Buffy had talked to Giles about the upcoming problem and she realized she had to be a big slayer for a change. She had to own up to some mistakes and push them aside. She found Xander at lunch reading a comic and sat down across from him. "We need to talk."
He looked at her. "Yes, I'll be at graduation, one way or another."
"Giles thinks you have tactical thoughts?"
"I do." He smiled slightly. "I can work on that. I'm already working on it." She nodded. "I need to know what's going to happen. You guys have kept me out of the loop."
"Something huge. Come to the meeting tonight, Xander. It's all Scoobies." She got up and walked off. Buffy mentally sighed. It was hard but it was the right decision. Even her mother had said that. She couldn't really refuse to listen to her mother.
Xander went back to his comic book. He could help. He had been helping.
Xander was at his part-time job, and winced when he saw the news story of the day. He pulled out his cellphone and walked off. "Taking a break," he called. He called someone. "It's Xander. What happened? Yeah, about that. I know you guys heard." He listened and nodded once. "Okay. I'll need to hear if anyone hears anything that could help. They can talk to me about repayment if necessary. Thanks, guys." He hung up and made the harder call.
"Pepper, it's Xander," he said quietly, leaning against the building. "Can I do anything to help?" He listened to her sound sniffly but say there was nothing to be done, Tony had been attacked in Afghanistan. "I talked to a few poker contacts. Yeah, that sort. They said he's alive. They said it was Stark Tech that took out the convoy. That's what they heard, yes." He listened.
"Okay, well, if you need me for something, legal, not, whatever, call. Oh, except for graduation. We're having our usual spring problem that day," he sighed. "But if you need me for anything else, let me know and I'll keep nagging my poker buddies to tell me if they hear anything."
He listened to her complain. "I think that's why I usually play poker, Pepper," he quipped. She calmed down. "You need to rest. You being worn out won't find him any sooner. Take five minutes to calm down. You know he hates to see you cry." She sniffled but agreed. "Let me know." He hung up and took a few calming breaths. That was not a good thing.
Xander looked up as Rhodey walked up to where they were on patrol. "Behind you," he warned. Xander shot it with a crossbow when Rhodey moved, even though he didn't seem too weirded out to see a vampire go to dust. "What's up? The poker circuit here hasn't heard anything new."
"How did they hear anything?"
"There's a great demon underground for information and they're in all countries. I know a few get emails from people." Rhodey slumped. "I don't know their sources. All I know is what they've told me and they've agreed they want to see him make more stunning things that they want to steal to go fix their home worlds." He glanced around then at him again. "Is Pepper okay?"
"She's holding up."
"She needs to be taking care of herself too."
"She is, kid." He stared at him. "I found out something about the guy you wore to Halloween." Xander nodded. "He didn't have any EOD training." Xander grimaced. "Stark told me."
"Okay. I figured he would. Did they find anything at the lab?"
"No one went to look."
"Okay." He nodded. "Then it's an anomaly. All the hot girls call me that anyway." Rhodey snorted, staring at him. "We'll figure it out later."
"Want to join the service?"
"I've already got one that doesn't come with a uniform, a paycheck, or any bennies. Why would I want to switch?" he asked, sounding a bit bitter.
"We can find you a good recruiter, Xander. Any branch we can get you into."
Xander shrugged. "Ask me after my road trip. I'm going to see normal things after graduation."
"I get that. If you hear more, let us know."
"I can do that. And if I die this spring, Tony has my will, my pertinent documents, and my safety deposit box in one of his safes at the house," he said quietly.
"I get why but it sucks when you think about it at your age."
Xander nodded. "It could've happened sooner. If they had managed to push me out, I'd have been a riper target." He shrugged a tiny bit. "It's the life I chose because I should be responsible for saving my own ass. Not some young, bouncy, loud teenage girl."
Rhodey looked over at her. "Hi, Colonel Rhodes." He looked at Xander. "You sure?"
"Talk to me again when I've survived my road trip."
"I can do that." He shook his hand. "Let me know."
"Definitely. Make her rest."
"I can do that." He walked off, going back to the corporate compound. Pepper did look exhausted. "You need a nap," he said from the doorway.
"I don't have time....."
"You having a breakdown or getting sick won't help anyone, Pepper." She nodded with a sigh. "I talked to Xander. He's not sure how his demon poker contacts get information."
"Were they right?" Rhodey nodded. "Damn it."
"We'll figure it out."
"I know. Tony's probably trying to find a way out himself," she said, sniffling. She made it stop and looked at him. "How is he?"
"Worried you'll make yourself sick. Planning on a road trip after whatever's going to happen at their graduation. He said Stark's got his will and stuff in one of his safes just in case."
"I'll remember that. Can we subtly get them help?"
"No one really wants to believe in demons. Or else I'd try. I'm going to try to get Xander into the military."
"He's got good skills for it but he's mouthy and too tough for his own good, Rhodey. He's probably ever instructor's nightmare."
"Maybe but they can wear that out of him too. They did mine." He grinned. "Take a nap." She nodded, logging off everything and heading home for the day. He even drove her to make sure she got there safely. Rhodes went to think about things. Where were demons hiding in Afghanistan? It seems like the locals would've put them to death a long time ago.
Xander called Pepper before graduation. "It's me. I just heard a tiny bit. The people who have him didn't steal the tech they used to get him, they had a patron, and they stressed patron," he said in greeting. She said something quietly. "Yeah, that's what they said. They also said he's in a protected valley cave system that's kinda hard to get to. They said they wanted him for what he could build them, which he just showed off. I'm not sure if any of that helps or not, but that's all I've heard." He looked at the place where there would be a battle later.
"Other than that, just checking in before grad. Yeah, I'll be safe, Pepper. You too and maybe it'll help some. I'll call and make sure you know I'm alive later. Unless I'm in the ICU or something. Sure. Oh, I think it will be, yup. Be safe." He hung up and put his phone into his pocket. Then took it out and turned it off. With his luck, the phone would ring and get the demon worm's attention at the wrong moment. Xander slipped into his graduation robe and nodded at the others coming their way. He and Buffy had mobilized most of the class. "It's ready," he said quietly.
"Good." She patted him on the arm. "We can handle this."
"Of course we can. We've handled all the other ones. This one's just a bit more nasty and less slimy." She smiled. "Your mom?"
"Out of town."
"I could care less," he admitted. "Willow's are in Montana." Buffy rolled her eyes. "Basically, yup." He looked around again then at her. "My car's packed for my trip so after this I'll clean up and rest tonight then head."
"That's good. Send us postcards?" He nodded. They went to the lining up spot and took their spots.
The principal walked past Xander sneering. "You sure you should be here, Harris?"
"Yup, sure am," he quipped with a grin. "Otherwise you have another year of me."
Snyder shuddered. "We don't need to see you ever again."
"Just think, some day I'll have kids going here." Snyder walked off shuddering. A few of the other students laughed at that. The music started and all the parents that were attending hurried in to their seats so the students could tromp their way in. They listened to the principal sneer about their weak futures and then the Mayor stood up. A few in the students shifted, some looking at their parents. Xander knew where his weapons were.
He leaned forward so he could get a head start on the rush of people so he could grab them. Then the latin started with the sky darkening. Xander moved slightly. Buffy was tense. The Mayor started to change. Xander dove for his weapons. Buffy dove for hers. The others ran or stared. Xander nudged some. "Let's go!" Xander shouted. "People, that way!" he shouted with a point. They ran that way, no longer frozen by the giant snake demon. The groups to defend everyone moved in. Buffy was with them for now. It was going to be nasty.
Two hours later, Pepper's assistant came rushing in. "You said to keep track of the news today, Miss Potts. Is this why?" She turned on CNN, which was covering an explosion at a nearby graduation.
"Yes, it is." She pointed. "That one there, that's Xander. If he shows up, I'm to see him." She nodded at that. They watched what was being covered. She called Rhodey. "Turn on CNN. No, not Tony. Xander." She hung up by feel and watched. "Gas explosion?" she snorted. "Really?" Her assistant looked at her. She shook her head. "There's probably no gas lines outside the school."
"You know him really well?"
"Tony met him during something and kinda talks to him now and then about things."
"Oh, okay." They watched. "Wouldn't there be something like footage from a parent's camera by now?"
"Yes, there should be." She looked at her email. Nothing. They had seen Xander walking. The news people were reporting a few deaths. Pepper winced at that. She texted Xander.
She got back a simple //Ow.// She tried it again and got back //Ow//. Then a second later //Sorry, I'm doing my stitches and for some reason my phone's responding to voice cues. It never has before but is now.//
"Do you not know what an ER is?" she muttered as she typed that in.
//Sure, let me go to the place that kills about twenty-seven percent of their patients for blood, parts, and other nice things for demons that like bodies.// A short pause. //I only need 12, 16, ow, stitches so I'm okay, Pepper. Thank you for worrying. Ow! Sorry, I'm okay though.//
Pepper stared at the phone. //Who's doing your stitches for you if you're not in the ER?//
A short pause. //Me. I've done a lot of mine and I don't trust Willow to do them anymore. Why?//
"Xander, you're not a doctor," Pepper complained as she typed.
//I know that. I learned from Willow's mother's medical texts, the same way Willow did. That's who's done most of my stitches since I was a kid.//
She huffed. //Your whole town needs shut down.//
//The reason for most of the badness just went sploosh,// the next text back said and it sounded a bit smug to her. //So try now.//
She snorted but sent back a //Let me know where you are while you're traveling in case you run into those agents again, Xander.//
//Yes, ma'am, Miss Pepper. I'm heading south tomorrow.//
"Good luck," she muttered, sending that as a text as well then put her phone down. Her assistant was staring at something new. "What is that?" Pepper asked.
"I don't know but they were carrying it from the wreckage. Maybe some sort of art project?"
"Eww." Her assistant nodded and went back to her desk. Pepper sat there and watched it some more. Rhodey finally texted and she had to laugh at his complaining the kid was an insane smartass. She had to agree with that.
Xander looked up from his last set for his first night on the stage as a stripper and found what had to be an agent. Light hair and eyes that made him look washed out and miscolored against the dark blue suit he was wearing. Xander teased him with a grin. "You don't look like you're having fun." The agent scowled so Xander went to tease someone else. He sucked hugely at this but hey, it paid the bills. When he was done he cashed out for the night, tipped everyone they had told him he had to, and headed back to the motel.
"Mr. Harris," the agent said.
Xander turned to look at him. "What?" He made sure he was in the lights scattered around the parking lot. Way too many dark areas out here.
"There is a good push to find out what happened at your graduation."
"Really?" He grinned. "You mean no one found anyone's video camera? I know I stepped on one during it."
"No, we have a few of those but it's not really believable."
Xander nodded. "Why would I know? I wasn't friends with the Mayor. He tried to say I was an arms dealer once, dude." The agent growled. Xander grinned. "He was a bad guy. That kinda proved it. Did you want us to die?"
"No!" He stared at him. "You should have called officials."
"Yeah, because they'd believe that," Xander said with a nod and a smirk. "I'm pretty damn certain that if I had called in a report about our Mayor going to change into a giant demon worm, that I would've had a whole different sort of agent visiting." He stared at him. "Beyond that, the last time I talked to an agent, they wanted to kill me for the price on my head."
"Yet you're working here?" the agent sneered.
"My car caught on fire, dude. Gotta pay the bills somehow and I'm not doing it on my back. Tonight I had to fill in instead of being in the kitchen." He shrugged. "It happens sometimes. I'm a practical person." He walked off. "You have a nice night. I need to go work out some muscle cramps in my legs."
"We still need a statement, Mr. Harris."
"You have it. Go find one of the video cameras that got dropped." He waved and made it to his motel room, locking himself inside so he could shower. The agent drove off after a fruitless half-hour of waiting on him so Xander shrugged and let it go. He wasn't helping anyone official do anything about graduation. It'd probably end up badly for him with him in a cell or something.
Xander looked down from his most current set, smiling at the woman standing there, mouth open. "Hey, Pretty One." He winked and nodded. "You look like someone I know. Buy me a drink in about two minutes?" She nodded numbly and walked over to a table. He finished and went to wipe off the sweat then came out to sit across from her. "Car exploded," he told her.
Pepper shut her mouth. "You never said a thing about any of this, Xander."
"Not like this is what I wanted to do on my roadtrip." He grinned. "But it's paying for the car to be fixed so I can go back on it, and giving me enough to pay for the motel."
She considered it. "I could've....." She waved a hand around. "This isn't good."
"It pays better than fast food and I never go into the backroom." She slumped but nodded. "I'm not selling it, Pepper," he said more quietly. "Mostly I work in the kitchen but now and then I have to fill in. I'm still awkward and no one wants me to do that in their lap." He sipped his soda that got brought, looking at the manager, who shrugged. Xander looked at her again. "Beyond that, I didn't take you for the sort to come to strip bars way far away from the company."
"One of my assistants is getting married and I was going to hire one for her party. She lives out this way."
Xander grinned and pointed across the room. "That's Randy, he does a pretty good job and has a lot of local girls squealing whenever he's on."
"That's....sure, I'll make sure he's okay. We can leave."
"My car's not going to be fixed for another week," he sighed. "The engine caught on fire just outside of town."
"The same piece of crap car Tony said your parents made you buy from your uncle?" He nodded, sipping his soda. "Oh, dear."
"Oh, yeah." He grinned. "I am learning a lot. I learn a lot about people doing this." She slumped. "Still not handing it out though."
"We can get you to LA so you can go from there."
Xander shrugged. "I'll be going in about a week and a half, after the next payday. Then we'll listen to the underground to see what's going on. I've been hearing complaints about home again."
"Oh." She grimaced. "Are you okay?"
"I'm okay. It's tiring and it's exhausting, I suck at it, but I'm okay." She nodded a tiny bit. "I know I'm not King Rhythm," he said dryly but grinned at her for it. "Like I said, I should be doing the dishes but someone didn't come in." He finished his soda. "Let me get back to work."
"If you need help out of here, let me know?"
"Of course. I haven't seen a single problem outside one agent wanting to know what happened at graduation. He left in a girlish huff after I told him to find a fallen video camera."
"That looked bad."
Xander nodded. "It was bad." He patted her on the shoulder as he walked past her. "Let me go clean up the kitchen."
"Please." The manager looked him over. "She wanted something?"
"She met me in high school over something that went on."
"She's looking for a bridal party stripper."
"I can set Randy up there sooner," he decided, motioning him to get ready. He nodded and went to change.
Pepper sent a text message to Rhodey, who sent back he was choking. So apparently he couldn't see Xander being a stripper either. Pepper wishes she hadn't. Tony would be *so* upset over this.
Six months later, Tony had been found. He was back home. He was hiding from everyone. No one had seen him for over a month. Xander was struggling with his urges to kill people. So he went to visit. He walked in through the garage like before, staring at what Tony was doing. "I heard you're turning into me."
Tony flinched and winced. "Not really. No bitchy friends." He went back to what he had been tinkering with.
"Trade you for 'em. Pepper seems a lot nicer than mine." He flopped down on the couch in there, staring at him. "Want to talk?"
"Do you?" he asked, looking at the younger man. "Pepper told me about your roadtrip."
Xander shrugged. "The car caught on fire." Tony grimaced, shaking his head as he got back to work. "Had to pay the bills and the car repair bill. Still didn't sell it." Tony grinned slightly. "The look on her face when she saw me was really amusing though."
"I bet." Tony looked over. "Why did you show up?"
"Because everyone in the known world is worried about you. Including some middle manager agent who showed up yesterday in Sunnydale to talk to me about you. I totally drove him off with an airhead act worthy of Buffy. He didn't do his homework. All he had known about was the roadtrip. He thought you were my mentor."
Tony nodded once then shook his head. "I'm fine, Xander."
Xander stood up and walked over, staring at him. "Want tips on how to go on patrol?"
"No." Tony stared at him. "I'm fine."
"I know. Still, sometimes you gotta vent."
"I have JARVIS for that." He gave him a dirty look.
Xander grinned. "JARVIS is great, but there's hell and then there's hell." He stared at him. "And if you need to talk about hell, I can listen."
"You've been kidnaped by others?" he said, trying to for light and teasing.
"Not exactly. Beaten repeatedly, turned into a slave by Willow. By the way, did you know there's an actual case for magic addiction?"
"Like alcoholism?" Tony asked.
Xander nodded. "Oh, yes. Will spells and all."
"Like....I have power over you?"
"Yup." He stared at him. "I ended up being the butt of her usual 'you're a demon magnet' thing. She nearly made Spike and Buffy marry. She was feening for Oz since he went to get control of the werewolf at a temple in Tibet."
Tony considered that. Xander usually had a point when he babbled about things other than the topic at hand. "That doesn't surprise me. That Tibet has a temple that can teach you that. Isn't Spike a vampire? You mentioned him and Dru before."
"Yeah, same Spike. The military weenies acting up in Sunnydale put a control chip in his head so he can't eat humans." Tony dropped his wrench he was fiddling with to stare at him. Xander nodded. "There have been more than a few missing notices at the kitten poker hall. Reports of commandos running around town tazing demons. Buffy ran into them once but didn't say anything about them. Of course, I'm back to being normal again so how would I know unless they come for me due to the fish taint."
"Shit," Tony said, rubbing his face. "You need help."
"No. If they come for me I'll destroy their asses as grandly as I can, even if it means I sink the fucking town doing it." He grinned. "I found the Mayor's self destruct recently." Tony stared. "By the way, it's listing itself as a Stark model." He showed him the picture of it. "Don't know if he rebranded."
"No, that's part of a weapon that was meant to be a bunker buster," he said bluntly.
Xander smiled. "Good to know. He probably wanted to erase all evidence of him after he turned and killed everyone in town."
Tony inhaled then let it out. "Probably. I'll send someone up to confiscate it."
Xander grinned. "Remember, there's others that like heros. Like those of us who studied comic books for *years* and play sidekick pretty well if you want to vent." He gave him a pointed look then grinned again. "Beyond that, I heard Rhodey's name mentioned by one of the commando weenies. Apparently they think he's hot shit."
"I'll let him know he's about to be compromised. Are they Air Force?"
Tony grimaced. "I don't know why they'd know each other."
"There's a heavy geek contingent doing *research*."
"That's probably how. They're probably going to recruit him or something." Xander nodded. "You sure you didn't come for help?"
"No, I came to see if you needed to talk to an experienced sidekick so you could figure out some plans on how to secretly handle shit around LA for Angel and Cordelia."
"Your ex?" Tony asked, looking confused. "And her ex?"
"Yup. He's being a Champion here in town against the supernatural and she's his secretary."
Tony groaned and winced a tiny bit. "I'll keep that in mind if we have demon problems."
"Every. Single. Spring," Xander reminded him. "Also, she slipped something up about Wolfram and Hart being evil bad guys."
"They're a law firm. Stark Enterprises has one company we have agreements with that use them."
"According to Cordy, they're the law firm for demons doing bad things. They've tried to take out Angel a few times already to keep him from stopping their plans."
"Yup." He grinned. "So, fair warning about bad guys. She's not sure how far they go."
"I'm going to have someone go over their contracts with us with a mesh strainer that has nanite-sized holes."
"You might want to look at the other company's contracts. It might not hit yours."
"Yeah, I can do that. Tell them I want to look into them for some legal work and ask to see if they can give us samples." He sent that email and looked at Xander. "You sure you don't want help?"
"I'm taking a day free before I go set off that self destruct just because they're bitches," he said bluntly then smiled. "You're good at distracting me."
Tony snorted but looked happier. "Thanks, kid."
"Welcome. You sure you don't want to vent?" Tony stared at him. He nodded at Tony's chest. "Usually when you glow unnaturally you're possessed but nothing's come near me yet to try to suck me in like every other spirit," he said quietly. "And I do kinda know a thing about suddenly not feeling very human due to sudden changes in your anatomy. And let me tell you, the spirits from Thanksgiving sucked ass."
"More?" he demanded, shying away from that topic.
"Yeah, this time Natives. I fell into their burial chamber and they got to give me a 'fuck you for killing us all' present for Thanksgiving. Which means I should ask if you know someone who might want to check my blood for long dead samples of their diseases."
"They did? How do you do things like that?" He wasn't going to shout even though ghosts giving Xander a disease were far away from his usual area of normal.
"Apparently I was dying of smallpox before they finally gave up and left. And maybe an ancient form of syphilis. Actually, that's the other reason I came here. I don't want more of the assholes in camo to find out."
"I have a really strong feeling that Buffy's boyfriend is one of them." Tony winced. "Like almost certain."
Tony nodded. "I can get a doctor to draw some."
"If they can use it to make new treatments I'm good with that. Just let me know what I have so I can take precautions and update my will." He rubbed his forehead. "And maybe make Anya cry and stomp off about not getting sex again."
Tony grinned. "She came back?" Xander had called to complain about her right before he had gotten kidnaped. She had sounded like Xander's sort of woman.
"Just as back wrecking as before," he said dryly, grinning back. "And moved in." Tony slumped and shook his head. "It's.... going complicated places, Tony. I have no damn clue."
"At least you're not a virgin anymore."
"Yeah and she keeps trying to force me into going gay so she can watch."
Tony nodded. "You never want to date girls like that, Xander. Especially not going farther than dating. They tend to be money grubbing...." Xander nodded at that. "They can also kill you for that."
"I don't have anything that big she might want, Tony. Though she does demand a lot of presents." He slumped some. "I haven't gotten more than three hours of sleep in months. I love my new stamina. It made her quit complaining in public about only getting four orgasms a night."
Tony gaped. "Four?" he demanded.
"Yeah, after work at the site and then patrol."
"Dump her. Today."
"I can't. She'll get her job back."
Tony grimaced. "I'll ask Pepper for an idea. She was over what?"
"That's pretty broad and dangerous," Tony decided. He sent a message to Pepper to give him ideas for Xander. He grinned. "Take something to become impotent for a week or so?"
"I made the mistake of teaching her that oral sex was great and gave her some of the orgasms she wanted, and that's all she ever calls it, orgasms."
Tony nodded, adding that to Pepper. He got back one. "Pepper said to dump her too."
Xander nodded. "I might but *damn*."
Tony nodded. "Yes, you probably are."
Xander picked up something and pointed it at the tv, changing the channel. He handed Tony the remote. "Being damned is okay for the right reason. Anya's not.... but the sex is nice enough I guess. She won't give a blow job though. I've always wanted one of those." He left. "Let me know if you need help."
"I can do that." He stared at the tv. It was one of those robot-centric animes. He looked at his plans for his tech suit and decided he needed to do something more Starkish instead of something more subtle. He sent Pepper a message about Xander's blood too and one to Rhodey about those commandos, just in case.
Xander looked over from his current job on the construction site at his boss grunting in displeasure. He looked at him. "I have no clue," he admitted when the boss stared at him. "If he's here for me he can wait until I'm off the clock," he said loudly enough to be heard then gave the agent a pointed look. "I'm not getting fired for this shit." He got back to work. The agent wasn't pleased looking. Yay. He called that in and another one showed up that afternoon instead when Xander logged out for the day. Xander walked over to him. "What can I do for you, Agent....."
"Okay. What can I do for you, Agent Coulson?"
"You're listed as an acquaintance of one Tony Stark."
"I am. We were kidnaped at the same time."
"There's no notes in the files on that."
Xander considered it then nodded once. This agent gave him good feelings instead of the usual bored or creepy ones he got. "Check the LA FBI office for my file with them. The reason I got taken has to do with why they had dirty agents."
"I have looked at those. They're annoyingly brief," he said mildly. "Have you talked to Mr. Stark?"
"Yes. I went to talk to him about my present girlfriend." He walked off. "He thought I deserved one who was nicer."
"Did you talk about his last kidnaping, Mr. Harris?"
"Not really. I offered if he wanted to." He shrugged a bit. "He didn't want to." He got into his car and went home to shower and change for patrol. If the agent wanted to follow, that was fine. It'd probably make him look a bit too dangerous to screw with. Or pathetic if the girls were nagging tonight. He came out to find Anya scowling. "What?" he sighed.
"You talked to someone about us?"
"Yup. I've talked to him about a few of my dates in the past. Why?"
"No, he's dated a lot more than I have, Anya. He's a bit blunt." She scowled. He stared back. "Not like you're the normal girl."
"No, I'm not."
"Which he thinks I could use." He walked around her. "Going out for patrol."
"Fine," she huffed. "I need you here, Xander. I have needs."
He looked at her. "Unless you *need* to have the town overrun, it's going to wait like every other night, Anya." She glared. He stared at her. "Sorry but it's a duty."
"They don't want you there," she said smugly.
He shrugged. "Since when do I give a damn what they want?" Anya slumped. "Unlike some, I'm not part of the bitchy girl patrol." He gave her a pointed look. "You might try something in that bottle in the medicine cabinet that says 'Pamprin' on it. That's why I got it for you." He pulled on a shirt then his sneakers and grabbed his weapons. He blew a kiss. "I'll be back later for your orgasms." He shut and locked the door, walking off shaking his head. Willow scowled when she spotted him. He stared back. "What? Is it a permanent PMS spell?" he asked dryly.
Buffy snorted. "She got a call from someone wanting to know if Anya was really a good girlfriend."
"Probably a friend of Tony's. I asked his opinion. He all but called Anya a money-grubbing ho."
"Welllllll," Buffy said, considering it. "She does love money and sex."
Xander nodded. "Yeah, she does." Buffy huffed. "I don't know," he muttered. "Which way?"
"It's a free night," she said smugly.
He stared at her then at Giles, who shrugged, then back at her. "You go Bronzing. I'll...." He waved a hand. "I need the stress relief before I go home to Anya's demands." He walked off. Yeah, there was a PMS spell on Sunnydale.
"You can't do it on your own, Xander. You're a normal," Buffy complained, stomping after him. "I want the night off."
"Then go take the night off, Buffy. Not like it's my first patrol on my own," he said dryly. "Or don't you remember calling off for dates?" He shot her a look. "Go. Shoo. Have fun with Riley."
She snorted. "You're jealous? Figures."
"Hell no!" he snorted, staring at her. "Not even in some bizarre alternate reality am I jealous of him. I've seen better soldiers." She flinched. He grinned. "Yeah, realized it." He stared at her. "Realized you've been risking mine and Willow's life too," he said more quietly. She snorted, glaring at him, arms now crossed over her chest. "Swim. Team." She flinched. "Beyond that, it's creepy that you're dating one of them." He walked off. "You have fun with your commando." He waved. "If I run into Spike I'll talk him into going with me for shits and giggles."
"Whatever," she muttered, stomping off. She and Willow went to the Bronze. Riley was there waiting impatiently. "Had to talk to Xander about why someone we don't know called up asking about Anya."
"Anya is a bit weird and I'm sure Xander met some people when he was on his road trip," he said, smiling at her.
Willow stared at him. "Was Xander right?" she demanded quietly.
"Willow!" Buffy complained loudly, then ducked her head when a few people looked at her.
"Are you one of the commandos?" Willow demanded.
"I'm not allowed to talk about anything relating to any military operation I've ever been involved in," he said. "How did Harris know that I was military?"
"He got possessed by the spirit of a PFC one Halloween due to a chaos sorcerer," she said with a smile. "He recognized a few things."
"PFC's are plebes," Riley said.
"Yeah but the guy who was the PFC ended up being a Ranger in Vietnam," Willow said. Riley winced. "Are you?"
"Then get the heck away from my friends, before I make you," Willow said.
Buffy glared, getting between them. "Is this pick on my boyfriend day?" she demanded.
"Yup. Because they took one of the campus wicca group members," Willow said. "I'm not going to put my life on the line with him around. For you, yes. For him, no."
Buffy gaped. "You...." She looked at Riley.
"As far as my people are concerned, magic is a myth," he said.
Willow smirked. "Really?"
He backed up at the look on her face. "I don't want to know if it's not."
"Then I'd scoot." She pointed at the doorway. "Since another of us showed up just now." He stomped off. She looked at Buffy. "He's worse than Angel. That's saying a lot since Angel killed Miss Calendar." Buffy huffed off. Willow went to talk to Joyce. Someone had to have some sense and maybe, just maybe, Joyce could talk to Xander about Anya and his road trip friends calling her to nag her about Anya. She knocked and got let in. "Miss Summers, can we talk?"
"Sure, Willow. What's wrong? Is there a lot of problems on patrol?" she asked, sitting her down in the living room with her.
"No, it's .... well, yes, but no. Have you heard anything about the commandos around town?"
"Some from Rupert."
"Riley's one. Xander found out."
"Oh, no," she sighed. She slumped. "Buffy's enamored of him?"
"Very. Even after he tried to cover and say he wouldn't want to take me, or Xander, or Oz in."
"I can understand Oz, and maybe you to see what magic could do, but Xander?" she asked.
"Did she never talk about the swim team?" Joyce slowly shook her head. Willow summoned her journal to let her read it. Joyce stared at her. "That way if he's put anything around here they can't overhear it."
She took the journal to read over, grimacing at that. "That poor guy."
"Basically, yeah. Xander told her the same thing I did. We're willing to risk our lives to patrol and for the good of the town but not around him, and we know he's spotted Spike at least once. And can you please talk to Xander about not telling others about Anya so they don't call me to talk about her?" she begged.
"Anya's...interesting. He had someone outside of the group call?"
"He apparently talked to someone he met on his road trip or whatever and she called me to talk to about them."
"Oh. What did she say?"
"That Xander should dump her, even if he was helping her get used to being human again. That it'd only end up in pain and misery for both of them."
"I can see that," Joyce agreed, considering that couple. "I probably would've had a talk about her openness in public more than once by now."
Willow sighed. "I think she'll do Xander good. She's not normal but she'll keep him out of trouble and out of the biggest problems."
Joyce stared at her. "If people like that boyfriend's group want him, he's not normal and that probably got old at least last year, Willow."
Willow stared, mouth slightly open. "He is!"
"He's not. If only because he has enough patience to have come back from escaping here."
"I heard he did bad things," she said with a blush.
Joyce shrugged. "That's what you do on a post-graduation road trip. Mine, I went to Paris and met a few poets who had some very interesting ideas about inspiration and wine." Willow was now bright red. "I'll talk to Xander, see what he's thinking is going on with him and Anya," she promised. "I know he hasn't had many relationships so he might be confused." Willow smiled and nodded. "And my daughter about her taste for predators." Willow hugged her then ran off to go do something at the dorms. Joyce sighed, putting Willow's journal safely into a locking drawer and going to make herself some tea. She called Rupert to come over for tea so they could talk. This had to be a united front or her daughter would get huffy and mean.
Xander looked over his shoulder at the feeling of being followed. "Pretty night, Agent Coulson." He spotted Spike. "Hey, Fangless!" Spike glared at him. "Buffy's with *him* at the Bronze. I need some stress relief."
"You're not my type," he snorted.
"Is that why your batty ex keeps sending me letters about collars and fur?" Spike glared. Xander grinned. "Got another one the other day and Anya nearly freaked out."
"I heard." He looked at the guy then at Xander, who shrugged. "You sure you have to go out?"
"Yeah. I'm sure." He rolled his eyes. "Where are they tonight?"
"Cedar." He pointed. He lit a cigarette and went to vampire face. The agent barely blinked at that. He smirked. "I like you. I should mentor you as a childe," he purred, moving closer to him.
Xander pulled him off. "Leave the agent alone, Spike. The last thing we need are more government sorts here." He looked at him. "Is it still true that commandos working in the US is illegal?"
"Yes, I believe it is." Apparently this was not what the agent was expecting to have happen tonight.
"Great. Let's go talk about them."
"Can we talk about Mr. Stark at the same time?"
Xander stared at him. "What do you think is going on there?"
"I'm worried that he's changed due to mental breaking down and reprogramming."
"Tony?" he snorted with a laugh. "Really? Do you know how hard it is to break someone like him?"
"Done it?" Xander asked.
"Are you forgetting that the incident in question wasn't his first kidnaping?"
"None of that is noted, and any rumors of them have said they were all short term, Mr. Harris."
Xander nodded. "Probably. Then again, guys like Tony aren't like guys like us. Maybe girls like Buffy only less cranky, but not guys like us." He walked off. "Want credible proof that they're working here in town?"
"Are they terrorists?"
"Depends on your species," Xander said. "Spike?"
"Bloody punters put a control chip in my head," he said bitterly. "Done it to others."
Agent Coulson nodded. "Does it make you do things?"
"Doesn't allow him to feed," Xander said, staring at him. "Which made him at their mercy for feeding, drugging, testing, torturing, all that neat stuff."
"I'd like to see proof," Coulson said, following the duo. That was interesting and nothing they had on this town said anything about commandos or anything strange. "May I ask about your graduation?"
"That was the Mayor," Xander said dryly.
"Wilkins wasn't it?"
"Yes. He was the only mayor we've had."
"He looked too young for that."
Xander looked at him. "I know very well someone somewhere has footage from graduation. I know I stepped on a camera during the evacuation moment." He gave him a pointed look. "At the very least there's some on the shrine to him at City Hall." Coulson nodded once at that, making notes on his phone. Xander and Spike led them to the only base entrance they knew, the one that Spike had gotten out of. Coulson watched the commandos dragging in a demon, who was sobbing and begging for mercy. Xander and Spike shared a look and then Xander threw rocks at the guys to piss them off. Then he took off running. Spike grabbed the demon and took off in another direction to get them safely away.
Coulson snuck onto the base to check things out. By that morning when he snuck back out, he had almost totally forgotten about Stark. He called for backup. He went to the local motel to take a shower, because he felt slimy after seeing that. Then he went to 'browse' at City Hall as the parent of a prospective college student. The cover story held and one of the secretaries there told him about Wilkins and about the 'mass hallucination from the gas explosion' that explained why there were pictures of him turning into a giant snake demon. Coulson had recorded it for his boss when he got there. He left to talk to him, looking thoughtful. "Sir."
Nick Fury, Director for SHIELD, stared at his senior agent. "What is that disturbing? You have never called in that level of emergency code before, Coulson. Usually you'd handle it with a few agents even if it was a real battle against an army."
He held up his phone to show the video. "Commandos torturing species we don't have noted. The graduation 'gas explosion' that was noted wasn't."
"Excuse me?" He listened to that file and grimaced. "What actually happened?"
"Go to City Hall, sir. They have a video there on one of the cameras." Two of the agents slipped away to get it. He drew a map to the underground base. "I talked with a victim last night and he led me to them with another person that was on patrol with him, carrying a crossbow for some reason." Fury snorted, shaking his head. "Said victim did not photograph. At all." Fury stared, blinking his good eye. He showed him. "That is Alexander Harris, who is tangentiality related to Stark. Beside him, that shadow is one he called Spike, and Fangless, and he does not photograph."
Fury looked at the picture then at him. "So, what are you thinking?"
Coulson flipped the picture. "The being they saved from the commandos, sir."
Fury looked at that green and orange being. It looked like a walking, short haired green and orange tiger. He opened his mouth then looked at Coulson. "So we think ....."
"I think this town should be investigated." Someone shouted but they went to dust as a stake entered their chest then the blonde huffed and moved on. "Miss Summers, may we have a word?"
"Are you Watchers?" she asked.
"No, we're agents," Fury said. "We're involved in the defense of the United States, young lady."
She grimaced. "That depends on what you want to know."
"Where is the information on the former Mayor?"
"Beyond the shrine? You might check his house. No one's ever cleaned it out. Or his office. Not sure if they've cleaned that out. Or there's bits and pieces of him still littering the old high school's site." She shrugged. "I don't know, why ask me?"
"We've just become aware that things aren't normal here," Fury said, walking over.
She snorted. "You really suck at protecting the US then since we've had at least a fifteen percent homicide rate here." She walked off shaking her head. "Sorry, gotta patrol. You should leave town before they get you too. It's only safe during the day."
Fury looked at his agents and pointed. Two followed her subtly. Fury looked at Coulson. "What the fucking hell is going on here?"
"I do not know, sir. That's why I made the preliminary report that I had to go off target."
"Did that kid talk about Stark?"
"He thinks we underestimated how easy it is to break someone."
Fury snorted. "How would he know?"
"They were taken together at one point in time. I'm still trying to find why."
"Was he bait?"
"No," another agent said, walking up to them. "Looking up his file leads us to a lot of supposition laid by the former Mayor Wilkins, but also three prices on his head," she said, showing them. "He was probably taken due to one of them."
Coulson looked. "That's the same thing Miss Summers said, sir."
"I realize that. Who are they?"
"Secret society of paranormal researchers out of England who claim ownership of a line of specially chosen female warriors against the vampire menace and other problems," she said.
"I was hoping we weren't going to go there," Fury said. "It's a pretty little town. Can our hackers get anything?"
"Wilkins barely had any files on his system, home or office. There's two online videos of the graduation ceremony, one altered and one not. The altered one has people fighting a giant snake."
"Which is what the pictures at City Hall showed," Coulson told her. She stared at him. "The secretary that told me what happened explained it as a mass hallucination due to the gas leak that caused the explosion."
"By the remains we've looked at, the school blew up from inside," one of the other agents said as he walked up to them. "Graduation was on the side lawn." Fury stared at him. "There were a few fliers still on telephone poles on the way, Director." Fury nodded once. "There are remains." He held up a baggy of something that looked like part of a snake. "The remains go from the podium with the microphone set up still on it to the school, through the school, and outside the side."
"So we really had a huge snake demon?" Fury demanded. His second-in-command complained at that.
"Possibly. Permission to have some of our geeks look?"
"Definitely." He called the science team in. He looked at his second-in-command. "Hill, there's commandos here with unknown species."
Coulson showed her the map. "There may be an entrance at the college. I didn't have time to scout that far. Frankly, I nearly shot a few for the way they were torturing some of their hostages I was so disgusted."
Fury nodded once. "That bad?" Coulson showed him the video of the torture room he looked in. Fury turned a bit green. So did Hill. "Stop that shit," he ordered. "Any agency overseeing them?"
"I saw science groups and Rangers," Coulson said.
"Lead the way," Fury ordered. Coulson led them back to the base opening and let them sneak in.
Coulson finished taking a new shower and got dressed again, coming out to find Fury glaring at his phone. "The president isn't allowing us to act?"
"No. He ordered it," he said with a grimace.
"Our orders, sir?" Hill asked.
"Shut them the fuck down," he said, looking at her. "I don't give a damn if they're all dangerous and trying to end humanity, shut it the fuck down."
"The hostages?" she asked.
"There's a clinic downtown," Coulson said. "I noted that earlier when I was looking around. It's not for humans as the languages on the sign aren't any human one that I recognize."
She nodded. "We can arrange for them to find them." She called in her favorite strike teams to handle things. She left to oversee it while their geeks looked at the records of the town, the graduation explosion site, and broke into the systems on that 'base'. Even the most hardened agents looked pissed off at that. The ones that had been military before joining SHIELD looked like they were going to rip them to molecules for disgracing the US and uniform. She told them they could not do permanent harm, they wanted them to face charges for the most part. She told the director when they ran into another agency's people but he said they could go down too. Pity for them.
Agent Coulson walked up to Xander a few days later when he was on patrol. "Thank you," he told him.
Xander nodded. "No, thank you." He stared at him. "Anything else you wanted to meddle in?"
"We still need to evaluate Stark's mental status and if he's changed sides," he said quietly.
Xander burst out laughing. "I doubt he'd do that. Considering my poker contacts locally said that they used his stuff to get him." Coulson almost flinched at that. "I think you're barking up the wrong forest, Agent Coulson, and I'm not going to let you hurt Tony. I'm pretty damn sure that within weeks it's going to be apparent what he's doing." He walked off. "You have a great night and watch your neck."
Agent Coulson grimaced, going back to LA to work on Miss Potts again. She was still stonewalling him but she was starting to break. She actually talked to him when he met her in the lobby of Stark Enterprises and had him walk her off. What he found out horrified him. No wonder Harris had hinted. Stark was turning onto his own side.
Fury looked at his people a few days later. "What the hell?" he demanded.
"Stark, sir," Coulson said. "I had no idea he was going to react that strongly. Neither did Potts. The only one who seems to have gotten that clue was Harris."
"Is Harris some sort of idiot savant?" he demanded.
"No, but we did find out that the former principal was known for changing grades before they were submitted," Hill said from her seat. She put that paperwork down. "Also, we've found a hint of something that's hidden overseas, where neither he nor Stark have been, but both have paperwork on file with the judiciary. It's sealed and we cannot get copies. They refuse."
"Like they're hiding something?" Fury said.
"Like someone took a bribe and is now covering it up," Hill said.
Coulson nodded. "Looking at the FBI file again, there's a note of the same country and a legal challenge during their joint kidnaping."
"Do we think they had Stark adopt Harris?" Fury snorted.
"No, I think they had them married," Hill said. Fury sat upright and stared at her. "That's the only reasonable explanation I can find for that level of secrecy and I do believe it was someone taking a bribe as they've both put in legal challenges to something in their country."
"Looking back at surveillance footage of LA, Harris has met with Stark a few times. He's met with Potts at a strip club he was working at after graduation. His car had been set on fire and he was working in the kitchen, but there's evidence he had to strip at least once to fill in on a weak night." Fury grimaced and shook his head. "There's evidence of Potts and Harris talking after his graduation, a series of text messages by the phone company records."
"So Potts knew about Harris?"
"I think she knew something but chose not to know more," Coulson said. "I think she's a bit too straight and narrow for Sunnydale to ever do more than give her a headache. Stark seems to know."
"Okay," Fury said. "How do we know this?"
"Harris has listed an official will on file. We snuck a look at his safety deposit box with a secret warrant," Coulson said. "He made Stark his beneficiary of any life insurance and/or bank accounts he might have at the time of his demise but said he was not responsible for any bills he might owe or his burial expenses."
"Basically, he made him his power of attorney and executor," Fury said. Coulson nodded. "Stronger for the idiot kidnapers married them theory."
"Stark hasn't changed his will," Hill said. "We do know that agents have intervened thanks to Stark twice when dirty or fake agents tried to take out Harris for the prices on his head."
"Stark hasn't changed his will since he was twenty-four," Coulson noted. "When he listed Potts on it."
Fury considered it. "So they chat."
"Now and then Harris seems to check in with him."
"Do we think they know they got married off?"
"Stark legal filed both challenges," Hill said. "I'd say yes, sir."
Fury nodded. "This is going to be bad."
Coulson shook his head. "It's clear that it's not their idea but Harris seems to look up to Stark at least. Perhaps we can handle things."
"Maybe," Fury said. "Give me a comprehensive background on both of them. Ours are shitty." They handed them over. "Dismissed." They left him to contemplate his newest headaches.
Six Years Later
Xander hung up and walked off. "Willow, I need to hit New York now," he ordered.
"It's shut down! Even you saw that battle and you can't help! You're not a hero!"
"I have friends up there, they were injured," he said, staring at her.
"Who?" she snorted. "Your only friends...."
"I have other friends, Willow. Send me now so I don't have to use the demon network?" She glared. "Fine." He grabbed a few things and left the slayer house in Cleveland. The poker circuit was happy to get him up there. He knew where he was going. They knew where he was going. He walked into the infirmary and around a few people.
"Who are you?" someone demanded.
Xander looked at them. "Shut. The. Fuck. Up." They flinched back. "I'm a next of kin." He walked over to Tony, tipping his face up. "You turned into me. Or Buffy, one of us."
Tony snorted. "Pepper's my next-of-kin, Xander."
He smirked. "You sure of that? Pepper changed it recently."
"She didn't tell me that."
"I think the board made her." Tony nodded then winced. Xander grinned. "Wanna come let the girls fuss?"
Xander grinned. "You sure?"
"Definitely." Someone stomped in and Xander beat them back until they ducked out of the room. "Nice," Tony said dryly. "A bit overprotective?"
"Yup. You should've called the house."
Xander nodded. "Yay. We have girls up here."
"I saw them helping." He grinned slightly. "I'm fine." Xander dialed into his voicemail and let him hear it. "Fuck," he said.
Xander nodded. "I need a liaison. The poker circuit said the one that comes around to annoy me now and then about you can't," he said quietly.
"Romanoff, go with Harris and help the slayers."
"Excuse me?" she demanded, staring at him.
Xander looked at her. "I'm one of the new Council's trainers, Agent Romanoff. We've got slayers local and they said that the portal that closed, it snapped open a hellgate upstate. I need a liaison who can get people off my girls' backs while they handle it."
She shuddered. "I was in Sunnydale when you were found." He grinned slightly. "We're all tired."
"I get that. I only need someone who can shove, not fight. The girls won't let anyone, even me, get in there. Buffy told them we're all normal if we're not slayers." She snorted at that, shaking her head. "That's my feeling too. That and I need the huge paddle I have in my office." He grinned. "May we borrow you or someone you choose?"
Fury stomped in. He paused. "Harris."
"Your portal closing opened a hellgate. I've got three girls upstate. I need a wall between us."
"Hill, get the slayers a wall."
"I'll go," she promised, looking at Xander. "Nice to have you stateside, Harris."
He stared at her. "I still think Spike should've taken you as a toy, Hill. It might break the stick up your ass." She snorted and gave him an evil look. "C'mon. I'm driving since you have injuries." He looked at Tony. "You might want to see how badly Pepper screwed up your paperwork, Tony. Really." Tony groaned but called her. Xander walked out with Hill. "I've got three girls. It should be enough but if not, Willow can get us more."
"Agreed," Hill said. "I'm driving."
"You have a concussion. Shut up." She glared but he was in a bitchy mood. He got in to drive, the keys were in the ignition. She slid in since she didn't have a choice and they went up there. He got out and found the girls battling something that wasn't a kraken but it looked like a stringy mess of wires. Xander looked at it, tipping his head to the side. "I need a taser." Hill handed him hers. "Thank you." He walked over to help while she went to talk to the staring officers and agents.
He fired it at the mouth of the creature, making it scream. "It takes an energy weapon, ladies." They managed to make one with the taser and a few of their regular weapons, sending the electricity down the swords instead of the wires. It meant the two of them had to stay together but the spare one and Xander handled the other things that were trying to sneak past the battle and come out.
Hill looked at them then at the agents. "I'm with SHIELD. I'm the Executive Officer of SHIELD," she said at one agent's horrified look. "Leave the slayers alone please." They slowly backed off. "The earlier emergency in New York opened this one." The local sheriff shifted and looked displeased. "If possible, we'll render it unopenable."
"Please do," the sheriff agreed. "We had no idea about this."
"Neither did we until their trainer showed up to talk to an asset we have," Hill admitted. "They couldn't get through during the emergency." That got a nod of understanding. "Harris, do you need help?"
"Nope," he said, then stabbed something, slinging it off the sword. "Stomp that into a greasy spot if you want. It has to be dismembered and the one it was pulling is poisonous to humans. Back off, Bethany."
"I'm a slayer."
"Now!" he snapped. She backed off. She stomped on the little thing while Xander got the other thing. He glanced over at the sound of a jet. "Great. Ladies, more agents."
"They're still not slayers either," one snorted, lunging to kill the creature. It got her bitten. Xander took her sword and the other one to handle it for them. "Hey!" she said weakly.
"Your ass, training room, tomorrow," Xander said, killing the creature after a few minutes. He panted, looking around. "We miss any, Beth?"
"Not that I can see, Xander." He nodded and they stepped out of the gateway. "How do we destroy this?"
Xander pulled something out of his vest and bounced it in his hand, looking at the outline of the gateway. He put it where it'd do the most good. "Big explosion," he warned, backing the slayers off. It exploded and crumpled. The gateway collapsed with a sucking noise. Xander let the girls test it. "Closed?"
"Nearly fully," the first one reported. "I can feel a touch of dark magic but it feels like it's naturally shrinking in on itself."
Xander nodded. "Beth, your post is here to check on it every week," he told her, looking over. She nodded. "Let us know if there's any change. Make sure the locals have your number in case." She walked over to talk to them about it. Xander looked at the other two. "Out of practice?" They groaned. He smirked. "Trade out for fresh ones, I heard you were helping earlier." They nodded, smiling some. "Then go home and train your asses." He gave them pointed looks. "Unless you want me to do it?"
"No," the girls said in unison.
"Can we have Faith?" one of them asked.
"I'll see." He called. "Buffy, me, Beth, Amber, and Killia. One hellgate that they reported is now down and mostly sucking itself closed. Beth is to check on it each week. The girls were helping earlier during the New York battle to move civilians and defended an area that had daycares and the like. They need some relief pitchers."
"I can do that," she said on the speaker. "Good going, girls."
"Xander helped," they said.
"Of course he did," she sighed.
Xander glared at the phone. "There was no kraken but the stringy, wire wannabe kraken was on top here. We had a few nasty little germ motes and the one that reminds you of a pokemon trying to sneak past it."
"Got it, I wrote it down for Giles. Have Beth send us a report weekly on it."
"Can we have Faith?" one of them asked. "She'd be calm in case New York has more problems."
"Yeah, you can," Buffy agreed.
"Buffy, rewatch the footage with Giles," Xander ordered.
"Do it, and then have Giles call his former coworkers." He hung up and looked at them. "You did okay. Ice cream for dinner?" They smiled and hugged him, bouncing over to their stolen car. "Ladies, we do not keep driving a stolen one," he said bluntly.
"You did," Agent Hill said smugly, taking the remains of her taser back.
"It was SHIELD's SUV and I had a SHIELD agent with me," he shot back. "Therefore, not stolen." He walked off, nodding at the other agents. "It's handled, guys."
"Who are you?" one of them demanded.
Xander grinned, which made the girls back off. "I'm the trainer for the new Council of Watchers. We're under new management and we don't suck, steal the girls, or treat them like expendable robotic warriors. I'm the one that makes sure the ones that need to stay at home get trained so they don't die. If you want to know more, ask Hill or Fury." He walked around them. The agent growled but Xander turned and beat him until he was groaning on the ground. He looked at Hill. "He needs to train with the girls. The tiny minis would *adore* using him as a training aid since they're on his level."
"Don't insult my agents, Harris. Your tiny horrors on the supernatural are menaces."
He grinned. "They'd adore that compliment. Thank you." He got the girls into the SUV and drove them back to the city. "Are you girls able to hit your house?"
They groaned but shrugged. He nodded he'd try then take them to the training center if not. They grinned, the training center was a great, relaxing place. Xander had made sure of it. Yup, their block had a few fires and they weren't allowed in until they were contained. So Xander took them to the training center. It wasn't that far away, only in Port Chester, so maybe a forty minute drive at the most on the bad days if you weren't going the same direction as everyone else. He pulled into the driveway and put the code into the gateway driving in once the iron gates opened. They closed behind the car and all the girls sighed in relief. He grinned at them. "Five minutes."
"We know," they agreed. They watched the trees. There were a few harmless species of animal demons here as a refuge. They liked to dart out to pet Xander so they had to go very slowly. They pulled up outside the house, which looked like a solid blank wall with two gold and red doors. The handles on the doors were sterling silver. The gold paint was decorative but held little runes of protection. They walked into the open entryway. It had no real ceiling but in the center was a garden table next to a small pool.
The girls knew the rules and paused to take off their shoes and use the water, which was from a blessed well on the grounds, to wash their hands, faces, and feet. Xander did the same then they walked through to the kitchen, one of the seven doors off the entryway. The kitchen smelled good. The housekeeper was teaching the Tiny Terrors about carrot cake and other vegetable-based sweets. They ranged in age from almost newborn to eight. At eight, the girls moved to another wing to train and go to school in Port Chester at a girls school Xander had picked. Willow didn't like it but they had said Xander was over training so yay. Giles had agreed with Xander's choice after looking at the local options and said it was an excellent school.
Xander smiled at the housekeeper, kissing her on the cheek. He winked and stole a carrot cake cookie on his way past. "Girls, hit the bunks." They ran for the upper level slayer rooms. They had some for ones that were injured or needed help retraining after injuries. They could use those. The minis bounced around Xander to ask him about the battle. He settled in to watch it with them and go over what had happened. They all smiled at the bigger slayers and congratulated them on helping subtly until the hellgate had opened.
By then it was dinner and the girls ate like they were starved, they all did. Xander took his turns with feeding the tiny mini ones. Xander looked at one who pouted at him. "I'm sorry your mommy's still in Asia, Daphne, but you have to eat." He shoveled more oatmeal into her mouth and she grimaced but ate it. He grinned. "Good girl, Daphne." He fed her more.
"If we have kids will they be slayers?" one of the five-year-olds asked.
Xander nodded. "It's possible." They sighed but knew the others would help them. They always did. They pestered the girls for a story about hunting then got tucked in. "Night, ladies."
"Night, Xander," they called as a group. Xander grinned, watching them go tuck each other in. The housekeeper helped because Xander did not go into the girls' rooms. It wasn't appropriate to his mind and he didn't want to hear someone try something. He got the babies down and tucked in for the night after their baths and changes. Xander went back down to do the formal report and send it to Giles, via Willow since Giles still didn't like computers. Willow sent back a huff of noise but yay.
Tony got out of bed the next day and blinked at the people staring at him. "What?"
"That mouthy bastard?" Natasha asked. "How do you know him?"
"We got kidnaped together once." She groaned. "Xander's a good guy. With all he's done, he should have a uniform, as well as some of the slayers." He stretched with a wince. "I'm going to stay with him until the tower's fixed. You guys can probably come have the guest house. There's rules. Including that all the mini slayers live there with the housekeeper." They all just nodded at that.
"What's a slayer?" Steve Rogers asked.
Tony looked at him. "Long story. I'll tell you on the way. I want to get out of here." They nodded. Tony led them out to his limo. He was too exhausted to drive and so was everyone else. He leaned back. "All right, first of all, slayers are mystically chosen female warriors. Back in prehistoric times, back during the grunting and pointing days according to Xander, the original Council made a slayer by pushing some essences into her so she could protect humanity from demons." Steve snorted, shaking his head. "They're real, Rogers. Xander's been hunting the bad ones since he was fifteen." The others slumped.
"The original Council, since it appears there's a new version," Bruce Banner continued. "Used to take custody of their future warriors by whatever means was necessary so they could have absolute control over their lives and training."
"Xander and Giles forbid that," Tony said. "There's a few orphans though. The thing that got all the slayers activated was what took out that town in California by suspicious earthquake."
Bruce nodded. "I saw that and wondered."
"There was something there called a hellmouth," Natasha said. "We found that out later, when Coulson found out about the demons and told everyone else. He was supposed to be talking to Harris about Stark's mental state." Tony snorted at that. "It was described as a thin spot between dimensions."
"It was, and it had a lot of radiation. I took a lot of readings from it when I wondered," Tony told Bruce, who was a scientist and would understand. "When that happened, they were fighting something called the First Evil, Bruce. At that time, the bitch's minions were going out to kill the uncalled slayers. From babies up. So there's a lot of orphans that managed to be hidden or sent away for their own safety. After the battle, Xander went to Africa to grieve for his lost former fiancee until everyone kind of ...imploded about the kid and orphan issue. Then Xander quietly showed up, set up a house, and told everyone that the kids were coming to him. There's protections. There's a few demon, slightly demon, and mystical creatures on the grounds. There's a lot of safety for the kids. He has them from baby aged up. He's their trainer."
"So they can't have a foster family?" Clint asked quietly.
"If they could find one, yes," Tony said. "Xander's vetted a few to go to foster families if they thought they could handle the girls and their gifts. The stronger, faster, quicker healing...." Steve stared at him, mouth slightly open. "Yeah, they were trying to make male slayers for the military," he said dryly. "The senior girls rotate in and through the main house in Cleveland, where the most open hellmouth is. The girls choose their own assignments and where they want to go. I know Xander was fussing at one's kids for her while she was on assignment." Bruce grimaced.
"Three things you have to know before we go in. The house has protections. They're important. When we get there, there's a blessed pool. You wash your hands, face, and feet with the water in it to make sure you do not track in anything horrible." He stared at them. "Or else you don't get past the doorway. The house itself will keep you out." They just nodded at that. "The housekeeper is from a peaceful demon species. She's really tough and can bend Romanoff into an ogre pretzel easily. She will to protect the girls. Third, the girls are *girls*. They pounce, squeal, babble, all that. They're interested in hearing about hunting and battle things, so don't upset them. Just say I can't talk about it yet. They've seen the senior girls coming home hot and injured."
"Do they get more than training?" Bruce demanded.
"Yeah. Xander got them into a fairly good girls school. Good academics, good language and history program, great admittance rate to college, and the girls are expected to go to college." Bruce relaxed and nodded at that. "They saw the old Council screwing up time and again, Bruce. They will not and are not like them. I've seen Xander punch someone for accusing them of that."
"Okay," Steve said. "We can understand that."
"The really tiny ones don't live on the same floor as the older girls," Tony told Romanoff. "They get to be kids. They run around, play with the demonic bunnies, all that. No one gets *any* sort of training in anything until they're at least eight. That's when they start school and slayer identification classes. Before then, they only leave the house with a knowing, trained guard and they have regular self defense classes for kids their age each Saturday. They get out about twice a week for playtime but they try to keep the really mini away from people who would take them to use. Xander had to defeat a few fuckers in the military again recently."
She nodded. "I know of their sort."
"He's protecting them from that sort. He does a pretty good job. Every year I get a request from the girls to talk to them about technology and their areas of expertise to see if I can find uses for more modern weapons for them. Buffy hates it but oh well." He smirked slightly. "There is no alcohol anywhere on the campus. Xander had alchie parents, he refuses to let any be anywhere on the campus." They all nodded at that. "One of the girls had to ask him what that beer stuff her friend at school told her about. The girls are all highly anti-alcohol, anti-drug, anti-smoking, but squeal heavy." Natasha almost smiled. "At one time, he asked my opinion on getting someone from SHIELD in to help him train the girls. It never happened."
"So they're trained to be mini soldiers?" Steve asked.
Tony stared at him. He pulled out his tablet computer to type into a private database, letting him read it. "That's on Sunnydale." Steve read, his face going slack and pale. "The girls are *called* to that duty by some sort of chess-playing mother fuckers to borrow a Fury-ism. That's what he calls them too. They're meant to be the main warrior against that sort of problem. If Thor was still here, he'd probably know."
"He probably would," Clint said quietly. "We heard rumors about the Sunnydale op. I was in Belize."
Natasha nodded. "I helped hack into some of the information and get the commandos down."
"Thank you," Tony said, staring at her. "We were horrified when we found out. Xander had mentioned commandos and they liked Rhodey, but not how bad they were. If I had known, that whole thing would've been killed." She smiled slightly and tipped her head. "Pepper only told me last year she heard about graduation and how it had went."
"We hacked film of it," she said. "It was not pretty. Hill thought that the actual footage was tampered with."
"I don't take her as being able to really handle the supernatural," Tony said dryly. They pulled up to a gate and Tony leaned out to tap in a code. The gate opened and they drove through. Tony shut and locked the bar.
"How did he afford something this nice?" Clint asked quietly.
"Partially poker, and I gave him a slight loan he's paid back," Tony admitted. "The girls needed the safe space. The house was already here, he just had to renovate and protect it." They all nodded at that. When they parked he got out first, looking around. He smiled and pointed. "Steve, not sure if you can pet her or not."
Steve looked and blinked. "That's a unicorn."
"Hmm, yes it is." He walked over to the doors. "Anyone got a problem with silver?" They all shook their heads so Tony opened the door and let them in. He took off his shoes and did the bathing. Bruce tried to enter without it to see what happened and couldn't. There was an invisible wall holding him back until he did it.
Natasha checked it before she finished her washing. "That's amusing."
"It's protective," Tony said. "Most everything that can't touch the blessed water is going to be bad for the girls." He walked them into the kitchen. "Marta?"
She turned, blinking at him. "Mr. Stark." She stared at the people then at him. "Xander's in the study reading to Daphne and Glenda. They had a few nightmares."
"That's fine. We need the safe area after the battle. My tower's in a few thousand pieces."
She pinched him on the cheek. "I know you do. The senior guest house is all cleaned up and I've removed Buffy's leftover wardrobe so you didn't have to look at it." He grinned as he walked past her, stealing a cookie. "Those are for the girls," she chided.
"They're great carrot cake cookies," he said with a smile. "This is Romanoff, Barton, Bruce, and Steve," he introduced. She smiled and let them have cookies too. Tony took them to the study, knocking before barging in. Xander put back down his weapon. "Not like many people can get past the protections."
"Yeah but I'm paranoid after Africa," he admitted, going back to reading.
"They're already called?" Bruce asked.
Xander stared at him. "Their mother left them with me while she went on her chosen rotation in Asia. She thought it was too dangerous right now. Though, yes, both girls are future slayers." He went back to reading the story because Glenda was poking him. He smiled at her. "Pushy." She beamed and nodded. He finished and put her down then put Daphne into the playpen beside him. "Sit and tease your sister because she's in the baby jail." Glenda gave him a wicked smirk and cackle, doing that with her shiny toy.
Xander looked at Bruce again. "I've found homes for ten of the girls. Most parents don't want a daughter that has super strength and super agility. They tend to be scared of it or of something coming for the girls. The old Council didn't keep records on where they came from outside of one vault, which got blown up too. Even with DNA testing we couldn't find most of their families. The Bringers got a lot of them trying to get the girls." He looked at Tony. "The senior guest house has seven rooms so it should fit you. The New York team is here until their building's cleared sometime tomorrow."
He looked at them then back at Tony. "You guys can wander, use the senior gym, all that if you need to. Just ....don't upset the girls too much. They're *girls* and they're still susceptible to crushes and hero worship. I know a few that hacked into SHIELD last year thought Agent Romanoff was meant to be their goddess." She jerked a bit, looking startled. "It's not every woman who can keep pace with a slayer. You can do that and more. They may ask you to spar with them."
"I'd be pleased to test them against my skills."
Xander grinned. "Thanks." He looked at them again. "Let me show you where you're bunking down. Glenda, let's go for a walk. Find your shoes." She held up her feet. "I know they're bare. Go get shoes. We're going outside." Glenda got up and ran off, ducking between Bruce's legs to get to the door. "We're going out to the senior house," he yelled. There was a mass squeal. "I love happy girls." He grinned and got the baby out and into her carrier on his back. She liked that, she grinned and kicked and tangled her fingers into his hair. He put on the front carrier for the other one.
"C'mon. If you're lucky, Marta put up all of Buffy's pink stuff so you're not horrified," he told the one on his front. She was nearly a newborn. He walked out. "Ladies?" he called as he walked. They all ran for the front door. "Back door!" They ran that way as a group, nearly running everyone over. "Easy, ladies, I have the babies." They got waved at and Daphne waved and cooed back. The front one just huffed. "Senior guest house, ladies. Pet the demon bunnies later." They laughed but carried a few that way. They loved the demon bunnies, they were really soft. One of the younger girls held one up for him. "No, Daphne and Melissa are too young to pet them. They don't know how to pet yet. You can teach them later." She nodded and petted her own bunny on their pouncing, playing tag on the walk out there.
Tony looked at Melissa. "She's new."
"Her mommy's in jail in Nevada. Her boyfriend got drunk and yelled at her, then threw a book at her, so she sent him to the ICU in full body traction." Tony winced. "Giles is presently dealing with her and I have Melissa since she can't do that in jail in this country." Natasha looked over. "There's many countries where mothers get to bring their kids until a certain age."
"I've seen that." She looked at Daphne. "She's thinking very hard."
Xander looked over his shoulder. "Give me two minutes and I'll change you. Don't encourage Melissa to do the same thing until Marta goes shopping, okay? She's only got three diapers left." He opened the door. The girls ran into the kitchen then one of the older young ones ran back to the main kitchen to tell Marta they needed food. That worked and she brought them out plus the diaper bag he had forgotten. She even took Daphne to change, making him grin. "Thank you, Marta."
"Welcome, Xander." She took both babies back with her. "C'mon, you two. We're going shopping and it's about time you learned that art too."
Xander smiled. "She's amazing and when the girls get too old for me to help with baths and stuff, she's always there." He showed them where things were with the girls, and their bunnies. Though a few got free in the house. "They only bite if they're in heat," Xander said, catching one to put outside. He showed them the senior gym and introduced them to the New York slayers team. The girls gushed over them and asked Natasha if she'd spar with them so they could learn new things. She promised they could the next day and the girls got happy and bouncy too. Xander went back to his study to go over the next major problem the slayers were going to face. It was in LA yet again and pretty darn bad even if he had to say so himself.
Tony woke up to a bunny staring at him, blinking back at it. "Now I know why he said Anya considered you guys creepy," he said. The bunny blinked and nibbled his t-shirt. "No, you can't eat my shirt." He put it onto the floor, facing toward the door, and gave it a nudge on the tail. It hopped off quickly. "Thank you." He saw the door was open, even though he had closed it. He sat up to look around, finding the other staring thing, which had probably woken him up. "Miriam."
"I led him to the grove," she said quietly. "He needed it. He hurt."
"Thank you for helping our archer."
She grinned. "Him too. He's not there, he's in the gym. Nadia found him lifting weights and decided to taunt him by doing more than he is. I think she has a crush." She giggled as she ran out.
"Thanks," Tony called after her. He got up and put on pants over his boxers, heading outside. He wasn't sure if Bruce or Steve was in the Grove. They could both use the contemplation that was there. He headed for the gym instead, looking at Nadia. Then at Clint. He gave Nadia a pointed look, getting a huff back. "You can taunt him by doing it better than him but listen to him about weapons, okay? He's an expert marksman."
She grinned. "That's always a great thing."
"I doubt he's going to be dating anytime soon."
Clint blinked at her. "Huh?" She pouted. "Oh, that was flirting. I thought you needed the quiet workout time too. Sorry for misunderstanding."
She got up to hug him. "It's all right. We all miss things. I spent a lot of time locked in here when my twin died due to the last apocalypse while I was laid up with a broken hip. Xander saw me ready to lose it and locked me in here until I wore myself down to the point I was ready for hugs." She stared at him. "C'mon." She helped him off the weight bench, escorting him properly with her arm on his outside. "There's a few spots all slayers eventually have to find. The gym is one because it helps us save ourselves and when we're angsty it helps us work out our thoughts, but sometimes you have to think instead of working yourself to sleep so you can remember." He flinched.
She patted his hand. "Remembering is hard but if you don't remember, then no one else will. Then they're forgotten." She looked up at him. "Being forgotten sucks, at least to us. We never get notice for what we've done. It's kinda forbidden, even after the hugest of apocalypse battles we're not allowed to see reporters. It'd get us hurt or killed by people who hated the supernatural existed or people looking to score favoritism points with their demon of choice. That's when we come here. We always hold a ceremony here, every apocalypse and once a year on the anniversary of the Great Calling."
She walked him through the white wooden gateway and into the Grove. It was a large circular area that had stone plinths around it. "This is since the First Evil started to come out," she said quietly, leading him to the first one. "These ones the Bringers brought down." She touched a few names. "Our families were honored too," she said, choking it back down. He gave her hand a pat. She smiled slightly. "Thanks. We had a baby sister." She walked him on to the fourth one. "These ones fell during the battle of the First. All those who fought and fell were noted as honorably gone and missed." She pointed. "That's Xander's former fiancee Anya. She died during the battle. She wasn't much of a fighter but she was scrappy and helped where she could, even though she was kinda warped from being a demon for over a thousand years."
She walked him on. "This was our first major apocalypse, the demon invasion of LA." She looked up at him. "I was laid up with a broken hip. The Bringers brought down the house on top of us with explosives. My sister escaped with a concussion and bruises but she had been in the basement. Thankfully I was in the tub. They found me a few days later." He nodded, patting her hand again. "Then she made it to here." She pointed, touching the name. "Her and her roommie at the main house. We didn't have this then. Xander set this up afterward because Buffy and Giles didn't know what to do when we needed to remember and Faith knew we needed something but not how. There's a mirror of these at the compound in Cleveland."
She pointed at another name. "That was the LA team's last real member before they had to reform. Angel was Buffy's first boyfriend and a vampire with a soul restoration curse. We were told he was kinda broody and all that but she thought she loved him. Then he lost his soul." She grimaced. "We never take dating advice from Buffy." He smiled. She walked him on. "This is from our last one. We only lost three. I'm so happy we only lost three. There were huge demons that wanted to eat us and they were sending out waves that made us dizzy until Xander broke some major laws and got some heavy weapons. See, it only radiated at the slayer spirit, which he doesn't have. Xander's kinda like a big brother and kinda like our normal guy hero because no matter how hard Buffy and Willow tried, he was always there when they needed him, even if they didn't know." She touched the newly carved line. "The rest of these will honor us some year, hopefully far in the future."
Clint swallowed. "I hope it's really far in the future."
She smiled and patted his hand. "For some of the older girls, ancient was eighteen. Before Buffy, the girls hardly ever got there unless they were called at seventeen." Clint flinched. "It used to be that we got chosen singly, did our duty, and then died from it within a year or so. Some of us lasted weeks," she said quietly. "We changed that, she changed that for us. We may not always like Buffy, because she's kinda a bitch at times, but we love her like a big sister because she's made it to twenty-five. That's unheard of for us," she said quietly.
"She's the longest lasting yet and we all hope to break her record, but no one sugar coats it for us. They tried and we rejected that. Giles tried *so* hard to make it seem like we were normal teenagers who went to school, dated, went to plays and the band, or dances. And it was but it's not. There's an invisible wall because the other kids would never understand. Xander pointed out where the wall had a doorway and why Buffy lasted, because he and Willow helped. That let us know that we could make friends, that we could trust some others with our secrets and they wouldn't turn us in to agents who wanted to dissect us like science experiments. The NID *really* have to go away for good." She patted his arm again. "Do your people have one of these?"
"Not that I'm aware of," he said quietly, staring at the line that was drawn for the next group that died during an apocalypse. "What if it's not an apocalypse?" She walked him to that large, square plinth in the center of the round bench. "This is....wow." He stared. Names with dates. The names started at the top and worked their way down. "Buffy died?"
"Twice now, yeah. Once Xander brought her back and once Willow did, which caused the First Evil bullshit." Clint grimaced. "She lied to do it too. We.... she's turned back to our side but a lot of us look at her like she's contaminated. Xander doesn't like that but we're really kinda scared of her. Dawn's great and nice, and kinda weird but she looks at Xander like a big brother and she's Buffy's sister so that's kinda a DNA contamination I think." He grinned at that. "Xander made sure that no matter what, we're all honored. Even if Willow falls she'll end up on one. We're all deathly afraid of what happens if Xander dies on us. A lot of us aren't sure we can keep going on without him being the cheerleader behind us as well as the big brother, voice of reason, and the guy who reminds us what shitbags boys are when we're ready to date."
"Guys can be, yeah," he agreed quietly, staring at the plinth. "What did Willow do?" She settled them on the bench and told him about Glorificus and how Buffy had died defeating her. Then how Willow had a magic addiction and how it had taken out her common sense gene for a while. How she had lied and pulled Buffy back from heaven. How it had nearly destroyed Buffy for a bit too. Then the dreams of the Bringers started. She paused and swallowed, telling him how slayer dreams worked. He shivered. She squeezed his hand and went on. At the end, he nodded, head down. She kissed him on the cheek and left him there to think. Clint stared around the grove. He noticed there was a little fountain and meditation bench in front of it, with Bruce meditating on it. Clint looked at the plinths again. "We need one of these."
Xander cleared his throat. "There's a memorial park being put up," he said quietly. Clint looked at him. "For those lost during the battle. One of the smaller parks that's not Central Park is going to host it." That got a nod. "But...." He sat on the bench and pointed at one. "That is not the end of everything." He looked at him. "For some it's a reason, for others it's a curse, for a few it's why they break and never heal." He shrugged.
"I broke years ago and never healed. That's why I make sure the girls are as protected as humanly possible and I'm very hard on their training to make sure they don't join their former sisters. As for SHIELD's, they should at least have a wall. The CIA has a wall. No one says that you can't start one. There's a mystical glade farther back but past that is the back emergency gate; I can move the fence forward and give that area to you guys if you wanted to put up a remembrance wall. That way they don't get to pass the wards but they can have their own safe space." He walked off.
"Thanks," Clint said.
Xander nodded. "It's horrible when you realize you're not strong enough, tough enough, fast enough, good enough to save the ones you love, even if you're standing next to them," he said quietly. "This was my therapy in some ways but the girls needed it too. I carve each and every name because that's my penance for not being good enough to help them survive another day." He left him with his thoughts.
Clint could understand that feeling. He had that feeling a lot right now. Maybe the wall was a good idea. He was still sitting there when the sun started to come up.
Steve sat next to him. "If Fury won't let us put one up, I'll talk Stark into it," he said quietly. Clint looked at him. "They should have something to remember them by."
"Fury might hate that."
"I think we can shout him down about it."
"Probably," he agreed. "Stark might."
"Stark would," Stark said from behind them. "I'm also sponsoring the one in Gramercy." He sat down on Clint's other side. "I saw Xander when he started this. He was silent, not really able to move, had nearly given his own life to save some of the girls he couldn't save, and would have if he could have. Buffy made the right call to have him removed because of his injuries but he still hates her for it. It might have meant a few less names. He's not sure and it's a doubt he always thinks about." He looked at him. "Being here means you can work all that out in your own head. Even if the girls do flirt."
"They could use the practice against someone else. You, Romanoff, and Rogers are all good enough to go toe-to-toe with them and hold your own. It'll help them stay alive longer and you guys too. Who knows, you might be able to work on it while you spar."
Clint nodded. "I guess. I was in the gym."
"We know. Miriam thought it was a good thing. She let one of the demonic bunnies into my room." He stood up. "It's breakfast. The girls going to school are eating. Marta usually makes a second breakfast for the others." They nodded, walking back with him.
"How do you know so much about the house?" Steve asked.
"I've talked to Xander a lot."
Clint looked at him. "Is he like the secret boyfriend?"
"Not exactly and it wasn't our doing," Tony admitted. "See, there was a kidnaping back when Xander was sixteen thanks to the old Council trying to kill him, and I was in the way of something so others took me and gave me to the same guy. Then suddenly there was bullshit going on. I found out what Xander was doing with Buffy after hours. Though it was nice that it was Coulson who found out about demons and Sunnydale when he went to ask Xander if I was going to the other side and had been broken by Afghanistan." He held the door open. They walked into the kitchen. The girls were in their uniforms. "Morning, girls." They smiled and/or waved, but a few were bent over workbooks. "Didn't do it last night?"
"My teacher's an unreasonable bitch," one muttered. "I have twenty pages of homework a night and unless I'm up until midnight I can't get it all done. None of us can." She looked up at him. "Can't I slay her?"
"Is she human?" Tony asked.
"Then you already know the answer."
She sighed. "It's so unreasonable. Even the kids who do nothing after school can't get it all done."
"Then lodge a complaint," Tony said.
"We tried. We got told it was good for us."
Xander snorted as he walked out, taking her pencil. He grinned. "I'm talking with the principal later." She hugged him. So did the other two in her class. "Guys, eat. Now." They dug in, ignoring the rest of their homework. Xander got some coffee and walked off. "Let me go put on real clothes and I'll follow you guys to school." He got their assignment sheets from last night, which he had copied off. He slipped out the side door to follow the bus to the school campus, smiling at the guard. "I need to talk to the headmaster."
"He's in the office, Mr. Harris. One of the girls being a pain?"
"No, not really." Xander walked into the office, smiling at the secretary. "He up and awake and all that?"
"He's not happy."
"It's not going to make his day." Xander walked in after knocking. He put down the pile of papers. "Why are my girls doing that much a night?"
He looked at the stack. "That's one night's?" he asked him.
"Yeah. Miss Beilinar assigns them between fifteen and twenty-eight pages a night, depending on the pages. I've taken them off nightly training but this is all last nights' from one kid." The headmaster looked through it, grimacing. It was all long answers and essay-type questions. "They're in fourth grade. Is that really reasonable? I'm seeing them skipping meals to try to get more of it done for her. They don't need to be skipping meals, pushing back bedtimes, none of that. It's not going to improve their test scores; they're too tired to take the test and do well."
"I remember a few kids coming in complaining." Xander nodded. "They had ten sheets."
"That had to be months ago. She moved from ten to at least fifteen three weeks ago. They aren't in college. They aren't in Honors classes, though I doubt they could do that much work."
The headmaster looked through it again. "None of this is leftover?"
"No, she yells at them for the first few minutes and gives them twenty minutes to finish then flunks whatever they don't get done. Which is why everyone's grades are down too. I'm all for homework and doing well, but not this."
He sighed, turning on the video camera to her classroom. Indeed, she was sneering at them about being behind. She ordered them to finish up and sat down to red-pen a few papers. "She reminds me of a movie teacher," the headmaster said.
"If she were a bit more greasy I'd say she was Snape against the Gryffindors," Xander said dryly. He grinned. "Please, just find a way? The girls aren't going to do anything tonight. They need their rest and they're having the night off. If she doesn't like it, I don't really care."
"I'll talk to her, Mr. Harris. Are any others having problems?"
"Miriam's still needing a tutor. Her reading's not great and I'm worried. Her eyesight's fine but we're not sure if it's a slight learning disability or not. If so, I don't want her in that one's class." The teacher on the video had hopped up to scream at one of the slayers for daring to nod off. Xander looked at him then walked out to go talk to the teacher. He walked in and glared at her. "Maybe if they didn't have to stay up late doing all the shit you pile on them, she wouldn't be tired. Ladies, let's go. You have a free day." They cheered and ran for the minivan. He stared at the teacher. "I don't know why you suddenly want them so overloaded they miss out on sleep but I've already sent up a complaint." The teacher sneered at him. "If we have to, we can talk to the head of the Council about moving them to a better school without you."
"I'm sure those *girls* of yours are going to be useless anyway. Not good for much but their muscles are they?"
Xander smirked evilly. "You mean like the one that just got a Rhodes scholarship last year?" She flinched. "The three that got academic full rides to ivy leagues? Including two that graduated early from here? No, my girls are going to have a full, long life outside their duty. I fully expect them to have excellent lives. If that's why you're pushing them then why are you punishing the other girls?" He walked off. He walked past the headmaster. "They're having a free day."
"That's fine, Mr. Harris, and I fully agree they need it and you're right, she is punishing them for something." He walked in and pointed at the hall. "Let's talk, Miss Beilinar." She stomped out there. "Girls, let's relax. You've done your homework for last night and today already." He shut the door, still smiling until he looked at his teacher. Then he let her have it. She was becoming a disgrace to their ideals and school. That wasn't allowed. Ever.
In the classroom, the girls sighed in relief, rubbed out hand cramps from their pens, and most of them decided they needed a nap.
The Ones They Want.