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Congrats, We All Have Blood.







Bucky helped Sam back across the portal to the main house, making the girls coo. "Guys, leave Sam alone. Sam's a nice guy and he talks to me when I need common sense." They pouted but left Sam alone. "Thanks, ladies." He lets Sam out and came back to get regular tea from Andrew. "Xander had starbucks," he said in greeting. Andrew pointed at the hot water already on and let him fix what he wanted. "Anything huge going on?"

"The wedding went off really well. Everything was great. Franklin's fully healed and they managed to avoid the car accident on the way to the reception too." Bucky grinned. "Everything's good until our next apocalypse battle, pending no one else having an accident or anything bad happening." He looked at the calendar on the door of the refrigerator then at Bucky again. "Are you okay?"

"I'm decent enough," he said. "Any idea where Xander is?"

"Fighting the dream demon in the armory again." He pointed. Bucky went to wake him up and help him with that. "It's not like a protection won't help."

"Do we have one?"

"Yeah. I can make him one. For a fee." Xander leaned out to look at him. "I want your comic subs."

"Go for it. I haven't even gotten a chance to look at them recently, 'Drew." Andrew squealed and pulled out the protection he had made to toss at him. Xander put it on and got help standing up. "Have a good read." They went back to the house and Xander collapsed.

Bucky stared at him. "Where's the folder on those kids?"

He pointed at his bedroom. "Safe in the dresser." Bucky went that way. "There's a lot of not definitive stuff."

"I figured there was. Or else no one would be looking." He cracked the safe and brought the files out to read through. He had seen them before but he had still been in shock then. Now he could study them. It was weird but he didn't know which Soldier they meant. He found the mention of a 'hunter' and figured that had to be related to Xander. He thought he remembered something about one of the entries and went to his own computer's files to look it up. He brought it out to show him. "The Initiative gave them your DNA." He went back to reading.

"I figured it had to be them or somehow they had bought a used condom off Anya. I know she tried to sell Buffy and Willow's used tampons for blood magic rites until Giles stopped her." Bucky grimaced, looking up at him. "It's one of those important components."

"Can I have yours tested?" He didn't look up. He knew Xander was touchy about that. It had shown when Xander had preemptively ended a bio-dealer they had found looking at ebola survivors.

"No. Someone will find out and you'd have to rescue me since you started it off."

"Never mind then. I'll wait until you have a decent boyfriend or girlfriend to test it so they can rescue you." Xander snorted but let him go back to reading. "Can you do the checking bauble spell like the ones on the slayer tree?"

"No. That takes hair or something of theirs."

"Damn."

"Slight addendum," Xander said. Bucky stared at him over the files. "There's a fairly old prophecy that for each son the Hunter of the Dark bears, and then dies, there'll be an apocalypse battle for a slayer to handle."

"He died probably ... during the huge one in DC," he realized. Xander nodded. "Sorry."

"It's not your fault. That's one of the things I'm worried about. That and who the other parents are and if we need to rescue them or more kids. I still want to rescue the other two boys. I'm pretty sure one's Suzette's direct brother from what we've learned."

"I think one's mine."

"I'm not sure they're both not yours."

"I'm a guy. Not possible."

"With magic it is," Xander said.

"They don't use magic. They use tech."

"They wanted Loki's spear, yes they do, and it's possible to switch DNA. All they'd need is some sperm to switch into an egg."

Bucky frowned. "We can do that now?"

"Yeah. I saw it on the Discovery channel once in Germany on an overnight going to Avena's problem."

"So.... How would we know?"

"Unless you want to test yourself against Suzette I wasn't going to bring it up until we know for certain. That's hugely bigger than a pregnancy scare."

Bucky nodded. "I'd still like to know."

"How many others did they do this to?"

"Good point. Can we test?"

"We have her DNA on file because we had to do a paternity test to find Steve."

"She's mine and Steve's," he said, smiling some. "Okay." Xander shrugged. "Yeah, I want to test that. Just in case." He got up and went to talk to Andrew. He did tech things for the slayers. He'd know who to talk to. They had the doctors there pull the blood and sent it to the lab to match against the registered DNA profile of the slayer in question. Then he came back to read some more. If so, then yeah, he wanted those kids freed. Tomorrow if possible. If they could only find that special school. It wasn't even twinging his memories.

***

Bucky found Steve at the Smithsonian exhibit, staring up at his picture. It still made his fists clench and him growl a bit but he could handle that. Even though he wanted to smash it so no little kids looked up to him as a hero. He wasn't a hero. Steve stared at him, mouth slightly open. He nodded. Steve followed him. "Hey," he said once they were outside.

"You're better?"

"Somewhat." He looked at him as they walked toward where Xander was. "We found some stuff with that lab."

"They used yours with one of the kids," Steve realized. "We're still looking for them. Aren't we, Xander?"

"Yeah, we sure are looking for Suzette's big brother." He handed over the unsealed envelope. "Now we know which Soldier they were talking about."

Steve frowned but looked at the DNA profile. "What does that mean?"

"That means they did a nucleus switch," Bucky said. "I have no idea what that means."

"That means they sucked the DNA out of an egg or sperm cell and implanted the DNA they wanted," Xander said. "Possibly on both sides since we think they only had tissues samples of Steve." Steve stared at him. "I've suspected for the last little while but we've heard they still had at least one other person. We heard a week ago that one was also male and had failed so he's still in cryo storage until they were ready to tinker with him some more." Steve sat down and Bucky made sure he sat on the bench. "So Bucky volunteered some blood when we figured that out. We had it tested in the same lab against her DNA profile for paternity." Steve swallowed. Xander handed over his coffee. "It's got sugar."

"I..." Steve gulped it, keeping down the ranting he wanted to do. "How long have you suspected?"

"About the last six months. Suzette's starting to look like him around the face. Especially her eyes. Seeing them within minutes of each other clicked it into my mind."

Steve stared at him then at Bucky, who shrugged. "I thought I might be because of what the files weren't saying. All they said was a Soldier of the project. That was me and the one they wanted to tinker with more." He kept in a shudder. Xander patted him on the arm. "Thanks."

"I'm horrified by the little we've heard on him." Steve glared at him. "He's got three tentacles, one in place of a hand. That same arm has implanted weapons. They left his skull open for more tinkering when they put him back under because he wouldn't integrate very well any longer." Steve moaned. "I'm horrified and I'm not sure if we want to even try to unthaw him." Bucky did shudder and pulled his jacket around him. "Different group than had you, Bucky."

"Good to know. Mine weren't that bad." He looked at Steve. "I don't know what to do here. I'd like to eventually end up an uncle but I... I still feel like I'll dirty her if I get too close."

"I've had that feeling. She's not that pure," Steve said. "They started to train her."

"I saw the files," he admitted. "Xander showed me when that popped up." He leaned his elbows on his knees and looked at his former best friend. "I'm not ready to be there all the time."

"She'd understand. She wonders but not a lot yet." Bucky nodded. "This is not the meeting I was expecting when Xander called to come here today."

Bucky smiled a tiny bit. "I'm going to make you dirty too."

"Bucky, I went through that war and an alien invasion within a few weeks in my personal timeline, and that was after losing you. What makes you think I'm not already muddy?" Xander got up and left them to talk. "Really. I want to help you heal. I want to be there for you and even if you're all dark and gloomy, we can handle that. Even if you're still wanting to kill people. I get that sometimes, usually about Stark."

Bucky relaxed. "I get that."

Steve smiled. "You talk to Sam."

"I talk to Sam about every month. Xander had him kidnaped to come talk to me."

"I was wondering where he was and why he called off work. He's an alternate to take her if something happens to me."

"Good! He's a good man." He slid down to sit on the bench instead of on the back of it. "I'm not sure what I want to do yet but that whole Avengers thing is way too much for me to handle."

"I have an off-site apartment in Brooklyn. We can both move there and visit the tower on the weekends so she can hang out with her mentors."

Bucky shook his head. "It's not safe yet. You need to be there with her to keep her safe. I need space and I need weapons and I need to end these people and find that son of ours and the other one, and that other guy they tinkered on, and maybe the bodies they've buried." He sighed, looking at his metal hand then at Steve again. "I want to be there but I'm not ready yet."

"I think that's a great decision and at least now we can talk? Or there's this computer program called Skype."

"I know how to use that. I talked to Xander over it when one of his girlfriends kidnaped him for a weekend." He shook his head with a sigh. "I should've ended her but he likes her." He looked over at Xander, and Sam, then back at Steve. "They're helpful but nosy."

"Friends can be that way. Do you remember doing that to me?"

"Sometimes."

"You remember sometimes or you only remember about some of the times you did it?"

"I've got probably about half of my memories back."

"That's an excellent job. Natasha said it should've given you brain damage instead." He patted him on the metal hand, making Bucky flinch. "It doesn't scare me. It's part of you and you're Bucky. Are you going by Bucky?"

"My present file lists me as Bucky Andreyev. That's the last name I used when they sent me to Sunnydale. Xander knew that one so I used it until I started to remember. Then I found out who I am and I'm not him anymore, Steve."

"Of course you're not. The same as I'm not that skinny kid from Brooklyn who got into a lot of fights he lost." He stared at him. "We're not eighteen anymore, Buck. We both got harder thanks to the war, we both grew up, had different experiences at times. Now apparently we have a smartassed little girl." He frowned but let it clear up. "I thought she reminded me of you but Sam thought I was projecting. Huh."

Bucky laughed. "I've seen pictures of her." He smiled at Steve, who grinned back. "We can talk later. Xander." He nodded at the incoming problem, his hand going to his hidden pistol. Steve's hand was drifting toward his hidden guns too.

Xander looked over and pulled a knife. "Yes, dear? Did you need something?"

"You have something that belongs to us so we're going to trade you for something that belongs to you," the former agent said, tossing down something. "Tonight or else." He tried to run off but Bucky and Steve caught him.

Xander picked up the uniform sleeve. "She's going to fuck you up for that. Bucky, find her for me please?" He touched the sleeve to his watch. No answer. He patted the guy down, finding something on him that looked like an ID card. That got an answer and he could follow that.

"Sam," Bucky warned and nodded at Xander. Sam ran after him to stop him. No luck. Magically moved. "Damn it. He won't save me any to kick around."

Steve looked at him. "He can't hope to get into the base by himself."

"Knowing Xander, he'll have the base invaded," Sam quipped.

"I've seen him do that," Bucky said, looking a bit ill. "Don't remind me. Please?" They walked their hostage off, ignoring the officers who tried to help. "Council business. This guy just admitted taking a slayer." They got out of the way and let them cart him off even if he was begging for mercy. Of course, Mercy was a slayer and she couldn't help him either. She had a lot of pretty knives though and her house was nicely only about a mile away from their present location.

***

Xander walked off the elevator at Stark tower, grunting. "Guys?" he called. "Barton!" He came jogging out of the living area hallway, pausing then taking Kate from him since she was unconscious. "They wanted to trade her for someone," he said, staring at Clint.

"Who?"

"Guess."

"Fuck. Where's Rogers?" he demanded.

"DC. Or maybe they got the text about the base in Connecticut and went to finish off what I didn't blow the fuck up." He smiled. "I think she's just sedated. I wasn't going to trust an ER that I haven't been to." He looked at Stark and shrugged. "The rest are okay and safe. We're dealing with it."

"Who did they want?" Stark asked, hugging Suzette.

"I'm thinking it was Bucky," he mouthed. "They said we had someone in our custody. Came to me to say it."

"That would probably mean him, yeah," Clint agreed.

Xander shrugged. "Kate's like my little sister and sometimes like my prototype. Make sure she's okay and if she's not, let me know. I'll go have another talk with someone." He disappeared.

Clint got their medical team up to come get Kate. Suzette went with her, she adored Kate. Clint looked at Stark, who shrugged. "Can you find Steve and tell him?"

"JARVIS?"

"I've already sent that text message and his phone bears a similar one from Mr. Harris, sir," the AI said. "He's presently finishing off the base asking about the other children they were growing and contaminating. He's got backup in the form of that one armed friend of Mr. Harris."

"Great," Stark agreed. "Tell him to let us know when he's done so we can help." He walked off. Clint was already heading down to medical. Stark was going to help go blow shit up. It was a pretty night for a fly.

***

Xander looked at the little slayer, who was giving him the dumbass look. He grinned. "What did I do to earn that?"

"Kate said you're in deep for dropping her and running because you were scared of how she was going to complain about you not saving her any to kick around."

Xander leaned down. "I never leave someone I have to rescue someone to kick around. Leaving behind threats means they can come for you." She scowled. He grinned. "You look like your dad when you do that, Larissa."

She huffed. "We should tie you up."

"You can't, I've got to meet with the others today."

"Shoot." She pouted. "Including Suzette? She's not in town."

"She's in DC. I saw her yesterday." He wrote down something. "That's her email down there. Sam's a good friend of her dad's."

"Cool! Thank you, Uncle Xander." She hugged his stomach with a grin. "You're neat."

"I try sometimes." Buffy appeared off to the side looking worried and a bit worse for the wear. "What's wrong?"

"Your buddy."

"Flashback?"

"No. Maybe. I don't know." She shrugged. "Hey, Larissa. Can I have Xander? He needs to come beat some sense into Mr. Andreyev."

"Sure." She let Xander go. "I'll write her tonight." She bounded off. Xander waved at her parents, getting smiles and waved back at.

She took Xander back to the center by their emergency codes, pointing at the sparring gym. "The older girls taunted him into sparring with them."

"He's probably not ready to do that yet," he said, heading that way. He knocked before leaning in, looking at the guy sitting in the corner. "You freaked Buffy out. Did you call her fat or something?"

"Hey!" Buffy complained.

He looked at her. "You're gaining weight for *some* reason," he said, walking in there and locking the door. He walked over and flopped down across from Bucky. "Let it all go?" He nodded once. "Any of them on the way to the ER?"

"Barely not."

"Then you held back. Congrats." Bucky glared at him. "I have no doubt you going all out would smash some of the girls to pieces. We don't have the best fighters here, they're in more dangerous houses overseas." He shifted. "Each girl gets a brain download of weapons and fighting styles. We teach them how to awaken them, how to learn to spar, how to access those and figure out what their styles are. Then we encourage them to take outside classes in their chosen styles so they learn more than innate skills, it becomes a real skill. Some girls do, some don't. Buffy never did and I doubt Faith had the chance."

Bucky looked at him. "Only one of them did any good against me," he said quietly.

Xander nodded. "I routinely thrash about half the girls and I pull my punches with Buffy before I let the anger out on her." Bucky nodded, staring at him. "Did you flash back during it?"

"I don't think so. The last fight against Steve flowed but it wasn't the same."

"No, the girls aren't like Steve. He learned things. The girls need to be pushed to learn more but we want them to be girls. It's a really fine line. We err on the side of letting them decide. It's their lives. Against most normal threats, especially faster and stronger ones like vamps, they're good. A lot of them are great. People with huge amounts of skills like you and Steve or martial arts masters they won't win against. Then they're trained to use their brains."

"How can you let them go out there knowing that?"

"The first thing I do is tell them they need self defense training. That they need to learn how to think their way out of things as well as be defensive if they have to." Bucky nodded. "I can't *order* them to do better. If I do that, I'm like the old Council that stole those girls' lives. I can suggest it, I can show them why. You showed them why this morning. Very few of the girls could get up to your level. You're on par with an excellently trained master vampire for speed and strength plus fighting skills." Bucky smiled some. "Most of the girls can take on a master vampire but not a really old one. Not without help. We don't encourage solo hunts for that reason."

"So you leave it up to the girl to see sense and take up her training when she's technically field cleared so she can survive."

"Most of the girls take extra lessons in one or two martial arts or something. Especially after the first time they have their asses handed to them on patrol. They realize it, usually during one of their first training patrols. No matter how often you tell someone they need a skill, they don't understand why until it's shown to them."

"Which is harsh but you're right, they won't understand. I didn't understand why I needed hand-to-hand in basic training." Xander nodded. "I...I'm sorry if they're crying."

"If so, then you gave them the lesson they'd learn on that same training patrol, Bucky. There's only four slayers I'd expect to be able to tie or beat you or Steve. Two of them are in the Japan house, one's in Europe, and one's in Malaysia near that hellmouth. She's unfortunately alone in her house right now." He nodded. "A few others I can see a realistic tie of mutual death." He grinned. "Thank you for breaking the expectations of being *special*."

"I saw that. That's how they taunted me into sparring." He looked at him. "I still feel bad."

"That's because you're a decent guy."

"No I'm not."

"You are. No matter what you did during your attack dog years, you're still a mostly decent guy. So am I. If we weren't, that stupid thing in Gambia wouldn't have tried to capture us. She only goes after those who would have been knights."

Bucky stared at him. "Seriously?"

"Yeah."

He thumped his head against the wall, then shook it. "Yeah, I guess I was. Steve was worse at it." Xander grinned. "You hush."

"Sure." He stood up and helped Bucky up. "Want to spar with those four?"

"Not yet."

"They'll probably offer."

"Maybe later." He looked around, grabbing his overshirt. "I should go see Sam."

"Sure." He walked him out of the gym. "Andrew, can you get him to Sam?" The witches having a meeting over tea sent him there. "Thanks, ladies. What's up with the next battle?" He joined their meeting. He had to make plans overtop of their plans against the magical asshole coming to eat all the witches.

***

Bucky appeared, doing up his shirt. "Sam, do you have time for me?" he asked. Steve looked back. "Hey, Steve. You must be Suzette," he said quietly, not expecting her to be here.

"I am." She climbed over the back of the couch, coming over to stand in front of him.

Bucky stared at her. It was like looking at what his sister would look like. She had his hair and his smile. "I've seen pictures of you. Xander had them."

"I really like Uncle Xander. He's a nice guy. Aren't you the guy that was helping with the mini slayers?"

"I am. I'm Mr. Andreyev."

She nodded. "The girls on the bulletin board mentioned you." She looked at his metal hand, picking it up to look at his fingers. He tried not to flinch and pull away from her. "Did that hurt?"

"I don't know. I don't remember."

"That's sad." She gave him a hug. Then she grinned up at him. "Ice cream cures that."

"You've already had your sweets for the day," Steve sighed. "Sorry, Bucky."

"It's not a problem." He used his natural hand to smooth down her hair. She grinned up at him. "Go back to your dad. I need to talk to Sam. I just sparred with the older girls."

"Oooh, did they hurt you? I'll yell at them for you."

"No, and I kept myself from hurting them." Sam came out of his bedroom. "The girls taunted me into sparring. I think I horrified a few."

Sam nodded. "We all know that they're superior in many things but they can't all be great at everything. The same as you're great at some things and Steve's great at others, and Natasha's great at more than you both." He looked at the little kid. "Suzette, can we have a big people talk?"

She looked up at him. "Some day I'll be able to whoop up on Buffy and Faith too. A lot of the big slayers can. Miss Buffy's mythical for many reasons but not because she fights. Sometimes because she fights in skirts and heels though."

"She tried that today. I nearly broke her ankle for her." She giggled and ran back to her father to climb into his lap and cuddle him. He looked at Sam, who nodded. He followed him to the bedroom to talk to him. Sam closed the door behind himself. "They taunted me into sparring. I kept myself from losing it. Xander said I gave them a dose of reality most of them get on a training patrol about not being the greatest and needing more lessons than the downloads."

"He does. I've talked to the local slayers a few times after big things that made them want to start to scream and throw things. Including one's called off engagement when he found out she was a slayer that hadn't wanted to go on patrol. Xander takes a very practical approach to the girls. He lets them make decisions about their lives, including how much training they want to do. Some girls feel it's a calling, like Steve does his job. Some of them feel it's a duty, like you did before all that stuff." Bucky nodded. "Some girls hate it with everything in them and take the training so they can protect themselves." He shrugged. "The old ways sucked more and the girls tended to not last a year usually. Buffy lasted about ten months before she got killed the first time. Then Xander did CPR and changed the whole line."

"He did?"

"Before it was one girl was called, she fought until she died, then another was called." He stared at him. "Council raised 'em like you were trained by HYDRA." Bucky shuddered. "Now they've got a life, they've got families for the most part. They've got choices and one of them is if they want to fall in for patrol or battles or even just around their homes. They were smart when they took over and fixed the old system."

"I can see that. I'd hate that for the girls. Were they better trained then?"

"Two of the girls in the recent history lasted all of a month," he said bluntly. "They were raised by their watcher, sent out by him, and then when she died he retired if he survived. A few of the girls in ancient history got called before the age of ten." Bucky growled. "It's better now. A lot better now. They keep working to make it better for the girls."

"Xander does a lot."

"Yeah, because there's no one else there," he said dryly. "I would've stepped in but my people need me where I am right now. I do counsel a lot of them when they need it."

Bucky nodded. "A few of them think my arm's a fashion statement." Sam grinned. "I could've killed them."

"You didn't."

"That's what he said."

"Xander's got no training on how to counsel but he's the guy that's been there and done that so he can speak of it. Even if the girls won't always listen to him before the bad things happen. The first group of girls, the ones that made it to Sunnydale to fight the First Evil? Half of them ended up pregnant by the end of the invasion in LA. They were down twenty girls due to pregnancy. Buffy decided Xander was happy in Africa doing his warrior time and didn't call him back for it. A few called to talk to him afterwards, even though he had to interrupt it to go fight something. They got huffy until they heard what he had been fighting. Then Buffy complained. A lot."

"Xander compared me to a knight."

"He'd know. Boy's called the White Knight for a reason," Sam said dryly. "No matter how much he fell into the warrior mind set in Africa and didn't really come back from it."

"Not before?"

"Not sure. I know he lost his eye under two months before the First Evil battle. I know he's still grieving for all he lost there. Including his town."

"He showed me some of it."

"Probably a lot he'd show is in the hole under that nibbling tree. Including the hellmouth and the bodies of all those who fell during that battle. Including his ex."

Bucky nodded. "He won't talk about her."

"With me either. When he's ready he will." He stared at him. "Did you go all out with them?"

"I held back some. I kept myself from death strikes or anything too damaging."

"That's a good move. You did good."

"I could've seriously hurt them."

"Yup." Sam nodded. "Then again, you could've tripped some of them while they were forcing you to shop with them and done the same thing."

"A few thought me scowling at them was cute." He rubbed his hands over his face then looked at Sam. "I..."

"You're in no way ready for any sort of battle that's not an immediate emergency. I wasn't sure if Xander taking you with him was a great idea because the boy gets into some of the stupidest stuff at times."

"He didn't ask me for help when he did a preemptive strike against a bio-dealer we caught trying to buy blood from ebola survivors. Just did it and walked off."

Sam nodded. "He hates them. They endanger him and he loathes those sort. Them and slavers. He'll blow 'em up faster than anything." He stared at Bucky, smiling some. "A lot of people don't see that deep into Xander. They see the big brother figure. The protector of the younger slayers. They see the nice guy he used to be. They don't see that he doesn't sleep most nights. Sometimes until he's so tired he drops."

"He did in Africa but he usually worked himself to exhaustion," Bucky said quietly, glancing at the door then at him. Sam nodded and threw something at the door, making Suzette yelp and run off again. "She's sneaky."

"Yes she is. Some day she's going to be hell on the boys."

Bucky sighed. "Don't give me the nasty thoughts, Sam."

"Sorry." He looked at him. "You did the right thing. Both in the pulling your punches with them and with the walking away."

"I basically kicked them out and hid in the gym."

"Sometimes a man's gotta have quiet time," Sam assured him. "Especially when they realize they have control of their gifts." Bucky stared at him. "You have control of the urges. You have control of the arm, it doesn't control you. You can decide to kill or not to kill." Bucky nodded that was true, looking at his hands. "They're no more bloody than any other soldier's or hunters, Bucky," he said quietly. Bucky looked up at him again. "Any blood on you stains your hands. Any soldier who's been in combat has it up to their elbows at least. Some of us further."

"Some of us all but bathed in it."

"Yup, and you're not the only one. You had that many taking down the Red Skeleton."

He slumped but nodded. "I did. I had multiple kills back then." He looked at the door then shook his head, mouthing 'Steve'. Sam threw another tennis ball at the door, making Steve back off. "Later, Steve."

"Fine." He walked off. Another tennis ball hit the door so he sighed and walked off for real. He went to talk to Suzette, who was talking to the big slayers. She hung up and looked at him. "Are they okay with sparring against him?"

"They're pouty because he did bad things and beat them."

"Bucky is a really good fighter," he said, sitting next to her. "Some of the girls don't expect that and they didn't do their best. Or they're not the best fighters. Not every slayer is a great fighter."

She looked up at him. "Are you that good?"

He nodded. "He and I fought against each other in DC, when they had him under mind control stuff. He nearly won against me too and I'm real good. Natasha could probably tie with him."

"You never let me see you fight."

"I don't think you need to see that. You're too young."

"The better trained you are, the faster you win," she repeated. Pepper had said that to Tony about his gym time.

He nodded. "That's true. Still, you're a bit young to watch me spar with Natasha or Clint."

"Not Uncle Tony or Uncle Bruce?"

"Bruce doesn't spar and Tony's got other skills. He can fight if he needs to but it's not the same."

"Because of the suit?"

"That's more complicated. You'd have to ask Sam why he relies on the suit instead of his own body."

"Oh. Okay I guess. Can I see you spar against Uncle Xander?"

"I'd probably end up hurting Xander. I'm not sure how he's trained."

She pouted. "He's really good. He's been in a whole bunch of battles."

"But Xander seems to do best with weapons, where I don't always use one. I got a lot more training than Xander got."

"Can he take the training?"

"If he wanted. I'm sure someone could help him with that. It's possible this one is."

She nodded, considering that. She texted Xander, who said he could and sparred against Natasha in the past, to ask her. She sent her a text message, getting one back that she was in a meeting but they had sparred. She recommended Xander learn a few new skills. She asked something harder, if he had been good enough to hurt her for real like the new guy had done with the big slayers. She admitted he had injured her but she had hurt him some too. That's how you sparred. She showed her father, who nodded. "Is that why I can't watch you play fight?"

"Yup."

"Oh." She sent her another message about that stuff. Natasha answered after a few minutes. It wasn't a great answer but it was good enough she guessed. "Am I going to be a slayer who's not great at it?"

"I don't know. That's somewhat up to you and your training. Which you're doing fantastic on by what everyone says." She smiled and nodded. "But you've also got to deal with your body as it grows and changes. You've got extra lessons coming once you're a bigger girl. Then you've got to learn how to harness the slayer spirit once you're activated. Some girls don't want to do all that training. You're my little girl and you'll do as good as you can. I know you will."

She nodded, hugging him. "Thank you, Daddy. Can you spar with the new guy?"

"If he wants. Right now he's healing from a few things and it might hurt him more."

Sam and Bucky came out of the bedroom. "What?" Sam asked.

"She wanted me to spar against Bucky and she wanted to watch me training with Natasha and Clint."

Bucky shook his head. "No, not yet."

"Okay," he agreed. "Sam?"

"I think she's a bit young. You said Natasha's real brutal during sparring and I doubt she wants to see all the blood from it."

"Blood?" she asked with a grimace.

"Yup, from things like punched noses," Bucky said.

"Oh." She nodded. "Maybe not then. Blood's icky." She climbed over her father to stare at the new guy. "He talked about someone named Bucky when he was little." Bucky nodded. "You're him, right?"

"I am."

"Then why aren't you old like Miss Peggy?"

"Because the people who captured him did mean things to him and put him on ice, like I was in ice," Steve said, pulling her back down. She wiggled free and got away from him to go stare up at Bucky. "Suzette," he warned.

She looked at his metal hand then up at him. "Are you helping Uncle Xander like you used to help my dad?"

"Some and he's helping me heal."

"He's good at fixing booboos. The big slayers say so." She stared at him. "Can I help with the booboos?"

"It's not really something that takes a bandaid, Suzette," Sam said quietly. "With him, they did mean things to his head."

"Not just his arm?"

Bucky shook his head. "No, not just the arm."

"That sucks," she said, cracking Bucky up. He nodded but smiled at her. "It's okay to be sad for missing out on stuff. I'm sad sometimes because I didn't meet Dad until I was five. The lab people weren't too bad but they weren't him or Uncle Tony or the others."

Bucky squatted down to get on her level. "There's not many guys like your dad. Even when he was scrawny and sickly, he was still one heck of a guy. That's why we were friends."

"Will you tell me about him?"

"I still don't remember everything, pumpkin."

She grinned. "I'm not orange." She punched him on the shoulder, making him wince. "Oops, didn't mean to hurt you."

"You didn't. You don't hit that hard yet."

She looked at his arm through the neck hole of his shirt. She moved closer to look down it then at him. "They were mean to your whole arm?"

"I had frostbite so they removed it."

"What's frostbite?"

"It's when you're in the cold too long and it damages your body. I banged it and broke it on the way down a mountain." He sighed softly. "It's a bad story. You don't want to hear that one."

She leaned over to kiss him on the cheek, snuggling into that shoulder. "Feels like a real shoulder to me. Only real shoulders cuddle." Bucky gave her a hug, looking at Steve and Sam, who both grinned at him. She pulled back. "Did my dad play pranks?"

"Sometimes. I did more than him. Your dad was usually getting into fights sticking up for what he thought was right."

She looked at Steve. "Then why did I get grounded for doing the same thing?"

"Because it's still wrong and I got punished when I did it," Steve said. "Beyond that, you got suspended for two days for fighting at school. Which is why you got grounded." He looked at Bucky, who was staring at her. "There was a bigger girl who picked on her about her Stark Enterprises t-shirt that says she's a future employee in training."

"She was a dumbass," Suzette said. Steve coughed and gave her that dad look. She sighed, looking at Bucky. "Are you like an Uncle?"

"I am. I can be."

"I'd like that. Uncle Xander's a good, fussy uncle. That means you can visit the next time you're in New York?"

"I can try. I saw you at camp."

She frowned. "Where were you hiding?"

"In the attic above the mess hall so I could have some peace and quiet. You girls shrieked the whole two weeks."

She grinned and kissed him on the cheek again. "Of course we did. We were playing." She smiled. "Did you get to play?"

"Now and then. We didn't have all the toys you guys have today. Most girls jumped rope or did hopscotch."

"How do you do that?"

"You use some chalk to make a board on the sidewalk and follow the pattern after tossing the stone to see which one you've gotta skip." Sam got her a dry erase marker so the guys took her outside to show her how to do that. Sam even got it on film for Xander. It was cute watching Steve hopscotch. And Bucky. Then Suzette pounced him from behind and climbed up him to sit on his shoulder. He looked up at her. She just grinned and shrugged. He sighed but put up with it. Yup, he was a lot better now.

***

Bucky made it back home that night and flops onto the couch. "She was there too."

Xander looked over from his warmed up can of soup, still in the can, and his book. "Suzette? I knew she was somewhere in DC. I thought he was off talking to Agent Carter again or something." He ate another bite. "Sorry, should've warned you."

Bucky glared at him. Then he put his head down. "She thinks I'm nice. I told her I wasn't but she asked if I was mean, and when I said I'm usually not, she decided I'm nice because those are the only two options she sees."

"She's seven. They're all very certain the world works a certain way. Wait until she's twelve and thirteen." He ate another bite of soup to cover up the smirk. Bucky threw a pillow at him but he managed to duck and not tip his soup. "Hey! Eating here."

Bucky looked at the can then at him. "Why are you eating war rations?"

"If I go to the market an ex I don't want to deal with is there." He ate another bite. "Andrew's at cooking class and the girls will pounce if I bum in their kitchen."

"You can't shoo him off?"

"No. And it's a her."

"Is she evil now?"

"Sometimes just demanding and I'm not in the mood for chains and nagging."

"She might surprise you."

"She tried to gas bomb the grocery store to kidnap me when she spotted me," Xander said. He drank the rest of his soup and got back to reading. "There's some food."

"I can go buy groceries."

"She'll try to take you hostage to get me."

"Has she done that?"

"Yup."

Bucky sighed, shaking his head. "Sure. I can still shop." He got up to put on better shoes and grabbed the truck keys on his way out the door. He had his wallet. He knew what Xander would eat. He saw the pouting woman at the end of the driveway and figured it was her. "Xander's having a bad day."

"I wasn't going to tie him up as much this time."

He stared at her. "He's in a cuddly mood. Not a tie him up and fuck him mood."

She sighed. "That sucks! All I wanted was some Xander sex." She drove off in a huff. She'd call him to pout about him not being in the mood later. He'd probably fake sigh and give in so she'd get what she wanted. Then she could talk to him about filling that little contract on him so they could split it. They didn't want much. Just a tiny bit of bone marrow and blood.

Bucky drove to the store, shaking his head as he parked. It was a bit crowded but that was fine. He walked in to get what they'd need for a few days at home. There was no telling when they'd be hiding again. In the frozen section, his phone rang with an unknown number. He answered it. "Do I know you?" He paused and smiled. "Natalia," he said quietly in Russian. "Are you well?" He listened to her. "I'll let him know. Are you okay?" She said something then hung up. He put his phone back in his pocket. He could go to New York and find her like she had suggested. He got what they needed and went home. At least Xander came out to carry in the groceries. He stopped him from sighing as he walked off. "Nope. There's a ten million dollar contract in US dollars on your blood and bone marrow. Can we test what you actually have now?"

"Who?" he asked.

"My contact didn't say."

Xander groaned and called an ex. "I heard someone wants to chop me into pieces?" He listened. "Who?" He scowled, rubbing over the eye patch. "You can tell them to fuck themselves and if they try, I'm going to treat them like the last slimy thing I took on. No, not the slug, the other one. Yes, the one I had to blow up the gas depot to kill." He hung up and took a calming breath then called a few people on conference call. "People, someone very stupid somewhere told people I'm a virologist's wet dream. That's why there's a ten mil contract on my blood and bone marrow. And it nicely comes from someone at the old Council who's still employed."

"Fuck," Faith said. "'Drew's at class. I can find them, X."

"If I find them, they're going to die," Xander promised. "Just...hand them to someone, Faith. Okay? If he's not there, talk to the other people I'm also talking with. You know most of them and maybe they'll help me protect myself."

"Xander, what did you have?" one demanded in a genteel English accent.

"No. Comment. Beyond the mermaid taint."

"I forgot about that. Shite," he said. "All right, we'll figure it out and try to end it for you. You lay low, lad. We'll see what we can do."

"We'll try," Bucky said.

"There's a battle in two days," Xander complained. "One shittastic thing trying to eat all the witches."

"Can we feed it a few before we kill it?" another male voice, sounding younger and American, asked.

"I think that'd be unethical but ask me again if I get turned into a cat or something," Xander quipped. "Oh, Brad. If you see Willow, smite the bitch. She's the one who told him I had fallen into that burial chamber."

"Burial... Native?" that American voice asked.

"No, not really, Mickey. Well, Native American and in Sunnydale."

"Ow," the English one said. "I believe she's over here in Devon. Let me check and get back with you. Try to be safe, Xander, and if you'd let us know we could subtly pass it back."

"Which means I'll be worth more in bits and pieces," Xander quipped with a smug look at his phone. "I know most of what the fuck's in there. That's why I blow up any bio-hazard to my health whenever I see it." The voices all groaned. "So yeah, can we just pummel this problem *before* the battle?"

"Yes," Faith said. "Rosenburg's not here. Buffy is. I'll tell her highness." She hung up shouting for Buffy.

The guys sighed. "We'll work on it, Xander. If we have to, we'll send someone to watch your back," the American said.

"Don't send my uncle. He hates my duty and thinks it's not really training and it's lesser than military service."

"He's never seen you fight," the American said.

"I don't care. He made himself plain."

"Okay. We'll leave it at someone else. Are the Avengers showing up?" the English voice asked.

"Why would they? It's against witches and up in Portland, Oregon."

"Sure," the American said. "Thanks for sparing New York."

"Two weeks," Xander corrected. "Small thing in Brooklyn. Get the Avengers to handle that."

"I'll try." He hung up with a moan.

"We'll try, Xander. Do be safe."

"Sophie's out here."

"Bloody hell, she'll try to give it to them so you can split it and she can have more sex while babying you," he said. "Just...don't."

"She's trying to guilt trip me into it."

"No, just don't. Use your hand or the wall or something. I'll call some contacts out there to pick her up. How about that." He hung up before Xander could say anything.

Xander put his phone into his pocket, taking the groceries to put up. "This is the next attempt at the Powers getting me out of their hair," he said dryly when Bucky kept staring at him. "I need to find a way up there so I can kick an ass."

"Do a seance with some of my old team? See if they will?"

Xander looked at him. "Don't tempt me."

Bucky laughed. "They might if Steve asks." He came in to help and make real food. Xander was pulverizing some fruit so that helped a lot too.

***

Andrew's phone rang his emergency code so he looked at it. He stared. Then he sighed. "Shoot." He texted a few friends. They could help. And he'd help take down Rosenburg. He got back to his cooking lesson, smiling at his girlfriend. "Rosenburg did something again."

"You said she does that a lot," she said, handing over the peppers. He grinned at her and added it to their dish.

***

Faith hung up and started to yell for Buffy. She finally huffed in. "Close the doors. We got issues."

"What issues do we have this time?" she demanded. "I'm about to go on patrol."

"Then find witchy poo and stomp her ass. She told the old line about Xander's burial chamber accident. It's ten mil for his blood and bone marrow." Buffy slammed the door to stare at her. Faith nodded. "X just found out and called in a warning. Which means we'll have people staring at us during the battle."

Buffy grimaced. "We sure it was Willow?"

"From what they found out, yup." She called someone. "It's Faith and Buffy. Who gave the idiot watcher info on Xander's blood?"

"Higher ups reminded Willow and had her blurt," a male, cocky voice said. "Pitiful of them really. He'd make a better vampire than a dead body."

"Spike, don't start. We haven't even told Xander they sent you back yet to take his spot."

Spike laughed. "He may know. Does the seeing now."

"He's not like Dru. He's not insane," Buffy said dryly. "Plus he's got a guy he rescued who's really badass. He beat all the girls in sparring earlier. At once."

Spike moaned. "Metal arm?"

"Yup," Faith said.

"Yeah, used to be a regular guy till HYDRA and them sort got 'im."

"We heard," Faith said. "Kate told us enough to let us know he was safe. So the Powers prompted Willow?"

"Yup. They hate 'im."

"Yay them and he's avoided it before," Buffy said dryly. "They probably won't win this time. Show up soon, Spike. Andrew's off tonight at cooking class." She hung up, looking at Faith. "We need to tell Bucky so he doesn't kill Spike."

Faith shrugged. "I don't see why you like dead dongs, B, but it's gross. Keep it to yourself. What're we doing about Red?"

"If they made her...."

"Doesn't mean she doesn't know how to shut up. She's fished too long and hard recently because she resents Bucky."

Buffy nodded. "It does look that way. She tried to break Xander and Cordy up for the same reason." She sighed and pushed back her hair. "I don't know. Tell Xander. It's his thing to handle and ours to keep everyone else out of the way. Let me go tell Giles." She trudged up the stairs, tapping on his bedroom door. "Giles? It's me." She walked in at his complaining grunt. She stared at him. "Willow told the old line about that Thanksgiving." He glared at her. She nodded. "Spike said the Powers prompted it to get rid of Xander."

"I dare say he'll go kick their arses greatly," he said dryly. "In a permanent manner if possible."

She smiled. "That might be cute. Are you okay?"

"They're trying to up it so he goes before me but not much."

Buffy shook her head. "You're not allowed to die. It's a Scooby rule, Giles. He won't die because some of his ex's will bring him back. If not, the demon poker circuit sure will so they have someone to watch in awe and horror." She kissed and hugged him then left him alone to rest. She told Faith that and called Xander to update him. She heard something on that end go 'crunch' and winced at whatever Bucky had hit. They had it and she could keep all the girls out of it.

***

Xander hung up and looked at the freezer door he had just destroyed. "Sure," he said quietly and calmly. He called Kate. "It's me. Put it down. Come get my armory keys before I use them," he said a bit too quietly. "Now please." He hung up and looked at his fist then at Bucky. "Let me get that to go."

He looked up from his phone. "She's in England."

"I can get to Devon."

"Call in a poker marker," he said. "It'll cause less property damage."

Xander shrugged. "What do I care?" He walked off. Kate had his armory keypad with her. "Good girl, Kate." He got something from the kitchen cabinet and left, Bucky grabbing on at the last minute. He looked at him. "I don't need help."

"Bullshit."

"I don't." He walked up to the front door and knocked on it, smiling at the witch that answered. "I believe you have a few people in there I need to burn at the stake. Would you like to send them out or should I come find them?"

"What are you nattering about, Xander?" she asked.

He called up the information on his phone, showing her. "Because. Willow. Sold. It." She blinked and shuddered. "And I'm pretty sure, since one of them is the brother of one of your witches, who holds the trust funds away from his little fingers, she's gotta know too. Now, should I come in and find them or would you like to hand them over peacefully so I can kill them?"

"You'll do no such thing," she said.

He took off the shielding necklace, handing it back to Bucky. "Hold that for a minute please." Bucky stepped back. So did the witch, who was looking horrified. He walked past her and into the house. "Would anyone else like to tell me how they were involved in the deal to try to kill me?" he asked.

"The Powers...." one said.

Xander let out a bitter sounding snort. "Yeah, we know they hate me for letting humanity continue. Pity. I don't care about their opinion. They're not my deity of choice." Willow was backing off. He caught her by her hair. "No, we're going to talk, Willow. Because you sold information to a guy who was going to have me chopped up so he could use the stuff in my blood to kill thousands of people." He walked her outside, handing her over. "Keep her for a minute." He looked at the house and the protections that went up. He walked through them. "Hmm. Looks like that research paid off." A few screamed and tried to attack. Xander just stared at them. Their attack failed and he shrugged.

"You done?" A few were crying. He let out the hellmouth taint. It needed to find a new home tonight. They were screaming at him. He didn't care. Police showed up and tried to arrest Bucky but he told them why. They took Willow into custody. Xander walked out, shaking his head at the officer. "No, she's mine. They may have prompted her to give it over but she didn't have to say anything." She was crying.

Behind him the whole house was now glowing with hellmouth radiation and the people inside were screaming in rage at what the newly forming hellmouth was showing them. They were doomed. The Powers That Be weren't going to stick up for them. No higher being was going to stick up for them. The new hellmouth would be here and it would be horrible. All the infected artifacts they had been healing, all the books, everything in the meeting house was now infected like Xander had been. A lifetime's work for each piece and they were just as radiated so it couldn't be them. A few were sobbing because their children would become the next Xander.

Bucky handed Xander back the shielding necklace. He put it back on and the hellmouth glowed in happiness as its source was hidden. Now it could safely form correctly. It'd be a good hellmouth, a proper one that didn't draw evil. Bucky looked at the house then at Xander. "Let the officials have her so they can stop that price on your blood," he ordered, staring at him. "They can be tortured in jail. Especially by showing them how many people would've died for that plan and the ones you couldn't save."

Xander looked at the redhead in the car then at him. "For some reason she's jealous of us being friends."

"Dames are complicated and that one's warped," he said bluntly. "You've seen it with the way she nags, Xander."

Xander nodded, taking a deep breath when Bucky did. He calmed his mind and nodded. "If she gets out of custody, she's mine." He looked at the officer. "If she's in a cell she's fine. Outside and I'll get her. She won't survive." He walked off. He ran into Ethan and shrugged. "They decided I'm an expendable toy," he sneered.

"Ripper would've just beaten them but you did what I would have done."

Xander grinned. "I didn't call on Janus to do it, just let my old hellmouth find a new home." Ethan shivered, backing away from him. "Have fun with the glowy witches of doom. Bucky, I'm going."

"We're going. I don't want to be radiated that way." He nodded at Ethan. Who watched them go then fell down to pray to Janus for strength to help handle this. A few more priests showed up and they got to work settling the hellmouth and getting the witches free. They could pay for their arrogance a few other ways. That was up to a higher power.

***

Bucky got them back to the house through the portal, without letting any of the girls 'help' them. He looked at Xander. "Are you all right?"

"You sound like Sam."

"I'm doing what he'd do."

"If you're going to yell at me next, just...don't."

"I'm not. I'm proud you didn't cut them into chunks, Xander." Xander snorted, a bitter and cold sound. "I am."

Xander looked up at him. "It was probably way too mean and close to evil."

"Probably but they deserved it. You're not an anatomy lesson in the making." Xander nodded, slumping some, hands on his stomach. "Let me see what you have? Maybe it's nothing good so they'll leave you alone."

Xander looked up at him. "I know most of what I had and two or three are saleable."

"Crap. Can I have it run?"

"If you can find someone to do it absolutely silently."

"Let me ask Steve."

"He already looks at me like I'm a pathetic wannabe. I don't want that look again."

"Steve?"

"Yeah."

"He's never done that."

"He's got some doses of special girl syndrome too, Bucky. At least you hide yours."

"I'm not that special. Scarred, ugly, unfortunate, but not special that way. I'll...I'll ask Bishop." Xander gave him a look. "She could get Stark to do it quietly."

"Maybe. I already owe him a huge favor for helping the girls."

"I doubt he's the sort that'd expect you to pay him back for that."

"That's not how life works."

"Sometimes you don't need paid back for the good things."

"Then it comes back to bite you on the ass in a karmic bite."

"Sure. Sometimes." He called Kate. She could handle quiet things. She was at a party with other teens. "Kate, we're having an SOS moment." She took him off speaker and walked away from her friends. "Long story short, there's a contract out for Xander's blood." He listened. "Absolutely silent on it. Ten mil." He heard her shudder.

"I can figure it out with my medical records," Xander said.

"No, we'll do it officially and if we have to, we'll put out that you don't have anything big or nasty beyond the mermaid taint." He listened to Kate. "He didn't want to ask for a favor. Please. Just keep it at absolutely silent. Thanks, Kate." He hung up and looked down at Xander. "Want me to call Sam so you two can talk?" Xander shook his head, staring at him. "Want to have some chocolate? It usually makes you feel better. I can't really call up one of your ex's."

"I need to find a huge battle to beat at something with my axe for a while."

"That's not real effective but I use a punching bag for that. So does Steve." He sat down on the couch. "Maybe a sea monster will show up later." Kate appeared with Stark. "Hey, Kate. Thanks. You too, Stark."

"They saw what you did to the witches and upped it to fifty," Stark said. Xander winced. "How did you do that?" Xander moved the shielding necklace, making him shiver. "What's that?"

"Hellmouth taint from Sunnydale. I sucked up a huge amount," he said quietly, staring up at him. "It loved me and the new one loves me too."

Stark nodded. "They can handle that. Arm?" Xander slid out of his shirt and pointed at the scar tissue from former IV's. "I can work around that." He felt and found a vein, popping the needle into it. Xander had close veins, he didn't have to tie it off. The vials filled quickly and he stepped back, staring at him. "You okay?"

"I slipped toward evil but I think they deserved it since this is how the Powers That Be wanted me killed this time. At least it's nicer than Giles' intestinal cancer." Stark shuddered. "If we both die, they can remake the Council so the girls are pawns. Can you take Bucky so he's safe?"

"I'm fine," Bucky said firmly. "They probably don't even know I'm here." He looked at Stark. "He didn't want anyone told."

"I can understand why. Give me until daybreak, guys. Bishop?" She took him back to the house and Andrew got them back to the tower. He went to the lab.

Kate deflated next to Clint, hugging his arm, head on his shoulder. "I hate the higher beings over the slayers," she said quietly.

He moved his arm to hug her. "We all hate higher beings. They're usually petty assholes." She nodded. "Xander okay?"

"A bit depressed and a bit 'fuck this, if it's today it's all good' again." Clint winced. "He used the hellmouth taint he carries to start a new hellmouth in England. The witches were involved in that whole selling him thing." Clint shuddered. "I have no idea what's fully going on." He handed her the notes Natasha had found. She read them and grimaced. "I know there was at least one incident but I have no idea why." She looked up at him. "They really have it out for him because he made things work when they were all screwed up."

"The common sense vote is sometimes the best thing," Clint said quietly. "We'll help them handle it and Suzette won't have to see anything going on." She nodded, resting on his shoulder again. "Weren't you at some party tonight?"

"I don't feel like partying. Besides, they were drunk and stupid." She grinned at Suzette when she ran off the elevator after school. "Hey, kiddo."

She hopped on them to hug them both. "I passed a history test!" she said with a happy smile.

"That's a great thing, and much better than I could do," Clint said. She laughed but hugged them again. "Take Kate to go play with her?"

"Is someone sick?"

"No, one of Xander's ex's is looking for him for a bad thing," Kate said.

"Oooh. Poor Uncle Xander. We can call him later?"

"We'll see," Clint said. "Go play." She dragged Kate down to the climbing course. They could play in there for a long time until Natasha was ready to teach her more yoga. Clint relaxed. "When is the next battle, JARVIS?"

"Two days. A being who wanted to destroy witches."

"Is his name Xander?" he asked.

"I believe he's multi-dimensional but not related to him, Agent Barton."

"Cool. Let us know when and where."

"I believe they were going to ask your attendance at the next one in this area. Andrew has asked for the team to help. That's about two weeks later."

"Sure, get us the information from Andrew and we'll look it over."

"I shall. Captain Rogers has called a meeting for tomorrow."

"Sure. Make it after Stark goes back there."

"I can try. He wanted earlier."

"That's going to suck since I'm not getting up at six for a meeting," Clint said dryly.

"I'll make that note."

***

Stark showed up with Andrew, handing over the sealed envelope. Xander was asleep in the chair. Bucky was awake and worried. He nodded at Xander. Bucky shook his head. Xander would beat them for trying to wake him up. He looked inside and sighed mentally. "That's bad," he said. Xander snapped awake. He handed the sheets over.

Xander sat up to read them, frowning some. "When did I have that?"

"I have no idea," Stark said. "That's what your blood showed." He shifted. "Have you thought about an option to handle it if you are captured for that reason?"

Xander looked at him. "As opposed to the ones who capture me for other reasons and wouldn't care to have this too? Then I'd never get laid."

Stark laughed. "It's good you can laugh about that."

"I remember living through most of them." He stared. "That's not what the Natives had."

"It was. You may have thought it was something but it was yellow fever and smallpox."

"We thought an ancient form of syphilis and maybe smallpox."

"Yellow fever has some of the same symptoms, including higher fevers. With the rest going on at that time it was probably hard to tell. So what're we going to do about this?"

Xander grimaced, leaning back in the chair. "Is there something we can do about this?"

"Lying about what's in there," Bucky said.

"Gladly. Please do," he said dryly. He let him see the papers. Bucky stared at them. He looked at Stark. "Any idea if they're usable?"

"Yes. I didn't try to separate them out but we can probably get a viral sample of at least half of them." Xander nodded.

"Does this mean he has to quit dating?" Andrew asked.

"Hey!" Xander complained. "They're not all bad."

"You dated an agent and they were found to be torturing others." Bucky laughed. "I know, you found them out."

"I nearly killed her. She tried to climb in with me too." He looked at Xander then at Andrew. "Is there an option to stop it from being taken somehow?"

"I can try to work something up magically. Or we can maybe try to filter it out?" he asked Stark. Who shook his head. "We can't?"

"We may be able to clean out the blood but it'd take too long. A full transplant is dangerous with the mermaid taint."

"I had one due to the mermaid taint," Xander said. "This all happened after that. I remember being so damn sick but nothing else."

"It could kill you now if we can't put the right antibodies back in. Send your body into shock. We can probably weed it out but not fully remove it."

"I'll work up some runes so they can't remove that from you when they draw blood," Andrew said. Xander smiled at him. He gave him a hug around the head. "They're having a meeting about the upcoming battles."

"Go for it," Xander said. "I could still use something to start whacking away at."

Stark nodded. "We'll think up ideas for you, kid. For now. Lay a bit lower and be careful." Xander nodded and he let Andrew take him off. He walked into the meeting room with Andrew. "Sorry, I was running some bloodwork for Xander."

"Paternity?" Steve asked. "I know he's had a few girlfriends."

"No." He sat down. "Looking at something he had when he was younger." Steve dropped it. "Two battles coming up for you guys, Andrew?"

"Three but one's in Liechtenstein." He handed over the folders. "The second is one we'd like to have help with."

"Xander's not coming to the meeting?" Bruce asked.

"He's not feeling great," Andrew said. They all nodded at that. Clint and Natasha both stared at him. He gave them a look back. They let it go and stared at Stark instead.

"The contract?" Natasha said in Greek, which she knew Stark knew some of.

"Bad," he replied in English. "Very bad. We're not telling anyone." She nodded and let it go.

Steve looked at them. "What?"

"Someone put a contract out on Xander's life," Andrew said. "It's not the first but this time it's one of his ex's. So he's laying low and he'll be at the battle in Portland. He's mad and wants to start hitting something with his axe."

"Punching bags help," Steve said.

"Not this time," Stark said. "Unless they're named after people."

"I'm going to regret this but would anyone mind if I ask Ethan for some help come Samhain?"

Everyone stared at him. "What sort of help?" Natasha asked.

"I won't change everyone into their costume but maybe call back a few shades to talk to certain people, like Rosenburg?"

Stark winced. "Would it let more through?" Andrew shrugged. "If it's a single spirit doorway then I personally wouldn't mind."

"Thanks. I'll ask him when he shows up for tea with Giles later." He checked his watch and they got back to the battle problems. "Xander's already worked out the battle plans for Portland with the witches not in the newly glowy Devon Coven. So we should still be good there." Steve looked confused again. He looked at Natasha.

Natasha cleared her throat. "Some higher being prompted Rosenburg to talk to an older line watcher about how Xander had fallen into some Native American remains back in Sunnydale," she said quietly. "Somehow the ghosts had given him diseases from it, that did disappear when the ghosts left. Due to that, that watcher put out a high price on his blood."

"If he sells it, he'll make more than the fifty mil that's the current price he's giving for it," Stark said. Natasha stared at him. "I'm not sharing. Xander knows, that's really all that need to." She nodded that was a good idea. "I've also erased all the results."

"That's a lot for some blood," Steve said.

"Not if you have plans to sicken others," Natasha said simply. Steve shuddered. "With his mermaid taint it could conceivably make it so any current treatments wouldn't work."

Stark shook his head. "It didn't warp them that way."

"That's good to know," Steve sighed. He looked at Stark, who stared back. "Thank you."

"Welcome. He needed to know and it could be a huge problem. He's working on ideas now." Andrew nodded to back that up. "Anyway, battle. Portland. Rainy that day like usual?"

Clint checked the weather sites. "No, cloudy."

"Even better," Stark agreed. "What about the one locally?" They opened it to look at, grimacing at the mess they'd have to help with. "Did a kindergarten Loki plan this?"

"Not that we're aware of," Andrew quipped. "We think the summoners are trying to use it to eat bad things so we're all more holy." Everyone groaned but went over that battle. They could help.

***

Xander looked up from beating at the things that wanted to eat witches, then shrugged and looked over his shoulder at Bucky, who shot a special round at the mage. The bullet had been magiced somehow and made it through the shields he had up. The slayers made it through after the mage screamed in pain about his stomach having a hole in it. Then Xander beheaded him over the girls' heads. That finished it off. They all backed off and Faith lit him on fire. Bucky relaxed, watching over the team for now. He did like the sniper position. It was also handy when a large, lumbering demon stumbled toward them growling. The magicked bullet hit it and damaged it but didn't kill it.

He touched his earpiece that led to Andrew. "Wood?" he guessed. He got an affirmative and switched rounds to one in his pocket. That took out that demon. A smaller one appeared and tried to attack Xander but he was still going to kill it. Faith staked it when Xander shook it off him. Two more tried. Then the last one appeared clapping. "Crap," Bucky muttered. The guy looked toward him and flicked a finger in his direction. He was frozen. Andrew was mumbling in his ear but he could barely hear him.

Xander looked at the demon. "What is your problem now?"

"You. You overthrew their plans."

"Yeah, so humanity could live," he shot back.

"What do we care if they all die? Grubby beings should be beneath our heels."

"Sorry, not the slave sort," Xander shot back. The demon was trying to prevent the slayers from touching him. Xander wasn't as frozen. The demon was trying but not very effectively. Xander managed to get him with a knife to the throat but the demon only howled and brought reinforcements. "Ladies, go," Xander ordered, getting in their way. It broke the line of sight and the slayers were freed. "Go now."

"Hell no," Faith said.

"Faith, go! You don't have the right equipment for them." She huffed but got more girls called in with the necessary silver things. They brought extras for the girls already there.

"It's nice that you're going to throw away some of the extra slayers to save yourself." The demon smirked. "I think they'll love their spots in hell."

"I doubt they'll be there and no, the girls are going to make sure you don't get to leave." The demon huffed. More of his demonic animals showed up.

"X," Faith warned when he started to quip again. "Let it go."

Xander looked back at her. "Go. Now," he said quietly. "Evacuate and go." She shook her head. "Sorry but yay. 'Drew, send them home!" he yelled. The slayers all disappeared thanks to the coven. Xander smirked. "There, better. Now they won't have to see me going spastic on you." The demon started to laugh until Xander cut off his head. "That's probably not the answer you wanted. Pity," he cooed. Then he dove into the animals. Bucky was freed and fired on them. Xander shook his head and finished that one off. "Bullets won't work," he yelled.

"I see that. What does?"

"Beheading," he yelled back.

"I have a sword." He was getting down when Stark showed up and blasted most of them. "Or you can do that." He did manage to get down and help. Xander got bitten by one but he smacked it off his leg then stabbed it in the head. Stark shook his head. Bucky shook his head with a sigh. Finally Xander was done with the animals, bending over panting, and looked at the mess. Bucky helped him stand up straighter. "It'll hurt."

"Yeah, probably." He looked around. "Does anyone else feel magic?"

"Yup," Bucky said. He ran back to get his rifle. Stark fell back to a more hidden spot. A portal opened and a pretty young woman walked out.

"Oh, fuck no! Go the fuck home!" Xander shouted with a point. "Not a chance in hell!"

"But, Xander," she sighed, smiling at him. "I could bring you with me. They will not mind now, not after you have beaten many things."

"Why do I want to die?" he demanded. "No!" He walked off. "It's immortal," he called. "And dangerous. And a stalker."

"Xander," she complained, floating after him. "We are good together and my people will love you being our prince, even though we cannot have children." She smiled. "You are more than worthy of the title of prince."

He glared at her, hands on his hips. "No."

"We would make many happy. My people deserve happiness."

"Your people are all dead too. I don't want to be a prince of dead people. Go ask Loki!"

"He is pretty but not one of our kind. Asgardians would horribly upset my people. You could lead our armies instead of the pretty slayers into battle. We have many battles coming soon because one wants to invade us." She sniffled a bit. "Our generals suggested I bring you home with me so you could lead us. Won't you come be our general?"

Xander yelped as a knife embedded itself in his calf, reaching down to take it out. The pointed hint about having backup helped and now he had a knife too. "I have responsibilities here and a battle in two weeks. I cannot come lead your people's battles. There's been many fine, expired generals. Pick one of them."

"None of them are as pretty or as strong as you."

"Go find a mythical Roman hero."

"They are some who are invading. We will not make peace that way," she said firmly. She stopped the next thing being thrown at Xander. "Do not interfere, Mortal."

Xander stepped between them. "Leave him alone." She stared at him then moaned and touched his cheek. He shivered and stepped back. "I would not do your people well. Bucky would if he was expired but I would not. I'm too wild, too dangerous, and not willing to sleep with someone who would suck at my essence each night. I'm not ready to die to lead your armies. Ask me when I am."

"We can hold them off that long." She looked at his friend. "He is pretty like you. He is stronger."

"He's also got a lot of training in how to fight."

"Hmm." She smiled at him. "Then perhaps I will visit him when he passes over. He would also make an excellent prince." She stared at him again. "Do calm yourself."

He snorted. "Every time you show up, bad things happen, Alara."

She snorted. "Plenty of bad things are already happening and yet you just wore yourself out. Perhaps it is your time, Xander."

"If so, you can still come get Bucky when it's his so I have someone to drink beer with and talk to." Her laugh was like wind through barren trees in the winter. He smiled. "If I'm going, so be it. Ask me as I pass over."

She tipped her head. "That could be any minute now. Are you certain?"

He nodded. "If it's today, it's today and the slayers are prepared for their future." A new mage appeared with a scream, trying to blast Xander with magic. Xander's pendant absorbed most of it. Xander shot him. "They do so love to underestimate me," he said in ancient Greek. She moaned and kissed him then floated back to go back home. He fell down, panting and holding his stomach. "Hurts less than when Willow did it. I need to purge this shit." He got up with help from Stark. "It's going to infect you. My shielding necklace can't hold it in." He walked over to the dead, formerly possessed animals and puked up the magic until it was all gone. Then he summoned a succuba. "Damn mage," he moaned. She squealed and came over to suck the rest out of him. He went limp, smiling at her. "Thank you, Darlene."

"We're always happy to nibble from you, Xander." She looked around then at him. "What happened?"

"The one who wanted the slayers, then Alara was here." She shivered and moaned. "Exactly." She kissed him hard then left. He fell to his knees.

Bucky walked over and hauled him up. "I'm glad you taught me what succuba were for."

"Succuba are for playing with and for letting them feed on the hellmouth taint," he said, smiling at him. "That was Alara. She's the crown princess of the realm of the dead." He leaned on Bucky as they walked off together. "You can come drink beers with me in the afterlife. We can have her pick up Steve when he finally goes too."

"I could like that. Better than some afterlives I've probably earned."

Xander looked at him. "Plenty of demons consider this a hell realm too."

Bucky patted him on the head. "I have no doubt, if only because we have pop music." He looked at Stark, who was shaking his head. "We're good. Can you burn it?"

"Gladly. Go home, you two goofy kids." Xander waved. Bucky hit their emergency leave-taking charms. Stark got to burn the other bodies while figuring things out. He went back to the tower, going right for a drink. Steve was staring at the tv. "That second one was Darlene, she's a succuba and apparently they can suck magic or magical taint or radiation out of one." Steve stared at him. "The first was Alara. Apparently she's the crown princess of a realm of the dead. They wanted Xander to be their king. He said you can be gathered by her too so you can come drink beer with them."

Steve blinked a few times. "They're really close," he said quietly.

"Bucky's not functioning yet," Stark shot back. "The succuba was pulling at me and not Barnes. He wasn't affected." Steve went limp, grimacing some. "Are you jealous they're friends?"

"No. Bucky needs friends, and he makes friends really easily. If anyone needs a guy like Bucky, Xander definitely does." He looked at Stark. "They look like we used to when we were younger."

"He'll come back, Capsicle. You and he have history. And a future." He walked off with his drink. Suzette was due home soon and she could make her father feel better.

***
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