Author: Tenhawk

Title: Road Trip: Duet

Rating: PG

Keywords: Buffy/Ares/Xander/Walker/B13/Amazons/Fury

Summary: After graduation Xander and Cordelia decide to get away from the Hellmouth and relax. BIG mistake.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties and copyrights are the property of their respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

Highlander: All rights and properties belong to Rysher Entertainment.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: All rights and properties belong to Joss Whedon, Fox Studios and Mutant Enemy, etc.
Nick Fury and The Howling Commandos (The Howlers) Are the property of Marvel Comics.
Walker: Texas Ranger and all characters therein are the property of CBS
The Thunder Bunnies are the B13 team assigned to the state of Texas. They are all characters from the Bureau 13 book series. Bureau 13 is the creative property of Nick Pollotta and is used without his permission.

The character Steven St. Wolf is property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at steve711@concentric.net
VAN, The Virtual Amazon Nation, belongs to NorJC who can be contacted here Norjc@aol.com

Here are the changes from normal shows that may play a part in this story:
Buffy:
Xander has been empowered by Robin Goodfellow to be a mystically enhanced warrior. The empowerment also allows him to recall considerably more of the Soldier Boy memories from his Halloween possession.
Cordelia has been empowered by Artemis and stands as a full fledged Amazon Princess in the Virtual Amazon Nation.


Road Trip: Duet

Townsend, Texas
June 21, 1999 - 13:00

Felicia Kenneda kneeled at the altar to Artemis and said her daily prayers, as her mother had before her, and her grandmother before that. Her family had maintained their line back over two thousand years, back to the first of the true Amazons in the service of Artemis. Felicia was proud to pray at her altar, and prouder still to serve Artemis in the Virtual Amazon Nation as a full fledged Amazon.

It was still like a dream to her. The day Artemis had finally shown herself and offered her, and through her, her family, a chance to share the destiny of the Amazons once again. Silently she swore, as she had every day since, that she would not fail her Goddess in whatever task she was given.

Felicia Kennada had just completed her prayers, rising from her kneeling position and stretching out the kinks, when the bullet smashed through her window, terminating her life and her brief time as an Amazon. As the young woman lay, bloody and dying on the floor, she never saw the man who entered her shrine and held a glowing orb over her body.

"One more of the vermin handled." The man sneered as he kicked the unfeeling body, "The Amazons should have stayed dead. There is no room for them so long as I live."

<And,> the man thought to himself, <I've lived a long time.>

********

Sunnydale Town Limits
June 21, 1999 - 17:23

A bright red Ford Mustang roared passed the 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign, cutting a swathe through the moderate traffic and attracting admiring stares from motorists and pedestrians alike. Inside two decidedly unusual companions were laughing and chatting back and forth.

"So Kitty Cat, what do you think of the new wheels?" Xander glanced across at the patchwork cat who was leaning on the passenger door and enjoying the rush of wind in the open window.

//Cool. But I still think you need more room for your guns.//

Xander laughed, "You'd be surprised how much I managed to fit in here Kitty Cat. Almost as much as we have in the van."

The small cat looked over at him curiously, //How?//

Xander shrugged, "Compartments in the seats, false bottom in the trunk, stuff like that."

//And just how do you expect to explain being able to afford this baby?//

Another shrug, "I'll just let them think it was a loan against the money I have saved up. Between Shaw's gift, the work I do for S7, and my 'job' with Sidney, my credit is pretty good really."

Patches stared at his young charge for a moment, "Why haven't you told them about the money?"

Xander was silent for a moment. To be honest he'd asked himself that question quite often, but never really found a satisfactory answer. He kept a lot of things to himself, he always had. He had grown up keeping secrets. Secrets from his parents, his teachers, even his friends. He hid the good as well as the bad behind a goofy smile and a quick wit because no one bothered to look deeper if they saw a happy face.

"I'm not sure Patches. If they need to know then I'll tell them, I guess. But, the new wheels aside, I'm not really spending the money on myself anyway... and it feels right this way."

This time it was Patches turn to be silent. He knew more then Xander probably would have liked, but he had kept it to himself. He hadn't even told Ariel about Xander's private hobby. Patches took a distinct pride in his charge's extra curricular activities, aside from his fighting vampires and demons. The young man had become quite the 'Guardian Angel' around Sunnydale.

********

Sunnydale, St. Augustine's Orphanage
January 12, 1999

Xander watched as the two social workers escorted three young children into the slightly dilapidated building, the youngest of which was still crying. He had seen the notice in the paper a few days before. Three children, two brothers and their sister were taken from their abusive parents after neighbors finally had reached their breaking point and called the police and social services.

The paper hadn't printed their names, but Sunnydale wasn't a big town and finding out was easier then Xander had expected. His home life had long ago progressed past the point of physical abuse. He had stopped having to hide those bruises about the same time as he grew taller than his father to be precise. However, stories like this brought back a lot of bad memories.

That was one of the reasons he had always avoided little things like newspapers, current events, and gossip in the past. He didn't enjoy the reminders.

Staring at the doors the sad group had just passed through, Xander pulled out his cell phone and hit the third autodial button.

"First Cayman Bank, how may I help you?"

*********

Sunnydale
June 21, 1999

Patches shook himself from his reverie, and finally responded to Xander's statement. //I guess I can understand why it feels right to you.//

Indeed the young spirit easily understood. Xander had little use for thanks, or even simple recognition, except perhaps from his friends. However, what the boy did have was a burning need to keep an eye on those he had helped, to see the results of small kindnesses.

Xander smiled and returned his eyes to the road, pointing the nose of his new car in the direction of Steve's home where he was meeting Cordy.

*********

The gang was mostly at Steve's, enjoying a post graduation barbeque and celebration, when Xander pulled into the drive.

"Xander!" Cordy looked shocked, "Where did you get that?"

Xander just smiled as he and Patches hopped out of the car, "I told you I was picking up a new car today."

"This is it?" Buffy looked the red sports car over in admiration, "Very nice."

"How can you afford this?" Cordy sounded concerned.

Xander smiled, he loved the fact that she cared enough to ask. "Between my newly acquired steady income and the investment collateral that Shaw gifted me with, my credit is pretty good."

//Liar.// Patches beamed to him.

<Am not. My credit is good because of those things.> Xander shot back.

Steve looked the car over with a practiced eye, noting small details he had no doubt the others would miss. The way the vehicle sat on its shocks, the slightly off color tint of the windshield, the fact that the low profile tires carried no brand name yet appeared to be of the highest quality. The car was a 'special'.

"How did you get a 2000 model, Xander?" Steve asked with a slight smile on his face, "Last I heard they weren't going to be out for a couple months."

The rest of the gang perked up their ears slightly at this, waiting for Xander's response.

<He knows.> Xander thought as a small smile flitted across his face, "An old friend of Frank's swung some favors for me."

Steve smiled a little wider, accepting the partial truth at face value. <If he doesn't want it known just yet, that's his concern.>

As the group got back into the swing of the party Steve glanced between Xander and the red Mustang. He had known for several months that Xander had come into some new resources that he was keeping to himself, a situation that Steve hadn't been certain he liked when he had first realized it.

********

Sunnydale Memorial Hospital
March 22, 1999

Steven St. Wolf walked into the pristine environment of the hospital waiting room, looking around for the doctor handling the patient the Scooby's had brought in the night before. The young child had been one of two survivors of a vampire attack at a local motel. Out of nearly a dozen people only the child and his mother had survived long enough for the team to effect their rescue.

Steve had decided to arrange the medical care for the two survivors as soon as Buffy had reported what had happened on the patrol. As he pushed through the people grouped in the room he noticed a familiar figure smoothly slip through the crowd and vanish out the doors. <Xander? What's he doing here?>

Steve managed to get to the front of the crowd, frowning at the unusual activity in the area. Ahead of him the duty doctor's and nurses were trying to calm the crowd, causing Steve to wonder what was going on. Tapping one of the doctor's shoulder he managed to get his attention.

"What's going on?"

The Doctor looked harried but supremely happy as well, "The Hospital just received an anonymous donation on the condition that it be used to cover certain types of injuries."

Steve looked at the man oddly, <certain types of injuries?>, and asked, "What kind?"

"Blood loss, animal attacks, that sort of thing." The Doctor answered evasively.

Steve had a decent idea what that answer meant and let the subject pass, "The mother and child who were brought in yesterday, are they covered?"

The Doctor thought about it briefly, "Yes. They have full coverage now... Better coverage then if they had full insurance."

Steve nodded, "Thank you."

The Doctor turned back to his job as Steve walked out the door. <I wonder where the money came from?>

*******

Sunnydale, Steve's House
June 21, 1999

Steve watched as Xander dug into the food, laughing and joking with the others as he often did. It had taken two more similar incidents and some computer time to track down the source of the 'anonymous donations' before Steve had found the answer. The money came from an impenetrable offshore account, but it had been routed through a local lawyer who needed to pay more attention to his electronic security protocols. Steve smiled, even so it had nearly been a dead end, the only name in the lawyer's files had belonged to a Lavelle Fury. Xander was quite good at covering his tracks; only someone who Xander knew and trusted would be privy to both his middle name and his true father.

After Steve had realized what was going on he had made a point to call both Natasha and Casey, as well as the Zombies and Hans, to pump them for more details on the events of last December. Steve was somewhat embarrassed to find out how much Xander had managed to keep to himself. Nothing, he noted, that would endanger the group but more then enough to put a completely different spin on the events that had transpired.

<Xander is more true to the 'fight in the shadows' philosophy then anyone I've known. He keeps the details of his good deeds close to the vest, even from his friends. I wish I knew if that was healthy or not.>

The object of his thoughts was now joking and laughing with Jarod while Andrea looked on, mildly disgusted. <It's no wonder that Xander and Jarod get along so well, they have a lot in common. They both like to keep their dealings with others on a personal level. Even when the people they're helping never know that they were there.>

Shrugging Steve pushed aside his thoughts. He trusted the young man to protect his friends and not too keep anything dangerous from him, as for the rest... Well, everyone needs some part of their life that's private.

********

"Hey Cordy! You psyched for the trip yet?"

Cordelia turned to look at her laughing boyfriend before answering Buffy, "Yeah. It's going to be nice to get away for a bit, just the two of us."

Buffy nodded as Willow joined the conversation, "Tell me about it. It's too bad that Oz had that gig with his band otherwise I'd be dragging him off somewhere too."

Cordelia sympathized with her sister Amazon, she hadn't realized how much time away would mean until Xander had suggested the Road Trip a couple months ago. Since then she'd been looking forward to the trip with growing enthusiasm.

"You should be really grateful that Xander hasn't invited Jarod and god knows who else along." Buffy teased.

Cordelia growled, "He'd better not."

The three girls broke out in light giggles, drawing concerned looks from their respective mates who could only worry about what they were up to.

*******

The post-grad party ran well past dusk, the attendees swelling when Spike, Charlie, and Dru joined the fun, if not the buffet table.

"Cor. Who's got the cherry wheels?" Spike glanced back at the new Mustang in the drive.

"That'd be me, Blondie."

Spike mock growled, "Show some respect to yer betters, pup."

"Show me where they are and I'll be sure to do that."

The blond vampire growled at the snickers floating around the area, but he was holding back a small smile of his own.

Charlie glanced around the gang, hanging out carefree in Steve's backyard, "You know, this is probably the only place in town you could have a barbecue after dark and not worry about the fang gang crashing."

"What are you talking about?" Xander asked, grinning at Spike, "I'd say the Fang gang did crash us."

"Ouch, mate," Spike shot back, with a half grin. "That hurt."

"Really?" Xander said, a lopsided grin of his own forming. "Terribly sorry."

"No trouble, mate," Spike let out, "Just pass me the keys to your ride and I'll call it even."

"Never gonna happen, Blondie." Xander got up, "Hey Cordy?"

"Yes?"

"Feel like getting home?" Xander asked, "We still have to pack."

Cordelia nodded, then turned to the girls and grinned, "Gotta go."

"Cya" They chorused, grinning back.

"Cool." Xander went on, holding the door open for her. "We'll get our stuff ready, and don't pack your whole wardrobe K? It's just a sports car."

Cordelia made a face at him as Xander hopped into the drivers seat, holding the door open long enough for Patches to hop in. The Mustang roared to life a few seconds later and Xander and Cordelia headed for their apartment.

*******

Xander dropped his bags into the truck of the car and started the engine as he waited for Cordy.

//You sure I can't come along?// Patches sounded like he was pouting.

"Any other time you like, Kitty Cat," Xander said, "But not this time. Cordy and I need some time alone."

//Yeah yeah, but why can't I stay at home? I can take care of myself.//

"Sorry, but Cordy's dad volunteered to cat sit."

Patches moaned, //Come on, I don't want to put up with Ariel for two weeks!//

The Persian cat hopped into the front seat and glared at Patches, "Stop talking about me like I'm not here! And what are you complaining about... I'm the one who has to live with your horrible habits..."

//You see!?"// Patches tried again, outraged, //You see!? Can't I stay at home... *She* can stay with Cordy's dad...//

//Are you trying to say that I need a babysitter!?//

//Please!?// Patches pleaded, ignoring the Persian's glare as best he could, //I can't stay alone with her for two weeks! I can't!//

"Too bad." Xander grinned as he turned the Mustang into Cordelia's driveway.

//You're a cruel man, Xander Harris.// Patches dead panned mournfully, almost convincing Xander that he was serious until his whiskers started twitching from the effort of holding back his laughter.

"And you're a sap, Kitty Cat."

//Hey!//

When he saw Cordelia come out of the building Xander hopped out of the car, leaving the engine running, and grabbed the suitcase from Cordelia's hands, "Allow me, M'Lady."

Cordy smiled, "I'm nearly as strong as you are Xander, I can handle a little suitcase like this."

"Don't let Gabby and the others hear you say something like that..." Xander pleaded as he manhandled the case into the trunk, "They'll crucify me."

Cordelia grinned, looping her small handbag over her shoulder. "If Gabrielle and the others were around I'd have ten times the luggage and you'd be carrying it all."

Xander groaned at the thought, "Remind me not to travel with the Amazon's touring bus."

Cordy laughed and slapped Xander across the back of his head.

"Hey!"

*******

After dropping off Patches are Cordelia's father's place Xander turned the car east. A short while later the Red Mustang roared past the sign that announced the end of Sunnydale, causing the two people inside to let out impromptu war whoops.

"Goodbye Hellmouth!"

Xander and Cordy glanced at each other and laughed, they both knew that evil wasn't limited to the Hellmouth but it was still liberating to leave the dimensional hell hole behind.

"So, where are we heading?"

Xander thought about it briefly, "I was thinking about swinging through Oxnard on our way to..."

Cordy cut him off. "Oxnard? I think not. Stay on the interstate. We're going to Phoenix."

"Phoenix?" Xander didn't mind the redirect, but he was curious. "Why there?"

"It's better then Oxnard." Cordy said simply before continuing, "Besides, I told Artemis that I'd see a small group of Amazons living there."

"What!?" Xander tried to protest, "This isn't supposed to be a working trip!"

Cordy grinned at him in such a way that Xander knew that he'd already lost, "Who said anything about work? We're just stopping off to see some new friends along the way."

Xander moaned as Cordy just smiled and turned the radio on.

********

30 minutes west of Phoenix Arizona
June 21, 1999 - Evening

"Turn here." Cordelia pointed out the turnoff casually.

"Yes Ma'am." Xander smirked and shifted lanes, the wheels screeching slightly as he slipped onto the exit.

Clear of the freeway traffic Xander took a moment to appreciate the scenery, noting with some internal amusement that the drab surroundings were absolutely gorgeous from a military standpoint.

"Gorgeous." He whispered reverently.

Cordy looked at him oddly, "It's nothing but scrub land, Xander."

"Exactly," Xander smiled, "It's practically impossible to sneak up on someone here. You could monitor every direction for a hundred miles with the right equipment."

Cordelia shook her head, exasperated. She considered herself a warrior now, but it was times like this that she realized that her boyfriend was something else entirely. He was a Soldier. Most of the time she didn't really realize that there was a difference, but then he would make a comment like that and things snapped into perspective. Every member of Section Seven knew how to think tactically, but only a small handful thought strategically. Steve, Jarod, Mulder, Gabrielle, maybe one or two others... And Xander. Sometimes trying to talk to any of them turned into a completely incomprehensible conversation simply because they didn't see the world the same way others did.

"We're almost there." Xander said, nodding to a lovely old homestead coming into sight ahead of them.

Cordelia snapped out of her musings, looked up at the buildings ahead, and started thinking about what she'd say when they arrived. "Yep, there it is."

The two companions were about three minutes out when the first explosion rocked the old homestead.

******

Varia Sayath tried to get up but the pain was too much. She could feel the blood draining from her as her sisters fell around her. The heat from the fire was searing even from where the blast had thrown her, and she knew that their new shrine was gone. Her eyes were blurring as she looked up at the sky and whispered a single word.

"Artemis."

******

Cordelia hung onto the seat as the sports car accelerated, she couldn't see the speedometer from where she was but she figured they had left the speed limit in the dust about three quarters of a second after the first blast rocked the homestead.

Xander's face was still, his focus was on the road as he blasted the car between the stone gate posts that guarded the long driveway to the homestead. He had skidded the car through a ninety degree turn at over seventy miles an hour and a small part of his mind whispered thanks to God when he avoided scraping the paint on the stonework.

"Xander!" Cordelia cringed as the stonework flashed within inches of her door, then they were past and roaring up the long drive toward the fire.

In the rapidly approaching distance they could see armed figures advancing on a group of injured girls, one man kneeling over a prone figure with an odd glow coming from his hand.

"Cordy, There's a Mossberg cached beside your seat." Xander said tersely as he twisted the wheel and took the Mustang off the drive and onto the immaculate lawns, still accelerating toward the fire. "It's Dutch loaded with Silver and Rhino rounds..."

Cordy nodded as she retrieved the shotgun and cranked a shell into the breech.

Leaning slightly out the window of the racing vehicle Cordelia fired the first shot of the battle, the shotgun's roar thundering across the field.

******

Varia's strength gave out moments after her plea to the heavens, causing her to fall back to the ground, limp and in pain. As her head hit the ground she could see a flash of lightning and hear a peal of thunder through her dulled senses and knew that it announced the answer to her prayers. As the world went black around her, Varia smiled.

******

The man holding a gun on one of her sister Amazons was the first to fall, a twelve gauge rhino round holing him through the center of the chest. Cordelia didn't pause to watch the results of the impact, instead she shifted her aim to the next target and pumped a silver round into the breech.

Xander, for his part, shifted the direction of the car slightly and chopped the legs out from under another gunman at seventy miles an hour. Xander winced when the man's head impacted the armored windshield as he spun over the fast moving vehicle.

<If that bastard scratched the paint I'll get JP to reintroduce us...>

The Mustang skidded to a halt, Cordy and Xander hopping clear before the sleek car had come to a full stop. On the passenger's side Cordelia was immediately attacked by two armed men who managed to get in under the muzzle of her shotgun.

The barrel of the Mossberg cracked the first one across the jaw, opening a jagged slash along the mans face and dropping him to the ground. As the second man tried to take advantage of her distraction, Cordy lashed out with a elbow to the man's throat, dropping him to the ground clutching at his throat in pain.

The first man, cradling a fractured jaw, staggered to his feet and started backing away as fast as his feet could scramble. "Amazon." He spat in pain and disgust.

"Got it in one, Bozo." Cordelia snarled, "Got a problem with that?"

The man didn't answer, instead opting to turn and run. Cordelia was about to give chase when a yell from Xander snapped her attention back to the situation at hand.

******

Xander spared a quick glance at Cordy when he jumped from the car, but he instantly saw that she had the situation more then under control and lent his attention to the fallen girls in front of him. Their attackers had already started to pull back, moving away from their victims, as if unsure what to make of the dramatic arrival of reinforcements.

He pulled his Glock, firing at the one attacker who had hesitated to run. His first shot struck the man in the arm, dislodging the glowing orb Xander had noticed earlier, but the rest missed as the man dodged. To Xander the man was almost a blur, easily moving as fast as any of the members of Section Seven as he dodged the repeated shots from Xander's Glock.

Xander frowned, pulling his second Glock and bringing it to bear on the target. The man glared at him, clutching his wounded arm, before turning and running.

Xander ignored the fleeing attackers; there would be time to hunt them down later. Instead, he knelt beside the closet of the victims. <Pale, severe blood loss, probably going into shock.>

"Cordy!" Xander glanced over to where Cordelia was starting to pursue her attackers, "Forget them! Get the first aid kit from the trunk, it's in a compartment in the side!"

******

Cordelia dove back into the car, thumbed the trunk release, and jumped back out. It took her all of three seconds to locate the first aid kit, marked as the compartment was, by a large red cross. Hauling the large case from the trunk she ran over to where Xander was kneeling over the closest victim.

"She's fading fast, Cor." Xander spoke quickly, his hands stemming the flow of blood. "Skip the mundane stuff, it'll take a potion to save her."

Cordelia nodded as she snapped open the case, and pulled out one of the five metal flasks from inside. As soon as she poured it down the young Amazon's throat Xander jumped up, grabbed the medical kit, and ran to the next victim.

******

The next victim was slightly better off. Xander quickly placed a pressure bandage over the hole in her side, after making certain that the bullet had missed the major organs, and wrapped her with gauze. <This one will make it to the hospital.>

The third victim wasn't so lucky, as Xander realized when he arrived at her body. <Still warm... No heartbeat. Damn. Not breathing. Shit.>

Xander leaned over the still form, bent her head back to clear the young woman's throat, and breathed a quick breath into her lungs. Then he was up, hands over her heart, pumping in rhythm to a mental count. <One, two, three, four.> Another breath, and again.

******

Cordelia helped her patient sit up, holding the young Amazon as she coughed and gagged on the residue the potion left in her throat.

"It's ok. You're going to be fine." Cordy spoke quietly, trying to comfort the young victim.

"Are you going to be good?" Cordy asked after a few moments, her eyes constantly flitting to where Xander was desperately performing CPR

The shaken blond nodded, still trying to catch her breath, as Cordelia reluctantly stood and headed over to her companion.

******

Cordelia arrived as Xander started his third cycle, breathing more air into the motionless Amazon.

"One, two, three, four..." Xander spoke each word under his breath as he pushed down on the Amazon's chest.

"Breathe, dammit." He said as he bent over her head to breathe into her.

Cordelia watched as her boyfriend cycled through the step again, his entire attention focused on the motionless body in front of her. <Please save her, Xander.>

******

He was working on the eighth cycle when he felt the first tremor of a pulse on her throat. A few seconds later she drew a shuddering breath, and Xander almost collapsed across her in relief.

"Thank God." He whispered over the prone body.

Cordelia smiled. "Thank Artemis."

Xander flashed her a grin, "Yeah. What you said."

Cordelia kneeled over the young Amazon, "Will she be alright?"

Xander turned his attention back to the prone figure, "I don't know. She's not waking up, but she doesn't seem to have a head wound... We need to get her treatment, fast."

Xander glanced around, trying to determine the best way to move the injured Amazon, and spotted the glowing orb one of the attackers had dropped.

"What do we have here?" Xander whispered to himself as he leaned over curiously and picked up the glowing orb. As his hands closed on the glimmering ball he felt a sudden charge run through his hand and up his arm. When it reached his torso Xander felt the charge run along his spine, causing tremors and shakes to run through his entire body as the world went white.

Cordelia watched in horror as her boyfriend suddenly convulsed and keeled over, his eyes glowing with a shimmering light.

"Xander!"

******

Cordelia stared in horror as Xander's face thudded into the ground, his entire body shaking as though he had touched a live wire. It took her barely three seconds to reach him, but by then he was out cold and barely breathing.

"Xander!" Cordelia shook his still body. "Xander! Wake up!"

Cordelia looked over the scene, taking in the situation. She had four injured people, two with unknown conditions and at least three requiring immediate treatment. Shaking slightly she climbed to her feet and looked around carefully.

Spying a small shrine to Artemis through a window in the homestead, Cordy rushed over and entered the area. Kneeling before the shrine she looked up at it and called out.

"Lady Artemis! Please heed my call."

Long moments passed and nothing happened.

"Lady Artemis! Heed the call of your humble servant."

Another long wait, and still no response.

Tears ran down her cheek as she stared at the shrine, feeling helpless as she did. Finally she forced herself to her feet and ran back to the car, pulling out the cell phone Xander kept inside. Tapping in the number to Steve's house she held the phone to her ear only to hear nothing but dead air over the small device.

"Damn it!" Cordelia raged, "Does nothing WORK around here!?"

Frustrated, she pulled the recovering Amazon to her feet, "Help me get them to the car. Now!"

The two Amazons quickly dragged Xander and the unconscious Amazon to the car and position them limply in the back seat. Then they carefully lifted the wounded Amazon and carried her back to the car, sitting her carefully in the passenger side seat and belting her in.

"Get in back with those two," Cordy ordered, having forced herself to calm down and assess the situation rationally.

Moments later the Red sports car accelerated down the driveway and was roaring full tilt for Phoenix.

*******

Dream time: Don't ask

"Hello?"

Xander looked around at the environment he found himself in. It was depressingly familiar.

"Aw man," the teenager moaned, "Not again!"

"Hello? Who are you?"

Xander swung around in shock, shifting into a combat stance, only to find the Amazon he'd been giving CPR standing behind him.

"Shit, lady!" Xander cursed, "You damn near scared me to death."

"Sorry." She said simply, looking him over. "Didn't answer the question though... who are you?"

Xander took a few calming breaths before he remembered that he didn't need to breathe here. "Xander Harris. You?"

"Nivea Sayath." The young Amazon looked around them, "Where are we?"

Xander wasn't so sure as he had been a few moments earlier. "I thought it was a plane called Nirvana... but now I'm not so sure. Doesn't quite feel the same."

Nivea looked at him with sudden interest, "You've achieved Nirvana? I've been meditating since I was seven in the hopes of getting there. How did you manage it?"

Xander looked sheepish, "I got my ass fried in the mystical equivalent of a thunderstorm."

Nivea looked confused.

Xander sighed and tried to explain, "It's hard to put it into words... I wouldn't recommend you try it. Stick with your meditations, you'll get there."

She didn't look convinced but seemed willing to let it drop, "So if this isn't Nirvana, where is it?"

"Not exactly sure," he admitted, "But it feels closer than that. More earthy..."

"What?"

"In Nirvana you lose a lot of your excess emotions. You're closer to your true soul than on Earth, this is similar but I still feel tied to a lot of my emotional baggage." Xander stammered slightly as he tried to explain. "This feels more like a dream."

"A dream?" Nivea looked around, "yeah... I can see that. I think you may be right."

Xander looked around helplessly as a thought struck him. "So which one of us is dreaming?"

Nivea looked at him, a shocked look crossing her face as the meaning behind Xander's question hit her.

"I don't know."

*******

Officer Peters was lounging in the driver's seat of his patrol car, his coffee cooling on the dash, when the radar system mounted in the car started beeping. <Another minnow in the net.>

Peters grinned as he straightened in his seat, only to suddenly jump in shock as a car ripped past his position too fast for him to tell much more then what color it was. <Black... I think.>

He turned the key and shifted the cruiser into drive, flooring it as he spun out of his niche space and headed after the speeder. Belatedly he looked at the readout on the radar as his car accelerated down the road. <A hundred and thirty miles an hour? Damn sports cars. I *might* be able to catch up.>

Frustrated he reached for his radio.

******

Cordelia saw the cruiser as she ripped past, but chose to ignore it and stayed solidly on course for Phoenix. She was thirty miles down the road when the second cruiser burst out from a cross road and settled into pursuit mode.

<Aw great. Just what I need!> Cordelia was tempted the slam her head into the wheel, "Just what I needed!"

The Amazon in the backseat glanced back at the pursuing police car, "Can they catch us?"

Cordelia looked at the young girl, who's name she didn't even know, in the rearview. "They don't have to... They just have to radio ahead and slow us down."

<Even so...> Cordelia thought to herself, <I'll push it to the limit, and cross that bridge when I come to it.>

******

Officer Ryan was barely keeping up with the racing car when his computer beeped an alert. <What the hell is this?>

The police officer glanced down at the information the computer has kicking out at him and frowned, grabbing for his radio.

"Control, this is Unit Four Kilo"

"Roger Four Kilo, what's your status?"

"In pursuit of bright red Mustang on route 301, heading for Phoenix. Computer lists the car as a Federal vehicle on official business."

The voice on the radio came back, sounding confused. "Say again Four Kilo. A Federal Vehicle?"

"That's correct, Control. What kind of Fed drives a Mustang GT?"

"Damned if I know, Four Kilo, try to contact them on the standard Federal frequencies."

"Wilco."

******

Cordelia gripped the wheel so hard that her knuckles were white, the traffic was still fairly sparse but it was getting thicker as they approached the city. She almost jumped when the radio crackled to life.

"Red Mustang, this is the police cruiser in pursuit. Can you respond?"

Cordy looked around in shock, trying to figure out what was happening.

"What was that?" The Amazon in the back seat leaned forward.

Cordelia shrugged helplessly, "I don't know... The radio seems to be picking up the cop behind us... but why the hell would he even try to radio us?"

"Maybe it has something to do with that green light flashing there?"

Cordy glanced down at the control panel below the car's radio and saw the light flashing. Shaking her head she thumbed the button above it.

******

Dream Time: Didn't I tell you not to ask?

"So." She said.

"So." Xander answered uncomfortably.

"Any idea's?"

"Nope. You?"

"Nope."

Xander snickered.

Nivea looked annoyed, "What are you laughing at? This is serious."

Xander nodded, trying to hold in the laughter, with little success. In moments he was rolling on what passed for the ground gasping for air between chuckles while Nivea stamped her feet in frustration and watched him.

"Sorry," he managed to wheeze out, "I guess I'm just a little jaded when it comes to this sort of thing now."

Nivea managed to look more confused and frustrated, "What?"

"This shit keeps on happening to me. You really don't want to know."

"Isn't THAT the truth?"

Both Xander and Nivea turned in shock in the direction of the new voice.

Xander was the first to recover as he started to sputter at the new comer, "You! Get the hell out of my dream!"

Nivea looked insulted, "Your dream? What if it's MY dream?"

Xander stopped, looked at Nivea in surprise, then shrugged. "Fine," He said simply, before turning back to the figure in black armor, "Get the hell out of her dream!"

"Hey!" Nivea interrupted him again, "What if I don't want him to get out of my dream?"

"Yeah," The man in black responded, "What if she doesn't want me to get out of her dream?"

Xander sputtered, turning to Nivea. "That's ARES!"

"Ares?" Nivea whispered in shock, "God of War? The one who tempted the old Amazons and helped destroy the nation?"

Xander nodded.

Nivea turned to Ares, "Get the hell out of my dream!"

"Hey!"

Nivea turned back to Xander, "What?"

"What if it's my dream?"

Nivea sighed, "Fine," turned back to Ares and said. "get the hell out of HIS dream!"

Ares looked at them both in disgust. "Actually, it's both your dream's."

Nivea and Xander looked at each other for a long moment, nodded once, and turned back to the god of war, "Get the hell out of OUR dream!"

Ares slowly rubbed his face with both hands, "I come looking for warriors and I get a vaudeville act."

Sighing heavily Ares began to speak.

******

Cordelia pulled her hand back quickly when a small panel snapped open. <What the Hell?>

She pulled out a small earpiece and stared at it for a moment, until the radio crackled again. "Red Mustang, this is the Police Cruiser in pursuit. Do you copy?"

Cordelia shrugged and put the earpiece over her ear, "Uh... Hello? This is the Mustang."

"Who is this?"

Cordelia snorted in a rather unladylike manner, "Impolite much? Who is this??"

The cop came back, and didn't sound amused. "I'm the cop who's gonna run you into jail."

"Oh. Yeah." <Damn. Not the time to mouth off I guess.>

"Who are you and where are you going?" The cop was all business.

Cordelia considered the question for a long moment, before deciding to stick with the truth... mostly. "I have injured people on board. I'm heading for the hospital."

******

Ryan considered the answer he had, finally, managed to wring from the driver of the vehicle. <The agents must have been injured. That girl sounds like a teenager.>

"Very well, Mustang, I'm going to take point and escort you to the closest hospital. Do NOT get lost."

The girl's voice sounded vaguely amused when she came back, "Don't worry. I won't."

Ryan gunned the engine and pulled ahead of the speeding sports car, sirens and lights blazing as he led the way through the late evening traffic.

******

Dream Time: You know the drill

"Let me get this straight," Xander couldn't believe his ears, "You want ME to help YOU save some Amazons?"

"That's right."

Xander looked at Ares, then at Nivea, and finally back to Ares. "What's the punch line?"

Ares growled, "No joke. I just don't want Arty gunning for my ass when she finally learns about this."

Xander looked doubtful.

Nivea spoke up, "Why would Lady Artemis blame you?"

"Because it's one of my old Warriors, who's hunting your sisters down."

"So you are to blame," Xander said cheerfully. He was more comfortable now, this was more on level with what he knew about Ares.

"No!" Ares shouted, "No. Look, he used to be one of my mortal warriors but he and I parted company centuries ago... After he annihilated the Amazons."

"Why would you give up a warrior who could do that?" Xander was suspicious.

Ares merely sneered at him, "Because I didn't WANT them *dead*. I wanted them co-opted to me. They were great warriors, and could have been even greater if I had had the chance to break them of that damned lesbian deal Arty had going at the time."

Xander actually nodded, and grudgingly admitted. "That makes a twisted kind of sense."

Nivea looked at him in shock, "Hey! Who's side are you on here?"

Xander shrugged, "Look, My girlfriend is an Amazon, and I happen to think that we work well together. I'd be plenty pissed if Artemis decided that she had to be a lesbian after making her an Amazon. Not to mention what little self confidence I have would be shot to hell."

Nivea looked at him in shock before smirking at him, and speaking sweetly. "Have some self image problems do we?"

"Hell, yes." Xander replied with a lopsided grin, "You know anybody younger then two centuries who doesn't?"

Nivea just looked at him blankly for a moment, unable to think of something to say.

Ares spoke up, impatient. "So, are you going to help me?"

"Why should I help you? I'd get a kick out of Artemis gunning for your ass again." Xander said with a lopsided grin.

Nivea looked at Xander in confusion. <Who is this guy to talk so casually about Artemis and Ares?>

"Because if you don't, I'll let you rot in here while my old Warrior goes after your girlfriend."

Xander gritted his teeth, "And what makes you think that she hasn't already called in Artemis and Section Seven?"

Ares smirked, "Do you really think that one of MY old warriors would allow himself to begin an operation like this without covering such an obvious base? His new patron is powerful enough to shroud him and his immediate targets from the other Gods."

"Oh yeah, then why can you find him so easily?"

"Because he was touched by my power. Mortals touched by a God are forever marked by it, I can find ALL of my warriors wherever they are."

Xander pondered that for a moment, <makes sense... except...>. "Wait a second, in that case why can't Artemis find her Amazons?"

"She could." Ares smirked, "If she were looking. All his patron is doing is blocking their calls to her. As long as she doesn't realize that something is wrong he can operate without fear of her interference. Considering that many of the current Amazons are still trying to organize themselves, I'd say he's good for quite a few more easy kills."

Xander grimaced, the thought of Cordy being hunted without backup was a chilling thought. "What's the deal?"

Ares smiled, "Simple. I help you find him, you take him down. Personally. And without calling in anybody who'll bring Arty into this."

"Why?" Xander asked, slightly belligerent, "You know as well as I do that she'll find out sooner or later."

"Of course." Ares shrugged, "But I want it to be *later*. After this mess is cleaned up."

"What good does that do you?" Xander asked, "She's still gonna be pissed."

Ares grimaced, "Not half as pissed as if she had to clean it up herself. Besides, I clean up my own messes."

"Then clean it up!" Xander yelled, "Don't draft me to do it for you!"

"Do I really have to remind you of our limitations on the Mortal plane?" Ares looked annoyed. "Look, it's not like you have a lot of choice here. As long as your girlfriend out there is being targeted neither she nor you can call for help. I'm all you have."

Xander groaned. <Shit, I'm in trouble.>

"I heard that!"

"Oh shut up."

The silence stretched out for a long moment before Xander finally sighed and broke it. "Alright. I'll help you."

"Your word that you won't involve Artemis?" Ares looked at the boy with a piercing stare.

Xander grimaced. "My word." He grudgingly agreed.

Ares smiled and snapped his fingers, "Wakey, wakey, sleeping beauties."

******

"Hey!" Xander jolted awake, ready to rip into Ares for calling him 'sleeping beauty', startling the Amazon at his side and causing Cordelia to swerve the car wildly when she jumped.

"Xander! You're alright?"

"I've been better." Xander growled, "Where are we going?"

"To a hospital in Phoenix. You were out cold and the other two need treatment too."

"Other two?" Xander looked around in confusion as he realizing that he was sandwiched between two, suddenly very friendly, Amazons.

"Nivea!"

"Varia!"

Both Amazons lunged at each other, pulling themselves into a sisterly hug. One of which Xander had become a very integral part.

"Ah... hello...?" Xander tried to squirm out of the middle, throwing guilty glances at the back of Cordelia's head as the two, very beautiful, women continued to embrace each other, oblivious of the young man caught in the middle.

"You were shot!" Nivea accused, her eyes tearing up, "I thought you were dead!"

Varia pulled her sister closer, eliciting another set of squirming as Xander tried to escape, "They saved me! They used an, honest to Goddess, healing potion on me."

"Uh... hello!" Xander tried again, "Guy caught in the middle here!"

The two sisters looked at each other, finally taking notice of the squirming guy between them. They looked at each other in surprise for a brief moment before an appraising gleam entered both their eyes.

"So?" Nivea said, her voice dropping slightly, "Could be fun...."

Xander's eyes glazed over slightly at the implications.

Varia took over as her sister trailed off, "Yeah we could really celebra..."

"Ahem!" Cordelia glared at the backseat, trying to keep the car from wobbling a she turned around in the seat. "Hands off! He's mine."

"Someone never learned to share," Nivea said blithely, drawing a petrified look from Xander, and a death glare from Cordelia.

******

St Luke's Hospital: Phoenix, Arizona

As a class one trauma center, St Luke's Hospital was no stranger to sirens and police, but even the most jaded of people raised an eyebrow when a State Trooper roared into the parking lot with a brand new Ford Mustang hugging his rear bumper. Orderlies were waiting when the red sports car slewed to a stop in front of the emergency entrance, it's driver's side door opening even as it skidded to a stop.

"Gunshot victim in the passenger seat!" The young woman yelled over the top of the car as she flipped the drivers seat forward, letting out another young man and woman.

The orderlies nodded quickly and pulled a gurney up to the car and gently lifted the injured young lady form the seat. The driver's seat flopped forward, letting out a young man and two women who rushed around to escort the wounded girl into the ER.

******

"Hey, Cordy?" Xander squirmed under her glare, but managed to keep it together long enough to ask, "Why's that cop staring at us like we grew extra heads?"

Cordelia looked over, her hand flying to her mouth. "Ohmygod. I forgot about him... He was chasing us and called us over the radio...."

Cordelia trailed off, and then glared at Xander again, "Why does your car have a police radio?"

"Cordy, please. Focus. The cop?"

Cordelia glared at him again, but answered. "I told him that we were coming to the hospital and he told us to follow him in."

Xander nodded, finally piecing the situation together. "Ok. One sec, I'll be right back."

He walked up to the police officer who was obviously waiting for him. He forced a friendly smile and extended his hand as he reached the officer, "Hello, I'm Alexander Harris, Thank you for the help, Officer...?"

"Ryan." The man replied sternly. <Who does this punk think he's kidding? He's no Fed.> "What happened to the girl?"

"We were visiting some old friends and stumbled into a home invasion that went really bad. Did you say, Ryan?" Xander continued cheerfully, noting the look on the cop's face. "Any relation to Jack Ryan?"

The cop's eyebrow went up, given who the kid was pretending to be it shouldn't surprise him to hear that name. "The Deputy Director of the CIA? No. Not that I'm aware of."

"Ah," Xander said, letting himself look slightly disappointed, and holding back a grin at the cop's reaction. "Anyway, you're here to make sure that I'm who I claim to be. right?"

The cop nodded slowly. <This kid can't be on the level. Right?>

"Here," Xander handed the cop a card. "That's the number to the FBI office in Washington, D.C. Ask for extension thirteen and give my name."

Cordelia almost smiled as she listened to Xander deal with the cop, pawning him off on Bureau 13. <He's starting to enjoy this 'secret agent' gig *way* too much.>

The cop nodded, "All right, I'll check this out. Don't go anywhere."

*******

"All right, Xander." Cordelia glared at him with her hands on her hips, "Spill."

Xander winced, "About what?"

That comment earned him a redoubled glare from Cordy, "Oh I don't know, how about why that cop thinks that we're federal agents?"

Xander looked chagrined, "Oh... That. Well, when I decided to get a car I asked Jarod about that device he provided for Sidney and Broots when they were running from the Centre... the one that kept the cops off them when they were forced to speed. He helped me install it in LA a couple weeks ago. We set it up so anytime you go more then ninety miles an hour it kicks in."

"And the radio?" Cordelia wasn't letting him off the hook.

"Just a police and Federal band scanner/transceiver... Same as Steve has in his car."

Cordelia's face softened, "All right. How long will it take him to get a hold of Bureau 13?"

"Not long." Xander guessed, "a few minutes at most. Then we have to get out of here."

"Why?"

"Because if my information is right the next hit is coming down right on top of us... and I don't want to be in a hospital when it does."

*******

Cordelia was about to start the interrogation again when the police officer yelled over, "Mr. Harris? Director Gordon would like to speak with you."

Xander rushed over, much to Cordelia's ire, thinking quickly to himself. <Maybe I can get one of Horace's teams as backup.>

"Thank you, Officer Ryan." Xander grabbed the phone only to have the tone go dead as soon as he put it to his ear. Xander stared at the receiver for a long moment before cursing. "Shit!"

"Is something wrong, Mr. Harris?"

"The line went dead." Xander cursed again, <I should have known.>

"I see." Ryan didn't look like he saw much, "Mr. Gordon confirmed your identity however. You're free to go."

Xander frowned, "Could you try to get a hold of him again and give him a message for me?"

"Why don't you do it?"

<Because some fucked up God is trying to kill my girlfriend.> Xander grimaced, "I can't. I have to get back on the road now."

The cop looked dubious, but agreed.

"Thank you. Tell him that I'm dealing with a level 12 problem and need someone to watch over the three girls I just brought here."

Cordelia, who had walked up beside him, looked at Xander in shock. <A level TWELVE?>

The cop almost laughed in his face, "You Feds sure love those code-words don't you."

Xander forced a smile, "Yeah. That's the government for you, huh?"

Ryan just laughed and nodded as the two 'Feds' walked out the door. <Damn. They MUST be older then they look. I wouldn't have thought that kid could vote yet....>

*****

Ares watched from his position, phased slightly out of time, as Xander picked up the phone, <I don't think so. Not yet anyway.> A simple wave of his hand and the God of War grinned to himself as the boy cursed and slammed the phone down.

"Now, now. Can't have you ending the game too quickly, I need you and the Spitfire on this... But the Wanderer would ruin everything."

*****

Horace Gordon stared at the dead phone for several long seconds before barking an order, "Get him back!"

Horace sat down heavily. <I wonder what that was all about? A home invasion? What have Steve's people gotten into now?>

"Get me the Wanderer!"

******

Xander and Cordelia headed for the car, but stopped dead when they saw who was leaning on the car and waiting for them.

"Nivea?" Xander slowed his steps, eyeing the Amazon cautiously. "What do you think your doing?"

"Going with you two." The Amazon said simply.

"Oh no, you're not." Cordelia snapped, her mind still on the scene in the backseat. "You can hang around here and try to snag a Doctor or something."

Nivea glared at Cordelia, her face suddenly set in stone. "Get over yourself. I'm not doing this to get in your boyfriend's pants! My sisters were attacked, and I happen to know that you guys are going after the guy who did it!"

Cordelia continued to glare at her, "And how do you know what we're going to do?"

Xander shifted uncomfortably as Nivea glanced at him, drawing Cordy's attention back to him.

"Xander?" Cordelia was reflexively clenching and unclenching her fists.

"She uh... knows sort of... well..." Xander stammered, "the same way I know."

"And that is!?"

"Can we do this on the road please?" Xander asked, his eyes darting around the crowded parking lot.

Cordelia glared at the two people in front of her, but finally admitted to herself that that was probably the best deal she was going to get at the moment. "All right." She said, before turning and glaring at Nivea again, "but I've got shotgun! You, get in the back again."

Nivea nodded and ducked into the back of the car, refusing to wince under the steady pressure of Cordelia's glare.

Back in the car Cordelia didn't even give Xander the time to pull out of the hospital lot before she started in on him. "Level *twelve*!? Why the hell do we have a GOD after us? And better yet how do you two know about it?"

"Actually he's after you, and Nivea, apparently doesn't think I'm worth his time. An old enemy of the Amazon's has come a-calling, and he's got a powerful backer."

"Who?" Cordelia asked somewhat fearfully.

"Don't know."

"Who told you about this?"

Xander opened his mouth to answer when a sudden flash of mist and lightning deposited Cordelia in the back seat and Ares in the Passenger side. "I told him."

******

Cordelia was shocked into silence. For about three seconds.

"You asshole." She snarled, "What the hell do you want with us now?"

Ares grinned nastily back at her, "Nothing. I'm here to protect you."

"Yeah, right." Cordelia growled, "And I'm a princess in a hell dimension."

Xander snickered to himself, before finally cutting into the conversation. "What do you want, Ares?"

"Just thought you'd want to know where the next target was." Ares tried his best to sound innocent.

"I thought Cordy was the next target!?" Xander started to get angry. <If you lied to me you sonuva...>

"Watch the language, brat." Ares cut him off in mid thought. "The Spitfires in the back are both targets, but as it turns out he's more interested in numbers right now. He's already in Dallas, hunting his next targets."

"Who?" Xander had a fair idea and it caused his stomach to churn.

"That pack of FBI Playmates you and your friends work with."

Xander groaned and suddenly wished that he'd told the cop to relay a lot more information to Horace.

******

St Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California

Steve slowly placed the receiver down, thinking carefully about what Horace had just said.

"What is it Steve?"

Steve turned to Buffy, "Horace got a call about Xander a few minutes ago..."

"Is he alright?" Buffy's voice was concerned.

"Huh? Oh. Yeah. He's fine." Steve said, "A cop was just checking on his 'Federal credentials.' Horace confirmed Xander's identity and asked to speak with him... But the line went dead before he could."

"Do you think he's in trouble?"

Steve forced a quick grin, "Xander? Of course he is, but probably only with Cordelia."

Buffy laughed, accepting Steve's assurances.

Steve watched as Buffy walked out of the room, his smile dropping away. <What have you gotten yourself into this time, Xander?>

******

"How good is this guy?"

Ares looked at Xander with a slight sneer, "He was one of my best. Only Xena herself was better."

Xander focused on the road, mulling that over.

Cordelia leaned forward, "What the Hell is this all about?"

Xander grimaced. "One of Ares' old warriors has a major hate on for the Amazons. He's hunting them down."

Cordelia growled, "Ares, you son of a..."

"Hey, hey! What is it with this generation and all the cursing?" Ares mocked her. "I'm not giving him orders any more. He's switched allegiances."

"To who?" Xander was still quiet, still thinking.

"I'm not sure." Ares admitted rather sheepishly, for a god.

"You're not SURE?" Cordelia was annoyed; if it had been anyone else she would have gotten violent by now. Fortunately beating on a God wasn't high on her list of 'smart ideas'.

"So sue me! I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to him for the last couple of thousand years! I thought he died in 28 BC, for Hades' sake!"

"He's an Immie?" Xander groaned, <not another one.>

Ares flashed a mean grin at Xander, "Relax, Brat, you won't have to take another head. He's no Immortal. I'm not sure how he's managed to stay around this long, probably something to do with whatever Patron he's working for now."

"Immortal?" Nivea asked, almost timidly... for an Amazon.

Cordelia leaned forward, swatting Xander. "What does he mean 'you won't have to take *another* head'?"

"Did I let a secret slip?" Ares grinned at Xander, enjoying the impotent glare the boy shot his way.

"Excuse me. Immortal!?" Nivea was looking from face to face, trying to grasp the conversation.

"Can we talk about this later please?" Xander tried to steer the subject back on course, "This Warrior of yours, can he take the Bunnies?"

Ares shrugged. "In a fair fight? Maybe, maybe not. But he won't play fair, he never did." Ares smiled reminiscently. "I always liked that about him."

"We have to get to Dallas." Cordelia said with certainty.

"How?" Xander asked, frustrated. "It'll take us hours to get there, assuming we don't run into ANY traffic."

"Iverson Airfreight?"

Xander shook his head, "No go. Even if we could call him, I gave Wartoy over here," he jerked his thumb at Ares, "my word that I wouldn't involve Steve, if he woke me up so I could warn you."

Nivea tried to follow the fast back and forth in confusion, not really understanding the shorthand the two were speaking. Finally she interjected an idea of her own. "What about Ares? He's supposed to be a God isn't he? Can't he help us get there?"

Cordelia was quiet for a moment, "Well how about it, *Wartoy*?" She asked with an evil grin, "You want our help, you have to give a little to get a little."

"What do I look like to you?" Ares asked irritably, "A taxi service?"

"You don't want to know what you look like to me," Xander snarled, "I gave you my word, but my honor isn't worth Amazon lives. So either you get us where we need to go or I head straight for Iverson's local office."

Ares scowled, but conceded the point. Everyone has limits, and the Harris brat had just laid down what his were. "Get ready."

Xander nodded, watching the road as the God of War opened a shimmering portal directly in front of the car. Without hesitating in the slightest Xander drove the Mustang through. <Ares you twisted SOB, I hope you're watching where we're going.>

"Middle of Dallas, here we come!" Ares laughed.

"What!?" Xander managed to yell as the car was swallowed up.

******

Bureau 13 Offices
Location: Unknown

"The level twelve in Phoenix just shifted!"

Horace Gordon slammed his hands down onto his desk, "Where did it go!?"

The technician looked at his instruments, "Looks like... Dallas sir!"

"Get the Thunder Bunnies on the line!"

"Sir! I think it's too late for that."

"What? Why!?" Horace thundered.

"The level twelve just appeared in the middle of our Dallas offices!"

A pin drop could have been heard through the entire Bureau 13 office.

******

Bureau 13 Offices
Dallas, Texas

Xander hit the brakes the second the first desk shattered over his hood. "Ares! You fucking asshole!"

The Mustang skidded through the offices, wiping out desks, chairs, computers, and the flimsy partitions that separated the cubicles. Luckily it was late evening and the place was on a skeleton shift, with only a few technicians and paper pushers in the area. That and the Thunder Bunnies, who had been scrambled when the B13 orbital satellite array detected a Kirlian level twelve in the southwest.

******

The Thunder Bunnies had their weapons trained on the car less then two seconds after it smashed through the first desk.

Becca stared at the damage as the car skidded toward her. "Geeez, Agent Kirsch is going to be pissed! He spent a fortune on that desk!"

"Shut up and move!" Jessie shoved her to one side and the two Amazons split apart as the skidding car slid between them.

The Thunder Bunnies stared at the car as it skidded to a stop, a familiar figure getting out of the driver's side, slamming the door in anger, and giving the car a quick once over. "Goddamn it! The paint job is intact, but I'm gonna have to get Paco to redo the armored clear coat! You have any idea how much that's going to cost me, you bastard?"

"Is that Harris?" Monica stared, as if not believing her eyes.

The other Bunnies just sort of nodded as they watched the, apparently, one sided argument.

"I don't give a damn if I *can* afford it! You couldn't drop us off in the parking garage?!?"

"Why is he arguing with thin air?"

The rest of the Bunnies just shook their heads as the passenger side door opened and they watched as one of their Amazon sisters climbed out.

"Paco? This is a 'Paco Vega' car!?" Cordelia was on a tear. "You're SO going to have a lot of explaining to do when we get out of here!"

Another girl crawled out of the car, glaring at the same point in space that Xander was addressing. "Who's Paco Vega?"

The Bunnies watched as Xander flinched and glared once again at empty space, before walking to the back of the Mustang, still muttering to empty air. "Bastard. Don't think I'm not going to get you back for this. Why here anyway?"

The three youths seemed to listen to an answer before Cordelia suddenly barked out, "What!? Why didn't you say so in the first place?"

"Xander, we have to stop him!" Nivea was looking around for something, causing the Bunnie's to go on edge themselves. They didn't know what was going on, but it didn't sound good.

"Where is he?" Xander asked.

Xander nodded once, as if hearing a response, then turned the key to the trunk and started digging around inside for something. The Bunnies' eyes widened as he emerged with a military OICW rifle, deftly slapped two clips into the imposing weapon, and strode over to the south window.

"Which one?" He asked tensely, and upon receiving a silent answer he nodded once, smashed the window out with a crash of the weapon's butt, aimed the rifle, and opened fire.

******

Xander stared at the offending window through the OICW's scope, <Three heat signatures, let's check starlight. Whoa. Damn that's a nice rifle you got there pally... 55 yards... let's give this bastard a surprise.>

Thumbing the selector on the OICW's 20mm grenade launcher he set the weapons rangefinder to 56 yards and started pumping grenades into the distant window.

******

Michael Escobar smiled as he and his team set up their sniper nest, <These Amazons are more dangerous then most, but I doubt that they are bulletproof. Especially not with what these rifles are packing.>

His protege, Michael Tien, was busy setting up the second rifle while their third team member passed out the special AP ammo they'd prepared especially for this hit. In the next room he knew that the team's mage, a rather grizzled black robe Escobar had run into about two hundred years back, was preparing the teleport spells that would allow them to raid the FBI office, clean up the hit, and then escape with their skins intact.

Michael had spent the better part of a century putting together his team in preparation for the return of the Amazons, and he was quite satisfied with their performance so far. Though, he had to admit, he had expected to have more time to train them. The Amazons shouldn't have reappeared so soon, all the portents indicated another century before the return of the Old Gods.

He shrugged off the unproductive train of thought and smiled at Tien, "Ready?"

Tien flashed him a crooked grin, sending a shiver up Escobar's spine. The boy was very nearly a true psychotic, and one could see it in his face when he was about to kill. Escobar had pulled him out of a broken home as a young boy, his mother had been a junkie and wasn't above selling herself or her son for her next fix. Michael smiled to himself as he thought of how simple it had been to turn the boy's hatred for his mother into an all encompassing hatred for women in general and, recently, Amazons in particular.

Michael lifted the butt of the rifle to his shoulder, looking down at the FBI offices through the powerful scope. "Tien?"

"Yes?" Tien's voice sounded confused.

"Is that a Red Mustang GT in the middle of the office?"

"Yes."

"Is that THE Red Mustang GT that chased us off the Amazon homestead just west of Phoenix?"

"I think so."

"What the hell?" Michael muttered, unaware that those same words were passing through his protege's head at that very moment.

"I don't know, Sir."

The two of them watched as a man strode to the window with a large rifle cradled in his arms.

"That's the bastard who shot me and saved those Amazon bitches!"

"What's he doing?"

They watched as the man leveled the hefty rifle in their direction, "Oh shit! He knows we're here!"

"How!?"

"Who gives a shit?! Get down!"

Both men dropped clear of the windows as all Hell broke loose.

******

The OICW is an interesting weapon. Designed and built to match military specifications as a next generation assault weapon, it is capable of penetrating most classes of military grade body armor, laying down both cover and suppression fire, and even serving as a portable piece of field artillery in a pinch. However, it's most interesting capabilities stem from the US Military's extreme emphasis on precision in the battlefield. Equipped with onboard rangefinders and other sensor gear the rifle is designed to interface seamlessly with the Army's 'Land Warrior' system, allowing a soldier to, among other things, direct extremely precise bombardments from it's 20mm launcher.

The development mandate for the Army OICW and Land Warrior systems stressed the use of 'off the shelf' computer parts and technologies, with the expectations that this would lower the overall cost of each system to a more affordable level. While this was perhaps a laudable move by the Army, Section Seven immediately shipped their OICW rifles to Xanatos Industries for complete retooling. The overall result would have turned any Army general so green with envy that he wouldn't have much need of his uniform any longer.

******

The first twenty millimeter grenade shattered the glass of the window directly over Escobar's head, flying precisely three feet further into the room before the onboard electronics detonated the round, sending shrapnel flying through the room.

The second was only a few heartbeats behind.

******

Escobar's curse was lost in the thunder of explosions and shower of shrapnel that ripped the room to shreds. The flash of pain from his legs and torso quickly informed him that he had taken several hits. He could feel his body healing even as he started to drag himself to the back room. Beside him he could see that the two members of his team were not so lucky. Tien was slumped over his rifle, blood already pooling around his still form. Aaron was sprawled limply over the ammunition supply, turning the green tipped bullets an ugly reddish black with his blood.

<How did he know I was here?> Michael thought angrily, <Better yet, who in Hades is he!? The Amazon with him I can understand, but what in the Styx is *HIS* stake in this!?>

Leaving a blood trail the whole way Michael slowly dragged himself through the door to the next room, and his escape route. <I should have been better prepared. Going to need the full team on this. Pity.> He grinned, a death's head grin. <I did try to keep collateral damage down. Corsky will likely wipe out this entire block..>

******

Xander looked up at the shattered window and whispered, "Surprise, surprise, surprise."

Cordelia slapped him across the back of the head.

"Ow! What the hell was that for?"

"No more old TV shows for you."

"But I like those old sitcoms!"

Cordelia shook her head and walked back to the car, muttering, "Idiot."

Xander looked over at Ares with a 'what did I do?' expression on his face, until he realized who he was looking at and shook his own head in disgust. <Crap. Next thing you know and I'm going to be joking with Wartoy over there like we're Hope and Crosby.>

"Don't even think that, Brat," Ares said in disgust. "I've got my standards."

******

The Thunder Bunnies stared as Harris argued with his girlfriend and empty air. "Has he completely flipped out?"

Janice shook her head, looking down at her Kirlian detector. "Nope. There's definitely something there. Powerful too, but it's shrouded.... I can't get a solid reading on it."

Jessie strode forward, "Harris! What the hell is the meaning of this?" She waved her hand across the wake of destruction the car had caused. "And what were you shooting at!?"

Xander Harris glanced over at her, a flush of embarrassment crossing his face, "Well... uh... It's kinda hard to explain, Jessie...."

Cordelia Chase popped her head up from the Mustang, "Oh for crying out loud, Xander, if you won't tell her, I will!"

"All right, Cordy, all right." Xander flipped the safeties on his rifle and turned to face the five Thunder Bunnies. "We've got a lunatic who used to work for Ares out gunning for Amazons. Watch your backs."

The five Amazons looked at each other, suddenly understanding at least part of the situation. "The building you shot at?"

Xander nodded. "Sniper nest. We need to check and see if I got him."

The Bunnies nodded in return, "We'll 'port over."

"Let's do it then." Xander ejected the half spent clip of grenades and slapped a new one into place. "Nivea, you better wait here."

The young Amazon watched all the weapons being prepared and swallowed deeply, only nodding her response.

******

In moments seven heavily armed warriors were standing in the shattered remains of the enemy's sniper nest. The walls, ceiling, and floor were decimated by shrapnel. Two bodies were laying where they had died, one sagging over his rifle and the other still bleeding over an ammunition supply.

Becca kneeled down by the ammo and picked up a single bullet. "Armor Piercing. Strange...."

When her voice trailed off Jessie came up behind her. "What is it?"

"I don't recognize the script." Becca said, referring to an etched inscription on the bullet, "It looks a lot like the demon killer spell on our silvertips... But it's not quite right."

Jessie took the bullet from Becca and blanched as she read the inscription. "Goddess. It's an enchanted armor piercing round. This would have gone through our body armor and probably most of the rest of the building."

"Bastard does his homework." Xander growled, looking at the trail of blood that led to another room. "And something tells me that I didn't get him."

The Bunnies saw Xander toss a questioning glance at empty space, then growl in frustration as he followed the blood trail through the door. "The bastard ported clear before we got here."

******

Xander stepped into the room already knowing what he would find. The floor was littered with spell components, and a large containment circle had been painted in the center.

Jessie came up behind him, "Who's your friend?"

Xander looked at her, and then over to Cordy, and winced. "Not a friend. More like, an ally of necessity."

"Care to introduce him?" By this point the rest of the Bunnies had joined them.

Xander glanced over at Ares, who simply shook his head. "Sorry. Can't."

None of the Bunnies looked particularly happy about that, but Jessie sent them each a glance that told them to leave it be. She didn't like it much either, however Jessie had her suspicions as to the identity of the mysterious 'ally' and figured that Chase and Harris had their reasons for keeping quiet.

******

"I don't give a damn!" Xander was livid. "You're going to put my car back at street level, IN one piece, and your going to do it NOW!"

The Bunnies traded amused glances as they watched Xander argue with thin air.

"So who do you think it is?" Becca gently nudged Jessie as she whispered her question.

Jessie frowned, "Xander called him a bastard, so its male. Probably one of the Old Gods... In that case... Hercules wouldn't have any reason to hide from us... I'm guessing that Ares is trying to clean things up before Lady Artemis gets a hold of him."

Becca's eyes widened for a moment before she nodded, accepting her logic. "The level twelve in Phoenix?"

"Best guess. Wonder what he has on those two to get them to help him like this?"

Becca shrugged, "Don't know. But it's obvious that Harris and Chase are annoyed with him."

"They have a history."

"True." Becca conceded, every agent in Bureau 13 knew about the incident in New York involving Ares and Section 7.

The two Amazon Agents watched as Xander apparently won his argument and the Red Mustang flashed out of the offices, presumably to appear on the street below. Xander turned away in satisfaction, and walked toward the gathered Amazons.

******

Xander was only a few steps from the Agents when a man dressed in brown appeared out of thin air, pointing a very mean looking weapon at him.

Xander gulped as the weapon whined and spun down, whatever words he had on his mind dying in his throat.

"Harris?" JP Withers growled, "What are you kids doing here?"

<Oh great. HE had to get involved.> Ares thought to himself as he stepped into JP's view. "I brought him."

JP lips curled up around his cigar, "You. What is this all about?"

Ares shrugged, "Michael Escobar."

JP lowered his Masterson until the barrels were pointed at the floor, "Shit."

Ares nodded. "Colorful as always."

JP looked between the God of War and the others in the room, his gaze lingering over Cordelia and the Thunder Bunnies, finally coming to rest again on Ares. "You have a plan?"

"Of course."

"This won't end well." JP pulled the cigar from his mouth and dropped it to the floor at his feet.

Ares watched as the man in brown twisted his foot on the smoldering cigar. "I know."

******

"This won't end well."

The Thunder Bunnies looked at each other, getting nervous. Having JP Withers stand in front of them and, chatting with the unknown power source, say that the situation wouldn't end well was a *bad* sign. Each of the five commandos' gulped heavily when the man in brown turned to them.

"Stick with the kids. Watch your backs." JP looked them over, "I'm going back to Horace to let him know what's going on. I'll be in touch."

"Wait!" Jessie took an involuntary step forward, "How about letting *us* in on what's going on?"

JP paused for a moment before shaking his head, "You don't need to know. It would only get in your way."

Then the man in brown vanished into the air from which he came.

Xander let out a slow shuddering breath and managed a weak smile. "Guy knows how to make an entrance."

Cordelia was standing next to him, looking slightly pale, "Not to mention an exit."

Nivea came up behind them, "Who was the Bozo in the ugly brown suit?"

Seven incredulous eyes stared at her, waiting for a bolt of lightning to fry her in her place.

"What?"

The only answer was a chuckle from Ares, "From the mouths of babes."

*****

"Ok," Xander said, looking at Ares, "Now what?"

Ares scowled at him, "Since you missed your chance I'd say that you're in deep trouble. He'll be back, and packing a lot more then a couple rifles and enchanted bullets."

Nivea groaned. "Great."

"We need help." Cordelia was adamant. "We have to call Steve."

"Not if you want my help tracking him down, you don't." Ares said simply, "And you are going to need me to find him."

"He's going to find us, you idiot!" Cordelia snapped, "What do we need you for?"

Ares merely sneered, "If you go on the defensive, you allow him control of the battlefield. Do that and you're dead."

"If he's calling in backup, shouldn't we do the same though?" Nivea said quietly.

"How?" Xander asked, "I have an idea, but I couldn't even talk personally with Director Gordon without the line going dead."

"Who do you want to call?" Ares asked with a carefully suppressed grin.

******

Ranch house, somewhere in Montana

"Fury. It's three am, so you'd better have a damned good reason for calling." Nick Fury mumbled into the receiver, half his face still buried in his pillow.

"Hey, Pop," came a far too cheerful voice over the line. "How's things?"

"Kid," Nick's eyes opened, "What's up? And don't call me 'pop'."

"Have a situation in Dallas that I need some help with. Normally I'd call in Sec7, but the circumstances are a bit... unusual. Even for us."

Nick snorted into the phone, "That's saying something coming from a guy who hangs with the Wanderer. You could save yourself a lot of trouble if you'd come work with us like I asked you to when we met."

"Sorry, Pop." Xander's grin could easily be heard in his voice, "I'm kind of attached to the people I work with. Maybe in a few years... Take a sabbatico, or whatever it's called, and run with you guys for a while."

"Yeah, sure." Fury shook himself awake, "So what's the deal?"

"Guy out here is trying to kill some friends of mine, including Cordy."

"Shit. Ok, I'll gather the Howlers and be there in..." Fury checked his watch, "Two hours. Where do we meet?"

"B13 offices, Warehouse district. You know the place?"

"Yeah. Gordon called me in to cover Dallas a couple years ago while the Bureau team was called away. What kind of self respecting team of demon hunters call themselves the 'Thunder Bunnies' anyway?"

Xander laughed out loud, "You get to find that out this time. I don't think you'll be disappointed."

"Awright kid," Nick started pulling his pants on, cradling the phone between his ear and shoulder, "I'll be there in two. Hang tough."

"You got it, Pop."

"Don't call me that."

Xander laughed and hung up the phone, leaving Nick to stare at the phone for a second before he started dialing himself.

*****

"Don't call me that."

Xander laughed, thumbing the 'end' button on his cell phone, grinning ear to ear as he turned to Cordelia. "Pete was right, that's a great way to aggravate 'em."

"Them?" Nivea looked confused.

Cordelia smirked, "Fathers. He was bugging his father."

"Oh." Nivea shook her head. "Weird."

"You don't know the half of it if you just started hanging with these two." Jessie had walked up, after checking on the perimeter they had established. "These two and the pack they run with attract weird like vamps to a blood bank."

"Hey!" Cordelia looked scandalized. "We live on the Hellmouth! It's not like it's *our* fault."

"Yeah, right." Jessie snorted, "Who'd you call in?"

"Nick Fury and the Howlers." Xander said, "They'll be here in less than two hours."

Jessie smiled, a grin that Xander had come to know and fear. The smile of an Amazon on the prowl. "Then we go hunting."

Xander gulped as the women surrounding him echoed that same smile. <I almost feel sorry for you, Mr. Michael Escobar... almost.>

*****

"Koenig. This had better, as you say, be good."

"Warm up the Flyer. We're going to Dallas."

The blond German shook himself awake when he heard the tone in the boss's voice. "Ja. As you say."

The line went dead, and Eric Koenig shook his head with a rueful grin. <Same old bastard every time.>

*****

'Dum Dum' Dugan was wide awake when the call came through to him, a quick glance at the caller ID told him more then he wanted to know. "Hey Boss, what's up?"

"Alexander has a problem in Dallas. He's asked for help."

"Like father like son," Dugan grinned into the receiver, "I'll be ready."

"Good. Eric is warming up the flyer now."

*****

"Whaddya want?"

"Iz, Fury."

Izzy Cohen shook himself awake in a hurry, "What's up?"

"Trouble. Dallas. Meet at the flyer."

"Gotcha. Cya there."

*****

The buzzing of the phone cut through the wail of a trumpet, and the slow, easy, beats of Jazz echoing through the small apartment.

"Yo."

"Gabe, it's me."

"Hey, Colonel, what's happening?"

"Trouble in Dallas. You in?"

Gabriel Jones smiled slowly and easily, "Always, Colonel. Always."

"Meet at the Flyer. ASAP."

"Cool."

*****

"Pinkerton residence."

Fury smiled tightly, Percival Pinkerton *never* sounded like he was anything but fully awake and ready to enjoy a 'spot' of tea. "Hey, Percy, it's Fury."

"Good to hear from you Colonel, but don't call me that." Percival's British accent was clipped as he asked, "Another mission then?"

"Got it in one, Percy." Fury grinned for a moment before his smile faltered. <Damn. Maybe it's a family trait?>

"Don't call me... Oh, never mind. The Flyer then?"

"Yep. ASAP."

"Will do, Colonel."

*****

The phone rang and two voices let out simultaneous curses.

"Don't answer it." A female voice begged.

A low groan from the male voice sounded. "You know I have to."

"But we were so close..." The female voice teased.

The man groaned again, this time not from pain or frustration. "Sharon... cut that out.... please... I need to... come on... ahhh!"

The phone kept ringing.

Sharon sighed and rolled to the side. "You'd better get it, Steve."

Steve sighed, and grabbed the phone. "Rogers."

He paused for a second, "Nick? What is it?"

Sharon felt him stiffen beside her, and not in the good way. She turned to look at him curiously, curiosity that turned to concern as she saw Steve's jaw stiffen.

"We'll be there."

Steve hung up the phone and tossed the covers aside. As he got dressed he explained, "Nick's son ran into some trouble in Dallas... He called Nick and asked for a hand."

"All Howlers alert?" Sharon Carter asked as she got up, her naked skin glistening in the moonlight as she walked across to the wall closet.

"Yep."

Sharon walked into the closet and flipped a hidden switch, causing the back wall to slide open. She started pulling gear off the hooks inside and tossing it to Steve. "Then we'd better hurry."

*****

"Y'all better have a dang good reason for disturbing my down time."

"Reb, Fury."

"Colonel!" Reb 'Rebel' Ralston almost came to attention in bed, "What is it?"

"Mission to Dallas. Alexander needs a hand."

"You got it, Colonel. Be at the flyer in fifteen?"

"Sooner."

The line went dead and Rebel Ralston started throwing on clothes at random.

*****

"Where'd he go?" Nivea glanced between Xander and Cordelia as they cleaned their weapons.

Xander shrugged in response. Ares had flashed out shortly after he had allowed for Xander's call to his father. Frankly neither him, nor Cordy, much cared where the God of War had gone. It was a fair bet that he'd be back soon enough, he had a vested interest in the situation.

Cordelia's response was somewhat more articulate, though most likely anatomically impossible... even for a God.

The Bunnies glanced at each other in amusement at the snarled obscenity, and cataloged it for future reference. It wasn't often they heard a new one, and they decided that it spoke well of Chase's choice in friends that her 'vocabulary' was so advanced.

*****

The Howlers had quickly assembled at the dug out pit that housed the 'Flyer, dragging their equipment and weapons along with them.

"Where's the Boss?" Izzy asked, as he tossed his duffel unceremoniously into the 'Flyer.

"On 'is way." Dum Dum replied, adding his own duffel to the growing pile.

"May I inquire as to the nature of this mission?" Percival carefully placed his equipment cases in the cargo area.

"Boss's kid run into some troubles in Dallas." Dugan answered, pulling a modified Browning from a gun case and checking the action.

"Alex is in trouble?" Izzy's attention snapped up.

"The Colonel's got a kid?" Sharon was surprised, "Damn. Thought we knew all 'bout him."

"Always something new with the Colonel, Luv." Dugan said, grinning.

"Ja," Eric smiled himself, "He wouldn't be the Colonel if there wasn't."

"What is the boy like?" Percival was curious.

"Chip off the block from what I've seen," Dugan grinned wider, "He works with the Wanderer out of a small town in California."

"Aw hell." Sharon moaned, "Don't tell me we're getting caught up with that lunatic?"

"How old is the boy?"

"17, I guess, Percy, maybe 18." Dum Dum grinned as Percival winced at the nickname. The Boss wasn't the only one who got a kick out of that.

"Seventeen?" Eric was shocked, "What is a boy like that doing in this business?"

Dugan shrugged, "Don't know the whole story. Something about bloodsuckers running the town behind the scenes... Kid and some friends were fighting a holding action for a couple years before the Wanderer found them."

"Two years? A pack of teenagers held off a town of vamps for two years before someone clued the Order into the problem? Why the hell wasn't the Bureau all over that place?"

"No idea."

"Well...shit."

No one argued with that sentiment as they finished packing the equipment into the 'Flyer.

*****

"Cordy?"

"Yes, Xander?" Cordelia looked up from her, just reassembled, shotgun.

"You've been quiet." He said quietly, "You ok?"

"I'm fine," she winced as she said it, realizing that it sounded hollow.

"Uh huh," he answered, sliding in close to her, "What is it?"

"You're keeping secrets."

Now it was Xander's turn to wince, "Yeah, I guess I am. Nothing bad though, I swear."

"Why?" she sounded hurt.

Xander sighed, Cordy had gotten to know him too well. Her anger hadn't broken through, but he was helpless against a sign of vulnerability in his Cordy... or any of his girls... <friends... girl friends... No... not like *that*! friendly girl-like people I know... Damn I'm babbling in my mind now.>

"I've always kept secrets, Cor, as long as I can remember. I don't think I'd know who I was if I didn't."

Cordelia stared at him for a long moment, wondering at the change she saw. He wasn't trying to put her off with a joke and smile, he was actually being open. <Open AND closed that is... Annoying much?>

Cordelia sighed, "I want you to trust me with your secrets, Xander."

Xander smiled, "It's not about trust. I trust you with my heart, Cor. I trust you with my soul. And I trust you with my life. My secrets... those are just habit I guess..."

"They're a bad habit, Xander." Cordelia looked up at him, locking her eyes to his. "You have to talk to someone. I... hope... that it will be me."

Xander nodded and the two were silent for a while.

*****

"Hey Boss, We ready?"

Fury nodded to Dugan and climbed aboard the Stark Enterprises Jump Jet. "Let's go."

"Take 'er up, ya lousy Kraut!" Dugan yelled as he pulled the hatch shut.

"Watch your mouth, Irish!" Koenig yelled back, grinning, as he powered up the big plane.

The Jump Jet shuddered and lifted vertically out of the camouflaged pit, leaving black scorch marks behind. Thirty feet up Koenig sat the plane back on its thrusters, lifting the nose into the air, and gunned the powerful jets. The Stark Enterprises Jump Jet roared into the night sky, rapidly accelerating to Mach 3, en route for Dallas.

*****

"I'm going to get some gear from the car," Xander got up, "Going to need a hand, Cordy, Nivea?"

"Sure." Nivea grinned at him, "I'm game."

Cordelia growled, "I'm coming too."

Nivea let her eyes rove over Cordelia for a long moment, "Cool. Kinky, but cool."

Cordelia's nails drilled holes into her palms as she tried to keep form screaming. "You *were* told that lesbianism wasn't a prerequisite for the Amazons anymore, right?"

Nivea looked at her in confusion, "Amazons? Don't have to be an Amazon to enjoy some fun with the girls."

"Ahhhh!" Cordelia stalked out.

Several of the Bunnies looked at each other and grinned. They stood with Nivea on that particular question.

"Janice," Jessie motioned, "Go with them."

The slight Asian beauty nodded and slung her G3 battle rifle, following the unlikely trio out of the offices.

*****

The group had reached the front entrance to the building when Xander, glancing outside, suddenly took off at a full run, screaming. "No!!"

The three Amazons following him brought their weapons to bear as they followed him out into the street.

"Put it DOWN!"

Xander was yelling at a tow truck driver as he hoisted the Red Mustang onto the flatbed truck.

The driver was about to tell Xander where he could go when a sight greeted his eyes that both boiled his blood and chilled him to the bones. Three gorgeous women had followed the young punk out. Three of the hottest lady's he had had the pleasure to see all day. <Hell, all *week*!>.

Unfortunately his appreciation was tempered by the fact that two of them were heavily armed, with very large weapons pointed in his general direction.

"Whoa now!" the man raised his hands, "I'm just doing my job!"

Janice and Cordy lowered their guns in slight confusion, but Nivea had buckled over in laughter.

"What's so funny?" Cordy asked, annoyed.

"That..." she managed to wheeze as she pointed at a sign behind the Mustang that was clearly marked, 'Loading Zone, No Parking at any time'.

Xander was the next to speak. "That. Son. Of. A. Bitch! He dropped MY car in a tow away zone!"

Janice started giggling, she had heard Jessie's theory on who the mysterious 'reading' was, and thought that Harris had probably gotten off lightly.

"Real funny!" Xander fumed, "Absolutely hilarious!"

By the point Cordelia had joined the other two in their laughter.

"Put the car DOWN." Xander ordered, trying to ignore the giggling females behind him.

"Look, Buster," the man had regained some of his confidence when the guns were pointed elsewhere. "I don't know who you think you are, but your car is parked in a tow away. And THAT is what I'm gonna do."

Xander glared at the burly driver, his hands itching to wrap themselves around the man's beefy neck.

Janice managed to recover enough to see the tremors running through Xander's arms and decided to step in before something got out of hand. "I'm FBI, and you're going to put the car down. Now." She made it quite clear that it was an order as she flashed her credentials at the man.

"Alright, alright!" the man muttered, "Lousy Feds. No respect for a working man..."

*****

Xander was shaking his head as he watched the truck drive off, <God of War my ass. Bastard's got a sense of humor that makes Robin look normal.> He quickly maneuvered the car to a legal parking space and climbed back out, "God save me from wise ass God... hmmm that doesn't work... well, *someone* save me from wise ass Gods."

The three Amazons were still giggling to themselves as they walked up to the car.

"That's right, Yuck it up."

"Thanks, I think we will." Cordelia managed to get out between snickers.

Xander growled lightly, now that he was certain that his car wasn't going anywhere he could admit, grudgingly mind you, the humor of the situation. "Cordy, false bottom in the trunk. Our body armor is inside. Nivea, flip down the passenger seat."

The two girls nodded and moved to their tasks. Xander flipped down the driver's seat and then showed Nivea how to open the false backing. Underneath, nestled into the cushion material of each seat was a small arsenal.

"Holy..." Nivea whispered as she stared at the weapons.

"Stop rubbernecking and grab the guns and clips." Xander grinned at her as he lifted an MP5 SD6 from its slot, quickly following with two Glocks and clips for each.

Nivea nodded and followed suit, tucking the pistols into her waistband and slinging the MP5 over her shoulder. The kevlar ammo pouch went over the other shoulder and she looked questioningly at the crosses and vials and flasks within.

"Grab the flasks, and a cross... just in case." Xander did the same, taking an extra cross for Cordy as he did.

Xander swung the door shut, wincing as Nivea slammed the passenger side, and thumbed the door locks. Behind the car Cordelia and Janice were each holding a piece of unmarked Grail Armor and had two kevlar ammo pouches slung over each shoulder.

"Ready?" Cordy asked.

Xander nodded and the group made their way back into the B13 building.

*****

Bureau 13 Office
Location: Unknown

"Escobar is targeting one of *MY* teams?" Horace Gordon couldn't believe his ears, "For the love of God, *why*?"

"He has a history with Amazons." JP growled, "I should have known that a couple thousand years wouldn't be enough to rid him of that obsession."

"Escobar has always been a reliable hunter," Horace still couldn't understand, "Christ, he's saved the world half a dozen times over since I took over the Bureau."

"A dozen." JP responded sourly, "Easily."

"Whatever." Horace didn't care. "He's trying to kill one of my teams because of their religious beliefs. That's two strikes against him, and by the rules *I* use that means he's OUT! Take Tuna Fish and go to Dallas, take Escobar out of play."

JP looked at Horace for a long moment, "No."

"What!?"

"I'm going back, myself. If Escobar hurts one of my people, I'll handle him, but until then I intend to let this one play out."

"For the love of God, man, WHY?" Horace asked in shock.

"An old debt has come due."

With those last words JP Withers turned and strode out of Horace Gordon's offices, leaving a thoroughly confused man in his wake.

*****

Bureau 13 Office
Dallas, Texas

Xander and Cordelia had suited up and were checking each other's gear in the B13 target range as the Thunder Bunnies checked Nivea out on a Glock.

"Ok. Slap the clip in, pull back the slide to chamber a round. Got that?" Becca asked as she mimed the motions with her own pistol.

"Got it." Nivea fumbled slightly as she slid the clip in, and racked the slide once. "What's next?"

"Line up the sights with the target. The three glowing dots have to come into line."

Nivea raised the pistol in a two-handed stance that Becca had shown her earlier, carefully lining the weapon's tritium night sights up against the target.

"Now squeeze the trigger. Do it smoothly, don't jerk it," Becca advised.

Nivea squeezed gently on the weapon's trigger, feeling the pistol buck in her hands as the report echoed through the room.

"Again." Becca ordered.

The pistol bucked again, then a third time, and a fourth. Nivea kept firing until the slide locked back on an empty chamber. She wrinkled her nose up slightly at the unfamiliar smell of cordite, and felt a tingling sensation run through her arms from the weapon's recoil.

Becca thumbed the target return and waited patiently as the whirring motor brought the paper target back to them.

"Not bad," She murmured, looking over the perforated paper. "Twenty shots, thirteen center mass, two to the head, three in the extremities, only two clean misses. An excellent start if you're dealing with human beings."

Nivea flushed with pride, she hadn't had any real weapons training yet and she felt good.

"But," Becca continued, "Only three shots to the heart. A very poor showing if your dealing with vampires or demons. For supernatural targets you have to be precise, only heart and head shots are likely to guarantee a kill."

Nivea deflated, but tried to hide it with bluster, "Come on! That was good shooting. You guys can't be that much better!"

Becca grinned. "Who wants to show her?"

Cordelia smirked. "I'd be glad to."

Becca nodded and started to run a target back, but Xander's voice caught her attention. "No. Run two targets back."

The Thunder Bunny nodded and thumbed a second remote, sending a target whirring back in a second lane.

Cordy grinned at Xander, tipped her head once in appreciation, and cleared the snaps off the twin holsters on her hips. She let her hands run over the butts of the twin Desert Eagle's for a moment, just letting the familiar feel soak into her. After a few seconds her hands lifted away and she focused on the targets in the distance.

At the back of the range the targets flipped sideways and Becca dialed a random time into the system, leaving Cordy to wait for the 'hostiles' to present themselves. The timer dinged and the paper targets flipped back as Cordelia's hands drew both weapons from the cross draw holsters. Her weapons came up, and she sighted along both barrels, her fingers squeezing the triggers even as the weapons leveled out.

To Nivea, the motion was a blur, her eyes hadn't adjusted to the speed that an enhanced Amazon was truly capable off. Then the two big pistols bucked hard and spat fire as Cordelia emptied them into the distant targets. In seconds it was over, first the right pistol locked back and then the left.

"Clear!" Cordelia yelled, laying both pistols flat on the table in front of her.

Becca moved forward and thumbed both return mechanisms, bringing the targets back.

"First target, Seven shots center mass, six to the heart." Becca nodded approvingly, "Second target, Seven shots center mass. Four to the heart."

Becca raised an eyebrow at Cordelia.

"What?" Cordy demanded. "It was my left hand."

Grudgingly Becca nodded, accepting the explanation. Then she turned to Nivea, "and she's not even the best shot here."

Nivea stared at paper targets in awe for a long moment before asking, "Who is?"

"What?"

"Who is the best shot?"

Becca looked around the room for a moment, "Don't really know. Janice is the best rifle shot in the Bunnies, and I guess that Monica is probably the best pistol shot..."

Cordelia thought about the question herself, "I guess Xander is the best shot, pistol or rifle in our group... If you don't count Steve."

"Or any of his friends," Xander cut in with a grin, "Mack wipes the floor with me every time he comes by."

"True." Cordelia said sweetly, "Mind you, Xander cheats."

"Hey!"

Nivea looked up, "How does he cheat?"

Becca looked interested in this also.

Xander grimaced, and tapped his temple, "Thirty plus years of magically induced combat experience. Couple tours in 'Nam, some wet work in Columbia, and plenty of gigs that I'm not cleared to even dream about..."

"How?" Asked Jessie, as this had attracted the attention of the other Bunnies in the area.

"It's a long story, suffice to say that for an eighteen-year-old I have a lot of ghosts ricocheting around my skull."

The Bunnies looked at each other in confusion, causing Xander to sigh and explain a bit more. "I live on the Hellmouth, and it tends to attract a lot of crazies. I've been possessed twice, once was by a Soldier who served in Nam. He comes in pretty handy at times."

Jessie grinned, it wasn't the craziest thing she'd heard but it was up there, "I'll bet. You said that you were possessed twice? What was the second?"

Xander winced at the memory. "A hyena spirit."

The team's eyes widened and a couple nearly took a step back. "Christ, kid. An animal spirit? Those things are dangerous."

Xander just nodded, his eyes haunted by the memories. "I know."

*****

St Wolf's Home
Sunnydale, California

"St Wolf Residence." Buffy Summer's voice was tired.

"Buffy? Is Steve around?"

"Of course Mr. Gordon, I'll wake him immediately." Buffy rolled over, but Steve was already reaching for the phone.

"Horace? What is it?"

"Your kids have found some trouble in Dallas. You ever hear of Michael Escobar?"

Steve thought for a moment, "Yeah, sure. He's a rogue hunter. Won't affiliate himself with any of the groups. Word is, he's pretty good at what he does."

"That's the guy. JP told me earlier that he's taken to hunting Amazons."

"What!?" Steve was bolt upright in bed now, startling Buffy completely awake. "Why?"

"JP didn't tell me. Something about some old history." Horace didn't sound like he thought much of that explanation. "JP has gone down to watch over the Bunnies, but he's as much as told me that he's going stay out of it for the time being, and that I should do the same."

"What? Why?"

"I don't know." Horace sounded tired, as if he'd been going over that question himself. "The kid, Harris... He got a cop to send me a message... said that he's dealing with a level 12 problem... We monitored a Level 12 shift from Phoenix to Dallas shortly after, so I sent in JP... that's what he came back with."

"Who's the Twelve?"

"I don't know."

"I'm going to Dallas, Horace." Steve was pulling his clothes on as he talked, Buffy doing the same beside him.

"I thought you might."

*****

"I thought you might." Horace sighed to himself as he put the phone back in its cradle and took a sip from a glass of water from his desk. <I'm sorry, my old friend. I don't know what debt your talking about and, frankly, I don't care.>

*****

"Steve?" Buffy's voice was concerned as she threw on her clothes, "What is it?"

"Xander and Cordelia are in trouble in Dallas." Steve quickly rattled off the detail Horace had given him, few though they were.

Buffy looked at him in shock and tossed a sweater on as Steve grabbed the phone again.

"Iverson Airfreight."

"This is St Wolf, I want the Fox-Xanatos jet prepared for immediate lift off. File a flight plan for Dallas."

"Yes sir."

*****

Bureau 13 Office
Dallas, Texas

Nivea grunted as Cordelia slapped her hands away and cinched the Armor tighter.

"You can't leave it loose, It'll impair you in battle and won't be able to protect you the way it should."

Nivea looked down at the flat black breast plate with 'B13' inscribed on it. "Not much of a fashion statement is it?"

"Depends," Cordelia said as she checked another fastener, "If the statement your trying to make is *I'd like to live through this* then, trust me, this is very vogue."

Nivea flashed Cordy a grin and leaned in closer, "You know, if you like, you could *undress* me later."

Cordelia snapped away as if she touched a live wire, and then growled. "Do you *ever* quit!?"

"No." Nivea grinned, unrepentant.

Cordelia screamed and stalked out of the room.

*****

"Cordy?" Xander asked quietly as he approached his pacing girlfriend.

"She's just so.... AHHH!" Cordelia let out another scream of frustration.

Xander grinned at her, unable to hold it in any longer.

"What are you grinning at, you perv!?"

Xander's smile turned gently mocking, "I don't think that you can legally call me that after the way you convinced me to 'christen' my new apartment."

Cordelia blushed bright red at the memory.

"Come on, Cordy," Xander dropped the smile, "it's not *that* bad."

"How would you know!?" Cordelia demanded, "It's not like you've ever been on the receiving end of..."

Cordelia trailed off as Xander blushed, his eyes suddenly finding something on the far wall very interesting.

"You have?" Cordelia almost whispered until it sank in. Then she started giggling uncontrollably.

"Yeah," he said simply, "and I didn't laugh at your problem."

"I'm sorry." Cordelia managed to stifle the giggling fit. "It's just so... funny!"

Xander grimaced comically, "I'm so happy that one of my life's more embarrassing moments amuses you."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Xander." Cordelia managed between snickers. "What happened?"

"Like I'm going to tell you," Xander smirked.

Cordelia just stared at him until he cracked.

"Ok, fine." Xander grimaced again, "It happened a while back, when the gang was looking for the werewolf that turned out to be Oz. I thought it was Larry, but uh... Well it wasn't. Larry thought I was gay 'cause I hung out with you, Buffy, and Willow, but I wasn't going out with you. I guess I looked like 'one of the girls.'"

That last comment was all it took for Cordelia to collapse into hysterical giggles again. "Larry came on to YOU?"

"Not exactly... and you're not helping here." Xander actually looked hurt.

"I'm sorry... I really am... It's just..." Cordy broke down again.

Xander rolled his eyes, "This from the girl who wants me to share my secrets with her."

Cordelia stopped laughing almost instantly. "Xander! I'm sorry. I'll stop laughing, I swear."

"Alright," Xander smiled at her.

Xander dropped the smile and continued quietly, "You know, you're going about this all wrong."

"What are you talking about?"

"What do you do when a guy makes a move on you but you're not interested?"

"I ignore him." Cordelia shrugged, "Or I blow him off."

"Right. Now, do you remember what we were like when we started to get together?"

Cordelia shrugged again, "Sure. We were fighting all the time and..."

Xander grinned as he watched Cordy trail off and the lights come on.

"Oh Goddess!" Cordelia moaned, "I've been leading her on!"

Xander snickered, "I wouldn't put it that way exactly... She's probably got the same fatal flaw that Steve and I share."

Cordelia stared at him with questioningly.

"We fall fast and hard for strong women." Xander looked perplexed for a moment before continuing, "In my case I mean that literally..."

"What?"

"Well... Willow must have told you what I did the first time I saw Buffy... and you KNOW what I did the first time I saw you."

Cordelia just looked confused.

"Willow never told you?" He asked, and received a shake of her head in answer.

Xander sighed, "I really shouldn't say this... It's not the proper thing for a boyfriend to talk about..."

"Xander." Cordelia warned, "You brought it up. Now you finish it."

"Ok." Xander took a breath, "When I first saw Buffy I was on my skateboard... for about two and a half seconds. Ran flat into a steel railing... Had to peel myself off the sidewalk."

Cordelia snickered again, "Now what is this about the first time you saw me?"

"You don't remember?" Xander was shocked. That had been one of his most embarrassing memories.

Cordelia shook her head.

"I wiped out three desks and the hamster cage the first day of school."

Cordy laughed again, "I remember now. You tripped over your shoelaces."

Xander shook his head.

"You didn't trip over your shoelaces?"

"It was first grade," Xander explained quietly, "and like any good six-year-old I left my shoes at the door."

"You were watching me?" Cordelia whispered in shock.

"Right up until I tried to break my neck." Xander smiled gently at her.

Cordelia smiled slightly, biting her lower lip as she considered Xander's words. Xander leaned in closer, and Cordelia closed her eyes as their lips met.

Then they both were shocked apart as the building shook, a low rumble sounding from above them. Seconds later a flaming piece of wreckage fell past the window.

*****

The Thunder Bunnies and Nivea ran into Xander and Cordelia as both groups rushed into the main offices.

"What the Hell was that?" Xander asked, flipping the safety off the OICW rifle he had slid off his shoulder.

Jessie looked up at the ceiling, "No clue, but it's coming from the roof."

"Ya think?" Nivea asked sarcastically.

"Check it out?" Cordelia motioned toward a stairwell with her MP5.

"Right." The Bunnies nodded in agreement and the entire group headed for the stairwell.

*****

The small group of eight warriors made their way cautiously up the last flight of stairs, they could see the access point to the roof was still closed and secured but it didn't pay to buy trouble. At the top Xander flattened himself against the door, laying his hand lightly on the nob. A nod from Jessie was the sign he was waiting for, and he slowly turned the nob, and swung the door back as Jessie and Heather flanked the doorway with primed weapons.

"Clear!"

In groups of two, moving carefully and covering each other, the group emerged onto the roof.

"Jesus." Jessie's Stoner dropped, it's muzzle pointing at the ground as she surveyed the destruction.

The B13 Heli-pad was in shambles, what few remains that were recognizable were burning brightly in the night air. The team could make out the wreckage of the Bureau chopper that had been scattered across the roof and strewn over the side.

"I think we're going to be receiving some 'unofficial' company soon." Janice mumbled, looking over the edge of the building at the flaming wreckage now decorating the sidewalk.

"Ya think?" Nivea was still staring at the burning pad, trying to imagine what had happened in the first place.

"Where did they go?" Jessie asked as she scouted the building's roof.

Xander was looking around slowly, trying to answer that question himself. "I don't know, but they could be anywhere."

The Bunnies nodded in agreement, "Yeah. They could have blown the chopper up from a mile away with the right missile."

Xander and Jessie looked at each other and shook their heads.

"Doesn't wash." Jessie muttered to the group, "If they had done that they could have just blown the building, or fired a rocket into the offices."

"What if they didn't know where we were?"

"Doesn't make sense," Xander shook his head, "They knew where to find you the last time. Why not now?"

"Well..." Heather considered it, "We were less spread out the last time..."

Jessie and Xander looked at each other, then at the rest. "MOVE! Back under cover, now!"

The group had just started moving when the eerie 'whup whup' of chopper blades detached itself from the concrete jungle surrounding them and quickly became louder.

*****

The forest green Huey climbed quickly out of the concrete canyons, closing on the rooftop of the B13 building. Escobar looked at the motion on the building with some amusement, <not fast enough.>

The big chopper twisted sideways, revealing the big .50 caliber machine gun mounted in the side door.

"Fire!" Escobar spoke quietly, trusting his headset to carry the order to the gunner.

The big air cooled cannon opened up, spraying the rooftop with .50 cal shells.

*****

"Move!"

Xander pushed Nivea ahead of him as he and the others ran for the stairwell. They flinched back as the fifty caliber shells cut off their path, forcing them to take cover behind the building air conditioning intake ducts.

"Great! Just freaking perfect!" Jessie screamed over the chatter of the big gun and the 'whup' of the chopper blades. "Suckered into an ambush like a bunch of Greenies!"

Xander cracked a grin and looked over at her as he ducked under a sudden shower of metallic splinters. "Marine?"

She flashed him a return grin, "Nah, dated one once. He used to say that a lot."

"Figures." Xander said as he unsafed the OICW, chambering a round into the rifle and a 20mm grenade into the launcher with one quick motion.

Jessie laughed as she flipped off the safety of her Stoner, not bothering to chamber a round as she was already ready to rock. Around them the Bunnies, Cordy, and Nivea, did the same.

"Heather, Janice, Harris. You three try to take out the gunner. The rest of us will cover you." Jessie ordered as she got ready to move.

Xander and the two Bunnies nodded and spread apart, keeping their distance to prevent the machine gunner from taking them all out with a lucky burst. Jessie risked a quick glance over the concrete and metal partition, drawing fire for her trouble. She quickly signaled the Huey's position back to the rest and that the chopper was circling. Then she held up three fingers.

<We have a three count,> Xander tucked the rifle in against his chest as he reached the corner of the partition.

Jessie folded one finger down.

<There's the two count,> Heather cricked her neck once, hefting the big M-60 machine gun easily as she crouched at the opposite corner.

Jessie held up one finger.

<We've got our one count.> Janice gripped his G3 securely, preparing to hop up at the center of the intake vent.

Jessie dropped the last finger, pumped her fist once, and all hell broke loose.

*****

"Circle around!" Escobar yelled to the pilot. "Get behind their cover!"

The pilot nodded, almost absently, as he worked the controls. He was a good pilot and kept the side of the chopper constantly facing the enemies position as he circled, allowing the gunner to keep pelting their position with suppression fire.

As they started to move past the edge of the building their targets began to fire back.

*****

Heather slid out smoothly, bracing the heavy machine gun on her bent knee as she started feeding the ammunition belt to the hungry machine. Even for an Amazon the M60 was a hefty weapon, so her aim was to distract, the 7.62 NATO rounds pouring from her weapon bit into the chopper all around the door. She could see the gunner flinch back from the onslaught, but he kept his cool and continued to pelt her team's position with the big gun.

Janice popped up over the intake, propping the hefty battle rifle against the metal of the intake as she started to let off controlled bursts at the gunner. At over a hundred yards the distance was workable, but she could see the sparks light off the armored surface of the Huey as her shots went a little wide. The Amazon growled and adjusted her aim, and opened up again.

Xander dropped to one knee as he slid from behind the cover, not firing right away. He knew that there was little he could do that the other two weren't, and instead took his time and used the OICW's onboard systems to establish a distance lock on the chopper. A few seconds later he had it, and with a quick motion he entered it into the rifle's computer as the grenade detonation range. Xander Harris smiled as he popped off the first twenty millimeter grenade.

Around them the rest of the teams had also popped up and opened fire, but their actions were rushed instead of deliberate like the first three. Their weapons were less effective at long range but their muzzle flashes proved to be just as visible, attracting the fire from the big Ma Deuce Browning mounted on the chopper.

*****

Michael Escobar watched as the muzzle flashes lit up the rooftop beneath, ignoring the small arms fire. He was watching for something... No. Someone in particular. When the boy broke cover and aimed his weapon, Escobar grabbed the shoulder of his Mage.

"Grenade!"

The mage nodded once and cast a spell almost instantly.

*****

Xander watched in horror as the grenade ricocheted off a magical barrier and came flying back.

"Grenade!" Jessie screamed when she saw it coming in.

"Hold Cover!" Xander yelled over her, "it's not active!"

The Bunnies, though tensed, held the cover as the small cylinder bounced back into their ranks. Xander grabbed it and tossed it to the other side of the roof, where it detonated behind the helipad.

"I thought you said it wasn't active!"

Xander flashed Jessie a grin. "It was triggered by distance. Even so, I didn't want to be sitting on it just in case. I don't trust computers."

Jessie just nodded, while Cordelia laughed and said, "Don't tell Willow that!"

Xander shuddered as he ducked back under cover, <Heaven forbid. She'd make it her personal mission in life to 'educate' me.>

"Well, the grenade angle is out. And I think now that he's dropped that surprise on us he's gonna keep that shield up for the duration." Xander flinched down under the impact of more fifty caliber shells. "I really don't like being on THIS side of the magical superiority factor!"

Jessie looked over at Heather and Monica, "I want to know how strong that shield is!"

The two Bunnies nod, and each give a slight twist to a bracelet on their right arm.

"Cover them!" Jessie yelled.

*****

The gunner on the chopper was still firing when the targets came back up for a second round. He was grinning as he turned the big gun toward their new positions, the vibrations of the big cannon running up his arms as it belted out fifty caliber death.

His smile was soon wiped off his face when two of the babes they were hunting pointed their arms at the chopper and unleashed what he could only assume, from where he was sitting, was hellfire. The huge balls of flame rose from the rooftop, blasting into the magical barrier and splattering around it in a maelstrom of hellish light.

"Sweet Jesus!" the gunner screamed involuntarily, "What in the name of God was that!?"

The Mage answered behind him, "That was a pair of extremely powerful Fireball spells. The barrier has held, but it is severely weakened. If they have spell casters of that strength down there I would recommend we withdraw."

"No." Escobar yelled angrily. "We push in. Keep firing!"

*****

The group ducked back under cover as the incoming barrage from the chopped intensified.

"Well..." Xander trailed off.

"Guess it's a pretty strong field," Jessie admitted.

Xander grinned. "I'd love to test it against my Masterson."

Jessie looked at him oddly. "Where in the hell did you get a Masterson?"

Xander ducked under another wave of splintered metal and flashed her a grin, "Christmas gift. JP lost it to Robin in a bet. Too bad Willow wasn't here, she could transport it in."

"We can do that." Jessie said, a little eagerly.

"You can?"

"I have a transport spell charged in my bracelet."

Xander shook his head, "Still no good. The spell words are in my laptop, which is in the car."

"Crap."

"Yep." Xander nodded, then he grinned again, "Well, coffee break's over, back to work."

The Bunnies laughed and again hefted their weapons to the ready.

*****

"Hey, is that the building over there?"

The Stark Enterprises Jump Jet was roaring over Dallas, heading for the warehouse district, when Koenig called out to Nick. Nick came forward and looked out at the city scape rushing below, toward where Koenig was looking.

"Yeah. That's the place." Nick said slowly, "Christ. What the hell was that!?"

The area above the building they were watching was suddenly bathed in a giant fireball, and when it faded the two commando's began to make out the telltale flicker of small arms fire.

"Jesus." Fury cursed, "Everyone Saddle up! The LZ is hot!"

As one, the Howlers grabbed for their equipment.

*****

"Michael!"

Escobar turned to where his pilot was yelling, "What?"

"We've got incoming." The pilot pointed.

Escobar looked up to see the sleek jump jet sliding into position above the Huey, hovering quietly on its jets.

"Where the hell did that come from!?"

"I don't know, but that's a Stark Enterprises Hyperion Model, Combat Troop Carrier. I don't think they can shoot us down, but I really don't want to chance it."

*****

"Can we get a good look at who's on the roof?"

"One second, Colonel." Eric Koenig reached over and activated one of the external cameras.

On a small screen a closeup view of the huddled defenders came into focus, giving the two people in the plane's cockpit a good view of the group. Nick growled when he saw his son toss wave in the direction of the camera, then flinch back down under the hammering assault of the Huey's fifty caliber.

"Can we shoot them down?"

Eric shook his head, "This isn't a fighter jet, Colonel. We have some air to ground ordinance, but it would as likely destroy a large portion of the surrounding city as damage the copter."

Fury growled, his fist coming down on the arm of the bolster seat he was in. "Damn it."

"We could pull one of the Armbrust launchers from the back?"

Fury shook his head, "Not over the city... We'd spread shrapnel for a couple blocks at least... and probably drop the chopper right onto the roof."

Dum Dum came forward, a sly grin on his face. "Turns us side on to 'em, Colonel. I'll give 'em something think on."

Fury looked back at what Dugan was wearing and grinned, a slow, nasty smile that curled up under the patch over his eye. "Do it, Koenig."

"Ja, Colonel."

*****

"What are they doing?" Cordelia looked up at the hovering jet.

Xander shrugged, popped out to take another pot shot at the chopper, and ducked back before answering. "No clue, I'll trust them to do it, whatever it is, on they're own."

Jessie laughed. "Like we have any choice."

Xander tossed her a quick grin. "You think I'd trust 'em if I did?"

The group laughed a bit at that and watched as the jet twisted, showing its side to the chopper. Then they saw a hatch open in the side, revealing a big man standing framed by the small doorway. He pointed a large object out the door and they saw a sudden blaze of fire erupt, and heard a horrid whine from where they were bunkered in.

*****

"What the bloody hell is that lunatic doing?" The pilot squinted at the aircraft above him.

When the bullets ripped into the plexiglass windshield they ripped a path through the co-pilot, and chewed up the inside of the chopper, causing the pilot to jerk the stick and bank sharply away from the rooftop.

In back, the gunner reeled back, only his harness keeping him from being plastered to the doors on the far side, his finger tightening on the trigger and sending fifty caliber bullets burning toward the heavens. "What the hell!?"

The pilot didn't answer, focusing instead on getting clear of the lunatic's field of fire.

*****

Dugan grinned as he twisted slightly, keeping the barrels of his Mini-214 Pak aimed at the maneuvering chopper. The multi-barreled cannon spraying thousands of 5.56 NATO rounds into the aircraft as the roar and whine filled the air around him.

"Take that ya bleedin blighters!" Dum Dum was laughing openly as the Huey peeled away, scrambling for distance from the spray of bullets.

"Good work, Irish!" Eric yelled from the pilot's seat. "They're moving away."

"Follow 'em already!"

Eric shook his head, "This thing wasn't built to maneuver like that! We could never engage them while they're moving, and I don't want to find out if those rocket pods on the side of that thing are loaded!"

Fury nodded, "Eric's right. We chase 'em off for now, and meet up with Alexander to get the whole story."

Dugan reluctantly nodded, pulling the M-214 back in and slamming the hatch shut when he was certain the chopper had moved out of range.

*****

The group watched as the craft settled down onto a clear section of the roof.

"Can the roof take that?" Xander was looking at the Jump Jet a little nervously.

"Oh yeah," Jessie answered easily, "We had to fortify the entire building when we moved our 'investigative services' operation down here. The roof is rated to handle anything up to and including a heavy lifter transport."

"Cool."

*****

Nick Fury stepped down from the jet, looking over the destruction that the chopper had wreaked on the roof. "Nasty SOB's."

Dum Dum grinned as he stepped down behind the boss, deliberately misunderstanding the comment. "Right you are, Boss. And I'm proud of it too."

Nick rolled his eye, but ignored the comment. His attention was drawn to the armed group that was approaching them. His son was in the lead, the boy's girlfriend at his side. It was the rest of them that caught his breath. <Wow. If this is who I think it is I suddenly understand the 'Bunnies' half of the name.>

Fury grinned nastily, <Can't wait to see if they live up to the 'Thunder' part.>

Xander stepped closer, extending his hand and grinning widely. "Hey, Pop. Glad you could make it."

"Don't call me that," Fury growled under his breath as he shook his son's hand. Behind him he could hear a series of snickers from the Howlers.

"Sure, Pop." Xander laughed, "Whatever you say."

This time Nick opted to ignore the comment, <No need to give them more reasons to laugh.>

"What's the sitch, kid?"

Xander grimaced, "Some fruitcake by the name of Michael Escobar misread his hunting licence. He seems to think that it's open season on Amazons for some damned reason."

Fury frowned. "Escobar? I know that name..." he trailed off in thought for a moment."

Nick's face snapped up as he realized where he'd heard it. "Escobar! Of course, he's a hunter, kid. He supposed to be a bit anti-social, but he's always been one of the good guys."

Xander snorted, "Then someone needs to get this bastard a scorecard. He's tried to kill off some of the best fighters we have on our side tonight." Xander finished with a jerk of his head toward the assembled Thunder Bunnies.

Nick didn't answer right away, thinking for a long moment first. "It's possible I guess, kid. He's always been on the outside according to the rumors about him. It's tough to stay the course when you don't have an anchor." Nick straightened up slightly, his face clearing. "I guess we need to track him down and see what he has to say about it then don't we, kid?"

"If he's in a mood to talk," Xander's face showed precisely how likely he thought that to be.

*****

"Unit Five Nine Baker, please investigate reports of machine gun fire at 302 south brackley, near the south warehouse district. Backup is en route."

The two Texas Rangers stared at the radio for a long moment.

Jimmy Trivette look over at his partner, "Isn't that...?"

Cordell Walker nodded and finished for him, "The Thunder Bunnies offices. Something bad is going down. Call it in."

Walker shifted his truck into gear and pulled out of the traffic he was in, running on the side of the road as his headlights flickered an urgent pattern.

"Central, this is unit Twenty nine Alpha, responding to gunfire at 302 Brackley."

"Affirmative, Twenty Nine Alpha. Be advised that backup is en route, exercise caution until it arrives."

"Affirmative, Central." Trivette said into the mike. <Yeah right.>

*****

They could all here the sirens from the roof of the building. Xander walked over to the edge and looked over.

"Yep. We're getting some official company this time, guys." Xander counted the flashing lights as they approached. "I see four... no seven cop cars... well... there's the fire department."

Jessie stepped up beside him, watching carefully as the vehicles approached. Suddenly her face broke into a smile as she spotted the lead vehicle. "Make that six cop cars and a friend. That's Cordell in the lead."

Xander returned her grin, "Walker's coming? Hoo boy, things just got interesting."

The Bunnies just grinned in answer, but the Howlers looked at each other with a small amount of shock. <*Just* got interesting? Damn this kid IS related to the boss.>

"Well... lets greet our guests, people." Jessie slung her Stoner and headed for the stairwell. <Then we have a hunting party to plan.>

*****

They met Walker and what appeared to be half of the Dallas PD in the Lobby.

"Hey, Walker?" Trivette was staring at two of the people who exited the elevator to greet them, "Isn't that Xander and Chase?"

Walker looked over the two kids for a second. "Yup. And that means that Section Seven is in town."

"Aw man, what the hell brought them to Dallas?"

Xander walked up with a big grin on his face, "A major pain in the ass is what brought us here, chasing a minor pain in the ass."

Walker watched as the boy looked around the room, as if expecting some sort of response, when none came he shrugged and turned back to the two Rangers and extended his hand. "Good to see you again, Walker, Trivette."

"Nice seeing you too, Xander." Cordell Walker shook the boy's hand, then tipped his hat to the girl beside him. "Ms Chase."

Cordelia flashed him a wide smile. "Please, I told you before, it's just Cordelia."

Xander smirked, "It's not *just* anything, and you know it Cor."

Walker and Trivette smiled as the two pressed a little closer together. Walker frowned as he saw the group of men follow the Bunnies out of the elevator.

In the lead was a tall man, brown hair, broad shoulders. His face was stern, made more so by the black patch slung across one eye. He had slung a M4 carbine over his shoulder, equipped with what Walker first mistook for an M203 grenade launcher under the barrel. As he got closer Walker noted that it was a cut down Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun instead.

Behind the dark man was a small group of professional soldiers, each walking to their own rhythm but obviously in mental sync with their comrades. Seven of them, plus the leader, in total. And each of them moving with the quiet confidence that comes from facing death and walking away the victor.

"Jesus Christ." Trivette stared at the group, "What they hell are they supposed to be?"

Walker shook his head, his voice quiet. "Mercs maybe... maybe some new friends of S7..."

Jimmy nodded, "Yeah... Their armor looks similar to the stuff the Sunnydale kids use... but it's seen better days..."

"Yeah..." Walker said, "But look closer. It's all fully functional... it may look worn but I'd wager it can take anything a new suit could..."

Trivette looked closer at the gear the men were wearing and carrying. It did look pretty battered or rather, as he now realized, well used. But he couldn't see anything that would impair the function of the equipment. And each man, and the single woman of the group, looked very confident.

In addition to their, rather eclectic, supply of firearms Walker's sharp eyes picked out large Ghurka knives strapped in easily accessible places on their bodies. Razor sharp blades that, when wielded properly, were every bit as lethal as short swords. Something in the manner they were worn indicated to Walker that these people were more then capable of wielding them properly.

Walker shook his head, <Great. As if the Bunnies and Sec7 weren't enough. Now I have to deal with a whole new pack of maniacs in town.>

*****

"Do we have any identification on the chopper?" Walker asked after listening to the situation report from Xander.

Xander glanced around at the Bunnies, Cordy, and Nivea, who all shook their heads. He shook his own, "Nope. Too busy ducking for cover."

Walker frowned until the man with a patch over one eye stepped up, "We got some video of it off our external cams. I'll have Iz check that."

"Thanks, mister...?"

"Fury. Nick Fury."

They shook hands and Fury waved Izzy off to check the Jump Jet's computer.

*****

"No identification numbers." Walker noted as they examined the video a short while later.

"Can't be that many Huey's in the area," Fury commented.

"Right." Walker pulled out a phone and dialed a number. "This is Walker. I need a check on any military or ex-military Huey helicopters at all the airfields in the area. Yes, the private ones too. Also check and see if anyone has reported anything that might match that description anywhere else. Thanks."

He turned and looked at the others, "That'll take a while. Anyone have any other ideas?"

No one ventured an idea, so Walker frowned and nodded. "I guess we wait.

*****

Old Airstrip, Outskirts of Dallas
2 hours later

Xander killed the lights and slowed the car to a stop as they approached the supposedly abandoned airstrip. The Police had received a number of calls about a UFO in this area that sounded suspiciously like a Huey chopper, minus the distinctive noise.

"This is the place."

Cordy didn't look up from her submachine gun, settling instead for nodding quietly as she finished hand loading the last clip with 9mm armor piercers. "Ready."

Xander tossed a glance over his shoulder, where Nivea was slapping a last clip into her own MP5. "Ready?"

"You know it." She smirked up at him.

Xander reached back and twisted the MP5 in her hand over to look at it. When he saw she had the selector on full-auto he frowned and flipped it to semi-automatic. "Keep it on semi. You don't have enough experience with this type of weapon to keep it steady on rock and roll."

Chastised, the Amazon nodded and pulled the compact weapon back. "Ok."

Xander nodded and lifted his OICW assault weapon and checked it out as the other vehicles pulled up beside him. He looked over at the silver grey Dodge Ram beside him and nodded up at Trivette, who was checking his own automatic. On the other side the Bunnies had stopped their armored van and had started to pile out, the Howlers at their sides.

Xander smiled. "Team's in place."

Cordy looked over at him and grinned. "Hunting season's open."

Xander hopped out and joined up with the Howlers while Cordelia and Nivea joined Walker and the Bunnies.

"Guys against the girls?" Xander cracked and grinned at the shocked look on Trivette's face.

"Hey!" Trivette yelled.

Walker just chuckled and checked his pistol while Jessie grinned wickedly at Xander as she came up behind Trivette and draped her arms over his shoulders. "Aww... its ok, James. You can be an honorary Girl."

Trivette moaned at the chuckles that erupted from the two groups and just bent to check his shotgun. Xander frowned, looking at the teams and made a decision.

"Nope."

Everyone looked at him in confusion for a moment.

"Split up the groups, Amazons and men mixed teams. I don't want them to be able to focus all their assets on one team." Xander said, "just in case they see us coming. They are hunting Amazons after all. Let's not make it easy on them"

The assembled fighters nodded in agreement and split their forces. Jessie, Heather, Becca, and Cordelia teamed up with Walker, Trivette, Reb, Izzy, and Sharon Carter while Xander and Nivea grouped together with the rest of the Bunnies and Howlers.

The two teams broke up and approached the airstrip, circling to come at the old buildings from opposite sides.

*****

The first team approached the closest building, Xander and Nick on point, moving low to the ground as they did. When they reached the building, the abandoned offices of a crop dusting company, they split up and flattened against the wall on either side of the door. Xander looked over at Nick, who nodded. Xander nodded back and took a half step away from the door, reversed his weapon, and slammed the rifle butt along with his elbow into the old door.

Dum Dum whistled when the door shattered into toothpicks, but Nick just grinned and flipped into the old building. He moved fast, but in a low crouch, with his M-4 leading the way. Xander followed him in, staying high and sweeping the large office with the night vision scope on his OICW rifle.

"Clear." Nick whispered.

"Clear." Xander confirmed a few seconds later.

The rest of the team moved in, quickly covering all the entrances to the old building and looking for signs of recent occupation. Dum Dum secured the far exit, checking the door carefully.

"Clear. No sign of use."

Foot by foot the team went over the offices, each reporting back the same thing. No sign of recent use.

Nick looked at Xander, they both nodded once, and Nick spoke up. "Clear. Moving out. Check the next target."

*****

Walker and Jessie were on point for their group as they approached the first building, a small two story structure, laughingly referred to as the 'Tower'. The group slipped in close to the buildings rear entrance, staying in the shadows as they moved, and dropped into a crouch around the metal door.

Walker glanced at the door in concern, and whispered. "It's locked."

Jessie grinned and signaled Cordelia to move up. "On two."

Cordelia grinned and stepped back from the door, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Nordic Thunder Bunny. "Two."

The two Amazons grinned and launched perfectly timed reverse kicks into the metal door, ripping it from its hinges and sending it crashing through the building. They both dropped back into a crouch as Walker and Becca slipped through the shattered wreck of a doorframe, searching for targets in the dark building.

Inside they fanned out through the floor, moving quickly and professionally as they searched. It took only moments to come to a conclusion.

"Clear. No sign of occupation."

One by one the same thing came back from each member of the breech team.

"Damn." Cordelia said, covering the exits as the rest finished up. "Hope the other team is having more luck."

The group headed for the large hanger a little further up.

*****

"Man," Xander muttered, "hope the others are having more luck."

Nick smiled tightly as he strode along beside his son, leading the team toward the next target. "Don't be so eager for contact, kid."

"I'm not." Xander responded, "I'm eager to end this. I want to get home and go back to work, this vacation is killing me."

Low chuckles rose up from the assembled team as they secured the door to the next building.

*****

DFW International Airport.

Steve, Buffy, and the majority of the Sunnydale group disembarked the Fox-Xanatos jet and looked around.

"How do we find them?" Buffy asked, hefting her long shoulder bag.

Steve glanced back. "Jenny?"

The techno-pagan smiled and nodded. "No problem."

"Cool." Buffy smiled. "Let's go see what trouble Xander's got into now."

Low chuckles rolled around, and the group hefted their equipment and weapons bags and stepped off the plane.

*****

"Ready?"

Cordy nodded, "Let's do it."

She and Jessie checked the door. Unlocked. That was different. The quietly slid the door open, wincing as it rasped on its hinges. After the door was opened wide enough they slipped in on point, quickly followed by the rest of the team.

"Dark in here." Cordelia whispered quietly, "You see anything?"

"Nope." Jessie whispered back, "Not a damned thing."

A loud voice with a slight accent echoed from the darkness. "Allow me to help you with that."

Bright lights flashed on, blinding the incursion team for precious seconds as gunfire erupted around them.

*****

Xander and Fury looked at each other in shock as the sounds of gunfire reached them, coming from the hanger building. They broke into a run, followed quickly by the rest of the group.

*****

"Well well..." Ares mused as he watched the fight kick into high gear, "Now this is interesting."

Escobar's men had enjoyed the advantage of surprise in their first exchange of fire but that had changed quickly. The Amazons and their companions were putting up a good fight, managing to hold their own despite holding the low ground and having little cover.

Even so, they were outnumbered, out gunned, and nearly matched in skill. Escobar himself tilted the scales heavily against the Amazons with his millenia of experience and combat talents.

"So far so good..." Ares murmured as he watched Escobar's attention lock onto Cordelia. When the old warrior strode toward the young Amazon, Ares crowed in delight. "Yes! Am I good or what?"

Escobar managed to blind side the young Amazon while she was prying one of his minions off of Trivette's back. The butt of his rifle connecting with the back of her head, causing even Ares to wince at the sickening crack that sounded from the hit. As the young Amazon collapsed Escobar caught her up in an easy grip and fell back, his people moving into place to cover his retreat.

That was about the time when a door on the far wall was blown off its hinges, and the tide changed.

*****

Fury and Xander nodded at each other as they reached the building.

"You go low..." Xander said.

"And you go high." Nick finished for him.

Xander grinned and hefted the big rifle, easily maneuvering the chunky weapon like it was a child's toy. "Monica? Janice? If you please?" he said with an air of formality.

The two Amazons nodded and stepped up to the door, launching devastating kicks into the flimsy wooden structure. It literally exploded into the hanger, showering the interior for dozens of feet with splinters of wood.

Xander dove through first, his weapon at the ready as he kicked off the ground and planted his feet on the nearest wall. Gravity seemed to ignore him as he raced along the surface of the wall, his rifle already tracking targets as he moved.

Nick Fury followed his son through the opening a few moments later, moving in a fast crouch, ducking to the side as soon as he cleared the door-frame. His M-4 tracked low, staying under Xander's passage and looking for targets in the mess that had been created inside the hanger building.

Xander kicked off the wall as a trail of bullets followed him, twisted in mid air, and fired several bursts into a sniper nest built into the rafters above the firefight. He flipped in an easy motion and landed lightly on his feet, grinning with the exhilaration of the battle.

Fury shook his head, having caught the acrobatics from the corner of his eyes. He'd seen it before, usually on the other side of the fight and frankly it didn't much impress him anymore. He held his ground and trap shot the two other snipers with two short bursts from his M-4.

Behind him Dum Dum stepped into the fray, his massive M-214 whining as he cleared the upper levels of the large building with a controlled burst from the imposing weapon.

Gabe, Steve, Percival, and Koenig slipped in easily behind Dum Dum. They moved confidently, knowing that they were covered as they moved into position. Seconds later their weapons had take up a precise rapping as they fired into the enemy troops on the ground level.

*****

<What do we have here?> Ares wondered to himself as he watched the tide of battle shift. He ignored the overblown heroics of the Sunnydale brat, but was drawn to the clean, minimalist maneuvers of the people the kid had called in.

<Who did the brat call again? Oh yes... Nick Fury...> Ares watched the battle shift quickly as the beleaguered comrades of the new players rallied, fighting back even harder as their cavalry distracted Escobar's team. <Now where have I heard that name before?>

Ares watched, a slow smile forming on his bearded face as he recognized the technique the men were using as they advanced slowly into the building. "I invented that!" He barked out in laughter a seeing a move he had developed to counter arrows and spears being used against modern firearms.

"I'm starting to like these guys... but where have I heard that name before?" he muttered, racking his memory.

*****

Nivea shivered as she ducked low, trying to stay out of the line of sniper fire. The shots were ringing out around her and she didn't know what direction to turn.

Hesitantly she peeked her head over the heavy steel barrier she was crouched behind, looking for something, anything. She saw the muzzle flashes from across the hanger, marking the positions of the men who had ambushed them.

She shivered again and poked her MP-5 out from under cover, aiming as well as she could. Slowly she squeezed the trigger, and she jumped as the weapon did, startled by the life in the cold steel.

The 9mm round tunneled through the air and buried itself in an overturned table across the large hanger, causing two gunmen to jump back under cover from the sound.

Her heart jumping in her ears, Nivea fired again. And again. She tracked the muzzle of the weapons toward where she should see the shadow of a figure just visible, a tiny sliver of the man not covered by the table. She aimed and fired again.

Nivea winced as his scream echoed through the hanger and the man she had shot fell clear of the barrier. He clawed at his weapon and turned it toward her, maybe somehow knowing that she was the source of his pain, maybe not.

In the end it didn't matter. Her finger tightened again reflexively and another bullet briefly connected the space between them, boring into the man's chest and silencing his scream. Nivea almost dropped her weapon as the man stopped moving, she fell to her knees and lost a fair portion of her lunch to the cold concrete below.

"Oh goddess." She moaned.

*****

"Steve!" Fury yelled, "Going to need a little help here."

Steve Rogers grinned and moved over to Nick in a running crouch, "You got it."

Steve flipped a large circular package off the back of his armor, and quickly unzipped the top of it. He smiled wistfully as he pulled the contents out.

The shield was one of a kind, painted in red, white, and blue, and destined to be held by a symbol of freedom during the second world war. It always hurt to pull it out and think of what might have been if only things had been just a little different. Even so, Steve Rogers didn't have any regrets, at least none he'd admit too. He slipped the straps of the shield over his left arm and nodded at Fury.

"Ready for a little bum's rush, boss-man."

Fury smiled tersely and hefted his weapon. "Let's do it."

Steve nodded and lifted the shield in front of him, then burst from around the corner they were hiding behind. He crouched low and held the shield where it would cover him and Nick to the best possible amount. Quickly the two Howlers rushed the entrenched point ahead of them.

Steve fired his Ingram with his right hand, poking it around the front of his shield and firing semi-blindly to keep the enemies heads down. Behind him he could hear the slower firing of the M-4 occasionally punctuated by the boom of the Franchi shotgun mounted under the assault weapon's barrel.

Bullets were spanging off the shield, sending vibrations through Steve's arm as he rushed forward, and flattening against the virtually invulnerable metal surface without any visible effect.

It only took them seconds to cross the distance and Nick Fury jumped out from behind Steve, his M-4 covering the enemy men.

"Move so much as an inch and you're all dead men." He said coldly.

No one moved.

*****

"Flash Bang!" Xander called out as the small cylinder left his hand.

Around him everyone, including some of the enemy, hit the dirt, covering their eyes and ears. Xander kept his own faculties clear for as long as possible, firing into the sniper nests that were still active.

Three...

He leapt clear of his cover, trusting speed and the flash bang distraction to give him an advantage.

Two...

He left the ground, jumping over the cover that the enemy were hiding behind and landing in their midst.

One...

Xander slammed his eyes shut and let his rifle drop in its straps, covering his ears.

The flash burned into his eyelids, and the concussion washed over him as the flash bang went off. Even as it passed Xander opened his eyes and retrieved his weapon from where it hung.

On either side of him were three of Escobar's men, all recovering slowly from the effects of the grenade.

Xander struck out on both sides, knocking the closest two unconscious with simultaneus kicks, then he stepped clear of them and turned back, bringing the rifle to bear in their direction.

"Drop your weapons!"

*****

Xander looked around. The fight was winding down, he could see Nick and Steve Rogers covering a small group huddled in a corner, the Bunnies and Walker had a few on the other side, and the rest of the Howlers had the last of the gunmen covered a short distance away.

His eyes raced around the hanger, searching. Searching.

"Cordy..." He whispered. "Where's Cordelia!?"

The Howlers looked around, but didn't see her. The Bunnies looked around, not seeing her either.

Nivea stood up weakly, wiping her mouth. "I... I saw her take a shot from one of those... guys... He took her out the back."

Xander's eyes flashed, he glared at the four men who were still conscious in front of him. "Where is she!?"

They grinned up at him. "She's dead."

Xander growled and stalked toward them, his weapon coming up.

"Kid!" Fury yelled, "Don't do it! We'll get her back."

Xander paused, taking a deep breath. "Trivette! Come over here and cover these guys."

The Texas Ranger nodded and moved over. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm getting my girlfriend back."

With that Xander strode out the door, his matt black armor rendering him invisible within three steps past the threshold of the hanger. Nick cursed and ran out, chasing his son.

Nivea looked around, uncertain what to do, then she followed the man who had hunted those who dared harm her Sisters.

*****

For a brief moment Cordell Walker stared after the three who had rushed out, then he started snapping orders.

"Jessie, cover Trivette's men, Jimmy get on the radio and bring a team in here to hold these guys. We need to get after them, and fast!"

The people nodded and James pulled his radio, while keeping the men covered and started radioing for backup.

*****

Xander jumped into the sports car, turning the key and looked around as the rumble of the engine echoed around him. He was about to shift into first and leave when the passenger door opened up and Nivea and Fury clambered in.

"What do you two think you're doing?"

"Coming with you, kid."

Xander frowned, but knew he wasn't going to get anywhere and finally nodded.

"So, kid, you got a plan?"

"Find him. Kill him. Save Cordy." Xander muttered as he flipped open a recessed panel, "Not necessarily in that order."

"Good plan."

The sarcasm in Nick's voice was lost on Xander as he shifted the car into gear and put the gas pedal to the floor.

The sleek sports car spun and turned around in a tight circle as Xander turned it toward the Hanger.

"Jeez, kid!" Nick grabbed onto the armrest. "Where are ya going?"

Xander didn't say anything, just flipped a switch normally hidden by a panel above his head. The windscreen shimmered and shifted to a monochrome green color, punctuated by colored highlights as the built in HUD came online.

"Nice." Nick whistled as he recognized the equipment. "Stark?"

Xander shook his head, "Fox-Xanatos."

"Nice." Nick repeated.

Xander nodded and lifted a finger to point at the screen. "There."

Nick studied the computer enhanced section of the screen. "Yep. Exhaust trail, getting weaker by the second though..."

Xander smiled a grim smile. "Too late for Escobar."

Nick nodded and held on as Xander put the pedal to the floor again and sped toward the dirt road that the rapidly fading heat trail led toward.

*****

Cordelia Chase woke up slowly, a dull throbbing in the back of her skull bringing her to consciousness. She tried to look around but her vision refused to lighten, it took her several minutes of trying to think through the pain enough to realize that she was blindfolded. Her hands were secured firmly behind her, tight enough to negate any chance of gaining sufficient leverage to free herself. Another quick check told her the same was true of her feet and legs. She belatedly realized that whoever had blind sided her was taking no chances at having a pissed off Amazon loose in his vicinity.

"Awake, I see." The voice she heard from out of the blackness was cold, uncaring. Indifferent.

Cordelia shivered. She could feel loathing washing over her, the emotion in those three words was so thick that for the briefest of moments she wanted to apologize for whatever it was she had done to deserve it. The moment passed quickly as she remembered where she had been and what she had been doing when she had been sucker punched.

"Escobar." She said flatly, her voice oddly emotionless when compared to the man's.

"So you know of me." The man seemed rather pleased, "All the better. You should know your executioner."

Cordy shook her head slightly, trying to clear it, only to wince in pain as the dull throb became a dagger of pain through her skull.

"I wouldn't move much if I were you. Even as an Amazon, taking a shot to the head from the butt of a rifle can't be good for you."

Cordelia winced again, this time from the cold humor she heard in the accented voice. "Why are you doing this?"

"Kidnaping you?" The man seemed amused, "A lapse in judgement. You see I'm not really interested in you at all, I should have put a bullet through the back of your skull... but..."

"But?"

"But, I'm wondering about the young... man... who travels with you." The man's voice was filled with curiosity when he had said the word 'man'. "I must say, I'm curious to know what you have over him that he gives you his loyalty."

"Xander?" Cordy was confused. "We love each other."

"Love!" Escobar barked in laughter, "Amazons are incapable of loving men. More likely you find him a useful fool to drag around at your beck and call. Someone to do your dirty work while you stand back and laugh."

"You don't know what you're talking about!" Cordelia snapped angrily, ignoring the pain it caused her to yell. "I love Xander more then anything! And he loves me!"

"He may love you, *Amazon*, but I have few illusions left to me after all these years. And none of those that I still entertain are that Amazon's are capable of anything but deceit and betrayal."

Cordelia struggled in her bindings, spitting in fury as the man insulted one of the things that had given her life the meaning she craved. "Shut up! I'm not the one running around killing for no reason!"

"Oh I have reason enough, Amazon." the man said coldly. "Perhaps you'll even learn it when I kill you."

Cordelia couldn't see it but the man gazed down at a glowing orb he held in his hand, but she could hear the evil tone his whispered voice took on. "Or perhaps not..."

*****

The tires of the Mustang whispered against the pavement as Xander skidded the sleek car to a stop. He paused for a moment, looking at the building he had tracked the exhaust trail of Escobar's van to.

"Kid, you've got to calm down." Fury said form the passenger's seat, his hands still gripping the door of the car.

"You be calm." Xander said, "I'll be enraged for a little bit longer."

Nick tried to think of something to say as he watched Xander examine the building through the car's infra-red HUD. <At least he's still thinking, even if its not very clearly.>

Nivea reached over the seat of the car, tentatively touching Xander on the shoulder. "Maybe... maybe we should wait for the others... they can't be that far behind."

Xander actually thought about it briefly. She was right, even as fast as he was driving, the vans wouldn't be more the a few minutes behind them. But a lot could happen in a few minutes. He wavered on the line. Wait. Don't wait. Wait. Don't wait.

He was about to nod when they saw movement from the building. Xander sucked in a breath as he saw Cordelia's limp body held up by a man behind her. His grip tightened on the steering wheel as his mind leapt to the wrong conclusion. <she's dead.>

His anger flared again, burning white hot as his hands reached for the concealed weaponry panel by the gear shift.

"Kid!" Nick saw the look on his son's face, a look that he had had the misfortune to see and feel before. "She's alive, kid! Look at the thermal signature on the HUD."

Xander blinked. He had completely missed it in his rage. Her body temperature was reading as human, living human. Xander let out a shaky breath as he let his hand slip away from the weapon controls. Everyone in the car heard the man's amplified voice a moment later as he shouted into the darkness.

*****

"Boy!" Escobar yelled as he held the Amazon's limp body in front of him as a shield. "I know you're out there, Boy! Show yourself or I'm gonna ice the bitch!"

He waited a moment, his eyes scanning the darkness around him for signs of movement. When none came he hefted one of the Amazon's big chrome pistols and placed it to her head. "Fine. Maybe I was wrong about you, boy! Maybe you do have the sense God gave a dead duck!"

As his finger tightened on the trigger a flicker of motion caught his eye and he saw the boy appear from the inky darkness. "Or maybe not." He finished, a sad and almost disappointed smile on his face.

"Step into my parlor." He motioned with the big Desert Eagle. "Said the spider to the fly."

The boy didn't smile at the half joke, he just nodded and stepped up and into the building, his long black coat flowing behind him.

*****

"Jesus, Kid." Fury whispered as he watched his son walk calmly into an enemy held building.

Nivea watched, her jaw a little slack as she realized that this was par for the course with the people she had fallen in with. They considered the risk of life and limb to be part of their lives. "Goddess save them both."

*****

"Step on it, Cordell!" The Nordic Thunder Bunny growled from where she was crammed into the front seat of the Ranger's pickup.

"This is as fast as this thing gets." Walker said through gritted teeth.

She didn't answer beyond the low growl that echoed through the cab. Beside her Jimmy fidgeted slightly as he tried to edge away from the enraged woman warrior.

*****

"Come on, Iz!" Rogers said grimly, "Nick's in trouble, I can feel it!"

Iz actually snorted under his breath as he glared at the road ahead, "When is the Boss *not* in trouble?"

Low chuckles floated the van despite the tension that could be felt in the very air.

"You know..." Dum Dum said quietly, "If the kid takes after the Boss... we could be in for a very interesting decade."

This time groans could be heard through the vehicle as Izzy grinned a death's head smile and focused on the road.

*****

Xander's eyes never left Cordelia's bound form as he walked into the large room. "Let her go." he demanded in a low voice.

Escobar laughed openly. "The only way that's going to happen is over her rotting corpse."

"Or yours." Xander said, his tone leaving little doubt that he meant it.

"Oh, I like you, boy." Escobar smiled, "But your loyalty is sorely misplaced. This is an Amazon Bitch. She has no loyalty to you, no love, no caring in her soul." Escobar's eyes misted slightly. "If she did she would have told her Bitch Goddess to go to Hades by now."

"You're wrong." Xander said simply. No confidence in his voice, but no doubt either. He was simply stating a fact, one that left no room for interpretation.

"I don't think so." Escobar smiled, an oddly sad look. "I'm trying to save you, boy. Accept the truth for what it is and get on with your life, she can't love you. Their Bitch Goddess won't allow it."

Xander looked at him, seeing nothing but the fanatic's certainty in the man's eyes. "I respect and love The Lady Artemis, Escobar."

Escobar's eyes widened slightly, but he rallied. "How can you be so blind? That bitch doesn't even care for her own Amazon worshipers... Why do you think she would care if you, a pitiful *man*, worships her?"

Xander could see Cordelia struggling in her bonds every time Escobar insulted Artemis, but he had to keep his focus on the madman. "Artemis has been nothing but kind to me."

Escobar growled and tossed Cordelia aside with a casual flip of his wrist. Xander winced and suppressed the desire to run to her side as he saw Escobar grasp the pommel of a sword. "If the bitch has you that cowed then it'll be a mercy to finish you off now before they can turn on you, boy."

Xander's hands flashed, bringing Deathstalker out in a flash. His eyes widened as he watched Escobar draw his sword. A sword that appeared from nowhere. A sword that glowed with a bright green light as it slid from its sheath.

<Oh shit.>

*****

Cordelia hit the ground with a solid thump, feeling the familiar pain knife through her as her head connected with the cement floor. Her eyesight sparkled, distracting her from the fact that the impact had jarred loose her blind fold. As the light came pouring back in she jammed her eyes shut involuntarily, trying to block out the burning pain that the light brought with it.

When she opening them again she flopped around, fighting against her bindings until her eyes settled on the two men facing off a few steps away from her.

Xander's face was pale, his eyes darting around as if in search for an escape. That frightened her. She hadn't seen Xander frightened of much in a long time. Even before Steve showed up he had never shown this level of terror during a crisis.

When her eyes fell on the other man understanding slapped her across the face. In his hand was a long sleek rapier. A rapier that glowed with an inner force. The closest thing she could compare it too would be the Slayer swords, but those were sources of comfort to her in dark times. This thing, however, held no comfort for the young Amazon. Not in the hands of the man who was about to kill her boyfriend.

"Xander! Run!"

*****

"Xander! Run!"

Xander's fears left him in that instant. Live or die he wasn't running out on Cordelia.

Escobar ignored the Amazon's trickery, it wasn't worth his time. He did note with some amusement the effect it had on the boy. He watched the child's stance come up, his sword slipping into an easy en-guard position and a calm acceptance slide across the boy's features. Her ploy had been as effective as it was obvious, give the boy a little hint of her loyalty and he would die for her. Escobar spat on the ground in disgust.

"Xander, is it?" He asked, his voice laced with anger and disgust. "You really are a wonderful puppet to her. She dangles a little bait and you hop through hoops on command. I'll be doing us all a service by killing you along with your Amazon bitch."

Xander fought to keep his emotions under control as he watched the man swing his sword in a couple of casual sweeps that left an electric green after image in the air as they passed.

Xander stepped forward, and Escobar snapped to attention. The two duelists stared at each other for a short moment before they launched a simultaneous attack.

In the space of a second the two swords leapt at each other, striking out across the distance separating the two fighters. In an instant they connected, and sparks flew through the air, and....

*****

"What do you think you are doing!?"

Ares turned from his observation point and smiled, "Heya, Sis."

Artemis reddened as she glared at the God of War, "I asked you a question."

"I'm cleaning up a mess that you left us all."

"Don't give me that! You're risking the lives of my Amazon and her mate! I'm putting a stop to this now!"

Ares turned on her, a smile on his lips. "I don't think so, Arty. You know the rules as well as I do, one of my champions versus one of yours."

Ares raised his hand, a ball of lightning forming in his hand, "If you interfere then you release me from the restrictions Zeus has decreed on our actions on this plane. You know as well as I do the amount of damage a full scale battle between two Gods would cause... and you know who the first casualties would be."

Artemis reluctantly powered down, glaring at the War God. "Why are you doing this?"

Ares held the lightning for a moment later before letting it fade, "Because, dear sister, unlike you I never abandon my people."

Artemis flinched away from the War God, hurt by the remark.

Ares turned back to the scene in front of him, an expectant look on his face.

*****

In less then a second it was over.

Cordelia flinched as Deathstalker slammed into the wall above her head, falling to the ground at her feet. She could see Xander where he stood, his face an odd mix of resignation, shock, and self loathing. She watched as Escobar smiled at Xander, saluted once with the glowing rapier, and pulled back to finish the fight.

Cordelia kicked out in frustration, her throat growling in fury as she watched. When her feet connected with the blade of Deathstalker she stopped, and hope began to form.

*****

"Too bad, boy." Escobar smiled, "You are probably quite good. Another time I might have enjoyed a little sparring. But tonight, I just want you and your bitch dead."

Xander swallowed, unable to see any way out of his predicament. He took a deep breath and tried to form some sense of peace before he went to meet Jessie. <I'm so sorry, Cordy... I let you down...my love...>

He tensed as Escobar brought his sword up to strike, knowing that any attempt to dodge would be futile. Escobar was as fast as he was, maybe faster. And the man was far more experienced.

Xander flinched, his eyes clenching shut by reflex as the slim blue blade sliced through the air toward him. He heard a scream and his eyes snapped open again.

"No!"

Xander saw a black blur flash through the air, interposing itself between him and Escobar in time to catch the worst of the lunge. He reached out reflexively and caught Cordy as Escobar buried his sword into her stomach. Xander's shock was compounded as he felt a pressure in his own mid-section and realized that the lunge had driven the mystical blade through both of them.

Shock robbed his legs of strength and he fell back to the ground, pulling Cordy and the sword along with him to the ground.

*****

Ares smiled, almost gleefully, as he looked on. "Perfect."

"Perfect!" Artemis screamed, her hands coming up in a violent motion, glowing with a golden energy.

"Lady Artemis." A deathly quiet voice sounded in her ear as an iron grip pulled her hands back down.

She turned in rage at the newcomer, a rage which faded when she saw his face.

"You." Her voice was cold and flat.

"Me." JP Whithers agreed amiably, "And now is not the time for you to fly off the handle."

"He's risking my Amazon and her mate."

"And my people as well." JP said, "But for now we have to let this one play out."

JP looked over at Ares and nodded.

Ares smiled and slapped his hands together, causing a brilliant flash of light to come from them. He rubbed them quickly for a few seconds and held them out, not toward the people, but at the sword. A silver and white stream of power charged between him and the blade and its glow suddenly changed.

*****

"Take a left." Jenny ordered tersely from the passenger seat.

Steve nodded and turned the big vehicle into a side road. Behind him he heard Buffy suddenly draw in a deep breath. "What is it?"

Buffy shivered. "I don't know... I... I just have this feeling we're too late."

A silence descended in the vehicle, and Steve glared at the road grimly as he put the pedal to the metal.

*****

It was odd, Xander thought, but he didn't feel any pain. He reached his free hand around, grasping at where the green blade had entered Cordelia, his brave, sweet love, but his hand came back slick and coated with her life's blood.

Above them Escobar stared down at them, an expression of incredulity and shock clearly written on his face. The sword glowed, not the familiar green it had when draining the lifeblood of demonic adversaries, instead the glow shifted to a iridescent white. Something he had never seen before.

Xander looked up, shock starting to set in. "What...?"

Escobar didn't answer, he only set his face and reached down to grasp the hilt of his sword.

Xander didn't know exactly what was happening but he didn't think that it would be a good idea to let the man have his sword back so he reached around Cordy's still body and grabbed for the hilt himself. As their hands fought for control, the gleaming blade glowed brighter and brighter until the glow was almost pure white.

Xander and Escobar stared at each other, their eyes glazing over as the sword fed its borrowed magic through them.

*****

Apx 500 BC

"I'm sorry, Misha." The young Amazon said, pain evident in her voice. "But I'm leaving the tribe."

"For a *man*?" The disgust was evident in the tall Amazon's voice as she looked at her erstwhile sister.

"I love him... I can't explain it any better then that."

"You love this... man... enough to leave your Sisters? Your Goddess?"

Sahra didn't respond, she just looked away with sadness etched on her face.

Misha tried another tact. "You cannot abandon your sisters on the eve of our greatest battle."

Sahra looked guilty for a moment, and a break of uncertainty filtered into her eyes.

Misha pounced on it. "Stay. Help us with the battle we must face, then go to your... lover."

"I... I..." Sahra considered, Misha was right. She could not leave her sisters on the eve of a battle... not even for her lover. "When the battle is finished... then I am as well."

Misha smiled at her victory. She would have at least two days to convince her sister to remain where she belonged. "Thank you Sahra. We will fight a glorious battle together, you and I."

Sahra nodded sadly. <How will I explain it to him?>

*****

Xena turned the corner and stopped as an odd sound hit her. She turned her head slightly and spotted the source. One of the young Amazons... Sahra was her name... was rhythmically tapping the hilt of her dagger against the wall of a hut, an odd melancholy look on her face.

Xena wasn't much when it came to emotions, but she knew that they were a two edged sword when it came to battle. And the last thing any Amazon needed on the eve of this battle was excess baggage.

"Sahra?" She asked hesitantly, "It is Sahra, right?"

When the young Amazon nodded quietly Xena found a place to sit across from her. "What is it?"

The girl looked hesitant, trying to cover up. "Nothing..."

Xena arced an eyebrow at the woman, "Come on, fess up. I can see something is eating at you."

"It's nothing to bother you, Xena..." Sahra said quietly. "Just... a personal problem."

Xena shrugged, "Maybe I can help?"

Sahra smiled slightly, "I doubt it, it's about a man."

Xena looked at her quizzically, "A man? That's not so unusual a problem."

Now it was Sahra's turn to be surprised. "It's not? It is to me... and to us..."

Xena nodded, understanding at least some of the problem. "Ah... The Amazon decree..."

Sahra nodded, "But I... I love him."

"Then be with him." Xena said simply.

"You... you approve?"

"Of course." Xena said, surprised. "You have to follow your heart in this life, kiddo. If that leads you away from the Nation... well, it won't be easy on you... but sometimes the right path is a very rocky one."

Sahra nodded, and smiled slightly at the Warrior Princess. "Thank you..."

"No problem."

*****

Michael swallowed hard. Or he thought he did at least. It was hard to tell where his physical body left and his psychic one began. He hated mystical nonsense, and this was about as nonsensical as it got.

His vision began to clear and he was assaulted by visions of the past. Not his past, thank God. But the boy's.

*****

The boy and the Amazon...no... not an Amazon... not yet. They were fighting vampires side by side, a little clumsy but with heart and faith.

The vampire turned on the boy when he struck it from behind to save the girl... to save Cordelia. It wrestled him to the ground as he tried to maneuver the clumsy wooden stake into its unbeating heart.

Michael winced. He knew it was the past, but the boy should have died then. Then he saw the child's savior. The dark haired girl, the girl he'd loved when he first laid eyes on her in first grade, Cordelia, his Cordy. She jumped on the vampire's back, driving her own stake through the undead creature's black heart. As the vampire died she fell through the dissipating dust and landed solidly on the panting boy... Xander... Michael shook his head as emotions and thoughts were crammed into his mind by the sword's magic.

He watched as they shared a private moment, lying painfully on the ground and staring into each other's eyes.

The vision shifted, and he was treated to various scenes from several darkened utility closets. Kissing, groping, feverish words of love and lust. Like those he'd shared with Sahra.

And again the shift. Next he saw them training, learning to fight. Learning to survive. He felt her pain as she slammed against the ground, felt the bruise run up her thigh. But it was nothing compared to the pain she felt of not being able to contribute to the group. The torture of watching the others move ahead of her as they learned complex martial exercises. Exercises that she knew would save their lives, and probably hers someday.

He watched her first tearful cries for help, and felt the soul rending tear that reached past the barriers the Gods had allowed to grow between them and mortals.

Michael smiled involuntarily when that dauntless, young slip of a girl charged into a pack of vampires to save a friend. He tried but failed to block out the admiration he felt by trying to remember what this brave child would become.

He growled as Artemis blessed her with an empowerment, hating the Bitch Goddess for entrapping this poor child in her web of deceit.

*****

Xander shuddered as he felt the powerful emotions run through him.

*****

Apx 500 BC

"Sahra, please!"

"No, Michal. I can no more abandon my Sisters before a battle then you could abandon your calling."

Michal ripped the sword from its scabbard, "My calling be damned! I'll cast this sword into the sea if you ask it!"

Sahra smiled. She had little doubt that he would at that. "No, Michal. I would never ask you to do that. All I ask is that you give me the same courtesy."

"I know... I... I'll join you. Fight by your side."

"Michal, you have responsibilities of your own... and my Sisters wouldn't accept you."

Michal shook his head, "Xena and Gabrielle would not turn down a willing sword..."

"I'm not speaking of them, Michal. The ones you would have to fight with would not trust you... and you could not trust them."

"I trust you."

She smiled, "I know. But you know as well as I... You have to trust the person beside you."

Michal slumped, "I know, love. I know. But... I can't lose you... I just can't."

Sahra grabbed him around the shoulders and pulled him tight. "You won't, Michal."

*****

Michael watched as the new Amazons trained, fought, loved, and lived. His mind still rebelled at the image of them with their male counterparts. Stunned, he watched the Queen Bitch herself appear with a giant flame-haired swordswoman by her side who would have given even Xena pause. She fought valiantly against countless vampires and demons, a woman that he would have sworn had died thousands of years earlier.

<Gabrielle?> His mind whispered, rage building, <Why does she live and my Sahra lie dead in her grave?>

He watched as Cordelia raged against the Amazon Queen, and heard the scathing insults Gabrielle said against Artemis. He smiled bitterly. <At least Xena's companion was smart enough to see the Bitch Goddess for what she is.>

The boy, Xander, stepped forward. He tried to calm his girlfriend down, tried to hold her back...but the young girl didn't know her own strength yet, and didn't have any control her rage over the insults to her Goddess.

Michael winced as Xander struck the wall, he felt the pain and shock of the impact but none of it hurt worse than the shock of actually being struck by his love. Escobar was satisfied with this reaction, it was in keeping with the Amazons he knew and loathed.

He snarled in rage, thrashing against the invisible bonds that held him when the Bitch Goddess herself appeared. He was stupefied when she ignored her Amazons and moved directly to the boy. To Xander. She gently lifted him to his feet and smiled lovingly as she healed his injuries. Only then did she turn back to the warring she-demons behind her.

Michael's mind reeled. <No! It's not true! It's a LIE! She cannot have changed!>

He listened as the Bitch Goddess reproved Cordelia for her actions against the Queen and accepted responsibility for the death of her original Nation.

The scene shifted again and he felt the ecstasy the boy...Xander? He felt what Xander had felt when the girl...Cordelia...straddled him as he lay beneath her on a motel room's bed, asking for and receiving his forgiveness through their lovemaking. And when he experienced the lovers' climax, he watched as the girl, Cordelia, his Cordy, fell forward to let him show her all was forgiven by kissing her tears of sorrow away.

That was too much for Escobar to take. His mind went black.

*****

Apx 500 BC

The sounds of battle echoed around them as they charged into the fray, swords and spears flashing and flying through the air. Sahra rode at the side of Misha and her Sisters into the battle with the Romans. She had long since lost track of the tide of battle, only a small portion of her mind still listened for the horn that would signal new orders.

She danced through the battle, her sword flashing and Roman's dying with every swipe. Sahra was one of the best, and she knew it. But the joy she once felt escaped her as she fought.

It was that distraction that did her in. She missed the Roman sword as it flashed into her side, not even feeling it as it pierced her heart and ended her life.

She dropped to her knees, her strength robbed by the wound. It wasn't until she spat out the first globs of blood onto the ground in front of her that she realized she was injured. Her head turned, ever so slowly, and looked into the evil grin of the Roman Soldier.

"Amazon Bitch." He said as he jerked his blade out.

Sahra fell to the side, slamming into the ground, her head bouncing off the dirt. As her vision darkened her mouth worked one last time, forming a soundless name. <Michal.>

*****

The mixed magic of Sword and God was merciless. As soon as his vision returned he was again bombarded with images. Amazons screaming their war cries as they threw themselves against the darkness, their men fighting alongside. Tender moments, harsh ones, sweet times, and painful ones. The sword spared nothing as it relayed the unvarnished facts to Escobar, finally finding the opening into his soul that it had sought for over two thousand years.

When it was done Michael was shuddering from emotional overload, his eyes welling with tears as his mind tried to process what it had been force fed.

*****

Apx 500 BC

"Let me IN!" Michal screamed as he tried to get passed the guards.

The two Amazon warriors stood stolidly, ignoring his pleads and threats, only moving to block the man's attempts to enter.

"I have a RIGHT!" He screamed as he tried to get passed again.

"Who are you to speak of rights!?" A scathing voice came from behind the guards. They half turned their heads to see Misha as she approached. "It was you who got her killed, you bastard! She would have never been so distracted if it weren't for you!"

Michal shivered under the accusations, "I will see her one last time."

"You will not." Misha said. "She died an Amazon, and she will be buried an Amazon. Alongside her fallen Queen. You will not desecrate the ceremonies with your... presence."

Michal made a lunge to pass through the guards, but was easily repelled. He stumbled back, his vision blurring with tears as he grabbed for his blade.

"Archers!" Misha called.

He halted, his weapon half drawn as he saw a squad of archers appeared a safe distance back, their weapons armed and pulled back. He swallowed through the lump in his throat and blinked away the tears of combined grief and rage.

"I know of you, Michal." Misha spat her words in disgust, "But even you will not survive us if you continue to push this."

Michal slowly slid the weapon back into its sheath, "This has only just begun, *Amazon*." He promised.

Misha just stood there, her eyes following him as he backed away.

*****

He stumbled into the shrine, his legs betraying him as he wallowed in his grief and rage. He looked up at the altar and dropped to his knees.

"Ares!" he shouted to the skies, "Ares! Accept me as your servant, God of War! Your enemies are my enemies."

*****

Two thousand years of grief and torture were poured into Xander by the powers of both God and Sword. Two thousand years of festering hate that hadn't been cleansed, even by the death of the Amazon Nation...much of it by his own hand. The Campaign had taken years, but when it was over the Nation was in ruins. Survivors scattered across the known world, only a few with any sense of organization.

But afterwards...afterwards there were centuries and centuries of wandering the world. Seeking out remnants of the Nation, hunting demons and evils that threatened the world.

Centuries of not being able to live. Centuries of not being able to die. The Sword saw to that, but who could he give it to? Who could he trust?

Michael couldn't risk it. He cut himself off, hunting the evils was his only release now that the Amazons were gone. Demons were a poor outlet for his hate, but they would have to serve.

*****

Xander shivered as he felt the overwhelming hate permeate his soul, he couldn't comprehend the sheer mass of it. Centuries of hate had turned Escobar's image of the Amazons into devils worse the most vile demon from the depths of hell itself.

*****

Present

Escobar was the first to recover, despite the sheer agony of the revelations he had previous experience with mystical power that served him well over the centuries. He shivered uncontrollably as he let his hand fall away from the weapon's hilt and stared at the two people pinned together by the mystical blade.

Their blood was mingled on the ground as it poured from them, running down the blade and streaming off the sharp point of the enchanted weapon. He knew that they would be dead in minutes at most, even given the inhuman constitution of the Amazon.

Michael watched as Xander shuddered back to life, his eyes rolling back in his head as his conscious mind was assaulted by the revelations of Truth. Xander looked up at him as Escobar approached, equal measures of fear and sadness in his eyes.

Escobar's face was stoic. He looked down at the two fallen lovers with no hint of what was going on behind his eyes. He half turned his head as he heard the screech of tires outside, when he turned back he looked at Xander. "Your Amazon friends?"

Xander nodded, his eyes glazed as he tried to speak through the blood he was coughing up.

Escobar nodded in response, a bare hint of a sad smile on his face. "Fitting."

He reached down and pulled Xander's Glock from its holster, examining the weapon with appraising eyes. Xander made no motion to stop him, not that he was physically able to, but also because through the haze that surrounded him he caught a flash of insight and knew what was coming.

Escobar hit the clip ejection button and the metal clip clattered across the floor, then he racked the slide once and ejected the round that was in the pipe. Finally he leaned down and spoke softly to Xander.

"Take my blade, b–Xander. I don't need it anymore."

Xander nodded dumbly, still unable to speak and grasped the hilt with his blood slick hands.

Michael stood up and walked to the main door.

Xander watched him go, frozen still for a moment. Then he moved as fast as he could, realizing fully at last what was happening. He pulled the glowing sword from his and Cordy's body, wincing as it grated against his armor.

As the weapon slid from his body, Xander drew a sharp breath as he felt a sudden wrenching pain in his stomach. He pushed it aside and pulled the two metal flasks from his hip. Cordelia was lying there, pale as death, her own flasks missing from her belt. Xander swallowed and poured the contents of his first flask down her throat, whispering in her ear the whole time.

"Stay with me Cordy, please... don't leave me... swallow this... please, stay with me...I can't live without you," he pleaded through the desperate tears streaming down his face.

Her throat worked slowly, drawing the liquid down and Xander breathed a sigh of relief. He grabbed the second flask and poured it onto her wound as he drew the sword clear. As he finished emptying the second flask, he saw her wound heal under the ugly gash in her armor. Xander slumped to the ground and curled into an agonizing ball as he suffered from the twisting pain in his gut.

Seconds later, the sound of gunshots caught his attention, his eyes flashing quickly to the door as he remembered what he had forgotten. He looked down and found his wound had healed through the agony. Then he rolled onto his knees and crawled toward the door.

*****

Michael paused at the door, drew a deep breath, and stepped outside, raising the empty gun. Soon he'd be with Sahra again if his service against the darkness would count for something.

"Gun!" Jessie screamed.

As one the Thunder Bunnies raised their weapons and opened fire, spraying over a hundred rounds at the man who had killed their sisters and kidnaped their friend.

A clatter of gunfire echoed through the building and the body of Michael Escobar was kicked back inside by the concussion, thudding to the ground as the light behind his eyes went out.

*****

Xander stumbled along the floor to the body, not really sure what he intended to do when he reached it. Beyond the door he could see the Thunder Bunnies staring at him, the barrels of their weapons smoking. He looked back into their eyes, his own face solemn. The Bunnies looked confused as Xander reached out and shut the door.

"Well done."

Xander looked up, scowling when he saw Ares appear from nowhere. "You lied to me."

Ares shrugged. "So sue me."

Behind Ares two more figures appeared. Artemis, a pained expression on her face, and JP Withers, his face as calm as always.

Xander ignored the trio and deftly replaced the clip in the empty Glock, quietly racking a round into the breech. He glared up at JP and the two Gods, his eyes daring them to reveal what he'd done.

When Ares arced his eyes at him Xander simply said, "They don't need to know."

JP nodded and Artemis' eyes showed her thanks. Ares glanced at the approaching Amazons and shrugged, "None of my business."

"When has that ever stopped you?" Artemis demanded.

"Enough." Xander said, his voice tired. "Lady Artemis... Cordy... she might still need help... please?"

Artemis looked at Xander for a moment, "What about you, child?"

Xander blinked and looked down. His armor was pierced just above the navel, but beneath it he could see clean, untouched skin. His breath was coming easier now and the pain was subsiding. "I... I think I'm alright. Please... help her."

The Goddess nodded and moved immediately to the unconscious Amazon, her hands glowing as she healed the physical damage. "She will be all right." The Goddess pronounced.

Xander nodded tiredly and stumbled over to where his love was now sleeping peacefully. "Thank you... My Lady?"

"Yes?" Artemis looked at him with some worry in her eyes as she read his face and mind.

"Escobar... Michael. He could have been any of us..." Xander said haltingly, his voice growing hard as he remembered the emotions. "Giles, Oz, Mulder, Jarod... Me. Don't turn us into him, My Lady."

Artemis was silent, a single tear forming in her eye. "Never, my Child. You have my word."

Xander looked around the room, his eyes locking onto a few small, glowing, orbs. "Lady Goddess..."

Artemis followed his gaze, her eyes widening as she realized what he'd seen. Soul Globes. Material prisons capable of holding the essence of a human soul. It didn't take a Goddess to know what these had been used for. She glanced back for an instant before moving away. "Thank you."

Xander nodded once and turned back to Cordelia, ignoring the sudden influx of Amazons, Howlers, Texas Rangers, and Section Seven personnel. Amid all the chaos and questions, Xander just shut down, laid down beside Cordelia, wrapped her in his arms, and fell asleep.

*****

Steve and Buffy watched Xander from a distance, worried for their friend. He wouldn't speak to them. He'd barely acknowledged their presence when they tried to reach him. He had remained at Cordelia's side until she awoke and smiled her thousand watt smile at him. Then she'd drifted off soon after. Finally, Xander had let go of her hand and got up from his vigil.

They watched as he stopped and turned to a broken window, looking out with a melancholy expression on his face. They were too far away to see his lips move, too far to hear him speak.

*****

"What happened to him?"

Ares shrugged, "I took him to Olympus. He was one of mine, boy. I always try to bring them back to the fold."

"So that's what this was all about?" Xander asked, emotionless. "You wanted to... what? Save him?"

"Something like that. I couldn't claim him if he continued to deny me... if he continued to kill without direction. He would have eventually been beyond my power... beyond all powers save one. And he didn't deserve that."

Xander nodded. "Why us?"

Ares smirked, "You and the Spitfire have the same connection with each other that he'd lost a long time ago. I knew it would break through to him... at least a little."

Xander shook his head slightly, still not looking at the War God. "That was a big chance you took, Ares. If he had killed Cordelia..." Xander let the threat drop.

"I know." Ares replied, dropping his bluster for one brief moment and letting something akin to...compassion show through for once.

"For what it's worth..." Xander turned to look at the War God for a brief second.

"Yeah?"

"I would have done it the same way."

Ares snorted, but Xander thought he saw a slight misting in his eyes as he spoke. "Like I care what you think, Brat."

Xander felt a slight smile form on his lips. "Oh, and one more thing... War Toy."

"What?" Ares sounded annoyed.

"You owe me."

Xander turned away from the War God and walked back to Cordelia's room. Behind him Ares stared at his back, nodding slowly. "I guess I do at that, kid,." he whispered.

*****

B13 Rooftop Helipad

"You alright, Nick?" Steve Rogers stepped up behind Fury, lugging the last of their gear to be packed into the Flyer.

Nick nodded, "Ya. Just gonna take some getting used to."

"What's that? Xander?"

"Yep." Nick said, fishing a cigar out of a makeshift humidor tucked into his armor. "Kid scared me tonight. Can't say I like the feeling."

Steve nodded, "Don't think you'll be getting used to it, Nick... Doesn't seem like something you get used to to me."

Nick sighed as he lit up the cigar, "Tell me about it."

Steve smiled and clapped his friend on the back of the armor. "Take heart, man, you've got a hell of a kid. He's got guts, talent, heart... what else could you ask for?"

Nick grinned, "You forgot his daddy's rakish good looks."

Roger's shrugged, grinning, "Actually I was thinking that his mother must have balanced that ugly mug you tried to pass on to him."

Nick growled lightly, grinning around the smoldering cigar clenched in his teeth, and finished packing up the Flyer.

"So," Nick turned to look at the Howlers, "We ready to go?"

"Aw come on, Bossman," Reb grinned, "I want to hang around here for a bit... get to know... our new comrades in arms."

Gabe and Iz grinned in agreement as they glanced over to where the Thunder Bunnies were examining the damage to their roof and trying to figure out how they were going to explain the repair bill to Director Gordon.

Nick reached up and slowly drew the cigar from his mouth, "So you bums want R and R, I suppose?"

"That would depend on which two R's your talking about, bossman." Reb grinned.

Fury rolled his eye and shook his head. "Well Reb, looks like your elected to go see if they can spare the Flyer a parking space for a couple days."

Reb Ralston threw Fury a stiff salute and the Howlers snapped out in unison.

"Sir, Yessir!"

Fury glared at them a moment before returning the cigar to his jaw. "Buncha wiseasses."

*****

"Is she ready to travel?" Steve looked over to where Shaw was examining Cordelia.

The half elf nodded. "Yes, I believe so."

"Ok, it's time to go." Steve looked around, "Is everyone ready?"

Everyone nodded.

"Xander, we've got room in the plane for the car... unless you want to drive back on your own?" Steve flashed him a slight grin.

"No!" Xander screamed and held up his hands like he was warding off evil. Then he calmed himself and said, "Er...if it's all the same to you guys, I'm ready to get back to the Hellmouth where things are normal... well, for me anyways."

Chuckles floated around the room, and Steve looked the group over. "Ok, that's it then. Let's go."

*****

DFW International Airport

The Bunnies and the Howlers watched as the Fox-Xanatos jet took off, each shaking his or her heads.

Jessie spoke first. "Nice bunch... but I'm just as glad to get them out of our city."

The Bunnies broke into light chuckles and giggles, each of them agreeing with the statement.

Nick looked over at them, "This happen often?"

Jessie glanced at him in disgust, "Too damned often for my taste. We get, oh one or two major problems in a year and a bunch of small things to clean up... that Psycho, St Wolf, not only attracts twice that amount easily but he also goes looking for more..."

Reb slipped between Heather and Janice, dropping his arms around their shoulders. "Ah well, he's gone now... anyone up for some drinks and dancing?"

The two amazons looked at each other, their eyes twinkling, and slipped out of his reach with fluid moves. "What? No dinner first?" They asked, laughing.

Reb put on a pained expression, "It's never enough, is it?"

The Bunnies responded in chorus. "No."

The next sound any of them heard was the amused laughter of Sharon Carter as she guided Steve to the vehicles. "You guy's do what you want... Steve and I have to get back to what we were doing when Nick interrupted us.

*****

Iverson Jet
In-flight to Phoenix

Xander and Cordelia sat in silence, neither really wanting to speak. Occasionally they glanced at each other and their eyes met, and that was enough for them for the moment. They had risked their lives, even been hurt badly in the past, but something about this felt... personal to them both. Neither were sure what that meant, but they both felt simultaneously closer and more distant from each other.

The jet had topped out at its cruising altitude and was heading for Phoenix when Xander saw a slight motion out of the corner of his eye. He glanced down without moving his head and saw that Cordelia's hand had slipped across the armrest of her seat. He waited but she just left it there, halfway across the no mans land that separated their comfortable seats.

Xander smiled, and slid his own hand over until it brushed hers. Their hands gently entwined and the distance they felt slowly melted away.

Some things need to be said, others can only be felt.

*****

Small Airport Outside Phoenix

Nivea smiled a little nervously at the two people as they stopped at the edge of the airfield. "I... Well, I want to thank you guys..."

Xander grinned. "All in a day's work."

Cordy smirked. "Sometimes less than that..."

Nivea dropped her things, the heavy bags she had accumulated in the last day in Dallas thudded to the ground. She smiled mischievously at the two of them and then stepped quickly into Xander's arms, pulling the surprised warrior's head down for a deep kiss.

"Mmmpphhhh!" He managed to get out as her tongue slipped past his lips.

"Hey!" Cordelia stepped in to pull them apart. Xander took a deep breath and grinned sort of goofily with glazed eyes.

"What do you think you're do-ooomph!" Cordelia's eyes widened in shock as Nivea kissed her full on the lips, slipping her tongue into the Sunnydale Amazon's mouth the same as she had done to Xander. Cordy went with the kiss for several seconds before she realized whom she was kissing and shoved Nivea away. "Can you say EWW?!? I told you to cut that stuff out!"

Xander stared at the two women for a long moment, his eyes wide. Finally he spoke. "Wow. Now that is going to give me some INCREDIBLE dreams for the rest of the year."

Cordelia reached out and slapped him reflexively.

"Ow!" He said, rubbing his shoulder, "and may I add, Hey!"

Nivea just grinned and winked at them both. "Just my way of saying thanks. I'll be seeing you..."

Cordelia stared at her retreating back, looking for something to say... "Not if I see you first!"

Xander looked at her oddly. "Not if you see her first? That was lame..."

Smack!

"Ow!" Xander whined.

"Come on dweeb-boy," Cordelia muttered. "Let's go home to nice, quiet Sunnyhell."

Xander tossed one last grin over his shoulder at the departing Amazon and followed Cordy back onto the plane. "Hey, Cordy... There's a lot to be said for an open relat..."

"Don't even think about it, you perv!" Cordelia growled.

Xander snickered until his hormones took control as he was mesmerized by the wiggle of Cordelia's incredible ass while he followed her up the boarding ramp onto the jet.

*****

St Luke's Hospital
Phoenix, Arizona

"Varia?" Nivea spoke in a hushed voice, looking in on her sister.

Varia grinned back at her. "Hey sis, relax will you? I'm fine..."

Nivea stepped in and smiled gratefully, "I'm glad..."

"Where've you been?" Varia frowned, "I've been trying to find you since yesterday..."

"Dallas..." Nivea admitted sheepishly.

"What!?"

"It's kind of a long story..."

"Well," she looked around the stark and boring hospital room. "I'm not going anywhere for a while. So get started already... I've got time."

Nivea smiled and took a breath. "Well, it started after the attack... I sort of woke up in this white place......."

*****

Iverson Jet
In flight to Sunnydale

"Cordy?"

Cordelia turned slightly in her seat to look at the source of the wavering voice. "Yes Willow?"

"Are... are you ok?" She asked softly.

Cordelia smiled at her sister. "I'm fine."

"You're sure?" Willow asked, eyes wide. "I mean... You almost... well, you know, almost..."

"Died." Cordelia whispered. "Yes, I know."

Willow swallowed, "It's... well, I just... I couldn't..."

"I know," Cordelia whispered with a smile.

Willow sat back, "Good. I just wanted to be sure."

A moment of silence passed before Cordelia spoke, "Willow?"

The red witch leaned forward, "Yes, Cordy?"

"I feel the same."

*****

Sunnydale, California

Xander pulled the Mustang into Mr. Chase' driveway, turned off the motor, and leaned his head back against the headrest.

"What a nightmare."

Cordelia flashed him a weak smile, "Could've been worse..."

"How?"

"We could have brought Robin along for the trip..."

Xander groaned. "Don't even joke about that!"

Cordy laughed lightly and opened the door.

//It's about time you've got back!//

Xander looked around and spotted the patchwork cat running toward him. He let his forehead thud into the steering wheel. "Patches... we've only been gone two days."

//You left me here with... HER!//

Behind Patches the couple could see Ariel walk out, looking as prim and proper as always.

//Watch what you say, you mangy cur! I was only trying to teach you to be more civilized.//

//I'm a CAT! I don't have to be civilized!//

//Say's you.//

Xander groaned and looked at Cordelia, who was trying to hold in her laughter.

//Hey,// Ariel looked surprised, //Why are you back so soon?//

"Don't ask." Xander groaned, "Get in Patches... we're going home."

//Yes!// The patchwork cat leapt into the car with extreme satisfaction.

"Xander..." Cordelia growled, "You still have a lot to explain..."

Xander nodded tiredly, "Dinner? Tonight?"

"Pick me up at seven, I'm going to see how Daddy is." Cordelia grinned and got out of the car.

"Won't you need some clothes?"

Cordy grinned, "I still have a nice wardrobe here... Can't have you getting too comfortable with our current arrangement."

Xander smirked at her, "Well... if you want to move out I could always give Nivea a call..."

"Don't even think that name, Perv." Cordy growled, "I don't want to think about that."

Xander grinned and sat back in the drivers seat, "Oh but I do..."

Cordy growled at the stupid grin Xander allowed to cross over his face and got out of the car. "Wipe that dumb grin off your mug and pick me up at seven. Seven, you hear me?"

Xander grinned and nodded. "As you wish."

As Xander pulled out of the driveway he and Patches heard Cordelia talking to Ariel as she walked into the house. "You should be more subtle about training them, Ariel... they get stubborn if they figure out what you're up to... next time you should try..."

Both cat and driver groaned and drove away.

*****

Xander & Cordelia's Apartment

Xander opened the door and let himself and Patches into the comfortable apartment. He stopped just past the threshold and took a deep breath, then coughed.

"Damn it, I forgot to ditch the garbage before we left..."

Patches held back his laughter as Xander went about cleaning the garbage out. When Xander was finished he pulled a wrapped item from his bags and slowly flipped off the cloth. Patches craned his neck to see the item as his eyes caught a hint of a whitish glow that held just the slightest hint of green.

//What's that?//

Xander's face was clouded, "Just a sword."

Patches was about to press harder, as it was obviously not ‘just' anything, but Xander suddenly straightened and walked to far wall. Xander flipped open a false light switch and tapped a password into a panel behind it. An audible click was heard through the room and a section of the wall slid out.

Xander grabbed the section and pushed it to one side, revealing a miniature armory. Firearms, grenades, and ammunition was safely secured against the wall of the shallow safe. Two full suits of Grail Armor was also tucked inside, along with the accompanying paraphernalia of his night job. Stakes, wooden knives, crosses, and generally anything that might be considered questionable to any visitors who might stop by.

Xander cleared a corner of the safe and re-wrapped the ancient blade before he secured it to the wall with elastic straps. Then he stepped back and slid the section of the wall back into place with an audible click.

With that, he turned his back on the weapon, banishing it as best he could from his mind. Xander doubted he would ever be able to look at it without thinking of how it felt passing through his guts, how it felt to realize that it was killing him... and Cordelia at once.

At the same time he couldn't bring himself to give it up. The sword had a history that wasn't without honor and one that was packed with personal meaning for Xander himself.

*****

Seven O'Clock

Cordelia, looking like a million bucks, stepped out of her house and smiled when she saw Xander's car sitting in the driveway. <Right on time.>

//I bow to the mistress.// came a snarky voice from inside.

<Shush, Ariel.> Cordy grinned and walked out to the car. <We'll be back in a couple hours to get the rest of my stuff and pick you up. You ok with my dad until then?>

//Of course.// Came the prim voice, //He likes to spoil me.//

Cordelia shook her head and walked to the car. She got in and smiled over at Xander. "So... Where are we going?"

Xander started the car and smiled back at her, "I made reservations at

Maison Declaire"

Cordelia gaped at him. "What? That place costs a fortune!"

Xander smiled again, electing not to mention that it cost him three hundred dollars slipped under the table just got GET a table. "I know...but you're worth it."

She waited for a few moments, expecting some kind of elaboration, but finally sat back in her seat and growled lightly at her boyfriend. "You've got some explaining to do."

Xander nodded and drove toward the restaurant. A few minutes later they arrived and went in.

"Mr Harris." They were greeted at the door. "This way please."

Cordy shot Xander an odd look but he just shrugged. The followed the man to a corner table and sat down.

"You're meals will be prepared shortly," the man informed then as two glasses of wine arrived.

As they were left alone, Cordelia looked at him suspiciously and growled, "Who are you and what did you do with Xander?"

Xander grinned. "Alright, I admit it... This was Jarod's plan... well, his and Andrea's. I gave him a call as soon as I left you at your house... I was lucky he was still in town... otherwise I'd have had to ask you."

Cordelia snickered. "Well it would have been less shocking... But you still have some explaining to do, mister... like the car?"

Xander shrugged. "I sort of got a few people to help me with that... Jarod and Frank mostly.

"I meant how can you afford a Paco Vega car."

"Oh." Xander said, looking at the table with a weak grin. "That."

"Yes. That."

"Remember the delivery trip I went on just after Christmas?"

Cordy nodded.

"Well, I didn't tell you guys everything..." Xander admitted, "When I left town I was being tracked by a... hitman."

"What!?" Cordy's voice echoed sharply through the restaurant.

"Shhh..." Xander hissed. "It's alright. Situation handled long ago... It's just that we've attracted some attention since Steve showed up... it was bound to happen sooner or later."

"Why you?" She lowered her voice but still looked pissed.

Xander shrugged. "Weak link."

"What?" Cordy asked incredulously.

"They figured me for the weakest of the gang. I'm the normal one remember? You and the girls are Amazons... they didn't want to tick off Artemis. Buffy's a Slayer. I don't think they had a handle on Robin at the time, so they picked me."

"Why?"

"They wanted information about our operations... Steve's defenses... stuff like that."

"Xander!" Cordy said, "You have to tell Steve..."

"Please. What do you take me for?" Xander looked shocked, "I told Steve as soon as I got back. He knows almost everything that happened... And I presume that Buffy knows most of it as well."

"They didn't tell me!"

"Cordy," Xander hissed, "public place... shhh..."

"Ooops." She looked around, flushing in embarrassment.

"I didn't want to worry you..." Xander said, then continued quickly before she could interrupt, "and I know that's not a good reason... but that's all I've got, ok?"

Cordelia took a deep breath and looked at him seriously. "So spill. Everything."

Xander's features clouded over a bit as he considered her order. Cordelia could almost see the shields locking in place. "You're not going to tell me everything are you?" she whispered.

When he saw the hurt in her eyes, Xander's heart melted. Sahra held something back from Escobar and he had seen where that had led. "All right... all right. It started just after I hit L.A., I met up with the Zombies at Busters and..."

And he started from the beginning and kept talking until their food had arrived. After they finished eating he began again, and kept going until he was done.

When he finished Cordelia looked at him, uncertain how to react. So much had happened, more then he'd told her or anyone. Silently she promised herself that she would keep his secret, secrets if necessary, for as long as he needed her to. She wouldn't betray his trust in her. Not now, not ever.

*****

Olympus

Ares walked along a beautiful path, grinning to himself. It wasn't often that he got to chalk one up in the win column, especially with the sudden increase in do-gooders lately. And an important win it was. He'd been trying to reclaim Escobar for centuries and it felt good to have the prodigal son back in the fold.

He took a deep breath, pulling in clear air into his lungs and enjoying the taste of it. "What a day!"

"I see you've been up to your old tricks."

Ares smiled again and turned around. "Hello, little brother."

Hercules walked toward Ares, "You almost got a couple friends of mine killed, Ares."

Ares shrugged. "I had my reasons."

"Oh, I know." Hercules said, his face growing more serious, "And, believe it or not, I approve. I just don't like your methods."

"That's always been the thing between us though, hasn't it, little brother?" Ares said as he continued his walk, turning his back on Hercules. "You've never been able to stomach the fact that sometimes it takes a hard man to make hard decisions."

"This isn't about my stomach, Ares," Hercules said, taking up the pace beside the God of War. "It's about you almost getting my friends killed."

"Oh, don't get your panties in a bunch, Herc! The Brat and his Spitfire will be just fine."

"Brat and Spitfire?" Hercules looked over at Ares with a grin. "You like them, don't you?"

Ares rolled his eyes.

"You do!" Hercules laughed, "I'll be damned. Someone else got through your vaunted armor. First Xena and Gabrielle, then Escobar, now those two..."

Ares shook his head, "I'm hardly that impressed with them. But I'll admit that the Brat has some potential... too bad the Spitfire's already signed on with another team..."

Hercules shook his head. "You do have a twisted way of looking at things."

Ares shrugged, "And you don't?"

Hercules laughed. "Maybe you've got a point."

Ares looked over at the demi-god. "Say, do you know someone by the name of Nick Fury?"

Hercules' eyes narrowed. "What do you want with him?"

"You do know him."

Herc shrugged, "You must have heard me mention him to our father... Nick joined the Order after the Second World..."

"War!" Ares finished for him. "Now I remember! I was checking out some of the better conflicts that happened while I was... away. Fury was some dumb sargent who kept doing all these suicide missions."

Hercules grinned. "That's Nick."

"I thought he died in some accident back in the fifties..." Ares said, though he admitted privately to himself that he hadn't really bothered to keep track.

"No, he signed on with the Order after that. One of their teams picked him up and gave him a hand."

Ares snorted. "Just what the world needs, more of those goody two shoes."

"Now, now," Hercules chided. "Even you have to admit that they're damned good."

Ares shrugged. "Good, but misguided."

Hercules laughed, shaking his head in wonder, and split away from the God of War, choosing another path.

Ares watched him go. "Like you said, little brother, We almost always agreed on what the goal was... we just never could get together on how to get there."

The God of War looked down at a pool that was just off the path he had chosen. He walked over to it and touched the water with his foot, rippling the water until it showed a dark haired man with a patch over one eye.

Behind the man Ares saw other soldiers, a dozen good men... and a woman. He smiled, and touched the water with his foot again causing ripples to obscure the picture. When the image cleared again he was looking at a young man with brown hair and brown eyes.

"Well, Brat," Ares whispered. "You, me, and your dear old dad are going to have a little future together... with a little luck I might even get the Spitfire as a bonus." Then he chuckled.

Soon his chuckling laughter could be heard across the glade.

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