For the Better

part 2

For the better 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.

Part two

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."

"But…"

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.

"How…?"

"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.

"Kirika…"

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.

"I–I…"

"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.

"Xander."

"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.

"Aw…"

"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.

"Mireille…"

"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.

"Eh…"

"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

"Kirika…"

"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. I may 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 mind that 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.

End of part two.

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