Disclaimer: Not mine. Xander belongs to Joss Whedon. Peter, Neal, and Jones belong to Jeff Eastin. The Yoruba are a tribe that do exist in Africa, and they do make masks.
A/N: I was told by two separate reviewers that Xander was OOC. Sorry. I've added a few things, but it's been awhile since I watched the show. I hope I got him at least a little better now. Thanks for letting me know!
"Caffrey, get in here!" Peter bellowed. Neal looked up from his conversation with Jones and the new guy to see Burke in his office with a dark-haired man. Grinning and tossing the new guy's wallet back to him, Neal made his way up the stairs.
"You called?" he asked, still grinning. Peter upped the glare before motioning to the man waiting silently - and clearly impatiently - beside him. The man wore what could - in another reality - have passed as a business suit. The slacks obviously belonged with a blazer and black patent leather, but he had them paired with work boots and a loose maroon top and a Tweety Bird tie. A black eye patch and shaggy dark hair completed the ensemble. Neal was appalled.
"This is Alexander Harris, a representative from IWC. He says you have an important artifact that belongs to his company." Peter made it a statement, but Neal could hear the question: did you do what he says you did, and if so, what's it going to take to make you return the item?
Before Neal could respond, Harris spoke up. "Please, call me Xander. We try not to let formalities get to our heads." He turned his full attention on Neal. "So, I hear you're the person to speak to about a collection of missing Yoruba masks."
"I might have heard of some," Neal hedged, not willing to admit that they were hanging in Mozzie's storage cell/apartment.
"These particular masks have a great deal of cultural significance to the Yoruba people, and I need to get them back to Africa by the end of the week."
"Why the end of the week?" Peter broke in.
"Bad things will happen if the masks are not present during the upcoming ceremony," answered Xander with a self-deprecating smile.
"What, like the end of the world?"
Neal considered everything he had seen during his travels around the world, things he had heard from the others in the Super Max, and the hidden agreement in Xander's eye at Peter's derisive question. He then remembered stories Moz told him about monsters in shadows, and a half-remembered, whispered comment right before falling asleep about there being a shade of truth in most conspiracies.
"I need two days, but I can get them to you," he announced, breaking up the bickering between Peter and Xander.
"It'll take time for my source to acquire the masks and bring them in undetected."
"Tell me Haversham isn't stealing them," Peter groaned.
"He isn't stealing them. He's locating and returning them." Let them take what they wanted from that statement. The humor in Xander's one eye clued Neal in to the fact that he wasn't fooling everyone in the room.
"Two days, then," Xander agreed. He shook hands with Neal and Peter before turning to the door. He paused in the doorway, then turned around. "And Mr. Caffrey?" Neal focused on him. "On behalf of the IWC I would like to thank you for your cooperation. Not many would be willing to give up such a priceless collection without guarantee of reward, even if their FBI companion was attempting to glare them into submission."
Two days later found Xander gently placing each of the five masks into a straw-packed crate. Thanks to the Willow Express he wouldn't have to worry about customs or checking the crate in at an airport. Movement out of the corner of his eye caused him to quickly look up. He relaxed when he recognized the old-fashioned style of suit.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Caffrey," he greeted.
"Neal, please," the young con corrected. Xander dipped his head.
"Neal, then. Did you need something?" After many years on the Hellmouth he learned never to offer a favor to anyone, not even as an innocent 'How can I help you?'.
"What would really have happened if I didn't return the masks?"
"I would have made a giant cake of Twinkies decorated in different colored Peeps and dared anyone to stop me from eating it." Neal stared at him silently. "At that point, all anyone would be able to do is enjoy their last days of life. And, as I attract the worst sort of women, spending fun time with someone is out of the question. Earth would be no more," Xander answered with a shrug.
"Really?" The earnest question made Xander reevaluate the blue-eyed thief.
"These masks were created by the tribe to protect the world from a vicious clan of demons. The ceremony is performed once every fifteen years, which is why there hasn't been a fuss before now. The masks had a great deal of magic cast on and around them while they were being made. Without that magic, the barrier holding the demons back would fail, and they would invade the planet. It would be a slow end, but eventually, the demons would slaughter all of humanity until Earth had about as much life as Jupiter."
"So, really the end of the world."
"Yep, really the end. By the way, I would like to thank you again for returning the masks. Both your and Mr. Haversham's personal accounts will have a little extra as thanks from the IWC."
"I didn't think he had an account. He doesn't exactly trust banks," Neal pointed out. He was a little overwhelmed at the thought of a reward for returning something he stole in the first place, so he latched onto the more mundane topic.
"This account is from before his life changed. Please let him know that the Council is now under new management, and would appreciate his insights and talents, should he ever find himself in need of a new career."
With that, Xander hefted the box into his arms and left the office. He stepped into one of the elevators and pressed the button for the ground floor. He met Neal's eye briefly just before the doors closed, and winked. Neal, who kept an eye on the security cameras out of habit, noticed that the elevator reached the ground floor empty.