Although I would like to take this moment to point out that the Sorbonne is a very respected university in Paris, and that they do not give out their diplomas easily… especially the ones for their little-known university-preparation courses," he stated flatly, calmly, totally unimpressed. It made Snyder even worse than he already was. The little man's face turned red.

"That diploma has been faked! It must be! It is impossible for a…a…student like yourself to gain such a diploma!" Snyder snarled, spittle flying and revulsion at 150%.

"In that case, I expect you will be calling Madame Bouquet, my teacher. And I will also expect you to be talking to my teachers here at Sunnydale high… and listen to what they have to say," Xander responded, voice still calm, but a block of ice settling over his heart. Snyder must have picked up on the cold shimmer growing in the boy's chocolate eyes, for he backed up a step.

"That is precisely what I will be doing, Harris! You can be sure of it!" Snyder shouted, from one step further away.

"Do we have something else to discuss, then, Sir? Seeing I'm late for a meeting," Xander said, actually walking past the little principal without listening for a reply. Snyder could only stare at the boy's back as he rapidly increased the distance.

"Don't think this is over, Harris!" Snyder snarled after the teen. "Not by a long shot," he added in a whispered, turning to go back to his office.

Xander ignored the raging of the pissed principal, and just kept on going toward the library… to an encounter he wasn't looking forward to, but one that was as necessary as putting Snyder in his place. And, as much fun as it was to goad the small troll-like man, there were more pressing matters. Giles, for one… and he wanted to go home. He wanted to see how Krista was adjusting to her new home.

As strange as it sounded, Xander really did feel protective of the young AI, just like he was worried about her mental health if she hung out with him. Always the first to acknowledge that his mental state was a couple of cards short of a full deck, Xander also realized that his lifestyle really wasn't the right one for a new life form to grow up in.

He had seen enough movies on AIs that went mad to know that a sentient computer really was as dangerous as could be in this day and age, where everything was connected with computers. Almost, he reached for his super-secret cell phone to call and ask how she was doing, but then he reached the library and Buffy's voice actually trailed to the outside.

On the force of habit, Xander quieted his breathing and heartbeat to almost non-existent, sharpening his hearing to virtually superhuman. He could hear the discussion as if he were present.

"Something really isn't right about him, Giles! He was actually looking forward to school, and he has more than a full course load! And then, in class…" Buffy began. Xander closed his eyes and leaned against the wall next to the door.

"Y…yeah!" Willow agreed with her friend. "We…we share French and Math, and in both classes, Xander really acted as if he were someone else. I…I mean, he spoke French better than the teacher. He kept correcting her pronunciation to the point where he was teaching more than she was!" 

Damn. I spooked them, Xander's thoughts grunted.

"Calm down, everyone… I am sure that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this. After all… Xander has been gone for ten months, and he did say he was in Paris. It's not difficult to understand where his French skills came from." Xander could almost hear Giles wiping at his glasses. He was always wiping his glasses. Xander smiled as he thought of Giles' calming influence. But, as no-one else, he also understood the Englishman's ability to dive for the truth. And, if there was one thing Xander didn't want to give up just yet, it was the full truth.

"Isn't there some spell we can do, to find out if he's possessed or something?" Xander could hear Buffy ask Giles the moment he pushed open the library door.

"To see if who's possessed?" Xander asked innocently as he walked to the meeting table. "Hi, G-man. I take it you've heard of my glorious return to the American education system?"

"No-one!" Buffy squeaked, even as Giles started to open his mouth to reply to Xander's remark.

"Q-quite," he stuttered slightly, wiping at his glasses. Putting them on, he continued, "So… I've heard you've been to Paris?"

Xander nodded, smiling. "Yep. Paris, the City of Light. Done the tours, saw the sights, and got lost at the Louvre, just like every other tourist. And picked up flawless French in the process," he added with a quick jab.

"I'm glad to see you've finally taken in some culture," the Englishman remarked. "Although you still have that infernal sense of humor."

The teenager smiled. "Yep. My two teachers were really into the arts… one of them is a gifted painter, too. And the sense of humor is chronic, I'm afraid. Nothing can get rid of it."

Giles smiled slightly, shaking his head in quiet resignation. Then, he suddenly grabbed Xander in a massive hug, and pounded on his back. "It's jolly good to have you back, son. You can't imagine how much we all missed you."

"Good to be back, Giles. Really good to be back," Xander answered, pounding his answer in return. Finally, the two men released each other, and Xander sat down at the table.

"I hear you're taking Russian, too?" Giles asked as soon as Xander had seated.

"Yep. Been to Moscow, did the shivering thing, and picked up the language." Xander shrugged. "They insisted I learn as mush languages as I could while staying with them."

"We've heard you talk about them a lot now… Just who are these people?" Buffy demanded. "They taught you French and Russian, got you in a museum, and did a whole lot of other things. Who are they?"

"People who like their privacy," Xander answered calmly. "I trust them, they trust me, and I'm not going to betray that trust."

"How about us?" Cordelia asked angrily. "You don't trust us?"

"It's not my call to make… I'm sorry guys, but you have to understand, it's not my call to make," Xander said, sounding really apologetic about it. "If it were up to me, I'd tell you about them… my training…everything they did for me… but I can't. I promised I'd keep their secrets, so I will."

Buffy started to reply as Giles cut her off. "We understand, Xander. It's good to see that you haven't changed as much as to betray the trust of people who put it in you. Even though you did leave us without a note or a word of warning."

"As I explained this morning to the others," Xander whispered sadly, looking at the tabletop, "I just needed to get away. Everyone was having problems of his or her own, and mine just didn't matter… so I left."

"I find it hard to accept you didn't come to me, but I think I understand," Giles said, sadly. At that moment, Xander's cell phone rang.

Looking confused at the beeping device, Xander pressed the pick-up button. In all the world, there are four people who know the number of this phone. Two are after Teraka's HQ, one is sitting right here in Giles' library, and the last one is Krista…


Si c'est l'Administrateur du Système, répond avec la phrase correcte, Xander heard in the phone. If this is the System Administrator, respond with the correct phrase.

Xander swallowed. Okay… make that five, he thought. "Ordinateur, Je suis Administrateur du Système. Mon voix est mon passeport, vérifie-moi. La phrase est niveau un, liste est trois – quarrant – nonante-neuf." Computer, I am the system Administrator. My voice is my passport, verify me. The phrase is level one, the list is three-forty-ninety-nine.

Primary defenses on the premises have been activated. Level one and two systems have been activated, and the threat is contained for now. Advise? the computer asked.

"Je serai l en dix minutes," Xander grunted in the phone, snapping it shut, and standing up. "Sorry, emergency," he told the assembled group, before running out of the room. I will be there in ten minutes.

For all of five seconds, the entire group stared in total confusion at the closed door where Xander had disappeared through. That moment, they all realized just how much he had changed. He had seemed so different… like a second person.

"Oh no, you don't!" Buffy yelled, jumping up and racing out after the teen, followed closely by Cordelia, Willow, Oz and even Giles. When they reached the parking lot, they got the next surprise when they saw Xander jump into the Aston Martin. Deftly blocking his way, Buffy jumped in front of the car.

"Hey…" Xander started to protest as Willow jerked open the passenger door. Folding the seat back, she jumped in thee back seat, not really designed to hold people, but rather there for show. Cordelia squeezed in next to the redhead.

"Hey, my car doesn't hold that many…" Xander protested. Buffy folded the seat up and sat down.

"We'll take the van," Oz said, indicating himself and Giles. "Be behind you in a sec."

Xander wanted to protest. But, he knew that time was running out. What it was doing, calling him, wasn't normal. Entirely not normal. He shifted harshly, making four tires howl as he applied the modified engine's power to them. The car accelerated off, electing squeals from the three female passengers.

"Xander? What's the emergency?" Buffy demanded.

"And why didn't you tell us you had a cool car?" Cordelia shouted from the back seat.

"I don't know what the emergency is. I just got a call that there was one," Xander replied coldly as his eyes flashed over the road, avoiding coalitions with other road-users, sometimes by swarming all the way to the wrong lane. "And if I had told you about the car, you would have said I was bragging," Xander grunted to the back seat, where Willow and Cordelia were trying their utmost best to find some space for their legs.

"Hey! Shoes off if you're going to put your feet up on the upholstery!" Xander shouted to the rear, actually looking over his shoulder as he waved through an especially dense block of traffic.

"WHATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING!!" the females in the car shouted as the teenager flashed through the red light.

"No worries, ladies! The Xandman is an excellent driver!" he boasted, tone joking, even though the rest of him radiated a deadly seriousness. Yeah… trained by the best in the world.

Finally, the car came to a screeching halt on his driveway, Xander jumping out even before it had come to a full stop.

"This is your house?" Buffy squeaked, even as Cordelia and Willow stared in the utmost shock at the large building that oozed cameras.

"Not much, but it's home," Xander grunted as he walked up to the front door, and noticing the tell-tale red dot of the firmly locked-down security system. "Ordinateur, Je suis l'Administrateur du Système. Mon voix est mon passeport, vérifie-moi. Ouvre la porte d'entrer." Computer, I am the System Administrator. My voice is my passport, verify me. Open the door of entry.

Votre voix est vérifier, Mon Administrateur. Accès Autorisé. Your voice has been verified, My Administrator. Access authorized.

The front door clicked open, and Xander reached for the back of his belt, reaching under his jacket for the Magan he knew was there, waiting for him to draw. He knew his jacket was hiding his hand, and the gun… he really didn't want to draw it under the girls' sight.

"Krista?" he asked as he slid into the house. "Krista? What happened?"

When he didn't receive a response, Xander frowned. The AI should have answered… "Krista?"

"Who's this Krista?" Buffy demanded angrily. "And why are you speaking French to your house? And why are you sneaking around?"

"Not now, Buff," Xander hissed angrily as he slid further.

"Ah, finally!" A voice… a cold voice… sneered from Xander's beautiful designer couch. "I thought you wouldn't make it." Xander bared his teeth at the sight of the man in the couch, yet inwardly, his instincts took over and analyzed the man instantly. Medium build and weight, dark sunglasses, black jeans pants and vest. Ideal for concealing weaponry.

Yet something was off… "You have some guts, breaking into my home," Xander replied.

"I wanted to meet my opponent in person," the Terakan, for he could be nothing else, replied calmly, standing up.

"This place is under my protection, Teraka. Be gone, and I will spare you."

Buffy, Cordelia, and Willow stared open-jawed at their friend, for they no longer recognized the voice. It had become totally devoid of emotions, cold and dark. The Voice of Death, Kirika had called it. Every good assassin had it, that special infliction of voice that would carry a person's demise on it.

The Teraka assassin chuckled once. "I don't fear a child. And I see you have brought me the targets. That makes my job so much easier…"

"Your opponent is me, Terakan. We warned you. Come here and you die. This town is under protection," Xander growled dangerously, one hand tightening on Magan.

"Teraka?" Buffy asked, finally regaining her voice.

Xander dipped his head once. "Teraka is sent after you, with a multi-million dollar contract. That's why I came back."

The Terakan chuckled once again. "You don't scare me, child. Nor can you stop me. For I am Teraka…"

"You are nothing," Xander stated flatly. "Useless. Hired by second-rate people who can't hire real help."

The Terakan scowled, and charged, just as Xander had hoped he would do. In mid-charge, the man lifted his hands in a complex pattern, and a wave of lighting crashed toward Xander, who deftly ducked and rolled to his right.

"Okay, that's new," he commented as he rolled to his feet, drawing Magan as he did so. The Terakan readied himself for a second lighting bolt, the first having blasted a deep, charred hole in Xander's wall. As the Terakan recharged the spell, Xander dropped to his knee and fired, pulling the trigger over and over, even as the bullets struck home and made the Terakan dance like a puppet without strings.

As his body crashed to the ground, Xander stood up, and ejected the spent clip, and rammed home another. "Ordinateur, niveau de sécurité résolu." Computer, security level resolved.

Négative. Une personne dan le coffre-fort. Résoudre avant annuler niveau un. Negative. One person in the safe. Resolve before cancel level one.

Xander grew pale, as the reason for Krista disappearance became clear. "Krista…" he keened. "Krista…" His teeth bared, and Xander actually growled. "I will kill him if he hurt her!" he snarled, ejecting the vampire-killing rounds from Magan, and slapping in a clip of demon killers. He would tear the ass to pieces, and damned the consequences!

As Xander jumped down the stairs into the cellar, the girls were hot on his tail, and stared as the young man jumped down a level of stairs and landing in a perfect crouch enabling him to just continue his run as if uninterrupted. They ran down the stairs as fast as they could, which was pretty damn fast in Buffy's case, but it appeared as if meaningless compared to Xander, who just kept running to a walled-off section of the cellar.

The Vault Door had been breached, and Xander recognized Voltman's work. If he hurt her…

He entered the scene from his nightmare. The beautiful Vault, lined with racks of computer equipment, was pushed in a deep murky red light. Half the computers were offline, and those that were online were open, their innards connected to a laptop on which the second man was tapping away.

He glanced up the moment Xander came in. It was of no use. With his free hand, Xander grabbed the man around the neck, hefted him away from the keyboard with sheer brute force, and threw him against the nearest clear wall… which was outside the Vault. The man's back slammed into the wall, yet before he had time to fall, Xander was on him, his free left hand grabbed in a choke-hold around his neck and lifting him off the ground.

"Krista. Save his life," Xander snarled to the ceiling.


The primal scream coming from the beautiful AI sent a hot poker though Xander's heart. Magan came up as Xander let the man drop to the ground, and took a couple of steps back.

"Up," the teen commanded. The Terakan coughed, and righted himself.

"Xander, Wha…" Buffy asked, trailing off when she saw the murderous look in his eyes.

"Krista… tell me you're alright… please?" the teenager asked, voice straining.

I…he…I couldn't stop him… the voice sobbed.

"You hurt an innocent being," Xander said, coldly, eyes locking on his target, Magan pointed at the Assassin's heart. "You took an innocent Artificial Intelligence, barely six months old, and attempted to kill it. For that, I can never forgive you."

Hackboy's eyes locked on Magan. "You…you're the Golden Gun… they never told me you were the Golden Gun…"

"Yes, I am the Golden Gun," Xander growled coldly. "And you're chopped liver after I'm through with you. Just ask Frantic Franky in London, or the Demon in Maine. Oh… right… you can't, because I killed them!!"

"Artificial Intelligence…" Willow whispered. "You have an AI in your basement?"

"She wanted to live here," Xander acknowledged coldly. "I never should have agreed. Those around me only get hurt… I really wanted to save her from that."

Xander… I… I'll be fine… he never got very deep… it was just scary to feel the powerlessness of being just a computer…

"Good to hear… but first, I have some trash to deal with," Xander said, coldly.

"You can't just kill him in cold blood!" Buffy protested.

"Yes, I can," Xander answered levelly. "This piece of trash doesn't deserve to live. Like vampires and demons who hurt people, this man is a demon that doesn't deserve life. Now… die." Xander squeezed the trigger of Magan, triggering one demon-bullet into the hacker-assassin's chest. The demon round did its job, nearly tearing the man in half as the liquid explosive center detonated.

Xander…thank you… but how did you know…

"The admin module called me on my cell," Xander answer Krista. "I told you that it would come in handy."

Yes, you did…

"Now, tell me… how did they get in here? This place is a fortress. I doubt they could just have broken in," Xander asked, starting a conversation seemingly without paying attention to the shocked looks of his friends.

I…I…can you give me five minutes? Please… I'll explain everything then.

Xander lifted an eyebrow, and smiled. "You really have a lot to learn if you need five minutes to get a decent excuse," he joked.

Krista remained silent, and Xander looked worriedly at the trashed computer equipment in the Vault. He opened his mouth, and was just about to ask if something in there needed urgent fixing, something he might be able to pull off, as long as Krista was there to guide him through it.

"Xander! You just shot that man!" Buffy shouted, finally breaking out of the reverie. "He was harmless, and you just shot him!"

"Yeah!" Cordelia shouted. "Upstairs it was self-defense, no-one will dispute that… disgusting as it is to shoot a man, you did it to save yourself. But down here… you had him at your mercy and you just cold-bloodedly shot him!"

Before Willow could add her two cents, Xander had turned to them, chocolate eyes bursting fire. "What he was doing… trying to do… was a horrible and unforgivable act!" he shouted, before taking a breath and managing to calm himself. He reminded himself that he was still running hot due to what had happened to Krista, and that he needed to think things through clearly before he did something that might drive them all away from him.

"Krista is an innocent being," he went on, voice now sad rather than angry. "She's barely six months old… an Artificial Intelligence that doesn't know the darkness of the world… and that guy just assaulted her, attacked her in the depth of her being, trying to corrupt her, use her for his own means, or worse, trying to kill her!!" At the end of his little speech, Xander's voice rose to anger once more.

"That's all good and well, but it doesn't give you a reason to kill a man in cold blood! What happened to you, Xander? You wouldn't have condoned this before you left! What happened to you in Paris?" Buffy demanded angrily.

The doorbell rang. It kept ringing.

"Krista, who is it?" Xander asked, needing the break desperately.

One man between 35 and 40, glasses, tweed suit. Second, boy of about 17, short blonde hair, exotic costume.

"Giles and Oz," Buffy stated angrily. "Let's see how they think about your little escapade here, Xander!" As the three girls ran to his front door, Xander followed.

Great. Just great…that's all I needed…

"Giles! Oz! What took you guys so long!?" Buffy demanded as she threw the front door open. "Xander just shot a guy in cold blood!"

"He…he… good lord," Giles whispered, starting to clean his glasses obsessively once again. Oz merely lifted an eyebrow for a few seconds.

"Bro?" he asked, voice flat.

"The guy attacked someone I care about. A lot. I made sure she was safe, then made sure he wasn't," Xander stated coldly.

"Oh. Girlfriend?"

Xander shook his head. "Daughter," he stated, instantly regretting it the moment the word left his lips. Giles dropped his glasses. Oz, for once, showed pure and utter shock. Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia stared at him as if he had gone totally and utterly insane.

"Xander!" Buffy shouted. "She's a computer!"

Xander turned to the blonde. "She's an Artificial Intelligence, and just as alive as you are, Buffy!" he shouted. "She's alive, she has feelings, and she can very much be hurt! And just because she decided she wanted to grow up in my computer system doesn't mean that she should be hurt and abused without retribution!"

Buffy's face grew red, while Xander drew a deep breath. "Krista… your five minutes are up," he said gently to the ceiling, hoping the voice of the AI would placate Giles and Oz.

Okay… the meek voice whispered. It sounded so distraught that Giles replaced his glasses, and actually grew a compassionate look on his face, mimicking Willow's. Oz glanced to Xander.

"Can see why you wanted to protect her, Bro," he stated calmly.

Xander…I…I've got something to show you, the AI went on.

"Okay…" Xander said, voice trailing in confusion.

"This," the voice of the AI said, suddenly coming from somewhere behind them. The entire group turned around, staring at the image of a fifteen-year-old redhead looking sadly at the ground. "I…I… had technicians install a holographic reactor… they're from Quest Enterprises… They were vouched for…I didn't know… Teraka slipped in with them…and when the technicians left…they…they…"

Xander walked up to Krista, a sad look on his face. Without a word, he just drew her into a hug. She buried her face against his chest, and wept.

"Shh…" Xander finally shushed. "It's okay now… was it that bad?"

"M-more scared…than hurt… I-I just…c-couldn't…stop them," the AI sobbed. "And I was so scared…I let them in…I didn't want you to be mad…I-I didn't mean for this to happen…I…I-I just needed t-ten more minutes to get the ho-holographic r-reactor o-online before I-I could f-fight back but he w-was so fast and cut off my access…"

Xander sat down, pulling the hologram with him. She settled on his lap, pressing her beautiful holographic body against him. "It's okay now, Krista… I'm just glad you weren't seriously hurt…" he sighed. "And now you learned that Sunnydale is more dangerous than Rockport."

"Y-you're not mad?" the AI girl looked up at him with wondering green eyes.

"Heaven and Hell know how many mistakes I've made, and am still making," Xander answered. "I am not about to get angry with you for things I once did myself. I'm just glad you're okay…"

"We're not done talking, Xander!" Buffy interjected angrily. "Just because your little computer has a body now doesn't mean that you can get away with murder!"

Xander stiffened, forcing himself to relax immediately. He took Krista's face in his one hand, and turned it to Buffy, so the blonde could look the holographic red-head in the deep green eyes. "Look at her, Buffy. Just look at her! Look into those eyes, and tell me that she's not as real as Cordy or Willow! Tell me that, if you found Willow strapped to a table, a guy ripping her clothes off preparing to rape her, that you wouldn't just mow him down with your own bare hands! Because that's exactly what that guy was doing to Krista! Just because she is alive in a computer rather than in a physical form does not mean that she's entitled to be hurt without being helped!"

Buffy stared at the sad eyes of the hologram, and actually did feel her anger melting. "But…you should have gone to the police," she grunted stubbornly, if just not as angrily as before.

"Oh, sure!" Xander said sarcastically. "Yes, Mr. Police Officer, this assassin from the Order of Teraka broke into my house and hacked the sentient AI in my basement Mainframe!" He let out a chuckle. "That would have been a hit!"

Giles walked up to his charge, and put a hand on her shoulder. "Xander's right, Buffy. Teraka tried to kill someone, and Xander defended her. And, although it pains me in no small measure to see him capable of it, I understand his decision, and am forced to admit that, if the situation was different, I probably would have done the same." After those words, he walked over to where Krista was still pressing herself fearfully to Xander.

"Miss… Eh…Krista, was it?" As the hologram nodded, the librarian went on, "Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Rupert Giles," he finished, extending his hand.

Krista looked slightly confused at Xander, who smiled thankfully at the watcher, before nodding encouragingly to Krista. Hesitantly, the hologram extended her hand, shaking the librarian's offered hand.

Oz walked up, and just said, "Call me Oz."

"Oz," Krista replied, smiling, shaking his hand, seemingly living up now that Xander's friend seemed to be accepting of her and her status.

Willow, somewhat hesitantly, shuffled closer. "Eh…W-Willow. That's me. Willow. I…eh… never heard of an AI…eh… and…eh…I was wondering ifyoucouldexplaintomehowit'sdonebecauseI'mreallyinterestedineverythingcomputerrelated…"

Krista smiled slightly as Willow babbled. "Sure!" the hologram said enthusiastically. "It'll be great to have someone to talk shop with… Xander's a great guy but he only has the most rudimentary notions of computers…"

"Hey! I should take that as an insult, right?" Xander interjected.

"You've got other redeeming qualities," Krista said with a smile. "You're kind, helpful, and you really came through for me today… and I didn't know you looked at me as your daughter… Papa Xander."

Xander groaned. "I knew that was a mistake to say," he grunted, causing the group, Krista included, to laugh. That laugh was the last thing to abolish the remains of Buffy and Cordelia's anger, and the two girls came over to introduce themselves formally to Krista, just as the others hand done.

"Okay… if I'm gonna be the father around here, I guess it's my job to be fatherly, right?" he asked, turning to Krista. "In that case… I really want you to think about staying here. You've seen how dangerous things are here in Sunnydale, Krista… you nearly got killed because of it… and I'd really hate for anything to happen to you. Jonny, Jessie, and Hadji are already going to kill me; I don't want to add anything to it."

Krista stood up, turning to him. "How…how could I go back!?" she demanded. "Yes, I know how dangerous Sunnydale is now. And I'm an AI. I never forget. Believe me, Xander… I never will forget anything that happened here today. Not the fact that you dropped everything for me, and certainly not the fact that you were willing to put the friendship on the line with people who have been closer to you than brothers and sisters!" Buffy and Cordelia look guiltily at the ground on hearing this. "How could I walk away now that I know what is out there? I saw you kill that demon in the Quest's yard, and I heard you tell about everything that goes out here. How could I turn my back on all of that, obliterate the data I acquired, and live for the rest of my life in ignorance, now that I know how much I may be needed?

"Xander," the AI said, tone softening as she sat down next to him, "you told me that you made the choice to fight… now I'm asking…please…accept my choice to fight as well."

Xander took a couple of deep breaths. "What the hell… Jonny and the others are going to kill me anyway after everything that happened to you today. It can't get any worse than that."

Krista burst out in an exuberant smile, and threw herself across Xander's neck. "Oh, Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou, Papa Xander!"

Xander winced at the nickname. "That's almost as bad as the Golden Gun crap the underworld keeps calling me…"

Giles choked. "Golden Gun!?" he managed through his coughs. "YOU are the Golden Gun?"

Xander nodded warily. "Yes… I seem to have gotten quite a rep in the underworld… after Frantic Franky in London, that name traveled faster than I did."

"Dear Lord," Giles muttered, cleaning his glasses. "Dear Lord…"

"Why? The Terakan called him that as well," Buffy said in confusion. "What's so special about that golden gun?"

Xander rubbed the bridge of his nose. This was going to be a long evening of trying to keep Noir's secrets out of his well-meaning friends' hands.


Xander sunk to his knees in the middle of his dojo/meditation room. He had converted one of the bedrooms into a fully equipped dojo, complete with wall to wall tatami (special martial arts matting), wooden paneled walls, and a small shrine complete with a small katana stand. For the moment, the stand held the Noir-sword Kirika had given him, as well as a very costly katana he had picked up during his time in Japan.

Xander let out a breath, feeling the calmness of the place enter him, relaxing his tense muscles after a very emotionally draining evening. He just closed his eyes, and slipped into meditation, the room around him vanishing from his Mental Eye.

Krista monitored him, noting the heart rhythm finally return to normal, and the deep calming breaths that came at periodic intervals.

Let me help you, Xander… the AI whispered, not really expecting a response. She got a small affirmative grunt from the kneeling form in the middle of the room, and that was more consent than she had hoped for.

She pushed the holographic reactor to ten percent of it maximum power, raising it from the barely one percent her usual holographic body required. She knew why she had asked for the biggest reactor… it had power to spare.

Sound Vibration Room… active, Krista whispered quietly, not wanting to intrude upon the meditation Xander so desperately needed. In reality, the walls and ceiling fell away just as they had before Xander's mental eye, being replaced by an all-encompassing deep blackness. And in the middle of the Black Hole sat Xander, perpetually kneeled, sunk in deep meditation.

Slowly, Krista started playing certain vibrations at tones the human ear couldn't hope to translate, but very much had an effect on the human body. Carefully, she worked through the sound files her research had dug up, noting how Xander's body reacted to them. Some of them merely agitated him, but before he even knew he had become agitated, Krista had switched them off, going for another sample.

Her database wasn't that extensive, merely two dozen different ultra-high or ultra-low frequencies in total, and it didn't take her that long to catalogue them by the reaction they achieved within Xander.

Five minutes into Xander's meditation, Krista knew which frequencies produced a deeper relaxation, and settled on refining those.

Xander let out his breath. He didn't know what was happening… all he knew was that he was content. Relaxed. At peace. It felt as if the air around him was thick as water, and on his exact body temperature; he was neither warm nor cold, merely encompassed by the warmness of the liquid air. He had no idea of where he was, having long ago lost all sense of being and self, merely existing, no conscious thought crossed his mind.

Krista noted that her recent tuning had produced a very curious effect. Xander had moved… into a fetal position, arms wrapped tightly around the legs that had been pulled against his chest. Her monitors showed that his heartbeat was a deeply relaxed 40 beats per minute. His breathing was even and rhythmic… even if it only happened ten times per minute. Not for the first time, she wished she could monitor his brain waves. She wanted to know how he was feeling. All the functions she could read indicated Xander was in a deeply relaxed state.

Finally, after an hour, Krista slowly turned off the holographic black hole and the vibrations. Xander awoke fifteen seconds later, stretching slightly as he returned to the land of the living, as if he had just woken up after a deep and relaxing sleep.

"Wow, Krista… that was… incredible!" he said to the ceiling, unwilling to give up the peaceful glow the meditation had provoked within him.

Really? I'm so glad you liked it, Papa Xander! I did some research into relaxation methods, and found that certain frequencies have different reactions in the human body. I merely played them for you while you were meditating to figure out what they would do. What did it feel like?

"It's… hard to describe… I didn't think at the moment… couldn't think, even if I wanted to, I guess. It felt like… warm. Protected. Like the air was made of water. It felt so good…" he whispered longingly, eyes unfocused as if he tried to retrieve a particularly elusive dream.

Out here, you were in a fetal position, Krista answered, materializing her body and sitting down next to him. "Xander… I think you felt like you were back in the womb."

"Eh…" Xander grunted. "That's a good thing, right?"

Krista smiled. "I'm not an expert, Xander… in fact, my knowledge of human psychology is probably less than yours… but I do know that you appeared to be very relaxed, and whatever the case, you didn't want to wake up from it."

Xander nodded. "And I feel more relaxed than I've felt in a long time," he answered honestly. He turned to Krista. "Thank you."

Krista returned his smile. "You're welcome, Papa Xander."

"Listen, Krista… I'm going to make a phone call to Kirika… could you… you know?" he asked, not really knowing how to word it, and not hurt the young AI.

Green eyes peered curiously at him. "Know what?" she asked, honestly confused.

"You know… be otherwise occupied?" he asked, trying to word it carefully.

Krista frowned slightly, still not understanding. Xander sighed. "Could you not monitor the living room when I call?" he finally asked, deciding on just being blunt about it, and seeing where the pieces landed.

"Oh!" Krista breathed, finally understanding. "Why didn't you say you wanted the privacy mode? Really, Xander…" she said, smiling at him. "I'll be in the basement, trying to patch together the hardware that got damaged." The hologram vanished.

"Why didn't I just say I wanted privacy mode?" the teen whispered to himself as he walked to the living room. "Because I didn't know, that's why," he muttered as he entered the living room, and tapped in a telephone number from memory. He heard the phone ring, then a click followed as the line got redirected. Xander waited patiently for the line to start ringing again. He tapped in a key-code on the phone, and the line redirected again.

Finally, the ringing was continuous, and the line was picked up almost immediately.

"Hello, Mon Coeur," Xander breathed to the girl on the other side.

"Chéri," the girl said in reply, voice timbre odd for her, and Xander could just feel the happiness on the other side of the line… even though no-one else could. "How was your day?" the girl asked, knowing about Xander's first day at school. He told her about his friends, the discussions, and everything else that had transpired. He didn't omit the fact that Teraka had already penetrated his house, and attacked the young AI in the basement.

"She sounds like a great person," Kirika said after he finished the monologue. "I hope that she's alright."

Xander sighed. "I hope so too… she doesn't seem to be too affected. Just a little clingy now that she has a holographic body. The worst thing is that I don't know whether she's so composed because she's an AI, able to repair damage quickly, or because she's repressing everything." Xander sighed again, Kirika waited for him to gather his thoughts. "It's hard sometimes… she acts so much like a human that it's hard to keep in mind that she's a computer. And then something happens, or she asks something, or says something, and it's all just smashing right in your face."

"You'll just have to have patience, Mon Coeur… She sounds like a great person after everything you've told me, and it doesn't sound as if she holds it against you when you stumble," she answered calmly.

Xander nodded, even though she couldn't see it. "That's true… and she really is a great person to have around. She's been here less than a week, but I already care a lot for her, you know?" He chuckled, and went on, "and now she's given me a second nickname. I let it slip that I think of her like a daughter, and now she's calling me 'papa'."

Kirika laughed over the phone, and hearing the girl laugh was enough to make Xander burst out into laughter himself. Together, they laughed, and when it finally died down, the duo lapsed into a comfortable silence.

"So… how was your day?" Xander asked, finally breaking the silence.

"We're getting closer… my knowledge is out of date, but I'm sure we're hot on their trail. Teraka can hide, but it will never be safe," Kirika answered, voice hardening as she spoke. "We will get them, Xander. I only hope that, in the meantime, they're not making more of a nuisance of themselves than they already are."

"If the rest of those guys are anything like those two I disposed of earlier, it won't be as hard as I thought," Xander grunted.

"Don't underestimate them, Xander. Teraka didn't become as big as it is by being stupid. Those were probably just the scouts … the real Teraka Assassins are formidable opponents."

Xander swallowed. When Kirika said something like that, he could do anything but take it completely serious. "I'll keep a look out," he promised, subconsciously fingering the comforting hardness of Magan.

"I'm sure you will," Kirika said with a comforting edge to her voice that immediately relaxed Xander. Once again, they lapsed into a comfortable silence, one that made large amounts of time pass in mere seconds.

For the next half an hour, they remained silent on the phone, merely listening to the breathing of the other, before Xander finally broke the comfortable silence, and hated himself for it.


"Chéri," she answered with a smile.

"I'm sorry, Mon Coeur… I still need to go for a run, and then get some sleep…"

"I understand, Xander," Kirika said calmly. "We will talk again tomorrow?"

"Of course, Ma Chérie," he replied. "Until tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," Kirika said a final time, before hanging up.


After his fifteen kilometer run and a nice, long, hot shower, Xander fell into bed, immediately dropping like a stone into a deep sleep. His sleep was far from restful, however, and after only a couple of hours, Krista once again was forced to monitor the throes of Xander's nightmares as his youthful body twitched, and his vocal cords let out small groans and moans.

This time, however, she could do something about it. Remembering what the teenager had said, she materialized a body next to Xander's bed. Quietly, she slipped into the bed with him, drawing his strong body into a protective hug. The moaning decreased, and the twitching died down to the occasional shudder. She could still see the nightmarish frowns and twitches in his face, however, and knew that there was only one person who could calm Xander's demons… unfortunately, that person was on the other side of the world for the moment.

Unable to do anything more than she was already doing, Krista closed the holographic eyes and slipped her body into a sleep-like state. At the same time, in the basement, the second hologram was working on the servers that got damaged. There hadn't been much damage, luckily, and what little had been damaged would be replaced by Xander's friend Willow tomorrow. Krista smiled slightly as she reviewed the data on the other redhead. Willow seemed like a nice person, really good with computers… and that was a definite plus in the AI's book.

Sooner than she wanted, her internal clock went off. Upstairs, the Krista in Xander's bed didn't stir. In the basement, the second Krista simply halted her work, and debated for a few seconds whether or not to materialize a third incarnation. Deciding that she wanted to test the holographic reactor further before trying too much, the AI decided against the third holographic option. The second hologram was clean in under a second as she winked out of existence, only to rematerialize mere moments later.

Smiling as the program kicked in, the hologram bounced up the stairs and disappeared into the kitchen. Only half an hour later, a voice could be heard from the room. "Hmm… looks like I get to test the reactor after all."


Xander penetrated the wall between sleep and awakening. Drifting in the half-sleep that was the no-man's-land between sleep and reality, his mind tried to figure out the conflicting sensations it was receiving.

Krista opened her holographic eyes, and watched Xander as the boy groaned, and actually seemed to cuddle closer to her. A smile crept on her face, even if she had no idea what to do next, and simply continued to hold the teenager as he started to make his way to full awakening.

In his dream-like state, Xander felt instead of thought, his mind unable to come up with real thoughts. To him, it felt as if he were in the arms of Kirika. But then he realized that it couldn't be her, since she was in the Middle East. And it didn't really feel like her…

Xander's eyes snapped open, staring directly into a pair of curious green ones. Letting out a startled scream, the assassin jumped up and back out of the bed, landing into an attack pose, staring in total and utter bewilderment at the girl in his bed.

"Krista!? What are you doing in my bed!?" he screamed, louder than he had intended, and obviously it came across harsher than he had intended as the AI seemed to shrink into herself, staring at the covers as she sat up, revealing the white nightgown the AI had put on her holographic body.

"I… I… didn't mean anything," the girl whispered sadly, hugging herself. "I only wanted to help…"

"Help!?" Xander asked, still harsher than he intended, only now starting to calm down from his adrenaline rush. "By crawling into bed with me?" he asked, voice flattening out.

Krista played a little with the bed covers. "I… last night… you were having a nightmare, and I remember what you said that first night… about being alone gave you nightmares… so I… I…" The AI buried her face in her hands, and cried.

Immediately, Xander felt like the world's biggest jerk. He sat down next to the sobbing girl, and pulled her into a deep hug. "And you tried to comfort me, and the first thing I do is yell at you," he whispered as he held her. "I'm so sorry, Krista. I'm such a jerk…"

"W-when y-you l-looked at m-me like t-that… I… I…"

Xander held the sobbing girl tighter. "I know, sweetheart. I know… I'm sorry, Krista. I was surprised, startled… I didn't know… please… forgive me?"

He felt the AI calm down in his arms, and sit up straight. He relaxed his hold on her so they could look at each other. "Sure," she said, smiling slightly. "I shouldn't have jumped into bed with you… I didn't know you would react so strongly."

Xander let out a breath. "Sleeping together is a very intimate thing for us humans," he explained. "It's the ultimate show of trust to let someone be close when you're completely helpless… that's why I jumped when I woke up. I felt someone in the bed with me, but I didn't know who or what… so I jumped. I'm sorry, Krista."

"Stop saying that!" the girl protested, getting up from the bed. "Anyway, you should get dressed… I made breakfast."

"Breakfast?" Xander asked, instantly perking up. Food! His favorite! Sniffing the air, he was rewarded by the smell of pancakes. And hot coffee. "Smells great!"

"Then you'd better get ready," Krista said with a wide smile, right before vanishing. "You wouldn't want it to get cold…" the hologram vanished.

Xander jumped from the bed, and dove for his wardrobe. While gathering his wardrobe for today, he kept smelling. There's not only pancakes… but what is it? I can't get it…Damn, that girl knows how to make someone curious, he thought to himself as he disappeared into his private bathroom, and disappeared under the shower.

Ten minutes later, while coming downstairs, he was greeted by Krista, dressed normally in a black t-shirt, matching black jeans, and a pair of black sneakers. "Good morning," she greeted.

"Good morning, take two," Xander agreed with a smile, making the girl laugh.

"Come on, your food will get cold," Krista urged him, taking his hand, and dragging him into the kitchen/breakfast room. Xander swallowed, and his mouth fell open.

"Is something wrong?" the girl asked, seeing his reaction. Her voice was tiny, holding a fearful edge in it.

Xander shook his head as he scanned the table. Pancakes. Waffles. Sausages. Beans. Bacon and eggs. Bread that had obviously been homemade. All kinds of meats, jams, cheeses and jellies. Toast. Fruit juice. Coffee. Cereals. Milk. "Krista… this… it's…"

"You don't like it?" her voice was even tinier now.

"It's… overwhelming," he finished. "Wow. That's all I can say… wow."

"You like it?" Krista asked, smiling hopefully.

"Yeah!" Xander agreed readily. "I like it!"

"I didn't know what you liked, so I made a bit of everything," the AI said, motioning to all the dishes that were expertly displayed and garnished. Xander had never seen food look this appetizing before, and his stomach made the fact that it hadn't eaten since yesterday evening more than known.

"It's enough to feed an army," Xander said as he sat down, and started delving into the pancakes, pouring an ample amount of maple syrup over them before delving in.

"But you haven't seen the cake yet!" the Ai protested, opening the refrigerator to reveal one of the biggest pineapple upside-down cakes Xander had ever seen. So big he almost chokes on a more-than-mouthful of pancakes.

He hurriedly swallowed. "That is one big cake!" he brought out. "And really tasty-looking too," he added, making the AI beam a huge smile at him.

"But really… it's too much for just me," Xander said, before shoveling some more pancakes into his mouth. A little bit disappointed, Krista looked around the kitchen to the food. "How did you manage this, anyway?" the teen finally found time to ask after he finished his mouthful.

Krista smiled. "Well, the holographic reactor has enough energy to let me do this," the AI said, replicating a second, third, and fourth version of herself. "You can not imagine how much faster the work goes when you have eight, ten, or twelve hands," the four Kristas said at the same time, before vanishing and leaving only one version in their place.

"Neat," Xander said while chewing on some blueberry waffles with powder sugar.

"I'm just a little sad… all this food will go to waste," Krista said. "All those people who're hungry, and we're throwing away food…"

Xander blinked. How does she do that? She's like an emotional rollercoaster. She goes from one extreme to the next… I certainly hope it's because she's an AI, and not because of a trauma because of yesterday…

"How about we invite the gang? With all of us, I'm sure we'd be better suited to give all these nice dishes a good home," he suggested.

Krista exploded in exuberance. "Great idea!" the AI screamed. "I'll go call them! Be right back!"

True to her word, Krista was back within five minutes, where Xander was still going at the food, albeit a little slower than when he started. "Are they coming?" he asked. Krista's voice processor could pick up the underlying tones of stress. Careful analysis gave the most likely cause of said stress: fear.

"Yep. They're all coming… although Buffy wouldn't come until I told her about free food." The AI frowned slightly. "Papa Xander? How does being a female dog equate into this?"

Xander halted eating, and looked in total confusion at the AI, who just stared back at him, just as confused about his reaction as he was about her last question.

"What do you mean, Krista?"

"Buffy told me I was a female dog," Krista answered levelly. "I merely wanted to know why she would do so… I most definitely do not resemble any member of the entire canis genus."

"Eh… what did she say exactly?" Xander asked, still not understanding completely, although he was beginning to have vague suspicions. Krista's choice of wording did not deter from his confusion, however.

"Why are you calling so early, you little bitch?" Krista quoted, using Buffy's voice et al. "I merely answered that I had made breakfast and that I was calling to invite her…" Krista trailed off when she saw a dangerous glint in Xander's eyes. "Papa Xander? Is everything alright?"

Xander's fist clenched and Krista could see his fork deforming under the power the boy's grip was putting into it. When he finally spoke, his voice was cold and devoid of any sort of emotional inflection. "Krista, she insulted you… and most women would have ripped her to shreds over that word."

"Oh," the young AI replied. "Really, Xander. You humans place too much value in words. Calling me a female dog is no more insulting than calling someone an illegitimate offspring… both have zero value." She shook her head. "Two world wars… and they still haven't learned," she grunted to herself as she turned to refill the food on the table with the food on the dishes on the counter.

Xander took a couple of deep breaths to center himself. "Well, for us emotional humans, that was something that could blow up friendships…"

"Over a stupid word?" Krista asked, not understanding.

"Sometimes words can hurt more than physical attacks," Xander answered with a sigh.

"Oh…" Krista whispered. "If you say so…"

Xander sighed, and smiled. "You really are a good person, Krista… most people I know would have charged Buffy if she said that to them…"

"Promise me you won't?" the AI asked, turning back to Xander. "I don't want you arguing with your friends over something as trivial as a word."

Xander sighed. "Okay… for you, Krista."

He continued eating breakfast, partly because he really did enjoy it. Krista made a formidable cook, apparently, and Xander soon forgot all about the nasty events as he continued to make his way through.

Soon, though, the doorbell rang, and Krista motioned to Xander to remain sitting as she went to open the door. They all filed in at the same time: Cordelia, Willow, Buffy, Oz, and Giles, leading Xander to the conclusion that Giles and Cordelia had either joined up on his driveway, or come here in convoy. Either way, the entire group was here, staring at the food, and were soon tucking in.

"Great food," Oz complimented Krista. "Lucky you, bro," he said to Xander.

"Thank you," Krista answered politely, smiling broadly as Willow joined the compliment.

"I say… this is the best tea I've had since coming to this country," Giles said, savoring the cup he held.

"I have done my best, Mr. Giles," Krista answered honestly. "I wasn't sure about the right amount of tea leaves, so I made a guess based on the texture and the most likely result on the human tongue."

"Well, the result is remarkable," Giles answered easily, actually smiling at the young AI. Krista smiled happily that Giles approved of her tea. The tea really had been her greatest worry, and to find an expert enjoying it was a great personal triumph.

"I still can't believe you killed someone so cold-blooded yesterday," Buffy finally opened her mouth for the first time.

Xander's face darkened. "I killed to protect someone I care about, Buff, and I explained it yesterday. Jut like you would kill to protect Will or Cordelia, I killed to protect Krista. And don't give me any of that 'not killing humans' crap, because I know you killed those three earlier assassins of the order of Teraka that came this way."

"I killed to protect myself! Myself and other human beings! Human Beings, Xander! Real people with hearts, and souls! Not just… that… that… state-of-the-art sex doll!" Buffy shouted.

Something snapped within Krista at that moment. Her emotional balance depended heavily upon a program to counterbalance her most extreme of emotions, keeping her from losing control at all times. The moment Buffy uttered her enraged words, Krista felt her emotional subroutines explode. The counterbalance program had never been tested like this; it had never been designed to withstand this kind of abuse in the first place. It had been designed to operate in an AI which would be supported kindly, not treated like dirt.

The counterbalance program was unable to cope, the entire process crashing deep within Krista's kernel memory, the deepest, most well-protected part of her entire program.

It was as if her entire soul froze at that instant, and it only took a few tenths of a second before failsafe upon failsafe exploded into action, the ripples of the shock traveling through all of the poor AI's thought processes, disrupting vital functions left and right. The holographic reactor, tied directly to Krista's program, translated the shock the best it could.

To the others, had they actually been paying attention, they would have just seen Krista's eyes open slightly wider than was humanly possible, before freezing up for a second. Then, the hologram shimmered in and out of existence, making the bowl of jell-o shatter on the cold, hard stones in a thousand shards, the red substance creating a bright supernova as it splattered on the black marble floor tiles.

Krista reappeared, her kernel processes restoring rapidly, her emotional subroutines in overdrive. Some words hurt harder than physical pain, Xander's voice repeated in her non-volatile memory. I… I understand now… the AI thought as she buried her face in her hands in a subconscious copy of what she had seen on television, and wept.

Xander sat there, frozen for just a few seconds, everyone staring at Buffy in non-believing shock of what the blonde had just said, Krista's sobbing sounds the only distraction of the oppressive silence. Finally, his mind tore itself from the vicious self-defeating loop with brutal will-power. Ignoring Buffy totally, he strode to Krista, gathered her in his arms, and with surprising tenderness in his voice, whispered, "I'm sorry, Krista…"

Buffy opened her mouth, about to demand Xander to face her and stop fooling around with his pet computer, when Willow exploded. She had worked with the AI yesterday, taking stock of the damaged equipment that needed repairing. She had met the person in the computer, the vibrant personality that was Krista, in whatever form she decided to take.

Krista was her friend. And Buffy had just hurt her.

"BUFFY!!!! How could you? Krista has never done anything to you, and she certainly doesn't deserve to be talked about like that!" the usually shy red-head shouted, everybody staring at her in shock, not believing that the usually shy and quiet Willow was able to tell somebody off like this. "And about Xander killing to protect her, well, we talked yesterday. I met her. I got to know her. And let me tell you, Buffy, she is real! As real as you and me! Xander's right… if-if it h-had been anybody else… you would w-would h-have done the same thing…" the redhead tapered off once she realized that she had been shouting.

"That's the point, Will," Buffy replied after getting her bearing back. She went on as if explaining something to a particularly stupid child. "It wasn't you. It was a machine. It doesn't matter what happens to it… it's not alive! Xander killed somebody who was alive for an oversized microwave oven! Granted, the man he killed was scum, but it was still a man!"

Krista tensed, burying her face against Xander's chest as he hugged her tighter. He glared at Buffy, but forced himself to remain with Krista. The AI needed him more, and the last thing she needed was for him to pull back and have a go at Buffy. Not while the AI still needed him. He promised that he would talk to Buffy. After Krista was alright.

Willow, on the other hand, had no such obligation, and her face grew as red as her hair. Oz' eyes opened wider. "Woa."

"But she IS alive, Buffy! LOOK AT HER!!! She's a young girl! A young girl that got hurt terribly yesterday, and that you are now in the process of hurting even more!"

Buffy shrugged, and made the fatal mistake of misreading Willow's anger. "You really need to start getting a clue, Will. I know you like computers and all that… but this time, you're going too far. That," she said, nodding viciously in Krista's direction, "is nothing but a bunch of ones and zeroes."

Xander hugged Krista tighter still, resisting the urge to growl as his inner spirits raged. Krista could feel his entire muscular body tensing, Her only response was to hug him tighter, wanting… needing… to feel the safety and protection his close proximity meant to her. Nobody short of Jonny, Jessie, or Hadji, and possibly not even them, could give her the same feeling.

Once again, Willow shouted, now actually standing up from her seat. "Woa," Oz repeated, actually shuffling his seat slightly away from Willow.

"LOOK AT HER!!!" the redhead screamed once more. "That bunch of ones and zeroes is right there, crying in Xander's arms! Look at her and tell me she's not alive! Tell me that it's a cold machine that deserves to be hurt! Tell me she's not someone you could just meet in the street, and protect from the evil of the night!"

Buffy just threw a theatrical look at where Xander was still comforting Krista, just as a means of being able to say "There, I looked. And now what?". Instead, she looked…and saw. She saw a hurt fifteen-year-old girl being held by Xander. Krista turned her head, saw green eyes staring at the blonde from over Xander's strong, protective arm.

Buffy's brown eyes opened as she looked. Really looked, for the first time, at the young Artificial Intelligence that was Krista. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and in Buffy's case, she saw more of a soul than she had ever thought. For that fleeting moment that her sight glanced over Krista, Buffy saw more pain than she could ever have imagined, so bad that the blonde reversed for a second look.

For ten long seconds, they stared at each other, the hurt AI and the angered Slayer, before Buffy whispered, "What have I done? God, what have I done?"

"Hurt one of the gentlest beings I know," Xander grunted under his breath.

Standing up from the chair, the Slayer turned to where Xander was still cradling Krista in his arms, the redheaded AI looking up and looking fully in Buffy's direction as the blonde did so.

"I'm so sorry Krista… I… I didn't realize…" Buffy whispered sadly.

The AI detached from Xander, nodding in response to his questioning look, showing him that she was alright. "That's alright," Krista answered, a smile, albeit a very small one, visible on her face. "It probably wasn't easy on you either…"

"K-Krista?" Xander asked, shocked. The rest of the people present just gawked at the hologram.

"I've explained before, Papa Xander… my emotions come from programs. Mere memories the moment the situation is resolved, that is all," Krista answered his shocked inquiry. Turning to Buffy, the AI continued, "You have hurt me deeply, Buffy… more deeply than I had ever imagined possible. Yet, one of the reasons I wanted to stay here, with Xander, was to learn more of the 'real world', to be exposed to real people… and I guess this has been a major learning experience, and for that I can only thank you."

Buffy gaped, jaw riding the floor tiles, hand covering the open orifice as the blonde tried to wrap her mind around what had happened. She had seen the hurt, that gut-wrenching, bone-crunching hurt radiate from Krista's eyes, yet now she was pulling a rapid recovery the likes of which she never would have believed possible, underlining the difference between human and AI.

"But… but… what I said… I… could see your pain…" Buffy managed, choking back a sob.

"I am a computer, Buffy… I will never forget what you said," Krista answered levelly. "But, for as long as those memories remain in my database, and I am not actively replaying them, the emotional attachment is missing."

"So… that's how you…" Willow asked, not really knowing how to word her question. Krista smiled gently, and nodded.

"That's how I am able to regain my emotional balance extremely quickly. The moment the situation is resolved, the emotional program has no more references to lock on to… and thus, the emotions change to whatever is at hand."

"In other words, you're too forgiving," Xander grunted, finally stepping next to the redhead, glaring at Buffy. "What you said was unforgivable, Buff."

"I…I…" Buffy whispered, sadly bowing her head.

"Don't fight over me, Papa Xander! Your friends are important to you! I knew that the moment you told me about them, and I can't have you lose them over something like this!" Krista interjected, actually putting a restraining hand on his arm.

"You're important as well, Krista," Xander answered calmly. "As important as my friends are, so are you. As I would protect them, I will protect you. And Buffy hurt you… hurt you more than that bastard yesterday. And when she hurt you, she hurt me. And that is not something I can forgive easily." He turned to gaze at Buffy, eyes cold. "You hurt a being that I have sworn to protect, Buffy. A being I promised to help mature, reach new insight, and protect. She is one of the most gentle creatures I know, and you hurt her to the depth of her very soul!"

"I KNOW!!" Buffy shouted angrily. "Oh, God, Xander! I knew the moment I looked into her eyes and I saw that pain! It's something I'll never forget! God, Xander, what do you take me for? Some cold-hearted killer? I don't know what happened to you over those ten months, but whatever it is, it's changed you… the old Xander never would have killed so coldly!"

"Shows how good you know me, Buff. I always would have killed to protect any of you… and Krista is as dear to me as any of you are," Xander grunted coldly. "But at least now we're getting somewhere… why don't you throw it all out?" he challenged.

"You want it all, Xander!? Fine. Where have you been those ten months? Why didn't you leave a message? Why didn't you contact us? What happened to you? Where did you get all this from? You left with nothing, return with an Aston Martin for a car, a huge house, an Artificial Intelligence you found God-knows-where, and with obviously more money than God!"

Xander forced himself to remain utterly calm. Harder said than done, he closed his eyes as his mouth scowled slightly. Slamming down with Titanium Will, he invoked Noir within his mind, and immediately felt his emotions shut down completely. It forced him to think clearly for the first time since Buffy started laying into Krista, and it made him realize how close he had been to just ripping Buffy's head off.

The prospect would have frightened him if his emotions had still been present, a realization he could feel deep within his sealed soul, where his emotions still dwelled. Xander opened his eyes, looked at Buffy, thoughts forming.

"I just couldn't leave a message, Buffy… I didn't want to be found at that moment, I needed to get away. As to what happened to me… I trained. I found me two teachers. They trained me. Saved my soul, heart, mind, and body. Without them, it's doubtful I would ever be here. As to the money, I've had some luck on the stock markets." Or more like Monsieur Bertrand had some luck on the markets, Xander thought silently.

Buffy's eyes flashed up again, anger returning to her beautiful face as she prepared round two. "Again with the secrets! Why can't you just give us a straight answer, Xander!?"

Krista sighed, stepping in between the two people. "If you're going to fight like little children, why don't you just go at each other with your fists!?" the AI semi-shouted, seemingly incapable of becoming angry.

Xander and Buffy glared at each other. "Fine," the Slayer grunted, feral smile growing on her face.

Xander took a breath. Logic dictates that I should pound some sense into her, he thought. Even though she's a Slayer… Kirika can't match her strength, but is faster and better trained. And she taught me to fight opponents four times my strength and speed. "Fine," he grunted as well, stunning the audience.

"Hey… I was joking…" Krista protested weakly as Xander stood up to precede the group to the dojo. As he did so, Willow stopped him.

"Xander! You can't fight Buffy! The Slayer thing and all… she…she will kill you!" the redhead shouted.

"I must agree with Willow in this. It is foolishness to fight Buffy over what is a simple argument," Giles added in. Xander sighed as he looked from the redhead to thee librarian, and then slowly over the other people present. Cordelia actually looked like she might be enjoying this, and Oz was pretty much neutral, although he too seemed to hold a slightly negative look in his eyes.

"That's where you're wrong, Giles," Xander answered calmly. "This isn't a simple argument… Buffy attacked someone I care deeply about, in my own home. And she didn't do it just once, she did it twice. And then she continues to hold over me that she no longer trusts me over my past ten months… so I want to show that I've changed a lot, and show her that I'm still the same guy at the same time."

"And you want to earn her trust by fighting her!? Oh, that's rich! I've got to remember that one!" Cordelia shouted, laughing like a fool.

"No, I want to fight her to prove to her that all things are not what they seem, and that, given the proper motivation, there are no limits to what a person can do," Xander replied, voice still utterly calm.

Krista looked him over, her sensors scanning his entire physiological structure. Heartbeat, 50 beats per minute. Respiration, below normal. All visible evidence points to a state of utter relaxation. He isn't the least bit worried… Krista turned her intense green gaze to Buffy. I can sense the Slayer changes in her from here. Her muscular structure is incredibly dense, her heart thumps louder than average indicating larger capacity, her lungs breathe slower indicating enhancements in breathing control. But her physical evidence points to nervousness. She's hampered by adrenaline and endorphins… in other words, she isn't thinking straight.

Krista smiled slightly. From what he told me, Papa Xander can take on a vampire hand-to-hand without serious difficulties. A Slayer, up to par with a vampire, shouldn't be much harder. And a Slayer not firing on all cylinders could prove entertaining, although not necessarily challenging so.

"I see," Krista heard Giles say. "But it isn't going to return her trust."

"According to human psychological research, Mr. Giles is correct," Krista supplied helpfully.

"Well, it isn't my decision to make," Xander finished. "Buffy was the one who wanted to fight."

"And I stick with it," the blonde Slayer said, standing up to follow Xander. "Come on, Xander. Show me what the big secrets are."

Xander sighed, and nodded. "This way," he said, motioning for the door, through which Buffy disappeared. Xander was right behind her, forcing the rest of the people to follow, or be left behind… and no matter how much they were against this fight, this was something they didn't want to miss.

They emerged in Xander's spacious dojo, where Xander immediately shed his jacket, standing dressed only in his pants. His upper body was naked to the people present as he went though a slight warm-up that made his clearly defined muscles ripple underneath his skin. Willow glowed pink at the sight of Xander half-naked. Cordelia found it hard to keep her eyes off his muscular chest and back.

Buffy just grinned, awaiting him to do his thing. Finally, he stood still, facing her, both people erect, hands on their sides, not moving.

"You wanted this," Xander stated, calmly.

"I did… I do," the Slayer corrected. "You can still avoid this, Xander. Tell me what happened."

"I already told you. I found teachers, went to Paris, and studied," Xander grunted in reply. Buffy charged him at a moment's notice.

Xander side-stepped, grabbed the angered Slayer's extended wrist, and gave a short jerk. Using her speed and power against her, Xander flipped Buffy on her back, then jumped back to put distance between him and her, calmly awaiting her, in much the same way as he would wait for Kirika.

All warriors advertise their movements. The trick is to minimize your own and learn to read ahead of your opponent's movements. Using this technique, you can negate any and all speed advantages your opponent might have, as long as you stay slightly out of their reach. Distance is directly proportional to the speed of attack… the greater the distance, the more time you have. But remember, this goes true for your opponent as well. Don't give him too much time to think, Xander repeated Kirika's lesson inside his head.

Buffy skipped up, jumped up and twisted 180 degrees and landed in a combat stance, feet barely touching the ground before she launched at Xander. Her right fist balled, so Xander dodged to his right, grabbing her swing in mid-strike, and once more using the speed of attack against Buffy, flipped her on her back.

She's a Slayer. She has strength and speed. And the arrogance of being a superior fighter… she makes no pretence of trying to hide her next move. That is her undoing, Xander analyzed. Subconsciously, one of the earliest lessons Kirika taught him came back to his mind. The difference between a good warrior and a great warrior is being prepared for that on in a million chance, the chance for a vampire to know martial arts, to be able to use a weapon, to be smarter than the average.

Xander smiled slightly. Kirika taught me well. Having strength and speed thanks to the Slayer ability is one thing. Having the mind and heart to back it up another… and she is sorely lacking in that regard.

Buffy, meanwhile, he skipped up, and was studying him. Good, Xander thought to her. Think, Buffy.

The Slayer growled. "That Aikido stuff isn't going to work forever," the Slayer promised, charging Xander. The teen could see the preparations for a leg shot. He stepped back to avoid the hit, then ducked, and went after her supporting leg with a leg-swipe of his own. To his utter surprise, Buffy jumped up and over the swipe, rolling backward in mid-air, and landing out of reach of his leg.

Not letting him a chance to get up, she charged, intent on pummeling him into the hospital, her anger flaring as she thought of him putting her on her back twice. Finally, Xander faced the Slayer at full power. Brutal, uncontrolled, raw power and sheer speed. She didn't think, just reacted, throwing punches and kicks at Xander, forcing him to dance back, dodge and swipe out of the way of her charges. He didn't find the opening he needed to launch a counter. In fact, it was all he could do to stay out of her reach and remain relatively unscathed.

Damn… she's like Kirika! Xander thought, fighting to remain in control, fighting against the rising anger of the spirits within him. If he lost control now, he could seriously hurt Buffy. And the last thing he wanted to do was hurt her. He was confident of Kirika being able to handle him when he lost it. Buffy, on the other hand, would be totally caught off-guard, and the surprise would get her killed. He had seen and felt how his inner demons could take over, what damage they could do when cut loose. The Demon in Main was the ideal evidence… hand-to-hand, with nothing but an energy weapon, he had taken down an invulnerable opponent.

Buffy was nothing near invulnerable.

Her fist drove into his stomach, his defense slipping as he fought for control. Doubling over, he saw her knee approaching his face. Reacting by pure instinct, he let him fall to his right side, rolling clear of Buffy and her attack. Xander kept in the roll until he was on his feet, pushed up, and charged, feeling energy well up within him. His foot was blocked as it struck toward her cheek. Immediately, he reversed, ducked low, and swept a full 360ð just above the floor, the same foot going for Buffy's feet from the left.

The Slayer leaped up, intend on landing either on him, or extremely close to him. Xander saw it. There was no escape. Unless…

The power exploded within him, and Xander seemed to flow like water, clear of the danger zone, the inner spirits momentarily fueling his body. He could feel the Hyena slamming into his mind's shields, threatening to overwhelm him, raging for control, for power, for the right of control over Xander's body. Every time… every damn time…the Hyena gets stronger.

Buffy landed in a hard crouch on the wooden floor, jumping to her feet and charging after Xander. Her fist flew toward his face as she yelled, "Just tell me, dammit! Why did you go!? Why didn't you just tell us!?!"

Her fist struck the fighting Xander solidly on the jaw, snapping his head back. Xander went with the motion, instincts surfacing once more, lessening the impact of the blow by turning it over in a full-body rotation instead of just his head. He landed with feet spread, head bent, staring at the floor, breathing deeply. Buffy momentarily halted her charge as she saw him standing there, as if lost in his own world.

He looked up, and charged, face a mask of non-emotions, as if the world in general and pain in particular had no interest to him. He was cold, devoid of emotion as he charged. Buffy blocked two strikes solidly on her arms, feeling the strength and speed behind the blows, somewhat surprised that Xander could generate this kind of power.

Finally, he snapped a kick to her side, which connected and lifted the Slayer practically off the mats. She landed, grabbing hold of his leg on the return, and pushing him over using all of her Slayer strength. There was no stopping the push, Xander's human physiology overcome by Buffy's sheer Slayer-enhanced power and strength.

As he fell, she dropped down on top of his, clamping his leg between his chest and her arm in what appeared to be a variation of a wrestling move. Her other rm lifted, and threw a punch at Xander's head. He managed to snap his head out of place just in time.

"Tell me, damn you!" Buffy raged. "Why didn't you tell us!?"

"Because I wanted to DIE!" Xander shouted in answer, stunning the entire group. Buffy's attacked lapsed, and Xander threw her off him, and stood up, his leg that had been folded mere moments earlier not in the least bit hampered.

"I was looking for a place to die, and I didn't want to give it to some bloody vampire! That's why I didn't look here in Sunnydale, but I went to LA! That's when I met my teachers. They were attacked by vampires, and I thought 'to hell with all of this. If I go, at least I'll be doing something good with my life!' That's why I didn't want to tell…" Xander whispered, trailing off. "I wanted to die… I had nothing left… haven't had parents in a long time… Buffy was busy with Angel… Giles with Buffy… Willow… I just…couldn't…"

The floodgates had finally opened, the pain stored deep within his soul finally releasing. Xander started sobbing, covering his eyes with his hand, wiping at the tears. "I…just…couldn't…" His voice broke then, and he sobbed incoherently into his hand, not even realizing the group had approached him until Krista hugged him, the hologram not forgotten how he had held her mere half an hour ago.

Then Willow hugged him. The first of the Scoobies to reach out to him, but certainly not the last, as Buffy joined in the hug. Giles just stood there for a few seconds after that, deciding to forego the male stereotype, and joined in the hug.

Cordelia was uncomfortable, not really sure what to make of all this. Oz watched her. Finally, he reached out, and stood right next to Giles in the group-hug. The cheerleader as last, finally sighed, nodded to herself, and joined in.

"We're so sorry, Xander," Buffy whispered through her tears. "We never realized… how much we took you for granted… but I promise. We'll make time now. For all of us…"

The rest of the group agreed audibly, causing Xander to laugh through his tears, nodding thankfully at Buffy. "Thank you… all of you."


After school, Xander walked out of the building, making a beeline for the Aston Martin, deciding on first doing the ton of homework he had stashed in his attaché case, before having a nice long workout with Krista. Thanks to all the problems yesterday he hadn't had a chance to train… and the last thing he wanted was for his body to start withering away.

Xander had planned as far ahead as the nice, long, hot shower he was going to take after what he hoped would be an extra intense workout, when Willow came running up, slowing abruptly to his pace as she caught up to him.

"Hey, Xander. Can I hitch a ride? I-I kinda have some stuff left to do with Krista," the redhead said.

"Sure, Will. No problem," Xander said with his easy smile. For the first time since his return, the smile really did feel easy. "No homework today?" he finally asked after ten seconds of silence, which took them virtually near the car.

"Oh, I did it all during the Scooby Meeting. Study hour and all… which we have and you don't, so I guess you'll have lots of work at home which I want interrupt because I'll be in the basement with Krista…"

"Breathe, Will," Xander said gently as they reached the car, and he keyed the remote to open the doors. Willow took a much-needed breath.

"Oh. Breathing good," she whispered enthusiastically after the red color of her face lessened.

Xander chuckled as he dumped himself behind the steering wheel, and Willow climbed in the passenger seat next to him. As Xander gunned the engine into life, a familiar female voice announced,

"Hello Papa Xander. Hello Willow. How was school?"

Both teenagers stared at the dash for ten long seconds, Xander just having his eyebrows lifted off his forehead, while Willow stared with open mouth.

"What?" Krista asked. When she got no answer, she repeated, whining slightly, "Wha-at?"

"Eh… Krista… what are you doing in my car?" Xander asked, voice flat in surprise.

"Bleutooth!" the AI cried happily. "The car has a Bluetooth radio-based data-communication access point built in, so all I had to do was port my kernel over to Linux, then transmit it via Bluetooth to the car's computer. So, I can now control this car as well as you can. Watch this!" the AI cried excitedly, shifting the car into first gear, and slamming on the accelerator.

The Aston Martin smoked rubber as it peeled off the school parking lot, and onto the streets. Krista shifted into second gear, screamed with joy, and accelerated further. At this time, the car was doing the high side of 100 kilometers an hour, and Xander grabbed the wheel, forcing his feet down on the pedals.

"Krista! Let me drive!" he shouted. To his utter surprise, not to mention horrible shock, Krista immediately released the controls, making Xander swerve e over three lanes trying to get the car under control. He managed without too much difficulty, but he was still wiping at his forehead by the time he got the car down to the legal limit, not to mention on the correct lane.

"Come on, that was fun!" Krista burbled.

Xander let out his breath. "First thing I'll do is give you some driving lessons…" Xander replied calmly. He took a second breath, letting it out even slower than the first. "Krista?"

That one word told the AI everything she needed to know. She was in a world of trouble. Xander was pissed. She would have swallowed heavily had she been able to do so.

"Yes, Papa Xander?" the AI asked in the sweetest, most innocent voice she could create, hoping to pacify his wrath before it wiped her hard-drives…

"Next time, ask before you take control over anything away from me. K?" he asked in a flat emotionless voice. Yet, even to Krista who didn't understand human tones all that well, that simple question wasn't a question. It was a directive.

"Yes, Papa Xander," the AI replied, voice tiny and chastised. "I'm sorry… I…I wouldn't hurt you… you've got to believe me! I just thought it would be fun!"

"And that's all that's keeping me from being really mad, Krista," Xander replied, smile returning slightly.

"Eep," Willow finally breathed.

"Will? You okay?" Xander asked, suddenly very worried abut his friend.

"Eh… fine… Am I fine?" she asked, turning to Xander with flat eyes.

"You're fine, Willow," Xander reassured his friend.

"Oh. Good. I'm fine, Xander," Willow said, as if answering his earlier question. She turned once more to the front window, before returning to him a final time. "What happened?"

"Krista misjudged a situation… thought it would be fun to take the Aston Martin for a joy-ride," Xander answered calmly. "No harm done… although I'm happy the cops didn't pull us over. They'd suspend my license on the spot." And then I'd have to ask Mireille to make me another. Damn paperwork hassle…

For the next five minutes, the two teenagers rode in silence, after which they finally reached Xander's home.

"I'm going upstairs," Xander told Willow the moment they had cleared the front door. "You know… homework and all. Have fun with Krista downstairs."

Willow smiled at her friend, and nodded. "I will," she replied before Xander turned and walked up the stairs and vanished from her sight.

The redhead made her way to the basement, and stopped in front of the huge door. Vault access granted, a gruff voice answered the moment she stopped. The red light on the security panel to its side clicked to green, and the door swiveled open on hydraulic hinges.

"Never be sure," Krista answered Willow's unspoken question. "Good to see you again, Willow…" the AI said, a little insecure.

"Good to see you too, Krista," Willow answered with a small smile, clutching her back to her body. "I've got those cables you wanted…"

Krista beamed her a smile. "Thank you." The AI motioned for the Vault room, and the duo walked over. "I'm sorry, Willow…"

"For what?" the redheaded girl asked, not really understanding.

"For just now," the Artificial Intelligence answered, staring sadly at the floor. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"H-hey! We're okay," Willow reassured her new friend. "C-come, let's install those cables and see if we can't get all your back-up systems running again!"

"Cool," Krista said, smiling broadly, preceding Willow into the Vault itself.

Five minutes later, both hologram and teenaged girl were bent over a ripped-open server case that used to be part of a rack, but had been seriously compromised by the Hackman.

"This… this is horrible," Willow muttered sadly. "Krista, what system was this?"

"It was a backup file server, used for medium to long-term storage of secondary and tertiary kernel systems… nothing vital, but really handy for when the worst happens. It was like a back-up brain…" the AI answered levelly. "The replacement parts arrived today, but I'll need you to do some basic configurations for me."

"Why?" Willow asked, frowning. "Surely you can type on a keyboard just as well as I can!"

Krista sadly shook her head. "I don't know how, and I'm forbidden to learn. Jonny, Jessie, and Hadji called it the human factor… once a human being destroys my computer equipment, I am forbidden to restore that system until a human unlocks it. It's a failsafe for in case my program either becomes unstable or my system kernel is compromised. If I ever were to turn on someone, all you'd have to do is take this equipment out, and I can't repair myself."

"That…That's barbaric!" willow shouted, trembling. "Show me how to bypass those systems! You're a living being, you have the right to rebuild yourself!" the angry redhead planted herself behind the terminal linked to Krista's main mainframe.

"Willow, no," Krista said gently, putting a hand on Willow's right arm as she started tapping in the password the AI had given her. "As much as I appreciate it… in my current state of mind I can understand such a safety measure."

"But… but…"

"I can repair myself under every condition except willful destruction by humans," Krista answered. "Have you ever seen the movies 2001 Space Odyssey, Terminator, or related?" the AI asked.

"Eh… yeah… they all deal with AI computers out of control…" Willow whispered.

"I don't want to turn out like that," the gentle AI replied in a whisper, putting her holographic arms around herself. "I'd rather be destroyed… and this is my safety net. I know that, before anything happens, I can be taken out…"

Willow stood up, hugging the AI. "That's a horrible fate to have over your head," she whispered, hugging her electronic friend.


Upstairs, Xander decided that schoolwork would have to wait till later, and he was currently in the process of shedding his jacket and t-shirt in his spacious dojo, his mind centering and calming automatically in an almost anxious anticipation of the work-out.

"Papa Xander?" Krista asked, in a small voice.

"Hm?" He asked, looking up form his preparations. "Yeah, Krista?" he repeated, focusing on the young AI properly now.

"I… I really am sorry about earlier…"

Xander grew a gentle smile. "Like I told you… we all make mistakes, and I've made more than most. As long as you learned from it, it's okay to make mistakes."

Krista nodded. "Then… will you teach me to drive sometime?" she asked, hopefully looking up at him.

Xander chuckled. "Sure, Krista. This weekend we'll make time for driving lessons, okay?"

The AI smile happily. "Thank you, papa Xander!" she shouted exuberantly, flying around his neck. Xander laughed as he hugged her back, actually starting to enjoy the almost childlike joy Krista displayed at times. She finally released him, and darted a few steps away from him.

"I've got something I want to show you, Papa Xander. I spent most of today working on it, so I hope you'll like it…" the Ai resumed, darting to one of the small cabinets on the side of the dojo. From it, she retrieved what appeared to be a suit of some kind. Fully black of non-reflective material, it was crisscrossed with dark gray lines.

"This is a monitor suit," she explained, holding it out to him. As he took it, Xander lifted an eyebrow at her.

"The name needs work," she shrugged unapologetically. "Anyway, what it does is monitor your muscles, the electric impulses running along your nerves, your brainwaves, your heart-rate and respiration, and so forth, and relays it all to me."

Xander looked at the full-body suit, complete with capuchin to pull on over his head. "Isn't this a little small for me?" he finally asked.

"It's stretch-material," Krista replied. "It'll take your form, don't worry, Papa Xander… just undress and pull on the suit."

Xander shrugged, dropped his pants, and prepared to step in the suit. Krista put a hand on his arm, stopping him.

"Completely undress, Papa Xander. I can't get a reading on your gluteus maximus if you're wearing boxers."

"My what?" Xander asked incredulously, the 'maximus' part making him think about entirely inappropriate things for the young AI to be interested in.

"Your butt, Papa Xander," Krista replied with a chuckle, rather enjoying the strange red color his face had gotten.

Xander chuckled easily, the color disappearing, and he dropped his underwear without further ado before stepping into the skin-tight stretch outfit. To his surprise, it felt really comfortable, leaving only his face exposed to the air, and the soles of the feet were clad with anti-skid layers, making his feet grip the tatami matting as easily as his feet.

"This really feels comfortable," Xander told the AI, who was watching him intently. "I like it!"

"I'm so glad!" Krista said, smiling broadly. "All the latest in sensory techniques, and radio transmissions is built into that suit. It actually runs entirely off your biological energy, which is why you don't see batteries!"

"Neat," Xander said, only really understanding the no-batteries-needed part, but willing to let Krista enjoy herself for now. "But first, I'm going to do some katas…"

"Can I join you? Please Papa Xander?" Krista begged, materializing in a suit similar to his. Only now that he saw it on her did Xander realize just how much the suit revealed… and how anatomically correct Krista's holographic body was. Xander gulped and, clamping down on his primal side with iron will, he nodded.

"Sure," he said, closing his eyes, centering himself, and starting to flow through the form, his mind forgetting soon about the lovely female body mirroring his movements perfectly.


"I can't believe you can keep running on this!" Willow shouted as she saw the severely depleted SCSI-rack. "You're missing 10 out of 15 of your hard-drives! It's not possible for any protocol I know of to recuperate over half of lost space! Even if you ran a perfect mirror of every hard-drive on a second one you'd only be able to recover a loss of 50%!"

Krista smiled proudly. "Krista protocol," the AI said proudly. "I keep the data in my head, so to speak… the hard-drives are only there for when I need to shut down the Mainframe. The rest remains in my memory, and running through my CPUs…"

Willow shook her head in amazement, taking the ten brand-spanking new head-speed SCSI hard-drives, and putting them one by one in the rack. Finally, after she was done, Krista blinked, and the LED's on the Hard Drives activated, activity LED's immediately going into overdrive as Krista rebuilt lost data.

"Just this one last thing," Krista said, taking the five heavy-duty three-phase power cables Willow had brought and the two propriety data cables that had arrived from Quest enterprises that morning. "The final hand on the holographic reactor."

"Cool," Willow drooled as she followed a widely smiling Krista to an adjacent room. "By the way, the Vault door was repaired quickly… that Teraka guy really damaged it."

"It's a vital part," Krista answered levelly, calmly, seemingly unwilling to be emotional about it. "And when you throw money at people, they work fast… the Vault door was repaired in no time."

Willow just nodded, not really wanting to debate the subject any further now that Krista had shown her unwillingness to go into detail. Moments later, they stood facing the huge holographic reactor, a device that was cylindrical in shape, about the size of a couple of really big oil-drums stacked on top of each other, covered in blinking lights.

"The reactor," Krista introduced, motioning to the device superfluously. She connected the power cables and the data cables without difficulty, leaving her human friend to gape at the huge device.

"This… this is huge!" Willow finally brought out as the hologram finished up the touches, and reappeared next to her. "How does it work?" she asked eagerly.

Krista smiled gently, and looked at the reactor. "The mark one, version one, pre-prototype Quest Holographic Reactor… I'm field-testing it, so to speak. Basically, it generates a photonic image backed with force-fields within a radius of twenty meters. Which gives me a range just about to the street… outside that range, my image just vanishes. Anyway, it draws huge amounts of power for the force-fields. As you know, holographic images generated by lasers are just light, and can be run off a pretty normal power supply. But creating full images not in a direct line of sight, and backed with force-fields to allow me to interact with the world around me requires HUGE amounts of power to operate. So I had some three-phased 400 volt lines drawn into the house to connect the reactor to…"

Willow shook her head in amazement. "That's why you're not mobile, are you? I…I mean, you can't make this portable…"

Krista chuckled. "I'd say it's possible to make it portable enough to fit in the trunk of a car… but where are you going to get a three-phased 400-volt power supply?"

Willow just nodded. "Incredible…"

"That's the Quests, alright," Krista acknowledged. "Those people can do just about anything they put their minds to…" The AI's voice trailed off at that point, and she seemed to stare into deep space.

"Krista? What's wrong?" Willow asked, growing concern over her friend's unusual behavior apparent in her voice.

"Xander…" Krista whispered, turning, walking out of the room, making just fleeting eye-contact with Willow, indicating the redhead that she wanted her to follow.

Willow followed Krista without question, her concern rising, yet unable to bring out a single word before they reached the control room. Inside, Willow's jaw would have scraped the floor if it hadn't been firmly attached.


"Xander," Krista answered. "Genius. Xander… unable to find… way out…" the hologram vanished. Willow blinked, jumping behind the main terminal, pulling up the systems manager, demanding to know what was happening.

"Oh my God…" the redhead whispered when she saw all of the Mainframe's sixteen processors run flat-out. The SCSI rack she had replenished rattled angrily next to her, and Willow shifted to pull up the server it was connected to. That one too was running at full power, and it's memory usage was flat-lining at maximum.

Xander… Willow thought, shooting up and running for the dojo, remembering the way from that morning.


Xander and Krista bowed to each other.

"You know that we don't have to do this, right?" Xander asked the AI.

"I know, Papa Xander. But you need a sparring partner. I saw you this morning… you were so afraid of hurting Buffy that you couldn't fight at your full potential. You don't have to be afraid of hurting me. I'm a hologram, incapable of feeling physical pain, and quite unable to be hurt by physical means," Krista answered calmly. "And besides… you can't win against me. My maximum speed is the speed of light, my maximum strength is about enough to bench-press a garbage truck. Fully loaded, of course."

Xander grinned. "Krista, lock yourself to human speed and strength. I don't mind the resilience or the endless stamina."

Krista grimaced chagrined. "I shouldn't have given away my edge," the young AI muttered as she took a combat stance. "I'm ready."

Xander nodded, and stepped in a different pose, mind clearing as he geared for the fight. His emotions hid themselves, and Xander once again shifted to cold logic as he let his instincts flow. As usual, the Soldier and the Hyena approached his level of consciousness. Already, Xander centered against the Hyena. He couldn't let the animal side of himself take over.

Krista smiled slightly as she got a read-out on his bio-sensors. His heartbeat had actually dropped, as had his respiration. His brainwaves, however, caused Krista concern. They were slipping toward the Alpha level… which indicated deep relaxation.

Xander was relaxing instead of preparing to fight, and it confused Krista, until the moment Xander attacked, and her processes immediately blocked the strike. Gently, almost like a dance, the two circled each other, Warrior and AI testing defenses, probing for an attack, slipping into a comfortable fighting routine.

Krista blocked a punch to the face by Xander, and retaliated with a strike to his lower abdomen, causing the Warrior to twist away, while throwing a second strike to her face. Krista ducked, launched a sweep at his feet, which Xander jumped over. Krista jumped up, and attacked him in mid-jump, blasting Xander away as there was nothing holding him back.

The boy landed against the wall, slid down in, and landed on his feet. Grinning, he charged again, speed and strength higher now that she had landed a solid hit on him. Krista noted that his brain-waves had fully slipped into the Alpha stage now, the point where he no longer thought, but reacted by instinct. She found out soon enough that a human's instincts were nothing to be messed with, as his first strike turned out to be a faint, and his spread-out palm hit her stomach, actually lifted her off the ground.

As she was clear of the ground, Xander released her, and kicked her viciously in the same place the moment she landed. Krista skidded back about half a meter, before regaining her balance. She activated some more processors, allowing her to think ahead now that she had seen her opponent use tactics. She saw through his faint, blocking his actual strike and landing one of her own.

Or so she thought. Her attack wasn't blocked, it was actually pulled into as Xander grabbed her hand, tugged on it, and flipped her over on her back, after which his knee was coming down to the place where her face was. Kicking up her legs, she caught Xander's neck, and twisted him off her, delving into the Internet looking for more combat strategies.

As Xander landed, or was about to, he twisted his feet under him at the last moment, and pushed up, untangling from Krista's legs and positioning him for the enxt strike at the same time. Krista rolled away, pushing up and into the air as she did so, landing on her feet and into a combat stance. Once again, the two combatants flowed through the air, strike meeting block, dodge and faint alternating with kick and overtake.

Finally, Krista saw her chance. She struck at Xander's abdomen in an unguarded moment, causing him to falter for just a moment. Just what she wanted, as the AI landed a fully of strikes against his chest, arms virtually blurring as she stretched the outer limits of human speed. Xander gurgled as the machine-gunning hits struck home, before the last one blasted him back.

Xander landed against the wall, about to slide to his behind, as Krista prepared a nasty kick to his head, having learned enough from him not to give up an advantage when she saw one. The kick was about to hit his face. Xander's eyes opened. The kick neared. Xander's mind short-circuited.

The strike struck his hand, and Xander could feel the force of the hit travel along his wrist, into his elbow, down to his shoulder. Tendons strained, muscles pulled, nerves lit ablaze as his body tried to counter the combination of strength, speed, and inertia. He let out a groan of pain as his fingers painfully clenched into Krista's holographic body. It was hard as rock, just as she had promised; nothing he did inflicted damage.

Xander clenched his teeth as the frustration over the lack of damage and the pain of the blow interacted deep within his psyche. Krista pulled her leg free from Xander's grip, charging him.

All he had to say was the word.

He refused to say it. The second kick struck the wall as he dodged to one side, his right arm straining in pain and exhaustion as it tried to recuperate from Krista's nasty blow. If that had hit… Xander didn't think about it. He couldn't think about it. He couldn't think, period.

As he charged her once more, Krista's thought processes were in a quandary: they could pull her free of all of his attacks, but the limits Xander had imposed upon her restrained her options considerably, taking more processing power than she would have believed possible to be able to counter his attacks, and land a few attacks of her own on occasion.

Xander swept Krista's legs from under her, taking the AI down on her back. As she struck the mat, she rolled away from his follow-up attack, coming up with a desperate ploy to have him say the word. She pushed up on her hands, striking out with her feet at Xander's approaching form. He pulled back, avoiding the clumsy if not slow attack. Just what she needed as she landed on her feet, bent over backward, pushed her hands once more on the floor in a speed that startled Xander, and struck out with her legs at his face.

He blocked her one foot with his good hand. He was forced to take the second foot on his arm itself, no longer trusting his hand to catch. Pain shot through him as the bone and muscle took the full brunt of a holographic foot coming down at full speed.

Something inside of him snapped. Xander's eye glowed yellow. Krista saw the look.

Oh shit…

She had no time to finish the thought, as the first strike took her fully by surprise, his fist digging so deep into her stomach that she was sure it was making an impression on the other side. The follow-up was a roundhouse kick to her cheek, knocking her sideways against the wall. Krista activated all her processors, demanding maximum capacity from them, and even canceling out the second hologram as she forced all processing power to her combat processes. Xander, meanwhile, darted through her defenses as if they were nothing, striking and kicking as if she were a standing target.

Krista continued to dodge backward, knowing fully well that she could take this for ever, but not knowing whether the computer equipment in the basement would agree with her… so she tried to analyze Xander.

Her brainwaves had slipped into the theta level, as if he were asleep, and dreaming. His heart-rate was 130 and climbing steadily. And the electric impulses traveling along his nerves were usually associated with seizures. It was impossible for a human to use the full potential of his muscles outside of seizures… yet Xander was apparently doing so in a controlled manner.

He's brilliant! He doesn't leave me an opening, and I am unable to defend!! Krista's thoughts screamed as a foot made her double over, before an elbow strike forced her to her knees.

I can't… I have to say it…

Xander kicked the AI in the face, flipping her over on her back. "UNCLE!"

Xander actually advanced for what appeared to be another strike, when he suddenly fell backward, groaning. "Damn…" he opened his normal eyes. "Krista?"

"I'm alright, Xander," Krista answered with a big smile as she pulled him to his feet. "I told you I can not be damaged… and a good thing, too."

Xander chuckled, stumbling slightly. Krista caught him in her arms. "There, there, Papa Xander. The suit tell me your body is exhausted."

At that moment, Willow burst into the room, and saw Krista and Xander, dressed in skin-tight outfits, apparently hugging extremely intimately. She turned red immediately. "Eh… I didn't interrupt anything, did I? Because if I did, then I'll want to know about so I don't have to be so startled in the future when I'm interrupting anything… that I'll want to interrupt anything, mind you!"

Krista and Xander chuckled. "No, Will, you didn't interrupt anything," Xander answered easily as he limped slightly out of Krista's arms. "I think I went a little hard during training, and Krista caught me."

"Oh," Willow said, only now breathing. "Oh, that's a good thing…" She took a deep breath. "And what's with the skimpy outfits?" She asked, looking Xander over. "Mm…" she purred, only now realizing just how much she could see.

Xander just shook his head, and smiled, not at all embarrassed.


"Krista, privacy mode, please?" Xander asked as he wearily sunk into the comfortable couch of his living room. He was used to going extremely deep, and had regenerated quickly after the intense work-out he had held with Krista earlier. That wasn't what had made him weary… what had made him weary was the fact that the entire Scooby Gang had come over, apparently having decided that his home would make a great new headquarters instead of the School Library.

And after Willow had spilt the beans, he had been forced to parade in the monitor suit, if for nothing else but to spare Krista's feelings. He hadn't wanted to hurt the young AI's feelings but refusing to wear the very revealing outfit.

Privacy mode, Papa Xander, Krista told him with her ethereal voice.

Xander grabbed his cell, and went through the routine to connect to Kirika.

"Hey," he said gently the moment the line connected.

"Hey," she answered, voice smiling gently, the emotion itself under tight control. As always, Kirika's tight emotional control was omnipresent in everything she did.

"How are things going, Chérie?" Xander asked, slipping back in the couch as the day's activities caught up with him, and he finally allowed himself to relax.

"We're getting closer," Kirika answered. "It shouldn't be too long now… one week, maybe two, at the most. And you, Mon Coeur?"

"Had an interesting experience today… or better, I had two interesting experiences," Xander replied. "First was that, somehow, Krista transferred a remote-control program to the Aston Martin. And she decided to show off the moment I get in the car."

"That sounds interesting," Krista said, voice level. The kind of level Xander had learned to read as controlling Kirika's laughter.

"Very interesting, considering that my best friend was in the car with me, and Krista was doing her best to beat the book's numbers on accelerating from standstill to extremely fast," Xander responded, slightly chagrined.

Kirika actually laughed gently. "I can imagine how you must have liked that…"

"We've agreed that she needs some driving lessons," Xander chuckled, finally seeing the humor in the situation.

"Driving lessons? Krista can't drive a car?" Kirika asked, surprise slipping in her voice.

"Apparently not," Xander said dryly, before chuckling some more. "And then came the second surprise… apparently, Krista designed me a suit that allows her to follow my brainwaves, my heart rate, my breathing, as well as the impulses traveling along my nerves. We sparred… She's not as good as I am, not in a long shot… but she has this holographic equalizer."

"Holographic equalizer?" Kirika asked, confused.

"She can't be hurt," Xander answered. "Literally. Can't kill her, can't hurt her, and she can hit with a speed and strength you can't believe…even when she's locked down to strictly human limits. Anyway, to make a long story short… she pushed me over that edge." He could almost hear Kirika nodded appreciatively on the other end. "Afterwards, she told me that I did the impossible. You see, from what Krista told me, a human can't consciously use 100% of his muscles' power. It's got to be some sort of seizure or whatever… but somehow, when I'm in that zone, I can use 100%, which is why I'm so fast and strong."

"So the Hyena utilizes the full potential of your body," Kirika replied. "Interesting information…"

"Probably uses the mind, too… Apparently, I was sleeping during it," Xander said dryly.

"Sleeping?" Kirika asked, surprised.

"Yep. Theta level brainwaves, or so Krista told me. It's supposed to be deep sleep, apparently… so either I'm one hell of a sleepwalker, or I'm dreaming all those fights we had…"

Kirika smiled. "You're a great sleepwalker, then," she answered calmly. "Because I distinctly remember those events as well."

Xander's chuckles died out soon, tapering off as the couple once again set in a comfortable silence.


"That's how you drive," Xander said as he entered his house the next Saturday afternoon.

"Best hour I ever spent, Papa Xander," Krista answered with a big smile, materializing her hologram directly next to him. "So now I can drive the car?" she asked hopefully, eyes shining.

Xander grinned. "Sure… from time to time…" he said, smirking as he climbed the stairs.

"Papa!" Krista shouted after him, before running up the stairs in pursuit. "That's so unfair!"

Xander shot a grin over his shoulder. "Where would you need to drive to, Krista?" he asked with a wink. "Got a hot date you want to take out?"

Krista halted abruptly. "Hey!" she shouted. As she processed his words, she calmed down. "Hey…" she repeated in a whisper.

"Of course I'll let you drive, Krista," Xander said, turning and putting a hand on her shoulder. "But there will always have to be someone behind the wheel… seeing a car drive by itself would freak people out."

Krista nodded, then frowned, and squinted her eyes at him. "Were you 'pulling my chain', Papa Xander?" she finally demanded, quoted clearly audible in her voice as she used an English expression.

"More like pushing your buttons," Xander replied with a grin.

Krista looked confused for a few seconds, before saying, "According to the database, those two are synonyms…"

"Yeah, but as an AI, it's easier to push your buttons than pull your chain," Xander replied, shooting her a rueful grin before resuming his walk to his dojo.

"I see," the confused life-form whispered. She frowned. "Hey! You're making fun of me!" she shouted after Xander's retreating back.

Once more, he grinned over his shoulder. "You're really progressing, Krista… you're already finding out I'm teasing you."

"Don't try to change the subject!" Krista protested meekly. "You made fun of me…"

"I teased you," Xander rebutted, turning to walk back toward the young Artificial Intelligence. "There's a huge difference, Krista. Making fun of people is painful, and not a friendly thing to do at all. Teasing is what friends do to each other, and is more like a twisted way of letting people show you care about them." He shrugged. "It's one of those human contradictions you'll have to learn to live with…"

"Oh," Krista answered, not really knowing what else to say. "So… what's the difference? How do I know if you're teasing, or making fun of me?"

Xander scratched his scalp over that one. "Well… teasing doesn't really hurt. Like that remark I made, it was a simple word-game, didn't really hurt, and would have had you chuckling. Making fun of you would have involved something painful to you."

"I see," Krista replied. "Okay."

Xander smiled, nodded, and put an arm around Krista's shoulders. "Come on, let's do some training…"

"Catch me if you can!" Krista suddenly shouted, flashing down the hallway. Xander grinned, shooting off in pursuit. It wasn't a long run, but Xander was this close to overtaking her when her hologram vanished. He burst into the dojo mere seconds later, to find a completely ready Krista waiting for him.

"Hey! You cheated!" Xander accused.

"Is this was is called teasing, Papa Xander?" Krista asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Xander's mouth opened slightly when he realized he had been had. He chuckled.

"You're beginning to develop a wicked sense of humor, Krista. Some people would call me a bad influence," he answered, still chuckling.

"Too late," Krista replied deadpan. Xander laughed louder, shaking his head.

"Girl, we'll make a deadly combo if this goes on," Xander said as his laughing fit finally died down.

Krista just smiled. "Papa Xander… I've been doing some more research," she finally said, after his laughing fit had died down.

Xander smiled. "What did you come up with this time, Krista?"

"They're just theories for the moment, Papa Xander… but would you like to help me prove them? If they work, they'll revolutionize the way people learn."

Xander frowned slightly. "Eh… sure. Just tell me what to do, Krista."

"Put on your monitor suit, and log in to Questworld. I'll take care of the rest," Krista told him. Xander shrugged, put on the monitor suit, and clipped the Questworld device to his left temple. Than he sat down cross-legged, in front of Krista who was already in the position.

Five seconds later, Xander was standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, the same place he had first met Krista, back when she lived with the Quests.

"Okay, Krista," Xander said, grinning and rubbing his hands. "What's the first thing we do?"

Krista just looked into space for a few seconds. She returned soon, and turned to Xander. "I just activated the programs I wrote," she said. "But for now, there's something I wanted to show you."

Xander spread his hands. "That's what I'm here for," he said with a chuckle. Krista smiled, and nodded. The Grand canyon scenery shifted, and Xander found himself standing in the huge room he remembered as Krista's CPU. The huge cubic-shaped room was as black as the night, with a dull-green grid running along the walls.

"I reviewed the way your body works, thanks to the monitor suit… that way, I know the limits the human body can move at, speed, power, as well as the limits your joints can stretch to," Krista began.

"That's all fascinating to you, no doubt," Xander interrupted, "but I already know the limits of my body… Kirika made sure of that," he added with a chuckle.

"I'm getting there, Papa Xander," Krista grunted, tone slightly annoyed at his lack of patience. Xander was slightly taken aback by it… it was the first time he had heard her sound annoyed, and it was not a pretty tone to come from the seemingly endlessly optimistic AI. "I also reviewed the data from a couple thousand recorded gun-battles. From them, I found out that paths of return-fire are mathematically predictable, just as the position of the opponents themselves. So… in other words, I can predict where the opponents are, and how they'll fire back."

"And that's helpful how?" he asked. "Most of us humans don't have a 16-processor brain that can do complex calculations in fractions of a second."

Krista smiled slightly. "That's why I used those formulas to distill it into a technique. Something like a martial art, but for guns instead of hand-to-hand weapons."

Xander stared at her for a few seconds. "Eh… okay," he replied. "So you're going to show me this martial art?"

"I'm going to teach you the martial art," Krista corrected him, smiling. "But first, I'll demonstrate." She materialized two Desert Eagles, one in each hand. Xander stepped back to the edge of the room without being told so, intently watching what the AI was going to pull out of her hat.

Ten generic men materialized in the core with them, wearing the standard attired of black tuxedos, complete with black sunglasses, leaving Xander to think that Krista, above all, needed some imagination. But then he thought of all the new things she had concocted, and decided that imagination was on the bottom of the list, instead of the top.

In the center of the group stood Krista, the ten opponents standing in a circle around her. Her Desert Eagles were pointed at the ground, arms loosely held at her sides.

Suddenly activity broke out, the men drawing weapon ranging from Colts over Glocks to assault rifles and shotguns. Just the same, he saw Krista move. She dropped to one side, her left leg fully extended and her right leg plied under her, her two guns coming up and firing at the same time. Two men fell as bullets flew through their heads. As the men shifted their aim toward Krista, the AI erected her right leg, plied her left, flying to the other side, totally reversing her earlier position, shifting her upper body to accommodate a firing path toward two fresh targets. Two more men fell.

Again, the aim of the opponents shifted, and this time, Krista jumped up straight, yet turned ninety degrees to show her side where moments before she had been displaying either her front or back. She pulled the triggers once more, and two more men fell. She now only had four more opponents to deal with.

Incredible… she moves like Kirika… Xander thought to himself as he saw the AI in action.

Stepping backward, Krista tuned, shot two more men, crossed her arms over each other, turned, and shot the remaining two with the right gun pointing left and the left gun pointing to the right. In a single motion, Krista ejected the clips from the smoking weapons and ejected the round still in the chamber, before flipping on the safeties and making them vanish. She had learned well… even if those weren't real weapons, one day she might be faced with real ones. Safety was important, and so she had added it to the routine.

"Incredible," Xander whispered. "But what if they're not in a circle? How…"

Krista smiled. "It's all there, Papa Xander. Whether they're in a circle, a straight line, or hiding somewhere… the mathematics are the same. And I'll teach you how to do it."

"Neat. Lead away," Xander said, rubbing his hands. Kirika probably feels it out… but I don't have a dozen years to perfect my technique. This might just be the next best thing…

An hour later, Xander opened his eyes, rubbing his forehead, letting out a breath as he fought the headache pounding between his ears. He glanced at his watch. "An hour? ONE HOUR?" He turned to Krista. "We were gone longer than just one hour, weren't we?" he asked, confused, hoping that Krista wasn't going to come up with some scientific answer. His brain just couldn't handle that right now.

"I accelerated time within Questworld… I thought that, since you didn't have a body in there, that time didn't matter. After all, time is only how you perceive it."

Xander groaned. "Krista, my head hurts… could you please speak in English?"

Krista looked in concern at him. "Time moved faster in Questworld than in the outside world. Ten times faster, actually." She blinked. The room disappeared into the utter blackness Xander knew so well… the Meditation Room. Calming vibration sounded. Even though he couldn't hear them, he felt the effects… his headache lessened.

"That's better," he whispered as the soothing infrasonic sounds washed over him.

"Your headache will be gone soon," Krista whispered, sitting down next to him. "Anyway… I accelerated time. And because you were in Questworld, you learned through a direct interface to your mind… better and faster than in the real world. That's why you have a headache." She looked dejectedly at the ground. "I'm sorry, Papa Xander. I didn't know you would have negative results…"

Xander smiled slightly, his headache lessened substantially already, and drew her in for a hug. "I learned a lot, Krista. And if the price to pay is some headaches, I'll pay that price, gladly. It's nothing compared to the price I paid for my other skills…"

Krista hugged him back. "I'm glad you're alright, Papa Xander. And I'm glad you liked the lessons."

Xander smiled. "I can't wait to show them to Kirika…"

"Do you think she'll like the techniques?" Krista asked with a small voice, looking at Xander with a hopeful look in her eyes.

"I'm sure she will," Xander replied honestly, reassuring her. He could feel that something else was bugging the young AI, though. "Krista… what else is wrong? I know you're thinking about something else, I can feel it."

Krista looked at the black-hole floor. "Papa Xander… do you think… will Kirika… like me?"

Xander blinked. "Like you? Why wouldn't she?" he asked, not understanding. "And why the question, all of a sudden?" he asked, still friendly, genuinely not understanding.

Krista was silent for a few seconds, and Xander was just about to prompt her again when she answered, "From everything you told me… Kirika is very important to you… and I don't want her to dislike me… I… from what you told me, I begun to like her, I don't want her to dislike me… like Buffy…"

"Oh, Krista," Xander whispered, hugging the AI, now understanding just how much she was till like a child. "Do you know what Kirika told me after I told her about you? She said, and I quote, 'she sounds like an interesting person'. I don't think you have to be afraid, Krista… Kirika is someone who looks at who you are, not what you are."

Krista looked up at him with hopeful eyes. "Really?"

"Really," Xander answered with a smile. "But now… why the focus on Kirika? I told you just as much about her as I told you about Mireille, but you don't seem overly concerned about her."

"Well," Krista answered, actually blushing slightly. Xander smiled at the obviously human reaction of the hologram. "Well… you and Kirika are… together, right Papa Xander? So that… would make her… kinda like…mama…"

Xander swallowed, choked, coughed, freed his windpipe, and started laughing. Krista looked hurt, and the moment he caught that look, his laughter spluttered out, and he apologized.

"Sorry, Krista… not laughing at you… or with you… I just had this flash in my mind's eye. Seeing the look on Kirika's face the moment you call her mama…" he spluttered.

"Why?" Krista wanted to know, the hurt of moments earlier totally vanished.

"Kirika is really good at hiding her emotions… but I think someone calling her mama with sure get a reaction out of her. I had some preparation, after all, I did say I looked at you like my daughter. She doesn't… she'll be caught totally off guard…" Xander explained, chuckling again.

Krista chuckled along with her. "So… you're Papa Xander… that makes her Kirika-mama…" the AI shrugged her shoulders. "That's about the best way I can find to combine the two… Mama Kirika doesn't have the same ring to it."

Xander chuckled again. "Krista, I said it before and I'll say it again… you're developing a wicked sense of humor."

"Thank you," Krista answered proudly. Xander chuckled again.

The next day, Sunday, Xander was once again standing in the dojo, Krista right next to him. He had shed his clothes, revealing the monitor suit underneath that he was now wearing instead of his usual underwear. Xander had begun to learn that it was best to do things this way… he was going to wear the monitor suit for most of the day anyway, so he might as well wear it for the remainder as well.

"Are you really sure about this, Papa Xander? Twenty-four hours is an awfully short time to learn an entirely new technique…" Krista asked, voice unsure, as well as concerned.

"I'm sure, Krista. I've been forced through tests with a whole lot less of preparation, believe me," Xander answered reassuringly.

"Alright, but I am keeping the safeties on," Krista said, crossing her arms. "Guns are lethal. One shot, and it's all over. Without safeties, holographic bullets are just as lethal as real ones, and in the real world, there is no Questworld to fall out of when you 'die'."

Xander was about to protest when he noticed that determined look in Krista's eyes, and he just knew that there was nothing he could do… once the AI had made up her mind, God himself couldn't change it. He let out a grunt. "Fine… but can you at least fine-tune them? I want to feel the impact. I need to know where my mistakes are, and nothing reminds me like a couple of bruises."

Krista sighed, and nodded. "Safety mechanisms have been fine-tuned," the young Artificial Intelligence replied.

Xander nodded gratefully. "Thanks," he said, still looking around the dojo. "So… what's the test?"

Krista sighed once more, a distinctly human gesture that served no real purpose but to express her reluctance to do this. She closed her eyes. Reactor to fifteen percent.

The room vanished, leaven the duo in an octagonal room, with just one set of double doors providing an exit. Xander was still dressed in his monitor suit, but now he also held two shoulder-rigs, in which two Desert Eagles resided. He drew the hand-cannons, knowing for sure that, by the time this exercise was over, he was going to hurt over the recoils.

"Beyond those doors is a long corridor, defended by three dozen armed men. At the end of the corridor is a room, in which your target is. Objective is to get through the hall, kill the defenders, get in the room, and neutralize the target," Krista summed. She turned to Xander. "And safeties have been reduced to 75%. You will feel the impact of the bullets like someone slapping you."

"Could you reduce to 50%? I want to feel the impact," Xander asked.

"At 50 percent, a bullet won't penetrate, but the hit will feel like being punched by Mike Tyson, to use an analogy you will understand," the AI replied.

"Good. Do it," he ordered.

"Papa Xander…" Krista tried.

"Krista… please?" he asked.

Krista sighed once more, the picked-up gesture doing overtime today. She shook her head, yet another gesture she had copied from her human interactions, before looking up and staring into Xander's eyes. "Fifty percent… Papa Xander, please be careful. Those hits are strong enough not only to bruise, but to break bones…"

"Then I'd better not make any mistakes, right Krista?" he asked with a lob-sided grin.

Krista smiled faintly. "I am canceling the simulation the moment you're in trouble… or I think you're in trouble. And that's final," she told him.

Xander nodded, smiled, and turned to the doors, each hand holding the Eagle pointed to the floor. "I'm ready when you are."

"Simulation begin," Krista stated, vanishing from the octagonal room. Xander's fingers clenched around the handles of the guns. I don't have enough bullets for the men behind the doors. I know Krista. I'll have to use their weapons… what use have dead people with weapons, anyway? 

Xander's eyes turned flat. Deadly. In those few more seconds he gave himself, he reviewed countless hours of gun-drills by Kirika. Countless hours of lessons in the Questworld system by Krista. His emotions cloaked and hid. Xander shifted into Noir-mode, preparing the kill. His foot hit the double doors crossly, kicking them both open at the same time.

He shifted slightly to the right, spoiling the aim of whomever was aiming at the doors. In a flash, he reviewed the scene. A line of men framed each wall. He didn't have time to count. He knew there were too many for his clips. At the same time, his mind determined where the defenders were going to shoot, and where they'd be when they shot.

His arms spread out horizontally, each gun barking death once, before he shifted, fired two more shots, and advanced. Four down. An army yet to go. Xander rolled forward, leaving him in the middle of a group of guards that hadn't been expecting him to foolishly rush into their midst. They startled; those few seconds of indetermination their downfall as Xander righted himself.

Statistically, they were in a loose circle around him. Xander knew where the men were, where they'd be, and how they'd shoot. He shot to his left and right, before shooting the man to his two o'clock position with his right gun, shooting the man to his eight with his left gun over his shoulder. The guns shifted before the first men had even fallen. He shot to his ten with his left gun to the front, and his four with the right gun over his shoulder. The six men fell at the same time. Ten down. Five with each gun. Two shots left in each gun.

Xander rolled to his side, tracking at the same time, guns barking death and destruction among the disheveled guards. Four more men fell before Xander threw away the guns, and kicked up two assault rifles from the nearest dead guards. Tracking on semi-automatic, he ran sideways continuously, relieving some more guards of their life. Right before he reached the doors to his target, six more guards had taken a straight line of defense.

Danger! His mind screamed.

He dodged to his right, his one remaining assault rifle tracking the man on the left. He flicked the weapon to full automatic, and fired as he ran, his direction suddenly shifting as he saw the men compensate. He fired in a straight line from left to right, even though his direction inverted. The weapon clicked on empty before he felled the final guard.

Noir was still his modus operandi, he threw away the assault rifle, and charged the man. As the assault rifle came in his direction, he kicked the weapon out of the way, reached his target, and threw his flat hand against the man's nose in the precise angle Kirika had spent so many hours drilling into him. The nose-bone of the guard broke and slipped into his brain.

Death was instantaneous.

Knowing he'd need a weapon, Xander calmly reached down and took the assault rifle of the last guard off the ground. It had only fired a couple of shots… he ejected the clip, picked up a second weapon, ejected that clip as well, and proceeded to fill out the first clip. After doing that, he rammed it home.

Ignoring the holographic death and destruction around him, Xander calmly pushed open the door at the end of the hall, holding the one assault rifle at the ready.

The room he emerged in was octagonal, just like the one had had started in, and he once again thought that Krista needed a better imagination. Half of the room was covered in shadow, and Xander could just make out a shadowy figure sitting behind a shadowy desk. The figure made a motion, and Xander dodged, only to find it not necessary as one Desert Eagle slid across the floor.

The figure stood up from behind the desk as Xander refused to take the bait, slowly breaching himself behind the assault rifle. Finally, the figure emerged in the light, the entire lighting up as he… she did.

"Krista?" Xander stammered as the figure emerged.

"As your master, it's my duty to test you," Krista answered calmly, drawing a Desert Eagle. "Show me what you've learned."

Xander got up, smirking as he held on to the assault rifle. "Like not falling for bait?" he asked as he and Krista started to circle, testing a prodding for an opening. Who would draw first?

Finally, Krista leveled her gun, and Xander rushed in, clamping the assault rifle between his elbow and his side, and at the same time reaching out with his free left hand to push the Desert Eagle away. As he brought the Assault Rifle up to fire, a struggle ensued to get a weapon into position. Krista was pushing at his rifle while Xander pushed at her Eagle, neither gaining nor losing much ground.

Xander pushed her Eagle up while making a rotating motion to snap the rifle out of Krista's grip. It worked, but t the same time he found his hold on her Eagle slipping as Krista countered his motion. The fraction it took his to regain his grip on the eagle was all she needed to push his upcoming rifle out of the way, and the shot disappeared into the wall, shattering a light fixture on its way.

Again and again they fought for grip to keep the deadly weapon away from themselves, while simultaneously trying to gain a decent shot at the other. Krista's Desert Eagle was the next to break the almost deafening silence that hung in the room as the two combatants battled.

Finally, it was Xander's experience in the other martial arts that won the day as his so far underused right foot kicked out and threw the gun out of Krista's hand. He leveled the assault rifle and aimed at her.

For two seconds, he remained that way, then lowered the rifle. "You're dead," he stated.

Krista looked at him. "Why didn't you shoot?"

Xander dropped the rifle. "I…couldn't. For… as long as I have been doing this… a weapon, a firearm, is a dangerous tool. Safety was the first lesson I learned, and I never forget it. Pointing a loaded weapon at you was worse enough. I'm not prepared to go further."

"But… you know you can't hurt me," Krista whispered as she stood right to him, canceling the simulation. Seeing his dojo calmed Xander considerably.

"But one day, you might not be invincible. And if I… cross that line, shooting at someone I care about, it's easier to cross at a later date. And that is not a risk I'm prepared to take", Xander answered her, turning toward her and drawing her in for a hug. "I care about you, Krista. The last thing I want to do is take a shot at you."

Krista hugged him back. "I understand, Papa Xander. Don't worry about it anymore…"

"So, how did I do?" he asked finally, drawing back to look at her.

"You did great!" Krista replied, smiling broadly. "Better than I would have thought… you're really good at this, Papa Xander!"

Xander grinned, slightly embarrassed. "I had good teachers," he said, scratching the back of his head. "You, Kirika, Mireille…"

Krista smiled broadly at the compliment.


A couple of days later, on a cloudless night, Buffy, Xander, and Willow were patrolling one of the many cemeteries that Sunnydale sported. Or rather, they would have been patrolling if they weren't involved in yet another discussion about Xander's absence. Willow remained quiet and out of the conversation most of the time, but Buffy grilled Xander relentlessly. She wanted to know, and by God, she would find out!

"I'm telling you, Buff, I made some good investments!" Xander grunted, slightly losing his patience over the umpteenth time the blonde asked the same question. Even his patience was finite.

"What kind of investments, Xander? And where did you get the money to invest in the first place? Because, face it, you were never the richest guy on the block…" Buffy asked again.

Xander sighed, almost wishing for a vampire to attack at this point in time. Only his keen sense of 'be careful what you wish for' kept him from making the ill-fated request. He knew that, in Sunnydale, things always went worse than you thought…

"You know, stocks, bonds, options," Xander replied with what he hoped with a casual tone. In fact, it had been Bertrand and Mireille who had made the investments for him, and he hadn't exactly been paying much attention to their well-meant lessons in the financial world.

Xander hoped that Buffy wasn't about to ask yet another question about his skills, his money, his teachers, or his time in Paris. Just when Buffy opened her mouth, and he could see her question forming, did Xander think that things couldn't get any worse.

And then, Sunnydale's curse hit, because things got worse. Out of the bushes jumped a dozen vampires, game faces on, leering excitedly at the small band. Immediately, Buffy shoved him and Willow behind her before she realized that they had already been surrounded.

Buffy and Willow drew stakes. Xander fingered Magan, clipped to its customary place at the back of his belt. The Demon Gun had been loaded with standard vampire-killing rounds.

"Oh, boy," Buffy said, actually smiling. "You guys came at such an appropriate time… I need to burn off some anger." Immediately, half a dozen of the vampires rushed her, recognizing her as the Slayer, and determining her to be the worst threat of them all. As the Slayer engaged the six fiends, Xander drew Magan, and charged the three vampires that were rushing him.

The last vampire tackled with Willow, not really thinking her much of a threat and merely wanting to keep her out of the fight, keep her from blindsiding his brethren. In the bushes, a pair of amber eyes glowed, watching the fight.

Xander had reached the nearest vampire, and lifted his foot in mid-run, stomping the creature in the nether regions with as much force as the teenager could muster. The vampire moaned, keening, and sunk to his knees. Xander dropped to one knee behind the vampire's overturned body, using it for cover as he squeezed off two rounds, rounds that dusted the two remaining vampires within seconds. Just as the creature was about to right itself, Xander drew his backup stake (never leave home without one!), and dusted the fiend.

He turned to Willow to see how her fight was going.

Willow, meanwhile, had been grappling with her vampire, trying to get the creature to open up its grip on her wrists, so she could ram her stake in its undead heart. When gunshots sounded from behind her, the vampire battling with her grinned, right before the sound of dusting vampires reached his ears, and he looked at his brethren, startled like a deer in headlights.

This was the opening Willow had been looking for, snapped her stake loose from the vampire's grip, jamming it in its chest in the same fluid movement. Happy with herself, she turned to see how the others were doing.

In the bushes, the pair of amber eyes squinted slightly. "She'll do fine," a sinister voice muttered.

Xander nodded to Willow when he saw her free of vampires. They turned toward Buffy at the same time, to see how the Slayer was doing. The blonde really did look like she needed to burn off some anger, as she tore into the vampires with a rare vigor, making him hurt then making them dust. She was down to the last two when a muffled screamed came from Xander's side.

He jumped around, only to see a large shadow disappear down the path that lead to the exit. "Willow?" Xander asked, already setting in pursuit before he even knew what the shadow was, exactly. When the shadow passed by the streetlight that announced the entrance to the cemetery, Xander could see some kind of man, dressed in all black with only a pair of amber-glowing eyes visible from under a large black hat, manhandling Willow, one hand clamped down over her mouth, before throwing her in a BMW that was parked nearby.

Xander growled, ran to the car, in the hope to catch the vehicle before the man started it and roared off.

He missed by ten centimeters.

Xander growled, feeling the Hyena pump energy into his muscles. His eyes glowed like the man who had kidnapped Willow. Faster than humanly possible, Xander set in pursuit.

But, no matter how fast he could run, he couldn't keep up with a speeding car. It just couldn't be done… no animal could hope to keep up with a speeding car. Xander vaulted over a hedge, crossed through a yard, and vaulted over the fence on the other side, only to emerge once again behind the racing BMW. Growling, he tried to find a way, any way, to keep up.

He grabbed his cell phone, and hit speed dial one.

Krista, the AI picked up her own special telephone line.

"Krista, the Aston Martin. Now. And forget what I taught you… peel rubber if you have to."

There was a silence of two seconds before the AI replied, I'm underway. What happened, Papa Xander?

"Willow. Kidnapped. Pursuit. Open passenger door when you get here. You drive, I shoot," Xander grunted, snapping the phone shut as he ran out of breath to talk, and vaulted another fence, trying desperately to keep up. He knew that his only chance was to catch the guy here in Sunnydale, the twisting roads the only reason why the car hadn't vanished beyond his speed.

If this were a movie, I'd just steal myself a bike… a dirt bike or something… Xander thought angrily as he saw the BMW round the corner of the street he was only now racing into. Snarling, he tried to cut off the corned from where he was, vaulting a hedge, crossing a yard, vaulting a second hedge, crossing a second yard, and finally vaulting a fence and a third yard before jumping over the final fence to emerge in the street the car had just cornered into.

The BMW disappeared around the corner.

Damn it! I'll never catch him! Xander thought angrily, demanding more power form the Hyena, ignoring the fact that he jut might lose his sanity over it, right before peeling rubber and a howling engine greeted his ears. Xander shot a look over his shoulder.

The Aston Martin.

Xander grinned evilly, and vaulted into the open passenger seat, the window already down as Krista had anticipated his need for it. Xander once again drew Magan, finally able to get a decent shot with the weapon now that he didn't have to pump with his arms to keep up his speed.

Even mere vampire killers will do damage, Xander thought as he took aim.

The Aston Martin's radar locked on to the target, and it didn't take long for the AI to squeeze the powerful car in behind the German automobile. She couldn't stick as close to his bumper as she wanted, thanks to the twisting and turning path the kidnapper was taking with his own car, but she stayed close enough for Xander to take a couple pretty decent shots, one shot relieving the car of its right-rear lights, and the second taking out the right-rear tire.

The rubber exploded as the vampire-killing round destroyed it at high-speeds. On the hub, the car continued, sparks flying as metal met pavement.

Xander scowled as he squinted his eyes against the winds, trying to get a decent shot.

Want me to shoot, Papa Xander? Krista finally asked.

"I'm a fool for forgetting this car's abilities," Xander grunted. "Krista, take him out."

Aiming, the AI whispered. Deploying machine guns.

The two machine guns shot up from the hood, ripping into the pursued car with lethal finality. The one remaining tire was shot to shreds, and Swiss cheese was made off the rear bumper, the boot, the rear window, and just about everything else Krista could get a shot in.

"Be careful about Willow," Xander grunted as he saw his charge tear into the enemy vehicle. Finally, sparks flew from under the rear bumper, indicating Krista had hit something vital as the rear wheels locked and the car spun out of control, into a conveniently placed park. Xander recognized the park. It was the same one they patrolled regularly.

Xander jumped out of the Aston Martin before it had come to a complete standstill, and rushed to the passenger door.

"I wouldn't do that," Sinister Voice drawled as he emerged from the driver seat. His hands were glowing blue. "Unless you want me to turn this car, your friend, and you, into extra-crispy road kill."

Xander growled, yet remained where he was as the man made a motions, and an unconscious Willow floated out of the car. "I know you're good, Noir. But no-one interferes with the orders of the Order of Teraka."

"You're an assassin, not a kidnapper," Xander growled, almost advancing a step yet stopping at the last possible moment.

"For ten million dollars, I'm a kidnapper," the Terakan growled. "I had hoped to arrive her in a more convenient manner. But no matter, I'm here, and so is the target." Sinister Voice whistled, and five vampires emerged from the surrounding trees. "Target one," he said, dropping Willow in the arms of one of the vampires.

However, Sinister Voice made one mistake. His focus shifted from Xander to the vampire as he transferred Willow. The moment his hands stopped glowing, Xander drew Magan, started running, emptied his clip into Sinister Voice, and charged the vampires with his back-up stake.

Sinister Voice growled, yet didn't go down. Well, eh went down to one knee as the holy water burned in his wounds, but he soon forced himself back on his feet.

"I will destroy you!" the Terakan snarled, raising his hands, and slamming a bolt of blue lightning into Xander's body. The teenager flew through the air, a piercing scream from Krista accompanying his flight.

Xander growled as he returned to his legs, a cut on his face and a burn-mark on his chest the evidence of the fight. Something in his pocket shifted. For a moment, Xander looked startled, then drew a cylinder from his pocket. It moved!

The indigo beam of energy lashed out to its full length in fraction of a second. The same fractions of a second Xander used to propel himself toward Sinister Voice.

The Terakan actually had the reflexes to bring up his hands for a second barrage. But before he could unleash the barrage, his hands dropped uselessly to the ground, right before Sinister Voice's head did the same.

Impossible… Krista whispered as the data from Xander's monitor suit came in. His brainwaves were flat-lining for over a second! So were his heartbeat and his respiration!

Xander turned to the vampires. "Release her."

The vampire holding Willow smirked, looked around, and found himself alone, his helpers abandoning him the moment they saw the Light Saber come into play. The vampire put Willow down on the ground, her hand coming to her forehead as she started to regain consciousness.

"So hard to find good help these days," the vampire grunted in a Russian accent. "The name's Dimitri. You'll hear from my employer again, soon…" with those words, the vampire disappeared into the trees.

Xander clicked off the Light Saber, and bashed all the inner spirits down with one powerful hit as he knelt down next to Willow, now rapidly coming out of whatever it was Sinister Voice had put her into.

"Willow? Are you okay?" he asked, gently.

"I…think so… what happened, Xander? All I saw where those amber eyes… and then, you're standing over me, in Sunnydale Park…" the redhead whispered, confusedly looking around.

"It's a long story, Will… but the digest version was that Teraka made another move. And I don't think it'll be their last," Xander grunted, voice slipping slightly as his anger returned. After he had gotten Willow in the car, he knelt down next to one of the assassin's hands, and slipped a ring off the finger, managing somehow to do so without Willow seeing.

Five minutes later, the car stopped outside the cemetery, and angry looking Buffy stood there, waiting for them.

"Very funny leaving me here, guys!" the blonde Slayer practically screamed.

"Teraka made another move… they tried to kidnap Willow," Xander replied coldly, more coldly than he had intended.

"Kidnap…? Oh my God! Willow, are you okay!?" Buffy shouted, rushing to the passenger door to check over the redhead.

"Yeah, I'm fine… Xander… Xander got me out," she whispered. "I…I don't know what happened, Buffy! One moment, everything was fine… the next, all I saw were these amber eyes, and then the world went black and when I came back it was just Xander in Sunnydale park…"

"Sunnydale Park? How did you get there?" Buffy wondered aloud, looking directly at Xander for answers.

"Don't look at me," Xander defended. "I just gave pursuit, remember? All I saw was the guy jumping in this BMW, and him racing off…"

"How did you get the car?" Buffy asked, suddenly recalling that they had set out on foot that night.

"I called Krista. She drove," Xander replied coldly. "Now, we got the park, and the Terakan tried to hand Willow over to this bunch of vampires. I stopped the Terakan, the vampires ran for their lives," he continued summing as if the Slayer hadn't interrupted him. "Now… I'm going to make some phone calls. Willow, could you let Buffy in? Thanks…"

Buffy, stunned, sat down in the tiny backseat as Xander started dialing on his cell phone.

Fifteen minutes later, the entire Scooby Gang had gathered at Xander's house, in his living room, to be more precise.

"So, what's the big emergency, Donut Boy?" Cordelia asked snidely.

"Teraka made their move," Xander kicked in the door. "They tried to kidnap Willow… Thankfully, I stopped them, but I am really startled by this turn of events… Teraka kills, it doesn't kidnap. So, whomever is pulling the strings here… is extremely powerful."

Xander looked around the group. Cordelia was doing her best to hide her concern for Willow, cloaking it with a well-trained mask of airheaded indifference. Xander's trained vision penetrated it without difficulty. Giles was looking concerned. Concerned for Willow, concerned for the recent turn of events, concern for the entire group. Xander wasn't sure in which order, though.

Oz was just hugging Willow tighter, and asked her if she was alright. She nodded, and continued to press against his chest. Oz gave a small nod in Xander's direction, which was the biggest sign of thanks he had ever seen from the stoic musician.

"Since I have no idea what's going to happen next, I propose we say together… there is strength in numbers. If one of us is caught alone, or unaware, that person might be taken next, and, by proxy, the entire groups will suffer."

"So what are you saying, Dweeb Boy? We all shack up together? Oh, my parents are going to love that!" Cordelia barked out.

"This place is the safes place to be," Xander reasoned logically. "It is armed and armored… as well as placed strategically, and equipped with cameras that can scan just about every spectrum known to man. Not even a vampire can hide in this vicinity without us knowing."

"I am afraid that, in this case, I must agree with Cordelia," Giles spoke. "Although it might be a good idea, I must point out that myself and Buffy, for instance, are quite capable of taking care of themselves. And, with decent measures, the others can be secured quite easily without resorting to such drastic measures."

"And don't forget that your house got broken into by Teraka before," Buffy grunted.

"That was because of a lapse in our defense," Xander replied. "Krista let in the workmen to install the holographic reactor. Teraka slipped in with them."

"I am still not staying," Cordelia stated her mind, crossing her arms.

Xander sighed. "My first concern is for the group. That is why I came back. Everybody who steps out at this point is a liability," he said calmly, levelly. "The situation is just too dangerous to be running around separately…"

"X…Xander's right!" Willow said. "I'm staying!"

Xander gave a grateful nod to his longest friend. He saw Oz, next to Willow, nod as well. "You know my answer," the musician answered. "Where she goes, I go." Xander nodded to the boy as well, smiling slightly.

"Well, it might be fun," Buffy decided. "Like a sleepover. We can hang out and watch Xander's really big screen TV all night long."

Xander smiled slightly. Ever since Buffy had seen the projector screen, she had fallen in love with it. "So, how about you two?" he asked, turning to Cordelia and Giles.

"Me? Stay with the Geek Squad? My reputation will be ruined," the former cheerleader replied.

"Your reputation took a nosedive since the judge gave you his gift," Buffy grunted calmly, referring to the scar on Cordelia's face. "And you never gave a shit about it afterward."

Cordelia shrugged. "I'm still not staying. Xander may say it's safe, but I don't trust this place to keep us secure."

Xander stood up. "Fine, then. I will show you why this place is secure. Module Administrateur, commencer la condition noire. Ferme tous!" Administrator Module, commence condition black. Lock it all!

As he completed his order, the lights dimmed, and a soft red glow permeated from the ceiling. All the outside doors, and all the windows, were sealed immediately with lead-steel shutters that slammed shut.

Niveau un. Complète.

Xander nodded. "Level one has been completed," the teenager stated. "It is impossible to leave or enter this house without my say-so."

"Huh. I'm sure they can still get in. No fancy security system is going to stop a Terakan," Cordelia grunted, not sounding impressed in the least.

"Krista can take care of the rest," Xander replied evenly.

"What? The hologram? What's she gonna do? Cry the bad guys to death?" the former beauty queen snarled.

Krista's eyes seemed to glow, and the next moment, she seemed to grow in height and mass. "Do not underestimate my abilities, Miss Chase," the AI grunted coldly. The next moment, Cordelia was lifted form the cough, and slammed into the wall, held immobile. "This is a mere two percent of my total power," the AI stated.

"P…point made," the brunette gurgled. Krista nodded, and released her. Cordelia fell to her knees, coughing a couple of times before getting back to her feet.

"I…don't like doing that…" the AI whispered with a tiny voice. "I hope you're alright? I didn't know how hard I could squeeze…"

"I'm fine," Cordelia whispered as she sat down in the couch, trying unsuccessfully to hide the wince as her sore butt and back hit the pillows. "Okay, I'm convinced…"

Giles sighed as everyone shifted their attentions to him. He started cleaning his glasses. "I am still not sure…"

"Giles, have I shown you the library yet?" Xander suddenly asked. Giles' eyes lit up.

"Library? No, I am sure you didn't…"

Xander chuckled as he motioned for a door. Sometimes, all it took was a gentle push in the right direction…

An hour later, Xander sat on his bed, relaxing now that he knew that everyone was safe, at least for this night. And now he finally had the time to do what he had wanted to do the moment he found out Teraka was behind Willow's attempted kidnapping.

"Krista, can you soundproof my room, and engage privacy mode?"

Done and Done, Papa Xander.

Xander nodded as he started dialing on his cell. One minute of reconnecting later, he spoke, "Kirika… we've got a problem."

Kirika's voice returned calm, although Xander could hear the underlying curiosity, as well as the slight tremors of concern in those few words. "What kind of problem?"

"Teraka made their move," Xander replied back.

The silence that lasted for five seconds told Xander the world. "How bad?"

"Yesterday, they tried to kidnap Willow," Xander explained. "I managed to stop him, but the guy implied that it wouldn't be the last time they'd try. I have everyone staying at my place for the moment. The administrator module has the entire place in full lockdown."

"Are you sure? Teraka are assassins, not kidnappers," Kirika asked, voice reassured now that she was sure everybody was alright.

Xander twirled his little souvenir through his fingers. "Unless they're selling these rings as souvenirs, I'm pretty sure the guy was Teraka."

Again, Kirika's voice was delayed a few seconds. "Damn." That one word sent chills down Xander's spine. Kirika never cursed.

"I know…it's got me spooked good," Xander grunted.

"Xander, I hope you understand how serious this is… Teraka are assassins. They assassinate. They don't kidnap. They kill. That's their job…in order for them to lessen themselves to this level, it takes someone of immense power and influence." She let out her breath. "Xander, the kidnapping is only the beginning of your worries."

Xander swallowed deeply. "I was afraid you'd say that," he whispered, shoulders hanging. The emotions of the day came flooding over him now that Kirika's voice finally triggered his release. He needed to be strong for the others… but with Kirika, he knew he could be himself. "When I saw her… saw her get taken… I was so scared, Chérie. So scared… I ran after them… called Krista to bring the car…" he took a breath to calm himself. It didn't work. "Bullets were ineffective on that guy, whatever he was… I used the Light Saber. Cut off his hands and his head." After those last words, he broke down, sobbing in the phone. "I…it was so horrible…"

Kirika let him weep; only speaking when his sobbing subsided. "I'll tell Mireille to move up the schedule… I can't promise anything, Xander… Teraka is dangerous, as you now know… but I will promise to do everything in our power to get them as soon as we can. Until then… you'll just need to defend your friends at your house."

Xander nodded to the phone. "I understand… thanks, Chérie."

He heard a hesitant smile in her voice as she replied, "De rien, Mon Coeur."

"I've got to go… get some sleep…" Xander whispered.

"Good night, Mon Coeur. Rest, and know that Mireille and I will be doing everything we can," the brunette assassin replied, voice reassuring.

Xander nodded again. "I know… good night, Kirika."

"Good night, Xander."

Xander hung up, told Krista to disengage the soundproofing and the privacy mode, and curled up in his bed, crying himself to sleep. He didn't even feel the gentle touch of the hologram as she slipped in the bed next to him, holding him as he slept, protecting him from the worst brunt of the nightmares that were sure to follow.


Kirika hung up the telephone, turned, and walked to the window of the small room she and Mireille had rented. Her shaking hands clamped down on the balustrade as the petite girl stared out over the scenery, watching but not seeing, thoughts turned inward. And they were not good thoughts.

Mireille, who had just come in after buying groceries, saw the girl like that. Immediately, something didn't feel right to the blonde assassin. Usually, Kirika was composed to the edge of being constantly cold. Now she was leaning on the balustrade as if she were saying goodbye to the world in general and life in particular.

"Kirika? What happened?"

"Teraka," Kirika answered coldly, eyes narrowing as she pulled back to reality. She turned to Mireille. "They tried to kidnap Willow, Xander's friend. He managed to save her."

"That's good, right?" Mireille asked.

Kirika shook her head. "Whomever can tell Teraka to kidnap instead of kill is a gruesomely powerful and influential person. Know this, Mireille… Teraka kills. That's what it does, and it does its job well. It doesn't rape, steal, threaten, or kidnap. To have someone actually have them kidnap…" the girl's voice trailed off.

"I understand," Mireille answered. "So… what's the next move?"

Kirika smiled. It was not a nice smile, and to Mireille it looked as if the Grim Reaper had just chosen female form. "We pay Teraka a visit and persuade them to cancel the contract."

"We know where they are, but we still need more intelligence," Mireille reminded her younger companion.

"There comes a time when you just have to take a chance," Kirika answered coldly, and looked directly in Mireille's eyes, and for those few tense seconds, Mireille was reminded just what kind of life this girl had gone through, how far she had come, but how dangerous she still was. Kirika's eyes looked old, eyes that had witnessed too much for any person's complete life, let alone someone of her young age. What have those eyes witnessed? Mireille wondered for a few seconds, actually taken aback.

"I will understand if you chose not to go with me. I am planning on rescinding this contract-" Kirika said, broken off as Mireille interrupted her.

"You are not doing this alone!" the blonde interrupted. "Although I find it foolish to rush in like this, I understand what you're saying, and I'm not letting you go in alone."

Kirika was silent for a few seconds, seemingly evaluating the sincerity of the aristocratic woman. "We move, then," Kirika whispered. "I'll ask for some heavy ordinance from a local supplier."

"Heavy ordinance?" Mireille asked.

"Teraka understand only one thing: money. We must cost them more than they stand to gain from this contract. It is unlikely we can put them out of business, as they're spread all over the world, but if we can inflict sufficient damage against their headquarters, we might be able to put a stop to this contract."

"So you're planning on what? Blowing it up?" Mireille asked sarcastically.

Kirika shook her head. "Fire some missiles into it. Then we take out whatever assassin we find inside… until we reach the Master. Him we force to recede the contract."

Mireille stared with open mouth at the girl as the brunette walked past her to go out 'shopping'. Before reaching the door, Kirika turned around. "We will need to be careful. Teraka uses magic… standard bullets might be ineffective. I suggest we use our supply of High Demon rounds."

"Black Bands?" Mireille asked dumbly as Kirika disappeared out the door. "Olivia will have us for breakfast if we go through $5000 worth of Black Band rounds." The blonde smiled, then shrugged. "We'll just find us some standard jobs, then…" she added with a chuckle.


It was only four hours later that the two assassins rushed in through the settling debris of the two anti-tank missiles that had exploded into the front of the inconspicuous-looking building that was Teraka HQ. It appeared to be a sandstone building of two stories, at the outskirts of a desert town. Only Kirika and Mireille knew that the building went deep underground.

As they rushed in, they met with little resistance. But Teraka had obviously thought strategically when they constructed this building, as the staircases to reach the next floor were located on either side of the building in such a manner that one had to walk through the entire floor to get to the next one, then clear that one in order to reach the next one.

Kirika and Mireille reached the first subterranean floor, guns ready and armed with the most potent bullet concoction Olivia Person had been able to come up with. As they emerged, two men were waiting for them, arms spread, hands glowing. A bolt of energy slammed into the door above Kirika's head as the brunette ducked, her lighting reflexes in their element in the close quarters of the building.

As she ducked, Kirika's gun went up. Her aim was perfected through the years. Kirika never missed. She didn't miss this time. The bullet, designed to be armor piercing, would go right through a normal person. In order to be sure, Kirika aimed for the breastbone. The bullet bit down in one of the hardest bones of the human body, exploding as the heavy bone broke the metal jacket of the bullet.

The explosion ripped the first mage in half, and threw the second one to the wall. Mireille's shot bit down in his skull, and the headless corpse fell to the ground, showering the surroundings with brain-matter, chips of skull, some teeth, and even a complete eyeball, ripped out of its socket before the skull disintegrated around it.

"Neat," Mireille actually managed to whisper.

"Taking down tanks," Kirika whispered coldly as she swept down the central hallway, covering the various doors that no doubt led to the rest of the elaborate Teraka underground network. Mireille followed directly behind, both women now working in tandem, soon reaching the staircase down to level minus two.

"Maybe they're organizing defense around the Master," Mireille offered as she and Kirika descended the stairs.

"Perhaps," the other assassin replied coldly, readying herself to burst down to minus two. Next to her, Mireille did the same. Together, they jumped the last part, kicking open the door with the added speed of the jump, landing in a crouch as they swept the hallway for defenders.

None. Looking strangely at each other for just a moment, the duo swept the hallway to the next staircase.

"Either they hoped those two were enough, or they're organizing defense beyond this," Mireille said as they reached the staircase down to minus five. "This is where the Master is."

Kirika dipped her head, and closed her eyes. When they opened, they were narrow slits of utter coldness. "Noir, depuis une époque lointaine le nom du destin… les deux vierges règnent sur la mort," the brunette whispered.

Mireille grinned slightly, and nodded. "Les Mains noires protègent la paix des nouveaux-nés," she answered the final part of the prophecy.

Kirika dipped her head. Mireille nodded. Together, the two assassins charged.

The fight was short and brutal, and within minutes, two female assassins were pointing guns at an ornately dressed man, tied to his almost throne-like chair, dragged to the middle of the room where his assassins had put up a brave final fight. Surrounded by death and destruction, the man was still utterly cold as the two females loomed over him.

Beautiful as they were, they weren't very physically impressive, but the psychological notion of those two having wiped out a dozen Teraka assassins in mere minutes left more of an impression than physical appearance ever could. The sight of them tearing through the room was looming over Kirika's small shoulders and Mireille's artfully made-up face.

The Master was still cold. He had seen some of the worst things possible. He wasn't afraid of death, even if it came in the form of two women.

"Cancel the contract in Sunnydale," Kirika told him, voice as cold as his posture.

"I don't think that I should do that," the Master answered calmly. "I don't think you would let me go afterwards."

"I never said I would let you go," Kirika stated coldly.

The Master smiled slightly. "Then I won't cancel the contract."

Kirika cocked her head slightly, narrow eyes narrowing even more. "I don't have time to convince you," the brunette said dangerously. "I will order one last time. Cancel the contract."

The Master smiled.

Kirika nodded. "That was your final chance. I will not ask again." With that, she kicked the man's kneecap with enough force to shatter it. Before his screams had died down, she kicked the second kneecap. The scream tapered into a grunt as the man composed himself.

The butt of her gun bit down in his left cheek. His right cheek. His right eye-socket, and the Master could feel his eye swelling shut.

He felt an add pressure against his shattered kneecap. The next moment, he was flung on his back as a deafening explosion washed over him. The explosive bullet had biting off his right leg, and he could feel his left leg taking damage from the explosion, as his ornate cloak melted into his flesh. He screamed.

Mireille winced as she saw Kirika tear into the man. She had never imagined that the girl was capable of anything closely to this… it just wasn't her… When Mireille looked closer at Kirika's blood-stained face, the narrow-slitted eyes and the dangerous stance of the lips, she realized that this wasn't Kirika. This was what Soldats had intended for Noir. This was the assassin Noir, not the girl Kirika who Mireille had first met, learned to tolerate, and even care about.

"Fine! I'll cancel the contract!" the Master wailed.

Kirika nodded, producing the phone from the man's desk. She tucked the phone next to his good ear, meaning the one that had only been pulled, not ripped, and her eyes asked the telephone number… as well as a sign of resistance.

The Master told her the number.

"The contract's cancelled. Tell the Wizard to do his own dirty work," the Master gasped out. Kirika withdrew the phone.

"This is Noir. Do not cancel this contract, and you will be next."

"Next what?" the voice on the other side had the gall to ask. Kirika lifted her gun. The explosion took the Master's head off. "Ah. Next. Got it," the voice answered. "The contract's cancelled," the voice ended the conversation, and Kirika smiled at the dial tone.

"Contract… cancelled," the girl whispered, looking around the room, the destruction, everything. She felt herself sway as she thought of what she had done to the Master. What she had been forced to do… her right hand twitched.

"Kirika," Mireille grunted as she rushed to the girl's side, supporting her before she could collapse.

"I'll… be fine," she whispered, eyes returning to normal. "I… what I did…"

"It wasn't you," Mireille whispered gently. "I know… I saw it…"

Kirika nodded gratefully, and stood up on her own two legs. "Let's get out of here."

Mireille smiled. "No problem!" the blonde agreed eagerly as thee two assassins left the room, and soon the building.


Xander looked around the living room, where the entire Scooby Gang had gathered once again, after a stressful day at school and a chance to go home, pick up clothes, and explain things to various parents if the situation so needed. Oz and Giles were the envied ones, for they only needed to pick up some clothes.

"Maybe we should skip patrol," Buffy suggested. "I mean… it's dangerous…"

To everyone's surprise, it was Xander, not Giles, who replied. "It's even more dangerous to stay locked in here… we won't change the situation unless we go out there, find out what's happening and get rid of the person behind this."

"Xander's right," Giles said, not believing ever needing to say that. The boy really had changed these last months… not only had he gained confidence, but he had matured considerably as well. He couldn't see the old Xander talking back to Buffy like he had done now on a couple of occasions. "We need to find out who is behind this, and put a stop to their operations… only then will we be safe."

"How hard can it be? All we need to do is take care of Teraka, right? We did it before, so we'll just do it again," Buffy said, shrugging.

"No, Buff… Teraka is the least of our worries. Whoever's behind Teraka is a lot more dangerous than Teraka could ever be. You see… Teraka are assassins. Good ones, yes, but assassins nonetheless. For them to kidnap someone… it's…well… wrong. It's not what they do. So, whoever's behind this can muster the money and the pull to have the Terakans change their modus operandi. And that takes a lot of influence, money, and power," Xander answered, getting up and starting to pace as he talked. "That's why I had you all here… I don't want to see what else that guy can pull out of his hat."

"So, what do you want us to do?" Buffy answered, testily now. "First you preach us not staying cooked up, and the next, you're telling of the coming apocalypse and we're safe in here. Make up your mind, Xander!"

"I am trying, Buffy!" Xander snapped out. "Don't you think I know that?" He took a couple of breaths, trying to calm himself. He sat down, and stared into space for a couple of seconds. "I am trying to warn you… all of you… of the situation we're in. And I'm also trying to convince you of the necessity to try and change the situation… we need to find out who's behind all of this, and put a stop to him. The moment he's gone, the Teraka contract is cancelled automatically."

"Find the contractor," Giles nodded. "Precisely. That's what we need to do."

"So… what's next?" Cordelia asked. "Buffy goes out, and Slays whoever's behind all of this? That's it? Why didn't you just tell that yesterday?"

"It's not that simple," Giles answered. "We don't know who's behind this… and unless we can find out who is, there is no way of stopping him, her, or it. That's why I suggest we go out in parties… watch each other's back… try and find out who is behind all of this, and then try and figure out a way to stop them."

Xander nodded. "That's right… the best thing would probably be for those of us who can defend themselves best… Buffy, me, Giles… to try and find out the responsible one…"

"Hang on, there's someone at the door," Krista said, standing up.

"Careful, it might be a vampire," Xander said, standing up, frowning slightly. "I'm not expecting anyone…"

"They've got heat signals. Whoever they are, they're definitely alive," Krista told Xander as he moved to the front door. The armored plating retracted automatically, virtually at the same time he was close enough to reach out and grab the handle to open the door.

"They?" Xander asked, even more confused. "Who could it be…" He opened the door. His jaw hit the ground.

"Good to see you again, Xander," Mireille said, stepping in, hugging him, and giving him the customary three kisses as she greeted him.

"Mi…Mireille?" Xander stammered out, barely enough wits to hug her back. Finally, he regained his wits, and hugged her fiercely. "God, Mireille, it's so good to see you!"

"Good to see you too, Xander," the blonde whispered, stepping back. Only now did Xander's eyes focus on Kirika, standing a little back, barely inside the door opening, staring shyly back at him.

"Kirika…" he whispered, not moving.

"Xander…" the girl whispered back, not moving either.

"It's so…" he started, taking one step forward, and reaching out both his arms.

"Sudden. I know," she whispered, also taking a step, linking her hands with his. "I'm glad you're okay…"

Xander smiled, unable to stop himself. A thousand things moved through his mind. A thousand questions battled for supremacy. "I'm glad you're okay, too…" he whispered. Their eye-contact remained as the outside world didn't exist. Finally, the two young people decided it was enough, threw themselves forward, and kissed passionately. Xander's tears flowed freely as he embraced her, this gentle girl with the hard life and the cold factor embedded within her.

As they broke apart, one tear flowed down Kirika's cheek, and Xander caught it with one finger before it could drip to the floor. "That's the second time I made you cry," he whispered.

"I'm never leaving you again, Mon Coeur," she whispered.

"I'm never letting you go, Chérie," Xander replied.

"Hey now, timeout!" Buffy shouted. "Xander!? Who are these girls? And why are they kissing you!?"

Xander smiled, suddenly remembering where he was. Sheepishly, he turned to the blonde. "Sorry… Buffy, Willow, Giles, Cordelia, Krista… These are Mireille and Kirika, my teachers."

Krista already knew from the conversations she had held with Xander. The silence of the other people spoke volumes.

"Your TEACHERS!?" Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia screeched at the same time.

"Xander, your teachers are female!" Buffy added to her shout.

Xander grinned. "I am well aware of that, Buffy," he said, grinning, his hand around Kirika's back tightening. He motioned for the living room, and the group sat down again, Kirika firmly lodged on Xander's lap, nestling against chest as both his arms draped protectively around her smaller frame.

"You never told us you spent ten months in Paris with two beautiful women!" Buffy continued the tirade before they had all settled. Xander could see Mireille lift an amused eyebrow in his direction.

"Xander, what have you been telling about us?" she asked with the velvety-soft slightly-accented English of hers. It reminded Xander of a Cobra… smooth and beautiful to look at, but venomous to the hilt.

"Nothing," Xander answered with a shrug. "I thought you'd prefer it that way."

"He had us believe you were male!" Buffy told Mireille, who once more lifted that amused eyebrow in Xander's direction. Kirika lifted her head from his chest and looked at him with a vague amusement herself.

"No, you assumed they were men… I merely chose not to contradict that," he said with a smirk, causing Kirika to smile slightly and drop her head, as well as making Mireille chuckle.

"But now… how come you tow are here already? I thought you were chasing after Teraka?" Xander asked Mireille.

"After that phone call yesterday, we moved up the schedule. I would have liked more information, but Kirika was very convincing," Mireille said with a chuckle. "Xander, we've got good news. The contract with Teraka? It's gone."

Xander's eyes lit up. The others were thrown in a stunned silence. "You got the contract rescinded? That's great news!" Xander shouted.

"E…excuse me," Giles interrupted Xander's outburst, turning to Mireille. "If I may ask… just how did you get the contract rescinded?"

Mireille smirked slightly. She's enjoying this, Xander thought, smiling slightly. "By attacking Teraka Headquarters, of course," the blonde answered deadpan. "We went in, cleaned house, and got the master to rescind the contract."

"You attacked Teraka's headquarters? Just the two of you? Am I supposed to believe that two women… one of which is Xander's age, I might add, took out Teraka's headquarters? Is this some form of a joke!?" Giles burst out.

Mireille got up, staring coldly down on the Englishman. "Xander? Who is this person?" she asked, and Rupert Giles felt chills go down his spine as those two blue eyes settled on him.

"Rupert Giles, Buffy's Watcher," Xander answered. "Mireille…"

The blonde held up her hand. "Mr. Giles. My name is Mireille Bouquet. But you may know me best under an assumed name. Noir."

The librarian went pale, and started sweating. "Myth… Myth and legend…"

From her position on Xander's lap, Kirika intoned, "Le noir, ce mot désigne depuis une époque lointaine le nom du destin. Les deux Vierges règnent sur la mort. Les mains noires protègent la paix des nouveaux-nés."

Giles whispered, as if by heart, "Noir, the word depicting since longtime the name of destiny… the two maidens that reign over death… the black hands protecting the peace of the newborns."

Mireille nodded tensely, and sat down in her seat. "That's who we are."

"You're assassins," Giles whispered. The crowd gathered seemed to move away from the newcomers. It was unfortunate for Xander to be so close to Kirika, as it now looked as if they were distancing themselves from him as well.

"Yes," Mireille answered calmly. "We protect the world from the scum of humanity. Where the law fails, we work. Drug lords, powerful men."

"As I explained to Xander," Kirika said calmly, sitting up and looking around the room, "we do the same work you do. Where you slay vampires, we go after serial killers and drug lords. Where you take out demons, we take out war criminals and other scum."

"Xander? You knew?" Buffy accused.

"Knew?" Xander asked, chuckling darkly. "Yes, I knew… and I wanted nothing to do with the whole business until I saw for myself how cold and evil human beings can be. I swear, Buff… I've seen a lot of atrocities committed by vampires, but they're nothing compared to what a human being can do. And that's not including the fact that a human has a soul."

Buffy's face twisted in revulsion, while Cordelia and Willow could see reason, Oz remained impassive, and Giles could actually begin to see that they might be right.

Krista, knowing all about the two noir-operatives, could see that things weren't going over smoothly… she had been afraid of this ever since computing the possibility of Mireille and Kirika showing up in Sunnydale. Buffy wasn't going to go down without a fight, she was going to drag her little group with her, and things would turn ugly. So, the AI thought something up in the hope of diffusing the situation.

"Xander told me so much about you," Krista said, sitting down on one knee next to the couch where Xander was still holding an impassive Kirika. "I'm Krista," she added, extending her hand. Kirika sat up, took the hand, and shook it.

"Kirika," the brunette replied calmly. "And Xander told me a lot about you, too. You're the Artificial Intelligence, right?"

"Yup," the redhead replied with a smug look. "Xander said he looks at me like his daughter… which kinda makes me yours as well, Kirika-mama."

Xander swallowed hard, not expecting the AI to be this blunt… or takes this particular moment to pull her stunt. He had no idea how this was going to turn out. Mireille, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying the joke immensely as she started laughing.

Kirika remained silent for a few seconds, a gentle smile tugging at the usually impassive lips. "After everything Xander has told me… there's no-one I would be more proud to call me daughter," the brunette finally said, secretly enjoying the stunned look Xander was shooting her. Mireille just laughed louder as the brunette assassin and the redheaded AI hugged.

"Hey, don't change the subject!" Buffy shouted to Krista.

"Don't yell at my daughter," Kirika said calmly, lying down on Xander's chest again. Her voice had been calm, level, without a trace of anger. But it also conveyed something else, intangible, and it set Buffy's teeth on edge.

"Or what?" Buffy demanded, suppressing the shiver that ran down her spine.

"Or I'll get mad," Kirika answered calmly.

"Is that a threat!?" the Slayer demanded, jumping from her chair.

"Merely an observation," the brunette replied calmly, not at all concerned about Buffy's blowing gaskets.

"I am the Slayer, you know!" Buffy shouted to the brunette. "I am NOT afraid of you, contrary to some of my friends here!"

Kirika sighed. "I just spent 15 hours on airplanes. I'm not in the mood," she answered.

"I'll show you mood!" Buffy shouted, making to reach for Kirika. Before she knew it, she heard a gun cock.

"Not even a Slayer is bulletproof," the blonde assassin said, calmly. "Unless you want to test that theory as well?"

Buffy growled, but backed off. At the same time, Kirika moved up from Xander's lap. "Mireille…"

The blonde shrugged and holstered the gun. "Just wanted to let you have your happiness to be back with your beau, Kirika."

"Thank you," the brunette whispered, sincerely. She turned to Buffy then. "Us fighting will not accomplish anything."

"Sure it will. I pound you, you stop wailing about how important you are, I feel good, everybody wins," the Slayer said with a smirk.

Kirika sighed. Xander stood up behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders. "Buff… take it from somebody who knows… Kirika isn't someone you want to fight with."

"You would say that, wouldn't you, Xander?" Buffy replied sarcastically. "After all, you al little miss perfect there are together." The way she said that last word, making ti sound childish and unimportant, just pushed the wrong button for Xander. Nobody… nobody… made fun his feelings for Kirika. He was about to lift his hands from her shoulders when her hands came up, touching his fingers gently.

"You have made your final mistake," the brunette whispered. It was so strange to hear that impassive voice gain deadliness simply by speaking softer than usual. "Chéri, do you have a training room?"

"Upstairs," Xander whispered. "Kirika…"

"I'll try not to kill her," the brunette whispered as she passed him, kissing him on the lips as she did so. "Promise."

Buffy chuckled. "Try not to kill me? Bo-ho, I am so scared! The big bad assassin is going to try not to kill me!" Mocking Kirika like this all the way to the dojo, the entire group was soon gathered to witness a match the likes of which they were never to witness again… a match between Noir and the Slayer.

Buffy didn't waste time, and charged immediately. Kirika merely waited her out, and dodged at the last moment, her arm flashing out as the Slayer raced past, slamming her fist directly in the Slayer's stomach at full force. It stopped Buffy immediately, lifting her off the floor a few centimeters before dropping her to the floor.

As the Slayer hit the mats, Kirika dropped down on top of her, pinning arms and legs in a complicated hold-grip. Her free right hand stabbed at her throat, yet halted mere millimeters from it.

"I just broke your larynx and shoved it down your windpipe. You suffocated to death," Kirika said, getting up.

"Yeah, right," Buffy grunted, spinning around and sweeping at Kirika's feet. Which were no longer there, as the assassin jumped up, vaulting over the sweeping leg, and coming down just after they had passed.

"I do not wish to harm you," Kirika restated.

Buffy jumped up, trying to hit the girl right in the face. Instead of hitting, Buffy's fist met empty air, before Kirika grabbed it, spun her around, and slammed her down hard on the floor. She twisted further, and Buffy screamed out when the girl twisted to breaking point, releasing right before breaking the arm. Kirika stepped back, awaiting Buffy's next move.

"Ow…" the Slayer grunted, standing up, cradling the arm. "How did you…?"

"I was trained since age three. I know every move you'll make before you make it. As I explained to Xander… I can read my opponents like an open book. Which negates you speed advantage. As to your strength, there is a martial art called Aikido, which focuses on teaching how to use an opponent's strength against him. It is useful for fighting vampires and demons… although Slayers qualify as well."

"So… what you're saying is… a Slayer…" Giles whispered.

"A Slayer is a weapon to be used against vampires and demons," Kirika answered. "It was obviously not meant to be used in this manner."

"Hey! Right here, you know!" Buffy shouted. "Didn't anybody ever tell you it's impolite to talk about someone as if they're not there?"

"Buffy, you posses strength and speed… but your edge loses its meaning when met by someone who was from birth to be able to do the impossible," Kirika said. "And I started training Xander to do the same."

"So that is how he put me on my butt twice?" Buffy asked, angrily.

"I see you have been putting my training to good use," Kirika said as Xander grinned sheepishly to Buffy. She motioned for Buffy's place. "Care to show me how your training has been progressing?"

Buffy grinned now, and hurriedly stepped away. "Oh, I wanna see this!"

Xander swallowed, and took Buffy's place opposing Kirika. He swallowed, calmed himself, and lunged for her. She darted back, grabbed his wrist, and threw him. He landed on his feet, and swept for her legs. She wasn't there, of course, instead jumping up and twisting in mid-air, landing directly in front of him, and smashing her elbow in his face. Hard.

"You've grown slower," Kirika noted coldly. "After all the time I put into you, you still can't hold on to your training?"

Xander grunted, and got up, the flow of blood from his nose stopping already. "Aw, Kirika…"

Kirika cricked her neck to left and right. "Attack me."

Mireille chuckled. "Here we go," she whispered as Xander got into an attack pose, and charged. Kirika dodged one, two, three strikes, grabbed the fourth and twisted.

Xander was no fool. After his meeting with the Demon in Maine, he had gone over his own meager knowledge of the Aikido techniques, and come to the conclusion that there were tactical problems when faced with non-human opponents. He had seen the Demon break free of his grip with sheer muscle power. As such, tighter with Krista, he had spent hours trying to perfect the techniques, coming up with ways to increase his martial arts techniques when faced with superior opponents.

When Kirika grabbed his latest strike, and started to fold his arm as she moved forward, Xander's muscles moved by instinct as they encountered a situation they had trained for. As his arm folded, so did his back, freeing his arm from her grip, and permitting him to strike at her unprotected side, which he subsequently did. Kirika dodged, smiled, and awaited his next strike.

"That was a good move," she complimented levelly, remaining at rest.

"You anticipated, as usual," Xander grunted.

"You're still advertising," Kirika said with a small smile. "Now… why don't you get serious? I want to see just how much you have last over the time I have been away."

Xander's face darkened. "I kept up my training, Kirika. I didn't lose anything."

Kirika smiled. "Prove it."

Xander's fists balled, his teeth bared, and he charged. But still… something held him back. The strength was there. The speed was, too. And he even had the technique… but it was the simple act of following up, those few fractions hesitation between reversing one punch and starting the next that did him in.

Kirika kicked him in the stomach, following up with a devastating roundhouse kick to his face. "Why are you holding back?" she demanded as Xander crawled to his feet, swiping at the blood from his nose with the back of his right hand.

"I'm not," he replied coldly.

"You are," Kirika stated, slowly walking towards him. When she reached him, she put her arms around his neck. "What's wrong, mon Chèr?" she whispered in Russian.

Xander didn't answer. He didn't have the answer. The eye motion told Kirika everything she needed to know. "You're afraid of what would happen if you unleashed fully," she said, not a question but a statement. He nodded once. She smiled slightly, then released him after a kiss.

"We're both tired," she stated aloud, in her perfect English. "Perhaps we should go to bed after a nice long shower."

Xander nodded in agreement, happy that he didn't have to do this in front of his friends. As good friends as they were, he was still afraid of their reaction when and if they found out about the Soldier, and the Hyena that dwelled within him. Their reactions to Mireille and Kirika had been enough to convince him that some secrets were not yet meant to be shared.

"Good night everybody," he said as he walked past them, following Kirika out the door. As he closed it, his voice drifted back into the room. "Wash your back?" The door closed before her response came, but it left no trace of doubt in the minds of the others as to what Kirika had meant… taking a shower and getting into bed together.

"What's with those two?" Buffy asked exasperated, after staring at the closed door as if the item was to wield all the answers in the universe.

Mireille shrugged, and smiled slightly. "I don't know… I return after an errand one morning, only finding an empty wine bottle and them in bed together. And Kirika taught Xander her bad habits on how to conceal secrets."

The group stared at the blonde, seemingly not caring about the scrutiny.

"In bed together?" Willow finally asked, gasping for air like a fish out of water.

"They've been acting like that ever since," Mireille said, after a small nod.

"So they're serious?" Cordelia asked. "I mean… if they sleep together…"

Mireille chuckled. "They sleep together, yes. With the emphasis on sleeping. They keep their clothes on."

Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Xander and Kirika had shed their clothes. As Kirika turned the shower to ice-cold, Xander grabbed the soap, and jumped in after the brunette. After soaping up his hands, he slowly ran them over his girlfriend's muscular back, feeling himself finally start to relax as he did so. Kirika seemed to feel his state of mind, and just let him run his hands over her back for the tenth time without asking him about it.

Finally, he seemed to realize what he had been doing, and released her back. She looked over her shoulder, staring into his eyes as if to ask 'are you feeling better?' without forming so many words. He smiled slightly, and held up the soap. Dipping her head, she took the soap, and ran it through her hands as he turned around. He didn't notice the small smile that tugged on her lips as she started running her powerful hands gently over his filling back.

She remembered the first time she had seen him naked, back at the mansion… how skinny he had been then. The smile grew slightly as she recalled him filling out rapidly under her expert tutelage, and before she realized it, she too had gone over his back a dozen times. When she released him, he looked at her the same way she had looked earlier. She dipped her head once. They had established quiet communication again… and Kirika rather enjoyed the silence.

Five minutes later, the couple was in Xander's luxurious bed, him dressed in a pair of shorts and she wearing a long t-shirt. Normally, they would cuddle up, close their eyes, and just drift off rather immediately. This time, Xander turned to her before either could settle in completely.

"I've missed you so much," he whispered, tightening his hug around her smaller yet more powerful body. She hugged him back without hesitation, trying to work out the unfamiliar ways of love.

"I missed you too…" she replied, enjoying the feeling of their bodies so very close together… closer than they had ever been… a rare full smile played on her lips. After an eternity that passed as mere seconds, Xander lifted his head away, looking deep into her oddly colored eyes. Those eyes that seemed to convey a smooth deadliness and an odd way of analyzing your soul at the same time. Or rather… they usually did. Now Xander could see other things in those red orbs… things he knew Kirika had difficulty with expressing. Things like love… compassion… vulnerability…

He smiled when he realized that she was showing her vulnerability… he hugged her again. "I love you," he whispered.

Kirika screwed her eyes shut. "I love you too," she whispered in reply, holding on to him.

They didn't speak after that; merely holding on to each other as their bodies and minds finally relaxed after an intense couple of weeks worrying. Their eyes closed and their minds drifted into sleep without difficulty; safe and comfortable in the knowledge that there was someone close by to protect them.

Xander didn't have nightmares that night.

The next morning, the breakfast table slowly started to fill out as more and more people awoke from their sleep. Krista's customary large breakfast met with happy feedback as the various people dug in deeply. The young Ai smiled broadly, happy in the knowledge that what she had created was giving pleasure to those she cared about.

Finally, Mireille stumbled in, eyes widening slightly at the sight of the huge variety of dishes available. "What would you like, Mireille?" Krista asked, voice timbre slightly wavering as the young AI tried to overcome the jitters of having a new person at the table. Normally, ti wouldn't be this hard, if it weren't for the fact that Xander placed a lot of respect in this person.

"You cook, too?" Mireille asked with a curious smile. "You're a genuine talent show, aren't you?" she asked, smiled slightly wider.

"I do my best," Krista answered, smiling as well. "I made some croissants… Papa Xander told me you had difficulty finding good ones here in the States."

Mireille seemed to appraise the redhead for a few seconds, before shrugging. "Sure. Get me a couple, and a cup of coffee… strong coffee, if possible."

"Is there any other?" Xander asked with a chuckle. Krista nodded to Mireille, and bounced off to amass the order. She was back in ten seconds, carrying a plate with ten croissants laid out nicely, as well as a cup of coffee. Strong coffee.

"I hope you like them…" the AI whispered unsure as she carefully put the plate down in front of Mireille.

"Thanks," the blonde said as the AI put the plate down. She smelled deeply, and let out a content grunt. "They smell wonderful… if they taste as well as they smell, I'm sure they'll do perfectly," she added as she moved to cut open one of the croissants. "They're still warm," she noted with a smile.

"I just finished baking them half an hour ago," Krista whispered as she waited for the verdict. Mireille finished buttering the croissant, closed it, and took a bite. Her face showed delight.

"This is great!" the blonde grunted in delight after swallowing her bite. "How did you learn to cook like this? Last time, Xander had trouble baking an egg!"

"HEY!" Xander grunted in protest as the present people chuckled devilishly.

"I downloaded some cookbooks," Krista said, smiling broadly as Mireille complimented her cooking. "I do my best to take care of Papa Xander… and his guests."

"You spoil us rotten," Buffy told the AI. "After this, it'll be really hard to go back home… Mom cooks good, but this… it's so much better."

Willow nodded empathically, as Cordelia grunted, "Krista's cooking is so bad for the figure… too good to stop until you're completely full."

Krista smiled broadly at the compliments, not knowing where to put her happiness. At that moment, Kirika came down the stairs, still only dressed in the T-shirt that barely reached down to her hips.

"Morning," the brunette greeted as she walked over to Xander. She reached down as he reached up, kissing her on the lips while the t-shirt slid up and showed considerably more than just her hips.

"Good morning, Chérie. Sleep well?" Xander asked after she straightened out and found herself seated in the empty chair right next to his.

"Never better," the brunette answered. Only then did the duo notice that everyone was staring at Kirika… all except for Mireille, who just sipped her coffee.

"What?" Xander asked, not really sure.

"Eh… you…t-shirt…nothing under…" Willow blurted.

"Xander, your girlfriend is showing her assets," Cordelia grunted bluntly.

"Kirika-mama is built like any other woman," Krista said as she materialized next to Kirika. "What would you like for breakfast, Kirika-mama?"

Giles and Oz still sat, staring at the brunette, not saying anything, eyes glued to the petite form that was now having a conversation with Krista. At the same time, Buffy elbowed Giles and Willow elbowed Oz.

"You're giving the men bad ideas," Buffy grunted to Kirika.

"They'll get used to it," Xander said with a smirk. "I know I did," he added with a chuckle as Krista returned with a load of pancakes and a cup of tea.

As Kirika sipped from her tea, she nodded slightly. "Not bad…" she said, turning to Krista. "When everyone's off to school, I'll teach you my recipe…"

"Hey! You wouldn't tell me the secret, and you're going to spill the beans to Krista after only knowing her for a couple of hours!?" Xander protested.

Kirika's face grew mischievous. "Handed down from mother to daughter," the brunette said calmly. Krista glowed. Xander picked his jaw up from the floor and shook his head in amusement. Mireille chuckled in suppressed laughter, and the others just looked confused.

"Kirika makes the best tea," Mireille explained. "Normally, I only drink coffee… only exception is Kirika's tea."

"These pancakes are great," Kirika told Krista, as if she wasn't even paying attention to the others' conversation. "Perhaps you can teach me how to make them?"

Xander shook his head as she heard the conversation next to him. He chuckled. "I'm glad you two get along really well."

Krista and Kirika looked at each other for a moment. Then, they looked at Xander. "Why wouldn't we?" they asked simultaneously.

Mireille burst out laughing. Xander just chuckled. "You're rubbing off on her, Chérie."

Kirika shrugged, not minding one moment. Krista shrugged in a similar fashion. "Like mother, like daughter," Xander grunted.

"Thank you," both females replied at the same time, not even thinking about it.


Kirika walked up to the front door of the normal-looking house in center Sunnydale, feeling a little vibration of nervousness deep inside of her heart. This had been in her mind the moment Xander had told her about what had happened last time… Kirika's eyes narrowed slightly as she rang the doorbell, steeling herself for what she knew was coming.

"What?" the gruff voice of the unshaven man demanded as he opened the door upon her third ring.

"Mr. Harris?" the girl asked sweetly, doing her best to come across as 'normal'… or as close to normal as she could, being who she was.

"Whut'd ya want?" he demanded angrily.

"My name is Kirika. I am… an acquaintance of Xander's," she said, stopping herself from saying 'girlfriend', keeping the secret for when she knew better who this man was.

"Xander? What Xander?" the man demanded. "I don't know any Xander," he then said, and moved to close the door. Kirika's right hand placed itself on the heavy wooden door without thinking. It stopped closing, no matter how much the man behind it pushed.

"Your son, Alexander Harris," Kirika said, voice lowering dangerously. The man stopped pushing.

"Tell the brat he still owns me two months rent," the man said gruffly, and started pushing once again. "And then I'll really forget about him."

Kirika felt anger explode in her heart, yet managed to contain herself to the point where her eyes just narrowed, and she felt the Noir-assassin infliction come over her voice. "I am amazed that an animal like you managed to raise a caring, brave, and well-mannered son such as Xander. I will leave you a message… come near him and I will make you wish you were dead," the small girl stated, voice cold, dark, and totally flat. She released the door. It immediately snapped shut.

As she turned to walk down the path that lead to the street, her extremely trained hearing reported the sound of what must be the back of a person hitting the door, obviously in contemplation of what he had just heard. The moment she reached the street, she oriented herself, chose a direction, and started jogging… planning on picking Xander up at school.

She only had to wait half an hour before the final lessons ended, and the brunette smiled slightly as she saw Xander emerge from the school, flanked by Willow and Buffy, with Cordelia walking next to Buffy and Oz walking next to Willow. The five were talking about something or other, obviously quite engaged in the discussion. Kirika managed to sneak up quite closely.

"Hello," the girl greeted, emerging from the crowd behind the group, making them all jump to stare at her.

"You're worse than Angel!" Buffy grunted after Xander slipped his arms around her, and kissed her fully on the lips.

"Angel?" Kirika asked.

"He's a vampire… a gypsy clan gave him back his soul as punishment at some point in his life," Xander explained quietly, looking around to make sure no-one was listening in to their conversation.

Kirika just nodded. "You're just going to accept that?" Buffy whispered, not believing that Kirika would just accept an explanation like that without asking for further details.

"I've learned that sometimes it's best to just accept things," Kirika replied calmly as the quintet continued walking to the parking lot, where Cordelia's convertible was parked right next to Xander's Aston Martin. As they reached the cars, Xander threw his keys to Kirika, and walked to the passenger side.

"Hey! You're letting her drive your car!?" Buffy said angrily. "Xander, you don't let anyone drive your car, and now you're letting her drive?"

Xander shrugged as Kirika keyed the release for the door locks. "She's my girlfriend," he stated simply as she slid behind the wheel. Xander opened his door, and ushered whoever wanted into the backseat of the Aston Martin. Cordelia ended up driving home with Buffy while Willow and Oz made use of Xander's backseat.


The cave was immerged in twilight, the single source of illumination coming from a scattering of torches places strategically around the rounded walls of the circular cave. In the exact middle, a rectangular slab of stone was set, equipped with extremely heavy duty chains and ditto attachments anchoring them into the dark stone.

Dimitri entered the cave through its only entrance. His weathered Russian face was set in an almost emotionless expression, the only trace of the nervousness he felt indicated by the flurried activity of his eyes as they scanned the twilight for the man he knew was present.

"Dimitri," the dark voice came from all around him, reverberating through the strange refractions of the room.

"My Lord," the vampire said, almost snapping to attention as he straightened out.

"I have an important task for you," the Voice continued. A man, shrouded in a black cloak floated from the shadows, approaching the stone slab. A hand emerged from one of the huge sleeves, making a motion for the stone table. "Teraka has failed," the Wizard said as a blood-red sigil appeared on the stony surface, a golden receptacle appearing from the sigil after which is vanished. "The ritual is tonight, Dimitri. I must have my sacrifice."

"Of course, My Lord," the vampire whispered reverently, approaching his lord at his motion.

"I can no longer be bothered by minor powers," the Wizard continued. "Drakarra has expressed his displeasure. We must have a suitable sacrifice if I'm to gain his power. Dimitri, get me one of these two." He motioned for the golden scale on the table, and it promptly filled with a murky liquid of unidentified properties. The liquid foamed and danced as if driven by some invisible terrible force.

"Either you get me her," Wizard said as a face appeared on the calming surface.

"The Slayer," Dimitri whispered.

"Or her," the Wizard finished as a second face appeared.

"I will take her," Dimitri whispered. "Whoever she is, I would prefer not to go up against a Slayer."

The Wizard smiled under his hood. "She is known as Noir, and is quite possible worse than a Slayer. Where a Slayer has just might, this one has might and intelligence." The Wizard turned his hooded head to Dimitri. "You are to follow my instruction to the letter. Throw fifteen vampires at her, yet remain behind. The moment you have a clear shot, use this." A quick motion and a small lightshow later, a small box was present on the stone table.

"Those are tranquilizer darts. Use them, for you will need them."

"My Lord… fifteen vampires against one girl? Fifteen vampires are enough to take care of a Slayer!" Dimitri protested, yet hurriedly wished he had said nothing as the Wizard turned to him.

"Dimitri, Noir took out enough Teraka assassins to make the ten million dollars asking price insufficient to clear the costs," the Wizard grunted darkly, raising his hand, and muttering a spell. Dimitri was ejected from the room, painfully. "And I will kill you the moment the ritual completes," the Wizard whispered after his crony had long since vanished.

"And now, to continue the preparations for the ritual," the Wizard continued, materializing a large tome in his hands. "I will enjoy performing the first part of the ritual… the sacrificing of the chastity of a Chosen One. Too bad I'll have to wait until midnight," he finished, chuckling. Taking a deep breath, the Wizard composed, and started muttering, a large red seal growing throughout the confines of the room. The Wizard could feel his powers vibrating strangely as the spell's magic drained him as fast as his link to Drakarra could replenish it.


"I'm surprised they let us go," Mireille said to Kirika that evening. "Buffy's bad, but Xander…"

"He worries," Kirika said simply. "But I've been looking forward to meeting Sunnydale for quite some time now… a chance to brush up on my skills against vampires."

Mireille smiled slightly. "I thought you said you feared that which you can't kill?" she said, remembering her companion of her own words, spoken so many months ago in Paris.

"Xander taught me to kill them," the brunette replied calmly. "And once you know the method, it's not hard… After all, Teraka wasn't that hard either."

Mireille shrugged. "If you hear the stories… vampires are dangerous."

Kirika chuckled once. "So is Teraka. And Soldats. If complete armies can't stop us, how should a couple of vampires be any different?"

Mireille remained silent, not totally convinced. Contrary to her companion, she was the 'normal' assassin. She hadn't received exorbitant training from age four. She wasn't the one who could anticipate a gunman's moves before he made them. She wasn't the one who could pick up a fork and think up half a dozen ways of killing someone with it before it's lifted into a position where it could be used. She wasn't the one who could make a weapon out of anything… and as such, with all of her 'shortcoming' of having had nothing but a normal training, Mireille possessed a healthy sense of caution.

"Okay… are you willing to tell me now why you insisted on going on patrol by ourselves? I can understand you wanting to get away from Xander's friends, but you could have let the boy come along. I swear, he was looking close to a nervous breakdown when we left."

Kirika sighed, and looked up at the stars. "Sometimes, I wonder…" the small brunette whispered. "About the future…"

"The future?" Mireille asked, confused. "That's not your habit, thinking beyond what needs to be done."

"About us," Kirika went on, as if Mireille hadn't interrupted. "What would happen to us… now with Xander… he's settled in here… I doubt he'll come back to Paris."

Mireille swallowed. "I… see…" she whispered. "And you're thinking about staying here."

Kirika nodded once. "I promised I wouldn't leave him…"

"Kirika, that could go both ways," the blonde assassin answered. "He promised not to leave you either. He could come to Paris with us. Once all of this is over, he can go back to Paris with us."

"It'll require a lot of rebuilding… a room for us… a room for the mainframe equipment…"

"Mainframe equipment!?" Mireille demanded.

"For Krista," Kirika answered with a nod. "We can't leave her behind…"

Mireille rubbed her head, and sighed. She looked around the park they were in. she motioned for a bench, and sat down. Kirika sat down next to her companion. Neither spoke for a while, absorbed in their own thoughts. Finally, Mireille broke the silence.

"I could always move in here…" the blonde whispered.

"Mireille?" Kirika asked, not sure what she was hearing.

"I must admit, the little AI knows how to cook… and there's nothing I can do from Paris I shouldn't be able to do from here. All I need is a computer… and Krista more than qualifies to get into the secured e-mail account."

"Thank you, Mireille," Kirika whispered, doing her best to convey the emotion in her voice. As usual, it came out as flat, but Mireille had long-since learned to read her younger companion's voice.

Mireille just smiled, and got up. "Come, let's finish our patrol. Before Xander thinks we're dead, and break out the big stuff."

Kirika nodded, and got up, ready to follow her companion. Instead of walking, she froze. Her keen instincts were going haywire. Mireille, recognizing something significant when she saw it, drew her weapon, and pressed her back against Kirika's.

"What is it?"

"Vampires," the brunette answered coldly, voice slipping into assassination mode. At the same time she finished her statement, a dozen vampires emerged from the bushes, games faces on, grinning enlarged canines bare.

"Get them, boys!" the leader of the vampires snarled, charging the duo. Kirika drew her gun with her right hand, slipped a stake into her left, and danced back-to-back with Mireille. In tight quarters like this, the brunette still remembered the fight she had with Chloe at her back… she banished the thought, and focused solely on the fight.

Mireille's guns discharged nearly continuously as Kirika slipped her stake into a vampire's heart practically without the beast noticing. At the same time, she pointed her Beretta at a second vampire, and pulled the trigger. Her aim was perfect, and the bullet ceased the non-beating undead heart.

From the bushes, Dimitri watched as the deadly duo ripped through the 12 vampires. When there were only four of them left, he aimed the dart gun, and fired twice in short succession.

Kirika felt something bite into her neck. Scant moments later, she heard a muffled curse from Mireille. Kirika felt, rather than heard, her companion sink to the ground as her own hyper-tuned body started to fight off the effects of whatever it was that had penetrated her bloodstream. Her eyes blurred, so she closed them and focused on sound alone. Fighting in total darkness, the effective assassin fired at the two still moving beasts behind her, finishing off the vampires on Mireille's side.

Feeling one of the vampires tackle her, the brunette reacted on well-rehearsed instincts that had not yet been suppressed by whatever it was, and slipped her stake into the deadly point. The weight on top of her vanished, and she risked the courage to open her eyes. All she saw was a shadow, moving closer to her. She couldn't aim perfectly, her hand vibrating with the effort it took to lift the gun. Gritting her teeth, she forced her racing heartbeat down, and emptied her gun's clip into the vampire, hoping that one of the bullets would strike true.

She had only a few moments to contemplate the irony of the best assassin in the world hoping for a true shot before she fell into darkness.

Dimitri stared, stunned, as the petite brunette finished off the four remaining vampires before falling to the drug. He walked over, making sure that both were sedated before coming within arm's reach. Sure that they weren't going to be a problem, Dimitri picked up the sleeping Kirika.

"I'll leave you here… I'm sure you'll make a nice meal to some passing vampire," the vampire said as he hefted Kirika over his shoulder and turned to walk away. "Too bad I already fed. You look really tasty."


Xander flipped over and over, away from Krista, tumbling through the room. Finally, he halted, hooked his leg under the katana on his weapon's stand, and kicked it up into the air. Jumping to his legs, he caught the weapon as it fell from the skies. With a single motion, he drew the blade from its scabbard.

"Chose your weapon," he intoned calmly, holding the sword in attack position.

Krista smiled slightly. Reactor, ten percent, she whispered inwardly. The walls blurred for a few moments, before being replaced with all sorts of hand-to-hand weapons, ranging from clubs over maces to heavy mauls and from swords to halberds. The lithe artificial body jumped up, grabbing a pike from the walls, and dropping into an advanced attack position.

"Oh, wow," Willow whispered, standing right next to Oz.

Xander dipped his head at his opponent's choice, and charged. Krista responded by charging as well, the duo racing toward each other from the ends of the room. As they met, Krista ducked under Xander's first slash, moving the wooden end of the pike toward his chest. Xander dodged under the striking attack, charging with his sword under Krista's thrust. The AI struck down at him, trying to get to him.

Xander dodged sideways when he saw the weapon come down toward him, and Krista changed the motion from down to sideways, forcing Xander to dodge backward even more. Suddenly, he felt something.

The wall.

As he startled, the spiked tip of Krista's pike rested against his neck. "You're not your usual self, Papa Xander," the girl noted as she stood down from the attack.

"Sorry… I'm just not in it," Xander whispered.

"Don't worry… Kirika-mama can take care of herself," Krista whispered.

Xander nodded once. The uneasiness in his stomach was achingly familiar. If only he knew from where… he had felt this before… something wasn't right. He could feel his nerves twitching. Something wasn't right.

The front door opened. Krista's eyes reflected surprise, then worry, then turned to Xander. "Papa Xander…"

Xander didn't wait. Something wasn't right. He wanted to know. Needed to know. He jumped down the flight of stairs as if it didn't exist. "Kirik…" his voice trailed off when he saw Buffy Slayer-handle a groggy Mireille into the couch.

"I don't know," the Slayer said, answering Xander's aborted cry.

"I…think they took her…" the assassin whispered, head lulling from side to side, blue eyes straining to focus on Xander. "I'm sorry… drugged us…"

Xander felt the blow in the pit of his stomach, the emotional punch strong enough to lift him off his feet, or so it seemed as he fell backward in the nearest chair, eyes dull and lifeless, not a muscle moving in his entire body as his face was frozen in a morbid shock and his skin was pale. A pale gray that was so spooky that Buffy rushed over to him, leaving Mireille to take care of herself.

"Xander… Xander?"

"Papa Xander?" Krista whispered, materializing next to the blonde.

"Kirika was kidnapped," Buffy grunted. Krista blinked. The holographic matrix destabilized, causing Buffy to stare as the image vanished into nothingness.

In the Vault, every screen activated, showing the same image… the dreaded Blue Screen of Death indicating a crashed Windows PC. It was a bitter show of irony that her three builders had given to Krista… should anything ever happen to threaten her stability, the entire system would freeze and display a message similar to a crashed windows PC.

Ten seconds later, the screen blackened out, and the booting sequence was displayed, the SCSI racks present going into overdrive the moment Krista's personality surfaced. The hologram rematerialized, watching the boot-screens flash by as the rest of her programs loaded from protected storage.

"I am rebooting?" she whispered. "Why…?" the latest memories were the last to load. They had been encrypted, showing that they had been responsible for the Screen of Death.

"Krista emotion module version 10.8," the AI told the main screen of her primary computer, the mainframe, namely. "Deactivate." The program deactivated, and Krista felt… nothing. All her emotions were gone. She was now a true Artificial Intelligence, a living computer without emotional attachments.

"Load memories," the AI then said, and the last encryptions fell.

Krista was supposedly unable to feel emotions, but she still held fire in her eyes by the time the last memories had loaded. "Reboot emotions," the AI said, turning, and vanishing to the living room, where Willow had taken over in the desperate attempt to find a sparkle of life within Xander.

"Papa Xander," Krista whispered, kneeling down next to his chair at an available spot. "Papa Xander… the monitor suit shows you are physically in order. Please… listen to me…"

"I'm sorry," Mireille whispered, barely loud enough for anyone to hear. Yet Xander still reacted, a small twitch under his right eye. "I'm sorry for not being able to protect her, Xander… I know… I know how important she was to you…to me… I promise… the moment I'm fit, we'll go after her."

Xander's lips twitched. "No," he whispered, the one word striking like a mortal shell. "No, I will not allow it…"

Mireille blinked, recognizing the words. "Oh my…"

Xander closed his eyes, sitting up straight.

He appeared in the room where all his spirits were present. Without even bothering to say something, he grabbed Hyena from his chair, and actually lifted him to eye-level, practically off the ground. "Can you find her!?"

Hyena grinned savagely. "In my sleep."

Xander nodded, turning and throwing the spirit in the vacant chair at the head of the table. "Then get her back." He turned to Soldier. "You. Support him."

Soldier snapped to attention perfectly. "Aye AYE SIR!" the man snapped, practically happy with the turn of events, if it weren't for the dire circumstances. Xander Prime glanced around the room. "Anyone have anything to say? Then say it after we get her back!"

Nobody said anything. Love was gripping his armrests, practically bursting with rage as it tried to control its urges to get Kirika back. Emotion was shaking as well, yet in fury instead of his usual placid attitude. Intelligence remained uninterested, shrugged, and closed his eyes.

"You don't need me in here, so I'll just stay out of it," he said.

Xander nodded, and turned his attention to the last spirit. Cold glared at Xander. "Let me be Third. I'll make sure the guy gets his comeuppance."

Xander Prime nodded, and motioned for the vacated Soldier's seat. "Sit. I'll take your place."

In the real world, Xander opened his eyes. They glowed amber. "Kirika. Love. Friend. Companion. Mate," Hyena growled. He stood up, and looked at Mireille. "Not your fault," he told her. "Their fault. They will pay," he stated, turning, and walking to the front door. He clipped Magan to the back of his belt, threw his jacket on, and pulled open the door before anyone had the chance to react.

"Xander!" Buffy shouted. She halted when his head turned to her, amber eyes glowing, canines showing. He grabbed the Light Saber from his pocket, and willed it to activate. It did, in a burning red beam of light.

"Where I go, you can't follow," the Hyena stated coldly, turned, and stalked out the door. "Module Admin, Mode Prison! Niveau Un!"

Prison mode, the administrator module noted, shutting the windows and doors with the lead-and-steel shutters.

"He locked us in," Krista whispered. "Buffy! No!" It was too late, the blonde Slayer angrily punching at the barrier that held the front door shut. Immediately, she was ejected backward with a strangled cry.

Prison Mode, level two. Electrifying shutters, the administrator module boomed.

"This house is now a prison," Krista whispered as she and Willow helped Buffy up. "It's best to wait for Papa Xander to return…"

"Did you look at him? Last time he looked like that, he was in the grip of something called the Hyena, and he almost killed us all!" Buffy screeched.

"No," Mireille whispered, forcing herself to appear coherent. "Last time he looked like that was when Kirika was injured and he ripped through a dozen guards to get to her."

"You mean…" Willow started, unable to finish her statement.

"Kirika… she… I don't know how… but she taught him to use his possessions. To devastating effect," Mireille said.

"Papa Xander… he told me… it's dangerous. He runs the risk of being possessed permanently. And every time he uses them, they grow stronger. The Hyena especially is the most dangerous," the young AI explained, shaking in fear, hugging herself to try and remain calm. To her surprise, Buffy hugged her reassuringly.

"He always finds a way…" the Slayer said, looking at the front door. "He always does… so he will this time as well." Only Krista heard her whisper afterward, "He has to…"


Outside, Xander ran through the deserted streets of nighttime Sunnydale, his glowing eyes, canines, and red-glowing energy sword enough to make every Sunnydale resident look the other way. "Mate," he growled. "Must…find…mate!"

Within minutes, he reached the park, the different smells of the nature preserve dulling the scent of the two women whose movements he was tracking. He deactivated the useless for now Light Saber, and started tracking on his hands and knees, nose right above the ground, sniffing like an overgrown dog, sticking his nose in the air every now and then.

No matter what kind of spirit inhabited his body, it was still bound to human senses, and all it could hope to do was fine-tune them to their maximum performance. He growled slightly at the slow progress he made as he moved through the park.

He detected vampires everywhere, yet ignored them completely on his wildly mad dash through the park on his quest to track the irregular patrolling movements of the highly trained Noir operatives. Unpredictable. Untraceable for a normal person. Because of the unpredictable nature, he had to move carefully, not make assumptions, just track.

Four vampires jumped him from the 'ignored' corner. As they jumped, Xander moved fluidly out of the way, growling like a wild animal as he erected to his full height, amber eyes glowing in the pale moonlight. He drew the Saber and charged, activating the red-glowing blade in mid-charge. The four barely had time to recompose after their prey moved away at speeds greater than theirs. They looked up.

Xander beheaded the first vampire as he passed it, bringing the energy weapon back, penetrating a second's heart and drawing sideways, bringing the word up in a upward slantwise motion, halving a third vampire from its left hip to its right shoulder. The three vampires dusted as the fourth vampire distanced itself from Xander's immediately field of motion. Seeing its three companions die, the fourth vampire screamed and made a run for it.

Xander calmly watched it go, slowly brought up Magan in his left hand, and put a vampire killer in its back. The vampire screamed, catapulted forward by the bullet, dusting in mid-flight.

"Flying: yes. Landing: no," Xander grunted, putting his weapons away as he continued to track. Five minutes later, he got rid of two more vampires. Finally, he came to a stop near a bench, resisting the urge to curl up on it and bask in the almost overwhelmingly strong smell of Kirika. Hyena-Xander's eyes glowed dangerously as he detected something else.

Fear hormones.

Xander growled as he stopped near the obvious scene of battle. He closed his eyes, letting his mind, heart, instincts, and supernatural gifts rebuild the battle. At one point, Xander angrily flipped around, eyes open, mouth growling, Magan pointed in the direction from which Dimitri had fired his darts. "Dimitri," Xander growled as he recalled the vampire who had tried to kidnap Willow.

"First Willow, now Kirika. You have a death wish," Xander grunted, tracking easier now that he had a vampire with a load as target. Footprints were everywhere. Predictability was tremendously high. A vampire had no need to cover its tracks… its arrogance would cause it to move in a straight line.

Inside Xander's collective mind, Emotion closed its eyes, and opened its mouth. Xander Prime was about to shut the spirit up, when it started in a slow rhythm.

Angely i demony kruzhili nado mnoj

Rassekali ternii i mlechnye puti

Ne znaet schast'ya tol'ko tot,

Kto ego zova ponyat' ne smog...

(Angels and demons were circling above me

Swishing through the hardships and milky ways

The only one who doesn't know the happiness

is the one who couldn't understand his call)

Xander Prime nodded, and kept silent as the text empowered the enraged Hyena Spirit further, making it even more powerful. For a moment, Xander Prime worried about the difficulties he would have containing the spirit after this was over… the power kept growing with every passing second, and it would soon reach the full power Xander knew so well from his possession. The strength and speed to match a Slayer in unarmed combat… now enhanced with noir-trained techniques.

Xander emerged in front of a cave he didn't know was there. Not for a moment he doubted his knowledge of Sunnydale. He knew every cave and cemetery by heart. This one was new… just the kind of stunt someone with the kind of pull his opponent could muster would use.

"Stop him, boys!" Dimitri shouted, pointing directly at Xander, sending over twenty vampires toward him.

Xander grinned evilly, amber glowing eyes reaching a new intensity as the Hyena Spirit maxed out in power and energy. He activated the Light Saber in his right hand, drew Magan with the left, and dropped into a combat stance. Deep inside, the Soldier possession maxed out at this point, adding its own combat-related abilities to the Hyena's impressive physical attributes.

Xander opened his mouth, the next part of the song booming in real life as well as in his collective mind as he charged and engaged the vampires.

I am Calling Calling now, Spirits rise and falling

Soboj ostat'sya dol'she...(To stay myself longer...)

Calling Calling, in the depth of longing

Soboj ostat'sya dol'she...(To stay myself longer…)

Dimitri paled as he saw the inhuman character burst out into his native speech. The vampire understood every word… and it frightened him. He could see the possessions raging through the boy as he charged the vampires like a madman.

Xander continued the charge, making a fluid swiping motion with his sword, decapitating two vampires and getting a third one solidly below the shoulders, halving him. With his left hand, he didn't aim, just pointed and squeezed, bullet after bullet incapacitating, dusting, electing screams of pain from the wriggling opponents who were now turning and running for their very lives.

Stand alone... Where was life when it had a meaning...

Stand alone... Nothing's real anymore and...

...Beskonechnyj beg...

Poka zhiva ya mogu starat'sya na letu ne upast',

Ne razuchit'sya mechtat'...lyubit'...

...Beskonechnyj beg...

(...Endless run...

While I'm alive, I can try not to fall while flying,

Not to forget how to dream... how to love

...Endless run...)

Xander didn't let them get away. He killed them all, ruthlessly, growling his song over and over. Finally, he halted in front of Dimitri, a cloud of ashes descending to the soil behind and around him, the possessed man standing like a demon from hell in front of the vampire leader.

"I shall stop you," Dimitri growled, dropping in a combat stance Xander recognized as the fighting art of the Spetznatz Russian Special Forces.

"You're either protected by Superman, or you have a pertinent death wish," Xander grunted, lifting the Light Saber.

Dimitri gulped for a moment at the coldness of the words, before he had time to gulp no longer, Xander charging… charging right past him. When he turned, he felt a curious sensation in his chest. Tight… yet liberating…

Dimitri completed the turn to stare at Xander's back, before glancing down at his chest… where a stake had been buried deep in his undead heart. The vampire yet had time to look shocked up to the back of his opponent before he decomposed into dust.

"Soboj ostat'sya dol'she... Calling Calling now, Spirits rise and falling…" Xander whispered, finalizing his song. (To stay myself longer…)


The Wizard circled the table where Kirika had been strapped down on, the heavily reinforced magical chains holding her immobilized perfectly. Closing his eyes, a smile appeared on the lips of the hooded face. "Ten minutes," he whispered, spreading his arms to the ceiling of the semi-spherical artificial cave. He started whispering in Latin, and Kirika felt a chill run up and down her spine as all her senses told her something wasn't right. Magic detonated throughout the cave, the floor glowing amber-red as the spherical ceiling grew semi-transparent, showing warring whites and yellow lying beyond.

"The hour is nearly upon us!" the Wizard shouted, reaching for a knife hidden underneath his long cloak. With a motion he swiped at the bound girl, her clothes ripping and tearing along the sharp edge. The fluidity of the motion told Kirika that this man, apart from being a magic-user, was also proficient with knives. He walked over to her, tearing the clothes from her body, exposing the monitor suit she had worn underneath her clothes that day.

The Wizard's eyes went over the tight-fitting cloth that exposed her curves and features as well as her nakedness would. Whistling happily, he let his hand slide down her breastbone, in between the girl's breasts, before drawing tiny circles around her belly-button.

"Five more minutes, my pretty," the Wizard said, voice tingled with excitement as he withdrew his hand from the growling girl. "Over five minutes, you shall be mine… forever!"

Commotion entered the cave through the passageway leading outside, as sounds of fighting permeated the air. Slightly confused, the Wizard frowned as he turned to watch the entrance. Nothing came forth, and the sound died down. Smiling, he lifted the knife once more to tear the monitor suit off Kirika's shapely body. Preparing himself to see the girl's full naked glory, he wasn't paying attention to the entrance.

A growl changed all that, and the Wizard's supernatural magical senses told him a huge disturbance was nearing him from the rear. The Wizard wasn't stupid. Never had been. It had taken 150 years to prepare this full ritual, and he had used that time to build up physical strength as well as magical strength. He jumped out of the way as his senses peaked, causing a figure to meet nothing but empty air and vault over the sacrificial table.

"Who the fuck are you!?" the Wizard demanded angrily, hefting the knife in an attack position, rather than a sacrificial one.

Xander slowly stood up from where he had landed in a crouch on the floor. His eyes were closed, yet his face betrayed the full strength of his anger. As he stood up, the Light Saber in his hand pulsed blood red. "I?" he demanded, straightening out, and opening his amber-glowing eyes. "I'm nothing. But she… she's the most important person on this world, and I am going to die before I let you lay a hand on her!"

The Wizard focused slightly. Three more minutes. He needed to make this quick.

"Dance of Flame!" the Wizard shouted, merely stretching his hand out to the young warrior. Flames exploded around his body as the Wizard's magic ordained the spirits of nature. Kirika's eyes went wide with worry when she saw him disappear in the orange ball of flame that rose from the ground.

The Wizard smirked, and turned to his sacrifice. "There… that took care of that disturbance, my dear," he drawled, lifting his hand with the knife to continue the ritual.

A scream drew the Wizard's attention away, staring in shock as a blur jumped out of the dancing flames, brandishing a Light Saber, shooting toward him. The wizard lifted his hand, and shouted, "WALL!"

Xander's Light Saber struck the Wizard's wall, neither giving nor taking, metaphysical energy leaping off the union of Magic and Soul Weapon. The Wizard growled. Xander snarled. Air pressure rose.

"Ejection!" The Wizard shouted, catapulting Xander against the wall. "You pest!" the man snarled, advancing on where Xander was crawling up. "Dance of Flame!"

Xander's eyes went wide, and with a growl he jumped out of the way of the new column of flames. The moment he cleared it, Xander changed directions and ran once more toward the Wizard, hefting the Saber, charging with a downward strike.

"WALL!" The Wizard shouted once more, halting the strike without much effort. "Lightning Strike!" the second hand belched Lightning toward the boy, electing a scream and throwing him against the wall. Xander remained standing for just a fraction of a moment, a dull thud accompanying his landing. He sunk through his knees, and fell sideways, grunting in pain.

"Thirty seconds," The Wizard grunted, at indecision whether to get Xander or to continue the ritual. He turned, and walked to Kirika. Drakarra was more likely to kill him than the boy was.

In his mind, Xander's spirits were in disarray.

"Get him!" Xander Prime snarled at the Hyena.

"He's too damn strong! Why don't you get him!?" the nature spirit shouted back.

"We need a new way to fight," the Soldier stated coldly. "He's going after Kirika!"

Love snarled, jumped in the lead seat. "I'll hold him off! You guys fight amongst yourselves if you have to!" the spirit snarled, gritting his teeth as he forced life into Xander's battered body. He could feel a bruised rib… two bruised ribs… and a lightly sprained right ankle. He forced the body to ignore the pain. He loved Kirika more. Some pain wasn't going to stop him.

Xander stood up, snarling teeth bared as the Light Saber changed color to a vibrant bluish indigo. "CHARGE!!!!!" Xander snarled, screaming as he flew toward the Wizard, Light Saber high, going on Heart rather than Skill.

The Wizard barely had time to call the Wall defense, and he stumbled back for a couple of steps as Xander's Love Spirit charged blindly, throwing the Saber wherever he could, left, right, up, down. The Wizard finally smiled. "You've got heart, kid. But no matter. LIGHTNING SRIKE!"

Xander met the wall once more, falling right forward, eyes closed. The Wizard smiled when he saw no more movement. He turned to Kirika.

"We need more!" Love shouted. "I can't do this alone! This body just can't any more! We need more than just strength! Hyena boy drained all of our strength!"

"I totally agree," a new voice said, calmly, neutrally, striding in through a door that didn't exist seconds earlier. Dressed in a brown robe, the new arrival sat down in the lead chair. "I am the Subconscious, the only one who knows how to use the Light Saber. I am the one who has been driving the Jedi Light Saber up until now, and I am tired of sitting by. All of you… sit down. I will now transfer the soul to the blade, making it stronger."

The spirits present looked at each other, and then at Xander Prime, who nodded. The Spirits, reluctantly, sat down.

The Wizard lifted his knife to cut the cloth off Kirika.


The Wizard looked up, surprised at the voice, staring directly in Xander's normal eyes. Or rather, they had their normal chocolate color. What the Wizard saw in those eyes was far from normal. He saw… nothing. No anger, fear or doubt. Confidence. That he saw. Confidence. Strength. Power… and lots of it. His magical senses were threatening overload.

Xander lifted his hand toward the Saber handle, rolled out of his reach. The handle lifted, snapping into his hand. The Blade was white. White as the power of Heaven itself.

"Just who are you!?" the Wizard demanded angrily.

Xander looked at him, no emotion reflecting on that calm face. "The Light Saber in the hands of the Jedi Master is a force of nature: neutral, calm, yet utterly destructive and totally unstoppable. When faced with this force, one should make haste to prepare for the Afterlife, as there is no stopping, nor halting, the Jedi."

The Wizard smiled. "Jedi? You've seen to many movies, kid."

Xander charged, calmly, not uttering a single cry. The Saber met the Wizard's wall, actually driving him to one knee at the downward strike, the magic wall taking a second to recompose to combat the newfound strength in Xander's strike. The air pressure around the combatants rose, and Kirika could feel it tugging at her body, trying to lift her off the slab she was still secured to.

"Lightning Strike!" The Wizard shouted, catapulting Xander back. The Wizard got the shock of his life when, for just a fleeting moment, he could see his opponent smiling. And then… then he saw why.

The strike catapulted Xander back, just as usual. But Xander had shifted during the moment it took the Wizard to recompose, and as such, he was now catapulted over the stone slab. As he flew, Xander's Light Saber flashed out, severing the magic bounds as if they were made from tissue paper. "Run," Xander told Kirika as he landed on his two feet and drew her from the table, toward the exit.

The Wizard needed to get around the slab before he could intercept Kirika, and Xander wasn't about to let that happen. "Dance of the Flaming Lightning!" The Wizard shouted, raising his hands, and summoning more magic than he had wanted to use on this side of the ritual. Flame and lighting danced toward Xander, who lifted the Light Saber.

"I won't let you," Xander said, calmly, striking at the magic with the Saber. The spell clashed with the Soul Weapon, striking the beam in two, deflecting them around Xander, making it seem as if the boy had a full shield around him stopping the magic. The spell crashed into the wall, making the entire cave shake.

The Wizard growled. Xander remained stoic, and charged, once against to be met with the walled defense, and still unable to penetrate it. Deep inside his mind, the Subconscious demanded more power. The blade's glow intensified. The Wizard dropped a little lower.

Xander was panting now, the soul torn between the blade and the body, neither able to go full power as both needed the Soul to function. Xander felt the pain explode within him, the same pain he had felt against the Demon in Maine, and recognized it for the draining of the soul from his body to generate more strength within the Light Saber. But it weakened his body…

"Ejection!" the Wizard snarled, catapulting Xander away. "Dance of Flame!" he shouted, striking Xander in mid-air, adding momentum to the flight, making a Xander-shaped indentation in the wall. The warrior fell to one knee, lifting his head, ignoring the fourth cracked rib. Physical pain was nothing compared to the pain in his soul as it was torn between in half.

Xander snarled, and charged, the Light Saber striking at the Wall. This time, energy leapt away, striking cracks in the walls wherever they touched, twin shows of force striking each other. Around the wizard, starting from his hand to the orb around him, was a magical shield of energy-lighting like properties, made visible by the power of Xander's strike, which seemed to be a strike of air-pressure generated by the force of the Light Saber. The two orbs met, generating air-pressure of tornado-like proportion in the cave, blasting out through the single entrance, where Kirika had remained behind, watching the fight of the eon. The shock wave forced her to grab both corners, letting her body lift up in the wind, waving like flag in a thunderstorm.

The girl growled, bravely hanging on, refusing to abandon the boy who risked his life for hers. Just like in Moscow…He is willing to give up his life for mine…That realization made Kirika's heart warm from the inside out, and she found the strength needed to remain, to brave the storm, to support the one person in the world willing to sacrifice himself for her.

Xander hit the wall, groaned and sunk to the ground, head on his chest.

In his mind, Subconscious Jedi looked around… all the Spirits had vanished, long since granted their strength to the Saber. "I need the remained of the Soul… bring the Blade to full power… but without Jedi training, that's not possible. Without the Soul, the body is useless… motionless…living, but not alive… I need… I don't know what I need…"

The poor Spirit sunk in his chair, thinking about Kirika, how he let her down. He swallowed, preparing to force the body to its feet again, when the eyes saw something.

"Xander?" Kirika had lost her cover. She had ran into the cave, hugging his motionless body. "Don't leave me!"

"A wise decision to return, my dear," the Wizard said, smirking. "I may still be able to placate Drakarra with your sacrifice, even if I'm ten minutes late. And then he can go. If he can still go, that is," the Wizard said, chuckling at his own joke.

Xander slowly opened his eyes. "Kirika…"

"I'm here, Mon Coeur…"

Xander grabbed her hand with surprising strength, and put the Light Saber into it. "Your body… stronger than mine," he whispered urgently. "Don't fight it… let it guide you. This… my soul…" he whispered, closing his eyes, and sinking over. She felt the weapon tremor in her hand, and a beam of bright white energy shot out, brighter than anything, brighter than the sun. Kirika's keen instincts recognized the feeling.


Xander's soul.

He entrusted me with his soul. Kirika stood up, and turned. Her eyes were the narrow slits of the True Noir persona. "He trusts me with his very soul and being," the dark-haired warrior said, coldly, calmly, neutrally. "And I will not betray that trust. Come, Wizard."

The Wizard stood, stunned, watching the petite girl with the large weapon. His magic senses whited out, overloaded by the sheer energy coming off the blade. Kirika charged him The Wizard lifted his hand. "WALL!"

As she neared him, Kirika's years of training and experience merged with the unconquerable power of the Jedi Light Saber, at full strength. Around her, she could feel Xander… as if his body was behind her, his arms encompassed her, and his hands were on top of hers as she held the Saber. The assassin was at peace, her very soul content as she and Xander fought this nemesis together.

She looked… and saw… the Wizard, ready to receive her strike. Only now did she realize that she was still running, and time seemed to have slowed down. The warrior jumped up, landing one foot on the solid stone slab that served as sacrificial table, and pushed off.

The force shattered the table, striking it into gravel, catapulting the brunette toward the ceiling of the cave, Saber extended above her head, not minding one bit that the blade entered the top of the cave. She flashed it down at the highest point over her trajectory, the energy blade going through the material as if through hot butter.

The Wizard extended his hand upward, preparing to meet the thrust from above. The force of the Light Saber, fully powered, pushed down by gravity and the full weight of a Noir-trained Assassin behind it met the power of 150 years of training in the magical arts.

For a few moments, it seemed the Wizard and the Assassin were even.

But then the Saber moved down, through the Wall, which collapsed the moment the tip pierced the shield, driving through the Wizard's hand, arm, and out his shoulder. Her feet touched the ground. She moved the blade sideways. It went through his torso, out the other side.

The Wizard died instantly.

Kirika stood there, for jut a few more seconds, staring at the body of the Wizard, making sure it didn't mysteriously revive, before turning and running to Xander, placing the deactivated Saber on his chest, pressing it down as hard as she could.

"I don't know if you can hear me… but please… please come back, Mon Coeur…" she begged.

She felt something leave her, and soon after, his eyes fluttered slightly. "chérie…" he whispered, dazedly.

She laughed through her tears. "I'm here, Mon Coeur. I'm here…" she whispered, falling against his battered body, feeling him wince as she hit one of the many tender spots.

As his eyes focused on her, they seemed to go back to reality. "My Love…"

Kirika smiled; hugging him while trying to make sure she didn't hurt him any more than he already hurt.

"I gave you my soul," he whispered. "And my heart…" he added, voice trailing off. "Kirika…" she looked up, confused, not sure what was going on. "Kirika… will you marry me?"


Xander stood at the altar, feeling nervous, dancing from one leg to the other. Next to him, Oz, his best man, was doing his best to convey his usual impassive visage, but even he had to admit it was more difficult than usual.

To ease his nervousness, Xander looked over the assembled guests. He smiled at the sight of the rest of the Scoobies sitting on the first row, Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Giles… all dressed to kill. In the second row of the small Sunnydale church, Xander nodded at James Bond, having made it from England in time. Just in time, judging from the parachute the man was trying his very best to hide under his seat. How he managed to make a parachute jump without wrinkling up his tuxedo was a mystery to Xander. A mystery he was going to question the secret agent about… at some other time.

Next to James were the Quests, who had even managed to get Krista's hologram in here. He didn't know how… something to do with linking up their holographic watches. He wasn't into science, and right now, he couldn't care less if the tried. Krista was here, and that was the important thing.

Xander also saw Bertrand Mestrot sitting right next to Buffy in the front row, and apparently the man's young attitude had won over Buffy as the two were chatting quite amicably.

Taking a breath, he looked at the rest of the church. Some people from school, some people he had met on his voyages… Xander smiled when he saw Nigel and Sidney sit down. He looked back for the umpteenth time, looking at the altar and the kindly priest, who smiled encouragingly at the groom-to-be.

Finally, Xander's patience was to be tried no more as music started playing, and he could see his lovely bride shuffle in, Mireille, her bridesmaid, right behind her.

Wearing a beautiful, exotic black dress made from fine silk, embroidered with beautiful natural black pearls and tiny moonstones, Kirika looked simply stunning, and Xander's heart skipped a beat when he saw the beautiful smile and the moisture in her eyes that was meant for one person only… him.

When she came to a stop next to him, and the priest began, Xander realized that his life finally had changed… for the better.



Xander sighed contently as he woke up, flat on his back, finding his beautiful wife curled up next to him, her head on his chest, her arms loosely around his torso.

He gently stroked her neck, tightening his hold on her almost imperceptibly.

"Hm..." Kirika purred gently as she woke from her slumber. "Good morning, Mon Chèr."

"Morning, Mon Coeur," Xander whispered in reply as her head turned up to look at him, a rare smile decorating her perfect lips. "Sleep well?" he asked. "Your first night as Mrs Harris..."

Kirika's smile broadened. "Would that make you mister Harris?" she asked, smiling gently.

Xander grimaced slightly. "Point taken, My Love," he replied. She smiled, shifting her body from next to him to on top of him, placing herself strategically upon him. He let out a groan as her fingers started playing with the skin on his chest.


"Yes?" she asked, coming across as perfectly innocent. He grinned at her, then suddenly reached up, grabbed her, and twisted her under him. Laughter came from the marital bed soon after.


"I can't believe we didn't leave our room for three days," Xander said, his tone indicating that he could very well DO believe it, and that he didn't mind it a single bit. "We're in Las Vegas for our honeymoon and don't even leave the room for three days... that's got to be sacrilege somewhere."

Kirika held his arm a little tighter, one eye conveying a sense of 'like you minded...'. Xander grinned at her, even if she had resumed her usual cool composure, as she always did while in public, she still could relay everything she needed to relay to him with a single glance of those mysterious red eyes of hers.

Together like that, Xander dressed in an impeccable tuxedo, Kirika dressed in a beautiful white gown, holding loosely onto his arm, they strode around the casino. Past the blackjack and roulette tables, past the craps game and the sports betting they went. Something drew her attention.

"Pool?" she offered, extending her free hand to the area with pool tables. Xander looked over, and grinned slightly. He remembered fondly the games they played in the Paris apartment. Soon, the newlyweds were shooting pool, enjoying themselves tremendously.

"It isn't Vegas unless you place a bet," a suave voice said from behind the couple just as Xander landed the eight-ball in the corner pocket. Looking up from their game, the couple looked into the face of a businessman. Handsome he used to be; but now the years were starting to fade his looks away.

"What kind of bet?" Xander asked, feeling just giddy enough to take the man up on the offer.

The man shrugged. "How about twenty dollars per ball?" he offered, motioning for the table. "My name's John, by the way. John Gage."

"Xander," Xander replied, shaking the man's hand both in greeting and in acceptance. "My wife, Kirika," he then introduced, really enjoying the feel of her new status rolling off his tongue.

"Enchantée," John said suavely, bending over to kiss her hand. He didn't exactly get the response he was expecting as Kirika merely looking at him with obvious neutrality.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Gage," she replied casually. He straightened out, then turned to the game Xander had set up.

Half an hour later, Xander was beginning to regret his decision, as he was now a couple thousand dollars in debt. Granted, he had enough money in the bank now... but the way he had been raised still haunted him, and those couple thousand were enough to deter him from continuing his challenger's games.

John merely smiled as Xander proclaimed his fill. "How about a different kind of bet?" he then offered, obviously getting the wrong idea that Xander couldn't afford his losses.

"What kind of bet?" the teenager asked, instantly on alert. He did not like the way the man was looking at Kirika at that point, and he could feel his body slipping toward the state of alertness needed to fight.

"If you win... one million dollars," John offered, grinning as Xander's mouth sagged open slightly. The grin vanished as he noticed Kirika hadn't raised an eyebrow. "And if you lose... I still give you one million dollars, but your wife spends one night with me."

Xander felt rage explode within him, and it was with iron will that he deterred the Hyena from ripping the man to shreds. "Forget it," the teen snarled, turning to leave the pool hall, motioning for Kirika.

"Love..." she whispered, stopping him in his tracks. He glanced at her, not believing what he heard. Only when he turned toward her did he notice the gleam in her eyes. "Let me do it..."

"Kirika? You can't be serious!" he grunted louder than he had wanted. "That's practically prostitution he's offering!"

"I have lived at the Paris apartment for a year... and I have played Mireille on numerous occasions. Not to mention that I have had the last thirty minutes to observe him," she whispered, turning to face him, brushing her lips against his. "Don't worry, Mon Coeur... nobody touches me but you."

"Kirika..." he whispered.

"Trust me, My Love," she whispered, stepping back after one final fleeting kiss. She turned to John Gage. "One million," she stated, grabbing the cue. "I'll take the stripes."

John gage smiled, motioned for the table. "You break, little lady."

A cold and calculating smile spread across her lips as she bent over the table to take the breaking shot. The cue ball slammed into the pyramid of balls, scattering them in all corners and directions. Two striped balls, numbers ten and fourteen, vanished into the corner pockets. She turned, pocketed number nine, and glanced around the table. Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fifteen, and the Eight Ball were still out there.

Number twelve was an easy direct shot, but her cue ball rolled forward a little too much to be in a direct line, and John smiled when he realized it. Kirika's eyes narrowed slightly as she calculated odds. "Number fifteen, center pocket." John lost his smile.

She bounced the cue ball off one side, hit number fifteen, bounced IT of a side as well, before it vanished into the center pocket. That left three stripes and the eight ball. The next two were obvious shots, and soon, all she had left was the Eight ball. But, once again, her cue ball was hidden behind some solid colors, preventing her from taking a direct shot at the Eight Ball.

"That's going to be a hard one," John said, trying to come off as sensitive. Kirika smiled.

"Eight ball, corner pocket," she indicated the corner just in front of John. He gasped, then shook his head, smiling.

"That's impossible."

Kirika's face betrayed absolute concentration, the same concentration she had learned and cultivated for most of her young life. Nothing penetrated that veil of silence between her ears as she concentrated, her mind slipping into some kind of subconscious meditative state.

The cue ball hit the first cushion at the exact right angle to ricochet it toward the side, where it bounced again. Now having successfully cleared the two full-colored balls that had hindered her, Kirika's cue ball hit the Eight Ball dead-on, slamming it with force into the correct corner pocket.

"We win," Kirika announced casually, righting herself. John's mouth hung open as he signed the check.


"That was some major shooting, Ma Chérie," Xander shouted enthusiastically as they entered their honeymoon suite five minutes later. "I still can't believe the gall of that guy!"

Kirika smiled once more, now that they were in private. "But the look on his face made up for it," she replied, smiling.

"That it did, My Love. That it did..."

The End