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LXT01 - Grand Canyon Dreams

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Lara Croft Trilogy". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Xander's a trouble magnet, not just a demon one.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Other Genre > Tomb RaiderLucifaelFR18147,45591016,06522 May 0422 May 04Yes
TITLE: Grand Canyon Dreams

AUTHOR: Siege (siege1975@yahoo.co.uk)

WEBSITE: http://users.quickfox.tk/~siege1975/Fiction/

DISTRIBUTION: Anywhere, Just let me know 'K

DISCLAIMER:

Not mine I didn't do it; well the main characters at least all belong to joss Wheadon and pals, and long may they. Lara croft is copyright (c)2001, paramount films

SUMMARY: Xander's a trouble magnet, not just a demon one.

FEEDBACK: Oh yes please!

CATEGORY: Action/Adventure/Crossover

RELATIONSHIPS: L/X+

RATING: R

SPOILERS: All Seasons of BtVS Up to end of season 3 and some of 4. Angel Up to start of 1, ? AU after that.

AUTHORS NOTES:



Chapter 01

Grand Canyon, Arizona

10 July 1999

The bright, hot, unforgiving sun beat down on his neck, as he stood right at the edge of one of the marvels of the natural world. A light desert wind played with his hair and kicked up tiny sand devils in the pulped rock sand at his feet. The deep red tones of the earth a direct mirror of the rocky formations arrayed in the panoramic view before him.

The Grand Canyon it was one of his first stops on his whistle stop road trip of America. He was a little worried that this would be as far as he got. The Classic 57' Chevy he had purchased off of his uncle had seen better days. Specifically back in 1957, now it was quickly becoming a rust bucket with an asthmatic engine. Money whilst not a problem was tight, that is if he wanted to truly see all he had always hoped he could.

Those problems were a millions miles from him as he stood with a sheer drop of 50 feet just in front of the black Caterpillar boots he wore. If he was the type it would be a simple thing to slip down into the embrace of the rocks below, but he was a survivor. He was Xander Harris a man who had fought an endless, and at times hopeless, battle with nothing but his own determination and strength of character behind him. He had picked up one or two things along the way; a very vague remnant of memory from a soldier possession all that was left now was a certain flair for martial arts. His senses were fairly sharp, but that could either be from the Hyena possession or just because he had literally been in a war for 3 years straight.

He had taken a little time to himself, not such a terrible thing really after all Buffy, Willow and Oz were all off to college soon. He would have to take a job as a burger flipper in the Double Meat palace, if he was lucky. The trouble was that he had never considered himself an intelligent man, not in the schooling sense at least. He had a reasonable mind for tactics and strategy and a lion heart. But to be honest what intelligent person would fight Vampires if they had a choice? Not many he thought, so he considered himself less than intelligent, nothing could be farther from the truth. Xander Harris might not be a genius but he was quick witted and used to thinking on his feet, which was just as well, really.

His next stop was Las Vegas, where he hoped he could find a job and earn a little cash, he wasn't fooled by the bright lights big city idea, it was strictly a stop on the road for him, luckily he had an ace up his sleeve as it were. A brush with Magic, the mundane kind like you buy at the store, had given him a skill. In Las Vegas he knew he would be able to make use of that skill, Card Magic, Dealing was one of his limited numbers of talents he thought. Texas, overhand, it didn't matter the shuffle, and it didn't matter the game anymore either thanks to a few late night sessions with his dad. Xander thought he could give Maverick a run for his money in poker now thanks to his dear old alcoholic father. His dad had been one hell of a player before the drink got him, but Xander preferred a less risky form of making money. He would deal anything to get his car running properly again.



Las Vegas

21st August 1999

Bright lights shone throne the star dappled sky above the entertainment capital of the America. The splendor of man made neon tubes visible for miles yet still foreshadowed when the sparkling sun came out. But right then and there, they seemed like the very stars had fallen from the sky and taken up root in that city. A city started by a gangster and one that was apparently still run by the mob. The fluorescent brilliance hid many things in the dark shadows they cast across Las Vegas, not the least of which was corruption and disease.

He had rolled into town only a month and a bit ago and had already found a job he'd been the lucky one. He had walked into one of the small casinos, The Plaza, and had got a job as a poker dealer, just like that. All it had taken was a quick demonstration of his skills and luckily, they had taken him on. He had been trained over a few days and was started the tables. All in all things were not going to bad for him right at that moment, a flea bag motel housed his meager belongings but it was cheap and fairly clean. He had a paying job, plus some tips and here he was in one of the most talked about cities in the world. It was his night off, the only one he actually had all week, 6 days a week and long hours. He had plenty of breaks and it wasn't like he smoked so he was happy with the arrangements, he had a suspicion that he lack of real experience and mind set were what got him the job. He was willing to take a lot less than the Cracker-Jack dealers and with the uniform, he was able to look and act the part of one.

He was happily spending his night off just walking down main-street minding his own business and people watching. He watched as the revelers and old ladies piled into the various establishments with every sign of absolute relish. He watched as others came out looking as though their lives had ended. More rarely, he saw someone come out smiling the smile of a new millionaire. It was a seriously strange place; there was a large cross section of America just in this one place. Geeks, Losers, Winos, Rich-kids, millionaires, thieves, prostitutes and preachers in all races and creeds lined the busy streets. Then there was him, a young demon hunter who was quickly finding that he was becoming bored. He had lived a life of excitement, flight or fight for three long years, now not so much. He knew that it wouldn't be long before he went back to it, so he tried to ignore the boredom on the horizon.

Just then, he was jostled from his thoughts as a low flying woman knocked him off of his feet. They sprawled on the pavement together hands in inappropriate places.

"Oh hey, sorry" Xander said, more out of reflex than any feeling of guilt. He struggled to extricate himself from her limbs and finally helped her to her feet. It was then that he noticed how mind numbingly gorgeous she was. Unlike the various show girls, and other ladies that tended to frequent toe streets of Las Vegas she had an ethereal beauty about her. Her very long and dark hair was braided into a thick cord that she flicked back over her shoulder. She had what could only be described as bee stung lips and her eyes were two deep pools of mountain water.

She flashed him a smile full of white teeth, "Not at all I assure you," she said making as if to leave. She had the most melodic English accent he had ever heard full stop.

"THERE THEY ARE GET THEM" a loud voice cried out over the crowds. Xander flashed round to see 6 goon types brandishing small arms and coming his way. He glanced back at the woman and saw that she was already making her way down the street at a dead run.

A shot zinged off of a nearby post and he realized with assuredness that the shot was meant for him. His head to be precise, it was at that very moment the shout's actually words sunk into his brain.

'Them, get them. Oh shit' Xander sprang into action and quickly ran after the woman. He wasn't sure why he that particular direction but the next thing he knew he was quickly drawing up to pace her flight.

Several shots winged their way past him and his traveling companion one or two parting his hair. He spared her a glance to find he looking back at him in shock.

"What are you doing?" she asked, without showing any breathlessness.

"What, What am I doing, they seem to think I am with you! What did you do?" he demanded, albeit breathlessly. He wasn't so used to the running these days, more with the actual fighting.

A bus going in the other direction caught his eye and as it passed him, he grabbed her hand and launched them both round to its other side. Due to the usual large amounts of traffic, it wasn't moving so fast. He hoped that with the congestion or both vehicles and cars it would cover their double back. He really, really hoped that it would anyway.

He virtually dragged the dark haired beauty along with him as they paced the bus although they still had to run flat out to keep up. Then when it was about to turn off again Xander launched them both into an alleyway out of sight of their attackers still searching in the other direction.

They ran down the alley for several minutes until finally coming out on to another busy street that ran parallel to the first. Then using his meager knowledge of the area Xander led his fellow runaway up to a large Casino.

Thousands of people were milling around the entrance way but somehow they were spotted by what must have been a back up team. Shots were fired one of them catching Xander in the shoulder. He span rounds from the blast a fine mist of blood rising into the air around the wound. Biting back the pain and running on pure instinct, Xander ran back out onto the street grabbing the woman's arm once again. He searched for a moment as once again the report of gunfire was quickly met by the resounding ricochet of bullets on tarmac, buildings, cars and in some cases people cried out in pain as stray shots hit them.

Xander reached out and grabbed a Motorcyclist as he sedately passed, using the bikes momentum he tore the rider off of the seat and turned round in time to catch the bike. Quickly getting on he looked back to find a pair of deep blue eyes looking at his with suspicion.

Shots rained around them prompting Xander to add a note of command to his voice as well as the original fear and anxiousness that he knew was already there.

"Get On!" he urged her; a shot whammed into the pavement near her feet and she quickly joined him on the saddle holding onto his back. The powerful bikes back wheel slid around on the tarmac. After what seemed like eternity it finally found purchase and launched them forwards as it did the front wheel lifted off of, the road and Xander had to lean forward as far as he could to counterbalance the acceleration.

The bike shot forward like a thoroughbred stallion in a race. The squeal of tires and the smell of burnt rubber were replaced by the dry, warm desert air as they left the cloud of smoke behind them. It wasn't long before Xander found that he had to keep his full concentration on his driving. He weaved and dodged through traffic using his and his female companions weight to give him better manageability as he cut through the throng like a hot knife through butter. He narrowly missed a few pedestrians but he kept forward pushing the powerful machine to its limit.

Seconds stretched into minutes, which in turn passed like hours as they raced away from their attackers. Frankly he had no idea who or what they were he only knew they were shooting at him, and they didn't care who they hit to get him. That in Xander's book chalked them up on the bad guys side of his personal score board.

He checked his rear view and was unable to see anyone following him so after a few more moments of flight he slowed the bike and calmed himself down, letting the speed fall away as the large bike rumbled down from its roar to a deep purr. As the adrenaline left, his system so did the endorphins that had hidden the pain of his wound. Pretty soon, the pain was a throbbing nuisance that was causing him a great deal of difficulty in both riding and concentration. So far gone was he that he was surprised to find himself at the outskirts of town pulling into his small fleabag motel.

He drove the bike round the back of the Motel out of sight from the road and kicked the stand down. The female hitchhiker was still clinging to him but as the stand went down, she was off of the bike in an instant.

"Who the hell are you, Bruce Willis?" she demanded, but with her accent, it sounded more like a furious poem.

"Hi, I'm Xander" he said with a small self-deprecating smile. The truth be told he had no idea who or why he had done the things he had done that night. He winced slightly as he lifted himself off of the motorcycle and pulled at his injured shoulder.

"We need to have a look at that," she told him with a professional and clam tone of voice. Her eyes were wary but compassionate at the same time causing them to darken their hue slightly.

"I'll be fine, Miss..."

"We'll do the introductions later, first that arm. You have a room? A First Aid Kit?"

Xander nodded and lead her to his hole in the wall. One thing that slaying, or his part in it anyway, had taught him. You need a large and well-stocked First Aid Kit, he had been carrying one in the car for the entire journey, now it was in his room.

He flipped on the light switch and cursed at the mess feeling strangely self-conscious about leading a beautiful woman into the bombsite that was his Motel Room. After the near death experience they had shared, she was looking rather casual herself. However, that did little to detract from both her bearing and her elegance despite her utilitarian attire.

He reached under the bed and pulled out the deluxe kit as her eyes widened.

"My, that's large"

Xander shot her a smirk, "Thanks"

She didn't appear at all flustered by her words; in fact, she seemed more amused than anything. She took the kit from him and expertly went through its contents.

"You suffer from a lot of sprains and abrasions in your line of work Mr."

"Harris, and I'm very clumsy," he told her in a half lie. He had been very clumsy once, but training and confidence had burnt that away. Now he sprained his hand on vampires and suffered abrasions from being thrown into walls and floors more often than he fell or walked into anything.

She lifted a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at him but didn't say another word she just indicated that he should remove his jacket, which he did painfully.

She pulled out a pair of surgical scissors and cut off the arm to his shirt for him revealing a large bloody mess dark and puckered in the middle. She checked for an exit wound and found an almost identical wound the other side.

With her help she he removed his shirt so she could fully see the damage.

"You know I usually find out a woman's name before I let her undress me" Xander quipped.

She smirked at him and started to clean the wound. He winced occasionally but he was used to nasty injuries and managed to not look too much of a wuss as she cleansed then dressed the wound.

"You know this is going to seriously mess with my dealing" Xander said working his shoulder and testing her craftsmanship. It was a highly professional job.

"Dealing?"

"Yeah, Poker table at The Plaza, the small one near the back of the strip"

"Really" she said lifted that eyebrow again.

"I don't hear the belief"

"Lets just say, I am a little suspicious of White Knights" she commented smirking slightly.

Xander's face darkened slightly at her words and that caused her smirk to disappear, then as quickly, as it had appeared the cloud dissipated, "So what's a beautiful woman like you doing in trouble in Vegas. Bad debt?"

She snorted in a most unladylike fashion, "Hardly"

"Than what, I mean I got mixed up in all this, you could at least tell me what"

She eyed him for several long moments, "A business deal didn't go to plan, and they didn't want to pay. I think they decided it would be cheaper to pry the artifact from my cold dead hands"

"Oooooo, sounds bad, Artifact? What like an antique or something, you a dealer? A friend of mine, Giles he was in to all that old stuff too" Xander babbled slightly trying to keep from thinking about the pain in his shoulder.

"Something like that," she paused and looked at him speculatively, "You don't happen to mean Rupert Giles, Ex-Curator of the British Museum?"

"Yeah, that's G-Man"

"Small world" she said her face once again closing in on itself.

Xander looked at her as usual his face a book for anyone to read, Confusion and worry were written plainly in large letters in that book. He tried an old tact, "What's you name?"

Once again the stare that seemed to be searching his soul appeared before she answered, "Lara"

"Pleased to meet you Lara" he said with a genuine smile

They looked at each other for several moments straight into each other's eyes. For his part, Xander was just enjoying looking at this stunning beauty that was Lara. Lara on the other hand was thinking a mile a minute, she didn't trust easily and his appearance and actions had been a little too fortuitous for her liking, but every instinct said trust him and logic was leaning that was as well. She finally made a decision.

"Do you speak to you G-man often?"

"Not so much at the moment, I'm on a road trip and he's back in good ole... Why?" he asked suddenly suspicious.

"When do you think you will be heading back?"

"Well, I don't think I can hang round here much longer, I don't suppose those guys were only in town for business?"

"No ... I'm afraid not ... this is their home ground as it where I'm afraid"

"Then I think I have to admit failure and head home," Xander said with a forlorn expression then he made the mistake of shrugging and hissed in pain.

Lara rummaged in the first aid kit and found some powerful painkillers, "Take two of these"

"And call you in the morning?" quipped Xander with a lopsided smile.

This time Lara smiled full blast at him and he felt like he had been allowed to bask in the glare of the sun for as long as the smile lasted, it lit up his life never mind the room.

Once again, a moment of silence passed between them this time both were admiring the other without more thought than simple appreciation of the others form and features.

Lara visibly shock herself and gave him another one of her sunlight power smiles, "I have to go and I'm sorry"

Xander looked at her in confusion until she snap kicked him into unconsciousness, "I just don't trust White Knights, they rarely are what they claim to be. So that was in case you were not," she smiled softly down at his insensate form then in a moment of weakness, she gently kissed him on the lips, "and that was just in case you really are"



Chapter 02

Xander felt the breath coming up the rock face and hitting him in the face, he could taste the salt in the air from the millennia old river bed the feel of standing by so much history and the sheer 100 foot drop just in front of him.

When he opened his eyes though he didn't find himself standing by the edge of a rock face at the Grand Canyon, he saw only darkness. A moment later, he felt something on his face blocking his sight. He tried to reach up to remove the obstruction only to find that his hands were bound to something a solid feeling something. He tried to move his legs only to find that they too were tied down. He wriggled for a few moments feeling very little give in his bindings. This wasn't the first time he had woken up like this but he would never get used to it. Plus the blindfold was new, vampires and demons like you to see their faces when they did what ever they were going to do. Plus he was many miles from Sunnydale at that moment; at least he thought he was.

"Ahh you're awake, Mr. Williams, if you would be so kind" a melodic English and male voice said into the depths.

Xander felt rough and strong hands working his blindfold and closed his eyes as a blinding assaulted his eyes. After blinking a few, dozen times he saw only a bright dentist type light above him. He shifted his head from side to side trying to get a feel for his location or anything that could facilitate his escape. It didn't really matter from whom or what, the fact they had tied him down was enough to sound alarm bells to Xander. Unluckily he saw very little in the limited field of vision allowed to him.

"Tell me, what is your name. I do think it helps to know who you are dealing with," the voice asked pleasantly.

"After you, you're the host after all" Xander said as calmly as he could

A light chuckle floated over to him, "My name is unimportant"

"Well Unimportant, I'm pissed pleased to meet you. Can we stop with the S&M now it's not really my scene"

No chuckle came after that quip only a large fist answered him with a powerful blow to the jaw.

"Good job this is a dentist chair, you can put those teeth back in for me"

Again, the fist assaulted him, "Now, Now Mr. Williams does so love his work. It really is best not to antagonize him" Mr. Unimportant told him pleasantly, so pleasantly in fact that Xander was sure the S.O.B was enjoying this as much as Mr. Williams.

"What do you want?" Xander asked, "Because I'm not really into guys you know what I mean", Whack.

"Why were you with Lady Croft this evening?"

"Huh, Who?" Xander asked confusion etched into his voice.

"Ahh, don't be coy with me, Mr. Williams if you will"

Xander was expecting another blow and relaxed to roll with the blow. Instead, he felt himself being elevated to first a sitting then a standing position the bed hard into his back and the bounds that held him cutting deeply.

It was at that point Xander met Mr. Williams. He had to be at least 7 foot tall, hugely powerfully built with neck muscles like his thigh. Mr. Williams was an intimating sight in his black suit and dark skin. He had no expression on his face at all but his eyes were different entirely. Looking into Mr. Williams's eyes was like looking directly into the furnace of hell. Mr. Williams then stepped back and delivered a spleen splitting gut punch that had Xander coughing for air and he nearly lost his breakfast.

Then the huge Negroid man proceeded to work him over with brutal and professional efficiency. Now he truly knew the meaning of pain as the obviously knowledge man punched with a deadly aim breaking bones and causing immense pain.

After an eternity he just stopped, he wasn't even sweating from the exertion and his black silk suit had nary a wrinkle.

With blood in his mouth and a swelling face Xander could barely aim properly but he still managed to get the globule of spit straight into the large mans eye. He was expecting the heavy to go at him again but he just pulled out a polka dot silk handkerchief and wiped the spit and blood from his face.

"What is it you want exactly," Xander said, during Mr. Williams's brutal beating he had found his bounds were now loose. He wanted to stall them as much as possible before trying to escape.

"Why did you assist Lady Croft" Mr. Unimportant asked once again.

"Ok, do you mean that chick with the long brown hair?" Xander asked finally freeing his hand.

"Why yes, that sounds quite like her, a 'chick'. You Americans you have such charming expressions"

"She ran into me" Xander said truthfully, "I have no idea who she is or what the hell is going on, she told me a business deal went wrong, that's it"

"I see, Mr. Williams"

The giant walked forward his coat swinging forward gave Xander just the opening he needed. Using all of the speed he had picked up over the years and the excellent reflexes and strength fighting preternatural creatures had given him his arm snaked out. He snagged the Semi automatic pistol from Mr. Williams Shoulder Holster stopped the man dead. "Back up big guy, and you Mr. unimportant come here where I can see you"

"Now, Now. If you would just..." he was cut off by the gun shooting the large black man in the leg causing him to go down, Mr. Williams was made of stern stuff apparently because he made not a single sound.

"Now Asshole" Xander sad in a dark voice, "Or I cap him then you"

"Cap, really, honestly" said Mr. Unimportant as he stepped into view with his hands up, "That is so 1950's"

Xander took in the tall slender quintessential Englishman with fading blonde hair and a face more likely to be on a favorite uncle than a bad guy. "So sue me, I'm having a bad day" Xander shot back freeing his other hand. He waved the two men back against the far wall where he could see them and bent to quickly free his legs. He kept close guard on them both as he did so. Then with a slight stumble, he took his weight onto his abused body's legs.

"Now, who the fuck, are you guys?" Xander asked taking careful aim at the English mans head. Despite his beating, he still had a mostly perfect aim, but then he always had, this at least had nothing to do with the soldier guy persona.

"My Name Is..."

*****

[Michael Powers] Brice told Lara.

"Oh great, the wonderful Mr. Powers is behind all this, again" Lara said sarcastically, "That man has more appetite for Antiquity than for life"

[You're right there Lara, Also found the trace you wanted]

"Go On" she said pulling a notepad across the desk and flipping it open.

[Alexander LaVelle Harris, Aged 19 Born and bred in Sunnydale California to Jack and Marie Harris. Not exactly, a grade 'A' student is reputed to be involved with local gangs. Although his record doesn't match a gangbanger. In fact he seems to be a regular vigilante having saved several people from and I quote, 'Funky looking dudes with deformed faces']

"Vampires"[Vampires] they said together.

"Well he really is a white knight"

[Sorry, White Knight?]

Lara shook herself, "Don't worry talking to myself, what else have you got?"

[Known associates are, Willow Rosenberg, Elizabeth 'Buffy' summers, Daniel, 'Oz' Osbourne and Rupert Giles. Oh and he has two military files, It will take me a while to crack those babies]

"Rupert Giles, He really does know him. Well this keeps getting more and more interesting"

[You can say that again, it turns out from a few of my more occult inclined sources that 1, Sunnydale hosts the Hellmouth] Lara drew in a short sharp breath, [Yeah, but get this, Buffy summers is apparently The Slayer]

"A myth" Lara commented more to herself than Bryce

[Not according to my contacts, not only that but your Mr. Harris is fairly well known himself as quite the little Demon Hunter]

"That could explain a lot actually," Lara noted as she doodled on her pad.

[What's your next move Lara?]

"Well, I'm going to ..."

*****



"Sunnydale, Home Sweet Hovel" Xander thought morosely as he pulled up to his house. He had escaped his kidnappers relatively quickly and once he had bound and gagged them both he had exited to find himself smack in the middle of Vegas in an actual dentist. He had wasted no time at all in getting the hell out of dodge after that and had taken steps to make sure he had no tail.

Now after a lot of driving, he was ready to face to wonders of Sunnyhell once again.

He stepped through his parents home to be greeted by his father, "Hi son, we put your stuff in the basement, it's bigger we thought you make like the space." Jack Harris smiled at his progeny hopefully.



"Thanks Dad, that's a good idea and I'll start paying you rent as soon as I can, like we discussed"

"No rush son, just find something you like"

Then his mothers screeching voice assaulted his eardrums, "You better get work soon or your father will have you out; you hear me"

Xander often wondered why his banshee of a mother always gave the blame to his drunken but still pleasant father. At first, it had worked and he had hated his father for her sins, but as he had got older, he realized who really did the scheming and basically the bitching in that partnership. He often wondered how the hell a guy like his dad had ended up with her. "Hey dad, I was in Vegas. Those skill's you taught me really helped. I was a dealer," he said with a lopsided smile that was quickly mirrored in his fathers face. A spark of something that Jack Harris hadn't felt in many years crawled up his spine from the pit of his stomach. It was the memories of a better time, memories of late night poker tournaments, winning by the truckload and going back for more. He had personally been the Vegas champ for 2 years running. No mean feat.

"I suppose you been gambling all your money away just like you no good father" Marie Harris screeched. It was her one talent apart from the long ago faded looks. She was able to crack glass at a distance of 30 foot at least.

"We'll talk later" he saw his father mouth at him silently and away from Marie's glare. Xander just nodded and walked down to his basement.

"Yep, Sunnydale, Oh how I love you, let me count the ways, oh wait I can't"





Chapter 03

Sunnydale, CA

1 September 1999

Xander stalked across the college campus basically looking for his girls, he had been back a good week and had yet to contact or see either of them. He was due some Willow and Buffy dosage.

His walked was interrupted by the arrival of a young, very attractive blonde woman, she smiled sweetly at him, "Hello are you lost?"

"Nope" Xander answered her with a small smile of his own.

"Good, I am, do you know where Wiseman hall is?"

"Yeah sure, over there down to the right you can't miss it" Xander answered her; he had spent years walking through the campus on his way to the bronze. It was the most direct route but he had been known to wander a bit, check out the college honeys, such as this one.

"Thanks, I'm Sunday" she told him batting her eyelashes slightly.

'All I need is Saturday and I have the set' Xander thought to himself, "Xander, That's me"

"Well thank you Xander you've been a great help, you new?"

"Sort of" Xander hedged, knowing that he wasn't supposed to be on campus.

"Good, Hey I'm hungry, wanna bite?"

"Uh, as much as I'm going to kick myself for this I have to book"

Sunday's face shifted into a vampire's countenance, "I was talking to myself"

'Of course, it had to be, what a girl...' Xander trailed off as Sunday made a grab for him. Working or pure automatic he pulled out a stake and sidestepped plunging the wood into her with a single thrust. The vampire dissolved into dust motes and Xander brushed off his clothes, "Why can't they just disappear, why do they have to ruin my best shirt" Xander complained to himself walking off once more in search for his friends.

Unseen by him was a certain blonde haired slayer who was standing with her mouth open. She had spotted her nemesis that she had fought and lost too just the night before and had starting running. It hadn't been until she got closer did she actually realize who her intended pray was, by then it was two late. Xander had taken out a vampire that had beaten her in one move. To say that she was shocked would be waste of the opportunity to use the word flabbergasted and her flabber was well and truly gasted.

Buffy stood stock still for several moments before taking off after her friend. She finally spotted him going into the Bronze and followed him in only to find him nowhere in side. Feeling confused and shocked, she sat at a lonely table and allowed her feelings to flow over her. She had been feeling both lost and alone all summer with Willow and Oz on tour and Xander on his road trip. She had no one except Giles, Dawn and her mother to keep her company and Giles had been withdrawn enjoying his semi-retired state. As much as she liked Dawn and her mom, she really needed some own age type company.

"The whole world in front of her and she comes back to this dive." Xander voice from behind her caused her to spin and grab the man into a bear hug, "Oh hey, Owww"

Buffy let go quickly and looked at him, "You're hurt"

"Who me?" he said with wide eyed innocence

Buffy put her hands on her hips and "Xander!"

"It's nothing I had a fall", 'Onto a really big man mountain'

"Oh, when did you get back?" Buffy asked

"Couple days ago."

"You freak of nature. Why didn't you call me?" a pout appeared on her face and Xander smirked at her.

"Well I knew you guys were starting the whole college adventure and I didn't want to, you know... help you move." His lopsided grin made its presence known on his face.

"I missed you. How was your trip? Is America nice? I hear it's nice." Buffy said her brain going a dime a dozen, he was hurt and Sunday hadn't laid a hand on him.

"There's some purple mountains majesty, I'm going to have to say."

"What'd you do? What'd you see?"

"Well..."

"Tell me!"

"Grand Canyon!"

"You saw the Grand Canyon?"

"Yep"

"What Else?" the slayer asked trying to get more information, "Is that where you fell?"

"No, that was Vegas" Xander answered without thinking. He had an annoying tendency to tell the truth when asked a question outright.

"Vegas, Oh my god, how cool" she paused, "How did you fall down in Vegas"

"I got knocked over, little old lady, it's all very sad," Xander said with a semi-straight face.

Buffy punched him in the shoulder causing his eyes to shot open and he paled faster than a snowdrift get dirty. Her face fell as she saw his reaction and despite the lack of noise she knew he was really hurt.

"Oh god, Xan I'm sorry. What happened?"

"It's nothing, just like a igotshotwhilstrunningfromsomegangsterswhowereshootingatmeandistilldontknowwhattheywantedsopleasenottheshoulderatleastforawhile"

"Wow!" Buffy said shaking her head in wonder, "That was truly a babble worthy of Willow"

"Hey, who do you think I picked it up from?"

Buffy's mouth was moving as she slowly trudged her way through his babble, but she was unable to separate the words, "No sorry I'm not skilled enough in babble slayage"

"Ahh, I'll have to get Willow to teach you"

"Are you going to spill or do I have to hit you again"

"I really wouldn't, you know the management here frowns on clearing up blood"

Buffy now looked really concerned, "Xander, what happened you're scaring me"

"Hey, cool it. Look I got shot, still not sure why though"

"God, what happened?"

"Well, ok someone did knock me down it just wasn't a little old lady. Then the next things I know some ones shouting get 'them' and firing"

"Then you got shot"

"No, that was just before I stole the bike"

"Bike, stole the bike, you stole a bike?"

"Yeah, then me and Lara, that's who knocked me over, rode off and escaped. Went our separate ways and now here I am with my favourite blonde"

Xander enjoyed another hug albeit this one gentler than the first, then she stood back and jabbed him playfully in the ribs.

"Don't make me drag it out of you next time... Xander you ok? You've gone pale again"

Sunnydale, Buffy's Dorm Room

1 September 1999

Xander led back on the bed his shirt off and piled behind his head as Buffy applied ice to his ribs.

"Ahh god that's good, cold, but oh so good"

A lone tear flowed down Buffy's face as she took in the damage to her friend, he was even after a week still black and blue, his ribs had been taped but it was obviously done by himself and not very well. His shoulder was a mess as well and blood had soaked through the bandage.

"Hey" Xander said tipping her chin with a finger, "I'm ok, like I said not so good driving a bike". He had frankly lied his ass off but he knew that she would go all slayer-like and most likely get herself hurt if he told her the truth. So he had told her he fell off the Bike. It would account for most of his injuries but not all. As long as she didn't look to closely she wouldn't see the circular bruises from Mr. Williams Medallion Ring, the cuts had faded quickly, nothing more than grazes really and his clothes had taken the brunt, but the bruises were a little obvious. Of course not in his wildest dreams did he think he would be shirtless on Buffy's bed.

Just then a brunette girl came bounding into the room, she spotted them just after Xander had pulled his shirt across himself, "Oh, sorry. You know you should have like hung a sock on the door handle. I would never, I'm sorry. Bye" and as quickly as she had entered she left.

Buffy and Xander looked at each other before exploding into laughter.

After the giggles had subsided Xander took a long hard look at his friend, "So what has you so down?"

"Me, nope, perky as ever"

Xander cut her a disbelieving look.

"It's just college and all that ya know?"

"Nope, but I can guess"

"It's just... there was this vampire and she took me down and I just... I don't know how to stop her." Buffy said eying her friend closely, she had forgotten about him taking out Sunday but now the thirst for knowledge was back with a vengeance.

"Then where's the gang? Avengers assemble! Let's get it going!"

"No, I don't want to bug them. I mean, they're just starting school and they don't need this."

"Okay Buff, what's the what here?"

"It's just, what if I can't cut it?"

"Can't cut what? Slaying?"

"Slaying... everything."

"Buffy, this is all about fear. It's understandable but you can't let it control you. 'Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to anger.' No wait hold on. 'Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side.' Hold on, no, 'First you get the women, then you get the money, then you...' Okay, can we forget that?"

"Thanks for the Dada-ist pep talk. I feel much more abstract now" Buffy said with a smirk

"The point is, you're Buffy"

"Yeah, maybe in high school I was Buffy." Her fears once again pushing the Sunday issue to one side.

"And now in college you're Betty Louise?"

"Yeah, I'm Betty Louise Plotnick of East Cupcake, Illinois. Or I might as well be."

"Buffy, I've gone through some fairly dark times in my life, faced some scary things, among them Vegas. Let me tell you something. When it's dark and I'm alone and I'm scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think, 'What would Buffy do?' You're my hero. Okay, sometimes when it's dark and I'm all alone I think, 'What is Buffy wearing?'" he smiled at her with a sexy lopsided grin that was so Xander, which she felt compelled to return. "Let's put this bitch in the ground! What do you say?"

"I say thank you for the help, and someone already got her"

"Say what?"

"Well, let me tell you a story, I was walking through the campus all set to kill that blonde bitch when low, there she was. Then what da ya know she wasn't" Buffy mock glared at Xander waiting for his reaction.

"Blonde, bit taller than you hot?"

"In a sluty way maybe" Buffy huffed

"Ah"

"Yeah, Ah. That was pretty fast work, Xan"

"I am so the man" he said with a smug grin.

"I couldn't take her, she beat me"

"Hey I got lucky, it happens"

"Where did you learn to fight and move like that?"

"Hello, sat on the hellmouth for three years, that and watching you, as I said you are my hero"

Buffy looked into his eyes and found nothing but truth, honesty and caring. They stared at each other for a few moments until her phone stopped her from doing what she was about to do.

'Oh god I can't believe I was about to do that, just like that time with Theresa' Buffy thought as she leaned over and grabbed the handset.

"Speak at me"

[Buffy, its Giles]

"Giles, hey"

[I know this may seem strange is Xander with you at all]

"Yeah sure, why?"

[Oh thank god, I've been calling him all over, can you and he come to my house]

"Uh, sure. When?"

[Now, if you would be so kind]

"Ok, see you in a few"

[Did you sort out that problem?]

"Oh, it's done" Buffy said with a smirk at Xander

[Very well, I will see you shortly]

Buffy hung up and looked at Xander painfully pulling his shirt on he'd managed to get it on though before she had time to help him.

"To the Giles-Cave?"

"Uh-Huh"



Chapter 04

The Town House Of Rupert Giles

Buffy and Xander stepped up the door and knocked. It had taken them a few minutes extra as Xander had insisted that they quickly nip back to his so he could get something. The something turned out to be a surprisingly large and long jacket that hung off of his shoulders and swept the ground at his feet. He hadn't taken it off even in his car.

"You know you look like the human from terminator, what you got under there a sawn off shotgun" Buffy said with a smirk.

Xander giggled highly, "Yeah right good one buff" he said weakly but she just rolled her eyes. Something was setting of his danger alarm about this meeting and he had come prepared with some of his stock left over from Graduation and his other sorties into the local Army base. The last one had been bitter sweet as he thought about the time he and Cordelia broke in to steal the rocket launcher for the judge. It hadn't stopped him picking up some serious military grade ordinance. That base had the worst security in the history of base security.

Giles answered the door, "Finally, where have you been?"

"I was cold" Xander remarked coldly he was on full alert. Buffy shot him a look and made to go inside but Xander held out a hand to stop her, "Hold up buff" he looked at the watcher, "Why have you got the door so closed up Giles?"

Giles shot him an annoyed look and flung the door open, "happy. Honestly what has gotten into you?"

"He's just being cautious Rupert" came a silky feminine voice.

Xander pushed through the door and pulled out the semi-automatic pistol he had stolen from Mr. Williams, "Hey Lara, how you doing?" he asked pointing it at her head and positioning himself so he had the room and entrances covered.

"Xander! What the devil do you think your doing" Giles demanded while Buffy looked at him as if he were mad.

"Don't worry he is just being prudent. After our last meeting I don't blame him, sorry about the jaw" Lara said eying the fading bruise.

"That wasn't you" he stated his voice firm and devoid of emotion. Not very many people got to see him like this. This was the reason he was the Pack leader, the cold hard ruthlessness that was already part of his psyche. He was very able to bottle down his emotions and deal in cold hard logic; he just didn't see the need often. But when you save someone's life to have her knock, you flat only to wake up to torture you kind of get suspicious. "You and I need a little talk, alone"

Lara nodded accepting, "Giles would you and your friend give me a minute"

"Lady Croft, I hardly ..." he was cut off by her raised hand.

"I do ripper, now I realize this is rude, but go. I'll be fine. Xander is my White Knight"

Everyone froze as Xander pulled the first stage on the Glock's trigger, "Do Not Fuck With Me Lady" he said each word dripping with ice, "I don't know how you know about that but it will be one of the many questions you WILL answer if you want to leave alive"

"Xan, is this the woman you told me about, the one you saved?"

"Yeah it is Buffy we have some issues to work through, it'll be OK trust me?"

"OK" Buffy said weakly and led the confused watcher from the room.

"It's just you and I now Xander why don't you put the gun down"

"You like it, I got it from your friend Mr. Williams"

Lara's eyes spat fire, "That monster is no friend of mine," she stated strongly.

"Really, funny you kick me then I wake up in a dentists chair with that gorilla beating seven shades of living shit out of me"

Lara's eyes flew wide open, "oh god no, no, I promise that had nothing to do with me. They should never have been able to track us. I am so sorry" she said honestly flowing from her words and eyes.

Xander Narrowed his eyes at her gauging her reaction, "Hmmm, We may, and I mean may, have a slight case of jumping to the wrong conclusion here" he finally admitted, "But why did you knock me cold?"

"I thought you worked for them, it wasn't until I did some digging I found you really were a Whi ..." she quickly stopped talking as the second stage disappeared, it was now an infinitesimal pull to unleash the bullet that she noted with interest was aimed right between her eyes. It had been that way since the gun cleared leather and had not wavered in the least. "Why don't you like that phrase, in your case it's a compliment"

Xander's eyes were now slits, "Lets just say the last person who said it didn't mean it that way"

"You must have really hated them" Lara commented as his grip relaxed and the gun disappeared. She caught sight of a sawn off hiding in the folds of the long coat he wore, "Expecting trouble," she said nodding to his jacket.

"Yes, to both. So what brings you to Sunnydale Lara, or should that be Lady croft" he asked his lopsided grin now fully back in place. He had decided to trust her as Giles obviously did and only people he really liked got away with calling him ripper.

"Well, Giles mostly, but I wanted to check in on you as well"

"Lucky you caught me, it's job fair day tomorrow, I'm a shoe in with the circus"

Giles and Buffy entered to the sound of Lara's laughter and found that where there had been threat of violence there was now a strange companionship vibe.

"Lady Croft?" Giles started.

"Xan?" Buffy asked her eyes wide.

"Buffy, I would like you to meet Lady Lara Croft. 'Fraid that's all I know actually oh she's into antiques or something isn't it"

"Yes, something like that" Lara said sharing a look with Giles.

Buffy sat down on the couch next to Xander, very close to him actually and looked at him a little fearfully. He had been acting very un-Xander like. Then she took a long look at Lara, who was simply a knock out. Typically Xander really, led astray trying to save a pretty face. Then she realized something else. Under the hash lights of Giles's living room, it was clearly visible that Xander had been worked over, her own doom had been softly lit and the bronze was dark as always. The fact that Xander had fading bruises was not concern in itself, the crash. The problem was that Lara did not and wasn't wearing any makeup.

"I thought you said you were in a bike accident"

A snort caught her attention, and she turned on the Lady, "What?"

"He drives a bike almost as well as I do, we didn't OH... right ... sorry" Lara said as Xander caught her eye then rolled his.

Buffy looked at him with her patented Slayer Death Glare.

"OK, so may have bent the truth slightly" Xander said holding his hands out in a defensive measure.

"Bent?" Buffy demanded her eyes shining with anger

"Fractured?" Xander said desperately trying to save his life, "Ok, I didn't get them from a bike accident"

By this point Lara had left her chair while Giles was leaning against the wall smirking. Lara walked over to the young man who had saved her life and looked him straight in the eye. He felt the intensity of her gaze somewhere in his lower stomach and lower but that was Cave-Man Xander, his alter ego he tried to ignore, most of the time. "Show me"

"Yeah Xan show the nice lady" Buffy said her eyes dripping sarcasm. Then her eyes softened considerably, "if fact I think Giles will need to take a look at those ribs," she said in a much more caring voice. She was starting to wonder just what it was that Xander was hiding. He only hid things to protect people, usually. But just whom was he protecting.

"No really, it's fine."

"Let me see I know only too well what Mr. Williams can do"

Xander's gaze grew very cold and the atmosphere in the room sank, "He did this to you?"

"Well I can't answer that until I see now can I?"

"You know what I mean"

Lara Croft, Tomb raider and general all round hero looked into eyes filled with fury at her being subjected to what he had been subjected to, "No" she told him truthfully, "if it's what I think you mean, but he did work over a friend"

Ignoring his efforts to stop her she lifted his shirt, Giles walked over and drew in a hissing breath, "Who is that Wanker" he Ripper accent coming through loud and clear, "When I get my hands on im"

"Ripper be a dear and wrap these ribs I have some salve in my bag for the bruises"

Giles took hold of his inner ripper and walked to get his kit. "Really, I'm ok" Xander said somewhat freaked by ripper coming out to play, as well as touched.

Buffy looked him deep in the eye, "What happened?"

"I had a discussion with Mr. Williams and his Friend Mr. Michael Powers" Xander said calmly only his eyes showed the underlying fury burning brighter than any tigers.

"Discussion?"

"Yeah, apparently they didn't like my sense of humor"

"Well you are very luck Xander Mr. Williams usually finishes what he started."

"When I left he and Mr. Powers were all tied up," Xander said giving her a grin Ripper would have been proud of.

Lara's head shot up from mixing the salve, "You saw him, you saw Michael Powers"

"Yeah, why?"

"How?" Lara said in totally shock, "The man is a complete enigma no one outside of Mr. Williams has ever seen him"

"I'm thinking me threatening to kill him may have done it"

"He must have thought you very serious to show himself"

"I think the fact I shot our mutual friend Mr. Williams in the leg convinced him"

"You shot a man in the leg! How, could you?" the slayer asked, Lara quirked an eyebrow at her, "He has a soul" she appended.

Lara gave a very un-lady like snort, "Unfortunately my dear, in my experience, that makes very little difference"

"Any way I missed. I had blood in my eye, it screwed my aim"

"Oh I knew you couldn't hurt a human" Buffy said relieved totally missing the look Lara and Xander shared. He had missed all right, missed the kill shot that would have shattered his pelvis and caused the large man to bleed to death in a lot of pain. Xander had thought it only fitting until he missed.

"So what does our mystery man look like" Lara asked changing the subject as quickly as possible.

"White, Tall-ish thinning blonde hair going to gray, sharp hawk like features with a distinguished cast to his features. Must be about 40-50 doesn't look like a bad guy, he's very English"

Lara's eyebrows shot up again, "really common theory has him a Italian American"

"That guy is no Mobster, more like dickens. Lara, he was very interested in you" Xander told her looking once more into those deep pools she called eyes.

"Yes I imagine he would. I have a confession to make, one you will find painful"

"Hit me, just not literally cause that's one hell of a kick you have you know"

"Good thighs" Lara commented with a twinkle that Xander returned.

She leaned into him and her close proximity screwed with his thought processes then he felt a stabbing pain just before he blacked out.



Chapter 05

Xander came awake with one thought on his mind, "Kill Lara" he mumbled.

"I would rather you didn't" she replied with a smile and a twinkle.

"Oh, no, no you don't every time you twinkle I get unconscious"

"I am so very sorry but I needed to distract you"

"Good Plan batman, what did you do anyway?"

Lara held out a small capsule just in front of him.

"What's that? And where the hell is everyone?"

"You've been out a while, Giles took Buffy back to her dorm so I brought you here"

It was then that Xander realized he was no longer at Giles's town house and that he was A) naked, and B) in a very soft bed.

"Uh, where are my clothes?"

"I'm afraid they fell in the incinerator. But I'll get you new ones I promise"

"Oh man, that was my last Hawaiian as well."

"Well thank the lord for small mercies" Lara smirked.

"Who come I'm not wearing clothes at all"

The sparkle in her eye was now of supernova class, "Well I don't like to go half way"

He looked at her and noticed a cut on her lip, "Oh hey what happened there?"

"You little blonde slayer friend has quite the protective streak I think"

"Buffy did that? You know about slayer's"

"Yes, but it's fine I understand and Yes I do, and Willow the witch and Oz the Were, I know all about your little gang"

"Yeah, she's always trying to make me 'Fray Adjacent' as she puts it" Xander said taking the information that their secret wasn't in his stride.

"Why?"

"Something about me not being a great fighter"

"I find that hard to believe"

"Thanks, I think"

"Not many could escape Mr. Williams"

"I got lucky, he got lax"

"I'm sure" Lara said the twinkle appearing again, 'Stop it you're old enough to be...an older sister'

Then he shot the sexy lopsided grin at her again and her good Angel fell off her shoulder, then next thing she knew her little devil was in full control and causing he to kiss the young man passionately.

To which Xander responded the only way we could, he kissed her back, passionately.

The Astoria Suite

2nd September 1999

Xander awoke to the feel of soft linen and even softer skin under his hand. His eye's snapped open and he took in the sleeping form of Lara Croft.

Last night had been, well, amazing unexpected but amazing, they had not given much thought to his healing ribs and thanks to Giles it wasn't too much of a problem. What hurt at the moment was his damn shoulder. At least he wasn't kicked out into the cold with only his boxer's between him and the night. This time he got to sleep with a woman instead of a somewhat blurred experience. It was also true what they say about the second time being better. Despite the blurriness of his first, it had been amazing this time had been breathtaking. Several times in fact.

Lara rolled over and opened a single blue eye lazily, "Good Morning"

"Hi" Xander said with a lazy smile enjoying the feeling of a woman beside him, and what a woman she had been his every fantasy woman come true and not just the looks but the patience and tenderness she had shown him had made him feel special. That was something he was so, not used to.

"Sleep well?"

"Very, thanks to you. Urm, uh, Thank you. For last night, it was fantastic"

Her other eye opened, "Please don't tell me you were a virgin"

"Oh, no, it's just like urm, only my second time"

Now her eyes were fully open and she was very awake, 'Disarmingly honest of him' she thought thinking of some of her other, conquests, 'and oh boy a natural talent too'

"Well I have to say the pleasure was, MINE" giving him a sexy smile.

Xander gave a full body blush, "Thanks, I think"

"Oh I promise you it was a compliment"

Just then, the doors to the suite blasted open and Mr. Williams stalked in looking every bit as scary as he remembered. Xander reached under the pillow for his gun, he had moved it there when he went to the toilet during the night. It was strange but this whole experience was bringing out instincts in him that he had thought forgotten.

He grabbed Lara and rolled her over himself and then over the bed as the gargantuan hit man lifted an H&K MP5 and started spraying the bed. Lara scrabbled under the bed and pulled out her own weapons. They looked at each other and both stood as the hit man reloaded. Their shots rang out forcing him to dive off to one side. Lara lead the way working round the room to a nearby door taking Xander with her firing both guns in sync as Xander popped off with his Glock taking less shots but forcing Mr. Williams further into cover with every shot.

Both naked as the day they were born they bolted from the suite and into the corridor running flat out towards the stairway.

Xander found himself almost entranced by the sway of both Lara's hips and other parts and had to restrain him self from staring. Diving into the emergency staircase, they quickly made their way down the stairs. About halfway down shots pinged off of a nearby railing and Xander risked a peek to find Mr. Williams calmly leaning over a railing and raining gunfire on their position. The Automatic Machine gun ripping out a hail of leaded death and ripping into the floor, stairs and walls. Xander reached out his hand picturing the hitmans position and fired off a couple of shots, he had very few bullets left and was not exactly in the position to reload. They rushed the stairs to the car park level as Xander used his last ammo keeping Mr. Williams at bay with some blind shots to his position. Xander found himself tracking the large man by the sound of his footfall, he was about two levels or so above and gaining on them.

"You know for a big guy he moves kinda quick" Xander remarked smirking. Letting loose with his last two rounds once again stilling the large mans progress for a short moment. "Now" he prompted and he and Lara ran out into the car park.

Once in the multi story car park Lara rushed over to her Range Rover feeling under the bumper. She retrieved the key and had no sooner jumped in; a hail of automatic fire rained down on them once again.

Xander sheltered behind the large vehicle and was gratified to see the bullets ricochet off leaving only a smoky looking stain where there should have been a hole. From inside the jeeps cab Lara popped the passenger door open and Xander slithered inside.

He watched nervously as Mr. Williams fished in his pocket for another clip discarding the old one. "Now would be good Lara"

She gunned the vehicle and the powerful 4x4 engine launched them out of the space and through the car park. She expertly drove the Range Rover round the tiny bends and dodged other cars as she raced to the exit and finally blasted through the flimsy drop gate.

"We need to talk to Giles"

"I agree" Lara said and gunned the engine into further speed towards the ex-watchers home.

"What's so important about that gizmo?" Xander said eyeing the pellet safely hanging from Lara's necklace. He then made the mistake of allowing his gaze to wander and ended up traversing her body with lustful eyes.

Noticing he's attention and the obvious effect it was having on him Lara suddenly found it hard to drive, "Now, now, Work first, play later"

Shooting her a smile Xander tried to think of un-sexy and disgusting things, like his mother in her underwear, or something equally as off putting.

Lara reached behind her and pulled out a rucksack, "Here there are clothes in here" she said taking some for herself.

He held up some flimsy underwear, "These may be a little small"

The Town House Of Rupert Giles

"Patience is a virtue Buffy" Giles admonished his former charge and surrogate daughter.

Buffy just shot him a glare; they had received a call from Lara telling them to expect them shortly, which had been two hours ago. Now she was pacing worried and not a little jealous. She had learned that Xander had not, as she had thought, spent the night at Giles's house. No he had been in the much more worrying company of Lady Croft.

'Doesn't act much like a Lady' Buffy griped to herself quietly fuming. It wasn't as if she had a claim on Xander or wanted him in that way, no not much anyway, 'She's old enough to be his mother' she thought with no small amount of venom despite the fact there was no way she could be his mother, physically. She was only ten years or so older, possibly, but seriously unlikely. Not that the knowledge would have stopped Buffy's thoughts.

A Range Rover pulled up sharply to the curb and Buffy spotted Lara and Xander talking. She wished she could hear what they were saying.

"It's your fault" Lara said with a smile.

"Really, Lady Croft and why pray tell is that" Xander smirked.

"It was you who insisted that we stop after all"

"I didn't think me turning up in what you call shorts would have gone down well"

"You don't like my shorts"

"I do, on YOU"

"Good answer"

"I thought so, anyway I seem to remember that it was Lara that jumped little old defenseless me, what happened to 'Work first, play later' Not that I'm complaining mind you"

'I wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't true, he turned me into a teenager', Lara thought inwardly, it had been along time since she had connected with someone the way she had with Xander. She knew it couldn't last, but whilst it did, it was sure to be interesting. "Well perhaps I won't do it again"

"Oh, Please god be joking" Xander said while giving her a full shot of Harris charm.

"Play your cards right" she said as they reached Giles's door just in time for Buffy to open the door and hear her words.

"The last time a woman said that to me she was under a spell" Xander quipped suddenly noticing Buffy at the door. "Talk of the devil," he muttered, "And how is my favorite girl?" he asked her with a wide smile. It was the sort of smile that a man only gets in certain circumstances. She was not experienced enough to know that yet. But Willow who was standing behind her did, she had seen a similar, albeit subtler, version of that very smile on her boyfriend Oz more times than her modesty would remember.

"Willow" Xander enthused grabbing the red head into a hug, "How's my favorite witch"

*****

An hour later found the Scooby gang plus Lara looking down at her necklace. She had taken it off and had laid it on the coffee table and they were now all looking at it.

"So what is it?" Buffy asked

"A map" Lara told her.

"Is it inside?" Willow asked

"Not exactly," Lara began, "It is a device that will show the map to the correct person. A so called worthy being"

"So why does Mr. Powers want it, he's only worthy of my boot in his butt" Xander remarked.

Lara smiled at him, "I didn't say it was a nice worthy"

"Oh, one of those hey" Xander said smiling into her eyes.

Lara dipped her head and scowled at the map, "I haven't been able to open it. That night we, err, met, I stole it from Messer's Powers and Williams, which is why the goon squad chased us across Vegas."

"I still can't believe you went to Vegas, you know how your dad all ways told you to stay away" Willow said

Xander locked eyes with her, "Actually dad said it's the best place on earth. It's my mother that hates it. She just has a way of blaming everything on him. I have to say it had its attractions" he said darting a look at the now concentrating form of Lady croft as she turned the magical map in her hands trying to trigger some sort of mechanism.

"Did you gamble?" Willow asked excitedly

"Hell no"

"What did you do there apart from saving Damsels in a dress?"

"Actually she was wearing slacks, but I working in a casino dealing poker to tourists"

"Wow, that sounds exciting"

"It does? It really wasn't. It was mostly to tourists who hadn't played more than two games in their life, it was all I could do to stop myself giving them tips. It was pathetic. But do you want to know what really scared me?" Xander said with a warm smile for his oldest friend.

"Sure" Willow said perkily, "What scared you the most Xander?"

"It was the old ladies at the slots wearing white gloves to cover the sores from pulling that damn handle day in and night out. Plunking quarters and dimes into the machines and the way they would get all aggressive if they had to take a bathroom break, man some of the fights"

Willow looked at him as if she wasn't sure to believe him or not, so he continued, "It's true I swear. I've seen them dragged away or in some cases carried away because they haven't had a break in 36 hours straight. Wills it was plain scary"

"That coming from someone who lives on a hellmouth" Lara interjected with an enigmatic smile.

"Oh sure, mock me. But one day the white gloved old ladies will rules the world and all we will hear is Clunk CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, rattle all day long"

Willow and Lara both chuckled along with him causing the slayer to look up from the map, "What?" she asked clueless.

Angel Investigations, LA

Cordelia was bored, she had only starting working for Angel as a favor and now she was working for almost full time, admittedly the favor was for her, she had no money or food. But this was beyond the pail. Three days straight and not a single person had walked through that door.

TING

The bell above the door chimed and opened to admit a good looking middle aged man with graying blonde hair.

"Welcome To Angel Investigation We Help The Helpless" Cordelia said in her perkiest voice and with her largest million wattage smile.

"How charming" the man said in a voice like silk, English silk to be precise.

"What can we do for you?"

"I need something found and you were recommended to me by a very good friend. They said you specialized in how shall I say, occult cases"

"That's us, all occults are welcome here"

"Yes quite, well I am missing a very important pendant, family heirloom it was stolen from me and I need it back rather urgently. Do you think you? ..."

"Yes" Cordy cut him off.

"Wonderful, everything to get you started is in the file as well as half payment up front. The rest is payable on delivery of the pendant. Thank you good day"

He placed the folder in the desk and left as quickly as he had entered.

She picked up the internal intercom, "Angel quick, come up... I don't care its day time we have a case..."





Chapter 06

The Town House of Rupert Giles

Xander reached over to Buffy, "Come on, My go with the gizmo"

"Xander, that is a cultural and archaeological find, not a gizmo" Giles commented tiredly. They had been tossing around ideas for several hours and so far none had triggered the map.

Buffy smirked, "See you don't even know what to call it" she said in a joking sing song voice.

"Don't make me come over there" Xander shot back and turned to Lara, "Lara, can I play with your thingy" he asked her face innocent, his eyes on the other hand.

"Why Xander, I'm flattered, but I'm so not an exhibitionist" Lara replied with a straight face.

"Xander, one does not flirt with a Lady", Giles reprimanded him.

"It's true" Lara said wistfully, "being a lady is no fun at all at times"

"Lady Croft, I shudder to think what your father would say if he heard you talking like that," Giles said primly.

Lara looked at him aghast, "You and I both know RIPPER, that he would have certainly egged me on whilst holding you up from one of your many drunken exploits together"

Giles shut up really fast.

Xander smiled at him like a cat with a cannery, "So does that mean I can flirt with the Lady now, or would you prefer we talk about that little story?"

Ripper flared behind the librarians eyes for a micro second bringing an evil smirk along for the ride but the watcher slammed it down and wiped away the smirk. One of the things about Xander he liked was that he had the courage he had, had in his ripper days without the nasty streak that came along with it. He liked that Xander would tease him on an equal footing and sometimes longed to banter as his surrogate children did. One of those times was right now. He didn't because he felt that someone needed to be the adult, and well every good act needed a straight man.

The gang were all chortling at his expense with Xander grinning at him with a slightly knowing smile that showed that sometimes he was a very insightful young man. People who dealt in the dark needed to laugh that or join the darkness.

"Here you big dope, if only to save Lady Croft from your flirting" Buffy said throwing the map to Xander. He caught it by the chain.

"Hey, I'll have you know that my flirting is grade A"

"Not from what I remember," Buffy said with a hint of a smile.

"Well, I've had practice since then"

Lara leaned into him and whispered in his ear causing him to blush and stammer to a standstill, for a moment.

Buffy looked at them confused for a moment, specifically wondering what the secret to shutting Xander up like that was, she had never known him to become quiet that quickly since meeting him. "Wow, how did you do that," she asked Lara with a wicked gleam in her eye.

"Insider Knowledge" Lara said with a smile Buffy wasn't sure she really liked. Whilst Xander was trying not to cough up a lung.

"So wills," Xander said clearing his throat, "How is college life treating you?"

"Its good, great actually, Oz lives with the band in this really cool of campus house and all my classes are interesting"

"I should have known your big brain would love college"

"Well ya know me" she replied perkily. She turned to her friend, "Hey did you get a eye full of that Psyche TA, what was his name. Riley. He certainly got a load of you"

Buffy rolled her eyes, "You mean nice but dim Finn?"

"Buffy, he seemed really nice" Willow said shocked, "I thought you liked him"

"He's OK, but ya know with the thing", Lara rolled her eyes. Xander looked between them with a smile.

"Chill buff, she knows all about our little family"

"Xander, secret identity ya remember that right" Buffy replied outraged.

"Hey don't look at me," Xander said huffily, "I wouldn't ever reveal your secret super hero persona"

"I have my own sources Buffy" Lara interjected, then turned on Giles, "But I am surprised you never told me you worked for the council"

"It would hardly be a secret if I told people now would it" Giles remarked sardonically.

"The mans got a point" Xander remarked as he fiddled with the map.

"Yes, but did my father know?"

"Well, I mean, well, I may have mentioned something"

"Hmm, your not very good with secrets. I notice no one was surprised when I called you ripper for instance"

"Mr.-I-slept with Buffy's mom"

"I assure you no sleeping was involved" Giles shot back.

Buffy turned an icy glare to him and he mentally reviewed, "Oh dear, that didn't come out quite right"

Lara turned to Xander, "What are you talking about"

"Some wacky chocolate turned all the adults into teenagers for the night and regressed him into ripper. It was actually really funny" Buffy turned her glare on to Xander

"Funny?" she asked sweetly

"Oh hell yeah" Xander replied without thinking, "The look on your face" he looked up, "Was not worth the beating I'm about to get" he trailed off and decided to change the subject, "So this Riley, is he evil?"

Buffy carried on leveling her glare on him silently.

He leaned into Lara, "Save me"

"Oh no you got into this all by yourself"

"Wills"

"Not on your life mister"

"Giles?"

"Don't drag him into this he is in enough trouble already, aren't you toreador?"

Angel Investigations, LA

Angel looked up from the manila folder that his new client had dropped off, "How are we supposed to find this thing. Honestly Cordelia it's a needle in a needle stack"

"These last two pages have possible suspects for the robbery. I think you ought to take a look" she handed the sheet over with a grim look in her eye.

Angel took the offered sheet that also contained a 8x10 black and white. "Oh this keeps getting better and better"

"I know" Cordelia replied

"Why would he of all people want to steal this heirloom?"

"Maybe he needs the cash"

Angel shot her a look, "I know he may not be your favorite person but he is far too much of a White..."

"What?"

"Nothing, just bad memories"

"What were you going to say?"

"White Knight, I, well, Angelus, called him that"

"When" she asked curious despite herself.

"Never mind, the point is he's far too honorable to steal"

"And where do you think we got the rocket launcher for the judge?"

"I often wondered"

"He stole it from an army base"

Angel actually laughed a short bark but a laugh nonetheless, "Nice"

"Hey, I thought you hated him"

Angel grew serious, "Not exactly hate"

"Then what?"

"I really don't want to talk about it. Cor"

Cordelia pinned him with a glare that softened after a short while, "Fine" she said with less venom than she would have before getting involved with the old gang.

"I think you should call him"

"What, no way"

"I can't do it, he would just put the phone down on me"

"I am not calling Xander I-Kissed-Willow Harris"

"You still mad about that"

"Well duh!"

"Fine"

"Fine!"

There was silence for a while the only sound the ticking of a clock, "We'll go see him then" Angel said with an evil smile.

"..." Cordelia didn't say.

The Astoria Suite

Lara snapped the police line tape and stepped into the wrecked suite. The place was in a shambles with holes dotted in everything and feathers from the bed scattered across the plush white carpet. She quickly made her way into the room and stole back her belongings. It was obvious that not even the CSI had been in the room at that point, but she had learned from Xander that the Sunnydale PD did not have the most amazing work ethic on the face of the planet.

It appeared that someone had come and slapped up tape and left. She moved quickly having promised to be back at Giles's house within half an hour. Xander wasn't clingy but he was worried about her which she thought rather sweet. He was a little confusing to her; he had a strong noble heart and a real knight complex. But he was also surprisingly level headed about defending himself against human attack. Demons she could understand having to kill, as did the slayer but all of the group seemed to think that it was taboo to kill humans except Xander. Buffy's reaction to him shooting his tormentor was an indication of that. As far as Lara was concerned Mr. Williams had that and a lot more coming to him.

She broke from her thoughts with a sigh, she picked up her trusty old rucksack noticing yet another hole in it. Poking her finger through the 9mm slug made hole. With another sigh she searched around for her clothes, she had removed them in a bit of a hurry the night before. AS she worked her thoughts once again turned to the people she had just met.

From what she had learnt the Scooby gang, as they called themselves, had been a state of constant fight or flight for that last three years with only the summer time lull as a sort of rest. But even then the vampires still kept coming, just in smaller numbers. It was terrible that those young people had to do that, but from the sounds of their little story telling session that afternoon, they had saved the world so many times they had lost count. Although the strangely secretive smile Xander had got when they talked about that had intrigued her. The one thing she was totally amazed about was the feeling she had gained about the gang's feeling for Xander.

By her count there was a Warrior, Watcher, Witch and Werewolf in that group and they all seemed to think of Xander as the useless one. That she could understand to an extent after all he was only human, but didn't they realize what humans were capable of without special powers. She herself was as human as he but she certainly wasn't useless in fact she was tempted to offer the Slayer a sparing match. People like that tended to rely on their strength and speed too much, it would be fun to take her down a couple of pegs.

She had seen Xander in action twice now and both times he had been right with her and sometimes just ahead when the chips fell. Considering the climate it was almost normal for him to be that attuned to danger. He was a very good shot, he had kept Mr. Williams pinned with calculated shots earlier in this very suite. She had found out about his Soldier boy experience as he called it. Xander's revelation about Ripper had prompted a very entertaining afternoon of stories and tales being swapped. But he had also said that he had basically forgotten it all except a certain flair for martial arts. She had a feeling he meant for gun play to be included in that. So she had asked him about the skill and aim quietly and he had told her he had always been a 'pretty ok shot'. His words 'Pretty OK' had caused her to laugh, he seemed to have no idea what he was doing was special. Then with his friends acting the way they did that was no surprise either.

Out of all of them it was Giles she was most disappointed in. When she had known him she had admittedly been young and impressionable, but he had seemed like a charming and witty man as well as being generous of heart and spirit despite his Ripper days. Yet he had obviously offered no words of encouragement to Xander. Perhaps she was biased but she thought that wrong.

By the end of the afternoon and into the evening she was also starting to actively dislike the way Buffy treated him. Condescending was the word that summed it up best.

Lara angrily stuffed some of her things into a bag, she was becoming more than a little angry at the slight against her newest friend. She didn't have many people she considered friends. She had many associates and obviously her work caused her to meet some very interesting people. But she thought of a friend as a special thing, someone to trust implicitly and to cherish. Whilst she wasn't one to thrust her views on other people she thought that perhaps Buffy and her little gang could do with realizing just how important friends really were.

With an evil smile she stalked out of the ruined suite her belongings slung over her shoulder.





Chapter 07

The Town House Of Rupert Giles.

Xander paced up and down by the living room window one hand in his pockets tossing the map up and down in the other.

Buffy looked at him from her position in the kitchen were she was talking with her red haired friend.

"He's going to get mad" Willow remarked, slightly nervously.

"I don't care, he scared the hell outta me when he staked Sunday"

"But you said he did good"

"He did, it's just I don't want him around the fighting any more, its two dangerous. So he took Sunday, he even told me it was a lucky break. What if he hadn't been lucky, what if she had got to him. I was too far away he would have been drained by time I got there"

"I know buff, but you know how upset he was last time."

"Yeah, but at least he was safe"

A suppressed yell was heard from the living room and Buffy peered in to find Xander sucking his finger shaking her blonde head she turned to Willow, "See what I mean, he can't stop himself getting hurt in Giles's living room for gods sake"

Willow nodded reluctantly, the last thing she wanted was to have her best friend since childhood lost to her. He WAS too reckless, always running into the fray unafraid to what would happen to him. It had made her nervous on several occasions. Maybe it would be best was what she decided.

Buffy took her hand and they walked in together. Xander turned to them with a smile and opened his mouth, but Buffy held up a hand. "No Xander, we need to talk"

His smile drooped slightly.

"Willow and I have discussed this and I'm sorry but we have decided that this is too dangerous for you"

"No wait" Buffy said cutting him off, "I haven't finished its time you realized that you are not cut out for this, the fact you have survived this long is incredible and I can't afford another life on my hands I want you to stay away from now on, you can help with research cause I know you do want to help and I'm not a total bitch I understand why but no more fighting stay away from patrols and stay in a night. This is a dangerous life Xander and you have no defenses against it, Willow's a witch, Oz a werewolf and I'm the slayer even Giles has magical ability but you have nothing"

The door opened to admit Lara who felt the atmosphere as soon as she entered and caught her last words. Buffy ignored her as she continued her passionate talking to Xander, "You have to understand that, and you are just a human you have no way of protecting yourself. Its stupid you can die Xander"

Xander's smile had now slipped off of his face all together leaving a grim visage behind it. His eyes were twinkling not with mirth but with unshed tears. He had never felt so small as he did right at that moment.

"And what ever happens with this, whatever it is, with Giles's friend you need to stay away from that as well that man could kill you Xander you need to lie low. Go home Xander"

Xander nodded and walked out of the door not even seeing Lara standing by the doorway her mouth open in shock.

"He didn't get mad" Willow said in a very small voice, "Oh god he didn't get mad"

Buffy gave her a confused look, "That's good it means he realized what I was saying was true"

"You stupid little egotistical deranged and deluded pillock" Lara said every word the slamming of Buffy's coffin, "The reason he didn't get mad was because you have just broken his heart. You are the most ridiculous excuse for a human being I have ever met. You don't even know what you had in him do you. 'You are JUST a human' just humans have been fighting the forces of darkness as long as slayers have and usually lasting longer, do your research girl. Do you know how to read or did that peroxide finally seep into your brain. The slayer is but one of earths defenders not the only one. There are thousands of vampires all across the world, do you think you have the monopoly on them just because this is a hellmouth?"

Buffy's own anger had risen by that point, "Where do you get off, you don't know what is going on here he is always jumping into fights without being ready for it I've seen him hurt too many times to watch it anymore"

Lara leveled a cool look at her, "Those times he leapt in why? Why did he leap in exactly?"

Buffy stared back at her visibly holding back her anger.

"No answer Well let me guess then, to save one of you. I see from the witch I'm right. Has it never occurred to you that he might not be as useless as you think? He is still alive after fighting demons for the last three years. Or do you honestly think that you save him each and every time he gets into a little trouble. Or that you were even there at the time. He doesn't seem the type to just stand back to me."

Buffy was turning white.

"Oh didn't think about that did we my dear. I have known him only a few short days and I can already see just how special he is. Now thanks to you..." Lara trailed off suddenly looking worried, and then she dropped her bags and bolted from the door.

Buffy turned a surprised look to her friend, "huh?" Willow was crying openly and tried to get past her friend, "What is it Wills?"

"He didn't get mad" she said struggling from the slayers grip, "I've gotta find him"

"Why?"

Willow looked at her friend incredulously, "Because we just took everything he loved away from him. Why didn't I think of that before? I gotta get to him, say I'm sorry"

Willow tore away from her and ran from the room her long skirt flapping as she ran.

"What are they talking about?" she asked thin air.

It responded, "Suicide, although they are both wrong" Giles said as he walked down the stairs.

"Suicide, oh god" the slayer made a move to run herself.

"He won't" Giles said with total conviction, "Willow is just too scared to see it and Lara doesn't know him that well yet although it appears better than you. I can't believe you tried this after what I said last time"

"But..."

"No buts, I specifically told you not to try to keep Xander out of the group"

"But..."

"No, it appears I may have to tell you why" Giles said pointing to the couch.

*****

Xander walked down the road with his hands in his pockets kicking stones half heartedly. He knew that Buffy had his best interests at heart and he was willing to forgive the things she said just because she didn't realize what she was saying. He knew she wanted him to be safe, but he wasn't the sort of person to stop.

What had upset him, well one of the main reasons, was that she didn't know him well enough to realize that. Three years they had known each other and he had lost count at how many talks they had partaken of. They had bared their souls when they had argued he was the only one that would never back down from her despite knowing that she was capable of tearing his arm off and beating him to death with it. Yet she still didn't realize that he would not and indeed could not back away from the fight he had taken as his own.

It meant too much to him now to stop, he hated vampires and demons, well most demons. They had hurt too many friends and ruined too many families that he had known. Buffy wasn't the one who told Jessie's parents what had happened. She wasn't the one that had held Jessie father until he stopped crying at the loss of his only son. It had been heart breaking to watch another man cry like that. His mother was now in a mental ward totally cationic. His father, well that was the worst thing he had ever seen. It hadn't been a vampire directly that killed Jessie's father but indirectly is most certainly had been. Walking into his garage and finding him with one sock off and the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth had been bad. But it was when he had pulled the trigger that Xander had almost lost it himself.

Instead of going postal he had entered the battle, not out of revenge or anything so Hollywood blockbuster. He had done it to try to at least limit the families ripped apart as they had been. He had never told anyone that small piece of information but they should still have known him and that he would never give it up now. It had been good to take a break but he always planned to return to the hellmouth. Besides he knew Buffy was there. She really was his hero, but he knew even heroes had their faults. Buffy could be almost air headed in her dealings with humans, she was a literally a force of nature and as such she tended to run roughshod over everything that opposed her forgetting that humans needed a little kindness but wanting it herself.

He had tried to give her that kindness only to have her throw it back in his face only a day or two later. That was why he had left right at that moment he had been hurt.

He wouldn't allow them to shut him out again and he knew he had Giles's backing on this. Giles had found out all about that night with the sisters and the zombies he had been told by his contacts and had investigated himself. He had taken Xander aside and merely told him that he wouldn't allow Buffy to push him out again, and that he was grateful for the save. It had been one of the best moments of his life to see that approving look in Giles's eye.

He just needed a little time to himself; away from Buffy before he started to say things he didn't really mean and didn't really want to say.

"Xander"

He turned to find Lara running up to him, "Wait" she said as she got to him.

"Hi" he said cheerfully but his cheer wasn't quite in his eyes, "What's up"

"I wanted to make sure you were alright" she told him looking deep into his eyes, she didn't find any trace of the malady that effects suicidal types, a little sadness but none of the soul crushing melancholy she had feared.

"I'll be OK," he said cocking an elbow for her to take his arm, "Buy you a coffee?"

"Why thank you kind sir," she replied as she took the proffered arm.

Willow caught them just as they were about to enter the coffee shop.

"X... x... x..." she huffed.

"Breathe Willow, breathe" Xander told her with a smile.

She drew a few breathes until she had regained her composure, "Xander, I'm so sorry"

"It's Ok wills, I know you and Buffy just want to keep me safe, and I understand I really do"

"Yeah, but I'm sorry anyway. I want you safe but I can't make your decisions for you"

"That's true. Don't worry we're good. I'll be back over later K'"

She beamed at him, "K"

She rushed off again this time with more spring in her step.

He caught Lara looking at him, "What?"

"I don't think I could be quite that forgiving"

"Nah, its nothing to worry about Buffy tends to be a bit..." he trailed off looking for the right word.

"Bull in a china shop" Lara supplied to which Xander smirked.

"That's about it and lovely mental image there"

"How about we skip coffee and make some more interesting mental images," Lara said before kissing him deeply.

"Now that is a plan I can get behind"

*****

The Plymouth pulled into Sunnydale just after dark with all three of its passengers arguing between themselves behind the darkened glass.

"I don't see why I had to come"

"You are my assistant"

"You could have brought just Doyle, he could assist you"

"Now princess Angel's the boss ya know"

Cordelia blew air out of her pursed lips in a suppressed laugh. Angel just levelled a mild glare at her.

"Look basically if I have to face him you do, OK."

"You know we will run into Buffy" Cordelia said in a last ditch effort.

"Buffy, would this be the blonde slayer I have heard so much about?" Doyle asked with a grin.

"Yes, and she and Angel didn't part on the best of terms"

"It wasn't like that Cor and you know it. Stop trying to get me to give up and get used to it. We are in this together"

"I so hope Xander stakes your undead ass"

It was Doyle's turn to make a disbelieving noise, "Yeah right. I'm half demon and I can't take da boss man here"

"Tell him Angel" Cordelia folder her arms over her chest with a evil grin, "Tell him what you told me"

"That wasn't me, that was him"

"What?" Doyle asked confused.

"Well, it appears that Angel is scared of him"

"As I said, Cor not me Angelus. I am not scared of anyone as well you know"

"You telling me that the big bad Angelus was scared of a teenager"

"I'm not telling you anything" Angel said in aggrieved tone, "Miss Blabbermouth 1999 there is doing the telling when I asked her not to"

"Oh come on, this is just too good an opportunity to miss out on"

"Why?" Doyle put in between the arguing pair.

"What?" Angel said having been derailed from his witty riposte.

"Why was Angelus scared of him?"

"Perhaps Scared isn't the right word"

"Angel!"

"Fine, scared he was just so bloody noble Buffy's white knight protecting her from the big bad wolf in the night it was sickening really the way he pined after her" he darted a look at Cordelia, "Sorry"

"No I agree. It was strange I knew he loved her even up to the point we broke up but at the end there he had stopped rubbing my nose in it. We were doing well and if little miss thang hadn't of battered her innocent-little-me eye lashes at him I think we still would be"

"No bitterness there at all then" Doyle remarked from the safety of the back seat. "I think this could be an interesting trip after all"



Chapter 08

The Town House of Rupert Giles

"Angel"

"Buffy"

"Doyle, Ow"

"God I thought only Xander was lame enough to pull that joke"

"Hi Cordelia" Buffy said with a smile. "Guys it's the LA crew"

Giles walked up to the door causing Angel the usual feeling of guilt and pain that he always associated with the man. "Welcome"

They stepped through the threshold as Giles waived them all through, "To what do we owe this pleasure"

"Uh, we need to talk to Xander, is he here" Angel asked looking around.

"Nope, he's due over later though. Do you want me to call him?"

"That would be great" Cordelia said with her usual kilowatt smile.

"Drink anyone" Giles asked.

"Jameson's?" Doyle asked.

"Of course, Mr...."

"Just call me Doyle everyone else does"

"Of course"

The Harris Residence

BRING, BRING, BRING.

Jack Harris looked up from the couch where he was desperately trying to watch the television without much luck.

"Hello" he said as he answered the phone.

[Xander, Hi it's Willow can you come over]

"No Willow, it's Jack"

[Oh hi Mr. Harris, is Xander there]

At that point a long drawn out female cry sounded through the house.

"Urm, he's kinda busy right now" Jack said laughter in his eyes and voice. He had wandered down to say hi earlier only to quickly depart with a huge smile on his face.

[It's kinda important]

Jack's grin was ready to crack his face. It was lucky that Marie was out, another obviously joyous sound emerged from the basement prompting Mr. Harris senior to laugh.

[What was that?]

"Urm, Willow There is no way in hell that Xander would want to be disturbed right now"

[Is he watching porn again, He always has it up to loud]

Jack laughed down the phone, "Possibly" he remarked with a lopsided grin that was identical to his sons and took years off of him. He tried to fight back the laughter without much luck.

[Is everything OK there Mr. Harris]

"I would say some of us are more than fine thank you Willow. I'll give him a message when, urm, later"

[Ok, Thanks Mr. Harris, sorry to disturb you and I'm sorry about Xander he doesn't realize sometimes]

Her reply was Jack loosing it down the phone as a startled yelp came from the basement followed by a thump and laughter.

The Town House Of Rupert Giles

Willow looked at the phone in confusion as it went dead to the sound of Mr. Harris laughing so hard she was worried for his spleen.

Buffy looked at her, "Is he coming?"

"Urm, I think you could say no not yet," Willow said blushing.

"Did I hear you say Porn" Buffy asked her quietly.

"Urm yeah"

"Well that's just wrong we need him here and he is too busy watching naughty videos to come over"

"Yeah" Willow didn't sound sure.

"What?"

"I haven't heard Mr. Harris laugh that much, not even that time I walked in to the sounds of Xander watching porn last year"

"Anyone who sired Xander has to have a sense of humor as bad as his"

"Oh, its worse as far as I could tell just not round Mrs. Harris"

"So what's so strange about him laughing?"

"It wasn't that really I could have sworn I heard female laughter just before Mr. Harris started to bust a gut down the phone"

Two Hours Later

"This time it is defiantly your fault"

"Ok, hands up to that one" Xander said with a large smile.

Lara returned the smile.

"Hey Wills" Xander said as the door opened.

"It's about time you turned up"

"What?"

"Didn't you dad give you the message?"

"I seem to remember he tried to tell me something but he was laughing so hard I didn't understand a word of It." Xander said blushing slightly.

"Honestly Xander aren't you a little old for porn" Willow said wagging a finger at him.

"Porn!" Xander sputtered before dissolving into laughter which Lara joined him in.

"Yeah, well anyway" Willow said slowly, "Angel's here"

Xander stopped laughing, "Oh goodie my day is complete"

Xander allowed Lara to step in first following her with a small smile. He had just had the best afternoon in the history of the world as far as he was concerned. What had started as a fumbling episode had turned into the most mind blowing way to while away the day, like ever.

Then he spotted Cordelia chatting to Oz and a dark haired man he had never seen whilst Angel and Buffy sat next to each other not talking at all. He didn't se Giles at all so he assumed he was in the kitchen making tea.

"Oh shit" he muttered.

"What is it?" Lara asked him.

"My Ex"

"Faith?"

"No Faith and I where never actually an item, more of a moment"

Lara's lips curled up into a saucy smile, "I find it hard to think of moment and you in the same sentence"

"Xander!" Cordelia's voice cut through the room she got up and walked over to him sparing the dark haired woman beside him a quick smile before focusing on her ex.

"Hello Cordy" he said smiling at her.

"Don't hello Cordy me. You don't call, you don't write" she smiled at him and pulled him into a hug. She hated the fact he could make her like this, she was supposed to be the queen bitch and he made her give him a hug with a smile.

"Well the same could be said of you, how's the acting career"

"Not so good"

"It will be Cordy it will be. Who could resist you?"

"Flatterer"

"This is Lady Croft" Xander said indicating the tall brunette woman she had barely registered earlier.

"Lady?" she asked

"Lady" he told her.

"Lara this is Cordelia Chase, the upcoming next big thing in Hollywood"

"Hello" Lara said smiling at the other woman whilst gauging her at the same time, a strong woman was what she saw and she liked strong women, after all she was herself.

"Hi, So what's a Lady doing with this doofus and..."

"Cor" Angel's voice cut her off

"Oh right, yeah the case, sorry"

"Deadboy" Xander said in exaggerated joy.

Doyle started to chuckle from across the room muttering "Deadboy now that I'll have to remember"

"Xander" Angel's deep voice seemed to echo in the suddenly quiet room.

Lara reached down and gave Xander's hand a slight squeeze before walking into the kitchen to find Giles. A move not unnoticed by the three women in the room.

"So you wanted me?"

"Yes"

"Ok, so what can I do for you, Deadboy?"

Angel looked nervous for a few moments, "I need to ask you something and I need you to tell me the truth. I won't judge you but I will need it back"

Xander frowned at him, "And I say huh?"

Angel pulled out a picture and held it up for him to see it was the map, "Did you steal this?"

"Not personally, why who wants it back?"

"That doesn't matter just hand it over and I'll return it. I won't say where I found it"

"Urm let me think, No"

"Look Xander be reasonable stealing is wrong"

Xander barked out a laugh, "That depends on who you're stealing from. Now let me ask you a question which I'll need you to answer or else I'll shot you" Xander said drawing his Berretta 93R and pointing it at the souled vamp, "And before you say, 'Guns don't kill us mortal' Like the good vamp you are just think how much it will hurt to have your knee cap smashed into a thousand pieces by a 9mm Parabellum moving at the speed of sound"

Angel gaped at him and he wasn't the only one the entire room was staring at them Doyle started to shift forward.

"I don't know you pal, but if you move again, I'll shoot you then the vamp" Xander said without even looking at him.

"Why is it so important Xander" Cordelia said as her heart slowed.

"Because I believe Angel may have been hired by someone I don't like very much" Xander growled.

"What the hell" Giles said as he left the kitchen with a tray in his hand Lara was just behind him and reacted quickly pulling out her own weapon and moving to back up Xander.

Xander didn't look at her but his smile grew, "Thanks Lara. Now answer me DB and this will all go away. Believe it or not I don't want to hurt you. But I know you and you're just like Buffy. And no offence I don't feel like fighting a vampire right now"

"He's a vampire?" Lara asked in a low tone

"Yeah, but your good now aren't you Angel. It won't help your redemption kick working for the bad guys now will it"

"I have a commitment to keep my clients secrets Xander you must know that"

"I know and I respect that I really do, but you can't have the map"

"Map? What map I just want this pendant back" he said waggling the picture slightly.

"Buffy sit down" Xander said with a dead tone, "You may be fast but you can't outrun a bullet"

"Xan... You can't be threatening to shoot me?" she asked in a hurt voice.

"I'm not, exactly."

"Then what"

"Later buff, I'll explain later I promise, just for once trust me"

To his everlasting surprise she sat back and smiled, "OK"

He nearly dropped the gun figuratively speaking. "Angel?"

"No, I can't"

"Oh for gods sake, Angel this is Xander. He wouldn't be doping this unless he had a reason," Cordelia pleaded

Angel dipped hiss head thinking, "Michael Powers" he answered finally.

Xander engaged the safety on his gun and it disappeared back into the small of his back. "Ok, thank you that was what I was afraid of. Ladies and Germs we may have a problem"

Lara relaxed her own defensive posture and her custom pistol disappeared.

The room gave a collective sigh of relief visibly sagging.

"Sorry about that DB I just didn't want to fight you"

"I understand Xander I do, not that it means I won't get you back one day"

Xander flashed him a smile full of teeth, "I look forward to it"

"When the testosterone levels sink do you think we could get to the point" Lara said tiredly.

"OK, You tell them I need to talk to Buffy" Xander said looking at the blonde haired slayer.

Lara just nodded and took her seat as she departed with Xander.

"Michael Powers is a bit of an enigma" she started as he and Buffy left the room.

He walked her into the courtyard outside Giles's house and sat her down, "First sorry for threatening you. It wasn't meant like that But when in a situation like that I have to be shoot first as later"

"Would you really have shot Angel?"

Xander looked at her for a few minutes, "Yes" he said finally. It was after all no good making a threat if you were not willing to back it up with the action. "But I wouldn't have liked it."

"What about me?"

"I would like to think that I could stop the reaction I would have had to you moving quickly but you were probably to close for me to do so. I'm only human after all"

"Xander about that"

"Its doesn't matter as long as you don't try to stop me Buffy we can forget all about it as far as I'm concerned. I know that you are trying to keep me safe, but that is not your decision to make"

"And even if I do keep you away you'll just do it anyway, right?"

"Pretty much"

"Giles told me a very interesting story today" Buffy said with a glint.

Xander visibly winced as he realized the story Giles had most likely told her.

"Thank you"

Xander did a classic double take, "sorry"

"I said thank you. I should have said thank you years ago. Giles made me realize just how important you are to the group today and I'm sorry I didn't see it before"

Xander was quiet for a long time and Buffy was afraid he was about to turn on her angrily and not come back. She suddenly realized she couldn't handle that. And considering the fact Angel had left and she had survived she was shocked to her core that the thought of loosing Xander would effect her that badly.

"Thank you Buffy. That means a lot to me. Especially coming from my hero"

"I'm not a hero Xander, I'm just Buffy"

"I know that but just Buffy isn't just the oldest slayer on record you know, she's an amazing person who is strong enough to survive all this crap and all the emotional rubbish that comes with it"

She smiled at him.

"Come on then hero lets see what Lara's told the fang gang"

"Fang Gang?"

"Yeah, well I thought about the Deadboy Debutante's but Fang Gang was easier to say"

They walked back in laughing as Lara had finished her story about the rich and powerful Michael Powers and the Ruthless and dangerous Mr. Williams. She had also told them that he would certainly have killed them all after retrieving the map just because Cordelia had seen him. Only one other person alive had seen him.

"Who else saw him and will he put me up and tell me how to escape?" Cordelia quipped.

"Sure Cordy, you're welcome over my place anytime, if you don't mind my old room"

"You?" she asked incredulously.

"What is it with you people" Lara finally demanded. "Do you all think he's useless?"

They all shuffled their feet and nodded with the notable exception of Buffy and Willow, even Oz nodded sagely.

"Lara, don't it doesn't matter" Xander said putting a calming hand on her shoulder.

She was obviously champing at the bit to stand up for her friend and lover but his calm voice and demeanor calmed her also.

Wanting to clear the air Cordy cracked a smile, "Your old room, the old rents kicked you out?"

"Nah, I just moved into the basement, it's bigger, view sucks but the bed is comfy"

"Although I think you may need a new one after this afternoon" Lara said quietly enough to make it sound like she was trying to talk to just Xander but loud enough for them all to hear. She decided she was going to give them a jump start into realizing that there was more to Xander than they thought. Judging by the jealous look Buffy shot her she just may have scored.

Cordelia gave Xander an amused look as he smirked at Lara. She was a little shocked that he had scored himself not only an older woman who was obviously beautiful and dangerous. But she was also an English lady.

"So you weren't watching porn, no wonder your dad was laughing so much" Willow put in causing the room to explode into laughter.

Giles rolled his eyes whilst Doyle laughed his head off; Angel who was chuckling stopped dead when he looked at Buffy. She looked like someone had kicked her puppy. 'So she finally realized' Angel thought sadly.





Chapter 09

The Harris Residence

3rd September 1999

Light streamed in through the single tiny ground level window of the basement. It caught dust motes swirling in its radiance in an exotic dance as they moved to the air currents of the room.

Lara Croft was sat on the edge of the bed looking down at the tousled form of her current lover and latest friend. She had been that way for some time, she was an early riser by nature and practice. She had watched him sleep with a slightly sad heart; her life wasn't made for attachments of the kind that she and Xander were building. She wasn't ready to even think about settling down or anything so boring. But if she was then this young man, old before his time would likely be the one with whom she did. Their moments were numbered and she knew it and had been happily enjoying them as best she could. She had regressed almost into a hormonal teenager with him enjoying an afternoon of slow love making that was as amazing for her as he had said it was for him.

Love was not a word she was willing to associate with anyone at that time, certainly not a man ten years her junior but she certainly was effected by Xander Harris. That worried her a little but she wasn't one to back down due to fear. She knew that when this was over that she would have to leave and never come back. She had toyed with the idea of taking him with her but had ended up ditching that idea it would be a little too involved for her right then. She just knew that it was going to hurt and she didn't like that much at all.

"I can hear you thinking you know" Xander's laughing voice told her.

Smiling Lara shifted to lie next to him, "Really, and what was I thinking O great Swami"

One eye opened and fixed her intensely, "You're thinking that this can't last"

She almost jerked, "Really and what makes you think that is what I was thinking"

"Because you have a sad look behind your eyes" His other eye opened and she found herself caught in the headlights of his intensity.

Taking a deep breath she launched into an explanation, "I'm just not the commitment type of girl, My life, its..."

"Its OK, I know, Giles and I did some talking last night. I know what you do Lara and I know what you are thinking. If this is all I can have then so be it. I will enjoy every single second whilst you are here and there is no moment of it that I will ever regret"

"Thank you," she said uncharacteristically emotional.

"Thank you for allowing me to bask in the Lara Croft sun" he said seriously. If anyone else had said it, it would have been a line. But as sappy as it was it was from the heart and meant more to Lara than any sonnet could.

After a moment she smiled at him, "So lets get back to enjoying every second of it" she said and leapt on him.



The Town House Of Rupert Giles.

Xander sat with Lara, Buffy, Willow and Giles once again trying to figure out the map. It was the key to this entire mystery and they desperately need to unlock it before they could continue. The fang gang had gone back to LA and had promised to return in a few days. They needed to close up shop whilst this played out. That and Angel was going to contact a friend of his for information on the Map.

So they were now left with unlocking the map and it was starting to drive them nuts. Xander turned it around in his hands for a few more moments. Yesterday he had thought he had got it but it was like there was a big black block over the memory and he couldn't think around it.

"Are you just going to stare at it all day? What about all those seconds we have to enjoy" Lara asked teasingly.

As he opened his mouth to reply he shifted closer to Lara and suddenly there was a pffft, tinkle thud. Operating of sheer instinct Xander pushed Lara to the floor and dived and Buffy and Willow knocking them to the floor as well. At the same time he shouted to Giles, "SNIPER, DOWN"

The sniper realizing he had missed switched to his full auto, the man known as only Mr. Williams sprayed the room from his position.

The windows exploded inwards with a cascade showering of glass covering every body in fine shards. The gang was already moving three years of near constant battle readiness had created an elite unit out of them. But this wasn't a Demon; this was a human attack with advanced weaponry. Only two people in that room had any sort of experience in that field. Lara and recently Xander, they were also the only ones equipped for it. Xander reached his jacket and pulled out a Beretta 9mm, he quickly checked the clip was full and slammed it back into place with the heel of his hand. Then putting on the jacket for the ammo within it he looked to the window. Calculating as best he could the angle of his shot he fired of several shots towards the possible nest. Lara with her own guns was doing the same thing. The report of her dual pistols and Xander's were overlaid over each other as the fired at the same time. They spared each other a smile then Xander slammed himself into business mode.

The Living room area was near the front door, which opened out into a courtyard area. It was a safe bet that the sniped was on the flat roof across the courtyard from them. There was little cover between them and the exit but the door itself was only feet away from the exit. Once they had left the courtyard the sniped would require time to shift position, Xander hoped it would be enough to load them all into Lara's Range Rover. Then he would come up with the next part of the plan.

"LISTEN, I'll provide cover, go to with Lara to her jeep we should have a second or to while he shifts, then we are free and clear." Xander said in commanding voice. It was funny but in times of crisis he had none of the self-confidence issues he had in normal times.

Lara nodded sharply at his plan but Buffy looked ready to object, "No Buffy now he is about to reload." At his words the bullets ceased their hail. "GO" he roared and even Buffy moved to the command in his tone.

He flung open the front door and stepped out firing a quick salvo. Next were Giles, Willow, Buffy and finally Lara who fired a few shots as she past. She also spoke as she did so, "Don't be long," she told him with a calm tone as she two rushed to her car.

They all piled in as Xander fired several shots. Then he turned and ran as quickly as he could by chance diving into the drivers seat as Lara bundled in the back with Giles and Willow, Buffy had snagged the passenger seat. She threw him the keys and he quickly gunned the engine.

"Xander? Do you even know how to drive a four x four," Buffy asked slipping slightly back into her doubting Xander stage.

Lara shot her a strange look almost as incredulous about her attitude as she had been in her question.

Xander gave a hollow chuckle, "Shall we find out" he said his voice firm. Then he slammed it into two-wheel drive gearing and slammed his foot down. The 4x4 leaped forward.

"Wow, he's like huge" Willow said as she saw the large man barreling out behind them. He fired off several shots before running to his own car.

"Ah yes, that would be Mr. Williams" Lara said darting a look back.

"Oh goodie" Xander said sarcastically, "He really doesn't like me, does he"

"Mr. Williams has quite the reputation and you escaping has put a little chink into his professional pride I would say" Lara remarked calmly as the Range Rover picked speed. She preferred to be in control in these situations but at this point she had little choice but to sit back and enjoy the ride. She reloaded her pistols just in case.

"OK, look we can't go back to any of ours and you guys will have to stay away from college, and" Xander drew in a deep breath, "You need to hide, and I know just the place"

Then with fantastic reactions and perfect sense of ankle he span the range rover 180 skidding and ending up facing exactly opposite of where he was.

"Xan, what you doing" Buffy asked.

"Be a dear and shut up will you" Lara said

Buffy shot her, an enraged look, "He needs to concentrate" she supplied not in the least worried by Buffy's slayer death ray.

Xander worked with robotic precision as he slammed back into first and shot forward, slipping up the gears at the exact revs he needed. A black sedan sped up to them on a direct collision course.

"Xan..." Buffy started looking at her friend, what she saw scared and shocked the hell out of her. He had a wolfish smile on his face.

"Oh, he wants to play" Xander remarked quietly slamming his foot closer to the floor. The two vehicles sped towards each other as Xander took the wheel with a single hand. "Lara" was all he needed to say and a gun was slapped into his hand. Then when the cars almost touched both drivers pulled away hard, but Xander followed the direction of the other car and allowed him to be thrown slightly out of the window as Willow and Buffy both screamed. He flipped out his armed hand and fired two shots. Then taking control of the car he turned into the skid then out, then in basically controlling the wild slide of the large vehicle, he straightened it out as the other car continued to slide around like crazy. Then blowing a stray strand of hair out of his eye he pushed the car forward once again.

He reached back and handed the gun back to Lara, "Thanks" he said as he drove calmly away from the near fatal accident.

"Wha. Wh."

"What did I do?" Xander said with wry amusement sparing the slayer a glance, "Shot his tires out. Needed to give us time"

Buffy was looking at him like a rabbit caught in headlights as Giles peeled Willow off of him.

Lara was looking at Buffy with a small smile on her face.

"The Map" Giles exclaimed.

"So little faith in me G-Man" Xander said as he dangled the necklace off of his hand. He had wrapped it so tightly around his hand and during the activity that he had engaged his hands in it had cut into the soft flesh of his hand.

"You know you are going to have to clean that before I take it back don't you" Lara commented wryly.

A that point a drop of his blood dropped onto the pendant causing it to flash and light to shot out of the bottom. Xander swerved the vehicle as images assaulted his mind. Buffy reacted quickly and reached for the steering wheel as Xander slumped in his chair. It didn't last long and when he finally opened his eyes again he knew everything about the map its details and the eventual prize.

He took the wheel back from Buffy with a sheepish grin, "OK, I know how to read the map" he quipped.

"Well I'll be buggered" Giles said, "Typical, we all fight with it intellectually, use our minds our skills against it. We match wits with the designers, geniuses of their time, giants in the field of magical technology and science. It was designed to stand the test of time and hold back the intrusion. We find the designers who, despite being dead for centuries, out fox us and what happens, he bloody well triggers it by accident"

Xander looked over his shoulder and shot the watcher a cheesy grin and shrugged.

"So where do we go?" Lara asked,

"First stop LA, then on to the Grand Canyon"

"Xander we can't what about our classes" Willow said.

"I'll sort that," Lara said pulling out her mobile.

"What about your Mom and Dawnie, Buff. Where are they?"

"Out of town on one of moms gallery trips. Dawn whined her way into being taken"

"Wills, what about your 'rents?"

"Come on Xan, you know they are out of town more than they are in it"

"Where this time"

"Another conference on teenage angst" Willow replied rolling her eyes.

Xander laughed, "Where's Oz. They could go for him as well"

"He's at the house"

"Then lets go get him, Lara can you do your magic for Daniel Osbourne as well?"

Lara nodded as the dial tone sounded in her ear. "Bryce" she began as Xander turned back to Buffy.

"You OK, Buff?" she was still looking somewhat shell-shocked.

"Where did you learn to drive like that?"

"Well I've been able to drive since I was old enough to reach the pedals"

"Huh?"

"Back then, dad still liked to annoy my mom on occasion, so he taught me to drive"

"So you've been driving for life how long?"

"Just over ten years, just don't tell me mom, cause she balled dad when she found out, but he still let me drive around town"

"What about the police"

Xander looked at her incredulously, "SPD, actually notice something out of the ordinary?"

"Point" she conceded. "But that doesn't explain the stunt driving"

"Well, when My Uncle frank found out I could drive he took it a step further"

"Uncle Frank? I now you have an uncle Rory, but who is Uncle Frank?"

"Is that your mothers brother?" Willow asked.

"That's the one. Hey that reminds me I must call him about Cordy"

"Why?"

"Xander's uncle frank is a stunt driver in Hollywood, I bet your mom blew a gasket"

"She would if she knew" Xander replied with a grin. "Uncle frank liked the idea of putting one over on her as well. Plus I think he wanted me to join him after school"

"Wow, Colour me impressed. Nice going Xand"

"Why thank you Buff"

Lara smirked from the back seat as she flipped her phone shut, "Consider yourselves on an extra credit assignment with the worlds foremost archaeological field authority"

"Yeah, who" Buffy asked, she didn't much like Lady Croft.

"Me" Lara said succinctly smiling sweetly at the slayer. 'My, My it's the green eyed monster. This trip will be interesting."

Xander pulled up to Oz's of campus house, "Go get him Wills, tell him to pack light"

"What about us" Buffy asked.

"Do you know how to pack light?" Xander asked innocently to which Buffy swatted his arm. "I'll drop you and wills off at the dorm to grab some gear. G-man we can't go back to yours you'll have to borrow some of my stuff, or my Dads"

"Thank you Xander that would be most kind" Giles said inwardly shivering at the thought of one of Xander's horrible shirts. Lara noticed and laid a hand on his arm, "I can get you some things don't worry. I could not subject you to Xander's wardrobe"

"Hey"

Angel Investigations, LA

"Anyone home?" Xander shouted as he opened the door.

"Xander?" Cordelia said walking in from Angel's private office. "What's wrong, why are you here"

"Well that's a fine Howdy do"

"Doofus" she said but then caved and smiled at him. She tried to be more angry with him and the truth was she was still hurting from his betrayal but he had her wrapped around his little finger and just didn't know it.

"I dropped the girls and Giles off with Lara, they are getting a few things. We have to haul out now and it would be a lot safer if you all came with us. Angel can bring his own car so he's safe. Things are about ready to kick off into high gear and I don't want any of you hurt."

"OK" Cordy said nodding her head.

"Pack light OK"

"Puh-lease"

"Get Angel sorted I have to see someone, I'll be back in about three hours 'K"

"OK, hey" she said as he turned to leave, "Stay safe ok"

"Why Cordy I didn't know you cared"

She looked at him steadily for a moment, "Well I do. So be safe"

Xander walked back and pulled her into a hug that ended with him kissing her on the forehead, "You are one hell of a woman Miss Chase"

"Well Duh"



CHAPTER 10

Back Alley, LA

3rd September 1999

Lara walked into the dark alleyway that housed one of her many contacts, this one ran a small air haul company called "MC Air", not all that original considering the MC stood for Magic Carpet. He was however the best pilot in the area and would take any job she wanted. She had helped him and his family out of a jam a few years ago and ever since had insisted that he pay her back at every opportunity.

She stepped through the nondescript doorway into a gloomy room with nothing but a desk with an elderly computer monitor sat upon it.

"MICK" she called out.

Some banging and shuffling came from behind a beaded curtain. A handsome dark haired man with ice blue eyes peered out and looked around. When it spotted her a smile appeared on the otherwise stern looking face.

"Lara"

"Mick"

A tall lanky frame followed the head and Mick rushed over to engulf Lara into a tight hug. "God, Lara it's good to see you"

"You too Mick, you too. Its been what..."

"A year, you don't call you don't write. I was starting to think you didn't love me anymore"

"Come now, what would Sarah say if she heard you saying that"

"She would say the same thing," Sarah said as she arrived through the curtain. She was a stunning blonde haired woman who held a regal grace not unlike Lara's.

The two women embraced warmly.

"Well what is it" Sarah asked with a smile, "I know you Lara you never just drop in"

"Perhaps I was this time," Lara said with a smile.

"Uh-Huh" Mick and Sarah both said together.

"Ok, Ok, I need your husbands talents"

"I don't like to share" Sarah said with a gleam that caused Mick to blush.

Lara shot her a smile, "I was thinking about his flight ability. Have you still got that old C130?"

"Albert, of course"

"Well would Albert like a nice trip to Vegas?"

"It's been a while, it took me ages to get him off of his gambling kick last time" Mick replied with a warm smile, "But I think I can convince him"

"Excellent, but this time I'm paying no argument"

Mick held his hands up at her expression, "OK, just this once. But I still owe you"

Shopping Mall, LA

Buffy was almost giddy with joy. She had missed the diverse shops and retail centres of LA since leaving it three years ago. She had only been back once since for a small visit with her father. That trip had swelled her wardrobe by about half again as much. There was nothing like guilt shopping to help your clothing choice. That meant it had been two years since she had last been back and that was too long.

There was only one barrier to her retail therapy session. She had her card but nowhere to store any purchases until they got back. She had thought about asking Cordelia but had discounted that idea in the end. So she was doing the next best thing, she was window-shopping. She did, however, promise herself to come back very soon and get that amazing dress she had just spotted because there was no way she could live without it.

"Hey, Buffy"

"Hi Wills"

"Isn't this place amazing. Oz promised me we could come back after all this has died down. He just spotted a guitar he wants"

Buffy smiled widely, "Hey think I could tag along for that. I just spotted the most divine dress"

"Oh, Show Me"

*****

Xander walked into the Mall slowly, he had the strangest feeling that someone was following him. He was due to meet the girls and Oz shortly and he knew that Giles was around here someplace as well. Lara had dropped a few grand on him and told him to get some clothes as she had tried with Xander himself. But he had politely refused, just because she was rich was no reason to take advantage of her. Plus the fact he couldn't think why she would want to waste her money on him all of people.

He was pretty sad about their chat from before but he had meant what he said, he was going to truly enjoy every second he had with her until she left. It was a shame that it couldn't be longer but Xander was not one to bemoan the loss but to enjoy the gain. He was a glass half full kind of guy.

He had had a fairly successful shopping session himself and had gained everything he had wanted to, most of which was in the large carryall in his left hand. If the police knew what he was carrying in this bag they would have a fit. Lara had given him a contact, the money, and that time he hadn't refused. These were tools that they could well need for their little journey, especially if Mr. Williams showed up again.

He spotted a red and blonde head about to go into one of the more swanky looking women's clothing store and he put a spurt on and came face to face with a large broad chest wrapped into a solid black suit.

"Hi there, Mr. Williams" Xander said stepped back sharply.

The large black man just stared at him.

"You don't say too much do ya"

Silence once again answered him. Xander darted a look around him. He was standing pretty much alone in a sea of people. The large man that faced him created a natural wake that cleared an area around them. It closed behind Xander cutting off his exit with a wall of humanity. From above it must have looked like a hole had opened up in the crowd that included just the two of them. The noises of the mall created a cacophony of sound that became strangely subdued as he faced with his nemesis. He held the fierce mans gaze and the world seemed to come to a stand still around them.

Neither man moved just stared at the other the tension building around them like an orchestra coming to the crest of a musical wave. Xander thought furiously trying to think of a way around the man but kept coming up blank. He didn't want to draw down on him, too many innocents, nor did he want to fight the gargantuan man-o-man-o. Once blow from that mighty fist and he would be knocked senseless. But his options were limited at this point.

"I will kill you" Mr. Williams finally said in a voice like a rock fall, thunderous and full of impending doom.

"Well shit; you do talk" Xander said a little surprised despite himself. He shock that off and slipped into a fighting stance. It was a modified aikido stance that he had learnt since Halloween all that time ago. It was funny really that none of the others thought he could fight or look after himself. In particular since the night of the Zombies, as he had pegged it, he had spent a lot of time learning to fight. Once started the knowledge had slipped back like a late arriving lover into the bed of his mind. He had picked Aikido and some Southern styles of Kung Fu due to their circular nature. They tended to use the opponents own force against them instead of the brute force of Karate or Tae Kwon Do and some Northern styles of Kung Fu.

He hoped that Aikido would be as effective against this monster as it had been against the creatures of the night.

Mr. Williams slipped off his jacket and tossed it to the ground.

'Oh God, look at the size of him' Xander thought with a little fear, he didn't however show that fear. He shuddered to think what would happen if this man were made into a vampire. Vampires tended to be about four times stronger and faster than they had been in life. That meant Mr. Williams would be a seriously powerful vampire.

"Do you have a first name?" Xander asked as the large man shifted into a classic boxers pose.

"Nathaniel" the man replied with a feral grin.

"Well Nat, I hope you enjoy this as much as I'm gonna" Xander said thinking, 'Like not at all'

For a man his size he moved very fast coming in with a powerful punch from his shoulder. Xander ducked under it and let rip with a powerful punch combo to the Mr. Williams stomach that appeared to have no effect what so ever.

A scream signalled that someone had finally noticed the fight but both combatants ignored it.

Xander hopped back out of reach and snapped out a kick to his opponents head that he took on his forearm and turned it to one side. With excellent control Xander shifted his motion into a wheel kick and kicked Mr. Williams in the head with a powerful blow. The large man reeled backwards with fire in his eyes.

Nathaniel Williams came back quickly with a straight punch to Xander's head wanting to end the battle quickly. Xander sidestepped the blow, span slightly and kicked to the knee. Mr. Williams lifted his leg at the last moment to take the power out of Xander's blow and swung round with his outstretched arm connected finally.

Xander was knocked flying and slid along the ground. The area had cleared rapidly after the scream and they were virtually alone.

He shock off the blow and hand sprung to his feet. Blood was running down his face from his nose, which he whipped with the sleeve of his shirt. "Nice hit" he said more to himself than Mr. Williams.

"Thank you, there will be others"

"You know I liked you more when you didn't speak"

Xander moved on the offensive taking a short step and flying into the air in a flying kick. Mr. Williams stepped to one side and plucked him out of the air.

"Oh Shit" Xander said.

"Indeed" Mr. Williams replied as he shifted Xander so that he had his arms pinned and was holding him around the small of his back. He then started to apply crushing pressure in a bear hug.

Xander could feel his vertebra starting to pop almost straight away. He swung his head back and then forward as hard as he could right onto his opponents nose. Mr. Williams didn't let go despite the cracking of the cartilage in his nose and Xander was starting to worry.

A shot rang out and they both turned to see a security guard. He had obviously fired into the air to attract their attention. Mr. Williams looked from the guard back to Xander and cursed. He then let go of Xander who fell to the floor.

"We'll continue this later boy," he rumbled as he ran into the crowd.

Xander, snagged his carryall and also ran off into the crowds leaving an annoyed, and slightly relieved security guard standing alone.

*****

Buffy shock her head as if to clear to cobwebs. She and Willow had exited the store just in time to catch the start of Xander's fight. She was stunned to say the least. She was almost willing to believe that he had remembered gunplay from his soldier boy memories, the stuff about his driving skill made sense once she had the full story. But this was different she had seen some serious moves in that fight and that wasn't the Xander she knew so well.

Willow virtually dragged her out of the mall after Xander weaving through the crowds and finally ending up outside. They both looked around trying to spot Xander only to finally spot him talking to Oz and Giles.

"Xan?" Willow called out and ran up to her friend, "Are you OK, we saw the whole thing"

"Yeah I'm fine Wills, you know me takes a licking but keeps on ticking"

"What happened" Giles asked.

"Mr. Williams, Happened" Xander replied with a small smile.

"He was like, huge" Buffy said finally reclaiming her vocal chords.

"Yeah, but you know what they say, the bigger they are..." he cut of with a wince and held his side, "Damn, I think he got a rib again"

"I'm not surprised rib injuries take a while to heal" Giles remarked, "I think we have all finished with our shopping trip"

They all nodded their ascent.

Angel Investigations, LA

Buffy was the first through the door and was the first to find their next problem. The man known as Michael Powers was holding a knife to Cordelia's throat with an amicable smile on his face.

The others followed her and stumbled to a complete stand still. Xander pushed his way to the front pulling himself up to his full imposing 6'1".

"Mr. Powers, what a pleasure" he said his tone like ice.

"Mr. Harris, how lovely to see you again. I see that Mr. Williams bumped into you again. I must admit to being surprised to see you"

"Well, I'm the proverbial Penny"

"Indeed you are, Indeed you are"

"OK, enough Chit Chat what do you want" Buffy demanded slipping into her slayer mode.

"How are you dear, I'm afraid I only deal with people I know" Mr. Powers said looking back to Xander, "You should keep your people in line if you want this one to live" to punctuate his point he pressed the knife into Cordelia's throat a little more. A little blood sprang from her throat and caused her to cry out.

"Buff, I'll handle this. What DO you want Mr. Powers"

"Isn't it obvious, The Map, dear boy, I want The Map"

"And you'll let her go?"

"You have my word"

Buffy snorted but was cut off by a sharp look from Xander. "How do you want to play this?"

"Hand over the map when I reach the door and I'll let her go when I reach my car?"

"Is it that sedan outside?"

"Well spotted Mr. Harris"

"No Deal"

"I will kill her"

"You are dead already for marking her, you kill her you lose the only thing holding me back, then I rip you apart. No I have a counter offer"

"Do go on" Michael said with a smile.

"I come with you as far as the car, then I hand over the map and you hand her over"

Mr. Powers appeared to think about it for several seconds until he finally nodded, "Deal"

"Everyone, back off over there" Xander said pointing to the opposite end of the office. They complied quickly and Xander opened the door walking out first.

Mr. Powers led Cordelia by the throat and knife out of the door and awkwardly made his way down the stairs until finally he stepped out to his car. He opened the door and half slipped in, he held out his hand to Xander.

Xander grudgingly handed over the map and MR. powers let go of the very frightened Cordelia. She immediately launched herself at Xander as Mr. Powers quickly pulled the door shut and the car squealed away. Xander pulled Cordy to one side and drew his gun, then sinking into a weaver stance he too careful aim and fired at the cars wheels. Despite every shot hitting its mark the car only swerved slightly and carried on. Xander shifted his aim upwards and peppered the rear window with shots that left no mark let alone penetrated the glass.

"Damn" he turned to Cordy, "You OK" he said softly

"Come on lets get you a drink" he said at her shaking head.

Once back upstairs with a still shaken Cordelia he got her a stiff whisky from Angel's office and sat her down on the sofa.

Lara ran into the office, "What the hell happened?"

"Mr. Powers has the map" Giles said as Xander looked after Cordelia.

"Drat" Lara breathed.

Xander looked up with his trademark lopsided grin, "Don't sweat it"

"I don't see how you can be so calm, Xander" Buffy demanded.

"Because I know something they don't"

"Oh really, what?"

"We don't need the map anymore, I'm the map" he replied tapping his head.



CHAPTER 11

In The Air

4th September 1999

The large C130 flew through the air with a grace that belied the ugliness of its design. The C130 was painted black but even on a good night it would still be visible in the sky due to the sheer size and breadth of it.

Mick Cordell still loved the machine he had called Albert it had got him out of several jams and was still flying. It had easily accommodated his passengers and their equipment, which included two jeeps and several packing crates of various other equipments. It wasn't the most comfortable of craft but still offered seating for every one. He had ended up with fewer passengers than he had thought, a man called Angel had been called away by a man called Doyle and the girl Cordelia had gone with him. That still left the four teenagers; Lara and the middle aged man known as Giles.

Mick looked over at his co-pilot and wife, "I'm going to check on our guests," he said pointing backwards. She took control of the ungainly aircraft and he slipped out of the pilots seat. Once out of the cockpit he stretched himself out and felt his back pop.

He walked aft and was greeted by a sight that took him a moment to process. Everyone was asleep, from what Lara had told him that was of little surprised. The red head was leaning against her boyfriend and vice versa. The blonde was leaning against Giles who had a fatherly arm around her and was softly snoring. Mick had to stifle a snigger at that. A noise like that shouldn't be coming out of such a demur looking girl.

It wasn't any of that, which had shocked him. No it was the fact that Lara the loner and self contained woman who he called friend was damn near snuggled against the dark haired young man who she had introduced as Xander. For as long as he had known her she had always been the strong independent type and apparently didn't need a man, which were her words. He reached round, plucked his camera from his personal hold, and snapped off a picture without the flash. The brightly lit rear area would hopefully be enough he just had to get a picture to tease her with later. It was too funny. She snuggled into him a little more and Mick curbed the laugh that rose up from his belly. He looked up to find a dark chocolate eye looking at him with amusement glinting in its depths. Xander had woken up and was watching him with wry amusement.

Mick shrugged and smiled at him retreating into the cockpit grinning like an idiot.

*****

"Saddle up" Mick called from the cockpit. They all took their positions with quiet efficiency getting into the jeeps and buckling up.

"Do we have to do this" Willow said nervously from her seat next to Giles.

Giles looked at her not a little nervous himself, "Lady Croft said we needed to get to our destination as quickly as possible, and apparently this is the fastest way"

Lara looked over at Xander with a smile having heard Willow and Giles, "You all set?"

Xander nodded his face set to hide the fear of what they were about to do.

Lara was sat with Xander and Buffy, whilst Giles, Oz and Willow were in the other jeep. They had woken earlier and packed up the vehicles ready for what they were about to do.

"OK MICK, LETS DO IT"

Mick didn't answer just swung the big plane around and down for the approach vector. Then as he neared his target he flipped the rear doors down. Then at precisely the right time he flipped the release latch.

Giles's jeep was the first out and slid out backwards on the launch cradle. Willow screamed all the way whilst Oz just smiled. Giles himself was holding on for dear life as the cradle slipped out of the back and into the air.

Lara's was next out, flew out of the back of Albert, and soared into the sky with Buffy whopping for joy. It freefell for several long seconds as the inhabitants screamed in excitement even Lara was laughing hard at the adrenaline flowing through her. The huge parachute engaged next and they were roughly pulled upwards jarring them all. Xander looked around and watched as Giles's jeep floated down to earth like a feather. The swinging motion was damn near soporific to him despite his normal travel sickness when not in control of the vehicle. The ground came up to meet them with a bone shattering bang.

Lara reached out and triggered the Parachute release letting it float away into the stark desert of Arizona. She looked over to find Giles had done the same thing. She then tripped the wheel lock and drove calmly off of the cradle with Buffy still crying out in joy.

"Wow, can we do that again, can we please" Buffy cried out her heart thumping more than any ride could engender.

"Only if you're a good girl Buff and eat all your greens" Xander quipped lazily from the front seat. The jump had triggered a few memories from his possession that he didn't want to remember, the same memories that had kept him up at night for a long time after that night.

Lara shot him a look and noticed that despite his joke his eyes were dark, "You OK?"

"Oh yeah" Xander said forcing a smile, "Ready to go and willing to die," he said unconsciously quoting the motto of his memories unit.

Lara looked at him strangely as did Buffy but both shrugged it off as Giles's vehicle pulled up next to them. Lara's radio crackled into life and she plucked it from her belt.

"Go ahead"

[Where to?] Came back Giles's radio distorted voice.

Lara looked at Xander expectantly to find his eyes closed, "Alligator Valley, the north end" She relayed that to Giles and put her foot down.

Alligator Valley,

The Grand Canyon.

Two bone jarring hours later they arrived at the mouth to Alligator valley. It was one of the most picturesque of all of the Grand Canyon steeped in history laced with blood and gold among other things.

They drove into the valley, dodging park rangers despite the permission that Lara had magically procured from one of her numerous contacts in American Government. They didn't want to be stalled along the way and papers took time to check. It was better to totally miss that particular hiccup. The majestic stonewalls reached up into the sky at either side of them as Xander slowly and quietly directed them to their final destination.

They stopped after noon for a break and the Scooby gang minus Xander set to with an impromptu picnic set to the fantastic red gully they were in. Xander sat by himself on the bonnet of a jeep looking down the path he was leading them on. His eyes looking at a sight they couldn't see. His memories overlaying the map onto the real worldview. It was strange but it was as if had walked this path before.

He had been to alligator valley before and had even given the guide the slip to stand at the very edge of the sheer cliff breathing in the crisp air. He had dreamt about what it had been like when the Colorado river smashed its way down it with the full force of its millions of gallons instead of the virtual trickle that it was now. This entire area had been a sea with life teaming in its watery depths. Now the life was of a different kind and suited to the arid landscape. The crunch of a boot of gravel brought him out of his thoughts. He smiled over at Lara who was looking at him with a concerned gaze.

"Hi Lara"

"Hello yourself, are you alright?"

"Yeah, just thinking about what this place was like before. Ya know. Its kinda humbling to think water did all this" he waived an arm around at the amazing landscape they were in.

Lara hopped up on the jeep with him and looked around trying to see what he saw. "Its frightening to think I don't notice the view anymore"

Xander looked at her indicating she should continue.

"I tend to focus on the tomb I'm raiding and not the countryside"

"Thats understandable I guess," Xander said thoughtfully, "But you should still take time to enjoy the view otherwise what's the point of the journey"

"You're wise beyond you years Xander Harris"

Xander looked deep into her eyes and reached out to cup her face. He smiled into her blue eyes and slowly leaned forward to capture her lips in a soul-searing kiss.

Buffy who had been bringing Xander a plate of food stopped dead and did a 360 walking quickly back to the others. Once there she sat down Willow turned to her.

"What's the matter Buffy, didn't Xander want to eat," she asked incredulously.

"I think he has another meal on the menu" Buffy said with a once of anger.

"Huh?" Willow asked while Giles and Oz eyed them with interest.

"He and Lady Croft are making out like teenagers" Buffy all but spat out.

Willow darted a look at her boyfriend during which they had a silent conversation that ended with wryly-amused expressions.

"Well Xander is a teenager" Willow defended.

"Yes, but Lady Croft should know better"

"Lara has never been a typical Lady" Giles informed her.

"No kidding" Buffy shot back

Giles favoured her with a rare smile, "But Buffy, Why do you care?"

Buffy sputtered for a few moments, "I so don't. It was just, embarrassing is all, yeah embarrassing is what it was"

Giles once again smiled at her with a slightly mocking glint in his eye, "I stand corrected," he said wryly.

"Good" Buffy said petulantly.

Xander wandered up with Lara. She pointed at the floor, "Sit, Eat"

"But" Xander said with a smile.

"But nothing, eat"

Xander looked at the full plate in Buffy's hands, "Is that for me. Thanks Buff" he said reaching for it.

Buffy pulled the plate back, "No, it's not get your own" she said while Giles, Oz and Willow all shared an amused look.

"Oh Sorry Buff" Xander apologised and reached for the basket containing all the food. Buffy looked down at the plate realising that she now had a plate of food she didn't want.

"Just kidding" she said quickly, "Here you go" she passed him the plate and was rewarded with a large smile.

"You're the best buff," Xander told her and Buffy returned the smile with a flick of her hair.

*****

They pulled up to a stop quickly disembarking and pulling out equipment. They were at the mouth of a very small looking cleft in the rock, it was barely big enough to fit two people astride let along half the equipment that they had with them.

"Sorry, it didn't look that small on the map" Xander apologised to them all.

"No problem, we just change our plans slightly and only take what we think we could need, like rations, rope and lots of water." Lara ordered them into action the voice of experience.

They all pulled out large rucksacks and filled them with what they thought would be essential. Xander walked over to Buffy with a confused smile, "Buff, what makes you think we will need makeup on this trip?"

She shot him her death glare, "A girl never leaves behind her makeup"

"Lara hasn't got any" Xander remarked smiling. He was surprised to see the flash of extreme anger in his friends' eyes.

"Well isn't she just perfect" she said snidely. Xander backed away holding his hands up.

"Whoa, sorry" he said as he beat a hasty retreat.

"Damn it" Buffy softly cursed to herself.

Xander led them through the cleft after they had packed then hidden their equipment and cars under the camouflage nets Lara had procured for them.

They squeezed through the long and thin gully that led deeper into the rock until finally Xander couldn't see anymore. He heard a snap, hiss, and Lara handed a fluorescent stick to him its green glow casting strange shadows.

With his vision back again he led them through the darkness hearing the snap hiss of several more of the tubes being activated.

Finally he felt more than saw the cleft opening up and reached down for his more powerful torch. He triggered it into action and was greeting by an immense cavern stretching far above his head and out in front of him far enough that the powerful beam did not penetrate the darkness to a wall.





CHAPTER 12

The Cavern

4th September 1999

They had been walking through the immense cavern for hours following Xander's lead as he led them towards no one knew what. Giles was filling in the time with a sort of history lesson more to amuse himself than the others.

"So it was theorised that the first Europeans to see the canyon were a group of soldiers led by Garcia Lopez de Cordeñas. All of whom were members of a party headed by the Spanish explorer a man called Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, which set out from New Spain 1540 AD" Giles told them. Buffy groaned slightly but Willow was enraptured at the acquisition of new knowledge.

"New Spain, that was what they called Mexico back then wasn't it Giles?"

"Yes well done Willow, it was indeed."

"Watchers Pet" Buffy whispered to Willow who stuck out her tongue at her friend

Giles continued lost in the annuals of time and his retelling of them. "The party first made the sighting of what is now known as the Grand Canyon later that year but because of the inaccessibility of the canyon they didn't make it very far. Indeed, it was not until more than three centuries later that it was fully explored. Around 1850, a series of expeditions by the United States Army surveyed the canyon and the surrounding area, finally the first passage of the canyon was accomplished in 1869 by the eminent American geologist John Wesley Powell and his team of ten, they circumvented the gorge in four boats with the stars as their guide"

"Cool" Oz Commented.

"Yes, yes it was" Giles said his eyes glinting as he imagined himself in place of that geologist traversing the gorge's sometimes tenacious waters with nothing but his own skills as back up. "Imagine it if you will, can't you just feel the water thundering through the gorge just outside this very cavern"

"But that can't be true, because someone got down her and stashed the chalice thingy" Buffy said out of the blue.

Giles readjusted his glass, "Good point Buffy, and it appears that someone at least was able to traverse the gorge long before those Americans were"

"How old is that chalice thing"

"The Chalice of Amoncor is said to be over two thousand years old and is believed to have been at Christ's' last supper. But it is not the actually Holy Grail" Giles broke off with a small chuckle thinking of knights who like to go Nea, 'Damn that Monty Python' Giles thought with a smile.

"So the grail is supposed by like the fountain of youth or something isn't it. Is that why this Mr. Powers wants the Chalice because he believes it will do the same thing?" Willow asked

"That I cannot answer, but there have been stories over the years saying that it could indeed bring youth to the one who drinks from it. Of course it could be the fact that it would be worth a very large amount of money to any museum"

Xander came to a stop in front of a massive wall with two doors and as he shone the touch around it hundreds of Identograms were shown in full colour whispering through the ages to them.

Lara stood next to him and studied the pictures moving her lips as she tried sounding out words. She finally gave her head a shake and looked back at Giles, "I can't read it" she told him.

Giles stepped up and studied the ancient words for several long minutes. Finally he stepped back and removed his glasses, "Oh Dead, this could be more complicated than we first thought"

"What is it?" Lara asked him.

"I can read this, its an ancient form of Demonic Identograms that date back to the old ones reign on earth"

"OK, that's good that you can read it right" Buffy asked him with a smile.

"Yes, but I shudder to think who exactly knew the language well enough to be able to put this here"

"Well you get to work then G-Man and we will set up camp round here. I think I hear some water moving a little ways off"

"Yes, yes of course" Giles said too distracted to pick up on the G-man reference. Instead he shone a touch onto the rock. Then after a minute he pulled out a notepad and pencil and started to make notes. Shacking their heads the rest set to work setting camp.

Xander walked off into the darkness looking for water as Lara watched him go. He had been very quiet since entering the cavern and it was worrying her slightly. Admittedly she hadn't known him as long as the others but she had not known him to be this introspective.

She turned to Buffy and Willow, "Is Xander often quiet for no reason?"

Buffy snorted but Willow answered her, "Sometimes he can be but usually only when he is depressed"

Lara nodded thinking that Xander hadn't appeared to be depressed to her earlier. "Any other reason."

"Well after Halloween he was really quite he told me he was having nightmares" Willow answered her with a small smile, that Halloween had been a strange night even for them. She knew though that Xander had been the most effected by it afterwards.

"Nightmares?"

"Memories from the soldier" Buffy said slapping her hands together, "I have a few about dinner dances for months afterwards. It was, urm, freaky"

"Sounds horrible, the things you have all had to go through is nothing short of amazing" Lara said honestly, "I'm proud to know you all, you're very brave people"

Buffy snorted softly causing Willow to shoot her a sharp look and Lara to smile and walk off into the darkness.

"What is your problem?" Willow demanded.

"Problem, I don't have a problem"

"Yes you do" then Willow had a slight epiphany, "You're Jealous!"

Buffy's head shot round so fast Willow was surprised that she didn't sprain something, "I am not" she punctuated every word carefully and icily.

"You are"

"Am Not"

"Are To"

"Am not so"

"Are"

"Aren't"

"Are"

"Aren't times infinity plus one and a half," Willow said with a beaming smile.

"Are...Damn" Buffy said then smiled at her friend, "I'm not really. It's just that croft lady is so snooty"

"Snooty? Lara I don't think so try another one"

"I'll hit you if you don't leave me alone" Buffy threatened but Willow just shook her head with a smug grin. "Oh all right, maybe a little"

"I knew it" Willow said making a point mark with her finger in mid air. "I am so the girl"

"Yeah, Yeah, Yuk it up" Buffy said a small grin reappearing on her lips.

The Cavern.

Giles sat back on his haunches with a grim expression on his face. He massaged his temples and sighed to himself. 'Nothing is every bloody easy' he thought angrily.

He turned back to the camp and a pain shot down his back telling him he had stayed still for too long. Everyone appeared to be asleep as far as he could tell.

He walked over to an empty tent and crawled in ready to get a little shuteye himself. He was supposed to sharing the tent with Xander but the young man was nowhere to be seen. It didn't take a genus to work out where he had gone.

Sighing once again Giles let slumber take him into its embrace. He was so tired he forgot to even remove his spectacles.

The Cavern.

September 5th 1999

Xander awoke with a start ad a feeling of dread creeping down his back like an ice-cold knife trailing along his spine. His eyes opened and he saw the reason for his dread. Outside the tent and outlined against the canvas was the form of a large animal stalking through the campsite.

He reached under his pillow and pulled out his trusty guns extricating himself from Lara as he did so. Giles must have left the torches they had set up for him before going to bed; at least he hoped that was where he was. Xander moved at the speed of not even an inch a second edging his way carefully towards the entranceway to the tent.

A soft snarling grunt sounded and was followed by several other similar sounds arrayed around the camp. He pushed the tent flaps back and peered into the gloom. Several huge wolf-like creatures were wandering around the camp. They appeared to be setting themselves up around each and every tent. He reached back and gently shock Lara's foot holding a finger to his mouth as she awoke. Many years of training and experience had taught her to wake instantly and be ready for danger. She pulled her twin pistols from her holster still attached to her thigh and joined Xander at the tent flap.

They looked at each other a communication passing between them and a plan laid out. The wolves were at the door and they had only one thing they could do, each take a point of the camp and start killing.

With a joint nod the two leapt into action moving silently out of the tent and taking up position quickly. Then in an unspoken signal they both started firing.

Using both of her guns Lara picked off the large creatures with high accuracy never missing a single shot, as she knew her companion was doing as well. There were about twenty of the creatures that immediately turned from their stalking and starting rushing their attackers. Their guns reported together picking out the creatures before they had reached a 2-metre radius. When, finally, they stopped shooting there were no creatures left.

Lara turned to Xander as he did her and they both raised their twin pistols shooting at each other at exactly the same time. Then when the twin shots had stopped they looked at each other, and then turned to see the dead wolves behind them and back at each other with large smiles.

The others had by this point left their tents and were looking around in shock at the dead animals arrayed around the camp.

"So how's up for a little fried wolf for breakfast?" Xander asked sardonically.

*****

As they sat down to a breakfast that thankfully did not include fried wolf Giles started to tell them what he had found on the inscription.

"This is not a standard tomb or other repository of treasure. This entire cavern is rigged to close in on its self. That's point number one. The second is that there are and this is quite disturbing, a series of tests for each of us."

"Tests?" Xander asked confusedly.

"Yes, tests specifically aimed at a single member of the team. Somehow they have designed these tests for us"

"You mean for who ever enters right?" Willow asked worriedly.

"No I mean us, specifically. We are all mentioned, by description if not by name"

"Jesus" Xander remarked, "How the hell did they know it would be us. And what do you mean by name?"

"I can only think they used time scrying magic to find out who we were and I do mean by name. Unless you don't think the protector of mankind is anyone we know."

"Buffy? But that's more a description isn't it" Xander said confusedly.

"You mean you don't know" Lara said with a laugh, "Alexander means the protector of Mankind"

"Oh, OK, Cool" Xander said stupidly lapsing into silence.

"Buffy is mentioned only as the Slayer, and then we have the Were, Oz, and the Witch, Willow. Lara is mentioned only as English royalty and I am called the one who watches. I think that is what a watcher could be described as don't you"

They were all silent for several long moments letting this latest strange twist.

"And the first test is for me. I have to choose a door. One leads to the next challenge and the other will drop the roof on us. So no pressure" Giles remarked with a wry smile.

"OK, I guess we better suit up and ship out" Xander said gaining a nod from the others.

A few seconds later and they stood before the doorway as Giles deciphered the clue to the challenge.

"One leads to heaven the other to hell. The time is nigh that decision is made left or Right, Right or Left. Real decisions are hard to make" Giles translated, "Oh joy that makes no sense what so ever"

Giles stepped back and held his chin with his hand thinking furiously until finally he stepped forward and pushed open the right hand doorway. They all waited for a moment and nothing dropped on their heads. As a group they visibly sagged.

"Nice one G-man, what gave it away?"

"The next word began with the letter signifying right in that language. It was really that simple. I was expecting something more complicated"

"Only someone who had studied the language could possibly know that Rupert" Lara told him with a small smile.

"True, I suppose" Giles said as he stepped through the door the last to do so. If slammed shut behind them causing them all to spin and stare at it.

All except Xander who was at the front and looking down into a deep chasm with Lava bubbling upward and immense heat scorching his face. He turned back to the others,

"Uh Guys"



CHAPTER 13

The Cavern

5th September 1999

"Uh Guys?" Xander said again.

They all turned to him noting the sound of his voice and the worry contained within it. "I think we may have made a slight mistake"

"Impossible" Giles began joining his young friend. He then looked down into the chasm, "Or possibly"

The rest rushed up to look as Xander stepped away looking around. His dark eyes searched the red glow lit cavern looking for any sign of escape. It was either that or stay and rot unless of course you wanted to throw yourself into the molten lava below.

He searched every single nook and cranny looking for anyway to traverse the deep chasm. As he looked around he could only see sheer rock that perhaps they could climb around, but with the possible exception of Lara no one here had the skill to climb that well, or at all.

The others were arguing amongst themselves so Lara walked over to Xander, the only one doing something constructive. It amazed her sometimes that they had all survived through the first three years. Even Giles was occasionally drawn into the pointless bantering and arguing. She saw Xander scrutinising every inch of rock as if he stared hard enough it would melt under the very heat of his gaze.

After staying that way for several minutes he finally smiled and drew his gun. "Bastards" he said softly. Then dropping into a classical firing stance he took careful aim and fired off a single shot.

The rest of the gang stopped arguing as the chasm itself seemed to shake apart. They all huddled together and Buffy shot an accusing glare at Xander, "What did you do?"

"That" Xander answered when finally the rumbling has stopped to show that a bridge had lifted out of the lava and was cooling rapidly. It ran from just by their position all the way to a newly opened doorway the other side of the chasm.

Xander pointed to the rock face he had just shot at. They all leaned in seeing nothing, "It takes a while to spot it. I hate these people all ready."

Lara stared at the wall for several seconds the only sound was the occasional pinging of cooling rock from the newly risen bridge. Then finally she saw it. It was incredibly hard to see but there on the rock face outlined in a very slightly different shade of rock was a bulls eye. "Well I'll be damned" she heard Giles whisper and they all suddenly saw it. It was like a magic eye picture you had to keep staring until the image just allowed itself to come into focus.

"I nearly missed it. I thought for a moment my eyes were playing tricks" Xander remarked as he tested the bridge. It had cooled enough to walk on now so he started across. "I mean what sort of sense of humour do you need to put that up there" he said shaking his head.

Lara smirked, "I couldn't possibly comment, considering you spotted it"

"Oh very funny, thank you so much" Xander retorted jumping off of the bridge the other side of the river of molten rock. He held out his hand and helped Willow and Buffy across the wide gap. Lara leapt across without any need of help as did Giles and Oz.

They stepped through the doorway and it slammed to a shut behind them causing them once again to spin round in shock.

They all looked round and they appeared to be in a boxed off area around 20 metres in all directions.

"Amazing craftsmanship" Giles commented running his hand along the smooth wall.

Oz looked around suddenly feeling wary. He suddenly noticed the scent of everyone in the room with him and the light radiating from their glow sticks was too bright.

Willow smiled at him and the smile slipped as she watched him become scared.

Oz felt it then, that tingle at the base of his spine the signalled the malady of the moon he had suffered for the past four years, ever since his little cousin had bitten him. That tingle chased up his spine and lit up his mind with fire. That spread around his body. "Oh No" he cried out attracting the others attention, "Go get out of here, find a way out, NOW" The last word was nothing more than a growl as the change took a hold of his body. He started to fight against it with all his being. The one thing he loved more than his entire life was in the room with him and he had no intension of hurting her.

"Fight It OZ" He heard Giles call out and he tried to do his older friends bidding but before their scared eyes the turning caused hair to sprout across his face and march down his back. His eyes turned black and canines sprouted in his mouth. "Get out" he cried out to Willow imploringly.

He looked deep into her frightened eyes and their gazes locked. It was then he saw it, the thing that meant more to him than anything. Her love for him even with the fear she was feeling she still loved him. That caused a reaction in him that triggered his mind into action backing away from the beast within his mind.

The world faded from him and he sank to the floor. He had taken the fight into his mind now.

Willow watched him drop down to the ground and tried to run to him, but Buffy held her back in a steely grip. "No, let me go, get off"

Oz couldn't hear her words anymore he was in the cavern by himself, the others had faded away. It was still lit in a gloomy green luminescence casting eldritch shadows.

The hair on the back of his neck stood up as a low growl came from one of the darkest shadows. Then the beast was upon him tearing at him with its claws and trying to rend the flesh from his bones.

Oz held back the furry form of his werewolf Alter-Ego his human body straining against the preternatural strength of the beast. Its black eyes focused on his blue ones and he could see the tempting release of the call of the wild within them. He remembered what it was like to feel that call, that freedom from guilt or civility. It was seductive in the extreme to feel it running through your veins.

He pushed against it with all of his human strength and with the love he had felt from Willow and the love he felt for Willow. Millimetre by millimetre he pushed the beast away from him removing its teeth from snapping distance. Then with a last surge of strength he threw it from him and got to his feet.

"Down Boy, Bad DOG!" he shouted at it as it lumbered back up to him. It stopped dead. "SIT!" he shouted lifting a finger and it sat down panting slightly.

The real world came clashing down on him and a door the other end of the room opened with a grinding swing.

Buffy let Willow go who rushed over and took her boyfriend into her arms and hugged him to her strongly.

"Well done" Xander said with a sincere look. His sentiment was echoed by the others as the crowded round the exhausted young were.

Lara watched from just away from them a little bit smiling at them as they congratulated their friend. It was then she realised why they had survived. One word that held such dearness for her had been the strength that pulled them through the difficult times. Friendship. Still smiling Lara walked up to the door and cautiously stepped through it. She stepped into a cavern that was lit by phosphorescent moss causing a silvery glow to permeate the room. It was much larger than the last room and had several slopes and boulders lying around the place. Taking another single step she glanced back as Xander looked up at her. He shot her a smile that collapsed as the door swung shut before she had a chance to dive back into the main room.

It was her turn apparently.

Xander rushed over to the now closed door swearing fluently at it. It was then he noticed the Identograms surrounding it "Giles" he called although there was little need as Giles had rushed over with him.

Giles studied the writing for a moment and cursed softly to himself, "This is Lara's test, and she has to face the guardian"

"The Guardian, what the hell is that?" Buffy demanded as she put a comforting hand on Xander's shoulder. Despite the fact she had to reach up to do it Xander stilled his agitated fidgeting and calmed to her touch.

"I'm afraid I have no idea, but Lara is quite capable of looking after herself and I suspect this door will open shortly to her standing on it with both guns smoking." Giles said with confidence.

*****

Lara sat on a boulder and checked her clips. She was fully armed and had several full clips in her custom made pack. It allowed her a quick reload without much pause and she was highly trained and experienced. So she wasn't too worried initially.

That was until a huge claw slashed her arm and knocked her flying across the room. With reactions borne of experience and instinct Lara bounced back onto her feet and leapt back and up landing perfectly poised on a boulder.

She hadn't heard it coming but there was a huge Kodiak bear, or what looked like one roaring at her and bearing its huge fangs at her. It reared up to a full 10 foot high and again roared. Ignoring the pain of her arm she pulled both guns and started firing as it barrelled towards her. It moved like lightning and she had to break off her attack move.

She somersaulted away at the last moment tugging her legs in and landing teetering on a slope. She then ran forward as fast as she could as the bear swung round to face her and ran at her quickly roaring the entire way. It nearly caught her as she reached her goal. Jumping up as far and fast as she could she hooked a foot into a crack and launched herself further upwards out of the giant beasts reach for a moment.

She fired her guns at it as it roared its defiance at her the disgusting smell of rotting flesh assaulted her nose as she fired continuously into the creature. It was then she noticed that the normal brown bear eyes had been replaced with red demonic ones.

No wonder it was taking her shots and showing only slight signs of slowing down. She reloaded instantly as she ran dry and ran along wall trying to get a better shot at the beast. As she ran round the large animal she sank down to the ground level down one of the many ramp like area's. She also noticed that it seemed to have a shaven spot on the very back of its neck.

She stopped running and backed back up a slope as the large creature ran at her. When it was almost upon her she leapt high in the air and tucked her legs underneath herself. Then at the apex of her jump she flipped her legs and body round flattening out in mid air and taking careful aim. She fired twice out of each gun with the bullets hitting home with precision. She landed heavily and bounced round to find that large creature still moving. It rushed her again and she emptied both clips into it before it finally sank down on top of her.

Her last thought as the bear blocked her vision was of anger at her defeat and of Xander's face that afternoon in the basement.

*****

The door popped open and Xander rushed through it without pause. He paused though when he saw what had happened. He rushed over to the form of the giant bear and the prone form of Lara under it. The other ran up behind him and looked in horror.

Willow chocked out a sob as Buffy looked at the scene in shock and horror. Xander looked back at them with deep anger burning in his eyes. "Help me" he said and started pushing at the bear.

It took the combined strength of himself and the slayer to finally rock the beast off of Lara's body. They looked at her face covered in blood and the blood that dripped from her arm.

"No!" Xander cried out dropping to his knees, he leant in close to her and kissed her gently. As he moved away he felt her breath softly tickling his face and a huge smiled crossed his face, "Water!" he ordered and a canteen was shoved into his waiting hand.

With infinite gentleness he lifted her head and fed her a little water. She sipped at it and her eyes fluttered open and locked onto his.

"Hi" she said a smile stretching her lips.

"Hi, you gave me quite a scare you know" Xander said a tear in his eye.

"Sorry" Lara said and then reached up and captured his lips in a kiss.

They finally broke away from each other with a smile, "Don't scare me like that" he said helping her to her feet.

She just smiled as she regained her feet, "Well that was bracing!"

The others all shot her incredulous looks.



CHAPTER 14

The Cavern

5th September 1999

Xander looked down as he wrapped Lara's arm. He was concentrating so fully he didn't notice the daughter of an English lord looking at him and watching his face intently. She was reading his every expression and the underlying anger at her being hurt that showed itself in the tenseness of his jaw. The relief that she was alive was revealed in the occasional small smile. His general worry was in the lines by his expressive eyes and his general humours outlook was held in that spark in his eye. It was that very same spark that had ignited her interest in the much younger man in the first place.

Xander looked up and smiled into her eyes when he finally noticed her attention. They shared a look for several moments and the both regretted the shortness of it.

"Xander" Giles called from his place by the next doorway, "Can you come here for a moment?"

Smiled once again at Lara Xander finished the dressing and stood smoothly moving from crouched to standing. Lara watched him leave enjoying the movement of his buttocks.

"That boy has the nicest bum" she commented to herself and was surprised when a voice invaded her thoughts.

"He sure has" Buffy said then noticed Lara's amused look and blushed quickly bustling away.

'Me thinks I have competition' Lara thought with a wry smile flitting across her face. Not that it was true she had already won as it were. But when she left she had the feeling someone may step in to, comfort him as it were. She had no problem with that and was glad that Buffy had finally realised what she had in Xander. She hadn't heard a single disparaging comment from the blonde slayer about Xander since they had hit LA. This was just as well for her because Lara was about ready to hit her if she made another single comment about Xander being useless or just human.

Giles looked up as Xander reached him and gave the young man a grim smile of greeting. "Xander, thank you for joining me. I thought perhaps it best if we talk this through privately first"

"OK, G-man, now your scaring me. I'm guessing it's my turn."

"Indeed it is my young friend. You alone can walk through this door and it is you, you must face."

"And I say what?"

"The inscription is most specific in its annoying vagueness. But it appears you must face yourself in this next room"

"OK, I can do that" Xander said with finality.

"Yes, but do bear in mind that there are aspects to all our personalities that we would prefer not to have to face or even admit exist"

Xander just nodded slowly taking in Giles's words of warning. Then he smiled and checked her guns over. "This is like the most extreme case of know thine self then really"

Xander walked off through the doorway leaving a flustered Giles shacking his head with a small smile gracing his lips.

"That young man is constantly surprising me," he said to the world at large.

*****

Luckily the natural light from the previous room was also present in this new one that Xander stepped into with all the confidence that he could muster.

It wasn't nearly as large as the others had been only about five metres wide and twice as much long and was as featureless as the first one had been.

He walked into the centre of the room not sparing the slam of the door shutting even a glance.

He waited for what appeared to be several minutes until he gave up and sat Indian fashion in almost the dead centre of the room. He rested his wrists on his knees and placed the thumb and little finger of both hands in an O. Then he concentrated on his breathing trying to find his centre. With each inward breath he imagined the wash of a wave drawing back off of a beach and with every outward one he saw the breaker rolling back onto it again. He continued this until he found his centre and relaxed waiting for his first challenge to begin.

*****

Lara walked up to Giles, "Where did Xander go?" she asked conversationally.

"Xander has gone to take his first task" Giles replied still reading the wall intently going through his translation notes once again.

"Oh Dear!" he mumbled fearfully.

"What is it, Ripper?"

"I may have mistranslated this inscription slightly"

"What's different" Lara said, she knew just how easy it was especially with pictorial languages to mistranslate. One pictogram could have several other meanings assigned to it and the translation replied on the context in which it was used. For many years entire papyrus scrolls had been translated incorrectly causing her professional compatriots a great deal of confusion. It was only in recent years that the error had come to light and swept away a great deal of misunderstanding about ancient Egypt, such as the thought that they were a dower people only interested in death. They were in fact a vibrant people who celebrated life so much they believed fully in life after death.

"I told Xander that this test was that he must face himself"

"OK, sounds a little dramatic but I've heard worse"

"Well this pictogram here, the one that looks like two alligators copulating" Giles said pointing to the offending picture

Lara cracked a smile and nodded, "OK Copulating Gator's got it"

Giles smirked at her, "Well I took that to mean ones self, but I believe with further study that it means aspects of ones self. Or if taken in context with the preceding and following lines, possibly possessions of oneself. Now bare in mind that Xander has been possessed by no less than two different entities and you see where I started to worry"

"Two?" Lara asked intrigued.

"Yes, Hyena and the Soldier. Although I am still unsure if that counts as possession so he may only have to face the hyena"

"That's bad?"

"Oh yes, Animal possession is a very old and powerful form that nearly killed us all"

"Oh dear"

"Quite"

*****

"Well, Well, Well" Xander heard his own voice sneering at him. For a moment he had thought he had said it himself. He opened his eyes to find a duplicate of himself looking at him from a crouch.

The other him was wearing rags and looked dirty and wild, with long canines and sharp looking claws. It was shuffling around in a crouch but Xander could see by the play of its muscles it was capable of great strength and speed.

"Its me, only as weak and pitiful prey" the other Xander said with a sneer its voice was nothing more than a rumbling growl that was slightly sibilant sounding due to the enlarged canines.

"Oh joy, it's the hyena" Xander said uncrossing his legs and getting into a half crouch himself.

"Ohh, prey wants to play" the hyena said noticing the combative stance Xander was taking, "You couldn't beat me last time, why do you think you can now."

"Magic empowered you last time I had little choice at the time. But this time I'm still me"

"You. What can you do? You are weak, I remember who much you fought before, then you gave up and enjoyed the ride"

"I didn't" Xander said with anger.

"You did I am you I know it. You especially liked it when we had the blonde one under us. Yes I know you liked that feeling"

"I did not. You nearly raped her. Thank god she hit you with a desk"

"You, Me, Us. And you were disappointed"

They circled each other whilst talking each waiting for the attack.

"You are delusional my friend. I hated you, you did nothing for me except nearly destroy all my friendships and put me right off pork"

Hyena had enough of the talking and leapt at his human counterpart latching on to Xander's arm with his teeth ripping out a chunk of flesh and skittering back, "I have tasted you boy, now your mine" it said jumped back at Xander.

Xander leapt away from it and got to a fully standing position. The hyena leapt at him again to which Xander countered with a kick to the animals head that barely checked it. Then he followed up with another kick that pushed the beast back a little further. Hyena kept coming though until it finally reached Xander knocking the both backwards.

Xander pushed his legs under hyena and pushed with all his might sending the creature flying across the room and smashing into the wall. Hyena slid down the wall slowly smiling despite the pain. Once it reached the floor it leapt back to all fours and launched itself at Xander once again. The attacks were not co-ordinated but what they lacked in strategy they made up for in ferocious intent. Xander was constantly kept on the defensive never being able to attack him and inflict damage despite his fighting style and awareness of martial arts.

They backed away after a particularly vicious volley and eyed each other. They both knew this could be the last run they both managed.

Finally the hyena gave a cackling laugh and leapt at Xander with more speed than he had showed to date. Xander reacted without conscious thought spinning round and placing his foot into the creatures' path. He connected into the beasts' throat crushing its larynx in the single blow. The hyena dropped out of the air its breath bubbling disturbingly in its throat.

Then when the bubbling stopped hyena faded from view leaving a badly beaten and bleeding Xander to slump down to the floor. After a moment Xander pulled himself together and once again sat in meditative position.

*****

"What if it isn't just the Hyena, what if the soldier possession is present" Lara asked her lips pursed in thought

"Then Xander will be in a lot of trouble." Giles replied with a sigh.

"Why?"

"Of the two it is the soldier that Xander has drawn on most. I'm not even sure if he was able to draw on the hyena or not to be honest. But the soldier he has used time and again to help us. Those memories are what enabled us to defeat the Mayor. If not for him and his knowledge of explosive devices we could all have perished."

"I still don't understand why it would be a greater threat"

"It is because it is the one that he has most integrated into his own consciousness and abilities. I am sure the skills he has shown are beyond those he could have learned even if he does not realise it himself. To fight the soldier would be to literally fight himself"

"Ahh"

"Indeed, Let us hope that it is not"

*****

"Ten...HUT!"

Xander shot off of the floor and came to attention despite his injury. His eyes opened to see himself standing a few feet away at parade rest in a crisp and perfect uniform.

"Lieutenant Harris I presume" Xander quipped allowing himself to come to a parade rest also.

"Long time no see soldier" the soldier persona replied looking at him steadily.

"Tell me I don't have to fight you now"

The soldier stared at him and continued to do so for a very long time.

*****

"I'm worried" Buffy said to Willow and Oz who were snuggled together against a rock.

Lara had come over and told them that Xander was taking his test several hours ago and since then nothing had happened.

"Don't worry Buffy he'll be OK"

"You sound so sure" Buffy noted.

"I am, Xander hasn't let us down since the love spell" Willow replied with a large smile, "He won't let us down now"

"I wish I could be so sure, what about you Oz. What do you think?"

Oz looked at her for a long moment. Things between himself and Xander had been strained from the word go and it hadn't been helped by his and willows fluke. That said there was one thing he was sure of, that Xander would never do anything to hurt them intentionally, "We're cool" he replied succinctly.

*****

"Do you think we should fight" the soldier asked after a long silence.

"I don't want to fight you" Xander replied thoughtfully, "It would be like fighting a part of myself"

"I'm different from the Hyena then"

It was more of a statement than a question but Xander replied anyway, "Yes, the hyena was always alien to me. He went against my nature the way he picked on the weak and thought only in terms of prey and mate. You are the glue that binds me together, without you I think I could have come apart before now"

"You think so little of yourself. What are a soldiers best and most important tools?"

"His mind and his honour and himself" Xander replied without pause.

"Then whom do you rely on"

"Your unit and yourself"

"So why do you not rely on yourself. Your unit relies on you. So should you"

Xander nodded his accent, "True. And I do really, but you have helped me so often in the past"

"What makes you think I want to fight then?"

"I thought that was the point"

"It was not, soldier and you had better wise up to that. What were the limeys words?"

"I had to face myself"

"Then were do you get that we have to fight?"

Xander almost smiled, "Point"

"At last, you aren't too bright are you? Tell me something else soldier. Who am I?"

"Huh?"

"Do not huh me soldier. Answer the question or I'll come over there and wipe the floor with your sorry carcass," the soldier snapped.

Xander thought for a long time. The soldier to him was the sum total of all the skills picked up in his life and that night of Halloween had only been a catalyst that had triggered them into action. He had picked up some knowledge during the so-called possession of the soldier but unlike the hyena it had been more of a slight change than an all-encompassing possession. The soldier had been a part of him already in some ways; it was then it struck him who he was really talking to.

He smiled and finally gave his answer, "You're me and I'm you"

The soldier smiled and stepped up with his hand outstretched, "Well done fpr you part" he said taking Xander's hand in his own and then merging into him without another word.

Feeling stronger than he had in a long time and more confidant of his abilities and self Xander smiled widely as the doors either end of the room ground open thunderously.





CHAPTER 15

The Cavern

5th September 1999

Lara was the first through as she had been waiting for the door to open. It had taken all of her famous self-control not to pace away the long hours waiting for it to finally swing open, as she was sure it would. That had not stopped her from being more scared than she cared to think about. When had this boy, young man, become so important to her that she was scared for his safety? This was not how it was supposed to go, she was supposed to enjoy him and likewise. This was moving into territory that she was as yet unwilling to explore with anyone.

She rushed over to him as coolly and calmly as possible to find him giving her a sexy lopsided smile, "Hey you" he said as she reached him.

He looked a total mess with congealed blood on the floor at his feet in a pool large enough to worry her. There was a chunk missing out of his arm that looked to have been done by a largish animal and he was pale, very pale. But despite all that he was standing unaided with that damn sexy smile plastered on his face looking better than he had any right to be. As she got closer she was able to make out that the bite had stopped bleeding sometime ago by the look of it and was not as bad as she had first feared. It was mostly a flesh wound as the saying went. Still she pulled out a handkerchief from her shorts pocket and wrapped it around the wound.

"Have I ever told you how much I love those shorts of yours?" Xander asked with twinkle.

"No, but if we get out of her alive I'll let you show me" she replied returning the smile and the wicked gleam.

They were not alone for long as the others piled in after them all fussing around him and checking him over.

After several minutes they had moved their gear into that chamber and dressed Xander's wounds tightly wrapping the bite mark with plenty of antiseptic when he told them what did it. There is no bite as deadly as a human bite, discounting poisonous ones, for the sheer amount bacteria that the average human carries with them in their mouths. Most human bites will and can turn sceptic and they were all well aware of that. That was why they had used as much antiseptic as they had and wound the wound so it couldn't get dirty. Giles almost immediately set up shop by the inscription at the next door. Once he had realised that each door held a clue as to the contents of the room he insisted that no-one attempt entry until he had transcribed it.

Xander gratefully took some food, hungry from the blood loss and his normal appetite and Lara also insisted on making him some hot and very sweet tea to help with it as well. Xander had never actually tasted tea before having thought it a typically English drink and as such to be avoided. But as he sipped at the sweet brew he found he rather liked it. Not that he would every tell Giles that. Besides the English were right about one thing. There was nothing like a cup of tea to calm you down, a hot sweet tea also did a lot to combat the shock to his system and feed important nutrients into his depleted bloodstream as well. Although it made sense that a country that had built an empire on the stuff would know about its medicinal aspects.

He caught Buffy shooting him the occasional worried glance and caught her eye, "Its OK Buff I'm fine, honest"

She teared up a little and rushed him grabbing him into a large almost bone crushing hug, "Good" she mumbled into his chest as he patted her back gently. "I don't know what I, Urm, we would do without you Xand"

"Thanks Buff, but not to worry as I said before buff. I take the licking and keep on ticking OK"

"Really?" she asked in a small voice.

Lara stifled the smirk on her face and turned her head away.

"Sure, I've gotten worse than this from a vamp before now" he said chuckling.

Buffy smiled at him for a moment before it dropped from her face and was replaced with a scowl, "When?"

"Huh?"

"When, because I know you're not lying and I know you didn't get it when I was there. So when?"

"Ah" Xander said stupidly as his brain derailed.

"Buffy!" Giles shouted to her, Buffy frowned at Xander and walked to Giles, she shot, "We'll take this up later" over her shoulder as she left leaving a groaning Xander behind her.

Lara laughed out loud at the look of dread on his face and he stuck his tongue out at her and the others as they two exploded into laughter.

Giles looked across at his surrogate daughter and charge. Sometimes it amazed him that such a petite girl could be the longest living slayer in history and the most feared at that. He was kneeling and only had to look up slightly to look her straight in the eye she was five feet if that. 'Just goes to show, ripper old boy, size doesn't matter after all'

"What is it Giles"

"Your turn" he said succinctly.

"Oh, OK, what do I have to do."

"Believe it or not this is the most straight forward inscription so far, you have to slay the demon that awaits you. Apparently everything you need is in the next room"

"Wow, that's really helpful actually"

"I know, but something tells me it will not be that straight forward in practise. Be careful Buffy"

She smiled at him and virtually skipped off into the next room. As the door clanged shut behind her Giles allowed the worry he felt for to show on his face for a moment before turning back to join the others.

*****

This room was the same rough size as the one in which they had camped accept that it had none of the boulders and slopes that it had had. There was a table in the middle of the room with several weapons array on it.

There was everything from a broadsword to a stake there. Being her preference she picked up the stake and twirled it expertly.

"At Last" came the booming voice from a corner and the demon appeared. "I have waited sooo long in this chamber for you my dear. So many years alone in this place with myself for company"

Once it had fully formed Buffy studied it closely. It was roughly eight foot high and four foot wide with a hugely muscular form that seemed to be reptilian in nature by mostly human to look at. The reptilian nature came from its skin with was scaly and glistened slightly. Her sensitive nose also picked out that it had a musky scent that did nothing to make her feel better about being there with it.

"OK then smelly. Shall we dance?"

The demon's eyes glowed bright red and it dived at the slayer with amazing speed. To any mere human it would have certainly been over there and then. But Buffy wasn't just a human; she was a slayer and as such had great speed and strength. She dodged to the side and tripped the monster with an outstretched foot smirked the entire time. The demon's face changed from anticipation to sheer horror as it was sent careering into a wall at full belt. Then as it past her Buffy slammed the stake home with great speed and precision.

The demon hit the wall with an almighty thump and sagged to the floor. Buffy smirked more and waited for the door to open.

She was annoyed when the demon started to lift itself upright once again, the stake obviously not hurting it as much as she had hoped. She looked back at the table and selected the Bo staff. She spun it around herself in an impressive display of control until it faced her now fully erect opponent.

"Slayer" it smiled circling her slowly learning from its previous attack.

"Smelly" Buffy shot back with the half smile she was well known for.

The demon feinted forward only to be wrapped smartly on the head with the staff before it was able to back off and draw her in.

"Ow" it said rather comically causing Buffy to smile at it. She moved on the offensive. During her normal battles with vampires she barely had to tap into her slayer essence, a little pull into the power was enough to even up the odds and then tip them in her favour for most vampires and demons. Occasionally she had to dig deeper and fight a little harder but most of the time she barely touched the full potential of the slayer's spirit that resided within her. She taped into it then and moved in a blur bring the staff round in several hits that all stuck the demon like a sledgehammer. She beat it with a flurry of motion until it finally dropped down to the floor. Then allowing herself another showy spin of the staff she stopped and once again waited for the door to open.

She stood like that for five minutes before the unfortunate demon once again started shifting. With an exasperated sigh Buffy reached around blindly finally grabbing a hold on the broadsword and dropped the Bo Staff. Then in a fit of annoyance she stalked the still prone demon, "Will you just die!" she shouted beheading it and laying into it with the sword.

"Uh, Buff, I think it's dead" She heard Xander voice say from behind her. She finally stopped hacking the demon to pieces and turned to face her friend.

Xander smirked at her and pointed at her face, "I think you have something on your face" he said in the understatement of the year. She was covered virtually head to foot in the demons green blood. She whipped a sleeve across her face spreading the blood around without removing anything.

Laughing Xander walked up to her and wiped away some blood smiling down at her, "Did it annoy you Buffy" he asked the laugh very much still present in his voice.

She pouted at him cutely, "It wouldn't die," she said in a little girls' voice.

"Good Grief" Giles exclaimed as he walked into the chamber. "That must have been a mighty battle"

"Uh, yeah, something like that" Buffy replied sheepishly.

"I think the nasty demon annoyed little Buffy" Xander joked earning himself a swatted arm from the slayer.

"I should say so" Lara commented as she took in the carnage. "Remind me not to annoy you anymore"

"That's a good idea" Buffy replied with a feral grin.

Lara lifted a single eyebrow at the slayer and smiled sweetly at her, "I was only joking"

"I wasn't" Buffy mumbled to herself dropping the sword.

"Here you go" Willow said perkily handing the slayer a towel. Buffy smiled at her friend and gratefully removed the blood from her face and everywhere else she could manage.

She held out the towel with a smile, "Thanks Wills"

"Er, no I think you can keep it" Willow said with a grin.

"Lara" Giles called as he inspected the inscription.

Lara wandered over looking around the cavern in interest, "I think we've travelled about a mile in a day" she informed her fathers' oldest living friend.

"Really, how can you tell?"

"The rock formations, anyway what did you want is it my turn again?"

"Indeed it is. It says that this is a none physical task but that is all I'm afraid"

"Alright then, onwards" Lara said walking through the doorway into a brightly lit room that had an ornate tiled floor. She looked down at the floor and gave a wane smile, "Oh lovely, I do so very much love puzzles"

She studied the floor for several minutes before looking around trying to garner a clue as to where to start. The opposite wall held the door that was obviously the exit and also a large pictogram. She looked down again and noticed that it matched one of the tiles.

Taking a deep breath she hopped onto it waiting for the sky to fall in. Nothing happened so she studied the floor again.

The tiles were laid out in a three by six pattern three tiles across by six long. Each had a picture of an animal and she was currently standing on a rat. To her that meant she could either need to step on the progressive genome, although she doubted it or something else entirely thinking that they would not have known about genome when this was built she looked at the other animals.

Rat, Ox, Tiger, Elephant, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Horse, Dog, Pig, Crane, Beetle, Moth, Orang-utan and Lizard.

She was surprised that even knew of some of those animals considering that this cave must have been constructed at least 500 years ago according to some sources she had found.

She looked at the animals for a long time, trying to sense a pattern or at least a clue in the layout. Then suddenly after long contemplation it leapt out at her. She leapt onto the Ox to test her theory, hoping that if she were wrong she would at least get another chance. She waited for several long moments and then hop scotched her way across the board.

Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare or Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Horse, Dog, and Pig were animals she finally stepped across as she laid her foot down on the Pig both sets of door sprang open.

'Chinese astrology' she mused, This cavern was full of contradictions, although it was quite possible that people five hundred years ago were well aware of Chinese star signs it was still intriguing her as to the identity of the builders.

She led the others across to the safety of the finish line and they all sat down for hopefully a nice long break as Giles set to work on the next set of Identograms.







CHAPTER 16

The Cavern

5th September 1999

"Willow" Giles called out after several hours of reading and rereading the wall.

Willow looked at her friend nervously, "I was kinda hoping that they had forgotten me"

"You'll do fine" her boyfriend Oz told her with a warm smile reserved only for her.

She gave him a weak smile, got to her feet and walked over to the watcher.

"I think that's all of us then" Xander commented, "I mean that have done a challenge"

"I did two" Lara said with a smirk.

"Yeah, yeah well mine took longest" Xander shot back with a matching smile.

"I got all mucky and stuff" Buffy interjected.

"I controlled the wolf," Oz said, pride evident in his voice.

"I wonder what Willow has to face." Lara asked generally.

"I don't know but judging by ours it will be trying"

"I don't know really, mine was pretty easy when I got into the swing of things" Buffy said her evil grin spreading on her face.

"Hmmm, and can I just say how scary that was" Xander put in.

"Scary?"

"Well the blood did kinda make your clothes cling which wasn't entirely unpleasant," Xander said with a smile that only grew when Buffy swatted his arm. He smiled at Lara to show her meant no disrespect. Which, despite, the fact that it wasn't needed just proved how thoughtful he really was.

They turned their heads when they heard the door slam shut behind Willow and rushed Giles almost as one large being with 8 legs and 4 heads.

"What is it she has to do g-man" Xander asked worriedly.

"She has to use her knowledge of magic to breach the force field to the final room"

"That's it? How come she gets the easy one?" Buffy pouted

"I thought you said that your challenge was easy" Lara put in with a sickly sweet smile

*****

Willow stood before the magical shield with the door to her back and the huge force field looking magical device a foot in front of her nose. It obscured her vision for what was beyond it and she had very little room to manoeuvre.

"OK" She told herself, "You can do this". The truth was she had no idea why she was picked for this, she had very little actual knowledge of magic to date and the idea that this relied on her knowledge scared her a great deal.

She put on her resolve face and set to work tapping deep with her very core for her own magical reserves before prying the shield for any weakness at all. She searched from the top to the bottom and from the left to the right several times without finding a single flaw. She then started pouring on the power and fighting it with brute force.

The Cavern

Three Hours Later

Xander stretched out lazily over his head yawning, "It sure is taking her long enough"

"Yeah" Buffy said also yawning widely.

Xander looked down at Lara to find her peacefully asleep on the cold hard cavern floor. He smiled and took his jacket off and covered her with it.

"You really like her don't you" Buffy said with something in her tone Xander couldn't identify.

They had always been honest with each other and he wasn't about to stop that now, "Yeah, I really do. She's something ain't she?"

"Sure." Buffy said carefully. "She is very beautiful," she grudgingly admitted.

"She sure is, but that isn't what I like about her"

"No" Buffy said slightly taken aback.

"No, she has this like inner strength and beauty that is much more beautiful than her outsides. She cares about her friends and treats them with respect, which I like, a lot. She accepted me without judging me. That is really unusual, people have always thought of me as a geek and left it there. Outside of the Scooby gang no one has ever bothered to get to know me, ya know"

Buffy nodded not wanting to stop Xander's flow. She had not heard him speak like this for a very long time if ever.

"Yeah and she's generous and not at all snobby like you would expect from an English Lady. No I hate to admit this but I am so gonna miss her when she goes"

"I was starting to think that you would go with her" the unidentifiable tone in her voice again.

"No, we talked about it but this what we have has a shelf life unfortunately and it expires when this little adventure of ours is over" Xander said with a note of regret in his sad voice.

"You sound so sad" Buffy said gently. She felt a tugging at her own heartstrings.

"Hey, I'm a big boy now I can handle it. But yeah I'm going to miss her like crazy"

"Do you love her?" Buffy asked knowing the answer already.

"Yeah I think I do. Don't get me wrong it's not like a super doper romance type love but she has definitely captured a big'o'chunk of the Xandman's heart"

"I'm sorry" Buffy said quietly feeling like someone had just killed her puppy.

"Hey its OK, really I'm just enjoying it all until the end, then I'll live ya know I know I'll miss her like crazy but I'm big enough to get through it I have before" he said with a small sad smile directly at Buffy who held his gaze before blushing and looking away.

From her prone position on the form Lady Lara Croft felt her heart sore and sink all at the same time but she couldn't help the smile that graced her lips at his declaration of love for her.

*****

Willow was crying her eyes out; she was mentally and physically exhausted having fought with the shield for nearly three hours and losing. She didn't want to let her friends down like this but they were going to fail and it was all her fault.

In a fit of peak she lashed out at the shield and it bucked and accepted her arm.

Her tears drying up instantly she pushed further and it spread to allow her access then as she finally passed through it the shield just disappeared.

The door opened behind her and she turned with a puzzled look to find a tired but happy looking Giles.

"Well done Willow"

"I didn't do it," she answered with confusion etched across her face in foot high letters.

"I'm sorry?"

"I have tried to beat it with my magic for three hours and nothing, then I reached out and it past me through as easy as anything."

Giles looked thoughtful for several long seconds before answering her, "Willow, you have learned an important lesson about magic here today"

"What?"

"You can not always fight magic with more magic, it isn't about who has the strongest conker but who has the strongest mind. The shield was stronger than your magic that was obvious so what do you think"

Willow looked pensive, "Miss Calendar once told me that Magic is nature and that it flowed with natures will and you shouldn't fight against that will."

"Close, Willow but not quite what I meant. What I meant was that magic is not a weapon, magic is a tool, a dangerous tool and a very useful one. Today a centuries old magician, showed you that sometimes you are not the best and that you can be beaten, and used it as a demonstration tool. And when you accepted defeat it allowed you through. As I said you were supposed to use your knowledge of magic and it becomes clear that you have none"

Willow looked at him with tearful eyes, "Now, now Willow I meant no slight but we must get you some tuition before the magic ends up controlling you, ok?"

She nodded and gave him a small smile to which he replied with a larger one and gave her into the waiting arms of Oz.

Xander smiled at the pair and looked around the room. This one was very different than the others. It was a balcony that over looked a strange looking maze as he reached out he felt another magical field in place and this one wouldn't budge. There was a door off to the left with the now familiar demonic script. He guessed that it led down to the entrance of the maze. He almost without thought mapped a route through the maze and noticed that there appeared to be several wicked looking traps along the only route out.

Once he had finished with Willow Giles had immediately started work on the door instructions and he really didn't like what he saw.

"Xander" he called out softly. Xander walked over.

"Me again?"

"Yes I'm afraid it is"

"Are you sure, because I have to say that looks like more Lara's bag ya know?"

"My through exactly, but either a mistake was made, or they decided to put you well and truly thought your paces. They saw you and Lara as the leaders of the group. The builders did I mean, they made that plain on the doorway before we entered. Put this pictogram mentions you as the map holder and once again as the Saviour so..."

"Xander to the rescue" Xander quipped.

"Indeed, do you want to rest first?"

"Nah, already had plenty while Willow was fighting the nasty magical wall thingy"

"Yes, then I will see you on the other side"

"Of the maze, at least I hope that's what you mean"

Giles favoured him with an indulgent smile, "Be one with you"

"Ciao for Now G-man" Xander said as he stepped through allowing the doorway to swing shut behind him.

He walked down rough-hewn steps carved out of the very living rock of the cavern until he was finally facing the first corridor of the maze. He had the plan of it well and truly stuck in his mind and had memorised the route and traps. Now all he had to do was to survive and get to the other side.

He took a step into the corridor only to have his first surprise as a large pendulum appeared from nowhere and swung at his head. He rolled back out of the way just in time gaining only a slight scratch.

He looked down the corridor at the strange sight of five pendulums swinging back and forth hanging on nothing but thin air.

"Tricky Bastards" Xander growled, "Oh and a hey! To the cheating"

Xander eyed the pendulums for a few seconds getting rhythm in his head and finally leapt onto the first one and let swung with it for several seconds. Then at the perfect moment he jumped to the next and so on until he reached then end.

*****

Lara watched with baited breath as the dark haired man leapt from swinging pendulum to another her heart beating ninety to a dozen until he finally made his last jump and got clear from the swinging death traps. She had just about had a heart attack when they had appeared from nowhere.

"You really care for him don't you" Oz asked her.

She looked round in shock at the young man that had said very few words since she had met him. "Pardon"

"Xander, you love him"

She paused thinking, "Yes I suppose I do rather" she grudgingly admitted.

"Good, he deserves to be loved."

"It's not like that"

"Then what?"

"It's complicated"

"How?"

Lara spared him a smile; he was managing to box her in with single word questions.

"How?" Oz urged her to answer. Lara looked around and saw that both willow and Buffy were standing the other side of the balcony out of earshot as Giles read and reread the inscription.

"I have a complicated life. Xander and I, I'm not ready for that sort of commitment"

"So you could then?"

"If this were another time or another dimension possibly. I think we would be really happy"

"He loves Buffy"

"Yes, I know and I think she is starting to realise that she does him"

"Bother you?"

"No actually I hope that once I'm gone they will get together"

Oz nodded wisely.

"You are a most singular man Oz" Lara said thoughtfully.

"Thanks" Oz said and gave her an enigmatic smile.

*****

Xander rounded another corner on his trek through the maze, he knew that he was due to hit one of the more obvious traps within the next three of four turns. He stepped forward and suddenly the ground gave way under him and he dropped down into it. As he fell and at the last possible second he managed to grab a hold of the side of the sheer drop in which he know found himself.

He held on for dear life as earth fell around him trying to control his breathing. Once the dirt and muck from several centuries of non-use had finished its lemming like behaviour he started slowly pulling himself up until finally he was able to clamber back into safety.

"I am really starting to hate them," he murmured to himself. He felt, as through the builders of this contraption had a personal vendetta again him and it was starting to really tick him off.

When his heart had stopped trying to beat its way out of his chest he looked around for another way past the drop. It was too long to jump and the walls were sheer rock, almost like the start had been. He began carefully scrutinising the area until his eyes came to rest on a lever at the end of the corridor a good hundred meters away.

He pulled out his pistol and took careful aim before pulling the trigger. It was a long shot to be sure of his aim but it only took him three shots to hit the lever and sent it flying backwards. There was a brief rumble as the trap door he had triggered came back up allowing him to cross safely.

Back in the viewing area everyone including Oz let out a sigh of relief.

Xander walked around the corner he knew had a trap next, it was a fairly obvious one thankfully and he hoped the last before the final furlong to the finish. The corridor was long and chequered with black and white squares like a chessboard. Along the wall were holes that looked like they could and would shot something, possibly arrows out of.

Xander looked around and found a piece of rock that he carefully threw onto a black square. Nothing shot at him so he stepped onto the black square. A movement of air and the sound of machinery gave him the split second he needed to survive and leap backwards narrowly avoiding the dart like arrow that fired out of the wall.

This time Xander stepped onto a white square and nothing happened for a whole second before the machinery whirred again and he had to once again dive for cover.

"Lousy bastards, they're cheating again"

Xander eyed the hallway apprehensively and started to panic slightly. There was no way across there seemed to be no rhyme or reason behind the board.

"Maybe that is the point" he thought out loud. Perhaps the builders of the maze wanted to make him think that he had to step on a particular colour when in fact any square would trigger the arrows. Gathering his courage Xander checked the length of the hallway took a deep breath and decided to run for it.





CHAPTER 17

The Cavern

6th September 1999

The chequered corridor reached out in front of him twisting into an optical illusionary nightmare as he ran faster than he had ever run in his life using all the speed available to him. He desperately wished that he had Buffy's extra slayer speed to help him out.

As his size tens pounded down on the tiles machinery whirred into action followed by a puff of air and arrows darted around his head causing the air to whistle with their passing. He virtually flew down the corridor running as though he had all the vampires in Sunnydale chasing him and even faster than that fateful valentines night when all the women in Sunnydale had actually been chasing him.

He ran and ran ignoring the pain in his calves as they complained at the treatment after they had served him so well so far. His arms pumped and his heart thumped as time dilated around him turning a thirty second run into an hour-long marathon. He couldn't think about the deadly darts flying around his entire body, he couldn't think about how much his legs complained or how ragged his breathing had become. He could only think about the end of the corridor, which now seemed like the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. His actions seemed slow to himself and he felt ungainly like a young duckling with legs sprawling on an icy pond. His mind fuelled with large amounts of adrenaline had sped up to the point where everything felt slow around him. He watched, as one arrow seemed to trigger early and gently float past in front of him. He dodged ever so slightly to make sure he missed it and with a speed given by his heightened state of being actually managed to make it without falling over or being hit.

Then finally his goal was in sight and he dived for the end of the corridor and the relative safety of the dark rock floor. Once there he looked back at the still churning display of arrows flying at the opposite wall from the one they were launched wondering how he had possibly made it through that. He looked at his shoulder to find a single dart like arrow that had caught itself in his jacket.

He removed it carefully noticing with some horror that the very tip of the arrow was black with what he could only assume was poison.

He lay on his back for a while just thankful he was alive.

*****

On the balcony the Scooby gang plus Lara sighed in relief. They had been treated to an unrivalled view of his mad dash down that corridor and it had not been a pleasant experience for any of them. Buffy had been so tense that she had gripped the rock railing and crushed it in her grip.

*****

Xander finally got to his feet again and steadily made his way to the next bend, this as far as he remembered was the final bent until the exit. His memory was correct and he gratefully walked up the stairs to the matching balcony. Once he arrived he felt himself walking through something. That move triggered more magical happenings and before his terrified eyes the maze was filled in with rock and covered with flooring. Then the magical field that acted as window and jail bars snapped away from in front of his friends allowing them access to the new floor.

They crossed it quickly as Xander allowed himself several minutes rest as the traverse the wide gallery that had appeared in place of the death trap he had just survived.

Lara was the first to reach him and pulled him into an intensely passionate kiss that lasted until they both required oxygen.

They broke away with a smile and looked at their friends who all smirked with almost identical expressions.

"When you two are quite finished," Giles said tapping the wall by the final door, "There is no test, this is it. We have reached the end of the godforsaken rats maze"

"Well come on, lets go get the cup" Xander said striding towards the door.

"Chalice" Lara corrected him.

"Whatever lets get the damn thing and go home and have a very long sleep followed by, well not sleep"

"Now that, is a plan that I can get behind," Lara said shooting his own words back at him with a smirk.

They stepped through together and found themselves in a large cavern covered in amazing artwork along the same lines as the Identograms that Giles had been reading but in much larger and grander scale.

"What's it say?" Willow asked excitedly and Oz even showed a minute smile.

"Er, nothing its just a picture" Giles said after a few moments Lara caught his eye and was disturbed by the dark look behind them. She was about to question him when he shook his almost unnoticeably.

Nodding slightly she turned her attention to the goal. It was sat on a plinth in at the very back wall of the cavern and they all quickly made their way over to it. Giles quickly checked for Identograms but found nothing to worry them.

The Chalice of Amoncor itself was roughly the size of a large mug made of silver with gold filigree and large jewels inlaid into its design. It was a grand looking objects one that had no place at Christ's table.

Xander reached out slowly to the chalice with a single finger. "Is this a trick, cause I saw this on Indiana Jones"

"That was the Holy Grail, this was only rumoured to be there and if it was it would have belonged to the owner of the house, not Christ. Judging by the details and finery I would say they were high in social standing" Lara told him she glanced back at Giles with a wry expression, "If you say one word about the bloody nights that go Nea I will shoot you" she mock threatened him.

Happy he wasn't about to be killed or stuck there for eternity Xander's finger finally pushed that extra inch and made contact with the bowl and the world exploded into light and pain. With a short lived cry Xander fell to his knees and then slumped to the ground. The chalice wobbled and fell and automatically Buffy caught it before it could hit the ground.

"Huh?" she said when nothing happened to her. "OK, stop faking it" Buffy said nudging Xander with her foot. They were all smiling at his apparent joke.

Lara knelt beside him, with a smile leaned over, and took his pulse. Her smile disappeared quickly when she couldn't find it. "Oh god no, he's dead" she said her face white as a sheet.

*****

Xander felt as though he were floating on a cloud looking down at his friends as they panicked into action around his body. It was really strange to lay up here looking down at his own body like that. Somehow he knew he wasn't dead, a lot of images had shot through his head and it was like he had run out on his mind while it processed them. He could remember his first visit to the canyon only this time it was as though he had stepped outside himself and had watched himself standing at the very edge of that drop feeling the updraft beating against his face. He could also remember it from another angle, with a different view one that included a thunderous river that pounded through the rocks. He could feel the rough-hewn canoe under his knees and feel the burn of his arms.

He watched as a wise man stood with his staff and caused the river to roll back and clear a path to the cleft. It was like watching Moses parting the sea and leading his troop through it. Except this time it wasn't the power of god it was pure nature magic and powerful at that. He looked down and could see quite clearly himself as he painted the last three pictograms in large print on the roof of this cavern. He knew Giles had lied, those were words and they did mean something but as yet he couldn't remember what it was.

He felt a tugging sensation as Lara started CPR and was rushed back into his body.

Xander's body arched off of the floor before Lara could begin the breathing part of CPR. He drew a massive breath that seemed to suck all of the air out of the room until finally he stopped breathing in and started to breath out after several such breathes the normal rhythm took over and his eyes opened to find the concerned eyes of Lara looking down at him.

"Whoa man that was a rush"

"What they hell happened" Buffy asked obviously frightened.

"Hey Buffy" Xander said with a slight smile, "Well I think I just received a message from the bastards that made this whirly gig of fun"

"What did they say?" Lara asked him gently.

"I couldn't tell you yet it was all too much ya know I think that is why I collapsed, just overloaded"

"But you weren't breathing and you didn't have a pulse" Willow babbled as only Willow could.

"I know, I can kinda remember, I tell you what I do definitely remember" Xander said a slow smile forming.

"What?" Lara asked a smile tugging at her lips.

"I know another way out a 'short cut' the hell out of here"

*****

After what seemed like at least two hours passing and walking a long way despite Xander saying it was a short cut the Scooby gang and Lara finally stepped out into the sunlight blinking owlishly at the bright ball of fire in the sky.

"Wow, I missed that" Xander said indicating the sun.

"Yes, sometimes being in the dark can be a little boring after a while. It is nice to see the sun" Lara commented placing a steadying hand on Xander and looking around and up.

"Can we stay so I can top up my tan" Buffy asked from her sprawled position on the rock floor.

"Yeah, that sounds good" Willow agreed leaning into Oz.

"If you wish, but I was going to offer you all dinner and a nice plush Las Vegas hotel room for the night" Lara told them with a wide smile.

"OK, I've changed my mind" Buffy said leaping back to her feet, "I could so do a bubble bath right now"

"Yeah, but Vegas is still four hours in that direction" Xander said pointing vaguely off to the right.

"Shh, don't tell them that or we'll be stuck here" Lara quipped gently.

"Oh I do love this witty banter you all seem to have" came a dry British voice from behind them. They span round to find themselves being covered by Mr. Williams and Mr. Powers both toting automatic rifles and pointing them right at them.

"Fancy seeing you here" Lara said, "They'll let anyone in now you know" she said to Xander who smirked at her.

"Terrible when a neighbourhood goes down hill isn't it"

"Oh do be quiet. Give me the chalice or die" Mr. Powers said indicating the brown bag in Xander's hand.

"Do it" Lara said resignedly.

Xander threw the bag at Mr. Williams who just caught it with one hand and handed it to Mr. Powers.

"Excellent" Mr. Powers said walking away, "Mr. Williams"

They all dived for cover as Mr. Williams opened fire backing up the rocky slope as he did. Then when he crested the hill he turned and ran to catch up with his boss.

They heard the distinctive sound of a helicopter powering up and flying away as they crawled out from their respective hiding places.

"Well Shit" Oz commented.

They all looked at him in shock except Xander who was burning a hole in the retreating helicopter with his eyes.

"Don't worry man, we'll get it back"



CHAPTER 18

The De'Vere Hotel, LA

8th September 1999

Xander awoke from a dream filled sleep. Since he had 'died' he had been having the most vivid dreams about the journey of and finally the placing of the chalice and the people who had travelled with it and finally built its resting place. He stretched out like a cat in the huge double bed. Lara had insisted on getting them all rooms in this exclusive hotel on their arrival the night before. No one except himself had put up any argument and Lara had found her own way of persuading him. He consoled himself in the fact that he had at least saved her another room's fee for the night, since he had shared hers.

He looked around the bed to find that Lara was nowhere to be found but as he concentrated he could hear just on the very edge of his hearing the running of the shower. He was half tempted to join her but the luxury of the large bed sang it siren song to him and he put it off, promising himself to do it in a minute.

As he just enjoyed the feeling of the smooth cotton sheets he was aware of the sound of the shower shutting off and Lara getting out. His eyes fluttered between open and closed drifting on the very verge of sleep.

Lara padded out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel and his drifting ceased immediately. Lara in a towel was not to be missed his subconscious told him and his conscious mind fully agreed. Even now padding around in a hotel towel she was still the most wonderfully attractive woman he had ever laid eyes on. Cordelia, Buffy and even Willow were all gorgeous but none of them held that enigmatic beauty that was Lara Croft. Xander watched her silently as she went about the business of getting herself ready for the day absently towelling her long hair dry and slinging it back into a simple pony tale with recklessness borne of familiarity.

Lara turned round and faced the bed with a smile playing on her generous lips. She had felt Xander watching her since she had left the bathroom, she didn't mind one bit at his voyeuristic urge to watch her going about her almost daily routine in fact she felt glad that he wanted to in a small domestic part of her soul. "Good Morning to you Mr. Harris" she said throatily memories from the night before playing in the cinema of her mind in glorious Technicolor.

"Well Hello Lady Croft" Xander smirked.

She sashayed over the bed and knelt at its edge, "Sleep well" she asked innocently. Suddenly Xander's hand snaked out from under the covers and snatched away her towel covering leaving her naked to the world.

Xander gave her an evil smile and looked at her unabashed with dark lust filled eyes.

"Enjoying the view?"

"There is nothing as beautiful as you naked Lara. Now come here," Xander said reaching up and pulling a laughing Lara down into a passionate kiss.

Angel Investigations, LA

Cordelia chase looked up and was greeted by Doyle's smiling face. "Afternoon Princess"

"Urhh, what do you want know" she replied shortly, she had not been happy when the PTB had sent a vision to Doyle stopping them from going with Xander and her friends and she blamed the messenger rather than the senders.

"Get up on the wrong side of bed this morning did you. Cause you know I have a real comfy bed and it's against the wall so you wouldn't have that problem"

Cordelia smiled demurely at him, "No I'll bet. There is only one problem"

"What's that darlin?" Doyle said enjoying the fact she had actually responded to one of his blatant lines.

"I'll be dead, because that would be the only way I would be found in bed with you"

Doyle sagged visibly at her retort delivered with her usual panache. He liked her he really, really liked her and it was playing havoc with his self-image. The trouble was that the Sunnydale native hated demons, all demons no matter which side they were standing of the good/evil line. Doyle was half bracken demon and he felt that would be a major stumbling block to their relationship. So far he had not managed to pluck up the courage to tell her that. Angel knew, had known from the very beginning.

Cordelia virtually squealed for a moment and for a crazy moment Doyle thought the megawatt smile on her face was for him. Then he turned and saw Xander Harris standing at the door smiling. He was pretty sure that he hated that man.

"Hey Cordy, how's tricks"

She had regained her normal composure and stepped round her desk to embrace him. "That better not be another Hooker Wear joke Mr. Harris"

"Never Miss Chase. No one who saw you would ever think of you that way. I was just being a jerk"

Cordy stepped back and looked him in the eye, "Who are you and what did you do with my Xander"

Xander smirked, "Your Xander?"

Cordelia got about as close to blushing as she ever had and covered it with her normal bluff, "All men are mine, and you should know that by now. I just have to click my fingers and they line up to serve me"

"Sure they do" Xander said in a lazy drawl, "So anyway, we're back. If you hadn't already guessed"

"Where are the others?"

"Well Buffy and Willow dragged Oz and Giles out for a little retail therapy. I have a feeling they will be asking you if they can store their purchases for them until we get back. Lara will be here any second and I'm here"

"You mean Lady Croft"

"Sure" Xander said smiling. "Lady Croft is juts parking the jeep and sent me ahead"

"Lady Croft has parked the jeep and is wondering where her red carpet is" Lara quipped as she entered the office.

Xander moved closer to her, just to be closer and looked at Cordelia, "Is Deadboy up yet?"

"I don't know, Doyle can you check for me?"

"Sure thing princess" Doyle said beating a hasty retreat into Angel's private office and the door to his quarters that lay beyond it.

Xander looked at his retreating back, "You do realise that guy is totally besotted with you right"

"Well Duh, it's me"

Xander just shot her a look to which she relented, "Yes I do. I figure I'll keep him in his toes for a while before I let him take me out. For some reason my dating standards have slipped since high school"

"There are two ways I can take that and I'm taking it as a compliment anyway"

"Sure you are"

Lara leaned into Xander and whispered in his ear he nodded once and looked at Cordelia, "Say did that Mr. powers leave a number or an address?"

"He did, but I checked and it leads to an anonymous PO Box, but I think Angel has a lead for you. Talking of which I need to shut the shutters"

As she bustled off Lara smiled at Xander, "That had nothing to do with what I said"

"I know but what you said made me want to leave quicker so we can go back to the hotel so I thought I would get on with it"

"Very well, I like that idea, but we will most likely have to move quickly after this meeting"

"We will still have to get the others to meet us though right. It would take them a while, and we can enjoy our precious seconds. Can't we"

"I do so love the way you think"

The door to Angel's private office clicked open and the man himself walked in looking decidedly worn out.

"Hey Deadboy, I don't believe it you actually have bed hair! What run out of that gel you like, I could run down the local chemical plant if you want"

"Xander shut up you're making me thirsty" Angel retorted shortly. "What can I do for you?"

"You had a lead for them didn't you Angel" Cordelia said with a slightly mocking smile.

Angel spared her a glare that broke into a smile, something that caused Xander's thoughts to derail. 'Whoa, Angel smiled' he thought dumbly.

"Yes I do" Angel said turning back to Xander and Lara, "It seems that an old friend of mine is in business with Mr. Powers and is decidedly chummy"

"OK, you got me interested" Xander replied leaning forward slightly.

"OK, well he told me that Mr. Powers operates not only out of Vegas but out of London, that in England buy the way Xander just in case you slept through that class"

"Ah Wise Guy Hey" Xander shot back in his best three stooges voice. To his shock Angel actually laughed.

"I love those guys with " he waved his hand, made a poking motion, and popped his tongue against his cheek. "Yuk, yuk, yuk, Hey Mo, Hey Mo!"

Xander by this point had his mouth open.

Cordelia took pity on him, "The point Angel"

"Oh yeah, anyway. You should be able to find him at the Countryman's arms club every Tuesday when he is in town, I check he booked the first flight out today first class all the way to London city. That is all I could get"

"That's really great actually, we were going to hit Vegas if you didn't have his address. Thanks Angel, I can't believe I'm going to say this but I owe you one"

"Its no problem, really, now let me go back to bed"

"Now that's a good idea," Lara murmured into Xander's ear.

"OK, Anyhoo gotta go, love ya bye" Xander said pulling Lara out of the door behind him.

"I swear he gets weirder and weirder every time I see him"

"Come now princess you must realise there're going to go and have sex, right?"

"What, no way. Xander and an English lady, Puh-lease!"

Angel smirked, He had smelt their joint scents, and two people didn't smell exactly the same without some serious close contact.

"What are you smirking at gel boy" Cordelia said swatting his arm.

"Damn, that actually hurt" he said rubbing his arm looking at Cordelia in shock, "You know you really are freakishly strong"

"You try fighting off linebackers for most of high school and see how strong you get!"

The De'Vere Hotel, LA

Several hours later Xander and Lara once again got dressed and headed out from their plush hotel suite. They had held off long enough to call the gang together who promised to meet then in a couple of hours. Buffy wanted to drop some things off at Angel Investigations and catch up with Angel. They had checked bookings and found that no flights were available for another day so there was no rush. They also needed to talk about who needed to go and who did not. Xander was worried about what they would need to do to get back the chalice, and he knew they had to get it back. He didn't really want Buffy or Willow involved with that. Oz or Giles he knew he could rely on to take any action needed but Buffy and Willow had that hang up about hurting humans. Giles had ripper to fall back on and Oz was pragmatic as they came. The best people for the job were Lara and himself though.

He and Lara had managed to find time to talk about that in the shower managing to mix business and pleasure for a change. But facing the gang would be a little harder.

Xander and Lara walked into the lobby almost unconsciously arm in arm. They had arranged to meet in the hotels bar at this time, well about ten minutes earlier than then really but they had got distracted for a moment of two there.

They arrived to find the gang was all there and they had picked up Angel, Cordelia and Doyle. It was dark so it wasn't that surprising to see him he was just unexpected and he could make this harder than it already was.

"Hey guys" Xander said then looked at Angel, "Hey Curly" he quipped prompting a smile from his former enemy. He noticed that he wasn't say next to Buffy as he had thought but was sat between Doyle and Cordelia with Cordy as his buffer zone between himself and the slayer.

They sat and chatted for a while tossing ideas back and forth until finally in came to crunch time.

"Buffy, I think it would be best if the rest of you went back to Sunnydale. It will be safe now and you've already missed too much college plus your slayer duties need to be looked after"

Buffy tilted her head at him for a moment and Xander tensed expecting her argument, "OK, that's a good plan Xan. Oh hey I'm a poet and did not know it" They had spent lunch that day talking things over already and had come to a similar conclusion but Buffy really wanted Xander to know that she trusted him.

Xander looked at her in shock until a large smile wound itself up on his face, "You sure"

"Yep"

"Willow you ok with that, G-man, Oz?"

They all nodded.

"Well cool then. Who wants a drink I'm buying"





CHAPTER 19

The Countryman's Arms

10th September 1999

Lara walked arm in arm with an impeccably dressed Xander Harris looking every bit the English lady she really was. Despite its pub-like sounding name, the 'Countryman's Arms' was one of the most elite of the elite clubs still in operation in London. Thankfully they had recently receded their centuries old rule of no woman allowed. Even without that stigma it was still a mostly male inhabited place and all eyes followed the dashing couple cutting a swathe through its dingy hallways lighting up any area they were in.

Finally the couple made it to the ballroom where several older couples danced the tango in geriatric moves and arching hips. They took to the floor and Xander dredged up the 16bar square tango from the dreaded lessons his mother had forced him into in junior school. It came back quickly, the fact he was dancing with an astoundingly gorgeous woman made him more suave that usual and it showed in the way he moved. Several of the elderly couples smiled at them with romance in their eyes enjoying the fact that a young couple had joined them.

"Well it's Tuesday" Xander remarked smiling down at Lara.

"Yes, that would be customary after a Monday"

"So where is he?"

"I have no idea, but I doubt he is in the ballroom"

"I know I figured we would be able to keep an eye on the front door from here. After all we've done a sweep of the club and didn't find him"

"Good plan, you could get good at this"

"Thank you gracious lady"

"My pleasure kind, and dare I say handsome, sir"

"Me handsome, I don't think so"

"No really, you scrub up quite well, very well in fact" Lara said smiling softly at him darting the occasional look round his shoulder. Xander did the same over her head when they were in a position for him to do so. They danced three songs before Michael Powers finally turned up with Mr. Williams in tow.

"There he is" Lara said spotting them straight away.

"Then I guess our dance is over for now," Xander said leading her from the dance floor to a spattering of applause. He paused at the door and bowed deeply as Lara bobbed a curtsey smiling from ear to ear.

They tracked the two men as discretely as possible but since they were attracting looks where ever they went it was proving to be very difficult.

"I'm starting to think this wasn't such a swell idea" Xander said with a wry smile, "Your too gorgeous all the old men keep having heart attacks when we walk past"

"Well at least I don't make the old ladies swoon with my dashing tux"

"Hmm, I think we need to get out of these clothes"

"Sounds great, but do you really think this is the right time"

Xander pulled her into a utility closet, "Yes, now is a really good time" Xander said searching the shelves until her found what he was looking for. He had spied several servant types entering and leaving with clean uniforms and other clothing. It was some sort of laundry storage room. He passed Lara a maids outfit, "That should fit"

"A maids outfit. I don't think we're ready for the kinky stuff yet"

"Tell you what I'll dress up as a too and then we'll play what the butler saw, OK?"

*****

Xander emerged looking every bit the old English butler right down to the short tails and was followed by Lara whose maid uniform did little to hide her beauty.

"We better try to stick together. Grab a tray and look like you're delivering something and hopefully no-one will notice us." Xander told her with a saucy grin at her attire.

It turned out he was correct no one looked at a servant in that club; they instantly became part of the furniture once they donned the uniforms. That way they were able to follow their prey at a much safer distance than before and attacked less of the admiring glances than they had before. Although Lara had her backside either swatted or pinched more than once in her journey.

"If one more lecherous old man pinches my bum, I'm going to slap them silly," she said angrily after a particularly hard pinch. "Why is it your not getting mauled exactly?"

Xander wasn't listening intently looking at his prey instead. At one point Michael powers stopped and talked for a long time to a greasy looking man who Xander tagged as either a broker or stock magnate. Then an hour later he had apparently finished networking and walked back towards them. Xander served a patron as the two men walked past, as did Lara who once again had her backside pinched.

She stood with great abloom and patiently waited until Mr. Powers and Mr. Williams had gone out of sight then slapped the middle aged bottom pincher soundly round the face, "That is very rude" she admonished him walking away with all of the grace her social status had taught her. A laughing Xander followed her as they sped after their prey catching sight of them just as they left and the car valet got their vehicle.

Running quickly down the long stairway they arrived to watch the dark jaguar sports car pulling rapidly away.

Xander looked around looking for some means of following them when one was delivered.

A long low slung silver Lamborghini Diablo pulled to the curb the gull wing door sliding noiselessly open and a white haired but distinguished man stepped out and dropped his keys into Xander's stunned hand.

He shared a look with Lara then with a feral smile got behind the wheel as she ran round and got in the passengers seat.

"Buckle up Nancy we're going for a ride!"

The Diablo squealed away from the curb in an explosion of rubber burning smoke quickly accelerating and shoving Xander back into his seat, "I gotta get me one of these" he crowed with joy as the powerful custom built Italian engine moved the car forward. It was as if the boot of god had kicked them up the behind and sent the rocketing after the Jaguar JK model sports car. It wasn't long before they caught up with their prey and Xander slowed the car to try not to attract attention. A hard task when you're driving a 560,000 pounds sterling car with a waiting list of five years plus and even that was so exclusive that you had to buy a place on it. People tended to notice a car like that and they left drooling motor heads in their wake and people stopped to look as they past.

****

Mr. Williams glanced in the rear view and looked at his companion, "We're being followed" he rumbled.

Michael powers glanced in his rear view and spotted the silver Diablo, "You're sure?"

"I am, I saw Harris"

"Really, how marvellous" Mr. Powers exalted and shifted down stamping down on the powerful cars accelerator pedal launching it forward.

"We can't outrun him"

"I know my dear Nathaniel. I want them to follow us but I can't make it too easy now can I"

*****

Xander's entire world shifted into a box that encompassed the windshield of the Diablo. The rest of the world didn't matter as the British racing green jag rocketed forward. All that mattered was the road and catching that bastard Mr. Williams and his Bastard of a boss

His movements became precise and calculated using the minimum effort required shifting with the paddle shift he didn't even need to take his hands off of the wheel. Just right for up and left for down it was that easy. His speed increased and he unerringly tracked the green blur that was the jaguar and his enemy.

London streets at any time of day were bad, usually clogged with traffic and pedestrians but his prey ignored the rules laid down on how to drive in London. He made his own and stuck to them, running red lights nearly mowing down people and cutting of taxi drivers, although the last one was actually kinda fun.

Xander who followed him and stuck to his tail using the sports car and driving it with skill and efficiency had to follow those rules or risk losing his prey.

His foot slammed down on the brake causing the car to skid to a stop luckily there was no abs on a sports car, it limited the control of the car, especially if you knew how to control a skid the way Xander did. He waved at the mother and child he had stopped to avoid running down and they scampered gratefully across the road. Then exploding forward like a horse from the gate, the pedigree vehicle rocketed off after the Jag.

The Diablo is one of the very fastest road cars in the world and it showed it's lineage by catching up to the jag just as it turned down a side street blasting through rubbish and debris lifting old newspapers in its wake. The dual sound of the two powerful engines was bone jarringly loud as they blazed down the side street almost killing a tramp whose trolley was knocked flying by the green sports car and had to cover his ears as the powerful Diablo's engine roared past him the pitch of the tuned engine hitting him like a sledgehammer.

Finally Mr. Powers smiled into the rear view mirror and pulled onto the M25 heading out towards Essex at well over a hundred miles per hour. The M25 is well known as being the Worlds largest car park, but luckily it was virtually clear as the two battling cars flew along the tarmac. Flashes of light accompanied their journey, so much so that Xander looked over at Lara who was obviously enjoying the ride, "What's with the flashes?"

"Speed camera's the owner of this car is going to have so many tickets he'll think it's snowing and he'll have to take out a mortgage to pay the fines, such a shame" she said without looking in the least sorrowful. "Watch out he's turning off"

Xander snapped back onto the road and focused on his prey who were indeed taking an off ramp. He followed their example having less than a second to make the run and almost lost the back end with the suddenness of the turn. Once he regained control of the thoroughbred car he set off after Messer's Powers and Williams as they led them onto their home turf.

****

They pulled up, finally, just outside of a large manor house that rivalled Lara's own. Obviously Georgian originally it was less attractive than her own Lara decided with a small curling of her lip in distaste.

"What's up, with that funny smell" Xander said with an almost matching face.

"Oh that, its muck spreading"

"Say what?"

"Manure, shit basically spread all across the fields to fertilise them."

"You Brits are weird you know that right"

"This coming from the nation that brought us Disney!"

"OK, that one I'll have to give you. What now then boss?"

"I'm really not sure, let me think for a minute"

"OK"

*****

"This is so, not a good idea"

"Shh, we'll be caught if you keep gabbing on"

"Gabbing on, what the hell is that? You know since we got back to good ole Blighty, you have gone really, English"

"When in Rome" Lara murmured peaking into through the window and spotting Mr. Powers working on a laptop with no apparent care in the world. "I don't see Mr. Williams"

"Uh Lara!"

"Shh, I'm trying to concentrate"

"Lara!"

She looked round and annoyed expression on her face, "Ahh, I see you've found Mr. Williams then"

The aforementioned man was holding Xander with one burly arm around his neck and a huge desert eagle pointed at his temple.

Xander smiled and gave her a little wave as Mr. Williams waived her towards the back of the house with a twitch of his cannonball sized head.



CHAPTER 20

Holly Manor, England

10th September 1999

Xander looked at Michael powers the misleadingly safe looking English man who currently had Xander and Lara at his mercy. There was no fear in Xander's eyes; he had been in this position so many times before he had lost count. Of course usually one of the other Scooby gang would rush in and save him, usually Buffy but there had been times where it had become necessary to save himself too. He had survived those times as well and saw no reason why he shouldn't this time as well. He was happy at that moment to work on the knots in his bindings and wait for the bad guy to make a mistake as they always did. It was pure egotism that caused most of his enemy's downfalls. Either that or they were drunk with power, stupid, vampires or had no idea what they were doing.

Michael Powers, was not his normal enemy, for one thing he was one hundred percent human and appeared to be neither stupid nor careless. He was also ably backed by the mighty Mr. Williams, how was calm except for the roaring fires of hell that were alight behind his eyes.

Michael powers turned the chalice in his hands studying it through the jeweller's eyepiece that he held in his eye socket. "Exquisite isn't it" he said finally allowing the eyepiece to drop into his waiting hand. He smiled brilliantly at Lara and Xander for the entire world as if he were having Tiffin.

"Yes it is, it belongs in a museum," Lara said hotly struggling against her bindings.

"Really is that not a little too raiders of the lost ark?"

"No Mr. Jones" Xander quipped weakly still deep in thought, "So tell us, Mr. Magoo, why do you want this doodad?"

"Money of course, what else"

Xander shot him an incredulous look, "Money? Is that all?"

Mr. Powers lifted an eyebrow at him.

"I'm used to people trying to end the world and trying to kill me. Or even trying because they want to take it over or bring back zombie buddies and bomb my friends. I'm even willing to believe that I've been kidnapped to bring back a master vampire or to lure my friends into danger. But money, I mean how pathetic is that?"

"Really, I think that money is fabulous and I really like it"

"You love money?" Lara asked

"No, it has yet to buy my dinner, aha, aha ha"

"Oh boy! Now if you wanted the chalice because it holds the secret to eternal youth which it like does, that I could really understand I mean your hardly a young man now are you Mr. Powers, you won't be able to count your money for ever will you?"

"Please, you really believe that old fairy tale"

"I'll stake my life on it"

"Xander, what the hell are you doing?"

"Hey, I don't care this guy is going to kill me anyway and He won't try it anyway. He'll just sell it on to someone who will then live long enough to amass a staggering amount of money enough to make the cost back anyway"

"Will you shut the hell up" Lara fumed as Michael Powers looked thoughtfully at the bowl in his hands.

"Eternal Life?"

"Oh hell yeah, the damn thing zapped me with all the builders of that caverns memories. I've seen it in action"

"Really, since your being helpful what does one put in it?"

"Don't tell him Xander or I'll swear I'll hunt you down"

"It doesn't matter, water, whisky or cherry coke for all it cares, the important thing is that it is drunk out of the chalice"

Power reached for his crystal brandy decanter and pourer a measure in the chalice his eyes alight with greed as Xander watched him with a bored look.

Lara was glaring daggers at him, which he ignored watching Mr. Williams and working the knots finally getting his hands free.

Mr. Powers looking into the bowel thinking carefully he glanced at Xander who was looking very bored and then at Mr. Williams who shrugged expressively, "What is there to lose, If it don't work it don't work"

"Very true my friend. If it does work I shall allow you to drink from it also"

Mr. Williams merely nodded saying nothing. Michael powers lifted the chalice to his lips and took a long pull on his brandy.

"Ahh, such a good year even from this filthy thing"

"It should start to kick in any moment now, you'll start feeling light headed and then you will get one hell of a rush"

"You are dead to me Xander" Lara said her tone leaden.

Xander winced, "That cup was indeed at the table of Christ you know it belonged to the owner of the fine house in which Jesus ate his last supper. In fact it was to the right of Jesus. The Son of God didn't drink from it himself though but another important figure did"

"Ahh god I feel so good" Michael powers said reaching for the decanter again.

"Oh no not more than one, that would reverse the effect" Xander informed him.

The greedy man looked at Xander and nodded his thanks; he then poured the liquid in anyway and past the bowel to Mr. Williams, "Drink my friend it is a most amazing feeling"

Mr. Williams greedily knocked back the drink and smacked his lips.

"So who did use the chalice?"

"Why don't you know your Scripture? Who was it that sat at Jesus' right hand, that Jesus put there himself?"

Lara answered for them, "Judas Iscariot" she said reverently.

"Yes, funny story really. The owner of the house was so horrified afterwards that he had a great and powerful magician put a blessing, oh sorry curse, on the chalice. Whoever drank from the chalice would die a most horrible and painful death. Funny hey"

"Hilarious" Lara replied the smile once again in her eyes.

Mr. Powers and Mr. Williams looked at him in shock that only deepened when he stood up free from his bindings. He made short work of Lara's rope and leaned against the back of her chair.

"You know Lara, I have to admit to being curious to see what he meant by Horrible and Painful"

"Yes Me too"

"You said that a second drink reverses the effect, ha, you see you gave yourself away," Mr. Powers said as he poured and drank a second shot leaving the chalice for Mr. Williams to do the same.

"Yes I did say that didn't I. But then you would think that since I was lying about the damn thing in the first place, you dumb ass that perhaps I was also lying about that?"

Michael powers felt the icy hand of fear grip his throat. The pressure mounted and slowly built closing off his airways and stopping the vital air entering his lungs. His face went red quickly, and then deeper red until finally the colour started to tinge to purple. His face swelled up and the veins in his entire body bulged outwards expanding at an impossible rate then his entire body expanded. Lara and Xander shot a concerned look at each other. Lara darted forward with great agility and snagged the Chalice from Mr. Williams' hands then together they ran for the window.

Xander picked up a stray chair and flung it with all his strength at the window. It smashed just as Mr. Williams sank to his knees with a bellow like a felled Ox.

They jumped through the ground floor window just as Mr. Powers reached the apex of his magical blowfish impression and promptly exploded sending gore and guts spraying across the entire room and out of the window they had just vacated reaching all the way to the impeccable drive some ten-foot away.

"Eww!" Xander said with disgust. He grabbed Lara's hand and ran for it before the much larger Mr. Williams could follow his boss. As they reached the end of the drive they heard a loud bang that sounded just like a gunshot. They didn't look back for fear of what they would see.

The Hilton, London

17th September 1999

Xander arched his back and let out a sigh of great emotional enjoyment. The intense feeling of pleasure he felt was like nothing he had experienced.

"You know I have never known a man who loved waking up slowly so much in my entire life" Lara said from her position next to him in the large bed she was fully dressed which gave Xander pause but he just smiled at her lazily.

"Its just usually either my mom was screaming at me or some vamp had knocked me out and that's why I like waking up nice and slow"

"I'm glad for you really, but honestly it's a little disturbing to watch"

"Thanks allot" he replied with a mock pout

"Oh poor didums, I have something that will make you feel all better"

"Finally, get those clothes off and get into bed"

"Maybe later, no this is different," she said handing him a slip of paper.

Once his eyes had focused he finally made out what it was.

"Lara, what the hell is this?" he demanded pushing his body upright in bed and leaning back on the headboard.

"It's a cheque"

"Yes, I know THAT, but why is it made out to me"

"Its your share of the sale of the chalice to the good old British Museum, they were very happy to have such a historic item as the Chalice"

"But this is too, much you don't need to pay me"

"I most certainly do and its is only your share, I split the money between all of us"

"But this is a million dollars"

"Actually it's a million pounds"

"Lara!"

"No buts, you earned it and its yours and I will not take no as an answer" She told him sternly shifting on the bed and lifting her top over her head. "Now back to your original idea" she said lustfully.

Heathrow Airport

20th September 1999

Lara waved until she couldn't see the jet in the sky anymore, she had managed to convince the porters to let her onto the tarmac once Xander had entered the plane. She had got him a window seat and he had actually spotted her as she waved her goodbyes. Lara croft was not known for public displays of emotion but right at that precise moment tears ran unchecked down her perfect cheeks.

They had spent an amazing 10 days together she had cleared her schedule and had spent most of the time either in bed or sightseeing with him. They had had long dinners in romantic restaurants and talked about everything and nothing for hours at a time. They had made love in front of a log fire with champagne and oysters. Basically they had acted like a couple very much in love. But it had been bittersweet at the end, still amazing but they both knew that it was at an end and that their time had come to a close.

She could only hope that perhaps he would arrive home and find some love perhaps with Buffy but if not it would be her loss and not anyone else's. Lara felt that she had already lost him as he boarded the Concorde to New York.

Then with a mental shake she wiped her tears straightened her back and walked back to her life with a section of her heart still stamped, Xander Harris.

The Bronze

Sunnydale, California

22nd September 1999

Buffy sat watching over the people of Sunnydale with a heavy heart. Things were not going to amazingly in her life at that precise moment in time. Oh she had received a massive cheque in the mail from Lara croft a week ago, but she was feeling lonely and depressed anyway. Something was missing in her life and she could not quite put her finger on what it was.

"Hey Buff" a male voice said. She turned and looked into dark chocolate eyes and smiled the first genuine smile for nearly two weeks.

"Hey Xander" she said her heart lifting at his lopsided smile and suddenly thinking that perhaps, just perhaps she did know what had been missing.

The End

Or is it...

Holly Manor, England

23rd September 1999

Detective Samuel Maxwell wiped his mouth for the tenth time that day, the disgusting stench that had permeated his very being was less horrid in the fresh air and he had stopped heaving an hour ago. But the taste stayed with him.

A Forensics man walked out of the chamber of horrors that was the main study and into the fresh air removing his mask with a grateful sigh.

"Hey Sam" he greeted the police officer.

"What you got for me Danny boy, cause them pipes them pipes is calling me."

Daniel Smith smirked at his friend He knew the pipes that Sam was talking about were connected to beer barrels and he was looking forward to that himself.

"Well it took us a while but from clothing scraps and other evidence one dead body is in that room, another man bleeding left leaving a trail into the garage but after that we lost it. I expect they got into a car but the other guy is pretty much spread around the place. Also I would say at least two other people were in that room before it happened but since there aren't any bloody footprints and the area is covered in blood I don't hold out much hope apart from the DNA analysis"

"So some poor bugger is out there bleeding to death then?"

"Yeah, and I would say from the amount of blood they wouldn't have got far. Unless... Nah"

"Unless what Dan?"

"Unless they were very strong very large and very determined. But I would check the local crashes because those are massive odds mate that would have to be one big bugger alright"

The End...

Honest...

For Real This Time...

Go On Bugger Off...

Come back for the Sequel

The End

You have reached the end of "LXT01 - Grand Canyon Dreams". This story is complete.

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