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Suiting Up

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Summary: YAHF: Metroid meets the Hellmouth.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Xander-Centered > Pairing: Other HetAnimeRoninFR181779,547123677,0939 Dec 0426 Jul 06Yes

Chapter 3

3/?

AN: this chapter will have several large gaps in it that will be filled, eventually, in flashbacks and later chapters – you have been warned.

(Post Season 2 Finale – Xander’s Lab)

Xander looked up from his preliminary diagnostic report again, pausing only for a second on the rather rough-looking armor that lay on the table next to him, and then sighed – it had been two days since Angelus … Angel had been sent to hell by Buffy, through the vortex created by the petrified demon Atheca, and since Buffy had put a beating on him that had not only damaged his armor significantly, but had also sidelined him for two days while his body recuperated from the pounding itself. Jenny, recovered now from the spell casting, had stopped by that morning to tell him that she and Giles were going to first check on Willow, who was still in a trauma-induced coma in the hospital, before going to Joyce’s and telling her what really caused her daughter to run away … and about her being the Slayer, something that should have been done months before but, now in hindsight, the point was moot.

“How in the hell did she do this much damage?” Chozo Power Armor wasn’t exactly made from tissue paper and could shrug off most physical damage that could be thrown at it, but Buffy wasn’t your average human in that she was the Slayer … a Slayer, and her enhanced strength had bent more than a few plates, damaged a lot of internal circuitry and all of this meant that Xander was going to be very busy for the next few days, or a weeks.

Putting down the report, he sat down into a chair and sighed, rubbing his eyes and thinking back to just seconds after Angel had been sent to hell and the sight that, he was sure, he would remember for the rest of his life.

(Flashback – 2 days previous)

The portal was gone, and so was Angel even as he stepped out of the shadows that he had been standing, waiting to see if he would have to take the final shot to save the world, but thankfully Buffy had realized what her job was and, after one final kiss, had done what she needed to do. She now stood before him, tears rolling down her cheeks and eyes glued to where her love had been just seconds before as he walked up and lowered his cannon arm, “Not to ask a stupid question, Buffy, but are you okay?”

“No – Angel’s gone. It was him, he was here, with his soul, and … I sent him to hell.”

He nodded, “Yeah, you did, but look at it this way – by that point in time, soul or not, you had a job to do and you did it. It’s kinda heartless, but it helps justify it somehow.”

She turned and looked at him, her eyes narrowing, “Did you know Jenny was going to do the spell?”

Inside of his helmet he winced, as he DID know Jenny was going to try the spell again, but he shook his head, “No, I didn’t – I thought she only had one Orb.”

“Take your helmet off and look me in the eyes, Xander.” Buffy’s tone was firm, even demanding, and he knew he was caught, “Look me in the eyes and tell me you didn’t know.”

“Does it really matter now, Buffy? What is done, is done, and it cannot be undone. The world is safe, for a while yet, so let’s go see to-OOMPH!” He was hit like a weenie dog being hit by a Mack truck on the freeway, being knocked into the far wall by an apparently angry Slayer.

“You son of a bitch – you lied to me!” After that declaration, Buffy descended upon him and all he knew was pain.

(End Flashback)

Buffy had left Sunnydale, apparently, and could not be found, but once again Xander found himself with other problems, like having to fix his heavily-damaged armor, which he set about doing with a grunt, forcing himself out of his chair even as his lab door opens and the three adults who he actually respected (in his own dimension, of course) or liked walked in. Giles looked as if he had been put through the wringer, Jenny not far behind him looking quite the same, but Joyce, the final of the trio, came in with a fire in her eyes that almost made Xander wish that he was facing Buffy without his armor – the Slayer would only kill him, “Hey, G-man, Jenny, Joyce – what’s up?”

“You have some explaining to do, you man.” Joyce stormed over to him and stopped about five feet short as he turned and she saw the armor, “What in God’s name is that?”

“That’s my armor, Joyce, and probably the only reason I’m still alive right now – Buffy did that with her hands with me in it, so think about what I’d look like if I hadn’t had the armor?”

Joyce shook her head, as if to clear it, but then frowned, “But Mister Giles said that your armor was just about indestructible.”

“It is, and I am still not sure just how this happened, or what she used to do this, but if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got about a week’s worth of work to do and not that much time to do it in.”

“What happened, Xander?” Giles stepped forwards, his face still slightly swollen from the beating that Angelus had given him, “Did the spell work?”

“Yes, but by then it was already too late – the portal was opening as the spell hit Angelus, and Buffy did the one thing she had to do and pushed the bastard in.” He began to take the damaged armor plates off of the torso and winced at the amount of damaged micro-circuitry he saw, “I made the mistake that she would actually be thinking with her head and opened my mouth, and this is what happened.”

Joyce stepped up behind him and turned him around, looking directly into his eyes as she did, “I thought you loved my daughter, Xander? Why would you hurt her like that?”

He sighed, “Joyce, when the world’s very existence is at stake, emotional attachment to a person or people should not play a factor in it – I’m sorry, but as the old saying goes, it’s business, not personal.”

She took a step back and frowned, narrowing her eyes a touch, “How mercenary of you, Xander. I truly thought better of you, but I see I was wrong.”

He narrowed his eyes in return, “What, do you think I wanted to make that choice? No, I didn’t, but by that point in time it was the only viable option that kept us all alive.” He stepped up to her and tilted her head up slightly, looking down into her eyes, “Joyce, you’re like a mother to me, but make sure before you go off saying things like that you know who you’re talking to – I am an emotional person by nature, but when I need to I can be colder than anyone you’ve ever met or hope to never meet.” He let go of her chin and stepped back, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have repairs to get to.”

(Several Hours Later)

Xander sighed and stepped back – the damage to the armor wasn’t as bad as it could have been, with the majority of the damage being located in the torso section of the armor and very little else, and repairs would not take as long as he feared, but this also gave him a chance to install a new armor function that Marcus had left him with, the first in a trio of upgrades that would take time, called a Morph Ball. He’d spent the past hour making gaps in the micro-circuitry to accommodate new hardware and such, but the fatigue factor was starting to get to him even as he started to notice several mistakes he had made, causing him to curse and do them over again.

“Hello?” He snapped his head up towards the dimensional door and saw a quartet of bodies rushing through said door, two of them immediately familiar, a third somewhat familiar and the fourth familiar only if one looked down at the floor. The speaker, Washu, shut the door with a huff and leaned against it, “Sorry for the invasion, Xander, but we had to evacuate the house for a second.” As if to punctuate the statement, there was an explosion that rattled the door slightly, “Ryoko and Ayeka are both fighting again, only now they’re in my lab.”

He winced at the statement, having met the pair and witnessed a ‘minor’ spat that had left a now-repaired hole in his lab’s floor big enough to hide a VW Bug in, “I’m sorry.”

Mihoshi walked over, Sasami and Ryo-ohki right behind her, a smile on her face as she sat down at the other end of the table, the princess sitting next to her and the cute and cuddly cabbit hopping onto the head of Sasami as Mihoshi spoke, “What are you doing, Xander?”

“Repairs and upgrades, Mi-chan. What got you out of in front of the television? Isn’t it time for the X-Files?”

Mihoshi’s seemingly perpetual happiness evaporated into a scowl, “Those two destroyed the TV about two seconds after they started fighting, again.” She sighed and traced her finger around the surface of the table, both Sasami and Ryo-ohki watching his work with interest, “What damaged your armor?”

“Buffy did.” He stepped back from the table and sighed, rubbing his eyes and putting his tools down before sitting, “Long story short I made her make a decision she didn’t want to make and, because of it, the world is safe and her paramour is currently residing in Hell.” Both females and the cabbit, who was generally considered a female but occasionally showed male traits like action without thought, looked at him oddly as he sunk his face into his hands, “Enough about my problems, though – what else have the destructive duo been going over now besides the TV and Washu’s lab?”

“They destroyed my kitchen … and they nuked dinner, too.” He looked over at Sasami, a tired smile forming on his lips as she pouted and Ryo-ohki ‘miya-ed’ in pity and patted the princess between her pigtails in consolation, “I spent all day making those sushi rolls and in seconds they were destroyed.”

“Make them eat Ryoko’s cooking, then.” All females and cabbit present looked up at him in shock as he reached into the cabinet next to him and pulled out a Twinkie, “I mean, if you want to punish them, take away their constant in the house that doesn’t involve destroying Tenchi.”

Sasami shook her head, “Last time we tried that they managed to create a very invasive life form that almost ate Ryo-ohki. Since then they’ve been banned from the act of cooking.”

Mihoshi wrinkled her nose, “Yeah, I mean, they even screw up instant ramen, and not even I can do that.”

Xander blinked at that for a second and then chuckled, “Maybe it’s for the better then. Twinkie?” He offered the snack cake to the girls, but they declined even as Washu snarled at the image that was coming up on her computer, but Ryo-ohki walked over and, after carefully sniffing at the treat, nibbled at it until she got to the creamy center, at which point she gave a ‘Miya!’ of approval and devoured the entire thing in the space of seconds before going on the hunt for more.

Over the next half hour or so Ryo-ohki sniffed out only one other Twinkie and went back through the dimensional door while Washu followed her in hopes of saving at least one part of her lab, Mihoshi and Sasami were rather busily trying to get him to consider a more colorful motif for his armor until the former of the pair had to leave to go on patrol, leaving Xander alone with Sasami, who was happily sketching out some designs for armor of her own as he worked on his own armor upgrades. He had met Sasami not long after his deal with Washu had been cemented with a ‘donation’ of his DNA, though he was glad he was able to talk her out of using her ‘magic fingers’ while in that nurse’s uniform, something he still had nightmares about, and he genuinely liked the young princess in that she seemed to ooze the playful joy that Mihoshi did, but she also had an air of both power and wisdom around her, one that he felt every time she walked into the same room as him, and he could also tell that, in about six years or so, she was going to be one hell of a beautiful woman, which made him feel oddly protective of her, though he could not figure out just why that was. She was a wondrous cook, she always had an ear if one needed to talk and while she had a mischievous side that occasionally came out when she pitted her sister, Ayeka, and Ryoko against one another, she always had something else in mind when she did something, so it should not have been that much of a surprise to Xander when she started asking just what his relationship with Buffy was prior to the whole ‘Lying’ incident.

“Huh? My relationship with Buffy? Why do you ask?”

Sasami just shrugged, “No real reason, but I was kinda curious why she’d act like that if you and she were, you know, involved.”

Xander blinked once and then snorted, “Trust me, Sasami, while I once might have been in lust with Buffy, there was nothing of that nature in what passed for our friendship.” He paused and micro-fused a component into place before coming back up and removing his darkened eyewear, “I mean, yeah, I get that she’s the Slayer and everything, but when you start putting the lives of others into danger because you can’t get over your own emotions, then it’s time that someone give you a good, swift kick in the a… backside.”

“And you gave her that?”

“On an as-needed basis, but generally she ignored it and went ahead with whatever insane plan she was going to try.” He put the pistol-shaped fuser unit down and sighed slightly, but then a well of anger swelled inside of him and he screamed, turning around and throwing his glasses so hard they hit the far wall, a good twenty meters away, and shattered, “Damnit! Why in the hell is this so frelling hard? I mean, I know I did the right thing in my head, but I can’t just leave it alone! I keep asking myself ‘what if’ and …”

Sasami didn’t appear fazed at all at the outburst, “And it’s driving you up the wall?”

He sat down on the ground, his knees drawn up slightly and his forehead resting on them, “Yeah.”

Sasami said nothing for a few seconds, only getting down from her chair and quietly walking over to stand beside him before going behind him and sitting with her back to his, her head leaning back, “Maybe you want to justify it to yourself some other way so that, if she comes back, you can tell her that you have several reasons why you did what you did, and they are all good ones.”

“And if she tries to crack my skull open like a melon again?”

He felt her shrug against his back, “Then I’ll protect you.”

He had a mental flash of Sasami, who was about a good foot shorter than Buffy, standing up and staring down the raging slayer, eyes full of rage and fury, in her carrot apron and kimono, and holding a ladle in her hands – the image was so completely absurd that he felt a chuckle escape his lips and then another even as his mental image of Sasami mutated slightly to a taller woman with the same hair, only with no ponytails, still in her apron and armed with a ladle, and then a final giggling laughter ala the Hyena erupted from his lips as Sasami joined him for some reason. He fell to his side, howling in laughter as Sasami’s own laughter grew until she was laying on his side, giggling like mad as his own laughter subsided.

After a few minutes, he looked over to his right, as he was laying on his left, and saw Sasami there just smiling slightly, “Sorry about that – I just had this image of you squaring off with Buffy and armed only with a ladle.”

Sasami smirked slightly, “I am queen of the kitchen, Xander – any cooking implement in my hands is a deadly weapon.”

He arched a brow at her before shaking his head, sitting up slightly, “How did you get so smart, Sasami?”

She turned around and looked at him, her red eyes deep wells of wisdom and yet had pools of light in them, “I deal with Washu, Ryoko, Ayeka, Mihoshi, Tenchi and Ryo-ohki on a daily basis – psychological help comes naturally with that combination.”

He shook his head and stood up, helping her to her feet after that, “Sasami, while I occasionally pity myself for having to deal with my life I’m not sure what I’d do if I was in that kind of situation.”

She nodded at him somewhat sagely, “You’d more than likely commit several acts of homicide and one act of cabbit-cide as well.” She looks around and then frowns, “Now, can you show me where the paint is? I want to spruce up your armor a little.”

(Five Weeks Later – Giles is looking for Buffy, Jenny is breaking in Joyce to the arts of Slaying, Willow is out of her coma and not talking to Xander while Oz is on tour with the Dingoes)

Jenny, with Joyce at her side and Willow following them, walked into the laboratory and frowned at what she saw, or rather, what she did not see – it had been over a month since they had last seen Xander, and though all of the spells that she and Willow preformed said that, yes, he was alive, none of them said just where he was at any given point in time. It had all started out one morning with Willow coming out of her coma, one that she had been put into by Angelus in order to keep her from fighting along side of the Slayer – it had taken herself, Giles, Cordelia and Oz to keep Xander, who had been out of armor at the time, from killing Buffy and, according to Giles, it appeared to him that Xander had somehow regressed back to his Hyena self, but after a few minutes came out of his rage and stormed off. Jenny and Joyce had been glared at until they told Willow all that had happened, about the ‘Lie’ and everything, and while Willow initially was very against the idea that ‘her’ Xander would never lie to his friends like that, she eventually came to the conclusion that, in those situations, Xander would have lied to the Pope to keep the world turning. This had set the redhead off into an anger that surprised both herself and Joyce, but even more so she had declared her undying hatred for Xander and swore to never speak to him again after she got done yelling at him first – this had led to them going to his lab and finding it empty with a note saying ‘armor repaired, gone testing’, at which point Willow had let out a muffled screech and went off babbling under her breath while pacing holes in the floor of the lab.

Those had been over a month ago and, much to her own worry Jenny had seen nor heard hide nor hair from Xander, which had made Joyce worry and, that day, had even caused Willow to worry enough to accompany them to his lab – it was as empty as a tomb and aside from a fine layer of dust, nothing much had changed at all, which led to Jenny sighing, “Bugger, where IS that boy?”

As if in answer to her question, the dimensional door opened and in stumbled a battered, bloody and broken suit of Power Armor, exactly as Xander had worn save for a single small painting on the back of th left hand that appeared to be that of a cat mingled with set of rabbit ears – the armor in question half-stumbled, half-fell into the armor rack that Xander had built to hold said armor, and the helmet popped open to reveal the face of one very unconscious Alexander Harris, “Xander?”

Jenny wasted no time in going to his side, checking his pulse even as Willow worked on the fasteners that held the two halves of the torso part of the armor together, Joyce undoing the other side until the front and back fell open slightly and revealed Xander’s torso, as muscled and nice-looking as it generally was, being hidden by a blue skin-tight top that had what looked to be several old pressure bandages under them. With Willow’s help Jenny pulled Xander out of the suit of armor as Joyce marveled at the technology first and then at Xander, as he was only wearing a pair of what appeared to be blue skin-tight boxer shorts at the moment (something that escaped Jenny’s notice only as long as it took her and Willow to get him to a flat surface to lie on), at which point she went over to the wall and grabbed a first aid kit, Willow stripping off his top and checking under the bandages.

Ten minutes and two spells later to check to see if Xander was Xander and if he was okay, Jenny sat down into a chair while Willow pulled a blanket of Xander’s lower half, as it had become distracting, “He’s fine, just exhausted.” It was at that point that she looked over and saw, standing in the doorway that lead to the lab of the infamous ‘Little Washu’, two women – one was Mihoshi, whom Xander spoke of in a tone that spoke of a young man smitten with a young woman, though Jenny was slightly surprised with how much older she appeared to be than Xander, which amounted to being near he own age, if a few years younger, and another woman that she had never seen before. She was only slightly shorter than Mihoshi, with pale ivory skin, dark green hair, sapphire eyes that held worry, intelligence and wisdom, a body that bespoke of someone who took their exercising rather seriously and an orange headband that clashed horrendously with the skirt, tights and blouse uniform that the woman wore – all in all, the woman was gorgeous and Jenny briefly wondered who she was, “Yes? May we help you?”

Mihoshi walked forwards, her eyes filled with worry even as her overly long ears drooped slightly with her apparent emotion, “How is he?”

“I’m sure he’s fine, Mihoshi – do you think Little Washu or Sasami would have let him out of their sight if he was hurt?” The other woman walked over and pulled out what appeared to be hand-held computer and began to run it over Xander’s body, as if she just wanted to make sure of her claim, “Hi, I’m Kiyone Makebe, and this is my partner, Mihoshi.”

“Yes, we’ve met.” Jenny stood and walked to where Willow was, who had stepped back and was staring at the unconscious form of Xander, “Willow, are you okay?”

“Fine. Peachy. Why isn’t he awake so I can kill him?”

“He’s exhausted, kiddo,” Kiyone said with a sigh as she put her device away and walked to where Mihoshi was, holding the blonde woman slightly close as Joyce fussed around Xander, wiping his brow with a cold cloth, “We’ve been on the run for the past month or so and now that he’s out of fight or flight, it’s catching up with him.”

Jenny, Joyce and Willow listen to Kiyone’s story on how, after testing some new features on his stealth armor, Xander had joined Tenchi, Sasami and Yosho in a training exercise when they were suddenly attacked – they’d been forced to leave Earth and fight in pitched battles of ship-to-ship and hand-to-hand on an almost-daily basis for the first two weeks and then less frequently during the last few, against mercenaries, traitorous Jurain nobles, and even the odd misguided Galaxy Police officer and cruiser, during which Xander, herself, Ryoko, Ayeka and Washu had probably not gotten a full night’s sleep in more than twice, all said and done. They listened to the story unfold even more as a conspiracy to eliminate the Emperor and the Queens, not to mention Ayeka, the First Crowned Princess, all in order to get to Sasami and brainwash her into naming some distant relative as Emperor and marry him, was uncovered and it all eventually culminated into one final battle over the entire complex that was the Royal Palace on Jurai – the conspiracy had been routed out, the ones responsible had been ‘dealt’ with, and Xander had been sent back home, which brought them all up to speed.

“And … Xander helped you in this? How?” Joyce, having been moved out of her place by Mihoshi, who was currently stroking Xander’s hair, sounded more than a little incredulous at the thought, “I mean, I know he has a hero complex, but … isn’t this a bit much?”

Kiyone shook her head as she walked towards Mihoshi, “No, not with him – Ayeka asked him the same thing once, a few hours after the whole thing had started, and he told her, point-blank, that until he was sure that Sasami was safe, he wasn’t going to let her out of his sight. I saw it in his eyes, so to speak, that nothing short of killing him was going to stop him from protecting Sasami … and I’m not sure that would have stopped him at all.”

Willow smirked, “No, probably not – Xander’s always been too hardheaded to know when to lie down and die.” Jenny could see the emotions playing across the redhead’s face as she watched Mihoshi’s hand stroke Xander’s face now, “What’s up with you though, Mihoshi? You act like you and he …”

Mihoshi smiled, “No, we aren’t Willow, despite how much I’d like that. I … I care for him, more than I should, you see, but we can’t. Not for a long time.” Jenny could hear the heartbreak in the woman’s voice but also knew that she, nor anyone, would get anything else out of her even as Kiyone embraced the blonde from behind and placed a small kiss on her collarbone, which raised more than a few eyebrows, “You see, I’ve been drawn to him ever since I first laid eyes on him, most of us were, actually, but about two weeks ago he and I … we found out something that pretty much put the, oh, what did he call it?” She thought for a second and then smiled, “’Kibosh’ on th entire plan I had cooking in my brain – a short courtship, marriage, kids, the whole thing.”

Jenny, knowing from Xander that the anime and the real thing were two separate and slightly different realities, processed this in her mind even as Willow simmered slightly for some unknown reason and Joyce blinked in confusion – so much had happened in a short amount of time that it was going to take a while to go through it all and see what was worth keeping, so she grasped on the one thread that she could and went with it, “Yes, Mihoshi, you’re right – there is something about him that is so … endearing.”

Joyce smirked slightly, “I once thought it was his boyish charm, but now, I must admit that his physique would have something to do with it, as well as his choice of clothing.”

Willow snapped out of her simmering to glare at the older woman, “Stand in line – I’ve known him longer, so he’s mine first and I want answers.”

“But you had all the time in the world to try something and didn’t, Willow, not to mention you have a boyfriend now,” Joyce fired back rather pointedly.

As the two went back and forth, Jenny looked at Kiyone, who was not only holding Mihoshi, but was also smirking, “What?”

“I wonder if the kid knows that he has such an effect on all of the women around him? I mean, here we all are, lusting after him in one form or another, and he’s also in the room, out cold. You can’t tell me you don’t see the humor in that.”

Jenny arched an eyebrow, “All present? But you …” She left it open, not want to be inappropriate about what her mind was telling her.

Kiyone shrugged, though, as if it didn’t matter, “Hey, first of all he’s cute, and it’s not as if it’s wrong to look – it’s a cultural thing, with my people.” She let go of Mihoshi, who stepped forwards and knelt next to Xander and began to lightly sing, “Besides, he’s an alright guy, you know? Didn’t even raise a stink when I told him I was bi – he just raised an eyebrow and shrugged, saying he hoped it worked out for me and then went back to recharging his armor. I guess that’s what I like about him – he’s mentally flexible, not to mention physically the toughest son of a bitch I’ve ever met that was fully human.”

Willow and Joyce stopped fighting and walked over, both of them apparently having come to a stopping point of some kind, but Jenny only paid them half of a mind, “Mentally flexible?”

“He’s a lot smarter than he lets on – granted, his ability to plan things out sucks, but when you give him a job to do and tell him to make it happen somehow, he pulls not just one, but an entire litter of full-grown cabbits out of his ass to make it happen, too.” Kiyone smirked slightly, “Hell, that’s what has about two dozen different police and Intelligence agencies and Generals from four planets offering him jobs of some sort or another, well, that and his armor.”

“Can you give us an example of this … ability ... he has?”

Kiyone just smiled, “Well, about a week ago we were adrift in space and Mihoshi, somehow, had managed to space her entire wardrobe out of the airlock with her only in a towel and …”

(Several hours, and many boxes of crying tissues, later)

He awoke to the sounds of laughter and purring – the laughter was of the female variety and at the other end of whatever room he was currently in, but the purring was occasionally punctuated by a snore and coming from the warmth that was currently residing on his chest; he cracked open one eye and looked down, not surprised in the least to see Ryo-ohki there on his chest, sound asleep, but he was slightly surprised to see that he was in his lab. The laughter rang out again and he turned his head, slowly as to avoid any attention, and was rather surprised to see Jenny, Joyce, Willow, Mihoshi, Kiyone, and Sasami sitting around his main lab table, all of them holding mugs of something warm, and giggling at something that Willow had said – this kicked his still-exhausted mind from it’s complacency in a full-on survival mode that caused his heart rate to pick up enough to wake the slumbering cabbit on his chest as he mumbled, “Not good – must fleet and warn other males.”

“Miya?” Damn it.

“Ryo-ohki?” He hear Sasami’s voice perk up slightly as he tried to sit up, but then heard her squeal his name and charge over, almost tackling him off of the table in the process and squashing Ryo-ohki, who took up residency on the crown of his head. Despite the fact that she was almost two feet shorter than him, Sasami had her mother’s strength and nearly crushed his ribcage with her hug until he was able to get her off of him with a pat on the back and a, ‘hello, Sasami’, “Are you okay?”

“Peachy.” He stood up, still topped with a now-slumbering cabbit, and saw that not only was he out of his armor, but he was no longer in the under-armor pieces of a battle uniform he had found fit him, but rather in a loose shirt and a pair of sweat pants, “Okay, who was it that changed my clothes?”

The women looked around somewhat guiltily until Joyce raised her hand, “Well, I am old enough to be your mother, Xander, and you don’t have anything I haven’t seen before as a married woman.” He felt himself blush slightly under her gaze even as someone muttered something about ‘being rigged’, “But that aside, young man, why didn’t you leave us a note on where you were?”

He blinked, “I, uh, kinda didn’t know about this whole situation, Joyce – if I had, I would have scheduled it for a Tuesday, like we normally do.” He reached up and transplanted the cabbit from his head to on top of Sasami’s, where Ryo-ohki proceeded to sprawl out on her back and let her feet twitch as she chased giant carrots or something, and then looked around, “How long was I out?”

“A few hours,” came the one voice he wasn’t expecting. He turned around and came face to face with Willow, who was dressed in a pair of tight jeans, a halter top and had what appeared to be a light tan on her shoulders, “Xander.”

“Willow. Glad to see you’re awake.”

“Been out of my coma for over a month now. Heard you almost killed Buffy over that, too.”

He shrugged, “She’s just luck I wasn’t in my armor at the time.”

Her eyes narrowed even as the others began to back off, sensing the impending explosion, and she drew herself up, “Rumor has it you lied to Buffy about Jenny doing the ensouling spell on Angel.”

He shrugged, “That rumor is a lie – why do an ensouling spell on Angel? Angelus was the one who needed the soul, so I might have neglected to tell Buffy about it when I met up with her before saving Giles.”

He could see the steam starting to come from her nose, “I’m mad at you.”

“Why?”

Steam began to pour not only out of her nose at a steady rate, but also from her ears as well, “You lied to Buffy!”

“So?”

Mt. St. Willow erupted as she snarled, “She’s your friend! She would have-“

“-Died fighting Angelus while waiting for ‘Angel’ to show his too bit forehead again, or worse, the world would have ended and we wouldn’t be having this conversation now, would we?”

Willow gaped at him once, then twice, and then set her jaw into a stone mask, “You’re wrong. She would have won.”

He arched an eyebrow, “At those odds and with that much on the line, do you really think it was prudent for me to hinge my thoughts on a ‘what if’? Do you really think I’d risk that?”

She snarled, “Bastard.”

“Nope – as worthless as they were, Tony and Jessica were married at the time of my birth. Try again, gingi.”

“You son of a bitch.”

He smiled slightly, “Guilty as charged, Willow – I was borne of woman.”

He never saw it coming – it was a slap that knocked him off of both feet and balancing on one for a second before his left cheek began to burn and his balance restored, but he saw the second one in time to catch it, which allowed him to catch the third and hold Willow’s struggling form even as she began to furiously squirm before breaking down into wracking sobs. On instincts as old as their friendship was, he pulled her into his chest and wrapped his arms around her, holding her there even as she began to cry out a month of frustration, anger at him and even more than a little repressed anger at everyone – he felt his t-shirt begin to soak through but didn’t care as he just held his Willow there to him and she wrapped her arms around him, and for a little while, all was right in their little corner of the multi-verse.

(Two hours later)

After promises to contact Sasami, Mihoshi and the others later on, Xander sat in his ‘comfy chair’, a desk chair that he had picked up out of a vamp’s lair at some point in the previous six months, and tried to bend his mind around the facts that Jenny and Willow had laid on him about the past month he had been gone – Buffy was still missing, Kendra was dead, a victim of a completely mundane and non-mystical-in-nature bus accident as she was moving to Sunnydale, a new Slayer was being trained by both Giles and another watcher Linda Price, and slayage was slow, but that was to be expected in the fabled ‘summer lull’.

After about ten minutes he sighed and got out of his chair, startling Jenny and Willow, “Look, I’ve got about twenty things to do around here first, but after those are done I’m going to get human and I’ll call you guys – I need to think.” Without waiting for them to speak, he walked over to his ‘living chamber’, which consisted of nothing more than a chest of drawers, a metal upright footlocker, a wooden footlocker at the bed’s end, a single bed and a door that led to a small shower and bathroom he’d taken time to install once he figured he’d be spending a lot of time in his lab during repairs and upgrades, grabbed some clothes and toiletries, and stepped into the bathroom to scrub off and get human, which took him all of twenty minutes, as the hot water on his aching back put him to sleep for almost ten of those twenty minutes until said water ran out and hit him with a chilly jet.

Showered and shaven, he stepped out to find the others gone, so he dressed enough to not get anything potentially important to his future breeding chances crushed or otherwise mangled as he put his armor to recharge, download and to run a diagnostic scan on the internal components. With that done he dressed up, grabbed some money and, after visiting a florist, walked to Creekside Cemetery to visit Kendra’s grave – he and the Jamaican Slayer had not been the best of friends, more like allies of convenience more than anything, but still she had fought by him and he mourned her loss. As he walked, though, he knew that he was being followed by Ryo-ohki, as she often stopped and played with some bit of ball-like trash or stalked what she appeared to think was a carrot before attacking and finding otherwise – there were only two people he could think of who could get Ryo-ohki to do such a thing, and he and Ryoko weren’t all that tight, so he figured Sasami had sent her to keep an eye on him for some reason or another.

As the day turned into dusk and dusk turned into evening, he returned to his lab with several essentials he had bought after his absence (mostly food – he also made a mental note to scan the chili he’d left in the microwave for signs of life later on), he stripped out of his nice clothes and set about to make some minor repairs to his armor and start on his next set of upgrades. He’d managed to finish the Morph Ball upgrade before everything went to hell in a hand basket, but rarely used it due to the simple fact that it was uncomfortable as all hell being balled up in that tiny of a space, armor or not, but found it to be necessary on many occasions, so went on with his next plan of Marcus’ – Boost Ball.

(Elsewhere)

She watched as he tinkered away with his armor, smiling as she always did when watching him – he didn’t know it yet, but Alexander Harris was about to become a rather large player in a game that extended into her realm. She knew he had seen her several times in Sasami’s reflection, and a few other times when she had superimposed her own image over Sasami’s in his mind, but even as both affection and mirth gleamed in her eyes, Tsunami knew that it wasn’t time for him to know about her … just yet.

AN: Okay, this part is officially dead and in the bag – what do you guys and girls think? A few things answered, a few more left open, and promise of something very interesting for our favorite ‘Zeppo’ in the near future. In the next chapter expect the return of Buffy, meeting Faith and Linda, having a few questions from this chapter answered (like what happened out there in space), and Tsunami revealing her existence to Xander, but don’t expect that until after the holidays. R&R, Happy Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, or whatever makes you happy, AR.
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